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I recently had the opportunity to try out three yoga games created by the company Upside Down Games. I have been teaching yoga to kids since 2008 and am always searching for new ways to engage my classes.

First of all, the products are adorable, very well made and nicely thought out. I tried out three of the company’s five yoga games.

I first played the Yoga Card game. We had a lot of fun on our missions to find poses within the deck of 51 cards that fit within certain themes. I love that breathing is made a big focus of the game. I did change the rule to holding the poses for five breaths versus the 10 seconds that was recommended. Though they both take the same amount of time, the kids are more accustomed to counting breaths while holding asanas. I also like that the name of the poses are on the cards both in English and in Sanskrit. The yoga poses are easy to understand visually without any alignment instructions, however, sometimes the more advanced version of a pose is depicted. Unless you have an understanding of yoga and know modifications of the poses, kids might become frustrated if they cannot get into the full pose or push themselves into a pose for which they might not be ready. I would also love added instructions on how to adapt this game for a larger group.

The next game that I played with my whole class was the Yoga Spinner game. In this game each player spins the spinner, and depending upon where the needle falls, picks a colored card and holds the pose, does a partner pose, loses a pose card or takes a pose card. The class really enjoyed this game and we did the poses with the person who’s turn it was to spin to keep everyone moving. With 66 yoga-pose cards, there was plenty to learn and I added many modifications for the kids to try too. I do think that removing the competitive nature of taking someone’s earned card would give the game a more yogic feel.

The last game that I tried with my smaller class of 8 students was Memo Yoga which is a yoga matching game. With 18 pairs of poses, the kids and I took turns flipping over cards—trying to find matching pairs. If you flip two matching cards over, you keep the card after holding the pose for five breaths or 10 seconds. The kids really enjoyed the game. The age minimum of this game is 3 years old, but my older class of  8-11 year old students loved playing and learned a lot while having fun.

All in all, I highly recommend Upside Down Games products. There are many poses that kids will learn while having a blast. My one word of advice is that if you or your fellow game players can’t do the pose exactly as is on the card allow for some modifications as some of the poses are advanced.

Check out the website of Upside Down Games to find these and other wonderful games. http://upsidedowngames.us

mountain climber

The mind fascinates me. In the book called, “The Antidote: Happiness for People Who Can’t Stand Positive Thinking”, the author, Oliver Burkeman, dives into what he refers to as our our “goal crazy” society. Sighting a number of studies he has determined that people create goals in the name of planning for the future and productivity, but in reality, it is a means to remove the unsettling feeling of uncertainty.

Goals can actually hinder success. In 1996 fifteen climbers died on Mount Everest within a twenty-four period of time—the highest death toll in the mountain’s history. Climbers know that timing is crucial to success on Everest. If climbers don’t make the peak by a pre-arranged time, they must turn around to avoid running out of oxygen or attempting the dangerous climb down in the dark. Hours after the time to turn back passed, people were still climbing to the summit. Why? As more feelings of anxiety increased as the climbers climbed, the more they held onto their goal to summit to help cover the feelings of uncertainty they were feeling at the moment. To feel better in the present, they chose to put their lives in jeopardy.

What a compelling reason to come to our mats! The more we get comfortable with the feelings of uncertainty, the more likely we can make sound choices for ourselves. The more we sit in discomfort, the more we find our voice of reason.

Here is another example of why goals can be limiting. Have you ever waited for a cab in New York City in the rain? It is a challenge to find a cab when it rains and the logical conclusion is that it is because the cabs are in higher demand. In actuality, based on research by economist Colin Camerer, though the demand for cabs increases, the supply of cabs shrinks. The cab drivers set a goal to make double the amount they owe for renting the cab each day they work. When it rains, the cab drivers make that money more quickly and head home early!

In this example, the goal setting actually limited their potential.

Now it is time to apply these lessons on your mat. When you are practicing, dig deep. Get uncomfortable. Breathe. When you have the opportunity, put yourself in a place of uncertainty. Try an arm balance, try a head or handstand. Take a chance. Begin to be OK with those feelings of the unknown. That is where the opportunity for growth and living big exist and are waiting.

Come to your mat. Give up your goals. Embrace life’s uncertainty.

I have been reading a fabulous book by Stephen Cope called The Great Work of Your Life. It is a surprising page turner. Using concepts from the Bhagavad Gita about discovering one’s unique life purpose, Cope weaves in stories about famous people such as Jane Goodall, Susan B. Anthony, Henry David Thoreau and their path to finding bliss and dharma with everyday people struggling to find their way, committing to or missing their true calling.

