Yoga-Sutra 1 – Samadhi Pada: about enlightenment

The first chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is about enlightenment - Samadhi Pada.

Yoga-Sutra

Samadhi (समाधि, Samādhi) = Enlightenment
Pada (पाद, Pāda) = ChapterThe first chapter of the Yoga Sutra by Patanjali

Samadhi-Pada

Sentence 1

atha yoga-anushasanam ||1||

अथ योगानुशासनम् ॥१॥

atha yoga-anuśāsanam ॥1॥

Yoga in the here and now: an introduction to the study and practice of yoga ||1||

atha = (conj.) and so, now (often used to introduce explanations)
yoga = (iic. / nom. sg. m.) yoga, unity, oneness, harmony with yourself
anuśāsanam = (nom. sg. n./acc. sg. n. from anuśāsana) introduction to the experience; lit: instruction, discipline,

Atha: an introductory word for classical explanations

The word atha occurs at the beginning of many explanations, including virtually all those in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:

  • atha yama-niyamāḥ
  • atha āsanam
  • atha siddhāsanam
  • atha bastiḥ
  • atha netiḥ
  • ...

Atha Yoga as a mantra

Atha yoga can also be used as a mantra. As we all know, the first steps are always the hardest; and this applies to the practice of yoga as well, regardless of whether you’re taking our beginners yoga course or are an experienced yogi beginning a yoga session. In other words, it’s all too easy to find an excuse not to do yoga. The atha yoga mantra comes in mighty handy in such cases, because using it makes any time the right time to do yoga.

Atha yoga: yoga in the here and now

With the atha yoga mantra, yoga is always in the here and now. You can only begin your practice of yoga at the point where you are right now. If your mind is uneasy and you feel inwardly out of balance, then that’s where yoga begins. And if you’re feeling weak and unwell, yoga is always there for you too. Yoga is always ready when you are. It’s always waiting for you and never passes judgement on you.

Yoga: establishing a relationship with yourself

The word yoga is derived from the Indo-Germanic root yuga, which means “bridle.” The word is closely related to “yoke,” but originally connoted wild horses pulling a chariot more than cows pulling a
plow. In any case, yuga suggests the idea that the animals need to exert their strength in front of the vehicle at the same time in order to move it forward. By analogy, yoga joins together your various aspects in a manner that yields inner harmony. And thus by practicing yoga, you establish a relationship with yourself.

Listening is the key

But the question arises as to what the most important aspect of a relationship is – a question to which pretty much everyone has an answer. Who among us has never been asked, “Are you listening to me?”
Attentive listening is perhaps the most important cornerstone of a relationship. If, by practicing yoga, you establish a relationship with yourself, then listening and being attentive to yourself become a key aspect of yoga. One could argue that the sole purpose of the various body positions entailed by the practice of yoga is to enable you to listen to yourself more attentively. Stretching a muscle triggers a process of creation in which your body speaks loudly and clearly to you. You need to pay attention to what your body is telling you and be careful what you do with your body.

Acceptance: opening the door to yoga

Important though listening is in a relationship, it alone is not enough. Imagine, if you will, a being such as God that loves you unconditionally. And imagine that you are in the presence of this being after your death. Perhaps you get down on one knee before Him and kiss His feet, but he kicks you away, saying “You’re overweight.” But would of course make no sense. Because a being that loves you unconditionally will accept you and love you exactly as you are.

When you’re in a relationship with someone, it is likewise essential that you accept them as they are, because if you constantly pass judgement on them you’ll end up ruining the relationship. And though this principle may be self evident when it comes to relationships, the question arises as to how we relate to ourselves.

In other words, when you look at yourself in the mirror in the morning and say, “I love you”? Yoga enables you to establish a harmonious relationship with yourself, so that you can answer “yes” to this question unequivocally. Yoga brings you into harmony with yourself.

Experience and practice: the cornerstones of yoga

But the phrase atha yoga-anuśāsanam goes still further. Anushasanam means introduction to the experience of yoga. Unlike philosophies that are based on theory, yoga is always rooted in your own practice and experience of yoga. In this regard, yoga is somewhat like an apple. You can spend years analyzing and explaining an apple, analyzing its nutrients and describing it. But in so doing, you’ll never find out what an apple tastes like, for only very few people attain this knowledge. And it’s the same with yoga. You can only attain the state of yoga through your own practice and experience of yoga.

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