Shavasana

Tonight I wished for a pedometer on the white rocker in Linnea’s room. I wondered to myself, her body heavy in my arms, just how many times I had sat in that same position. Forward and back. Forward and back. In silence and in darkness. I think I have put so many miles in that chair because it has become meditative for me. My daughter snuggled closely and my body free from outside distraction…

I enrolled in a writer’s workshop at Lighthouse in Denver earlier this month. The workshop, “Writing Class Asana” was led by Wendy Wunder, a Young Adult (YA) author. And. I. Loved. Her. I still feel so new at making a routine out of writing that when meeting a published author, I feel like a middle schooler at a One Direction concert in their presence. Meeting approachable writers like Wendy make a writing practice goal seem less lofty. (Case in point: She wrote while teaching yoga and raising a daughter, and now hopes to become a high school English teacher. Writing, to her, doesn’t seem extravagant, it just seems essential.)

The workshop was divided into two parts: Wendy first led us through an Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga practice and then into an hour of free writing and sharing. She quoted Natalie Goldberg on numerous occasions (another reason I was sold since I reference her in my own classes) with my favorite quote being the reason we did yoga in the first place. She shared its purpose is “to get you down to a body level and out of your monkey mind”. This same sentiment was connected to the end of our yoga practice: Shavasana.

Shavasana means “corpse pose” where one lies flat on their back with hands and legs extended, and it is the end to a yoga routine. In few words, Wendy explained that the whole purpose of yoga is to get to shavasana, the point where relaxation, and thus true meditation, can take place. And through the writing portion of the class, I could not take my focus away from this concept. In my head, I kept thinking about how The purpose of yoga AND life is to get to a place of shavasana…

My writing notebook was messy, but filled with the word, shavasana. (Well, to be honest, it was filled with the word, “Chivasana” since I had only heard it spoken.) I wondered how it was possible to live in a constant state of shavasana. How does one live in a way that the mind can be free of distraction? And I realized that I have some fabulous role models in my life for how one can achieve this. The secret is that we all have our own yoga practice, the activity or passion that engulfs our whole being and allows us to live in the present moment. When we take part in such activities, we can live a more authentic life because we are not worrying about the past or the future, but just enjoying what is in front of us:

I thought of my husband, Ben when he watches and analyzes a World Cup match or a Husker game; I thought of my neighbor and friend, Becky (“BB”, as Linnea lovingly refers to her), who can carefully tend to her garden for hours on end; I thought of my other neighbor and friend, Amy, who is so thoughtful with her crafty creations that she can turn a few pieces of material into a practical and beautiful item; I thought of my mom who gets lost in the caring for and tending to of family members; I thought of my stepdad, Dennis who sees a vision and takes no time at all in building it with his own hands; I thought of my dad, Mark, who volunteers whenever someone needs help with their car because he loves tinkering around in the garage; I thought of my brother-in-law who loves to fly an airplane more than anything else; I thought of my brother, Andy, who has a brain for technology and can get lost on a computer project for days; I thought of my sister who loves to paint and scrapbook, and does both in such creative ways; I thought of my dearest friend, Alli, who loves to read, garden, bake and create extraordinary items; I thought of my Grandpa John who tends to the most beautiful roses and potted plants I have ever seen; I thought of my Grandma Lorrie who creates magnificent quilts and extensive scrapbooks; I thought of my almost 90-year-old Grandpa Pete who feels like a kid when he windsurfs; I thought of my Grandma Ginny who rocks and knits and finds such peace in both; And I thought of my friend, Mary, who loves yoga so much, she is spending her valuable summer vacation to be trained to be a certified instructor, and….

I thought of my daughter who lives more in the moment than anyone I have ever known. Everything seems to be shavasana for her.

Which brings me to my own example: Rocking her. Rocking Linnea like I have done, every night for the last, roughly 970 days. I love many things, but I feel utterly relaxed and at peace when I am rocking her at night, in the darkness and in the silence. Listening only to the rhythm of the chair going forward and back. Forward and back.

P.S. Nothing disrupts a yoga class more than having a photographer in the room. To see a picture of me in action at the workshop (in the background, thank goodness) or to read more about the workshop itself, check it out here.

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Growing up too fast

I remember the onslaught of advice as clearly as I remember the feeling of labor pains. Well-wishers encouraged me to “take lots of pictures”, “savor every moment”, and of course, “watch out; they grow up too fast”. And now, I have found myself thinking and, sometimes even saying, these cliched comments as I hold my neighbor’s beautiful, blue-eyed baby or talk to my sister about the ups and downs of her pregnancy. Because what I did not fully realize back then in the blur of newborn days is that, whether I want to accept it or not, those statements are painstakingly true.

