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20 Yoga Sutras Translated and Explained

Ashley Stern
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To many, yoga seems to be an up and coming trend. The thing the cool kids and celebrities are doing to stay fit. But in reality, yoga is an ancient practice rooted in Eastern spirituality. The history of yoga is vast, and rich with ancient texts, personalities, and disciplines. One of the foundational historic texts on yoga is known as the Yoga Sutras. “Sutra” is defined in Sanskrit as a set of rules or aphorisms on a specific subject.

Patanjali was a sage in ancient India credited for writing the Yoga Sutras, 195 aphorisms (words of wisdom, direction, and inspiration) that teach how to live a meaningful, fulfilling life. Despite being written over 1,700 years ago, the Yoga Sutras remain as relevant to the modern yogi as their ancient counterpart.
 
Below are 20 Yoga Sutras that are particularly relevant to your modern yoga practice. Each sutra is translated from Sanskrit to English, and includes a brief explanation to demonstrate the wisdom behind Patanjali’s infamous teachings.

 

Sutra 1.2 yogas citta-vrtti-nirodhah

Translation: Yoga is the control of the mind.

Yoga is the practice of calming and quieting the mind of the distractions and stresses of the world. Who would object to less stress in their life?
 
 

Sutra 1.13 tatra sthitau yatno ‘bhyâsah

Translation: Practice means choosing, applying the effort, and doing those actions that bring a stable and tranquil state.

Daily life is not always peaceful, so why restrict tranquility to your yoga mat? Look for opportunities to find contentment throughout your day.
 
 

Sutra 1.14 sa tu dîrgha-kâla-nairantarya-satkârâsevito drdha-bhûmih

Translation: When this practice is done for a long time, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable, and solid foundation.

Daily or at least regular practice of yoga and mindfulness will lead to a solid foundation from which you can grow your practice and yourself.
 
 

Sutra 1.27 tasya vâcakah prañavah

Translation: Isvara is the Sanskrit word for pure awareness, and is represented by the sound of OM, the universal vibration that connects us all.

In a world of T-shirts proclaiming “Namaste bitches” and a focus on the physical side of yoga rather than a full practice, it is important to build a foundation of pure awareness. OM is more than the sound you make when meditating. It is a reminder of the source of knowledge and creativity.
 
 

Sutra 1.34 pracchardana-vidhârañâbhyâm vâ prâñasya

Translation: The mind is also calmed by regulating the breath, particularly attending to the exhalation and the natural stilling of breath that comes from such practice.

Breathing is important not only on the mat but in every moment of your day. The breath can be a tool to help calm your mind and body in any stressful situation, such as airplane turbulence, pre exam jitters, or any other challenge in your daily life.
 
 

Sutra 2.1 tapah-svâdhyâyesvara-prañidhânâni kriyâ-yogah

Translation: Yoga in the form of action has three parts:
1: Training and purifying the senses.
2. Self-study in the context of teachings.
3: Devotion and tapping into the creative source from which we emerged.

Yoga is more than how flexible you are and more than practicing a particular pose. Yoga is a full mind-spirit-body practice that is not used to its full potential if you are only going through the physical poses.
 
 

Sutra 2.28 yogângânusthânâd asuddhi-ksaye jnâna-dîptir âviveka-khyâteh

Translation: Through the practice of the different limbs (or steps) of a complete yoga practice, whereby impurities are eliminated, there arises an illumination that culminates in discriminative wisdom or enlightenment.

When each limb of the eight limbed path is practiced in yoga, it will lead you to greater self-knowledge, understanding, contentment, and fulfilment.
 
 

Sutra 2.29 yama-niyamâsana-prâñâyâma-pratyâhâra-dhârañâ-dhyâna-samâdhayo ‘stâv angâni

Translation: The eight limbs of yoga are the codes of self-regulation or restraint, observances or practices of self-training, postures, expansion of breath and prana, withdrawal of the senses, concentration, meditation, and perfected concentration.

There are eight core aspects of yoga, only one of which is the physical posture. You don’t have to be great at all eight aspects of the practice as a beginner, or even an experienced yogi. But it is also important to not disregard aspects which you are frustrated with or don’t like.
 

 

Sutra 2.30 ahimsâ-satyâsteya-brahmacaryâparigrahâ yamâh

Translation: Non-injury or non-harming, truthfulness, abstention from stealing, and non-possessiveness or non-attachment are the five Yamas, or codes of self-regulation. The Yamas are the first of the eight steps of Yoga.

Try to leave a positive mark on the world. Be kind to others. However, remember that this does not mean you cannot defend yourself from negativity or attacks from the outside world. You might be non-violent but that doesn’t mean you are a doormat or punching bag.
 
 

Sutra 2.31 ete jâti-desa-kâla-samayânavacchinnâh sârva-bhaumâ mahâvratam

Translation: These codes of self-regulation become a powerful standard to live by when they can be practiced unconditionally.

Be kind to all people. It’s a simple concept, but sometimes difficult to practice. Try your best at remaining and acting from a place of compassion.
 
