Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Gift of Letting Go, Part One-Let the Body Guide the Mind

What does it mean to let go? It can be physical or it can be emotional. It can be a broad generalization or it can be something specific. It can be easy or it can be extremely difficult. It can happen in a moment or it can take a lifetime. But the space created when we let go of something that does not serve us, whether it is mind, body or spirit, is the gift. That space becomes opportunity.

The ability to let go begins with the recognition of what you can and can't control. This takes me back to the concept of surrendering to chaos in a sense. Whether it is tension in the body that can be overcome with the breath, a preoccupation in the mind, a fear to deepen a pose for risk of physical pain or injury, or ridding your life of a toxic relationship, yoga continues to teach me daily not only how important it is to let go, but also how available it is if we are in tune and aware.

Often cued in classes I teach, as well as take, is the phrase "breathe into any areas of tightness." A good example for me personally is during any forward bend in the early part of class. I have tight hamstrings, which can make these postures excruciating some days. Ganga White in "Yoga Beyond Belief," cites this power with the following: "You will find that directing the breath to a location actually works to relax and release it. Using your attention to literally send and feel healing energy and prana move to the place in need relaxes and releases tensions there. This concept is not just a metaphor but a fact, even physically. Oxygen, which is part of the breath, reaches every part of the body. You actually can breathe into your toes." (p. 66) Another of my favorite cues is a follow up to this idea, and that is the more we relax into a pose, the easier it will become. By focusing, using my breath in this fashion, I've found greater softening and lengthening in my hamstrings.

As a completely random side note, but further evidence how yoga has enhanced my life off the mat, I re-acquired the hobby of knitting about six months ago, after being away from it for several years. A bi-product of my consistent yoga practice, mindful breathing enables me to identify tension in my shoulders or awareness that I am knitting too tightly, and the ability to quickly correct and release that tension.

The tension released in my physical body led me to release tensions in the heart, mind and spirit. Another group of yoga postures that grant me the gift of letting go are back bending, heart-opening poses. They have become my favorites as my spinal flexibility improves, the backbends deepen, and as a result tensions and burdens in my heart center are released. Deeply inhaling to identify a source of tightness or tension in the body, to be rewarded on the exhale by feeling that area relax even if just a little, taught me to let go of that which does not serve my life.

I'm not suggesting that letting go of something is an easy exercise. As I brainstormed my ideas for this post I realized there is far too much territory to cover at once. A good place to start is with the physical body and how that can transfer to life off the mat. Utilize that concentration and intentional breath work to allow flexibility in the body to lead to flexibility in the mind. Recognize this may not be a linear path, physically or emotionally, and you are on your way.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

No Risk, No Reward

The first thing I read in my Instagram feed this morning was Kino MacGregor's (@kinoyoga) post inviting her reader's to take a risk and be vulnerable. I've had some notes on this subject for a while, thinking that at some point it would become a blog post, but as Kino's post title dictated today "Yogi's Assignment: Vulnerability," I knew it was carpe diem time.

Vulnerability is some scary business, whether we're referring to vulnerability in yoga asana practice or vulnerability in our relationships with others. Personally, my most recent exercises in vulnerability have been a month-long Instagram yoga challenge (hosted by none other than Kino herself, along with another of my IG idols, Kerri Verna @beachyogagirl), and of course starting this blog. While intrigued, I've avoided yoga challenges in the past due to a fear of judgment of my photos, my form, knowledge and skill level. Accepting the challenge required me to overcome my anxiety about showing such a big part of myself, my practice, to the world. I accepted that not every pose would be executed perfectly, not every camera angle the best, not every element of lighting the most flattering (I've become quite educated in the art of editing however!), but the reward has come in more than one form. My participation has deepened my relationships and built camaraderie among fellow yogis and friends. My best friend's daughter is doing the challenge as well, and it's encouraged my own children to try a challenge next! **Huge thank you, by the way, to all of my family and friends who have so enthusiastically served as photographer/art director/editor at one point or another. You've all been very patient, although I'm sure that will wear thin by this time next month and I'll be approaching strangers on the street to snap my poses!

