Guruji was always a big supporter of families. He said that Ashtanga is “householder” yoga and that family was “Seventh Series”. I have mentioned this in passing in many of these musings but thought I might take this opportunity to explore it in more detail. Especially since those of you who know me know how much my own family means to me and how much this informs my own practice and teaching.
I guess the first lessons of family come from being a son/daughter. There is an interesting parallel between this relationship and the one we have with our practice and our Guru. To start off with our parents are all powerful. We depend on them entirely and follow their lead in all aspects of our lives. Then we start testing the limits of that relationship, looking for boundaries. Later, as we develop our own personalities and intelligence we start to question and challenge our parents and everything they represent. Then later still we learn to appreciate what our parents gave to us. The love they gave and the sacrifices they made. We come to see how much of who we are comes from them. Later still, our roles are reversed a little with us helping our parents to understand and navigate their way through a hugely changed social environment. We learn to have compassion and patience with our parents as they age and their minds and bodies aren’t as sharp as they once were. I am in this stage with my remaining parent and without the practice I doubt I could be as forgiving, gentle and supportive with my Mum as she needs me to be.
Some also participate in their families as siblings. I consider myself lucky to be one of 5 children, but there are some huge lessons there. It is amazing and wonderful how different siblings can be, even when sharing the same upbringing. Learning to recognise and accommodate those differences at close quarters is a huge challenge. The reward is that ability to love one’s brothers and sisters despite the differences. Especially into adulthood when lifestyles and outlooks can diverge. I enjoy every moment I spend with the majority of my siblings. We laugh and eat and sing together and the shared bond of our upbringing makes any differences we now have meaningless. I do have a sibling who chooses not to share those moments with us and there is a lesson in that for me as well. Allowing her to be who she is without feeling resentment or negativity is a work in progress.
I am also partner/husband/friend/lover, the list goes on, to Victoria. What a blessing it is to have her in my life. You know, when Guruji did a small marriage ceremony for us almost 20 years ago, at the end of it he pointed his finger at me and said, “You, 100 years no diversing! You hear me! 100 years.” It turns out that was one of the easier things to do that he asked of me. Which is not to say that there are not challenges. No relationship is all smooth sailing. They all require compromise and good communication to thrive. There is a parallel in this relationship and the practice as well. To start off with it is all passion and fire. Over time this evolves in a deeper more gentle and enduring love more like the glow of fire that is produced by coal. This can still be fanned into the flames of passion by circumstance or choice, but is always there. After 26 years together it still amazes me how much in love with Victoria and the practice I am.
Not least of all I am father to my 2 beautiful children. Holly is 18 now and Iggy is nearly 16. They are growing up and I am having to learn to give them the space to do that. Parenting is such a huge topic. We all do it differently and I am not going to remotely pretend to be an expert at it. I will say that I am forever grateful that I had found and established myself in a strong and steady Yoga practice before I became a parent.
Those of you who know us will also know that my son, Iggy is transgender. Nothing could have prepared me for the challenge and the wonder of this. I had next to no experience of what it means to be transgender before the beautiful person that Iggy is came into my life. The learning is huge, but the good thing is that the challenges that we face and that Iggy himself particularly faces, we do as a family in support of each other.
Yoga has taught me that the people in my family are people who I have a strong and special Karmic relationship to. The beauty of this is that it gives you the opportunity to sort out that Karma, because if you don’t do it in this life then you’ll have to do it some time. This understanding also teaches me that every connection I have with every person/being I come in contact with carries the same potential. You have the choice. You can use every contact you have to address Karma, or to create new Karma. The new Karma you create can either be positive or negative. You choose. In every moment of every day, you choose. Now that is Seventh Series Ashtanga!