In the yoga teacher trainings that I lead, I require students to read “Four Chapters on Freedom”, by Swami Satyananda Saraswati, which is a translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali which is a sacred, ancient text that outlines the eight limbs of yoga which is an integral part of any yoga practice.

One of my recent graduates, Evelyn Hemingway, RYT 200, wrote up this beautiful explanation of “Four Chapters on Freedom” in one of her final homework assignments that I’d love to share as it outlines it in an easy-to-understand way.

Introduction

The word Sutra means to “thread or weave.” The Yoga Sutras contain 195 sutras divided in four chapters discussing the practice of Yoga. They are guidelines or principles with the final aim to achieve liberation or Samadhi. The Yoga Sutras contain a set of observances and practices to guide the spiritual journey. These are known as the Eight Limbs of Yoga. Patanjali created the Eight Limbs of Yoga as a template to help us transcend the confines of our ego and to reach self-realization. The first chapter is the path of devotion, the second the path of action, the third the path of knowledge, and the fourth the path of resignation.

Chapter 1. Samadhi Pada – What Yoga is.

This chapter offers definition, purpose of yoga and discusses its benefits. Offers a variety of short-term solutions to the many obstacles that may arise on the path to the goal. Patanjali describes the various functions of the mind. An observation of the five kinds of thoughts, how to discolor the thoughts, the separable principles of practice and non-attachment. The stages of concentration, the task and the commitments, the obstacles and the solutions and the means to stabilize the mind.

Chapter 2. Sadhana Pada – How to gain a yogic state.

In Sadhana Pada Patanjali asks to undertake a spiritual practice to carry out Nirbija Samadhi. Which is the highest state of Samadhi, or spiritual bliss and self-realization, the ultimate goal. It asks the practitioner to analyze and examine the consciousness with its fluctuation, modifications, afflictions and potentials. It proposes to the disciple to contemplate the quality of the mind and to carry out the practice with faith, reverence, energy, vigor and courage. To develop memory and Purify it so that the conscious perception will help acquire real knowledge through intense contemplation. To develop devotion towards the supreme so that the inner Lord will guide one. Explains Citta Prasadanam (A mind that is considered favorable and pleasant), and offers several methods to spread consciousness with elegance to purify intelligence through Samapatti, (Acquiring a penetrating mind) so that the consciousness is clear as the water. Favoring and assisting the mind to the contemplation of God.

Chapter 3.  Vibhooti Pada – Benefits of Practicing Yoga

Stopping the mind and keeping it in its own place is called Dharana. Dyana is meditation. Is very difficult to keep the mind quiet, however with practice and discipline it can be achieved and once the practice of mental concentration has been mastered so that the mind guided by the will can be abstracted from the centers of sensation or applied to one of them as appropriate to the ego. One proceeds to the practice of Dharana or meditation, which is to apply the mind to a certain object or part of the body such as the breathing, the heart, or the sound of a mantra.

Chapter 4.  Kaivalya Pada – Liberation of mind or freedom from suffering

This is the last chapter of Sutra yoga, where Patanjali presents the possibilities for a person with a very refined mind. In essence, “The mind is a Servant and not a Master.” If one is allowed to represent the role of master, whatever the achievements of the individual, there is a chance that one will eventually have problems and that serenity is out of reach. The nature of human beings is a mind that creates tension and unhappiness. The sutras define the causes and then indicate how to remove them. By following his suggestions, one has the possibility of reaching inner peace and liberation.

Conclusion

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras seems to be an essential text on learning yoga philosophy along with other ancient books such as The Bhagavad Gita. The yoga sutras present yoga as a complete system of spiritual psychology it offers profound insights on the nature of the mind, as well as suggestions for reducing suffering ad cultivating a more sustained joy. Familiarity with the yoga sutras is an important component for a most effective practice of yoga, because studying these timeless truths is a journey deep into the human heart and mind. Any person who maintains a practice of yoga would do well to get familiar with this book, like yoga itself it will take a lifetime or more of study to understand it fully. It is not something that can be learned through intellectual study but rather through living the teachings.”

Let us know in the comments, what are your favorite books on yoga?

Crystal Gray is an international Yoga Teacher and author of the best selling book Goddesses Fart Too.