On Love, Lineage, and Motherhood
About a year ago, I gave birth to Tavishi, a courageous little monkey. She was so eager to greet the world that she almost came out in the car. It took all my yogic prowess to breathe through the most harrowing ride of my life, get on all fours once we got to the hospital, tell my husband to hold my glasses (I don’t know why I remember this detail), and push her out with a primal force that felt bestowed upon me from above. The next 24 hours were a mix of euphoria and pain. Awe and blood. Sweet relief and fear. I was a mother.
Once we arrived home, we were blessed by a cocoon of support. Family and friends came to midwife our new family. I spent the next several weeks learning how to breastfeed, figuring out my daughter’s favorite sleepytime songs (Beyonce, Bollywood, and Rage Against The Machine), having incredibly painful poops, and googling things like lochia. My postpartum experience was wild and unruly. Perhaps by design. The love I feel for my child borders on madness, and perhaps mothers need the postpartum hormonal cocktail to fall that madly in love. I cried a lot. I shed my hair. I somehow found the strength to wake up time and time again to tend to the needs of a new life despite my own exhaustion.
During this time, I also found my way back to my asana practice. I still remember the first downward dog I took after giving birth. It was glorious. Practice felt simultaneously liberating and grounding. Sometimes it would take me hours to finish, taking breaks to nurse, change a poopy diaper, rock our monkey back to sleep. And yet it felt important to be there. On my mat. Rediscovering my body. I also started to understand lineage in a new way. After the birth, my parents came to spend a few weeks with us. My mother cooked our meals and gave her granddaughter nightly oil massages and baths. My father bought groceries and expertly rocked his granddaughter to sleep with his signature hum. Being in their presence, watching them embody their new roles so effortlessly, made me realize my place in the parampara. I am a link in the chain. A bead in the mala. A petal in the mandala.
It’s within this context that I’ve spent the last year observing what’s happening in and to our global ashtanga yoga community. A few months after the birth, I made my way back to the shala to teach. Between holding space for the community and taking care of Tavi, I haven’t had the energy to make public comments about the revelations of abuse or the mishandling of power. Instead, I’ve quietly read and reflected, and I’ve gathered with our shala community to process together. All the while, I’ve kept practicing, gathering strength from the students and friends who bless me with their wholehearted presence on and off the mat.
Why practice? Because practice illuminates our discomforts. It makes our bodies come alive. It gifts us with breath. It breaks open our hearts. I remember a particularly challenging practice while I was still on maternity leave, in which I was finally able to finish while Tavi slept curled up beside me. As I took my last deep breaths and felt her presence, a wall that had been protecting some part of my heart fell and tears began to flow. The words ‘you are enough’ came to me and as I looked at my daughter, I realized that my greatest responsibility was to instill in her a sense of her own enoughness. I see now that this is my greatest responsibility as a teacher as well. To impart the practice in a way that empowers and heals, bringing a grounded sense of self and connection to the tribe.
At the shala, we face each other while we practice. There are no altars. We make it a practice to sit in circle regularly. We see each other. We hear each other. We feel each other. We trigger each other. We find ways to resolve conflict. We’re imperfect. And we continue to show up. Much has been said about why certain teachers in our lineage haven’t spoken up about the troubling and traumatizing events that have recently come to light. I feel that frustration from time to time as well. And at the same time, I see friends and colleagues guiding shalas around the world with care and authenticity. These are small, thriving, inclusive communities of loving people, led by attentive and careful teachers. They are living the practice. Perhaps looking for an authority to guide us through this turbulent time is not the way. It’s easy to confuse discipline with love, and postural proficiency with heartfelt presence. Perhaps looking inward and to each other is the way, because transformation doesn’t happen from the top down. It emerges from a spirit of adventure and within the context of relationship.
Becoming a mother has catalyzed my personal and spiritual growth more significantly than any other event in my life. Tavishi teaches me every day what it means to surrender and to forgive. There are moments while I teach that I see each student in the room as a child, innately enough and so worthy of love, the miracle of breath enlivening all of us. A mother’s love is fierce. Simultaneously gritty and vulnerable. We are not afraid of mess. We wipe away the poop and the snot while singing. So it is with practice. We chant, we breathe. We cry, we heal. We honor, not conquer, our bodies. We pee a little while standing up from a backbend. We see in our children all that we have to learn. And we smash the patriarchy by honoring our maternal instincts. Now would be a good time for all the mothers who practice and teach to take our rightful place in this lineage. Our communities need our gentleness, our strength, and our love.