Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is a 2,000-year-old text revered by many practitioners and teachers as the definitive guide to yogic philosophy and practice. The Sutras comprise 196 short aphorisms that describe the nature of reality and the means to achieve inner peace and happiness. In one of these sutras, sage Patanjali offers five keys to gaining wisdom: faith, strength, mindfulness, insight, and stillness. These five qualities can lead to a greater understanding of life, proper knowledge, and inner freedom if practiced ardently. If you can master these five traits, you can unlock the door of liberation–the actualization of your true nature.
The first chapter of the Yoga Sutras defines the eight limbs of yoga practice, the common obstacles in the yogi’s path, and the states of consciousness or awareness that can be attained. In Sutra 1.20, Patanjali illuminates the way of advanced yoga practices. This Sutra includes five traits or virtues that lead to Samadhi. Samadhi is a state of mental stillness, absorption, or enlightenment. It is the final limb of the eight limbs of yoga.
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Sutra 1.20: Sraddha-Virya-Smrti-Samadhi-Prajna-Purvakah Itaresam
Translation: Others (without innate abilities) can follow a systematic practice rooted in faith, confidence, and mindfulness to ignite the energy and willpower required to maintain a steady focus and evenness of mind that leads to insight, knowledge, and wisdom.
Sraddha: unconditional faith, belief, courage
Virya: energy, strong will, vigor
Smrti: memory, mindfulness, remembrance
Samadhi: deep absorption of meditation
Prajna: wisdom, discernment, intelligence
Purvakah: preceded by prerequisite
Itaresam: of other people
Patanjali’s Inner Qualities
Faith (sraddha): This is not the blind leap of the belief that religion asks of us, but rather an inner sense of direction based on the experience and evidence we gain as our yoga practice develops and builds. When we practice with sraddha, we feel pulled deeper and deeper toward something more significant, even though each of us may describe that “something greater” in different ways–as truth, peace, bliss, oneness, self-realization or, as Patanjali described it, Samadhi.
Strength (virya): The Sanskrit word for power comes from vira–the root of Supta Virasana (Supine Hero’s Pose) and Virabhadrasana (the Warrior pose). Vira is also the root of our English words virile and virtuous. A spiritual “warrior’s” strength in yoga is based on commitment and whole-hearted effort. Her power arises from a sense of rightness and purpose.
Mindfulness (smriti): Though smriti is often translated as memory, Swami Prabhavananda aptly described it as recollection. When we recollect or gather our scattered thoughts and half-forgotten experiences, directing them with a singular focus, we can develop a continual state of awareness known as mindfulness.
Insight (prajna): The higher wisdom of prajna arises not from thought but intuition or understanding. All our yoga practices, from asana to meditation, help us build, refine and embody knowledge until it permeates every level of our awareness and becomes part of our nature.
The stillness of mind (Samadhi): While Samadhi is the ultimate goal of yoga, it is also a process and continuous practice of mental focus, deep absorption, and contemplation. This journey begins with a few conscious breaths in a stable and comfortable seated asana. At first, moments of stillness and deep absorption arise briefly and haphazardly. The more we practice drawing our awareness inwards, the more these fleeting experiences become more substantial and can stretch into minutes and eventually hours.
Patanjali believed students needed these four traits or virtues to reach yoga’s ultimate goal, Samadhi. Two thousand years later, we can see how faith, strength, mindfulness, and insight work together to help us intensify and advance any yoga practice from a single asana to meditative absorption. Moreover, this five-pronged approach is also the key to living more fully.