Monday, September 24, 2007

Getting Back on Track

Well, the babe is officially four weeks old today. Sleeping and eating times seem to be settling into a routine, but I'm still having trouble imagining myself back up at the front of the yoga classroom in three weeks. Despite having practiced (and taught) into the eighth month of the pregnancy, I still feel like I have a ways to go to get back into shape. I've been trying to come up with a good "re-entry" practice that is gentle, but still strength-building, to lead up to a regular series of standing poses, etc. Here's what I've come up with, so far:

Gentle Abdominals
Obviously, everything in my torso is out of wack, so I'm working on sitting poses that require a lengthened spine. Sukhasana (Easy Pose) is an obvious one, but Dandasana (Staff Pose) is proving quite challenging not only to my middle, but also to the fronts of the thighs. Keeping the legs extended and engaged is not so easy and when you add the work required to lift the side ribs and open the chest, there is a lot going on. I try to include Hastasana in both seated poses, to get the shoulders open and engaged.

Chest/ Spine Openers
Although it wasn't a problem during pregnancy, with all the hunching over a wee one, my upper back is killing me. So, I've included some chest openers in my practice to counter my urge to slump forwards. A good pose for this, is Viparita Karani (Legs-Up-The-Wall pose). This is an inverted, more supported version of Staff, with the added bonus of releasing the lower back. I've added a gentle stretch to the backs of the legs by lifting one leg at a time away from the wall (sort of a Supta Pandangustasana --Hand-to-Big-Toe). Stretching the arms overhead engages the shoulders and also opens the chest.

Uttanasa (Intense forward bend) against the wall (feet about a foot or so away, bum resting on the wall, knees soft) is also a nice release for the back and stretches the backs of the legs as well. If I'm feeling especially open, I interlock my arms and let the added weight of the upper body deepen the stretch. A Seated Twist is also a nice way to stretch out the muscles on either side of the spine.

A great opener, but only if I've warmed up with all the others, is to just drape myself--face up--over my exercise ball. At first, I keep my arms at my sides but with each breath I try to move them up and out to the sides, letting the breath open the spine to allow the arm lifting. I also have to work on releasing my neck, but after this stretch I feel especially open and can feel the blood moving around my spine.

In addition to these restorative poses, I've been walking. It feels like I have a long way to go, but hopefully all of this will jog my muscles' memory and things will start coming back together. What about you all--have any of you had to come back to yoga after a long hiatus? What were your favorite poses to ease back with? If you teach, how do you help post-partum (or post-operative, etc) students adjust? I'd love to hear some other ideas for getting back on track...


Michelle said...

I have had some long gaps in my yoga practice. I usually start with some reclined stretches and some gentle cross legs forward bends. I like to move into Downward facing dog and a couple of lunges, just to get everything limber and the blood flowing. I do some easy standing poses such as triangle, tree pose and maybe one of the warrior variations.
I really like doing modified sun salutations (just a few) and end with bridge pose, some seated twists and forward bends. Nothing like Savasana to end it all. That is usually the sequencing I use when my classes resume after a few weeks off. My students find it a good way to ease back into yoga, especially after summer break and Christmas.
I really enjoy reading your blog. Gives me lots of ideas. Thank you.

Jenn said...

I returned to teaching when my bambina was 2 months (four months ago). While I found it difficult reckoning with the extreme changes in my body, mood and ability to think altogether clearly (she was colicky for the first two months and I was in what seemed a suspended state of fight or flight until the crying passed) I have found a new appreciation for the injuries, aches, pains and general tension that students bring to class. I continued a strong vinyasa preactice and rock climbed until a week before I delivered. After a difficult birth and a challenging entry into motherhood I am physically and emotionally humbled by the experience. I think it brings an entirely new empathy and authenticity to my teaching.

Following is an article I loved about mothering as a spiritual practice. Happy journeys into motherhood mama.

Mothering as Meditation Practice
by Anne Cushman

For the first few weeks of my son Skye¹s life,
he would only sleep if he could hear my heartbeat.
From midnight to dawn he lay on my chest, his
head tucked into the hollow of my throat, awakening
every two hours to nurse. In the day, he¹d nap in
my arms as I rocked, a slideshow of emotions‹joy,
exasperation, amusement, angst, astonishment‹flickering
across his dreaming face, as if he were rehearsing every
_expression he would need for the rest of his life.

If I dared to set him in his bassinet, he¹d wake up
with a roar of outrage, red-faced and flailing. He
cried if I tried to put him in a baby sling, frontpack,
stroller, or car seat. He cried whenever I changed his
diaper. And every evening from seven to nine, he cried for
no apparent reason at all.

When Skye was two weeks old, I ate black bean tacos
for dinner and he screamed until sunrise, his body
stiff and his fists clenched. While I sobbed along
with him, my husband actually called the emergency room,
where the nurse on duty told us, kindly, that it
sounded like gas. The next morning, a nutritionist
friend assured me that everything would be fine so
long as I stopped eating dairy, wheat, yeast, soy,
corn, legumes, garlic, onions, tomatoes, sugar,
peppers, broccoli, and citrus fruit (and considered
dropping fish, mushrooms, and eggs). As Skye finally
fell asleep in the crook of my right arm, I collapsed
on the sofa in my bathrobe, eating cold brown rice
with my left hand and spilling it in his hair.

