The Yoga of Parenting
Last week I sat down with Mandy Eubanks, founder of Tulsa’s Everyone Yoga School, to talk about the Yoga of Parenting. Mandy is a mother of one (with another on the way this spring!), and has over 12 years of yoga teaching experience. She is certified to teach pre-natal yoga through OmMama as well as a Trauma Informed Yoga Therapist and Overcoming Anxiety Clinic Facilitator. Plus she’s a pure joy to be around!
Our conversation about the Yoga of Parenting was enlightening—I feel like I probably need to hear Mandy talk about self-care and nervous system regulation over and over again. She is a wealth of parenting wisdom! Today, I’m so excited to get to share these insights with you.
Let’s get to it!
Hello Sunshine: So how do you feel yoga and parenting coincide?
Mandy Eubanks: I think that I’d have to start by outlining what yoga is. I think there’s a real misconception about this, about yoga just being a physical practice, something that we do to stretch our bodies out or get stronger. And that’s a really super important and great part of it, but the part that really helps parenting is what we can do with our nervous system through meditation and self care. So we can use these yogic practices like deep breathing, meditation, becoming aware of our thoughts and reactions, it’s awareness, intuition. And we can use the yoga tools to help us be more joyful in our parenting life. So you know doing downward facing dog for 5 breaths, that’s a tool to help us get centered in our body so that we can be present with our child. There’s more to it than stretching our hamstrings, it’s really a whole-person experience so that you can fully relate to your own little person.
HS: Do you ever do yoga with your daughter?
Mandy: Yeah, you know she does some downward dogs, she knows cobra pose, but she loves chanting and mudras—which is yoga with your hands. And if you ever look at newborn babies they’re always doing mudras, playing with their hands. So the fingertips, feet, lips and our tongue have more sensory ends than any other part of our body, so it’s natural for us to play with the ends of our fingers. So 5000 years ago the yogis figured this out: if you put your hands in different positions, then you can change the way you feel inside. Sometimes you can’t just drop into downward facing dog in the middle of the grocery store when your toddler’s having a tantrum, but you can do little mudras to help get your centered and the respond in a way that can be helpful for them. So yeah, my daughter does some yoga and deep breathing, mostly just getting her to calm down. Yeah the kids love it, and they’re so open to it too. More so than us parents!
HS: Can you explain how to do a mudra? And what would be a better way to react when your child starts throwing a tantrum or pulling things off shelves at the grocery store?
Mandy: I know that you can’t just let them destroy everything so that you can stand there and breathe, but there’s a small gap of a time, but you also want to make sure that you’re not just reacting to them. Because they’re going to feel your reaction and they’re going to amp up even more. So the biggest thing is centering yourself by thinking: “I can feel my body, I can feel my breath,” and you probably have time to take one big deep breath. Then you can help you to see that they are acting this way for a reason and guide them from that point. You know, if you ask yourself: are they tired? Are they hungry? Are they overstimulated? Have I pushed them too far today? These are all clues, and they’re also just exploring their environment as well.
So one example is the chin mudra. You can press the top of your pointer finger into the pad of your thumb, and curl your other 3 fingers into your palm. Squeeze gently and breathe.
HS: So are there things that we parents can do to train ourselves to respond to our kids in a healthier way?
Mandy: I totally do, and I think this is where self-care comes in. Self care can be really broad. So what does it look like? Well, in yoga it’s having some sort of daily practice, something that fills your own cup, gets you centered. So for me, I have a morning practice where I sit. Sometimes for 5 minutes, sometimes if I’m lucky it’s 20 minutes. I know when the new baby arrives it’s probably going to be like 30 seconds! But I really look at it like building up my resources. In times of when the kids are sick, family’s sick and you really just don’t have time to do something for yourself, you have this build up of resources. And you have a couple of key resources to reel you back in and help you get yourself centered. So self care is so major for mothers and parents. Especially if we’re getting really triggered by our little ones tantrums or their not listening.
I always check in with myself and ask: where am I not taking care of myself? Because I know that if I’m well rested, well fed, centered then I’m going to be way less reactionary and way more responsive to their needs. But when I’m on the fringe and a little crispy and burned out, then I’m a different parent. So I’ve got to check myself. And I don’t think that’s really a message that us mothers get, to put your own oxygen mask on first, and we’ve really got to let go of that guilt and shame around taking care of ourselves. Because the more we can take care of ourselves the more we can take care of others in the way that they need to be taken care of.
We need to talk about this as mothers so we can stop feeling guilty and start giving each other permission to take care of ourselves.
HS: So let’s talk a bit about the inclination we have as parents to want control our kids, how does yoga play into that idea?
Mandy: Yes, there’s a lot of letting go in yoga, but I think that’s a big misconception because yoga is also very much about helping us find appropriate boundaries. So if you come into a really deep stretch but your body is already maybe hyper-mobile in some area, you’re too loose, and you’re going deep into that that might not be necessarily healthy for you. So yoga helps you learn your own physical boundaries. So that’s a good place to start. The other thing that yoga teaches us is that we really don’t have that much control over our environment, over what’s happening around us, but what we can have control over is our thoughts and our responses. We can’t necessarily control our emotions—they’re there and they’re there for good reason—they’re good information for us. But we can learn how to relate to them and respond to them in appropriate ways that are going to help our little people.
HS: It’s interesting because if we can start to recognize those things in ourselves, then our kids might learn these great tools from us—could that be a way to shed some of our guilt? We’d be modeling this great behavior for our kids so they don’t have to unwire themselves like a lot of us parents have had to do over the years—you know, so they can feel okay with getting angry or frustrated sometimes.
Mandy: I love that. I love that you said unwiring ourselves because that’s what it has felt like in a lot of ways. And I think displaying anger and frustration in healthy ways is so important for our kids. So I learned this from my parenting guru, she says when you’re frustrated look up at the sky and shake your fists and say “I’m so frustrated right now!” instead of looking at your child and directing your frustration at them. It’s not about them. It’s about us. Or “I’m just so angry right now!” or “I’m just so tired, I don’t have anything else left in me to give right now.” You vocalize it but you don’t direct it at them. Then they see their parent be authentic and genuine and okay with themselves and what they’re feeling in the moment. And what would be even more cool is if they could see their parent do some self care or some nervous system regulation techniques—breathing, mudra, restorative yoga pose to help them recenter. You know, look at mom: she’s having this really intense emotion and she’s taking some time to get centered, little people are so observant and are soaking it in. The modeling seems really key to me. And that helps me with the guilt! If any guilt creeps in, that I should not be feeling this way, now I’m feeling like I shouldn’t take care of myself because there’s other things that I need to attend to, no. I’m also doing this to model. It changes the whole interaction. So, self care first.
I also think it’s really helpful for parents to have some sort of visual cueing, I have little timers that go off every afternoon on my phone, because afternoons are always a little wobbly for me, even before I was pregnant. So I have this reminder on my phone that says “breathe, stretch, rest, take care of yourself.” It’s permission. All the better if you’re lucky enough to have a friend call you everyday and ask, “hey, what are you doing in this moment to take care of yourself?” Maybe we can get there as a parenting community.
HS: Thank you so much, Mandy!
Mandy: You’re so welcome! Thank you.