It has been fantastic to see so much positive response to the upcoming “Mommy & Me” class I will be teaching at Indigo Wellness Center (sign up here!). Last Thursday I attended the Baby & Me class at Boho Yoga in McMinnville to see how my crawling, cruising, stick-it-all-in-the-mouth, 9 month old would do in a yoga class and it was so fun! Sure, he tried to chew on the singing bowl, successfully got hold of some of the studio plants, and cried bloody murder when I needed to use the restroom, but he also had a blast flying up and down as I moved through Goddess pose and peacefully watched cars drive by as the teacher led me through a leg strengthening flow. I left feeling like I had a great workout without the burden of pulling my hubs out of work for childcare.
My older son, pictured above, loves yoga too. He can nail downward dog and will tell you his favorite pose is tree. Turns out a bunch of his buddies like yoga too, and multiple mom friends asked me, “So, is your new class appropriate for toddlers? Can my mini be the “me” in “Mommy & Me”?”. No is never a good answer in business, but for the time being…sorry tots, “Mommy & Me” is just ages 0-9 months (or so, think pre-crawling). For the upcoming Sunday series I’ve decided to keep it to babies in an effort to help parents connect with others in the same boat, as well as ensure that the students, young and old, get a quality workout.
BUT! I won’t leave you hanging! Everybody needs yoga! Thankfully I can offer some alternatives for your tots and older children.
My friend Chantal Barton teaches all sorts of fun yoga, including some great classes for kids and families. You can find out more about her offerings on her website: https://chantalbartonyoga.com/kids-yoga/
Lesley, at Boho Yoga, not only teaches Baby & Me classes, but also a weekly Kids Yoga class on Saturdays from 11-11:45 in Mcminnville. It’s a lovely drive from Salem. Sign up or drop-in! https://www.bohoyogastudio.com/classes/
Close your eyes(oh wait, no…keep reading!). Take a deep breath to settle your mind. Allow yourself to bring to mind images of your favorite yoga practice. Maybe it’s a class you’ve been going to for years. Maybe it’s a pose you love. Is it the sense of calm wellbeing that you get after finally making it to the studio or the gym? Ahhhhhh…feels pretty good, eh?
Now, let your mind wander to…babies. Do you see little chubby cheeked cherubs, giggling and holding their baby toes? Maybe a little one getting ready to crawl, eyes delighted by newly found freedom of movement? Or, do you, like me, drift to the image of an active 9 month old putting yet another piece of whoknowswhat into their mouth as you run frantically away from the breakfast cooking on the stove to snatch him off the floor before he crawls into the bathroom?
Babies and Yoga are probably the two things I think of the most. But there is a compartmentalization in my mind between the two because the two seem incompatible in the same room. Sure, my life as a SAHM feeds my yoga practice in ways that I would have never imagine before having kids. But in an “absence makes the heart grow fonder” kind of way. I go to the studio and teach classes where we reflect on what is happening “out there” and build a sense of calm reserve for the storms that await us in our everyday lives.
If there’s anything I’ve learned from being a parent, it’s that life with kids means you live your life with them. Not around them, not next to them, not after them, but together. Because if I try to keep me and them separate two things happen:
I resent the time I spend with my kids because I want to be doing me things (sounds harsh, but it’s true).
I miss out on the joy of being flexible enough to see the world through my boys’ eyes.
Case in point: shortly after I decided that yes, I would finally try teaching a mommy and me yoga class, I was doing some yoga with my little homies. I came into supported bridge pose and also became a bridge for my older son’s tractors to drive under. When I went into downward dog he tried it too, but with a leg lifted and shouted, “Mama I’m in three little puppies pose!” (two puppy hands and one puppy foot). Then my 9 month old crawled under me and giggle uproariously as I pretended to eat his hair. Was it the same as going to a class with a bunch of adults who know how to be quiet and stay focused? Nope! But, *this* is my life and I want to own it. And I want you to own yours too.
