Happy Mother's Day: What My Mother Taught Me About Yoga

In celebration of Mother’s Day and my truly amazing mom, Joy Wagner,  I’m sharing some of the things I learned from her that I later found out to be yogic concepts. Many of the experiences and ideas I was exposed to as a young person were quite unique, because my mom and dad raised me in a hippy commune. My mother has lived in this community for over 50 years and learned a lot about how to have a pleasurable life through her experiences there. These values were passed onto me directly from her and indirectly from other members of the community and the courses taught there about personal enrichment, pleasurable relationships and communication.

The main philosophical concept I learned  that relates to the yogic teachings is about perfect. This relates to one of the ancient yogic teachings from the Rig Veda: Purna -  meaning full, complete, not lacking anything, content. When I asked my mom how this concept affected how she related with me she said, “The main thing was that I view our relationship as perfect and viewed my parenting as right. It is real easy for parents to doubt that they are being the best they can be, especially when their children are doing things they don't want them to do or are harmful.” I can only imagine how the world would be different if every mother felt that way about herself and her children. Much more harmony I imagine. Her and I did get along better than many of the other families I knew of growing up.  

Of course she taught me many things that many mothers teach their children too, like the value of being kind. This is a fundamental teaching of yoga as well. One example of this teaching started when I  was a child and continued through my adulthood with my yoga training. It is the spiritual concept of compassion, kindness and service through charitable works. The reasons for giving have been enlightened for me by mom and my spiritual teachers. It is about freely giving without a desire for reciprocity, or the need to receive anything return. This generosity of spirit, whether it comes with material gifts or not is a key practice for anyone who wants to find deep and lasting joy.

Besides the immense importance of being kind towards others the value of being kind towards myself  was taught to me from my mom. A lot of the philosophy of the commune focused on feeling good mentally and physically and learning more what it is to be a good person you are proud of. My mom talked to me about how she spent time developing her spirituality, by deliberately doing things that had her feel good about herself. This included having the intention to be happy in, and with, her body. This priority to find joyfulness in ones physicality is a huge part of the asana practice as well. She conveyed these practices to her children, my sister and I (not to mention the other dozen or more children she helped to raised ) so that we could be confident and strong in ourselves. The support I got from her helped me to believe in myself more. It is one of the reasons I feel I am a confident yoga teacher.

My mom was an introspective women because she knew the way to find greater happiness and pleasure was to pay attention to more parts of her life. One thing I really appreciated when I was growing up, and still do to this day, is that she is genuinely curious about why I am the way I am. She wants to understand what motivates me and why. She helped me to develop this introspective nature in myself. This quality of self-inquiry and interest in others is so important in yoga and in our society as a whole. It gives us a means to confront and overcome the biases and prejudices we have, like sexist, racist, ableism and ageism. This teaching of self-awareness is at the heart of yoga and all spiritual practices.

Another yogic value she bestowed on me early in life was the significance of putting my attention on other people. And not just putting my attention on others, but finding them right. In class I use this all the time when I am training a student. I use what my mom, and the other people in the commune, call the “Training Cycle.” It starts with approving of the person, in this case my student, just the way they are (not trying to fix them). Then I offer a way to improve what they are doing, whether it's improving a posture or their thinking. When they make the shift I give them acknowledgment for it.

This Mother's Day let's celebrate our mothers for the things they taught us about how to be a good person, be happy and become a healthy member of our society. Thanks mom!