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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.

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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.

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.

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.

Photo by D. Sharon Pruitt

E.E. Cummings once wrote,”It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.” That quote has hit home hard.

It probably started with my planning to attend a week-long yoga teacher training this summer. Making that week happen took a lot of planning, coordinating and a huge amount of fear facing. I was very present to my fears during training. I made myself get up to speak at the mic the first day knowing that if I didn’t, I never would. Then I made myself go up again. Facing my fear of what other people thought of me, possible rejection and potential embarrassment was a huge step toward being the kind of teacher I want to be.

I was and wasn’t surprised to find so many fellow teachers in the midst of personal crises. I think yoga teachers are a thoughtful and soulful bunch looking to better themselves and others so it was somewhat obvious that many would be searching and evolving. Being very content and grateful for what my life is I really didn’t think that I would have a huge AHA! moment as many around me did. I did have a small ahhh moment however when I discovered that I was a pleaser when looking for an archetype that describes me. I was so disappointed in myself! I wanted something romantic like a dreamer or explorer or someone thought highly of like a pillar or adviser. But pleaser it is. I had been in total denial. It makes sense to me upon reflection. Now that I am aware, I find myself in that role all over the place. The thing about being a pleaser is that I tend to find myself in the middle a lot. The uncomfortable middle place between wanting to please two groups with differing view points. Yoga is great for learning to sit with those uncomfortable moments. But, until I realized that I was a pleaser, I didn’t realize that I had a real say. I reacted without really knowing to sit in the discomfort for a bit to figure out my voice.

All of this leads to my latest uncomfortable middle place. I have recently gone against the wishes of my parental units when they didn’t approve of some personal choices. Don’t most people do this in their teens! Either I never had a need to or never noticed that I pleased without listening to my voice. It has not been easy standing up for my beliefs. I have had to fight through a lot of pleaser guilt to find the strength in my convictions.

I recently read that growth only comes in times of discomfort, and so it seems, that at 42 years old I might have just finally grown up.

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

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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