Do you have dreams of a regular yoga practice with a bunch of cool women, in a beautiful studio in a trendy neighborhood, with designer yoga togs and a pretty water bottle that says “om” on the side? But then life gets in the way it just never happens?
As a yoga instructor to moms and a mom herself, Jennifer Colletti knows that a structured yoga practice that requires time, energy and punctuality may not always happen. She devotes much of her teaching to the act of mothering and has become a spokesperson for the mothering community through her yoga studio in Minneapolis, the OM Collective, and through Fertile Grounding Yoga, a program she created for men and women struggling with fertility issues.
Jennifer believes that we can all benefit from yoga whether we ever step foot in a class or not. Yes, yoga is about poses—but it’s also about how you live your life. So give yourself a break and listen to Jennifer’s wise advice:
Are there any techniques/exercises/poses from your teaching that you can share with us harried parents to help us get through our busy days?
As parents we don’t always get the luxury of a lengthy practice with our favorite teacher. So most importantly I like to tell my students, for a daily practice yoga doesn’t have to take place in a studio or for a long period of time. Adding in a pose here or there, intentional breath work, a mindful walk or mindfully making dinner can all be our yoga. It’s about intention, and giving it to each of our actions. I often say to my students that connecting the mind, body and spirit is much like putting our puzzle pieces back together. As parents especially, our energy gets pushed out away from our inner body - by taking even small mindful steps each day, we allow our energies to come back in and fill our own hearts. When our heart is full, our heart can expand.
There are many different poses that we can easily add into our day.
1. Down Dog is a great pose, because it allows us to be upside down for a while, which is a wonderful benefit to help clear the mind. From a technical standpoint, this pose is considered an inversion (a pose that brings us upside down). It opens the shoulders and chest including the heart center. It also opens the back muscles, the back of the heart, and it’s wonderfully opening for the backs of our legs too. Anytime we can open the heart, we can release stress, and release what we are holding on to, or gripping. We hold many of our emotions in our muscles and tissues. We know about holding on to things in the mind but holding on to them in the tissues of the body may be a new concept to us. It’s the reason why when we practice yoga, we may feel emotional at times, because the physical body is releasing the stress, emotion or even trauma, which is a good thing, but also may feel surprising when it happens.
2. Standing Sun Salutation is a great one. Not only does it give a stretch throughout the whole body, it also mindfully brings breath into the body. (very relaxing!) Stand with hands at heart center, inhale the arms wide and to the sky, exhale and fold at the waist bringing the forehead towards the shins, inhale and lift the heart halfway up (you will look like an upside capital L), exhale and fold forward again, inhale the arms wide and sweep them all the way up to the sky. Exhale and bring your hands back to your heart. Repeat 3-5 times.
3. Legs up the Wall is my all time favorite pose! First of all when you do it, it puts you in this dream like state, it’s so yummy. To get into it is a little awkward, but it’s so worthwhile. Let your arms fall to the floor, palms up, at about a 45 degree angle. Close your eyes and breathe. Stay 5, 10, 20 minutes, whatever speaks to you, if you only have one minute, do it for one! You can also do this on the sofa.
Do you do yoga with your son? If you could recommend one pose or practice to do with your child, what would it be?
YES!!! Love to do yoga with my son! We don’t make anything formal about it at home. We just bring it into our day! One yoga move we all do in our house is called (in our house), a lion breath. When someone is feeling frustrated we remind each other to take deep breaths by doing a “lion breath”. Our lion breath is not the true yogic lion breath if you are familiar with the version where you stick your tongue out. We just do a deep inhale through the nose, and a deep exhale through the mouth, and repeat, allowing our bodies to calm down. Teaching them how to breathe is huge!! We can all relate to stress and the lack of breath in our bodies the greater the stress, so by teaching them how to slow their breathing down and slow their bodies down is really impactful. We live in such an outwardly stimulating society, it’s very easy to get lost in the over-stimulation. Giving our kids the awareness to move inwards, and find stillness is incredibly important.
Also, my son is 4 1/2, and at that age, and even younger for that matter, kids have this innate desire to be upside down daily. Which is so good for our bodies! It’s a wonderful flush of our systems, and balancing to the right and left brain. I often find my son in a modified little headstand on the sofa, using the back of it for support, just kind of hanging out, yelling “look at me!!” Sometimes we both hang off the edge of the sofa, or the bed, and do a back bend and just hang.
He also loves Down Dog and loves to crawl around us when we are in it, too.
I think the key to kids and yoga is to keep it really playful and to give them skills they can use as they move through life.
How has yoga shaped your home?
I love this spot in my bedroom where this photo is taken (yoga shot in front of fireplace). It’s very organized and true to my design sensibility.
But our main level clutters my mind more which is harder for me to function around (I am working on this). I have had a project laid out in my dining room for months now – it’s a big chunk of my grandmother’s photographs. Even though it was kind of stressing me out that I still had the project out, I had kind of a cool epiphany about it: because it was sitting out, every day I got to see her, and let her be part of my day, and something about that felt really warming to me. This helped the clutter disappear for me.
Are you mindful about your beauty regimen?
My beauty arsenal is really minimal and I am super conscientious about my choices these days. Coming from the fashion industry I had an insane amount of products – cabinets and drawers full!!! ….and then my husband and I were diagnosed with Infertility which lead me to be a research MAVEN!!!
What I found out was how many chemicals there were in products we use every day.
So I no longer go on product binges, I have gotten rid of most of what I used to use, and I use websites like Environmental Working Group, where you can rate your products for toxicity and check to see what toxicity flags are being raised. I use products that rate a 0-3, and do this for my family too!
I also purchase from Organic Divas. They are an amazing group of local Minnesota women that research products like crazy…and everything they carry is non-toxic and passes four important criteria to ensure integrity.
This is so different from my former lifestyle, but it suits me, and suits my life so much more, and I feel really good about finding products that are made with a ton of integrity.
How has yoga affected your parenting?
I had a lot of fear around becoming a parent, yet I knew in my heart this was what I wanted. I knew I was having a boy, I knew his name long before I even met my husband, but something in me was so afraid of screwing things up. I suppose we all feel like that. You take on this life that you are responsible for, and you think about your own life and wonder oh geez how do I not make those same mistakes. Yet I think all along those mistakes have made me who I am, and helped me to become a better person and parent, too. Forgiveness too, sending it back to myself, allowing myself to just be, and not be perfect, and know that it’s ok to screw things up as a parent too, because it’s how we learn and how we progress. It’s how mindfulness can take over, allowing it into the body and mind, allowing intention into my actions.
I have a rule of thumb when I am having a situation that is not going as I would prefer….take a few steps back and look at the energy I am putting into it. More often than not it’s MY energy that is throwing off my outcome. My expectations are throwing off the outcome; so if I let go of the expectations, how does the situation look different to me? How does my outcome change? I call it being the conscious observer. Are you with me? In other words, it’s me that’s f’ing it up! Recognizing that and releasing it is amazingly powerful!
What makes you feel like a good parent?
The smile on my son’s face. When Beckett was a baby we were out with him at a local festival, and he was his happy giggly self, enjoying his time with us, and a woman walked up to us and commented on how happy he was. She turned and looked at us, and said “That is all because of you!! You are doing a GREAT job!!!” I was taken so aback by her comment, and so complimented at the same time, especially in a time when I had a new baby, and was feeling vulnerable. I wish I could tell that woman now what an impact that observation has made on me.
For more from Kristin, read her blog, Clam Chowder for Lunch
For more information about Jennifer Colletti’s Fertile Grounding Yoga, visit her website.
Top photo by Ed Bock Editions