Monthly Archives: November 2006

Ashtanga Yoga and the Path to Purification

Yoga is the path of purification and transformation. This means, that we can expect to go through many different changes physically, mentally and emotionally throughout the course of our practice.


The Wheel of Life

Generally, any kind of transitional movement in our practice goes from the grosser aspects of our selves to the subtler. What this means is that we are apt to go through more physical changes initially and, over time, we will experience more subtle changes to our mental and emotional states.

Yoga is a process in which we are attempting to awaken and bring forth the more essential parts of our selves. By using the word, “essential”, I mean those parts of our selves that are transcendent and do not change over time.

The further we move away from what is natural or essential in our selves, the more “extra” elements we carry around with in our lives. We eat more than we need to, own more possessions than is needed, talk more than is necessary and so on. It is not so much the fact that


Fierce Devotion

we live with these extra elements, it is the attachment and identification we form with these things that is so harmful and causes such suffering. The stronger the attachment and identification with these extra elements, the more we are apt to forget our essential selves. Having an awareness of the essential aspects of selves is, in many ways, the essence of what Yoga practice is all about.

So, when we embark upon the path of Yoga, we begin to practice and live our lives in such a way as to begin to let go of these “extras”.

What you can expect initially is that your body will begin to go through some very strong and often dramatic changes, especially in the first six months of intense and dedicated daily Ashtanga yoga practice. You will begin to develop what is known as “tapas” or heat in your practice, in your body. This will result in profuse sweating (of course in some more than others). For some, very strong odors will emit from the body. Many people experience changes to their skin. Their skin will break out in acne, rashes and such. In more extreme cases, some people develop very large boils.


Eyes of the Truth

Other mild to stronger symptoms of purification will begin to appear for most practitioners. It is very common to see the increased occurrence of colds and flu and fevers, as well as, headaches, drowsiness and light-headedness. It is important to honor and respect these kinds of changes, as they can be quite deep in one’s system. I recommend that you take extra time to rest and be quiet. You can also be mindful of your tendency towards “busyness” and begin to reduce the general number of activities in your day.

Naturally, because the asana practice is so rigorous, you can expect strong changes to your physique and overall health of your body. You will get significantly stronger in a very integrated and well-balanced fashion. In particular the “core” strength of your body will improve. The “core” refers to the area of the lower trunk and pelvic regions. Strength in these areas has been shown to dramatically increase the function of balance, smoothness of motion and speed of reflexes. It is common knowledge that athletic performance can be improved significantly through the development of one’s core strength. Flexibility of all areas of your body should increase dramatically.


Govinda Kai in Samakonasana, October 2006

One area of improvement that is often overlooked is the increased functionality of the gastro-intestinal system. The frequency of forward bends in asana practice very powerfully cleans out and reconditions our digestive organs. Most people in our modern culture and society, because of unhealthy diets and stress, have some degree of bowel or digestive dysfunction. Constipation and excess gas are the norm for most people. One report stated that many people carry up to 20-30 kilos of undigested feces in their bodies at any one time! A well functioning gastro-intestinal system is vital to the optimal functioning of our immune system and hormonal balances. Overall mental and physical health is dramatically affected by the state of our digestive systems.


A Fine Balance

Thus, one of the areas of focus as we dive deeper into our practices, is the greater and greater level of mindfulness and care of what, when and how we put food into our bodies. I will speak more elaborately on this topic at some other time.

Now, as you begin to become healthier and more in tune physically, you will begin to become sensitive and aware of subtler aspects of your self. For example, you will begin to notice that your senses will generally begin to increase in acute sensitivity. Your sense of smell and sight and hearing will be sharper and clearer. You will feel temperature and pressure changes in different parts of your body in a way that you never have before. Many people report an increased sensitivity and depth to their sense of taste. What was once flavorful before will begin to taste overly salty, bitter, savory or sweet. You will find yourself beginning to crave foods that have subtler or even plain flavors.


