How Teacher Kristin Laak Brings Ancient Indian Yogic Sciences West
BY ELIZABETH MARGLIN | JUN 14, 2016
This humble teacher is
reinvigorating yoga’s spiritual side.
When Kristin Laak was 20 years old, she found herself in Mysore, India, studying Ashtanga Yoga with K. Pattabhi Jois. That was 38 years ago, and since then Laak has been teaching yoga herself; today, she offers three donation-based Jivana Yoga classes a week near her home in Sebastopol, California, in addition to leading teacher trainings and workshops. Every year, she travels to India to deepen her studies and participate in the development of
the Sadvidya Foundation, an organization working to bring the lesser-known wisdom of ancient Indian yogic sciences, such
as Sanskrit fluency, to the modern world.
Yoga Journal: What drew you to deepen your
practice beyond Ashtanga?
Kristin Laak: When I lived in India, I studied the Bhagavad Gita, pranayama, and meditation with Dr. Shankaranarayana Jois, a professor
of Vedic astrology and yogic philosophy. As his student, I felt
my heart and soul being deeply stirred. He emphasized the experience of inner bliss that we are all capable of experiencing in this lifetime. Everything I teach I learned from him.
YJ: How do you live your yoga?
KL: There is no separation in my life from yoga—from how
I eat (a vegetarian, sattvic diet) to how I take my baths (I do an Ayurvedic sesame-oil massage beforehand). A yogic lifestyle implies an element of being choosy—discriminating about what you expose yourself to. I also try to live simply and humbly. My house is a repurposed toolshed, and I still drive my 1993 car. Each morning, I get up at 4 a.m. to practice, and I also practice in the evening. I’m graced with a lifestyle that does not require me to have a cell phone, though I’m not averse to technology—I have a computer, and I often use Skype as part of my mentoring.
YJ: What has been one of yoga’s greatest gifts to you?
KL: Yoga has been a long, slow process of maturation for me. It
has changed from a primarily physical exploration to an interior inquiry of seeing what emerges when the mind stops its pattern of thoughts. Now, I don’t look for my happiness outside—it’s
a completely internal state. I can watch the hard moments move through me with more ease. Yoga’s effect on my life is not very glamorous, but it’s fostered the conditions for deep contentment.
YJ: How do you share and
spread what you’ve learned?
KL: As a teacher, I constantly strive to shine a light on the noble qualities—nonviolence, truthfulness, a willingness to be of service—that my students already possess. I have found that when the noble is given the spotlight, our ignoble qualities lose their juice. The more we hold others up, the more this flow of support moves in our own direction. Touching just one soul is
all it takes for me to consider myself successful. The mission
of the Sadvidya Foundation is to promote peace and
happiness for all.
How do your classes invite students into this understanding of our deeper nature?
I am interested in teaching people to use yoga to live a happier life, to cultivate contentment with our situation regardless of the circumstances. The kind of yoga I teach, whose formal name is Jivana yoga, gives equal weight to all eight limbs of yoga with the view toward cultivating a stable and quiet mind. In a typical class, we would practice an hour of asana followed by 45 minutes of pranayama and meditation.
What is the current edge you are exploring as a yoga teacher?
My edge, if there is one, is learning to get out of my own way in order to be receptive to my innermost self. It’s allowing grace to move through me. Yet on another level there is no edge, or at least I’m constantly ready to tumble over it. If you really surrender, you will be caught, you will be held. Somehow the soul knows that but maya, or illusion, gets in the way. We forget. The edge is constantly asking—and remembering—who we are. It’s a question some of us have forgotten to ask. It’s being willing to live out what’s sacred in us. Life is messy but the eternal is unaffected.
Retreat: Observing silence for 3-7 days three or four times a year. Being in silence fully supports the inner journey, and rejuvenates my being.
Place to meditate:
At the confluence of two creeks that run near my cottage. The place where rivers meet is considered sacred in yogic theory.
Listening to my daughter practice the cello.
Looking out on the ocean always quiets my mind. When I turn toward that horizon, I can find nothing to think about.
Sattvic food , which means lots of ghee, local organic milk, fresh fruits and vegetables from my garden, grains.
Favorite yoga book:
The Sacred Tradition of Yoga by Dr. Shankaranarayana Jois.
A Brief Look at Yoga and Bhoga
“Without inner satisfaction, no amount of external good fortune can bring lasting happiness.” – Yogananda
If we enquire into the human experience, we can discern that our body and mind are the most precious and important tools we have. The ancient, and not so ancient, rishis, sages and yogis have investigated how best to use these most precious and important materials and state that when the mind moves towards the internal experience, awareness of the Eternal Truth, the Supreme Source, it is called Yoga. When the mind migrates towards the external world it is called bhoga. Further, it is stated that due to the extreme bliss of Yoga (union), bhoga should support Yoga. Likewise when our experiences of the external world are in harmony with the Eternal Truth there will be a natural flow and deepening in our journey.
As we drop into discernment and view our thoughts and actions through this Yogic lens there are many clear insights to be gained. And in setting our intention towards Yoga (union with the Divine Source) while cultivating our practice both on and off the mat, we naturally move into a deeper state of balance opening the way for lasting happiness.
I believes this to be one of the greatest books on yoga for the modern practitioner:
The Sacred Tradition of Yoga
“This book is a treasury of timeless wisdom, presented in a profoundly generous and intimate way.”
