The Yoga of Motherhood

Whenever motherhood (or adulthood, for that matter) makes us feel vulnerable or inadequate or frazzled, we can turn to the image of the Hindu Divine Mother – in all her bold glory – to remind us that we are loved completely – no matter how crazy it gets or how crazy we get. Some of us may not exactly be feeling rosy as Mother’s Day rolls around this year, but we can try shifting our gaze to the Divine Mother. As we honor Her, she will most certainly honor us.

In my earliest hours of motherhood, I recall being propped up by an army of cushions, sleepily attempting to appreciate the soft grunts of a newborn nourishing at my breast, when a jolt awakened me. Too tired to question whether there was actually a sound or just my fatigue jerking me around, I peeked through my sinking eyelids and found the Divine Mother stood directly facing me.

It was a statue, but in my stupor, it might as well have been the real thing. Looking me straight in the eyes, She gave me total clarity in that brief moment. I looked at Her, and thought with a chuckle, Oh. Right. Now I get it.

I am only slightly ashamed to admit that motherhood stripped me RAW. My patience was tested beyond measure. My old life was shattered into unfathomable pieces that I couldn’t fit back together and if I ever had enough energy to actually shed tears, I would weep in mourning of my bygone life.

Motherhood invoked a fierceness in me that I hadn’t expected. Before I became a mother, I seem to have thought of motherhood as something along the lines of rose petals – soft, lovely, natural. Before a rose drops its petals, it is voluptuous; enticing and romantic. But motherhood was the opposite for me.

Breastfeeding was painful, bloody even, as my forty-year-old nipples blistered and calloused to such consistent use after so many decades of just being supple and cute. The lack of sleep was mind-numbing, disorienting. Pregnancy had been a breeze compared to the waves that tossed me on the newborn open-ocean. The metaphor that consistently came to mind was of being on a sailboat with no mast, at the mercy of a landless horizon.

I now know that I am not alone in my feelings, but at the time, I felt adrift and I wasn’t sure how I would ever return to “normal”.

But...but...I also knew that a whole new well of love had been dug in my life’s landscape. A well that I had never thought possible. I had never thought I could love more … and clearly, with my daughter in my life, I now knew I could. And if love could flow from such a raw patch of land, then perhaps love was literally all around me – just waiting to be tapped. Magical.

The statue I happened to be facing in the warm glow of salt lamps during that early morning feeding was the Mahavidya, a statue with ten heads portraying the ten different facets or “faces” of the Divine Mother. Absorbed in the stillness that only an (un)godly hour can bestow, I gazed at the statue and embraced the sudden clarity.

Now I get it, Divine Mother.

Now, I can taste your saltiness with more appreciation because now I know why you’re bloody and your breasts are exposed and you look more like an audacious warrior than a dainty princess.

I understand why you, Divine Mother, are often portrayed with your tongue hanging out, exhaling the heat of the moment, releasing the stress amidst the chaos. I understand why you often look provoked, arms raised, protective and ready to fight. I understand why you sometimes aren’t portrayed looking patient. Because, in those renditions, you are reflecting the full spectrum of the feminine that I sometimes feel within me: my temper, my recklessness, my obstinate vigor.

Hindu murtis (statues) of the Divine Mother are all over my house these days, but there was a time in the early stages of my yoga life when I was frankly terrified of the Hindu renditions of femininity. Hindu depictions were so bold to me back then, perhaps even tacky in their surge of color. These blue-skinned, three-eyed, multiple-armed women, braless and weapon-wielding, with their tongues falling out of their mouths – these women – well, I wasn’t sure I should be hanging out with them. Was it wise to associate with such wildness?

She, the Hindu Divine Mother, was so different from the placid, stained-glass Virgin I had watched from the pews of my Christian upbringing. She was cosmic; strong and unbreakable – a total rebel compared to the demure Virgin I knew.

Unlike the spirited, mood-swing colors of Hindu images, I had grown up comfortable with the commonplace, subdued whites and blues of Christianity. The association of these gentle colors made God easy-to-swallow. These colors invoked the heavens and made divinity feel distant.

God wore a white robe and stood on white clouds and had a white beard. Mary, in her long blue veil, seemed placid and celestial. And it was clear that in the heavens, Mary was second-ranked. It wasn’t about the feminine, it was about “Our Father”.

Multi-limbed Durga, a principle form of the Divine Mother, is a fierce, powerful protector.

