Motherhood and the Practice of Abiding in Yoga

While I was in Rishikesh this year I had the lovely opportunity to speak to Madhuri Phillips in the context of an interview for Drishti Point Radio out of Vancouver. We had discussed an interview about motherhood and yoga and the more yin, contemplative practice that I feel is very natural to mothers. I had a wonderful time with Madhuri sussing out my thoughts on moment-to-moment awareness practice as the other face of the contemporarily popular practice-practice aspect of the yoga tradition.

During the interview we speak about savouring the moment, spending time with small children and recovering the awe-inspiring mystery of nature. I remember many wonderful teachings and teachers – like Dr. David Frawley’s descriptions of pratyahara in nature such as gazing at the clear blue sky above our heads. Which incidentally also reminds me of EM Forster’s nod to Emerson in A Room with a View in which his character George Emerson reports, “My father says the only perfect view is that of the pure blue sky above our heads”. I could hear in the back of my mind, but don’t have a chance to mention Candace O’Denver’s beautiful description of the “small effort that it takes to rest as awareness”. Ah, that tangential description gives you a bit of an idea of the lyrical nature of the conversation.

I’d love to transcribe the interview here, if I’m able, but for now, here is the link to the live streaming:

Monday April the 9th 5-6pm PST on Vancouver’s Drishti Point Yoga Radio. You can also live stream this from anywhere in the world!

The Enveloping Approach

Virginia Woolf’s narration is cyclical, looping between past and present, in and out of the minds of various characters. It is feminine in its enveloping nature.

Reject nothing. This Tantric maxim comes alive for me in this way. Perhaps in Tantra the worship of the goddess, the Divine Feminine, of the Mother, exists to honour that ability to channel everything and anything into the quest for wholeness. A masculine approach may be more focussed, direct and intense, but launches toward a perceived goal, and later falters when the trickiness of ‘no path, no goal’ dawns. The archetypal feminine is more at home in multiplicity, with perceived incoherence, and can get beyond the duality of light and dark that axes off so much of our lived experience.

The path is not progressive, a knight’s tale of triumph over evil. It is a soothing expansion in all directions, that claims everything as its very own.

In Defense of Birthing Our Own Children

Several years ago after I had my first child, I was facilitation a discussion during a Yoga Teacher Training course.  One of the participants put forward the motion: “Yoga people should choose not to birth children; having children in an over-populated world is selfish”.  Lately there has been a lot of mention in the media of adoption from the Global South (aka the Third World).  Although I absolutely support educational and medical initiatives and grass-roots development project etc., I find the idea of adoption to reduce overpopulation a problematic one.

Firstly, only recently is the media actively covering the looming and very problematic phenomena of underpopulation in the Global North (aka Developed World).  Under population is such a critical issue in countries like Japan, Korea, Italy,  and Spain that in a few generations MOST people will have no brothers, no sisters, no aunts, no uncles, and no cousins.  So our concept of family as one of the cohesive threads of society will severely tested.  Of course, we are already seeing a move towards “chosen families”, and people who create family-like units and joint, creative families.  But under population will also severely cripple the social system that many of us so value – universal medical care, successful public education, a safety net etc.

The decreasing birthrate already shows that many of us are choosing not to parent children at all, birthed or adopted.  This makes it even less likely that mass adoption would equal out the population crisis.  So rather than depending on continued and vastly increased immigration and the challenges of displacement, and vastly increased Third World adoption, would not increasing education for women in the Third World (proven to decrease overpopulation), access to planned parenthood, and on our side of the globe, a more family-friendly society that would encourage new generations to take on the task of parenting again, be preferable, simpler and more viable long-term options?  How coy – this is not really a question.  If left un-addressed, over-population in Africa and India will not be solved by adoption or immigration.  If left un-addressed, under-population in Canada will not be solved by adoption or immigration alone.

Suffice it to say that I do not think it is selfish in our world to give birth to our own children in the West.  Rather, I believe that our society needs us to continue to re-invent what it means to us to be mothers (parents) in the modern world.  Many people having spent years in universities and/or in downtown corporations where there was little interactions with children and families, who did not grow up in a large family themselves,  are removed from the experience of life with children, breast feeding women, babies in slings.  It is simply a symptom of how removed we are from nature in general.  Can families again become more integrated into the fabric of our society?  Can we learn to better support families as they navigate childcare and work?  I do hope so.

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.

copyright Chetana Panwar 2010

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