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The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are a condensed and systematic exposition of the essential philosophy and technique of Yoga in 196 sūtras (aphorisms). Because the text is inherently cryptic it requires a great deal of unpacking and interpretation and has therefore not been recommended by my teacher as a guide but rather an exercise in gaining familiarity with Yogic terms so that as certain experiences unfold, there is some context for what is occurring.
The Sūtras begin with a succinct definition of Yoga in no more than four terms – yogaś-citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ. The remaining one hundred ninety-four sutras are an explication of this declaration. Patañjali goes on to describe Eight Limbs (aṣṭāṅga) – Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi – and Three Paths (trimārga) – Karma, Jnana, and Bhakti.
Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah
Yoga is the suppression of the modifications of the mind.1
yoga derived from yuj - To contemplate. Both a state and a mental process not of joining but of liberating one from attachment to the worldly (puruṣa from prakṛti).
- yuj युज् - Concentration of the mind, in cessation of the modification of the thinking principle. (yujir samādhau not yujir yoge).2 3
- samādhau समाधौ - in the controlled mind.
- yoge योगे - work without fruitive result.
citta derived from cit - Consciousness, the mind. Later one of three aspects of patamārmā called sat-cit-ānanda 4
- sat सत् - Being, existing.
- cit चित् - Consciousness, absolute knowledge.
- ānanda आनन्द - Pleasure, bliss, ecstasy.
vṛtti derived from vṛt - Contextually means activities, functionings. (YS1.6-11)
- vṛt वृत् - To exist.
nirodhaḥ derived from niruddham: Restrained, controlled, inhibited. (YS3.9)
- ni नि - (a) implying certainty, absoluteness, of an enhancing power. It is frequently redundant. (b) Cessation, restraint.
- ruddha रुद्ध - Obstructed, stopped, blocked, suppressed.
The Eight Limbs
When people talk about the “eight limbs of yoga” they are most likely referring to this portion of the Sūtras. Each constituent is elaborated in the sutras that follow but just this one line reveals that which can take lifetimes to perfect.
yama-niyamāsana-prāṇāyāma-pratyāhāra-dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhayo’ṣṭāv aṅgāni ॥29॥
- Yama (यम, yama) - abstentions
- Niyama (नियम, niyama) - observances
- Asana (आसन, āsana) - posture
- Pranayama (प्राणायाम, prāṇāyāma) - control of prana
- Pratyahara (प्रत्याहार, pratyāhāra) - abstraction
- Dharana (धारणा, dhāraṇā) - concentration
- Dhyana (ध्यान, dhyāna) - contemplation
- Samadhi (समाधि, samādhi) - absorption
- Ashta (अष्ट, aṣṭa) - eight
- Angani (अङ्ग, aṅgāni) - limbs, branches.
The first five limbs are considered bahiraṅga (external) and the last three are antaraṅga (internal).
In an overly simplistic analysis, Hatha-Yoga identifies the physical body as a tool while Raja-Yoga identifies it as an obstacle.
“Hatha-Yoga is based upon the principle that changes in consciousness can be brought about by setting in motion currents of certain kinds of subtler forces…in the physical body. The first step in contacting the deeper levels of consciousness is…to make the physical body perfectly healthy and fit for the influx and manipulation of these forces.”5
“In Raja-Yoga…the method adopted for bringing about changes in consciousness is based essentially on the control of the mind by the Will and the gradual suppression of the Citta-Vṛttis…So the Yogi must eliminate completely the disturbances which arise from the physical body before he tries to tackle the problem of the mind itself.”6
And the Tibetan Yogi Milarepa explains, “I have understood that this material body, made of flesh and blood along with mental consciousness, is gathered together by the twelve chains of cause and effect – one of which is volition – originating from ignorance. This body is the blessed vessel for those fortunate beings who wish for freedom, but it also leads sinners into the lower realms. I understand that in this body lies the vital choice between enormous profit and loss, relating to eternal happiness or misery on the border between good and evil…”7
B.K.S. Iyengar comments that perfection of āsana brings about the divine union of puruṣa and prakṛti through the unifying of the various sheaths of body and self.8
February 10, 2020
Spoke with my teacher Noah Williams. When I asked about the best time to do prāṇāyāma Noah said that Guruji taught to wait 20 minutes after āsana, no sooner, and that prāṇāyāma is only to be practiced during Brahma Muhūrta, approximately one and a half hours before sunrise. The air is coolest and most oxygenated since the trees and plants “exhale” at this time. Noah then added that prāṇāyāma before āsana is an option. When asked if he teaches prāṇāyāma, Noah responded that he makes people wait 20 years before teaching prāṇāyāma. After 30 years it can become a focus and after 40 years it can take priority over āsana. For the first 40 years āsana is priority. “Āsana is prāṇāyāma if you do āsana correctly. If you cheat in āsana then prāṇāyāma will cause lots of anxiety.”
The Three Paths
Patañjali posits three mārgas meaning literally “paths.”
- karma-mārga - path of action (YS 2.30-45)
- jñana-mārga - path of knowledge (YS 2.46-55)
- bhakti-mārga - path of devotion (YS 3.1-4)
“On hearing that excellent story that heightened devotion, knowledge and detachment and yielded liberation, she became greatly blessed.” - Śivapurāṇa-māhātmya 4.32
Patañjali , Hariharānanda Āraṇya, Swami , Mukerji, P. N. , & Vyāsa . (1983). Yoga Philosophy of Patañjali: Containing His Yoga Aphorisms with Vyāsas Commentary in Sanskrit and a Translation with Annotations Including Many Suggestions for the Practice of Yoga. State University of New York Press. pp. 6.↩
Maehle, Gregor. (2007). Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy. New World Library. pp. 141.↩
yuj. In sanskritdictionary.com. Retrieved March 21, 2020, from https://sanskritdictionary.com/?iencoding=iast&q=yuj&lang=sans&action=Search↩
Taimni, I. K. The Science of Yoga. The Theosophical Publishing House, 2007, pp. 252.↩
Taimni. The Science. pp. 253.↩
Heruka, Tsangnyön. (1992) The Life of Milarepa. Penguin Books. pp xix.↩
Bryant, Edwin F. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. North Point Press, 2009, pp. x.↩