Yoga literally means to yolk together or to unite. As a personal practice, it’s a way to connect with ourselves in a new way, acknowledging the mysterious link between body and mind. As a collective practice, it’s a way of connecting to those around us. Being a mom, I feel no greater connection to another person than the one I share with my child. I carried her, birthed her and daily strive to be the best parent I possibly can. In return, she does what most kids do: rolls her eyes, takes ages to get dressed and refuses to eat anything resembling a plant. But, she also shows unending favor, acceptance and boundless joy, which is most visible during our yoga practices together.
One of the greatest moments of my life came after a mommy-and-me yoga class. My daughter was about 4, and I took her to a kids’ yoga class, not really sure what to expect from my very active child. We were the only participants. Chloe was mesmerized by everything. She enjoyed the challenge of trying something new and most of all, reveled in doing that thing that mommy does at work, WITH mommy! Those are all awesome things, but the best part came at the end in Corpse pose (final resting posture), where we rest for a few minutes in silence. We lay next to each other for about 5 minutes, eyes closed, breathing. I was quietly patting myself on the back for FINALLY taking her to this class and enjoying a moment with my kid without her climbing on me. All of a sudden, I felt her small, pudgy fingers reach out to hold my hand. If my entire body could smile, it was definitely smiling in that moment. Even though she’s small, with little understanding about yoga, psychology and relationships, she was able to grasp the tenderness of the moment. She was able to fully embrace what was present and then express it without fear. What a lesson, a joy, a blessing. It was a great reminder of the immense influence we ALL have on our children, and the children around us. And in return, a lesson to me about what amazing teachers those little people are to us.
In honor of Mother’s Day, and the invaluable relationships we share with children (our own and those we influence), I’m offering a few tips on how to connect and play through the practice of yoga and breathing. It’s not rocket science and you don’t need anything but a willing heart and an open mind, but I guarantee you AND the kids will benefit from this unique, bonding experience!
Breathing is important. It’s essential to life. Without it, we die. With it, we thrive. Breathing brings our bodies oxygen, and assists in building our diaphragm muscle (located at the bottom of our ribcage), which is responsible for expanding our thoracic cavity (chest area) via inhales and exhales. In the same way our arms weaken if we never exercise, our diaphragm will weaken if we’re not taking deep breaths. Our bodies will receive less oxygen and can feel tired, sad and generally icky. So, sit tall, take a deep breath in and then exhale all the yucky out.
- Breathing ball (Hoberman’s Sphere): Sit down with your little one in a comfortable place. Hold the breathing ball with both hands and as you expand the ball, breathe in. As you contract the ball, breathe out. It may take some practice to breathe with the movement of the ball, or to take deep breaths at all, but your kids will love the playfulness. You can explain that the ball is like your ribcage, which gets bigger when we inhale, then smaller when we exhale. Adults, I’ve found this to be incredibly useful in my own practice, too!
- If you don’t have a breathing ball, simply have the kids place their own hands on their ribcage, and breathe. See who can make their chest expand the most, who can breathe in, or out, the longest, giggle, laugh and be playful!
Now, the fun part! You can make up whatever poses you want, but if you’re totally unsure of what to do, check out the book The ABC’s of YOGA for KIDS, by Teresa Anne Power. I received it as a gift from a friend, and my daughter regularly pulls it out to have me read her a pose so she can try it, or we practice it together. As adults, it’s important to let go of attachment to what we look like. Just have fun. I’m speaking from experience. The following are a few poses to try at home.
- Flower Pose: Come to a seat with your knees bent. Widen your feet apart and lift them off the ground. Wrap your arms underneath your knees. Balance on your bottom, with your chest lifted. Imagine you’re a beautiful flower that winds its way up vines and around trees. If you could be any flower, what would you be? Why?
- Boat Pose: Similar to Flower, you’ll start from seated with knees bent, but this time, keep the knees and feet close together. Place your hands underneath your knees and slowly lift your feet off the ground. Gaze up to the sky, lift your chest and balance. Play around! Rock your boat; make sounds of the water gushing by as you speed your way through the ocean! What kind of boat are you?
