Back to all

Our Favourite Yoga Sutras

by Amy Collins

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a text read and studied by many yoga teachers and yoga enthusiast around the world. While some translations differ here and there, the messages and teachings are all the same. It’s held now to be the foundation text of yoga philosophy. So what is it like to read? The text is a collection of 196 sutras. Sutras are small passages and are essentially the guiding principles behind the yoga teachings. Most translations now include a discussion of each sutra giving insight into how it came to be and how it can be understood now.

While each and every sutra has incredible value, we’ve chosen just a handful that we feel can be translated into everyday life. In meaningful and accessible ways.

1.2 Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind

The very first sutra 1.1 simply states that the teachings of yoga have begun. As the reader picks up the text, the teaching begins. Then we dive into the second sutra. Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind. This is a nice reminder that the physical shapes are just a part of the practice, but the real underlying teachings are about helping us still and quiet the mind. It’s easy to get caught up in progressing physically, but sometimes we should spend a little more time focusing on using the physical practice to focus and tune in.

11.31 [These Yamas] are considered the great vow. They are not exempt by one’s class, place, time, or circumstance. They are Universal.

The Yamas are one of the eight limbs of the yoga teachings. Which are discussed in the yoga sutras. The Yamas are the practice of non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence (also seen as controlling and conserving ones energy and sexual desires to positive uses), and non-coveting (also known as non attachment and only having what we need). What this sutra is saying is that we should all live by these, no excuses. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, whether you’re in a bad mood, whether you’re somewhere no one knows you, these are important ways to live. To not be violent, to steal, to horde material things, to use your sexual energy improperly.

11.33 Upon being harassed by negative thoughts, one should cultivate counteracting thoughts. 

Sometimes the way that our mind works can feel like harassment. The constant stream of information, often filled with negative or unhelpful thoughts. And while often it seems like ‘yogis’ should be able to meditate and slow the mind, this sutra shows that we all have these kinds of thoughts and feelings. And perhaps there is a simple way forward – to simply think different thoughts not try to stop the first ones.

11.11Meditation is the one-pointedness of the mind on one image.

Again this sutra is a nice reminder that meditation doesn’t have to be complicated. While simple doesn’t make it easy, it makes it’s accessible to all of us. Meditation is the one-pointedness of the mind on one image. Whether this is watching the breath, watching the body, focusing on an image behind closed eyes, whatever it is that works for you. A focused mind can slow the thoughts. 

11.46 Posture should be steady and comfortable.

The physical practice is only mentioned in about three sutras. It’s clear it is a means to an end for the yogis, a way they can sit for longer to dive deeper into meditation. This sutra speaks to the fact that the posture that we find ourselves in should be steady and comfortable. It could be talking about just our meditation seat, but also all of the asana. All our shapes should come from a place of steadiness and ease. This is a nice reminder than sometimes scaling back is the more desirable option.

There are also a few sutras that we are still working to understand. It is a lifelong practice after all. Here are a few that are a work in progress. 

111.39 By mastery over the udana vital air, one attains [the power of] levitation and does not come into contact with water, mud and thorns, etc. 

The yogis teach that once an individual has mastery over the udana vital air (a type of breath), they then levitate. We have not yet mastered this. We will keep you updated when we do.

111.46 The perfection of the body consists of [possessing] beauty, charm, strength, and the power of a thunderbolt.

If you need us, we will be working out how to hone the power of a thunderbolt.