“(Spilt Milk Yoga is) designed to be mother friendly, 52 very short chapters, so readers can just dip in and out; open to the chapter that speaks to you at the time and take what you need.”

This is the premise of Cathyrn Monro’s book Spilt Milk Yoga (Familius, $14.95 us), a self-inquiry journal where the author invites people to fold the corners of pages or underline sentences that resonate with you – or not. Monro invites you to use her book “as it works for you. After all, it is your journey.”

Raincoast Books offered me a chance to interview Monro about her book.

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Q. Thank you so much, Cathryn, for agreeing to speak with me. Congratulations on your book. There is a lot of introspection in Spilt Milk Yoga. Why did you decide to write this book?

A. Thank you. Spilt Milk Yoga is the book I wish I’d had when I became a mother 16 years ago. Being a mother has challenged and grown me in ways I never anticipated.  It has been as hard and uncomfortable as it has been soft and loving.  I have been pushed to the edges of my patience, anger, frustration and purpose time and time again. At those times a companion handbook linked to my questions, tears, and fears would’ve been more than welcome.

I found myself profoundly challenged by motherhood, from being confronted by my own behaviours to the balancing of paid work and mothering. I felt the invisibility of being a work-at-home-mum, dealing with the drudgery of household chores, struggling with a conflict between feminist ideology and inescapable biology. Was motherhood career death, or the most important work I would ever do?

I needed to find a way to speak to all of this, so early one morning before my family woke I got up and just started writing. I wanted to create a resource for myself and other mothers that connected a sense of progress and purpose to the core value of the work of motherhood. Spilt Milk Yoga applies the principles and practices of yoga to the challenges of contemporary motherhood, so that we can embrace the difficult moments as opportunities to learn about ourselves. Rather than just surviving motherhood, we can use it to become more the people we want to be, to thrive not in spite of motherhood, but because of it.

Q. How long did it take you to research and write the book?

A. The writing took about five years, but the research, journaling, inquiring and grappling had been going on since I’d become a mother 11 years earlier.

Q. What was your primary goal in writing the book and what do you hope people will gain from reading it?

A. The purpose of Spilt Milk Yoga is connection; connection to self, to our own wisdom, joy and purpose, to the value of motherhood as a site for engagement with our most profound development, as a path offering life’s richest and most confronting lessons on love, acceptance and joy.

Motherhood is like the most intense retreat we could ever go on, all the exits are blocked, we meet our habits, our best and our worst behaviours, and no matter what, we have to show up every day and be “mum”, even when we don’t feel up to it. And it’s especially when we don’t feel up to it that we have the opportunity to find a new way forward. Because as mothers we want to do our best for our kids when we wouldn’t do it otherwise. What better place to practice love, compassion, tolerance, and understanding than with ourselves and our children?

Q. What did you gain from writing it? Did you experience any surprise “ah-ha” moments while researching or writing the book?

A. I gained a lot from writing the book, committing to the work of valuing what motherhood offers us, and embracing it as a life-long crash-course in love, forgiveness, acceptance and joy. Every day is an opportunity to face our edges and grow wiser and more content in the process of doing so. I crafted and tested each self-inquiry section carefully to check that the questions were leading readers toward the light rather than further into the struggle. I had a lot of moments of learning in answering the questions for myself, sometimes with the same chapter, but on a different day, so my answers and my learning would be different.

Q. Why was it important for you to include a self-guided workbook for readers?

A. We are all in process, figuring things out as we go through life, and motherhood isn’t one-size-fits-all. Each of us is meeting our own challenges from our own unique perspective and situation, so my learning is relevant to me, yours to you. We can learn from each other’s experience, but as motherhood is so personal and self-knowledge is about coming to know our own selves, it is so much more relevant, rich and profound when we engage with our own processes and understanding. The guided self-inquiry makes explicit the learning each reader is encountering with herself.

Mothers get bombarded with judgment and advice. Spilt Milk Yoga is not advice on doing mothering this way or that, it is a guide to finding your OWN way and what is right for you. The full title of the book is “Spilt Milk Yoga – A Guided Self-Inquiry To Finding Your Own Wisdom, Joy, and Purpose Through Motherhood”. The self-inquiry sections take the reader through processes to connect to what is right for us, to what grows our wisdom, joy, self knowledge and empowers us to choose how we respond to spilt milk, to take responsibility for and to activate our own happiness and peace.

Q. How did you come up with the questions? Did you base any of the questions off what you had witnessed within your circle of friends and neighbours? What was your favourite question?

A. I have trained and worked in psychodrama, role training and group work processes over the last 26 years, mostly in educational settings. I am very familiar with the intense discomfort we feel when we are learning as a result of being challenged.

