Krista, what was your background before yoga?
To all those practitioners out there who resonate with this beautiful practice, I humbly share my story with you.
I grew up in Lexington, South Carolina. My mother was a homemaker raising three daughters, until my father took his life when I was eight. My father was a brilliant man, a civil engineer and part of his contribution to this world was helping to pioneer solar energy. Before I was born, 1979 or 1980 he’d gotten a federal grant to put solar panels on our home and monitor the savings using solar energy.
My father loved us all very much, worked very hard to provide for us, and was deeply passionate about his work, but when he was in his early thirties he started to suffer from depression, suffer greatly. I vaguely remember those years, I could sense he was hurting but was too young to understand any of it. Within the first year of his symptoms, which began when my father was 30, he was diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder.
I remember the morning my father took his life: February 17, 1990. I was sleeping upstairs in the den with my sister Kimberly when my mother rushed upstairs panicked. Police officers sent me and my sisters to a friend’s house for the day. All we were told was my daddy, who loved to hunt, was cleaning his gun and it accidentally went off…and he was hurt…
I spent YEARS filled with anger, rage, sadness, guilt. Plagued with guilt. The night before he died, daddy and I got into some sort of argument over dinner and I went to bed mad at him. The night before he died, he was watching the Ten Commandments on television in his bedroom and I remember seeing his shot gun resting upright in my parent’s closet. I thought nothing of it because he often went hunting with his friends on the weekends. Early that Saturday morning, daddy had come upstairs while I was sleeping and gave me a kiss on my forehead. But I didn’t fully wake up -- just mentally acknowledged his presence and his touch. I carried tremendous guilt with me for many years after his death…was my fight with him the reason, could I have stopped it somehow by moving his gun, what did it mean him watching the Ten Commandments.
My mother had a hard life. Born with Epidermolysis bullosa, an inherited connective tissue disease, she couldn’t walk until she was three years old because blisters covered her feet. She was ridiculed in school. Then, when she was fourteen, she and her parents had to bury her brother, who was killed by a drunk driver as he was helping someone change a tire on the side of the road. Her brother, whom she adored and who protected her, who looked out for her. She later buried her father, who died of cancer before I was born, then her mother who also passed of cancer when I was five. She later miscarried a baby, after I came along, (which she grieved so heavily and I never fully understood until two years ago when I experienced the same loss), and then my father when I was eight. I remember coming home from pre-school and having to play alone or watch TV as mommy slept on the couch. She slept a lot to cope with her losses.
After my father’s passing, I thought I’d lost my mother too. She was not emotionally present, she was frail. She was doing her best to get through each day but even at eight I knew she was suffering, struggling, dying inside. Mommy had no family, no support, and no job to support her girls. My father took his life in our house, so understandably she moved us into another home soon after his passing. But that was just the first of many moves in order to make ends meet financially when my father’s life insurance was gone.
With so much moving, school years were difficult. In addition, my sisters and I were ridiculed in school for being the daughters of a man who killed himself. Children can be wicked. Growing up without a father and without any real stability was hard. After my father died, I ate to fill a void and poured myself into schoolwork as an escape. I found when it wasn’t, I would cry.
I was a chunky girl from 8 - 12 years old. I led a pretty sedentary life and ate when I was sad. Then, one day in middle school during our PE hour a lady, whom I’ll never forget but do not remember her name, came to our school and brought a step platform and introduced our class to step aerobics. I wasn’t into basketball, volleyball or running but this, this was cool! I did her class religiously until the semester was over, and then I tried to do stuff at home. I remember slowly growing out of my “baby fat”, developing physically into a young woman, becoming more active, and starting to get attention from boys.
It was weird for me, I guess for anyone going through puberty. I started going on ‘dates’ to the movies and football games with boys in my school. Ha, that time was awful looking back, such an awkward age for all people! I kept active, kept up with my school work as that was a passion of mine, and worked side jobs cleaning offices and apartments. During this time my middle sister moved away to Alabama to live with my dads parents and my oldest sister got pregnant and had a baby, still living at home with me and my mom. Around this time I started dating a boy who was older, one of my sisters friends. I really liked him. Until one night, he raped me. I was thirteen at the time. That broke me, into a billion little pieces. I was forever a different person.
I think, I know I was pre-conditioned towards anorexia somehow, but the rape was the catalyst for the beginning of a very obsessive, unhealthy lifestyle in which I unknowingly set out to CONTROL my life….Every single second of my day….My food, my calories, exercise, school, work, even the way or ritual of washing my hair! I joined a gym and plunged into exercise like a mad woman. I remember I would wake in the morning and make a small breakfast, pack a little and tasteless lunch, go to school all day, leave school and go clean the insurance office I worked for, then head to the gym where I’d workout between 2-3 hours each evening, head home and shower, eat a small meal and do homework until I passed out. Then I’d wake the next day and repeat.