So, let’s do some yoga together, with our babies, and get distracted by their giggles and wanderings and insatiable hunger and poopy diapers. I often tell my students that we practice on the mat what we want to take into our everyday lives. It is also helpful to bring that everyday life to the mat from time to time.
I have a really hard time seeing this picture. Not in the sense that my optical nerves are not functioning properly to allow the correct information to reach my retina and visual cortex, but in the sense that I wind up zooming in on one thing- my left hip and side body.
You see, I am an alignment nut. A structural junky. I am that person who drives down the road and sees someone jogging along and notes not their clothing, hairstyle, shoes or pace, but their form. Similarly, if a person rides a bicycle past me and their seat is too high- I feel I must comment. Walking with lop-sided stride? My brain goes into “Does Not Compute” mode and begins analyzing where and why the gait is “off”. It drives my husband bonkers. It is all well meaning, stemming (mostly) from a fascination with the human body as a whole system and a desire to bring ease and fluidity to my system and those around me. And it is a large part of what I can offer as a teacher- the ability to see where to kink in the system comes from and offer suggestions on how to smooth things out. But it means that sometimes I should myself into a corner.
When I look at this picture I should myself so much that I can’t see the beauty and wonder of the whole darn thing. This is what the “shoulds” say:
-I should draw my left hip down from my left shoulder.
– I should walk my left foot up to lengthen through my side body.
-I should spend more time working on my pelvic alignment overall.
-I should have chosen a pose that didn’t challenge the weaker side of my hips.
But, the more I should, the less I see. The less I see how much strength I have built in my upper body. The less I see how cool it is that I have “back dimples” aka “Venus Dimples” that remind me I am genetically my mother’s daughter. The less I see the awesome alignment I do have in my hands, elbows and shoulder girdle. The less I see the strength and vulnerability it took me to have a picture taken of me in not my “go-to” pose, but a pose that nonetheless makes me feel crazy powerful. The less I see the beauty and composition the photographer brought to the image.
And you know, the “shoulding” doesn’t stop there of course. The title of this blog post originally came to me as I was quieting down for meditation last week, thinking more about motherhood than yoga. I should all over myself when it comes to motherhood and partnership (if you know me and my sense of humor, you will also know the liberal use of “shoulding” is meant to sound like something else 😉 ). Here are some of the “shoulds” I lob at myself as a mother and wife:
-I should bake more cookies and desserts, especially during the holidays.
-I should can my own fruits and vegetables, preserves and sauces.
-I should write thank you letters and send holiday cards.
-I should need less time for self-care.
-I should not need or ask for help from my husband in childcare.
The list could go on and on, and some days it does. The “taskmaster” in me has a perfect mother, a perfect wife, a perfect yoga teacher, and a perfect version of every other role I fulfill in my daily life. At the heart of each of these perfect roles are the qualities I think someone else expects of me. That is the problem with all the “shoulds”…they aren’t really mine.At the foundation of all of the unmet expectations we have for ourselves is someone else’s opinions.
Often it is not even spoken or directly noted expectations as well. I imagine that others expect me to be a perfectly aligned yoga teacher because I emphasize alignment. I expect others to assume I am a crummy mom because they made cookies and I didn’t. So how do we let go of the spoken and unspoken “shoulds” in our lives?
The yoga solution for stopping the nasty, nagging “shoulds” comes in the form of a dynamic trio: Svadhyaya (self-study), Tapas(discipline), and Santosha(contentment).
Svadhyaya (self-study) encourages us to take a step back and look closely at ourselves. Our motivations, our desires, our past experiences, our hope and dreams, even our own bodies. It prompts us to see ourselves as part of the larger picture, a dynamic, ever changing aspect of a series of relationships, to people and food and place and whatever else is part of your life. It helps us to see what we actually want and need in our lives, as opposed to what other people want and need us to be.
