My Precious Coffee & Inner Strength

Hands holding a coffee mug

I felt an uneasy feeling of guilt, the stillest of smallest voices, as I pushed the top down on my AeroPress. The delicious aroma of rich, fresh coffee filled the cold morning air with a warmth that welcomed the new day and reminded me that I could indeed survive¬†out here in the kitchen, away from the comfort of my bed. I sat down in my favorite chair, clutching that¬†hot coffee mug as though it’s contents held the secret to life. Ahhh, my precious

I wondered about that still, small voice that had recently made me feel uneasy about enjoying something so simple as a cup of joe. It had been tugging at me for a week or so. Was¬†it some¬†weird Puritanical urge to feel guilty at anything that brings pleasure? Maybe I should just suffer through the morning with some boring black tea to build character. No, that wasn’t it. Was I feeling guilty because I was worried about the caffeine when I am pregnant? No, my midwife gave me the green light to have one cup of coffee. Maybe it was because it was Lent, and although it’s not my practice to observe Lent, perhaps I was feeling that I should be doing so? ¬†Nope, that wasn’t it.

After a few mornings of feeling funny about drinking coffee and knowing well the source of that still, small voice, I finally asked God – what’s up?

Do I need to give up my morning cup?
Yes, you do.
Ok, for how long?
Five days.
I can do that! I’m pretty sure that Lent thing is 40 days, so I’m getting off the hook easy!

Five days was how long it took for me to learn what I needed to. The lesson had nothing to do with coffee itself. It was about where I draw my strength from and where I lean when I am stretched thin and challenged. I think it’s one of the most important lessons I’ve recently¬†learned because it spoke to the heart of my identity, showing me what I reach for to feel strong and capable.

I’m not going to say that being a mom is the hardest job ever, but for me, it has challenged me to grow (in sometimes painful ways) in a way that nothing else ever has.¬†My sweet baby boy is now almost two, and although I LOVE him more that words can say, these days I have many moments of exasperation and of… well, not totally¬†liking him. Anyone with a toddler knows that everything is a phase. The sweet, happy charmer one day can become a tiny tyrant the next, leaving you pulling at your hair and either praying for patience or cussing under your breath. The week I laid aside coffee happened to fall on a¬†very intense week with the little guy, and dad was out of town on a work trip, so I was left to handle the midnight tantrums and public daytime meltdowns on my own. I really needed that flipping cup of coffee… or a dirty martini, but again, I’m pregnant, so that wasn’t happening. I had been reaching for the cup of coffee like it was my well-spring of life. I gratefully slurped down the hot liquid, knowing and trusting that it would turn my tired, pregnant brain back on, giving me super-powers to get the day going, despite that fact that inside I felt weak, tired, selfish, and not enough.

Under the illusion¬†that my sacred cup of¬†coffee was bolstering me up, I became weaker in my inner being, in my spirit. “IF I start the day with a good cup of coffee, I can handle everything with grace.” Of course I rationally know that’s not true. Coffee may perk my brain up, but it does nothing to strengthen my spirit.¬†I know, beyond the shadow of a doubt, where my true strength comes from. And yet I forget to turn there so easily. I so easily replace a vibrant, life-giving¬†relationship with my Creator with cheap tricks, a quick fix, and crutches. As I came to understand the heart of my coffee issue, my eyes where opened to the other areas in my life where I misplace my security and strength:
If I always have a well-stocked kitchen full of only organic, whole foods.
If I know how to sprout my own grains and ferment my own sauerkraut.
If I learn everything there is to know about health and wellness.
If we have “X” amount of money in savings.
Then I’ll feel strong and capable.¬†Then my family will be healthy and safe. Then I will feel happy and content.

Of course, I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with putting an emphasis on drinking great coffee or eating clean or staying healthy or cooking well (or whatever your thing¬†is). But we have to be honest with ourselves when¬†our dependency on them becomes too heavy. I’m not talking chemical or physical dependency, I’m talking spiritual dependency. Our spirits have a much higher capacity to shape our outlook on life and our responses than any crutch we can dream up. And it’s easier to ignore our spiritual “health” when we are looking in the wrong places for help.

What’s your crutch or your cheap fix? How can you let it go, even just for a time, to discover or remember the richness of your true source of strength and power?

PS As a note of encouragement to other moms with little ones, since I wrote this post, Aiden had already moved on to a more enjoyable, easier phase. If you’re in a tough spot, this too will pass!!

