Space: The Final Frontier

 Photo by  Jesse Sewell  on  Unsplash

Photo by Jesse Sewell on Unsplash

Being a mom comes with many challenges, of course, and many are difficult to understand until you actually find yourself in that situation: the toll a chronic lack of sleep takes on your body, how hard breastfeeding can be, how invested you could possibly become in another person’s well being, choosing where to live based on schools...The list goes on. One thing that is topping my own list lately (okay, for the last 17 years, really) is space! When I hear “Space: the Final Frontier,” I think of empty-nesting, not Star Trek!

It starts in pregnancy feeling so physically squished. In the last trimester, so many moms wonder each day how they could possibly get any bigger- and then they do! Many literally have no space to breath efficiently. Moms await labor to get their bodies back, only to realize afterwards that the baby is still nearly as attached as actually being on the inside.  

Then there’s the space in the home. I remember trading our king for the queen in my mother-in-law’s spare bedroom so we had enough room to attach a co-sleeper. It wasn’t long before the baby insisted she sleep in our bed and we traded back. It doesn’t matter how big of a bed- a tiny baby will manage to take up more space than two parents put together. I remember looking forward to the time each child would get old enough to move out of our room so we could have our space back. My room does feel a little more like my own compared to when they were babies, but nothing like before I had kids! The youngest still uses our bathroom at night because she claims it’s closer despite passing the other bathroom on her way. <insert eye roll> No matter how hard I try to keep things minimalist, the kids’ stuff takes up more and more of our home, and of course, they have no qualms about leaving a trail of junk wherever they go.

Nothing feels like “mine” anymore. The teenager is getting better about it, thankfully, but still occasionally “asks” to borrow something from my closet after she’s already walked away with it, assuming I’d say yes. (Bright side is I don’t feel quite so bad borrowing something from her closet! Lol!) The littlest one thinks everything in my office is fair game and I find all sorts of craft remains cluttering my desk, despite repeatedly reminding her my desk is off limits. And where the heck are my scissors!?

 Often the only way I can get work done is Arya in my "trunk."

Often the only way I can get work done is Arya in my "trunk."

The worst for me is my own bodily space. I get so tired of being touched. Yet there is something sweet about a little person always wanting to hold your hand, hug you, be held. I try to focus on her sweet intentions and remind myself there will be a day when she is not here to love on me.  In the meantime, though, it is pretty challenging to try to simply walk down the street with 60 lbs of another person pressed up against me. Getting some stuff done at my desk often means a certain someone is hanging out in “my trunk”- squeezing in between me and the back of my chair. Sometimes I can’t help but exclaim, “Can you. Just. Stop. Touching me for one minute!?”

All of this put together leads to a lack of mental/ emotional space. It’s always been a challenge for me to quiet the mind- my biggest focus in my personal yoga practice- and now there is just so much stuff to consider with raising a family. From the day to day stuff, like who needs to be where at what time (too many days lately with Maceo’s baseball game and Arya’s ballet class at the same time) to the heavy things like are we doing the right thing by encouraging Jeannessa to start her higher education at community college? My mind really needs a day off...

It’s no wonder that I have been focusing on spaciousness lately in my practice.  In all of my classes, not just prenatal, we start with the physical body, noticing the places that feel crowded, and imagine breathing space into those areas. The body begins to soften. The deeper focus on breath surpasses the physical body to find space between thoughts. Finding this space between thoughts brings deeper meditation, deeper awareness. And when I find that, the crap all over my house suddenly seems to take up a lot less space.

Recently in class, I asked a full-term mom,  “What one thing do you want to get done before the baby comes?” She expressed knowing how important space was to her and that she just wanted to find some time to herself, knowing it could be a long time before she finds her own space again. Then she added something along the lines of, “Maybe that sounds kind of mean.” On the contrary, Mama!  Space comes in many different forms and it’s important to find the kind you need. It’s not always easy to find when you are a parent, but worth every effort.

Yoga Practice: A Prudent Investment of Time

 Photo by  Harry Sandhu &nbsp;on  Unsplash

Photo by Harry Sandhu on Unsplash

I often feel like I’m living in a time warp.  It seems like just yesterday I was awaiting the birth of my first child and all of the sudden she is driving herself to school. In the blink of an eye, I started teaching yoga, had two more children, and here I am with over a decade of experience as Blossom Program Manager under my belt. Committing eight months to the Dharma Path Advanced Studies (DPAS) program seemed like taking a huge chunk of time out of my life and now just a few weeks away from our closing circle, it seems like it wasn’t that much time at all. I feel like I wake up every morning and all of the sudden I’m back in bed again. And yet, I do remember those never ending days of childhood. I’m reminded of them every time one of my kiddos complains of boredom. My mom once said that time just seems to go faster the older you get. So far I have to strongly agree, which scares me a bit- I’m not sure I can handle things going any faster!

