How the time-tested traditions of yoga and modern scientific advancements are revealing a similar path for enlightenment and well-being! 🧘♀️🔬
Today we’re exploring the intersections of parenting values, child development, and secure relationships, allowing parents to identify that sweet spot in their own life where all these things overlap.
Joining me this week is seasoned yoga therapist, mom of two, and the mastermind behind some extraordinary moms groups, Nicole Katz.
Nicole shares practical tips and playful techniques to cultivate self-awareness, both on and off the yoga mat. We’ll explore the idea that motherhood is an ongoing evolution, a verb rather than a destination, and how our children’s growth invites us to continually examine our own experiences and beliefs.
I want to hear from you! Send me a topic you want me to cover or a question you want answered on the show!
I believe in a universe of “and.” It is not you or me, it is us. I believe in a family centered home. Everybody in the family has needs, everybody can take care of each other. And I think that’s also how we create little people who understand that they are part of a community.
Dr. Sarah (00:00:21):
What are the overlaps between eastern and Western approaches to wellness? What do we know now from technological advances and studying the brain that ancient practices like yoga have been tapping into for centuries? Joining me today is Nicole Katz, along with being an incredible yoga therapist. Nicole is also a mom of two and she runs amazing moms groups that I’ve been lucky enough to join as a guest speaker a number of times. This episode is all about overlap between our kids health and our own, how the principles of yoga echo the principles of attachment theory and how we can reflect on our inner and our outer world to create a fulfilling and harmonious life for ourselves and our children.
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology, and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Hello, I’m so, so excited to have Nicole Katz here today. Nicole is a dear friend of mine and just, ugh, everything that you do makes me happy. So I can’t wait for you to talk today with us all about yoga and therapy and motherhood and just so many good things. So thank you so much for being here.
Thank you so much for having me. I was just thinking back to the first time I had you as a guest expert on one of my mom’s groups. I just remember from the beginning I was like this woman, I like this woman a lot and it’s just an honor to do anything collaborative with you. And so I’m excited about this and can’t wait to chat.
Dr. Sarah (00:02:24):
Yes, me too. I love your mom group so much you, and that’s a perfect segue into talking about your work because you do a lot of different stuff and it’s kind of all beautifully connected to the world of motherhood and parenting, but not in the way you come at it from a really special angle, which is why I was super excited about having you come on and talking about it because can you talk a little bit about maybe just even what you do, but also how you evolved into doing what you do?
How I got here. Yeah, so I’m called a yoga therapist, but prior to that have been a yogi for almost three decades now because I’m old, but so yoga therapists are, somebody was asking me this their day to try and articulate what I do, and I was like, the easiest way I can encapsulate it is we help people escape from pain using the ancient traditions that are the practices of yoga, which range from everything from breath practices to lifestyle work to movement practices. So any area of your life, yoga can find a way to help us escape patterns that are painful. And I had been doing that for a long time when I became a mother, and it was the process for me in my own life of the fertility journey, the pregnancy journey, birth to coming out the other end and realizing a, it’s a profoundly spiritual experience that nobody is talking about.
I got through it in very large part because of my spiritual practice. There were a lot of painful things as part of that experience that I was able to process through my practices and feel stronger on the other side because, and because of that and because of the amazing team that I was able to work with as part of my birth was like, I need to help other women. I want to support other women. They’re amazing and they don’t know it. And so that was about seven years ago that I really started to focus on bringing the practices of yoga therapy to all the different aspects of motherhood, but also, I mean, what I do, pain is everywhere. So it is applicable in a lot of different places. So I do kind of tend to do a lot of things, but the through line is me and the through line is the practices of yoga. So I dunno if that’s helpful. Hope that’s helpful.
Dr. Sarah (00:04:59):
It’s helpful to me. And it’s interesting when you talk about pain, it’s layered in what we’re really talking about. We might be like, oh, my back hurts, I need to kind of address this or my pelvic floor muscle, whatever. There’s so many things that we’re talking about, physical pain. But I think I hear in what you’re talking about as well that it’s not just physical pain we’re dealing with here at all.
Yes. I mean once you start doing this work, you go, the difference between my back hurts pain and my relationship pain or my challenges with X pain. Pain is pain, discomfort being a different thing. We can talk about the nuances of those things, but when we live life long enough, we start to see that there are habits and things that we are doing that just cause pain versus healing and strength and trying to figure out how to best re-pattern those things on all levels. Yes.
Dr. Sarah (00:06:01):
So do people come to you more like they would a physical therapist or are they coming to you for more of emotional, relational?
Great question. I would say the people who come to me, it’s a lot of physical stuff, especially early on in my practice. It was mainly physical stuff. I think as I have evolved, so have the people who are drawn to me, but the best candidate from a physical standpoint happens to be somebody who, if we go back to that example of your back keeps throwing their back out, keeps herniating discs has realized there is a pattern here and traditional modalities are not helping them to uncover the true source. So it’s really beautiful for that sort of next layer work. When you really want to know what’s going on under the surface, those tend to be the best. So I tend to get people who are at the end of their rope, so to speak, who are just willing to try something new. And then once you start doing this work, you realize it’s applicable to all sorts of things and doesn’t require that sort of pain entry point as it used to, but, yeah.
