Off the Mat: Sandwich Generation

Eclipsed

Full moon shines through the camper van window, directly onto my face. I take advantage, risk the click of the door waking my guys. Upon arrival, we’d scoped the lay of the land: bathrooms, camp store, path to the beach. I head toward the latter, no need for a flashlight in the moonlight.

And have the beach to myself, so far as I know. Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity! I sit. Listen. Think. Stretch some. Breathe. Notice. The movement behind me is my own shadow. I cast a moon shadow. Yes, it followed me, just like in the old song.

Weeks later… Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Take a Breather

Take a Breather

Stomach tense, not grumbling but hard, a potato sized stone sitting just below my ribs. Centered, which isn’t where my stomach is. So this is muscle tension? Breathe in more deeply and breathe out, focus on the potato. It softens, moves down an inch or two. Let’s try again. Yup, there it goes. And beautifully, the deep inhale harmonizes with a dissonant chord in the Bach cello piece playing on the stereo. Breathing with Bach.

Stomach looser, I now notice the scowl on my face, there since waking. Can I relax it with breath, too? Purposefully smooth the skin between and above my eyebrows. Feels a little surprised. The remaining frown below the spread brow feels sad. Feels like the moment of realization – whatever the realization might be – that tears are coming. Feels like disappointment. What can breath do for my mouth? I’ve heard it takes more muscles to frown. Is that accurate? In this day in age, it seems more of an effort to choose happiness, to concentrate on what’s working and what’s hopeful than on what’s wrong. Especially when hormone cycles resemble spaghetti bowl tangles more than predictable sine curves.

♦♦♦

Letting breath guide movement is central to my yoga training. We teach what we most need to learn; I’m someone who holds her breath walking down the sidewalk!  Yoga breathing practices purposefully employ our inhale, exhale, and retention of breath to affect our physical, mental, and emotional health. Science now has the technology to explain how and why this works.

Researchers at Northwestern used brain scans to show how breathing through the nose affects areas of the brain associated with emotions and memory. A team at Stanford has identified jumbles of nerve cells that connect the brain’s respiratory center to the area in charge of alertness and attention. (If you geek out on this stuff like I do, this article in Neuroscience News describes the findings in understandable terms, down to a description of mellow mice.) One researcher described the almost 200 neuron subtypes as “well stirred spaghetti.”  This spaghetti tangle serves to calm. Breath is automatic and can be controlled through behavior, as well.

Too often still, I look outside of myself first – caffeine, conversation, therapy, vacation. I “should” myself with goal setting and exercise plans, social media challenges. Bemoan the lack of resources: money, sure, but also time, for self-care. And yet the simplest tool is right here, flowing in and out, rarely noticed except in its absence.

♦♦♦

Teaching yoga class, I notice one of my students looking flushed and worried. I check in – she can’t catch her breath. There’s a slight edge to her voice as she shares how she’s trying to breathe deeply but not getting air and fears she’s triggered an asthma attack. In my best calm teacher voice, I instruct her to breathe out all the way. She releases a long, large exhale. Now there’s room for fresh air to come in. Oh! She smiles, breathing in deeply.

♦♦♦

In the Sanskrit language, the word for breath, prana, is also translated as life force or spirit.  Some days, the only dedicated yoga practice I can muster is breath. Close my eyes. Turn attention to breath. Soften belly, gently spread ribs, lift collar bones as breath stretches me from the inside. Comfortably full, muscles lift from inside, gently squeezing air up and out of my lungs. Repeat. Long, smooth inhales. Full, complete exhales. In and out through my nose. Notice the movement breath creates. Sound like ocean waves. Unwind the strands of my mental tangle. Free my spirit.

[Photo credit: (cc) Lorianne DiSabato]


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice. http://www.ginnyhamilton.com

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Off the Mat: Independence

Independence

Heat has me up early. Serendipitous, since perennials from a neighbor’s garden need to get into the ground. With soil and space they’ll bloom beautifully without much assistance. At this moment though, they’re still dependent on me.

