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.

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Getting rid of me, myself and I to become a mother

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I always wanted children, at some point in my life. I never really had a specific age at which I wanted it to happen, but I just knew that I loved children and would become a mother, one day.

In spite of my love for kids and my desire to have them, before my son was born, I started to fall into a place where my life was comfortable and children seemed like such an inconvenience.

I was single, I lived abroad, I worked late nights, I travelled with ease when I wanted to. I was accustomed to my lifestyle and children just seemed so … needy.

They depend on you for EVERYTHING and you can’t do the things you want to do, when you want to do them. Say goodbye to sleep, girls’ night at the clubs, my body without stretch marks and sagging skin and most importantly me time.

Every time I thought about it, it seemed dreadful, scary and made me wonder if I would ever really be ready to be a mother.

Then I got pregnant.

I was thrust into motherhood. The sleepless nights, no more wild nights with the ladies, no more date nights, no more me time. I won’t be able to do this ever again. I can’t go here. I can’t have that. Everything that ran through my head had to do with me, myself and I.

Russell Brand, in an interview on The View, recently said something that describes perfectly the epiphany that you experience after having children:

“A baby is the materialization of I’m not the most important person in the world.”

Since having my children, I was forced to stop being self-absorbed and selfish. Every decision I make and everything I do can no longer be about me because there are two little lives that depend on me to keep them comfortable, happy and alive. I am no longer the center of my little universe.

I know that for some people, making such a sacrifice is unthinkable. I get it. Like I said, I was in the same place that you were before my sons were born. In addition, it doesn’t help that we now live in a world in which being self-involved is the norm and when you are accustomed to looking out for just yourself the thought of shifting all of the attention from yourself to your children can be daunting.

However, not being able to maintain your single lifestyle should not be the only reason for deciding to not have children.

Now I am not saying that you are a bad person if you don’t want children. Absolutely not. The decision to have a baby is a huge and personal decision that should take several factors into consideration. Not everyone is meant to have a family and being a parent may not be your particular calling and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.

In fact, if you genuinely do not like or want children, then don’t have them. Don’t feel as though you should “compromise” (I have heard people use this term when referring to their kids) just to make your family or society happy. Then you may end up raising your children in a household filled with resentment, regret and possibly neglect which is just unhealthy for both you and the children.

What I am saying is that the decision not to have a baby, should be an all-encompassing decision and not solely based on our selfish desires.

Yes, before kids I enjoyed travelling by myself, where I wanted, when I wanted. But now, even though planning a vacation involves several more steps and a lot more preparation than when I was single, I enjoy seeing my kids get excited about flying in a plane and being able to provide them with experiences that would last a lifetime.

Yes, it was the best feeling in the world to sleep straight through the night in my own bed with no one kicking me in the face (man I miss that). But now I enjoy cuddling those little bodies when they have a bad dream in the middle of the night and need comfort.

Yes, I loved the fact that I could exercise whenever was convenient for me and was able to keep my body in some sort of order. But now I enjoy having impromptu dance parties with my kids and hearing them laugh until their stomachs hurt.

Even though I thought I wasn’t ready for kids, when my boys came into my life they changed me. They changed my priorities, the things I enjoyed doing and the way I viewed the world in general. They opened my eyes to what was really important and if I hadn’t let go of my fears and dared to open my heart to someone other than myself, I would have missed out on having two of the best things that ever came into my life.

 

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How to survive back to school mornings

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Whether you have a regular 9 to 5 job, you work from home or even if you are a stay at home mother back to school signals the return of rushed mornings, hectic schedules and losing your sanity.

We may not always admit it, but secretly, we love when our kids are not in school for the simple fact that it eases up our morning chaos.

There are no lunches to pack, we don’t need to spend 30 to 45 minutes getting the kids (and husband) out of bed so that they aren’t late for school (and work), all the while trying to get ourselves ready for our own day.

But, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end. Our little ones have to get back to expanding their minds and we have to get back to running around like headless chickens in the morning trying to get it all done.

Generally speaking, I am a pretty organized person, however, I do still struggle with morning time management and getting my son to school on time. These few tips, however, have helped me to minimise the stress of the weekday rush.

Re-establish bed times and wake up times

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If you are like me,  during the vacation, your kids’ bed times and wake up times have been all over the place. If they had a long day of activities they may fall asleep as early as 6 pm and wake up even earlier at 5 am. Or they may stay up until midnight having a “boys’ night” with daddy and wake up some time around 9 am.

These new internal clock settings could lead to problems when school starts.

To avoid this, get your kids, and yourselves, reacquainted with the back to school sleeping and waking hours a couple of weeks before the start of school. This will re-sync everyone’s cycles and hopefully will eliminate the need for a crazy, screaming mummy alarm in the morning.

Do your preparation from the night before

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When school does start again, preparation is key to keeping your mornings chaos free.

This includes packing lunches and school bags, selecting outfits for both you and your kids (if they don’t have a uniform) and other little things that could take up time in the morning.