Part of me punished myself because that’s what I believed I deserved. Part of me felt I needed to CONTROL. Part of me was so lost and thought this kept me present, alive, in control. But my ‘condition’ soon began to control me. I counted every calorie I consumed, purged through exercise, ridiculed myself for being too fat, even though I was slowly becoming a horribly emaciated version of the Krista I once knew. It got so bad people everywhere started commenting on my weight, my health, my long hours in the gym...I remember one night near Christmas, after many attempts to plead with me to let her help me, my mother told me I must get some help. I told her I was fine and I’d prove it to her!! I went into the kitchen and ate a bunch of christmas cookies in front of her and my sister Kimberly. I’ll never forget they were gingerbread cookies in assorted Christmas theme shapes…..Twenty minutes after I consumed a bunch of these cookies I rushed to the bathroom to throw them up! That’s when I remember looking in the mirror at myself, but not seeing me. That’s when I fully acknowledged I needed help.
The next month, my mom drove me 8 1/2 hours to the Renfrew center in Boca Raton, Florida….And I stayed there for MONTHS. I was one of of the youngest patients. They diagnosed me bulimarexic - anorexic individual who purged through exercise. I never forced myself to throw up until that night I ate all those cookies… I met so many people there who struggled like me, but for different reasons. The common denominator was a need to control some part of their lives. At first I hated it there, people forced me to eat stuff I didn’t want to, sat with me until I ate everything, wouldn't allow me to exercise, restricted how often I could call home, made me room with another strange girl, made us do counseling sessions in groups and alone with a therapist. I hated it all. I was slowly figuring out how to manipulate the system, pretending to take pills but not, doing exercise in my room when my roommate wasn't’ there…
One day, a young woman came in to speak to us and tell us her story….her story was painful, like mine in many ways…and she shared how she’d once been a patient here and it was so hard but she allowed the people here to help her, allowed the center to help her find healing, growth, and peace again. After listening to her story I consciously decided to stop fighting so hard and allow the center and the therapists the chance to really help me.
That was a turning point for me. Then, slowly I got better there…I gained 25 pounds to 115 lbs for my 5’ 6 1/2 frame. I talked and talked and talked about a lot of things. And when I went home months later to return to my ‘life’ in South Carolina and to tenth grade, I was better. I wasn’t healed, but I was functional. I had figured out how to ‘manage’ my weight so people wouldn’t question if I was ok. I wasn’t ‘fixed’ but I was better. I had started to allow healing to occur, I’d opened that door, and I’d acknowledged that I’d allowed myself to succumbto anorexia because I felt an insatiable need to control my life. I didn’t totally figure things out at the Renfrew Center, and truthfully never have, but that was the first step of so many to come. I realized through that experience that a huge part of me yearned to be more normal, feel safe, be happy, live fully. I didn’t know it then, but that part of me would find an outlet in the vehicle of Ashtanga Yoga some years later...
I moved out at 17, worked and went to school; graduated high school early and started at The University of South Carolina early, my senior year when everyone else I grew up with was enjoying their Senior year in High School. I didn’t fit in, so to me it didn’t matter. I walked with my class come graduation…and when it was time for my ‘official’ Freshman year to start, I drove to Florida, Winter Park to be exact, to start my studies at Rollins College. It was a small, private, liberal arts college that had accepted me and given me academic scholarships. I majored in Classical Studies and Anthropology and minored in Archaeology. I’d been introduced to Latin in middle school and studied through AP in high school. I loved the culture, history, language, mythology. I loved the past, the mystery of all that came before us, much of which was and is unknown, and I was fascinated by people who spent their lives trying to piece together the past, using written record, unearthed artifacts, things and people that no longer lived but their stories did, in various beautiful ways. I was also extremely fascinated by other cultures, other countries, other ways of living.
When I moved to Florida, freshman year, I lived in the dorms and went to school full time and waited tables full time. I felt out of place at Rollins, just as I did most everywhere else. But this was a new ‘out of place’ feeling - this time it was a class difference. Growing up it was a different kind of out of place, because of my past, my father, my eating disorder, the rape. This was about money, many of the students attending Rollins College came from a lot of money, their parents were wealthy, the students I took class next to wore nice clothes, with name brands I’d no clue about; drove nice cars, didn’t have to work. Many of them hung out everyday after class while I had to hustle from class to the dorm to change into my Long Horn Steakhouse and later Stone Wood Tavern and Grill uniforms, and rush off in my beat up used, green Honda Civic to work my shift waiting tables to pay for my car, my insurance, food. I’d work till late in the night and come back to campus past people partying to get to my room so I could do my homework, study, and sleep.