- Tree Pose: Stand up tall, balancing on your left foot. Bring your right foot to the inside of your left leg, and then grow your tree! Sway your beautiful branches, imagine growing roots deep into the ground and smile! Then, do the other side! How tall is your tree? What kind of tree are you? Where does your tree live?
- Frog Pose: We love this one. Anytime you can embody an animal, the posture is a win in my book. This is also a great hip opener, ladies. Squat down on the ground with your feet towards the edges of your mat, heels in, toes out. Bring your elbows to your inner thighs, hands to your heart. Breathe deeply, then hop, ribbit and croak your way around the mat! The sillier, the better.
Rest is the most important part of any yoga practice. It’s a time to BE, not DO. Surprisingly, in my time teaching little ones, they are amazingly calm during this time. To help you facilitate a more restful space, try these tips:
- Play the Quiet and Listen game. Set a timer for 2-3 minutes, and tell the kids to listen to all the sounds around them. No one can talk until the timer goes off. Then, share what you heard. It’s amazing what you hear when you slow down and let yourself be.
- Visualize and Imagine. If the kiddos aren’t so keen on lying still and quiet, facilitate a time of imagination. Maybe they are a heavy stone that’s sinking deeper and deeper into the ground. Maybe there’s a river flowing through their bodies, up and down, from their toes to their heads. Or, perhaps they are a beautiful bird, weightless in the air, wings outstretched without a care in the world. Be creative! We are all unique in what brings us peace.
As a mom, one of the hardest things to do is let go. Letting go is an act of forgiveness. You’re giving the moment, the posture, the person OR yourself grace to be OK, just as you are. If you’re a parent or caretaker, you probably have moments of guilt, feeling like you were impatient, negligent, rude or naggy. It’s common to mentally beat yourself up over all of these things. I sure do. But practicing yoga, especially with my daughter, gives me a tiny glimpse of the light of grace. We laugh, we play, we practice, we grow, we fall, we rest and we connect. It’s the greatest bonding experience I’ve had with her, and whatever it looks like, she still loves me, intertwines her tiny hand with mine, and with no words at all, says that we are OK.
Recently, I had a colleague ask me to list what I’m passionate about and specialized in as a practitioner. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that question and I found it somewhat of a challenge. Yet, it was a great exercise in vocalizing what I believe to be important about what I do and how I do it. It helped me create direction and purpose for what I do.
Because it was a powerful exercise for me, I offer you the same challenge: Why do you do what you do? What are you passionate about? What is YOUR specialty?
Here is what I came up with for my own practice:
- I am passionate about giving women a voice.
- I am passionate about providing a safe space for women to explore who they are at their core.
- I believe in the power of each woman’s unique inner wisdom.
- I believe in the relationship between breath, mind, body and spirit.
- I am committed to being a loving witness for each woman that steps on the mat.
- I believe that every woman is beautiful, and that every woman’s story has value.
Take a few moments to reflect on what you do, write down whatever comes to mind and feel free to share with me or within your own community.
If you’re still developing your own practice, profession and passions, check out my upcoming workshop at Potentia. We’ll be exploring how we can nourish the seeds of our ideas, dreams and goals through movement and journaling. Learn more here, or contact me for information.
May you all discover your deepest passions and live them out today!
When I practice yoga and I am truly present, whether standing, walking, sitting or talking, there is a lightness and a buoyancy, as if I were floating in an azure pool in some exotic land. That’s my experience. And it’s usually brief.
Clarity comes and goes, and if I’m being honest, it seems to go more than come. But lately, I have noticed something about the way I sit. Yes, the way I sit. Sounds simple, or trivial even, but it’s literally aligned me and given me a whole new peace about sitting in stillness.
Easy Pose, or Sukhasana, is pretty simple. You sit down. Close your eyes. Breathe. Sounds easy enough, right? Ironically, in my 5 years of teaching, I’ve found this to be the most challenging pose for students. For some, it’s physical limitations that cause them great discomfort in their hips and knees. But I’d venture to guess, that for the majority, it’s a mental hurdle that causes them to struggle. Sitting still just isn’t a part of our American repertoire. In fact, it’s likely the antithesis of it. Yet, it’s crucial to our overall wellbeing to rest, relax and be still.
