top of page

Further Down The Suture

Over the last few months I’ve spent time highlighting the first few Yoga Sutras, but I haven’t really talked about what the Yoga Sutras are.

Before we go further, let’s back up.

And gain some relevance and perspective.

First, what is a sutra?

Closely related to the word suture - it’s considered a thread between complex ideas. Think about pearls of wisdom that are strung together.

The Yoga Sutras are considered the foundation of classical Yoga (and what we can mostly call modern Yoga too). It was written down somewhere between 500 B.C.E. - 300 C.E. but was quite popular via oral tradition prior (500-1000 B.C.E.). The Sutras are commonly credited to Patanjali, who lived, maybe, around 200 B.C.E. and was a bit of a nebulous figure - or maybe even a conglomerate of a few different people.

The Sutras themselves are simply short, pithy statements that meant to be contemplated. They are short so that they are easily learned, chanted, and memorized - remember the part about the oral tradition? There are 196 in total divided into 4 different chapters - or padas.

  1. Samadhi Pada - Portion on Contemplation

  2. Sadhana Pada - Portion on Practice

  3. Vibhuti Pada - Portion on Accomplishments

  4. Kaivalya Pada - Portion on Absoluteness

These teachings were rather counter-culture to popular spiritual practices at the time, which were more based on ritual, superstition, and hierarchy. These teachings offer opportunity to common folks to experience Yoga - no intermediary necessary.

If you are curious about my previous reflections, check them out here:

Or if you would rather not, quick summary:

And now begins our extensive discussion of Yoga (1.1). But first, a definition: Yoga is both the calming of our mind-stuff and the uniting of our consciousness in our hearts (1.2). When we commit to the practices of Yoga, we are able to see ourselves in our truest state: JOY! (1.3).

All of it sounds pretty cool, right?

Which brings us to….

Yoga Sutra 1.4

Vrtti sarupyamitaratra

A few translations:

At other times, we identify with the rays of consciousness, which fluctuate and encourage our perceived suffering.

~ Nischala Joy Devi

“Elsewhere [the Seer] conforms to the roaming tendencies of the mind.”

~ Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

“The ability to understand the object is simply replaced by the mind’s conception of that object or by a total lack of comprehension.”

~ T.K.V. Desikachar

What I love most about this particular Sutra is that it tells us that we are going to mess it up!

AND sometimes - we let our mind-stuff run wild, our hearts get distracted and dispersed, and we feel anything BUT joyous.

This sentiment is also expressed in one of my least favorite childhood books, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day - where the author pretty much complains for the whole book and ends with “well, some days are just like that.”

Patajani takes it further in the next few sutras by naming and describing the different tendencies of the mind (vrttis). Often called modifications or fluctuations or even rays of consciousness. These tendencies/modifications/rays may polarize us towards being either more positive or negative sides of a 2-way spectrum.

  1. Pramana - the ray of knowledge which can be divided into personal experience, inference, and insights from the wise.

  2. Viparyaya - the ray of misunderstanding which comes when our perception is unclear or tinted, and is super common.

  3. Vikalpa - the ray of imagination with the power to create an unlimited number of possibilities.

  4. Nidra - the ray of deep sleep that allows us to withdrawal from conscious awareness.

  5. Smrtayah - the ray of memory that returns a previous experience into conscious awareness.

Patanjali gives us a way through in YS 1.12:

abhyāsavairāgyābhyāṁ tannirodhaḥ

Per usual, a few translations:

“Consciousness is elevated by Abhaysa (Devoted Practice) and Vairagya (Remembering the Self).”

~ Nischala Joy Devī

“That can be controlled through practice and non-attachment.”

~ Pandit Rajmani Tigunait

“The mind can reach the state of Yoga through practice and detachment.”

~ T.K.V. Desikachar

Practice and non attachment - the ways through!

Stay tuned for further reflections as I currently the practice and exploration of non attachment!


bottom of page