When I went off to college, I left my Presbyterian roots behind.
For years, I’d watched (and followed) my mother to church. I grew up with weekly Sunday school (and even taught it for a time).
It seemed to me that my mother was wasting her time: Going to church suppers. Volunteering in the church day care center. Delivering flowers to the sick and elderly on Easter Sunday. She served her church as a Deacon, and that meant more meetings; she had to pass out the wine (aka grape juice) at communion, a task that made her “nervous.”
When I left home for college and beyond, I was glad to be done with it. And I swore, though I loved my mother with all my heart, I wanted to be nothing like her. Organized religion, in my young opinion, was a crock. I’d seen plenty of hypocrisy there (though admittedly, not from my mother).
Many years later, after my mother’s death, I began practicing yoga.
At first, I laughed at how different my life was than my mother’s. But then I began to notice some strange similarities.
My mother modeled commitment and devotion. Very little stopped her from getting to church on Sundays, just as very little stops me today from getting to yoga class. My mother never forced anyone to go to church (my dad went mostly on holidays), but by example she showed me what it meant to commit to a spiritual practice. Her word, too, was sacred: When my mother said she’d be there (unless she came down with the flu or an unexpected snow storm blew in) she was there. Her words were true, kind, and highly reliable.
My mother modeled selfless service (seva). Sometimes my husband asks, “Why are you always helping out at the yoga studio?” But, I now realize, this is how I was raised. My mother was always first in line to volunteer at her church. Whatever was needed, she was there. Today, I take great pleasure in helping new students at the yoga center where I practice. I love to dust the altar, or arrange the blankets neatly.
My mother practiced non-judgment and ahimsa (alas, she had a bit of a problem with attachment). In my home and at our holiday dinners, everyone was welcome, regardless of race, sexual preference, or religious beliefs. The only thing she had no tolerance for was racism, and I literally cannot remember a time when she raised her voice (maybe once, when as a kid I ran into the road!). She treated everyone with kindness (though she didn’t especially like bugs).
She was extremely attached to her family (as am I). One of the greatest struggles of my life has been learning to let go. This is something Mom neither modeled nor ever mastered.
What I realize now is that my mother lived as a yogini.
She didn’t know of or do any asana, but she taught me how to be true to my path. And now, when I head off to yoga class, or slip away to practice my daily meditation, I know that I am actually following in her footsteps. My mother revealed to me that it’s the living of your belief—whatever it is—that really matters; the showing up, the being there, the keeping of the promise you’ve made to the divine, and to your higher self.
My mother modeled commitment, devotion and love; I can’t imagine a richer inheritance—or a deeper understanding of what yoga is.
Kathryn E. Livingston has been writing about parenting issues for more than 25 years; recently, she’s turned her pen to yoga. Kathryn is especially drawn to Vinyasa, Iyengar, and Kundalini yoga, and is soon to engage in a Kundalini yoga teacher training. Visit her personal blog at livwrite.blogspot.com. Find her on The Huffington Post and on the Kundalini yoga music website SpiritVoyage.com, check out her book of essays, All About Motherhood, or follow her on Twitter. Kathryn’s yoga memoir will be published in January, 2014.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta