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In the article, “Timetable of Yoga: 5,000 Years of Experience and Experimentation,”
Georg Feuerstein of the Yoga Research and Education Center explains that there seems to have been two people by the same name who get confused with each other. Patanjali, 150 B.C.E. (Before the Common Era), was a grammarian and is traditionally credited with writing about medicine and writing the Yoga-Sûtra.

The confusion comes from another Patanjali who lived 150-200 C.E. (Common Era). At this time the Yoga-Sûtra was composed by “Patanjali (who very probably is different from the grammarian by this name).”

Patanjali, the father of modern yoga, is the author of the Yoga Sutra, which is “the first systematic presentation of yoga.” Patanjali believed in the Samkhya philosophy of life and is “the most famous proponent of the Samkhya world view.”

“Samkhya philosophy explains how we manifest from two forms of energy into the soul, mind, senses and finally, the physical body. Yoga was developed as a system to explain the union of the individual spirit with the Universal spirit by removing the diseases and defects of the mind and body…Samkhya explains how cosmic energy forms to create our souls and how the mind, senses and body are manifestations of the soul…The essence of the Universe and how we are part and parcel of nature come from this understanding… Samkhya offers the definition of life. It explains how our souls are a combination of male and female energy, which with the help of our ego create the mind. In order for the mind to perceive the outside world, the senses manifest and from there the physical body develops so that the desires of the soul, as expressed through the mind, can be carried out. The whole understanding of how the mind and body coordinate comes from Samkhya. Yoga addresses the need to unite our individual souls.”

The practices and poses of yoga help the mind to reach higher consciousness and to develop more awareness of our bodies. Yoga helps create and sustain healthier bodies and minds. Yoga tries to unite all aspects of our lives with its postures, practices and philosophy.

The path of our lives (dharma) is “a series of actions” and is called karma. The purpose of our lives is “is to practice right action.” If people do good karma their suffering is relieved. If a sufficient number of people do the right actions the suffering of others is relieved. Wrong actions make suffering keep happening and is the reason there is suffering in the world. This whole philosophy shows that our actions are important and can affect everyone.

Patanjali took an oral tradition and wrote it down. His 195 sutras/aphorisms are concise sayings, telling people things to know about - from how to live day-to-day life to how to get enlightenment (be liberated). The sayings are to be used with a guru (teacher) because Patanjali believe only a guru could help people get enlightenment so the guru teaches you about the sayings.

Patanjali had a dual view of existence. He believed one part of existence is male and is called purusha. This male part of existence is: “all-present, all-knowing ethereal consciousness, made up of countless Atmans, who watch as the cosmos unfolds before them…formless and unmanifest…attaches to nothing; immobile yet pervasive, he simply sees all and knows all.”

The other part of existence is nature and it is female. It is called prakriti and is: “visible, and dynamic…constantly moves, creating and changing as she goes. She is all that is manifest in the world.” It only exists to serve the male and “is unconscious and insentient” which means it doesn’t have feeling or consciousness. There are different aspects of prakriti and you can see them interact. These different aspects are called gunas and the three gunas are sattva, rajas, and tamas.

Patanjali described these aspects using human traits. Sattva has energy that “is light, clear, and joyous.” Rajas has “passionate feelings, desire, and even greed, as one becomes attached to worldly goods.” Tamas has “energy that is slow, heavy, and thick, and can bind a person to a life of sloth and despondency.”

Patanjali believed that suffering happened because people get attached to things and to the rewards of what they do and have their desires distract them from higher consciousness. People got caught up in the needs and wants of life. Each of the three gunas try to dominate the other two and this causes suffering. “Sattva may bring feelings of joyfulness, he reasoned, but being attached to those feelings is no better than holding on to the greed of rajas or being stuck in the despondency of tamas.”

Patanjali believed “only hard work (karma yoga) and deep meditation (jnana yoga) could relieve human suffering and lead to liberation. In fact, only through strict adherence to his eight-limbed path of yoga (ashtanga yoga) could a yogi tame the gunas and bring them back into balance, as they existed in primordial nature. Ultimately, said Patanjali, by releasing attachments to the natural world, a yogi could allow the transcendental quality of purusha to shine through his true Self.”

Yogis ultimately “rejected Patanjali's dualism entirely” but do continue “to use and expand upon his eight-limbed yoga path.” The practices explained in the eight limbs of yoga are used as a guide for living and for getting enlightenment. Students do not have to “master the limbs in succession.”

