Parenting and the Search for Unicorns
Yoga is hard work. Parenting is hard work. Maintaining a yoga practice while trying to
apply yogic principles to parenting is like . . . building a bridge to Neverland in search of a
unicorn. Or is it? One of the primary principles of yoga is the cultivation of non-attachment.
Practicing non-attachment can be very helpful in approaching your yoga practice while caring
for small children.
Before we can really understand what non-attachment is we need to first distinctly
remove the idea of what it is not - aversion. Non-attachment does not mean avoidance. It does
not mean staying away from those things you are tempted to attach to. Non-attachment is
allowing anything and everything without identifying the self with its presence. It is doing the
work required of you without expectation of the results of that effort.
In yoga asana practice, the concept of non-attachment becomes tangible and workable.
We do our forward folds every practice, without the expectation that today we will touch our
toes, or bring our nose to our knees. We simply fold forward, day after day with intention and
allow the body to respond. It would be nice if we flattened our bodies against our legs but until
then, we continue to fold forward, as far as we can, day after day. Of course we want it, the
wanting is part of the motivation but whether we get to that ultimate end or not does not affect
the daily work of folding forward and does not affect the way we identify ourselves. Are you “a
forward folder” or “not a forward folder”? Neither. You are a person, a divine light, who happens
to be doing the work of forward folding.
Pregnancy and parenthood taught me a lot about releasing my expectations. When I first
became pregnant I thought I would be one of those preggy ladies doing amazing advanced
poses into my ninth month, huge belly and all. Turned out to not be the case, at all. Labor and
delivery also were far from what I expected. I thought: “Hey i do yoga, I meditate, do breath
work. This labor thing is going to be a breeze.” 49 hours later, my expectations were completely
shattered. Returning to my mat postpartum I was reminded, over and over again, to let go of
what I thought was supposed to be happening and simply exist in the now of what WAS
happening. It was, and remains, a challenging lesson to integrate. Now two years past the birth
of my second child, with two preschool children at home, I focus on the effort, commitment,
strength, and discipline it takes to simply get on my mat consistently. I set intentions for my
practice but in the end I allow it to manifest as it does. I have come to accept and trust that the
time will come, not too far from now, that I will be able to give more of my mental capacities,
physical efforts and consecutive minutes to time on my mat. I accept that at this time, it is not so
important to work my deepest leg behind head poses, or my deepest backbend etc. The
importance of my practice right now is that it provide me with time alone, time to go in, time for
nurturing and strengthening and time for self-attention.
While dreaming of being a parent someday I always imagined this little Buddha baby, the
epitome of peace and love. The child would manifest all of the yogic principles I have spent so
much time working on in myself. How could they not bloom in the life I created? We are never
the parents that we think we would be. There is nothing anyone can do, think, or say to be
prepared for parenthood. You simply have no idea until you are neck deep in it. Sri K Pattabhi
Jois, the long-time head of the Ashtanga lineage, which has six series of asana sequences that
get progressively harder, was known to have referred to parenting as seventh series yoga -
because it is hard, like really really hard. It is easy to approach life with yogic principles when all
you have to worry about is yourself. It is easy to do a two hour yoga practice every day if you
only have your own schedule to be concerned about. It is easy to remain steady and focused on
your practice when it is one thing on a short list of priorities. The real yoga happens when you
add in the challenges of children, a partner, etc. Now, with all of these obstacles, do your yoga.
Now find inner peace. The challenge is the point. And like that forward fold, we don’t stop trying
because it is hard. We do the work, day after day without attachment to the results of that work.
We get on our mats, we breath in and breath out, we focus our attention inward, we cultivate the
inner strength required to face our kids with love (for them as well as for ourselves). We remain
mindful of our intentions to guide them and hopefully teach them something about being loving,
peaceful beings in this world. It would be nice if they would become shining examples of divine
light in physical form, little unicorns. It would be nice, but until then, do your best. Do the work,
on and off your mat, build the bridge.