Monthly Archives: February 2012

A Good Sign

Many of you know that part of my gig as a yoga teacher is teaching children in the pediatric department at a hospital in Brooklyn.  This is thanks to the generosity of the Starlight Children’s Foundation, where I used to work.   I was (and am) so excited to be back working with Starlight, which does amazing work for seriously ill children and their families–such as providing yoga in the hospitals!

I was fully prepared for the emotions involved with working with sick children; I don’t think you ever get over seeing small children in a hospital bed (or crib for that matter).  However, what I had not been prepared for was the fact that it is virtually impossible to be prepared…at least, not in the way that I was familiar.  No day at the hospital is the same, so every week I am presented with any of the following: group classes, bedside breathing/guided imagery, private sessions with family members, teenagers, toddlers, and everything in between.

Oh the anxiety!

I spent the first few weeks feeling like a fake.  Thoughts of nervousness and doubt were constantly ambushing my mind.  Sure, I’m a yoga teacher and I get along really well with kids, but does that make me a great children’s yoga teacher at the hospital?  Not necessarily.  But how do I become one?  I just spent 20 minutes doing yoga with a little girl’s Barbies, how is that going to help her?  That group class was chaotic, didn’t flow at all, and the one little boy didn’t try any of the poses or breaths.  Why are you even doing this?

Then one day I was leaving, once again being overly critical of my teaching, when I saw a sign with this quote posted on the wall just outside of Pediatrics:

“It’s not how much you do, but how much love you put in the doing.”

~Mother Theresa

And it all clicked.  What I am doing is great, not because my teaching is perfect, but because my intentions are good.  In yoga, we always begin our practice by setting an intention; life off the mat is no different.  The mission of the Starlight Children’s Foundation is to brighten the lives of seriously ill children and their families–which is exactly my intention.  So if playing yoga Barbie brightened that little girl’s day, then that was successful.  Keeping this in mind has given me greater confidence in my abilities as a yoga teacher, which in turn has helped me to relax and just have FUN with it–because at the end of the day, seeing a smile or hearing that what we did felt good to a child is way better than teaching the “perfect class” (what is that, anyway?).

Who knows more about giving love than Mother Teresa?

Last week, I had the opportunity to have  a second session with a little boy who I’d met the week before.  Then, he had limited mobility, so he stayed in bed and we had the most wonderful session of guided imagery; the places he went and the things he saw were truly heart-warming.  This time, I was glad to see that he was up and walking about, with just a slight hunch in his shoulders.  I asked him what he would like to do and he said, “I think I should do some stretching since I can move around more now.”  We ended up squishing ourselves into the only space we could find.  A few months ago, I probably would have been stressed out because the space was not ideal and limited what we could do.  But this time I kept Mother Teresa’s words in mind and, together with his mom, we breathed deeply as we did basic seated stretches, twists, heart openers and some standing balancing poses (his favorite).  We giggled as he renamed Cobbler Pose “peanut butter and jelly” (because your feet touch like a sandwich), and encouraged mom when her hips weren’t as open as his to move into a pose.  When we were finished, he stood up and his mom pointed out how much taller he was standing.  He had a huge grin on his face and told me that he felt more relaxed, which in turn made me feel wonderful.

When you put all the love into the doing, it comes back to you many times over.  All it took was a sign on the wall for me to realize it.  What signs have you been given?

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Saturday Snax: Avocado Toast

What is better than avocado?  Avocado spread on toast!  One of my favorite things to eat is the avocado toast at Cafe Gitane  on Mott Street in NYC.  And while I’m lucky enough to work in the neighborhood, this treat is just as easy to make from the comfort of home!

A perfect snack.

