There are eight parts of a yoga practice prescribed by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. Verse 2.28 says that “[b]y the practice of the limbs of yoga, the impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom, leading to discriminative discernment.” These eight limbs can be thought of as a tree’s branches. The branches all lead you to the same place, and they are all part of one being. Some paths may be easier than others, but all are equally important. By practicing the eight limbs of ashtanga, the little things won’t bother you, and, sometimes, neither will the big things. You will make better decisions and have a clearer mind. A mother can keep these eight limbs in her “toolbox” to pull out when the occasion calls for it and put them to good use. By doing so, parenting will get easier, your children will be happier and you will become more enlightened and at peace with yourself.
Mothers have a huge task set upon them at the birth of their children. Sri Swami Sivananda, in his book Ideal of Married Life, says, “Mother is the first Guru. The child learns the alphabet from the mother. The child learns to speak from its mother. She may make him a saint or a ruler or a rogue. She imparts her virtues to her child with the milk.” Almost all of the knowledge that you need as a mother is right here, and it originated thousands of years ago. With the research I have done, I hope to explain ashtanga yoga in a way that is easy to apply while parenting your child.
Viniyoga founder T.K.V. Desikachar, who is the son and disciple of the famous Indian yogi Krishnamacharya, compares the evolution of a child to the eight limbs of yoga. In his book The Heart of Yoga, Desikachar says, “From conception through a child’s full development, all the limbs of the fetus grow simultaneously; the body does not spout an arm first, then a leg, and so on. Similarly, on the path of yoga all eight aspects develop concurrently in an interrelated way.” That is why Patanjali uses the terms asht, which means eight, and anga, which means limb, for the eight limbs of yoga. He refers to them collectively as ashtanga.
Those eight limbs are: yama (abstention), niyama (observance), asana (posture), pranayama (breath control), pratyahara (sense withdrawal), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi (contemplation).
By taking a look at each one and applying them to motherhood, they can be a helpful guide to navigate the sometimes emotional roller coaster that comes with bringing a new baby into the family. Keep in mind that each limb is equal to the others. For example, dhyana is just as important as asana, and so on.
Because children are constantly evolving, achieving milestones and maturing emotionally and physically, parenthood is about change and adapting to your child’s growth. Sometimes these changes can be difficult to accept. You feel like you are standing on quicksand. Some days or weeks you feel as steady as a mountain; and then your child changes again, and you have to start all over. As a parent, you have to keep your perspective in check and evolve with your child.
Desikachar says that yoga is important in helping a person adapt to a changing environment. “The mind grows so used to things that our action quickly falls into habits (samskaras). We can never experience our real nature if we do not expose ourselves to change. That is why we must test ourselves by doing something completely different.”
He goes on to say that it is important to grow in your yoga practice. Perhaps you have come to yoga casually through an asana class. That’s perfect; it brought you to your mat. Although the asanas certainly give you great benefit, yoga is much more than practicing postures on your mat. You have to practice yoga on and off the mat, cultivating all of the eight limbs to achieve true balance in your life.
The goal of yoga is to encourage us to be a little better than we were before. We become better by making an effort and by practicing patience. When we do this we will not see ourselves as beset by so many problems. Our efforts may change in intensity, but over a period of time we will gradually experience progress. We must actively seize every opportunity that helps us to progress.
This concept fits perfectly with parenthood. Our children present so many opportunities and challenges for us. As they grow and mature, we do too. We are the first people to have the power to influence their lives. This opportunity can make us better people.
Children are special, spiritual creatures. They have come into this world with their own karma, and they have picked you to be their worldly guides. It is our job as mothers to provide a moral balance to guide and support them in finding their own path. Sri Swami Chidananda, a devoted follower of Sivananda, wrote the following:
The offsprings of the husband and the wife are also to be spiritual beings, because they are other souls coming into this earth-plane to work out their own evolution. It is therefore the sacred duty of the husband and the wife to provide an ideal home and the proper initial impulse to these souls that come as their children. The children are to be held in trusteeship for a while until they grow up and go out into the world. The growth and development of the children will be in accordance with their own spiritual nature, with their own spiritual evolution, with their own karma which they have brought with them; yet, the mother and the father can give a great deal from their own lives to the initial spiritual unfoldment of their children until the children attain a stage when they can themselves mind their further spiritual evolution. If healthy spiritual ideas are implanted in the young minds from the early age, they are bound to sprout forth at a later stage and bring blessedness to the children.
See the next chapter: Eight Limbs of Postpartum Yoga: Asana