On exercising mindfully

I ran in the pouring rain this morning. It was the best run I’ve had in a long time. Well, the best run in Sacramento. I’ve been doing a trail running course through Fleet Feet to prepare for a 10-mile trail run in mid-May. I’m loving the trail runs. Street runs, not so much.

This morning was different. I had no expectations. The rain was pouring down. It was still somewhat dark out. Running was on my training schedule. And–most importantly–I wanted to run. My good friend Christine, at Mamasattva talks about bliss workouts. More specifically, only choosing the exercise on any particular day that feels right. For example, if you’re suppose to run, but you’ve woken up with really sore legs or hip, swim or do yoga instead.

I realize that this is hard if  you’re training for something specific. Especially a longer-distance race. But even then, you can still take the time to identify how your body is feeling and respond in some way. Perhaps play with your form a bit while running or cycling, or add some restorative yoga poses to your post-workout stretching.

Anyway, back to my run this morning. I had a smile on my face for most of the run. It felt good. I was happy. Despite leaving 15 minutes later than planned because the children had been up since 4:30am and 5:45am. Despite running a mile less than planned because the breadwinner had to leave for work early today. Despite the pouring rain that had me soaked in the first 10 minutes. I accepted my conditions and moved forward.

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Yoga pose :: reclined butterfly pose

So, if you know me, you know I love yoga asana, which are the poses and physical expression of yoga. I appreciate and practice other parts of the big Yoga, but asana is my most active practice. To help spread and de-mystify yoga a bit, I’m going to try (emphasis on try) to share a yoga pose a week. I plan to explain how to get in and out of the pose, what to do while in the pose, and explain the benefits of the pose a bit. Most of this will come directly from me and what I’ve learned over nearly 15 years of practice and almost 3 years of teaching (which, by the way and as a form of disclaimer, isn’t very long at all). I’ll also provide a link or two with other teachers’ versions of the pose.

Reclined butterfly pose. This is another restorative pose, like last week’s pose. Although, I should note that restorative poses don’t have to be. Any pose that’s labeled a restorative pose can also be held for less time. Anyway…when practiced in a restorative fashion, this can be a great pose for releasing and relaxing tension in the inner thighs, groin, and low back. Here’s the skinny:

Props: Two towels or blankets of equal size or two yoga blocks.

Two rolled up blankets are used here, but towels will also do.

How-to: Evenly and as tightly as you can, roll up the blankets or towels, placing one on either side of you. Place your feet on the floor in front of you—knees bent—and your hands—palm down—behind you. Tuck your chin and slowly lower yourself onto your back. Slowly roll your feet onto their outside edges, bringing the soles of the feet loosely together. The knees fall away from each other as you do this, forming a diamond shape. Reach for the rolled towels/blankets, placing them under your thighs and knees.

Wiggle around a bit to make your back comfortable across the floors. Find the right position for your arms—at your sides, overhead, or with the hands resting on the belly.

Once there: Breathe. Let your back ease into the floor. Allow the natural arch of the back to be. Take a couple of deep breathes into your belly allowing the belly to fully expand. As you exhale invite the inner thighs to soften and the legs to relax a bit more into the support underneath them. Stay for 10-15 minutes.

How to get out: Place your hands on your outer thighs. With an exhale, press your legs together with your hands, bringing the soles of the feet to the floor again. Take a couple of breathes. Bring your knees into  your chest and rock gently side to side. Roll to one side and pause for a few breathes in a fetal position. Slowly press yourself upright.

Benefits: Stretches the inner thighs, increases external rotation in the hips, and calms the nervous system.

When not to do this pose: In my experience, this pose works for everyone with the right modifications. If you’re pregnant, you do not want to fully recline, but rather create an angled wedge on which to recline.

If you have very sensitive and/or injured knees it’s best not to do the pose, or, to create enough support under the knees to keep them safe and pain-free.

Other resources:

Restorative yoga–announcing new classes!

