Bali Spirit Festival, Ubud Bali May 1-5, 2024

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Surviving Motherhood and Yoga

Don’t get me wrong – I am one happy traveller on this trip called life, but as it does for many it got wobbly for me there for a while, once I hit the place called motherhood. It was yoga that brought me back to solid ground, awake, alive and eager for more.

So what is yoga? Is it the space we find to breathe into our very cells, find the bliss that is present, always, if only we stop and feel? Is it the peace it helps us discover, the stillness of the body and the breath, the quiet ease that lies within if only we drop the mind? I think so, and it keeps me coming back and back and back., because it helps me find the bliss in the most difficult role of my life, motherhood.

Walking around the gorgeous Purnati grounds this afternoon I was absolutely thrilled to be at the Festival for another year, to feel the spirit totally surging, to hear the ever gorgeous Cat Kabira asking people to breathe into their perineum’s, to watch Jocelyn spinning her hoops, to ooh and aah with my kids at Rachel’s gorgeous flower mandala, to share hugs and delight with friends from festivals’ past. It is so great to be here, to drink coconut water on the lawns and to just breathe it all in.

But I was not always this easy, not always so ready with love – and it is for that reason that I really love yoga, truly love this festival.

The reality is that motherhood didn’t come naturally to me, either when I was with my children’s father or after we separated. When I came to Bali in 2008 and with great resistance credit card booked my early bird ticket to the Bali Spirit Festival, the close to $500 price tag hit me hard. Until the first session on the first day.

I came to that Spirit festival a smoker for whom that cigarette after the kids were finally in bed meant everything. My days were a frantic run from just after dawn until 11 or 12 at night. The thought of having peace in my heart – well, it hadn’t even occurred to me that one could.

Life has not changed, not really, but I have. Yoga has changed me, from the inside through to the outside, and the greatest change has been in my heart. I am happy – like our Ecstatic Dance Dewi Cathy, love to be ecstatically so – and it is through yoga, and the open-heartedness that yoga has gifted me, that I find this state.

And as a mother, this is an incredibly important thing. Motherhood, for me before, was a matter of survival. My culture did not value the role of the mother, had taught me from a young age that I was worth more than that, so that when I did become a mother I felt resentful, ill-equipped and completely over-stretched.

I don’t want to scare any of you yet-to-be-mothers but yes, it is a hard job. Unappreciated in large part, and completely relentless. And so for me, finding yoga again here at this Festival after more than 10 years without it, was the most divine gift, a true God-send, radically altering both my own and my children’s lives.

What yoga has given me is an expanded vision. Yoga has taught me to breathe, to sit with what is and simply observe it, to consciously relax around perceived tension rather than to resist.

As I hold my breath during Nadi Shodhana and relax my diaphragm, my shoulders around it, so too do I now consciously try and relax my body around the feelings that arise in me should my children challenge how I think things should be done.

And they do this – well, they do this more regularly than it would be wise for me to admit. My mind might seriously try and seek some dominance were I to add that up, and it is better for me to sit in the smiling space of absolute awe at their extraordinary strength of will, their repetition of the lessons over and over that is just like, well, that’d be just like me.

Motherhood. When I flagged the title of this post with a couple of yogi friends who are mothers today they all shook their heads. First a slow back and forth, a shared amazement at the intensity of the role, then an absolutely shared, completely understood appreciation of yoga as the way, the soft arms of an embrace, holding us safe but not too firm, supporting us, at all times, here. Not alone.

What yoga gives me – and all of the mothers I know who practise – is this knowledge that we are not alone, that we are held, that we too are supported like a babe.

And prior to that it gives us space. Yoga helps us cultivate a spaciousness in our hearts that means that even though I have repeated myself four hundred times and I am still ignored, even though I have spent two hours cooking her favourite meal to have her come home and tell me she is “a fedgerteryan but not one who eats fedgtables”, even though I just … all of those things that take up the entire day and half the night, even with all of those things yoga gives me the space to feel peace, ease, and a whole lot of joy.

And whereas once I struggled, felt overwhelmed and old before my time, now I feel young, alert, and eager to learn.

And my children are two of my greatest teachers. Yoga has taught me that. Breathe. Feel the tension. Inhabit it. Accept. Breathe. And as with those more complex postures, the more I practise the more I love it. The enjoyment moves from the bliss one felt when first practising yoga at the end of the class, to a bliss that begins with the eyes opening in the morning, bliss that is reinvigorated on the mat, carried day after day. It is not always on high speed, sometimes it is harder to find than others, but then it’s just back to the breath, down into the heart, back to the very beginning. Feeling.

And you should see my five year old do wheel… now that’s a yogi!

Written by : Harriet Gaffney


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