The Babbling Lotus

Jacqui Nash's Musings on Yoga, Food & Parenthood


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Ashtanga Yoga–A Sacred Practice

meditation, drishti, focus

As yogis, we know that there are countless reasons why we incorporate a yoga practice into our lives. The calm, the meditation, the stress relief, the strength, the flexibility, the energy….we could recite an endless list with a blissful grin on our lips. And we can’t deny that many of us are creatures of habit; we enjoy the discipline and the routine that a regular practice adds to our lives.

There isn’t quite a more disciplined yoga practice than that of Ashtanga Yoga. There is very often a cloud of mystery around the meditative practice that might make some uneasy at the site of its listing on a studio’s schedule. To most it seems more physically demanding and rigid than other yoga practices. And the truth is, well, it can be, but in reality Ashtanga yoga is the very foundation for all styles of hatha yoga. Based on a systematic series of asanas, or postures, the Ashtanga format and postures are the building blocks for the different yoga practices that each of us know and love.

K. Pattabhi Jois, padmasana

K. Pattabhi Jois in Padmasasa

Developed by the father of Hatha Yoga, T. Krishnamacharya in the early 20th century and popularized by his student, K. Pattabhi Jois in Mysore, India, the practice was named for the eight-limbed (literally, ashta-anga) path outlined in the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali in the second century CE. It is through this committed hatha yoga practice of Ashtanga Yoga that each limb can eventually blossom and unfold, leading to Self liberation.

What should you expect when you come to the mat for an Ashtanga practice? You will do the same exact postures every time, beginning with Sun Salutations A & B, then standing postures, then seated postures (if you’re doing the primary series. There are actually six series, with the last series including mind-blowing displays of what the human body may be capable of) and last are inversions and finishing postures. Sound boring? Well this practice is anything but that. Filled with numerous vinyasas, or flows, challenging binds, arm balances, hip openers, and most importantly an emphasis on pranayama and drishtis, or focal points, the practice can challenge your focus and commitment like no other practice.

While it’s definitely fun to notice how your body evolves as you do the same asanas at every practice, one can easily forget that we should not be fulfilled by the feats of body contortion and physical strength. The practice offers a myriad of postures from accessible to challenging, from the ones we love to the ones we aren’t too hot on. We cannot avoid running into ourselves—our frustrations, our elations, our falls, our accomplishments—and it takes a concentrated mind to not get caught up in the emotions that might accompany the development of your physical practice. Pattabhi Jois said it best: “It would be a shame to lose the precious jewel of liberation in the mud of ignorant body building.”

It’s hard to believe that Pattabhi Jois didn’t place any emphasis on the physical body when he, as a teacher, would not allow a student to advance beyond the posture that he/she was not able to get completely into. What does that mean? Basically, if you couldn’t quite meet the demands of a physical posture, that’s where your practice ended that day. Seems counterintuitive to the previously mentioned quote from the master, however, he wanted to emphasize that the limitations we inevitably encounter in our body are actually a mirror of the personal limitations and mental blocks that stop us from experiencing real freedom and personal contentment. As we move past these physical blocks through our practice the higher consciousness is revealed so we can eventually separate our ego from that being.

Students practice Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore, India.

Students practice Ashtanga Yoga in Mysore, India.

To help keep our focus on our inner development and not the external, there is the deliberate incorporation of what student of Pattabhi Jois, David Swenson, calls “The Internal World,” which consists of breath, locks, flow and gaze, or prana, bandha, vinyasa and drishti, to guide us through this moving meditation. The sound of the breath is your mantra, the rhythm that keeps a single pointed focus for the mind. The locks and bandhas assimilate the prana or life force and help feed the subtle body and balance the gross nervous system. Flowing through the postures becomes a physical dance that connects our body with the music of the breath. And while the drishti connotes the fixation of our vision on an external point, it reaffirms our attention to the subtle or internal aspects of our practice.

As a rapidly increasing number of people are drawn to the practice of yoga, different styles will continue to emerge to meet the growing demands of the “yoga marketplace.” Although we can appreciate how accommodating this entire practice of yoga is, it’s comforting to know that the direct Krishnamacharya lineage will not be forgotten through the Ashtanga Yoga practice. Yes, the postures and the flow are mesmerizing and visually stimulating to a passer-by, but the progression of the mind and ultimately the spiritual path can be life-changing to the practitioner. Like the postures themselves, the deep benefit of this authentic yogic process may not reveal its extent all at once. It is through repetition, discipline, focus and compassion that all will be revealed.

I’m so honored to teach this practice at my studio on the second Sunday of each month (Second Sunday Ashtanga) 7:30am. Although we only offer the class once every month, the students might be surprised to find that even monthly exposure to the discipline of Ashtanga yoga can awaken and invigorate their regular yoga practice. I hope you also have the opportunity to explore the challenges of the body, but most importantly, the mind through this sacred practice.

~The Babbling Lotus

Krishnamacharya, Utthita Parsvakonasana

T. Krishnamacharya in Utthita Parsvakonasana

Ashtanga Opening Chant

om
vande gurunam charanaravinde
sandarsita svatmasukhava bodhe
nihsreyase jangalikayamane
samsara halahala mohasantyai
abahu purusakaram
sankhacakrasi dharinam
sahasra sirasam svetam
pranamami patanjalim
om

Translation

I bow to the lotus feet of the Gurus
The awakening happiness of one’s own Self revealed
Beyond better, acting like the Jungle physician
Pacifying delusion, the poison of Samsara
Taking the form of a man to the shoulders
Holding a conch, a discus, and a sword
One thousand heads white
To Pantanjali, I salute.

