A Practice for New Parents

A Practice for New Parents

By: Kim Catley

There’s a Zen proverb that tells us to let go or be dragged.

Parenthood is one of the great lesson in proving that statement. At a time when your life changes overnight, it’s hard to let go of the comfort and routine you found in your practice.

While juggling kids and groceries and work, I sat down with PYR ambassador Izzy Shurte to talk about how are practices have changed since bring babies on board.

Be patient.

First of all, moms, your body is probably going to need time before it’s ready to flow. You spent months growing a human, you went through labor, you’re struggling with crazy sleep and wake schedules. Don’t expect to hop back on your mat and dive into a power flow (but that’s awesome if you do!).

Izzy had diastasis recti, a separation of the abdominal muscles, and had to avoid core work for a year after giving birth. The demands of breastfeeding also left her craving a slower flow. So she traded her typical sweaty, aggressive practice for whatever aligned with her body that day.

“Just roll out your mat and don’t have any expectations,” she says. “Do what feels good. Maybe it’s holding a lunge for 10 minutes. Maybe it’s starting slow and then leaning in a bit. Whatever happens is fine. Don’t make it stressful; make it organic.”

 

Be creative.

The schedule of a new parent doesn’t always align with a studio schedule. You might not be ready for practice until 9:30 p.m., after dinner is made, dishes put away, and kids are bathed and in bed. Or you’ll try to squeeze in a home flow during naptime, only for your baby to wake up after just 15 minutes.

Having a home practice gives you flexibility to squeeze in a quick session when you find a small pocket of time, even if it means getting up a little early before your house comes to life. Have 10 minutes? Find mountain pose, connect with your breath, go through a few sun salutations, and pause in a brief savasana. Even that small practice can help you feel grounded.

I love getting lost in someone else’s sequences, so I’ll pull up an online class. I can find a length that fits my schedule, and choose a focus area or style that matches what I need.

I also remind myself that yoga is much more than poses, and I can find other ways to incorporate the practice in my daily life. For instance, every night, I sit with my son until he falls asleep in my arms. I hold him close and deepen my breathing, gradually feeling him do the same. He relaxes, letting go of his fidgets and squirms. I take the time to really be with him, undistracted, and notice the subtle changes that are happening every day. It’s my new daily meditation.

Be with your baby.

Don’t have someone to leave your baby with while you head to the studio? Bring her along!

Several Richmond studios offer mom and baby yoga classes, including one at Project Yoga Richmond. It’s hosted by Nurture RVA, a local pre- and post-natal resource, so check their website for a schedule and details.

Nurture’s Baby and Me Yoga class is shaped by the babies in attendance. If everyone is awake and active, you’ll move and sing and play with your baby. If they’re having a snoozy day, you might sneak in a little flow. Bonus: you’ll get to connect with other parents and postnatal experts who can help you navigate the challenges of early parenthood (I learned how bouncing on an exercise ball calmed and soothed a crying infant when nothing else seemed to work).

When the weather turns warm, you also might be able to take advantage of some open-air classes, like Project Yoga Richmond’s Saturday Salutations at the VMFA. I showed up a few times with baby in tow and set up in the grass where he had room to wiggle, and I could quietly sneak out if things took a turn.

This can also apply at home. At first, Izzy wanted to get back to her serious and regimented practice. “I thought I had to have 90 minutes alone in a closed room while my husband watched her.” Now she’s learned that having her daughter nearby — sometimes watching Elmo, sometimes climbing all over her — has made her practice more playful. “It’s our joint self-care routine.”

Be with others.

Wherever your practice takes you, try to find your tribe.

Maybe that’s chatting up the mom sitting next to you in Baby and Me Yoga. Or maybe you meet a friend for class and grab dinner after. Just like you need to find balance in your practice, you need to find balance in life — and sometimes that means a little time on your own.

