Posted by: birdmaddgirl | 24 March 2011

The Yoga Sutras, 1.1: atha yoganushasanam

my “homework” for yoga teacher training right now is to look closely into the first 12 Yoga Sutras and to find a translation (or an amalgamation of several translations) that resonates for me.

let’s begin with a look at Yoga Sutra 1.1:

the gist of the several translations i have looked at thus far is: Now the study of yoga begins.

when we talked about this sutra during training, we discussed this as the table-setting sutra. in some way as now you are prepared, the study can begin; and also as now, in this moment, in this text, we begin to study yoga.

it occurred to me, and as a part-time amateur folklorist i really like, that this can be read as the ritualized formula that begins a recitation. yoga, like all ancient knowledge, was long passed down as an oral tradition. the “now” can function as the now of story-time, the now of ritual time. this resonates for me – many indigenous American stories begin in a similar fashion, with an invocation that alerts the listener to the sacred nature of what is to follow. now is the time to leave behind other concerns and take on the study of something greater. i see this as establishing the atmosphere for all that is to follow, the call to attend to something that is both external and internal to the self.

my teacher Elliott referred to it as “liminal,” which is a word i associate with studying the Gilgamesh epic, so that makes sense to me. to stand at the threshold of knowledge, perhaps peeking in with some trepidation. at first glance, this can seem like a sort of throw-away sutra, but what could be more important than preparing the way for the wisdom to follow? the doorway must be crossed to enter, and we’re often not very aware of doorways and all they mean. (Mimi and Elliott have talked often about paying attention to transitions in asana and in personal interactions. to transition with grace is a difficult thing.) that little “atha” tells us to shift to a wider consciousness, to pay attention to the transition. it is a yoga practice unto itself.

i have not yet read a Yoga Sutra translation or commentary done by a folklorist or literary analyst, but now i think that i would like to.  i’ve looked through three of the five books that i’ve got at the moment.

here are the editions: Bengali Baba’s 1949 translation and commentary, Edwin F. Brant’s 2009 translation and commentary, Charles Johnson’s 1912 translation and commentary, the last section of The Heart of Yoga by T.K.V. Desikachar, and The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi. i wanted to find a bit of balance between older versions and newer, to get a female perspective in (thanks to Rox Does Yoga for the Devi rec!), and to get an Indian voice. as i get farther into the commentaries, i will have more opinions to offer about the styles and interpretations of the various texts.



  1. I’ll be interested to hear what you think of the Devi. She’s definitely a different perspective!

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