The yoga sutras were written down by Patanjali, a sage who is said to have lived in India 1,700 years ago. While yoga certainly existed before him, he was the first to codify it in this way, in a four-chapter book made up of 195 aphorisms, or sutras. In a thoughtfully systematic and concise way, the text offers insight into the goal of yoga, its many practices, and the time-tested results practitioners can expect when they dedicate themselves with sincerity and devotion to the practice.
The sutras sit at the center of an entire school of yoga called raja yoga. Raja translates to “royal union” and focuses on the cultivation of the mind. Raja yoga is concerned with philosophy, meditation, and contemplation while hatha yoga often takes a more physical approach, with the asanas as a technology unto themselves designed to open up fields of awareness. In raja yoga, texts and teachings show us the way.
It’s important to notice that nowhere in yoga are we asked to blindly accept teachings as truth. We have the compass from those who came before, but walk the path on our own , in our way .
Now the Exposition on Yoga Begins
The entire Yoga Sutra text begins with the word now.
“Now” implies that we've finally arrived; that here we are, ready to begin. But it also alludes to the complexity of what it’s like to actually come into the present moment.
To be present requires tuning in to the present state of the mind, feeling into the physiological condition of the body, and sensing the emotional condition of the guts
The present moment is filled with limitless feedback that moves us in so many directions. As soon as we tune in, we may be pulled away! The five senses, which are tools, can also distract. A smell, for example, can evoke many memories. Even if you stopped reading to look around right now, you’d notice so many things that make you think and feel other things.
But “now” is the gateway to the heart.
Right away the text asks us to become more receptive, more awake to what’s actually going on inside ourselves (not what we wish were happening but what actually is). This can be intimidating. You never know what may come up, anything from traumas to blissful memories. To sit quietly, relax, and breathe into the present moment is one of the strongest gateways to understanding and revealing what truly lies at the core of one’s own being.
Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha
Yoga Is the Stilling of the Movements of the Mind
Yoga is the means and the end. This is to say that we use the practices of yoga to experience the state of yoga. To establish the quiet state of mind necessary for insight to naturally arise in the present moment, we must create the right conditions. In the second sutra, those conditions are explained.
Sutra 1.2 says:
As the mind calms and the sway of the ego subsides, with the intellect becoming like a steady unwavering candle, a state of stillness emerges and a state of union with all the aspects of our being is experienced.
Obviously, quieting the mind is no small task, but the rest of the yoga sutra is loaded with clues, insights, and ways to approach the practice and achieve this state of being. And if you go back to the original inquiry into finding your true north, take note that presented in these first two sutras are essential tools for finding it: coming into the now and stilling the noise of the mind.
You may sit with these first two sutras for a long time, returning to them time and again. Their meaning will unfold differently each time you read them, as with each reading you are a slightly different person in a different place or situation in life.
When you are ready for more, the text goes on to describe what we can expect as we go inward, and presents several practical tools, philosophies, and ideas that can help the yoga practice bear fruit.
And just as a knife is sharpened by rubbing against stone, so too is the mind of the practitioner who engages with the teachings presented in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Love as Travel Companion:
Even with such a wonderful guide as the sutras, for an easeful journey inward we need something else: an agreement with ourselves to respond with kindness and respect to what we will find. This agreement is between you and you, and will immediately start revealing deep aspects of how you relate to yourself.
While yoga is a path toward union of body, mind, and spirit, it also remains a direct path to love. Love radiates out from the core of our being when unobstructed, and the practices of yoga remove the obstruction.