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This compact, black and white manual features:
- An overview of the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga
- The primary series including a photo of each asana, the vinyasa count, breath and drishti.
- A simple pranayama exercise.
- A section on asana for injury or yoga as therapy.
- Essential mantras in Sanskrit.
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David and I get a lot of questions about travelling to Mysore with children. We have done it once with our daughter, Mercedes when she was 17, and twice with our son Holden when he was 7 months and 2 years old. Many people travel to study at KPJAYI, and bring their children. I am definitely not an adventurous traveller and I hate flying, especially with my son – it is certainly out of my comfort zone. But I have had great experiences in Mysore with my kids, and if I can do it – you can too!
Vaccinations are such a personal decision, many people prefer to use homeopathic and naturopathic medicines instead. Whatever you decide, you should speak to a medical professional that you trust. Holden is vaccinated for the usual stuff. There is polio and tetanus risk in India, which was a big part of our decision to vaccinate. We didn’t vaccinate him for Hep A or B, but that might be something to look into. Hep A can be transmitted through dirty hands touching your food, Hep B for children would be a contaminated blood transfusion. We knew a student who picked up typhoid in Mysore and it didn’t seem at all fun. There is only a very small malaria risk in Mysore.
Rabies can be a concern, but I have noticed on my last trip that there are very few monkeys compared to previous visits. The dogs and animals are all very sweet, but we never touch any animals in India and I don’t let Holden get very close to them. I don’t want to be killjoy, because I really love animals, but I would advise any parents to do the same.
The flight from North America to India is gross. Here is a list of what we have found to be most helpful on the flight:
Lots of books and quiet colouring activities.
I wrap two or three presents with tons of tape (unwrapping kills at least 10 minutes)
I never bring any toys with wheels or that can roll. Anything very small is also not great because airplane seats swallow things.
Tons of yummy snacks are key, because airplane food is an abomination and even a toddler that only eats white foods with ketchup knows this.
We don’t watch television at home and I am pretty uptight about how much screen time my son gets. On the plane, however, anything goes. He seems to understand that there are different rules on the airplane and he doesn’t bug me to watch stuff once we land.
We sit at the very back or just in front of the galley. There are usually extra seats at the back of the plane that you can snag to spread out. If there is no one behind you, your child can stand on her seat and muck around a bit. Also, it is really good to be right next to the bathroom and to a ready supply of juice for bribes.
We plan our stopover in Heathrow because the food there is good and they have a great playground for older and very young children.
The good news is exercise is the best thing for jetlag. If you are practicing, you should get on schedule pretty quickly. In terms of your kids, when we arrive in Mysore it is early in the morning and we try to spend as much time as possible outside and walking around. I don’t let Holden nap for the first two days and I basically just run him around everywhere. We go to bed very early and that seems to do the trick.
Accommodation in Mysore:
In Gokulum (where the shala is located) there are many nice apartments to rent. You won’t have any trouble finding a place to live quickly. In high season (January/February) it can take a little longer. If you have small children, I would recommend finding a place with a generator. There are daily black outs in India, lasting for hours. This isn’t a huge deal in the afternoon, but we find the overhead fans great for sleeping and blocking out noise at night. If the fan goes out, it is really hard for little ones to sleep in the heat with the constant sound of beeping horns and banging pots. And yes, people will be banging pots next to your window at 2 in the morning. You cannot drink the tap water, brush your teeth in the water, make your tea with the water etc. When you arrive, ask about a bottled water delivery.
I hope you found this useful. Please let me know if you have anything valuable to add. In my next post, I will discuss finding care In Mysore.
Once you arrive in Mysore with your family, it is nice to get settled so that you can get down to the business of practicing and napping. Below, I have tried to include everything you might need to know about setting up your home.
You can find diapers, wipes, bottles, cribs, toys and anything else your heart desires for your child or baby in India. I brought a lot of books from home, but there is a pretty good bookstore with a wide selection of children’s books.The toys seem to go though different safety standards in India – so just warn your kids before they garrot themselves.
Sharath and Saraswathi are very understanding about travelling with children in India. Sharath told me to come whenever was convenient and that allowed us to switch off during practice.
When you arrive in Mysore, speak to other parents about great caregivers who are available to work. We met an incredible person, and we knew several people who had great experiences with other local caregivers as well as international yoga students looking to subsidize their shala fees.
