Off the Mat: Passionate Energy

Passionate Energy

Photo courtesy of wishful photog

Winter vacation during a cold snap. 3 kindergarten boys + 2 moms + 1 little sister + local indoor playground = a sanity break for everyone. Climbing structure, water play, firefighter dress up, lunch break. The boys, used to eating together in the school cafeteria, plow through lunchbox contents and are ready to play far more quickly than we are. We suggest they go run around the open space nearby, farther from the tables but still within sight. There’s grabbing and take downs, but all three are smiling and well matched – rules I learned from another mom of boys.

Soon, little sis joins the boys. Big bro pretty quickly knocks her down and piles on top. Her expression shows she’s not hurt, but not happy. Their mom calls him off and running resumes. Then big bro tackles little sis again. This time, brother’s friend piles on top too. And I watch my bright eyed boy run gleefully to join the fun and hop on the pile.

Three boys, each twice her size.

One little girl underneath. Not smiling.

Walking the line between not my place and not OK, I call my own child off with the sharp tone he knows to heed immediately.

Not OK.

You guys are all the same size, so if you want to wrestle and everyone’s having fun, that’s ok. But the rule in our family is it’s not ok for bigger kids to pile up on a littler one.

During a visit to Grammy and Poppy’s, a gleeful tickle game turns to tears. Escaping my father’s grasp, he announces his intent, I’m gonna teww on you to Mama.

He’d said stop. Poppy didn’t listen.

Later that night, my dad and hubby get an earful from me.

You are the most important men in his life. His biggest examples. He needs to learn from YOU that when a person sets a rule about their body, a good man listens. He stops. This isn’t about tickling. This is teaching him about respecting rules for other people’s bodies.

Both understood. Both know my story.

When my parents talked about sex, they always wrapped the details in an unwavering abstinence message. We were good (read Christian) girls; we would of course wait until we were married. I remember vividly one conversation when I was 16 about my attraction to my on again/off again boyfriend, the boy who would later feature prominently in my most egregious #metoo narrative.

What did I see in him?

The phrase I’d use now is vibrant life force. Intensity. The word I knew then was passion.

Mom, trying to bridge the gap, tentatively ventured, you mean, sex?

No! I stomped. That’s exactly what I don’t mean. I knew that’s what you’d think!

Passion, joie de vivre, intensity, vibrancy. We tie them all to sex. Those qualities are certainly sexy, attractive. And so much more.

Yoga philosophy names brahmacarya as one of the ethical tenets of yoga. Brahmacarya. The sex one. Brahmacarya is commonly translated as celibacy. (What?! Yoga philosophy teaches celibacy?!?) This view singles out sex as separate, something to suppress. I find wisdom – and healing – from teachers who define brahmacarya as responsible sexual behavior along with the conservation or moderation of life force energy beyond sex.

It helps me to acknowledge the other ethical pillars brahmacarya stands on: nonviolence, truthfulness, and not taking from others. Like remembering to breathe deeply and taking time to stretch my muscles, working with these interwoven ethical practices improves my quality of life. Hopefully too, my quality of parenting.

So with my son, we are not pushing an abstinence message. We focus on consent. We try to use proper names for body parts and sex acts and answer the questions he asks, which are getting more and more explicit – gotta love sleepover camp! He’s still in the eeew stage (thankfully). But we know that will change, even if he can’t imagine why anyone would want to do that?!

Last weekend, we attended a small birthday party which featured abundant candy and caffeine in addition to cake. Their sugar high was exponentially frenzied. Five boys running and wrestling, tackling and tickling. Close to chaos, yet never spun out of control. And when the birthday boy’s little sis joined the fray, I was heartened to see my son slow down, pretend wrestling with her – half his age & size, moderating his energy to play appropriately with her smaller, younger body.

Maybe some of our teaching is getting through.


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

Off the Mat: Homework Time

Homework Time

We’ve made it through another September. Once again, I successfully avoided the back to school shopping circus with my kid. Not yet fashion conscious, his drawer full of t-shirts proved sufficient. Still Minecraft obsessed, he made no request for a new backpack. And wondrously, our district provides the essentials: loose-leaf, composition books, and a stocked pencil box. I was shocked to discover this during Kindergarten orientation years back;  teachers, not parents provide school supplies?! Really??! Really. In our well-resourced town, the system provides the necessary study tools.

