Thursday, September 18, 2008

"The teacher in my heart". Yoga, meditation and other lovely relaxing things to do with children.

“Georgie will take your children on fun-filled journeys through forests, oceans and jungles. They will fly like butterflies, roar like lions, dance like monkeys or grow from tiny seeds to big beautiful trees. And as they do, they will gain a sense of peace, grounding, self-love and self-confidence. Parents or nannies are welcome to join in the fun!”

This was the ad I wrote for my yoga classes for three to five year olds at Jemima’s school. And I admit that as I wrote it a bit of me wondered whether it would really turn out to be true… how much could yoga really benefit children? Would they really enjoy it?

Three lessons later and there’s not a doubt in my mind. Yoga for kids is simply brill! I am amazed at how the children respond. Not so much to the games and fun because all children love that. But the way they lie down at the end and slowly start to chill out, the time they stay there quietly studying the ceiling or with closed eyes... yoga really does seem to bring them a sense of peace and well-being. During the meditation (I am brave, I am bold, my own spirit I can hold!) there is no stopping them. They really get into it and the looks of belief or concentration on some of their faces are so heartfelt and earnest it makes me feel like crying.

Of course they all mess around and it gets noisy – just as it should. They get really excited as we go on our different adventures and it is quite knackering to teach! But they seem to go so easily from something really active, like swimming like a mermaid, to being very still in child’s pose, as tiny shells. One girl says she does it every morning with her mother now. When I asked if anyone could remember why we sing a special song to begin the class the same girl said: "To greet the teacher in my heart". She was right, but expressed it way better than I ever did! Jemima keeps telling me she wants to do yoga in the mornings so her muscles don’t hurt so much next week. It definitely makes them aware of their bodies and breath and gives them ways to use their breath to control their mood and feelings. So lovely to see.

It’s great having Jemima in the class. She asks me to plan the class around a particular thing- usually fairies or mermaids – and then tells me what yoga pose to use. You can imagine this. Jemima wobbling about in some strange, twisted posture, saying:

“Teach that one Mummy!”

“Urm, ok! But how about doing it a bit more like this?” I respond, while desperately trying to think of an actual yoga pose that looks remotely like her bodily creation. My changes don’t always go down so well but I am just pleased she’s happy to do it with me. I have made it very clear she can take it or leave it as I was worried she would start to resent yoga now that it is such a big part of my life. But so far she seems to be enjoying it. As for Bella, well everything she does with her body looks like yoga to me. I am constantly amazed how bendy she is (makes me realise how quickly Jemima's nearly four year old body is already stiffening up now that she has to sit on chairs etc..)

It is lovely to find ways of doing it all with them so that it does not always take me away from them. And this brings me to our new bedtime arrangement, one I am seriously happy about.

Until now every night either James or I lie with Jemima while she falls asleep. It is something we have always done – or at least since I was pregnant, when I was glad of the power nap that got me through the rest of the evening! But lately both we’ve started to get impatient and wanting to get on with things we need or want to do while they are asleep. One of these things is preparing for yoga classes and my own practice. I have been aware for ages that I hardly ever find the time to meditate on my own despite teaching meditation being a part of my new found career! But there never seemed a quiet moment apart from early, early morning.. ahem.. I am not there yet. And then it struck me – my brilliant idea which has been making me and Jemima so happy ever since. Now, every night after stories and lights out I sit on her floor with a candle and meditate while she curls up in bed and watches me. I get my half an hour of peace and meditation practice and Jemima gets to fall asleep by candle light with a lovely calm energy around her. I feel less distracted because I know that she is happy (Bella’s normally already asleep at this time) and that I am doing something for her as well as me. And it becomes so much of my routine that for the first time in my life I am meditating every day. Perfect. Love it.

While we are on about yoga and relaxing and what not here is a recipe for yogi tea – very yummy and, a little diluted, also great for soothing teething babies and good for children generally.

Yogi tea – too many benefits to list but see a few below...

