Pratyahara – Finding Peace of Mind

In Ayurveda there is a concept called pratyahara. The word comes from prati meaning ‘against’ and ahara meaning ‘food’ (or anything that we take into ourselves). Pratyahara means taking control of outside influences. In a noisy and busy world, it is easy to feel sensory overwhelm – physical, emotional and mental imbalance from the continuous input.  We are surrounded by input – books, computers, phones, television, and small children needing snacks!  These sensory impressions are the food for our mind.  You know how you feel after one too many cinnamon buns? Too much sensory input (or a constant diet of junk food for the mind) can make us feel ill at ease, on edge.  It’s easy to get lost in the noise, feeding fear and emotional dis-ease.  If you’ve been feeling that prickly,  nervous feeling, there are things you can do to release the stress and reset your nervous system. We can all benefit from regularly unplugging and managing  input.  For true, deep healing, we need to move our body and mind into rest – into pratyahara.

Like all the tools of Ayurveda, pratyahra is a practice that can – and should – be tailored for the unique individual.

Those with a Vata constitution (you can discover more about your dosha here) should make an effort to practice pratyahara daily. Turning off the noise helps calm a busy and restless mind.

For Pitta constitutions, pratyahara can help relax the body and mind. Those of a Kapha constitution who tend to be slower can practice pratyahara by engaging in higher level mental practices that are both energizing and grounding.

Ayurveda offers us tools that are easy to incorporate into the daily routines we already engage in.  Here are some ideas that I have been using in my own life to practice pratyahara (right sense management). They are easy to incorporate into your day to day living and will help you bring a lightness and peace into your days.  Sift through to find the ones that resonate with you.

One of the easiest things to do is to simply turn off the noise. What do you do first thing in the morning? Do you turn on the news, scroll through your phone? Take a look at your day – make a list of all the things that come at you through the day.  

  • What is your morning like?
  • What are mealtimes like?
  • What happens in the afternoon?
  • What do you do in the evening? 

After you’ve created an outline of what your day looks like – start looking at areas where you can ‘turn down the noise’. If you have a busy Vata mind and reach for your phone or the radio first thing in the morning, replace that with a different action for a week or so. If you are a Kapha, try getting up and stretching, doing a sun saluation or other exercise before reaching for work emails or social media scrolling.

Can you turn down the noise at mealtime? Leave the TV off, sit everyone at the table and give thanks for your food. Becoming intentional with the simplest of things can help tune out some of the outside noise and bring your body and mind into the present. 

Is your afternoon full of meeting your children’s needs, feeling like you never get a chance to just simply sit? Try creating quiet time – turn on an audio book for the children, create a cozy nook and encourage them to take their own quiet time.  Create an afternoon ritual of storytelling and reading, giving everyone an opportunity to slow down and engage in right management of the senses. 

When the kids are in bed, do you immediately reach for your phone or turn on the TV? Think about what you can do in the evening that allows your body and brain to take a break from all the input and make a few evenings a week “screen free”.

If you start to consciously manage the input coming at you and your children every day, in a week or so you will notice that you feel lighter and more at ease. 

Before you get out of bed in the morning, take a few minutes to set an intention for your day – a thought or prayer to carry with you through the day. I hung a card by the door in my bedroom, something to read as I walk out in the morning to set a level of intention for the day. 

“I let go of all expectations I place on myself and others as I meet every moment with love.”

Even if the kids are already awake, I pour myself a glass of water and sip it while the sun comes up before tending to anything else.  What space can you give yourself in the morning routine to ground and nourish yourself?

Try taking five minutes to be still after you’ve brushed your teeth. Use your favorite skin cream and rub it gently into your skin before you leave the bathroom. Take a few deep breaths. For 10 seconds, bring all of your attention to your eyes. Close your eyes tightly then allow them to relax. Notice the feeling of your eyelashes brushing your face. 

Take your cup of water and hold it between both palms. Close your eyes and take a deep breath.  The entire universe exists in that water, sip it slowly, you have the time. There’s nothing to rush to. 

The next time you notice you are becoming tense in your movements and words – stop what you are doing. Take a slow deep breath.  Use your fingers to massage your cheeks, smoothing your forehead. Rubbing the stress from your jaw. 

These small moments add up each day, grounding you and gifting you a little relief from tension around you. 

Pratyahara offers us an opportunity to tune into ourselves, becoming mindful of our emotional and physical state, bringing balance to body and mind.

