Ashtanga Yoga With Antonella
"PRACTICE AND ALL IS COMING" - Sri K. Pattabhi Jois
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Nov 2011

PARENTS VS. GRANDPARENTS

Some of the fondest memories I have of growing up are of the times I spent with my grandparents. My Grandma, who passed away earlier this year, was a strong willed, opinionated, energetic woman. I would go with her to visit my Great-Grandmother and “the girls” (my Grandma’s 60 year old cousins) for lunch or afternoon tea. She took me to plays, to get ice cream, and let me burn off my boundless energy by teaching me to belt out Spanish folk songs and dance for everyone’s amusement. My Grandfather, who traveled on business, would bring me back sweets that were popular in whatever region of the country he had been. Though he was known as being quite a disciplinarian when my Mom was growing up, he always had a kind word and a smile for me. I loved my Grandparents, they were what every kid needs: the antithesis to the strict parents that lay down the law and make you eat your vegetables.

Then there was my Mom. She told me to make my bed, no, not just pull the blanket up to cover the bed, but actually MAKE the bed pulling the sheets tight and fluffing the pillows; you know the hard way. She made me do my homework, set the table, and never gave me dessert before finishing dinner. Sometimes I didn’t even get dessert because I hadn’t eaten all my dinner...sigh, she wasn’t fun like my Grandparents.

And yet...

Sometimes, when I teach, I feel like the un-fun parent. I take pride in getting to know my students. I don’t just learn about their bodies, I learn their personalities, quirks, the little things that make them special in their own way. I can tell if one of them is feeling off, if something is weighing on their minds, and I adjust what needs to be done accordingly. I try to make sure they do what has to be done to learn their practice correctly and safely, and at their pace. I try to nurture them.

Sometimes I’m tough, sometimes a little more accommodating. I know that some day they might leave my protective wing, become teachers themselves, or maybe move on to other teachers. Understanding that my role as their teacher may only last a few months or a few years, I want my students to leave with the best foundation possible, prepared for whatever lies ahead. I’m a parent.

Then you have the Grandparents. Most yoga students have at least one, maybe a full set. The visiting teachers, the workshop teachers; the teachers you see once a year as they pass by bringing you sweets from whatever part of the country (or world) they have been. They let you play, they let you eat a sundae and skip the broccoli. They give you poses that your regular teacher wouldn’t let you attempt, giving you time to burn off energy and push boundaries. They are fun, and completely necessary, just as my real life Grandparents were to me.

Grandparents wouldn’t be Grandparents if they had to raise you, their role would change. The person that sees you day in and day out, that is responsible for molding you as a person or as a student (in the case of a teacher like me) has a different responsibility. A Grandparent gets to enjoy you without added constraints. So enjoy both relationships and take from them the lessons and memories that each offers, because they’re both helping to form you as a person and student.

Now that I look back, I understand that my Mom needed to teach me all of those things. If she hadn’t been strict about me cleaning up after myself who would have been? I get it and I love her all the more for it because she cared enough to want what was best for me. She shaped me in a very different way than my grandparents, and I appreciate both relationships now being able to look at them with hindsight.

So when a student comes to me after taking a fantastic workshop or two with a visiting teacher and they say: “So and So let me do this” my response is: “that’s great, next time you see them you can do that again, but right now, go make your bed.”
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DOWN THE RABBIT HOLE

Alice. If she had known what was waiting for her, do you think she would have followed that rabbit?

At some point most yoga practitioners come to this place; I have, you probably have too. The decision you can’t avoid: to change, knowing that in this choice you’re leaping into the abyss not being able to tell if there will be a soft landing or an endless drop. Or keeping to what you’ve always known, staying blissfully unaware and missing what could have been.

In the years since I started practicing yoga, my life has changed so dramatically that the old me wouldn’t recognize the new one. I am so grateful for all of the changes and experiences, which have led me to a life and vocation that I would have never imagined. But it wasn’t easy. To be honest, the changes in my life haven’t always been pain free or welcomed with open arms. There haven’t always been soft landings, sometimes I hit the ground, hard. Yet here I am, alive to tell the tale; and, I think, the better for having experienced those times which make me appreciate my current life even more.

Change is inherent in growth and evolution. The physical changes one undergoes in a yoga practice are readily noticeable, we feel our bodies ache, shift, release and strengthen. The mental and emotional upheaval, however, is harder to grasp, and usually much harder to deal with. Sometimes we don’t even fully realize the changes are happening until we’re smack dab in the middle of a whole life restructuring.

In yoga there is the concept of “tapas” which is sometimes translated as pain for purification. Guruji (Sri K. Pattabhi Jois) is supposed to have said that with the Ashtanga practice we burn off impurities like the fire melts and purifies gold. I have heard his grandson, Sharath, use the same analogy. This purification process though can feel more like self flagellation than a slow burning away of physical and mental blockages. How many habits and relationships that no longer serve us are sacrificed at the altar of our practice?

This is where I think yoga differs from any other “discipline” or physical activity. In connecting to something that challenges you day in and day out, that takes you to a mental, emotional, and physical edge, where you have to observe your breath, your sensations, and emotions you start to experience the world in a different way. You start stripping away the layers of self delusion and seeing the patterns you’ve created in your life. Whether it’s dead-end job after dead-end job, “frenemy” type relationships, or unhealthy eating habits, things are cast in a new light.

Suddenly these patterns that we’ve developed over years (or lifetimes) rise to the surface like the impurities being separated from the gold, and you have to deal with them. In other words you become AWARE and with the tools you have established in your yoga practice, you develop the internal strength and courage to take steps to remove them. You start making the connection that maybe these things aren’t really “you” maybe they’re not really necessary. Maybe you do them out of habit or inertia but not because they serve a purpose any longer.

Or not. There is always the option of staying exactly where you are, of not growing, not changing, because the prospect of the unknown is too scary; because you would rather not believe that change needs to happen. Then you’re stuck in an endless loop, reliving the same scenario over and over, trying to convince yourself that somehow it’s different. How was it that Einstein defined insanity? Oh, yeah.

I’ve been in this position, hanging on white-knuckled to my habits going “nooooo”. And whenever I’ve resisted this intuitive drive that told me to let go, it has always come back to haunt me.

When the voice tells you it’s time to change, listen to it. Or, better said: “This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill - the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill - you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.”

Which choice would you make?
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