Dr. Sarah (00:07:11):
Yes. And then so obviously because do these amazing mom groups too, and I’ve sat in on a number of your mom groups. That’s kind how we got to know each other. One of
My favorite, yes, one of my favorite guest speakers.
Dr. Sarah (00:07:26):
And it’s so great. So I see the mom group session where you have me come in and support the parents on their child development questions and maternal mental health questions, but I don’t see the other sessions that you have in these groups. So can you talk a little bit about what those groups look like and who is coming to these groups and why?
Totally. So it’s funny, when I first started to teach them, I was teaching ’em for Union Square Play who I love so much. I think they were kind of a traditional mom group in all the lovely senses that you come and there’s community and there are all these things and experts and all of that. But I think once you start to see even a pattern amongst groups of people, it becomes hard not to sort of address what you’re seeing. And what I always see as a yoga therapist is not only one’s experience, say with their child, but also how that experience mirrors what’s happening in you. And so over the course of my doing those groups, it would be first, yes, let’s talk about what’s happening with your little person. Where are they developmentally? What do they need? How can you give it to them? What experts can we bring on to help you have the most tools you need?
And how is that reflected for you? We talk about play a lot, play for our little people, developmental play, play, play, play. But what does it mean for me to play? Do I have any idea how play anymore? How in the world am I supposed to bring the energy or element of fun to my child when I am drowning in the mental load and tasks and trauma from my birth and all of these things? And I firmly believe that we can only give our little people what we have given ourselves. And so my groups are always like a theme, play food, whatever the major thing is that we talk about for our kids, but also if you’re looking in a mirror, what’s reflecting back at you? And that’s that yoga therapy piece. So yeah, the group is that sort of two-sided. Yes, all these things for your little person. And what about you? So that’s why you’re one of my favorite people to have on because this is the thing, what do I do about it? But you’re also so willing to be like and this other piece of, and seeing how they come together, they live in isolation.
Dr. Sarah (00:10:00):
I could not agree with you more. I think this is why I think you and I have connected so much is I think we’re super aligned on this belief. The way I always describe it is a Venn diagram. There’s maternal mental health, there’s the parental identity, there’s all the ways that we need to know about ourselves and understand how we were parented and what our parenting values are and all that stuff. And then there’s child development and how do you support this secure relationship with your kids and how do you give them all the things that they need and stop trying to give them the things that they don’t need. But too often, like you said, those things end up getting really isolated from one another. And where they overlap is that’s the goal. That’s where…
Yes, and as soon as you can see things. And for me, it was really my second daughter when she was coming into her own at three years old and started to have her big feelings and tantrums and all that and realizing what a response I was having to her, having these feelings. And it wasn’t until I identified that my reaction was contributing so much to the bigness of this and then being able to isolate that and have a practice and have resources like you to help me to figure out what was happening for me to then mitigate that and then just helping my little person have a big feeling was a very different thing than I am triggered now. I am triggered and you are triggered and it’s an exponentially painful experience for both of us, versus you’re just a little person coming online, having big feelings and how do I help you do that if that makes, it’s that really interesting space where our children force us in the most beautiful way, I think, or call on us to continue our spiritual practices really.
Dr. Sarah (00:11:54):
So whether you’re doing it in your own life, how do I look at my internal processes in these moments, the things that are lighting up my threat response or whatever, or if you’re working with mothers to identify this themselves, what have you noticed to be helpful and what do you look at?
I think the first thing that I noticed to be helpful is just collecting data. Don’t rush to, I have to know I have to change, but just to notice the patterns of where things pop up. What time of day is the hardest for you? What feeling is the hardest for you in your little person? And we think we know because we’re in the middle of it, but I really truly have found that inviting women and parents to just start to write it down to journal, anytime one of those things happen for a finite period of time to then go back and be like, you know what? Mornings are not the time I should be X. For me personally, it’s evenings right past four or 5:00 PM My ability to tolerate a lot really shifts, which means I change my practices. I’m not making dinner and doing homework and doing bath at the same and looking through schoolwork at the same time of the day.
That’s too much for me. Dinner for me is made at two o’clock and then reheat it at five o’clock when we have to eat. You know what I mean? How can I adjust then my life to better suit who I am on top of the deep dive work of why is it that cacophony is so upsetting to me? Where did that come from? That sort of two layered work of where did it come from? And then how do I prescribe my life in such a way that it supports me? But I feel like the collecting data with zero judgment, radical self-love and an amount of continuity in that for a period of time is the best first place to start. Don’t jump to conclusions, just see what’s there. You might be surprised.
Dr. Sarah (00:14:11):
There’s two things that you just said that, I mean, I love everything you said, but there’s two things specifically that were like, oh man, that’s such a good point. And one is the fact that you’re talking about collecting data on yourself, not your child, which I think is a really different tone than most people who prescribe this type of, even me, I’ll be like, let’s collect data on what’s the toughest transition for your kid. But I love this idea, this very critical idea of let’s collect data on ourselves so valuable. And in general, what your whole point to me feels like you’re making is we are important. We have a lot of useful information about what’s going on in our family, and one, it’s worth looking at and respecting. And two, when we identify a problem, we don’t have to be the part of the change. We can change the environment, the schedule, the expectations, the demands we place on ourselves rather than having to change ourselves to fit those things, which is like boom, mind blowing. So important.
