Writing and editing

Ram Vakkalanka teaches philosophy, chanting and Sanskrit at our studio. Our practice and general studio philosophy is so intense and focused, I think we need to get a little spun out. Also, my home study habits are poor and inextricably linked to deadlines, reading lists and essays. That is to say, when I have a quiet moment, I don’t often curl up with the Yoga Sutras if I could check my email fifteen times in five minutes instead. Taking classes and talking with Ram when I can has added a great deal of depth to my practice and my teaching. Which is not to say that I am not still the same ignorant jerk – I am! But at least I feel like I am getting my toes wet, instead of standing on the beach complaining of the heat. Do you know what I mean?

The ocean metaphor is apt for Ram, because dude knows a whole bunch. Sometimes, David and I meet with him and we can ask him ANYTHING and he will, no joke, talk for an hour on the subject. Often by the end of the hour I feel like i have been tossed about in a strong wave. I am pretty sure I have asked him the SAME question and he has talked for an hour differently about it, trying to get me to catch a glimpse of the surface, or the bottom – I’m not sure which.

Our last “Chanting the Yoga Sutras” session with Ram, I asked him why my job as a parent made non-attachment or the idea of a dual world of Purusha (pure consciousness, soul or spirit) and Prakriti (our mind-body systems, the physical and not true manifestations of Purusha) seem so unappealing. I feel like I need to believe this reality because my son is in it. I feel confused as to why anyone would want to be enlightened because it might move you further from your children.  How could I want to be un- attached to my child?

He told me that my son didn’t actually belong to me. I don’t own him, the universe is just creating him through me. And somehow this made perfect sense. I see myself in him, and I see David – but Holden is also something entirely different. My three year old corrects me on the difference between jellyfish and siphonophores – and the importance of that difference is not either of us. Funny, how I can know this about myself as a child. That I am same but different from my mom and dad. And while they tried their best to help me learn how to be a good person –  I am my own person, good or bad. Separate from them, but connected to them. I know this, and maybe have always known this about who I am as a daughter, buI have trouble with the same idea as a mom.

Ram said, like a good babysitter. You can love the children in your care very much and make sure they are safe and protected. Teach them right from wrong and be present and engaged with them.  But at the end of the day, a good babysitter knows those children do not belong to her. Non-attachment parenting. I found this so beautiful.

Speaking of attachment parenting. I read a lot about it before I had my son. I tried to follow the tenets to the letter. because so much of it made sense to me like baby wearing. After Holden was born, my reaction to the books changed, and when I read the same books – I felt guilty and cruel. The books didn’t change, I suppose I just became much more tired. I became convinced about my own failings as an “attached” parent to my baby, Recently, I started reading book on attachment parenting and it brought me back to those same thoughts and feelings. Like a little cognitive loop in my head. The lesson here, for me, is that I can’t parent according to a certain set of rules. Most of the time, I just have to get up in the morning and try not to be an asshole. At the end of the day, I have to forgive myself if I was an asshole, apologize to my kid  and attempt to do better tomorrow. I recognize that is a sad parenting philosophy. I think I like the babysitter idea better.

Next week I am going to ask Ram to write a book on Non-Attachment Parenting.

He wasn’t so sure if skating was going to be his thing when he watched every kid go by and wipe out. But I told him he would have to hold my hand so I didn’t fall and that seemed to do the trick.

His favourite part was the “caution/danger” tape strung across the steps to the parking lot so that you wouldn’t be tempted to fling yourself off the rink into a car.

