It’s early autumn. My daughter and I are in a small dance wear shop, looking for a new gymnastics outfit for her. We’ve picked out a couple of outfits and Lizzie is in the change room trying them on as I wander the racks reminiscing about the dance recitals of my youth. I’m clear across the store when I hear singing from the change room: “Pretty pretty please, don’t you ever ever feel like you’re less than, less than perfect.” It’s my daughter, singing loudly and with abandon, repeating the same verse over and over. I smile and make a mental note to mark this in the highlight reel of Lizzie’s childhood.
Lizzie is eight. She is sparkly, energetic, athletic, loving, loyal, and unabashedly confident in her body. She does not question her looks, her physicality, the shape of her legs, the line of her hips, the slope of her nose. She has no idea that what she’s singing is more than perfect.
Recently there was an ill-advised campaign by Victoria’s Secret that used the words, “the perfect body,” over an image of a group of very slim, well-endowed, supermodel-types. All of the models looked similar, and were in no way a cross-section of the average woman. The back-lash that ensued was fierce, and the website Dear Kate (also a retailer of undergarments) responded beautifully with the same slogan over a picture of real women of all shapes and sizes. After a petition to change the slogan gained momentum, Victoria’s Secret altered the wording to: A Body For Everybody. But they didn’t change the image of the models underneath.
I know Lizzie will continue to be bombarded with these types of images in the media as she grows older. We already discuss the varied messages that girls (and women) are receiving in magazines and on television. We talk about how important it is to challenge the narrow standard of beauty and perceived perfection in many of the images we see, and this will be an ongoing conversation. But for now, she is comfortable in her body and in who she is, and I wish that I could press pause on this stage of her life.
Hearing her sing Perfect by Pink sums up exactly what I will continue to say to her: “Pretty, pretty please, don’t you ever, ever feel you are less than, less than perfect.” I want her to know (and always feel) that she is, indeed, perfect. Just perfect.
There are a lot of milestones in motherhood, but one thing I wasn't prepared for was the impact of the little things. I've learned a lot from my kids, but here are two of the biggest lessons they've taught me. And if you're like me, you've been inundated with lots of bad parenting advice. Here are the four best pieces of parenting advice ever.
My husband and I were out for dinner a few weeks ago. Just like old times. Except it wasn’t like old times. When Tim excused himself to go to the bathroom, my first instinct was to reach into my purse and check my iPhone. As I was scrolling through my inbox, I stopped myself. "Why am I checking email?" I thought. I had absolutely no good reason, so I put the phone down. Looking around, most people who weren’t engrossed in conversation, (and some who were still having a conversation) were on their smartphones. Heads down.
One of the things I have always loved about dining out is people watching. Or simply sitting with my thoughts as the buzz of the restaurant swirls around me. I cherish time at restaurants or cafes alone. Every year on my birthday I go out for lunch. By myself. It’s a tradition I started in my twenties, and it’s one I thoroughly enjoy. It’s a chance to reflect on the year I’ve just experienced, and contemplate my hopes and goals for the year ahead. It’s an opportunity to reconnect with myself, and what’s important to me.
But this idea of connecting with myself, and being comfortable being alone (without my smartphone as a companion) isn’t just reserved for restaurants. It’s an important part of who I am. I carve out precious time in my daily schedule for walking outdoors, meditation, yoga, running, or any number of solitary pursuits that make me happy. And this brings me to the larger issue at hand – why I feel it’s so important to teach our kids the value of solitude.
I want my kids to know the joy of being alone. The kind of solitude that: encourages a wandering mind and the ability to daydream; leads to made-up games, or deep imaginings; allows our children to sit and feel comfortable in their own company; gives them the opportunity to know their own thoughts, and be confident in the decisions they make (even if they end up being the wrong ones.) I want my kids to know the kind of solitude that teaches them being alone isn’t the same as being lonely.
I worry that the glut of technology and games and devices and on-demand tv shows has the ability to drown out their inside voices, the voices they need to understand in order to know and be comfortable with who they are. I worry that their first instinct when there is a pause in the daily schedule will be to turn to some sort of device.
In the article "No Time To Think" from The New York Times Review, the author suggests that we busy ourselves because we don’t want to face the negativities of our lives. And studies further suggest that not giving yourself time to reflect impairs your ability to empathize with others. I do not want this for my children.
