In this Vlog I spend some time talking about what makes a yoga retreat so much more than “Just a vacation” and why choosing to go on a yoga retreat can be important not only for self-care in the moment but long term stress management skills.
Following the 2016 elections in the USA I wrote a blog post about the results from a yoga and mindfulness perspective. You can view my thoughts here. While I tend to keep this blog a-political, if you know me in person (or on my personal Facebook Page) you would know I am a fairly political person, and you can tell from that aforementioned blog post that the election results were tough on me.
Here we are, more than a year and a half later (is that all?) and I am writing a similar blog post. If you read the news you know it has been an even more difficult past few weeks of news coming out of the United States, most specifically hearing reports and recordings of children being separated from their parents on the US/Mexico border.
If you are anything like me and many of the clients I work with, this has taken a toll on you in many ways. You may have found yourself depressed, or frustrated and feeling helpless or angry. Or all of the above. There may even be a temptation to shut off all the news and move to an ashram in the mountains somewhere. Or maybe just do enough sun salutations and head stands till you no longer feel the feelings you feel.
The temptation to just tune out entirely can be a strong one, and I think, and most experts agree, it is important to honor it from time to time. Otherwise there is no question you will burnout. Even Rachel Maddow takes a night off now and then! If you are going to tune out, tune out! I say this as someone who often is guilty of the opposite. Thinking “I will tune out I just need to read that one article” and next thing I know I am screaming at my computer screen again. If you are taking a new break let it be a conscious time of healing, finish a project you’ve been distracted from, practice intense self care.
This is where a mindfulness practice is extremely important. My practice helps me check in with myself, to notice when I am feeling overwhelmed and grant myself a pause. Such pauses are extremely essential, for my own well-being, my ability to take care of my family and for my ability to care for others in the world. I’ve made a rule for myself that I don’t listen to anything political if I am on my way to teach a yoga class or yoga therapy session. This helps me hold space for myself and my clients.
Another way to check in a more positive feeling way is to do something positive. For some this may be donating to a political campaign or a cause that it is important to you that is currently under threat. But maybe you can do something even bigger. If you live in a country where you can directly affect upcoming elections (ahem US readers) go campaigning, it sounds tiring but odds are you will feel great when you are done. Or volunteer for that cause that is important for you, whether it is helping at an animal shelter or local clinic or stuffing envelopes or donating blood. Or hold a fundraiser. With the news of children being taken away from their parents at the US border becoming worse day after day I felt paralyzed. I was crying and felt guilty every time I held my son. I thought about just checking out, but as a U.S. citizen these actions were happening in my name I knew doing so didn’t sit right with me. I decided to kill 2 birds with one stone and hold a fundraiser to raise money for a group supporting the families at the border by holding a class to help people deal with uncomfortable emotions. And we raised close to 500 USD! It almost felt selfish to do this, because it made me feel so much better. Am I still depressed reading the continuing flow of news? Of course! But being active helped me recharge, and feel less helpless, and the class I provided helped others recharge too. Look around your community, what service can you provide that can make the world a bit of a better place today?
Remember regular acts of self care are ESSENTIAL It can feel selfish, after all those facing brutality don’t get to “tune out”. But the truth of the matter is if you want to keep fighting for what is right and pursuing a just world you need to take care of yourself. So take some time to check out from the news and check in with yourself. Turn off Facebook and do a longer yoga practice. Listen to music instead of Pod Save America. You may discover in just 30 minutes or so you feel better ready to take on the challenges of the world. And there are many challenges and the world needs the specific things your energy and skills can bring to help make it a little bit better.
Finally, to end this post on a slightly more positive note, I will recount this story for you.
My mom brought the book "Emma's Poem" for my son on her last visit here. It is all about Emma Lazarus, the woman who wrote the poem on the Statue of Liberty. But really it is all about immigration in the United States, and about a society that welcomed in poor hungry refugees fleeing their homes so they can provide safe homes for their children. About how these refugees weren't welcomed by all, but the country still opened up their arms to them. I was reading it to my son early this morning and all of a sudden I just lost it. I started thinking about how if what was going on now was going on 100 years ago (when the book takes place) it would have been MY grandparents and great-grandparents being ripped from their parents arms. About how stupid and unfair all of this is. About how some of the decedents of those ancestors now think current policies are just, because the laws are different than 100 years ago.
All of a sudden I had tears streaming down my face. He's only a year and a half so I figured he wouldn't really notice or care, but all of a sudden he jumped off my lap. "Now I've done it" I thought, "I can't believe I am already messing him up so badly". But he toddled back to be with a little wooden toy and proceeded to try to put it in my mouth like a pacifier (which we don't keep around the house) and then pressed a tiny toy fish to my mouth to kiss instead.
So maybe the world sucks right now and I bet I am not the only one randomly bursting into tears but I feel a bit better knowing I am raising one really intuitive, empathetic little man who is already bringing more positivity into the world. This moment was a great reminder that even when the world seems at its worst there is always room to create more positive change.
Have you ever heard a yoga teacher talk about grounding? Grounding just means feeling and establishing your connection to the ground or the earth. The best explanation I ever heard for feeling “ungrounded” is when you are feeling so stressed or overwhelmed that it feels like something like a gust of wind could literally knock you over. This is a common feeling when, as a mom, you are being pulled, literally or figuratively, in a million directions. When we are ungrounded it feels like it is hard to get anything done and hard to meet anyone’s needs, including our own.
Grounding can help us feel less overwhelmed and more in our body. While this is a term that yogis and others like to throw around a great deal, how exactly DOES one practice grounding? Here are some of my favorite ways to feel more grounded.
Walk barefoot. Ideally Outside. The most direct way to feel more connected to the ground is to actually connect with the ground. You can do this by walking barefoot and really paying attention to the feet on the ground, feeling all the sensations of the earth (whether it is the grass, a yoga mat or a carpet) against your feet. Recently I let my toddler run around outside without shoes on, and I realized it was his first time being barefoot and walking outside. The minute his feet hit the cool, wet grass he burst into a loud giggle and immediately began tearing around. This is no surprise; feet are full of nerve endings. This means stronger sensations, and can be helpful if you are trying to practice mindfulness, as when we bring our attention to our feet it is easier to hold it there then in less sensitive places. Unfortunately we often don’t take time to notice these sensations, and walking with shoes on limits that ability. The good news is, it is spring, the perfect time to take off your shoes and walk around, in your backyard or a local park. If you don’t have anywhere you can walk around outside, a cleared floor space works just as well.
Practice some grounding Yoga poses- Some yogic poses are particularly grounding, especially standing poses, which give you another opportunity to feel your feet in the ground. My favorite is chair pose, where we not only use our feet to firmly ground us in place but we also send our hips back to the earth, while lifting up, something that would be difficult to do if we don’t focus on being grounded. Additionally, holding a pose like chair for a longer period of time requires a great deal of energy, which can draw the mind away from rumination and offer the nervous system an opportunity to relax.
Breath from the Ground Up. Another wonderful way to practice grounding is to practice Breathing from the Ground up, a technique I first learned during my Yoga Therapy Training with the Minded Institute, and that I now can’t imagine how I ever lived without. I’ve recorded a short version here. https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xt1GUeZG1AkozWeUIPYCg1YpiMtr9WOf/view?usp=sharing
If you are feeling ungrounded please take a few moments to ground yourself today. Just 5 minutes with any of these practices can help you feel more connected to the earth and less likely to blow away or be pulled apart.