I did my share of partying in college, with people from school and those whom i worked with. Waiting tables, the hospitality industry, its a different lifestyle for sure. I found I fit in more with people I worked with than those I went to school with. I found a pocket of friends from Rollins who were more like me, some didn’t have much money and were on scholarships too, some had money but were rebellious of their lifestyles or families. STILL, I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere! I was a misfit of the nnnnth degree. I didn’t mind because I was so used to being an outsider and I enjoyed my studies very much, enjoyed working to pay bills, enjoyed being able to take care of myself, enjoyed much of my life, but felt a void no doubt.
During the beginning of my sophomore year in college I decided I wanted to spend a semester abroad in Greece the following year. I applied for scholarships and was accepted into College year in Athens with full financial aid to make it happen. That year I was living in a sorority house on campus, Non Compis Mentis - ‘Not of Sound Mind’ - the only local sorority on campus. I was living in their house because I’d become very close with a friend freshman year who had joined the sorority and had wanted to room with me sophomore year.
One school night, that knock came from two freshman guys pledging next door. They were drunk, and came needing signatures for their underwear. I thought it was amusing and signed their trunks. A few weeks later I ran into one of those boys again, coming back from the parking lot late one night coming home from work. And again and again kept running into this boy that semester. We became friends. And over that summer we hung out a when I’d get off work. That boy and I soon fell for each other, and moved in together. I fell so deeply in love with him. And a huge part of me didn’t want to leave him when the time came for me to go to Greece for my semester abroad. But I did, because I knew I needed to. My trip to Greece was amazing, life changing, soul enriching. That trip ignited my love of travel, an itch that has been insatiable ever since. That trip also ignited other passions and desires inside of me. I started to really grow and transform as a person there. But I missed my boyfriend badly. I yearned for home, for him, but when I finally got home, it was painfully hard to re-adjust….
Sitting on the steps of my house in Winter Park, Florida, sobbing into my open hands as the day was fading away, I remember feeling utterly alone. I’d recently come back from a semester abroad in Athens, Greece. That was my very first time out of the country, and it opened my eyes to the world and to the endless possibilities that exist…it stirred up a deep seated desire to travel, explore, seek adventure, live amidst other cultures, and to learn and do as much as I could in this lifetime. I grew up in a very small town in South Carolina, I’d experienced a lot of hardship and loss at a young age, and while I had dreamt often I never thought I would actually ever get to do anything more than ordinary...Getting scholarship out of state was tops for me, and then this opportunity to study abroad...it was amazing. I had spent the spring semester of 2003 in Greece. When I came back home I felt like I was wearing a new pair of rose tinted glasses from which I was to see the world. But somehow, through my shiny new glasses, my surroundings were so blurry…It was me that was different, everyone and everything that I’d left behind were exactly as I’d left them. So what was my problem, and why was I crying on the steps for no apparent reason? Why, when I had my boyfriend and friends, did I feel so alone?
I went to bed that night, and many nights thereafter without an answer to those questions. I just knew deep down that something had shifted inside me and I now yearned for more meaning, perhaps even more purpose..I knew that things were about to change…I didn’t know it at the time, but my trip abroad helped me shift my mindset, which was exactly what I needed to allow for something really special to come into my life.
How did you find Ashtanga yoga?
I had been a gym goer since I was about thirteen years old, and was interested in fitness. I had tried one Hatha Yoga class some years back, but felt it just wasn’t my thing. I also didn’t know that the class I tried was not a full representation of what Yoga was; but it really wouldn’t have mattered because I was not at a place of awareness, back then, to be able to receive or embrace any real Yoga practice.
When I’d returned home from Greece, I resumed my membership at World gym in Casselberry, Florida. I remember one day as I went to the water fountain for a drink, I noticed a flyer advertising a new class coming to the gym – Power Yoga it was called. The description was vastly different from the other Yoga class I’d tried some time back, and this class really piqued my interest. So I went one day to check it out. Karen Breneman was a young, fit, and enthusiastic teacher and I thought she was awesome. Her class engaged my undivided attention, my breath, my entire physical body and somehow, my soul. I didn’t know it then, but I later discovered that what Karen was teaching was a modified version of Ashtanga Yoga. Her classes were physically challenging, steeped in history and tradition, and required effort and consistency. I was won over in every possible way.
