Monday, December 31

to reflect and prepare



I have been lazily and happily drifting in a post-holiday haze. Hubby is off work between Christmas and New Year's, and having him around all the time has given these days a lovely sort of out-of-time feel. We haven't been doing much, really, but making and drinking honey-lemon-ginger tea by the half-gallon and playing with Silas' new wooden stacking blocks. It's been great. How have you been?

I love using the time between Christmas and New Year to reflect on the year past, and to plan and prepare for the year ahead. Today I want to share with you a few of the resources I use to this purpose.

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Although it's only in its second year's iteration, I think I can safely declare that Susannah Conway's Unravelling 2013 workbook is my favorite of all time. She puts so much thought and effort in putting together a profound and beautiful tool for reviewing the year that's coming to a close, and creating a vision for the new year--and did I mention it's free? Susannah's book and e-course have rocked my world this year, and I've enjoyed the guidance of her sweet voice as it comes through these pages. I highly recommend you download it yourself.

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My favorite meditation teacher, Susan Piver, has, also for the second year, put together a great line-up of voices to ask seven question in seven days as part of the Week Of Inward Looking. Although I don't typically end up working with all of the questions offered, those that do strike a chord end up provoking some deep and illuminating refection. There is also some thoughtful discussion going on in the related Facebook group.

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I love Nikki McClure's art and get her calendar every year.


For the last few years, I have been choosing a word to guide and inspire my goals and efforts for 12 months. 2012's was expand, and judging from my expanding belly, it was an apt choice! I'll be sharing my word for 2013 in the first few days for the year, but in the meantime, let me point you to a few other accounts of choosing a word for the year. The practice originated with Ali Edwards, who runs a year-long course based on One Little Word. I've also enjoyed Liz Lamoreux's recent post on the topic.

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While you're sitting down to do all of this reflecting, visioning and scribbling, it's lovely to have a soothing warm beverage to keep you company. Here are recipes for the two that have been nourishing and warming us of late. Happy visioning! I'd love to hear what are your plans and intentions for the coming year.


Honey Lemon Ginger Tea
As I've said, we've been drinking the heck out of this tea. It's just the thing when your throat feels a little scratchy and you're looking for extra coziness in your tea. I've been making a batch nearly everyday, and keeping it in a big jar on the counter.

Boil 8 cups of water in a large pot. Remove from heat, and add one lemon, sliced; 2 sticks cinnamon; 10 quarter-sized slices of ginger; 1/3 cup honey. Let steep for 20 minutes. Strain and serve. 

Adapted from a recipe I found on Pinterest, and now cannot locate.

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Chai Tea Concentrate

MAKES ABOUT 1 1/2 CUPS (ENOUGH FOR 28 CUPS OF CHAI)
Unlike many brands of chai mix, this one includes the sweetener and the milk. All you add is a mug of hot tea.

Ingredients

  • 1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
  • 1 teaspoon granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Instructions

Empty condensed milk into a jar or plastic container with tight-fitting lid. Stir in the sugar, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Store in refrigerator.
To use: Brew a cup of strong black tea, such as Assam, then add two heaping teaspoons of concentrate or more to taste. Stir well until concentrate has fully melted.








Friday, December 14

it's okay to be



I am tired.

It's a gray and low day, with a slight drizzle. It isn't really cold, but I seem to carry a chill with me inside. My little bear has finally stopped fighting his nap.  I am still fighting mine. I would love to curl up in bed and drift off, but I feel I need to write.

I am tired.

Why? I wonder. I try to convince myself I shouldn't be. Then I remember: it's December, a week from solstice. I am 17 weeks pregnant. In two days I will be 34 years old. My son is almost two, and lively and fast. Some family health issues loom large and heavy on the horizon. I went to the gym this morning. It's Friday. These are all excellent reasons to be tired.

Then I remind myself that I am also allowed to be tired for no reason.

There are days when I still hold out hope that the practices that support me, that the yoga and meditation and mindful breathing and self-care, will somehow protect me from feeling low. That they will serve as an antidote to the common woes of the human condition. That it's a simple matter of math: that identifying the condition plus applying the appropriate practice equals feeling better. Some days it works like that.

But there is no long-term cure for being human. It is what it is. And some days what the practice gives us is the ability to name the feeling--I am tired--and allows us to sit with it. To let it be, and know that it's okay.


It's okay to be tired.

It's okay to be afraid.

It's okay to be resentful.

It's okay to be angry.


You do not need a reason, and you do not need to fix it. You can acknowledge it, welcome it, hold it in your open hand. Make a place for it within you, or make a place for yourself within it. And know that it will pass.

Some days the practice is just letting it be, and letting it go. And know that it's okay. That you're okay.


How are you feeling these days?


ETA: I have just read the news. Outraged and heartbroken and powerless are okay, too.

Tuesday, December 11

margin breath practice


"I love a broad margin to my life."  -Henry David Thoreau

I often find myself in the position of having to take my own advice. In my work as a yoga teacher, it feels natural to invite my students to be easy and sweet to themselves, but it's not always so easy to do it myself. 

One of my standard little phrases when I teach, especially when I teach a restorative yoga class or when I instruct students to come out of savasana at the end of class, is to create a sense of luxury around time or to cultivate a sense of ease around transitions. I am trying to prevent  them to popping straight up from a deep resting pose and jumping right into the next thing. I want them to bring the profound sense of peace they've been building along with them as they move out of the pose and back out into the world.

One day recently I noticed myself acting out the following scenario: after chasing Silas, carrying him to the car, wrestling him into the car seat, I plopped myself down into the driver's seat, buckled up, jammed the key into the ignition, and promptly started pulling out of the driveway. Putting Silas in the car seat has always been one of my least favorite tasks as a mama, but as he gets bigger and stronger, and as I grow more and more pregnant, it's a greater challenge each day, often leaving me breathless, tired and irritated. What I observed is that, by not cultivating a sense of ease around transitions, I was carrying the stress of one task--buckling Silas into the car seat--right into the next task of driving.

