Parenting and Practicing Yoga: Featuring “My Children and Yoga” by Paul Dallaghan

Welcome to the first in a series of Guest Posts: “Parenting and Practicing Yoga”.

If you are interested in Guest Posting on this topic, don’t hesitate to leave a comment or contact me at nat(dot)devalia(at)gmail(dot)com.

I’m happy to have Paul’s permission and honoured to post his article on my blog. The article as published originally, as well as many more articles both by him and others, at the Centerd Yoga website – Resources section.

Paul is a senior Ashtanga yoga and Pranayama teacher, founder of Samahita Retreat Centre in Koh Samui, Thailand.

My Children and Yoga

I am often asked the question: “Am I teaching my kids yoga?” My typical response is: “They are teaching me yoga.” Tongue in cheek it may be but nevertheless much truth lies within that response. At the same time, stepping back in to the parental shoes, what should I be teaching them and where does yoga fit in? Is it merely introducing them to the asanas and telling them to breathe?

Anyone who has the good opportunity to raise a few kids knows that it is the seventh series. It does require sacrifice and tests your patience and inner abilities to control yourself just so you can be a normal human being, and not this ogre screaming over minor things in the course of life that have all accumulated here today and burst out in one mass of frustration (whew!) Not that that ever happened to me but you can read about it on parenting blogs everywhere. Shocking stuff really. As Chekhov once said, “Any fool can handle a crisis, it’s the day-to-day stuff that wears you down.”

So when I consider what yoga means to me it is an opportunity for willing self-reflection, a building of character, an effort to be nice, ultimately working on myself. It’s obviously all the things I am doing in life. And much of that has, and should be, spent and shared with my adorable children (eh, sometimes, no, of course, most of the time:)).

The time taken to practice is the training time in working on myself, refining the nervous system. I am happy to report that over the years of practice I have seen a positive change. I have seen myself transform in terms of handling and being with the children. In that case it was not the practice alone but being given the precious situation with the children to temper it, to mould it. In other words, the practices without corresponding life situations would be close to impotent.

The big lesson here is that my response to whatever it is coming up with the children, while being primed so to speak, is actually the teaching I give them, the yoga I pass on. Especially in their formative years. In years to come will they remember their daddy’s asana practice or ones I showed them or will the memory of being together, sharing, having fun, bonding, be embedded in them? A thoughtless reaction borne from frustration, not properly channeled, sticks much stronger in a child’s memory. I have witnessed a particular stimulus bring up a frustration in me and from there I have observed the pre-existing pattern of how I could act. Fortunately, I feel from awareness practice over the years, I have the wherewithal to see the two options inside and am able to channel that force, energy to respond in a more constructive manner with them, which may include a stern rebuke or a patient response to further explain. And may I say, this is a work in progress, by no means perfected. But that is exactly what I mean by the interaction with the children being the yoga lesson.

As a first principle then I value love, care and time shared together as the primary yoga with children. Next to that is the set of values I have worked on in my life that I aim to share with them. In terms of a yogi it is easy to hone in the values from the yamas and niyamas. I am grateful to my kids (and wife) that I am able to look at these everyday, inculcate them, live them. Believing in ahimsa, I will promise them that I will not hurt them. I have to look at that on all levels: physical responses to mind games and emotional care. Am I living a life based on truth, honestly, or is it just when it’s convenient?

Though these and the other values are often considered obvious they can easily be forgotten in the course of a day. To live with these values of being kind, honest, respectful, loyal and faithful, and knowing what is enough is to share them with your children. They will naturally have the opportunity to form their own values over time and have their own personalities but these are universal and essential. I prefer to see signs of caring coming from my boys than them being the “best”. This may again seem obvious, especially to one not involved, but be clear, time and opportunity all too easily slip by. You have to make a clear inner resolve to “be” it at all times. I see this as one of the true values of what yoga has taught me and also what I have learned during my time with my parents. My wife and I have not forced any formal religion on them as they are exposed to many through our life and the community but already they know certain Sanskrit mantras as we’ll do them together at night when giving thanks.

Finally then we come to the techniques of yoga, the practices of asana and more. I know that constructive skills learned at an early age can be invaluable throughout life. At the same time it is important for anyone, including my children, to come to a practice of yoga by their own volition. But my wife and I do have both the duty and opportunity to introduce these elements. Already the kids have played with yoga poses and are quite adept at using it as a term to get rid of me, “papa, go do yoga”, if they don’t want me around (which of course is very rare:)). I also see they are a little young to properly engage in it yet. That is a popular question: what age should they start? Some say 8, others 12 or as long as the child can take care of themselves (through dressing, feeding and teeth brushing). So that leaves it a bit open. In my opinion it comes down to a certain amount of maturity to want to do something. At this stage soccer is much more valuable for them than yoga. It’s their primary choice and it really gets them moving. Of course in time they’ll find this ‘stuff’ their parents do can help their football playing.

