Tuesday, April 29, 2014

7 Confessions Of A Postpartum Yoga Teacher

I'm returning to class this coming Sunday. Teaching again for the first time in 3 months. Putting on leggings and painting my chipped toenails for the first time since February.

Exciting! (Terrifying!)

I can't wait! (What am I thinking?!?! This is ridiculous, I've never even left my kid for more than an hour and now I'll be away from him, not just across the room, but across a whole bridge for about FIVE, once you figure in the drive and parking and the closing-up the studio and all.)

What am I thinking!??

I am thinking that it's about goddamned time. That I've missed you all, and missed teaching, and missed the music and the sweat and the stretch. But also that I've had plenty of that and more right here at home with my newborn son since he was born. The music (chanting to him noon and night) and the sweat (dripping down me at the most inopportune of times — thanks, pregnant-lady hormones) and the stretch (the cosmic emotional and psychological stretch of transforming in one breathless instant from freewheeling hard-drinking 30-something chick to responsible tee-totalling parent of a small living creature who desperately loves and needs me in every way). Yes; I've sung and sweated and stretched, all right.

So I may not have had much (ok, any) time to do asana since the little guy arrived. But I've had a helluva lotta time to do yoga. The kind of yoga that means sitting with what's difficult, and choosing how to react, and remembering to breathe.

Over the weekend, I scrolled through Twitter and stumbled across this essay while my little guy slept in my lap. I didn't have the heart to wake him just then, so I stayed put and snuggled him and read with one hand holding my iPhone, there in the pre-dawn dark.

And I found this incredibly powerful, sobering, all-too-true story of a Sacramento yoga teacher who, unbeknownst to anyone, taught 2 Easter day yoga classes last week and then went home and shot herself.

Teacher Karen Miscall-Bannon, who knew this woman well, writes passionately that
We need to create a space where yoga teachers can be real, without shame or guilt that they're not enough.  We need to do it for ourselves, and most certainly for our students.  We need to teach them that yoga is not about exercise, or becoming perfect — or even becoming the best we can be.  It's about looking in the mirror and seeing what you see, and if it's something you can change easily — great.  If not — well, we sit with it and try not to react.....
What this means for us, is that in our rush to enlightenment, or peace, or whatever it is that we think yoga will give us, we're bypassing the experience. We're actually short-changing ourselves and our students. By not copping to our own struggles, we're telling our students that they should aspire to not be human. The work is not to shed the old self — it's to integrate it. And to integrate it means that you can't just get rid of it. Again, the lotus flower doesn't try to get rid of the mud from which it came — it simply reaches for the sun. If its roots were pulled out of the mud, it would die. I'm not saying that we need to unload all our troubles onto our students. Not at all — save that for your therapist. But we do need to let them know that this practice is not all about puppies and rainbows and peace signs and feeling good. We need them to know that feeling bad is part of the process — an important part actually — and it's part of being human....
I don't know whether our friend and colleague suffered from depression or not.  I have to think that maybe she did.  She didn't let on.  She didn't tell her best friend.  She didn't tell her teacher training community.  She didn't tell anyone.  I have to think that we didn't create a safe place for her to be real; to cop to "un-yogic" thoughts or actions.  In the competition to be the best teacher, have the most fun classes, offer the most awesome sequences, we've boxed ourselves into a lie.  We put our best faces forward — and not just in the classroom, but on facebook and other social media outlets.  We are bombarded by people with exciting lives, doing fun things, with amazing families who love them.  No one posts anything when they're not on the top of their game — well, maybe a couple of people do, but largely, it's a world where we're never enough. We're bombarded with posts to think positively, create our own happiness and reality.  Not that there's anything wrong with that, but if you're low, and maybe have been for a while, you tend to think that you're doing something wrong, because everyone else seems to have it all wrapped up. We're constantly comparing ourselves to others — on the mat and off the mat.  We do it — we're human.  And we usually find that we come up short.  We need to let our students know that we're just like them.  We're not super-human.  We struggle, we suffer — it's probably partly why we teach!  And sometimes yoga doesn't work.  Or at least we think it's not working, because we're not seeing the results we want to see.  I'd argue that it is working, and has been all along. The fullness of the practice includes the darkness.  We are darkness and light in equal measure....


I was struck breathless. So struck by the reminder, the imperative, the responsibility for us yoga teachers, us spiritual guides, us leaders of any kind, to embrace our shadows, to live in them and be fearless enough to own them.

That in mind, I feel more committed than ever to keeping it real. To resisting the urge to package my yoga-teacher-life as one that's all shellacked grace and ease and happy shiny people holding hands, one that never feels cold or pain or ache or indigestion. And to offering my own humanity as proof of why this transformational practice works.

