Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

We were having a perfectly nice dinner, our little family of four, when my phone rang. I tried to be all Zen about it and pretend that as a yoga teacher and conscious human being I didn’t care, but after three, then four rings I excused myself and pushed back from a delightful conversation about the latest findings on Mars, which was of particular interest to my son because of his recent Mars rover project for school.

My husband gave me the “is this really necessary?” look, the one that after 13 years of marriage seems less like a scolding or judgment and more a reminder from my own conscience. I made some lame excuse about needing to make sure it wasn’t an urgent call from the studio, but somewhere in my mind I knew it wasn’t. I was simply overcome by the urge to answer the call of the more subtle, conniving side of Mean Mommy, the occasional visitor who haunts our house.

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Yes, Mean Mommy is sometimes the yelling sort, but more often lately she emerges in other less obvious ways. She’s tricky, switching her methods on me like this, but you can’t blame her. I've become better at defending against her old yelling tirades, so she had to get creative.

The moment I stepped into my office to answer the phone, hearing traces of a conversation about what methane in the atmosphere might mean and why water isn’t the only important indication of life on a planet. I said an optimistic hello, hoping it would be something super important, something that would justify my leaving a perfectly lovely family dinner table moment, but I was instead greeted by a sharp robotic “Hello” in return. “This is a message from Chicago Public Schools…..” it continued. To my credit, I only listened to another ten seconds of the robo-call about the importance of childhood vaccinations for all CPS students before hanging up, but the damage had already been done.

Entering back into the dinner conversation, I was out of step and asked a question about Mars that my son curtly informed me had already been covered. Sneaky Mean Mommy smirked from within and I passed it off as a smile, trying to pretend I was fully present, but my thoughts were somewhere else entirely as my daughter shared the latest art project she had been working on.

Mean Mommy can’t tell the important stuff from the trivial and frequently acts as though possessed to find any distraction to set herself apart from the primary activities of the moment. Whether it’s reading while brushing teeth, checking email while the kids enjoy an after-school snack, or letting thoughts of work seep into family dinner time, she’s a sneaky, petty thief.

Mean Mommy knows nothing of asteya, the yogic principle of non-stealing. 

It starts out innocently enough. “I just need to finish this one thing,” I’ll say as I’m blasting through emails after school, talking to both my computer and my son, “and then we can play football. Okay, sweetheart?”

20 minutes and 7 follow-up requests later, my sweet tone has devolved into a Mean Mommy snark as I move from pleading, to threatening, to bribing with television. 

This may seem like pretty standard stuff for any mom, moms being the great multi-taskers, but it has been happening more frequently than I care to admit lately. This chronic distractedness reveals a deficit of time, productivity, and efficiency elsewhere. But instead of being a grown-up and addressing the core issue, Mean Mommy attempts to steal some of that time back from her family as a solution.

Mean Mommy has boundary issues, to say the least. 

Just as I worked to lessen the yelling Mean Mommy’s visits by making more time for self-care (been working like a charm, by the way!), my new plan with this thieving Mean Mommy is to set limits for myself, much as I do with my children.

Boundaries make me better. I’m a person who gets overwhelmed by limitless possibility, so the process of saying “this, not that” is actually freeing rather than limiting. 

If I know that after school I can pick up the slack and wrap up unfinished business I didn’t get to during my work day, I tend to be less productive than I could be. Were I not to have the release valve of multi-tasking while parenting, I would be forced to figure out a way to either get it all done during the workday or be more selective about what I commit to and how I use my time in the long run. Both of which would be incredibly positive consequences.

In anticipation of my kids’ upcoming two-week holiday break from school, I’ve decided to commit to some personal boundaries to avoid straddling the parenting and working modes whenever possible so that I can focus on just embodying one role well. It’s scary to change my habits, and I’m coming face to face with the ways in which I sometimes use work to escape the frustrating, boring, and annoying moments of motherhood. But I know from experience that when I just let myself play one role, I do it better. And I have more fun.