As my specialty lies in the breath I am always aware of how I or others breathe. I have noticed the rapid breathing of my children as infants to a more normal one, still quick, as young children. When they have been upset I have put my hand on their upper abdomen and tried to get them to be free there and breathe. I have tried but it is difficult because the emotion at that age overrides the rationality and a reactive state takes over. It’s almost an inevitable part of human growth. And at this young age to keep an awareness on the breath is almost impossible. It requires maturity. Yet if I can introduce an awareness on the breath early on I feel I have done some good for these growing boys.

In a sense I could breakdown the sharing of yoga with my children into different ages and phases. Early on it is all about the care and love. These should dominate throughout life but naturally change color and shape. The sharing of clear, strong values is imperative to their growth and maturing, something that becomes more relevant as they get into later childhood and adolescence. Then finally, the practices themselves, that are initially play but later, really post-puberty, constructive and formational. From their mid-teens on it’s really up to them. I myself only began yoga at 23. I had many other things to experience and pass through. All things being equal it would have been great to have been exposed earlier but that cannot even be considered as life had its path of experiences to share with me regardless of what I think I could have done. So it’s all about what I do with it now. I hope to share yoga in all its ways with my children: through love, kindness and caring; with strong, clear values that carry them through life with integrity so they develop in to adults that are of value to society and all beings everywhere; to the practices themselves, full of their own inherent wisdom and refinement that can help transform their nervous systems and enrich the children’s growing years into adult life.

Running Late

Last Thursday, at quarter to nine, I realised that it would take 20, 25 minutes to get to Judy’s studio on foot, and likely longer if I waited for a cab, and then jerked and snailed through the smoggy morning traffic. My Pranayama (breath work) would start at 9.

I decided to go on foot. I pulled out my Vibram Five Fingers, and ran there. Fast. The cool air blowing against my face, and through my hair was wonderful. Only half way there did I realize that I must have looked quite strange sprinting in my long, grey, wool coat, dangling a white Yoga Thailand cloth-bag on my right shoulder, and wearing my strange black shoes that fit each toe like a glove. I didn’t care though. A few people looked up from their cleaning, eating, sorting through veggies, but immediately returned to their activity.

Our dearly loved ayi (nanny) watched curiously as I donned my shoes. She has no trouble voicing her strong opinions – at least in our space: Rahul’s shirt is ugly. Leila’s pink t-shirt and blue tights suit her (she chose the outfit!). I have seen her look down, even flinch and then smile when she first notices me in a new, “strange” outfit. Yeah. My weird fashion statements have new meaning now.

But she thought the Vibram’s were interesting. Maybe even cool?!

Approval!

I arrived full of energy. The seven floor climb to the studio still got me huffing and puffing, but I had five minutes to spare. Not too bad. I taught the class; walked home after. Liberated. It’s the kind of feeling you have when you hold the keys to your own vehicle for the first time.

All that excitement got me hoping that I’d fit in many more short, “social runs,” over the course of the week. The only part of that statement that’s true is the “hoping” bit.

Baby steps.

In a few minutes I’m off to my Thursday morning Pranayama class. Late again!

Any barefoot / road / social running stories to share?

Related article / site:
Top 10 Worst Shoes (http://www.thesharkguys.com/lists/top-10-worst-shoes/)
Chris McDougall’s blog, Author of Born to Run: http://www.chrismcdougall.com/blog/

In the Game

Early Sunday morning, I tell L and R that I’ll be out until lunch; that I’ll be teaching Pranayama (breath-work) workshops.

“Afu Pa-ya-ma-na,” Rahul pleads with outstretched arms. (Afu is what he calls himself.)

I pick him up; tell him that he can do some Pranayama with me, but that he’s got to stay with “ayi” (meaning aunt, aka nanny in this case) for the morning.

10 minutes later, he blocks me from entering the shower, “Mama Yoga. Mama Pa-ya-ma-na.”

———————

The response was overwhelming. My Yoga teacher friend Judy, who organized the 2 sessions, back-to-back at her lovely little home studio, and I, haven’t worked together since I got pregnant two and a half years ago. It’s not only the “together” bit though, I haven’t taught at all.

Of course I was nervous. All week. It’d been a while.

But, I am confident about Pranayama, especially after all the workshops I’ve attended over the years, and most importantly, from my own regular practice: the years of regularity, the continuity of it regardless of bed-rest during the pregnancy, the slip during the NICU phase and stressful first year, the irregularity of practice coming back to it, and the decision of, “that’s it – it’s got to be for real, or not at all.”

