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The Sticky Mat: Judith Hanson Lasater on Fitting Yoga into Life

March 3, 2017 by Sarah Scharf 

For the last six years I have had the privilege to study with Judith Hanson Lasater. I had been studying eclectic yoga styles for years and didn't feel totally at home with any one style or identify anyone as “my teacher”. This changed when I took her Level 1 Restorative Teacher Training. What and how she taught were in such harmony that I felt reenergised on my path as both student and teacher. When that training ended I was weeping, I had never been so inspired. As one of her assistants I have had the opportunity to see her practicing what she preaches in and out of the yoga room. Besides her immense knowledge of anatomy, yoga asana and yoga philosophy she has been teaching since the 1970’s, studied with B.K.S. Iyengar and has multiple degrees and a wide body of writing. Judith is still one of the world’s most respected yoga teachers, and has enjoyed a career of milestone achievements  including founding Yoga Journal magazine. She is a mom of three grown children and a grandmother as well. 

In a phone interview Judith shared some advice for new parents looking for time to practice yoga, and her experience of how becoming a parent changed her practice. Her tips apply to anyone with a hectic life or going through a transition. My point of departure was: When you first became a parent, what did your practice look like?

Judith noted that the changes to her practice began with her pregnancy, during all nine months she had naseau and very loose ligaments. Dealing with this left her no room for pretending that she could plow (no pun intended) ahead with yoga as usual. She coped with this by making major modifications to her practice from the start, listening more and more to her body instead of following the attitude of “it’s Tuesday forward bends” and pushing herself to do what she used to. A lot of people see any physical change (pregnancy, injury, ageing) as a hindrance to their yoga practice, and I face these people each time I teach them and see straining or forcing. I face it in myself when I compare my practice to how it was before my baby, or before I turned 30. This is where we learn if our practice is just another way we have become attached - an expression of our ego on the mat- or if it is truly teaching us inner flexibility.

Judith talked about how yoga can be a great training ground for parenting, if we are practicing inner flexibility and embracing the reality of life as change. She described pregnancy and parenting as a process of letting go and surrender. Letting another being grow inside of us and then continuing to let go as each day’s routine is always changing with small babies. Many of us are used to practicing at the same time of day, and with a baby in the house this can be impossible. With no set routine, when do we fit in our practice?

This is where the idea of formal vs. informal practice came into our conversation. Judith noticed a shift when she realised that even if it wasn’t a dedicated hour, it was worth it. She described stretching her calves in the park waiting for soccer practice to end, or enjoying a quick downward facing dog or triangle pose. I liked the idea of creating a story time in the hallway when her kids were older, so they could all do legs up the wall while reading books. She also pointed out that creating headspace is always possible, while breastfeeding for example you could do gentle pranayama or meditate. I too have found that the inner quiet practices have become not just more important but sometimes the only type of practice I can do while parenting. This brings us back to dealing with change, accepting that everything is temporary (the baby being small, our practice being informal, etc.) and simply taking the time we do have to be present. 

She asked me a question that has given me a bigger perspective on my own practice - at the end of the day, what is the priority? Being a mom, being a wife, being a yoga teacher, being a decent human? As we each of us work to integrate our many roles in the lives we lead, the priority is often shifting - just as our whole lives are constantly in flux. Accepting my moments of informal practice and appreciating the time I can spend with my small child go hand in hand with me finding happiness within the uncertainty of life. I am grateful to have a teacher like Judith to help me remember this.

I leave you with her wise words: It’s not fitting life into yoga, it’s fitting yoga into life.

Study with Judith in London at the end of this month: Experiential Anatomy.

Sarah will be in London April 1 & 2, teaching for The Life Centre and Yogacampus.