Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Why You Need to Study the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Why You Need to Study the Yoga Sutras

In this interview, Siddhartha Krishna, a Vedanta and yoga philosophy teacher based in Rishikesh, talks about Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. With his background in philosophy, and as an Iyengar Yoga student, he explains why it is important for every yoga practitioner to study the yoga sutras.

Siddhartha Krishna is an outstanding teacher. Students from all around the world travel to Rishikesh to attend his lectures. He is very well respected even by other local philosophy teachers.

I met Siddhartha Krishna for the first time during one of my stays at the Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama Ashram in Rishikesh. That was probably in 2012. I think at that time he was teaching the Bhagavad Gita.

As soon as I attended one of his lectures I asked myself in awe, "Who is he?!"

I was so impressed by his vast knowledge, and by his capacity to express with so much ease the teachings of Vedanta and yoga.

I came back Rishikesh this October to study the second chapter of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras with Siddharthaji. Four hours per day of philosophical studies, for a whole week. I loved it!

Of course, I was not going to miss this opportunity. By the end of the course I asked Siddhartha if we could sit together for another interview (I interviewed him before, check the links below), to ask him just a few questions about the Yoga Sutras.

Why You Need to Study the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

An Interview with Siddhartha Krishna, Philosophy Teacher in Rishikesh

01:38 What are the Yoga Sutras and why should we study them?
05:17 Which book would you recommend to study the Yoga Sutras?
09:56 Would you recommend to study the Yoga Sutras on our own?
11:13 Is it a good idea to memorize each sutra?

The video includes subtitles. You need to activate them by clicking/tapping on the "cc" on your YouTube video player. Below you can find the video transcript.

To give you some context. Most of the shots that you'll see in the intro and outro sections of the video where taken just outside of the Omkarananda Patanjala Yoga Kendra, which lies right next to the holy river Ganges. This is in the Ram Jhula area.

The Patanjala Yoga Kendra is the yoga center where Siddharthaji teaches his philosophy courses. It is the same place where his mother Usha Devi, one of the most popular yoga teachers in Rishikesh, teaches regularly Iyengar Yoga.

Siddhartha invited me to his small flat at the yoga center for the interview.
The room where we had the interview is the same room where his father used to stay. His father stays now outside of Rishikesh, in a more quiet and calm location.

What are the Yoga Sutras and why should we study them?

The yoga sutras are texts, a collection of teachings, by sage Patanjali, which systematically presents the theoretical as well as the practical aspects of yoga practice.

I think the most important reason why today we need to study the Yoga Sutras is because without the study of the Yoga Sutras our practice of asana for example, which is what is now known as yoga in today’s world, becomes completely physical in nature and totally limited to the body, and we really lose the purpose for which these asana practices were developed by the masters.

We lose to grasp that. We will have no idea of the higher meaning, how these asana practices are not only beneficial to the physical body but they can also be used to benefit our breathing pattern, to organize our emotions, our thoughts, our ideas, our mind.

All this can never be understood without studying the Yoga Sutras, and that's why I think it is extremely important for any asana practitioner.

If they want to go deeper into their practice, if they want to use their asana practice for some inner development, personality transformation, peace of mind, then they need to have a deeper inner approach which can only come when they study the Yoga Sutras.

This is how I understand it, and it is the most ancient text which presents the yoga system, the philosophical system, the theoretical aspect of yoga, coherently.

What we find before him [Patanjali], there are for example in Charaka Samhita, which is an even more ancient text, there is one chapter on yoga but it's not dedicated to all the aspects of yoga because that is an Ayurveda text.

We find yoga related practices, the word yoga itself, the same definition given by Patanjali, also in the extremely ancient pre-buddhistic Upanishads, but again it's scattered. It’s scattered in different places.

Upanishads are not only texts on yoga, they are about many other things and yoga just occurs in them sporadically here and there, but Patanjali's text seems to be the first, at least available, text.

There might have been some others before him, but they haven't succeeded, at least not in their completeness. So Patanjali's work is the very first work that we have on the topic of yoga, and therefore it is deeply influential on anything that came later on the topic of yoga.

Which book would you recommend to study the Yoga Sutras?

In terms of books there are so many books that have been written which can be used to study the Yoga Sutras.

Lately Edwin Bryant has come out with a commentary on the Yoga Sutras in which he sort of really includes the essence of most of the important Sanskrit commentaries.

It is a highly praised work. People who have seen it they have, I have seen it myself and not that I have gone through it everywhere but, everyone who sees it likes it, finds it quite interesting to read.

It's a thick book and yet not too detailed.

My only disappointment with that book is primarily limited to the preface because Edwin Bryant comes from the ISKCON Hare Krishna background, so to me it seems that he brings too much of the Gaudiya philosophy, which is a 15th century philosophy developed after Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

He brings too much of it into his understanding and perspective of the Yoga Sutras. But maybe one could say the same thing that I also, when I look at the Yoga Sutras, I bring too much of Advaita Vedanta which is an eighth century development into the Yoga Sutras.

