Yoga for Better Parenting
“What, Yoga will help me be a better parent? Yeah, right!”
If this thought runs through your mind whenever someone mentions Yoga, I get it. As parents, aren’t we all bombarded with information, research, and instruction every time we open our phone, a book, or a conversation with a well-meaning individual (most often another parent!)?
What’s weird is every month we have some brand new research study that goes and proves that whatever approach and decisions we take with respect to parenting, well, in reality it is going to ruin them!
And the decisions are MANY!
From deciding whether to jump on the whole “non GMO” wagon, or deciding which sports to involve your children, and of course, choosing the right schooling option, we are making more parenting-related decisions that ever before.
And I don’t know about you, but this puts an awful lot of stress on me.
The decision hangover weighs on us and we feel that we’re constantly chasing a state of “enough”; one in which we have all of our bases covered in terms of taking care of ourselves, our homes, our careers, our relationships and above all else – the happiness and well-being of our kids.
So if you’re not looking for another thing to do right now, believe me – I understand.
Don’t put down “yoga” onto your already overloaded to-do list and then jump back into your busy day.
Yoga is not another to-do, and you certainly don’t have to do it. I simply want you to be open to try it.
Yoga, in its personalized, beautifully subtle way, can equip you with the tools you need to quiet the internal and external voices of judgement, find peace in the midst of our chaotic lives as parents, and discover that the moment, exactly as it presents itself, is always “enough”.
Yoga, it seems, isn’t a state of doing. It’s a state of being.
And through a daily commitment to breath, stillness (meditation), and some specific physical movement and poses, you can renew and cultivate that peaceful state of being within yourself and watch in amazement as it extends to your family too.
In its very emphasis on mental fortitude and quietness, yoga is the perfect form of exercise available to today’s parents. And it’s a lot easier than you probably think.
Yoga isn’t here to add to the busyness. Quite the opposite.
It’s here to help you manage, and possibly even minimize or eliminate that busyness. Of course, we are constrained by the limitations of this being a ‘blog post’, but I promise you by the time you’re done reading, you’ll at least understand the important of this ancient Indian treasure!
Once you’re done, I hope you’ll be motivated and prepared to dive-in into a personal and enriching yoga practice!
HOW YOGA CAN HELP – MEDITATE, STRENGTHEN, FOCUS
Yoga is referred to as a mind/body practice, and for good reason.
While most of us associate yoga with lean, bendy people in spandex pants performing warrior poses and headstands, yoga is not primarily about physical exercise.
Yoga, as it was originally intended, is about stabilizing your mental state through the purifying disciplines of breath and movement.
As your body grows stronger, more flexible, and more relaxed, so does your mind.
Hence, mind/body. And hence, beneficial to parents.
The time you spend on your mat intentionally breathing and pushing through fear and discomfort directly translates to the rest of your life.
In practicing yoga, you both discover and create strengths you haven’t previously experienced. I promise they’re there, right now, waiting to be dug up by a focused mind and the power of physical exercise.
How does this happen?
Through yoga we are offered an opportunity to meditate, or to discover our internal state in an intentional but non-judgmental way.
Maybe you struggle with the idea of simply sitting and meditating – many people do. It goes in direct opposition to our desire to be productive and involved and on top of things.
Yoga can be a great indirect way to curate a meditative focus because you can trick your Type A brain into believing it’s just a workout. You’ll benefit from yoga’s emphasis on mental presence and stillness whether that’s your chief aim or not.
Yoga and meditation gives us an opportunity to strengthen our mind through tackling physical challenges, questioning old thought patterns, and creating new neural pathways.
This is so important for parents.
Our kids are constantly changing, and keeping up with these changes, remaining present, and adapting to your child’s always evolving needs requires a comfort with change.
Adults like to keep things predictable and consistent, but seeking to do so can function in direct opposition to children’s needs for growth and stimulation.
In yoga we meditate, we strengthen, and lastly, we learn to refocus.
By reframing situations, thoughts, and discomfort, we discover that our thoughts largely dictate our experience of the world.
Whether we’re dealing with a whiny toddler or a tricky arm balance, we learn to cultivate attitudes that engender peace and equanimity. In this way yoga serves as “brain training” as well as body training.
