Student Stories: Author Suzannah Neufeld

Recently, recommendations for the book Awake at 3am started rolling in from a few of our perinatal teachers. Turns out, not only is this book solidly relevant to our population of mamas and mamas-to-be, but the author is one of our very own Namaste students. We love supporting our student’s passions and projects, so you can find this small volume of wisdom in all of our boutiques.

What led to your book idea? Did you have a personal experience that led to its’ development? Or did it come more from your work with clients in the field of Psychotherapy? 

When my daughter was about six months old, a friend of mine who worked in publishing came to me and floated the idea of writing a book on mindfulness for pregnant and new moms. I was so excited that my fantasy of writing a book was now a possibility, but it felt hard to think about writing an inspiring book about mindfulness when I was in the thick of coping with my own mood and anxiety struggles in new motherhood (not to mention having no time to write!). It took me about a year to get going on the writing after that because I was so exhausted all the time. Then when I finally had the energy to start writing, I noticed that everything kept being so informed by how hard I had found that time period, as well as by the stories of the moms I was working with in my therapy practice.

As I got through about half of the writing, I had to go back to the publisher and ask if we could change the book to speak directly to the moms like me and my clients that struggled with mood and anxiety concerns.

I know you are a part of the Namaste community. How long have you been with us, who do you practice with? What attracts you to these instructors?

I first tried a class at Namaste 2.5 years ago after I opened the Rockridge Wellness Center, a counseling and health collective a block away. I knew about it from the wonderful Antonia Fokken, who had mentored me when I first studied yoga therapy. I would drop in here and there, but I started coming more regularly because my favorite teacher from when I lived in San Francisco, Sean Haleen, started teaching right at my lunch break. I love his alignment-based approach. He stopped teaching there earlier this year, and so I’ve had the pleasure of trying a few other teachers. I try to take Naushon‘s class every week. Her class is challenging yet something about how she teaches makes the practice feel simple and direct. No words or poses feel wasted or show off-y. And I always feel amazing afterwards. It’s also fun to take her class because so many of my therapist colleagues are in the room! I think it may be half therapists in that class–it’s like a therapist reunion.

What style of yoga do you like doing and why?

It’s hard to say what style of yoga I like doing because it seems to always be changing. In my 20s, I loved super challenging vinyasa classes–the thrill of learning new things, pushing my limits, and moving to music is what hooked me in to yoga. In my 30s, I had sustained a few injuries, and realized that I had turned the vinyasa classes into a form of striving. Those years, I focused on restorative, yin, and alignment-based practices, with a significant focus on meditation instead of asana as well. I loved prenatal yoga during my two pregnancies, and I studied yoga therapy. Yoga therapy teaches to the individual, and this shifted my yoga to a short home practice responsive to my needs each day.

In the past year, as I have moved into my 40s, I find it very full circle that I am drawn to vinyasa again. I crave that movement because I sit so much in my work as a therapist. I think I was afraid to try vinyasa again since I associated it with injuries and pushing myself. But ten years off from it steeped me in tools to move more mindfully, and I have been delighted to be able to approach vinyasa with less ego and more curiosity. I love that each decade of yoga seems to teach me new things.

Has your practice in general or your practice at Namaste specifically influenced you or this project?

About six years ago, I did a few yin intensives with Sarah Powers. She taught a vow at the beginning of her classes: “I commit now to developing awareness of this body, mind, and heart for my own or others’ well being. I affirm the immeasurable value of this practice, and I acknowledge that it is possible to practice inclusive of all feelings and circumstances.” I now say this commitment at the beginning of my own practice and every time I teach–because it sums up exactly how my practice has influenced my life, and by extension this project.

I view yoga as an awareness practice that benefits both me and those I go out in the world to care for–my kids, husband, friends, and clients. And I remind myself that if I think that I can’t “do” yoga because I am too sad or too out of shape or too whatever, then I have left yoga behind and am in the realm of judging mind. Yoga is not what we see on Instagram. It’s an awareness practice that can be practiced inclusive of all feelings and circumstances–including feelings of depression or panic and circumstances like when you have a crying baby in your arms in the middle of the night.

How do you personally define wellness for mamas?

So many moms struggle with “wellness” and blame themselves for not eating healthfully enough or doing “enough” yoga or working out some special way, when really the struggle has nothing to do with them and has everything to do with a society that offers so little support for new families. We drop off a casserole for a new mom, but then that’s it. We need to fight for things like better paid parental leave for both parents, subsidized childcare, and more places for moms and families to come together, talk in a real, unfiltered way, and support one another in hard times and in celebrations for all moms to have true access to wellness.

What is your favorite self-care tip for mamas?

