What are the Yoga Sutras?

Decoding the ancient wisdom of Patanjali

If you’re new to yoga, then you may not yet be familiar with the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In a nutshell, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a collection of 196 short verses that serve as a guide to attain wisdom and self-realization through yoga. The text is estimated to have been written in roughly 400 C.E., and is regarded by many as the basis of yoga philosophy.

The 196 sutras (which translates to “threads” or “discourses” in English) are separated into four padas (chapters): Samadhi, Sadhana, Vibhuti, and Kaivalya. The text itself is open to interpretation by the practitioner, but at its core, the Yoga Sutras are intended to provide depth and practical wisdom to help yogis and yoginis explore the central meaning of yoga.

Samadhi Padas

The first chapter of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali discusses the meaning of yoga. The messaging in the 51 sutras in this section speaks to those who have already adopted yoga into their daily life, and focuses on themes of enlightenment, concentration, and meditation.

Sadhana Padas

Moving forward in the book, but perhaps backward in philosophy, chapter two of the Yoga Sutras explains how to achieve a yogic state. The 55 sutras in this section discuss the practice of yoga, and introduce the eight limbs of yoga, which are:

  • Yama – Five principles of ethics
  • Niyama – Five principles of conduct & discipline
  • Asana – Physical practice of yoga
  • Pranayama – Breath regulation
  • Pratyahara – Sensory withdrawal
  • Dharana – Concentration
  • Dhyana – Meditation
  • Samadhi – Self-realization

The chapter also dives deeply into the first six of the eight limbs of yoga, making it possibly the most important chapter for “newcomers” and those who are seeking yogic tradition in their day-to-day lives.

Vibhuti Padas

The 56 sutras included in chapter three focus on the benefits of practicing yoga regularly. Here, Patanjali explores the power and manifestation that result from yoga, and dives deeper into the final two limbs of yoga – Dhyana and Sadhi.

Kaivalya Padas

The final chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali contains 34 sutras that focus on liberation and freedom from suffering. Here, the text explores the ultimate goals of yoga and provides thoughtful insight on the unconditional, absolute liberation yoga provides.

Whether you’re just getting started with your yoga practice or you’ve got decades under your belt, there is always something new to be learned from the Yoga Sutras. You can find translated copies of this ancient text at the Boutique at Asheville Yoga Center.