When I discovered yoga in 1998, I was 27 years old, newly married, and several years away from having kids. I took my first class at a health club, in hopes that yoga would relieve stiffness that lingered, after breaking a dozen bones in a near-fatal car crash.
I believed that yoga could help me feel better, but I never expected that it would teach me most of what I needed to know to be a good parent. It is the ancient philosophies behind yoga, as well as its regular practice, that have helped me become more of the mom I always hoped to be. Here are just a few of the many important parenting lessons yoga has taught me:
1. Be present. Without awareness, yoga becomes just another workout. If I lose the mind/body/spirit connection, I miss the best parts. The same holds true for parenting. It’s important to look kids in the in the eyes, and tell them we are happy to see them. Ask questions, and stay engaged as they reply. This connectedness deepens our relationship, and builds their self-esteem.
2. Focus on what it feels like, not what it looks like. What we feel is more important than what we look like in yoga. Similarly, our kids will always remember how we made them feel, more than what life looked like, when they grow up. They won’t remember whether our nails were done, if the house was messy, or if their clothes were ironed…they will remember how it felt to live with us. Was family life peaceful? Accepting? Encouraging? Focus on making home feel like love, more than anything else.
3. Balance happens when we are strong on the inside, and soft on the outside. Set the foundation, hold onto it, and let go all at once. This is how we sustain balance poses on the mat. Likewise, as a parent, it is just as important to be sure of ourselves, as it is to be flexible with our kids. We must strengthen ourselves first, so that we can tend to the evolving needs of family, with grace and equanimity.
4. Taking breaks doesn’t make me weak, it makes me stronger. On the yoga mat, it is essential to honor my body. If I ignore cues to rest, my practice falls apart. The same is true with my kids. I love spending time with them, but I become less rational when we are together for days on end, without a break. Recognizing the need to put myself in “time out” (i.e., “child’s pose”) helps me as much on my mat, as with my family. Once I reconnect with my inner strengths, I can return with better perspective, and more of myself to share.
5. The transitions are just as important as the poses. Some yogis spend up to half of their practice time in transitions. Connecting the poses with grace is essential. As a parent, it is easy to get wrapped up in the big moments–the sports games, recitals, and birthday parties–but don’t forget to find value and beauty in the everyday experiences.
No one said it would be easy, but the promise of reward for hard work is significant, in both yoga and parenting. The word yoga means “to yoke”, and refers to the uniting of the mind, body, and spirit. When we parent children with the intelligence of all three, we discover that parenting can be the greatest yogic practice of all.
Happy National Yoga Month!