Facebook world is funny, right? A couple of years ago I was clicking around and stumbled onto this great Facebook page, The Yoga of Parenting. and actively started following it. Only to realize that I actually knew the woman out in Colorado hosting it! Alison Rogers is the mother of a friend of mine I met while working in Costa Rica 11+ years ago! I would crash on her couch when we came stateside in between leading trips. We got along easily back then and despite her move from western Massachusetts to Colorado and years in between we managed to reconnect all over again! Now that we have a shared passion for supporting women through the childbearing years I wish she were closer geographically but at least online life makes connection and conversation pretty easy too! Enjoy this interview with Alison around how to soothe and support struggles of new motherhood~
Kate: Thank you so much for taking the time to connect here. I am excited to introduce you to so many of my clients and followers here in New England-area. You are based in Colorado now where you are a licensed counselor in private practice as well as the founder of "The Yoga of Parenting". How do you describe the work that you do and why does it feel so relevant for this generation of young parents?
Alison: Kate, what a pleasure to have this conversation with you. You have a quote on your email signature that I love. "Sometimes the most important thing in a whole day is the rest we take between two deep breathes." Ety Hillesum. The world is moving at a rapid clip these days and we are all bombarded by not only the pleasures and demands of our own lives, but also by information about the lives of others. That rest between two deep breaths allows us to do something very important--to pause and have a reunion with ourselves in the present moment. In the Yoga Of Parenting workshops I essentially teach women how to pause and reconnect with themselves deeply. I provide the space and structure so that each woman can find a refuge within herself in that still space between breaths. We do that by checking in with ourselves and each other, moving through some easy gentle yoga flows with music that gently rocks the soul, soothing out the kinks. We also talk about how to bring the practice and insights home into life.
One of the most important aspects of yoga, and what I teach in particular in the Yoga of Parenting classes is self-acceptance and self-compassion. I do this in a variety of ways so that each woman can find a practice that rings true to her. These moments of stillness, movement, breath and self-compassion add up over time to a deeper sense of confidence and resilience. New mothers inevitably have rocky moments and days where they are overcome with anxiety, loneliness, boredom, and intense love. I want them to know that this does not mean that there is something wrong with them or their lives, there is nothing that needs to be fixed, it is part of early motherhood.
Kate: What do you as the primary challenges or struggles for newer parents today (perhaps vs. when you were in their shoes)?
Alison: I think technology is changing the experience of being a mother. When I see a mother walking her baby, talking on the phone, I think "wow, I would have loved to have had the option to chat with a friend, rather than being alone so much". But I also know that with that conversation the mother is missing some of that quiet time, being present to the neighborhood or trees or birds or just the sounds of her own footsteps and breath. Social media presents challenges in the form of endless news feeds and images of mother's who look like they have it all together. Way more together than most mothers think they themselves have it together. Thirty years ago we compared ourselves to each other, unfortunately, but it was less frequent and less insidious. I would join the chorus and suggest to new mothers, unhook from your devices and look at your baby, and notice all that is right with her, all that is growing, thriving, drooling, and smiling about her. Give yourself this gift at least once a day. And say thank you out loud for what you got right today.
Kate: This fall you asked me to be an early reader for a book that you have co-authored entitled The Yoga of Motherhood. This was such a treat for me to get to read through and then discuss my reactions with you. Ever since that initial reading there was something you wrote that really struck me and I've been curious to learn more about. You wrote, "new mothers are actually wired for anxiety". Can you elaborate on that? How have you observed this presenting itself in your counseling practice?
Alison: Evolutionarily, we survived as a species by being vigilant. Vigilant for threats like wild beasts, fires, poisons, etc. Children who had mothers who were more vigilant were more likely to survive than children who had really chill mothers. So over time survival selected for vigilance. It's part of our DNA.
We've known this for a long time, but what we didn't know is that a mother's brain actually changes during pregnancy and early postpartum. Researchers are doing brain scans on mothers that show that grey matter in certain parts of the brain becomes more concentrated and activity increases in regions of the brain considered responsible for empathy, anxiety and social interaction. This is partially responsible for why mothers feel intense love, fierce protectiveness and caring as well as more worry. There is a great article in the Atlantic about this. https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/01/what-happens-to-a-womans-brain-when-she-becomes-a-mother/384179/
In addition, women are getting the message from our culture, that they aren't really going to do a good enough job unless they buy a certain kind of fancy stroller, buy a special brand of advice, get back to work without a hiccup, and get their bodies back to pre-baby shape pronto.
So given what we know about our DNA, our changing brains and societal pressures, it isn't surprising that women are reporting high levels of stress and anxiety. But, we can use this information to normalize, rather pathologize those feelings and then find healthy coping strategies.
Kate: So how do you distinguish between normal anxieties of new motherhood and anxiety that warrants more professional attention? And what have been helpful home support strategies for anxiety that feels in the "grey zone" somewhere?
Alison: Great question, Kate. I don't try to distinguish. I encourage any mother who is unsure about the depth or frequency of her anxiety or blues, to speak to her health care provider. No woman should suffer with Postpartum Mood Disorders alone and without help.
That said, the majority of women who experience anxiety in the postpartum can, with self-care, soothe their anxiety and restore balance. And women with PPMD benefit from these self-care practices, too. Your practice, Kate, is essential for new mothers; yoga, massage, therapeutic oils are all complimentary care that can help a woman maintain or restore balance.
The ability to drop out of a perseverating thinking mind and into the body and breath, can for many, break a cycle of anxiety and restore calm. I often suggest a simple car practice. Many of us have the habit of arriving somewhere in the car, we turn off the ignition and check our phones. Instead, I turn off the ignition, close my eyes, feel my feet on the floor, listen to the sound of a few slow breaths and relax the jaw and shoulders. Then open the eyes, really look out the window and name two things you see, like bird on branch, car driving by. Then say thank you. Thank you for arriving safely, and for anything else, then thank yourself for one or two things you did that were of benefit.
Move on with the rest of your day and simply notice what effect car practice has on you.
Kate: Finally, what would Alison today (Ed.D., LPC, RYT) say to Alison 30 years ago, mother of 3 young boys? Any gentle words of wisom?
Alison: I would tell her exactly what I would tell you and your readers, "you do not have to get this motherhood thing perfect, you are doing perfectly well enough." Then I would give her and you a big warm hug.
Kate: Alison, thank you again for taking the time to connect & share. What is the best way for people to follow you from afar and stay tuned into for book release information on The Yoga of Motherhood?
Alison: I have a Facebook page and a website that has been a little quiet while I am writing the book, the Yoga of Motherhood. You will find all the information there and I will keep you abreast of any news about the book!
I am collecting the names of any yoga teachers who might be interested in learning to teach The Yoga of Parenting to other new mothers and fathers. I will be conducting an online training/mentorship that will be free to anyone who will commit to teaching under resourced parents one series a year. If any of your readers are interested they can email through the website.
Thanks Kate for all you do for young parents, it was a pleasure sharing ideas with you.