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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.

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It occurred to me while I was participating in my Baron Baptiste Level 1 Teacher Training that everyone there arrived with baggage and not just the obvious duffle bags and suitcases. We all came with stories from our past that we’ve taken for truths that create limiting thoughts and don’t serve us on our life’s journey. In truth, this may just be part of life and growing up. But what if there was a way to prevent some of that baggage? Instead of seeking therapy, hiding in destructive behaviors such as eating disorders, drugs and alcohol use or risky sexual behavior to flee from our feelings, what if we learned to tune in and understand our feelings and our inner voice? If given the skills at an early age to help us tune in to our true self instead of tuning out by escaping through texting, music, tv, Facebook and video games, might we avoid the adult versions of feeling avoidance?

Thankfully I don’t have to recreate the wheel. A friend and fellow yogi, Dr. Catherine Cook-Cottone,  that I met during my teacher training developed a program for 5th-7th grade girls to teach them skills to help them navigate through life’s ups and downs. I am fortunate to be able to bring the program to life this spring in my home town. Dr. Cook-Cottone tested her program through the University of Buffalo where she teaches psychology for effectiveness in preventing destructive behavior in this population (specifically eating disorders). The program never focuses on a specific destructive behavior as it uses positive psychology and active learning techniques. The results were positive. By teaching teens awareness of their feelings and how they create thoughts and actions, the girls learn that they have opportunities to make good choices. Using yoga, discussion, journal writing and art, the girls explore who they are, what they feel and what their inner voice has to say. They leave empowered and with real skills and tools to help them through their life’s journey. Maybe these girls will avoid some of the pitfalls that my generation fell into or maybe they will fall too but with a greater understanding of themselves to be able to pick themselves, dust themselves off and leave the baggage behind.

Get out the tissues…

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

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

I loved this quote from the video:

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

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

[and] I reveled in knowing she’s perfect

just the way she is!”

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

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I recently read a post in the Yoga Calm blog about childhood stress. The ways that yoga helps relieve stress are numerous but today I am not writing about yoga. What caught my attention when reading this post though was a paragraph on how important it is to feel socially connected. Feeling alone translates to feeling helpless and feeling helpless leads to stress.

Last year my son had a socially tough year. Always thinking himself part of the soccer playing recess crowd, he suddenly had to find a new group when his asthma got out of control and the game became a negative experience due to running to the nurse struggling for breath repeatedly. Because of a couple of extra-curricular activities, my work schedule and allergy shots, play dates were just not possible which did not help the friend situation. After almost the entire school year of shadowing the tough kid in the class during recess, he decided to break away from him as he realized that he didn’t want to have that kind of reputation. So he was, by Springtime, more or less alone.

This feeling of lack of connection absolutely lead to feelings of stress. He would say his life was stressful and I would think about his school work and swimming and drum lessons and wonder how? Is he too busy? No, he was feeling alone.

Summer hit and he spent the first three weeks at sailing camp. He started to go to the adult sailboat races with his dad as crew and got to know some of the kids that raced at camp. He was accepted into this very cool group of sailboat racers. He felt connected to a new community. He then went to sleep away camp and was the youngest camper to race sailboats as a hobby and again was accepted by these older campers in their community.

By the time the school year began, my kid was a new boy. He has started this year with a confidence I have never seen before and has taken on student council, safety patrol and band. These new activities, although requiring extra time are not adding to his stress at all. The new activities all create new communities for him to feel a part of and he is off to a year of feeling in control and on top of his world.

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.

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!

One of the reasons that I love to teach yoga to children is because of yoga’s power to create change in both the body and mind. Children are just learning about themselves. Their self opinion is tied to the people around them — peers, teachers and family members have a huge influence on how kids see themselves. Yoga allows kids to find their own strength and teaches children to trust their own voice inside of their head instead of always listening to what others have to say.

That being said, the reality is that other people do effect how children see themselves so why not keep a reminder of the positive things others have said or written to refer to on the occasion when self-esteem falls.

A great idea that I found on a fabulous website www.beliefnet.com for adults is to create a self-esteem folder. You can call this folder something more playful for children but the general idea is to fill up this folder with notes from parents, siblings, friends and teachers about the child’s positive qualities. Birthday cards, drawings, certificates from programs or sports, quotes that people have said about the child, work from school in which  they have pride — basically anything that will help boost up the child’s feeling of worth should be included.

I remember back in elementary school wanting so much to be this one girl in my class. She had long black shiny hair, she was smart and pretty and was admired by everyone. I was so jealous of her that I also remember getting in trouble for throwing cut up paper at her… if only I had a box or file to glance at back then to remind myself that I too had qualities that made me special.

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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