Bliss Baby Yoga Director and Founder, Ana Davis, shares how ancient ideas from the Yoga Sutras are just as relevant today for modern day parents.
It’s true what they say about your child being your greatest guru! The joys and challenges of mothering my son has certainly taught me so much about myself and life.
Here’s something I wrote when he was still a baby:
“In the sleep-deprived haze of new motherhood, I felt that I had lost my former life. The endless tasks involved in caring for my newborn saw me say goodbye to my precious daily yoga practice. As a yoga teacher and long-time practitioner, this was a big adjustment.
It was only when I came to see the journey of motherhood as the ultimate act of devotional yoga, that I was able to surrender and release any feelings of resentment about the irreversible changes to the landscape of my daily routines.
Instead of looking at the clock while I patted my baby to sleep for sometimes up to an hour at a time, and wishing I could be on my yoga mat, I found I needed to make a conscious decision to soften into the moment and make this my yoga.
This is my yoga, I said, as a silent mantra to myself, he is my yoga. This moment by moment experience of holding my baby close afforded me the opportunity to breathe deeply and feel the warmth from my heart and solar plexus-centre permeating into his soft little body.
Originating from the ancient Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the concept of Isvara Pranidhana, which can be interpreted as ‘surrender to the divine or a higher power.’ To flow more harmoniously with the demands of new motherhood needs to be an act of ongoing melting of the ego, as one of the foremost yoga teachers of our time, BKS Iyengar points out: “In Bhakti or true love there is no place for ‘I’ and ‘mine’. When the feeling of ‘I’ and ‘mine’ disappears, the individual soul has reached full growth.”
Yoga has been a part of my life long before my son was born so this has meant that it’s been natural for me to view the lessons of parenting through the lens of yoga. While the yoga postures have helped keep my body strong, supple and relaxed over the last 15 years, it’s the yoga philosophy, or what is sometimes called ‘yoga off the mat’, that has helped keep my mind flexible and open to the many challenges and joys of motherhood.
“Your motherhood is a Sadhana in itself – if you choose to make it so. By performing its duties with concentration, love and higher awareness, the spiritual benefits and outcomes can be identical to that of the usual close-eyed yoga. It all comes down to attitude and skill in the performance of the practice.”
‘Mother as First Guru’, Swami Gurupremananda Saraswati
I wholeheartedly agree with Swami Gurpremananda Saraswati, yoga teacher and mother of five children, that motherhood is indeed a ‘Sadhana’ or practice. Once we grasp this idea I believe we are likely to be more gentle on ourselves and therefore embody a key tenet of yoga philosophy, Ahimsa. Ahimsa means literally, ‘non-harming’, therefore ‘non violence’. We can extend the meaning of Ahimsa more broadly to include the idea of self-compassion; loving yourself, being gentle with yourself – this is a big one for us mothers!
What mother has not known the soul-destroying feelings of guilt and self-judgment? However, once we fully appreciate that parenting is a ‘practice’ not a ‘perfect’ we are able to cut ourselves some slack. As Sarah Napthali says in her beautiful book, Buddhism for Mothers, we are “patient when we falter, for parenting makes amateurs of us all as we confront its never-ending stages”.
Parenting our children offers so many changing challenges—from the sleep deprivation of newborn days, to the tantrums of toddler-hood, to the battle of wills of the teenage years. I have found that as my son moves into each new phase of his life, I’ve had to ‘rebirth’ myself as a mother, adapting my parenting approach to suit his changing needs.
Now, during the much maligned teenage phase, I have taken great succour from the yogic idea of surrender – Isvara Pranidhana, which dovetails with this notion of Ahimsa. Adolescent children demand a good dose of ‘surrender’; they are erratic and volatile beings with their own unique agendas and needs that often cause our best-laid plans as parents and ‘rational’ adults to be unceremoniously derailed.
The key is to let go of your own expectation of a ‘good child’ and even more importantly, of what it means to be a ‘good parent’. Be gentle with yourself and your child when things don’t go according to plan.
That said, there are also benefits to balancing our parenting with clear boundaries: within structure there can be freedom. This then involves the idea of engendering in your child the practice of Tapas. Tapas is translated as ‘burning zeal’ and means a kind of self-discipline that allows one to achieve one’s goals. This will be important in equipping our children with some important life skills for success.
Control over the mind’s fluctuations comes from preserving practice and non attachment”
Yoga Sutra 1:12
Likewise, the idea of Abhyasa, or discipline may come in useful as a lesson us as we face our parenting challenges. A great deal of our daily parenting involves relentless repetition. I couldn’t count the number of times I’ve reminded my son to pick and hang up his wet bath towel over the years! Often I’ve relented and just picked up the towel myself. But this of course is not the point in terms of the discipline I’m trying to instil. Through my disciplined-repetition I am planting the seeds of ‘discipline’ in my son – the ability to tidy up after himself and therefore to take on the responsibility that will allow him to take care of himself and others as he moves towards adulthood.
And, when it all goes ‘pear-shaped’, which it often does and will continue to do, I take refuge again and again in the all-pervading principle of Ishvara Pranidhana. Nischala Joy Devi poetically defines this as the “wholehearted dedication to the Divine Light in all”. It can help to remind myself that my son is a manifestation of the Divine and to have faith that things will shape themselves over time. After all Ishvara Pranidhana is a faith practice more than anything else. As Mother Maya (Maya Tiwari) once said in a workshop I attended, we need the inspiration, confidence, and most of all faith to pause – that is our surrender; surrender to the divinity within.
Ana Davis, Founder and Director of Bliss Baby Yoga, has a passion for a feminine approach to yoga, and supporting women with yoga through all ages and stages of their life. Ana is the author of the popular book, “Moving with the Moon – nurturing yoga, movement and meditation for every phase of your menstrual cycle and beyond”. Ana has collaborated with Bliss Baby Yoga fertility specialist yoga teacher Rosie Matheson to create our Online Level 1 Yoga for Fertility Teacher Training. She is also the lead trainer on our popular Online Prenatal & Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training Course and Online L1 Restorative Yoga Teacher Training course, and offers private mentoring and yoga sessions online, and online yoga classes.
- BKS Iyengar, “Light on Yoga”
- Swami Gurupremananda Saraswati, “Mother as First Guru”
- Sarah Napthali, “Buddhism for Mothers”
- Bernard Bounchaud, “The Essence of Yoga: Reflections on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali”
- Nishala Joy Devi, “The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras”
Further Reading related to this topic:
- How Mindful Self Compassion is saving my relationship with my teen by Ana Davis
- The Sādhanā of Motherhood: tips for integrating yoga into daily life by Nadine O’Mara
- Self-Care Tips for New Mamas by Star Despres
- The path of surrender: a key to a ‘good’ birth by Beth Ivy Buxton
- How Yoga Can Support Postnatal Mental Health (Including Three Simple Practices) by Maria Kirsten