Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

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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.

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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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Posted by on in Health


It's starting already: the holiday busyness, obligations piling up one on top of another, so many fun things to do that it makes me want to curl up in a heap and go to sleep. There's the CTA holiday train, the Lincoln Square Christkindl Market, the Waters School Artisan Fair, and that's just a short list of the things happening this weekend! For all the merriment and joy this season is meant to invoke, it often just feels like too much of a good thing.


We have a children's book at home by Todd Parr called It's Okay to be Different. I love this book for many reasons. It's fun, inclusive, honest, warm, and silly. In the book, Todd shares wise, simple thoughts that are reminders for all of us:

"It's okay to need some help."
"It's okay to come in last."
"It's okay to do something nice for yourself."
"It's okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub."
(Can you really disagree with that last one?)

Lately as I've been feeling the pressures of the many holiday party invitations that are already circulating and the thought of having to get my shopping list in order, I've been coming back to one line in particular from this book: "It's okay to say NO to bad things." The page shows a picture of two fish with bulging eyes, staring at a hook that's waiting to snag them (definitely a bad thing for them).

In the context of the holiday season, though, I've been thinking about this sentiment from the opposite perspective. I picture the two fish with an unlimited supply of their favorite fishy foods easily within reach, several schools of fish friends waiting for them to come play, and a whole bunch of neat fish castles for them to swim in and out of. Despite all these seemingly good things I imagine them surrounded by, I still picture them with eyes bulging, overwhelmed by it all. And I want to say to them, "It's okay to say NO to good things, too."

I've really embraced the idea of saying NO as a way of balancing out my tendency to pack lots of activities and projects and fun into each day. The seed of this idea was first planted when I attended Lisa Sandquist's Restful Yoga to Reduce Holiday Stress workshop at Bloom last year. Lisa offered up a very simple but profound suggestion for us as we headed into the busy holiday season: when you're feeling overextended, it's okay to say no to parties and other obligations, even if they sound fun and your favorite people in the world will be there. Seems simple, but consider how many times you have accepted an invitation because you thought you should or you had to, even though you felt like one more outing might put you over the edge.

Over the past year, I've practiced giving myself permission to say no to even the very good and very fun things that come my way if I know that they will push me into exhaustion mode. When you feel your eyes bulging, give that NO a try, even if the invitation is one you would like to accept. It feels so good, and as Todd Parr likes to say, it's okay!

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A couple of years ago I wrote a Thinking Yogi post about an unwanted visitor in our home in the hopes that confronting her head-on would help banish her from my life for good. This visitor's name is Mean Mommy. You may know her, or someone like her (she is in cahoots with Mean Spouse and Mean Friend). She was back in my home for the better part of today, and let me just say that you do NOT want to mess with her.

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 I know why she comes, I know what it takes to get her to leave, but sometimes she just lingers. Mean Mommy only shows up when life gets busy and I'm not taking enough time for myself. Whenever she's around, my perception of daily life is distorted so that what would normally seem like one of life's little hiccups becomes a catastrophic event. For example, one might expect that a sane mother of two wonderful children would patiently redirect their squabbles over library books rather than barking at them, running down the hall towards their room, and telling them how crazy they were making her. Mean Mommy thinks patient redirection is overrated, she thinks it will feel good to vent all that anger at young children who are on summer vacation, waiting around for something to do. She is, in short, a tyrant, and not someone I have much respect for.

My husband has unfortunately gotten to know Mean Mommy quite well over the past five years and he usually knows just what to say to send her packing. He starts with a gentle inquiry, something along the lines of, 'Are you okay?' Mean Mommy twitches to hear someone taking an interest, caring. Then he suggests that he might take the kids for a while and as the three of them walk out the door, Mean Mommy all but goes into the 'I'm melting...." speech from Wizard of Oz.

Today my wonderful husband did all of those things and I did a quick emergency yoga practice, which usually does the trick, but when he and the kids returned Mt. Mean Mommy still threatened to erupt for most of the day. I wondered why it wasn't working, why I couldn't get rid of her. Then my daughter politely asked for a glass of water and when I heard the cold hardness in my reply I realized I was just holding on to the meanness out of habit. I needed to take responsibility, decide to shift gears, quit frowning and slouching, and just make a change. So, I dragged my sorry self outside to play with the kids, we went to hear some music at Welles Park with friends that evening, and as I was racing down the block with my son on the way home, I knew we would come back to a blissfully empty apartment.

Mean Mommy or one of her associates visits all of us on occasion, so when she brings an extra large suitcase and wants to get her name added to your lease, just remember that eviction is a two step process. First, take time for yourself. Second, decide to let go of the meanness, the pettiness, the taking-it-all-for-grantedness, and just be nice and enjoy the people around you.

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Posted by on in Health

There’s nothing quite like an injury to put things in perspective. I spent the past week hobbling around, unable to practice much yoga or do even the most basic movements without pain. The hurt came on slowly and without any traumatic cause. At first I was just a little stiff so I struggled to work through it, striving to move at normal capacity. But soon the stiffness turned into a radiating pain that could not be ignored, and for about a week I couldn't find any comfortable position. It's no fun to be injured, but it certainly puts things in perspective.


