atha yoga nushasanam – Patanjali opens his Yoga Sutras with the farthest, deepest, and grandest of all the sutras. It is said that for one who is “ripe” for enlightenment, this line is all that is needed. It encompasses the entire book – Now, all around you, is the deep study of yoga – But just as we needed Basics classes, we need the rest of the sutras, which guide us, sometimes gently, sometimes not, towards a certain ripeness of being.
Often in asana classes we can get caught in the guidelines. We find ourselves focusing on ankles; on santosa (contentment); on chitti vritti (mind fluctuations); we focus on the hips; on the tip of our nose, on one part of the breath; we break apart asana, meditation, and yoga philosophy into pieces that are more easily digested, and therefore, incorporated.
Equally important, not more or less, is the practices we set aside for coming back to atha yoga nushasanam. To asking what is yoga? To referencing our practice as a whole. To feeling the layers of ourselves; body, breath, emotions, mind, and soul, together in their integrated form.
In your next asana, follow the teacher’s instructions, or your own knowledge of the mechanics of the pose. Engage and align throughout the entire body. Breathe so that your entire body pulses gently with the inhales and exhales. Remain engaged and aligned, but stop thinking about it. Release your awareness of the parts, and open to asking, What is trikonasana (beyond what the top hip is doing)? What is a “full body breath”? What is yoga?