I can fully understand how challenging it can be, particularly in the busyness of Silicon Valley, to race the clock in a valiant attempt to accomplish all of the things we are “supposed to” do. But what do we gain from all of this rushing?  Are we able to be fully present in the moment? Does it bring joy?

At this stage in my life, I have a huge load of responsibilities. Nevertheless, I’ve learned to be okay with not getting Everything done. Every tomorrow provides another chance.  And sometimes those tomorrows spread out into weeks, months….and so here I am, finally getting back to blogging after two plus months since my last post. In that time, I completed my DPAS Practicum project, spent much needed time with my kids over their spring break, and started preparing for our next Lotus Blossom Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training, the 100-hour mentorship program I offer with my colleague Hillary, which starts June 1. I accomplished ENOUGH. Too much, maybe. I practice mindfulness every. single. day. I reflect on what is truly important to me and use that to prioritize. Still, I rush around a little more than what is comfortable. (Life is a work in progress, isn’t it?)

The concept of “stealing time” is something we have discussed at length in DPAS, specifically in regards to starting and ending classes on time. When classes run significantly over the time students expect it to end, teachers are stealing their students’ time. I have to admit, this is something I am working on. My classes are one of my highest priorities, and it’s a rare occasion that I am not at the studio at least 15 minutes before my classes start. However, it’s not a rare occasion to have many students trickling in the first 20 minutes, or even later!  That makes it quite the challenge to start on time (and then end on time)! I honor the unpredictability of life, the challenge to “get everything done,” and of course, all of the changes that pregnancy brings- it can take time to adjust to the slowing down of the pregnant body, especially when everything else in the world is moving so quickly. Still, I find it ironic that moms are rushing to make it to class, squeezing in a practice that at its heart is about building moment to moment awareness to “move into stillness” in the words of Yoga Master, Erich Schiffmann.

I worry that some of my students may be missing the point and therefore the benefits of yoga. I wonder what I can do to support all of my students to not just prioritize their practice, but really prioritize themselves by committing to their practice! The check-in is not an optional time- it’s the opportunity to build community and for me to understand what my students’ needs are and tailor the practice accordingly. If I understand what my students are feeling each class, I can serve them better. Sivasana, our restorative pose at the end of the practice, is not optional either. In any yoga practice, it’s considered the most important pose. The physical postures are about creating an awareness of breath and body in order to move into the final resting meditation. And what pregnant mom doesn’t need rest!?

In a world that is moving so quickly, it’s more important than ever to savor each and every moment. If you are struggling with time management- to get to class or in any other area of your life- I encourage you to take a moment to reflect on what is important to you and set boundaries around your needs. Moms deserve to get the most out of their practice- the people who depend on them (especially baby!) benefit, too. The quality of life improves immensely when we are able to take a deep breath, think critically about what matters most, and prioritize those things. There are even studies that prove meditation creates more efficiency at work. Taking the time for yoga practice is a great return investment of time!

Get moving! Even at work!

I’m working on my practicum paper (“Yoga for Working Moms”) for my teacher training at Samyama. But I’m not sitting still! Laptop is on the counter and the new JT album is cranked, so I just can’t keep still! Which is great because guess what my paper keeps coming back to? If you attend my classes, you won’t be surprised: all the research points to movement (and proper alignment) as a solution for many “mom problems,” like diastasis recti, sore back and shoulders, and pelvic floor problems.   So maybe you can’t crank the tunes in your office or maybe you’d feel self-conscious to put in some headphones and groove silently in front of your office mates. (Although it may feel liberating to face that fear!) In any case, there are TONS of things you can do to mix it up and minimize the sedentarism from your desk job. Here are just a few ideas:

  1. Sit on a ball instead of a chair.  Get a standing desk. Sit at the edge of your office chair (on your ischial tuberosities). Or better yet, do all three, changing every hour or so.

  2. Season your day with simple office stretches:

    • Stand up and reach your arms up into Urdhva Hastasana. Stretch to one side then the other. I just did it.  It felt great!

    • Cross one ankle over the opposite knee and lengthen your spine forward.  Hold for 30 seconds to a minute. Switch to the other side. You can do this without even taking your eyes off your computer screen (although they need a break too!)

