Fitness · Motherhood · Postpartum · Wellness

My Branding Photography Session Experience

After struggling with postpartum depression and anxiety, I knew that I wanted to use my skills and knowledge to support women during this very trying time of life. I started reading everything I could about safe postpartum fitness, diastasis recti, and body image during the fourth trimester and beyond. Thus was born: Strong Mama Fitness.

My classes were going well, but I wasn’t having much luck getting any new clients. When a very respected photographer in the birth community was having a giveaway on her page for branding photography, I entered. I was beyond thrilled when I won a branding photography package from Tavia Redburn Photography!

We had our consultation and I felt like Tavia was an old friend. She understood my style, my passions, and my insecurities.

As the date approached, I got more and more nervous though. Who did I think I was getting branding photos when I have less than 100 followers on my page? Who did I think I was posing as some sort of fitness expert when I haven’t lost the baby weight? I almost cancelled and told Tavia to award the prize to someone more deserving.

Thank goodness I didn’t listen to fear.

The photo shoot was a surprisingly comforting experience. Tavia gave me expert pointers to look my best. I told her I was self-conscious about my glasses and my chin; she made sure every shot was flattering. Tavia has great ideas and allows you to feel natural (even when the poses feel silly – just trust her!)

Fast forward to yesterday when I got the final pictures. Oh. My. Gosh. Y’all. To see myself in these photos affirmed for me that I have so much to offer my sisters, my friends, my clients. It doesn’t matter that I haven’t “lost the baby weight.” It doesn’t matter that I’m not the skinniest, the prettiest, the whateverest. I am passionate about motherhood, fitness, breastfeeding, supporting other women, redefining postpartum, nutrition, raising a healthy family, and being REAL. These photos are real. They are me.

Strong Mama Outdoor Workout With Baby

The experience of the photo shoot and the pictures I received will support me in building my brand through the new year. The photos inspired me with ideas for challenges, blog posts, groups, and more. The photos allowed me to see myself and what  reflect to my customers and followers – confidence, happiness, health, commitment.

To see a few more of my branding photos and check out what Tavia has to offer, click here!
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Kindness · Motherhood · Postpartum

30 Ways to Compliment a Mama

I used to think the best compliment a woman could receive was, “you look so skinny.” Through college and even as recently as my own wedding, these words would have been music to my ears. I am now 40 pounds heavier than I was on my wedding day and I can honestly say I don’t mind it. It’s quite freeing to be comfortable in my skin for the first time in my life, regardless of a number on a scale or the tag of a pair of pants. I didn’t wake up one morning and magically stop caring about my bodyweight. There are days I look in the mirror and don’t love what I see in the tummy region. With the help of my husband’s unfailing love, my mother’s guidance in cultivating self-compassion, yoga, and friends who share my desire for a healthy lifestyle, I’ve learned to accept my mom bod with grace.

You know what didn’t help? The fitness industry. Fit Pregnancy magazine covers instruct us to “gain just enough weight.” Enough weight for what? Enough weight to still be worthy of love? Enough weight to still be beautiful? Everywhere you turn, someone is happy to dole out advice to “get your pre-baby body back” as if giving birth is something to be ashamed of, forgotten and erased as quickly as possible. Our bodies have the remarkable ability to grow and stretch to accommodate our tiny humans, yet instead of praising and glorifying this gift we are told that stretch marks are somehow the most terrible thing that could ever happen to a woman. The expectations to “lose the baby weight” don’t take into account the hormones, the stress, the LACK OF SLEEP, the fact that our children are now our #1 priority, or the lack of time to devote to physical exercise. These messages and expectations do nothing to support women. They only corroborate the painful, hurtful, wrong belief that a woman is only as valuable as her appearance is acceptable to the world. So what are we to do? How can we fight the unnerving and impossible expectations to “bounce back” after pregnancy into a nice, acceptable, petite, well-dressed, freshly-manicured skinny little package? Well, one way is by the words we use with each other.

