It was cold at 6 a.m. on a wintery New York morning. I shivered as I entered the yoga shala and started up the wooden staircase. As my feet beat a rhythm on the stairs, my heart was yearning for that sense of body-mind-spirit connection my ashtanga practice gave me, and a thought popped into my head: "I am marching toward God."
It was not a rational thought and, actually, it surprised me. I was definitely on a spiritual search, and I had even played with the idea that my physical yoga practice was a form of prayer, each asana a Divine offering. But somehow, marching up those stairs that day, I intuited that my yoga practice was actively taking me closer to consciousness of God.
One of my favorite sayings of the guru of ashtanga yoga, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, is, "Do your practice, all is coming." I always wondered if his success in spreading yoga around the world was part of his "All." If so, then, toward the latter part of his life, leading hundreds of dedicated students through the ashtanga primary series in steamed-up rooms in New York, San Francisco, London and Kauai, his All came.
Everyone has a different All, and your All is what you want it to be. Ultimately, your All is your intention for practicing.
This was clearly illustrated in an article I read recently in the NYTimes by a former ashtanga student who had given it up for the gym. Even though she had an advanced daily practice, she felt "soft around the middle," so she hired a personal trainer and dropped from a size 6 to a size 8. This woman's All was to be thin and fit. She did her practice and her All came to her -- via a personal trainer.
So what about my All and my march to God? Shortly after my experience on the shala stairs, there came into my life a more heightened awareness of Divinity. Shortly following that came some scaffolding effective for nurturing and growing my faith in the form of a religion, a partner and even a geography. I converted to Islam, I married a Muslim and we moved to Saudi Arabia, to a home an hour's drive from Mecca. The epitome of my personal All.
A few years previous to my All coming, I could never have guessed what it would look like. I never imagined it would look like this. Yet that's the beauty of the way All manifests itself; it comes in surprising ways. The gym-goer probably didn't envision her All coming in the form it did either. She used to walk past gyms on her way to yoga and feel empathy for the "human hamsters on their machines, watching TV," years before she became one of them (on her days off the trainer).
There must be something in the practice of ashtanga, then, that brings on the All. Maybe it's the way the practice polishes the heart and primes a person to receive their All, openly and with abundance. Or the regularity, the repetition. Or maybe it's simply the power of intention itself.
So now arises another question: What if your All leads you away from the practice of ashtanga? Does your All dry up or stop coming? Does your All only come from doing your ashtanga practice?
I found an answer to that question in the Islamic ritual of daily prayer. Five times per day, along with renewing your God-consciousness, you are setting your life priorities in order, clearing your heart of any accumulated rubbish and asking for what you need in the moment and in the larger picture of your life. A Muslim might say, "Do your prayers, All is coming."
The fruits of prayer can be experienced on all aspects of life -- material as well as spiritual -- and they are often different or better than originally hoped. That's because, of the whole realm of existence that wants what's best for us, we can only ever see a small part of the larger picture.
And from the small part of the picture that I can see, All is a gift from the infinite Source of All Goodness that will always provide what a person needs in the moment. "The ocean takes care of each wave til it gets to the shore," as Rumi says.
So a daily ashtanga practice is just a way of framing and focusing what's needed for your own personal evolution -- from the most mundane to the most profound level.
Now that I have received something of my All, my intention for practicing ashtanga is different than before. Before it was blind, fumbling desire for something great; for proof that something great existed. Now, when I stand on my mat at the beginning of practice, I pray that the yoga practice will strengthen and energize me to be a better member of humanity -- wife, mother and lover/seeker. That my All continues to flow, bringing me ever and ever closer to the Source of All.