Yoga's Eight Step Mindful Parenting Program

Map It’s all very well to talk about how yoga can help us become better parents for our children but how?  Do we really think that a bunch of yoga poses and a nice relaxing Savasana at the end will turn us into zen parents, oozing loving kindness for our children at every turn?

Well, lucky for us, behind all the yoga classes, the poses, the Namaste’s and Om Shanti’s there is the Yoga Sutras.  Written many thousands of years ago by a guy called Patanjali, it is a Sanskrit treasure trove of aphorisms that explain what yoga is, what it can do for you and how to go about it.  The "how to go about it" part is tucked away deep in the second chapter as a sort of ancient 8-step program to enlightenment, otherwise known as Ashtanga Yoga, or the eight limbs of yoga.

These eight limbs are:

1. Yamas - how we relate to others, a code of ethics

2. Niyamas - disciplines relating to your self, your own personal habits

3. Asana - the physical practice of yoga

4. Pranayama - breath control

5. Pratyahara - withdrawal of the senses, the direction of attention inwards

6. Dharana - concentration

7. Dhyana - meditation

8. Samadhi - liberation, bliss, transcendence

While I've referred to them as an 8-step program and listed them in a certain order, they are not a hierarchy and it's not necessarily a prescription of the order that they need to be practiced.  I have also learned that we don't want to see any one of the eight limbs as being more or less important than another.  We literally want to see the limbs as limbs of a tree and not as rungs on a step ladder.

If you are a yoga practitioner in the West today you are more than likely familiar with #3, Asana.  This is really the part of yoga that we can see and it is the most tangible and physically relatable part of the yoga practice.  While it is only one of the limbs, it is an important one as it shows that yoga is an embodied and experiential philosophy.  This is one aspect of yoga as a spiritual tradition and philosophy of the mind that differentiates it from many others.  Having Asana as one of the eight limbs of yoga highlights that here is a tradition that is to be lived and accessed with our physical body.  We engage with the words and ideas and concepts of this philosophy through our lived bodies.

The eight limbs of yoga is a roadmap to how we achieve a state of yoga in our lives.  A state of yoga is where our thoughts and activities of our mind are brought under control.  Our actions are more conscious and deliberate and feel less like we are being dragged and thrown around by whatever comes up in our minds and lives.

This is the lesson of yoga in our lives and we can take this eight limbed roadmap as a guide in the more defined area of parenting.  Parenting is an area that can challenge the calmest and most organised person.  It is a job that demands our focus and attention for more hours a day that we care to count.  It is physical, it is demanding, it is constant and it is personal.  Many of us feel that when we became parents, we were unprepared for just how much of our physical and energetic reserves we have to draw on for this role.  Yoga is an ancient technology that has been used over millennia to explore the human mind and the human condition.  While it is an Indian tradition that has been mostly practiced by men and now in the West it looks like a stretchy bendy aerobics mostly practiced by women, the philosophy of it is universal and I have found it's practices to be a helpful approach to relating to my children and my family.

I will explore the eight limbs in coming weeks, I hope you'll join me.

© 2015 Sandra Wang