Yoga and Family03 Oct 2017
Yoga and family
Pattabi Jois probably explained it best when he said that having a family was the seventh series of his ashtanga yoga system. Anyone who has attempted the first/primary series will know that it is not easy…so the 7th…. well, it is not for the faint hearted!
For most people, it is not obvious how to mix having a family and Yoga. Of course, every family is different; how the relationships work, who does what, who is the carer / provider, what your values are, your priorities, etc., so how you manage to integrate your Yoga is really a very personal thing.
Here, I offer some tips from my experience as a mum of two young children, self-employed Yoga teacher, and wife to a lawyer who works long hours (but don’t hold it against him, he is really very nice, and manages to practice yoga every day ☺).
There is something about family that really helps to show our ‘work in progress’ areas. Can we keep our cool after months of broken sleep? Can we continue to show love and patience when completely exhausted? Are we able to maintain our healthy eating, clean living, when squeezed for time and budget?
I have learned sooooooo much from being a mum, the growth and evolution has been enormous. I think I have learned more over the past 7 years than the previous 7 when I was in intensive yoga practice and study. When I start to give myself a hard time about the massive reduction in mat practice since the kids, I think about whether I can see any progress over the years, the answer is a resounding yes! I am definitely more grounded, grateful, loving, patient, open, and so so so much more aware of my many flaws.
Here is some of the ways my family have taught me:
- Unconditional love – this is something you read about in spiritual literature, but I did not understand it, let alone offer it, until the moment my tiny baby was in my arms. That was me. Hooked. For life. What an amazing gift, to be able to feel that amount of love when you look at, or think about your child. I swear my heart literally grew. And, now I have a yard stick, I can at least attempt to offer this to the other people in my life.
- Surrender - Surrender is something else we are told to do… ‘you just have to let go’, or ‘surrender the needs of the ego’, or ‘perform acts with no thought of the benefits’. If you are lucky, you may figure out how to do this all by yourself, but I wonder if having a family is the first time many of us really get to come face to face with this practice. It starts in pregnancy, you no longer get to do things you like, from headstands to late nights, you surrender your body and desires, to prioritise someone else. Then, once they are here, it only increases. You surrender your sleep, your time, often also your work, your hobbies, your social life, etc. Grasping to maintain your life as it was before children can lead to great suffering for you and your family. Your life has changed – surrender!
- Blind spots – it is easy to cruise along thinking you are a calm, nice yogi. Throw in a young baby with colic and a grumpy partner, and you will soon discover aspects of your personality normally reserved for Christmas with your extended family!
- Humility – discovering that actually you don’t know everything and can’t be perfect all the time, and have to rely on others can have a wonderfully humbling effect. Freeing.
- Live in the moment – If you don’t, life can get hard. It is the moments where their little faces are lit up playing with a ball or learning to walk that make each day shine. When awake at 4am with a crying child, and you have to get up early to work a 12 hour shift, if you think about ‘I must get to sleep, I must sleep’ it will be hell. If in those moments you are completely present and forget the next day, be with your child, don’t long to be somewhere else, those are the moments of love and spaciousness, rather than stress and anxiety.
- Be a role model – best explained by the Dalai Lama in The Art of Happiness…P 44 “…the researchers are now seeking to discover the optimal environmental conditions that will allow the seed of caring and compassion to ripen in children. They have identified several factors: having parents who are able to regulate their own emotions, who model caring behaviours, who set appropriate limits on the children’s behaviour, who communicate that a child is responsible for her or his own behaviour, and who use reasoning to help direct the child’s attention to affective or emotional states and the consequences of her or his behaviour on others.” That certainly got me to up my game and got me thinking about the yamas and applying them.
- Family home = Yoga Sala – The yoga practice changes, but discipline, self mastery and stillness are very much part of your daily life. If you have the space and motivation, the above can also be a list of how to practice and evolve, allowing your family home to be your yoga sala.
Each day I renew my aspiration to be a better Yogi for the sake of my children and my husband. The best gift I can think of, is offering them presence and love.
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