We all want to be seen. Being truly seen, however, has nothing to do with how we look.

To support us all in the journey to love and accept our postpartum bodies, here are 30 ways to compliment a mama that have nothing to do with her appearance:
  1. You are a wonderful mother.
  2. Your kids are awesome.
  3. I love watching you parent.
  4. You talk to your family so sweetly.
  5. Your family is lucky to have you.
  6. You’re the best mom for your children.
  7. I see the energy you give to your family every day.
  8. You’re doing a great job, mama.
  9. You make the best choices for your kiddos.
  10. I admire your strength.
  11. Thank you for sharing your motherhood journey with me.
  12. I am thankful to have you as a friend.
  13. You’re always there for me.
  14. You are so wise
  15. You show love in very special ways.
  16. I admire your work ethic.
  17. Thank you for being so supportive.
  18. You inspire me.
  19. My life is better with you in it.
  20. You’re a great listener.
  21. You make me laugh.
  22. You get me.
  23. I admire your gentleness.
  24. You have a wonderful sense of humor.
  25. I admire your passion.
  26. You are so brave.
  27. You bring joy to others.
  28. Thank you for sharing your gifts with the world.
  29. You should be very proud of yourself.
  30. I see you. I love who I see.

What is the best compliment you’ve ever received?

 

Photo Credit: Jeanye’s Art

Motherhood · Wellness

What I Learned Hiking 30 Miles With My 7-Month Old

Back in April, I participated in my first Hike It Baby 30 challenge and I wrote about what I learned from that experience. Participating in that challenge encouraged me in my postpartum recovery, taught me I could still “hike” with baby, and helped me get back in the swing of things. Most of those miles were paved, and it didn’t feel like true hiking to me. So when the September challenge rolled around, I knew I was going to step up my game. Though in April, I barely scraped together 30 miles on the last day of the challenge, this month I completed my 30 miles in just over a week, most of them actual hiking miles in the glorious dirt.

What I learned this challenge is twofold: one very practical piece of advice and one revelation that allowed me to really turn a corner in my postpartum recovery.

First, the practical: cotton socks make for wicked blisters. To avoid blisters, invest in merino wool socks – they make lightweight and heavy for all seasons. If you stumble on that tip too late and already have blisters, apply aloe directly to them. I got the world’s worst blisters on an 8-mile walk and the aloe plant cleared them in 1 day!

Second, the revelation: everything is energy and energy is everything. As a self-proclaimed semi-crunchy mama, I subscribe to more natural ways of living and healing when and where possible. I’ve been receiving chiropractic care my whole life, and I’ve starting echoing my mom’s one true solution for all ailments, “have you had enough water today?” At the beginning of this month, I was right on the brink of healing and feeling like myself again. But I had some low back pain that wouldn’t go away. I saw a physical therapist who gave me exercises that I was already doing. She confirmed that my hips were a bit weak. I went to my chiropractor for an adjustment and told her about my back pain and the visit with the PT. She adjusted me and recommended that I come back for a BEST (bioenergetic synchronization treatment) session as she felt that the back pain was much more emotional than physical.

So I went. And in our session, she taught me what I am calling “magical breathing” which starts below the feet, draws energy up into your root chakra, exhales up through the crown of the head, draws energy back into the heart, and exhales out through the bottom of the feet. Through this breathing, I felt like my energy getting stuck right in the place where my back pain always radiated. Then Dr. April encouraged me to connect to my 8th chakra – your spiritual connection to your higher self and divinity. The moment she spoke those words, I felt a complete release and my energy flowed freely.

In the days after that session, I felt more motivated and energized than ever before. I woke up, laced up my shoes, and went hiking or walking. I walked farther and swifter. I felt happier. I breathed in nature. I felt the energy moving through me from the earth to the sky. I talked to God. I saw butterflies and knew that Granna was walking alongside me. I listened to the voice of my heart.

