Since I began my love affair with yoga over a decade ago, I’ve been fortunate to study with many wonderful teachers in different countries, cities, and studios. Each person and experience has played a role in shaping both the teacher, and the student that I am now. But these days, my newest and most influential teacher is motherhood.
Now more than ever, I am finding resonance in the yamas (yogic ethics), in particular ahimsa (non-violence). Ahimsa is easy to understand in concepts such as vegetarianism; choosing to eat a plant-based diet is kind to animals and the planet’s resources. But becoming a mother has opened my eyes to a more subtle meaning of ahimsa; that of non-judgment.
As a yoga teacher, I instruct my students to let go of judgment as they move more deeply into their poses, and into their practice. So often we focus on the outcome rather than the journey, on getting the forehead to the floor or our heels to the mat in an attempt to “conquer” the pose. Most of us have been guilty at one time or another of comparing ourselves to the yogi on the mat next to us, of trying to out-pigeon, or out-down-dog our neighbour. Sometimes the hardest part of yoga is letting go of this competitive nature, so that we may practice with lovingkindness.
For many of us (but especially moms), the tendency towards self-judgment is strong, even off the mat. It might begin in pregnancy as we eye other mothers on the street, sizing up their bellies, their baby weight, how tired or equally how energetic they look. We make judgments and comparisons based on our assumptions, instead of allowing ourselves to be free of arbitrary expectations.
After baby comes, the whispers of judgment can become even stronger. We might feel pressure to attain and maintain a certain standard of “perfection”, both in the home and at work; to raise a perfect baby, to be a “yummy” mummy, to keep a spotless house, to manage a successful career. We are judging ourselves harshly and unnecessarily, when we regard anything less than this idea of perfection as failure.
As a new mom I was consumed with the needs of my tiny baby; suddenly my time was no longer my own. My beauty routine was pared down to a bare minimum--a shower and a swipe of lip-gloss if I was lucky. The material things that I had come to know as defining my femininity could no longer be a priority as I had another life to care for. Still, I sometimes felt that my lack of high heels and make-up was a reflection of my ability to be a good mother--that somehow I wasn’t doing enough. I was frustrated when I couldn’t meet my demanding, self-imposed expectations.
Six months later, I am making a conscious effort to replace frustration with kindness. My practice continues to evolve as I take ahimsa to heart. Motherhood is teaching me to live my yoga. I do my best not to be judgmental when I have an “off” day. I know there will be times when the house will be messy, or mornings when I am running late. As much as possible I try to be compassionate towards myself, and accept situations that are out of my control. Embracing ahimsa means doing myself the kindness of letting go of expectations, and being present in whatever moment arises. Sometimes those moments are full of dirty diapers, and never ending piles of laundry, and the only practical thing to do is breathe and smile. A deep breath and a gentle smile go a long way when we practice yoga--and as I am learning--amidst the daily chaos that is life with a new baby.
On the days when I’m outfitted in my baggiest old sweats, when I’m tired and it shows, I do my best not to criticize. Instead, I remind myself that regardless of my superficial shortcomings, I am still a good sweet person, a kind loving mother, and that truly, it is what is on the inside that counts. Lipstick or not, what is more definitively feminine than motherhood? My baby does not know the difference between bargains and brand names, he doesn’t care if my headstand is perfect. All he knows is my love, which I give him with abundance.
Charlotte Singmin is a certified yoga instructor, yoga therapist, and writer, with a thirst for knowledge and a passion for health and wellness. She loves to travel and is eagerly collecting yoga certifications. Charlotte recently became a proud new mom is grateful everyday for all the love in her life.
Facebook page: www.facebook.com/CharlotteAnnaSingmin