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How to actually be a cool person on Valentine’s day

Pressure. It sucks. And for some cruel, foolish reason we’ve placed a most pressure-filled, expectation-heavy holiday literally in the middle of arguably the bleakest month of the year.

As someone whose professional life is mainly devoted to helping divest people of pressure and expectations both self-imposed and external, you might guess that I’m not entirely jazzed about Valentine’s Day. Not to mention the weird heteropatriarchal and consumerist baggage around the holiday and its roots in pure capitalism, I just dislike holidays centered around following hollow scripts allegedly meant to convey a beautiful, rich, complicated emotion.

I’m not down on love. Far from it. I’m crazy about love. I’ve got loads. Need some? C’mere. But love is 365 days a year. Love is less what you do for someone and more what you do, what you create, with them. So rather than scramble for last-minute reservations in a restaurant you can’t afford, spend the day doing that- make something together.

Go to the store and buy beautiful groceries that you really like. No matter how extravagant you get with this, it will be cheaper than a restaurant. Look at exotic vegetables. Consider fancy cheeses. Fruits with names you can’t pronounce. Go home and cook beautiful food together. Try something new, or make the first meal you ever shared. Do something that makes you laugh and something that helps you work together. Collaborate on clean-up, too, it’s only fair. Let go of the pressure, the expectations and focus on what really matters, on Valentine’s and every other day: you and the person or people that you love and the world you create with them.

A Holiday Guide to Talking to New Families

Holiday parties are in full swing and with them, the attendant judgment of parenting decisions both overt and more subtle. I really believe that in many cases the sidelong glances or offhand comments come from a place of love and genuine concern, but there’s something deeper at play here that I feel needs to be addressed.

At the moment someone finds out that they are expecting, the list of rules grows exponentially. Rules about what to eat, how to sleep, what activities are and are not considered acceptable, how much weight you may to gain while gestating a frigging human life- I could go on, but I won’t. This paternalistic attitude extends to birth (so many  of my clients wonder if they will be “allowed” to birth in a particular way and I gently remind them that they are the bosses of how that baby comes into the world) and into parenthood. But who does it serve, and where do these rules come from?

As a doula, non-judgement is my jam. What I think, what I have done as a parent, is irrelevant. When a client asks me about a particular option available to them or way of doing things, my job is to provide them with evidence-based, up-to-date information and then support whatever choice they make, even if it’s not in line with that information.

Why?

Because my clients are adult humans and I respect their right to make whatever damn decisions they please about their bodies and their families. If they choose to ignore the five studies I have described to them in detail and do the other thing anyway, I support that choice, because it is theirs to make.

This is a spirit that I encourage all of you to carry in your interactions with new and expectant families (and really, all people) through the season and always. If you feel the need to offer advice, be sure that advice has a solid foundation in fact. A lot of the “shoulds” and “should nots” common in our culture come from outdated information. For example: according to Canada’s foremost breastfeeding expert, drinking while breastfeeding is totally fine! Be guided by the assumption that the folks in question are doing what works best for them. If you’re hoping to help, a great way is to ask lots of questions and let them tell you about the joys and challenges of the parenting experience from their perspective. And of course, “What night is best for me to bring dinner over?” is always a welcome query.

A Venn Diagram Theory of Love

I met my husband when I was 21.

At the time I was sort of specifically trying to avoid romantic entanglements, having just ended a serious relationship, changed jobs and moved across the country. On the drive from Vancouver to St. John’s, I stopped in on an old friend in Halifax and together we ironed out what I like to call the Venn Diagram Theory of Love.

Plato discusses one theory on love in “Symposium” which considers the union between two people as a convergence of two halves of the same thing:

“Love is born into every human being; it calls back the halves of our original nature together; it tries to make one out of two and heal the wound of human nature.”

Not to say that I’m smarter than Plato, but I disagree on this particular point. To me, in ideal circumstances, the best of love is when two wholes converge to share a part of themselves with one another, thus making a:

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See what I mean?

Both separate, both equal, both retaining a part of themselves, but joined at the middle, creating something together. This kind of love is less frantic, less striving, than the kind Plato describes. Rather than wandering around incomplete, the ideal seeker of this kind of love is doing their thing, feeling fine, practicing santosha (contentment) and then BAM- along comes another complete circle and they see where they might like to overlap.

So there I was, minding my own business, and into my life wandered this man. And we found we had a few places where our circles crossed. And five years later we had the clearest delineation of our shared love enter our lives:
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I think the theory works.

