Since my daughter was born 3 years ago my yoga practice has dramatically changed. I used to take class mostly every day, never less than 5 times a week, for 6 years straight. With a child in my life this frequency has been reduced to maybe a couple of times a week. And now, with baby number two practicing yoga has become just a topic for daydreaming. It’s a bummer and also a blessing. My children are not only a challenge who make me juggle with every aspect of life. I now also have these unexpected, awesome, unbiased and straightforward teachers. They won’t shrink back to tell me the truth and hold a mirror up for me.
Lessons from my kids
Our daughter Indira has always been around our teacher trainings and yoga studios. When she started to crawl she developed an interest in shoes (she still has an unexplainable excitement about high heels). Her favorite shoes back then were sandals. She would crawl around and when she would spot the shoe rack near the studio entrance she would start making excited baby sounds and speed up her crawling pace towards those new favorite objects. She would then grab the most colorful or eye catching one and put it in her mouth while triumphantly looking around, proud about her achievement. That is of course until me, her daddy, or anyone else paying close attention would run to her and take the shoe out of her mouth.
Around the same time in her life, at about 6 months old, Indie, like most babies, started to develop readiness for solid foods. She has always had a healthy appetite and curiosity for different flavors. As we travel a lot for our yoga trainings all over the world, we thought it would be convenient to get her used to some pre made baby food (organic and vegetarian of course!). Most of the times when we tried to feed her out of these jars, she would make a nasty face and spit it right out. It was one of the few things she did not like.
So there we were as new parents teaching our first child the first lessons in life. We encouraged her to label shoes as yucky and baby food as yummy. And every time she objected in her own baby ways, part of me was wondering, well, who am I to determine these things? Just because I label pureed apples as something tasty, does this mean that they are? Of course there is reasoning behind the boundaries and the encouragement that we give our children; shoes are generally dirty in a way that could make us sick when we put them in our mouths. Deciphering what does what, is hard early in life and it’s a parent’s job, to guide in this process. Sometimes though, when a child questions the assumptions that are a given for adults, it can help us to think a bit more about our decisions. When children don’t understand us, it forces us to seek deeper to find explanations for our habits and patterns. Each time we have an opportunity to examine if they really make sense.
what if we can’t hear?
It is the same in our yoga practice. Sometimes the teacher will instruct you to do a posture that doesn’t instantly feels comfortable. We all have these moments. You know, when you are hanging upside down in camel pose, not knowing where to look, how to breathe or what the fastest way is to come out. We might put labels on the bubbling-up sensations like: this makes me dizzy, or this hurts. But what would happen if we were invited to put completely different labels on the same sensations? We often hear teachers advise to listen to our own body. But what if we can’t hear what our body is saying? What if all the labelling that we do clouds our interpretation?
During our immersion teacher trainings, I teach an advanced class. In this one class a week we explore different postures and sequences, that most of the students are not familiar with. One of these are the 5 Tibetans. The first of the 5 rites is spinning around 21 times, you know, the way kids love to do. Most people in the classroom doing this for the first time feel completely disorientated and ready to throw up right after this. But the same action and feeling that we call sickening is considered sacred elsewhere. Think of the whirling dervishes who spin around for hours to find an altered state of consciousness, spiritual ecstasy. It’s then labelled euphoria or sometimes even enlightment.
modifications of the mind
Patanjali speaks of this labelling in the yoga sutras. He calls those labels we put on our observations, thoughts and feelings the ‘modifications of the mind’. And the whole practice of yoga is to understand this process and dismantle it so that we can see and experience the true nature of things – mainly of our Self. This is not an easy task. In our yoga practice we need to allow the teacher to guide us and encourage us the same way as a parent does for their child. We need to have a basic trust that if the teacher thinks something is good for us, that there might be something to it, even if our first impression is: this stinks. When I teach the 5 Tibetans I know you probably won’t feel so good. I do so because I know that it will add new and valuable dimensions to your yoga practice.
Maybe we can, even if it’s just for the duration of the class, or even just the pose, label ‘nausea’ as ‘fluttering energy’ instead and substitute ‘dizziness’ for ‘good vibrations’. When we allow this process to naturally develop, there is a learning and changing for everybody involved. As parents we learned it was best to let go of the label yummy for those jars of baby food. We stayed determined in our efforts to name shoes yucky. With effect. Even though our little girl still gets hyper excited in the shoe department, she has learned that it’s better for her health to not put them in her mouth. So maybe next time you are on your yoga mat, you can take in this suggestions to breathe through your least favorite posture and change the way you label that posture, the process, the arising sensations and most of all your Self. Let yourself be surprised by the effects!
Zefea had her first experience with yoga at the age of 4 when her parents practiced with renowned teacher Angela Farmer in the Iyengar tradition. She forgot about yoga during her teens and twenties and trained for boxing and the combat system Krav Maga. Zefea rediscovered the benefits of yoga when she started practicing Bikram Yoga in her home town Amsterdam. From 2006-2008 she represented the Netherlands as the Dutch gold medalist in the International Yoga Championships, finishing in the world's top 10. Zefea experienced new depths of yoga through practicing while pregnant (up till the day of giving birth).