Don’t miss now missing your ‘self’

Reading this article this morning (Dear Motherhood, I miss me), it strikes me how painful this idea is, of ourselves, the ‘me’ being a person that was in the past, ‘before motherhood’ or the feeling that we will ‘get back to…’ feeling or being a certain way, or perhaps in time we might evolve to be… whatever.
For me, this is where yoga and mindfulness are so important: letting go of the past and not projecting into the future. Sure, motherhood can be all these things, described in the article – isolating, hard, thankless, joyful, overwhelming… – and it’s vital we talk about it with frankness and compassion (this is why I et up UMEmamas as a support network for parents) but if you hang on to a sense of identity that is based on where you have been, a feeling of being defined by your career, say, or being seen as a certain kind of person (parent or not), there is an inevitable sense of suffering, of loss.
We can feel this with age, too, that sense of ‘missing’ our youth, perhaps feeling regretful for the passage of time, opportunities now past, bodies changed, friends lost… but all this is futile because we can’t go back. Just as the teenager who tries to appear older, or the toddler who tantrums at their inability to perform some physical task or control what’s for dinner, cannot speed up time.
It is not that that this sense of loss isn’t very real and that we can’t experience these feelings, more that if we attach to this fixed identity, we can’t see or be what is present. Why is the ‘me’ as a mother, in my pyjamas with unbrushed hair and milk sick down my back, listening and responding to my child at three in the morning, less valid than the ‘me’ on the mat, engaged and present, listening to the gradual opening of my shoulder or feeling my feet settling, my breath flowing; or the me in a business meeting, dazzling a room full of people with my intellect and ideas?
This is a constant, whether we are parents or not, the practise of letting go of our attachments to being perceived in a particular way we prefer or like less, to our anxieties, to our sense of a fixed self.
At this time, interestingly, I am coming to this feeling of shifting identity as a mother at the point where my youngest has started school: as I leave her, my last child, and walk back through world with no small hand to hold, no clear indicator to the outside world that this very important aspect of ‘me’ even exists, I find myself noticing the sadness, the feeling of loss at no longer being part of this world, but at the same point recognising that this isn’t more or less ‘me’, just different, time and context evolving, experience moving with time and space.
Life is painful, sad, tiring, boring, frustrating, beautiful, inspiring, frightening… (add in every/any adjective), and we all have the full spectrum of physical and emotional experiences. The art to peace, just being, self-acceptance, comes in recognising all this, holding it equally, and quietly observing that, just as the breath flow, the sea follows the tides, or the clouds move through the sky, it is all equal, all held, and all loved.

Read The myth of ‘me time’

Number Four

Meditation on impermanence as my last ‘Baby’ starts school!

Number Four

You were my last, the accumulation of a body stretched and practised enough for ease, for romance, for oxytocin, for peace in the living room… Instantly absorbed into the chaos of your big family, easy going, suck, suck, suck, slung around in the sling baby. Yoga baby.

Up at one… two… three… four… baby, but just breathed in, every stroke of your duckling hair the last, because I knew you would grow, I knew we would never be like this… like this… like this… like this… again, Baby.

The last one to breastfeed; no rush to stop, nothing to do but this, nowhere to be. You not even drinking but sucking, sucking, sucking, sucking… me drinking in the exquisite, ephemeral, exhausting nature of being needed by you, by anyone, like this… for the last time.

Four years, number Four: my little companion. No rush. Dreams, plans, practicalities… all at arms length, not waiting for but knowing they’d come, being with you in the ever shifting here and now. Each first – smiles, giggles, steps, words… the last time. Savoured.

School, the first day. The last time: the end of being Mama, like that. Not sure what like this feels like. What I am shifting again.

Breathing, tears on the surface, letting go.

Rain, rain, RAIN

autumn leaves in the rain
This morning we awoke to the sound of rain, the clouds obscuring the light of yesterday’s sunshine.

