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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.

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.

Life is a constantly shifting set of priorities, needs and wants. I find that creating harmony in one aspect of life causes another to fall by the way side. One’s career may be in a good place, but then one’s social life is off kilter. The kids are soaring academically, but then extracurricular activities have created hectic and turbulent afternoons. The scale may precariously rest in balance for a negligibly short time until it tips again toward one need or goal or priority. I am envious of those who seemingly do it all and do it all well. I secretly hope that their closets are messy or their cars have liter from the kid’s snacks just to make me feel better. Does anyone really have it all together balanced perfectly or is it just an illusion?

I love balance poses. The challenge to focus and remain steady while balancing on a leg in tree, dancer or eagle pose or on one’s arms in crow pose or a handstand always exists whether you are a newcomer to yoga or someone who has practiced for years. Finding that point of equilibrium helps satisfy our need to find balance in life.

Check out Yoga Journal’s balance sequence.

Here is a past post that I wrote on the subject of balance.

I just returned from a wonderful ski trip to Mt. Tremblant in Quebec with my family. You could tell upon arrival that this was going to be an amazing vacation. We were staying in the ski village a stones throw from the base of the mountain and lift. The village had a European charm with shops, restaurants and apres skiing activities. The weather warmed up to the mid-twenties from its usual below zero temps. We could not have been happier.

But why write about my ski trip on my yoga blog? Because although I did not end up taking out my mat that I packed with my ski gear, yoga made its presence on this trip.

We skied long days, and compared to our local mountain, we skied endlessly long runs. I found myself feeling great after each day on the slopes. My legs rarely felt the burn from the constant work that they were doing and I never fell. OK, I did. But it was after my daughter forgot to stand up to get off the lift and ended up flying through the air and landing on me.

I credit yoga for my leg strength, agility and balance. Warrior poses, chair pose and sequences that stay on one leg seemingly forever are the perfect conditioning for skiing. Hip openers, like pigeon, help loosen one’s hips enabling the body to turn from its legs instead of forcing the upper body to initiate the turn. The core power gained from poses like boat, locust and twists create a foundation of strength that keeps you aligned, steady and ready for sudden movement shifts which can help you avoid accidents. I was very present during each run down the mountain. My mind and body were focused but relaxed—the same sensation that I get in class on my mat.

On our last day of skiing, my six-year-old daughter was following us down trails. Encountering our first black diamond together two days before, she panicked and ended up taking off her skies and sliding down on her bottom. On this day, however, she was determined to keep up with us all, and surprised us by fearlessly following the family down very difficult slopes.  At the end of the day she told me that she took some deep breaths and told herself to stop thinking. Before each black slope she cleared her head of her fear and just went for it. I heard her talking herself down some of the tough spots with positive affirmations.  The pride she felt was palpable as she not only kept up with us but conquered the fear that took up space in her head.

As a parent and teacher, it sometimes feels as though no one is really listening. Yes, I was very proud of my daughter, but it was not for going down those black diamonds. Seeing my daughter take control of her thoughts and connect her breathing, her mind and her body made me feel like I just coached an athlete to a gold medal in the Olympics. Though I hope my daughter enjoys skiing forever, I know now that she has learned some powerful skills that will help her throughout the black diamonds of her life.

Here are two great articles about yoga for skiers:

Yoga For Skiers

Yoga For Skiers from the Cowgirl Yoga Blog

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Photo by H. Koppdelaney

I was recently asked to participate in a grassroots initiative called LASS (Ladies Attaining Self-Sufficiency). The mission of LASS is to model, teach, and support young ladies (sixth grade city school girls) in attaining self-sufficiency. The program’s goal is to increase positive identity, break down social barriers and define personal values at this impressionable time of these girl’s lives.

The program includes a variety of after school activities that were chosen to help foster relationships and thoughtful decision-making.

I am so honored to be included in this pilot program. Yoga has the ability to transform a person both internally and externally.

Yoga can help change lives in many ways:

• Learning different yoga breathing techniques can help guide a person through many different challenging circumstances. Learning that you are in control of your actions by taking the time to stop and breathe before reacting is empowering. Being able to calm oneself down during a conflict or before an important test can alter the direction of a given situation. Learning breathing techniques and poses that energize one’s body can help eliminate the need or use of less healthy food or chemical choices.