So I've developed this practice for myself, which I call the margin breath practice. I sit in the car, put the key in the ignition, but before starting the car and driving off, I put my hands on my thighs or my belly and take three, deep breaths, inhaling through the nose and exhaling through parted lips. This allows me to let go of the tense energy of one task before stepping into the next. To create a sense of luxury around time, to build this little moment into my day that, like meditation, isn't about doing anything, but simply about breathing and being. It's a small thing, but it makes a big difference.

This, I believe, is how we busy mamas can integrate the benefits of mindfulness practices like yoga and meditation into our days, and reap their benefits. Not only by showing up on our mats and cushions at the appointed time (or whenever our kiddos finally go to sleep) but by mindfully carving out these little pockets of time into our days. Try it for yourself: after the difficult diaper change with the reluctant, wriggly toddler, after dinner before getting up to take your plate to the kitchen, before drawing the bathwater, why don't you

pause
rest your hands on your belly
take three deep breaths
create luxury around time
cultivate ease around transitions

See if carving these margins into your days doesn't change your life a little. Or a lot.



Speaking of deep breaths... can't wait for the launch of this offering! What a wonderful Christmas gift for yourself, for a friend.


Thursday, December 6

outside?



There are two things that my 22-month-old son loves above all others: cars, and being outside. In fact, except for "mama" and "dada", "cars" and "outside" are his most-used words. Cars is always said as an exclamation. Silas lives in a charmed world where his very favorite thing not only litters every surface of his house (or so it seems to his mama), but also appears at every turn when we are out in the world, and this never fails to surprise and delight him. Cars! Outside is always a question, as in, Mama, are we going outside already?

I always wanted us to be an outside kind of family. We have a little over an acre--it's scrappy, but it's ours. I always imagined a garden and chickens and goats and children running free and happy among them. Reality's always a kicker. After another drought year the garden is all but abandoned and choked with weeds. We do have an almost-completed goat house, and a finished chicken cottage, but no hoofed or feathered friends yet. And, in the blasted heat and absence of rain that characterizes life in Texas, it turns out that going outside? is more complicated for this mama than just stepping out the door.

Silas does get plenty of time to roam the property freely, to investigate every stone and stick and dig in dirt patches--with his daddy. My husband grew up in Texas, and his youthful days in Scouts, and current work as an arborist, make him uniquely suited to life out of doors in these parts. Plus, he has stuff to do outside. While Silas wanders around, he is busy mending fences or clearing brush, and in this manner they both spend hours happily occupied. They don't care that the ground is cracked and dry. When I'm outside with Silas, I do nothing but stand around and worry about him getting messy. Not as fun, for either of us.



But it is clear that being outside? is of tremendous benefit, for me as well as for my boys. Yesterday, after a mile-long stroller walk down the road, we spent a good half-hour outside, doing what Silas loves to do best: wander, wonder, get dirty, chase the dog, be happy. He messed about in a pile of dirt, then splashed around in the fresh water I'd poured for the dog. He climbed his little fort and ran his car back and forth across the top, then slid down to the ground. When it was time for lunch, I stripped him out of his dirty clothes, we had a blast washing our hands at the kitchen sink, then he ate hungrily and napped soundly. And I got to soak up some sun, and begin to learn the long lesson about being less rigid and worried, about letting go and laughing more. It was a morning well-spent. I look forward to more of the same--outside.

Tuesday, December 4

need to retreat


I am feeling the need for some softness and quiet today. So this is where you can find me: tucked away in my celery green chair in my corner of the bedroom, with a cooling cup of earl green tea by my side. It's gray and slightly blustery, and out of the corner of my eye I can see yellow leaves flowing off the hackberry and chinaberry trees in the backyard. It's even been raining a little, off and on. Perfect retreating weather.

I have been spending a lot of time in the bedroom lately. Though I have a fully dedicated and lovely studio space for writing and yoga, those activities have been migrating to our bedroom instead. In one corner, I have a permanent set-up for reclined cobbler's pose, which is a wonderfully nourishing pose for pregnancy, and which I like to do for about 10 minutes almost every night. I have my reading and writing chair, a beloved Goodwill find that is starting to fall apart, but which I love deeply because I nursed my son in it for countless hours, and it's the perfect size and shape for me to retreat into. And I recently set up a little altar of sorts, with my Buddha from Target and candles and books by my favorite teachers


It's the first quiet day I've had to myself in a long, long while. Silas' daycare days, twice a week, have been filled with a flurry of activity of late. In the last few days I have felt my sensitivity/overwhelm/anger issues rise up, a clear sign I need some time and space to quiet down. I hope today will be some of that. More tea, maybe a nap, digging into some of the great books I've been reading. Doing housework slowly, only of it's going to make me happier and calmer to have done it. Some slow and steady yoga for sure.

It's always struck me as weird that as we near the winter solstice, and all of nature quiets down and prepares to fold into itself for the rest and renewal that is the winter season, we enter our busiest, brightest, loudest social season of the year. We keep things very, very low-key here on the Christmas front, with minimal fuss and decorations, A Charlie Brown Christmas, and breakfast tacos on Christmas morning. But I still feel the need for more slowing down, more curling up, more breathing deep. Do you?

Fellow blogger, HSP and soul sister Erin Goodman posted about this very topic today on her blog, which I am deeply grateful for. It is such a relief to me each time I read the words of women who are also dealing with these sensitivity issues. I am not alone! I am not crazy! And neither are you. 

And now over to you: I would love to hear about where you are retreating to these days. Is the hustle and bustle of the holidays getting to you yet? Are you making a plan to slow things down a bit? Do share in the comments, or, along with Erin, let's share the ways we are retreating over on Instagram with the hashtag #slowholidays. Now let's all go make ourselves another cup of tea.

Thursday, November 29

current book crush: a field guide to now


Christina Rosalie's gorgeous book, A Field Guide To Now, finally arrived at my doorstep yesterday. It's an object of deep beauty: both in terms of the lovely layout and illustrations, all of them original artwork by Rosalie, and in terms of the writing. I can tell that reading this book is going to be a deep, long, slow savor, like that first cup of coffee on a still and sunny morning, relishing every sip with the hope of making it last longer. Today I wanted to share two favorite passages with you: ones I've underlined, copied into my journal, and that are working themselves into the fabric of my life.