What you need:

1 Ripe Avocado (Has some give when you press into it, outer skin has darkened)

2-4 slices whole wheat bread (depending on how much avocado you like)

Juice of 1/2 lemon

Pinch of Salt

Sprinkle of Crushed Red Pepper Flakes

To make:

Toast the bread.  While it’s toasting, peel and pit your avocado.  This is done by cutting into the avocado and running your knife all the way around the outside.  Twist the avocado and pull open.  Using a larger knife, remove the pit by swinging the bottom of the blade down onto the pit (it’s all in the wrist!), then twisting to loosen it and remove.  Use a fork or spoon to scoop out the avocado meat into a small bowl.  Mash up the avocado with the fork.  Add the lemon juice and salt and mix.  Spread the avocado mixture onto your toast, then sprinkle on the red pepper flakes to your liking (just remember not to touch your eyes after handling the red pepper flakes!  Not that I have done this…).

Then…enjoy!  Bon appetit!

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Filed under Food, Recipes, Uncategorized

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

This weekend I visited my 94-year-old grandparents (but you didn’t hear their age from me).  They are both amazing–still living in the house my mother grew up in, my grandmother cooks and cleans (lugging a vacuum cleaner up and down the stairs) and my grandfather takes walks and swims after a quadruple bypass 8 years ago.  Both still drive, both have amazing memories of names of people, places and events from over seventy years ago.  And both grew up in a time very different from today–at least in terms of social norms.

Those are some good-looking 94-year-olds.

So, needless to say, I was taken by surprise when during the visit, my grandfather asked me how I felt about gay marriage.  Anyone who’s met Harry knows he’s made some comments that only a 90+ year old could get away with these days, so what was even more surprising about his question was that he was genuinely interested in what I thought.  He wasn’t bringing it up to start an argument, but seemingly to get a new perspective in order to see all sides.

I told him what I thought–that any couple who loves each other and is committed each other should be able to get married, no matter their gender.  When he asked, “But what about the children being raised by gay parents?” I responded that, in my opinion, a home with two loving parents is better than one where the parents are constantly fighting and creating a toxic environment–regardless of gender.  Not to mention the numerous financial and legal benefits that come with marriage that many same-sex couples haven’t had access to.

I heard his side too:  That it was something he was never exposed to (that he was aware of) for most of his life, so it certainly wasn’t part of his social norms.  Furthermore, he worried about the children of homosexual couples and if they would be affected (having had a difficult upbringing himself, he is always worried about children in any situation).  For the most part, he told me with a thoughtful expression that he “just couldn’t wrap his brain around it.”

In the end, I’m pretty sure I didn’t change my grandfather’s mind on the issue, but that wasn’t my goal, nor was it what I took from our conversation.  Rather, it was really refreshing to have a civil conversation about this controversial issue.  In a time where people post their opinions on issues and current events in social media (such as…what I am doing in this blog…) the art of lively, face to face conversation, the exchange of opinions, and debate has become a rarity.  Instead, it is replaced by “likes,” retweets, and short comments that may or may not support the posted opinion.  In this forum, you don’t really have to listen, tone can be misinterpreted, judgements made, and debates can escalate to arguments or end abruptly in silence.

In yoga, we practice non-judgement: of ourselves, our yoga practice, and others.  Of course, the key word there is practice, and that effort can make a huge difference in our outlook on ourselves, others, and the world as a whole.  When it comes to issues like gay marriage, those who disagree with it can lose sight of the fact that the decisions surrounding it affect real, live people.  If those on the opposing side of an issue really stopped to see the full picture, and even ask questions like my grandfather, they may just find that the people they are judging are not so different from them.  Take Ellen Degeneres, for example.  This week on her show, Ellen responded to critics of her JC Penny partnership (who are against it simply because she is gay) by saying, “I stand for honesty, equality, kindness, compassion, treating people the way you want to be treated, and helping those in need. To me, those are traditional values. That’s what I stand for.”  That sure sounds like someone I would want representing my company, doesn’t it?

This week brought great news to gay marriage supporters in California and Washington, with Prop 8 being ruled unconstitutional and the gay marriage bill being passed, respectively.  As support continues to grow, I hope that more conversations happen, whether face to face or via media, which foster genuine interest  in differing perspectives and debate without judgement.  Total agreement on every issue is not what our country needs; practicing those traditional values that Ellen talked about–equality, kindness and the Golden Rule–is what will truly bring people together.  My relationship with my grandfather is proof of that.

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Filed under Dharma, Non-Judgement, Tolerance, Yoga