Sunday, September 30, 2012

Autumn Reflection

Autumn Canopy by -Liyen- 2009

Autumn is here! 

We see tree leaves change colors, we feel the air become cooler, and experience shorter sun-shiny days.   We adjust the clocks, dress warmer, and perhaps we indulge in the local fruits and vegetables that are harvested at this time.  But how do you adjust to Autumn internally?

In Toaism, the philosophy that Chinese Medicine is based on, we humans are considered microcosms of nature.  And if we are unable or unwilling to adjust our activity level and diet to that of the season, we may fall ill. Much is written about this subject and I won't add more repetition.  If you'd like to learn more, this article offers fantastic tips on how we can align with the energy of Autumn:

But what IS the energy of Autumn?  We look at the yin/yang energy in nature (particularly the yang energy of the sun) to guide us.  Yang energy is considered bright, vibrant, light, hot, masculine, motivating, expanding and invigorating in contrast to Yin energy which is darker, duller, cooler, feminine, relaxing, introspective, and introverted.  The energy of the sun is at it's most yang at the summer solstice, often the hottest period of the year.  From there, it decreases until yang & yin are equal at the Autumn equinox.  The energy decreases further until it's most yin at the Winter solstice where it then rises again to find yin/yang balance at the Spring equinox.  It rises again to it's most yang height at summer again.

The energy of Autumn is decreasing, becoming more yin.  Can you feel it?  We naturally want to slow down, turn inward, reflect on what is important in our lives, purge what is unnecessary, gather what we truly need, and store up for the yin of winter where we rest & rejuvenate.  This seasonal transition is the most difficult for our culture because many value productivity & celebration, and assume that energy comes from MORE energy/activity.  Not so, according to nature.  Rest is absolutely necessary.  And yin is just as important as yang because they are dependent on and transform into each other continuously.

Another reason this transition is difficult is that the shift in seasons may not be so noticeable (like in our lovely California). That is my excuse, as our family has had a hard time adjusting too.  My son started his 2nd year of nursery school (just 2 days for 2.5 hrs each, with my participation - not a big deal.)  After the first week, he and I were both down with a yucky head cold.  Thank you Universe!  I hear you loud and clear, and we are now making changes in our household.

We're slowing down.  This is hard to do with a toddler who is letting go of his naps.  When overtired, he spirals up for the rest of the afternoon (as I become more irritable) until he crashes at 7:30pm.  Though we love the early bedtime, the increased activity in the evening can't be that great for my son's immune system without his afternoon rest.  I've been trying to introduce a quiet time instead.  Audio books from the library are my quiet time secret weapon, though it will take awhile for it to become a daily ritual.  At least we're trying...

I'm turning inward.  I've been dealing with my own physical imbalances throughout summer.  My mental chatter and emotional reactivity is creating stagnation in my body and leaving me feeling very uptight.  The loss of my toddler's nap is definitely not helping.  The best medicine for me is yoga, acupuncture, & meditation.  Of course!  I've written about how my practice has changed since having my dear son, but it's time that I make my health a greater priority.  After it is done each evening, then perhaps I can work on my sewing, read the news, or write in this blog.  But connecting to myself through yoga absolutely has to happen each night for the benefit of the WHOLE FAMILY!  I believe healing starts on the inside and this is the perfect season to explore that.

I'm expressing gratitude and asking for forgiveness.  My dear, wise teacher Sarah Powers would often suggest that we start the morning with expressing gratitude for the new day.  Realizing that we may not have another, that life can end at any time, brings poignancy to our lives.  This is important every day, but especially during Autumn where the end of the year can feel bittersweet.  In TCM, Autumn is related to feelings of grief and sorrow.  At this time we may hold on to past feelings and memories.  Sarah also recommends that we end each evening with forgiveness.  We mentally apologize to anyone we may have offended during the day and forgive those who have offended us.  This is a great way of allowing and letting go, then sleep becomes a time where we can become whole again and start the next day with a clean slate.

We're prioritizing and paring down.  This need feels very strong for us right now.  Looking at our finances, our time, & energy level (again, trying to keep it mellow!), something has to give.  (A) I've cancelled my gym membership since I wasn't getting there often enough, and realized that I prefer my personal yoga practice and jumping rope to anything at the gym.  (B) We re-evaluated preschool after some issues arose last week, but we decided to try to make it work since our son loves it so much.  Still, we're prepared to pull him out if he's not enjoying it.  (C) We're donating many of our old appliances, old furniture, and sporting equipment to a charity rummage sale next week.  (D) Also, we may skip some of the indulgent holiday parties coming up and instead spend extra time at our cabin in the mountains.  The tree canopy colors are quite beautiful there this time of year!