So, how do we get there, to this elusive stillness?
Well, I don’t have that answer, as we are each unique beings that respond to different things in different ways, but I will share my experience.
When I sit to pray or meditate, I almost always sit with my hips supported by a pillow or blanket. This greatly reduces the stress on my hip joints and low back. Recently, while sitting, I noticed a great deal of weight on the left side, as if I were almost tipping over. I could feel the imbalance throughout my body and wondered what it would be like if both hips were resting evenly on the ground. So, I shifted. I listened to the cues my body was giving and grounded myself. Immediately, I felt the weightlessness, the buoyancy I spoke of above. In my mind’s eye, I could visualize my entire spine in alignment. As if a river was suddenly un-damed, everything felt like it was flowing freely: my breath, my body, my blood, my thoughts. My head sort of felt like it was swimming, but not in a disoriented way. More like a peaceful, easy kind of way. Once I was completely physically grounded, there was no more need to struggle in my space, which freed me up to be present and notice everything else that was going on. An instant smile graced my face.
Sometimes, all it takes is a simple shift within yourself to lead you to Easy Pose. I challenge you to try it out, perhaps in Easy Pose, or perhaps, Easy Pose is a way of being wherever you’re at: making little shifts and adjustments, listening to the cues your body gives you until you feel totally present and aware.
Most importantly, let go of expectations to feel instantly at peace. This is hard stuff, despite the name of the pose. It’s taken me 5 years to realize this one thing about my hips. But isn’t that the beauty, that we have a lifetime to continue learning and growing so that we can sit even easier?
Try on Easy today. Let me know how it goes.
Could a garden come up from this ground, at all? - Gungor
Today is an important day for many around the world: EASTER. Full disclosure, I do celebrate Easter with my family. BUT, I’m not writing to make a plea for what I, or anyone else believes. Instead, I challenge us all to see the way our beliefs transcend one another’s, and to hold fast to the hope that all things can become new.
Spring is a festive time of movement and rebirth. It’s full of new color and new opportunities. Spring is the beauty that, with all its tenacity, pushes through the cold, hard ground of Winter to prove to us all that it’s been alive all along…we just couldn’t see all the good stuff going on beneath the surface.
I talk about this concept a lot in my yoga classes, particularly the Yin classes, in which we practice acknowledging that which lies deep within our tissues, and our minds. We all have stuff going on beneath the surface, right? Often times, we don’t even realize it’s there, but it is. And sometimes it takes a little journey into those forgotten, Wintry places to see just how beautiful everything is.
Similarly, the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is, to me, an amazing representation of this very same idea: there is new life, even out of the most inert places. Jesus died a horrible death, was laid to rest in a pitch black cave, with nothing but some linen to wrap his body. Alone. Dead. Literally, entombed. It was thought to be impossible for anyone, or anything to bring about his body from that cave. One would have to move an impassable stone to even access his body. Ever felt like there was an impassable stone covering the joy in your life? I sure have.
Imagine the incredible joy of learning that Jesus was alive; that out of the depths of the ground sprung forth the new life of Jesus, to remind us all that anything is possible. That new life is possible. That rocks and stones, and the most challenging of circumstances can produce the most amazing stuff.
You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of the dust. You make beautiful things, You make beautiful things out of Us. – Gungor
Every Spring, when I toss out fresh seeds and stare at the leafless twigs on the trees, I start to doubt that anything will grow. How is it possible that out of a seed the size of a pinhead, an entire plant, an edible, life-giving plant, springs forth? And yet, it does, every year. It is a beautiful, tangible expression of our own journeys through a complicated, seasoned life.
Regardless of what you believe, today, may you celebrate the new life that is all around you, the resurrection of Spring and all its glory, and possibility. Maybe you don’t feel it stirring in your heart, but if you open your senses, you’ll see it’s right there: in the wildflowers tucked between concrete cracks, the birds proclaiming the birth of a new day, a single ray of sunshine that peaks through the clouds, or maybe in a simple prayer. Don’t rule anything out as a representation of what can come up from the soil of your story.
