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Photo by Sharon D. Pruitt

Letting go is a big part of yoga. We let go of the past. We let go of worrying about things in the future. We concentrate on the moment at hand. It is not always easy. Try sitting quietly for 5 minutes and see what pops up in your head. Keeping our mind open is challenging but it is a worthy goal. A clear mind allows us to act instead of react. It creates a peace and calmness that is beneficial to creating a healthy life.

As parents, one of our main jobs is to raise our young to be independent enough to let them go live their own lives. But that is not always easy either. There are many moments a parent must loosen the invisible leash (and no, I don’t believe in those real kid leashes you see people using in the malls or amusement parks). Switching from nursing to bottles, taking the school bus to first sleepovers, we must continue to allow our children room to move and grow. Sometimes I find that my child has been straining against the invisible leash and I have to quickly give out some more line when bedtimes need to be extended or cell phones need to be granted. It is hard to be present to the changes that are occurring in our children daily.

My son has begun to take his leash in his own hand this summer. With the courage of someone much older, he boarded a plane to attend an amazing adventure camp called Adventure Treks. For 16 days he will be in the wilderness backpacking, mountain climbing, caving, mountain biking, white water rafting and sea kayaking. The day he left I felt out of sorts. I was melancholy. It wasn’t until I saw a picture of him posted with a smile – a real smile – was I able to breathe. This trip will be a big push in letting go for both of us. I can’t wait to see how it manifests itself once home. The room he thought was too small will feel luxurious. Hopefully the texting cell phone that he desires will feel unnecessary too! I am trying to stay in the present and not project how he will be once home—more distant, extra loving, annoyed that he must spend the rest of the summer with mom. Who knows. What I do know is when I got a surprise call from him the other day he sounded different. His voice was deeper! He is changing and as a parent I must keep up with those changes. Stay in the present. Take some deep breaths and smile on toward the future.

Here is a five minute meditation video. Give it a try!

I love that yoga is called a practice. The word practice implies ongoing work. It implies working toward something and every time I get on my mat I know that I have work to do. I am not being judged or timed. I am not even trying for perfection. I am listening to my body as it is on that day on my mat and deciding what my practice is going to look like. It looks different every time. What I get out of yoga is internal and external strength, mind and body connection, awareness and skills to bring off my mat.

Team sports are so very different. There is practice toward achieving some kind of perfect—a dismount, swing, lay up, or play on the field or court. There is judgment, quality control and comparisons. But this weekend I saw some life lessons learned from a swimmer that aligned a lot with yoga.

My son’s district swim meet was Sunday. Having only raced this year, he was nervous about a big event with many teams competing and many parents watching. Since the season’s September start, coach Christine said she would transform him from a recreational swimmer into a racer and the change is notable. Each swimmer was assigned three races with the choice to make changes. Two of the three events were races that my son felt comfortable with but the third event left him in a panic. With the choice of a challenging longer distance or another race in his comfort zone, my husband and I were pleasantly surprised that he chose the harder and more demanding event.

For the entire week preceding race day, I saw an inner fire begin to build, a desire to improve and practice harder than ever and pure fear troubling his mind. With some great motivational speeches given by his dad (and a pre-race viewing of Rocky), my son started to tackle his fear replacing thoughts of doubt with affirmations of success, creating visual reminders to psych himself up for the task at hand and music to clear his mind of negative thoughts. Come race day, he was still scared but ready to take on this meet.

It is easy as a parent to see your child suffering and want to remove that pain. According to Buddha, life is suffering. To remove the pain or suffering is ultimately a disservice to our children. Teaching our children how to manage suffering and how to overcome suffering equips them with the power to find ultimate happiness.

At the end of the day, my son was walking taller. He even had a bit of a swagger. He took on his fear and squashed it. He found calm and strength through the fright and doubt. He found inner strength through the physical act of swimming, he found the mind/body connection, he found skills that he will use through out his life and he found a way to happiness.

Photo by Sharon D. Pruitt

If you have more than one child, then you most certainly have seen sibling rivalry. It is a natural part of the sibling relationship. How one handles the ugly monster can make all the difference in the world. Trying to figure out who started what and dolling out some kind of consequence seems like the right decision. The flaw with that decision is that without really knowing what happened one child will always feel that they “won” and the other that they “lost”. This further ignites and continues the rivalry.

