Parenting and Practicing Yoga: Always get Back by Petra Carmichael

Petra is a yoga teacher and the owner of Divya Yoga Studio in Zagreb, Croatia.
She is currently based in Boston, travelling and managing the yoga school in Croatia.  She is also studying at Middlesex University of Ayurveda London.

Always get Back

I’ve been practicing yoga for a several  years. Do I really have the right to say that considering it’s a 5000 year old practice? Anyway let’s just say I have some experience.  I can definitely say that it’s something  I’ve been looking for my whole life.

Yoga teaches you to focus and aside from the physical exercise, it takes you away from the everyday activity in to your own space.  A space where you can see the real values helping to step besides your own little world and realize there is more to everything. Now this might be a little confusing. First I said it takes me into my little world and then besides it.

About a year and a half ago I found out that I was pregnant.  As you practice yoga you definitely develop some sensitivity towards the changes in the body.  I remember the time when I felt that something was different.  I took a home test and it was positive. That moment was amazing – I was happy and scared. At the same time I kept the big news to myself for another couple of days.  Straight away I stopped practicing asanas trying to take the best care of myself.  I really loved being pregnant.  It’s a special time in a woman’s life.

When my pregnancy was stable I came back to the physical part of yoga, to the asanas, and I must admit, it felt great.  My back especially, but the whole body and mind were almost screaming for movement.  When you are pregnant people sometimes treat you like you are sick or disabled.  I definitely took precautions and was very careful with what I was doing with my body.  But I was on my mat everyday.

The practice was completely different from what I was used to. It was soft and gentle all the way into the ninth month of my pregnancy carrying a big baby.  My little son (10 pounds 6 ounces – so much for little) was born six and a half months ago.  I felt more love than I have ever felt before.

He was a strong healthy baby, but he didn’t pass the hearing test. That really scared my husband and me.  Further testing showed that our little one is profoundly deaf.  That moment when you find out such news is indescribable. First you start questioning what you have done wrong. Why you. Why your baby.? There is no answer to these questions.  I know I didn’t do anything wrong.  It’s simply how it is.

But to come to that point of understanding it definitely takes some time and energy.  The practice helped. I got back on the mat 10 days after my C-section; only tiny stretches to keep myself sane.  It wasn’t easy not to be able to touch my toes and to go through pain as the body was slowly getting back into shape.  But it definitely kept me out of my mind and of the situation.

I hear a lot of parents complaining about how they can’t keep the practice because of the child.  It’s not easy and I am very lucky to have a calm child who watches me as I practice, with a smile. But it’s not always like that.  There are days when I have to assist him many times, get off the mat and feed him or change a diaper, but the important thing is to GET BACK ON THE MAT.

My Transcendental Meditation (TM) teacher, dearest Narasimhan, told me if there is someone at the door, go get it, do what needs to be done but then return and continue with your meditation.  I think that’s really what it is and it doesn’t only apply to parents.

So I have  one suggestion for every soul fighting with tapas – the daily practice.  Just get on that mat every day no matter what happens, and keep returning.

At the moment we are in the process of getting cochlear implants for our son.  Hopefully he will be able to hear his first Om in late July this year.

Parenting and Practicing Yoga: How I Almost Became a Yoga Addict by Pascaline Perdikas

Pascaline has been practicing yoga for almost 10 years but she doesn’t talk about yoga a lot, doesn’t think yoga, doesn’t wear yoga clothes, never was a vegetarian, and never did a workshop.   She moved from Paris to China in 2008 and since then a lot changed.
How I Almost Became a Yoga Addict

Yoga helped me get through my pregnancy with minimal discomfort.

Every time I am asked about my pregnancy, my answer turns a simple question into a long discussion about the benefits of yoga during pregnancy.

Let me say first, that I never took yoga seriously before my pregnancy. My practice through the years was quite scattered, sometimes it was once every 2 months and sometimes 3 times a week. I practiced with friends, or because I had found a good teacher, and at some point in my life it gave me something to focus on when everything else seemed out of control. I never took it seriously, never pushed myself to go to class – except, when I was pregnant.

