Thursday, October 01, 2015

Should Yoga Be In Schools?

Without hesitation or doubt, I say emphatically YES! Yoga is absolutely known to reduce stress in people of all ages, help children with concentration, focus, motor skill development and coping skills. There have been numerous studies about yoga having profound effects on children with ADHD, autism and sensory disorders. Why wouldn't it be good for all children? 

I recently saw a nonsensical thread on Facebook about all the reasons why yoga should not be in schools and why children should not be exposed to it. From believing that it is sacrilegious to pure Hinduism, it was clear to me that some people need more information on what Children's Yoga is.

Children's yoga, like children's books, is a watered down version of yoga. It is delivered to children in a playful way, much like a creative movement class. The poses may have the same (translated to English) names or some names are changed to be more child-friendly, like "Airplane" pose. Many yoga poses have animal names and this aspect of yoga seems like it was just made for children. In fact, early childhood and infant development shows babies, toddlers and preschoolers doing yoga poses naturally as they build motor skills. Have you seen a baby learn to crawl? The early part of building their core is to do Cobra Pose. When they learn to walk, they often come to standing by doing Downward Facing Dog Pose. To me, yoga is synonymous with child development, which is why I love sharing yoga with parents and their babies, as well as children.

Mindful breathing is something that doctors, psychologists, therapists and social workers are now incorporating into their work with children. There is nothing religious or harmful to children by teaching them to take deep breaths and slowly exhale. In fact, children's yoga is particularly far from any religious teachings. Hinduism and Yoga are very separate in the West anyway, but aside from teaching children to be kind to themselves and others, nothing religious ever enters the class. 

To clarify any confusion about meditation, there is nothing religious or anti-religion about meditation. Meditation is merely a way to clear ones mind of cluttering or worrisome thoughts. Just like mindful breathing, when one meditates, it is the conscious letting go of negative thoughts and/or focusing on one single thought or idea. With children, meditation often is a guided relaxation using breath and their imaginations to picture peaceful and calming images or places. This is nothing so different than reading a book to a child and sometimes that's exactly what I do when I teach them.

Every time I got to a school or girl/boy scout troop and teach yoga, children, teachers and parents stop to thank me, because they see the positive impact that it has on the kids. As a parent and a yoga teacher, I see how my children, who grew up on yoga, have a calmer approach and attitude than many children their age. I also see how a classroom of bouncy children can sit calmly and quietly after even a 20 minute session of yoga. Contact your local Children's Yoga Teachers and ask about their programs.

In a world where children are weighed down with too much homework, high-stakes tests, too little outdoor play time and too many hours sitting in a chair, expected to pay attention for hours on end, a little yoga and meditation can only do some good.

Saturday, May 09, 2015

What is Mother's Day?

This week, I feel like I'm under Mother's Day Overload. I am guilty of contributing to it, because I am thrilled to be a mother and celebrate all the mothers in my life and in my classes. However, there are some things about Mother's Day we all can take a moment to consider.

Mother's Day started with one woman's idea to use the day to console mothers who had lost their sons to war. As if this wasn't a big enough accomplishment, Julia Ward Howe (scroll down to read about her) also wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but I digress. She, herself, died in a mental institution fighting to keep it that way and not make it a commercial holiday that makes all of us feel guilty if we don't buy flowers and candy and go to brunch. She did not win.

On Mother's Day, in the past, I have been puked on and sick. I felt like a mother that day for sure. THAT is what it's all about, right? Taking care of your children and helping guide them into wonderful people. And we all hope that this one day we will get the appreciation and acknowledgement we want and deserve. We do deserve it. Mothering is hard, for lack of a better word, work. No matter whether you bottle or breast feed, co-sleep or cry-it-out, it isn't easy. The little rewards are those smiles, the laughter, the amazing hugs, and the moments they say "pweeez" and "dankoo" and "I wuf you mama." That, sleeping in and making me a card is what I call a great Mother's Day.

On this Mother's Day, as many others, I will think about the Mothers who mourn each and every Mother's Day. Those that lost their sons and daughters in war, in accidents, to drugs, to disease, to miscarriage, to stillbirth, to SIDS, to infertility and the list goes on. I know mothers that have lost children in too many ways. They are mothers too and their work as a mother continues in ways we hope we never have to understand. Each Mother's Day, I am so happy and proud to be a mother, but I take a meditative moment to send those mothers love and acknowledge their pain. We cannot take the gift of motherhood for granted. Life owes us no guarantees. Just cherish each day with your babies. Each moment goes by so fast.