 

Thank you to all the amazing people who support our efforts to make yoga accessible to all, regardless of age, income, or financial ability! Visit us 7 days a week and pay-what-you-can at our studio and/or give online to make magic moments like this possible for everyone in your community through our yoga and mindfulness outreach programs!

Why should I Meditate?

Often, it can be intimidating to start a meditation practice. We might fear that we cannot do it “correctly”, that we are unable, or the thought of simply sitting with ourselves can be too much. But meditation takes many shapes and forms. One of our lovely meditation teacher’s, JaVonne Bowles is here to help you break down those barriers and fears. Read what JaVonne has to say about getting passed the initial hurdles of meditation and the ways your life may change.

When and why did you start meditating?

My first form of meditation was through journaling, but on January 1, 2016, after volunteering for the first time at PYR and being cued into a Gratitude Meditation, I was invited to check-in the weekly Mindful Meditation Sessions. The yogis that lead these sessions were indispensable.

They made it extremely easy for me when seated meditation was the topic of discussion in my Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) around March 2016. Originally it was a requirement that I kind of dreaded of my YTT, however meditating quickly turned into a “why not” instead of a “why” (if that makes sense). I will have been practicing meditation for 3 years in June :)

What changes have you noticed in your life since practicing meditation?

Journaling took place out of a need to express myself, I’ve always had ideas and thoughts that seemed close, yet still out of reach. Once I began to clear my mental path of where I wanted to go and how I wanted to get there life seemed limitless. Even when I forget that I am capable of accessing this ready-to-go tool, I become slightly frantic and even a little anxious. Meditating constantly reminds me that I am not my thoughts, nor just a physical being – stepping out of the cycle of life truly grounds me. When I think (after a meditation session) or speak from a mindful place, it is not as rough as it used to be. People have told me that I speak with clarity and I owe this to my meditation practice.

What tips do you have for someone looking to start a meditation practice?

There is never a wrong way. We are sometimes conditioned to think that if you are not seated or breathing properly then it is not meditation, I implore you to find what you already enjoy doing and simply change your perspective. For example, if you are a cook and over the years cooking has become second nature, it takes almost nothing of you to prepare a fine meal. Stop and (using the words I’ve recently read in Holly Z’s blog post) “become a novice”. Allow yourself to really think about what it is that you are doing and why. Why choose those spices over the other, why the method you choose, say sauteing, instead of steaming? Enjoy the flow of your breath as you continue to do your regular task. Begin there then practice patience with yourself as you move into the more subtle ways of meditating, for example, a seated practice. Keep a journal and invite random chatter as you place pen onto paper, let the rougher edges of your thoughts, the ones that appear to always be there, to come out.

Why do you enjoy teaching meditation?

I enjoy creating safer spaces. I believe that I have a general understanding of what pressure feels like and the desire to be perfect in every aspect. When I lead meditation, the level of pressure and perfection is placed in your hands – accessible if you wish to delve into it yet first accepting and loving where you currently are.

Have you noticed any changes in your students? If so, what?

When I first started leading, I would always hold space (as my teachers had done for me) for any questions, comments or concerns. Usually it was I that occupied that space alone. The students seemed timid to share and not necessarily content. As I’ve continued to deepen my personal practice, conversations that take place both before and after are full of life and the wonders it has. Perspective has changed.

Join Javonne Bowles and Jena Morrison for meditation weekly at our pay-what-you-can studio! We offer weekly meditation on Wednesdays with Jena at 6pm and Fridays with JaVonne at 11am! Visit our class schedule for more info!

Mindfulness and ESOL Literacy Outreach Program

This weekend, Project Yoga Richmond had the opportunity to present at the 10th annual Equity and Social Justice Conference hosted with the VCU School of Education. The presentation discussed an evolving three-year partnership between Project Yoga Richmond and the English as a Second Language (ESOL) program at Falling Creek Middle School in Chesterfield County to provide Mindfulness/Literacy programming for Newcomer English learners. Using the tools of yoga and meditation, our goal is to share the physical, mental, emotional, and/or spiritual benefits of yoga to help communities and participants develop mind-body awareness and self-regulation, cultivate self-acceptance, and build resilience.

