The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are one of the six darshanas of Hindu or Vedic schools and, alongside the Bhagavad Gita and Hatha Yoga Pradipika, are a milestone in the history of Yoga. The book is a set of 195 aphorisms (sutras), which are short, terse phrases designed to be easy to memorize. Though brief, the Yoga Sutras are an enormously influential work that is just as relevant for yoga philosophy and practice today as it was when it was written.
To understand the work’s title, it is necessary to consider the meanings of its two component words. The Sanskrit word Yoga, as used by Patanjali, refers to a state of mind where thoughts and feelings are held in check. Sutra means “thread”. This is a reference to the thread of a mala, upon which (figuratively speaking) the yoga aphorisms that make up the work’s content are strung like beads. For that reason the title is sometimes rendered in English as the Yoga Aphorisms.
The Padma Purana defines a sutra as “A sutra should have few alphabets (alpa-akshara), an unambiguous meaning, be full of essence (sara-yukta), said only after considering all arguments for and against it, infallible and without blemish.”
Traditionally, the most prominent commentary is that of Vyasa, to whose work Vachaspati Misra has contributed an explanation of Vyasa’s commentary
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