Know the dark, to see the light

The night of the election I went to bed with pit in my stomach, feeling nausea, upset that a man with such hateful rhetoric could be elected as the leader of this country. I vowed to go to yoga before work, in effort “shake off” this feeling. I awoke before my alarm, still buzzing with anxiety and feeling physically ill, and prepared for my yoga class and to sneak out of the house before anyone woke up. My two year old had different plans, he woke up unusually early and decided he needed “mama milk”. The times he nurses now, are becoming fewer, so I lingered a bit, still hoping to get my yoga class.

I wanted to escape. I worried about how I would explain the election results to my soon to wake 4-year old.

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One father’s post-election letter to his son.

But I stayed. This was not the time to escape, this was the time to stay.

Throughout election night and the following day many texts were shared between me and my female friends and family, consoling each other about the election results. My facebook feed was filled mostly with feelings of disbelief, anger, shock and fear. I closed my door at work and cried.

Clearly I live in a very blue bubble, but the election results were showing me our country was far more deeply divided than I could have imagined. I looked to an old friend on facebook, who I knew had very conservative political views. I looked through his past posts. I found a post comparing a Hillary Clinton quote to a Hitler quote, rhetoric I have seen in the liberal media as well, comparing Trump to Hitler and fascist regimes. Here is our common ground…FEAR.

In the Yoga Way to Birth class, we look closely at fear, in relationship to birth and how it impacts us. Fear closes us down, it is a constricting feeling, paired closely with our limbic system and our fight/flight/freeze reaction, that supersedes any logical thoughts when in the face of danger. Most notably, fear serves to increase our experience of pain. Politicians have been playing to our fear. Many of us voted from a place of fear.

It feels like a dark time for me in this country. A time when people have outwardly chosen hate, over justice, inclusiveness and basic human rights. I am completely heartbroken by the onset of violence that it has caused for people of color, those with disabilities, LGBTQ, immigrants, Muslims and women. For many people in places of privilege, it feels like an awakening to America’s “dirty little secret”, when the reality it is, this is not new! Even if this is the first time we’re noticing…racism, sexism, xenophobia, ablism, trans-phobia, Islamophobia are all real things, just because we have not had to deal with them personally or on a daily basis, does not mean they do not exist! And it is clearly white people, male and female, that have made the president-elect’s, once far-fetched candidacy, a reality.

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here is the evidence (source: cnn)

Maybe in some ways its better to have an overtly hateful leader, than to continue to endure a quiet and insidious system that continually undermines and upholds a structure that is steeped in inequality. At least now we are all talking about it.

And I can’t help but wonder, like @valariekaur, that maybe we are not in the darkness of a tomb, but the darkness of a womb. On the verge of a birth. And like the intensity of transition in labor, there is no turning back. There is no escape. Our task now, especially as people in privileged positions is to stay, to see and to ally.

I often tell people in my social work practice that the beginning of any change is awareness. We must know were we are starting from to know where we are heading. And now we are staring at our starting place, with disgust, fear, repulsion for the hate that has been allowed to fester. But I beg you, do not look away. This is where the real change happens. Stay. Because the only way out now, is through.

Lastly, as we enter into this rEVOLution, let us hold onto hope for the future.

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And may we never forget the individual power we contribute to the collective.

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In yoga classes you often hear the word “namaste”, meaning the light in me, honors and sees the light in you. But we cannot see light, unless we know the dark as well. Let us all take this opportunity to know our own darkness better. It may feel uncomfortable, maybe evening make you want to escape, but please stay. Because it is only through knowing darkness that we ever are able to see light. Namaste.

Posted in ahimsa, feminism, Hillary Clinton, mindfulness, motherhood, namaste, parenting is yoga, pregnancy, social justice, social work, social worker, Uncategorized, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

5 Ways to Find Balance as a #YogaMama

This post original appeared on the KiraGrace Blog.

