Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Nurturing touch (It's not just for humans!)

Our dog, Liam, was our first baby.  Although he had some initial difficulty adjusting to "another" baby in the house, he and Josias are now completely in love and great friends.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Where happiness comes from

No sooner had I written the previous post, dated March 22nd, than the latest issue of Yoga Journal magazine arrived in the mail.  Yay!  I love Yoga Journal for the photos, and features about poses, but what I love most is the articles about the more philosophical aspects of yoga. 

This one was a doosie.  There is an article about Pantajali's Yoga Sutra and the explanation of avidya, or ignorance.  This is not the garden variety, Joe Smoe on the street kind of ignorance.  Pantajali is referring to each of us not knowing our true selves.  The author, Sally Kempton, begins by explaining that happiness does not arise from circumstances, relationships, etc.   True happiness only comes from deep within; it is our natural state of being. 

Not feeling so naturally happy?  The Yoga Sutra tells us why.  Avidya is our belief (or misbelief) in what constitutes reality.  For example, many people associate happiness with things, experiences, or relationships.  The Yoga Sutra explains that these are impermanent and only passing fancies in the mystery we call life; they do not and cannot add nor detract from who we really are: our true selves.  Most of us mere mortals, however, confuse these things as reasons for happiness or unhappiness.  Hence, our ignorance.

So, how does one access this kind of happiness? The answer is practicing the eight limbs of yoga.  I have personally experienced this spontaneous joy bubbling up from my true self through practicing asanas and meditation (two of the eight limbs of yoga).  It was only a momentary feeling, but it was there.  I have had a glimpse of what Pantajali is talking about and I am intrigued.

This might sound like a lot of mumbo jumbo, but I'm asking you to suspend judgment for a moment and humor me. I'm asking you to give it some real thought, even read up on avidya in this month's Yoga Journal. Then, let's hear what you think.

Are you still with me? Am I making any sense here?

These concepts are challenging enough to me as a person, but now that I'm a mother, what I'm starting to wonder is how this applies to parenting?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

How yoga helped me NOT lose weight

Have I mentioned that I was HUGE when I was pregnant?  By the time I made it to my second trimester I had gained the recommended amount of weight for an entire pregnancy.  All told, I gained almost sixty pounds.

After giving birth to my son, I lost 25 pounds within a week.  That felt pretty good, and I figured it would just keep coming off.  Nope.  It didn't happen.  My three month maternity leave came and went and no more weight came off.  I had been walking everyday for at least half an hour.  And, as I've posted before I was practicing yoga nearly every day. Not exactly Olympiad training, but not sedentary either.   

So, there I was ready to go back to work and still carrying around 35 extra pounds.  I was not pleased with this fact in and of itself, but add the issue of lack of work-appropriate clothing that fits and it was downright depressing. 

Or was it?

I took some time to think about it and came to this conclusion:  I have a beautiful, healthy and joyful baby; I am healthy and able to provide him what he needs to thrive with love and breastfeeding; and (here's where the yoga comes in) I may have some extra weight on me and not look like I did pre-pregnancy, but I feel pretty darn good in my body. 

Yoga connects me to my body through physical exertion, mental concentration and spiritual awareness.  That feels great.  Perhaps, more importantly, yoga teaches me non attachment: everything is temporary, including my body, the vessel that houses my soul.  So why get all worked up about something that, in the grand scheme of things, may be here today and gone tomorrow?  Yoga also teaches me to be grateful and focus on what's important in life and in the world, and I have a lot to be grateful for.  In light of all that, what's a few extra pounds?

I lost a bit more weight in the months that followed, but still don't look the way I did before I carried Josias for 10 months.  And, even though yoga helped me be okay with that, I still have to talk myself through it sometimes on a daily basis.  That's the great thing about my yoga practice, it helps me feel great, no matter my weight, and be grateful every day.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Mama's home yoga practice II

After returning to work from maternity leave, my yoga practice was irregular.  On a good week, I was able to practice once or twice for half hour.  I was becoming frustrated at my inability to practice regularly and my sleep and my body were starting to suffer.  There were also the issues that are harder to quantify: my stress level, how I looked at the world, my happiness.  Yes, all those things were affected when I wasn't practicing yoga on a regular basis!  And if mama is stressed, baby doesn't get what he needs.