I often need parenting advice. Thankfully, I go to the studio everyday and there I can ask any number of sweet, sensible moms and dads for their two cents. Because we now live in little isolated family units, and since I can’t just go ask the village elder when I have a problem that I don’t want to email my sister about, I turn to the interweb to guide me. I am happy for the amazing resource that is the world wide web, but it does sort-of concern me for two reasons:

1. If I am raising my child through internet advice, that means other people are certainly doing the same and I’m not sure what that means for our kids because…

2. The interweb is full of crazies.

Recently, I googled “three year old won’t wash hair” because Holden screams and yells and generally freaks out whenever he gets his hair washed. We start out okay, until Holden gets worked up about a drop of water on his forehead. And then, without fail the whole thing ends in a big pile of shampoo, water, and tears. We reached a low point last month, when fed up after several months of the aforementioned screaming, I told him that his hair would have to be cut off if he couldn’t wash it without starting WWIII every week. That was a shitty thing to say, and it made him cry and freak out more. After I put him to bed that night I decided I had officially reached the end of my parenting skills on that particular issue. So I turned to the bastion of good parenting, Google.

There are always three distinct parenting camps on those discussion boards. There are the Yahoo Answers type, that generally favour corporal punishment, the BabyCenter moms that have week-long cutesy project ideas, and then the far-out radical parenting sites.

The three pieces of advice I gleaned from the discussion boards:

1. Smack your child so he knows who is in charge. (Yahoo Answers)

2. Buy foamy stars and beautiful shapes and stick them to the ceiling above your sink. Buy an insert to wash your child’s hair beauty parlour style in the sink. Make up nice songs and a short musical about hair washing. Build the sets and cast your pets in the production. Perform on the street for change and then use that money to take a course on towel making. Make the most beautiful soft towel and present it to your child in a candlelit ceremony at his favourite toy store. (babycenter)

3. My child hasn’t taken a bath in over a year. I forced him to wash once a year ago, and he cried. That night I lay on the kitchen floor and sobbed in the darkness for hours because I knew I had broken his trust forever. I vowed then to never force him to wash his hair. I can see that it is dirty and he has crusty spots on his scalp. Sometimes I gently suggest a bath and he says “NO BATH” I am sure he will take a bath one day. I know yours will too! (radical unschooling site)

Okay, so I exaggerated a little with number 2, but 1 and 3 are almost word for word suggestions by ACTUAL PARENTS who posted their opinions because they think they are doing right by their kids. That night in bed, I told David what I had read. We both lay awake feeling worried for our future.

The next morning, I understood something – something I felt I had known all along but it took some creepy parents to make it clear: Parenting is about being the fucking adult. All the time. Even when you want to cry in the kitchen for hours or hit someone or whatever crazy thing you think might be okay at the time but actually totally isn’t. You have to take a step back and take a breath and say, “Ok, self. I am screwing this up. It is my job to fix it.” And that is a really hard thing to do. At least for me because I like to blame other people for my problems. But this parenting stuff, this is my problem, my joy, my heartache. I alone have to answer for my actions or inaction.

That day, I asked Holden if he didn’t like getting water in his eyes. He said he didn’t. So, David held a towel over his eyes tightly while I washed his hair. Then we chanted his name for five minutes because he didn’t freak out. When he got out of the bath, he said he wanted to cut his hair. Voila! Stanny and David, 1. Google Parenting, 0.

Just so you don’t think I waste all my time googling parenting questions, today I googled historical photos of Bowood and Lawrence, where the studio is located in Toronto. I found this on the Toronto Public Library’s site.

It is St. Leonard’s Anglican church, it was moved further south. But the picture, and the implicit tumbleweeds, it made me think that our funny small location might be a little point of focus. And I was really happy. Amazing, no?

I also recently googled “What Girls Character Are You?” And I completed three different quizes which all came up with the EXACT same answer. Which means it is Poll Time!

