Meditation, interrupted

Meditation, interrupted

I finally have a few minutes to myself. The boys are out, the baby is upstairs asleep, and there’s no pressing work to do. It’s Saturday morning. All is still.

My mind whirrs into action, trying to figure out what to do with this precious gift of time. Do I sit and write? Cook? Clean? Declutter? Do I call a friend? Dust off my yoga mat and move my body?

I choose to meditate. It’s been way too long.

I grab a cushion, sit myself down among the toys strewn around the floor. I set a timer for 20 minutes. On one hand it seems like nothing – I used to sit for an hour in the morning and an hour in the evening – and on the other hand… 20 uninterrupted minutes? That’s an eternity.

The bell dings, I settle in. My mind is a mess. Loud and frenetic. But of course, after a few minutes, it starts to settle. I sink into that familiar old sensation of being here. In the moment. In my body first and then in my mind.

At 9 minutes and 45 seconds a different bells dings – Little A, crying upstairs. At first I wait, maybe she’ll go back to sleep. Not happening.

So I take my meditation upstairs with me, I notice the cold of the stairs on my feet as I run up to her. I gather her up in her blankets and smell her little chocolate milkshake smell. I notice how my heart swells.

Something’s bothering her. She twists in my arms. So big and so expressive yet still such a baby.

For once, I’m actually there with her. Not looking at my phone over her shoulder, not wishing she’d hurry up and get to sleep so I can start getting GG into bed, or get back to work, or go to sleep myself.

She gets herself comfortable in the nook of my elbow, rests her little head and drifts back off. She reaches for my face in her sleep.

And I’m still there, still meditating, present with her. I am hers and she is mine. I’m pretty sure I can feel the oxytocin flooding my body.

I look down at her peaceful face and realize I don’t take photos of her sleeping anymore. I used to do it all the time when she was little. Another reminder that time is passing. As it always does. That it’ll pass no matter what.

To be honest, at first when I heard her voice as I was meditating I felt annoyed. I can’t even get 20 minutes uninterrupted.

But as I snuggled her back into her bed I felt so grateful I could cry. I feel so far away from my kids through long days at the office during the week. Through rushed bedtimes and difficult mornings.

This is the antidote – actually being with them when I’m with them.

She relaxes into her bed and I come back downstairs, free again. Time to chop veggies, sort out bags for the new week, tidy up a bit. Maybe I’ll finish the meditation later. It’s the usual grind, but hopefully I can be a little more present as I move through it.

On Tiredness

On Tiredness

When I was first learning to meditate, I remember feeling so left out of this tiredness thing that the teachers were always speaking about. I’d see people on retreats falling asleep while meditating, standing up to avoid nodding off, asking questions about how to avoid it. And I just didn’t get it. I was so filled with energy, with movement. I struggled with the opposite issue – with restlessness, the urge to fidget, with excess energy.

I was so out of touch with what tiredness meant that I couldn’t even label it to observe it.

Now, some 7 years later, I’m a fucking tiredness master.

I am perpetually exhausted. I can observe the sensations of tiredness in intricate detail, I can feel it in every cell of my body. I can observe what it’s doing to my mind and my emotional stability. My sex life. My work. My relationships.

I’ve always been able to function on relatively little sleep. My father is the same, and his mother before him. Six hours and I’m golden. Eight hours and I’m diamond encrusted, sure, but it’s not a necessity. Even as a baby I had mega FOMO, always preferring to stay up to avoid missing any fun over getting my beauty sleep.

In recent years, largely thanks to my sleep-worshiping husband, I’ve learned to value my rest. To prioritize it when necessary. To identify the times when I’m tired and would be better off refueling than burning the candle at both ends, as is my natural tendency. I’ve intentionally rewired, in a way. A good way, I think.

Nonetheless, my ability to get by without that much sleep has served me well in the initial months with both my babies. Whereas I know many new parents suffer from exhaustion in the first days and weeks after bringing a new baby home from the hospital, I run on adrenaline through the Fourth Trimester and beyond. I relish the early morning hours up with my babies, the excuse to be texting round the clock, the afternoon naps. I’m tired, sure, especially the second time around, but not exhausted.

Until somewhere around the 6-month mark. that’s when I hit a wall.

And right now, I feel like I’ve been running into that wall, reversing, and running into it again, over and over, for about 3 months.

It was the same with GG. I put it down to going back to work, but I think it’s probably a combination of factors. A hormonal shift, developmental changes in the little one, and a sleep deficit so huge that I can no longer power through it with homemade dark chocolate and a good attitude alone.

