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Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

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BKS Iyengar’s translation and commentary on these ancient yoga sutras has been described as the “bible” of yoga.
This new edition of the classic text contains a new introduction by BKS Iyengar, as well as a foreword by Godfrey Devereux, author of Dynamic Yoga.

Patanjali wrote this collection of yoga wisdom over 2,000 years ago. They are amongst the world’s most revered and ancient teachings and are the earliest, most holy yoga reference.

The Sutras are short and to the point – each being only a line or two long. BKS Iyengar has translated each one, and provided his own insightful commentary and explanation for modern readers.

The Sutras show the reader how we can transform ourselves through the practice of yoga, gradually developing the mind, body and emotions, so we can become spiritually evolved.

The Sutras are also a wonderful introduction to the spiritual philosophy that is the foundation of yoga practise.

The book is thoroughly cross-referenced, and indexed, resulting in an accessible and helpful book that is of immense value both to students of Indian philosophy and practitioners of yoga.

384 pages, Kindle Edition

First published January 1, 1966

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About the author

B.K.S. Iyengar

123 books418 followers
Bellur Krishnamachar Sundararaja Iyengar (Kannada: ಬೆಳ್ಳೂರ್ ಕೃಷ್ಣಮಾಚಾರ್ ಸುಂದರರಾಜ ಐಯಂಗಾರ್), (also known as Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar) (Born December 14, 1918 in Bellur, Kolar District, Karnataka, India) is the founder of Iyengar Yoga. He is considered one of the foremost yoga teachers in the world and has been practicing and teaching yoga for more than 75 years. He has written many books on yogic practice and philosophy, and is best known for his books Light on Yoga, Light on Pranayama, and Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. He has also written several definitive yoga texts. Iyengar yoga centers are located throughout the world, and it is believed that millions of students practice Iyengar Yoga.

He was awarded the Padma Shri in 1991, and the Padma Bhushan in 2002.

B.K.S. Iyengar was born into a poor Hebbar Iyengar family. He had a difficult childhood. Iyengar's home village of Belur, Karnataka, India, was in the grips of the influenza pandemic at the time of his birth, leaving him sickly and weak. Iyengar's father died when he was 9 years old, and he continued to suffer from a variety of maladies in childhood, including malaria, tuberculosis, typhoid fever, and general malnutrition.

At the age of 15 Iyengar went to live with his brother-in-law, the well-known yogi, Sri Tirumalai Krishnamacharya in Mysore. There, Iyengar began to learn asana practice, which steadily improved his health. Soon he overcame his childhood weaknesses.

With the encouragement of Krishnamacharya, Iyengar moved to Pune to teach yoga in 1937. There his practice developed as he spent many hours each day learning and experimenting in various techniques. As his methods improved, the number of students at his classes increased and his fame spread. In Pune, his brothers introduced him to Ramamani, whom he married in 1943.

In 1952, Iyengar met and befriended the famous violinist Yehudi Menuhin. Menuhin arranged for Iyengar to teach abroad in London, Switzerland, Paris and elsewhere. This was the first time that many Westerners had been exposed to yoga, and the practice slowly became well known. The popularity of yoga in the West can in large part be attributed to Iyengar.

In 1966, "Light on Yoga," was published. It gradually became an international best-seller and was translated into 17 languages. Often called “the bible of yoga,”[citation needed] it succeeded in making yoga well known throughout the globe. This was later followed by titles on pranayama and various aspects of yoga philosophy. Mr. Iyengar has authored 14 books.

In 1975, Iyengar opened the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute in Pune, in memory of his departed wife. He officially retired from teaching in 1984, but continues to be active in the world of Iyengar Yoga, teaching special classes and writing books. Iyengar's daughter Geeta and son Prashant have gained international acclaim as teachers.