Stuck for gifts for the Ashtangi in your life? I compiled a short list for y’all

1. Toe skin: I remember seeing the tape around Sharath’s big toes in Goa and wondering if it was some sort of elaborate prop. Nope, I soon learned, your toe skin just peels off in large chunks and makes you bleed toe blood on your manduka when you jump back. You will wrap your toe in scotch tape, popsicle wrappers, anything, to stop the pain before going back in and jumping back on your bloody toe over and over again. And guess what? They don’t really ever heal. Or when they do , you get a short respite before you feel something one day catch on your sock and a shiver of pain goes up your leg and you realize your goddamn toe is splitting again. One day, David was teaching me the headstands in intermediate and I watched, as I slammed my feet down 7 fucking times, the trail of blood on my purple rug get thicker and thicker. Did I stop? No way! I was learning the end of intermediate – you wouldn’t stop either. Do you think this toe bleeding might be an alignment issue? Save it sister. Just get the Ashtangi on your list some baby soft lovely new toe skin to fuck up.

2. A night where everyone eats at 4.30 and then goes to bed at 8: Ahh, bliss! A big meal as the kids are getting out of school and then to bed while it is still light out. Perhaps a romantic night in a senior’s residence would fill the same criteria.

3. Coconut water IV drip: Ashtangis have been loving coconut water since before Madge got her sinewy hands around a VitaCoco. Maybe even from before Madge played a yoga teacher in that movie and did poses from Advanced A. In Mysore, the residents give major side-eye to the yoga students who sit and flirt at the coconut water stand all day because they think there is something nefarious going on. I am not saying there isn’t, all I know for sure is that you sort of NEED a coconut after practice. Last week I had a stomach flu that went through me quickly for one day. The next day I was excited because it gave me an excuse to buy a very large container of coconut water and drink it all myself. If you could somehow figure out how to put coconut water into an iv drip, that would be the best yogi present ever.

4. A life: Sometimes when you hang out with a group of Ashtangis they start to wistfully reminisce about when they had a “life”. Which I guess means the time in your life when you could eat or drink whatever you wanted whenever you wanted it and you stayed up late and slept in until noon. I think that is also part of not being 17 anymore, but what do I know?  On the flip side of senior’s residence night, you could take the Ashtangi you love for an all out full moon bender! Chances are he or she will be in bed by 8, but it is exciting to try.

5. Anything from this man:

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He is wicked funny and is an awesome teacher. He is also hot and when you buy his shit it keeps Mama Stan in bling (or in a small house on the edge of Scarborough) so I can write more super informative posts about Ashtanga. Win/win baby!

Alright. Ho Ho Ho! Don’t say I never gave you nuttin.

Spring:

Spring happened in Toronto in the last couple of weeks. The leafless, grey and brown in between lasted all of April and I felt so lushy rewarded in May. I love the first mutable colours of spring. How can bright pink look green and yellow? I lay down on my porch and looked up at the tree in my back yard. The first reddish oak leaves have begun to bud. Often I look up at that tree and think, “This is MY tree.” And then I feel foolish. The oak is 100 years old and just happens to be within the made-up boundaries of my yard. The tree experts say it will live another 100.. It was there well before I was born, and inshallah, it will be there after I die. Like spring, I suppose I am just passing through.

Primary Series:

After my trip to Mysore in September, I stayed with my Mysore practice – primary up to kapotasana for a couple of months. I slowly added poses on and only just recently dropped primary. This week, David added Karandavasana – the pose I was on in August, my last pose. I didn’t have a big injury or anything, my shoulder hurt a bit. I did feel like I had no stability in my practice. I felt I couldn’t push myself anymore without breaking and I needed to ground. After a month in Mysore I felt so much better, that I decided to keep primary for a while.

Here is a little demo of Karandavasana by David:

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And one by Sharath:

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This is a picture of me doing it:

In August, I couldn’t lotus up legs without support. After a week of trying now, I can lotus them, and although I fall loudly and obnoxiously, I can feel my legs brush my upper arms as I come down. I feel like this is possible, but in August after months of practice it was not even remotely close. All this to say, I think primary series is amazing. It is restorative, and also strengthening. It is a game changer. I love you primary!

Ralph

My son is quite friendly. Friendly and very sensitive. He says “hello” and “Whacha doing?” to every child he meets. Most kids, because they are kids, just stare at him and continue doing what they were doing. And then Holden stands there for a good five minutes “Hello, whacha doing? whacha doing? whacha doing?” Often I start to feel a little embarrassed for him and so I answer for the kids. Which is a little like when people ask your dog a question.