In 3 Steps to a Strong Family written by the Eyres, the problem of sibling fighting is solved in a simple but very effective way. When the Eyres encounter their children fighting, they have them sit down together until both of them ask each other for forgiveness for their contribution to the problem. It takes two to fight and with this system each must delve down deep and come out accountable. I have found in my home that one child often feels that they are “right”. This solution helps each child step into the others shoes for a minute. It helps to create empathy—the ability to identify with the feelings of another. It also allows you as the parent to stay out of the middle of the situation which is ultimately the perfect solution toward reducing the fighting.

Next time you catch your kids fighting, try this technique. Twice I’ve used this technique just before we were going out to do something. The kids had to work things out and apologize sincerely before we were able to leave. Having this impending outing turned out to be great incentive for them to expedite the process of forgiveness.

As always, please share how this works for your family or if you have other effective ways to this very common family problem.

Photo by sean dreilinger

This summer has zipped right by. The kids have been able to explore areas of interest, play with friends and relax with family. We have been busy, but with enough breaks to create a nice balance. This summer I had the opportunity to have special one-on-one weeks with each child while the other was in camp. I had time to dote on each child and cater to their individual interests which diverge quite a bit. One child is all about being outside and active. We biked, swam in the lake, took an excursion to a regional park to walk through waterfalls and made each day focused on being physical and active. My other child chose indoor and more domestically oriented pursuits. We shopped for school stuff, painted pottery, got mini-pedicures, baked bread, picked flowers and went on walks around the neighborhood. One child embraces the big world while the other finds peace and contentment being closer to home. I enjoyed all of my experiences this summer exploring their worlds and feel like I have gained new insight into and connection with my children.

The book 3 Steps to a Strong Family by Linda and Richard Eyre goes one step deeper into one-on-one outings with their children. In the chapter about creating family traditions they explain that their family has scheduled monthly “mommy dates” and “daddy dates” with each child. It is within these outings that real listening and valuable learning take place. Each child keeps a “mommy or daddy date book” which they record what was done and a few facts about the time together. Then each outing memory is preserved by adhering some object from the date into their books. These objects, as simple as a straw, can help bring back the memory, but what lasts the longest is the emotional connection that is created during this special time together.

The Eyres’s believe that family traditions are a key ingredient to strong families. I realized that our family could use some fun traditions to celebrate our lives together. We have our family holiday traditions and a birthday morning tradition that seems to be waning. We started collecting memories of things that happen during the year in a jar to read on New Years Eve.

I’d love to hear what kind of traditions are unique to your family. Please post a comment!

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

I have often walked into a library or bookstore looking for a specific book and instead encountered a book that answers a question or need that I didn’t fully realize that I had. It can’t be explained. It’s destiny. Ever since I was in art school, I loved to peruse library isles for these chance encounters and serendipitous surprises. Little that I knew, I was in for a book awakening this past weekend. I had to travel 6 hours to a place I had never been, but a book was waiting for me when I arrived.

We left to visit our relatives in northern Connecticut Friday morning. Arriving in the mid-afternoon heat to a decadently modern, double-lofted house with acreage, barns, woods and a beautiful natural stone pool. The kids headed straight to the water while I investigated the abode. The decorator had grouped books of like color throughout the house. There were a lot of books. In the “honeymoon suite” reserved for my husband and me the books were all in shades of blue. It really was a peaceful room. Though the titles were hard to distinguish within this monotone color scheme, one book found me. The book 3 Steps To A Strong Family was waiting patiently to be discovered.

The book has three parts and I will post on each. Today I am skipping to the second step—Paying Your Dues: A Family Economy

My husband and I have been trying to figure out an allowance system for years and have broached the topic a few times without coming to any conclusions. This gem of a book by Linda and Richard Eyre had some very useful ideas.

Each child is given a pegboard with four pegs. Each peg represents various tasks. Peg one combines morning routines (getting dressed, making beds, brushing hair and teeth). Peg two represents homework and musical instrument practice. Peg three represents household chores (a designated room or zone that the child is responsible for keeping tidy, keeping bedrooms neat and a chosen dinner related job such as washing dishes, setting table, sweeping the floor).  These zones or kitchen jobs are held for a few months in order to develop competency and skills. The last peg is for bedtime routines and getting to bed on time.

What is nice about the peg system is that it eliminates nagging. A parent reminding a child to make sure pegs one, two and three are taken care of before watching tv is less annoying than a parent listing all of the tasks that the child must remember to accomplish. It puts most of the responsibility onto the child.

