Living Yoga & Baby Massage
Whilst I haven’t been practicing yoga through asana for the past few months, I was recently reminded that I have still practiced yoga through living and my baby massage work. I was reminded that my approach to life today has been cultivated through many of my own actions (though I previously would have said it was luck and none of my own doing), witnessing others’ actions and proactively surrounding myself with kinder messages inside and out.
My few months off from asana practice has been due to a relationship separation, which has sent me into a dark hole a few times but mostly left me with little energy for any physical movement. Unfortunate as, of course, the practice would likely help to ground me during the turbulence but such is the way with dark times.
I’ve felt guilty, ashamed and fraudulent for having not practiced as yoga is very much a part of my identity. This was until a brunch with a fellow yogi reminded me that yoga mostly takes place off the mat. The physical practice is just one small element of yoga, the rest is in the way we live.
My work today sees me working with parents and their babies teaching swimming and massage, both of which provide a number of physiological advantages but also, and most importantly for me, emotional and mental wellbeing benefits for every participant. My baby massage courses are 5-weeks long with a small intimate group of up to eight babies and their parents, allowing for all of the variants that can happen when a little human is involved.
Whilst I teach the massage strokes, the most important element for me is to provide a space for parents to feel safe to be themselves and comfortable for their babies to express themselves too. By trying to create a relaxed environment during the initial icebreaker and the practical element, my aim is to maintain an open, flexible space. Then we talk. A wonderful part of the IAIM courses is the great attention on discussions, opening up, sharing, understanding and feeling heard.
Motherhood and womanhood is tough, it always has been and living in London, where it’s not the norm to make time to open yourself up and show vulnerability makes it harder. We don’t share our difficulties easily for fear of being judged and we aren’t always receptive to someone else’s because we are too busy or too scared of what it might bring on.
During the dedicated discussion portion of my sessions, I raise a topic along with some open-ended questions to encourage thoughts and personal shares. Some parents are happy to lead and open the chat, whilst others hang back and understandably tow the British line of reservation until they’re gently prompted. And then often the group discussion flows freely and into something really insightful, touching and not without some laughs.
As per my slogan, I want to help create meaningful connections and make it known that the difficulties you face will be understood or at the very least, accepted, so you need not be scared to ask for help or show vulnerability in the future. This works in a beautifully full circle way because as someone shows understanding to someone in need, they have mindfully taken the time to give a little of themselves away and in return, felt helpful and more often than not, will receive a similar reception when it’s their turn; a symbiotic act of giving and receiving, which truly benefits everyone.
The loveliest and most rewarding part of my work is when a group comes together to offer true support and love to a struggling parent, through the kindest of words, looks and an unspoken connection through their small shared moment.
Through significant personal past experiences and my work today seeing and meeting all types of people, my approach to life is now much more open and forgiving. I’m sure (and actually know) some would find my eternal optimism and seeing the good in the world and people as odd, naïve and potentially dangerous but having lived the other way, constantly in a fear of sorts and scepticism of people’s nature, this is a much lighter and happier way for me.
Showing my whole self to others is still frightening and a continuous work in progress but I’ve learnt that the more I put out in the universe, the more I gratefully receive. Yoga is a way of living, shown by the first two of the eight limbs, Yama and Niyama, in Ashtanga lineage tradition.
Yama means moral discipline or abstinences and covers five universal practices; Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (the right use of energy) and Aparigraha (non-greed or non-attachment).
Niyama means observances and looks at your inner world; Saucha (cleanliness), Santosa (contentment), Tapas (self-discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Ishvara Pranidhana (dedication or surrender).
I’ve found that I now actively seek a world that allows me to be me and to feel how I feel. I have to use external reminders that this is all ok, because as someone living in the modern Western world I too can easily get sucked into universal conformity and disconnect from my own self. An equal part of this seeking involves putting myself out there, as I am, in all my possible naive and over-trusting glory. This sounds pretty basic and obvious as rules for living goes but sometimes it’s not so easy to silence the unhelpful noise of the world while still wanting to live in the contented parts of it - and so I have to practice and proactively search for the environment I want to live in.
Take and practice the Yamas and Niyamas with you into the world as you live, and surround yourself with the kind of messages, work and people you want for a lighter, happier life. Show kindness and compassion to others, and yourself, through even the smallest of acts, and you’ll find yourself practicing yoga through living.