Title: Spilt Milk Yoga
Author: Cathryn Monro
After a brief introduction to some yoga language, the book’s chapters are divided into sections named after the five niyama, or the core actions of yoga: swadhyaya (self-inquiry), santosha (contentment), tapas (self-discipline), shaucha (purity of being), and ishvarapranidhana (acknowledging the spiritual nature of being). Before reading this book, I’d never heard those words before. I’m not even confident in my ability to ever say those words accurately out loud! But the good news is you don’t have to in order to make this book accessible.
Each section begins with a true-to-life, narrative scene taken from Monro’s life. With two teenage daughters of her own, Monro pulls from a vast library of “spilt milk” moments—moments that had the potential to send her emotional state off the rails. These moments range from conversations with a daughter, to a multi-tasking dinner prep session, or an exhausted reflection after a particularly crazy day. Sometimes, I found these reflections hit close to home (hello, fuming vacuuming session!). The narrative scene is followed by application and reflection questions that help you apply the practice to your particular situation.
Parts I liked best:
When I read this book, I was starting to consider working from home, which I’ve since begun doing. So I particularly identified with sections of chapter 17, titled “I Used to be Successful: Work and Worth.” I was trying to figure out how I could have the full-time job I’d made motherhood to be and do something else on the side. I also wondered what, besides needed financial relief, working from home could add to my life.
My answer came from page 79: “Motherhood is real work. Demanding and unpaid, but humanly valuable like no other job. In the absence of social recognition, I will have to back myself, stand up for this thing I am putting my all into.” And it hit me: Motherhood’s achievements happen in the absence of social recognition. And when there is so much social media available to consume and create, social recognition can often elbow its way up to the top of our priority list whether we consciously allow it to do so or not.
Monro suggests a way to combat this absence of social recognition: Recognize your own success! “You choose your measure of success. Got your kids into the car well under trying circumstances? Shopped and made a meal? Made time to read to your eleven-year-old? Got yourself to bed before ten p.m.? Great! Well done! You know these things are important. Recognise success when it happens. Acknowledge your success: say it out loud, or even better, let your child, partner, or friend know what you’ve succeeded at and why it matters” (80).
She introduces the concept of “achievement satisfaction,” or collecting rewards from your daily achievements, a few pages later. I loved this example she uses to explain how to rack up the satisfaction: “Acknowledge each part of a larger task: Cook dinner is made up of find recipe, grocery shop, harvest garden vegetables, put rice on . . . naming the achievement of each part increases the number of opportunities for achievement satisfaction in your day” (84).
Reading this reminded me of the early months of being a mother. When people would ask me what the best thing about motherhood was, I would answer that I loved ending the night with a clean, washed, fed, sleeping baby—knowing I did all of that. Adding up all of those accomplishments gave me enormous satisfaction, and it’s probably because I was feeling the effects of achievement satisfaction.
- “Motherhood is a powerful force for growing you up in a whole new way. You are encountering another aspect of life’s incredible richness, entering a territory where love and fear learn to shake hands, listen to each other, and converse wisely. As a student of life, things just got way more interesting!” (22)
- On finding time to practice yoga while life continues: “Tadasana, mountain pose, standing upright and grounded, is a fantastic pose while your child takes forever in the public toilet and you stand sentry outside the door. Waiting for your toddler in the bath? Three lovely slow Sun Salutations. Standing by the car while your daughter has a tantrum or brushes her teeth or hunts for her uniform? Tree Pose, Warrior Pose, turning inward to your breath” (60).
- “When you experience a moment of joy in your day, no matter how small, even if it is just a glimpse, hold onto it, focus on it, give it your attention, and let yourself have it fully. Feel the joy and welcome it. That joy is yours. You can keep it. Breathe yourself into it, let it expand, give it your full and nourishing attention. Enjoy it out loud, share it with the world, tell your child, ‘I am happy! Frying onions in butter smells good!’ Own it, strengthen it, have it as many times a day as you want!” (202)
- “‘The Complaints Department is closing in two minutes, people!’ my husband announces. ‘You have two minutes in which to register all complaints, and then the Complaints Department is shut!’ We jump in delightedly with a litany of complaints. It is hilarious and ridiculous and revealing and liberating. The Complaints Department shuts, and we laugh at ourselves and turn toward our happiness” (213).
How this book made an impact in my life, especially as a mother:
Reading this book straight through was an interesting experience. Just when Monro seemed to have resolved one “spilt milk” moment and given us the answer to life’s deepest frustrations, she immediately follows with another “spilt milk” moment she didn’t handle perfectly and that she learned from.
Isn’t that just like motherhood?? One moment, we feel like we’ve solved all of the world’s problems and that we really have a handle on this parenting thing, and the next moment, something happens to make us realize that life still isn’t perfect. My heart latched onto that truth, and I hope to remember that it’s okay to not have everything figured out right away. I hope to have the patience to learn from those moments.
This book’s structure is instructionally brilliant. I know this because months after reading it, my brain still follows its structure. I’ll have a “spilt milk” moment and then take a moment to recognize it as such, followed by some self-reflection that often leads to learning and the ability to handle situations more calmly. Because that structure was drilled into me as I read the book, I practice it in my life. I am so grateful for that!
QUESTION: What are the coping techniques you use to get through your own “spilt milk” moments?
CHALLENGE: Take Monro’s invitation to find joy: “When you experience a moment of joy in your day, no matter how small, even if it is just a glimpse, hold onto it, focus on it, give it your attention, and let yourself have it fully. Feel the joy and welcome it” (202).
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Edited by Sarah Monson.