So, I think I get what yoga off the mat means.
Perhaps it’s as literal as Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana enabling me to bring a plate of scrambled eggs to my hungry three year old chanting for breakfast on the front porch, while I carry my one year old on my hip and balance said plate of eggs atop my mug of tea (I’ll explain).
Maybe it’s because of the little time I currently have for contemplating and experimenting with my practice (read: dashing in and out of random classes at the whim of babysitters’ availability) that I realize how significant yoga truly is off the mat.
Staying with the sense of calm and lightheartedness following practice is like trying to squeeze a slippery bar of soap in your fist, as I switch back into mommy mode and return home to where anything is possible, with two little people under the age of three. And yet, somehow it’s become possible that no “switch” is required.
Perhaps there’s a way in which yoga comes with me off the mat into the world of yogurt smeared on the wall, crayon scribbles on the wall, tantrums driving me up the wall—anything but legs up the wall (which is often attempted for quick rejuvenation and grounding but usually interpreted as an invitation to pile up on mommy—cute…some of the time).
Amidst the frenetic pace of parenting two little people, my latest “Ah ha” moment is a sliver of insight into the multitude of ways one can integrate yoga off the mat.
1. Sit. Being present and a good listener to a toddler having a tantrum and not making it my story or about my emotions triggered within.
2. Breathe. Between the intensely and frequently concurring demands of two small children. Breathing with them during the much-needed quiet embraces throughout the day.
3. Ground. Finding my centre when feeling pulled in inconceivably opposing directions by said demands for food, potty, attention and immediate radar tracking of misplaced favourite truck.
4. Expand. Finding creative alternatives to “no” and the compassion to understand my children’s needs and hold the space for their self expression.
5. Soften. Plans change—quickly and often—moods swing and expectations flop. There’s always tomorrow to not judge myself or others.
6. Savasana. Letting go of what worked and what didn’t, especially when breakfast, potty, dressing, playing, crying, snacking, running, jumping, reading, baking, spilling, screaming only gets you to 9:00 a.m.
7. Gratitude. For the teacher and beauty of light within my children, who mirror my actions and call to attention my strengths and weaknesses every day and make my heart burst with more love than I ever imagined possible.
When we come to the mat with beginner’s mind and discover the guiding intelligence within that helps transform asana from class to class, so can parenting transform when we wipe the slate clean and listen in.
Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana is not one of my favourite poses and therefore not a part of my self-practice—until recently, when a teacher reminded me about the benefits of bringing benched asanas back into play. For Utthita Hasta Padangusthasana, all it took was a new entry point (from Uttanasana with belt) and the very palatable cue: gas pedal your foot on the lifted, extended leg (thank you, Rose Riccio).
So, about the eggs: Visualize coming to standing on one leg from forward bend with belt looped around the right foot and balancing on the left leg—and now, gas pedal the right foot. That is what got me out the porch door with babe and breakfast in hand!
By sending the energy out through the ball of my right foot and pushing on the screen door handle, I stepped onto the porch quite intact, except for probably holding my breath. Until my three year old exclaimed, “Mommy! How come you used your foot?”
And then I exhaled and crumpled with laughter from the exertion and surprise of an unloved posture coming to my rescue.
Written by Elizabeth Palermo