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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.

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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.

When I was little, I believed things became constant and that all of the whirlwind changes of growing up stilled once you became an adult. I thought life would have less surprises, that relationships stayed the same, that when you chose a way to make a living you stuck with that choice, that adulthood would have the answers and would be easier. What a shock to discover that life is constant in its ability to continue to change every year, every day and every moment. Once I came to accept that life is about impermanence and is ever in flux and changing, it did, in fact, get easier.

Have you accepted life’s perpetual changes or do you still hold hope for the elements to settle?

Once I fully owned that life would consist of ups and downs, have its happy moments along with stressful and that relationships change, I was able to detach myself and more easily “go with the flow” of the moment. If all things change, than banking on something or attaching myself to an idea, person or thing was pointless. Instead it requires a finer awareness of what matters which is this very moment.

Accepting impermanence and detachment creates an inner peace that does become a new constant. I find that when I begin to get into my head with worry or fear or self doubt that I have fallen out of the moment and attached myself to an idea of what life should be. Realizing that this too will change brings me back to now.

It is no small feat to give 100%. It takes real effort to put full effort into a task. But without trying your absolute best, you are cheating yourself out of true accomplishment.

How often do we miss opportunities by only half trying? When communicating with loved ones, how often is there full eye contact? I’m not pointing fingers. Really I’m not. I’m sometimes guilty of typing or reading the paper or looking at email while having a conversation. It’s easy to multitask but while doing so I miss the feeling of really connecting.

I recently read in an insightful book called The Game of You that every time we cut corners, give up, put something off or show up late we start to lose trust in ourselves and decrease our self-esteem. These lack luster attempts add up to feelings of dissatisfaction and stagnation.

To move forward we must believe and trust ourselves which we can only do if we know we are trying our hardest at everything we say we are going to do. Follow through until the end. When we consistently miss the mark by not putting forth the effort we begin to create and reinforce a false story about ourselves that we can’t achieve. However, when we follow through until the end we reinforce our ability to take the steps to fulfill both the little and big dreams we have in life.

I took a yoga class today from the amazing Aimee Bohn who talked about the 90 degree knee in standing poses. She said that often people don’t trust their quads and hold the pose midway which doesn’t allow the body to strengthen and doesn’t allow progress. It is better to get fully into the asana and come out and go back then go half way. You only get stronger by giving it your all.

Are there places in your life where you take short cuts or avoid a task or don’t show up? Pick one of these moments and show up fully today. Then tackle another task and another with full attention and effort until you are living your life as the 10 that you are.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruit

I recently came across a blog post from pigtailpails.com that I shared on Facebook that struck a cord with many parents. The title of the post is Waking Up Full of Awesome. If you haven’t read it, please check out the link as it is short but poignant.

Being the first week of school, most parents have fingers crossed that their children are heading into a year of success both academically and socially. So many self perceptions evolve during those hours away at school.

A friend of mine whos daughter entered 7th grade this week shared that she had heard a principal say that he wished girls would stay how they are in 6th grade – confident, excited, loving life and themselves because in 7th grade self-esteem and confidence drop and peer pressures become more demanding. These girls change.

Many people are still working through traumatic childhood moments in their adult life stemming from messages they picked up from others back in elementary and middle school.

It is heartbreaking to see confident girls lose their authentic awesomeness in order to belong.

I strongly believe that yoga is a pathway for young people to access and proudly display their true selves. Through yoga kids find internal and physical strength, see themselves grow and change and see their life’s path more clearly.

As an adult or child, finding your center allows you to navigate through the challenging moments in life with an internal compass that will not steer you astray.

Whether your child is struggling or not, introducing yoga into their lives will benefit them as they find themselves and head into adulthood.

Photo by Dean Gugler

It’s that time of year again. Many parents are taking a big sigh of relief while others are feeling their own butterflies with the onset of another year of unknown possibilities. Here is a post I wrote two years ago about school nerves followed by a few others about transitions and anxiety. No matter how we feel about the beginning of the school year, it is far better to be present than worry about the future or dwell on the past.