Normally I go about the busyness of the week forgetting to be grateful for what I have. Small irritations preoccupy me - I sigh when the kids want me to drive yet another race car around the track they built, or grumble when the alarm goes off the morning after a late night work session. It’s only when my health is compromised even the slightest bit that I realize how good I have it. I daydream about what it was like before: Squat down to pick up a stray toy on the floor? No problem! Deadline that requires extensive computer time? Roll up the old ball chair and get to typing. But last week I could take nothing for granted. Sitting was painful, standing was barely tolerable, and lying down felt lousy. What do you do when you’ve grown accustomed to using your body however you want to, whenever you want to, then suddenly your body betrays your expectations?

I taught my regular weekly classes in this state, which was a challenge considering the fact that I couldn’t even sit in a simple cross-legged position. With my own yoga practice severely limited, I decided to focus my classes around the concept of santosha, or contentment. Rather than dwelling on what we don’t have in our lives, or striving to feel something different in our bodies, yoga practice can help us appreciate what we do have, right now. There’s always more we can want – the latest gadget our friends have, or the ability to do some crazy arm balance in yoga class – but the wanting is the only constant. Until we make friends with contentment, there will always be one more thing to want.

I write now from the other side of my injury, still savoring the beauty of being able to again move and practice yoga without a hitch. But soon complacency will creep back in as my memory of the pain fades and I forget what restricted movement felt like. So, my self-assigned homework is to keep sight of the injured perspective on a daily basis for as long as I possibly can: when I sit down comfortably on the floor to play with the kids, I smile; when I press back into child’s pose and feel the ease of that soft forward fold that eluded me last week, I breathe a little more deeply. It’s working so far, but that’s the trick with contentment……if you’re not vigilant, it just fades. Practice, practice, as always.

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Posted by on in Yoga

When I was a newly enamored yoga student, I spent many a failed morning trying to coax myself onto the mat at home. How could I create the same heightened experience I'd had at the studio when I might go into downward dog and see an overflowing laundry basket behind me? Because my yoga practice had been so influential and transformative, I felt like each time I stepped on the mat I needed to have that peak experience. I had over-exotified my practice, made it too precious, thereby ensuring that it was not my own but rather something only my yoga teacher could gift to me during a studio class.



It took time and lots of trial and error to figure out how to consistently be able to practice at home, and the most helpful thing in that process was to take away all expectations of the magic of yoga and bring the practice back down to earth. Here are a few tips that helped me when I was having trouble getting motivated:

1. Don’t change. Practice in whatever clothes you are already wearing. Pajamas, work clothes, it doesn’t really matter. You’re not going to do splits or a backbend, so there’s no need to wear fancy yoga gear. The process of changing into your ‘yoga uniform’ can put unnecessary pressure on you and gives the practice too much importance. Doing Warrior 2 in shorts and a t-shirt makes yoga feel within your grasp.

2. Keep it short. Aim to practice for 5-10 minutes at first. Pick 1 or 2 of your favorite poses, then gradually build up your practice a bit more. For most of us, a max of 20 minutes at home is plenty. You want your practice to be fun rather than feeling guilty that you didn’t do an hour and a half as you would in class. Save the long practice for your time at the studio.

3. Skip the yoga mat. Sometimes if I just sneak in a stretch or two, I find my body wanting more. That first stretch or pose is the hardest, so if you ease into it you’ll usually find the next one comes more easily.

4. Relax. Whatever poses you pick, make sure you add Savasana to the list! Lying down to relax for a few minutes after practicing will reinforce the message that yoga practice feels good and is something you want to continue. It’s a good time to observe how even your brief home practice affected your body and mind, so savor these few precious minutes of quiet and stillness in your otherwise busy day.

This concept of making yoga less intimidating, less exotic, is one of the biggest goals my husband Zach and I had when opening Bloom. I vividly remembered how as a new student and self-professed yoga fanatic, I found it difficult to reconcile the transformative experiences I had on my mat with the rest of my life. The transitions can be almost comical - one minute I'm overwhelmed with sensations of peace and wellbeing in savasana, the next I'm yelling at the kids to stop pinching each other. I love the idea of making yoga just another part of daily life. It doesn’t have to be compartmentalized, it's not some ideal state of being to aspire to only when I have time to make it to the studio.

I like to think of yoga as just another self-care routine, like brushing my teeth or eating a good breakfast. It is an ongoing process of creating health in the midst of, rather than in spite of, my daily existence. After I've done my 5 minutes I'm more aware of my posture, my breath is deeper, I chew and taste my food rather than gulping it down, and if I'm lucky I hang onto just a little of that post-savasana peace (at least until my next refereeing obligation). It may be messy, but the process of letting yoga practice filter into daily life normalizes that which I once put on a pedestal. Here's to taking it down, dusting it off, and putting it to good use.

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