NOW WE COMMENCE THE STUDY OF YOGA.
This is the aphorism with which Patanjali begins his teachings in the definitive text of Classical Yoga, the Yoga Sutras. On one level it simply announces that the subject of the text is yoga.
Traditionally, the first word of a text carries great significance, and here the first word is “atha,” which means now.
With the word “now,” there’s a sense of all times, of the past, the present, and the future. Now we’re going to learn about yoga. Historically the teachings had not been coherently codified, and Patanjali did just that. But for us as a student of yoga, there can also be a sense that now is our time. Now is the time to delve into this text. Our past studies have led us to this moment to begin a serious contemplation of these teachings.
From a broader perspective, there’s a sense of the “present moment,” of “be here now.” I find these ideas a bit overused, and I cringe at using them, because I don’t find them very useful. What does it mean to be here now, and how does one actually come into the present moment? Well, that’s what the whole text of the Yoga Sutras is about: yoga. Our practice of yoga teaches us how to become present.
And as yoga practitioners, this aphorism reminds us: now, at any and every time, is time for yoga. And I’m not talking about getting on your mat and cranking out some asana, or even getting to the meditation cushion, though for most people practice is the prerequisite. When we regularly do the practices that connect us to what Patanjali calls the seer, a deeper core presence that is the essence of who we are, we are able to meet each moment with that presence.
Through our practice of yoga, we learn to connect with the ground of our being, a place of wisdom inside ourselves that then guides us in the present moment. With this process we inevitably begin to confront all of our habitual patterns from our past, which we tend to allow to pull us out of the present moment. Our practice helps us clear out, identify, and shift these patterns. And THEN, as we go about our lives as we all must, we are better able to be in the present moment.
In each moment, with the help of the connection we have established to our deeper awareness through our practice, we become able to see more clearly what is actually present, and what is an old pattern, or our own clouded perception. This is our yoga happening in the present moment. And it allows us, when things are particularly challenging, to take it as an opportunity for yoga. Now we do our yoga, in the most challenging moments. Having established the connection, we draw on the deepest source to work with whatever is unfolding in this present moment, to guide us through that moment and into the future.
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