It's tempting to wax romantic when I think of my earliest days practicing yoga in the verdant hills of St. Croix. But the fact is, I would have done anything just to get out of the house.
My husband and I were living in the U.S. Virgin Islands and I had just given birth to our second child in two years. Tulani was a peaceful baby girl, serene with a mischievous streak (she'd nip me while nursing, then giggle impishly). But she arrived so soon after Malcolm, a sweet, active boy who, when he was just three days old and snuggled at my shoulder, placed his fingers on my neck and pulled me in. This is what it's all about, I remember thinking. An infant's arm around a mother's neck completes the circle. In time, though, a daunting feeling overtook me, and it wasn't so soft around the edges; it was the fear of botching things, the nagging suspicion that I was not equal to the task of parenting. And so another impulse crept in: Run, head for the hills. That running away meant taking outdoor hatha yoga classes on a hilltop in the Caribbean.
As fate would have it, I did what a lot of new parents who haven't quite settled into their roles do: I renewed my interest in spiritual pursuits. My efforts were piecemeal, to be sure, and they were more solitary (yoga and meditation) than congregational (church of any kind was a seasonal event). But over time, I did become more conscious of the ways in which yoga might carry over at home. And I began to wonder how other parents were putting yogic principles to good use in their homes.
Across the country, I spoke to a range of mothers and fathers practicing yoga or meditation or both, who expressed various levels of commitment to their practice. Some have trekked to ashrams here and in India, kids in tow; others have embarked on their inner journeys without ever leaving home. Although many have experienced deep states of meditation, they vary in their success at bringing such peaceful states to their childrearing. None of them ever pushed the practice on their children, but rather let it influence them by example and by discussion.
Not all of these parents could point to proof that their practice had transformed their lives. But many spoke of the increased energy levels they enjoyed, the heightened awareness of the moment-to-moment experiences of daily life, and the greater empathy they felt for their children. It was as if these moms and dads were saying to their young, the divinity in me salutes the divinity in you. Namaste in action.
Many spoke of coming to terms with the constant juggling of doing both their yoga and the dishes with reasonable regularity, placing neither their practice nor their children first, but recognizing that, somewhere along their spiritual paths, their parenting had become their practice. The same mindfulness that goes into preparing the body for meditation through yoga, for instance, can be brought to bear when cooking dinner, tucking in bed sheets, or changing diapers.
These were decent, earnest stories these parents were offering, at turns, gritty and inspiring. So heartening were their lessons, in fact, that my usual tendency to bemoan my own lack of progress seemed pointless. For, in listening to their struggles, their humor, their stark reflections, in sensing their capacity for generosity and growth, I somehow sensed my own.