April 29, 2011
The Yoga Sutra, a guidebook of classical (or raja) yoga, was written by an Indian sage known as Patanjali. Although the fruits of his efforts are widely quoted in yoga classes today, few know much about Patanjali.
Like many tales about the world’s spiritual heroes, the story of Patanjali’s birth has assumed mythic dimensions.
One version relates that in order to teach yoga on earth, he fell from heaven in the form of a little snake, into the upturned palms (a gesture known as anjali) of his virgin mother, Gonika, herself a powerful yogini. Here he’s regarded as an incarnation of the thousand-headed serpent-king named Remainder (Shesha) or Endless (Ananta), whose coils are said to support the god Vishnu.
It seems odd to us, in this time of superstar teachers with their eponymous schools of So-and-So Yoga, that so little is known about Patanjali. But anonymity is typical of the great sages of ancient India.
They recognized that their teaching was the outcome of a cooperative group effort that spanned several generations, and they refused to take credit for themselves, often attributing their work to some other, older teacher.