When a muscle feels tight, the go to for many folks is to try to stretch that muscle. That might help and it might not. If stretching feels helpful for your tight muscles and you see the improvements you seek, keep on keepin on! However, if you have a sensation of tightness and stretching doesn’t seem to help, might I recommend a two-step approach?
I like to-do lists. Writing them helps me organize my thoughts and checking things off helps me feel accomplished and productive.
Before I had kids, I could compose a to-do list the length of a novella and furiously accomplish it in one day, give or take a few straggler items I would attend to later.
When I experienced a searing pain in my right hip while going up the stairs, followed by a deep ache that wouldn’t go away, I immediately recalled my pregnant, unstable pelvis. This was familiar pain. During both pregnancies, I dealt with pretty terrible sciatica. Thanks to the fluid nature of my pregnant bod, the pain frequently switched sides to keep me guessing. In addition to deep aches in my hips most of the time, they would often buckle or give out when I went to stand up.
From everything that I’ve learned about pain science, I know emotions can play a huge role in the experience of pain. In addition, I find that infusing life events with symbolism or metaphor can help me shift my perspective away from negative self-talk or victimization and into a position that feels more meaningful and powerful. So when I really felt ready to seek help for my shoulder pain, I also started examining any mental/emotional components to the situation.
Several months ago, our dining table broke. One of the legs that folded out to support a leaf snapped off during clean up from The Great Smoothie Spill of 2018. (Heck, it could have even been 2017…what is time?) Thankfully we could still use the table but it wasn’t ideal. Without the leaf, it was too small to accommodate any guests. In addition, the table’s corners were sharp and at the perfect height to poke out the eye of an unsuspecting toddler. Every time Coen walked around the table, I felt so nervous I did an irreverent Kegel.
After reading Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman and seeing how her family sits at a coffee table-height dining table, I decided this would be a really good option for my family. Besides, I had searched and searched to no avail for a table I really liked and that was affordable. Sitting and eating on the floor would allow our bodies the opportunity to remain body-shaped as opposed to chair-shaped - the position they are so often in throughout a normal day. By giving our bodies a chance to self-support, we invite opportunities for more movement. As we start to fatigue in one position, we shift and move into a more comfortable one. Also standing up from the ground requires the body to load itself with more weight in a broader range of motion than standing up from a chair. Not to mention, the ability to stand up from the ground with out using the support of hands, the wall, etc is a marker for longevity. When I presented the idea to my husband, I expected resistance but he was one hundred percent into it. Travis spends a lot of the day sitting at work (although his desk does convert to standing) so he was on board with changing up his routine in favor of more varied movement.
We had an old 1920s table in our garage; it was the first piece of furniture we bought as a couple back in 2009 at some vintage shop in the Old City. We used it as a dining table for quite sometime but it was an odd height and the wobbly legs made it feel like a risky piece to have around small children. Since then, it sat under a copper pipe, collecting water stains from condensation and lots of cob webs. I used a lot of Barkeeper’s Friend and elbow grease to remove the stains from the porous surface. Travis removed the metal hairpin legs, sawed them off, and then reattached them. The table now actually feels super solid! I found a rug on sale at World Market that I knew would hide stains well along with some comfy floor pillows for us to sit on. Voila! Our new dining space fell into place so easily.
We knew there would be an adjustment period for the kids but especially for Coen, who has always been buckled into a high chair. When they saw the new set up, their first order of business was to climb on top of the table. We were not suprised! Audrey even got a pillow and pretended to take a nap on it. It was nice that our dining room felt more versatile and usable.
Our mantra became, “We stay on the ground while we’re eating.” The first meal was tough for Coen; he cried a lot and didn’t eat much. Audrey announced how much she loved the table right from the start. I’m not surprised - it was much easier for her to serve herself and the pillows were definitely more comfortable than her chair. We added a second pillow to the kids’ seats to boost them up and draped a towel at Coen’s place because he’s still a pretty messy eater.
Since that first meal, Coen’s had a much easier time. He knows to go and sit on his pillow at meal time and when he’s done he stands up. Sometimes he gets fidgety and it turns out that he’s not all that hungry and chooses to leave the table until snack time later. I think that because the kids can easily come and go as they please, meal times are much more pleasant for everyone.
All in all, the new dining table seems to be working out well for our family. It’s also a nice dynamic workstation for me and my laptop. Oh and I almost forgot to answer the question we’ve been asked so many times, “But what about guests?!” Well, the dining table is nestled into a nook so guests who aren’t used to unsupported sitting can lounge with their backs to the wall and we also have a myriad of other pillows and cushions they can use to get comfortable.
How often do you sit at your dining table? If you’re open to adding some new movement to your menu, consider using a ‘breakfast in bed’ tray (the kind with fold out legs) for your food as you sit on the floor - or you could even your coffee table! Even just shaking things up once or twice this way can benefit your body.
Self-care doesn’t have to be pricey or complicated to be effective. Here’s five things you already have in your house that can help you be well and feel swell.
1. A doorframe
This is a great place for stretching your shoulders, building skills for hanging, and even for self-massage. Just imagine a bear and a tree (specifically Baloo from Jungle Book) and find what feels good.
