YS I.1 atha yogā-anuśāsanam
Here begins the teaching of yoga
The first word of the Yoga Sūtras is atha, which means “here begins” — but it’s a starting point that is neither fixed nor static; we begin where we are, and where we are always changes. Thus, we don’t start over, we simply start again. And again. And again. And again.
It’s an open-mindedness often referred to as “beginner’s mind” or the mind of a child. Here we discover the secret of staying awake and present in our life—by continually seeing the familiar as new. It means always looking beyond what we know rather than settling on answers. For it’s the looking that keeps our mind open and fresh, and the search that gives our life meaning. Kind of like playing hide-and-seek as a kid—that which we seek is supposed to be hidden. It’s a mystery that’s meant for us to revel in, not solve.
You know, we have this tendency to view our lives and everything in it (including our yoga practice), in such linear terms, with a progression that’s more distinct and conclusive. Which is a very masculine (and also Western) way of thinking. The feminine (and Eastern) view is more circular and continuous. And how the Yoga Sūtras are written—like a book that never ends.
Though it’s deceiving at first, especially as the sūtras themselves are organized in chapters and therefore, sequential. It’s not until we come to the end that we realize, our journey is not over at all and is only to be continued. For after explaining what yoga is (Chapter 1), how to practice (Chapter 2), yoga’s extraordinary powers (Chapter 3), and the freedom that comes (Chapter 4), Patanjali ends with the word, “iti” or “thus”, which then circles us right back to the beginning:
Thus… here begins the teaching of yoga.
Or perhaps it is as T.S. Elliot once wrote, “The end is where we start from.”