Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois, (1915-2009) is famous for being the creator of The Ashtanga Yoga Series. A disciplined system of Yoga, Ashtanga is practiced worldwide. One of the most remembered of his is sayings is “Do your practice and all is coming”.
What practice and what is ‘all’?
No matter what system, series or style of yoga you practice, true yoga encompasses more than just the physical practice that most people are familiar with. The postures (asanas) are one component of yoga, alongside breathing, focus, meditation, detoxification processes, chanting, mantras, mudras, acts of service, and living according to the Yamas and Niyamas (right conduct, ethical rules).
So, “do your practice” is an invitation or a reminder to practice yoga in its entirety. And when we do, not only does our practice evolve – in that our body grows stronger and more flexible and able to accomplish more difficult asanas – we, in and of ourselves, evolve. We grow and our lives evolve.
As we learn to calm our mind we are implementing Yoga as defined in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (compiled circa 400CE). Sutra 1.4 “yogas chitta vritti nirodha” has been translated to mean – yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.
Daily adherence to the Yamas requires us to do no harm (Ahimsa), be truthful (Satya), to not steal (Asteya), to practice moderation in all things (Brahmacharya) and to practice non-attachment (Aparigraha).
Respect of the Niyamas means that every day we keep ourselves clean (Saucha), that we find contentment in our lives as they are (Santosha), that we have self-discipline and motivation (Tapas), that we spend some time studying and looking within (Svadhyaya) and that we allow ourselves to connect to something greater than ourselves (Ishvara pranidhana).
The practice of asanas is a great tool to quiet the mind. It requires our focus, our attentiveness to our body and breath. When we observe ourselves, our body and breath, in our practice of asanas we learn where there is tightness and where there is flow in our body. We observe and continue to breathe and allow our body to surrender further into a pose. We often find that the chatter of the mind falls away and we access our higher mind (Buddhi) which is the access to inner wisdom and ultimately a pathway to know and experience ourselves at the deepest level (Atman).
Sometimes in yoga classes time is spent specifically practicing controlling our breath (Pranayama)
In Yoga we learn to withdraw our sense from the distractions of the outside world (Pratyahara) and to focus on one thing – our breath, a mantra, a mandala, a point (Drishti) – this part of practice is called Dharana. This will often lead to meditation (Dhyana).
We experience through our regular practice the quietening of the lower mind (Manas), a letting go of attachment to memories, experiences and impressions (Chitta) and a sense of connection or a release from the feeling of separation generated by Ego (Ahamkara).
I will never forget the first time I felt this connection and experience of stillness. It was a great sense of peace (Shanti).
So what is this ‘all’ that dear Sri. K. Pattabhi Jois speaks of?
To me it is Shanti. Peace. A feeling of peace.
When we feel peaceful we do not feel as if we are resisting anything. Yoga is about finding that space within each of us that endows us with a sense of allowing. As we allow our body to unfold and our mind to be quiet we allow ease into our life. When we stop resisting in asanas we often discover that we stop resisting in other areas of our lives. This does not mean that we allow ourselves to be taken advantage of or that we allow people to get away with things, on the contrary, the practice of yoga facilitates us making a stand for peace in ways that reflect our values (Yamas and Niyamas) and our commitment to peace.
To practice yoga in the hope and expectation that ‘all’ is coming in the manner of success, achievement, and ownership of material possessions, is to forget the true meaning of yoga.
Yoga is truly experienced when we practice regularly, daily and with deep earnestness, as expressed by Yoga Sutra 1.14 “Sa tu drgha kla nairantarya satkrsevito dhabhmi?”
Then by the power of your practice may you experience peace.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti – peace in body, spirit and mind.