Adding to the responsibility, the child must write his name on a piece of paper with the number of pegs he pegged at the end of the day and have a parent sign it in order to get credit for the work done. The parent keeps these records and on the designated “pay-day” tallies up the pegs. Each peg pays 25 cents. $1 a day. If the child has all 5 days worth of pegs pegged and noted, the parent doubles the pay to $10.

This is only the beginning of the system.

On payday, the child can ask for cash or he can save his money in the “family bank”. Parents keep track of the money being earned and saved in a book. To add incentive to saving, parents provide a 10% interest on money saved every month. The saved money may be removed to make purchases. The Eyers had their children buy their own clothing with the money earned. I like the idea of having the money go toward something that the child needs. I was thinking of having my children pay for school lunches and certain items of clothes that are trendy versus practical. I am not a big fan of cafeteria lunches and hope to discourage them by having the kids use their own money. Pretty sneaky… I know!

In addition to the money saved, the child can also put some of his money in an investment book which cannot be touched. That money also would receive interest.

I really liked the way this system taught children about money and uses incentives to help teach the value of saving.

Have you found an allowance system that works for your family? Do you make your kids pay for things themselves?

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

My friend Renee, who writes the blog Lessons From Teachers and Twits, recently struck a chord when she wrote a post about an incident where she witnessed parents kowtowing to their child’s demands. She posed the question — what kind of parent are you? Do you say YES to your child to avoid the possible unpleasant meltdowns? Do you have fear of disappointing your child? Do you think your child should always be happy?

I had replied to my friend’s post that I think that I actually have the opposite issue at hand. NO comes easily… maybe too easily. NO has often been my default answer. Until I watched Yes Man with Jim Carrey…

After loving the movie, I decided to try to answer YES more often with my kids to see what would occur. Stopping the pattern of saying NO took effort. This is what I learned from saying YES.

1) Yes took me outside to shoot hoops.

2) Yes dragged me from my computer to play Guess Who and Uno Spin.

3) Yes had me playing Guess Who and Uno Spin over and over and over.

4) Yes had me walk away from something I was doing to immediately fix whatever dilemma was at hand… homework issues, typing in website addresses, helping to look for something that went missing, buying those project materials the day they were asked for instead of waiting until the day before the project is due (note to self… do not teach children the fine art of procrastination).

I found that YES pulled me away from my little bubbles of selfish escapes found in a book or on the computer or phone and back into the lives of my kids. I didn’t overindulge them in junk food (they probably knew better than to even try), but I did  overindulge them in time with me. Connecting with one’s parents is what kids are really looking for anyway—not that extra hot dog or Barbie doll or hour of tv.

So YES did not lead me into indulging the kids in “stuff ” but it did lead me into indulging the kids in the stuff that life is really about. Say YES to connecting with your kids, but say no to that second hot dog.

The job of being a parent is so much harder than one imagines before being entrenched in this life changing role. I am so grateful for being a parent and know that I would not be the person that I am today without the lessons that my children teach me and the love that we share.

When it comes to parenting, setting boundaries is just one of many job requirements. It seems easy to create those parameters but the job of enforcing consequences for rule breaking is so much harder to conquer.

A popular parenting book that addresses the issue of discipline is “1-2-3 Magic: Effective Discipline for Children 2-12” by Thomas Phelan. I found that the advice this book offers helps me to separate myself from the guilt and doubt that sometimes tag along with disciplining. The book recommends that the parent verbalizes to the child that he/she gets three chances to change the behavior that needs to stop. If the behavior does not stop, then the consequence is a time out or pre-determined punishment. This approach does not allow for negotiating or whining. When your young one is counted to three the consequence occurs. 1-2-3-Punishment! The very simple parameters do not allow for any lingering feelings of doubt to creep along. Parental self-doubt can lead parents to ignore the rule breaking behavior and to resist enforcing a punishment which, in the long run, make matters worse.

The blog Smart Classroom Management recently posted an article called “Why You Shouldn’t Care If Your Students Misbehave” that made a lot of sense to me as a parent. You predetermine the consequences and parameters and then without investing yourself in the situation you follow through and continue on. It’s all about that word consistency that everyone associates with parenting success. Without any feelings of attachment to the situation at hand, the more likely you are able to be consistent in your disciplining.

