Student Stories: Author Suzannah Neufeld

ON August 8, 2018

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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