The Yoga of Fatherhood

There are 37 definitions of the word yoga. For me, the simplest and most important way of understanding yoga is as connection, union, or joining together. You can think of yoga as connecting your body, mind, and spirit. You can think of it as joining a social movement or cause that is meaningful to you. Or, you can use a simple question to discover what your yoga is and how to create a practice that supports it: What do you care about so much that it is worth staying connected to? For me, my deepest yoga is family. 

In the spring of 2017, my partner and I discovered that we were going to have a child—I was going to be a first-time father. I have always been oriented toward family, but I was used to a freewheeling, come-and-go-as-I-please type of lifestyle. Realizing that I was going to be someone’s co-parent and someone else’s father, I experienced a kaleidoscope of emotions. I was ecstatic, terrified, disoriented, self-doubting, hopeful, inspired, and energized. 

After giving myself time to spin, worry, and wonder about what fatherhood would be like, I found a sense of groundedness in a simple realization: I have been training for this role my entire life and I am ready. I have had the countless great examples of my amazing family, teachers, friends, and partner. I can remember situations, decisions made, words said, lessons passed on, and other life experiences that I can use as a compass to guide me in this new role. 

Here is what I have learned over the past 18 months since my daughter was born, and what I strive to embody as a co-parent, yogi, and father. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that some of these principles are also among Kripalu’s core values.

Presence
To be in a relationship is to be present for yourself and for others. Sometimes the simplest practices are the most relevant. The ability to be with myself, my partner, and my child is the ultimate meditation. Rather than using a mantra or focusing on the breath, I just remember that these two people are the most “wonder-full” parts of my life, and remind myself to see, hear, and appreciate them in as many moments as I can.

Beginner’s Mind
It is an amazing experience to discover the world all over again through the eyes of my daughter. Something as simple as a bird flying overhead or the act of blowing up a balloon is enough to lift her into ecstatic joy. Being around her is an opportunity to refresh my sense of wonder and awe. 

Trust
Life requires a balance of effort and allowing. The challenge is to sense what quality is needed at what time. As a parent, part of my job is to keep my daughter safe while teaching her how to engage with her environment. And, I also need to trust her ability to grow, learn, and express herself naturally, in her own way. I also need to trust her mother, my co-parent, to sense what is best for her. 

Leading by Example
I have always been appreciative of teachers who lead by example, rather than saying one thing and doing another. As my daughter gets older, she has begun to imitate almost everything she sees and hears. Recognizing that inspires me to be aware of my choices and what I’m teaching her about how to be in the world—whether I am moving, speaking, eating, or resting. 

Preparation
The more prepared and strategic I can be, the easier it is to go with the flow. This is something that I have really learned from my partner, who has created a sense of groundedness, order, predictability, and rhythm. These qualities don’t arise accidentally, they take time and care to cultivate. The more I can prepare before we take a family trip, go for a walk, or have a relaxing day at the house, the more at ease and available I am to my partner and child. 

Self-Care
When I make a point to give myself some time each day—even just a few minutes—to move or rest, the easier it is to be present and supportive with those I love. When my well feels full, I am able to listen more deeply, hear more clearly, and breathe more patiently with the changing emotional winds of a child. As a father, the qualities I want my family to feel from me are steadiness, confidence, patience, unconditional love, and resilience. That’s why it’s important to make sure I’m feeling good, so I can be there for my tribe when they need me.

I can’t tell you how many times I have been encouraged by other parents to “enjoy it—they grow up so fast.” As trite as that reminder is, I take it to heart and do my best to savor every second that I can with my family. Often we will be relaxing around the house, taking a walk to the swings down the street, or at a family gathering, and I will look at my daughter and take a mental picture of the moment. When I do that, my breath deepens, my mind slows down, and my heart almost bursts with love and devotion. Consciously recognizing those moments supports me in being present and remembering what matters most. If I can do that every day, then I’m practicing my yoga every day. 

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Steven Leonard, a Lead Faculty member at Kripalu, is a functional movement specialist and meditation educator and a teacher trainer for the Kripalu School of Yoga, and also offers mindful outdoor experiences.

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