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Rejected Miracles

I’m a doula—a woman who nurtures other women during pregnancy, pregnancy loss, labor, delivery, and all the transformations after birth that sometimes feel like magic, but other times just feel like poop.  A lot of poop.  So, it seems appropriate to me that I feel very drawn this time of year to the idea of Mary, in labor, looking for a safe place to give birth to baby Jesus.  Except, there were no ultrasounds, so we didn’t know it was Jesus and she was rather adamant that the father was God.  Let’s be honest here, there was a lot of Mary’s story that was unlikely to be believed by most.  I imagine that Mary was making some noise and no one wanted her in their hotel—this single Mom in labor accompanied by some guy who wasn’t even the father and likely to be releasing all kinds of mucus, blood, and groans long into the night.  Let’s face it, Mary was a hot mess.  She was going to keep other guests awake and it’s not like they could just allow her to sit in the lobby because she was, uhmmm, having a baby!  In my heart though, while I wish so much when I think of this narrative that someone would have given Mary and Joseph a warm and safe place to welcome their baby, it’s not Mary and Joseph that I feel grief for.  The real sadness in this story are all the people that rejected the potential of being a part of the miracle of the birth of Jesus.  This laboring woman made them uncomfortable and the owners of the hostels used logic to reject the miracle.  We have no space.  We are not able to accommodate you.  We have other guests that were here first.  In the story, the people who got creative were the people that had the least amount of resources to work with.  Can you imagine the profound faith that gave Joseph the courage to stay by Mary, to help her labor and deliver her baby, while all the while knowing that he was not the father?  In this story, Joseph said yes to the miracle.  Never mind Mary who allowed her body to be the vehicle for the birth of Christ!  It just doesn’t get any more courageous than THAT!

We all say no to potential miracles each and every day.  I’m not a hypocrite.  I’ll be honest that I get uncomfortable.  I get really scared and I can feel myself fade away and then I get very logical about all the “reasons” why I can’t be open to whatever it is that has challenged me.  As soon as I start making mental lists of “reasons”, that’s when I know that I have closed a door on something that may have been the best thing that ever happened to me.  Some of you who know me know that I also say “yes” to things.  I say yes to a lot of things.  This has, on a number of occasions, gotten me into some hot water.  But, on many more occasions, it has changed the trajectory of my life in the most beautiful and fantastic ways.  The week of Freshman orientation at Penn, I was assigned to a nuclear arms specialist, Dr. Deudney, as my initial advisor.  He had never met me before and I would have never picked a nuclear arms specialist as my advisor, so we were even.  He looked at my schedule and saw that I was taking Level 1 French.  He said, “Have you ever taken French before?”.  I nodded my little hung over noggin and explained that I had taken French in both middle school and high school.  He replied, “And you still don’t know any French?”.  I replied, “No, after seven years of French classes, I tested into level one French.”  He said, “Well, you know, if you ever really needed to know French, you could learn it in a month, but right now is the last four-years of your life that you will ever have to just focus on something and I suggest you focus on learning an Asian language.”  Just typing this gives me CHILLS!  I had no intention of studying an Asian language.  None. At. All.  He made the suggestion, looked at the class guide and said, “Chinese works with your other classes.” And, I said, “YES! I’ll sign up for Chinese.”  I had no reason to believe I could learn Chinese and, just a mere five minutes prior to this stranger making the suggestion, I wasn’t going to be learning Chinese.  Then, my life changed.  My life changed because I said YES to the suggestion of a nuclear arms specialist.  What has followed has been the most soul-full adventure that I would not trade for anything.  Without Dr. Deudney, I would not have purchased a Shanghai Flyer bicycle in Beijing, or met and fallen in love with Mike while dancing at the Kunlun Hotel to The Cure, or spent the night talking with Rick along the waterfront on Shamian Island, or met my lifetime soul friend Clara who was the best friend I ever had for everything from jumping fences to drinking caipirinha’s in New York at the Coffee Shop while flirting with Germans (They WERE German….right?).

This isn’t a post about all the wonderful things that happened in my life, or the handful of really difficult things, that happened because I said “yes” to what turned out to be some excellent advice from a stranger.  This is about encouraging us at this time of year to think about how much we say “no” to.  It’s a perfect time to think not just about the light and hope that comes from remembering the miracles of this season, but also holding some compassion for the darkness of the season—for all the people who said no to Mary and Joseph and, in doing so, also said no to hosting the miracle of the birth of a savior.  They didn’t STOP the miracle from taking place, but they turned their hearts closed to the potential of being a PART of the miracle.  In what ways are you, dear reader, rejecting miracles due to discomfort, fear, or a list of logic that even Judge Judy couldn’t argue with?

A little less than a month ago, I received an email from my landlord in which she informed me that all but one of the other tenants in the building that I live in had complained about noise that my children and I make in the building.  She asked us to leave.  She said that she didn’t want people with our “lifestyle” (i.e. single mother with two children kind of lifestyle) in her building.  She said that she didn’t want people like us ruining her relationship with “good tenants” and possibly causing her to lose these “good tenants”.  The “good” (i.e. adult) tenants of my building were frustrated with the sound of my children’s feet on the stairs.  Not only that, but the tenants of my building didn’t like my “yelling”.  My “yelling” is me asking my kids to put away their iPads, to come to eat dinner, to do their homework, to take baths….but the walls are thin and my neighbors, apparently, could hear me.  Hearing us, it seems, was not tolerable to my neighbors who felt entitled to using the space as they wished and they had no desire for the sounds of children or families.  I’m no Virgin Mary, but I pretty much got turned away from the inn.  I know, your blood is boiling when you read this because you know that it isn’t legal to discriminate in housing against single moms with young children.  Maybe you know and care about me and my children, so you feel sad or even concerned for us?  Maybe you don’t know us at all, but you are a regular reader of my blog and you feel a sadness knowing that this type of thing happens every day to women all over the United States.  We are going to leave.  I’m lucky because I was able to secure housing with family where we will not be so easily dismissed or rejected.  But, what about my neighbors?  For them, of course, there is no guarantee that the new tenant will be silent.  I assure you that my neighbors are not silent.  I hear their dog barking, kitten crying and scratching at the wall and door, the podcasts, movies, dinner parties, coming and going at all hours of the night, their sex, their middle of the night showers after their sex, their fans and air conditioners, their conversations and their snoring.  Yes, the SNORING.  I was woken up one night by your SNORING.  Did I call the landlord and suggest that you were not respectful because I was woken out of a perfectly good sleep because of your snoring?  No, no I did not.  And, I’m not the Dalai Lama, so, yes, yes I’m angry.  But, at the same time, there is a missed miracle here.  Imagine if any of my neighbors had heard my children coming down the stairs to catch the school bus and instead of seething in anger over the sounds of their little feet on the stairs, opened their doors and said, “Have a great day kiddos!”.  What would have happened if they had a cookie or a kind word for us when we came up the stairs after a long day?  We could have been friends, maybe I could have watered your plants when you went away on business or perhaps we could have shared a drink or a conversation or a meal?  Maybe we would have become good friends?  Maybe you would have drawings from my children on your fridge?  Instead, you called the landlord and complained.  We will leave, but there is no guarantee.  Trust me neighbors—-I hear when you pee.  The problem isn’t my kids, it is the paper thin walls and your inability to open to the possibility of friendship and relationship with the people you live with.  Instead of sitting with the discomfort of the noise of children and a family and leaving open a space for the miracle to happen, these individuals closed off to the potential.

This holiday season, as we approach the darkest and longest night of the year, I invite you to examine the places where you feel most challenged and see if there is a small space that you might be able to create for miracles to happen.  Is there someone at work that frustrates the bajeebus out of you?  Do they love Star Wars movies?  Just go out and get them a Star Wars mug and tell them that you know how excited they must be about the moving coming out next week.  Just do it.  Just reach out and do something nice for that challenging person.  Yes, yes please, you can have my room to labor and birth your child.  Yes, yes please, you take the cubicle closest to the window because it seems to mean a great deal to you.  Yes, yes please, hold my hand as we walk down the street because I want to make space for love.  Please touch my face when we kiss and say my name—often. Make cookies for someone.  Reach out and make a date to have coffee, to listen, to be present for someone that you don’t know all that well.  Make eye contact and say hello.  Go buy some crayons so the next time your co-worker has to bring her child to the office because her childcare fell through you can make a kind connection with a child instead of complaining that there really isn’t enough room for three chairs. Help a mom trying to get a screaming toddler into a stroller while balancing a coffee in one hand and an infant across her chest–without judgment.  Reach out, offer to hold her coffee and tell her that you think she is doing an AMAZING job.  Ask if there is anything else you can do.  Listen to a story told even if you kind of wanted to be doing something else.  Tell someone how much you love their glossy hair, red coat, Christmas pin, or the sound of their voice.  Say out loud that your life wouldn’t be the same if you couldn’t smell their hair or press your face into their neck. Spoon your love at night and be grateful for company when you dream. They won’t always be there, so don’t wait until they are gone to say so.  Hold the door, let it be OK that they kind of cut in front of you in line, forgive your friend for being human, let someone know that they did something that changed your life for the better. If anyone says, “Let’s go dancing!”, JUMP at the chance even if you now that you have two left feet and you will look like a fool!   Say I love you, even if it makes you feel small because it is the only way you will ever be big.

A Special Note to My Neighbors

To my neighbors, who will never read this because you don’t even know my last name and I don’t know yours because we never even met and so you don’t know that I write a blog and I have no idea what you do for fun or for money.  But, just in case you do one day accidentally read this and realize that you personally caused housing instability for a single mom and two very young children, please know that I forgive you.  Know that many days I would gladly sell my children to gypsies because they drive me crazy too and I am sure that the noises we made were, at times, truly unpleasant and disruptive.  I understand.  Really.  I also hope that the next person to move into my apartment is a circus professional who gets drunk daily and practices juggling with glass dishes all night long while listening to ACDC and misses catching the dishes every time and then has screaming arguments with their mother in Hungarian over SKYPE so you can hear both sides of the arguments and not understand a word of either.  But really, I forgive you.  I’m going to take my miracles and go somewhere else and maybe next time you will see the possibilities in your challenges. Maybe. Maybe you’ll get free circus tickets?  You just never know people—-you just never know.

 

 

Attitude of Gratitude? Not so much.

While we all know that cultivating an attitude of gratitude is a part of living our most joyful life, how can we authentically do this when we are less than grateful?  Feeling ashamed or guilty about the “real” nature of our feelings, or pretending to be thankful for what we would have very much preferred to say “NO thank you” to in our lives gets in the way of happiness and creativity.  What if your heart is broken?  What if you are in terrible pain without relief in sight?  What if you have received terrifying news that has changed your life in an even more awful way?  Even with all the joyful self-help gurus and happy, shiny, advanced yogi specialists beaming at you from their glossy magazines promising peace and abundance for all your expressions of gratitude, and even as much as you wish to crawl into their tie-dyed yoga pants and bask in the bliss of all that they proclaim and stand for, the truth is that when your life is going to Hades in a hand basket…….well, no matter how thin you slice it, it’s still baloney.

But, if you are reading this, you DO have something to be grateful for.  This something does not, in any way, diminish however awful things are for you right now.  As the Buddha taught us, suffering is a part of the human existence.  We suffer because we desire things to be anything other than what they are right now.  We suffer because we are afraid, when things are wonderful, that we will lose that fabulous feeling.  Therefore, we know that our suffering can exist at the same time as our one thing that we always have to be grateful for.  What is this one thing that is ever-present?  Breath.  Yes, if you are reading this or even aware enough to listen to someone else who can read it to you, then you have this one thing that you can be grateful for in this moment.

You don’t have to pretend that all the suffering isn’t there.  Well, at least, don’t pretend on my account!  I don’t even own a single pair of tie-dyed yoga pants for you to covet or crawl into. (Although, if anyone reading this is inclined, I would absolutely LOVE a pair!)  I’m suggesting that there is a way to cultivate gratitude even when all hope is lost.  The beauty of observing the breath and being genuinely thankful that it is with you, of you, and through you, is that you create a little hope and space where there just didn’t seem like any could be found or made.  No, all your problems aren’t solved.  But, the subtle shift may be just the little miracle you need.  If not, you were taking those breaths anyway and so nothing gets lost through your effort.

I was recently reading a book about the subtle body by Tias Little.  I randomly opened it to a page with a breathing exercise that described the lungs as an upside down tree with the branches (lung tissue) towards the earth and the roots in the upper palate/roof of the mouth. I love this visualization because, in Chinese subtle body mapping, the color of the liver energy is green.  In Hatha yoga chakras, green is the color of the heart-chakra.  Therefore, when we breathe in, we can grow green leaves and fill the branches of our respiratory tree making it more and more lush with each in-breath.  As you exhale, you can feel those roots reach towards the crown of your head and pull up on the roof of your mouth.  There is actually a pleasure center of the brain that is located right above the upper palate of the mouth.  When you exhale, the palate lifts and stimulates this center.  Thinking about this tree helped me stay focused on the breath in a very powerful way.  When I am very upset, using a strong visual tool like this helps me stay present with the breath.  Otherwise, my mind tends to wander and feed my sadness, fear, or pain.  Sure, when times are calm and good we can be aware of the in-breath, breathing in, and aware of the out-breath, breathing out. But, in times of chaos and confusion, using visualization can mean the difference between a nourishing and a frustrating practice.

Please do not feel that accessing these few moments of peace require that you deny the reality of your sufferings.  Feel all your feelings, know what is true for you, and be authentic in your expression and communication!  All the while, know that you can also create a sanctuary of peace and beauty through the practice of breath awareness.  Although the in and out nature of the breath happens without your explicit effort, you can still find some gratitude in the presence of breath.  How lovely to feel and hear the breath coming in!  How amazing to be able to feel the release of the breath and all that is no longer needed!  It is happening right now.

Posted by Sharon Fennimore, a yogini, teacher, and writer based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Find out more here.

 

 

Forward Folds and Bending Over Backwards in Nature

The number one thing that adults say when I tell them that I am a yoga teacher is:

“Oh, I can’t do yoga!  I’m so inflexible and I can’t even get close to touching my toes.”

For about twenty-years now, I have tried every socially acceptable way possible at these moments to try to explain that yoga isn’t about being flexible, that anyone and everyone can benefit, that one may or may not become more flexible through yoga, that flexibility is, truly….besides the point entirely.  As soon as I start talking, I see the recipient’s eyes glaze over.  They are no longer paying attention to me, mostly because they only asked what I did for a living as a social pleasantry in the first place. Now, they are filled with regret for having ever made eye contact in the first place.  I can almost see the thoughts of escape to the cheese platter or, even better, the bar, cross their mind.

A couple weeks ago I was on a walk with a friend when t he concept of “tensegrity” came up in conversation.  (As an aside, you know you have a pretty wonderful friend when “tensegrity” just pops up in casual conversation.) It made me think about the relationship between tension and flexibility.  Every once in a while I will have a naturally flexible student.  Believe it or not, it is the most flexible students who struggle the most in yoga poses.  The lack of tension or pull to push against makes them feel floppy and un-centered.  It’s hard to focus when there is a lack of effort.  These students need to learn to engage muscles in a different way in order to feel into the shape of the pose and create sensation, effort, and release.  For the least flexible student, the evolution of a posture, simply by holding, exploring, and breathing, appears profound.