Once outside, I’m unwittingly drawn to the overgrown flowerbed by the patio. A mix of should and want rise within me every time my gaze lands here, which is often, given its location across from the kitchen window. It’s been a four year desire to clear this bed. I’ve toyed with it a few times, until shovel meets root bound resistance or halfhearted weeding leaves the area looking like a bad haircut.

Today, it’s less a decision and more a reaction. Oh, I guess I’m ready to do this. Perhaps due to dampness from recent excessive rain, this attempt feels easy – notably different from the last few times I’ve tried and given up. Separate bulbs. Root out weeds. Uncover perennial treasures left by a previous garden mama.

As a reasonable hour dawns, my house wakes up. We join briefly for meals but mostly go about our own Saturday projects. Weeding near the street, I hear my son and his friend squeal in the back yard. It occurs to me I hadn’t been monitoring their whereabouts at all. Focused on dirt and weed, lost in my own independent thoughts.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Stay

Stay

Many of my yoga students are surprised when I share that the seminal text on yoga doesn’t describe physical poses at all. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written down about 2,000 years ago, collects aphorisms passed from master to student in the oral tradition. Scholars describe them as talking points, bullets, or pneumonic devices, chanted to memorize the concept. Patanjali would’ve have done well with PowerPoint.

Of the almost 200 verses, less than 2% talk about physical yoga postures. There’s no mention of downward dogs or triangles. Rather, these few lessons center on the purpose of the posture. In short, stretch your body so you can sit comfortably, with steadiness and ease, to do yoga.

Postures get us ready to do yoga.

The majority of the Sutras contend with how to focus attention and quiet the mind. One verse basically says it doesn’t matter what you focus on, just choose something!  Sit with steadiness and ease, breathe, focus attention, repeat. By doing so, the mind will begin to still, freeing us from the exhausting perseverations, nagging, and judgments of our inner dialogues and the mania of our outer lives. Choose a focus. Keep at it. Keeping coming back.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: On Motherhood

On Motherhood

The author, branded as Mama.

His cry has a different tone than I’ve yet heard in his 9 months of life. Urgency. Bewilderment. Entering his room, I see why. Child and crib covered in vomit.

Chubby baby arms reach toward me, fully confident that Mama can make all this right. Resisting the urge to recoil from the smell, I lift and comfort him as the next wave of puking begins. Aim into the crib? On the rug? In a split second, I realize the most comforting and most easily cleaned barf-target is…me. So I hold my sick, sobbing kiddo to my chest and let him throw up on and down my shirt. This, I think. This is motherhood.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Down the Drain

Down the Drain

Fascination with drains.

My two-year-old son and I sit beside the water in the Boston Public Garden. Picturesque landscaping, iconic swans, a steady stream of smiling passersby – business people, kids with caregivers, tourists of all ages. If it were duckling season, we’d be in a McCloskey picture book. Morning errands accomplished, there’s nothing to stop us from enjoying this beautiful sunny morning in one of the city’s finest spots.

Separation anxieties run high at the moment. It takes extensive coaxing for him to walk away from the water’s edge, across the foot path, and 2 feet into the lawn to throw away a wrapper in the nearest garbage can. When he finally accomplishes this Herculean feat, 3 onlookers (no joke!) applaud his success.

One, a police officer, rewards his bravery with a sticker badge. It’s even yellow, his favorite.  I’m telling you, it’s a picture book day.

Sticker comes on and off. On and off. Less sticky. More rumpled. Barely recognizable. Still the object of great fascination. So it’s only natural it would come into contact with another item of fascination. A drain.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Gentle Discipline

Gentle Discipline

Early in the school year, my wily son and his 7-year-old co-conspirators figured out they could “trick” their teacher into extra recess by sitting longer. He says we’ve been sitting too long, and we say no, we can sit for 5 more minutes, and he lets us and then we get to go outside, my kiddo tells me with a sneaky grin.  When I ran to relay this story, his teacher laughed heartily – please tell him to keep tricking me!  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Bearing Witness to an Act of Compassion

Ode to a Hamster

My anxious boy follows hamster ball through kitchen, every 2.3 minutes asking, Can we put her back in her cage? What if she gets out? What if she gets stuck? Hurt? What if I can’t find her?

