Yoga with Families: an Interview with Meredith Mull Aggarwal

Meredith Mull Aggarwal has initiated practicing yoga with families for Delft MaMa in several parks in Delft. Bárbara Parra Baptista, the blog coordinator took a chance to interview her.

The stress of the recent pandemic can affect expats more than other families. Most of us were worried about our families, not only here, but also in other countries. This burden takes a toll on our body. Practicing yoga with families can be an alternative to overcome this stress.

Personally I started to practice yoga with my husband a few months ago. It helped me a lot during the quarantine. That is why I am interviewing Meredith, our chairwoman. She is a yoga instructor. In this interview she will talk about yoga for families and how we can benefit from this practice.

1. Hi Meredith, tell me how the idea of having a yoga practice with families came to be?

Years ago when I lived in South India, I had a student who asked if she could bring her children along during a school break. She had an adolescent daughter and a five-year-old son. Before they came I worried about how it would go, since I did not have any kids’ or family yoga certification or experience. But, once we were all practicing together, I realized that the same thing I was teaching her also worked for her children. The only difference was the attention capacity for the young boy. So, we practiced a bit faster. We focused less on calming the mind and more on counting our breaths.

When I practice at home, my two-year-old is usually around, and he starts practicing with me. The mom-and-baby yoga concept is well developed and taught in studios, as well as family yoga. (This is more like coordinated games that don’t necessarily have to do with yoga postures). What was happening at home was more organic. My baby was simply copying me and practicing alongside. When he got distracted by something else, he just did that instead and I could keep practicing yoga.

I wanted to share this fun experience with Delft MaMa. To be honest, it worked perfectly! We had children who had just met each other running around in the park. They even looked after each other like they were cousins. Meanwhile, the parents were practicing yoga. Eventually it is fun to do yoga with our families!

2. What are the differences between practicing yoga by yourself and with your family?

When I practice by myself I can focus solely on the yoga postures, my breath, and what is happening in my mind and body. I get a chance to release anything else happening around me and just focus on me. When I am practicing with my family, I am less focused. But, it can also be more fun. Kids do funny things, and watching my son imitate me doing yoga is precious! But I also have to pay attention if he goes to do something else. He is a normal toddler in search of mischief. Then, I may forget what to do next or have to leave my practice spot or even stop the practice altogether. It requires more flexibility to practice with the family, but we enjoy it.

3. I started to practice yoga with my husband, and I realized that after the class we are more relaxed and calmer with each other. Why does yoga improve our lives with our families in so many different aspects?

Wow, what a profound question! As I mentioned in the previous question, when we practice yoga we pay attention to our breath and to what is happening in the mind and the body. This practice of mindfulness is the foundation of both yoga and meditation practices. The act of simply observing the breath actually encourages us to take deeper breaths which brings more oxygen into our bloodstreams. Increased oxygen in the bloodstream distributes oxygen throughout the whole body which lowers blood pressure, as well as decreases headache, restlessness, dizziness, and confusion.

In addition, observing what is happening in our mind and body uncovers or reveals to us our inner state of being. This allows us to understand how we are and who we are on a deeper level. That awareness is the first step to improve how we are with ourselves and with others, especially being calm and relaxed with partners and family! 

“Awareness is the first step to improve how we are with ourselves and with others, especially being calm and relaxed with partners and family.”

Meredith

I use a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book Old Path, White Clouds when I teach, which says, “Breathing in, you are aware that you are breathing in. Breathing out, you are aware that you are breathing out. During such moments of breathing practice, focus your mind on nothing but the breath. Useless and scattered thoughts will cease, allowing the mind to dwell in mindfulness. When you are aware of the breath, you are dwelling in mindfulness. Dwelling in mindfulness, no thoughts or sensations can lead you astray.”

Yoga in the park

To me, this describes it perfectly. Everything you don’t need goes away, and you sit there (in whatever posture) with the only thing you actually need, which is your breath. As a teacher, I say “I teach mindfulness through yoga”, and although not all teachers describe it that way; it is certainly a part of any yoga practice.