Self-reflection cannot truly happen if it is replaced by the constant distraction or feedback of things outside of ourselves. What happens to the teenager who finds it difficult to make any decision without messaging her friends? What happens to the child who can’t sit in the car or bus or train and simply look outside the window, be curious about his environment, or sit in awe of her surroundings? What happens if we're cultivating a generation of kids who can’t appreciate solitude because they've never learned how to just “be,” and sit with all the good and bad that comes with it? What would this look like? It scares me.
I feel strongly that it is my job to model for my kids: that it’s okay to sit in front of the fire in comfortable silence; that sitting with negativity is in fact part of how we deal with difficulties in our life; that the moment lunch or dinner is over, I don’t have to check my iPhone for messages; that every memory in the making doesn’t have to be uploaded to Facebook or Instagram; that lying in the hammock in the backyard looking up at the clouds can be more fulfilling than playing the latest video game; that I don’t constantly need to fill my time with distractions outside of myself.
It’s hard to be alone or still sometimes. It can be challenging to look inside and get to know one’s self, embrace the good stuff, and accept (or look to change) the things we don’t like. But it is an essential part of becoming who we are. Whether it’s through journaling, meditation, exercise, or unplugging and getting out into nature, I want my children to learn to be comfortable in solitude.
Meditation is a great tool for self-reflection. If you're new to meditation, check out this post on How to Meditate. You might also like The Power of Daydreams, or yoga tips to start your day off in a positive way.
We all want a stress-free holiday season, but let’s face it: it's often a tricky time. We long to enjoy vacation days, spend quality time with family and friends, and celebrate whichever rituals we honour during the festive season. But these desires are often at odds with the pressures that accompany the holidays: the stress of making the time special (whether that involves baking, cooking, traveling, shopping for presents, scheduling parties, or hosting brunches); the challenge of maintaining our own family’s schedule while trying to fit in with our extended family’s plans; the difficulties that arise from being in close quarters with relatives for longer than usual; and the expectations we have of ourselves to feel happy throughout it all.
So, how can we make the most of the holiday season, and keep the stresses at bay? Here are five yoga tips to do just that:
At its core, yoga is about awareness - of the mind, body, and spirit. How does this affect our interactions during the holidays? If we are aware of our thoughts, words, and actions, and our expression of these three things as we move through the holiday season, we are less likely to put ourselves in situations that create stress. For example, if we are in tune with the body's signals, we become aware if we are overextending ourselves physically. By taking care of ourselves (think: sleep; being aware of what we’re eating and drinking and how that affects us; making fresh air and exercise a priority) we can set ourselves up in a positive way to tackle the holiday schedule.
One of the tenets of yoga is the practice of non-attachment, which means taking action(s) without being attached to or having expectations of the outcome. This can be extremely helpful during the holidays in mitigating dashed expectations. For example, when we do something for others and expect a certain response, we are often disappointed when we don’t receive the reaction we had hoped for. But if we enter into the holidays without being attached to the reactions of others or the outcome of certain events, we avoid unnecessary stress, disappointment and negativity.
Ahimsa is one of the first philosophical practices we learn when exploring the foundations of yoga. It means to practice non-violence, or to do no harm. Just as we can—with awareness—be conscious of the way we think, speak and act, ahimsa involves a further step: making a commitment to not harm ourselves or others by our thoughts, words or actions. At a time when emotions tend to run high, and frictions in certain relationships can surface, the practice of ahimsa can help guide us through the holidays in a non-stressful, constructive and positive way.
Practicing gratitude during the holidays is a helpful tool in relieving stress and bringing positivity to our daily activities. Some of us will experience challenging times throughout the holiday season, but by reminding ourselves of what we have to be thankful for we can ease the effect of difficult circumstances. Whether it involves being thankful for moments, people, or larger concepts, we can always find things to appreciate. And the more gratitude we practice, the more we find to be thankful for.
Arguably the most important part of a yoga class is the final resting pose, savasana. Whether you’ve experienced an active, vinyasa-filled class or a slow, gentle class with only a few postures, the final relaxation portion of the class allows the body to recalibrate or come into balance. It is a chance for the body to fully relax, and let go of any remaining tension. During the holidays, it is vital to carve out time for true relaxation, especially if there are parts of the season when your schedule is crammed with activities and obligations. When we’re fully relaxed, it is impossible to be stressed. By prioritizing time to relax, we can allow our bodies to rest and rejuvenate. As a result, we’ll be ready to face the coming new year and return to our “regularly scheduled programming,” feeling refreshed and energized.
If you found this helpful, you might be interested in: how to prevent a Christmas cry-fest; seven words that reflect the true meaning of the holidays for me; or why I think setting an intention for the holidays is a great idea.