The challenge has also taught me a lot about my physical practice. It is easy to become complacent on our mats and in our minds about how we perform some postures, but when there is photographic evidence of what the body looks like in a pose, not what the mind thinks it looks like, you can most often see room for progression. That has been such a valuable takeaway for me, as I know in yoga practice, as in life, there is always someplace deeper to journey, an ability to find a new edge. I also believe that if we can embrace the vulnerability of a posture, rather than fear it or fight against it, we can better let go of that which does not serve us. This in turn supports growth and depth of experience on, as well as off our mats.

As for starting this blog, who knew that within a couple of weeks of my biggest tests of vulnerability going live, I would actually be writing a post on vulnerability? Similar to what I sought to overcome with exposing more about my yoga practice through photography, I had to overcome a need for perfect word choice, perfect communication of a feeling, thought or idea, 100% of the time. I've hid behind my desire for perfection in writing for many years. Taking the step to make some of my thoughts and feelings public has made me feel extremely vulnerable. But yet again, the reward has exceeded my expectations in the forms of amazing feedback and support, not to mention a great new creative vehicle through which I can express and share.

I hope to show my girls that our lives are made richer by the depths and sincerity of the connections we make with others. Is the person reflected back in the mirror the person you show the world, complete with not only recognition of your flaws but ownership of them? Be courageous and embrace vulnerability and the growth potential it has to offer us. Embracing vulnerability exposes the deepest part of the self, the soul. And yes, there will be times that the soul will suffer. But take that risk, because there will be more times that the soul will shine. Be the most honest version of yourself. Show the world your true beauty and you will be rewarded. A life genuinely lived is among the greatest rewards.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Mind Over Matter

In "Yoga Beyond Belief," Ganga White states, "Concentration, mental fortitude, and endurance are developed by holding difficult asanas for long periods. Discipline and strength of character come from creating and maintaining a regular practice and all of these qualities are carried over into other areas of life." (p.35)

The first thing I consciously thanked my yoga practice for was reminding me more of my strengths than my weaknesses. This was during a time when I needed this special brand of "off the mat" yoga more than I needed it while I was on the mat.  I went deep within my physical practice, heightened observations during class, tried to zero in on exactly how yoga was granting me that ability to feel strong despite the challenges of an asana. If I could channel that power during class, surely I could take that outside the yoga room.

Since I began teaching over a year ago, I've spent as much time as possible in the yoga room. For a long time it was my only place of peace. It didn't matter if I was practicing or teaching (although practice is preferable as any yogi would agree!), the heat of the room envelops my soul and clears my mind to focus purely on the moment. Between the two, I have logged hours in studio, often exceeding 20 per week, sometimes taking three classes in a day. I had to figure out a way to take more of that peace with me when I walked out the door. I began to dissect my practice on all levels, determined to crack the code.

Dandayamana Dhanurasana, or Standing Bow Pulling Pose, one that elicits at least some reaction-positive or negative-among all bikram practitioners, is where I targeted the dissection of my physical practice to unlock the cognitive. Over time I realized that the bend had to come from the spine, in all executions but definitely those of whom have tight hamstrings, hips, etc, this is a key element to focus on. This required incredible mental focus to combine breath, flexibility, balance and strength in this one posture. One of the longer held at 60 seconds, the first set was a challenge for me from the start. Once I overcame the physical discomfort (elevated heart rate, shortness of breath, dizziness), I realized this posture was under my control if I was courageous enough to recognize it, much like everything else in my life.

It didn't take long to make the connection between the physical practice and the mental practice, which was the part I needed most to take with me. Some 90 minute practices can be more challenging than others in a room that can top 110 degrees or more with higher than 60% humidity. I realized it was often a simple solution of "mind over matter." I learned to allow my breath to calm my mind to the point of recognizing every physical adjustment of a pose, to eventually recognizing that it was the calm mind that was in control of what the physical body could achieve.

