My friend Amy Kwalwasser at Gezoont interviewed me recently, and I'm sharing the interview here with permission, because it is a great introduction to my work for new community members.
The interview was held informally over Zoom. Nothing below is medical advice, and as I say in the interview I am not a therapist.
- “I want to create an environment where people feel brave enough to show up as themselves. To avoid recreating the oppressive systems in the wider culture, there’s more to it than putting a bunch of diverse people in a room. It’s about making the whole environment more inclusive."
- "Meditation and breathing practices can help us as parents to stay out of burnout and connect with people in our lives as well as ourselves."
- "Just knowing someone else has had a similar response is a relief to parents. Yes, even online."
- "Parents can’t do a long yoga practice whenever parenting stresses them out. A parent needs quick tools in the moment so they can be less reactive. The Polyvagal Theory is a great way to understand how to do that."
- "Kids with neurological differences are trying to navigate in a world that was not made for them. That in itself can be traumatizing. Parenting atypical kids can be traumatic — not because of the kids but because of the lack of support, acceptance and understanding in our culture."
- "When parents get to the point where they are ready to make self-care a priority, they’ve been in crisis for awhile. They have been feeling isolated and overwhelmed. So it’s not uncommon for tears to happen."
- "We don’t need to be reacting emotionally to our kids’ big feelings, but we do need to learn new skills before we can do things differently."
Amy at Gezoont:
Kate Lynch, founder of Healthy Happy Yoga, is an inclusive yoga teacher, mindful parenting mentor, and author. She is such a kind, giving person who is sharing what she has learned in her many years of yoga and mindfulness practice. She cultivates connection, compassion and joy. I also adore her laugh and am sort of wishing this was a podcast so you could hear her laughing. Read on for rich insights and easy exercises for self-regulation.
What is Mindfully Parenting Atypical Kids?
Mindfully Parenting Atypical Kids is an inclusive online space where parents can learn gentle yoga and mindful parenting. You can feel more connected, calm and present, no matter how intense your neurodivergent kids are in the moment. It is also the title of her podcast and upcoming book.
Kate supports parents of atypical kids with emotional balance and self-regulation techniques such as breathing, self-compassion and mindfulness. Her focus is on connecting with parents in small groups and 1-1, both in-person and online.
She started her work as a prenatal and parent/baby yoga teacher. She has been teaching and cultivating community since 2002. Kate is also a parent of an amazing atypical kid.
Kate: I am growing an online business to reach more parents of atypical kids. I love teaching asanas (yoga postures), but I’ve been moving more towards meditation and breathing practices and how that can help us as parents stay out of burnout and connect with people in our lives as well as ourselves. I teach calming tools to parents of intense kids.
Kate has a course for parents called 5 Days to Calmer Kinder Parenting specifically for parents of atypical kids. It’s a 5 minute a day video (or audio) to help overwhelmed parents feel calmer and integrate mindfulness tools into their lives.
Inclusion in Yoga and the World
Amy at Gezoont: Inclusivity is a wonderful highlight of your work. Could you tell me more about what inclusive means to you?
Kate: I’ve been teaching yoga and meditation to parents since I became a teacher 20 years ago. My very first student was pregnant with her third child, and she knew from the diagnostics that this child was going to have Down Syndrome. That set me on this path before I had my son, Ocean, of inclusion and having a lot of respect for parents and respect for differences.
Kate pushes against the white, able-bodied yoga stereotype (even though she acknowledges that she fits the stereotype). As she explains: “I want to create an environment where people feel brave enough to show up as themselves. To avoid recreating the oppressive systems in the wider culture, there’s more to it than putting a bunch of diverse people in a room. It’s about making the whole environment more inclusive."
Kate is inclusive both in action and intention. She offers “A lot of options, a menu of non-hierarchical variations in the physical practice. ‘Try it this way, and if it feels OK, you can try adding this. Can you still breathe? Can you still smile?’ There are so many ways to build the pose.”
“In meditation, the hardest thing is sitting, so if you can’t sit, lean, if your mind wanders that’s what minds do. Give yourself a lot of permission. You are still doing it.”
Amy at Gezoont: That would encourage me to tune into how I’m feeling.
Kate: Yes! And many times with beginners, they don’t know how they feel. It takes practice.
My yoga classes are more about grounding (rather than turning into a pretzel). They are slow, introspective, and respect boundaries. It’s not about how it looks on the outside. They are for beginners and people who have been practicing for years who want a gentle practice without any judgment.