There are many small and great schools around Gokulum. Most schools will accept temporary admissions, but there is an adjustment phase to a new school to be aware of. Many Indian children are very independent at an early age, and it is beautiful to see. When we brought Holden to India, he was not toilet trained (like most of the children in his class in Toronto), but all of his peers at school in Mysore were. Teachers and most adults are more physical with the children, even children they do not know, and this was a bit shocking for Holden. In many schools there is corporal punishment.
I am not trying to pass judgment on any style of child-rearing, just to say that a change in disciplining style can be very disconcerting for your child. Because of this, I think it is worth it to really investigate the school you are thinking of sending your child to and communicate your expectations to the head teacher. If your child is quite young, I would hire a caregiver (or go yourself) to deal with any disciplining issues that come up and help with potty time.
We make almost every meal at home in India. It is hard to eat out all the time with children, and Holden would often get mobbed in public places so it was easier to stay at home. You can find rice, barley, pasta, chapatis, veggies, beans and lentils almost anywhere.
1. Bring must-haves from home. We love certain foods that are hard to get in Mysore like nori and miso, so we brought them from home. It really helped provide some variety.
2. I wash all the food and cook it in bottled water, just to be safe.
This is the last in my three-part blog about travelling to Mysore with your children. Here I cover acquiring a vicodin addiction and even worse – travelling with your teenager.
I usually get a cold in India, but if you follow some basic rules you should avoid most stomach bugs:
Wash your hands. All the time. We made up little handwashing songs for Holden because we were always scrubbing them. Once you get into a little routine of handwashing, it won’t seem like a big deal.
Keep your shoes out of your apartment. Especially if you have a crawler, you need to keep all footwear out of your living space.
Stay contained. The more you travel the more you expose yourself to illness. We eat at home all the time and frequent the same two restaurants for a treat. Boring, yes, but you are a parent so you must be used to being boring by now.
If your child gets sick, visiting the doctor is affordable and accessible. There are modern hospitals and doctors very close to KPJAYI. Sharath and Saraswathi can advise you if you need help finding a good doctor. If your child needs medication and you know the type you can get anything at a pharmacy in India without a prescription. And if your kid is driving you crazy you can fill your prescription for vicodin, no questions asked!
Travelling with a Teenager:
India is pretty full-on all the time, and while you don’t have to bug your teenager not to eat the mothballs in the sink, you might have to accommodate for a stimulation overload. Being away from friends, stomach bugs and unreliable wifi can make things a little challenging. Our teenager really liked Mysore, and preferred it to the inconsistency of travelling around the country. Once we had settled in our apartment and she had her own room, lots of time to sleep and a daily practice with Saraswathi, she felt more comfortable. She took sitar lessons, and she told me recently that practicing and getting private classes was very rewarding. Sharath and Saraswathi were very sweet to her and Saraswathi in particular took very good care of her in class.
Travelling on your own with your child to Mysore:
We have friends who are single parents and who travel regularly to Mysore. They seem to do it beautifully. I’m not sure if single parents are used to carrying the full load of parental responsibility and so travelling isn’t much of a change.
I have noticed that parents who leave their partners at home can struggle a little to manage all the work involved. Personally, I wouldn’t make the trip without David. At home I have family, a great daycare, friends, and the comfort of our own home to help me. If you do decide to go on your own to Mysore, I would recommend before leaving, setting up an apartment with a generator and a nanny or caregiver to help you out on a daily basis. After all, you want your focus in Mysore to be on yoga, not on being exhausted and burnt out from your kids.
I hope you found all this helpful. Please leave a comment if you have been to Mysore and have any suggestions!
“Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
- Henry David Thoreau
In order to take flight, first develop the root.
Lightness is cultivated from grounding. Start here. With a number of opportunities to establish roots in the practice, when learning to ground, move the energy downward through the limbs. The rebounding energy, in turn, surges upward, allowing the subtle channels of the body to flow and energize, arising first from a place of stability.
Look in nature. The tallest trees in the world, the redwoods, have a vast intricate network of roots supporting their skyward stretch. I like to think of it the same way in practice. Whenever my hands or feet are touching the floor I consciously ground my awareness and energy down toward the earth. This is where I gather my strength. It’s an offering.