This afternoon when I was driving home from work I was terrified that my eyes were going to give out. I guess I mean I was worried that I’d fall asleep, but it didn’t feel like that. It felt like I just couldn’t focus anymore, that I could only see the dashboard and not the road. So I pulled over and set my alarm for 7 minutes – the most time I figured I could afford in order to still make it to pick up the kids on time – and closed my eyes. I woke up with a start to the timer going off, felt much better, and had a nice afternoon with the kids without passing out and leaving them to fend for themselves. That felt like a win.

This sort of exhaustion is something totally foreign to me.

If I stop typing right now and pause, I can feel it. In the aching headache always sitting just behind my eyes, like two tiny hands squeezing my eyeballs. In the almost unnoticeable lag in my vision, like my brain is only just keeping up with the information it has to process second-to-second. I can feel it pulling me downwards into the couch, like a sleepy gravity-booster. Willing me to just give it up, to lay down, to become one with the cushions.

And it’s not just my body. My mind is also a victim. I went back to work after a 6-month maternity leave 2 months ago, to a new job. A job at which a high-functioning brain is a solid prerequisite. And multiple times a day it’s like I can feel my mind trying to think and just stalling, over and over again. Like it knows what it needs to do but just can’t do it. At least not at the required speed.

And this tired mind of mine, it plays tricks on my emotions. It makes me sensitive and anxious and easily irritated. A winning combination for when I’m already feeling like the stupidest version of myself.

It’ll get better, I know. Little A will sleep better and I’ll settle back into being a working mama. We’ll all sleep through the night again one day.

For now, I take solace in being able to call a spade a spade. In hanging onto some last thread of mindfulness in recognizing tiredness and how it feels right now. I’m grateful for the rest that I do get, and I hail its restorative powers by pondering its very absence.

Enough musing. You get it. I’m exhausted.

Time for sleep.

When Savasana Smells Like Pee

When Savasana Smells Like Pee

My yoga teacher, like most yoga teachers, is always going on about how five minutes of savasana is equal to three hours of sleep. How they do that calculation I have no idea but this morning I could really do with an extra three hours of sleep. It’s been one of those weeks.

So I decided, screw it. Instead of spending another five minutes staring blankly at my screen trying to remember what I was working on, folding washing or throwing something in the slow cooker, I’m going to try it.

I opened my meditation app (which apparently needs to be updated because I haven’t used it in I hate to think how long) and set a timer for five minutes. I lay down on the ground, in the corpse position. It was quite easy, really – I kind of feel like a corpse most of the time anyway. I brought my attention to the tingling sensations of my muscles relaxing, the supportive feeling of the carpet beneath me. I made my mind body-shaped.

And each time my mind started to wander, I remembered the subtle threat in my yoga teacher’s tone when she explained how the magic five-minutes-for-three-hours-time-swap works – you have to really do savasana. Not just lay there thinking about whether or not the baby’s about to wake up, or if she’ll take a bottle later today, or the blog post you’re gonna write in a few minutes. So I took heed and let it all go, melting into the ground, bringing myself back to the present moment time and time again.

By the time the gong went off I was actually totally relaxed, tingly and floating. I slowly stretched my neck, turning my head from side to side and took a deep breath. Left was the baby’s change mat, so I probably rubbed my face on poo. Right was a distinct aroma of urine, and I was reminded that my toddler had an accident in that very spot a few weeks ago. Oops. Back to reality.

Do I feel like I had three hour’s sleep? Who knows. I can’t really remember what that feels like to be honest. But I do like to think my eyes are stinging a tiny bit less than they were earlier, and I might just lay on the floor and pretend to be dead for a few minutes tomorrow, too.

Pregnant Priorities

Pregnant Priorities

I’m 19 weeks now, and I’ve realized that the only way to get through this pregnancy without feeling like absolute crap all the time is to prioritize. If I want to get 8 hours sleep every night – which I do – I basically have no option but to give my family, my job and my health top priority. Everything else has to take a back seat.

The truth is, I learnt this lesson a while ago. That if I wanted to live a conscious, intentional life – which I do – I can’t do everything. I can’t even attempt it. I learnt that in order to make space for quality time with my son and my husband, there needs to be blank spaces in my schedule. Time to listen to each other, to prepare healthy food, to do what we feel like at a given time. Time to be.

This way of living doesn’t come naturally to me. My gut tells me to go go go, all the time. To fit in catching up with friends and seeing family and chatting on the phone and going out and making it to three yoga classes a week and however many hours my job demands. My motto was always “I can sleep when I’m dead.” And it was a lot of fun for a time there – but that time has passed. Maybe it’ll return one day, who knows, but this life we’re building now requires a calmer pace.

Back to now. To be honest, my life right now is pretty repetitive. Wake up around 6am, spend a couple of hours with my boys, head to work. Come home, couple of hours with GG, get him to bed. An hour with the husband before I crash if we’re lucky. Repeat until the weekend.

