A letter to my daughter: on love and being

I wrote this letter as an email to my daughter when she was six months old, hoping she will read it when she is old enough to understand.
I read it again nearly four years later and it touches me and the serene of my striving to be a yogi and mom…

Dear Nalia,

This week I put your crib mattress on the floor. I was wrestling with the decision, wondering what was best for you, concerning sleep, comfort, personality development, and overall growth. You kept getting stuck in the crib slats, and well, that was a good reason to align myself with the montessori style of placing your bed on the floor.
You have slept the past two nights as good as any, I suppose, which isn’t saying much yet, since you are so little and figuring out your rhythms in this earthly world with all it’s chaos, harmony, and dynamism.

Tonight you were having a rough time. I bathed you (you love bath time fun!), nursed you and laid you down gently to sleep. You awakened within the hour, hysterical. I was having a hard time soothing you. Was it your rash bothering you? Did you eat enough yum yum? Were you simply over-tired and therefore restless? Were you too cold? too hot? A dirty diaper? A burp? Mad about sleeping alone?
I laid with you, held you, rocked you, walked with you, danced with you, tried to nurse you, sang to you, talked to you, caressed your face, rubbed your back, cuddled you….sometimes you responded but then you would cry again….You have spit up on your bed, pooped on your bed and wept on your bed. This time, I couldn’t help but let some tears flow. They were not just for you, though, Nalia. They were for me, and they were for all little ones. For all of us, to be at peace, and not suffer too much.

I have been struggling lately to re-ignite my devotion to enlightening- a path of Buddhism, if it must be labeled. We’ve been sitting at my altar together, me, hoping to be altered I suppose…to offer devotion to the Buddha, the Guru, the Dharma, the Sangha. You help me sound the singing bowl, which we do three times to purify ourselves and the atmosphere, to bring sweet sound to all beings. This sitting, even for one moment, reminds me to breathe, to be loving, and pause to remember what matters. What matters is your happiness Nalia, and I hope I am a good mother to you, or at least good enough so that you feel loved so you may love easily.

They say the deepest and truest love is wanting happiness for the other. But this happiness is not just being comfortable, well-fed, entertained, etc. It is knowing and living the truth, the highest truth of Being.
Anyway, I’m on a tangent. What I want to explain is what I realized as my tears flowed. This is a world overflowing with suffering. But we do not have to suffer. I don’t want you to suffer a single moment, but you will, and I can’t protect you from this. It is your path to travel. But I hope that if I teach you only one thing, it is that you must travel with pure heart and mind, and devote your life to being in the moment, free of suffering, and living with a buoyant and blissful nature. This requires discipline, determination, patience, loving kindness, and joy. I struggle to ‘be’ this each day, and it is through loving relationships (especially to your Daddy) that I stay conscious of this.

You finally fell asleep with my hand in yours, after opening and closing your eyes, assuring yourself I was there. You looked into my eyes and I felt you were looking, and seeing me deeply. I thought: who is this soul looking at me? What has she experienced in previous lives? What did she bring to this life? I hope that you find freedom in this lifetime, Nalia. And as I laid down with you, you were lying at the roots of the tree that your Dad and I had painted as a mural on your bedroom wall. It is not a Bodhi Tree under which the Buddha enlightened himself, but an olive tree (one meaning of your name is: woman of the olive tree). Both trees provide a haven to find peace. So you, my dear, are your very own haven and source of enlightening, or finding true happiness.
You are on the path too, like the buddha, to find your way through the world to live with love, beauty, and truth. Shine your light strong, be loving, and help heal as many beings who need healing by just being your beautiful, precious self.

I will never forget the image of you lying on your bed at the root of your tree. The tree of life, you are.
Our branches will forever mingle.

I love you dear one,
up to the moon and beyond as Grammy says (or something like that 🙂 )

How to Communion-cate

I wrote this poem many years ago when I was struggling with how to relate to the Divine in spoken language.  I realized as I wrote, and still now, it is more the language of the being that I struggle with- how do I relate to the Divine, truly? Do I feel it? Do I smell it? Do I hear it? Do I sixth-sense it? Do I touch it? And how do I talk to you about it?  Especially, if we use different languages with each other in relationship.

For me, in my heart and soul, in my bones, I know, the Divine is Everything.

The shit, the bliss, the cow dung, the marigolds.  As they are born, as they grow and change, and as they die to flesh.

But how can it be also the ignorance, the evil, the darkness, the irreverent?  Here’s my belief, perhaps no revelation to the logical person:

the dark is only light’s absence. 

Yes, it appears to exist, but it actually is just obscured light.  Did you know the moon has no light, it only reflects the sun’s light?  The moon, an ancient being, has always symbolized the female, goddess, and woman.  The sun, or masculine is essential, but like yin and yang, they are one, and nothing, without each other.  So the moon’s role is to reflect.  To be non-judgmental and reflect all light.  We need more Light on earth.  It is our mission to be in the best shape to reflect the Light.  To purify our vessel selves so we can be prepared to reflect that which already is, eternal.  It pre-dates us and will post-date our beautiful little human spirit selves.

So whatever we call it- it is best to try to feel it- with every cell of your being.  Through clean food, deep breathing of (hopefully) clean air, movement in all forms (yoga asana, gentle gesture…), harmonious thought, speech and action, selfless service to others (karma yoga), devotion to protecting and nourishing all life (bhati yoga), we can consistently maintain a pure enough energetic system to allow ourselves to feel Divine.  This is a deeply visceral, somatic and energetic experience of the Sacred.  It is experiencing You as the Sacred.  I imagine the most amazing blessing we have been bestowed in human form is to be conscious of the Sacred.  Other beings and animals may experience themselves as Divine, too, but can you believe we have the chance to be aware and conscientious of Being Divine?  If you have ever had a splash of this in your body, mind, heart or witnessed it, then that is the Divine Awareness of Itself.  How om-mazing is that?!

Stay Awake! Be Awake!  And know that it doesn’t matter what you call it or all the details regarding It. Call it Love, God, Allah, Buddha, Baby, Honeybear.  Just call it! Or sing it! Or laugh it! Or scream it! Or whisper it!
Call it forth again and again, from the depths of your miraculous, beautiful Self…

Ciao, Beloved

I’m confused, you know

About what to call you

I know names don’t matter

But they sure make it more intimate when I can’t see a face

That doesn’t exist apart from mine

Like calling an 800 number for sex,

Even a fake name is fine

So I call you Ali

But that’s quite vain because I ain’t no god,

And even less godly today

Goddess seems like a fundamental feminist pouting

without her man: a  half-union,

You know,

 I just can’t feel devout

“Cosmos” seem to imply only the sky

And “Universal Consciousness” too long when

I’m sitting in the alleyway for a call of Faith

Trying to dial you up as I decay

And You know Buddha only pointed the way

Jesus, Moses, Mohammed too

All aspects of You,

But no less than me but I don’t claim

To be prophet,

but I do know (despite my Mother’s shock)

I am my own savior

Having broken up with boyfriends, my mother (sometimes),

And even strangers

So I know I could end up in an alley undiscovered

But I know I wouldn’t really be alone (wink, wink )

He, She, It, Me all seem so narrow and simplistic Pronouns to refer to thee

Or too personal to make room for all that You embody,

And I embody in You, too.

