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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 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.

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.

Photo by Diana Dlemieux

A series of events have left me looking for the positive. I have found that changing my focus helps. I have a lot to be grateful for and adapting my plan is an easy way to help move forward with a good attitude.

A change of plan calls for a change in attitude.

I had my sight set on the Philly marathon taking place on November 21st. Training started in the early summer and ended, for me, three weeks ago. I had a run in with a coffee table and my marathon hopes were smashed along with my third toe. This was not something that could have been foreseen or prevented. It was just one of those things. Life moves on.

Change Your Attitude With New Goals and New Focus.

New goals help prevent disappointment from turning into a bad mood. My initial plan was to train hard and drop my time to qualify for the Boston marathon. I was on target to accomplish both having a PR at a recent 1/2 marathon and dropping 9 minutes off of my time. I even qualified to get into the NYC marathon in 2012 during that race. My hopes of running Boston this year are gone. I now have NYC on my horizon, and with winter is on its way, I’ve already signed up to run in a snowshoe race to keep my endurance and spirits up.

Gratitude is a wonderful cure for disappointment.

I am grateful for new friends.
I had met a new training partner through my running group, Moms In Motion. We ran together three times a week combining hill repeats, shorter runs and long runs. We met by pure chance at the only group run that we both made early in April. Since that one encounter we have become great friends. There is nothing that opens up conversation quite like a long run (besides perhaps therapy). Our runs always included juicy conversations and frequently ended with a celebratory hot drink. Now we meet for coffee while my foot heals and the long conversations continue. How fortunate I am to have the support of a new friend!

I am grateful for slowing down.
My foot injury prevents me from taking yoga class as the flexing of my foot is painful. I have had to move my workouts from the studio or the roads to inside the gym. Being forced to use the rower and stationary bike has made me grateful for my outdoor workouts. Not being able to get on my mat in class has also made me focus more on meditation. Without the calm that comes from running and yoga, I have noticed that my mind is getting caught in the worry cycle. Making time to meditate and pay attention to my breath helps to settle my mind and find some peace.


Change your environment: Connecting with nature brings peace of mind.

Although my foot is not entirely happy, I have taken advantage of this training lapse to head out onto the trails with the dog to walk on the gorgeous carpet of colorful leaves before they get covered up by snow. Research shows that being in natures helps create mental well-being.

Life will always throw in some surprises. Being able to adapt and find the brighter side helps turn those moments around. You never know what door will open when one shuts. Be prepared by looking forward and being positive!

When thinking of positive affirmations, does your mind rewind to the Saturday Night Live skit with Stuart Smalley and his famous line ” I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and, doggonit, people like me!” The idea of saying something to oneself may seem foolish and silly but the power of positive affirmations is real.

In class, I introduce the idea of saying positive things to oneself by encouraging shouts of “I’m strong!” and  “I’m focused!” in warrior poses. During savasana, I take the class on a relaxation journey using my favorite book, Ready… Set… RELAX. These texts always include positive affirmations along with guided breathing techniques. The kids repeat to themselves positive sayings for example “I feel good about who I am”,  “I can let go and relax” and “I can breathe out tension”.

Children with anxiety can use positive affirmations with breathing techniques to help when feeling stress. A little girl in my daughter’s class was having a tough time in gym. For whatever reason, gym class made her anxious and she often made excuses to go to the nurse. Equipped with the affirmations, “I am OK. This is a feeling and feelings change” she is now happily participating in gym class.

I have also seen the success first hand with my own daughter who started waking up at night and having a hard time settling herself back down. I told her to try to inhale— filling her belly with air— while thinking “I am relaxed” and then exhale while thinking “I can sleep”. It worked like a charm and she is now able to get up in the night and help herself fall back to sleep without my guidance. Affirmations are about self-empowerment.

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize teaches what he calls “Breath with Healing Thought”. These different variations of affirmations and breath are actually the key to meditation. Try these simple meditations and notice your happiness and peace grow.

1) As you inhale, repeat to yourself “In”. As you exhale, repeat “Out”. This may seem too easy and simple, but you may be surprised to notice how quickly your mind tries to run away to the past or future! Meditation is about being calmly and joyfully present to what is happening now.

2) As you inhale, repeat in your mind “I am calm”. As you exhale, repeat “I am relaxed”. Then continue only with the words “Calm” and “Relax”. The power of the words will instantly reduce your stress and worry.

3) Breathing in, repeat to yourself “I am joy”. Breathing out, smile, and think, “I smile.” Continue calmly breathing, while you repeat “Joy” and “Smile”. Smiles relax hundreds of muscles in the face, neck, and shoulders and the act of smiling can create feelings of well-being.

Affirmations are a great means to help children become self-empowered which ultimately increases their self-esteem. Thoughts combined with breath are a powerful tool to improving feelings of well being.

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.