To 2 quarts of water add:
15 whole cloves – good for nervous system
20 green cardamom pods slightly crushed – digestive aid
15 black pepper corns – blood purifier
5 2inch sticks of cinnamon – strengthens the bones
8 slices of ginger root – healing for colds, flu, natural antibiotic, energising

Boil gently for 30-40 mins adding water as evaporates. Add ½ teaspoon black tea (creates right chemical balance with rest of ingredients) and drink black or with milk, hot or iced, with honey to sweeten if necessary

Makes 2 quarts

And here, if you will excuse the note form, is a copied and pasted bit of an email to the breastfeeding group summarising all the things we came up with for relaxing with baby/child while breastfeeding or not.

Relaxing with baby - both of you!

Skin to skin - not only feeding but baths together, co-sleeping/napping, sling
Carry baby in sling as much as poss - some skin on skin if poss
Soothing music - same each time - (I have lots of relaxation music use for yoga)
Chamomile in bath or oil burner and chamomile tea for mother (chamomile tea also v nice bottom wash instead of wipes when at home)
Candles, lavender
Meditate before (can recommend a simple 3 min meditation for a calm heart)
Relax baby before feeds - bath together, play your music, massage him (lavender & chamomile and olive oil), curl up in special place...
Calm thoughts while feeding - whatever you say to your baby, they know what's going on inside! Try reading to him - even if it is an adult book you find inspiring, or make up a story, or tell the story of his life so far, hum, sing to him, long deep breathing etc...
Drink lots and lots of water - when dehydrated we become easily stressed and anxious.

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Buying beds in Phnom Penh... (was going to be about yoga but turned into an expat ramble...)

Bella and I had a great morning in the mattress shop today. She spent it bouncing and contorting her body in ways that barely looked possible, even from a relatively-but-not-very-bendy-yoga-teacher’s perspective, while I tried to find a mattress that did not contain (what smelt like) deadly toxic poisons within. There is no way I would have Jemima breathing in whatever was in some of those mattresses for 12 hours a night. Really, the things people have to put up with here that would not be legal in any of the rich countries in the world.

Yes it was one of those mornings when I struggled to reconcile the life I lead here with that of so many Cambodians around me. Anyone living here understands. How do you feel when you have just spent close to $100 in a shop, while playing with your baby, watching everyone else play with her and love her and try to feed her nice things etc, and the next thing you do is meet a six-year-old boy, in the middle of one of the busiest highways in Phnom Penh, with his brother, the same age as Bella, strapped to his body in a Krama, telling you his mother and father are dead?

They are not dead. They have sent their children out to beg... for – if you believe most locals – money to fuel their drinking and gambling habits. But maybe not... maybe they need the money for food and rent. The older boy’s clothes were completely torn and his younger brother was naked, with something like scabies on his face and arms. I didn’t give him money because the biggest street kids’ organisation in Cambodia, Mith Samlanh, asks us not to - it just fuels begging. As long as their parents think they can make money from the streets, these children will never get the chance to go to school as. Try explaining that to the boys though. I felt horrible as the tuk tuk tried to move forward in the traffic and the boy held on for as long as he could.

I have been through all this before on Motherland I know. It is just that same old story of feeling guilty because instead of spending all my time trying to make my own children’s life lovely, a bit of me feels I should do more to try to make life happier for Cambodian children. Last year I did, and next year maybe I will. But right now in my life all I want to do is be there for my girls and study and teach yoga. The latter takes up enough of my time for me not to want to spend a minute of the rest of it on anything other than my family. Oh to live somewhere back in the UK where this decision does not make me feel like so uncaring and uncompassionate. Instead I live here, and it could almost be anywhere. (Actually I am sure my Cambodian friends and helpers, Sophy (cleans and looks after Bella when I work) and Sokhun (our tuk tuk driver) would beg to differ. I do spend half my days with them speaking their language). But you know what I mean, the things that make me feel happy and fulfilled these days are joining in circle time with Jemima’s class, or teaching Bella to swim. Neither of these things have much to do with Cambodia, let’s face it.

