Bear Claw Mama

By Tracy Abell
Issue 91, November/December 1998

mother and child doing yogaWhat would compel a woman to attempt yoga while in the same room with a toddler? I was motivated after treating myself to a total body massage and learning that in the massage therapist’s recent experience, the only body more tightly wound than my own had been that of a person confined to a wheelchair. The sad truth was that my body was taut in all the wrong places. And what was not taut was slack. In all the wrong places. For instance, I had finally faced the realization that not only had I given birth to a beautiful son two years earlier but I had also gained a third breast. I am referring, of course, to my abdominal breast. The saggy, baggy congregation of flab that bounced whenever I walked down the stairs or became even slightly animated.

My first thought was to pour all my energy and finances into the creation of something the fashion world is sorely lacking, i.e. an abdominal bra. But I got only as far as naming my unborn creation The Ab-Bra Cadabra before admitting that lingerie would not solve my gelatinous dilemma.

Determined to achieve calm beauty inside and out, I launched a Zen-like assault on the doughy, stressed-out flesh that housed my soul. I successfully completed Phase One by excavating my yoga relaxation videotape from the pile where it was buried beneath Dr. Seuss’s Butter Battle Book and Monty Python and the Holy Grail.

Phase Two presented more of a challenge as it required getting out of bed in the morning and putting in the tape. I sleepily staggered out to the dark living room and kick-cleaned a space free of all the toys and books that littered the floor. Because I wanted to get started before my inquisitive toddler came to investigate, there was the sense of “hurry up and relax.” I hoped that if I got at least partially into the workout before he joined me, I would be better able to cope with his interruption. I would grit my teeth and, dammit, keep relaxing no matter what.

The first few times my son brought toys and stuffed animals to me as I lay stretched out on the floor, my muscles tensed while I attempted to remain focused on the exercises. In a loud, frustrated voice I commanded Fletcher to give me space. I heard myself ranting and raving over the calm voice of the yogi, and eventually I had to laugh. So much for staying centered.

After several sessions characterized by brief periods of calm peppered with territorial warfare, I got smart and discussed with Fletcher his role in my exercise regimen before I started the tape. I explained that it was not okay for him to climb on me or drop wooden blocks on my stomach. I made it clear that it was unacceptable to pry my eyelids open, drive a truck into the side of my head, or pull on my toes.

Fletcher, in turn, negotiated a few alterations in the regimen by introducing hugs and kisses into our routine. Instinctively understanding that someone in search of inner peace rarely turns away a tender embrace, he expressed his love physically.

I began to understand that what I needed to do was to increase both my muscular and mental flexibility. Whenever Fletcher put a stuffed frog on my head, I tried to incorporate it into my routine. Start with your feet. Relax your toes, your instep, your ankles. Relax your shins, your knees, your thighs. Relax the frog. Let yourself go.

As we settled into our daily routine, Fletcher started recognizing yoga movements and imitating them throughout the day. He practiced “bear claws” and “lion face,” and whenever he saw me utilize a tension-reducing exercise, he would call out, “Yoga man!” Soon Fletcher began to act as my coach on those mornings when I was overwhelmed by the prospect of getting vertical. He crawled over me in bed whispering, “Mommy. Wake. Bear claw. Yoga man.”

This became our compromise, our special routine. Although the yoga sessions were not interruption-free, they were mostly peaceful episodes that soothed our collective beast. And, best of all, every time I reached the end of the tape where the yogi directed me to a positive visualization, I considered it a double victory that not only was I completely relaxed but that my visualization could show me the image of a happy, healthy, beaming Fletcher. And his frog.

Tracy Abell lives in Colorado with her husband Kurt and their sons Fletcher (3) and Harlan (8 months). She continues to strive for more physical and emotional flexibility.

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