When I organize a yoga class plan, or a practice for myself, I try to make sure that, during the practice, we take our spines in all the directions it can go in: forward-back, forward fold, backbend, side bends, and twists.  It feels really beautiful to release tension around the spine and to unwind the habitual movements of the day through the practice of asana.  So many of us start to get stuck through our daily lives as we hunch over desks, lean into the back seats of cars to insert children (sometimes not willingly) into their car seats, and fail to remain curious and open to all the movements that are possible, even when they aren’t probable. If you watch a 6-month old baby, just put them down on the floor in front of you and see, for even five-minutes, you will see that they practice about five to ten recognizable asana during that time.  Yoga poses (asana) are natural for the human body.  These shapes and movements reflect our inherent desire to take ourselves in all the directions we can move in.  We can slither, slide, press, release, squease, lift, drop, shimmy, shake, hum, reach, collapse…….there are infinite movements available to us.  Just watch a video of Michael Jackson dancing and you will realize that it is likely you are only using about 20% or so of your human body capacity for movement.  Yoga asana are the natural movements and shapes of the human body.  Me, hunched over a desk all day?  There is absolutely nothing natural about that.

10-28-16-fall-continues-032In nature, there are many examples of trees and plants that bend.  Most obvious, of course, is heliotropism–movement towards the light.  But, if we look closely, we see that the cellular structures of plants and trees organize in circles, spirals, twists and forward folds and back bends in response to tension, gravity, and other forces.  Take, for example, the pattern on the trunk of this tree.  This intricate mapping of circles, swirls, and criss-crossings, is only possible because of the tension inherent in those spaces.  The inside of each enclosure maintains the integrity of the inside, while, at the same time, defining the space that is outside.

bikram-back-bendAny potter or architect will tell you that space is an important element of design.  Space is not synonymous with empty.  When you pick up a bowl, the space inside the curve represents the potential for holding.  It may, at that moment, be empty, but there is still space there.  Let’s say we fill that bowl with peppermint candies.  The space is filled with the candies, but it is still space.  When we practice yoga asana with this perspective in mind, we can get curious about the space that exists in our bodies and how to create more space.  What are the spaces that are empty?  Where are the crowded spaces?  What can be moved or re-distributed?  What are the solids providing something to push against?  Where are the natural bends and folds?  Look at the women in extreme back-bending postures.  These are extreme examples being used here not to suggest that your back-bend should look like this, but because these images invite us to examine the space around the body more easily.  Where is the space?  The space is actually beneath the spine.  While many of us refer to back bends as “heart-openers”, the anatomic reality of these shapes are that our hearts are pressed up into the chest cavity with the spine rising up to meet it.  The space underneath the spine is expanded and opened.

forward-foldIn a forward fold, the space for the heart expands and the spine rises above as it pulls back and away from the heart.  To give the heart the most room, we allow the spine to round, creating the space at the heart center.  We can breathe there, into the space, and feel the opening from the heart to our legs, and even further into the earth.  Experiment with this space you create in front of and behind the spine. Where does the space go when you release the yoga pose?  Actually, it is always there, but your shifting the contents of the space allows you to play with what is the container and what is contained.

I invite you to not only think about the shape that your fold or bend takes you in, but how the space around you shifts.  Explore these images of bends and folds in nature, not just the way that the shapes appear, but how the shape both creates and consumes space.  Whenever I guide students through savasana, the final relaxation at the close of most yoga classes, I always suggest that students release any tension that they might be holding in the space directly around their body.  It’s amazing how much release happens after that suggestion!

Written by Sharon Fennimore, a rogue anthropologist, yogini, and global doula based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

 

The Truth About Parenting and Sleep

When I was pregnant with my first child, who is now ten years old, I was unable to sleep well through most of my pregnancy for a variety of reasons from nausea, insomnia, heartburn, a painfully itchy rash, and other reasons.  Complete strangers, friends, and relatives would say things to me like, “You better sleep now, because you are never going to sleep again once that baby is born!”.  This caused me a lot of anxiety because, if this was true, then I was blowing my last chance at sleep.  Also, this is simply a terrifying thing to hear.  Why does anyone say this to pregnant women?  While I have some ideas on why people say scary things to pregnant women, it seems most important here to share the realities of parenting and sleep.

The Truth

The truth is that, as a parent, you are a parent all day and all night.   This reality changes your relationship to the type of activities you engage in both during the day and night.  This may seem obvious, but it also isn’t clear how this will change your life.  Part of the reason why you don’t know is because you haven’t met your baby yet!  You have no idea what their nighttime needs are until you know.  Some of the daytime needs seem more predictable because they ARE more predictable.  Many expectant and adopting parents think a great deal about how they are going to adjust their daytime lifestyle to adapt to the addition of an infant.  Everything from finding daycare so you can work outside the home, to car seats, and child proofing your environment at home are adjustments that need to be made regardless of your child’s personality or sensitivities. Night parenting requires just as much of an adjustment, but the adjustments must be made more in the moment and will constantly shift and change.  It isn’t that you aren’t ever going to sleep again!  The shift is going to be how you plan to care for your infant’s needs at night and also take care of your own needs.

Newborns

Newborns must have absolutely all of their needs taken care of by others.  They are, at any given moment, eating, wetting or pooping in a diaper, or sleeping.  At many moments, they will be doing more than one of these things.  These three activities occur around the clock.  Please don’t let this scare you.  The key to working with adjustments during this time is planning for everything else as much as possible.  Creating a comprehensive postpartum plan for your household is the best way for you to prepare for this time.  The effort that it takes to feed a baby 24/7 means that you don’t have the energy or time to feed yourself for the most part for about 4-6 weeks.  While there is a person in your household that may be creating a significant amount of additional laundry, the adults that do laundry have significantly less time to do it.  Again, don’t let this scare you.  There are some things that you can plan for and some that you can’t.  If you can plan for how you will keep your household running and meet your most basic needs in the 4-6 weeks after you bring your baby home, then the sleep adjustments won’t seem as stressful.

Sleeping Through the Night

What a tin of poppycock!  As your baby grows and your child develops, they will start to sleep for longer periods of time without waking and needing to be parented.  This will happen.  How much parenting your child needs at night depends on their personality, temperament, and how you and your parenting partners adjust to changing night parenting needs over time.  While many people focus on this mythical moment in time when your baby “sleeps through the night”, it’s really the unicorn in the room.  The reason why it is mythical is that everyone defines “sleeping through the night” in a different way.  Your pediatrician will likely consider your infant sleeping four-hour or longer stretches of time during the night to be “sleeping through the night”, but this is likely very different from what your “sleeping through the night” looked like before you had a baby in your care.  And, just when your baby sleeps for four or five hours straight, they start to teethe, or they get a cold, or the seasons change and they fuss to fall asleep while it is still light out.  Your eight year old might get nightmares or your five year old might throw up at 3:00 am.  Your four year old might be scared to go to the bathroom by themselves in the middle of the night.  Basically, it just keeps changing, but the evolution over time certainly is towards going longer periods of time without needing parenting.  Rather than focus on sleeping through the night, see the changes over time, and enjoy each night for what it was—-one night.

Parenting a Baby Can Be Physically Exhausting

It can be near impossible to maintain a state of equanimity when you are exhausted.  It’s not just the parenting all night, it is the actual physical work of parenting a baby that can be challenging to your energy.  All that laundry, feeding, diaper changes (seriously—the poop!), appointments, heavy car seats, strollers, infant carriers, groceries, changing your sheets, and, uhmmm……did I mention poop?  Rather than focus on trying to get your baby to sleep more, it can be more effective to think about ways you can get some nourishment.  While I don’t want to discourage anyone from trying different methods for helping your baby sleep as much as possible, in this moment, it is easier to get yourself some rest than it is to control whether or not your baby sleeps.  If you find yourself feeling exhausted, I recommend the following:

#1: Figure out a way to get an uninterrupted nap today: sometimes this means hiring a babysitter, calling a friend to take your baby out for a walk for an hour, sleeping when your baby sleeps and not trying to do all the things that need to get done (email, dishwasher, laundry, change sheets, etc.—whatever it is, make sleep during the day a priority above all else).  Don’t try to solve all the problems!  Table all issues and errands and just do whatever it takes to get some sleep today.

#2: Hire a postpartum doula: When it is time to bring in a professional, hire a postpartum doula.  This is a special family assistant who can help you with tasks around the house, make you a meal, take care of your baby, listen to your concerns and help with some common problems that new parents have, and give you some nourishment for mind, body, and spirit.  A postpartum doula can hold your baby while you take a shower so you know that your baby who will not tolerate being “put down” is in warm and loving arms while you bathe.  Don’t feel like having to hire help is some failure on your part! Women all over the world have support for the period of time after they give birth.  Healing from the adoption process, pregnancy, birth, and developing a relationship with your new family member is a lot and all at the same time.  As parenting is 24/7, you should expect to need an extra set of hands.

#3: Needs vs. Wants List: Sit down with your parenting partner(s) and make a list of what absolutely must get done and a list of things that you would like to do.  For example, maybe you wanted to make birth announcements this week, but you are so exhausted that you don’t even know what day of the week it is.  At the same time, all you have in the refrigerator is a jar of olives, there was a menacing note from a utility company on the door and you can’t find your checkbook……….At this time, your exhaustion might lead you to focus on the fact that the birth announcements aren’t done.  If you are reading this and have never parented a newborn before, you might think I’m crazy right now.  I’m not.  This scenario will happen to you.  But, writing things down can help you prioritize with the little energy you have and also work together as a team to get what has to get done, done.  Everything else can wait.

#4: Unless it is an emergency, don’t make any major life decisions for the first year after you have a baby or ever have a conversation with your partner after 9:00 pm: Try not to sell or buy a house, change jobs, move to a different city, decide to go to graduate school, join the circus (unless you were already in the circus before having a baby), start a business, etc. for one year after adopting or giving birth.  As much as possible, keep the big life decisions to a minimum.  Additionally, try not to have any conversations with your partner after 9:00 pm that aren’t absolutely necessary.  Absolutely, never, ever, engage in an argument after 9:00 pm.  Trust me, you are both exhausted, frustrated, irritated and more.  If someone snaps, don’t take the bait!  For example:

Shouting from the couch, “Honey, why don’t you come over here and give me a foot rub?”.

Yelling from the kitchen, “How can I possibly rub your feet when the sink is piled with dishes and the garbage is overflowing like this?  Was there really no time for you to do some of this today? I had a really stressful day at work and all you have to do is hang out here with the baby!”.

Uh OH!  This evening is about to take a turn for the way worse.  Already, there were two really tired adults, presumably at least one child (maybe sleeping already?), and a kitchen that could use some serious attention.  Now we have two tired adults all set to compete in the “Who Had the Most Difficult Day Award”.  There are a lot of options for how this situation can be redeemed, but the most important thing to recognize is that being home with a newborn baby all day is not a day off by any stretch of the imagination.  And, it is near impossible to night parent, go to work and handle the stresses of those responsibilities, and come home to an insurmountable number of tasks and an exhausted co-parent to boot.  Whatever solution you come to, this is not worth the energy of an argument.  It is important for both parents to recognize that both adults are maxed out.

What IS Her Secret?

You know who I’m talking about!  It’s that mom with the mascara on whose shoes match her purse that matches her outfit.  The one who said, “Oh, I don’t know what you’re talking about!  My baby sleeps the whole night.”  Or, the rested one who says, “I got that book, “Bubbles and Blueberries: The New B Plan to Get Your Baby to Sleep Through the Night”.  It really works!”.  This makes you mad because you become convinced that if only you followed the right sleep training program or were a better Mom that you too could get a decent night’s sleep.  I hate to tell you this, but there is no magic answer.

My Mother (I personally believe “Mother” should ALWAYS be capitalized.) always likes to say that if there actually was a cream on earth that could keep your skin looking young, then Jackie Kennedy Onasis would have not had any wrinkles.  But, she did.  Therefore, there is no such thing as a cream that removes or prevents wrinkles.  I feel this way about sleep training.  Let’s be honest, if there was any plan that worked consistently for even a significant percentage of families, then you would know about it.  Your midwife would have given you the pamphlet.  Your friends would have given you the book.  But, instead, there are as many sleep training programs as there are people who are willing to believe that there is some kind of program that would work.  The reality is that most of us just have to try, and try again, and work to adapt to the personalities and needs of our children and families over time.

Does this mean that you shouldn’t ask for advice or try new strategies?  Absolutely not!  If you feel like your routine could use a tune-up, then by all means, ask around.  But, it is important to accept that your baby will change over time and what works for someone else may also work for you, but it also might not.  Advice from experienced moms can be extraordinarily helpful.  For example, I never let my son cry at bedtime.  When he was about eight-months old, he started doing this thing where he would fall asleep nursing with me and then, when I put him in his crib, he would wake a bit and start to “whine”.  It wasn’t really a cry, per se, but it was not the sound of a happy baby.  My response was to quickly whisk him up out of the crib, but then it could take an hour or more for him to fall back asleep and, sometimes, he woke up completely and it would be hours of struggling after that.  So, I started asking around and a friend of mine said, “Just let him whine a bit.”  Revolutionary idea!  It turns out that he was kind of whining himself to sleep because within 5-10 minutes, he was OUT.  Picking him up was just interrupting his unique falling asleep process.

Is This a Baby Concern or a Parent Concern?

In some cases, parents are concerned about the amount of hours or way that their baby sleeps.  Maybe you worry if your baby sleeps too many consecutive hours in a row that they aren’t eating enough or maybe your baby falls asleep when they start to nurse and you are concerned they aren’t sucking long enough to build an adequate supply?  Absent of these specific baby-centered concerns, most of our sleep concerns are personal—they are about us, parents, feeling exhausted and like we aren’t getting enough sleep.  This is a very important distinction for how you approach solving your sleep concerns.  In order to make a plan to solve a problem, you need to identify who has the problem.

Just because you are exhausted doesn’t mean that your baby has a sleep problem, needs to be trained, or is a “bad baby” (whatever THAT is).  It means that YOU are having trouble getting as much sleep as you need.  Whatever solution you find, it’s of great importance that you are solving the problem of how you can get more sleep first.  Many parents make the mistake of thinking first about how to get the baby to sleep more, but since it is impossible to control another person’s sleep, I suggest that you work on the part of the problem that you have 100% control over first—-YOU.  Here are some things you can consider as you brainstorm this issue for yourself if you find that you aren’t getting enough sleep:

1: Environment

Is there something about your sleep environment that would make it more possible for you to get quality sleep?  Do you need black out curtains so you can take a quality nap with the baby during the day? Is there noise pollution that keeps you or the baby up?  Where is the baby’s sleep area?  Could you get a Pack N’ Play or a Rock N’ Play type sleeper and keep the baby closer to you?  Do you have everything you need for night parenting in a convenient place?  For example, would it be helpful to keep more diapering supplies right next to your bed?  Are you co-sleeping and find yourself having to get up to deal with wet sheets?  If so, maybe keep a pile of towels nearby and just cover up the wet spots.