• Through yoga asanas, one is made aware of individual differences and personal strengths. With so many forces in a young girl’s life that are out of their control, it is so vital to for them to find the internal strength that they possess to make the right choices. Through asana a person develops the ability to listen to what one’s body is saying. A pose might generate a feeling of fear (getting up in crow or a headstand) or tension in a certain body part which releases when breath is directed to that area. A warrior series may evoke a sense of strength which is felt from the inside out. This strength can be carried forth throughout one’s day easing one through tough situations.

• Learning relaxation techniques during savasana can help relieve tension and stress that accumulates throughout the day. Practiced before bed, relaxation techniques can release the pressures of the day allowing for a fully rejuvinating sleep that all teens need. When rested, being mindful and aware is easier which leads to better choices.

I am planning on working on breathing techniques, sun salutations, group and partner poses and relaxation techniques. I hope to ignite an interest in yoga, but more importantly, an awareness of personal strength in which each girl holds ready to tap.

Photo by Amanda Hirsch

Photo by Amanda Hirsch

As I have posted previously, teaching yoga to kids is very different than teaching adults. It is yoga play and typically proper alignment is not stressed. Once a session, however, I take out some props and teach my classes of kids between 5 and 11 some alignment. The kids love it when I bring out the yoga props and although I am speaking alignment, the idea that I am treating them like the adults makes this class special in their eyes. The props are like presents and the excitement is palpable.

Here is a list of poses that we do using different props:

3 lb Pilates Balls

1. Chair pose with chest press

2. Chair pose with chest press and side leg extensions

3. Partner seated twists – sitting back to back with legs crossed twist to one side to pass the ball and then twist to the other side to retrieve the ball.

4. Standing splits – press ball into the air, lift one leg back as you touch the ball to the floor.

5. Boat pose holding ball

6. Boat pose holding ball to one side and then twisting to the opposite side

7. Standing back to back with feet mat distance apart pass ball back and forth with forward bends between legs and then with a small back bends above head.

Wall

1. Chair pose against the wall

2. Warrior one with foot against the wall

3. Warrior three with foot pressing against the wall

4. Warrior three with finger tips touching the wall

5. Tree pose touching wall

6. Dancer pose facing and touching the wall

7. Half Moon with foot pressing against wall and the use of a block for hand

8. Handstand prep against the wall

9. Tripod headstand against the wall

10. Camel pose with hips against the wall

Blocks

1. Half Moon with foot pressing against the wall and the use of a block under hand

2. Feet up the wall with blocks on feet (avoid if the blocks are too heavy and use hardcover books)

I haven’t used blankets, bolsters or straps with the 5-7 year-olds but the 8-11 year-olds love to use blankets and bolsters during savasana. What I especially like about introducing the wall is that you see the kids take more risks with poses knowing the support is there. The kids all love to try handstands and they really open up in half moon.

We ended classes this week with a lot of giggles doing a group chair pose against the wall – one person starts against the wall and everyone else sits on each others laps. The kids are amazed that they can hold the weight of the entire class on their lap and the occasional falls upon trying to stand back up gets everyone laughing to savasana. I posted a while back about a great “life lesson” using chair pose against the wall. Check it out here.

Namaste.

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

Teens are busy people. They are stretched in a million directions between school, sports, extra-curricular activities and their social lives. It is a hard age group to attract to yoga as their demanding schedules leave little time. However, this is an age group that could benefit tremendously from a weekly class.

• Yoga gives teens the mental break that they so need. Yoga helps connect breath with asanas. This link creates little room for non-yoga thoughts. After taking a vinyasa yoga class, I often feel like a towel that has been twisted, letting all the unwanted “stuff” (thoughts, stress and tension) drip away with each droplet of sweat.

• Savasana allows teens to squeeze in some deep rest. Teens are a sleep deprived group. School hours do not coincide with a teens natural sleep pattern. Top that with late nights doing homework or socializing with friends—no wonder teens can be so moody! Teen classes often encorporate a long savasana or work on restful poses to help compensate for teen’s lack of nightly Zs.