Our partnership with PYR started in the 2014-2015 school year.  To give some context, the so-called “border crisis” had been in the news that summer. Increasing numbers of immigrants were crossing the Southern border. Large numbers of children, including unaccompanied minors were coming into the US from the Northern Triangle countries of Central America (El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras). This was happening in response to increasing levels of violence and poverty there. That year, Falling Creek experienced a surge in enrollment of Newcomer ESOL students that continues today. Newcomers are new speakers of English who are in their first year of US schooling.

That same year, Carolyn Waters, ESOL teacher at Falling Creek and second-year doctoral students in the Curriculum, Culture, and Change track at VCU’s School of Education was part of a MERC teacher action research cohort at VCU, and did a project on family engagement for ESOL families. In talking to students and their families she heard many stories of separations and reunifications due to parents immigrating first then sending for their students, traumatic experiences in the home countries, interrupted schooling, difficult immigration journeys, and border detentions.

In the classroom, this seemed to manifest in increased challenging behaviors: difficulty focusing on school work, attention-seeking behaviors, fights, students shutting down and disengaging, parents telling us they had just gotten their teenage children back after long separations and weren’t how to handle anger and defiance, lack of native language literacy to build on for learning English. At one of PYR’s community fundraising events, Saturday Salutations, Carolyn heard about PYR’s outreach programs and their mission provide access to yoga and applied to have a program at her school as she believed her students would benefit from the practice.

Around the time of the Falling Creek ESOL program application, PYR as an organization was starting to engage in discussions around Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACEs, and how yoga, meditation, and mindfulness could be a community resource for serving youth and helping to build resilience.  The ACE’s study was conducted by Kaiser Permanante and the CDC and associated adverse childhood experiences with health and social issues as an adult.  Childhood experiences, both positive and negative, have a significant impact on health and opportunity.  ACES have been linked to adopting risky health behaviors, chronic health behaviors and social problems, and shortened life expectancies.

Project Yoga Richmond also recently hosted a Trauma-Informed Yoga Training for its Ambassadors to ensure that teachers feel prepared to work with populations who may have experienced trauma. The primary intention of a trauma-informed yoga practice is to promote self-regulation.  Self-regulation is the state of being grounded, centered, and oriented in present time.  It allows for a sense of safety and resiliency and can lead to healing. Self-regulation is not about feeling only the good stuff.  It’s about being able to tolerate discomfort.  Being able to feel discomfort (a sore back) while feeling a resource (your feet on the floor) creates resilience.  Resilience means being able to feel our fear/anger/grief while also feeling that there is part of us that is okay.

In our yoga and mindfulness programs, our goal is to provide an environment where students can experience self-care and compassion.  The purpose of yoga is to not deny the uncomfortable or bad experiences, but to show that there are also good, supported ones.  And to offer the tools that aid in healing and that promote a general sense of wellbeing and hopefully ease.

With this particular program, we decided to have a smaller class size, as to provide the opportunity during reflection for Carolyn and Holly to speak to each student and cultivate connection.  For most part, we have had a consistent group of students, which helps in building trust and hopefully resilience.

When onboarding a new outreach program, Project Yoga Richmond is very intentional in its selection of accountable community partners and our ability to pair Ambassadors with relevant experience to the proper program. Holly Zajur, PYR’s Communications Manager and a PYR Ambassador, is currently teaching our outreach program at Falling Creek. Holly was a natural fit to teach this program based upon her work with the Hispanic community throughout her life as well as her teaching experience.

Holly feels deeply connected to teaching at Falling Creek for a number of reasons. When she was young, Holly was fluent in Spanish, but after going to school, she got embarrassed and stopped speaking. She now teaches yoga at Falling Creek in both Spanish and English to demonstrate the struggles of learning a second language and to encourage students to practice both Spanish and English. While she teaches, students often help her with the language, which helps them to recognize the importance of their native language and gain confidence, as well we demonstrating that it is okay to make mistakes when learning a second language.