What might it mean to be at the heart of the ordinary moments that make up my life? What might it look like to document the nuances and traits of this time as it unfolds, with my heart blooming in quiet wonder again and again as I arrive right here?



What matters is simply this: your intent to claim the day with gusto and bravery and longing. What matters is waking up and asking, What can I be today?, and then devoting a small handful of moments to this task of wonderment. That is all.


Beautiful, yes? And profoundly meaningful. I am so grateful already for this book, this friend and this teacher, to have landed in my hands.

What book are you delighting over these days?



Monday, November 26

the yoga of motherhood



I am honored to be a contributor to the Kind Kindred series over at Kind Over Matter today. Here is an excerpt from my post, which is about how the lessons of softening and yielding in yin yoga are an excellent preparation for motherhood:


As we learn through yoga to welcome all elements of our experience into the embrace of awareness, something almost magical happens: we stop fighting against what we don’t want. We soften right into the middle of it. We welcome our tight hips and our self-doubt as part of our reality in the moment, and we come back to the ever-faithful steadiness of the breath. When we stop fighting we find peace.


Please pop on over to read the whole post! Thanks for having me, Amanda, it was such a pleasure to write for your awesome site!

Monday, November 19

3 practices for a sane and smooth Thanksgiving



I was waylaid by a stomach bug last week. It was nasty. I am so glad to be back amongst the upright, eating and blogging world. I missed you.

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We had our big family Thanksgiving meal yesterday, which is a bonus on several levels: we'll get to put our feet up and rest this coming Thursday, and enjoy the long weekend without the bustle and the holiday hangover, AND since I've just put out my big spread, I am full of fresh wisdom to share with you before you head into your big day of gathering, cooking and feasting. Without further ado, here are my top 3 best tips for hosting a big day of family and food that will actually be fun for you as well as for everybody else.

1. Start with a good breakfast.  This falls into the "do as I say, not as I do" category of advice. Inevitably, I get excited about what needs to get done, jump in, and all too soon find myself famished and spent, a state that can be hard to recover from. Next time I hold a big gathering at home, when I am planning my menu, I will also plan what yummy, sustaining thing I'll be having for breakfast that morning, to ensure that I start the day fueled up and ready for the long haul.

2. Begin with a clean kitchen. I can't stress this enough. The morning of the big day, my husband usually does all the dishes, as well as clears all the old, dead leftovers from the back of the fridge. (Don't act like you don't know what I'm talking about.) This ensures that a) we have a fresh and clean space to begin with; b) all our dishes are ready for prepping and serving food; c) we have adequate receptacles and space to hold those all-too-important leftovers. I'm always amazed what a big difference that makes, both to the smooth running of the day, and to help with a relatively painless clean-up after all is said and done.

3. Take a yoga break.  Usually, once either the stuffing or the roasted root vegetables are in the oven, I sneak away for 20-30 minutes to take a "yoga nap." This means either this pose or this pose, an eye pillow, and earplugs. Yesterday, since I am pregnant and a day in the kitchen inevitably takes its toll on my low back, I also did parts of this sequence (#17). This is the very best advice I can offer you: take some time out to rest and refill your well sometime in your big prepping day. Sure, you could fold napkins or iron linens or sweep the floor instead, but I promise you that your guests will notice your shining, rested countenance much, much more than they will your shining kitchen faucet. You will be able to be more present with your guests and actually enjoy their company, and isn't it what the big day is all about?


I'm curious: do you have any big-day tricks you can share? What are your plans for this Turkey Day? Are you inspired to incorporate a new self-care routine into your to-do list? I'd love for you to share how it went!



Thursday, November 8

big news!



So, dear friends, I have some big news that I have been eager to share with you: I am pregnant! I am twelve weeks today, and boy, you don't know how hard it's been to keep this quiet! I have so much to say about this pregnancy, already so different from my first, already as full of meaning and insights as my belly is big. (I tell you, this baby isn't messing around.)

This pregnancy feel magical somehow. An almost-surprise, this baby is due in late May, right around my husband's birthday, which means I won't be pregnant through the blasted heat of a Texas summer. But also, this pregnancy feels so easy, so wonderfully free of the anxiety of my first time, that I feel as though this baby has come to heal me.

Sure, I've felt like crap (but getting better everyday.) There has been the numbing exhaustion, the devastating hunger, made all the worse by a generalized disgust in food. What I thought was nausea, which was in fact profound dehydration. And just feeling so hot all the time. (Summer here won't quit. It's still 80 degrees out. Count your snowy blessings, northerner friends.) But none of this has been a problem. I know how to deal with it. I make my protein smoothies and I go to bed early. I take care of myself. Do prenatal yoga videos on YogaGlo. I know how to do this. And I don't have to fret and fuss over all of the baby stuff I need to get, since I already have all of it. I tell ya, this second pregnancy business is just sweet.

I do have a few worries. Will Silas like being an older brother? What will this birth be like? How on earth do you manage to get two kids in their car seats? (Mamas of more than one, perhaps you could weigh in?) But even these concerns feel light, in comparison to what they were the first time around. Because this time, I've been through it already, and I know what I couldn't possibly have known before: that, no matter what, it will all be okay. We feel ready, we feel excited, we feel like this baby already has its place, that it has come to complete our family. I have a brand-new wardrobe from GapMaternity (Seriously, have you seen my belly? No getting by with mostly regular clothes this time!)

Let's do this thing.

Tuesday, November 6

this land is your land




As a Canadian citizen and a permanent resident of the US, I do not have the privilege to vote in this, or any, election, and I find myself a little uneasy and anxious as my neighbors head to the polls today to decide the fate of the country I call home for the next four years. It isn't my intention to get political on you today--other than to say, please vote according to your deepest convictions, even if they aren't the same as mine. But since I cannot make my voice be heard by casting a ballot, I thought I'd share instead two of my favorite voices, that of Linford Detweiler and Karin Bergquist of Over The Rhine, sing If A Song Could Be President from their 2007 album The Trumpet Child. Please take a moment to listen. For good or for ill, this will all be over tomorrow, and for that, truly. I am grateful.