The ability to admit your mistakes takes strength, just as the ability to stand your ground and what you believe in the face of an adversary. It's amazing to have people loving and supporting you on the side, but at the end of the day, there is limitless value on your own personal inner strength. I have learned, through yoga, my ability to build up my arsenal of tools to get me out of the most trying times. Even when it is buried deep below fear and doubt, I know I have it. All it takes is a few deep breaths and I'm there.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Beauty of the Second Set

Currently I am primarily teaching the Bikram series, called Hot 26 at our studios, and one thing I love about it is the second set. All but one posture are repeated twice. This structure has given me so many things to think about over the course of my years as a student and now teacher. Meditation, awareness, observation, being present, letting go are just a handful of the many fibers which when woven together have become my yoga. The quality of the second set incorporates all of these fibers and more. On a purely physical level, there are two opportunities to work on a pose, perhaps progressing, or maybe observing and nurturing an ache, pain or injury. On a deeper level and what I've taken off the mat is that there is a such thing as a second chance.

My dear friend and fellow teacher Alice Nelson (certified Bikram instructor for over 17 years and avid cyclist...find her on Instagram @bikrambike) has inspired me as a student since I first took her classes years ago, and that inspiration has grown exponentially since I started teaching. Alice's dialogue is very unique, in that it has such ease to it while still managing to address all of the key elements of the practice (form, alignment, benefits). Her often conversational way to cue poses has definitely helped me mentally and physically power through some practices...Alice also has a rep for liking her room HOT! One thing that I've heard her say on several occasions is regarding the fact that the series repeats all but one of the 26 postures twice. "What if we had a second chance to do everything in life? How different would our world be?" Alice's words resonate so deeply with me, and have bestowed yet another yoga gift: my ability to recognize the beauty in having a second chance. For that gift I am forever grateful to her, and to yoga.

Some second chances are provided because of circumstances around us, people in our lives, powerful forces of forgiveness and love. Others we may need to create ourselves. The capacity to be aware of life's possibilities when you take control of your own is a gift and without boundary. Even if it doesn't originate organically, there is always chance for redemption, renewal, if the heart and mind are open and the soul is willing. You just need to see the opportunities with eyes clear enough to recognize a second chance for what it is. Upon reflection of many experiences in my life, there are plenty of things I would change if a "do over" was possible. At least now when I do have regrets, I'm in tune with and on the look out for, that growth potential. This is something I hope I can teach my daughters. None of us is perfect. We all make mistakes. But if you're lucky enough to encounter an opportunity to make different choices, will you recognize it? Will you use it wisely?

I hope they come to understand the beauty of the second set.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Balancing Act

I've been wearing a Lokai bracelet for the last six months. If you're unfamiliar with this bracelet it's comprised of beads, all clear with the exception of two: one which is filled with mud from the Dead Sea (the lowest point on Earth), representing life's low points, and another filled with water from Mount Everest (the highest point on Earth), representing life's highest moments. This bracelet has served as a great reminder of the importance of balance. But the original great reminder is my yoga practice and why, the more I come to my mat, the more inner balance and peace (and therefore gratitude!) I find. 

The hot 26 series (or bikram) that I most often teach works both halves of the body, one side at a time, in a very orderly and deliberate sequence. It is difficult not to notice the pure physical element of balance right away. Also within it, the series has a number of single-legged balancing postures, again bringing hyper-awareness to this central theme. Inversion practice, not emphasized in bikram but certainly present in a handful of poses, has proven anti-depressant/anti-anxiety benefits, bringing mental, as well as physical balance. All students, from newbie to bendy, work hard to achieve balance in asana. Ganga White, in a yoga library fave (recommended by Ann Yocum, Colts Neck Hot Yoga studio owner and wonder woman who trained me), "Yoga Beyond Belief," quotes this ancient definition of yoga, "Samatvam yoga uchyate, or 'Yoga is balance'...This insight not only applies to asana practice but to all areas of life." (p108) But exactly how do we encourage more balance in our lives off the mat? 

A saturation of attention on family/children/others can build resentment, while focusing too heavily on oneself can be hurtful to loved ones. Similarly if one has an over-immersion in his or her career, it can be a struggle to manage work/life balance. One of the bigger keys to happiness, contentment, inner peace, is striking a balance in life. White adds, "Harmony...implies attuning, listening within and without, mutual interaction, and working in concert with oneself and others." (p108) Consistent, dedicated practice, making time for that which is rooted in finding equilibrium between ease and effort, aids in promoting more awareness of this strive to achieve balance off the mat. Even without intense physical asana practice, meditation and pranayama breath work balance the two sides of the brain. I can, and will, devote an entire post to how you can channel breath to achieve balance, but for now, and whenever else I am off the mat and need it, my Lokai reinforces how crucial balance is in our lives. 

