Perhaps, the most helpful aspect of the way Ashtanga yoga is set up is down to the sense of routine or ritual it adds to the process of daily living. To this ends it’s almost less important what practise actually consists of, more that the same thing with intention and consistency is done each day, against our wish for unlegislated experience.
As I was informed in Religious Studies class, ‘religio’ means to tie or to re-bind. In the absence of roots, or rituals giving meaning in modern-life, its’ a shame then that religion has taken on such pejorative connotations, when really it only stands for a systemising of life through recognizing it’s significance through ritual.
Which is the foremost aim of practice; in ordering daily experience so as it can be made more sense of. In trying to keep to a set time, place and routine involving mind and body, definite pillars on which to support the day are, quite literally, set up. Setting the tone each day with regulated breathing and action lends a firmness and general optimism with which to begin the day. But, most importantly, it gives a context within which to make sens, find a clear pathway, through what could otherwise simply be a jumble of meaningless and unrelated circumstances.
Which, is truly the meaning of dharma; recognizing an aim and method for living. Indeed, this is against the grain as it were, for it’s far easier to enter into unrestricted action with whatever presents. On a practical level then, practice functions as a useful source of inspiration in recognizing the benefit of narrowing down focus, clearly seen in creating a homogenous backdrop for a period each day, against which to check in with oneself. It’s a gauge for daily life, a reminder and reason to take care of basic requirements, such as sleep, rest and eating. But, also, it’s where positive feedback is visible, lending an increasing resolve to generally try at life.
For, as much as laziness is always attractive; discipline, lending a feeling of self-control and integrity, gives a sense of significance purpose to life, as well as the intangible sense of Self that can so easily be lost when no point of contact with the world is kept as a steady anchor against the onslaught of continuous experience.
Yet, also, in way, the opposite is true. Stepping out of the context of the ever-scheming mind into a more open, embodied sense, feels like a liberation from the weight of this Self. In as much as control is sought out through incessant self-remembering, when the mind is focused on the body, this Self needs no further involvement, in a way, we can forget ourselves without fear of losing ourselves – perhaps, because mind is brought within the material reality of the body?
From here comes the pacifying quality of a focused routine. The mind, settled on regulated and methodical action starts to take on a clarity from the settling of its waters on the firm and clarifying principle of actual bodily existence. I often reflect that the physical pattern recreated each day is like a full-body expression of the protective qualities of mantra and mandala. It provides a feeling of accordance with limiting the obliterating power of the energy outside of us to cover over what we actually are. Yet, in consistent effort and, the self-volition involved, trust and integrity are re-affirmed, in the ability to keep to consistent intentions.
However, more than anything, ritual allows us to give ourselves in devotion. For, as mentioned, as much as there is a wish to constantly define individuality against the fear of losing it, there is also a wish to be relinquished of this burden. In observing a structure, rather than ones’ own will, this quality is manifest in honouring and respecting rather than our normal wish for creating.
Finally, in the form of a carefully executed routine, a pure relation of points is instigated; in pattern and position alone there is no choice, fickleness of emotion, or, uncertainty as to conclusions, right or wrong. There is just entry into an exact cycle, where for a while, at least, there is no doubt as experience rests on itself, hangs together in special-relationship. At which point, entering a stream that we just part of, over and over, life and Being can be made and remade continuously in the way that an organic life demands, whilst the participant is still able to maintain a clear vantage point.