I practiced with Karen for a few weeks, until my summer classes commenced at Rollins College. My new course load didn’t allow me to come to Karen’s late morning classes at the gym, so she took me to go to Winter Park Yoga, where she took daily practice under the direction of Reinaldo Liem. Reinaldo ran the morning Mysore program there and Karen told me this was the traditional way to practice Ashtanga Yoga. The little Shala was so cozy and warm with beautiful bamboo floors, an inviting ambiance, and the smell of incense drifting through the air. My very first morning at Winter Park Yoga, Reinaldo told me to practice this Mysore method six days per week for one month, and at the end of the month I could decide if I wanted to keep practicing or not. I never looked back. It was a very transformative time for me; I immediately connected to the humility and discipline required to do this practice daily, the physical demands of the asanas, the focus needed for correct breath and bandhas, and the blissful silence I found by going inside myself. I think the physical demands of the asanas and intrigue and mystery I saw in the practice are what initially brought me to begin daily practice, but the inner peace and wholesome humility and devotion this yoga gives me are what keep me coming back day after day, year after year.
In the Fall Karen headed off to graduate school in Edinburgh, Scotland. A few months later Reinaldo moved to Miami and then California, and I was left alone with no teacher. It seemed the worst possible time for my friend and teacher to leave me – I was so new to this practice and although I instantly fell in love with this Yoga and grew deeply devoted in a very short period of time, it was just the beginning of my journey and I needed far more guidance and direction…I was also highly stressed out entering my senior year in college writing my senior thesis, applying to graduate schools, and questioning everything about my future... my entire family lived far away…and things were rocky in my relationship with my boyfriend. Thankfully Laura Daniel, co-owner of Winter Park Yoga, gave me a key to the studio and I began to take practice on my own. Reinaldo had taught me Primary Series, so I got up every day and went to the little studio and did my practice, alone. I felt immense gratitude knowing I had this yoga to help me become a better person, day by day. It was here, always. No matter what was going on in my life, no matter how much stress I had, how many deadlines, what past issues needed attention, what fears I needed to face, what lessons I needed to learn, what heartache I needed to endure, what joy was there to relish, this practice was here for me – no matter what. When I realized this, I understood no one could ever take this from me; this special and sacred daily practice which gave me tremendous humility, devotion, gratitude, focus, surrender, presence, balance, empowerment, peace and so much more.
The transformative power of the practice changed my life. Although I was accepted to Texas A&M for graduate studies in Nautical Archaeology, I was quite torn about what I was meant to do next; so I decided, after college graduation, I would hold off on graduate school and go study with some well respected Ashtanga Yoga teachers. First I studied with Manju Jois for a few weeks in Chicago, and then did a month-long intensive yoga teacher training with Paul Dallaghan in Thailand in November of 2004. The couple months I spent traveling and studying taught me three very important things: 1) I was right where I needed to be doing what I needed to be doing – deepening my understanding of myself, 2) the more I learn the more I realize I know very little, and 3) while its great to study with many teachers I was ready for a real guru. I needed to get to India as soon as humanly possible to meet and study with Guruji. I just wasn’t quite sure when or how.
I spent the next year and a half planting seeds of intention. I still practiced alone every day, but Winter Park Yoga closed down while I was in Thailand, so my little yoga home was no more. I found short term places to take practice each day, grateful for somewhere to roll out my mat. I also spent that time teaching yoga to others. I started Ashtanga classes all over Orlando, hoping to inspire a soul or two, just as Karen did for me. It was so awesome to get to share this yoga with people. And the more I taught and the more I practiced, the more I yearned to get to India…
Please share with us your first experience of India and KPJAYI
My first trip to India was in the summer of 2006. I spent 7 months in Mysore studying at the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (AYRI), now the Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute (KPJAYI). I had worked and worked to save up enough money to go. Initially I’d planned to go for a month, but about a month before I left America I decided to put my things in storage, give away my furniture, give up all my classes, and go to India with no set time to come home. I decided to embrace this journey completely and let the Universe guide me. Kwang, my boyfriend at the time, came with me my first trip. He and I and a student of mine all took the hellacious flight from Orlando to New York, New York to London, London to Bangalore, and then a taxi into Mysore. We arrived on May 1st 2006. Since I had no teacher to guide me on planning my trip or housing, it was like the blind leading the blind because none of us knew where we were going to stay, how to get around, or what to do. Luckily Kwang saved the day and found us a place to live while Linda and I slept off some of our jet lag in a hotel room.
I remember the day I registered at the shala – Guruji was in his office reading his paper when I walked in. He told me to sit down and he asked my name and where I was from. He looked up at me and asked if I was staying just one month. I told him I would be here for several months and he smiled, and said “good lady.” I left the office that day feeling some deep seated emotions starting to stir up inside of me. My subconscious knew I was right where I was supposed to be. I had not only just met my Guru, but also someone who would unconsciously fill a huge void in my heart that had existed since my father passed away in 1990.
Guruji was an amazing man, full of light and grace and joy. While he was very strong and stern, he was also a soft and loving teacher. His presence sometimes took my breath away because he was the physical embodiment of love and compassion, humility and grace, humor and discipline, knowledge and acknowledgement. He never had to say a word to you for you to feel his love for you as his student, his acceptance of your personal journey, and his compassion for all the internal and external life events that brought you to his door step. I am forever grateful that I had the honor and privilege of getting to study with Guruji for several years.
