Family Life: The "Seventh Series" of Ashtanga Yoga

Pattabhi Jois called family life the Seventh Series of Ashtanga Yoga. Over the holidays, Neal Pollack tackles this most challenging practice of all.
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Pattabhi Jois called family life the Seventh Series of Ashtanga Yoga. Over the holidays, Neal Pollack tackles this most challenging practice of all.
Family dinner with children

I tried to do yoga over Thanksgiving. It wasn't very successful. We stayed at my boyhood house, which is quite large, with plenty of nooks for stealing away for some asana. But it has a lot of tile and thin walls, so sound carries. All day and evening, the house filled with the sounds of shrieking children and barking dogs (or vice versa), slamming doors, clanging dishes, and conversation carried out at a volume usually reserved for jet-engine assembly plants. This is as it should be; when my family gathers, we do so with noise. There were a lot of people around, plus the aforementioned dogs, none of whom appeared to respect the sanctity of the ancient practice designed to give me a clear, calm, and tranquil mind.

In past years, when I wanted to do yoga in Phoenix, I'd just borrow a car and visit a studio for an hour or so, where I'd pay $20 for some unsafe poses presided over by a woman who'd had more plastic surgery than Joan Rivers and who liked to play Jimmy Cliff songs very loudly during SavasanaBut I've reached a new level of parsimoniousness in my practice, where I only attend one donation class every other Sunday, and the rest of the time practice along with a website. This works great at home in the mornings, or if I'm in a hotel room, but doesn't really make sense at Family Holiday Grand Central Station.

To wit: One morning, I was in my parents' guest room, happily doing one of my favorite classes, "Yin For People Who Sit A Lot." In the middle of supta baddha whatever, my parents' dog, a genial schnauzerdoodle named Cosmo who suffers from severe separation anxiety, nosed open the door. He walked over my prone body, went into the adjoining bathroom, sniffed the garbage can, walked over me again, and left the room. Before I had a chance to close the door, my own dog, a sweet, palsied, ancient Boston Terrier named Hercules, decided this was an excellent time to come into the room and lick my ankles. Somewhere in the near distance, children were having a screaming fight over the remote control.

Five minutes later, I was in Pigeon Pose on the right side. My wife entered, loudly slamming the door behind her. She stepped over my body.

"Do you mind?" I said.

"Sorry," she said. "I have to put on my makeup."

"You have no respect for yoga," I said.

"Not this week, I don't," she said.

Pattabhi Jois was fond of calling family life the "Seventh Series" of Ashtanga Yoga, the most challenging series of all. Your family knew you before you started your "sacred" practice. They understand all your tricks and all your bullshit. They're not impressed by your Pincha Mayurasana. If you're a little calmer and less selfish than you used to be, well, that's for you to know, don't expect credit. Rarely will the extended family admit you've improved, and why should they? If you're doing yoga to impress your family, you're doing it for the wrong reasons. The best you can hope for is that they'll acknowledge you're not particularly overweight at the moment.

The day after Thanksgiving, I was home alone in the house for a blissful hour and a half. I should have started my practice the second everyone left, but there was so much eating and reading and standing around to do. Plus, I caught Hercules eating a mesquite charcoal briquette and had to deal with that. Finally, I sat down for a half-hour of light pelvic movement and somatic breathing, like a real man. Halfway through, my brother-in-law, my son, and my darling nieces appeared. They opened the door to find me on the floor, shirtless, gently moving my hips back and forth.

"Eww!" my niece said. "Put a shirt on, Uncle Noodle!"

She calls me Uncle Noodle.

"All my shirts are in the laundry," I said. "Wanna see me do a headstand?"

"Oh my God, no," she said. "That would be disgusting!"

If you ever need to stop taking your yoga so seriously, spend a week with your family. It will cure you. The Seventh Series never ends.