Updated: 2019, Jul 24

Motherhood Lessons Learned Through Yoga

Motherhood Lessons Learned Through Yoga

Motherhood is a mosaic of giggles, tears, sacrifice, bliss, frustration, accomplishment, loneliness, community and chaos mixed with glimpses of stark clarity.

As an expecting mom, it is easy for us to get caught up in all of the how-to’s, all the informational books and spend hours perfecting our baby registry.

I spent much of my first pregnancy in a state of fret with Google as my sidekick. What can/can’t I eat? What do I do about heartburn? What the heck is a vitamin k shot?

I appreciate the fact about myself that I like to research and get all the facts, but that quality also makes it easy to start worrying about everything that could go wrong.

I found myself in either the past, missing the things that I suddenly couldn’t do while pregnant or in the future, worried that I would develop postpartum depression.

I had been practicing yoga on and off since the age of 16, but much of my practice fell to the wayside while I was pregnant.

I attended a handful of prenatal classes, although I’ll admit my motives were more to meet other pregnant ladies than to do the yoga. Honestly, I didn’t feel like being active for most of that pregnancy, and my body suffered for it.

Since I’ve had my daughter, I have found solace in yoga and exercise more than ever before. I have since gotten my yoga teaching certificate and began teaching yoga and prenatal yoga myself.

Prenatal Yoga

I am pregnant once again and have made a conscious effort to bring the practices of yoga (both mental and physical) into this pregnancy.

Looking back, I never knew how invaluable some of the most subtle lessons that I learned on the mat would be once I entered motherhood.

1. It’s Not About How The Pose Looks, But How It Feels In Your Body

Some of the most awkward looking poses in yoga offer the juiciest releases. Not often do you see pigeon pose as the cover of Yoga Journal, but it can be the most transformational pose in a sequence.

We keep deep emotions locked away in our hips and the physical release of accessing those unattended muscles can move mountains in our physical life as well.

The same can be said about motherhood, I am constantly surprised by the revelations that come about from the most unexpected parts of the journey.

The parts of motherhood that might look the most impressive on the outside can be nothing compared to the tiny moments that take your breath away.

My daughter spent over 2 years pushing daddy away and was excited to see anyone besides him walk in the door.

In the last year, she has opened up to him in the sweetest ways and just watching her wrap her arms around her daddy and rest her cheek on his shoulder as we walked to breakfast the other day is far more moving than nailing pincharasana.

2. Some Days You Nail Handstands And Arm Balances, Some Days All You Can Do Is Lay In Child’s Pose And Cry

Arm Balances

Some days I get it all done.

The house gets cleaned, my daughter successfully entertains herself for hours, I nail my to-do list for my online health coaching business, we eat nutritious meals and snacks, I take the time to sit down and read or play with my daughter, my husband and I work out our schedules seamlessly, etc.

Other days I can barely function, my daughter has breakdowns around every corner, I argue with my husband, I can barely get off the couch and I just want bedtime to magically turn into 3pm.

We have to remind ourselves that life is all about ebb and flow. In my home yoga practice, I give myself the space to listen to what my body needs on that day. Is it a day to push myself and grow, or a day to restore and feel?

The definition of the word expectation has changed for me so much since becoming a mom. If I set out for each yoga practice expecting to perfect every pose, I would be missing the point of the practice.

Yoga is about leaning into our heart, listening to our body and letting go of attachment to the outcome. Some days I impress myself by turning what I set out as a “mellow” practice into a sweaty, deep and life-altering session.

Other days I set out to get a workout in and up on the floor, cradling myself in child’s pose and weeping for no apparent reason. Both of these ends of the spectrum serve me in ways that may be hard to see in the moment, and the same can be said about our day-to-day life as a mother.

3. There Is No Finite Destination – Always More To Learn

I am someone who has always done well with school work, deadlines and tangible goals. I love to-do lists and will put the most mundane tasks on my list, just for the pleasure of marking them off as done.

I love having routine and structure and knowing what my day is going to look like.

Motherhood does not work like this, and I have had to learn how to release the expectations that it could be. Once we think we’ve gotten over a hurdle, another obstacle pops up.

Yes, my daughter sleeps through the night now, but naps are a constant struggle. She finally started eating a good amount of veggies, and then heard at daycare how other kids don’t like vegetables so she learned that she too could be a picky eater.

She finally likes brushing her teeth, but so much so that letting me actually do the brushing is a time-consuming task. Rather than seeing these tasks as daunting, I have let myself see them as challenges to continuously adapt my skills at raising a tiny human.

In yoga, I am constantly humbled by how much I don’t know. The more I learn, the more I realize how much deeper I can go. For the longest time, I thought of yoga just as the physical practice.