    • So then give your eyes a rest, or rather a rest from the computer, while strengthening them.  Get up from your desk, walk over to the window (movement!) and focus your eyes on something far away. Can you see a bird landing on a tree or telephone pole? Take this exercise to the next level and walk outside to do it.

    • Okay, back at your desk: keep your pelvis neutral, let your rib cage drop to be in line with your pelvis, then twist your torso to your comfortable edge- maybe to the side, or perhaps to look behind you. Make sure your shoulders stay level and stacked over the pelvis as the rotate.

    • Try a few neck rolls. Sync them with your breath and let it be meditative.

    • Stand up at your desk and take a simple forward fold to stretch the hamstrings (better to keep your knees straight and lengthen the spine, even if your bend at the hips less than 90 degrees). You can put your hands on your desk for stability.

  3. Take every meeting you can on a walk.  It may feel like a strange request at first, but you may inspire your co-workers.  Or maybe they were secretly wanting to move, too.

  4. Pack your lunch and eat it outside, then spend the extra time walking. You will eat healthier food and save a ton of money. (Then you can retire early and move all day long!)

  5. Stay hydrated! And then use the bathroom furthest from your desk.

  6. Take every opportunity when you are not at work to move.  Dance while you are making dinner. Take walks with your family. Stretch on the floor while watching TV. Every time you sit on the floor instead of modern furniture, you are moving more just to get up and down, not to mention the movement that naturally happens on the floor. Walk everywhere you can.

These are just a few ideas.  Get creative!  Your body will thank you! And now back to writing that paper...

What have you done to bring more movement into your workday?  Share in the comments below!

An 80-year old Man Has Improved My Prenatal Yoga Classes

 Ben assists me in practicing chair-supported headstand.&nbsp;

Ben assists me in practicing chair-supported headstand. 

Given Yoga’s 5,000 year history, Prenatal Yoga is a fairly new practice (only about 50 years old). Nevertheless, I am committed to preserving the basics of a classical yoga practice, and subtly weave these concepts into my classes. One of yoga’s traditions is passing knowledge down through a lineage of teachers. The last two weekends (and a few evenings in between), as part of the Dharma Path Advanced Studies (DPAS), I got the honor of practicing with one of my most influential and deeply admired teachers, Mr. Ben Thomas.

In the early 2000’s, in search of my first comprehensive teacher training, my friend and teacher Julianne Rice suggested I check out Ben’s class to see if the teacher training he was a part of would be a good fit.  It only took one class- I was hooked!  I spent that summer participating in his weekly classes and enrolled in the teacher training. Shortly thereafter, Ben left the area, and since then I have tried to take his workshops whenever he visits. His contribution to DPAS is one of the main reasons I made the huge commitment to this next level of study.  

Ben is a true master! He stumbled into the practice of yoga in his late thirties, supporting his wife who came to yoga for extreme health reasons, and within just a few years was practicing under the guidance of Mr. BKS Iyengar himself. Over the years, they made eleven trips to India to study with “Guruji” who encouraged them to pass on the teachings. Now, at nearly 80 years old, Ben can perform poses that I may not accomplish in this lifetime, not to mention his amazing ability to quiet his mind while doing them or in long seated meditation. But what is even more impressive and meaningful to me is that he built his yoga practice while raising six children and supporting them through a successful career in the tech industry. Ben found creative ways to bring yoga into his workday and practiced often with his children. As a working mother of three, I appreciate how difficult it is to make time to practice. And I frequently meet mothers who would like to practice, but just can’t seem to make it work with their huge commitments to work and family.  Ben is living proof that not only can a yoga practice happen in spite of modern “adulting,” it brings peace and connection to the entire experience. This is the inspiration for my DPAS practicum: creating a practice specifically for postpartum working moms that is not only beneficial and healing, but totally manageable in their chaotic lives.

In the last week, of course Ben helped us to break down a variety of poses, understand his 30-minute opening routine of chanting, pranayama, and meditation, and go over the Sutras of Patanjali- all things that improve my skills as a teacher. However, what impacted me even more was getting to know him on a personal level- the violent racism he overcame growing up in Alabama, the challenges of helping his parents run their little grocery stores once they moved to the Watts neighborhood of LA, the struggles he had in higher education and his early tech career due to the color of his skin. He tells amazing stories- some absolutely heart wrenching- and then lets out a warm little chuckle. I told Ben his life would make an Oscar-worthy film. He just humbly smiled. His teachings are so digestible because he acts like he’s just a regular guy- no ego, very calm, warm, and approachable. This is a man who is completely at peace with and appreciative of his life. Perhaps overcoming so much adversity helps a person to count their blessings.  Perhaps it’s the yoga practice. Likely, these two are intimately intertwined. I am grateful for the opportunities I have had to study with this man who is not just a Yoga Master, but a Life Master. Looking forward to Ben’s return later this year and hope some of my students will join me in one of his valuable workshops!

