The myth of ‘me’ time

This summer, on holiday in Somerset we visited Glastonbury for a changing of the wheel ceremony. I found it fascinating watching the crowd while coralling my children (who were remarkably ‘well-behaved’), finding their spaces and quietly sitting with real interest – amazing how kids pick up on the ambience, the feeling of a place and the people within it. What brought out the cynical in me though, was some people’s very apparent annoyance at the odd gurgle of my one-year-old or movements made by the others. I know that many people find the idea of a spiritual practise – whether that’s yoga, meditation or otherwise – incompatible with children, but I would argue that people who can only find connection, inner peace, stillness, etc in a vacuum are missing the point.

Especially where busy Mamas are concerned, this concept of ‘Me’ time – however that manifests, from taking a bath or time for a massage, practising yoga or going shopping with friends – in order to connect to one’s ‘true’ self is just a cause of suffering. The idea that you’re only yourself when you’re quiet, alone, relaxed, whatever, is clearly just a fraction of the picture – your ‘self’ is transient, always shifting, undefinable, multi-faceted; ‘me’ time is all the time. We can all connect to our ‘true’ selves in any moment, while doing anything, simply by becoming more aware of ourselves in that moment, noticing it, seeing it shift and becoming aware of the next moment. Let go of the idea that a ‘better’ or ‘more spiritual’ self is only accessible at certain times within specific parameters.

As much to those spirituality seekers who were annoyed by my kids in Glastonbury, as to you Mamas ‘desperate for’ or sad at the lack of ‘me time’ or silent space in which to connect to something deeper; look no further, you are here, now.

Reflective parenting

In teaching, reflective practice is vital in order to evolve teaching skills and best practice – it is the same for parenting. While consistency is important in setting up secure boundaries, whatever these are for your family, it is also really important to allow for experience-based shifts.

Just as in yoga asana, you should arrive in your body and breath in the present moment, because your physical and emotional experience is always changing. So should you sit and reflect on how you and your child/ren are communicating and respond to what is current and appropriate. In other words, children grow and change, just as we do, so we need to keep fresh in our communication, present in our reactions, and regularly reflect on what does/doesn’t work.

Taking five to ten minutes a day to sit meditatively and reflect on the day’s parenting can be a really grounding practise. Allow yourself to observe both the aspects of your day where you have felt like you’ve been ‘doing well’ as well as those where perhaps you feel you ‘got it wrong’ or ‘could do better’. Know that these are all subjective judgements anyway and be generous to yourself – try to avoid getting caught up or attached to the stories. None of the day’s events are definitions of you as a parent, just snapshots – tomorrow you can take a whole load of new shots tweaking and reframing from experience.

You can encourage children to take this time too – even very young children can reflect in simple terms what has made them feel good that day, times they’ve felt sad and how they felt better. It’s a simple way of developing responsibility for their own emotional growth.

Looking after Mama

How many times a day do you consider your baby or child’s well-being? What will make them happy, sleep cosily and soundly, amuse them, support them and nurture their physical and emotional growth?

Now, how many times a day to consider your own needs? Of course that’s entirely natural that baby gets so much of your time, love and attention, but baby will benefit hugely if you are also contented and nurtured.

One of the simplest ways you can show yourself a little love is to notice, whenever you have even a little space in your day, your posture and your breath. Sitting, standing or lying down, scan your body and notice whether you are straight, comfortable, holding tension anywhere. Building up awareness of your own body – and the negative habits we sometimes hold in it – can be hugely beneficial, especially at a time when your body has gone through childbirth and all the strains of rearing children. When you make space in your body – for instance, rolling your shoulders back and lifting your chest; noticing the tilt of your pelvis and the effects on your lower spine – you can literally breathe more easily because there is more physical space to do so.

Breathing more easily, more deeply, will bring more energy into the body; relieve you of old, stagnant air held in the bottom of the lungs. With the release of that old air, we can also release old tensions, old habits, old patterns that no longer serve us.

Why do pregnancy and post-natal yoga?

