Last Tuesday, I had written a blog to send to you all about how time is our shared currency (and most of us are running low) with some time management misconceptions that I've discovered and some ways to avoid unproductive booby traps. It was great. You'll see (I'll send it this week). Then, the phone rang and on the other end was the best news that I have ever received: our daughter (up until that point, our "foster daughter") was now a Crown Ward. From that point on, I couldn't consider doing very much else other than hold my daughter, play with her, cry a lot (tears of joy), and spend every waking moment with her and my husband, family, and closest friends. While I did keep working a little later in the week, it just felt odd to send out the blog post I had planned instead of this story with all of you - my closest followers and friends. It felt so impersonal and not at all authentic to what was actually happening in my life. So, while this blog post may not help you deepen your practice, I feel like I would almost be lying to you if I didn't share this story with you. The whole story - from the moment I met my daughter to the moment she became my daughter.
You have already read a little bit about this journey in my blog post entitled How my practice has supported me in my first year as a Mom; however, I was purposefully vague when discussing our situation because, up until this past Tuesday, we were still just fostering this baby, our foster daughter. Legally, someone else's child. Long before this though, my husband and I went through a tedious process to become approved to adopt a child through the Ministry of Children and Youth Services (CAS). This included baby proofing every corner of our home, undergoing nearly a dozen interviews lasting two to four hours each, and completing a 12-week course about fostering and adoption. We were approved in March, 2014 and waited for almost three years before we received a call that the baby we had been waiting for was expected to be born late December 2016. On December 19, I got a call that she was born (a week early) and, with five days between finding out about her existence and this call, we brought her home on December 20, 2016.
If you're not familiar with the current process to foster/adopt, if a child under two is apprehended from their birth parents, they are placed in a home like ours: a "foster-with-a-view" home. Here, the foster parents who are caring for the children will also be the ones to adopt them should their biological parents be unable to regain custody. In the old way, children first went to foster homes - a transient home where people knowingly care for other people's children in the short-term. Then, once the legalities were sorted out, the child was returned back to their birth parents or was moved once again to the forever family. This new system means more stability for children, as they may be in their forever homes from day one or, at the least, limit the number of moves they experience. But, for foster-with-a-view parents like us, the risk of children being returned to their birth families is quite high. CAS works very hard to help birth families get the skills or support they need to keep their family together as this is the best outcome for the child. They even favour kin placements with neighbours, family friends, and biological family members over foster-with-a-view parents. For these, and many, reasons, we knew that this perfect little angel was precariously placed in our arms, to say the least.
On December 20, 2016, I followed the local CAS worker into the locked hospital ward with my husband beside me. Winding through what seemed like an endless stream of bassinets and incubators, I eagerly looked from one to the next, looking for a familiar face, though I had never seen the baby before. Finally, we turned a corner and the CAS worker stopped, turning to me as if presenting the room ahead. In that room there were two bassinets, with two tiny bundles inside them. I looked from one to the next, then back to the CAS worker, asking which one she was. She gestured to my left and my feet lifted off the floor. I floated across the room and lifted the lightest bundle of baby into my arms and that was it. In that moment, I became her mother. More, I realized that I had been her mother since time began. I had been missing this piece of myself that I had now found. She and I had meant to find each other. I felt it in my bones. It was written in the stars.
The 15 months that followed were some of the most joyous and the most trying of my entire life. Of course, I went though the same adjustments that all mothers manage. As well, there were supervised visits with her birth parents for two hours a day, three days a week, court dates, home visits, and so so so much documentation and paperwork. Hardest of all, there were moments of intense fear that I would have to say goodbye to the second half of my heart. All of that came to a head at 5:19 p.m. this past Tuesday, when the news we had been waiting for, hoping for, praying for, finally came.
To be honest, I have been healing some deep seated trauma this past week. Trauma from back in 2005 when I was told that I could not have children, from waiting and waiting for her, from the past 15 months ... all of it. All of it is in the past though. Here she is. My daughter. Isabella Joy. From the moment I saw her, I was her mother. I was her mother before I ever met her. I grew her in my heart. When I met her, everything in the world made sense. Regardless of who's home she was living in, I was going to be her mother for the rest of my life.
Needless to say, my head has since been in a bit of a fog! I'm still not over it. I'll never be over it. But, the constant stream of company - family and friends who felt compelled to hold her (and me) once they heard the news - has dissipated and my feet are closer to the ground. Tomorrow, Isabella will be back to the routine of daycare and I'll be back in the studio. I'll never lose the magic of this week. I know from experience, it's like being faced with a life-threatening illness, disease, injury, or surgery, and coming out the other side with a new perspective on life. You never forget, it lives in your consciousness forever. It affects how you understand the world forever, but you can also, eventually, ground yourself to a new normal. That and, throughout the last 15 months, amongst all the turmoil, we have been grounded daily by the routines that a baby creates: naps, feedings, diapers, playtime, cuddles, repeat, repeat, repeat.
I have been her mother since before I met her. Since time began and it was written in the stars that we would be together. Since December 20, 2016. Forever and always.
Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.
