Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

Posted by on in Family

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

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

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

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

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

TY: What then?

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

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

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

TY: I'll definitely have to try that.

MM: Don't sass me!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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I could feel it building up over the course of the last few weeks, packed as they have been from the time I woke up, dressed, fed myself and the kids, then ran around like a crazy person trying to find matching gloves. The morning routine culminates in me shoving the kids out the front door and then saying 'let's go' 50 times as we walk the five blocks to school and try to make it before the bell rings. It's safe to say, we were in a rut. I was crabby, felt uninspired and short on time, and more than once I wondered if this was all life was about - a series of routines that fill up each day.

You may now be crying out, 'No, no! life can be so much more!' But I maintain that life is, in many ways, a series of routines. The key is figuring out how to move your routines beyond ruts.

And, as my son has been known to say, we just do the same things every day. Routines are important because they allow us to fall into rhythms, to be able to navigate the world more efficiently. Just think if you woke up every morning and spent 20 minutes contemplating how to spend your time before leaving for work or school. Routines ensure that certain important parts of our lives (eating, sleeping, brushing teeth, exercise) will not be forgotten in the midst of the busyness.

But there are routines and then there are ROUTINES.

Last night I was listening to Glenn Gould's exquisite take on Bach's Goldberg Variations, and it occurred to me that life is much like a theme and its variations. Your daily routines are the theme, the consistent base from which you move forth, but within that context there is almost infinite room for flourishes, for creativity, for variations on the theme. The fact that these variations are all tied to or grounded in the theme makes them all the more meaningful.

Lately, I've become more aware of my own routines on the mat. While it's good to have expectations - I will get to yoga class a couple of times this week, I will do a few poses at home or at work - it's less helpful when these routines manifest in the exact same way every time.

When I pay attention, I can identify the points in my own practice where I go on auto-pilot, almost automatically transitioning through a sequence of poses (Hello, Warrior II - Reverse Warrior - Side Angle - Triangle!). Because my typical sequence has felt good in the past and I don't have to think about it, it feels safe and easy to fall back on it. But lately, instead of just diving back into Reverse Warrior, I've been trying to sequence a different pose in next, challenging myself to break out of my yoga rut, and choose a variation on the theme instead. It feels so fresh, so good!

Mix it up on the mat, let go, and see how good it feels to be freed from the routine-ness of your routine. You may feel a little unhinged at first, like you're skipping out on your homework. But yoga is about letting go of attachment and living in the present moment, so hiding behind routines and expectations for asana practice is not really practicing yoga at all. Have your routines and leave them, too. Find a way to exercise both discipline and freedom simultaneously. And let your routines move beyond ruts to become beautiful variations on a theme.

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Posted by on in Family

Parenting spoiler alert - having kids is not all pony rides and lollipops.

I was talking with a friend on the playground the other day about the challenges of staying patient despite the everyday irritations of life with small and inherently less-rational people. On those 40-degree mornings where my kids refuse to wear jackets because they claim that extra clothing slows them down when they play tag on the playground, I remind myself that part of my frustration comes from the unrealistic expectations I have for my kids. For some reason, despite years of proof otherwise, I expect that they will take the logical path over whatever impractical, fun idea is stuck in their heads. And as they shiver yet refuse to budge in the coat department, I feel the tantrum boiling up in me, and before I can stop myself I say (to my two kids under the age of 6), "Why can't you act like normal adults?"

Parenting is trying. Children are wonderful, sweet, loving, and hilarious, but parenting them is a lot of work. Knowing that, I was surprised to find that one of my happiest parenting experiences occurred the week my husband was out of town for work and I was in charge of the little monkeys for 5 straight days (with some help from my wonderful sitter). I fully embraced the fact that I was the one who had to get snacks and drinks and break up arguments over Hot Wheels. I let small things go, knowing that I couldn't possibly fight every fight, knowing that it didn't matter if they behaved "perfectly." I had more fun with them than I'd had in months. Instead of policing their kid-ness, I tried to find more ways to be silly with them in order to entertain myself so being "on" full-time wasn't so much a job as a chance to spend time connecting with two very special little human beings. I realized that if I let my adult self go for a little bit, I could find the humor and playfulness in many of the same ridiculous games that would have normally driven me crazy.

Then my husband came back and I had a little more time to myself and I found myself getting crabby again. Now, don’t get me wrong. I'm a big believer in taking time for myself; I know it makes me happier and healthier and better prepared as a parent to nurture my children. But I also now know that the shift between sane, adult "me" time and crazy, sleeve-tugging child-time can be enough to make any adult throw a tantrum. I come home to incessant fights over who gets to use the tape dispenser first? This isn't fair! Don't these children know I just had an amazing massage? They're going to undo 60 minutes of relaxation in 60 seconds.