As mother of two young boys, a full time social worker, a prenatal yoga teacher and an instructor of a childbirth preparation class, the Yoga Way to Birth, I am very familiar with the balancing act that comes along with trying to fit it all in. My plate is very full at the moment, and people often wonder how I have time for it all and maintain my sanity. But the truth is I love everything that I have on my plate, and putting something back at this point doesn’t feel like an option. So instead, I use these simple steps to stay grounded and keep my life in balance.

1. Start with your breath.

My breath is my barometer. When I close my eyes, draw my focus inward, and drop into the awareness of my breath, I suddenly become more conscious of the current forces in my life. Starting where you are right now is always the perfect place to begin. Once I have some idea of where I am, I can then ask myself, “What do you need?” This is not a long process. Usually it only takes a couple minutes to realize what has been missing. Often it is connected to my basic needs, like feeling fatigued or needing to exercise. There are also the times when simply starting to ask myself what I need is enough in itself. This simple act of self care allows me take inventory and see that often what I need I already have.

2. Set your intention.

Now that you know where you are and what you really need, you can plant your intention. The root of the word intention comes from the Latin word intendere which means to stretch toward your purpose. Remember stretching can take you out of your comfort zone, but that is usually where our best learning happens. Your intention can be simple – maybe it’s that you have screen free evenings so you can be more present when you are with you kids, or that you want to carve out 10 minutes in the morning to sit in meditation before anyone else in the house is awake. Choose an intention that speaks directly to your heart space and that leaves you feeling filled up and content.

3. Practice, practice, practice.

This is where the “work” of finding balance comes together. On average, it takes around 28 days for a new practice to become habit or part of your routine. Be patient with your practice, but also be willing to let it go if you find that is not a realistic or attainable. Think about that balancing pose you’ve practiced in a yoga class – sometimes it comes with ease, other times it feels like a struggle to find stability. This is true in life, too. Sometimes no matter how many times you’ve practiced something, it will still be off. This practice isn’t a race, there is no finish line, but the rewards from continued practice lie in deeper knowledge of oneself and in the fact that the days we can’t find balance are necessary, temporary, and often provide valuable moments of learning and growth.

Yoga Mama

4. Stack your life.

This is a phrase used by Katy Bowmanwhen describing how to create a movement based lifestyle. This is not multi-tasking, but it is a way to encourage yourself to combine activities that normally you would separate. For example, I need daily walks during my work day, and I also crave reading and learning new information to keep my social work and yoga practice feeling fresh and inspired. So I listen to podcasts while I walk every day during my break. So, can you let your kids join you on the yoga mat? Could you include some stretching and movement while you’re at your desk at work? Can you find a way to incorporate your family into some of your favorite pastimes? With our incessant culture of busyness, how can you cultivate a sense of spaciousness by meeting multiple needs at the same time?Yoga Mama5. Find your tribe.

Last, but perhaps the most important of them all, is finding your people. Heaven knows I could not do what I do all alone. Remember in step #1 when we discovered our needs? Well, sometimes we cannot meet our needs on our own and that is when it is time to ask for help. As a social worker, I am often reminding people that it takes more strength and courage to ask for help that it does to try to muscle through it all. The truth is people want to help you out. We derive a sense of meaning and purpose by being of service to others. So the next time someone offers to watch your kids or bring a meal, say, “Yes!” Accepting help can be freeing. It is also a reminder that we are not in this alone…we are all in this together.
Balance is not static state. Balance is a moving target and is dynamic and free flowing. Remember to adjust accordingly. We will get glimpses of feeling like we have it all together and then things will fall apart. That is the nature of her ever-changing dance. As a yoga mama, or just any human, what is vital in this process is a sense of self-compassion. Be kind to yourself, forgive, learn and grow. Having balance in your life is not an end destination where you arrive and get to stay. Living a balanced life is about being open to the present moment in all her beauty and rawness.

