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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.

Photo by Drewski Mac

My yoga journey had a lot of starts and stops initially. When I finally became a true yogi, it was because of running. I was always a runner first and yoga was only a way to stretch for a long time. Even after I became a teacher, running was still my first passion. I began to have an unsettling feeling about this combination of running and yoga. This duo had within it a built in struggle. It was a struggle both in mind and body. But I ignored it. I ran and trained and pushed until finally succumbing to my yoga journey when running was no longer an option. And as they say “I saw the light and I never turned back”. Well not really.

You see, running and yoga are truly yin and yang both mentally and physically. Runners push. Runners compete with themselves and others. They compare. Runners turn off the mind because our bodies CAN do more, do faster, do longer. Runners don’t stop at pain but use pain as a test for mental toughness. Don’t stop. Run faster. Run longer. Rest if you need to but then get back on the track. Running compacts the muscles in the body. It tightens the muscles in the legs. It ignores the upper body. It creates imbalances.

I bought the runner’s message and lived that message. I ran when sick (though my running partner got my wrath that day), I ran in the heat, I ran when my leg had a strange pain, I kept on running. Speed work, long runs, tempo runs, trail runs. I woke up every morning with foot and leg pain. And then I couldn’t run. I had injured myself to the point that it was just not possible.

I turned to yoga. I listened to my body. I saw the alignment issues that were part of my running problems in my yoga and I patiently kept coming to my mat, working on my alignment. I got stronger. I got more flexible. My body began to open up. My hips released. My hamstrings released. I didn’t push, but patiently worked. I woke up without pain. I woke up.

So now I am running again. I love the freedom of being able to put on running shoes and take off. I love running on trails in all weather. The surroundings absorbs me. Mindfulness is necessary as to not trip. I now sometimes walk up some hills. But now, I always make sure that I get into the studio as often as I can to be in class. That takes precedent overrunning, but my need to get outside and fill my lungs with fresh air takes me to the trails. I have started to get the urge to push a little more. Maybe because it is marathon season and just a pattern that I have created. But yoga is what makes me able to run. I need both running and yoga in my life. The yin/yang. The dance. The balance.

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!

Photo by Justin Price

Driving home from my sister’s New Years Day brunch (a tradition that I usually make at my own home but was thankful for this year’s change of venue), my husband stated to my six-year-old who was in the midst of a staying-up-until-midnight-the-night-before meltdown that she was in control of what was happening. She was able to make the situation better or worse by her own thoughts. That was a jaw dropping moment.

Let me back up a bit to say that my husband has become very serious about yoga. I admit that he has been taking more classes than I have lately. I regularly teach and have a home practice, but he is knocking my socks off as far as getting into the studio. I’m so proud of him. I know it makes him feel great both physically and mentally. But until this moment in the car, I didn’t realize that yoga was starting to seep into his life off the mat. After focusing on the physical asana and breathing during class, he was getting the “it” of yoga. Yoga is the unity of breath, body and mind. Through the breath (pranayama) and the body (asana), mindfulness can be found. Interestingly, studies show that through mindfulness one can actually increase spirituality.

I had another yoga moment today of my own. I woke up wanting to get a run in before doing an errand. I was planning on taking the dog to the park to run in my snowshoes. My son surprisingly wanted to come along. When we got to the park, I noticed that we’d lost a lot of snow over the night and that snowshoeing and sledding were no longer options. My son is not a fan of running for running sake so I readjusted my plan to walk with him and enjoy our time together.

The dog was having a blast running wild and the snow was perfect for throwing. Knowing how my son’s mind works, I stated TWICE that I didn’t want to be hit by any snowballs. TWICE. The next thing I know an icy snowball is dripping off my face. I did not take that yoga breath before raising my voice questioning him as to why after two very specific requests I still got a mouth full of snow. He stomped off angrily and we both felt disappointed that the morning was turning to the dark side. I then decided that it was up to me as to how this was going to turn out. I was in control of my thoughts, my actions and this very moment at hand.

One of my resolutions for this year is to laugh more. So I picked up a handful of snow, made a perfect ball and as my son sulked on the path in front of me, managed to hit him smack center on his back. After his initial shock of my sudden attitude change, we started running through the woods, hiding, throwing, laughing and connecting. By the time we walked back to the car, my son who hates to run, managed a mile in the snow with both a smile on his face and in his heart… and I did too.

Make this year a year of yoga both on the mat and off. You will not be disappointed.

Namaste and Happy 2010 to all.

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.

A new session has begun and I found myself with first class jitters yesterday although I have been teaching for a while. Each group brings a different dynamic to the class. If I have a lot of returning students, I feel obligated to shake things up and not repeat too many ideas from my past lessons. Then a little voice in my head asks how can they get bored with repeating some games or yoga warm ups when most of them probably can sit and watch reruns of Phineas and Ferb for days on end!