Practicing Self Care and what my children are learning

yoga ayurveda
Photo by Eternal Happiness on Pexels.com

Before I had children, I would roll out of bed in the morning to the sound of the work alarm. A quick stretch, a shower and breakfast before heading out the door. My morning routine was consistent, simple and but usually rushed. When I became a parent, I spent a year at home, learning how to nourish a small human. My wake up alarm was now a tiny being needing milk, a diaper change, a cuddle.

It took time, but we settled into a new routine. A welcome the sun at dawn kind of routine, a try to feed myself breakfast with a baby balanced on my hip kind of routine. A semi-chaotic movement in the early darkness hoping I was doing it all right.

As most new parents, I became tired. Worn out. Frustrated by nights fraught with interrupted sleep, having to be and do all of the things, all of the time, mostly on my own. The only support offered was “sleep when the baby sleeps” or “make time for self care! Have a bubble bath while dad watches the baby!”

Surely self care for mothers should go beyond the basic hygiene cycle of a solo shower? And don’t get me started on who picks up the slack in the house when mom steps out for ‘self care!

Mornings have settled, I’ve found a better balance between caring for children and caring for me. I’ve leaned into this season of life, and my children have taught me that moving slowly is sometimes best.

Recently I have started adopting Ayurvedic practices into my daily rhythms. Even if the children are awake, I spend time on pranayama (breathwork). I give the kids an early morning snack and do some yoga in the living room. I do some dry brushing or abhyanga (oil massage). Throughout all this, there are children underfoot. Sometimes they join in, asking for some oil to rub into their feet, or joining me on the yoga mat. Sometimes they tumble and play around me as I breathe.

I watched them today, watching me practicing pranayama. It struck me that I don’t remember my own mother practicing intentional self care. My hero of a mother spent all her time caring for her children. I remember her staying up late to clean up the kitchen. I remember her spending hours with us at the library and the park. I remember her researching and preparing learning experiences. I remember her reading aloud to us and jumping in mud puddles with us.

I don’t remember her leaving for a night out. I don’t remember her taking time for herself. She gave herself wholly to the work of mothering and I am grateful for her care. I wish she knew she was worthy of so much love and time, as a young mother with small busy children. She deserves rest.

As I watch my own children watching me, I am struck by what patterns and habits they are absorbing from simply observing me. When they see me, nurturing myself, I hope they will learn (and remember) that they are worthy of self love. That tending your mind and body are habits worth cultivating. I hope they will learn to care for themselves and advocate for themselves because they see me owning my own worth.

So even when it’s messy and a little bit chaotic, I take that time for myself. I show my children that I believe in my own worth. If they follow me out of bed in the early morning, I continue with my breath work and invite them to share a cup of tea with me. I finish abhyanga and spend a few minutes in meditation. I let my children participate when they want to. I turn ordinary moments into rituals and rhythms of self care. I approach motherhood as meditation, slowly and mindfully.

This is the wisdom of Ayurveda, learning about yourself, loving yourself, taking responsibility for your own being and balance.

Winter Play Invitations

What to do when it feels too cold to go outside and your kids still need that time with nature?

Create a few simple indoor play invitations to chase away those winter blues and spark wonder.  Here are my top ten suggestions!

  1. Call your friendly local librarian and ask from some books on snow, ice and winter.  Once you’ve got your books, set up a cozy reading nook in your home.  Pile pillows and blankets, set up a play tent if you have one, string some lights for extra comfort.  Cozy up with the books and explore winter in warmth through the pages of your books.  Our winter stack of books includes Over and Under the Snow, Nature’s Day, Hilda and the Troll, The Snowy Day, Owl Moon and Snowflake Bentley. 
  2. Pour water into a shallow tray or plastic bin. Place some plastic toys (sea creatures, dinosaurs, etc) in the water and set it out overnight to freeze. In the morning, lay a towel out on the floor and place the frozen tray down for some ice cracking and exploring! You can provide children with spoons and eyedroppers and water to try melting or digging the ice. 
  3. Bring snow inside.  Take a shallow plastic bin and fill it with snow. Place the snow-filled trays on a towel (to keep the floor dry) and put out shovels, scoops or other toys for exploration. Invite young learners to guess how long it will take for the snow to melt in the house, and see whose guess is the closest!
  4. Make play dough. I like this recipe.  I also like to leave it white, like  snow. Collect a few nature bits from outside in preparation (rocks, pine branches, sticks etc). When the play dough is ready, lay out the nature treasures and invite young learners to create a winter scene using the playdough and nature bits.
  5. Window Nature Journal.  Set up comfortably by a window with your nature journal and pencils. What can you see out the window? Invite young learners to draw the first things they see.  Crack the window open a little and invite learners to draw the first things they hear. 

