Q&A with Brian Leaf: The yoga dad
Brian Leaf has taught yoga for over 25 years. Find out how this Zen dad approaches parenting.
Brian Leaf is the author of Misadventures of a Parenting Yogi: Cloth Diapers, Cosleeping, and My (Sometimes Successful) Quest for Conscious Parenting. Find out what happens when the yoga dad takes on Father's Day.
SheKnows: What is the most enjoyable part about being a parent? What is the most challenging?
Brian Leaf: The most enjoyable part is the sheer bliss of loving someone else so purely, so completely — the feeling of true connection and pure selfless love. The challenge is almost everything else.
SK: You write about parenting injuries, such as the time Gwen kicked you in the nose while you both rescued Noah from behind the couch. Any new injuries?
BL: Always. Just last week, Gwen, our boys and I were sledding. I kept reminding the boys not to linger at the bottom of the hill. Then, Benji, my 4-year-old, got tangled in his sled and I ran down to help him. I forgot my own advice and was standing with my back to the hill. I barely heard Gwen shout, “Brian, look out!” I turned my head to look behind me up the hill and saw a kid heading straight at me. I couldn’t move because then she’d hit Benji. I had to take one for the team. I braced myself, thinking maybe I could catch her and slow her down or turn her. No dice. She was like a bullet. Thankfully her angle meant that she hit me and missed Benji, but I was left flat on my back. Taken out by a 5-year-old.
SK: In the chapter, "Operation Meditation", you describe getting up to meditate and needing to creep out of bed without waking your wife or baby. Why was this so important?
BL: Gwen and baby Benji were not sleeping well and let me tell you, you do not want to wake a mama who is not sleeping well. So I'd carefully remove the covers, inch by inch, which in the dead of night sounded exactly like a crinkly bag of potato chips. I'd climb off the bed, and in the pitch black, round the corner, where the bed frame had a jutting protuberance at exactly shin height. At 5:00 in the morning I'd forget this every time. I'd stifle my cries and on the way out, shut the door in one motion, careful that it did not squeak, promising to myself that today was the day I would remember to oil the hinges.
SK: You write that the class you and Gwen took "failed to prepare us for labor and parenting." Why was that?
BL: This wasn't at all the teacher’s fault. Until we have children of our own, human beings are incapable of understanding what birth and parenting are really like — the sacrifices and challenges. In fact, even right now, if you are not yet a parent, and you are reading this, your mind censors it. It’s like a covenant with God. All you see is something like, “Yum, aren’t kids sooo cute!”
SK: Do you think little kids should do yoga?
BL: Little kids doing yoga is super cute — they pretend to be animals and crawl around the room and hold postures and have imaginary adventures. But, I think they don’t really need yoga. We need yoga. Our kids just need to eat less sugar and frolic in the woods more. I need yoga to control my fear that Noah will be eaten by a bear or that the sweaty guy on the elevator is going to grab him and run. Kids aren't afraid of any of that. I do yoga to become more like them.
SK: The chapter "Greased Lightning" is about car seats. What are your feelings on the topic?
BL: I hate car seats. I hate installing them, having to wrestle the seat belts and clips into place. I’m sweating now just visualizing it. The way you have to bend awkwardly over the car seat and reach and reach and jam the clips into the LATCH anchors, pushing crumbs and lint under your fingernails. And then to tighten the straps by pulling and slightly jumping up to make sure you get a strong enough tug. I bump my head on the dry cleaning hook every time. And I especially hate the clip that goes over the headrest — it’s always slightly too short and yet the strap is, like, 16 feet long, so I have to tuck all the excess behind the seat. ??
And when you have to move a car seat, there’s the petri dish of Trader Joe’s Os and dust bunnies and pennies and rotting banana that festers underneath. ??
Sweating and hurting my back and cleaning the rotting putty beneath are actually the easy part. At least these are tangible. I can do something about them. The worst part is the anxiety — have I installed it correctly? When I rock the seat side to side does it move less than one inch? Is the seat substantially reclined but not more than 45 degrees? Will my actions result in the death of my child?
SK: Has your background in yoga helped you be a better parent? How?
BL: Yes, yoga and meditation allow me to tune into my feelings and my heart and to parent from that place. Parenting according to the rules of any particular approach, I think, would be very stressful. But parenting from my heart is much more organic and sustainable.
SK: You write that parents fall into three categories, Mainstream, Alternative and Nearly Amish. Tell me about that. Where do you fit in?
BL: I’m fascinated that parenting approaches tend to come in bundles. If you choose to cosleep, you’ll probably nurse for a couple of years. If you use cloth diapers, I’d be shocked if you didn’t own an amber necklace or two for your teething baby.
Here’s a simple test to figure out in which category you belong, even if you’re not a parent. Do you own: A) his and her snow mobiles B) aluminum snow shoes from a local sporting goods store or C) homemade snowshoes with rawhide lacings?
Gwen and I fall somewhere between the second and third categories.