Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

One or Two? February 28, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:07 pm
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Pretty much as soon as I brought YogaBaby home from the Birth Center, I’ve been worrying over whether we’ll have a second child. At first my worries were entirely childbirth-related: feeling kind of traumatized by the whole thing, I never wanted to think about doing it again. Then my midwife brought up birth control at my six-week postpartum check-up, and I started worrying in earnest. Did I want another child? Well, my heart sure seems to want one. But could we afford daycare for two children? And we’ve been getting by with just one car: my trusty two-door VW Rabbit. A second child would necessitate trading up for a larger car at the very least, possibly getting a second car. My VW, though tiny, is at least paid off, and so new cars would lead to car payments and more costs for insurance, gas, and maintenance. We’re comfortable now, but finances would be a lot tighter with a second baby. And what about things like yoga time, writing time, and just plain grownup time? We’re starting to get these things back now, but having two kids would probably mean giving them up again long-term. And would I really want to be pregnant again? I loved being pregnant, but from my vantage point here it seems like an awful lot of work. In many ways I think it would be good for YB to have a sibling, and I think having two kids would be a lot of fun, especially when they’re older, but the stress and exhaustion of having two young children that worries me. Do we want to go through that, even for the payoff of having two great kids down the line?

You may tell me that I have plenty of time to decide, and while it’s true that I don’t have to decide right this minute, I’ll be 34 this year, and F will be 36. Besides just the biology of my aging body, F points out that he’d like to be done with diapers by the time he’s 40, and that seems pretty fair. I’d like that too. A few months back I told myself that because I wanted to breastfeed YB for the first full year, we didn’t have to decide about another baby until her first birthday, and that helped for a while. Now, though, she’s getting older and leaving many baby things behind already. In many ways, that’s awesome – we get so much more sleep now! – but somehow holding a newborn is very different from holding a seven-month-old. I appreciated the hell out of my time with her when she was tiny, and every day I appreciate all her wiggling, hand-clapping, trying-to-be-standing action, but it still aches a little to think that that particular sweet time is over.

Clearly this is a huge issue that requires a lot of thought and discussion. This post is really just a quick synopsis of what F and I have been talking about. But I bring it up because I realized something. I noticed that I tend to think about (and obsess over) the possibility of Baby 2 when I feel the most overwhelmed, the most tired, the most insecure in myself. There’s a part of me worrying that F wouldn’t want to have another baby with me when I’ve shown myself to be such an unsupportive train wreck of a partner when there’s only one child to worry about; there’s a part of me worrying that I might want to have a second baby and won’t because I’m such a crap mom to the one I have now.

And I have to say, to hell with this nonsense. When I’m happy and engaged in the present moment, you know what? I don’t think about having a second baby, because I’m too busy enjoying the one I have. It’s my anxieties and fears and shames that are driving this constant worrying. Another baby will happen or not, depending on what F and I choose (and on, you know, fate and stuff), but my personal failings aren’t really a part of that decision, because I’m only human and so is F. The next time this issue comes up for me, I need to close my eyes and take some deep breaths. I need to remind myself that it’s just anxiety talking. And then let it go.


books: The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin February 26, 2013

Filed under: books — R. H. Ward @ 1:24 pm
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The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More FunI recently reread The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin. Winter, and February in particular, is a hard time of year for me, so I wanted to remind myself of little things I can do to improve how happy I am in my every day life.

Rubin conceives of a “happiness project”: paying attention to all the elements of her life and experimenting to find ways to increase her daily level of happiness in small ways. While Rubin admires writers like Thoreau and Elizabeth Gilbert, who change their entire lives to explore a happiness project, Rubin wants to see if it’s possible to improve her happiness without leaving home. She spends a year exhaustively researching happiness – what famous people have written about it, what conventional wisdom says will make us happy, what studies show is important, and more – and works to distill “happiness” down to what it means for her specifically to be happy. Every month she focuses on a different aspect of happiness (energy, marriage, work, parenthood, fun, spirituality, etc.) and identifies key areas to focus on, things she can improve right now in her own life.

