Showing Up: The Difference Between Repetition and Practice

“Practice, and all is coming.”

– Guruji Pattabhi Jois

Most yogis or yoga practitioners have heard Pattabhi Jois’ famous line over and over again.

 When I first encountered this, I was awestruck by how the simple wording can reveal such deep truths. I have witnessed this unfold in my own practice without being conscious of it. When I heard these words, I felt like I just woke up from my daily droning activities.

My yoga journey started in 2012 with an Ashtanga class in a studio that just opened up a few blocks away from my office. I came in with the intent of becoming more flexible. I had been taking pole classes for almost a year and, though my arms and core were very strong, I was frustrated with my flexibility – particularly with my splits. I was handling a few projects at work then and it took a lot of my time, even the weekends. Since the pole studio I used to go to was around an hour away, I decided I had to make do with a studio that was nearer. Yoga was not my go-to physical activity but I felt it was the most practical and convenient one given my situation. Little did I know that this seemingly random last-resort practice would be the one to awaken me to myself in so many ways and in countless depths. It literally shifted my perspective and changed my life.

I entered the Saturday 5PM Ashtanga class not knowing what to expect. I did not even know there was a difference among the styles listed in the schedule. I just came to the classes that fell on my free time from the recording studio or the shoots.

Because I had no expectations, my mind was open and permeable to what the teacher taught. I approached her after class and struck up a conversation that led to me feeling comfortable and at home in this place. At that time, I was not looking to make friends. I just wanted to take the classes then be on my way. But my teacher’s aura  and the draw of yoga was so inviting and inspiring.

Three months later, I found myself showing up every day on my mat. I wake up at 5AM just to drive to the studio 1.5 hours away from my home to take the 7AM Ashtanga classes. I started to explore the other yoga styles too because I had a lot of time in the morning and wanted to make use of my unlimited monthly package. I met different teachers and each class taught me something new – from something as simple as, “Oh right, this is my left arm,” to more complex concepts like letting go and surrendering. I learned to value my breath and applied it in situations outside of the mat. I also learned how powerful it can be and how using it well and intentionally can literally make me fly.

Of course, these are lessons I learned gradually.. but these were insights I heard repeatedly that helped in familiarizing me with them. With time, they gradually seeped deeper in my consciousness and I began to accept them and eventually apply them.

“Practice and all is coming” is a line most yoga teachers bring up when they can see students getting frustrated with a certain pose or a certain sequence. And yes, it is powerful enough to make us pause and reflect on its truth. I constantly tell myself this too, especially during days when I am exhausted or lazy. But sometimes, when it is repeated over and over and over, it becomes mechanical and starts to lose its meaning.

I have heard some students complain: “Yeah yeah, practice and all is coming. But I have been practicing the same sequence for 3 months! Why hasn’t it come?” I realize their feelings of jadedness comes from forgetting what the practice is all about and focusing only on the results. The only reason we “forget what the practice is all about” is because we have become too familiar with what it is supposed to look like, not what it is supposed to feel like. Merely repeating sequences starts to feel empty because it is mechanical – the same movement (even cues) over and over again. The journey of the sequences starts to become dull and duplicitous.. which makes it easy to fall into the trap of impatience and frustration.

If you find yourself falling into this trap, like I do sometimes, connect back to the present moment. Keep it simple. Focus on your breath. Enjoy the movement of your joints. Feel the energy in the room. Tune in here and you will find that it is your journey that makes it fulfilling to do the practice – to repeat the poses and the sequences. Parampara means one step at a time. Relish each step – how your belly hugs in, how the jumps feel like you are soaring – and you will realize the magic is already here. It has already come. It is always coming.

When we practice, it may seem like we are doing the same thing over and over but it does not necessarily mean we go through the same thing over and over. Practice connotes an open discipline – showing up on the mat regularly without any expectation. We just go to learn, to be open. With practice, we connect to the here and now – how our body feels, the quality of the breath, the energy in the room – and we consciously respond to the needs of the present moment. With practice, we are mindfully refining our actions, thought patterns, and emotional responses so we can live more meaningfully outside of the mat.

When we practice, rather than repeat, we begin to realize that what is coming for me is not necessarily what is coming for you, or her, or them. It could come in the form of physical asanas. Or it could come in the form of more space to breathe and be in savasana. Practice helps us evolve from where we are so we can be better versions of ourselves. And the beauty of evolution is that it can come in so many different ways – physical, mental, emotional, even spiritual.

There are days when I struggle with my practice. Sometimes I feel pressured thinking that I have to do my practice, especially since it is part of my job. When I do and practicing starts to feel like a chore, I gently remind myself that just showing up in the present moment is all that is needed.

Practice does not mean you do the same thing over and over again. It is a refinement, a mindful learning and relearning of how to make use of who we are and what we can do so we can offer our best each time.

The physical asanas are simply an outward expression of this refinement. It is when we get off the mat that practices of the mind and heart start. It is extremely challenging, especially if we operate on strict and set beliefs or perspectives. But the beauty of the physical practice is that we develop discipline by showing up each day. We tackle the part of us we can maneuver most easily – the body – then we go deeper from there. We go to the mind – how we see things, how we receive things. We go to the heart – how we feel things, how we share our compassion, how we open up. We continuously journey within.

We practice with the body so that we can come in to the deeper layers of who we are and ultimately recognize the magic in our lives. Practice and all is coming.

Almost five years later, I cannot say I am leaps nearer towards enlightenment not that I have mastered “inner peace” like in Kung Fu Panda. But I can say that I am consciously and constantly trying to understand things better through this practice. I am not going to say that I know exactly what Guruji meant when he said these words but I am inspired by them and found deeper meaning through living them out.

“Practice and all is coming.”

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