Autumn is actually my favorite season on this glorious planet.  It's energy invites  us to create space in our lives for self reflection, family connection, & meaningful friendships.

I would love to hear how you are adjusting to Autumn and what you love about the season!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Best Items & Resources for New Parents

My husband and I live a pretty simple life.  We dwell in a home less than 1000 sq.ft. (one that we can truly afford, so that I can stay home with my son), we have fuel efficient cars, and spend most of our money on good quality food.  Still, when my son came along we had to fight an inner urge to buy more, More, MORE!  Here is a very short list of the things and resources that I've found most helpful.

1. Ergo Baby Carrier

I've watched many parents lugging around their babies in infant car seat carriers.  The babies look uncomfortable with their heads jiggling around and the parent is straining to one side as they accommodate the carrier and what ever else they're trying to handle.  This never made sense to me.  A friend claims that her sleeping baby does not transfer well, so it's easier to just bring the car seat into the house, the store, or wherever. However, these car seats are not beds.  They are hard, plastic contraptions that are only necessary for one thing: protecting a child from car accident impact. Do you realize how many chemicals are in these things? Read here about toxicity of car seats as well as other baby gear/furniture.  We had one of these infant car seat/carriers and it stayed in the car.  If we were to have a second child, we would buy a convertible car seat right away and skip these horrible things.  Sorry for this rant, please read on for my alternate recommendation!

I chose to keep my baby close to me in a cloth wrap/baby carrier instead.  Strapped to me, I still had two free hands that could cook (only if you're careful!), clean, hike, shop, etc.  I never had a problem transferring my son from the car seat to the carrier because he preferred to be on me.  I'd bet most babies would choose a snugly parent over hard plastic.

We started out with the Moby wrap, which was lovely for my February baby until he was 4 months old.  Then he got big and the weather started getting warmer.  We bought the Ergo carrier after a friend suggested it.  Ah, it provided such great support for my back, with weaker abdominal muscles and all.  I wore him in the front carry position until he was around 10 mo. old.  In this position, I was able to nurse him on demand fairly discreetly.  Mild back muscle strain was the clue that he was ready to be switched around.  I've worn him in the back carry position ever since.

At 2 1/2, my son walks during short trips.  We use the stroller sometimes at the zoo & amusement park when he needs to rest.  But I still break out the Ergo when we want to do a nature walk with some elevation.  He walks as much as possible and then chills in the back pack.  I love the Ergo Baby!!!

2. Weelicious

We took the easy road with feeding our child.  My son exclusively breastfed until he was ~ 7 months old and then we started introducing whole foods.  First banana, then avocado, and we took off on a food-crazed adventure from there!  Of course we used jars of baby food from time to time, but it was rare - just packed in the diaper bag for impromptu snacks or when we were on vacation.

Still, breast milk was his main source of nutrition up until ~ 18 months.  At that point, he started to drop a few feedings, and meal times with whole foods became established.  (Note: he still nurses to this day, but only to induce sleep or for emotional connection.)  It was fun looking for new, exciting recipes.  I was especially interested in learning how to incorporate more vegetables into his diet and wanted to do it soon to fend off pickiness.  This is when I found the best food blog ever!  Weelicious!

Catherine McCord at was my savior!  This site continues to be my #1 go-to resource for family meals.  With her help, my son enjoys a great variety of healthy foods.  Plus, she has fun video tutorials for certain dishes.  My son loves watching them, as they feature her kids helping out in the kitchen too!  Here are just some our favorite recipes:

I have pre-ordered her new book "Weelicious:140 Fast, Fresh, and Easy Recipes", coming out Sept. 18!  Most of the recipes in the book are NEW (not on the website.)  We're so excited!

3. Signing Time

We've read a lot about the damage TV can do to a developing mind.  It is NOT recommended for children under the age of 2.  So, we've tried to limit my son's exposure to it, but sadly, have not been able to omit it completely.  I'll be writing another post on this later.  Anyway, we bent our rules to include some educational videos.  We were involved with Baby Sign Language since our son was 11 months old.  He started signing around 13 months and his communication took off!  It was so helpful and we were so impressed, that we started to build a library of Signing Time videos.

I cannot recommend Signing Time enough!  Rachel Coleman, the host, has an incredible story that you should read more about here.  Her daughter Leah (who is deaf), Leah's cousin Alex, and their animated frog-friend Hopkins teach signs through catchy and pleasant songs.  My son still likes to watch the videos, even though he's forgotten most of the signs he knew a year ago.  They continue to be fun and interesting.  I think sign language helped him understand words and concepts very well before he started speaking.  I believe it is one of the reasons why he is so articulate for his age.