Never heard of restorative yoga? Oh…you’ve been missing out. It’s a wonderfully restful, restorative (hence the name), and relaxing form of yoga. Each pose is held for 10-15 minutes allowing the body to access each pose more fully. The poses are fully supported with all sorts of yoga props, so that the body is completely supported, as well. Needless to say, it’s a very passive form of yoga. I find restorative yoga to be ideal for most people recovering from an injury; athletes in recovery or augmenting their training program (especially just before a race); and–really–anyone that simply wants to slow down and let the poses do the work.

Remember the pose I discussed yesterday? Legs up the Wall? It’s one of many lovely restorative poses.

I’ve taught restorative yoga for the past 2 years. First at Rise Yoga (thank you, Ann) and currently at Capital Athletic Club. I’m so excited to announce that beginning April 5th, I’ll be teaching 2 restorative classes a month at RiverSong Meditation in Sacramento! I’ll be teaching the 1st and 3rd Thursdays of the month from 7:00pm until 8:30pm.

There will be lots of quiet. Lots of props. Lots of time to be still and rest. (And lots of instruction and help if you’re new to restorative yoga.) I would love for you to join me!

For more information, please visit my yoga page or leave a comment here.

Yoga pose: legs up the wall

So, if you know me, you know I love yoga asana, which are the poses and physical expression of yoga. I appreciate and practice other parts of the big Yoga, but asana is my most active practice. To help spread and de-mystify yoga a bit, I’m going to try (emphasis on try) to share a yoga pose a week. I plan to explain how to get in and out of the pose, what to do while in the pose, and explain the benefits of the pose a bit. Most of this will come directly from me and what I’ve learned over nearly 15 years of practice and almost 3 years of teaching (which, by the way and as a form of disclaimer, isn’t very long at all). I’ll also provide a link or two with other teachers’ versions of the pose.

First up, Legs up the Wall. In Sanskrit this is known as Vipirita Karani. I love Legs up the Wall. This is my go-to pose whenever I need a little recharge in the middle of the day,  if my legs and hips are a bit tired from a run or picking up a 36-pound 3 ½-year-old, or if my yoga practice is really leg-heavy.

How-to: This is the hardest part. Really. Place the short end of your yoga mat (or a blanket or towel if you don’t have a mat; although a sticky mat is best since it won’t slip) against a wall. Check to make sure there isn’t anything sticking out of the wall that would be uncomfortable to rest against. Now sit sideways with your right (or left) hip right up against the wall. No space. Get cozy with the wall. Place your hands behind you. Slowly lower your back toward the floor. As you do this, start to lift your legs up the wall. As your back goes down and your legs up, start to swivel your hips so that your legs can rest against the wall and your back along your yoga mat.

Wiggle around a bit. Ideally the backs of both legs are fairly fully touching the wall. If you’re hamstrings are tight, however, you may have to back your buttocks from the wall a bit to accommodate the tightness. In this case, just your heels may be touching the wall.

Get your back and hips comfy. Notice if there’s any pinching anywhere and gently move to elongate your spine to help relieve the sensation. Play with a couple of different arm positions to find what feels best. Maybe the arms are outstretched like a T or overhead like a cactus. Or perhaps the hands rest gently on the belly. Breathe.

Once there: Close your eyes. Alternate pointing and flexing  your feet and then let your legs get heavy into your hip sockets. Notice the backs of your hips touching the mat (or blanket, or floor). Feel rooted there. Take some deep breathes into your belly, letting the belly fully expand. As you exhale, invite the back of the body to ease into the floor a bit more. Try to stay here for five or 10 minutes. Maybe set a timer?

How-to get out: Slowly bend your legs, bringing your knees into your chest. Pause there for a minute. Keep your eyes closed. Let your legs and body adjust to not having the legs up the wall. Start to rock side to side very slowly. Eventually roll all the way to one side, coming into a fetal position. Pause for few breaths. Gently and with care, press yourself upright.