My inspiration for teaching yoga is the power that yoga has to guide each and every one of us toward our unique path. Yoga creates awareness, openness and questions that help us move toward our best selves.

In the last year, I have had many changes due to yoga.

  • I completed a 200 hr teacher training to become RYT certified.
  • I gained more insight into how I teach and why I teach.
  • I have become kinder to my body and live more compassionately in general.
  • I recently have become more aware of how certain food and beverages effect me and have started making different choices not because I feel I have to but because it seems like the natural steps to take for me.
  • I am diving into teaching and learning and living yoga.
  • My relationships are more open. My communication is better. I don’t hold back as much.

Even with yoga teaching being my main gig besides being a mother and wife, I continue searching for my dharma. When I teach, I am fully focused, present and passionate. But there have been other times in my life when I would be so immersed in my pursuit that time would disappear. Were those dharmas that ran their coarse or should I be trying to put them back into my life again.

That is where I am. Where are you? And where do you want to be?

I saw this today. Enjoy!

Photo by Drewski Mac

My yoga journey had a lot of starts and stops initially. When I finally became a true yogi, it was because of running. I was always a runner first and yoga was only a way to stretch for a long time. Even after I became a teacher, running was still my first passion. I began to have an unsettling feeling about this combination of running and yoga. This duo had within it a built in struggle. It was a struggle both in mind and body. But I ignored it. I ran and trained and pushed until finally succumbing to my yoga journey when running was no longer an option. And as they say “I saw the light and I never turned back”. Well not really.

You see, running and yoga are truly yin and yang both mentally and physically. Runners push. Runners compete with themselves and others. They compare. Runners turn off the mind because our bodies CAN do more, do faster, do longer. Runners don’t stop at pain but use pain as a test for mental toughness. Don’t stop. Run faster. Run longer. Rest if you need to but then get back on the track. Running compacts the muscles in the body. It tightens the muscles in the legs. It ignores the upper body. It creates imbalances.

I bought the runner’s message and lived that message. I ran when sick (though my running partner got my wrath that day), I ran in the heat, I ran when my leg had a strange pain, I kept on running. Speed work, long runs, tempo runs, trail runs. I woke up every morning with foot and leg pain. And then I couldn’t run. I had injured myself to the point that it was just not possible.

I turned to yoga. I listened to my body. I saw the alignment issues that were part of my running problems in my yoga and I patiently kept coming to my mat, working on my alignment. I got stronger. I got more flexible. My body began to open up. My hips released. My hamstrings released. I didn’t push, but patiently worked. I woke up without pain. I woke up.

So now I am running again. I love the freedom of being able to put on running shoes and take off. I love running on trails in all weather. The surroundings absorbs me. Mindfulness is necessary as to not trip. I now sometimes walk up some hills. But now, I always make sure that I get into the studio as often as I can to be in class. That takes precedent overrunning, but my need to get outside and fill my lungs with fresh air takes me to the trails. I have started to get the urge to push a little more. Maybe because it is marathon season and just a pattern that I have created. But yoga is what makes me able to run. I need both running and yoga in my life. The yin/yang. The dance. The balance.

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Why do we run, swim and bike, but practice yoga? We practice an instrument or a dance routine in the effort of finding perfection. However, perfection is not what we are practicing when we get on our mats. What we practice when we get on our mats is our way of being. We practice opening our hearts so that we can love more deeply and find more compassion and acceptance. We practice balance so that we find balance between work and play, family time and personal time, being strong yet being vulnerable in our lives. We practice to find the moving meditation that helps us clear the “monkey mind”—the chaos of thoughts that jump around in our brains— to bring more clarity, grounding and inner calmness into our day. We practice finding our inner voice and inner strength in discomfort so that we are familiar with acting with purpose or sitting with the discomfort versus reacting to or running away from the discomfort of life that comes in the form of disappointments, challenges and frustrations.

In each class we can practice all of these ways of being. To find which one resonates most we begin our practice connecting to our breath. Breath is the channel to our inner voice. We quite our mind with breath to allow our deepest desires and needs to be heard amidst the usual chattering of intrusive thoughts.

Once we find an intention, we can focus on it as we move on our mats.

