Thursday, January 17

the yoga mutt theory of parenting philosophy

I started practicing yoga at an Iyengar studio. Iyengar is a rather rigorous and precise style of yoga, which suited me and soothed me as a beginning student. It was easy within the well-defined boundaries of the style to know what to expect of myself, what to expect of the practice. It was easy to know what was right and what was wrong.

In another studio in another city, when I began my yoga teacher training a few years later, I was exposed to different styles of teaching and practicing. Initially, I resisted these new influences. I resisted the notion that yoga could me more about what it felt like to be inside my body than about molding my body into these classical shapes. But eventually, I became more and more attracted to the kinds of teachers who are, as my lovely friend and teacher Lizzie describes herself, "yoga mutts." These were teachers who are earnest students of the art and science of yoga, who explore the breadth and the depth of the practice, and create a style which suits their own bodies, with their own unique challenges and gifts and idiosyncrasies, and which feels wonderfully personal and genuine.

As I grew more confident in my own practice, and began to learn more about my body, and what benefits my own unique structure and what doesn't, I became more and more comfortable letting go of "the way things should be" and began investigating more deeply the question of  "how do I want to feel?" I, too, became proud to call  myself a yoga mutt.

Then, one day, I became pregnant for the first time. And as I was cast in the utter darkness of fear, anxiety and doubt that are the hallmarks of first-time parenthood, I began searching for a philosophy, a theory, about the right way to parent. I found the comfort and certainty I was looking for in attachment parenting. Yes--baby-wearing, co-sleeping, feeding on demand, these were for me. They made sense. They appeared to my untrained eye to be a guarantee of happiness for my baby and competency for me. Armed with my books and my Moby, I felt ready to become a mama.

When Silas came into the world, his birth was unlike anything I could have imagined, and was the farthest thing from what I wanted for him, for me. (I plan to share his birth story here next week, as it is almost the second anniversary of the event.) His birth left me reeling and broken. But still, I carried on with the plan, co-slept with him, wore him day in and day out, held him close for his marathon naps/nursing sessions. And things appeared to be working great.

Until they didn't. Once I was forced to admit that co-sleeping didn't work for me, left me crazed and sleep-deprived, my first thought was not that the method had failed me, but that I had failed the method. It was a long and painful road to letting go of the way I think things ought to be to easing into a way of doing and being that felt right for me and my family. It took long months of exploring what it meant to be a mama before I could learn to trust my instincts.

I think it is natural, when we first begin to learn lifelong practices like yoga or parenthood, to look for certainties, for ways to evaluate whether we are doing things wrong or right. I think it is very difficult at first to allow the measures of progress and success to come from inside ourselves, from our hearts and guts and feelings, rather than from outside, from what the experts are saying. But as we mature as students and practitioners, we begin to develop that internal locus of rightness. Only it isn't so much a measure of right-vs-wrong, but of right-here, right-now, right-for-me, right-for-us.

As the weeks of this pregnancy flow by and we slowly prepare to welcome another child into our hearts and our lives, my husband and I are having conversations about how we'll do things differently this time. For one thing, we know that we won't know anything until this little one shows himself and his personality. And we know that we ourselves will be very different, with over two years of parenting under our belts, and a toddler to tend to, also. We are a lot more comfortable with the idea of being parenting philosophy mutts. This time, we won't be afraid, right from the beginning, to experiment until it feels right.

:: To clarify: I do not intend in any way to imply that there is anything implicitly wrong with Iyengar yoga, attachment parenting, or co-sleeping. Only that I have come to know, for myself, through trial and error, that these were not the most beneficial modalities for me at the time. And I still love my Moby. ::


  1. Love this post. I'm a mutt in all sorts of ways. We never co-slept because Bea slept so well by herself (and not so well with us). She was bottle fed (obviously). But I carried her on my front and back for most of her entire year and then some beyond. We have quite an eclectic schooling thing going on: homeschool, unschool, Montessori, Waldorf...and I'm an AMI trained Montessori gal (A.M.I. Montessori is akin to the Iyengar yoga school of thought). I'm banking on the idea that trusting my instincts is a good thing and though I sometimes feel a bit off kilter in comparison to x, y, and z, words like yours remind me that all we can be is true to ourselves.


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