Spilt Milk Yoga, by Cathryn Monro

For many of us, motherhood can be the single most determining factor that influences how we feel about our lives, how we respond to others and to ourselves, and how we live in the many little day-to-day moments. Actress Meryl Streep summarised it well when she stated that ‘Motherhood has a very humanizing effect. Everything gets reduced to essentials.’ For Cathryn Monro, author of Spilt Milk Yoga – A guided self-inquiry to finding your own wisdom, joy and purpose through motherhood, it is the challenge of wading our way through the murky waters of motherhood, that offers the opportunity to ask some deeply soul-searching questions.

Spilt Milk Yoga is the book I wish I’d had when I became a mother sixteen years ago’, writes Monro, whose honest and insightful revelations of the highs and lows of her own mothering journey provide the backdrop to exploring motherhood through the principles and practices of yoga. This doesn’t mean a book full of advice on how to contort your body into yogic shapes, but instead uses five niyama – or positive observances – from yogic philosophy to organise the thinking around how to respond to internal challenges. Seeing motherhood as an opportunity for self-reflection, an opportunity for growth and self-knowledge, means that concepts such as ‘self-inquiry, acceptance, focus, purity and acknowledgment of spirituality’, offer a new framework for approaching the lessons that motherhood teaches.

Part guide, part journal, the book is written in such a way as to allow all mothers – even those currently surviving on three hours sleep per night – the opportunity to delve in and gain some useful insights in just a few moments of reading. The author is very clear in her disclaimer that this is not a parenting book – the type that offers advice on how to wrangle your children – but rather, a tool for investigating your own responses, barriers and ways of creating meaning out of the experience of motherhood.

Each section of the book is organised into small bite-sized chapters, which contain a ‘quick-grab quote’ and a page of the author’s personal experiences of different mothering challenges, followed by a core practice – or insight in relation to that experience – as well as a page of self-inquiry to respond to. At the end of the book several pages of ‘habit building charts’ can be used to track the cultivation of new goals, which is based on the idea that any new habit takes 21 days to form.

Ideas such as self-compassion, mindfulness, living with a clear purpose and not getting lost in the external – but often very internalised messages – that our lives are not good enough appear simple, but can be a real god-sent in those moments where it is easy to be overwhelmed by the trials that parenting can throw at you. Rather than a “how-to” kind of book, Monro’s message is more like a series of suggestions on ‘how-not to”: how not to beat up on yourself, how not to think that you need to live in a whirlwind of ‘busyness’ in order to  ‘achieve’, how not to miss those little moments of pure bliss that parenting can, and will, offer you every day, if you can just keep your (potentially very tired) eyes wide open to yourself.

This book is a lovely fusion of a philosophy that is often presented in overtly esoteric and inaccessible ways, but which – perhaps a bit like mothering itself – in its purest form can be broken down into some very simple basics; basics that ultimately every mother, father and caregiver, will be able to understand and relate to.

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Tanya is a freelance writer, reviewer and blogger with a background in comparative literature. When she is not reading fabulous new books or writing about them, you can find her horse riding or walking her dogs in the beautiful Waitakere ranges. Visit Tanya at livingwritingreading.com.

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