In 196 succinct aphorisms, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras describe the working of the mind and emotions, and the path to fulfilment. In the first chapter yoga is defined as ‘the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind’. This famous phrase encapsulates both the practice and the ultimate aim of yoga: the means are just as important as this end.
Patanjali defines these means as the ‘eight limbs’ (astanga) or stages of yoga. Though his eightfold path is sequential, its limbs are seamlessly interwoven. The first two, yama and niyama, offer guidance on personal conduct, both in relation to others and towards oneself. In total, there are ten precepts for living ethically, with potentially transformative effects.
The next two components, asana and pranayama, are the physical practices taught at the Institute: yoga postures and control of the breath. Together, they provide a vehicle for more internal work. The other four stages comprise this inner quest. Through withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara) and concentration (dharana), sustained meditation (dhyana) engenders a state of samadhi, which is variously defined as freedom, self-realisation and enlightenment.