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  • Writer's pictureRachel Faiella

Ancient yogis speak to us through time: just listen

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras: meditations, thoughts, and translations

Sutra 1

Atha Yoga anusasanam

1.00 pm: Durres, Albania. It's hot, really hot. The sun is so harsh right now, it hurts our eyes to walk outside. So I sit in the shade of our funky backpacker's hostel and try to formulate the essence of Patanjali's first Yoga Sutra, which, to me, is so profound because of its uncanny simplicity.

Atha= Now, in this moment

Yoga-anusasanam= the exposition, teaching, instruction, practice of yoga

"Now, your yoga instruction begins."

I love this so much because, if I close my eyes and journey through time, I can travel back two thousand years, and see an ethereal yogi in roughly woven robes, or perhaps a white khaftan, with glowing skin and vibrant eyes tell me: "Now, your yoga instruction begins".

The great Swami Rama (whose teachings are perhaps my most treasured yoga moments), said, with his trademark, colorful oratory: "Atha! NOW! NOW, your yoga instructions begins. First learn to be here and now, or you will never begin the path of yoga. You cannot meditate because you do not know how to be HERE and NOW. So....Patanjali says: first learn to be here and now, this is the pre-requisite for yoga practice."

Other yogis translate Atha as "auspicious", and therefore, they say that this sutra means: "According to astrological and numerical calculations, now is an auspicious time to begin your yoga instruction.", which is indicative as well, because we are all led to yoga in different ways and through different life experiences.

Having said that, I have always felt that the word "Atha" as the affirmative "NOW" is so very important for the yogi, especially in this day and age when we are constantly planning, thinking, moving, bombarded with the necessity to strive for some fictitious future perfection. Yoga, for me, is all about being here and now, in this moment, and just learning to "be".

Yoga doesn't teach what to do, but how to "be".

This sutra was brought to life for me a few days ago in the MARTA museum of Taranto, Italy, with an exquisite little terracotta figurine, affectionately named "acrobat". To me, she came alive and said very clearly through time with her agile, fluid scorpion pose: "Atha yoga anusasanam". (I might add that, despite the fact that this year I feel I've mastered Pincha Mayurasana and feel comfort and stability in that pose, for months I have been reluctant to leave my comfort zone and move towards scorpion pose. It was a magical, mystical touch of divinity to find her at this moment in my yoga journey when I was feeling titubant towards this particular pose. As always, the universe speaks to us, all we have to do is be here and now in "atha" mode, so we can be guided. She was very clear to me: Now is your time for mastery of scorpion.)

320-300 B.C. Acrobat in polychrome terracotta, Taranto, Italy (MARTA museum)

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