Monday, August 1, 2016

Tending the Home

There was a time in early motherhood when I embraced the advice of others to not care so much about keeping the house clean while I cared for the more important needs of my young son.  Of course I couldn't get anything done when he was an infant with all the diaper changing, feeding, and laundry.  When he was a toddler I was running around after him and his messes and always fell behind!  And all this time, even through the preschool years, my son would demand most of my attention, for I was his very best playmate.  Well, he is 6 years old now, at an age where I'm not as fun to play with and there is no excuse for him not to help clean up more.  I can clearly see that his disregard for the messes he makes is a direct reflection on what he's seen me do.  I want him to take care of his things and for the house we live in, just as I have taught him how to take care of his body, heart, and mind.  I need to place more importance on cleaning our abode for it to become meaningful and a good habit for him.  Now how do I make this change and how do I involve my family?

1.  Adopt a cleaning calendar
There are several of these on Pinterest and certainly other bloggers have shared their suggestions.  Here's my schedule, which was inspired by Pig&

2.  Make cleaning manageable & fun

Simply having a cleaning schedule makes the process much more manageable.  And from there, tasks can be divided up between family members.  With dusting, a task I despise and gladly delegate, I can clear away clutter and my son can come along with a polish-coated rag to do the actual dusting.

Using essential oils in our cleaning solutions is a safer alternative than mainstream cleaning products.  It's also super fun for kids to pick out the oils to use (after giving them an appropriate panel to choose from) or let them mix the solutions that you've chosen.

This is also a great time to put on some great music and DANCE!  Get into it...


3.  Be mindful of how and where we place our things

There is a saying in the yoga community that how you do yoga is how you do everything.  If you rush from pose to pose, ignore important feedback that your body is giving you, vent negativity, and disregard the space of others in the room, there's a pretty good chance that you do the same in your everyday life outside the yoga studio.  We watch closely in our yoga practice and notice our habits without judgement so we can honestly see ALL without reacting.  Then we can make a conscious effort to change our habits, the way we approach our practice and everything else in our lives.  This housecleaning endeavor is becoming an extension of my yoga practice where I try to be mindful and treat everything I own as something precious that should be handled with care and respect.

This is how I found our kitchen towel hanging this morning:

Really?  I think we can take the time to fold the towel and put it back nicely, which leads to the final suggestion:

4.  Be a model for your family and be clear on how you'd like them to help take care of the house

It is obviously not important to my husband that the towels are hung nicely.  And he really doesn't care that the kitchen table is cluttered with mail.  He was always so supportive of me when I let the house devolve into a sty too!  Having a clean house really does matter to me though and seriously affects my mood when I'm in a cluttered space, especially if I feel like I'm the only one making the effort to keep the house picked up.  I need to constantly communicate how I'd like my family's help in maintaining order.  But I also need to make sure that I walk the walk.

When I come in the house, I hang up my keys, place my shoes in the closet, and hang up my purse.  If I start leaving my shoes out in the entry way, very soon there are ~ 10 pairs that have accumulated because I have implied that it's okay to do it.  It's fine every once in awhile, but then I end up being the one to put all the shoes away which causes even more needless emotional distress.  Let's just put away our own shoes, just the one pair we're wearing at the moment, in the closet.  Done.


We are 3 weeks into our mindful house cleaning commitment and I love how it feels!  A friend could stop by at any moment and I wouldn't have to explain with embarrassment how our house is small and gets cluttered easily.  I don't need to scramble to the bathroom to make sure it's "presentable".  The three of us are much more happy being able to sprawl out in our spacious, clutter-free rooms.  A clean, organized home complements a clean, organized lifestyle and the effort to get there is certainly worth it.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Resuming a Regular Yoga Practice as a Mom

Urdhva dhanurasana

Much has changed since I first wrote about my post-natal yoga practice.  For four years now, I've been doing what I can, when I can, which meant that my practice was broken up into a few brief sessions a day.

I've made the empowered decision to take back my practice time.  My son is at an age where I can reason with him a little better.  And I really believe that he needs to see me meditate and practice yoga so he knows that it is a significant part of who I am.  No longer am I going to wait until he's fast asleep at night before rolling out my mat.  And instead of just working out the kinks from a hard day of stay-at-home-mom-activities, I will work toward a practice that is consistent in developing my body, heart, and mind.

The Ashtanga Primary Series is my main go-to practice.  I've always loved the sequence, the routine, and the rituals and am really drawn to it these days.  Though it usually takes me at least 75 minutes to complete, shorter forms are presented in David Swenson's Ashtanga Yoga Manual that make having a consistent practice truly attainable.  

So I have my practice method and time (usually in the afternoon before making dinner) along with strong internal motivation.