Yoga during pregnancy and after birth can tone so much more than the pelvic floor…

As a yoga teacher and mum of four, I would say that there are few more profound times to engage with yoga than during pregnancy or as a new mum. It’s a time in life where your understanding of change takes on new dimensions; there aren’t many more transformative points in your life, physically or emotionally. Not only is your own body on a continual path of change, but your identity shifts radically; your relationships with friends, partner, family evolve; and then there’s this life growing inside then outside of you.

Even if you’ve never, or rarely, practiced yoga before – perhaps the whole concept makes you think of eighteen-year-old pretzels in sponsored leggings on Instagram, or mystical types in floaty outfits on two-week retreats into the soul, none of whom are having to cope with a growing bump or a new baby on their path to enlightenment, don’t worry. The word ‘yoga’ is rooted in Sanskrit and means ‘to merge’, ‘to unite’, ‘to join’, and definitely not ‘to bend’, ‘to compete’ or ‘to make shapes’. World-renowned yoga teacher Geeta Iyengar describes yoga as giving ‘serenity and composure, an inward unity amidst the diverse struggles of life’ – now doesn’t that sound like something we all need?

Yoga encourages you to investigate the nature of being, and regular practice helps you to become less swayed by the fluctuations of your physical state or your emotions. Working with the body and breath in yoga, you recognize that all are in a constant state of flux: physical sensations you feel at the beginning of a class may have shifted by the end, tension and tightness are just transitory. In the same way, emotions change too: whether you’re feeling euphoric and energized or tearful and vulnerable (maybe your pregnancy hormones are raging or your newborn baby is doing very good Damien impressions at night), these feelings are temporary.

Both pregnancy and parenting demand that we respond to ever-shifting variables. There is no absolute or definitive way to do it all right. There is no such thing as the perfect pose, perfect body, perfect pregnancy or birth, perfect parent, perfect baby… so if you can start to accept where you are, as you are, without grasping for what’s next, without judging what’s past, where someone else or their baby is but you and your baby are perhaps not, you feel a sense of growing peace and natural flow. And the more you are easy with this flow, accepting what is at any given moment, with any given breath, the more peaceful you and your baby will feel.

Being you, being the parent you are and practicing yoga as your body and breath allow, starting to trust your own intuition, becomes an act of generosity and self-care that not only transforms you but can also have profound effects on how you relate to the world and your baby. The benefits of having even just the one hour a week in class to focus on yourself while your baby is nearby, perfectly happy, can give you both invaluable space to breathe. As one of my new mums said recently: ‘I’d arrive at yoga feeling vulnerable and slightly out of control and leave feeling balanced and much happier in myself – my baby definitely picked up on and responded to this.’

The physical by-products of all this positive emotional centering are great too: during pregnancy you can increase your strength and stamina, relieve common side effects such as backache, heartburn or swollen ankles. You can also learn simple physical and emotional techniques that are invaluable during labour: I can personally testify from all three of my pregnancies and births that both actual and philosophical flexibility, as well as a positive attitude to life’s natural flow, made for amazing (despite being not necessarily smooth) experiences. Post-natally, too, you might just tone those uncooperative abdominal muscles and reconnect at some point with a pelvic floor that’s might be hazardously unreliable around a good joke or a sudden sneeze.

Personally, I wish that pregnancy and mother and baby yoga were available to all on the NHS. Sadly it’s not, but it really is worth going to class where you might discover something so much more profound and therapeutic than physical flexibility. Why yoga is so good for pregnancy, birth and beyond.

Be together: partner yoga and thai yoga massage morning

partner yoga thai massagePartner yoga and thai yoga massage morning with fabulous vegetarian lunch and on-site childcare.

A fabulous morning of supportive and nurturing yoga for couples, family members, friends… anyone who would like to explore a greater sense of connection, trust and support through practicing yoga together and learning thai yoga massage techniques.
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Yogic parenting

Becoming a new parent can be a like a lucky dip of mixed emotions and experiences. You made it through labour and now you’re doing a good impression of a dairy cow, taking odd breaks to juggle nappies-ful of curry and pose for the family paparazzi, immortalized in spew-covered Primark pyjamas and scarecrow hair…
Continue reading “Yogic parenting”