The worry. The holding on too tight. The annoyance of being woken up in the middle of the night. The basic cleaning and feeding. There’s a certain pleasure in watching him shoulder these responsibilities. Welcome to parenthood, kiddo. Welcome to caring for another living creature.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Being and Doing

Being and Doing

“To be is to do.” – Aristotle
“To do is to be.” – Sartre
“To be or not to be.” – Shakespeare
“Do be do be do, be do be do be…” – Sinatra

12212575524_5b9e2f06be_nI remember this list from days long ago, an era when we shared memes via T-shirt rather than gif. The fact that it keeps popping into my head indicates there’s a message for me here.

I’m a list person. The type who writes down a completed task to have the satisfaction of crossing it off. Kitchen chalk board lists the week’s meals and food in danger of spoiling. Mobile app separates TODAY/THIS WEEK/NEXT WEEK/SOMEDAY actions and includes a DONE column, the virtual equivalent to crossing it off. Placing a task on my list means its accounted for and needn’t rattle ‘round my brain during work hours or at 2 a.m..

Because I trust my list. It holds what I need to do so my brain doesn’t have to. Reviewing my completed tasks talks back to my anxious critic inner voice, the part that says I don’t do enough. My brain was raised on the Sartre perspective. Doing makes me who I am. You’ll be known by your deeds. Actions speak.

And yet, as social media replaces year end top 10 lists with New Year’s resolutions, the list in my heart focuses less about what I intend to DO and more of who and how I want to BE.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Dark Days

Dark Days

Driving his die cast metal school bus ‘round its pressboard wooden route, my kiddo hums under his breath. Tune recognition takes a while to reach my conscious mind.

Do you realize you’re humming the Darth Vader music?

Oh.  Mama? What’s the music for the bright side?

Setting the clocks back messes with my head. Don’t get me wrong, I relish the extra hour of sleep.  I can even appreciate how the “earlier” sunrise means we can stand in sunbeams not shadows while waiting for the bus. But the darkness is challenging. Over the years, I’ve tried exercise, high dose Vitamin D, natural light bulbs, to mixed effects. Mold allergies leave me head-achy and spent by mid-afternoon. Now mid-afternoon grows dark.

Do I rage against the dying light, pressing on full tilt through the December schedule? Hunker down and hibernate, slowing my pace to baseline functions only? Or seek a middle way – look for the light?  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Election Edition – NO on Fear! YES on Love!

Election Eve: Tools for Hope and Love

Last Sunday found the three of us gluing felt feathers onto felt wings. Smile on my lips. He’s old enough to truly join in making his costume. I’m the jumpy one. Not one to be crafty. Why are you nervous, Mama?

I worry that it won’t look like the picture in your head and you’ll be disappointed. I want you to like it. In this simple case, acknowledging it was enough to dissipate my fear and open room for love.

Too often, fear becomes the guiding force, squeezing out love. Too often, my love for my child leads down the fear path. As if my worry can protect him.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Crazy-Making Cycles of Perimenopause

Cycling

Which direction are you going Mama? my boy chirps.

Dunno yet.

When should we expect you back? my hubby inquires.

Bite my tongue to stop the nasty voice in my head from coming out of my mouth: If, not when. The logical voice exits instead, 2 hours tops. I need to blow off the stink.

Conscious enough to take his good advice and slip a granola bar into my jersey pocket. Water bottle already full, waiting. Pound pedals out the driveway. Up the hill. Match breath and legs to mantra in my head.

