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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 just returned from a wonderful ski trip to Mt. Tremblant in Quebec with my family. You could tell upon arrival that this was going to be an amazing vacation. We were staying in the ski village a stones throw from the base of the mountain and lift. The village had a European charm with shops, restaurants and apres skiing activities. The weather warmed up to the mid-twenties from its usual below zero temps. We could not have been happier.

But why write about my ski trip on my yoga blog? Because although I did not end up taking out my mat that I packed with my ski gear, yoga made its presence on this trip.

We skied long days, and compared to our local mountain, we skied endlessly long runs. I found myself feeling great after each day on the slopes. My legs rarely felt the burn from the constant work that they were doing and I never fell. OK, I did. But it was after my daughter forgot to stand up to get off the lift and ended up flying through the air and landing on me.

I credit yoga for my leg strength, agility and balance. Warrior poses, chair pose and sequences that stay on one leg seemingly forever are the perfect conditioning for skiing. Hip openers, like pigeon, help loosen one’s hips enabling the body to turn from its legs instead of forcing the upper body to initiate the turn. The core power gained from poses like boat, locust and twists create a foundation of strength that keeps you aligned, steady and ready for sudden movement shifts which can help you avoid accidents. I was very present during each run down the mountain. My mind and body were focused but relaxed—the same sensation that I get in class on my mat.

On our last day of skiing, my six-year-old daughter was following us down trails. Encountering our first black diamond together two days before, she panicked and ended up taking off her skies and sliding down on her bottom. On this day, however, she was determined to keep up with us all, and surprised us by fearlessly following the family down very difficult slopes.  At the end of the day she told me that she took some deep breaths and told herself to stop thinking. Before each black slope she cleared her head of her fear and just went for it. I heard her talking herself down some of the tough spots with positive affirmations.  The pride she felt was palpable as she not only kept up with us but conquered the fear that took up space in her head.

As a parent and teacher, it sometimes feels as though no one is really listening. Yes, I was very proud of my daughter, but it was not for going down those black diamonds. Seeing my daughter take control of her thoughts and connect her breathing, her mind and her body made me feel like I just coached an athlete to a gold medal in the Olympics. Though I hope my daughter enjoys skiing forever, I know now that she has learned some powerful skills that will help her throughout the black diamonds of her life.

Here are two great articles about yoga for skiers:

Yoga For Skiers

Yoga For Skiers from the Cowgirl Yoga Blog

Photo by Janie Jones

Yoga parties are a healthy and creative way to celebrate a birthday. I can bring the yoga party to your location or schedule parties at Breathe yoga studio in the village of Pittsford. Either way the kids get a unique, active and fun yoga hour to mark their happy day with friends.

For this event it was decided weeks beforehand that the birthday girl wanted a dog theme for her yoga party. I offer many themes for parties, as well as, customized party ideas and this puppy party was going to be fun to create from scratch. For each theme, the different elements of the party (group intro game, breath work, warm ups, pose concentration, yoga games and guided relaxation) change to fit the theme.

Group Game

In all of my classes and parties, I begin with a group game to help create a connection. The birthday girl requested the “alphabet name game” which gets everyone moving and warmed up for more fun. In this game, we go around the circle and create a pose using the first letter in each name. Each child shares a pose or makes one up and then the whole group does the pose. Each new pose is followed by the preceding poses creating a very dynamic flow.

Breath Work

I then introduce some breathing exercises. For the puppy party, I combined the traditional bunny breath with a lion breath and created the “dog breath”. You begin by inhaling through your nose and then you stick your tongue out and pant 4 times. We do this three times. I then showed them a fun snake breath which is done by inhaling raising arms into the air and then exhaling with a hiss as your arms slither down to heart center. This breath starts the kids linking breath with movement.

Yoga Warm Up

I customized a theme based doggie warm up. For the dog party, we took our puppies on a nighttime adventure. The dogs followed moths into the woods, barked at owls flying in pursuit of mice, encountered snakes slithering through tall grass, happened upon a horse farm and fell into a pond filled with frogs. Finally our puppies chased some cats home, where exhausted by their adventure, lay down on their backs to rest.

We also worked on our down dogs using the song “Who Let the Dogs Out”. The kids did some strenuous yoga while in their down dogs. Lifting legs to shake their tails, flipping their dogs into wild dogs and alternating between howling up dogs and barking down dogs. Within all of the fun is some serious yoga!

Pose Concentration

We then took out bean bags and practiced balance poses . We worked on balancing on one leg in flamingo pose, tree pose and eagle all while trying to keep those been bags from falling.

