This pandemic has been hard on everyone. Now, we are learning that it has been particularly hard on women, and mothers. Motherhood is beautiful and joyful, yes, yet it also brings big, new challenges every day as our children continue to grow and calls for much personal transformation to meet those challenges. Yet, I have found that oft times discussing the challenges is a bit taboo, since we are supposed to be "selfless, loving mothers," a flat characterization which can make us feel guilty if we are perceived as "complaining" about the tough bits of it. Especially since we know that so many other mothers are undoubtedly facing similar challenges, and yet we don't hear them talking about it. Now, throw in a pandemic that disproportionately affects women and mothers (as well as our elders and others), and the challenges can become greatly amplified.
As you know, I am a woman, and I am a mother. So, let me start by saying that even if you feel you haven't been able to be the parent you wanted to be over the past year, you are not alone. It has scarcely been possible. This pandemic has brought so much suffering to so many people in so many different ways; yet, at the same time, it has also brought a multitude of lessons and opportunities. Opportunities not so much to change, but to find acceptance of one's limitations and those of the situation. Opportunities to soften our rigid perspective. Opportunities to transform our suffering into softness.
We all know that parenthood is a total blessing filled with so much joy, love and connection. We are so grateful. But that is not what I want to talk about today. I want to talk about the challenges. I think we need a safe space for this right now.
Parenthood comes laden with a multitude of simultaneous pressures. I don't need to tell you what they are, you know. Yet, this is precisely what makes it the Yogic practice and lifestyle that it is. The pressure creates the opportunity. In Yoga, the analogy often given is that of a diamond. A diamond endures tremendous pressure from all sides, in the same way that parenting on top of work and everything else can feel like teetering on the edge of overwhelm a great deal of the time, especially when you have little littles. Yet, that pressure transforms a simple hunk of coal into a strong, precious and beautiful diamond. Simply through the transformational power of pressure. Swami Satsangi-ji of Rikhiapeeth has also said that sometimes all one needs to do in life to evolve is endure.
We are not really talking about changing ourselves. When it comes to the hard barrier of the ego, when it undergoes tremendous pressure and difficulty from all sides and becomes totally frustrated and completely exhausted, it is at that moment that it throws its hands up in the air and surrenders. And with that surrender, there comes a great softening and openness. And with that softening and openness, we do not so much change who we are through hard work and so on (after all, the qualities of the heart are already within us, we only need to connect with them), but our perception, understanding and expression naturally tend to shift into the realm of the heart. From the suffering of the ego, into the softness of the heart.
Recently, having been home so much with my 3 and 1 year olds over this past pandemic year, whilst also trying to work a new job from a noisy and more-than-often-interrupted home office, on top of running the household with my partner, I had been starting to feel that immense pressure, fatigue, and frustration to the point where I knew that if I did not figure out how to deal with it in a more positive and Yogic way, that it could have a negative impact on my physical, mental and emotional health. So, being the Yoga aspirant that I am, I took time to stop. I just stopped. I rested. I reflected. I re-focused. And I let the kids watch a lot of TV while I did it.
In Yoga, there is a saying, "There is no noise in the marketplace, and no peace in the Himalayas. Both are within you." I thought about this a lot and what it meant for me and how to apply it in a practical way. I couldn't really do much to change my circumstances, they are what they are right now without a lot of wiggle room. However, something could shift within me. And then I remembered a seemingly minor incident that occurred while I was in the ashram during those 3 years of study.
I had been rushing off from one karma yoga activity to another, as I often was. I was literally running to try to get there on time. Somehow, I tripped when I was stepping up onto the curb from the road, stubbed my toe really, really hard taking a decent chunk of skin off, and fell. I looked to my right (feeling a little embarrassed and kind of hoping nobody was watching), and who was standing there witnessing the entire incident unfold was my Guru, Swami Niranjan-ji. Without saying a word, the message was crystal clear, "slow down. don't run." I have even heard Swamiji say before that, if you end up being late somewhere, better to arrive late and relaxed than to arrive on time and frazzled.
This incident suddenly felt so incredibly relevant. As a parent, I constantly find myself rushing all over again. Rushing from putting out one fire to the next, rushing from tidying this spot to the next, rushing from this appointment to the next, rushing to help manage the big emotions of my two toddlers, rushing to make meals and get everyone bathed, brushed and to bed, and then rushed to get everyone up, dressed, diapered and on time for preschool. Rushing, rushing, rushing.
In our tradition of yoga, it is often said that the speed with which you practice the asana does not impact the quality of awareness, meaning that the faster you go, you do not have to become less aware. Likewise, in parenthood, there is a lot to do all the time. We cannot always stop. Sometimes we may need to for a moment, but then we have to keep going again. So, how do we slow down inside and connect with this inner peace and stay there while there continue to be so many simultaneous demands on our attention, bodies, minds, and emotions as parents.
