Sowing seeds

getting grounded on the new moon

The new moon is here! Let’s get grounded for what’s left of 2020. On my end, toys are everywhere, my nail polish is chipped, and I need a shower, but I’m doing what matters most: getting grounded with my little 2-month-old son. There’s nothing like the softness of baby feet that have never walked.

"Don't judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds that you plant."

-Robert Louis Stevenson

It's been a little over 2 years since I brought this Yoga Mama newsletter from the dark depths of my mind out into the light of day. My audience has been very small, but also very dear to me. I thank you all so much for joining me on this yoga path that we are constantly recreating to fit our busy, chaotic lives as modern yoga mamas.

I'd like to make some changes to better suit my reader's needs. As a mom of two young children, I tend to focus on issues particular to the early phase of motherhood. I also realize that what works for me might not be ideal for another mother. Because of this, I always welcome your feedback, ideas, and requests. I'd like this to be a sort of community, an online sangha of sorts.

That said, I'm not done with Yoga Mama, but this newsletter will go into hibernation for several months as I dive into a project that has been inspired by my writing this newsletter. For the rest of 2020, I will be working on a Yoga Mama Manual, an inspirational booklet to keep you practicing on and off the mat, bring some fun and creativity to your yoga, and help you craft a more meaningful yoga sadhana that feels less like work and more like a refuge for you in your busy momlife.

Until then, I might post here from time to time but my focus will be on writing the Manual. In the meantime, I'd so appreciate any comments on past posts here to guide my writing to fit modern yoga mamas. I will also give some sneak peeks into my writing process on my Instagram account, @urbanyogamama

As moms, we understand the process of cyclical efforts and the power of creation on a very visceral level. It was a tough decision for me to put this newsletter on hold so that I could focus my writing elsewhere, but this type of shifting energy and letting certain aspects of our life rest for a while is one of the greatest lessons we get from our experiences with menstruation, pregnancy, and postpartum life. Like mother nature, we yoga mamas know that the best creative energy comes after a resting period. 

So, as the new moon beckons me to set my intentions for this lunar cycle, I turn my attention towards this new writing project. I've learned that the process of writing is only partly sitting down to write the actual words. The rest comes from getting off my butt to live life and then reflect on it. Sometimes that looks like a moment to sit and watch people passing by, other times it might be an hour spent sitting with a friend over coffee. Of course, as yogis, we might also count yoga practice as a way to get the creative juices flowing and to bring clarity to our efforts. So, to get grounded in bringing forth my most authentic voice as a yoga mama, I plan to bring these little bite-sized practices into my life EVERY DAY:

  1. At least 9 slow, deep breaths a day

  2. 1-3 yoga asanas done whenever I can snatch a moment

  3. A prayer for divine inspiration

It looks like a ridiculously simple list, but I’ve purposely made it very attainable, considering I have a 4-year-old daughter that will be doing preschool online at home and a new baby born a couple months ago. One of the keys to committing to practice yoga is making it doable. Another great key is to make it fun (more to come on this in the Yoga Mama Manual and I’ll share my ideas for this on my Instagram as I write and edit the Manual)!

I do realize that this platform I publish on (Substack) operates on paid subscriptions as well as free signups. If anyone else does happen to sign up for a paid subscription, you can consider it as a form of support for the writing of the Manual. Think of it as a great, socially-distanced way of taking me out to coffee once a month until I get the newsletter up and running again:)

Until then, enjoy the random posts I make now and then, and follow my writing process on Instagram @urbanyogamama

Happy New Moon! I hope you’re as excited about the seeds your planting right now as I am about mine.

Shedding Light

full moon revelations

"Don't tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass." 

—Anton Chekhov

How many memes and quotes have you seen about how we’re so done with 2020 and that we wish it would be over already. I’m not saying I haven’t felt that sentiment at all, but I usually try to be an optimist and find the highest good in even the most messed up situation.

We could all use that ability to transform negatives into positives right now. In yoga we might call this pratipaksha bhavana; otherwise known as making lemons out of lemonade, as the adage goes. To do that, we need to look deeper. Yes, the pandemic has made our lives suck for months on end, racial tension has sparked as much division as it has union, and now we all wonder what the rest of the year will bring.

