Sunday, May 8, 2011

Art Project: Creating Intentions

A few years ago I made a large collage of things I wanted in my life. It was a mixture of words, drawings and magazine pictures that symbolised situations and events that I intended to manifest. Believe it or not, this creative project wasn’t inspired by The Secret. It was a fun experiment to see if my dreams could come true if I visualised them clearly enough.

I recently found the collage as I was moving house. It was a couple of years old and a bit dusty but it gave me such a lift to realise that most of the things I had visualised were now a reality in my life. At the time I made it, I had just come out of a depressing relationship. I had no money and a fairly boring job. I now have a wonderful man, a beautiful daughter, am financially comfortable, artistically productive and I just landed a job working from home as a journalist. All these ‘dreams’ were right there in front of me, on my collage. Finding it made me realise the importance of keeping my eye on what is really important. So today, I made another collage.

This one is a lot more focused on ‘being’ rather than ‘having’. After a few years of experimenting with ways to manifest my dreams I have discovered that:

• Intending to ‘be’ kind rather than wishing others would be kind to me is a lot more effective
• Intending to have the motivation to stick to yoga and meditation is more helpful than wishing for a calmer mindset
• Intending to create art from the heart is more effective than hoping someone will discover my talents and pay me lots of cash
• Thinking about what I can experience (travel/scuba diving/yoga retreat) with more money is more effective than just having lots of money in the bank

Creating my intention poster was so much fun and made me focus on what’s important. My dreams and intentions are much simpler now – have a nice vegie patch, stick to my yoga, grow as an artist. I now look forward to the day I can dust off this collage and see that all my dreams have become a reality.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Working from home: New Possibilities

I deleted the post I wrote last week about going for a job I didn’t want. This is because a) I got the job and b) I realised that I did, in fact, want to take it.

I’m in the midst of reading a book by a guy who has no arms or legs. His name is Nick and he was born that way (Life Without Limits by Nick Vujicic – I highly recommend it). Being inspired by someone with a disability is nothing new but this guy is in a league of his own because he is so genuinely happy. He travels the world giving talks about how to find your purpose and live a fulfilling life. I can’t help but be amazed that a guy with no limbs is truly happy – happier than most people. Sometimes it seems like people with disabilities are more likely to push the boundaries of possibility than people who are in perfect health.

This book makes me think of all the things I secretly believe are impossible. Most of them are small things but they hold me back from going beyond my perceived limitations. I just got offered a job which I am excited about but I am already thinking ‘how will I cope with the stress of working from home AND being a mum’. Then I met a girl who works full time (because of financial reasons) and has a baby who never sleeps for more than half an hour at a time. Her baby also has health problems. She gets no sleep, deals with his health problems and still comes to work with a smile on her face – something I would think impossible under the circumstances. People go beyond their limitations all the time, often without realising it. Maybe I can to.

Being a mum facilitates many changes. I now feel more capable, responsible and efficient than I did before I had Scarlett. I used to dread nights of no sleep, now I take them in my stride (sort of). If I can suddenly gain those traits perhaps I can become someone who can enjoy the stimulation of working from home and still be a good mother. I’d like to think it’s possible to be busy yet remain calm and happy. Reading about Nick is inspiring me to go beyond the person I thought I was and take up something that stretches me. If a guy with no arms or legs can learn to surf, I’m sure enjoying this new challenge is only the beginning of what is possible for me. If it isn’t, I’ll happily give it up and write about what a disaster it was on my blog.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

For the Love of Food

Is anyone else obsessed with food? Many of my hobbies and interests have gone out the window since having a child. There simply isn’t the time to create a messy painting or drive around checking the surf. Cooking, because it is a ‘chore’ that MUST be done, has become my creative outlet of choice. Thinking about what I’ll cook for dinner makes me happy. I relish grocery shopping. I love creating diversions from the original recipe. All in all, cooking and its associated pleasures take up a large portion of my day.

