Category Archives: Dharma

Days 26 & 27: Turning Upside Down Part Deux

Hello Friends!

I had every intention of posting last night, but I ended up being preoccupied with decorating this new addition to the apartment:

I downsized this year, but he's a cute little guy.

I downsized this year, but he’s a cute little guy.

Nevertheless, I am really excited to tell you about the Inversion workshop yesterday at The Yoga Room.  It was taught by one of their teachers, Marko, and I think he did a fantastic job.  He began with a dharma talk that was all about the importance of process over final product; that, as much as we want to be able to do a handstand right now, the journey is the most important part.  Lessons like this are what yoga is all about.  What we learn on the mat is completely applicable to our lives off of the mat.  Breaking down a handstand into steps and practicing each step slowly and purposefully teaches us the value of hard work and persistence.  And when you finally reach your goal, it makes it all that much sweeter since you worked so hard to achieve it.

That is how Marko designed the workshop.  We worked on several variations of headstands and handstands over the two-hour class, and he broke down each pose into different steps, giving us the option to stop where we felt comfortable, or move on if we wanted to challenge ourselves.  My headstand practice is still on hiatus, which gave me the opportunity to really work on headstand prep, which is basically a downward dog with forearms and head on the ground.  If you’ve never done this prep before, it is challenging!  It really works your shoulders and core.  I also practiced bringing one leg in to my chest, which really got my ab muscles fired up.

By the time we got to handstand practice, my core was nice and warm, which, as I’ve mentioned previously, is really important for inversions.  We did several preps for handstand including L-shape against the wall and extending one leg up, which really helped me to get a feel for handstand away from the wall.  There was also more core work that included hopping over a block with our hands on the floor, arms straight.  This probably sounds easy, but it’s definitely work.  When he finally cued us to go up into handstand against the wall, it felt like my legs floated up, as opposed to my usual method of flinging my legs as hard as I can until I reach the wall.  I even managed to come off the wall for a few seconds.  If The Yoga Room offers this workshop again, I highly recommend it!

Today I found a Yoga Today class that was dedicated to handstands and forearm stands.  It was great to get in more practice, although I have to say my arms were tired from yesterday!  So I did what I could and either took a childs pose or just watched the yogis on the screen when I needed a break.  Marko made sure to let us know that consistent practice is the way to achieve our goal and I would have to agree; this 30-day challenge has definitely helped me to become more comfortable with turning upside down!

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Filed under Dharma, Goals, inversions, Non-Judgement, Practice, Uncategorized, Yoga, Yoga Snax

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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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

The Universe is all Green Lights

Over the past few months, I have had the opportunity to make some pretty significant changes in my life:  first by becoming a yoga teacher and getting to teach to real, live people (adults and children!) and then getting a new job that not only affords me the time to teach yoga, but is also going to give me incredible travel opportunities and challenge me professionally.  Right about now I would have to say my life is pretty grand.  I keep asking myself, how the heck did this happen?  Am I just a stupidly lucky girl who was in the right place at the right time?  Maybe.  But I believe it’s a little bit more than that.

Less than three months ago, my life was still pretty great.  I was pursuing teaching yoga and had a fantastic job teaching preschool with wonderful teachers and students.  Yoga was really starting to take off and I was getting a lot of opportunities to teach.  One such opportunity was teaching children in a pediatric unit at a hospital in Brooklyn.  Amazing!  But all of this happened while I was on summer vacation.  How could I make this work with 8-hour school days and an hour commute to and from work each day?  I knew that I was going to have to make a change; I began thinking that yoga would have to wait a year, and then I’d figure out another way to do it.  I considered leaving New York when the school year was finished.  I even submitted a resume to a school with a better commute and shorter hours, thinking that would solve everything.  Not only was I thinking these things, but I began voicing my concerns to friends and family.  “How great would it be to be able to teach school while having time during the week to teach yoga?” was something that I often thought to myself and aloud.