Posted in awareness, childbirth, meditation, mental health, mindfulness, motherhood, parenting, parenting is yoga, pregnancy, Women, yoga, yoga therapy | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

an ode to my body

Five years ago, some might say, I had the abs of people’s dreams.
But if you had asked me then, I would have told you that there was more work to be done, it seems.
In my 20s, to my body, seldom a kind word to her I’d speak.
Though I had an inkling that my strength was hidden underneath my “toned physique”
On that Grecian holiday a seed was planted deep within
I had no idea how changed I’d be by journey that was about to begin
My belly stretched in ways I never knew it could
And I started to see that all I had been told was actually a falsehood.
You see, I’ve never felt stronger than in those few moments after birthing my baby earth side
Though my belly was the softest it’d ever been, I’d never known such pride.
Two hearty baby boys have been nurtured from within me
And I stand in amazement of my transformed body that I now see.
You know, women are strong and the divine feminine has power
But our strength sometimes comes from openness, just like the will of a flower
To expose it’s petals, like I am doing here
Even though I brings me tremendous fear
So while my body will never look like it did before,
I am grateful for her brawn and vitality and softness that I adore. 💛

Story behind my ode: Ok, a little #throwback had me reeling about how much my body has changed. So I wrote a poem about it. Thanks for humoring me if you are at the end of this post and still reading. You are the best, love you!

before and after belly

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Falling is not failure. Life lessons from a 4 year old. 

My 4 year old son has been obsessed with the monkey bars for the past year. He has his favorite ones at “the school park” that are low to the ground and he can easily reach from the platforms. At first he’d just grab a hold of one rung and then drop down. But eventually he was reaching out to grab the next, then the next my bar, until he eventually made it all the way across. He practiced diligently and with fervor and dedication. It was all self motivated.

So, by now he is a monkey bar pro and even has some “tricks”. One day on a sunny evening at a new park with monkey bars that were higher than normal, he attempted one of his “tricks”, to jump out and grab the 2nd rung, instead of the first one. He shouted over to me, as I was watching the younger one play nearby, “Hey Mama! Watch this!” I watched in horror, as he jumped out to grab the 2nd rung and then his grip slipped and he landed flat on his back, in a thud, as the air was audibly knocked out of him.Processed with VSCO with m5 presetI raced over and swept him up. The tears started to roll and big loud sobs. Once I realized he was not injured, my biggest fear was that this fall would cause him to lose the confidence he had built as an expert monkey-bar boy. As he started to catch his breath again, I hugged him closely and said, “you know, you are still really good at the monkey bars.” He replied, “I know, Mama.” The big fall did not shake his confidence in the slightest. He was still 100% sure of his ability, despite a major fall.

Since starting my new job, I have been fumbling a bit, falling down and making mistakes as I learn a new system and get my bearings. I really hate making mistakes. I really like being right and feeling 100% competent. But I have been leaning into this simple wisdom from a 4 year old, that falling down, is not failure. I love the simplicity of this lesson, and yet the challenge of living is always harder. So even though I may be stumbling and having missteps along this path, I can take comfort in my own strength and wisdom. And there is so much to be gained from challenges…especially if we embrace them for what they are, nothing more and nothing less.

Always grateful for the opportunities to learn and grow.

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You are whole, my child

A few months ago my three and a half year old had an “incident” at preschool. He reacted to a friend in his class in anger and hurt them. I got an email that no parent ever wants to receive. A rock landed in my stomach and my heart broke. I was devastated, disappointed and felt ill that my child had acted in such a way. I also felt mortified. It was like my worst nightmare.

At the same time I thought how scared my boy must have been. And when I arrived early to talk with this teacher, I could see the look of terror on his face. He had felt broken too.

I spent the next 24 hours feeling embarrassed and completely consumed by worry. The endless ruminations and thoughts of guilt played like a tape on repeat in my head. I was so ashamed, I literally hid from another parent from my son’s classroom when I saw her in a store.quotes-74

Thankfully I already had an acupuncture appointment scheduled and I unloaded my worries to my sweet provider. She told me she would needle a point on my shoulder blades that is connected not only with healing a broken heart, but also with connecting to the wisdom of our ancestors.