Here are some ideas for making cooking a hobby:

- Borrow cookbooks from the library. That way you can explore different cuisines every week (although getting ghee and fresh turmeric for an Indian feast is a little difficult at the one supermarket we have in this tiny town. That’s where improvising comes in).
- I’m a big fan of Donna Hay’s cookbooks. The recipes are fast and fresh and perfect for mums who want to feel creative whilst preparing quick family meals. I’m currently working my way through every recipe in Hay’s Food Fast, Julie and Julia style.
- Grow herbs. They are easy and encourage you to branch out in order to discover what the hell you use sage, oregano or tarragon for.
- Grow vegies. There are pumpkins and there are ‘home-grown, lovingly-tended, organic pumpkins’. You’ll taste the difference and feel a sense of accomplishment.
- Learn to love grocery shopping. This is easy if you have access to Asian grocery stores and deli’s. But if you’re like me and live in the sticks, try to discover new ingredients that you haven’t used before, like semolina for shortbread or verjuice for salad dressings. Shopping can be an adventure.
- Bake cakes and take them to friend’s houses. This will prevent you from eating a whole cake in one sitting (if you’re like me!) and will spread the food love.
- Host themed dinners. This is just a pipe dream for me at the moment, as Scarlett is a light sleeper so we don’t have friends over much. But when she’s a bit older I plan to host Mexican, French and Turkish nights, complete with dress-ups and music.

Makes me think…what other chores can be converted to pleasures?

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Ayurveda for Mothers

I discovered Ayurveda through Deepak Chopra’s wonderful book, Perfect Health. My life has not been the same since. I now have a set of practical tools at my disposal to prevent and heal most ailments, though I still have a long road ahead of me in learning the details of this amazing science.

Chopra defines Ayurveda as “a system of preventative medicine and healthcare” .He goes on to say “the guiding principle of Ayurveda is that the mind exerts the deepest influence on the body, and freedom from sickness depends upon contacting our own awareness, bringing it into balance, and then extending that balance to the body. Ayurveda teaches that every person has been given a unique blueprint by nature; this is called his prakruti, or body type. Your prakruti tells you how nature intends you to live. According to Ayurveda, your body knows what is good and bad for it; nature has built the correct instincts into you from birth. Once you notice and obey these tendencies, you will find that your physiology is capable of achieving balance on its own, with minimal effort on your part”.

I was relieved when I discovered Ayurveda because it verified what I had always sensed – that there is no ‘perfect’ diet, exercise program or type of meditation to suit everyone. There are only perfect foods, exercises and meditations for individuals. This explains why a fast jog around town invigorates my man but leaves me feeling depleted. I find stretches uplifting while he finds them tiring. The differences expand to diet. I feel energised by spicy food. He feels like sitting on the dunny for a day after eating a little chilli. He loves cold drinks. I love sipping hot tea in summer. And so on…

I read about my body type in Perfect Health and found it to be spot on (I am a Vata). I then set about doing all the things that Chopra said suited my body type – going to bed early, eating heavy foods (yay, pasta!), doing relaxing exercises and generally decreasing Vata, which can easily become anxious and edgy when aggravated. That was a few years ago. Since then, when I become unbalanced –particularly anxious – I know that I have a set of tools at my disposal to bring me back into balance.

The Ayurvedic system of medicine is perfect for mothers because it acknowledges that there is no set way that we ‘should’ lose weight, exercise, meditate or deal with emotional issues. There is no point feeling guilty if you’re friend lost all her baby weight in a few weeks while you are still round after a year. Your body is different to hers. If you’re like me, you might wonder why some women have four kids, a job and a rigorous exercise program when you only have one child and still feel you need to eat and rest more. Don’t feel guilty, just read up on your body type.

I read an article in Yoga International yesterday titled “The Art of Nurturing: Yoga and Ayurveda for Motherhood”. It talked about nourishing recipes to help with breastfeeding, oil massage for different body types and ayurvedic approaches to post natal depression: “Brimhana means ‘building’ or ‘nourishing’. Brimhana qualities are heavy, dull, cool, oily, smooth, dense, soft, stable and sticky. Increasing these qualities in your food and your life can increase energy and blood and counter the tremendous output of energy that occurs during and after birth. Other lifestyle factors can increase brimhana qualities. Surround yourself with quiet, nurturing people. Ask for what you need. This is no time to be shy; it’s a time to be cared for.”

Ayurveda is an ancient science that validates the need for mothers to care for themselves and be cared for, in order to nurture a tiny baby. Imagine if every woman was given an individualised diet, oil massage and gentle set of stretches to do after they gave birth. Imagine if it was expected that every mother would be nurtured and cared for in the weeks following birth. Imagine if every mother knew how to bring her unique body type back into balance when things got tough. This approach is a far cry from trying to beat yourself into being a ‘super mum’ who has lost all her weight and is coping magnificently with all the demands placed on her (without asking for any help). But it is a sane approach.

