Definition - What does Yoga-Shastra mean?

Yoga-shastra refers to a book of knowledge or authoritative teaching about the practice of yoga. While traditionally it refers to an in-depth classical text about yoga, in modern times the term has come to be associated with The Yoga Sutras, which were written by Patanjali. Sutras are a collections of aphorisms rather than the detailed explanations suggested by the word, shastra, but the distinction between the genres is blurred today.

The term, yoga-shastra, derives from the ancient Sanskrit language. Yoga means “to bind together” or “union,” while shastra means “instruction,” “treatise,” “sacred book,” “manual” or “scripture.”

Yogapedia explains Yoga-Shastra

In the classical sense, examples of yoga-shastras include: "Hemachandra's Yogasastra" (a Svetambara Jain text), "Yoga-Shastra of Dattatreya" (one of the lords of yoga and considered a deity by some), and even the Hindu sacred book, the Bhagavad Gita.

But it is The Yoga Sutras that are most mentioned as yoga-shastra in the modern world. The 196 sutras are arranged into four chapters:

  • Samadhi Pada, which describes yoga, nature and the path to samadhi (enlightenment).
  • Sadhana Pada, which describes the practice of kriya (selfless action) yoga and Ashtanga (eightfold path) yoga.
  • Vibhuti Pada, which describes the spiritual and mystical powers of yoga practice.
  • Kaivalya Pada, which describes moksha (liberation) and the transcendental ego.

It is the eightfold path described in Sadhana Pada that is most familiar to yogis in the western world. It consists of yamas (ethical rules), niyamas (virtues), asanas (yoga postures), pranayama (breathing exercises), pratyahara (sensory withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (deep meditation) and samadhi (a state of intense concentration and union).

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