True Yoga: Practicing with the Yoga Sutras…
By Annette Watson
If you’re not familiar with the Yoga Sutras, this Sanskrit text is believed to have been written more than 2,000 years ago by the sage Patanjali, who collected 196 short verses that could be learned and lived. Sutra translates as “thread” or “suture,” and each sutra weaves the principles, practices, and philosophy of yoga into a complete set of guidelines for life and enlightenment. For many, the Yoga Sutras represents a foundational text of yogic practice, although Westerners are often surprised at its near-total lack of reference to the physical postures on which our culture tends to focus.
Not long ago, I read True Yoga: Practicing with the Yoga Sutras for Happiness & Spiritual Fulfillment by yoga therapist Jennie Lee. Many translations of the Yoga Sutras have been written over the centuries, and I’ve read versions ranging from the scholarly to the sublime. Rather than a dry, academic translation of the ancient text, True Yoga applies the wisdom of the Sutras in an accessible style. Those familiar with Nischala Joy Devi’s Secret Power of Yoga will notice that True Yoga similarly focuses on qualities that should be cultivated rather than those to avoid—it is positive, not negative, in its approach, guiding us proactively. Lee explains that her interpretation of the Sutras is based on several translations, which she studied extensively to arrive at her unique interpretation and, in turn, this beautiful little book.
For readers new to yogic philosophy, and for those in need of a refresher, True Yoga includes solid background information and explores earlier writings like the Vedas, Upanishads, and Bhagavad Gita. For some, this will be enough; others may find the material a launching pad to further study. Either way, this inclusion reinforces the work’s underlying scholarly substance, and the fact that True Yoga is much more than just another pop culture book about yoga.
True Yoga focuses on the section of the Sutras commonly known as the eight limbs or the eight-fold path, practices to guide us through life: the yamas (restraints), niyamas (observances), asana (physical practice), pranayama (breath- and energy-focused practice), pratyahara (inward attention), dharana (focus), dhyana (meditation), and samadhi (enlightenment or bliss).
Each chapter translates one of the eight limbs and explores it in a modern context. Daily practices, self-inquiries, and affirmations end each chapter. The practices and questions are designed to help readers explore the application of each of these sutras to their own lives, while the affirmations can be helpful to those who might otherwise struggle to incorporate yoga philosophy into the day to day.
Like Devi, Lee devotes a lot of time to the significance of love, a key theme throughout the book. In the epilogue, she describes how the Yoga Sutras, and specifically the eight limbs, helped her when she had the “sad privilege of caring for her mother at the end of her human life.” Lee uses the context of her mother’s passing to illustrate her final thought: “There is nothing greater than love. It is the Essence of who we all are.”
In True Yoga, Jennie Lee has created a heartfelt exploration of the eight limbs that has a permanent place on my yoga bookshelf. It’s the kind of book you read not once, but over and over, cover to cover or piece by piece, always finding something new or different. No yoga experience is required, yet even seasoned practitioners will find the book worthwhile.
Annette Watson, RN, CYN, MBA, RYT, is the accreditation manager for the International Association of Yoga Therapists. Her consulting company assists healthcare clients to improve their services using accreditation and certification combined with yogic principles as tools for transformation.
Excellent article and book overview. I appreciate the emphasis on qualities to cultivate vs those to avoid.
Yogas chitta vritti nirodaha!
Namaste and thank you.
I am so grateful for this review of True Yoga and am always available to support practitioners, teachers, and teacher trainers in the use of the book. I love hearing from readers and enjoy chiming in on book clubs discussing the material too! Many blessings to all.