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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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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.

Photo by H. Koppdelaney

Having just finished teaching the first Mom and Baby class of a new session, it is apparent that the moms that made the conscious effort to pack up their babies from 6 weeks to 6 months and drag car seats and diaper bags through today’s cold rain to take class, had more than just stretching on their minds.

When baby enters the family, all of the sudden your intentions come second to your child’s needs. But in truth those needs don’t disappear. One of those needs is feeling a sense of community. Becoming a mom is like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. We have nine months of physical metamorphosis while our baby grows and then upon delivery we are permanently transformed into “mom”. The mental changes are not even fathomed until that baby is in your arms.  We must make an instantaneous mental adjustment as well. Going from working on projects with deadlines, we now find an endless day of watching our child for signs that signal their need for sleep, for food or for diaper changes. The sense of gratification we once achieved from completed work is substituted with the delayed gratification of raising a well-adjusted person. We went from lunches with friends and colleagues to picking at leftover Cheerios while watching the endless cycle of laundry begin again.

Mothers need a moment. They need time to connect to their new bodies, new responsibilities and new dreams. Without stopping to put that time in the schedule, it is easy to run on autopilot. Moms need to stop and be mindful and to listen to their hearts. They need to connect with others who are in the same situation trying to make sense of this new life experience.

My mom and baby yoga class is a fusion of baby massage, yoga and strengthening poses for mom, and the blessing of taking that moment—time to connect with other moms with babies of the same age, time to connect with the voice inside that may sound different. It is a time to connect with one’s body, one’s baby and one’s breath.

From the book Mindfulness: Mother with Mindfulness, Compassion and Grace by Denise Roy:

Today, take some alone time. Even if it’s only five minutes.

• Light a candle. Go for a walk. Sit outside.

• Lock yourself in the bathroom.

• Create a little zone of quiet.

• Congratulate yourself for taking this time. It’s an act of love.

• Now imagine that life is like an ocean.

• At the surface, there can also be a lot of turbulence. Life’s busyness and demands and ups and downs can be like rough waves that whirl around us.

• Now imagine that deep down in the ocean, thirty or forty feet below the surface, is a place of constant stillness.

• Take a breath, and drop down into this place of quiet and calm.

As you keep practicing taking this alone time, it will get easier to practice in the midst of the chaos of a day. You will be able to drop into that place of stillness wherever you are.

Photo by Justin Price

Driving home from my sister’s New Years Day brunch (a tradition that I usually make at my own home but was thankful for this year’s change of venue), my husband stated to my six-year-old who was in the midst of a staying-up-until-midnight-the-night-before meltdown that she was in control of what was happening. She was able to make the situation better or worse by her own thoughts. That was a jaw dropping moment.

Let me back up a bit to say that my husband has become very serious about yoga. I admit that he has been taking more classes than I have lately. I regularly teach and have a home practice, but he is knocking my socks off as far as getting into the studio. I’m so proud of him. I know it makes him feel great both physically and mentally. But until this moment in the car, I didn’t realize that yoga was starting to seep into his life off the mat. After focusing on the physical asana and breathing during class, he was getting the “it” of yoga. Yoga is the unity of breath, body and mind. Through the breath (pranayama) and the body (asana), mindfulness can be found. Interestingly, studies show that through mindfulness one can actually increase spirituality.

I had another yoga moment today of my own. I woke up wanting to get a run in before doing an errand. I was planning on taking the dog to the park to run in my snowshoes. My son surprisingly wanted to come along. When we got to the park, I noticed that we’d lost a lot of snow over the night and that snowshoeing and sledding were no longer options. My son is not a fan of running for running sake so I readjusted my plan to walk with him and enjoy our time together.