Primary Series, among other things, is designed in a manner to ground and center, attaining an intimate relationship with our bodies. Starting from the gross level of awareness, then through time and practice, slowly, moving upward into the subtle reaches. It’s intelligently designed. Often I feel gathering strength originates from focus and awareness. Even if it hasn’t physically manifested yet, it doesn’t matter. We are working the most challenging muscle of all in between the ears. If we work with internal guidance the outward manifestation will start to form. It really isn’t the goal, think of it more as the byproduct of consistent, devotional practice. Practice is the goal. Then we taste the true experience.
Grounding doesn’t always correlate into working with the downward flow of the body, even though this is an important step. It is also about fully inhabiting the body from root to tip. Every inch, every layer, ALIVE. Every part of our bodies integrated with the greater whole. This doesn’t mean tensing, grasping or holding. This simply means awakening every cell of the body through the breath. If we can’t feel it, we can’t transform it. Equally stated, we can’t let it go either. Truly, what we are aligning to is the conscious awakening of the parts of ourselves that lie dormant or inert. We already encompass everything. Think of it as an excavation. Some may have to dig deeper than others, however in the larger of scope of things it doesn’t matter. Our body, our lesson.
There’s a pulsation. Feel it. Through the breath our sensitivity toward this pulsation arises as we channel the energy. Grace begins to take form. Join with it. It onsets by inherently listening, feeling the natural flow of the body emanating from the center, radiating outward. This too is grounding. The center is the area of Mula bandha up toward Uddhiya bandha. The entire area. Encompass this area. Even if it feels dead, it doesn’t matter, send your awareness there. Like I said, before it initiates in the mind, then in time, the body follows. We are creators, it takes consistent effort and patience. The refinement of the bandhas happen over a duration of continual practice. Don’t get too wrapped up into it if it doesn’t make sense, because it’s still a mystery, even to me. All I know is connecting toward center brings the energy down into the body where the intelligence resides. Ever had a gut feeling? It never lies. Does it?
“Start by doing what is necessary; then do what is possible; and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” - St. Francis of Assisi
As cliché as it sounds, the power is within. I like to say, in an Ashtanga yoga practice, it’s about having an in-body experience. We begin with what is tangible, and accessible, our bodies, and often before we have considered entering into daily practice we haven’t become intimately connected with what houses our souls. I remember when I first began yoga practice I was amazed at what took place as I settled into the body. Through the power of the breath and the conscious connection centered on each movement the synergy created was a revelation. Ah-ha. The gateway to greater liberation is through the body revitalized by conscious breath. Of course there isn’t only one way to freedom. However, from this realization the power of practice started to unfold. Layer upon layer we lighten up, whether it manifests in our body, or better yet, in our hearts and minds, never forgetting the added element bringing in a sense of discovery and curiosity in the process.
Lightening up isn’t only about fancy entries and exists out of postures. It entails bringing a sense of devotional wonder into our hearts through the experience of yoga. Each conscious step we take to dive inside through this physically demanding practice will begin to shed the unnecessary. What holds us down, what blocks our light, through observation comes clarity. “Mind medicine,” as Guruji would say.
”We don’t use the body to get into the posture we use the posture to get into the body.” - Bernie Clark
As I come to the end of my pregnancy I can’t help but feel a profound sense of gratitude towards the Ashtanga Yoga tradition and my teachers in particular – David Robson and his team at AYCT Toronto.
I have struggled with Ashtanga as I have struggled with all things in life. Mostly I love it, at times I hate it, many times I’m somewhere in between and contemplate pursuing a different path. I couldn’t be happier to have continued to this point, seeing all challenges as obstacles of the mind, and reminding myself that I all I really need to do is step on my mat 6 times a week (except moon days).
When we first decided to get pregnant again, the Universe told us we weren’t yet ready. I had cervical dysplasia that required 2 surgeries. I was so angry that I couldn’t control this, and even more angry that I couldn’t practice for a month after each surgery. I was so eager to move forward in my practice and master supta-kurmasana, but it wasn’t in the cards for now. David guided me as I recovered from both surgeries and eventually started to embark upon the fertility journey once again.
