Atha Yoga Anusasanam – Now, the teachings of Yoga – Yoga Sutras 1.1
These words ring in my ears. I can hear my teacher chanting them clearly. Possibly, because he recites them to my 7 month old daughter whenever he sees her, which is fairly often these days. But regardless, there is something about this particular sutra that I just can’t get out of my head.
Over the years I’ve become fascinated with the Sutras. The idea that yoga is more than physical asana never dawned on me before I started diligently practicing Ashtanga. And as my practice has deepened and expanded, so too has a desire in me to understand more about these teachings.
To be honest, I find the Sutras intimidating.
Just open up Edwin Bryants thick copy, and you’ll understand why. Each word is broken down, the etymology is dissected, and there are seemingly hundreds of interpretations of each verse. It’s overwhelming to say the least.
A few months ago I was travelling in the foothills of the Himalayas in India with my husband. We stayed at a beautiful homestay in Andretta, and we met some fascinating people. Among them, a woman who spent 3 years at a university in South India studying the Yoga Sutras. I was immediately intrigued by her, and also, a little intimidated.
After dinner one night I approached her to ask about the Sutras. I explained that I was intimidated by the complicated dissection of each word, and that I just wanted to find a copy of the sutra’s that was more… straight forward.
“My dear,” she said, “the only way to truly understand the sutra’s is to understand each word. This is very important.”
She began to talk about the very first sutra. Atha Yoga Anusasanam. Little did she know, it was already stuck in my head.
Atha, she said, translates to “now,” or “this moment,” or “right here.” Anusasanam translates to “the teachings,” or “the pathway.” Each word carries with it such a profound depth of meaning, that is critical to the interpretation of each Sutra. Through her studies, she interprets the first sutra to mean something to the effect of, “Exactly as you are, in this moment, is where the teachings of yoga exist.”
What I originally, and naively interpreted as a mere introduction to a deeper text, turns out to be in fact, one of the most profound sutra’s in the entire text.
She explained that if one could understand the first sutra, in its truest essence, one would understand the sutra’s in their entirety.
I breathed a sigh of relief in hearing this. That the teachings of yoga are here, right now. They aren’t out there in Kapotasana, or some third series pose. They aren’t in some magical treasure chest at the bottom of the sea. You don’t have to go searching far and wide for the teachings because they are right here.
As Ashtangi’s we commit daily to what is a quite physical practice. And with it’s progressive, challenging nature, may come the desire to be constantly moving forward. We may find ourselves grasping at, and yearning for newer, deeper, more challenging asanas. Perhaps, with the false idea that acquiring advanced poses means you’re going deeper into the practice of yoga. The wisdom of the Sutra’s however, tells a different story. Whether you are on the mat, or off the mat, connecting deeply to this moment, exactly as it is, is where the heart of yoga beats, and where the teachings can be found.