Several years before I moved to North Carolina, when I lived back in my hometown of Baltimore, around 2002, before I ever considered becoming a yoga teacher myself, one of my yoga teachers, Charm City Yoga’s wonderful Kim Manfredi, would frequently quote Ashtanga Yoga guru Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: “Do your practice and all is coming,” he purportedly said. How long do I have to do it for, and what does he mean by “all”? I mused, focused entirely on what I could gain personally from this practice, “Great health? An attractive body? Happiness? Success?” I wondered. And whatever “all” was, I wanted it, and I wanted it now. I’d yet to encounter Yoga Sutra 1.14: “Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a prolonged period of time.” (Edwin Bryant’s translation)
I didn’t think about Pattabhi Jois’s statement for a while, but I kept doing my practice with varying regularity for a variety of reasons: I developed more strength and flexibility, my panic disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder improved dramatically, the challenge of a new pose was fun, the ritual of rolling out my mat comforted me, and I enjoyed breathing and sweating with a community of other people who were all in this together (read: there were hot guys in Kim’s Monday night Hot Vinyasa class).
Fast forward about ten years. I’m a yoga teacher, with a daily yoga practice comprised of some combination of asana (poses), pranayama (breathing exercises), mantra, and study of the Yoga Sutra, Bhagavad Gita, and other texts. Some days my practice is 15 minutes of Sun Salutations in my kitchen (the best floor surface for practicing in my apartment), some days it’s a 90-minute vinyasa class, and some days it’s me and the Sutras and a notebook for a couple of solitary hours. I never worked up the courage to ask Kim what “all” I was going to get from my practice, but I recently reflected on how grateful I am for all I have gained from my practice–so much more than I ever thought!–and it occurred to me that Jois’s statement is about faith. Like Buddhist nun Pema Chodron emphasizes in her teachings, the fundamental human predicament is groundlessness. We never know where our paths will take us, when we might lose a job or a loved one, meet a teacher who changes our lives, become ill, receive a large inheritance, or stumble upon our dream career. “In difficult times the stress of trying to find solid ground–something predictable and safe to stand on–seems to intensify,” she says, “But in truth, the very nature of our existence is forever in flux.” Despite this state of uncertainty in which we all naturally exist, I now know I can always get in touch with my breath or step onto my mat. (And so can you!) Through my practice, I’ve developed a sense of faith that the universe really is unfolding exactly as it should, and I am exactly where I am supposed to be. How do I know? I just do. I have no proof, but I experience a sense of deep peace that I can access a lot of the time. (Not all the time, but “all” is coming, right?) As Kahlil Gibran reminds us, “Faith is an oasis in the heart which can never be reached by the caravan of thinking.”