Last March (before lockdown hit) I was super run down. I was teaching most evenings, with lots of early morning starts, and travelling all over London to get to classes. Any night I wasn’t teaching I’d be seeing friends. I didn’t have a clear weekend for months ahead. On top of this (or as a result of it perhaps) I was dealing with semi regular insomnia episodes, most of which were borne of the fear I might sleep in by accident. I’ve always been a pretty healthy person but that winter I was getting ill at least once a month.

Covid stopped me in my tracks. Those first weeks of lockdown I slept 10 hours a night and still struggled to get out of bed in the morning. There was a lot to be scared and anxious about, but for once, I wasn’t losing sleep over it. The week before an official lockdown was announced, I remember agonising over whether or not to cancel the retreat I had been organising. In the end every cancellation was a huge weight lifted. I still felt anxious and sometimes found it hard to cope with some big feelings (covid was just the tip of the iceberg for me and many of my friends), but in many ways I was healthier than before the pandemic.

The irony that it took an international health crisis to bring equilibrium to my nervous system is not lost on me. In lockdown, away from my normal schedule, I learned how much sleep I needed and when my natural sleep cycles were. Instead of teaching the number of classes I needed to survive, I taught the classes I genuinely felt I had the energy for, and my classes flourished in this environment. I honestly think it might have taken me years to reach this understanding and enact these changes, had it not been for the pandemic.

Now that we’re possibly returning to something that looks like normality I’ve already noticed some warning signs. Sleep is harder to come by, my diary is filling up, I’m spending more time in front of a screen. This time I’m keeping an eye on it. I’m practising saying no (very hard!), cancelling plans if I feel overwhelmed and maintaining my daily practises which give me a chance to stop and check in.

I know everyone has had their own experience of this last year, some of which will be very different to mine. As you piece back together the parts of your life, is there anything you want to change? Anything you could do without? Any practises that have held you up this last year that you’d like to keep?

Baby Massage has been practised in societies across the world for thousands of years. In the last half century there has been a great deal of research which testifies to the benefits of infant massage for both caregiver and child, but there are likely wider benefits, that may not yet have found expression or evidence. Here I’ve outlined some of the keys benefits for babies, caregivers and society at large.

Relaxation

Like adults, babies can get stressed and upset, but unlike adults they don’t yet have the ability to regulate their stress response. When babies cry, they need comfort and reassurance, this helps reduce the level of stress hormones in their brain and soothe them. In baby massage, parents are encouraged to listen to and respond to their babies needs, even if that means not massaging them for a whole session. By taking this approach we promote bonding and secure attachment, which supports baby’s emotional wellbeing.

Relief

Babies have plenty of growing pains and several of the strokes taught in baby massage classes can help relieve colic, gas and teething amongst other things. Bonding helps to release oxytocin in both child and caregiver, and oxytocin has an analgesic effect, making pain and discomfort more manageable.

Safe Touch

In a baby massage class, caregivers ask their baby permission to massage them, and interpret and respect their cues. From an early age these babies are being given a right to say whether or not they want to be touched and where. Building this language of consent in to a child’s day-to-day helps them to form and communicate boundaries when they get older and are able to speak for themselves.

Development

Compared to other mammals humans are born early on their development and relatively helpless. Baby massage supports the development of their systems, such as circulation, digestion, proprioception outside of the womb.

These are just a few of the well documented benefits of baby massage, but there are plenty more. Click here for information about upcoming courses.

Cycling is one of my great joys. I get fresh air, exercise, the glee of skimming past traffic jams, and I don’t have to cram myself into a tube carriage with angry, sweaty commuters. But hours on a bike has an impact on our bodies, and when I undertook my yoga training I became more aware of the potential ill effects, and began exploring how I could use mindfulness and yoga to mitigate and balance some of these effects.

The importance of the core is drilled into us, but it covers several muscles with different functions. I find that core stability is a more helpful concept. Try to circle your wrist. Easy right? Now try to circle your wrist without moving your forearm at all. Different? Harder? When you’re cycling your legs are the primary body part that’s moving, but if we cannot effectively stabilise the rest of the body then that movement can move up into the pelvis, which can result in lower backpain. To avoid this we need to stabilise the pelvis by recruiting muscles around it; gluteal muscles, obliques, abdominals. I test my stability from time to time by seeing whether I can let go of the handlebars and steer the bike effectively from the pelvis. Learning how to correctly recruit the core in order to stabilise movement in other parts of the body can minimise the impact of cycling on the body.

