Well, folks, it's that time again. "What time is it?" you ask. Time for the next installment of the Sutra Sagacity series, that's what! And it just so happens to be our first look at an actual sutra. Wild, I know. (If you missed the Sutra Sagacity intro article, check it out here.)
Now, before we get started on this first sutra, I want to introduce to you someone who’s just getting started with MOJO Yoga this week! Meet Shannon Algeo, our newest MOJO Teacher!
Shannon is a spiritual life coach, international yoga instructor, and host on the iTunes ‘New&Noteworthy' SoulFeed Podcast. Named one of the “Nicest Instructors in New York City” by RateYourBurn, Shannon’s intuition has been called a “gift to the wellbeing community.” Shannon has been featured on Elephant Journal, The Advocate, and Consciously Speaking Podcast. and has interviewed great leaders like Deepak Chopra, Marianne Williamson, Caroline Myss, Seane Corn, and Elena Brower. Shannon is certified in Nalini Method, Advanced Anusara Yoga Therapeutics, Forrest Yoga, Vinyasa with Seane Corn, Yoga Tune Up® Embodied Integrated Anatomy, and 200-hr RYT from Pure Yoga. Shannon studied Yoga Leadership with the non-profit Off the Mat, Into the World at the Omega Institute. And I must say, he is just totally lovable from moment one. Plus, our team here at MOJO is just over the moon about bringing on our first male instructor. It’s about time…
So, here’s a preview of Shannon’s first MOJO offering: a 65-minute Happy Hips practice. MOJO Members, head straight over to the full practice by clicking here.
Now to that first sutra…
I.1 atha yoganushasanam
atha = now
yoga = yoga
anushasanam = teachings
Now, the teachings of yoga [are presented].
That's it. Well, see you next week... Kidding, kidding. I know it seems like a very simple and straightforward verse. Enjoy it while it lasts, kids, because it's all uphill from here! We have to keep in mind that it is common practice in philosophical texts to actually introduce the subject matter. So, there you have it: yoga.
Also, remember that sutras are "threads," or dense aphorisms meant for memorization, oral transmission, and unpacking of terms and meaning. So, what's to be found here?
First, atha, meaning "now," demarcates the teachings in this work from other philosophical works (Bryant points out that atha also initiates other works of similar form and function). (5) According to one of the classical commentators, Vijnanabhiksu, atha is also used to differentiate one text from others in a hierarchical or sequential fashion, "as indicating that when one has exhausted dabbling with other philosophical or religious systems as represented in other texts," one has finally come to the "truths" represented in the text in question. (Bryant, 5) He also notes that the word is commonly used as an auspicious or sacred beginning to a text. (5)
Next, we have yoga. The modern interpretation of yoga commonly refers to yoga as having the same Indo-European root as the English word "yoke," and thus infers that yoga means to join or unite with "Absolute Truth." (Bryant, 5). However, I found it extremely interesting that Max Muller and others have noted that, in the context of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, "the goal of yoga is not to join, but the opposite: to unjoin," that is to disconnect the self, the soul, or pure consciousness (purusa) from the trappings of gross and subtle matter, including the mind (prakrti). (Bryant, 5-6) So, here we see in one word that we think we know, the depths of dualities and full circles: yoga as an unjoining in order to join once again with that which we already are. Whoa.
Lastly, we come to anushasanam. Strictly translated, this means "further teaching." As we know, Patanjali was certainly not the founder of yoga, nor the first scholar on the subject. If we didn't already know that, we could infer it by examination of this word. The prefix anu- is indicative of the continuation of an activity, in our case, shasanam, meaning teachings.
As an interesting aside, numerous sources point to a sage by the name of Hiranyagarbha as the original teacher of yoga (from the Yajnavalkya Smrti, to the Mahabharata, to the Bhagavata Purana). I know, I've never heard of him either. He is rumored to have been born on a lotus growing from the navel of Vishnu, the sustainer, who happened to be relaxing upon the back of his giant serpent, Shesa (of whom Patanjali is believed to be an incarnation), whilst floating in the eternity of the cosmic waters before creation. Yeah. Well, as you might expect, Hiranyagarbha, upon realizing what was going on, became overwhelmingly confused and in order to cope, naturally, turned to stilling his mind. Thus, he entered the ultimate state of yoga: samadhi, becoming the first yogi in primordial times. Wouldn't it be nice if we all came to samadhi so easily? (This story comes from the Bhagavata Purana.)
But we've digressed. Coming back to the sutra at hand, the point is, Patanjali is making it very clear from the beginning that he is espousing a continuation of the already ancient and diverse practices of yoga. And thus, with atha yoganushasanam, Patanjali has introduced his subject matter to us all.
This sutra begins the first book of the Yoga Sutras, prathama samadhi-padah (meditative absorption). This book, the first of 4 total, will outline a definition of yoga and its goals, descriptions of the different types of awarenesses and vrttis (states of mind), how to control them, a discussion of the states of samadhi and devotion as a means to get there, distractions and methods to combat them, and discuss the distinction between samprajnata-samadhi (one-pointed concentration) and the final state of asamprajnata-samadhi (pure consciousness). All that in one little 'ole book? I guess so. Stay tuned until the next sutra!
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