Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

My husband Zach and I found ourselves with unexpected early morning childcare last Friday, and while my first instinct was to cram in some work time, I thankfully shoved that nonsense aside.

We grabbed our bikes and pedaled through an unseasonably warm November day to our favorite brunch spot.

As is so often the way with parents of young children when given solo time, Zach and I spent a while just sighing over our scrambles and celebrating the fact that no small people were arguing in high-pitched voices over the fairness of maple syrup distribution.

Then I scanned the restaurant for cute babies I could drool over to quell that nauseating feeling of delight and heartache over being away from our own sweet little miss.

But after a few minutes, it hit me. What are all these people doing here on a regular Friday morning?

We were there on a lark, cashing in on a childcare jackpot. But these Friday morning brunchers all looked so comfortable, so guilt-free, so self-possessed in their decision to take time out of a plain old weekday to do something for themselves.

I wanted desperately to just enjoy my scramble in an uncomplicated, non-analytical way. Wished I could stop questioning the smiling faces of my fellow dining companions, and just accept this blissful time out of my normal routine. But along came judgement nonetheless, and I was incredulous: “Who do these people think they are, just going to brunch because they feel like it on a Friday morning?”

I snapped out of it pretty quickly, but the judgy unease lingered for the rest of the day like that brunchy smell on my coat.

It’s time to just come out and admit it:

Hi, I’m Kerry. I’m tired, and I struggle to make time for myself. And it’s been that way for a long, long time.

Some of that is my kids’ fault (love you, kiddos!). But mostly it’s my own.

My kids aren’t the ones who decide it’s a great idea to cram five activities into a day that should probably accommodate three, max. They don’t tell me I should prioritize answering emails over yoga, that the overflowing basket of clean laundry trumps the need to book my monthly maintenance massage. Heck, my 8-year old daughter used to come into the living room while I was practicing yoga and insist upon giving me a “masshage” (after which she’d ask for one back!).

To my fellow tired, burned out, overextended friends: b2ap3_thumbnail_Reclining-Bound-Angle-Pose-Supta-Baddha-Konasana-Supported-Restorative-29.jpg

You don’t need anyone’s permission to take good care of yourself.

That means:

Your kids, your partner, your parents, your friend, your dog, your boss, your co-worker, etc.

No one.

And while we’re at it:

No one – not even the people on the above list who love you dearly, not even those who give you massage gift cards for your birthday or offer to watch your kids so you can go to yoga – can make time for self-care but you.

No one can make time for self-care but you.

You can wait for it to happen, you can even fume over the fact that it still hasn’t (“……and how can he or she or they not know how much I desperately need time for myself??????”). But if I were you, I’d take a completely different approach. A radical step in the much-needed right direction.

Decide you’re worthy, embrace the fact that self-care makes you a happier and more pleasant person to be around, and don’t make any room for excuses. Be as self-possessed as a Friday morning bruncher and just make that business happen.

It doesn’t take much of an investment in the self-care bank to do the trick, but you do need to consistently deposit. After our quick morning escape into the world of child-free dining, I had the most lovely day! I felt carefree, light, and better prepared to tackle whatever our three rascals threw at us over an action-packed weekend.

 

Self-care only works if you do it, and you’ll only do it if you stop making excuses and accept the fact that this is something no one else can do for you. So seriously. Isn’t it time you got to it?

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Posted by on in Yoga

I used to pretend to have the answer to this commonly-asked yoga student question.

Here’s how it went:

A student came up to me after a nice, juicy gentle practice that included several long restorative poses. She gushed about how peaceful and calm she felt after the practice.b2ap3_thumbnail_Childs-Pose-Balasana-Restorative.jpg

“I love the restorative poses,” she said. Then she added, in a whisper, “But I can’t help falling asleep. Is that okay?”

I smiled and nodded knowingly, as a wise yoga teacher should, and told her that savasana is different than sleep. To keep herself mindful and awake, I suggested she focus more intently on her breath.

I wasn’t intentionally misleading her. I believed my answer wholeheartedly at the time, because that’s what I’d been told by my teachers.

But could I actually follow my own advice?

With three kids, a business, and work hours that regularly kept me in front of my computer till 2am?

No way.

A 5-minute savasana was totally doable; I was present, still, mindful, awake.

When the duration crept up to 7-10 minutes, it was a toss-up; I might do one of those savasana arm twitches that gave me away to the teacher, but I could usually play it off like I just had an urgent (and twitchy) need to adjust my hand position.

But man, when the teacher went yoga nidra on me, it was over. Guaranteed, I’d be doing the twitch AND that weird sleepy exhale “HAAAA” sound that was tough to disguise.

I hated that feeling. Not the sleepy, relaxed goodness which was wonderful and clearly much-needed.

I hated the fear of getting too relaxed, as if there is such a thing.