I am energy. I feel energy. I do energy. I love energy. I speak energy. I see energy. I understand energy. I believe in energy and energy believes in me.

Motherhood · Postpartum · Wellness

Don’t Be a Mombie: Ways to Combat Exhaustion

The contributors over at OKC Moms Blog have a private Facebook group in which we discuss extremely important blogging-related topics like ta-ta towels and cookie butter oreos. A few weeks ago, I asked this group of new and seasoned moms from all walks of life if I would EVER not be tired again? (I’m eight months into this mom gig.) Although these moms were full of support and encouragement as always, no one came back with a resounding “YES! On this day. In this amount of time. You will have all your energy back.” Not exactly the reassurance I was hoping for, but it did inspire me to reflect on what I can do to get through this season of life in one piece.

Lack of sleep is part of mom life, but being a mombie doesn’t have to be! Here are my best tips to combat exhaustion:

  1. Exercise.
    I know, I know, I know. You don’t have time to workout. I’m not asking you for two hours at the gym every day. I’m talking about just 20-30 minutes of walking, lifting weights, swimming, something you enjoy. You’re too tired to work out. As Elle Woods reminds us, “Exercise makes you happy, and happy people just don’t kill their husbands.” Exercising helps get you into a good cycle – it provides you with happy hormones and energy for your day and helps you fall asleep faster and get better quality sleep at night, resulting in having more energy the next day!
  2. Avoid caffeine.
    I know, I know, I know. You can’t mom without coffee. I’m not asking you to give up lattes forever. Try giving up caffeine for 3 weeks, and you may find that you really don’t need it. Much of our beloved caffeine addiction is just a comforting habit – try switching to decaf or half-caff and keep it all before noon. outdoor tea
  3. Stay hydrated.
    Mild dehydration contributes to fatigue and headaches. Be sure you’re getting plenty of high quality, filtered water.
  4. Focus on nutrition.
    Exhaustion makes us crave the quick fix energy that comes from sugar & processed carbs – think donuts, bagels, & cheese fries. These foods may taste great in the moment, but they send our bodies into a vicious cycle of crashing and cravings. For your best energy, focus on anti-inflammatory foods and get plenty of protein and healthy fats.
  5. Practice meditation.
    Meditation is not only super relaxing, it helps you develop the skills to turn your mind down before bed each night. We spend so much time teaching our babies how to fall asleep, yet we often rely on television or cell phones to help us fall asleep! Mediation is a game changer for sure. When I was very early postpartum and had tons of heavy anxiety, I would use the Headspace app to help me fall asleep for naps during the day.
  6. Go outside… and take your babies with you.
    Not only does Vitamin D help ward off depression, the natural rhythms of the sun help our bodies develop a good circadian rhythm. Taking kiddos outside at dusk helps them get mentally prepared for bed time! woman outside
  7. Turn off those screens!
    You’ve probably heard this before, but maybe you’re not convinced. Let me be the one hundredth person to tell you that taking your cell phone to bed is a bad idea. The National Sleep Foundation warns that the blue light from screens suppresses melatonin, the hormone that helps us fall asleep and recommends 30 minutes of screen free time to unwind before bed.

 

What is your favorite restful ritual?

Kindness · Motherhood

The Opposite of Kindness: Episode 2

In my original kindness post, I shared that in a recent yoga class, I felt a deep conviction to cultivate more kindness in my life. The first step in this kindness journey was to take notice of when I felt unkind, had unkind thoughts, or said unkind words.

The first trend I noticed is when I’m running late, I tend to be unkind toward things that are standing in my way (traffic, a slow line at Starbucks, uncooperative carseats, my dogs when they won’t kennel, etc.) I’m sure that this is because I am frustrated with myself for being late/not wanting to let down whoever I am meeting.
So? I could swear never to be late again, but I have a kid, so that solution would last .2 seconds. Even though it sounds counter-intuitive, I think the solution to this one is when I am running late, to slow down. Slow down and realize that wherever I’m going is not an emergency. Slow down and take notice of how much less stressed I feel if I don’t add anger to the fire. Slow down and be more careful. Slow down and remind myself that I am enough, even when I am late. Kindness and self-compassion go hand-in-hand.