Now, how is this practice done with my son constantly demanding my attention and without resorting to the TV babysitter?  The answer continues to be: with practice.

Upavista konasana with a helpful adjustment

I try setting him up with art projects, play scenes with toys in his room, and the task of picking strawberries on our balcony.  But everything is more fun with me accompanying him, and eventually he comes stomping on my yoga mat.

Just like with Vipassana meditation, where everything happening in the present moment is included in the experience, my asanas and ujjayi breathing are approached in the same manner.  And I notice:

This is how it feels to be interrupted
This is how it feels to be annoyed
This is how it feels to be needed

I have to stop at least once to read books, watch him perform his own made up asanas, or stop him from lighting an art project on fire in a candle flame that was way too accessible for him (that was a close one!).

The important piece in this endeavor is that I continue after the interruptions and complete my yoga practice. I do so, knowing that I've satisfied my needs as well as my son's. And I notice:

This is how it feels to be connected


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Kids Yoga - My Many Colored Days

A woman, who has taught yoga to adults for over a decade, has a child.  She loves her child dearly.  She loves her friends' children as well.  So you would think that teaching a yoga class for children would be an ideal fit for her, right?

This is what my friend thought when she asked me to teach a yoga class at her house for preschool-aged children.  With no experience teaching children other than my own son (who is only interested if he can jump on me while in a risky position), I was hesitant, but this was a single, donation-based class benefiting the preschool.  I figured that it would be a good test to see if this was indeed an option for me to pursue while I care for my son in these early years.

Once I agreed, immediately the ideas rushed into my head.  I remembered reading about how colored scarves are a great yoga prop for kids and imagined children twirling around with chiffon rainbows.  A fellow teacher recommended using books as the theme for classes.  I did an internet search and found a lesson plan based on "My Many Colored Days" by Dr. Seuss, which we already happened to have in my son's library.

It's a fabulous book that encourages children to become familiar with their emotions - perfect for a yoga class where we will introduce mindfulness practices.  Inspired, I quickly wrote up an outline for asanas that could correspond to the animals, colors, and feelings presented in the book (see bottom of this post for details).

I was so ready!

Did the class go as planned?  Um, no.

The yoga space that my friend offered was bordered by mounds of toys.  And not just any toys - NOISY toys.  Noisy toys that a child can ride on through the "yoga" room.  It was chaos and hard to control.  Basically, we adults did the practice while I tried to read the book and gently shout instructions.  Every once in while the children would stop and join us.  But for most of the class, they just played while we practiced yoga to a child's book.

Afterwards, I vowed to myself that I would never teach yoga to preschoolers again.  However, now that many months have passed, I may be interested in trying again.  I've added the outline of the class I did, below.  If you're interested in teaching this, I'd suggest working with kids older than 4 years if you expect to stick with the plan.  And remove any distracting toys.  (Please let me know if you need any clarification by asking questions in the comments section.)

I suppose it doesn't matter if the children are able to sustain their attention through the entire class.  It is not important if they experience the lengthened periods of peace that we adults strive for.  I think that it's most important that children realize that there is a method that exists for attaining peace and one they can revisit over and over as they grow.  But for now, watching adults practice yoga and noticing how it affects them may be the best way to introduce yoga to very young children.  ~ Namaste~

My Many Colored Days - yoga class for 4-8 year olds

I.   Introduce theme and how it applies to yoga & our lives

II.  Introductions (singing while clapping)- say name and pick out a scarf
"My name is ____.  ____ is my name.  I like the color ____ " (as child picks out scarf).

III. Breathing exercise - awake to sensations inhaling & exhaling with scarf over face…then belly

IV.  Warm-up 
  • Wake-up body parts by brushing scarves over them
  • Cat/cow stretches --> child's pose 
  • 1 - 2 sun salutations if possible
V.    Read the book - Yoga poses by color
  • Red horse - Downward dog, Donkey kicks/handstand prep
  • Blue bird - Pigeon, Warrior 3 with airplane arms
  • Brown bear - Squat
  • Yellow busy bee - Twirl with scarves
  • Gray Owl - Freeze!  Mountain pose
  • Orange seal - Flow down to belly for cobra/seal
  • Green Fish - Roll over on back for fish pose
  • Purple dinosaur - Knees into chest
  • Pink flamingo - Rock n roll to stand --> Flamingo leg balance
  • Black wolf - Warrior 2, Squat --> sit on heels for lion's breath
  • Mixed up day - Choose pose from above based on how child feels
VI.   Seated reflection - Basic mindfulness instruction on belly breath

VII.  Savasana

VIII. End with Namaste song
"Every day is a happy day, when we say Namaste.  Respect to you, respect to me.  We live together peacefully."

