Tired

Do you have days where you feel you are not ready to face ‘the world’? I sometimes have such days. I feel tired and irritable and feel that I don’t have the energy to face whatever small or bigger challenges the day might bring… I know, it sounds dramatic, and luckily, I don’t have many of those days, but I do have them. Especially after an intense period at work and/or at home.

I try to work with my mindset, and I also try to find out why I feel like that to avoid going into that space. There can be different reasons, but what was overwhelming my mind this morning was the thought of having to ‘deal’ with teenagers the whole day to come home and ‘deal’ with my own teenagers the whole evening.

Neither my students nor my own kids are especially difficult teenagers, but I often have a feeling that as a teacher and as a mum, I am constantly negotiating with them to do what they actually don’t want to do, and trying to explain why they need to do less of what they actually do want to do.

I can go on and on in my mind about why it is so tiring and why I am so worried and wonder also if I am right or if I am exaggerating. This usually makes me feel even more tired and overwhelmed, and I start dreading certain situations that lie ahead in my day: a lesson because I know how certain students are going to behave and I am going to have to deal with it, a situation at home because I will have to be stern and I don’t feel like it.

I was having one of those clairvoyance moments by the kitchen counter this morning when I realized that all I have to do is to do my job. I just have to show up, and if the usual suspects do the usual that require me intervening, I just have to pull them aside and take that conversation all over again. It doesn’t really matter how they react to it. Whether they respond well or not, it is up to them. All I need to do is to stay calm, be clear, maybe even be stern and stop reading people so much. Stop expecting this or that, and most of all, stop dreading uncomfortable situations/conversations. They are what they are, I can make them less uncomfortable by keeping my cool and talking calmly.

I recently read somewhere something like “burnout happens when we have expectations connected to our actions”. Yoga philosophy says something similar without using the word ‘burnout’. We cultivate a peaceful state of mind by doing our best and letting go of the fruits of our actions. I think I get very tired because I am constantly absorbing my students’ and my kids’ reactions to what I say and do.

So, on my way to work today, I kept repeating to myself “be clear, be firm, but don’t get angry. If I get a negative reaction from a student, let it be”. It might sound weird, but I keep telling myself that the less I focus on what other people do or don’t do and the more I focus on what I do and why I do it, the less stressed and tired I will feel. I also think that putting my attention in myself allows me to be more mindful of how I act and why.

It turned out to be a good day at work with the usual challenges, but I think my mindset helped me stay focused and less stressed. I really need to remember this every day.

At home, things are also what they need to be. I keep choosing my battles. and reminding myself to speak calmly but firmly even if it is the millionth time I ask my youngest to pick up her dirty clothes from the bathroom floor.

Can you relax without stimuli?

The other day, I shared a short relaxation session with my colleagues where the main focus was to use the breath. I know that for many, the idea of sitting ‘just’ breathing sounds intimidating and maybe even boring, so I divided the session into three parts. One where we would connect the breath with soft movements (achievable for all kinds of bodies), another with a simple breathing exercise, and the last one with a body scan. The whole session lasted for approximately twenty minutes.

After the session, one of my colleagues told me it was very nice to ‘check in’ with herself. She said that while she was sitting there, she noticed how she was feeling and realized she hadn’t take the time to notice before. This reminded me of something I have been reflecting a lot about lately. It seems to me that most of us rarely take the time to slow down and just be, to check in with ourselves.

It is, of course, understandable that we all have different ways to cultivate our well-being, some choose to go for a run, others to watch a TV show, and although this does allow us to disconnect from everyday tasks, it is not necessarily bring long-lasting well being for our body and mind. During the years I have been practicing Yoga, I have come to the conclusion that there is a difference between sense indulging and self-care. I don’t necessarily think that indulging is wrong, it is nice to sometimes give in to a guilty pleasure, and as mentioned above, it can be part of our toolkit to disconnect from everyday life, but the thing is, I don’t think only indulging is going to bring real peace of mind because the satisfying feeling only lasts for a short period of time. In addition, we might seek activities that stimulate our mind and body like food, alcohol, and even entertainment, which feel good at the moment but do not allow for our nervous system to reset and restore.

I believe self-care requires more work, but less fuss. Self-care might bring some immediate comfort, and at times it can also bring some discomfort. In the long run, however, it brings peace of mind.

I might be biased by my enthusiasm towards the practice of Yoga meditation, but in my view, the only way we can really relax and take care of our well-being is by bringing silence to our body and mind on a regular basis. The challenge is, however, to have the patience to bear the noise our mind makes when we turn off the external noise. This is where the work starts because we need to learn to be with the noise of our mind as if it was background music. It is there, we notice it, but we choose not to do anything about it at that moment. We do not judge, we do not try to change it.