2: Expectations

Do you have realistic expectations?  How can you make sleep a priority during the day or at times when your baby is sleeping?  Who can complete the tasks you have been trying to do when your baby sleeps during the day?  Are you over-programmed with mommy and me classes or events during the day that your baby sleeps through but rob you of much needed rest time?  Keep in mind that your baby changes very fast in the first year.  Match your expectations to reality and let go of anything that isn’t absolutely necessary.

3: Co-Parenting as Partners

If this was a business and the goal was to make sure that both parents got the most sleep possible, how would you run your business?  Take all the blame and emotion out of the conversation and create a game plan.  Try things out and get flexible.  I remember at one point that I slept from 6:00 pm to 11:00 pm because this was a time when my son didn’t nurse very much and his father could care for him.  Then, I could take the 11:00 to 3:00 am shift, fully rested, with five consecutive hours of sleep under my belt.  Forget about sleeping just being a night activity.  Work together to create a unique infant care and sleep schedule that makes sure that every adult gets as much sleep as possible while also meeting the baby’s needs.  Use that plan until it stops working and then adjust as necessary.  Some people find that changing sleep arrangements is an important part of the plan.

4: Once you Learn What Works, Do It!

This seems obvious, but it can be really challenging.  Let’s say that you discover that your four-month old sleeps from 10:00 am to noon each and every day, but if you try to move them at all during this time, not only do they wake up, but it ruins the quality of their afternoon nap too.  You have a dear friend visiting from out of town on business and the only time she can meet with you for coffee is at 11:00 am.  The choice is yours, but if you want to get some rest for that time and meeting with your friend will destroy the whole day, then you have to say, “I’d love to meet, but the baby sleeps until noon.  Any way we can meet at 12:30 instead?”.  If the answer is “no”, then why should your friend’s schedule take priority over your schedule?  You may think, oh, she is here on BUSINESS and has no flexibility—–my problem is just a sleeping baby that I can move around if I choose to.  NO!  This is not true.  Your routine and sleep schedule is just as, arguably more, important as someone’s “business” schedule.  Feel confident in your ability to create healthy boundaries around your routine.  If anyone thinks that you should be more flexible because you are “just taking care of the baby these days”,  you can either educate them on what works for you or just let it go.

The main thing to remember is that parenting an infant is very much a full day and a full night job.  Although this is true, over time, the shift is towards your child being able to self-soothe more and more and for you to be able to return to your desired bedtime and night routine.  As this evolution happens over time, the main thing to keep in mind is that you can, and should, make your self-care a priority.  You and your parenting partner(s) can work together to support one another in making this possible.

Written by Sharon Fennimore, MA a doula and women’s health coach based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  If you are in the City of Pittsburgh and need some postpartum doula care, please give me a call (412) 855-5692.  I’d be happy to come over, make a meal, and care for your baby while you take a nice long nap.

 

Geography of Awareness

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Do you see these “markings” on the back of the fern’s leaves?  In fact, these patterns are spores.  Each one is a potential fern.  The ferns carry their fertility in each and every leaf.  If you are interested in joining a spore exchange group (not kidding), then you might want to look into membership in the Hardy Fern Foundation.  The American Fern Society is over 100 years old and has more than 900 members all over the world.

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Not only that, but each type of fern has spores that organize in a different pattern.

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Recently, I have gone on retreat for a few hours a week to the Fern Room at Phipp’s Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Each pilgrimage to this sacred space has brought me to a deeper place of respect for this amazing plant type.  I am also grateful to the amazing Theresa who cares for these plants and seems to have a well of patience for all my questions as well as some of the other horticulturists and care takers who work without fame or glory to keep my fern friends safe and healthy.

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When I sit in this space, filled with ferns, light, air, and space, it makes me feel a lot like I’m being hugged.  The image directly above is a hanging Staghorn and the leaves that drape down almost appear as hands that might pat me on the head while offering me an oatmeal cookie and a glass of milk.  The energy of this space is fertile, abundant, and centered.  It is the embodiment of the heart chakra.  Sometimes, I place my hand in the leaves and allow the energy to roll up my inner arm directly into my heart-space.  Have you ever played with a plant with an exchange of energy?

I have a beautiful friend who has some favorite trees that he likes to hug.  While it seems he is an equal opportunity tree hugger, there are some specific trees that he has a long-term relationship with.  When I watch him hug one of his tree friends, trees he has been hugging since he was a child, I can see his whole face and body relax.  What he receives from the tree, he also gives to the tree.  He really is one of the first people I have ever seen exchange energy with a tree.  Sometimes we use the term “green thumb” to mean someone who is good with plants.  Perhaps they can listen to plants and the plants tell them what they need to thrive?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could all learn to listen to the trees?  One of the trees that I am developing a close relationship with is a ficus from Nepal that is in the orchid room at Phipps.  The ficus was added to the collection in 1849.  Go ahead and let that sink in.  I love to press my temple into this grounded being and reach one hand up to press into a higher branch while reaching another down to press into the trunk.

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How many people have walked beside this ficus newly engaged, with their baby, in their immeasureable grief, on their wedding day, upon the joy of a visit from a beloved friend from afar, to celebrate a holiday or birthday or special occasion? This tree has witnessed it all, but not in silence.  No, the ficus has a deep and grounded vibration.  When I stand close, it absorbs low vibration from me and sends them down deep into the earth and returns high vibrations from it’s wisdom branches that face towards the sun.  Surrounded by fragrant and jewel-toned orchids, the ficus does not fear my worst or suffer from my offering.  I give, I breathe, I receive.  If this isn’t friendship, then what is?

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When we think about pilgrimage, we think of a destination, but my time with ferns and new friendship with a very special Nepalese ficus have made me wonder if we can also pilgrimage to a new geography of awareness.  In Charles Genoud’s poetic “Gesture of Awareness” (page 116), he suggests that

We may wonder where the body’s awareness is, imagining it’s in the body, but the body’s awareness will only be in the body if we stand outside ourselves trying to figure out where it is.

I can’t tell you how many times I have read Genoud’s book. While I have always had a strong affection for the practice suggested in his teachings, not all of it makes sense.  I have been practicing yoga techniques for enhancing my awareness for 25-years, but this concept above has not been applicable to my practice for all this time.  With my new connection to the vibration of plants and trees, or, rather, with my willingness to open to the vibration of plants and trees, I start to feel a glimmer of understanding.  Awareness is the softening of my friend’s beautiful face when I watch him hug his friend with his arms wide and face and chest warm and open against the bark of the trunk.

medicine-buddhaNot locating awareness in the physical body allows for a new geography to be explored.  It is the geography of space, perhaps that space that we know to be mapped by mandala. The pilgrimage here, then, is not internal, but it is to an entirely unique geography.  The palms of our hands have an energetic connection to the pericardium, the casing around the heart.  Even if it feels silly, perhaps you want to play?  Just pick a tree that calls out to you.  The more ridiculous this seems, the more you might need this for your soul, your well-being, and a full expression of heart-mind.  Gently place your palm on a place on the tree that calls to you for touch and connection.  Trust your instincts here.  The tree will welcome you.  You know what to do.  Take a few deep breaths into your palm and let the energy of those breaths flow up your arm into your heart space.  The color of the heart chakra is green.  You can do this.  Feel the leafy green tendrils of your heart open to the tree, be fed by the tree, sent laughter and wisdom by the tree.  From your heart to the tree, send it back through your inner arm, wrist and palm of your hand.  You are smiling because this is so important and liberating.  You can’t help yourself.

If you are not free to be out among trees for any reason, then go there in your mind.  Practice wherever you are.  As you practice, the geography of awareness will unfold like a forgotten map to a secret garden that has not been tended to in many, many, years.  This is an important yoga.  This is life.

Written by Sharon Fennimore, a yogini, teacher, and global doula who loves to pilgrimage each and every day to find the sacred in all that is around us in image, experience, and nature.  This post is for Jason, who brought me to the Allegheny National Forest for the first time in my life and, in doing so, changed the geography of my heart-mind forever and my most generous and beloved Aunt Patty who treats me to a membership at Phipps so I can spend as much time as I want with the ferns.

 

Monkey Legs

I remember the day that I learned there was something ugly and wrong with me like it happened yesterday.

The summer after third grade, when I was nine, I was invited for a day trip to the beach in Brooklyn, NY.  It wasn’t hot enough for a bathing suit, but we were all in shorts and t-shirts.  It was such a beautiful day and I remember being joyful in body and mind.  We ran up and down the beach chasing waves and I can still feel the quality of light as it danced on the water and reflected back up to my face from the sand.  I have always had thick and beautiful hair and it was pulled back into a braid so the end of it rhythmically thumped on my back between my shoulders as I ran.

We finally stopped for a moment to take a break and all of us girls sat in a circle and chatted about the things that nine year old girls chat about.  There was laughing.  After a rest and Twinkies—-it was the early 80’s so you could still give your children baked goods that would never go bad and drive a whole bunch of kids around without seatbelts—-we were back up to run and play.  We were loosely playing tag and I was the “it”. All the girls scattered and there was more laughter and light bouncing off the ocean, on our ponytails, and glistening on the waves of the thumping sea.  That is when my friend’s mother looked at me standing there, deciding who to attempt to tag first, and said, “Sharon!  You have hairy legs like a monkey! Little monkey legs!”.  She went back to smoking a cigarette and talking with the other woman who was there with her.  I, on the other hand, was changed forever.

They were my legs, so this wasn’t the first time I had seen them.  But, it was the first time I had seen them as “hairy”.  It was the day I discovered that there was something ugly about me.  I had monkey legs.  Once home, I immediately took a shower and used a razor to shave my legs.  It was a useless attempt to set things right again.  But, even with my smooth and hair free legs, I was to remain “Monkey Legs” in my mind’s eye.  There was something ugly about me that couldn’t be erased by laser, wax, or razor.  My mother was livid.  She was not livid that my friend’s mother had called me monkey legs.  She was enraged that I used her razor and that I shaved.  Now, it appears, I was stupid too because, apparently, shaving only temporarily removes the offending evidence of my being a mammal.  I remember my mother yelling, “The hair will grow back Sharon and once you shave you have to shave for the rest of your life!”.  The rest of my life seemed, at that moment, to be an awful long time to both shave and suffer the affliction of Monkey Legs.

It turns out that you don’t have to shave for the rest of your life.  For the most part, I have, but there have been a few times when I haven’t.  One of the most memorable was a summer that I spent living in a tent in Michigan and leading outdoor adventure trips for children. You see, without warm running water and a razor and when you are camping with fifteen, eleven year old children for ten days and caring for their every need, meal, and emotion, you simply don’t have the time to worry about your monkey legs.  Monkey legs be damned because I have to set up tents for fifteen kids and make sandwiches.  When I visited my boyfriend in the middle of the summer, he became physically ill at my touch.  Even in the dark, he said, “Your body feels like a man’s body.”  I didn’t bother to ask how he knew that.  Why didn’t my body just feel like my woman’s body, but with more hair than usual?  He begged me to shave, but I had to go back to camping in the woods and it wasn’t worth the time.  Actually, it was so much hair that shaving wasn’t going to be an option for hair removal.  At the end of the summer, I went home and heard my sister and mother giggling and whispering as they looked upon me asleep with my legs sticking out from the sheet covering me.  “It looks like a man’s legs!”

Before I went back to college that fall, I had my legs waxed of the offending hair, but I kept my hairy pits for a longer time as a nod to the rising tension in my heart around this thing about me that was so ugly and betrayed my gender.  Truly, I didn’t like the way my legs looked so hairy, but none of the men that I worked with on those camping trips had treated me in a different way.  Maybe there wasn’t something so wrong with me after all?  Did being myself make me look like a man? Like a monkey?  Was it ever going to be possible to be myself and be feminine and beautiful?  If only I could turn back time and go back to that version of me that didn’t think twice before wearing shorts to the beach without shaving and that only felt the power to run and dance in my strong legs.  What if my boyfriend had embraced me and my hairy legs?  What if being natural had turned him on instead of making him sick?  The ugly thing about me actually nauseated a man who loved me.  Now that I am older, I understand more about the dance of attraction in long term monogamous relationships. I know that open communication about how to nourish attraction is important. But,  actual nausea?  That’s pretty harsh.

When my mustache started to darken in middle school, I discussed my options with my mother and friends.  The consensus was that shaving would just create more thick and dark stubble, so it seemed that bleaching the fuzz was my best option.  In the movie, Reality Bites, Winona Ryder’s character used cream hair remover on her upper lip when preparing for a date.  I tried that once and ended up hairless, but with a bright red strip above my lip that would break out in hives when I washed my face. Some of the hives got scabs and took weeks to heal.  Not attractive. My mother and father joked that there were men who liked women with mustaches, but that we didn’t like those types of men.  So, not only was there something ugly and wrong with me, but the only men that might like me anyway, or like me as I was, had something wrong with them.  And, the wrong that was wrong with those men wasn’t something that could be solved with a pot of melted hard wax.

Over the years, I’ve waxed, plucked, electrocuted, cut back, tweezed, bleached and battled with the hair on my body.  Thousands of dollars have been spent managing my body hair.  There have been times when I couldn’t be as vigilant as others and usually no one noticed.  I never let body hair stop me from doing something I want to do these days.  If I haven’t shaved in a few days and someone asks me if I want to meet them at the pool, I’ll go anyway.  If I am newly intimate with someone or I think there might be a chance, I will shave before a date.  It’s short-lived though because the hair on my body is hearty, thick and simply grows too fast to keep on top of it for any length of time.  And by “length of time” I mean anything over 12-hours.  Go to bed with me smooth and wake up with me fuzzy.  Like it? Great, because this is the way it is.  Makes you kind of sick to your stomach?  Grab a Nutrigrain bar on your way out my dear and don’t bother coming back because this is the best it is ever going to be.

When I was living in China I had many experiences where my body hair was not considered ugly or manly, but was a significant point of interest.  Once, when I was first in China (this was in the early 90’s and not so long after China opened to visitors after the Cultural Revolution), I was on a crowded bus and felt pinches on my arm.  I looked over at my arm, which was gripping a central pole for balance, and there was an elderly man on the other side of the pole pulling at the hair on my arms.  When we made eye contact, he smiled at me. It was one of the most genuine and beautiful smiles I have ever seen in my whole life.  I relaxed and smiled back.  He said, “Gende Ma?” (Is it REAL?) as he pulled a little bit more gingerly on the hair. I laughed and replied that yes, yes the hair on my arms was real.  This wasn’t a criticism, but a genuine curiosity regarding my body hair.  I enjoyed the playful interaction and it didn’t make me feel bad about myself at all.  A few years ago I was having a coffee with my sister in New York.  If you know my sister and I, while we were both living in New York as adults, you know that we were pretty much always having coffee, or going to get coffee, or on our way back from having had coffee.  When you have this much coffee talk, there is no topic too small for sharing.  I confided in her that I really hated the hair on my arms and she said, “Why don’t you just wax it off then?”.  It was so liberating to realize that I could solve my current body image problem with a quick trip to the Red Door Salon.  But, also kind of sad because had I not had hairy arms, then I never would have been on the receiving end of one of the most beautiful smiles I’ve ever seen.  I did discover that I have some really cute freckles on my arms.