Before my phone rang at the dinner table that night, I was enjoying our family’s conversation, loving my husband and children, and reveling in the fact that in a busy, crazy, scary, hectic, connected world with billions of people, I was lucky enough to be in a room every night with the three who are most important to me. That is a gift that I’ve been given, and all I have to do now is not let Mean Mommy steal it away. 

This. Not that. And breathe.

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Can you imagine what your day would look like if you paid as much attention to your own battery levels as you did your phone’s?

Two weeks ago when my kids were home and our family was living in the limbo between summer activities and the start of school, I’d play outside with them for much of the day, compensating by shifting my workday to the post-bedtime hours. After a few late nights I was feeling run down and somewhat Mean Mommy-ish, but every evening I’d still find myself at my desk as the clock ticked past midnight. No matter how late I had stayed up, before I shut off the light and called it quits for the day I’d always double check that my phone was plugged in.

The battery on my phone predictably dies within a day, even when I haven’t used it. It’s been this way since I got the new phone six months ago, so after it died on me once or twice I noted the issue and have remained vigilant about checking my battery and recharging as needed. (Another approach would have been to just buy another battery, but that’s the subject of another post.)

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The sight of my fully charged phone – that proud green bar with a powerful little lightning bolt – makes me feel ready for anything that life throws at me. As the hours wear on and the battery level goes down, I check the battery display obsessively, worried about getting to the piddly yellow band or (gasp!) the dreaded red stripe accompanied by that terrible beep that signals the near-end of my phone battery’s life.

Without consciously setting rules, over the past few months I’ve adopted an unspoken method for keeping my phone juiced up. If my battery is more than halfway charged, I leave it alone for the day knowing it’ll be okay until I can charge it up overnight. If it’s less than halfway charged I strategize, no matter where I am, to figure out when and where I can plug it in. In extreme cases if I know there won’t be a recharging opportunity for a while, I’ll often just shut the phone off to conserve its precious energy.

When I consider the gymnastics I put myself through for this device (particularly considering that I’m anything but phone-obsessed), it seems laughable. I rationalize it because as a mom with young children and a business owner I rely on my phone, and these are the hard-and-fast rules it presents me. There’s no bargaining for just a few more minutes so I can finish a text message to let my husband know my phone is dying and we’ll be staying at the park for a while longer, or to call back a client who wants to know more about bringing yoga to her workplace.

I really never thought much about this recharging craziness until my friend and colleague Lisa Sandquist mentioned the idea in the context of restorative yoga, noting the irony of how vigilant we are about phone and device recharging, when it never even occurs to most of us (even the yoga teachers among us – ahem!) to apply the same concept to our own energy levels.  I’ve unfortunately become an expert at taking myself beyond the red bar, deaf to my own terrible version of the beep that comes when I’m overtired and grouchy.

Since Lisa planted the seed, I’ve been pretending that I’m a device that must be adequately charged in order to function. On nights when I’m super tired, even if I have work to do I pretend that my battery doesn’t have an override setting. I pretend that there’s no dark chocolate waiting for me in the pantry to give me that boost to work till 2AM. Instead I lie down on the floor and throw my legs up the wall for 10 minutes.  I breathe deeply and acknowledge my tiredness rather than trying to push through or beyond it.

When I emerge from that 10-minute plug-in, I feel different. Not fully recharged (that only comes with a few nights of consistent good sleep), but nowhere near the yellow or red. I’m solidly in the green, and I approach everything that comes after that in my day differently. Some of the softness of my restorative yoga break comes with me as I decide how to spend my time, how to move, how to speak.

This calls for svadyaya, self-study!

If I can modify my phone plug-in behavior based on hourly checks of a quarter-inch green bar, I can certainly learn to look inward once or twice a day to determine whether my body/mind may be in need of a recharge for a few minutes.

Humans don’t come equipped with bright, shiny, LED screens or that terrifying low battery sound. But with the conscious practice of yoga and self-awareness, we can learn to see the signals almost as clearly as if they were green, yellow, or red bars. 

