Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Build Your Vocabulary and Resolve "Mommy Brain"

Before having my dear child, I would often hear other moms talk about "mommy brain", the decline of intelligence during pregnancy and beginning parenthood.  I never really believed it, especially when it was my easily distracted sister doing the complaining.

Fast-forward to now, 2.5 yrs into motherhood - I am definitely not as smart as I used to be. I have lazy speech, often not using complete sentences.  My vocabulary was never great, but now I need to pause often as I try to recall words. It's pretty bad.  Lack of sufficient sleep is probably the main cause of this decline, aided by the fact that I'm home with a toddler for most of the day.  Certainly getting more sleep and socializing with adults more could help retain my memory and intelligence. But at this point I feel like I need to learn more.  And I need to do something about this fast, or my toddler is going to pass me up with total word count!

I just happened onto this article from Good Magazine that made me feel hopeful:

This month, the magazine has a "back -to-school" theme and have committed to teaching readers something new every day. The above article focuses on vocabulary and features a few websites that can help build it. I signed up for "word of the day" at the following:

Already, I have found this to be a salutary tool for making me smarter. I have learned a new word (salutary was yesterday's word) and look forward to learning more. Patience, dear readers. I am not the best writer either, but I really enjoy it.  Hopefully this vocabulary tool with help me relay information in a more interesting manner!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Communing with Nature

This weekend, my family and I are spending time at our cabin in the woods. We're very lucky to have this retreat space and seek solitude here every month or two. Packing for the trip is always cumbersome, but once we're on the road, I feel the shift inside immediately. I naturally want to exhale deeply, letting go of any held tension. In 3 hours we are among beautiful redwoods and other evergreens. Instinctively, I lengthen my inhalations. I take in the splendor not only through my senses, but allow it to penetrate my entire being.

The air is different here - cleaner (unless there is a forest fire.)  In Eastern philosophies, it is believed that the quality of our vital energy (prana and qi) is made up of the energy we inherit from our parents and also absorbed from the food we eat and the air we breathe. Certain geographies have more refined qi.  Of course in our culture we are concerned with avoiding pollution. But most people do not realize that we are constantly benefiting from nature by simply communing with trees, water, and other natural landscapes. We do not need to take a Feng Shui course, though that can certainly help! Our health can improve by simply getting out more in natural environments and letting our cells soak up this invisible nectar.

My family has made weekend vacations to our cabin a necessity. We value the energetic gift from the land and also the quality time spent together.  Yesterday my son and I walked around our property collecting sticks, watched a woodpecker work on a diseased tree, played construction with a new cement truck toy, and I made a lot of progress with a sewing project. Today, we played around outside again, soaked up rays at Alpine Lake, and  I was able to do more yoga and qi gong than usual.  Tomorrow we will make a big breakfast, play outside a bit more, then clean and pack up. Simplicity is nourishing.

As I conclude this post, my son and husband are slumbering soundly nearby.  I'm being serenaded by hundreds of crickets. Hopefully soon, I will be lulled to sleep by their peaceful song. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Transitions for Toddlers

One of the things I admire the most about my dear son is his ability to become completely immersed in his activities.  Whether it be trains, painting, role playing or even his early morning nursing sessions, he loves what he does and expects us to be fully present as well.  We adults try to reclaim this ability to focus in our jobs and schooling.  And many of us attempt to become more aware in the moment by training through meditation.  Ahhhh, to be a child again, experiencing everything in this world with intense wonder!

Of course this one-pointed awareness has it's issues, at least with a toddler.  He does not like to get his diaper changed because it means he needs to stop what he's doing.  I can't talk about breakfast when he's nursing in the morning because all he can think about is momma's milk and he get's upset if he thinks I'll take it away.  And he's definitely not a child that can be whisked away from errand to errand in the car.  We have learned to adapt and to plan carefully around this tender being.

So, when we HAVE to do something, like that dreaded diaper change or going to an appointment, here are a few things that help our family.  Basically, we try to make ALL activities fun and interesting.

  • We outline the day and tell our son about it in small blocks of time.  It is overwhelming for him, I am sure, when I tell him everything we will do in the day.  Time for children is more circular, not linear as we adults experience it.  So, they will not keep track of what is coming next.  After we finish an activity I usually say something like, "That was fun!  Now it's time for us to do ___ ."  
  • We try to stay calm and cheerful.  My son picks up on anxious behavior and become anxious as well.  Does your child do the same?
  • Sing, sing a song.  Sing out loud!  Sing out strong!  I am the world's best singer in my child's eyes & ears, though I can barely carry a tune.  He learns best from songs and rhymes and these are welcome distractions when getting dressed or changing diapers.  
  • Other distractions - toys, books, stories we make up ourselves.
  • We "fly" to the car.  This only works if we are able to carry him, of course.
  • My husband has found his calling as "Dr. Daddy, DDS."  He creates a scene in the bathroom where my son sits in the dental chair (toilet) and asks him about his day, what he just ate, comments on his teeth, etc.  My son LOVES getting his teeth brushed by Dad.  He has had cleanings at a dental office already, so can relate to this experience and it's fun for him.
  • WE LET OUR CHILD FEEL VALUED BY HELPING OUT.  THIS IS SO HUGE THAT  I'M TYPING IT ALL IN CAPS!  HA HA!  I'M ALWAYS SPECIFIC IN HOW MY SON CAN HELP ME OUT.  I POINT OUT WHEN HE'S NOT BEING HELPFUL AND WHAT HE CAN DO INSTEAD.  Transitions to mealtimes used to be hard for us until I started recruiting my son's help in the kitchen.  He doesn't have to prepare the whole meal.  Just giving him one important thing to do makes him glow with pride.
  • We try not to over-schedule.  We usually don't go out in the car more than once a day.  It is not necessary for us.  We only shop at one grocery store and do that twice a week.  We usually have plenty of time for meals and rest.  For the most part, our life is simple and we are relaxed and happy.