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Contentment Realized, But Often Forgotten

Well, hello there! I guess it’s been quite a while, since my last post in September, 2014. My, oh my! Talk about not keeping up with the things.

The truth is, this blog has been on my mind, if not every day, then at least every other day since then.

Look at me looking all Carrie Bradshaw-like. If you don't know that reference, probably for the better

Look at me looking all Carrie Bradshaw-like. If you don’t know that reference, probably for the better

And if you’re anything like me, with commitments galore, then you know that finding time is incredibly challenging and it seems virtually impossible to concentrate on yourself, especially as a mom. I’m a mother of one amazing toddler, and also a mother of a wonderful yoga studio, but with these obligations always put first on my plate, I often see my “wants,” my “desires” as last on the list of things to do.

Using the words “wants” and “desires” are a big no-no in the yoga community. The Bhagavad Gita and the Yoga Sutras both tell us desire causes suffering. But as a non-enlightened yogi (can’t claim to be somethin’ I ain’t) and as a regular human being (which I definitely am, hopefully on the path to reach enlightenment in one of these life times) I cannot deny that I have things that I want for myself.

I want to devote more time to this blog. I want to devote more time to my asana practice. I want to further my yoga education in some way. I want to learn Italian and live in Italy. I want to buy a house. I want. I want. I want.

Pretty gluttonous of me, huh? But these are desires, and these thoughts and hungers do, occasionally, keep me up at night leaving me feeling incredibly lousy and unrested the next day. So this chain of events can be described as causing suffering, proving that as innocuous as these yearnings may sound, it is doing me no service to get anxious and worked up over these details in my life. The Gita and the Sutras are right again!

What does help slow down the winding wheels at night is remembering that accomplishing these things for myself, in the big picture, really doesn’t matter. And even if speaking Italian sounds like beautiful concept, I have all the time in the world to do it. Getting another training under my belt may not happen tomorrow. It probably won’t even happen this year. But I eventually come back to the point that it could potentially happen at some point in this life time, and if it doesn’t, who cares? I’m doing the best that I can with the time that is given to me (only 24 hours a day!) so I should be content.

Patanjali reminds us of the concept of samtosa, or contentment, which is one of the niyamas, or self disciplines. He says,”By contentment, supreme joy is gained” (Yoga Sutras, II-42). For those of us who have so much to be grateful for already but keep striving, and wanting, and staying up thinking about how we can better or change ourselves and our lives in many different ways, this is a perfect sentiment to return to. How can a yogi meditate and achieve liberation, mukta, if the mind is wrestling with these thoughts? “The yogi feels the lack of nothing and so he is naturally content,” Iyengar tells us. How can you argue with that?

So here I am tonight, having a little extra time, and I’ve decided to open the door back up to blog. Partially because I WANT to. I am human, after all, but it’s also mind clearing, babbling here, unloading some thoughts to clear up my mind to enter the next day. Does that make me an undeserving yogi? I don’t think so, and thankfully, I’ve committed my life to a very forgiving practice.

Write to you soon! I promise.


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The Moms’ Room of Sadhana

sadhana, mama & me yoga, mom yogaAccording to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, “The room of sadhana (practice)…should be spotlessly clean and free from animals or insects…The appearance of the room should be pleasant.” Well if you’re a mom and think of your home as a place for sadhana, I have a feeling that it’s not going to follow these guidelines laid out by Swami Swatmarama. If you’re home is anything like mine, it’s constantly littered with toys, diapers, laundry and no matter how many hours I spend in the kitchen a day, that sink is never empty. When I practice at home, I can usually clear out an area to place my mat down, but my legs and arms are often fighting for space if they ever stray from the 21 square feet of the yoga mat. This is why we retreat to yoga studios where the calmness, cleanliness and open, uncluttered space is enough to bring tears to our eyes.

Each week I teach a Mama & Me yoga class for moms with their babies up to 2 years old. When I tell people I teach this class, many respond with a surprised, “The babies do yoga?!” No, definitely not. This class is specifically for moms, to whom I teach while her child learns to roll on a blanket next to them, or in some cases like my own, her child walks around to each mom to see what snacks they’ve brought to “share.” Because many of us moms cannot get a free hour to go to a yoga class, where we can bask in the austerity and cleanliness of the open space, there are opportunities throughout communities where we can bring our little ones to a class, a studio that is a safe place, to try to get some  yoga in and join in a yoga-mom community.

While we do carry some of that clutter from our home to occupy our little ones during the mom yoga class, it’s most importantly a destination to help us keep the internal home for our deepest inner being clean and balanced. No matter how much or how little asana we actually get to practice during the Mama & Me class, it’s helpful, even for me as the instructor, to come to this communal spot to clear out and calm the ever racing mind. It’s an “anything goes” class, which I love, and which is the true embodiment of yoga. No attachments to the questionable circumstances that might occur when you bring your baby to class. Will I be nursing a lot? Will my child scream the whole time? Will my child nap the entire class for me to do an entire hour of yoga?! We have to be ok with whatever happens during that hour and just enjoy the energy of the mothers around us. While we try to work on asana sequences that strengthen the body, most importantly, we strengthen the concentration and attention of the mind to create balance and serenity. This community of moms is working together to keep the home for their inner beings, where the real sadhana happens, “clean and pleasant.”