2. A bathtub
Okay, okay, I know that not everyone has a tub in their home and even if you do, it is the eternal quest of every woman to find a tub that covers your chest and legs simultaneously. So if the tub is too frustrating or even non-existent, grab your largest mixing bowl (or a plastic storage tub) and soak your feet only. Whether you’re doing a foot bath or a full soak, you can add Epsom salts to ease sore muscles and whatever essential oils you enjoy. I like to combine Epsom salts and lavender oil - it’s so relaxing!
3. A wall
If you have a roof over your head, chances are, there’s a wall holding it up. Maybe you use the wall for handstand practice or in conjunction with your therapy balls for some feel good self-massage. You can also just lie down and throw your legs up the wall. Maybe put your hips on a folded blanket or pillow to make it extra cush. I like to set a timer for about five minutes and practice taking slow, deep breaths. This is a great way to make the shift from work to home and also to prepare to use the next self-care tool on our list…
4. A bed
The BEST self-care strategy around is to aim for six to eight hours spent right here. Most of life’s challenges are easier to face after a good night’s sleep. Eliminate distracting screens from the room and add things that feel relaxing and luxurious ((art, flowers, pillows). If I’m feeling a little wired, I’ll put a few drops of lavender oil on a cotton ball and place it on the night stand next to my bed. When you wake up in the morning, make your bed. Use it as a mindfulness practice and try not to rush. It can help boost your mood! Need help winding down at night? Try this meditation for relaxation.
5. A pen and some paper
You don’t have to be a great writer to journal - you don’t even need to write in complete sentences! Make a pact with yourself that you’ll never let anyone read what you write (not even yourself!). Good times for journaling are just before bed or right after waking. Before bed can be a nice time to download your day and whatever other thoughts are going through your head. At one point when I was having trouble sleeping, a therapist recommended I write five bullet points before bed. It really did help me clear my head and rest easier. In the morning you can write down any interesting dreams you experienced. If you’re like me and you wake up with a todo list already a brewing, morning pages can be a great way to organize your thoughts, clarify your goals, and set intentions for the day ahead.
Did I miss anything? What other common household items (or structures) can be used to enrich your simple self-care routine?
Have you ever practiced foot-in-mouth pose?
I have. I am right now. (If I’m being 100% truthful, I can only get my left big toe in my mouth. The right foot doesn’t even come close.)
I’ve recently come to understand that a good many things I was taught (and have taught to others) in my massage therapy and yoga trainings were unfounded. Perhaps they were in a line with what science was presenting at the time but there was a fair amount of hocus pocus thrown in there too. Now let me just say - I’m not knocking the hocus pocus; I love me some woo. Things get complicated, though, when the woo is presented as the thing that will cure what ails you and as the Indisputable Truth.
For the past month or so, I have been reading voraciously everything on the interwebz I could get my hands on regarding the intersections of pain science, yoga, massage therapy, and evidence-based practices. I think my brain started to dribble out of my ear a little by the end.
I’m finally coming up for air.
You may not know this about me but I went to a Christian college. Not just one of those private liberal arts schools that was founded by a Methodist three-hundred years ago - I’m talking a legit BIBLE college. My diploma says B.S. in Bible (oh the irony). If you know me now, you know that I am not a Christian. I gradually stepped back from religion nearly a decade ago and it was a huge shift. Deconstructing was like taking off a million pairs of glasses, each one representing a Christian principle, value, or perspective. Just when I thought I had taken off the last pair of glasses, I would find myself in a situation thinking in a way that didn’t align with my current values. Slowly, I would realize that I was still wearing a pair of old glasses, still filtering the experience through my outmoded worldview.
Well, this post is not about leaving religion. That process was a conscious, evolving choice. The paradigm shift I’m experiencing now blind-sided me but it still tastes like deconversion — only it’s with my yoga and massage therapy practice.
I didn’t go looking for this information (at least not consciously). I just happened to see something on Instagram that led me down a rabbit hole. For some time now, I’ve wanted to know what’s going on in the body during a yoga class or while getting a massage. I always just assumed I needed to go back to school to figure it out (and I almost did to become a PT but then I was like, Girl you crazy, you’re 6 months pregnant with your second child and you never even took a science class in college).
The information I learned about pain science was really cool and it seemed to have a trickle down effect, shedding light on various other topics as well. This post is not necessarily about what I have learned (News flash: most everyone’s fascia is probably fine) but it is about the process of uncovering, shifting, and finding a new ground on which to stand. (Or maybe it’s the same ground and a new way of standing on it.)
Is evidence-based everything? Is there room for mystery?
When I get really into something, I get really into it. Like I totally chug all the Kool-Aid. Then after the buzz wears off, my critical thinking kicks in. Sometimes the hangover comes quickly and other times it can be a slow recovery.
I got really into Reiki. In case you don’t know, Reiki is energy work. In a straight-up Reiki session, the client lies on the table and the practitioner uses light touch or no touch (hands hovering about six inches off the body) to transmit this ‘universal love energy’ via his or her hands. (I just saw your woo flag go up).
‘There is no scientific evidence that there is an energy system in the body that can be manipulated with the hands,’ says the science-based massage therapy community. True statement.