Tapas(discipline) is a delightfully complex sanskrit word that translates most literally as “heat” but is most often referred to as “burning away impurities”. The practice of tapas in our yoga and daily lives is about taking what we discover through self-study and burning off what does not serve us. It is often misconstrued as masochistic self-control, but has a far deeper meaning. For example, eating lots of donuts and cookies around the holidays is something that is fun, tasty, and may even ease the stress of physical and emotional overwhelm, but also often leads to overindulgence and not such good feelings. So, we are told to diet and restrict and watch and control ourselves. Much shoulding takes place! The discipline of Tapas comes from an awareness that eating sweets due to stress does not serve us in the long run, and encourages us to keep noticing our reaction to what doesn’t serve us and burn it off/let it go as a form of deep self-care. It’s the act of saying to yourself, “I love you, and that is not taking care of yourself. You deserve better.”
Santosha(contentment) is the balance to Tapas. I absolutely love, love, LOVE that yoga philosophers instruct us to not only let go of what doesn’t serve us through discipline, but also through radical acceptance and ultimately contentment with what we do have. When we go too far down the road of self-study or discipline we can lose track of the all that is working for us, all that we do have, the abundance in our lives. The teacher TKV Desikachar, in the book Heart of Yoga, says, “Let it suffice that we know we have done our best.”
I see Svadhyaya, Tapas and Santosha as three points on an infinity sign- Tapas and Santosha to the left and right, with Svadhyaya in the middle. We move from self-study to discipline, back to observation and into contentment, never becoming too complacent or too strict with ourselves.
My new motto: “The more I let go, the more I see.” The more I let go of other people’s expectations and desires, and even more so the ideas I have of what other people’s expectations are, the more I let go of the long list my inner taskmaster has created, the more I see what I truly want to work on as well as the real abundance in my life. The more I see my own strength and virtue.
These days, most of my big life revelations arrive in the middle of the night accompanied by a bowl of cereal. For the last 2.5 years I have had at least one midnight snack every night, due to either pregnancy hungers or needing to refuel after nursing. There is something so sweet, almost soft, and magical, about being awake by myself in the dark and quiet. It’s not the worst exchange for a good night’s sleep.
Generally these Aha! moments are pretty nice. A shadow passing over the moon that changes the lighting ever so slightly in the kitchen. A cool breeze coming through an open window in the middle of a summer heatwave. A couple of thoughts finally coming together about how to make naptimes easier or car rides less unpleasant. Of course, life would be pretty dull if every Aha! moment was so prosaic (at least that is what I like to tell myself!). Recently I had a not so sweet “head bonk” kind of realization while munching on my Mesa Sunrise. It came in the form of “I don’t know”.
“I don’t know” is a hard answer. Most of us want a definitive response to our questions, so we can keep moving along with our lives. It’s even harder when the answer is to the question, “Why do people do bad things?”. You see, my inner child came knocking at the kitchen door that night, and over cereal wanted to know, “Why do people do bad things? Moreso, why do parents do hurtful things to their children? Why did bad things happen to me? And, if I am a parent does that mean I will do bad things to my children?”.
This series of questions felt like they came out of nowhere, but I’ve been around the “surprising questions” block enough times to know there was a trigger. Something happened earlier in the week that prompted my inner child to go into a frenzy of unanswered questions. My meditation practice provided the perfect answer, the most difficult, but true answer I could summon up: “I don’t know.”I went to bed, I cried over not-knowing and the pain of having to tell myself this hard answer and went to sleep.
I am fortunate (and wise) to have built a support system that could hold me up in the middle of such a storm. I went to my meditation teacher and asked her the questions of my inner child. She held safe space for me and also asked, “Are you actually doing anything abusive?”. This was the proverbial “head bonk” that Zen teachers can provide. I did the little “blink, blink, head shake” and realized that no, I was doing nothing abusive to my child, but I was so distraught over the idea that I *might* that I didn’t see that this fear prevents me from committing similar abuses.
Over the next week I mulled over these questions, and the ideas my teacher had asked me to think about (Am I being abusive? What does it mean for idols or parents to be fallible? Where could I fail my children?) and worked to stay open to whatever came up. I leaned on my mama group and husband for support and also looked to yoga for some relief.