• For the teen athlete, yoga boosts core strength while also balancing muscle groups and aids in flexibility. Yoga helps to decrease injury and increases an athletes potential. The YogaDork website posted a great article about teenage football players using yoga as part of their pre-season conditioning and here is an article about the LA Dodgers using yoga in their Spring training.

• Yoga helps teens feel comfortable in their own bodies at a time when their bodies are changing. Yoga gives teens tools to guide them through these years of uncertainty and transformation. Yoga classes focus on self-acceptance, self-awareness, personal strength and positive attitudes—all necessary in creating a successful and happy life post high school.

1. Yoga Helps Children Learn About Their Own Strength

Through yoga children can learn how to fall asleep more easily by themselves by following a sequence of poses that helps quiet the nervous system.

Parents can also use guided relaxation books to ease their children into a more peaceful place before bed. On the occasion when my daughter has had more trouble than usual falling asleep (this child is just like me in the sleep department—head hits the pillow and lights out), I have found reading a page from Ready… Set… R.E.L.A.X. allows her body to let go of any tensions she may be holding onto and drift off to sleep without a problem.

Children learn about the strength of their minds.

Through yoga, one learns that what you think about makes a big impact in one’s life. Using affirmations during class helps children gravitate to the positive imagery that will help them succeed in life. Shouting “I am strong!” in warrior 1 and “I am brave!” in warrior 2 is a fun way that begins the connection between mind and body.

2. Yoga Develops Trust in Oneself

In class I often stress that each student is unique and that their yoga practice will look different than the person next to them. Each student must listen to what their own bodies are telling them. Asking your children how their bodies feel in different poses helps them to connect to their bodies and their feelings which is an awareness that is need to develop trust in themselves.

3. Yoga Teaches Positive Ways to Deal with Garbage

In class yesterday my friend who was teaching told us the story “The Law of Garbage Trucks” by David Pollay. A taxi driver almost gets into a car accident and smiles at the person who almost caused the accident. The passenger on board was surprised with his driver’s reaction. The driver explained that everyone walks around with garbage—full of frustration, anger and disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and will dump it on you if you let them. Don’t take it personally, smile, wave and move on. You will be happier because you did.

Yoga teaches the skills to let it go. Breath. Meditate. Move your body in ways that release your own built up garbage.

4. Yoga Is An Amazing Form of Exercise

Not all children are competitive. Yoga can be both a group or individual sport. It is as challenging as one makes it and the challenges continue throughout one’s life. Yoga is an activity that continues for as long as one likes. Yoga doesn’t require a team to participate although doing yoga in a class environment does connect people together. Yoga is a great formof strength training.

5. Yoga Can Be Used Throughout One’s Life

Yoga is beneficial throughout one’s life. Learning yoga at young age gives one an advantage. It can help release tension during final exams and stressful times in life; it also helps eleviate sadness. Yoga helps during parenting by rejuvinating and giving a sense of peace in a hectic time, yoga keeps the body strong and supple as one gets older ensuring an active life one’s whole life.

As adults we struggle with balancing the different aspects of our lives:

(1) Spiritual
(2) Intellectual
(3) Psychological
(4) Social
(5) Professional
(6) Recreational
(7) Physical

In yoga class we are able to teach children the importance of balance. We work hard to find our center, to maintain our breathing and focus, to stretch and to grow in our poses. How hard we work in class to find and maintain our balance is just as hard as we must work off our mats to create balance in our lives. Children may not understand the list above but they do feel stress in their lives when some aspect is out of balance. Yoga allows children to breath, to find rest and peace, to strengthen their bodies, to socialize with peers. Yoga gives children a place to listen their bodies and settle their minds.

Here is an exercise that would work great in class:

Project materials are paper, crayons or markers and possibly magazines, scissors and glue.

Have the class draw a circle and make pie shapes that depict the different aspects of the their lives. School, Physical Activity/Sports, Friends and Family, TV, Extracurricular (music lessons, girl scouts, drama) and Reading/Quiet Time. Have them color in (or glue on magazine pictures) to fill in the pie shapes.

Talk to the class about how their lives are balanced or not. Ask the class if there is anything from yoga class that they can do to help them in their daily lives.

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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