Just like with many other things, I shotgunned the Reiki Kool-Aid and then after a while, I was like, Hmmm…what’s really going on here? I still have no clue. I am a Skeptical Reiki Master. I know there is no scientific evidence for this practice. Although it won’t hold up in the court of science, I do have anecdotal evidence for this practice:
When I practice Reiki, I experience certain sensations that some would call the ‘flow of energy.’ Sometimes I experience vivid imagery or see colors. Following the Reiki protocols feels very meditative to me so I often get incredibly relaxed. When I practice Reiki, the palms of my notoriously cold hands get hot.
My clients have reported experiencing sensations to which they referred as ‘the flow of energy.’ They have also reported feeling my hands go from cold to hot when I started using Reiki in a session. They have reported feeling like their thoughts melted away and becoming deeply relaxed. Often, there is snoring.
Is that all due to the flow of energy? I don’t know. Is it even energy? I don’t know. I don’t make claims that Reiki will do anything other than help clients relax and hopefully increase feelings of well-being. (Be well, feel swell.) The nervous system is a powerful thing. Who knows all the ins and outs and whys of what happens when two nervous systems collide via touch (or near touch as is sometimes the case with Reiki). We do know from pain science research that the therapeutic relationship between the client/patient and the healer (whether that’s an MD, PT, LCSW, LMT, or the village witch doctor) can influence the client’s experience of pain.*
If Reiki provides a way for me to connect with my client and meet them where they are while doing no harm and helping them relax, then why NOT do it? After all, I’m not making claims that it will cure cancer or treat a medical condition.
The yoga and massage therapy communities are full of modern-day gurus. When we blindly and without question fall in line with these ideologies, we tend to chuck reasoning and critical thinking out the window.
This skeptical approach I take to Reiki illustrates the stance I’m taking in my massage therapy practice and yoga teaching practice: I will continue to seek out the evidence and to practice and teach with integrity based upon those findings. I also recognize there are gaps, dark places, and mysteries that still elude scientific explanation. As I continue to dwell in the mystery, I will honor the complexity of the human body and the human experience. I will continue to practice foot-in-mouth pose and I will continue to tell you all the things I don’t know. Thank you in advance for your graciousness. May we all continue evolving toward enlightenment.
In the first days and weeks after having baby number two, my husband would get up with our toddler each day when she woke around 6:30am so I could snooze for a bit longer with baby. Once consciousness hit though, I found myself reaching for my phone to mindlessly scroll Facebook or the NY Times before getting out of bed. Frequently I was grumpy. I am not a morning person and I don’t drink caffeine.
As my mood continued to spiral out of control, a part of me was like, ‘Hey Jen, get it together. You have to get a handle on this.’ I decided to write some affirmations for myself or set an intention each morning before indulging in a mindless scroll. After a few minutes of social media, I would check back with the affirmations or intention I wrote before getting out of bed.
When creating these affirmations, I would first call up a negative emotion or challenging experience I had been working with. Then I would act as my own best friend/skilled therapist and say what I needed to hear. For example, feelings of isolation and loneliness prompted me to write I feel connected to a sacred network or mothers.
This self care practice helped me to start the day in a positive, intentional way. When I set my attitude on the right course before even getting out of bed, it echoes throughout the rest of my day. I’ve noticed an improved outlook and ability to handle each day’s stresses.
15 Affirmations for Your Postpartum Self
- I see beauty in this chaos.
- This too shall pass.
- I savor the sweet moments of this challenging season.
- My patience overflows.
- I feel content doing less.
- Striving for perfection robs me of beauty, meaning, and growth.
- I take time to be creative.
- I feel connected to a sacred network of mothers.
- I am confident in my choices.
- I trust my intuition.
- When my baby cries, I breathe deeply and stay calm.
- Everything I did today was enough.
- I choose nourishing foods for myself so I have clear energy to care for my baby.
- My ability to love my baby even in hard times is a powerful gift.
- I take time to care for myself.
I hope you’ll find these affirmations helpful. I should also add that these affirmations can work for all kinds of situations – not just those related to postpartum difficulties. What affirmations are you working with right now?
These days I usually get the urge to bake something about once every week and a half. But for the longest time, I thought that I was a terrible baker. Way back in my high school foods class (just the cooking portion of home ec.) *gasp* I failed muffins.
Let me just say that again: I failed muffins.
What does that even mean?! I made muffins and then I ate them. I thought they were tasty and I did not die or throw up after eating them. So how does one ‘fail muffins?’
Well, they peaked. My muffins peaked. Instead of a perfectly round muffin top resembling the hills alive with the sound of music, my muffin tops were craggy and pointed like mountains. Apparently this had something to do with my mixing technique. I was too vigorous. Whatever.
A muffin’s a muffin, y’all.
And a scone is a scone.
This Sunday Funday I got the baking itch and found a recipe for Brown Sugar Blueberry Polenta Scones in my Thug Kitchen cookbook. Scones have always seemed more sophisticated (especially to my fragile baking psyche) so I was surprised to find the directions appeared relatively quick and simple.
The recipe calls for almond milk but since I wanted my daughter to be able to enjoy some, I subbed in flax milk instead. Eventually, I’d like to try making a gluten free version for parties and whatnot as many of my friends avoid it.
