Several weeks ago I embarked on a much-needed retreat to the beautiful Berkshire Mountains. A dear friend and I decided to take the plunge and, for the first time, leave our respective one-year-olds and partners behind, escaping to Kripalu Yoga Center for three days of restoration and flow with the incredible Elena Brower.
A. ALLOW yourself to feel your feelings. There is a fertile underbelly to the joy, light and gratitude that come with parenting. We tend to avoid contact with these “shadowy” feelings because they make us really anxious. One of my teachers, Jerilyn Brownstein, makes the radical suggestion that instead of trying to “fix” the uncomfortable feelings of parenthood, you should instead surrender to them; lean into them because there is a valuable message in the darkness and the overwhelm. Childbirth, sleep deprivation, and a baby screaming in your ear for hours are “an invitation for you to be ripped open, so that you might stretch and grow into a larger version of yourself. You are bigger now than you were before, like a snake shedding its skin.” I love that! So when you are brimming with raw emotion, find a safe place to allow your feelings to come up and out--whether that means talking to your partner, having a private moment alone to weep or scream into a pillow, speaking with a mommy friend who ‘gets’ it, or saving it for your therapy session. You will feel better and everyone around you will be positively impacted.
L. Be LOVING to yourself. Be very kind to yourself. Be ridiculously gentle with yourself. I’m talking about challenging that little voice in your head that critiques every ‘wrong’ move you make in your parenting. This needs to stop. You are doing an amazing job! You are someone’s mother. You are magical and divine--do you remember what your body did? You are a caring and conscious mama who is raising her child with a brand of love you probably didn’t experience yourself growing up. As you grow into this role of ‘mother’ it is your duty to learn to be loving to yourself. The next time you feel inclined to give yourself grief for not having fed your kid organic veggies or because you got frustrated with him when you were too tired to respond differently, just dismiss that critical voice and say to yourself, "I am doing a damned good job. I am growing and learning all the time as a mother. I know every misstep in my parenting is an opportunity to refine myself." Coach yourself. Forgive yourself. Love yourself. You will be teaching your child to do the same.
M. Be MINDFUL. That is, be aware and alert to your surroundings. Disengage from your thoughts and notice the sensations in your body. Slow down for a moment. Keep it super simple: Right now, inhale deeply once. Exhale deeply once. If that feels good, you can repeat. Your breath will deliver you into your experience. You will be more sensitized to your body and it's needs. You will notice that your bladder is full or that you are hungry. You will come back from spacing out while hanging with your kid and be able to make contact with her once again. This practice of coming out of your head will immediately dissolve the stress and fight-or-flight anxiety that comes with worrying about the past or future. Nothing really serious or extreme, just gently reminding yourself to feel your body or genuinely listen when your partner or child is talking. Allowing yourself to feel the breeze on your face when you are walking down the street, or enjoy the scent of your child's hair under your nose. This is yoga. It feels so, so good.