Tuesday, October 30

Interview with Karen Maezen Miller, and giveaway winner!

Thanks to all who have  stopped by and commented on my blog post reviewing The Mindful Way Through Pregnancy. The giveaway winner is Ranya! Congratulations! An email is on its way to you. But I feel that everyone's a winner today, because I have a wonderful treat to share with you on this All Hallow's Eve's Eve: an interview with Karen Maezen Miller!

My love of Maezen is well documented on this site. I have lost count of the number of times and circumstances in which she totally saved my sanity. Momma Zen has been my bible since Silas was born. Her wisdom speaks to me so deeply, I find it a struggle sometimes not to quote her in every single post I write! She has been kind and generous enough to answer a few questions for you guys. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.

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I heard you say in a workshop once that, when it comes to spiritual practice, "parents go to the head of the class." Can you tell us what you mean by that?

Forgive me for that self-centered boast. What I mean is that any spiritual practice is grounded in self-discipline, the practice of doing what you don't really want to, over and over again. Much of parenthood consists of the daily tasks, reminders, and devotions that are definitely not what we would rather be doing! So in that way, parenthood is like spiritual boot camp. We have to get over ourselves in a hurry. In spiritual language that "getting over yourself" is called "transcendence."



In your essay in The Mindful Way Through Pregnancy, you address how fear is a prevalent emotion for the expecting mother. Can you say a few word about the relationship between fear and the breath?


In a way, fear is the opposite of breath. Fear strangles breath. But let's make it simple. Fear only exists as a thought in your mind. You cannot identify it outside of your anxious, fretful, panicked thought stream. But breath is not a thought. Breath is the function of life itself. Fear is in the mind; breath is in the body. Fear is in the dark; breath is in the light. Fear preaches death; breath preaches life. Fear is occupied with the future; the breath is always present. That should distinguish the two!

Why focus on the breath? Because your own focus is what amplifies your experience. If you focus on your fearful ruminations, your what-ifs and what-abouts and how-comes, you will scare yourself to death! If you focus on the breath, you will stay completely engaged in the present moment, and handle it beautifully. It's quite a magic carpet ride, that breath. It takes you places you never dreamed you could go, and they are real.



From what I can glean of your life story from your writings, you didn't set out to be either a writer or a Zen priest. Has writing always been a secret passion? How has writing about spiritual practice and motherhood evolve into an occupation for you?


Even as a young girl, I loved words. It was a bit of a secret passion, to tell you the truth. I literally loved the way words sounded and felt, but I never connected that with any ambition. For me, it was more like a song in my heart. Although I studied journalism and worked in business marketing, I never had any desire to write for a living. Even now, I'm not writing for a living. My writing is not an occupation or career. For some, it might be, but not for me. Writing, motherhood, gardening, cooking, cleaning: these are just the way my life presents itself to me. Surrendering to whatever presents itself is my vow as a priest. Thank heaven I'm not trying to be a success at any of it; I would miss the point. I would probably miss a lot of the fun, beauty, and tenderness.



Momma Zen and Hand Wash Cold have been a lifesaving source of inspiration for me--and for many. What have been some of the voices and resources that have guided you in your life as a mother and householder?


That's a very good question. I never really think about it. Literally everything guides me in my life. It might be a poem that appears in front of me, a chat with a neighbor, a question like this! For that reason I am an avid listener. I believe that everything is the truth trying to get my attention. I am deeply awed by poets and writers (and not by advice-peddlers). I find the greatest solace in the most unlikely places, like the signs held up by the homeless folks on the corner that remind me to give even when I feel I've reached my limits. "Anything Helps" the sign might say. It's so true. As I have matured, I have taken comfort in my fading memories of my mother and grandmothers. I finally understand what it takes to care for a family and make a home. It takes your entire life! And it means making your entire life a gift to everyone else. Nothing is more fulfilling.



Would you walk us through a typical day in the life of Karen Maezen Miller?


Oh dear! It's just like yours, literally. I'm the first up and into the kitchen. (I love a quiet house at dawn.) I feed the dog, make a breakfast that my daughter is likely to ignore. I check e-mail, and begin the daylong practice of responding to whatever appears. I quickly make the bed, get dressed, drive my daughter to school, take an exercise class and then I'm home again for the dog walk. I have a grand scheme of what I'd like to do each day, but am usually overtaken by small practicalities and urgencies. Sometimes the big thing on my list is something as little as pruning the azaleas! I do a little bit of writing here and there, sometimes for the blog, an article or something longer. Words sing to me all day long, and every now and then I catch one or two! My daughter is out of school at 2:30, the afternoon falls, I cook dinner, run the vacuum, finish a load of laundry, take my daughter to gymnastics. Before bed I sit on my cushion, and this is how I keep company with all the ancestors who have come before me. Then I let the day be done. I never regret what I haven't done. Even as I write this I am overwhelmed with gratitude that this right here is my life. Who could want more?


Do you have any projects on deck right now that you're excited about? What new offerings from you can we look forward to?

I always have one of those major on-deck projects lurking about and sometimes they don't amount to very much. So yes, I do, I'm letting the song come to me, to rise up into a resounding and unforgettable chorus. Things take time, and I'm not in a hurry. That must mean I've got more time to let it come. We all do. We have all the time we need when we quit chasing it, and let it come to us, like a song on the breeze, a song we already know the words to.




::  ::  ::

Thanks so much for sharing, Maezen! Sending safe, warm & bright thoughts to all those affected by Hurricane Sandy. I hope you are well.

Friday, October 26

morning



My blogging soul sister Amanda over at The Habit of Being is launching a new magazine, Kindred, and along with it, a set of prompts to play along with. I've had fun this week exploring and sharing my mornings over on Instagram.



