Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

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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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When my 3 month-old daughter fussed during Mom & Baby Yoga class this week and the mom on the mat next to me smiled in support, I knew it was worth all the effort of getting there.

I almost hadn’t made it to class that day. The scene at home in the hour beforehand was the typical new mom war zone: I’d been keeping her fussiness at bay all morning and as I was getting her into the carrier she spit up all over me, but at this point I just consider spit-up another accessory. Then she turned on her baby A-game when an inconveniently-timed but urgently-needed diaper change meant I’d be arriving 5 minutes late to class. In all the chaos a part of me rationalized that maybe I should just try for a home practice and get her (or both of us?) a nap. But realistically I knew staying home would just mean the same level of fussiness for her, no yoga for me, and some distracted email checking that would leave me feeling physically and emotionally drained.

You don’t need to have a fussy baby at home to relate to how difficult it can be to get to class. 

In many ways your computer or smartphone can be every bit as demanding as a newborn. 

That blast of spam that fills up your inbox and clutters your mind is a spit-up surprise on your favorite shirt as you’re getting ready to walk out the door. The huge project with a deadline of yesterday is the diaper that demands to be changed NOW, or else. And, oh look, here comes yet another hilarious joke forward from Dad! It’s embarrassing, it’s inappropriate……there’s no newborn equivalent for that one – it’s just plain fun times.

I used to feel silly scheduling yoga classes into my calendar, but I’ve found it really helps me prioritize self-care when the demands of either my newborn or my virtual life threaten to take over.

What’s the alternative? If these babies and emails had their way, we’d never leave the house. We’d sit at home covered in spit-up or bathing in the glow of a computer screen. Neither babies nor emails have a great sense of timing, and they don’t tend to cooperate just because you sort of want to go to yoga class. 

You have to have conviction, you have to promise yourself that you can and will make time to do something good for your mind, body, and heart.

“It’s time to go to class,” I firmly tell my baby (and my computer). “I need yoga today.” I may be going slightly crazy, but somehow this helps. I believe myself when I hear how determined I sound.

After almost 20 years of practicing, I can say this with certainty: I always feel better after going to yoga class. Always.

It’s incredibly life-affirming to be in a room with a bunch of people who are moving and breathing and doing something good for themselves (with, I might add, not a smart phone in sight….what a pleasant novelty!). It’s humanizing to gather together for the purpose of taking good care.

Email never stops and newborns never stop, so I often second-guess myself when something threatens to derail the plan. But I’ve come to expect this now. 

“Just go,” I tell myself. “Just show up. That’s all you have to do, and you’ll feel better.”

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At this week’s Mom & Baby Yoga class, my daughter needed to be held for a good portion of the class, so I warriored and triangled with her in my arms. Yoga isn’t a magic cure for baby fussiness or the mommy blahs, but there is something magical about the experience of being led through a practice by a thoughtful, nurturing teacher. It’s a rare thing – a low-tech group experience that is intimately personal, a collective practice of connecting to the self, a chance to listen and breathe and get quiet.

As class began to wind down and we were preparing to settle into savasana, I couldn’t stop smiling at the other moms and babies in class. My baby girl and I shared a sweet few moments of rest together before the teacher brought class to a close. I looked around the room and felt proud. We all did it: we made it to class, despite dozens of potential obstacles, and we were part of this beautiful group experience that we created together, in the moment.

After class I scooped up my daughter and props and belongings, thanked my teacher, and headed for the door. I felt better, as expected. Much better. And by the time I got home and the demands of my baby and my emails started up again, they somehow felt a little less demanding.

 

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I can’t help but beat myself up when it happens. “I just wanted to see what an old friend was up to,” I tell myself. “Where did the last hour go?”

With a two-month-old baby as my “helper,” my work time is precious. Today I put her down for a nap and crack open the old laptop not knowing whether I’ll have 20 minutes or two hours to tackle all the things I want to get done.

“Okay,” I say, clapping my hands together. “Let’s get to work!” 

