Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

The Beauty of Imperfection December 28, 2012

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:03 pm
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I’ve been thinking a lot about perfection lately. Now that I’m at my new job and my good friend K and I work for the same company again, we usually have lunch together several times a week. After hearing me enumerate my woes and personal shortcomings over lunch for two days in a row, K said to me, “You know, I’ve been thinking about it, and a lot of your problem is that you try so hard to be perfect all the time. And you don’t have to do that.”

K is totally right, and I’d never really thought about my actions in those terms before – that I try to be perfect. But it’s what I do. At work I want everyone to think I’m smart, competent, and efficient, and sometimes I put up fronts to make it seem as if I don’t make mistakes. In my writing I labor over my poems, stories, and book reviews for ages, rarely sending anything out to be considered for publication because I never think the work is good enough. At home and in my personal life, this tendency shows itself most strongly. I take housekeeping personally and obsess about the dusty floors; if we have people over then I run myself ragged trying to be the perfect hostess. I guilt myself over every little way I fail to be perfect: forgotten phone calls and birthday cards, wasted minutes on Facebook when I should be doing something useful, every single time I perceive myself as having said the wrong thing. And I can’t even count all the ways that I’ve failed as a mother already. I try to make my appearance perfect too, obsessing over wearing the right clothes and shoes, feeling uncomfortable all day if I didn’t have time to dry my hair in the morning. And that shit should have been over back in high school.

Sometimes striving to be perfect causes me pain on the happiest occasions. I woke up sobbing the morning after my wedding with regrets about things I’d done or failed to do on the big day. It took a long time for that guilt to go away and for me to remember our wedding day as the beautiful day it was, without those distortions. And the most painful area where I failed to be perfect was YogaBaby’s birth.

We’d taken a birth preparation class focused on using self-hypnosis to control pain, and saw all these videos of women calm and peaceful during labor, almost as if they were sleeping. I wanted such a beautiful, peaceful, all-natural childbirth, and with the techniques I was learning, combined with the yoga, meditation, and breathing practices I already knew, I thought that giving birth would be no problem. Of course when the time came, it was fast and intense and hurt worse than anything I’d ever experienced. Some of the relaxation techniques we’d learned in class helped a lot, but the hypnosis flew out the window. As I brought my daughter into the world, I was crying, writhing, and screaming. Her birth was an amazing, magical event, and holding her in my arms for the first time will always be the most beautiful moment of my life. But I’m carrying around all this guilt and shame about how I acted during the labor. I know that I did an awesome job – I birthed my daughter with no medicine, no epidural, and she came out healthy and strong. I know this, and I hate having these guilty feelings in my heart surrounding such a profound, meaningful experience. But it’s still there.

So what I want to say now is, Screw perfect. There is no perfect. I (and all of you out there nodding your heads as you read this) need to let go of perfect. We don’t have to do it all. I’m going to start sending out my poems again, even though I don’t think they’re ready. We hired a cleaning service to come to our house once a month, and I’m going to revel in the relief I feel about that instead of feeling guilty that I can’t do it all myself. And most of all, I’m going to strive to let go of the desire to be a perfect wife and mother. F married me, with all my faults and neuroses: I’m the perfect wife for him just as I am. My daughter’s birth was hard; I worked hard to give birth to her, and I rocked it. I need to honor that. I need to do this for myself, so that I’ll stop allowing guilt to cloud my days, and I need to do it for my baby. If I don’t, she will see it in me, learn it from me, and that’s a legacy I don’t want to give her. My baby girl is perfect just the way she is, and I have to start recognizing that maybe I am too.

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yoga in the schools December 18, 2012

I heard on the radio yesterday morning that parents of schoolchildren in California are preparing to sue their school district over a new program of yoga classes in the elementary schools. I looked it up and, while I’m not sure why this was showing up on my radio now, it is in fact true: ABC News and HuffPost reported on it back in October.

Considering that this is a yoga blog, my opinion on yoga in schools is probably obvious, but I’m trying to look at this issue from the perspective of the parents in question. I know how I feel about, say, including the words “Under God” in the pledge of allegiance. I think that it forces a religious question into something that’s not a religious subject, because many people are patriotic and proud of their country without identifying that country with a deity. And I think inserting those words into the pledge of allegiance could serve to make children who are in the non-Christian minority uncomfortable and uncertain, and could lead to bullying if that non-Christian child is singled out for not saying those two words. I don’t think you should force any set of religious beliefs on anyone, and I think doing so can be particularly hurtful when children are involved.

So now to apply those principles to something I do believe children should be taught. I can sympathize with parents who want to ensure that religious beliefs aren’t being taught in a public school, because teaching religion to a child is the parents’ job. I wouldn’t want my child being taught beliefs that I don’t share. And gym class and fitness are important for children, but why does it have to be religious stretching?!

You don’t have to pray to Krishna to get value out of a yoga practice. The physical benefits of yoga are myriad, and new studies are published all the time describing the benefits of yoga for, say, heart disease. For this reason alone one would expect parents to welcome a school yoga program in a nation where lack of physical activity and lack of healthy food choices are making obesity and poor health an epidemic among our children. Beyond the physical, yoga also has proven mental benefits. Yoga includes techniques that help the practitioner achieve a calm, focused mind, the advantages of which seem obvious for schoolchildren learning study skills and test taking, and that’s before you even get to the benefits of yoga for conditions like ADD, ADHD, PTSD, and depression.