The best part of the recipe is where it states that scones should be eaten the same day they’re made. I told my husband this and he responded with #challengeaccepted. Needless to say, we went to Sconey Island that day. We left no scone unturned. (Please share your own scone puns in the comments below!) ’Twas a grand day indeed.
Being a scone-baking virgin, I was nervous about transferring the dough to a cutting board. The recipe didn’t say anything about flouring the surface or your hands to deal with this. I erred on the side of caution and lightly dusted my cutting board and my hands with a little extra flour. Next time, I may spray my knife with cooking spray too so I don’t lose some of the dough there (we need all the scone we can get!). Holla in the comments…was I being overly cautious? Is the flour dusting actually necessary?
The Thug Kitchen folks specifically encouraged lazy mixing. With my background as an overzealous stirrer, I was a bit nervous about over doing it. Holding back was hard but I was well compensated for my restraint with delicious scones!
Nut-Free Vegan Scones
Quick and easy with just enough sweetness, these scones would pair nicely with your morning coffee and/or another scone.
Makes: About 12 scones
- 1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1/3 cup packed brown sugar, plus more for sprinkling
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
- Mix together the flour, cornmeal, brown sugar, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk together the milk, oil, and vanilla in a medium glass.
- Make a well in the center of the flour and pour in the milk mixture. Mix together until it’s almost all the way combined. Remember not to overdo it. Fold in the berries and mix until they’re just incorporated. Be lazy because over-mixing will make them gummy.
- Turn the dough out on a cutting board and shape it into a rectangle about 1 1/2 inches thick and 8 inches long. Halve lengthwise and then crosswise into 2-inch-wide scones. Place them on the baking sheet and brush them with some flax milk and sprinkle with sugar.
- Bake until they look a little golden on the bottom, 12 to 15 minutes. Let them cool on a wire rack for 5 to 10 minutes before serving.
- Use finely ground cornmeal, like you would use to make cornbread.
- The original recipe in Thug Kitchen calls for almond milk. This would probably work with most non-dairy milks.
- The original recipe doesn’t mention flouring your cutting board and hands or spraying your knife with cooking spray. I wasn’t sure what would happen so I did err on the side of flouring.
- These are best served the day they’re made because they’ll get soft the longer they’re left out.
I recently read an article that removed mere acts of personal hygiene from the realm of self care. Basically the author was saying, ‘Taking a shower is not self care, it’s being a human.’
Apart from the fact that lots of folks don’t take showers and can still be classified as humans, I understand the sentiment that self care should be more than what we have been taught is just good basic hygiene. But when you feel like you have to fight for basic hygiene, more radical notions of self care (i.e. spa days, brunch with friends, etc) can seem far out of reach. And I’m not talking just about logistical reach (scheduling, finding a baby sitter, etc); I’m talking about financial reach too. If you’re concerned about paying your water bill, how could you possibly afford a massage?
So there has to be a middle ground. We have to find simple, sustainable ways to take care of ourselves because we are human and we deserve it but also because our families and our communities need us.
Postpartum with my second child, I decided to take a sitz bath every day. I needed it for healing. If you’re of the ‘a shower is not self care’ mindset, then I would assume you’re also of the ‘wound care is not self care’ mindset. But hey, let’s work with what we’ve got. I had to fight and be intentional for 10 minutes on the toilet alone. I upset my husband, my toddler, and probably myself to some extent in the quest for this time.
So when the struggle for radical self care feels all too real, let’s opt for simple self care. I believe we can take these mundane opportunities for good hygiene and transform them through mindfulness into nurturing experiences.
Let’s revisit the idea of taking a shower. Be fully present with yourself during this time. In order to do this, you’ll need to make sure your kid(s) is covered. Ideally, another adult will be present to take point or you have a baby monitor just in case a sleeping baby needs you. If you’re an early riser, waking before the rest of the house might make this activity easier. It may help you avoid washing your hair too many times on accident!
Get all your senses involved. Listen to the sound of the water. Feel it making contact with your head, neck, shoulders, and back. Take a deep breath in through your nose and as you exhale through your mouth, imagine the water washing away tension from those areas. Continue down the body. As you begin to wash yourself, take time to smell the product you’re using. Notice how it feels in your hands and on your skin. Massage your scalp when shampooing/conditioning. As you wash the rest of your body, thank each part for its hard work. Especially for postpartum moms, thank your breasts if you’re breastfeeding; thank your belly; thank your thighs. Shift away from judging those parts of yourself. Nourish them with your touch. When you’re finished, take care as you dry yourself. Take time to apply lotion or oil to your face and body, massaging as you go. Long strokes are good for your limbs and circular strokes are good for your joints. Continue to thank your body. Feel nourished by your touch. You can also imagine you’re applying a sort of body armor that can help you deflect stress and negativity throughout the day.
This will definitely take a little longer than your normal shower routine but you don’t have to leave the house, pay a babysitter, or spend any other money.
Another hygiene practice I tend to skimp on or rush through is brushing my teeth. Maybe what it boils down to is taking a moment to feel grounded and put things in perspective. The ADA recommends brushing for 2 minutes. Because I meet my baby’s needs for love, nourishment, and shelter, I can remind myself that 2 minutes of crying does not equal an adverse childhood experience (the kind that creates toxic levels of stress). Also, when faced with the choice between a good healthy brushing (because you deserve it) and a pile of laundry (or dishes or tidying up for guests or …), we should always choose our teeth.
