Mom Things I Learn During Yoga #3: Trust Yourself

Whenever I’ve done yoga, no matter the style or instructor, one thing has always been consistent. When it comes to whether a pose is being done ‘right,’ my teachers have always referred to each student’s best judgment and understanding of their own body:

Only go as far as feels right for you.

If it hurts, let yourself ease up a little.

Don’t worry about how anyone else is doing the pose.

yoga relaxation poseThese sentiments are important: if I worry about how other people do a pose, and focus on making my practice look like someone else’s from the outside, I run the risk of, at best, separation from the inner focus and peace I could enjoy from the practice, and at worst, really injuring myself.

 

My prenatal yoga instructor once described parenting as a lot like doing yoga. She said you have to put the “blinders on” and not pay attention to what anyone else is doing, but rather feel what’s right for you and your family. While it’s great advice, it’s not always easy to do this; even if you mostly ignore the mommy blogosphere and reams of internet parenting advice, there are plenty of in-person opportunities for comparison in life. There are parents of the previous generation who share their past experiences and wisdom, friends or siblings with whom you parent side-by-side, and any number of peer parents you meet by chance out in the world. The idea of putting the “blinders on” might feel like isolating yourself, closing yourself off to new ideas and possibilities.

I don’t think this is what my instructor meant, though. Putting the blinders on isn’t sealing ourselves off from others – it’s giving ourselves a chance to collect our thoughts calmly in a safe space and feel what is right for us in any given situation. The key element, though, which the blinders can’t work without, is trust in ourselves. If we don’t trust our own intuition, our own judgment, our own expertise on our lives and our families, then we can’t expect to be comfortable enough with blinders on to make our own decisions. We’ll need those other parents, books, or blogs to tell us what is right.

And when we become mothers, trust in ourselves is not something we’ve been taught to hone, because it’s not something women generally are taught to cultivate in themselves. Women are still aligned in our culture with irrationality, emotional overreaction, and hormonal overwhelm. We’re taught to second-guess our desires, constantly re-evaluate our positions, and consider the conclusions and opinions of others more weightily than (or at best, on par with) our own. The poet Rupi Kaur perhaps describes this struggle best:

Rupi Kaur Quote

So trusting oneself doesn’t necessarily feel natural; it’s hard to do. It’s hard when someone says, “Oh, that baby sounds hungry,” to not feel pressure to feed my kid, or not to feel guilty that I’m not already doing so, even though I’m the one who’s with him all day and I know this isn’t his hungry cry. Or when a fellow parent explains with great conviction their approach to food/sleep/house rules/screen time/[insert-any-element-of-parenting-here], to not feel somehow exposed for not having a strategy of my own that I feel equally strongly about. These people probably aren’t even trying to imply anything about how I should be doing things – they’re just engaging in conversation. But it’s hard to get out of this dynamic, to truly trust and believe, deep down, that we do know ourselves, our situations, and our lives, better than anyone else does. That we will make a fine judgment call and don’t need anyone else’s approval.

But one place where it’s never difficult for me to do this is in yoga. When I’m practicing, it never occurs to me to look at or think about how other people are doing it – because I truly do believe there’s no ‘right’ way to do it that I have to live up to. I know intrinsically that my practice is about how I feel, not how I look or how I compare to others. Of course I’m the expert on my body experience and where the edge of the pose is for me – why would I look to anyone else for that? I engage with others in a group setting for new perspectives, guidance on visualizations, introductions to new poses, and the community experience of practicing together, but ultimately, I trust myself to actually do my yoga in the way that is best for me.

And when I think about it, I really think parenting is the same. There is so much we can, and should, learn from others – from older parents who’ve finished raising their kids, from fellow parents going through the same stages we are for the first time, or from writers and bloggers we’ve never met and will never meet who have invigorating ideas to share. But we can only truly learn from these experiences if, deep down, we place the ultimate trust in ourselves, our intuition, and our abilities to make good decisions. We know ourselves. We know our kids. We have what it takes.

Trust yourself.

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