For other tasks, such as ironing, which, if you’re like me, you absolutely despise. I actually avoid buying clothes that require ironing because I hate it so much. But if you do have to iron, do the entire week’s worth all on a Sunday.

Get everything out of the way so that your mornings are clear.

Wake up an hour before everyone else

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Although this may mean cutting into the already little sleep that you do get, waking up an hour before the rest of the mad house is awake, allows you to have a brief moment of peace and serenity to start your day off right.

During this time you could meditate, exercise, pray or even use the full hour sipping at your much-needed coffee. Anything that helps you relax and gives you the boost that you need to survive your day.

Out of all of the tips, this one has proven to be the most useful for me. The little bit of me time that I get during that one hour before everyone wakes up, makes the world of difference and prevents me from becoming the grumpy, mean mummy.

So as we start yet another school year, here’s to mornings filled with less stress and chaos and a little more peace, order and caffeine.

 

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Before we were mothers

I had the pleasure of being a guest blogger for the amazing mom blog ispeakmom.com. The topic of this post was rediscovering the passions, hobbies or interests that we enjoyed before we became mothers and laundry, poopy diapers and homework consumed our every being.

 

This weekend I attended a dance production for the first time in a few years.  The fact that I had not been to a production in a few years is very strange for me as I have always been passionate about the arts, dance in particular. This made me think about how mothers, myself included, often tend to push our passions and interests to the background to make room for the many other priorities that take the forefront in our new lives.

I was raised in a very artistic home and developed an appreciation for the arts from an early age. My mother was an artist/art teacher and a member of a local choir in Trinidad. I did ballet and modern dance from the age of 4 and also sang in various choirs and my aunts and uncles played a myriad of musical instruments and performed in theatre productions internationally, among other things. My mother and I always attended every dance production or art exhibition that was in town and my love for the arts grew as I got older.

I continued dancing all through university as a member of my school’s Modern Dance Ensemble and all the way up until I was 29. Then I got pregnant.

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

Where did my baby go?

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Yesterday my five year old completely broke my heart. We were having an intense conversation; you know about the rules for rock, paper, scissors; and as I was listening to him and looking at him I realized he wasn’t my baby any more.

All of a sudden I was looking at a mature face that no longer had those cute, pinch-able baby fat cheeks. I was listening to his voice that had five years of maturity in it and the vocabulary of a big boy. Actual, big boy words were being used like “encounter” and with a “boy” tone.

At that moment my heart broke into a million pieces. Naturally, I was proud that I could be having such a “grown up” conversation with him about rock, paper, scissors and, to be honest, a bit surprised that he used encounter correctly but, at the same time, my baby was gone.

I miss the baby days, I miss the cuddles and those cheeks, can’t get enough of those cheeks. But, watching him grow and become this intelligent, witty (sometimes too witty), fun-loving boy makes up for it.

I know as he gets older he will probably want to spend more time with his friends and less time with mummy and daddy or he may start to express his own opinions and beliefs that may be contrary to my own. But that independence, courage and strong will is what I want for my boys as they take their journeys to manhood.

My second son is only 9 months old and still has a couple of cheek pinching years left, but what yesterday taught me is just how much we need to live in the moment and be present with our children. We need to listen to them, really listen, memorize their funny faces and expressions and revel in their hugs.

We need to enjoy every minute of our messy, chatty, never want to sleep bundles of energy because time is fleeting. And, before you know it, you will be wondering where did your baby go.

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Preparing our kids for the real world

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I recently read an article about an 11 year old boy who committed suicide because he thought his girlfriend had died as a result of a social media prank orchestrated by the said girlfriend. Unfortunately this was a prank gone terribly, terribly wrong and I genuinely feel for the parents and family of the young boy.

Besides trying to understand why someone would think that it would be funny to fake her own death and put her family and friends through all of that grief, it also got me thinking about why the boy felt as though the only response to his grief was to take his own life.

As parents we often try to protect our children from every disappointment, every heartache, every bully, every negative thing that could happen in their lives. It hurts to see our children hurt. But when we raise our children in a bubble and are not open about all of the not so wonderful things in the world, we fail to prepare them for life itself.

Now I am not sure if this was the case with this little boy, but on a regular basis, I read different stories or hear about situations that would suggest that the younger generations are not prepared to cope in the real world.

When faced with their first rejection, or their first failure or even their first time dealing with death, they are not equipped to handle, in a mature and self assured way, what is thrown at them. They crumble under the pressure and become either violent or depressed and ready to throw in the towel because, up until that particular day, life always seemed to be on their side.

But life isn’t always on our side and as adults, we cannot fall apart or give up as soon as things do not go our way.

Dealing with disappointment and failure

My husband and I constantly try to encourage our son to never give up and to keep trying when he “fails” at something. Last year my son entered a running race and did not place. His friend who came first got a medal and my son was extremely heartbroken that he did not get to take home a medal as well. It broke my heart to see him sad and disappointed because, well, when they hurt we hurt and a small part of me wanted to go out and buy a medal just so that he could have one too.