Some call you Allah, bowing towards Mecca,

Others call you Pachamama and kiss the earth

Vishnu, Krishna, Saraswati, Kali, Durga, Devi, Ganesha, too

All loving terms to connect with their truth

Even my swami calls me Bhuvanesvari (the Queen of the Worlds)

And to remind you of my name (just a plug cuz I’m sweet)

I call myself Ali

a friend of You, another name for you

And Guida for Guide, knowing it is I

Who lights my way to the Light

I know it doesn’t matter what I call you Gi-

And You is misleading since you are not a being

separate from me

You are the Mountain, the child and sea

You are chocolate, sex, and dare I say cities

You are the tornado, volcano, and rainforest showers

The ladybug, lion and falling Twin Towers

You know Me and I try to know You

You feel me, Baby

but (sigh), I don’t always feel you

You trust me, but I know I don’t trust you



You are more than enough

More than one name

More than joy and pain

You are Space Between Everything that has no Existence Apart from You

No wonder we don’t want to Know

It is too shocking to expose

A Mystery,

Knowing that we could never really know it, logically

But logic belongs to the human realm and we all know that someday we

Will break this Spell

(Or will be broken for us, oh yeah)

Yeah, it’s a Mystery,

If only I’d allow myself to be one, and thus free,

(Not to mention more intriguing)

I’m calling, I’m tapping, I’m dancing, I’m purging, I’m singing, I’m screaming,

I’m weeping, I’m whining and fumbling for the verbiage

to say

Help me Beloved, my lover of spirit and soul

Please answer whatever I call You, even godamnit (forgive me, I implore)

Please answer this Prayer of Confusion

Because I don’t know what to do

But that is a lie

Because I’ve left out the “f” for faith in “life”,

a lazy truth spell

I mean speller, I know

I know what to do and what not to do

I know what to be and what not to be

I know I don’t need a hand-out from You

Because I can choose

To connect with it All

All is Ah! Striking

All-ah! Is right


Alli is me

ALL 1  it seems

to laugh and entertain thee

To capture your attention as billions call thee


Yes, Love will do


Makes every call touching

(and worth answering, si?)

The Perfect Yogi Parent

The Perfect Yogi Parent.

Ahh. Thought that would get your attention.

Which part? “Perfect?”

or “Yogi”, or “Parent?”

Perhaps all those words are powerful but I am curious about “perfect”.  It doesn’t take much worldly experience in our growing up to learn that perfection does not exist.  It is as much an elusive concept as an elusive state.

I’ve had my own battles with perfection. I say “battles” to suggest struggle. Sometimes battles have a purpose, but I am not sure my quest has been justified.  Late in my adolescence I wanted to be have the “perfect” body and spend a lot of time starving myself to get one.  Like many adolescent girls, my genesis of my struggle with my body was from wrestling with finding my individual power in relation to my parents and finding and expressing an acceptable voice among peers. It was also a spiritual struggle that helped me transform myself.  The struggle with perfection worsened over time until I crossed over into my thirties.  Through yoga, travel, art, dance, and relationships, I began to cultivate a love and acceptance for my body, my Self.  It was subtle and gradual but it happened and I’m grateful for it.

The remnants of that perfectionist thinking, however, remain, however subtle.  I try to watch my mental thoughts before I create karma (actions).  Now the responsiblity to be accepting is a biggie:  I am raising children. I don’t want them to suffer from this black and white thinking as I did (and still do sometimes).  I want to create a fertile soil for them of loving acceptance so they can grow non-dualistic thoughts.  But is it possible for me?  And is it possible to do in my American culture where we are inundated with messages in word and image that are Cartesian and dichotomous? Black and white. Full and empty.  Good and bad. Eeek!

I’m not sure.

I worry about it.

I keep telling my husband I want to raise my kids in India, a culture I idealize for being more shanti and more holistic in their thinking and doing. Then he reminds me they are “our” kids.  And I tell him, “that’s what I meant”  (see, he caught me splitting “us” into “me” versus “you”. )   And he thinks it’s extreme of me and probably suggestive of me thinking that same way (America versus India, good versus bad).

Don’t get me wrong, Indian culture has it’s own set of problems.  And I know as a foreigner, and woman, that I am privileged to even ponder the idea of raising kids there in any way I see fit.  But my sum of experiences there over nearly two years has signified helped mend my split mind, sewing it up like a beautiful beaded sari.  The paradoxical extremes in India abound: the very rich elite versus the mass herd of poor is unbearable.  The injustices concerning women and the class system are persistently pervasive to this day.  Again, I am not thinking India is the “perfect” place for raising children.  It just seems like a place where I could let my kids be kids without being accosted with negative media messages or submerged in a slew of consumer goods so that they beg for endless toys.

The question of being a “good enough” parent in a “good enough” environment are complex.  It is a central theory when I studied psychology espoused by D.W. Winicott when he coined the phrase “good enough mother.”  Arguably, he meant any caregiver, but Mom tends to raise the kids for the most part in nearly all culture.  Where I currently live, Japan, there are aspects of parenting and child-friendly culture that I see and understand and many aspects I don’t, because I don’t yet understand the language.  I talk to Japanese Mamas now that I live in Japan and extrapolate from what I see around me, particularly interactions between parents and kids, for example.  There are apparent paradoxes here, too:  they are not inclined to “helicopter” parenting but leave kids to work out stuff on the playground by themselves.  However, they are sucked into buying the ‘best of everything’ for their kids which comes at hefty prices, even classes that will help them get into the “best” kindergarden (perhaps same in some American circles which I’ve heard of happening in New York City).   Also the childcare and school system reveal a problem that makes it hard for Moms here to work, forced to give up jobs they love to care for the children.  It is not an issue about whether a Mom wants to stay home full time to care for the children or not, but an issue of a culture supporting women to be free to make a choice.  My good friend and neighbor is a Japanese singer and television writer.  However, when she got married and had a child, she tells me she was expected by her husband to give up her job.  I asked her if this was discussed before marriage and she said “yes” and that he was supportive of her career ambition.  After marriage, it became a different story.  She enjoys working in addition to caring for her child.  Childcare here is super expensive and as in America, many people live far from grandparents or family who can help offer support.  Thus, the challenges of being a good parent stem from internal or mental ones and external, or cultural and societal.  Some we have no control over but some we do.

It is a common psychology theory that the unconscious can influence or have power over one’s thoughts and actions unless one makes it conscious.  Trying to thing about one’s own childhood and associated thoughts and feelings can help free the mind to make choices.  My husband often says “don’t focus on avoiding your parents mistakes, decide how you want to parent positively.”  I think that’s good advice.  Review of the past with being present and taking ownership for how I think and approach my parenting is a balanced attitude.  The Middle Way as Buddhism suggests.

How can yoga help us be conscious of our perfectionist tendencies and thus free us to teach our kids a better way?  Well if the guru is the teacher, then the string of moments of parenting is the teacher.  Actually, our children are the students as much as we are students of parenting perhaps, “donning the robes” if you will (bathrobes not monk robes…because who doesn’t live in their bathrobes sometimes as a parent?)

Although the actually state of perfection doesn’t exist, at least not on this earthly plane, the quest for it sure as hell does for most of us- perfect mate, perfect manicure, perfect scores, a perfect “10”.  Although the quest is existential in nature as much as superficial, the amount of energy spent to look good, feel good, act good or live the good life is endless.  Now people are finding themselves more split and those of us with kids, often fearful we will “mess them up.”  Too much worry and we will in fact “mess them up”.  Too laid back and perhaps they will mess themselves up later.  Again, mindful balancing is the essence of yoga parenting.

