• How to Balance Motherhood, Yoga, and Everyday Life

    I get a lot of women asking me how I can possibly find time to do my yoga practice, take care of a baby, keep up with the house, and maintain my job and relationships all at the same time. I’ve had women tell me they are hesitant to have a baby because it just seems like too much for one woman’s plate.

    Well. It is. It’s a lot. There’s no denying that and I would be a total liar if I said I had everything under control all the time. There are days, sometimes weeks, when the only asana practice I can get in is sun salutations. My sink almost always has a few dishes in it. I definitely don’t teach as many classes as I used to. And sometimes I can’t help but lose my cool, collected nature and get carried away with stress or worry.

    But overall, I am happy. I have an amazing family, I get paid to teach yoga and write from home (or anywhere in the world!), I’m physically healthy and emotionally stable. I feel balanced, supported, and nurtured in my everyday life. And I owe much of it to these five principles I’ve implemented to keep myself centered and focused. If I’m off my game, there’s a high likelihood that it’s because I’m neglecting one or more of these very important foundational pillars of a balanced life. They really do work.

    And today I’m sharing my personal tools with you, to help you find that same balance and fulfillment in your own life as a mother (or future mother!).

    1. Set Boundaries. Say no when you need to. You don’t need to do everything all the time. You aren’t supposed to give endlessly to everyone else until you collapse from utter exhaustion. For a very long time, women have been taught to believe they must give 110% of themselves to both their work, household, and children everyday. How draining! I don’t even think it’s actually possible. So we need to honor that we, too, are human beings who need set boundaries on how much energy we can healthily pour out into the world. If there is an area in your life that is pulling away from your ability to thrive and serve simultaneously, honor your feelings and make a shift.
    2. Lighten your Load and Focus In. Practice minimizing priorities so you can be more fully present. For example, If I’m feeling overwhelmed and frustrated that there isn’t enough time in a day to do all the things I want to do, I pause. I focus on what’s happening in the present moment, and come back to prioritizing the bare minimum: family, health, and wellness. I ask, “What’s most important here? In this particular moment, here and now, what needs my attention most of all?” And then most of the time I realize my mind has wandered off into Stress Land and pulled me in a million directions, away from Right Here, Right Now: the peace and simplicity of the present moment. When I focus back into the present moment, I can relax about all the things that “need to get done” and enjoy myself again (and usually, consequentially, become more productive than before!).
    3. Set Aside “Me” Time. Treat yourself! This is so important. We need time away from the chaos to recharge. Think pure pleasure. What makes you happiest? Maybe a bath with essential oils and a cup of tea, a yoga class, massage, or dinner date with your girlfriends while someone else watches the kids. Maybe it’s a trip to the mountains or something else entirely. It doesn’t matter what it is, as long as it refills your cup and makes you happy… like you’re coming back home to yourself.
    4. Nourish your Body. Make fresh, healthy, complete meals everyday. Eat whole foods. Drink water and mineral rich herbal teas throughout the day. Practice yoga, stretch your body, take walks, get enough sunlight and enough sleep. I know I personally feel happier, healthier, and more capable of tackling the day when I’m consciously filling my physical body with the right nutrients. It’s imperative that my wellness is taken care of in order for me to properly show up to take care of everything else in my life. It means I play with my son more, I write and teach with more clarity, I get way more done around the house, and I’m overall more efficient.
    5. Ask for Help. You were never meant to do it all alone. Raising children takes a village. I would not be able to do all the things I do if it weren’t for my husband, my mom, and my friends. They are so so helpful and always there when I need a break (my “me” time!) or a few hours of uninterrupted writing time. We’re social animals; we all need to rely on other people sometimes. If you feel like you need more help, get it. Ask your partner, your mother, your best friend, anyone. If you’re lonely, reach out and make play dates. Find a strong community of women to be a part of, and get the support you need. We’re all in this together!

    That’s it, ladies! I hope at least one of these tools resonates with you, and I hope you take the time to implement it. By focusing on these five areas, you’ll notice more free time in your day to achieve your goals, more energy in your body, and greater love and gratitude in your heart. You are always welcome to send questions, comments, or concerns my way. I am here to support. <3

    For love, with love.

