The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

As many of you know, I am a seminary graduate. I love to study sacred texts. I’ve spent years studying the Hebrew Bible and Christian New Testament and I have recently begun to study the Bhagavad Gita. For the past couple years, I have been studying from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras provide us with the classic understanding of the practice of yoga. The sutras are 196 aphorisms spread over 4 chapters. Virtually all the sutras work to explain the 2nd one, which Mukunda Stiles interprets as: “Yoga is experienced in that mind which has ceased to identify itself with its vacillating waves of perception.” Edwin F. Bryant translates this sutra as: “Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.” My first yoga teacher explained it as: “Yoga is the quieting of the chatter of the mind.”

Try this: pause from reading this and set a timer for 30-seconds to 1-minute. Try to count your thoughts. Count every thought, every image, every sensation, everything that runs through your field of awareness until the timer goes off.

Did you have more than one?

Our mind is constantly flowing and changing, moving from whim to whim of memories and hopes and fears and to-do lists. The practice of yoga is working toward the ability to find stillness within this constant change. It is the practice of learning to neither cling to our desires nor force out our fears, but to find a place of stillness within ourselves from which we can act and live and make decisions with a clear mind. Achieving the state of yoga–the state of a clear and focused mind-is difficult and takes a lot of practice.

The sutra that I am currently meditating on reads: “Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a prolonged period of time” (Bryant). This is a really important sutra for any practitioner of yoga. It tells us that we need to be established in our practice, but to get there we must stick with it, we shouldn’t even skip a day, and that this practice should be something we have affection for and that we do for a long time. Any life practice is bound to change from time to time, but this sutra is asking us to pick something and stick with it, not to make constant, hasty changes out of impatience.

So how do we know what practice to dedicate ourselves to? How do we keep practicing even when we don’t want to? How do we have affection for our practice even when it seems really difficult? These are the questions I love to explore in my own life and with other practitioners on this path. Let me know if you would like to explore them with me!

Yoga Sutras

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