Take a moment to stop, tune in to your own body, notice what you feel without judgement, and then let that guide you to what your body might need. One day, you might feel stiff from sitting all day and some simple movement could make all the difference. Another day, you might be exhausted and a nice restorative pose may be what your body is calling for. And let people in your life know when you need support, and then take it without guilt! People feel special and included if you let them be there for you.

How do you maintain a positive outlook when the world around you is changing or becomes difficult? As a psychotherapist, what advice can you give us for living in these difficult times?

I don’t always maintain a positive outlook. So much of what happens in the world and our community merits feeling upset! My advice as a psychotherapist is to make room for all feelings and thoughts that pop up–from sadness, to outrage, to fatigue. Let those feelings inform you in the community you build, the actions you take, and in choosing how to nourish and care for yourself as you take those actions.

Does your book have any relevance for men with babies or other populations of people?

The book is absolutely relevant for men–they just have to get past the word “mom” being used throughout the book. I’ve had a number of male friends who read the book and said that it spoke to them about their time with a new baby. And my husband, who is for sure not a yoga person, read it and said it has been helping him with his non-baby-related insomnia! Truthfully, I included in this book everything that I have to say about yoga, mood, and anxiety in general–even if these things have nothing to do with babies. I’ve had folks with no kids, adult kids, and everyone in between tell me that they read it and found it healing to read. And for sure, I think this book is wonderful for partners, family members, or health professionals who work with new moms.

Do you have a recommendation for a current podcast, website, or inspiring social media outlet?

I just started listening to Mom & Mind, which is a great podcast for moms about mood and anxiety issues in pregnancy and early motherhood. I also love The Longest Shortest Time–which not only has the best title for a podcast about parenting, but also has wonderful interviews.

Learn more about Suzannah at  www.suzannahneufeld.com, on instagram at @suzannahneufeld and Facebook as Suzannah Neufeld, Yoga + Therapy

Plus, as an occasional sub, you might find Suzannah teaching pre or post natal classes at our studios. Look out for her book, Awake at 3am, in all of our Namaste boutiques!

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Why I Teach Prep for Birth

When I was pregnant with my first child I remember facing the unknown of giving birth. It felt like it didn’t matter how much I read, I still couldn’t get a handle on what the first, second and third stages of labor might look and feel like. This created a background feeling of tension and unease that I was only barely aware was there.

Second time around, I not only had the benefit of having been through the experience, but I also took HypnoBirthing® classes. These classes offered several fantastic tools that, in part, inform my upcoming Prep for Birth workshop. Having immersed myself in the world of prenatal yoga after having two children I feel passionate about bringing these tools to new mothers.

Combining experiential exercises, including some gentle partner yoga, as well as informational pieces, the main focus is on practices supporting relaxation.
In our busy modern lives, being able to relax is a skill that can take some training, especially in the face of a brand new, unknown experience.

Another important piece is to make sure you’re not sweeping concerns under the rug like I was that first time. When we have the time, space and support to explore those background worries and bring them to light, we get to either find action steps or see that we’re holding on to something unnecessarily and can let it go.

My favorite part of the class is a couple of simple exercises to bring you and your partner into a deeper connection. I love hearing from the couples that I work with that, in the course of their preparations, these exercises have them come back to the very reason they are bringing this amazing new life into the world together. It’s not uncommon in committed relationships (and even more so for those already parents), to have that deeper connection fall by the wayside.

So this class will not only give you tools to take into a relaxed and easeful birth, but can support you going forward in your relationship too!

In three hours, you’ll connect sweetly and deeply, you’ll learn, move and relax. I look forward to meeting you and supporting you on this very special journey.

Rosy Moon Schlussel

 

With love,
Rosy Schlussel

This class is an opportunity to come together with your partner and learn some foundational tools to support the mother-to-be in the lead up to delivering her baby.

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The Perfect Prenatal Practice

Preparing for a new baby may be one of the biggest events you’ll experience in a lifetime. As a woman, your body is changing constantly while mentally you prepare for birth and what a brand new member of your family means to your way of life.

In the midst of it all yoga can be a valuable tool for birthing mothers and their partners to remain calm, grounded and present during the transitions of pregnancy, childbirth and parenthood. This simple five-minute flow from Namaste teacher and new mom Annemaria Rajala is perfect for sneaking in a few moments of self-care. Enjoy this prenatal yoga practice in the morning, evening, or even on a lunch break! Plus, check out this weekend’s upcoming Prenatal Partners Workshop with Annemaria and Julia Anne Stathis!

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Maternal Lineage Meditation

Maternal Lineage Meditation

This body-mind meditation is part restorative yoga posture/part guided meditation, a whole body offering to your lineage of maternal ancestors, and an embodied acknowledgement of the earth beneath you that holds you up.  This meditation was inspired from the wise words of my doula in a moment of birthing my son where I felt I had no reserves left to go on.  She came close to me, placed her hand over mine, looked me in the eyes and said:

“I need you to dig down deep and feel all the women who have done this before you.  I need you to feel their strength rooting you down and holding you up.”