It’s so easy to jump ahead and worry about what will come next — I do it all the time. So I’m not a perfectly calm, grounded person, but that is exactly why I need yoga. I’m always a work in progress and motherhood, as well as yoga, can be kind of messy that way. So, as Chekhov says in the quote above, “ me the glint of light on broken glass.” We might feel like the world is broken, or our lives are broken, or even like our yoga practices are broken because it seems we don’t have time to practice or we’re cut off from our in-person yoga and meditation classes that we miss so much. But it’s all so much broken glass and there’s bound to be some light shining on it from somewhere.

I also love the idea that whenever something breaks, a hidden treasure beneath the rubble is revealed. So, in the name of breaking down all false conceptions of myself - because yoga is all about remembering your true Self - I ask, "What spiritual treasure have I found in times when my sense of order and predictability have been shattered? Despite the chaotic events of 2020 so far, what beauty have I found; what glimmer of hope shines from the shards of glass I almost cut my feet on?" And then I hold that in my heart and mind to guide me through these dark moments.

Happy full moon! I invite you to open up to what the full moon illuminates in your life. Even if it shines upon a total mess, perhaps it's a great moment to be glad to have some light by which to pick up all the scattered pieces.

The Power of Words

new moon intentions

“When I pronounce the word Future,

the first syllable already belongs to the past.

When I pronounce the word Silence,

I destroy it.”

― Wisława Szymborska, Poems New and Collected

New moons tend to be a good time to spiral inward and reflect on what has passed and what is to come; but most of all, to reflect on what is within. What feelings are we harboring inside? What thoughts, words, sensations simmer beneath the routine of our everyday small talk?

And in between the small talk, there are the catch phrases, mottos, and rhetoric of all that is shaking the world during these times. There is a collective undercurrent of emotion that we can’t help but share, whether we know it or not. Amidst the pandemic and racial tension of the Black Lives Matter movement, I find myself feeling the weight of the world and it feels heavier knowing that I can’t explain all the nuances of it to my 4-year-old daughter. How can I use words to describe to her what only life and experience can teach her?

I love the quote above because it uses words to demonstrate both the power and the shortcomings of the words themselves. The word future is not the actual future, but just an utterance that immediately becomes part of the past once it is said. And the word silence doesn’t create silence at all; instead it just makes more noise. But we need words to shape out intentions and guide our actions.

New moons are time for sowing the seeds of our intentions. In yoga, the closest thing we have to an intention is a sankalpa, which we can think of as a sort of vow or resolution put into words. It can be something that describes a quality, such as “I am peace,” or it can be more specific, such as “I treat myself and others with kindness.”

Over time, those words help guide us towards our highest goals. But words alone - even when accompanied by actions - are not enough. We also need our heartfelt vision to infuse our actions. We can call that bhavana, and it sets the tone for any undertaking we have in life.

So as I think of a sankalpa and bhavana for this new moon, I reflect on the image of a fist, which historically has taken on a sort of revolutionary significance. We see this symbol a lot these days in relation to the Black Lives Matter movement. How interesting it is that the form of a fist has also been used as a yoga mudra called Mushti Mudra and is used to release pent up negative emotions.

Personally, my mind tends to associate a raised fist with victory in general. But on this new moon, I turn my fist a quarter turn and see a kind of spiral created by my fingers and it reminds me to spiral my attention inward and reflect on how I feel in this moment and what my next steps are. I’m 31 days postpartum and feeling a little out of whack emotionally. Where do I go from here? Do I sit and observe my postpartum emotional rollercoaster or do I take action?

Notice that in the final picture below, I tucked my thumb inside my fist, rather than laid it across my fingers. For me, it’s a gesture of going even more inward, of introspecting even more while the world around me swirls in chaos (not just in the community, but also in my living room as I trip over toys that my daughter has spread everywhere while I sit on the couch and nurse my son). I have modified the mudra and the typical form of a fist to give it new, more personal significance.

And now as I recall how I snapped at my daughter when she threw a fit about having to come back inside the house, rather than look on how poorly I dealt with my anger, I breath and in my mind, hold that vulnerable aspect of myself that is just so tired that there’s nothing left to do but lose my patience. Then after that, I breathe and move forward with a bhavana that constantly guides me toward a more gentle, compassionate version of myself that is able to hold even the stormiest emotions from others around me with kindness, love, and peace.

What’s your sankalpa and/or bhavana on this new moon? What images, words, and visions guide you as we sit and listen in the darkness of the new moon?

