The Yoga of Motherhood

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.

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10 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Shanti Roopa
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 01:15:08

    Om Shanti Chetana!
    How true these words ring in my ears. The truth of the Moment of Now. Our sadhana begins the moment we open our eyes in the morning. Yoga is life in all its wonderful facets. We can never and must never compare ourselves with others, even with ourselves, when it comes to yoga. Everyday is different. Acceptance and growth. Growth is not always an upward spiral, growth is also expansion sideways. My students often ask me “how long will it take me to learn yoga”. My answer is always the same. “I do not know. Your first yoga lesson starts here. When will you be aware that yoga is creeping into your life? Perhaps in the checkout line of the supermarket.” Hari Om! Shanti Roopa.

    Reply

  2. Shanti Roopa
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 01:26:26

    Om Shanti Chetana!
    These word ring very true to me. The Moment of Now. Our Yoga Sadhana begins consciously the moment we open our eyes in the morning. Comparing ourselves with others or even with our selves is a mistake. Yoga evolution happens not only in an upward spiraling motion, it is also expansion sideways. Every breath is part of the cosmic dance. Students have asked me often “how long will it take me to learn yoga”. I usually answer:” I don’t know. Your awareness might change in the checkout line of the supermarket. When this happens, you are on your way!” Acceptance, acceptance and gratitude. Always with an open heart. Then the heavens open within yourselves. Hari Om!

    Reply

  3. Peggy
    Aug 20, 2011 @ 16:50:22

    Thank you for this post Chetana. I feel the most yogic, the most centered, and the happiest when I’m playing with my grandchildren. Now that all of my chicks have left the nest and I’m retired from the corporate world, I have plenty of time to take yoga classes, be on the mat at home and indulge in “me” time and I do, with pleasure. But nothing, absolutely nothing, compares with running, jumping, playing and laughing uproariously with little boys.

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  4. Chetana Panwar
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 15:59:18

    Shanti Roopa and Peggy – thank you so much for sharing. I love that phrase “expanding sideways”!! Hari Om!

    Reply

  5. Jen (Suman) Chauhan
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 19:29:49

    Chetana, as I read this post I felt you were speaking directly to me.

    As a mother of two young children at home with me full-time and as someone who also works from home, I too sometimes find myself feeling guilty for the lack of formal yoga practice I manage to include into my days and weeks. I too worry that I am not doing enough compared to others in the yogic community.

    Recently I have been making a conscious effort to remain present when I am with my children and relish the time I have with them. Because the truth is, whether I am enjoying my time with them or wishing I was somewhere else, the reality is that I AM with them. Therefore, I choose to show them that they are completely worth my full attention. Our interactions are much more pleasant if I am present.

    And then I realize that I am doing yoga by weaving this presence of mind and spirit in my everyday life, in this phase of my life.

    Thank you so much for showing me that I am not alone.

    Reply

  6. Jennifer Houghton
    Aug 21, 2011 @ 22:14:44

    Thank you Chetana. This really resonated with me, as I am at home with my three children, but I am preparing to go back to the “working world” (as if I’m not working now!) and I think about how I will have less time with them and less time for a somewhat “regular” yoga practice. Being present in each moment is both a challenge and a wonderful gift and I too consider my daily life to be a yoga practice in itself. Some moments with small children are hard, as any parent can attest, and we can easily find ourselves craving a moment of escape to read a book or have some quiet, but all the moments are fleeting and no matter what we are doing or what tasks we call our own, we can make the choice to stay present. “One thing at a time!” is what I find myself saying to my kids a lot, and I have to remember to apply it to myself too. I can’t read a book to the kids and do asana practice and make dinner at the same time, but I can read a book to the kids when I am reading a book to the kids and I can do asana practice when I am doing asana practice and I can make dinner when I am making dinner. That can be plenty.
    Also, I love your words: “savouring my children”!!
    Namaste, Jayanthi

    Reply

  7. akhandayoga
    Aug 25, 2011 @ 11:36:27

    Thanks Jen and Jennifer! I love your articulation of “one thing at a time – doing asana when we’re doing asana”. I find I really enjoy fully my free time now, as there is less of it. I am even more present in the yoga classes I get out to and that is really wonderful – not to take anything for granted. I have been taking some restorative classes – heaven!!

    I started to really love the word ‘savour’ after reading Stephen Cope’s book Wisdom of Yoga. Ahhhh – yes, moment to moment awareness and tapping into our breath an presence whenever we remember IS VERY MUCH practicing yoga.

    Reply

  8. Carolyn
    Sep 01, 2011 @ 12:21:11

    Thank you, this totally hit home. I have 2 young children and sometimes i do get stuck in a rut of thinking about what I could be doing instead of living in the moment with them. I now do have a little more me time, since school started and while the first thing I did was a yoga workout, i realize that every moment can be part of the practice. And luckily my kids like yoga and can do it with me sometimes too.

    Reply

  9. Yoga with Nicci
    Nov 21, 2011 @ 15:34:48

    Beautifully written, Chetana. I recently heard someone referring to Mothers’ Guilt as the ‘gift that keeps on giving’, and I hear that echoing through your piece too (and of course I identified with it totally, being totally devoted to my two littlies but also fighting to carve out some time for myself).

    I was also struck by your comment on ‘the ever creeping encroachment into family life that technology can bring about’ – here I sit at 10.30pm on a Monday night, blogging and searching for likeminded blogs/people, when I should probably (definitely?) rather be cuddling up in bed next to my husband and tuning all this technology out. The ongoing struggle to strike a fine balance…and I will embrace your closing words: It is enough.

    Love
    Nicci

    Reply

  10. yoga guardian @ self awareness
    Feb 19, 2013 @ 15:32:11

    It is hard in the Western world for most of us to turn off the constant stimuli of technology and mass media. All the more reason we need our yoga practices to help us find and stay in the present moment.

    Reply

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