It’s funny. And there are two to reflect back to you, there are two huge yoga principles that you just heard me mirroring, which are a, and this is a little woo woo, but you knew we were going to go woo woo, that the outer world is a reflection of the inner world. So if there is something out there that is challenging me, the first place I go needs to be internal. And in the yoga practices, a baby shares its mother’s aura for the first three years. And I think we all know to a certain degree that our little people just mirror whatever our feelings are. If I am hurried, my little people are frustrated. If I am, my little people are when I am chill, they are chill. And if I can observe self and see what’s going on and change the internal, it by definition will then change the external, which is yes, that piece.
And also, why aren’t we living prescriptively? Why wouldn’t we craft a life to meet our needs? We’re so conditioned to put ourselves into a box made by somebody else that doesn’t fit us, that is just a fully external existence instead of, but wait, I am manifesting this life. Why wouldn’t I manifest a life? Why wouldn’t I tailor this clothing to fit me? Why am I trying to fit into somebody else’s life that’s just going to be uncomfortable forever? But the more I know about myself, the more I can live at peace in the world that I’m creating, if that makes sense. Those are two yoga things.
Dr. Sarah (00:17:05):
And it’s so funny how yoga matches so neatly onto neurobiology.
It’s not an accident, mhmm.
Dr. Sarah (00:17:16):
And that these insights might be so much older than our ability to map it onto brain functioning. Hundred percent, yes. But the reality is brain functioning, brain science has caught up hundred percent and is proving those things because the reality is we know we have mirror neurons, we know that our nervous systems are interconnected when you flinch e flinch, right? That’s happening. So in our mid and hind brains.
I love, you just have a different language speak. We’re speaking the same thing in tongues, right? Totally. Yeah. You’re in your brain going, and my wording for all of that is X, y, and Z. But the beauty of that is that now we have more words to speak to different people. There are some people who are more comfortable with language that sounds like what used to speaking. Some people are more comfortable with the language that you are used to speaking. When I work, I try to be a bridge between those two things to welcome people into perhaps a different sort of language. But it’s just a beautiful thing that there are healers with all different sorts of vocabulary now and words to speak about what are ultimately the same goals.
Dr. Sarah (00:18:30):
And because I think what we’re really talking about in our different languages is the human condition and the relational nature of our species. We are literally interconnected beings. We are related to one another. That’s kind of like our superpower as humans.
And I think also this idea that I want to be happy, I want to be happy, seeking happy, seeking happy. We all want this same sort of ideal, which is again, in the yoga practices, the belief is that our true nature is joy. So we’re all seeking the same thing, which is just to return to our natural state of we all have this inner understanding somewhere buried inside of us. That peace with joy is somehow innately ours. And it is right. And it is this practice of finding our way to who we truly are. We just know inherently that this suffering state is just not where we’re supposed to be and finding the practices that help us towards peace.
Dr. Sarah (00:19:38):
But it’s so profound to me too that in order to really get to that place of healing and reconnect to our innate joy. There’s a slightly counterintuitive process. Well, it should be intuitive, but I think we’ve kind of conditioned ourselves societally to a different way of thinking about things that now makes returning to that counterintuitive. Because as you were talking before about it’s my life, why don’t I tailor it to fit me? That’s really honestly pretty counter to the messaging that especially women, but all people in our society have historically been receiving for the last number of generations, which that is selfish. That is making you the center. That’s not what we do. You should be making it easy for other people. You should be acquiescing your needs for the needs of the others or what the standards are. I think women especially have historically been given that message, you shouldn’t be crafting your world.
Right. How dare you put yourself at the center of how dare you? And I think this is another one of those gifts of children because I’m naturally a caretaker. I have always been as my career is to hold space for other people. So it’s, I am a middle child. I am like, let me help take care of you as sort of my default. But it was having my girls and realizing that to be who I wanted to be when I was around them required that I took care of myself in such a way that I could be peaceful, playful, fun, happy, present, all of these things that if I left myself behind, I just couldn’t be. And so there are again these things that we hear all the time that actually are just so true. You have to put your own mask on before you can put anybody else’s oxygen mask on that whole thing. So I think there is this, to your point, societal norm that women have to not have needs to be good at what we do as caretakers. But the reality is that’s just not true. We need to take care of ourselves to be able to take care of others with a sense of beauty and a sense of empowerment that we want to mirror for our little people.
Dr. Sarah (00:22:13):
And I think the idea that we can be caretakers and honor that not resent that position totally, that it is in alignment with our nature, it’s okay, but we can do that in a way that doesn’t, they’re not mutually exclusive. I don’t have to pick my needs over your needs or pick your needs over mine.
Well, the thing is, I can only give to somebody else an experience that I’m already giving to myself. So the degree to which I can take care of you is only as good as the degree to which I can also take care of myself. I might be able to do things for you, but the energy with which I can do them for an extended period of time is only as good as my ability to also truly care for myself. I come from a line of amazing caretaker women, but there was certainly also the element of martyrdom of giving up on one’s own life and the side effects that come from that. And I think that there is an amount of transgenerational healing I want in my own family to be able to say, I believe in a universe of, and it is not you or me, it is us.
I believe in a family centered home. Everybody in the family has needs. Everybody can take care of each other. And I think that’s also how we create little people, understand that they’re part of a community versus people who go out into the world and wait for people to fill their water cups. As soon as you can fill that water cup little person, you get yourself over to the fridge and you can fill that water. And you know what? You can fill daddy’s water and you can feel like it is this, everybody is present sort of thing.
