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What Is the Yoga Sutra?

A woman doing yoga.
Dhyana is one of the disciplines in yoga sutra.
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  • Written By: A. Gamm
  • Edited By: Kaci Lane Hindman
  • Last Modified Date: 27 August 2014
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The yoga sutra is the foundation of the central beliefs and philosophies of yogis. The book, The Essential Yoga Sutra, is divided into four chapters that organize the 195 apothegms or sutras, which are considered one of the six visions of reality. It also describes the eight disciplines a yogi must follow. The book was first written by the Indian philosopher and yogi master, Patanjali around the second century. He was not the first person to create the foundations of yoga; instead, they were passed down from teacher to student for years prior.

Most people do not consider the yoga sutra to be sacred or based on any historical fact. The majority of yoga practitioners instead use the teachings within the book as a way to gain perspective and learn how to become closer to the spiritual world. For many, it serves as a guide on how to live and behave in society without giving in to the many temptations of the world. Without the yoga sutra, many believe that yoga would lose its focus and discipline that attracts many of its followers.

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People who practice yoga must follow the eight disciplines or limbs outlined within the yoga sutra. These are Samadhi, Dhyana, Dharana, Yama, Niyama, Pratyahara, Asana and Pranayama. These eight disciplines go by many names, but the most common are royal yoga and raja. They focus on restraint, concentration, breathing discipline, meditation, attention, observance, sublimation and posture. By following these disciplines, yoga practitioners learns how to separate themselves from the material world and free themselves, which in turn allows them to reach true spiritual freedom.

The yoga sutra contains four sections, also known as padas, each with their own set of sutras. These chapters are Samadhi pada, Sadhana pada, Vibhuti pada, and Kaivalya pada. Patanjali organized the padas into these four sections to organize the aphorisms based on their aim within yoga.

Samadhi pada contains 54 sutras, and it describes how to be immersed into “The One” as well as how to achieve a blissful and spiritual state. The Sadhana pada has 55 sutras and describes the yoga practice in all of its forms, including lists of what cannot be done and what observations must be met. Vibhuti pada also hold 55 of the sutras and describes what techniques in yoga are used to reach the highest states of consciousness. The smallest chapter, the Kaivalya pada, contains 34 sutras and describes how a person reaches full liberation.

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