School came easily for me as a child. I did well without much effort. Until college. I finished eventually, but not without a little extra time and a lot of extra angst. Twenty years later – and a decade ago now – I began pursuing my current profession and line of study, yoga, mindfulness and healing modalities. The first week of yoga teacher training included an anatomy intensive. I was amazed at how quickly and easily my mind absorbed information about muscle mechanics while I was moving my body instead of staring at a lecture screen. My body provided the necessary study tools.

Last school year, I (finally!) completed my body work and Reiki teaching certifications. Briefly, I considered pursuing the next level of yoga teacher training or another in-depth healing course. But I paused. Instead, I committed to step back from course work and instead to go deeper with the tools I have.

One month into this school year, I regularly have to remind myself of this intention. How do I keep this commitment to study with no external assignment holding me to it? In theory, I can study on my own. I can read the masters – women like Devi, ChodronKemptonJudith – and apply their teachings to my life and work. Practically, the moments for reading and introspection get quickly filled with laundry and lunch making, and the myriad of other external commitments populating my to-do list. When I enroll in (and let’s be honest, pay for) a course, I make the time. Now that my commitment is wholly internal, qualms arise. Self-study feels self-centered. Self-indulgent.

And yet.

And yet I strive to live my life from a place of mindful awareness. I know yoga to be more than physical stretches, to be a practice that keeps me connected, mind body and spirit. Lately, my racing mind and sluggish body and…spirit? Oh yes, don’t forget spirit. Well, such signs point to the need to fulfill my internal commitment. To do my homework.

Yoga philosophy names svadyaya, or self-study, as one of the ten pillars for authentic living.  Originally, svadyaya referred to chanting sacred texts or mantras. Modern scholars have expanded this, for better or worse, tying svadyaya into the self-help culture.

Modern shaman Alberto Villodo encourages “study to know your own nature and cultivate wisdom.” Yoga Master Nischala Joy Devi defines svadyaya as the study of scripture, nature and introspection, then quotes Rabbi Hillel, “Study brings us wisdom. Wisdom brings us life.”  Sanskrit scholar Nicholai Bachman advises reading, listening, observing ourselves in action. “We may or may not like what we discover,” he cautions. Yet when we can look at ourselves insightfully, we are better able to grow our strengths and address our shortcomings.

While my habit of procrastinating by cleaning may have appealing outcomes, it is worth observing. My inner critic demanding professional “should” before exercise deserves curious attention. My interactions with challenging community members provide opportunities to find compassion.

My homework becomes applying the pillars of yoga philosophy – nonviolence, cleanliness, truthfulness, gratitude – to whatever life sets before me. At work. With my family and myself, my body, my home. This human experience provides the necessary study tools.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki Master 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. www.ginnyhamilton.com

Off the Mat: Lessons in Unconditional Love from Piggett

Things that Fly

My boy is at school. Kindergarten. A whole new world. He’s only a mile away, much closer than the preschool over-the-river-and-through-the-woods. Still, it feels farther. Distant. I was in and out of his preschool room. Most days we said goodbye at his cubby-hole, but there were regular opportunities to come in and play, read a book, or just cuddle until he was settled.

Now, we say goodbye as he sprints out to the bus. If he remembers to say goodbye. He goes into a big building and hangs his new big backpack in a cubby I have never seen. May never see.

Apparently, stuffies don’t go to kindergarten.

I remember him that very first day, all wrinkled and noisy. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: The Age of Contentment

The Age of Contentment

Contentment is a nine year-old in summer. He runs like fluid water, swift and effortless and fresh. We can’t keep up anymore. I don’t even try. His unconscious skip-hop step betrays the simple excitement of moving. He devours chapter books, curled on the sofa with one of the warrior cats’ adventures, then bikes to the library to get more. He makes his own sandwich (though clean up skills are still lacking.)

He’s aware of his appearance, but not yet in a self-conscious way. “I like my hair like this” he says of his flattened-on-one-side bedhead. His simple self-confident acceptance is irritating at times, until I realize my irritation is jealousy. To be so content!

He considers his life far from perfect. I am the meanest Mama in the universe because he doesn’t have his own phone, unlimited Minecraft time, or ice cream with every meal. Even so, he sings himself into unbroken sleep. He smiles with his whole body.