A few years ago, I self-published a little poetry book once entitled The Beloved Revolution.  I remember feeling thrilled to see my words, my energy, in print. However, there were typos, imperfections. Argh! My dear friend told me it was not important.  “But it was important!,” I though,t even though I had written in the first page a qualifier that ‘if there were typos that it was an aspect of the beauty of the poetry, that the book will return to the earth someday anyhow’.  However, to feel that way, not just think it, was another thing.

As much as the breath is the anchor in asana, pranayama, and meditation, I consider the breath as crucial as anchor in the parenting role.  In these yogic practices we are constantly bringing our mind back to the breath to cultivate awareness, alignment, and harmony between bodies (physical and energetic), mind and spirit.  We, as parents, through internal or external awareness, must and do keep bringing our attention back to our parenting.  Are our thoughts in alignment with our actions, and for the good of our children?  For if we don’t consciously bring our awareness to this anchor, I am certain our children do that for us, whether it is through a tantrum, a tugging at the arm, a question so deep as “But why are there stars in the sky, Mama?”

It is like being followed around by Truth animated in the Form of Little Human Being.

When I suspend my younger mind that is associated with more negative ideas and memories of perfection or striving for perfection, what surfaces is a new knowledge I acquired while studying Tibetan Buddhism in India regarding the six perfections or paramitas.  An interesting translation of paramita, which is derived from Sanskrit, Pail and Devanagari, is “perfection” but also “Excellence.”  According to the Wikipedia writer, I learned that “pāra means “beyond,” “the further bank, shore or boundary,” and mita, means “that which has arrived,” so roughly then “transcendant.”  The Tibetan translation pha rol tu phyin pa (“gone to the other side”). (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P%C4%81ramit%C4%81)

Although according to Theravadan Buddhism there are ten, they are essentially encompass the following in Mahayana Buddhism.  In Sanskrit they are:

  1.  Dana:  generosity, giving of oneself
  2. Śīla : virtue, morality, discipline, proper conduct
  3. Kānti: patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
  4. Vīrya : energy, diligence, vigor, effort )
  5. Dhyāna: one-pointed concentration, contemplation
  6. Prajñā: wisdom, insight

I am not qualified to expound upon each one from a theoretical or philosophical perspective according to Buddhism, but I want to share how I am trying to explore relating to them in my life, which is in contrast to me as yogi parent now.

Dana. I hear this word before regarding giving money or things to people in need primarily but now as wife and parent, I have a different sense of this sense of generosity or giving of myself.  It is about presence, which  is a reflection of directing my whole being, my energy or prana if you will, mindfully towards, and with, my children.  When I am on my iphone or distracted from my child I am not giving dana.  It is putting their needs before mine, which certainly happens when I am desperate to eat and yet I have to get the kids fed, or when I am in need of quiet time alone, and I simply can’t have it.   I also see it as surrendering the I-thou, especially with two children under age 2, one of which who is not experiencing me fully separate quite yet anyway (he is ten months) and the other, who is wrestling with wanting to feel separate but not quite ready (she is two years and eight months).  “ I want to be me,” I hear myself saying in my head.  I often feel “not me”, tired from nursing all night, uncreative from not getting to do the things that nourish me and reflect my soul, and cranky from stressful chaotic developmental transitions that my children go through that suck me in, because frankly, we are so intertwined that the I-thou experientially doesn’t really exist, even though it doesn’t existentially anyway.

Sila.  Woahh. Children are God. No, I mean, literally. They see and hear E V E R Y T H I N G!   When I catch my daughter mimicking what I say or do and it’s not the “ideal”  I feel embarrassed and ashamed.  But more than that,  I take it as a reminder to take care of my thoughts and therefore actions before they manifest as something I do not in fact what to teach her.  I teach her through my words and actions mostly, but my energy that I convey and give out, too.  This is where virtue comes into play.  Do I emanate loving patience and acceptance?  When I am waiting for her to do something, am I rolling my eyes or distracted on my phone or telling her to “hurry “ up?  These do not convey respect or patience.  Am I watering the flowers and washing dishes as if it were a burden or a privilege, as conveyed through my somatic expression?

Ksanti and Virya goes hand in hand with Sila. It seemed even more relevant to my life now that I am a parent because no longer is my time and energy primarily my own, it is primarily for them.  When I consider the describing words, “forbearance” and “endurance” I do think of the mission and commitment I made to bring new life forth in the form of my children and guide them.  It sometimes feels overwhelming to be some consumed by this mission.  Do I have the endurance?  Sometimes no, literally. This is why I need a nap and do yoga asana practiceJ Can I forbear instant gratification or fulfilling other goals in order to focus on the most important mission:  raising two healthy and wise children?  Sometimes I find it painfully difficult to give up so much privacy and even personal space when my children are crawling all over me, pulling my hair ( my baby), whining for something, or jumping up and down screaming for fun.  I just want peace and quiet sometimes!  You feel me?  But I MUST make my best effort to be present each moment with what is happening now.  Because when I realize it, it’s gone.  Poof! And the opportunity to love, to teach, to play, to be together is gone. Again.  And who knows when and if there are more moments or how many left.  We have all heard the carpe diem spiel and be-here-now before, but to practice is indeed THE practice of yoga itself.

Dhayna.  This is the one I need to work on.  And I used to beat myself up thinking I always needed to work on it on my meditation cushion.  Partly true.   Admittedly, I am not very good at sitting on a cushion and focusing on either my third eye or mantra or intricate tantric visualizations.  I try, but more often than not, I get distracted.  I am getting better at being compassionate with myself, however, so that is progress. What is helping me focus, to my surprise, is the technique the Zen masters have been pounding over our heads (literally) for centuries.  If you are washing the dish, WASH THE DISH!  Usually I am washing a dish while coaching my toddler on the potty while my baby is tugging at my feet so I hand him a cracker while getter water from the sink all over the floor so then my toddler slips while she is half naked fooling around off the potty then I get frustrated and raise my voice at her…and…ahhhh….you get the picture?!  Chaos during a simple moment! What to do?  Well, every Mama (or Papa) has some multi-focused concentration going on (which is technically not possible, I hear), but it is nearly unavoidable.  So a better solution is wash the dishes later or put the baby in the highchair with a snack while I help my daughter on the potty.  See, not so hard?  Well, sometimes I am not a very skillful Mama, but I’m learning.  And even with the best-laid plans, it can all go very chaotic in a moment (baby is crying anyway, daughter running around without a diaper, etc.)

Prajna.  Prajna is probably the culmination of a lifetime of paying attention and applying what we learn so we make less and less mistakes.  As a mama, I am trying to notice my sensations in my body which give me insight into parenting.  I am trying to pay attention to how I talk to my kids and partner.  Sometimes I catch myself sounding like one of my parents at their not so best, so I assess if that is helpful or unhelpful.  And then I adjust.  I pay attention to my dreams at night for insights and I try to stay close to my teachers who have wisdom to share with me.  I try to listen to other parents’ stories, too, and learn from them.   But mostly, I know that the wisdom that comes with parenting is cultivated from a deep love and respect for oneself and one’s children, an on-the-job cultivation.  From that ground, all things fertile can grow.

