Practice and all is coming…
This is a phrase often spoken by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, the teacher whose yoga lineage I follow. His rigorous physical practice, called Mysore style ashtanga yoga, became popular in the U.S. in the late 1990s and has grown to a worldwide community of thousands of teachers and students. Guruji, as his students affectionately called Pattabhi Jois, stressed the importance of a long, consistent practice with a qualified teacher over many years. His prescription for asana, the physical limb of a yoga practice, was six days a week except on the full and new moon days. The practice is performed early in the morning, often before sunrise. This is not an undertaking for the feint of heart.
Famous followers of ashtanga yoga include Dan Loeb, Paul Tudor Jones, and Bill Gross and popular stars Sting, Madonna, and Gwyneth Paltrow.
If you told my 25-year-old self I would wake up before dawn to practice yoga, I would have told you you’re crazy. Sure, I enjoyed yoga after work and at noon on the weekends, but an early riser I was not. My brief stint on the institutional trading desk required me to be at work by 7:15am for the morning call. I was often late.
In 2010, I attended my first Mysore style yoga class, in the evening, in a studio near my office in Bryant Park. I was no novice to yoga, but Mysore style was something different. Instead of taking instruction from a teacher in the front, each student has memorized a series of postures and practices independently in a group setting. In that first class, the teacher taught me only the warm-up (10 sun salutations) and the three finishing postures. It took only 20 minutes. She told me to return the next day to learn more. I was hooked. By the end of the first week, I had learned the entire standing posture sequence and was ready to begin the Primary Series.
When you memorize your practice, yoga becomes a moving meditation. You are invited to go deeper into the poses, mentally and physically. I soon performed physical feats I never imagined I could do. You develop a one-on-one relationship with your teacher who must know where you are in the series and what obstacles you are facing. When I moved to New Orleans six months later, I switched to early morning practice and never looked back.
99% Practice, 1% Theory
Another favorite diatribe from Guruji was that yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory. Performing the daily postures and breathing exercises teaches us the theory behind yoga. After eight years practicing ashtanga, I am understanding the wisdom of his words. The physical strength and mental stillness is in me because I’ve practiced it for almost a decade.
The practice has improved every facet of my life. It has made me a better advisor and investor. I am calmer during volatile markets, and I can deliver tough news, in plain language. I listen more and talk less. I focus on was is important and ignore the superfluous.
Ashtanga yoga means eight limbs. These are the eight limbs described by Patangali in his yoga sutras. Pratyahara, the fifth limb, focuses on withdrawal of the senses. It’s a conscious effort to direct our attention internally, step back, and look within ourselves. This awareness has pushed me to find out what is important to my clients, what matters and what is window dressing.
Yoga prepared me for parenthood. I feared taking care of a newborn. I had seen other parents with exhaustion in their eyes, and I worried I would hate being a mom. Instead, my mind was calm and collected. I took each day in stride. I never felt overwhelmed or out of control. I believe yoga could reduce if not eliminate postpartum depression.
Practice and all is coming…
I filmed myself working on karandavasana the other day. I’ve been working on this pose for four years, and I am making progress. This is the first time I’ve seen myself doing it because I rarely film, and I don’t practice with mirrors. I’m not there yet, my knees are supposed to touch down on my elbows for five breaths, and then I’m supposed to push back up to shoulder stand. Maybe I’ll master it in another four years, maybe I won’t.
For me, yoga is not about impressing anyone with physical feats or attaining society’s idea of physical perfection. I don’t crave moving on to the next posture or series. It’s about the journey and the process. It’s about becoming a better version of myself by making incremental progress every day.
It takes only one cell phone video to learn that Youtube does not like vertical filming!