I am going to read up on Ayurveda and continue to educate myself on how it can help me be the best I can be, for myself and my baby. I encourage other mums to do the same (Perfect Health by Deepak Chopra) is a great start. Hopefully, this amazing system of medicine will one day be mainstream.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Simple Pleasures

I have lived in this desert mining town twice. The first time I hated it. This time I love it. What’s changed? The town is still the same stinking hot, dirt-encrusted place it was before but I am seeing it with new eyes. Suddenly, the people have become more welcoming. The weather is sultry. Getting two flat tyres is adventurous. Showing up at the supermarket to find they’ve run out of all vegies except onions is funny. The difference is that I now have a baby daughter to look after, and with her, the simplest pleasures are the best. Before, I used to daydream the hours away waiting for some tropical getaway. Now enjoy my baby’s smiles and watching our veggie patch grow. Is this one of the reasons why kids make us happier? Moving here has made me realise that I would be happy anywhere if my man and my little girl were with me.

Here’s a list of simple daily pleasures that I am grateful for (I would love other mums to add their own simple pleasures as comments):
- Waking up to my little girl smiling up at me from her cot
- Snuggling my man at night
- Talking to my family on the phone
- That all the check-out ladies in the supermarket talk to Scarlett
- Watering our veggie patch in the afternoon
- Lazing on a picnic rug with my man, watching Scarlett watch the birds
- The smell of espresso coffee (decaf, unfortunately) in the morning
- Searching recipe books for new meal ideas
- Cooking with fresh herbs and spices
- Having friends over for barbecues and enjoying the warm afternoon
- Taking Scarlett swimming at the pool
- Meeting other mums for coffee and sharing tips
- When a surprise parcel arrives in the mail
- The smell of incense when I do my meditation in the morning
- The silence of the desert at night (except for the crazy-loud cockatoos)
- Finding creative ways to decorate the house with what’s around
- Eating home-baked cake

These are my simple pleasures, which can be enjoyed anywhere - even the outback. What are yours?

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Experiments in Kindness: Part 2

Vera asked how my experiments in kindness went, so I thought I'd post on that topic. Let's just say my efforts were small (I never got around to writing that letter) but consistent. I'm fairly sure no one noticed but me - but that was the point, I think. Here's what I discovered:

- Complimenting people on the way they look is a very easy way to make them feel good. I have done this often this week and now it is becoming a habit (obviously I only do it if it is genuine!). It made me aware that I used to notice something nice about a person and not tell them. Very easy to change.

- As for 'being kind when in a bad mood'. Not sure how I went on that one...After a sleepless night with Scarlett I didn't wake up and make my man breakfast in bed or anything, but I did refrain from taking out my frustration on him. And I sent him a nice text. As a result, we didn't have a fight and I felt much better.

- A couple of days ago I went to a friend's house for coffee. She had just heard some bad news and I wanted to bring her a gift but couldn't think of anything (she's not eating treats). So I went with the intention of REALLY listening. Not sure how I went but I came away with a good feeling and I hope she did, too.

- I never wrote the letter but I did write some nice emails.

Today, I am trying to be kind to myself. The house is a mess and I'm having trouble with the day naps but Scarlett has been happily laughing outside, watching birds and saying dadadada in her cute voice. I must be doing something right.

Friday, April 1, 2011

Yoga for Mothers - Why it Beats all the Parenting Books

I think I’m finally starting to “get” yoga and it’s making me love it even more. Although I’ve dabbled in yoga for many years, I only began to truly enjoy it when I was pregnant. For the first time, I allowed myself to take a gentle approach instead of trying to keep up with the rest of the class (who were usually much more flexible than me). Since then, I have accepted the fact that I am not naturally flexible but I can love yoga anyway. And I love it because all the lessons I learn on the mat transfer to the rest of my life.

What yoga has taught me lately:

If you don’t pay attention to what you’re doing in the moment, you hurt yourself. Yesterday I tuned out, thinking about the future, and injured my hip. Tuning out is obviously one of the downsides of practicing at home. But when you live in the middle of nowhere with no class in sight, what else do you do? Next time I will pay attention and listen to my body. I think this lesson transfers to life. In a nutshell: Pay attention and you do a better job and have a better time.
The breath is your teacher. Since I don’t have the benefit of my previous (fantastic) yoga teacher, Alison, I have to be my own teacher. After reading Eric Schiffmann’s “Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness”, I began to focus on doing the simplest poses, using the breath as a guide. I find that the breath tells me how long to hold a posture. If it is too laboured, it’s time to come out. If it is steady, I can hold the pose for a little longer. It also helps to move with the natural rhythm of the breath. After noticing my breath through the day I realised that it can also help me to be aware of when I am anxious (short, shallow breaths) or calm (soft and deep). This helps me to make decisions.
Every day is different, and that’s ok. Some days I am focused and flexible. Others, I can’t touch my toes and my mind constantly wanders. On these days, it’s tempting to give up and get down on myself or try to recreate the state of mind I was in the day before. Instead, I have been experimenting with accepting the practice as it is. I may not be able to touch my toes, but I can touch my knees PROPERLY, paying attention and using the breath as a guide. This way, even inflexible, unco days are just as successful as the flexible, focused ones. As a mother, this lesson helps me daily. Whether she sleeps, eats properly or grizzles all day, I have the power to work with the moment. When I remember this, bad days often look up.