I am not expert on these ten perfections, I am a beginner.  But I find them useful to consider as a framework for my reflections on what kind of yogi parent I am being and breathing.  Beginner’s Mind Parenting is a sweet approach to our children.  Perfection is the ocean, always flowing, not an exacting way of being.  When we remember that, I think we free ourselves to be the best parents that we as unique individuals can be.  When you are a practicing yogi parent you create yogi children.  And yogi children are what this world needs!

Parenting Prana: Retreating from Un-centered Parenting

April 7, 2012 Ubud, Bali

Parenting Prana:

Retreating from un-centered parenting

I journeyed to Bali to re-connect and re-member my Self. In practice, I intended to re-connect breath to my body in an intentional way that fires up the pathways of nerves, neurons, vessels, and makes space between muscle fibers. I intended to harmonize my subtle energy body, too, which affects the mind and physical body. When the body feels harmonizing, the mind also feels harmonizing because they are inseparable. Often there is a complexity of reasons as to how we get unbalanced. One way is often related to the self-created mechanism we call ego which can act like a driver getting in your beautifully working vehicle and being reckless with it. Sometimes ego can be a good passenger if it lets the higher mind drive, but it often grabs the wheel willy nilly and does its thing. It is arguable whether ego is necessary at all, but if you aren’t quite yet enlightened, a healthy one seems vital to functioning. For me, mental stressors of living in a new country with a new baby and toddler while my husband is out to sea, was enough to challenge my balance. Even the physicality of lifting my children in and out of cars, over baby gates, down to the floor to change their diapers, into highchairs, and rocking to sleep is a constant workout which puts a lot of stress on my body if I don’t take care of it regarding posture. Mentally and emotionally it has been a heavy burden to deal with temper tantrums, being up all night long for night nursing while navigating a world where the language is foreign and earthquake tremors wake me up enough times to be worrisome. Combine this with my wandering spirit and desire to be in nature and Bali seemed like a perfect destination for re-centering myself. Yes there are many places that qualify, but Bali is quite special.

I can do yoga anywhere- airports, in bed, in my city. For me it’s about cultural context. There is an understanding in psychopharmacology regarding medicine that both set and setting can impact the user’s experience regarding psychotropic medicines. I feel that it works the same for yoga, particularly if one like myself lives in a busy, contemporary culture. It doesn’t mean we have to run up the Himalayas and overdose on pranayama and Ganga water, but we do need a break.


Before I came to Bali I was performing as a single parent while my husband traveled for work the past six weeks. It was a tough job, not ever second, but I felt drained most of the time. I think when something is rooted In selfless service-karma yoga- perhaps what care taking children should be- we must nourish ourselves so we can nourish them. I like to think of us as loving channels but I often feel more like a vessel. Parenting is directing prana to our children who are growing at vast rates, especially the very young. What do we need to re-energize our bodies and minds?

Prana is a very real energy pulsating vibrationally through everything, even trash as the Balinese believe(others believe this too, of course). Rocks, water, soil, air, and fire are alive and give us prana. Just think if you spent one whole day in a room with white walls versus the same room filled with verdant plants and flowers. Imagine that now. Take yourself to each room space for a few moments. Use your mind to draw every detail or lack of detail in the case of the white room.

Stay there.

Be there.

How do you feel after imagining each room?

Even imagining a rich scene can give us prana. How do you know? You feel a bit different or perhaps dramatically changed.

So even if stuck in a space with less prana you can re-energize. Lest I contradict myself as I did say everything does have prana, let me clarify that some things have more than others. You can feel it viscerally or through the breath.

This brings me to Bali, both literally and figuratively.

Bali is pranically endowed. It is verdant and lush and surrounded by beautifully sculpted rice fields. The Balinese relate to their land in a holy and nourishing way. They use flowers to decorate as much as use they use them for temple or home or building. Rice is used in offerings along with flowers and baskets made from palm sugar leaves and coconut. What Mother earth gives the Balinese, the Balinese give back symbolically in the form of ritual three times a day.

Not only does focusing the mind in action on nourishing tasks either symbolic or literal (such as feeding a baby) give Prana but also it works like a mantra to protect the mind from Prana -draining negative thoughts. Having new interactions with other like-minded travelers who loved interacting with my eight month old was also nourishing. Having my baby with me (minus the toddler who was enjoying one-on-one daddy-daughter time) was just lovely- we hung out with other moms and babies, and we co-slept so sweetly amidst the rice fields. It was nice for Everest to have Mama alone for a few days.

I enjoyed a wonderful babysitter whose help allowed me to enjoy yoga classes and massage and non-rushed nutritious meals with the company of other yogis. It was exactly what I needed physically, spiritually, mentally and socially. The highlight was also not having to cook, clean and do laundry every day (although I do love feeding my family, laundry and cleaning have never been more forte.) When I was home I was draining myself by sometimes thinking negatively and not engaging in self-nourishing actions. I was thinking too much: “This is so hard. I need help. I can’t do this alone. I need a break.” All of that was partly true but counteracting the thoughts with mental or physical antidotes is a healthier process. We need to work creatively with our own situations. Be creative in generating prana.

How do I generate an inner-bALI? (as in, my name is Ali :))

It may mean waking up before the baby does in order to do pranayama or meditation or asana, even for ten minutes. Or when the kids go to bed, before I jump into the dishwashing, why not dance in my living room for ten minutes? My mom swears by a nourishing, warm cup of milk before bed. A warm bath can give relaxing pranic energy. A deep breath when I feel angry cools hot prana that is untamed. Writing a poem can be like drinking a vitamin. Positive interactions in relationships generate pranic exchange. I see how connective the Balinese interact and they generally seem to radiate good energy.

In eleven days in Bali I did not once seen a negative interaction. It is not because I don’t speak the language – I can witness in their gestures and faces whether it is a positive or negative exchange. Perhaps I could not see it because I was not looking for it. D
This is directing the mind positively so that is all we see. As a community, the Balinese direct their collective energy towards a high quality of life. This may not mean they are financially rich, but they are culturally and spiritually wealthy.

The lives of the Balinese are rooted- they live, work and pray together as a community. Of course the environment supports and requires this- unlike a big concrete city. The pace of life, despite most working long hours- is slower than in western countries. This slower pace means prana is less likely to be wasted in body or mind. There is space for breathing.

A swifter rhythm can be energizing but only if it fiercely focused on a point. Imagine a dancer spinning across a floor; if she is not spotting on a point of focus she could easily spin off into another direction or even fall. This is wasted energy. That is the reason why the first step of meditation is concentration. Another image is pour water into a jug- if you are not focused on aiming for the jug, you may end up with an empty jug and a very wet table! When prana is directed with a pure mind in a skillfully way create harmonizing, balancing and freedom. How do we cultivate this skill? Through disciplined and compassionate mindfulness.

I am reading a book on raising children according to the Waldorf way, called The Rainbow Bridge by Patterson and Bradley. The authors speak of maintaining and honoring rhythms. We impose our rhythms on our children. Impose is a strong word but I see how accurate it is sometimes. We need to create healthy rhythms for our children to understand what’s happening. As they develop, their awareness unfolds slowly so in the beginning especially they need to feel safe and that means knowing certain things. Young kids tend to understand what’s happening through activities e.g. Saturday is pancake day, Thursday is washing day; before bed we sing “om” and breathe deeply.