As we were walking up our steep 1939-built basement stairs, I reached for Linnea’s hand, “No Mama, Nea do it by herself. By herself, Mama”. Her repeated comment stung the most, as if she had to clarify her self-reliance. She might as well have declared she just got a tattoo or a boyfriend because in that instance, I was sure my surprise and sadness would have been the same. The baby I birthed, nursed and wore in a backpack was fully merging into an independent little girl, and I was not sure I liked it…

Linnea’s age is exerting its influence in ways other than her confidence to take on tasks. A few months ago she declared dinosaurs “scary” after seeing a coloring book with their images. Picture my surprise then when that same little girl expresses sheer excitement about the opportunity to go with her daddy to see their skeletons. L.E. went to the Denver Museum of Nature and Science for the first time on March 6. Photo after photo filled my phone’s memory as I gazed over each one during my lunch break. It was in some of those pictures that it hit me just how far she has come in just over two years. This realization–that I am sure hits every parent at some point–had its proof in one particular text from my husband: Leaning on a sign with long-legs and a tired stare, I saw no baby.Image

Just this weekend, she decided she no longer wanted to be rocked before her afternoon nap. I looked at her with a tinge of disbelief, and asked if she was sure. She was. I, on the other hand, was not.

When I listen to one of her stories and respond with “Ohhhh”, she insists, “Mama, don’t say ‘Ohhhh’ [insert mocking tone her]. Say ‘Yes’.” Say yes? I began wondering when my toddler daughter began correcting me. I don’t remember there being a chapter in any of my parenting books about how to deal with this milestone.

As much as I want to go back  to the days of endless snuggling in the rocking chair, I know there is a lot of of sweet mixed in with the bitter pieces of these memories:

Even though, Linnea did not want my help going up the stairs, she wanted me to play with her as soon as we got to her room. Even though, she looked like such big stuff in those pictures at the museum, Ben said she held his hand firmly the whole time they were there. Even though, she did not want to be rocked, we cuddled in her little bed as she moved the hair out of my eyes and gave me an unsolicited kiss. And even though she corrects me, we get some pretty big belly laughs when we make a joke out of it now.

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The truth is, like her newborn days, these days are numbered too. And I will hold onto the sweet as long as I can knowing just how quickly these moments may fade.

Note: This post was inspired by the writing of a good friend, Meg. She recently posted a post entitled, “The Hardest Phase“, which got me thinking about how quickly everything changes.

The Cycle of Gratitude

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Linnea and her puppy for whom she is always grateful (and says so during our nightly ritual)

I ended each of my three classes with a story: Every night, my husband, daughter, and I take turns sharing gratitude before dinner. Linnea, my two year old, always begins and will remind us if we forget to hold hands in the first place.

“Thank you, God, for”… [insert rambling response here]. She is grateful for everything from our neighbors’ dogs to her imaginary friends, Faddy and Dotty. In the rare event she gives a one word response, I begin prepping her plate for seconds because it is a clear indicator she is starving. Regardless of what each of us share–from a cozy home to thoughtful neighbors to family, near and far–it sets a positive perspective for us to end our day.

I explained to my students that this nightly ritual got me thinking about them. Why not start a similar routine in the classroom? I scanned the room, looking into the eyes that met my own and explained that I am grateful for each of them; I am just afraid I do not always show it. “Perhaps it is cheesy”, I mentioned, “But it means a lot to me and I hope it will to you too.” My story and comments met silence and I was beginning to second guess myself.

On the wall next to the door was the phrase “Thank You” written in a blue sharpie on a white, chart-paper, post-it. I prepared to share a few observations I had jotted down and stuck them to the paper. I realized it was difficult for me to read what I had wrote. Would they think I had favorites? What if they made fun of the kids I named? Would this even catch on?

As the class decided how to react, I was thinking about the other ways in which I had aimed to practice gratitude in the classroom: The letters written by students during the Thanksgiving season that I mailed to a person of his of her choice. One went to a prison, several to Mexico, and many to their very own homes. I received two in the mail and keep them under my keyboard at school. Other instructional choices are minor, but seem to have a positive impact on the culture of the classroom. How can I can continue to incorporate more gratitude so that we all feel a little more inspired. A little more motivated (especially during this difficult time in the school year). And a lot more loved.

The silence in the class dissipated, students eagerly walked to the paper and stuck their post-it notes to the wall. I could have dismissed class that day pointing out the eraser that flew across the room or the distracting chatter during our writers workshop. Instead I shared my gratitude for Maria’s laughter, Jovanny’s work ethic, and Marisol’s brilliantly written introduction, and chose to focus my attention on the positive. I stood at the door and matched their smiles with my own.

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I went back into my classroom from the hallway, turned off all the lights except one, and walked to my desk. A lone, post-it note stuck to my computer screen caught my attention and caused a slight flutter in my stomach. The note ended with, “I don’t think we have had a teacher like you”, and in her authentic voice, I knew the exercise was worthwhile. With that one sticky note, my student did more for me than any observation or evaluation ever could: it restored my faith. I need to remember that in encouraging and uplifting my students, I can help them find their own way. More listening, less talking.

Here’s to hoping the cycle continues.