Oil Treatment for Post-Baby Hair Woes

Among the many changes that follow the creation of a human being, I have found the ones relating to my hair the most irritating. My once curly, reasonably thick hair is now super-straight and thin! When pregnant, the body doesn’t shed hairs at its normal rate (a doctor friend told me this was about preserving resources in case of scarcity) so postpartum a lot of women find they lose a lot of hair- I can’t believe I’m not bald! And hormonal changes can alter hair’s texture, which may or may not return to its original state eventually.
I’m trying not to be too vain or focus on the physical here, and really, while chasing a fourteen-month-old around I hardly have time to glance in the mirror. But I did really want to feel good about the old mop on my head, so I came up with this simple treatment to use once weekly (Ruth still only naps while attached to my body, so finding an hour isn’t too hard). A little self-care goes a long way, and good hair makes me feel better! Give it a go if you’re feeling a little off about your post-baby locks or if you just want a nice thickening treatment to leave you feeling awesome.

Hot Oil Treatment for Post-baby Hair Woes

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For medium-length hair:
1 tbsp coconut oil
1 tbsp almond oil
15 drops rosemary essential oil

Heat these in a metal bowl over boiling water. Massage onto your scalp and work through the ends of your hair. Let sit 1 hour. To remove, I rub baking soda through my hair, rinse, shampoo twice (to get all the oil out!) and follow with

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 cup hot water
Combed through from roots to ends.

Leave on for five minutes and rinse. Style as normal. Enjoy looking fabulous.

For more post-baby fun, moms of pre-crawling littles can join me for some mom-and-baby yoga at Far Out Fitness starting this Friday, May 6, at 1:30. Email me at hopebaggs@gmail.com for details!

A Yoga Practice to Relieve Your Budget-Related Stress

So here in Newfoundland we’re staring down some difficult times, as our government has landed a heavy austerity budget on the shoulders of a population that can ill afford it. There’s a collective feeling of frustration that’s palpable in our day-to-day interactions with each other around here. I’m not here to solve our political problems- though I did write my MHA with some ideas about how to do that, and you should, too– but I can offer some tools to help you get through stress and negativity. You can try these separately or together, on their own, or as part of your regular practice.

The Affirmation

“I release all worry, and move forward without fear”

I’ve been using this in my own practice and in a few classes lately. Naturally, if you’re unsure about how your family is going to weather this storm (as I think a lot of us are) worry can be the prevailing emotion. The trouble with worry is that it isn’t productive. It doesn’t prevent negative outcomes or give us solutions. It merely weighs you down and prevents forward motion. The first step to moving forward is to let go of that worry.

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Try this affirmation while lying on your back. I like to connect to myself with a hand on the heart, a hand on the belly, as a reminder that I have what I need and that to access that I simply have to go inside and find it. Draw deep, full breaths and feel your hands rise and fall with the rhythm of your breathing. Repeat the affirmation silently or out loud as feels appropriate to you, for as long as it feels right.

The Breath
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Including Lion’s Breath, on its own or in conjunction with other poses, is a beautiful way to get rid of tension, fear and a feeling of being closed-off. It may feel a little funny if this is new for you, but I encourage you to give it a go and notice how it makes you feel.

Draw a deep breath in, and as you exhale, open your mouth wide and stick out your tongue. As your free to tongue, feel that you are releasing fear and negativity. Repeat 3-5 times.

The Poses

Fierce Lion
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Join your big toe mounds, but take space between your heels, so the outer feet are parallel. Activate your inner thighs and squeeze the together. Bend your knees and sit your hips down and back, drawing the tailbone down and the pubic bone forward. Free your hands to the sky and release the shoulderblades down the ribcage. As you inhale, squeeze the hands in fists, hug the thighs together. Exhale into a forward fold and you throw your hands down and back and release the tongue or Lion’s Breath. Repeat 3-5 times. Follow with a nice soft forward fold with the knees bent and the belly resting on the thighs, swaying side to side.
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Kicks of Fire
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Take a high lunge with the feet connected strongly to the earth and lots of strength in the belly. Inhale and as you exhale, kick your back foot forward and throw your hands down and back with a strong “HA” sound. Step lightly back into the lunge as the arms rise overhead. Repeat 5 times each side.
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Side Plank to Wild Thing
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Find Plank Pose with the wrists directly under the shoulders and the hips in line with the shoulders. Take a breath in to feel strong and steady, a straight line of energy from your heels through the crown of your head. Take your weight into your right hand and roll onto the outer edge of your right foot. Lift the left hand with fingers bright and boost your hips while squeezing your inner ankles together. Feel your strength in the midst of this challenge. For more spice, you can lift the left leg away from the right.
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Now step the left foot behind the right knee and lift your hips and heart higher, finding a backbend in Wild Thing. If it’s comfortable, lift your gaze to your left hand. Use lots of core control to transition back to Vasisthasana, Side Plank, then to Plank Pose and cycle through a vinyasa or move to downward facing dog. Repeat on the other side.

