Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

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b2ap3_thumbnail_Mean-Mommy.jpgWhen it comes to interactions with my kids, it can seem like a mystery why sometimes I’m able to channel the patience of Super Mom while other times I’m snappy, unsmiling, finger-waving Mean Mommy, a shriveled up version of my ideal maternal self. For the longest time I assumed if I could just learn enough parent-whisperer techniques I could master this split personality problem. But after reading countless alternative parenting books and yet still screaming at my son over a literal glass of spilled milk at the dinner table, it finally dawned on me that knowing what to do and actually doing it are two completely different (and often unrelated) things.

You don’t have to be a mom to relate. Before my first child was born 9 years ago, I struggled with many of these same challenges. But back when that grouchy irritability was directed at my husband or mom or friend, it was more easily masked. If I snapped at Zach he’d inevitably either snap back or point out how unreasonable I was being, both of which would just amp up my irritation and fuel a self-righteousness that made it impossible to see how I could be in the wrong.

Kids are little mirrors. When my son berates his younger sister over her spilled glass of water, I’m seeing an unflattering version of myself on a bad day. Having witnessed that pattern repeat over the past 9 years of parenting, I’ve been on a quest to discover Mean Mommy’s kryptonite so I can channel Super Mom more often.

I think I’ve figured it out, and it’s embarrassingly, irritatingly simple how direct the correlation is: consistent self-care + adequate sleep = not losing your mind when the little people around you do the stuff they are programmed to do (like spilling milk, arguing with their sibling, or taking forever to tie one shoe when you’re trying to get everyone out the door). 

I figured out the self-care part of this equation years ago (with the help of my wonderful husband). One afternoon I was lamenting my sour mood and general blahness and he walked through what has since become my self-care checklist: 

Had I done my yoga and meditation practice?

Was my monthly massage scheduled?

Had I gotten outside for a walk or run or bike ride?

After I took care of those three things and felt like an entirely different person, I committed then and there to consistent self-care. That checklist has served me well for the past few years. But in order to juggle my mom and business owner roles, I was simultaneously becoming the master of late night work sessions. I’d stay up until 2am, typing away in the blue light of my computer, only to be surprised the next day when I felt lousy even after yoga and exercise.

Now that I’m in the third trimester with baby #3, my body is forcing the issue. Exhausted from the work of growing a person, there’s been no denying the need to quit my late night work habit. I’ve consistently been in bed before 10pm for the past seven months and I’ve never felt happier, healthier, or more able to enjoy the little moments with my kids that would make the less-rested version of me insane.

I’m finally convinced that you can’t have one part of the equation without the other. I’ve discovered Mean Mommy’s kryptonite: self-care on its own is not enough, but when combined with good, old-fashioned rest it’s an unstoppable formula.

Turns out while there are many things you don’t have to do anymore once you become a grown-up, you never really age out of being well-rested. When I was a whining or just generally unpleasant kid, it always made me crazy when my mom would reply, “You must be really tired.” But as with so many other things, my mom was right (and still is). Super Mom's not all that different from Mean Mommy - sometimes all that separates the two is 8 hours of sleep!

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 In my gentle class this week, we spent a long time in supta padangusthasana, reclining big toe pose. The pose provides a relaxing way to stretch the hamstrings and strengthen the legs, while allowing for a deep release in the hips, back, and neck. Much as I love this pose today for the perspective it has given me on and off the mat, it still brings back some painful memories.

As someone who is naturally flexible, when I first started yoga I delighted that many of the poses played to my strengths. I moved deeply into forward folds, bent myself into tight backbends, and pursued the goal of making my poses look like whatever the teacher demonstrated or whatever a yoga book pictured. I exploited my flexibility, played with the line where a stretch crosses into the danger zone, and then pushed further, impatient to see a visible 'improvement' in my pose.

You might be able to guess what happened next.

My poses didn't so much improve as they served to teach me some valuable (though painful) lessons. As the teacher led us into supta padangusthasana, I went through the first side following the cues, a little bored as we were instructed to wait and work our way into the pose gradually. When I came out of the first side the teacher had us compare the two, giving us perspective on how far we had come. That first side felt incredible!

But when we started in on the second side, that leg felt stiff, dull, and reluctant. With the memory of the after-effects of the first side so close, I just didn't want to have to wait to get that feeling again. So I tried to skip steps, forcing my leg deeper into the stretch, and that's when I felt a snap in the back of my leg.

Having not yet learned patience and perspective on the yoga mat, I was forced to practice these virtues as I waited for my hamstrings to heal. My injury was a waiting-period, an imposed time to reflect on the true aims of the practice and how I was approaching it. Weeks later as my hamstrings began to feel close to normal again, my approach on the mat became slower, more measured. I found that waiting was not, in fact, boring. Rather it gave me perspective that a rushed approach would have never allowed.

The patience and perspective I've since practiced on the yoga mat has helped more than my hamstrings. Whether in the context of the writing process or in decisions pertaining to my role as director at Bloom, I've made my fair share of rushed decisions because I felt the pressures of time or expectations. When I'm on a deadline, it doesn't seem practical or possible to wait and process. Particularly now that the speed of personal and business interactions has so rapidly increased, when I take extra time it feels like I'm shirking my responsibilities, so I rush to some sort of action. Without exception, the hasty decisions have not turned out to be the best ones. Without the benefit of time, there is always some element that I forget to consider in my process.

Now when some time-sensitive situation comes up in my personal life or at the studio, I imagine the decision is the second side of supta padangusthasana. I reassure myself that a little extra time will help rather than hurt, I send feelers out, and contemplate the issue from a variety of angles. But mostly, I just wait. I'll often experience moments of panic as the deadline looms, worrying that I'm not actively 'doing anything' to resolve the issue. But sometimes doing is not what is required. Often patience and perspective are more effective.

As my experience on and off the mat has shown, you can't rush a good thing. I've come to trust that. I practice being okay on the mat during in the in-between time when my hamstrings are not yet open, I give myself permission off the mat to slow down and wait until a decision becomes clear. In this age of quick replies and instant everything, I now savor the chance to productively wait.

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