Today is the day! The day when things finally started getting easier. How do I know? Because for the first time I went out with both my kids, aged 29 months and 5 months old, and someone remarked how gracefully I did it. Until now, women would randomly walk up to me and say, "it's going to get easier, I promise you." And today it did.
Which means that, until now, I've really just been doing my best to hold all the scattering pieces of myself together. For 5 months! Parents, I know you know what I'm talking about! Unless you don't, then all I can say is wow! But, for these past 5 months of having two littles 2 years old and under, I have been doing some heavy duty inner Yoga and self care, using all the tools and teachings that I learned during my 3 years living in my Teacher, Swami Niranjan’s, Yoga Ashram in India.
There is one saying of Swami Satsangi of Sivananda Ashram, Rikhia that has stuck with me. I can't remember it exactly as she said it, but the essence is that, “sometimes in life we need to evolve just by enduring.” Probably in much the same way a diamond is made by its having endured tremendous pressure. Being a parent of a newborn twice over, I feel the truth of this. I endured those first 5 months twice, and today someone told me I was “winning at this” for the first time and honestly, I gave myself a big high five for that. From enduring to thriving! I knew it before she said it, but it was nice to know that I didn't look like a hot mess to everyone all the time anymore!
In Yoga, enduring doesn't mean that you just throw all restraint and sustained effort to the wind and simply survive. No! We are not talking survival, where all that matters is that your bodies are still alive. We are talking endurance. Sustained effort amidst difficulty to do the best you possibly can on all fronts, even if that best effort is still messy and far from the parent you wanted to be. This sustained effort doesn't only include the importance of self-care, it revolves around it. Because as my children's mother, I am at the centre of their life (with their father), and if I completely fall to pieces, so too does everything and everyone else.
In hopes that it might be helpful to others reading this, and also for my own integration, I want to reflect a little on how I used my Yoga to endure these first 5 challenging (and joyful!) months, and beyond.
1. Breathe (Pranayama)
I call it Mama Pranayama. In Yoga, Pranayama is loosely translated as breathing exercise (it is much more than that, but for our purposes we'll keep it simple). I am a mom who breath-holds when things get stressful and I work really hard to stay present to my breath to consciously get as much in as deeply as possible, especially during high-emotion moments (like when you're driving in the car with two crying, screaming children and you are NOWHERE near your destination or anywhere that you can safely pull over). I learned that breath-holding also increases feelings of anxiety and panic as a result of starving the brain of optimum oxygen levels. So forget the cliche-ness and breath deeply, however it feels comfortable. This will also reduce chronic muscle tension!
2. Sing in the shower! (Kirtan: Bhakti Yoga)
Consider this a part of Mama Pranayama! Singing is actually a really great emotional release. Singing Kirtan is a part of Bhakti Yoga and among other things, really helps to regulate and sublimate the emotions. Singing also releases chest muscle tension and helps reset the breath, allowing you to breathe deeply again. You have to regulate your breath as you sing which serves as the mechanism for this!
3. Laughter as medicine (Raja Yoga: Mind Management)
While I was living in the ashram, it was getting ready to host a major international event and we were all engaged in pretty intense karma yoga preparations for the Convention. Many people, though very inspired, were feeling overextended and the same kind of fatigue that new parents can experience. One evening, our Teacher called us to a meeting. That night, all we did was take a couple of hours to sit around together telling jokes and laughing. I couldn't believe how rejuvenating it was for my energy and mood. Now, when I've had a particularly challenging day or week, I turn on Netflix (once the kids are asleep or napping) and put on a really good Stand Up Comedy special or parenting comedy series. I can recommend Seth Meyers' Lobby Baby Netflix Special, as well as The Let Down (pun on breastfeeding), Workin' Moms, and Iliza Schlesinger’s Elder Millennial Netflix Stand Up Special. They all made me belly laugh and they're all about parenting and show you how NORMAL it is to be feeling the way you do. It also shows you that, in hindsight, you might just laugh about this someday too.
And again, laughter resets the breath, gets oxygen in, releases muscle tension and sets off all kinds of positive, health-building physiological responses that help to re-balance the system from the effects of stress.
4. Connect with Your Inner Strength: Positivity (Raja Yoga: Mind Management)
Wow this is a lesson that I was slow to truly realize in the ashram. What does it even mean to be positive? Things are tough sometimes, can't you feel sad or angry without being anti-Yogic? Yes, you can! You have to feel all your feelings. The worst thing you can do to be happy is deny your negativity. All that is is suppression. And we all know what happens to suppressed feelings, eventually they explode in usually a very ugly way (or implode and make you depressed).