  1. Am. E. Nough.  I am.  Enough. I am enough.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Old Traditions, New Stories

 Old Traditions, New Stories

Relaxing on my parents’ porch, I watch hummingbirds vie for feeder spots and recall Dad’s story: A hummingbird came to the feeder and found it empty. It flew to where Dad sat a few feet away and hovered directly over Dad’s newspaper, then flew back and forth between paper and feeder until Dad got the message. Dad put down the paper, filled the feeder, and returned to reading as the hummingbird ate.

One family story among many, teaching me about animal intelligence.

A train whistle sounds in the distance: Long, long, short, long. The signal for a crossing. Did I ever tell you about the time… Dad retells the familiar story of his father teaching him the signals, his father explaining how the engineer made the last whistle trail off, long before my dad learned about the Doppler Effect in college. Granddaddy was a college educated man, but this physics fact was not in his knowledge base.

A family classic demonstrating how knowledge changes with each generation.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Meditating and Parenting

Peace, Happiness and Fried Eggs

The object of my meditation.

Fried egg. Toast.

Brown flecks on pure white. Whiter than my t-shirt. I need a new white t-shirt. This one probably isn’t nice enough for work. What’s that stain? Marker? Blueberry? Can I tuck it in or do I need to change before my 1:15? What else is clean? I wonder if the washer is done.

Oh. The egg. The toast. Sunflower yellow yolk. Sunflowers didn’t grow this year. Too dry? Chipmunks eating the sprouts? Chipmunk darting through the garden now. Naturally still one moment and then scurrying someplace new.

Like my mind.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Love Makes Heroes

Love Makes Heroes

I didn’t tell him about Newtown.  Turned off the radio. Hid the news home page. Still, awareness seeped in. Days later, he dreamt that his preschool playground suddenly wasn’t safe. In his dream, he was the hero, the helper. He told everybody to get inside before the bad people took pictures. Took pictures? Shoot pictures. My boy in his innocent preschool bubble associated shooting with cameras, not guns.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Honest Questions About Honesty

Honest Questions

A missed call from school. Voicemail reveals the principal’s words: playground altercation.

I reach her 10 minutes before dismissal, so time is limited. The swing-set scuffle was typical and the other child thankfully is fine. “I’m less concerned about the shoving,” she shares in a carefully modulated voice, “than his insisting on a false story.”

When I concur, yes, we’re seeing this at home lately, we’re working on it, her voice relaxes. This was not news to a parent she barely knows. We talk strategy and messaging, educator to parent and mom to mom.

Honesty. Why is it so hard?! Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Water as Self-Care

Prime the Well

We climbed Mt. Tom on a recent Sunday that was hotter than forecast by 10 degrees. No leaves meant no shade. We brought enough snacks, but ran short on water. Thirst, headache, and grumpies served as solid reminders of the importance of hydration. The importance of reserves.

I’m attempting to drink more water lately. When successful, I have fewer aches and more energy. I stop at the sink, fill up a glass and sip and – lo and behold – realize I’m thirsty! Water tastes good. I’m reminded of what I’ve been missing.

“How much am I supposed to drink?” clients commonly ask as I make the link between pain relief and hydration. Online medical consensus now gives a formula to replace the old “8 glasses a day” advice from last century: Take your body weight in pounds, divide in half and drink that number of ounces each day.  I’m not sure who first proffered this formula, but mainline medical, fitness, and alternate health sites use it.

What to drink? That’s where the disagreements begin. Recommendations vary widely from “food counts as water” to “any drink counts” to “no caffeine or sugar” to “only unadulterated water – not even herbal tea.”