On the weekend there’s a bit more room to breathe. I can generally make it to a yoga class, maybe catch up with a friend, and fit in plenty of slow family time. I do everything I can to take afternoon naps, in the hopes that they’ll fuel me through that urge I have at 2pm every other day to curl up under my desk and take a long snooze.

I also started eating a bit of meat (for the first time in over 10 years), which has made a big difference to how I feel overall. As an ideological vegetarian I still struggle with this decision, but it’s the right one for me for now. I was totally exhausted and suffering from two-day long headaches before I tried out the meat and now I’m feeling so much better. Again, it’s a matter of conscious priorities.

There are things that I miss. Time with friends, relaxing with my husband at night and jogging to name a few. But there’s a special feeling building at the same time, an excitement, anticipation. And slowing things down a bit gives us a few extra moments to really be in it. To honor this in between time before the addition of the next member of our family.

Even if I’m passed out on the couch for a good chunk of it.

Yet Another Blog Post About Sleep

Yet Another Blog Post About Sleep

As if the internet needed more confused parents babbling about their children’s sleep habits.

But I can’t help myself. Despite having previously established that I am not a sleep trainer or any sort of expert on the matter – far from it – every time we have a breakthrough with GG’s sleep I feel the urge to shout it from the rooftops.

Lucky me, I have a blog. My own proverbial rooftop.

Up until this week, we’ve been sitting with GG as he falls asleep. Getting to the point where we weren’t touching him at all seemed like enough of a victory for now, plus we both work full-time and took a certain enjoyment (most of the time!) from those sweet moments before he drifts off.

Now that he’s started speaking (full paragraphs in two languages, no less), bed-time was turning into a 45-minute lecture, two-year-old style. Hilarious and cute but not so relaxing or conducive to sleep.

Added to that was the knowledge in the back of my mind that in a few months time there’s gonna be another little guy or gal in the picture, and I don’t want bedtime to turn into more of a madhouse than it needs to be.

So we decided it was time for GG to start going to sleep by himself. In a rare still moment I told him what was going to be different that night. Daddy would read him two stories, tuck him into bed, and then say goodnight and leave the room. If he needed us we’d be right outside the door. And he was like *shrug* ok. Whatever you guys think is best.

Bedtime comes along and what do you know – he went to sleep by himself without a smidge of resistance, and woke up happy as anything 11 hours later. The last few nights have been variations on the same – he sometimes calls out a few times for reassurance but ultimately the kid is cool with his new bedtime routine.

So had we been wasting our time for past few months? Sitting with him when he could have been doing it himself? I don’t think so. Just like every other time we’ve made a change and it’s gone smoothly, I feel like this came at just the right time. I believe that the resistance that GG showed when we tried to work with a sleep trainer when he was seven months old was him saying that he wasn’t ready.

And perhaps more importantly – neither were we. A smooth, intentional behavior change when it comes to parenting has two sides – theirs and ours. Whenever I’m totally at peace with what I’m asking GG to do, he reads that straight away and feels comfortable with the change.

Bottom line – you’ve just gotta own it. And I’m so freaking proud of both of us right now! Sweet dreams. 

A Letter to My Body

A Letter to My Body

Dear body,

I guess we haven’t always had the perfect relationship, maybe we never will. But I want you to know – I think you’re pretty awesome. This is a love letter.

Thank you for understanding when you weren’t my top priority and soldiering on regardless. I know I haven’t always treated you as best as I could, and yet you’ve held up pretty damn well. Thank you for being so forgiving.

Thank you for functioning on so little sleep. I know all those late nights I kept you up partying and chatting and breastfeeding can’t have been easy on you. They were important to me and oh so fun but I’m getting it now – we’ve gotta sleep. I’m on it, promise.

Thank you for sensual pleasures. Hugs, chocolate, orgasms and massages would be nothing without you.

You have many admirable functions, but lately my highest honor goes to the reproductive system. That is some seriously amazing work you do there. Thank you for growing our beautiful son, seemingly out of nowhere, and for birthing him so gracefully. Kudos too on bouncing back after our recent hard times. I can’t wait to see what wonders you have in store for us in that department.

Also – nice tits. Seriously. I knew we had a nice rack before but the last two years of breastfeeding have made me understand the true beauty of boobies. Not every woman has the smooth run we’ve had (no pun intended) – I don’t take it for granted.

Thank you for coming to yoga classes with me all these years, twisting and jumping and stretching and balancing. The practice we’ve built through all our extremes – big, smaller, fit, not-so-much, tired, energized and everything in between – is a testament to what we can do when we work together.

