We did Family Yoga for 40 days in a row!
Why did we do Family Yoga for 40 days in a row?
Our practice had slid off the radar for a few years, and we wanted to build it back as a habit. My husband Rene and I both trained as Kundalini Yoga teachers. I did it in 2013 and he did it in 2014. It was a huge part of the formation of our little family of four. I nursed our 10 month old son throughout my teacher training, and then was surprised to become pregnant with my daughter during the last three months of training. Here's a photo of me 8 months pregnant at my training graduation.
Rene did his training while we had a one month old newborn. We both felt like it improved us as parents and was crucial to our family even though it was a financial and time commitment.
This photo is of Rene doing his teacher training.
It was such a loving and supportive community to build a family within. Kundalini yoga practice smoothed so many rough edges of a very challenging time in our family life as new parents. The studio was very close to our house, and held many kirtan events and classes. The vibration held us. I began teaching Family Yoga classes and Radiant Child Yoga classes at the studio. The studio space was lovely, clean, white, with incense burning and lots of space and mats and even fresh flowers.
We even had a family photo taken at the studio. Here it is. It's one of my favorite images of our small family.
We loved practicing with our children there, they were welcomed and celebrated in the Kundalini community. We felt so lucky. But sadly, the day came for the studio to move to Vermont. Soon, without a physical hub to meet in, our local Kundalini community met less frequently.
Our kids grew older and started going to preschool. We got busy and our daily practice became sporadic. I started teaching in my children’s Montessori school and didn’t have as much time for teaching Family Yoga classes. I taught yoga in the summers only, a summer kids yoga camp that my kids could attend. Then came my 40th birthday and I decided to run my first marathon to celebrate. Yoga took a backseat to so much running and training and long baths. Running became my meditation for a while. And then in May, my father died unexpectedly. That took a lot out of me and everyone in our family. We kept saying, "We should do our yoga, we should meditate", but there never seemed to be a time on the calendar for it. And there was a lot of grief which makes things cloudy.
One day while cleaning up, I found a 40 day Family Yoga chart left over from an old Family Yoga class. Something sparked in me. I wanted that lovely little family meditation and yoga vibration back in our home. I walked into the living room and challenged Rene and the kids to fill the whole chart up with me. I had a box of stickers the kids envied, that I had brought back from South Korea. I told the kids they could use my special stickers. We placed a sticker (or two or four) on each day’s square and agreed that there would be a new board game purchased when we reached 40 days. It became a fun family game.
Did I think we could actually do it?
YES. I had taught a very successful four weeks of summer kids yoga camp a few weeks prior and I remembered waking up each day of yoga camp totally smiling because meditating with kids is an especially pure joy. I also was feeling like my son Georgio was suddenly all grown up after a summer of 6 weeks at Camp Grossman. He was starting first grade at a new school having completed the Montessori Primary classroom. I wanted a way to gather us and unite us daily, to keep us all feeling connected even as we each went in a different direction every morning. I was also aware that I had spent the past few months crying a lot, grieving my Dad, so I wanted to model good mental health and self soothing techniques for my kids as I dealt with grief. And I wanted good vibes. Don't we all just want good vibes?!
Did we make it?
Heck yeah! The first few days, I had to keep all the commitment for the whole crew. Then Rene got on board and really into it. And the kids want to do whatever Rene and I do (they are still at that great age) so the ball started rolling and gained momentum. They started reminding US every day. They really love anything at all that involves both of us paying full attention to them. So we made it to the end. To celebrate Day #40 we had a dance party, and then chose a new family board game. Georgio convinced us that “Shuttles” was really fun (he had it in his classroom at school) so we got it and play it a lot.
After 40 days, I asked my husband to reflect with me on the big takeaways that we discovered in our 40 days of Family Yoga experiment. These 6 takeaways below are what we came up with.
1. Have a simple structure to follow.
Having a simple structure to follow helped us stay consistent and allowed the kids to participate and lead. Our simple structure is a simplified version based on Kundalini Yoga Kriyas and the Radiant Child Yoga structure.
In this simplified structure we leave out: Pranayam, warm ups, relaxation time (savasana). We did this intentionally to start our first 40 days. As our practice becomes more routine and we all settle into it, we plan to incorporate these other parts as well. We wanted to keep it short at first, this structure takes about 15 minutes. With the other parts included I would estimate needing 30 minutes. The structure give a distinct place to begin (Tune In) clarifies what happens in the middle (postures, then meditation), and when it is the end (closing song). This helped everyone stay on track and engaged.