How Long is a Year?

I meant to do this post after Aiden’s first birthday in the middle of May… but then “summer just flew by… ”

I bet you have heard a version of that phrase more than once lately; a mom¬†commenting about how she¬†can’t believe that it’s already time for the¬†school year to begin or a college student lamenting that summer ended too fast. I didn’t realize how much rhetoric we constantly hear about how fast¬†time is flying until Aiden turned one. I felt as though I heard the following phrase a hundred times: “Can you believe how fast it goes¬†by?!”

I remember hearing the same thing when I was about to get married. Well-meaning friends would say things like, “Don’t worry about the details. The day is a blur; you won’t remember much anyway!” I¬†didn’t want that¬†to be my experience. I set¬†an intention to consciously slow down the day and savor each sweet moment. And I did. I loved my wedding day. It was one of the best days of my life. I took a yoga class that morning, enjoyed a delicious ¬†burger and champagne with my friends, cherished the sacred vows I exchanged with my love, and thoroughly enjoyed the friends, family, food and dancing. I still remember the smell of the ocean air and the feel of the breeze and sunlight on my skin as I walked to the ceremony. I was high on life and pure love.

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Aiden’s first year

As I look back on the first year as a mom, I don’t¬†feel that time has somehow flown by or that I have missed something I should have captured. I have been there with Aiden every day, and I have been intentional about being present for each moment. Yoga teachers talk a lot about being present. It’s almost a trendy topic. And one might get the idea that presence is something you cultivate on your yoga mat while wearing Lululemon and perfecting bird of paradise¬†pose. While yoga can be a great tool for teaching us to be in the moment, I have not had any experience teach me this lesson¬†the way motherhood has.

I am guilty of getting lost in the black hole of social media, entertainment, or online shopping. That time seems to disappear into thin air. Being glued to a screen can quickly take us away from the here and now, and I know I’ve used it to escape when life seems dull. But here’s an important exhortation¬†to¬†myself and to other new moms:¬†Hold that little hand and look into those pure, innocent eyes when you are feeding your baby. Put your phone away. You want to make time fly by?! Surf the newsfeed on Facebook while your precious little one is in your arms, against your skin, close enough to kiss. I promise that you won’t read one thing that surpasses the importance of the bond and trust that is being developed with your little one.

This time never comes back. You won’t get these days again.¬†I firmly believe in putting¬†our child(ren) first and your career/job/hobby second. No, that doesn’t mean giving up your own thing; I think it just means keeping it in perspective and realizing that life has seasons. I’ve not once heard an older woman say, “I really wish I had spent more time at work and less time with my children.” I’ve always¬†heard the opposite. It’s easy to lose sight of priorities¬†when the routine tasks of life lull us into a coma. It’s easy to lose heart when we live in a society that undervalues a mother’s nurturing role. I’ve found for myself that it takes intention and effort to stay engaged and present.

Our words have so much power. I am making a conscious effort to stop saying things that reinforce the idea that there is not enough time.¬†Time is not¬†my enemy, and I don’t have to fight against it. This moment is all I have, and it is good. When I’m about to say, “I haven’t had time to do such-and-such”, I’m working at stopping myself and saying, “I haven’t chosen to do that.” I want to take more responsibly for my life¬†experience¬†rather than¬†feeling like life is happening to me.

If you believe that time is flying by and you’re inevitably going to miss out on the sweet everyday moments, then you will certainly¬†experience that. Being present requires surrender. It won’t always be easy, but I believe it is so worth it. You have a choice. Time isn’t going anywhere.

The only reason for time is so that everything doesn’t happen at once
~ Albert Einstein

 

Rise n Shine!

I’ve never been a “morning person”. In fact, to me there are few simple pleasures in life as lovely as curling up in warm covers in the morning and drifting back to sleep. Ahhh…

Enter baby. There is no snooze button on my little one. When he is ready to rock n’ roll, he is quite vocal about it. And thus the day starts on my baby’s terms, not my own. This is just part of being a mom, and I roll with it. However, I do get frustrated with myself when I’m still in my pajamas at 11am staring at a sink full of dried egg-encrusted dishes. #stayathomemomfailure

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It’s time to play!