Iyengar has been named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time Magazine.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 69 reviews
Profile Image for Marla.
448 reviews17 followers
May 10, 2011
Each page is a lifetime of learning. I'll be reading this book the rest of my life.
Profile Image for Charlotte.
82 reviews
June 12, 2014
So, this is quite a dense and intense read and I am glad to have read it after Light on Yoga by the same author, which prepared me for some of the deeper concepts. It was part of the required pre-reading of a yoga teacher training course I took. On the first reading I was feeling a bit bogged down by the sanskrit, and especially by parts of Vibhuti Pada. I've since been over it again to summarise it, and found I was feeling more comfortable with it and more familiar with sanskrit words. There is a big difference, however, between having somewhat of an intellectual and superficial grasp on this material and having fully absorbed and assimilated it into the psyche, and these are concepts that I will likely be (willingly!) exploring, feeling into and integrating for the rest of my life. I imagine I will be referring to this book time and time again as each sutra in itself potentially holds a lifetime of learning.

I suspect that the yoga sutras are something that slowly reveal themselves, as the sadhaka moves along his or her journey through yoga and through life. B.K.S. Iyengar clearly has a great knowledge and wisdom, but I can sense the humility he feels in bringing his interpretation of Patanjali's sublime work to us; he truly considers himself a perpetual student in awe of a revered master. For that reason, and many others, I have enjoyed his writing very much. Iyengar is a stellar representative of the traditions and sacredness of yoga for those of us who embrace it in the West. Highly recommended.
April 12, 2010
I love this book and I highly recommend this translation. Iyengar has the sanskrit word by word translation, then each verse, then his own commentary. Amazing. Great if you want to see the original language and the Iyengar's insights.
Profile Image for Sydra Mallery.
37 reviews1 follower
November 26, 2014
Now I've read it once. This is the start of a beautiful relationship with a book.
Profile Image for Karan Bajaj.
27 reviews286 followers
January 13, 2016
I dig the intellectual puzzle of esoteric yoga scriptures but even more so, they always leave me suddenly calm and full of perspective. Iyengar's translation was a standout for me among many others I read because he seemed to have lived his yoga. The book, especially the 3rd section, Vibhuti Pada, was a key inspiration for THE YOGA OF MAX'S DISCONTENT, my first international novel.
Profile Image for Susan.
71 reviews4 followers
March 3, 2009
I will actually be reading this book over and over for a long time. It is an in depth explanation on the philosophy of yoga. It is dense and there is much to be learned here. I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Hindu philosophy and yoga.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
87 reviews6 followers
July 2, 2011
Intense. Not for the faint yogi or philosopher. Excellent description and explanation of the sutras. If you're working on your sanskrit, it's a good book for that.
Profile Image for Johann.
115 reviews2 followers
August 15, 2022
Without a Hindu/Eastern background, some of these concepts were quite difficult to understand and gave rise to headaches through the concentration required to grasp them. As a recovering “Christian,” I found many of the ideas, particularly related to Vibhuti Pada, quite interesting. What are listed as supernatural powers developed by advanced yogis, and to be avoided, are the exact miracles performed by Christ in the New Testament, as well as “gifts of the spirit.” The more I learn about Eastern religion/traditions and philosophy, the more I see the Jesus of the New Testament as an Eastern Guru rather than a Western God. That makes so much more sense in the narrative than what Western religions seem to have done—essentially taking Eastern traditions and superimposing Greek, Roman, and pagan mythology/practice onto them.
Profile Image for Timmy Fearn.
26 reviews
January 28, 2017
I had been wading through this book for some time. Finally something clicked and I was able to understand much more clearly the nuances of the consciousness that were being discussed. I find humor in this as it is actually written very clearly, but my mind was not able to remain focused on the subject in the beginning.
A wide ranging look at the consciousness and how it relates to our journey through life.
Profile Image for Kelly.
7 reviews3 followers
August 7, 2011
Concentration on the sutras is vital and reading them is one of contemplation and letting everything sink in. BKS Iyengar gives the most clear and concise definitions of the sutras. It is a must read.
Profile Image for Ellen Chamberlin.
51 reviews6 followers
June 12, 2013
So poetic, easy to understand, and beautiful. I will read this again and again. Has changed my life, I finished it last night and had the most amazing dream.
Profile Image for Speaker Stelios.
25 reviews13 followers
March 4, 2016
I love the commentary, the graphs and pretty much everything in this great book.
Can t recomend it more to all Yogis out there who want to dive deeper into the Yoga Sutras
Profile Image for Dennis Littrell.
1,078 reviews43 followers
June 25, 2016
The theory behind the practice

