Ah, child’s pose. This restorative asana, or yoga pose, mimics the fetal position: the body is curled, protected and deeply relaxed. It provokes restful contemplation, nurtures inner joy and fosters quiet peacefulness.
Alas, if balasana had been modeled after my own child, it would be a haughty stance, with arms crossed in front of the chest, chin tucked but eyes uplifted, defiant. It would be a pose full of energy, but not a focused, blissful energy; rather, it would simmer with wild volatility.
Sofia, my eldest, is four going on sixteen. Sometime during the last year she transitioned from a precocious and cheerful toddler to a fiery, emotional preschooler. Although she’s still a joyful child, Sofia can go from merrily playing with her dolls to screaming and kicking faster than you can say pitta dosha. Balance, tranquility and stability are not in big supply around our house these days.
Enter kid’s yoga. Sofia loves to practice her version of yoga—a combo of poses she’s seen me do, moves she learned at preschool, and the natural movements of her own body. Her favorite asanas are a one-legged downward dog—“Look at me, Mommy!” and a mean virasana that hurts my knees just to look at.
She’s always asking to go to yoga with me, so taking her to a kid’s yoga class at our local studio seemed like a no-brainer. But what should have been a fun, bonding experience quickly turned into a disaster.
My first mistakes were not giving Sofia enough time to get excited about the idea and not letting her make the decision to go to yoga on her own. I didn’t want to tell her about it until I knew for sure we could go that day—in other words, that I’d met my morning deadline, fed the baby, and completed a dozen other tasks. By the time I realized we could still make the class, it was late. The result was me rushing around, urging her to get dressed and hurry hurry hurry so that we could go to yoga…to relax.
Of course, Sofia didn’t want to brush her teeth that day, so by extension, she didn’t want to go to the class. But I’d already made up my mind, and at one point I actually said, “This is not a choice, we’re going!” Ordering your child to have fun is the equivalent of screaming at her to be quiet.
But I got Sofia into the car without too much of a fuss and hoped for the best, figuring she would come around. We arrived at the studio and set up our mats. I took some deep breaths, trying to ground myself, while Sofia assumed grumpy child’s pose (her version, not actual balasana).
You’d think that being her mother, I’d have caught on to the fact that she’s not a fan of group activities. Although she’s vibrant and outgoing around people she knows, she tends to shut down in new situations, especially if anyone gives her the slightest bit of attention. So when the teacher asked her name, she looked away, chewing her lip until the teacher moved on.
Sofia sat like this, unmoving, mute and unengaged for most of the class. If anyone spoke to her, she either completely ignored them or turned away, thrusting her bony little shoulder in their direction. At one point someone saw a spider and her eyes brightened, but she seemed to quickly remember that she was angry and resumed the pout.
The other mothers smiled sympathetically, but I know they had to wonder at some point. Could Sofia talk? Had she been locked in a basement her whole life? What was wrong with this child?
Finally, it was time for savasana. The mothers took a supported pose, using a bolster and blanket, and the children were left to their own devices. Sofia got up and went to investigate a wooden backbend bench that two other girls had played on earlier. I had hoped she might cuddle with me, but was grateful she was at least playing.
The teacher began to narrate. “Good, the moms are all resting. Hannah and Isabella are rolling the ball, wonderful. I see Sofia climbing, that’s great…”
At the sound of her name, Sofia inexplicably burst into tears. She wasn’t in trouble and she hadn’t hurt herself. Maybe it was just the weight of maintaining her protest throughout the whole class that finally got to her.
Either way, she sobbed and came running to my arms. While everyone else breathed deeply and quietly, Sofia wailed away into my shoulder, and oddly, for the first time during this class, I felt relief. Finally, Sofia was able to express herself. Finally, she was letting go and letting me in, allowing me to comfort her and beg an unspoken pardon for the tumultuous morning.
She cried and cried. But no longer did I feel self-conscious about Sofia’s behavior. Maybe it was that brief chest-opening during savasana, but all I felt was a fierce, unadulterated love for my child. I could hold her like this forever if she’d let me.
This, I realized, was mother’s pose—my heart open wider than humanly possible, my arms closed around her, warm and embracing, strong yet flexible. As with all yoga poses, opposing forces were at play: the desire to enclose, protect and shield tugged against the need to trust, release and follow.
Slowing down, relenting, letting myself be guided rather than always guiding—those were the keys to joy and peace. Next time, I would let Sofia choose the activity. I would follow her lead, even if that meant hunting spiders in the yard rather than attempting a yoga class. I would recognize that the restoration I sought in balasana was to be found in letting my child find her own pose.
Sara Bautista writes, mothers, and attempts to garden in Albuquerque, NM. You can read about her parenting joys and disasters here: A Lady Named Carlos, or follow her on Twitter at @abqbabylove.