By contrast, too many adults I know, myself included, are largely malcontent. I scowl at my never ending to do list, dust under the couch, spider veins and cellulite. Begrudge the beauty outside as I hunch over laptop indoors. Resent the bright moonlight for interrupting elusive sleep, and then lie awake cataloguing all I’ve left undone – personally, professionally, spiritually. How much energy do I put into being aggravated?  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Fear Itself

Fear Itself

He’s hit 54 inches, or close enough for Six Flags safety standards. With his extra effort to stand tall – viola! – he’s cleared to ride Superman. As the train climbs and climbs that first hill, I gaze down at the beautiful, absolutely unobstructed view of the river 200 feet far below.

My stomach clenches. Hands clamp. Breath catches. Until I reminded myself – this is supposed to be fun. We pay for this fear! I exhale and enjoy the ride. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Irons in the Fire

Off the Mat: Irons in the Fire

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Willpower. Intense discipline. These concepts call to mind early memories of my dad smoking a pipe. He was about 38 and had smoked for 20 years when he quit. Just quit. His dentist, concerned about palate irritation from the pipe stem, suggested he switch to cigarettes (no joke). Dad decided to go cold turkey. No drama or public declarations or program. He just did it. As a result, my expectations of willpower are perhaps a tad bit unrealistic.

In my 20s, I worked a series of campaign jobs, promoting a particular local candidate or political cause. These jobs were intense: long hours for little pay demanding deep passion and youthful vigor. One included collecting boycott pledges in busy public spaces and recruiting teams of local volunteers to do the same. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Tell it Slant

Off the Mat: Tell it Slant

Photo credit: Whitney H

In my 20s, a girlfriend introduced me to May baskets. She purchased old baskets from Goodwill or wove paper ones and gathered small treasures like stickers, maybe candy. Then, early on a weekend morning, the two of us would drive around town snipping blossoms to fill the baskets. We only took flowers from public places (we decided campuses counted as public) in ways that were respectful of the plant’s growth, never too much from one spot. Flower glutton that I am, the back seat soon filled with apple blossoms, rhododendron, plum, pear, and if lucky, a few remaining sprigs of forsythia. Baskets overflowing, we’d drive to our friends’ houses, still very early on a weekend morning, sneak a basket onto the stoop. Ring. And RUN!

Don’t be seen. Don’t get caught. And don’t tell. Even when asked, lie through your teeth. I think I still have friends these 20+ years later who – believing my dishonest denial – still wonder who delivered those baskets.

I don’t remember now how many years we did this, maybe five? More? As the friendship shifted more into our 30s, I stepped out of the tradition.

Until the year my kiddo turned seven. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Walking on Air – April 2018

Off the Mat: Walking on Air

Photo credit: Eugene Goffredo

Browsing for books for a friend’s toddler, I came across the Science for Babies picture book series and was reminded of this exchange from many moons ago. Putting his squirmy wormy legs up the wall next to his changing table, my oddly polite two-year-old states, “Wawk up dere, peese.”

“Walk up the wall?” I confirm his intent.

“Peese. Wawk up dere and over dere and down dat side.” He gestures to illustrate his intent to climb the wall and cross the ceiling.

My freeform self wants to encourage this outside the box thinking. My anxious self flashes to headlines of fatal falls from fourth floor windows by kids wearing blankie capes, attempting to fly. Must I teach my child about gravity? The thought is so…heavy.

It’s not that I’m opposed to limits. Far from it. Painted hands and feet stay on the paper, not the floor. Splashing stays in the tub. Hitting in all its variations (punching, kicking, butting, et al) is not allowed.

Yet somehow it saddens me to think I must tell my child he can’t walk on air.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat for March 2018: Coming Clean

Off the Mat: Coming Clean

Saucha – cleanliness – leads to a heart-mind that is happy, focused, not distracted, and ready for experiencing the divine light within.” Nicholai Bachman, The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga

My hubby and I are fighting about dishes. Mundane of the mundane, but increased demands on us both have bumped cleaning lower on our priority list. Our best intentions to wipe down the kitchen each night fall victim to email needing reply, uninterrupted phone call opportunities, exhausted naps on the child’s bedroom floor.

I’ve grown resentful of our stereotypical tension, his long commute leaving more housekeeping to me. I’m irritated by the clutter: yogurt foil left on counter, coffee splats dried beside compost bin, ever present pile of backpack, coat, mittens, boots, socks blocking the front door.