May each and every one of you be celebrated tomorrow (and hopefully every day!). To the mothers that are mourning tomorrow, we see you and we send you love. Your children will always be yours and you will always be their mother.

However you spend your day celebrating or being celebrated tomorrow, remember, as we end every class:

Thank you baby for choosing me to be your mother.
I KNOW I'm the perfect mommy for you
and you're the perfect baby for me.

Happy Mother's Day!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Other "C" Word

There is such a stigma attached to Caesarean Section in childbirth that it may as well be amongst cuss words. In 2013, nearly one-third of all babies were born by Cesarian Section. Were all of those necessary? Probably not, but we're not here to discuss the birthing as an industry. The truth is that the surgical delivery of a baby doesn't make a mother less than a mother or less worthy of praise for a brave birth. Here's five reasons why:

1) A C-Section is NOT On the Registry
Most women spend a significant amount of time wondering what their birth will be like and, as a prenatal yoga teacher for over a decade, I can tell you that not one of my students ever wished for a C-section. Epidural, perhaps, but most have wished NOT to have a C-section.

2) Surgery is Scary
Doctors try not to make a big deal out of C-sections, because they don't want to scare the heck out of you, but surgery is scary. The moment you know your labor has "failed to progress" to a vaginal birth, you are taken, alone, to the operating room, given a scary and usually uncomfortable spinal block (like an epidural, but you feel a lot less and keeps you numb a lot longer). Then you are laid out on a table with your arms outstretched to your sides, often strapped down, sheets all around you so you cannot see anything. Only after that will they finally bring in your "insert significant other here", covered from head to toe in blue to hang out on the "head" side of the sheets with you. He can't even hold your hand, because it might interfere with the anesthesiologist monitoring you.

Without going into too many details that might scare off expectant mothers, on the other side of the high-held sheet, you can hear the doctors and their tools, and you can feel pressure on your abdomen, both pushing and pulling feelings. There are a lot of people over there as you are left feeling very unimportant and out of the loop. You wait anxiously to hear some news until you finally hear that wet, angry cry of your baby that has just been pulled from your belly and entered a very cold room of people dressed in blue with only eyes peeking out. It is the greatest sound you have ever heard!

3) Birth Plan? What's That?
Some things have changed with C-sections and more doctors and hospitals are performing "Gentle C-Sections", which means that mothers may have skin-to-skin time with baby immediately after birth or newborns can go to the recovery room with mother after surgery. With both of my children, there were many of my wishes that were and had to be ignored, because "that's not how C-sections are done" or that they would pose more of a risk for me or my child. Pain medication I did not want to have for birth, I now needed after surgery, because of the recovery pain. My wish for skin-to-skin was not only denied, but the fact that I had no contact with my son for eight hours after he was born was cruel and unusual punishment to both of us and, I feel, contributed to his jaundice and imprisonment to the NICU for four days.

4) You Have to Pee in a Bag and/or Bedpan...and Don't Sneeze
Doctors don't warn you that you will have a catheter for quite some time after you give birth with a C-section. You are on bedrest usually for at least 24 hours so that you don't pop your stitches or harm yourself. Even coughing or sneezing could pop open your incision, so a new mom is required to put a pillow over her fresh, painful incision and apply gentle pressure while she sneezes or coughs.

5) Healing Takes Time
The healing of the average cesarean incision (inside and out) takes a full six weeks to heal. That does not account for any infection in the incision or unforeseen complications. That also does not include the muscle tissue to heal, the intestines and organs to settle back into place, to begin feeling sensation in your back after a spinal block, etc. In my yoga classes, postpartum mothers who have had a C-section are not allowed to exercise until at least eight weeks without a doctor's permission. And even then, they are advised not to participate in abdominal-centric poses to help protect the healing of their delicate internal injuries.

With my first, I labored for over a day and after stalling on dilation and a lot of physical activity trying to make labor progress, my daughter started to go into distress. The recovery of that Cesarian had me walking half bent over for four weeks straight, wincing if I had to walk more than the length of my apartment. Going up stairs was excruciating and tears would always fall. As a yoga teacher, I was not prepared for this level of postpartum pain and my OBGYN had very little sympathy, as she had not experienced birth at all herself. However, because of my own experience, I am grateful that I can sympathize with my own students and friends who have birthed in this less than ideal way.

