No doubt about it, parenting is challenging.
I gave birth to Griffin at home, in table pose, on a well-worn yoga mat. We were in front of the fire, in the middle of the living room. The mat was green and helped hold my focus during Griffin’s lighting speed, two-hour delivery.
You probably know which mat it is: It’s the one with the large tree and floating leaves. Gaiam had it on sale with a matching mat bag several years ago. I’m sure a million people have the same one. Mine was special enough to me to be one of the few things I needed during labor. I had taken it with me on my pilgrimage to Santa Barbara nine months earlier, to the White Lotus Foundation, where it comforted me consistently during the transformative experience that was my first yoga teacher training.
Its California wear and tear soothed me during that riveting night in December of 2009. I still have it—though it now bears the even more poignant markings of Griffin’s birth. I didn’t know it then, but that night, on that mat, a new kind of practice was born.
Griffin just turned three, and while the mat has long since been retired, Griffin has become an integral part of my yoga practice. He watches me frequently at home, often crawling beneath me during warrior poses, or laying on top of me in cobra. He makes guest appearances in the little videos I’ve done for my website and, as in the photograph above, he’s jumped into photo shoots—like the one I did this fall with the amazing Robert Sturman.
He loves building towers out of yoga blocks, and skates over the studio’s hardwood floors in his socks. It’s not unusual for him to join in at the end of one of my classes for savasana and a chant an Om or two.
It wasn’t always this way though. Back in 2009, pregnant with Griffin, I made a ridiculous decision that being a Mom wasn’t going to change my yoga.
Wow, was that naive.
It’s difficult to admit (and still makes me feel guilty from time to time) but I struggled with postpartum depression. I resented my own child for taking away my me time, and I resented the world for what I then saw as a detour of my dharma from teaching to parenting.
I labored to find any sort of balance in my life, and I was angry. It took me the first year and a half of Griffin’s life to figure out how to bring my yoga practice and parenting together. But eventually I surrendered to the inevitability that my practice was going to include my son, and being a mother was going to require a serious shift in how I would navigate the rest of my life.
Since then, I have made it a conscious decision to incorporate Griffin into the very essence of what I hope to accomplish with my practice: a deeper sense of equanimity, and alignment with integrity. And so whenever possible I bring him into the fold.
Yoga began for me, as it does for many of us, as a collection of beautiful poses. Then it became a collection of tools I used to build and shape my life, and today shape the way I build my life with my loved ones.
I think this is a common yogic experience.
For many of us it begins with the asanas—we practice and reap the physical benefits, the feel-good highs and the calming moments of stillness. And then, like magic, it turns into something more: a level head, a quieter mind, a meditation practice, a change in diet, or a commitment to healthier mindful living. Maybe we dig a little deeper and study up on the traditional teachings.
If we can integrate our practice into how we run our homes and work our relationships, our children absorb yoga by proxy.
Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah
Yoga is the resolution of the agitations of the mind
I recently took a workshop with Raghunath in Boston, and he started out his dharma talk by speaking to this very evolution. He reminded us that while we were there to practice asana, we were really there to use the practice to clear the vritti, or fluctuations of the mind, and that this could be best accomplished with the breath.
In my practice I have found that indeed, the moments when we slow down our breath, we can slow down the vritti and find a self-awareness that resides only within spaciousness.
“Yoga is a way of moving into stillness in order to experience the truth of who you are.” ~Erich Schiffmann
When Griffin gets upset now, I’ll hold him and ask him to look into my eyes and breathe with me. Sometimes I put his hand on my chest, and rest mine on his. I try to help him find space between his cries or complaints and simultaneously put a pause on my own reactivity. It doesn’t always work, but sometimes all it takes is a little pranayama and touch, and my amped-up toddler will calm himself down to a place in which we can both be still. We are together practicing mindfulness.
“Mindfulness frees us of forgetfulness and dispersion and makes it possible to live fully each minute of life. Mindfulness enables us to live.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
No doubt about it, parenting is challenging.
It’s one of the hardest (and most rewarding) jobs on the planet. It’s difficult not to take a toddler’s temper tantrum personally, or stay calm in the midst of a Stop N’ Shop Def Con 5–sized meltdown.
Many of us parents find ourselves pressed for time and end up multitasking three or four different things in any given moment—folding the laundry while helping the toddler get his breakfast down, or answering e-mails on our iPhones, while skimming Huffington Post on the desktop and answering questions about the day’s itinerary. It’s all forgivable, but it’s not very mindful. There is no room for space in a torrent of activity like this and it can make us and our children feel claustrophobic.
Now when I find myself having a day like this, my yoga practice reminds me I’m not in alignment with my beliefs.
Multitasking, no matter how time-saving it may feel, produces half-baked ideas and an overcrowded mind. It’s ultimately anxiety-producing.
And it’s not yoga.
The next time you get caught-up in the whirlwind of your “life”/the vritti, practice bringing your attention back to the present moment. Invite into your heart the practice of mindfulness. You will be rewarded with tiny or not so tiny arms wrapped around you, keeping warm and grateful and grounded in a shared experience of the present moment.
“May we learn to allow the stillness in our hearts to live in our minds.” ~Elena Brower
Your children will learn. When you set a positive, mindful, spacious example for them when they are young, they will learn and lift off that much earlier and soar before your eyes.
Caitlin is a yoga teacher, workshop producer, mother, dancer, healer and writer. She is nationally certified in massage therapy and has been studying yoga on and off for over 13 years. A former modern dancer, she fuses her passion for music and modern dance with yoga, keeping her flow creative, playful and fresh. Caitlin lives on the tiny Island of Nantucket, Massachusetts year-round with her partner and three-year-old satguru Griffin, where she is an advocate of prenatal yoga, natural childbirth, midwifery, elegant tattoos, rockin’ music and eating like you give a damn. She teaches regularly at The Yoga Room and has recently begun teaching workshops in the greater New England area. Caitlin blogs about her practice on and off the mat on her website and you can find her on Facebook and Twitter.
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Assistant Ed: Stephanie V.
Ed: Kate Bartolotta