By V.K. Harber
All primary caregivers know the drill. Kid’s head hits pillow, adult’s feet hit pavement (so to speak). If you’re anything like me, naptime is when you run around the house, not unlike a chicken with its head cut off, attempting to do everything you couldn’t do while you were tending to your little bundle of joy. Of course, I’ve also been known to pop a bowl of popcorn and catch up on episodes of Modern Family on Hulu. Just depends on the day.
When I first had my son, despite the fact that every single experienced mother I knew told me to sleep when he slept, I did not listen. Sure, I did that for the first two weeks or so, while my spouse was on paternity leave, but once he’d gone back to work and I started to notice how much wasn’t getting done around the house, I started using baby’s naps as time to be productive. That lasted for a few months, maybe, before I realized that something simply had to change. I was exhausted and grumpy and worst of all, resentful.
The pressure to be productive, to check things off our to-do lists, and to contribute in quantifiable ways in our homes and in society in general is no small thing. While I think there are a lot of big picture things that need to change in order for women to feel fully supported in allowing their priorities to be themselves and their children during the crucial first year after giving birth if that is what they want, I also know that a lot of the pressure that women feel is coming from within. (Granted, often because of how we are socialized, though not exclusively.)
When we become mothers, it is as if we have to learn to nurture and care for, not only a new little human, but also ourselves in our new role. And not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually as well. To be fully present parents and tender nurturers, it is vital that we do so.
For me, Yoga is a huge part of how I address my physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual needs. But before you start imagining me bending my body into the shape of a pretzel while my little one naps, I want to clarify what I mean by Yoga. In the West, we are most familiar with asana which is the physical part of the practice of Yoga. It is popular because it gives you a nice behind and it makes you feel great, when done in a safe environment under the guidance of an experienced and attentive teacher. But the poses are just a small part of Yoga as a whole, which also includes breathing, meditation, ethical practices, and devotion. The overall purpose of Yoga is to align and integrate body, mind, and spirit. Sometimes this means standing on your head; sometimes it means sitting quietly and breathing; and sometimes it means sleeping. We practice Yoga anytime we pay attention to our needs and honor them so we can go out into the world and operate from a place of generosity and love.
Having to cram our self-care into naptimes is not ideal, but it is the reality for the first few years for primary caregivers. Below are a few suggestions for Naptime Yoga.
If your baby is:
0-3 months old (or sleeping in less than 4-hour stretches at night): GO TO SLEEP! Do not wash the dishes, do not do the laundry, do not read another parenting book, and do not start dinner. You can do all of that with your baby snuggly wrapped in your Moby or other baby wearing device after they wake up. What you cannot do once they awake is sleep, so right now, GO TO SLEEP!
3-6 months old (and sleeping in 4-hour stretches at night): Savasana, Corpse Pose. Lie down on your back, make sure you are very comfortable, close your eyes, and breathe. If you fall asleep it’s because you needed it, so do not fret.
6-12 months old (and sleeping in 5+ hour stretches at night): Tadasana, Mountain Pose. Stand tall and firm and feel your connection to the earth as you embody the majesty of a mountain. Adho Mukha Savasana, Downward Facing Dog. This posture is great for opening and lengthening the whole back of the body and building immense strength in the arms and legs. It also relieves stress and anxiety and calms the brain. All good things for parents. Balasana, Child’s Pose. One of the best postures to relieve lower back discomfort, a common complaint for primary caregivers of small children. Another great stress reliever as well as a scrumptious stretch for the hips (an area where we tend to hold emotional pain).
As you can see, none of this will take a great deal of time, unless you want it to. (The exception being if your baby is 0-3 months or sleeping less than 4 hour stretches at night, in which case you will sleep the entire time your baby sleeps.) Hopefully your baby is napping well enough that you can devote some time to these postures and then catch up on some of the things you have to do, keeping in mind that you may need to veg out and laugh more than you need a spotless kitchen.
So, yogi’s orders: if you have to choose between clean floors or time to take care of yourself, please choose yourself. Let naptime be a restorative and restful time for everyone so you can all go forward in the day refreshed and integrated.
IMAGE: By Danzden under a Creative Commons License
About V.K. Harber
V.K. Harber is a yogi, writer and mother of one. She is the co-founder and former managing director of Samdhana-Karana Yoga: A Healing Arts Center in Tacoma, WA, a non-profit yoga studio.She currently resides in Seoul, South Korea where she works as a yoga teacher and post-partum doula. (www.vkharber.com) She is also a contributing writer at World Moms Blog and can be found on twitter @VKHarberRYT.