Why the Ancient Texts of Yoga are Important

Why the Ancient Texts of Yoga are Important

We frequently get the question, “Why should I study the ancient texts of yoga? I go to class, I have a great experience, I feel very different, I see that my life is changing. Do I need to study the texts? What’s the point?”

We like this question.

In North America, the yoga we generally do—that is, the physical practice and poses—is called ‘āsana’ in Sanskrit. It is powerful, useful, and helpful in our lives, but āsana is just one part of the much larger practice of yoga. According to the ancient texts, āsana is only one of eight significant parts of yoga practice. There are seven other parts that are equally, if not more powerful than the physical practice. If we can understand how āsana fits into the context of the other seven parts, yoga can have that much more power and positive influence in our lives. Not to mention that our physical practice will be that much more rewarding.

How do you know that?

By studying the ancient texts.

We often joke that yoga was not invented in California 20 years ago. It might seem like it. But if we look at the many ancient texts composed in the last 2,000 or so years, such as Patañjali’s Yogasūtra, Haṭha Yoga Pradīpika, or the Bhagavad gītā, we find some very interesting and useful descriptions of yoga that are not well known here in North America. When we study these texts they help us to optimize our yoga practice because they not only explain how to practice, but also how the physical practices fit into and support the greater goals of yoga as a whole.

For example, Patañjali’s Yogasūtra, which was written around 300 CE (Common Era) in India in Sanskrit, is considered one of the most important ancient texts in the study of yoga. It gives a solid overview of the eight parts referenced above, and explains how all the parts apply to daily life. It is one of the pillars of our practice here at the Yoga Well Institute and it is recommended that you study it with a guide. However, it is difficult to find a good translation and study alone. We offer online classes to guide you through the translation and understanding of the Yogasutra. If you prefer self-directed study, we suggest reading the Heart of Yoga by Mr. TKV Desikachar as a starting point.