I feel that it starts with a choice. A choice to prioritize my inner peace and happiness. And then, when I feel the coil inside me beginning to wind tighter and tighter, I remember. I remember my inner priority. I breathe through the tension, and breathe the tension away. I choose peace. I unravel my inner coil before it winds tighter. I remind myself that, while this moment is intense, everything is usually pretty okay in general. And I choose peace. I accept the limitations of the moment, and the limitations of myself. I let go of how I thought things should be, or how I wanted them to be. I focus my mind, my attention, my eyes and my ears on what I need to do externally the best I reasonably can without becoming angry or judging myself that I could not do it better. I slow down inside. I let go of the thoughts that begin to sprout in all directions, and let the resulting emotions rise and fall away. I do what I need to do, inside and out. Sometimes I fail. But, then I just try again. Just like I teach my kids to do.
Sannyasi Gyanhira is a Board Member of the Living Yoga Society. She has spent over 3 years studying in Ashram with her Guru Swami Niranjanananda and now resides in Vancouver BC. Sn Gyanhira is mother to two blessed, happy, and energetic little boys, ages 1 and 3 years old and in 2017, founded a small business called CommUnity Maternity Shop. On the website of this shop, Gyanhira creates a blog called the Yoga of Motherhood Blog where she writes about the naturally yogic nature and sadhanas of motherhood.
- By Sannyasi Shivani Howe
As we fully come into the depths of Winter I wanted to share with you a few thoughts on Self-care. Firstly defining what Self-care is: Self-care how we care for ourselves, not how we get others to care for us. This takes a high degree of self-awareness, kindness and a fierce commitment and responsibility to our own health; mental, emotional and physical.
Self-care means creating a life where we care about and prioritize (!) what is going on inside of us, and take responsibility for how we are contributing to the health and well-being of the world around us. So Self-care is really an aspect of LIVING Yoga.
Sometimes, even if we have been blessed enough to create a life where we love what we do, and are financially supported to do what we love, (as I hope most Yoga teachers out there feel) it’s still important to recognize that feeling burnt out and tapped are a very real experiences. These feelings are great signposts that we are no longer living in the flow of Divine will. The reality is that, if we are not strong, healthy and connected with our cup runneth over then, we don’t have a lot to offer the community.
The key is to learn to pick up on our subconscious cues early so we can make small adjustments to our day and routines to help us stay on track. As opposed to waiting until we are frayed at the seams and about to crack before we take a step back and recalibrate. It’s all about moment-to-moment awareness and adjustments. The little efforts add up considerably and when put together create a Sattvic lifestyle.
This means having a toolbox that we can refer to to help recalibrate, and reorientate our internal world to a state of harmony so that we can hold that space effectively in the community.
Here are a few gems in my toolbox that keep me inspired, present, my eye on the light and my cup overflowing.
MOUNA - By far this is one of the most profound and strongly recalibrating practices I have ever practised as a Yogini. Challenging if you have small children, but it's more about prioritizing it than making excuses. 2 hours. 4 hours. 6 hours. Block it off. Prioritize it, prioritize YOU. No books. No phones. No social media. No talking. (obviously Mouna is much more than no talking but let’s start small ) - IT HAS CHANGED MY LIFE and literally changed my functional paradigm, especially if I can block off more than 6 hours. Not an easy practice, but nothing fills my cup faster.
UP BEFORE DAWN - Even if it is 10 mins before the sun rises, stepping into my day while it’s still dark outside is a real gift. To have the first light be a candle of remembrance and mantra rather than the blue rectangle of my phone is imperative to my mental health.
STARTING MY DAY WITH AJAPAJAPA or internal MANTRA - I’m not much of morning person. I love the mornings but I’m not always a big fan of other people in my mornings. So starting my day with my first words to be in gratitude to the Divine through mantra is really important for my orientation. My first words really need to be “Akhand-Mandalakaram” and not “Must have coffee”.
PUT THE PHONE AWAY - Seriously. It sounds do-able until I go to do it. Then I remember someone who is supposed to call, an email that I forgot to do three days ago… All of these things are Vata high (too much mental stimulation and anxiety - not enough grounding or presence) I try and keep my phone on silent or do not disturb outside of regular business hours. I love the practice of leaving my phone in the kitchen so that I can’t keep checking the time in the middle of the night or reading the online newspaper as I am known to do at 3am.
BALANCE THE WANT-TOS AND THE OUGHT-TO’S - Hopefully we are able to create a life where the ought to's and the want-to’s are one and the same. But even though I absolutely love what I do, sometimes even teaching feels like an ought to rather than a want-to. And this is my alarm bell that its time for some self-care.
Once we have established a baseline of Sattva (and I mean established - so that our wants are not just Swadhisthana self-sabotage desires holding us in Avidya) Our want-to’s will actually be showing us what we need to do to come back into balance and health so that we can serve.
And lastly, about four times a year I like to GET BORED. That’s right - I strip away any activity (sometimes I can combine this with a Mouna practice). No clocks, books, obligations, or plans. No cleaning. Just sit there. No chores. No hiking/forest walks. Nothing. I go outside, if I can, until I get utterly bored. So bored that cleaning or chopping wood or some other ought-to seems appealing. THAT’S when I know I have been reset, that my cup is full and I’m ready to serve.
I hope that some of these tools will also help you prioritize your self-care.
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