A gentle 10 minute sequence to ease tension in the body, designed particularly for mums with young children who are feeding, holding or carrying. This sequence will also be beneficial if you work at a computer for long periods of time. This should be suitable for most bodies (including if you’re pregnant), but be sensible and modify or skip anything that doesn't work for you.
Midge Maisel: Do you love it?
Lenny Bruce: Do I love what?
Midge Maisel: Comedy. Stand-up. Do you love it?
Lenny Bruce: Seriously?
Lenny Bruce: Well, I've been doing it awhile. Ok, let's put it like this: If there was anything else in the entire world that I could possibly do to earn a living, I would. Anything! I'm talking dry cleaners to the Klan, crippled kid portrait painters, slaughterhouse attendant. If someone said to me, "Leonard, you can either eat a guy's head, or do two weeks at the Copa," I'd say "Pass the fucking salt." It's a terrible, terrible job. It should not exist. Like cancer. And God.
Midge Maisel: But do you love it?
[Lenny shrugs, grins sheepishly, and walks away]
Midge Maisel: Yeah. He loves it.
(From the totally marvellous “The Marvellous Mrs Maisel”)
What yoga teaching has in common with stand-up comedy: low pay, lack of certainty and job security, travel to far-flung parts of the city, lots of evening gigs and occasionally wondering if anyone will turn up, creative freedom and moments standing with the sun on your face while everyone else commutes to work, the certainty that you won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, the requirement to be yourself and bare your soul otherwise you’ll definitely never be any good, the likelihood of feeling silly and exposed, the moments of pure magic when you can get out of your own way and step back and watch it flow perfectly, the possibility of getting heckled and having peanuts/coconut water thrown at you, the joy of connection with others, the fact that, if you’re doing it, you love it in certain specific ways, and you kind of have to do it, even though it has agonising elements, there you are, still doing it.
Can I speak about the hard parts of teaching yoga on the same platforms where I am trying to sell the product of my yoga teaching? I am not sure, but here I go anyway. It seems like an omission not to mention certain BIG things, seeing as in lots of places I preach (and practice) honesty and communication. (And I am not sure that students need their teachers to have made it to the peak of some spiritually enlightened mountain, that it is actually reassuring to know they are still very much human.)
I am fascinated by what makes certain teachers struggle more with self-doubt, anxiety, imposter syndrome. I have seen brilliant teachers bring in a small number of devoted students and fairly average teachers serving up mainstream vinyasa pull in 60 people in a packed room (the question is, do you want to be David Lynch or David Guetta?) Is there room for the charismatic extroverts, the ex-dancers and teachers, and the quirky introverts? The hypermobile arm balancers and the slow and steady movers with a normal range of mobility? Why are some teachers class-fillers? (Sometimes it’s because they’re incredible teachers, but not always.) Why are some more like struggling artists? How come some are a bit of both?
My yoga teacher confession is: my biggest struggle is equating my worth as a teacher with how many people I get in the door. NUMBERS. I love teaching small groups but I also have to pay my bills. Numbers can easily become an obsession. There is the mild humiliation if hardly anyone comes, or if no one does (though at least then you can head home and watch Netflix). There is the lack of control – you do your best and then all you can do is sit back and wait.
Numbers go up, they go down, sometimes there is a logic to it but often there is not, and you can feel very smug when yours are good and exhaust yourself when you’re not. You can rack your brains as to what else you can do, then sense that doing less might be the key answer, but not so little that no one knows your class is on. You worry people will sniff out your anxiety and definitely won’t come or that YOUR BAD WORRIED VIBES WILL ENSURE YOU DON’T MANIFEST LARGE CLASS NUMBERS (yes this toxic spirituality can actually get to you).
There is the mild (or major) sinking feeling of seeing “competitors” move into the space (even though they all seem like really nice people, as a fellow yoga teacher said to me – humans are animals, no one wants someone else on their patch.) There is a similar sinking feeling – and let’s be honest, feelings of envy or resentment - when you see other teachers saying “my class is full” when you’re struggling.
Yoga teaching as a profession is complex because it’s a conflation of passion and necessity to pay the bills, like someone who sells paintings or writes books for money – things that don’t pay much but come from your heart. It is all made worse because you work alone and it’s easy to become very myopic and single-minded in your little predicament, blowing things out of proportion.
I love teaching yoga and there have also been times when I have wondered why the hell I am doing it and if I can really carry on amidst the ups and downs. Would I recommend anyone did this? Hell no, and yes, of course. Here I am, and I’m glad I’m not dry cleaning for the Ku Klux Klan, or working down a mine, and yet it often still feels hard, it probably won’t ever stop feeling hard, and I love it, and it’s hard.
One thing that most new mothers agree on? The early postpartum days require way more support than we’d anticipated. If family live far away and paying for a doula isn’t something you can afford, asking friends, family and colleagues to contribute as a present for the new baby – aka crowdfunding with your nearest and dearest - can be a great option for you.
