The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 


The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali themselves comprise of 192 aphorisms on the theory and practice of yoga. The Yoga Sutras are regarded as the authoritative text on yoga by many sources.


The compiler of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali, is linked to several major works including a treatise on Sanskrit grammar and linguistics called the Mahabhyasa, and Ayurveda. Some scholars will date the works on Sanskrit grammar and traditional Indian medicine to a different time period based on comparable documents. Patanjali would have been something of a renaissance man if he was responsible for all the works some attribute to him, and this may well fit in with the time he may have lived in.


The name Patanjali is also linked to several myths and scholars. One version tells us that Patanjali fell from heaven into the upturned hands (Anjali mudra) of the virgin yogi Gonika, who was a powerful yogi. Gonika was praying for an heir to pass on her teachings for the good of humanity.


Some explanations will say the Sutras were a culmination of a blossoming philosophy of the time and came from more than one source. It is not unusual to struggle to get to grips with dates and authors when it comes to the history of yoga. It appears to be usual for yoga teachers to not take credit for their work, and more usual to cite other teachers.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with Yoga Dharma Teacher Training


Patanjali Sutras are the first-time yoga teachings are recorded rather than passed on orally as was the usual before this, why would this be the case and why not continue this way? Well if we look at the history of yoga through the four ages of yoga then I think it makes sense.


The Yugas are ages or epochs comprising of four cycles. A complete cycle begins with Satya, followed by Treta, then Dwapara and finally Kali. According to the four ages of yoga, Satya yuga is the age of truth in which we didn’t need teachers. The Yugas say as we move through the cycles, and the further from the truth we get we begin to need more explanation, and teachers then become necessary. Patanjali is one of these teachers.

The Yoga Sutras were complied at a time when written instructions were needed to explain yoga, and the means of emancipation.


The Sutras themselves comprise of 192 aphorisms on the theory and practice of yoga. The Sutras are divided into four chapters:

  1. Samadhi Pada – Concentration
  2. Sadhana Pada – Practice
  3. Vibhuti Pada – Manifestations
  4. Kaivalya Pada – Liberation

In book 1 Patanjali begins with the statement, now then authoritative instruction on yoga. Now signals the start of an authoritative treatise. The term atha refers to the author as someone who has mastered the subject set out in the text. The author is not relaying the understanding of another teacher. The second sutra: Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodhan means the restraint of the modifications of the mind is yoga. This statement explains the whole purpose of the sutras and yoga.

Book 2 begins with tapah svadhyaya ishvara-pranidhana kriya-yogah. This translates as: Austerity – self-study – complete surrender – action. Sutra 2.2 tells us by practicing Kriya yoga (taking action) we can minimise the colourings of the mind (kleshas) which prevent us from perceiving real truth.

Book 3 starts with desha bandhah chittasya dharana, translating as Concentration (dharana) is the process of holding or fixing the mind onto one object or place.  The following sutras 3.3, 3.3 and 3.4 go on to define Dhyana (meditation) Samadhi (when the object shines back uninterrupted) and Samyama (the combined simultaneous practice of Dharana, Dhyana and Smadhi) a state beyond the colourings of the mind (kleshas) The Sutras then describe the powers that manifestations at this point.

Book 4 Kaivalya Pada or final liberation, details the construction of the mind and how it can obscure our true nature. It describes how the yogi can free themselves from the play of the Gunas. This chapter also details the yogi who has eradicated Samskaras (past impressions) ascended from rebirth and death.


The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were heavily influenced by the philosophy of Samkhaya, and many of the themes used in the Sutras come directly from Samkhya.

Samkhya is empirical, in that it is verifiable by observation or experience, and free from religious dogma. Samkhya is a dualistic philosophy, setting out that the universe consists of two realities, Purusha and Prakriti. Samkhya is the basis for many philosophies and treatise that will follow such as, Yoga, Buddhism and Tantra. Later comes Patanjali and the Sutras.

Martin Thompson


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