What Are The Yoga Sutras? - A Brief History
The Yoga Sutras in my opinion is a book filled with timeless wisdom that is offered in a sort of mystical way, and I love it! At first they can be hard to understand. The first time I read them I felt like I couldn’t relate or apply any of it to my life -- it was hard to grasp the concepts to say the least. And there is a large contingency of yoga teachers out there who think that the Yoga Sutras are old, dusty and outdated for how we live our modern lives. They haven’t taken the time to really study and practice what this yoga text has to offer.
Personally, the Yoga Sutras have had a huge impact on my life. I know amazing practitioners of yoga who have improved their lives because of the sutras. So I thought I’d give a foundational background on the history of the Sutras in this post.
As a yoga student and teacher myself, I have read the Yoga Sutras 15-20 times at least. I’ve been teaching the entire book to my Yoga Teacher Training students for 13 years. I love this book and the enduring wisdom it contains. I love helping people take what at first appearance seems a difficult topic of discovering the True Nature of who you are into practical applications of living this thing we call yoga -- or union.
Yoga began thousands of years ago and was strictly an oral teaching tradition long before anything was written down. We don’t even know if Sri Patnajali, the author, was one man or a group of teachers coming together to write the collection of 196 sutras or threads of wisdom. The way the Yoga Sutras came together was by creating short sayings that were easy to memorize, but needed the wisdom and guidance of a qualified teacher to help the student understand. That is why today we have so many commentaries on the Sutras. Every Yoga Sutra book comes with a teacher’s explanation of the 196 threads. When we weave the experience of these sutras or threads of wisdom together we create a wonderful tapestry that can be worn to improve our lives.
While I find the whole book to be worth teaching, most YTT programs only dabble in this book by teaching the 8 Limbs of Yoga -- which is a great system of living your yoga, but only a small fraction of the whole book. It is kinda like watching the preview to a movie and thinking you know the whole movie. The preview may give you some of the highlights of the movie, but it can’t compare to watching the entire film.
So what are the Yoga Sutras, and Why Are They Important?
The Yoga Sutras were written about 2,000 years ago. Some people say they could be as old as 5,000 years and others say only 500 years. The date to me doesn’t really matter. Whether they are ancient or not does not make them any more or less valid. Age doesn’t automatically make something sacred and true. On the other hand, if something is new it also doesn’t invalidate it. The real demarcation is if it helps you understand yourself, your life and your world better.
These 196 sutras, contained within four chapters were meant as an inspiration to the aspiring yogi, a guide book for practices, benefits you may get along the way, and what the ultimate goal looks like - union with Source energy. Now if these sayings are timeless wisdom we should be able to access that line of energy just as much today as we were able to 2,000 years ago. Therein lies the rub.
We live in a world that wants instant gratification. Well, the Sutras just can’t offer that. It is not a quick fix to your life. But it does have a lot of practices that when applied can bring real, lasting happiness. Yoga can be all about the body - just look at some of those amazing instagram photos of poses. The Yoga Sutras are a way for you to add a little extra juice and magic to those wonderful poses we all love.
Reading this book alone won’t help you live a fuller, happier life. It is a living practice. It isn’t dead and dusty, unless you want a quick fix. The more we dive into this book and the more we actually practice it, the more we can get out of our own lives. We are all free already. Most of us have forgotten that. The Sutras can guide us back to our wholeness. And that my friends, is extraordinarily applicable to improving the way we live today.
In my next blog post I’ll share what I feel many yoga teachers and schools are missing when they teach the Sutras, why they are missing it and what we really can learn from this amazing book.
See you on the inside,