Finding that balance with yoga – Interview with Micheline Ferreira

Well, we are already one month into the new year and I am sure (hoping, rather) that I am not the only one whose resolutions have gone out the window.

At the beginning of the year, I boldly made the proclamation that this will be the year for a fitter, leaner and sexier me.

Then the reality of motherhood set in and finding the time to exercise seemed almost impossible, especially when all you want to do at the start of the day is to squeeze in a few more minutes of sleep. And, all you want to do at the end of the day is to go to sleep. Let’s not even mention the middle of the day.

I love exercising, really I do, but I still struggle to find that motivation to get up and exercise when there is so much else going on. However, I know that it is not impossible.

I recently interviewed an amazing mummy, Micheline Ferreira, who seems to have found her groove when it comes to taking care of her body. Not only is she the mother of two boys but she is a practising yogi and conducts yoga classes for soon to be mummies and experienced mummies in Cornwall, England.

Here, she talks about some of the benefits of practising yoga and shares her tips for balancing motherhood and taking care of your body.

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TMJ: How long have you been practising yoga? What encouraged or motivated you to start practising yoga?

MF: I have been practising yoga on and off since I was about 16, but seriously and more consistently since about 2011 when I had the opportunity to study under a teacher and subsequently do my teacher training. I can’t really say what encouraged me to start, I just always considered myself a yogi, even before I practised it. Maybe in a past life?

TMJ: As a mother, how has yoga changed your life?

MF: Yoga changed my life way before I became a mother. I believe that it prepared me to become a mother. It prepared my body and mind after years of abuse and, now that I am a mother, I believe that it has helped me to find a reserve of patience and acceptance that I didn’t even know that I had.

It doesn’t mean that I don’t struggle and get stressed out, I just find myself more accepting of my situation and more forgiving of myself even when I am not the “perfect ” mother that I strive to be (if that exists).

TMJ: Some people think that yoga is just about spirituality, meditation and repeating mantras. What are some of the physical benefits of yoga?

MF: The aim of yoga is to create harmony within the body and beyond the body and so the physical benefits of a consistent yoga practice are countless.

You will find that once you start to enjoy one benefit, your general health and demeanour will keep improving. It’s like a snowball effect. Remember, every system in the body is connected, so, by improving the health of one we do service to all.

For example, as you learn to stand evenly on your two feet, many ankle, knee and even hip complaints will simply disappear. As your posture improves, your mood improves. The spine aligns and decompresses itself, releasing built up tension and stress. You create space in the body so that the digestive system function improves and the endocrine system begins to balance.

The breath is also a key element of yoga practice allowing us to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, which decreases stress and anxiety and allows us to be more present.

TMJ: As mothers, finding time to exercise is always a challenge. How often do you practice yoga and how do you balance that with all of your other responsibilities?

MF: It is definitely a massive challenge and with a 2-year-old and a 6-month-old, my time on the mat has decreased significantly. However, I find the nature of my practice has changed. An uninterrupted practice is simply impossible for me at the moment. Studying philosophy feels like a distant dream!

Now, it has become about having fun with my kids, making them a part of my practice and teaching them.

My 2-year-old thinks that it’s a great laugh and follows the moves, rolls around on his head and sings OM. He’s actually getting pretty good. And with the baby, it’s the same.

I lift him in the air, put him on the mat, go up and down give him lots of kisses and he giggles and giggles. This is my yoga at the moment. Being present with myself, my children and my circumstance.

Often, it is simply a breathing practice while I sit next to the crib putting one child to sleep. As simple as this is, it allows me to do something for myself even though it feels as though I have no time for myself.

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TMJ: What are some simple moves/positions that mothers could do at home, in between all of the chaos, that would be effective? 

MF: First and foremost, just breathe. Consciously slow down your breathing.

Stop, count 5 even slow breaths, on one hand, focusing on long exhalations. You can do this anytime, anywhere, during a toddler tantrum or while dealing with a colicky baby.(in fact, DURING the chaos is probably the best time to do it to allow yourself to become less reactive when dealing with kids!)

Once you have gotten your breathing down, you can try any or all of these simple moves.

Cat/Cow

This move lets you work on all fours, facing your baby, while he or she lies on the mat. Being on all fours will allow you to work on the spine, hips and your balance amongst other things, all while looking down at your baby, encouraging smiles and laughs.

With the wrists below the shoulders and the knees below the hips, find a neutral spine, (your natural curve). To do this you can arch the back slightly and then round the back and find somewhere in between.

On an exhale, begin to completely round the back, initiating the movement with the pelvis. Visualise moving the vertebra one by one. By the end of the exhale you should be looking toward your navel.

As you inhale, press into the mat with your hands and allow the chest to begin moving forward and up as the shoulders draw back towards the hips. By the end of the inhalation you should be looking up,

Repeat several times, coordinating movement with breath.

Downward Dog – facing baby (or with toddler running under the”mummy bridge”)

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Downward dog is such a great pose to regain your strength postnatally. It strengthens the shoulders, arms, legs, stretches the back of the legs and relieves compression in the spine. It’s also considered an inversion, so it calms the brain as it energises the body.

