Self-reflection, honesty, disappointment, encouragement, shame, pride, joy and learning. All of these came to mind as I began to write this article. It took me by surprise. Surely an article about yoga and motherhood can only be soft, pure and full of love?
Motherhood seems to have become challenging, exhausting and very often not what I’d expected of it. Yet, when I let the word ‘motherhood’ vibrate inside, it still fills me with warmth and embracement. It lets me feel my natural strength. It gives me the desire to be peacefully in nature with my babies.
But, as these babies have started growing up, society has started to play a bigger role in their lives. From daily Covid tests, wearing masks and online schooling, to discovering social media and exploring new lifestyle choices. The word ‘motherhood’ doesn’t vibrate in the same way for me sometimes and, all of a sudden, I feel the daily challenges of being a mother.
It’s these moments that have left me wondering how I can apply the teachings of yoga.
The teachings of Patanjali and motherhood
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – a philosophical text that outlines the theory and practice of yoga – has become even more important to me in recent times. This text contains the yamas and niyamas – otherwise known as the universal moral codes or ways of ‘right living’.
It seems easy to read about the yamas and niyamas and approach it intellectually, but putting them into practice – especially when it comes to motherhood – takes a lot of work and meditation!
In this article I am exploring the yamas in relation to motherhood. I guess the challenges of all yamas will remain present throughout a lifetime but within different circumstances. Through practicing yoga, applying the yamas in daily life becomes more consistent, easier and vibrant.
Ahimsa: non-violence / to do no harm
Ahimsa seems simple enough, but can be challenging and complex in reality. We might typically associate violence with major crimes, fights on the streets or even war, but in fact, violence exists in smaller, more subtle forms too. Any form of violence expressed to the environment indicates being violent with yourself. Ahimsa might also show up when you talk negatively about someone or yourself, or through addictive behaviours and neglecting self-care.
When it comes to motherhood, one challenge I’ve faced recently is my son’s desire to eat meat. While encouraging a more vegetarian if not plant-based diet that contributes to a non-violent lifestyle, am I doing harm by taking away his choice?
I explore this idea in more depth in this article here.
The word ‘Sat’ literally means ‘true nature’ or ‘true essence’, which goes beyond telling lies. But the word ‘Sat’ also goes beyond truth, namely it’s something unchanged and pure.
Our daily theatre and life experiences create our own vision on life. This might be one that actually doesn’t adhere to you, but you have started living it. Through yoga and meditation, a clearer and more coherent picture can emerge: one that shows being true to yourself.
As far as Satya concerns my children, I think truthfulness plays a role in their learning about the impact of lying and words on other people. Also, dignity is important in the context of truthfulness: do you stand up for someone who is being bullied or does your ego feel your image is more important?
Read more in this blog what dignity and caring for others can teach children.
Obviously, it is important to not steal, but Asteya really touches upon possession, the need for artificial objects and greediness. This actually shows that something is lacking internally: perhaps a sense of security or completeness, maybe creativity, or self-esteem.
But Asteya also reflects your interaction with other persons: do you give them their space and dignity?
My children luckily understand why they shouldn’t steal, but when it comes to greediness they have to learn a lot: “I want that right now and here; you need to come and play with me now; I am hungry now and need to eat…” Also, they would have to appreciate and understand their own and other persons’ space.
Let me further explore this here.
Brahmacharya: right use of energy
In a very spiritual and conservative context, Brahmacharya was meant to conserve sexual energy especially as a yogi. However, a more creative approach of our times would be to celebrate the existence of life.
“The real goal of sexuality is not pleasure but one that is bigger than existence and sharing. You are not looking for benefits, but you are concentrated and mastering the skill of giving.” (based upon Satsang with Swami Paramatma Saraswati)
As hormones can stimulate to lose control of the mind, the hormonal system should be modified through for instance yoga, nutrition and lifestyle.
So how could I teach my children this other approach to experiencing sexual energy? Discover it here.
Aparigraha: non-greed or non-possessiveness
For many families and individuals, this yama might even be the most difficult one of all the ethical principles.
It touches upon a materialistic way of living that has caused lots of issues related to running a daily household, to our personal and global footprints, but also to jealousy and inequality between children (think of branded clothes).
This principle indicates that one should only keep objects that are essential for living.
So, I’m wondering: What is all the rest I have in my house: memories, emotions, decoration, expression? What is still serving me? What do I keep, what do I let go off?
Thus Aparigraha is very challenging and while raising my kids, I have to remain aware of what I am passing on to them.
How has Aparigraha affected me in my marriage and raising our boys? Read the blog here.
This is just a glimpse of how the yamas come back in our daily lives and in particular in our relation with our children. Having much more continuous awareness of the yamas through meditation, reading and sharing, as well as having the thrive to implement these moral codes, could bring motherhood back to its roots.
About Chaja van Boesschoten
Chaja is a Hatha yoga teacher, international project manager and digital writer. She has become so captivated by the knowledge of yoga science and the immense possibilities of the breath, that her life has become devoted to yoga.
Chaja was born in The Netherlands, she is married to a Scottish man and has two sons who were born in two different countries. She now lives in Italy and finds it beautiful to use the knowledge of different languages and experiences to transmit yoga. Yoga is available to everyone, but she sees the importance to bring it to people who are possibly unaware of it, to people who live in socially vulnerable situations, to people suffering mentally (as a consequence of the pandemic e.g.) and to influencers.