My approach to long, deep relaxation in group classes was completely counterproductive. Worried I’d be exposed as a negligent savasana practitioner, I’d keep my mind on high alert. Sometimes it worked, but other times I still woke myself with an errant arm banging on the bamboo floor (followed by some pretend arm position adjustments to play it cool).

You’ve probably already figured out that yoga practice makes a lot of things better. Yoga can soothe everyday aches and pains, help you feel stronger and more alive, give you a feeling of peace and calm unlike anything else you experience in your day. But it can’t solve all your physical, mental, or emotional woes.

If you’re not getting enough sleep, I’ve got news for you. You WILL fall asleep in restorative poses (if you’re really going for it rather than taking the high alert approach I was attempting).

So what’s my new answer?

When a student from my Gentle class asked about the savasana/sleep issue this week, I told her it’s okay, and it still happens to me, too. The way I figure, with my third child approaching 18 months, I have a lot of catching up to do.

You’re not a savasana failure when you fall asleep. You could probably just use a little more sleep and  rest.

What’s the difference between sleep and rest?

Sleep is that thing that happens at bedtime, while rest is the conscious and mindful practice of relaxing body and mind. They’re different, but both are essential for total, vibrant health and exquisiteness.

Conscious rest is the companion practice to good sleep hygiene, and it belongs in everyone’s day, in my opinion. It’s different than watching TV, browsing Facebook updates, and even reading. It’s doing nothing, with intentionality.

These days I’m sleeping more (8 hours is my sweet spot), I’ve stopped working into the wee hours of the night, and I feel better than ever. I’m doing less, but enjoying it more. I’m allowing more time to get things done and giving myself a break where I used to be so demanding.

And yet still, still, I find myself waking up from restorative poses.

I don’t know how long it’ll take to get enough sleep and rest in the bank to make up for my sleep deficit. But it’s logical to assume that the longer the deficit has been in effect (ahem – I have a 10 year old, too), the longer it takes to make it up.

Restorative yoga practice has become the handiest little barometer for tracking my sleep/rest progress. It’s an embodied reminder that rest is important, and that slowing down has value (and is far from laziness or indulgence).

Judging from the fact that I managed to conk out in a restorative twist in under five minutes the other day, I still have a lot of work to do. But when your definition of work includes making an easy-chair out of bolsters, blankets, and blocks and then tucking yourself in for a nice rest, I can get behind that.

 

And in the meantime, I’ll be banking those minutes of restorative yoga sleep. And it’s okay.

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Until recently, we hadn’t bought a single piece of furniture in over 15 years. Zach and I picked up a bunch of “firsts” shortly after we were married: first coffee table (which after a few years got a huge crack down the middle due to being too close to the fireplace), first couch (the beastly convertible sleeper sofa that our movers later hated us for), first dresser (a steal from a San Francisco Salvation Army store). Then we just lived with them. First because we couldn’t coordinate a cross-country move AND new furniture purchases, then because we were sure our kids would wreck everything, then because we knew we’d be moving twice in a year as part of our home renovation process.

We decided upon moving back in that it was time for an upgrade. But I wasn’t prepared for the anxiety of:

1. Picking out new furniture, or

2. Allowing our 3 children to touch, breathe on, or look at said new furniture.

When the gray gunmetal barstools arrived, they looked as new furniture should: pristine, almost buzzing with their newness. These stools weren’t over the top fancy or expensive, and I had picked them out in large part because of their stain-resistant fabric. But only hours after taking them out of their protective shrink wrap I had to allow actual children to sit on them while eating. Picture two big kids who mostly remember to put napkins in their laps while eating pasta with red sauce, and a one-year old in a highchair next to said barstools who eats as much as most adults, gets equal amounts of food in her mouth as on her face, hair, and hands, and has incredible reach and quicker hands than you would think possible for a baby, and you’ll have a hint of the nervousness I felt.

Before allowing this dangerous situation to unfold, I read the cleaning instructions with a seriousness bordering on piety. I instructed my big kids what to do if something spilled on the stools with the same seriousness as the talks I’ve given them on what to do if a stranger approaches them in the park.

In the first few weeks we owned the stools, it’s probably most accurate to describe my behavior around them as insane. The kids and their friends would sidle up to the counter for a nice, friendly snack during a playdate, and I’d snarl if I saw any arms drop below the counter top. “Hey! Are your hands clean?” The kids guiltily showed me their paws and I’d make them dismount the stools so I could perform an inspection, only to find that there were just a few crumbs, or perhaps a small drop of milk that I could easily wipe up.b2ap3_thumbnail_IMG_20161001_150109.jpg

Then one lovely afternoon while the big kids were in school and the baby was sleeping, I found myself hungry and gloriously alone, so I pulled up to the counter with some chips and salsa. I steered a heaping, salsa-coated chip towards my mouth, and then proceeded to drop the entire thing face-down on the chair. I gasped and stared for a moment, as if maybe it would jump back into my hand and the whole thing would end up being some sort of anxiety dream, but it sat there, heavy and tomato-y on the gray gunmetal fabric.

