How I Escaped My iPhone For 3 Whole Days

By accident, that’s how. I left my wall charger in Hermanus on a recent weekend away and then The Band took my car charger with him to Afrikaburn. And it has been the most wonderful accident, learning experience and eye-opener.

Day one was just a huge adjustment – it felt as if I was walking around without my knickers on. It was half fun and half filled with anxiety – I kept having these happy moments when I realised that I hadn’t checked my phone for hours, followed by a sense of ‘what if I’m missing out on Stuff and don’t even know about it’ anxiety.

Day two was my chance to go out and buy a charger – I got to the fabulous Buro store in Stellenbosch (go there if you ever want amazing, personalized service – they never cease to impress me) and it was closed, since it was Workers’ Day, which I had forgotten about. I was surprised that I felt really relieved to see the doors locked and the sign telling me to return the following day. It felt like someone had just given me an extra day’s holiday. And by now I was really relishing the silence and the fact that I was solely responsible for what information I was consuming – and when. I had completely lost that feeling that perhaps someone was trying to reach me and getting offended that I wasn’t responding. My dearest friends know that I sometimes need to go underground and that it’s nothing personal. And since I had both my kids with me all the time and The Band was without signal of his own in the desert, I realised that there was no need for me to feel any obligation or need to be available at all.

Late afternoon on day three saw me returning to Buro and purchasing a charger. I arrived as they were locking up for the day but being the awesome people that they are, they ushered me in and allowed me to make a quick purchase. I plugged in as soon as I got home and have just switched on my phone to find the following waiting to be consumed by unsuspecting old me, either on Twitter, Facebook or by email:

  • The One Thing You Should Be Doing For A Bloat-Free Belly
  • 6 Reasons To Start Using Coconut Oil As Toothpaste
  • Drinking enough water is vital to good health & when you do is just as NB
  • The 6 Mental Steps I Took to Manifest A 6-Figure Salary
  • 3 Ancient Ayurvedic Rituals To Rock Your Mornings
  • Here’s what gluten really does to your food
  • 10 Ways Moms Can Balance Home and Family
  • Seven tips for purposeful parenting
  • 5 Prenatal Yoga Moves Every Mama-To-Be Should Try
  • How to Overcome Anxiety and Depression Without Medications

It’s pretty clear from the headings what sort of newsletter I subscribe to, what pages I like and who I follow on Twitter: things that are supposed to uplift, inform and empower me; things that are specifically designed to help me reach my full potential – as a working mother, a yogi, a woman, someone who has to continually watch myself to make sure that my emotions are in check (more about that in another post) so that I can maintain my balance… as a human being on this planet. And when I saw all these things waiting for me, instead of feeling supported, I felt a cold, small but vice-like hand of panic tightening around my heart. I felt my breath becoming instantly sharper and shallower, and I realised why I have been feeling so relaxed the past few days: I have been in control of my thoughts and my feelings. I have been entirely able to dictate what information I consume, when. I have not had to second-guess what I have been doing, thinking, eating, wearing, cooking, or how I’ve been disciplining or what I’ve been feeding my children, not for one second. I had eaten my morning oats with gusto and no concern about the ghastliness of gluten; I have let my kids have what we call ‘piggy night’ last night because I just did not feel like going through the rigmarole and soap opera that is bathtime can be at times; I have used normal toothpaste and I have washed my bath out with Handy Andy (gasp) because I ran out of my natural cleaning products and just did not feel like driving to the shops to buy more. I have read actual books – fiction, not self-help – and I have been a total rebel and slept for 11 hours one night and for 7 the next because I was excited about clearing out my linen cupboard and didn’t want to go to bed until it was done.

And I have felt happy about it!

It has been interesting for me to see the amount of pressure I allow these sites to exert on me. How sensitive and suggestible I am in terms of feeling that I could / should be doing (everything) better. How I really am a work in progress when it comes to being more gentle on myself and not doubting myself. How you really don’t miss out on anything unmissable if you are out of radio silence for a while.

Moving forward: I am going to unsubscribe from a bunch of these newsletters; I am going to unfollow a whole flock of tweeters and I am going to unlike a horde of Facebook pages so that I have fewer sources of unsolicited advice waiting to ambush me every time I log in / on. And I am officially banning my phone from my bedroom in the evenings. It is going to charge in the kitchen while I sleep and I am going to use my old-fashioned alarm clock to wake me up.