Begin on all fours, facing baby.

Ground yourself evenly through spread fingers, curl the toes under, lift the hips up and then back, pushing the inner thighs back.

Press the heels back and down towards the ground.

Ensure that the spine is long and the shoulders are drawn away from your ears.

Press into the thumb and index finger to keep the wrists level.

Dolphin Pose

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From Downward Dog, lower the forearms into Dolphin Pose.

Keep the elbows in and press down with even pressure along the forearms and palms.

Lift the hips and walk the feet in slightly, keeping the legs straight.

This is amazing to tone the shoulders, and sneak a cheeky kiss on your baby’s forehead!

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It’s an amazing feeling to finally be able to lie on your belly after pregnancy. Backbends and chest openers are so important for our posture, especially when it can feel like we are constantly slouching forward picking babies up, breastfeeding and picking toys off the floor, among other things.

The Cobra/Baby Cobra is an energising backbend which increases the flexibility of the spine.

To do this move, press the tops of the feet into the ground and bring the hands beside the ribs with your elbows pointed back.

Use the traction of your hands pulling down on the mat to allow your chest to emerge forward and up.

Pull the shoulders back and focus on lengthening the spine and opening the heart.

Knee to Chest (Apanasana)

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Laying on your back is another one of those simple pleasures that we miss during the latter stages of pregnancy, and pulling the knees into the chest and breathing deeply can do wonders for a tight lower back.

Focus on lengthening the lumbar spine (the lower back where the spine curves inward toward the abdomen) and breathing into the lower back. You can roll around to create a mini massage on your mat and to find tight areas in the back that need attention.

Placing baby, tummy down in between the shin bones is a great added weight to make the pose even more fun and effective.

Supine Spinal Twist

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This is another pose to release tension in the back in addition to toning the abdominal muscles and organs. It is also great for the digestive system.

Practising this pose with one leg straight will also give you a good stretch for the hamstrings and gluts.

To do this pose, lay on your back with arms out to the side. Straighten the left leg and bend the right knee, rolling it over to the left.

Roll the head gently over to the right.

Repeat on the opposite side.

Baby crawling, climbing or leaning onto the outer thigh of the bent leg also acts as an effective weight to deepen the stretch!

TMJ: What are your recommendations/advice for anyone thinking of starting yoga?

MF: Just start! It can be overwhelming trying to choose between all the many “styles” of yoga and different teachers. You can have completely contrasting experiences depending on which class you attend or what video you watch on YouTube, or book you read, or wherever you find your information.

Yoga is a journey of self and starting a practice is a very personal thing, depending on what you want to get out of it. You might want to try a few classes and teachers, or just find one and stick with it.

The profound benefits that people talk about are not necessarily instantaneous (although you can feel great after just one class) but come after consistent practice.

You can follow Micheline on Facebook at Yoga by Micheline and if you are in the Cornwall area check out some of her classes.

If you liked this post let me know in the comments section below and remember to follow The Mummyhood Journals on Facebook and Instagram.

 

How to live the healthy life you want for your family

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Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Mothers are busy creatures, no doubt about it.  With work, kids, chores, and on and on we barely have time to breathe, much less focus on making healthy choices for ourselves and our families one hundred per cent of the time.

When we are too tired to cook, eating the quickest and greasiest things you could find seems like the best idea (I mean French fries are potatoes, so it should be fine right). Or when the weekend comes around and this is finally our time to sleep in, we spend the weekend doing just that and send our kids off to entertain themselves with television or some other device with a screen.

Without realizing it, our kids are becoming unhealthy, sedentary and screen addicted, the very things we complain about, because of us.

To read more of my guest post for I Speak Mom click here and follow I Speak Mom on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

Grey hair, don’t care – 5 ways to make aging a positive experience

Have you ever seen a woman in her 40s, 50s, 60s and even 70s who looks amazing? Naturally amazing, not thousands of dollars worth of plastic surgery amazing.

Great skin, beautiful hair, wonderful style, fitter than any 20 year old you know and overflowing with confidence.

Someone who makes you say to yourself “I hope I look half that good when I am her age.”

Do you know what her secret is? Her fountain of youth? It’s simple, she embraced her age and everything that comes with it.

Now believe me, I get it. Getting older sucks. A simple Google search of “body changes in your 30’s” brings up results that make you want to curl up in bed with (insert your favourite dessert here).

Decreased metabolism, increased weight, decreased fertility, increased aches and pains, vision problems, deteriorating bones, wrinkles, grey hairs, hair growth in places that shouldn’t have hair, perimenopause and on and on and on.

The thing is, you cannot avoid the inevitable. If you are lucky enough to make it to old age,  considering so many young people are not so lucky, these changes are just some of the “blessings” that you will have to endure.

Aging however, does not have to be a hell on earth scenario. There is no need to turn every milestone birthday into a weep fest full of regrets while you dwell on a grey hair that you swear was not there yesterday.

