One hand in my pocket

balanceAt the centre of all yoga practice, and indeed, life, comes that magical little term, balance.  One dictionary definition of this mellifluous state of being is ‘harmonious arrangement or relation of parts or elements within a whole’.  Makes sense, all the different parts of your life working in harmony with each other; work, family, home, friends, health, hobbies…Simple!  So why does it always seem so complicated? Being the diligent yogi that I am, I attempted to find the sanskrit word for balance.  I found 45.  This to me, is reassurance that it’s not as simple as it seems.

My family always encouraged me to find a dependable job.  My mum had worked in a family business her entire life.  She worked long hours and often had to chase money.  She wanted something more secure for me.  So I decided to be a Primary School Teacher.  You can’t get much more dependable than that, right?  In truth, it was my calling.  I never considered any other options.  When I graduated, almost 24 years ago, it pretty much was my dream job.  You worked with the kids all day, and made resources and put up wall displays after they left.  We had a meeting once a week to discuss important issues such as the Christmas Show and Liz’s retirement dinner. But things have changed and  contrary to the media driven stereotypical myth, teachers do work hard.  Very hard.  There are meetings in the morning, meetings at lunch, meetings after school and meetings in the evenings.  There is paperwork coming out of your ears.  There are new ideas every 90 seconds and they are implemented immediately.  And then there are children.  Don’t get me wrong, we love them all (;-)) but they are tiring.  You parents complain two days into the holidays.  Imagine having 30 of them, each with their own particular needs and quirks.  Teachers are leaving the profession at an alarming rate and stress is the primary reason behind this. I was coping pretty well until my own little darlings came along but after that I felt like I was in the circus.  Yip, chief juggler…

In an attempt to achieve more balance in my own life I explored alternative options for work.  I left the classroom for an office based job.  Bad move.  There was travel and long hours.  I was seeing less of my children than I had done before. However, if there is one sure-fire way to catapult yourself into action it’s by jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.  This was not for me. So what next? I’ve always had an interest in holistic health and followed my passion for yoga.  This felt right to me and even though it meant weekends away training, late nights of study and early mornings of practice, I threw myself in.

My vision was to bring yoga to all, from pregnant mothers, to children, teens, adult and the older population.  Things are moving on and I’ve achieved so much in the 21 months since graduating as a Yoga Teacher.  I’ve now taught pregnancy yoga, mother and baby, families, teens, adults and an over 55’s class.  They haven’t all worked out but I’ve certainly enjoyed trying.  I’ve also learned some lessons along the way:

  • the first being that you can’t do it all, or have it all, for that matter.  My early vision was admirable, but ambitious.  I’ve had to re-assess my original plan several times as there simply aren’t enough hours in the day for me to teach all of these classes by myself.  And I can’t be an expert in each of these areas of yoga, it’s vast.  I would be master of none.  So I’ve let some of it go.
  • as I’m not in a position (who is?) to quit my job immediately and pursue my dream I have had to build up the yoga teaching slowly while at the same time gradually reducing my primary teaching.  I now work for the Council 2 days a week and run 7 yoga classes.  This definitely was a balancing act for some time and the scales often tipped in the wrong direction.  For every hour teaching you have at least an hour’s preparation time.  So I’m not working any less than I was before, just differently.  People often forget this and think you are paid for the hour you’re there, but there’s much more going on in the background.  Just in the same way as teacher’s don’t leave school at 3 but have to endure the dinner party jibes with a smile.
  • the money doesn’t just automatically pop into your account at the end of the month.  You have to ensure you are earning.  You sometimes have to ask to be paid, which sits very awkwardly with me as I’m a people-pleaser at heart and hate to offend.  You don’t get sick pay or holidays and if it snows and you cancel classes, that’s a week’s loss of earnings.  There’s no pension. Granted, a teacher’s isn’t great but it’s there.
  • you have to pay for your own training and CPD.  I now feel so indulged as a Primary School Teacher to be allowed to attend a training course.  I will never again complain about having to bring my own lunch.  My own Yoga Teacher Training cost over £3000.  This is extremely normal.  On top of that there were accommodation and travel costs.  In all honesty, I’ve never added up the total.  You have to teach a lot of classes to earn that back.  As a council employee I have attended some amazing courses and my travel and accommodation  are always covered.  There are so many hidden extras for the self-employed.  You pay your own insurance and membership to the Yoga Alliance. You have CPD, similar to traditional teaching, but this has to come out of your own pocket.  And it can be expensive.
  • you may not see your kids more.  I thought cutting down days would mean more family time but this hasn’t really been the case.  It’s just been different.  My children are teens now and it’s true what they say, they don’t need you less, their needs are just different.  They still like being around me, which is amazing, but the guilt you feel for working intensifies when you work odd hours, such as nights teaching yoga classes.  They’re proud of me for working so hard and achieving this for myself, so they are completely supportive, but there’s still that tug when I go to leave at night.  Because of this I’ve limited myself to two nights for the time being.  Constantly trying to balance the books.
  • and one last one.  You don’t get paid holidays.  Ok, I mentioned this already but it’s a biggie.  I feel us school teachers are perfectly justified in our rage over the nation’s ridicule of short teaching days, ‘you only work part-time anyway’, don’t you just love that old chestnut?  But the holidays, come on, we can’t really argue with that one. I’d keep quiet in the future if I were you.