The dog was having a blast running wild and the snow was perfect for throwing. Knowing how my son’s mind works, I stated TWICE that I didn’t want to be hit by any snowballs. TWICE. The next thing I know an icy snowball is dripping off my face. I did not take that yoga breath before raising my voice questioning him as to why after two very specific requests I still got a mouth full of snow. He stomped off angrily and we both felt disappointed that the morning was turning to the dark side. I then decided that it was up to me as to how this was going to turn out. I was in control of my thoughts, my actions and this very moment at hand.

One of my resolutions for this year is to laugh more. So I picked up a handful of snow, made a perfect ball and as my son sulked on the path in front of me, managed to hit him smack center on his back. After his initial shock of my sudden attitude change, we started running through the woods, hiding, throwing, laughing and connecting. By the time we walked back to the car, my son who hates to run, managed a mile in the snow with both a smile on his face and in his heart… and I did too.

Make this year a year of yoga both on the mat and off. You will not be disappointed.

Namaste and Happy 2010 to all.

Get out the tissues…

Although this video is about a human/dog relationship, it really spoke loudly to me as a parent and teacher. It is easy to see ourselves in our children. Our children may look like us and have similar skill sets or traits that we passed along. It is easy to wrap our hopes and dreams around our children. It is easy to push them into doing activities because we enjoyed them as children or perhaps because we never had the chance and our children can fulfill that lost dream.

This trainer was astute. She had hopes for her puppy. She had dreams that it would accomplish a certain goal. She was also able to acknowledge when to stop pushing and she was able to focus instead on her dog’s strengths. This dog changed a life because its owner was able to put aside her vision and direct her dog to something it could do well.

I loved this quote from the video:

“When I let go of who I wanted her to be,

and just let her “be”, she completely flourished.

[and] I reveled in knowing she’s perfect

just the way she is!”

If all children had someone helping them find their strengths, directing them toward activities and classes and careers that utilized those strengths wouldn’t we have a lot more happiness in the world.

door2

Photo by H.Koppdelane

There have been a lot of changes and opportunities these last few months for which I am immensely grateful. At the same time, each door that opens creates some anxiety and anticipation. I am finding that the new opportunities usually come with some small leap of faith that I will find my way. It is like lifting your feet off the floor in crow for the first time and putting trust in yourself — having faith that you will not topple over and embarrass yourself.

I also find that in my excitement, I can get overly caught up in the “possibilities” instead of focusing on the moment at hand. I find this energy which is intense to usually lead to disappointment. I try to remind myself that when a door opens or closes to be mindful and patient. That a missed opportunity may lead to another door and that a door that is opened and that looks like the right way may close unexpectedly or lead me astray. Change is inevitable either way and its often better to stop and just be grateful for what is.  I remember the story about the farmer which I may have posted before. The story is worth repeating.

There is a Chinese story of a farmer who used an old horse to till his fields. One day, the horse escaped into the hills and when the farmer’s neighbors sympathized with the old man over his bad luck, the farmer replied, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?” A week later, the horse returned with a herd of horses from the hills and this time the neighbors congratulated the farmer on his good luck. His reply was, “Good luck? Bad luck? Who knows?”

Then, when the farmer’s son was attempting to tame one of the wild horses, he fell off its back and broke his leg. Everyone thought this very bad luck. Not the farmer, whose only reaction was, “Bad luck? Good luck? Who knows?”

Some weeks later, the army marched into the village and conscripted every able-bodied youth they found there. When they saw the farmer’s son with his broken leg, they let him off. Now was that good luck or bad luck?

Who knows?

In the spirit of gratefulness…

I’m grateful for the opportunities that I have to effect people through teaching yoga. Teaching my first Mom and Baby yoga class on Monday was pure joy. Seeing these new moms with adorable chubby babies in tow and knowing how much of a challenge it must have been for these ladies to get out of the house just to make it to class made this a very special hour for me. I remember how much yoga helped me as a new mom connect to my body and my self beyond my role as wife and mother. I look forward to next week to teach these inspiring ladies and babies again.

What are you grateful for in your lives? Please share!

Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough. — Oprah Winfrey

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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