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One of the hardest things for me to do is to sit in that awful place of discomfort. Life is chock full of these moments. I get to practice being in this place more times than I’d like. I think I am getting better at it but then all of a sudden I’m back in deep and it seems so overwhelming. For me these moments are usually found in times of confrontation, uncertainty or conflict. I know now to take time to concentrate on my breath. I try not to get to caught up with thoughts as those just seem a method that my brain uses to make sense out of the situation and may just be stories created that hold no real truth. So what do you do if you can’t think your way out? Breathe. Concentrating on the moment at hand through breath is the only truth when things are not clear. It is so simple. Breath can dissipate these uncomfortable feelings of anxiety, anger and stress. Inhale 1. Exhale 2. Inhale 1. Exhale 2. It is as easy as… taking a breath.
I remember the disappointment I felt when September coincided with the beginning of working full-time post-college and not with the excitement of back to school shopping and all that implies. Fall holds in its crisp air the anticipation of a fresh beginning—a clean slate. Now, as a mother, I can relive this excitement once again with my children. I can even feel the charged energy of the impending first day and am craving the joy of possibility for that is what a clean slate is all about.
This summer I have found that as the first day of school approaches, my mind is getting more and more cluttered. Between planning my yoga class schedule and the kid’s after school activities for the year, organizing the house for the entourage of school papers and homework assignments, redoing my son’s room to accommodate the teen that he has become and getting in the last of the summer activities, I seem to have constant chatter in my head.
The noise in my head has muddled my mind—I’ve become more forgetful and reactive. But I know exactly what I need to create a clean slate, a state of possibility, and the key is meditation. I have found that meditating first thing in the morning helps to clear my mind and begin the day with more intention, focus and equanimity.
Taking the time to sit and get centered creates a calmness that carries me forward positively throughout the day. Meditating does not need to be complicated. Follow these instructions to find daily mindfulness.
1. Sit comfortably with a straight spine.
2. Close your eyes and bring attention to your breath. Notice the cool air passing into and the warm air passing out of your nostrils. Notice the different sensations while bringing your attention to each breath.
3. Return to the sensation of your breath if your attention wanders.
4. Start with 5-10 minutes once or twice a day gradually increasing your meditation to 20-30 minutes.
You don’t need new binders or backpacks to start the school year with a clean slate and the excitement of new possibilities. By clearing your mind of daily clutter you can create a fresh start everyday. Meditation might really be the breakfast of champions.
When will I figure out how to just coast on this ride of parenting instead of traveling all of the highs and lows with each childhood moment? Don’t misunderstand. Nothing is wrong. It is all in the name of parenting. But, I’ve already gone through adolescence and I don’t want to go there again! How does a parent step away from the drama, sleep without worry and parent effectively. We are expected to give support without lecturing too much or helping too much, discipline when needed even when it causes temporary discomfort for all, step in when there is trouble but not until the child has tried to take care of things solo. Where is that handy manual—telling us how and when to say the perfect thing, showing us when to expect the perfect teachable moment, and explaining in detail how not to be embarrassing to your child when they reach a certain age?
I know that I don’t have as much control or effect as I think. I know that I can lead, teach and advise but my children still need to act and make their own decisions.
So I take 5 minutes to meditate when the desire to fix takes over but the possibility of fixing doesn’t really exist anymore.
An easy meditation:
- Set your watch for 5 minutes.
- Turn off your phone. Close your door.
- Sit comfortably either on the floor with a straight back, gaze slightly down, hands on your knees or in a chair with feet flat on the floor.
- Say to yourself “Breathe-in one, breathe-out two” while breathing in and out.
- Let any thought float in but then go back to your breath. Breath in one, breath out two.
- Simply breathe. It’s that easy.
A series of events have left me looking for the positive. I have found that changing my focus helps. I have a lot to be grateful for and adapting my plan is an easy way to help move forward with a good attitude.
A change of plan calls for a change in attitude.
I had my sight set on the Philly marathon taking place on November 21st. Training started in the early summer and ended, for me, three weeks ago. I had a run in with a coffee table and my marathon hopes were smashed along with my third toe. This was not something that could have been foreseen or prevented. It was just one of those things. Life moves on.
Change Your Attitude With New Goals and New Focus.
New goals help prevent disappointment from turning into a bad mood. My initial plan was to train hard and drop my time to qualify for the Boston marathon. I was on target to accomplish both having a PR at a recent 1/2 marathon and dropping 9 minutes off of my time. I even qualified to get into the NYC marathon in 2012 during that race. My hopes of running Boston this year are gone. I now have NYC on my horizon, and with winter is on its way, I’ve already signed up to run in a snowshoe race to keep my endurance and spirits up.
Gratitude is a wonderful cure for disappointment.
I am grateful for new friends.
I had met a new training partner through my running group, Moms In Motion. We ran together three times a week combining hill repeats, shorter runs and long runs. We met by pure chance at the only group run that we both made early in April. Since that one encounter we have become great friends. There is nothing that opens up conversation quite like a long run (besides perhaps therapy). Our runs always included juicy conversations and frequently ended with a celebratory hot drink. Now we meet for coffee while my foot heals and the long conversations continue. How fortunate I am to have the support of a new friend!