Amy at Gezoont: Do you have a "Parenting Playbook?" We don't necessarily receive a playbook (or at least not a good one) for parenting, let alone parenting atypical kids. How has your practice helped shape your own parenting?
Kate: If I had to define it, it would be "good enough parenting." Meaning I’m not trying to be perfect. I went into parenting Ocean with a lot of opinions. I had read a lot of books and I also had taught many parents, babies and toddlers, so I had a pretty good idea of what "normal" development looks like. Ocean didn’t follow any of those trajectories. He showed me how he needed to be parented. Once I started listening to that, things got a little easier.
Self-regulation Isn't Selfish!
Kate gives “homework” to her clients to give them some sense of accountability so they will take the time to focus on themselves to help self-regulate. “Because that’s where I've seen changes. Sometimes we need permission, because we think it’s selfish to take time to do something for ourselves. We also need gentle accountability — knowing that someone is going to ask if you did it.”
I had a student who took one mindful breath and said,
“Yeah, that was worth the 15 seconds it took.”
That's what I’m hoping to give people — to take those 15 seconds to see if it shifts something. If you take those 15 seconds every day, when your kid has their next meltdown, you will be more ready to self-regulate. I want to help other parents so it will not take as long as it took me. We can learn to be self-regulated during those moments of calm between storms, and then we will be able to ride the waves more easily when we're in the middle of it. No one should spend their life walking on eggshells.
Amy at Gezoont: How do parents come to you — motivated, curious, desperate?
Kate: When parents get to the point where they are ready to make self-care a priority, they’ve been in crisis for awhile. They have been feeling isolated and overwhelmed. So it’s not uncommon for tears to happen. I try to create a brave yet safe space, because we’ve all been there. Sometimes just knowing someone else has had a similar response is a relief to parents. Yes, even online.
Understanding Polyvagal Theory & Trauma
Amy at Gezoont: My understanding of the Polyvagal Theory is weak at best. What are your thoughts on how we can understand and use it for ourselves and our children?
Kate: The vagus nerve, part of the autonomic nervous system, has different stages — safe and social, flight, fight, and freeze (which can look like shutting down or depression). These are adaptive responses. You can think of the vagus nerve as a ladder. We can go back up this ladder to feel more safe and social by working with the vagus nerve from the body up.
There are specific practices to stimulate the vagus nerve and calm the nervous system. Vagus comes from the same root as the word “vagrant.” It has all these branches in our bodies — to our spine, the back of our eyes, our jaw, tongue, throat, around ribs and into our gut. So it is really affected by breath.
Kate brings Polyvagal practices into her groups and private sessions. They may start with a yawn or humming. She utilizes these tools, including talking with the group about what’s going on. She also uses self-compassion and self-forgiveness tools. “All of these things have helped me so much.”
Quick, Simple & Effective Mindfulness Tools That Parents Will Actually Do
Kate: Parents can’t lock themselves in a room and do a long yoga practice whenever parenting stresses them out. A parent needs quick tools in the moment so they can be less reactive. The Polyvagal Theory is a great way to understand how to do that.
You can yawn and it can affect your vagus nerve. Yawning is something we do when we feel safe. It can be a top down approach — your brain tells your body it feels safe and then you yawn. Or a bottom up approach — you yawn and that tells your brain that you’re safe. Little micro movements can affect the whole autonomic nervous system.That’s why yoga feels so good!
5 Mindfulness Tools You Can Use Just About Anywhere
Wiggle your toes to ground you.
Look around and take in what you see with curiosity.
Squeeze the web between your thumb and palm.
Tap on the karate chop point of your hands under the table.
Breathe in and let it out long and slow.
Trauma-informed Practices & Neurodiverse Parenting
Kate: We all have trauma, and acknowledging that is the first step. Kids with neurological differences are trying to navigate in a world that was not made for them. That in itself can be traumatizing. Parenting atypical kids can be traumatic — not because of the kids but because of the lack of support, acceptance and understanding in our culture.
I offer a lot of trauma-informed practices in my classes and they’re tied to the Polyvagal Theory. Trauma is in our brains and in our bodies. Traumatic feelings are said to be frozen in time.
Trauma-informed practices are first about feeling safe — for example knowing someone won’t come up from behind you in a yoga class and touch you without permission. Online, it’s about being included and knowing that you belong. Trauma effects may be reduced using exercises that emphasize coordination between the left and right brain by crossing the midline. We can use physical practices to move the traumatic memory across the midline of the brain so it can be expressed in a timeline.
