my friend Claudia's beautifully curated kitchen shelves
I went to a yoga class last night; left Daniel with the kids and a big pot of spaghetti bolognese and made my way to the studio - unencumbered.
My yoga practice has ebbed and flowed (sometimes stopped completely) over the years. Before children I practised five times a week. In the first few months of motherhood I quickly realised that a yoga class at the studio was going to take an enormous amount of effort and organisation and for me, at the time, it wasn't a priority. I'm not very disciplined when it comes to self practise so I really need to carve out the time and space in my week to make it to the studio; once I'm there I find such relief and pleasure in 90 minutes of movement and deep, conscious breathing.
Last night my body felt tight and heavy (Easter eggs and hot cross buns will do that) and for the first half-an-hour I clunked my way through the sequence. Earlier in the day I had read an excerpt from Poser and it came back to me in the midst of my heaviness: "Those of you who are really bad at yoga, you're in the right place. I hope everyone will allow themselves to be really crappy today, to walk away from being perfect. The real yoga isn't in the perfect pose; it's in the crappy pose that you are really feeling. You want to feel it from the inside out, rather than make it perfect from the outside in."
I really felt my body last night; felt my tight hips, my sore sacrum, my not-so-tight core. But instead of trying to make my body look good I settled into how it felt to be in each pose and when it got particularly challenging I breathed a little deeper and allowed myself to stay there, without expectation or desire. After ten years of practice and the added experience of motherhood I can say that perfecting the pose isn't so important anymore; I'm content to just feel it, to breathe into it and then come out a little looser and freer.
Yoga is a little like join the dots; you roll your shoulders back and your chest opens, you swallow to relax your tongue and your jaw softens, you tuck your tailbone under and you immediately feel your core engage. A basic yoga class will teach this simple yet enlightening message: everything in your body is connected, release one part and you automatically release another.
Since having babies one of the most important areas I've had to work on is my core. "Core" is a fancy word for "stomach muscles" and yes, if you're a mum you may be a little concerned about their whereabouts. Trust me, they're still there.
During pregnancy your spine curves with the weight of your belly and your tailbone kicks out, Mother Duck style. Once you have your baby your tailbone will stay in the same position unless you train it to do otherwise. And you really should try and get it back to it's original position; if you do you're core will strengthen, your belly won't protrude as much and your lower back will thank you (so will your pelvic floor).
You don't need to be in a yoga class to do this practice, you don't even need to me on a yoga mat. In fact, I often do it at the kitchen sink.
Firstly, place your left hand (fingers pointing down) on your belly and place your right hand on your lower back/sacrum (the plate above your tailbone). You may feel that sway of your spine, kicking your tailbone and bottom out.
Keep your hands where they are and begin to tuck the tailbone down, think about pulling it towards the earth. As you do so you'll notice that your navel starts to draw towards your spine - and just like that you're standing taller and more aligned, you're releasing energy into your lower back and engaging your stomach muscles.
As you're breathing begin to draw the navel back towards the spine with each exhalation - you're pulling your belly in and strengthening your core. If you make it a regular practice you'll notice that your pelvic floor muscles will want to lift, too (there's that join the dots).