In looking for answers and for some inspiration for my classes I cracked open a book called “Living Yoga” and started reading. Feelings of, “Ah yes, this is why I love yoga!” quickly washed over me until I read this sentence: “Addicts are essentially people who have failed to learn the principal lesson of yoga: Happiness cannot be bought with a quick fix but is the mature fruit of a life dedicated to higher values and ideal.” Suddenly my “Bullsh^t!” alarms started going off in full force. I wanted to keep reading, to avoid the discomfort of that sentence, but my yoga/meditation mind said, “Stay Put.” So I let it sink in, like staying with a tough pose because you know the results will be worth it.
I am the child of addicts. I am the child of people who did bad things. I am the child of multiple addicts, nonetheless. My mother, biological father and stepfather were all addicts. My mother and stepfather have both passed away due to complications from their addictions. I have not seen my father since I was 16, and that was only once since I was 3. He may or may not still be an active addict. I know addiction very well from the outside. I have worked actively my entire life to not know addiction from the inside. This is the bad thing my inner child fears- being an addict. Being an addict and having that addiction hurt my own children.
So I stayed put. I read and re-read that sentence until I started to see why the bells and whistles went off. And here’s the rub-if you are just looking for a “more mature” version of seeking happiness you are no more noble, no more perfect, than the addict. My parents weren’t addicts because they had poor ideals and no values. My parents were addicts because no one ever taught them how to stay put. Or maybe, and I think this is especially true for my mother, no one ever believed in their ability to make it through the dark night. The quick fix is needed when we can not tolerate discomfort. Sometimes this is a physical discomfort, more often a mental discomfort. My mother took whatever drug, or partook in whatever experience, that would take her away from the pain of being abused herself. My father was a sex addict. He could not tolerate unmet sexual desire, and made some decisions that hurt his family greatly(he was also an unmedicated schizophrenic during their marriage and my childhood, which I am sure played a role in his actions).
BAM! Lightning Bolts! Thunder and Bells and Whistles! As this started to sink in compassion rose up in me. These people who loved me and hurt me were also like me, except I have inadvertently as well as by choice worked to be able to stay put when cravings arise, when desire chokes my senses or fear clouds my vision. I am not perfect, they were not perfect, but for whatever reason they lacked the practice of staying put. I will never know what my life would have been like if they had been able to stay put with their often intense discomforts, but I truly believe that is was a lack of support, practice in staying put and the right medications that prevented each of these adults from making better choices. If I am human, they are also human.
Okay so this is a yoga blog, right? Here’s where the practice comes in. Yoga and meditation have the ability to help us train our minds and bodies to become more tolerant. More tolerant of physical sensation. More tolerant of monkey mind, of wild thoughts and busy ramblings. More capable of staying put when difficulty arises. And it does. We are humans full of senses and hormones and memories. On Sunday I taught two classes on this very basic idea: Stay Put. Build Tolerance. You don’t need to enjoy the discomfort, and you’re not practicing fantasizing it away until something better comes along, you are actively allowing the sensation to exist and that’s it. It exists. It might pass(it probably will, maybe even quickly). It might just hang out. But by not jumping to the “fix” to the drugs, or the sex, or the anger, the brownie, the smartphone, whatever, by not jumping to the fix we loosen the grip of needing out. Because the brilliant thing is that at some point we are out of that discomfort. Yoga and meditation have been shown to actually rework the neural connections that cause us to seek the quick fix, retraining the brain to “play nicely” so to speak.
An important addition is something my meditation teacher had to say to me a few times before it sank in-often the “need” is chemically based. Cravings usually come from chemical triggers inside our bodies that happen because we are human, and due to those brain/neural pathways that “quick fixes” create overtime. But it also means we can have some warning or at least explanation, and can maybe even find a healthy solution. We crave calories when we are exhausted and push ourselves too far. So get some rest, and maybe the brownies will look less alluring. Our flight-or-fight response is a cascade of hormones trying to keep us safe. Breathing practices can calm that response more reliably than alcohol. Finding a safe person to listen to your inner child is much more effective long term than quieting her with barbiturates. As for me- I’m 15 weeks pregnant and my hormones just went from 0 to 120 in the course of a few weeks. So naturally my cravings and aversions are in overdrive as well. The trigger for me all this time was feeling overwhelmed by “wants”. Something my inner child couldn’t see, but that I can talk with her about and address in health ways, and I have my own parents to thank for that.
