By Faye Martins
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is an ancient text that is a guide to yoga. The book is divided into four chapters, each of which explain a key aspect of the yogic philosophy.
Patanjali begins the Yoga Sutras by defining yoga and explaining the barriers people face in trying to attain the yogic state. Yoga, he says, is the ability to cultivate and sustain focus on a particular object without interruption. The word “object” here can refer to anything that is external, internal, concrete or conceptual: a candle, a state of mind, the heart, God. When the mind can focus, the practitioner is free of mental distractions, and free to understand clearly the world and self.
The mental distractions that Patanjali refers to are memories, comprehensions, misunderstandings, imagination and dreams. These are the activities the mind goes through as it tries to understand both the external world and the self. A person will take action based on the mind’s perceptions. However, perceptions are often wrong, and, as a result, the actions often create misfortune. The majority of these perceptions and actions occur unconsciously. Most people know no other way of being, and, therefore, after many years of thinking and behaving in the same manner, patterns of behavior, or habits, develop. These habits are very hard to break, and people find themselves repeating their behaviors and experiencing their misfortunes.
The solution to this problem, Patanjali says, is to become aware of the mind’s activities and thought patterns. This requires a consistent practice, without disruption, over a long period of time. It is through diligent practice that the practitioner can develop true understanding and self-realization.
Inside the Yoga Sutras
Patanjali explains eight specific components of the yogic path that will help the practitioner in this journey:
Yamas, the attitudes toward the external world: non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, non-excess, non-possessiveness;
Niyamas, the attitudes toward the self: cleanliness, contentment, austerity, study of God and self, surrender to God;
Asana, the practice of physical exercise to cultivate a pure body;
Pranayama, breathing exercises to stimulate the life-force within;
Pratyahara, the restraint of senses to eliminate distractions;
Dharana, the ability to control the mind;
Dyana, the ability to focus on one object until there is understanding of that object; and
As a result of practicing this path, the yogi develops “right understanding:” the ability to understand the world and one’s self, take correct actions and decrease pain and suffering.
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