But at least in this case Advaita Vedanta itself, over the last 1000 years, has incorporated Yoga Sutras into its framework, so at least this is completely traditionally,

I'm not doing anything against the tradition but I'm just doing what the traditional masters up to someone like Swami Vivekananda, have been doing throughout the centuries.

On the other hand to create a mixture between Patanjali’s yoga and the Gaudiya philosophy, this would be something very new which most likely, to my knowledge, Edwin Bryant would be the first person of doing it.

Prior to him Gaudiya sampradaya never had this interest of incorporating the Yoga Sutras into its practices. So there is some difference. What he is trying is something of his own, that he is combining both which were never combined before.

When I combine Advaita Vedanta and the Yoga Sutras, this is how the Yoga Sutras have been studied and understood for the past 1000 years.

There was the other Sankhya way, without mixing it with Advaita Vedanta. It ceased to exist after Advaita Vedanta came into the picture. Nobody continued that tradition.

The only people to continue the study of the Yoga Sutras were the Advaita Vedanta teachers who found that, from an Advaita Vedantic perspective, the study of the Yoga Sutras is extremely important. So they incorporated it.

That’s why so many of the Advaita Vedanta works such as by Vidyaranya Muni or Madhusudana Saraswati, they incorporate most of the Yoga Sutras into their work.

So I'm aware that I mix up Advaita Vedanta with Yoga Sutras, but as I'm not the first person to do it, this has been happening for the past 1000 years, I don't see a problem with that.

On the other hand to mix up Gaudiya sampradaya, Gaudiya sampradaya’s Achintya-Bheda-Abheda philosophy with the yoga philosophy, this is something that hasn't been done till now, which he does in his preface.

So from this perspective obviously, every scholar is free to do what they want, but it will be a new thing. Not wrong but new.

Would you recommend to study the Yoga Sutras on our own?

I think studying the Yoga Sutras on one's own, one can start learning them by heart but again even there we need someone's help.

Someone's help to correct our pronunciations because initially, like with the study of yoga asanas, it becomes very difficult to notice our own mistakes. Somebody has to help us notice our mistakes.

First of all even learning to recite the Yoga Sutras correctly, a person has to have some good understanding of how Sanskrit has to be pronounced, otherwise someone's help has to be taken.

And the same thing is about the philosophical aspect.

There is so much useless literature out there, available right now on the Yoga Sutras, that it would be good if initially we take some help from someone who knows a little bit the text, which means to approach someone who has studied them.

Is it a good idea to memorize each sutra?

That has helped to me tremendously, memorizing, because what I see even in the Iyengar asana practice tradition, which is the tradition that I follow…

I cannot speak about other traditions because I've had no exposure to those traditions but I'm speaking of this because that is what I practice.

I see that the teachers, often in the Iyengar yoga tradition, they incorporate the Yoga Sutras into the way we practice asana.

Now, in these classes, when we are all busy practicing asanas, no one, neither the teacher nor the students have the time to go back again and again to refer to the Yoga Sutras.

When I’m sitting in my room and I want to incorporate the Yoga Sutras into my practice it doesn't make sense to have the book next to me all the time, and look up which sutra I want to incorporate and then do my practice.

The best thing is to have this sutras actually in your mind, when you are doing your practice so that you can see how much of it you can incorporate, without again and again referring back to the text.

So if we want to incorporate Patanjali's teachings on yoga into our asana practice first, and then of course also into our daily life, then the best thing is to memorize them.

The very purpose for which they were composed by Patanjali in such small forms, concise forms, because he wanted his listeners, he was concerned of the ease and difficulty that they will have if he gives them long sentences, then it will be difficult for them to memorize.

So the very purpose of writing these shorts aphorisms was to aid the listener to memorize them.

And later on, after a person becomes a teacher then of course he will need it the most because if he wants to incorporate Patanjali's Yoga Sutras into his teaching of asana, then he has to know those sutras by heart.

He cannot always keep a book of the Yoga Sutras with him while teaching asanas. So he has to have them in his memory.

So the more we commit them to our memory the more helpful it will be to our practice of yoga. Even seeing it from the perspective of asana practice, just tremendously beneficial.

And it trains our power of retention. It gives us the opportunity to train it.

Even this is like a muscle. You stop using it, you lose the strength in it, and the more you use it the more you keep it strong. Memory is also like a muscle. I think that's an opportunity to train the muscles known as memory.

More about Siddhartha Krishna

I have two other previous interviews with Siddharthaji. I recommend you to visit them if you want to get to know more about him.

Patanjali Yoga Sutras

Contact details

Siddhartha Krishna teaches yoga philosophy and vedanta at the Patanjala Yoga Kendra in Rishikesh, in the Ram Jhula area. To know about his teaching schedule you can visit their website

You can also find out more about Siddhartha on his own website

You can also study with Siddhartha online by Subscribing to his YouTube channel where he regularly uploads new lectures.

I hope you've enjoyed this interview. Please don't hesitate to share it with your friends and with whomever you think might be interested in studying yoga philosophy in Rishikesh with Siddhartha Krishna. Thanks for your support!

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