P.S. Addiction is a real and serious condition. Practices such as yoga and meditation can play a huge role in the healing process, but if you or someone you know is suffering from addiction please also seek medical and psychological assistance immediately. http://drugabuse.com/http://www.addictionrecoveryguide.org/
My son has a book simply titled, “The Quiet Book”. It is a super sweet book about all the different ways we are quiet- “Last one to get picked up from school quiet”, “Pretending you’re invisible quiet”, “Do iguanas bite? quiet”- helping children see that being quiet can be more than just a parental demand. I would like to see another book made in this same fashion, titled, “The Brave Book.”
Just like being quiet, there are many ways to be brave. These come to mind for me:
-Firefighter running into a burning building brave
-Lifeguard jumping in the deep end brave
-Starting a new business brave
-Being a whistleblower brave
-Getting a mammogram brave
These forms of bravery help us give definition to the word brave. To me bravery means doing something you know will benefit you or someone you care about in the long run despite known or perceived risks. Bravery is risky business.
But what if we were to expand our idea of bravery beyond the obvious forms? These are a few examples I have witnessed of huge bravery:
-Helping your aging parent use the toilet brave
-Getting an elective c-section despite wanting to pursue a natural birth brave
-Taking antidepressants during pregnancy brave
-Letting an injury heal before getting back into running brave
-Telling your partner about your PTSD trigger brave
Over the last few days my personal definition of bravery has been growing by leaps and bounds. The last two items on the above list our my own forms of bravery. I started contemplating bravery after the following thought came to me: “Being the survivor of childhood abuse does not make me a better person. Being the survivor of childhood abuse does change what “brave” means for me”. (To clarify- I understand on a deep, deep level how surviving trauma can make us more empathic, caring individuals and bring a certain sense of meaning to a person’s life, but as a survivor this also irks me because it sounds like a justification.)
Yoga is where I learned to be brave. Yoga is where I continue widening my definition of bravery. I am inspired by the bravery I see in my students everyday. My students are “Yoga Brave” when they:
-Come to class despite having injured themselves in another sport
-Try a pose that was difficult in the past
-Trust their spouse to put the baby to bed so they can have an hour to themselves
-Go to yoga even though their friends might tease them for being “crunchy”
-Use a block, strap or blanket to come into a pose safely
-Allow themselves to relax deeply in savasana
My goal in teaching yoga is to create a safe space for each student to explore what being brave means. Through yoga I have learned how to listen to my body and respond to my own internal cues. Cues that have over time helped me learn what a trigger feels like. Cues that have over time helped me build the confidence to say “I don’t know why that feels bad, but it does, and I need you to stop.” My husband is learning how to be brave enough to listen and put his own ideas aside so that we can re-establish safe space.
Be (your own kind of) Brave.
For more information on PTSD try these helpful links:
True story: at a party I once proclaimed to my husband, “I AM AN ADVICE-GIVING MACHINE!”. Yep, that’s me! I chalk it up to being well endowed in the empathy arena. When I hear someone is having troubles in life a little light blinks on inside that says, “Oh! I know that feeling! That reminds me of this one time…” and the advice flows. I can’t help but take advantage of any chance I have to tell people, “You are not alone.” I don’t see this as a character flaw, aside from when my desire to help people feel better gets in the way of my ability to simply be present with them. The sticky part comes in when I realize that I don’t always take my own advice.
Another true story: I have never watched Parks and Rec. That meme up there, “Treat Yo’ Self!”, I can’t say that I have seen the show that it comes from. But, I do use the internet and that saying, “Treat Yo’ Self!” was the first thing that popped into my mind when I was having a business debrief with my board last week (aka my husband and cat). You see, I teach yoga classes for people who don’t go to yoga classes. Um, oops. Not the best business plan. BUT! This is because I am that person, or at least I was. (no, I am, but more on that later). Let’s break down my target demographics:
Moms. The quintessential group of people who don’t have time for yoga.