I’m a newly trained postnatal doula, pre and postnatal yoga teacher and mother, and I find that nearly every woman I work with is surprised at the intensity of early motherhood. Hands up if you feel like everyone neglected to mention how full-on the early days can be?!
A lot of our energy and planning goes into the birth, often with little thought about what happens afterwards. In reality, after the great psychological and physical exertion of birth and amongst the exhaustion and challenges of adjusting to the huge shift to motherhood, the early days can be overwhelming.
But it doesn’t have to be this way. The right planning and support can make a huge difference. Women should be treated like queens in birth and in the early postnatal period, held up and celebrated as the warriors they are. Nurtured and supported in every possible way. They should feel more empowered and powerful at these stages than at any other times in their lives.
But so often these are the times we feel smallest and the most vulnerable. In our society we don’t mother in groups like in other cultures, and the early days can feel lonely as we hold ourselves to high account, question ourselves and wonder if we’re doing things “right”.
A postnatal doula can help with practical matters like establishing breastfeeding and baby care (also known as “learning how not to break the baby”), cooking nourishing food and doing light housework so you have a few less things to worry about and can concentrate on the only task you should have to think about right now – caring for your new baby.
But just as importantly they can provide vital emotional support and the reassurance, wisdom and companionship that can give new mothers confidence and a brilliant start to their mothering life.
How do I pay for doula support?
We live in a weird world where it’s normal to spend our annual salary on our weddings but no one advises us to put aside a month’s salary for birth and postpartum doula support. I totally get it – I had nothing put aside and assumed I could, and should, do it alone.
So many mothers say “I wish I’d had a doula” that I also suspect the barriers are not just financial – those these are real for most people – but also linked to how able we are to give ourselves permission to receive support. Not many of us are good at that, after all.
So if you have plenty of time, e.g. you’re planning to get pregnant, I’d advise overestimating what you might need and starting to save as soon as you can. If you’re further down the line and can’t afford this support? A crowdfunder to pay for a birth and/or postnatal doula like couple Chloe and Jude’s on platform Patchwork, can solve the issue of requiring support and avoiding being given 24 babygros you don’t need at the same time!
So many people want to give new babies or their mums a present and, like a honeymoon fund when you’re invited to a wedding, a doula fund allows the new family to spend any generous gifts in a way that works for them. No waste and a happy new family.
Once donations add up from friends, family and colleagues who might have bought you something you didn’t want anyway, you’ll be surprised at how far your fund goes to allowing you the postpartum support you need.
It can be difficult to ask for help in this way, but if people love you (they do!) they will want to help in a way that works for you. The following script might help:
“Dear friends and family. We have decided the best gift we can give our newly-formed family is support from an experienced doula to provide practical help, allow us to get some rest and provide a reassuring presence as we settle into parenting life. We know our friends and family will provide brilliant support too, but we feel the more support there is at this stage the better! We have set up a fund to cover the costs of our doula. If you wanted to contribute in lieu of gifts for the new baby (we are all covered for this), we would be extremely grateful.”
Investing in yourself
Many postnatal doulas get their enquiries when the new baby has arrived and families realise they may need some extra support. Many doulas are already booked up at this stage, so it’s best to plan with as much notice as possible.
Will you really “need” your doula? I haven’t met anyone yet who regretted investing in a doula. I believe it’s one of the most valuable gifts you can make to yourself as a soon-to-be or new parent. A gift that, above all, you deserve.
1. Some form of yoga practice
The most freeing thing to happen to me after many years of going to yoga classes was a home practice which kind of looked however I want it to look.
Sometimes it's active and I'll do a series of things that make my body heat up or make my legs or arms fell like they're about to fall off. This is never with a sense of needing to punish myself - more as an interesting experiment, like "can I do this and still smile and just see how it feels to go further than my body wants to do?" A kind of pushing through, with compassion. This BURN kind of practice works well to get me out of a funk or fill me with positive fire or confidence, and obviously it's not appropriate at certain times (like postnatally) or you're not exhausted.
At other times it's a 5 minute savasana (resting pose) or however many minutes I can manage before I fall asleep or need to go and make dinner. I cannot emphasise the importance of this enough, especially for mothers or anyone who is trying to juggle or achieve a million different things (i.e. mothers). Interestingly it can have the same effect of resetting my system, but is much more appropriate if I'm knackered (often).
And sometimes my practice is just trying to remember to be mindful for most of the day, or using my breath to calm me. Does that count? I think it does.
2. Cycle tracking
I thought the only point of tracking your menstrual cycle was to help you become pregnant (or avoid getting pregnant), but I've realised this is one of the quickest, easiest things women can do to feel aware of their bodies and empowered about their lives. (If you don't currently have periods because you're pregnant or breastfeeding, this will be stuff you can come back to!) I track my cycle in an Excel spreadsheet cos I'm that kind of girl, and I use an app (Clue) to enter my period dates so it can predict when the next one will come.
