From the eyes of a mother: Yoga, exercise and wellness
All I ever wanted was to be a mother. I was 34 when I had my first child and now I have three beautiful children, Freddie, Beatrice and Florence. Raising them and staying sane is the hardest thing I have ever done and will probably ever do in my life.
To be honest, up until I had children all I ever really thought about was myself. I would spend hours a day practising yoga, gosh it was so indulgent! I would clean and hoover before my practice, as the right environment had to be created, incense, music etc. Oh, how times have changed, as I roll out my mat brushing aside the crisps and crumbs from beneath it! But during those years I remember going to an Ashtanga yoga workshop, learning about the discipline of a daily practice.
In Ashtanga yoga, you are meant to practise two hours a day six days a week! I questioned this with regards to when you have children and those 6 am yoga slots are just not available anymore. The teacher’s response was along the lines of “As long as the intention is there that’s all that matters. It’s when you stop rolling out the mat that you have a problem.” He said “You roll out the mat, wherever you are and your practice might be standing at the top of the mat taking five deep breaths, or you might just be getting into your flow and you are needed elsewhere to deal with demands of your children. But no matter how long or how deeply you practise the intention is there”. I have thought about this a lot over the last six years and take great comfort from this.
I can be very hard on myself at times, as I am sure we all can. The self talk that I am not doing enough yoga, exercise or whatever can often be so loud, but at the end of the day, I try to remember that there is only so much energy to go around and that children take up a huge amount of that!
So yes, life has become very hectic since becoming a mother to my three children who are now 5, 3 and 2. If only I had a pound for every time someone said, “Gosh you’ve got your hands full” as I fly past like some mad woman leading a travelling circus. It is so very hard at times and can sometimes be overwhelmingly stressful. Even as I write this at 6.30am I have my youngest awake and I can hear her pouring water from cups, it’s bought me ten minutes to write this but it will involve ten minutes of clearing up! It is relentless, which is why holding on to regular yoga practice has been so vital to my health and helps to create a pillar of wellness for me.
Dr Julie Smith’s book “Why has no one told me this before?” talks about building resilience to the stress of life whether it’s motherhood or not. She describes the importance of working on your defence players. These players in your game of life are what will help you cope with the curve balls that motherhood throws at you. They are all the small, simple actions and choices you take on a daily basis to protect yourself from basically losing your sh*t and falling down that slippery slope into low mood and depression. Food, sleep, time to self, good relationships, exercise, time outdoors, etc. They don’t offer huge instant rewards but over time, put together, they are what protect you and keep you afloat. I feel with motherhood, it is vital to keep your defence up. Some of these areas become shattered in an instant, like your sleep, for example, you have no say over that with newborn babies, or even five year olds for that matter, crawling into your bed in the middle of the night. Other areas become eroded over time, like your diet. That feeling when there doesn’t seem enough time to make a meal for yourself and your dinner ends up being you eating humous straight from the tub. But for me my biggest defence player is exercise and exercise outdoors is even better. It has always been and always will be a non negotiable defence player. I have always kept up my exercise, even after a sleepless night, weary and bruised to the bone. I still get up and I move my body, there is no other decision to be made. Whether it was a run outside in the sun pushing the buggy, or grabbing a quick yoga flow whilst the baby napped and now, being able to drop them all off at school and nursery, I am able to enjoy some great gym sessions as a kick start to my day, which in turn has a positive impact on my mental wellbeing and hence my ability to mother in a calm and patient way.
Having said that, motivation and creating habits are tricky things to establish. You aren’t born with motivation. You have to start something and once you get into the flow that is when the motivation comes and that is when the habit starts to stick. I have always been a lover of routine so for me, an easy way of creating a habit that I want to maintain is to stack the habit onto a task that I already do daily. During the lockdowns when no one was doing anything in the evenings I really started to develop my meditation practice. I piggybacked my mediation practice to the end of the childrens’ bedtime ritual and in doing so it has meant that the meditation nearly always happens. My children’s bedtime is roughly the same every night and before I take them up, I roll out my mat, (in front of the fire in winter or out in the garden in summer) and once they all are asleep and before I do anything else; make a snack or check emails, I get on my mat. Sometimes falling face down with complete exhaustion, sometimes quietly sitting for ten minutes before drifting into sleep, and other times I am more alert and half an hour simply flies by. But either way, I come to my mat, resting within myself, with gratitude for this small window in my day where it’s just my mat, my body and my breath.
I believe we all mother in one way or another; putting other people first, caring about friends, or looking after older relatives, in my eyes that’s all mothering. So to all you amazing mothers out there, and I don’t just mean those of you who have children. Make sure you practise self-care and look after yourself, it is not being selfish. I have realised that no one else can do the self care work for you, you have to be the one to put in the hours and the energy into your own wellbeing. And if no one is walking through your day at the end of the day to make you a cup of tea or simply ask about your day, remember you have the resilience to do and be the most amazing person. You have got this! Happy Mothers Day EVERYONE!
Dedicated to the three loves of my life, Freddie, Beatrice and Florence.