Really I am just indulging in a little off loading because I am not planning to change anything about my life right now. In fact the reason I first sat down to write this post is because, despite the nagging conscience, I am blissfully happy with things at home at the moment and wanted to share some of the stuff we’ve been doing recently that has been so lovely for the kids. But because this has turned into a ramble (and one barely worth publishing but I have written it now so I may as well!) I will finish here and link you to a new post which I shall now write called Yoga, meditation and other lovely relaxing things to do with children.
P.S. If you got this far thank you!

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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

She’s co-sleeping through the night! Ha! They said it would never happen...

Woo hoo! I’m writing to spread good news and hope to all co-sleeping and other mothers out there whose babes are currently all night-wakers and feeders. At 13 months Bella started to sleep through the night! With no crying, no training (not formal anyway)... i.e. no misery and guilt. Wow. Phew. I did wonder if it would ever happen but I am so, so glad I held out now. After the soul-destroying experience of following the crowd and training Jemima at only six months (I know, a mere newbie. T’was gentle training but still, I’ll always regret it), I have fed and cuddled a co-sleeping Bella countless times every night since the day she was born, in good faith that one day it would pay off. And it has... here’s how. This one is for you Kat! I have only just seen your comment on last post... sorry and hope this lifts your spirits!

I suppose in a way you could call it training. Not really though, and it was accidental. After two weeks of sharing two single beds pushed together with my husband and two babes, at my dad’s house, (actually there was also a ‘nest’ of duvets etc on the floor, where one child would start the night but often where either James or I would end up by morning), I was getting a bit rattled. So the minute my sister’s family left us I announced that I was starting the night in the spare double room all on my own and when Bella woke James could bring her to me. We’d then spend rest of night in there together (me and Bella only I mean). I was so excited to have some space and fell asleep stretched out like a star fish, super happy - albeit with the usual slight downer of knowing that soon I would wake up for the first of many of our midnight love-ins.

When I woke to find Bella being handed to me smiling and laughing by James, I was about to groan, “The fun begins”, when I noticed it was light outside.
“What time is it?”
“Ah... hang on? What time is it? Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!”

This was quite honestly the first time I had slept for more than three hours in a row for nearly 18 months (sleepless latter half of pregnancy included in calculations). Not only had I just slept for seven hours undisturbed but after she fed we both went back to sleep until 8am. Oh. My. God.

This was the same child who, all that week, had been waking hourly and feeding in a frenzied, upset way, unable to sleep without my boob, but too tired to feed properly. Or she was just teething? Who knows, and who cares anyway now! It is history. For three nights we did the same thing, Bella snuggled up (read: squashed between) with James and Jemima, me blissfully spread out in my own bed. Each night she woke, murmured a bit, sort of cried a bit once or twice, James shsssshed her and she went straight back to sleep. I spent my days dancing around the house, rejoicing in my new well-slept self. I was convinced I had less wrinkles and looked positively 10 years younger, having been complaining all year of looking like an old woman thanks to loving Bella so much. There was only one thing that worried me. While I had absolutely no desire to return to the all- night feeding, I did want to go back to sleeping and cuddling up with Bella and James. Would she start waking again once I came back?

No! Hoorah! We took it slowly, starting with her in the nest on the floor for a week, where she woke once a night, two nights, and not at all the rest of the time. Amazingly for us, one of those nights she did not even feed but cuddled up to me instead. Then she came back into our bed and continued to sleep through. She sometimes wakes but mostly goes straight back to sleep. Once or twice she has fed once, which I can handle, no problem. Three weeks have passed now and the pattern continues. Joy.

Post script – (For those of you who, although this post was designed to give hope and encouragement, are simply too exhausted and milked out to rejoice with me, and are still in the stage where you feel more comforted more by other’s suffering than other’s successes) - There is one blip... jet lag. We came back from the UK to PP two days ago and put it this way, it is 10pm and Bella has been walking (oh yes, she is walking now too!) around the house and helping me type for the last hour that it has taken me to write this. She is now having a bath with James. Even if we do get her to bed before midnight she will wake a few hours later to romp around for a couple of hours... they say children are affected by jet lag for the same number of days as there were hours in the journey... i.e. 2 down, 10 more to go...

Have faith, take courage, stick with it... it will happen to you.

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