Patanjali Yoga Sutras: Understanding “Atha Yoganushasanam”

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Introduction and Series Overview of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras

Welcome back to our series launched on Yoga Day, where we delve deeply into the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, beginning with the foundational phrase: “Atha Yoganushasanam.” This phrase not only marks the commencement of the ancient text but also sets the stage for the profound journey of Ashtanga Yoga. At HinduInfoPedia.org, our goal is to illuminate the deep significance of this opening sutra within the broader context of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras and Sanatan Dharma. Each Monday, we release a new installment that explores different facets of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, Hindu philosophy, and scriptures, enhancing our understanding of yoga’s spiritual and practical dimensions.

For those interested in the historical backdrop of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, including Patanjali’s era and his revolutionary method of codification, we have thoroughly covered these topics in earlier posts. This context is crucial as it enriches our appreciation of Patanjali’s structured approach, which has transcended centuries and continues to influence modern yoga practices.

Today, we delve into “Atha Yoganushasanam,” the very first sutra of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, which serves as a gateway to deeper learning and practice in yoga. As a foundational element, it introduces themes and teachings that will be explored in detail in subsequent posts. This sutra symbolizes readiness for a transformative journey into yoga, preparing us for the comprehensive teachings that follow.

As we continue our series on the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, look forward to deep dives into how these ancient texts guide practitioners towards enlightenment and remain applicable in contemporary scenarios. We will explore the connections between the sutras, offering a holistic view of how they collectively guide the practitioner toward enlightenment and self-realization. Future entries will also examine practical applications of these sutras, supported by anecdotes and teachings from well-known figures in the yoga community.

What to Look Forward To

Whether you’re a seasoned yogi or new to the philosophy of yoga, our posts are designed to enrich your spiritual journey. Stay tuned as we continue to unpack the rich teachings of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, each post aiming to provide both historical insights and practical guidance.

After exploring the historical context in which Patanjali wrote the Yoga Sutras, the deep significance of ‘Atha Yoganushasanam’ is evident. The transition from oral to written traditions highlights the sutra’s crucial role in formalizing yoga disciplines, enhancing our understanding of its spiritual importance within Sanatan Dharma. This background helps us appreciate ‘Atha’ as both an introduction to the Patanjali Yoga Sutras and a transformative entry into yoga practice.

‘Atha Yoganushasanam’

In today’s discussion on ‘Atha Yoganushasanam,’ the very first sutra, we focus specifically on its philosophical and spiritual dimensions.

Breaking Down the Sutra

The sutra “Atha Yoganushasanam” is composed of three Sanskrit words:

  • Atha (अथ): This word translates to “now” or “here begins,” signifying an auspicious beginning and the readiness of the student to embark on the path of yoga. In spiritual texts, “atha” often marks a moment of initiation, indicating the importance of what follows.
  • Yoga (योग): Often understood as physical postures, in this context, yoga refers to the broader practice of union and discipline, encompassing ethical principles, breath control, and meditation.
  • Anushasanam (अनुशासनम्): Meaning instruction or discipline, this word implies a structured approach and adherence to a set of principles.

Interpretation of the Sutra                                                                           

Combining these elements, “Atha Yoganushasanam” can be interpreted as “Now, the instruction of yoga begins,” or “Here begins the discipline of yoga.” This phrase underscores the readiness and holistic approach necessary for true engagement with yoga, emphasizing the importance of presence and commitment in the practice.

The Significance of “Atha”

The word “atha” indicates a moment of readiness. It suggests that the practitioner has reached a certain level of maturity and preparedness to receive the teachings of yoga. This readiness is not just about physical ability but encompasses mental, emotional, and spiritual preparedness. The use of “atha” also highlights the importance of being present in the moment, which is a fundamental aspect of yoga practice.

The Essence of “Yoga”

In this sutra, “yoga” goes beyond the physical postures and exercises. It represents a holistic approach to achieving union and harmony within oneself and with the universe. Yoga, as outlined by Patanjali, is a disciplined path that integrates various practices to attain self-realization and inner peace.

The Role of “Anushasanam”

The term “anushasanam” emphasizes the importance of discipline and structured practice. It implies that yoga is not a casual or random activity but a systematic and disciplined approach to personal development and spiritual growth. This discipline involves adherence to ethical guidelines, regular practice, and a commitment to the teachings.