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Theoretically it was a great idea to invite friends over for a last-minute barbecue so the kids could play outside while the adults chatted. It was a near-perfect impromptu summer plan. But then I looked down and saw that the floor of our apartment was carpeted in papers and crayons and stray Legos, and I noticed the smears of toothpaste on the bathroom mirror. We couldn't let our friends see this mess, and I couldn't possibly get the place to an acceptable level of cleanliness by the time they'd get here. As I chucked a stray pair of socks and slumped onto the couch, I briefly considered calling to cancel rather than letting our friends see such embarrassing domestic chaos. 

Meet my inner perfectionist. She doesn’t come out often, thanks to years of reflection and conscious habit-changing (not to mention having two children and a business to run). But she’s still hoarding 23 article drafts because they’re not quite ready to put out into the world yet, and she’s always daydreaming about that time when her future self will magically have more time. Then she’ll perfectly do all the things that have been in need of doing – reorganize that overflowing file cabinet, transcribe all the notes of cute things the kids said from the tiny slips of paper on her desk, and complete and submit every last one of those article ideas.

It's all one big stalling technique, I know. Just another way to put off finishing anything for fear that it won't meet my own high expectations. Whether at work, on creative projects, or at home, the perfectionist/procrastinator in me can always throw up an objection to calling a writing project ‘done’ and she fears allowing friends to witness just how ‘undone’ our home environment is. ‘What does it say about me?’ she wonders. ‘What if the world thinks this is the best I can do?’

But the truth is, while it’s not necessarily the best I can do, it’s the best I can do right now, under these circumstances. It’s the best I can do without avoiding doing it altogether.

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In my yoga classes, I encourage students to practice being content with where they are that day. I smile and remind students that sometimes the balance just isn’t there in tree pose (especially when I’m the one doing most of the wobbling), and encourage them to believe that doing the best wobbly tree pose you can do today is better than not doing it at all. I laugh when, even after 15 years of teaching, I mess up my right and left while cueing students into triangle. Yoga’s unofficial motto is not ‘Practice makes perfect,’ but rather ‘Practice, and then practice again tomorrow.’  

I feel freed by the knowledge that there is no need to pursue perfection when it comes to the physical, and I long ago stopped caring how my poses look or how my practice measures up to my neighbor’s. In fact, I love witnessing the changes and fluctuations of the physical on the mat. So why is it so hard to translate that attitude off the mat?

Off the mat the stakes are higher. Moving beyond the physical and into how I run my business or my home, the way I am with my children, or who I am as a creative being feels way more personal than how steady my tree pose is or whether I mess up as a teacher (again). These imperfections, unlike the limits or weaknesses of a body posing on a yoga mat, reveal a core part of my being, one that perhaps I wish could be more polished than is possible. To invite the world to see your imperfection at home, at work, or with family is to be fully revealed for who you are. Sometimes it just seems easier to pretend or to put things off until another day.

Back at home, I realize I have three choices:

1. Decide our house is just too messy for our friends to come over.

2. Tell them to come an hour later and spend that time frantically throwing all our junk in the closet instead of being with them.

3. Invite our friends into our home as is and let them see our state of less-than-perfection.

The rational part of me fully recognizes that our friends don't want to come over to socialize with our house, they want to see us, to be with us. So I take a few minutes to tidy the most essential offenders, invite our friends to join us (and a few dust bunnies) for an evening together, and know that because they are good friends they’ll look at us rather than our unmade bed. After the hugs and shoving a few blankets off the couch I invite them to sit down, making a conscious effort to avoid explaining away our messiness. Instead we let ourselves be seen, just as we are, in our full imperfection. It’s a start, and the start of a great evening together.

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Posted by on in Off the Mat

ig·no·rant/ˈignərənt/
Adjective:
Lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uneducated or unsophisticated.
Lacking knowledge, information, or awareness about something in particular: "ignorant of astronomy".