The grass does often appear greener on the other side. Despite all of this, I wouldn’t change a thing, and I do feel that after a couple of years of struggling to find the elusive work-life balance, I’m just about there.  I love teaching in school and now know I would hate to leave that behind completely.  But I also love teaching yoga to adults. Some days I can have a long leisurely dinner with the kids after school, some days it’s merely functional. So there we have it for the time being.  The best of both worlds.  Some days are structured and routine, other days I have a little more flexibility to play around with. In the words of the feminist icon Alanis Morissette ‘I’ve got one hand in my pocket and the other one is giving a peace sign’.  

One final note, there may be 45 different sanskrit translations for balance but there is only one for contentment and that is santosha.  It has a beautiful sound to it don’t you think?  Who needs balance anyway?


In search of Isvara (or a bad yogi mum’s guide to the yamas and niyamas)

I thought it would be a good idea to start the weekend off with a little family yoga.  His hairyness was away for the weekend so it was just me, the boy and the girl.   I had visions of us working in perfect unison (one transalation of yoga is unity, how ironic that turned out to be), blissfully flowing from one asana to the next.  Family bonding, so to speak. I asked the girl if she would like to join me at 11.  Yoga at 11am on the 11th day of the 11th month.  There had to be something spiritual in that!  There was, but it was more of a 666 type of spiritual.  As it turned out, this was a perfect opportunity for me to apply my knowledge of the first two limbs of yoga, the yamas and niyamas.  Asana, or the physical practice of yoga, is the third.

As I was coming downstairs getting ready to start I asked the boy  if he would like to join us, no pressure, I reminded him.  To my delight (hmm), he said he would.  I was in the kitchen setting up when I heard him bounding down the stairs.  He immediately started to complain that he had left his mat upstairs.  ‘Well go and get it’ I said patiently.  ‘Uuuurghhhhh’ he replied eloquently.  He returned moments later and watched me with great hostility setting up my iphone to record the session.  He compalined vehemently.  When I asked him why he had joined us when he clearly wasn’t in the mood he replied ‘I thought I had to’.  Oh dear.  But here he was practising satya, the second yama, translated as truthfulness.  He’s really got it down!

This also gave me an opportunity to practice a little Svadhaya, or study of the self.  Why on earth did I feel any pressure to record this session with my kids?  I turned the iphone off and we got down to business.  They both enjoy the challenge of the ashtanga primary series but the girl wanted to try a new challenge.  Pinchamayrasana  or fore-arm stand.  We researched a sequence building up to this and got off to a good start.  The third niyama is tapas, which can be translated as both heat and discipline.  We were building both and firing on all cylinders.  Until, that is, our challenge pose.

I went first and displayed Brahmacharya, the fourth yama, right use of energy.  I kicked up just enough so as not to over-exert myself.  Quite pathetic, granted, but I was happy to just give it a go.   Then came the girl’s turn.  This is where our study of yoga philosophy came into it’s own.  She kicked up a little, quite clearly fearful of herself and her actions.  She kicked up again. And again.  17 kicks later I suggested she let the boy have a go (we’re short of wall space).  She collapsed into the foetal position sobbing onto her mat.  Time to practice santosha,  or contentment, the second yama, I explained to her.  You are where you are at the moment (on the mat sobbing).  With discipline and practice you’ll get stronger.  The temptation to kick her bony little bottom into shape was almost too overwhelming but I practised ahimsa, the first yama.  Non-violence.  The boy and I carefully lifted the mat away from the wall and placed her gently into the centre of the room.

