The first verse of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra states, “Atha yoga anushasanam,” which translates as, “Now is an exposition on yoga.” The power of this verse is often lost on readers who interpret the words as an introduction of little value. But in my view, Patanjali does not use unnecessary words. That first word is the key. The verse is intended to underscore the importance of the study of yoga right now. It encourages us to focus on what is happening to the body, mind, breath, and emotions in this moment.
Now is a word that is powerful and sufficient enough by itself to be used as a life study, a sort of mantra. The ability to respond to now, to live in now, to enjoy each precious moment without clinging to it or pushing it away is the essence of spiritual practice.
Yoga philosophy as a whole is predicated on the notion that identification with the temporary, changing aspect of reality leads to suffering, while recognition of the eternal, changeless Self leads to peace. In day-to-day life, these concepts seem interesting at best and esoteric at worst. But remembering the eternal in daily conversations, tasks, and actions is really the key to transforming our lives. Unless we are able to return to the “big picture” of our lives, we will be caught up in the minutiae of being late for an appointment or losing a favorite earring. What gives life its juice is the ability to mourn the lost earring fully and simultaneously know it doesn’t ultimately matter. In other words, we can live to the fullest when we recognize that our suffering is based not on the fact of impermanence but rather on our reaction to that impermanence.
When we forget the truth of impermanence, we forget the truth of life. Spiritual practice is about remembering that truth and then embracing it. In the past, I kept doing the laundry so it would finally be “done.” Of course, it never gets done. Now when I look into the laundry basket, whether it is full or empty, I try to see it as an expression of what life is all about: moving through the different stages, surrendering to impermanence, and remembering to embrace it all.