Rubin is what could be described as a Type A personality: having decided to tackle happiness, she examines the subject from all angles, researches it exhaustively, and comes up with charts, journals, and other benchmarks to track her progress accurately, and she starts a blog, where she both inspires others and receives inspiration from around the world. Those who don’t enjoy the book find Rubin to be obsessive and annoying, but personally, I think she’s charming, and I found her journey to be fascinating, fun, and endearing. With all her little foibles, Rubin seems very real. The book is well written, and Rubin choose the right details, stories, and quotations to make her points clearly and make the text resonate for the reader.

Over the course of the book, Rubin tries out a lot of methods, techniques, tips, tactics, and theories, and by the end, she’s discovered the ones that work well for her and her family. The operative phrase here is “for her” – Rubin openly acknowledges that many of her resolutions won’t work for someone else. She urges readers to embark on their own happiness project and find out what will work for them. This is really the best takeaway from The Happiness Project: in writing the story of her own experimental year, Rubin has become a happiness coach, full of inspirational examples and information that readers can apply in their own lives. Rubin also quotes liberally from reader comments on her blog; these comments are often as interesting and thought-provoking as Rubin’s own prose, and provide even more examples and food for thought. Overall, The Happiness Project succeeds as a memoir, a research book, and a self-help guide for anyone wanting to be happier.


Getting back in the swing of things February 21, 2013

Filed under: checking in,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:45 pm
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For the past week, I have practiced yoga every day! On the weekend, I got a good half-hour practice in each day during YogaBaby’s naps, but on the weekdays, I’ve been getting up at 5:30 am so I can practice for 15-20 minutes before we start the day. This hasn’t been as horribly as I would have expected. First of all, my husband F has been getting up at 5:30 for a while now to write, so I’m already used to the alarm going off. Also, YB suddenly decided that she only needs one night-feeding instead of two, so getting up early has been much easier now that I’m getting a little more sleep. (I also theorize that, with having a baby, I’ve gotten used to sleeping less in general, so getting up early may be less of a hardship than it would have been for me pre-YB.)

I have to say, I’m feeling so much better than I was. I hadn’t practiced yoga at all between January 14 and February 13 (family illness, out-of-town guests, and then inertia as contributing factors), and it showed. My body felt rusty, sore, and old, and even worse, my emotions were noticeably more negative and less under my control. I hadn’t realized just how much I relied on that yoga time for not just my physical health but my emotional well-being too. Add to that the fact that it’s winter, and February is typically the worst month of the year for me, and you can imagine how I was feeling. It wasn’t good for my family either (YB looked so surprised the day I randomly burst into tears at the dinner table!).

After only a week, and with such short sessions, I’m not back to 100 percent yet. But I feel much better. My body feels pleasantly sore instead of creaky old lady sore, and I find myself yearning to go for a run or a bike ride. My problem areas are still my calves and hips, along with my back, which is suffering from annual hunched-over-freezing-cold achiness. The calves are improving, and I’m much more likely to start stretching them during the day while waiting for coffee or the elevator. Hips are more troublesome – I can’t manage cobbler pose at all – but at least now I know that my left hip is tighter than the right. My back, shoulders, and neck are all delighted to be practicing again too.

And emotionally I’m much happier, less snappish, less easily frustrated, and more patient and responsive to YB. I still have a lot of room for improvement – I had a bit of a breakdown on Sunday, and Tuesday night I got grumpy with F for no reason just because I was tired – but I feel like I’m starting from a calmer, more positive baseline. I really hope to keep it up!


The Yoga of Parenthood, Part 3: Happy Baby Pose February 19, 2013

Filed under: yoga — R. H. Ward @ 9:39 pm

Happy Baby Pose

This was actually taken on Halloween – the toes are easily making it into her mouth now. I’ve been meaning to write a real “Pose of the Month” write-up on Happy Baby, since I’ve never done that one, but alas, it just hasn’t happened yet. But happy baby is happy!


