Life doesn’t always go to plan, but we can find contentment—and peace—through yoga.
The rain hasn’t let up for days. There are muddy footprints everywhere. My two boys are home from school sick with colds. An excitable poodle we’re dog-sitting tailgates me from one room to the next. We’re all going stir-crazy. This wasn’t in the plan!
Alas, this is where I take a deep breath, have a little chuckle to myself and realise that raising a family is a lot like yoga. In family life, as in yoga, the practice of contentment, or Patanjali’s niyama santosha, plays an invaluable role. In simple terms, it’s the ability to feel satisfied with your “lot”. This doesn’t mean you’re bursting-out-of-your-skin-happy, but you have reached some level of acceptance of the present. In doing so, you start to find peace in your circumstances. For me, it can mean breaking down the chaos of family life into bite-sized chunks and finding comfort in spontaneous laughter, a homemade soup or reading a book aloud to the kids.
Contentment doesn’t mean that we surrender to complacency. Nor do we tolerate unhealthy relationships. We strive to grow and improve ourselves, and our relationships, but with patience—and an ability to sustain our spirits until our hopes are gratified.
In yoga, this could be accepting where you are on the day. It could be as simple as bending your knees in Downward Dog until your hamstrings warm up. Or it could be quite confronting, or unsettling, as I found when I sustained a hip injury a couple of years ago. I found it upsetting to have to take my practice right back to basics after a decade of dynamic vinyasas. But the journey forced me to be a little kinder to myself and really listen to my body. Many modifications later, I try not to take any asana for granted. And I relish a restorative class when my body needs it.
Santosha teaches us to expect the unexpected. Because, just like on the yoga mat, life can throw some curve balls.
About three years ago, our eldest son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome, manifesting in some social and learning difficulties. Strangely enough, my husband and I felt a great sense of relief at the time of his diagnosis, as we’d been terribly worried. But we did go through a grieving process before finally reaching acceptance. It was only upon this acceptance that we began to relax and fully appreciate the amazing and intelligent person our son really is.
Like our own little guru, our son has taught us to slow down, to find beauty in simplicity, to approach art and music with unbridled passion and to notice the first flowers of spring.
Like working with an injury on the yoga mat, my experience of parenting has forced me to readjust, and then readjust again. And by seeking contentment in each day as it presents itself—muddy footprints and all—I’ve unearthed great satisfaction in the places I least expected to find it.
Katie Sutherland is a Sydney-based freelance journalist and yoga practitioner. She favours a vinyasa flow yoga practice, predominantly Jivamukti and Power Yoga.