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Am I "Namas'cray"?

If you are a yogi on Instagram (like me) or on Facebook (unlike me), chances are you've seen this play on the yogic term "Namaste". Since it's come about I've heard it once or twice with regard to the number of hours per week I spend on my yoga mat. I've had an especially busy schedule this week, unfortunately leaving little time for practice. For a 7 day per week practitioner, this has been very difficult for me. I had to ask myself, "Am I 'namas'cray'?"

I've spent the day trying to bring awareness to how I may better practice what I preach. In most of my classes, I encourage students to let go of attachments while they are in the yoga room. Regardless of the nature of that attachment, perhaps a frustrating experience that occurred before class, or using the mirror as a critical tool as opposed to an aid, it doesn't serve us to hold on to it. Yogic philosophy suggests that recognition of the fact that the universe is constantly changing will better enable a student to let go of expectations and attachments. Further, once we can let go of attachments in the outer world we may turn our attention inward to our own inner light which never changes. I began to wonder if my daily physical asana practice is a type of attachment. I turned to one of my favorites in my yoga library, Nicolai Bachman's "The Path of the Yoga Sutras," and reread the chapter on "Abhyasa," or "diligent, focused practice."

It felt ironic to me that my attachment is that which one should work towards in order to reduce attachment! Bachman is helpful to expand to say that this "focus can occur during physical exercise, breath work, meditation, or even the act of learning a musical instrument or driving a car." (p. 29) I get on my mat every day, even if it is for 10 minutes at home for a few down dogs or an indulgent child's pose, but it doesn't feel the same if I can't fit in my full practice seven days a week. Being forced to face how this makes me feel has led me to redefine "my" yoga. It also calls to mind my posts on surrender and being present. Letting go or surrendering to outside distractions, truly being "in the moment" means exactly that. Practicing 12 hours of yoga a week only to freak out when a week comes that I can't maintain that discipline is not better than accepting a week for what it is, recognizing that there are other things that require my time and attention and that those things will sometimes take priority over my time on the mat. 

Yoga helps to increase flexibility in the body as well as in the mind. It comes as no surprise that I've formed an attachment to my yoga practice given all it's done and does for me, but there are ways to live my yoga off the mat when I can't spend as much time as I'd like inside the studio walls. Guiding students through practice in the six classes I'll teach this week...that is my yoga. Watching and encouraging my daughters in their sports...that is my yoga. Providing a non-judgmental, open ear and doing my best to advise a friend in crisis...that is my yoga. And as always at the very minimum, breathing with intention...that is my yoga.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Surrender to Chaos

This yoga mama found herself quite busy today...being grateful, being present, and of course breathing. In my brief mention of savasana ("corpse pose") in yesterday's post, I referenced how part of how I teach it is to encourage students to let go and just be in the moment...surrender if you will. Surrender the physical body to the earth below the mat, surrender the mind to the calm brought by the asana work, surrender the spirit to free itself from that which binds it. When I think of this concept "off the mat," I think it is a goal to sometimes surrender to the chaos of life as a mother. Homes with children tend to be very active and this can cause great demands to be placed on moms. In order to preserve a calm environment for our loved ones, as well as calmness in our minds, we sometimes have to let things go. If every article of clothing isn't clean, folded and put away, guess what? Everyone will survive. There are days we just can't get to everything. Provided my children are clean, fed, get to and from school, rested and nurtured on a daily basis, I consider that day successful. There is always more to do, by necessity or by choice, but letting go of some of that on days when you know you don't have the extra energy to give will contribute towards a more peaceful atmosphere. When I am mindful of this, it benefits not only me, but also my children because I am not overly stressed to accomplish that which will surely still be there tomorrow. 

