January 3, 2019
Top Nine Books that Made Me a More Crunchy Mom in 2018
By Stephanie Scavelli
After being a disciplined yogini for over ten years, entry into motherhood quickly changed my everyday routine. The physical trauma of birthing and intensity of early motherhood put yoga on the back burner for the first year and a half after my daughter was born. Recovering from twenty-one hours of labor in an otherwise gentle home birth left me with what felt like pulled muscles in both thighs and alongside the muscles that girdle my waist, plus the endless fatigue of sleepless nights nursing and soothing my baby. For nearly eighteen months catching a nap or putting together some nourishing food seemed more important to my well-being than a meditation on the yoga mat.
Kimberly Johnson’s book “The Fourth Trimester” validated my need for time to recover from pregnancy and birth. Magamama Kimberly Johnson introduced me to herbs like Ashitaba (Angelica keiskei), rich in vitamin B12, and Moringa (Moringa oleifera), an all around nutritive herb, to help me regain my energy and vitality. On an emotional level Kimberly gave space to my need for emotional healing and the traumas I endured in addition to birthing including mastitis, flu, wasp sting, isolation and spousal abuse. It is now twenty months since I have given birth and I am now able to practice my sun salutations again and I even have the strength and stamina to teach yoga again too.
From the narrow selection of yoga books available at my local, small town library in Lewisboro, NY I selected “Yoga Journal's Yoga Basics” by Mara Carrico. Even though I left off my practice exploring advanced asanas like arm-balance poses and deep stretching, this book reminded me the power of yoga is its simple postures strung together with the ease of the breath. My yoga is now an at-home practice, often following a Yoga International streamed video, that is gentle and embodies virtues of patience and self-care while my daughter flutters around me imitating the poses or desperately trying to win my attention.
Being easy on ourselves is so important in early motherhood especially as we get to know our new selves. Initiation into motherhood is a purification process that peels away our layers to expose the essence of our core values. I gained immense clarity in my values since becoming a mother. I chose, with great deliberation, anxiety and struggle, to leave a career in local government in the transportation sector to raise my child. Nightmares regarding my decision had, and occasionally still do, haunt me and rip me from my precious sleep. My decision to leave my career path meant going from a financially independent woman with expendable income to a dependent with a dependent and no income.
The book “Being There: Why Prioritizing Motherhood in the First Three Years Matters” validated with clinical research on child behavior why through an intuitive sense I chose to be with my daughter and leave the office. The book is not a flagstaff for stay-at-home moms. It is about how mothers of all walks of life can be more emotionally present for their young ones. But of course, being physically present makes it easier to be emotionally present. Eric Komisar, a mother and children’s clinical psychologist, suggests that women can have it all - the career and the family - just maybe not at the same time. This concept helped dilute my unreasonable expectations of myself as needing to simultaneously be a top-executive professional and attached, present mother.
Nutrition is a foundational consideration on the minds of most moms. The La Leche League book “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding” is another invaluable book that has guided me through early motherhood and continues to as my twenty month old daughter still nurses - all day and all night.
Seven years ago I started a vegan diet. Today I practice what I describe as a whole-food plant-based diet which I believe more clearly expresses my dietary preference. Veganism is still an ethic that informs my everyday lifestyle and it is a value system I am raising my daughter with. The book “Plant-Based Nutrition” (second edition, 2017) by Julieanna Hevers and Ray Cronise is the most comprehensive and easy to read guide to eating plant-based I have ever read. Thinking of food in terms carbohydrates, proteins and fats has led to “macro-confusion” on what to eat. Are beans a protein or a carbohydrate? They are both?! How about neither and beans are just beans? Simply put this book is about eating foods we identify in their whole form.
This book covers the science which is now out to support the health benefits of an exclusive plant-based diet. It even re-evaluates the concept of “processed” food. For example, olives are recommended as a whole-food ingredient while pressed oil is considered “processed”. To maintain weight and for longevity it recommends two meals a day with a few snacks and an extended period of fasting between the last meal of the day and breakfast. It introduces a food triangle instead of a food pyramid and an understanding of how our metabolism works through “oxidative priority.” My favorite recipe in the back of this book is Chocolate-Chip Pumpkin Bread.
This idea of getting back to the basics not only pervades my dietary choices but has influenced my household routine, my consumer identity, and my footwear. To get to the root of things - feet - after reading the New York Times Best-Seller novel “Born to Run” by Christopher McDougall I wholeheartedly embrace a preference for bare-foot inspired minimalist footwear. Heels - and not just women's stilettos - but any heeled footwear is just off the table for me and my child. I carefully vet mine and my daughter's shoes for a zero-drop heel, wide toe box and flexible sole. I currently sport a pair of Primal II Lems Shoes and my daughter wears a pair of MyMayu Adventure Boots.
Getting back to the basics implies less and the book “Zero Waste Home” encourages a lot less. “Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot” is the mantra of author Bea Johnson. Second to choosing to practice a plant-based diet, choosing to live by the principles of zero waste is my next most profound lifestyle change of my entire life thus far. Even though the initial transition calls for an immense amount of purging, what remains is an enriched lifestyle based on essential buys versus compulsory consumption, bulk bin foods instead of excessive packaging and memories instead of keepsakes. My time is invested more in managing my life, my relationships, my career, my hobbies, and my health instead of my stuff. Raising my daughter around less stuff and having greater discernment on what I bring into our home I hope to model to my child responsibility and the joys of quality living.
Reading about the true story of six people over the age of 85 living in New York in the 21st century and reading about a fictional family of displaced farmers fleeing the Dust Bowl region in the early 20th century has imparted upon me great wisdom on how to raise my own child. “Happiness Is a Choice You Make: Lessons from a Year Among the Oldest Old” written in 2018 by John Leland and “The Grapes of Wrath” written in 1938 by John Steinbeck capture the essence of the human spirit from the courage through life’s constant trials and the fleeting moments that nurture joy and contentment.
I love how being a mother has grounded me in what I value most. By reviewing the collection of books I read over 2018 it helps me to gain perspective on how I have grown over the past year. Each book has touched my life and changed it for the better. To each of these books I give my highest recommendation.
About the Author
Certified Yoga Instructor Stephanie Scavelli practices a plant-based diet and traditional herbal medicine. She laughs endlessly at the adventurous whit of the animation series Rick & Morty. She wears minimalist, barefoot-inspired shoes and her favorite dessert is her sister's Oatmeal Crusted Vegan Pumpkin Pie. Stephanie lives in Westchester County, NY with her daughter Juniper. For yoga classes and workshops near you visit www.yogaforager.com.