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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.

Photo by H. Koppdelaney

Having just finished teaching the first Mom and Baby class of a new session, it is apparent that the moms that made the conscious effort to pack up their babies from 6 weeks to 6 months and drag car seats and diaper bags through today’s cold rain to take class, had more than just stretching on their minds.

When baby enters the family, all of the sudden your intentions come second to your child’s needs. But in truth those needs don’t disappear. One of those needs is feeling a sense of community. Becoming a mom is like a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. We have nine months of physical metamorphosis while our baby grows and then upon delivery we are permanently transformed into “mom”. The mental changes are not even fathomed until that baby is in your arms.  We must make an instantaneous mental adjustment as well. Going from working on projects with deadlines, we now find an endless day of watching our child for signs that signal their need for sleep, for food or for diaper changes. The sense of gratification we once achieved from completed work is substituted with the delayed gratification of raising a well-adjusted person. We went from lunches with friends and colleagues to picking at leftover Cheerios while watching the endless cycle of laundry begin again.

Mothers need a moment. They need time to connect to their new bodies, new responsibilities and new dreams. Without stopping to put that time in the schedule, it is easy to run on autopilot. Moms need to stop and be mindful and to listen to their hearts. They need to connect with others who are in the same situation trying to make sense of this new life experience.

My mom and baby yoga class is a fusion of baby massage, yoga and strengthening poses for mom, and the blessing of taking that moment—time to connect with other moms with babies of the same age, time to connect with the voice inside that may sound different. It is a time to connect with one’s body, one’s baby and one’s breath.

From the book Mindfulness: Mother with Mindfulness, Compassion and Grace by Denise Roy:

Today, take some alone time. Even if it’s only five minutes.

• Light a candle. Go for a walk. Sit outside.

• Lock yourself in the bathroom.

• Create a little zone of quiet.

• Congratulate yourself for taking this time. It’s an act of love.

• Now imagine that life is like an ocean.

• At the surface, there can also be a lot of turbulence. Life’s busyness and demands and ups and downs can be like rough waves that whirl around us.

• Now imagine that deep down in the ocean, thirty or forty feet below the surface, is a place of constant stillness.

• Take a breath, and drop down into this place of quiet and calm.

As you keep practicing taking this alone time, it will get easier to practice in the midst of the chaos of a day. You will be able to drop into that place of stillness wherever you are.

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.

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.

Photo by Piero Sierra

Oprah once said:

“If you look at what you have in life, you’ll always have more.
If you look at what you don’t have in life, you’ll never have enough.”

It’s almost Thanksgiving—a time when we as a country collectively give thanks. Thanksgiving and Valentines Day are both celebrations created to ensure that we become mindful of the people we love and the life that we live at least for one day.

I love everything about Thanksgiving from the colors, food, family time and football. Being mindful is the process of being completely present. Take time this season to be present. Look at the sky, feel the cool, crisp air, smell the aromas of the food cooking in the kitchen, listen to the leaves  crunching, children laughing, football on TV. Take in and appreciate the moment instead of being anxious about the turkey, fretting about fitting everyone around the table, worrying about the family dynamics. Stop and think about what you have and be grateful for those things.

For some, this beginning to the holiday season is not accompanied by joy and excitement but rather by anxiety and sadness.

Whether the holidays bring pleasant or unpleasant reactions, bring yoga with you to help keep you centered.

This Thanksgiving bring yoga and mindfulness to the table and see if being grateful comes more easily. Imagine what it would be like to be mindful every day we live and every moment we have with those we love.

I am so grateful for my family and friends that provide me with love and support. I am grateful for my health. I am grateful for my body that has taken me on some great adventures this year. I am thankful for my yoga practice for always changing and encouraging me to grow. I am grateful for you, my readers, and all my little and big yogis for allowing me to teach and learn and share.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

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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.

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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.

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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