Dr. Sarah (00:23:56):
And trusting kids enough to be able to do that and want to do that. They want to be included in those responsibilities.
Yes, and I’m sure, I mean so much more about this than I do, but it’s funny, I was just talking about this in one of my yoga classes. I remember when I was watching Alma with the girls many years ago, and Alma was talking to a little girl on the show and the little girl was like, Elma. And Alma was like, well, self-esteem is when you don’t think you can do something, but you do it anyway and then you feel self-esteem. And I was like, isn’t that so true? And wouldn’t it then be true that the more we can give our kids things to do that maybe they don’t even think they can and then they do them.
That’s how we build self-esteem in little people. And I’m robbing you of that. If I don’t let you do the things that you can do and me as an adult, am I doing things still that are challenging to me to continue to grow my own self-esteem, right? I am a 42 year old woman now, and a woman turns 40 and a thing is supposed to happen to her and it’s like, oh, wait, no. If I keep doing things that I find challenging, I will continue to put credits in my self-esteem bank. Do you know what I mean? So I love that sort of, yes, letting little people do all the things that they can do as a way to empower them and us.
Dr. Sarah (00:25:22):
And us. That’s always the clause in our sentences when we talk to each other is, and us and all of the things we just said about your kid can be applied directly to your relationship
With you directly to you. Yes. But isn’t it also so much more of an enjoyable experience if you’re going through the process, looking at a thing from more than one angle of my little person is doing this, I need to change it to do this. If they’re not doing this, then this, but turning it into sort of an exploration more of all the pieces.
Dr. Sarah (00:26:00):
And I think that, I don’t know, I also feel like I like the way you talk about motherhood and it being this evolution. It’s not a destination. It’s like, oh, here I am now. I’m a mother. It’s a verb. It’s an ongoing experience and we’re always growing at it.
And every time our children grow and develop and move into a new stage, they’re inviting us to reexamine our own experience of that thing. Whether it’s figuring out anger, figuring out frustration, figuring out friendships, figuring out all of the things. What are my own feelings about, I mean, food is one that I love so much that when we decide to start feeding our little people, that brings up the entire conversation that we have for ourselves around our own relationship to food and what is that story and what do we want to pass on and how do we want to pass that on? So it’s like as these little people continue to grow and grow through life, there are constant things they’re asking us to reflect on to then give them the best possible version to take with them on their life and their story.
I think one thing that I would want for mothers that I think is a reason I feel so passionate about this work is that moms are incredible, incredible. First you grow a human or you figure out a way to become a mother, which no matter how you become a mother requires you to go to a place in yourself that you didn’t know existed, that you didn’t think you were strong enough to do right? No matter how you become a mother, that is the case. There’s something warrior-like about that process. And from that moment, women deserve to feel how fierce they are. And so often that experience is taken from them because of the way in which we handle birth. And so they don’t then get to come back to that sort of, I am fierce energy as we move through things. So often I see women who’ve been just robbed of that sense of power, and I just want to give it back to them like, bro, you take care of a human being all day every day. That’s really hard. It’s amazing. You are amazing. So to connect them back to that sense of their own power is a big part of why I want to do this.
Dr. Sarah (00:28:33):
How do you do that? I’m so curious. What some of one or two of the things that you might encourage a parent to reflect on if they’re feeling disconnected from their power or they’re feeling helpless or, you know…
I think I always start with reflecting back to them the truth of what they’re doing. If I had a mom, I do birth stories workshops, which often means processing birth trauma, and I will have a mom, I had a mom one time who had an epidural that went wrong and she couldn’t or manifest however it happened for her. She couldn’t feel from the neck down. This woman could not feel from the neck down the terror that she must have been feeling. B, she still managed through force of just imagining a thing happened to push this baby out. She pushed a baby out without being able to feel anything and was left on the other side of it, feeling as though she had done something wrong.
And so to sit there in community with other women who were then reflecting back to her and to be able to say to her what you have done is heroic, to then give her the space to actually see her own experience in a different way, hopefully opens up the door a crack to then see it differently and start to claim your own power and the power of the experience, whatever that might’ve been. Or if it’s a mom who I’m working with whose child is going through X and she just spent the whole day just trying to make it to our session, that was all very hard. Even when we feel like we’ve barely made it to the end of the day, you have made it to the end of the day and it has not been easy. So I think a lot of it is reflecting back truth when what the mind is telling us is not that.
Dr. Sarah (00:30:33):
Yeah, sometimes the mind can really mess with us.
It can. Especially if it’s been patterned to see only a certain thing and how do we start to change what we decide to focus on and how we decide to see things is a practice, which I’m sure you know all too much about.
Dr. Sarah (00:31:00):
Yeah, it is. And then I feel like it’s interesting because whether you’re going about this insight building through yoga or breath work or body work or talking or story building, or you’re doing it through therapy or you’re doing it through journaling or you’re doing it in community with other people, I think what we’re really talking about is insight into our perceptions and a willingness to then examine those perceptions and play with them.
