Almost a year ago I spent a week doing yoga with my son at Mark Whitwell’s course in December. I wasn’t the only mum – and so I had the idea of writing about it from the point of view of doing a retreat with your son or daughter. It was subsequently published in Issue 32 of Australian Yoga Life. Here it is.
Sons, daughters and yogis
It puts a different spin on things to be students alongside your offspring. No more of Mum being the one who is telling everyone what to do! Recently I attended an overseas retreat conducted by Mark Whitwell that included three mothers with their adult children in tow. There was me and my 19-year-old son Charlie; Catherine and her two twenty-something daughters Dorothy and Paddy; and Lisa with her (not yet adult) 11-year-old boy Joe. Young Joe was simple: he wanted something that was easy and fun.
After the first practice, Joe described it to Lisa as ‘awesome’. Catherine is a yoga teacher herself, and her daughters Dorothy and Paddy saw it as a great family holiday with yoga thrown in. It wasn’t necessarily the beginning of a new dedication to yoga – but then Mark emphasised that yoga is a different practice for different people – and even excused the girls turning up late for class with the remark: “Sleep can be yoga too.”
Since then, Paddy hasn’t stayed with the practice, but says: “ I am playing tennis – which for me, and at this point in my life, is my yoga.” And Dorothy describes a general opening of horizons – maybe thanks to yoga, maybe not. “I don’t know if the experience has changed anything directly, perhaps it just helped to open my eyes. I feel like I am a little bit more open to new ideas or experiences than I might have been before. It was definitely a combination the people, the place and the yoga, not just the classes.”
But for each and every one of the mums it `was a special time. Lisa does yoga regularly now with both Joe and her husband Tim: “I was delighted to have Joe involved and my heart felt like it would burst when I looked over and saw him so involved and clearly enjoying the process. He loved the opportunity to get to know people, hear their stories and learn about some of the spiritual and emotional aspects of yoga. When I asked Joe the other day if my leg massage was hurting him, he said, “pain is not the enemy” ….. a quote Mark used during the retreat.”
For Catherine, it was an act of love, offering her daughters something she wished she had found earlier: “I wanted my daughters to have that experience now, in their 20’s, rather than coming to that sort of personal and spiritual awareness through longer, more circuitous and perhaps more painful paths in their 30s, 40s, 50s – as many people do. I wish my mother had shared a yoga retreat with me when I was in my 20’s!”
And for me, it was just time together. Sometimes Charlie fell asleep during the longer talks; I’d look over and see his eyes shut and notice that regular breathing and once – just once – a tiny little snore. But there were plenty of times he was taking it all in and on other occasions he and I would discuss what had been said. I enjoyed that, walking down the beach throwing his ideas back and forth, engaged in a conversation that was entirely neutral in that I wasn’t telling him to do anything or prising out information about his life.
Then there was the physical aspect to the retreat. He mastered the poses with ease – and more. Stuff that I’d been working on for the last year he did with the natural grace of a 19-year old. He was already athletically in excellent shape as a rock climber, so had the requisite strength and balance, and was soon doing an impeccable headstand – but I took a secret delight in being able to bend more deeply that he could. But what pleasure to be able to do these things together, with no real competition behind it. And there was playtime too – laughter when he pushed me over whilst attempting Warrior 3; shared winks as we peeked sideways from downward dog; gritted teeth as we held the star position; and laughter as he swayed in tree pose and gave up entirely.
And sometimes I just held his hand when we lay in shivasana. Now how many mums get to do that with their 19-year-old sons! And who knows what links we’ve built with our children during that time? They may not acknowledge it quite so openly, but it certainly nurtured our hearts.