Erin Schoen Marsh
Ashtanga Seventh Series: Family Life
Updated: Dec 28, 2017
Parenting: The most difficult of the Ashtanga series
While complaining about my 2-year-old’s sudden refusal to sleep, my friend and budding Ashtangi told me, “Kids need parenting at night; there is no way around it. This is what we all signed up for.”
But I didn’t sign up for this. I knew the first year after birth was brutal--we’ve done it twice now--but I thought after 1+ year, we’d be in the clear. Life could return to a somewhat normal, albeit kid-centered, pace. I was mistaken, and my Ashtanga yoga practice is paying the price.
For almost a year now, I’ve been waking up at 4:40 in the morning to practice Ashtanga Mysore style at . I originally started practicing Ashtanga because it was the only consistent time that fit in our schedule without taking away from family, but I grew to love and need the daily practice. Before Mysore, my yoga practice took place alone, at home, with one or both kids regularly interrupting. Even waking up early didn’t work as my youngest frequently wakes before 5 in the morning.
Mysore, the traditional way to practice Ashtanga, provided me the quiet and community I was craving. No interruptions--just me and my mat and a family of people struggling and breathing through the same series of poses.
While I had been practicing and teaching yoga consistently for several years before Ashtanga, two pregnancies changed my practice, and each time I felt I was starting anew after giving birth. When I began Mysore, my youngest was finally sleeping through the night, no longer breastfeeding, and I thought I had crossed the threshold and could schedule in some “me” time.
I’m tall, thick and curvy, and my body is not naturally suited for Ashtanga, but I barreled through the primary series, slowly making progress. I’d celebrate the little victories--binding in marichyasana, holding salamba sirsasana in pike position, or touching my chin to the floor in kurmasana--and focusing on such a difficult practice quieted my overactive mind.
I became a better mother. The 75 minutes of time for myself, coupled with the calming nature of yoga and the endorphins from physical activity, elevated my mood and increased my patience. I was facing daily challenges in my practice and painstakingly overcoming them. They may have been small feats, but they gave me a sense of accomplishment. When else in life do we see such clear progress?
My fellow Ashtangis became my tribe. We all stumble in before 5:30 in the morning, mumble pleasantries to one another, grunt and groan through our practice together for over an hour, and then leave in a hurry. I know very little about many of my Ashtanga Yoga Toledo friends, yet they are like family.
My yoga routine was interrupted a few weeks ago when my 2-year-old began waking in the middle of the night. Despite interrupting her sleep cycle for at least an hour, she still rises at 5, so one of us wakes with her at night and the other rises with her at 5 in the morning. I’ve gone from practicing Mysore 5-6 times a week to only 2-3. I know this may seem inconsequential, but I’ve grown to need that time, both physically and mentally.
I’ve tried to replace Ashtanga with evening yoga classes and family trips to the gym, and while I sincerely enjoy those other forms of exercise, I feel incomplete. I enjoy my workouts, but I typically end up thinking at one point, “This is great...but I’d rather be doing Ashtanga.”
Ashtanga is a strict discipline--one that allocates we practice 6 times a week, first thing in the morning. As a perfectionist/overachiever, I struggle with not following “the rules.”
But maybe this is exactly the lesson I need to learn. The yamas teach that we must practice non-attachment, or aparigraha, and I have grown attached to my Ashtanga yoga practice. I have practiced through injuries and even illness, but I can’t watch two small children all day with only a few hours of sleep, and it’s unfair to ask my husband to wake with her at night and in the morning and then work all day. We need to share the burden, which means no Mysore for me. The seventh series of Ashtanga is teaching me to let go.
Pattahbi Jois, who popularized and developed Ashtanga yoga, coined the term “seventh series.” Each series in Ashtanga becomes progressively more difficult, and the seventh and final series--family life--is therefore the most challenging of all. It comforts me to think that even Pattahbi Jois, affectionately known as “Guruji,” struggled with the seventh series. Maybe he missed practice on occasion due to one of his children, and maybe he even occasionally experienced the frustration that I feel.
I remind myself that change is good for us, and diverse workouts will help challenge and strengthen my body in different ways. The gym childcare center is also a great way to acclimate my 2-year-old to a preschool-type setting.
When I’m working on my laptop at 5 a.m. and Camille watches Masha and the Bear half asleep, I can’t help but think, “I could be on my way to Mysore right now.” I’ve been attempting to dispel that thought by reminding myself how peaceful it is to cuddle on the couch with my baby girl while I write. It’s difficult to get much work done during the day, but that early morning calm is the perfect time for writing.
I need to remember to let go of what I feel I should be doing and instead enjoy the present moment. Contrary to the crazy voice in my head, I will NOT gain a bunch of weight because I’m not practicing Mysore, and I will NOT lose my Ashtanga tribe. Even if I can only practice two times a week, that should be enough to maintain my flexibility, and I can continue my dark and early yoga practice when we’re all sleeping through the night again.
After all, my marriage and sanity are more important than 6 mornings of Ashtanga practice. Right??
Photos by Mary Wyar Photography at Yogaja Yoga.
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