Correct? Yes. I mean that the ultimate goal of yoga is consciousness to awaken and to awaken ultimately to our true selves. But that process starts with just awakening to what I did today to the way I respond to things. And there’s an amazing thing that happens the more that we just have this practice of observing is that we can create more distance between us and a reaction, and the more there is that distance, the less sort of emotionally charged things are because we realize that there is a space before a decision is made, therefore we are not the decision and also therefore we have the ability to make a different decision that will have a different outcome. But it all starts with the practice of becoming aware, which is why the physical practices that are traditionally when people think of yoga in the west, we think of going to a yoga class that is the physical practice, that is the yoga method of finding your way into self-realization.
It’s a preparation for the mental practices that come later. But because it’s asking us to move our bodies in a mindful way, it begins this process of observing and often because the mind is so laden with stuff, just observing the body is a safe place to start to practice observing that. Then once we have a relationship with perception and perceiving, we can then apply it to other things like our mind and our thoughts and our reactions. But the body can be a safe for some people, a safe entry point and depending on history, it can be a not safe entry point. But for a lot of people, it’s a safe place to start that practice of what do you just look, just check it out for a while, what you doing? Do you know what you’re doing? Yes. So it is however you get there, it’s why there’s so many different practices. Find your way there, find your practice. Yeah.
Dr. Sarah (00:33:44):
Yeah. And it’s interesting because from a mental health standpoint, one of the most, and from an attachment security standpoint, so one of the things that we know is a big predictor of secure attachment is reflective functioning in the parent, which is reflective functioning is our ability to not just notice. So there’s insight, which is I can notice a feeling, I can notice my environment in the moment, mindful awareness, but then reflective functioning kind of takes it one step further, which is to reflect on the why. I notice I’m feeling frustrated, wonder what happened that made me feel that way. Oh, I notice that my child is really overstimulated right now. I wonder what has been going on for them that might have been contributing to that. So we’re putting ourselves in both trying to reflect on the experience of our own internal and external world, but then also reflect on the experience of the other.
And so when we have high reflective functioning skills, we tend to see more secure attachment relationships in the parent-child dynamic. And so that’s actually a great thing because you can teach reflective functioning, you can learn it’s a skill. And so it’s a great place to start when there’s not such a secure attachment relationship. Or if a parent has a history of insecure attachment patterns, maybe with their parents or with others, that if we can build reflective functioning skills, which starts with that awareness, and then the thinking of maybe why and context and curiosity we can improve actually an attachment a parent has with their kid.
I would say is the next step in that then choosing a different sort of response based on the information that you have gathered because you become aware of a thing, you then notice that you are making one choice, but you have the ability to make a different choice that’ll have a different outcome.
Dr. Sarah (00:35:54):
The next part of that, or does that have a different name too?
Dr. Sarah (00:35:58):
No, I mean I think that that’s not reflective functioning in and of itself, but that’s quite often the byproduct of it. If you can reflect on your internal experience and make more sense of it, or you can reflect on the internal experience of another and make sense of it, you are slowing things down. You are allowing for just that process of reflecting slows things down. It’s not reactive, it’s slower. It requires more actual time to do the task. It’s not reflexive impulse, quick knee jerk. Well, I have to first notice then I have to wonder why it takes time. So you’re by default, just…
By default, you’re creating that space. I was talking about that. How do you make that space to then become aware that you can actually and then make a different, consciously make a choice rather than moving on a subconscious level?
Dr. Sarah (00:36:56):
And it can sound really, like for someone who that’s a new idea, I think it can sound like, well, how in the world, I remember when Sayla was just first having her tantrums, I would be like, well, how in the world am I supposed to do all of that in the moment at one time? That feels impossible. And so these practices of journaling in the morning, journaling after an experience has happened, I call it quarterbacking a lot. If I have a terrible mom day, I will go to sleep quarterbacking what happened, and I don’t even know if I’m using that phrase right, because I don’t watch football, but I’m assuming it means to think back to the thing and think about what happened, and then you sort of start to close the gaps where if I can see what happened afterwards, if I can journal about it before then I can start to work my way to the middle of when the thing is happening, can I sort of awaken then and find my way there?
Dr. Sarah (00:37:50):
Yeah. And I’m sure that this is a very common practice in yoga or anything else. It’s like, yeah, I mean I’ve done yoga. If I went to a yoga class right now and someone was doing a handstand, I’d be like, I’m going to just do some downward dog right now, or I’m going to just do some child’s pose, right? But I would’ve to build up that skill, I can’t just walk into a yoga studio and be able to do something super advanced. No, you start with these small steps and you build on them. It is a practice, an evolution of a skillset. And so yeah, if you’re just hearing us talk about awareness and insight and reflective functioning and you’re like, oh, this is a new concept, how on earth could I possibly do that in the moment? It’s like, well, you can’t. No one would you to. You’ve got to start, like you said, afterwards, looking back, trying to identify the different parts, trying to slowly build that skill up over time.
And even to go back to that analogy of the yoga poses, someone might say, okay, I can’t do handstand. I’m going to do a totally different pose. I’m going to do downward facing dog to your point. But the reality is you can do handstand. What does your handstand look like today? Today my awareness might look like, can I watch myself take an inhale and then watch myself as I exhale? Can I watch myself as I brush my teeth? Everyone has that skill. It’s just then deciding what little place you’re going to apply it. And then once you get more comfortable, you start to apply it in other places. So it’s not that you can’t do handstand is that your handstand today looks like a little hop and that’s beautiful. It looks like lifting one leg into the air. And that’s beautiful because that honors where you are to let you keep moving in that direction rather than saying, I don’t do that awareness thing. I’m going to stay over here in this not doing it lane.
