ATHA YOGA-ANUŚĀSANAM (अथ योगानुशासनम्)

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:

ATHA YOGA-ANUŚĀSANAM
(अथ योगानुशासनम्)

Which may be translated as:

                Now, Yoga. 

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. 

Jai Bella

blooming rose

Image

Miles of concrete, lined with parking lots.  Not a tree in sight for miles.  Burned out buildings housing pigeons, feral cats and a host of other mysterious wild beings (I saw possums, often).   This was the city of Newark where I lived, for many years.

Unlike New York, there were no shady trees lining sidewalks.  I realized this the first time it hit 104 degrees  There was no shade to be found.  I was living in a concrete sahara.

Gradually, over the years, I began to see dandelions pushing up through the cracks in the sidewalk.  They were so exciting, I had to celebrate them.  I gathered their seeds and planted more on the roof.  The next year, the bloom of the moment was Queen Anne’s Lace, the following year, Bachelor Buttons.  The year I left, Red Morning Glories  were climbing up chain linked fences.  On the day I drove away from Newark for the last time, all these so-called “weeds”, tough little flowers that they were,  had burst into a symphony of colors lining the parking lots.

As I was loading up the car,  a guy with a gasoline powered weed whacker was heading down the tiny lane between the parking lots, whacking the flowers up in the name of urban neatness.  I was glad that I wasn’t going to see the end of that story.  How on earth, could you weed whack a miracle?

If you don’t see it as a miracle, I guess.

I was reading today, the interview of a gentleman, now immersed in the business of Silicon Valley, who traveled to India in the 70’s.  He stated that the 70’s was the age of miracles, and that they no longer happened.

Really?  Or did we just get so focused on something else that we missed them?

I now live in a converted garage in Marin County, California.  In the surrounding yard there are flower bushes, not one, or two, but dozens. Oh the pleasure, to be surrounded by flowers. To walk out of my humble abode and see the spiky trees, dotting the horizon.  To see the beautiful Mt. Tam,  a Kailash I can get close to, rising above the landscape.

I make it a point every morning to smell the roses.  Literally.  I can’t afford a Maserati, but I can smell the roses.  Miraculously, everything keeps blooming here throughout the year, even though it never rains.  To my Northeast born and bred eyes, this is a miracle.

This morning, my landlady’s daughter was expressing her various woes.  Well, don’t we all have them?  And yes, many of them are considerable.  I expressed that I was sorry she was challenged, but then offered some appreciation for the flowers.  I’m so glad that there is a rose bush outside my door, and that I can smell the roses everyday when I walk by.

“Roses?”, she responded, looking a bit puzzled.  “Are there roses?  Which bush?”

It was the one right by her car.

“I didn’t see them.”

“I see,” I said.  Meaning, “I understand”.  I know what that is like, those moments when the hard things, the ugly things, the challenging things appear to be so oppressive that it is difficult to see beyond them.  I know what that is like.

I remember learning from one of my teachers to count ten blessings before I put my foot on the floor each morning.  ESPECIALLY when I didn’t feel grateful.  This was partly how I learned to cultivate the awareness of the many miracles that surround us each day.  Dandelions coming up through the sidewalk made the list often on days when I felt I had little to be grateful for.  Oh, how they grew, the more they were on the list, the more I observed them.  The more I observed them, the more it seemed they grew.  I kind of figure that’s how I landed here, with the roses and everything.

“Well, I just wanted to thank you.  I enjoy smelling them.” I said.  She looked at me a little mystified, like I was a little strange, but to me, I was enjoying a miracle

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