What’s the best way to practice yoga with a baby? The answer may surprise you.
When Eira was a newborn, I could place her on a blanket at the corner of my mat, where she would kick contently for a full 10 minutes if I was lucky. I could zip through a few Sun Salutations, cuddle her, and buy myself maybe another 5 minutes for a few Warrior poses.
Within 20 minutes of the practice, once she tired of lying in her sunny spot of our apartment, I would call it a day. This pattern held not only for yoga, but for any activity I tried to accomplish with my tiny baby.
But when Eira turned 4 months old, 10 minutes of uninterrupted flow became a distant dream. Eira was on the move, crawling all around my practice space. Despite our best efforts to baby-proof the apartment, our Snowpea seemed to have an eye for anything that could possibly hurt her: She’d lunge after stray wires, attempt to remove outlet covers, and scavenge for leaves from houseplants.
Try as I might to teach Eira all that is shiny, pointy, and glittery is not gold, she still managed to find trouble. And when she began pulling herself up – and falling – on every piece of furniture, it only made practice more impossible.
In the rare, precious moments when Eira napped long enough, I let myself loose on my mat. But even when I moved the way I did pre-baby, I still felt foreign to my body. And even though I looked the same on the outside as I did before Eira, I still felt like a stranger in my own skin.
The feeling of change was subtle – not the full-blown physical disorientation I felt fresh out of the hospital from birthing, but it was present nonetheless. I couldn’t point to anything physically that had dramatically changed aside from my hair being slightly darker and my eyes looking more tired. Time and a little movement would surely help me to feel me again.
“If I could just have a solid hour to practice, I’ll feel in my body again,” I would think.
I had to try holding handstands and running 7:30-minute miles just to know I that I could. But just because I could didn’t mean it was the right practice for me at the moment.
What was right for me, it felt, was the practice I could feasibly squeeze into the moments that Eira allowed – a few rounds of Cat and Cow to start the day, five minutes of lying over a bolster before Eira awoke from a nap, a bit of Yoga Nidra at night before drifting off to sleep. And if Snowpea didn’t allow me to do Savasana, I could simply meditate on her movements, attempting to stay wide-eyed and fully in the moment as I watched over her.
Soon, the boundary between what was and what wasn’t my yoga practice began to blur.
Could yoga be practicing patience as Eira fought her bedtime routine? It certainly could. Could yoga be holding, rocking, and singing softly to my Snowpea after a tumble? Absolutely. Could yoga mean staying present, grounded, and centered day by day as Eira quickly grew and changed? Yes, that also seemed fitting.
In the Spring, when we planted our family in my hometown, I had grown to appreciate my new approach to practicing yoga with a baby – one embraced moment-to-moment mindfulness. And in my hometown, surrounded by wildflowers, wine grape vines, and my parents’ arms that opened wide for their first granddaughter, I finally began to feel at home in my body once again.
Finding ease in my new skin 11 months after giving birth was not a consequence of being able to move without a baby in my arms. Rather, the reminder of what the safety and support of home felt like was enough to bring me back. Although our time in Carbondale was quick-lived, I can still access the memory of my hometown in my body here in El Paso and wherever our next destination may be.
One year out from Snowpea’s memorable entry into our lives, my yoga practice is still far from perfect. But if I’ve learned anything from yoga and mindfulness, it’s that every moment is a new opportunity to start again.
So, how do you practice yoga with a baby? Simply stated: By practicing the imperfect art of parenting with presence.