Wisdom Beyond the Mat: Unpacking the Yoga Sutras

Practicing yoga as a physical set of movements can be a great experience. The benefits are numerous and the popularity of studio classes demonstrates how appealing and widespread this practice is.

I focused solely on the physical aspect of yoga for years and loved it, but at a certain point, like many yogis, I wanted to engage with the other, multi-dimensional aspects of this ancient discipline and discover more of the wisdom that informs the practice.

Delving into some of these deeper layers has enriched my time on the mat as well as my life off the mat.

This blog will touch on one tiny thread of the rich woven history that makes up the vast tapestry that is yoga philosophy with a look at the first three yoga sutras.

I hope this information will pique your interest in learning more about the origins and many layers of yoga or give you seeds of contemplation to incorporate into your existing practice.

Background – to yolk

The first known writings to reference “yoga” are the ancient Sanskrit texts from India, the Vedas. Written between 1500-1000 BC, they introduce the word yoga to mean “to yoke” or unite which is why people often talk about yoga meaning to find union.

Depending on the translation and interpretation, union could mean:

  • union across all aspects of one’s self – mind x body x spirit

  • union between an individual and the collective/universe

Note that in these spiritual texts where we first come across “yoga,” the word had nothing to do with postures or a physical practice!

The Yoga Sutras

The yogic text you will more often hear referenced is the Yoga Sutras by the Indian sage Patanjali. These writings include 196 aphorisms and are believed to be his synthesis of knowledge about yoga from older traditions (including the Vedas). The Yoga Sutras are recognized to be one of the foundational texts of classical yoga philosophy and most modern yoga traditions pull from them in some way.

As with the study of most ancient and spiritual texts, the meaning and understanding of the words evolves and grows richer the more one interacts with them and experiences their wisdom. I invite you to contemplate them as part of your practice and life and see what meaning they bring to you. The first three sutras offer a foundation for deeper self-awareness – my understanding of them, at present, ss as follows:

Sutra 1.1: Atha Yoga Anushasanam

Now we begin our practice and discipline of yoga.