So, that said, I give you  

7 Confessions of a Postpartum Yoga Teacher

1. I have back fat. It used to be belly, and it's for real. I feel it scrunching on my left side every time I pick up my kid and burp him over my right shoulder. And I hope to create the kind of environment where you feel safe letting yours fly free, too. A good teacher is not necessarily the skinniest, most muscle-y one. Some of my best teachers have been far from nubile or svelte or ripped. And some of my, ahem, "less-best" teachers have been super mad fit. And their fitness didn't mean a damn thing. Their muscles didn't give them the words to change my life, or or the wisdom to slow my racing mind. I want you to feel free and confident to take up space. To own your bodies, to own your stories. To own your size. (It's powerful, you know. It's the most formidable tool you wield as you move through the world.) And to own your scars. And your back fat. 'Cause you've earned 'em.
2. I'm not perfect. As much as I'd really hoped to be "That Girl" — you know the one — that woman who dropped all the baby weight in a week living on green juice and edamame and whose newborn slept through the night right away and who wore her kid like a perfect little papoose all the time whilst cooing about how "dreamy" and "psychedelic" her birthing experience was? Yeah, no. I came home from the birth center and ate pizza. I scarfed down brownies at 2am when I was stumbling to the kitchen to wash out the syringe we had to use to finger-feed my son for the first few weeks. I labored in a tub with lavender essential oils and thought my pelvis would shatter. I grew a small person. And two months ago, I pushed him out of my hoo-ha. My postpartum body makes all kinds of weird new sounds now. My waist moved up a few inches and my ass moved out. My hair will start falling out soon, thanks to the post-pregnancy drop in hormones. And my boobs will probably be leaking by the end of class. (Thank you, dear teacher that is my brand-new body. Thank you, dear guru. You are so good to give me life and breath and being.)

3. I don't want you to be perfect, either. In fact, I've never had more sympathy for you or your body. (Especially during core work!) Sympathy for every moment of weakness, every soft spot, every source of pain or struggle. (You should see how shitty my sit-ups are these days. And I love them. Navasana, too.) So take Child's Pose. Take it over and over if you'd like. Modify. Skip. Take a breath. Sneak out to pee during the standing series. Do what you need to do in order to take care of yourself. There is no prize for the most Chaturangas. So screw 'em and skip a vinyasa if you need to. Your breath is the whole point, anyway, you know.

4. I don't give a shit what your fancy asana tricks look like. I mean, don't get me wrong; I'm sure they're amazing. And I give you mad credit for putting in the time and effort to practice them until you achieved them to the degree of ease that you can show them off in class while everyone else is in a reclining twist. I don't give a shit because I know they are temporary. I used to be able to rock all kinds of cool things, too. (Sure wish I'd thought to take a few pictures for proof for my grandkids someday. D'oh!) And I can do a few of them already again now, and I may well be able to do them all again some day. Or I may not. Either way, those fancy poses are not me, and never were. And they're not you, either. So don't get too attached. They're impermanent, just like everything else. And someday, one way or another, they'll go.

5. I'm tired, too. I get hopeless and scared, too. I get fearful and obsessive and my mind runs off the rails like a runaway train and I have to rein it in over and over from dwelling on the things that frighten me. And I know anyone who's human has that same experience because hey, duh: we're human. That's why this practice has been such a godsend. And that's why I want to share it with you. Not for the workout or the ego boost or the perpetual gooey talk of love 'n light.
6. I respect your time. Before I had a child I had endless hours to practice. Man, did I take that free time for granted! Man, do I wish I'd known to appreciate it when I had it. Now, just two months into being a parent, I know how rare it is to get even 20 minutes for a jumbled incomplete practice. (I was torn as to whether I should even write this blog today, because I knew that in choosing to use precious naptime to write I'd be sacrificing my asana time for the day.) So I promise not to waste your time. I will do my best to start and end class on time, and to pack the class with a well-rounded flow, a quiet meditation, a soothing savasana, and as much mindful content as I possibly can. Because I know this might be the only time you get for yourself all week. And that being here, just showing up and staying with it all, easy and not, will make you a better mother and partner and person.

7. I want you to know how inherently lovable you are. How beautiful you are. How magnificent you are. That you are a bodhisattva; an awakened one; a beloved Child of God. Looking at my kid while he sleeps (and I can't help doing it all the time, I mean, geez, he's so damn precious it just melts my heart), all of that goodness becomes abundantly clear. It breaks my heart to think that he might ever have even a moment in his life when he forgets his fundamental goodness, his unchanging lovability, his intrinsic sacred being. That deep knowing is all that matters. And that goes for you, too.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Breaking News!

