Saturday, September 30

What Is Patanjali Yoga?

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is an ancient collection of sutras, also known as aphorisms, that serve as a comprehensive synthesis of knowledge about the theory and practice of yoga.

Attributed to the ancient Indian sage Patanjali, this profound work has been passed down through generations. Despite the lack of information about the author, their legacy endures through the essence of yoga.

In the future, scholars may figure out the true identity of Patanjali. But for us, what matters is the transformative power of their teachings — the guide they created to achieve a union between our individual consciousness and the universal consciousness.

The Story Behind Patanjali Yoga Sutras

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali contains 195 or 196 aphorisms/sutras — along with the origins of the sage Patanjali, the exact number of aphorisms remains a scholarly debate.

At the time of Patanjali’s work, yoga was a very general and broad concept with many different practices and schools behind it.

Pantajali saw how impractical that was, so they decided to define the essence of yoga in 195 or 196 sutras.

The sutras are not a philosophy, and contrary to the claims of many modern-day authors of yoga books, they’re not subject to interpretation or search for higher meaning.

One of the legends says that Patanjali wrote the sutras on palm leaves, and before he reached the Himalayas, goats ate half of the leaves, so today, we just know the sutras but not the interpretation of a higher meaning.

However, there’s no hidden meaning to the sutras to be captured by some superior intellect. You can think of them as recipes or manuals you can use in life. Just reading the sutras doesn’t provide the student with knowledge of some greater meaning.

The verses of the sutras describe The Eight Limbs of Yoga — the cornerstones of the yoga philosophy.

The limbs are a set of guidelines that lead to a balanced, healthy, and moral life. Although ancient, this knowledge is still relevant today.

The Eight Limbs of Yoga

Here’s a brief overview of the main subject of each of the eight limbs of yoga.

  1. Yama — how we treat others. We should adhere to non-violence, honesty, energy conservation, and non-greediness.
  2. Niyama — how we treat ourselves. We should adhere to contentment, introspection, study, devotion, and perseverance.
  3. Asana — physical postures (the most popular aspect of the contemporary yoga practice).
  4. Pranayama — breathing exercises. They expand the force of life and also aid meditative practice.
  5. Pratyahara — inner observation and introspection. They teach us how to turn our senses inwards.
  6. Dharana — concentration on the processes of the mind or the breath. They teach us how to get effortless focus.
  7. Dhyana — continuous flow of meditation.
  8. Samadhi — integration, the state of freedom and self-realization. They teach us how to achieve enlightenment and unity.

The Yoga Sutras

Patanjali organized all 196 sutras in four books or chapters called Padas. Across these chapters, they discuss the goals of yoga, the practice, the development of powers, and liberation.

The sutras are a form of guidance. They warn the student about the potential issues and challenges that may appear on the spiritual journey. Examples of such obstacles are stress and fatigue, doubts, delusions, and others. On the other hand, the sutras teach students that friendliness, support for others, and compassion are a way to a peaceful mind.

The essence of the sutras is that the spiritual practice takes place within, and the student will find their true Self hidden in their thoughts. Chaos or outside confusion may cause students to forget who they truly are — a challenge they must overcome.

Here is a summary of the four sutras.

Samadhi Pada

Samadhi Pada, a chapter encompassing 51 sutras, refers to the state of clear perception. Samadhi is the primary technique that the yogi uses to calm the mind.

The defining verse of this whole chapter is “Yogas citta-vritti-nirodhah,” meaning “Yoga is the restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.”

Sadhana Pada

Sadhana Pada contains 55 sutras. Sadhana means “discipline” or “practice” in Sanskrit. The aim is to discern the object from its consciousness.

In this chapter, Patanjali outlines two yoga systems: Kriya (preparation for Ashtanga through the elements of Niyama (second limb of yoga – attitudes toward oneself)) and Ashtanga (yoga of all eight limbs).

Vibhuti Pada

Vibhuti, which stands for “power” in Sanskrit, contains 56 sutras and outlines the last three limbs of Ashtanga Yoga (Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi — Concentration, Meditation, and Integration).

This chapter is also known as samyama and stands for pure awareness and supra-normal powers.

Kaivalya Pada

Finally, the Kaivalya chapter stands for “isolation” of the consciousness from the contents of the mind. Kavya is behind the liberation and emancipation of the practicing yogi.

How Is Patanjali Yoga Different From an Average Yoga Class?

The Patanjali system of sutras is not the same as Hatha Yoga, the most common type of yoga practiced today. Patanjali’s principal doctrine is Ashtanga Yoga, and it encompasses a spiritual journey of learning the system of sutras.

Patanjali Yoga strongly focuses on spirituality, learning, and encompassing all eight limbs, while an average yoga class mainly focuses on physical exercise and a brief session for breathing exercises.

Who Can Practice Patanjali Yoga?

Ashtanga Yoga, the foundational doctrine of Patanjali Yoga, is considered a physically challenging and highly dynamic type of yoga. Therefore, a certain fitness level (mainly strength and flexibility) and prior experience with yoga will help, although they’re not necessary for beginner classes.

Patanjali Yoga is best suited for people who enjoy dynamic exercises and those ready to take their spiritual journey to a higher level.

Why Do People Like Patanjali Yoga?

People like Patanjali yoga because it’s holistic, eclectic, and well-systematized. It reminds the student why they’ve even started their yoga practice, as it promotes the exploration of one’s boundaries, personality, consciousness, and happiness. Patanjali yoga is a way to turn yoga into more than a mere physical exercise and experience its philosophical and spiritual elements to the fullest.


Patanjali yoga is a collection of yoga sutras or aphorisms based on the Ashtanga doctrine and the eight limbs of yoga. The sutras are the guidance or the thread, and the student’s experience is what’s built on the thread.

It encompasses all aspects of the yoga practice — the mental, physical, and spiritual. The most important thing is to remain consistent with the practice; everything else will follow.

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