Kula Grad Series: The Yoga Sutras

By: Mary Saunders

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The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali are an ancient text of spiritual enlightenment, and one of the primary texts of yoga philosophy studied by yogis. These texts provide us with wisdom, knowledge, and guidance through yogic theory, methods and practice to reconnect to our true selves and attain liberation. Although the yoga sutras are ancient, the wisdom contained within them is still incredibly relevant and important for modern yogis to study and integrate into their lives.

Within the Yoga Sutras Book II, the Sadhana Pada, The Ashtanga Eight Fold Path is outlined, which is the essence of the Path of Raja Yoga, the path of meditative absorption. Much of what we consider modern styles of yoga is considered to be Raja Yoga.

The eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga as defined by Patanjali contain an immense amount of wisdom, including Asana, which is the physical practice which many people consider yoga to be! However, as I began my study of the Ashtanga eight fold path in the Yoga Sutras, I found the guidelines and wisdom of inner attitude to improve ourselves to be fascinating and relevant. In studying the five Niyamas, it provides a deeper understanding of the self and therefore a deeper understanding of Yoga. 

1. The Niyamas: Sauca

The Niyamas are principles of inner self-improvement, observations, and self-adjustments that allow us to become the best versions of ourselves. The first Niyama is Sauca, which means purity and cleanliness in thoughts, words, and actions. This relates to the ability to clear and cleanse the mind of thoughts that do not serve you. As a yoga teacher, it is very important to have purity in intention, because if it is not you will most likely carry that energy into your classes with you and your students will pick up on it. As a teacher it is important to be able to cleanse and purify yourself of thoughts, words, actions, and habits continually in order to attain an elevated consciousness and strive towards love and balance. 

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2. The Niyamas: Santosha

The second Niyama is Santosha, which is the inner peace of contentment. Santosha is such a beautiful lesson because it teaches us to find satisfaction in where we are in the present moment and accepting it fully as it is. Santosha is an excellent practice for modern yogis to accept things as they are, not as you want them to be. Santosha teaches us that we are exactly where we need to be. One of the most valuable aspects is to not seek outside ourselves for happiness, but that happiness exists within us, here and now. 

3. The Niyamas: Tapas

The third Niyama is Tapas, which can be interpreted as self-discipline. Tapas literally means “heat” or “to burn” and can be thought of as the fire of cleansing and purification. Tapas can teach us to remain strong in our true center while being drawn from outside sources. As example of discipline or tapas is fasting. Although it is uncomfortable and you are hungry and in pain, it helps to burn toxins and cleanse ourselves. In doing this practice it refines and purifies us, keeping us sharp and discerning. 

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4. The Niyamas: Svadhyaya

The fourth Niyama is Svadhyaya, which is self-study and devotion to personal development. Svadhyaya is practiced through the study of sacred texts, repetition of mantra, self-inquiry, and self-study in all aspects of life. The continuous focus on self-improvement and learning is so important as a yogi so that you may always stay humble and realize that the journey of learning and growth is never over. 

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5. The Niyamas: Isvara Pranidhana

The fifth Niyama is Isvara Pranidhana, which means dedication to the divine. The translation from Sanskrit means “fully surrendering your commitment and worship to God.” God can also be understood as Universal Spirit or expression of Universal Love. This wisdom is so powerful in the study of yoga, for cultivating and understanding your own personal relationship to spirituality. In surrendering to pure universal awareness we learn to see the divine love within us, embody it, and share that love outwards with anyone we encounter.

The last three Niyamas: discipline, self-study, and dedication to the divine are considered to make up Kriya Yoga, or yogic action. They are also called the “Three Wise Men.” These three Niyamas provide a solid foundation to build a yoga practice and life of consciousness and awareness. Patañjali writes that in practicing these three Niyamas, it is a path of action towards realizing freedom and liberation.

In diving into the study of the Niyamas within the Yoga Sutras, I have come to many realizations about why these ancient texts continue to be so relevant in modern times. They contain deep wisdom that as yogis, we seek to live and embody. The devotion to purity, self-study, discipline, personal growth and development, contentment, and spiritual devotion, all help us to become the truest version of ourselves. In devoting ourselves to these practices we may embody our highest self and universal love. 

About Mary:

Mary received her 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training Certification with the Kula Collective at the Yoga Forest in Guatemala. She lives in Portland, Oregon. Some of Mary's passions include sacred movement through yoga and dance, cacao plant medicine, writing and traveling. She believes that through yoga we are able to connect to our true selves and lift each other up, creating conscious expansion and growth for all.