I'm practicing being ignorant, and it feels downright blissful. When I give myself permission to not look at all of the updates facebook beckons me to check with its tantalizingly highlighted numbers, or when I decide to opt-out of following the latest news story in its hourly online installments and instead wait until the dust settles and the full story comes out, I'm consciously choosing ignorance without being unsophisticated. Considering the lure of the 24-hour news cycle and the endless quantities of information available to us on every subject imaginable, I'd like to think that opting not to consume every last bit of that content makes us all the more sophisticated.


Last weekend I practiced freedom from my computer, a few days of delightfully real world un-electronic activities. But on Monday morning I anticipated the e-build-up, like water collecting in a dam. When I opened my email it burst forth, message after message, and all at once I was drowning in it. As I waded through, hand heavy on the mouse, I was right back where I started, fully stricken with the internet itch. Clicking from one thing to the other, I reflexively checked in with all my usual internet spots - following the latest news around our neighborhood, the updates in the yoga world, the most recent word on CPS, and I could feel it creeping up on me, the unease becoming more and more pronounced. It was an itch that could seemingly not be scratched.

I'm still figuring out how to live in harmony with my computer, how to manage the ebbs and flows of my internet activity, how to prevent my smartphone from becoming the brains behind this whole operation. The plethora of information and technology available today require us to be more disciplined, more aware of our habits, and more moderate in our online behaviors than perhaps we are even capable of yet.

So for now, for today, this is my meditation. Sometimes the phone can go unanswered, the text message can hang out in the virtual world for a few extra minutes, the status updates can go unread. Sometimes it's okay to not be the first to know the very latest news about the world. Sometimes it's okay to like something without 'liking' it. These days, in order to find your bliss, you must not be afraid to be a little ignorant.

Tagged in: bliss ignorance
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Posted by on in Off the Mat

I like lists, especially numbered lists. But today when I was thinking about about concrete ways to keep our fabulous neighborhood independent, I could only come up with one thing each of us can do. I'm still going to number it.


1. Shop Local

If you don't want your strolls around the neighborhood to be punctuated by big box stores and chain restaurants, vote with your dollars. Yes, it may be easier to sit in your pajamas and click your way to the end of the shopping experience, but when you walk into a local, independent store you get so much more out of the experience and you give back to your neighborhood, too.


Being the sort of person who only buys new stuff when my old stuff has completely fallen apart, I admit that I was not quite looking forward to my holiday shopping spree yesterday. But when I headed down Lincoln Avenue, stepped through the doors of Timeless Toys, and was greeted by smiles and offers of help, I was so glad to be there rather than in front of my computer. Instead of clicking around and reading reviews by anonymous from TX, I was able to get specific suggestions for toys based on the ages and personalities of my children. Take that, Amazon.


At the Book Cellar, I was similarly pleasantly surprised at how quick and easy it was to find just the right gift when given guidance by friendly and knowledgeable employees. And I always find something unique and fun when I walk into Hanger 18, Enjoy, and Merz Apothecary. The kids and I are greeted warmly by name when we go to buy shoes at Piggy Toes.

I feel a sense of connection when I shop locally. I feel like a real human being as I ask for advice and touch the product I'm buying and maybe even find out how someone else's day is going. In this highly digital age, couldn't we all use more of that sort of activity? Doesn't it feel good to interact with people rather than technology?

Let's keep our fabulous Chicago neighborhoods cute and independent and unique. You can become a local activist each time you make a purchase. When you need to buy something, instead of thinking Target or Amazon first, think Lincoln Square, or Andersonville, or your neighborhood of choice. You may not think that your one purchase matters, but each time you set foot in local businesses, you are investing in your neighborhood, and taking a step to ensure that it doesn't become overrun with big, cold, chains.

As I wrapped up yesterday's local holiday shopping spree, piling up bags on my stroller, and stopping on my walk home to chat with neighbors I met along the way, I had a huge smile on my face. The wealth of independent local businesses are just one of the reasons I love Lincoln Square. I spend enough time with electronic devices in my work life. When I step away from the computer, I crave people, warmth, and unique experiences. Thanks, fabulous Lincoln Square small business owners, for providing just that!

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