The first trip was awkward and awesome all at the same time. Kwang and I were working on our relationship; I was going through tremendous internal shifts, overwhelmed by the intensity of the energy at the shala, surrendering to the Guru-Disciple relationship with Guruji, Sharath and Saraswathi, and questioning everything in my life – past, present and future. I was there to be there, to surrender to this practice, this lineage and to Guruji; to let go of what I thought I knew; to be a student; to embrace and wholeheartedly welcome the uncomfortable process of deconstruction of my thoughts and beliefs, my limitations, my past, and my ego; and to fall in love with Mother India.
How did the experience leave you changed?
It was such a powerfully and positive life changing experience for me emotionally and spiritually. When I finally made it back to the USA I was completely broke, with nothing to my name. I just rebuilt my life very meagerly and started teaching again and saving up for my next trip to Mysore. It went on like that for years. I have gone back to India every year since my first trip, except for 2014, and I’ve spent over 22 amazing months in Mysore at the Krishna Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute studying with Guruji and Sharath and Saraswathi. It is my true home away from home.
When I first started going to Mysore to study at the Institute, I remember feeling so comfortable in India, at the shala, with hundreds of other yogis there to do what I was doing – work on me. I remember the spiritual essence of love and healing I felt flowing from Guruji, the mothering I felt from Saraswathi, and the inspiration and strength I received from Sharath. In my earlier trips to Mysore I remember thinking that Sharath was so young and seemed quite carefree. Then it was like he was also growing and changing before my eyes as he became a father and eventually took over all responsibilities of the institute. Year after year I noticed more on his shoulders, more on his mind, more on his heart. He is such an inspirational teacher because he is the embodiment of our lineage of house holders working to do our duty to this world, have a career, a family, be of benefit in this life to the world. Before Guruji started to get very sick, Sharath would humbly sit next to his grandfather and look at him with adoration and love. He obeyed Guruji’s wishes, and worked day in and day out right along side him in the shala. There are no words to express my gratitude towards Sharath for taking over the institute, for being my teacher, and for holding the space for all of us on our path.
In January 2009 I made my fourth trip to Mysore, and what would be my last trip while Guruji was alive. I flew to India from Scotland, where I’d been guest teaching for several months, and I spent several weeks traveling through North India before making my way down to Mysore. It was an incredible way to start my 2009 trip in India because I had the opportunity to see much more of Mother India and travel to some of the countries most spiritual and sacred cities. The travels re-ignited my own personal love of adventure and gave me some much needed alone time. January marked eight months for me being away from the USA and Kwang, and our relationship was beginning to feel the strain of the long distance and long period of time apart. We’d been together on and off for seven years – met my sophomore year in college. He’d put up with me traveling every single year since we first started dating, being gone for 3-10 months at a time, and he wanted me to come home and make a home!
Deep down in my heart I knew a lot of things were about to change in my life, but I honestly had no clue just how much change was ahead of me. One morning after practice Sharath called me into his office and told me he wanted to me to go home and open a yoga school in Orlando and teach as he and Guruji have taught me. I remember looking up at him with lost eyes thinking to myself, “how am I to go about doing that?” As if he could read my mind he told me to go home and find a place to rent to teach out of, start a Mysore program in the mornings and slowly spread this practice to more people. I always sort of thought that I would receive authorization one day, I had no idea that day would be today, and I didn’t really feel worthy of such an honor from my teachers. I had been practicing for some time now and was totally dedicated to this lineage but I was so nervous about opening a school and didn’t want to let my teachers down.
Once I did return from my 2009 trip to Mysore I started working on a business plan for a shala. I began teaching a small mysore program while searching for a larger space, working on a business plan, and seeking funding. Eventually I found a space in Winter Park and in August 2009 I signed a lease. Exactly one day after I signed the lease, I found out we were going to have a baby! October 11th, The Yoga Shala opened. My son Kaiden was born on May 3, 2010.
During conferences that Guruji used to hold, he would almost always speak of the importance of children and having a family. I used to laugh about it then, and didn’t have the opportunity to ever thank Guruji for planting seeds in my heart for a family. If it weren’t for Guruji’s presence in my own life, I don’t know that I’d have been able to hold the space in my life for all that I have now. I wish deeply that Guruji could have met my son.
Sharath is my teacher, my role model and my inspiration. I am humbled by his energy, his dedication, and his grace. His humility is incredible and his love unconditional. Words cannot express my gratitude for his presence in my life journey. I humbly thank my teachers for their guidance, inspiration and love.
Krista, what advice do you have with mothers who are juggling the demands of young children and a family? How can they best structure their life to include the Ashtanga practice?