So my love-hate affair with my phone continues, but I look forward to this continued awareness and taking control of its dominance in my life. Give it a try – switch yours off for a weekend and see how you feel, and let me know!

Yoga as treatment for colic?

Another really interesting article just caught my eye.  Titled ‘Yoga as treatment for colic?’ (by Claudia M. Gold, writing for the Boston Globe), it looks at  the benefits of yoga for the mum, not the baby, talking specifically about the importance of emotional regulation for stressed parents. I’ve always been very interested in the phenomenon of postnatal depression, having wrestled with something similar after the birth of my first child, and also having been blown away by how many of the mums who attend my baby massage courses struggle with it. For this reason, this article was of particular interest to me. It’s late and I have to get up early to teach a 6.30am class tomorrow morning, so I am going to be lazy and just copy and paste the original article below rather than paraphrasing and discussing. My bed is calling…

Just to clarify, I mean yoga for mom, not baby. In my book, Keeping Your Child in Mind, I tell a story of a mom who was struggling with both postpartum depression and a “colicky” baby. After one visit with me, she decided to take a yoga class rather than see a therapist. At a follow-up visit a couple of weeks later, their relationship seemed totally transformed. The baby smiled at her as she joyfully told me that she felt like he “had just been born.” I attributed much of the transformation to having a chance to be heard both by me and by her husband. I wonder if, in fact, the yoga had an important role to play. I’ve been thinking about recommending yoga as part of treatment both for colic and postpartum depression, two problems which often go together.

Recently I had the pleasure of meeting Suzanne Zeedyk, a developmental psychologist in Scotland who is kind of my counterpart in the UK. She is trying to address a large audience regarding the implications of the explosion of research and knowledge at the interface of neuroscience and developmental psychology. She’s had quite a bit of success-of course its different because Scotland is a small place that has socialized medicine. The departments of education, health care and finance all seem to be listening to her. She has even gotten the cooperation of law enforcement in understanding the connection between violence prevention and supporting early-parent child relationships. In a piece from an early education blog : Early Years the Key to Reducing Violence, a detective talks about how the “Violence Reduction Unit” is supporting early years initiatives and work with parents.

So what does this have to do with yoga? Earlier this week Suzanne sent me a link to a post she had written about the importance of emotional regulation for stressed parents. She asks the question: “Is there a child protection agency out there that includes yoga as a mandatory element of their parenting programmes?” She describes the multiple demands on mothers whose children are in foster care, mothers who themselves often have a history of trauma, with nothing being offered to support their efforts at emotional regulation. But, she wisely points out, emotional regulation is perhaps the most important and most difficult task for a mother. It is through self-regulation that a parent teaches this essential skill to a child. She says:

In other words, children’s brains and bodies can only learn what self-comfort and containment feel like when they have first experienced comfort and containment in the arms of a trusted adult. If the brain does not have the opportunity to know this state, then it will not build the synaptic connections that are able to easily facilitate emotional regulation, later on in life. If a child does not have such neural pathways in place within the first few years of his/her life, then the battle to gain control of intense feelings may forever be a losing one.

A child and mother in the child protective services system is an extreme example. But when a baby has colic, or a mother is depressed, or both, this task of emotional regulation, of staying calm in the face of your child’s distress, is very challenging. Perhaps yoga should also be a routine intervention in this situation.

By coincidence, I had just come back from a yoga class when I read her post. My teacher, who is now pregnant herself with her second child, teaches a yoga class for pregnant moms (this is also a great idea, especially given what we are learning about the effects of stress during pregnancy on fetal development.) She then offers these moms the chance to come to her class after the baby is born. So while doing my down-dogs I listened to a cooing baby, who looked to be about 3 months old. He happily kicked his legs while he intently watched his mother. Interestingly, whenever her head was down ( they were right in front of me so I could easily observe, and as those who read my blog know, I am a professional baby observer!)) his cooing reached a crescendo. Then when she looked up and smiled at him he became quiet and gleefully smiled back- a great example of a young infant’s terrific communication skills!!

Of course yoga is not for everyone, and yoga classes are extraordinarily variable. The point is that moms, particularly under the stress of colic and/or postpartum depression, need help with their own emotional regulation. Using the body to help the brain, through yoga, martial arts, swimming or even simply walking can be an important intervention that is good for the whole family!