During my pregnancy, yoga became a serious matter. I was already in my 8th week when I found out I was pregnant. A few weeks before that I felt my body & ligaments were more flexible; suddenly I was able to go deeper into postures and it made me feel good but I didn’t understand then why I was so dizzy and tired after each class.

Pregnancy caught up with me and I had to stop yoga almost immediately after that. Basically I stopped going out of the house until my first trimester was over. Being in bed with morning, afternoon and night-sickness, made me feel awful. I refused to accept the situation, I was almost angry at my body for making me so sick. I promised myself that as soon as I felt better I would do something about it.

So as soon as my first trimester ended, I started practicing yoga. Religiously.

Going to yoga classes was challenging: a 30 minute walk, a 7 storey trek without an elevator up to the studio, 1.5 hours of yoga and then 7 floors down (sounds easy but try doing that with a watermelon in your arms), and then of course, the 30 minute walk back home.

My teacher Judy. and friend Natasha both took the time to show me modified versions of the Ashtanga Vinyasa postures, to work with me on a self-practice, advise me, correct me, inspire me. Next to Judy’s yoga studio there is a nice little farmer’s market. So on the days I lacked motivation to go to class, hunger and cravings for fresh fruits and vegetables (especially avocados, my special thing during pregnancy) pulled me out my door.

Yes, I did eat before classes, actually when you are pregnant you shouldn’t practice on an empty stomach; and you should drink small quantities of water during practice to prevent dehydration and uterine contractions.

Yoga was not a painful activity anymore; it had become something I desperately needed in order not to BE in pain. The benefits were amazing: Being healthy from yoga practice gave me self-confidence; I was at peace with my body going through all these changes.  Doing my pranayama almost every day made me feel calm, and relaxed. It helped me breath through back pain and deal with shortness of breath.

Two very common feelings during pregnancy are fear (the fear of something going wrong, the fear of pain for example) and stress. Meditation techniques helped me deal with this. Closing my eyes and putting my hands on my belly, breathing and emptying my thoughts, focusing, all this brought me awareness and helped me connect with my baby in a way that is impossible to explain.

I felt calm and confident.

The Triangle pose helped me build up strength and removed tension from the lower and upper back. The Cat and Cow Pose did wonders for my back. The Pigeon pose was my favorite hip opener; something in this posture was just wonderful. And of course, I loved Child’s pose. I used to spend several minutes just breathing in this posture.

I felt prepared for the birth.

Yoga helped me bring awareness to my breath and body, it reduced my worries and I felt like I could adapt quickly to a new situation. I managed to go through the contractions without drugs, just by using my breathing exercises. The conditioning gained from mula bandha (like Kegel exercises) and breathing techniques helped me a great deal when it was time to push the baby out.

Did I become a passionate and devoted yoga student after this positive experience? Well, to be honest, not exactly.

After birth, I just didn’t have the time between feeds, naps and diaper changes. The me time was barely enough to have a shower, brush my teeth and call a friend (or two if the nap was long enough).

Then 3 weeks ago, my baby turned 1 and showed me in her cute little way, she was actually OK with me not being around all the time. So, this week I’ve attended 2 classes. A small victory. A sort of declaration of independence on my side too.

I also found my way back to the farmer’s market, so once again, my baby and I enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables.

For more info about yoga during pregnancy: http://www.ashtanga.com/html/pregnancy.html
http://www.babycenter.com/0_great-pregnancy-exercise-prenatal-yoga_7862.bc

In the Game

Early Sunday morning, I tell L and R that I’ll be out until lunch; that I’ll be teaching Pranayama (breath-work) workshops.

“Afu Pa-ya-ma-na,” Rahul pleads with outstretched arms. (Afu is what he calls himself.)