In the book I mentioned in a recent post called “How To Behave So Your Children Behave Too!”, the author writes a story about how every morning a parent asks his child to wash his hands before eating. Every morning his child gets up and goes to wash after being told to do so. The parent asks his child why he just doesn’t wash before sitting down—why must he wait to be told. The child answers “because once you forgot to remind me!” It’s all about consistency which comes down to removing those thoughts that interfere with being consistent. For me, those thoughts begin with a dialogue that I have with myself about whether or not I am being fair, whether I want to deal with the crying or whining that my discipline will create or whether I want to stop what I’m doing to deal with the problem.

Two yoga tactics for helping to separate oneself from the thoughts that creep into one’s head during times of frustration as a parent or teacher are below:

  • Focusing on one’s breath. This is similar to counting to 10. A belly full of air does wonders to dissipate any feelings of tension.
  • Following the yogic principle of non-judgment is very helpful in keeping one’s head in trying situations.

I found this explanation of non-judgment skills on the Wellsphere website. The gist of it is:

  • Observe without judging.
  • Review the facts only.
  • Don’t allow adjectives to enter the picture.
  • Remove your opinion.
  • Accept the negative situation without judging it.

Being a parent is rewarding in so many ways—it’s a journey that leads to many unforeseen paths. Frustration is inevitable, but using breath and keeping a non-judgmental perspective will help guide your family through some of those bumpy roads.

Photo by D Sharon Pruitt

My sister forwarded this piece that author Anna Quindlen wrote awhile back. I had read it once before but it always seems relevant and fresh.  It was a gift for me today as I had one of those parenting days… driving back and forth to play dates, drum lessons, religious school and then onward home to deal with dinner and the never-ending “do your homework” struggle. All of that is standard operating procedure as a parent, of course, but there were moments today when I felt truly lost and ultimately drained. So here is the gift that arrived today in my email box. Enjoy. Read. Breathe.

Piece by Anna Quindlen, Newsweek Columnist and Author:

All my babies are gone now. I say this not in sorrow but in disbelief.
I take great satisfaction in what I have today: three almost-adults,
two taller than I am, one closing in fast. Three people who read the
same books I do and have learned not to be afraid of disagreeing with
me in their opinion of them, who sometimes tell vulgar jokes that make
me laugh until I choke and cry, who need razor blades and shower gel
and privacy, who want to keep their doors closed more than I like.
Who, miraculously, go to the bathroom, zip up their jackets and move
food from plate to mouth all by themselves. Like the trick soap I
bought for the bathroom with a rubber ducky at its center, the baby is
buried deep within each, barely discernible except through the
unreliable haze of the past.

Everything in all the books I once poured over is finished for me now.
Penelope Leach., T. Berry Brazelton., Dr. Spock. The ones on sibling
rivalry and sleeping through the night and early-childhood education,
have all grown obsolete. Along with Goodnight Moon and Where the Wild
Things Are, they are battered, spotted, well used. But I suspect that
if you flipped the pages dust would rise like memories. What those
books taught me, finally, and what the women on the playground taught
me, and the well-meaning relations –what they taught me, was that
they couldn’t really teach me very much at all.

Raising children is presented at first as a true-false test, then
becomes multiple choice, until finally, far along, you realize that it
is an endless essay. No one knows anything. One child responds well to
positive reinforcement, another can be managed only with a stern voice
and a timeout. One child is toilet trained at 3, his sibling at 2.

When my first child was born, parents were told to put baby to bed on
his belly so that he would not choke on his own spit-up. By the time
my last arrived, babies were put down on their backs because of
research on sudden infant death syndrome. To a new parent this
ever-shifting certainty is terrifying, and then soothing. Eventually
you must learn to trust yourself. Eventually the research will follow.
I remember 15 years ago poring over one of Dr. Brazelton’s wonderful
books on child development, in which he describes three different
sorts of infants: average, quiet, and active. I was looking for a
sub-quiet codicil for an 18-month old who did not walk. Was there
something wrong with his fat little legs? Was there something wrong
with his tiny little mind? Was he developmentally delayed, physically
challenged? Was I insane? Last year he went to China . Next year he
goes to college. He can talk just fine. He can walk, too.

Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes
were made. They have all been enshrined in the, ‘Remember-When-
Mom-Did Hall of Fame.’ The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad
language, mine, not theirs. The times the baby fell off the bed. The
times I arrived late for preschool pickup. The nightmare sleepover.
The horrible summer camp. The day when the youngest came barreling out
of the classroom with a 98 on her geography test, and I responded,
‘What did you get wrong?’. (She insisted I include that.) The time I
ordered food at the McDonald’s drive-through speaker and then drove
away without picking it up from the window. (They all insisted I
include that.) I did not allow them to watch the Simpsons for the
first two seasons. What was I thinking?

