I have had one of those weeks in which each moment of each day has felt like playing catch up. You know the weeks: I find myself exhausted upon waking up, harried through breakfast with my kids, late for preschool drop off, barely on time for my first client session of the day, behind on paperwork, late for pick up, short tempered through dinner and bath time, impatient during book time before bed, too lazy to eat anything other than cereal for dinner, and then exhausted again at bed time. And all that is not including the time that I have tried to occupy keeping the house in some kind of order, paying my bills, folding laundry that has been sitting in the laundry room for days, supporting friends who just had babies, staying connected to my husband, playing with my daughters and, if I am lucky, getting to yoga.
It has been one of those weeks.
Which kind of makes me laugh, to be honest, because there are many, many times that people assume, since I am a specialist in the field of mental health and perinatal mood disorders, that I’ve figured it all out. That I’ve got it down. That I am some how Superwoman.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
You see, we are all human. And we all have to practice being the best that we can be. And we all have these weeks, no matter how much we love our children or our jobs or our friends. And we all survive.
I'm writing on mindfulness today because I was reminded of something incredibly important in my yoga class this weekend (yes, I actually got there!). Whether you consider yourself a yoga practitioner or not, much of the philosophical or spiritual practice that yoga entails is a bulletproof reminder of what’s important in times of stress: Mindfulness. And while these times of stress may seem infinite when struggling with PPD or another perinatal mood or anxiety disorder, they will still be there from time to time when you have recovered.
And so I invite you, just for a moment, to step on to your “mat” – in whatever way that “mat” presents itself to you:
Close your eyes. Yes, if you feel safe enough to close them for just a moment. Notice your breath. Are you breathing quickly? Shallow? Not at all? Slow it down. Bring that breath all the way to the bottom of your belly. Notice for one brief moment the space between your inhale and your exhale.
Then, become aware of your surroundings. What do you hear? What does it feel like to be sitting in your chair? What does it feel like to be you right this second and in all of your complicated glory. What does it feel like to be you without all of the self-judgment but simply just the way that you are? Oh, and don’t forget about your breath.
Now, to what I was reminded of today. My teacher this morning spoke about how what happens on the yoga mat is a perfect reflection of what happens in our lives outside of the yoga studio. Do we rush through postures? Do we forget to breathe? Are we judging ourselves and becoming frustrated when we can’t get into a certain pose or aren’t “good enough” at yoga? Are we comparing ourselves to the others in the room? Are we paying attention to what feels right in our bodies or are we doing what we think our bodies “should” do and therefore putting ourselves at risk for injury? What happens when we exist in these ways in a yoga class? We lose our balance. We fall. We become more frustrated.
Instead, what would happen if we decided to slow down? To breathe. Deeply. To pay attention to what feels right today, not yesterday or tomorrow, but today at this very instant? What would happen if we choose to look inside rather than around the room at others? If we decided to give our bodies and ourselves the benefit of the doubt?
I’ll tell you: We would balance.
You see, it’s a common tendency to speed up when we become stressed or overwhelmed. We try to cram more in so that we can feel more accomplished. We try to push ourselves because we feel like we should, and we become tired and depleted in the doing. When we are stressed most of us speak in ways that are unkind to ourselves, judgmental and very non-empathetic. “I can’t believe you can’t do this,” we say. “You are so lame for being such a failure and for falling behind,” we criticize. “Obviously you will never be able to do it,” we command. And, usually, we forget to breathe. And we lose our balance.
The message is fairly simple and I needed a good dose of reminding myself. The more mindful we are the more grounded we become. When we move and make choices with intention we are rewarded with calm more often than not. Being a mama is hard and we are pushed and moved in more ways than we can all count. Add a perinatal mood or anxiety disorder and we can feel more off balance than ever.
But practicing mindfulness does not have to happen in a yoga studio or on a real life yoga mat. It can happen anywhere. Sometimes it takes practice, but it is most certainly worth the try.
Kate Kripke, LCSW