Instead, we feel our feelings and accept that (we just don't necessarily act from that place). "I am aware that I am feeling very 24t$Q#54f!!!!! right now!" Breathe. "But, this too shall pass. When I zoom out and look at the bigger picture of my life, things are actually pretty darn good (even if I can't find anything awesome about this particular moment or person in front of me right now).Then count 3 things that you are grateful for in your life.
This creates some space within us, as well as some silence from that string of negative inner dialogue that we might have otherwise created. When you instead connect with your inner positivity, you will find that you have energy to do more, and a lighter mood to respond in a more positive way to the people and situations around you, instead of just reacting or blowing up. You will be more content, peaceful and creative in your problem solving to find solutions to what is bringing you down. And you will feel that you "can" do it, instead of feeling overwhelmed by the tasks that lie ahead.
5. Walk (Asana)
Alone! hands free! your pace. quiet. or with YOUR music. fresh air! oxygenate. release muscle tension. reset the breath. let those endorphins flow, swing those arms and wander unscheduled, gloriously footloose and fancy-free! (for at least 20 minutes)!
6. Silence (Mouna) & Concentration
This. is. a. big. one. We were just talking about creating space for, and connection with, the strength of positivity. Many times as parents, it feels like you are amidst a constant chaos of noise, the pressure of ceaseless demands and needs, awkward and exhausting transportation logistics, heaps of resistance, and big emotions, "I want this! No! Yes! No!" etc. It's easy to start feeling like the walls are closing in around you. When I am feeling this way, I remember that I am in control of my inner environment and realm of attention, even if I'm not in total control of the outer environment. In Yoga it is said that, "there is no peace in the Hamalayas, and no noise in the marketplace. Both are within you.”
I experienced this teaching during my time in the ashram when I was managing the venue for an in-ashram Satsang program (a talk given by our Teacher). The local children's yoga group were helping to run this program, and they do a truly amazing job. You have never seen such discipline, professionalism, creativity or hospitality in such young people. Nevertheless, there was a moment right before the program began when it suddenly became extremely noisy and disorganized and all I could see was a moving swarm of the kids’ red tracksuits all over the venue. I froze as my senses of sight and sound became overwhelmed and I didn't know what to do. My Teacher was present on the stage and, as often happens in his presence, a new thought entered my mind which helped get me un-stuck. I realized that I could control the boundaries of my attention and disconnect from all the excess sights and sounds that were irrelevant to the task at hand, and that I could instead re-focus my attention only on those sights and sounds relevant to what I needed to do.
Now, when I face these overwhelming moments at home, I pause for a moment, erase the irrelevant sights and sounds, and then re-focus my attention on only what is necessary to the task at hand. Doing this creates a lot of space and silence inside of me where I can process and respond, rather than become overwhelmed and react.
I overheard something my Teacher said to one of the other students toward the end of our 3-Year Training. He said something to the effect that, "no matter how many children you have, at the end of the day take 10 minutes to just sit quietly by yourself. Just you. Not as a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter, or friend, and not as whatever you do in your professional life or anything else. Just you.”
There is really so much more to say about Mouna, and now I realize that I will probably reflect more on the subject in future articles. Silence is the birthplace of so many beautiful experiences, like inspiration, creativity, intuition, epiphany, insight and inner healing. Silence is far from emptiness. Silence is pregnant, positive, intelligent, dynamic, potential, healing. It is the space where we reflect, digest, and let go of, our daily experiences. It is the space where learning occurs. Silence is us.
In closing, make these 6 practices your sadhana (sustained yoga practice), and you will endure the tough parenting moments like a Yogi, instead of just surviving.
In the spirit of self-care, I will leave you with a joke:
A man had a house full of children. As many children as fill the room that you are in right now. He went to his Rabbi and said, "Rabbi, there is too much noise in my home!" The Rabbi said, "Very interesting problem! I suggest bringing in a cow." Confused but faithful, the man did as the Rabbi suggested. However, he returned to his Rabbi the next week with the same problem. This time, the Rabbi suggested bringing in a chicken. It still didn't fix the problem, and the man returned to his Rabbi the next week saying, "Rabbi, there is more noise in the house than ever before! Too much noise!" The Rabbi again replied, "Interesting problem. I suggest bringing in... a bear!" Well, you know this poor, frazzled man returned to his Rabbi again the next week with still the same problem. "Interesting problem," the Rabbi said. "Remove the cow, remove the chicken, and remove the bear." The man did as directed, returned home, and then standing amid his bustling household, he took a deep breath and exclaimed, "Finally some peace and quiet! I love everything here just the way it is.”