Hala Khouri is one of the most well-respected yogis in the world. She's also one of the creators of the incredible non-profit organization, Off the Mat, Into the World, and a mom to two little boys. So how does Hala manage it all? Enter the yoga of parenting.
Hala talks to us about everything from her early yoga days, practicing pregnant, balance, and the yoga of parenting.
MBG: How did you discover yoga?
HK: At the gym near my college. The teacher had such a gentle presence and healing hands; I was drawn to the practice but still addicted to my gym work out. A few years later, when I was diagnosed with cervical dysplasia (pre-cancerous), my healing journey had me give up the aggressive workouts and discover the benefits of yoga (as well as eating organic and vegetarian). I learned that being fit does not necessarily mean being healthy; And yoga offered something for the body, mind, and spirit that I needed. It has been a vital part of my life ever since.
What does yoga mean to you?
Yoga is a practice of embodiment. Being embodied means being able to be present and not let the past rule each moment. The practice of yoga helps me access my body as a tool for living a balanced, loving, and authentic life.
How did your practice change while you were pregnant?
In my first pregnancy it didn’t change much until my 7th month. At that point I started doing a gentler and modified practice. During my second pregnancy I was more tired and did a practice focused on breath, leg strength, and circulatory support. In addition I walked for an hour a day. Yoga prepared me both times to have my babies at home.
How did your practice/teaching change after you gave birth?
Before having kids my practice was much “fancier”; I loved inversions and challenging postures. Now I teach what I call “yoga for the householder.” This means that we practice yoga so that our bodies can function optimally in our lives and support our work and home life. This practice is challenging yet basic. Lots of leg and core work, hip and shoulder stretches, deep breath work and meditation. I’m not as interested in mastering the more challenging postures anymore. I’m just happy to feel good and have fun with my kids!
How would you describe the "yoga of parenting"?
This is the practice of being able to be present with whatever shows up. And to do so with as much compassion and patience as possible. Just like we strive to be strong and supple in the yoga postures, the yoga of parenting, in my opinion, is about having strong boundaries and values while allowing our children to be who they are and express themselves, even when it makes us uncomfortable. And when they make us uncomfortable (or angry or frustrated) we don’t react from that place. Instead we acknowledge how we feel and hold space for them in their process. Children have BIG feelings, and so much of parenting is holding space for them to have these feelings -- not taking the feelings away or managing them for our kids, but witnessing them with love and compassion.
What's the greatest "yoga mom" life lesson you've learned so far?
That my kids have their own personalities and temperament and not everything about them is a reflection of me and my parenting. I.e. its not all about me! When I recognize this, I can give them more space to be where they are without my own narcissistic need to feel like a good parent stifling their expression.
Any advice for someone who practices and just got pregnant?
Once you are pregnant, your practice can become all about supporting your growing baby and body during pregnancy. Forget about perfecting your handstand or toning your abs for now. In your first trimester you may be too tired to practice. Don’t force it! Do restorative practices or just take lots of naps. Once you have more energy, do a simple practice that keeps your legs and pelvic floor strong, and you mentally and emotionally supported.
If someone out there is pregnant but doesn't practice yoga, why do they need to get started?
Yoga is an incredible way to prepare for childbirth. Physically it can help you develop body awareness and strength, and mentally it can help you face the physical and emotional challenges ahead. Giving birth requires stamina, strength, courage, and perseverance! The practice of yoga helps us feel the connection between the body and the mind and teaches us to be in a conscious relationship with our body. Many women get scared of the sensations during childbirth. Yoga can help us stay present even in the face of intense sensation. Yoga gives you courage, and it’s a tool that can help reduce fear. If you’ve never done yoga it’s important that you go to a teacher who can work with pregnancy. Ideally find a prenatal yoga class. And get clearance from your doctor or midwife, of course.
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