Mamastay

The season of unrest around here kicked off with a rare earthquake, almost two weeks ago. Then there was Irene, and we lost power for five days. The first day of first grade fell in that window of darkness and ice runs, and then just after the lights came back on, an armed, convicted rapist escaped from the county courthouse near our house and a full-scale manhunt ensued, thoroughly shaking up this otherwise quiet town.

He’s back in custody now, and most of the local hurricane damage has been dealt with. I know I was not alone in harboring a high level of stress in my skin and bones for awhile there. After we finished our yoga practice on Saturday, one of the mothers exhaled with relief and blurted out, “Wow. I really needed that!” We all laughed in recognition. You mean the earthquake, hurricane, beginning of the school year and escaped fugitive were getting to you?

My daughter once asked me why I had to do yoga. I told her it was so I wouldn’t go crazy, which was the truth at the time. In the early days of mothering, my need to practice was tied to the physicality of parenting little ones, which requires considerable stamina yet can be so constricting. When they were nursing, strapped-to-my-body babies, the physical intimacy I shared with my children was exquisite … but I regularly felt a desperation to move. Unencumbered, at my own pace, to the rhythm of my own breath.

As my children, now six and three years old, have become older and more independent, I find that practicing yoga is not about staving off craziness but rather embracing a more peaceful way in the world.  I’m nostalgic for the time when my body was so closely attached to my children’s bodies, but the beauty of growing up is the way parents and children develop in tandem. The space between us grows, then shrinks, then grows a bit more as together we negotiate a shifting  balance between intimacy and independence. Nowadays I look around and realize I’m no longer desperate to move; I have small, exuberant people who can move with me.

I’ve long invited my kids to come join me on the mat in a spontaneous, creative movement kind of way. Dinosaur yoga remains a favorite with my three year old; the way that poses are based on animals and plants makes them extra appealing to children, who possess a deep, intuitive connection to the natural world. But I recently brought some yoga DVDs for kids into our home, which ramped up our otherwise free-ranging silly practice. A friend loaned us YogaKids and Family Yoga after I told her I had been volunteered to teach yoga at my son’s cooperative preschool (something I’ve never done before).

We had so much fun practicing together! I was surprised at how willing my kids were to follow along, to focus their bodies and breath in new ways. Listening to the sound of our breath together, I realized that sharing yoga wasn’t just about letting them pretend to be animals on my mat. Practicing yoga helps me find inner calm, which in turn helps me to be more present to my children. Why wouldn’t it do the same for them? Watching their little bodies relax in savasana, I felt a joy move through me, threatening to bubble up in a belly laugh and ruin the peaceful moment. They were getting it.

Learning to relax deeply in our bodies can only help us navigate that push and pull that is part of growing up. Because it’s not easy being a family; I’m not the only one around here who needs gentle reminders to let go of tension and open to what’s happening around me. We can help each other. The other day my three year old was sitting on my lap, looking at a yoga book with me. A woman was pictured sitting with her hands in namaste. Gabriel looked at her for awhile, then giggled. “She’s in…mamastay!”

Oh, he cracks himself up! That joke was a favorite for days. Mamastay this, mamastay that. The truth is I like it too. It feels like a sweet reminder, to help me slow down in these busy September days: Mama, stay in this moment! It’s a funny thing, how staying in the moment helps us move gracefully with all the inevitable changes life brings. Next time I think I’ll do savasana with them.

About Meagan Howell

Meagan Howell is a freelance writer and social worker who loves art, books, yoga, friends, music, being outside, and helping to build communities of all sorts. Meagan lives in Maryland with her husband and two children and writes about motherhood at Homemade Time.