——————-

Maher attends the 9 O’clock session. L and R hang onto our sleeves, crying as we leave the apartment.
It does him good to have a refresher. It’s a nudge, to get him back into a regular practice.

“I need it,” he says to me, almost every day.

He’s sick more often than ever before. The children are always coughing. As soon as we’re in the street, I have sharp headaches. I catch myself turning around to see if there is someone smoking right behind me. All the time. We’re feeling the pollution. It’s worse than it’s been in the last 6 years. There are more buildings, more cars, and more people.

———————

A month ago I did my first serious workshop since before I was pregnant. It was in Koh Samui with Paul – my teacher. He asked if I was Back in the Game. He meant everything – Asana, Pranayama. He has children of his own. He’s had many other first-time-mum students who needed the push to get off their butts and practice again. He’s dealt with the ones who disappear for a few years, and then return, for a nudge. He knows about my pregnancy and the early birth, the stresses.

I suppose that’s why he asked me if I was back. A few times over the 2 week course. My doubtful but positive response at the beginning of the workshop had a completely different meaning to my confident one at the end.

———————-

At the end of each session, Judy and I leave 5 minutes for questions.

“It’s doubtful that I will remember any of this. Can we have a follow-up class?” one of the students asks.

———————

I rush home after the second class. Maher, R, and L are having a good time. Laughing. Playing.

“They had a great morning; they didn’t cry a drop after you left,” ayi reports as she leaves.

———————

We’ve organized one follow-up session; possibly more over the next few weeks.

So am I Back in the Game?

A written declaration of it might make it more real.

La, la, la la la la, Leila, and the Door.

A few months ago a Yoga teacher asked me if I could make some space in the house that’s exclusive to my practice.

I fidgeted. “Not really.” My living room Yoga studio, (now the the kids play room) has always been my practice space.

“At least for your Pranayama practice.”

———————-

We have a spare room; the door doesn’t fit correctly. When it’s shut, it takes pulling the door up in its frame with a huff, and a strong push to get it to open. I slipped into that room for my Pranayama practice this morning, as I’ve been doing of late.

“Mama, mama,” bang, bang, push and shove, “Mama, waaah.” I finish my round.
“I’m doing my Pranayama Leila. I’ll be out in a few minutes ok?”

A few minutes later. “Leila mama, waaaah” Bang. Push. Shove.

A little later. Push, push, push.

Open.

She wraps her arms around my neck, and hangs on. “Leila mama, TV. La la la la la la.” (Interpretation: Leila’s mama, I want to watch The Smurfs on the TV next to your head. Right now.)

I continue with my practice. She insists. I sit her in my lap, cross legged, and tell her to do some Pranayama. We buzz like bees together for a few seconds. She jumps up and leans into me. “TV mama, TV, aaaaah.”

I don’t open my eyes, don’t budge. “Mama, mama, aaaaaah.” Fake cry.

I’m proud of myself for not getting frustrated.

“TV, mama.” She slows down her movements, lingers for a minute or two, then whispers “bye,” and walks out of the room.

I’m glad I didn’t just put on her DVD and continue in another room.

Eyes still closed, I sit silently for a few minutes.

I put on her DVD and lie down on the bed. She lies next to me. Still, for a minute.

Pancakes, Chocolate Milk, and an Award.

I got an award. The Versatile Blogger Award. The last time I was awarded anything I was 16. So man was I shocked, and ecstatic! And it’s for my blogging. I only started doing this a few months ago. I’m a novice. It’s encouraging to know that someone is reading this stuff though, and even liking it.

The blogger who awarded it to me, whose blog, The Valentine 4 you have to check out, is a good, spirited writer. I stumbled upon it from a comment she made at another blog I was reading. I was immediately hooked to her strong, sensitive, and honest, writing style. So I subscribed.

She has two children, runs a household, runs a home daycare, runs races as a triathlete, does yoga, reads, writes both thought-provoking and thoughtful posts…Wow!

So back to the award. I told M immediately. I smiled, and thought of cart-wheeling, jumping up and down, and running around the house. Maybe I should have, but that morning R and L were doing enough damage.

The chocolate milk that was accidentally knocked off the table turned into on-purpose spilling. I cleaned it up while discussing the Zambian elections with my parents on Skype. Every time they said anything L sang a loud song in my ears.

I was also chatting with a friend in NY. He still had a few more hours in the evening to go, while we had just woken up. I grew up hanging out with him, in Zambia. He hoped the democratic process would win. In other news, he told me that a mutual friend and his wife would have twins soon. I was even more excited. R tapped the keyboard. Strange boxes appeared on the screen.