My children need to be able to occupy themselves for 2 minutes (preferably longer). My toddler likes to ask me questions or inevitably loses something the second the toothpaste starts to froth in my mouth. I’ve ruined shirts by trying to talk with a mouth full of toothpaste. It’s not worth it. My daughter might wind into a tantrum or feel unhappy that I can’t talk to her right then but I’m okay with those emotions. And if she needs to tantrum, let’s get it out sooner rather than later.
So yes, taking a shower and feeling clean is not flashy self care. It’s simple and humanizing. I know there have been times in my postpartum life when I just felt like a cow with leaky udders. Nurse, spit up, cry, repeat. Taking a shower did make me feel like a human again. Those brief moments alone were sometimes just enough to keep me going. I can’t stress enough how crucial it was to have another adult in the house to take point on the kids while practicing this self care shower. I hear phantom cries in everything so I needed the reassurance that if indeed the cries I heard were real, someone else was going to handle it.
In conclusion, yes, self care should perhaps be more special or sacred than showering or brushing teeth. BUT the reality is often less glittery than that. This is an ongoing conversation – especially the social justice component of making self care practices available and accessible to all. I’d love to hear your thoughts. How are you practicing self care? How do you fit it into your budget and your schedule?
‘My baby’s birth will be easy because I am so relaxed and confident.’
Leading up to Coen’s birth, I just knew that affirmation would hold true…spoiler alert: it did.
My due date, May 9th, came and went and I was growing impatient. The following day I had an appointment and got to see Blair; I was hoping she would be the one to help me deliver Coen. She checked me and said I was 3cm dilated and 60% effaced. I always feel heard and supported after seeing her; she has a way of making everything feel positive.
That evening I was feeling some practice contractions that were coming regularly but far apart. I started timing them on my phone and settled in to watch some Bill Nye Saves the World on Netflix. They stopped coming but I was feeling like I should go to bed early and rest up because labor would be starting soon.
At 3:15am a contraction woke me up. That’s the same time of day things got started with my first labor. I got up to go to the bathroom and saw the light of the full moon through the window. I got back in bed and had a few more contractions but then they stopped again.
When I got up at 6:30am, contractions had returned. At first, I wasn’t sure if this was more practice or the real deal. Then I noticed a contraction would come any time I changed position - something that happened the last time I was in labor. So I told Travis he should stay home from work. I went to the kitchen and started making breakfast. Initially I could talk and work through each contraction but quickly it became clear that I needed to devote more attention to each surge. I started timing them on my phone again; they were still varying a lot, coming every 5-8 minutes.
I helped get Audrey ready to go to her grandma’s for the day. Sometimes I would blow raspberries and sway during the contractions and she would buzz her lips with me. That felt so sweet. I felt most comfortable leaning forward, placing my hands on my knees and resting my forehead on something.
After Travis and Audrey left I got to work tidying the house and changing the sheets on the bed. I knew I wouldn’t have time or energy for housework upon returning home from the hospital so I wanted to leave the house feeling really good. I also set out some new activities for Audrey.
During this time contractions got closer together, 4 minutes apart and about a minute to a minute and a half in length. I went to the bathroom to wash my face and in the middle of a contraction heard water gushing from somewhere. Either I didn’t notice the contraction finishing or it stopped because I snapped into action! The cloth diaper sprayer attached to our toilet started leaking water from its handle. I quickly turned off the water to that hose, threw down some towels, and continued getting ready. I got dressed then laid down in bed to rest up and continued timing contractions. Shortly after that Travis got home and I told him it was time to finish packing the hospital bags. I called the midwife and let them know we would be coming soon.
We got in the car and made it down the street when Travis realized he forgot his camera. So we went around the block and came back home. The first contraction in the car was a doozy; I held on to the ‘oh shit’ handle and braced against the dashboard. After that, they were all pretty manageable. We got the camera, stopped for gas, and went on our way. Travis put his hand on my leg and said, ‘Aw, it’s like we’re on a date because it’s just the two of us.’ I put on my birth affirmations and rested. My contractions got closer together, about every three minutes.
As I got out of the car at the hospital around noon, I felt a really strong contraction and had to stand on the sidewalk with my hands on my knees while a grandma and a toddler walked by. I hoped that I didn’t scare the boy! Two nurses met me inside with a wheel chair and took me up to triage. Coincidentally, a friend of my sister-in-law, Avery, was working that day as well and she brought Travis up to triage to meet me. Once I got changed and situated in the bed, my nurse, Beth, checked me. I was 8cm! I had fully expected to only be at 5 or 6 so I was really excited. Things were going smoothly.
I couldn’t figure out how to get that dang gown to tie in back (there was a knot and they eventually had to cut it off me). So I walked down the hall holding it and had to stop for a contraction. It was really hard to hold the gown closed and do hands on my knees. Shortly after I got to my room, Blair came in. I was so happy to have her there. I got a cherry popsicle and we all just chatted in between contractions. Blair and Beth stayed with me for the majority of my labor. It felt really good just knowing they were there hanging with me. We would all laugh because nearly every contraction was followed by a yawn. I don't know if it was an oxygen thing or if my body was helping me keep my jaw relaxed (I didn't feel tired).
