The Babbling Lotus

Jacqui Nash's Musings on Yoga, Food & Parenthood


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The Case for the Ashtanga Supplement

Mondays for me have recently become Ashtanga Mondays. It’s a relief, a sense of supreme joy to know that I can come to the mat, get an amazing practice in, become immersed in a deep meditation through my own personal practice, without having to think about what posture should come next. The sequences are ingrained in my mind and my body and breath flows fluidly through the postures, from the opening prayer and first sun salutation to the closing prayer and then the blessed savasana. (Click here to read more about Ashtanga Yoga.)

Me in Virabhadrasana A during the third trimester of my first pregnancy.

Me in Virabhadrasana A during the third trimester of my first pregnancy.

My relationship with Ashtanga has not always been this ecstatic. I did practice Ashtanga maybe once weekly, or every other week, for about a year (or maybe more accurately on and off once weekly for about a year) until I became pregnant with my first child. As soon I became pregnant, reflecting back, I’m thinking that I probably used the pregnancy as an excuse to remove this physically and mentally demanding practice from my routine. I mean, how can you do all those up-dogs, all those chaturangas, all those half-lotus and lotus forward folds with a growing human in your abdomen? It’s not physically possible, right?

Sri Pattabhi Jois in Padmasana, lotus pose.

Sri Pattabhi Jois in Padmasana, lotus pose.

The interesting thing is that while I started Ashtanga Mondays in January this year, I found it even more comforting to continue once I found out I was pregnant with our second child (big pregnancy bomb drop there) in early March. What a relief to know that during my daughter’s afternoon nap time, I am guaranteed a quieter time to myself than most of my other Vinyasa home practices can grant me. During my Ashtanga practice, I don’t play music, except every so often a repetitive chant that continues the length of the practice, I’m not mentally preparing sequences for body, I’m not focusing on a particular posture or body part. Every inch of me is involved meditatively, which, I’m assuming, is exactly what Krishnamacharya and Pattabhi Jois would want from their students.

Ashtanga can often be thought of as an unforgiving practice. A demanding practice for the body known to cause injury to the shoulders, knees and hips. But what has brought me closer and deeper to this practice has been practicing with this “limitation” of pregnancy. There are strict Ashtanga teachers who might lean deeply on the backs of their students or crank their arms into binds to bring them fully into the posture, but now more so than ever I have learned that being kind to our bodies each time we step on the mat should always be more important than tackling and pretzeling into the deepest of twists and binds.

This doesn’t sound like mind-blowing, original yoga fodder, here. I realize that. But even we as teachers can say this to our students until we are blue in the face, but I’m not sure how many of us heed our own advice 100% of the time. I know I am guilty of pushing myself beyond my limits. In a Vinyasa practice, since there is that element of the unknown, not knowing which posture is about to come next, which is so seductive about that style, a posture might seem like a good thing to attempt, but because it might be new to us or our bodies might not be warmed up enough, we enter incorrectly, or go in too deeply which could potentially cause some crankiness or worse.

Again, not super-authentic writing going on, but I will make the case that Ashtanga Yoga has brought me to a new level of understanding my body and my practice that I had yet to discover in my regular Vinyasa practice. Because the posture progression and sequences are so methodically thought out, and because it’s the same postures every time I step to the mat, I’ve been able to better gauge how tight or strong my muscles feel that day and work within the parameters of modifications so I can complete the practice in its entirety. It has helped me hear my breath as a louder mantra than in any other practice. It has more effectively erased the the sporadic babbling in my mind.

BKS Iyengar in Kukkutasana

BKS Iyengar in Kukkutasana

And this not to say I can’t get to these blissful places in my Vinyasa practice, but the stronger connection between my mind and my body that arose during my weekly Ashtanga supplement have translated quickly to my Vinyasa practice, making each session even more valuable than it was before. I’m not sure if I could have experienced Ashtanga so euphorically without the feeling as if I was practicing for two (that statement works here, unlike the phrase, “eating for two”). Unlike those practicing for one who feel stronger and more flexible as he or she practices Ashtanga, the humbleness I feel as I cut out some vinyasas, or loose a bind one week or kukkutasana another week because of my changing body, has made me appreciate the entire practice of yoga, all styles and on and off the mat, at a new level.

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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.