Holly understands the powerful potential that yoga has to transform her students’ lives. She is aware that her students may not know where they are going to sleep next week, or if they will still be in school. These students already are, and will continue to face more adversity than ever before. She believes that in order to be successful, yoga is necessary to help navigate through the uncertainty they face on a daily basis.

This past week, a student at Falling Creek who is always enthusiastic and eager to participate had just come from the principal’s office and was visibly upset, and excused himself during class. At the end of class, Holly asked that young boy to walk her to the office before she left. She provided a walking meditation for the student followed by a moment to talk and reflect about why practicing yoga is important.

At the core of the program, yoga and mindfulness encourages connection and then redirection to integrate both the right and left sides of the brain. Using Holly’s example from class this past week, the yoga movement provided in class was a vehicle to connecting with the feelings or right side of the brain.

The walking meditation and individual time with the student was another source of connection.  Once the connection is made, there is an opportunity to redirect the energy with logic and understanding.  Redirection happens during the times of journaling (which is placed after the yoga practice) or when the student started to articulate the reasons why he practices yoga, therefore integrating the left side of the brain.

How can yoga be useful for healing trauma and building resilience?
  • Yoga provides a fully integrated experience by which a connection is made to one’s own body and to others.
  • Through breath, movement and experience in the present moment, yoga creates rhythms that aid in regulation.
  • Yoga is a structured, supported, self-paced way for students to make small, manageable choices with respects to their bodies – and the shapes they make – that are kind and compassionate.  In making these safe, healthy choices, students can start developing skills around acting rather than reacting

We follow some basic principles when teaching in this setting that promotes a shared experience of safety, inclusivity, and compassion.

 

  • Always consider the room set up and place mats in a circle as opposed to rows
  • Take final relaxation on their stomachs
  • Repetition of movement/sequences – to build trust, confidence, and competence – a student now leads a warrior sequence
  • The language used is always invitational, options are provided but not too many as too much choice might be dissociative

Carolyn did a quasi-experimental study of the students at the beginning and end of a yoga session one day last spring.  Using a validated survey instrument developed by a researcher from the Psychology Department at VCU, Dr. Kirk Warren Brown the “Mindfulness Attention Awareness Scale – Adolescent” which we translated into Spanish.  The instrument is designed to measure “state mindfulness” or mindfulness in the moment (as opposed to “trait mindfulness” which is more general all day mindfulness). Mindfulness scores increased for every student, with a very large effect size and statistically significant results.

We are proud of our program at Falling Creek Middle School look forward to continuing our partnership and working on making this program as powerful as possible for our students. To support our ESOL program at Falling Creek and our other outreach programs, make a tax-deductible donation today!

Can Acro Yoga Help Build Trust?

We believe yoga has the power to heal and strengthen individuals and in turn, transform whole communities. We work hard to increase access to yoga because we see this transformation on a daily basis through our students. We are honored that one of our student’s, Julia Bardof, took the time to share a part of her story with us and reflected on the ways acro yoga has changed her life.

“To say yoga has changed my life is an understatement. Yoga, Acro Yoga, and Thai medicine are now intertwined parts of my being. They have all played an integral part of my healing process on so many levels. Yoga has physically helped my symptoms from Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, while mentally and emotionally helping me find more balance and peace.

When reflecting on the ways Acro Yoga has transformed my life, trust is one of the first words that come to mind. Acro Yoga provides a space for me to trust myself to get out of my own head and allow movement to happen. To trust another human to suspend me in the air, to fully support another human-being them safely to the ground, trusting the spotter has your back, should something go awry.

The initial trusting of each other’s strengths is one thing, but trusting another human on a deeper level, that takes time to cultivate. To truly connect with another human in that moment to create a fluid movement together. To know that you are not alone. This is where Acro changes lives. To me, this practice goes much deeper than the physical. Unfortunate trauma in my earlier years, left me quite guarded, especially regarding physical touch and overall social anxiety. This practice just continues to help breakdown barriers.