Cycling, while low impact in some respects, involves repetitive movement through one particular range of motion. When our bodies only move through one range of motion they begin to lay down layers of collagen which prohibits other movements. If you’re engaged in running, cycling, rowing etc you are working consistently within the sagittal plane of motion, as you move forward and backward. But you can also move side to side through the corronal plane (think star jumps, wide legged positions), or through rotation in the transverse plane (twist, diagonal movements). In a yoga class we (hopefully) move the body through all planes of motion, which is why yoga acts as a perfect complimentary movement practise to cycling.

These are just some of the key themes we explore in my Yoga for Cyclists workshops, learning movements and poses which develop core strength and move the body through it’s full range of motion to create balance in the body. We also look at optimising breath, and staying mindful behind the wheel, but I’ll save these topics for another time.

Katie is now parent to one five-year-old boy and a two-year-old girl, who she was 36 weeks pregnant with at the time of this interview. She reflected on her experiences of early motherhood in relation to the svadhisthana chakra and the themes of play, creativity and fluidity. These are her words but they have been edited to relate more strongly to the key themes.

For women in pregnancy you start to experience all these changes which prepare you for your new reality. You have to adjust the way you eat, the things you can do, and partners aren’t experiencing that as much. For them it starts when they see the baby. So there is no real comparison between the experience of the parents. The baby needs you [the parent carrying the baby].

During pregnancy you’re bombarded by all the stuff you “need” to buy, when actually you don’t need any of it. Babies want you to give them your full attention and will be entertained by you pulling funny faces. So in motherhood you really do access your creativity and playfulness in order to keep your child happy. It’s important to get your home ready and your community ready. Then your new reality starts.

In motherhood you can feel like your life is a string of mundane tasks, and you can never finish anything. It’s only when you can accept that and let go of what you thought was going to happen on any given day that you can fully relax into the experience of motherhood, which I have always found quite challenging.

I remember one day after I had been looking after Freddie all day, and been unable to wash the dishes or tidy up. In the afternoon I had one of those yogi teas and the quote on the tab said ‘every day is an achievement’ and I really needed to hear that. In the early days you just need to think, my job is to keep this baby alive and look after it. That’s it. Everything else is a bonus.

Another mother I knew, who didn’t have a very happy time of it, once told me ‘you just have to find the joy everyday’. This has been a really helpful mantra for me, because there’s always something, every day, which helps you to navigate the seemingly endless to do lists. It’s especially hard at the beginning because of all the hormones. At about 3 months the babies begin to smile and that helps, but before that they’re just a little blob of unresponsiveness which needs everything and you don’t know if you’re doing anything right.

As a mother you have to use creativity to achieve day to day tasks because you can’t leave your baby, or at least I couldn’t leave Freddie for a second. So you have to figure out how to have a shower, or figure out if you can leave the baby for 5 minutes. I used to bring a bouncing seat into the shower to put him in while I ran in.

I think the stuff about fluidity really resonates. You have to remember in motherhood that it’s all fleeting, and if you’re ever really struggling with something, it will all change in a few months; feeding, teething, moving. It’s all a phase.

When your child grows up this creativity is more applicable to communication. If you can keep the fun and creativity going it helps in everyday situations. If you approach things in a way that’s negative and exasperated then it makes everything harder. Say you go to the ice cream shop and it’s closed, instead of just expecting the child to get over it, and that you’ll do it another day, you might get a notebook and pen out, and say ‘if you could have any kind of ice cream in the world right now, what would it be? How many scoops would you have? 10? 20?’ By making a game out of it you help to adjust them to the situation. As your child gets older and begin to invent their own make believe world then you access your playfulness to get into that world.

There’s not a way to communicate what you’re doing when you’re playing with a child. When you’ve got stacks of dirty dishes and the house is really untidy, it can look from the outside like you’re not coping. As we discussed in the book ‘What Mothers Do’ Naomi Stadlen talks about there being a lack of vocabulary surrounding motherhood, and what ‘good’ or ‘capable’ parenting is. There’s also very little way to show that you’re doing a good job until they grow older and turn out not to be a serial killer. And if they turn out not to be a perfect child, how much of that is genetics and how much is your parenting?

I think a lot of women can get caught up in the birth, and they get stuck or blocked in these areas of the body (around the pelvis) because of traumatic birth experiences. I’m glad these stories are getting shared and taken seriously, but I am a bit cynical when people are still stuck on this years after – for me I think you’ve got bigger things to worry about.

Perhaps the most important and enduring thing in relationship to fluidity concerns the decisions you make about how you parent your child. I think you should just do what works for you. There are millions of books out there targeted towards desperate, sleep-deprived people. Sometimes I read these books and wonder whether the authors have ever seen a human child. Of course there are general guidelines but there are different parents, different children, and you just need to take from those books what resonates with you and trust your instincts. Take what comes and do the best you can.