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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.

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.

It’s day three of the new year. Not being a resolution making kind of girl, I tried to put time aside to rethink this past year and plan for the year ahead. I always find that life rarely stays completely balanced on all planes—family relationships, friends, work, leisure time. When the part that is trailing catches up another part seems to fall back. Over break our family had so  much fun together. I was appreciating fully how our family has found its groove. We have many activities now that we all enjoy-skiing, rock climbing, cooking, being outdoors. It makes those week long breaks so much more enjoyable when we share these experiences together. Professionally, however, I am feeling like I am just floating out at sea without a clear direction to sail off toward. Some years life has seemed to be on track. The pieces just keep falling in place and things feel right. Some years feel like a struggle with the pieces of life forcing themselves into the shape of what seemed right but in reality was not–the whole picture changed without you getting the memo. It seems that this year I may be in limbo a bit (the pieces are not even all out of the box yet). Maybe it’s a case of being older and wiser. I don’t want to jump in too fast before the picture is clear in my mind in fear of wasting time.

Yoga helps me navigate these times of uncertainty. The discomfort of the unknown is tolerable. I know it will pass. I know that nothing stays the same. Ever. Nothing is good and nothing is bad. It just is. Breathe. Namaste.

Photo By D Sharon Pruitt

We are more than half way through the school year, and, at least in this household, the homework is revving up and along with it the stress. It is hard to juggle the pressures of school, the recommended allotment of daily physical activity, after school commitments and homework. Getting a good night’s sleep falls by the way side most nights while kids try to keep up with the constant demands of life in 2010.

I was trying to think of a way to simplify our lives recently. What could we remove to help everyone slow down? There were no vestigial schedule appendixes. I couldn’t find anything in the schedule that stood out as being “extra” and no longer of use. So how do we help our kids adjust to a lifestyle where the demands are plenty and the hours few? How can we take the edge off the daily stress?

Tips to help your child navigate through the pressures of life:

1. Make dinner at home and find time to eat together around the table. There is no greater way to remove pent up stress than by connecting with those who support and love you. The New York Times article, “The Guilt-Trip Casserole-Dinner and the Busy Family” points out the positive benefits of joining together around the table.

2. Before tackling homework, spend a little time outdoors. Soak in the fresh air. Feel the sun or wind or rain on your face. Have contact with nature. Studies show that nature reduces stress in kids as well as helps kids with ADD.

3. Inversions are a great way to gain energy and increase mental alertness so go upside down in a handstand or headstand. Or, for a more restorative inversion, lie on the ground with your feet up against the wall.

4. One of my favorite books for relaxation scripts is, Ready… Set… R.E.L.A.X. written by Jeffrey Allen Med. This great archive of self-empowering meditations has scripts with messages such as “I remember what I learn”, “When I am relaxed, my body and mind work well”, “I am a good listener” and specific test preparation scripts for achievement tests. To teach your child that they can relax their mind and find calm in tense situations will help them throughout their school days and beyond.

5. I also recommend Stin Hansen’s meditation, “Think Like a Great Student”, to help kids with school anxiety.

6. Having a calm and organized work space is also very helpful for your child. A great tip that I recently read to help your child through their homework is to write down each topic of homework on a sticky note. Have your child determine how much time each subject will take and write that on the sticky notes too. Then have your child prioritize the work according to time and difficulty. After each task, the sticky note can be removed, giving your child a visual sense of control and accomplishment.

7. Have your child stand up and stretch. Do some gentle yoga poses like cat/cows, forward bends, seated spinal twists or more inversions between each assignment to break up the time and to recharge and change focus.

Life doesn’t slow down and stress doesn’t disappear. By teaching your child how to manage stress, you teach them how to positively navigate through life.

Being a parent, I have often felt the desire to step in to do something that my children are capable of doing themselves. It is tough teaching children to be responsible. Helicopter parenting is the norm these days. In the past our grandparents walked miles to school by themselves and our parents walked blocks to school by themselves but we are of a generation that believes that danger lurks two doors down from the home. It is hard to raise independent kids if we teach them not to trust anyone but us. I am a huge fan of the blog FreeRangeKids.wordpress.com written by Lenore Skenazy. She also wrote a book called Free-Range Kids:Giving Our Children the Freedom We Had Without Going Nuts with Worry that debunks most of the fears we parents have allowed to permeate our psyche. She explains how and why this generation of parents has fallen for the idea that nothing is safe anymore.