These moments of external silence but internal noise can be precious because like my colleague put it, it is then we have the opportunity to ‘check in’ with ourselves. We create the space to feel and think, we allow our mind to express itself. Sometimes, that is all we need. To give ourselves some ‘self-attention’, sometimes, we need further reflection on what is going on and what we need to do about it.

Making room for moments of silence and softness in our life not only helps us deal with our thoughts better, it also has an effect on our nervous system which in turn influences our state of mind. In addition, when we learn to quiet the mind on a regular basis, we are able to benefit from this practice in moments of intense distress.

To begin with, I recommend a combination of techniques like soft movement with breath for the busy mind. Practices like soft yoga asana, Tai Chi or even Qi Gong, going for a walk but with the awareness of being with yourself, with your breath, and trying to leave other distractions aside. Simple breathing exercises can also be very useful. Some help calm down the body and the mind, others are energizing. Yoga Nidra, is als a very good way to relax, and the fact that you need to focus on different body parts keeps your mind busy. If your mind is very very busy, I recommend writing. Sit in a quiet place for five to ten minutes and let words flow. No structure, no purpose, just write. Avoid reading what you write. Just leave it. This is a very nice way to ’empty’ the mind. Once you have practiced this for a while, you can start journaling. There are different ways to do it. I often like to sit down and write my reflections of the day, often, a specific aspect of it takes more place, and I discover quite a lot about myself and my interactions with the world. I often realize that something that seemed overwhelming when traped in my mind, wasn’t that bad when put into words in my notebook.

Whatever works for you, try to create at least one moment of quiet calmness in your everyday routine. With practice, you will notice the difference it makes in you. You might notice that the urge to indulge will reduce as you create more space for what I like to call ‘real’ self-care.

On spirituality, Halloween, Yoga, contentment, less stress and less waste

Human History is marked with quite a few gruesome actions done in the name of religion. I believe, however, that humanity needs spirituality. Spirituality and religion are not the same. In my view, religion is the institutionalizing of spirituality, and if we are not aware of this, we might end up putting our mind and well-being in the hands of someone else, which in turn is the opposite of spirituality.

Living a spiritual life for me means to take responsibility for my thoughts and actions, to do what I need to do to cultivate a calm and content state of mind. This is, of course, beneficial for me, but I believe that through that work, I also benefit my surroundings because I start seeing the connections. I see how my attitudes and actions affect me and the world around me. In addition, when I take my well-being into my own hands, I demand less from the world. Furthermore, when I learn to know myself better, I accept my place in the world and play my roles from a place of giving instead of receiving.

Spirituality can be anchored in different traditions, but for many people, it can be a personal practice without any adherence to any tradition. I know a few people who in my view live a spiritual life without even being aware of it, even less calling themselves spiritual. In my case, spirituality came in the form of Yoga practices. That is why I write about it, but if you find another path that works for you, stick to it.

Contentment is an important aspect of Yoga. I sincerely believe that many of the struggles we experience today would reduce or even disappear if we had a more conscious approach to contentment. Contentment is a state of mind, and it needs to be cultivated inwardly. In order to cultivate contentment, we need to slow down, to let go of the excess of actions and impulses we are used to having in our lives. We need to prioritize. We need to reflect on what can stay and what needs to go. We need to be aware of our impulses and work towards a less dependant relationship to our senses. The more dependent our happiness is on sensory input, the more we want, the more we demand from the world around us. This has a direct impact on the people we mingle with and the environment. Just think about it for a moment, if you manage to cultivate a content inner state, you will consume less, or at least more mindfully, and this will have a direct impact on the environment. If on the contrary, your happiness is dependant on material things, the more you buy, the more you own, the more you want. Happiness from material things lasts for a short period of time. It doesn’t take long after we have acquired something before we want something else.