Another layer of surrender, which I try to instill in my girls, is the recognition that we can't always control our environments, and certainly cannot control the actions and behaviors of others (children or adults!), but what we can control is how we choose to react. When one of my children is hurt by something a friend did or said, I make the focus of discussion not about the other child's actions, but how best she might react because that is what she can control. When I treat someone kindly but don't get the same in return, I focus on what I can behavior...and know that even if I knew someone would not return my kindness, it would not make me less likely to extend it. 

The idea of surrender is definitely connected to yesterday's post about being present. If you are able to surrender, regardless of the chaos around you, there is "dharana," or concentration. Dharana is another of the eight limbs of yoga and suggests that the past and future are of no matter, we purely exist in the now. Whether that point of concentration is external, as in performing a yoga pose or making a meal for your family, or internal, as in meditation, we surrender to all else. Surrendering of the self is such a deep concept, one I hope to address in greater detail on the blog in the future. For now I'm going to surrender into bed amidst roughly three piles of unfolded laundry. It will still be waiting for me tomorrow!

Monday, May 11, 2015

Be Here Now

I woke up today feeling that my focus should be on staying present...and when I scrolled through my Instagram feed saw that the opening sentence of a post from one of my fave IG yogis, @kinoyoga, was "Give the gift of your full and total presence to everyone in your life, including yourself." I knew at that moment this notion would be my platform for today's post. From the minute I opened my eyes I felt like I needed to be reminded of the importance of being present and thought others could use that reminder too. And even as Kino goes on to state in her post, bringing attention to this issue is not to be critical or harsh. Life is FILLED with things to distract us. But as we tend to those distractions, life is passing us by. 

Being present is something that in modern day culture I believe can be quite difficult...but yet another mindset that has been enhanced by my yoga practice and in turn enriched my life as a mom. Women in general, and mothers especially, are natural multitaskers (by necessity), and this requirement increases that difficulty of valuing the quality in any one single moment. But I've realized that not only do I owe it to my children to give them my full attention when they need it, but I owe it to myself to stay in the moment to truly experience the fullness of life. Through leading by example, being fully engaged when I am with them, I show them that the present moments matter, whether they are telling me about their day for the third time, or suffered a bump or bruise and need a hug. My youngest asked me to watch her ride her bike this afternoon. Although I felt eager to prepare dinner and make sure homework was complete before teaching this evening, I used this as a perfect opportunity to practice what I preach to my students. I took it a step further by leaving my phone in the house rather than using the time "watching" her ride her bike to answer my day's worth of emails. It sparked a discussion with all three of my girls a half hour later about focusing our attention on what we were doing in that moment...either watch tv or draw...have a snack or do your homework...put the phones and iPads away at bedtime when it's time to sleep. The time I spent talking with them, as well as the time I spent watching my baby ride her bike, are what stayed with me for the rest of the night. I can't say I would be reflecting the same on preparing pasta and salad.

There are plenty of moments that are unpleasant or uncomfortable; moments we are eager to see pass. That is reality, but don't bypass these moments or wish them away without trying to see if there is something to be learned. Every moment has the potential to give us something: joy, peace, comfort...and on the flip side sorrow, pain, anger. Positive or negative, there stands a chance that each moment can be a guide on how to get through it should history repeat itself (as it often does). Such can be said with yoga as well. Some poses are more difficult, more uncomfortable than others and that will vary based on the individual (level of experience, strength, flexibility). But can we learn to appreciate what those moments are telling us, about our physical bodies as well as our minds. 

Like remembering to be grateful or remembering to breathe with intention, being present is easier said than done. It takes focus, concentration, discipline; all qualities which are strengthened through yoga. When I come to my mat, while I may feed off the energy of other students in the room, my practice is my own. I can use the past to track progress or check in with my body and how it's feeling, but at the end of the day all you ever have is the present. Quieting of the easily distracted, incessantly moving "monkey mind," referred to in Buddhism as "kapicitta," requires attention and awareness. In almost every Bikram-style class I teach, the reminder to remain present in the room and not allow the mind to wander comes out in my dialogue. Most often this is during savasana, "corpse pose," between the standing and floor series. It's roughly a two minute resting pose where students can reconnect to the breath and refuel the body, as well as a great opportunity for me as a teacher to encourage them to let go of their performance (free of judgment) in the standing portion of the series, and not anticipate what may be coming next in the rest of the class...or what awaits when they leave the yoga room. All any of us ever have is the moment we're in. How we choose to spend it, how we approach it mentally, is up to us. Be here now. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