Do you have a teacher who made a huge impact in your life (yoga or otherwise)? Please share in the comments below!

The Don’ts and Don’ts of Pregnancy

Have you ever noticed that when a person announces her pregnancy, after the “Congratulations” she gets a whole lot of unsolicited advice? It likely happened to you! And most of that advice comes in the forms of things to avoid? “Don’t do this, don’t do that…” It often comes from well meaning, yet uninformed friends and family.  It can even come from those “in the know”- doulas, doctors, midwives, prenatal yoga instructors- as well!

Slapping so many don’ts on pregnancy is problematic for a few reasons:

1. Upholds a culture of fear surrounding pregnancy. A little bit of fear is a good thing when it informs our personal safety, but too often, it is not based on reality and gets in the way of living a joyful life.  Consider the person living in an average neighborhood who misses out on the benefits of taking a walk- the fresh air, the exercise, the opportunity to connect with neighbors- because of the fear that they may be attacked along the way, even though this kind of crime in their neighborhood is virtually non-existent. Analysis of police reports and community data may show that taking a walk is generally a very safe activity, but news reports that focus on fluke criminal activity make many of us believe it is not safe to leave our homes.

In this culture of fear, pregnancy is perhaps The Queen of Scary Things. When women are constantly told that they should avoid things, the risk of whatever it may be starts to grow into something huge and looming, often creating a bigger problem than the initial risk. Nobody is ever told the risk of laying on her back during pregnancy- they are just told not to do it!  If I had a quarter for every time a student has told me she is losing sleep because she is not supposed to sleep on her back, but it’s the only way she feels comfortable, I’d be a rich woman! It’s nuts that so many women are experiencing very real risks of losing sleep and creating unnecessary discomfort in their bodies when the true risk of laying on the back- compression of the inferior vena cava- would create a sensation that would force them to change position anyway!

When fear informs our decision making, we often are unable to weigh the true risks and benefits and may end up with an undesired outcome. It may be as trivial as the expectant mom who suffers in a hot room because she was told raising her arms above her head to reach the thermostat would get the baby tangled in his cord. (I hope I don’t have to mention there is zero science to support this claim.) Or it may be way less trivial as in the all-too common example of what “might” happen if a healthy, low-risk mom goes past her due date. I regularly hear about doctors insisting on induction as early as 40 weeks for no other reason than dates. I quite literally never hear about doctors warning of the risks of induction. There are a bazillion studies that have looked a the issue of due date and induction and I don’t want to oversimplify any of them here, but I will say that discussing risks of going post-dates without discussing risks of induction does not paint a clear picture for moms.  I will also say that the number of moms I personally know who expressed feeling pressured into medically inducing labor and then regretted that decision afterwards is rather high. Time and time again I hear, “I was scared into it.”  For a clear picture of what the research says on the issue of due dates and induction, I highly recommend Rebecca Dekker’s article Evidence on: Due Dates. (It’s long, but thorough and well worth the time.)

 Highly Recommended Reading!

Highly Recommended Reading!

Living in a state of fear keeps us from being in the moment, one of the ultimate goals of yoga and meditation practice (which of course, has been shown in numerous studies to reduce stress and increase overall health.) As Nancy Bardacke points out in her awesome book Mindful Birthing, fear exists in the future. If we are always anxious about “what might happen,” we miss the beauty and joy or simply the mental clarity of the present moment.

Every time a mom hears she needs to avoid something in pregnancy, it maintains the status quo that pregnancy and birth are terrifyingly risky and must only be experienced with extreme caution! Where is the joy in that!? Or the reality, for that matter? As birth photographer Harriet Hartigan says, “Birth is as safe as life gets.”

2. Profuse don’ts undermines and disempowers moms.  While advice in pregnancy is generally coming from an authentic concern for the expectant mother, telling her to avoid a bunch of things is basically telling her that she can’t figure it out on her own or that she shouldn’t trust her own knowledge and instincts. As the first step in a long journey raising a child, the last thing a mom needs is to feel disempowered. Raising a child takes courage and strength! Reinforcing that she is smart enough to navigate the experience, worthy of making her own choices, and her body is strong enough to grow and birth a human is a more effective way to show support.

