After trying to have my first child for two years without success, I met the birth of four kids in only six years with great gratitude. But mixed with my euphoria was a bleary-eyed exhaustion. I can viscerally recall trying, in my first days of motherhood, to do as many other things as I’d always done in addition to taking care of my baby (ridiculous in hindsight). With each new child, I became better at doing less and making sure I had more help. But it was only when I learned about the six pillars for yogic living that I understood how to make family life as easy to manage as possible.
The pillars have been hugely helpful in my life as a parent. I wish I had known about them as a new mom. I hope this article will help other parents—new or not—use the pillars to support their families as they do mine.
1. Cultivate positive eating habits.
• Caring for kids demands a lot of energy! Parents as well as kids need regular, nourishing meals to give them the energy they need. Pay attention to how much energy is needed to sustain your family’s daily activities—and to how well different foods provide that energy—and then feed yourself and your kids accordingly.
• Offering thanks before eating will allow your mind and body to calmly transition to the tasks of eating and digesting. Eating at regularly scheduled intervals, preparing the food with good intentions, and eating it in a peaceful environment will promote digestion and keep your energy levels steady.
2. Find a form of exercise that works for you and your family, and engage in it regularly!
• Find exercise that you enjoy—whether yoga, dance, walking, or running—and set aside some time for it every day, even if it’s just 10 minutes at a time. Pay attention to your breath as you move, and let your breath be your guide to the intensity of your exercise.
3. Cultivate healthy sleep habits.
• Establish a regular bedtime that allows you plenty of rest. The ayurvedic adage “sleep when the sun sets and rise as it rises” may not be practical for many of us today, so a more modern approach is to aim to go to sleep by 10 p.m. and rise by 6 a.m. If your current sleep schedule is far different from the schedule you desire, you can work toward your goal gradually, going to bed and rising 15 minutes earlier each week to let your body adapt.
• It’s also helpful to develop a pre-bedtime routine of winding down in the hour before bed—for ourselves as well as our children. For example, before bed, drink warm milk or tea, take a bath, read a calming book, or offer thanks for the blessings of your day. Take care to settle your mind until it is clear and calm. After all, ayurvedic wisdom holds that the state in which you fall asleep will be the state in which you wake.
These first three pillars are the foundation for the next three. As my yoga teacher Ann Maxwell says, “When we have the first three pillars of eating, movement, and sleep in place at regularly anticipated intervals of our day, the body can rely on a schedule of support and know it will have opportunities to self-heal throughout the day.”
4. Manage stress with conscious breathing.
• Notice and nourish your breathing. Our breath changes when we feel stress, so one of the best ways to manage stress is to breathe with conscious awareness at regular intervals throughout the day. Take time to be aware of your breath upon rising, at noon, and at dusk, but remember that you can practice conscious breathing anytime, anywhere.
• To start, pay attention to the quality of your breath. Relaxed, mindful breathing that helps integrate body and mind is deep and even. Next, notice where you feel the movement of your breath in your body. Set the intention to feel your breath move through your whole body—not just your abdomen or chest.
• Whenever you feel stress, notice what happens to your breath; it probably becomes irregular and more shallow. If you notice this shift, you can then consciously steady and deepen your breathing to restore calm in stressful situations.
5. Practice cleansing self-care.
• Further care for your overall constitution with ayurvedic practices like tongue scraping, using a neti pot, applying nasya oil, dry brushing to stimulate the lymph and circulatory systems, or practicing abhyanga (body oiling) to calm the nervous system.
6. Develop self-awareness and self-reflection practices.
• Be observant about the choices you make and notice the effects of your choices with compassion.
• Reflect on how your application of the pillars affects you: How does what I eat make me feel? When I go to bed at a certain time, what kind of effect does that have on my energy? How does exercising or not exercising affect me? What is my breathing like? How do cleansing and self-care practices support my mind?
• Notice your reactions to your children, consider where those reactions came from, and aim to respond instead of react in the future.
• Notice how your thoughts shape your experience. For example, if you think a day is going to be long and hard and you approach it with dread, it will most likely feel long and hard. But if you simply focus on meeting your and your family’s daily needs in each moment, you are apt to sink into the joy of parenting with greater ease.
• Develop a meditation practice to cultivate compassion and awareness of your beliefs, thoughts, and how you treat yourself and others. ·
Implementing these pillars will support a healthy body and mind and allow you and your family to move toward your full potential with greater self-awareness. If you adopt these pillars but then fall away from practicing them, know that it is returning to the practice that matters, not that you fell away—only that you notice the slip and recommit.