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 Gyanhira
Yoga Ecology is beginning to take the spotlight as the next crucial role of Yoga in our evolution, health, happiness and survival as a species and planet. Together Yoga, often translated as "unity," and Ecology, defined as the relationship of organisms to one another and their physical surroundings, come together to indicate the mutually interconnected nature of ourselves with our fellow humans and the environment. For better or for worse, our actions, thoughts, desires, decisions, and feelings are impacting each other and the environment all the time.
When I think about what Yoga Ecology means to me, it ultimately comes down to a fundamental shifting of perspective from "Me" the self-centred individual to "We" the society and beyond, while also striving to find a healthy balance between the two. Helping our children to see and feel through the filter of "We" is going to be the task of today's parents to ensure that our children have a beautiful tomorrow. Yet, before we can help our children to think, see and feel as a "We," we parents have to do this internal work first. Because we know that our children often learn best by observing, and not by listening (at least that is the case with my kids!).
2020 has been a big year in terms of perceptual shifts. It's many challenges have forced us to acknowledge that we are all profoundly connected. Not just in theory anymore, but actually. Undeniably. Connected.
The rampant wildfires of 2020, among other events, have made a deafening announcement about our interconnectivity on this planet. The global warming that is taking place as a result of recent human activity has produced an exponentially more destructive wildfire season. The land has burned out of control, taking life, devastating ecosystems, and sending cloaks of thick, choking smoke around the globe, plummeting air quality in some parts beyond the worst rating available on the Air Quality Index. We quickly gained a new appreciation and value for what we most often took for granted: clean, breathable air.
The Covid-19 pandemic has also highlighted the truth of our profound interconnectedness in myriad ways, from our dependence on essential workers for our survival (think food, goods, medicine, vaccine development, healthcare), to the need of childcare and a healthy economy for employment, to the previously unnoticed and extraordinarily intimate connection between the breath of persons in near proximity, to the utter dependence upon others to put individual wants and desires aside to stay home and save lives. What's more, we have begun to notice that technology is not enough to connect us; Facebook, Instagram, Tinder, SnapChat, whatever platform it may be, is not enough. We NEED the real thing. We miss each other amidst the necessary lockdown and social distancing restrictions. We are longing for each other. At long last, we want to put the phone down, look up, take the ear buds out, turn the TV or video game off and be in each other's presence. For real. We find ourselves texting less and phoning, Zooming and FaceTiming our parents, grandparents and friends more. We want more of each other, not less.
Why is this value in one another increasing? We are recovering an appreciation for each other that had, for a moment, become lost in digital connection. We are remembering and appreciating how valuable the real human connection is. And recovering and nurturing this value in both each other and Nature is going to be key. These are the lessons we are learning in 2020 that may end up being our most important legacy to our children. Valuing. Appreciating. Conserving. Protecting. Sacrificing. Balancing.
In the end, we all win from a "We" perspective; the individual is part of the collective. The individual also lives among Nature, and is a part of Nature. If we all operate from a "Me" perspective, sooner or later there won't be enough for "We" anymore, and then it's only a matter of time until there is no longer enough for "Me." No man is an island, and the pandemic has shown us this. The wildfires have shouted this.
So, the question becomes, how can we embody this new appreciation of each other and the environment so that children, too, can imbibe and understand that we, and the environment, are not unlimited resources to be mined, and that we must remember to value, conserve and protect both each other and the environment by acting with the knowledge that we are dependent upon each other.
Oftentimes in affluent, first-world societies, it is easy to forget that the Earth has limited resources. Water, for example. We use it without a single thought of it ever running out and becoming unavailable. It is always there for us, and so we forget to appreciate our dependence upon it. Then, we fail to respect it, it loses value, and we waste it.
When I lived in Swami Niranjan's Yoga Ashram in India between the years 2012-2015, I learned a lot about Yoga Ecology that I am just realizing now. There was, in the Ashram, a very particular attitude toward water. It was valued and therefore treated with great respect. It was not wasted. I'll never forget when, during my first days in the Ashram, I was washing my plate after dinner and I turned the tap on and let it run while I soaped my dish when one of the Ashram residents came and turned the tap off, indicating to me not to waste the water. Until that moment, it had honestly never occurred to me in that context before. The same principal thing applied while brushing one's teeth: wet the toothbrush, turn the water off. Brush the teeth. Turn the water on again to rinse the toothbrush. But, do not let the water run while you are brushing your teeth. That is wasteful. And sometimes we did have to briefly go without water when the well ran dry or the power shut off, which helped foster a much greater awareness of our relationship and responsibility to one another to only take what we needed so there was enough left for someone else, as well as helped us to understand our real place and position within Nature. We need her, and yet we often do not even ensure that we protect those aspects of her which we need most for our own survival. The awareness just simply isn't there. Now, 5 years later back at home in Canada, I cannot leave the water running while brushing my teeth, washing a dish or washing my hands. When I see it happen, it makes me cringe. We practice saving water in our own household, among other efforts such as using a bidet to save toilet paper, and assigning our 3 year old the job of turning off all the lights before we leave the house. These are small attitudes and behaviours that we can exemplify to our children that make one thoughtful and can make a difference in how we view and treat each other and the Earth.