That night when I came home and was putting my boys to bed, each one nestled in on either side of me, I felt the weight of my children soften and rest into me. I closed my eyes and saw the images of my eldest boy as a baby, perfect and deliciously innocent…completely whole. I felt the warm burn of tears welling in my eyes. He was STILL this baby. He was, and will always be that purely flawless being. I began to separate my own reactions to the situation and felt the support of all the collective parenthood and all the souls who have mothered before me. I saw how my own brokenness had prevented me from seeing this truth.

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My heart landed in some ancient wisdom and whispered to me, “you are whole, my child.” This world will break us and make us feel like we are wrong and flawed. I see this over and over again in my work as a social worker…I look into the eyes of others who have been battered by life’s misfortunes and trauma, and they have internalized a message that they are broken.

Finally as I laid there with the trust of my child resting by my side, I released my own worry and self judgments and realized my work as a mother. And as I let go of my personal wounds, I opened up the space for my child to come to me to feel whole again. He is not perfect, and neither am I, perfection is not the point. Undoubtedly we will both make mistakes and screw it all up again, however, that does not mean we are any less valuable or important. We are human, and worthy of feeling loved and whole. This was the moment when I had now doubt what my sacred duty as a mother was.

“Our sacred duty as parents is to feel whole, so that our children have the example of our own self-worth.” -Elena Brower

This duty is a work in progress, like most all things. But never before as it been more clear.

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change and uncertainty

Nothing is more certain than the uncertainty of life. And just as the blooms on the trees dare to reach out and expose themselves with the encouragement of the spring’s light, I am also experiencing some ch-ch-change! I’m moving onto a position at a different agency, but doing similar work to what I do now. In the past getting a new job was 95% excitement and 5% anxiety. Since becoming a mama, I’d say it is now 90% anxiety and worry, with a sprinkle of 5% anticipation and 5% excitement. There is so much more to consider and how this move will impact my family and work/life balance.

One of the biggest considerations in this big move was that financially it was no longer possible to continue to support our family. And due to the size of me and my husband’s student loans {thank you, grad school}, being a single income family is not a option. And as much as love working for a grass-roots, mission-driven organization, I am also not a martyr and believe that I’m not able to provide quality work if I’m in a constant state of financial insecurity. And I will also mention that we have been in a privileged position , because we have family that helps with some childcare, and that has allowed me to maintain my current position for as long as I have.
So in many ways, this shift has been a “no brain-er”. It seems like the obvious choice and the perfect opportunity….I get to do the work I love serving a similar population, be paid a living wage, and I trade my Monday’s off with long days for getting off every evening by 5pm. However, I currently have the ability to have flexibility with my schedule and the work load allows me to truly leave my work at work and really be a mom 100% when I’m home. The unknown aspects of my new job are enough to keep me up worrying at night. I could easily let these emotions consume me. But maybe this is exactly what I need…to be “thrown out of the nest.” These are the times I am most grateful for my yoga practice, because I could easily get lost in the mess of my anxious mind. And, I do. But I also am practicing breathing deeply. Instead of recoiling or freezing with fear of the unknown, I choose to soften into the loss I feel and let it open me up a little. And slowly the resistance melts away and I see there are never any right choices, we’re always just making our best guesses. I’m also present to the temporary nature of it all and that this next opportunity will have its seasons as well. Also, there is gratitude…there is always gratitude for it all.

 

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Food, shelter, safety and yoga

The reasons and stories for why people find themselves homeless are as varied as the trees you’d find in the forest. In the most recent homeless count for Portland, a point in time survey of those sleeping outside, in shelters, and in transitional housing, found 3,800 people in these situations and another 12,000 that were unstably housed, meaning they were couch-surfing or some other non-permanent housing situation.

Given that people experiencing homelessness are often reduced to focusing on meeting their basic needs: food, shelter and safety, it is a wonder to me that anyone would find their way to a yoga class.girls_depaul

However, at Outside In, an agency that provides comprehensive primary care medical services and support for transitional aged youth experiencing homelessness, we see people show up for class in spite of the more immediate or pressing needs they may face. It is clear that some come to class to meet their basic needs, like getting rest, and that is ok. Sometimes yoga is just being on a yoga mat that is in a safe, warm and dry room for 60 minutes.

