I spoke with Catherine Middlebrooks, founder of BRB Yoga, For Busy and New Moms. See our conversation below!
B: So Catherine, tell me your story. How did you come to mindfulness and to yoga?
C: Thanks so much for having me, Becca. I’m so excited to chat with you. It really started with yoga. Yoga was kind of my gateway drug into mindfulness. I started that seriously when I was in college. I had hit a point where I was in my senior year doing a stressful senior thesis, living the college life, and just was feeling kind of unfettered, you know?
I started going to yoga and rally just felt I was able to connect back to my body. I’ve always been very emotional and yoga was really key for me to be able to create a little more evenness in my emotion. So I started it and I just felt so good emotionally and physically that I’ve been doing yoga basically every day since then.
I became an instructor in 2007 so it’s been about ten years now that I’ve been teaching and when my daughter was born in 2012 I was also working full time and was trying to balance it all. You know, the job, the newborn life, and just was not doing a good job, basically. Just feeling like all of that balance that yoga had brought to my life, I wasn’t able to make time for yoga in that phase of my life. So I started implementing really short yoga practices into my day and it made a huge difference.
B: As someone who’s done one of your courses it has changed the way I’ve done yoga as a mom and I’ve actually been able to integrate it into my life. It’s so great. You’ve done such a good job with that. I really appreciate it.
C: I love that! I love to hear that.
B: So how do you use mindfulness and yoga specifically as a parent?
C: Right. So this is something I’m better at some days than I am other days. But I think that for me, when I think about mindfulness, I really think about allowing yourself kind of a space…a pause between the stimulus, like the environment that you’re in, and your reaction to it. Specifically, when I’m with my children, I’m really conscious of allowing myself to pause before reacting to them in scenarios like the moment when they spill 18 things on the floor or they are having a tantrum because they have to get dressed.
When I’m not being mindful, I know. I just kind of react. You yell and you do all those things. I know when I’m able to pause, usually take a deep breath—breath for me is a really good way to come into the present moment and allow myself to separate a little bit from my childrens’ emotions—so pause, take a breath, and then I can then choose how to react. I may still decide to yell at them (laughs), because sometimes that needs to happen, but at least then I’m making the choice and it’s not like my reactions are always dictated simply by their emotions.
B: I’m thinking about the correlation with GentleBirth, this program that I’m teaching. We talk about leaving everything in your labor toolkit and how that includes things like an epidural or a c-section, it’s just about being really informed and making that choice consciously.
C: Yep. I love that. Absolutely. As long as you know that that’s the choice you want to make, then you’re in control still.
B: Right. It gives you that pause so you can not make that split second decision or feel like it’s being imposed upon you.
What’s your biggest obstacle to practicing?
C: I’m successful when I allow myself to practice my own mindfulness practice before my children wake up. So I try, most days, to get up in the morning before they wake up and either do some deep breathing, maybe just some simple stretches. Whatever I need to be with myself. Those days go so much better because I’ve already set the foundation of that mindfulness.
The days that maybe somebody’s having a bad night’s sleep and we kind of all are tired and I wake up to my children in the morning, I have a much harder time. It can be an obstacle—I just get caught in all of the tasks of the day. So for me it’s very important to prioritize that time in the morning.
B: Tell me about your births and whether you incorporated these practices into them.
C: Yes! So I had natural unmedicated vaginal births. It’s funny. So I apparently am a very fast dilator. (Laughs)
B: (Laughs) Good job! Do you feel really proud?
C: Yeah, it’s actually kind of terrifying. With my daughter, it was kind of funny. We went to the hospital and they sent us home—I was like a centimeter dilated. We ended up back at the hospital and I had gone from one to ten in an hour and thought I was dying. (Laughs) I asked for the medication because I was transitioning. I was like, “I need something. I’m not gonna make it,” because I thought I had hours ahead of me. So that part was a little intense and it was very hard to be mindful in that scenario because it just went so quickly. But I really found in the labor part of it that the yoga and particularly the breathing from yoga that I knew, it was a really good way to help me move into contractions instead of try and resist them and really let them pass over me without being tense.