I must admit that as a child I was not given many household responsibilities. Being hounded to clean up my room is not a memory that I have though I remember happily keeping my private space clean while spending hours in my room as a teenager with the door closed listening to music, talking on the phone and rearranging my possessions. I was, however, given tremendous amounts freedom. My siblings and I were outside all day until we heard my mother calling us in—not knowing where we were each and every moment and not worrying about us. It wasn’t until those teenage years that the leash seemed to tighten.

How to teach our children to be responsible begins early. Allowing them to have more control of their personal hygiene—teeth brushing, bathing and dressing—gives them pride. It is not always easy to let your child walk out the door in their outfit of choice but it teaches them to trust their own instincts and provides a sense of self (even if it means plaid with stripes).

Giving your children jobs around the house that are not part of an allowance exemplifies that they are part of a family which needs everyone working together to work. My children take turns setting and clearing the table at dinner (each one does one part for the whole week and then switches to avoid the fighting over whose turn it is to do what). This really makes a huge difference to my evening—as meal planner, food shopper and chef it is a joy not to have to be stuck in the kitchen for another hour after dinner cleaning and it allows me to enjoy more time with my children at night as everything gets done much more quickly.

Teaching that work (responsibilities) comes before play by creating a rule of homework before TV also teaches that not all responsibilities are going to be fun but they still need to be done.

In my yoga classes, I try to find ways to encourage independence. I set my mats up before class in a circle to ease the beginning of class but everyone must roll up the studio mats and put them away after class. Even the little guys try —their rolls are lopsided and don’t look too tidy— but they leave feeling pride and I fix them when they have gone. Are there other ways that you help teach responsibility to your children or students? I’d love to hear about them!

Over at the Happiness Project website Gretchen Rubin talks about living with a creed (hers is “Be Gretchen”). I have on my bulletin board a list of words to live by that I tore from the back of a  Yoga Journal magazine from September 2008. The authors of these quotes were not credited so I am not able to give credit but they are wonderful thoughts. Here are some that I gravitate to:

Do one thing a day that scares you.

While in yoga class, I try to teach that we must listen to our bodies while sometimes ignoring our minds. If we are getting ready to do crow pose, our minds might be protesting and creating unneeded fear based commentary. Face the unknown and lift your feet off the ground and see what happens. In this month’s Oprah magazine, there is an article about people subconsciously sabotaging different aspects of their lives because of deep fears. The act of facing those fears head on, asking “What is the worst thing that can happen” and thinking through the various outcomes of the scenario that creates the fear dissolves the fear. What is something that scares you? Traveling alone? Meeting new people? Getting up in handstand pose?

That which matters the most should never give way to that which matters the least.

How often do you put daily chores or meaningless responsibilities before what gives you peace, health and happiness? I’m not saying that we can ignore our responsibilities for selfish pursuits. Prioritize. I know that my mental state makes a huge difference in my family life. If I am stressed, it trickles through the family until we all are unhappy. Making sure that I take the time to do yoga, run and be with like minded friends makes me a better mom and wife. Because of that knowledge, I try hard not to schedule things during the time I can be doing those activities that give me health and happiness. That may mean I have to drag the kids to the grocery store because I used my free time to take a bike ride with friends but that is what I do because it matters most.

I try to help children figure out what their strengths are so that they can take this creed home with them. Using games (like Thumball catch) that asks them questions about their interests and beliefs helps the children stop and think about what drives and motivates them. This can lead to decisions that will create a happy life based on who they are versus what people say they should do or be.

Life is full of setbacks. Success is determined by how you handle setbacks.

Another great thing about yoga is that it is constantly evolving with the individual. Yoga teaches patience, perseverance, determination, focus, to trust oneself, to know when to push, when to wait and when to try again. Each time you get back on the mat the slate is clean. What great skills everyone needs to help handle setbacks in life.

A few others that I won’t expand upon are:

What we do to the earth we do to ourselves.

Breath deeply and appreciate the moment. Living in the moment could be the meaning of life.

The conscious brain can only hold one thought at a time. Choose a positive thought.

I love these and would love to know what creed you pick to live your life by. Please share!

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.

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.

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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