His try.  First kick, up to the wall.  You’re f**king kidding me.  Time to put Aparigraha, or non-greed into practice.  I’m truly delighted for him.  As is the girl!

We finish the practice with a few twists and forward bends to ease our way down from the inversion.  The boy begins to nag ‘how much longer?’ I remember the third yama, asteya, or non-stealing.  This applies to other’s time as well as possessions and I remind myself that this is his weekend too.  I promise five more minutes and then he can go.

As we finish up I would love to tell you that we ended our practice in a blissed out savasana but that would be stretching the truth a little (lot).  The girl and I lay down whilst the boy immediately jumped up and proceeded to leave the room in the most tumultuous fashion bouncing a tennis ball as he left (where did that even come from, no one in this house even plays tennis).

We got up carefully and put the first niyama into action.  Saucha, or cleanliness.  I sprayed all the mats with aromotherapy spray just as the boy returned to the kitchen.  ‘Don’t spray my mat with that smelly yoga stink’ he yelled.  It was at this moment that the final niyama came to me.  Isvara Pranidhana, or surrender to a higher being.  It is what it is, I reminded myself.

By the way, the yamas and niyamas are in absolutely no sequential order.  That would be too perfect, and quite clearly, family life is just nothing like that!

p.s: we do our yoga in pyjamas just cos we can 💕


Apples and Pears

IMG_3112.JPGHaving time as a family can become increasingly difficult the older your children become. They get caught up in the dramas of friendships and their virtual realities can engulf them to the point that you can feel as though you haven’t communicated in days. I have witnessed on several occasions four people in one room (I am one of them) but all in different worlds – facebook, instagram, snapchat and twitter.   As tweens become teens it is even more important to keep the family bonds strong as a sense of belonging is a vital component in having a positive self image and can foster resilience in life.  But how can we do this?

Of course I love a good board game and encourage a bit of family yoga but at times this just seems impossible, and even a little ridiculous.  My daughter loves nothing more than getting a little down dog on but if my son is not in the mood (more often than not) then it cannot, and shouldn’t be forced.  Family dinners are great and a good opportunity for having a catch up about your day but busy schedules don’t allow for this every night.

My solution, and the parenting purists are going to hate it, a little bit of telly.  Our current family viewing of choice is Eastenders.  Shocking I know.  But I feel this is a time where we really connect as a family.  It’s interactive…we are never quiet while watching.  It is very much a shared experience and something we can all discuss and debate together. Exactly the opposite of our social media lives.  The storylines, particularly lately, have been extremely educational for young people.  For example, the sexting and the issues and legalities raised around this.  There is a social conscience in soaps that we don’t always get the chance to explore in our own lives.  Looking after an elderly parent or neighbour for example. And my personal favourite ‘the truth will out’.  Time after time in soapland we see a lie snowball into an avalanche but the truth always comes out in the end.  Somewhere in there lies a moral code not too far removed from the ten commandments or the yogi yamas and niyamas.  There is learning and growth to be explored.

The conversations we have had after an episode have been much richer and far less contrived than if I had forced myself into their bedrooms and declared ‘let’s talk about sex’.  Plus we can have a laugh at Mick Carter’s cockney rhyming slang.  Television may count as technology, but to me it’s a much simpler version, even if you’re watching on catch-up. It takes me back to my own childhood.  At the end of the day we’ve had some time together and maybe learned something along the way.  Then I can say to them ‘right you lot, up the apples and pears, use a bit of Bob Hope, have a Jimmy Riddell and shut your mince pies!’