When kids have rhythm to their daily activities they feel safer and thus they tend to have more harmonious behavior. Seasons are also important to honor and celebrate with our children. In spring, planting flowers, or pulling weeds is a fun activity that we can easily involve our children age 2 and up.

This can ground the mind, too. When I studied to be a yoga teacher our monk teachers were sensing our restless ego minds at work so the solution they gave was for us to pull weeds all morning in the garden before yoga training. It worked wonders! I felt less pulled into my ego dialogues and critical thinking regarding certain issues.

When my daughter struggles against my rhythm or the rhythm I am intending to set, there is imbalance or disharmony. Some of that is natural, inevitable. Sometimes it is avoidable. How do we know which? It’s a constant participant-observing in the process and adjusting carefully. Perhaps at times it must be a swift and sharp adjustment-one that may end in tears but safety, such as when my daughter runs into the street and I must grab her safely away from traffic. Or when I’ve told her too many times to put on her socks and we are running late for an appointment. What do I do then as a parent? I notice. Why does she not want to put on her socks? Is she busy playing, which is her very real work for her at the moment? Is she just testing her boundaries as a two years old (of course!)? Is it both? Probably. Does analyzing this serve any purpose? I believe so, but hopefully we do it quickly enough to have the best subsequent response to our child. It may help you as parent understand that your child is not seeking disharmony, she is merely developing and exploring relationship, and wanting to learn. Will she learn that yelling or violence is acceptable? Will she learn that apathy is the easy way? Will she observe that taking a deeper breath and respectfully addressing her with clear instruction or if needed, consequence? Parenting is a messy affair, as messy as putting pudding on a baby’s plate and watching what happens next. But messes are part of the journey, and if viewed with the right perspective, messes are beautiful, too.

I don’t have many answers. But the more I question and observe, the more freedom I feel to act instead of react to her in the most harmonious way. It’s not easy, but it is deeply rewarding when a positive exchange happens. And after the kids go to bed, when there is a moment of silence, I check in with my mind and body and realize that I don’t feel as tired or stressed. This is a good indication that my parenting that day has flowed with fewer struggles and more harmony. I feel more centered and more able to restore and rejuvenate my prana with some asana, meditation or art making and movement. When that’s not enough or when my prana is drained, I may need a retreat somewhere nourishing, like Bali, so I can give my children what they need. Happy mama, happy babies.

When I speak of finding my inner Bali, it is a practice. Like children internalize the parenting experiences they have and build a sense of self-parenting resource within, building an internalized sense of self-nourishing from the positive experiences we exchange with people, the environment, or activities can give us that sense of self-reliance to re -balance or even re-parent ourselves. When we have this, it flows to our children. Love flows between us because there is no separation.

I love the symbol of the Balinese women gracefully balancing the offerings of fruits on their heads as they walk to temple. On the journey, they mindfully and skillfully balance so that they may give this spiritual nourishment to themselves and Spirit/God, symbolically and literally. We, too, as yogi parents, must be committed to mindfulness on the journey to balance the challenges of bringing health and harmony to families, our communities, and ourselves.


Ali Guida Smith is a Registered Yoga Teacher of Yoga Alliance (200 level). She has studied yoga for the past 15 years and has been a dancer for 30 years. She has a graduate diploma in Dance Movement Therapy from University of Surrey, Roehampton in London and a Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology specializing in Expressive Arts from California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco. Her yoga certification is from the Sivananda Ashram in New York (2004). She has lived in India for two years and integrates Hatha yoga, Kundalini yoga practices and dance training into her yoga instructing. If you are interested in private classes in yoga, counseling or arts therapy please contact her with any questions or to book an appt. See https://theyogaofmotherhood.wordpress.com for more info.

The Five Elements of Parenting: An Off-The-Mat Practice

The Five Elements of Parenting: An Off-The-Mat Practice

It’s happened.

You write a long email and put down your phone or computer to do something else –probably to help your child pull up their pants after potty time or get them a snack they are demanding, and before you know it, your young child swipes it, starts pressing buttons and bam! It’s gone. F o r e v e r….

Ideally, you think to yourself: wow that must mean I shouldn’t have written that nasty email to that horrible person and you subsequently thank your mischievous child…


You take a breath and chant OMMMMMMMMM as an antidote to your surfacing anger.

But it’s likely, if you are not an Enlightened Yogi (yet), you grunt, or scream, or dart a mean glance or send your child to time out.

In all fairness, never leave your technology out for your young kids to tinker with unmonitored. But we all know that this is not always reasonable to do and admittedly, my daughter, at two years old, can navigate an Ipad shockingly well.

Or you leave your yoga mat out on the living room floor and next thing you know, it’s full of toys or sticky fingerprint. Or you get your daughter ready in an adorable outfit and she comes to show you her pretty coloring…on her shirt! Or the Classic Toddler Tantrum where this little human being is acting like a crazy person to the point where you don’t know if you should laugh or cry or scream.

All these scenarios seem like mundane incidentals of life’s bigger issues such as money problems, medical issues, death, starving children or tsunamis. In fact, they are quite small compared to these serious things. But in the moment, when it involves our mind and bodies and our loved ones – our children- who can drive us to tears as much as melt our hearts, it is the stuff that is fodder for transformation. As one psychologist I studied stated about the suffering and problems, they are “grist for the mill.” What is important recipe for happiness is keeping perspective intellectually as well as heartfully. Understanding child development, coupled with understanding the cause and effect (you, the parent, left the phone or computer lying around), may help your logical mind respond appropriately. But it is also, or in lieu of the logical mind, paying attention to the sensations in your body that can also help you respond in an optimal, or yogic way.

But how do we practice responding to these life’s little frustrations as yoga?

Through many years as a single, wandering seeker of things-that-would-illuminate me, or at least, assuage some suffering, I learned enough about my mind to know that it is through relationships to others, not just the relationship to ourselves (and our higher Selves) that is the path of transformation. When we behave in a way that is un-yogic, it’s like taking a different path when we weren’t paying attention. We knew which path to take but a lack of awareness and mindfulness causes us to go off the path. We can always get back on the path, but it may take a bit longer or we may have to backtrack for a bit. The point is that the practice is about cultivating awareness.

Awareness is the first step to liberation, the first step in self-empowering so as to choose consciously a better way- better being. Just as we direct our attention on the mat to the asana we are practicing: we pay attention to the breath, our physical alignment, to the quality of the embodied pose, to sensations and our breath, we direct our attention to how we are parenting: how am I speaking to my daughter? With respect? Am I giving her attention or am I on my mobile phone? What language am I using, what television programs am I permitting? What food am I offering? In essence, what am I teaching her? In a way, I am her yoga teacher and she is the student (although often, even with my five month old, he is my teacher). I am shaping her through who I am, which she experiences directly by how I act- and what I say as much as what I don’t say. As a wise being she also experiences my energy- if I’m angry, sad, depressed. It may be subtle, and she may not always react to it, but like any energetic seed or karmic impression, it impresses itself upon her. Since we don’t know how deep an imprint we make is, we better take care to be skillful at all times. So the first vital practice to living our yoga in relationship is awareness.