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Empathy for Our 3-Year-Old

Last summer my son befriended a girl at our local park who was one year older than him.  They played nicely together, so the mother and I exchanged contact information and met a few more times before school started back up.  One day, the mother was trying to leave the park and sweetly asked her daughter to put away her sand toys.  The girl paused and gave her mother a piercing cold look, then went back to playing.  The mom giggled softly and whispered to me, "This is what you can look forward to at 3 years old: the big middle finger."

I've been looking back on that moment a lot lately!  The beginning of parenthood was pure joy for me and passed quickly in a blur.  My son is a blessing, but my husband and I are finding that parenting is becoming more difficult as he gets older.  At 3 years old, he is dealing with a flurry of emotions as he explores his world more, is starting to separate from me a bit, and wants to have more control over his experience.

It's easy to fall back into my old reactive ways when he and I clash and I'm in a hurry or only thinking about MY needs.  Though I may not completely understand why my son is not going with the flow as he used to, I am determined to try and understand.  It's important to stop myself and see clearly how I'm feeling.  When it's anger and frustration, the seeds of rage, I must stop before losing my cool.  When I do go off and start yelling it can be scary for both of us, so I've learned to at least pause and let my emotions diffuse a bit before communicating my needs.

With a daily meditation practice, it is easier to achieve a clear frame of mind quickly.  Then I am able to shift my perspective and connect with my son on a deeper level.  Here's some questions I may ask myself next to reestablish our empathetic bond:

What is he doing right now and what may he be feeling?
How does he feel when I ask him to do something else?
How does it feel to be his size, with his communication skills and physical capabilities?
How does it feel to always have to comply with my wishes?
Does he feel heard?

The book "Respectful Parents, Respectful Kids" by Sura Hart and Victoria Kindle Hodson has been very helpful in providing me with tools to reconnect with my son during tense moments and finding a middle-ground where both our needs are met.  This book is also my introduction to Non-violent Communication, which I find very intriguing and hope to learn more about.

Empathy is the key to building, then maintaining a close relationship with our children.  By fostering it, I am able to refrain from being too authoritarian, a parental position that I feel is not fair for my son and not aligned with my authentic nature.  Instead, I can remain the loving, respectful, and nurturing mother I always hope to be.  And most of the time, my son looks like this:


Saturday, January 12, 2013

Sourdough Bread Making: A Labor of Love

I've always enjoyed baking from scratch.  It is hugely satisfying when I create something grand from just a few basic ingredients.

I thought making sourdough bread would be no different than making a cake.  After all, haven't people been baking with sourdough for thousands of years?  How complex could it be when many mastered the technique before Kitchen Aids?  Well, I can say after several attempts that it's certainly not easy.

I recently tried making sourdough bread with a wild starter for the 4th time.  I am proud to say that it was a success!  The starter is robust and really sour.  It's my new baby; one that I only need to take care of a few times a week!

The starter was cultivated with the bacteria and yeast present in my kitchen, and based on instructions from Mike at Sourdough Home.  I thought the starter was ready after a week since it was bubbly, even though it wasn't doubling in size.  The bread that resulted from the first bake was small and dense, but nice and sour.

Cultures for Health provided more information and answered many questions that I had.  If anyone is  interested in making sourdough bread, I suggest going to this site first and watching their videos.  First timers may actually want to purchase one of the several starters that they sell instead of cultivating it from scratch.  Following the Basic Sourdough Bread instructions from one of the videos, my bread dough did not double during the proofing, but resulted in a bread that was less dense than my previous attempt once baked.

I tried the recipe again a week later.  Since I keep my starter in the refrigerator, I have to feed it 3 times, 12 hours apart, so it takes 1.5 days just to get the starter ready to bake with.  This time, it was as bubbly as ever and doubled within a few hours during the feedings alone.  After adding the flour, salt, and water, the bread dough rose nicely while proofing and baking.  It was light and sour: the consistency and flavor our family desired.

I suspect that it has taken 3 weeks for the starter to mature, which is why my first couple of batches were not impressive.  So please, if you do embark on this journey, DO NOT GIVE UP!  Be patient and persistent!  And with a mature, well cared for starter, you can make sourdough bread for years to come.  (I'm trying not to think about the previous 3 times I tried baking with a week old starter - I threw them out when not satisfied with the loaves.)

My shaping and proofing steps still need to be fine-tuned, and I would like to explore making different shapes of artisan bread.  Linked here is a video from FiveFlourFingers that has been helpful.

