Then comes the right time to undertake the practice of yoga.
Yoga Sutra 1.1 Recitation
Audio Recitation by D.C. Rao, PhD
Atha: a term indicating auspicious beginning. It implies that there has been preparation for an auspicious and fruitful journey. In the science of mantra, “atha” represents the complete range of all sounds and phonemes. In tantra and kundalini yoga, “atha” is the short form of “a,” “ka,” and “tha,” the three letters that are the building blocks of the guru chakra—the center that lies between the sixth and seventh chakras.
Yoga means “union, balance, and a harmonious state of mind; bridging the different aspects of life; connecting the individual consciousness with supreme consciousness; the union of the two—the lover and the beloved, the seeker and God, Shiva and Shakti, ida and pingala, the sun and moon, active and passive.”
Anuśhāsanam = Anu + śhāsanam
Anu means “that follows; that which is accompanied by; along with; in accordance to; in conformity with.”
Śhāsanam; means “discipline; administering; execution; bringing into practice; following law and order; being systematic.”
In the Beginning
Renowned for over two thousand years, Patanjali’s aphorisms on the practice and philosophy of yoga shine brilliantly, like a garland of jewels. Here, for contemplation, is the first among them.
To gain a direct experience of yoga, you must commit yourself to a methodical practice.
Yoga is more than a philosophy. It stands on the solid ground of philosophy, but it is an experiential science. To gain a direct experience of yoga, you must commit yourself to a methodical practice. However, before you undertake the practice of yoga, you must first fulfill some prerequisites. Only then will you have an auspicious and productive journey.
The most important prerequisite is that you must know why you want to practice yoga. The clearer you are about your goals and objectives, the less the chances of failure, for you will have clear criteria for assessing whether or not you are moving in the right direction. This clarity comes from knowing that there is something missing in life—there is something you want to have that you don’t have. There is also something you have that you don’t want to have—you want to get rid of it but you don’t know how.
The philosophy that shows conclusively that the stream of life is mixed with sorrow and joy and that there is a way of removing sorrow and embracing joy is called “Sankhya,” and the basic knowledge of this philosophy is a prerequisite to the practice of yoga. The desire to overcome all known and unknown forms of sorrow is an inherent characteristic we all share. Sankhya elaborates this understanding. It helps us cultivate a right understanding of life—the right understanding of body, breath, mind, consciousness, and the world around us. It helps us know what to expect and what not to expect, both from ourselves and from others, and thus prevents us from becoming disappointed with life. The better grasp we have of this philosophy, the more powerful the spiritual motive for undertaking the practice of yoga.
According to another group of yogis, hatha yoga is a prerequisite to the practice of the core of yoga as outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Here “hatha yoga” means postures, breathing exercises, and a positive attitude toward one’s body and worldly relationships. The practice of hatha yoga helps one eliminate or attenuate obstacles and thereby allows the practitioner to undertake the spiritual aspect of yoga practices wholeheartedly.
Anuśhāsanam is an emphatic statement that yoga means practice. There is no room for philosophical debates or other forms of intellectual gibberish. Anuśhāsanam also indicates that if you are not committed to practice, don’t waste your time reading books on yoga. In order to practice yoga, you must put yourself under the guidance of a competent teacher, follow the teacher’s instructions precisely, and not fool around with the practices. The instructions must flow from a genuine tradition, and you need to remain with the teacher who is fully connected to the tradition. If you are still working on the preparatory steps, such as hatha yoga, simple pranayama, and concentration techniques, it is all right to shop around. But if you wish to discover the inner dimensions of yoga that guarantee everlasting peace and happiness, you must study under the guidance of an experienced teacher and follow their instructions precisely. Anuśhāsanam is a statement of your commitment to do that.