Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

Subscribe to this list via RSS Blog posts tagged in self-care

Any new parent can tell you of the importance of tummy time for healthy spinal development. The evolution of the human spine is an incredible thing, but the 'devolution' of the spine that occurs in adults who spend too much time hunched in front of a computer is frightening. I'm here today to say it: adults need tummy time, too. And yoga can provide it!

At birth, humans have a single C-shaped curve, and it is only in the first few months of life that the first secondary curve of the cervical spine develops. Tummy time is an important way that babies develop the strength and ability to hold their heads up, and thus create the curve of the cervical spine. The next secondary curve of the lumbar spine develops as a child learns to creep and crawl.
 
 b2ap3_thumbnail_computer-evolution.jpg
 
Imagine your posture after you've been sitting in front of a computer for hours. You're tired of sitting and your back is achy, so you slump back in your chair. But then you can't see the screen very well so you find yourself leaning closer and closer. Your chin juts forward, the cervical and lumbar curves are reduced to the point where the spine more closely resembles a c-shape than the s-shape it should be in a healthy adult. Prolonged bouts of sitting in this manner may lead to a profound loss in strength in the core muscles of the body (think support system for the spine rather than "abs of steel"), resulting in a loss of the ability to access, much less maintain, the good posture we developed as active toddlers.

What to do?
 
Consider the humble backbend known as salabhasana, locust pose. Or as I've come to think of it lately, tummy time for grown-ups. I was recently watching a sweet little yogi who hadn't yet learned to crawl, and the ease with which he lifted his head and his legs was delightful. How many of us as adults can find that same ease in this pose on the yoga mat?
 
b2ap3_thumbnail_SeatedBackbend.jpgFor years, I avoided locust pose in my practice because it was so hard to lift my legs, arms, and upper body simultaneously. But as I know now, it was hard precisely because I avoided it (and needed it so badly). So I've been treating myself like a baby by doing daily tummy time and it's working like a charm. My core muscles are stronger and the pose is getting easier. It's gotten to the point where my body craves the simple, strengthening backbend that locust pose provides. 
 
You can even practice a seated variation right in your chair to help reset your posture and re-energize your body and mind. It's the antidote to sitting and slouching in front of a computer and it will remind you to breathe more deeply and sit up straighter!

The bad news: All the time you spend hunched in front of a computer may be detrimental to your health and may be contributing to the 'devolution' of your spine as depicted by our poor friend in the first image above.

The good news: You don't need to squirm and cry through the recommended 10-20 minutes of daily tummy time that a baby does. Start small and keep it simple. Integrate a simple backbend into your day, become more aware of your posture when you're sitting at your desk, take frequent breaks to get up, walk around, and get you out of your seated slump. There's even an app for that - you can download software that will provide you with timed reminders to get up and stretch every so often.

It seems simple, but a minor change in your daily habits may hold great potential for better back health and comfort. At first it will seem hard, but there's no need to be a baby about it: when you make time for tummy time, your back will most definitely thank you!

Hits: 97374

Posted by on in Family

Mean Mommy was back for a quick visit to our house over the past few days. Fortunately, this morning it became clear that her residency was coming to a close. Before she skipped town, the Thinking Yogi decided to sit down with Mean Mommy to find out what makes her tick.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Mean-Mommy.jpg
 
Thinking Yogi: Mean Mommy, I'd love to pick your brain, to find out what exactly it is that puts the mean in the mommy. Can I ask you a few questions?

Mean Mommy: Yeah. But I'm busy, so make it quick.

TY: It had been a while since your last stay with us, but when you breezed in last weekend it was like you never left. What was the reason for your latest visit? Was it the fact that the kids were fighting and whining incessantly?

MM: Kids are brats. They fight and whine as a matter of course. The timing of my visit had nothing to do with them.

TY: What then?



MM: After all these years you still don't get it? Let me spell it out for you: If you're not getting enough sleep, I'll be there. If you're too busy at work, I'll be there. If you're feeling stressed, if you don't make time to eat well, move your body, and sprinkle in enough rest, I'll be there.

TY: But weren't the kids being especially difficult this past week? I mean, it can't all be about me, can it?

MM: You don't believe me? Try this little experiment next time I come to visit: change just one thing about your self-care routine (go to bed 30 minutes earlier, squeeze in a quick yoga session or get out for a run, spend some time sans kids), and see how much easier it is to tolerate the kids, stress at work, and other everyday irritations. I probably won't be around to see the results of your little experiment, but just know that wherever I am I'll be saying 'I told you so.'