I’ve tried to be Zen about it. I can only change myself, after all, so if I’m bothered by picking up after them, stop. And I do, for a few weeks, anyway.

And yet my cataloging mind still tracks who used the spatula still beside the stove, whose bread crumbs remain, a trail leading to tidying undone. Bitterness builds along with the stack of junk mail and soap scum in the sink.

***

I lived by myself only briefly. Left to my own devices, I was less fastidious; it was my mess, only mine. I was only inconveniencing myself by leaving my one skillet crusted with sauce. No one to set an example for, no one over whom to retain moral superiority.

Because there is judgement in cleanliness. Judgement against the messy. I apologize as I clear flotsam and jetsam off of my passenger seat, flinging it into hatchback so a friend can catch a ride to the potluck. My generation – or at least my cohort – of overcommitted mamas one-ups ourselves with how little time we have to tidy the way my mother’s generation, or at least her circle, measured their value with the good housekeeping seal of approval. Their expectation of being next to godliness.

We all have our places – our passenger seat foot well or junk drawer or grimy fridge. Whether public or private, accepted or shame-drenched, being human is messy.

I find it reassuring that cleanliness, saucha, is the foundational tenet of the niyamas, the personal principles of yoga. Learning to treat myself ethically starts with care for my body and my personal space. When I wash windows or clear smears from the bathroom mirror, I can see the world more clearly. See myself more clearly:

  • Recognize the resentments and projections separating me from my hubby, and instead choose compassion for his exhaustion and stress.
  • Acknowledge being my mother’s daughter, concerned with appearances. If exercise is my priority and time is tight, I can go out in public with greasy hair.
  • Accept my OCD tendencies. I do prefer to function with less clutter and mess. I want to inhabit the here and now, present in my mind and body. Sweeping Os off the floor is practicing yoga.

***

Monday morning, I enter the kitchen and am immediately affronted by Sunday night’s pots and pans. I cooked. It’s not my job to clean them. But my frustration festers every time I pass the sink. So I wash the dishes. And ask the water to wash away my irritation. I grant myself permission to leave Monday night’s pots and pans to soak.

Tuesday morning, I come down to find them clean in the drying rack, replaced by my hubby’s soaking breakfast dishes. We are a work in progress.

Photo credit: Laurens Kaldeway


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki Master 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. www.ginnyhamilton.com

Off the Mat: Aspiring to Reverence and Love

Aspiring to Reverence and Love

While his wife was pregnant with their one and only, my friend found himself chatting with a colleague’s husband. Impending parenthood seemed a safe topic. “The difference between hitting your kids and not is knowing when to leave the room,” the man volunteered. My idealistic father-to-be friend found this odd. Startling. Inappropriate. But he chalked it up to the teller’s awkward reputation.

Until their daughter was two and the truth of the conversation came flooding back on waves of shame, realization, and thankfully, restraint.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: The Gratitude Muscle

The Gratitude Muscle

Gratitude is one of the decade’s buzzwords, printed in cheerful fonts on memes and magazine covers. And for a good reason: research shows that gratitude positively impacts cardiovascular health, immunity, and even our neurological wiring. Dr. Robert Emmons at UC Davis studies how gratitude changes the social-emotional area of our brains. He says that practicing gratitude is essential for our mental health.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Water as Self-Care

How Things Work

What makes the car stop? How are car brakes different from bicycle brakes? Train brakes? Roller coasters? How do hydraulics work?

These questions pepper my days these days. Raised for sugar, spice, and everything nice, my mechanical engineering knowledge is woefully inadequate. Thankfully, in his updated masterpiece on machines, The Way Things Work Now, author David Macaulay and his illustrated mastodons describe the inner workings of the toilet tank, stapler, and radio, along with Wifi and RAM. And hydraulics.

I’ve been reading about the power of pressure. When a fluid is compressed, it exerts pressure in all directions.  A container not strong enough to withstand the pressure will leak or otherwise be damaged. Properly contained, the fluid will transfer the force of its power into the world around it. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Autumn Autonomy

Autumn Autonomy

“Safety is what we want for those we love. Autonomy is what we want for ourselves.”   – Atul Gawande

My childhood yard held ample trees: the willow planted in the wet culvert that didn’t grow gigantic like we’d hoped. The huge blue evergreen. The fragile mimosa we were chastised for climbing. The red maple I practically lived in the summer I turned eight. Read the rest of this entry »

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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 »

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