4. What are the main feedback that you have received from your students?

Usually when people take some time to practice yoga, they feel great afterwards – with me or with another teacher. It is not easy to dedicate time to yourself; with or without a family, so many things easily get in the way. Over the years, I have developed a distinct way of teaching yoga that is somewhat different from many other teachers, and that is to teach the student to teach themselves. Not only do we have the therapeutic experience of practicing particular postures together, but also I share tools and offer advice on how to take the practice home and do it yourself. Many times the student does not take the practice home and do it themselves (which returns me to the beginning of my answer to this question) but they usually feel empowered by this way of teaching.

In addition, this approach of “teaching mindfulness through yoga”, can feel quite different from the approach of other teachers. I do not use “spiritual talk” or metaphors throughout the practice. I don’t talk like a sport’s coach either – giving countdowns for holds or using high energy language to increase the student’s effort. These ways of teaching simply do not work for my personality!

What students have told me is that they “get it” when they practice with me and that the experience of the practice builds internal as well as external strength, stability and calm.

5. At which age can a child start practicing yoga, especially with families?

Every child is different. As I mentioned before, my baby started practicing yoga on his own without me coaching him around the age of two. Now, that was after him seeing me practice his whole life, and children naturally imitate their parents. Mom-and-baby yoga classes often invite babies as young as six weeks old. But, if it is a class in which the babies will be part of the postures (rather than the babies simply being in the room while the moms practice, which is another common model for these classes), it is good to wait until the babies can hold their head up – maybe around three months old. 

In kids yoga classes, I have noticed that it has more to do with the age group rather than the age of an individual child. For example, I was teaching a class locally that was aimed at ages three to six. It would not be as nice for, say, a nine-year-old to join that class as it would be to join a group with similar-aged children. Children around the same age will have similar activity levels and attention spans, and so the teacher can adjust the class and overall energy of the teaching for that group.

From the blog team: Agashnee Naidoo also shared the benefit of yoga for kids. Read her story here.

6. Can pregnant women practice yoga? What are the special recommendations for them?

Absolutely! Generally speaking, if a woman was doing some movement of any kind before pregnancy, she can continue it throughout pregnancy. Starting something new is not always wise, but continuing what was already happening is usually recommended. Every case is different, and this should not be a substitute for seeking advice from your medical practitioners.

General advice for yoga in pregnancy is to start in the second trimester if yoga is new to you. At any stage in pregnancy, it is important to avoid postures that have a lot of action in the abdominal area – compression, extension, twisting, etc. – even lying on your back. There are modifications for every posture, so you can usually speak to your yoga teacher about how to adjust your postures or even attend a class specifically for pregnancy.

7. What advice would you give to someone who is just starting out on their yoga journey?

I have enjoyed so much working with students who are new to yoga. Beginning a yoga practice can open your mind to so many new ways of being and doing. You are literally putting your body in positions that you were not before – and some positions that are quite unusual. The first and most important part of the practice, though, is the breath. So, keep breathing!

Remember to breathe while exploring new positions

8. What other courses are you offering right now?

Throughout the summer we intend to host family yoga in several parks on Saturdays at 11 a.m. There are a couple of parks we will rotate in-between, so we can enjoy the natural spaces of Delft together and practice yoga with our families. The details will be updated on Delft MaMa’s Facebook Page.

I am also releasing a course about How to Be Your Own Yoga Teacher, which takes students of any level through all the beginner and intermediate postures in hatha yoga and gives you tools to practice on your own and develop a strong, self-guided practice. The first three practices are available now – Sun Salutations, Yoga to Stand On, and Hatha Flow – and you can find out more by emailing me at meredith@merryoga.com or visiting http://merryoga.com. If you are on Instagram, I just started a new account to talk about this more @beyourownyogateacher.

hatha yoga
The first three practices in hatha yoga by Meredith

Biography

Mission-driven and globally-oriented, Meredith is a yoga teacher who always finds a social project to which she applies herself – food security, women’s empowerment, animal welfare, environment, etc. Today she serves as DelftMaMa Chairperson and is the Delft Chapter Director for Wanderful.
Bárbara is an attorney with experience working as a content producer in a Training and Development consultancy. She moved to the Netherlands in December of 2019 and she is contributing to Delft MaMa since January 2020.
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Barbara Baptista

Bárbara is an attorney with experience working as a content producer in a Training and Development consultancy. She moved to the Netherlands in December of 2019 and she is contributing to Delft MaMa since January 2020.

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