My experiments with Ashtanga Yoga Part Three by Matt Ryan

25th November 2014

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The kids are alright

I was recently asked by my Zen teacher Brad Warner if I would contribute to a book he is currently writing on the practice of meditation. The specific chapter he wanted my input to was about how to practice meditation when you have children. I started to practice zazen ( the zen form of meditation ) seriously about 3 years ago and consider it to be an integral part of my life , so when Agnes Boo came along a little over 14 months ago I knew I would have to adapt the way I practiced both zazen and Ashtanga Yoga. imageThe first 3 months were easy as Agnes would be sleeping a lot so there were no real interruptions , and when she needed a little comforting I was able to get creative with my zazen practice – see photo . Over the past 12 months or so both my practices have seen the yo-yo effect – sometimes I practice a lot and sometimes I practice very little. If Agnes needs looking after that is my priority and everything else takes a back seat.

Brad had mentioned in one of his books that his first zen teacher would always advise getting on the cushion – even if it was for ’10 lousy minutes’. So I always try to keep that teaching in mind for both the mat and zafu (meditation cushion). Indeed the Ashtanga guru Sri K Pattabhi Jois advocated that if time was short then 3 A , 3 B sun salutation sequences and the last 3 finishing postures of the Ashtanga practices was sufficient –which will take you about 10 minutes – try it for yourself.

I see both the practices of zazen and yoga postures as tools to help live a more healthy life – both mentally and physically. My greatest ever teaching was to my sister a few years back when she asked me if Yoga could help get rid of the lines around her eyes , I responded with ‘Yoga will not get rid of those lines but will surely help you to live them’

When children enter our lives we have to be both creative and realistic with our ‘tools’. Sometimes our practice might amount to 10 lousy minutes, sometimes we might get longer. I think if you’re getting angry that you can’t do your practice one day due to childcare duties you’re losing sight of what the practices are there for. The practice will help you understand and accept that sometimes you can’t do the practice. Those of us who do have kids (Agnes is my third) all know that they know better than anyone (even ourselves) which buttons to press to get our attention and to drive us round the bend. They give us all the more reason to make that special effort to practice– even if that effort means getting up early in the morning before they do, to get on the mat. Agnes’s current favourite game is picking up her water cup and throwing on the floor over and over and over again. Oh the joy to be my 14 month old child’s personal slave – I can’t wait to get up at 5am in the morning to practice after a few games of that.

 The Sacred Triangle

A friend told me recently that she’d had read a blog post by a respected Ashtanga Yoga teacher who was castigating students for adding in so called ‘advanced’ postures. Apparently this teacher made a point of saying that only certain people (i.e. like him) could do these ‘advanced’ postures. This kind of thinking always saddens me as it really does set up this ‘holier than thou’ attitude about postures and sequences – almost setting them up as ‘sacred cows’. For me the only potentially scared thing about yoga postures is the person that is doing them.

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Comments

  • Nicola H

    I was interested to read your article about children and yoga. We have two now and keeping the practice going when you are wired with tiredness is hard. Days when I don’t feel so tired are a joy to practice on but yes, the children do come first, but this is just a short phase in their lives and if we are wise, we learn patience, tolerance and understanding – the phrase ‘a maintenance’ practice springs to mind . The true challenge comes with other yogi’s and children – y/ours I might add, not their own. I am sad to say that going to ashtanga workshops and events with children has left me feeling very alienated and actually quite saddened due to the response that the little ones, and us as parents get. Surely as so many ashtangi’s get together there is scope to embrace having the little ones joining us, afterall, they will be the ones carrying on the lineage. I live in hope x