I have columns for mood, energy levels, cervical fluid (so I can work out when I'm ovulating) and oe for anything else I notice, like insomnia or how hungry I feel. Knowing that I can expect to feel anxious on day 5, enraged on day 15 and starving on day 20 is life-changing information. I know when I'll be likely to want to go out and socialise and when I'll want to curl up in bed and not talk to anyone for as long as possible. When I will feel like I have nothing interesting to say and when I'll feel like I am bold and brave enough to step outside my comfort zone. My partner loves it too as he knows a bit more about what to expect and why I might be bouncing off the walls or going to bed at 9.30pm ...
Information is power. I think one of the biggest shifts cycle tracking produces is changes in awareness of ourselves and our bodies, and how much compassion we show ourselves. When we know why we're shouting at our kids or feeling exhausted, we are much kinder to ourselves. Hormones are powerful things. We can't (nor should we) necessarily tame all of our behaviour, but being aware of WHY it's happening is hugely useful.
The incredible Maisie Hill, and Alexandra Pope and Sjanie Hugo Wurlitzer are your main women on this.
One book I will forever recommend to pregnant women (as well as this one) is Kimberley Johnson's The Fourth Trimester. Encouraging us to think past the big event of birth and put plans in place for postnatal support, its message is slowly trickling into women's consciousness in pregnancy. I read it when my daughter was about 3 and I still found it useful (#postnatalforever) so even if you have a bigger baby or toddler, its message may still be relevant for you.
She outlines 5 postpartum needs for women in this period:
An extended rest period
The presence of wise women and spiritual companionship
Contact with nature
If you've had a baby or been around women in this early period, it'll be clear why the above are so vital for the body, mind and spirit to recover and get used to life as a mother now the baby is out, not in. But these are also human needs, ways to nourish ourselves continuously, however old our children get, or even whether we are or are not mothers in the traditional sense.
Rest. Soul food. Someone to hold your hand. Strong female relationships. Nature. Taking care to enrich ourselves, to keep extending this care to ourselves, not just when we burn out, not just when we reach crisis point.
These things are small things that are big things, that signal that we value ourselves, are skilled in caring for ourselves and brave enough to ask for help. Often we need to put the things we think we need to do to one side and just pick one thing today that will nourish us. That ten minutes of fresh air. Asking a visitor, please could you bring food. Asking a loved one, can I have a hug.
How will you look after yourself today?
A few newsletters ago I wrote about the importance of HOW we prepare for something. It made me think of birth “preparation” and what is really most useful for us to practice in pregnancy.
What one thing do I wish I’d prepared more for birth? Not my knowledge on every single eventuality, but my ability to relinquish control over exactly what happened and when. What kind of birth I had. How I experienced sensations. How long it lasted. And everything beyond birth - how to be better at letting go of being in charge of everything.
Preparation to allow myself to stay strong in my centre and know that sometimes I am better served by surrendering to feelings and sensations or a turn of events, rather than trying to change them.
To remember the “preparation” was more a set of tools to serve me whatever happened rather than a means to influence exactly what happened.
Which is a REALLY hard lesson to learn. Of course we want to be in control. Of course we want to influence outcomes.
It's a huge psychological and/or spiritual shift for many of us. No wonder so many of us (me included) hold onto the idea that, in birth, our hard work and breathing practice and visualisations will definitely “work” (actually a lot of the time they may well “work”, as long as by work we mean help to ground us in the moment, to remember we’re not doing anything wrong, that all feelings are valid).
For those of us who have survived thus far by generally feeling in control of things, birth can be a major challenge in which we feel truly unmoored.
It can feel scary to consider that we might have less control than in other scenarios in life. But so much better to be relatively prepared as we become parents.
This is the stuff I wish I'd started to think about in pregnancy. Motherhood is in many ways the biggest of all gifts and it's also a huge challenge where our ability to exert control over the minutes and hours in our day is frequently much reduced. I am a firm believer that all of this makes us grow as individuals, but also that we need to recognise it for the challenge it can be.
It's why time away from our kids, when we only have ourselves to look after, is so vital, so we can reset to come back to the all-consuming state of motherhood. It's why getting those micro-moments to pause can sustain us until we can take a longer exhale. It’s very hard when we don’t have the support we need, and our society creates a frequently lonely experience of parenting.
I whisper “you’ve got this” to myself sometimes, but I understand that phrase differently now. It doesn’t mean “you’re in charge”. It means: you can withstand this hard thing and the experience of not being able to steer it in the direction you want. Everything passes and this is one moment of many.
And I take a long, soft breath in and out. I look to a point when I can sink into bed or a hot bath, by myself! I feel my feet firmly on the ground.