Are you looking to find love, deepen connections, accept yourself for who you are flaws and all? While practicing find ways to open your heart in every pose. Back bend in mountain, warrior one, anjaneasana and crescent lunges. Find more heart softening in down dog or opening in side angle and triangle.

Are you looking to increase energy? Bring more energy in by exuding more energy out in each pose. Find strength from the ground up, express energy by keeping fingers and toes active, use inversions to move stagnant energy from within.

Are you looking to clear your mind and find peace? Focus even more than usual on your breath creating a moving meditation. It is easy to lose your breath if you are trying to come to your edge in class. Work on staying with your breath and practice with ease. Use the sound of your ujayi breath to help calm and ground you in your practice.

Are you looking for balance in your life? Though most practices include balance poses, find the yin/yang in each pose during your practice. Find the solidity and the fluidity, the strength and the vulnerability, the control and the surrender in every asana.

Are you in need of more strength in life to go after what you really want? Begin each asana from the ground up, creating stability to increase grounding and strength but then find the flight to move you into action. In standing poses keep a 90 degree angle in your front knee, only coming out for a moment when needed and then finding it again, in order to increase your strength and learn to breathe through the discomfort. Change comes from challenge and fear and doubt can be dissolved by staying put in times of challenge instead of taking the easy way out. Find moments of flight in arm balancing poses.

Yoga is not about trying to find perfection in poses or your practice. Yoga is about coming to our mats to find the truth and acceptance in our imperfections. We practice BEING on our mats so that we can be bigger, more honest and show our true selves off our mats.

Next class, listen to your internal voice and follow your intention to greater possibility in your life.

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I am nearly done leading an 8 week program for middle school aged girls in self-empowerment and yoga. It has been an incredible experience. The Girl Power program teaches so many important lessons in a very short time.

1. Just as hunger pains tell us to eat and thirst tells us we need a drink, feelings tells us information about our authentic self that we need to address.

2. Our thoughts alone do not give us enough information to make good choices. We must align our feelings with our thoughts to get the most accurate signals to make the choices that are best for our true self.

3. Self care has to do with how we treat our self. Do we pay enough attention to how we are treating our self on a regular basis? Not paying attention to self care hurts our ability to handle stress.

4. Yoga. It helps to bring our attention to our bodies, feelings and thoughts. First we find this connection on our mats through asana practice then we take it off our mats into our daily life to live more authentically.

5. Media is very influential in how we see ourselves. It is meant to make us feel lacking. The way media portrays women is harmful to our self.

6. The path to happiness starts with being authentic.

Yesterday I read the girl’s journal entries that were in the format of a letter to their bodies. I got goose bumps. I felt such a thrill seeing that the messages that we’ve been working on were sinking in and that they have the tools to treat their true self with more kindness and understanding.

It was an honor to lead this program and teach this material, but the real honor is being able to be a part of these girl’s life path and to have given them real tools and skills to leave them with so that their life’s journey doesn’t get cluttered with baggage from bad choices. They have the tools to live authentically.

I saw the movie Bully this weekend. It was very tough to watch. I left the movie feeling frustrated as I didn’t feel the movie’s conclusion left the audience with a great deal of  hope.

The next day I got onto my mat and practiced and I didn’t think about the movie. I moved and breathed and I listened to the messages of tuning in and being present shared by my teacher. Soon after, I realized that yoga is part of the solution. The yogic principle of Ahimsa, compassion or doing no harm, teaches us that we must first find compassion for ourselves before we spread that compassion to those around us. As I am about to embark on teaching middle school aged girls to find their power and to find their voice, it occurred to me that underneath all of that is teaching them how to treat themselves with compassion.  At a certain age self-judgement begins to increase as fitting in with the group begins to take priority. Judging oneself becomes judging others. Being untrue to our authentic self becomes not respecting differences in others. Talking about our different bodies and our different strengths and weaknesses, demonstrating that we practice yoga to accept how our bodies and minds are different every time we get on the mat and sharing that these differences are OK, that these differences are what make us unique and special and powerful happen so naturally on the mat. I don’t know where else this message of self-acceptance occurs in a child’s life. When is the message that you are perfect just the way you are taught outside of the home? Even within the home most of us expect our children to get great grades, excel in sports and have many friends—we expect our kids to fit in a box of “the typical child”.

Until kids accept their differences, they won’t accept others. Until kids realize that happiness lies not with fitting in but with tuning in and self-love, there will always be judgement and cruelty.

