In the vast ocean of ancient wisdom that is Indian philosophy, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali stand as a lighthouse, guiding seekers on their journey toward self-realisation and spiritual awakening.
At the very threshold of this profound scripture lies the seed from which the entire tree of yogic wisdom sprouts - "atha yoga-anu-śāsanam" which, translated into English, holds the entire philosophy of yoga in its few syllables… “The practice of yoga begins now”.
For me in my personal practice, and in my teaching career, this opening verse of the Yoga Sutras has become a constant mantra, silently repeated within my awareness.
A mantra that calls me back to my breath; to my body and to my mind.
It provides an anchor to my consciousness that calms the vibrations of my mind and provides a steadiness to my practice.
The original Sanskrit text of this simple yet powerful sutra contains many rich layers of meaning.
Pregnant with significance, this simple sentence serves as a calling to us all, asking us to embark on the yogic path with a sense of immediacy and commitment.
The words themselves, along with the physical vibrations made when spoken aloud, can be felt within our heart of hearts as an invitation to delve into the teachings and practices of yoga with unwavering dedication in this present moment.
Within my own experience of yoga, and within the teaching of this ancient science of the Self, for us to fully appreciate the significance of "atha yoga-anu-śāsanam" it is essential to consider the historical commentary.
Whilst not the first written treatise about yoga, it has earned its prominence with the yogic tradition through its concise yet thorough explanation of the "whys", "whats" and "hows" of one of the oldest spiritual traditions on earth.
Over the centuries, numerous scholars, yogis and saints have offered their insights into the Yoga Sutras, resulting in a rich tapestry of commentaries and interpretations.
The revered sage Vyasa, in his commentary from the 6th century CE “The Yoga Bhashya”, emphasised in his interpretation the urgency implied by the word "atha", urging practitioners not to delay their journey upon this path of self-realisation.
Vyasa also emphasised the idea that yoga is a science of direct experience, transcending mere intellectual understanding.
In other words, one must practise in order to understand the practice.
The contemporary sage B.K.S. Iyengar offered a more pragmatic perspective, interpreting "atha" as an acknowledgment of a student’s preparedness. He suggested that an aspiring yogi should come to the study of yoga with an open heart and a disciplined mind, ready to absorb the transformative teachings.
Despite a wealth of diversity in interpretations, the essence of "atha yoga-anu-śāsanam" remains universal. It speaks a truth - that the practice of yoga is not bound by time, culture, or dogma.
Instead, it is a living, breathing discipline that can be embraced by anyone, anywhere and at any moment in history.
Quite simply; the practice of yoga begins now.
As we stand on the edge of a new solar journey through the heavens, the profound simplicity of "atha yoga-anu-śāsanam" speaks to me once more.
It calls me back to myself, from the highs and lows of the year that stretches behind me, and it invites me once again to be still… to breathe… to be within my body… and to recognise myself as the awareness that is aware of it all.
Simply being within the centre of myself.
It is an invitation to me to dive even deeper into that ocean of yogic wisdom with a sense of immediacy, sincerity, and openness.
And, in the spirit of the countless yogis that have gone before us, let us together embrace the teachings of this “eternal science” as our guide to navigating the inner landscape of ourselves and towards unlocking the boundless potential that resides within.
Aum Namaha and Namaste to you, my Friend.
Matt - The Bearded Naked Yogi