I've cleared some space in my studio, and it feels really lovely to go hang out in there in the mornings. I've set Silas' bead maze down near my cushion for him to play with while I'm in here. I've been lighting a lovely-smelling candle.



This morning we woke to a chilly gray world. I'm wearing handknits and I'm happy.


I'm in the middle of a 5-day vinyasa teacher training with the lovely Sadie Nardini. It's amazing and exhausting.


Wishing you tea and apple pie and cozy wool hugs.

Tuesday, October 23

book review & giveaway!: the mindful way through pregnancy



The main message I try to pass on to my prenatal yoga students is that mindfulness practices, such as conscious breathing, yoga and meditation, are invaluable in supporting and serving their unique needs as they grow into motherhood. So I was very excited to find out last month that one of my favorite writers and teachers, Susan Piver, has edited a new book, The Mindful Way Through Pregnancy: Meditation, Yoga and Journaling for Expectant Mothers, which includes an essay by yet another favorite, Karen Maezen Miller. I  immediately ordered a copy, eager to see if this could be a resource I would want to recommend to my students.

The Mindful Way Through Pregnancy contains six essays, with topics ranging from Nurturing Your Body With Yoga, to Bonding With Your Baby, to Calming Fear. Coupled with each essay is a specific mindfulness practice, among them Basic Breath Awareness, Journaling, and two different meditation practices. Accompanying the book is a CD of four practices, beautifully led by Susan Piver (whom I love for the wonderful guided meditations she offers through her Open Heart Project.)

In her introduction, Piver writes that "mindfulness doesn't necessarily mean peacefulness. It refers instead to the willingness to be with ourselves as we are from moment to moment, whether that self is the picture of blissful maternity or of something a bit more, say, cranky or fearful. The material in this book is about embracing the experience of pregnancy--and as with all embraces, it begins with an opening, which is a synonym for mindfulness."

This theme of opening up to the experience of pregnancy, whether happy or fearful or just plain miserable, is one that runs through the whole book, and is a message I would have benefited from greatly when I was pregnant with my son. My experience of being pregnant was so far from what I had hoped or expected it would be: I didn't feel blissful or happy, but mostly cranky and achy and struggling deeply to make or feel a connection to the little bean growing in my belly. I wish I had had this book to walk me through my first pregnancy. When I despaired that my experience was far from the deep spiritual one I'd envisioned, I would have loved to read Anne Cushman's words: "What makes pregnancy a spiritual practice is not the kind of pregnancy we have. It's how we open to it, moment by moment, breath by breath."  When I couldn't imagine what our baby would be like and didn't feel a loving connection to our child, it would've been a balm to read that "if we can stop second-guessing ourselves and forcing ourselves to feel whatever we're conditioned to believe we ought to feel, bonding will simply happen," as Celia Strauss expresses. I've underlined several passages from Karen Maezen Miller's essay, Preparing for Childbirth--which is in itself worth the price of the book--and have already been reading them out loud to my students in class. The following excerpt sums up nearly everything I've learned about mindfulness and motherhood:

There is an unexpected end to every pregnancy. The end is birth itself, and whether early or late, easy or difficult, every birth is unpredictable and astonishing. Pregnancy prepares us as all of life prepares us. It prepares us to let go of how we thought it would be, and to focus on how it is. It prepares us to dwell solely on what appears in front of us, instead of on the anxious, fearful ruminations in our head. No matter how you think or feel, you can literally see how prepared you are, and you can trust it.


 I was initially a little disappointed that the book itself was so slim, but I soon realized that its small size is in fact one of its greatest strengths. Being pregnant, especially with your first baby, is an overwhelming experience of learning, researching, and swimming in a veritable sea of new information. Between figuring out how to live in and support the new reality of your shifting and expanding body, to weighing options for the birth of your baby, to trying to decide on which strollers, car seats, and diapers will suit your lifestyle, there you might seem to be little space available to learn how to meditate, especially if it means reading thick volumes on the subject. This is the genius of The Mindful Way Through Pregnancy: with its short essays, and CD of guided practices, it will fit nicely into the whirlwind, and provide a safe place to land, find some grounding, and begin to develop those mindfulness practices that will serve you as birth draws nearer, and once your babe is in your arms.


Holding this book in your hand, you will have all the foundation and guidance needed to get you started with several different mindfulness practices, specifically geared towards expectant mothers, which will serve and nurture you through your pregnancy and beyond. I am so grateful that this book is out there, and I highly recommend it.

:: :: ::


I am so thrilled to have a copy of the book to give to one lucky reader! Please leave a comment below to be entered in the drawing! I will leave the comments and the contest open until 11:59pm, Central Time on  Monday, October 29th . I will reveal the winner on Tuesday, October 30th, when I'll share a very special treat with you: an interview with Karen Maezen Miller!


Disclaimer: Shambhala Books is providing the giveaway copy, at my request. I purchased my own copy of the book. My opinion is, now and always, entirely mine.


Friday, October 19

five senses friday




:: seeing ::  the pumpkin patch freshly set up at my son's daycare

:: tasting :: fried egg, pickle, tomato and bacon sandwich, with peach iced tea

:: feeling :: cold nights, cool mornings, grass under my feet


:: smelling :: bubblegum toothpaste on my son's goodnight kisses


 ~inspired by abby 

Tuesday, October 16

from the archives: teeny tiny practice

:: Friends, this is the truth: I have few words these days. As I was sifting through the archives of an old blog while working on a new project I'm very excited about, I found this post, written in April of 2009. It feels as fresh and true as if I'd written it last week. Thought you might enjoy it, as I enjoyed re-reading it just now. ::



In my relatively short tenure as a yoga teacher, I have already discovered that people will respond to hearing about what I do in fairly predictable ways.  One of the responses I often hear is, “Oh, I’d love to do yoga, but I just don’t have an hour a day to do it.”  There are many misconceptions about yoga among the general population (and it is beyond the scope of this post to give even a passing glance at all of them), but this seems to me to be one of the most common and unfortunate ones.