This week was a particularly stressful one for me. Not that it wasn't full of joys and balance, but for the most part it was overwhelming and left me feeling out of control. One of the insidious ways that I try to regain control is that I become obsessed with perfectionism. It's this awful cycle: stress and lack of control -> perfectionism -> self-criticism -> anxiety -> loss of confidence -> greater feelings of failure and over and over and over and over.
Frustratingly, perfectionism is almost revered! Mention that you spent the weekend doing laundry, grocery shopping, cleaning the interior of your car, flipping your mattresses, prepping your family's meals for the week, running errands, Spring cleaning the house, and so on and people will ooo and aww over how you manage to "do it all". Mention that you turned off your alarm clock, read a book you've been meaning to finish, went to a yoga class, and spent some time outside this weekend, and people almost shame your commitment to wellness ("Ohhh, that must be niiiice"). As if the latter isn't work at all! What are we to think about the value of these qualities?
Here's the thing about perfectionism though: it does the complete opposite of what you THINK it will do! When I am wearing my perfectionist hat, I have a certain set of unwritten rules or guidelines governing how things should be done, what the results should be and what they should look like. Any deviation – even if the task is completed properly – makes a good job seem like a botched operation. The end result, of course, is that even if something is done right, it’s still fundamentally wrong. This lack of flexibility makes it difficult to switch gears and try new methods – even if a new approach will save time and effort. Making matters worse, as it does, the stress can spread to those around me because I have the unrealistic expectations and a set of rules for governing yourself that make no sense and that I can't even express and yet, somehow, everyone is breaking the topsy turvy rules. It's nonsense. But, don't try to tell me it's nonsense when I am stuck on auto-perfect because I'm bound to burst into tears or punch you in the throat.
It's so confusing though because, when I am stuck in a cycle of perfectionism, I am undoubtedly good at what I do, people LOVE to compliment perfectionism, but this leads to a cycle of self-limitation. If there’s one thing I fear the most when I'm off balance in this way, it’s making mistakes. I already feel out-of-control and making mistakes can feel like a lack of control. That's just one way to look at mistakes though. You can’t learn how to do something without getting it wrong! I think of my daughter falling about a MILLION times as she was learning to walk. First she moved her arms and legs, then rolled, then crawled, all on her journey towards walking and falling falling falling again for over a year without ever giving up and without losing her enthusiasm for trying either. Not only are mistakes a normal part of our development, but they also often lead to new discoveries. If Alexander Fleming had been perfectionist enough to keep his lab clean, we wouldn’t have penicillin!
The place that I try to relax my perfectionist grip the most is when I am acting as Studio Director at Life Yoga. Any leader will tell you that it's a tough role as you try to strike a balance between being professional without becoming too friendly. The best leaders set realistic expectations and give their team a certain degree of autonomy. Perfectionist bosses? Not so much. Anyone who’s dealt with a perfectionist leader no doubt will complain about micromanagement, excessive expectations, and a low tolerance for mistakes. If you’re in a position of leadership – however small – keep in mind that your perfectionist tendencies (if any) will achieve the exact opposite of what you hope to get.
I am most sensitive to this tendency towards perfectionism now that I am a Mom. I read in Psychology Today, that perfectionists are built, not born. Parents with high expectations – be it academic, social or organizational – often put that strain on their children, leading to a continuous cycle. And while these individuals mean well, they’re setting their kids up for what could be a lifestyle of stress, self-doubt, and poor health. I want to teach my daughter to care about her academic work and practice good habits like cleaning up after herself but, I don't want her to model my perfectionist imbalances as everyday ways of being. She is ageing me so much already - it's hilarious usually - and it makes me hyperaware of what I am saying without saying a word.
When I realize that my perfectionist tendencies are swinging to the side of unhealthy obsession, I do what I always to to connect me back to the truer parts of myself: I practice. Sure enough the further I get from my mat, the more concerned I become with everything being just so. When I take a few minutes to meditate, I remember the truth of things, I see the bigger picture, and I can take the time to deal with feelings of stress and lack of control in a healthy way.
Inspired by my friends at The Yoga and Body Image Coalition and their sincere efforts throughout National Eating Disorders Awareness Week, I felt compelled to share this short piece with you. I wrote it as a guided mindfulness practice directing love to oneself for Valentine's Day this year. Below, you will find a link to an audio file version of this guided meditation that you can listen to should you lose sight of the inherent miracle that you are.
My intention in sharing these resources is to help raise awareness about the serious nature of eating disorders and to help direct those affected to receive the help they need and deserve.
Thank you to my eyes for the ability to see the beauty that is all around me: the sun; the trees; a smile on a friendly face. Thank you for seeing our shared humanity - from my windows to another's. Thank you, eyes, for my highest vision. Thank you for your belief in the dreams that you house and your glimpse into things unseen.
Thank you to my ears for your willingness to stay open to all experiences. I can close my eyes or mute my voice, but you, ears, stay present without reservation. Thank you for reminding me that all expressions are equally worthy of my attention. Thank you for your example of undiscriminating observation.
Thank you to my voice for acting as the bridge between my mind, my heart, my vision, and the rest of the world. Thank you for your bravery, even if you sometimes shake. Thank you for the words - sung, spoken, whispered, or written - that empower and elevate. Thank you for your direct line to my expression of Self and for the secrets that we share that you communicate discerningly.
