feminism · fitness

Self-mothering as activity

Last weekend I went for a yoga retreat to the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Wellness in western Massachusetts. My friend Laura and I did a Five Element Yoga workshop with Jennifer Reis, who also does Yoga Nidra (or yoga sleep) workshops. This involved a bunch of yogic practices:

  • poses or asanas;
  • different breathing techniques;
  • mudras, or hand gestures done with breathing, meditation, or poses;
  • self-massage (literally from toes to head);
  • yoga nidra, where you lie down on your mat while you are led through a body scan and/or guided meditation.

We also went through these poses, breathing technique and mudras in the contexts of earth, water, air, fire, and ether (something like space). All of the movements, however big or small, restful or vigorous, were hitched to some internal state, or intention, or emotional expression. The metaphysical taxonomy of all of this is pretty baroque, but as in many things, you can take what you like and leave the rest.

The big message I got from all the movement and internal focus was this: I want and need more mothering in my life. This semester in my academic job has been emotionally intense– one of my students died from suicide, and several others have been suffering from and getting treatment for depression, anxiety, and trauma. And for whatever reason, this semester I was the professor that these students talked to about their troubles. Of course they have many others in their lives, including therapists, family, friends, community, etc., but on the academic front it felt like I was the go-to person on the Bridgewater State University campus for student support.

I consider it an honor when a student trusts me with sensitive and difficult information about their lives. It is also a burden, as it makes me want to bifurcate myself into two persons: Catherine the kindly professor, and Catherine the mama bear, ready to do battle with whatever and whoever is causing them pain. I admit that I was more bearish than I usually am, in response to students’ pain.

I also didn’t take great care of myself this term; I haven’t been eating in ways that feel healthy to me, and I haven’t done as much activity as I need to feel good and vigorous and strong. Clearly I need some mothering myself.

So I did what I could, which is to go to Kripalu for the weekend as soon as the term was over. I am lucky and aware of the privilege that allows me to devote time and money and resources to this kind of self-care. I ate great tasting and healthy-to-me food that I neither cooked nor cleaned up after. I moved around and was still and was curious and listened.

What I heard were these desires:

  • I want to move with energy and strength and grace.
  • I want to be less fearful about the body I have now.
  • I want to be by myself and also with others in movement and stillness.

I’m not a mother, but I know lots of them. They seem to combine lavish loving with relentless cajoling, threatening, sweet-talking and redirecting their children to help them move toward their goals in life.

I have goals– in particular, physical activity goals this summer. They are:

  • Bikes not Bombs charity ride (30 miles)
  • PWA Friends for Life charity ride (68 miles)
  • MA-VT round-trip Labor Day weekend ride (100ish miles)
  • NYC Century ride in Sept (75 miles, which is actually 82)

I’m doing some riding and some yoga, but I need some serious self-mothering to get enough done to make these goals. So I’m going to see what I can do to act as my own mama bear to myself. I’ll be reporting back on what happens.

Thank you to all the mothers out there, and also to those of you in the process of self-mothering. I find strength and solidarity and motivation and community from reading your stories and comments.

Happy Mothers Day to all of us!

5 thoughts on “Self-mothering as activity

  1. So complicated. Obviously you’re talking about good mothering. And we need an about of what good mothering is. As a philosopher who thinks lots about families, parents, and children there are some questions I’d want to ask. It sounds like you’re thinking of an ideal mother. What makes someone in actions or attitudes an ideal mother? A good enough mother? A bad mother? Finally, is mothering and its standards different than parenting? From fathering? I think when it comes to food and exercise and self care many women have interesting issues with their mothers who both want their daughters to thrive in the world as it exists and want to change the world. Most women who join weight watchers as children are taken there by their mothers, for example. Anyway interesting issues. Hard stuff.

    1. All of that is just to say that I’m not sure that the complicated task of figuring out what good self care looks like is helped by looking at mothering.

  2. Your three desires are ones I share but had never expressed. Thanks: your post was a wee mothering meditation for me. I am glad you’re taking care of yourself.

  3. Great post, and good comments by Sam B too. I’m glad you took the time to take care of yourself, and can appreciate how lucky we all are in the West

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