Mother Zen: How Yoga Makes Me A Better Parent

A powerful thunderstorm blasted through the area a couple of weeks ago, leaving over 2,000 Coralville residents without power. Our household happened to be one of those impacted by the storm.

I was at yoga class when the storm hit. When class ended I checked my text messages. I had one from my husband: “No power here.”

As I drove home through the darkened streets, I was in a place of centered calm as I prepared myself for what I would find at home. Sure enough, as I walked through the door, my five children were alternating between being frightened and being extremely hyper. My husband was trying to maintain a sense of order, but his frustration was mounting. The baby was fussy. The teenager was fretting over finishing his homework. The other 3 kids were fighting. Things were on the brink of spiraling out of control.

Fortunately, since I had been at yoga class I was well positioned to face the situation calmly. I managed to stay in the present moment, trying not to focus on when we would have the lights back, but instead making the best of the situation we were in. When I felt my frustration rising, I regulated my breath. When my kids tested my patience, I remembered to face them with compassion, reminding myself their behavior was a result of being scared & confused about what was happening.

I’ve been practicing steadily for 4 years now, and it’s truly not an overstatement to say yoga has made me a better mother.

How it works for me

meghann1If I’m having a rough day or feeling stressed, attending yoga class almost always lifts my energy and my spirit. Simply put, the magic of yoga lies in coordinating your breath with movement. Specific poses create an energetic effect in the body (backbends are energizing, for example) and the smooth, rhythmic breathing utilized in yoga practice triggers the brain’s relaxation response.

This is why I know my practice is a necessity, not a luxury. When I am relaxed and energetic I am in a much better place for my family. The zen often trickles down to my kids. I’m less reactive. I’m more productive, and I am more focused on each precious moment I spend with my children.

The ways in which my practice has helped me with my parenting are too numerous to list here, but the most profound example was with my recent pregnancy. After giving birth to two healthy children, I suffered 3 unexplained miscarriages (two in the second trimester.) After we lost the pregnancies we adopted two beautiful kids and assumed our family was complete. Fast-forward five years and surprise-I was pregnant again, and completely terrified. I had no idea if the pregnancy would be successful. For most families those 40 weeks are filled with happy anticipation, but for me every single day was filled with deep anxiety about what could go wrong. It didn’t help that I had minor complications throughout and was placed on restricted activities at 20 weeks.

I don’t know how I would have gotten through the pregnancy if it weren’t for my yoga practice. I used mantras, meditation and gentle physical postures to help manage my 9 months of anxiety. When my imagination would run wild with all the frightening what-ifs I would repeat a simple mantra: “My baby is healthy. My body is healthy. My pregnancy is healthy.” I attended prenatal yoga classes at Sweet Feet Yoga & modified the poses. I also created a gentle sequence that I would frequently practice at home.

Due to my complicated history and rising blood pressure I was induced at 39 weeks. I was able to manage the contractions with my yoga breathing and some gentle poses. I gave birth to a 9 lb., 1 oz. baby boy who is now 7 months old.

meghann2How it can work for you

I am fortunate to have a regular on-the-mat practice despite my hectic life. We are fortunate to live in a community with an abundance of yoga, so if you are interested in attending a group class there are a variety of styles to try. Several studios offer free or reduced-price community classes. If getting to class is a challenge, home practice is always an option. There are numerous online resources available in the form of videos, articles, and sequence suggestions. It doesn’t take much time-even 10 minutes of a few postures and breathing exercises can make a huge difference in your mental and physical state. If carving time for an on the mat practice is difficult, there are a few simple tools you can use any time, anywhere.


It sounds overly simplistic, but the phrase “take a deep breath” over-used for a reason. As mentioned above, smooth, rhythmic breathing used in yoga triggers the brain’s natural relaxation response. A great way to cultivate breath awareness is to measure the lengths of your inhales and exhales through counting.  Starting with a small number works best when you’re new to the exercise. You can begin by simply inhaling to the count of three and exhaling to the count of three, repeating for one minute. As you become more aware of your breath you can increase the length of your inhales and exhales. Counting your breath is also a good place to start if you’re interested in a meditation practice. Simply sitting with your eyes closed and counting your breaths is a great way to turn down the volume of your inner dialog.


You don’t have to have a strong physical practice to reap the energetic benefits of certain yoga postures. If you’re feeling stressed and need a moment of grounding relaxation, try a simple seated forward fold. From a comfortable seated position on the floor, extend your legs long in front of you. (Be sure to keep a gentle bend in your knees if you have tight hamstrings.) Take a deep inhale, lengthen your spine, and as you exhale gently hinge forward from your hip crease. The fold should feel comfortable and not forced. Try to stay for 3-5 measured breaths.

If you are feeling a bit sluggish, a gentle standing backbend can give you a quick boost of energy. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. Place your hands at your low back for support, and draw your shoulder blades toward your spine. (Your chest should feel nice and open.) Take a big breath in, lift up and out of your low back, and as you exhale, keep your hips moving forward as you carefully lean backward. Make sure you’re lifting from your chest and avoid crunching into your low back.


When you repeat a phrase long enough you start to believe it and become it. One of my favorite daily mantras is the word “Calm” because it has a nice vibrational quality to it. Any word or phrase that creates your desired state of being will work. Simply repeat either out loud or in your head, as many times as you wish.

So does all of this mean I move through life blissed-out and calm? By all means, no! I’m still reactive. I still feel overwhelmed a lot of the time. But my yoga practice has made me less reactive and it helps decrease my stress level. It’s the best tool in my parenting toolbox, and it’s not difficult to cultivate the benefits of yoga in your own life. With a little practice, you too can find a sense of calm amongst the crazy storms ahead.


IMG_3576-2Meghann Foster is a freelance writer and certified yoga instructor.

She lives in Coralville with her husband and five children.


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