Yoga Mama: A New Mom’s Practice of the Yamas and Niyamas of Motherhood
I start the day with my Yummy Time—my sacred, special, blessed time: my Yoga Time. Music, mat and breath combined create Emily’s morning bliss: a delightful combination of spontaneous, challenging asanas with fun transitions. This particular morning was especially delish, as I merged with the infinite and opened to the universe. But, as it goes, enlightenment, then… well, then a door slammed open.
“Mama, build me a big tractor!”
Legos flooded my space. The sound of crashing plastic was torturous after the sweetness of silence, and my impulse was to snap, to impolitely tell my son to leave until I was finished, to be loud and insensitive. Then I inhaled. My heart softened. My diaphragm released and I gently said, “Okay.”
I settled into Upavistha Konasana with Legos piled between my legs, and built a tractor. He built me an airplane. We sang our Yes and No Song.
My practice was complete.
Becoming a mother drastically transforms a yoga practice. Initially, pregnancy yoga is fun and beneficial, but after the birth, the real challenge begins. There is a lack of time, the toll of nursing, inconsistent sleep patterns, the reality of a small, dependant person constantly needing something from you, and on and on. If there is a moment of peace, it is naptime or shower time, or worse, time to cook and clean. Luckily, I accepted this fact easily, for I was happy with my motherhood, and wondered instead how I could do yoga when I did not have time for yoga.
That is when it all started making sense. Yoga is not yoga if you are not doing yoga all the time: on the mat and off the mat. Being a mother actually offered me a million and one opportunities in a day to practice yoga, in ways I had previously not explored. The integration of breath control to check irrational responses, for example, having the flexibility to accept that today is not going to be like yesterday and it is okay to not know what tomorrow holds, developing the mental strength and wisdom to live what I teach, to set an example, to honor my own truth while sharing that with my son.
These are fundamental aspects of yoga.
I began to practice contentment, the second Niyama, when I felt the shock of unintentional selflessness. Yes, having a newborn meant I had no time for myself. But when I took a deep breath, slowed my thoughts and was still, I realized that instead, I had time to grow into a new person, dedicated to caring for the people she loved. A person who practiced single-pointed focus while watching the development of motor skills; who practiced ahimsa while disciplining; who studied her own weaknesses as a parent in the tradition of svadhyaya. My son and I both benefitted from my non-mat practice: I became a better person, and my son had a mom who was patient and attentive to him in the moment.
Alas, newborns do grow up, needs are more easily communicated, and activities become more varied. Slowly, the day of a new mother opens to allow for the possibility of personal time. This, in my case, is not necessarily Yoga Time. I practiced inconsistently at first, but noticed many differences. My arms and upper body were stronger from carrying a growing child all the time. My breath was naturally deeper and more rhythmic. As I got back into the swing of my routine and reestablished a daily practice, I noticed that the years of desperately wanting to practice asanas had given birth to a profound gratitude for yoga in all of its expressions.
When I was finally able to combine asana practice with my all-inclusive yoga approach, I realized that becoming a mother had transformed me. I had not just given birth, I was a woman reborn.
The Yamas and Niyamas of Motherhood
Ah, ahimsa: the simple practice of non-violence, which informs so many of our daily interactions. The practice of ahimsa lies in that moment where your intentional breath delays an irrational reaction and then soothes your unintentional anger into thoughtful disciplining. Particularly in motherhood, the emphasis of this yama is on the positive aspect of ahimsa, love. I do not need to expound on the inclusion of love in the mother-child relationship, but I will humbly admit that consistently acting and reacting with love and compassion is a challenge to even a very mindful parent.
Truthfulness. As a parent, this means never saying, “do as I say, not as I do.” It means saying and doing the same thing, walking the walk, living one truth. Your truth, whatever that is. See, you now have a small, intelligent observer. Your child will see all dimensions of you whether they are consistent with each other or not. Let your parental path be the one that guides you to broaden your sense of self so you may realize that you already are everything you ever wanted to be. Now be that person in front of your child and watch them effortlessly learn your values; later, you will proudly watch as they fearlessly express their own truth.
Non-stealing. The only way to steal from your baby is to keep from them what they crave the most: your attention. Be present with your little one as they are perfectly present with you.
Traditionally thought of as referring to a life of celibacy, we will consider this yama according to one aspect mentioned by Shankaracharya: a person who studies sacred texts. What does that mean to you? I think it means read around your kid if you want them to read. If you want them to read spiritual literature, then make that a part of your day, and include them if possible. Find age appropriate books that provoke meaningful thought. Take the conversation off the pages and have dialogues with your children, no matter how young, about your beliefs and what you think is important. They will listen.
Non-hoarding in motherhood is simple to practice. Aparigraha means not collecting more than you need, not buying outfits that will remain unworn, not consuming every toy the market supplies. Following this principle will gratify you with fewer trinkets to pick up, well-loved clothing, and a unique menagerie of special toys.
Purity. When you keep yourself and your baby clean, when you maintain a hygienic home, when you eat nutritious food, you are practicing saucha. As a mother, I believe this also means breastfeeding, since this is the most pure and appropriate food for newborns and infants.
Contentment. Be happy you are a mom, because nothing is going to change: for at least the next eighteen years, you have a beautiful being who depends on you to fulfill their needs and show them the ways of the world. Therefore, consciously choose contentment and be grateful for the gift of motherhood, for the experience of unconditional love, for the shared moments of revelation and joy.
Tapas may be described as a burning desire to achieve a definite goal. The setting and achieving of self-determined goals is an important aspect of a productive life. Admittedly, a new mother has very little time for extracurricular projects; however, it is important to set realistic and personally fulfilling goals that will slowly but surely will lead you towards your bliss as you grow with your family.
Self-study: perhaps a parent’s most relevant Niyama. Iyengar says the person who practices svadhyaya reads their own book as they are writing it. For a mother, this might mean reviewing her disciplinary actions at the end of the day to check their consistency, or realizing in the midst of play time that she is still thinking about work, then redirecting her attention to the important task at hand, or simple introspection with honest intentions to improve yourself.
Dedication to the Lord. This Niyama, I would leave to each her own, but I am compelled to offer this initiative: direct your dedication towards Love for All Beings and then watch your lotus heart blossom.
Emily Azad is.
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Assistant Ed. Caroline Scherer