I can see how it would be logical for someone who doesn’t know too much about the practice to think that you need that much time for a single session, since public yoga classes typically last between 60 and 90 minutes. But this is by no means prescriptive. True, in a perfect world, we would all be able to get in an hour’s worth of practice before facing whatever our day holds, but I believe that this is a case where quality is more important than quantity. Some yoga is definitely better than no yoga.

Earlier this week, I had to leave the house at 7am to fight traffic and be in East Austin by 8:30am. I did not get up at 5am to get in a full practice; but instead of giving up on practice altogether, I went into my yoga room and sat on my zafu.  I connected with my breath; I chanted. I did two simple but potent asanas: chakravakasana and vajrasana.  All told, I spent no more than five minutes on my yoga practice this morning, but it was enough to center and ground myself before beginning my day, and it made a difference.

Even more important than quality or quantity is consistency. Doing five minutes of yoga on most days will allow you to reap infinitely more benefits from the practice than doing one hour-long session weekly.  Although it is possible to enjoy the benefits of a yoga practice from the very first moment you step on the mat, you only really begin to experience its transformational powers when you practice regularly.  This can mean doing as little as I did earlier this week; I”ll even go further than that and say that, for a beginner, simply sitting on one’s mat for five minutes a day would be enough to reap some of the benefits of practice. This is by no means the only practice you should ever aspire to, but it’s a damn fine place to start.

I am reading Wild Mind, a book on writing by Natalie Goldberg. She draws a lot from her Zen practice to flesh out her vision of what writing is all about, and this story she relates about her late Zen teacher speaks directly to the matter at hand:

When someone complained about getting up at 5am for sitting meditation, Katagiri Roshi said, “Make positive effort for good.”

This is what we do when we step onto the mat, even if just for five minutes: we make a positive effort for the good–our own, and the good of people and things around us. This is why a week-long of daily five minute stints on the mat adds up to more than a single hour-long session: sure, you’ll have done less asana, and probably won’t have gone as deep in five minutes as you could have in a whole hour, but you’ll have stored up many days’ worth of making a positive effort for good. You will begin to create a a new rhythm, a healthy habit, and it is these seeds, tenderly and regularly tended to, that will bloom into a fully beneficial and transformative practice.

Try it: find quiet spot. Sit down comfortably, and close your eyes. Notice your breath. Notice your body. Notice your thoughts and emotions. Don’t try to change a thing. Settle into the moment. Spent five minutes doing nothing. Now slowly get up, and mindfully go about your day. You may wonder, Is this really yoga? You bet it is. Lather, rinse, repeat, every day like brushing your teeth.  Go ahead. Let me know how it goes.  See if it doesn’t begin to change your life a little

Wednesday, October 10

finally fall



While I've enviously been reading about fall on blogs for weeks now, here in Texas, we had to wait until last weekend to finally get a taste. A cold front blew through, the temperatures dipped, and there was much rejoicing. I feel like the heat really dragged on this year, with temperatures in the 90s lingering into early October, and so this feels like a well-earned reward. So over the weekend, we greeted our Texas fall season by:

:: leaving the house wearing three different handknit items (they weren't all strictly necessary, but this Canadian girl gets excited when it's time to pull out the woolens.)

:: watching football (duh.)

:: putting the flannel sheets on the bed, and cozying up to a cup of tea and great book (still loving this oh so much.)



:: making soup. there are no yellow split peas to be bought in this town , so I couldn't make our all-time favorite soup, and had to settle for our second all-time favorite: tuscan white bean and kale. which we still ate with fresh naan bread. fusion, yo.

:: straightening out the tea cupboard, and making a cup each for the hubby and me in the evenings.

:: making silas sad and confused by dressing him in a puffy vest and pixie hat.



:: making pumpkin spice muffins (cannot keep up production of these. the toddler is a muffin monster. i swapped the zucchini for some canned pumpkin.)



:: spending time outside in our freshly mowed, newly greened-over yard (there is no grass in Texas in the summer. none.)

:: listening to the Ray LaMontagne/Josh Ritter station on Pandora--perfect fall soundtrack.

:: falling in love with the slanted light that graces our home every afternoon.

:: knitting socks and watching Mad Men (okay, this isn't season-specific, but it felt extra cozy and appropriate this weekend.)


Oh, and looking forward to so much more of the same!



PS: October link love is up! 

Tuesday, October 2

mama mantras



Remembering what we already know is, I think, a unique challenge of motherhood, and also the key to finding grace and ease in the midst of our difficult, ordinary, blessed days. Too often in my tenure as mama the wisdom I possess, my own strength and intelligence, were obscured, buried under a landslide of sleeplessness, confusion, anger. But just as the sun doesn't shine any less brightly for being covered by clouds, so, too, our deep inner wisdom is always available to us, even when it appears to be hidden and, therefore, non-existent. One tool I have consistently relied on, and found relief in, are mama mantras.

I didn't come up with this concept: in fact, there is a whole book dedicated to it, a book which I own, and is excellent. And working with slogans, or lojong, is a well-established Buddhist practice. But over the months I have come up with my own string of pith sayings and comforting utterances, gleaned from the writings of those teachers who keep me afloat--the usual suspects of Karen Maezen Miller, Pema Chodron, Mary Oliver. They do not necessarily speak exclusively to the life of a mama, but boy, they've pulled me out of the muck on many an occasion.


Here is a random sampling of favorites:




This moment is the perfect teacher  This one currently graces the chalkboard in my kitchen. It serves to remind me that if I slow down, pause, and take notice, each moment I find myself in contains the exact teachings I need in order to wake up to my life. It's just a matter of allowing said moment to be exactly as it is, and of allowing myself to be exactly as I am in that moment.


Lower your standards, and relax as it is  This is a favorite, from Pema Chodron, which I wrote about before. If motherhood had a theme song, this would be it for me. To expect less of myself, of others, of circumstances, and to allow things to be just as they are--that is the secret to fully inhabiting the moments of my life, and to look around with the eyes of love.