The Inner Light February 14, 2013

Filed under: reflections — R. H. Ward @ 1:52 pm
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My husband F and I have been watching our way through every episode Star Trek: The Next Generation. F had never seen it before, and I hadn’t seen it since it originally aired. Right now we’re almost done with season 5, which is some of the best Star Trek I’ve ever seen. And the other night we saw “The Inner Light”, one of my all-time favorite episodes.*

In this episode, the Enterprise encounters an ancient alien probe, which emits a strange energy beam, rendering Picard unconscious. In the space of about 25 minutes, Picard lives a full, long lifetime on a long-dead alien world. The people of Kataan knew that their world was dying; they didn’t have the technology to save themselves, but they were able to create and launch this probe, intended to share with one individual their culture from the perspective of a native.

There are a few interesting things here (at least, from a yogic point of view; there are lots of interesting and wonderful things about the episode!). The people of Kataan could have chosen to put any number of things on their probe: books, musical recordings, works of art. How about computer files containing the sum of their race’s scientific, artistic, and literary accomplishments? But they knew that this wouldn’t truly represent them; they knew that life, culture, art, and emotion have to be experienced and lived in order to be understood. No amount of book learning or data could communicate who they truly were as a people, so they found a way to give someone that experience for himself.

And that’s the other thing. The probe was only good for one go. It shared Kataan with Picard, and then its systems terminated. The people of Kataan hoped that their probe would reach someone wise, a teacher who would share their culture and way of life with others. They hoped that by giving this gift to one person, they would live on. They weren’t trying to share their entire history with another race as a whole – they shared one man’s life and memories, with one person.

And what did Picard learn from Kataan, besides how to play the flute? Several times during the episode, the importance of living in the present moment is emphasized. It’s what Picard tells each of “his” children: to seize the moment, embrace love or pursue their passions now. The experience of life on a dying world made him more aware of the present moment. And, along with the hopes, dreams, and loves of an entire lost civilization, that’s what he brought back to the Enterprise with him.

(* Tied with “Darmok”, also in season 5, which is an awesome episode for two reasons: the idea of a species that communicates entirely in metaphor, which makes my English major’s heart go pitter-pat, and the fact that Picard tells the Gilgamesh story, which I adore and have blogged about before here. And what do these two episodes have in common? Picard gets hijacked by a strange race, and Riker nearly ruins everything by being overly aggressive and trying to rescue him! Seriously if there’s anyone you could trust to handle himself well under strange circumstances, it’s Picard [with the exception being the time Picard was kidnapped by the Borg, which was one time Riker was well justified in his rescue attempts]. Riker almost screwed up two of the best episodes in Star Trek history. He could definitely use a dose of Zen.)


Damsel, Arise February 12, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:00 pm
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Here at the yoga blog, I’ve often written in the past about the intersections of yoga with Christianity, and I’ve shared my opinion that yoga and Christianity are very compatible, because most of the things that Jesus says line up really nicely with most of the things that Patanjali says in the Yoga Sutras, or Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita. And I’ve shared my inability to understand the individuals of the Christian “religious right”, who say that God hates certain kinds of people, or who act hatefully towards certain groups. In my opinion, it’s more important to do the things that Jesus told us to do, like loving our neighbors and being kind, and I have trouble understanding how people who say they are Christian can act in ways that seem to be such a blatant contradiction of what Jesus actually said and how he himself acted.

And the other day, I read this article, Damsel, Arise: A Westboro Scion Leaves Her Church. And I was filled with hope. This person who genuinely wants to do good in the world, and who thought she was doing good, was still able to have an open mind, to engage in discussion on religious issues, to reconsider her actions and to change her life. I found the article, and Megan’s journey, to be incredibly inspiring, and I thank her deeply for sharing her story.


Meditation: It’s Good for Your Brain February 7, 2013

Filed under: yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 8:23 pm
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A while back (okay, a LONG while back) my husband F sent me a link to this article on ScienceDaily: Is Meditation the Push-Up for the Brain? The article discusses the work of researchers at UCLA, who found that the brains of long-term meditators had stronger connections between brain regions than non-meditators, and their brains showed less age-related atrophy. Stronger connections means that the brain can more quickly and efficiently relay signals from one region to another. Our brains shrink and become less efficient as we age, so meditation could help people to stay sharper longer.