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Creative commons photo by ctanstfl on flickr

I have to apologize for not writing. Apparently not only did my body need time to recover after running a marathon but I found that my mind needed a break as well. I have never felt as absent-minded as I did this week. I felt like I was one step away from where I always needed to be. I had a really hard time getting my thoughts from my head into the computer. Maybe it was the race or maybe the pre and post race lack of sleep, but I finally (after almost a week) feel ready to write.

So did yoga help my race. 100%. I don’t think I would have had the race that I did if I didn’t practice yoga and bring my yoga with me on race day.

Saturday before the race I did a 20 minute yoga practice in my hotel room. I warmed up with sun salutations and then listened to my body to see what it needed. I lingered in my down dogs to ease my tight calve muscles. I balanced in flying pigeon and rested in half pigeon opening my hips. I held an alternate pigeon pose to stretch deep into my ilio psoas. I lifted my hips in bridge, rocked gently in happy baby, helped my feet by holding a nice long shoulder stand. Then I rested in savasana while listening to a marathon meditation on my ipod from Stin Hansen.

That night, although tired from walking around DC, I barely slept. I listened to sleep meditations, anxiety meditations and pre-race meditations. I placed my hand on my stomach and focused on my breath and finally rested until the 5am wake up call’s shrill ring jolted me up and out of bed.

Race morning. I took a lot of long deep breaths. Avoiding butterflies by breathing fully into my stomach I made it to the race coral with my friends and waited to begin the adventure.

I tried to be present. I tried really hard to pay attention to the people, the soldiers, the fans and the sights. This race has 300,000 people watching and helping. It has almost 30,000 people running. I loved every minute of it. Well at least until about mile 19. It was then that I saw someone with a sign that said something like ” You will soon see a wall”. I was warned that a lot of people hit the wall at the 14th Street Bridge. I was told that on the bridge people begin to walk or stop to stretch. I was told that my mind would tell me to stop and walk and stretch too. I felt my left knee beginning to talk to me. I breathed into my knee. I felt a side stitch on my right and breathed into that side. I felt a side stitch on the other side and breathed into that side. I started to count to 100 over and over and over. I wished I had a yoga affirmation or Sanskrit saying to use as a mantra but instead the only thing I could do was count. I counted myself over the bridge and through mile 25 until I knew success was ahead. I bounded up the final hill to the finish and became a marathoner.

I finished in 4 hours and 7 minutes. I almost made my goal and I finished feeling really good. I had the usual post race pain which I tried to help by lying in legs up the wall pose. I stretched my aching quads using dancer pose and tried stretching my overworked hips by doing a sitting version of pigeon and hanging in rag doll. I had the usual trouble walking up and down stairs for a couple of days but have been amazed by the speed of my recovery. I am ready to write and I am ready run again. Everyone has their own marathon story. No one experiences the marathon in the same way. My marathon story is a yoga story.

Photo by Kyle Stauffer

Photo by Kyle Stauffer

I remember my first yoga class that started off with chanting OM. It felt awkward and made me self-conscious but the energy that came from everyone chanting simultaneously was nothing like anything I had ever experienced.

Prior to that I should mention that I did practice a bit of Trancendental Meditation when a boyfriend convinced me to try it with him one summer during college. Again I remember both the feeling of discomfort with the unfamiliar and awe of the energy that group meditation creates.

Last year my old 14 year old lab would wake me up at 5am with her lonely bark and I would go downstairs to keep her company as she couldn’t make it upstairs with us anymore. On those mornings I started my day with meditation. I switched it up often from my TM mantra to repeating a morning prayer to listening to affirmations that I downloaded from a great website http://www.mythoughtcoach.com. I regretfully do not practice meditation daily anymore, but it did help me start the day more grounded.

Can children benefit from meditation?

I absolutely believe that they can. In my class of 8-11 year olds I play a recorded version of the meditation Sa Ta Na Ma. In this meditation you start by touching your first finger and thumb. With each sound you touch your next finger to your thumb. It makes me think of rosary beads. The music is a bit funky and hypnotic. If you were to meditate using Sa Ta Na Ma without the song, you would first say the words, then you would whisper the words and lastly you would think the words along with the finger touches.

I have children in my class that make sure that I don’t forget to play the Sa Ta Na Ma song before savasana. I think that meditating before savasana helps the kids settle into deep relaxation more quickly. One student told me that she often uses this meditation to calm herself down at home or when she feels sad.

For younger children whose attention is not as long, I do centering warm ups using sound. We sometimes take a deep breath and then draw out the sound different animals make or pretend we are bees and hum or buzz until we are out of sound. The kids love these exercises and it gives them the unique experience of group sound and energy creation. There is a great centering song by Karma Kids called Rub Your Hands (OM Song) that the kid also enjoy though it is a tad too long. I recently learned from a fellow yoga blogger that hand rubbing is a great way to stimulate both the right and left sides of your brain. Brain Gym. Great stuff.

Find a mantra, sound or song to use and give meditation a try with the children in your life. Let me know how it goes!

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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