London Mindful Mum Series Presents: Sophia Kouame
by Jen Armstrong
Sophia is a mum of three boys aged 9, 12 and 14, and lives with them alongside her husband, in Thames Ditton, London. Sophia teaches Yoga there as well as in Central London, and focuses on teaching Restorative Yoga to adults, alongside teaching kids and teens, including those with special needs.
Sophia, @sophiayogaforall, is the second mum to feature in our London Mindful Mum Series, and has so many things to share with us about how she engages in mindful methods of parenting. In her Q and A, she especially wanted to share how her practice has developed over the years which has positively impacted on her approach to motherhood. Many of the tools and tips she mentions have been summarised at the end to formulate Sophia’s Toolbox of Mindful Parenting Methods.
Sophia talks mindful parenting:
'has doing yoga made you more able to be a mindful parent and deal with the stresses that comes along with being a mum?'
Being a mum comes at a sacrifice of ones self as suddenly we come secondary to our children. The role of mum is all about serving your child, being there for them, and in society it can be seen as selfish taking care of yourself and putting your needs as high priority. But think about how you are told to put on your own mask before your child’s on an aeroplane- a perfect example of needing to look after yourself in order to take care of your child. When I came onto the mat for my Yoga Teacher Training, I found that yoga made me feel at peace with my body, and that attending class gave me that space and time just for me. It hit me during the training that a main aspect of yoga is about self-reflection and inquisitive mind development.
Being a mum has changed me a lot, and although challenging, it also comes with great rewards, and all parents know what it is like to have those beautiful moments! And I am lucky that I don’t just do yoga, I live yoga, and my time on the mat is just a reminder to come back to myself, the essence of who I am, without the busyness. I find that within meditation, more so than physical asanas (postures), it’s my time to sit back and meet myself which, from that, comes sense and clarity into what is troubling me. It’s my time to recharge. With the practice I am a different mum and have more clarity in my head, alongside more physical and emotional strength.
A mother wants the best for her children, which requires an element of control and setting boundaries, but yoga has given me the ability to listen to them, respect them and be in tune with them, just in the same way that yoga holds for me internally. Before yoga, I would have been slightly more controlling and authoritarian and could to get caught up in my own thoughts, but now I listen more and see the whole picture more easily.
I am also much more aware of the time I spend with my children, it is not the quantity, but the quality of our exchanges. I work a lot so I am really in tune with ensuring this quality in our time spent together. Also, because I am more present and clear now in my day to day life and interaction with them, being able to say no and remind my children of limits may still get unhappy responses momentarily, but the peace and quiet return much quicker unlike it did before.
Many women tend to take a lot on their shoulders, with a never-ending to-do list of ‘I need to organise this, cook that, manage the children etc..’ Having been that way myself as a self-employed yoga teacher, and mother, the demands were sometimes overwhelming. However, my approach thanks to yoga, is to not hurry and really tackle one task at a time giving it my full attention, and somehow magically it all falls into place. I've learned to be ok with what's not done and not beat myself up about it- that's a revolutionary thing for me! Over time this attitude actually allowed me to really recognise what I had achieved, not get caught in just work and enjoy the day independently to what was left to do. Also, I now create space and time for self-care, and allow everyone to get involved- after all, we are in it together! Having this approach has also led to my husband stepping up, and he is now closer to the children than he has ever been.
'is there anything special you do to help with negative thoughts in your head?'
For me, that is a 24-hour practice and my meditation fosters the quality of observing.
We often get caught in ‘doing’ or in a storm where things are going too fast, too much, and when I feel off-balance, negative thoughts can become this vicious cycle. The practice, therefore, is about taking that distance, and reminding myself that these thoughts are not me, they are just something coming. You can suddenly notice, and maybe laugh and think ‘gosh what crazy ideas!’- and be able to think ‘do I need to waste energy on this or just let it go? And if it does need to be addressed, then how can I approach it in a calmer way?’ Don’t get me wrong, sometimes I do get caught in it, but I am better able to not let it fester.
Through my yoga I found my voice, a certain truth that I feel within me, and around my family and others. So if the negative thoughts come, they remind me that life is a dance, and we go through ups and downs. Once you practice self-compassion and self-acceptance, these negative thoughts can suddenly dissolve away.