If we are initiating ourselves into parenthood with the attitude that we are the first and most impactful teachers to our children, then we are required to cultivate this awareness. Unless you sit in meditation and actually properly watch your mind, what better practice than parenting which requires 24-7 attention, 365 days a year for…..well, until death, really. “I’ll always be your mother,” my mom reminds me. And, knowing her, what she truly means is, she will never stop worrying about me- about my well-being, health, and happiness. I think it was the Dalai Lama that popularized the expression, which, for me, crystallizes the heart of yoga: “love is wanting another person’s happiness.” The practice of yoga is the practice of love. I would say that the ‘wanting’ or desire is the seed. But to grow the seed into the fruits, which we have no control over by the way, we must give it water, sunshine, fertile earth, space, and air.

The heart of yogic parenting are these elements, figuratively and perhaps, literally too, when your toddler demands “wawa! wawa!” (nickname for water in our home) and you remind her: “say please.” But let’s use these elements figuratively.


Water is symbolic of emotion and gives flow to life. Water is deeply healing. Water is the fluidity to bring things together. With this element of yogic parenting we want to consider how we are supporting our children’s emotional development. Are we allowing them to cry when they need to cry? Are we giving them an example of ‘going with the flow’ of life when life gives us obstacles or do we figuratively drown, giving them the message that life is too overwhelming to deal with confidently. In ayurveda, water is necessary for the sense of taste. Symbolically, are we allowing them to taste things: to experience for themselves all of life instead of imposing our own beliefs on them? Guidance through a spiritual or moral framework is vital but we must give some breathing room.

Sun. Light. An element essential to catalyze transformation. How are we fueling our child’s development in body, mind and spirit? Passion. Are we living a life of passionate purpose as an example? Love and consciousness. Is parenting making us more conscious human beings? How are we loving? How are we showing affection? In ayurveda, fire, which we see as colorful light, relates to sight. How are we as parents demonstrating a sense of sight? Are we looking at the world with optimistic eyes, pointing out a flower here, the moon there, or seeing the positive aspect in a situation, thus showing the kind of envisioning a good life makes?


Fertile ground. Are we providing nourishing food and education to our children? Are we giving them a sense of stability through routine in their daily lives so they feel secure in knowing what comes next? Do they have a sense of groundedness in knowing the boundaries of how to behave so they can learn to trust themselves? Earth ayurvedically is connected to our sense of smell. Do we stop and smell the roses or are we rushing through life from one appointment to the next, dragging our kids along for the ride. Are we sending them the message that life is too busy to stop and experience beauty? Are we providing a foundation of morals and values as a touchstone for them to make their own decisions? Do we create a peaceful home, literally and figuratively, for them to take rest from the world outside?


When I think of air I think of breath. This is not exclusively prana but a part of it. Literally and figuratively do we teach of young to breathe? Meaning, to be conscious of how they feel and think and act and to bring wellness to their bodies and minds through the self-empowering act of breathing fully and consciously? Air gives life to nearly everything. It is the essential thread through existence. Air is relatively weightless (although my husband has educated me that technically air has weight, but relatively speaking!). Are we keeping life light? My mom often cautions me when I am analyzing things too deeply and analytically that I need to “come up for air” once in a while. Are we experiencing the lightness of life despite the difficulties and what message are we sending to our children? I have worked with children who had the expectation that they would always work three jobs like their parents and never have the option to go to college. Their parents told them life was “hard” and that it was a struggle and money was more important than education. So that is what they expected of themselves. When we show that life is challenging but that we can choose to bring laughter to the challenge then our children will live by the same principle. In ayurveda, air is related to the sense of touch. Touch is crucial to survival. There are babies who die from a lack of touch. Have you heard of “skin to skin” with newborns? It is placing the baby bare on the mom’s or dad’s chest. The warm helps regulate her body temperature but also give her a sense of connection and safety in the new ambience she has entered after leaving the womb- the world. Touch is literally vital. Symbolically, has a person or poem or sunset ever “touched” you? When we are touched, I believe we are changed forever. And whoever does the touching is also changed. Parenting changes us as much as the change we are co-creating in the child.


Infinite. When I think of space I think of space to grow, to be, to thrive, to live. Are we being overprotective of our children in certain ways? Are we allowing them to learn through mistakes? Are we taking up too much space and not allowing them the attention? Are we giving them space to be children or are we asking them, consciously or unconsciously to be and act like adults.

Although we take the concept of space for granted because it seems easy to understand, if, by definition, it is infinite, then by its very nature it is mysterious. The act of co-creating a human being, a child, then helping them become (become what?), is a mysterious and mystical process. In a way, the job of parenting is infinite, isn’t it? Parenting never ends, just as our job to become that which we are destined to be is infinite. At 5pm in the evening we are not done being parents. There is no off-duty or end of the workday. We are awakened in the middle of the night to nurse a baby, or get a call from our kid at college asking for advice or money. We are up all night worrying about whether our child is going to be ok if we get a divorce or whether they will ever find the love of their lives. If we are truly connected and love our children, there is very little waking time we don’t devote to thinking about them in some way or another. So, how do we find space for ourselves? To be a person and not just a parent anymore? Can we make space to be and do what we need to do to evolve or develop our paths, skills or other relationships? It is a constant challenge, but I believe we must. Yes it is our role to be good parents but we also need time and thus, space, to retreat and be with ourselves. Alone. Even for a minute or two.

Sometimes being a yogi as a parent is sharing your yoga mat. I’ve done asanas with my baby on my mat. Sometimes it may be ardha chandrasana while pushing a stroller (I invented this one). Sometimes it may be practicing pranayama to control your scream. Or lovingly cooking something yummy for your little one- prasad. Maybe it’s practicing bhakti through giving a bubble bath to your kid. I’m not saying this is a complete sadhana in that it will help you achieve moksha, but if all of your actions are born from and engaged with consciously the purest love, and it is a 24-7 job for a lifetime, how could it not? Just as finding balance in many asanas, we are called to find the balance of elements in our parenting. It is through constant effort and dare I say, experimentation with a curious and soft mind and heart, that we are able to master this art of parenting as a beautiful yoga practice. And when we lose balance, our kids are right there watching us to see what we will do. Will we laugh it off and try again? To show by example that enjoying the process through self-compassionate practice is the way of truth, of yoga?

The yoga of toddler tantrums

I’ve been a mother for nearly three years now. I’m counting pregnancy too, because while carrying these budding human beings within the womb, I am responsible for feeding them, protecting the little ones from my negative thoughts and hopefully keeping them alive until (and beyond) birth. Now that I have a four month old and a two year old in the midst of serious toddlerness, while navigating life in a new country (Japan), I realize how the stressors of parenting have been impacting my mental peace. While trying to be a “good” mama, wife, and person, I have been rushing around hoping to go pee without my toddler busting in or having to hold my four month old (yes I’ve done that!). I have been holding back the screaming I have wanted to do when my toddler asked for some food, I lovingly prepare it, and it’s subsequently thrown on the floor. I’ve caught myself begging my baby (in my mind) to please pretty pleasestay asleep for just ten minutes more so I can scarf down some cereal (breakfast, lunch and dinner at times).
And it hit me while pushing my double bob stroller five miles of hills for the fifth time in forty degree weather yesterday (new car stalled in Japanese paperwork process)- all while my four month old was crying for yum yum and my toddler was tantruming that she wanted me to go left, not right, that my deepest yoga practice must be to stay detached from the emotions that arise in me which are activated by my babes’ emotional states. I’m not saying I should not respond to them or feel aloof. I’m saying that I need to let go of feeling pulled into being responsible for how they are acting or feeling in the moment. When I get pulled in, I lose my center and feel like a frazzled, anxious mama and unbalanced yogi. And I’m certain that my kids can sense that welling up in me (esecially if I use a harsh tone of voice) and my toddler may amp up her own emotionalism fueled by my reaction. This dynamic is my least favorite part of parenting and yet it’s these moments that are the most critical to navigate with equanimity to serve my babes better and strengthen my skill of creating peace within. A challenging process, eh?