There was yoga before the time of Patanjali but it was not written down, or at least no text survives. We find elements of the practice in the Upanishads and of course in the Bhagavad Gita. But before Patanjali's codification there was no systematic text to guide the aspirant. Since then Patanjali's sutras have been translated into many languages along with commentary to elucidate the concise text, with Vyasa's commentary from the ninth century--upon which Iyengar makes some reliance--being the most important.

With the publication of this book a decade ago, B.K.S. Iyengar laid his claim to being one of the world's foremost experts not only on the practice of yoga--which he certainly is--but on its theory as well. Mark well that the bulk of what we call yoga stems from these pithy aphorisms first written down by the Indian sage Patanjali some eighteen hundred years ago.* One can see in this authoritative, comprehensive--indeed, nearly exhaustive--translation and commentary that Iyengar aspires to take his place among the great yogis of history.

For each of the 196 aphorisms (most texts have 195 omitting number 3.22 as superfluous, which Iyengar includes), Iyengar gives first the Sanskrit, then the Sanskrit in transliteration. Then he breaks down the expression into its individual words and gives an English translation of each word. Indeed he often gives several possible English equivalents for each Sanskrit word. Then he gives his English translation of the aphorism. In this way the reader can judge the fidelity of Iyengar's expression. Better yet, the reader can have reference to another translation (I have Ernest Wood's, Alistair Shearer's and Barbara Stoler Miller's in front of me, but there are many others) and compare the results, and in doing so, come to a fuller appreciation of Patanjali's sometimes enigmatic words.

Finally there are Iyengar's commentaries on each of the aphorisms, some of which cover several pages. Occasionally Iyengar gives tables for further clarification; indeed there are 18 tables and diagrams spread throughout the text. The sutras and commentary are framed with an Introduction, an Epilogue and four Appendices. There is a Glossary and an Index.

To be candid, there is more in this book than can be assimilated by most persons interested in yoga. Even the most sincere practitioners will find the information and interpretation given by Iyengar daunting. Some may also object to Iyengar's non-secular presentation. While he stops short of calling yoga a religion, it is only the word "religion" that is left out! Iyengar makes his position clear from the opening sutra which he translates as "With prayers for divine blessings, now begins an exposition of the sacred art of yoga." Usually this opening statement is rendered simply as, "Now, instruction in yoga." In the Sanskrit there are only three words. Iyengar even identifies Patanjali as "an evolved soul incarnated of his own will to help humanity" who has "assumed human form, experienced our sorrow and joys, and learned to transcend them." (p. 1)

Clearly Iyengar is taking a more spiritual position in this book than he took in his famous treatise on hatha yoga, Light on Yoga, first published in 1965, although even there he calls yoga "the true union of our will with the will of God."

Personally, I have no problem with this. Properly understood, yoga is a religion if one so desires; and properly understood yoga is not a religion if that is what is appropriate. Most authorities believe that yoga works best as an adjunct to religion so that one can practice yoga and remain devout in one's own faith; in fact this is the usual practice. Furthermore, the emphasis here, as in all of Iyengar's work, is on the practical and the non-sectarian so that Iyengar's yoga is accessible and appropriate for persons of all faiths, and is in negation of none.

