The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga
“If a yoga practice is devoid of inquiry into the nature of mind or devoid of real self-reflection, is it really yoga?”
That’s the question that Tias Little asks in his foreword to The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga. The answer is found in the reading.
The foundation for yoga training, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are 195 statements of principle which describe human consciousness and how it functions; how suffering happens; and how to refine the body, breath, mind, and heart in order to cultivate inner happiness.
These principles are independent of time, place, religion, or culture.
Author Nicolai Bachman came to study The Yoga Sutras from a background in yoga asana (postures), meditation, and an expert knowledge of Sanskrit language. In his introduction to The Path of the Yoga Sutras, he provides background information about Patanjali, The Yoga Sutras, and yoga as a method of transforming the way we think, communicate, and act by directing our attention inward and cultivating contentment, clarity, and peace of mind.
According to The Yoga Sutras, discriminating awareness is the instrument for freeing the mind, body, and spirit—it is used to sort through perceptions, mental chatter, dreams, and psychological habits. In The Path of the Yoga Sutras, Mr. Bachman leads the reader along the path to the heart of yoga practice: the inquiry and analysis of thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and points of view.
His approach is refreshing. Rather than commenting on 195 sutras consecutively, he offers 51 concepts in five parts: key principles, understanding suffering, outer behavior, personal practices, and inner development. Each concept is explained in a chapter. While the concepts can be understood singly, the chapters are ordered so that the concepts reinforce and build upon each other, and reading the book this way is beneficial.
Each chapter in The Path of the Yoga Sutras gives the Sanskrit and English names of the concept, a relevant quote, a practical-language explanation, suggested thoughts for contemplation, and exercises for practical application in daily life.
Mr. Bachman offers some thoughts that are not generally addressed in other commentaries on The Yoga Sutras, and some of the exercises in the book can be challenging, given the nature of human behavior and our patterns of perception. The exercises are as useful for discussion in sangha (community) as they are for personal practice.
Something else that is refreshing about The Path of the Yoga Sutras is Mr. Bachman’s take on astanga (the eight-limbed practice of yoga). He offers the perspective of the practices as side effects of other practices, rather than as distinct or consecutive practices. This perspective enriches the experience of yoga for practitioners and teachers alike.
We come to realize yoga as both the process of quieting the activity in our consciousness and the state of being quiet, without any dependence on outer, constantly changing circumstances to be happy.
Language lovers will delight in the derivations and breakdowns of the Sanskrit words for the concepts in The Path of the Yoga Sutras. All the terms are explained in the text, so no glossary is needed. An index is included, as is a list of additional interpretations of The Yoga Sutras.
One of the gems in this book is an uncomplicated explanation of the sounding of Om—what it represents, and physiological and psychological benefits of the sounding practice.
Another gem is the description of samadhi as a sequence of four steps toward complete attention and self-mastery. Mr. Bachman likens the steps to those taken while learning to play music, from a superficial to a deep level of understanding. The point is, there’s no rush—cultivating clear consciousness requires time, patience and regular practice with sincere effort.
One’s gradual progress results in increased happiness, contentment and joy.
Author Bachman asserts, “Yoga . . . is all about independent thinking.”
The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga is for everyone who is willing to contemplate and apply today the principles Pantanjali provided so long ago.