by Megan Sloan
I was a prenatal and postnatal yoga teacher long before I was a mom, and a student of yoga for even longer. Through years of teaching yoga to pregnant students and then seeing their transformations into new parents postpartum, I witnessed the gamut of what becoming a parent looked like. And if there’s one thing I learned, it’s that being a new parent never looks the same from person to person and from day to day. It is truly a wild and heart-opening and sometimes heart-breaking roller coaster ride.
What I am grateful for is having the background of my practice in yoga as a framework for navigating the ups and downs of parenting. And so here, in no particular order, are five things that my yoga practice taught me about being a new parent:
This was a hard one for me before parenthood, I had difficulty distinguishing between non-attachment and avoidance. Over time, I learned the subtly of non-attachment is not that we don’t see things that come up, and even react to them, but its that we don’t sink our claws in and hold on to the thing that happened, dwelling on it long after the event passed.
Now, I am no perfect person in this practice, I readily admit to many 2am thoughts of “did I do that right?”, “am I harming my child for the rest of their life?”, or “am I bad mom?”, but more and more, especially as my daughter approaches two and the land of “no’s” and boundary setting is looming precariously close on the horizon, I’ve been practicing non-attachment.
I may get frustrated or angry and that’s okay, the goal with non-attachment is to let it be just that. It’s the idea to just let it happen and then move on, not settling into the “I could be a better parent if…” or beating yourself up for whatever happened. I let things arise and then let them go as I continue to navigate the world.
- There is No Perfect
When I first started practicing yoga about 15 years ago, I sure did think there was an idea of “perfect”. You were the perfect yogi if you could do handstands or wrap your ankles around your head. What I learned pretty quickly was two-fold, 1) there are certain things my body can and can’t do and 2) I was setting myself up for a world of heartache chasing this idea of perfection.
Of course, there is an element to alignment in poses about keeping the body safe that we follow as students and teachers, but as my practice and teaching have grown it’s about listening to my body and finding what feels like “right” in my body. And oh boy, is it the same as being a parent.
You can read parenting books, online forums and seeking out the help of experts and find that there are ten different ways to do everything correctly and invariably you are always doing whatever it is wrong. You can chase the perfection of sleep or feeding or play and when you do, you can miss the beauty in so many other beautiful day to day experiences.
- Be Present
This brings me to my next insight of being present. One of the best gifts my daughter has given me is the power of presence and if it wasn’t for my yoga practice I don’t know if I would have had the opportunity to appreciate it for what it was. Being a new parent can be mind-numbingly boring sometimes. Whether its reading the same book for the 20th time or singing the same song over and over or simply waking hourly to feed or soothe your newborn, it can be tedious.
What I’ve found though is if I’m able to appreciate the moment for what it is, maybe its watching the sun rise as I feed? my daughter, or seeing the look of delight on her face as I read that book for her again, there is always a gift in the moment. And as she’s gotten older, I see, with how she lives in the world that she is constantly present. A bump or fall is traumatic but 5 seconds later its forgotten.
Staying present in yoga isn’t about only embracing the good, its also staying present through intensity and sensation. And parenthood has all those things too, and the more I can stay present and be curious whether its in a hard yoga pose or navigating potty training with our little one, I find that there are gifts in every moment if we can take the time to observe.
- Flexibility is Key
Yoga isn’t about being able to wrap your ankles around your head, it isn’t even about touching your toes, but it can help increase flexibility in the body which can often be beneficial for reducing pain in the body.
The funny thing is, the same applies to parenthood. Being able to be flexible with my approach to parenting has been immensely helpful. Listening to my daughter’s needs in the moment and reacting to those, rather than setting rigid boundaries for what I think something should look like has helped eliminate a lot of unneeded pain from my life.
It doesn’t mean that I’m approaching things from “oh heck, go to bed whenever you want,” but from “okay, we had plans to meet up with friends today and now you’re cranky and teething, let’s stay home and read books.” This flexibility has led me to more peace, and I would imagine possibly more peace for my daughter as well.
- Don’t Forget to Breathe
In almost every pose I teach, I offer cues for the breath. The breath is a touchstone for our yoga practice and is a guide in and out of every pose, it’s the same for parenthood. You’d be surprised how often taking a deep breath can make a big difference in managing a situation you’ve been confronted with. Breath can help regulate the nervous system and help us manage stress, because let’s face it, parenthood isn’t always sunshine and rainbows.
About the Author
Megan Sloan is a yoga teacher and mama living in the Seattle area. She has been teaching prenatal and postnatal yoga for nearly 10 years and is a leading faculty member in the 8 Limbs Yoga Centers Pre/Postnatal Yoga Teacher Training in Seattle, Washington. She is also the creator and founder of the website Be Strong Mama, which provides education and resources to help create space that is safe and welcoming for new moms and moms-to-be, to explore their ever-changing bodies and find support for the unique experiences that are part of all the stages of becoming a mother. Be Strong Mama also features online prenatal and postnatal yoga video subscriptions to provide support and strength.