My whole family is into productivity. We like to report what we did over the course of the day, as though going to the post office, doing a load (or ten) of laundry, trying out a new recipe, and cleaning out the fridge will serve as justification for the air that we breathe. Taking time to actually breathe, to press pause, well, it's not productive. It’s a bit of a struggle for me, considering that the two main occupations of my life, yoga and parenthood, are in direct conflict to productivity – the former in theory, the latter in practice. The other day, L and I had a “productive morning” – we dropped Simon at camp, went to the library, the local children’s museum, and had lunch with another mother/daughter duo. Laine napped. We needed to pick up Simon at 4 pm, and we also desperately needed milk. When Laine woke up at 3:15, I rushed her down the stairs, threw on her crocs, and went to put her in her car seat, all the while calculating the 20 minute drive, the time in the grocery store (with bonus minutes for inevitable breakdown over gum) and return time to the gym where Simon was in camp. It was close, but we would make it, milk in hand (gosh darn it). Laine, unfamiliar with the precision required for successful plan implementation and somewhat groggy from her nap, lost it. You know. The kind of losing it that vacillates between stiff board and wet noodle, a consistent thread of car seat refusal tying the two together.
After wrestling with her for a minute or two, intent on the successful execution of my plan and internally cursing L for “ruining it,” I paused. Took a breath. Hugged her and acknowledged how long she had been in the car, and away from home that day. “Would you rather sit in the grass and eat a banana?” She stopped crying, nodded yes, and we spent the next 15 minutes in our front yard, Laine with banana in hand, me with a much more content 2 year old on my lap. I messaged my husband to request that he pick up milk on his way home.
When I am at my most frenetic, plans aligned like dominos, it’s generally inevitable that something will put a halt to my carefully managed schedule. I lock my keys in the car, myself out of my house, show up an hour early for an appointment, or on the wrong day. Depending on my perspective, either the Universe is sending me a sign or my brain has too much shit going on inside and something’s got to give. Either way, I get it. Whether it’s the cosmos or my own mental capacity, the message to slow down is received loud and clear.
The fact that some external impetus is required in order for me to actually let go of arbitrary productivity speaks to how attached I am to "getting something done". Being still is hard. More than ever, our brains are wired for constant stimulation. Parenting is often boring. Gentle yoga and meditation can be the hardest for those of us with minds that don't stop. Meditation is great, but that's not entirely what I'm talking about here. Maybe, instead of a mandate from the universe, we could all use a little permission to slow down a bit. To be bored, not get the milk, to sit, no phone in hand. To be here, a little more, instead of running to the next thing.
The picture I painted, of me, sitting in the grass, sweet toddler on my lap, isn't the way that stillness always looks. Sometimes, putting together a puzzle for the 56th time with my 5 year old, or watching while my 2 year old works SO hard to put on her shoes (for 10 minutes), stillness is really challenging. I want to get on to the next thing, for my adult brain to have something to work with, some fodder to process. Pausing can sometimes feel like the path of most resistance. And so, just like all of the rest if it, we practice.
I've started getting up every morning (okay, almost every morning) half an hour before my children wake up. It's early. It's easier to stay in bed. But, I've come to realize that starting my day with a pause sets the stage for the times I need reminders throughout the course of the day. My practice is the opposite of vigorous. I told my friend the other day that I pretty much just "flop around" on my yoga mat. I do stretches for my neck, hang out in child's pose for a while, work in a lunge or two, and always end up in plow because it feels so good/bad early in the morning. I'm still working toward sitting still for meditation because pausing ain't easy.
Maybe you don't need a pause first thing in the morning. Perhaps yours would best serve you in the late afternoon. Either way, pausing is good for us. And sometimes, it's easier to turn our brains off for that pause and not have to think about the next yoga pose. To that end, here's my contribution to those mini-breaks all of our bodies, and minds, need.
Yoga Pause Practice
- Start in child’s pose. Because of course. Stay here as long as you want.
- Slowly start to move, lifting up on to hands and knees and exploring here for several breaths. Cat/Cow, hip circles, or some amorphous movement that just feels good.
- Lie on your belly. Watch your breath. It's different here. Lift into cobra a few times.
- Stretch back into down dog. Shift forward and back from down dog to plank a few times, allowing your breath to move you.
- Bring one foot forward into lunge. Lower your back knee and move your hips in circles a few times. Then shift from low lunge to runner's stretch a few times. Repeat on the other side.
- Shift from lunge to pigeon pose. Fold forward and breathe for as long as you want. Maybe include a thigh stretch if you're feeling feisty. Switch to the other side, slowly.
- Lie down on your back. Do a few pelvic tilts and shift your legs from side to side. If you, like me, enjoy feeling an intense stretch in your upper back, come into plow pose, making sure to press the back of your head straight down into the floor.
- Roll back onto your back and come into fish pose if you'd like.
- Come to seated and find a forward fold that works.
- Lie back on your back. Flop for a few more moments.