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Mindful Parenting on and off the Mat

Raising children can be hectic and can sometimes feel like being caught in the winds of a hurricane. The mindfulness developed through practicing yoga cultivates the ability to find our way back to a calm center and to parent from a place of greater balance, awareness, and inner strength.

By Kari Marble

The class is humming with 28 big and little people, plus yoga props, baby blankets, diaper bags, and toys. Some of the babies are quiet, some are cooing, some are fussing, some are loudly exploring the new sounds they can make. At one point crying spreads and, as nearly all the babies start to commiserate, it rises to a crescendo. The mommies move into Garudasana (Eagle Pose), a balance pose that draws them into a deeper state of concentration and centering. Within seconds, the babies are calm again.

What happened here? When baby is in the womb, we may be quite aware that our state affects her. However, it is easy to forget this once baby is out of the womb and apparently separate from us. But babies and young children are still strongly connected to us, exquisitely sensitive to the energy we exude, positive or negative. It makes sense, then, that we develop a heightened awareness of self and of baby, as well as the inner resources to guide us back to our center.

Yoga with baby can serve as a microcosm of our parenting as we experiment with how to be with our babies, read their cues, let go of our agendas, and respond to challenging moments in a safe, loving space. This experience cultivates a mindfulness that enhances our parenting both on and off the mat.

In the Here and Now with Our Babies
Yoga practice offers a rare respite in today's culture of rushed, stressful living without reflection. It draws us back to listen to what is within, the inner voice that is easily drowned out by the noise of daily living. Over and over we hear a teacher guide us, "If your mind begins to wander, gently guide it back to focus on the present moment, on each breath." At some wonderful point in the development of our yoga practice, we begin to notice that the unencumbered state of awareness and well-being that we progressively experience on the mat has become more accessible to us in our daily lives. The benefits can shape our relationships with our children, helping us respond to them from a place of greater clarity and inner wisdom. This does not make us perfect parents, but it does liberate us to more frequently be who we wish to be with our children, and to soften or even let go of expectations about our lives with our babies.

Being in the present is natural for babies. Learning to meet them there enables us to connect with them authentically. "Yoga really heightens the awareness and calm you need to be able to look at your baby in a new light every time," says Mimi Greisman, a mother of three who directs the popular early childhood education program at Sherith Israel in San Francisco. "Establishing trust and a real sense of presence in the moment for your children is the best thing you can give them."

According to pediatrician and herbalist Stacia Lansman, M. D., founder of Pediatric Alternatives in Mill Valley and mother of two, a parent's ability to be present with baby in a calm and centered manner can directly impact a baby's health. "Being present is how we connect with our babies and help them feel that the world is a safe place. I have seen many colicky babies who, I believe, are reacting to stress or uncertainty in the parent."

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