While racing to get my white clean-up towel I reflexively felt the urge to yell at someone for being so careless. But as I dabbed the salsa, turning my white clean-up towel red, all at once I knew how stressful this stool situation must have been for my kids.

Irritated as I was at my carelessness, the day I spilled salsa on our brand new chairs (no more than three weeks into owning them), was a great day. It was the day that the stress of perfection flew out the window, that pristine became well-loved, and my craziness was revealed for what it was so I could stop being such a freak about the chairs.

This doesn’t mean I’m so zen that you can wipe your PB&J hands all over our barstools, but I won’t ruin your meal by hovering over you with my white clean-up towel. If you spill I’ll know that I can probably get the stain out, and even if I can’t, it’s okay. Some of the best stories involve the accidents that leave a memorable impression.

There’s a name for this. It’s called Wabi-Sabi, and you can see it as an extension of yoga practice.

(Bloom insider secret – our front desk has its own Wabi-Sabi story. Ask the managers to fill you in if you’re interested. Here’s the cliff notes version: it involves my elbow, an enthusiastic jump, and a huge crack in our countertop.)

Wabi-Sabi is a commitment to the beauty of imperfection. It’s cultivating contentment (santosha) rather than wishing for things to be different or better. On your mat, Wabi-Sabi is acknowledging that the external expression of a pose may look completely different from right to left side, it’s smiling when you can’t stop wobbling in a balance pose, and it’s being kind to yourself when your mind refuses to slow down as you’re attempting to practice meditation.

 

Bringing the concept of Wabi-Sabi into your daily life is a great way to reframe life’s spills and take some of the pressure off yourself. Celebrate the woops moments in your own life and on your mat, knowing that the stains, dings, and dents are part of what makes life well-loved and beautiful.

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I had just put my one-year-old to bed and was trying to squeeze a little work in before the next step in the nightly family routine. My big kids were fiddling around before their own bedtime when my 10 year-old son walked over to my desk and said, “Can I talk to you?” I kept my eyes on the computer screen and told him I needed to finish the email I was working on. He stayed put and said, “I need your full attention for a few minutes. Can we sit on the couch?”

I didn’t type another letter, astonished and proud of this sensitive boy’s eloquence. We sat together and he told me about a worry, something so little but big enough to bring tears. As we sat together, talking and cuddling, I was completely with him, unaware of my to-do list, my phone’s whereabouts, or the progress of the email I had been working on. It was simultaneously awesome that he found the words to tell me what he needed in that moment, and awful that he had to ask. Would this plea have been necessary 10 years ago before our devices got so smart that they made work and home life bleed together seamlessly?

Meet Distracted Mommy.

Distracted Mommy is the new Mean Mommy.b2ap3_thumbnail_Mean-Mommy.jpg

She’s the one who tells you it’s okay to reply to that non-time-sensitive text message while your daughter is telling you about a tough day at school. Distracted Mommy feels anxious if you’re not multi-tasking, and she breaks out in a sweat if you leave a beep or flash or vibration unanswered for more than a minute or two. She’s sneaky and greedy: she’ll pretend she’s giving conversations her full attention, but both kids and adults know the truth. And when her kids start manifesting the bad technology habits they learned from her, she goes Mean Mommy on them (“NO &@#&& PHONES AT THE DINNER TABLE!!!”).

Distracted Mommy is Mean Mommy’s passive-aggressive sister, and she has the same issues – not enough me-time, not enough self-care, not enough sleep (doesn’t that sound like most moms you know?) – only she’s opted for a subtle bandaid approach in an attempt to hide it. Distracted Mommy convinces you that checking Facebook updates on your phone while also helping your kid with homework is a perfectly acceptable way of squeezing in some me-time.

I made a promise to myself (and by extension, my kids) a couple years ago before my phone got so smart: I would avoid turning my computer on between after-school hours and bedtime, unless there was some sort of extremely time-sensitive emergency at the studio.

It was the best parenting decision I’ve ever made.

But when my son asked me to really be with him rather than figuratively (and literally, in a sense) phoning it in, I realized I’ve gotten sloppy on this promise. Blame it on the fact that I’ve consciously chosen less childcare and more amazing (and exhausting and all-consuming) time with my one-year-old, so I have to pick up the slack somewhere. And it doesn’t help that the greater culture has slid to a place where it’s common and accepted to be in one person’s physical presence while simultaneously “talking” with someone else via a device.