Dr. Sarah (00:39:45):
Absolutely. And if I had known better that poses names, I would’ve used that example. Because you’re right, I’m thinking in my head of the one where you put your hands down and then you kind of put your knees on your elbows and you…
Crow pose. Yes, totally.
Dr. Sarah (00:40:03):
You work your way up to something. Yeah, you work it build the muscle.
I mean down dog can be a beautiful prep for handstand depending on how you’re sequencing things. It’s just knowing that we can get there. You do actually know how to do whatever the pose is, whatever the thing is. It’s just honoring what your shape looks like today. And it’s one of the reasons that in my lineage, the physical practices we talk about in that way, it is never that you’re trying to make a shape look like any one certain thing. It’s what am I playing with in my body in this shape today to start to really encourage that inner understanding of what your own personal recipe is.
Dr. Sarah (00:40:47):
And this is why I feel like yoga is such a good metaphor for life.
Yeah, it is.
Dr. Sarah (00:40:53):
This is true for everything.
Yes. I mean, and that’s why I talk about on my website all the time on the mat and off the mat, and it’s a little bit like my brain breaks now because I don’t have the ability to separate the things. And when you’re talking about anything for a thing to be true, it has to be true everywhere. So yes, I’m talking about where your shoulder is in downward facing dog, but I’m also talking about how you’re engaging in that challenging thing in your life and the way you’re doing it there is also how you’re doing it out there. So let’s weave that in. So yes, there’s a mind meld. Everything is just everything.
Dr. Sarah (00:41:32):
Everything’s just everything.
Dr. Sarah (00:41:36):
I have a question for you. Do you do yoga with your kids? And do you find that helping kids learn, not both these awareness elements of yoga, but even just the physical practice is helpful and in what ways?
Yeah, I mean I think as I again reflect back on my own life, I wonder always what it would’ve been like if I had had these practices from a younger age. I was 15, 16 when I started and I was already in sort of a not great self-love space. And so with the girls, I have always tried to give them language that allows them to connect to their own spiritual practices, even from a young age. So yes, there is the physical, but I think we spent a lot of time with the emotional side of it also. So yes, we do downward facing dog, and it was cute. SA yesterday was like, mom, what’s the pose of the week? I always have a pose of the month and a thing we do in the week, but it’s more giving them language for even just like when I was going through this first with Sola and then ala, it happened later with her big feelings sola for me when she was having her tantrums, anger was a thing was coming up for me a lot.
I would get angry when she had a tantrum, which then led me to sort of reflect on my own relationship to anger. And I remember ala my older daughter saying to me, well mom, what do you do when you have a big feeling? And I was like, I don’t actually know. I wasn’t actually allowed to be angry. So for them giving them the language to know I’m having a big feeling, this feeling is coming, this feeling will go, I am riding the wave. That’s all sort of the ways in which that we work our yoga practice together, if that answers your question.
Dr. Sarah (00:43:34):
Yeah. It’s so interesting. I think that yoga, the language in yoga, it’s so intentional and it really does mirror emotion regulation kind of language because it’s about accepting what is happening in the moment without judgment, but with curiosity and with sort of intentionality. And that is kind of the building block upon which emotion regulation emerges.
And I think it’s why I love your work also so much because it does hold space for the inquisitive nature and the lack of an emotional response. It is not bad that this is happening with your child. How do we just hold space for them while they ride this wave? They’re just riding a wave and it’s easier for us to watch them ride a happy wave to watch them ride a peaceful wave, but their anger or their frustration are just other waves. So how do we safely, and I remember hearing you speak for the first time about when our child is triggered, their frontal lobe is off their turns off. Is that right that they kind of disappear? And if you sort of start to see that that happens in us too, and how do I stay present? How do I stay here? How do I let you be in that state and then welcome you back?
It’s a game changer when you start to approach challenges with our kids like that rather than you do the thing I want you to and you’re not doing the thing I want you to, which is only going to shut them down more, back them off more. How do I unlock the secrets of this little person to welcome them back to me and how do I know if I’m gone? And so to not force this situation and to claim my own deep breath, take my own minute out, whatever the thing is to recognize. But yeah, that was a huge aha moment for me that also was reflected back in the yoga practices when I heard you talking about that. But that’s all that awareness stuff to see, oh yeah, they’re not doing this on purpose. She can’t do the thing I’m asking her to do right now. She’s gone. I have to wait. I have to wait for her to come back.
Dr. Sarah (00:45:48):
Yeah, I have to wait for them to come back. And the way you said, I have to be there to welcome them. That really resonates with me so much. And I mean we talked about this once before, but my daughter, she’s got some really big feelings. She really can get incredibly, incredibly hot and take a long time to come back down, come to herself. But there is usually almost always a moment when she’s kind of coming back down and it’s not like she has this soft landing back down. It’s like it’s a crash landing a lot of times, but then there’s this moment where it’s almost like a light switch flips for her and she’s back. And in those moments when she comes back online, she’ll very often, for example, when she’s in the throes of a tantrum, I can’t touch her. If I touch her, if I get too close, if I say too much, it’s really activating for her.
