April 17, 2013

What Yoga Taught Me About Joyful Parenting. ~ Christine Marion-Jolicoeur

Photo: Shinan Ahmad

I’m a big advocate for self-care & making things easier whenever possible.

Like many parents (especially mums, I think), I practice yoga for both of these reasons. Yoga helps me reduce stress, strengthen my body, strengthen my mind and it keeps me grounded. It really is amazing, I just wish I did it more.

When I keep up with a regular yoga practice I feel better, sleep better and I’m much more calm. It’s a way to get out of my head and help me connect with myself as well as my kids (who love playing “this is yoga,” a game where they make up poses and I have to try to copy them).

For the benefit of everyone in my house, I try to practice a few times each week, even if it’s just for a few minutes or a few poses. I find that if I keep my mat someplace where I literally have to step over it to get to where I need to go, I’m more likely to follow through. Sometimes I even keep it in front of the TV and do a few poses during commercial breaks after my little people are in bed.

After I fit in a practice this morning, I thought about how lessons of joyful parenting are everywhere if you’re looking for them.

Here are just a few that I have learned from yoga:

1. Be Mindful—stay in the moment and focus on what is right in front of you or you’ll fall on your face.

In yoga, this is a much more literal lesson. If you worry about everyone checking out your butt in your yoga pants or how bendy your neighbor is, you won’t have the mental concentration needed to stay in tree pose and you’ll stumble or fall down.

In parenting, I’m referring more to how quickly things move. Little people are only little for a very short time. Stop, pay attention and enjoy the everyday moments. When I’m more focused on getting things done and I tell my kids over and over, “just one more minute,” I miss all kinds of fun and many of their cues. Before I know it, someone is in a full blown melt-down and I’m  left wondering, “what’s this all about?” Or, the worst of the worst, I get that pang of guilt that comes just after I hear, “Mum! Please, turn off the computer and play with me!”

When I’m mindful and feeling connected with my kids, I see the tired, I see the hungry and I can take care of it before it turns into something bigger.

2. Listen to Your Body—what you can do today might be different from what you could do yesterday. It’s not right or wrong, it just is.

Once I did a perfect, effortless wheel pose. My instructor was talking us through it and I thought, “I haven’t done that since I was eight, but, okay!” and up I went. Amazing! The next day I tried it on my own and nothing. I couldn’t get my body to move the same way again;  I was a little surprised and a little disappointed. For a moment I thought about pushing through and trying to force it, but I realized I’d only end up at the chiropractor, so I let it go.

Similarly, some days I’m Super Mum. No bragging here, just facts. Some days I get sh*t done; homemade organic meals, folded laundry, tidy house, clean and happy kids, a date night with my husband. But the moment I catch myself thinking, “look at me go! I can have it all!” I know tomorrow is going to just suck. Maybe I did too much too fast, maybe it’s the universe balancing itself out. This is what I call the “joy hangover.” I need to plan for a calm, quiet, no-pressure day after a super-crazy, productive day because nothing seems to work right and I just don’t want to make any more decisions.

3. It’s Okay to Modify—we don’t all have to do the same things and it’s okay to take a rest when you need it.

One of my favorite things about yoga is that anyone can do it. Even if you’re a first day beginner, have an injury, tight muscles or are pregnant, you can still find a safe way to do a pose and get the benefits of a practice. That’s why there’s a big stack of blocks and straps and blankets in the corner of every yoga studio.

In parenting too, there are many, many right ways to do the same thing; we all have different values, experiences, support and resources and no two little people are alike. Even if what you do is the complete opposite of what I do, as long as you thought about it, made a conscious decision and it works for you, it doesn’t bother me at all.

When we talk about rest in yoga, it’s usually a reminder that there’s always the option of taking child’s pose for a break or to focus on your breath. While there’s no pause button in parenting (but wouldn’t that be nice!?) everything works better when you’re rested. Sleep deprivation is the worst! It affects all other areas of your life—your memory, patience and decision-making. I will tell you this and you will ignore me, but hopefully not for too long, sleep when your little person sleeps (at nap and at night).

4. Sit with (and Sometimes Even Lean into) Discomfort—feel the discomfort, breathe into it and know that the feeling is part of the process of getting stronger.

In a yoga class you don’t just stop when you feel resistance, you listen to that resistance and decide what it is trying to teach you. A little discomfort helps me tune into that part of my body so I know when I can push a little further or hold a little longer without causing pain or injuring myself.

My best decisions as a parent come from listening to discomfort as well; the kind of discomfort that whispers in my ear, “there has to be a better way” or “I don’t want to do it just because it ‘worked’ for other parents/generations.” The kind that makes me get creative about problem-solving and limit-setting and the language I use with my little people. Those are the decisions that make me a better parent and a stronger person.

5. Sometimes You Need Professional Help—maybe you can do it alone and things will be good, but there are times when a skilled teacher can help you take things to the next level.

I find that practicing yoga in a studio with an instructor and other students is a totally different experience than practicing at home. I get out of the house, stay focused for the full class (60 or 90 minutes), I learn new poses and modifications. I try crazy-fun stuff that you should never do unsupervised.

In parenting, this lesson meant seeking out a counselor and a coach when I needed help to make some big changes. I was constantly trying to do everything and be everything all the time, but I only succeeded in being exhausted, disappointed and resentful. For a while, I pretended it was good enough, because I was trying my very best. But I couldn’t maintain that level of distress for long. My counselor helped me identify thinking errors and repeated messages from my early experiences. My coach taught me to stay curious about the things I was seeing and feeling, without judgment and without trying to figure it all out or fix it.

I found the biggest problem with trying to “work on myself” by myself was that I was using my old patterns, rationalizations and damaged thinking to try to come up with new solutions. Having objective, professional support made a huge difference. Like when you think your warrior II is working just fine, then an instructor comes by and adjusts you or explains the body placement in a new way. Suddenly, you can sink into it deeper and experience it without pain.

Christine Marion-Jolicoeur is a social worker, author, artist, entrepreneur, research geek and joyful mum of two amazing little people. She studied criminology, psychology and chemistry in university and has worked in social work for the past 10 years. Being a social worker by trade and research geek by nature, becoming a parent led her through self-reflection, analysis and confusion and eventually out the other side to trust, clarity and joy. Raising little people is the best and hardest job she’s ever had and she is grateful every day for the lessons she learns about how to live and parent with purpose and on purpose.You can find out more about her and her work on the Joyful You web page, the Joyful Parenting blog and on Facebook.

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Ed: Sara Crolick/Kate Bartolotta


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