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5 Yoga Lessons I’ve Learned From My Toddler

Sofia Laughing

Before I had my daughter Sofia-Rose, I dreaded the toddler phase. Because, let’s face it, before you have kids, toddlers seem like whirling balls of crazy. They are the antithesis of what most of us try to create in adult life–things like order or predictability or, really, anything that resembles logic and practicality.

Fortunately, living with your very own toddler is completely different from witnessing one meltdown in the middle of the mall. Well, most of the time anyway. There are incredibly challenging moments and yet, you love them more deeply than you could have ever imagined – and that’s what makes them such great teachers.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the ways that my girl reminds me of the lessons I try to learn on my mat as well as the ways she puts my yoga mental, emotional, and spiritual practice to the test. I may not get on my mat as consistently, but I am certainly learning yoga’s lessons #everydamnday. Here’s just a sampling of my thoughts about life with Sofia-Rose and the lessons she’s teaching me these days.

1. Life is chaos – embrace it!
Toddlers are the embodiment of chaos. They’re whirling dervishes of unpredictable, demanding energy. They don’t hold anything back. Ever. Developmentally their brains are growing at a rapid-fire rate, but they have yet to develop impulse control. This translates to what I like to think of living like an opera diva: When life is sweet for a toddler, that is, when they’re well-rested, well-fed, and at the park in the sandbox with their favorite toys, they are pure, unadulterated joy. But when life is not sweet in their perception – when they’re stuck waiting in a high chair in a crowded restaurant and they just want to run around, they holler with full vibrato.

One way to see it is that they embrace the chaos. They fully feel and process their feelings with no means for filtering or repression. They stay in the moment. And so, they actually ride the waves of life more skillfully than adults do. Because despite the large and seemingly out of control outbursts, toddlers know how to let go. When the moment is over, it’s over and forgotten.

sofia2_jpears

2. Sometimes, we all need to be witnessed
Developing witness consciousness is a great gift of yoga and meditation practice. When we develop the ability to notice and accept the full spectrum of our emotions—from sadness to elation to greed to frustration—without impulsively reacting to them, we get a glimpse of the internal freedom and contentment that the great spiritual thinkers talk about. Simply witnessing and attending to our inner state can make it easier to manage the vicissitudes of our emotions and, when the moment calls for it, to let things go.

Toddlers need the same kind of witnessing. When they tantrum, there’s often nothing you can do but let them know that you are there with them. Losing your patience or trying to persuade them to feel something other than what they’re feeling will get you nowhere. But attending to and acknowledging their struggle can defuse the intensity of what they’re going through.

3. The body is a beautiful, powerful thing
I love watching my daughter live in her body. She has no perception of whether she is tall or short, whether she’s chubby or skinny, of whether her eyes are blue or brown. She just loves to be in her body.

Lately she’s been exclaiming at full volume, “My feets go fast!” and then taking off at top speed down the hallway, all hair and limbs skittering this way and that. Right now, her body is her ally. It’s her means for learning and exploring. She loves how fast her feet can go and how high she can jump and how smooth her skin feels. She loves what her body can do; she doesn’t focus on what she can’t do or what someone else can do or how she looks.

Sofia Peekaboo

4. To be happy, engage fully in the task at hand and let go of the results
Jason and I often talk about how amazing it is to witness a human being develop from scratch. One of the most remarkable things is how perseverant we all have to be in our earliest days to learn the simplest tasks.

I so clearly remember watching Sofia-Rose roll over for the very first time. We’d lay her down on her quilt after bath every evening and she’d whipped her little arm back and forth, back and forth, night after night, time after time, until one evening she figured out how to whip her arm and her leg at the same time and voila! The whole family celebrated. I will never forget the intense focus she had at that moment or the pure joy she expressed at having accomplished the task.

This has always been her attitude with the zillions of tasks she learns daily: Keep at it, keep going, keep exploring. She has no forethought of failure. She doesn’t worry about what anyone will think if she falls down. And her ego doesn’t hold her back. She doesn’t get in her own way. She just plows ahead, learning and growing. She commits. Fully. Wholeheartedly. And she delights when she gets positive results.

5. Everything is temporary
Early on in my parenting when my girl was colicky and crying for hours each day, a wise friend said to me, “This too shall pass.” And she was right. It passed and it seems so far away now. Looking back, I think I missed a lot from that phase because I was so worried about the crying and what it meant and how it reflected on me and my baby. I worried and worried and worried in the beginning. And I missed out. I can’t remember very much from those days except for the worry.

I try to remember now that all of the difficulties will be like blips on the radar someday. And what I really want to do, what I hope to do, is to remember every day that all of this is temporary. I want to embrace it now so that when I look back I feel like I fully embraced it—just like Sofia-Rose does every day.

{Photos by Jonathan Pears}



15 Comments

  1. I am a mother of 3 beauties now age 23 Jake, Marly 22, & Luke 19. You have described so honestly what it is to be a parent and all of it’s life altering transformations. I did not have yoga in my physical life when they were toddlers and did not realize till they became teenagers that I was spiritually a yogi even then. When they become teenagers, in my experience, they revert back to that toddler stage of wild lack of impulse control and exploration. Only the things they get into are “bigger” like cars, sex, drugs and alcohol. Thankfully during this time I had a physical practice connected to my spirutual. Because all the things you speak about so apply to being a parent of teenagers as well. The trick is to have the awareness throughout being a parent to guide yourself and less fearful of the process and come from a place of witnessing there growimg pains from a place of love and not reaction. And to breathe and just listen. Being fully present with them they are having a “tantrum” as a toddler or a teenager ( rebellion ) has been the hardest thing to learn as a parent. But as yoga has taught me when you truly let go of these beautiful beings they may fall & crash but if you hang in their with them they make it through. After all is said and done it is their journey. Love your article and will pass it on. Namaste

    1. Thanks for sharing this thoughtful response, Denise. I’ve actually heard that the toddler and teen years have a lot of crossover because they’re trying to individuate in both phases. I am definitely a bit nervous for the teen years but I’m trying to lay the groundwork now for being a good communicator, a good listener, and to build trust. Glad to hear yoga has been helpful for you with older kids, too!
      Andrea

  2. A truly inspirational piece. I am a new yogaddict and will be transferring these thoughts into my own practice and day to day life. I love the thought of taking the seriousness and the harshness that comes with adult life and stepping back to enjoying the moment and being comfortable in our own skin.
    Brilliant.

    1. It’s so true…my daughter reminds me of the wonder of being alive every day. It’s been an unexpected gift of motherhood! Warmly, Andrea

  3. Thanks for sharing your experience as a father. I’ve become a mother of my first baby. She is now 9 months. You have articulated a lot of feelings that I’ve had. It’s really interesting to observe the toodlers as teachers. We should recover to their pureness and honesty. Regards!

    1. Hi Cristina! Your post made us realize that we need to get the author tag working on the site. Still tweaking things. Anyway, the post was from Sofia’s mama, Andrea 🙂 I’m glad you can relate and enjoy that baby of yours!

  4. My toddler teaches me more each day than I teach her. What you have said is spot on and I’m so happy you wrote it. THANK YOU!

    1. Yay! One of the reasons I love writing (and reading) is because it helps connect people. I’m so happy to hear that this piece resonated with you. Warmly, Andrea

    1. Thank you! So glad you enjoyed it. We’ve got a lot in the works, so stay tuned. Cheers, Andrea

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  7. i love your new blog. you have been one of my inspirational mentors in my teaching career. Thank you… can’t wait to see more of your posts.
    namaste

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