"Practice and all is coming"
When the man responsible for the initial popularity of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, repeated this famous saying he was making a profound statement: Dedication to this practice will change your life. These wise words speak to the discipline, faith, and consciousness that Ashtanga teaches.
Ashtanga yoga is undoubtedly physical. Practitioners are compassionately challenged to wring out every inch of the body, including areas that may otherwise be unattended to after childhood freedoms. Such is the wisdom of the practice, that every forward fold, back bend, twist, and balance is designed to liberate and tone all of the tissue that makes up the entire body and organ system. Leaving no stone unturned, imbalances are illuminated, allowing practitioners to learn about and connect to their physical body. The feeling body is awakened.
It should not, however, be misinterpreted that Ashtanga is purely about ‘working out’ the body. Though this aspect may be what draws people in initially, with regular practice many come to realise that cleansing the body in this way is a mere preparation for the stilling of the mind; first, we must rid the vessel of debris, then we can see its true nature. When this is discovered, practitioners may see that Ashtanga is not a physically ‘demanding’ practice at all. The postures are tools to calibrate the mind, body and breath, not to push through pain and discomfort to achieve a certain shape. Once this end goal is put to one side, the practitioner can start to work internally. Energy is then cultivated rather than depleted by the practice; we leave energised rather than spent.
Through mindful practice, Ashtanga helps to cultivate strength and mobility in both mindset and the body, which makes daily life freer and lighter. The discipline required to practice ashtanga yoga spills outward into all aspects of life, meaning we react with more measure, remain calm and make decisions with confidence.
Ashtanga practitioners begins with the primary series (shown below), and once conquered and performed with ease, move onward to a second and in rarer cases a third, but the point is merely to improve steadily only to the allowance that your body is ready for.
The traditional breath counting in Ashtanga often gives it the label of a strict discipline. But the counting provides the mantra for the mind to focus on, drawing attention away from conditioned patterns of thought, away from the thinking mind.
For the average newcomer, the idea of endlessly repeating the same sequence and counting breaths may seem tedious. Indeed, this judgment may be a theme running through the mind on some days, when the mind, body and breath are not synchronised. We bring our baggage to the mat, and noticing how it affects our practice can be a major teacher in the workings of the mind. It is said that discipline allows for freedom, and with repetition we can build a framework in which transformations can occur.
Sometimes it’s a struggle. But we come back to the mat because there are times that are easy, and we fly. As on the mat, so it is in life; play the game and ride the waves.
First published for Mary Ann Weeks Studio Blog 19/01/2018: https://www.maryannweeks.co.uk/studio-blog/ashtanga-yoga/