BFF (or maybe not)

Friendships become notoriously tricky in High School and while this is a problem for both males and females I do believe that girls are hit the hardest.  The intense need to conform and become part of a tribe is completely animalistic and overpowers our brains and our senses.  For girls on the spectrum, this is an incredibly difficult period, as wrong and right, black or white, still prevails.  They find it very difficult  to navigate the subtleties and complexities of relationships and at times can feel completely isolated. This increases anxiety and has a knock on effect on life outside of school as well.  As a parent we feel an incredible desire to help our children and make everything ok with them.  We are able to have some of that control in primary where we have close home-school links and have become friends with our children’s friend’s mums.  In High School we lose that element of control entirely and the ground beneath our feet can feel particularly wobbly at times.  This only increases the anxiety experienced in the home and if we’re not careful we can end up making the situation worse.  There are some things we can do to minimize damage and ensure that friendships continue:

  • encourage them to have more than one friend.  Young people with ASD often feel more comfortable with a very small group and this often limits their interactions with others.  If they can form a friendship with a small handful of people there is less opportunity for everything to fall apart if one friend suddenly drops from the scene or starts behaving differently.
  • read ‘Blame my Brain’ by Nicola Morgan and then give it to your teen to read.  An understanding of how the brain is functioning in the teenage years is priceless and will help them understand themselves a little more.
  •  encourage your teen to see things from another perspective. This can be incredibly difficult but if they are able to look at a situation through another’s eyes this encourages empathy and understanding.
  • support their independence during difficult times.  Friendships are vital for our mental health but spending time alone is a skill worth developing.  If they have hobbies of their own that they can do independently this can serve as an excellent therapy to life’s stressors.
  • nurture your own friendships and lead by example.  You are the most powerful role model in your daughter’s life and she will see the value you place on your friendships as well as the rewards you recieve from them.
  • encourage extra curricular activities but bear in mind that they will also need some down-time to cope with high levels of anxiety and this is a constant balancing act.
  • practise some form of relaxation exercise with her.  Yoga is ideal as it activates the parasympathetic response, also known, as the relaxation response.  This encourages our body to recover from periods of stress and also enables us to have better control over our emotions.
  • check your own anxiety levels.  Anxiety is contagious and circular and if they sense your concern this may cause further panic.  Ensure you are sleeping and eating well and taking regular exercise and time out.
  • try not to catastrophise.  This is a phase, like all other phases, and you will both live to fight another battle, but hopefully a little tougher and wiser!  Good Luck!

September when it comes

I love the month of September.  This could simply be that it’s my birthday month and therefore brings with it that childish excitement, second only to the anticipation of Christmas, counting sleeps and making party plans.  But I think it’s more likely the pleasure of the changing seasons and the comfort that this time of year brings.  I love it when the nights start to ‘draw in’ and me and the kids can cosy up in the living room. I didn’t realise until very recently that the Danish, the happiest nation in the world, have a name for it.  Hygge pronounced hooga. This involves the inclusion of several of my favourite warm and cosies.  For example, blankets, candles, soft lighting, comfort food and close family and friends.  There are however a few exclusions to be made.  No political or controversial conversation.  This is a time for establishing a close family bond not creating or aggravating bad feeling.  I’m going to attempt a little Hygge for my birthday weekend by getting the kids, my partner and our parents together.  We’ve got all the right ingredients in stock.  My home is always warm, there’s plenty of space and I won a Yankee candle in the school fayre raffle last weekend.  Add to that a takeaway dinner and hey presto! What could possibly go wrong?  As long as no one mentions Brexit, SNP or the capacity of your next/last intended cruise ship then we’re all good (how many swimming pools?).

On a more serious note September and Autumn can also reflect a time in our lives that some of us struggle with. I’m going to be 44…no spring chicken.  My kids are growing faster and my parents are growing older.  I see this very physically in my yoga practice with them.  My daughter can whip her legs behind her ears as fast as look at you.  My parents, both fairly healthy and extremely active individuals sometimes have to say ‘No, I can’t do that, it hurts’.  And I’m somewhere in between, Autumn perhaps.  Roseanne and Johnny Cash have sung many songs together but my favourite by far is ‘September when it comes’, a story of a lifetime beautifully told through the eyes of a father and daughter.  

     ‘So when the shadows lengthen into an evening sun, first there’s summer then I’ll let you in, September when it comes.’                                                                                                                                         

For me the song is made even more poignant by the fact that Johnny died in the month of September. So I’ll let it in.  The hygge and the relentless ticking of the clock.  I like my lines, I love my family and I’m right where I want to be.  I definitely wouldn’t have been able to say that at 20.  So hand me my woolly socks, I’m getting cosy 🙂