Staying in Balance

Yoga Sutras

Raquel Graham

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is a concise work, eloquent in style with a minimum of words and an unparalleled wealth of meaning. The 196 sutras are terse. Yet they are full of gems of wisdom on which to ponder and by which to live. Patanjali has studied the human condition in depth and shown why man suffers and how he may overcome his sufferings - how each of us can lead a fuller and happier life.

The Yoga Sutras are set in a universal context as a guide to human existence. Patanjali shows us, step by step, how to grow from our life's afflictions towards freedom. He describes how each person may integrate him or herself through the quest for freedom. He leads us into our inner selves where we may seek shelter and peace. This peace is eternally present in the core of our being, waiting for us, guiding us, sometimes hidden, sometimes chiding, sometimes welcoming. We find this inner peace through our yoga practice.

Patanjali's exposition consists of eight aspects or limbs (astanga) of yoga. These are yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. Yama and niyama are codes of moral and social conduct; asanas are physical postures that bring together the complete involvement of the body, mind, awareness and intelligence; pranayama – the regulation and restraint of breath; pratyahara – relaxation and internalization of the senses of perception; dharana – concentration; dhyana – meditation and samadhi – the ultimate state of self realization.

The Yamas and Niyamas are a foundation of practice, the ethical codes by which to live -the pure ground from which to start. These practices help to produce the ability to control the senses and thus the body and mind. The Yamas are vows of restraint, moral injunctions - universal rules of conduct. They form the rules on which society is based. These consist of:

  • Ahimsa — non-violence
  • Satya — truthfulness/honesty
  • Asteya — non-stealing
  • Brahamacharya — chastity or continence
  • Aparigraha — non-greediness, nonhoarding

The Niyamas are personal rules of conduct, selfdiscipline that builds character. The Niyamas:

  • Saucha — cleanliness, purity
  • Santosa — contentment
  • Tapas - burning zeal or austerities
  • Svadyaya — self-study
  • Ishvara pranidahana — surrender to the will of God

It is only through practice of these eight limbs that we overcome afflictions and develop stability and mature intelligence. Sense and mind are brought under control by practice. If we follow Patanjalis teachings diligently and contemplate their inner meaning in the depths of our inner selves, we will learn to understand both ourselves and others in a new light.

Future issues of this newsletter will explore these eight limbs more in depth.