Then comes conflicting advice on how to drink. One liter before noon. Nope, mostly at night. With meals but not after meals. Only hot. Actually, cold is ok. Sip, don’t gulp. Filtered water. Bottled water. Enhanced water. We’ve taken one of the most basic elements of life on earth and made it complex, even controversial.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Take a Breather and Reconnect

Secure Your Own

“Secure your own oxygen mask before assisting others.” The plane safety video shows neat and calm children obediently letting the nearest masked grown-up mask them. The real-life first grade boy next to me fidgets, tugging at the silly band bracelet on his wrist. I smile in a way I hope will reassure him I’d help him with his mask. Then crack open my new novel. He glances across the aisle to his mother. He’s not mine.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: How Much Do You Love Me?

How much do you love me? This is a test.

First grade, declares my six-year-old, is all about learning to sit at a desk. Kindergarten block center, dramatic play, and extra recess have been replaced by dictation, handwriting, and tests. Yes, I’m surprised to learn. Tests in first grade. I was ready to get worked up about the diagnostic tests in the fall – my boy spending the good part of two school days filling in small circles with a number two pencil – until he came home. Excited.  My nerdy little boy LOVED filling in small circles with a number two pencil!

♦♦♦

Testing. We’ve seen a good deal of testing behavior this year. Will I actually be in trouble if I play in the basement like I’ve been told not to? What happens when I freeze OJ, olive oil, and blueberries in a cup? What happens when my friend and I get into the spray paint? Will Mama follow through on the consequence she said is coming? This is the kind of testing that belongs in first grade, in my oh-so-humble opinion.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: When My 1st Grader Asks About Sex

Consenting to Questions

It starts simply enough. These conversations do. We pull onto I-91, skirt Northampton afternoon traffic to the edge of town to get my allergy shots.

Mama, why do they throw away the needles? Why don’t they use them again?

My practice is to answer my child’s questions when he asks. The trick is answering only the question he has asked. Questions beget questions.

I explain about contamination, how my blood is on the needle and could share germs with somebody else if the allergy nurse used it again. I can’t recall now whether he asked what germs or whether I volunteered information, but within a quarter mile I was explaining HIV.  How scientists haven’t figured out how to fix the disease from those germs so the best thing is to not get it.

How do you get it? Of course he asks.

Not through sneezes or spit like colds, but from blood and …. take a deep breath as silently as possible so he doesn’t notice the pause before I answer honestly… from the liquids from your penis or vagina. (Yes, I know, not from pee. But I was improvising at 65 mph!)

Which of course begs the question how those liquids get shared. And suddenly I‘m talking about sex with my first grader. Again. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: 20 Welcomed Bits of Advice for New Parents

Solicited Advice

I recently exchanged emails with a friend from yoga teacher training. Ten years younger than I am, she now lives on the opposite coast. Facebook keeps me up on her world travels, recent wedding, yoga for refugees and cancer survivors. But a personal email these days feels as rare as a handwritten letter.

“How’s your private work going? And raising a kid in Western MA? My god, how old is he now? Six?! Are you making a manual on all the great things you’re doing to bring up a kid in today’s crazy world? I’ll memorize them by heart when we jump down the family path :) lots of love”

I started a wry response, naming the importance of deep breaths and good wine. But then recognized, knowing her, she was serious. In a world of unsolicited advice, she was asking.

And I realized I have ideas to share!  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: The Deep End vs. In Over Your Head

Going Deep

Do you let your kids quit? Do you let yourself quit? In this month’s “Off the Mat: Reflections on the Practice of Parenting,” Ginny Hamilton explores the difference between being comfortable in the deep end and being in over your head.

Today, I quit. I’m not big on quitting. But I am proud of myself in a way. Hear me out.

In September, my son started swim lessons. Despite our best intentions for fun, exercise, and life skills, it quickly became a dreary slog. Timing is everything, and Fridays after school isn’t his best time. Even so, I refuse to let him consider quitting until he can swim in water over his head.

Last week, when offered a Monday lesson slot, we switched without hesitation. Suddenly, swimming was fun again! He cut through the water, head down, crawl strong, buoyed by success. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Higher Priorities

Priorities

Visiting extended family of my parents’ generation, I’m aware of how little we’ve focused on manners thus far in my kiddo’s life. He still eats with his fingers, comments on people’s appearance in a matter of fact way, and asks how old they are, assuming everyone is as proud of their years attained as he is at 6 and a half.