But then this moment will hit where she just comes back online and in that moment almost always she’ll just crawl into my lap and it’s like I have this opportunity to catch her. And so I am usually at that point pretty spent myself. It’s not like I’m this zen mama being like, come to me. I’m usually on the inside trying to hold in a lot of my own shit. But there’s this moment where often when I can catch her after these really explosive tantrums, we really can reconnect. And it’s so important to me to be able to be there to catch her.
Totally. Which also requires our own ability to self-regulate because if we have engaged in it to the point where we ourselves have checked out, it’s then harder to be there. But if we see it for what it is, which is them riding the wave, which in my own practice of this, I just have started using the language that you, you’re in it. You’re riding the wave. This will be over. This will be over. You’re okay, you’re okay, you’re okay To also keep myself in a mellow space because if I have been triggered and I am gone, it is then harder for me and I know there’s nothing more that they want then I mean talk about a magically healing thing for her to come back and finally feel safe enough and ready to hug you and for you to be there to hug her. What an affirmation of safety and of it’s okay that I had those feelings for you to be there. So I want to do whatever I can do to be there for them when they come back, which requires that I have my own self-awareness to know to keep myself separate from their experience and let them have their feelings without it doing things to me also.
Dr. Sarah (00:48:54):
And to be patient enough to remember just like I love that you tell your daughters, this will come and this will go, this will pass. That’s language I use all the time with my kids a lot of times, especially my daughter because speaking is not really useful at all. So I’ll say that if she’s melting down and she’ll just tell me where I can put it. But afterwards I’ll say that was a big one that came and it went and she started to, now she’s four and she’s now using mat language too to describe her experiences of feelings coming and going. And I’m like, if that’s the one thing that I can give to my kid in this lifetime is to know that their feelings come and go and they aren’t that I will feel like satisfied as a parent.
I just got full body chills. That is the practice of yoga is the understanding that we are not our feelings. And the fact that we have the ability to see ourselves have a feeling is proof that we are not the feelings. It is the belief that we are these huge uncomfortable feelings that causes us so much pain and the more that we have the relationship to them, they’re just waves and we are learning to ride them. What an indelible gift that they will have forever. And it’s funny you say that about the words because now Isla actually both girls will start to either say to their sister to the other when they’re over, are you back? You’re back, you ready to play you back? And the other will, no, I need a minute. Or Yeah, okay, I’m back. I’m ready. Or then that same thing when my older daughter had a ginormous tantrum when we were on vacation.
Makes sense. All those things. Biggest one she’s ever had afterwards, five minutes after it was over, she sat there and she looked at me and she was like, whoa, that was a big one. I was like, I know, wasn’t it so big? And she was like, yeah, that was so big. And I was like, you want to go have a snack? And she was like, yeah, let’s go have a snack. But it was just like to be able to reflect on what a gift to your point, it’s just that’s the transgenerational healing. If I’ve done that, then I win.
Dr. Sarah (00:51:08):
Yeah, no, that is so profound and I think we have to really unlearn a lot of stuff to be able to do that. I recognize that that’s not easy and I am lucky that I have the access to the information that I have. So I’m able to say, yeah, that actually is the bigger goal. I understand. So profoundly parents who feel as though everything I’ve been taught in my life from my childhood till now tells me that I’m supposed to make them learn not to do that. I’m supposed to help them understand that that’s not an appropriate behavior and that they shouldn’t be doing that. And I get that. And I think it is really difficult to unlearn that and be willing to say, no, actually that’s okay. And the more okay I am with that actually the healthier their relationship to those emotional experiences will be and the less dysregulation I’m likely to actually see, the quicker they’ll be able to come back to themselves, the quicker they’ll be able to come back to life, their personality, whatever they were doing, to not have to then manage a bunch of shame for having had the feeling like we can just let it be the feeling and not add anything else to it.
I think I certainly grew up in a very traditional household in terms of like stop. Because the goal is to help it. I think there was a loving place that generations before us were coming from with wanting it to be over and the idea that if the sounds had stopped, the feeling had stopped. But the reality is you just become conditioned to put the feelings in unhealthy places and feelings have to be felt. They have to come out to go. So if we’re just stuffing them inside, they’re going to find a way out that is perhaps a behavior that is not one that we want because it’s an indirect escape. So what we want is the feeling to escape and how do we help them. So the goal that the sounds have stopped is the same, but the way in which we get there is a very different.
Dr. Sarah (00:53:23):
Yeah, the actual release of it versus the suppression of it.
Correct. And in the practices of yoga, so much of what we do is go back and try and figure out where have we put things? Can we feel them now? Let them go be free of them and then make different patterns for ourselves moving forward, different habits for ourselves moving forward. But feelings need to be felt.
Dr. Sarah (00:53:52):
That kind of makes me think of this other question that I had for you that I wanted to ask you about, which is breath. And because I feel like that’s kind of in the service of releasing a feeling in the service of allowing our experience to be in the present. I think breath can be super helpful and more about it than I do. And I like to study, I like to think I know a lot about breath and it’s impact, especially in the nervous system. But can you talk about breath?
So here’s what I love so much about breath. So breath is what’s considered, and again you may have all more words for this, but it’s an autonomic function. Our body’s going to do it whether we tell it to or not. But unlike the other autonomic functions, we can get involved with it, we can change it. And because our breath, our respiration is in response to what we’re doing, the feeling we’re having, our body is trying to take care of us. If we are in a state where our body is in a space of heightened response because the body doesn’t know the difference between running from a bear or fighting with our toddler, we can shift the response that we’re having by getting involved with that breath and sort of short circuit that stress response and drop ourselves into another state without having to try to tell the mind, calm down, calm down, calm down.