Benefits: As I mentioned up above, this is one of my go-to poses and perhaps one of my all-time favorites, as well. It can help reduce swelling and fatigue in the legs. I also find it helpful in re-setting—so to speak—tender SI and hip joints along the back of the body.  Legs up the Wall also calms the sympathetic nervous system which has a big hand to play in our fight-or-flight response.

When not to do this pose: Yes, even in yoga you need to be careful. Judith Lasater—an expert in restorative yoga—doesn’t recommend this pose if you have a hiatal hernia, have sciatica, or are menstruating. Other sources, however, believe that it’s okay to do the pose at that time of the month–and if you’re pregnant–as long as the back and pelvis are grounded on the floor—as I’ve described here—and not on a bolster.

Other resources:

Please let me know if you have any questions. And enjoy!

 

Summer, part II

One of the things I didn’t mention in my post about summer last week, was that I’d be single parenting it much of the time. Margie’s job requires her to travel a great deal during the summer months. Much of that travel had to be delayed because of California’s oddly cold and wet spring. With hot, dry weather finally here, delayed work trips and current ones can finally begin.

Part of the need for my summer schedule is born out of trying to stay sane during these weeks and months. Of course all of this is happening despite my new resolve to carve out more creative time for myself. But duty calls. And my job—while Margie is doing her’s—is to be with the kids.

Working with these conditions—solo parenting and the need for creative time—I’ve identified some ways to try to keep myself fulfilled over the coming months:

  • Ask for help. Mama-friends, you’ve been warned.
  • Create throughout the day. I already try to do this. It will be imperative that I actually do it now. The kids are generally good at keeping themselves occupied when I sit down to knit or sew. I need to take advantage of this.
  • Eat well. I’ve largely kicked my sugar habit. In an attempt to maintain this, chocolate generally won’t be invited in.
  • Sleep.
  • Wake early and well before the kids wake-up. I already do this, as well. Unfortunately, I tend to stay up later when Margie is out of town which makes getting up early harder. If I heed the bullet point above, however, I should be able to maintain my early mornings.
  • Drink little. Alcohol that is. I’m not a huge drinker, but with summer comes pool parties and more social engagements. Drinking makes me cranky and groggy and not a very happy person.  And well, I’ll be driving children around. Enough said.
  • Time to myself on the weekends. It’s time to implement this. In fact, we started last weekend. Margie took the kids for the morning. I got time—at home—to myself.
  • Mandatory quiet or nap times. Again, something we already do. But with Bennett home again during the nap/quiet time and Adelaide fazing her nap out, we’ll be re-assessing and finding the right type of quiet time for the summer months.
  • Lots of yoga. Lots and lots of yoga. I plan to re-connect with my home practice.
  • Daily meditation.
  • Flexibility. My kids are young. Things come up. Moods changes. Flexibility is key.

And there’s my game plan. Things to remember to keep me somewhat happy, somewhat connected to my children (and my spouse), and somewhat sane.

A step toward balance :: scheduling

For the last few months, I’ve been participating in Which Name’s A Step Toward Balance. It’s an attempt to be  mindful by focusing–a bit more–on one aspect of life. The first month I chose meditation. The second and third months, sleep. Meditation is going well, but I’m still working on getting to bed earlier.

For June, I’m going to focus on not over-committing myself and my family. This is the last summer before we enter the school years. Bennett starts kindergarten in the fall and I’m already getting anxious about the schedule that we will now be living by, not to mention the addition of PTA meetings, fundraisers, and the like to our lives.

Despite the carefree feelings that summer generally brings, we’re already finding much of our time scheduled this summer. I’m going on a 4-day yoga retreat in June, followed by a week-long family trip to Ashland, and we’re planning on spending 2 weeks in the midwest this August. Then…there are the weekends that we’re “home.” Those weekends are quickly filling up and I’ve already found myself having to say no to a few activities.

So…for June (and the rest of summer, really), I hope to continue saying, “no.” Before saying yes to dinner invites, parties, and yoga sub opportunities, I intend to review our family’s schedule and really think about whether or not we have the time and energy for the activity. I wrote about this a bit here, but in terms of my family’s weekend rhythm. It’s now time extend this mindset to the rest of the week.