Today, I dropped my daughter off at school and it was dress up day for school pictures.  As I walked away from the school, the most gorgeous and bright young girl ran towards me in a red dress, with shiny red shoes.  I complemented her shoes because, as a stranger, it was something neutral that I could say to a child without it seeming creepy.  But, I saw a woman facing me who was watching her with “mother eyes” and I said to her, “Are you her mother?”.  The woman said yes and I said, “Your daughter is so incredibly beautiful and obviously bright.”  It was true.  It was so true that it needed to be said out loud.  The woman said to me, “She is really upset about her hair.  It’s not how she wanted it to look.”  The young girl was African American and had this gorgeous, full head of beautiful dark and thick hair.  She really was absolutely gorgeous.  I replied, “How had she wanted it to look?”.  The mother said, “Oh, she wanted me to straighten it. But I told her that even if I had, it would be looking like it does right now by the end of the day.  I only wish that my hair was still so soft and thick, but I ruined mine by straightening it.”  I replied with another compliment and walked away to my car, but my throat got tight and I just wanted to run after the little girl and find her and tell her that her natural hair was amazing and complementary for her and that she should love it and love herself.

I was brought back to one of my first memories of laughing until I cried as a child.  I think I heard the audio of Whoopi Goldberg doing her “luxurious long hair” routine on an airplane on my way to Florida to visit my grandparents.  (Here is an academic look at this issue in Children’s literature.) Why I thought it was so funny, I’m not even sure.  Perhaps I could connect with the issue of having non-ideal hair due to my personal struggle with having so much body hair?  I’m not sure, but clearly, “hair” is a big issue for women from a very, very young age.  This is not so in every place and time.  Some years ago I was traveling in Western China and a young man who spoke some English sang a Uighur folk song and when I asked what it was about he said, “The beauty of women with bushy eyebrows and thick arm hair.”  I had finally found my people!  I went on to study Uighur language and culture for years.  I actually dated a man once (yes, one of those men who must have something wrong with them because they like hairy women) who explained to me that it was a big turn-on for him to be with a woman with a lot of body hair.  Apparently, according to his experience, hairy women were better lovers because they had more free-floating testosterone and were more likely to get turned on and really enjoy sex.  While his research methods may have been questionable, perhaps this is what inspired the Uighur folk songs in awe of the hairy women?

It would be easy to dismiss my struggle with body image around my hair as a problem that only someone privileged with not having to figure out how to find food or safe water or shelter can give service to.  But, as I consider the challenges that we have with consent and the pervasive sexual assault of girls and women, I have to wonder about how girls and women start to feel that there is something deeply “wrong” with them.  Many of the personal narratives of assault that have been shared on social media lately that I have had the honor of reading and witnessing have happened when women were just young girls, before puberty and the arrival of darker body hair and pubic hair.  If what is “attractive” about a 9-11 year old girl is that she is still hairless and therefore not ugly, then we need to consider the root of this social concern.  We also need to consider how to help girls and women feel that they are lovable and attractive as they are because this would help us reject partners who reflect back our self-hatred to us through their disrespect.  These men become a mirror where we can see and feel that ugly thing about us, whatever our personal bit of “ugly” is.  This does not excuse sexual assault, but I want to at least consider that this lifetime struggle I have had is more than just a matter of being comfortable with my body.

I stopped dying my hair two-years ago this November.  I was dating a man who insisted he preferred my gray hair.  Insisted!  When I let the last bit of temporary brown gloss wash out, I found that I also preferred it natural.  I liked the way the more textured gray hairs kind of popped out and it was kind of wild and bold. Sure, I appear “older” than I do when I have it dyed.  But, how much older?  And, is older less beautiful?  I doubt it.  When I was at work the other day, where I interact with the public in my role in “Guest Services”, a man said to me, “You have the most interesting hair.  I bet everyone says that to you.”  I replied, “Yes, and it is all natural.” He smiled at me and replied, “That’s the way it should be.”.

Written by Sharon Fennimore, a global doula, writer, and yogini, based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

 

How to Claim Your Mammauthority

Many of my clients have experiences where their authority as a mother to make decisions for their infants and parenting, or lifestyle around parenting are not only questioned, but threatened.  No matter how many children you have, the time when you have a newborn and for their first year of life seems to be when mothers are most vulnerable to the opinions of others.  How to find good sources of information for decision-making around parenting is a whole other topic for consideration.  This post is about ways to claim your authority without alienating members of your community, friends, and family when offered unsolicited advice or your ability to care for your child is questioned.

Here is my tried and true method for claiming your “Mammauthority” in all situations.  Please comment below with your experiences and let me know how this has worked or not worked for you.

Foundations of the Method

#1: The underlying principle in this method is that you are the mother and you have the right and responsibility to care for your child in the way you feel is most appropriate.  This is not a democracy and no one else gets a vote.  I’m not suggesting that you do not work together with your parenting partner to make parenting decisions.  I am specifically speaking to times when mothers’ authority is questioned from someone outside of the parenting partnership.

#2: You may be triggered by words, especially when spoken by someone who you may already have a tense power dynamic with, but they are just words.  So, I don’t want to demonize anyone, but I have to give some examples here, so, let’s just say that your brother and his wife have eight kids and you just had your first and the whole time you were pregnant your sister-in-law was telling you how unprepared you were, how you were never going to sleep again, how it was a joke that you were even thinking about using cloth diapers, blah blah blah.  Then, after you have the baby, when your sister-in-law criticizes how you are caring for the baby, it’s not just that particular critique, it’s everything she has ever said to question your ability to mother that really upsets you.  In this method it is important to remember that words are just words.  Just because someone SAYS something to you doesn’t make it true, right, or even something you need to consider.  Strip the words of their emotional strain or perceived meaning and they are just words.

#3: Human nature is that we want to be important, listened to, heard, and treated as though we are special and intelligent.  Assume that someone who is offering unsolicited advice or is being critical really just wants to be seen as a person who knows more than you.  Sure, you can let yourself be triggered and try to argue with them, but the truth is that they will likely fight you to the death and never agree with you or change their mind to agree with you simply because they only wanted to be seen as superior in the first place.  I know, this is a hard truth, but it is important to know and understand this in order for the method to truly work for you.

THE METHOD

In the method, regardless of situation (and I will give some examples), basically, you follow this dialogue pattern:

OTHER PERSON: Some type of criticism, advice, direction which is sometimes followed by “research” that supports their criticism.

MOTHER: Agree with the other person no matter what they have said.  This agreement is followed up by either changing the topic if this person is someone you wish to maintain a relationship with (like a family member) or walking away (like if it is a stranger in the grocery store).

EXAMPLE 1

OTHER PERSON: I read that babies will sleep through the night faster if you give them a bottle of formula right before bed.  You are starving your baby and that is why they are crying so much.  Maybe you don’t have enough milk?

MOTHER: Wow!  That is very interesting idea.  I’m going to have to consider that.  I heard that you and Bob are taking a gambling cruise next week!  How fun is that?  When exactly do you leave?

Now, listen, I know that this person questioning your choices regarding how you feed your baby and then suggesting that your baby is crying because it is starving is like a punch in the gut.  You are vulnerable and there is a tiny voice in the back of your head that wonders—-“What if she is right?  What if my baby is hungry and that is why they are crying?”.  Your ego wants to respond from that little voice and argue with this person.  You want to tell her that your baby is growing just fine and couldn’t possibly be hungry and then give her all the facts about how wonderful exclusive breastfeeding is.  But, I can promise you that you could be a Board Certified Lactation Consultant and have written 15 peer-reviewed articles for medical journals on the topic and your arguments are going to fall on deaf ears.  Really.  This woman has no idea what she is talking about and she just wants to let you know that she knows more than you.  I don’t know why, but she does.  So, your only way to truly escape is to agree with her.  Remember, words are just words.  And, once you agree with someone, it ends the conversation because they can’t continue to argue with you.  The wonderful thing about this method is that you haven’t agreed to change the way you care for your baby, you have only agreed to accept the words that came out of their mouth and to consider them further.

EXAMPLE 2

OTHER PERSON: (Walks up to you in the grocery store.) You better put socks on that baby or it is going to get pneumonia!

MOTHER: Oh, will you look at that?  Thanks so much for caring. (Now, keep on walking Mamma!)

Now, this example may seem like a no brainer.  But, trust me, that little voice will creep up and you will want to explain to this complete stranger how you had socks on the baby, but they fell off in the car seat and you have no idea where they go or that your baby screams when you try to put socks on them or maybe you are a barefoot kind of mamma and it never dawned on you to put socks on a baby.  Whatever it is, you don’t owe a stranger an explanation.  Actually, you don’t owe ANYONE an explanation.

Also, a little smile and acknowledgement goes a long way with most people.  It doesn’t hurt to smile. And, maybe you are reading this example and thinking that this kind of thing doesn’t even bother you.  Well, maybe it doesn’t, but in my experience, it is good to have a strategy because it all starts to add up.  By the time the fifth person of the day has made an unsolicited suggestion, the little voice in your head might have become a roar and your confidence buried under the chronic questioning of your “Mammauthority”.

Example 3

Other Mother at Baby Sit and Sing Program at Library (Yep, we mothers do this to one another too!): Oh, you are using the Bimba style carrier?  I considered that, but then I read all those studies that showed that infants carried in Bimba carriers learned to read two hours later than those in Eeeko carriers.  Who wants to risk their infant’s future literacy?

Mother: Wow! That’s some interesting research.  Amazing how many ways there are to carry a baby! (Now, walk away because this other mother is not good friend material.)

I know Mamma, I know what you REALLY want to say, “Oh, that’s OK because my baby can already read.”  The challenge with other mother challenges to our Mammauthority is that any response other than agreement just challenges THEIR Mammauthority and that is a power struggle I just don’t want to engage in.  That fight is not worth your energy.  Also, any mother that behaves in this way is actually showing you that she has the least confidence of anyone in the room.  This is a mother who, at her core, is terrified that she will make some mistake that will impact her child’s life in ways that can not be healed or rectified.  That is an anxious mother at best and, maybe she is also just not a very nice person.  Either way, you need to “PEACE OUT” of that conversation as quickly as possible and walk away.  In her desperation to prove to you that she knows more, that she has done more research, or has superior mothering skills, she isn’t going to stop until she has you questioning your every decision.

How to find nourishing Mamma Friends will be the subject of another article, but suffice to say, anyone who demands that you qualify yourself and your decisions in casual conversation between strangers is simply not nourishing friend material.

In Summary

With practice, you can learn to maintain your Mammauthority without frustration, anger, or diminished confidence.  Trust me Mamma, if I could protect your wisdom and make sure that no one questioned your authority as a mother, then I would.  But, since this is not possible, I offer you this very simple, yet effective method for deflecting and diffusing unsolicited advice as quickly and compassionately as possible.

Remember, your baby chose YOU to be its mother.  You are the perfect mother for your baby.  You will make some mistakes, you will change your mind—sure—but you are NEVER “wrong”.  A mother and her baby are in relationship.  As with any relationship, it takes a lot of work, communication, and experience to figure out how to make it work.  Theory is interesting, but you are on the ground and you have to do what works for you.  Sometimes, someone offers us advice that we haven’t considered and a little positive voice sounds in our head, “Hey, that sounds pretty good and worth trying!” and I encourage you to explore ideas, methods, and products that may improve the quality of your life and your relationship with your baby. This isn’t about dogma or sticking to ideas that aren’t working for you because you decided while you were pregnant that this was how you were going to parent your baby.  The bottom line is that YOU know best and you don’t owe anyone an explanation for your mothering decisions.

Please let me know your experience with this method, if you have a way of maintaining your authority as a mother that is different, or if you have any questions in the comments below.  I think you are brilliant and I would love to hear how you have maintained your Mammauthority in the face of unsolicited advice.

This “Ask Sharon” column was written by Sharon Fennimore, a mother of two and global doula helping women and their families all over the world enjoy optimum reproductive health, have great pregnancies and live with new babies in peace.

Online Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training

Get certified to teach Matrika Prenatal Yoga in this unique, self-guided online study program facilitated by Sharon Fennimore, MA.  Yoga teachers who are registered with Yoga Alliance can earn up to 25 CEU credits for completing this course.

Not only is being a prenatal yoga specialist a rewarding career, but considering the fact that over 80% of American yoga practitioners are women, it is imperative that all yoga instructors explore ways to support optimal reproductive health for all their students. The skills you learn in this training program will inform all of your teaching and the program itself is rigorous and demands personal and professional transformation.
What Makes Matrika Prenatal Yoga Special?
    • Emphasis on Tantric subtle body anatomy
    • Focus on how culture and reproductive politics impact fertility and pregnancy
    • Learn how to support optimum fertility with yoga
    • Use of Buddhist philosophy applied to teaching prenatal yoga
    • Learn how to teach visualization and meditation specific to pregnancy
    • Includes the use of yoga and meditation to prepare for labor and birth
    • Postpartum care and Mom and Baby Yoga

Register TODAY!

Work at your own pace! This amazing online training offers complete flexibility and personalized instruction through optional private sessions (cost of private sessions NOT included in tuition). Distance learning is ideal for busy professionals trying to juggle career and family while also moving in the direction of your dreams.  Perfect for expats or English speakers all over the world who do not have access to a training school, but wish to work towards their certification while traveling or living abroad. The training is designed to take around 100-hours to complete and students generally finish within 4-5 months, but you have 6-months of enrollment in the course with your tuition payment.

$278 Full Tuition

[headline_border]Course Curriculum[/headline_border]

This intellectual approach to yoga as a science requires self-study and an investigation of the cultural, social and economic values that we hold around fertility, women’s health and specifically reproduction so that we can teach from our hearts.
  Informed by contemporary social theory and medical anthropology, Matrika Prenatal Yoga nourishes and empowers students physically, emotionally and spiritually.  This method, philosophy and approach has been refined over almost 20-years by Sharon Fennimore , MA and DONA Trained Birth Doula and enjoyed by thousands of women.

In this online course, you will explore:

  • Culture and Reproduction (Including Yoga for Fertility)
  • Yoga During Pregnancy
  • Common Pregnancy Complaints
  • Teaching Matrika Prenatal Yoga (INCLUDING Tibetan Subtle Body)
  • Practice and Professionalization
  • Postpartum Continuity and Care (including Mom & Baby Yoga)

matrika-084The online course includes: instructional videos, readings, discussion boards, audio and articles and readings.  Interaction and participation in online discussion boards is required and we all learn from one another.  Due to the nature of the course, your fellow students are located all around the world! In this way, we all share diverse practices, experiences and ideas.  All trainees can download the Matrika Prenatal Yoga eBook and audio guide at no additional cost.  Most of the practicum assignments require significant practice, planning classes and engaging in your community as you create a supportive professional network that is meaningful to you wherever you are in the world.  Therefore, this isn’t just about sitting in front of your computer watching training videos!  This is a dynamic, interactive and experiential program. 

