My Son, the Pratyahara Detector

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.

When my son, Stryder, was two, I thought of him as a pratyahara detector. I usually tried to practice in the living room first thing in the morning, but Stryder was an early riser, so it was a challenge for me to try and squeeze in my routine. As soon as my awareness drifted away from the realm of the living room, littered with toy trains and matchbox cars, and into my inner world, Stryder came scampering over, yelling, “Dadda, noooooo!” as if I were about to throw every toy he cherishes over Niagara Falls. Needless to say, it took me a while to figure out what exactly my practice consisted of. What is difficult to understand before having children is the extent to which they take up every bit of space and time in your life.

If I attempted Child’s pose, for example, Stryder had a little trick to distract me that always worked. He climbed onto my back, reached his arms around my face, and dug his fingers into my eyelids as if to peel them open. He could sense when my attention was not on him, when he wasn't the center of my world.  I know he feels safer, more secure, when Daddy is totally present, so that has become my practice now—being there for him and his sisters, not just for me.

It was 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 continued—and still do today—to practice letting go of what was and embracing what is. When Stryder dug his fingers into my eyes whenever I tried to practice yoga, I laughed. When he stole butter from the refrigerator and ate it, I smiled and thought 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.

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.

Micah Mortali is the Founder of the Kripalu School of Mindful Outdoor Leadership and author of Rewilding.

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