Remember to pause  I will never find the peace I am looking for in the moment if I do not slow down to realize it is already there. But the frenetic pace of our busyness is so seductive! There is an almost irresistible urge to hurl ourselves headlong into whatever difficulty lies ahead, as if by speeding up, we can hurry through the tough parts, as though we were fast-forwarding the scary parts of the movie. But this moment it all we ever have, and if we can let it, it has a lot to teach us. (See above.) Also, by remembering to pause, we give ourselves a chance to breathe, to relax, and to start over.


This is it   This one from Jon Kabat-Zinn. "When we let go of wanting something else to happen in this moment, we take a profound step towards being able to encounter what is here now." I have no other life than this one. Furthermore, I don't want another life--I love my family, my home, my friends, my work. Too often though, I find myself wishing for another moment, for another reality. This mantra reminds me that I am right where I need to be, and that there is nowhere to escape to. Better to abide deeply in what already is.


I can stand this  This one comes our of Mommy Mantras, and has helped me on more than one occasion. How often have I found myself saying or thinking, "I can't stand this", or "I can't do this"? Recalling this mantra, changing my self-talk from negative to positive, has reminded me again and again that I have the wisdom and strength I need to rise to the challenge of the moment. As it turns out, almost every time, I can stand it, and I'm already doing it.



The main way I like to use these mantras is to write them down, over and over and over, in my regular journal or small Moleskine, or somewhere I can see them, like on my kitchen blackboard. Writing is the best way I know to commit something to memory, to learn it by heart, and therefore to have it available and ready when I need it to be.

Certain favorite poems serve a similar purpose--this is why I rarely go more than a few days without re-reading some favorite lines by Mary Oliver, whose words "to pay attention, that is our endless and proper work" is my life's mission statement and main anthem. And a whole separate post could be devoted to songs that have that same effect: to pull me out of my misery, recall me to myself, and point me to something brighter.

But wherever they might come from, this remains true: words are magic, words bring comfort, and words remind me of what I already know, so that I can carry on. And on, and on, and on.


Do you have mantras, cherished sayings, worn lines of poetry that serve a similar purpose for you? What is the theme song of your life? I'd love for you to share in the comments.

Sunday, September 30

weekending



rain, rain, rain to make us happy through most of Saturday
loving the time with my mamas, teaching prenatal yoga
then afternoon naps, family trip to The Jumpy Place
right in the middle of afternoon birthday party madness
but the little didn't care, he loved to run and run and bounce
and we loved watching him spend himself silly
bean and rice bowls for the Texas game
early to bed for me, curling up with a great novel--
how I love being deep into a fat book, all the delicious hours ahead

Sunday dawned grey and green, late pancakes
a long baby nap means yoga for mama
before I head back to the kitchen to make muffins and 
pumpkin walnut granola, and surely we will be out
in this gorgeous, breezy fall day before it is over
and the babe is asleep and the hubs and I fold laundry
while watching Mad Men. I love our life.



How was yours? Linking up with Amanda.

Friday, September 28

healthy eating strategies for the busy mom, pt 2: inspiration




No doubt one of the most dreaded question in a mother's life is "what's for dinner?" My son is too young to ask it yet, but heck: I don't even like asking it myself. This is why yummy food blogs and Pinterest boards are so vital to keeping me inspired, and keeping us well fed. These online resources are quickly eclipsing real paper-and-glue cookbooks in terms of actual number of meals cooked, though, of course, cookbooks still hold a place near and dear to my heart, and near at hand in the kitchen. Of these, there are two that I find myself reaching for, month after month, year after year:

the re:bar cookbook  I've had this cookbook longer than I've had most things in my life: close to ten years. It is the inspired product of my favorite restaurant in my former home of Victoria, BC, and a strong contender for favorite restaurant of all time. I never tire of this one, and after all these years, there are still new recipes that pop up at me every now and then, and make me fall in love all over again. My life wouldn't be the same without their peanut sauce recipe (page 40, I know that without having to look it up) and their Big Barn Bowtie Pasta dish, a fall dish of caramelized cabbage, sage and brown butter, is a perennial favorite in our house.

super natural every day  Heidi Swanson is my number one food muse. I will shout my love for her from the rooftops. Her cookbooks and website account for close to half of all the meals I cook, or want to cook. No joke. Her second cookbook, published in 2011, is a marvel and a treasure. It doesn't hurt that her photography is as appealing as her recipes. She hasn't failed me once. Her buttery Bran Muffins are a great way to start the day; her White Bean, Cabbage and Potatoes dish is a marvelous way to end it at the dinner table. (We eat a lot of cabbage in our house.)




Meal planning went from being a chore to a pleasure once I discovered Pinterest, which I use mostly as a food mood board. I pin recipes that look and sound good to me as I come across them on the many food blogs I subscribe to, that way they don't get lost in the shuffle of read items. What's especially great about this is that food bloggers typically post recipes specific to the season, so it's easy to get excited about stuff that would be good to eat right now. When it's time to plan meals for the coming week, I simply scroll through, get inspired, get hungry, write up my grocery list, and boom: done. I love how handy this is, with the iPhone app, I have food inspiration always at the ready, which means that odd like bits of time can get used for cookery brainstorming sessions. (Note: I haven't tried the service Plan To Eat, but I think it sounds great, and if this meal planning business is a particular hardship for you, you might want to check it out.)




101 Cookbooks  Heidi Swanson, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. This site, and the culinary genius behind it, has transformed the way I eat. I cannot say enough good things about it, so I won't bore you with superlatives, except to say: go get you some. It's almost time to start making this soup again, which is only my very favorite soup recipe OF ALL TIME. Caps are necessary here, people. I am serious about soup.

Everybody Likes Sandwiches  We do. We also love cole slaw, and granola, and that's why everybody should check out this site. This pumpkin walnut granola is at the top of my to-make list.

The Smitten Kitchen  Deb has a new cookbook coming out. While I'm waiting for it, I might just make the cacio e pepe pasta a few more times.

Naturally Ella  These tacos! That it all. (Also--more stunning food photography! Swoon.)

