My Baba & the Lineage of our Teachers

OM
VANDE GURUNAM CARANARAVINDE
SANDARSITA SVATMA SUKHAVA BODHE
NIH SREYASE JANGALIKAYAMANE
SAMSARA HALAHALA MOHASANTYAI
ABAHU PURUSAKARAM
SANKHACAKRASI DHARINAM
SAHASRA SIRASAM SVETAM
PRANAMAMI PATANJALIM
OM
In Ashtanga yoga, we say a Sanskrit chant before each class to pay respect to the lineage of yoga teachers dating back to Patanjali, the ‘divine descendant’, who, as legend has it, wrote the Yoga Sutras.
My take on this tradition is that since yoga teachers have many forms and anyone who has touched our heart is a yoga teacher, the chant honors all the people who have guided us and contributed to our lives. In the prayer, we recognize the wisdom of our teachers, but we also recognize that the wisdom of our teachers comes from their teachers, so we also honor our teachers’ teachers’  and teachers teachers’ teachers’… And with this humbling intention, we begin our practice.
It’s in these tender moments that I always acknowledge my maternal grandmother, who in many ways influenced my path as a yoga teacher. She died ten years ago this weekend. She wasn’t a yoga instructor per se, and as far as I know, she never practiced asana, but my grandmother was a guru, my guru. We called her “Baba” or “Babs.” This was easier for us three grand-kids to say than ‘Babcia’, the Polish word for grandmother. (Ironically, “Baba” is also an honorific term used in Hindi and mark of respect to refer to Sufi saints.)  Nevertheless, my Baba’s real name was Krystyna.
My mom and grandmother Baba
To mark this significant anniversary of my Baba’s passing, we are currently hosting an art retrospective of more than 60 of her paintings, graphics, and weavings at my yoga studio. It’s was my mom’s idea to transform Om West into a gallery, and the exhibit is incredible. Her talent is remarkable, and I am proud and honored to be able to present my grandmother’s work to our community of yogis and friends.

Born in Białystok, Poland on August 21, 1919, my grandmother was fiercely courageous, strong willed and direct.  She and my grandfather (who passed away in 1974) immigrated to Canada shortly after World War II and settled in Sherbrooke, two hours south east of Montreal, where they raised my mother and her two siblings. Baba loved her garden, her art, her cat, her family and coveted her independence and freedom.

My grandmother taught me about nature, energy, creativity, intuition, and spirituality. Curiously, Baba was a clairvoyant. Although she would rarely talk about it, she did say that strong intuition was  a  gift that many of the women in her family shared.  Deeply spiritual, Baba was devoted to the teachings of Jesus. However, in later years, Baba was also interested in Hindu and Buddhist philosophy, and became a follower of Sathya Sai Baba, an Indian guru. As a kid, she exposed me to various meditation temples and ashrams, which was the ideal preparation for me as a teacher of yoga and meditation.

Thinking of Baba now and observing her powerful artwork on the walls of my studio,  I’m overcome with emotion, which is hard for me to express. I wish I had asked her more questions when she was alive, but I am making up for it now. I talk to her in thought and prayer and I occasionally feel as though she is really close to me particularly when I’m sitting alone about practice, and oddly, when I taste dill, because she used to put it on everything.

 

As mentioned, at beginning of the Ashtanga chant, I usually invoke her memory, and sometimes I get so caught up in thoughts about her, I actually forget the words to the Sanskrit  ashtanga chant! Thankfully, my students understand that I’m a bit quirky when it comes to the order of things and discerning my rights and lefts, so someone is always quick to fill my long awkward pause.
Me posing with Baba’s abstract work from the 60s & 70s
My brother Stefan, my mother Marta and cousin Kalil
My cousin and I keep checking who owns what so we know
who we have to negotiate with to acquire the pieces we want.
Studio 2 features Baba’s landscapes, which she switched to in the early 80s.
Baba’s landscapes from the 80s & 90s
A portrait of my grandmother with a letter from Quebec Premier Jean Charest,
expressing his condolences upon Baba’s death.
Kocham cie, Babs.
3 replies
  1. Parvati Devi
    Parvati Devi says:

    This is a beautiful memorial. Our grandmothers could have been sisters. As it was for you, my grandmother inspired my yoga/meditation practice and it was through her line that I have the intuitive skills that I do. Faced with hardships of poverty and war, she learned to connect to the infinite power "of her Maker" through silent sitting meditation. She embodied a peacefulness that would light up any room. Her love for nature shone through her artwork, primarily water colours. Thank you for sharing your memories here. They also kindle my own. Om shanti.

    Reply
  2. laura
    laura says:

    i enjoy hearing about you as much as i enjoy learning about yoga from you. thanks for sharing this. your baba seems like a very interesting person and i think the gallery is a wonderful way to honor her memory. (i also hope you negotiate your favorite paintings!)

    Reply

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