I attributed not practicing to lack of time.  What's a mama to do?  Ten hour work days, time with baby jammed into the two hours that he is awake and I am home, household chores to be done, food to be made, etc., etc.  Not to mention lack of sleep with baby breastfeeding throughout the night.

Looking back on it though, there were two deeper reasons that I was not practicing.  One is that I practice yoga in the morning.  Period.  I'm just that kind of yogi.  After having a baby, though, my schedule made it impossible to practice in the morning.  And, even if I can't do it first thing in the morning, I would never do it at night for fear it would keep me from sleeping.  Yes, this is the true reason I wasn't practicing: fear of practicing yoga at night.  And yet, I had free time at night.  I am a creature of habit who feels safe and comforted with routines. 

The other reason I wasn't practicing, is that although I called it a "home" yoga practice, I was really following a dvd.  The dvd required a half hour's time and as a mama, I just couldn't manage a half hour.  And, I thought, if I can't do the dvd, I can't do anything.  So, my real fear was developing an authentic home practice, where I turned off the TV, listened to my body and did as my intuition guided me, not what a dvd instructed.

I was growing more and more frustrated with not practicing, when a few months ago, I received an email from Yoga Journal inviting me to join the 21 day challenge.  Essentially, they would provide instruction for 21 days of yoga and ask me to commit to practicing everyday.  Many of the practices were 20 minutes or less, so it seemed doable.  I got myself excited and decided to do it.  I didn't even make it through the first day.  I began watching the video and it didn't do anything for me.  But, I was able to step back and appreciate the gift that had arrived in my inbox: the idea that I could make a commitment to practice yoga everyday and that it need not be a prescribed amount of time.  If I could find 15 minutes for yoga, I knew I would feel good, body and soul.

So, I did it!  I told myself that I would take those 21 days to see what I could do with a home practice.  I finally realized that I didn't have to lay out a perfect routine of poses, in which one beautifully built upon the other.  I could just do what felt good.  I also convinced myself that morning wasn't the only time I could practice.  After 21 days, I could take stock and see if if was working. 

Boy, did it.  I've been practicing regularly, before bed for about three months now.  At first I told myself that I would practice for a minimum of 15 minutes since it's pretty hard to come up with an excuse not to practice for 15 minutes.  On the other hand, if I REALLY can't find 15 minutes, I don't beat myself up for it.  On average, I practice for about 20-30 minutes most nights.  I am a better mama and a better person for my practice.  I truly think it has moved me beyond the idea of just making it through everyday to being present in my life and with my son and enjoying both as much as I can.

My practice is not perfect.  I still struggle with knowing what poses to do in the "right" order.  I get stuck in patterns of thinking I "have" to do certain poses every night in a logical order.  At the beginning of my practice, I often find myself mapping out the poses for the night, instead of focusing on the present pose.

The important thing is that I am practicing and enjoying the fruits of my commitment, imperfections and all.  Now, if I could just find time to meditate.....

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mama's home yoga practice (is awesome!)

Since the birth of my son, I have struggled to find time to practice yoga at home. 

And, although I would love to attend a yoga class at least once a week, I made the decision shortly after he was born, that while he is an infant and needs me so intensely, I would not spend what precious free time I have away from him at a yoga class.  I know this won't be forever, so I look forward to the day when I will return to class, but for now I am happy to spend that time with my sweet baby.

About four weeks after his birth, I stepped back onto the mat.  I was eager to find out how my body would feel after nearly ten months of pregnancy and the birth of my son.  I also wanted to stretch out some of the aches that breastfeeding was causing.

I took it slowly at first and did a few poses for only a few minutes at a time.  It felt wonderful!  I was amazed, though, at my lack of strength and the changes in my body.  Although it did seem that my hips were much more flexible than before pregnancy.

After a few weeks, I felt ready to dive back in to my old yoga routine, which was a DVD with five days worth of practices.  I loved this DVD and the teacher.  During my three month maternity leave, I was able to do a thirty minute practice with this DVD about four times a week.  It was always rushed, though.  As soon as my husband would get home from work, I would run to the basement and pop in the DVD.  Rarely could I completely focus on my practice.  I was always listening for Josias' cry or alert for indications that he needed to eat.  BUT, I was practicing and it felt good.

