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What Yoga taught me about Parenting


I love yoga. After each practice, I feel stronger, more flexible, calmer and I’ve had an hour to quietly think about life. Often the instructors talk about yoga as a metaphor for life and in a recent class, my teacher, Lexy, was speaking about the importance of abhyasana, consistent practice. The only way to continue to build, improve and transform one’s ability to do yoga is through consistent practice. As I work with The Parent Practice, I started thinking about how consistent practice is what is required as we go through our own parenting transformations.

In yoga, as in life … and especially in parenting, perfection does not exist. As Madeline Levine so beautifully says in The Price of Privilege:

There is no perfect Christmas, child, outfit, family, vacation, home, marriage, or friendship. This is real life, and we would do well to cast the notion of perfection out of our lives and get on with the real business of living with strengths and weaknesses, abilities and deficits, accomplishments and failures. This is how we help our children learn the art of living: by encouraging them, to take pleasure from their efforts and successes and to tolerate their limitations.

There is no perfect headstand, and there is no perfect parent! Yet, when we look around, it always feels like everyone else is doing a better job than we are! We compare, we judge, we hold ourselves up to an unattainable standard.

In last Thursday’s class, the instructor was talking about how she’ll never be President or play at Wimbledon. That won’t be the route her life takes her. Her journey – like your parenting journey – will be your own. And, as she said, it can be awfully hard not to look at the person beside you doing the most beautiful crow position when you can barely touch your toes and not feel somewhat lacking. But, that’s not what yoga – or parenting – is about. And, the moment we stop comparing ourselves and judging others, we can all be supportive of each other no matter where we are along the way. And we can start the consistent practice of using positive parenting skills. Here are three simple things you can put into practice right now. Choose just one for this week!

1. Prompts

We live busy lives and we easily fall back into automatic patterns of behavior. Sometimes all we need is a simple prompt to remind us to use new skills. Here’s one that I used to use in my kitchen while building the habit to consistently remember to comment on the positive behaviors that I appreciate in my child. I had a bunch of elastic band on one knob of a kitchen cabinet, and when I descriptively praised my child, I moved a rubber band to the other knob. The trick is to have LOTS of rubber bands. Remember, the magic ratio for positive:negative comments needs to be at least 5:1. Now I simply keep the elastics there as a reminder … the habit is now pretty well established!

2. Rules and Routines

While it may not always seem to be true, children love responsibility and the feeling of being trusted to do things by (and for) themselves and for their family. When rules and routines are visible … and when we are remembering to use descriptive praise as acknowledgement (e.g. thanks for setting the table) our children are much more likely to be motivated to follow them. Eventually, with practice, the things that started off as rules and routines become habits. Make sure your rules and routines are clear, simple and stated in the positive. Most importantly, make sure that you are consistently following up with descriptive praise (see #1). This will leave your child feeling good about him/herself, and they will be much more likely to want to cooperate.

3. Pause Button

When your own emotions get hijacked and you start to feel like you’re about to handle a situation in a way that you’re not likely to feel good about, hit your pause button. We all know that it is so much easier said than done … and with practice, yes, consistent practice, it gets easier. Whether you need to take some deep breaths, splash some water on your face, envision a ‘happy place’ or use a mantra to keep you centered, pausing gives you the choice to respond positively, rather than reacting in a way that you end up regretting. I quite literally say to myself: “Choose”. That buys me that split second to ensure that what happens next is absolutely up to me.

When we start to use descriptive praise rather than evaluative praise, it can feel like a completely new language – for you as well as for your children. When we start to catch ourselves and empathize with our children rather than quickly getting mad, it can feel odd and perhaps a bit uncomfortable at first. And, if you’ve been in a yoga class and started off with not being able to touch your toes, then with the bit of practice, your toes get a bit closer until one day, you’ve done it … then there is something else to master.

Practice doesn’t make perfect. We all know there is no such thing as ‘perfection’ in parenting. Practice does, however, make better and easier … and therefore, more calm and more fun.