Learning from Motherhood: Yoga and Me

Danielle Ou and Kyle Lin in Adho Mukha Virasana

This article was first printed in Yoga Vidya, Summer 2010: Being a Householder; Doing Yoga. – Ed.

Two weeks after the birth of my first child, I lay in supported Savasana. This had always been my preparatory pose for Pranayama, and one I did more for formality than for the pose itself. But on this occasion, I paused in amazement as I felt my organs move back to what, presumably, were their former places. It was the first time I felt the effect of the pose so dramatically and profoundly, and I was grateful and humbled by the gift of yoga in my life.

However, in the sleepless turmoil of new motherhood, this enlightened moment was not to last. Pranayama became a thing of the past. By the time I set up the blankets for supported Savasana, the baby was awake and yelling. My anxiety-ridden, sleep-deprived brain wouldn’t allow me to concentrate in any asana, restorative or otherwise. Soon my yoga was reduced to attending class once a week.

In my second pregnancy, I accepted the fact that a solid chunk of practice time was just not possible, but a few minutes here and there were better than nothing. Upright seated poses allowed me to interact with and supervise my active toddler, and when he wasn't around, Supta Baddha Konasana with two straps was a godsend.

After the birth of my second son, I tried to get my practice back right away. My legs had lost a lot of strength and I was determined to build them back up. My few minutes of practice became focused on standing poses, and I went after them with determination and single-mindedness. I told myself that what my practice lacked in quantity it would make up for in quality.

In retrospect, it was not so much quality as brutality. It was small wonder, with this approach, plus lifting and carrying my two kids (thirty-five and twenty-five pounds), that my knees started to hurt. At first the pain was only in standing poses, but then it became pervasive, in almost every pose I tried. I focused on Virasana and Baddha Konasana. I modified standing poses, tried different sequences, and used different props – all without significant relief. Finally I left a message with Manouso Manos, describing my practice history and current problem.

He replied, "Stop beating up your legs."

He was right. I was not building them up. I was beating them down. It was actually a relief to stop, both physically and mentally.

With two active toddlers, I realized this was not the time to make strenuous demands of my mind and body. I had to reassess what a real pose meant. I thought of that organ-moving supported Savasana. The effect was both relaxing and constructive, while the standing poses caused pain. I promised myself there would be a time for standing poses and others like it, but now was not that time.

Currently, I try to squeeze in a few poses throughout the day – Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana in the morning at the bathroom counter; Urdhva Hastasana and Uttanasana while the kids have their cereal; Adho Mukha Svanasana when I'm on the floor with them. They crawl between my legs in standing poses, lie on me in restorative poses, and play with my face in inversions. The one time I tried a chair backbend in their presence, they pretended I was a slide, climbing up my legs, over the back of the chair, and trying to slide down my chest, nearly choking me. I didn't do that again.

But their playfulness is an element I try to capture in my practice. Watching them, I am constantly reminded that asana practice, like so many things, is not linear. Joyfulness is always within reach, whatever the depth of practice.

My four-year-old and I have a bedtime ritual. I sit in Upavista Konasana and he lies between my legs in Savasana so I can floss and brush his teeth. Sometimes this is the only asana I do all day, but being in a pose that nurtures both my child and me feels just right.

Danielle Ou lives in Pasadena with her husband and two sons. She is a Certified Iyengar Yoga Teacher Introductory II.