From the ground

“And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”

-J.K. Rowling

They say that a mother should take the first 40 days after giving birth to rest, recuperate, and focus on taking care of her baby while others take care of her basic needs. Wouldn’t we all love to have someone there to do the shopping, cooking, cleaning, and the dozens of other things for the family while we recover from bringing a new, little life into the world?

It’s common in traditions around the world to treat this special time as sacred. Some call it the fourth trimester, as an acknowledgement that mother and baby are still united very much on a physical level and also an emotional level as they get to know one another face-to-face.

How strange it has been to have a baby during the COVID-19 pandemic. I was already used to sheltering in place, so the idea of the fourth trimester and taking 40 days to stay home and recover has sometimes made me feel restless. I’ve had lots of moments of FOMO and also sadness from a basic feeling of disconnection with the community around me. Our lives were already so confined, and as I entered the postpartum phase, I felt very restricted on a physical level. After a long labor (attempted VBAC), followed by a Cesarean, I was exhausted, sore, and peeing blood. The doctors told me my bladder had probably been bruised by all the downward pressure on my pelvic floor during that 40-hour labor, and that most likely it would resolve and heal on its own.

It did resolve within a week, but I was still left peeing uncontrollably throughout the day. Not just a trickle, but sometimes full-on peeing whenever I stood up. I know, TMI, but I had to look at it from a humorous angle: my baby and I were both in a diaper-wearing phase!

The solution? The doctors, nurses, and midwives were all telling me to start doing my kegels. I never did kegels before, during, or after my first pregnancy, and when I found out they were not necessarily advisable for all people, I was glad that I had never done them. In the yoga community, I kept coming across conversations questioning the usefulness of kegels as a blanket solution for women. 

In my second pregnancy, I began having symptoms of sciatica and pelvic girdle pain, so I began going to a chiropractor and a physical therapist. After an internal exam with the physical therapist, she told me I had tightness in my pelvic floor and that I didn’t need to do kegels.

So now, as I go through this recovery period, I haven’t been on my yoga mat a single time, not even for a restorative post or yoga nidra. It’s been almost 3 weeks since my son was born and my yoga has consisted of meditation, gentle breathing practices, and healing my pelvic floor.

You might not be peeing your pants every time you stand up or cough, but everyone could benefit from getting more in touch with their own pelvic floor. It’s not to say that kegels are completely useless, but the way we work with those muscles ‘down there’ should be treated with a much more nuanced approach, and with an equal emphasis on relaxing as well as engaging those muscles.

Here are some resources I highly recommend for getting to know your pelvic floor:

  1. Yoga for Pregnancy and Birth by Uma Dinsmore-Tuli. Specifically, she touches upon a practice she calls Healing Breath. This breath is also described in her book Mother’s Breath, now out of print but available on Kindle or as audio files on her website.

  2. Modern Yoga: Everything You Want to Know about the Pelvic Floor, by Kerry McInnes.

  3. The Breathing Book, by Donna Farhi. Look at the section where she talks about the 3 diaphragms.

I’m a little more than halfway through my fourth trimester and even though I feel a little better each day (well....except for the sleep deprivation that comes with having a newborn), I know that 40 days isn’t a magic number. I wish I could say that after 40 days, my son and I will reach a perfect harmony and that I’ll feel totally recovered. But I know from having my daughter 4 years ago that healing through yoga is a forever kind of job. There will always be something to work through, struggle with, heal from, and resolve. Isn’t that why we practice yoga? The traditional texts emphasize reaching a state of yogic perfection, but I believe the real satisfaction of sadhana are all the small daily actions and moments that make my whole life a yoga practice.

Do you have any practices and resources for working with the pelvic floor?

Keeping it real

your true Self

A picture of me on the College of the Atlantic campus in the summer of 2008. I was at my most fit and able to do almost any yoga posture at the age of 28. Photo courtesy of Matthew McInnes.

This post was originally written for my subscribers only in October 2018. In light of all the tension and uncertainty in the world these days, I wanted to drag it out of the dark and dust it off. Hope it inspires you or someone you know:)

Since my daughter was born, I’ve realized there are certain things I can’t do that I once used to be able to do, and that is sometimes discouraging, even depressing. When I started doing yoga at the age of 16, there were so many postures I could do. I had so much flexibility and I was building strength and stamina so quickly, that it was easy for me to stay motivated to practice because, in a way, I got sort of a power trip from practicing yoga.

