Before ashtanga motherhood was always something that intimidated me, I thought it would require a kind of patience, willingness to give up your freedom, surrender of body and heart, that I would perhaps never be able to attain. I did not believe I had it inside myself. When I started teaching mysore style ashtanga, I began to experience what I imagined would feel like to have a mother instinct. I felt very protective of my students, I found myself thinking about their well being throughout the day if they were struggling, I felt love for them, I felt my patience tested, I gave up my freedom for the program, I realized I needed to surrender my plans for them in order to listen and be there for them; through this process of observing, giving and receiving that is teaching ashtanga yoga I realized how much I loved feeling the power of my own feminine energy in taking care of another. Not that teaching is mothering, but there are many elements in the relationship that do make you a ‘mother’ to many. The trust, the love, the care, the patience, showing up, surrendering, ect.
In my family every woman that has come before me is now a mother, I felt a sense of guilt being the first one to not care, to not have a deep calling to be a mother. When I turned 30, after five years of teaching and experiencing these motherly feelings, I met the right partner and felt real love for the first time. I think it was through this love that I came to understand why women want to be mothers. I always loved kids, and have worked with them through yoga and child care, but through my relationship with my partner I began to feel a deep wanting to not only have a child but to become a parent with this person.
Ashtaga yoga taught me about commitment, marriage didn’t, school didn’t, but ashtanga yoga, the practice itself did. It taught me to show up for myself daily, I learned about the importance of being consistent, of choosing one thing and sticking to it through the good and the bad. It wasn’t until I experienced that in my own practice that I began to see it in my parents, in how they always showed and continue to to show up for us no matter what. I fell in love with that and felt it is my duty to not only give that stability to students, but to a child of my own. Now as a pregnant woman everyday is different, some mornings I wake up feeling excited to have taken this path, other mornings I wonder if I made the right choice, if I am ready to commit to something for the rest of my life.
I remember the first times I dabbled with the idea of having a baby, of becoming a mother, and feeling a deep sense of attachment to my practice, a fear of losing what I knew as myself. At that stage in life (about two years before getting pregnant) I was still in the process of disidentifying with practice, and seeing it for what it is, as a tool to serve us as humans, to be able to do our duty at any given point. At the time I was still completing third series and working through my relationship with myself. I was scared at the prospect of losing asanas, losing time to devote to my practice, I felt there was still a lot to learn (when is there ever not something to learn). As the two years passed and I completed the third series and began to immerse myself in the study of the Gita and some of the Upanishads I began to yearn for a different kind of yoga, a yoga where I could finally be of service to another, a yoga where it wasn’t so much about me and my asana practice, but how to apply what I had been cultivating in my asana practice to what life had to bring. I began to feel very curious about how growing up a child adhering to the some of these yogic concepts would look like, what it would be like to be a parent firmly established in this concepts. I liked the challenge in that. Because of this I began to feel ready to let the asana practice take a side seat. I knew I had to make adjustments to my practice to be able to invite space for pregnancy to happen, that I had to make some diet and lifestyle changes in order to prepare a good space within myself for a child to grow in. It was scary, but I knew that fear from the practice and I was mentally, emotionally ready. My nervous system felt settled enough to sustain these sort of changes.
I decided to leave my program in Manhattan, which had grown exponentially over 6 years, and moved upstate. It was a very hard decision to take not only for the relationships built, for the responsibility I held for these people, but also because it would mean starting from zero. We moved upstate New York and built a small shala. I craved having a small in home program where I could cultivate softness and independence. I spent a lot of time outdoors, and began working with an ayurvedic practitioner to learn to build kapha in my system. I began to soften the practice, and at the end of this two year period decided to go to Mysore one last time before ‘trying’, and made a promise to drop third once I came back. And that is what I did. It took us three trials to get pregnant once I came back, it was easy, my body and my mind were ready for it.
Once pregnant I knew I wanted to respect the no practice during the first trimester suggestion. It wasn’t as easy as I thought. Just like it took me two years to accept letting go of the advanced practice, there was some friction in letting it all go. It took me the first four weeks of pregnancy before I fully let go. When I did it was so pleasant. I had all this time to do other things I hadn’t done in years. I struggled a bit with the concept of who I am if I am not practicing? Will I forget the postures? Will I be ok? I turned to the Gita, to nature and to meditation when those agitations arose and I was ok. I danced, swam, tried pilates, went for hikes and walks, it was great. And before I knew it was over. Taking that time off was the best decision I ever took. Not only for safety, but because it allowed me to spend three months accepting that changes where coming, feel them, and come back to the practice with a new mindset; one of ‘I am here to serve the health of this vessel, to serve the health of my baby’. I commited to not let my ego interfere with the process, which it did. I missed feeling edgy in my movements, I missed the intensity of the asanas, the sharp feeling in the mind, the exhaustion, the sweat…all of it. But I knew that that’s not yoga. Yoga is stability and the stability needed now was one that I would get only by being gentle and soft.