The Gift of Greater Gratitude

I think the feeling which has overcome me most since becoming a mother is gratitude. Okay...maybe impatience...then gratitude. No other day in the year reminds me of how fortunate I am to have three beautiful daughters. Mother's Day brings a sense of gratitude that is all too easily lost in the throughs of everyday family life. Am I thinking about how grateful I am when I am preparing three different things for dinner or when a stomach virus makes a round in our house? (These are nothing compared to the challenges faced by some, by the way.) Am I in a "nurturing" mood every minute? Definitely not. But yoga has taught me to find something each day, even if it is one thing, for which to be grateful. 

Motherhood brings many gifts, but the gift of greater gratitude has definitely been influenced by my yoga practice. Coming to my mat daily serves a strong, mindful purpose to remind me of that gift. Some days it is gratitude for my physical ability to practice, others it is for the emotional comfort it provides, and still others it is for knowing that there are many less fortunate of body and mind. Those days may be the best as I set my intention and focus my healing energy and practice on someone other than myself. 

This is, in part, what I hope to teach my children as they grow and learn...and that this life is greater than themselves. Children are self-absorbed by nature. My teenage daughter thinks the world revolves around her and sees little wrong with this perspective, however tirelessly I work to contradict it (she actually corrected me just yesterday that technically the Earth spins on it's axis...not on her...but actions speak louder than words). Her happiness revolves more on what others have, whether it is the latest iPhone or greater athletic ability. I'm sure my family would not hesitate to agree that I was the same way. It's part of being thirteen! A fellow teacher (and mom) uses the phrase "cultivate an attitude of gratitude" often in her classes. This perspective can be a daily challenge to instill when you're a mom, but mindfulness of it's importance can make a bumpy road smoother. 

The second of the eight limbs of yoga are the niyamas, which focus on self-care and self-observation. One of these niyamas is contentment and gratitude, "santosa" in Sanskrit. In The Path of the Yoga Sutras, Nicolai Bachman encourages and teaches, "If we cultivate gratitude even when we are content, we strengthen that attitude in our heart-mind, like amending its soil, and make that gratitude easier to access when needed." This idea is much like I stated in my post calling for cultivation of quality breath. He adds, "Gratefulness does for our heart-mind what food does for our bodies-it nourishes our heart-mind and creates a sense of fulfillment. Slowing down, stepping back, and appreciating the little things in life creates inner happiness." (p. 182)

You don't need to be a mother (or a yogi) to find gratitude in your life. Santosa teaches us that we are all different and find joy in different ways, but the attention must be contentment with whatever that means of joy is. Are contentment and gratitude always in the foreground? Of course not...but cultivating awareness is the first step, even if is a constant challenge to maintain the recognition.  If it's the fact that you're breathing, be grateful. Then re-read yesterday's post and think about that breath again...this time with intention!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Where We All Begin

So while I've always loved to write, again the true prompt for enabling me to face my fears and insecurities, drop my guard and pick up my pen, was my yoga practice. Especially since becoming an instructor, I am often asked about the various benefits of yoga practice, both on and off the mat. As I considered writing my thoughts about it, brainstorming was so exciting!  Then I felt very overwhelmed…there is so much to share! A near panic set in when I wondered where I would even begin. That’s when I took a deep breath and realized the only place to start is at the beginning…with BREATH!

We enter this world on a breath. We also leave it on a breath. In between we average roughly 20,000 breaths per day. How many of those breaths do we really think about? Our breath is our most vital life force, referred to as “prana” in yogic philosophy. It is our greatest source of energy and vitality. Before anything else, without breath we can’t survive. But beyond basic survival there are so many gifts we can receive from our breath. Yoga has taught me that there is a quality factor associated with our breath, that if we learn how to harness and cultivate better quality breathing, we will enhance our lives on and off the mat.