After I went back to work, this daily routine went out the window.  My day goes like this:  wake up at five to pump, get Josias ready for daycare, get me ready for work, eat breakfast, breastfeed Josias and head out the door.  After dropping Josias off at daycare, I have an hour commute.  At the end of the eight hour workday, I have an hour commute back home.  My husband picks Josias up from daycare, so when I arrive home at 5:45, I breastfeed him.  If the stars align that night, as a family we take the dog for a half hour walk.  That usually leaves less than a half hour to make dinner, eat dinner, bathe Josias, and get time ready for bed by 7ish.

By 7:45, Josias is asleep and I have about an hour (I try to get in bed before nine, since I have to be up at five and will need to feed Josias about four times throughout the night) to prepare everything for the next day and practice yoga.  Now, we probably all know, having the time and actually doing it are two different things, especially when exhaustion has set in.  For about two months now, I have established a 20-30 minutes practice almost every night, without the DVD.

In the next post, I will share how I established my regular, home practice.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How I became a bed sharing mama

When I was newly pregnant, I began making lists.  List making is a favorite personal past time.  The first list was Needed Baby Items.  To begin with, it was a short list: crib and stroller.  I knew very little about what babies needed, but I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that a crib and a stroller were essential.

So, I went about getting a crib.  I researched safety ratings and recalls; I considered colors and styles.  Then, I haunted the cribs section on Craigslist and found the perfect crib at the perfect price.  Great!  I might not be too bad at this parenting thing!

I tell this story to underscore my complete lack of knowledge regarding co-sleeping in general, and bed sharing, specifically.  To my way of thinking, a baby slept in a crib in another room.  End of story. 

My view began to change as I did some cursory information gathering on breastfeeding.  I learned that a sidecar bassinet would assist the breastfeeding relationship, in the beginning, and it seemed like a pretty sensible idea.  So, again, my search began and I found a very nice Arm's Reach Co-sleeper at the consignment shop.

(Unfortunately, the bassinet didn't help the first couple months, as much as I thought it would.  Even though the baby was sleeping within arm's reach, I still got up every two hours to change his diaper and breastfeed him in a chair!)

As my son got bigger and neared the age where he would outgrow the bassinet, I started experiencing anxiety about moving him to the crib in the other room.  I didn't think there was anything I could do about, I just thought it was one of those things where I would have to push through the fear.  I mentioned it to a few people and they confirmed my thoughts: it might not feel so good at first, but ya gotta do it.  It's just the way things are done.

Luckily, in pregnancy yoga class, I had been introduced to a place called The Breastfeeding Center, and I had attended a few of its support groups for new breastfeeding moms. As the day I would need to move my baby to the crib loomed and it weighed heavily upon my mind, I heard at the support group about co-sleeping.  I began to wonder, was this something I could do?

Finally, I had to do something.  I started to consider bed sharing.  I read books, I looked at websites, I asked other people.  When I knew what I wanted to do, I asked my husband.

My husband and I often don't see eye to eye on parenting decisions.  He is much more mainstream than me.  I expected his resistance and had my retorts at the ready.

To my surprise, he had no objections whatsoever and thought it was normal.  As it turns out, in his culture, nearly all babies sleep with their parents.  That's when I learned that most people in the WORLD share this belief and practice.  How did I not know this?

Well, I know it now.  Bed sharing is not only essential to my breastfeeding relationship with my son, but as a mama who works full time outside the home, I would be bereft  if I did not have those precious 8 hours to connect, body and soul, with my sweet baby.

That's how I became a bed sharing mama.  I never could have imagined bed sharing as part of my parenting, and yet it is essential.  I wonder how others came to their decisions about sleeping and parenting?

Friday, March 4, 2011

I plan, God laughs, Yoga helps

One of the things that scared me about having a baby was the enormity of the endeavor, on a philosophical level.  I was creating not only a life, but a lifetime.  How would I care for this person for a lifetime?  What kinds of things should I try to convey are the important things in life?  What is life all about?  What will I do if something happens to this baby?  How will I go on?

