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April 22, 2016

Cheerios in my Yoga: Keeping your yoga practice alive as a mother of small children

Yoga Motherhood
Mommy and Me Yoga Gilltukha/for PhillyVoice

Mother and child doing yoga together

These days my 4-year-old son is quite the chatterbox. Seemingly never-ending streams of ideas -- ranging from a fascination with rescue helicopters, Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, and his own unique musings fill his mind. And my ears.

“Mom,” he says as we drive home from Aikido. “I have an interesting idea.”

“What’s that honey?”

“What if the world was sideways? What if the trees were sideways and we were sideways and the animals were sideways?”

“Well, that sure would be interesting,” I reply, wondering about the impact multiple forward Aikido rolls could have on the developing brain.

“Yep. It sure would be,” he states, nodding his head.

For the rest of our drive, he goes on and on.

Of course, there are stretches of time when my little guy dives into books, projects or puzzles and all is quiet. But mostly he loves to engage those around him in play and usually this includes me. Honestly, I love it. I am grateful to be able to work-from-home and nurture his early years. I love his creativity, fascination with science, and interest in “helping people” via all sorts of emergency rescue vehicles. It’s all good.

However, I would be remiss not to note my front row seat to a 4-year-old’s stream of consciousness can also feel relentless.




If I haven’t taken the time to nurture my own need for silence, meditation, and calm, a loving response to these powerful calls for my attention can require the patience of Job.

“You can’t give from an empty well,” my mother used to tell me. Wise words.

So, how do mothers of little ones replenish their well of yoga practice once cheerios, tantrums and little chatterboxes enter the mix? Whether you are new to asana and meditation practice or bring a long history of yoga practice into your motherhood, the following three ideas may be helpful.

Remember what yoga is

Yoga means union. Yoga is a state of awareness wherein one is conscious of the underlying unity of life. Breath, emotion, energy, body, world, and mind -- all are united as a holistic reality. Awareness of this reality transforms, heals and inspires.

Traditionally, there are four main paths of awakening to this union, four main yogas. One path, bhakti yoga, centers upon prayer, music, devotional poetry, and the insights gained through cultivating love in our everyday relationships. Jnana yoga is the path of union through study and reflection. Herein intellectual energies are harnessed and inspirational texts and teachings serve as a focus for awakening. Selfless service, the giving of one’s time, talents, energies, and means constitutes karma yoga -- the path of union through action. And finally, there’s raja yoga wherein a practitioner moves the body through various asanas, cultivates breath awareness, and stills the mind through meditation. Hundreds of schools of raja yoga exist, each with their own emphasis, teachers, and traditions.

Today, evidence-based studies focus on the benefits of mindfully moving, breathing, and sitting in stillness. In fact, it’s easy to equate the practices of raja yoga with yoga as a whole and forget that selfless service, devotional acts of love, and study are also yoga.

“My god, I don’t even have time for a yoga class!”

I often hear busy moms of little ones lament the above. And I understand. I miss the unfettered hours I once could pour into asana and meditation practice. I do. Yet, in moments of clarity, it helps immensely to remember that approaching the daily tasks of mothering with devotion and love is yoga. Yes, I now have to be creative and diligent when it comes to carving out quiet time for asana and meditation. But in the midst of holding gentle space for a 4-year-old’s tears, I am practicing yoga. In fact, becoming a mother did more to intensify, deepen, and invigorate my yoga practice than anything in my life thus far.

“Our children are our greatest spiritual teachers,” states Corinne Andrews, founder of Birthing Mama® Prenatal Yoga and Wellness and co-director of Yoga Center Amherst. “If we really look at what yoga is -- it’s not just what we do on the mat. We live our yoga.”

Include your child

As a Mommy and Me Yoga teacher, I am used to seeing mothers of small children gather for a yoga class hoping to replenish their energies.

“This won’t be your regular yoga class,” I state, setting the stage. “Mommy and Me Yoga is all about cultivating an awareness of our connection to body, breath, and our children.”

So we move, sing and laugh and consciously include our little ones. And of course, they cry, run, crawl, talk and play. Mommy and Me Yoga can be loud and chaotic at times. It can be gentle and easy at times. It’s motherhood.

Prioritizing self-care is not selfish. “Yes, you are worth this,” I say to tired mothers, as I remind myself. And so are our children, our families, our friends and colleagues. All who interact with us benefit when we are more integrated, calm, conscious, loving and present.

How do we practice being mindful in mothering? Can we integrate simple asana practices into playing blocks or trucks? How does one breathe when holding a frustrated and tired child, especially if one is frustrated and tired, too?

For mothers who are missing their asana and meditation practice, it’s helpful to avoid positioning one’s child on one side of a continuum and one’s practice on the other. Integrate your child into your practice. Teach your little ones asana, put on your favorite yoga music and dance together. Attend Mommy and Me Yoga classes. Meditate together, even if it is for 2 to 3 minutes. Why? By introducing our children to such practices, we model life-long skills that will benefit the family as a whole.

“Mommy, let’s both take a deep breath,” my son says to me during a difficult moment.

In such moments, I realize he is my greatest yoga teacher.

Prioritize self-care

Today, like most days, I watch the dawn open to light.

It’s a gentle and slow unfolding. I love the seamless shift from black sky to light blue space. I watch a faint blush of pink herald the soon-to-arrive sun. There’s no traffic on our nearby road. The space is still. My husband and son remain in dreamland.

I watch the colors shift as I move. I start my asana practice in darkness, reclining on my mat. Arms extended, I shift legs side-to-side in slow moving reclined twists. My body unwinds from the hours of sleep. I breathe deeply. Eventually, I make my way to seated postures. Forward folds. Downward dogs. A few standing poses -- nothing strenuous. This easy beginning reminds me to prioritize what matters most.

Presence. Softness. Peace.

If I take the time to breathe these qualities into my very bones and sinews, into my muscles and organs, then I can more readily act from this sacred space throughout the day.

I never set an alarm and I don’t fight the days of sleeping in. If I need the sleep, I’ll take it. Yet, more often than not, I awaken before dawn. Something within knows I need this precious time. Now that my son no longer naps, this is the one time I can count on when I am really alone and able to remember all is one. Yes, service and love are yoga and introducing my son to mindfulness practice is key. However, it’s so important to prioritize this time, essential to carve it out. I awaken early to keep my asana and meditation practice real.

Prioritizing self-care is not selfish. “Yes, you are worth this,” I say to tired mothers, as I remind myself. And so are our children, our families, our friends and colleagues. All who interact with us benefit when we are more integrated, calm, conscious, loving, and present.

“You can’t give from an empty well,” I hear my mother say.

And I welcome the dawn.

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