Peacemaking the mind is practice- and happens as an on-the-job training as a parent. Instead of relenting this stage of my life- two kids age two and under, 21 months apart, with a husband gone much of the time, I want to embrace this aspect in particular as the meditative process of my yoga practice. It’s akin to trying to meditate with cars honking in the background: instead of getting annoyed and not trying, we incorporate the obstacle into the practice: noticing it and letting it go, detaching. Perhaps pratyahara come into play here. And tantra.

The babes are asleep peacefully as I write this. Now it’s time to appreciate and enjoy the silence as a different quality of meditation. Ahhhhh so lovely….

The Nabhi Chakra and Accepting the Commitment of Motherhood

For the yoga mama, pregnancy is a revolutionary process, as well as an evolutionary one, for both mama and baby-to-be. If it is the first time pregnant, never before has a soul entered your body and ignited a process of growing into a spirited human being. For the first or third time, it is a miracle. Why miracle? Millions of cells figuring out their exquisite place in the being and body, all in the effort to create a bouncing baby with bright eyes and silky skin. If that is not considered miraculous to the scientifically-minded, if it all works out generally healthy and well, alive, then there is another piece of evidence. But the true miracle lies in what gives this little human it’s umph, it’s joie de vivre, it’s energy and gusto to want to grow, play, love, work, create, laugh, and search for a reason for being, for it’s mission in life. I believe this is the soul’s yearning: to manifest in this earthly realm the divine purpose. Every single one of us must create a path to discover, or perhaps, uncover, these truths of divinity. As yogis, we believe we have chosen karmically, our parents and our conditions that will help us to reach and re-unify with the Light/Divine, what some call God. When we choose to become pregnant, or leave ourselves open for this beautiful thing to happen, and thus, are chosen by this potential being, we are initiating into a path of deep commitment. This commitment requires a balance of power and sustenance.
I hadn’t thought of the commitment to have a child quite in these terms- power, sustenance, and balance. Of course, I was committing to the process- and therefore the product aka. my child. But unlike most commitments we make, this one is permanent in the earthly sense. It’s not a given though. There are those that choose to have their children adopted or cared for by another, or simply don’t make the effort to be the parent their child needs. For me, it was an obvious devotion. However deeply at 33 (my first pregnancy) I was to my path as a wandering gypsy with ambitious that would take up much time and energy to achieve, I knew it would be a challenge for me to given beyond what was comfortable, or ‘sacrifice’ my time for this child when I had other interests in addition to motherhood. I was, however, ecstatic to conceive and know that my daughter would enter the world. I was fully aware she was an integral part of my plan, and The Plan, and that not a moment of time with her was sacrifice. It was my spiritual calling to devote myself to shepherding her little flame of truth into an Eternal One who loves and laughs and shares it with others. The shocking sensation however, is that I am the one who is responsible for her blossoming. I use the word ‘sensation’ specifically, not realization, because it is a who gestalt of a feeling in my being that I am now surrogate Divine Mother, meaning, while on earth, I must feed her, clothe her, educate her, love her, try to prevent others from hurting her and ensure I give her the proper life to grow. There was no turning back now. Yes, there are others involved, namely, a father in our case, family, friends, and spirit allies, and ultimately the Divine. So of course it is not all My Responsibility. But what this triggers in me concerns my relationships to my mother, the Divine mother, the earth and the material resource.
As much as I know we are never fully ‘healed’, only in a constant process of sloughing off and renewing, I believe we must be healed ‘enough’ to be ready to commit to the divine task of being a mother. While I was reading Gurmukh Kaur Kalsa’s book on pregnancy and birth, called Beautiful, Bountiful and Blissful, she mentioned, albeit briefly about the role of the third chakra in pregnancy concerning the issue of commitment. I had not thought of this chakra related to pregnancy in this way. The root chakra and second chakras were more obvious to me. And the third chakra, around many issues but particularly balance, is absolutely and integrally relevant to pregnancy as well as motherhood. But as far as commitment is concerned, it seemed less relevant until I started thinking about it around the feelings and emotions I was having while mothering, especially after my daughter was born.
Trying to stay not only physically balanced while mothering, but also emotionally and mentally balanced are intense challenges. Physically, especially if breastfeeding, you are giving your sustenance consistently around the clock and energetically caretaking this baby so they feel safe, warm and loved. Emotionally, when it feels challenging to find the intervention that works to soothe the baby, you can feel frustrated, disappointing or even un-loving (what am I doing wrong? Why can’t she feel my soothing? goes the monologue in your head. ) Even when you and the child aligned well in body, emotions and spirit, the feeling can be overwhelming as to the utter beauty that you want to capture and maintain, thinking it’s within your power and job to do so (to an extent, it is). Finally, mentally, you must stay balanced enough to think through the best ways to take care of this little person. What does she need? Is she warm enough? Safe? Getting too much or too little of something? The mental chatter can be relentless sometimes, particularly if you start acting on those thoughts and, say, google every single symptom she has (please save yourself the suffering and don’t do this …well, not too much, anyway). So what exactly should I be committing to in this motherhooding process?
The commitment is to the connecting between the Divine and Earth Mother, between your past (mother and ancestral lineage) and your future lineage (your child or children and beyond). The centering power in this connecting is you, your being. The Vedic literature about the nabhi chakra has some interesting aspects to consider related to this issue. When researching nabhi chakra the words satisfaction and contentment arise. I think that the core human longing is to feel content, but we don’t always know how to be or what to do in order to feel this way.
And sometimes old patterns of being in the world (practically, energetically, even karmically), and conscious or unconsciously, can get in our way to balancing ourselves with contentment as our intention.
In a talk about freedom (referred to in his book, Freedom), Osho was once asked how parents can help their children grow to their full potential, without parents imposing or interfering to their detriment. Osho clearly stated that it was not parents’ function to help their children grow, only for them to nourish and support what is already growing. Our children are destined to grow, destined to love and destined to live in Truth. This is a great relief if you take this perspective. “There is only one thing you can do, and that is to share your own life,” Osho shares. I believe that is the burden I was feeling. Not to be their savior or sole caretaker physically, emotionally and spiritually, it was that I must be and continue to be living my truths, The Truth, with The Love so that I keep growing and unfolding my mission and purpose. The personal power to own my own thriving and process is profound. And the discipline to set an example to my ‘disciple’, my child. Our children are wanting to please us, to learn from us, and not only to be loved by us, but to love us. We leave space for them to do their own growing, which allows space for us to continue to grow.
I never wanted to feel like I was ‘living’ for my children. Although it is the ultimate love and for me, the greatest spiritual path one can walk, caring for my child is not my only calling, although it is a divine and perfect expression of my Divine Purpose: to love. How this manifests is in myriad ways, one of which is caring for my daughter. Osho is as bold to state that a parent should want their child to be totally free of them. But this is the greatest gift. This releases not only the child, but also us as adult children, from the past, which is the greatest hindrance in our minds.