If it is best for your baby or your welfare, we sometimes must surrender to a Cesarian Section. Women should feel no guilt over wanting to keep their baby safe. We must be thankful that we have options that our foremothers did not. Childbirth is brave no matter how our babies arrive into the world! We must be thankful that our babies arrived safely and we have lived to tell and show our battle scars with pride and without regrets!

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Shanti Kids in a Standardized Test Society

As a New York City parent and a specialist in teaching yoga to children of all ages, this time of year becomes difficult for me. My children go to public elementary school and I see the stress that overwhelms these children (yes, even the "Gifted & Talented" ones). Yes, there is an opt-out movement, but if you don't want to take that leap, there are still ways to empower your child. Among them is yoga.

The past few years, I have had the honor of bringing yoga to each of my children's classrooms. The school has also adopted pre-test yoga sessions to help the students manage their stress before, during and after the state exams. When I arrive and even mention the word "test," I see fear on their faces. They are children. The wonderful thing about teaching children yoga is that most of them have perfect posture and flexibility because they have little to no stress. Standardized tests seem to negate their purity and perfection. However, those children that have a yoga example at home (mom, dad or babysitter have and use a yoga mat in front of them) seem to be more calm about the entire experience. And better yet, those that do yoga in any capacity leading up to the tests seem to manage their stress.

Each child that has come to any of my workshop for pre-test de-stress always leaves with a smile, standing taller and much more relaxed. Parents who have come (many of the workshops are family friendly) always come up to me at the end and ask why all schools don't do this and why can't it be all the time. I agree that yoga would be a great benefit to all schools all the time. It can easily be integrated into the classroom (daily) and would certainly improve teachers' ability to keep students' attention and focus. In fact, when I gave a yoga lesson for the class on my son's birthday, we followed up with brownies for everyone and the teacher was surprised and very pleased that the children were calm, quiet and courteous even after a sugar rush.

Whether your child has yoga at school or not, remember that physical activity releases endorphins, alleviating stress. Deep breathing of a 4-2-4-2 ratio can do wonders (inhale for 4, hold for 2, exhale for 4, hold out for 2) for one's ability to relax and rejuvenate. Remind your child that he/she is the same person before the test as he/she is after and a test grade cannot change that. Shanti, shanti, shanti, baby!

Monday, March 30, 2015

That Family Member...Making Excuses

In every extended family, there is that one person that everyone seems to make excuses for. The person that seems to constantly fall into trouble or have some kind of problem that causes them to exist in a space that is behind their potential in both age and ability. We all can name that family member (and some of us have more than one) and have been guilty of making excuses, allowances and even enabling at times.

Last week, while working with a private client, we were discussing the challenges of overcoming a long-term injury. As we modified poses and worked with and sometimes against the injured area, she grew more frustrated. I explained that her injured area was kind of like that family member. Every other muscle and body part has learned to make excuses for it and work harder so it didn't have to. This perpetuates the problem and can even make it worse.

The body is an amazing machine and it will overcompensate when there is one area or system that is not fulfilling its potential or ability.With any injury, this is true and when it happens in the short-term, the body is giving the injured "family member" time to heal and get it together. Once healed, it works even hard to catch up to the rest of the "family" in a display of gratitude.

When the injured body part doesn't heal or gets comfortable with being lazy, that's when we start seeing bigger problems occur. Here's when a little "tough love" and therapeutic exercise comes in. Whether it's physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, chiropractic, reiki and/or yoga therapy, we need to address an injury as soon as we are able to do so. I believe yoga and reiki mixed with any combination of the above therapies is ideal. A good yoga therapist will assess the body's abilities and weaknesses and modify poses and stretches to wake your "lazy cousin" up. With repeat visits to your yoga therapist, the practice will evolve and before you know it, the body will soon be working in harmony again.

Don't enable your injury. Re-establish balance and harmony within your body and you can have a Shanti Life!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Wonder of Life...and Death

The birds are still singing. The sun came up. Life carries on when someone dies. I think we all expect that somehow, the world stops or takes a pause when someone we love dies. I know that I often expect the clouds to co-mingle, cover the sun and allow only a single stream of sunlight to shine through as if it is the path leading that soul, the person I lost, to Heaven.