Which brings me to breathing. Thank you for inhaling and exhaling, no matter what. Even when I was convinced as a kid that I didn’t breathe. Even when I made it hard for you by smoking for all those years. On top of the oxygen and whatnot, this constant flow is a source of awakening for me. Always there, always available to bring me back to the present moment.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to find the point where I end and you begin. It’s a fuzzy line, I know. Often I forget it exists altogether, and I get myself all confused thinking that I’m you or that you’re me. And so instead of appreciating how I would be nothing without you, I get bummed out about stretch marks and a few extra kilos and some bags under my eyes. I promise to work on that, for all of the reasons above.

You rock. I love you.

Elana xoxo

I Am Not a Sleep Trainer, But…

I Am Not a Sleep Trainer, But…

I am not a sleep trainer – far from it – but I have learnt a few things about babies and sleep over the past two years. While there are no hard and fast rules, these are five things I’ve found to be true:

1. Sleep begets sleep 

It’s true for me and it’s true for my kid. When I’m tired I get hyper, and it’s much harder for me to wind down for sleep. And then when I do manage to drift off, my sleep quality tends to be terrible.

Surprise surpise – babies and toddlers are people too! When GG goes to bed too late, he’s more likely to wake through the night, have trouble getting back to sleep, and get up for the day at some ungodly hour like 4am.

2. Boundaries are not punishments 

This is a hard one for me, but it’s crucial. Firm boundaries on important issues (such as sleep, safety and violence) make kids feel safe. Of course when I put it like this it sounds like a no-brainer, but it doesn’t always feel so straightforward to me.

Take the last few weeks for example: there’s been a lot going on in our household. GG is about to turn two and going through like a billion developmental milestones all at one time and probably cutting four molars as well, plus we just moved him from a cot to a bed. His dad is finishing up one job and about to start a new one. I lost another pregnancy last month. The weather has turned decidedly wintery, it’s cold season at daycare… etc. There are a million and one reasons for GG’s sleep to suffer, and suffer it did. We’ve had a string of terrible nights, from serious bedtime resistance to three-hour wake ups in the middle of the night.

Gadi's new bed
GG trying out his new bed


At first, to be honest, I mainly used my heart to deal with the issue. We cuddled in his bed, I sang whatever song he requested a million times, I let him sleep on my chest. I figured he was getting sick or teething or reacting to my emotional turmoil.

But it didn’t help. Instead, what I did was exacerbate the situation. And instead of a few days of bad sleep, we ended up with a couple of weeks.

No one is at their best after a couple of weeks of dodgy sleep.

After a few heated arguements on the topic and a chat with a wise friend, I realized something that I already knew but evidently needed to re-learn: toddlers need boundaries. Like, about as much as they need food and love and comfort. For whatever reason, GG was feeling out of control, and what he need was for me to help him reign in it.

So why was this hard for me? In my sleep-deprived mind, it felt like being more strict would be like punishing him for having a hard time – which is not my parenting style at all. In fact, the opposite was true. By reinstating his previous routine (set bedtime, falling asleep by himself with me sitting next to the bed, staying in bed if he wakes up during the night, set “morning” time etc), I was helping him find solid ground.

Which brings me to my next point…

3. Shit changes ALL THE TIME

This is an essential truth of life, a fact of our existence, but I feel like it’s especially true for kids. Just when we parents feel like we’ve got it all under control… bam! New phase.

And that’s okay – it’s a good thing. It means they’re learning and growing and developing. Our job as parents, as guides for these little people who are but new to earthly ways, is to stay consistent. To show them that yes, things change, but there’s always something you can hang on to. Me and your dad. We’ve got it under control (most of the time). So even though you’re feeling sick or you’re confused about something or you had a weird day, bedtime will still be the same.

4. You’re not gonna change the kid

This is really important. GG is very much his own person. He has personality traits that we noticed on Day One that are still strong today, and I’m guessing they’ll stay with him throughout his life. My job as his mama is to help him work with what he’s got, and find ways to be the best little dude he can possibly be.

So, when it comes to sleep – I’ve accepted that I’m not going to change him into the kid who runs to his bed at naptime, sleeps for 14 hours when he’s sick or drifts off while we’re reading a book. I’m not that person either, and though I’ve learnt to appreciate sleep, I’d still pretty much always rather be hanging out and having fun than “wasting time” sleeping.

What I can do for him is help implement good habits and positive associations around sleep. Ultimately, the rest is on him.

5. Lastly, every time I write a post about sleep, everything goes to shit

Seriously, it’s like this blog has super-powers. Every time we go through a rough patch and then I decide I’ve cracked the code and should share my infinite wisdom with you fine peoples, something changes and we’re back to Square One. At which point I’ll just need to come back and read point three above I suppose.

Sweet dreams!