But Shakti in the form of Kali and Durga; or even Dhumvati and Chinnamasta – these women had pole position and they were outrageous. No subtle tints for these ladies. Their colors were blazing-sun whites; lifeblood reds; diamond-crusted ocean blues; dirty, compost browns; abysmal, crow-feather blacks; formless greys like smoke; polished, brassy yellows. Daring hues. Unnerving shades. Defiant tones. Looking back, I was scared of Her. And I believe that was the point: to be in awe of Her.

Thankfully, I got to know Her better. By reading books and hearing lectures and chanting mantras, I became less intimidated and more impressed by how the archetypes of the Hindu Divine Mother encompassed not just the softer side of femininity, but also the ferociousness.

Somehow, in the presence of this newfound yoga-based Divine Mother, I felt whole. I felt complete because I felt understood in all my complexities and fully accepted. With Her at my side, I could still feel powerful even when catching a glimpse in the mirror of my cellulite or wrinkles. With Her name on the tip of my tongue, I was capable of returning to calm more quickly after experiencing exasperation. With Her as my chaperone, I could find a way to accept my emotions and channel them as energy and not injury.

Kali, the chief of the Mahavidyas, goddess of death, sexuality, violence, and motherly love.

Have you met Kali? She doesn’t give a rip about your belly fat or your crinkled skin or your unsmooth thighs. She wants to be with you even when you are hysterical with grief or rage. She holds your hand through these confusing moments, non-judgmentally, and like a personal-assistant crusader, she reorganizes your life to enable perspective so that you can return to clarity. She wants you to stand up and allow your soul to be fierce and untamed and courageous enough to combat the very mind that tells you that you should look or feel anything different from the way you do now.

She sees straight through all the petty fickleness of your innermost thoughts and tells you that you are flawless and intrepid. She seems to brazenly look you in the eye and say, “You have got this.”

She doesn’t express the attitude that It’s all good. Instead, she seems to embody the fact that It’s All. With a capital A. An unaccompanied “All” that is beyond duality and therefore divine. Because it is all a part of it; the light and the dark, the good and the bad.

It doesn’t matter whether you are a mother or even a female, you can turn to Her. She welcomes all into her vast arms. Her androgyny is one of her strengths, She can shine into the power of the masculine yang or retreat into the introspection of the feminine yin. She embodies both.

As we roll through another Mother’s Day, perhaps you can feel the All-ness of the Divine Mother. She is the Shakti of nature that dances with the colors of each season: the leaves becoming vibrant in the fall or the nudity of branches in the winter. At this time of year, she is blooming in every flower that catches your eye. She is the sprouting of a tiny seed and the booming of a thunderous storm. She dances in the beads of sweat that form on your brow as the hotter days arrive.

She is outside of you and inside of you. All around. Take a deep breath and feel Her in the cool air that enters your lungs.

Feel Her. Feel for Her. Allow Her powerful nature to give you the confidence to trust. And as you trust, the space to relax. Because you, my friend, have got this.

About the Author

Kate Smith

Kate Smith never seems to be satiated by the study of yoga. Kate founded her own yoga studio twice and has been a certified teacher for 20 years. She self-published her novel, Brine, about a mermaid named Ishmael. She lives outside of her hometown of Charleston, SC with her husband, daughter, and their two dogs — all of whom graciously love the ocean as much as she does.


Thank you! Being 6 months pregnant right now with my own 36 years, I have been wondering about how my life is going to change when my baby boy arrives. And as much as I already love him and am happily waiting his arrival, I can’t help feeling scared at the same time; thinking I won’t have time for myself, and be forgotten in this vortex of this little loveable parasite that we voluntarily invited to come. It’s a conjured contradiction, expecting new answers and new questions to this journey of life. 
So thank you for your input, your view and your energy. 
Katharina V ...Sister, I am so glad to have you alongside me on the path of Motherhood. Sounds like you're realistic about what is to come: moments of uncompromising joy sprinkled with moments of doubt and bewilderment and triumph over things you never thought you would be concerned about...One of the greatest strengths motherhood has pulled out of me is honesty. Motherhood is so REAL. I cannot sugar-coat it, but it doesn't need that. It's a unique and grounding and authentic journey....your little boy is a lucky soul to have his momma already pondering the next phase of her path with such honesty. I'm so glad the article was helpful. Abounding LOVE to you and your precious belly :)Kate

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