1.1 – Now, an explanation of yoga.

अथ योगानुशासनम्॥१॥

atha yoga anushasanam

  • atha – now; an auspicious moment in time
  • yoga – to yoke, to bring together; union; samadhi
  • anu – within; following; alongside
  • shasanam – teaching; instruction; explanation

Commentary on Sutra 1.1:

Yogic texts often begin with the Sanskrit word atha. Atha is a sacred, auspicious word meaning “now.”

“OM and the word “atha”—these two came out first, piercing the throat of Brahma. Therefore, both are auspicious.” – Narada Purana 51.10

Atha indicates that the moment is ripe—that the stars are in alignment. It implies that there’s been preparation to ready the student for this deep dive into an understanding of consciousness.

Patanjali explains in this first sutra that he will be teaching within an established tradition (anu-shasanam  anu meaning “within” or “following” or “according to,” shasanam meaning “discipline” or “teaching”). His methods align with a discipline that began thousands of years before his birth. However, his Yoga Sutras are the first known attempt to assemble the principles in written form.

Throughout a long stretch of yogic history, renunciation was one of the prerequisites for training. One had to leave behind their friends and family members, their material possessions, and their place in the world before being permitted to study. Then, as a monk, they had to endure preliminary training before undertaking deeper practices.

Today, with the explosion of information that modern technology has brought about, yogic teachings are accessible to all. However, sifting through that data and attempting to apply it safely and effectively is difficult without an experienced guide.

What causes us to seek spiritual teachings in the first place?

We all have an innate desire to wake up, to know the truth of who and what we are. That seed begins to sprout when the inner conditions are right. A deep longing grows within us, which catalyzes our search for meaning, purpose, and connection.

It’s our nature to be happy and whole. But it’s not until we’ve chased after happiness through material possessions, the “perfect” relationships, intoxicants, etc., that we come to the spiritual path. Through these outward pursuits, we get glimpses of joy but then suffer greatly when that bliss fades. Through our mistakes and pitfalls, we eventually come to desire the eternal source of happiness alone.

Once that higher desire emerges, we become ready for the journey. The past falls away, and our destiny begins to unfold. “Now,” Patanjali says, “instruction in yoga.”