Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

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Just a few weeks ago, I had a person in my belly. Now that person, a little girl, the fifth member of our family, is sleeping a few feet away from me. She’s decidedly her own person, both independent and also completely dependent on me. After sharing space with me for 9 months, she made her exit into a world in which she has to learn, step-by-step, how to do everything. Everything. Breathing is new, digesting is new, controlling limbs is new and initially impossibly difficult. In our family, we call her frenetic arm movements “playing the bongos.”

What can you say about something that is so profound and yet so incredibly common? In the time it took you to read that sentence, four more babies were born.

Sure, there’s the typical territory, but to me the most notable things about the newborn days are not the sleep deprivation or how hard it is to find time to take a shower. What amazes me is the fact that within days of my third child’s birth I simultaneously felt an overwhelming love and a paralyzing fear.

A week before my due date, I wrote about the joy of waiting and not-knowing. Baby girl took the post  to heart because she kept us waiting and not knowing for two weeks past her due date! During those bonus weeks I did lots of yoga and meditation, took walks, enjoyed weekly massages and nightly baths, and just generally tried to savor the in-between while also doing all the things people tell you to do to get your baby out. Contractions would start and kick up in intensity, then they’d stop. I wanted nothing more than to make sense of the patterns and figure out what exactly I needed to do to give this kid her eviction notice.

The night before I went into labor the waiting finally got to me. I tearily told Zach I wanted to “take the night off,” so I pretended I wasn’t desperately hoping to have a baby and instead we watched “The Big Lebowski.”

The next morning I did a sweet meditation and a wiggly yoga practice that veered from the usual sequence of poses that had kept me feeling so great throughout my pregnancy. The practice was mostly hip circles and other organic movements that just felt right at the moment, and it tuned me into a different sort of mindfulness. 

Contractions finally began that afternoon and as I labored through the evening and deepened my breath to match the increasing intensity, I felt the echoes of my yoga and meditation practice and a connection to an intuition I hadn’t experienced with my other two births. I let go of attachment to where I was in the process or how long labor would last and instead just did my best to surrender one contraction at a time. My strong baby girl was born that evening 5 hours after the first contraction and just 1.5 hours after we arrived at the birth center.

For the first few days after her birth I embraced the fluidity of life with a newborn and was simply overflowing with gratitude: for our thriving baby girl, for my wonderful husband, for our doula, for our midwives, for the luck of having a healthy pregnancy and beautiful birth, for the support of our friends and family, and for the immediate love big brother and big sister showed for their new sibling.

But on about day four, all that poetically intuitive stuff went out the window and I had my first new mom anxiety dream where I couldn't find my baby after having brought her to a party. Then my overthinking, control-seeking mind tried to push its way back in between feedings and changings. “When will she get on a nap schedule?” “How long before she smiles?” “Should I take her for a walk in the stroller or sling?”  

My first instinct was to pump google for answers, but I stopped myself. It’s been 6 years since we’ve parented a newborn, but I still vividly remember days wasted crying over this stuff. The intensity of the love I’ve felt for each of my children took me to new heights of fear and self-doubt. What if I do everything wrong and mess up this perfect little being? How can I keep her from getting sick or hurt? What if every other mother in the world knows something I don’t?

As baby girl sleeps today I get on the mat to breathe and move to remind myself that as long as I’m taking care of her basic needs, none of these seemingly pressing questions really matters. I remind myself that the newborn phase is all about creating a strong attachment, and attachment naturally leads to a fear of loss of love. This new mom business is tough - the emotions are so raw and real and close to the surface.

These first few weeks as my body recovers from birth and I'm adjusting emotionally to this massive change in our family's life, my yoga practice looks different. It's abbreviated, gentler, and more subtle, but no less powerful. This is yoga as prep for birth as prep for parenting; it's learning to be okay in uncertainty and to listen to the experts on the big stuff, but to body, breath, baby, and my own intuition on all the little daily stuff. She will sleep, she will eat, she will get sick, she will get hurt. There are no magic answers. When she wakes up crying and I can't figure out why, I kiss her and tell her over and over that I lvoe her. I know this is the most important thing I can do: quell the fears and amp up the love.

The experience of growing, birthing, and raising a human being is no less amazing the third time around, and the love I feel for her is still chased by fear. But instead of running from it or feeding it with a relentless search for external answers, I coo to my fears and gently shush them knowing that sometimes being less in control and instead surrendering to a tiny love is a glorious change of pace.

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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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