Become a subscriber on patreon for more winter play invitations!

Finding balance and accepting yourself as you are – exploring principles of Ayurveda

If you didn’t already know, I’ve been doing a deep dive into Ayurvedic health practices as I move towards completing the Ayurvedic Health Practitioner program at the Yoga Veda Institute. Ayurveda is an ancient healing science that originated in India.

Each person has their own physical make-up, their constitution. A unique combination of physical, emotional and mental characteristics that make up the unique individual. In Ayurveda, there are three dosha (Vata, Pitta, Kapha), and while each dosha is present in each person, we all have a dominant one or two. (to explore this more check out this brief video)

Everything we experience impacts our way of being and can bring us into balance or out of balance. When we are imbalanced, we experience illness. Ayurvedic practices work to balance the dosha for each individual. Ever been to a yoga class? Then you might already know that Yoga and Ayurveda are sister sciences. Different yoga poses can help correct any excess dosha. My primary dosha, my constitution, is vata. There are yoga practices that can help balance excess vata if I am experiencing imbalance. Vata qualities are airy, light, mobile and irregular. To balance vata, an asana practice should consist of poses that are stable, grounding, slow and warming. Standing poses, forward bends and routine practice will help balance vata.

Some people have two dominant dosha and this can impact the choice of yoga practice.

For example, my younger sisters constitution is Vata Pitta, a combination of two dosha. When choosing an asana practice to pacify an imbalance, she would need to pick a practice that pacifies the imbalance in both dosha – or doesn’t aggravate pitta while pacifying vata.

In contrast to vata, pitta is oily, hot, light and fluid. Pitta types need poses that are cooling and relaxing. Standing forward bends and heart opening poses are good for Pitta.

When working with two dominant dosha types we need to consider which of the two is out of balance before choosing an asana practice. This could change every couple days or so! One day it may be pitta that is out of balance, the next vata. Our bodies will tell us what needs balancing, but paying attention to the season can help too (natures cycles impact our bodies!). In winter, my sister would need to pay closer attention to balancing vata than she would in the summer.

Bringing balance to a dual dosha (this applies to a single dominant dosha too) requires paying attention to yourself, daily. When you understand the qualities of your own unique make up, you can make daily choices for your asana practice to balance your unique constitution. This is something I have found really valuable in my exploration of Ayurveda, that each body is unique and has its own unique needs for healing and balance. There is no one magic recipe that will work for each person. I am also appreciative of the attention needed to understand and be present with your own unique self.

In Ayurveda, there are also three gunas of nature (Sattva, Rajas, Tamas)

Awareness of the qualities of the gunas also helps you come to understand yourself on a deeper level, and how to bring more balance to the body and mind. describe how the qualities of sattva and rajas manifest in practice and life

Sattva is purity or goodness, peace and creativity. Living a peaceful and purpose driven life is a manifestation of sattva.

Rajas is a force that motivates, moves, agitates. Rajasic energy is what forms and drives attachments and desires. Rajas is motion and can manifest in agitation, quickly abandoning projects if the intention is weak or selfish. In the context of yoga practice, I see rajas manifest in hurrying through asana, rushing from task to task. Just like the dosha, these qualities of nature are not inherently bad or inherently good, they just exist. While sattva is the guna we aim to cultivate more of, we do not need to stand in judgement of where we are, physically or emotionally.

Understanding the qualities of the gunas and dosha helps us accept where we are and understand what to cultivate in our lives. When sattva is more active, rajas can support sattva in bringing more balance. Tamas can bring stability and foundation to sattva.

What I love about this is the freedom and self acceptance you can feel when you understand all the qualities that make up our physical and mental being – and how this can lead to inner insight, wisdom and balance.

Chasing Wonder

When I was young, my mother would pull us out of bed, 2 AM sometimes, in the chilly darkness. She would slip into our room with an excited whisper and gently shake us awake “Come see the moon! It’s so beautiful!” We’d race down the stairs and out onto the deck, sometimes stopping for a jacket and boots. We’d stand under the light of the full moon for a moment, listening to my mom talk about why it was so big and full that night.