This shift in the weather is the perfect way to start the day, an invitation, a reminder from nature to experience what is now. Michele McDonald developed RAIN as an acronym for a simple mindfulness practice 20 years ago:

Recognize what is going on;
Allow the experience to be there, just as it is;
Investigate with kindness;
Natural awareness, which comes from not identifying with the experience.

So, what is your experience right now?

Sit comfortably, either cross-legged or kneeling on the floor or a chair with your knees, ankles and hips aligned. Feel your sitting bones (you can manually take the buttock flesh out and back to ground yourself) and notice your spine. Allow your body to feel its way intuitively into sitting a little more symmetrically, more upright, so that the body invites the breath to naturally flow.

Notice any physical or emotional sensations as they arise and pass through the body mind. You may become distracted by these feelings or thoughts, you may notice internal dialogue. Each time this happens, just notice that and bring your focus back to the breath. The physical sensation or the emotion is not suppressed but you also don’t need to become caught up in it. Just as you watch the rain, you cannot hold on to a particular raindrop, each experience comes and goes.
No single raindrop is the rain.
No single experience, thought, sensation is ‘you’.

You don’t need to label the experience as ‘good’ or ‘bad’, ‘desirable’ or ‘undesirable’. You are not ‘succeeding’ in your practice if you remain focussed or ‘failing’ if you are distracted.

This is the same as if you were practising what you perceive to be a challenging pose in a yoga class. I often come across this, for instance, teaching students inversions. Many people encounter fear, old stories of inadequacy, anxiety about falling, failing… The more they become caught up in ‘thinking’ and either deciding not to try or caught up in the trying itself, the less likely it is they will ever come into the headstand.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the aphorism that we often come to is:
“Prayatna shaitilya ananta samapatthibhyam”(II:47)
“Perfection in an asana is achieved when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being within is reached.”

B.K.S. Iyengar

When we calm the mind, sensitively, intelligently and spaciously explore a pose, and, most importantly, let go of our expectations to reach a defined point we perceive as a goal, then our bodies are more likely, with time and practise, to open into the physicality of the postures. This attitude is inherently generous and kind, gradually revealing the nuances in the body.

It is the same when we are pregnant and preparing for birth: many women I encounter get caught up either in fear or in the need to control the outcome of their birth. Either of these mental states takes them away from the actual experience of their pregnancy or birth. In scientific terms, the focussing of activity in the logical, linear left brain, leads the woman to becoming disintegrated, where she needs to fall into a space of intuition, trust and connection with the primal part of her brain that effects natural chemical and physical responses that correspond with the progress of birth. Caught up in her thinking brain, there will be more associated stress, often reflected in more shallow breathing, her muscles will tighten and become more adrenal without enough oxygen and her birth will literally be ‘held’ by the brain.

In both these physical scenarios, as with the attitude we may take to the rain, if we can Recognize the anxiety, any negative projections that arise (suffering, ‘dukkha’, we cause ourselves – we are the only known mammals to do this! – by imaging outcomes in the future based on current events); Allow ourselves to settle, physically, mentally and with the breath into what is right now; Investigate these sensations with space, intuition, without getting caught back in the cycle of projection and judgement; opening ourselves to Natural awareness – we are not attached to or defined by the experience.
As the weather constantly shifts, so do we, everything that we ‘are’ is realigning, moving, beyond ‘control’. In these moments of awareness we are free.
Enjoy the rain!

Leonie as a teacher

‘As a teacher Leonie expresses one of her defining personality traits, that of generosity. It seems to be a natural instinct for her to support. She does not only in the way she teaches yoga but in the kind of classes she sets up which commonly express her deep passions for social cohesion and supporting the underdog so that nobody goes unnoticed.
I am very glad to say that when I go away to teach retreats abroad Leonie is one of my main covers especially for some of my busiest classes. I always feel very happy leaving classes in Leo’s hands because I know she will look after them with the upmost care and skill and at the same time I feel she is supporting me while I am away as she will often promote upcoming events that I run in my absence.
Leo has been excellent in her regular attendance at both classes and events with me that keep up her CPD which is an indication of her commitment to her own practice and studies and to her sense of support for things that she believes in.
If you are fortunate enough to have Leo teach you personally or run yoga classes at a venue that you manage you can be sure that she will look after everyone with equal care, love, professionalism and enthusiasm all of which are augmented by her great sense of humor. Furthermore she will promote the classes with the skills that she has developed from her sister career as a journalist and help weave together a community of practitioners.
Leonie has a strong interest in yoga for pregnancy and post partum as well as for women generally, children and family groups. She is highly skilled and passionate and Leo comes therefore with my highest recommendation as a yoga teacher of integrity, warmth and a deep understanding of her subject.’
Jim Tarran, founder of Vajrasati yoga