The computer crashed.

I was clearly trying too hard. And the whining and crying that went on a lot of the night, was worse. It was getting to me.

What we all needed was Savasana.

I walked into the kitchen where M was making pancakes. “I can’t handle it today. I’m going crazy….” I said this to him, almost shaking.

Our ayi (nanny) walked into the apartment at the same time.

“What do you want to do?” he asked.

“My Pranayama.” I replied.

“Ask xiao He (ayi) to give them a bath. Do your Pranayama in the spare room. Close the door. I’ll take them out for a walk,” he replied.

I was proud of myself for talking to him right then. For asking for help. Grateful for his response.

As I was doing my breath-work practice, R burst into the room naked from his bath. I froze. I didn’t want to erupt, not again today. Not now.

He gave me a sweet, long hug.

I melted.

Maher walked in, asked Rahul if he wanted to make R, L, and N shaped pancakes with him. Rahul rushed out of the room.

—-

A few days on, a little more calm, probably just because I’m the only one up in the house at this hour, I’m showing off my award!

The “award rules” state: Thank and link the blogger who awarded it to you. State 7 random things about yourself. Award it to 15 newly discovered blogs you enjoy. And let them know.

Here are my 7 things:

1. I used to be a classical Indian Bharatanatyam dancer. I went to Chennai, India right after high school for a three-month stint at a renowned dance school. I Chose to go to uni in Canada instead of continuing seriously with dance.

2. I was at an all girls dorm for my first year in uni. I was scared shit-less because it was the first time I would have to “deal” with girls. I have two brothers, a male cousin I used to hang out with, and mainly guy friends. Despite listening to the other girls on my floor whining about their boyfriend issues, and to my screaming neighbour if anyone woke her up after she went to bed at 8pm, she and others became some of my closest friends.

3. The last time I went “home,” to Zambia, was over 8 years ago.

4. I started to drive when I was 15 My brothers were even younger. I stopped at 17, when I left Zambia. I’ve changed many wheels, and fixed other basic car stuff. Now I don’t can’t drive or do any car related things.

5. I’ve bungee jumped off a 110m high bridge in Livingstone, and jumped out of a plane. With a parachute! And an experienced teacher.

6. I saw a psychic in Calgary.

7. I was under 5 years old when the car my dad was driving in the middle of the night, at high-speed, on an unlit highway from Lusaka to Livingstone over-turned. I was in the back seat. A family friend was next to my dad. I don’t know if I had my seat belt on. None of us were hurt.

And now, finally to the best part. Here are the 15 bloggers who get The Versatility Award:

OnoLisa
Tuesday2
Hedvig’s Permaculture Adventures

Momma Be Thy Name

Seana Smith
Peaches and Curry

Balance Yoga Wellness
Pakistani Ashtangi

Culinary Adventures


The next two are young cousins of mine who trusted me enough to start blogs!

Anu Madrid
Catawampus Kid

The next four are twin mum blogs that I have only occasionally dipped into, either because I have very recently discovered them, have two toddlers running around all day and up often at night, or because of the internet censorship with certain blog carriers like blogspot here in China.

Goddess in Progress
Double the Fun

Life Not Finished
Little Grovers

Thanks for reading, taking the time to comment and discuss, even like posts on my blog.

If you’re on this list, pass on the love.

The state of my yoga

I have heard that Pattabhi Jois and Sharath say taking care of a family is a yoga practice in itself. In the midst of the “Family yoga” I am trying to continue with my Asana and Pranayama practices. My back is weaker for having barely got on the mat in the last three weeks. The joints and muscles are sore and less flexible. The practice keeps me centered day in and day out as family activities and routines race by. It reminds me to go back to the breath when things get out of control.

A month ago Maher insisted that we go to Hangzhou for the weekend workshop with Paul, my teacher. He found out about the workshop and arranged the trip. We took our ayi with us. That was a first. Her first plane ride as well. Exciting! I did yoga all weekend while Maher and ayi took care of R and L. Another first. What a privilege to have someone arrange it all – flights, hotel, child care. I can’t thank him enough for letting me have the space and time to do my thing.

It was my first workshop in two years. It took me home How wonderful to practice in a studio with others and especially with Paul. The main realization though was that my rather regular, lite practice has become mechanical.

So how does one become more mindful? Simple advice – do less and slow down – both for Asana and Pranayama.

Now that we are back in Chengdu and almost back on schedule, it’s my chance to tone the practices down and be more present. The centering that can come out of one yoga practice floods over into others, and they even feed off each other. Now it’s time to get on the mat, breathe, and react appropriately when the children are pulling each other’s hair out!