I pick him up; tell him that he can do some Pranayama with me, but that he’s got to stay with “ayi” (meaning aunt, aka nanny in this case) for the morning.

10 minutes later, he blocks me from entering the shower, “Mama Yoga. Mama Pa-ya-ma-na.”

———————

The response was overwhelming. My Yoga teacher friend Judy, who organized the 2 sessions, back-to-back at her lovely little home studio, and I, haven’t worked together since I got pregnant two and a half years ago. It’s not only the “together” bit though, I haven’t taught at all.

Of course I was nervous. All week. It’d been a while.

But, I am confident about Pranayama, especially after all the workshops I’ve attended over the years, and most importantly, from my own regular practice: the years of regularity, the continuity of it regardless of bed-rest during the pregnancy, the slip during the NICU phase and stressful first year, the irregularity of practice coming back to it, and the decision of, “that’s it – it’s got to be for real, or not at all.”

——————-

Maher attends the 9 O’clock session. L and R hang onto our sleeves, crying as we leave the apartment.
It does him good to have a refresher. It’s a nudge, to get him back into a regular practice.

“I need it,” he says to me, almost every day.

He’s sick more often than ever before. The children are always coughing. As soon as we’re in the street, I have sharp headaches. I catch myself turning around to see if there is someone smoking right behind me. All the time. We’re feeling the pollution. It’s worse than it’s been in the last 6 years. There are more buildings, more cars, and more people.

———————

A month ago I did my first serious workshop since before I was pregnant. It was in Koh Samui with Paul – my teacher. He asked if I was Back in the Game. He meant everything – Asana, Pranayama. He has children of his own. He’s had many other first-time-mum students who needed the push to get off their butts and practice again. He’s dealt with the ones who disappear for a few years, and then return, for a nudge. He knows about my pregnancy and the early birth, the stresses.

I suppose that’s why he asked me if I was back. A few times over the 2 week course. My doubtful but positive response at the beginning of the workshop had a completely different meaning to my confident one at the end.

———————-

At the end of each session, Judy and I leave 5 minutes for questions.

“It’s doubtful that I will remember any of this. Can we have a follow-up class?” one of the students asks.

———————

I rush home after the second class. Maher, R, and L are having a good time. Laughing. Playing.

“They had a great morning; they didn’t cry a drop after you left,” ayi reports as she leaves.

———————

We’ve organized one follow-up session; possibly more over the next few weeks.

So am I Back in the Game?

A written declaration of it might make it more real.

Savasana confessions

Savasana aka corpse pose, final relaxation, or just “take rest” as Pattabhi Jois used to say, is usually practiced at the end of a yoga session. Lie on your back. Let your legs separate slightly and roll out. Keep your arms along your body with the palms facing up. Allow the floor to support your weight fully. Let the breath be natural. A nice little exercise to do for a few minutes is to watch your belly rise and fall as you breathe in and out; even to use the words as a mantra, “rise, fall, rise, fall…..” or whatever words work for you. Then let go of all that too.

Savasana was never really the focus or end goal of my practice. I definitely enjoyed being in it. Over time, after an hour and a half, sometimes longer of a full-on ashtanga session I certainly realised the need for it. With some guidance from experienced teachers, the deep, grounding calm from being fully in it became a necessary conclusion to a practice. As Paul Dallaghan, my principle teacher often says, his day is different, more agitated if for some reason savasana was rushed. I didn’t mind skipping a pose or two to have time for a long relaxation, the kind that allows the heart rate to slow down, the sweat to dry, the muscles to relax, and any nervous tension to settle. The stillness was rejuvenating.

Then during the first trimester of my twin pregnancy in 40C Indian heat, things changed a bit. My intense morning sickness meant that I only made it on my mat in the evenings once the sun had gone down. Fatigue rendered short and simple sessions. Savasanas had become fifteen minute to half an hour naps! The second and what lasted of the third trimester I spent in bed rest; so lots of savasana! I continued with a simple pranayama practice while lying down. This was great to ease sleepless nights. Again the savasana after that turned into much needed sleep.