I know it sounds so simple, but the truth is you just have to make your practice a priority. As mothers we carry a lot of guilt about taking the time each day for ourselves to get on our mats and do our practice. That guilt can be a heavy, heavy burden. But I’ve always believed that I am a better mother because I make the time for my practice. Without daily practice I’m less focused, less energetic, more irritable, and in general don’t feel like my best self. So for all moms out there, MAKE YOUR PRACTICE A PRIORITY. Once you do that things will fall into place. I’ve always found it easiest to get up before everyone else to get to my mat. If I wait until there is an opportune time, it never comes. Trying to wait until you’ve gotten your kids ready for school, taken them to school, run errands etc doesn’t work because there is always going to be something else not planned for that adds to your day and your practice ends up at the bottom of the pile of to do’s for the day.
My best advice is to get into the habit of waking 2 hours or more before the rest of your house, and either rolling out your mat at home (one of the beauties of the practice we all love is that we can to do it anywhere), or get to your local shala first thing in the morning. It helps to have a supportive partner/husband who will be willing to stay at home with the children early in the morning while you practice or go to the shala to practice. That is not always possible, and if it isn’t then self practice at home works, and works well. Every persons situation is different and things will vary depending on how many children you have and how old they are, if you have a job or not, work from home or commute far away. But in general, I urge all moms to get up and get on the mat, even if its just 10, 20 or 30 minutes of asana, its something!
When my son was an infant I would always practice next to him at home as often as I could to get him used to seeing mommy do yoga. Those are not ideal practices because you do have to stop to tend to your child, but nearly five years later my son understands that mommy needs her special yoga time. He ‘gets’ it. As he moved from infant to toddler, unable to sit to walking, to talking, the dynamics of home practice changed. Some days were much easier than others but each day was a great day because I was putting the intention into my practice, into exposing my son to me doing my yoga, to teaching him this was important to me and for me. To this very day I still make sure to practice around him at least once per week to keep instilling in his mind that this is mommy’s time, this is special, this is important, and this makes mommy a better mommy for him.
Many mom’s have reached out to me over the years with questions about how to make practice work now that they are moms. Its hard, you are raising a child or children and you have limited time, limited energy, limited resources. Give yourself 30 days to make your practice habit. Regardless of how tired you are, get into a groove that works for your situation (ex. waking up at 4am and rolling out your mat at home before your husband and children wake up). Especially in the beginning, it doesn’t matter if you just roll out your mat and do a few sun salutations and final three asanas and rest, just get up and get to the mat. Day after day after day. Get used to doing that. Be prepared and get used to having to stop your practice multiple times to change a diaper, grab a toy, answer a question, tend to a screaming baby, get your kids dressed, etc. No, its not ideal, but its something! And with patience, devotion, acceptance, compassion you will make something special that makes up your current practice. Everyday will be different, just as it is on the mat without the distraction of children or the challenge of figuring out when and how you will fit it in.
We are a lineage of householders. I find such peace and humility and gratitude in that simple fact. We are meant to do this practice and be mothers and contribute to our society. This practice helps us become stronger, mentally, physically and spiritually. It teaches us so much about ourselves and the world. The tools to juggle it all are within. Don’t wait until there is a window of time you can squeeze it in. MAKE that window of time, and make that window during the quiet darkness of the early morning if at all possible. It is honestly the most peaceful time to take practice anyway. Above all, don’t give up! Keep trying, day after day after day. Keep chipping away at carving out time for yourself. You deserve it, you are worth it and you will find that you have so much more to give your children and family if you do!
Do you find the practice a microcosm or a reflection of the ebb and flow of life?
Ah great question! Personally, I find the practice a reflection of the ebb and flow of life. It is a mirror, mine and yours, to see, to taste, to FEEL all that IS. In those dark quiet moments moving and breathing with ourselves by ourselves for ourselves we are able to truly tap into who and what we are and how we see and interact with the world around us. Day by day, month by month, year by year we begin to see how the practice mirrors our lives and how our lives mirror our practice. We are able to slowly peel back layer after layer of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical debris. We slowly become vulnerable enough to truly feel it all but only because we are becoming stronger, through the act of daily practice. Strong enough to work through the things the practice is intended to help us face, acknowledge, accept, forgive, define, or walk away from.