Breaking news!!

My first class back from maternity leave will be THIS SUNDAY, May 4th, 10:45am at flyingYoga.

You'll want to sign up early, as it'll likely hit capacity.

Can't wait to see you!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dispatch From Babyland



Been awhile.

A month and a half, to be exact. Or more. Either way, hullo there.

I've missed you so.

I've missed you at 3am when I'm nursing and thinking about all the articles I wanna write about boobs and gender and the politics of breastfeeding and how utterly exhausting and wondrous it is to be one human being's entire source of sustenance at 11pm and 1am and 3am and 5am and 7am and wash rinse repeat ad infinitum and how privileged I am to be able to nurse my kid instead of jumping right back into work 2 weeks after he was born.

I've missed you at 8pm when I'm mixing up my gluten-free vegan 5-ingredient oatmeal cookie dough concoction for the next day's lunch and listening to hear if the just-now-sleeping babe in the next room has woken up from the fridge door slamming. Oatmeal, I've learned, is an excellent means of increasing your milk supply. So I've been shoveling it in. By all accounts, it seems to work. I've eaten more oats in the last month than in my entire life heretofore. (Howdy, digestive tract!)

I've missed you at 7am when for all those years heretofore I used to groggily, happily settle in with my bottomless cup of coffee and pajamas and get lost in the morning news and then read and write all day. Nowadays, 7am looks more like rousing baby and a foggy brain from not-much-sleep and a wondering what day of the week it is again?

There is so much I'd like to write. There is so much I'd like to say about the zillion weird and wonderful and strange and amazing and awful and awesome aspects of this whole brand-new-parenthood thing.

And yet, it's taken til now, yes, 2 months after my gorgeous and wise boddhisattva of a son was born, to get my ass in front of the laptop with both hands free to type, a head awake enough to write, and a body enlivened enough by an afternoon walk past Manka's that I can sit for a bit again without going stir crazy.

I'll apologize ahead of time for a post that's brief and scattered and a bit all over the place. That's rather reflective of my mind-state these days. I am spending most days and nights nursing, sometimes with one hand reading Twitter at 3am, sometimes with my head nodding off to sleep with babe at the breast. Breastfeeding is my drishti and my dharma, my meditation and my manual labor. It is at once magical and monotonous. It is Dairy Queen writ large. It is my current and only purpose of late. Nothing else matters. It took me a minute to realize that, and boy, did life get easier once I accepted it and let the workouts and the emails and the planning and the writing slide.

All kinds of crazy gender politics going on here. Feeling myself strangely stuck in the pink ghetto that is "women's work," that "being home with the baby" stuff that makes me feel utterly obsolete from the rest of the world. (And yet, I think to myself: Hillary Clinton did this. Joan Didion did this. It must be ok. It must mean my other ambitions are salvageable, yes; that I won't spiral down the sinkhole of Mom jeans and endless timeless indistinguishable days spent wiping butts and cutting crusts off sandwiches?)

Which is, of course, all true.

Babe is wrapped up tight on my chest in my little sister's hand-me-down Moby. This sturdy brown wrap nestled two little girls in Wisconsin for a few years, and now it's mine to wear while I walk up and down the quiet streets of Inverness and ogle fairytale cottages while checking obsessively over and over to make sure the little man is still breathing down there at kissing distance.

This wrap is an ambitious girl's godsend. It means I have hands that can work and type and stir and lift, and a body that is suddenly liberated from hours in the rocking chair. It means the little man and I can breathe and walk and get the fresh air that we've been craving. It means I can stop bouncing him in my arms on the big blue exercise ball and have a hand free to tuck the stray unwashed hair back behind my ear again.

(Did I mention that my husband is an angel? A total mindful thoughtful generous patient godsend who does all the laundry and buys all the groceries and changes all the diapers? Well, he is. And he does. You should get one like him. I don't know how anyone does this without a partner like him. Seriously.)

And Duke?

He's gorgeous. He's otherworldly beautiful.

He's cooing and smiling and eating like a champ.

He's long and lean and has the strongest neck and the brightest eyes and one cute dimple and naturally, naturally, the pediatrician thinks he is a prodigy.

And we love him so much.

It's been a wild ride thus far, a trip, this motherhood thing. I've come up against all my old shit; all my old feminist prejudices against stereotypical female work and all my old desires to transcend this female body and live a life that's independent, ambitious, non-gendered, liberated, autonomous, free. And yet, in spite of an adulthood consciously crafted to be just that, suddenly, in these last two months (well, 11 months, really, if you count pregnancy, which you should), this female body of mine has entirely determined my reality. My boobs have kept me close to home. They have reminded me of my inevitable femaleness at midnight and again at 2am and then 4am and 5am and 6am, because whose babies actually sleep through the night like all these articles are telling me they will?!? My brilliant overachiever of a little man doesn't even really like to nap, you see, hence the lack of blogging or showering or anything but really being utterly truly presently in the moment.

