Six years ago, when my body mutinied against the rigors of Stairmaster and daily jogging, I took up yoga. I quickly came to love the inner peace and physical flexibility it gave me. Since then I have taken roughly 900 yoga classes (not that I’m bragging…well ok, yes, maybe I am).
My studio is an intense heated room flow practice that eschews mirrors and even discourages looking at other participants. The goal is inside you: no competitiveness with others, no “right” way to practice yoga. So, for the first several hundred classes, I barely looked at others taking poses a few feet away.
As a result, I felt inadequate for years mainly because of one pose: wheel. In wheel, you lie on your back, belly button sky ward, and try to hoist yourself up on your hands and feet in a reverse arch.
It took over a year for me to do one single wheel. I felt like a loser because I just don’t have the right combination of core and upper body strength to hold wheel for the rigors of 10 long breaths, repeated four to five times in the space of three minutes. I always go up into wheel later than the teachers’ prompt and I exit the pose embarrassingly early.
For years, I thought I was the only one who couldn’t quite get this pose “right.”
Then one day, after I flopped down mid-wheel, I snuck a sacrilegious look around the studio.
There were at least 30 women in the room in addition to me.
How many were up, holding wheel?
Everyone else was lying on their backs, staring at the ceiling, eyes averted or closed in shame, probably feeling as shitty as I was.
Turns out I am not the only weakling loser at Down Dog. We all are! Well, at least 99% of us.
I felt so good that I popped right up into the strongest wheel of my yoga career.
All this reminds me of motherhood. I’ve spent 16 years trying not to judge other mothers. I have tried not to even LOOK at how they are approaching motherhood. I’ve always figured they were mostly doing motherhood better than I was.
As a result, I inadvertently made myself feel terrible about my own parenting – because, just like in yoga class, I assumed everyone else was getting it close to perfect. No one else was yelling at her kids the way I was. No one else dreamt of sleeping late, in a quiet house, once her kids were grown and gone. No one else watched one more episode of Breaking Bad instead of going to help with math homework. No other mother ever looked at a pregnant woman and felt sorry for her future.
Since that day, I look around yoga class a lot. I’ve noticed that even the most skilled yogis make mistakes – an awkwardly bent leg, a crooked bind, a back arched in ways that will eventually lead to the chiropractor.
I’ve noted also that spanking-new beginners can be unusually flexible and intuitively get a pose perfect on the first try, without even trying. In other words, everyone does some stuff right and some stuff wrong. No one is 100% perfect, and no one is 100% terrible.
I’ve also come to appreciate that in most yoga classes, the teacher gives shout outs of encouragement to individuals. In some classes, there is even an assistant who silently roams the room, offering gently “adjustments” to each pose. Wouldn’t motherhood be so much better if we all did the same thing? Can you imagine if we gave other moms shout outs of encouragement when we saw them doing something brilliant, and offered kind, subtle tips for ways to mother more gently and effectively in times of distress?
So the moral of the story is maybe, just maybe, it is okay to sneak a peak at other moms’ parenting styles. To look closely at how they master, and sometimes fail to master, motherhood. To judge them, even. To feel good about what we do right. To accept that we are all doing a few poses dead wrong. To admit that we are clueless ourselves at times. To help our fellow moms, who are in fact our mirrors.
The teachers often tell us, “It’s called yoga practice for a reason – not yoga perfect.” Ah, if we could just adopt the same approach to motherhood.