Atha yoga anushasanam. (Now, yoga.)
By Lindsay Buehler Tyson, July, 2018
I sit to write this in the midst of Summer Solstice: the longest, lightest day of the year, which also happens to be International Yoga Day. Summer feels like a season of abundance—lots of vacation, lots of yoga, lots of watermelon and guacamole and Aperol Spritzes. After a long, cool, East Coast Spring, the possibility and promise of summer is (for me, at least) highly anticipated.
And yet with the promise of abundant warmth and sunshine and beach time (with the promise of the abundance of anything, really), comes the nagging voice that says, “What if there is not enough?” The worry about whether there will be enough is often followed by something like, “What is everyone else doing and what if I miss out?” And in the age of epic social media saturation, there is plenty of evidence that everyone else is doing something fabulous and that you are, indeed, missing out.
That’s the thing about our brilliant brains—they can spin out before we even realize it. In an instant, we’ve left our bodies and the present moment and are lost in some cycle of comparing ourselves to others, while worrying that our past choices could have been wrong and that we may not be navigating ourselves toward an Instagram-perfect photo op. Thankfully for our busy, always evaluating and assessing and calculating minds, we have the practice of yoga.
When I catch myself in a fear-of-missing-out/inadequacy spiral, it’s helpful for me to remember two gems from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. First is the first sutra: “Atha yoga anushasanam.” Translation: “Now, yoga.” So simple that it’s sometimes skipped over, this sutra reminds us that yoga and its practices and teachings are available here and now and at any time in the future, with or without the perfect pose or outfit or pedicure. And what a relief. Out of body moment? Jealousy? Sadness? Joy? Excitement? Perfect. Practice yoga. This may mean that you actually roll out your mat and practice asana. This may mean that you sit quietly in meditation for a moment or five and practice returning your attention to your body and breath in the present moment. This may mean practicing one of the central ethical tenants of the practice like non-harming (ahimsa), friendliness and compassion (maitri and karuna) or honesty (satya).
The other gem from the Yoga Sutra that I return to again and again is the concept of santosha, translated as contentment. The Yoga Sutra lists santosha as one of the five niyamas, which are observances that yogis are to practice within Paranjali’s system of yoga. For me, the practice of santosha is a practice of looking at the world around us and cultivating gratitude for what is in our worlds. It is not a practice of minimizing sorrow or of focusing only on successes and accumulation of material goods. Instead, santosha in action involves recognizing the entirety of our situations—the good, the bad and the in-between—and then making peace with and, perhaps, even cultivating gratitude for whatever is there.
So, as we roll in to summer, it is my prayer that we all take time to be embodied in the present moment. That we may be present enough to feel the sand or the grass or the pavement beneath our feet. That we allow for the possibility that we are enough and that we grow our ability to be content and at peace with who we are, where we are and what we are. And, finally, that we put down our phones and step onto our yoga mats every chance we get.