I started practicing yoga regularly about five years ago. It has become a necessary part of my life, and I so wish I had started earlier. I’ve had emotional, mental, and physical breakthroughs on my yoga mat, and I continue to notice the direct correlation between my yoga practice and my mental state.
I became a mother about 10 years ago. It immediately became the focus of my life, and I’m glad I waited to have kids until I was almost 30. I’ve had emotional, mental, and physical breakdowns in my home (and car, and the lego aisle at Target, and the library, and so on), and I continue to notice the direct correlation between my kids’ moods and my mental state.
Basically, I need yoga. My kids need me to do yoga. Sometimes at the end of a long day my husband doesn’t know whether to bring me a glass of wine or hand me my yoga mat (it’s a toss up). I will continue to spread the message of how just about everyone can benefit from yoga, but for today, I dare to offer the argument that yoga and motherhood are surprisingly similar. Here are seven ways yoga is a lot like motherhood:
1. Yoga pants are perfectly acceptable attire.
Need I say more? Yoga pants are well suited for both yoga practice in a studio and the real-life yoga that happens when trying to wrestle a kid into a car seat or 19 grocery bags into the back of the car. Plus, I find that if I’ve actually done yoga in my yoga pants, I feel far less like I’m phoning it in when I wear them for the rest of the day.
2. Deep breathing for the win.
Breathing is one of the most important aspects of a yoga practice. Yoga teaches us to notice, control, and move with our breaths. A steady, vibrant breath keeps you focused on the present moment and allows for an almost meditative state, even while moving through yoga poses. I’m not promising that a steady breath will allow for a peaceful, meditative state while breaking up a fight between your kids over the green spoon, but I will boldly suggest that learning to take five deep belly breaths before reacting to a fight between your children will greatly reduce your chance of completely losing your mind and throwing that green spoon out the window. Namaste. I also urge my kids to take deep breaths when they are upset or anxious, and it’s been a great tool for them. This video by Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls company is fantastic.
3. This mantra by B.K.S. Iyengar:
Now substitute “parenting” for “yoga.” Perfect fit, no?
Potty training? Endure.
That annoying TV show with high-pitched talking animals? Cure (by changing the channel or maybe even canceling cable).
Night feedings? Endure.
A pediatrician who continually blows off your questions? Cure (by changing doctors).
4. Toots happen.
About 20 minutes into motherhood, you learn that bodily functions will become something you monitor and discuss. My kids are seven and ten, and we have yet to stop discussing (and, truthfully, giggling about) bodily functions, sounds, and noises. Yoga involves far less focus on bodily functions, yet it won’t be long into your yoga practice that you or a classmate passes gas in class—sometimes loudly. It happens. Yoga involves bending, inverting, and twisting. All that movement can get things moving on the inside and sometimes release pent-up gasses. Again, it happens. Just move on. (But if it’s your neighbor, maybe slow up on the deep inhaling for a few seconds…)
5. You cultivate an understanding of a different language.
Often times yoga poses are cued in Sanskrit. You might walk into your first class and think the teacher is speaking in tongues. Be prepared to hear words and phrases like “Adho Mukha Svanasana,” “Utkatasana,” and “Utthita Trikonasana.” (That’s “downward dog,” “chair pose,” and “triangle pose” for the non-native Sanskrit speakers among us.) Yet, after a few classes, you learn exactly what the phrases mean and often forget that they’re not English words. You find yourself immediately moving into the pose as soon as you hear the Sanskrit word spoken by the teacher, even before he/she gives the English name.
Most of us find that our young children speak in their own form of babble, nonsensical words, and creative sound combinations. Yet, as the parent, you learn quickly exactly what your child is requesting or saying. You’ll immediately react to a word that sounds like gibberish to anyone outside of your family.
6. A little stillness goes a long way.
The final pose of a yoga practice is Savasana. It literally translates as “corpse posture.” A bit morbid, yes. Pushing aside images of a chalk outline, imagine lying on your back and just being still. You’ve been moving, twisting, and bending for almost an hour, all working up to this pose. At times I find it to be the hardest pose of the class, as my mind so badly wants to start reviewing my to-do list and the world awaiting me after class. In our fast-paced and frantic world, being still and quiet and just breathing feels simultaneously challenging and luxurious. In our parenting lives, how often do we move so quickly through the motions and requirements of the day and never actually slow down, find stillness, and just be present?
Yoga teachers often preface Savasana by saying it is the most important pose of the practice. I’d suggest that finding moments to be still and aware with our family are some of the most important parts of our day.
7. You discover strength and flexibility you never knew you possessed.
Yoga will push you to your edge daily. Some days your practice is off: You fall out of easy poses and feel tight all over. Other days you nail it: You find yourself reaching farther, bending deeper, and feeling steady. Stick with it, and you might even have an epiphany on your mat, realizing how far you’ve come and how showing up and moving, even on the days you didn’t feel like it, made you better. Over time, you become stronger than you ever realized.
Our kids push us to the edge daily. Some days your parenting is off: You’re irritable and react too quickly. Other days you nail it: You find yourself sharing joy and patience with abundance. Sometimes, in a moment you least expect it, you find yourself realizing how far you’ve come since those first days of motherhood. You realize that you, your partner, and these children have created a great thing—a family—and they have made you better. You, alone and together as a family, are stronger than you could have ever imagined.