I had the pleasure today of attending a discussion at the Yoga Festival Toronto about yoga in the modern world. The dialogue turned for a moment to the idea that we do not have to liberate ourselves from worldly concerns like our jobs, our families and our lives in society in order to do yoga. In fact, we can view everything we do as a part of our practice, contemplation and being of yoga. This is the Karma Yoga that Shri Krishna speaks of in the Bhagavad Gita. Karma Yoga is not just when we do volunteering (seva); it is the bringing of yogic wisdom and being-ness to our daily situation, our daily actions, “the inaction in action”, the quiet and evenness we bring to our interactions with others and the task at hand.
As a mother of two young children, I find that this is the main way that I find yoga in my daily life. I am brought face to face with the need to accept/cherish/savour my situation, and my phase of life as it is, rather than harkening for the free-time and practice time I had before I became a mother. For example, I notice that if I am in the sandbox with my children, thinking about a yoga class I was not able to go to for lack of a babysitter, I am not present, I suffer the feeling of regret and isolation, the children sense my distraction and act out. On the other hand, I notice that if I freely let go of clinging to yoga classes or events I am not able to attend, I have fun in the sandbox, there is a rich feeling between me and the children, and we have more meaningful interactions with the people who are present with us in that moment. Of course, this works better for me if I ensure that I regularly get some of the quiet time and yoga restoration I enjoy. Having had truly present moments with the kids then allows me, when I do get to a yoga class or meditation meeting, or lecture, to let go of any recriminating thoughts about having gone out. Yes, savouring simple moments with my kids has proven to be a very powerful form of yoga. I have found it a grounding, inspiring, slowing, loving relationship.
Being a mother who runs a yoga organization from home also constantly demands that I grow, stretch, move in-and-out of different roles, and that I have very clear boundaries about the ever creeping encroachment into family life that technology can bring about, especially for those who work from home.
Motherhood is the perfect parallel of the balancing act that we are engaged in as yogis actively involved in the world. At some point in our engagement with this wisdom tradition (or any other for that matter), we are likely to feel a tension between active practice and contemplation, engagement with family and society and retreat, the desire to do only things that are overtly connected to yoga, and the recognition of the richness that comes when we live yoga through our other passions and with and in a wider society. As modern yogis in particular, we often strive for regular retreat and periods of cloistered practice, as well as active engagement in family life, community, work, culture etc. In a parallel way for mothers, there is often a palpable, if unexpressed, tension between the act of mothering, and the act of mothering ourselves, between the nuclear world of our neighbourhood of parks and schools and kid-friendly activities, and our world of pre-baby friends, adult conversations, quiet dinners out, yoga classes just for us… While some moms delve head-long into a “kid-centred world” giving up all of their own activities, others (like me) may actively resist the separation of kid and adult worlds and set out to find a mythic half-way zone in which they can continue to do all the things they used to do, by simply bring their children. While I have adored slinging or backpacking my children through art galleries, Paris cafes, kiirtans, to my lectures, and yes, even to meditation classes, there is just no getting around the fact that every once in a while it is more relaxing, sane and enriching for everyone if the kids go to the park and I go to a lecture on yoga history on my own.
When we are active in the world, there is always more to do, more to get involved in. When I compare my involvement with that of my single friends or colleagues without children, and see their level of time commitment as superior, without recognizing the different phases of our lives we are in, I am in an internal conflict. When I compare my yoga practice on the mat or cushion before kids and now, I question myself. Measuring, quantifying, judging, analyzing, these are common ways to hear people speak about yoga nowadays. The practice practice is seen a somehow superior to the attempt at moment-to-moment beingness, which cannot be so neatly quantified. Even Karma Yoga seems to be neatly tied up in volunteer hours, external acts of activism, etc. Being a mother of young children has given me another opportunity to step back and observe our addiction to accolades, concrete acts and identity. Serving our own children, though a long-term and intense daily commitment, is often not valued as a social service. And certainly I have been asked by fellow colleagues when I’m going to get back to a more “regular yoga practice”. In the spirit of Karma Yoga, seeking skill in action, I surrender absolutely to my own daily balance of savouring my children, nurturing myself, working for a yoga organization, and engaging with art, literature, friends, family, and society. It is enough.