YOGA SUTRAS: Union of Body, Mind & Soul


Yoga is defined as the union of soul with the supreme soul, mighty with the almighty, finite with the infinite, micro cosmic with the macro cosmic, self with the higher self. Here,renowned yogacharya Kaithapuram Vasudevan Namboodiri writes about the different yoga suthras prescribed by Saint Patanjali, the great yoga exponent.

We have seen who Patanjali was in the last issue. ‘Yoga Darsana’ is Patanjali’s work. This authentic text on Yoga is written in aphorisms or terse statements which is called ‘sutras’ in Sanskrit. It need not have any meter or rhythm. Though sutras are terse, their meaning should be clear and unambiguous.  Even though they are precise, some clarifications or elaborations are necessary for the common man tounderstand them. So, there are commentaries for sutras written by learned people. Vyasa has written a commentary for Yoga Sutras. Here, we are going to study the Yoga Sutras of Patnjali, one by one, so that the reader will get a clear understanding of the yoga propagated by him.


This is the first sutra. Atah is an auspicious word to start with. Generally greatwriters start with this type of words to invoke the blessings of gods. They use such words for the successful completion of their work.Atha means thus or now. ‘Now I am going to start the anushaasanam of yoga.’ Shaasanam means science. When anu, a prefix, is added shaasanam gets an added meaning that this science, being introduced here, is not his ‘own’ work but the compilation of all the works on that science prevailed at that time.

Yoga has its roots in Vedas. In fact, all the six Darsanas including yoga are subordinates to Vedas. Hirannyagarbhahsamavartataagre (Hirannyagarbhahwas there in the beginning). Hirannyagarbhah represents the creative and evolutionary force of the universe. He is said to be the instigator of the yoga system. Great teachers of yoga include the Vedic sages like Vasishtha and Yaajnavalkya. The stone seals excavated from the sites of Indus valley civilization, depicting figures in yogic postures, indicates that yoga was practiced even before 3000 B C. Maitrayani Upanishad talks about six- limbed yoga (shadanga yoga). BhagavadGita itself is yogasaastra(science of yoga).

According to Vyasa, the prime commentator of yoga sutras, yoga is samaadhi, tranquility. Samaadhi is enjoyed when mind-stuff (citta) is silenced. This citta can have five stages or forms called mudha (darkening), kshipta (scattering), vikshipta (gathering), ekaagra (one-pointedness) and niruddha (concentrated).

Darkening (mudha)is a type of dullness. Mind is full of tamas. Here, mind is lazy and inactive. It cannot feel pleasure or even pain. But in kshipta mind is full of rajas. It is active. It can enjoy pleasure or pain. But no balance or tranquility can be gained in this stage. These two forms or stages are of the low level; they are demonic in nature. In the third stage, vikshipta,there is a little bit of satva. The mind struggles to gather and centre itself but cannot. So samaadhi is not possible in these three stages. There is no hope of yoga here.

In the fourth stage, ekaagra, the mind is filled with satva. Mind becomes one-pointed. It is able to see the things in its original form. Mind reaches the factual world. All the bondages that tied the mind to the unreal world begin to break and mind becomes free. Samaadhi is achieved. But in the final stage, niruddha, even satva is surpassed and the higher level of samaadhi is achieved.

Since this is the initial sutra, the author should have some other objectives in his mind. Patanjali, being authentic, he has to keep four things in his mind. It is called anubandhacatushtaya. (catushtaya means four). They are (1) subject matter, (2) main objective (3) eligibility and (4) relationship. Patanjali answers all these four questions in this first sutra. The subject matter is yoga. Different yogas and the paths to reach them and also the fruit of all these efforts are discussed in this treatise. Through yoga,swaruupasthiti, establishment of the seer in his own ‘form’, is attained. This is also called liberation (kaivalya, moksha). The urge of the seeker to attain kaivalya makes him eligible for yoga. Description (the treatise) and described (yoga) is the relationship. Path (yoga) and destination (swaruupasthiti), reaching and reached, seeker and sought, doer and the done are also understood here.

Yoga is a Sanskrit word derived from the root yuj (to join). Yoga is defined as the union of soul (Atma) with the supreme soul (Paramatma), mighty with the almighty, finite with the infinite, micro cosmic with the macro cosmic, self with the higher self.

BhagavadGita says that yoga is a state of equanimity (samatvam yoga ucyate). Again it says that yoga is dexterity in action (yogahkarmasukoushalam). Yogavaasishtham, another text of yoga, defines it as a skillful method of calming down the mind (manaprashaamanopaayahyogah). Kathopanishad, a Vedic text, says that stability in controlling the senses (sthiraamindriyadhaaranaam) is yoga.

Thus we enter the magic world of yoga through this first sutra. We will discuss second sutra in the next issue.

By  Kaithapram Vasudevan Namboodiri, Yoga M.Sc., AYUSH-Certified Yoga Teacher, Yoga TTC from Sivanandasram (Neyyar Dam). Director, Patanjali Yoga Training and Research Centre.


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