The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are 196 Indian aphorisms that were written thousands of years ago to guide and help practitioners deepen their spiritual, mental and physical practice. People who refer to the sutras see them as treasures; words of wisdom and encouragement in the bottom of which are ethics, perseverance and directions.

Yoga is a system to help us to live a life without a sorrowBKS Iyengar

If we only practice asana, then yoga will mostly help us on a physical level. That does not mean the effects do not somewhat filter down into other aspects of ourselves, but it is slow and the journey to a balanced life takes a long time. If we apply ourselves to the whole system of yoga then the process of learning to live life feeling fulfilled and joyous speeds up.

The ethics of yoga are the first two limbs and the foundation of our practices. Without these ethics, the asanas become a system of physical exercise. It does not mean that beginning students should have to study them, but that the teachers should be able to impart these principles through their teaching. However, if there comes a time to move into the integrated state; then study of the Yamas and Nyyamas (moral imperatives and ethical rules within Hinduism and yoga) is a necessary step. The Niyama Svdhyaya (the study of self), is the second to last on the list. Sutra (a rule or aphorism in Sanskrit literature) No. 11:32 is the basis for practicing the Yamas and the Niyamas.

For how would we know if we are non-violent or truthful unless we look at ourselves?

To see ourselves we need to develop a certain sense of detachment. We need to be honest, and we need to have humility. Once we have seen and recognized that our lack of some quality results in suffering; then we move into the next stage — analysis.

Analysis means identifying exactly what is creating this difficulty. Here, Sutra No. 1:30 helps; Patanjali gives us a list of the usual obstacles. Is this difficulty due to doubt, laziness, etc? By questioning ourselves, and again by being totally honest, we can get a better understanding of the root of the problem.

But if that is not enough, then we have to find corrective action. Stage three is to decide on a new action that will take us in a healthier, happier direction. This then becomes our practice. It may be a tapas Sutra No. 11:43, something which takes a burning effort and is not necessarily easy to do.

Abhyasa (practice) and Viaragya (renunciation) are the two wings of yoga that will help us to develop. The Sturas tell us what is needed is long, dedicated, sustained practice; we will only be able to practice if we renounce our old habits, for instance.

Svadhyaya could also be translated as awareness of all our actions and thoughts. As we proceed along the developmental path of yoga, we use Svandhyaya to observe ourselves. This study encompasses all aspects and practices, the Yamas, Niyamas, Asana and Pranayama.

I realize the message here may sound somewhat esoteric, but I am trying to stimulate more of you to look into the Sutras of Patanjali and see what a wonderful map we have. It is important to look within and decide what works for us in our lives, and what doesn’t. Yoga does not have a dogma as I understand it, just guidance.

[Photo by Jeff Laitila – CC BY]


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