Before I had children I definitely took my freedom for granted. If I had realised the demands that would soon be on my time I would have made it to every single yoga class being taught, every day (but then there weren’t as many studios around then anyway). My yoga practice has certainly changed since having children and there have been times that I have longed for the days when I could get up whenever I wanted and practice for as long as I wanted but more recently I have found peace with the way things are and have grown so much more from the lessons having a family has provided.
Negotiating family life can be hard (really hard) and requires patience, presence, love and compassion. Where else is better to practice these things than on the mat or the cushion. So now is not the time to give up that yoga practice because it is needed more than ever.
Now that one of my kids has started school (!) I thought I would share some of my tips for staying inspired and motivated as well as keeping the practice relevant when you have a young family to contend with.
1. Establish a home practice
If you don’t have a home practice already you’ll want to get the confidence up to start one. This is really important regardless of whether you have kids as it is great to balance led practices (where you can relax and follow along and get inspiration from a teacher) and your own self practice (where you can start to really discover what your body needs on any particular day and take your time in poses or pranayama to listen deeply).
When you have kids this is where it really comes into its own. Your favourite yoga class may not be on at exactly the time when the baby is settled or the kids are in care. The only time you have to practice might be 15 minutes in the morning and 15 minutes before bed. You are going to need flexibility and that is not always possible with a taught class. If you don’t yet feel comfortable practicing without a teacher then I highly recommend signing up for one of the online yoga class portals such as Yoga Gaia or Eckhart Yoga. There are some great teachers and a range of different styles, lengths and intensity of classes.
If you can it is really important also to carve out time to attend a group class to stay connected with a community but let’s be honest if you have really young kids it’s unlikely that you’ll get to one every day and by establishing a home practice you can do yoga every day (it just might look a little different – leading onto number 2…)
2. Let go of expectations of what a yoga practice should be
If you have always attended a led hour or 90 minute long class, more than three times a week, things are probably likely to change. Babies can be all consuming and toddlers too are both demanding and completely unpredictable. 🙂 The beautifully sequenced * warm up, standing postures, seated postures, pranayama, meditation, relaxation * template is not always possible. Carving out a full hour can be difficult plus your needs may depend on energy levels and mental state. Yoga is not just about postures and this time in life is a great opportunity to really focus in on what you need in the time you have available.
Yoga on any given day may be as diverse as:
- 20 minutes of sun salutes followed by 10 minute Savasana
- pelvic floor exercises combined with pranayama
- seated forward folds, twists and meditation
- floor based poses (ie. prone backbends or supine twists, abdominal work, bridges) followed by savasana
- alternate nostril breathing and meditation
- restorative poses such as reclined bound angle, supported twists, legs up the wall
- horse pose with cow face arms, warrior poses and standing balances
- yoga nidra
Obviously if you are the mother, and have just given birth, following postnatal guidelines is really important. You can read more about healing during this time in my blog on 8 steps to post-partum healing.
Your yoga practice may also not be in the calm, well managed space of a studio or hall anymore. Be prepared to work to find your own peace even though there is chaos around (piles of washing, cars and dolls strewn on the floor, occasionally a toddler playing “stacks on” on your mat!)
3. Carve out time to practice
As mentioned in number 2, this time may not be in the form of a one hour block the same time every day but it could be something like 15 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening before bed. It might be just half an hour while the baby sleeps during the day. The most important thing is to commit to making that time even if a load of washing doesn’t go on. If possible it can be good to commit to the same time each day so that it becomes a habit but don’t get attached to that and lose the practice if the time no longer works. As kids grow older their routine changes and so we can adapt our practice to it.
4. Create a sacred space
Although it’s important to be able to bring your yoga practice into any environment it can be really helpful to create a sacred space to practice in. This can helps to motivate you and provide cues to the family from early on that when you are in this space this is your special alone time. This space may be in a separate room away from the hustle and bustle of the rest of the house where you can shut the door and relax. However, it could just as easily be a corner of the family room. You can create a kind of ‘altar’ for this space including some special items such as incense, crystals, flowers, photographs or inspiring quotes. Have your yoga mat, meditation cushion and blanket handy in this space so that is easy to access and inviting. If you associate this area with happy and calm feelings then it will draw you in whenever you have the time to spare.
5. Bring yoga into family life
You can educate your kids early on about the importance of developing mindfulness, connection and calm just by following the above steps and showing them that mum and/or dad takes the time to practice for their benefit and the benefit of the family. Being mindful does not stop when we get up from the cushion and bringing up children is a wonderful (but difficult) activity to put those mindfulness techniques into practice. Coming to the breath at the belly when we feel our buttons being pushed is very powerful, and can stop many a screaming match in its tracks, but requires a lot of practice on the cushion first when said buttons are being well left alone.
You can also bring yoga in by practicing with the kids – this might be bicycle legs and massage with the baby, fun sun salutes and animal poses with pre schoolers or partner yoga, balances and cart wheels with older kids. There are some great apps out there with guided meditations for kids such as Smiling Mind and mindfulness and yoga is becoming more popular in schools so kids are being introduced to it. You can of course also start to bring in yoga philosophy such as the Yamas and Niyamas as part of your way of teaching your kids to be kind, generous, clean, disciplined etc.
However much you overtly teach yoga to your children, committing to a dedicated yoga (including meditation) practice yourself will in the long term make you more present, more mindful, more compassionate and this will make you a better parent. Good luck and let me know any results or more tips in the comments.