Thank you to my heart for keeping me honest. Thank you for aligning me with my sense of wonder and joy. Thank you for housing the experiences for which there are no words. Thank you, heart, for your vulnerability; for teaching me about hope. Mostly, soft heart, thank you for blossoming without reservation and for radiating your gifts despite adversity, fear, and efforts to dull your shine.
Thank you to my hands for allowing me to share generously and accept what I need with gratitude. Thank you for your acts of love, compassion, and connection when words cannot express. Thank you for your guidance and protection. Thank you, hands, for teaching me when to extend and when to withdraw.
Thank you to my feet for allowing me to stand present in this moment; for your support and for your steady rhythm. Thank you for the wisdom to guide me on my path.
Thank you to my body for humbling me; for being the home within which I reside and the vehicle that allows me to share with and experience the world. Thank you for teaching me about cause and effect, growth and loss, attachment and trust. Thank you, body, for your daily reminders of my limitless potential and your willingness to adapt.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
This week, I was thrilled to host my first monthly Yoga Teacher TuneUp call via Google Hangout. As part of my "Wonder • Learn • Integrate • Share" model of teaching, these calls are designed to get people thinking about the tools we can synthesize to create experiences that are compassionate, brave, inclusive, and empowering. This first discussion was all about language. Maybe more than any other tool that we have, language has the unique ability to strengthen or weaken each of the four pillars of our practice (compassionate, brave, inclusive, and empowering). I was so thrilled to have so many heart-centred, responsible teachers join me on the call.
Those who know me or have studied with me (or read this blog) know that I am very particular about language on and off the mat. It’s super subtle sometimes, but the way that we use language has the potential to empower or demoralize and injects energy into - or draws from - our purpose. When we discuss language in the studio or gym setting, we could talk about supporting different types of learning styles with our choice of words, the volume of our voice, creating biographies and class descriptions, etc. This conversation can evolve and branch out in tons of interesting directions; however, in the interest of time, this call was really just focused on vocabulary choices while you're teaching in a studio space or gym.
We are so fortunate to be witnessing an ongoing growth, expansion, and diversification of our communities to include the full spectrum of the human experience: whether it be by age, race, body size, ability, gender identity, and so on. So, as yoga teachers, we need to constantly be asking ourselves "How can we teach in a way that includes and resonates with everyone at once?" For me, this translates to: how can we, as teachers, connect to our compassionate hart, bolster our understanding through education, be mindful with our words, and empower through our practice. This starts with cultivating a sensitivity to and awareness of cultural and social norms that are unlike your own.
So how do we do that?
Let me first paint a picture for you: I often see teachers advertising their classes as "Yoga for EveryBODY". While I believe that many studios intend to be inclusive and accessible, the reality is that a safe container conducive to learning and transformation doesn't manifest from good intentions alone. Take a look at these yoga studios' websites ... oftentimes, all the images are of thin, white, flexible women. All are well-dressed with perfectly coifed hair in branded yoga clothing and matching accessories. Then, when you arrive at the studio, it's on the second story of a building with no elevator access. The yoga mats are two inches from one another and there is nary a block or strap in sight. When you are represented in the photos you see, your able-body allows you to climb the flight of stairs no problem, and your strength and flexibility allows for you to access most asana unassisted, it's easy to feel like this space is welcoming because it's welcoming to you. Can we really say that this class is for everyBODY?
When yoga teachers/studios want to be sure that they are not just paying lip service to accessibility, they can start off by reading up on conversations about inclusivity in other contexts. You see, yoga may only just be on the verge of accessibility, but conversations about diversity have been going on beyond the yoga studio for decades now. Think about the corporate world, academia, the tech world, and so on. How did these communities tackle the questions that you may have about accessibility?
There are also incredibly positive examples in the yoga world that we can align ourselves with. The Yoga and Body Image Coalition, the Yoga Service Council, and Accessible Yoga are just a few. Seek out these leaders. Like and Follow them and the people/groups that they feature. Integrate their best practices and be sure to post on your own social media images and representations of the practice that embody the full spectrum of life.
Examine and acknowledge your privilege and power with compassion. If we want to talk about yoga as a tool in social change and whether all bodies are welcome, we need to understand how our privilege grants us access to the practice and the studios with which we practice. It is important to recognize your privilege in order to recognize those who do not have the same privileges as you.
If you look outside of your own experiences and want to reach out to discover and support the needs of people who aren’t like yourself, it is necessary that you collaborate with the communities that you wish to serve. Volunteer and listen to their stories so that you can cultivate sensitivity to and awareness of cultural and social norms. Get real about conscious/unconscious assumptions that you may make with the desire to overcome them and learn to work with this community in a way that doesn't inadvertently offend, demoralize, dismiss, or exclude.
Lastly, when we're embodying progressiveness, we have to be willing to change the way we think about things (including ourselves). Be humble. Admit when you made a mistake or misunderstand something. Seek to know better and do better and consider everything as an opportunity for learning. Take it to heart, but don't take it personally.