meditation

What is Self Care?

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.

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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?

Meditation for Relaxation

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.

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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!


Birth Story

Here's the tale of how my daughter landed earthside. It's a magical story full of heart, humor, and humility. I share it because so much of what our culture presents regarding birth is negative and full of pain. My yoga, meditation, and breathing practices, as well as Hypnobirthing, helped me have a positive birth experience.

At 3:15 the morning of December 23rd, I woke up to some contractions. They kept happening so I timed them and saw they were all over the place in terms of duration and time apart. I wasn’t sure if this was the real deal or just more practice. They were a bit uncomfortable so I tried to center by visualizing myself sitting comfortably at the bottom of the ocean, where the water is calm but flowy. There was some seaweed around me that swayed a little, as did my hair. For some of the surges I got on all fours. Worried that all my moving around would wake up Travis, I went out to the couch around 6am and the contractions spaced out to twenty minutes apart. I assumed this was practice labor and was getting pretty grumpy about my interrupted sleep. When Travis woke up I told him what was going on. I was glad that we both had the day off. We planned to just stay home and chill out except for an appointment I had with my midwife in the afternoon.

The contractions kept coming all morning. I texted Kimberly, my doula, and let her know what was going on. We still weren’t sure if this was just practice or early labor. Travis and I went for a walk and they got closer together, about 6 minutes apart, but still lasted for only 30 seconds. I managed the contractions by swaying my hips and breathing. I was surprised by how much sensation I experienced around my sacrum with each contraction.

My appointment with the midwife was at 2:40. The car ride there was not very fun. I think I was still tense because I wasn’t really sure what was happening - practice or not? I was hoping I could be taken back to a room soon after arriving so I wouldn’t have to work with the contractions in a waiting room full of people. Forty minutes later, we finally got taken back to a room. Manola was the midwife on call and when she checked me I was 3-4cm and 70% effaced. She seemed confident that this was it - just knowing that made me feel better and really excited. She gave us the choice of going over to the hospital or going home to see if things would really get going. We chose to go home and agreed we would get back in touch when contractions were 3 minutes apart. Again, the car ride was not very fun but I was in better spirits about it and was excited to think that I could meet my baby that day. We stopped at the store to pick up some dinner on the way home because we were both starving.

We decided to eat some pizza and watch a Christmas movie. By the time the pizza was ready, though, I really wasn’t hungry anymore. The contractions were getting stronger and closer together. I was using a heating pad on my sacrum and all fours to cope with the discomfort. Travis was really great at applying counter pressure…it felt so good. About 10 minutes into the movie (A Muppet Christmas Carol), I started to feel that both the movie and the pizza were annoying distractions. Travis helped me get set up in the bath tub so I could focus. I turned off the lights and listened to the Hypnobirthing Rainbow Relaxation CD. I really got in the zone and the water felt so good.

Travis came back to check on me part way through the movie and I was ready to get out because the water was cold. I was tired from not sleeping much the night before so I decided to sit upright in bed and relax. I found I was able to doze a little between each surge. Here I just continued to use my breath. I visualized myself at the bottom of an ocean cave whose wide mouth was above me, widening more and more.

After the movie was over Travis came back in and I let him know he should start getting our stuff packed and tying up any loose ends around the house. I really lost all track of time because I was so in the zone. I know that at 8:15 I saw my contractions were between 3-4 minutes apart. I told Travis that we would need to leave whenever he was done. I called Kimberly, pausing to breathe for the contractions now lasting about a minute to 90 seconds, and told her we would be going to the hospital as soon as everything was ready and asked her to meet us there. I also called Manola and let her know we would be coming in. Then there was another car ride. It was much easier to manage because I was so relaxed.

We got to the hospital at 9:45pm. Thanks to my hands on knees squatting, we got to skip triage at the hospital and got taken straight to a room. One of the nurses asked about the pain scale and I told her to pick a number for me - it really wasn’t pain. I laughed to myself when she rolled her eyes at me. Shortly after the eye roll, I got checked and was 5-6cm and 90% effaced. Then my water broke…it really just felt like peeing my pants, which, in that moment, was an oddly satisfying sensation.

Once they got me all hooked up and whatnot, they noticed the baby was having some extreme heart rate fluctuations with each contraction. They gave me IV fluids and had me labor on my left side for a while, which was more intense, but helped her stabilize. I was expecting to labor in the tub but wasn’t really given the option because the way her heart rate changed with each position I was in. I did get in the shower for a while but my legs were shaking so much I felt really unstable. I also labored on the birth ball but found just sitting up in bed to be the most sustainable position for me and my energy level. I kept falling asleep between contractions and even burped after many of them, which we all thought was hilarious. I told myself that an hour would last only ten minutes and I really lost all track of time. At various points I felt my water release again and again, still oddly satisfying. One time the nurses noticed a bit of meconium. Nobody freaked out but they were on watch.