Because we all know that the more you tell anyone to calm down, the less useful it is. But you could instead say, I can calm my breath down, which is going to change my physiological system to then allow me to be in a different space to deal with this toddler. So the pranayama practices, which are the breath practices are all prescriptive in nature to say, what is happening energetically and how do we want to shift it? And so one of my favorite breath practices is the simplest breath practice, which is just a square breath. And a square breath is where you for any number of counts, but usually it’s about four. You breathe in for four, you hold for four, you exhale for four, you pause for four, and you just start to say to all of that that we’re having. And I find that, I mean even just me doing those two breaths here, I feel like the energy shifts. You just start to just bypass all the stuff happening in the mind and tell the body to calm, which will then tell the mind to calm, which will tell the feelings to calm, which will help us return to ourselves. If that answers that question about breakfast?
Dr. Sarah (00:56:43):
It does. And I feel like, I like the idea of, and I think in general breathing techniques are smart in that they usually have a visual component to it. We are responsive to that. But who’s really responsive to visual components is the kiddos.
Little people. It’s funny, my sister uses this thing with her son, which I’ve started using with the girls, which is so easy and simple, but when he’s having a big feeling, she may say to him, smell the flowers, blow out the candles, smell the flowers, blow out the candles, and just, it’s this sweet little thing that gets this little two year old to go. And it’s this fun image of smelling a flower, blowing out a candle. And it’s funny, I’ve used it with the girls and we’ll go around the house and find a candle and smell a candle or try to blow out. They reverse it and try to play with it. And even that sort of breaks the cycle and gets you to breathe to drop into your breath, which if you drop the breath, we’ll drop the rest of the responses.
Dr. Sarah (00:57:48):
And I think for kids especially, it’s really important that if you want a small kid to be able to do it in the moment, you have to teach them these skills outside of the moment and in fun, playful ways. So I’m sure that when your sister is doing this with her son and he’s able to in the moment use this tool that it’s got to have been a tool that she helped him put into his toolbox by practice in fun ways.
Totally. But I think even any child was blown out a candle. So even in those moments to be able to go or go over to a flower, smell this flower, it’s a thing that they know. And to your point of doing it when they’re, all of these things we have to do when we’re not charged so that if we stand a chance when we’re charged to be able to do it for sure. But yeah, making it fun to enjoy practices like this so that then when you’re in the moment, there’s actually a couple, and I can send you some links, but there are these great meditation cards that I use with the girls that are lovely visual things to help ’em with sort of a meditation type practice, all this stuff. There’s this phrase that they use in the baby wise books called Begin As You Mean to Go, which is when all of these things start before you need it, so that when you need it, it’s already there. So that’s a begin as you need to go. If I want my children to think it’s important to take care of their bodies, I have to take care of my body. If we’re a family centered home, we’re a family centered home from when they’re very little, whatever the thing is, playing with it before we need it is the key.
Dr. Sarah (00:59:30):
Yes, yes. I think that is so wise and hard sometimes to remember to do, but I think a good place to start is when you’re in the heat of the moment and you wish, that’s when you’re usually aware of like, damn, I wish we could do this instead. Remember that and start practicing the skills to get to that place from there on out and just focus on one thing. I always say, just pick one thing, one area that a skill needs to be developed in at a time and then just intentionally start practicing that.
One, prioritize what is the thing that is causing me the most pain right now, and just start with that one and work your way down the list. And to go back to the analogy of the yoga class, you only learn how to do handstand by falling out of handstand a million times, and so that radical self-love piece of, if something didn’t go the way that you wanted, that’s just data. There is no use in shame. There is no use in guilt. It is simply a data collection point of, you know what, if I don’t actually do X, then I’m going to lose my patience and it’s not going to be the day that I want. So you know what I’m going to do? I’m going to do X. It’s just data to not shame, to not guilt to not those things, but to say, no, I had to fall and to see myself fall to understand where I need to go to do what I want to do instead. It’s just the practice.
Dr. Sarah (01:01:02):
Yeah. I love that there’s so much self-compassion in that, such a lack of judgment and so much willingness to be curious. I feel like that is, if we can embody that in our parenting, we’ve got a shot. We’re on the right path.
It’s a generational thing. We just do a little piece of time. We just do a little piece of the time.
Dr. Sarah (01:01:25):
Thank you so much, so, so much for coming on. I like talking with you.
We could just talk for hours. We know that to be true.
Dr. Sarah (01:01:33):
Yeah, we’ve done that many a time. Yeah. If people want to know more about your work, get in touch with you, where can they find you?
They can find me on my website, thematwithnicolekatz.com, and there’s all sorts of ways to get in touch with me right there.
Dr. Sarah (01:01:50):
Yeah. Amazing. All right. Well, we’ll make sure that we put that link in the show notes. And you can also find Nicole on Instagram too. She’s got wonderful…
@thematwithnicolekatz Yes, that’s me.
Dr. Sarah (01:02:02):
Yes. All right, we’ll talk soon.
Dr. Sarah (01:02:04):
Dr. Sarah (01:02:05):
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