So, yoga rules! I guess there’s a reason it has been practiced for thousands of years. I believe that motherhood and yoga are like peas and carrots. Note to self: Put down the expert book and practice yoga to find the strength to be a confident mum.

Anyone else practice yoga at home? I need tips for self-motivation and growing your individual practice without the guidance of a teacher.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Comfort Eating

I am struggling with comfort eating. As the day wears on, even if it's been a good one, I find myself reaching for chips or chocolate. Carrot sticks and hummus just don't cut it by 3 o'clock. Why is this? Despite my good intentions I feel powerless against the urge to scoff whatever is in the cupboard. Luckily, I don't keep many tempting treats in there, but have been known to bake some cookies just so I can eat the mixture.

I imagine this issue plagues other stay-at-home mums, who find themselves either bored or stressed by the end of a day listening to grizzling. Overeating is also easy to do when you've had no sleep and need some energy. So, an action plan....

1. Stock nothing unhealthy in the cupboard. At least then when I scoff things they will be moderately healthy.
2. Try to stop and think about why I'm eating. Am I actually hungry? This doesn't always work but it does sometimes make me eat consciously.
3. When I bake a treat, save a small portion for myself and take the rest directly to a friend's house.
4. Don't bake any treats.
5. Drink lots of water. Sometimes I find that this fills me up and stops me from eating too much.
6. Do something that is pleasurable and doesn't involve food. Maybe go for a walk or paint.
7. Try to eat slowly. We just started having dinner after Scarlett goes to bed so we don't have to rush it and get indigestion.
8. Stop buying Carmen's Yogurt and Fruit Muesli Bars. They are ridiculously delicious and too morish. They may be healthier than other treats but is it ok to eat three in one sitting?

All these things help but I have to stay mindful of them, or else, chocolate feast! I want to relish a small treat now and then, not treat chocolate like a cigarette that I need to get me through the day. Do any other mum's have any ideas on combatting overeating?

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Four Ways to Feel Like a Good Mum

"It doesn't matter if you play a small part or a big part, but play it well" - Paramahansa Yogananda

Sometimes I get caught up in feeling like I should do something fabulous. Sometimes it feels like being "just a mum" is a small part to play in the world. There are no awards for being a mum. There's no money in it. All the satisfaction you gain is to be savoured quietly, at home, alone with your child. No one notices whether you've managed to clean the house AND keep your baby entertained. But you do. Being a mum may seem like a small part to play when others are out earning big dollars and travelling the world. But playing your role well could mean the difference between contributing a happy child to the world or letting a little terror loose.

Yogananda's quote reminds me to focus on how to be the best I can be in the small role I am playing. This means being present and focusing on the small things instead of daydreaming about being a big "someone" out in the world. Some ideas for playing my role well are:

  • Notice and congratulate myself when I do a good job, whether it be cooking a nice meal or teaching my baby nursery rhymes that she enjoys.

  • Focus on the small things and do them well. Eg, wash the dishes properly, make my bed each day and read to my baby in an animated voice.

  • Limit facebook time. Is it just me or is everyone on facebook enjoying one constant party?

  • Make a gratitude list. When I think about what I am grateful for I realise how full and successful my life is.

    • These are some ideas that can make all mothers feel successful just for being themselves. Anyone have anymore suggestions?

      Tuesday, March 29, 2011

      Experiments in Kindness

      Kindness seems almost unfashionable these days. You don't see people putting "kind" on their resumes, beside "great team player" and "calm under pressure". But imagine if everyone valued genuine kindness in the workplace above all other qualities? There would be no bitching, gossiping, manipulation or backstabbing. Then, imagine if kindness was the number one value in the world. Imagine if being kind was something to be proud of. Our world doesn't always value kindness, but we can. When I "remember" (it doesn't always come naturally) to be kind I feel much happier, regardless of whether anyone else notices. So this week I am going to experiment with being kind. Here's how:

      • If I notice that someone looks nice, I will compliment them.