As all dogs love balls, we took out our big red bouncy ball and played “Catch the Cat”. Sitting in boat pose, you begin to pass the ball around the circle using your feet. This is the dog. Once the dog is half way around the circle, the cat comes out. I use a smaller ball for the cat. The dog ball tries to catch the cat ball. No one notices how hard they are working their cores as the laughter ensues.

We also used our balls to practice plow pose. I place the ball between a girl’s feet. She then lifts her hips up and over her head to either drop the ball in her outstretched arms or (if there is room) to the feet of another girl behind her.

Final Game

For this final “dog show” game which is variation of musical chairs, I printed out dogs doing various activities. Many of the activities are poses that we reviewed during the party. Some were new. After reviewing all of the poses, I  placed the dog cards on all of the mats. I turned on music and the group walked around the mats. When the music stopped, the girls get on a mat and do the designated pose. Each time the music stops, the girls must find a pose that they did not do. I try not to do any games where people get “out” to keep yoga non-competitive.

Savasana

For savasana I usually provide breathing buddies for the class to place on their stomachs to help them focus on their breath. For this party the birthday girl’s mom wanted to treat each girl to a dog Webkinz. After the initial excitement of receiving this new toy, the girls quieted down to some guided relaxation.

The party was a success. Smoothies and veggies and dip were enjoyed. What a great way to begin a new year!

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 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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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.

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I’ve put in the training and now am counting down the clock until Sunday. Race Day.

As I prepare to travel to run the Marine Corps Marathon, I am finding my thoughts very scattered. Going from what I need to pack, to the weekend schedule I need to write for my parents who are watching my children, to the errands that need to be done before I leave, to my son’s swim practice and homework afterward, to the question of whether there is time to go out to eat or whether it is wiser to just stay in for dinner… and what would I make if we did. I actually was in my car twice today on my way to do an errand with out really knowing where I was going or what I was getting.

I am not in the moment. I am already running this race. Stop. Breathe. Focus on right now.

It is so hard to not project into the future. I know that if I think about right now, it will all come together. If I think too far in advance, I will overlook something or everything. This goes for race day. If I run this race with my mind on that finish line or the potential obstacles that may prevent me or impede me from reaching the end, I will not have experienced my first marathon. If I drive in autopilot without being present I miss everything, even the purpose of the journey.

I have a number in mind that I’d love to see when crossing the finish line. But my real goal will be to be present throughout the race. If I experience the fans, the sights and the music while finding “the zone”, that place where you lose yourself in the action, that will be a true race day success in my eyes.

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.

My daughter is a worrier. She can focus on an anxiety to the point that it becomes a huge ugly monster that takes a lot of effort to make disappear. Last year, Kindergarten, that monster reared its head on the school bus and it caused us all great stress each morning for about 3 weeks.

We have come up with many worry banishing techniques.

• Write a list of all the things that make you happy.
When a worry pops into your head, quickly turn to one of those happy inducing thoughts or activities.
• Discuss the worry only at one point during the day.
The worry loses its power if you must postpone thinking about it until later.
• Focus on your breath.
Yoga breathing – Feel your stomach rise and fall. Coming back to the breath when a worry pops into your head calms the nervous system and creates mental peace.

Practice some yoga.

The following asanas help remove anxiety:

Single Leg Raise – Lie down straight on your back. Raise the right leg up straight and as far as possible while inhaling. Lower it back to original position exhaling. Then repeat the same with left leg. Next hold your feet with opposite hand while in the raised position. Take a few breaths while in this position and then switch.

Double Leg Raise – Raise both the legs together with knees straight and bottom on the floor. Repeat ten times. Inhale while raising legs and exhale while lowering legs.

Cobra Pose – Lie flat on your stomach with your palms besides your shoulders. Hold your feet together while pointing toes, push your head and chest gently off the ground while lifting your head up fully. Inhale while pushing up and exhale on the way back.

Child Pose – Sit with knees spread and feet touching. Lean forward until your chest and forehead are resting onto the floor and arms are outstretched in front of you.

Sage Twist – Sit on floor with both legs straight in front of you. Bend your left leg towards your chest. Rotate your body toward your left knee. Wrap your right arm around the left knee with the knee positioned in the crook of the right elbow. Clasp your hands if comfortable and keep your back straight.

A book that I highly recommend that my daughter used to help work through her Kindergarten fears was What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Anxiety.

Change, such as a new school year, always creates some anxiety. Yoga is a great tool to help conquer those fears. Start a new experience with a spirit of adventure by using yoga to squash those butterflies (and sometimes those monsters too).

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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