My Mama-Yoga Marathon

posted Jul 30, 2016, 12:07 PM by Smith Moments

I was shooting the breeze with my awesome, but ordinary neighbor recently and she shared that she’s training for a marathon. I felt my jaw drop. And then without thinking (I was still in shock), I repeated so many of the familiar phrases I hear when people learn I have 8 children. “Whoa! I can’t imagine. Why?! That’s crazy!! Good for you! There goes your summer. HOW do you do it?!?”

She smiled and nodded and assured me that yes it’s incredibly hard, but it’s a dream of hers, she enjoys it, and it makes her a better person.

Still baffled, I asked for details about her running schedule: Pretty much every day. Keep adding miles. When you hit a wall, decide to keep going.

DECIDE. Got it. That’s a prefrontal cortex workout. I can relate to that.

I walked away from our conversation with new respect for those who have aspirations to run a 26.2-mile foot race and some inspiration of my own about how to explain the crazy marathon I’ve chosen in my own life.

To fulfill this dream of mine that I’m now in the middle of, I get up every day and DECIDE to nurture and guide my children as best I can. My best varies from day to day, but deciding to keep trying conditions me on this journey nonetheless. And the more I keep trying, the better I get.

PFC workouts are a powerful experience.

It reminds me of yoga...which I tried once.

Yoga, though it’s been around in Hindu societies for centuries, has taken the western world by storm in recent years. Why? Because the combined forces of stretching and conditioning the mind and body together are both phenomenal and invigorating. Yoga practices are linked to improved mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health. Mindfulness gurus recommend yoga. Meditation gurus recommend yoga. Despite its religious roots, public schools even teach yoga.

I wanted in, too.

So...during my 6th postpartum experience a few years back, I got ready to jump onto the yoga bandwagon. I figured that once I'd gotten my post-pregnancy I-can-actually-leap-off-the-couch-in-less-than-10-minutes energy back, adding yoga to my existing hobby mix of mindfulness and meditation would be perfect.

When THAT DAY arrived, I put the baby down for a nap, grinned confidently at my flabby body in the mirror, dressed in some yoga sweats, and googled ‘beginner yoga’ videos. I was feeling it already.

But I didn’t even say “OK google” out loud, and within seconds I was surrounded by curious little eyes peering over my shoulders and bouncy bodies merging into my circle of awareness. My kids were feeling it too...I guess.

“That’s okay,” I thought. "I can still do yoga." I was determined.

The soothing voice on the video started and I focused on my breathing and sensed my muscles stretching beyond preferred limits. “This IS invigorating!” I felt so successful as I consciously blocked the sensations of my giggling, clinging children during their sudden game of tag around my legs.

But soon my heart started to droop. The ladies on the video weren't getting trampolined on during cobra, or tunnelled under during downward-facing dog. My expectation of having healthy moments of peaceful, personal rejuvenation began to break alongside my sense of concentration.

In came a reality check.

Fact: Yoga requires an intense focus on personal space.

Fact: I am a mama with littles swirling around me all day.

Conclusion: Perhaps yoga isn’t for me.

Wait a second. A lightning bolt pricked my heart.

Yoga is all about being in tune to our bodies and making them sturdier. It's all about connecting our minds and bodies to our souls, right? And about focusing our attention on stretching just beyond our current capability, enduring it, and becoming stronger and more balanced because of it.

Maybe I couldn’t improve my form much on yoga poses like eagle or monkey or warrior II during this mama season of my life, but I CAN do a different kind of yoga every day. In fact, I NEED to do a different kind of yoga every day.

My older kids need a mom who can stay focused on their words, a mom who’s mind doesn’t wander or start to lecture when they decide to bravely slip a personal story into our routine “How was school?” conversation.

My younger ones need a mom who’s body embraces the aches and pains of their everyday jungle gym demands, a mom who gently guides them towards intuitively knowing appropriate uses of those growing bodies of theirs.

My baby needs a mom who feels strong and secure with herself, a mom who confidently walks the walk with her during her walk-the-hall crying fits for as long as they need to go on.

Sometimes I can't do those things very well. Sometimes my kids' needs outlast my current abilities.

All of my children deserve a mom who is willing to stretch my parenting patience beyond its current limits, who is willing to endure their lack of stability during their growing up years with more confidence and grace, and is willing to provide them with direction and balance...until they become strong, too.

And so I embarked on Mama-Yoga: intentionally focusing on and accepting how my mind and body is so undeniably intertwined with my children’s minds and bodies; and how it is together that WE are stronger.

Mama-yoga is so mentally and physically similar to regular yoga. But in mama-yoga, the poses look a little different and I don’t always get to be the one to decide when to practice each one. Instead, I must be ready for my mama-yoga alarm to go off 24/7 at random. It really stretches me.

Early in the morning, my alarm for hungry game pose goes off as big kids prepare to hustle out the door and little kids beg for their first meal of the day. Sometimes I want to lay in bed a little longer, but I know my kids appreciate every second hungry game pose can offer them.

When my 2-year-old throws her billionth tantrum of the day, it’s time to challenge my body, my mind, my soul some long can I hold my rock in the sunshine pose? Can I hold it longer than my toddler can fight and scream? I try to. And when I do, we’re both glad.

I practice my make-believe pose when I hear screams from the basement telling me my littles need help learning to take turns with favorite toys. Modeling is magical for teaching them. And it’s magical for me if I’m trying to improve my yoga skills. Has anyone else tried to outlast their kids in a game of pretend? I never can, but I do have my good days. It takes some serious mind and body power to stick with it as long as they can.

When someone cries out in the night and my eyes feel heavy, can I manage to arouse my mindful zombie pose...again?! It’s one of the hardest poses to do. But I’m getting more advanced at my mama-yoga, so it actually feels pretty natural these days.

Laundry pose...don’t even get me started.

In recent months, the alarm for taxi pose has practically blown up my phone. I decided I've got to master it. Interestingly, once I truly accepted that this pose was going to relentlessly find it’s way into my daily routine for years to come, I immediately sensed that I should extend myself just a little further and add taxi II pose to our constant journeys. Transporting my kids safely from point A to point B is good, but including the difficult element of mindfully using those precious car moments to really get to know them is a stretch that makes us all better. My toddler especially loves it when I practice taxi II because we notice the trees and the clouds and all the familiar road signs along the way. Taxi II with my older kids means I’m in tune enough to actually ask them intelligent questions that show I care rather than muttering the routine phrases and superficial “wows” that would otherwise slip from my mouth automatically when I was just focused on taxi I.

And btw, I also just started taxi III pose and NO one warned me about how mentally and physically tough it would be compared to taxi II. Sitting in the passenger seat while my teenager controls the about mama-yoga in action!! It’s a good thing I’ve been working out for several years.

A yoga master knows that you can't do yoga once and feel fit for life. Strength and balance that endures the test of time takes intentional focused repetitive effort. Daily Deciding.

So it is with Mama-Yoga. It's an eternal marathon. It's hard. It's crazy. It's invigorating. It’s me and my kids becoming better together.