Lizard Twist with quad stretch
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From downward facing dog, draw the right knee forward and step the foot outside your right hand. Lower the left knee and turn the right toes out. Set your left and underneath your face as you inhale, and exhale to press the right hand into the right knee and revolve the ribcage to the right. Stretch the right hand behind you, arm parallel to the floor. Bend the left knee and reach back to clasp the foot- a strap may make this more accessible, as may a block under the left hand. Keep the breath flowing as you make space throughout the lower body, releasing fear and worry with each breath out, and feeling yourself move closer to your inner wisdom and strength with each breath in.

Seated Forward Fold
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Sit on the bottom of your pelvis with a healthy, happy curve in your lower back- for most of us this will mean a block or folded blanket under the sitting bones. Extend the legs from the hip joint and activate the feet by pressing through the heels and drawing the toes back toward the shins. Press your fingertips into the mat beside your hips and inhale to lengthen the spine. As you exhale, keep that length and begin to walk the hands forward, moving the heart along the legs without rounding the back. Stay here with a long spine, breathing space into the backs of the legs. Inhale, and as you exhale let the whole body soften, releasing all effort and allowing everything to melt closer to the earth.
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Savasana
At the end of your practice, rest on your back, connecting the hands to your body or letting the arms rest by your sides. Return to your affirmation as you allow yourself to surrender completely, to turn inside and connect to your strength. Know that you have it in you to handle whatever obstacles you encounter. Stay here for as long as feels right (and maybe a bit longer besides), then slowly transition out of the pose and go knock ’em dead!

New Moon, New Growth

I used to be a skeptic. I only believed, I would declare, in what could be seen. All that religion, folklore, superstition was just a bunch of hooey.

Youth sometimes breeds arrogance.

As I’ve grown older and let curiosity guide me deeper into study about these things, I’ve learned that a lot of ancient wisdom reflects or has predicted modern scientific thought about ways the world works, and indeed that there are things yet unexplained by science. My yoga teacher training included some lessons on quantum physics that really blew my mind- check out this video about the double slit experiment– an excerpt from a piece called “What the Bleep Do We Know?” which is a valid question.

All this is to say that while you may discount the horoscopes in the newspaper as foolishness, there is an undeniable effect of our rotation in the universe on our physical and mental states (um, seasons, anyone?). As we head into a new moon cycle, it’s a prime time to consider this. Local astrologer and awesome human Elodie Miaow of 9th House Astrology put me in mind of this with her fascinating post about using the phases of the moon to your advantage. The new moon is a time of renewal, of burgeoning growth, which is also true of the coming of spring. Which makes it also an ideal time to consider what we want to manifest in our lives- what do you want to invite in? What do you want to dedicate your time, energy and love to?
Consider spending some real time and thought on this. Begin with a pen and paper. Write a handful of things that are awesome, because it’s always good to start with gratitude. Then move on to what you want to manifest, grow and embody. Finish by identifying a few things you could or should let go of or do without. Finally, y. This is a great practice to take on as the natural world gives us natural points to consider where we’re at in our lives- moon cycles, changes of season. Let me know what you come up with.

Four Lessons from the First Year of Motherhood

My sweet little baby turned one this month, which is a hugely emotional event; I’ve been referring to this as the “best, worst, longest, shortest year of my life.” Parenting her is such a joy but the passage of time and the new skills she’s developing remind me that the journey from baby to kid and beyond is a fast one. So much has shifted in my perceptions, values and relationships. It’s the most rewarding, demanding, soul-shaking thing I’ve ever done. I’ve learned so much- here’s just a few lessons my tiny teacher has brought me so far.

1. Trust yourself

There are a lot of people making a lot of money telling people how to raise their children- how to get them to sleep, learn, behave, stop crying… the list goes on. And of course, every relative and lots of strangers will give you lectures ranging from polite to stern about how x, y or z will “ruin,” “spoil,” or imperil your little one.

None of those people spend 24 hours a day with your child. None of those people know them like you do. You are the expert in your baby and if you hold that baby close and listen to your intuition, you will know what to do. You know this intrinsically, organically. No book can match that connection, and Aunt Franny might have her opinions but your baby chose you because they knew you had the skills to meet their particular needs. Trust yourself and your baby to find your own unique groove and get comfortable there.