4. Melissa & Doug Toys

All toys are fun, but I am very, very picky about them!  I want them to be safe and spark my son's imagination.  I had many rules when our family asked us what to get our little boy:

  • Please, no toys that require batteries and make noise!  Children are less imaginative since the toys are doing the "play work" for them.  And I don't need to tell you how the noise gets to a tired parent.  Grrr...
  • We prefer wooden to plastic.  Wood has a nicer texture, smell, and does not contain polluting petrochemicals. 
  • Non-toxic paints only (you'd think this was standard practice but it's amazing how lead contamination is constantly in the news - it must say "non-toxic paint on the package!)  
  • Preferably made in the USA (as to avoid the previous point and support our economy)
Melissa and Doug toys meet most of my requirements.  These toys are made in China (at least the ones we have), but they have strict safety standards that I trust.

There are many USA made wooden toys out there, but they maybe hard to find.  Luckily, Melissa & Doug toys are available at just about every toy store in our town.

Our relatives do not roll their eyes at our requests, because they are just as into the play food, puzzles, trains, and other fun Melissa & Doug play things as we are.  And my son has been interested in and challenged by just about every item he's received.  These are keepers, perhaps for future generations!

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Attached Mom, Detached Yogini

One day this summer, as many of us parents watched our children play in our health club toddler pool, I overheard a mother discussing her meditation teacher's advice.  "She told us that attachment is a cause of suffering and that we shouldn't be so attached to things and to other people," she commented.  Her friend gave her wide eyes and a nod.  But I was disconcerted as she seemed to be talking about her children and I really hoped that she wasn't taking this advice too literally.

Yes, in Patanjali's "Yoga Sutras", Attachment (raga) is one of the branches of Delusion (avidya) along with Aversion (dvesa), Ego (asmita), and Fear (abhinivesa).  Each alone may be responsible for us feeling separate from others in this world and for clouding our perceptions of ourselves.  As a result, we suffer.

And in Buddhist teachings, recognizing Attachment is central to it's teachings of the Four Noble Truths.  If you're not familiar with them, they are:

1) Suffering occurs
2) The cause of suffering is craving (also translated as desire or attachment)
3) It is possible to end our suffering
4) This resolution can be attained by following the Noble Eight Fold Path

I've studied both philosophies for many years and practice the tenets.  Most scholars would say that it's compulsive cravings and attachments to worldly items/materialism that is being described.  By fixating on something, we can become stuck in unhealthy patterns.  In T.K.V. Desikachar's "The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice" he explains, "We want something today because it was pleasant yesterday, not because we really need it today...We want things we do not have.  What we do have is not enough and we want more of it.  We want to keep what we are asked to give away.  This is raga."

Of course we can also become delusional by forming unhealthy attachments to certain people. We can stay in a relationship that is not working because we think we are nothing without this person. Or we may hang out with someone not because they are friendly and cool, but because they represent a certain ideal that we are trying to attain.  Blind followers of cult leaders are extreme and obvious examples of how forming an inappropriate relationship can get out of hand.

So, the problem with Attachment from the Yogic & Buddhist perspectives is that we lose ourselves when we attach to this other thing.  The whole point of these practices is to experience the opposite - intimacy with our true selves.  This is an inner experience, not affected by what we experience on the outside.  Looking closely at our lives, mindful of the choices we have made, surely we can all point out something that we are fixed on that is distracting us from living in an authentic manner.  Then, it would make sense to practice Detachment in order reconnect to oneself.

The amount of appropriate Attachment can be confusing when considering our "normal" relationships.  Of course we want to be close our partner, child, family, & friends.  This is a basic human need.  As parents, we have great responsibility in being there for our children, modeling what we think they will need to develop into loving, functional human beings.

Yet at the same, we should also know that at some point in our lives, we will lose everyone and everything that we love.  No one wants to think about having an accident, getting sick, or dying.  But by simply keeping this in mind, acknowledging that life is short and precious, it can help someone maintain a healthy distance in relationships.  We can accept that our children will have their own lives (but we're still around for support!), our partners can continue to do what interests them (we don't necessarily need to share those interests), etc.  There is definitely a lot to be said about this subject and many yogis have gone there.

Now back to that summer day at the pool -
My inner alarm sounded in response to the mom at the pool because of the parenting choices I've made.  I've adopted a style that would fit the description of "Attachment Parenting" or "Natural Family Living."  My son is still breastfeeding strong at 2.5 yrs old, we co-sleep, I stay home with him during the day, and I have never, ever left him alone to cry in order to train him to sleep or force independence.  Many people think these practices are indulgent, but to me it feels completely natural.  My son is very confident, secure, engages adults, and I can even leave him in the play care at the gym because he knows I will be there in a heartbeat if he needs me (though he hasn't asked for me yet!)  We are very attached to each other and he is well-adjusted.  If I were to have another child, I wouldn't change a thing about my approach to mothering.