The blog Pigtail Pals reminds us that we start life believing that we are awesome. We need to find ways to keep that belief alive. And for those who sadly start life with a different message, through the practice of yoga they too can find peace, self-acceptance and self-compassion. Spreading compassion will remove the problem of bullying. I believe that yoga is key.

It occurred to me while I was participating in my Baron Baptiste Level 1 Teacher Training that everyone there arrived with baggage and not just the obvious duffle bags and suitcases. We all came with stories from our past that we’ve taken for truths that create limiting thoughts and don’t serve us on our life’s journey. In truth, this may just be part of life and growing up. But what if there was a way to prevent some of that baggage? Instead of seeking therapy, hiding in destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, drugs and alcohol use or risky sexual behavior to flee from our feelings, what if we learned to tune in and understand our feelings and our inner voice? If given the skills at an early age to help us tune in to our true self instead of tuning out by escaping through texting, music, tv, Facebook and video games, might we avoid the adult versions of feeling avoidance?

Thankfully I don’t have to recreate the wheel. A friend and fellow yogi, Dr. Catherine Cook-Cottone,  that I met during my teacher training developed a program for 5th-7th grade girls to teach them skills to help them navigate through life’s ups and downs. I am fortunate to be able to bring the program to life this spring in my home town. Dr. Cook-Cottone tested her program through the University of Buffalo where she teaches psychology for effectiveness in preventing destructive behavior in this population (specifically eating disorders). The program never focuses on a specific destructive behavior as it uses positive psychology and active learning techniques. The results were positive. By teaching teens awareness of their feelings and how they create thoughts and actions, the girls learn that they have opportunities to make good choices. Using yoga, discussion, journal writing and art, the girls explore who they are, what they feel and what their inner voice has to say. They leave empowered and with real skills and tools to help them through their life’s journey. Maybe these girls will avoid some of the pitfalls that my generation fell into or maybe they will fall too but with a greater understanding of themselves to be able to pick themselves, dust themselves off and leave the baggage behind.

What is a perception? A belief. A thought that something is true. But is a perception the truth or fiction? A recent experience helped me answer this question.

A few summers ago I taught a Mom and Baby class. It was the second class of this type that I had ever taught. I was used to teaching children and was just getting comfortable teaching adults. I loved teaching these women at this very special time of their lives with their babies knowing how much yoga helped me when I was a new mother.

One of the moms who had signed up was a well known yogi in my community. She had studied with John Friend during the time he was creating Anusara yoga, owned her own studio and has an incredible depth of yogic knowledge. I was intimidated by the thought of teaching her. She came to a few of the classes and then disappeared. I was sure that my class wasn’t enough for her, that she found me a novice and didn’t think it was worth her time. Though the other participants continued to come to class, a part of me began to feel like I was not good enough.

We now teach at the same studio, and though she is incredibly sweet and helpful, I have carried this feeling of embarrassment (unworthiness) with me around her though I feel otherwise confident in my teaching abilities. Before her class, we were talking about my kids yoga classes. She then admitted that my Mom and Baby yoga class helped her connect back with her body, that she hadn’t been doing yoga for a while and she was grateful for that class. She had been having nursing difficulties and was sorry to have missed many classes. I was astounded.

My perceptions were absolutely wrong.

Believing thoughts (perceptions) as truths is what creates a lot of the baggage that we carry around with us our entire lives. To learn to distinguish feelings and thoughts for what they are is freeing. This connection between feelings and thoughts and what we say and what we do is tightly wound. Yoga is a great tool to help untangle fact from fiction. Through meditation and asana, we begin to free the mind to feel and think without it effecting our selves or our truth.

What self-perceptions do you carry with you? Can you figure out when you began to believe them? Was there an exact moment when fiction became truth?

It is time to break free from the thoughts that bind and hold us back. Now is the time to shatter the misconceptions that our mind creates and begin to reclaim our awesomeness.

Current Classes:

MIDTOWN ATHLETIC CLUB

Mondays:
6-7:15am Power Vinyasa (H)

Thursdays:
6-7am Power Vinyasa

Story Time Yoga
1-1:45pm

Sundays:
5-7 year olds
9:45-10:30am
8-11 year olds
10:45-11:30am

STUDIO MOVE!

Wednesdays:
10:30-11:30 Power Vinyasa

Fridays:
Yoga for Athletes
9-10am

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