Newbies. If you are like me, new things are not exciting, they are scary.
People with physical limitations. Injuries, rounder bodies, older bodies, chronic pain.
People with busy minds, depressed minds or just feeling off balanced.
Pregnant women. Because you really just want to take a nap, right?
Okay, so these people pretty much amount to 99% of everyone I know. There are the few folks out there who have plenty of extra time, are not injured, are in peak physical shape and feel at ease in the world around them. And they are welcome in my classes! But what it really comes down to for me, as a student and as a teacher, is that yoga is a chance to-
This is why I do yoga, and why I teach yoga. I want you to take care of yourself. You could get a massage. You could eat out. You could binge on Parks and Rec epsiodes. Or you could take an hour or so to come down to yoga class, stretch your achy muscles, calm down your mind, and connect with other regular ol’ human beings. It doesn’t have to be every week, every class. You will know the frequency that is right for you. When the calm runs out, when the stiffness settles back in, that’s when it’s time.
So, the hypocrisy? While I teach 3 days a week, and have a home practice, it has been many months since I made the time to go to a yoga class at a studio. (Hides her face). It’s time to take my own advice. As a mother’s day treat I will be going to a class this week. Not sure when or how and I am pretty sure I will be the least flexible person in the room, but I am going to treat myself.
Looking forward to seeing you on the mat!
Schedule Week of 5/8-5/14
Indigo Wellness Center
Beginning Yoga Sunday 11am-12pm
Prenatal Yoga Sunday 1:00pm-2:30pm
The Stork’s Nest
Mama’s Flow and Restore/Postpartum Yoga Tuesday 7pm
I am teaching at a new studio, Bloom Fitness and Health, and one wall has floor to ceiling mirrors. I was talking to a friend about the new space and mentioned the mirrors. She exclaimed, “I would never do yoga in front of a mirror!” and it brought to mind the first yoga class I took with a wall of mirrors. I learned the visceral definition of discomfort. I felt like a bug under a magnifying glass in the full sun. I really enjoyed the teacher, so kept attending the class, but worked to find every possible space in the room where I could avoid the mirrors. I simply could not bring myself to look at my own body doing yoga.
There is a lot of debate in the yoga community over the use of mirrors in the studio. Many yogis argue that mirrors take away from the purpose of yoga- to focus inward and quiet the senses, finding the peace that rests deep inside. Mirrors turn on our competitive nature and distract from getting in touch with the inner guru. To a certain extent I agree. But I also feel that mirrors present a real life opportunity to practice something we all have to face day to day. We are stuck with ourselves. This is it, folks. This body right here, this belly, these hips, these feet. The opportunity arises- can you simply look in the mirror? Can you practice just seeing?
One peek at a time I learned to look at my body doing yoga. It helped to treat this as a function of exercise, noticing my body respond to alignment cues, observing what happened if I shortened my stance in Warrior II, or bent my knee a little in Triangle. But over time I have learned to feel wonder and awe at this belly, these hips, these feet and the stories that my ever changing somatic vehicle tells. Because at the end of the day we are anything but stuck with our body. Stuck implies things are static and unchanging. But the fact of the matter is our bodies are constantly changing, responding to the food we eat, the exercise we take, the life events that unfold. Even the simple act of breathing can make a drastic difference in how your body appears. Take the pictures above, for example.
On the left, I have inhaled deeply, relaxing my abdominal muscles to allow a full breath. On the right, I have exhaled and pulled my belly muscles in towards my spine. This is a breath practice called Uddiyana Bandha, or Upward Flying Lock. Same belly, the only difference is full lungs or empty lungs. I decided to include these pictures to demonstrate that neither state or image is preferred. I can’t live my life only inhaling or only exhaling, and also will not always be fit or unfit. Skinny belly or full belly. It’s all of the above.