I should add that from the spiritual yogi's point of view the idea of God is not personal. Although Patanjali refers to Isvara as our Lord and as God, many authorities believe that this is an inexplicit augmentation of his text that one may take or leave as one sees fit. Indeed most yogis who embrace God embrace a God similar to the God of the Vedas; that is a God that is Ineffable about which nothing can be said, a God beyond any human comprehension, a God without any attributes that we could name.

By the way, Patanjali's yoga is often referred to as astanga yoga (astanga meaning "eight-limbed") because there are eight limbs or steps leading to liberation. It is also called raja yoga, the so-called king's yoga that comes after one has mastered the preliminaries of hatha yoga. More correctly however, hatha yoga and raja yoga are both integral parts of Patanjali's program with the purely physical aspects including asana and pranayama being mentioned but without any exposition. It wasn't until the middle ages and such works as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Svatmarama that hatha yoga gained prominence as something separate.

There are four other yogas that have come down to us from ancient times that should not be confused with Patanjali's yoga. They are bhakti yoga, the yoga of faith and devotion; karma yoga, the yoga of selfless work; jnana yoga, the yoga of knowledge; and tantric yoga, the mystical yoga of self-indulgence. All but the latter are mentioned in the Bhagavad Gita.

*Iyengar identifies Patanjali with the grammarian who lived some four hundred years earlier, but this is more of a traditional understanding than it is historical; most scholars including Georg Feuerstein and Mircea Eliade believe that Patanjali the grammarian and Patanjali the author of the Yoga Sutras are different persons who lived at different times.

Bottom line: this is as close to an essential work on Patanjali as I have read. Any serious aspirant should have this book and study it.

--Dennis Littrell, author of “Yoga: Sacred and Profane (Beyond Hatha Yoga)”
Profile Image for Bernie Gourley.
Author 1 book79 followers
February 19, 2019
The “Yoga Sutras” are 196 aphorisms about yoga that were penned by a sage named Patanjali around 400 CE (i.e. AD.) Unless you’re a Sanskrit scholar with expertise in the history of yoga and the region that birthed it, it’s hard to gain anything from reading the Sutras directly. The Sutras are written in a terse style in a sparse language, and so most readers aren’t equipped to interpret them – which takes not only knowing the language but have some understanding of the context in which they were written. This means the Sutras are most commonly packaged into a book-length manuscript that includes not only the translation but also analysis and commentary.

There are many such books available, but the challenge is to find one that: a.) comes as close to the original meaning as possible without either misunderstanding or tainting the meaning with the translator’s and / or commentator's worldview / ideas / ego; b.) is approachable to a modern reader. With respect to the latter, it’s easy to find free translations on the web, but often these were produced over a century ago, and can make for challenging reading for today’s readers. While it may seem like it would be closer to the source material, it can also be thought of as injecting another layer of culture in between the original and the present-day reader.

The Sutras are organized into four sections. The first section introduces the reader to yoga and explains the state of mind called Samadhi. The second section outlines the eight-fold practice of yoga called Ashtanga Yoga. The eight limbs include the two aspects of yogic ethics, yama and niyama, as well as postural yoga (asana,) breath exercises (pranayama,) sensory withdrawal (pratyahara,) concentration (dharana,) meditation (dhyana,) and the aforementioned Samadhi. The third section focuses on the super-normal abilities yogis are said to achieve, along with a warning that the pursuit of these abilities can become a fatal attraction with respect to one’s growth. The final section discusses the liberation, that is the ultimate objective of the practice of yoga.

The organization of this volume makes it suitable for readers of a wide range of levels of experience and scholarly understanding, and allows a reader to benefit from a shallow or deep approach to reading / research of the Sutras. It includes the original Sanskrit, then a Romanized alphabet phonetic write up of the original Sanskrit Sutra, and then a listing of the various meanings for each of the Sanskrit word. Then it has the English translation of the Sutra as literal as possible. Finally, there is B.K.S. Iyengar’s commentary and analysis. Sometimes these elaborations are just a few lines and sometimes they’re a few pages, but most commonly each is about one page. I like the approach of providing the original as well as information that facilitates the reader systematically piecing together his or her own understanding of each Sutra. I think it shows both humility and eagerness to support students on the part of the editor.

