By Kamala Itzel Berrío. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are an ancient text from the Yoga school of Indian philosophy. They are made up of four chapters, or books, containing a total of 198 aphorisms, or sutras. These aphorisms form a map of mind and consciousness that, if followed, lead the dedicated practitioner to the realization of her full human potential. The Yoga Sutras were passed through oral tradition from teacher to student until nearly 2,000 years ago, when the Sanskrit scholar and teacher Patanjali wrote them down for the first time. Who Patanjali was—as well as whether he was even just one person—is a matter of debate. But it is undisputed that the Yoga Sutras constitute the foundational text of Yoga.
Each of my blog posts will include my brief reflections on one or more sutras, along with a related exercise or practice that you can do at home. I hope you will join me on this journey through this ancient and sacred wisdom.
BOOK 1, SUTRA 1
Atha yoga anushasam
Now, the exposition of Yoga.
With this sutra, Patanjali tells us that our study of Yoga is about to begin. One of my teachers likened this sutra to “Once upon a time,” in that, when we hear it, we know how to prepare ourselves for what is going to follow.
The word anushasam suggests that this journey we are about to take calls for our rapt attention and is not to be taken lightly. We are going to be exposed to profound teachings that will require more than our intellect. This sutra’s emphasis on “now” (atha) suggests that this excursion can be undertaken only in the present moment. The sutra tells us that what is most needed to fully integrate the teachings of Yoga is our wholehearted presence.
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I designed the following exercise to support you with exploring the wisdom of this sutra and the experience of wholehearted presence. It should take about five minutes.
To begin, sit comfortably in a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed. (If you have a phone, don’t forget to turn it off!)
Begin by closing your eyes and turning your attention to your breath. If possible, do not adjust your breathing in any way. Simply become aware of the physical sensations that accompany each inhalation and each exhalation. If you notice that your mind has wandered, bring your awareness back to the breath. Breathe this way for a minute or two.
Now, continuing to allow the breath to flow completely naturally, imagine that the next five breaths you take are the first breaths that you have ever taken. Notice everything there is to notice about the quality of these five breaths. And notice the quality of the attention that you are giving to these breaths.
Now begin to slow the breath. Make each breath more deliberate, maintaining a state of relaxation and comfort. Now imagine that the next five breaths are the last five breaths you will be taking in this body. Fully savor and enjoy each inhalation and each exhalation. And notice the quality of your attention.
Now allow the breath to return to its natural in-and-out flow. Breathe this way for another minute or two. When you are ready, gently open your eyes.
I’d love to hear your thoughts about this sutra and your experience with this exercise. Please feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or share in the comment section below.
Itzel Berrío, also known by her yoga community as Kamala, was a lawyer for over a decade before becoming a registered 500-hour yoga teacher and a certified teacher of yoga philosophy. She is the founder of Attuned Living, which aims to improve the lives of lawyers and other midcareer professionals through life and career coaching and yogic wisdom. She is currently working on her own commentary to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/attunedliving and follow her on Twitter at @attunedliving.