What I’ve Learned About Cultivating a Yoga Practice Whilst Being a Father
By Scott Johnson
When I started a dedicated yoga practice I was 29 and already a father. On the second to last day of a family holiday in Sydney, Australia, I found an Ashtanga yoga class. I walked away from that class feeling deeply moved. I had connected to something in myself that felt so so precious. After the class I met Louise, my wife, and picked up our 6 month old son, Herbie. He looked even more radiant. They both looked even more radiant. This was what it felt like to be connected. Who knew I’d embarked on a practice that would fundamentally alter the shape and direction of my life? That I’d eventually begin to see relationship and shared experience as another path to waking up?
Present day, early June 2017: Here I am celebrating a sixteenth birthday with the same Herbie, wistfully looking at his baby picture I still have in my wallet, while also taking in the fine young man he’s become. It’s a cliché, something you can really experience as a parent, but time does go so so quickly. Yet something else came to me too. Perhaps I could continue to look at him and how he’s grown and at the same time extend beyond seeing the young man Herbie has become, and take a look at the person I’ve become since that first Ashtanga yoga class in Sydney.
You see, my yoga practice is near enough the same age as Herbie, and anyone who’s held their hand to the fire of Ashtanga yoga knows that when you take on this practice there really can be no half measures. We are a devoted bunch. Herbie also has two brothers, Noah and Ethan, both born within 5 years of him. So not only have I been developing a yoga practice, but with Louise I’ve been growing a large family too.
Developing a sustained yoga practice and a family are both things that take time, discipline, courage and a sense of the unknown. Deep commitment is required. I have done my best to navigate both of these together and you can read more about this in an interview I gave for Ashtanga Brighton on Ashtanga practice and fatherhood.
Yoga and fatherhood: what I’ve learned
Importantly, and in relation to yoga practice, I have found many of my yoga teachers, peers and colleagues spent years developing their yoga practices first before they had families. I had to hold down a full time job, help grow a family of five, yet at the same time develop a spiritual, contemplative practice from scratch. Was there a difference in what I did, compared to my friends who already had strong practices before starting a family? Fifteen years into practice, what do I feel I have learned by doing both at the same time? These are a few of the things that I’ve noticed.
Intimacy is being up close with love. There is a shared intimacy in family. There is deep intimacy in spiritual practice. Intimacy requires honesty and an ability to dig deeper into yourself. To find new places that are unclear in you and to give of yourself. I have noticed in my experience of family that intimacy is shared. This means being able to balance the shared needs and intimacies between each member of the family. Finding that balance is tricky, especially when you have four other family members to negotiate. There are relationships with the individuals that need to be nourished as well as the whole family itself.
But with spiritual practice intimacy is personally cultivated, meaning cultivating love, truth and honesty within yourself. This is so valuable. Just as there can be many family members, there can be many sides to us as individuals. We need to be intimate with these sides so we can be up close to them with love.
Being able to meet our own intimacy and family intimacy together, we can continue to develop deep love for ourselves and each other.
Truth and honesty
Cultivating truth and honesty within ourselves is not easy. Things may come up. In fact, things will come up and we may not like what we find. But taking that intimacy and being open, allowing our practices to navigate these areas, allows them to be known and met. This is so valuable because we can then meet our families with this same truth and honesty. Learning to adapt to the needs of a family is a great way of learning to be true and honest to ourselves.
I’ve dropped the ball a few times. But the shared intimacy and relationships cultivated within the family have allowed for love to be present. Things can break down, but with a shared understanding of each other, with honest and open hearts, they have the ability to adapt and transform, and move into a new, more open, space together.
Just as we’re there for our families as they grow and change, and we watch them take their first steps in navigating new relationships, so we see our practice in the same way. Nurturing a yoga practice, like a family, is a long game. But the wider picture of both yoga practice and family is growth, support, love and encouragement. We need all of these things.
Nurturing our practice the same way we can nurture family is to see that we ourselves are always changing. We age. Our circumstances change. Being open to the shifting sands of time, navigating with openness to our own spiritual progress, allows us to stay present to our own versatility, something we need to negotiate this world of relationship with. Having a nurturing quality to our yoga practice allows kindness to be always present. Gentleness too. As if we were taking care of our own.
Hope and faith
What is left? Why are we here to share intimately in the growth and development of each other? Because we want the best for our loved ones. For each of them. We want them to integrate and live the life they have to the fullest. To be able to continue in the open development of themselves and be the best they can be while living this life. We can create hope for them. Hope that they are open and available to find the joy that can be present in this life. Hope that they can go on to meet this life with meaning, abundance and openness, and create the faith and belief in themselves to find this.
And this is the same for our yoga practice too. We can nurture these qualities in ourselves. To see the potential in ourselves. To notice that life is ever changing but that faith in our own process, the process of intimate connection, is what makes this life stronger, more potent. That as we set the qualities of intimacy, truth, honesty and nurturing for our families, so we set the tone of these qualities for ourselves too. That these tones can create the hope in our own lives.
Present day, late June 2017: I’m in the kitchen making tea after coming in late from a class. Herbie comes in, says hello and gives me a gentle hug. A sixteen year old boy, giving his dad a hug. I hold him a little tighter, close my eyes and breathe it in…
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