      • When I'm in a bad mood I will look for something nice to do for someone else as a distraction (instead of eating cake and watching telly or taking my mood out on them).

      • I will dream up little gifts to give people, just because.

      • I might even write a letter to a friend and send it by snail mail.

      Although I haven't figured out how to promote this blog and as yet have no followers, I will document the results of my experiment in kindness in a few days.

      Wednesday, March 23, 2011

      Six Ideas for Changing Your Values

      As mothers we often fall victim to society’s skewed value system. Here is a list of mainstream society values (although there is evidence of change everywhere): Hard work, efficiency self-focus, extraverts over introverts, coping under pressure and a high stress threshold, material wealth and external beauty. While I started out my adult life with these values, they did nothing to improve my happiness. I began to reassess them a few years ago, honing in on what really made me happy. I found that when I achieved something big externally, I often felt empty when I should have felt elated. On the other hand, when I simply extended spontaneous kindness towards someone I felt good immediately, even if nobody knew about it. I also discovered that struggling could often be bypassed by tapping into universal energy through meditation and intention. As soon as I began to do this, my desires began to manifest without much hard work. Taking action after tapping into universal energy is vastly different to struggling against the world. Taking positive action doesn’t FEEL like hard work. So I decided to rethink my values and realign myself with those of the universal force. Here’s what I came up with:

      • Kindness and generosity

      • Moving slowly through the world

      • Building inner richness

      • Achieving goals calmly, without struggle

      • Maving through the world slowly

      Although I still struggle to live these values on a daily basis, it makes me feel happy to remind myself that I have them.

      Tuesday, March 22, 2011

      Imperfection Anxiety

      As a mum, I feel like I'm in a state of permanent guilt. My baby is sleeping too much, not enough or at the wrong time. She has too much of a routine, then too little. I'm feeding her too much or the wrong stuff. I'm using disposable nappies instead of cloth. I don't space breastfeeds out enough. The guilt list goes on and on until I've forgotten that I have a healthy, happy little baby. Feeling guilty is almost addictive, like I'm not a 'real' mum without it. How to chill out?

      I realised during my meditation yesterday that although I have been meditating on and off for a few years, I have never really just OBSERVED my breath. I have been controlling it. So I sat down with the true aim of just watching it - and it worked! As I watched the breath I said to myself, 'let's see what it does now', then, 'let's see where it goes now'. It was ridiculously simple, yet so relaxing. It turns out that the breath is naturally really peaceful if you leave it alone to do its thing. I am now practicing this technique on a minute by minute basis to combat my anxiety. When I feel a tightening in my chest or hear my mind yelling about all the things I'm doing wrong, I try to notice my breath (much different from breathing deeply or controlling the breath). This is working a treat.

      I am also hammering this affirmation: I am doing my best and my best is good enough.

      There's no point worrying when you are doing your best. So, two experiments for managing imperfection anxiety and pointless guilt: 1. Notice how peaceful your breath is. 2. Chant 'I am doing my best and my best is good enough' (mentally or verbally). Hope this helps someone as much as it helped me.

      Monday, March 21, 2011

      Learning From Our Kids

      Our children are the greatest teachers life can produce. They give us the opportunity to grow as people simply because we desire to do the best we can for them. With this in mind, I want to create a an online community of mothers who share ideas on how to nurture ourselves and our children. Through my own experiences as a new mum to 6-month-old Scarlett, I am experimenting with life skills that I hope will help me be a calm and loving mother. Through this blog, I will explore:

      - Emotional Intelligence: The knowledge of our own emotions and how to manage them.

      - Spiritual tools for tough times: Nobody can tell us how to raise our kids, as every child is unique. So how do we know the answers to our problems? Yoga and meditation often help me to go within and sort out my own issues. I want to look at different techniques and tools that are doable for time-poor mums.

      - Healthy bodies: To raise healthy kids we have to eat well and learn to love food. We need to enjoy physical activity and find exercises that suit our individual preferences. Mums need recipes that are quick and healthy and exercises that can be done with babies and kids.

      This blog is all about the small things that increase our happiness and ability to cope with the demands of motherhood. I will include posts on my own passions – food, art, books, travel and spirituality – and hope to review different ideas and approaches to motherhood. I also look forward to comments from other mums on how they deal with the highs and lows of looking after a little person.