Dinner: A Love Story  Beautifully written about the why of family dinner, not just the what.

The Sprouted Kitchen  Ok, ok I am very late to this party. I don't think I can go very much longer before making these muffins.



I'm always looking for new sources of foodie inspiration, especially as it's about to finally be fall here in Texas, the season to get excited about cooking again. Squash! Stews! Squash stew! I'd love for you to share some of your favorites, and also any meal planning/marketing strategies that serve you & your family. Bon appétit!

Tuesday, September 25

healthy eating strategies for the busy mom, pt 1

my simple salad, with corn and black beans



As a stay-at-home mama of a busy toddler, eating solid, sustaining food is a non-negotiable: I need the fuel to keep up with him. Also, since I tend towards getting hangry--meaning that when my blood sugar plummets, so does my mood, often dramatically so--eating early, often and well is key to keeping our days flowing smoothly. Here are a few of my favorite tips and tricks that help keep me full and happy all day long. (Well, most days, anyway.)

Have a go-to meal  This comes in handy when arriving home around lunchtime, hungry. There isn't a lot of time to think about or prepare food, so it helps to have one thing you can make that 1)  will be quick, 2) will make you happy, and 3) you most likely have all the components already in the house. For me, this is avocado on toast. Toast piece of bread (I am partial to this one), butter it, rub the cut-side of a clove of garlic on buttered toast, top with a sliced or mashed quarter or half avocado, then sprinkle with generous amounts of salt and pepper. Eat. Sometimes I will do this atop an egg-in-the-basket. It also works well on half a whole wheat pita. Or a tortilla. You get the idea. Often this will serve just to tide me over as I prepare a salad or noodles, and feed the boy.

Dress it up  Homemade dressings are one of the most important tools in my arsenal. On any given day I'm likely to have 2 or 3 in the fridge to choose from. I have many favorites. (Often appropriated from other recipes for my own purposes.) I use them on salads, but also on rice or quinoa bowls, with noodles, or to add zing to leftovers. Salsa fits nicely into this category as well. Here's another standby, a Thai-inspired, fat-free sauce from a most beloved cookbook:

Spicy lime sauce (adapted from the re:bar cookbook)
1 cup hot water
4T brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1t sambal oelek (or chili-garlic sauce)
4T fish sauce
2T soy sauce
6T lime juice 
Dissolve sugar in water, and let cool. Blend in other ingredients. Especially loves to mingle with rice noodles and quinoa-edamame bowl. I got hungry just typing that.

Dress it down  Often when I make a cole slaw or quinoa salad, I store it in the fridge, undressed. This gives me the option of using one of many dressings I may have on hand, and it stays fresher and more appetizing (read, less soggy) for a while longer. It also makes it easier to make compound meals out of various elements in the fridge: I might cook some black rice noodles, mix it up with a simple salad, and toss the delicious mess with some shredded spinach, all of it drenched in spicy lime sauce (see above.) Yum. Is it lunchtime yet?

Shred it  Seriously, once I started thinly slicing up baby spinach before adding it to salads, it got a whole lot more mileage. I will eat way more sliced spinach than I will whole-leaf. Who knew. Also? Mandolines are amazing. (I have this one.) I can't believe how much inferior cole slaw I painfully and made without one. Never again. Cole slaw is one kick-ass, zesty way to get crispy veggies on your plate. And, cole slaw with rice noodles and peanut sauce? Stellar.

Blend it  If the answer to the agonizing question of "What can I eat nooooow?" isn't avocado toast, it's likely a smoothie. Smoothies are my favorite form of nutrient delivery. Extra bonus points for being portable. My two main standbys are the green smoothie with protein powder (search on Google or Pinterest and watch it explode with recipes; I am partial to pineapple) or the following:

PB banana "milkshake" smoothie
3/4c vanilla or chocolate unsweetened almond milk
1 scoop protein powder
1 banana
1T peanut or almond butter
2-3 ice cubes 
Combine first 3 ingredients in blender in order listed; blend. Add remaining two, and blend again. Share with toddler. (In lieu of protein powder, a few tablespoons of oatmeal and/or chia seeds add a nice thickness to this one. I bet a frozen banana would be awesome, too.) Please note: this won't make a very sweet smoothie. Add agave nectar or maple syrup to taste.

Get a head start  This one kinda goes without staying, but eating well fast on weekdays is so much easier when you've done a bit of legwork on the weekend. It's a very happy week when I've taken time on the weekend to replenish a few of these staples: dressings (see above), base salad (undressed!), plain cooked quinoa or rice, hummus, granola, muffins.

Make more  Another easy score: when cooking staples like quinoa or rice, make more. Extra quinoa gets thrown into salads or noodle bowls for an easy protein kick, or gets folded into muffins. Same goes for rice, although leftover rice most often gets the fried-rice treatment. Fried-rice-style quinoa? Get outta town.

The bowl principle  A favorite restaurant of mine, The Steeping Room, serves a fantastic meal called The Buddha Bowl: it is made up of kale, sweet potatoes, tofu, with the grain of the day, and the bean/pulse of the day, and the dressing of your choice. I'll often do riffs on this with two or more of the following: quinoa, simple salad, cole slaw, edamame, spinach, rice or buckwheat noodles, tofu. Or, a cool-weather favorite: sauteed onions, brown rice, kale, lentils. And what to say of rice, refried beans, avocado, salsa and tortilla chips? You get the idea: Gather ingredients. Put in bowl. Dress. Eat. Post a picture to Instagram. (Also: the glory bowl.)


Please note: my 20-month old lives, despite my most valiant efforts, almost exclusively on bananas, crackers, cantaloupe, peanut butter sandwiches, and yogurt and granola, none of which need a whole lot of preparation. Your mileage with children who eat like regular humans may vary.


Check back later this week for my favorite sources of inspiration, pantry and fridge staples, and meal planning strategies. Also, I'd love to hear some of your go-to recipes and tricks! Please share in the comments. Or, better yet, link to your Pinterest food board!








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