Part of the beauty of yoga is that it’s so much more than just a physical practice.
It’s hard to pinpoint when and how this awareness sets in. There’s something in the alchemy of moving, bending, breathing and letting go in savasana that begins to spark something deep inside. Often, it’s a more effortless feeling of balance in mind, body and spirit that leaves you wanting more.
Wherever you are in your yoga journey, the good news is that it’s an experience that forever continues to evolve. And if you’re craving to deepen your practice, the Yoga Sutra — an ancient text widely regarded as the basis of yoga philosophy — holds infinite wisdom for doing so.
You’ve more than likely heard your yoga instructor reference the Sutra, a collection of teachings (196 short verses) written by the Indian sage Patanjali. Learning about sutras is a great way to go beyond the physical postures, connect with the lineage of yoga and, of course, feel more peaceful in a stressful world.
Best of all? The sutras can help us truly live our yoga off the mat…which is where the real magic happens!
Ancient Wisdom for a More Meaningful Life
The word sutra translates to “thread” in Sanskrit. While these threads are estimated to be 2,000 years old, they continue to provide invaluable insights into leading a modern life with more purpose and meaning.
Within the sutras, Patanjali outlines the eight limbs of yoga. “Limbs” might sound purely physical, but these are actually moral and ethical guidelines — you may be surprised to find out that asana, the physical practice of yoga, is just one limb.
Below is a quick overview of the eight limbs, with a quick note that almost all words in Sanskrit have multiple meanings and translations, so there are some differences in interpretation across the board.
- Yama: Five universal practices that focus on ethical behavior toward others (nonviolence, truthfulness, nonstealing, not wasting energy, abstaining from greed).
- Niyama: Principles with an inward focus, which help you live your own life with self-discipline (purity, contentment, spiritual observances, study, devotion).
- Asana: Physical postures, which develop focus and discipline to prepare the body for meditation.
- Pranayama: Breath control, which helps free prana (life force energy) in the body.
- Pratyahara: Turning the senses inward, drawing our awareness away from outside stimuli.
- Dharana: Single-pointed focus, which leads to the ability to meditate.
- Dhyana: Continuous, uninterrupted meditation.
- Samadhi: Enlightenment, a state of consciousness where individual awareness dissolves into a connection with the divine.
As you can glean, there’s much to unpack within the Sutras. Diving in is a wonderful way to magnify the benefits of our physical practice and help discover techniques that resonate with us for greater emotional and mental wellbeing as well. In 2021, we’re excited to explore each of the sutras in greater detail on the Haven blog. Until then, namaste!