Your tuition also includes webinars and events scheduled during your enrollmentmatrika-012Online “events” such as webinars and teleseminars are scheduled regularly.  These events can be attended live by joining online or by phone and are recorded and available for you to download and experience at your convenience if you can’t make it as scheduled.  These events are all included in your course tuition.

TESTIMONIALS

“Sharon of Matrika Yoga offered an insightful, thought provoking training program that far exceeded my expectations. I was challenged to examine my ideas and beliefs about pregnancy and culture, and I now have a much better understanding of pregnancy and the obstacles a pregnant woman faces. I feel that I am now much better equipped to lead prenatal yoga, and I would absolutely recommend this program to anyone looking to learn more about pregnancy or prenatal yoga.” ~Nicole

“I maintain nothing but absolute gratitude to you and Matrika Prenatal Yoga.  At the outset of training, I yearned for a missing link, in between 42 years of obstetrical nursing experience and 51 of yoga practice!  How I found your program and that “link” was nothing short of miraculous!  Your insight into the wonder and miracle of birthing is in itself a spiritual gift.  Your compassion and love for the pregnant client is apparent as well as intuitive empathy for the pregnant psyche. The reading list was comprehensive and the webinars fun and informative.  I respect your genius fully.” ~Ambika

“Sharon was an excellent instructor and an amazing sounding board. I loved that she so clearly articulated her personal opinions and beliefs without forcing them on us, her students. This is a unique skill and, from my experience, one many instructors struggle with. Sharon did a great job at sharing information, offering feedback and discussing alternative/contrary thoughts/experiences/beliefs without ever seeming critical or offended. She offered a ton of excellent information and I left the program prepared to lead others through a prenatal sequence.”~Megan

“The training was very in depth and challenging. I feel that after completing the program, I am well prepared for teaching prenatal yoga.” ~Kate

“I really enjoyed the option of online learning as well as personal time. Sharon’s approach is a flexible alternative for trainees looking to expand their learning while continuing with their responsibilities. The pranayama and meditations were my favorite part.”~Natalie

“Yoga Matrika provides more than just a great educational journey on the basics of Hatha Yoga, Yoga Matrika expands on the typical 200 Hour course offerings by ensuring that the course material is delivered and received in a way that is most beneficial and valuable to the student and the path they are on for their life, teachings, and personal yoga journey. Yoga Matrika shares their unique insights and personal mentorship on every topic and does so for every student so that no one is felt left out or passed over. Yoga Matrika truly helps each student tap into their true potential and identify with what they want to offer the world as a person, a continuing yoga student, and a yoga teacher.” ~Brandi
[headline_border]How Does a Distance Training Work?[/headline_border]

matrika-007

STEP ONE: Pay Tuition and Enroll

As soon as you pay tuition, you will have immediate access to the online course.  The first section of the course is an ORIENTATION and you will be introduced to the main topics in the course, the graduation requirements, the assigned textbooks and start your studies.

STEP TWO: Participation

It is important that all students engage with the course materials and assigned readings through online discussions.  There are prompts given for most online discussions, but students are encouraged to ask questions and be active participants and leaders in the conversations.  Watch all the videos, use the practice suggestions in your home practice and try out the techniques in your yoga classes.

STEP THREE: Connect with the Trainer

Regularly email your questions or problems in your training to Sharon and stay connected.  Your trainer has over twenty-years of experience teaching prenatal yoga and you are encouraged to communicate with Sharon regularly through the course.  Unlimited email communications are included in your tuition.

STEP FOUR: Make the Program Your Own

You can get “lost in the crowd” at an in-person training and online, but this program inspires you to consider yourself a professional and act like it too.  You are given assignments that ask you to be curious about pregnancy and birth, to explore what options are available in your area and to start to create professional support and referral networks.  The more time and energy you invest in the practical and professionalization assignments, the more confident you will feel.

If you want more personal guidance or mentoring, Sharon also offers, at an additional cost, packages of four private mentoring sessions that can be scheduled at your convenience and never expire.  These are not included in the cost of tuition, but many students have found that this extra investment helped them complete the training and feel more confident in their ability to teach the highest quality prenatal yoga class possible—even with little experience.  You are not obligated in any way to purchase mentoring sessions, but matrika-023just know that Sharon is personally available to mentor you if you wish for that kind of attention and professional coaching and guidance.

The tuition does NOT include the required textbooks for the course.  The books required for the course, when ordered new from Amazon cost approximately $80 USD.  Most of these books will be excellent reference volumes as you plan prenatal classes for the rest of your career.  You are under no obligation to purchase the books, so feel free to borrow from the library, colleagues or buy electronic versions or used copies.  Depending on your location in the world, if you are having a hard time finding any of the assigned books, I can usually work with you on locating alternative titles that you can obtain.  IMG_3861

Who facilitates the course?

Your lead trainer is Sharon Fennimore, MA.  She designed this course and has almost 20-years of experience teaching prenatal yoga and meditation.  Sharon personally responds to all email, conducts all private sessions and facilitates all online discussions.  Sharon is a DONA trained birth doula and holds two Masters Degrees in East Asian Studies and Cultural Anthropology.  She has worked with thousands ofSharon Profile expectant women and their families over the past 15-years and has been offering prenatal yoga teacher training courses for over seven-years.
Full Tuition $278

[headline_border]Commonly Asked Questions[/headline_border]

When Can I Start the Training?

You can start at ANY time.  Enrollment is on a rolling basis.  As soon as you pay tuition, you have immediate course access.

Can I finish the program faster than 6-Months?

Sure!  Due to the nature of the practicum assignments that are required for graduation, it is impossible to complete the course in less than three-months.  But, you work through the course and the requirements at your own pace and can schedule your final exam whenever you wish.  Most participants complete the course in five-months.

I’m not an RYT (Registered Yoga Teacher).  Can I Still Take This Training?

There are no pre-requisites for this training program.  Anyone can enroll.

What if I don’t like the course?  Can I get a refund?

There are no refunds.  It is recommended that you sign up for the FREE course Yoga During Pregnancy just to get a feel for the online course platform.  Send an email to Sharon with any questions BEFORE you pay tuition: sharon@yogamatrika.com.  Once you are enrolled, if you are unhappy for any reason, Sharon will do everything possible to fix the problems and make an individual plan for you that works for what you need.

Despite being motivated and my best intentions, I need longer than 6-months to complete the course!  Can I extend my program?

Yes!  Every student has a single opportunity to extend their program by 6-months with a $100 payment.  You don’t need to grovel, beg, ask for extension or get permission.  There is a section in the online course with a link to make the extension payment, make it, and the program is automatically extended for six-months.  Only one extension per student no matter what.  No exceptions.

Does this online training allow me to register with Yoga Alliance as a RPYT?

No. Yoga Alliance standards do not permit distance learning for the Prenatal Yoga Specialist designation. Yoga Matrika used to have a Registered Yoga School (RYS) and Registered Prenatal Yoga School (RPYS), but these programs are no longer registered and Yoga Matrika’s teacher training programs are no longer associated with Yoga Alliance.  You will receive a 25 CEU credit certificate for Yoga Alliance continuing education credits upon graduation.  This is the maximum number of  distance learning CEU credits that Yoga Alliance will permit to count towards the required 30 CEU credits.

Technical Skills Required

In order for you to get the most out of this course, you need a minimum of technical skills including, but not necessarily limited to:

  • Being able to sign-in to the online course and create a password
  • Ability to follow links, download PDF files, audio files (mp3) and video files (mp4)
  • Ability to open WORD files, type into the document and then “save as” a PDF
  • Must have consistent internet access
  • Must know how to use SKYPE or FaceTime and have the electronic devices and/or accounts set up so you can use this technology for private sessions

Do you wonder if you have these skills or not?  Are you concerned about your ability to use your skills in an online course environment?  I suggest that you try out this free course.  This course is the EXACT same format as the teacher training and if you learn how to navigate this course, comment, and download the eBook, then you will know for certain that you can take the training course too.  If you have a hard time with this free course, then send an email to Sharon and discuss your concerns.  Because this course includes personal attention, we can usually find ways to work around any technical concerns, but since there are NO REFUNDS for any reason, let’s try to make sure you feel confident about taking an online course BEFORE you enroll.  Just send an email to Sharon: sharon@yogamatrika.com

Requirements for GRADUATION

This is a 100-hour distance learning program, that leads to certification in yoga for fertility, pregnancy, birth and the immediate postpartum period.  Upon program completion, you will be certified to teach Matrika Prenatal Yoga and any other classes, workshops and retreats of your own design that you create based on this training.  You will receive a graduation certificate and personalized letter from Sharon Fennimore explaining the curriculum and your special skills.  You are NOT guaranteed certification based on enrollment or tuition payment alone! Choosing this track is a significant commitment to becoming a specialist in working with women and supporting optimal fertility, nourishing pregnant women, their infants and their families and support system.  There is significant reading, writing and practicum requirements and certification requires your active participation in the online course discussion boards.  The reading level of many of the articles is graduate level academic work.

Enroll NOW
MATRIKA PRENATAL PROGRAM Graduation Requirements

In order to graduate from the Matrika Prenatal Yoga teacher training program and obtain certification to teach Matrika Prenatal Yoga, within 6-months of enrollment* you need to have:

#1: Actively participated in ALL of the discussion boards of this online course with these minimum guidelines:

  • Provide meaningful initiation of a minimum of two discussions for each section of the course.
  • Provide meaningful responses to the discussions started by other participants in the course that show you are doing the readings, watching the webinars and engaging deeply with the material for a minimum of three discussions in each section of the course.

Please do not comment just to fulfill this requirement.  I’d rather you not participate in a particular discussion if it is not an area of interest to you or you don’t genuinely have a question.  I will be monitoring all discussion boards and generally just want to see active participation and ongoing dialogue.

#2: Work through the entire course including watching ALL videos:   As the course facilitator, I can “see” all of your activity in the online course including what activities you open, the videos you watch and how long you take for each item.  We are all professionals and adults and you have made a significant investment in this training.  If I have concerns about your participation in the online course, I will send you a private email.  It’s up to you to take the time and really do the work of the online course.

#3: Send written practicum assignments for review to Sharon:   Sharon personally reviews all submitted work and will produce a graduation and CEU certificate within 2-4 weeks from the date of submission.  All work must be submitted typed and as PDF files.  All assignments are due within 6-months* of date of enrollment in the course.

*Oops!  Taking longer than six-months?  No problem!  You can extend your program another six-months for $100.  Every student is entitled to one extension.  You don’t have to request it, just make the extension payment in the STUDENT RESOURCES section of the course prior to your 6th month of enrollment and you will automatically be given six-additional months to finish the program.

 

Is This the Right Program for YOU?

Online learning is not right for everyone.  This program works best for 200+ hour trained yoga teachers (or equivalent training and experience) with a minimum of one year of teaching experience who either live outside of the United States and have little to no access to in-person training programs OR teachers who have full time jobs and/or young children that make attending a training program in-person impossible.  You must be highly motivated, organized and committed in order to complete this significant online course.  There is a lot of college-level reading of articles written for academic audiences, participation and personal and professional practicum work and assignments that must be completed in order for you to graduate.  Only students who complete all of the graduation requirements will be given a graduation certificate.  Your enrollment does NOT in any way guarantee your graduation or that you will receive a certificate.  There are NO REFUNDS for any reason, including if you decide that this course is too much work, fail to do the work or meet the graduation guidelines.

Many people make the mistake of thinking that an online course is “easier” to manage because of the flexibility when, actually, the opposite is generally true.  Before you enroll, take a look at your calendar and see if you can block off a minimum of 4-hours a week for the next five-months.  If there is a week when, say, your sister is getting married and you know you won’t be able to get any work done, or you have weeks when you single-parent because your partner is traveling for work, then you have to find another week when you could put 8-hours into the course.  What tends to happen is that many students lose their momentum and then start to procrastinate when they feel that they have been gone from the course for so long that they can’t possibly “catch up”.  If this happens, it’s best to send an email to Sharon and make a specific plan for moving forward.

Enroll NOW for ($278): Sign-up here for immediate course access!

 

Fine Print
  1. No refunds for tuition for online programs, mentoring packages or training retreats for ANY reason.  If you are unhappy with the program, at any time, for any reason, please remain calm and contact Sharon as soon as possible (LONG before you get so frustrated you think you are just going to quit!): sharon@yogamatrika.com.  Although there aren’t any refunds, we can usually work out an alternative plan so you get the training you need at no additional cost.  This is a program with a lot of personal attention and all problems are solvable.
  2. There is absolutely no guarantee of graduation or certification.  Your work and training portfolio will be evaluated and your ability to complete the program and obtain certification documents will be based on the merits of your participation and quality of the portfolio that you submit.
  3. Online programs are not for everyone.  With flexibility comes extraordinary personal responsibility.  You must also have the technical skills to register for the online program, upload documents and submit work as PDF files.  Consistent access to a computer and the internet are imperative.
  4. You should be able to set aside 15-20 hours for each month of your program for working online, reading, practice, and writing assignments.  It is important that you put these hours in your calendar and stick to a schedule.  Otherwise, it is unlikely that you will complete your program in time.  If something “comes up” then you must re-schedule your time.
  5. The cost of required textbooks is not included in any of the above fees.
  6. The cost of additional contact hours with Sharon Fennimore are NOT included in any of the above fees.  An additional mentoring program of four SKYPE sessions can be purchased for $400. These sessions are entirely optional and not required for graduation, certification, or CEU credits.
  7. These programs provide an esoteric and intellectual approach to the science and practice of yoga.  This may challenge your current practice or ideas about yoga and meditation.  Personal mentoring sessions are designed to help you incorporate this information into your own practice and unique teaching voice.  Be prepared to be challenged and inspired!

For the past 20-years, I have refined an approach to yoga during pregnancy that is inspired by Tibetan yoga subtle body anatomy and informed by contemporary reproductive science.  Using this unique style, I have worked with thousands of expectant women and their families to help them feel empowered, vital and filled with joy–not fear–during their pregnancies.  I have also trained yoga teachers and professionals all over the world who work with pregnant women so that this nourishing practice can be shared with as many people as possible.

WHAT MAKES MATRIKA PRENATAL YOGA SPECIAL?
      • Emphasis on Tantric subtle body anatomy
      • Focus on how culture impacts the experience of pregnancy
      • Use of Buddhist philosophy applied to  yoga
      • Visualization and meditation specific to pregnancy
      • Gentle, yet incredibly powerful practice for strength and grace

Course Details

For more than ten-years, I offered this training in-person through my school, registered with Yoga Alliance, to develop the most comprehensive curriculum possible.  This past summer I decided to close my yoga school that was registered with Yoga Alliance and I am now in the process of revising my online programs to meet my own standards and goals. In the meantime, I am offering the full course online as a self-study program at a significant discount.  If you are a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) with Yoga Alliance, you can earn a 25 CEU credit certificate for your participation in this course.  All participants who complete the course will receive a PDF of a signed graduation certificate that you can use as part of your teaching and training portfolio.

