|[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 324 ]
The ‘physical yoga’, or hatha yoga, was primarily designed to facilitate the higher practices of yoga (raja yoga) -- namely, the understanding of and complete mastery over the mind. So, the actual meaning of the word yoga could also be "the science of the mind." Traditionally, the word yoga itself was used just so, referring to raja yoga, or the 'mental science'. The primary text of raja yoga is called the YOGA SUTRAS of Patanjali.
In Sanskrit, the word sutra literally means "thread." So each sutra can be seen as the 'barest thread of meaning upon which a teacher might expand by adding his or her experience and knowledge.
In the guru kula, or yogashram, students would write down these threads of knowledge as a sort of short-hand during the lectures and teachings from the great master, and later recite them as mantras in order to commit their knowledge into practice.
Not much is known about sage Patanjali, or when exactly the YOGA SUTRAS came into being. Estimates range from 5000 BC to 300 AD. Since references to the practice of yoga and to many of the concepts within the YOGA SUTRAS exist in many of the ancient texts of the VEDAS, including the UPANISHADS and the PURANAS, it is apparent that Patanjali did not in any sense, invent raja yoga, but rather compiled and systemised the already existing ideas and practices.
It was Patanjali who was the first to codify and present to posterity the ancient Indian heritage of yoga through this treatise, which is also referred to as yoga darshana. This yoga darshana is such a deep, penetrating and all-encompassing study of the subject that it is still considered the most profound and enlightening study of the human psyche today.
In just 196 aphorisms, Patanjali shows how, through the practice of yoga, we can transform ourselves, gain mastery over the mind and emotions, overcome obstacles to our spiritual evolution and attain the goal of yoga—kaivalya, or liberation from the bondage of worldly desires. This treatise is comprised of only four chapters and is written in Sanskrit.
The YOGA SUTRAS was not intended to be a textbook of yoga, and hence, the new student will not be able to get anything other than a framework of the science of yoga from this work. Several translations and commentaries on the YOGA SUTRAS have been written over the centuries with each scholar interpreting them as per the times and as per his/her own understanding.
It is upon these many volumes of commentary wherein great insight and learning can be gained. Yet the student must be astute and discerning in their review of the contemporary commentary and interpretations of this work, as ideas and analysis of the YOGA SUTRAS can vary greatly from author to author.
Swami Gitananda Giri Gurumaharaj insists that “This system… is the most integrated, holistic view of yoga that we have out of the hoary past,” and referred to the ashtanga yoga system of Maharishi Patanjali as 'no option yoga':
"That yoga has fallen down in the eyes of the public and is now even ridiculed and derided in many Western countries must be blamed on those who watered down the yoga of Patanjali and insisted that they had the right to opt only for that part of yoga which they emotionally wanted to follow. I insist that Patanjali’s Ashtanga yoga is 'No Option yoga'. Simply performing asanas and pranayama without the higher aspects of yoga is fruitless."
Patanjali has since become known as the Father of yoga and the YOGA SUTRAS are indeed an essential study for any serious yoga student and spiritual aspirant...
NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.
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