The other day, David and I were talking about the upcoming changes to Holden’s daycare.

David: Does he have friends at daycare?

Stan: The kids seem to like him. He doesn’t hit and he doesn’t get in your face or anything. He is so friendly with everyone, but

David: Is it reciprocated?

Stan: Well, maybe not. But that might be the age.

David. Is he like that boy on the Simpsons?

Stan: “My cat’s breath smells like cat food”

David starts to type away at the computer.

David: Oh god, Stan. You have to see this.

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Oh god, my son might be Ralph Wiggum.

I am happy he is friendly, I would rather he was friendly than he just stared at people who greeted him. And I know enough kids that you often don’t get to choose whether your kid says Hi automatically or stares blankly – at least for the first little while. I worry in the future that he won’t have any friends. But then I worry that my anxiety and worry will crush him and he won’t have any friends because he is all twisted. So, I try not to worry and believe that he is strong enough to have bad days and pick himself back up. And then I worry that I am not worrying enough about this whole thing.

If you are thinking about having kids. don’t.

categories: Ashtanga yoga, AYCT, baby, Mysore
tags:

This week for the first time I experienced car barfing.

Just to give a little background:

1. My car is a mess. Okay, a certain kind of mess. Like once, I had a friend from university that I met in Vermont and she drove up in her car and it was FILLED with stuff. She used her trunk as a drawer for her clothing. I am pretty sure she had a home or at least that is what she told me at the time. Regardless, my car isn’t my clothing drawer but it is covered in dog hair and dust and crumbs and straw wrappers and tiny rocks that my son collects and leaves from 2010. I started apologizing about the state of my car maybe a year ago. When I apologize, my friends don’t say “Oh! It isn’t that bad!” they say, “Oh, don’t worry – you have a kid, you must be busy.” So, you can tell that it must be fucking gross.

2. At Holden’s  daycare you need a doctor’s note for everything. The other day, I had to get a doctor’s note for diaper rash that was – no joke –  about the size of your pinky fingernail. It takes a month to get an appointment with my doctor, so I have to go to a walk-in and I don’t trust walk-in doctors because if you went to med school why would you work at a walk-in? I am pretty sure most walk-ins are portals to hell. My hatred and fear of walk-ins often lead me to act irrationally (read: like a bad mother).

So, barf in the car.

I picked Holden up. He was eating oranges. We walked outside and I popped him in the car seat. I was just about to buckle him in when he said, “Oh, sorry mommy!” And then he barfed everywhere. The seat in front of him, his clothes, his car seat, the boot mat below him. It was orange. “Oh, sorry mommy!” he said again. And then barfed again and again and again. Each time, I held out my hand to catch the vomit.

Let’s take a moment here to reflect. What on earth is the instinct that causes us to put out our hands to catch our child’s vomit? I can’t actually catch all of it. It runs through my fingers. Why do I do that? On the same note I have also found myself fishing poo out of the bathtub with my hands. What is that all about?

Anyway, a good mother would have marched back in to the daycare, washed everything off and gotten a new batch of clothes. But I knew I would have to take him to a walk-in clinic. And even though I would catch his poo and barf in my hands, I will not go to the plague-ridden walk-in.

I had five wipes. i took off Holden’s clothes and stripped the car seat. The vomit has soaked through and was in the styrofoam. I popped him in the back seat and buckled him in – which is illegal and extremely naughty of me. I used four wipes for his face and hands, one for my hands and I drove home. Well, not before texting Mercedes and asking her to bring every cleaning product and utensil we had in the house and put it on the lawn so I could clean the car.

The New York Times made a cool video about Eddie Stern that I watched a few months ago. Eddie is so cool, I want to call him a hipster, but he is way cooler than that. And he lives in New York that is so cool, and his studio is cool and his temple is cool. Sigh. One the many cool things he talks about is nurturing independence with the Ashtanga technique.