But more often, students are learning yoga as a survival skill in itself. Having lived in a state of hyperarousal on the streets, yoga is an opportunity to down shift their nervous system and maybe to start noticing or witnessing their bodies or thoughts, instead of just reacting.

In addition to the physical benefits of yoga, it is also an opportunity to connect. One particularly touching moment came toward the end of a yoga class as all the students gathered their belongings to leave and I was chatting with people to hear their feedback about the class. One person stood by the doorway, with their backpack on and a few other bags in hand, and before exiting, they said to me, “That class was amazing. Thank you. You are amazing.” Their words were so touching and felt so genuine, I blushed, and quickly replied, “You’re amazing too!”

There was nothing particularly special about that class to set it apart from all the other classes I’ve taught for Living Yoga. But for that brief moment I’d like to believe we connected as humans are supposed to, seeing and honoring each other’s light.

In a world where people experiencing homelessness often are ignored and literally pushed to the fringes of society, I am continually amazed by the resilience and kindness of the human spirit in spite of life’s unimaginable circumstances. And I have been honored to witness how these qualities are continually cultivated and grown in a simple yoga practice.

“There are two ways of spreading light: be the candle or the mirror that reflects it.” ~Edith Wharton

This blog post originally appeared on the Living Yoga Blog

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Re-writing my birth…

I recently took the opportunity to rewrite my birth stories as an exercise in my apprenticeship for the Yoga Way to Birth. My husband and I had already written and documented our birth stories, but it had been in a very factual, play-by-play, sort of way. This time as I recalled the birth of both my boys, I approached it from a different standpoint, from a place of self-inquiry and mind/body awareness. I asked myself to dive deep into the physical memories of my birth, the lived experience, to see what was really there, beyond just the narrative.

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Pachamamam by Catie Atkinson of Studio Spirit y Sol

As I wrote my first birth experience, I found myself filled with pride, joy and awe of the accomplishment of birthing my baby. But as I wrote my second birth experience, I felt confusion, doubt and judgment arise. I second guessed my decisions and judged myself for relying on certain interventions to help me birth my baby, even though I had used similar interventions with my first birth. I played the “what if?” game over and over in my head. Why had it not unfolded the way I had expected? Why hadn’t I been stronger?

I talked to my friends, doula, midwives to get their professional opinion about my birth experience. I was truly searching for an answer to get my “ah-ha moment” that would explain why I didn’t have that idealized “natural birth” that I had desired. That moment didn’t come from discussing the nitty-gritty details of my birth, but did come from sitting with my own judgments.

As I watched the negativity of my own thoughts swirl, I noticed the impact it had on my physical body. At first it started as a darkness and weight in my heart, then it moved into a heaviness in my stomach and I began to cry, release and let it flow. What I felt was not what I expected, but it was a sense of sadness and then also deep empathy for myself. I realized how my own judgments had turned my inner space into a place of self criticism. Is this how I would talk to a friend telling me the same story? I recalled one of the first precepts of yoga, Ahisma, or non-violence, and thought of the self harm I was causing by feeling like I had not lived up to some great expectations and I noticed how loud my inner critic had become.

The second concept of from yoga that brought me peace, was the idea of Satya, or truth. Once I began to realize how harsh I was being towards myself, I sat with the truth of that experience, not only the birth, but also the truth of how I had managed and made sense of my birth story. The truth is that my baby was born the way he needed to be born. My body birthed in the way it needed to birth. And any subsequent thoughts are just thoughts. Is that the end of the story? No, because I am human and I will continue to work with these judgments as they arise. But the simple act of being with and noticing what existed allowed me to avoid being swept away in the current of my thoughts.

Finally, this quote also brought me further resolve.

