1.1 Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.
“Atha Yoga anushasanam”
- atha = now, at this auspicious moment; implying the transition to this practice and pursuit, after prior preparation; implying a blessing at this moment of transition
- yoga = of yoga, union; literally, to yoke, from the root yuj, which means to join or to integrate; (same as the absorption in samadhi)
- anu = within, or following tradition; implies being subsequent to something else, in this case, the prior preparation
- shasanam = instruction, discipline, training, teaching, exposition, explanation; Shas implies the imparting of teaching that happens along with discipline
When first encountering the Yoga Sutras, this simple — yet extremely powerful — opening statement can be easily overlooked. At first glance, it just looks like another opening statement, “So begins the practice of Yoga.” Thanks Captain Obvious, don’t know how we could have missed that…? It would be a while before I realized how important this line truly is.
As my practice into meditation and yoga has deepened, I have come to a new understanding of the Yoga Sutras, and their importance as a guide to studying Yoga in it’s entirety. It is a guide to our difficult days, when problems arise during our process of healing.
The West is more focused on the physical aspects of Yoga, where the immense wealth in the Eastern — energetic — aspects of Yoga often go ignored, or misunderstood. Which is very unfortunate, for how much we miss!
For anyone engaging in yogic meditation, the Yoga Sutras are an invaluable tool for understanding the immense transformation our nervous system undertakes. Which the West should be interested in (if at first solely for scientific reasons).
This opening line is a welcoming from the divine Sage and Guru of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali. It is the acknowledgement that everything you have done in life and other practices, has been in preparation for this moment where:
What’s interesting about Yoga, is that it’s experiential. Meaning, it is the process of learning through experience, with experiential being more specifically defined as “learning through reflection on doing.”
It’s taken me almost two years to find my way back to this sutra. I am again revisiting it, now four years later. My first encounter was a reading of the sutra, but not a true understanding. Now that I have made some progress in my practice, I have begun reading the sutras with more clarity, and focus.
I realize how important this line truly is. It is all about the Light of the Universe acknowledging our decision to come, sit, and learn Yoga. The Guru of the Universe, and our own inner Guru, make an energetic connection.
In a book about the great teacher, Sri T Krishnamacharya, "Health, Healing and Beyond," Patanjali relates this idea as:
Everything we have experienced in life up until that point — positive or negative — has been in preparation for the study and practice of Yoga.
I have come to see Patanjalis Yoga Sutras as a roadmap for the journey into self-discovery.
The Radiance Sutras have also been an invaluable find on my path, and this line from the Radiance Sutras by Lorin Roche is spot on with what the Yoga Sutras emobody:
Radiance Sutra 99 II 122 II
All the secret teachings are right here —
Go deeper, and deeper still.
The gift of concentration
Is the spaciousness that surrounds it.
Focus illuminates immensity.
We all know that beginning a new challenge in life can be difficult, and most of the time just showing up is the hardest thing to do; and this applies to the practice of yoga as well. No matter if you are a beginning yogi, an intermediate yogi looking to increase their practice, or advanced yogi looking to take yoga to it’s truest depths; this mantra will help the mind focus on practicing yoga.
It’s all too easy to find an excuse not to do yoga, and the Atha Yoga mantra comes in handy when you are debating on whether or not you will go to practice that day; because it makes any time, the right time, to do yoga.
“Om Atha Yoga Anushasanam”
(Remember, any Sanskrit word or phrase can be used to create a mantra that is personal to you and your practice as it changes).