For the last several years of my life, I’ve followed the same morning routine: I wake before the sun, enjoy a hot cup of coffee, and then spend an hour and a half moving through the Ashtanga Yoga Primary Series with the sound of my breath and a room full of other inspiring, sweaty yogis. I found Ashtanga (or maybe more accurately, Ashtanga found me) during a dark period of my young adult life, and it helped me not only see that there was a light at the end of the tunnel, but it gave me the map that helped me get there. With every practice I was transforming for the better.
The promises that the yoga practice gives us (a strong, healthy body; a calm, steady mind; a peaceful heart) kept me coming back for more every morning. It was easily the most important part of my life, and took priority over everything else. I decided to devote myself whole-heartedly to the practice of yoga. No distractions. Just sacred mornings with myself on the mat, simple days, and early nights.
And then I had a baby and my whole world changed.
When you give birth to a child, you give birth to a new you at the same time. You go from maiden to mother within a matter of moments and no amount of reading, nannying, meditating, or yoga can truly prepare you for that enormous shift. It is it’s own beast. Nothing will dig deeper into your soul and ask more of you than motherhood. It is, in my humble opinion, the ultimate yoga practice. Suddenly, your life, personal time, and your body (even after pregnancy) are not merely your own. Your entire being revolves around this tiny, helpless, adorable human. Everything else comes second, including sleeping, eating, showering, peeing alone, and, yes, even morning Mysore practice. Being a mother is by far the most beautiful, empowering, and awakening experience I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing, but it is in no way easy.
I’m going to be honest. I didn’t come to my mat every day after giving birth to Connor. I just didn’t have the physical or emotional capacity yet. In fact, most days, if I was lucky, I’d make coffee and actually drink it while it was still hot. I’d get a few sun salutations in, or maybe just a few moments of quiet introspective stillness, and call it good.
My mornings were still sacred in their own right, though. There is nothing more fulfilling than spending a few extra snuggly hours in a cozy bed, nursing your little baby. The truth is, even without my steady asana practice, my yoga took on a whole new depth and meaning when I became a mother. I had to become more flexible in my mind than ever before. Every diaper changed, every dish washed, every hour of sleep missed became another opportunity to breathe consciously and surrender to the present moment. Every day in every way was a practice of patience, mindfulness, and compassion.
But it is just that: a practice. In Ashtanga, we call it the Seventh Series, the hardest yoga series of them all. It’s the practice of engaging fully in family life, of maintaining and nurturing our relationships, and in my current state, the practice of being a good mother.
Connor is 17 months old now, and it still doesn’t take much to throw me off balance some mornings. I get frustrated at him for just being a toddler. My mind spins around my own desires and stresses that I lose sight of what is truly important: simply staying present and patient with my son. But it is nearly impossible to dedicate yourself to an outside force if you neglect your own needs.
As mothers, we are constantly giving all we can from the moment we wake up til we finally pass out at night, and we simply aren’t as productive or helpful if we aren’t taking care of ourselves, too. When we’re depleted mentally, physically, or spiritually, we cannot give our family everything they deserve. That’s why it’s so important that we ask for help and find ways to slow down, prioritize self care, and nourish our souls. We need breaks. We need support and validation. We need to soften our edges and be gentle with ourselves.
It doesn’t make you a bad yogi if you don’t do your full practice every single day. And, on the flip side, you’re not a selfish mom for taking time to yourself to get your yoga practice in. You’re human. And finding the balance between showing up for your children, your work, your family, and yourself is hard.
But it is possible.
We just need to stay flexible. When I take the time to cultivate peace and kindness inside myself, I’m better able to give it to the world around me, so I still prioritize the practice. It is part of my self care ritual. Now I’m on my mat every day again, usually early morning while Connor is still sleeping, and it’s such a special time for me. I don’t always finish before he wakes up needing me, but that’s okay. Yoga is fluid and we must be too.
Yoga allows me to flow through motherhood rather than fight against the current of my new life. It gives me the strength to play with my son, the patience to teach him, and the capacity to envelope him in deep love every day. By devoting ourselves to the discipline of a yoga practice, those little moments in life become deeper, richer, and sweeter. It strips us of the unnecessary layers and limits we’ve piled onto our identity and allows us to live in pure awareness. It brings forth the truth of who we are and we become stronger for it.
When I can remember that motherhood, the Seventh Series, is my yoga practice first and foremost, it is so much easier to react from my heart, to move and speak with joy, peace, and perhaps most of all, gratitude. Deep, unwavering gratitude for this amazing little human, for my beautiful and strong body which grew him, birthed him, and continues to nourish him with milk everyday. When I go through my days with this clarity, my world feels lighter. I’m able to extend more of myself in every area of life. I suddenly see that there is time for all the things that need to get done, and I am capable of doing it all with grace.
I’m still finding my way of course. I get in my own way and stumble along, but I put my best foot forward and love myself anyway. Right now, that is enough. Because morning Mysore practice will always be there, waiting for me to center my life around again. But Connor needs my devotion now. He deserves his fair share of that attention and energy. Because he will grow up and move out and go on with his own life, and so will I. This small phase of motherhood, with it’s exhaustion, it’s messes, slobbery kisses and milestones is fleeting. I want to embrace it now, while I can.
So to all you mothers out there, I see you. I feel you. Prioritize your happiness, knowing that your family benefits most of all when you are well. Continue to do your yoga practice, but don’t beat yourself up about it for being different now. You are different now. You’re stronger than you give yourself credit for. You are seriously amazing and so, so appreciated. So keep going, mama. We need you.
Emily is a writer, mother, lover, and yogi. She enjoys the simple things in life and takes refuge in her loved ones, morning Ashtanga practice, and time outdoors. When she’s not teaching, writing, or playing with her son, there’s a high probability she’s hiding out in the bathtub with a good book and a cup of tea.