The One-Year Anniversary: Pattabhi Jois in Seattle
It is with the deepest gratitude that we remember and share Sri K. Pattabhi Jois's visit to Seattle in August of 2002. It was an incredible experience to host the man who has helped us transform our lives, and doubly so as we watched so many of our students practicing with him—many for the first time.
"Samasthitih!" The call resounds in the huge gymnasium as the command reaches out to 225 pairs of awaiting ears. The buzz of conversation and restless movement ceases and each student immediately springs to life standing straight and tall. In that moment, that voice, that single word, convey the feeling that something very important is about to take place.
For the next one and one-half hours the only voice heard belongs to Sri K. Pattabhi Jois ("Guruji") as he leads this group though the first series of the Ashtanga Yoga system. Most of these people already know the sequence. The primary series is indelibly etched in their minds forever. They could go through the series blindfolded. So why practice with Guruji? It's expensive, crowded and he leads you through something you already know. He gives only the most rudimentary commands. He gives no instructions on how to get into or come out of poses. He gives no instruction on how to work once you are in a pose. He simply counts in Sanskrit to indicate the proper sequence (vinyasa) and also counts in English to mark the duration of stay in each pose.
The reason is this—Guruji imparts an entire approach to life in his teaching. He is not merely counting out numbers in a strange language. As he takes you through the sequence, there is a poignancy, a weight, a feeling that something important is transpiring. Yet he retains his sense of humor. There exists a feeling of adventure and fun along with the seriousness of the endeavor.
Guruji has been teaching this system for more than 65 years. His body, his family, his life have been molded and shaped by this practice. He has watched hundreds and hundreds of people unlock the gate into the garden of themselves. He knows the magic, the potency of this practice.
The class is a little slice of heaven, a culmination of his life's work, like a master chef creating his favorite dish. So many wonderful ingredients combined with consummate artistry and skill, such care and love. The list of ingredients: tempo, rhythm, breath, silence, space and devotion, all combined in the hands of the master with one purpose in mind—to set you free!
This is Ashtanga's potency and its success in bringing about change. When you move in a steady manner, your body and mind begin to mimic life's rhythm. Life's march has no beginning or ending. Its flow is constant; there is no respite. Our only hope of finding harmony is to learn to swim even as we are carried along by the current. Ashtanga Yoga is swimming lessons for life's changing river. You begin to stroke, kick and glide with power; with the ability to direct yourself within the continual sweep of life's flux. You find your bearings even as change cascades down, upon, around and within you.
Guruji shows you that the grand procession of life will keep moving along. There's no time to hesitate, to falter, to languish or to pine away. The energy of the moment is always ready and available to lift you up and carry you along. You must become willing to let go, to merge into its ceaseless sweeping flow. From a certain point of view life is indifferent to your moods and whims, and if you resist its course, its flow, you will suffer needlessly. If you find a way to harmonize with life's mysterious patterns you will feel alive, thankful and blessed. There is an element of mystery here—a sort of magic that Guruji has tapped into—the Ashtanga practice provides a key to harmonizing with life's flow.
It is so wondrous that by moving in slow motion through a set sequence of postures, with breath and body synchronized, that you can experience freedom and joy. Granted you must go through this set of postures with an unflagging regularity putting forth heart and soul, moment by moment; practice by practice. This is really what Guruji is trying to convey when he says, "Do the practice and all is coming." This is what he means when he calls out the Sanskrit numbers to mark the vinyasa in the sequence. His voice is saying all of this. The weight behind his words is in his knowledge and certainty that this practice works. And so no wonder when you practice with him you move effortlessly, you feel carried along. Time slows down, and when you are done you cannot believe that only one and one-half hours have passed.
Durga, the warrior goddess, has ten arms each of which holds its own celestial weapon with which to combat the demons. Likewise, Guruji's voice has an arsenal of celestial weapons which help you to stay present and focused even as the words encourage you to extract every drop of energy and effort you possess. There is something so indescribable about the sound of his commands. You feel compelled to listen with your entire being. So much is said without words, so much emotion conveyed. It's like a heart-to-heart talk, the inflection and nuance at times playful, flowing, melodic; at times stern, dominant and insistent. Just as you might be drifting off, you'll hear a bellowing, "One," as if to say, "Not so fast! It's right here you want to be!" In this room, under this ceiling, in this body, under this brain, in this moment.
© 2003 David Garrigues