2. Find your tribe

This is one of the greatest gifts motherhood has brought with it- a group of brilliant, strong, hilarious women without whom I surely would have curled up and died months ago. A supportive community of like-minded people sharing similar experiences can make even the roughest patches of early parenthood manageable; even if no one has a solution, you can at least find reassurance that you are not crazy and there is nothing wrong with your baby. Some parts of parenting are just hard and you need the support of people who understand and will not judge or criticize how you choose to deal with these challenges. I’m so grateful to have the mom friends I do, and when I haven’t seen them for awhile there is a real, palpable difference in how I feel. Processing the madness of the baby days with these women (and the scattered casual glass of wine) has helped me in such a huge way. If you don’t know other new parents you can meet some at a postnatal fitness class, a playgroup or online- there are lots of great groups on Facebook for parents, two great ones based in St. John’s are Breastfeeding Support Newfoundland and Labrador and Natural Parenting Network Newfoundland and Labrador.

3. Receive as well as give

As far as trusting your gut as a parent goes, I knew immediately that what felt right to me was to be a highly engaged, responsive parent. And as it turns out, the universe gifted us with a baby who would need that attention- sometimes A LOT. The emotional output is huge. And the quiet time that I need to recharge is hard to find when caring for a small person with my whole brain, body and heart 24 hours a day. I am blessed, though, with a wonderful community of family and friends who were and are willing to help me find that time, even if it was just giving me a few minutes to shower and pee by myself, or an hour so I could come to my mat and practice. No one can do this alone- it can be hard to accept help but receiving like this allows you to recharge so that you have more to give. Let someone else wash the dishes, cook supper, or walk the dog, whether it’s a friend or family member or you hire a postpartum doula. Deliberately set aside some time to nourish yourself, too.

4. Let go of expectations

Life is not a Pinterest board. There will be mess, tears, poop, criticism. I remember lovingly setting up the bassinet next to our bed while I was pregnant only to find that the baby screamed every time I put her in it. I had a kid who would only sleep while attached to my body. Co-sleeping (which I swore I would never do) and babywearing became my best friends. Some things I thought would be easy were hard; some things I thought would be hard were easy. You can’t know until you’re in it just how you will make any of this work, but the more you are worried about rules and “shoulds”, the more tears and stress there will be. More than anything, parenting has taught me about ishvara pranidhana- surrender to the divine. Giving myself over to the wisdom of my babe allows me to really enjoy being her mom, rather than trying to get her to fit my expectations. I think we’re both much happier for it.

Every day there’s something new to learn. I’m so glad to be taught by this little human.

What lessons has parenting taught you? Were there things you expected that turned out differently than you thought they would? How did you find your tribe?

 If you’re looking for a great way to meet other new moms, I have a new session of Buddha Babies Mom-and-Baby yoga starting at Nova Yoga on April 1 at 10:30 AM. It’s a six-week pre-registered session for babies six weeks of age up until active crawling. Sign up here!

 

Of Star Stuff

saganWe’re approaching Valentine’s day and talk of love is all around us. Hubs and I are generally pretty lazy about these sorts of things but I would be remiss not to give the spirit a nod in my classes or here on the blog- so today we’re going to talk about a different level of love, and why it’s the obvious conclusion.

Carl Sagan may not have been thinking of it specifically when he said this famous phrase, but he was talking about prakriti. Prakriti is a huge idea but put very simply it’s a universal force that is the constituent element of everything that exists- Sagan’s “star stuff”, if you will. What I take from this- the yoga philosophy and the scientist- is that the natural reaction to this information is love and compassion for all beings. Y’know, obviously. If, at our core, we are all connected by this energy that is never created or destroyed but only changes, we have to recognize the intrinsic value of all life. The Christian Bible takes note of this when it instructs, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Mark 12:31) because your neighbour and you are one (ok, the Bible doesn’t say that part but I’m extrapolating). And while we’re at it, you can extend that love to yourself because inside you exists the very same material, the same forces, as all the marvels of the universe. It’s pretty cool, right? As you can see from the very broad array of sources I’ve quoted from here, this idea comes up throughout human history and geography, which I think is good evidence that it’s well-founded. I like this line from Max Ehrmann’s poem The Desiderata, too:

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Chemistry calls them elements, the Vedas call them gunas, but fundamentally the idea is the same- everything is connected by its composition. And connection equals love.