The second trend revolves around people. I have unkind thoughts when someone gets something they don’t deserve, or someone is doing something “wrong,” or when someone is unkind to me first. Although these might be somewhat reasonable times to feel negative emotions, I truly believe it’s never okay to be unkind – even silent unkind thoughts harm me and my connection to the universe.
So what’s a girl to do? There’s always going to be people winning when they cheated, wronging people, and being unkind first. I think I need to observe deeper and notice how I feel toward myself when I observe these things and why it matters so much to me to induce unkind thoughts. Am I trying to make myself feel better?

Third, I am much less kind when I am exhausted beyond comprehension. Exhaustion and comparison must be BFF because when I’m tired, it’s so easy to jump on facebook or google and see how much better it would be if… how much less tired I would be if… how much better someone else is handling motherhood… when I’m TOO TIRED, I have unkind thoughts toward myself, yet I wear my exhaustion like a trophy, desperately wanting to be seen and acknowledged for how much of myself I give each day. When my exhaustion gets the best of me, I am sharp-tongued and unable to make a decision to save my life. I am short with those who deserve my kindness the most. It ain’t pretty, but luckily it’s not too often. My kid does let me sleep sometimes.
Holla at your girl if you have an answer to this one that isn’t “get more sleep.”

I also noticed that I feel the absolute kindest when I am sharing my heart by teaching yoga. There’s just something about coming to the mat with a group of women, sharing space, and guiding them through postures and breath work that cultivates an absolute lightness of heart. This week we honored the root chakra throughout our practice and used the breathe to receive truth from the universe to the question: I am.

kind

Kindness abounds. I am.


Photo credit: Jeanye Mercer (Jeanye’s Art)

Marriage · Motherhood · Wellness

The Opposite of Kindness

I went to my first ever yin yoga class this week. If you’re not familiar with yin yoga, it is essentially a 90 minute meditation practice where you do a few simple poses for long lengths of time. Toward the end of the class, we were in our second side of pigeon pose and as they often do, tears started to fall from my eyes; from my heart. Yoga helps you to soften. In that practice, the tears weren’t of sadness. They were of conviction.

In our practice, Darci often asks us to choose one thing we want to invite in and in that moment I knew: kindness. It is the trait I admire most of my mother and grandmother. I believe it is the secret sauce to the ever-elusive happiness. I need to invite kindness. I need to learn kindness. I need to cultivate kindness. I need to be kindness.

The opposite of kindness is not pure evil. It is impatience. It is rudeness. It is ungratefulness. It is brattiness. It is pettiness. It is shame. It is anger. It is apathy. It is passive aggression. It is too tired. It is distracted.

I am embarking on a kindness adventure. I’m not sure what valleys and mountains I will cross, but I am going.

 

Featured Photo Credit: Jeanye Mercer

Motherhood

The Circle of Life.

Tonight as I was rocking my son to sleep, I closed my eyes. I reached deep into my soul and connected with memories of being rocked and patted and sung to the same exact way so many years ago.

I love Phillip, I love Phillip. Phillip is so good and sweet, I love Phillip.

I learned in Beautiful Babies by Kristen Michaelis, that baby girls are born with the eggs that might eventually become babies. Fun fact, but also deeply and beautifully touching. The egg that eventually created me was formed in my Granna’s womb. My husband’s egg was formed in his grandma’s womb. My son’s egg was formed in his Manna’s womb. These are intimate and eternal connections.

Though we are blessed with a huge, crazy family that loves our son to pieces, my husband and I mourn the loved ones that our little Hawk won’t get to meet. Tonight while I rocked, I was reminded while he may not physically meet them, he is truly, madly loved by them, divinely connected to them, and each one is a special part of who he is and will become. I am so grateful for the circle of life.