The eight limbs of raja yoga “compiled by the Sage Patanjali Maharishi in the Yoga Sutras…are a progressive series of steps or disciplines which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading the yogi to enlightenment.” They are:
Yamas (restraints, don'ts)
Niyamas (observances, do's)
Asanas (postures)
Pranayama (the art of breath)
Pratyahara (“withdrawal of the senses in order to still the mind”)
Dharana (concentration)
Dhyana (meditation)
Samadhi (superconscious state, non-duality, oneness with the Self or God)

In more detail the eight limbs are:

Yamas: (restraints, don'ts)
The Yamas are “five moral injuctions” which focus on “destroying the lower nature” and are supposed to be practiced very conscientiously, both physically and spiritually. “They should all be practiced in word, thought and deed.” These moral injunctions are:
Ahimsa (non-violence)
Satyam (truthfulness)
Brahmacharya (moderation in everything including control of the senses)
Asteya (non-stealing)
Aparigraha (non-covetousness)

Niyamas: (observances, do's)
The five Niyamas “complete the ethical precepts started with the Yamas. They are:
Saucha (purity, cleanliness: internal and external)
Santosha contentment)
Tapas (austerity)
Swadhyaya (studying the sacred texts)
Ishwara Pranidhana (always live with awareness of divine Presence, do to God's

Asanas (postures)
“Traditionally, Yogis practice Surya Namaskar, the sun salutation, before the Asanas.
Although there are many Asanas (8,400,000 according to the scriptures) the practice of
the 12 basic postures brings out the essence and all major benefits of this wonderful

Pranayama (the art of breath)
Pranayama and Asanas (postures) are the part of Raja Yoga called Hatha Yoga.

Pratyahara (“withdrawal of the senses in order to still the mind”)

Dharana (concentration)
The last 3 steps form the internal practice of Raja Yoga. When Dharana (concentration) is attained it leads to Dhyana (meditation).

Dhyana (meditation)
Dhyana is a “state of pure thought and absorption in the object of meditation. There is still duality in Dhyana.” When Dhyana is attained it leads to Samadhi (superconscious state, non-duality, oneness with the Self or God).

Samadhi (superconscious state, non-duality, oneness with the Self or God)
“In Samadhi non-duality or oneness is experienced. This is the deepest and highest state of consciousness where body and mind have been transcended and the Yogi is one with the Self or God.”

In summary of Samkhya, Samkhya defines life and gives us the philosophy that explains how our soul, mind, senses and body come from two forms of cosmic energy. Samkhya gives us “the definition of life.”

Yoga focuses on the union of each “individual spirit with the Universal spirit by removing the diseases and defects of the mind and body.”

The basic principles of Ayurveda come from Samkhya. From this we are supposed to gain an understanding of the Universe and our part in it.

The male and female cosmic energy create the soul; the soul and the ego create the mind. It is up to the individual to develop the mind and body so the desires of soul can be expressed. Samkhya provides the understanding of how the mind and body are coordinated.

By increasing our body awareness through a series of practices yoga allows “our minds to connect with higher consciousness” and helps us unify our individual souls (jiva atma) with the Universe (param atma). We experience healthier bodies and minds.

Mimamsa philosophy is about how our path in life (dharma) is a series of actions (karma). The most important “goal in life is to practice right action.” Individuals doing good karma can ease their suffering. If enough people practice right action the suffering of others can be eased too.

Participating in wrong action prolongs suffering. “This understanding accounts for why there is disease and suffering in the world and offers a model for the importance of realizing how our actions influence events, both on an individual and global level.”

The Yoga Sutra also contains Patanjali’s beliefs of kriya yoga which are about transmutative actions or the ability to “change into a higher form.”

“Kriya yoga can best be described as a form of internal karma yoga. That is, by perfecting the niyamas or self-disciplines of Patanjali's eight-limbed path, particularly tapas (austerity), svadhyaya (self-study), and isvara pranidhana (devotion to the Lord), a yogi erases samskara (subliminal activators) from his subconscious. Samskara are like karma scars that result from good or bad behavior. They are indelible memories, imprinted on the subconscious, that propel the conscious mind to act; they are what dictate a person's birth, life experiences, and death. These activators cause the constant chatter or fluctuations in the mind that separate a person from purusha and make it impossible for him to experience it. An individual has good kinds of samskara and bad kinds, according to the Yoga Sutra. The bad kind keep the conscious mind actively seeking experience outside itself, regardless of whether that experience is pleasurable or painful. The good kind stop the conscious mind from seeking and attaching itself to external objects and senses. The resultant cessation (nirodhah) of vritti (fluctuations) and samskara brings true liberation.”

The aphorisms contained in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra (Eightfold Path to Enlightenment) are written in Sanskrit. In Sanskrit sutra means thread and these threads are used to gain “knowledge and wisdom through the discipline of meditation.”

”Patanjali believed that each individual is a composite of matter (prakriti) and spirit (purusha). The yoga students goal was to restore the spirit back to absolute purity. “

There is a book The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for anyone interested in further study.

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