Work at your own pace! This amazing online training offers complete flexibility and personalized instruction through private sessions if you would like to work personally with the facilitator (private sessions are NOT included in the tuition). Distance learning is ideal for busy professionals trying to juggle career and family while also moving in the direction of your dreams.  Perfect for expats or English speakers all over the world who do not have access to a training school, but wish to work towards their certification while traveling or living abroad. The training is designed to take around 100-hours to complete and students generally finish within 4-5 months, but you have 6-months of enrollment in the course with your tuition payment.

This course is intellectually challenging and requires a great deal of significant personal reflection, reading, discussion, writing and research as well as observing and practicing.  Whether you are taking this course for professional development or because you need the certification to continue teaching, this experience will expand your teaching skills and deepen your practice. The online course module is really a way for you to organize your self-study.  It is also the way that you will document your time spent on the course.

Tuition and Schedule

The full-cost is $278 (USD) and you can start the program at any time.  It is designed to take approximately 4-months to complete and you have six-months of enrollment included in this tuition.  This tuition does not cover the costs of any of the required textbooks.  The total price for brand new textbooks from Amazon has been around $80 USD for most of my students.  Many of the books can be borrowed from friends or local libraries and you can likely obtain used copies from Amazon or other sources at a significant discount.  There are no private sessions included in this tuition.  If you would like to invest in private SKYPE or FaceTime sessions with Sharon Fennimore, you are able to purchase a special mentoring package of four-sessions for $400 once you are enrolled in the course.

Graduation and Continuing Education Credits

Upon graduation, you will receive two certificates:

  • 25 CEU Certificate to Use for Continuing Education Credits with Yoga Alliance*
  • Graduation Certificate and Certification as a MPYT (Matrika Prenatal Yoga Teacher)
*Please note that this training course is NOT a Registered Yoga School with Yoga Alliance.  You CAN earn CEU credits for Yoga Alliance, but you will not be able to register in their Prenatal Yoga Specialist directory.

Barbarians and Blockheads

It’s always the same.
Barbarians and blockheads, rival queens and kings,
The drama rolls on and on.
When people honor you,
You are supposed to feel honored.
When you don’t get respect, they expect
You to sulk in indignation.
One minute you are cruising on a throne in the sky,
The next you are standing on some bleak patch of dirt.

~Yukti Verses #102, Radiance Sutras

This verse, part of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra translated by Lorin Roche in his book, The Radiance Sutras, has helped me to put into perspective the characters and actions that grace American politics and the local and global violence, destruction, hatred and greed that unfolds before me on the news, in my social media feeds and in discussion boards where my neighbors complain about a 2% increase in some tax or another.  It is, quite frankly, why I don’t belong to any “mommy groups”.  Quite frankly, I don’t care how you potty trained your little genius and I certainly don’t want to waste time watching an argument between strangers regarding the appropriate techniques to unfold before my eyes in varrying degrees of aggression, shame, and self-absorbed righteousness.  But, I digress!

It is important to recognize that we are not special.  This time is not particularly special either.  The first written version of the Vijnana Bhairava Tantra appeared in Kashmir around AD 800.  The drama rolled on and on then and it continues to roll now.  I recently read Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, “Inside the Now: Meditations on Time” and he introduces the book with a very matter of fact listing of all of his little brother and older brother monks who were killed during the colonial war with France in Vietnam.  Young, un-armed monks, shot to death at temples and on the street.  What do we have now?  We have little children gunned down in their elementary schools, the victims of a storm of mental illness and a culture that accepts violence as quality entertainment.  We have marathon runners losing life and limbs and a heroin and opiate addiction problem and college students inebriated and using sex like a weapon against themselves and one another. We do nothing to help new mothers and families with young children, yet we are quick to judge and “click clack” our tongues when we see on the news that some napping mother’s two-year old toddled out the front door in a wet diaper—again.  We are asleep with our eyes open.

The verse ends with a great instruction in how to release ourselves from this cycle of ups and downs and the drama that rolls on and on:

I say, the Sun regards all with a steady eye.
The force sustaining Earth and Sky
Calls everyone to awaken from this trance.
This whole world revolves around an axis, and I am that.

When you are friends with the Friend to All Beings
Nothing is the same.
Rich beyond measure, abundant beyond counting,
You can move through this life laughing.
Opinions of others have no rulership over you.

The Sun Regards All With A Steady Eye

Sometimes, I like to use a visualization with the sun for a sort of quick cleanse.  I invite you to try it too.  No matter what is happening, while sitting or standing somewhere safe and somewhat quiet, feel the soles of your feet growing roots down into the earth.  Feel these strong roots as cool, wide, and deep.  Then, picture a sun, a glowing orb of yellow light, sparkling right above the crown of your head.  Feel the sparkly yellow light cover the whole outside of your body like a sparkle poncho.

Don’t roll your eyes at me!  Give this a real try, then, whether it works or not, start a band named “Sparkle Poncho” and give me a little shout out when you play your first Super Bowl half-time entertainment gig.  Better yet, why not send me a small percentage of the check in gratitude with a little note about how I changed your life and you can’t believe you rolled your eyes at first.  Now, back to the visualization…….

Let your skin soften and relax and feel the boundaries of your body ease into the safety of this bright light of covering.  You may find that all this relaxation has caused all the tension in your body to travel to a specific spot.  For example, you are all blissed out, but your jaw is clenched and mouth tense.  Or, maybe you are wearing your shoulders like earings. Try to let that go too.

Now, allow a gentle warmth to spread into the cellular body, filling your bones with this sparkly yellow light and then your organs and all the fluid of your body.  We are mostly water and you can see yourself like a glistening ocean in the sparkly sunlight.  Feel all of your opinions, identifications, ideas, commitments, priorities, attachments soften with each exhalation until all you are is sparkly light.  Know that this is the same sun that warmed the faces of your ancestors and shines upon all living beings.  Share in this light that is beyond time and space.  In this knowing and sharing, we can access our friendship to the “friend to all beings”.  We don’t have to like everyone or be friendly to everyone or act like someone we aren’t, but we can use this shared light from the sun to enjoy a moment of connection to the “friend to all beings”.

Finally, re-connect to the cool roots through the soles of your feet and feel that earthy energy as it moves up through your legs, hips, belly, spine, middle back, heart, shoulders, arms, hands, throat, neck and face. Enjoy this grounded feeling into your skull and whole head.  You have been cleansed of all negativity and fear by the sparkly yellow light of the infinite sun that shines upon us all equally.  You can not be swayed by winds of this time that attempt to yank you around in swift contradictions.  You are grounded in the truth of the timeless sun that shines equally upon us all.

Here is an MP3 recording of this visualization for you to listen to or download and play whenever you need it.  It is less than four-minutes long.  Just don’t play while you are driving, operating heavy machinery or trying to change a poopy diaper because all those activities require your full attention.

Barbarians and Blockheads

If you ask me to name some people that I think fall into the “barbarians and blockheads” category, I can answer you quickly.  Actually, the list is long and ranges from people I have known intimately to people I just see on television or read about in the Atlantic Monthly.  Recently there has been a video traveling the interwebs of a little five year old Syrian boy who is covered in dust and bleeding from a head and face wound and he is alone in an ambulance. He was in a building that was bombed.  We see this suffering and we don’t know what to do with it.  Even worse, it pulls our own history of suffering out of whatever cave it might have been resting in and chokes us.  We shout out in genuine compassion for this young child who is a victim of circumstances he certainly isn’t to blame for.  But, we also cry from this wounded place inside of us where we have held on to experiences that left us “standing on some bleak patch of dirt”.

Whenever we find ourselves “standing on some bleak patch of dirt” we have options.  I believe we have infinite options.  Sometimes I like to just stand there and sob and then send text messages to anyone I think might read them about how bleak my little patch of dirt is at the moment.  Many times these good friends take a moment to remind me of times when I empowered myself jump off that bleak patch and used that leap of opportunity to shift my enegetic geography.  Many times these good friends stand with me in solidarity and let me know that they see me there in that patch of dirt and, for what it is worth, I’m not alone.  I’m grateful for this message too.  But, Thich Nhat Hanh has a message that releases us from that geographic location of the bleak patch of dirt and provides the instruction that:

Each moment can be all the moments; each moment is an opportunity waiting to be seized.

If you feel that you have been wasting time trying to garden in a bleak patch of dirt or you know you are guilty of engaging with the barbarians and blockheads du jour, Thich Nhat Hanh says that this is ok because you can re-connect with the now.  In this moment, there is an opportunity.  Right now.  Each moment can be all the moments.  The Sun regards all with a steady eye.  Make friends with the Friend to All Beings.

REFERENCES

The Radiance Sutras: 112 Gateways to the Yoga of Wonder and Delight.  By Lorin Roche, PhD. Sounds True Press 2014.   The verse used in this blog post can be found on page 137.

Inside the Now: Meditations on Time. By Thich Nhat Hanh.  Parallax Press 2015.

This was written by Sharon Fennimore.  Please join me for an online course or a class or workshop.  Share this post and guided visualization with all your friends.  Subscribe to my newsletter and never miss a new post and get FREE access to my online course designed to help you clear emotional and physical clutter.

Yoga for Labor and Birth

Groovy Pregnant

This is a post written over two-years ago, but if you are looking for my current  pregnancy and birth support services, classes and workshops CLICK HERE. 

Whether you are having a scheduled cesarean birth, are planning a water-birth at home or something in between, yoga provides wonderful tools for working with the energies of labor and birth in an empowering way.  The techniques you will learn in this workshop are helpful for both the laboring mom and her entire support team.  These ways of breathing, sounding, moving, communicating, making decisions and for touching/interaction, are compatible with all childbirth methods.  This is an experiential workshop so wear comfortable clothes and get ready to make some noise, move around and have a lot of laughs while you prepare to welcome your newest family member with love and light!  No experience with yoga, meditation, or birth is required.  Tuition is for the birthing mother and up to one birth partner/support person.  Ideally, Mom comes with her primary labor and birth support person, but if they aren’t available, then come with a friend/neighbor/Aunt/your Mom—-whoever you want!  Plus, you are guaranteed to have a chance to watch and listen to me do my best Alaskan moose impression.  This workshop is not be missed.

REGISTRATION DETAILS

DATE: Sunday, September 18, 2016

TIME: 2:00 to 5:00 pm

PLACE: Mookshi Wellness Center

PRICE:  $50 with pre-registration (this is for up to two adults)

 

Introduction to Fertility Awareness

Girl with Blue MoonThis is a workshop for women ages 17-100 where we will explore methods for being aware of cycles of fertility in body, mind, and spirit.  Here are just a few ways that a woman can benefit from learning fertility awareness techniques at any age:

  • menstrual cycle and reproductive health
  • learning signs of your most creative and intuitive days for the purpose of conceiving a baby, starting a new project or making changes in lifestyle or relationship
  • learning the signs of your least fertile days for the purpose of family planning and engaging in quiet and nourishing activities

Whether you are looking to better understand your menstrual cycles, conceive a pregnancy or reduce your chances of conception, learning about your fertility provides incredible insight and keys to overall reproductive health. In this workshop, you will learn the basics of the energy of a fertility cycle and the physical anatomy of that cycle. You will learn three different ways to chart your cycles to determine patterns and signs of when you are most fertile and least fertile. Finally, we will look at techniques for taking advantage of the most fertile parts of your cycle for creativity , intuition, and decision making in relationships, at work, in your art and for the creation of new life (if, and when, that is what you desire).  As a bonus, if you provide your birthday when you register, I will give you information about an additional period of fertility you might not have known about!

On a Personal Note

No prior experience with fertility awareness is expected or assumed.  While the the majority of information provided on using fertility awareness for family planning is admittedly directed at women who are having sex with men, I warmly welcome women of all sexual orientations to participate.  Women who are on the pill or using other hormonal methods of contraceptives are also welcome.  I feel, rather strongly, that all women have a right to learn as much as possible about their reproductive health and capacity for creativity.  This workshop is really a general introduction to fertility awareness and you are welcome, just as you are.  I make an effort to create a respectful, open, and fun environment during my workshops.  Please let me know before you register if you have any concerns at all: sharon@yogamatrika.com.

REGISTRATION DETAILS

DATE: Saturday, September 17, 2016

TIME: 2:00 to 5:00 pm

PLACE: Mookshi Wellness Center

PRICE: $25 with pre-registration by September 10, 2016
($35 from 9/11-17 as space permits)

 

Buddhist Philosophy and Yoga Anatomy Workshops

These workshops are no longer being held fall 2016. Please check back for future collaborations and check out Mark’s website for his teaching schedule.

Philosophy and Embodied Anatomy Workshops

I am honored to host our guest instructor, Mark Chandlee Taylor, the Director of BodyMindMovement to facilitate the following embodied anatomy workshops yoga students and teachers.  All workshops are held at Mookshi Wellness Center in the Regent Square neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  Sessions begin with an hour of practice and discussion of the required text with Sharon which will be followed by a short break and then three-hours of anatomy with Mark.  All workshops are from noon to 4:00 pm.  I recommend that students obtain a copy of “Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries” by Thich Nhat Hanh and read both his translations and commentaries in preparation for discussions.  Alternatively, I have provided links below where you can find PDF versions of the required texts.

As space is limited, pre-registration is highly recommended.  Workshops are $45 when you register online.  If you are blocked from online registration, please email Sharon Fennimore with your interest and you will be added to the waiting list: sharon@yogamatrika.com.  If space is available on the day of workshops, you will be warmly welcomed for $60 drop-in tuition.

October 16, 2016 (SUNDAY)
Text: Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breath (Anapanasati Sutta)
Anatomy Focus: Anatomy of Movement & Bone

November 6, 2016 (SUNDAY)
Text: The Foundations of Mindfulness_ Satipatthana Sutta
Anatomy Focus: Knees, Hips and Pelvis

December 10, 2016 (SATURDAY)
Text: Heart Sutra (Prajnaparamita Hrdaya Sutra)/New Translation by Thich Nhat Hanh
Anatomy Focus: Spinal Anatomy & Alignment

How to Throw A Dinner

Today, I received an email from Martha Stewart Living.  Yes, go ahead and chuckle.  I love Martha Stewart and her magazine “Martha Stewart Living”.  I actually find that her posted recipees are simple to make and sometimes she has very unique ideas for crafts or ways to make things more special with just a little more than the usual effort.

Well, the title of this one made ME laugh:

“How to Throw a Rustic French Dinner”

While not the intention of the linked article, I immediately envisioned myself conservatively dressed sitting at a table of people I didn’t know how to talk to with a plate full of a French rustic style dinner in front of me.  I could see myself in the vision just picking up the plate and throwing it as hard as I could.  Not at anyone.  Just throwing it.  I certainly do not need Martha Stewart to instruct me on the right way to throw a plate of any kind of dinner.  If I had any doubts, I could always hand it to my five year old daughter as she has no patience for dinner parties and a rather awesome left-arm pitch.

