The first stanza of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra gives wisdom about yoga as a whole.
BY RICHARD ROSENAUG
Atha yoga anushasanam
Now, the teachings of yoga.
—Yoga Sutra 1.1
So reads the first stanza (sutra) of Patanjali’s 2,000-year-old yoga guidebook, the Yoga Sutra. It’s quite possibly one of the most famous opening lines in all of Hindu spiritual literature, but most eager students, intent on getting to the juicier parts of the teachings, sail past the first word, “now” (in Sanskrit atha, pronounced ah-tah) without a second thought.
But wait! One distinct characteristic of the sutra is brevity, so the word atha is there for good reason. It’s there to grab your attention: I’m ready to teach, Patanjali is saying, so listen up. But atha also signals the value of what you’re about to dive into. These days you can flip through the Yoga Sutra whenever you please, and then return it to the shelf, but long ago it took a long period of preparation just to gain access to it. The study of classical yoga was serious business that required commitment.
At some point the teacher determined that—atha, “now”—the novice was qualified enough for instruction. It must have been an exhilarating moment when students left behind their everyday identities to assume a new role as spiritual aspirants.
For modern yogis, atha whispers a subtle reminder that all yoga teaching emerges from and leads us back to the timeless, ever-present now. Before you begin your next practice, say it silently and see if it draws you into the present. If you’re really lucky, you might feel, in the words of Patanjali, that the “layers and imperfections concealing truth” are “washed away,” and your authentic self is revealed.
Be Here Now.
Read more about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras & Ashtanga