I wrote a piece about wonder, to read the rest of it go check it out here

Finding Joy in the Ordinary

if you ask me,

what grand adventures I hope for

if you ask me,

how to change the world

if you ask me,

what kind of mountains

I want to climb

what kind of life i want to live

I would say that we all have

undefinable longings

i would say the never ending normalcy

of dirty dishes and shift work

in the day to day space

that is seemingly endless

keeps me stuck in the ordinary

i would say

i don’t know how to change the world

i don’t even know how to pay last months

gas bill…

To read the rest of this poem, go here

Life As If It Mattered

I made something, for you. I’ve been wanting to provide you all with greater access to the ideas I have been studying and implementing in my work as an educator and parent. While I have dabbled in the world of videos, my editing skills are lacking and the time that’s needed to put something together that has impact is out of my scope as a stay at home mama.  I love writing, but I wanted to find another way to share what I’ve been studying and contemplating – so I started a podcast. I love spoken word almost as much as the written word!

We live in a world that conditions infants and young children to need their caregivers (and mother nature) less. We unconsciously promote separation and division. We live in (and perpetuate) a culture that doesn’t prioritize or respect mothers and infants, and that leads to some big problems!

The emotional experiences a child has during the first 18 months of their life determine the quality of the neural structures that develop in that stage. The emotional nurturing that an infant receives from its environment (the environment being its mother, father, primary caregivers) set lifelong patterns for  development and behavior. 

Joseph Chilton Pearce was a humanities professor who devoted himself to studying and writing about human development. He wrote: “Our worldview is a cultural pattern that shapes our mind from birth. It happens to us as fate. We speak of a child becoming “reality adjusted” as he or she responds and becomes a cooperating strand in the social web. We are shaped by this web; it determines the way we think, the way we see, what we see…”(Crack in the Cosmic Egg)

The culture we live in, the stories we keep telling, perpetuate the culture we will continue to live in, the values and stories we will hold on to.  We’re sitting in a disastrous trend of separation that is reaching an extreme. The breakdowns we are witnessing are a result of many factors in a reductionist paradigm, but one of the problems I see, is the separation of and disregarded for mothers and infants and the primal continuum of human development.  The current cultural story we live in needs to make way for a new story. 

My podcast, Life as if it mattered, is all about making way for a new story.  Join me and we’ll talk about everything from epigenetics, cellular biology, to memory and the biology of love. We’ll be talking about the interconnectedness of everything and how we can be part of writing a new story. 

 As Pearce said in the Crack in the Cosmic Egg: “As for myself, however, today is the day, and I dare not wait for some slow cultural drift finally to pave the way that I might easily float into some nebulous social salvation. I cannot depend on ‘them’ ‘out there’ to order into coherency this small sphere of my only present now.”

I’m not going to wait any longer, I’m going to actively contribute to creating the world I want to live in.  I hope you’ll check out Life As If It Mattered, I’m pouring a lot of love into this project. I’ll be releasing new episodes as they are complete, I have much to share. In this project I am really taking a deep dive into holism and nourishing emerging families, in an effort to provide easy to understand knowledge and resources to parents and caregivers – so we can work towards a more beautiful world, together.  

If you find the podcast enlightening or useful, please consider becoming a subscriber on patreon. You’ll get access to mini episodes, show notes and links to other resources.  Your financial support helps me care for my family and gives me the time to pour my energy into creating the episodes and resources for you. 

If you’d rather provide one time support(the cost of a cup of coffee!) you can do that too – right here

I am so grateful for your interest in my work and I hope it is useful to you. Feel free to take what you like, discard what you don’t – and share with as many people as you want.  I welcome questions and curiosity – tell me what you’d like to learn more about! Let’s learn together. 

Nourishing Hot Cocoa

One of my favorite ways to stay nourished and healthy in the winter months (when our bodies get less Vitamin D from the sun) is to add herbs and adapotogens to warm and cozy beverages. Here is my preferred recipe for a warming hot cocoa beverage that soothes the body and supports the immune system. To learn more about the herbs I include in my elixir follow the links or feel free to comment with questions!

In a clean and dry jar combine:

¼ cup  cacao powder (not cocoa powder!)