2. Expect and embrace turbulence.
On Day # 34 there is a video on my Instagram page of Shalom in tears, she did not want to start yoga, saying she didn’t want to sit on her mat. You can feel the tension. She is crying, her brother is making a face. It doesn’t feel much like yoga time or connection. Of course my first thought was, “Why are we doing this? Let’s stop doing family yoga!”
And then, I took a deep breath, acknowledged that feeling, and then got more information from Shalom. I asked her, “What do you need?” She said she didn’t want to sit on the mat that was far away from me. I repeated what she was saying to show I heard her, and then offered targeted suggestions that also met the other people’s needs and my end goal. I asked Georgio if he would switch. He said no. So I asked Rene if he would switch with her, and he agreed. They switched their mat spots and that satisfied her. She went back to her usual cooperative spirit. Isn’t it so great that kids can go from mad and sad to happy pretty quickly? Turbulence comes up pretty much every time we sit down to do yoga and meditation. Now we just see it as part of the process, working with the feelings and emotions of being human, but slowing down, with mindfulness to see it and RESPOND vs REACT. We were able to flow with it and get to do our practice every day when we kept going.
3. Use structure to empower kids to lead responsibly.
After the first few days of family yoga, Georgio asked if the kids could have a turn leading. We gave it a shot. The Pro: It really engages them, they take the yoga so seriously when they are leading. Plus, it is fun to see them teaching us, hearing what they have internalized.
We learned that it works best for them within a guided structure. Leadership is a skill that they are learning. They both began by being very authoritative, exploring being in charge. Shalom began doling out punishments to Georgio for very small infractions like not closing his eyes. Georgio singled Shalom out to sit on the mat no one likes. So we amended the structure to say that kids can lead, but they do not discipline. The grownups take care of discipline if it is necessary. That eased the power dynamic between the kids controlling each other. There were sweet moments when they would gently give an adjustment, or praise each other too.
4. Commit to Consecutive Days because the rhythm is grounding.
The first day that I said we would be doing Family Yoga, it was not received with joy! The second day was also met with groans. So we introduced a chart to track our progress, sparkly stickers and a new board game as the end goal. A board game was an appropriate extension of our focus on family bonding activities. By Day #3, the kids came and found me on my computer and shouted happily, “Mama, it’s family yoga time! Come on!”
On the days that we couldn’t do Family Yoga on mats at home, we found workarounds that kept us in our commitment. One night we came home late from a potluck, so we meditated together in the car. I traveled for five days away from home near the end of 40 days; while I was gone, Rene and the kids kept Family Yoga flowing. The routine of our Family Yoga practice actually made it easier and less stressful for me to travel away from home. I felt connected to my kids and they felt connected to me through the daily ritual. It marked a consistency that grounded us during a time that we faced some changes to routine.
5. Family Yoga felt really good, every single time.
Yes, there were stressful moments, and times at the end of the day when I remembered we still had Family Yoga to do, that I wanted to give up. On Day #28, it was a Wednesday, and I was packing for my trip the next day. I wasn’t feeling much like tuning in for Family Yoga, my mind was elsewhere, thinking about the flight I had to catch in the morning. But Family Yoga time came, and I came over and sat on my mat with the family. I felt my focus on tomorrow, melt into an enjoyment of the present moment. I felt my fear of the next day, shift into gratitude for my kid’s sweet faces and my husband’s steady support. I felt myself tap into my inner resources and self-soothe. I felt better after Family Yoga, no, during AND after Family Yoga, every single time. I could also see them glowing with good vibrations after each session. We tended to do our Family Yoga before bed, and it helped us shift into sleep mode.
6. There can be self care and child care at the same time!
Because of daily Family Yoga, I was able to get in some stretches and meditation that I would not have gotten that day. I got to practice some self care, while being with my people. Most of the time I need to get away from my kids or husband for self care, but this was a rare time that I could do self care right in front of them and WITH THEM. We modeled self care for our kids, and connected with them, while also caring for ourselves and slowing down. They LOVE it when I calm down, slow down, put my phone down, and take time to BE with them. It doesn’t have to hard, it can be a mutually beneficial experience.
These 40 days of Family Yoga were so good for us that we decided not to stop. The father of Kundalini Yoga, Yogi Bhajan, taught that 120 days really solidifies a habit into your being. So we are going to see if we can get to 120 days now. We are on our second 40 Days, so really 80 days. I never want to stop!
I hope these takeaways inspire you and your family to try out doing Family Yoga or just a simple mindfulness moment and see what happens.