If you are new to yoga or even a seasoned yogi, chances are you have heard your yoga teacher mention the words “the sutra’s” or the “eight limbs of yoga” or even mentioned the great yoga teacher, Patanjali.
Did you realise that the Sutras form the philosophical basis of your physical practice? In fact, yoga, which means ‘union’ is about the bringing t ogether and harmonization of your mind, body and soul. Through a deeper understanding of the philosophical aspects of yoga it is possible for you to go deeper into your practice and make yoga an even bigger part of your daily life.
The Sutra’s of Patanjali is one of the most popular texts dealing with yoga philosophy. Widely influenced by the great Indian sage Patanjali, most modern day yoga students’ first introduction to philosophy is through their introduction to the Yamas and Niyamas or in hearing the words “the Eight Limbs of Yoga”.
Patanjali is known as one of the founders of yoga. Born around 300 BC, Patanjali’s texts give you a set of 196 aphorisms or threads known as the Sutras. This work epitomizes the principles and practices of yoga as it brings together all the various strands and thoughts re yoga philosophy into one comprehensive bundle of knowledge.
The Four Chapters of the Sutras
The Sutras offer you a thread, or sutra to follow though each stage of your yoga journey. The Sutras contain four chapters, each chapter covering a different stage and approach to yoga.
1. The first chapter explains yoga and focuses on how the mind fluctuates, the obstacles the mind creates and the effect this has on you and your yoga practice.
2. The second chapter focuses on the Eight Limbs of Yoga, which is where most yoga students first encounter the Sutras.
3. The third chapter of the Sutras explores the potential of your mind and the vast release of potential which can be gained through the practice and mastery of yoga.
4. The fourth chapter discusses the soul and its final journey towards release and liberation.
The Sutras and the Eight Limbs of Yoga
As previously stated, the more common known Sutra text, is the second chapter of the Sutra. According to Patanjali, this consists of eight limbs, known as ‘The Eight Limbs of Yoga’. Each of the limbs form part of yoga philosophy yet each limb has its own separate meaning or identity. The ultimate aim is to study and gradually integrate the Eight Limbs of Yoga into your daily life. This gives you a well rounded, more holistic yoga practice. The Eight Limbs can be viewed as stepping stones towards the traditional goal of yoga – self realisation and enlightenment – a true and deep sense of inner peace and universal connection.
The first five limbs of the Eight Limbs of Yoga help to clear negative emotions and behaviours and prepare the body and mind for the next three limbs, which lead to enlightenment or Samadi as it is known in yoga.
1. Yama (a set of social codes for communal ethical living)
2. Niyama (guidelines for personal conduct and behaviour)
3. Asana (yoga postures)
4. Pranayama (breath control)
5. Pratyahara (withdrawal and control of the senses)
The last three limbs are
6. Dharana (concentration)
7. Dhyana (meditation)
8. Samadhi (enlightenment, self-realisation)
As a Yoga Teacher, I have noticed some students prefer to study the philosophical side of yoga whilst others favour the more practical aspects. Neither is right nor wrong; however, I believe, in true yogic fashion, we seek union, so it is the blending, practicing and understanding of the theory and practice which leads to a deeper more holistic and balanced mind body and spirit.