Micah Mortali, guest blogger, Kripalu Yoga teacher, and manager of the Kripalu Volunteer Program
Pratyahara, or turning inward, is one of the eight limbs of classical yoga, and it has always been an important part of my practice: diving deep and exploring my internal landscapes, observing what can be seen when the eyes close and the inner eye opens. But things have shifted ever since I became a father. I like to think of my two-year-old son, Stryder, as a pratyahara detector. I usually try to practice in the living room first thing in the morning, but Stryder is an early riser so it’s a challenge for me to try and squeeze in my routine. As soon as my awareness drifts away from the realm of the living room, littered with toy trains and matchbox cars, and into my inner world, I can hear Stryder scamper over yelling, “Dadda, noooooo!” as if I were about to throw every toy he cherishes over Niagara Falls. Needless to say, I haven’t been able to figure out what exactly my practice consists of nowadays. What is difficult to understand before having children is the extent in which they take up every bit of space and time in your life.
If I attempt child’s pose, for example, Stryder has a little trick to distract me that always works. He climbs onto my back, reaches his arms around my face, and digs his fingers into my eyelids as if to peel them open. He can sense when my attention is not on him, when he isn’t the center of my world. I know he feels safer, more secure when Daddy is totally present, so maybe that’s my practice now, being there for him, not just for me. It’s a huge adjustment for a yogi turned householder. I can say from personal experience that yogis have a tendency to become quite self-involved: self-study, self-care, self-inquiry… you get the idea. And as much as we practice working on ourselves, nothing I have ever encountered has brought me as face-to-face with my own egocentrism as the overwhelming love for my children, and knowing that they rely on me completely. So I practice letting go of what was and embracing what is. When Stryder digs his fingers into my eyes whenever I try to practice yoga, I laugh. When he steals butter from the refrigerator and eats it, I smile and think of baby Krishna, the butter thief. When he sings along with Snatam Kaur I realize how blessed I am, and in that moment I am a bhakti caught up in the Divine love flowing to me through my child. It can be messy, being a parent, but it’s who I am now, and I am grateful for it.
So a big part of my practice is being present for my family at a moment’s notice. There is no time for warm-up, no centering; it’s full-speed ahead, and it’s my sacred duty. All my years of inward focus have been leading me up to this, the ultimate posture: Dad-asana.