The joys of having a baby is more than anyone can ever describe, and as a mom of three, myself, I have found that unless you consciously choose to incorporate your little yogis into your practice, we often then choose not to practice at all. And for others, the choice is to practice (exercise) without that little ball of joy nearby or incorporated into that very important part of your life.
Yoga is a huge part of my life and my family’s life. From day one my kids became my little yogi buddies and walking buddies, they did (and still do) everything I do. Because to me, my mindset was my kids were going to be a part of my life, a part of my practice, and a part of my studio, I wanted them to know no different. Some parents want their kids to learn a certain prayer or family tradition, I wanted my kids to learn to live a holistic-yogic lifestyle from early on.
Like many, exercise to me is important, but a mindful practice where it is a part of your lifestyle is even more important.
Here are some examples: We all go for a walk (dogs, kids, and husband) and we talk about why fresh air is important and how Mother Earth loves that we enjoy her and that we don’t litter (we usually are on a quest to pick it all up) and why that isn’t a good choice. I have taught my kids how to breathe and how they can use their breath to help them in stressful situations. I have a yoga room and my children adore spending time there, we take turns using my reformer, weights, and yoga mat, we teach each other poses, bounce on the bosu and I explain how bouncing is healthy for the lymphatic system and stretching is good for your muscles and mind, and building strength will help you get big and strong like your Momma and Papa.
For some in today’s society, the parents may be healthy but they keep that to themselves, for many, eating salad and lean chicken at dinner, but then feeding the rest of the family greasy foods. Or going out for a hike or tending the garden but leaving the kids inside watching T.V. At my house if I want to practice yoga (while my kids are awake) or go for a walk it’s either with them or nothing. And more important than me staying physically fit, is for them to see me take care of myself in all I do and incorporate them into it; so as they get older it’s no different than brushing their teeth, reading books, and taking a bath. To them, it is simply how things have always been, and these skills are skills that can and should be taught by the parents.
Now sure my little yogis crawl all over me in plank and slide down my back in Downward Dog, and that at times gets to be a little much, but that won’t be forever and yoga to me is more than exercise it’s tapping into the inner self and connecting, isn’t it for you?
From even before I had kids I knew several key points that would become the cornerstones of my parental approach. I feel very passionate about my kids seeing themselves as unique (like most parents) but in that uniqueness I wanted them to understand what it was like to develop individual skills and interests before engaging in the big wide world of pee-wee sports. We chose to skip the pee-wee games and guide our kids towards self-confidence using self-discovery and independent activity development. That meant family fitness activities. I know this is not for everyone, but for us-our kids getting down and dirty means playing in the mud, dancing in the rain, and walking in our woods searching for deer tracks and turkey feathers. I believe whole heartily that this is the foundation of childhood and developing into an independent-thinking adult. Yes, that’s right, family fitness is a foundation for our kids.
And within those independent activities, I wanted to be able to spend as much time with them as possible because there will come a day that they don’t think I’m top dog and will want to join the other team. But from the start, the team we wanted them to know they are on first is team “Krebs”.
Fitness is essential to me, and family fitness is even more important. The idea of keeping my kids active might not be what you are thinking because my suggestions won’t reference tee-ball, soccer, or dance. My suggestions are practical. They are beneficial, hopefully, to celebrate the little things because the little things are the foundation for your child’s future and who they will become as an adult and maybe one day as a parent.
Every movement matters.
In our house movement is super important. Now that my kids are school-aged, I recognize the extended periods of sitting and studying mean we need to prioritize movement once school activities are complete! I try to have them soak up every hour of daylight outside possible: jumping on the trampoline, climbing on the playset, chasing chickens, riding bikes, and making up games. And as easy as it is to send the kids outside, when you make an effort to go out with them they are not only more likely to explore, but it will make an impression that parents play too. I want to encourage you that if you tend to be a “go play outside parent” to set a timer for 20 minutes and go play with them, and then see what happens. I bet you that 20 minutes will quickly turn into an hour, because in the grand scheme of things- dinner can wait.
Family fitness walks.
Those in town who know me will vouch to say that they have seen me with my red stroller, two dogs, and two kids on bikes all over town. I need my movement, and because I work from home means I’m with my kids almost 24/7, so where I go, they go. And this has its perks. I used to fight for my personal time (I still get it but in other ways), but then I realized that the message I would be sending to my kids was exercise and fitness for adults is always separate. And after ten years of following this philosophy, I can honestly say it has paid off. I have gotten so much out of our walks together and I know I am planting the seed for years to come; plus, my kids love coming, they love my presence and I theirs. I use this time to talk to them about health, staying active as well as singing and playing eye spy. This is one of my most cherished non-winter experiences.
Family chores can be fun.