Certainly a child must learn that our needs are equally as important and learning to be patient is an important skill.  However, in our family, it does not work to yell and force our child to be accommodating.  When I have become angry, I calm down, apologize, and explain my needs.  When this happens, he does seem to yield more, but I think the apology and seeing the pain and desperation in my eyes is what gets to him - definitely not the anger.  

I imagine this gets easier with age & maturity.  For now, we are joined at the heart, not so much in our minds since his is still developing.  If we relate to our children from the heart and try to treat every situation, even the dull and regular, as something wonderful, then that is what they will experience.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Body, Heart, & Mind of a Post-natal Yogini

I started taking yoga classes in my late 20s, at the time considering this my "prime". It satisfied my ego nature, as I was able to do backbends quite easily, which are some of the more challenging postures for the general population.  However, after over a decade of practice, many imbalances were revealed.  I lacked strength in my core and hamstrings and lacked flexibility in my hip flexors and gluteals.  It was frustrating that many yoga postures were still out of my reach. I even had a few instructors comment on how unusually limited I was, given how I had a flexible spine. Ouch.  Instead of letting this bother me, I grew humble and just accepted that this is how my body was.  And that humility helped greatly as my teaching experience grew. I was able to relate to my students better.  Also, I was able to focus more on meditation and energetics like qi gong.  As it should be, working with my limitations was a doorway to deeper yogic practices. 

Then I became pregnant and had my baby by an emergency c-section. 

Oh my, oh my, has my practice changed!  It is like starting all over again, except I have a very complete toolbox and know what will likely work. The amount of time put in is so different now. Before, my asana practice would usually be ~ 1 hour long in the morning or afternoon and I would meditate every evening for ~ 30 min. before bed. Now, I'm lucky if I can get 45 min. of asana (posture practice) in right before I hop into bed (if my son doesn't need me first!)  My meditation is <15 min.  Sometimes meditation is on the fly while I'm nursing or sitting at the park.  Not really "formal" at all.

Even though I practice for less time, I am definitely seeing changes.  My hips are way more open than before giving birth.  I am able to do lotus pose (padmasana) quite comfortably for the first time in my life.  Used with fish pose (matsyasana) it is helping immensely with the issues that came up for me during pregnancy and from the surgery. Note for women wishing to get pregnant: Please, never take a C-section lightly. It is a major abdominal surgery. I've had gastrointestinal  issues ever since, but that can be talked about in a later post...

So, my body is different. For some reason, I'm holding onto the last 15 lbs gained from pregnancy (and I was definitely not svelte before that!)  Still, I am continuing to heal and transform on every level. Keeping my body open is helping to make space in my heart and mind as well.  The brief contemplative practices of meditation and qi gong (maybe along with oxytocin?!) seem to be just enough to help me be a more loving mother, wife, family member, friend, neighbor, and inhabitant on this beautiful planet. 

It is our motivation, intention, and gentle approach to working with ourselves that is important, not so much what we do or how much we do.  Most long-time yogis know this. Just practice, that is yoga, regardless of life circumstances. This is hard to teach to beginners.  It is difficult for many to be still, to accept that they can't do everything, and take responsibility for what comes up in their practice.  I am glad to say that I know many students who have and are now yogis for life.  And for myself, I know that this is only the beginning. 

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Transforming a "Bad" Day with Loving Kindness Meditation

I was so excited for my toddler as he peddled "super fast" down the driveway. It has taken months, but he finally mastered riding his tricycle by himself. We laughed and chased his neighborhood friends until we encountered another neighbor - one who apparently does not like kids. I smiled when I first saw her. She responded with a stone cold face and then yelled at us for riding our bikes on the common town home driveway.  She told us this was against the Homeowner Association rules and then proceeded to seethe as she stormed back and forth with her garbage (trailing packing popcorn, which I couldn't help but point out to her.)

It felt so horrible to be yelled at in front of my child.  This altercation came out of nowhere and I was left with a knot in my stomach. I thought about it several hours afterwards. Were my thoughts affecting the way I was interacting with my son?  Probably. He was very emotional the rest of the day, but did not talk about the neighbor at all.  He seemed to forget the event completely.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that I was so flustered after this argument that I accidentally locked my son & I out of the house.  Yes, this was a very bad day. Luckily for us I had my phone handy and my husband was able to come home quickly to let us back in. 