Parenting Is Hard Work – Yoga Keeps It In Perspective

The kids went off to school yesterday…

The night before the big day everyone actually fell asleep easily. My daughter did a little yoga in bed beforehand and it worked like a charm and my son read until he was tired and went to bed at a reasonable time. My husband who is a night owl even went to bed early…. it was just me who had the new school year nerves. Would my daughter like her teacher who is known to be great but strict? Will my son’s high expectations of the 5th grade be met or will there be first day disappointment? There were lunches to be made, notes to teachers filled, asthma medicine to be dropped off. How did school get here so quickly?!

I found myself taking some deep breaths-lying on my back with my hand on my stomach. I allowed those anxious thoughts to pass without bringing full attention to them. I slowed down my breath counting to five as my belly filled. I held my breath for a count and then let my belly fall… and soon I too fell asleep.

As parents, it is so easy to get caught up in the trials and tribulations of our children’s lives. We have hopes and dreams and try so hard to teach them the right things; nutrition, physical fitness, how to be a friend, how to be responsible, how to make good choices. The list could go on and on. At some point we need to just breathe. Accept that although we may have brought these little people into the world, they are individuals with opinions (sometimes different than our own). Like those anxious thoughts that I had last night, sometimes it is better to look at our children and their choices (as long as they are not life threatening) and put some distance between them and our feelings and beliefs.  Be with our children without always turning every moment into a learning experience or trying to control the outcome. Our children’s choices can seem to be a direct reflection of our parenting but sometimes it is just a reflection of our children’s preferences which are different than our own.

Three ways yoga can help parenting:

  • Focus on one’s own breath—let your child breath on his/her own.
  • Find one’s own inner peace so that your child’s life doesn’t become the main focus of your own.
  • Hone your Ahimsa skills by bringing an attitude of loving kindness and acceptance to your own life as well as your child’s.

Other posts about transitions and anxiety.

Help Kids Navigate Through the Stress of Life

Transitions

Positive Affirmations Help Kids

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.

D Sharon Pruitt

D Sharon Pruitt

In trying to come up with meaningful lessons that kids can take off their mats and into their lives, I recently bought a great book called 10 Minute Life Lessons for Kids. The lessons are divided into categories such as Things We Value, Potential and Self-Worth, Love and Kindness and Attitude to name a few. When applying ideas from other sources into my class, I always try to find a yoga slant.

I decided to give my students a lesson on attitude. I strongly believe that what we think about and what we say influences our perspective and the outcome of different situations. This idea was not one that I was taught as a child but really would have helped me growing up.

I first made sure that none of the children had food allergies. I gave each student a Smartie (I chose this type of candy because it dissolves slowly but quickly enough to move onto other things in class when we finished this lesson). The kids were not allowed to eat it until I gave them the go ahead. We all then got into chair pose or a standing squat with backs against the wall. The idea behind this exercise was that while our legs started to burn from our position, we were to suck on the candy and try to keep our thoughts on the sweetness versus the pain.

There will always be difficulties in life but by training ourselves to focus on the sweetness in life even when things are hard we will create a more fulfilling and happier life in the long run.

Photo by Sharon D. Pruitt

My son just returned from an amazing summer experience with Adventure Treks. The camp prides itself on its culture of community and being a place where kids can be in the great outdoors, challenge themselves, have fun and be their best selves. According to director John Dockendorf, although many Adventure Treks trips take place across the country, each group learns similar messages:

That you can accomplish more with the unconditional support of your friends.
That doing more than your share is a good thing.
That happiness comes from being part of something bigger than oneself.
That effort and reward are related.
That you can accomplish more than you think.
That you can have the time of your life without a computer, a cell phone, a video game or facebook.
And that good friends are a lot more important than stuff.

My son came home with new friends, new insights about himself, greater self-confidence and a different perspective about his world and his life’s potential.

It is so easy to think that the young have all the fun, that as adults we have already had our wild and carefree moments. I recently read Jim Rohn’s quote,“The ultimate reason for setting goals is to entice you to become the person it takes to achieve them”. It made me think about how as we get older, it is so important to continue to set goals, to be challenged and to step into the fear of the unknown. That it is during those moments when we grow and feel alive. It is not just time for our kids to have these experiences. It is what makes life fun and joyous and full. Everyone deserves to be their best selves and live life to its fullest.

So what adventure are you going on? Take on your fears and live a little.

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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