parenting is better than yoga

A little downward dog courtesy of Etta and Claire.
A little downward dog courtesy of Etta and Claire.

Mother’s Day’s approach has me thinking a lot about motherhood, both as an abstract concept to be celebrated and as this thing I do all day every day. And now that I’m out of the exhausted haze of infancy and not quite into any toddler terribleness (so far, two is great!), I’m starting to realize that the daily self-discipline of parenting has been better spiritual training for me than any yoga class I’ve ever been to. I like yoga a lot, did it for a long time, and still try to do it in my home when I can, but what I liked best about it was the way it made me feel whole– mind and body unified, deeply in touch with myself and my place in my body and the world, happy to be alive, neither selfish or selfless, but balanced. One of the biggest aspects of it for me was mindfulness, just being present in a moment while at the same time knowing that moment will pass.

It turns out motherhood is also excellent mindfulness training. There are some moments that I just want to hold onto so badly, particularly when they involve tiny arms around my neck, or wet, lip-smacking toddler kisses, or watching frenetic, exuberant toddler dancing. In the rhythm of toddler-friendly routine, in the day to day drudgery of cooking and cleaning and folding and changing and wiping and on and on, it’s easy to become numbed to the beauty, the heart-stopping gorgeousness, that life with my kids can bring. But, if I am mindful, if I take the time to notice, there is just so much deliciousness, too. If I stay present to that, my days are so much more joyful.

This doesn’t mean there isn’t also a lot of suck. I am restless of the online tendency to both overly bash motherhood and overly romanticize it– like everything else in life, parenting involves both immense joy and immense suckitude, sometimes even at the same moment. I have to also be mindful of the bad moments. Just by noticing and giving myself permission to feel badly in those moments, I somehow also remember that they are just moments. Sure, two children may have just bashed each other in the head with blocks and are screaming meanwhile something bubbles over on the stove and a neighbor is knocking on the door because the mother effing dog got out again and, dear lord, I’m facing down a solo bedtime, too– but that moment will pass. Time for some yoga breathing, maybe a moment to vent, and back to the routine. An hour later, I’ll be standing over sleeping toddlers, both ready to weep for their beauty and wishing I could Alex Mack ooze out of the room because if I wake one up and have to do this over again before tomorrow, I will absolutely lose it.

The paradox of parenthood is the way it explodes your heart so big, you become capable of feeling exactly opposite things at the exact same time. Things are less black and white in the world once you realize that your heart can hold these polarities together. I can get out of the house for a weekend away and at the exact same moment miss my children with every fiber of my being and feel so exhilaratingly free, it’s like I have actually escaped from prison. I can be wishing that my two cranky messes would just go to sleep for the love of God, be tempted to run down the street screaming, and then, when they finally do fall asleep in my arms, be absolutely heartbroken at the thought that I even have to put them down. Mothers contain multitudes, it turns out.

This spiritual workout has stretched and strengthened my endurance and my patience. It has made me much more present in my own life and in my own body. Of course, it’s not quite the body workout that time to do actual yoga would be, but this busy moment will pass. I will one day again have time to actually leave my home and head to a studio for class. And I’m sure in that moment, I will have conflicting and equally valid feelings of freedom and nostalgia for the time when my children were small.

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