Those words nourished my soul with the last drops of energy I needed to move forward in my labor.  And I often think of all the mothers before me, who have shared in this path of motherhood, when I am holding my son on one hip, tired at the end of the day.

About Lily Dwyer-Begg

Though she has had a committed practice since 2000, Lily’s most profound, direct, earthy, transcendent, and soul-altering experience of yoga in her lifetime was giving birth to her son Blaise in 2013. Lily has taught yoga since 2005 in Berkeley, CA; Berlin, Germany; and Baltimore, Maryland. Her work has brought her to work with hundreds of pregnant and postpartum mothers, in yoga studios internationally, with an NBA basketball team, an NCAA diving team, and to homeless women and children. Lily studied with Shiva Rea, Ana Forrest, Don and Amba Stapleton, David Moreno, yoga for scoliosis with Elise Browning Miller, Ayurveda with Kameko Shibata, Prenatal yoga with Marisa Toriggino, and Yoga for the Female Pelvic Floor with Leslie Howard.

Her approach to Prenatal Yoga is a signature balance of precise alignment based posture, slow flow, uplifting community building, and humble acknowledgement of the sacred inner strength, boundless love, and liberated consciousness within all mothers every step of their own motherhood journey no matter what shape it takes. She currently makes her home in Baltimore with her husband, Aaron and son, Blaise where she is the director of the YogaWorks Baltimore Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training.

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Mama Needs a Minute

Mama Needs a Minute is a short yoga sequence created by soon to be mama and Namaste teacher Ashley West Roberts. This short but powerful practice is aimed at taking a break throughout the day when you may feel wiped out, overwhelmed or simply in need of reprieve. Try this practice any time of day and focus on rooting down through your strong legs to get grounded in to this special time. Use props like blankets, blocks and eye pillows to help yourself find comfort in each pose and hold each pose for at least 8 breaths. You’ll feel good as new (and baby will too) when you’re done with this sequence.

Mama-Needs-a-Minute

 

Mamas remember, your practice should support you. Practice when you feel up for it but be gentle with yourself. Practice one or all of these poses to reconnect with yourself and your baby. TIP: Use the wall in standing balances like tree pose to practice accepting support when you need it.

For more information on the full Prenatal and Postnatal offering at Namaste, including workshops and classes, please visit our website!

For another quick yoga sequence check out Ashley’s recent post 5 Minutes to Move.

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5 Minutes To Move: A Simple Yoga Sequence to Get You Moving

5 minutes to move is a short yoga sequence for anyone on a tight schedule who still wishes to practice daily: great for the morning or midday. TIP: Pose #3 or “swimming” is a backstroke like motion with the arms while treading the feet in a forward bend. This sequence is appropriate for most students including beginners and (as pictured!) pregnant mamas. 

5-Minutes-to-Move

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Waiting for Baby: Birth Preparation and Practicing Patience

In the Tao Te Ching Lao Tzu poses this question…
“Do you have the patience to wait till your mud settles and the water is clear? Can you remain unmoving till the right action arises by itself?”

In the land of on-demand everything; meals, rides, movies and even dating apps, you may ask, how can we slow down and turn on the patience switch for an easeful birth experience? For many couples the need for patience started pre-conception with fertility challenges and then is required again in the first trimester with often all-day sickness. Through these periods of patience and suffering we experience gratitude, but often again around 35-38 weeks that little monster called impatience rears its head again, creating anxiety, stress and often doubts that make us question whether or not something is wrong.

In prenatal yoga, as well as birth prep classes we learn tools to work with discomfort, whether they be contractions or just indigestion. We also learn to step back and let go of judgments, thoughts of limitation and just notice what is happening right now in the present. Through mindfulness meditation, and by intentionally bringing awareness to postures, we start to see where we are holding back, holding on, or preventing the opening that might be needed to welcome this new life into our arms.

We are all aware that our birth experience may not go as we had planned–and I’m grateful for the resources available in the hospital when an emergency arises or medical intervention becomes the best option to reduce suffering. We always hope that our babies are able to come to this planet in their own time, without prodding and provoking, unless there is a real medical concern. Sometimes interventions like Pitocin, the epidural and C-sections seem like the best option to numb the discomfort of labor and the waiting because our mind says “run from pain, cling to pleasure. A common theme in my classes is Impermanence, knowing that everything changes, including the pain of labor and once you allow yourself to be in a place you might want to bolt from, you learn that its possible to stay a little longer without defeat…maybe even feel encouraged!

 Next time you want to push away that thought or sensation, see what happens if you stay still and wait–until the mud settles–and trust that you will be guided so that the right action arises by itself.

To learn more join Elika for her upcoming ‘Prep for Birth‘ workshop on Saturday, April 18th. Register HERE.

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