The Six Movements of Motherhood

Emily Freeman essays

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Turning on the dishwasher is like punching the clock. It’s the quick and decisive action that says I’m done for the day, that things are being taken care of by forces outside of me, requiring no further action until I resume my duties in the morning. I’d put our one-year-old to bed, and the muffled buzzsaw coming from our three-year-old’s room told me that my husband had fallen asleep doing his half of the nighttime routine.

A long-awaited stillness had descended upon the house. Nothing moved. No little creature ran scattershot around the living room while I chased it with a toothbrush, or crawled away giggling mid-diaper change. No food rained down from the highchair. No box of crayons toppled off the kitchen table, sending rainbow-hued shrapnel rolling every which way. It was finally, blessedly, still. And save for the mechanical ocean churning inside the washing machine, and the buzzsaw, it was silent.

Though formally trained as a yoga teacher, and an avid practitioner for nearly half my life, I’ve never been able to keep up a consistent home practice. It’s become even more challenging for me to manage since becoming a mother—or, perhaps, the excuses have become more readily available. But on this night, my lower back moaning softly from a day of shepherding small bodies in and out of car seats, up and down stairs, into my arms when tears required it, I decided to do some yoga. I’d learned an amazing series of movements in a class the day before that was balm to my oft-weary back, a way to re-set the sacrum, the bone at our seat that we expect so much of, including that it will move and yield each time we release a baby out into the world. The teacher had called it the Six Movements of the Spine.

Pleased with my decision to use this time on my own behalf, I cleared the living room floor of toys, lay my weary body down on my mat, and took a good deep breath, perhaps my first of the day. Moving through the first of the six movements, I realized that my vantage point offered me a clear view of a small collection of peas and shell-shaped noodles littering the ground beneath the kitchen counter. It was the kind of edible detritus that provides me with regular opportunities for a deep knee-bend (or, as the day progresses, a sort of weary crouch). I should stop and clean that up, I thought, making my way through the second of the six movements. But I didn’t, because it seemed like releasing myself from my practice to frantically swab at a kitchen floor that no one else would see until morning would be counterproductive to what I was trying to achieve. Instead, I just returned to my breath and focused on my back, which was already feeling better.

During the fourth movement, my hand brushed an electronic toy that had escaped my pre-practice room clearing, and the room was momentarily filled with a twee melody sung in manically high octave. I’m like a parody of a mother trying to find some space, I thought, but continued on, remembering what my yoga teacher had taught me about each movement, visualizing my sacrum finding its most perfect equilibrium.

As I finally made my way through the sixth movement, I realized that on this night, the most important part of my yoga practice wasn’t whether or not I moved my body carefully through the Six Movements of the Spine, or whether I took deep inhales and full exhales, but whether or not I could stay present in that moment, in that space on the living room rug, regardless of spilled food and loud toys, and any other visual or auditory evidence of my full-time job as a mother. And while points should probably be deducted for having felt the urge to leave my mat in the first place, I’d give myself an overall passing grade for having dispensed with those urges and persevered with my practice.

I spend all day giving and revoking permission for things, but so often forget to give myself permission to do what I need to do in order to be as healthy and present as possible. Sometimes this means knowing when to draw boundaries around my domestic responsibilities, to know when to let myself leave a task aside for later, whether later means after a completed yoga pose, or after a good night’s sleep.

The dishwasher cycled through to a quieter setting, and I noticed that the sound of my husband’s snoring upstairs had stopped. For a few more minutes I let the food and toys lie where they had fallen, and just breathed.

About the Author

Emily Freeman

Emily H. Freeman lives in Missoula, MT. Her work has appeared in the anthology Best New American Voices, and in various print and online publications. She has written recently about motherhood at Literary Mama and The Morning News.

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