Atha yoga-anushasanam Now this is yoga as I have perceived it in the natural world (PYS I.1)
In this sutra, Patanjali tells us that it is possible for any of us to experience yoga and realize the truth, because this truth is available all around us; if we are willing to look deeply into things, we would be able to realize it. Everything is more than it seems. There is always something hidden underneath the surface of a person or a thing, but to discover it you have to be willing to look deeply.
Significantly, not only does this sutra begin with the word atha, but this whole book begins with the word atha. Atha is a most auspicious word. It means “now.” It calls our attention to the fact that a teaching of great importance is about to be given-right now-not “once upon a time” in the past, or some time in the future-but now in the present moment. This is so encouraging, because when anyone opens this book and reads that first word, automatically yoga has relevance to that person; it’s about them-it has implications to the life they are living right at that moment. Atha makes yoga a living teaching, not something archaic that was studied by ancients at some point in history, but an invitation to Be Here Now.
The word anu from anushasanam means “atom”-the minute, most indivisible parts that make up the whole. This relative world is composed of many jivas or individuated atomic beings. For a yogi-one who can step into the present moment of now-all atoms (separate component parts) can be seen as yoked or threaded together making up the whole. Shasanam is from the root word shas, which means “to instruct.” So when it is connected to anu, it means that the atoms will instruct you: the essential nature within all of life will be your teacher-Nature will teach you. The wisdom that you need is all around you in the very forms of nature. Every encounter has profound meaning, providing a means to link or yoke you to the infinite, which is where you really belong. But Nature can conceal as well as reveal. The atom is the innermost essence of life, and it is waiting to instruct you, but only if you want to know its secrets. All of life no matter what it is, from an oak tree to a bumblebee, has a heart-a place inside that isn’t often noticed by someone who is only looking on the surface. But it is in the tiniest of seeds, like the Biblical mustard seed, that the history of the world is stored, as well as the history of me and you, for are we not of the world?
Only when we observe nature carefully will we discover the universal truths that are concealed. This sutra is an invitation to live a deeply examined life, imbued with sensuality and feeling, and through that experience come to know the natural world not as existing separate from you but as your teacher-able to provide you with open doorways of limitless possibilities in the here and now. There are natural laws of geometry governing harmony, proportion and beauty which can be discovered in the forms of life expressed as flowers, sea shells, trees, animals and even the heavenly bodies of the stars and planets. The universe is alive, and all of life communicates. When a sparrow flaps a wing in one part of the world, the breeze can be heard all the way around the world. Most of us have just forgotten how to listen.
The message of yoga is to first look here on this earth for intelligent life. Stop speculating on whether or not intelligent life exists on other planets. We haven’t yet been able to admit that nature is intelligent: we have been so obsessed with exploiting her for her resources, we haven’t taken the time to stop and listen, much less try to learn from Her. Be so completely present that nothing escapes unnoticed. Don’t wait for another time or place to discover the Truth. It is wherever you look-but only if you are able to look deeply, if you look with yogic x ray vision, that is. Most people stop their observations of Nature on a superficial level-at face value-where differences are most apparent and get caught in classifying and breaking things apart from each other into separate categories based on those outer differences. This analysis, or breaking apart by the intellect, may be useful and interesting in some respects, but yoga is a practice of intuitive synthesis-putting yourself and the world around you back together again, consciously engaging in the interactive process of renewal.
Look for hidden meaning-that is what Patanjali is advising to those who are interested in yoga. Yoga is an esoteric, secret, occult science, which means that it doesn’t reveal itself at first glance. Its teachings are veiled in symbols, codes and poetry and presented as sutras-threads, which weave themselves into and out of plain view. It will take the most astute student, one who is disciplined and focused, one with a sense of adventure, to be able to immerse themselves into its mysteries. But once you enter on the path, there is no turning back, because by entering on the path, you step into the eternity of the present-that which ever renews itself-and it is that experience which eventually but inevitably will transform you from an ordinary illusionary to a cosmic luminary.