At some point, I felt a shift and turned more inward. I could feel Coen moving down and I focused on using my breath to help. Blair suggested a few position changes during this time, which were helpful. I spent time on the birth ball, sitting on my heels in bed while leaning forward on the peanut, and lying on my left side.
After a while, Blair asked to check me. I was complete with a slight anterior lip and my bag of waters was still intact. Blair pushed on the lip and I pushed against her on the next contraction and my water bag popped. Then I felt the urge to push more strongly.
I had a lot of trouble pushing with Audrey. It took me 1.5-2 hours. I couldn’t quite figure out how to push and I also didn’t really know how to relax my pelvic floor muscles, allowing them to bulge. In addition, she was born with her hands up at her face so there was some extra real estate involved.
Throughout this pregnancy, I worked with a pelvic floor therapist to create more stability in my pelvis and I also developed a greater awareness of those muscles. That was a life saver. I pushed for 30 minutes with Coen. As he moved to crowning, I could feel my bottom stretching so I would relax and allow the bulge to happen. There were times the sensation was really intense and the sounds I was making crept higher. When this happened I felt that I was pushing more with my abs and had to drop down to a lower register to keep things going in my bottom. I was grateful when Blair told me to reach down and feel Coen’s full head of hair! Audrey was bald so that was really cool. It also encouraged me that I was close to being done.
With his head born, I pushed once more for his shoulders and there he was at 3:30pm! Blair laid him on my chest. He let out a kind of half-assed cry of protest then just settled on me and started to calmly look around. He was incredibly calm and aware. Travis cut the cord after it stopped pulsing. I gave another push for the placenta. I never got to see it with Audrey so Blair brought it around and we got to check it out.
Blair checked me and found a first degree tear towards the back and a tiny tear towards the front. Coen weighed in at 8lbs 9oz, 22.5 inches long, with a 14 inch head; Blair said I had amazing pelvic floor control and that the damage could have been much worse. I felt proud of all the hard work and attention I put in.
We stayed skin to skin for about an hour and toward the end of that time Coen started his crawl to the breast. He latched easily, nursed, and fell asleep. Everyone remarked at how calm and chill he was. As far as births go, it really was easy. I’m thankful for my care team and all the warm and caring nurses we worked with at the hospital. I’m also thankful for my husband who did whatever I asked him to do during labor from hugs and kisses, to pressing on my legs, to handing me my popsicle.
I choose to share my birth story because there are enough birth ‘war stories’ out there. I birthed without fear and want other women to know they can too.
Today I went to my first yoga class in probably a year. That’s pretty bad considering I’m a yoga teacher.
I haven’t been intentional about making time to attend a yoga class for several reasons:
The classes available at the times I regularly have childcare haven’t really worked with my schedule…although they could have if I had planned in advance to attend and blocked off my calendar.
- Many of the classes available at the times I regularly have childcare don’t really appeal to my pregnant bod (i.e. Toasty Core Strength Vinyasa)…although I’m sure I would have enjoyed Yoga for 50+.
- After my first pregnancy, I noticed sub-optimal changes in my core after attending a yoga class. I didn’t know how to engage my transverse abdominis so all the planking and boat poses were setting me back instead of helping me strengthen.
- Reinforcements (my husband) arrive home too late for me to make it to an evening class. But there are later classes that I could make.
- But then I’d have to miss putting my toddler to bed on another evening (I’m already gone two nights a week).
So those have been my excuses. I imagine that with two kiddos at home, there will be even more excuses. (Please note that I’m not saying these are merely whiney-pants excuses; they are valid logistical complications that require a certain amount of energy and planning to overcome).
I’ve been telling myself that maintaining my home yoga practice is the same thing as going to a class. Wrong!
At home, I either do yoga while my toddler is awake and playing, or I put her in front of a 20-30 minute TV program (mom guilt), or she is taking a nap and could wake up at any moment. I can never really fully devote 100% of my focus toward myself in these situations.
In addition, I’m missing out on the community-building aspect of going to a class, the inspiration an instructor can provide, and the challenge I’m sure to avoid affording myself at home.
Back to this class I went to on Saturday. I wasn’t planning on going but I was a grade A grumpoose that morning and really struggling emotionally. After already telling my daughter we were all hanging out together that day, I informed her I was going to take a yoga class. (Saturdays are literally the only day a week when all three of us can be together for the day.) When it came time to leave she started to cry and told my husband, “I’m upset that Mama’s leaving.” Dagger to the heart with a twist.
I was headed to prenatal yoga. I went every week when I was pregnant with my daughter. I’m 34 weeks pregnant with my son and this is my first prenatal class. It was a welcome opportunity to connect with baby boy in a way I hadn’t allowed myself to so far.
As a yoga instructor, I’ve developed this kind of judgmental voice in my head when taking another teacher’s class. It can be difficult to turn down the volume of that voice and just be present in the class like any other student. Sometimes the voice is telling me that a particular instruction might not be best for where my body is at (which is a helpful thing to listen to!) but other times the voice can be snarky, critical, or kind of like Larry David. I’m not proud of it but that’s the truth. Perhaps if I start going to more classes, I’ll get more practice quieting that voice.
