The first time I performed kid-attended yoga, my purple mat rolled out over our floor, all four of my children were awake. It ended quickly. Downward dog looked like bridge pose to my children, and my toddler twins started crawling underneath my body as my shaking legs struggled to hold my pose.
“Can I work out with you, mom?” my daughter Wren, who was six at the time, asked as I tried to swat the twins from underneath me.
“I only have one yoga mat,” I complained. “You can get at the very end, but don’t kick me. This is my workout time.”
Within minutes my feet were tangled in Wren’s arms, my son was asking if I was giving piggy back rides, and the twins were wailing because my body was no longer arched at the right angle for them to crawl underneath me.
“I quit,” I mumbled sullenly, and rolled up my yoga mat as the instructor on YouTube said we were just now finishing the warm-up.
My history with exercise is complicated. As a never-sit-still teen, who felt untethered when not moving, I put in a solid six to seven hours a day between drill team and trampolining.
My twenties found me without a trampoline or the ability to perform high kicks, so I ran around my neighborhood after dark for miles, walking when I could no longer keep pace, anything to keep moving.
Children brought my exercise to a near halt. Breastfeeding and sleep deprivation were my weight loss plan, but I missed the euphoric feeling of exercise and was too tired and strapped by responsibility to do anything about it. Finally, when the kids aged slightly, I knew in a way I couldn’t explain that I needed yoga.
“Why yoga?” a friend asked.
“Because I don’t want to do yoga,” I answered. “I don’t want to sit still. I draw my strength from running around like a madwoman. I think that’s a pretty good sign I need to be still, right?”
“Probably. I feel the same way, but I won’t face yoga.”
I did face it, Yoga with Adrienne, Pop Pilates that integrated yoga into the workout, the PsycheTruth YouTube channel where Sanela’s voice was so encouraging I wanted to weep. Anticipating a scenario where my children simply grew tired of joining in, I kept trying while they were awake only to have each session end like a bad game of Twister. Finally, I faced it alone at night when the kids were tucked in and I was assured at least two hours before someone awoke from night terrors or loneliness.
By nightfall when I rolled out my mat and followed the motions of the women on the screen, I was exhausted. I would only make it through half the workout before my body gave out, but by then my mind was too hyped to sleep. Suffering from the oxymoron of exhausted insomnia, I realized starting my workout at 9 p.m. every night to avoid the kids was not going to work.
“But this is all I have,” I complained to my husband. “I’ve tried in the morning, but they get up and follow me and it’s the same mess as nighttime when they are awake. I have to find that calm place, that inner stillness, and I cannot do that surrounded by four kids asking for scrambled eggs or treating my yoga like a game.”
My husband sympathized and, I think, was secretly grateful he could workout at his office gym. This puzzle, for the time being, went unsolved.
It’s another couple of years of late night jogs, squats while the kids bathe, and other small attempts to be physical again before I say, “Anyone want to do yoga?” The desire springs from months of longing when I truly desired the mat, the pain, the refreshing focus and the quiet that sometimes drove me mad, compelling me to fill it with words or sounds.
The living room falls silent, and my husband raises his eyebrows and cocks his head as if to ask, Why are you doing this?
I pulled out my yoga mat and Wren, who is now eight, says, “Really?”
I think, Why am I doing this? But I say, “Really.”
We share the mat and the rug, using the mat for our hands so we don’t slide flat like pancakes while doing downward dog. Sanela is focused on digestion today, and Wren keeps commenting on how good the stretches feel.
Of course, the other three make their way in, my six-year-old son mainly doing hand stands, the twins watching before they join. When I open my eyes again, I see one of my three-year-olds completely nude in child’s pose, giggling with pride. The other, wearing a green polka dot bikini in February, hasn’t shifted from warrior pose yet, waiting for me to look up and see her accomplishment.
We make it through the entire 22 minutes, all of us eventually shedding shirts, my post-baby belly hanging low when we bend. Wren reaches out to touch it while I lunge, and says, “I love this belly” before going back to her pose.
Even surrounded by my children, I don’t feel the angst I did before when their presence during my workout felt oppressive. My body relaxes, I pay attention to my breath, and all of the kids fall into a routine, their own rhythm keeping them engaged.
For years I have put off yoga because of its focus on blocking out distractions and focusing inward, the sacred practice of slowing to a near halt while still pushing the body. That couldn’t be possible, not for me, not with so much noise around me.
It occurs to me, though, as I watch my children perform yoga, uninhibited on the living room floor, that something strange has happened. I have found my inner stillness, my calm place, in the most unexpected place of all: among the chaos of my own life.
We roll up the mat and Wren asks if we will do this again.
“Yes,” I say, “we will,” and I realize as the words escape my mouth that I am actually looking forward to keeping that promise, that yoga has become more than me seeking a place removed from the activity of everyday life. It’s become a practice that lets me stand within the eye of the storm, surrounded but never consumed, shutting out the noise but refusing to isolate myself from the needs and desires of others spinning around me.
One day, probably not far in the future, they will all be too cool to do half-nude yoga in the living room with mom. I am told often by moms who are farther along on their journeys, that the alone time I crave now will land at my feet one day, and I will not be prepared for the enormity of it. I am sure they are right.
In those days I may do yoga on my own and find the practice completely different than it is now, but I doubt it will ever be more sacred. Finding I already have what I set out on a journey to find, that is the most precious form of sacred I know.