Just a couple thoughts for you as you get started. I first read the sutras, with commentary, when I was working on my yoga teacher certification. The assigned book was The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda. I still think it’s a great introduction. Any western reader will probably need a commentary to help them get started. The sutras are very dense, terse aphorisms that compactly describe classical yoga. Not only is the language unfamiliar to our ears, but the way of thinking may feel unfamiliar as well, especially if you have not read eastern thought or literature. Nevertheless, I think it is well worth the effort. Have fun!
Below is a list (in no particular order) of resources that have been helpful to me.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda Satchidananda was the founder of Integral Yoga. There’s even a town in Virginia called Yogaville that is the home of Integral Yoga’s ashram. The book is actually a collection of his talks compiled and edited by his students. He has a delightful way of commenting on the sutras with stories and wisdom that is very accessible to western readers. He has a friendly way of explaining things that still makes me smile.
Meditations from the Mat: Daily Reflections on the Path of Yoga by Rolf Gates and Katrina Kenison Gates’ meditations are organized according to the eight limbs of yoga which are outlined in the second chapter of the sutras. There are 365 brief meditations. This presentation really helped me understand the practice of yoga. It also has a nifty graphic at the beginning of the book showing the eight limbs of yoga, and you know what they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words.”
Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope I keep coming back to this book. Cope is a psychotherapist, and he tells his story and those of others following the yoga path at the Kripalu Yoga Center. He does not limit himself to the concepts in the Sutras, but I understand so many key yogic concepts better because of his writing. His book was the first “yoga” literature that I found profoundly relevant to my life. In addition, his appendix contains a wonderful section called, “Yoga Metaphysics with a Light Touch” that I have found extremely helpful in my studies.
The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice Third Edition by Georg Feuerstein, Ph.D This is a reference book, an encyclopedia of many things yoga. Not exactly light reading, but useful.
Yoga for a World Out of Balance: Teachings on Ethics and Social Action by Michael Stone Stone’s main focus is are the yamas and niyamas, social restraints and personal disciplines, which are the first two limbs of the eight limbs of yoga.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as interpreted by Mukunda Stiles Once I became familiar with the concepts of the sutras, I wanted something without commentary. I chose Stiles’ interpretation because of his personal approach and his western background which makes this translation very accessible.
The Warrior’s Path: Living Yoga’s Ten Codes by Derek Beres Another approach to the yamas and niyamas. What I particularly like about this one is that Beres takes a critical approach to some of the teachings in the sutras and its various interpretations.
The Yoga Sutras workbook By Nicolai Bachman Another western writer digs deep into the key concepts of the sutras. Bachman does not take a verse by verse approach. Instead, he explores key concepts. One concept that I have found to be particularly helpful is his interpretation of citta as the heart-mind. Typically the approach is to see this yogic concept as only mind or consciousness, but Bachman’s interpretation includes the emotions which is much more accurate to me. This workbook is part of a complete study program with 6 CD’s and a set of cards, but my favorite parts of this study guide are the diagrams in the appendix. The complete kit is a little pricey so you may want to consider his book The Path of the Yoga Sutras. Same approach without CD’s or cards. Bachman also has a book with CD’s called The Language of Yoga.
The Secret of the Yoga Sutra: Samadhi Pada by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Ph.D. When I realized about halfway through this book that the author was only addressing the first chapter of the sutras, it reminded me of the time that I realized that the fifth book of The Game of Thrones was not going to be the last, and I groaned out loud and cursed its creator. When would this ever end? Of course if I had read the subtitle, Samadhi Pada, I would have known. This is the very definition of suffering: life did not turn out the way I expected it to. Anyway, when I started reading this book, I was amazed to find a perfect description of my mind–disturbed, stupefied and distracted. I was hooked. It’s a deep dive into the first chapter of the sutras and full of wisdom.