The questions in Spilt Milk Yoga are very human questions, I’ve heard from people who are reading the book and finding it useful when applied to their roles as CEO’s, as caregivers for elderly, as partners, but I think the work of contemporary motherhood has particular pressures that make it a rich source of reflection and a site of great social need.

The issue of comparison for example is a human one, that in motherhood it manifests very strongly, comparison between our parenting styles, bodies, births, children, how we navigate career and motherhood. Many mothers have fed back to me that it’s a relief to know they’re not alone with finding motherhood challenging, that those shadowy corners of motherhood are shared and can be acknowledged and learned from. My favourite question? It changes with the situation, but one that guides me toward a greater sense of connection, integration, toward greater ease, lightness, acceptance and joy.

Q. What is your favourite chapter in this book? Why?

A. I laughed a lot writing sections like “Relentless Wonderfulness” and “Strengthening Joy”. I also cried at times writing the sections on anger and loneliness. The chapter on “Blame / Taking Responsibility” is a favourite, it was hard to get right but I find it really good to read and work through as a reader.

It really depends on whichever chapter speaks to what I am grappling with and learning at the time, which is how Spilt Milk Yoga is supposed to work. It’s designed to be mother-friendly, 52 very short chapters, so readers can just dip in and out; open to the chapter that speaks to you at the time and take what you need. Revisiting chapters can assist us in realising what has shifted when our answers are so different, so it charts our progress, helps make it evident.

Q. You mention – twice – that it is not a parenting book but in a way, this could be described as a self-parenting book for women navigating the challenges of motherhood.  What do you consider to be the most important thing mothers should know in regards to self-care?

A. Yes, it is like you say, we have to parent ourselves while we parent our children, and manage our own bad, sad and mad feelings of frustration and hurt while being alongside our children in their experience. Often that is very challenging because we don’t easily get space for ourselves to work it out, and because our children’s behaviour can trigger our own tangled reactions. Spilt Milk Yoga values motherhood as path, all the experiences are valuable if we can learn from them. Regarding self-care it is important to be centred in yourself, tune in to your own wisdom to find out what replenishes, balances and nourishes you at your core, and know that doing those things is of value to your whole family. Self-care is not selfish, it is an act of generosity.

Q. When did you discover yoga? How has it benefitted your life, and why do you feel more mothers should incorporate yoga into their lives?

A. I did my first yoga classes in 1990, while at drama school in Australia. Soon after that my meditation practice started in earnest. I found the benefit was largely in having a language for my experience and a way of connecting to my deepest most profound experience of being. Meditation wasn’t always blissful or joyous, but it was always valuable. Spilt Milk Yoga isn’t about physical yoga poses, it’s the yoga of how we live on the inside, how we live consciously in response to all the spilt milk of our mothering days, so that rather than “just getting through the day”, we can start the day more intentional and get to the end of the day more loving, more compassionate, more appreciative and more the person we want to be.
What is your secret to happiness?

I’m not sure it’s a secret, but word from the bedsides of the dying is that they realize they could have chosen to be happy, with what they had. Choosing to be happy is one of the practices in Spilt Milk Yoga and a big one for me. Practices like contentment and appreciation are an active practice, not a place we end up.

Q. I thought it was reassuring as well as simply a good reminder to inform your readers that motherhood has no rules and the rules change as your children grow older. Do you have advice for new mothers? Mothers of toddlers? Preteens? Young adults?

A. Whether your children are two months or 15 years old, you are a mother on a unique journey with a job description that is broad and evolving. If you engage with it as such, motherhood can accelerate your self-knowledge and provide training as tough as any rigorous yoga master. You are on a rich journey with yourself day to day. From it you can learn what leads you toward living from a place of greater love, ease, tolerance, understanding and joy.

Spilt Milk Yoga is a guide to tapping into and growing your own wisdom, which is in there, no matter how far away from it you may feel.

Q. What are you most looking forward to in the next step of motherhood?

A. I am loving being a mother of teenagers. I’m loving what we have right now and each miraculous day. Not every day is smooth, but it is rich and beautiful nonetheless. It is another kind of adjustment when I hold my children and they are bigger than me. We still have to navigate the laundry and dishes and disagreements but I feel more present and peaceful in myself in amongst it all.

We’re about to embark on our first family adventure overseas, to Vietnam for three weeks. I’m sure that will have its own flavour of challenging and joyous moments. I’m looking forward to the adventure of it, to being alongside as my children meet a world of difference, practicing flexibility, tolerance, steadiness, choosing happiness now, and the growth that comes from that. My husband suggested I pack Spilt Milk Yoga, so it’s in my bag and ready to go!

Note: Book publishers and distributors send me books, but the opinions are my own.

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