The practice is softer, focused on breath, on being present and not having a plan, on listening. I am very aware that every day is different and I use meditation to surrender daily. If anxiety arises, which it does, I try to observe it and cleanse myself of it, trusting that it is all part of preparation to be a clean vessel for our baby. I trust that all will come back as needed, and I no longer feel I need the advanced practice to be who I think I should be. Practice has moved to a much more profound and real place inside of me. What needs to come back will come back. I think it’s important to use the yoga to learn how to embark on this journey understanding the concept of aparigraha, of non grasping, non attachment. Understanding also that life is transitory, that nothing is here to stay as is, everything within and without is always transforming, evolving, dying, birthing…and that the only thing we can do is connect to the true essence, the Self, and lead a life that is nourishing to that. Then there is less chances of suffering as you move through all the changes that pregnancy and motherhood bring about.
As a person who suffered from anorexia for a good part of my life, I knew that I would first have to feel steady in myself. When I began to consider becoming a mother, I knew I had to create a new relationship to myself that was not body related. Yoga serves to teach us to see ourselves beyond our physical selves, to see our strengths, our worth from within rather than focus it on what we look like on the outside. This was very important for me as I embarked on this two year journey of preparation. I took time to look through any residual fear, I spoke with my partner about my fears, I contemplated on what it would mean to give myself fully to another human, to have my body be a house and a source of nourishment for another human. I made sure to find a place of acceptance within myself.
All I did was to great sukha, good space in my mind and body, to try to find the areas where there was friction and resistance and greet them, get to know them just like we do with tightness in asana practice. I think it’s important to journey within ourselves as we birth into mothers, to let what is unnecessary in the process of surrendering die off so we can be clear vessels of life.
I also began to understand the importance of community, of having fellow women around, supporting them and being supported by them. I created space in my shala for mothers to come practice with their babies, I watch over the babies as the mothers practice, or we integrate the babies into the practice. I also felt I needed to have other women and mothers around me, so I started a prenatal class, and I use it as a platform not only to share what I know but for them to share with me what they know, we gather as equals and we support each other through the journey. Having other mothers and mothers to be around ourselves is the best gift we can give ourselves. We need each other to be able to stay strong, vulnerable, honest, and to understand from someone who has either gone through it or is currently figuring it out. It’s such a special time for us. I’ve loved taking time away from yoga books to learn about women’s anatomy, the intelligence of our bodies, the strength of our uteruses, the wisdom in our genes! I’m bewildered by it all and fascinated. The more I study and learn from other women who have been there and make this their livelihood, sharing their knowledge, the more I am inspired to teach others. Community, or sisterhood has become a key aspect for me, wanting to teach other women and make this journey not just about me, but about us. About being there for each other in one of the most fragile, vulnerable, empowering, strengthening part of our lives.
The practice is different but the richness of it is perhaps even more profound. Fear and anxiety about change is a daily part of my own journey, there are days I feel excited about being pregnant and there are days I just wish I could do my regular practice, eat as I used to eat, sleep less, and do more. But then I pause and I remind myself of the bigger picture of this, that life is not about advancing in an asana practice or trying to keep your body the same forever, and control every aspect of your life in the name of having ‘freedom’. Life is about giving back, holding space, being healthy for the seasons of your life, and being truthful about where you are. I get scared as I see my body changing, I wonder if it will ever go back, but I trust it unconditionally because I’ve learned so much about it its strength, I would be taking so much away from myself if I did not give myself the chance to do this. I understand the fears of others and I hope that through my honesty I will be able to let other ashtangi mothers feel comfortable sharing their fears with me, be honest with me and birth themselves into the amazing fearless mothers they all are. I hope we can all hold space for each other and support each other through the years as our babies grow as we grow into the different phases with them. I hope we all are aware that we are not alone, that we are in this together, that there is no losing, there is only gaining more insight into what yoga really is. It is after all 7th series 🙂
With this retreat I hope to offer this: a space for you ashtanga mom to find strength, solace, support and rest. An opportunity to feel supported by other women, to share with others what your journey has been, to hear others journeys. To share your fears and excitements, your vulnerability and strength. A space for us to empower each other. An opportunity to reconnect with your practice, feel like you still have it and are still learning, knowing that someone is taking full care of your baby and you. I’ve created this as something I would want for myself, I’m here to support you, to guide you but to also be an equal, a woman giving to another fellow sister. I hope this makes your journey more light, reminds you that you are not alone, that all is perfect as is, that ashtanga is not to reach a physical achievement of some sort, that you are the embodiment of the highest and purest form of yoga…a mother.
Let’s share this week together. I’m here for you.
KPJAYI - Level II Authorized