“And now the teaching of yoga begins.”
These words form the opening line of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the ancient collection of aphorisms compiled around 400 CE, which I’m reading for the first time in the hope of gaining a better understanding of yoga and my practice.
As an introductory line, it’s wonderful, isn’t it? The words invite the reader and yogi into the tradition of learning that is at the heart of yoga practice.
To learn yoga, the words imply, you must be willing to adopt the attitude of the student. You must cultivate a perspective of curiosity and a willingness to be open to new ideas, new ways of seeing the world.
And you must be willing, as well, to take risks based on what you learn, to test the evidence in your own way, and to trust your inner teacher as you listen and learn from an experienced teacher.
The words imply that you must become a student.
And to be a student, the words suggest, you must find a teacher.
The words suggest, as well, that at the heart of yoga is this relationship between student and teacher, and that learning yoga isn’t done alone or in isolation but rather as part of a community of students who take the time and make the effort to study with a teacher.
What qualities should you look for in a teacher?
The words don’t suggest specific qualities. They simply invite you to welcome the teachings into your life.
In order to learn yoga, this opening line suggests, you’ll need to find a teacher.
Sometimes you can find a teacher nearby, sometimes far away.
Sometimes your teacher speaks in a language that you can understand, sometimes in a language that you need translated in order to understand.
Each time I open the pages of The Yoga Sutras in the weeks and months ahead, Patanjali will be my teacher.
Perhaps he will become your teacher, too?
Practice Journal: As you step onto your mat, think about these words: “And now the teaching of yoga begins.” What do these words mean to you? Can you remember what your first yoga teacher taught you? Do you recall how he or she began your class? Can you describe how having a teacher has made a difference in your practice and your life? Write: 10 min.
Note: “And now the teaching of yoga begins.” from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, translated and introduced by Alistair Shearer, Bell Tower, NY (1982).