by Nadia Agarwal: Written around 2000 years ago, the Yoga Sutras contained ancient wisdom for living better and cultivating spiritual freedom…
Read on to learn how we can apply this to our modern lives and use the wisdom of the yogis to guide us through uncertain times.
Patanjali, one of India’s great sages, distilled everything he learned about Yoga from the masters of his time into a masterpiece known as the Yoga Sutras, a collection of 196 verses (or “sutras”) on the philosophy and practice of yoga.
The ultimate aim of the Yoga Sutras was for practitioners to attain spiritual enlightenment (primarily through meditation).
Even if that’s not necessarily what we’re all seeking today, the Yoga Sutras still contain timeless lessons about how to live better and how to deal with the hardships we all face sometimes.
The sutras are written in Sanskrit, the beautiful ancient language of India, and then translated and explained. We hope that they help you tap into the universal abundance of human wisdom that connects us all.
Wisdom from the Yoga Sutras: Yoga helps calms the mind
- yoga = to unite
- chitta = consciousness
- vritti = fluctuations
- nirodhah = quieting
In the 2nd sutra, Patanjali states the purpose of yoga – to bring stillness to the chaotic fluctuations of the mind.
What are these “fluctuations”, you might ask?
They encompass thought: from random, superficial thoughts about the weather to our deeper desires, fears, aversions, and sense of self. Yoga allows us to witness and accept these fluctuations as they are – changing, fleeting. It gives us a lens to observe these thoughts as separate from ourselves, and truly be present.
Wisdom from the Yoga Sutras: Cultivating love and compassion helps us overcome many challenges
व्याधि स्त्यान संशय प्रमादाअलस्याविरति भ्रान्तिदर्शनालब्धभूमिकत्वानवस्थितत्वानि चित्तविक्षेपाः ते अन्तरा
दुःखदौर्मनस्याङ्गमेजयत्वश्वासप्रश्वासाः विक्षेप सहभुव
मैत्री करुणा मुदितोपेक्षाणांसुखदुःख पुण्यापुण्यविषयाणां भावनातः चित्तप्रसादनम्
In Sutras 1.29 – 1.33, Patanjali encourages us to cultivate love and compassion in all situations, good or bad.
In doing so, we discover our true selves, and we can overcome the obstacles that get in our way (such as doubt, neglect, and etc).
How do we cultivate love and compassion? We start inwards. Then we let it flow outwards.
As Maharishi Mahesh Yogi said:
“Love is the supreme blessing of life; love as love is universal. Personal love is concentrated universal love. Ah my heart flows when I say: Personal love is concentrated universal love. The ocean of universal love flows in the streams of individual love. What a blessing in life.”
Love is the way!
Wisdom from the Yoga Sutras: You have all you need to be happy
In Sutra 2.7, Patanjali talks about desire – the presumption that our happiness depends on external circumstances.
In theory, we know that happiness doesn’t depend on the external world. In practice (and it does take practice!), we need to constantly remind ourselves that we are in the driver’s seat, and that we can choose to be happy at any given moment.
Wisdom from the Yoga Sutras: Focus and persistence line the road to fulfillment
तपः स्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि क्रियायोग
The Yoga Sutras define the “Eightfold Path” to spiritual enlightenment, or “samadhi”, a system of rules, values, and practices that guide a practitioner towards their goal.
In ancient times, mastering this system required extreme dedication for years on end, because practitioners were literally re-sculpting their mind, body, and spirit.
In Sutra 2.1 and 2.2, the first verses of the chapter on the “Practice” of yoga, Patanjali defines “kriya yoga” as practicing with rigor and vigilance, without being attached to the results along the way.
Patanjali then goes into great detail about the obstacles one faces on the journey to samadhi, emphasizing how difficult the goal is. He states that these obstacles will eventually disappear if we “align our practice to our goal” – i.e. keep taking action towards what we strive for. Even if you’re not seeking “samadhi”, we can all benefit from cultivating a sense of Kriya Yoga in our own lives – bringing more rigor and vigilance into our lives, being okay with the obstacles and setbacks that will inevitably present themselves, and marching onwards.
Use the Sutras to Connect to Universal Truth
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras were written in a world very different from the one we live in today, but there is a lifetime of wisdom to unpack and this wisdom is just as applicable now as it ever was.
Perhaps more than ever, we can lean on its teachings to lead better lives at the start of this new decade and face uncertain times with bravery and with love.