And then with my son, again, once we got to the hospital, a few contractions and we were ready to go. I had fantastic nurses and nurse midwives that were really encouraging me to relax the muscles of my hands and my jaw, and I think had I not already been really experienced in connecting to those cues, it would have been a lot harder in that scenario to find it. So I was thankful that I had that connection to my body already.
B: So it sounds like that might be some of your advice for somebody who wants to incorporate it into their birth—to practice ahead of time? Is there anything else you’d recommend?
C: I think so, yeah. I think that the more you can practice it ahead of time is good, and I think just really connecting to your breath. If you’re not someone that wants to be doing yoga, that’s fine. I think yoga is great postnatally but some people just aren’t into it. But a deep breathing practice is something that I think anyone can benefit from.
Physiologically, deep breathing lowers that stress response in your body, it decreases your blood pressure. It turns off that whole fight or flight response. You need that. You need to have your body feel calm in order for it to dilate and allow this baby to come. So even just practicing a deep breathing practice while you are pregnant in preparation for using it as a tool to relax would be really helpful.
B: So ironically, my questions about being a parent and using technology and finding balance are not coming up on my phone right now. My phone just decided not to show me my questions anymore (laughs), but I know that’s something I wanted to talk to you about. Something with GentleBirth is we try to be really realistic about how people are accessing their information and practicing and so we have a really great app to lead people in their breathing exercises and hypnosis exercises and meditation trainings, and I know that that’s something that you’ve really incorporated into your work as well, is making it accessible via technology, the channels that people are using. So I was wondering if you could tell me about how you have found balance using technology and using it to be more mindful without losing that presence.
C: Right. So yeah, this is a tough one. It’s really easy to get sucked down the rabbit hole of social media especially since my business depends on being on social media. The key for me is the same sort of thing that you would do with yoga. You have to make it a regular practice. So I try to set boundaries and timers. So I say, “I will go on Facebook three times a day and I will respond to people in the group for twenty minutes and then I have to be done. And you have to just be able to move on. I think that it’s easier said than done obviously.
For me, I’m really not good at it when it’s my program—the Heal Your Core program. If people have questions, I’m going to answer their questions in more detail than they ever actually would want me to (laughs), so that’s hard. But when it’s things like—there are lots of other Facebook groups that I’m a part of and going into my newsfeed, it’s really easy to get sucked into it forever and so I find that setting a timer and then I have to get off is very important. I don’t always do that great at it. But that’s what I really try to do.
I’ll also say that there are—the beauty of technology too is that there are fantastic mindfulness apps out there and that is a great way to use your phone for good instead of evil. (laughs)
B: With GentleBirth we have the free seven day trial and it has a whole parenting side of it. So “Being with Baby,” “Mindful Breastfeeding.” I’ve also found audiobooks and podcasts are a nice way to keep myself occupied but still be in the space with my kids.
C: Yes. It is very challenging. I also set timers in the other direction—where it’s like “I’m going to set this 15 mnute timer to be with my children and not let any other distraction take me away—not do the laundry, so that they know that they get as much of my undivided attention as my phone gets. (laughs)
B: Definitely. So, using technology for good but also setting limits.
B: So is there anything else you’d like to share about your program or your website?
C: Yeah! So the program that Becca was a part of is the Heal Your Core with Yoga program and that one is specifically for diastasis recti—abdominal separation that happens as a function of pregnancy and the postpartum period. I think that this is something that it’s really important for me to get the word out into the world because there’s a lot of misinformation out there about that postpartum period and jumping back into yoga. I’ve had people say to me, “Isn’t all yoga just good?”
And yoga is very good, but especially if you have just had a baby, there are certain yoga poses that you really don’t want to be doing because they just strain your abdominal area that is in the process of healing. You want to create the foundation, create the conditions, for your core to heal.
So, if anyone is struggling with that—if anyone is interested in learning more about what sort of things to do and not do, you can head over to BrbYoga.com. There’s a blog there with information about the program. I would never want anyone to have to give up their yoga practice—I’m meeting so many women who think they can’t do it anymore, they can’t do yoga. I just want everyone to know you can do yoga and you not have to give it up once you’ve had a baby, but you want to do it mindfully, just like everything else!
B: Thank you so much for speaking with me!
C: Thank you for having me! It was so fun!