I’m not a therapist. The social worker at Ocean’s school gave me this great analogy: There is a difference between taking your car to the mechanic and handing someone a wrench. I’m giving you the wrench that helped me fix my own car. You can decide what to do with it.
What we practice in mindful parent groups can bring up feelings. That shows me what parents are going through. If someone feels down on themselves, I’ll teach self-compassion practices. If someone feels guilty, I’ll teach a self-forgiveness practice. If someone feels angry, I’ll share everything I’ve done to help me cool down from anger.
Just having someone hear your story is healing. It’s about coming together as parents and being heard. I come to the class with a curriculum, but I know it’s going to change based on the needs of the group.
Vulnerability as Strength for Healing
Kate: I want to serve parents of atypical kids with these tools. In order to do that, I need to show up vulnerable. As Brené Brown says, “Courage starts with showing up and letting ourselves be seen.”
Kate’s Podcast and Upcoming Book, "Mindfully Parenting Atypical Kids”
Her podcast debuted with topics like “Autism, Stress, Masks & Screens” and “Self-Compassion for Parents in 6 Minutes.”
Amy at Gezoont: You are a very fluid and easy to read writer. I'd love to hear more about your upcoming book "Mindfully Parenting Atypical Kids'' and your writing process.
Kate: My oldest friend reminded me that I have always been a writer, and I wanted to write professionally in middle school. Long before I wanted to be a yoga teacher or a parent or an artist, I was a writer and that was a big part of my identity.
Creativity as Contribution: Helping the World Become More Inclusive
I’m at my happiest when I’m being creative, especially when it can help someone in some way. For many years my creativity was expressed in other ways such as visual art, sequencing yoga classes, and then through parenting.
I didn’t think I would have the courage to write a book, but I feel like it is a way I can really help parents. I had an idea to share my story along with mindfulness tools that might help other parents. Many parenting advice books say that you need to get calm before interacting with your kids, but they don’t teach you how. How to get calm first is the piece that I really wanted to address. We don’t need to be reacting emotionally to our kids’ big feelings, but we do need to learn new skills before we can do things differently.
1-3 Minute Practices
Kate: As I emerged from the fog of parenting an intense toddler, the breathing and mindfulness practices that I have been using for decades started coming back to me. In my book I’m sharing 1-3 minute practices that parents can do to self-regulate, so they can co-regulate with their kids.
What’s on the Horizon?
Kate: I’m looking forward to finishing the book. I also want to continue to meet with small groups of parents. Those connections are so amazing. Eventually I plan to create online courses.
I love collaborating! I have something brewing with Amy Weber LCSW from Speak, Learn, and Play:
From Conflict to Cooperation, a 5-week course beginning 3/9/22. There are still a few spots available.
Ocean is starting middle school so he may need my attention more during that transition.
I’m giving myself grace and space.
Some of Kate’s Favorite Resources for Joyfully Parenting Atypical Kids
Speak, Learn, and Play has a fantastic camp. It also has many different therapies and groups throughout the year.
Extreme Kids & Crew had open play sessions on weekends, before COVID. That was an amazing place for growth for me as a parent. It is such an accepting environment. It was a place for Ocean to be himself and blossom. We were members, I went to their fundraisers, it just really became a part of our life and we felt like part of the community. We went to different events and Ocean had a few birthday parties there. It was instrumental in how we grew up as a family. Now Ocean is in their online Gaming Crew.
Frost Valley YMCA has a family camp that we go to every year. A lot of parents of atypical kids bring their kids even though it's not specifically for families of atypical kids. They also have autism family weekends and an inclusion program at their sleep-away camp.
Another favorite in-person resource is A Walk on Water. AWOW is a foundation that travels up and down both coasts offering free surf therapy. They are so organized and well funded! AWOW has experienced, welcoming and friendly volunteers. The surf therapists are compassionate pros. You have to be quick to get a reservation as they are very popular, but it is worth it!
There are tons of online and print resources, but the book “Uniquely Human” by Barry Prizant is at the top of the stack of books I recommend. Barry’s wisdom and manner are so understanding and respectful of the needs of autistic people, he truly focuses on their strengths. I get the sense he prefers, if not reveres, neurodivergent minds. Uniquely Human honors the true experts: those with autism themselves.
Go to Kate’s Blog for more helpful resources, including mindfulness practices for parents raising neurodivergent kids.
Download her free Mindful Meltdown Cheat Sheet.
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