When talking about a yoga program in schools, it’s hard to state a definite opinion, because we’re talking about an entire curriculum taught across several grade levels for 30 minutes twice a week (versus the addition of two words like in my example above). Without having any direct experience of the program, I would imagine that the yogis who created it would have anticipated a negative response from some parents and proactively removed any Sanskrit and any reference to spirituality, focusing specifically on yoga for fitness. That’s what I would imagine, anyway. I’ve read only a bit about the Tudor Joneses, but I would not imagine them to be so blinded by their love of yoga and desire to share it that they would create a program that would fail on this front. The principal and school board as well would hopefully not have accepted the money if they’d had any thought of the program being contested (but then, principals and school boards have to find money wherever they can). Overall I want to believe that the program they’ve adopted has been sufficiently de-Hindued so as to be acceptable to a mainstream audience.

Yoga is a truly multifaceted system. You can use it to advance your spiritual practice, or you can do physical postures for years without ever knowing that there’s an eightfold path. There’s no true parallel within Christianity – you could say that praying the rosary calms and focuses the mind, but the rosary in essence is still a prayer and always will be, because that is its purpose. Yoga is not a prayer, although some people use it that way. It is a systematic and holistic approach to personal health and wellness, which can include spirituality, but does not have to.

I would hope that, before pressing forward in a legal battle, the the parents in this school district will learn more. Review the full program plan, attend and observe some classes. It is foolish to judge something you haven’t taken the time to understand. That’s what I hope I will do someday if an issue arises at my child’s school that worries me.

Coincidentally, a friend who lives in another state sent me a photo the other day of her five-year-old son practicing yoga. He’d learned it in school. He was doing a mean triangle pose and was obviously having a great time.

 

Anger and Patience December 11, 2012

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:00 pm
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A week and a half ago, YogaBaby got her first bad cold with a fever. Coincidentally, it was also the first time my husband F had to travel for business since YB was born. My mom came down and stayed home with YB on Thursday, since she couldn’t go to daycare, but the two of us were on our own Thursday night. I was pretty terrified: YB hadn’t been sleeping well anyway, and now she was sick. How would we get through the night?

It was an incredibly hard night, but we did get through it. I was there with my poor sick girl every time she woke up, over and over all night, ready with comforting arms (and boobs) to soothe her. It was the best mothering I’ve done since YB came into my life – I didn’t think about it or complain, I just did. As I rocked her to sleep one more time and watched the sun rise early that Friday morning, I let myself realize that the hard night was over – in a few hours we would go to the doctor, and a few hours after that, F would be home from his trip to help share the load.

Fast forward to Sunday morning. YB’s fever was long gone, but she was still under the weather, and even with F by my side, it had been a rough weekend. We were all tired and grumpy, me most of all, and I wanted a break. No nap or quiet time in the swing was long enough for me. I felt angry and resentful at being so needed, defeated and discouraged about my independence. What happened to that supermom who’d been here just a few nights ago? I hate being angry, and it was even worse to be angry at my little sick baby who couldn’t help being miserable. I broke down and cried.

I had been hoping to go to yoga class on Sunday afternoon, but after the weekend we’d had, I thought I should stay home instead. F made me go. The baby, feeling fine, was hanging out in her stroller helping her dad rake leaves as I drove away. The yoga class at EEY was taught by a sub, one of the current YTT students about to graduate in two weeks, and meeting her gave me a chance to reflect on where I was one year ago at the end of my teacher training. Throughout the class, I focused on centering myself here, right now on my mat, letting go of all the anger and bad energy I’d been feeling, reaching towards my truest self and the patience and kindness I know live there.

After class, I felt refreshed, as if the reserves inside me had been empty and now were full again (or, if not full, at least not empty anymore!). I came home feeling like I had something to give to my family again. Of course, when the baby cried for half an hour as we tried to eat dinner, I lost my composure again, but anyone would have felt that way, and later on in the evening I reached for patience and was able to find it.

This experience made me think about a few things in yogic terms. First, it was important for me to remember that sometimes I need to take care of myself first. I want to give my best self to my daughter, and if I’m exhausted physically and emotionally, I can’t possibly do that. This is such a vital thing to remember, and such an easy thing to discount and forget.

Also, examining my feelings and realizing I was angry made me think back to my musings on yoga and emotion last year. First, I had to acknowledge that I was angry, not just to myself but to my husband, out loud, and share my frustrations and fears, and let loose some of the intensity of the emotion by crying it out. Too often I bottle things up, which only serves to make me angrier in the long term. Then, according to Patanjali, the way to end negative emotions is to cultivate the opposite emotion instead. For me in this situation, the opposite of my anger was patience, kindness, my love for my baby, and my compassion, both for her feeling sick and for myself feeling tired and worn out. When I was able to focus on these qualities in a thoughtful way through my yoga practice, the anger dissolved.

I also needed to remember that I can’t be a supermom all the time. Sometimes I’ll do a great job, and other times I won’t, but that doesn’t make me a bad mother or a bad person. It just makes me human. We all strive for perfection (and I think I have a separate post brewing on that topic), but in an imperfect world, we have to take the good with the bad. I will never be a perfect supermom, but in all my imperfections, I’m still a super mom.