Parenting presents one of the biggest mental challenges in most adults’ lives.
Caring for a child can be an overwhelming whirlwind of frustration, delight, boredom, wonder, impatience, and joy. Finding “steady” in the midst of that is possible, with practice.
GENTLE EXERCISE FOR CAREGIVERS
Parents must learn to practice self-care in order to truly care for others – in fact, that’s a major reason why I suggest yoga for parents.
Research indicates that exercise is chief among the most effective self-care tactics.
However, many forms of exercise, particularly intense athletic training and weightlifting, can be so physically demanding that parents are left drained and exhausted, incapable of achieving proper recovery due to the 24/7 nature of nurturing small children.
This can set parents up on a vicious cycle that repetitively drains bodies and minds without “filling them up” again.
Not so with yoga.
Since yoga can be as physically easy or as physically demanding as you like, it can be tailored to how your body is feeling and recovering.
It asks you to check in with where you’re at on a given day instead of just pushing through regardless of the other factors in your life. It will rejuvenate you and equip you to care for your children with more presence, strength, and joy.
Yoga offers parents a self-care technique that is truly caring.
Maybe you already exercise but you’re feeling burnt out from pushing your body to its limit on little sleep.
Whether you’re a marathoner or a Crossfit fan, I invite you to scale back your preferred form of exercise slightly in order to make room for more yoga in your life.
You might find that your performance will actually improve in your sport of choice. Yoga promotes flexibility, muscular symmetry, mental strength, and other qualities that compliment a wide variety of physical disciplines.
If the idea of cutting back on your training is tough for you, keep in mind that gentle yoga is great for rest days or active rest days. It can also be added in before or after a tougher workout to help your body recover more quickly and maintain flexibility.
Yoga Types and Styles
There are many styles of yoga, and through experimentation you will find the perfect one for you.
There are yoga programs specifically designed for specific goals.
Right from yoga programs for fat burning, yoga for pregnant women and postpartum women, to yoga for cyclists and runners; from strict disciplines like ashtanga and bikram for individuals who love structure and physical challenges; to gentle, seated/supine styles such as restorative yoga and yin yoga for overtaxed parents who simply need a break and a chance to breath and stretch.
There’s also partner yoga if you’re looking to reconnect with your significant other.
Even if you hate exercise and have never done it, I promise – there’s a yoga for you! It might take some trial-and-error, but you can find the perfect fit.
Instead of pushing your body into overdrive, try loving and caring for it through the beautifully personal practice of yoga. It’s truly something I believe everyone – and parents in particular – can gain huge benefit from.
K. Pattabhi Jois, a yoga (legendary) guru responsible in large part for introducing yoga to the Western world, is best known for this nugget of wisdom: “Practice and all is coming.”
In other words, dedicate yourself to the daily discipline of yoga and trust that the things you want and need are on their way. You don’t need to strive for them. You simply need to practice daily.
This is as applicable to parenting as it is to yoga.
As we approach each day with a positive and proactive attitude, doing the things we know we need to do in order to cultivate a peaceful and growth-centered environment for our children and ourselves, we can trust that the goals we are hoping to achieve are on their way.
We can dispense with striving, anxiety, comparison, and fear and simply focus on showing up each day and doing our best.
That’s the lesson of yoga. That’s why we practice with consistency and dedication.
Yoga teaches us values and skills that are often cast to the wayside in today’s mile-a-minute world: mindfulness, presence, self-acceptance, and joy in the face of difficulty.
We gain mental and physical strength and flexibility, connect with our inner child, develop a distinct and complete-formed personhood, and improve our health and well-being.
Yoga can’t do all of that completely on its own, but as part of a larger process it will act as the catalyst for big, foundational changes in your life.
If you’re anything like me, parenting has probably made you much more of a “yogi” than you might otherwise be.
Raising my son has taught me selflessness, illustrated the importance of relationship, and given me greater motivation to pursue health.
This is why yoga is so perfect for parents.
The two “practices” feed into each other and each enriches the other in unique and profound ways.
I hope that in reading this blog post you’ve found inspiration and direction in cultivating your own yoga practice, and that it makes your parenting experience much richer and more fulfilling than you ever thought possible!