I gave birth at seven months gestation after spending a few weeks in hospital hooked up to an IV. The medication was supposed to control the contractions. After the emergency delivery Leila and Rahul were whisked away to the NICU before I even got to see them. They were tiny and needed support from machines to live. That’s when the stress and adrenaline in my system kicked in, and it had to in order for me to get through the next few months. It was necessary for me to spring back into the busy Hong Kong world of traffic, lights, sounds, long days at the NICU filled with schedules, spreadsheets, worry, fear, good days, bad days; nights expressing milk, washing. labeling, freezing many milk bottles. This was day in and out for six weeks. Savasana? No way.

I honestly don’t remember when I started my practice again; ashtanga lite of course. I think it was after both L and R came home. It was also the six-week safe marker to begin practice again after giving birth. With two babies to take care of practice happened once, maybe twice a week, mainly when Maher was in HK over the weekend and he managed to convince me to take the time for myself. A session was about half an hour-long, and if there was a savasana it was either a one minute forced and agitated experience, or a ten minute nap. Many times the practice was a ten minute “savasana” on the mat! This was only possible because I had my mum and mother-in-law helping out with R and L.

I finally understood what it was like for many of my students who dreaded, even feared savasana, the ones who twitched nervously and those who just rolled up their mats and left. When the babies were eleven months old, by which time we had already moved back to Chengdu, and there was no more real impending health worry, the four of us and a group of friends went to Koh Samui for a week-long holiday. I took a couple of classes at Yoga Thailand. The first morning I arrived late. I felt like everyone in the room could feel my nervous energy and hear my minds voices racing through whether Maher was able to handle the two crawling all over the hotel room on his own, whether they needed diaper changes, whether I had washed and sterilized enough milk bottles. How was he going to get them both to sleep? And what about him? When is he going to be able to eat, drink, run, or practice, and have a minute?” It’s not easy to handle the two babies at the same time. It was not about leaving the babies in someone elses care because I did that since they were born. This was supposed to be my time to relax and be “free” of that for a couple of hours. Everyone around me had been in retreat for more than a week already. They were calm, focused, in the moment. In this quiet space, my inner voices were screaming. If I was walking through the bustling streets of HK no one would even notice these inner jumpings of my mind.

I walked out of savasana. “The babies needed to nap. If they didn’t sleep they would be cranky all day.” I never walked out of a studio during savasana in my life, not in Beirut, Paris, Singapore, Shanghai….I did at YT. Was I out of my mind? Man was I glad Paul wasn’t there! When I rushed back to the room, L and R were sleeping in their cribs, Maher was practicing and listening to classical Indian music.

4 months later over Chinese New Year we went back in Koh Samui. This time I was generally more in control of my situation. L and R were already a year and two months old. I was confident that together we could handle the two babies on our own and Maher is one of few people who can singlehandedly take care of the two. One morning we went to Spa Samui for breakfast. There was the usual morning yoga class in the outdoor shala for their guests who are doing a detox/ fast. I was only walking past the class, but I felt my body tense up. My pace quickened. The thought of having to listen to a teacher calmly, and then actually follow through with the instructions scared me. I wanted to run. By extension, there was no way I could be teaching a class in such a state. Self practice is different entirely, especially if it is in my living room and I can go in and out of it as the need arises.

Other than that little episode it was a wonderful, much needed holiday, Back in Chengdu, I managed to let go a little. The stress of taking care of the children eased. More often than before, my head was above water. Around that time I read The world needs savasana, an article by a teacher at YT, Elonne Stockton. It made sense, and helped steer me back on track savasana wise. Things slowly seemed to be falling into place again. My 5 days a week practice has become a slightly more intensive version of ashtanga lite. Teaching will come when the time is right. Savasana is happening again. Something clicked and it’s wonderful. Other than me feeling more balanced after a good savasana, modeling this simple way of taking time out to relax and regroup to R and L is invaluable.