As my son and I sat together on the couch, his little-big issue morphed into urgent meaning of life questions: “What’s the point of life if once something is over it can never be repeated again?” Whoa. It was awesome to say no to distraction so we could be alone together in conversation, in cuddling, in silence….that is, until his 7 year-old sister sensed she was missing out and crashed our party with her own fascinating questions.

Technology and distractions are big topics of conversation at the moment, whether or not you’re a parent. It’s easy and hip to say that we really need to put down the phones and unplug, but I’m watching myself closely.

Am I really willing to do anything about it?

Am I willing to exercise a little discipline, a little restraint?

If not for my own health and well-being, then at least for the sake of my kids who just want some focused, undistracted interaction with me, and who desperately need models for how to use these life-altering devices in healthy and balanced ways that don’t ruin everything that was once fun about interacting with other humans.

 

To banish Distracted Mommy, you have to be willing to make a personal commitment. It’s a promise, a choice you’ll have to remake hundreds of times each day thanks to the convenience and invasiveness of technology. It’s hard, but all I know is I'm thankful for my yoga and meditation practice as I try again. If this isn't a mindfulness practice, I don't know what is.

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I’m delighted to be able to answer a question from a reader this month! And it’s a good one – a small detail that holds greater significance. If you’ve tried to launch a home practice, you’ve probably pondered this same question. I know I did!

Here it is: “Can I leave my mat unrolled all the time in the spot where I practice, or would I would lose some kind of meditative energy by not doing the unrolling/rolling ritual?”

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Yogis are all about the mat. As an asana practitioner your mat is your home base, so it makes sense that it all starts there. But is there greater significance to the physical act of rolling out your mat before practice?

When you head to your friendly neighborhood yoga studio, there are certain rituals involved with getting ready for class: upon walking through the doors you’re greeted with a smile, you remove your shoes, set aside your personal belongings, and silence your phone. Then you choose a spot in the inviting yoga room, consciously roll out your mat, settle into your first pose, and exhale the stresses of your day. 

There’s something about the complete process from hello to rolling out the mat that’s like a Pavlovian response for yogis (Pav-yogian response?). It’s your signal that it’s okay to shift gears from your usual to-dos and obligations for the designated period you’re going to spend in class. Your mat becomes your refuge, and the act of rolling it out is your promise to yourself: now is the time to take good care.

But when you’re trying to start practicing at home, without the built-in aah factor a studio environment brings, is it better to leave your mat out for easy yoga access any time of day, or is the ritual of “rolling out the mat” essential for creating a mindful environment?

The answer to this question is as varied as the aspiring home practitioner who asks it.

I struggled for years before being able to consistently make yoga happen in a satisfying way outside the bounds of my favorite studio classes, and I’ve approached the mat question from a variety of angles: I’ve stashed my rolled mat in the closet so it wouldn’t clutter my space (inconvenient), left my mat unrolled in the middle of my bedroom so it would inspire me to practice (didn’t work + tripping hazard), and even gone so far as to set up a designated yoga corner complete with my yoga books open and props carefully stacked on top of the mat to look extra inviting (too much pressure). 

My home practice started working when I stopped making such a big deal out of it. When yoga was too important, too sacred, too perfect, I could never bring myself to try it at home because I couldn’t live up to my own expectations for what it would look like.

I made home practice my friend when I let it be 20 minutes of gentle yoga in my pajamas first thing in the morning, or 15 minutes of strengthening asana while my big kids were having a nerf gun war around me, or 10 minutes of legs-up-the-crib on the thick baby blue carpet in my 1-year old daughter’s room after an early morning wake-up.

When I am able to carve out 30-60 minutes for a more formal, conventional practice, I personally prefer the intentionality of rolling out my mat and setting up my props each time I practice. I like the mindful act of neatly folding blankets, rolling up my mat and strap, and nestling my bolster into the wicker basket that (mostly) contains my props.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with leaving your mat out all the time, but beware: if you’re feeling a need to keep your mat out to encourage (read: force) yourself to practice, you may be yoga-bullying yourself. 

Yes, the act of rolling out the yoga mat may bring you into a mindful space that will be more conducive to practice. But also remember to practice mindfulness and self-compassion each time you roll the mat out, then roll it back up, deciding you really ought to reorganize your filing system instead. 

Home practice is a lifelong endeavor, and one that must necessarily adapt based on your current circumstances. There have been times in my life when I was a dedicated 6-days-a-week home yoga practitioner. Right now, for a variety of reasons (ahem….1 year old!), my home practice is happening in a structured way a few times a week, with mini yoga breaks on other days.

There are many ways to approach home practice, mat rolling and otherwise. My best advice is to be gentle with yourself and remember it typically takes many, many failed attempts to make home practice stick. Part of your yoga practice can be learning to listen well enough to find the approach that works best for you at this moment of your life.

Well, that was fun! Thanks for the question, dear reader. And thanks to you for reading.

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