No-hands mothering

Have you heard of 3-legged downward dog? What about one-handed plank? Lately, my favorite is one-handed mom-asana!

Let me explain: since my daughter Ariana was born, one of the most profound changes to my daily life has been her intense need to be physically close to me. It has given a very literal meaning to the idea of doing something ‘single-handedly.’

How many mothers have cooked breakfast, straightened out the living room, started the laundry, typed an email, and used the toilet single-handedly? (Come on, moms! Admit you’ve done all those, including the last one!) These moments are all opportunities: do I change the baby’s diaper, or nurse her to sleep without tension in my body? When I do, I transform these ordinary tasks into the same profound moments I sometimes find on a yoga mat.

What’s even more fun than one-handed mothering is the no-hands method, a.k.a. babywearing. This term might conjure up strange images of babies tucked into kangaroo-like pouches on mommy’s tummy, or even little ones nestled in the hood of mommy’s sweatshirt. It’s actually something moms have been doing for generations and it’s simple. Some days, it is the only way I can sweep the floor, make dinner, or water the plants.

No-hands method, a.k.a. babywearing

Babywearing is yoga

When Ariana was first born, I wasn’t doing much around the house. The first and most difficult postpartum order from my doula was simple: rest. She told me to remember the phrase “In the bed, on the bed, and around the bed,” as a way to remind myself that the first week after the baby’s birth should be spent in bed, the second week on the bed, and the third week milling around the bed. However, bed yoga just wasn’t for me, so before I got into wearing my daughter in a sling, I modified her advice and brought my recovery to the sofa. No asanas except couch asana, breastfeed-the-baby asana, and carry-the-baby asana.

At first, I thought I wouldn’t survive the sameness of each day on the sofa. Right outside my apartment door the city of San Francisco called me with beautiful parks, cozy cafes, and breathtaking views at the top of every steep hill. But yoga is so much more than just a routine led on a rubbery mat.

After two decades of practice, my entrance into motherhood reframed what I’ve been told by many teachers: an asana is any posture that is steady and comfortable.

So that excludes even the most radical, exhilarating plank or wheel pose you’ve done while shaking and breathing like a panting dog. Remember that!

I admit, I did miss intense, sweaty classes; I recalled how much I loved going upside down in handstands, headstands, and shoulderstands, and Ionged for the exhilaration of backbends. However, my practice as a new mom forced me to learn from what I couldn’t do as much as from what I could do. A couple of weeks after my daughter was born, I couldn’t even do basic poses like downward dog or cat because I developed pain in my wrists. Every time I picked her up, it hurt; I even started wearing wrist braces. My OB told me that the pain would go away when my daughter was three months old. Even so, I worried and obsessed about it only to find that it did go away exactly three months after the birth.

Finally I had transitioned from life on the couch back to a more normal activity level. Carrying Ariana on my front, side, and back not only gave me a fun hobby as I navigated the countless ways to tie her onto my body, it also highlighted my postural habits like never before!

As I carried her around, I noticed when I tensed my shoulders up to my ears, put more weight on one foot than the other, or slumped my upper back.

Even though I felt strong and stable in wearing her, I noticed that there were certain areas of my body that needed attention and stretching. Now and then, I fantasized about a yoga class for babywearers.

You’re probably imagining a class where people do asanas while wearing baby in a sling, wrap, or carrier. While I have seen that on YouTube, that is not at all what I mean. Babywearing should never be physically detrimental to mom or baby, but it is still work for the mom’s muscles and asana is helpful in taking care of those muscles.

Some basic points of focus for asana are as follows: keep the hamstrings loose, release tension from the neck and shoulders, and open up the chest. Some of my favorites for the shoulders and chest are: setu bandhasana (bridge pose), matsyasana (fish pose), and forward bend with hands clasped behind the back. For the hamstrings, my preferred forward bends are: uttanasana (standing forward fold) and janu sirsasana (head-to-knee pose). Aside from these postures, motherhood is yoga, and so are those moments when you pick up the baby and tuck her into the wrap and pay attention to her breathing as much as to your own.

Babywearing as baby grows

There are a million little things to learn as a new mother, but the main thing is that, as my mom said, “You’re not alone anymore!” Becoming accustomed to keeping track of a little one 24/7 has turned my life upside down. As my daughter has become more mobile, babywearing has evolved from a tool that helps me to provide all the comfort she needs to a way of keeping her safe while I focus on other things. I get more of her perspective while she gets more of mine; it’s a type of ongoing ‘namaste’ that permeates each day.

I still wear my daughter even though she can crawl and is on the verge of walking. I like to think of a quote I’ve heard in more than one place: “We spend all this time trying to get our kids to walk and talk, then later we’re always telling them to sit down and shut up.” Ariana never took very well to play yards, play pens, or any other things that confined her. She wants to ride along with the rhythm of my day and I find that when I wear her on my back, as I move around the house doing chores, she often falls into a state of silent observation, or even goes to sleep. No need to tell her to sit down and shut up!

Taking a break from my asana practice as I knew it brought out other aspects of yoga in a way that pushed me to practice all day long.

Babywearing as yoga practice might not seem as graceful or exhilarating as backbends and inversions, but it does test my resilience and creativity as a mommy yogi.

*I would also like to acknowledge that it might not always be mom wearing the baby or staying home as the main caretaker. Bravo to all the dads, relatives, nannies, babysitters, and daycare providers who might find this article useful.

Illustration by Claire Ashley Mackay