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Instead, try making these five changes to your life to make aging a more positive experience.

Exercise regularly

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Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Regular exercise has been proven to do wonders for not only your physical appearance and strength but also your mood, energy level and  overall health.

I know what you are thinking, with work, school, laundry, cooking dinner, diaper changes and cleaning your toddler’s “wall art” when would you find time to exercise. The good thing is, exercise does not have to be an all day affair to be effective. If you can set aside at least 15 minutes a day to do some form of exercise you will be doing yourself a huge favour as you climb that aging pole.

What works for me is getting up maybe an hour before my husband and sons wake up so that I could exercise without any distractions, big or little.

In terms of workout programmes I am a devoted fan of Melissa Bender of Bender Fitness. I have always been an active person and I love exercising, but, if you and exercise are sworn enemies, what makes Bender Fitness perfect is that her blog offers over 700 free workouts ranging from 5 minutes to 30 minutes in length and of varying difficulty levels, including postpartum fitness.

This allows you to completely customise your daily workout based on your schedule and ability, all from the comfort of your living room. The blog also offers tips for healthy eating and healthy living.

Eat balanced meals and drink lots of water

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As effective as exercise is it must go hand in hand with healthy eating (and drinking) habits to be truly beneficial.

Now I do not believe in dieting fads or cutting out certain food groups entirely from my diet to lose weight, as each food group, even fats and carbohydrates, play a role in ensuring that your body functions properly. What I do believe in is balanced eating, which I also discuss here.

What this means is that  I do not deprive myself of any of my favourite foods. If I feel for a slice of cake or some chocolate (I love chocolate) believe you me I will have it, in moderation of course.

However, you do have to ensure that your favourite treats are (1) not eaten excessively and (2) balanced with well-proportioned meals that include the correct amounts of fruits, vegetables, proteins, fats, carbohydrates and grains.

Also, always remember to drink water and stay hydrated during the day. Yes, water is not the most exciting of drinks but this unassuming beverage plays an important role in ensuring that your body functions properly. In addition, water helps to flush out waste and toxins from the body resulting in skin that is as gorgeous as the day you were 22.

A wonderful guide to balanced eating can be found here.

Include meditation in your day

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Adopting the habit of meditating during the day has proven positive effects on your mind, body and soul.

Don’t think meditation is for you because you are not a spiritual or religious person or you simply don’t have the time. Well don’t worry, meditation is for every body and it actually doesn’t take up much of your time.

A few minutes of silence each day can help you to become a more peaceful, happy and self-aware version of yourself. You become better able to handle the day to day stresses of your life, resulting in improved health and the slowing down of the aging process.

The best part is you can meditate anywhere; at home, in the office, during your commute; so it is possible to fit it into your motherhood schedule.

Sounds good to me.

If you have never tried meditation before and have no idea where to begin Gabby Bernstein provides a wonderful beginner’s guide to meditation in her blog.

Treat yourself every now and then

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As mothers, we tend to put everyone’s needs and well being ahead of our own. Our innate “mummyness” makes us want to see everyone well taken care of, well fed, well dressed and happy, often to the detriment of our own health and fashion sense.

But I will share a little secret with you, the world will not end if you buy that outfit you know you will look amazing in because you have been day dreaming about it for the past month. Nor if you run away for a couple of hours for a very girly spa day, champagne included.

Trust me, it’s OK.

Treating yourself and taking care of yourself helps with relaxation and stress management allowing you to, once again, be a better version of yourself for all of those who depend on you.

When you wear that outfit or get the best hair cut you have ever had in your life or just took some time to catch up on some much-needed rest you feel more confident, upbeat and tend to have a better approach to life.

Appreciate the things that you have and have achieved

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Social media makes it very easy to compare every aspect of our lives with those of people we probably barely talk to or in some cases have never even met.

All of a sudden you find yourself stressing over whether you made the right choices in life just because person X, who is 5 years younger than you, has the dream house you never knew you wanted or the career you were never interested in.

Or maybe while you are at home, up to your elbows in baby poop, person Y just posted pictures from yet another vacation to “exotic place number 25”.

This fixation on other people’s lives and desiring anything that is different from what is yours is unhealthy. It prevents you from seeing all of the good things that are in your life, unnecessarily sucking the joy out of everything that you do and causing unwarranted, additional stress to your life.

The funny thing is while you are busy wishing for a different life someone is probably wishing that her life were more like yours. As the saying goes, the grass is always greener on the other side.

So just take a moment to appreciate your life. Appreciate your children, your husband, your friends.

Appreciate the fact that you have a home filled with love even if it looks less like an HGTV dream and more like a cluttered toy chest. If that European vacation is too far out of reach, appreciate the time spent with your family on the sofa watching a movie together.

When you start to acknowledge and are thankful for the unparalleled goodness that surrounds you every day, you allow a happier and healthier version of yourself to emerge. Then turning 40, 50, 60 and even 70 isn’t such a bad thing.