Now, I'm not really interested in sharing my defense or talking badly about this woman.  Neither are productive and do nothing to help one feel better.  If anything, these actions produce an even greater feeling of separation or superiority in relation to the other person.  How do we forgive without needing to forget?  And how do we move on from uncomfortable encounters like this without obsessing about the details, assuming a victim mentality, and/or holding a grudge against the person who offended us? Life has given me plenty of opportunities to figure this out.  Loving kindness (Metta) meditation has consistently helped me transform a really bad day into one that is pleasant or at least insightful.  Basically, it is a meditation that helps us forgive by realizing that we all deserve to be happy on this Earth. Once my son was asleep for the night, I sat alone with a candle and began. 


Loving Kindness Meditaition

1. Bring your body into a comfortable, alert seated posture. If sitting in a chair, it's always advisable to sit near the end with your feet firmly planted on the floor so that you're still using your postural muscles to support your spine (not relying on the back of the chair).

2. Take a few deep breaths to bring your mind down into your body and fully present in the moment. 

3.  Repeat the verses below, or something similar if you wish to change it up. These are well wishes for all sentient beings. I will elaborate on their meaning after these instructions. 

May you be free from fear and harm
May you be happy as you are
May you be at peace with whatever comes

4.  First you will be directing these wishes toward yourself. For me, it helps to hold in my mind an image of myself when I was very young. We usually have an easier time forgiving children since they are so innocent. Forgiving and wishing yourself the very best is the most important step in this meditation. Take as much time as you need here and repeat these lines until you feel that you really mean it. You deserve happiness. 

5.  Then bring to mind someone you love dearly. Again, repeat these phrases until it feels authentic.

6. Next, bring to mind someone neutral. It may be someone you have seen often but don't really know. Perhaps someone working at your local supermarket. 

7. And finally, think about the person who you are having difficulty relating to.  Can you direct these well wishes to this person?  It helps me to imagine this person as an innocent child (again, as I do myself) or at least to acknowledge that even though this person's history is unknown, we may have more in common that we think.

May you be free from fear and harm
We can become paralyzed by fear to the point that our lives are very limited, not fully lived.  Holding onto this fear is unhealthy and can actually create energetic disturbances in the body that can lead to physical and mental disease. By wishing for freedom from fear and harm we are trying to let go of fearful beliefs and negativity. Underneath it all is wide-open awareness and a state of equanimity. 

May you be happy as you are
I think this can be interpreted in many ways.  Those of us practicing mindful meditation believe that we ARE wide-open awareness and equanimity is our natural state. By peeling off layers of fear and any other contrived emotional walls we reveal our authentic nature. It is possible for us all to attain, if we practice awareness and can clearly see how certain beliefs are making us feel separate from others. This does not mean that we should adhere to rigid belief systems and never apologize for our behavior.   We must still learn from mistakes and change accordingly, and yield in certain relationships in order to live harmoniously with others. So, this mantra is more about realizing that you are essentially happy, in a state of equanimity, when we drop all our life stories and instead drop into awareness. 

May you be at peace with whatever comes
We can trust in the universe, revel in the mystery, and know that everything happens for a reason. 


After completing this meditation I was able to sleep peacefully.  Now when I think of my child-hating neighbor, I do not feel the same anger and dread.  Instead, I feel sad that she is not able to see the beauty that is in all children, but I respect her need for privacy.  No, I don't think I will be inviting her over for dinner, but we will walk quietly as we pass her home and will ride our bikes elsewhere since there is plenty of space after all.  There is plenty of space for all of us if we are wide open and compassionate inside.

Monday, August 13, 2012


Hello friends, this is my first post in the blogging community. I have resisted starting one for 2 1/2 years now, when my husband first suggested that I use it as a way to document my life as a new mom. Now is the time, but it's not just my need to talk about my wonderful son that is urging me on.

I have been teaching yoga for over 10 years now. At one point, I had close to 10 group and private classes a week. When I became pregnant with my son, I would tell curious students that my postpartum plan was to start teaching again right away and also slowly try to build up my acupuncture practice (I graduated from Traditional Chinese Medicine school when I was 3 months pregnant). Most would say that the plan sounded great, but their expressions were doubtful. Boy, was I naive! These students knew me well, and I think I became the type of mom that they thought I would be. I dropped everything but one private session per week. The rest of my time has been devoted to caring for my son, husband, and our home. I see yogic lessons from homemaking and parenting every day! I am living my yoga now. Still, I miss my old students and the lessons that I would share during our contemplative yin yoga practice.

I am still not ready to teach group classes. My acupuncture practice is really, really small and I don't have office space ( I do house calls). So, I'm not where I thought I would be, but my life right now feels really good regardless. I am balanced, except for this urge I have to relay yogic insights of my life to others and share what I'm learning as I continue to study TCM. I've decided to place my insights and teachings right here in this blog space. It will ease my mind and perhaps someone, somewhere, may appreciate a story or more!