I'm practicing better managing the transitions between times when I've been away as an adult, in a sane and rational world, and then I come home to toys strewn about and children who need something every five minutes. I'm practicing detaching from that part of my life instead of clinging to it, instead of wishing that I could send just one more email or read just one more page of the book I was enjoying before I came home. If I am honest with myself and recognize that "me" time is over as soon as I walk through the front door, I can fully give myself to the present and really be with my kids wherever they are - silly, whining, or somewhere in between. Sometimes just the thought of having to do it makes me want to throw a full fledged tantrum, kicking and screaming on the floor, but then I tell myself to use my words and we all make it through just fine.

Tagged in: motherhood transitions
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Growing up my mom used to joke that while some people aspired to greatness, her father's motto was 'It's good enough.' She said it like it was a bad thing, like it meant he wasn't aiming high enough. It always made me laugh and struck me as yet another example of my family's self-deprecating humor. But now as a business owner and parent, I have a completely different take on things. Though I have less 'free time' today than at any other point in my life, I'm happier and more productive than I've ever been. I've reclaimed my old family motto and turned it on its head. 'It's good enough' now gives me permission to put work out into the world, rather than perpetually waiting for a few hours extra hours to make it perfect. It empowers me with the knowledge that small chunks of time spent well can lead to something big. Reclaiming 'It's good enough' has been a liberating paradigm shift. Below are 10 ways this philosophy can help you love your life and get more done, no matter how busy you are!

  1. Take on passion projects you aren't fully convinced you have time for (i.e. parenthood, volunteer work, creative pursuits, etc).
  2. Work your tail off because you love the things you're doing and the people with whom you're doing them.
  3. Let go of perfectionism, do your best, and adopt the 'Good Enough' mantra (see Good Enough is the New Perfect, co-written by Lincoln Square resident Becky Gillespie).
  4. Refuse to apologize (to yourself, to others) for things that don't matter; you are living to the fullest, you are accomplishing things that make a real difference in the world, so don't put yourself down with a flippant 'This isn't quite done' or 'I'm glad you could come even though my house is a total mess.'
  5. Give up bad TV and commit to spending more time in the real world and less in the virtual world.
  6. Make time to eat well and exercise regularly; both these things take a little thought and planning, but you'll be rewarded with extra energy to put towards the people and projects that matter most to you.
  7. Think for yourself and don't be afraid to disagree with group consensus if that allows you to stay true to what you believe is important.
  8. Spend time with people who inspire you and mirror the qualities you identify with your best self or the person you would like to become; we tend to rise (or sink) to the level of those around, so be wise about the company you keep.
  9. Make time on a consistent basis for an activity that brings you back to your essential self; for me, it's yoga practice, for some it's going fishing or taking long walks or sitting for meditation or something else. All that matters is that the activity provides a sense of grounding and reconnection.
  10. Be grateful for what you have and remind yourself that the day-to-day stuff is all there is; this life is your one chance to connect with great people and do great things, so you might as well make the most of it!

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After years of dreading that annual piece of paper that arrives via US mail, alternately going through the whole standby call-in Russian roulette routine, and sitting in various airless rooms in governmental buildings all day in weird silence with a book and a bunch of strangers, I completed my civic duty this week and actually quite enjoyed it.

As I braced myself for the usual unpleasant jury duty experience, I went through the many reasons why I should be excused from doing my civic service: I have young children, I run a business, I only have part-time childcare, and so on. But then I got to the courthouse and saw the hundreds of other people who had somehow managed to show up that day because a piece of paper told them to do so. I listened as the head honcho of the jury room gave us instructions about how the day would go and how the process worked. Then they rolled tape and some really cheesy God-Bless-America-type music came on and Lester Holt introduced himself and his 80s mustache, and proceeded to explain in clear and concise terms the judicial process and the experience of being a juror. I soaked it all up and felt a strange pride at this incredible system that asks 12 ordinary citizens to apply the laws of our country to the facts of a particular case in order to make a decision, THE decision, about the guilt or innocence of the defendant.

Prior to all of the above, I had considered pleading to be dismissed due to childcare issues or even thinking of ways to make myself appear to be an unappealing juror in the interview process, but I'm glad I didn't. We spent a lot of time sitting and waiting in the juror room, during which time I pored over BKS Iyengar's fabulous book, Light on Life. Whenever I felt the urge to be impatient, to feel claustrophobic about this tiny room we twelve shared for hours on end, I had Mr. Iyengar to talk me down, with all his amazing insights and experience. It's not the waiting that's the problem, it's my reaction to the waiting, I told myself. As Iyengar said in his book, in Latin intelligence means 'to choose between.' So if I were to face this trial of patience with intelligence, I would have to choose between being miserable and fully immersing myself in the situation to extract some enjoyment from it. My book at my side, my yoga practice at my back, I chose to immerse and enjoy, and to leave all the other mental garbage behind. As a result, those three days will, as the judge of our case suggested, be remembered as a 'high point' instead of something I merely tolerated.

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