Thoughts on Yoga & Breastfeeding
Warning: I’m going to talk about boobs. And yoga. In the same post. Look away if you want to.
I was recently awake at 3:27am, nursing my nearly 5 month old daughter. (No, thanks for asking, but she doesn’t sleep through the night. She’s also still a tiny human who has spent less time in the outside world than she did inside my body, so I think she’s entitled to a bit of grace as she figures out this whole “living in the world” thing.) As I was awake, pondering my navel/reading the internet and waiting for her to finish her snack, I started to think about how breastfeeding and yoga are, in many ways, one and the same practice. I know, it sounds crazy, but hear me out.
In order to “successfully” breastfeed a child (or more than one!) for a sustained period of time, the mother has to ultimately reach a point where she trusts her body (and her baby, which is still very much an extension of her own body). One of the strange things about breastfeeding is that it is difficult to know how much your baby has eaten in any given feed. It’s like invisible food. The amount of time a baby spends attached to the boob isn’t always a reliable indicator of how much they have eaten. Some babies are slow eaters. Some babies are fast eaters. Some are distracted eaters. Some nurse for comfort as much as for nutrition. And most babies vary the way they nurse depending on what else is going on. And of course, they are constantly changing, so the nature of the breastfeeding relationship varies a lot from month to month. It’s easy to wonder: is my baby getting enough? Too much? Too little? As an American half-Jew who comes from a long line of “food pushers,” the temptation to try to overfeed my daughter, whose natural build seems to resemble her very tall and skinny father, is immense. (Have you ever tried to force a boob on a strong-willed baby? It doesn’t end well.) And of course, the comparison game is epic. Is that other mother making more milk than you? Would your baby be better off if s/he was nursing off of someone else’s boobs that produced more/better/different milk?
In this regard, the practice of breastfeeding is not that different from what is needed to develop a sustainable, individually appropriate yoga practice. I think to truly develop an “advanced” yoga practice, we have to reach a point where we fundamentally trust our bodies. We have to trust the invisible stuff that’s happening beneath the surface, the stuff we will never see. We have to find a way to feel confident that our bodies are working in a way that is healthy and sustainable and beneficial. We have to accept that they are constantly changing, become patient and watchful of those shifts, and adapt accordingly. We have to stop the endless comparisons and recognise that it’s all “normal” and okay and we don’t have to do any of the practice the exact same way as the person next to us. And this is hard for a lot of modern, western yogis because society has programmed us to believe that our bodies are unreliable, that they must be coaxed/starved/intensively trained to homogeneously behave in unnatural ways.
So, TL;DR? I’m not practising much asana these days. But I’m still thinking about and practising yoga. Sorry for talking about boobs if that offended you. But if it did offend you, maybe sort that out?