Patanjali’s verses offer a time-tested “roadmap” of human consciousness and how to live a happy and meaningful life.

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1. To remind yourself of the true purpose of your practice

Yoga asana is a great way to increase your strength and flexibility, release stress, and improve your health—but that’s not all the practice is about. Patanjali systematically lays out the definition of yoga in the broadest sense—yoga chitta vritti nirodhah, or “yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”—and also tells us which mind states are not the state of yoga, as well as why we suffer, and what we can do about it. The Sutra offers a strategy for discovering the state of wholeness that already exists in us, and for how we can begin to understand and let go of our suffering. This, he reminds us, is the true aim of yoga.

2. To understand your barriers to happiness

Patanjali’s teachings help us to understand how our thoughts get in the way of our own happiness. They also show that the process of “disidentification” with our thoughts, aided by yoga practices, is the path to ending suffering.

3. To connect with the lineage of yoga

We are all a part of a proud lineage of yoga. Every yoga student receives the teachings from a teacher, and it’s important to remember and honor the fact that the practice was given to us. Studying texts like the Sutra can help us to better understand the history and the traditions of yoga so that we can practice and teach from a more authentic place.

4. To build a lifelong practice

In the West, we’ve come to conflate yoga with a physical asana practice, but the Yoga Sutra offers a broader view, reminding us that yoga practice is so much bigger. When we limit our understanding of yoga to asana, we limit its ability to help people. As we age, we may not be able to perform an intense physical practice. But by incorporating asana, plus other yoga techniques, including meditation, pranayama, and intentional self-study, into our lives, we cultivate a deeper and more inclusive relationship with yoga that can transform all aspects of our lives.

5. To begin to live your yoga

Learning the Sutra isn’t just about putting asana into the wider perspective of yoga, though. It’s also about looking at what it means to practice yoga within the context of life as a whole. Yoga is not only a practice, but also a state of being. Patanjali provides us with guidelines for living a yogic life, including standards of ethics and self-conduct, so that we can know what it feels like to live and act in harmony and integrity with our highest values, even when we face difficulty. This may be the greatest gift of all.

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