I am grateful for slowing down.
My foot injury prevents me from taking yoga class as the flexing of my foot is painful. I have had to move my workouts from the studio or the roads to inside the gym. Being forced to use the rower and stationary bike has made me grateful for my outdoor workouts. Not being able to get on my mat in class has also made me focus more on meditation. Without the calm that comes from running and yoga, I have noticed that my mind is getting caught in the worry cycle. Making time to meditate and pay attention to my breath helps to settle my mind and find some peace.
Change your environment: Connecting with nature brings peace of mind.
Although my foot is not entirely happy, I have taken advantage of this training lapse to head out onto the trails with the dog to walk on the gorgeous carpet of colorful leaves before they get covered up by snow. Research shows that being in natures helps create mental well-being.
Life will always throw in some surprises. Being able to adapt and find the brighter side helps turn those moments around. You never know what door will open when one shuts. Be prepared by looking forward and being positive!
I just caught this video and love it.
Being OK with being alone does not come naturally to most. To spend time with oneself you must learn to treat yourself with compassion and to stop the self-judgment that we pick up around middle school when the drive to be accepted by a group seems ingrained in our DNA.
Getting on the mat regularly helps remove those blocks that we inevitably put up long ago when we were feeling left out or when rejected by someone to whom we gave our heart. Layer by layer of damage is removed as we begin to listen to our bodies, change our story and find our internal quiet and strength through asana and breath.
Lululemon is well known for their positive quotes as much as for their great yoga clothes. “Do one thing a day that scares you” is one of their quotes that taunts me. The idea of eating dinner at a fine restaurant by myself fills me with great discomfort. I have never attempted going to the movie by myself even with the shield of darkness available to hide my alone-ness.
Andrea Dorfman’s poetic video makes me question my own issues with being alone in certain situations. I am tempted to drop the brick that holds the notion that alone means less or sad or strange. Maybe alone means freedom, power and possibility.
How do you feel about being alone?
When thinking of positive affirmations, does your mind rewind to the Saturday Night Live skit with Stuart Smalley and his famous line ” I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!” The idea of saying something to oneself may seem foolish and silly but the power of positive affirmations is real.
In class, I introduce the idea of saying positive things to oneself by encouraging shouts of “I’m strong!” and “I’m focused!” in warrior poses. During savasana, I take the class on a relaxation journey using my favorite book, Ready… Set… RELAX. These texts always include positive affirmations along with guided breathing techniques. The kids repeat to themselves positive sayings for example “I feel good about who I am”, “I can let go and relax” and “I can breathe out tension”.
Children with anxiety can use positive affirmations with breathing techniques to help when feeling stress. A little girl in my daughter’s class was having a tough time in gym. For whatever reason, gym class made her anxious and she often made excuses to go to the nurse. Equipped with the affirmations, “I am OK. This is a feeling and feelings change” she is now happily participating in gym class.
I have also seen the success first hand with my own daughter who started waking up at night and having a hard time settling herself back down. I told her to try to inhale— filling her belly with air— while thinking “I am relaxed” and then exhale while thinking “I can sleep”. It worked like a charm and she is now able to get up in the night and help herself fall back to sleep without my guidance. Affirmations are about self-empowerment.
Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize teaches what he calls “Breath with Healing Thought”. These different variations of affirmations and breath are actually the key to meditation. Try these simple meditations and notice your happiness and peace grow.
1) As you inhale, repeat to yourself “In”. As you exhale, repeat “Out”. This may seem too easy and simple, but you may be surprised to notice how quickly your mind tries to run away to the past or future! Meditation is about being calmly and joyfully present to what is happening now.
2) As you inhale, repeat in your mind “I am calm”. As you exhale, repeat “I am relaxed”. Then continue only with the words “Calm” and “Relax”. The power of the words will instantly reduce your stress and worry.
3) Breathing in, repeat to yourself “I am joy”. Breathing out, smile, and think, “I smile.” Continue calmly breathing, while you repeat “Joy” and “Smile”. Smiles relax hundreds of muscles in the face, neck, and shoulders and the act of smiling can create feelings of well-being.
Affirmations are a great means to help children become self-empowered which ultimately increases their self-esteem. Thoughts combined with breath are a powerful tool to improving feelings of well being.
We are more than half way through the school year, and, at least in this household, the homework is revving up and along with it the stress. It is hard to juggle the pressures of school, the recommended allotment of daily physical activity, after school commitments and homework. Getting a good night’s sleep falls by the way side most nights while kids try to keep up with the constant demands of life in 2010.
I was trying to think of a way to simplify our lives recently. What could we remove to help everyone slow down? There were no vestigial schedule appendixes. I couldn’t find anything in the schedule that stood out as being “extra” and no longer of use. So how do we help our kids adjust to a lifestyle where the demands are plenty and the hours few? How can we take the edge off the daily stress?
Tips to help your child navigate through the pressures of life:
1. Make dinner at home and find time to eat together around the table. There is no greater way to remove pent up stress than by connecting with those who support and love you. The New York Times article, “The Guilt-Trip Casserole-Dinner and the Busy Family” points out the positive benefits of joining together around the table.