Connecting with your partner after birth.

It often arises for women that their relationship with their partner faces challenges after birth.

For some time afterwards, as Mama you are flooded with chemicals that ensure you nurture and prioritise your baby. Perhaps you aren’t sleeping, perhaps you are still adjusting to the metamorphosis of motherhood. Perhaps birth itself has left physical or emotional traces in the body which take time to heal. Your libido may have been temporarily shelved. Even with the most understanding of partners, male or female, this can be challenging as they are not experiencing the same chemical or emotional experience. In many cases, their world most paternity/maternity leave is quite different from the space you have entered as mum. This can lead to a feeling of disconnect, anxiety, even antipathy, snapiness, arguments, feelings of not being understood… These feelings are regularly expressed by women in the UMEmamas community.

Sitting back to back in Baddha Konasana is a great way to re-connect non-verbally. Sit back to back to each other. Place the soles of your feet together. Make sure you really draw your sacrums in towards each other and spread out your backs into one another’s. As you start to connect to your own breath, coming and going through the nose, you will also become aware of each other’s breath, the warmth between your backs, and the release that starts to evolve with each exhalation. Each time you breathe, settle back into the mutual support of each other’s backs.

This article from Yoga Journal addresses the issue of coming up against physical resistance in the pose, and how we emotionally respond to resistance. Of course this is equally applicable to the resistance we find in our relationships, sometimes to situations. When we meet this, allowing ourselves to ‘confront our limitations’, to face our discomfort and to allow it space, through centering, grounding in the breath. Recognising that whatever we meet is not a definition of how, who, what we are, that that is constantly evolving given space. Let go of the stories that build in your head surrounding behaviours and connect through the breath to each others’ hearts.

We will sleep again… and without little people wriggling between us. We will not always feel like we feel right now, however that is. We will have time to invest in our relationships in a different way again as our children grow and need us less intensively.
In the meantime, draw your attention to the little moments where you feel love, connection… vocalise them. Appreciate the new depth that comes with being parents. See the beauty in how your love for each other is manifested through your child/children.
Notice all the little gestures, touches, cuddles, smiles over your sleeping child… which all build up to create a picture of connection in a different way.

The benefits of doing ‘nothing’

It’s really common that I hear from mums that ‘my baby gets so bored’. Baby’s and toddlers don’t get bored, mums do. Little ones are just happy with the simple stuff, they don’t have the same classificatin of ‘this is a boring thing’ (ie chores around the house) ‘this is an exciting thing’ (the latest patented children’s development class) – everything has the potential to be interesting if you engage their interest, and your own. So, for instance, sorting washing into colours, piles of textures, making tents under the sheets; playing with different (safe) kitchen implements; sitting beside you, basically, whatever your activity, being engaged and talking, even if your baby is prelingual. Basically if you seem interested, likely your child will be, because they are most interested in… YOU!

It is often our overcompensating for our busy-ness and getting sucked into unnecessary consumerism that makes us believe our children need more things, more stimulation, more scheduled activities.
It is actually a growing problem in both adults and children that we are overstimulated and this leads to increased anxiety, disconnection and reduced imaginative and creative ability. See

Also, it is a result of our ‘productive’ society that as mums, we have to quantify our time, or feel we do, as if we’re at work. Having children is an opportunity to redefine our habits of just doing and allow ourselves to just be, breathe, slow down and accept that ‘just this’ is more than enough.

Join the discussion at Mindful Mamas online community

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.