What is Yoga?

As I unrolled my yoga mat this morning, Jack said, “I wanna practice with you!”

“Are you just trying to get out of starting your lessons?”, was my immediate response.

“No! I really want to practice,” he said. 

I hid my disappointment that I wouldn’t have my mat-time to myself, and instructed him into tadasana.

I have said, over these past months, that 8 has revealed itself as the age of independence without forethought, after a string of perfectly avoidable accidents propelled by curiosity. But my 8 year old surprised me today. 

As we moved through our sun salutations together, it was obvious to me that he understood how his breath could help him find the momentum to transition with ease. The jumpy, floppy, childlike movements I remember have smoothed out somewhat. His limbs moved with poise and self-possession. And while I still made it engaging and fun, progressing from a slug to an earthworm to a cobra in bhujangasana, I found it less necessary to corral his attention.

At one point during our session, while we were lying on our backs, Junior took a playful puppy jaunt across us and stomped on Jack. We had to take a moment to reset after some frustrated tears. We were almost finished up, so I put Junior in his crate so we could continue without injury, and I lead Jack through a guided relaxation in savasana. 

When we were done, I asked how he was feeling. He said, “Much better! And this time savasana was the best part!” I realized it was true, that even for how upset he had been about Junior’s clumsy puppyness a few minutes before, he’d been able to regulate and lie completely still. No twitches, no fussing. He had lain completely at ease until I cued him to come up to sit. That had never happened before. 

Jack has been practicing yoga since, basically, in utero. He has grown up, since birth, in a yoga studio. His relationship to yoga started out as playful handstands as a toddler and eventually grew into a way to move around and have fun with some friends. Our home practice together, whether motivated by my desire to connect with him or him with me, usually devolved into him climbing all over me while I did my best to complete the cycle, or him wandering off all together. 

It’s been awhile since Jack has unrolled a mat. A few weeks or so. To a yogi, especially a devout one, that’s a pretty long time. And yet, it is clear that his practice is developing, as it has always been. The way growth happens: slowly, imperceptibly, beneath the surface and often in spurts. Jerks and hiccups and clumsy awkwardness can appear, on the outside, to be carelessness; but more likely they’re just signs of learning to fit into growing skin. 

This revelation was huge for me.

The way that I was taught, yoga is something you do with dedication and consistency. Practice is a sacred act to be done in a clear space, away from distractions. This is what my teachers said, what the ancient texts say. While asana is only a small part of it, it is something to be done daily and with austerity. It is a practice of uniting with the Divine whole and should be approached as such. 

Over these 8 years as Jack’s mom, my own practice, too, has changed so much. I meditate while my french press brews in the morning, right on the kitchen floor. I sometimes skip the mat and do my asana practice in the midst of a pile of Lego. I handstand in the kitchen while making dinner (a little energy boost to get me through the rest of the evening.) 

The idea of separating from distractions is a joke. Instead, I’ve learned to incorporate them. Outside, airplanes fly by overhead, birds chirp, Fishtown yells. Inside, I have 2 cats, a puppy, and a kid. But it’s all me, right? Tat tvam asi: the planes, the birds, all of it. If the intention of yoga is to connect with the Divine, the Brahman, the whole; well, it’s all part of it. I don’t have a cave to hide out in (though believe me, sometimes I wish I did!) I’ve come to believe that approach is missing the point.

Today, when I unrolled my yoga mat, I was slightly annoyed when my son asked to join me. And then, he revealed himself the teacher, and reminded me why I practice. It is not to become perfect, and not to renounce pleasure. It’s not to escape, either. I wouldn’t want to. Rather, I practice to dissolve into the truth that we are all in this Life together, growing and shifting and awkwardly tripping, sometimes falling, and rising up to catch each other, and loving. 

Signs of Life

It’s been soggy and gray for days. Finally, the faintest glow of sunshine is gleaming through the veil of fog. The plants and trees are loving every bit of it. I planted something unexpected in each of our garden beds the other day, when it first got warm.

Under the shady pink cherry blossom, a dusty purple helleborus, which I discovered later is also called Lenten Rose. Under the male ginko, a bright pink carnation which Jack had chosen, “for a little pop of color”. And under the golden raintree, a plant with white and purple flowers that we both agree look like squid until they bloom.

I sprinkled wildflower seeds in fresh soil beneath our new young cherry blossom (whose flowers, it turns out, are white), and finally watered the unforgiving prickly pear taking over the containers outside the studio. Where there was a tiny bit of space, I dropped a yellow snapdragon. I don’t know if it stands a chance against the fierce boundaries of the cactus, but I’m from Philly, and here, we know how to root for the underdog.

I hope that, even for the heavy March sky, you can feel it in the air when you walk by. A reminder to take a deep breath and go on.