There are various appendices, indexes, and a glossary to make the book more useful.
This isn’t the first book of translation and commentary of the Sutras that I’ve read. However, it is the most readable, approachable, and useful that I’ve read. I would highly recommend this book for all practitioners of yoga.
Profile Image for Varsha Rao.
18 reviews19 followers
November 30, 2020
Well explained commentaries on the brilliantly written Yoga Sutras. This was my first read and I could just scratch the surface with my limited experiential understanding. This book is going to be a long term companion in my life long path of Yoga. Highly recommended for anyone seriously pursuing the spiritual path, irrespective of their background.
Profile Image for Pragya Bhatt.
Author 3 books2 followers
September 8, 2013
This is an awesome interpretation of the Yoga Sutras. I gave it 5 stars because it was great in terms of breaking down and explaining every sutra in detail. However, the language is very colloquial, which a lot of readers might not appreciate. That said, some readers may not read the book in its entirety because many sutras are complex and would require a steady yoga practice to really understand. However, 5 stars because it was a great source for the English interpretaion of the sutras.
Profile Image for Ashok Krishna.
332 reviews51 followers
March 12, 2017
To anyone keen on entering the vast, wise world of Yoga and embarking on a spiritual journey, this book is a must read. The eternal wisdom of Patanjali, offered as intense nuggets, have been profoundly and brilliantly explained by the renowned yoga guru B.K.S.Iyengar. As the book progresses, you can't help but feel a change in your attitude towards life. A worthy read that will assist in your yogic practices and spiritual journey.
Profile Image for Alex  L.
10 reviews
January 5, 2009
I mean. It's where yoga comes from! Anyone interested in buddhism, yoga, hinduism or just living with more compassion should definitely read this. But don't think too hard ... it is all meaningless ;)
Profile Image for Jenn.
88 reviews5 followers
January 25, 2008
The only translation I own...I've heard of a really good translation by a woman. Let me know if you know of that one.
Profile Image for Stacey.
117 reviews9 followers
February 23, 2008
Great primer on how to maneuver the world while staying in a yogic mode of right action. Even though I've read it a zillion times, I'm still failing!
Profile Image for LeeLee.
19 reviews
July 27, 2010
A complete guide to unravel the dynamics of disentanglement as portrayed in dualistic theories of Samkhya. Great start for students of classical yoga.
Profile Image for Maureen.
52 reviews1 follower
October 2, 2011
This is not the type of thing you read and then put away. This is a book to dedicate oneself to. Intense.
Profile Image for Olya Chizh.
34 reviews3 followers
January 12, 2016
As if it were even possible to finish reading a spiritual treatise.
An essential book that you have to re-read every day.
203 reviews2 followers
April 9, 2016
Probably Iyengar's best work. He still sees the Sutras in a religious vein, but that is OK. He brings out wonderful ideas.
Profile Image for Carolina Batres-Quinonez.
18 reviews2 followers
December 20, 2017
Thank you to my dear teacher, Oma, who recommend this book.
It is by far the most user friendly version of the sutras I have read to date.
Profile Image for Brian Wilcox.
Author 1 book649 followers
May 20, 2018
A masterful treatment by a master of the science of yoga.
Profile Image for Alex Boon.
208 reviews
August 13, 2018
Not sure I'll ever "finish" reading this. Great resource for those interested in yoga philosophy.
September 27, 2018
So much easier to understand than other translations and commentary. I am blown away at the wealth of knowledge shared in this book.
November 18, 2018
Book that contains insight on yoga sutras of legendary bhagwan Patanjali. Bks Iyengar did awesome job.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 69 reviews

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