Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras
What we do know, however, is that the Yoga Sutras are a collection of maxims, similar in organization to the Biblical book of Proverbs. In the nineteenth century, the Romantic and Transcendental movements brought attention to the wisdom of the East, and luminaries such as Helena Blavatsky and Swami Vivekananda helped to popularize this work. Beat Poets of the 1950’s and rock musicians of the 1960’s furthered the Western interest in Eastern philosophies, furthering the public attention to yoga and to its sacred texts. Today, most yogi/nis believe that knowledge of the Yoga Sutras are central to a true understanding of yoga.
The Sutras are divided into four different books. The first, Samadhi Pada , discusses the ways in which we become connected to the Divine. The second, Sadhana Pada , delineates the ways in which we develop the discipline needed to attain Samadhi, namely through the eight-fold path associated with Patanjali’s name. The third, Vibhuti Pada , discourses on meditative techniques. The final book, Kailvalya Pada , focuses on the transcendence of our imagined isolation from the rest of the world.
What is particularly noteworthy about the Yoga Sutras is its almost complete lack of focus on asana! In Sadhana Pada , the second book of the treatise, a proverb states: sukha-sthira-asanam . This translates to the idea that postures to strengthen the body should be held in a way that satisfies and that is steady and focused. There you have it – the entirety of Patanjali’s discussion of what Westerners consider to be the most important aspect of yoga.
So then why do we study the Sutras? Those interested in yoga primarily as a system of exercise generally don’t. These writings are important for those interested in the history of yoga, in the philosophy behind the practice, and in the spiritual component that makes yoga different from Pilates or other dance-related forms of movement. Read and revered by many over the years, this tome remains one of the central components of the yogic tradition.
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