You are beautiful. There is so much good stuff to come.
“And so rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.” -J.K. Rowling
Wanderlust, angst, confusion.
Ever felt those emotions? I have. And when I do, there’s a sense of just wanting to be still, to have everything stop, and feel balanced again.
The one word that quickly sums up all those things I wanted in my moment of peril is GROUNDED.
Of all the yoga words that fly about incense laden studios, grounded is the first that comes to mind, and appropriately so, as it is the beginning, the postures we commonly practice early in our classes.
How many times have you heard an instructor, or anyone for that matter, say to ground yourself? Have your ever just thought, ‘What the hek does that mean?’ Well, I have. I mean, it’s obvious that it has something to do with the big mass of dirt underneath our feet, but is there something more? I can easily get on the floor and lay down, and take a nap. Is that what it means?
The answer is, yes…and no.
Yoga lingo is confusing to many because it has this enigmatic quality, like we all walk onto the mat thinking we’re supposed to have some transcendent experience because we put our hands at our hearts and say,”Namaste” (I’ll address “namaste” in a separate post). And it’s somewhat true that there’s deeper meaning beyond just the physical postures, but how often do you get that explanation in a 60 minute Flow class? Pretty much, never. So, I’m here to demystify.
Back to getting all grounded and stuff.
When I researched the dictionary definition of grounded, they all referenced something having to do with boats, shores and beaches. Essentially, the dictionary defines grounded as being stuck somewhere, mainly that of being stuck to a solid mass of land, far away from technology and people. It sounds kinda lonely, if you ask me.
I thought about this…and thought. And it hit me, that’s kind of what being grounded is: being anchored to something solid, that solid thing being who you are at your core, no matter how pretty, or ugly that core is. It doesn’t involve anyone else but you.
In that way, it’s kind of like being at rock bottom.
Typically, rock bottom is associated with being in a place where we’ve been stripped of all our distractions and fillers, left with nothing but the truth of who we are. It’s sobering and very real. It’s solid, like the earth. It’s not a place of feeling free and flowy and all hippie like. It’s just who we are. No one else.
In my own experience, and in the countless sessions, classes and conversations I’ve had with those around me, I’ve found that people start feeling the most grounded and connected with themselves when they are at rock bottom. Even the term “rock bottom” conjures up an image of being literally on the ground. Rock bottom tends to have a negative connotation in our society. But what if we shifted our thinking and recognized it as a place to start over, a new foundation from which to anchor ourselves and start sailing again?
So,are you ready to experience this IN your body? Try this GROUNDING EXERCISE (how’s that for some new age-y jargon?):
Find a quiet place with a solid surface to rest on. Yoga mat optional.
From seated on your knees, bring your forehead to the ground, and rest your arms along side your legs. This is embryo pose (a beginning place).
Observe you breath. Can you breathe easily? Is it hard to breathe?
Observe your mind. Are your thoughts racing? Do you feel self conscious? Do you feel emotional? What emotions?
If you’re being really honest with yourself, right now, what is happening? What are you feeling?
Take as much time here as you need, then slowly rise to a seat, take a deep breath, and open your eyes. Journaling optional.
If you’ve ever been in a yoga class and heard this described as a “grounding posture”, here is why: it literally brings you to the ground, in towards yourself, away from distractions. It anchors you to the space that’s right beneath you on your mat. Being connected physically to the earth mirrors the connection to the core of who you are.
To be grounded does not necessarily mean you’re going to have it all figured out. It doesn’t mean your going to turn into Kathryn Budig and start doing some crazy inversion, naked, with nothing but Toe Sox on (no offense to Kathryn, as she is amazing and I follow her, but that’s her practice…not mine). It doesn’t mean you’ll walk out of the room enlightened, happy or sad.
What it does mean is that you’re consciously choosing to hit the restart button. It’s about having a strong sense of who you are, regardless of who you are.
It can be unnerving sometimes, being left with just you, but it is You. So, hang out for a bit and see what lives in the space you are.