TY: I'll definitely have to try that.

MM: Don't sass me!

TY: Talk me through what you were thinking in our final showdown yesterday when the kids were screaming, you were screaming, and I was trying to wrap my head around how to get us all out of the cycle of anger.

MM: My goal in that showdown was to make sure no one else got a word in without me coming down like the hammer. I want to promote an environment in which there's no reasoning, just reacting (and overreacting). I knew that everything the kids would say would be a challenge or a complaint, so before they were even done talking I was ready to dole out a snappy comeback and a punishment.

TY: I always thought the expression "If Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy" was a vindictive take on mothers, that it was like saying "If I can't be happy, I'm taking all of you bratty kids down with me." But I now realize that it's just a pure statement of fact. Mean Mommy, this past week when you were the one running our household, your every interaction provoked conflict. The kids fought more while you were here, they tried to manipulate each other with threats and ultimatums, they mimicked your bitter tone of voice, they assumed the worst of each other (and therefore got it). You're like a cult leader. I had to really work to pull them back out of the meanness after you left. Why is that?

MM: There's a certain addictive thrill that comes with meanness, and it is highly contagious. Once the volcano of meanness starts spewing, it's hard to plug it up. Each time you yell at the kid who poked her brother or forgot to say please or whined about watching another tv show, you feel like it will vindicate you, like your kids will be recognized for the brats they are, and you will be acknowledged as the saint you are, and your meanness will be justified once and for all. But meanness.....well, it just begets more meanness. And vindication never comes.

TY: Are you crying, Mean Mommy? Do you need a hug?

MM: Shut your mouth and go to your room. This interview is over. I'm out of here.

Hits: 16705

Posted by on in Health


It's starting already: the holiday busyness, obligations piling up one on top of another, so many fun things to do that it makes me want to curl up in a heap and go to sleep. There's the CTA holiday train, the Lincoln Square Christkindl Market, the Waters School Artisan Fair, and that's just a short list of the things happening this weekend! For all the merriment and joy this season is meant to invoke, it often just feels like too much of a good thing.


We have a children's book at home by Todd Parr called It's Okay to be Different. I love this book for many reasons. It's fun, inclusive, honest, warm, and silly. In the book, Todd shares wise, simple thoughts that are reminders for all of us:

"It's okay to need some help."
"It's okay to come in last."
"It's okay to do something nice for yourself."
"It's okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub."
(Can you really disagree with that last one?)

Lately as I've been feeling the pressures of the many holiday party invitations that are already circulating and the thought of having to get my shopping list in order, I've been coming back to one line in particular from this book: "It's okay to say NO to bad things." The page shows a picture of two fish with bulging eyes, staring at a hook that's waiting to snag them (definitely a bad thing for them).

In the context of the holiday season, though, I've been thinking about this sentiment from the opposite perspective. I picture the two fish with an unlimited supply of their favorite fishy foods easily within reach, several schools of fish friends waiting for them to come play, and a whole bunch of neat fish castles for them to swim in and out of. Despite all these seemingly good things I imagine them surrounded by, I still picture them with eyes bulging, overwhelmed by it all. And I want to say to them, "It's okay to say NO to good things, too."

I've really embraced the idea of saying NO as a way of balancing out my tendency to pack lots of activities and projects and fun into each day. The seed of this idea was first planted when I attended Lisa Sandquist's Restful Yoga to Reduce Holiday Stress workshop at Bloom last year. Lisa offered up a very simple but profound suggestion for us as we headed into the busy holiday season: when you're feeling overextended, it's okay to say no to parties and other obligations, even if they sound fun and your favorite people in the world will be there. Seems simple, but consider how many times you have accepted an invitation because you thought you should or you had to, even though you felt like one more outing might put you over the edge.

Over the past year, I've practiced giving myself permission to say no to even the very good and very fun things that come my way if I know that they will push me into exhaustion mode. When you feel your eyes bulging, give that NO a try, even if the invitation is one you would like to accept. It feels so good, and as Todd Parr likes to say, it's okay!