 

Sutra 2.32 sauca-santosa-tapah-svâdhyâyesvara-prañidhânâni niyamâh

Translation: Cleanliness and purity of body and mind, an attitude of contentment, discipline, self-study and reflection on sacred words, and an attitude of surrender are the observances or practices of self-training, and are the second rung on the ladder of Yoga, otherwise known as the Niyamas.
Take care of yourself mentally and physically. Self-care and self-love are an important part of a yoga practice, as well as a healthy life. These Niyamas guide you to a higher state of awareness.
 
 

Sutra 2.46 sthira-sukham âsanam

Translation: The means of perfecting the posture is that of relaxing, relenting effort, and allowing your attention to merge with endlessness, or the infinite.

This is the practice most people envision when they think of yoga: the physical postures you do on the mat. Asana is not about being as flexible as the person next to you, but about seeing what your body can do, and using the physical practice as an expression of steadiness and ease.
 
 

Sutra 2.49 tasmin sati svâsa-prasvâsayor gati-vicchedah prâñâyâmah

Translation: Once a posture has been achieved, you will begin to incorporate breath control, which is known as pranayama. Breath regulation is the fourth of the eight rungs.

The regulation of breath is an important aspect of the asana (or posture) practice and should be utilized during your time on the mat. Without the breath, the physical practice is incomplete and can become disconnected from the mental focus and control.
 
 

Sutra 2.54 sva-visayâsamprayoge cittasya svarûpânukâra ivendriyânam pratyâhârah

Translation: When your own senses and actions cease to be engaged with the corresponding objects in your mental realm, and withdraw into the consciousness from which they arose, this is called pratyahara, the fifth step.

Thinking about the physical world and your personal world as inextricably connected is important in understanding yourself. Your perception of the world is unique and separate from the actual substance of the world or from the ways in which others view the universe. When you are able to temporarily withdraw from your exterior senses, you will gain a better understanding of this connection.
 
 

Sutra 3.1 desa-bandhas cittasya dhârañâ

Translation: Concentration is the process of holding or fixing the mind’s attention onto one object or place, and is the sixth of the eight rungs.

Concentrating on a mantra, intention, or simply clearing and silencing your mind is a way to teach yourself discipline, increase focus, and decrease stress.
 
 

Sutra 3.2 tatra pratyayaika-tânatâ dhyânam

Translation: The repeated continuation, or uninterrupted stream of that one point of focus is called absorption in meditation, and is the seventh of the eight steps.

Meditation is an important aspect of yoga that is often thought of as separate or optional. However, it is a valuable tool and a way to grow your understanding and practice of yoga.
 
 

Sutra 3.3 tad evârtha-mâtra-nirbhâsam svarûpa-sûnyam iva samâdhih

Translation: When only the essence of that object, place, or point of focus shines forth in the mind, that deep concentration is called samadhi, which is the eighth rung.

Deep concentration and meditation may take practice and concentration, but they will lead you to new ways of thinking and to revelations about yourself and your perspective on the world.
 
 

Sutra 3.49 tato mano-javitvam vikaraña-bhâvah pradhâna-jayas ca

Translation: With mastery over the senses, thoughts, and actions comes quickness of mind and perception.

By having control over your mind and body, you can not only have a fuller yoga practice, but lead a life in which you are truly content.
 
 

Sutra 4.15 vastu-sâmye citta-bhedât tayor vibhaktah panthâh

Translation: Although individuals perceive the same objects, these objects are perceived in different ways, because those minds are each unique and beautifully diverse.

Everyone has an individual and unique perception of the world. It is important to respect and honor those differences – even if you don’t fully understand them.
 
 

Sutra 4.31 tadâ sarvâvaraña-malâpetasya jnânasyânantyâj jneyam alpam

Translation: Then, by the removal of the layers of imperfection, there comes the experience of the infinite, along with the realization that knowledge is infinite.

Through a devoted practice in the eight limbed path of yoga, you will begin removing the impurities of self. This practice leads to enlightenment, and you open yourself up to the infinite wisdom that is all around us.
 
 
Life is busy, and you may not have time to study all the sutras, but that doesn’t mean you can’t learn from them. Modern yogis can use the sutras to find daily or weekly intentions for practice and life. Finding meaning in the ancient roots of yoga can refresh any modern yogi’s routine.

So give this list a read and find something that speaks to where you are and where you would like to go. Whether you practice in a yoga studio or in your bedroom, are accomplished or just starting out, these sutras will help guide you to a new, deeper, and fuller understanding of yoga.

A full PDF of the Yoga Sutras can be found here.

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Ashley Stern

A Wisconsinite at heart, Ashley is currently a student working on her masters in creative writing in Edinburgh, Scotland. She’s a writer, a reader, traveler, a nerd, and a lover of life. Ashley is new to yoga and developing her practice from her student flat. She drinks a lot of tea and even more coffee. She’s a dog person, wears lots of purple, and believes in Laini Taylor’s wise words, “Cake as a way of life.”

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