There seems to be a predictable pattern to the dynamics in my classes. If there are a lot of siblings, class is a bit more energetic. The class will require some extra focus on classroom management. I find that if there are a lot of friends in the class that this usually also creates more distraction and less focus. Yesterday’s class had me chanting “If I say yoga, you say class… Yoga…the class shouts class, Yoga… class, yoga, yoga,yoga… class, class, class!” This is a very effective way to get the class to focus back on me and it is fun for them to do. You mix up how you say your part and can make it very silly. I have used tree and pose and nama and ste.

As a teacher, one must be able to reevaluate class plans and make quick adjustments. My 5-7 group yesterday had three boys and 10 girls. We had siblings and we had good friends and the class was a bit rowdy. I had planned to play the game Mirror, Mirror that my fellow yoga blogger, Donna Freeman at yogainmyschool.com mentioned recently but with this age group I find that the boys do not like partnering up with girls. I decided to switch to my favorite standby game Yoga Toes instead. In Yoga Toes, I throw out a big bucket of pom poms around the room and the kids have to use their toes to pick them up and put them on their mats. I sometimes have them drop them into cups. The kids count their pom poms and remember the number and then try to get more the next time. This game miraculously quiets everyone down… even the rowdiest of classes. It requires being very present which is a skill that the Mirror, Mirror game also helps develop.

My older group of 11-18 year olds had a lot of repeats but enough new students that we started with the Name/Pose game where each person says their name and then picks a pose. The whole group then does that pose. We continue to the next person and the group does that pose and then repeats the pose that came before it. We end up doing a flowing sequence and learning each others names. Yesterday we added a new idea to this game. After someone picked a pose we talked about the flow and transitions between the poses and if there was a break in the flow. The class decided where the person should move to make the sequence flow more fluidly. It was great fun moving people around and trying the vinyasa out again feeling the differences between smooth transitions and ones that feel out of sequence.

I’d love to hear how you begin a new session, if you ever get the butterflies and your thoughts about class dynamics.

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).

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I work at a great place called Midtown Athletic Club. I was hired last year as the only children’s yoga instructor to teach yoga which was the only children’s programming that they offered (besides tennis). Midtown just put in a gorgeous outdoor pool and has since been working hard to attract families. They will begin to offer an abundance of children’s classes from kick boxing to boot camp to zoomba and yoga. The yoga classes offered will range from mom and baby to storybook yoga, pre-k, 5-7 , 8-11 and teen classes. It is a wonderfully diverse and full schedule. Starting this Fall I am also lucky to have a new and very talented teacher to help me.

Last night there was a great kick-off party for the kid’s programming and I played yoga for an hour and half with children rotating between different class demos around the giant pool deck and garden near by. It was a blast and everyone seemed to really enjoy their introduction to yoga. To keep it moving and fun I alternated between some very active yoga games. I started with yoga poses using the first letter in each child’s name, then we did yoga using animal cards and for some of the groups, especially the dubious older boys, I took out one of my Thumballs and we played letter yoga with the ball (you do a yoga pose to the letter on which the catcher’s thumb falls on the ball).

The next morning, my friend (and amazing power vinyasa yoga instructor) mentioned how much she enjoyed seeing me in action and said that it was great that our boss had seen how kids yoga “works” because it was really clear how valuable it was to have someone specialized in teaching kids yoga versus just pulling instructors from adult classes to teach.

It did make me think about the differences between children’s and adult classes.

I think that as children’s yoga instructors, we know how different it is to teach to children than it is to teach to adults. It requires a different way of thinking about yoga. It is yoga play.

• In adult class it is important to walk around your class and make adjustments and talk your students through the asanas. In children’s yoga you are on the ground moving and mooing! Talk about alignment is kept short and adjustments are rarely made.

• In adult classes repetition of a vinyasa is typical, as students we are willing to hold a pose for a long time and our bodies and minds benefit from doing so. In children’s yoga you have to put a lot of effort in keeping the class interested and moving with the changing energies. Attention spans vary with age. A good guideline is age x 5 minutes.

• In adult classes, with few exceptions, everyone is there to find that centering and calm. Class discipline is a non-issue. There may be moments of laughter and fun but we are seriously working toward a peace of mind and a body sans tension. In contrast, in children’s classes you have to develop some strategic class management techniques and you need to laugh and make silly faces and sounds—the louder and sillier the better.

• In adult classes there is a lot of talk about daily stresses and relaxing and focusing on the moment. Children can understand some talk about how to relax and get rid of stress but it is almost more important and more helpful as a children’s yoga instructor to be in the know of all things “kids”— being able to talk about animal facts, tv shows and music helps you to make the class user friendly for kids and the kids see that you understand their world and can relate to them.

• Yoga Journal is a great source for inspiration for adult classes and sometimes even some of the older children’s classes. I spend a lot of time looking at blogs on parenting, teaching and children’s yoga. I read a lot of psychology based books on child development, teaching children life lessons and how to encourage children to succeed and be happy people. The information I gather from these resources fuel my classes.

It does require a lot of passion and energy to teach children. But, let me tell you, hearing “Miss Jen!!” screamed from the crowded pool last night by one of my recent yoga campers makes all the hard work (or should I say hard play) so well worth it.

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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