In simple terms, we do the same practice day in and day out, ideally in the same location, at the same time, with the same people; YET, every single practice is different. Maybe you physically feel different today than yesterday, or your mind is less or more focused, you had a late night the night before or had a great sleep and feel like you can conquer the world. Every single day on the mat is different for a billion different reasons. The practice is the same but different. Every single day of our lives is different, for a billion different reasons - but we are living in the same body we lived in yesterday, seeing with the same eyes, breathing from the same lungs. Part of what makes this practice so ‘magical’ is its ability to help us understand and see and feel how our lives mirror our yoga and how our yoga mirrors our lives. If I stay up late I will be less energized for practice the next morning; if I eat dinner late I will feel heavy the next practice; if I argue with my partner I will bring that energy to my mat; if I…. I think (speaking from experience prior to yoga) many people who do not have this practice to turn to struggle to see the forest from the trees so to speak. Partly because the practice taps into and teaches us about our mind, body and soul connection. And partly because the act of DOING daily practice is one of the greatest teachers of all.
I am a different person now than I was twelve years ago when this practice found its way into my life, my soul. But I am only different because the consistency of daily practice instilled discipline and devotion and humility into my life. Slowly, slowly day by day I was able to start facing myself, the real me, the parts of me I hated, or feared, or didn’t understand. I was able to learn to love me for who I was, and who I wasn’t. I began to allow myself to heal and forgive and FEEL everything instead of pushing emotion into tiny crevices inside myself hoping they would one day disappear. And all of this, I realized, was a mirror of the rest of the ebb and flow of my life. I was beginning to face life, the parts I hated, the parts I feared, the parts I didn’t understand. I was slowly able to learn to love life for what it was, and what it wasn’t. Through daily practice, I have realized the practice is my mirror, my mirror into my own soul, my heart, my mind, AND the perfect reflection of life itself.
I do credit many of my ‘ah ha’ moments to this practice, this tool for life. It has and still is helping me to distinguish the ideals or beliefs that were pushed upon me by my culture or my family or my community. Some of those beliefs didn’t or don’t mesh with me deep down, and with lots of introspection on the mat, I have and continue to define who I am, what I stand for, what I believe in and what I want in and for my life and my family. This spills out from your mat to your daily life and continues to evolve and change, or ebb and flow. Its a never ending stream with no real beginning or end in sight. This is life. And what a beautiful life indeed!
How can students work through blockages in their practice or periods when motivation is low?
Blockages can be physical or emotional. They will come, many times over. Devotion and determination are what will ultimately get a practitioner through blockages. I believe that this practice is like a whirlwind romance in the beginning...the body feels good, the mind feels good, its like a high you want to get to your mat every day to get that feeling, mentally and physically. At some point a few months to a year after consistent daily practice the honeymoon phase ends and the ‘real’ practice begins. This is because the practice starts to really do its job of getting to the heart of your body and your mind. It starts to pull up and out old memories, thought patterns, emotions that we’ve tucked away deep into the crevices of our bodies and mind; the practice starts to reveal bad habits or physical patterns that we’ve carried with us most if not all of our lives up until the point we start taking daily practice. When this process starts to unfold it can be very painful, physically mentally or both. We become vulnerable and we might cry or feel anger out of the blue. Its not out of the blue because the yoga has been chipping away daily daily for some time but it appears to be an all of a sudden experience. We begin to question ourselves, our lives, our beliefs. This joyful feel good practice starts to feel anything but joyful or feel good...and our human minds begin to yearn to escape the ‘stuff’ that our daily practice is bringing to the surface. For me personally, I remember when this started and remember thinking, “what is this??!?! I’ve spent too many years pushing those emotions or memories down deep inside for them never again to see the light of day!” But this gorgeous practice is here to help us, here to free us, liberate us from all that baggage.
When a practitioner starts to face blockages in practice I implore them to face them head on. Do not question the practice, but embrace it all the more knowing it is here to help liberate you. The only way out is through and if practitioners can acknowledge that, see what’s happening for what it is, I think it makes the process easier. SURRENDER to the process, the practice, the work. Keep getting to the mat each day and face yourself, your ghosts, your past injuries as they resurface for you to tackle them head on. The difference between the first time you dealt with that pain or that fear or that insecurity is that now you have your daily practice to help you get through it, process it, understand it, forgive it, heal it….you are not alone now as you might have been in the past when you opted to swallow that pill or push down that fear or run from that confrontation. Every single experience we have leaves energetic debris in the body and the mind. Day by day, posture by posture, layer after layer brings these things to the surface for us to face and deal with once and for all.
The first step to working through blockages in the practice is to understand them for what they are. Once we can do that it is infinitely easier to work through them. Knowing that you are doing ‘the good work’ helps to face those blockages. I think its also consoling to know that there are Ashtanga practitioners all over this world, taking daily practice just like you, dealing with their own blockages just like you are. Our fears may be different, insecurities, emotions, past….we are all different living in different bodies, having a different human experience...but those of us blessed to have this practice are all dealing with our own ‘stuff’ on the mat and eventually off the mat as well. It brings me peace when I’m dealing with a blockage to have faith in this lineage, faith in Guruji and Sharath, faith in God, and faith in my own ability to get up and show up day after day regardless of what’s waiting for me on my mat. Devotion is also a massive component to being able to continue to face your ‘stuff’ when you get to your mat each day. Devotion is very personal and varies from person to person but if you can dig deep inside yourself and clearly identify what you are devoted to, you will find an infinite well of strength and resolve to keep on keeping on even when you feel its getting you nowhere.
