Practice in the Midst of Family Life
Updated: May 25, 2019
Tips to Support Maintaining Spiritual Practice as a Parent
My partner, Geoff, and I met in India when I was a new yoga teacher, fresh out of my first ten day, Vipassana silent meditation retreat. I was living at a yoga ashram in Rishikesh, the birth place of yoga, and I felt I had met my soulmate and that we were setting out on our spiritual adventure together.
We spent a further three years in India sitting silent meditation retreats, studying yoga and seeking out gurus. When we decided to create a family, we felt that we were ready for the next step of our adventure and had the grounding to withstand, with equanimity and grace, the challenges of family life.
As my belly blossomed I imagined that every night feed with my new born baby would be an opportunity to meditate, that I would practice yoga while my baby slept peacefully and that the love that Geoff and I shared would be strengthened and deepened beyond measure.
Then our daughter, Amara, was born and a chapter I hadn’t envisaged began. Night feeds seemed to last for 12 hours straight, my pelvis was devastated by childbirth leaving me unable to walk, while Geoff and I became drained, frazzled and disconnected. We were shocked to find how challenging it was to bring the many fruits of our yoga and meditation practice into our daily family life.
It was impossible to find the space and silence that we’d found on retreat as new parents, and looking back at that time five years on, it feels like our spiritual path really began the night Amara was born. It was a difficult period of surrender and re-adjustment: Like any journey that brings growth, we have to spend some time in the wilderness before we can find our way back home.
Since then we have had another daughter, Leilani, join our family and we have worked with our daughters, and selves, to patiently develop methods by which yoga and mediation could wind their way back into the fabric of our lives and beings.
The path of merging our spiritual and family life unfolds day by day, and is still very much a work in progress. We’ve found that it takes a delicate balance of dogged determination and, at the same time, the absolute willingness to yield to the demands of the present moment.
To that end we have created our own Mindful Family Retreat where we can share our experiences, create a space for families to deepen their own practice and develop a connected sangha of happily practicing yogi families. The list below are a few of our tried and tested tricks and methods to help you keep your practice alive in the midst of family life.
No Better Ground for Awakening than Where You Stand
1. Keep It Simple
We would all love to start the day with a 2 hour yoga and meditation practice but if the only time you get to yourself is the late hours of the day when the kids have finally fallen asleep, keep it simple. Maybe a fifteen minute yin practice is all you’ve got the energy for. Honour yourself, your workload and energy levels to choose the practice that will best serve you. If you push yourself to do a full ashtanga practice at the end of a hard day, you may loose motivation.
2. No Pressure
Meditation teacher, Tara Brach, tells of how as a new mother she struggled to maintain her daily meditation practice. She promised herself she would sit in meditation every day, but gave herself the clause that it didn’t matter for how long. Getting onto your mat or cushion is 70% of the work, once you’ve made the commitment that you are going to practice, the rest takes care of itself.
3. Reflect on the Benefits of Practice
We can often get into the pattern of trying to berate and judge ourselves into doing something. Rather than dwelling on the negatives about yourself or the cons of not doing any yoga, try focusing on the benefits of practice. A good technique is to sit quietly with your eyes closed - maybe with your hand on your heart - and reflect on how you feel after you’ve practiced or what it is that you love about yoga. How does your body and mind respond to these positive thoughts and sensations? Let the impetus for action come from a place of love rather than guilt.
4. Practice with your Children
It sounds obvious but there are a wealth of resources out there to help you build a practice with your children. In our house we love to do family acro-yoga; the kids love climbing on us and we enjoy it at least as much as the kids. Children are natural yogis and they don’t need much encouragement to come up with their own versions of yoga poses. If they aren’t keen on asana, maybe try some simple chants or some fun breathing techniques to explore together.
5. The Breath
There’s an old Indian saying along the lines of, ‘If you think you are enlightened, spend some time with your family.’ Your children are the most amazing and humbling teachers you will ever have. They will bring out the best and worst in you. In those moments when it seems like there isn’t the time or space for reflection, commit to taking three conscious breaths before you speak or act. Sounding the out breath will give you a little extra help to let go. Soon your kids will catch on. If you are lucky they might start breathing with you, or if you are very lucky, they might start telling you to take three breaths every time you get a bit cranky.
6. Become Aware of Awareness
Childrearing is fast paced and exhausting and it can seem like there’s little time for reflection. When the proverbial ‘potty’ hits the fan and things start to feel overwhelming, try steering your focus away from the whirlwind of thoughts to bring your awareness to the awareness that notices the overwhelm. This you-turn takes you out of the thoughts in the foreground and into the space where thoughts and feelings arise. Reflecting on questions like, “who is noticing this feeling?” or “what in me recognises that my thoughts are in overdrive?” will help to sharpen your awareness. It’s a quick and effective technique to keep you centred in those moments when everything in and around you seems to be spinning out of control.
7. Take Some Time and Space for You
While it’s amazing for you and your little ones to practice yoga together and that the trials of parenting give you ample opportunity to practice mindfulness off the mat, it’s essential that you take some time to nurture your own practice at a time that is clearly demarcated as yours. Ensure that you get to a class once a week or that family guarantee you get an hour and a half a week home alone so that you can practice undisturbed.
8. Enjoy the Ride
Your parents say it, friends with older children tell you at every opportunity: “they don’t stay little for long”. In a few years your adorable, demanding toddlers will be heading off to school without a backwards look and slowly slowly your life will become your own again. Enjoy your children; drink in their love, joy and wonder. Your yoga mat will be waiting for you on the other side.
Mindful Family Retreat Info
When - Monday 12th of August until Friday 16th August
Where - Wiston Lodge a 53-acre estate in the Scottish Borders.
Website - www.mindfulfamilyretreat.com
This family retreat in Scotland's wild and beautiful Southern Uplands is a chance for parents to delve into their practise while their children enjoy mindfulness and yoga classes along with outdoor activities. Mindful Family Retreats is run by me and my partner, Geoff Brokate. We will be joined by Gill Lathwell who is a professional therapist and mindfulness teacher.