“Dr. Jois makes these teachings accessible and appealing.”
“A step by step recipe for those who have the taste for that which transcends the familiar and known.”
“A wealth of information and advice for practitioners wishing to go deeper into the lived study of Yoga.”
In today’s complex world, how is it possible to truly live as a yogi? Traditional yoga theory offers fresh, insightful solutions to today’s practical lifestyle concerns, ranging from environmentalism to personal health and wellness. Tuning into classic yoga philosophy and teachings can bring to light our greatest strengths while showing us how to maintain a healthy body and clear mind while attaining inner happiness.
Drawing from his personal experiences of yoga and insight into ancient Sanskrit texts, Dr. Shankaranarayana Jois connects yogic philosophy to how we approach food, work, education, relationships, and other conscious lifestyle choices to support our deepest longings for happiness, peace, and balance.
Practical and insightful,The Sacred Tradition of Yoga begins with a clear and deep inquiry into the human condition, reminding us of true purpose of Yoga. The second half of the book focuses on the yamas and niyamas, the personal disciplines and social ethics of yoga. Throughout, Dr. Jois’ teachings honor ancient traditions and underscore the benefits we can gain from adopting a yogic way of life in the modern world.
DR. SHANKARANARAYANA JOIS, PH.D.worked for decades both as a professor of Literature in Mysore College of Sanskrit and as a Vedic astrologer; however it is his own personal experiences of yogic states of consciousness that inform his teachings. Dr. Jois travels to deliver seminars and workshops to sincere practitioners across the world.
part one: The Foundation of Yoga
1. The Purpose of Human Life
2. The Bliss of Samādhi
3. The Path to Realization
4. Mind and Body
5. The Human Predicament
6. Many Paths, One Goal
part two: AṢṬĀṄGA YOGA: Yamas and Niyamas
7. The Yamas
Ahimsā · Satya · Asteya · Brahmacarya · Aparigraha · Dayā · Ārjava · Kṣamā · Dhṛti · Mitāhāra
8. The Niyamas
Śauca · Santoṣa · Tapas · Svādhyāya · Īśvara Praṇidhāna · Āstikya · Dāna · Hrīhi · Mati · Japa · Vrata · Siddhānta Śravaṇa
part three: THE YOGA JOURNEY
9. The Role of the Teacher
10. The Mango Orchard
￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼￼Appendix 1: An Overview of the Traditional Branches of Yoga
Appendix 2: Sanskrit Pronunciation Guide
Introduction to Ayurvedic Cooking,
Food is the fuel for the human body, for growth, for life, for survival. A tiny body of 10 pounds will grow, due to food, becoming a 150 pound body.
The word used for food in both Ayurveda and Yoga is āhara. Āhara is derived from the Samskrit root, hru, which has a wide meaning, it includes the earth, water, heat or fire, air and space, all of the five elements of this universe which support and benefit our growth.
The ancient Indian medical science of Ayurveda guides us in how to keep the body and its systems in a healthy condition in order to support Liberation. Yoga guides us in how to support the inner system, the mind, in direct support for our Liberation. Thus, both Ayurveda and Yoga are supplementary towards each other. Indian cooking has evolved out of the principles of these two sciences. This is why it contributes to the perfection of our health as a whole.
Humans live in varied places on this earth with different properties, vegetation, climates, etc., and because of this, foods also vary. Certain basics foods are common to all human beings, so this traditional way of Indian cooking may be developed anywhere with minor changes. As an example, there are some vegetables with identical basic properties, and these may be interchanged.
Each meal should have some cereal or grain, vegetables and fruits. One of the most important features of a meal should be the variety of tastes and vegetables used. It is recommended to use the foods which are grown in the area in which we live.
Forming new food combinations is a great responsibility due to the difficulty in knowing the properties created in new combinations. In India, many of the traditional dishes have been established and approved by yogis since ancient times. New combinations accepted by established yogis may become part of this tradition. Carrot is an example of a new food being introduced to Ayurvedic cooking that has been cross checked by yogis.
The right combination of dishes in a meal is no less important than the foods chosen. A meal should support our constitution for proper growth as well as the maintenance of our whole system. Each constitution possesses different characteristics, such as a tendency towards physical work, talkativeness, sleeplessness, or a tendency to think deeply. Food should support an individual’s natural tendencies and constitution. Consumption of improper food may strain or damage some of the natural activities of an individual.
In this day and age, wheat and rice are the main food articles which are sattvic. Sattvic foods support us to lead a calm and peaceful life. Based on the climate in which we live, one of these two should be our main food, while the other would be secondary. At a high elevation, and in cooler climates, wheat is preferable, as one moves closer to the equator, rice will be. A highly recommended sattvic supplement to each meal, is one teaspoon of ghee
Time Tested Preparations
All the receipts introduced here are completely traditional, time tested over centuries and are based on Ayurvedic principles. For the humankind they support health, if used in an ideal way. For a yogic practitioner, they will support one’s Yoga practice by keeping the mind calm and quiet. These dishes may be considered as sattvic foods, suitable for all Yoga practitioners. The greatness of these preparations is that not only sattvic in nature, they are also delicious!
Though cooking is an art that should be learnt with the guidance of an expert to ensure delicious and ideal results, a few dishes can simply be learnt through the basis of trial and error. We hope that these receipts offer clear guidance and we wish you good luck.