Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively towards an object and sustain that direction without any distractions. (TKV Desikachar)
I chose Desikachar’s translation as I find that this translation ties most directly to the 8th petal of yoga - samadhi. Instead of leading the practitioner to the idea of silencing or stopping consciousness, he takes us back (by directing us for the first time) to the idea of samadhi, beyond concentration and beyond meditation, moving through the limbs of yoga.
I feel it is important to notice that this sutra states the goal. This goal is nirodhah (cessation) of thought - stopping the turnings of thought. In this sutra, yoga is a goal - not the practice. The practice is the working of the 8 limbs which bring us to this goal (in that the first 7 limbs lead us to success in reaching the 8th). So this sutra can be seen as the goal - not the practice.
One of my favorite concepts to consider is that one cannot still the mind. One can come to a quiet place to influence the mind, but cannot quiet it directly. That, comes from the practice of coming to a quiet place. We use the tools outlined in the sutras to move closer to nirodhah - there is no nirodhah switch to turn or try.
Miller says, “Insofar as the subtle mental processes are active, the subject or self is necessarily unstable and agitated. The goal of yoga is to stop the thought processes so that the spirit can be free, isolated from the turmoil of thought from which it mistakenly takes its identity.”
The above post is a self-unpacking of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. I am not a professional historian, I am only sharing my thoughts on the topic. The Thoughts on the Yoga Sutras postings came about as preparation for a weekly study group that I attend at Karuna Center for Yoga and Healing Arts (www.karunayoga.com). Please feel free to share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section.