The first time I encountered Brian Leaf’s humorous, candid writing style was when I reviewed his first book, Misadventures of a Garden State Yogi. So when I was asked if I wanted to do one on his second book, Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi, I did not hesitate one second, knowing that I’d be treated to another round of humor and entertaining stories from a not-so-typical yogi.
One thing is sure. Brian Leaf is a hands-on parent. It was very amusing to find him in humorous situations with his newborn baby. When he began talking about cloth diapers I immediately related to him because all my children grew up with cloth diapers. He lost me though when I could not recognize any of the brands of cloth diapers he had mentioned like BumGenius, FuzziBunz, Bottom Bumpers and the like. The only brand of cloth diapers I bought a lot of was Curity (and yes, that dates me).
“I am also a yogi,” writes Brian. “Ten years ago that was easier to prove. My pockets were filled with half-used class cards, a bookstore receipt for Light on Yoga or The Ayurvedic Cookbook, and folded-up handouts of Rumi or Kabir quotes. Now, ten years later, there’s less time for yoga classes, and I’m reading parenting books instead of yoga books. But, still, my yoga is alive and well. My attempts at mindfulness and union are stronger than ever. “
Each chapter is short enough to finish in one sitting but it covers many experiences that Brian refers to as conscious parenting. His stories about being present during childbirth, diaper changing, baby feeding, doctor visits and more were so entertaining that unlike some books that I’d skim to get only the bare essence, I dove into each and every chapter of his book. Inside each chapter, you could see the different choices that he had to contend with – cloth or disposable diapers? own crib or co-sleeping? circumcision or not? breastfeeding or formula? It was very clear that Brian’s yoga background influenced him in many decisions as he took the natural route more often. But to me what was very reassuring was Brian’s belief that whatever approach they took, parents instinctively knew what was best for their child.
Brian gives us more insights into conscious parenting through the following Q&A:
You write a lot about listening to your parenting instincts, for example “Sure, it doesn’t hurt to Google the proper swaddling technique or to take a tip for the best brand of baby carrier, but for the big stuff, like how to nurture my children, I already know best.” Can you explain?
It’s about living and parenting from the heart. Over and over again, tuning into our feelings. We already know how to care for our kids. And let’s face it, if we don’t, if we have lost this instinctive ability that all animals have to care for their young, then bring on the glaciers and comets, because our epoch is done. The best way to cultivate and hone this intuition is by listening for and then following instincts as they arise. As Malcolm Gladwell teaches in his bestseller Blink, each time you follow an intuition, your intuition strengthens. I love seeing this as a skill that, with practice, I can hone.
With lack of sleep, constant demands on our energy, and incessant worry, parenting can be exhausting. What can parents do to manage stress and avoid anxiety or depression?
Parenting requires so much output. We’re always giving, so it’s vital that we find a way to recharge. Most of us, I think, recharge with chocolate or potato chips or wine, and this works to an extent, but I find the deepest recharge comes when I allow myself to receive. This can be getting a massage, going to a yoga class, or meditating. Personally, I like to visualize my grandma stroking my hair or my guru placing his hand on my heart. When I do this in the morning before getting out of bed, it actually makes a huge difference in my energy level for the rest of the day.
Has your background in yoga helped you be a better parent? How?
Yes, yoga and meditation allow me to tune into my feelings and my heart and to parent from that place. Parenting according to the rules of any particular approach, I think, would be very stressful. But parenting from my heart is much more organic and sustainable.
Can you end by giving parents one tip that they can easily apply, even today, to make their lives happier and easier?
Absolutely. It’s from the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk and it’s magic. When someone is upset and comes to you for comfort, listen to them, nod your head, say “mmm,” repeat back what you’ve heard, and then name their feeling. For example, “(nodding) Mmm…. Oh… He took credit for your idea?… That sounds frustrating.”
Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi is as honest as one can get about the joys and travails of being a parent. For moms like me who’ve gone through parenting adventures decades ago, I can only sympathize with Brian and wish him luck as he continues parenting his sons into adulthood. For new parents or parents-to-be, and especially if you practice yoga, you’ll find Brian’s book an interesting meld of yogic insight and intuitive, conscious parenting. Good luck!!!