Seek the wisdom that will untie your knot. Seek the path that demands your whole being ~ Rumi
Yoga is a practice that orientates us to our full potential. Through a process of inquiry and observation we can trace our way back to wholeness. We are provided with the technology to land us entirely and completely in the present moment. This gift illuminates our true nature, that which is essentially peaceful, joyful and free. We could consider the process similar to a sculptor who chisels away at a stone and in time, with patience comes to reveal a masterpiece. The beauty was already contained within, nothing was added, simply hidden. Through careful exploration and excavation the barriers were removed and the inherent magic was uncovered.
As we embark on this journey we are provided with the tools to systematically deepen our awareness to what is actually already there. Thus we can come to discover not the means for self-improvement but actually the ability to bring forth innately noble qualities that we all possess already. Moving closer to the truth simply requires us to carefully de-construct all the constraints we have erected that hinder our experience of a direct and authentic connection with ourselves and the world.
Yoga is a science that provides practical guidelines to test and prod at our barriers and experience for ourselves a returning to oneness, wholeness, union. In a modern world that urges us to strive and chase after things we must learn this important distinction. We cannot strive to become something we already are, but in fact a letting go is required. Returning our attention and our awareness time and again back to the body, the breath and the moment allows for transformation. Each time we return to this moment we engage in the work of removing what binds us, scraping away at our perceptions and self-limiting concepts and uncovering the miracle of who we are. As we let go of our efforts to ‘get somewhere’ or ‘be someone else’ we might just learn to be exactly where we are, right now.
Shri K. Pattabhi Jois (1915-2009) is affectionately known as Guruji and founded the Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore, India in 1948 to impart the knowledge and teachings of the Ashtanga Yoga method as he had learned from his guru Krishnamacharya. This ancient system of yoga contained within a text called the Yoga Korunta was passed from Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari to Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s.
Through Guruji’s teachings at the shala in Mysore and numerous trips abroad the message and promise of Ashtanga Yoga began to spread to the world. The popularity of Ashtanga Yoga continues to grow each year and the legacy of the institute now flourishes under the steady guidance of Sharath Jois, Guruji’s grandson.
For more information visit http://kpjayi.org/
Guruji was drawn to the yoga tradition from an early age and made personal sacrifices to both study and teach this powerful and transformative practice. Although personally I was only fortunate to study under Guruji briefly, his presence and insight made a powerful impression upon me. Having studied with others who were fortunate to spend much more time with him I am always deeply moved by stories of his knowledge, depth and devotion. Every day I step upon my mat I am sincerely grateful to have caught a glimpse of this special soul and to be engaged in the magic of his life times work. After many years on this path I can’t imagine the person I have grown into without bowing humbly to the unwavering guidance and inspiration Guruji laid down before me and my teachers.
Yoga translates from its Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ to yoke, join together, connect, unite. So the practice of yoga is both this state of union and the practice thatencourages it. More specifically Ashtanga Yoga was described by the great sage Patanjali in his seminal text The Yoga Sutras as an eight limbed path to yoga, a clear method that moves and engages the practitioner in discovering their true nature.
When participating wholeheartedly in all aspects of the practice as prescribed by Patanjali the practitioner steadily transitions towards a place where the physical, mental, emotional, psychological and spiritual aspects of development are accounted for and integrated.
Sometimes modelled upon a tree with eight branches, it is important to remember that each limb nourishes and enhances the experience of the other branches and should not be pursued as a separate entity. Just as a tree relies on the sum of its parts, when all branches are considered, nourished and valuedthrough practice the overall health of the tree (ourselves) thrives and becomes vibrant.
The eight limbs consist of moral principles (yama), observances (niyama), posture (asana), breath control (pranayama), withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara), concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana) and contemplation (samadhi).
Through regular, intelligent and devoted practice of the limbs of yoga the light of knowledge shines forth. In the initial stages of the student’s yoga journey, asana can be crucial as the gateway for our interest. The physical aspect of practice helps to train the body and grow our awareness of the tendencies of the mind, promoting strength and stability in both. It is equally important early on in our journey that we understand and enquire into the importance and weight of yamas and niyamas. Not only do they greatly influence our relationship and undertaking of asana, posture practice, so that it is sustainable and enduring, they also become the foundations of deepening our spiritual practice via assessing and perhaps modifying our personal and worldly codes of living.
Once the practitioner establishes firm roots in the first four limbs, the practice begins to work its own magic and progressively the last four limbs spontaneously evolve over time, developing awareness and discrimination and allowing ignorance to be dispelled.
Shri K. Pattabhi Jois taught this asana practice as a means to purify the six poisons that surround the spiritual heart of the student. In the yoga shastra it is said that God dwells in our heart in the form of light, but this light is covered by six poisons: kama, krodha, moha, lobha, matsarya, and mada. These are desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and sloth. When yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time, the heat generated from it burns away these poisons, and the light of our inner nature shines forth.
Guruji made it his life’s work to share these teachings and encourage light to blossom within his students by providing them with practical knowledge for the application of yoga in daily life. A true example of yoga, Guruji taught with all his heart, he was strong and fierce and also kind and full of reverence. He believed in seeing each student according to their individual needs so he could best facilitate their experience and growth with this transformative practice. His grandson Sharath Jois who now leads the Institute in Mysore learnt and lived in close proximity to Guruji for many many years and now shares the teachings in the same manner, as do Hamish and Dena senior students of Guruji that I am fortunate to spend time with on a regular basis.
Everyday I step on my mat I am grateful for the teachings and the teachers that have walked this path before me and that they have spent or continue to devote their lives to shining this spark, sharing this gift, this light of potential illumination…. Yoga is also crucially about relationship and it is vital to learn this ancient tradition of yoga through what is known as parampara. The transmission of direct and experiential knowledge from teacher to student. The teacher and student form living links in a chain of instruction that is passed down through thousands of years. The duty of the student is to practice wholeheartedly and continually strive to understand the knowledge they receive from the teacher. Over time a mutual love and respect develop between them and after many years the student may receive the blessings of the teacher to pass on their knowledge to their own students with the same good heart and nobility in which they learnt. This is something that cannot be felt through books or the internet but requires the student to show up raw and undiluted in the flesh.
To receive the integrity of these teachings it is vital to seek out a teacher who is committed to being part of this process, who is eternally a student and who steps on their mat day after day. A teacher that is humble and kind and looks to meet each student as an individual facilitating their process according to where they are at. By engaging in a long term relationship with a teacher, the student’s process can be held and supported tenderly as obstacles are navigated, not simply on the mat but out in the world. This can be incredibly nurturing and insightful and as a result life may blossom off the mat too. Hence our commitment and practice can transition away from a sense of struggle and separation towards a sense of compassion, empathy and unity for all beings.