These Great Vows are Universal


One of the most loved yoga texts is the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. A book of small meditations, which put together create a full tapestry of philosophy. It was originally written for renunciates--full time yogis who give up domestic life and focus on trying to reach enlightenment. But many of the sutras are relevant to us all.


This week I am meditating on Sutra 2.31


What great vows? Why, the Yamas and Niyamas, of course! The “10 Commandments” of Yoga.

Of course we are all nice people, but do we remember to do our best every day? Are we practicing active kindness even when other people “deserve” our ire?


Meditating on this sutra helps me do better at really practicing yoga every day. Not just yoga on the mat--but in the world.


Let's review the Yamas and Niyamas. Here are my musings on the meanings of each one:



Sometimes people have a negative reaction when encountering the observances. No one likes “self-discipline”! Or perhaps we can appreciate that self-discipline is healthy, but we immediately think of how we ate something we shouldn’t have yesterday . . . and guilt arises, which we don't like. Additionally some people are put off by organized religion and talking about God.

You don't have to believe in God to practice yoga. Just know that this form of yoga does believe in a concept of God, and the True Self in our hearts is a spark of that same source energy. If you don’t believe that, you can still hold respect for this sutra, its roots in India, and the depth of meaning it provides other people.

Instead of studying “spiritual” books, you might take in other wholesome media such as self-help books, uplifting stories, or watching TED talks, listening to podcasts. Instead of worshipping God, you could focus on surrendering your ego to your Best Self. Or simply take in the awesomeness of nature.

In the end we’re just trying to be good humans!


Let's circle back to Sutra 2:31


These great vows are universal, not limited by class, place, time or circumstance.


In Satchidananda's commentary on this sutra

Patanjali calls these the mahavratam, or great vows, because they can never be broken by any excuse: not time, place, purpose, social or caste rule, not by winter, summer, morning or evening, or by this country or that nationality.


It doesn't matter if I am tired or hungry or the other person is really ticking me off, I am trying to honor the vow of practicing active kindness.


Of course, we are going to slip up. We're only human, and other humans can definitely be annoying! We should not beat ourselves up over mistakes. This sutra just helps us come back as soon as we can. And that's all that we can ever do. Keep coming back to what we believe in and embody it.


I've definitely been slipping up on the purity of consumption lately. These vows are a good check-in to see if we are acting according to our higher ideals!


One fun and interesting way to meditate on the Sutras is to practice chanting them in Sanskrit! There is a wonderful reference recording by Manorama chanting the Sutras of Patanjali. And I wrote down the minute and second that these sutras show up on the recording.




To practice your sutra, drag the scroll bar at the bottom of the recording to the minute and second of the sutra. Listen and repeat! Link below!


Of course Sanskrit is a sacred and complex language, and it is recommended that we have our pronunciation taught to us by a Sanskrit scholar. This recording is meant to be for personal enrichment and play.


Yoga Sutra of Patanjali Chanting with Manorama - Chapter 2 -- on YouTube



Other Resources


Contemplating the Eightfold Path of Patanjali


The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda


How to know God: The Yoga Aphorisms of Patanjali by Swami Prabhavananda and Chrisopher Isherwood


Manorama and her Sanskrit Studies Program

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