I have the privilege of primarily being a stay-at-home mom. I wouldn’t trade it for the world! The few hours I do go to “work” each week are spent giving bodywork and teaching yoga, two of my biggest passions. You won’t hear me complaining about the tedious work of stay-at-home-mommyhood because I love my life, every bit and facet of it. I will say though that unless you get your game face on for rocking the stay-at-home gig, it can feel as though you are slipping into some sort of domestic twilight zone. I’ve found it vitally important, for my sanity and the overall health and energy flow of my home, to treat my role like any other job. The biggest factor in how my day goes is my diligence with committing to some sort of morning routine. Something that sets me on good footing for the rest of the day.

Whether you’re a home-maker trying to avoid the 11am pajama scenario or an entrepreneur determined to hit your goals each day, may the following suggestions for a butt-kicking morning be as helpful to you as they’ve been to me. I certainly don’t nail this list every morning; I’m putting these into writing as a reminder to myself too! But on the mornings I do hit most of these, the whole day takes on a better tone.

1. Give THANKS

Before your feet hit the floor say a quick prayer of gratitude. This might be as short as “Thank you God for giving me another day, thank you for my breath” or it might be more detailed. Gratitude it crazy strong magic.

2. Set an Intention

At the start to each yoga class, we begin by setting an intention for our time on the mat. I’ve found that to be a powerful practice that overflows into the rest of my life. Starting the day this way is so important.

3. Rehydrate and Flush to start fresh

Drink a cup of warm water with the juice of half a lemon or a few drops of a pure  therapeutic grade lemon essential oil. The health benefits of this simple practice in the morning are impressive.

4. Move that Body

Stimulate your energy flow by some simple massage and movements. Start with massaging your ears. The outer portion of the ear is viewed as a representation of the entire body. As with other forms of reflexology, points on the ear correspond with specific areas of the body. Massaging these points can produce therapeutic benefits in the corresponding body part or system and it just feels really good! Next, massage your scalp, then your chest, working outward from the sternum to the crease where your arm meets your torso. After your mini self massage, do a few gentle exercises that feel good to your body first thing in the morning (more on this in next month’s post) or put on some happy music and have a little dance party in your kitchen. Just. Move. Yo. Body. It’ll clear the energy cobwebs. If you have time to add on a little morning run or a full yoga practice or whatever your thing is, get it done!

5. Fresh air and sunlight

Even if it’s cloudy and gray, getting outside and taking some deep breaths is one of the best ways to start the day. Exposure to sunlight helps your body create hormone levels that help you feel more awake and alert.

6. Make a Nutrient Dense Breakfast

Breakfast is not the time to get lazy about fueling your cells. Think veggies, complex carbs, and some good protein. Enjoy the ritual of making tea or coffee.

7. Shower.

Water is so refreshing and wonderful. Besides, you’ll thank yourself when 11am rolls around! If you don’t have time to shower or you’re conserving because there’s a drought, just wash your face with alternating cold and warm water.

8. Get dressed and put yourself together

No, you don’t need to look like you just stepped off the cover of Vogue, but seriously, pull it together. “I wish I hadn’t looked my best today” said no one… ever.

9. Make Your Bed

Because you’re an adult. Plus, the whole room looks better almost instantly. Studies show that accomplishing even small tasks can trigger activity in the reward centers of the brain, motivating you to accomplish other tasks!

10. Do the Dishes

Unless you have a maid coming, do the breakfast dishes ASAP. No, that pan doesn’t need to soak any longer.

Extra Credit:

Throw something in the crock-pot for dinner!

(*Please note, if you have a newborn at home, ignore all of this and get as much rest as you can! Let someone else do the dishes, and enjoy those PJ’s!)

“You just had a baby?!”

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I really have used the whole pregnancy/baby thing to slack on my blogging! Sorry to both or all three of my faithful readers!! I thought it appropriate on my first blog back after baby to talk about what I see as our culture’s weird and somewhat twisted view of women’s bodies surrounding pregnancy, birth, and the postpartum period.

Let me begin by saying that I have always been thin. This is not the same as saying I have always looked like a supermodel. Au contraire! I love my healthy body, and I embrace it’s unique angles and curves, “faults” and strengths, but it’s just a fact that my figure is not the airbrushed “perfect” look of a Victoria’s Secret model. As part of my skinny loveliness package, I also come with boney knees and elbows, an itty-bitty bra size, and rail thin arms and legs. Would I like curvacious legs and bombshell boobs? Sure! But that’s not the body type the good Lord blessed me with! I eat rich, wholesome foods and I exercise every day, not to maintain a certain dress size, but because it FEELS GOOD! I want to live my life with ample energy and a healthy, strong body to carry me through life’s adventures.