I believe slowing down and prioritizing are crucial to cultivating contentment. It is difficult to live mindfully unless we slow down. I have Halloween as an example. Our youngest daughter loves Halloween, ever since she was in preschool. She used to say that Halloween was her favorite ‘season’. For her, there was Spring, Summer, Halloween, and Christmas. To begin with, Halloween represented another thing ‘to-do’ in a busy everyday life with three kids. It represented, to be honest, stress. However growing up in Mexico, Halloween and Dia de Muertos kind of merged when I was a child, and it was something I also used to look forward to. So, throughout the years in our home in Norway, we have developed a tradition for Halloween. A more conscious approach to it. Since it is important and fun for our girls, we take the time to prepare for it to make it a fun season and avoid stress and impulsive shopping. The girls and I start planning for their costumes before the Fall Break. They decide what they want to be. During the Fall Break, we go to the second-hand shops to find clothes and accessories to make their costumes and start the process. We then use our spare time to work on the costumes. Some years ago, we found a recipe for ‘spider cookies’ we like to bake every year. The girls usually invite a friend each to join us. To avoid too much waste, we pop popcorn to give away to the kids that come trick-or-treating, and I don’t buy Halloween decorations. We don’t have space to keep them and I don’t want to create waste just for one day. The only decoration is a pumpkin that we carve together. When our son was part of the celebrations, we used to run a competition. Each kid would draw an idea for the pumpkin and my husband would choose the winner. This year, I was made aware of the amount of water and energy that goes to cultivate all the pumpkins we buy for Halloween. So, we made baked pumpkin seeds for snacks and I used the pumpkin ‘meat’ for pancakes. Next year, our goal is to cultivate our own pumpkin! On November 1, I bake Pan de Muerto, the culminating part of our Halloween celebrations.
I think that Halloween is perfect for us living up north. It is the time of the year where we gradually stay indoors more, and we then have handcraft activities to do. It has become a project between the girls and me instead of another stressful thing I have to plan on my own, on the run. And the whole process starts all over again in mid-November to start preparing for Christmas as we now try to handmade presents for family and pick what we think would be useful presents for friends.

I don’t mean to say that this is the perfect way to do things, but I am content with how it has developed so far. I know there is room for improvement when it comes to being environmentally friendly – like the pumpkin – but nothing is ever set in stone, so we learn as we go.

Lessons from lower back pain, again

Last week, my old friend lower back pain payed me a visit. It was an unexpected visit since we haven’t met each other for a while. The first time was shortly after my younger daughter was born. Since then, we met every once in a while, until I started practicing yoga ‘for real’.

What do I mean by that? Well, to begin with, when I finally took the time to practice regularly. During the last seven years, I practice almost daily, at least ten to twenty minutes a day, sometimes, if I have more time, up to an hour.

Consistency is not enough in itself though. It is good only when it allows for me to get to know my body better and do what I know is good for it. Practicing yoga asana daily could be harmful if I don’t practice mindfully.

So when I say that I started practicing yoga ‘for real’, I mean yoga in the extended sense of the word. Not just yoga as a physical practice, but as a way of living. I have had to accept my body as it is and not want to push it to what I want it to be or do. I know that lower back pain has been an issue for me during the last twelve years, so I take this into consideration during my daily practice. I focus on strengthening exercises and poses several times a week, I try to be mindful of not over doing certain poses like forward bends, and vary the poses I practice in a period of time to avoid injuries.

I believe in the power of simplicity, so I keep my practice to the basic poses, and have let go of the need to do poses that I feel unsure about. If I had the guidance of my yoga teacher on a regular basis, and he would consider it beneficial for my practice to introduce such poses, I would, but to push my body into them just because they look cool, or because that’s what is ‘expected’ from a yoga teacher, is not good enough reason for me.

But back to the lower back pain. Why did it come back? Well, because I ‘forgot’ to listen to my body. Some weeks ago, Isigned up for a series of yoga classes with a teacher that I enjoy, and got carried away by the ‘fun’ of doing poses I usually don’t do. And why do I write about it? Well, there are two main reasons:

  1. I know quite a few people that have gotten injured while practicing yoga asana, and then we tend to believe that yoga is not for everyone, or that yoga can be harmful. What is harmful is the need we have to push our body to do things it is not ready for, or that it doesn’t really need. Yoga asana is a very nice way to keep the body healthy, work with the breath and calm the mind, but it needs to be done mindfully and with respect for our body and its limitations. I honestly believe that one can practice yoga asana every day without getting injured as long as one doesn’t get carried away by ego.
  2. It is so important to learn to know our own body and work with it instead of against it. There is a very fine line between pushing it a bit to get stronger or gain better stamina and pushing it to the point of injury. I believe the practice of yoga is at its best when we create our own practice because we can then listen to our body at all times and create a practice that is suitable for that specific moment. It is of course, important to have a good teacher that can guide us from time to time, someone who we can trust, but most of the work needs to be done by us.

Luckily, I know more or less what I need to do when this good old lower back pain pays me a visit, and I’m already starting to feel better – with a little help from my chiropractor. My reflections about this experience can also be applied everyday life. It is so important to find our own way! Learn to know who we are, accept our shortcomings and know our strengths, identify our values and priorities and live accordingly. There is nothing wrong in observing what other people do, listen to opinions and even learn from others, but avoid doubting ourselves every time someone says or does something differently.