Celebrations

Much celebrating in our house this week. Today is my birthday. Wednesday is my daughter’s.

For some reason birthdays are always a bit strange for me. I like to think that I’m a half-full kind of person, but when birthdays roll around I can’t help but get a bit meloncholy. It doesn’t help that it’s an overcast day here in Sacramento. Don’t get me wrong, I’m having a lovely day. The family has been wonderful. We’re going out to dinner tonight. But you know…while I’m very excited about the years to come, it’s hard not to think about the time that has gone past.

In the spirit of moving past that and to try to be constructively introspective on my birthday, I’ve made a list of things for which I’m grateful and/or learned over the past 35 years:

  • Hair. I have great hair. I really do. It can be crazy some days and it seldom looks perfect, but it’s pretty great hair.
  • Body. I’ve always struggled–and still do–with body image issues. But I finally appreciate my body and am thankful for the amazing things it has done.
  • Kids. My kids are really cute. Seriously cute. Gerber baby cute.
  • Wife. She’s cute, too. She’s also smart, witty, committed, inquisitive, and a wonderful life partner.
  • Family. I couldn’t ask for a better family. My parents, siblings, grandparents, and extended family are all wonderfully supportive, loving, and accepting.
  • Food. So many possibilities! And to live in a place that supplies and celebrates local, seasonal food is a real blessing.
  • Yoga. I don’t even know where to begin, so I’ll simply state, yoga.
  • Nature. It fills the soul.
  • Creativity. In all it’s forms: writing, sewing, knitting, children’s art “projects.” It also fills the soul.
  • Being middle class. This may seem a bit odd. Given the current economic situation and the poverty rate throughout much of the world, however, I’m very grateful to have been born in a middle-class family and to still be middle-class. Margie and I own a good home. We have no problem feeding, clothing, and supporting our children and ourselves. I’m able to stay home with our children. Over the past 35 years, I’ve learned that these conditions are significant and should not be taken for granted.

Okay. That’s all. This is in no way an all-inclusive list, but simply what I had time to write in the 20 minutes or so I had at the computer. I promise to be more up-beat the rest of the week. Lots of pictures of 2-year-olds covered in ice cream to come.

The birthday girls.

Yoga!

There’s lots of inexpensive (0r free) yoga to be had over the next few days.

There are only two classes left in my Rest, Relax, Renew yoga series for moms at ArtBeast. On Thursday, May 20th we’ll be focusing on the belly and on Thursday, May 27th, we’ll concentrate on the lower back. Both classes start at 7:15pm and end around 8:30pm. For more information click on the Yoga Classes link in the top right corner of this page, or click here.

There is also a free yoga class at It’s All Yoga on Friday, May 21st from 4:30pm to 5:30pm. Actually, the class is free every Friday from 4:30-5:30. This class is for everyone! It’s a great way to start the weekend.

What I love::ArtBeast

A mid-week reminder of why I like living where I live. In an attempt to get myself writing more regularly and to better appreciate the urban environment in which I live, I’ll be writing regularly about something or some place I love in and around Sacramento.

If you’re a parent to kids six and under, you probably already know about ArtBeast. If you’re not a parent of preschoolers and toddlers…well…you’re missing out. ArtBeast is a space for kids to freely explore, create, and and make a mess. Four floors (including the outside space) provide space for kids to play dress up, put on puppet shows, dig in the dirt, paint, glue, glitter, sculpt, create meals (with play food), and more! The creative opportunities are truly endless.

In their words,

“ArtBeast is a drop in arts exploration space for children featuring an open studio, arts classes, and arts exploration rooms. Though all children are welcome to visit ArtBeast, special focus is given to creating an environment for children under 6.

The open studio features tables, easels, and clay mounds where young artists can work. Surrounding shelves are stocked with paint, papers, objects from nature, recycled tidbits, glues, crayons, glitter, scissors, an array of brushes, and an even wider offering of objects from which to make art. Children develop confidence in expressing and messing as they create art pieces that convey their sense of the world.”

