The Yoga of Motherhood

Post by Fanny Priest for the Kind Kindred series.


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The Yoga of Motherhood

My fellow yoga teachers and I are fond of saying that we teach what we most need to learn ourselves. Over the last two years since I became a mama, this absolutely has proven to be the truth.

Often I’ll teach poses in the yin style of yoga. In yin yoga we hold poses close to the earth for several minutes in order to target the spine and joints, the connective tissue woven around them, and the energy meridians running through them. I might invite students to come into pigeon pose to their appropriate edge of sensation, and then to hold it for three minutes on each side. For the first several breaths the pose is pleasant and we’re feeling good. Then as time goes on the sensations intensify and discomfort arises, often to a point where we feel we want to bolt. This is the crux of the practice: the moment where we notice the discomfort and the urge to quit, but instead of letting the mind grow wild we stay present with the breath, we welcome the strong sensations. We soften and often find ease, maybe even peace, on the other side.

The purpose of the practice is twofold: physically we release deeply held tension, and move energy through the body; mentally we learn to remain present through the discomfort and to welcome the strong sensations as part of our experience. In this way the practice of yin yoga is akin to meditation: our goal is to welcome all parts of our experience into the field of awareness, but also to continually bring our awareness back to a single point of focus, such as the breath. Over and over and over again, with the same kindness and sweetness, we bring our awareness back. We soften to our experience.

As is turns out yin yoga is an excellent preparation for motherhood. I remember one moment in particular. It isn’t a singular moment in time but rather a moment that happened over and over, enough to stretch into what felt like months. I am holding my infant son, awake, crying, in the middle of the night, and I can feel that wave of panic rising. I feel stuck, like there is no way out of the pain and confusion of sleep deprivation, like my child will never sleep and I will surely go insane or die.

As we hold the deep hip openers in yin yoga and bump up against our edge of sensation it is tempting to fall into judgement. We qualify our bodies as not flexible enough, we decide our practice is not thorough enough, we judge ourselves as not good enough. Surely there must be a reason why we feel so uncomfortable, a reason which could be remedied with effort and change. As we hold our crying babies in the middle of the night and wonder if or how our lives will ever get back to normal, it is tempting to fall into the trap of self-criticism: we don’t know what we’re doing, we don’t know how to fix things, our wild thoughts are scary, and so we must be bad mothers. As we learn through yoga to welcome all elements of our experience into the embrace of awareness, something almost magical happens: we stop fighting against what we don’t want. We soften right into the middle of it. We welcome our tight hips and our self-doubt as part of our reality in the moment, and we come back to the ever-faithful steadiness of the breath. When we stop fighting we find peace.

I would love to tell you that, in that moment in the rocking chair at night, I would remember the lessons of my yoga practice. I would tell myself that this was just like holding pigeon pose, and allow myself to soften around what hurt. I would talk to myself as I would to a student, with kindness in my voice, and invite the awareness to return, with gentleness and sweetness, to the breath. I did–sometimes. Most of the time I didn’t. I stayed stuck and wild and scared. It took me a long time to return to what I already knew, which was the lesson I needed to learn again and again: how to be kind to myself, to welcome my imperfections and discomfort, and to soften inside of my experience of the moment. But eventually, return I did. I am pregnant again and I am curious and excited to see how having integrated this lesson will change how I handle the difficult moments with a sleepless newborn. If I forget again, you will remind me, won’t you?

Fanny Priest is a yoga teacher and writer. She is the mama of one little boy, and is expecting a second child in 2013. She lives in Central Texas, and blogs about motherhood and mindfulness at MamaHereNow.com.

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