Parenting with Patanjali: How The Yoga Sutras Have Helped Me Become a Better Mom
I can easily recall sitting on the wooden floor in the San Francisco YogaWorks studio, chanting the Sutras with my teacher trainers and fellow students. It was the first time I was properly introduced to Patanjali’s work. I had studied it before on my own, but something about being in that group setting, recalling the Yamas and Niyamas by name, made it feel more tangible.
It was the summer of 2011 and I had been officially married for a year. A school teacher on her break, my husband and I moved from Albuquerque to the Bay Area so I could study yoga while he did entrepreneurial things in a city that totally understood what exactly that meant.
My yoga studies happened to coincide with my intense desire to be a mom. On my lunch breaks from teacher training, I would venture into the beautiful neighborhoods lined with the quintessential San Francisco homes. Packed in tight, they still managed to evoke a sense of individuality — nothing like the new houses built in subdivisions these days where each and everyone could be a reflection of the next, endless representations of the same thing over and over into the horizon.
I would watch the moms strolling up and down these neighborhood blocks, pushing strollers and slinging diaper bags, thinking how wonderful it would be to get to join them, to get to be a part of their tribe.
Later I discovered that many of these ‘moms’ I ogled over were in fact nannies, but that didn’t ruin the story that was being created in my head: My life would not be complete until I became a mom.
That fall I discovered I was pregnant. In July 2012, my husband and I welcomed our son, Asher, into the world. Almost exactly two years later, we brought little Marlowe into our family in the same hospital. And now, as I write this, I am one day away from my due date with our third child.
Yes, being a mom is everything I imagined it to be. It is fulfilling and rewarding. I look forward to my kids waking up every morning, running to find me in the house so that I can give them a hug and kiss — and get them a glass of orange juice. Motherhood is the most beautiful act of unconditional love and it has altered me on a level that I can’t even begin to understand yet.
And then, of course, it is challenging. It is difficult and exhausting. There are moments when all I can think about is running away to a quiet coffee shop where I can pretend to be that girl who only wanted to be a mom. My son will throw things at me and my daughter. He will yell and jump off of every surface in the house. My daughter will spill her juice and cry so loud that you would think something horrible has happened. They will stay up all night, refusing to sleep. They will crawl into bed with us, kick us in the face, and pee everywhere.
They will be kids and it will never not be trying.
So, as I sit in my home rocking my third child, a beautiful four-week old boy to sleep, welcoming him to this beautiful and messy world, I find myself reflecting on how yoga has guided my parenting — and how it can help me as life gets even crazier.
It was no coincidence that the universe brought to me Patanjali’s Sutras and motherhood at the same time. The wisdom within his writing can be applied to every aspect of life, including, I’ve discovered recently, parenting.
While there are so many treasures in Patanjali’s work, there are five principles, three Niyamas and two Yamas, that I remind myself of daily and that have helped me embrace motherhood from a place that feels grounded and peaceful.
Ahimsa. Most parents will take a quick look at Ahimsa’s definition and feel like they can check this one off of their list. Non-harming? Not causing injury? Check.
But it’s not as simple as making sure your child is physically safe from harm. What we say to our children impacts them — and it’s something that they will remember for a very long time. When I think of practicing Ahimsa as a mom, I work to refrain from causing injury with my words. I try to remove phrases, like “I don’t care”, from my vocabulary.
I’m also mindful of my actions. Being constantly unavailable to my children because I am distracted by devices, work or other “to-dos” is incredibly damaging to their emotional development. When I am with my children, I do my best to be kind, patient, and completely present.
Satya. Being truthful as a parent is a hard road to navigate. How much of the truth do our children need to know? When is it appropriate to sugar-coat or tell white lies in order to protect them or wait for a better time? Is it ever appropriate? As parents, these are questions we deal with regularly, especially as our kids get older.
Personally, when I think about practicing truthfulness, I am reminded to first and foremost never say anything I don’t mean. It’s easy to get caught up in a moment and to say things that are damaging, but if I take a moment to breathe and to remind myself of my commitment to Satya, it’s easier to focus on the big picture.
I find it helpful, no — necessary, to combine the practices of Satya and Ahimsa. I tell the truth when it’s possible to do so without causing injury or harm.
Asteya. Lately, this has been a big focus of mine because I have become so aware of how quickly time passes. Now as a mother of three, my days fly by. And, as my first son prepares to start his first year of school, I’m sure they will only get busier and harder to hold on to.
Asteya means non-stealing, but rather than focusing on the simple translation of this term (don’t take a box of cookies from the store without paying), I think about it in reference to time.
As we become more and more distracted by “things”, whether it’s our phones, TV, social media, our own personal lives, we wind up stealing time from our children. There are some days, days that I spend entirely with my children, that feel like I have never had a minute of quality time with them. I hate these days.
By focusing on Asteya, I focus on giving my children my attention, so that they can enjoy their days of being children because, let’s face it, they grow faster than we imagine. When they ask me to play with them, I do my best to make it happen. When I give them my time and attention, I ensure that I’m not stealing a moment of their childhood from them.
Samtosa. “Being content with what we have.” Personally, this commitment is one of the hardest ones for me to practice regularly. It’s so easy to get caught up in future thoughts, constantly thinking about what we need and how we are going to get it. Or, even worse, wishing to be out of a “phase” of motherhood — like wanting a newborn to get bigger fast so we can reclaim our sleep and our boobs!
Samtosa asks us to not just be present, but to also be happy in the present. This I have learned is really one of the biggest keys to being a great parent. When you can accept what’s happening and take a moment to be grateful for it, you discover that your life really is good — and that being a parent is awesome.
Tapas. Being a parent is tough. It is exhausting, both mentally and physically. There are days when it feels like it’s impossible to do everything you need to do. This is where Tapas comes in, the determination and inner ardor that propels you through even when things get tough.
As a mom, I’m dedicated to doing my best every day. And while this is never perfect, I’m happy to go to bed (whenever that might be) knowing that I gave it my all. Parenting is not for the lazy. It is the hardest, most important, role any of us will ever take on.
Parents have the ability to change the future. In fact, we have more power than any political figure, celebrity, or billionaire will ever have. What we do each and every day is powerful. When we commit to doing our best, to parenting each day with intention, presence, and focus, we are creating a world that we will be happy to see our children grow up in.