The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are 196 Indian sūtras (aphorisms) that constitute the foundational text of yoga. Although the Yoga Sutras have become the most important text of Yoga, the opinion of most scholars is that Patañjali was not the creator of Yoga, which existed well before him, but merely a great teacher.
When Paatanjali codified, or compiled the Yoga Sutras, no new system was created, but rather, the ancient practices were summarized in an extremely organized way. While the Yoga Sutras are thought to be as old as 400 BC, archaeological evidence and other texts suggest that the methods described in the Yoga Sutras were being practiced as early as 3000 BC. Oral tradition states that the period may be even longer.
Yoga means union & sutra means thread: Yoga means union of the parts of ourselves, which were never divided in the first place. Yoga literally means to yoke, from the root yuj, which means to join; it is the same as the absorption in the state of samadhi. Sutra means thread, and this thread, or multiple threads, weave a tapestry of insight and direct experience. Some say that the name of the text uses the word sutra in its plural form, as Yoga Sutras, in that each of the sutras, or threads, comes together to form a complete tapestry. Others say that it is used in its singular form, as Yoga Sutra, in that there is one, consistent thread that flows through the entire text.
Yoga regulating your own mind: Swami Rama explains, “There have been many scholarly commentaries on the Yoga Sutras, but all the commentaries miss something very practical. Such commentaries can only satisfy the intellect, but do not actually help you beyond that: ‘yogash chitta vritti narodha’–yoga is the control of the ‘modifications’ of the mind. Narodha means control; there is no other English word for it. Control doesn’t mean suppression, but channeling or regulating.
Other names: The Yoga Sutras is also referred to as Raja Yoga, the Royal Yoga. Some call it Kriya Yoga. Others refer to it as Ashtanga Yoga (Ashta = eight; anga = rungs), which is the eight-fold path of Yoga, including yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi, which begin with Sutra 28 of Chapter 2 (2.28) (Note that this does not refer to the physical yoga that has chosen to use the same name, Ashtanga Yoga, for their practices).
Many translations: There are many different English translations of the Yoga Sutra, with each providing a perspective. Each translation adds something, and each translation might miss something else. What seems most useful is to read many translations, and then draw from them what you find most useful.
Structure of the text: Patañjali divided his Yoga Sutra into 4 chapters or books (Sanskrit pada), containing in all 196 aphorisms, divided as follows:
Samadhi Pada (51 sutras)
Samadhi refers to a blissful state where the yogi is absorbed into the One. Samadhi is the main technique the yogi learns by which to dive into the depths of the mind to achieve Kaivalya. This chapter contains the famous definitional verse: “Yogaś citta-vritti-nirodhaḥ” (“Yoga is the restraint of mental modifications”).
Sadhana Pada (55 sutras)
Sadhana is the Sanskrit word for “practice” or “discipline”. Here outlines two forms of Yoga: Kriya Yoga (Action Yoga) and Ashtanga Yoga (Eightfold or Eightlimbed Yoga).
Kriya yoga, sometimes called Karma Yoga, is also expanded in Chapter 3 of the Bhagavad Gita, where Arjuna is encouraged by Krishna to act without attachment to the results or fruit of action and activity. It is the yoga of selfless action and service.
Ashtanga Yoga describes the eight limbs that together constitute Rāja Yoga.
Vibhuti Pada (56 sutras)
Vibhuti is the Sanskrit word for “power” or “manifestation”. ‘Supra-normal powers’ (Sanskrit: siddhi) are acquired by the practice of yoga. The temptation of these powers should be avoided and the attention should be fixed only on liberation.
Kaivalya Pada (34 sutras)
Kaivalya literally means “isolation”, but as used in the Sutras stands for emancipation, liberation and used interchangeably with moksha (liberation), which is the goal of Yoga. The Kaivalya Pada describes the process of liberation and the reality of the transcendental ego.