ATHA YOGA-ANUŚĀSANAM is the first sutra or line in the yogic text Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. It is believed that about 2000 years ago, Yoga Master Patanjali studied deeply the yoga methods and results of successful yogins of his day. He then organized them into what we could consider a concise technical manual of the yoga system. The text consists of concise statements or sutras which can be memorized and then drawn from at will, as needed. By some accounts, Patanjali is considered a mythical being. By other accounts he is considered a revered sage of this day. But the general consensus is that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is useful guide for the development and deepening of a yoga practice.
The first sutra of the text reads:
Which may be translated as:
This apparently simple statement, like many of the simple statements found in the ancient yoga texts, is packed like a holograph. The whole truth of the volume of Patanjali’s sutra is contained in these 2 words. This particular sutra, because of its vast simplicityis translated and retranslated and commented upon in a wide variety of ways. But for today, for now, I would like to discuss the element of the present moment in a yoga practice. Yoga, the experience of yoga, the whole of the interconnectedness of all things, is contained in the present moment.
This seems an extraordinary statement – how could everything be now? Especially if we are here in a very temporal form, which appears to be limited. I feel like I’m here now. What more is there to experience?
Our physical bodies are reservoirs of subconscious information. The shapes and forms and feeling qualities of our bodies are impacted by our past experiences. A long-departed habit can reemerge when conditions spark a memory. A long-departed skill re-asserts itself with surprising speed, when conditions for its expression arise. As we move our bodies through the forms of asana (the yogic postures or poses) we awaken those unresolved memories of our history. As we learn to work with the body to release long held stress patterns, we also learn to release those unresolved memories.
When we experience an upset or a trauma the most fundamental unconscious reaction is to stop our breath. Our breath is an expression of a subtle energy called prana. A light bulb turning on and off is an expression of electricity –when electricity flows through the bulb it turns on. When the electricity is shut off, the lightbulb goes off. Prana is like electricity, when it flows things happen. When the breath shuts down in reaction to trauma or shock, it shuts down the flow of prana. That moment of interrupted unconsciousness is stored in the body and the stagnation interrupts the flow of prana further. That stagnated energy and the sensory memory connected to it, is not available in the now.
As we gently approach these areas of holding by gentle breathing during asana– the channels of flow are reestablished. The prana flows through the stagnated areas like water – flushing out the memories and re-assimilating those fragments of consciousness into our “now”. Our creative energy flows more fully. We experience a greater degree of wholeness. The experience of wholeness is an experience of feeling better.
The process of bringing the unconscious to the conscious in asana doesn’t require force or sacrifice – it merely requires a little willingness to see and feel that which may be uncomfortable. It is a process which often unfolds over time, but, some instances of reemerging consciousness can be instantaneous and powerful. The key is to prepare ourselves to allow the breath to flow uninterrupted for deeper levels of self-emergence. That process allows the prana to flow and restores movement, awareness, creativity and agility.