None of these amazing things could happen without a group of loving, welcoming, individuals who’ve also gone through their struggles, who have experienced the medicine of physical touch and true connection.  Individuals who have chosen to open up and allow for change and healing to occur together. The Acro Yoga Richmond community sparks so much love, joy, and compassion. I feel blessed to be a part of it.”

Through acro yoga, we hope to provide a place for you to heal, trust, and support one another. Join us this Sunday, February 19 and Acro Yoga 101 with Kim Catley from 2-4:30 pm! If this practice is new to you, do not fear, all are welcome and we have this blog post for you to help answer any questions!

 

Photography: Kaiya Healing Arts

Your Power: Social Sharing

Who would have thought that a life changing organization would have started through a Facebook post? But that is exactly how Project Yoga Richmond emerged. The idea grew from the beloved Arlene Bjork’s desire to take yoga to the people in their communities and make it accessible to everyone who wanted it. It wasn’t another yoga studio, exactly; it was a place for community, with yoga at its core. After Arlene passed away in 2009, a group of her students came together and reflected on her life and teachings. Then, PYR Co-Founder Jonathan “J” Miles put his idea into words and posted on Facebook. 6 years later, Project Yoga Richmond is thriving and lives are changing.

While social media has its point to be cautious of, we know how powerful it can be. There are a lot of ways you can support your community through Project Yoga Richmond. Some choose to support us through practicing at our pay-what-you-can studio. Some volunteer. Some donate. In addition to these and the many other ways that you make our community stronger, we want to highlight one of the simplest, yet most powerful ways that you can help us increase access to yoga in the Greater Richmond region. Social sharing.

Here are a few simple ways you can increase access to yoga from the comfort of your couch through social media!
1. Like our Facebook page and invite your friends to do the same
  • The more people that like and follow our Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn pages, the more people we reach! The more people we reach, the more people we can serve!
  • From 2016 to 2017 we went from 4,726 Facebook followers to over 5,850! Thanks to this increase we were able to reach over 1,000 new people that we were able to reach and share the benefits of yoga with! We also provided 19,999 yoga experiences in 2016, our highest number yet!

 

2. Sign up for our newsletter
  • We promise to respect your privacy and to provide engaging content, plus then you get the inside scoop on what is happening in our community! You can sign up now by clicking here! (Sign up is at the bottom of the page)
3. Like, comment, and share the content on our Facebook, Instagram, and email that you enjoy!
  • The more you like, share, and comment on our posts, the more others will see it as well. The more engagement a post receives, the more people it will reach! Plus this shows us what you like so we can create more of the information you want to see!
4. Post your own pictures at our studio and events on your own social media accounts!
  • Don’t forget to tag us! @projectyogarichmond
5. Participate in social media challenges
  • Follow our Instagram account and participate in challenges to win PYR prizes as your increase access to yoga!!
6. Invite friends to events that are interesting to you
  • The more, the merrier! Share events and workshops with friends and encourage them to come by inviting them on Facebook. This also creates ways for you to connect with people you care about at our studio as you support your community!

 

7. If you volunteer or teach at Project Yoga Richmond, share it on your LinkedIn!

 

8. Share with friends in person about Project Yoga Richmond
  • Nothing beats hearing about something special from someone you care about. Inspire others by sharing your experience with them!
9. Connect at our studio
  • Bring all of those social media connections to life and walk through our pay-what-you-can studio doors with a friend!
  • Try making a Facebook status before attending a class and extending and open invitation for anyone to come!

Feel free to participate and share in whatever ways you feel best for you. Thank you for all that you do to support us as we increase access to yoga. We are constantly reminded of the many ways in which you bring yoga to your community through your service and dedication to Project Yoga Richmond.

The latest on classes and special events, plus an inside look at how practicing with PYR helps our community. Sign up here.