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while
doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly
clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There
is one picture of the three of them, sitting in the grass on a quilt
in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages 6, 4 and 1. And I
wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how
they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I
had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner,
bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and
the getting it done a little less.

Even today I’m not sure what worked and what didn’t, what was me and
what was simply life. When they were very small, I suppose I thought
someday they would become who they were because of what I’d done. Now
I suspect they simply grew into their true selves because they
demanded in a thousand ways that I back off and let them be. The books
said to be relaxed and I was often tense, matter-of-fact and I was
sometimes over the top. And look how it all turned out. I wound up
with the three people I like best in the world, who have done more
than anyone to excavate my essential humanity. That’s what the books
never told me. I was bound and determined to learn from the experts.
It just took me a while to figure out who the experts were.

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Why do family yoga? To both deepen the connection with those you love in a playful way while deepening your stretches in poses with the help of your all too eager family members.

I spent an hour Saturday teaching a family yoga class. My family joined me making it very special. There were 6 families and we started out placing mats in a giant circle with each family grouped together to make family/partner poses easier. The ages ran from 3-adult which created a very fun and dynamic mix of energy. Here is the sequence of the class:

Breathing Exercises

  • We started using slinkies to help us visualize our lungs expanding and contracting with breath.
  • Then each family partnered up to do some back breathing using the slow breath that we practiced first.
  • We began to link body and breath with sunrise/sunset pose – starting in child’s pose, inhale and rise on your knees extending your hands above your head like the sun rising and then reverse the direction ending back in child’s pose.
  • Finally, we did some cat/cows linking breath to each pose.

Sun Salutations

  • Kids helped show their parents how we reach to the sun and then say “hi” to our toes.
  • We hissed in cobra and barked in down dog. The poses may not be difficult but it is sometimes hard for us adults to let go and act like a kid and see the fun in something that we usually take seriously.

We focused more on Downward Facing Dog while listening to “Who Let the Dogs Out”.

  • We lifted a leg to shake our tail. We brought our knee toward our opposite wrist and then lengthened our leg back behind us and then brought our knee toward the same wrist then lengthened it out again.
  • We rested in child’s pose.
  • Then we got wild and flipped our dogs saying hi to our families.

I then led everyone on a sequence with some tropical island flair.

  • We listened to steel drums while breathing like elephants, picking bananas like monkeys, stalking prey like tigers, slinking around like lizards, hissing like cobras and drinking water like giraffes.

We spent the rest of the time doing family partner poses.

  • Sitting on a rock. One person rests in child’s pose (usually the larger adult) while another family member aligns the pant line of their pants with that of the person on the floor and gently sits. The person on the bottom gets a deeper spine stretch. Be careful if you have knee issues.
  • Lizard sunbathing on a rock. Starting in the same position with one person in child’s pose, the second person furthers their stretch by lying down head to head and extending their arms side to side.
  • Down dog tunnels. Everyone lines up side to side in downdog and everyone takes turns slinking through the tunnel and getting back into downdog.
  • Double down dogs. One person gets into down dog. The second person stands at the feet of their partner and faces away. Then the second person slowly lifts their feet onto the sacrum (pant line) of the first and gets into their own down dog.
  • Group tree. Touching palms everyone lifts into tree pose, raising hands into the air.
  • Group airplane. Everyone comes into a circle and gets into airplane with hands reaching out toward each other.
  • Group boat. In a circle everyone does boat with feet touching and holding hands.
  • Group flower. In a circle everyone starts in butterfly pose with feet touching, then slip arms through legs and grab a hold of  the hands next to you.
  • Partner boat. Holding hands facing each other with leg bent, extend legs up together while balancing on sit bones.
  • We ended the group poses with each family creating a unique pose of their choice.

We played a breathing game with each family trying to keep a scarf up in the air with their breath.

And finished with savasana.

It was a really wonderful way to spend time with my family while sharing the joy of yoga.

Some of the resources that I used to help gather ideas for this class were a dvd called Yoga for Families led by Ingrid Von Burg and a great book called Playful Family Yoga by Teressa Asencia.

Photo by Sharon Pruitt

Photo by Sharon Pruitt

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.

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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