The Yoga Sutras

"The credit of collating, systematizing, and codifying the entire
philosophy of yoga goes to Patanjali."
1  - B.K.S. Iyengar

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was the first written explanation on the practice of Raja Yoga.  The text is made up of 196 sutras that “cover all aspects of life, beginning with a prescribed code of conduct and ending with man’s vision of his true self.”2  Sutra literally means “thread”3, and each sutra is a brief string of words that give insight into the system of Raja Yoga.

The text by itself is difficult to understand.  I recommend reading various translations and commentaries; each version will shed new light on the text.  A good place to start is the commentary and translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda. 

Authorship is credited to the Indian sage Patanjali.  It is unclear when he lived or when he wrote this text.  Most accounts of Patanjali's life is drawn from legend. He is estimated to have lived between 500 and 200 BC.4  The Sutras are divided into 4 chapters:

Ch. I Samadhi Pada (Portion on Contemplation): This chapter describes the direct path to samadhi, the highest state of yoga.  Like in a backwards dinner party this book starts with the dessert.  It begins with the end result, then unravels the path to it.

Ch. II Sadhana Pada (Portion on Practice): In this chapter we get to the main course;  The more tangible yoga practices (like Kriya Yoga and Astanga Yoga) that we can apply to our daily lives.  The main practices involved in Hatha Yoga are rooted in this chapter as well.


Ch. III Vibhuti Pada (Portion on Accomplishments): This chapter focuses on the powers that can be attained through the practice of yoga. The attainment of these powers should be proceeded with caution, and should never be mistaken for the end result of yoga instead they are merely by-products of yoga practice.

Ch. IV Kaivalya Pada (Portion on Absolute Freedom): As B.K.S. Iyengar writes regarding chapter IV:  “Here, Patanjali explains how consciousness can become pure, intelligent and ripe, and free itself from the clutches of nature, enabling the yogi to reach the goal of Absolute Freedom . . .”5

Traditionally these sutras were passed orally from teacher to student for memorization. Even students, who understood no Sanskrit whatsoever, were taught to chant theses sutras with no translation given.  I tend to focus my personal study on just chapters I and II of the Yoga Sutra. 

Chapter I chant sheet.

Chapter II chant sheet.

1. Iyengar, B.K.S.  B.K.S. Iyengar: Yoga Wisdom and Practice. DK Books, 2009. (pg. 70).

2.  Iyengar, B.K.S. Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Thorsons, 1993. (pg. 1)

3.  Satchidanda, Sri Swami.  The Yoga Sutras of PatanjaliIntegral Yoga Publications, 1990 (pgix)

4. Iyengar, B.K.S.  Light on the Yoga Sutras of PatanjaliThorsons, 1993 (pg. 1)

5. Iyengar, B.K.S.  Light on the Yoga Sutras of PatanjaliThorsons, 1993 (pg. 241)

Breakdown of a few key Sutras:

Chapter  I

Sutra 2: defines the state of Yoga.

Sutra 23: 1 step plan. Surrender to Higher Power.

Sutra 27-29: on the sacred word "OM".

Sutra 30: on mental obstacles.

Chapter II

Sutra 1-2: on Kriya Yoga.

Sutra 2-13: on the kleshas (obstacles, afflictions).

Sutra 12: on karma.

Sutra 28-55: on Astanga Yoga or the 8 limbs of yoga.

Chapter III

Sutras 1-3: concludes 8 limbs with description of last 3 limbs.

Chapter IV 

Sutra 30: samadhi as end of afflictions and karma.