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Yoga Sutra of Patanjali – Part 1

February 20, 2012

I want to share my excitement about the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, as I am coming to understand it:

The authorship of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is traditionally attributed to an Indian sage named Patanjali, whose dates vary from about 400 BCE to 200 CE. The Sanskrit name patanjali could be seen to be a compound of “pat” (falling, as in descending from above) and “anjali“, which in Latin or Greek means “messenger” (angel). In Sanskrit, the name anjali also carries the connotation of a gift; especially a divine one. Whether there actually was a person named Patanjali, or whether it is a clever pen-name for someone else, is not certain. However, the author begins with the sanskrit: “atha yoganushasanam”, implying that the teaching is not the author’s invention, but is following in an existing tradition of yoga. It is generally held that the Yoga Sutra is a compilation of ideas which had previously been taught, but are here succinctly presented in the form of sutras, which are pithy, compressed versions of sometimes complicated concepts. Until recently, the Yoga Sutra has been transmitted through the generations by word of mouth, particularly in a chanted form.

When you look at it closely, it becomes clear that the Yoga Sutra is a very thoughtful system of self-awareness and self-control, with the over-arching aim of reducing human suffering. I have heard it referred to as the world’s oldest text on psychoanalysis. It begins by stating that yoga is the stilling of turbulence in the mind. The basic idea is that when we identify with our thoughts, we get confused, and will inevitably suffer from this confusion or ignorance, referred to as “avidya” or “unseeing”. The author goes on to explain how we can identify the various types of thought patterns, some of which are harmful, and some not, and thereby begin to gain a sense of independence from the thoughts themselves. One of the central ideas put forward in the Sutra is that repeating patterns of thought eventually become unconscious habits (samskara), which can begin to influence and even control our actions and re-actions (not always to our advantage). We are presented with an 8-limbed system (Ashtanga Yoga) designed to establish conditions which encourage the mind to be still. It teaches that through cultivating this stillness we can gain an objective sense of our thoughts, rather than simply identifying with them. We quietly begin to know who we truly are under all of our enormous clutter of thoughts and habits of personality.

Asana, or “yoga exercises” which most people in the West refer to as simply “yoga”, are included as only one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga.

Reading numerous translations of the text, I have noticed that there are as many different interpretations as there are translators. This poses a curious problem for me personally, as I am inherently suspicious of translations. As a result, I have begun exploring more deeply the original text, and have become fascinated with the Sanskrit language.


  • The Yoga Sutras: An Essential Guide to the Heart of Yoga Philosophy – by Nicolai Bachman
  • The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide – by Nicolai Bachman
  • The Heart of Yoga – Developing A Personal Practice – by T K V Desikachar
  • The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – translated and introduced by Alistair Shearer
  • Four Chapters on Freedom: Commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – by Swami Satyananda Saraswati
  • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – as interpreted by Mukunda Stiles
  • How To Know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali – (probably out of print) – translated by Swami Prabhavanada and Christopher Isherwood
  • The Yoga Sutra Workbook: The Certainty of Freedom – A translation of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali with word for word translation and grammatical index – by Vyaas Houston M.A.

From → Yoga

  1. It is nice to see that you are going deeper into an understanding of the sutras. In an effort to build more awareness about the yoga sutras, I have developed a website devoted to the subject – In this blog I record the summary of our bi-weekly discussions of the study group. In addition, I have compiled the translation of each sutra by many different authors. I have also recorded (audio) each sutra in Sanskrit. If you happen to visit the site, I would truly appreciate receiving your feedback.

    • Hello Subhash,

      Thank you for your comment, and for the link to your site! It looks like an amazing resource. I am likely to be a frequent visitor. I just began looking at the Vyaas Houston book, which also offers a word-by-word translation. I have been reading the sutras for more than 25 years in various translations and have only recently turned to the original Sanskrit, which I find very satisfying and informative.

      Thank you again for providing such an amazing resource.


  2. Hi Ken,
    I have recently started an effort to record each sutra in English as well, in addition to Sanskrit which I did a couple of years ago. You can get a flavor of what I have done so far here – This project will take a couple of months to complete as it seems to take a lot time to record and edit each sutra and then readying it for upload to the site.
    I’ve also added my comments on the sutra 2.15 on the blog. If you find the time, please review and provide your feedback. Thanks and all the best,

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