The Yoga of Breastfeeding

Whenever I lament that I don’t have enough time to do yoga as a working mom to a young child, I remember that yoga is a practice of being.
When I am living in India, I often reflect on the stereotypical energy of Indians. They reflect a cultural body –which I define as an integration of the physicality and mentality as it is shaped by the culture reflected in their visible embodiment. Put simply: the chai wallah (the tea merchant) pours the tea gracefully, something he has done thousands of times, thousands of days; the India man on the 20-hour train ride still looks comfortable and relaxed, the sitar player can sit half-lotus bound for hours while playing, and people walk down a chaotic Delhi street amidst tuk-tuks and cows, and moving in a ways that show self-possession and calmness. This is being yoga in my mind. This has led to my conclusion that ‘Indians don’t do yoga, they are yoga.’ Yes, it is a generalization to which there are many exceptions no doubt. This is an observation, perhaps interpretation, of my time in India which helps me grasp yoga’s essential qualities. Any practice that is allowing an alignment of body + mind + spirit in a purifying, loving way is yoga.
Returning to my original thought: how to practice yoga as a working professional, spouse/partner and mother? By first considering what needs doing. Does a diaper need changing? Do you need a bubble bath to cleanse off the day? Does the laundry need washing? Does your partner need some attention? Then it may be beneficial to consider how to apply yogic principles. For example, one can hold one of the four paths of yoga in one’s mind- bhakti, or devotion- and execute that action or task with this intention energizing it, energizing you. Karma yoga, or selfless service is another lens through which to act or be as a yogi. The yoga of breastfeeding is a good example of a practice rooted in yoga’s limbs and paths.
Breastfeeding is a beautiful, intimate experience as yoga practice. I have never felt so aligned with Truth in the most enlightened of forms than when I was breastfeeding my daughter. If the core purpose of divine humanness is to nourish and be nourished by Love in its myriad forms, then this is the closest I have gotten to embodying it. It is a gift I do not take for granted and a relationship that will inevitably change, as all things do.
In my experience and philosophical understanding, the power of breastfeeding as yoga is rooted in the qualities of asana and pranayama and reflects the paths of bhakti and karma yoga in particular. The idea of breastfeeding as yoga unfolded for me in the many months of nurturing my daughter in this way. Just like cultivating a yoga asana and pranayama practice, it is a dynamic practice over the course of the relationship, related to frequency and intensity: in the beginning I would nurse her every two hours around the clock for months; now, at 14 months, it is a less intense process of 2-3 shorter sessions each day. As the frequency of practice changes, so does the intensity. In the beginning months, finding the position (the asana) to fit well for both mama and baby can be challenging, and when the baby is restless, she may not be nursing in such a relaxed state. Whereas sirsana, or headstand, can be difficult in the beginning and becomes more effortless as mind, body, breath and spirit are united, so too it is with breastfeeding.
The asana and pranayama aspects of breastfeeding are vital and relevant. Breastfeeding , particularly in the first six months, requires hours of physical positioning of your body with the baby’s body. Not only are you intending to relax shoulders, tend to a fluid spine, and utilize your arms in a way that feels sustainable and aligned, you are consciously and intentionally making sure this little human body’s spine is aligned, breathing is un-constricted and is postured in a way to receive the nourishment. You are yogi and yoga teacher in these moments! The union must nourish both the child and mother because there is very little sense of separateness, particularly for the baby. And because the breastfeeding child can sense your energy both physically and emotionally, the ideal anchor for rooting your energy to a calming wave is through the breath. I know when I’ve been frustrated with my daughter’s difficulty for what seems like no apparent reason, I sense her picking up my energy and feeling as unsettled. When I’ve lost awareness of my body due to tiredness or sheer laziness, sacrificing the breastfeeding asana, I sacrifice my well-being and therefore, my daughter’s alignment with me. The interesting element is that when you are in a state of awareness these realizations of being in alignment or out of alignment are embodied understandings, not intellectual ones. Yay for yoga!
I’m not sure that breastfeeding is pure bhakti or pure karma yoga but the consideration can serve as a thought-provoking one. When we think of bhakti as selfless love towards the Divine , it depends on how we relate to the Divine. According to yoga Vedanta, the Divine/God/Lord is everything, not a separate entity from you or me. However, we can choose to relate to the Divine in one particular form, reflecting specific qualities. For example, I can be attracted to the form of Saraswati and desire to worship that form. For me, I see and intend to relate to the Divine in myriad forms, much as a Sufi. My daughter is one form of the Divine and so nourishing her in this way is not only nourishing her on the physical or material plane, but emotionally and spiritually as well. Breastfeeding as prasad! How lovely. But is anything truly selfless as a practicing yogi (aka. not enlightened…yet :)) I like to see the word selfless written as self-less, a more reasonable expectation when the ego-mind is still on grosser energy levels. Breastfeeding is an exquisite conversation but one that requires selfless listening. Attuning to the baby’s cues as to when she is full, when she needs to suckle for comfort or as importantly, when am I offering to nurse merely to cease her cries so I can feel calm? These distinctions are the difference between less self and more self (selfish sounds too harsh here). Karma yoga is related to this bhakti concept regarding breastfeeding.
Karma yoga is the practice of selfless service. At my ashram in India (http://www.sivananda.org/neyyardam/), karma yoga is a daily practice while living there even for one day. You may be asked to clean toilets or sweep, serve chai or organize the library. We are meant to bring our yogic minds to task. Breastfeeding is karma yoga for me. It is a dynamic relationship: sometimes I am harmonious with her and I that I enjoy the process, and sometimes, in the early days, at 2:00am it is with every umph of my body and soul I march myself over to her and half-asleep, look forward to the end of the session so I can return to my cozy bed. How to bring a karma yogi mentally to the middle of the night feeding? It is a challenge my dear yogis. We may not feel inspired to drag out the mat out of the closet, or bike in the rain to class. Perhaps we would rather sleep than get up at 6:00am to do pranayama before work. But we know these experiences will bring us in alignment with the Divine, with love, with our best Selves. So we must. And if we can’t get to the mat, meditate on the train, create the peace in the middle of an argument, we ignite awareness in that moment that yoga is being, and intend to be yoga in the next moment. Breastfeeding has been a blessed tether to my yogic Self, and a privileged opportunity to practice the truest form of yoga- Loving Service (Bhakti, Karma yoga) to the Divine (my sweet daughter).
So…with yoga in mind-heart, let’s breastfeed the Buddha!

Bhakti: sincere devotion to Love (the Divine) in all it’s forms as a path of liberation. (see resource #1)
Limbs : According to Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutras there are 8 limbs of yoga: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, Samadhi. (see resource #2)
4 paths of yoga: jnana, bhakti, karma, raja
Prasad: a mental condition of generosity, as well as a material substance that is first offered to a deity (in Hinduism) and then consumed (see resource #3).

  1. http://en.wikisource.org/wiki/The_Complete_Works_of_Swami_Vivekananda/Volume_3/Bhakti-Yoga/Definition_of_Bhakti
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoga_Sutras_of_Patanjali
  3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prasad