It was about that time that I decided that what I
had embarked on was an intensive meditation retreat.
It had all the elements, I told myself: the long
hours of silent sitting; the walking back and forth,
going nowhere; the grueling schedule and sleep
deprivation; the hypnotic, enigmatic chants
("and if that looking glass gets broke/Mama¹s gonna
buy you a billy goat..."); the slowly dawning
realization that there is nothing to look forward
to but more of the same. And at the center of
it, of course, was the crazy wisdom teacher in
diapers, who assigned more demanding practices
than I had encountered in all my travels in
India like "Tonight you will circumambulate
the living room for two hours with the master
in your arms, doing a deep-knee bend at every
other step, and chanting, Dooty-dooty-doot-doot-doo,
dooty-dooty-doot-doot-doo.¹" Or "At midnight you will
carry the sleeping master with you to the bathroom
and answer this koan: How do you lower your pajama
bottoms without using your hands?"

Like all great spiritual practices, these were
exquisitely designed to rattle the cage of my ego.
They smashed through my concepts about how things
should be (rocking in the garden swing by the lavender
bush, watching the hummingbirds, while my newborn
slept in a bassinet by my feet) and pried open my
heart to the way things actually were (standing
by the diaper table, flexing one tiny knee after
another into Skye¹s colicky tummy, and cheering when
a mustard-yellow fountain erupted from his behind).
And with every breath of my "baby sesshin," I was
offered the opportunity to cradle my child in my
arms like the baby Buddha and be present for a
mystery unfolding. . . .

As a new mother, I¹ve found myself wondering:
How are other women negotiating the dance between
practice and parenting? How does their practice
affect their mothering? How does being a mother
affect their practice? Are mothers changing the
forms of Buddhism in America?

And the most compelling question of all for me
can mothering really be a path of practice every
bit as valid as the monastic path? Can suctioning
the snot from a sick baby¹s nose have the simplicity
and purity of a nun¹s prostrations? Can wiping out a
diaper pail lead to "the awakening of the Buddha
and the ancestors?"

On one level, this question seems absurd. Nothing
could be further from the regimented march of a
formal retreat than the disheveled dance of motherhood.
The books on my bedside table used to be about pursuing
Awakening in the Himalayas. Now they¹re about preventing
awakening in the middle of the night. There¹s a diaper
changing table where my altar used to be; my zafus and
zabutons have been requisitioned to cushion Skye¹s play
area. Forget about chewing a single raisin for five
minutes and admonitions to "when you eat, just eat"
I¹m on the phone with Skye on my hip, ordering
baby-proof plates for the electrical outlets as I
eat cold veggie potstickers with my fingers straight
from the cardboard box and rub fresh spit-up into
the floor with one socked foot. It¹s hard to find the
moment even to tell myself that this is a spiritual path
I¹m too busy looking for Skye¹s other mitten. . . .

I feel plugged into the world now, in a way that
I never have been before. As I feed my child out of
my own body, I see how I am fed by the body of the earth.
I¹m crocheted to a chain of mothers before me, and a
chain of unborn children who will inherit a world that
I can¹t even imagine. I want Skye¹s grandchildren to be
able to swim in the Pacific, and hike the granite ridges
of the Sierra, and gasp at the blue herons
standing on one leg in Bolinas Lagoon.

Is this "attachment"? Or connectedness?

I don¹t mean to be grandiose. I know these insights
aren¹t the pristine diamond of samadhi. They¹re a sloppier,
stickier kind of realization, covered in drool and Cheerio
crumbs. But maybe this is the gift of mothering as practice
a kind of inclusiveness that embraces chaos and grit and
imperfection. It¹s not based on control or keeping things tidy.

It makes room in its heart for a plastic dump truck
in the middle of the living room floor, and rap music
leaking under a bedroom door at midnight. It doesn¹t
slip away in the middle of the night to search for
enlightenment. It stays home with Rahula the Fetter,
and finds it there.

As mothers, what can we make of that story of the
Buddha leaving his family in the middle of the night?

I asked Fu Schroeder. "Oh, but he wasn¹t the Buddha
when he left his child. He was a young prince, in
terrible pain," she answered.

"If you¹re awake, you don¹t leave your child.
Where would you go?"

Anonymous said...

I've just completed a great weekend training course on integrating post natal students into general classes run by a beautiful woman called Uma Dinsmore Tuli in London UK. She had her own 7 week old goddess in her lap for most of the weekend while she taught. Biggest thing I got from this is that you need to treat new mums with kindness, get them to take it easy and give them lots of deep relaxation with props for restorative work. Also lots of gentle chest openings to counteract all that hunching and twists to re-knit the oblique abs and split rectus. Remember the deep changes that have taken place in her body and avoid inversions until the abs are back on board, wide leg poses until the pelvis restabilises, any fierce ab work. Remember too her baby and include stuff to help with carrying baby and couneracting all those new repetetive gestures that suddenly become a big part of her life.