the eight limbs of motherhood

How having a baby really taught me to live yoga

If you had have told me that having a baby would teach me what it really meant to live the 8 limbed path of yoga a year ago, I would have laughed in your face. I’m also sure that the ancient sages and rishis that lay down the eight-fold path before us would have been perplexed by my notion. I had initially wondered what would become of my love of yoga when I fell pregnant – What would happen to my physical practice? How would I find the time for the path of enlightenment?

My joyful 8 month old daughter with her peach fuzz hair, chubby, dimpled knuckles and gummy smile has taught me to really live my yoga. More than when I did 5 classes a week, more than my daily early morning practice (give or take the sleep ins) even more than my yoga teacher training course.

In many ways she is my Guru.

The first two limbs of yoga, the yamas and the niyamas, are generally pretty intertwined in the serious yogi’s life. Generally, they are the first stepping stone in taking the yoga we are familiar with in the West, off the mat and into your everyday life.

Ahimsa or non-harming/non-violence (the first of yamas), had to be my first practice as a mother. I loathed my body in those early days of motherhood, misshapen, soft, incredibly sore. The desire to burst into life with my little dear rather than recover and enjoy her newness was overwhelming. I had to stop my thoughts of self-loathing and vanity and really practice ahimsa towards myself – my body has served me well and did an incredible job of creating and cooking this beautiful bundle.

I want my daughter to know compassion to all beings and always have compassion for herself, and so ahimsa has become the fundamental house rule in our home. The practice of the yama, satya (or truth) is an essential part of self compassion – assessing where my daughter and myself are each day. It is easy to be striving and push on, trying to achieve in our society, however, motherhood has made me honest about where we are at and wiping the diary if that’s what my daughter or I need. Satya is also being accountable and honest for the way we live, now I’m more determined to eat more ethically rather than turning a blind eye. This honesty with myself gives me the positive thought that I’m helping to create a better world for my baby to live in and more immediately, a home with strong ethical principles.

My early days as a mother were truly about cultivating santosha or contentment, one of the niyamas. Let me tell you, a squishy, pink, milk drunk baby with her short, sharp breaths slowing down as she settles into a deep slumber is the very picture of santosha. The little fingers uncurling, lips slightly parted, with that intoxicating new baby smell, was enough to create a deep sense of contentment in me as well. Now further on down the track, an afternoon nap cuddled up together or the moonlit breastfeeding reminds me of the deep contentedness we can feel each day. That santosha can arise in the most mundane or domestic of situations such as watching my daughter eat a strawberry as I prepare the vegetables for dinner. The domestic santosha is one most easily cultivated, created and enjoyed through food especially when I think about nourishing her tiny perfect body.

Aparigraha is generally translated as ‘non-possessiveness’ – it incorporates ideas of non-attachment. My daughter’s birth was nothing as I had imagined or planned it to be. A failed home birth, lots of intervention and a difficult recovery were the facts. Not the birth in my bath at home that I had hoped for. The practice of aparigraha has helped me greatly in making peace with our birth. It was her birth, I was strong, and it was incredible.

Motherhood has given me a much more reflective side. Svadhyaya is the study of scriptures or study of self. In many ways motherhood is purely svadhyaya! You study every decision and choice, processing the outcomes and working out what you would have done differently. With all the ‘mummy-wars’ and judgments on mothers (and fathers), it is always important to remember that for the most part, parents aren’t making decisions that they don’t believe to be in their child’s best interest.

The niayama tapas fans the flame of my physical practice, the third limb, asana or postures. Never has asana been more luxurious since having my daughter, it is my time of rediscovery. Rediscovering strength that was there then it wasn’t, and now in some poses I’m stronger than ever. Perhaps it correlates on a deeper level with what my body has gone through, what has occurred spiritually and mentally, I have always seen my own mother as physically strong, maybe it’s a mum thing? Or perhaps it is the added ‘weight’ training of carrying my daughter everyday! Never have I been more committed to my personal, daily practice – it is part having that time to myself on my mat, part the way asana nourishes and restores my sleep deprived, milk-making body. Feeling strong and seeing my practice grow has helped me love my body again. I’m amazed at the way the body gains strength, opens and changes with asana so rapidly. I have also had to work ‘smarter’ with yoga asana as my body is often stiff from being curled to breastfeed, my shoulders tight from carrying my daughter as she grows, and my recovering, stretched abdominals, pelvic floor and weakened lower back from the pregnancy and delivery – my body needs asana everyday.

While of course breathing is natural, the fourth limb of yoga, pranayama, has helped me relearn how to breathe. For months after my daughters birth, I noticed I still wasn’t taking full deep breaths, but instead breathing how I had in the final months of my pregnancy; as if there was restriction. Reintroducing my pranayama practice, I truly believe, has helped me lose my baby weight, improved my digestion as well as cultivating a deeper level of mindfulness when I feel out of my depth, stressed or anxious. Connecting with my breath often instantly calms me, which in turn calms my baby.

Pratyahara is withdrawal of the senses the fifth limb. I often have run out of energy in the early afternoon when my daughter has a seemingly endless supply, however, ten minutes, supine on my mat in savasana in a practice of pratyahara is often just what I need to get through to her bedtime. Along the 8-limb path, each limb prepares us for the next, pratyahara prepares us for dharana, concentration, which precedes dhyana or meditation. I’m sure you’ve heard of ‘mum-brain’, well often the simplest tasks require dharana. It is the concentration teamed with the contemplation that helps keep me accountable for my parenting and my lifestyle. It is easier to sit in meditation now, I search for the quietness, I find the silence faster, with more ease. My mind is often awoken from slumber by a whimper or sparked to attention if I spy something foreign in her mouth, or dangerous in her hand, it seems sharper than before. When it’s time to sit and meditate, I can more easily, and readily melt away the external physical world, to contemplate, to be.

The final limb, the bliss limb, samadhi – it’s what we are searching for, right? Well, over the past 8 months, there have been tears (hers and mine), days spent in clothes with spit up, weeks without a hair wash and nights without sleep, but there has also been more of the fleeting moments of bliss than I have ever experienced. With so much love I have had moments where I have transcended and only felt ecstasy and an overwhelming sense of peace. Together we have 8 limbs and she has shown me how truly to live the 8 limb ashtanga path of yoga.

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