Despite my mental high horse, I enjoyed myself. The room was full of that pregnant mama juju and we all were having hot flashes. We laughed and shared in the beginning and I was thankful and amazed that the hip work we did ended up feeling so nice (not too deep or destabilizing).
After class, I headed down the street to a local cafe, Wild Love Bakehouse, and struggled to decide between a classic chocolate chip cookie or a chocolate chocolate chip cookie with sea salt. So I bought both. I ate half of each one and headed home to make lunch.
My time away didn’t fix any of the problems that surfaced in my household that morning, nor did it really change the fact that I was mad or grumpy. But it did give me a ‘time in’ for myself so I could press pause on the drama and get out of that triggered mental space. I think that brief distance was valuable.
How do you find time for a movement practice when you have young children? Do you schedule mornings away for yourself? What strategies do you use to take care of yourself at home in the midst of a challenging situation?
Everybody’s talking about self care these days it seems. Ok so maybe my sample is skewed since I’m living in the health and fitness community as a yoga teacher and bodyworker. Helping people with their self care is literally my job. So you would think that I would be a pro at practicing self care on myself…right?
Sometimes I is, sometimes I ain’t.
To me, self care means intentionally and purposefully nurturing yourself. I have come to realize as a thirty-one year old mother, wife, and friend, that every person you count on will let you down at some point in time. There is no ‘perfect best friend’ out there. You have to be your own best friend.
Jeez, you may be thinking, that sounds really pessimistic. Why do you hate the world, Jen? Well I don’t hate the world. I just remember the times I haven’t felt heard or the times I have felt run down but no one noticed.
Adulting means handling your shit – paying bills on time, cleaning every so often, etc. But how can you handle your shit if you feel like shit? It’s rough. It can be done but then maybe you’ll start to develop unhealthy relationships, maybe you’ll begin harboring resentment toward those things/people in your life that require an energy input from you. Maybe you’ll become a *gasp* Bitter and Cynical Woman.
Ain’t nobody got time for that. Especially us gals. We have career ladders to climb, kids to feed, partners to connect with, and communities that need us. We give a lot. The question is…who’s giving to us?
We’ve all heard the oxygen mask analogy (tip: put yours on first). I prefer the one about the cup. If your cup is full, you can pour out some for others. The challenge is to keep that cup full, maybe even to overflowing.
How do we do that?
Self care doesn’t have to be grand, expensive, or time consuming. Self care can be simple and sometimes as simple as changing your perspective of mundane activities like washing your face or preparing a meal for yourself.
Here’s a list of some simple, typically free, activities to help you nourish yourself:
• Sit outside. Notice the warmth of the sun on your skin; listen to the birds; smell some flowers.
• Meditate, even just for 5 minutes.
• Take a nap.
• Prepare a colorful, beautiful meal for yourself; pay attention to the tastes and textures while you eat it.
• Take a bath.
• Go for a walk.
• Have a dance party while listening to a song you enjoy.
• Take your time washing your face. Pretend you’re getting a facial and lovingly massage the cleanser and moisturizer into your skin.
• Write in your journal.
Nearly anything can be self care. Does the activity make you feel revitalized, nourished, and sustained? Then it counts!
One way to get started in the self care game is to make a list of those activities that fill up your cup. Aim to do at least one or two a day. Then you can slowly build toward more intentional daily rituals that become healthy habits.
What are some activities you enjoy for self care?
When you think of your period, what’s the first word that comes to mind?
For me, that word used to be ‘gross.’ I remember my very first period…my stomach hurt and I felt nauseated because I was so grossed out. I felt dirty and like my life had been interrupted by this inconvenience. Those feelings stuck with me. For nearly a decade, I took a birth control pill that suppressed my cycle so I wouldn’t have to deal with a period, even when I wasn’t sexually active. My doctor said, ‘There’s really no reason that you need to have a period.’
Fast forward to 2013. My husband and I were talking about growing our family. I dreaded going off the pill and having to deal with periods again. I also felt embarrassed because I didn’t really know how to get pregnant. Before you freak out, I was well aware that sex was the answer. I also knew that ovulation was a thing, however I didn’t really understand the timing of it. Possibly as a result of the abstinence education program at my high school and the conservative values of the community in which I grew up, I had this vague idea that any time a woman had intercourse, she was liable to get pregnant.
I felt embarrassed that I didn’t know more about my body. I did some research and I found a book called Taking Charge of Your Fertility Naturally. This book was a game changer for me. It taught me everything my health class didn’t. I learned about the physiology of the menstrual cycle as well as how to tell where I currently was in that cycle.
As you can imagine, after a decade on The Pill, my hormones were all over the place. I had terrible hormonal acne and PMS. Here I was trying to get on better terms with my body and my cycle and it was just making me a hot mess. One friend recommended acupuncture (I tried it; it was awesome.) and another told me about a book by Christiane Northrup called Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom. This book introduced me to the wisdom of the menstrual cycle and the parallels found in the lunar cycle - another game changer. Tapping into this wisdom, I discovered how I could sync up my lifestyle (and even my social calendar) with my cycle. As a result, my PMS symptoms decreased. I felt more comfortable and at peace with my body and good ol’ Aunt Flo.