One can see, based on my experience, that there are many ways to make sourdough bread and tons of guidance on the web.  It can be very confusing!  I'm getting close to making my ideal recipe though; one that is mine but influenced by countless bakers before me.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Meditative Jump Roping

~swish SMACK thump ~ swish SMACK thump ~ 
~swish SMACK thump ~

Arms and legs move in perfect synchronicity as I jump with a rapid cadence.  I change up the jump skill to vary the muscles used, but other than that, this exercise is extremely repetitive. Swing, jump, swing, jump, over and over and over.  Surprisingly, I never become bored or frustrated.  This is mainly because I have been able to use this movement to experience something deeper: a meditative state of being.

Sometimes I focus on sound, sometimes it's my breath, many times I just feel the power of my feet propelling my body from the floor and lightly making contact with the earth again.  All the while, I am calm & focused.

It is possible to experience meditation with any repetitive exercise.  Running, walking, swimming, and skating all help to keep our bodies healthy while our minds are trained in awareness.  Of course it is possible to "zone out" instead, or rely on the distraction of music while engaging in these sports, and I'd bet that's when most injuries happen.  When we are aware of how our bodies are responding and can distinguish between objective thoughts and those of the ego, it is really hard to push yourself beyond your limits and become injured.

So why do I love jump roping in particular?
  • It feels good!
  • I feel youthful doing it, but with greater skill than my younger self!
  • It only takes 15-20 minutes to reap the same benefits as running or walking for longer periods.  For a busy mom, short exercise routines are a must!
  • I can do it anywhere and only need my trusty rope.
  • It gives my mind space - not to roam, but instead to tune in. 
  • It's fun to do with children.  My son is still little, but he can't wait to learn how so we can jump together.

Here is my beauty, a simple speed rope:

And if you are interested in learning more about jump roping, here is an excellent book written by US Olympian and Master Jumper Buddy Lee:

You can also check out the Jump Rope Institute.

Jump roping is seriously good exercise, for body & mind.  I encourage you to give it a try!  

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Remembering My First Experience with Meditation

For many of us who practice meditation, the discipline was adopted during a very difficult period in our lives.  Meditation, especially vipassana or mindful awareness, eventually shows us where disharmony exists in our lives, and gives us tools to pull us up and out of our personal mess.

Here is a brief background on my "personal mess".  My mother raised my sister and I by herself until she remarried when I was in high school.  We never had a lot of money and she did not value education.  She declared one day in my Senior year of high school that I couldn't go to college because she couldn't afford it (without looking into financial aid options or anything else that could help me).  I felt this was so unfair and sad because I loved to learn and had so much potential.  She figured I was self-sufficient and she focused instead on her job, her new marriage, and my younger siblings. So after high school, I sought out part-time jobs to pay for my community college education while I continued to live at home with my family.

After completing my lower division courses, I transferred to the local State University.  Around the same time, I found a full-time job, moved into a studio apartment, and started using financial aid to help pay for my tuition (also incurring major credit card debt).

It was extremely difficult to balance work and university studies.  It did not help, of course, that I chose a very difficult major.  I trudged along trying to complete my Biology degree without really enjoying the advanced coursework.  I had to get through this!  Most of my grades were very average.  Some were really bad (Calculus).  I gained ~ 20 lbs.  I drank massive amounts of coffee to stay awake and smoked cigarettes as a way to cope emotionally.  It was difficult to have meaningful romantic relationships.

Somehow, I was doing really well in my new position at this environmental testing laboratory I was working at.  That is where I placed my energy, and where I received the most help.

My supervisor was the angel who suggested that I attend an "Intro to Meditation" workshop they were having at my company after hours.  I sat among my co-workers, all at least 10 years older than I, and wondered why I had been asked to join the group.

One of the exercises made quite an impression on me.  The instructor asked us to pick up a single raisin from many that she had on the tray.  First we described the raisin to each other.  We noted it's size, it's texture, it's color, and it's smell.  Then we didn't just "eat" the raisin.  We salivated, chewed it, tasted it, felt the change in the raisin's structure as it turned to liquid, and swallowed the syrupy goodness.  Our senses were alive and these simple details became important as we put them in the foreground of our awareness.

I was able to experience a raisin as I never had before!  And I appreciated my body for the pleasure of it's sweet taste.  It occurred to me that if I had overlooked the simple details of eating, what else was I missing?  And I noted that as I "meditated" on eating the raisin, I was calm and focused.

This was the seed that was planted in my consciousness so long ago.  It took much more hardship and many mindfulness experiences to really understand how meditation could help me.  After several years, it become part of my life.

I immersed myself in the practice and found my teachers.  At that point, compassion, patience, and understanding replaced the desperation, self-loathing, and worry that I clung to as a young adult.  And with fine-tuned awareness, I was able to make choices that placed me on this life path that feels most authentic.


Comments are welcome!  I would love to hear how YOU discovered meditation and made it a priority in your life.