The age question catches our hostess up short. Sorry, I say, we haven’t put much focus on manners beyond please and thank you.

What do you focus on? she replies.

And I’m stumped, realizing I can’t articulate it.

♦♦♦♦

Given that “why?” remains my child’s favorite word (followed closely by “poopy”), I’m regularly prompted to explain the logical reasoning behind various social norms. Take table manners, for instance. Napkins in laps protect pants from spills. Elbows are less likely to knock over milk glasses, again, if they are off the table. Talking with your mouth full is a choking hazard, besides just being gross to look at. These are concrete reasons to practice politeness.

But what about my higher priorities? What about honesty? Kindness? These require a greater appeal than logic. Honesty involves owning up to our faults, foibles, and imperfections. Kindness grows from compassion and acceptance that run counter to the mainstream in which we swim. I was taught how to be polite, not how to be kind.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Constructively Compassionate at Home

Constructive Compassion

Open hands. Open heart. Loving gracefully begins at home.

My hubby and I are arguing in agreement. Again. This time about word choice in an online article about parenting boys. The content is almost irrelevant. Almost because these tiffs often arise when discussing parenting and gender. Societal messages to little boys and little girls. We argue in agreement, differing over minutiae born of perspective, gender, age, family of origin experience.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Fairies Gather Here

Fairy Summer

There’s a magic to childhood, especially early childhood. Developmentally, I’m told, it’ll last another year, two tops. Yet I don’t want my son to lose his belief in magic. I (want to) believe in fairies. I want my son to stay open to that which he cannot see.

What did Dwagon do today?

My son prompts our bedtime story, then leaves the telling to me. Blurring the line between real and imaginary, I spin an improvised tale of a magical dragon who lives in the Holyoke Range. Dragon often finds himself in similar situations to my guy, with similar fears and worries.

Given our nightly sojourns with his magical friend, I’m surprised by my kiddo’s early summer assertion that fairies aren’t real. He turned to me for confirmation,

Wight, Mama?

Just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there.

I was relieved when he accepted this at face value, then gladly helped his human playmate build a fairy house. Later that day, he constructed more under our lilac bush.

♦♦♦

It took a while to find my stash of confetti hearts that night. A few sprinkled around the entrance seemed enough to create the intended effect.

The next morning, I lingered at the sink, watching out the window. A perfect vantage to observe his discovery.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Growing Pains

On Pain

“Why did you hurt me on purpose, Mama?,” comes the zinger from the back seat. In this month’s “Off the Mat: Reflections on the Practice of Parenting,” Hilltown Families Contributing Writer Ginny Hamilton explores growing pains, painful patterns, and the truth that life hurts sometimes.

My kiddo sits in the grocery cart. He’s really too big, but containing him removes one variable from the shopping experience. Getting him in is akin to a choreographed 50s swing dance move – jump up, arms around my neck, lift hips, shimmy down. We both grunt and groan good-naturedly with the effort, usually prompting my teasing exclamation – Stop growing!!!  And his grinning response, No! I’m supposed to grow! or You’re kidding Mama. You want me to grow.

This is true. And not. But that’s a topic for another day.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Bravery is Being Scared But Acting Anyway

Dad’s Dreams, Mom’s Heart

What’s an anxious Mama to do when presented with a last minute chance to travel to Alaska with her Dad? I remind myself what I teach my son: Bravery doesn’t mean not being scared. Bravery is being scared but acting anyway.

Date night, Pioneer Valley. Scrunched down in my seat at the Academy of Music, tears roll down my cheeks. And I let them, which is unusual for me. On stage, Heather Maloney sings,

I am made of
All the same stuff
That makes the seasons what they are.
I am made of
Dirt and stardust
My daddy’s dreams
My mother’s heart.