I have been thinking about that a lot with my teaching and with my own practice. Where do I demand attention? When do I relinquish responsibility for my practice and say it is difficult because of an adjustment or the room or the time of day or my body type? How can I transmit the responsibility that Sharath makes me accept to the students who come to my class? This has been one of the hardest lessons for me in Ashtanga because I am quite fearful.

The longer I am a parent, the easier (although still totally challenging) that part of the practice becomes. I love those practices when I go all the way through without speaking to anyone. It doesn’t happen often because I love saying stupid shit to my teachers when they come to help me with backbending or whatever. With parenting that independence can be way spookier because you are the last stop on the responsibility train. But taking that responsibility can be so liberating. The panic I felt holding puke on the street faded in a few short minutes and that night the car was cleaned, the laundry folded and the child bathed by his big sister and asleep. I think it is important to remind ourselves of the many small and magical victories of self reliance and independence we achieve every day. on the mat and off.

And just so you know, that night Holden threw up three more times. Each time I put my hand out.

When I was a little girl, I thought every farmer had a couple pigs, a couple cows and some chickens. And then one day while everyone was minding their own business on the farm, the farmer (always a man?) would come out and shoot one of the pigs – Charlotte’s Web style – and then we would have bacon the next day at our house. I loved bacon, but I thought that arrangement was horribly unfair for he pig. My dad egged me on a little and on my 8th birthday I stopped eating meat. I started up again years later, but for a while I ate chip hotdogs at birthday parties and picked the pepperoni off my pizza.

Now I know that we don’t raise meat that way – or at least we don’t raise meat that way anymore. My whole family, except for the cat is vegan and I try to do whatever I can to support vegan organizations and spread the word about how awesome it is being vegan. You do feel so much better. Since I became a mom I had to really think about my choices and if they were safe for my baby. So far, Holden has been a very healthy guy and we are lucky that he has such a big appetite. As a mom, I feel kind of emotional about what breeding food mammals have to go through in a factory farm. Mercedes and Holden are my everything, and it is difficult to think of the horrific nightmare of being constantly pregnant and having your babies taken away over and over again to be eventually killed.

Anyway, I get to keep my baby, so my baby is walking for all the animals who don’t. On September 29th, while his sister and the AYCT team are walking for farm animals in Toronto,  Holdy will be walking on Chamundi Hill. Maybe not all the way up, but certainly up enough to get freaked out by the monkeys (okay that is step number one).

All the proceeds go to Farm Sanctuary. If you donate, I promise to send you a picture of Holden in his official Farm Sanctuary Walk for Farm Animals tee with the monkeys. He is very proud of his t-shirt which came in the mail for him and is for a child 10x bigger. It has a picture of a pig on it, which Holden assures me is actually a dinosaur. So, maybe he will be walking for dinosaurs, I don’t have the heart to tell him that it is a lost cause.

Here is the link to his donation page, with a super cute picture of him. Totally worth the clickity click.

Here is a picture of Holden at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York this year, petting a goat:

And just a short drive from Farm Sanctuary is a place to get vegan ice cream. it was a big day.

category: AYCT
tags:

I am teaching Kids Yoga again for a couple weeks. I love it, mainly because they are so funny.

This week we talked about Ganesh and I tried to tell the cleanest, least violent version of how he got his elephant head while emphasizing the sweets and the rat skateboard.

Girl 1: Where is the rat?

(I point it out on a picture I am holding)

Boy #1: Oh I see it. So, what do you think his dad used to cut off his head?

Boy #2: Probably a knife.

Stan: It doesn’t matter really, it is more important that he has an elephant head now.

Boy #1: Besides you can’t cut off a head with a knife.

Boy #2: Yes you can.

Stan: Really it is about  his new head though.

Boy #1: No you can’t, you would have to cut through lungs and stuff.(Indicates neck and makes a cutting motion by his throat).