‘Sitting with Depression’ and an enlightening visit to the doctor

Following on from my Bah-humbug post, I may as well confess that the ‘joys’ of the festive season got on top of me so much (or rather, I allowed them to) that I ended up going to see a doctor, thinking that something dreadful must be wrong with me, seeing as I was the only ‘drol in the drinkwater’ ** and everyone else seemed to be having such a ball. He was very professional, asked a lot of questions, and eventually diagnosed me with stress. With all due respect, this wasn’t particularly helpful since that was the reason I was there in the first place, and also since when he posed the simple question, ‘How are your stress levels at the moment?’, my reply was ‘Through the *&%$*^& roof’ (to quote my dear friend Nicole).

Nonetheless, during his line of questioning, specifically about my history, I told him that I had had a pretty nasty and traumatic experience when I was in my teens, and that it had crossed my mind that perhaps this was rearing its ugly head (even though I was pretty confident that I had long since processed the whole thing and moved on). His advice was clear cut: Do Not Think About That Stuff. Ever. And he used the analogy of a drawer (actually pulling his drawer out from his desk to demonstrate, in case I didn’t quite get the analogy) that you can pack all this ‘stuff’ into and then firmly, decisively, push it shut again. You know that the ‘stuff’ is in there, but God help me, you do not look at it again. Just in case I hadn’t cottoned on to his theory, he then used the analogy of having a beloved dog that dies. He said that yes, you will be sad that the dog has died, but that you make a point of not thinking about the dead dog because you know it will make you sad.

At the time, I remember feeling something almost physical, like a switch that went in my head, where I realised that him and I have clearly different approaches, live on different planets and have totally different world views. I took it all in, gave him the benefit of the doubt and didn’t express my disagreement with him, but I definitely was thinking ‘hmmm, he clearly has some Stuff that he is too terrified to even look at’, whilst thinking about what Freud called the “return of the repressed” – the result of ignoring the shadow side of our personalities. I majored in psychology at university and admittedly only learnt enough to make me dangerous when it comes to having opinions in the field, however I do believe that by simply refusing to deal with, or acknowledge, any issues or traumas or whatever it may be, you run the risk of setting yourself up for trouble and discontentment further down the line, when these unresolved issues come bubbling to the surface. But that’s just me.

So, it was with great interest that I read an article in Yoga Journal a few days ago, touching on exactly this subject.

Mark Epstein is an author and psychiatrist in New York and has been a student of Buddhist meditation for 25 years. He describes himself as a ‘therapist influenced by the wisdom of the East’ and he recently wrote an article in Yoga Journal titled ‘Sitting with Depression’. The tagline is ‘Depressed people think they know themselves, but maybe they only know depression.’ This was enough to make me read on since the Black Dog (as Winston Churchill called his own depression) has hounded a few of my nearest and dearest in recent times, however as I read on I was intrigued to find that he, in a much more palatable manner, seemed to echo what my doctor was trying to say.  It also brought to mind a quote by Mark Twain that I have always loved: ‘Drag your thoughts away from your troubles…by the ears, by the heels, or any other way you can manage it.’

He talks about the merits of attempting to disentangle oneself from one’s problems, rather than going more deeply into them, and he expresses his confidence that ‘there is another direction in which to move in such situations: away from the problems and into the unknown. If we stay with the fear this often induces, we have a special opportunity to see our own egos at work, defending against the unknown while hiding out in the very problems we claim to want freedom from. Buddhism is very clear about how important it is to move in such a direction.’

It has been extremely thought-provoking for me to hear two clearly well-read and qualified therapists saying more or less the same thing within a two week period, and flies in the face of everything that I have thought for a long time. It’s not that I am a navel-gazer who gets enjoyment from obsessing about myself and my Problems (who doesn’t have them? Problems, that is, not navels), it’s just that I have always felt that it may be healthier to face up to them and deal with them directly and not pretend that they don’t exist. Now, I am revising my opinion. And as with everything in yoga, thinking that it’s surely all about balance.

It’s funny, ever since all our house guests have left and I have my home and my children to myself again, my stress levels have plummeted and I am more content and ‘chilled’ than I’ve been in a while, so there probably was no need to have gone to see that doctor in the first place.  That said, I’m really glad that I did as it has given me a whole new perspective on how to go about working with oneself and any issues that one may be carrying. To end with one of those dreadfully tacky quotes (which I secretly quite like): ‘Don’t look backwards. That’s not the way you’re going’.

For anyone who is interested in the full article (which is really worth a read), you can find it at http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/137.

** Afrikaans idiom meaning ‘the dung in the drinking water/town well’.