We all sit with our yoga mats in a circle, moms holding their babies. At the beginning of each class, I ask everyone to share their name, their baby’s name and age, and what’s new for their child that week. Whether it’s a fresh-cut tooth, colic, or 5 a.m. ready-to-play wake-ups, I like to hear about it. I also invite the mothers to share what is going on with their bodies. “What body?” I can hear them thinking, as they unload the contents of their diaper bags and peel infants out of Moby wraps. One by one, we go around the room, and each mom shares a “discovery.” Or, what I’ve begun to think of as chapters in a book called:
Things That Happen to Your Body After You Have a Baby That No One Told You About
Your hair might fall out. (Maybe no one else will notice the change, but that doesn’t spare you the indignity of wiping up handfuls of your own hair off the bathroom tile.)
Your abdominal muscles may have separated, a condition known as diastasis recti. (You mean, I shouldn’t be doing sit ups?)
You wake up in middle of the night dripping wet with sweat. (Hormones give you the business.)
You can’t sleep even when the baby does. (Your nervous system is on hyper-drive.)
You feel like you have a hunchback. (Nursing and feeding does a number on your posture.)
Your thumbs, wrists, knees, feet, or back hurt in weird and confusing ways. (Hormones, again.)
You are tired. Really. Freaking. Tired. (It’s shocking how tired you can feel. You’re so tired you can’t come up with creative ways to express how tired you are. )
Recently one mommy said she was ready to get her “body back”. She continued, “I’m ready to feel like myself again.” From feeling like ‘me’ to feeling like ‘mommy’ and back again Whenever someone says they want to get their body back, I immediately think, “From whom?! What happened? Did that cute baby steal your body?!” Because you still have a body. Your body. But it’s different now, and that’s a hard truth to swallow. I think what they really mean is, “I want my body to be something I know and something I like…because I’m not sure I like this.”
Wanting to feel like yourself again—now, that’s big time stuff. Just like our bodies have changed by becoming mothers, there is sort of a seismic identity shift that happens as well. Unfortunately, you may have to wade through some pretty murky, unknown waters until you suddenly realize, “Oh yeah. This is still me. I should get out of this gross water now.”
You may think I am sitting from a perch of answers at the front of the class. Not quite—I’m in the circle, too. I have an infant and a four year old. I know what my students are talking about because I feel it in my own body. I want what they want. I, too, want to tighten up my ish! I want to feel stronger! And sexier! Or at least start caring about being sexy again.
This is where aparigraha can come in handy. Aparigraha—one of the Yoga Sutras or Eight Limbs of Yoga—represents the practice of non-possessiveness otherwise known as non-attachment. Breathing and stepping back, at least figuratively, can be a secret weapon in making peace with the body and the baby.
But how do we practice non-attachment in the age of attachment parenting?
One of my favorite moving meditations is a simple one: “Let. Go.” I encourage my students to breath in the word “Let” and breathe out the word “Go”. Inhale, “Let.” Exhale, “Go.” That’s it. Let go of the expectations. Let go of trying to lose the weight. Let go of wanting the baby to be good. Let go of what you read last night on Babycenter.com—and maybe just stop reading it altogether!
The idea of non-attachment in yoga is about fully participating in the process without getting tied up in the outcome of the product. Sounds breezy, right? Um. Maybe. But it takes practice just like the physical aspect of yoga takes practice.
Working towards non-attachment has been particularly helpful for me when it comes to toddler mealtime. “What!? You don’t want to eat your favorite meal I made for you? That thirty-minute meal took all day to make in five-minute increments! I was looking forward to eating with you and watching you enjoy it BECAUSE IT’S YOUR FAVORITE! But today, you’re not going to eat it!? Okay.”
I get it. Making the meal was the process. Daughter actually eating it was the product. So much for the good intentions of my home cookin’. Deep breaths. Let. Go.
Potty training is another time when aparighara helped my parenting strategies. It would drive me absolutely bananas when we were about to leave the apartment and my daughter would refuse to go potty. A gentler reminder to “give it a try” would become a wild-west style stand off. It wasn’t until I stepped back a little—well a lot, really—that things improved. Let. Go.
How do you let go without letting yourself go?
The media is relentless when it comes to inundating us with images of how a woman should look, especially after having a baby. The beautiful people seem to have little arrows pointing to their bikini bodies saying things like, “SEVEN WEEKS AFTER BABY!” A lot of women internalize this to mean, “YOU LOOK BAD IF YOU DON’T LOOK LIKE THIS SEVEN WEEKS AFTER BABY”. Maybe we should stop reading this stuff, too.
I’m trying to refocus the lens a bit, one class at a time. I want my students—my fellow new mothers—not to feel bad for having bodies that change. If you were lucky enough to get pregnant, give birth, nurse or feed an infant, and shift your identity to include being a mother, then YEAH, stuff has changed. Also, let’s not forget that the last time you tried to wear those shorts was two summers ago—last summer you were pregnant, remember? Now you are two years older. Time is marching on, my friends.
So let’s sit in a circle and marvel at our bodies—their health, their vigor, what they can do on six hours of constantly interrupted sleep for months or years on end. Let’s be proud of what we just did! We had some babies!!! We adopted some babies! Some of our wives had babies, too!
Post-natal and baby yoga classes are not exclusively about getting in shape, although it’s important to have an opportunity to exercise with your little one. I want people to feel like they are a part of something; they are connected to their babies and each other in the circle. I want people to laugh and blow off steam, because that may help you feel more like yourself again. But there is a fine line between feeling good in your skin and trying to get skinny in order to feel good. Let’s stick with the former, shall we?
I recently started practicing yoga regularly again since having my second child. It has been a humbling experience. When I curl my body into child’s pose, I feel my hip flexors boing-ing me upwards. I am tight and loose in all the wrong places. There are no arm balances or binds. At least, not yet!
But you know what? I just built some people with my body! Who cares that my boat pose may look a little like a sinking ship? I do, but I don’t. I’m trying to let go, too, one breath at a time.
Jessica Phillips Lorenz has been teaching yoga and creative drama classes to children and families in NYC for over a decade. Also a playwright and lyricist, she has performed many original solo works and her songs appear on the award-winning children’s record Come Play Yoga. Her work has appeared in Mutha magazine. Jess lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two kids, who sometimes co-teach family yoga classes with her. She teaches at Bend & Bloom Yoga in Park Slope.