What does it mean to begin yoga?
For many, it’s stepping into a yoga studio and taking an asana class, which is definitely a worthy introduction. But to enter fully into the study and practice of yoga, a science that guides us to our true nature, requires another level of commitment. The purpose of life is this self-discovery, whether we are consciously aware of it or not. The beginning of any activity is crucial.
So what does yoga suggest?
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, as it is typically translated, begins with a seemingly straightforward statement: “Now begins the scientific discipline of yoga.” What follows in his treatise are 195 sutras (aphorisms) codified over 2,000 years ago-the key to the science of yoga.
But the English translation of the Yoga Sutras only partially communicates Patanjali’s message. In its original Sanskrit, Sutra 1.1 reads, “Atha Yoganushasanam.” Anushasana refers to the systematic presentation of a discipline, underscoring that it is, in fact, a science. Also implied by anushasana is that the author has the authority to deliver this science to a qualified student and that, furthermore, it is at this particular juncture that the lesson officially begins.
Traditionally, the word atha conveys a blessing at the beginning of an undertaking. Similar to om, atha marks the official and auspicious opening of a worthy subject.
Atha also means “now,” the moment-to-moment transition. A fundamental teaching in many philosophies is to be in the moment, to be present, to witness this now. Whatever you do, you should do it with full feeling and awareness. This is quite simply the key of all spirituality, highlighted also within the Yoga Sutras.
To be fully in the moment requires a full channelization of our energies, which might be beyond your reach, at least until you’ve made more progress in your personal journey. In such case, the sense of atha shifts in emphasis to yet another layer of its meaning, because atha also implies a readiness, a commitment to an undertaking.
A teacher will communicate the valuable lessons of yoga to you, at the right time, if you are prepared and committed. Also important is that you have maturity and a strong sense of responsibility. To succeed in the study of yoga, you must embrace the subject matter with every cell of your being, as its purpose-self-discovery-is, quite simply, life’s purpose, whether you are aware of it or not. On a psychological level, too, you will need preparation, because the path to self-discovery is one with many hurdles.
Very often, commitment fails to meet intention. This is an epidemic of modern society so widespread that even Hollywood threw it into the movie Dreamgirls. “You want all of the privileges but none of the responsibilities!” says Marty, chiding the self-absorbed Effie White, who thinks she has nothing to prove when, in fact, she has everything to prove. This is where yoga starts.
Commit wholeheartedly to what you are doing. Take responsibility. Take ownership of yourself and your life. Seek sage advice. Learn and experience by practice, by doing. Commitment means readiness, with appropriate action and responsibility.
Ask yourself; do I do yoga under my own terms? Do I know my own agenda? Why do I spend this time at it? Am I holding it back by wanting it to work out my way? Can I commit myself to something greater? Am I ready?
You are, but it requires follow-through. First, step in with both feet. What is to be learned and experienced is beyond your current level of understanding regardless of how intelligent you are. You have to strike a balance between putting up the effort and letting it happen.
“Now begins the scientific discipline of yoga.”
In just a few simple words, Patanjali, the father of yoga, is subtly telling you that it’s about being present. Atha Yoganushasanam. Without your full commitment, you won’t succeed.
So, are you ready?
Paul is a senior teacher of Pranayama, Asana and the meditative art and science of Yoga. He has been a dedicated student for over a decade of both Sri O.P.Tiwari, one of the few remaining classical yogis and masters of Pranayama, and the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in ashtanga vinyasa. Both of these great teachers have personallycertified Paul in these practices, a unique position as the only one to receive this double honor. One of his main gifts is to be able to relate the teachings in a very down-to-earth way for the modern seeker. He does not take life or yoga too seriously and as a result the discussions and philosophical sessions are lively and humorous, helping to explain the meaning behind the practices and philosophy. For more please see his full bio. Paul is the founder and director of Samahita Retreat, a premier retreat center in Asia, and Centered Yoga, a leading yoga training school since 1999.
Editor: Tanya Lee Markul
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