“Always remember that children are born exactly the way they need to be born. We are born into this lifetime to grow, and it only through experience that we grow. Once labor starts, the process is bigger than any one person’s plan. Sometimes a soul coming through needs a certain experience for its journey, or maybe the mother needs it for hers, or the father needs it for his. We call it a complication, but it is a thread among the many thousands of threads that create the rich tapestry of life.” ~ Gurmukh, Bountiful, Beautiful, Blissful

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Birthing Day Reflections

This. This is everything. When I look at this picture of myself gazing at my sweet, fresh, 1 day old baby, I can’t help but fight back tears. The joy, adoration and love feel tangible. Its a perfect moment. Picture 103What followed was a less than perfect year. It was messy. I remember in those early days being home with both boys by myself and worrying constantly. I would worry that my older son would smoosh my baby by accident (or maybe on purpose). I worried because by the time I got my older son down for a nap and finally had a few precious moments with my babe, that I was so physically and emotionally exhausted, it took all my strength to muster a smile for him. And I worried how that was damaging our ability to bond and form a health attachment with him. I worried about how my relationship was changing with my older one and felt guilty when I scheduled for someone else to watch him so I could get some much needed alone time with my babe at mama/baby yoga or to go to a doctor’s appointment.

When I transitioned back to working, I felt guilty for being relieved to have adult conversations. I also felt jealous that our baby would be going to work one day a week with my husband and he would have more alone time with him than I had ever had. I was anxious for my older son who was transitioning into a new “school” and remember that pain of leaving him there crying in the mornings.

Life moved on. New routines became familiar ones. Some days I felt like I was treading water, some days I felt like I was swimming ahead and many days felt like I was under water–completely overwhelmed by the messiness of it all.

But something about birthdays birthing-days feels so momentous. The bigness of the emotions cause me to stop in my tracks and reflect. Inspired by some recent reading from this site, I don’t have some perfect before and after to share. I can’t say 1 year out I’ve got it all figured out now, that I don’t sometimes still feel anxious or depressed or overwhelmed. Have felt broken over this past year? Yes. Do I still keep trying to show up even when I feel like shrinking away? Most of the time.

So, no my life is not picture like the above photo. But that does not make the love any less tangible. It just makes it more real.

Happy birthday to my sweet baby boy…thank you for making me a mama once again.

“The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new.” ~Rajneesh

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a word on kindness and non-judgement

I so appreciate this talk from the lovely Kathryn Budig, I wanted to share it here as well. If even a power house like her can be effected by negative comments, I can only imagine what it can do those who are vulnerable. Such a great reminder that we are all fragile flames and that the last thing we need to feel more judgement, but we can all certainly benefit from a little more kindness, to ourselves and to those in our lives.

Like most women I know, I have struggled with body image and self acceptance. Since having babies, I have gradually been forming a new bond with my body. It was difficult during my first pregnancy to not feel out of control and overwhelmed by how much my body changed. But after my son was born, I found a new respect for the incredible strength of the female body and its capacity to nurture and create life. I was amazed by its utility! With my second pregnancy, I gained even more weight than my first. My midwife repeatedly expressed concern about this and my history of having a “macrsomal infant”. And again I had an uncomplicated birth experience with a big healthy baby.

Now I look it the mirror and try my darnedest to shush the disparaging comments I hear in my head. I see the wrinkly skin on my belly, the softness of my overstretched belly muscles, the dimples of cellulite on my thighs, the thickness of my upper arms and shoulders and all these things bother me sometimes, but mostly they make be proud and amazed. I wear that softness bravely, because it is an external reminder of the opening and the new depth of love I have experienced as a mom.

I’m done giving myself a hard time about this. And I’m done participating in those conversations with other women, like Kathryn talks about. It’s time to come together as women and lift each other up. We’re all in this together and let’s celebrate this life.  It is our vulnerabilities that make us powerful. I’m grateful for my body and you should be too!

The wound is the place where Light enters you. ~Rumi

My belly...after 41 weeks of pregnancy and now holding my 41 week old baby in arms.

My belly…after 41 weeks of pregnancy and now holding my 41 week old baby in arms.

Posted in ahimsa, aparigraha, Body image, mindfulness, parenting, Postpartum, pregnancy, Women, yoga, yoga therapy | 2 Comments