½ Tablespoon  Chaga or Reishi powder or a mushroom blend, like this one by Harmonic Arts

½ Tablespoon of Cinnamon and Ginger

1 teaspoon Astragalus root powder

1 teaspoon Marshmallow Root Powder

1 tablespoon coconut sugar

This is your healing hot cocoa powder. 

To make two cups, heat water or your preferred milk on the stovetop. Whisk in 3 tablespoons of the hot cocoa mix.

I like to add a tablespoon of dark chocolate chips or a little extra coconut sugar as it simmers on the stove.  When warm and chocolate is melted, pour into your thermos or mug and top with a little extra cinnamon. 

If you have a milk frother at home, adding some light and frothy milk (oat milk is my preference) takes it to another level!

My kids love it and I am pleased that it contains a bit less sugar than a conventional hot chocolate mix as well as herbs that nourish their bodies.

Motherhood as Meditation

This morning I got up to make a cup of tea before the children woke. I had scarcely filled the kettle before tiny sounds called me back to the bedroom and a sleepy baby held her arms up. I tried to set her down with toys so I could carry on with the morning but she fussed and wailed until I scooped her up again. Motherhood as a different pace than the life I knew previously. We have created different rhythms and embraced a slower pace of life. So I settled my daughter on my hip and finished filling the kettle, including her in my morning tea rhythm. A rhythm is a practice of ebb and flow that evolves to suit each season of your life. I have come to use rhythms at home to create a container for our daily movements. These rhythms arise as I pay attention to our daily life and our needs, using these rhythms to make space for our wants and needs, creating a flow for each day.

Before my children were born I liked to meditate first thing in the mornings. I would light an incense stick and meditate in silence before doing a simple yoga routine. It was a peaceful, gratitude filled practice that helped me feel grounded each day. While I still try to hold space for this rhythm in my life it doesn’t always work out when two small humans wake up hungry for breakfast before the sun rises. At first I struggled with this, feeling frustrated by the needs of these children and the interruption to my routines. One day I turned off my daily notification to sit and meditate and let go of my expectations for how life should look. I leaned deep into the season of life I’m in right now, settling into slow living daily rhythms that have helped me stay calm in the difficult world we’re in right now. We have created rhythms for wake up and breakfast, morning music followed by story time. As a family we’ve built weekly rhythms of baking on Sundays and going for a long nature walk every Thursday. Familiar with the process of creating daily rhythm, sometimes as a new rhythm arises I recognize it as a meditation practice. Sometimes, motherhood is meditation.

This morning, balancing my babe on my hip while pouring tea I realized that my morning cup of tea is my daily meditation practice now. Even with the early-rising-very-needy-hungry chicks that live in my home I still have a cup of tea every morning. I take the time to fill the kettle. I stand and wait for the water to warm, bouncing a babe on my hip. I fill the strainer with my favorite loose-leaf and pour the steaming water over. I pick up the mug before it’s cool enough to touch and burn my fingers a bit each time. I bring it to the sofa and sit and talk to the toddler while my tea cools, sipping it while I feed the babe and for just those few moments I feel still and peaceful inside. Yes, sometimes, my tea gets knocked over or breakfast gets demanded but I take a breath, I pause. And then I get up and make a new cup of tea and sip it while I prep breakfast. On mornings like today, my little one wants to be held all day and so I do. I hold her in both arms close to my chest and we watch the sunlight make shadows on the wall as it creeps over the horizon. No television or radio playing, my phone tucked away in another room.

Today, I held my little one until her eyes closed softly in sleep after our morning stories. And then I sat with her, holding her even closer and marveling at how peaceful she looked. I know there is laundry to finish, and floors to sweep, and that book I really want to finish. But I also have this sense that there is nothing more precious than these tender moments of togetherness. So I slow down. I find that when I move slower, there is more ease in this parenting life. The slow parenting rhythm becomes meditation.

Moving slowly often means letting go of expectations for a tidy home or those solitary morning moments. But moving slowly helps me find my feet in the chaos of parenting two children. I can find stillness in the few moments I have in the morning before the children wake up, a few breaths in and out. I can find stillness in the bubbles in the soapy dishwater while the baby babbles in her high chair. I can find stillness in the sound of toddler laughter during bath time. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀

May I invite you today to find 3 moments of stillness in wherever your day takes you, slow down and pay attention to your day. What rhythms do you already have and how can you use rhythm to embrace the slow flow of being a parent? Share your slow family living rhythms in the comments!⠀