My kids always have access to art supplies at our house, but they have a mama who isn’t always willing to clean up spilled paint.  Parents must supervise at ArtBeast, but there’s always a staff person available to help clean up.

There are also daily classes ranging from tap, music, and yoga to fine art, crafts, and storytelling.

ArtBeast also has evening programs for adults somewhat regularly. One of the many reasons I chose ArtBeast as my first “What I Love” installment is because I’ll be teaching a yoga class for moms each Thursday, April 15th – May 27th. More information about this series can be found in the Yoga Classes tab of this blog.

The most amazing feature about ArtBeast, however, is why it was created. Although it was created with children in mind (by two moms no less), all proceeds fund programs for homeless children and youth.

I have no photos of my kinds enjoying themselves at ArtBeast. I never remember to take my camera. ArtBeast’s website, however, is full of photos demonstrating just how much fun your kids could have!

Homemaking

Some women are born mothers. They know from an early age that they want children. That they want to care for children. That they want children to want them, love them, rely on them, and be the center of their universe. They understand—from some place deep inside—the uniqueness of each child and the joy that comes from holding a little hand in their own.

I’m not one of those women. I didn’t seriously think about having children until I was 27or 28. When my partner and I decided to start trying we were both of the mindset that if it happened, it happened. If it didn’t, it didn’t. (Thankfully we had no trouble conceiving and didn’t have to put this attitude to the test). My reasons behind having children were not necessarily admirable. In fact, they were downright selfish. There were three: 1) I wanted someone to take care of me when I was old; 2) I thought that having children would make me a better person; and 3) I didn’t want to regret not having them. With those goals in mind, I had two children. The first at 30 and the second at 34.

Once I became a parent, I faced a huge internal culture shock, especially after the birth of my second child and my decision to become astay-at-home mom (SAHM). I fought my inner urge to fully embrace motherhood. As much as I espoused gratitude and admiration for SAHMs and verbally pronounced it the most important job in the world, I didn’t really believe it. I was always told I could be whatever I wanted when I grew up. But I never seriously thought that I would be a SAHM. That’s what other women did. I had a great career in the conservation movement. I did things that benefitted all of womankind.

Then something shifted. It wasn’t so much that I felt I had to be there for them as a SAHM, but that I needed to be there for myself. The rhythm of our family didn’t work with two working parents. My rhythm didn’t work with two working parents. These feelings coupled with the high price of two kids in day care; the desire not to repeat the cycle of daycare caused sickness that we’d experienced with our first child; and a strong desire to live a sustainable, well-nourished life made becoming a SAHM the only real option.

Throughout this process, I’ve known internally that I wasn’t the only woman facing these questions and insecurities. It has often, however, felt like it. In the past few weeks I’ve finally come across some writing that addresses these concerns. It’s so refreshing. The most recent is an article published in the New York Times Magazine, entitled, “The Femivore’s Dilemma.” (Found via The Artful Parent.) The article discusses the resurgence in traditional, back-to-basics homemaking. Most women need something in their lives besides raising kids. And a number of women are foregoing a career outside of the home for a more agrarian lifestyle and are finding it just as satisfying.

After making my decision to stay home, I faced months—a good year, in fact—of self doubt. I didn’t respect myself. I was ashamed to admit that I was a SAHM. I knew I needed something else in my life. Yoga teacher training helped. Writing is starting to help. And gosh darn it, making bread from scratch, cultivating our backyard garden, sewing clothes, and looking at chicken coop plans is helping a bit, too.

Being a mom is not my life purpose. Being a happy, caring, member of society that responds appropriately to the changes that are the only sure thing in life—is my life purpose. I chose to have kids. I chose to marry someone who will always make more money that I will (if I were to work outside of the home). I love to knit and sew and cook and garden and other things domestic. It is my purpose to take what I have and find peace with it. To grow from it and with it.