What do I know of my dad’s dreams? What did he hope to be when he was six? A country boy with a frog in his pocket, he knew the answers but rarely raised his hand because of his lisp. I know he was often the kid picked last. I know he preferred Gene Autry to John Wayne. Were there dreams in between being a cowboy and a retired chemical engineer? Had to be. An outdoorsman turned corporate traveler, I learned last summer that he’s made it to all but six U.S. states. Next week, he and I check Alaska off that list. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Letting People Help

The Village Helps

Yoga instructor and pain specialist Ginny Hamilton has never been good at asking for help. In this month’s Off the Mat: Reflections on the Practice of Parenting, she shares a story of independence and interdependence from her first days of motherhood.

I’ve always been fiercely independent, which is not necessarily a useful trait in the blurry days of new motherhood. Pushing 40, it was my first time around – and for me the only time. Thankfully, my sister came to help. She played with her newborn nephew overnight so I could sleep, taught us to swaddle, and fed me while I fed him. And she provided the other main support I wanted: company as I tried to go about daily business by myself. I drove, baby in back, sis in the passenger’s seat. We took the subway downtown, bought button-down tops to make nursing easier, and she stood guard as I nursed in a dressing room.

The store clerk, an older woman with a Middle Eastern accent, cooed over my tiny son curled up in the ergo carrier. “I’m amazed at how people in this country bring babies out so young. In my country, the mother stays home. Aunties bring what you need to you.” Her tone wasn’t critical. More sympathetic, offering condolences.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: The Binding Thread of Peace for Mother’s Day

Honoring Traditions, Honoring Ourselves

This Mother’s Day, I expect to receive more handwritten letters. My six year old loves to demonstrate this newly acquired skill. Ms. Jarvis would be proud.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m contemplating paths to outer peace – on a global scale of state on state violence, on a societal scale of institutional violence, on a frighteningly personal scale of schoolyard gun violence, on a kitchen counter scale as two 6 year old boys negotiate train positions.

Did you know that early efforts to establish Mother’s Day were responses to the Civil War? Abolitionist, peace, and women’s rights activist Julia Ward Howe organized the Mother’s Day for Peace, calling on women to stand up against the horrors of war. Less well known, activist Ann Jarvis was in the trenches, caring for Union and Confederate soldiers. She organized meetings of moms who had lost sons on both sides of the conflict. Her daughter led the charge to make Mother’s Day an official holiday and reportedly was widely outspoken about the almost immediate commercialization that followed. Apparently the younger Ms. Jarvis lamented Hallmark creating Mother’s Day cards. She had envisioned hand written letters figuring prominently in Mother’s Day celebrations. I can only imagine she’s rolling in her grave as we greet mom via text message. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: The Reflections of Parenting Bring Self-Awareness

The Mirror

One of the truths of parenting is that my child is also my mirror. I see my expressions looking back at me. I hear my tone, my words, my affect in his bubbly little voice.

“Let your mat be your mirror,” the teacher said. “What does your yoga practice reflect about your life?”

Ah! That was easy to answer. Teacher after teacher would remind me to slow down, to find ease. To relax. Not to work so hard.

I immediately recognized the reflection in my mat-mirror: Work-a-holic off the mat, work-a-holic on the mat. 110% effort. Muscle through. Overthinking everything, not allowing flow. Filling every empty space with busyness. Not accepting myself as good enough. Erring on the side of perfectionism instead of acceptance. Hard work was my emotional currency: how I tried to earn my worth.

So for my self-study project during the months of my yoga teacher training, I worked to cultivate the opposite tendency from my habitual relationship with work and time. I committed to take Fridays off for the final months at my high stress job and to reflect on that experience. (Work-a-holic + no kids then = oodles of unused vacation time.) While I did not take off every single Friday, I was much more conscious of my inner dialogue about my choices for spending that time. And I did take off far more days than I had anticipated! Read the rest of this entry »

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