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But I can’t be expected to just jump into the real work right away. It’s going to be a little tricky, I tell myself, and I don’t want to strain myself. I wouldn’t pop up into full wheel pose without warming up first, would I?

I start by ticking off a few emails and feel a sense of accomplishment as I’m paring down my inbox, but soon I’ve found myself reading the latest YogaDork newsletter (it’s yoga related, I tell myself, so that still counts as work). Then I’m clicking on a link to an article about plank pose variations, which reminds me I need to post the photos from our first day of teacher training on our group’s Facebook page. You know what happens from here – it’s a rabbit hole of reminiscing over an old friend’s throwback Tuesday pic, jealousy over vacation photos (….like I’d even WANT to go to Italy), and a sloppy mess of emotions as I simultaneously seek to satisfy my curiosity about other people’s lives while sinking deeper into despair with each voyeuristic look into another “internet perfect life.” At some point I snap out of it and reopen the utterly stark whiteness of a new Word doc and face the fact that I have no idea what to write. Minutes later I hear whimpers on the baby monitor and realize I’ve unintentionally blown the last hour avoiding the only thing I really needed to do this morning.

We yoga teachers talk a lot about intention. We’re also fond of preaching the benefits of about taking your practice off the mat. But what does that really mean? Does it mean serenely practicing tree pose while you wait for the train? Saying “Namaste” when you greet a friend? Maybe, but there are more mundane (and yet profound) ways you can take your practice into everyday life, and for the most part it has nothing to do with asana (aka the postures that yoga is best known for today). Asana, after all, is just one limb of the eight-limbed practice of yoga. And truthfully, it’s way harder to be intentional in the course of an average day than it is while practicing postures in the relative peace and quiet of your friendly neighborhood yoga studio.

When I’m working up to wheel pose on the mat, I can spend a good 30 minutes systematically preparing my body and breath without the distractions of email, the internet, my phone, or the demands of my family drawing me away from the task at hand. In order to be able to practice the pose safely, I’ll have to fire up my core, warm up my spine, engage the strength of my legs, and cultivate openness in my shoulders, chest, and hip flexors. I treat the practice and the process with an almost sacred respect (although I never take it too seriously…..it’s just a little yoga after all!), and while my thoughts may wander or my body may be more or less responsive, depending on the day, intentionality is woven into the fabric of on-the-mat practice. 

Compare this to my attempted naptime work session, or to any of the dozens of things you do in the course of an average day. There are very few sacred moments or spaces, limited cues to slow down and breathe deeply, and a whole lot of ways you can unintentionally lose yourself down the virtual rabbit hole.

Cue grumbling about the evils of today’s multi-tasking world. Or maybe instead this can be a way to see if yoga can do more for you than just impressing your friends with your ability to literally bend over backwards. 

When I first started almost 20 years ago, I spent a lot of time shaking and sweating my way through poses that are relatively easy for me now because I’ve trained my muscles and established the habit of practicing with intention. But now more than ever I need intentionality off the mat to help me focus on what really matters amidst all the distractions of a typical day.

Tomorrow when I sit down at my computer I’ll draw on the discipline that helps me sustain a long hold in chair pose even when I’d rather just practice flop-asana. I’ll pause and take a breath before automatically bounding into the all-consuming world of Facebook; like my tendency to poke my front ribs out in backbends, it may be familiar and comfortable at first, but in the long run it’s probably not the best thing for me. I’ll undoubtedly screw up many more times and forget myself and my intention to not get lost in virtual land, but just as my wheel pose got better with continued practice, I’m sure my off-the-mat work will, too. 

 

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Can you imagine life without your cell phone?

An article I stumbled upon recently referenced a controversial story from a couple years ago theorizing that because Lithium (used in laptop, electric car, and cell phone batteries) is being used so excessively, the world’s supply would be depleted within a few years. The article came to a conclusion that would be alarming to some and welcome for others: by 2015 these tiny pocket computers we call cell phones may be gone.