Hits: 24232

A couple of years ago I wrote a Thinking Yogi post about an unwanted visitor in our home in the hopes that confronting her head-on would help banish her from my life for good. This visitor's name is Mean Mommy. You may know her, or someone like her (she is in cahoots with Mean Spouse and Mean Friend). She was back in my home for the better part of today, and let me just say that you do NOT want to mess with her.

b2ap3_thumbnail_Mean-Mommy.jpg
 I know why she comes, I know what it takes to get her to leave, but sometimes she just lingers. Mean Mommy only shows up when life gets busy and I'm not taking enough time for myself. Whenever she's around, my perception of daily life is distorted so that what would normally seem like one of life's little hiccups becomes a catastrophic event. For example, one might expect that a sane mother of two wonderful children would patiently redirect their squabbles over library books rather than barking at them, running down the hall towards their room, and telling them how crazy they were making her. Mean Mommy thinks patient redirection is overrated, she thinks it will feel good to vent all that anger at young children who are on summer vacation, waiting around for something to do. She is, in short, a tyrant, and not someone I have much respect for.

My husband has unfortunately gotten to know Mean Mommy quite well over the past five years and he usually knows just what to say to send her packing. He starts with a gentle inquiry, something along the lines of, 'Are you okay?' Mean Mommy twitches to hear someone taking an interest, caring. Then he suggests that he might take the kids for a while and as the three of them walk out the door, Mean Mommy all but goes into the 'I'm melting...." speech from Wizard of Oz.

Today my wonderful husband did all of those things and I did a quick emergency yoga practice, which usually does the trick, but when he and the kids returned Mt. Mean Mommy still threatened to erupt for most of the day. I wondered why it wasn't working, why I couldn't get rid of her. Then my daughter politely asked for a glass of water and when I heard the cold hardness in my reply I realized I was just holding on to the meanness out of habit. I needed to take responsibility, decide to shift gears, quit frowning and slouching, and just make a change. So, I dragged my sorry self outside to play with the kids, we went to hear some music at Welles Park with friends that evening, and as I was racing down the block with my son on the way home, I knew we would come back to a blissfully empty apartment.

Mean Mommy or one of her associates visits all of us on occasion, so when she brings an extra large suitcase and wants to get her name added to your lease, just remember that eviction is a two step process. First, take time for yourself. Second, decide to let go of the meanness, the pettiness, the taking-it-all-for-grantedness, and just be nice and enjoy the people around you.

Hits: 91215

Posted by on in Health

There’s nothing quite like an injury to put things in perspective. I spent the past week hobbling around, unable to practice much yoga or do even the most basic movements without pain. The hurt came on slowly and without any traumatic cause. At first I was just a little stiff so I struggled to work through it, striving to move at normal capacity. But soon the stiffness turned into a radiating pain that could not be ignored, and for about a week I couldn't find any comfortable position. It's no fun to be injured, but it certainly puts things in perspective.


Normally I go about the busyness of the week forgetting to be grateful for what I have. Small irritations preoccupy me - I sigh when the kids want me to drive yet another race car around the track they built, or grumble when the alarm goes off the morning after a late night work session. It’s only when my health is compromised even the slightest bit that I realize how good I have it. I daydream about what it was like before: Squat down to pick up a stray toy on the floor? No problem! Deadline that requires extensive computer time? Roll up the old ball chair and get to typing. But last week I could take nothing for granted. Sitting was painful, standing was barely tolerable, and lying down felt lousy. What do you do when you’ve grown accustomed to using your body however you want to, whenever you want to, then suddenly your body betrays your expectations?

I taught my regular weekly classes in this state, which was a challenge considering the fact that I couldn’t even sit in a simple cross-legged position. With my own yoga practice severely limited, I decided to focus my classes around the concept of santosha, or contentment. Rather than dwelling on what we don’t have in our lives, or striving to feel something different in our bodies, yoga practice can help us appreciate what we do have, right now. There’s always more we can want – the latest gadget our friends have, or the ability to do some crazy arm balance in yoga class – but the wanting is the only constant. Until we make friends with contentment, there will always be one more thing to want.

I write now from the other side of my injury, still savoring the beauty of being able to again move and practice yoga without a hitch. But soon complacency will creep back in as my memory of the pain fades and I forget what restricted movement felt like. So, my self-assigned homework is to keep sight of the injured perspective on a daily basis for as long as I possibly can: when I sit down comfortably on the floor to play with the kids, I smile; when I press back into child’s pose and feel the ease of that soft forward fold that eluded me last week, I breathe a little more deeply. It’s working so far, but that’s the trick with contentment……if you’re not vigilant, it just fades. Practice, practice, as always.

Hits: 18192