The Timeless Wisdom of Sanskrit

The lease on the space that would become Yoga on High was signed on October 13, 15 years ago. To mark that occasion, this blog is a reprint from YOHI’s first newsletter and schedule. Those newsletters always contained one through provoking article, this one by Martha Marcom. It’s about the timeless wisdom of Sanskrit, a thread back through YOHI history and a nod to the fact that the studies and practices done at Yoga on High are indeed timeless.

Atha—now is the time for an auspicious beginning.

Sanskrit is the ancient language of Yoga. Like Yoga, Sanskrit is designed to expand consciousness. Vyaas Houston, founder of the American Sanskrit Institute, says, in Devavani, the Language of the Gods, “The vibrational purity and resonating power of Sanskrit, as well as the meanings conveyed in its body of sacred literature, is an opera on a cosmic scale that you can sing with your whole heart and being.”

We use Sanskrit in our classes when we refer to the Yoga postures, and we use Sanskrit when alluding to certain concepts. For example, at the end of class we bow to each other and say “Namaste.” This means something like “that which is divine in me salutes the divine in you.” One single word in Sanskrit can describe a concept with no equivalent word or idea in English. We will explore some of those words in future columns. Meanwhile, don’t worry about having to memorize any of the Sanskrit words. Rather, let them wash over you, allowing their healing vibrations to resonate within.

Yoga philosophy is written in Sanskrit sutras. Sutra translates as “thread,” meaning “aphorism,” and sutra also refers to a work that is woven of these threads. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are one of Yoga’s most important texts. This work is comprised of 190 aphorisms that explain the philosophical ground and practice of yoga. The sutras have been explained and commented upon in numerous translations over the centuries.

As this newsletter marks the beginning of the great venture/adventure of Yoga on High, we shall look at the very first word of the Yoga Sutras, atha, which means here and now:

Sutra 1.1is Atha Yoganusasanam

Atha: now, yoga: of yoga.

Anusasanam: instruction.

T.K.V. Desikachar translates this as, “Here begins the authoritative instruction on Yoga.” Of the word Atha, he says it “carries the connotation of a prayer, both for an auspicious beginning and a successful conclusion to the work that follows.” There is also an implication of preparation for this journey. One could ask, “Is now a time for me to make an intentional commitment to my Yoga practice?”

Martha MJudith Lasater has defined atha as “in this moment” and anusasanam a disciplined approach. Judith’s translation of Sutra 1.1 becomes “Yoga is a conscious choice of the difficult.” Then a question arises, do I choose the pain of staying the same or the pain of looking at myself and changing? The import of altha is that every moment involves a choice. On the mat and also at every other moment, how do you interact with everyone? How do you remain fully present? This very moment is the moment for transformation, and every moment is the moment. “Why,” she asks, “are we waiting?”

Martha was one of the three original founders of Yoga on High, the first person blessed by Pattabhi Jois to teach the Ashtanga Primary Series in the Midwest and an all-round inspiration to her students, friends and cohorts. To meet here is to be warmed by her presence and better off for it. For Martha’s full bio, click here.