The first sutra—atha yoga anushasanam—of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has been resonating with me a lot this past month. It’s often an overlooked one, but when you dive deeper into its meaning, it can guide you in the right direction in your life. Swami Jnaneshvara translates these Sanskrit words to mean: Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.
The important word here is “now.”
It’s the beginning of a new calendar year, and many people are ready to jump into new routines which they hope will improve their lives. We all like to try new things around now, and yoga is something that is often added to the mix. Yet, are you truly ready for yoga?
According to Yoga Sutras, one should come to yoga because one is ready to do it, and not perhaps because it’s the trendy thing to do. In other words, ideally one comes to yoga because for whatever reasons, one is drawn to it because one is need its benefits and are ready to receive them. Perhaps one begins yoga practice because they’ve heard that yoga can help to release stress, alleviate worry, and lead to more peace and calm. Sometimes one is drawn to yoga because of some traumatic experience they’ve had, and they need healing and recovery.
Yoga means Union.
And so to benefit optimally from yoga, one has to be ready to “yoga” or ready to be in union with one’s highest Self, highest Nature.
With the proliferation of so many offshoots of yoga here in the west—buff yoga, broga, nude yoga, yo-dan-nastics—it might be easy to think that yoga is just a physical practice meant for physical self-improvement only. While one may experience physical benefits from doing yoga, it is always good to remember that the real, enduring, and important benefits of it are internal, such as more peace of mind, less stress, more joy and equanimity. Though these are unseen qualities, they are definitely qualities that we can feel. And when we are in union, we can exude a “yoga glow” that can be felt by and benefit others around us.
The 2nd, 3rd, and 4th Sutras are:
yogash chitta vritti nirodhah
tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam
vritti sarupyam itaratra
Essentially, these words mean that the goal of yoga is to quiet down the mind enough so that we can know at a deeper level our Highest Self and to be able to see the ever-changing nature of the outward world’s many passing phenomena as an illusion.
The external world leads our minds here and there, modifying and shaping it. It is easy to identify with those images – really illusions – such as “I am rich”, or “I am a Poly-Eurasian male”, or “I am powerless”, and so on. But to be ready to “yoga” means being ready to want to break free from those labels that we and the outer world have placed upon ourselves.
Really, the goal of Yoga is to identify with the Seer within that witnesses the ever-changing ephemeral world around and within us.
And to truly benefit from yoga, one has to be ready to make the right changes in one’s life. At the start of a new year, many people are ready to make resolutions. Hopefully these changes one makes in one’s life will lead her/him to the outcomes they seek in the year ahead.
For me personally, I started my year with an idea in mind of some large goals I wish to manifest in 2018. Then rather than focus on the goals, I started to focus on the inner changes I could realistically make, the inner intentions I could set, and the things I could let go of.
The external situations of my life led me to have a bit of a rocky start to my year. Most significantly, my apartment has been turned upside down for all of January due to an infestation of bed bugs. Yep, living in a Manhattan high-rise apartment building with 1700 other units around mine certainly has its perks!
In the beginning, it caused me to feel much stress and many moments over the last 4 weeks have felt like quite an ordeal. But the flip side of all of this is that I also have come to see all the changes that will result from me going through this this as blessings. For one thing, when this is all said and done, I plan to purge my apartment of all the things I no longer need. I also came to see just how resilient and inventive I can be with my living arrangements. Even if I had to sleep on my hard floor on quite a number of nights, at least I had an apartment with heat. It came to my mind during those nights that many people in the world don’t even have this basic comfort. And probably most importantly, I came to see that even though the outer circumstances of my life are chaotic, my inner faith in my abilities to overcome these obstacles is now even stronger.
Another significant stressor in my life happened back on Saturday, Jan 13 at approximately 8am Hawaii Standard Time. I was in Honolulu at the time driving home from enjoying an 'ono (delicious) Hawaiian breakfast when my cell phone started buzzing with the alert of an incoming missile. Suddenly the peaceful morning I was experiencing in blue-skied, warm and tranquil Hawaii was upended by fears of my impending death. For 45 minutes or so, I prepared myself for the end. Panic was mixed with thoughts of “can this really be truly happening?” Fortunately, at around 8:45am we receive the notification that all was clear. Whew.
So that was my brief brush with my mortality. That was a wakeup call, in a sense, to continue to see this life of mine and all my possessions as a brief blink of the Universe’s eye, yet also as an opportunity to see that I am part of something much bigger and much more eternal.
This the why we practice yoga – to know these realizations.
The fundamental realization that came to me this month is that it is less important what the outer circumstances of one’s life are but rather what inner circumstances are being modified, changed.
Externally, I am not where I want to be, but internally I know I will get there because of the inner changes I’ve made. Truly it is not where one starts, but rather where one finishes. So, I’ve learned not to judge what I see happening in my life at any one time as defining me, but rather have been keeping my eye on the prize and imagining what can happen when I make internal changes that move my inner being towards greater Union with my Highest Nature.
So, the fundamental question I have been asking myself each day this past month is: “am I ready to make important inner changes in my life that will lead me to greater realizations and bring me closer to my human potential?” Really, I have been asking myself: “am I truly ready to ‘yoga’, to bond closer to my Highest Self?"
For me this month, so far so good
I leave with a question for you: “are you ready to ‘Yoga’?”
May you be happy, health, and ready to ‘yoga’ … for the benefit of all beings.
Aloha with Metta,