The list goes on and on.  These kinds of questions bob around my brain on a daily basis.  Being pregnant made it worse. Now it's not just my life for which I need to figure out answers to these age-old questions, but I also have to be responsible for someone elses' as well. For a really long time.  Being a mother is not time-limited.

As the litany of "why are we here questions" begins to ebb, the unending list of possible answers begin to lap up to my consciousness, like waves to the shore.

This stuff gets me feeling anxious.  It's a cycle.  The more agitated I get, the more possible answers come to me, the more I feel like a need to figure it out.  I begin to feel immobilized.  How can I go on without figuring this stuff out?  How will I ever figure it out?

Although this is one that I still need a lot of help with, yoga provides me with a avenue to begin to cope.  Yoga teaches me that not only do I not need to have any of this stuff figured out, I am not responsible, on the highest levels, for the outcome.  It's like that old adage: We plan, God laughs. Not that I can't make daily plans, or that I shouldn't have goals, but life is fluid and stuff happens all the time that is totally outside of my control. 

Another meaning I find in yoga is that everything makes sense on some level.  It's just that, sometimes, it doesn't yet make sense on MY level.  The challenge is to understand that and feel comfortable with it.

Yoga encourages me to be present in the moment, in the here and now.  It's a struggle for me.  My brain will always run back to the questions and a desire for answers.  What I know now, though, is that yoga is a place I can go to quell the anxiety, stop asking the questions, give up the responsibility of knowing all the answers, and as best I can, BE with and enjoy my son.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

My pregnancy kula

I had been attending yoga classes for about a year and a half before I became pregnant.  I attended three or four teachers' classes before I found the one for me.  I loved what I learned.  I couldn't wait to go to class each week and learn new things about yoga, myself and my body.  I incorporated those teachings in my home practice as well. 

Going to a class regularly advanced my practice by leaps and bounds.  It was the first time that I heard about the other seven limbs of yoga; those beyond asanas.  I fell in love!  I couldn't learn enough.  I started reading books and magazines about yoga.  I began to meditate.  I also began to reexamine the way I lived my life.  I realized that yoga would be a lifelong journey in which I would never arrive "there," but rather enjoy the fruits along the way.

So, when I became pregnant, one of my first priorities was to find a pregnancy yoga class.  I was crushed when I learned that "my" yoga studio did not have a class that would fit my schedule.  There was another studio a bit further from my house about which I had heard good things.  They had a class that would work.  I swallowed my disappointment and decided to give it a go.  This class and my new found kula turned out to be the single most supportive thing in my pregnancy.  There is a lesson there, but I'll save that for another post.

I've posted before about how yoga helped me physically during pregnancy, but finding my kula meant so much more than that.  My teacher, who was also pregnant at the time, was nothing short of awesome!  I warmed immediately in the presence of twenty other mamas who were there to support and learn from each other.  I learned about pregnancy and birth, about the strength of my own body to do what the mother of all mamas, Mother Nature, had designed it to do, about giving myself up to the experience and about my own power.  Watch out world!  I'm here, I'm pregnant and I'm strong!

I don't live close to my family and friends, so during my pregnancy, when I really needed support and information, I got it all from my kula.  I found out about doctors, natural remedies, breastfeeding, stores that sell used children's stuff.  I heard about Attachment Parenting, co-sleeping, and babywearing, all of which are integral to my approach to being a mama.

I learned about how yoga could support the birth experience I wanted to have.  I practiced poses that would not only ease labor pains, but move the baby into a comfortable position, and use gravity to help the baby move through the birth canal.

I think without my kula I would have been frightened of birth.  I would have been frightened of the unknown.  With yoga, I did not experience an iota of fear about the birthing process (anxiety about the baby's health, yes; excitement about not being the size of a rhinoceros, definitely! But fear, nope!)

My community of mamas helped me understand that I could make choices about my birth experience, and I could take actions to support those choices; I had the power to birth a 10+ pound baby without medication; that birth does not occur on a timetable dictated by doctors and hospitals; and that giving birth is an experience to relish, not to dull, shorten nor sleep through.

The birth of my son was wondrous and beautiful.  I humbly give thanks to the mamas of my kula.