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Writer Yelena Moroz Alpert shares how a postpartum return to her beloved Ashtanga practice (however guilt-ridden) was essential for regaining her sense of self in her new role as a mother.
It had been eight weeks since my last yoga class and I could barely hold a lunge. For someone with a regular practice for almost 15 years, feeling as if I was on a tightrope was not the “welcome back” I expected from my body.
“A lunge. How could I wobble so much rising into a lunge?” I thought to myself, begrudgingly observing all the other students who seemed to have glided up with grace.
By wobbling, I don’t mean that clumsy sway that happens every once in a while. I felt as if I was standing on a balance beam. Sure, the fact that it was my first time on the mat since the birth of my 2-month-old baby was a pretty good reason to feel off-kilter. But since I diligently practiced yoga for all 38 weeks of my pregnancy, I had hoped that my body would be more forgiving upon my return.
On my way home, I realized that the wobbling was a metaphor for my new life. And, I should probably get used to it. I stepped back onto the mat a new person that I didn’t quite know yet.
I most certainly wore rose-colored glasses in anticipation of motherhood. Of course, I was aware of the impending sleepless nights and endless cooing of my baby. What I didn’t realize was that giving birth would sort of strip me of my individuality. Once Bradley entered the world, trying to integrate the pre-baby me (the one who could go to a yoga class on a whim) with the mama-me (the one who prizes once-ordinary things like showers) was like swimming in sand—I quickly traded the notion of self-rediscovery in lieu of napping when my baby napped.
As the newly appointed indentured servant to my beloved son, I knew that if I was to regain any semblance of my former self, I had to step away from the crib—literally and figuratively—which was more difficult than one might think. I deserved this time off, yet couldn’t help but feel selfish as I drove to the yoga studio. Leaving Bradley to do something as indulgent as lie in Savasana flooded me with guilt. Coming back to a husband with a screaming infant who refused to take the bottle did not help.
Whereas the pre-baby me went to yoga classes to unplug and stay in shape, the post-baby me needed something more than a way to get my tummy back. By going back, week after week, to regain the balance in my lunge, I realized that yoga was my antidote to my new, wonderfully chaotic life. Don’t get me wrong, my son is everything to me, but thinking about sleep schedules and baby milestones non-stop is daunting.
To say that going to yoga is simply me-time is an understatement. Drinking (another) coffee and reading a book when the baby sleeps is me-time. A shower that lasts long enough to shave my legs is me-time. Hiding out in the yoga studio was a chance for growth.
I noticed that I’d started setting intentions that reflected a popular quote by Sri T. Krishnamacharya: “Yoga is a process of replacing old patterns with new and more appropriate patterns.” I also loved that I could set achievable goals. Once I got that lunge in order, I moved on to regaining my Headstand. Less than a year postpartum, I finally figured out how to jump through. The beauty of asanas is that they only improve with practice—a huge confidence boost for someone whose life may feel, at times, like it’s running on a hamster wheel.
It’s been two-and-a-half years since my son was born. And what I’ve learned is that yoga not only gives me the physical and inner strength to challenge myself (I’m in the midst of figuring out how to hold a handstand for more than 2 seconds), it also makes me a better and happier mom.
If you didn’t know this already, “having it all” is about as realistic as a rainbow-hopping-unicorn. And, that’s OK. Even if I can’t always convince my toddler that ice cream at 6 a.m. is not the breakfast of champions, I can (mostly) find balance on the mat. I love that my Ashtanga teacher always encourages me to reach higher and bend deeper. That physicality of yoga highlights the fact that the only limitations I have are the ones that I set for myself.
When Yelena Moroz Alpert is not on the mat trying to figure out how to hold handstand for more than 2 seconds, she’s exploring Richmond, VA, with her husband and toddler. She believes that a yoga class is pretty much an antidote to a bad day.
Photo location: The Yoga Dojo, Richmond, VA