No Mat Required

May 26, 2022

 

I recently got a message from a new mother asking for advice about doing yoga with her baby and how to make brief and often interrupted practice sessions spiritually meaningful and physically useful.
 
Having been there myself, I have some tips that are specific to her situation. You can read those on the web version of this post if you’re interested. 
 
But there’s a broader response to her question that I think is important and applicable for all practitioners, because as we continue down the road of yoga, there will undoubtedly be times when - for whatever reason - we aren’t able to do our usual practices. 
 
What then? How can you adapt yoga to your current circumstances so that you can stay connected to your practice in a meaningful way, rather than abandoning yoga because you aren’t able to practice in your usual manner? 
 
Besides doing what you can, when you can, here’s a key that I have found allows you to keep your yoga alive even when formal practice isn’t possible: Expand your ideas of what yoga looks like. 
 
One way to do this is to practice bringing the spirit of yoga into your daily actions. 
 
The Bhagavad Gita defines yoga as skill in action (2.50). You can interpret this verse to mean that whenever you apply the skills you develop in yoga to give your full presence and caring attention to what you’re doing – whether it’s nursing a baby, preparing a meal for your family, or even taking care of yourself when you're sick – it can become a form of practice.

This can include performing the action with attention to your body and breath, as well as with a spirit of compassion, respect, and loving offering.
 
In the process of giving yourself wholeheartedly to the activity you are doing, you might also encounter your resistance to meeting reality on its own terms. Therefore, it can be an opportunity for self-reflection, for examining and processing uncomfortable feelings, and for letting go of expectations about how things should be, so you can accept what is. All of that is good yoga in my book.
 
Applying the skills of yoga to how you perform everyday actions can foster a sense of meaningful connection, expanded awareness, equanimity, and contentment. The result? You get to experience the gifts of yoga in your life, no mat required.

 

For the new mothers out there, here are a seven tips for your practice right now:

 

  1. Do what you can when you can. Consider anything you can manage as your practice for the day. Conscious breathing while feeding your baby, 2 minutes of stretching when you get up from a nap, reflecting on an inspirational quote while straightening up, everything counts.
  2. Incorporate your baby when possible. I remember doing downward-facing dog with my infant daughter lying on the floor beneath me while her favorite music kept her entertained. I also remember sitting her on my lap when she was the perfect size to weight my thighs in Virasana.
  3. Get creative – it’s okay to make things up.
  4. Chanting or mantra repetition can be great practices to explore and might also soothe your baby.
  5. Have your props out and ready so you can easily grab them when the moment allows. Plus, keeping your props visible is a great way to remember and prioritize your yoga practice. Nap time is a great time (unless you also need a nap.)
  6. A little planning can go a long way. Consider how you might ask for help to organize some uninterrupted time to practice or meditate.
  7. Consider that for the time being, asana may not be your best bet for a reliable and satisfying physical practice. It might be much easier and more satisfying to get outside and take a walk with your baby in the stroller. Remember, it’s a great time to expand your ideas of what practice can be about. You’ll have plenty of time to model postural practice and meditation for your child. Take care of yourself first.
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