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June 14, 2016

Feminism made leaps and bounds in the 20th century, and, although there is still progress to be made, both men and women in the Western world are less bound by traditional gender stereotypes than ever before. As a result, the qualities considered admirable in a 21st century dad are completely different than they were 100 years ago . The emotionally distant provider whose main role as a father was to enact discipline has been replaced by the involved dad who is equally comfortable engaging in a heart-to-heart conversation over a pretend tea party as he is teaching his child how to ride a bike . Here are eight yoga practices to prepare, support, and relieve the modern dad:


      1. Salabhasana .  Especially with the popularization of babywearing, modern dads carry their babies more than ever before. This often results in tight shoulder and neck muscles, and an overtired low back. A regular practice of  locust pose with hands interlaced behind the back  addresses both of these issues. Locust strengthens the muscles along the whole spine, which helps keep the shoulders in a healthy position and prevent low back achiness. Interlacing the the hands behind the back and reaching the knuckles toward the heels stretches the muscles that get tight when a heavy baby or toddler pulls your shoulders forward.

      2. Plank pose.  Pair salabhasana with plank pose to prime your core  for whatever fatherhood throws your way. Whether it is lowering a baby onto a crib mattress on the bottom setting, having two kids and a dog jump on you when you get home, or carrying a sleeping eight-year-old from the car to the bedroom, a strong core will help protect your spine and keep you hands-on with your children for years to come.

      3. Sukhasana .  There’s no avoiding it: the 21st century dad is down on the floor all the time, so it is essential to have several comfortable sitting positions in your toolkit. Sitting cross-legged  is the ideal position for reading picture books aloud with your daughter snuggled in your lap. In your yoga practice, focus on keeping your spine long and tall as your knees relax toward the floor in sukhasana. A regular practice of  baddha konasana (butterfly pose)  helps build the flexibility to sit comfortably in sukhasana.

      4. Virasana .  Sitting in hero pose  gives you the vantage point to sit back and witness your son’s creativity unfold in his sidewalk chalk drawing while preserving the mobility to easily shift forward and show him how to spell his name with all the letters facing the right way.

      5. Surya namaskara .  Any parent knows that young children have a superhuman levels of endurance. Sun salutations help build the cardiovascular endurance to chase your toddler around the her favorite playground as well as the flexibility to get over, under, and around any play structures she wants to explore with you.

      6. Kumbhaka .  The modern dad does not leave the diaper changes and soaked sheets to mom; he deals with his fair share of the unglamorous parenting tasks. The trenches of parenthood are rank, so a solid practice of kumbhaka , breath retention , is key to avoid occurrences of sympathetic vomiting . To practice: exhale to clear the the lungs. Then inhale fully, exhale completely, and hold the breath out for eight seconds ( bahya kumbhaka ). Now, inhale to receive oxygen, exhale completely, then inhale to about three quarters of your capacity and hold the breath in for eight seconds ( antar kumbhaka ). Repeat the whole process three times. Start with eight second holds and gradually work your way up to amount of time it takes to change a diaper.

      7. Cleansing breath.  When it comes times for discipline, the 21st century dad has a different role than his predecessors. He is no longer the explosive father figure who threatens his children into adherence. He is calm, level-headed, and enacts discipline gently and mindfully. Kids have a knack for triggering their parents, so it is important to have strategies to keep your cool. Use cleansing breaths to reset in a stressful situation: take a deep inhale through the nose, hold the breath for a moment, and then sigh loudly through the mouth allowing tension to melt away .

      8. Svadhyaya .  Kids used to respect their fathers because they feared them. Now, kids respect their fathers because they can trust them, count on them, and talk to them about anything. Fostering a strong emotional connection with your kids is informed by introspection about and connection to your own emotions. One of the foundational principles of yoga is svadhyaya , self-study . During your yoga practice, instead of only being present to your physical state, notice how each pose affects your emotional state. How do you respond to the poses that are challenging to you? How long does the joy of a success last for you? What is it that hurts so much when you fall? How do you deal with boredom? And, through all this keep this adage in mind: how you do anything is how you do everything ; consider how all of these emotional responses show up in your parenting.


Happy Father’s Day to all you amazing dads out there! 


Written by Barbie Levasseur , Bay Area writer, yoga teacher, and mom.


 Barbie Levasseur

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