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?
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?
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?
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?
Some of you rather astute and intuitive folk have started asking about my growing (albeit still rather small) belly. And yes, there’s a bump in the making (and yes, I’m super pumped about it)! This is one of those times in my life where I think, Holy cow, what would this be like with out my yoga?! I’ve never experienced such a rapid and constant rate of change; add hormones to the mix and a girl’s bound to feel crazy at least once or twice or ten times.
I shared this crazy change feeling with a friend and she offered an idea I think works for all people, not just the pregnant ones. Think of a mountain. Each season, the mountain looks a little different – vibrantly green in the Spring and Summer, burning with oranges and reds in the Fall, and a little bare in the Winter. Different people and animals visit the mountain at different times as well. Despite the constant change, the mountain is still the same mountain. It might get worn down in a few places but its essence is unchanging. We are in the same boat as the mountain. Even as life happens, even as we grow and develop new skills and perspectives, our essence remains unchanging. We acknowledge this same essence in one another when we say Namasté at the end of a yoga class.
I’m joyfully managing this pregnancy due mainly to the skills I’ve gained from my yoga practice (think: self-care like a panda). Deepening connections with other women has also been an integral part of my process. Over the past year and a half, through focused study and personal experience, I have absorbed some pretty vital information I can’t wait to share with other women. The Yoga for Women’s Health & Healing training I attended with Dr. Saraswati Markus in May served as a capstone experience for me, validating several ideas I’d intuited and providing a more cohesive framework from which to present those ideas.
As a result, this summer is full of special offerings for women: another Yoga for Women series and two workshops, Yoga & Your Fertility and Yoga for Your Monthly Rhythm (details below). I’ve also planned my workshop calendar through November, which includes another Target Practice focusing on hips, a Down Dog Clinic, and a super special Self-Care Retreat co-taught by the lovely Sarah Fields. Keep your eyes peeled for more information on those offerings in the future.
I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a line and let me know how you’re changing, what you’re learning, and where you’re traveling this summer.
A 9 year old recently asked me, “what’s your spirit animal?” He didn’t find my quippy response of “pizza” amusing. He told me to be serious so I said that I wasn’t sure and asked for his opinion. The corner of his mouth turned up and his eyes moved in a way expressive of deep thought. Finally the answer emerged, “a panda.” He caught me off guard as I’ve never been compared to a panda in my life. “Because you’re always so calm and even-tempered,” he added. According to this kid, pandas are calm and I am calm too.
Even as my husband, close friends (including the mother of the 9 year old), and family are rolling with laughter at the thought of me being described as calm, I must say I get this a lot. People frequently say to me, “You’re always so calm and peaceful. How do you do it?” In fact, the client I just saw said those very words which inspired me to sit down and write this post. (She followed up by saying, “you’re so cool.” Gush!)
Just to set the record straight, I have spells of feeling quite the opposite of calm and even-tempered. I’m human (not marsupial). I fly off the handle and scream at my husband and get sassy with customer service representatives on the phone. Overall, however, I feel incredibly stress-free most of the time – think panda chilling and chewing on some bamboo. I attribute this to my amazing job and skillful self-care. I’m not in the business of giving career advice but I can help you with self-care.
Effective and nourishing self-care requires planning and commitment. I often find that when I haven’t scheduled self-care practices into my day or week they fall by the wayside. For me, self-care includes regular bodywork like acupuncture, Rolfing, massage, chiropractic, and Reiki. I have assembled an awesome team of gifted healing practitioners who keep me running like a well-oiled machine. I also make time in my schedule for regular yoga and meditation practice along with journaling and walking. Another essential element in my self-care mix involves syncing my life with my monthly cycle. Ladies, we’re quite lucky that we have a monthly reminder to slow down and release things that no longer serve us.
For me, self-care is a lifestyle choice. Even though I’ve chosen to work a bit less than most in order to focus on things that truly bring me joy and satisfaction, I often hear those voices telling me that I’m lazy or don’t deserve to be stress-free and content. For me, radical self-care is choosing to claim my worth. It’s such a big deal!
Self-care is a choice and sometimes a difficult one at that. There’s space in even the busiest schedules for nourishing and supportive practices. Aren’t sure where to start? I’d love to be a part of your self-care routine, whether that’s through yoga, massage, or energy healing. Drop me a line and we can make a plan for you. And let’s not forget the vital question that started it all: What’s your spirit animal?
Every January, my yoga classes explode; by March they’re back to normal size. I see this as evidence of the damaging New Year’s Resolution Cycle. Some of us New Year’s Rezzers do indeed accomplish our goals by December 31st but far too many of us set ourselves up to fail. Besides, how do we reconcile this culture of self-improvement with the yogic teachings that we are already enough/perfect/whatever it is we are striving to be? I’m finding the answer is in the present moment.
Many self-improvement goals take us far beyond the present moment to a future place of smaller pants and greater peace. When we live that far in the future, we can’t possible be present for ourselves and the people around us. Consider taking your eyes off the prize in order to cultivate a new level of awareness and self-compassion. Mindfulness is a great tool for this. I’m currently reading The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion, an incredibly practical book which also encourages me to “let it happen” instead of “make it happen.” Expect to see these themes woven throughout my classes in the coming weeks and months.
Happy New Year! I look forward to seeing the same old you soon.