Guruji in Laxmipuram, July 2002

The process of purification will begin to affect you mentally, emotionally and psychically as well. Usually chronic imbalances in one’s system generally become more acute before any deep healing takes place. You will find that your thoughts and your emotions will become more intense and frenetic at times causing periods of great discomfort. Bad moods and bouts of edginess and impatience are common during this time. Although it may seem like you are going crazy at times, this part of the process is important and necessary, so don’t worry about it too much. It is also common to experience intense dreams and very colorful fantasies.

The result of this kind of mental, emotional and psychic purification is that you will find you are becoming far more sensitive and alert to your own state of mind, as well as, the state and energy of the people and environments around you. Many people report an increased occurrence of psychic types of experiences (i.e., reading other people’s minds, anticipating unrelated events, as well as, an increased occurrence of synchronicity). In short, you will become more sensitive to the “energy” of people and places and things. You will become more sensitive to those aspects of our reality that remains hidden or unseen to most normal people. In the long run, this will not seem so unusual to you. What is strange is how most of us can be so blind and unaware of basic aspects of our existence for so long.

Again, as you go through this process, be sure to give as much respect and honor to the subtle and not so subtle changes that are taking place. This path of Yoga, this path of purification is very, very powerful. You are awakening great stores of energy, vitality and power within yourself that you perhaps never knew you had. Anytime, you awaken or come into contact with these kinds of energies, it is important to realize that with greater power, comes greater responsibility. By its nature, the purpose of this power is not intended simply for the gratification of your own selfish desires. In fact, to do so is foolish and dangerous in many different respects. Reflect deeply and mindfully about this process and take great care.


Govinda Kai

Hari OM!

Govinda Kai

[Thank you, Govinda, for sharing some of your philosophy on Ashtanga yoga. And, thank you, for sharing so many of your wonderful, high-quality Ashtanga photos with the community via Flickr. These photos are from Govinda's set titled, My Personal Favorites. All the captions on these photos are Govinda's.

Readers, please share some of the changes you've experienced because of your Ashtanga practice in the Comments! -Ed.]

For Ashtangi Parents: A Toddler Visits Mysore

Over the years I have noticed there are two types of Ashtangi parents: those that wish they could go to Mysore, but are afraid to take the kids and those that book their tickets. We fell into the second category and never thought twice about it.

Our daughter, Rowan, got to experience the Ashtanga pilgrimage to Mysore a month after she turned one year old. Since then people are always asking me for feedback on my experience in traveling with a child to such an intense place. Paul Dallaghan recently wrote an article on about taking your kids to Mysore that had some great information and our experiences with a child in Mysore were pretty much the same.

We enjoyed it so much that we plan on taking her to Mysore again at the beginning of next year.


The happy family’s room in Mysore

Planning before taking your kids to Mysore is helpful, but it is India after all and at some point you have to just let it go. We had an apartment set up beforehand, which is probably the only thing I felt was a must to have (who wants to apartment hunt in India with a kid in tow?) and we had a routine for our days. Someone watched her while we practiced – which was nice so we could practice together – but a lot of couples I saw there with children did the “switch-off”. That also seemed to work and Sharath was pretty accommodating for couples with children. (Watch out for Guruji giving large amounts of chocolate to your kid!)


Nermala, the landlady

We were lucky that our landlady watched Rowan for us. She would get up at 5:00 am (!) and we would bring Rowan down to her. She was a school teacher and would grade papers in the early hours while Rowan still slept. She had a grandson the same age as Rowan and they played together very well. Her older son also watched Rowan some and we still email them from time to time. They always want to know how she is doing and when we are coming back to Mysore.


Rowan & some of her schoolmates

We also let Rowan attend an Indian nursery school that was around the corner from Guruji’s shala. She had a great time and I will let her attend again this year. She was the youngest one at the time (most kids were 2-4 years old), but the kids loved her and the staff were really nice. They spoke English well and it was easy to communicate with them. They also made it a point to let me know they were Christian Indians and were very bummed that Rowan was going to miss Christmas with them ( 🙂 ). They were open from 8:30am – 12:30pm – so we dropped her off after practice and breakfast and picked her up before lunch. We had to fill out a registration form when we enrolled her (it asked for our caste) and then we paid on a monthly basis, which ended up being around $12.50 per month. It was a little overwhelming for her at first because she was the only non-Indian at the school and ALL the kids wanted to play with her at once. They got used to her and she loved having some playtime with other children.


