“Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power.”~Lao Tzu
Although all mothers know this, no one can truly warn you before it happens: Your body is never the same after you have a baby as it was before you got pregnant.
Sure, we see images of movie stars who bounce back from having babies more toned and fit than they were before pregnancy, but the reality for most women is much less seamless. Having a baby affects you inside and out: You stretch and move differently, and your anatomy changes — permanently — from that growing being inside your body. That pair of skinny jeans, your high school dress and your once stretch-mark-free body often become just a distant memory. This change can make women feel imperfect or less attractive than they remember themselves to be.
When I walked into the room for my first “official yoga class” (read: not with a DVD at home, which had been my practice for years) I felt weak. I was mom to a two-year-old and a four-year-old and I was out of shape. My stomach was flabby from cesarean sections, my leg muscles shaky and my self-image less than ideal. Feeling neither powerful nor like a rock star, I just hoped that yoga would help me get back the body I once had.
It wasn’t until the day that I held Plank Pose in yoga class that I finally got it: I still had an amazing body. I remembered that my arms could hold two children, several bags of groceries and a diaper tote all at the same time. I could lift my 90-pound Labrador Retriever up onto the bed so he could spoon with me at night. I was able to juggle my kids’ needs, my own needs and my husband’s needs, all while still maintaining friendships, a functional household and a yoga practice. My hope had been to gain my power and strength back through yoga, but my practice showed me that I already had those traits. I was made of steel. I was unstoppable.
Yesterday, years after that first yoga class, I finally busted out a Handstand in my back yard as my now almost-nine-year-old son captured it on film. I did it not because I had to prove something to myself, but because it was fun. My belly bowed a bit (it’s still flabby), but my arms held me up and I felt like I was flying. I felt strong.
Instead of longing for an image of myself that was improbable, I found hope in the true nature of my strength. I will always be soft in spots, but my yoga practice has showed me that these tender places are not chinks in my armor. Instead, they are badges of how I became the powerful person I am today.
As a yoga teacher I sometimes ask my students to explore the nuances of their practice by trying poses that are more advanced or technically challenging than they are used to. As I look at them, I can almost see their thoughts: “I’m not strong enough/flexible enough/good enough to try that!” I remind them that I too once questioned my abilities, my body and my power. I tell them how I have fallen, how I have stumbled and also how I have succeeded in my practice. I let them play on the edges of their strength so they can witness their own previously hidden fierceness. Together we celebrate the attempts, the successes and the failures as all equally fantastic. Together we cheer each other on, because we are amazing.
“Hope … is the companion of power, and the mother of success; for whoso hopes strongly has within him the gift of miracles. “ ~Samuel Smiles
We asked experts, authors and readers like you to share their stories of Hope. Every day for the next month, you’ll find new tips for optimism on Gaiam Life, the Stream of Consciousness blog and our social media sites: Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. And don’t miss the GaiamTV.com Hope Film Festival, with FREE films all month long.