    By Emily O’Brien

  • The Tristhana Training Ground: Breath, Gaze and Pose in Ashtanga Yoga

    Life feels like it’s been going through a slow-motion upheaval for some months now. Relationships tumbled out of the place I thought they belonged. Teaching opportunities I hadn’t even imagined pushed themselves to forefront. The political vibe of the world has felt erratic and powerful social justice movements have shaken me. The landscape of my life has been changed radically. Amid all this disturbance I have remained dedicated and devoted to my practice, thanks to the 3 stabilizers at its core.

    The Tristhana Method teaches us how to concentrate our attention using the breath, the gaze and both the outward (and deep internal) posture of the body. In Ashtanga yoga we always begin by lifting the arms over the head, drawing our navel in and up. This combination of internal and external movement shapes the pose through outward alignment and the inward bandha. We pair this alignment with a deep inhalation that matches up precisely to the duration of the arms rising. As the palms press together overhead, the drishti (gazing point) becomes fixed on the thumbs.

    This first vinyasa (a term signifying the matching of any one breath movement with any one body movement) of our practice sets us up to expand the mind/body/breath complex in new and intriguing ways. A slow rhythmic breath has a powerful effect on the nervous system. It’s a fact of our biology that as we exhale the heart rate decreases. So we breathe with sound, giving the breath texture, something we can hold on to and extend. The sound is like that of fogging a mirror, but through the nose. This breath control leads to a greater awareness of the inner spaces of the body. We see how the breath creates an openness where calm, dispassionate self-exploration is possible. There is a play of aliveness here that’s suitable for working to balance effort and ease.

    We settle into a gentle coercion around the breathing. We imbue it with just the right meter (even on inhale and exhale) and feeling tone (not too quiet, but not too forced).  When the dynamics of the breath are correct they fuel the practice with a sensation of harmonious propulsion.

    This vinyasa method of linking each movement with an inhale or an exhale allows us to make transitions with fluidity and drives us into the second stabilizer- the posture itself. In Sanskrit we call the pose Asana. Its made up of two parts, the external shape and the subtler internal engagement. The outward appearance of the pose is created by alignment via the measured arrangement of limbs, torso, pelvis, head, toes and fingers. The internal engagement is created by bandha, subtle physical and energetic controls centered deep in the body.

    If the breath gave the inner spaces shape, the then bandha gives them a sense of mass and makes them movable. Uddiyana Bandha feels a bit like drawing the low belly in and up. Moola Bandha activates the pelvic floor. Imagine you have to pee really bad, and there’s a line for the bathroom. Those muscles you squeeze to hold it are the ones you should contract for Moola Bandha. When these two work together they have the effect of suctioning the outer body in. Like a corset, they pull the more external body tissues towards the center, slimming the waist. In this way, the gravity of your core increases and the mass of your body is more easily controlled, pivots more freely around this newly awakened energetic center.

    Bandha brings a sense of lightness. As these deep muscles that were previously unused step up and take on responsibility for some of the body weight, our posture becomes steady and still. To the observer there may appear to be and effortless grace about the practitioner.

    Perhaps the most easily understood of these three tools is the drishti, or gazing point. If the breath and bandha have worked together to cultivate an expansion of the mind/body awareness, then the gaze has the effect of locking it all in place. When we reach the arms over the head in Utkatasana and hold for 5 long breaths, the arms naturally become fatigued. But if the gaze is focused on the thumbs and unwavering, there is a psychic push. Under the strength of the gaze the background blurs out and the fingertips reach up further than you thought possible.

    This three-pronged approach is the proven heart of the Ashtanga Yoga Method. When practiced daily and for a long time, it seems to increase sensitivity, provide clarity and perspective.

    Presidents come and go. Lovers become friends. We wake up to important social truths with a start. Change is always coming, sometimes more quickly than were prepared for. But these moments are prime opportunities for carrying our practice off the mat. When our pulse quickens at the thought of a border wall, take a deep breath and remember that the next President might pull it down. The sight of our old lover with his new one is a cue to focus our eyes and hearts somewhere else. When you’ve heard ‘me too’ just one too many times, or see another black life disregarded and your heart wants to burst? That’s the moment bring the posture of your behavior into alignment with your core conviction.

    The three stabilizers teach us to move in ways that are healing and mindful, to turn our senses inward on the mat. Many Ashtangi’s are finding, as we move through the world of distraction and disturbance, that same self-sure steadiness is coming up. Harmony. Grace. Focus. We’re connecting with a voice of knowing that leads us more adeptly than before. Tristhana has been a training ground.

    By Joseph Armstrong