And remembering to breathe.

And knowing that the dishes and the laundry and the manuscript will wait.

Michael Stone quoted a Japanese monk on a podcast that I was listening to while nursing one of those first difficult evenings home from the birth center. He said, "All spiritual practice is just taking care of things."

My god, yes. How I needed that reminder.

That reminder of the sacred ordinary.

That reminder that, as Stone observed, breastfeeding is blue-collar Buddhism.

That reminder, over and over, that wiping butts and washing out the pump and sucking snot out of Duke's stuffy nose and shifting in that goddamned life-saver of a glider and giving up on brushing my teeth and choosing snuggling over my yoga practice, that all of that "taking care of things" is spiritual practice. That every element of these last two months has been utter abject absolute spiritual practice. Even if it's meant few-to-rare minutes on the mat and longed-for-but-barely-achieved walks outside.

We are getting better at all the little details every day. As one does, with spiritual practice. Sleeping more and eating better and breathing deeply and realizing how quickly this little window of time will pass.

Folks keep telling us to "enjoy this magical time!" and I think to myself: where's the magic in being so cracked out from exhaustion that you're barely coherent enough to take a phone call? But then I scroll back through photos from Duke's first few days at home, and see how teeny-weeny this cherubic little creature was, and how quickly he has changed, truly, moment by moment, day by day, and I know it's flying by faster than I could've even imagined. And how precious every single one of those moments has been.

Tara Brach taught me last year in the midst of moving house to remind myself in moments of mundanity or difficulty: "Let this moment be as sacred as any other." That in waiting for our "real lives" to begin we miss the actual stuff of those real lives.

That the daily routine is supremely sacred; as sacred as any baptism or graduation or birth or death. The moments in-between. The ostensibly unsexy ones. As my friend Jess called them, oh-so-aptly, those many "unglamorous" moments in the first few weeks home with a new little one.

Friends, wonderful friends: you've called and emailed and texted and stopped by and wanted to visit and have lunch and take walks and catch up and hear everything and I have, for the most part, managed to not even reply to a whole 2% of you. I'm sorry. We've had full hands. We'll get around to it, soon, I promise, once the day-to-day rhythm settles in a bit and we make sense of morning-times and bedtimes and everything in between. I already see a difference. Some day, one day, soon, I'll get you called back and written back and all that jazz. In the meantime, know we're grateful.

Quite amazing to me that folks do this all the time. Quite amazing to me that I get to be home here, now, with this little Buddha, knowing full well that so many mothers aren't so lucky, that they've gotta leave their fragile little angels with strangers, head to work with aching hearts and leaking boobs, and stay the course. How blessed I am to be here, now, in day-old sweats and messy ponytail and tired eyes.

We're here at the end of April already, somehow. I'll be back in the studio teaching in May, easing my way back with an adjusted schedule. Details to come shortly. It's funny to think about teaching again after having so little time to do much asana in this brand-new-body of mine over the last several months. And yet, after all this, I feel a thousand times more qualified to teach the philosophy and the gentleness and the spaciousness and the non-judgmental noticing that is YOGA than I ever have. My backbends may be in rehab, only shadows of their former selves, but my mind and my heart are oh-so-much wiser. And I look forward to being that woman with you in the studio.

We're headed to the mountains in mid-June. I hope you'll join us. My 3rd annual Bhakti In Bloom yoga retreat takes place June 13-15th in conjunction with YOGASCAPES at Sierra Hot Springs, just outside of Tahoe. It's a dream of a rustic escape into nature and hiking and healing mineral tubs. Please join us. I'm so excited to dive back into post-maternity-leave teaching with this retreat. It will be so good for all of us. And babe will be there to ring it in.

Little man is breathing softly under my chin, I've scarfed down the last of my oatmeal cookies, and it's time to sneak outside for a quick breath of fresh air before he wakes up. Thanks for reading. Thanks for being. I'll be back again soon. The naps are getting a little more reliable each day.


Monday, April 21, 2014

Bhakti In Bloom: June Yoga Retreat

I'm thrilled to announce our 3rd annual BHAKTI IN BLOOM yoga retreat at Sierra Hot Springs. Join me and YOGASCAPES June 13-15th for hot springs, hiking, nature, and tons of great yoga.

Register now!