Eventually, I started to feel a little pushy and I was at 9cm with just a little lip of my cervix holding me back. I got on all fours and Manola applied pressure to the lip while I pushed some. That was really intense and made the contractions stronger. Still, I didn’t have the “overwhelming urge to push” I’d read about, probably because of that lip. I pushed sitting on my heels, on my left side, and on my back with my knees at my chest. All totaled, I pushed for an hour and a half, roaring with each push. There was so much pressure!

I started to feel afraid that I wouldn’t be able to get her out. I was giving it all I had but it didn’t feel like enough. Manola told me to reach down and feel my baby’s head - that was so surreal! Her heart rate was doing more crazy things so Manola said I needed to get her out with the next round of pushing. I was so tired and I roared and squeezed Travis’ hand like mad. It wasn’t enough. Manola did an episiotomy, which I felt thankful for - I needed some help! - and Kimberly said it was the smallest one she’d ever seen.

With the next round of pushing my baby’s head was born and Manola said, “Whoa! Whoa! Don’t push!” I was out of it and didn’t really know what was going on. Travis told me later that she had both hands up at her face and the cord was wrapped around all that. He said Manola worked so fast to free things up and with the next push, my daughter was born at 5:42am on Christmas Eve. She was immediately placed on my stomach where she pooped all over me! Everyone commented that if her hands would have been down she probably would have come out a lot faster. She was 7lbs 10oz and 20 1/2 inches long.

Because of all her crazy heart rate acrobatics, the NICU team was in the room just in case but she started screaming before her feet were out so they weren’t needed (her Apgar score was a 9). She was so alert and her eyes were really wide. As I looked at her in shock and awe, I noticed some hair on her lip and said, “Is that one of my pubes on her mouth?!” Manola responded by saying, “Well I’ve never heard anyone say that before but yes, it probably is.” Then I apologized to my baby for not trimming things up in anticipation of her arrival.

A little while later the placenta was born. My only regret is that I didn’t get to see it before they took it to the freezer. Travis didn’t want to cut the cord so Kimberly did it. I remember thinking the cord was so thin and long. I was at risk for a hemorrhage due to my bleeding disorder and I felt a gush of blood as the placenta was born. Manola said it wasn’t a hemorrhage but we still went through the protocol we had talked about in the past to be on the safe side.

I felt so proud and strong (and tired!). Travis told me all the nurses were impressed with how calm I was throughout the whole thing. Kimberly told me later that I seemed annoyed that each contraction woke me up. What an empowering birth experience - I pretty much felt like a badass!


To Yin, With Love...

“That was delicious…I like to use food adjectives to describe this class,” she said as she staggered into the prop room with her savasana hair. I smiled and replied that I was glad she enjoyed class so much - we had just finished Yin yoga - but on the inside I was whining with jealousy.

Since becoming an incubator for human life (sounds more epic than “pregnant”), I have left Yin yoga out of my personal practice. Yin yoga targets connective tissues and joints in the spine, hips, and legs. During pregnancy, the body produces a hormone called relaxin, which relaxes muscles, joints, and ligaments - great for the expansion required during labor, a little less great for stability, steadiness, and digestion. I personally feel that doing Yin while “on relaxin” would turn me into a puddle of goo, leaving my frame too fluid to support the rest of me. The problem is, I really miss my Yin.

When I first began practicing Yin, I knew it was something I needed in my life because it made me want to cry. Sounds crazy right? Instead of pushing to the limit, we go to 60-70% of stretch capacity in each pose; that’s because we’re trying to stimulate connective tissue (fascia) as opposed to stretching muscles. It’s a “back off to go further” approach. During the 2 to 5 minutes of stillness in each pose we relax muscular effort and attempt to release held tension. That’s where the emotion comes in to play for me:  The “made me want to cry” thing indicated some deeply held tension that needed to unwind. When I practice Yin, when I practice yielding, I can feel my body literally rearranging itself. As I commit to stillness, my fascia slides around under my skin, mobilizing, hydrating, and aligning. I watch this reorganization with an attitude of “whoa that is so mind blowing and cool and weird.”

Yin is impactful not only for the body but also for life off the mat. It’s an opportunity to retrain our response to life’s stresses; we can learn how to yield and go with the flow when things are out of our control. I try to practice this on I-40, when I’m mentally anywhere from “everyone is an idiot” to “all these cars are out to get me.” With mindfulness I can catch myself in the pattern of bad traffic, white knuckles, and held breath. Then instead of maintaining the tension, instead of pushing back, I try to find my breath and relax. From that headspace, the idiocy of my fellow drivers (it’s never my fault) seems way less significant and I’m free to flow on to the next thing.

Even though I’m not holding physical Yin poses during my pregnancy, I’m still trying to put the skills I’ve learned into practice…I have a feeling they’re going to come in handy sometime in the next two months. What about you? Do you need a little restructuring for your spine, hips, legs, and maybe even your attitude? I’m not saying it’ll be easy but it has the potential to be transformative. I teach Yin Yoga on Mondays at 6:00pm at The Glowing Body and I’d love to see you there.

Namasté,
Jen