This process of getting to know my body and learning more about my menstrual cycle has helped to instill a great trust in myself and my body. It’s taken me from ‘gross’ to ‘magical.’ On a physical level, this knowledge helped me see the imbalance in my hormone levels, to seek help, and then to conceive a child. On a deeper level, this journey into myself has helped me hear my intuition more strongly and has given me permission to let up sometimes. (Like we really even need permission to take breaks and rest!) I have discovered how I wax and wane with regards to my energy levels, sex drive, creativity, and more. I even feel more connected with nature, which is a big part of my spirituality.
In all my searching, I found quite a bit of material on what yoga poses to do while on my period and even some on using yoga to help with PMS. However, I couldn’t find much information about how to sync up my yoga practice with my cycle as a whole. That led me to develop my first Yoga for Your Monthly Rhythm series. I had fun with this series but every woman was in a different part of her cycle. This made sharing yoga sequences for each phase difficult. I also tried presenting the material in a workshop but I found it was just too much information for one sitting. I even worked one-on-one with women in private lessons but they needed more instruction on the yoga practices than a typed out sequence could offer. So now, I’m trying another approach.
In my upcoming Yoga for Your Monthly Rhythm series, we’ll meet in the studio each week for four weeks to share information, discuss, and meditate. Then, you’ll receive four, 15 minute videos (one for each phase of the menstrual cycle) so you can practice at home in conjunction with your cycle. I’m not promising that your PMS will evaporate or that you’ll suddenly create an altar out of tampons and menstrual cups. I hope though, that you can get some helpful information, learn about your body, and connect with other women in the process. I would love to work with you! If you have any questions about my journey or my upcoming series, please drop me a line.
I enjoy practicing this meditation while in corpse pose at the conclusion of my yoga practice and even if I have trouble falling back to sleep in the middle of the night. Unfortunately for many of us, we need to condition ourselves to relax. View this meditation as something to practice; go easy on yourself if it doesn't come easy the first several times.
You can record yourself saying the directions or try to memorize them and guide yourself. These are not magic words or phrases so as long as you get the basic idea, you’ll do just fine.
If you’re practicing this meditation after your yoga practice or even as a stand alone, I recommend setting a timer so you don’t have to worry about falling asleep or spending too much time here. For me, 10 minutes is a good length of time because my mind tends to wander for a bit in the beginning until I can focus. Spend a minute or two on each step but not so much time that you start to over-analyze.
Lay on your back in corpse pose. Make yourself comfortable so you don’t have to move or adjust your position. Allow your eyes to softly close.
Take a few deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth to help yourself settle in. Then allow your breath to become involuntary again.
Relax your muscles and surrender your body into the pull of gravity. Feel your body sink into the ground.
Visualize the color purple. Feel your awareness concentrate at the point between your eyebrows.
Visualize the color blue. Notice the center of your throat.
See the color green. Feel your awareness concentrate at the center of your chest.
See yellow. Notice the point midway between the base of your sternum and your navel.
Orange. Feel the point midway between your navel and your pubic bone - the very center of the pelvis.
See red. Feel your legs, feet, and even the soles of the feet. Notice a warm tingling sensation at the soles of the feet as you see the color red.
From here you have a few choices: 1) Continue meditating on the last step, 2) simply rest, or 3) start back up at the point between the eyebrows and follow the meditation again.
Let me know how it goes!
An Open Letter to the Person Who Will Use the Restroom After Us:
I saw you approaching the single occupancy restroom just as my one year old escaped to crawl down the hall. I avoided eye contact, clumsily gathered all our things and power-walked down the hall. I hung my head as your judgments went flying overhead along with all the fucks I already gave, just knowing that your opinion of me would further decline upon entering that desecrated place.
Our trip to the bathroom started with a diaper change (the baby’s, not mine) which further necessitated a full outfit overhaul. Terrified of diaper changes in public restrooms, my child shrieked the whole time, my shaky hands working as quickly as possible. This would be her fifth outfit of the day; I was still wearing the same clothes which told tales of previous leaky diapers and spit up.
Then it was my turn to pee. Let me just say, that was my baby’s saliva on the toilet seat and not my urine. I still have my dignity (and my aim). As soon as I sat down, she began investigating the trash. Multiple efforts to redirect failed until I pointed out the toilet paper. You’ll find two distinct piles, one roll completely undone and one ripped like confetti. Once she had taken advantage of all the toilet paper had to offer, she moved on to the toilet itself. So then, I sat upon the throne while Her Tiny Highness sat upon me in order to prevent her from eating the plunger or sticking her tongue between the toilet seat and the bowl. Her interest in the toilet paper was rekindled a few moments later. A small part of me dies every time she watches me wipe (because, let’s face it, this has happened before).
I had to keep her contained as I pulled up my pants one-handed. I placated myself as I washed both our hands, one at a time, however there would be no hand drying. The ripping of the paper towel echoes like machine gun fire, inciting all manner of tears, screams, and boo boo lips – as does the roaring fly by of the flushing toilet. So yes, I let it mellow, and yes you’ll feel the moist door handle as you exit.
I hope you relish your private potty time. Enjoy the stillness, the solitude, the relative quiet. Build your toilet paper teepee in peace. Wash (and dry) your hands methodically. Think of me kindly as you clutch the door knob in your paper towel then turn around to score a basket as you leave with satisfaction.