I am writing this article from the poolside in Ubud, shortly after having attending a wonderful morning yoga class. I left the yoga class inspired in my own leadership journey, and inspired to write this article for you. Yoga and mindfulness has been an invaluable tool in my parenting and leadership, and it infuses my approach to my work with Lead Mama Lead.
In this article I will share with you some of the benefits of yoga and mindfulness, and how these can benefit you in your leadership and your parenting journeys.
Essentially yoga and mindfulness are approaches that enable you to live fully in the present moment, letting go of what has come before you, and what might come after. Of course, this is not an easy process, but yoga and mindfulness use gentle techniques to guide you into living more fully in the moment, and free yourself from the self talk goes on in your head. The shoulds. The coulds, The what ifs. The misinterpretations. The self reproaches. The guilt. In yoga philosophy and in Buddhism it is said that our suffering comes, not from the challenges that we face, but in our response to those challenges and in how we interpret them.
I have been slowly learning these lessons for a decade now. When I came to yoga I had a very active, stress-filled and worrisome mind. The challenges of growing up with poverty and mental illness in my home translated into a mind that was quick to anger, quick to worry, quick to assume the worst, and quick to misinterpret events to be more negative than they really were. While I cannot say that I have freed myself from all of these- yoga or mindfulness practices are lifelong commitments- I can say that the mind I live with today is almost unrecognisable from the one that it has evolved from.
Today, in my class, the teacher told us “When we learn to be really present, in this moment, we let go in the shoulds and the musts. These our the source of our suffering. These are the source of our stress and our tension.” I’ve heard some form of this teaching countless times over my years of classes. And I’ve observed this in myself over the years of my practice. Yet I still find relevance and inspiration in this teaching. In the past it has been in my parenting. Today it was relevant to where I am at with my leadership journey.
So much of the source of our strength as mothers is a result of thoughts that go in our heads. We sit their with a sleepless baby and think “You should be sleeping through by now” and “I must be doing something wrong.” Or at work we think “I must stay at my desk longer to be taken seriously” or “I should take this work meeting on my day off, rather than ask for it to be rescheduled to accommodate my needs” We get caught up in the stress of the shoulds and the musts, and this affects how we experience the present moment.
Of course, these shoulds and musts are not entirely of our own making. Our culture and our workplaces dictate what we think we should and should not do. So our society and our workplaces bear some responsibility in changing for the better. But we can also change our society and our workplaces by letting go of the shoulds and the musts, and by having the courage to listen to what we need in that present moment. Whether that is to just be with your child in the middle of the night, or leave your desk early so you can see your child before they go to sleep.
When my son was toilet training, it was a huge source of stress for me. He was very very late. Nothing was working. He didn’t seem to feel his own body. And he didn’t seem to be motivated. I was stressed and angry and resentful each time I had to clean sh*t of his underpants. I remember watching my thoughts as I was cleaning “He should have learned this by now. I am so sick of cleaning up sh*t. This will go on forever. I must be doing something wrong………” and so it went. I remember catching myself quite a few times and reminding myself to let go. Not think about the past. Not think about the future. Just breath and let go. All that stress did not change the outcome of the toileting. He took as long as he needed. It was only the stress that I could control, so I tried to remind myself to let go of it.
Similarly, when I was unhappy in my job I spent a great deal of time and energy worrying about how things should be different. “I should not be so undervalued. My talents should be recognised. I should have a solution to this now.” Of course, these were valid thoughts. But by getting caught up in them, I grew more and more resentful. There came a point that I just had to let go and trust that the work I was doing in the present would help me find a solution. I had to let go of the stress, and trust that my actions in the present were leading me where I wanted to go.
The beauty of adopting a yoga or mindfulness practice is that it is way to take care of yourself and your needs. But in doing so it also gives you the space between your negative thoughts and your actions which allows you to be a better parent, and enables you to be a better leader. With so many of us mothers finding it difficult to put ourselves first, it can be useful to frame the benefits of these self care practices in terms of others. Yoga and mindfulness practices are valuable self-care practices that support your parenting and your work. Making the time for yourself, not only puts yourself first, but it also puts your children and your work first too.
I am a more balanced mother and a more insightful and skillful leader as a result.
If you haven’t tried these approaches yourself, I encourage you to start exploring. There is such a variety of practices- from acro-yoga to singing bowl meditation, from ecstatic dance to restorative yoga- that you will surely find one that works for you and your particular nature.
Take this topic further:
- The best place to start is by attending some casual classes in your own community. Experiment and find one that works for you.
- Buddism for Mothers by Sarah Napthali is a wondeful read, full of practical advice on how to let go of all those shoulds and musts and just be present
- Everyday Blessings is another beautiful book that can help you bring mindfulness into your parenting
- Mindful Leadership explores how mindful approaches can make you a better leader