The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is our guide to practicing Yoga. So, it means that everyone who starts to practice yoga seriously must read and study Sutras. However when you are a beginner, only portions of the text apply to you personally. It can be comforting to know that the Yoga Sutra is actually designed for teachers as a guideline for training students. Yoga Sutras are for teachers. And when you begin to teach your first classes you must read and study again.
I read Yoga Sutras mindfully and completely for the first time during my Iyengar Yoga Teachers Training in 2008. It was a compulsory reading and read like an old ancient text not connected with modern life, modern yoga practice, and especially with Iyengar Yoga classes I took. Sutra that hit me seriously was about Asana, because our Iyengar classes were actually only Asana classes. Sutra 2-46 said that “right pose must be firm and without strain” or “Yoga Asanas are steady and comfortable”.
My Asanas at that time were always challenging and my teachers always persuaded us to work in asana, to improve asana, to press harder, to rotate deeper and so on.
I thought a lot about this and decided to do my asanas in different way. I started to seek the perfect combination of “firm and soft” between effort and relaxation. I tried to keep the body still and steady and hold a pose for a long time with a little effort, simply by breathing. Maybe asanas were not so perfect and deep, but I enjoyed my new understanding.
In 2012 I began practicing and teaching Unnata Aerial Yoga and took my first Unnata Teacher Training with Michelle Dortignac. During that training and other trainings with her, I continued my education and often studied and discussed Sutras. Step by step many Sutras became clearer, more useful and important. Some Sutras turned out to be very special for my life and practice. How can you understand, if you are on a right way or not?
Just check your attitude towards people.
Sutra 1-33 : “In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.” ( Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati) .
I try to use this principle as a rule in my everyday life. First three are understandable for me and easy to follow, however the “neutrality towards evil” is the most complicated thing, especially in the Russian culture. We were born and raised to fight against evil.
With continued practice it is possible to achieve neutrality: not to create negativity against evil, but making a little step to the side and doing something kind, nice or decent.
One more special Sutra for me is Sutra 1-12. If Sutra 1-33 is my guide in society, this one is guiding my personal way and practice.
Sutra 1-12 ” These thought pattern are mastered through practice and non-attachment “. Practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya) are the two core principles on which the entire system of Yoga rests. They work together: Practice leads you in the right direction, while non-attachment allows you to continue the inner journey without getting sidetracked into the pains and pleasures along the way.
It’s quite understandable that if you stepped onto a path of Yoga and decided to continue, you would try to never give up, to practice without a break and with enthusiasm. However non-attachment is not easy to find and follow, because we often surrogate love with attachment. So we can be confused by the terms ”non-attachment” and “non-loving”. Indeed “love is what is left when you let go of all the things you love. ”
I had been familiar with Yoga Sutras when I decided to re-read them as a part of my homework for this training. I really enjoyed reading it and read about 15 different translation, because it’s tempting to choose one translation as the best one.
All the translations add something extra, so it was useful to read many of them, and then figure out what I found most useful. My favorite translations are: english translation by Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati and Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with comments of Sri Krishnamacharya by T.K.V. Desikachar .
After studying Yoga Sutras in many translation I feel that The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are the universal guide in the field of Yoga. The word Yoga means union and the word Sutra means thread. So the Sutras are these threads that help us create the union of yoga, the union of parts of ourselves, which were never divided in the first place. You can check and correct your practice consulting Sutras in every moment of your yoga life. After understanding what yoga is (first four Sutras), step by step you find out what the goal of yoga is, how to achieve it and how to check your progress. You realize what you need to do at first, how to continue and how long your path will be, and what you could gain from certain action. You can really understand what Samadhi is and the true value of Liberation.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali inspired me to create this small speech for guiding my students into Shavasana. After students have relaxed their body, breathe and mind I ask them to draw attention to their inner self, their true self. «…you are not your body, you are not your breath, you are not your thoughts and not your mind. You are that observer, who checked how your body was relaxing, how your breathing was calming down, how your thoughts were coming, passing and releasing. This observer is your true self, and your true self is immortal, constant and is absolutely happy in every moment of life. So stay with these feelings, stay in Shavasana”
1. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. English translation by Swamy Jnaneshvara Bharati
2. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. English translation by TKV Desikachar
4. BKS Iyengar . Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali.
5. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. Translation from Sanskrit, foreword and comments by B. Zagumennov.
About the Author
Olika Elkina is an Unnata Aerial Yoga Course Leader, teaching Unnata® Aerial Yoga since 2012. She is the current studio owner of Aerialyoga Centre. http://aerialyogacentre.com/