Now as a mother at the age of 38, my conception of power has been challenged over and over throughout my adult life. It wasn’t just yoga that I had excelled at, but I was also a high-achieving student, involved in band, drama, and sports. I derived my sense of self and joy from accomplishment. I got used to being that person that was good at a lot of things.

Then at 25 I had an emotional breakdown. I was plunged into a world of anxiety and panic attacks. I had to quit my job and quickly wrap up my classwork at the community college I was attending. Every little thing became difficult. I mostly stayed home or rode my bike to burn off the anxiety. Through the love of friends and also some professional help, I broke through that fog. I wasn’t actually doing that much yoga, if you limit your idea of yoga to postures on a mat, but I was doing some really deep yoga and by that I mean I was finding and feeling my place in the world. And I was discovering my deepest self.

There’s been so much that has happened between now and then, including more moves than I bothered to count between states and even to Barcelona, Spain at one point. I kept chasing the next goal that I thought would make my situation better. I prided myself on how easily I could pick up and go, and also on how little money I could survive on and how easily I could find jobs wherever I landed. I made friends everywhere, went through a couple of long relationships and lots of short ones. But I kept finding myself coming back around to my yoga practice and even when it was at its most minimal, I kept track of that thread that was my practice, a thread strong enough to help me pull myself out of whatever darkness I found myself in.

I found that these moments of darkness were sometimes scary, sometimes soothing because of their familiarity. After enough times on my own downward spiral of self doubt, I got stronger pulling myself back up. I got even stronger the times that I realized that I needed to sometimes ask someone to help pull me out.

And what does all this have to do with yoga? Since I began practicing in 1996, I’ve gradually gone from all the flashy postures that I often proudly repeated because I felt that sense of I CAN to a more grounded sense of humbly acknowledging that despite the waxing and waning of my abilities, yoga has always brought me around to who and what I AM.

I AM that light, love, and joy that has planted its seed in everyone. I AM the peace that sometimes shines forth through my eyes and other times hides as an ember deep in my gut. I AM the witness that watches even the thoughts in my mind and the sensations in my body and realizes again and again that, while those aspect of me change, my true Self is the pure awareness that keeps calling me back to each present moment.

The trick is, I don’t always feel like that light, love, peace and joy. It is sometimes easier to just know that but not feel it. So here’s my offering to you yoga mamas: if you ever find yourself in that space of knowing that you are fine, but not feeling it, here’s a practice I invite you to try. There are two versions:

  1. Write for 3 minutes about how you feel. Maybe you feel good, mixed, or totally horrible. Whatever you think and feel, write it down as if talking to a dear friend about it. Then burn that piece of paper or throw it in some water to break down-or just throw it away. Get it out of your hands. Next, write an affirmation that makes you feel centered, calm, and full of love or inspiration. For me that’s, “I am calm, I am strong, I am able.” Everyone has words that work for them. Write it at least 3 times. If you want, put it on the fridge, wall, or somewhere else you’re likely to see it.

  2. Do version 1 out loud. Find a friend to talk to or if you are in the practice of praying, spill your guts through heartfelt prayer. When you’ve let it out, say your affirmation to your friend or to yourself. Choose the words that work for you, speak slowly and clearly, and take a deep breath in between each repetition.

Another practice I love clicks with a lot of other yogis while others feel it is mumbo jumbo. If you’re more liberated by singing in the shower or the car, or while you’re doing things around the house, then more power to you!  I love that, too and many of us busy moms need to loosen up and belt it out from time to time. But if you’re like me and it inspires you, find a Sanskrit mantra to chant. Many of the mantras I learned at Satchidananda Ashram - Yogaville and to this day, when I chant them, they click me into a higher mindset that I learned to cultivate at the ashram. Here’s one of my favorites. It’s short and sweet:

Hari om

Pronounced HAH-REE OH-M. You can chant it slowly a few times. I learned this at the ashram and they often included it toward the beginning of a yoga class and chanted it in a specific tune (which I will share with you in another post soon:)

So Hari Om actually creates a vibration in the body starting in the chest when you pronounce the HAH syllable, then it moves up to the throat when you chant the REE part. Finally, the OM shoots the vibration up through the face and head, ending up at the top of the head with the M.

These are just some ideas to lift you out of a funk. I find them helpful, along with a lot of other techniques, depending on my mood and situation. What lifts you up and helps you remember the bigger picture of who you are?

Me now at age 40 with my second child. It might not be obvious, but I’m practicing the type of yoga that reminds me of who I AM, regardless of what I CAN or can’t do.

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