I realize now that I was concerned that this woman's meditation teacher's advice could be misconstrued.  Those criticizing "Attachment Parenting" could say that hey, even the yogis say that you can ignore your child, that mothers & fathers should put their needs first, and that maybe my style of parenting is wrong or would cause me to suffer.

Well, I know it's not any of my business how this mom relates to her child.  Many of my friends do not practice Attachment Parenting, and we get along just fine.  I think caregivers need to do whatever works best for everyone, as long as the child is safe.  Stop the mommy wars!  And I certainly can't control how critics of Attachment parenting use the ancient words of Patanjali.

I do know that practicing Attachment parenting, Yoga, & Buddhism are not conflicting endeavors.  I'm doing my very best to show that all are possible.  I actually think that they create a beautiful balance in motherhood.  I can be very loving to my son, yet see clearly how he exists on his own too.  We are deeply connected, but on our own journey.  It will be interesting to see how our relationship evolves as he becomes more independent.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Raising a Sensitive Boy

When I dreamed of becoming a mother, I always imagined myself with two girls.  It's not that I preferred having girls, I just assumed there was some karmic payback sure to unload on me for being a very difficult teenager. My young mother could not control me, and my sister (only 13 months younger) and I fought constantly.  Surely, I was to have my Mom's same fate.

My Mom remarried and my brother came along when I was 15 years old.  He provided a lot of balance to our family.  We have always had a very special bond.  I was his big sister, his babysitter, his tutor, and chauffeur.  I am also close to my nephew (sister's son) who is now 11 years old.  So, I definitely know how to relate to boys.

Still, I was a little concerned when I saw my son's telling parts in the ultrasound.  I'M HAVING A BOY?!  REALLY?  My husband was so relieved!  But now we had to make the tough circumcision decision.  We argued a lot, but my husband finally conceded when I said, "Our son will come into this world as a perfect being.  Why would we need to surgically alter him?"  He could no longer say, "So he looks like me."  We decided to leave him intact, as nature intended.

I had my beautiful boy, he was happy, very attached to us, and very aware of the world.  I was STILL really concerned.  What exactly was I worried about?  My husband is wonderful, my brother and nephew are awesome despite having challenges in childhood.  But just about every other man on both sides of my family are very broken.  They are mean, macho, troubled, and more.  I do not have any models for how to raise boys well.  I have many models for what not to do.  And I feel that in many ways, boys need more nurturing than what many caregivers provide.  I needed help and started sifting through parenting books.

One of the best books I have come across is Alfie Kohn's "Unconditional Parenting."  The book is about discipline, but it is based on unconditional love.  So, I found that it addressed many questions I had about parenting in general, which I think should be based on unconditional love!

Kohn suggests that parents ask themselves what they want for their children long term and continually assess whether their approach to parenting supports this.  For example, you may want your child to be quiet and do as he/she is told right now, but is this really how you want your child to be as an adult?  Probably not.  Many parents would instead like their children to be expressive, have their own opinions, yet be respectful, etc.  So, our approach to parenting must value these characteristics in our children.  In this example, it would be more effective to listen well to our children, ask for their opinions, and treat them with respect.

I believe Kohn's suggestion is a fantastic approach to evaluating one's parenting skills, regardless of the child's sex. Doing this exercise helped me clarify what I wanted to model for my dear son.

I want him:

  • To be loved and to give love freely
  • To feel compassion for others
  • To feel valued 
  • To love his body, heart, and mind
  • Go through life confidentially yet with self-awareness and humility
  • To respect women 
  • To embrace his softer, more "feminine" side
  • To feel whole and not have to conceal his emotions in order to feel macho or fit in with any group
  • To explore the world, without limits of what is appropriate for his sex & gender.
If this is what I want for my son, then this is what we should encourage.  It felt good to outline it.  Doing so made me feel more confident, immediately.  And I realized that it was the last three bullets that concerned me about raising boy.  If I were raising a girl, I'm not sure I would worry as much about her being able to express emotions, personal style, and fitting in socially.  I have experience with that as a girl and it would be easier to talk about and model for her.

Well, so far, I think we're doing pretty well.  My son has been sensitive from the beginning and is very demanding - in a good way.  He's very clear about what he wants and trusts that we will respond in a way that we feel is appropriate.  He is interested in everything from trucks to tea parties.  He actually has no idea that many boys are not interested in having tea.  When he does find this out, I really hope that he continues to do what he wants, regardless.  At least he will always have tea at home with me.  He is his Momma's boy and we are very, very proud of him.