So I feel perplexed and even a bit frustrated when people exclaim, “You don’t look like you just had a baby!” I know its supposed to be a flattering compliment, but I feel it reflects an untrue and sad cultural ideology surrounding women’s bodies after childbirth. I wholeheartedly believe that here is no more beautiful and powerful time in a women’s life than when she is teaming up with the Creator of Life to grow, nourish, sustain, and give birth to a brand new person! It’s totally an awesome metamorphosis to watch your body go through the amazing stages of pregnancy. Labor itself is an event that defies all logic, and the fact that women’s bodies are designed to go through that event with such rhythm and intelligence should give us all a healthy reverence and respect for what the human body is capable of.

I’m not going to completely romanticize the postpartum period and say that it is all bliss and overflowing love and shininess. No, sleep deprivation is a real thing, and it’s not very pretty. I remember a particular Facetime chat with our good friends the week after our son was born. When the call ended, my husband and I hoped our dark under-eye circles and generally dazed look hadn’t scared our friends into seeking out a permanent form of birth control. The feeling of being overwhelmed with a new baby and the high learning curve of caring for a helpless little person can be totally daunting and make you feel a bit crazy. And yes, a women’s body needs time to heal and recover from the insane marathon of labor and birth. Those “Tough Mudder” races have nothing on childbirth!!! Holy smokes, it is a grizzly experience. But our bodies are not wrecked from it! It will take patience, diligent self care, lots of love, and some precious sleep to come back, but if we care for ourselves and are offered loving care by those around us, it will. It is so damaging for a woman to buy into the idea that once she is pregnant, she is going to become unfit and out of shape and a slave to all kinds of unhealthy food cravings!

Healthy, well-loved bodies are beautiful bodies! Curvy, tall, short, petite, skinny, whatever. At any life stage (pregnant or otherwise), eat nourishing whole foods and exercise daily, and the best advice of all, from my midwife, “be in love”. Whatever shape your body type lends itself to, you are beautiful and radiant when you care for yourself. For those of you who are at the time of life that involves the drastic physical and emotional changes surrounding pregnancy and childbirth, keep the mindset that this is an incredible, beautiful, and magnificent time in your life, not a time to let yourself slide into a place of resigned apathy and negligence. One day I hope an old friend comes up to me in line at the store and says, “You look incredible, powerful, and strong! You look like you just had a baby!!!

Savasana – The Science & Art of Chilling Out

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Pop Tart Culture

It always puzzles me when yoga students roll up their mat and creep out of the room as soon as savasana commences. I wonder if these are the same students, who, when they do stay for the final resting pose, stare up at the ceiling, fidget incessantly, and suddenly seem to develop a demanding case of poisen oak on the tip of their nose. It’s not that these students all have ADHD or lower levels of self restraint than the rest of us; I think it has more to do with a lack of understanding of the value of this posture.¬†I also think it also has to do with our culture where we associate being agitated and stressed-out with being productive and having a sense of self-worth. Like the comedian Brian Regan says in his skit about Pop-Tarts, … after the toaster instructions, then they have a whole set of microwave instructions… how long does it take to toast a pop tart?! A minute?! You don’t have that kind of time?! Listen, if you need to zap-fry your pop tarts before you head out the door, you might wanna loosen up your schedule. ¬†So true! Whether it’s the way we prepare food or the time we take to care for ourselves. We act like lunatics rushing around with our schedules so jammed packed that we feel like chilling out for a few minutes is not worthy of our time!

The Cherry on Top

Almost every type of yoga practice or sequence ends with a final resting pose, savasana, usually done flat on one’s back with arms and legs stretched out, relaxing heavily on the floor. The use of props like a bolster under the knees or a blanket under the head may make make this resting posture most comfortable. The pose name translates in Sanskrit to “corpse pose”, not because the ancient yogi’s had a morbid obsession, but because the pose is meant to facilitate complete surrender and letting go – physically and mentally. The body and mind are still and quiet. So is corpse pose the same as a power nap? Not really. Lying down on your back sounds simple, but if you look up the posture on yogajournal.com, you will find that it takes 5 paragraphs of step-by-step instructions to tell you how to set yourself up in this uncomplicated pose – and that’s just instructing the physical aspects of the posture! The biggest reason for setting yourself up with care for savasana is so that the body is completely open and at ease and is no longer a distraction to the mind. Understanding the benefits, which are so worth staying on your mat for that extra 5 to 10 minutes, might be key to helping you experience those benefits first-hand.

