Be Gentle

My sweet and silly 11-month-old baby has developed a new habit of swatting. She does it when she’s tired, excited, or frustrated, and it’s her way of communicating that emotion or need to us. Regardless, being swatted in the face isn’t pleasant, so 3-4 times a day my husband and I lightly redirect her hands and encourage her to be gentle.


Be gentle. I’ve repeated that phrase so often lately: kindly, calmly again and again.

The lesson of being gentle comes to us in yoga in the form of ahimsa, the Sanskrit word meaning "non-harming" or "non-violence." And in theory, this one is easy: we just practice kindness toward everyone we encounter. Simple, right? Be a nice person. But in reality, kindness requires energy I don't always have when I'm tired, worn out, overworked, or stressed. And when I'm PMSing? I practically snarl. I'm not gentle with other people—or myself—when I haven't had time for self-care, running, yoga, or reflection. But even at my absolute best, I’m not always the most patient. I don’t always communicate my needs with grace. I can be downright demanding. I can approach a disagreement with righteousness. I’m often quick to judge and quick to speak, and the result is sometimes that I say things I wish I’d said kindlier—or not at all.

So when I say be gentle to my daughter, I'm not rebuking her unkind behavior. And I'm not telling her that she always has to be perfect in her actions toward others. None of us are. Rather, I'm helping her learn about that little bit of space between stimulus and response. I'm helping her begin to recognize that that impulse toward cruelty most often comes from within: it's caused by our own frustration and unfulfilled needs, not the behavior of others. With every be gentle, I'm reminding my kid that there's another way. I'm showing her that she doesn't have to lash out when hurt. I'm helping her practice non-harming, ahimsa.

When I tell my daughter to be gentle, I’m asking her to begin a lifelong practice of kindness, politeness, civility, and patience. I’m asking her to start working on the things that I continue to work on in adulthood. When I think of it this way, I feel humbled. I also feel tremendous empathy for my swatting little daughter at the start of her life-long journey toward impulse control and gentleness. Her lesson—at 11 months—is a lesson for us all. It’s a reminder to cultivate more empathy, more patience. It’s a reminder to continue to strive for kindness toward others.

Be gentle. Be gentle when communicating: your loved ones will more easily remain open to your needs if you tread lightly.

Be gentle. Be gentle in your approach to others. They may have had a hard day, a long day. Give them a buffer, too.

Be gentle. Be gentle with your family and friends. They are the ones you’re closest to.  Don’t take their presence for granted. Treat them with love.

Be gentle. Be gentle with others—and be gentle with yourself, too. The way you treat others often mirrors the way you treat yourself. Whenever you can, be kinder, be gentler, be more loving.

Be gentle.


I published a version of this on my personal blog in April, and I wanted to share it on Whole Mama Yoga since it connects so clearly to what we talk about here: motherhood, parenting, yoga. You can read the original post here.

—Peace, Alexandra