I would “nail” a headstand and feel like a yoga pro. Then I attended yoga teacher training and realized that the physical practice, or asana, barely scratches the surface of the heart of yoga.

That training opened my eyes up to how much further I could dive into the practice of yoga, meditation and philosophy. Learning how much I still have to learn was intimidating and exhilarating at the same time.

Neither yoga nor motherhood is a checklist of items that we get the pleasure of crossing off and never looking back at. Instead, I like to think of motherhood (and yoga) as a house that I am building, brick by brick.

While it may not seem in the midst of the chaos that I am making progress, the foundation grows stronger and the lessons that I learn get cemented between creases.

4. You Can Always Come Back To The Breath

Pranayama

Sometimes we just have to resort back to our primal basics. It’s amazing how lack of sleep can affect our brain chemistry, and the tiniest events can set us on a crying fit or a hysterical rage. Pranayama, or breath work, has been a total life changer for me during my time as a mom.

The breath has a way of smoothing over the frazzled thoughts in our mind in ways that no amount of reasoning can. Yes, often a walk around the block or an exercise session can achieve the same results, but sometimes we just don’t have time for that and we need a quick turnaround.

It has been so powerful for me to learn how different types of breath can instantly change our state of being.

When I am feeling low-energy or lethargic, a quick round of breath of fire (also called kapalabhati, or skull-shining breath) will bring a wave of clarity and rejuvenation in just a couple minutes.

On the other hand, when I am feeling overstimulated and jittery, alternate nostril breathing brings me back to center in an efficient manner. As one of my favorite teachers, Rod Stryker states: “Breath is the single most powerful tool to calm the nervous system and quiet the mind”.

What’s even better is being able to calm my daughter by getting her to take deep breaths with me. I aim to teach her some of these tools from an early age so that I can set her up with a swiss-army knife of skills to combat the vast array of challenges that will come her way.

Some days she has no interest in participating, and some days she brings me her mini yoga mat and yoga book and wants to do all the poses. I find it best to offer some of these tools to her without putting expectations on them.

5. You Are Not Your Thoughts

This is such a simple statement, yet it was so hard for me to believe for the longest time. Who am I if I’m not my thoughts?

I didn’t realize that thought patterns could be coerced and shifted away from the negativity that I often felt and turned towards expansive thoughts. It took me a while to peel myself away from the actual thoughts and realize that the true me was behind the scenes.

I had attempted to meditate on a non-committal basis for years before I even got pregnant.

I heard of the power of meditation and wanted to see fireworks immediately, but didn’t want to put the time or effort into learning how. I thought that meditation just meant to have a silent mind, and no matter what I did, I couldn’t figure out how to get my thoughts to stop.

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It wasn’t until after I was a mom that I committed to learning meditation fully. My teacher suggested picking one guided meditation and trying the same one every day for 30 days.

This seemed so boring to me, but I gave it a try and was finally able to differentiate between me and my thoughts. Being able to turn to meditation and diving into the world of guided meditations has been life changing for me.

Meditation has also been a huge boost to my patience tolerance as a mom, especially caring for a little one while pregnant.

When you’re nurturing a life form in your belly and can’t turn to some of the distracting vices that help us unwind from a long day of parenting, it is a lifesaver to have meditation to turn to.

I have also let go of the attachment that I need to completely quiet my mind, as that almost never happens for me. Instead, I keep untangling myself from the thoughts and let them drift by without attachment.

6. Yoga Nidra Is A Lifesaver For Sleep Deprivation

Yoga Nidra

During my training, my teacher guided our class through a practice known as yoga nidra, which changed my life. This is a deep relaxation method that rewires your subconscious and nervous system, often referred to as a state of consciousness between waking and sleeping.

Most importantly though, one 30 minute session of yoga Nidra can replace 3 hours of sleep deprivation (it is not recommended to replace sleep with yoga nidra, however, we know lack of sleep is a side-effect of motherhood).

I have been able to find guided yoga nidras in a free app on my phone, called Insight Meditation Timer and this has been a huge help with coping with sleep deprivation.

I listen to it often before I go to bed to help my body prep for sleep, but it is very beneficial during the day to hit the restart button.

Also Read: Pregnancy Yoga: Everything You Need to Know

Conclusion

Much of what I’ve learned through yoga has nothing to do with turning myself into a pretzel or being able to hang out upside-down for hours. Yoga has taught me life hacks that are invaluable in the winding path of motherhood.

I still have days where I wonder if I am really cut out to be a mom or whether I can really handle the stress, but these life lessons that I’ve learned through my yoga practice help me to center into the present moment and overcome each obstacle as they arise.

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Coral Dunbar

Coral Dunbar is a Fitness + Wellness Coach for moms and a NASM Women’s Fitness Specialist currently residing in Kapaa, Kauai. After s

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