If we value, we do not waste. If we value, we protect, we sacrifice and we take great care, just as we do with our own children. The Earth is a kind of a mother, we need her gifts to sustain us. Yet, her health is often in our hands. We must build awareness of this unique relationship, and appreciate the reciprocal nature of it. Only then will we value each other and the environment, and find the balance between "Me" and "We" so that our children too can have a beautiful future for generations to come.
- By Sannyasi Gyanhira Huberman
I think this is a topic that needs no introduction right now. So, let's just get right into it!
Here are some practices that are so powerful yet so simple that you can start right now. It won't take long, and they pack A LOT of punch. They are all practices that I know from doing myself. Try it for 3 days and see the result.
1. Bhramari Pranayama (breathing exercise)
Why: Anxiety reliever.
How: Sit in a comfortable, upright position. Gently press the ears closed with the index fingers, so that your voice echoes inside your head when you speak (do not insert fingers inside the ears). Raise the elbows to the sides, and up to the level of the shoulders. Inhale. As you exhale, make an "mmmmmmmm" sound, keeping the lips closed, until all the breath is exhaled. Repeat 7 times.
It is this gentle humming sound which gives this pranayama its name of "Humming Bee Breath." It is so powerful! The gentle vibration creates a very soothing, calming, relaxing effect.
2. Om Chanting
Why: Om chanting has been shown to reduce emotional tensions, reduce fear, and promote resiliency of health. Om chanting increases intuition. Benefits can be experienced after just 5 minutes of chanting.
How: Sit in a comfortable, upright posture. Chant Om in the most comfortable way for you. Play with it and see what feels best to you, ie what pitch and what speed.
Why: Relieves emotional, mental and physical tensions. It actually really does! Firstly, singing is a powerful, rhythmic and regulated breath exercise, or pranayama, in itself. It helps you oxygenate your brain, which reduces anxiety, especially if you’re a breath-holder when you feel anxious. Singing also relaxes the diaphragm and chest muscles, reducing anxiety by allowing you to take deeper breaths. Finally, singing also helps release emotions (especially when you sing songs you really like), as well as gets you out of your thinking/worrying mind. Music and song are powerful in shifting moods. In Yoga, kirtan and bhajan are sung regularly.
Continue reading article here https://communitymaternity.ca/blogs/the-yoga-of-motherhood/yoga-for-stress-anxiety
He used the analogy of holding a bird in your hands. You need to hold it firm enough that it cannot fly away, yet gentle enough that you do not harm the bird.
I love this analogy, it made the concept so clear in such a simple way. I was so inspired by this teaching that, while pregnant, I painted a yantra (a geometrical light formation that emanates from sound vibration) of the Cosmic Mother for the nursery, and included the image of the cupped bird at its centre. As my husband and I raise our children, this painting continues to remind me that our children are not ours, but that they are entrusted to us for a time. They are born with free will, yet we hold them for a time until they are ready, and it is safe, for them to fly.
The image of the cupped bird also reminds me to be balanced in my parenting because sometimes the power of separation anxiety and the desire to protect is so strong. I want to keep my children safe. Safe from physical danger, but also safe from emotional danger. It is easy for me to go overboard in trying to control my son's movements, activities and social interactions throughout the day in the name of "safety," or "protection," and I find that sometimes what is really at the centre of that might be my own insecurity. I do think that children need the freedom to explore, learn and discover for themselves; at the same time, I do need to be close by to step in when needed. That's the sticky bit for me right there. "When needed."
The cupped bird reminds me that, if I hold my children too close to me due to my own insecurities and fears, I may end up harming them by preventing them from developing the skills they need to thrive in this life, and the resiliency and confidence that one absolutely needs in order to bounce back from inevitable hurts and failures. I have found that it takes so much courage and strength on my part to allow my children the freedom that they need and are entitled to. To give them my love, versus my attachment.
On the flip side, what happens when we don't hold our children tight enough? My family is such a great example of this analogy. If left unchecked, I have the tendency to be controlling. My husband has the opposite tendency towards permissiveness. This is something I think we are seeing more these days in a very well-intentioned attempt at "democracy in the family." It's not bad in my eyes, as long as we strive to keep things in balance. I think we now know that, in order to feel safe and secure, children thrive with a certain amount of routine, boundaries and predictability. Otherwise, they may not feel held, but a bit lost instead as they move throughout their day and social interactions.
Lastly, the image of the cupped bird helps me reflect on my own self-care as a mother. Enter the tendency towards perfectionism as a mother, toward being the "perfect mother." Ahhh. When I had my first child, I allowed so little self-care for myself. We all know the mom-bun. I rocked that bun for weeks (maybe a month!) at a time without taking it down to comb, let alone wash it. When I would finally take my hair down, it ached from the root from being tied up for so long, and had actually dreaded in several places. I had thought that I was being a great mother, giving my all to my child and so little to myself, but in the end not being balanced in my self-care led to inevitable burn out, not allowing me to be my most healthy self for my son. This may seem obvious, but it was really difficult to distinguish when was a good time for me to engage in self-care. It always seemed equally important to be available to him, and then once he was asleep, I didn't have the energy to get up and do self-care.
The promise I made to myself before having our second son was to not hold myself so tight, to relax my ideas and to allow for a little more self-care, because I knew that I couldn't do it the same way twice. Now, I make sure to brush my hair (every few days), and my teeth (almost every day) and shower (well, more than before!).
AND I'm FINALLY writing this blog! It's not perfect... because I don't have time (or enough sleep) for that! Maybe, in some cases, good enough is perfect after all.
Om & Prem.
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