Our practice is so sneaky. Guruji always taught asana first before any of the other limbs because it is tangible, we can feel it we can see it, we can gain discipline and determination and so much from asana. And those of us that dedicate ourselves fully will eventually embody the yamas and niyamas organically. Its once this begins to occur that the ‘blockages’ start to surface because we are then at a point we are strong enough mentally and physically to face and eventually overcome the blockages.
Have faith, stay determined, surrender to the process, don't lose hope, remember you are not alone, remind yourself daily that the only way out is through - the only way to freedom/liberation is by knocking down the physical and emotional and mental barriers that keep us imprisoned… Remember you are worth this, you deserve the best life has to offer, you are strong enough to do the good work. And, I’d suggest looking to meditation to help you as well.
When you face periods of time in your life that motivation for getting to your mat is low - I highly suggest taking a look at why? Do you feel unconnected to your practice somehow, do you feel out of place in the shala where you are practicing? Do you feel disconnected from your body? Are you having relationship issues? Are you having trouble at work? Are you making unhealthy choices with food or drink or even social situations? Are you staying up to late and therefore having trouble getting out of bed to get to the mat each day? There are a billion reasons why we might lose some inspiration for practice, and if we can pinpoint what those reasons are we can face them and make changes in our lifestyles, or recognize that we are giving too much power to external circumstances or people and in turn that is negatively affecting the practice we love so much. A big thing to keep in mind is that this isn’t about right or wrong, good or bad. Don’t use EXCUSES or BLAME because it isn’t necessary. By that I mean don’t tell yourself you are working too many hours at work so you can’t really find the time for your yoga right now; or your partner isn’t healthy and you feel some obligation to eat late or go to bed late with him/her therefore blaming the relationship or circumstance for your loss of motivation. Its all within us. We can find or re-discover the balance we once had in our lives to fit it all in, make it all work.
I strongly believe in meditation. It has always helped me maintain balance and motivation in my practice. If you don’t already have a sitting practice, try to start with just a few minutes each day before you take practice. Sit somewhere you are comfortable and pick a word or image and focus on that for five minutes. Set an alarm on your phone when you are starting out. Even if you don’t like sitting, especially at first, this will help you better set your intention for asana, and help you regain that accountability for it as well. I think some of us sometimes allow our lives into our practice in the mental sense; we rush there and rush through asana because we might lose that sacred distinction between ‘you time’ and the rest of the day. When they blur we might feel like we don’t have time for this yoga stuff because we have too many other things we must do. Then it becomes a chore, another thing we must cross off the list….and then its no longer a treat, a reprieve from life, but just another burden. Meditation even a few minutes a day will help re-define your ‘you time’ and WHY you need it and deserve it.
If you have a daily home practice you can do a lot to reinspire that motivation. If you practice in your kitchen or some non-dedicated place in your house, create a personal practice space that is only used for practice - it will make it a sacred space, one that you yearn to enter each day. Inside your personal sacred practice space create a personal altar. Put on that altar things that are meaningful to you. I have photos of guruji and sharath, my father, my son; trinkets that have meaning like some gemstones that are special, a buddha statue, weeping yogi statue, and other things that have meaning in my heart. I sit in front of that altar each day and meditate and pray before I start my asana practice and that altar alone has brought me tremendous inspiration each and every single day. If you practice at a shala take something small with you each day that has meaning, like a gemstone or a photo or mala beads. Something that you can place next to your mat. This is yet another tool you can use to remind yourself this is your special sacred time - something you deserve, something you need, something you are worthy of enjoying.
Any final thoughts?
I highly recommend working with gratitude. Its my greatest tool, my favorite thing! I ALWAYS take a few minutes sitting on my mat each morning before practice to give thanks for all the things in my life I’m grateful for. My yoga shala, my practice, my teachers are most certainly always included in that list. It not only helps me set my intention for my practice and my day, but brings my focus to the present, to this moment, and to the reasons why I take the time to take practice everyday. Throughout my asana practice I’ll bring my awareness to some of these things for which I’m grateful and at the end of practice, after I’ve chanted the closing mantra and taken rest, I sit up and move close to my altar and again give thanks. I usually end by saying, seven times, “God thank you for today.”
*photos provided by Krista Shirley
*Ashtanga Parampara thanks Lydia Teinfelt for editorial support
*Ashtanga Parampara thanks Lydia Teinfelt for editorial support