At the same time, however, I was glad for this teaching moment. I told him if he wanted that medal he had to keep trying and continue practicing so that he could run faster. He hasn’t stopped running since.

That disappointment was necessary to make him a stronger and more determined person. This would be the first in many disappointments to come and he needs to know, from now, how to accept it and move forward with his life.

He knows that he cannot always get his way or everything that he wants (although at 5 years old that is a lesson that doesn’t always stick especially when there is a toy involved).  But he is learning that getting angry, lashing out or pouting will not change the situation either.

Dealing with bullies

Bullying is not a new phenomenon, however, social media has definitely put a new spin on bullying. It is never a nice feeling to feel ostracized, ridiculed or humiliated in public and most children probably feel as though the embarrassment would never go away. But like all else, that too will pass.

My husband and I encourage our son to always tell us if he is being bullied and to be brave enough to stand up for himself and for others who cannot stand up for themselves.

We encourage him to be his own person and to not let the approval or disapproval of a group determine his self worth.

We tell him to unapologetically be himself and to never let the words of others kill his spirit.

Dealing with death

Death is never easy. Whether you are a child or an adult losing a loved one can be extremely crushing. Unfortunately, death is an inevitability and at some point our children will experience losing someone close to them.

Last year, my son’s kitten died and this was his first experience with death. He handled it pretty maturely but I still used the opportunity to talk to him about life and death. I was honest about the fact that one day mummy and daddy will not be around but he still has his life to live and his purpose to fulfill and should never, no matter how difficult things may get, wish death on himself.

Every now and then he gets a bit sad when he thinks about us not being around, or when he remembers the cat, and that is ok. I let him know that it is normal to feel sad and to cry when he misses someone but to think of all of the fun times that he had with the person (or the cat as the case may be) and to be grateful for all of the many other good things in his life.

Providing support for your children

Although we should not completely shield our children from the world, we should be there to offer support when they need it. Our children should never doubt or question whether or not they could come to us for advice, help or if they need to vent.

Having a good support structure makes it easier for anyone, children and adults, to deal with all of life’s difficulties and disappointments and allows our children to face the world with confidence.

As a mother I can only hope and pray that my children are spared the worst that life has to offer. But it is also my duty as a mother to prepare them to face with courage, strength and determination the worst that life has to offer.

Help wanted!

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Image courtesy of jesadaphorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Pre-babies I was always a very organised, punctual, independent woman. My house was always clean, I never needed any help with anything, I could do it all. I was proud of my abilities.

Post babies, my laundry basket is never empty, I am constantly cleaning, cooking, washing and ironing. Add in taking care of “my son’s” puppy, helping with homework and being the best boo boo fixer and 5 year old problem solver there is, it is safe to say that I am overwhelmed.

I no longer have it under control and, even though I hate to admit it, I can’t do it by myself. I need help!

Now I know that the first thing many hard working mothers out there might think is “I could relate, I get absolutely no help from my husband either and I have to do everything in the house while he sits back and watches television”. But that isn’t why I am drowning in laundry, dirty dishes and poop (the baby kind and the puppy kind). My husband is always willing to help and to be fair he does do most of the gross dog poop activities, but I don’t get help because I never ask for help.

The independent, single woman in me still feels as though I could do it all and believe me, I still do try, unsuccessfully, to do it all. But that constant struggle to be a “super mom” just results in me being an exhausted wife and mother who is moody because she is tired and because the laundry basket is still full for some reason even though I spent the entire day washing.

Apart from wanting to be a super mom, I think that most women feel as though their husbands should just know when we need help, that we shouldn’t have to ask and that stomping around, complaining about how much we have to do should be a clear enough indication that we need help. But it isn’t. If anything all that does is tell them that we are in a mood and that it is time for them to leave the house to “give us space”.

My husband always says that men aren’t mind readers, if I want something … ask, and that is a fair statement. We aren’t mind readers so why should we expect them to be.

Another thing that I am guilty of doing that renders me help-less is complain. I complain about how my husband folds the clothes incorrectly, or that he puts too much detergent in the washing machine, or that he didn’t pack the dishes in the correct order (I am a little bit OCD with these things). But all that does is deter my husband from helping. He wants to help but then when he sees me refolding the laundry that he just folded, what’s the point right.

I want the help but I am not willing to let him help me. I am not willing to let go of needing things to be done my way which in my mind is synonymous with the right way.

But when you need help and you just want to see the bottom of that laundry basket and still have time and the energy to be a fun and involved wife and mother, any way will do.

So, the next time that you feel overwhelmed, open your mouth, ask for help and then close your eyes when you see the cup that is where the plates should be and a pillowcase in the sock drawer because honestly, it really doesn’t matter and at least you could say the dishes and the laundry are done.