Then one morning I was having brunch with several girlfriends after teaching a yoga class, and one of them asked if I’d be interested in a new opportunity as a private teacher traveling with a family.  My initial thought was, sure, that sounds amazing, but I can’t do that, I have a job.  But as the day went on, I continued to think about it until I said to myself, “But really, why not?”  Over the next few weeks, I talked to my friend about the job a great deal more until I finally came to the conclusion that it was an opportunity I just couldn’t pass up.

Perhaps it is all luck.  I just happened to be in the right place at the right time with the right friend who had this opportunity for me.  There is definitely some truth to that.  But there is another factor, or rather, factors.  The first being: me.  My willingness to bring change into my life.  And with that, an open mind.  Just putting something out into the universe isn’t going to give us exactly what we want (because if that’s the case, money would be raining down from the sky all over the country).  No, once you put something out there, it’s important to be open to the fact that sometimes what we want comes to us in a completely different package than we were expecting–like this job, which I wasn’t looking for but turned out to be exactly what I needed.  And other times, we don’t get something we thought we wanted because something even better, that we really need, is right around the corner (For example, that other school I applied to?  I never even got an interview.  At first I was disappointed…but now?  Really grateful.).

Recently, a friend shared with me this saying: “The universe is all green lights.”  Meaning, whatever we put out in the universe is what we will get.   If you are a person that says, “I always lose my keys,” then…you will always lose your keys.  But if you say, “I am learning to remember where I put my keys,” then maybe, just maybe, you will start remembering (my friend says this has really worked for her!).

It’s not about being unrealistic.  It’s about being willing to make changes and having the ability to recognize the open doors, even if they’re where you never expected to find them.  I am extremely grateful I saw the green light and walked through my door.  Have you found yours?

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Thank you, Mrs. Obama

Today, Michelle Obama announced that retailers such as Walmart and Walgreens are pledging to expand their stores to stock affordable nutritious food in communities that would otherwise rely on the fast food industry and other unhealthy options to feed their families.  While I know there are those out there who shun these mega chains because they take away from mom and pop small businesses, I think this is a really important step for the future of the US.  The obesity rate in this country is utterly and unacceptably out of control, and it’s about time that things started to change.

Last week I read an article which listed Colorado as the ONLY state in the ENTIRE country with an obesity rate less than 20% (and it was only just under at about 19.4%).  This is incredibly alarming.  According to this article, scientists are already predicting that this generation of children may be the first to have a shorter lifespan than their parents.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali discusses five Yamas, or restraints, which are part of a moral code for right living.  The first is called Ahimsa, or non-violence.  To follow ahimsa is to do no harm to any living being–including ourselves and our loved ones.  Consistently eating and providing foods that do not provide nourishment goes against Ahimsa**.

Yes, we need a better healthcare system.  Yes, we need a military.  And of course, we need to provide more support for our education system!  But none of these things are going to matter if people are dying of obesity because they couldn’t afford better food options and don’t understand proper nutrition.  I applaud Michelle Obama for leading the fight against this epidemic.

With that said, each of us can time to make sure that we are treating ourselves with ahimsa, because this is the beginning of a greater change.  My sister and I joined our local CSA (community supported agriculture) this year, and it has been awesome–bags of fresh veggies every week!  (Anyone who reads this is invited over for dinner anytime :))  What can you do?

 

**This is not to say that sometimes, Ahimsa can’t be a large brownie sundae a la mode…sometimes. 🙂

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Welcome to Yoga Snax!

One of the things we discussed in my training is the idea of consistency in practice; a little bit of practice, every day, will make a much bigger difference in your life both physically and mentally than one long practice once a week.  So, in that vein, I’ve decided to start a blog to document my new journey as a yoga teacher and life in general.  I see it as a place to share moments, quotes, tips and ideas that have made an impact on me, and that may have an impact on you.  Just like a great snack helps to energize you until your next meal, perhaps Yoga Snax will do the same for your practice.

I’ve recently begun reading the writings of Thich Naht Hanh, an amazing Vietnamese Buddhist monk.  When you read his words, you can feel the smile on his face.  In fact, smiling seems to be his favorite thing to do and write about.  I highly recommend his books, it’s hard not to feel better after doing so.  For today, I’ll leave you with this quote:

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

What do you have to lose?  🙂

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