I could go on for 15 pages about the benefits of savasana for every system in the body, for hormone regulation, for mental and emotional wellbeing, and for spiritual connectedness (whatever your religious beliefs), but since I’d rather you finish this and head off to your mat to practice, I’ll focus on just two areas of benefit: One from a western, more medical standpoint about the nervous system and the other from a more holistic Ayurvedic¬†view about the flow of energy.

Maintaining Balance and Homeostasis of the Nervous System

Quick refresher: The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is made up of two main corresponding systems – the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), associated with the physiological response of “fight or flight”, and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), associated with the response of “rest and digest” or “feed and breed”. Good old Wikipedia draws out this phrase:To be specific, the parasympathetic system is responsible for stimulation of ‚Äúrest-and-digest‚ÄĚ or “feed and breed” activities that occur when the body is at rest, including sexual arousal, salivation, lacrimation (tears), urination, digestion, and defecation.” ¬†It’s no news flash that modern life keeps us in a state of fight or flight most of the time where our SNS is dominant. However, as¬†Dr. Veronique Mead so simply states, “A healthy nervous system maintains homeostasis by balancing input from both branches of the ANS during activites ranging from¬†relaxing, digesting and sleeping,¬†to waking, feeling excited, and running.”¬†Relaxing and lettting go completely in¬†Savasana is one of the best ways to activate the PNS, receiving the benefits of better digestion, detoxification, and sexual health as well as lower heart rate, lower levels of the stress hormone Cortisol, higher levels or endorphins (“feel good” hormones), and increased resistance to infection.

Rivers of Prana

In the practice of yoga, the postures and the breath are used to cleanse, tone, and strengthen the whole body – each system – on a holistic level. From an Ayurvedic viewpoint, health is achieved when Prana, or “life force energy”, is able to move¬†uninterrupted throughout the whole body. Sickness and disease are seen as the result of poor energy flow. Those who regularly practice yoga may be able to tune into their body’s subtle rhythms and notice where and when they feel “blocked” or “stagnant” in a particular part of their body. During a well-rounded yoga practice, stagnant and blocked energy channels are opened up and cleansed, and during savasana, Prana is able to flow freely through the body to any places that need healing and extra nourishment. This is one reason for the very open and easy alignment in this pose. There are no “kinks” or bent angles in the body. All the energy channels are wide open for life force to flow easily.

If You Skip Out, You are Missing Out! 

Like I said before, there are so many other benefits to practicing savasana, such as the integration of new neuromuscular patterns and the quieting of the mind that happens from withdrawing the senses. However, I think you will learn about these just from experiencing them if you give yourself the chance. So stay, surrender to the practice of letting go, and see what happens. And please, don’t eat pop tarts for breakfast, even if you toast ’em.

Gluten-Free Pancakes

Gluten Free Pancakes

There is nothing like sitting down on a Sunday morning to a hot stack of pancakes right off the griddle, topped with real butter and pure maple syrup. My husband and I went gluten-free a few months ago (totally worth it), and giving up pancakes wasn’t all that sad to me because I had never felt very good after eating them. Recently my mother-in-law (thanks again, Rea) came up with the best recipe for gluten-free pancakes, and I have to share it because they are so so good! Even if you’re not gluten-free, I promise you’ll love the flavor, the texture, and you’ll probably even notice that you still feel full and satisfied hours later.

In a blender combine:

1.5 cup milk   (could substitute soy, rice, or almond milk)
1 egg   (could use egg alternative)
1.5 cups Bob’s Red Mill Gluten-Free Pancake Mix
1/2 cup almond meal
1/2 cup coconut flakes
1/2 cup coconut oil (melt it before adding)
1/2 banana
1 tsp vanilla
pinch of salt
splash of water as needed to blend

Blend all ingredients in the blender until mixed well and drop about 1/4 cup mixture per cake on an oiled hot griddle or cast iron pan. So easy!

I love lots of protein at breakfast, so I topped one stack of mine with my favorite smooth almond butter and honey.

Enjoy!