The most important thing I think I have learned from Mary Oliver is this: When you approach something new, something that scares you a little, something complex, something that may not follow predictable rules - you come face to face with life. This is the intersection she encouraged.
There are any number of entry points into mindfulness. Going to a yoga class, or doing sun salutations are two common entry points, but as a new mom, one might have to ask herself, what else is there?
I can't imagine having the patience or the stamina to survive all the demands of mom-life without a yoga practice. I started practicing yoga when I was 17, and I can assure you that my practice looks very different now. It's nearly impossible to find the time or to prioritize myself. However, as a sensitive person, I have learned that I cannot be the mom I want to be if I don't invest in some breathing room for myself.
Here's how to sneak yoga into your day.
I know your hands may be so full that you have no time for yourself, but you can always breathe mindfully. Breathing is one of the truest ways we can provide for ourselves.
Did you know that every time you breathe in your blood pressure increases slightly? And every time you breathe out your blood pressure decreases a bit? Breathing in stimulates your heart. Breathing out allows you to let go and relax.
Are you feeling down, and lost in your responsibilities? Try focusing on your inhales. Are you feeling anxious and overwhelmed? Try focusing on your exhales. Breathe in with deep awareness. Breathe out slowly and calmly.
You can breathe mindfully while you are nursing, preparing meals, right before you walk in the door, while you are putting away toys… whenever you need it!
There is research proving that breathing at a rate of six breaths per minute (one breath every 10 seconds), is healthy for the vagus nerve. The vagus nerve is like the Meditation Teacher of your nervous system. When it is a healthy contributor to your life it is receiving information from your body about your stress levels, helping to regulate your stress, and sending information to your heart, gut, and hormones that you're safe to create, digest and procreate. So inserting some mindful breaths into your day is my number one recommendation for taking care of your nervous system.
2. Play on the floor with your children
Many of the shapes that young children move through are actually yoga postures, which strengthen the core, open the hips and empower one's reach. When my son was a newborn, I laid down next to him every morning. Both of us were lying on our back, kicking our legs in the air, strengthening our core muscles, and giggling of course. He eventually learned how to roll over, pull himself up, crawl, squat, stand and walk. As I went through these milestones with him I recovered my own waistline and bonded with him. It is a really special time to interact non-verbally and in the present moment with your little one.
When my baby became a toddler and we played trains (way too early in the morning), I would sit down on the floor with him and before I know it I was moving through hero's pose, bound angle pose, a squat, a down dog, a simple twist, and all sorts of interesting variations of these traditional postures.
You don't even need to know the names of the poses, just do what your child is doing. They are naturals. My older son is so agile and moves so quickly I can barely keep up. My younger son is much more sturdy and likes to sit and play with characters. I learn a lot about their individuality by mirroring their movements.
The point is to find time to be on the floor, exploring, playing and being light-hearted together, and to think of this as a yoga practice. This is a much different approach to a yogic state of mind that many of us are used to, but it creates a similar experience of unwinding and leads to a calm an easy breath. The dishes may pile up as you put your time into moving together, but it's worth it.
3. Meditate at dawn
Traditionally, dawn is considered the ideal time to meditate. When my children were very young I was my most busy, and family and work demands were eating up all of my personal time. I benefited from waking up around 4:30 AM, meditating for 20-30 minutes and then going back to sleep if I could.
Now that my kids are sleeping in a little longer, I will wake up by 5:30 AM, shower, meditate and feel like I am starting my day on my own time, rather than being dragged out of bed.
My children will often come and sit down on my lap or next to me. When I am centered, they are more centered. When they graze at the edges of my patience throughout the day, I lean into my meditation—I visualize myself sitting on my meditation cushion, and the tension often diffuses.
I find that by making the time to meditate early, there is a lot less wasted energy and there are fewer power struggles throughout the day. So even though I wake up earlier, I have more energy.
My favorite meditation practice is said to be over 2,000 years old, but it is remarkably relevant for a new mom.
Recite to yourself the following phrases:
May I be filled with loving-kindness
May I be well
May I be peaceful and at ease
May I be happy
You can then remember to say these lines to yourself when your kids are splashing over your limits at bath time. You can also extend them to your partner or colleagues when you need to reconnect with the good in them. Being able to think "May you be filled with loving-kindness" to my husband is often just the pause I need to calm my temper down.
4. Just practice
Let your children run around you, jump on you and attempt to distract you. Let them fight with each other or make a mess. But stay focused, and sneak some yoga in.
If you don't know how to self-practice, watch a video, or have a teacher come over. I've taught women whose young children are running around them, and distract them feverishly, but we stay with it, and their bodies still soak in the yoga and enjoy the benefits of moving and breathing mindfully.
In my attempts to practice at home, one of two things typically happens. Some days my sons are very interested in what I am doing, and they won't leave me alone. They jump on my updog. They ride up and down on my cat/cow. Basically, they think I'm a tunnel or a bridge no matter what pose I am doing. This isn't very centering, it doesn't last long, but it does give me the chance to introduce my son to yoga.
Alternatively, they sense the quiet in the house, and they settle into their own center. When I am finished practicing, and I go check on them, they are typically doing puzzles or building with magnetic blocks. It's as though my message to them that I need time to myself sends a message to them to do the same.
5. Commit to a schedule
Although it's less time consuming to sneak yoga and meditation in at home, there is also something to be said for making it to class, connecting with other like-minded adults, and being challenged and cared for by a teacher.
My best advice for making it to class is to take it seriously. Decide how often you need to do yoga to reach your fitness and peace-of-mind goals. Then look at your schedule, and find the weekly classes that work for you. Go to those classes every week. Get to know your teachers.
A mom needs to be cared for and looked after too. Sit down with your family, and ask them for their support. Let them know that you understand that it means you will be away on Saturday morning, or Thursday nights, or whatever you decide. They will see how much it benefits you, and therefore benefits them.
Yoga is a verb. It's something that we do.
We do yoga to harness our wild thoughts and feelings, and to direct our passions towards some greater purpose. This is what I love about yoga anyway.
I love that I have to show up. I have to physically, mentally and spiritually act. To do yoga is to simultaneously take life into your own hands, and to surrender to the currents that are greater than yourself. It feels a lot like parenting actually. I am in charge. I am not in charge.
I know that becoming a mom brings a new definition to the words busy, tired, and fulfilled. It may not seem like you have time to practice, but in making the time it may surprise you with new-found inner resources that are exactly what you need.
How can we learn to listen to the canaries? The preliminary warnings of sensations that we receive from our intelligent bodies, and the world around us, so that we can be more healthy, centered, and caring leaders?
My husband and I decided not to find out the gender of our second child before he was born. In part because the mystery allured us. In part because we hoped for a daughter, and we only plan to have two children. We knew we would love regardless. All through election season we waited to find out - would it be a boy? Or a girl?