The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali are 196 aphorisms or sutras, in four chapters, that completely summarize the philosophy and practice of yoga. Reading these sutras is a door into the deeper practices of yoga and the vastness of our true Self.
The sutras were composed a long time ago. One estimate is that they were written by Patanjali at least 1500 years ago. In ancient India, time was not thought about and kept track of in the same way we do, so it's not possible to be sure when they were written.
Each sutra is written with the name of the translator, and each has a brief explanation of the broader meaning of the sutra. These explanations just skim the surface of the knowledge contained in each sutra. If you would like to dive deeper in the Yoga Sutras, let me know and I will suggest readings.
Let's get started:
Chapter 1, sutra 1: "Atha Yoga Anuśasanam."
"Now, at this auspicious moment of transition begins the instruction in the discipline of yoga following the past tradition." Swami Veda Bharati
"Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins." Jnaneshvara
Explanation: The tradition is to not start anything without saying something to invoke the presence of Divinity. So, traditionally, when writing a letter to someone, one would begin with the word "Om". Atha is such a mantric word said to invoke the grace. (Swami Veda Bharati)
Also, Atha means that having gained the qualifications and done the preparations necessary, One is ready to begin. (Swami Veda Bharati)
Atha means the person is ready, eligible, prepared, has the necessary "adhikara" to begin. Adhi means "inside". Kara means "to do". So, adhikara is "to do from the inside". The person is ready to do something for themselves, is moved from inside themselves to action, and isn't looking to someone outside of themselves to take the action. It means that "yoga starts when we act from the space in the heart that is full of light and is always expansive." It has to involve feelings, not just be an intellectual process. Atha is an auspicious word, indicating that the beginning of yoga is something significant, not something casual. It has serious value and requires a commitment to practice over time to obtain results. (Kausthub Desikachar)
In the Yoga Vashishta, it is said that a soul goes through thousands of births until it begins to look for something more than just the pleasures of the world, until it begins to look within for the truth. At that point it is said that the first stage of yoga begins. Perhaps this what is meant by "adhikara", being prepared: When the soul has tired of the cycles of birth and death and begins to look for something deeper, for the truth. At that point, ATHA, now, yoga begins.
The word "Yoga" means samadhi. Samadhi alone is yoga, all that comes before one attains samadhi is preparation. Samadhi is that state where one's meditation deepens to the point where the meditator becomes one with the object of concentration. (Swami Veda Bharati)
We spend our time practicing postures, breathing, studying, and all of that is preparation for yoga.
So, Anuśasanam means following a discipline. (Swami Veda Bharati)
Anuśasanam means you go through experience. It's experiential. Kausthub Desikachar.
Chapter 1, sutra 2: "Yogaś chitta vṛtti nirodhaḥ".
"Yoga is the control of the modifications of the mind-field." Swami Veda Bharati
Explanation: The mind is said, in yoga philosophy, to be an energy field. There are waves in this energy field, called vrittis that make up our mental activity (thoughts, etc.). When one masters the vrittis and brings the mind to stillness, it is called "yoga" which, as said in the first sutra, is samadhi.
Chapter 1, sutra 3: "tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe 'vasthānam"
"Then (upon the dissolution of vrttis) the seer rests in his own true nature." Swami Veda Bharati
Explanation: The "Seer" is our true Self, and is spirit. The mind, though an energy field, is part of the material world. When the mind becomes absolutely still, it dissolves, leaving only the Spirit, alone, which is why is is said “when the mind-waves are stilled the Self rests in it’s true nature.”