Prerequisites for Practitioners

Purity (Shuddhi)

  • Hatha Yoga Pradipika: This classical text on Hatha Yoga emphasizes the importance of cleanliness and purity. It outlines shatkarmas (six cleansing techniques) to purify the body, which are considered prerequisites for higher practices of yoga. (Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Chapter 2)
  • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: In the Yamas and Niyamas, Patanjali mentions Saucha (cleanliness) as an essential practice. This includes purity of body and mind. (Yoga Sutras, 2.40-2.41)

Mental Steadiness (Sthira)

  • Bhagavad Gita: Lord Krishna speaks about the importance of a steady mind (sthita-prajna) for a yogi. The steadiness of mind is crucial for the practice of yoga and achieving higher states of consciousness. (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 2, Verses 54-72)
  • Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Patanjali emphasizes the importance of steadiness (sthira) and comfort (sukha) in the practice of asanas, which is essential for deeper meditative practices. (Yoga Sutras, 2.46)

Emotional Readiness (Anushasanam)

  • Bhagavad Gita: Emotional maturity and control over emotions are highlighted as necessary for a practitioner to progress in yoga. The Gita discusses equanimity (samatvam) and the importance of detachment (vairagya). (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 6, Verses 5-6, Chapter 2, Verse 48)

Practical Implications for Practitioners

Readiness and Commitment

The sutra encourages practitioners to assess their readiness and commitment to the practice of yoga. It asks whether they are prepared to embrace the discipline and teachings with sincerity and dedication.

Holistic Practice

By understanding that yoga is more than physical exercise, practitioners are encouraged to explore and integrate all aspects of yoga into their lives. This includes ethical living, breath control, meditation, and more.

Structured Approach

The emphasis on “anushasanam” reminds practitioners of the importance of a structured and disciplined approach to yoga. Regular practice, adherence to guidelines, and a systematic progression are essential for achieving the true benefits of yoga.

Reflections on Patanjali Yoga Sutras and ‘Atha Yoganushasanam’

As we reflect on ‘Atha Yoganushasanam,’ we see its foundational role not just in the text but in shaping the practice of yoga itself. This sutra reminds us of the commitment and dedication required to truly integrate yoga into our lives. How have these teachings influenced your yoga journey? Share your experiences or questions in the comments below. Join us next week as we continue to explore the profound teachings of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and uncover further insights into achieving harmony within ourselves and with the universe.

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Glossary of Terms:

  1. Patanjali Yoga Sutras: A seminal text in Indian philosophy and yoga, authored by the sage Patanjali, which outlines the art and science of yoga through 196 aphorisms. This text forms the theoretical and philosophical basis of Raja Yoga and is foundational for understanding the practice of yoga.
  2. Atha Yoganushasanam: This Sanskrit phrase, marking the beginning of the Patanjali Yoga Sutras, translates to “now begins the discipline of yoga”. It signals the start of a profound journey into the spiritual and practical aspects of yoga.
  3. Sanatan Dharma: Often referred to as Hinduism, this term describes the eternal and universal laws and traditions which govern the ethical, spiritual, and social practices of Hindu philosophy. It is characterized by a recognition of the divine in every being and the pursuit of truth and righteousness.
  4. Ashtanga Yoga: Literally meaning “eight-limbed yoga,” outlined by Patanjali, which includes ethical guidelines, physical postures, breathing techniques, and meditation practices aimed at achieving spiritual liberation.
  5. Sutra: A Sanskrit word that means “thread,” sutra in the context of Indian philosophical literature refers to a concise aphorism that conveys essential teachings in a compact form.
  6. Vedas: Ancient and most authoritative scriptures of Hinduism, considered divine in origin and comprising hymns, incantations, philosophies, rituals, poems, and stories.
  7. Upanishads: A collection of philosophical texts which form the theoretical basis for the Hindu religion, dealing with topics like the nature of ultimate reality (Brahman) and the nature of the soul.
  8. Bhagavad Gita: A 700-verse Hindu scripture that is part of the Indian epic Mahabharata, consisting of a conversation between prince Arjuna and the god Krishna, who serves as his charioteer. It addresses the moral and philosophical dilemmas faced by Arjuna on the battlefield.
  9. Dharma: In Indian philosophy, dharma signifies the ethical and righteous path, the duties and moral obligations of an individual.
  10. Moksha: The ultimate goal of life in Hindu philosophy, representing liberation from the cycle of birth and rebirth and union with the divine.

Previous blogs on the subject:

Yoga Day and Ashtanga Yoga In Hindu Philosophy



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