2. Before tackling homework, spend a little time outdoors. Soak in the fresh air. Feel the sun or wind or rain on your face. Have contact with nature. Studies show that nature reduces stress in kids as well as helps kids with ADD.
3. Inversions are a great way to gain energy and increase mental alertness so go upside down in a handstand or headstand. Or, for a more restorative inversion, lie on the ground with your feet up against the wall.
4. One of my favorite books for relaxation scripts is, Ready… Set… R.E.L.A.X. written by Jeffrey Allen Med. This great archive of self-empowering meditations has scripts with messages such as “I remember what I learn”, “When I am relaxed, my body and mind work well”, “I am a good listener” and specific test preparation scripts for achievement tests. To teach your child that they can relax their mind and find calm in tense situations will help them throughout their school days and beyond.
5. I also recommend Stin Hansen’s meditation, “Think Like a Great Student”, to help kids with school anxiety.
6. Having a calm and organized work space is also very helpful for your child. A great tip that I recently read to help your child through their homework is to write down each topic of homework on a sticky note. Have your child determine how much time each subject will take and write that on the sticky notes too. Then have your child prioritize the work according to time and difficulty. After each task, the sticky note can be removed, giving your child a visual sense of control and accomplishment.
7. Have your child stand up and stretch. Do some gentle yoga poses like cat/cows, forward bends, seated spinal twists or more inversions between each assignment to break up the time and to recharge and change focus.
Life doesn’t slow down and stress doesn’t disappear. By teaching your child how to manage stress, you teach them how to positively navigate through life.
Part of the fun of teaching yoga is being able to pick music to go with the class. I find that with children’s yoga classes I try to match poses with music and I try to be very careful of lyrics. Music can be a powerful tool.
I like to start class off with something upbeat. Lately I have been using Jack Johnson. The kids often recognize the songs from the movie Curious George. I have also used Snatam Kaur’s Feeling Good Today CD to start off class. The music once lead to a class discussion about the origins of yoga as many of her songs use sanskrit.
Music sets the tone for a class as it can increase or decrease energy. When I turn on Who Let The Dogs Out while we practice our down dogs, you can feel the energy crackle with anticipation for flipping our dogs and barking and working hard. In contrast, I have used a new age song called Hot Air Balloon by Aerial Acoustics while doing the breathing exercise “Balloon Breath” which lends itself to gracefully flowing through the classroom as our balloons deflate.
For my older kids classes, I make a point of finding songs with lyrics that inspire. There are so many songs for the tween/teen age group that are about needing someone else for things to be better that I try to find songs that are self affirming. Some examples are Everlife’s Daring to Be Different or Find Yourself in You, JoJo’s song Exceptional and Jordan Pruitt’s Outside Looking In.
I also like to end class with something more gentle like Sarah McLachlan’s version of Blackbird or Israel Kamakawiwo’s version or Somewhere Over the Rainbow.
Check out some of the music I’ve mentioned and please share your favorite yoga music!
I remember my first yoga class that started off with chanting OM. It felt awkward and made me self-conscious but the energy that came from everyone chanting simultaneously was nothing like anything I had ever experienced.
Prior to that I should mention that I did practice a bit of Trancendental Meditation when a boyfriend convinced me to try it with him one summer during college. Again I remember both the feeling of discomfort with the unfamiliar and awe of the energy that group meditation creates.
Last year my old 14 year old lab would wake me up at 5am with her lonely bark and I would go downstairs to keep her company as she couldn’t make it upstairs with us anymore. On those mornings I started my day with meditation. I switched it up often from my TM mantra to repeating a morning prayer to listening to affirmations that I downloaded from a great website http://www.mythoughtcoach.com. I regretfully do not practice meditation daily anymore, but it did help me start the day more grounded.
Can children benefit from meditation?
I absolutely believe that they can. In my class of 8-11 year olds I play a recorded version of the meditation Sa Ta Na Ma. In this meditation you start by touching your first finger and thumb. With each sound you touch your next finger to your thumb. It makes me think of rosary beads. The music is a bit funky and hypnotic. If you were to meditate using Sa Ta Na Ma without the song, you would first say the words, then you would whisper the words and lastly you would think the words along with the finger touches.
I have children in my class that make sure that I don’t forget to play the Sa Ta Na Ma song before savasana. I think that meditating before savasana helps the kids settle into deep relaxation more quickly. One student told me that she often uses this meditation to calm herself down at home or when she feels sad.
For younger children whose attention is not as long, I do centering warm ups using sound. We sometimes take a deep breath and then draw out the sound different animals make or pretend we are bees and hum or buzz until we are out of sound. The kids love these exercises and it gives them the unique experience of group sound and energy creation. There is a great centering song by Karma Kids called Rub Your Hands (OM Song) that the kid also enjoy though it is a tad too long. I recently learned from a fellow yoga blogger that hand rubbing is a great way to stimulate both the right and left sides of your brain. Brain Gym. Great stuff.
Find a mantra, sound or song to use and give meditation a try with the children in your life. Let me know how it goes!