We have a very large backyard and woods and with all the tree cover a light breeze will drop tree limbs and black walnuts in an instant. My husband and I are not able to pick up this all ourselves and if we did we’d have no time for anything else. Staying active is super important to me and my family, but learning life skills is too. I know that when my kids become adults the impressions I set on them as kids will heavily impact the choices and decisions they make in their adult years. Picking up sticks is always a family affair, and I have to be honest they don’t always love it, but the older they get they realize: it’s not going to change anytime soon. Being outside in the warm sun and fresh air we race to fill our buckets first, who can pull the most roots, who gets the most walnuts and we often celebrate with lemonade and lunch outside afterward! We can easily spend two to three hours together (and don’t get me wrong there can be a fair share of complaining, but that is also part of the process) and after my husband always thanks them and asks them to look out and see what a great job they did. Seeing my kids notice their hard work and efforts and see them as they receive positive praise for helping in the household is a huge bonus too.
Encourage your kids to get dirty.
As parents we often let the end result cloud our willingness to let our kids run free. Stains on their pants, the time needed to then bathe, the worry of if they will get hurt, and the age-old excuse of not enough time. But I have to be honest, there is nothing more liberating than getting dirty with your kids. Sliding down the dirt mound outback with them. running barefoot in the rain, building sandcastles and mud pies at their side. When my husband and I get down and dirty with them, I get to see their eyes light up, not because of the dirt (although that is a big factor) but because we are dirty with them. I can feel the connection between us and our kids grow stronger and for me, it’s liberating as an adult to give myself permission to be a kid again and not try to be perfect all the time. When we get dirty we are reminded that life is messy. The mess is part of the experience.
Now these might not be wild and crazy ways to have fun, but they are free, fun and family orientated. When we instill in our kids that fitness, health, and fun cost money and require fancy equipment or continuous social engagements, we are limiting them in their own self-discovery process and creative development. Plus the time we get with our kids when they are young and we are the greatest thing since sliced bread is limited and I refuse to limit that even more.
Now go out and enjoy some family fitness!
Most people come to fitness training and movement, such as yoga, in order to benefit their bodies and their lives. Yet, many are unknowingly practicing movements that are inefficient or even detrimental to their goals and health. There are certain tips that can help you achieve the functional body that will serve you in your everyday life.
Here are 10 Key Tips to Stop Treating Pain and to Start Treating Dysfunction for a Functional Body:
1. Get off the Floor.
Unless you are a mechanic, training yourself, especially your core, solely on the floor will not get you the results you are hoping to achieve. Think about what you are trying to do on the floor. Lying flat on your back to do core work only triggers about 10% of your transversus abdominus, your core-most muscle (which is also a back muscle). So how about standing “Pilates” or what about the standing “Saw”? Look at what the movement is trying to achieve, not necessarily what it looks like, so you can morph it into a more body-friendly version.
If you are serious about strengthening your core, check out the Core Functional Fitness program to take your core to another level.
2. Shed the Shoes.
Shoes can isolate a person’s feet and keep them from noticing signs of misalignment, such as pronation, supination or bunions. Treadwear on the soles of the shoes can reveal dysfunction, as well. Overly supportive shoes compensate for and cover up dysfunction, but do not heal it. Training in such shoes might work around the issues, instead of bringing them to light. If you suffer from foot pain, know that pain relief is not far.
3. Learn Neutral.
It’s important to understand that a neutral position is not natural for many people. Proper body placement often must be re-learned with the guidance of someone trained in alignment. Proper neutral alignment involves attention to the relationship between the feet, pelvis, rib cage, shoulders and head.
4. Do Exercises and Asanas that Expose Imbalances.
Finding what is imbalanced is necessary for enabling proper alignment and movement. Identify where movement becomes stuck and focus on un-sticking that area.
5. Use a 2:1 Ratio.
By working both sides equally, the weaker side will never catch up. Instead, double up on the weaker side, so it receives the extra strengthening it needs.
Movement in every direction is the only way to address the different needs of the body. Practice poses that move along the sagittal plane (left and right), the frontal plane (front and back) and the transverse plane (above and below).
7. Look at What a Movement is Trying to Accomplish.
Ask, “What is the purpose of this asana or exercise, and is it right for my body?” If not, determine how the concept could be adjusted for your individual body type. If you need help analyzing the movements, I have an Asana Video Library that will walk you through every specific element of each pose.
8. Identify the Source of the Pain.
Pain may not originate where it is felt. Sciatica, knee, neck or other pain may be referred — that is, their source is located somewhere other than where it hurts. Notice what is limited and what might be overused.
9. Learn Motor Control.
Between postures, be patient and aware. Is there a smooth, graceful transition from one posture to the next? Control begins by shifting awareness to the present and noticing the fine details that happen during the transition.
10. Think About the Reason for Practicing.
This is not to create doubt, but to check in and see if body, mind, spirit, and life are benefiting. Whatever you do should help you to increase wholeness and wellness.
Keep these tips in mind as you practice yoga, or any exercise to keep a functional body. If you are looking for a starting point, my Mindful Movement Online Studio costs only $9.99/month for unlimited access to my entire video library.
This post was originally published in the 2012 Edition of Natural Awakenings Milwaukee.