All lineages of yoga begin with breath. Any class I’ve taken or taught begins with bringing conscious awareness to the breath. Whether it is utilizing a specific breathing exercise to set up a practice (as in the Bikram series), or learning how to link breath with movement (as in Ashtanga or vinyasa flow classes) realization and recognition of the power of our breath is at the forefront. On a physical level, the inhale breath contracts and strengthens the muscles, while the exhale breath allows for softening and lengthening of the muscles. Building on this principle, in general the inhale breath gathers fresh oxygen, energy and prana, nourishing the body right down to a cellular level; while the exhale breath releases toxins in the form of carbon dioxide, and tensions, not only in the physical body but also in the mind.

How many times have we thought, been told, or told our own children to “take a deep breath” when confronted with a challenging situation? It is a cliché of sorts, but channeling my own ability to breath better thanks to my yoga practice has better enabled me to not only deal with stresses in life, but also to teach my children how to breathe with purpose, enabling them to deal with their own stress.  As parents we strive to set good examples for our children and equip them with tools that will allow them to manage their lives with less stress, more peace. Your son falls off his bike and skins a knee…encouraging him to breath with intention and attention will not only calm his mind and emotions, but also enable the pain receptors in the brain to respond and maybe that boo-boo hurts just a little less.

There are breathing exercises for overcoming sleeplessness, reducing anxiety and balancing energy systems in the body, just to cite a few. Here is a basic exercise, which can be done while you sit at a red light or stand in line at the grocery store, to draw awareness and intention to the breath: inhale to a count of five, retain the breath for five, exhale for five and pause for five before taking your next inhale. Practicing deep breathing, in and out through the nose, during non-stress situations will better enable you to call upon that deep breathing when that stress arises and you really need it. Hopefully next time your daughter spills orange juice all over the counter when you’re already running late for school…you’ll remember to breathe.

Friday, May 8, 2015

My Intro to this Blogging Thing

I'd like to thank the practice of yoga for not only inspiring this blog, but also nurturing my soul. What it has led me to challenge and learn about myself on a physical, emotional and spiritual level is above and beyond what I ever expected when I found the practice. For the record, the first yoga class I ever thought was "really cool" was taught by Vanessa Van Noy (@vanessa_vannoy) at the Atlantic Club in Red Bank, many years ago. As I gravitated over to a hot practice, finding new therapy in the purification of the body through so much sweat, my love and dedication for this centuries-old practice was solidified. I'm grateful to my hard-working husband, who together with my three daughters have supported and encouraged my desire to train and ultimately teach. Since I've added that layer to my love affair with yoga, I'm finding that once again there is new therapy.

Yoga has become one of few things for which I feel a true passion, a burning desire to pursue. As I expanded my practice and knowledge, hopefully helping some people along the way, I expanded my yoga community and, very happy to add, my friendship circle. It is through the inspiration of my fellow teachers, namely Ann Yocum of Colts Neck Hot Yoga ( who trained me so lovingly, as well as Jen Portman of Synergy Hot Yoga ( and Ginna Turnamian of Hot And Soul Yoga ( who have had faith to add me to their teams, students and amazing Instagram yogis Amelia Travis (@stoked_yogi), Kino MacGregor (@kinoyoga), Kerri Verna (@beachyogagirl), and of course rock star Rachel Brathen (@yoga_girl) that I have reignited a decades-long desire to write.

I've been asked many questions about yoga, from weight loss benefits to how it can improve or enhance performance in other fitness areas, but it wasn't until Melissa Lawrence of brought up the consideration of how yoga has helped me as a mom that I thought to write about it. Thank you, Melissa, for being a true catalyst for something that has had soul-nurturing benefits like none I've seen since I found yoga.

I have a number of other interests besides yoga, from fashion to music to food, and I'm sure they will make appearances here. But for now it is yoga taking center stage. I can even credit yoga with helping me find a title for this a verb, "muse" means to meditate on or comment thoughtfully. And as a noun, "muse" is a source of inspiration or creativity. I hope that writing about how yoga has influenced my life will first interest people and secondly help others discover what truly nourishes their souls. At the very least maybe I'll get one new person to try yoga.