We promote benefits of yoga, such as strength, and I was thinking this week ‘what is strength?’- for me, it’s not about the physical factors, but really restoring the body’s own intelligence and clarity in my head, and alongside my balance. When I am breathing and balanced, that is when I feel strong.
'are there any things/poses that can be done when you only have a few moments?'
Meditation- at any time.
Two main poses are my go to:
The first: Tadasana meaning ‘I allow myself to embody the quality of a mountain- strong, still and stable’. Whatever the weather, against all forces, it remains beautiful.The second: Savasana meaning ‘I allow myself to pause’. In this pose I can return to myself, and from there, I can give more by allowing myself to restore and heal. In yoga it is easy to want more, to practice the stronger and more challenging poses, but what does getting my leg over my head achieve in my daily life?
Tadasana, mountain pose, is said to be one of the hardest postures! It helps alignment of the body, which when achieved, allows the prana (the life force within us) to flow properly though the body. I can do this pose while I am cooking followed by a half way lift! I put my hands on the kitchen top and forward fold into a L shape. I can feel every part of my body and will breathe in and extend to warrior three and then into tree pose.
'do your kids do poses at home or take mindful moments as a result of seeing your practice?’
Yes, definitely! Most importantly, they learn to rest. Overtime, they spot when they feel challenged or out of balance, and understand so can go and take a Savasana.
For example, we have a rule about their use of video games. So long as they have done what they need to after school, they can play games at 6pm for a short while. Sometimes, however, we get back from after school activities and there is a bit of free time until 6pm, and they may ask me if they can play their games earlier but I want to teach them not to rush from one thing to the next, so I tell them they can chill or do something they feel like before 6pm hits. We have made eye pillows out of socks, beans and lavender before, so sometimes they might take one of those and go for a lie down as they tell me they are feeling tired. They acknowledge their current feelings and allow themselves to rest, which is something that society doesn’t seem so accepting of as it may appear lazy or not a good use of time. The attitude of needing to rush all the time maintains us all in the sympathetic nervous system which keeps us in high arousal- tricky then to function well, think right, sleep well, enjoy the moment or be creative. They are quite sensitive which I am glad to see, as its not a sign of weakness to say I need a rest.
They love playing around with the Enchanted Wonders Cards, and sometimes teach their Dad some of the poses! They are also creative with it and make their own up, and will come to me and say ‘Mum is this a yoga pose? Or how about this one?’ which is really lovely. The cherry on the top however, is in the morning, I sometimes play a mantra through the kitchen speakers as I prepare their breakfast, and on occasion I can hear them singing it themselves. I love that they feel happy and free to sing it and start their day in this positive way.
Finding the benefits of yoga for myself has not only served me, but also serve my family too. My hope is that as my children get older, and challenges become greater, that they will know everything is ok as they have everything they need within them.
My way of being, speaking, and leading by example is such an important influence on my children, but in the same vein, they are also my best teachers! I have learnt so much about myself and my approach through taking time to understand them better. In their presence, I want to be the best of me.
Sophia’s TOOLBOX OF MINDFUL PARENTING METHODS:
Use meditation as that time to sit back and meet oneself, which from that, comes sense and clarity into what is troubling you. It’s a time to recharge. It provides greater clarity in your head, alongside more physical and emotional strength.
Ensure time spent with your child is greater in QUALITY not quantity.
Tackle one task at a time and give it your full attention. Be ok with what's not done and don’t beat yourself up about it- it can be revolutionary!
Put a smile on your face and allow yourself to rest when you need to.
Two main go to poses: Tadasana and Savasana.
A mantra to say everyday ‘May my mind be clear, and my words be kind, and may my actions be full of love’.
Make an eye pillow out of a sock, beans and lavender.
Get creative with yoga poses! Enchanted Wonders Cards can help too.
We thank you so much for your invaluable insight into your mindful methods of parenting Sophia, and it is very refreshing to hear how your own journey through yoga has developed and altered the way you are as a mother.
To learn more about Sophia and also where she teaches, click here.