Just a little reminder not to take yourself so seriously.  And, also, thinking something isn’t the same as doing it.  So, allow a little mischief to creep in around all your good intentions when it comes to your imagination.  Why not?

Buddhist Philosophy and Embodied Anatomy for Yoga Workshops

 Philosophy and Embodied Anatomy Workshops

I am honored to host our guest instructor, Mark Chandlee Taylor, the Director of BodyMindMovement to facilitate the following embodied anatomy workshops for experienced yoga students and yoga teachers.  All workshops are held at Mookshi Wellness Center in the Regent Square neighborhood of Pittsburgh.  Sessions begin with an hour of practice and discussion of the required text with Sharon which will be followed by a short break and then three-hours of anatomy with Mark.  All workshops are on Sundays from noon to 4:00 pm.  I recommend that all trainees obtain a copy of “Awakening of the Heart: Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries” by Thich Nhat Hanh and read both his translations and commentaries in preparation for discussions.  Alternatively, I have provided links below where you can find PDF versions of the required texts.

October 16, 2016
Text: Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breath (Anapanasati Sutta)
Anatomy Focus: Anatomy of Movement & Bone
REGISTER for 10/16/16 Workshop

November 6, 2016
Text: The Foundations of Mindfulness_ Satipatthana Sutta
Anatomy Focus: Knees, Hips and Pelvis
REGISTER for 11/6/16 Workshop

December 10, 2016
Text: Heart Sutra (Prajnaparamita Hrdaya Sutra)/New Translation by Thich Nhat Hanh
Anatomy Focus: Spinal Anatomy & Alignment
REGISTER for 12/10/16

Second Location

One of the most significant changes that came with parenthood was the demise of my ability to travel to a “second location”.  I had attended college in a neighborhood that was not safe (understatement) and have always been an urban dweller and I regularly attended public safety workshops where I learned important skills like yell “fire” instead of “help” since more people will respond to a potential threat to their own safety than taking the risk to assist someone else in trouble.  I also learned to be prepared to poke someone’s eye out.  Which, honestly, may be good advice, but I’m not sure what it would take to be inspired to act on it.  But, the advice that seemed both strongest in message and reason was to do whatever it took not to be taken to a “second location”.  Apparently, even if someone has a gun to your head, statistically, you have a better chance of surviving the assault if you run or try to get away than if you get into a car to be taken to a second location for further violation.  Yikes!  Who wants to think about these things?

I started thinking more about the “second location” when I first became a mother.  It’s a mistake I made a few times before I realized that my days of multi-tasking at multiple locations was over.  It starts out innocently enough.  Say, you are on your way back from the playground and you remember that you are running out of milk.  So, your inner mind-voice says, “That’s OK, we can just stop by the grocery store on our way back from the playground.”  Except, it turns out that your baby was holding on to some explosive poop and really needed to nurse for an hour–or else.  Your baby was counting on playground and then home.  There was no way for you to know this because you can’t really consult with your baby and they might seem kind of tired and zonked out in the back seat.  It appears that your baby can withstand a 15-minute or less pop into the grocery store.  Sometimes, you park the car and go as far as reaching into the car seat to remove the baby and they start to scream or tantrum and you can realize the error of your ways before you make it to the interior of your second location of choice.  Then you just re-buckle and drive away thinking that it is likely you can sneak out later or send someone else or just bloody do without the milk.  But, in many cases, your baby lets you put them into the grocery cart and away you go to second location hell.  It’s like the Hotel California—you can check-out any time you like, but you can NEVER leave.

The next thing you know, baby has an explosive poop and you find yourself dangling them over your lap while you change their diaper in some restroom most recently used for a hobo’s sink bath, but you feel confident because you remembered a diaper and a change of clothes and you’ve got this!  So, 20-minutes later you emerge from the bathroom victorious with a cranky, but clean and dry baby and you are back on your way to the dairy aisle.  At this point, your cranky baby loses their marbles and just starts screaming, which, you figure is OK because you are within arm’s reach of the gallon of milk and then all you need to do is check-out and you can get back into the car and home before the REAL meltdown.  Again, you’ve got this!  Now you’ve got a crying baby and a bag of poopy clothes and a gallon of milk and you get into the shortest line right behind someone who only has one or two little things left on the counter and you are sure that your turn to check-out is imminent.  Score!  Except, that person needs a price check because they are sure they were over-charged for something and the manager needs to be called.  It takes them 10-minutes to figure out that the charges are correct, but still…….you feel like you are close to checking out.  At this point, you look over and realize that your baby has grabbed a few chocolate bars and scattered some SUN news magazines all over the floor.  The chocolate on their face leads you to believe that maybe they have gnawed through one of the wrappers, but you don’t think a little chocolate will kill your baby.  Until you see that it is a Reese’s and you were kind of hoping to keep peanut butter out of their diet for a while, but, you know, they are still breathing at this point so maybe that’s just not a concern.  And that is when the person in front of you starts returning some items from their order, one by one, because the price differential between what they thought something cost and what it actually cost has put them over what they were prepared to spend.

Still, it’s 45-minutes since you parked your car and you thought it was going to be just 15-minutes, but you aren’t quite ready to give up yet because you have that gallon of milk in your cart and you are SO CLOSE.  With horror, you realize that your baby is now throwing up.  Was it the peanut butter?  It doesn’t matter, because now they are soaked in puke and so is the cart and, oops, looks like they got your shoes too——good thing all those magazines are scattered on the floor!  And, seriously?  They are calling the manager again!  Frozen, you don’t know what to do.  Do you try to switch lanes.  Everywhere looks crowded.

You give up.  You pick up your crying and puke covered baby and leave the cart and the puke and the magazines and wrappers and that flipping gallon of milk right there in the check-out lane.  It’s an hour since you left your car and before you put your baby in the seat you take off all their puke covered clothes and add them to the bag with the poopy clothes.  You put your diapered and otherwise naked baby into the car seat.  Screaming.  They are screaming.  Are you cursing?  You don’t even know because your heart is pounding and your head is pounding.  Now you drive home.  You drop the bag of disgusting clothes on the porch, take your screaming baby and sit on the couch where you nurse for two hours.  Each time you try to disengage your boob from your “sleeping” baby’s mouth they wake immediately and start to scream.  So you just sit there.

Do you know what the mistake was in this scenario?  It was the “second location”.  Once you have a child you can no longer just “pop-in” anywhere.  No, you can’t just pick up the dry cleaning on your way.  No, you can’t stop for burgers on your way back.  No, whatever that second thing is that you thought you could squease in, you can’t.  Maybe you did this once and nothing bad happened so you got some false confidence?  Maybe you are naive?  Maybe you had one second location trauma, but you assumed it was a singular incident.  No, it wasn’t.  Once you are a parent you get to choose one thing and make that one thing happen and that is it.  One. One task.  One location.  ONE.

Experienced parents have embodied this knowledge.  We can say things to each other like, “No, we can’t meet you at the museum on Sunday afternoon because we go to church in the morning.”  Sure, people without children might wonder why you can’t get somewhere in the afternoon if church is in the morning.  But those of us with a child know that even just making it to church was a coup.  A second location in one day would be a miracle. Us parents only get so many miracles and we aren’t going to use it up on some outing to the museum.  I remember a multi-tasked life where all kinds of things were possible, but now it is a distant memory.

Beware the second location is both excellent urban safety and parenting advice.

So Much Feels Arbitrary

It is the first line of a Marge Piercy poem that I think of often, on many days and for many years now since I first read it more than ten years ago when my son was first born.

“So much feels arbitrary.”

Poem “The Mystery of Survival” in “The Crooked Inheritance” (2006) page 131-133

And yet, I also have it’s equal and opposite thought a great deal of the time.  Generally, a sense that I have on occasion that even the smallest act of kindness means just about everything.  Sometimes I feel overwhelmed as a parent that each decision from the smallest “Which toothpaste to buy?” to the larger “Which school should I send my child to?” seems like it could radically shift the tragectory of my child’s life.  In these cases, Marge Piercy’s poem both soothes my sense that every little thing is the most important thing and also terrifies me.

IMG_7017Part of what I love about my Pilgrimage Pittsburgh project is that I meet people while I’m walking around.  It’s much easier to feel connected when we interact with the people in our neighborhoods and communities.  There are so many people that live less than a block from my home who I don’t know at all.  When I was in the yard that these pictures are from, a woman walked by and said to me, “Oh, the yard looks so beautiful.  She just put a lot of work into it and I stopped by to tell her how great it looks.”  I said, “I don’t know the person who lives here, I’m just taking pictures of the statues in the yard.  They seems special.”  The woman who I was talking to said, “Well, you know her husband died about a year ago.”  No, you see, I didn’t know this woman who lives here or her grief or anything other than the fact that her front yard is filled with spirit.  While some people might consider the appearance of their yard to be “arbitrary” or simply a matter of personal preference, nothing could be further from the truth.  The person who created this yard is seeking solace through grief and also expressing a deep spiritual joy and profound faith.  I felt the faith as I stood in the yard with the mixture of iconography and balance of playful and meaningful that existed there.IMG_7018

IMG_7019Next door to this small garden is a larger one with just as diverse iconography.  In this yard, which has a prominent “Please Curb Your Dog” sign in the middle of the lawn, I found the most delightful “foo dog”, which is really a Chinese guardian lion.  When the mouth is open like this it means “in and out” of the breath,IMG_7020 like the symbol for “OM”.  The ball under his foot suggests that this is a male guardian lion.  The female version usually has a small pup with her rather than a ball.  And, in another part of the yard, the most flat and yet delightful turtles.  Turtles are considered a symbol of wisdom, endurance, wealth, and long life.

It turns out that as I pilgrimage around the neighborhoods of Pittsburgh that we have an incredibly diverse expression of iconography.  This is both true of a single site and across multiple connected sites.  In Diana Eck’s book, Darsan, which inspired this Pilgrimage Pittsburgh project, she illuminates how the iconography is an expression of the diversity in major religious traditions in India (Eck, page 24).  She quotes Mark Twain’s journals from his travels through India when he states, “In religion, all other countries are paupers.  India is the only millionaire.” (Eck, page 24)  Yet, the diversity of iconography in these Pittsburgh neighborhoods suggests to me that we have an incredible diversity of presence of spirit, belief and faith.  I sense so strongly that these leprechauns, turtles, protective lions and saints reflect on a commitment to higher powers, to playful energies and protection that is available to us through sources we can not see with the human eye.  Therefore, we put these statues, that we can see with our human eyes, in our yards and make our communities a reflection of these powerful beliefs.  This, in my opinion, is a commitment to a joined belief that we are, in fact, not arbitrary.  That we are conduits for great ideas, beauty and profound hope.  It is not an arbitrary act to set a leprechaun out on your front wall.

If this is your first Pilgrimage Pittsburgh post reading, I started this journey looking for “sacred images” in Pittsburgh and on my travels about three-years ago after reading a short book by Diana L. Eck called, “Darsan:Seeing the Divine Image in India”.  I am using the third edition from Columbia University Press (1998) for my references.  I keep a Facebook page for the project too and I hope that you will go there and “LIKE” the page because I post there when I have a new set of images and ideas up.  If you aren’t into Facebook, then every Sunday, if there is a new post on my blog, my newsletter subscribers get an email newsletter with links to the new content.  SUBSCRIBE HERE

Post by Sharon Fennimore, a rogue anthropologist, yogini and women’s health coach based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

 

Perspectives on Unity and Karma

Last week, under a news story about some other tragedy, the news source suggested some other stories I might be interested in.  While I don’t usually take these recommendations, as part of my feeble attempt to control the negative media that I permit myself to absorb, this time, the top story caught my interest.  At the Metropolitan Zoo in Santiago, Chile, a young man (a child…really…too young to order a beer in the United States), jumped into the lion enclosure, took off all his clothes and began to taunt the lions by shouting biblical quotes.  They found a suicide note with the man’s clothing and the note was signed, “Jesus”.  In order to save the man, the zoo was forced to shoot and kill the two lions.  The male lion had been born into captivity. The female lion had been rescued from the circus.  And, in that moment, the lives of the man, the lions and the zoo staff and all the children and adults who witnessed the happening unfold came together in a most unexpected and terrifying way.

I am a mother.  I have empathy for those who love the man who jumped into the enclosure thinking he was God.  Of course, they are sad about the lions and all the children who watched the lions shot and killed before their eyes.  But, their prayers are for their boy.  The young man’s mother had recently passed away and perhaps it was the depth of his grief that put him over the edge?  Perhaps it was the angelic force of maternal love that saved him in that moment from death?  From their perspectives, everything needed to be done to save the life of their friend, brother, son, nephew, lover.  What happened was tragic, but necessary.

I am a human.  My heart feels broken for those lions who never had a chance, never saw it coming, and were trapped in that deadly narrative not of their own making.  While it could be argued that those lions did not have to suffer the natural cycle of hunger, hunting and being the hunted, we also must examine the price that they paid for this relief.  A protected life behind bars may be an oxymoronic statement.  Perhaps being behind bars creates the greatest vulnerability of all?

Yet, it’s a singular story.  One specific day, with one young man who happens to believe he is God and decides not to swim with the sharks, not to wrestle with flamingos, not to cha cha with chimps.  No, the man wants to sacrifice himself to lions.  Say what you will about zoos, this sort of thing doesn’t happen everyday.  As a matter of fact, I’ve never read anything like it before.  So it brings up all these questions for me about perspective, fate and how the things we spend so much time worrying about aren’t likely to be what gets us in the end.

with tigerIn the Spring 2016 issue of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review magazine, there is a very interesting teaching by Thanissaro Bhikkhu on the idea of “interdependence”.  He suggests that “…We’re related not by what we inherently are but by what we choose to do.”  (SOURCE)  Basically, we are interconnected through action.  It’s terrifying and yet liberating because, while we may not be able to control the flood of thoughts through our mind, most of us have control over our actions.  We can learn how to watch our perceptions, desires and clinging to pleasure and rejection of pain and start to see how what we might consider a “fact” is really just our opinion or a particular way of looking at things.  The picture is of me, with my almost two-year old son, sitting outside the tiger enclosure at the Pittsburgh Zoo.  By “outside”, I mean that there is a piece of plexiglass separating us from the tiger.  But, the fact remains that we were sitting right there next to the tiger.  In many ways, the facts of this picture are not unlike those of the situation at the zoo in Chile.  Of course, there are some very important details that are not the same, but it’s less than a centimeter between us and that tiger.