In trying to get pregnant, I came across yet another hurdle – I wanted to move forward in my practice, be a “good yogi” and wake up really early to get my full practice in. But I was TIRED from a full-time job, recovering from surgery, and raising a toddler. I started to suffer from lack of sleep, and felt that something had to go. I asked David for advice, but didn’t like the idea of doing a shorter practice – maybe Ashtanga wasn’t meant for me after all. I tried other things, but eventually missed the structure and stability that Ashtanga gave me. I went back to David, he got mad that I hadn’t listened to him. It was exactly what I needed. Why does the mind play so many tricks? Why not trust the tradition, trust those that are further along the path? So I started again, softer, shorter, but still practicing. It was a gift, and shortly after the Universe gave me the gift of the beautiful baby girl that grows in my belly.
I took the first three months of pregnancy off as the tradition suggests. Funny how Ashtanga gets a bad rep for being tough, but then people ignore the blessings of the rest that is suggested. This was a time of introspection, of getting used to the life growing within, and definitely a part of my yoga practice even if there was no asana. At four months I came back, the mantra of softening and opening accompanying me in my journey. This was a whole new way to practice. I am so used to pushing, to doing more, to wanting to be the best. Yet in pregnancy yoga is about letting go. Letting go of expectations, of what we used to be able to do, of wanting to be better, of moving forward. It is a deepening, a going within and within and within, of honouring the breath, the life force above all else.
A few times during my pregnancy I thought of letting go of Asthanga. It was getting too difficult to do things like I wanted to do them, I started to feel more aches and pains and again the tiredness was getting to me. Yet each time, the call to leave was actually a call to deepen. How can I work within the tradition and structure to honour what I need at this time? Often, for me, it was doing less. A real “aha” moment was when I realized that I could do chaturanga on my knees! Unheard of! This small change allowed me to continue my practice into my 40th week, where I am today.
I think I have probably practiced 6 days a week except moon days, maybe missed 3-4 days total, from the third to 10th month of pregnancy. I think what kept me going was the thought that all I really needed to do was get on my mat every day. This is easier said than done. It is often when there are uncomfortable feelings or thoughts that I want to skip, and these are the days when practice is most beneficial. If I can’t practice in the morning, I make sure I will have time during my lunch hour or before bed. I deserve it. No matter how busy we think we are, we all deserve a moment with God. We must plug in daily to recognize where we are living from spirit and where we are on automatic pilot, reacting to our old habits. All it really takes is standing on our mat.
I have found that once I stand, I tend to want to chant, and the sun salutations follow. Often a full practice, when I thought I had no time or energy for it. And this time, this commitment to take a stand, keeps me grounded, keeps me whole, and keeps me going deeper into myself.
Thanks to this experience of Ashtanga during pregnancy, I now know that Ashtanga can be with me to the end of my days. As long as I can breathe, I can practice. And the desire to leave the path to try other things gets weaker as I see that it doesn’t really matter which path we choose, as long as we continue it. Sticking to one path allows us to put aside all tricks of mind to focus on what is really important, coming back to the present moment. Ashtanga does this for me, and I am grateful.
Tomorrow is my baby’s “due date” and while I yearn for a beautiful, natural birth (or a “hippie love-in birth” as Stan calls it) I am also aware that there is only so much I can control about my baby’s birth or anything in this life. Ashtanga has taught me this too. As much as I have yearned to move past it, I remain at Supta Kurmasana in my practice, where I began over 2 years ago. At first I was mad about this, then felt sad and inferior to others who flow so gracefully, then tried to push, hurting myself, and eventually let it go (for the most part). It is still my practice, it is still beautiful, I am still whole, and ultimately even if one day I get past Supta Kurmasana, lo and behold there will be another pose to master. Just like my baby’s birth. I can want it to look or feel a particular way, but the magic is in the surrender, in the mystery, in the knowing that there are powers much greater than me that run the show.
Part of my pregnancy practice has been reading the Yoga Sutras before home practice. I was shocked to discover that as much as we Westernize yoga these days, it is a profoundly religious endeavour. Sutra I.23 states that the whole goal of yoga can be achieved from devotion to God. As I continue my practice, I find comfort in surrendering more and more of my efforts to God, to something greater than me. This allows me to be just as I am, rather than beating myself up for not being a good enough yogi.
So for today I am so incredibly grateful to this practice, to the people that continue to lead me on this path, and for the ability to be kind enough to myself to accept that I am a work in progress. Yoga is not something to be perfected at the outset but a life-long process, an ideal that we work towards, in kindness, in patience, in peace.