Cathy Weiss


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Yoga Sutras 101

In my last post I briefly mentioned the Yoga Sutras without explaining what they are. Here is a simple explanation of them, what they're for, and how to use/understand them. The word Sutra literally means thread. The almost 200 Sutras weave together to form the blanket of yoga, which we can wrap around ourselves anytime we want. Each Sutra is generally one line or sentence, though sometimes not even a complete sentence, meant to be contemplated, revisited, applied to our lives. The are purposefully open to interpretation so that each of us may find personal meaning from them in our lives through experimentation with the concepts.

Here's an example of how a simple sentence is open to interpretation. The very first Sutra states: "Now the exposition of yoga is being made." The word now can be interpreted as, the next thing coming is the teaching of yoga, or in this present moment, or now that you as a person are ready you can begin to learn yoga, or there's never a good time to start learning so it might as well be now. I like to think of it as every moment in our lives is an opportunity to practice yoga.

Just a quick FYI, the actual goal of yoga is not the fun exercise we do to get great tank top arms, although that is an important part of the practice. The actual meaning of yoga is to have a still, quiet mind. Not a blank mind, but focused on one point or area of concentration without distraction. You can cultivate a still, quiet mind while doing dishes, reading this blog, listening to the rain, or hanging upside down on a pole. The physical exercises of yoga help prepare both our bodies and our minds to have this type of focus outside of the studio as well as when we are there.

The Sutras are a sort of road map to the practice of yoga, a means of right living, and for some to spirituality. They explain the road blocks to achieving focus and concentration and how to overcome those obstacles. One of the things I love most about the Sutras is they never state you must do this, that, or the other. Never do they say this is the truth and you must believe. It is more like, hey, here's this idea, try it on for size and see how it fits. Choose the ones that are meaningful to you and apply them to your life. By applying the Sutras that speak to us in our lives we slowly inch closer to the place where our minds are calm and focused and we live life comfortably from the inside out.

If you are interested in reading or learning more about the Sutras, be aware that because they are open to interpretation there are many different translations and explanations of them. I find The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda to be accessible, humorous, and one that I can refer back to on a regular basis. Keep in mind that reading and learning about the Sutras is not necessary to the practice of yoga, (I practiced yoga for nine years before I had even heard of them) so if don't find yourself wanting to know more, that is perfect. And if you do find yourself wanting to know more, that is perfect, too.

I'd like to leave you with one the Sutras I find most useful in my life and one that I come back to again and again.

Sutra 2.33 "When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of."