No matter what your credentials are (doctor, doula, friend, grandma...), if you must give the mom some advice, make sure you know what the sources are for your recommendation, and be able to be clear behind the reasoning. Then support her in making the choice even if it’s different from what you would do in the same situation.

 Pretty sure someone told me not to do back-bends in pregnancy, but my body just couldn't get enough of them then!

Pretty sure someone told me not to do back-bends in pregnancy, but my body just couldn't get enough of them then!

Recently I saw advice offered up to an expectant mom on social media regarding yoga practice. The poster congratulated her, then immediately added “Make sure to avoid deep twists and inversions.” Then summed it up with “Listen to your body.” The middle statement was totally unnecessary, and could have been much more useful if it included the reasons why, had defined exactly what constitutes a deep twist or inversion, or cited a source proving it was harmful, so mom could make her own conclusions about what is right for her.  Better yet, all three!  (Okay, I’ll do it: deep twists are hypothesized to upset the implantation/ growth of the fetus and may also put additional stress on the linea alba and inversions may negatively affect mom’s blood pressure or blood flow to the fetus; deep twists are those that rotate the spine more than just turning to the side and firmly compress the abdomen and inversions are defined differently depending on who you ask- handstands and headstands are definitely inversions, while downward facing dog is debatable; unfortunately, there are no adequately peer-reviewed studies to support every pregnant mom avoiding these particular poses or any specific yoga poses or any other physical limitations in pregnancy, except for avoiding anything that will cause abdominal trauma, like contact sports, or anything that is likely to produce a significant fall- the latter being pretty subjective. Phew!) Most moms should avoid deep twists and certain kinds of inversions in pregnancy, but for others the benefits of these poses may outweigh the risks- it’s really up to mom to “Listen to her body!” Really, that’s all that needed to be said!

As a yoga instructor, I never give an adjustment or correction in my class without a word regarding why and seeing if it’s true for the mom. For example, if a mom is in a lunge with her knee past her toes, I let her know it could put strain on her knee and ask how it feels when she stacks her knee over her ankle. To this day, I have never had a mom say it felt better with the knee past the toes, but someday there just may be someone who prefers it that way! I owe it to every mom to ask what her body prefers. It’s a reminder that she’s the one in control of her body!

3. Likely the information is incomplete at best and down-right incorrect at worst.  There are all kinds of crazy myths out there about pregnancy that are propagated through years of misinformed, well-meaning advice. Some are easy to scratch our heads and laugh at, like the example of lifting the arms above the head. But others are not so obvious. How many coffee-drinking mothers get admonished for enjoying their morning cup?  Studies are inconclusive on the upper limit of caffeine intake and its effects on pregnancy and the fetus, but there is enough evidence to suggest a cup or two a day of caffeinated coffee has no significant negative outcome to mom or baby. Surely the fellow who comments as you pick up your Starbuck’s order has not read these studies.

With so many people giving well-meaning advice, it becomes rather challenging for a mom to sift through credible information. Even doctors can give orders with little or no supportive evidence. Take bed rest for example.  According to WebMD, approximately 1 in 5 mothers will be assigned bed rest at some point in her pregnancy. However, studies show that not only is bed rest not effective, it can be down right harmful. Assuming that everything an OB says is right for every mom may not be in her best interest. Expectant mothers have the right to ask questions and demand research to back up their doctors’ recommendations!

Of course, most mothers today want to be informed about their pregnancies.  It should be left up to them to seek out information, discuss their findings with whomever they choose, and not have unsolicited advice flung at them. They have a right to decide what’s “fake news” and what is not without a chorus of don’ts coloring their research.

Needless to say, it drives me nuts to witness pregnancy advice, particularly when it comes in the form of “don’t!” A very common reason I hear from my fellow birth educators and doulas for why they are motivated in their work is because they want to empower mothers and reduce fear around birth.  Yet we are so entrenched in a culture of fear that many of us don’t realize that saying, “Congratulations! Don’t (fill in the blank here)” does exactly the opposite! If you are an expectant mom reading this and feel frustrated by the people in your life telling you what you shouldn’t do, feel free to share this article with them. If you are a friend, family member, or work with expectant moms, I hope you will consider the power of your words. Don’t be a “don’ter”!  ;-)

Did you get a lot of unsolicited advice and don'ts in pregnancy? How did you react? Share your experiences in the comments.