In the weeks I visited my parents, I’d wake up really early just like I always do. But rather than lay down my mat, I’d spend that time slicing vegetables, soaking beans, toasting nuts. Basically readying whatever I needed for that night’s meal. And I made this my practice.
At first it would be just me in the kitchen. My mom and dad would wake up just as I was finishing. My mom would shake her head. You work so hard, she’d say.
“But Ma,” I’d explain. “This isn’t work. This makes me happy.” Which it did. For in feeding them, I was feeding me too.
Soon my mom started waking up early to be with me. She said she’d be my sous-chef. And so I put her to work, gathering ingredients, chopping vegetables, and cleaning up – because Lord knows, I can make a mess.
Though the best part wasn’t her help. It was the conversations we’d have as we’d work, side-by-side.
She told me stories about her childhood. How her mother would wake up every morning before dawn to bake bread. Then she’d collect vegetables from the garden and fetch eggs from the henhouse. And when a chicken needed to be slaughtered, apparently my grandma did that too – which is totally impressive and also not something I ever want to do.
Of course, this was just after the Great Depression and my grandma had nine kids to feed. So I guess you do what you have to.
She worked so hard, my mom remembered. And then declares that this homesteading tradition clearly must’ve skipped a generation with her.
I consider her wilting tomato plants outside (she forgets to water them), along with a freezer full of prepackaged meals (she hates to cook) and think she might have a point.
But then I remember my own childhood …
After a crippling car crash, for years my dad was either in the hospital or laid up in our tiny Baltimore rowhouse. And instead of baking bread or keeping a garden – she had a job and went to nursing school at night. Which not only helped put food on the table but also the skill to take care of my dad.
And those seeds of resilience, self-reliance, and devotion took root – these were seeds she planted. I learned by watching. And so if she thinks I am working hard, it’s only because she taught me how.
So I tell my mom, “No. Nothing skipped a generation. It just shows up different, that’s all.”
My grandma, kneading bread … my mom, dressing wounds … and me, preparing food … the beads may be different, but the thread of relationship is one we all share. We take care of one another, in good times but especially through tough times. And it isn’t work at all. This is our tradition.
The stories, beliefs, and practices passed along are there to both ground us and guide us. But in being passed along means there is movement; thus like a river, never the same. Because tradition is a living and evolving collection of wisdom. And it is up to each generation, each individual to adopt in accordance to what is most natural and fits best.
Which is something we tend to forget in Ashtanga.
We often misuse the word tradition, confusing rules of an institution as part of our ritual. But that’s actually not it at all. For obedience is not the same thing as devotion. And there is nothing natural in adhering to someone else’s set of standards. No freedom in that either.
And why we are meant to make this practice our own. That is how tradition continues. For only in adapting do we find greater meaning. Only then do we find purpose. And only then does exercise become prayer.
My grandma stayed with us often when I was little, to help out my mom. And on those nights, she and I would kneel together beside my bed, a string of rosary beads in our hands, reciting Hail Mary’s. This was our mantra.
I remember my mom taking me to church when it was empty and quiet. It always felt more sacred and special without the crowd – and to be honest, without the priest. Together, we would light a candle, say a few prayers, then just sit in the silence. This was our meditation.
And I have to tell you, it’s comforting to know that this tradition of bending and bowing, chanting and prayer, and of seeking God – it has lived inside me long before Ashtanga. This is a practice already forged by my ancestors. It just shows up a little different through me, that’s all.
For it is up to us to define the rituals that matter and then bring them to life in a way that resonates and brings inspiration and joy. Because part of tradition is also in finding our own way.
My mom called me yesterday. She had run out of the granola I’d made and that she and my dad liked so much. So she used my recipe and made a batch of her own.
“Except I had to substitute cranberries for blueberries, and didn’t have sesame seeds and didn’t now what to put in their place so I just left them out,” she explained.
“That’s ok, Ma.” I tell her, “Use what you have, use what’s in season. It’s just a recipe. You don’t have to follow it exactly.”
“Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.”Rumi