Saving our children from painful situations

A friend and I were talking the other day about our sons who are the same age and soon will have to choose what kind of studies they want to do for high school. Here in Norway, they can choose to go the ‘regular’ pathway that can lead them to university, or they can choose to learn a profession and come out being able to work. The latter is, of course, less prestigious than acquiring a university degree, but a good option to those who either have a clear idea or know well their skills, or who are tired of so much theory at school and want to do more practical work throughout the three years of high school.

My husband and I believe that, if our son chooses to choose a profession oriented pathway, we will support him. She is of the idea that her son (and our son) should choose the pathway that allows them to go to university. She has good arguments, and I don’t disagree with her, but what triggered this post was what she said at some point:

‘I want my son to make choices that will allow him to do something with his life in a way that is as painless as possible.’

Or something like that. Her argument is that, if they choose the profession pathway, and they change their minds in some years and want to go to university, it might be too late for them to study for and pass the exams required for those who don’t follow the ‘regular’ pathway. Valid arguments.

Can we really prevent our kids from experiencing pain?, and maybe most importantly, should we prevent our kids from experiencing pain?

The answer, is of course neither yes nor no. It is our instinct and to a certain degree our duty as parents to protect our children as much as we can, but lately, I keep thinking that this well-meant attitude might harm our children more than help them, and what is more, will exhaust us, because lets face it, no matter how much I try to keep pain away from my kids, pain will reach them at some point. Pain is part of life.

How can we harm our children by protecting them from pain? Well, it is through the experience of pain that we learn resilience, patience and perseverance. It is through painful situations that we often grow because we are pushed to take a self-check, to evaluate our situation, to learn and move forward. Maybe the key is not to spend most of our time and energy preventing our kids from making mistakes, but rather create a relationship of trust so when they make mistakes, when life gets tough, they know they can get through it by their own strength, and/or get our support if they need it to gain the strength to stand up on their own feet again.

Don’t misunderstand me, I do want my son to make choices that allow him to live a happy and meaningful life, and I do say my opinion whenever he is about to make a choice, but I also try very hard to remind myself to let go of the need to control him. I have to accept that he needs to make his own choices and deal with the consequences. I just hope that the day he makes a mistake or a choice that brings pain to his life, we will be able to support him in a way that helps him reflect, grow and move on.

I see it as a teacher too. I am thankful that I teach in times where we have a lot of focus on students’ social and emotional well-being, but I also feel that sometimes we feel obliged to micro-mange them to avoid emotional distress. If football games during playtime get too rough, we ban them. Parents contact us often when their child has had a conflict with another child often with the expectation that we will ‘fix it’ without the kids being involved to ‘avoid the distress’ caused by heaving to deal with the situation.

Although I understand the intentions behind this kind of expectations, I think that kids need to experience all sorts of emotions and learn how to deal with them. Both their own emotions and other people’s emotions. Maybe instead of banning the football game, we can have the necessary conversations – over and over again – to help them reflect on what went right and what went wrong, and more importantly, how they can do better next time. We help the students better by creating the space for them to talk and find common ground, and understand how they feel and how their peers feel. Maybe sometimes kids need to find their own solutions without adult involvement.

If you’ve been around for more than twenty years, you would agree that in life, we go through phases, some phases are more painful than others, but often, the most painful ones bring also a lot of growth. I teach students between 13 and 16 years old, and many changes happen during those years. Some teenagers go through tough periods trying to figure out who they are and what they want. It is painful for them, and often even more for their parents. The parents that suffer the most are those who try very hard to steer their children into a specific direction believing that that is the right direction. Or being overly worried about their child’s confusion. What I often observe from the outside is that the kids that have been raised with a set of clear values, that have parents that are present and available, manage to go through and beyond phases of confusion and pain and grow from them. It requires patience, resilience and perseverance from both themselves and their parents.

Reflecting about this, I have made myself some mental guidelines as a mum and as a teacher that I try to follow:

  • Walk the talk. Live my life as much in line as possible with what I believe in. Accept my mistakes and grow from them. Reflect with my children about them. I don’t need to pretend that I am perfect, or devoid from emotion.
  • Be mindful of how I react when my children make a mistake. Try to show understanding and be open for discussion instead of being judgemental.
  • When appropriate, share my views or opinion on something, explain why I think like I do, but make it clear that the choice is theirs (and hope for the best).
  • Remember that each one of my kids is an individual with their own path to walk. Be supportive, be present, but not controlling.
  • Help them go through difficult emotions. Explore and accept the pain to then let go and learn from it.
  • Keep learning together with my kids how to better support them in their own path. After all, parenting is all about learning by doing.