It’s easy to see the star stuff in the people you love. But when you pass a stranger on the street whose eyes you might avoid, or you’re about to engage in some harsh self-criticism, remember- we are one and the same. We are all children of the universe- we have a right to be here, and to be loved.

We’re celebrating Valentine’s at Nova with a few events we’ve called Lovefest, including a karma class for Syrian refugees. More info here: https://www.facebook.com/events/112935562426002/

 

The Ahimsa of Doing Less

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Pressure to do more comes from many sources; work, school, family, friends all place demands on our time, and this is compounded by the crafted images on social media that make it seem like everyone is doing more than us and in better lighting, too. It’s easy to ignore the subtle signals of the bodymind that ask us to slow down, to nourish ourselves with quiet and stillness.

The problem with ignoring those messages is that they tend to grow louder the more they aren’t heeded. Sometimes to the point that, in an effort to get its needs met, the body insists we stop by way of illness or injury. Once we have no choice, then, we rest. But it doesn’t have to come to this! We can listen to the quieter expressions inside and heed them to foster a healthier, kinder practice and way of life.

I spend a good part of my time when teaching encouraging students to do less. Now that yoga is in popular consciousness in a major way, we all have seen images of common poses and maybe have an idea of what they “should” look like. But each body is different, and striving to, say, get your nose to your knee in janu sirsasana, is not right for every body, every day. Only an honest look inside can tell you how deeply to express a pose to the greatest benefit to you at that particular moment. This svadhyaya, self-study can help us practice in the spirit of ahmisa, non-harming. Cultivating that compassion through awareness is one of the greatest lessons we can learn on the mat. When we look inside and really feel with curiosity and gentleness where we are at a particular moment, we’re able to really intelligently, safely move our practice to a deeper place, without fear of going too far, too soon and setting ourselves back with an injury. Conversely, when we attempt to go further than the body wants, we often get out of alignment or let go of crucial support (core connection, anyone?) to get to a particular place and risk hurting ourselves in the process.

This can apply to life in general, too. Where are you pushing beyond the edge? Finding yourself overwhelmed and unable to function? Could you pull back a little, extend yourself some compassion by taking a deep look at what is really serving you and letting go of things that are taking away your energy without giving back? This kind of self-care can help us to live more fully in our truth. The start of a new year is a great time to take stock of what is and is not serving you, and in the spirit of compassion, dedicate yourself to taking on only those things that nourish you. This doesn’t mean that every moment will be filled with ecstatic joy. Someone will still need to clean the bathroom, of course, because sometimes things that serve you aren’t fun. But a spirit of inquiry and intentionality can help us to do less when less is what is needed.

Congratulations, you failed

It’s a new year, time to take stock of what was and look forward to what’s to come. Over here, it was a hard year to top- the arrival of our new baby, some exciting new career opportunities, really good times spent with family and friends. 2016 is looking pretty great from here and I’m so excited to see what’s next!

But that’s not what I wanted to talk about today.

It’s likely that there’s a lot of talk in your yoga life about intention-setting, about letting go of the past, about being mindful of what you invite in. Yes. Absolutely. But I want to talk about failure.

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In our practice as in life, we set goals. We strive. We work hard. And sometimes circumstances do not conspire in our favour- we fail. But here’s the thing- that’s where growth happens. This is where we are challenged to take those intentions from our yoga practice, equanimity, non-attachment, the ability to be “alike in victory and defeat,” as Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita, off the mat and into our lives. It’s easy to get down, to fill your head with negative self-talk and decide not to try anymore. What is hard is to stare into the eyes of failure and say, “Thanks, what were you trying to tell me exactly?” If it’s an asana we’re talking about maybe it’s your body telling you to take more time to warm up, or to back off that edge a little more and take it easy. If it’s a life goal, maybe the goal wasn’t fully in tune with your path. Maybe the road you took to get there wasn’t the road for you. Failure is a chance to take a look inside and to line up your actions more closely with that which is most true to you. To this end, we can embrace the gifts that failure has for us and use them to live that truth, fully and joyfully.

I hope all your best wishes for 2016 come true. But if the don’t, don’t get down. Look for the wisdom in the failure, and get going on your path to awesome.

 

In the spirit of newness this time of year embodies, I have two new classes at Nova starting this week- Happy Hour Tuesdays at 4 PM and Buddha Babies for moms and their pre-crawling little ones on Fridays at 10:30 (this is a six-week pre-registered session-to sign up go here: https://clients.mindbodyonline.com/classic/home?studioid=12800)

See you on the mat! Happy new year!