atha yoga-anushasanam Now this is yoga as I have perceived it in the natural world. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (PYS 1.1) Anyone who is engaged in serious yoga practice has come to yoga for the same reasonâ€”weâ€™re fed up! That means weâ€™ve had enough.
Atha means â€œnow.â€ But itâ€™s more than just â€œnowâ€; it means now in terms of â€œhereafter,â€ or â€œgoing forward.â€ The importance of that nuance is that it implies that whatever has been happening will now, hereafter, be different. So in his first sutra, Patanjali is speaking directly to those of us who are fed up with things as they are. Everyone has a different story about the shape that being fed up takes for themâ€”a miserable job, a life on drugs, a troubled relationship, etc. But fundamentally itâ€™s the same for everyone who comes to yogaâ€”at a certain point in life we take inventory of how much is really great and how much is suffering, and we come to the conclusion that itâ€™s mostly sufferingâ€”even if the suffering is relatively mild, like â€œthings are fine but I know thereâ€™s more to life.â€ Most people are not there; theyâ€™re not quite willing to let go of the old model. Some even like their suffering and identify with it. Theyâ€™re not at that point where theyâ€™re fed up enough to say, â€œokay, what else is there? Iâ€™ll search high and low to get it.â€ But for those who are, Patanjali grabs us and says, â€œyouâ€™re ready to hear this stuff.â€ Thatâ€™s the good news of that first word atha.
The word shasanam can be understood as a set of rules, a discipline applied to us from the outside, a set of instructions for what weâ€™re supposed to do next. But when we put the word anu, which literally means â€œatom,â€ in front of it, it means the instructions or ways to act that come from the inside. For exampleâ€”â€œIâ€™m thirsty, so Iâ€™ll go get a drink of water.â€ Itâ€™s that simple: we donâ€™t think of it as a rule that when youâ€™re thirsty you have to go drink water, or when youâ€™re hungry you eat, we just do it. In this sutra, Patanjali is telling us that yoga is one of these things that comes naturally. It flows from us, through us, and basically if we could just get out of the way, then it would be free to manifest in our lives. And thatâ€™s the practice of yogaâ€”the practice of getting out of the way.
Of course itâ€™s very difficult to let go of the parts of us that disable the natural flow of wisdom and purity, because theyâ€™ve become enculturated and neuroticized. They are the ways we cope with the world, our No. 1 defenses: they are how hard weâ€™ve got it and how impenetrable our problems are. But Patanjali is saying that these are the parts of us that are unnatural, that have been inflicted upon us, and we could take them off like we take off a set of clothes. But itâ€™s not so easy. One hundred percent of what restricts us is in our minds and has been concretized in our bodies in different ways. So yoga practice is meant to point out to us where that energy is stuck, whether in our minds, our shoulders or our hips. In this way, yoga is often referred to as a discipline. But itâ€™s important to understand that itâ€™s not the kind of discipline thatâ€™s forced on us from the outside, or in the case of teachers, itâ€™s not a discipline that weâ€™re forcing on others. Itâ€™s a discipline thatâ€™s naturally arising. As we move through our difficulties in the practice, whatever they are, we understand that the encounter with difficulty is a blessed moment and an opportunity. It is not a fail, but a chance to reflect on what separates us from each other, the nature of suffering in our lives, the role that prejudices and fixations play in our lives, etc., and just let them go. It can happen very quickly, in just an instant, but it can also take some time; itâ€™s not easy to shed a carefully constructed armor. The great teacher Dharma Mittra likes to say, â€œGet mad and do it!â€ Get fed up! But donâ€™t do it because a teacher tells you to do it or because itâ€™s a rule; do it for your own reasons, because youâ€™re fed up with the way things have been and you want them to change. Do it because you want to do it. Do it to get rid of a cruel dictatorâ€”your identification with your mind. Do it as your personal revolution. Athaâ€¦
â€” David Life