Boy #2: A really sharp knife.

Stan: Let’s get back to Ganesh at craft time.

Boy # 1 (considers): Maybe a really sharp knife

Craft Time

Stan ( to Boy #1): Which Ganesh colouring page would you like?

Boy # 1: Oh, I don’t want one. Could you tell me the story about how he got his head cut off one more time?

categories: Ashtanga yoga, AYCT, baby
tags: ,

Now that Holden is in daycare, I am learning about a new little world. It is funny to think of this whole new tiny solar system. The daycare workers are the mini-stars and we all revolve around them.  The two of us are just learning about the system and our place inside of it. I wonder how it will seem when we are familiar with its inner workings.

I suppose the studio is it own universe, and our little home is a teeny circular buzz of energy bumping into the bigger spheres of the studio, Mysore, and our friends and family.

I remember practicing at another studio many years ago, a woman told me that she liked me because I was nice – even though I didn’t have to be because David was a teacher. Hahahaha!

It stuck with me, because I always thought I had to be nice to people because my husband is a yoga teacher. Well, no really, it stuck with me because it was interesting how insular and sometimes a bit twisted our worlds can become. Which is why it is good to have a couple tops spinning at the same time.

Cheers to new tops, new irons in the fire, new solar systems discovered.

Also, I like new moon days.

categories: Ashtanga yoga, AYCT
tags: ,

My husband is becoming someone who gets quoted. People who like to justify drinking quote Oscar Wilde, and people who like to justify crazy Ashtanga practices quote David. Sadly, fewer people are interested in getting up at the crack of dawn to torture themselves, than people who are interested in getting up at noon after a night of binge drinking only to feel tortured. Although, having done both – I understand the appeal.

Here are a couple of good quotes that I stole from this article:

“Admire the work, not the practice”

“Integrating yoga into your life makes everything else all the more possible.”

Here is one that Indians like, “I am 40 years old. I’m from the West. What do I know about yoga?”

My recent favourite quote, upon walking into a polling station on election day:

“Stan, brace yourself. This room is filled with people who only work one day a year.”

The other day I saw a Facebook update with a David quote – but it wasn’t attributed to anyone. And I thought. holy shit. He is becoming the “they’ in “That’s what they say.”

I will leave you with another classic:

“Looking at the water and eating chocolate isn’t perverted.”

Its official, yo!

The longer you wait to do something, the worse it becomes. And then people start asking, “When are you going to do that thing you do?” But you still don’t do it. And then people stop asking. And when someone does ask, other people answer for you, “Oh she doesn’t do that anymore.” and you start to wonder – do I do that anymore? Did I enjoy it? Why did I stop? Should I wait until I feel like it, or just do it despite my mood?

Anyway, I am sorry for being a bad blogger. I am also sorry that my last post was three months ago and it employed the totally cheap-ass blogger tactic of a quote with a few pictures of a baby. Lame.

This morning I was listening to David and Mercedes talk about a private student that Mercedes just took on. Mercedes mentioned that  she had told her to practice three times a week and asled of that was OK. David said, “Tell her everyday and then she will balk, and then you tell her to do as much as she can. Do less more frequently.”

I resolve to approach my blog like a bad ashtangi. I am going to blog three days a week. NIce short blogs.

See, look I’m done already.

Oh, wait –  have you seen this movie? Holden is in it, and it sounds a bit like child abuse when EK filmed the bit about us going to the studio in the morning. My mother-in-law says it is awfully long, even though it is about her son. Shrug. I like it. Especially the Holden bit.

http://www.vimeo.com/26696506

Oh, and David says he wants you to come to Kino. Actually, you really should if you live in Toronto. People like to get in a tizzy about her short shorts and her role as a popularizer of the ashtanga tradition. I really like her. She is the real deal. Super sweet, generous with her time and energy, a gifted adjuster, and an incredibly knowledgeable teacher. And she looks good in those shorts.

See you this week.