After finishing the article I looked up from my computer screen at the wall in front of me, taking in the taped-up rainbow, heart, and bumblebee artwork my kids had made me. Then something caught my eye out my window and I turned to see a squirrel skittering across the window ledge, stopping to eat what looked like an apple. Watching the way the squirrel alternately spun and nibbled the big apple in its tiny paws, I took a deep breath and imagined a slower world, though I realized this was not the intended effect of the alarmist article.

Then my phone whistled. b2ap3_thumbnail_Multitasking.JPGTwo, three, and four whistles later (all within the span of a minute), my phone warned that potentially important stuff wanted me to look at it. I felt the itch, that urgency of digital now that I’ve become so familiar with over the past few years, so I obligingly punched in the password only to find the messages were a string of silliness that started with a photo and continued with increasingly wittier and wittier remarks.

I was slow to join the texting, social media-ing, digital world, but after doing so I quickly became obsessed. I drained hours unearthing the unsatisfying life details of people from my past who I was barely friends with in the first place. After several months of bouncing between loving and hating it, I realized a familiar pattern of extremism, much like I’ve been through with food and exercise. Just as in those cases, I came to realize the digital world wasn’t the problem. I was.

It was my choice to let my squirrel-watching be interrupted by a text message, just like it’s my choice to let the shiny promise of a clever new post or hilarious video oblige me to drop whatever I’m doing, squirrel-watching or otherwise, to play digital catch-up.

The digital world is so new. Many of us are still in the binge phase, simultaneously gobbling up these technologies while also needing, wishing for our proverbial moms to turn it off and say, “Enough!” As the mom of a 7 and 5 year-old, I know the day will soon come when I need to help them learn to navigate this world, so I figured I’d start by coming up with some guidelines (and trying to follow them myself):

1. Get a low-tech start to your day. Rather than jumping into the digital world first thing in the morning and finding myself overcome with envy over a friend’s awesome Mediterranean vacation photos or unease over the regurgitation and reinterpretation of a tragic news story, I start my day with 30 minutes of self-care (yoga, meditation, swimming, or walking) that centers and grounds me on a body/mind/breath level so I enter the digital world on my own terms rather than getting engulfed by it.

2. Check in: "I could engage now, but do I need to?” The trouble with having a computer in your pocket is that you hear every whistle or ring the moment a notification comes through, and it can be easy to think that you must therefore respond immediately. No matter how urgently my phone beckons, before reflexively picking it up I pull my hand back, take a deep breath, and ask myself if the world would end if I didn’t get to the message within the first minute of its arrival.

3. Create “technology-free” zones. Decide as a household what areas of your home (dinner table, bedroom, etc.) are designated places where you agree not to use technology. I also like to create windows of time (the afterschool hours or a weekend day) where I commit to taking a break from my devices.

4. Set a timer. In the same way that a parent limits a child’s screen time to teach self-regulation, set limits for when you’ll go on social media and how much time you’ll spend there. That part is easy. The hard part, I’ve found, is sticking to those limits even when the whining child in me begs for just five more minutes.

5. Quit planning your next profile pic. Nothing sucks the joy out of a beautiful, spontaneous moment like wondering how to best memorialize it on Facebook. Life is to be lived, not exhaustively documented. When I feel the urge to pull out your phone to capture a great moment with my kids or with friends, I try to remind myself to put down the phone, make eye contact with the people I’m with, and engage in the revolutionary act of being right where I am in the moment.

6.  If all else fails, go outside! With the heavy reliance on computers and mobile devices for work and communication, for hours at a time your whole world may be reduced to a glowing screen. When I start to feel myself really getting sucked in, I turn off the computer, ditch my phone, and engage with the natural world (no matter the weather - cold, rainy, snowy, or windy days work just fine) to remind myself how sweet life beyond the screen can be.

I’ve come to realize that technology is a neutral force and I don’t need a global lithium shortage to rescue me from my tendencies toward digital overload. By becoming more conscious about the ways I self-regulate time spent engaging with technology, I’m practicing coming to it on my own terms to harness the benefits without becoming overwhelmed by the vastness of it all.

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