Our actions impact the lives of others.  Everything from spraying urine on the seat in a restroom and not wiping it up before leaving the stall to how we talk about our neighbors to what we plant in our gardens and whether or not we drive or take the bus to the fruit we eat (Is it in season?  Is it local?  If not, where did it come from? What was the human cost of that harvest?)……every action we take or fail to take brings us into unity with the vibration of all living beings.  While some tragic events make this obvious, such as an act of terrorism or a mentally ill young man killing most of the first graders at the neighborhood school, we can deny it for the less obvious choices we make every moment of every day.  How did you treat that snarky sales person?  How did you treat yourself today?  Did you say mean things to yourself about your appearance, weight, intelligence?  Did you feed yourself an entire box of twinkies at your desk?  Or did you feed yourself something nourishing and say kind words to yourself about both your perceived successes and failures?

We can look at this isolated and obviously tragic incident as separate from ourselves, or we can see how we are implicated in the system.  Is it my fault that man decided to jump naked into the lion enclosure at the zoo? Well, no.  But I am a part of this system.  The Buddha’s teaching on karma, as taught by Thanissaro Bhikku in this Tricycle article, is that, “…the most compassionate course of action is to practice for your own awakening…The path to awakening involves generosity, virtue, and the skills of meditation, which include developing attitudes of unlimited goodwill and compassion. (TRICYCLE, Spring 2016, pages 76-77).”  Be nice to your barista, compassionate with your assistant who messed up your calendar for the morning, and understanding to that lady who just cut you off in traffic, but gave you the middle finger mudra.  Breathe. The actions you take today have just as much of an impact on the lives of other living beings as those of the man who thought he was Jesus, as much as the people who tried to save that lion from a circus, as much as those who shot those lions dead and the children who cried as they witnessed the situation unfold.

 

Lions

BY SANDRA MCPHERSON
Lions don’t need your help. In the Serengeti,
For instance, one thousand like the very rich

Hold sway over more than Connecticut. The mane
Of the lion, like the hooked jaw of the male salmon,

Acts as a shield for defense and is the gift
Of sexual selection. His eyes are fathomless amber.

The lion is the most social of the big cats.
Pride members are affectionate among themselves.

They rub cheeks when they meet. They rest
And hunt together. And cubs suckle indiscriminately.

But strangers or members of a neighboring pride are not
Usually accepted. If a pride male meets a strange female

He may greet her in a friendly fashion
And even mate with her

But the pride females will drive her off.
Male lions, usually depicted as indolent freeloaders

Who let the lionesses do all the hunting, are not mere
Parasites. They maintain the integrity of the territory.

Lions eat communally but completely lack table manners.
Indeed, lions give the impression that their evolution

Toward a social existence is incomplete—that cooperation
In achieving a task does not yet include

The equal division of the spoils.
More bad news: lions are not good parents.

But prowess, that they have. Their courage comes
From being built, like an automobile,

For power. A visible lion is usually a safe lion,
But one should never feel safe

Because almost always there is something one can’t see.
Given protection and power

A lion does not need to be clever.
Now, lions are not the most likable kind of animal

Unless you are a certain type of person,
That is, not necessarily leonine in the sense of manly

Or ferocious, but one who wouldn’t mind resting twenty
Of twenty-four hours a day and who is not beyond

Stealing someone else’s kill
About half the time.

Lions are not my favorite kind of animal,
Gazelles seem nicer,

A zebra has his own sort of appealing pathos,
Especially when he is sure prey for the lion.

Lions have little to offer the spirit.
If we made of ourselves parks and placed the lion

In the constituent he most resembled
He would be in our blood.

Sandra McPherson, “Lions” from Elegies for the Hot Season (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970). Copyright © 1970 by Sandra McPherson. Reprinted with the permission of the author.
Source: Elegies for the Hot Season (Ecco Press, 1970)

Written by Sharon Fennimore, a rogue anthropologist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I love to travel, take walks and seek inspiration in my environment.  When I find something interesting, I share it on my blog and Facebook page: Pilgrimage Pittsburgh.

I Am The Door

Here are two common scenarios for me:

Scenario One: A Friend or Client is Stuck

This happens to me a lot and I guess it is an “occupational hazard” of sorts, but people come to tell me their stories when they feel stuck.  Many of my clients and students have tried everything, gone to every doctor, had all the tests, done all the treatments and they still don’t have the results they desired or the well-being that they were hoping for. I have friends that tell me about their stuck feelings in jobs, work relationships, personal relationships and just how they feel in their lives at this moment.  In many cases, though not all, a path to freedom seems clear to me, the observer.  When I first started this work, I was so delighted when I saw such a clear path because I assumed that if I could communicate it, then my clients could folllow my vision and get free fast.  But, what I immediately realized is that the clear path has always been present for my friend or client and for some reason, they aren’t going to walk down it.  Each of us has to keep putting one foot in front of the other and find that next step on our own.  In many ways, this has been my greatest challenge as an integrative health coach—-learning to walk beside my client offering insight and clarity, but not getting so attached to the “results”.

Scenario Two: I Am Stuck

Oh yes, I get stuck in the ditch of life myself quite often.  And, when I am down there in the darkness of the ditch, all I want is for someone to yank me out and say, “Girl, THIS is what you have to do right now.”  I want someone to provide me with direction, the next step, the right thing to do to get out of the ditch and back on level ground.  Except, just as in the case with my clients and friends, I also know that I would be unlikely to just accept and follow that advice, even if some magical force did yank me out of the ditch and tell me what to do.  It’s likely that I’m down there in the ditch with a shiny and solid ladder right in front of my face.  Why am I not climbing the ladder?  I don’t know.  Why aren’t you climbing the ladder in front of you?  You don’t know.

I AM THE DOOR

We don’t climb the ladder for a lot of reasons, but it is likely because of a spiritual issue, a karmic matter or a soul condition.  I don’t like to talk like this because we all want scientifically proven and documented treatments, cures and methods.  I don’t like to talk like this because as much as I am confident that it is true, I don’t actually know what it means.  All I know is that if you are down in a ditch, that there is a ladder in front of you and you aren’t climbing it because divine order wants you to sit down there a little longer.  Who knows “why”?  Maybe Divine Order wants you to climb up that ladder at the precise moment that you would meet someone walking along who will change your life in a profound way?  Maybe you need to be a certain age or have a certain amount of experience before you can accept what is at the top of that ladder?  It’s absolutely maddening to be in relationship with someone who isn’t climbing their ladder.  You know the friend I’m talking about, the friend who does nothing, day in and day out, but complain about their awful job, but they haven’t even dusted off the old resume to even consider a new job search.  Or, whatever it is…….joyless lovers, sullen sisters, tempestuous rascals….ditch dwellers!  All of them!

IMG_6947That’s why I can’t shout enough about how much I love, adore, admire and am inspired by these church doors in Philadelphia!  The ones that say, as if these red doors weren’t flipping obvious enough even to the legally blind, I AM THE DOOR.  Just in case you were wondering how to get in there, the path to God, to figuring out your relationship with the Divine with a capital “D”, you FOOL with a capital “F”—-I AM THE DOOR.  Because, this is the nature of the human condition.  The human condition is that all that we need is right in IMG_6946front of us, but we need to walk through the door, we need to take action.

The key though is not to think that the fact that the door is obvious makes it “easy” to walk through it.  If we aren’t ready, we can walk in and out of the doors as much as we like, but we will still feel stuck.  They key is being open to inspiration, transformation and the energetic shift required to open to joy.  This is the radical reason why we don’t do anything that is good for us.  I tell people I’m a yoga teacher and they generally have one of three responses:

  1. Oh, I’m not flexible.  I can’t even touch my toes!  I can’t do yoga.
  2. Oh, yoga……I NEED yoga.  I should do yoga.  Really, I am supposed to do yoga.
  3. I love yoga.  I take yoga classes all the time.

Yoga IS a transformative practice.  For the record, you don’t need to be flexible and touching your toes is neither a measurement of general flexibility nor relevant to the practice of yoga.  But, the second response is interesting because it means to me that the person talking knows on some level that practicing yoga would be transformative for them, but they don’t do it.  They are choosing not to walk through the door.  The unlocked door just sits there, closed in the cobwebs of their conciousness, but they aren’t going to approach it and open the door.  They don’t want to know.  “Knowing” doesn’t solve any problems and it might just create additional ones.  Yes, doing yoga can cause a lot of problems.  Walking through the door, coming up on the ladder—it’s messy, ugly and potentially going to rock the quiet little rowboat of your life.

My favorite is when people tell me that they “can’t meditate” because as soon as they sit down their mind starts to race.  News flash!  You know what this means?  It means that your mind is CONSTANTLY racing and you are just letting the distractions of life keep you from this fact.  Your mind didn’t start racing when you sat down, it’s just that you finally took a moment to observe your mind.  That racing mind of yours is causing all kinds of problems for you under the surface.  And, I’d venture a guess that it is causing all kinds of problems for you in your relationships, at work, with your diet and with your satisfaction with life.  You are eating when you aren’t hungry, making agreements you don’t agree to, buying things you don’t really want or need, signing gym contracts when you’ll never see the inside of that locker room, going on that second date with that guy who had too many drinks on your first date but you are really hoping it isn’t a problem and yet you know that it IS a problem…………..Yes, I’m suggesting that you sit there all uncomfortable with your mind racing and your stomach in knots and your shoulders all tied up and tense around your ears and your breath shallow and unsatisfying in your chest.  Just sit there and suffer.  Because that suffering is your door.  You can’t medicate it, avoid it, distract yourself from it, circumambulate it—all you can do is be with it.  Go through it.  See it.  It’s just as obvious as the fact that the red door is the door, yet that church leadership knows that they need to make it plain and simple regardless of how obvious it is.

I AM THE DOOR.

Written by Sharon Fennimore, a rogue anthropologist based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  I love to travel, take walks and seek inspiration in my environment.  When I find something interesting, I share it on my blog and Facebook page: Pilgrimage Pittsburgh.

Extroverted-Introverts Guide to Large Social Events

This past weekend, I went to my 20th college reunion.  My college is my “happy place” and I also love the city that it is in, Philadelphia.  Also, so many of the people that I met in college are some of the most intelligent, creative and genuine people I’ve ever known.  I love to see them and it’s great to be reminded of the magic that is being unique.  Truth be told, I’m not much into socializing with large groups, crowded bars or lots of noise, but I signed up for all the reunion events anyway.  I feel confident that I can protect my energy and since I know the city very well, I also had a personal backup plan for fun things I would do if the reunion events weren’t feeling right to me.

That’s one of the great blessings of yoga in my life that I’ve learned to make choices based on my unique sensitivities that do not limit my participation.  I’ve always been sensitive and sometimes that makes me choose to stay home, to hide, to not say “yes”.  But, that’s not always the best choice for me.  Now that I understand that it is my sensitivity to the energy of others, to sounds, light and the environment in general, I know that I always need a back-up plan.  My back-up plan and early escape route help me feel that I can attend events that might be overwhelming with confidence.  If you feel sensitive in groups or shy, I highly recommend choosing to participate fully in life and just make sure that you have an escape plan that is very attractive to you.  If your “escape plan” isn’t good, then it is easy to feel like you “failed” at the social experience.  Also, you need a healthy escape plan.  If your escape is remaining in an uncomfortable situation and drinking too much alcohol or doing drugs to try to numb yourself to how you really feel, that isn’t nourishing and you will likely take even longer to recover from both the energetic toxicity and the toxins you ingested.  But, if your “escape plan” is something you know you will truly enjoy and can nourish any depleted energy from the time you were in the group, then it feels really wonderful to know that you can have it all.

In addition to having an ecscape plan, there are also things that you can do before attending the event that can help protect your energy in large groups.  First, I like to practice some deep belly breathing while visualizing a shiny silver light all around the perimeter of my body.  I see that I am whole and not easily invaded by the energies of others.  Beyond the silver light that coats the perimeter of my body, I visualize a cotton candy pink light about one foot beyond the silver light.  This is a soft pillow of sweetness that is a barrier to anything harsh or toxic.  It only takes a couple minutes to do this, but I find it is very helpful.

Having a touchstone in your pocket or purse or wearing jewelry with gemstones that protect energy can also be helpful.  I like to keep an emerald quartz in my pocket and then hold it in my hand or rub it with my fingers if I need to ground myself.  Emerald or rose quartz are suited to the hand chakras and are associated with the heart chakra and may be best for big family events, weddings, baby showers and the like.  Tigereye is my preferred touchstone for meetings, interviews or events where I need to remember my personal power.¹  If you aren’t into gemstones, keep something you like in your pocket to touch—maybe a pebble or shell you found on the beach, a colorful marble, or a trinket specially designed for such purposes.  There is a store near me that sells lucky pigs, pocket-size metal guardian angel coins and other items intended to be touchstones.  If you feel like you are susceptible to the energy of others, wear silver jewelry, especially bracelets.

JoyI’ve personally found myself very sensitive to synthetic scents lately, but I like to use my sense of smell to stay sacredgrounded and calm.  I use the essential oil blend “JOY” made by Young Living by placing a drop on my palm and rubbing into into my low back, a drop on each wrist and then placing a dab behind each earlobe.  Since JOY is made in limited quantities, each Young Living member is only permitted to purchase up to one bottle each month. I also recommend an essential oil blend called “SACRED MOUNTAIN” because it is soothing and grounding. This oil is also limited in sales quantities and only available to members. Due to their limited quantities, I do not personally sell these oils, but you can purchase it yourself at a 24% discount off retail pricing as a Young Living member.

24% Membership Discount

stress awayIf you are in the Pittsburgh area and it is convenient for you to pick-up oils in Squirrel Hill at Ola’s Herb Shop (on Forbes Avenue above Ten Thousand Villages), then I do sell two products that you can carry in your purse and use to center at any time: Stress Away Roll-On and Tranquil Roll On. If you want your essential oils shipped directly to you and at a 24% discount, then I highly recommend exploring the membership option above.

BUY Essential Oils

HiResIf you would like a personalized essential oil consultation, then I offer 45-minute consults where you can try out the oils and receive recommendations for the oils that are best for you and how to use them. The consultations are $60 and can be held at my office in Regent Square or at Ola’s Herb Shop in Squirrel Hill. With your purchase of an essential oil consultation, you will also receive FREE enrollment in my online meditation course “A Mindful Month” ($25 value). If you decide to sign-up for a Young Living membership with a premium starter kit after our session, I provide you with a $20 credit towards a future service or online course enrollment with me. You are under NO OBLIGATION to purchase any oils from me or become a Young Living member.

Essential Oil Consultation $60

¹Gemstone information is from “A Handbook of Chakra Healing: Spiritual Practice for Health, Harmony, and Inner Peace” by Kalashatra Govinda.  If you are looking for more techniques for protecting your energy, then try Cyndi Dale’s book, “Energetic Boundaries” for some very helpful ideas for healing and protecting.

Creation Meditation

I was doing some internet research on energetic wounds and back pain and happened across a recommendation for this “Creation Meditation” (this is a very feminine meditation, but it is made available to men as well) and you can also find an audio guided experience here (NOTE: the actual meditation doesn’t start until around 7-minutes into the recording).

Enjoy!

Written by Sharon Fennimore, a yogini teaching yoga, meditation and providing integrative health coaching services to women and families with young children based in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  Sign up for my newsletter and get FREE membership in my online community “Make Room” where you will get all the support you need to clear emotional and physical clutter.