But if you’re not a long-term meditator yet, take heart: another study shows positive effects on brain function for beginning meditators too. This article, Meditation’s Positive Residual Effects, reports research showing that after completing an eight-week meditation class, study participants demonstrated improved emotional regulation, even when not actively meditating. Tested before and after the class, the partcipants’ brains showed a reduction in response to emotional stimuli – perhaps this could translate to an increased ability to stay calm in frustrating situations?

The study also had another finding: participants who studied compassion meditation, as opposed to mindfulness meditation, and who practiced frequently outside of class, showed the decreased response to emotional stimuli overall, but they also showed an increased response to images depicting human suffering. By meditating, these people increased their own capacity to feel compassion for others. And the study showed that those who demonstrated increased compassion also had lower depression scores. It’s scientific evidence supporting what many meditation teachers and spiritual leaders have said all along: that compassion for others makes you happier too.


Identity-Based Habits: The Picky Eater February 5, 2013

Filed under: reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:48 pm
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I’ve been thinking a lot about that article on identity-based habits that I posted a few weeks ago. The concept just makes so much sense to me – that you’ll have trouble making significant changes in your life unless you change your self-concept and start thinking of yourself as the kind of person who can accomplish those changes. The more I think about it, the more examples I can find in my own life.

My parents tell me that as a baby, I loved to eat. I started on solids relatively early, and once I started, I’d eat anything. I sucked down baby foods that completely grossed out my parents and then opened my mouth for more. But somewhere along the way something changed. I started refusing foods and only accepting certain approved foods, like hot dogs, chicken, french fries, and mac and cheese. I became a “picky eater”. Dinnertime was often a battleground as I fussed and complained. Throughout my childhood I was notoriously picky about food, and looking back now, the pickier I was, the more I internalized that identity: no matter what my actual tastes might have been, I knew myself to be a picky eater, and I acted like one!

Eventually little things began to change my eating habits. At my part-time restaurant job in high school, I noticed that the Caesar salad and the zucchini marinara on the menu looked pretty good. I tried them, liked them, and began to eat them regularly. In college the limits of the cafeteria forced me to try new things so I wouldn’t have to subsist on a tasty but boring diet of froot loops and cheese sandwiches. During my senior year, the dining hall began a “pasta kitchen” line that offered two interesting dishes per meal and introduced me to the idea that pine nuts and spinach could go in my pasta, not just red sauce and meatballs, and the meals I tried that year were a major inspiration to my later cooking experiments.

Most importantly, I listened to my friends, people I liked and trusted who were surprised at the range of things I wouldn’t eat. Especially when I got to grad school and had to cook for myself, I knew I had a lot to learn. Christina taught me about garlic, chicken, and biscuits, among other things; Danielle and Sarah each taught me about guacamole; Dylan taught me about mushrooms, onions, and garlic, and how good they were all cooked together in olive oil; and much later, Fritz taught me the wide variety of things that can go in a burrito. By the time Fritz and I got engaged, I was ordering the octopus at fancy restaurants and sighing over my delicious Brussel sprouts.

As I tried and learned to cook new things, my concept of myself slowly changed. I was no longer a picky eater. Somehow I’d become a “foodie”: I’d grown to love cooking and trying new foods. And then I became a vegetarian, something a younger me (who refused anything green) could never have envisioned. When I think back to the 12-year-old me, or even the 18-year-old me, she would have been appalled. And that’s all rooted in self-concept: if I still identified myself as a picky eater, I would have missed out on so much deliciousness, so many enjoyable food experiences, and so many good times cooking and eating with friends. My self-identity only changed gradually over time based on what I learned and how that knowledge caused me to grow.

This is one reason why I think it’s so important to keep an open mind and never stop learning and growing. There’s so much in the world to experience that I don’t want to miss. And it’s why the idea of purposely, purposefully, changing one’s own self-identity is so compelling to me. If gradual, unintentional identity changes can have such effect, then what more can we do if we thoughtfully set out to change how we view ourselves? What new things will we be capable of? What distant dreams can we make into reality by becoming the person who can achieve them?