Beyond the Asana: Yoga Begins Now (not later!)
“Yoga in the here and now: an introduction to the study and practice of yoga”
We often skip over the first line of the sutras, thinking it is simply an introduction to Patanjali’s text. But to me, the line warrants our attention, and contains a simple, but profound teaching that we can learn from.
It is the use of the term atha – ‘now’ that draws my attention.
Now has a lot of meanings. It can be used as a continuance, for example, “now we begin”. Commonly it is understood that the use of atha at the start of the sutras has this meaning. But I like to read this beginning line slightly differently.
When I begin a text such as the yoga sutras I tend to close my eyes, take a moment and connect with my breath. Doing so seems to change the mind state that I read in. Rather than reading in a fashion hungry for information, I take these moments to open myself to reading in a way which brings me back to what is, in the moment.
Michelle Boulous Walker (my PhD supervisor) talks about ‘slow reading’. Just like other slow movements (eg; slow food) taking this pause, reflection and time to ‘read slow’ means that we give ourselves unhurried time to explore a text. Without rushing we avoid ‘consuming’ the text to aquire information and knowledge. Rather we create the space to begin to grasp the complexities of what we are reading.
When it comes to texts like the Yoga Sutras, which are layered with meaning, slow reading has its merits. Taking the time to breathe, to centre and to approach our reading mindfully allows us to connect with another possible reading of this introductory line. By my reading the ‘atha’ doesn’t just mean we begin now, I read it as stating that yoga can be found in the here and now. Indeed it suggests that yoga is not something we do, but something we are (or can connect with in the now).
Essentially, if we understand that yoga begins in the now, it means that we don’t have to go anywhere or do anything special to discover the depths of yoga. The predominance of yoga as a technique is clear through many Instagram feeds, and adverts for yoga. Yoga IS a wonderful technique, that I practice 6 days a week. But yoga is also something we are, that we can uncover by completely and utterly awakening to the now.
I think this is what Patanjali is talking about … or at least how I like to read it …
While the techniques of yoga (asana, pranayama for example) have a myriad of benefits, these techniques are not actually all there is to yoga. My understanding is that you don’t actually need to practice the ‘techniques’ of yoga in order to understand, or be in a space of yoga. Yoga is something we already are, it is our truest nature, kind, loving, open boundless and interconnected. Yet our minds are so preoccupied with past and future, that resting in the now is rare. From this place we can easily start to believe and become attached to the idea that to access the space if ‘being yoga’ that we must practice pranayama , meditation, asana etc.
Practice of course helps us to know how to let go enough to experience what it means, as Ram Dass put it, to ‘Be Here Now‘. But lets not forget that yoga is much more than technique.
For most of us, with the pace of everyday life, ‘being’ yoga is hard. Luckily for us, the next line of the sutras gives us a pretty good idea of how we might actually ‘be in a space of yoga’ rather than simply DO yoga! It is directly related to the way in which we train our mind during our practice.
To move from the techniques of yoga, to being yoga, mind control is necessary! The next Beyond the Asana will explore the intersection between yoga psychology, modern psychology and the freedom we might find if we don;t believe our thoughts!
Image from: Be Move Live