Rowan’s school in Mysore

We did set up some playgroups with other children of Ashtangis, too. Some parents I saw with kids there never left their apartment except to practice and others, like us, were off every weekend exploring or hanging out at the pool. I think that people who warn you from taking children to Mysore are probably the type of parents that freak out every time their child falls down. I went into the experience thinking that she would probably get sick at least once, but there are good hospitals, doctors, and chemists in Mysore and I wasn’t worried (she didn’t get sick though).


Mysore-Style Table Dance?

Obviously there are going to be places you like to go more (i.e., that are set up more kid friendly) and places you might not go. Restaurants on the whole were fine. Staff ALWAYS liked her and would often take her and watch her while we ate (usually that was because there were five staff for every one person and they would rather hang out with a cute kid than do nothing). She was still mainly breastfeeding and eating some solid foods, but we didn’t really have a hard time finding food for her. Breakfast ended up being her largest meal. You can get some wonderful Western-style breakfasts at many places around Gokulam. The Green Hotel, the Southern Star, and Green Leaf were restaurants we ate at frequently because they were the most accommodating. We also frequented many of the homes of Indian women who make lunches for students. They always loved Rowan and would take her out of my arms as soon as we would enter. It can be a bit unnerving at first, but they were always very gentle and loving with her and she adored the attention. Coffee Day ended up being an afternoon treat on many days. The staff would take her from me (this happened so much everywhere we went!) and keep her behind the counter with them. All the young Indian kids that hung out in Coffee Day also loved playing with her.


Jason, Rowan & Tara getting ready to go

Getting around in Mysore was pretty easy. We had a motorcycle and did the Indian thing where we sat her in-between us and rode around with her on the bike. I actually put her in a front sling carrier and that made me feel safer since she wouldn’t wiggle out while we were driving. I probably won’t do that the next time since she will be older. I bought a helmet for her here in the states before we left (you can’t find them in India) and made sure she wore that, too. We went everywhere on the motorcycle – even as far out as Chamundi Hill and the dam.


The Rowanmobile

Jason was a good driver and we tried to not drive after dark when we would often take a rickshaw. I also brought a cheap umbrella stroller (one with bigger wheels to get around in dirt) and it came in handy when walking around Gokulam and when we went to the zoo.

We also did some traveling in India while we were there and I never had a problem with it. Rowan enjoyed the experiences and we always found that people loved her and were accommodating.


Rowan helps out.

We took the train to Chennai for a trip to Auroville for a few weeks. Even though the train ride was about 7 hours, it went fine. We stayed in Auroville (a.k.a the jungle) for two weeks and practiced yoga with Chad and Monica. It was during a freak monsoon and it rained more than I have every experienced in my life. That was the roughest point of our trip to India with a kid and that was only because we were stuck indoors for days at a time with a one year-old with boundless energy. And even that wasn’t too bad.

Overall, our experience was greatly enriched by taking our daughter with us. We wouldn’t hesitate to take her and her baby brother or sister (hopefully, one day!) back with us. I would be happy to talk to anyone more about it or answer specific questions if you are thinking of taking your children. You can email me directly at taraisagoddess(at)


Rowan & Tara

[About Tara: Tara Morton has been practicing Ashtanga yoga for about 7 years. She lives in Encinitas, California, and practices with Tim Miller. Since Rowan’s birth, she has curtailed her yoga teaching (though she still teaches occasionally), and now mostly focuses on her practice. Rowan’s father, Jason, is a full-time yoga teacher. This article is based on a four-month trip to India studying at AYRI in 2005, which is documented on Rowan’s blog, Yoga Mommy, on

Thank you so much to Tara for sharing her experiences with a toddler in Mysore in this well-written and personal article! – Ed.]