Yesterday, a strong and sweet woman died. Elisa Bond was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer three years ago within days of her husband getting a diagnosis of stage three rectal cancer. She fought long and hard and though her husband won his battle, she did not. She touched many lives along the way and will be missed by many who never even got the chance to meet her.

My path crossed with Elisa multiple times. The first time I met with her was when she was pregnant with her daughter and she found my prenatal yoga class. She was a beautiful pregnant woman and had spunk and a lot of spirit. I met her again when she came to look at an apartment I was living in. Again, she was bubbly and full of life. The next time I met her was when her cousin contacted me to tell me that Elisa had been diagnosed and asked if I could offer some private yoga sessions to help her through. I was on it! And I gladly offered Reiki and Restorative Yoga to help Elisa stretch and feel strong during treatment as well as help her detox from the overload of chemicals in her body. We met several times over the course of her treatment and in various stages of the disease. Through all of it, she always had a big open heart and a great attitude.

With my background in yoga and Reiki, I have had many lessons and exposure to life as we know it, as well as death and the many beliefs of what happens when our body dies. Though I can sometimes find a balance in my heart, soul and mind when someone passes, there is always sadness when someone passes away. Today, when I got the news that she passed away yesterday, I fell apart a few times. We were not best friends. Our social circles overlapped a bit. But I went multiple charity events for the family. Supported how and when I could. And I had and have a great deal of respect for her and her family.

When we live, truly live, we touch so many other lives and people. We make an impact. We leave a mark on their souls. And though the world does not stop revolving and the birds do keep singing, the people we touched will take pause, break down and feel that loss. The world is forever changed when we come into someone's life, leave it and then again when we leave our own life behind. It reminds me of the wonderful movie "It's a Wonderful Life." Clarence the guardian angel says, "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives, and when he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" 

Elisa, there is a hole left behind. I am certain that you have been called to some amazing task on the other side. You lived your life fully. You shared your heart. You danced no matter who was watching. In your angelic journey, you should have no doubt that your daughter learned all of these things from you and has a solid foundation of who you were and what it means to be a strong, smart woman. I will cry some more for you and your family. I will also smile (sometimes through tears) when I think of you. There is no more pain for you, only peace. If Heaven is anything like "Defending Your Life," you will have many happy moments to playback in your life.

And may we each learn from you, Elisa, to live life to the fullest. To our own individual tune. To live fearlessly and love generously, even if it means getting hurt along the way. May we live in truth and as if there is no promise of tomorrow or next year. I thank you, Elisa for all the lessons you have taught me and reminded me. We all send you love and light on your journey beyond. You lived a wonderful life. Namaste.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

10 Years of Gratitude

This year also marks 10 years as a yoga teacher. Last night, I got very choked up teaching the last class of the year to many pregnant women, a mom (and friend) and a dad. I am so honored to sit or stand at the front of a room and share yoga with all of you. I see you come into the room sometimes frazzled and heavy in heart and leave light and smiling. In college, I remember knowing deep down that I wanted two things in this life: to help people and find inner peace. Yoga has helped and continues to help me do both.

In teacher training, I remember being barely pregnant to very pregnant by the end and knowing that I would be working with pregnant women. I was lucky enough to be guided to a mommy & baby class and a teacher that was moving cross-country who needed someone to take over her class. I shadowed her prenatal and mommy baby class and smoothly took over the classes with love. It was a perfect fit and I knew that this would be my life, teaching other mothers with babies with my baby nearby. 

Each teaching experience I've had has helped me help every student that followed. Each training I've taken, even unrelated to yoga, I have shared that knowledge with all of you. My classes have evolved over the years, along with the music I choose. From teaching at a Moms Club, my living room on Sunday mornings, a gym, to now, no matter the location or setting, you students have been there to receive my instruction, guidance and adjustment.  Though students may come and go, each one has shared their energy and made their presence known in my classes. I am not always great with names, but your faces and hearts stay present with me even long after you've moved away or moved on. 

I have watched so many beautiful pregnant women go from curvy Pregnant Goddess to lovely, confident Mother. I am awed that some of my former in-womb students are now in second and third grade now! I truly believe that each child chooses his/her parents and that each of you becomes a wonderful parent to that child. Our children teach us as much as we teach them and I enjoy watching that exchange in my classes or hear about it. 

When I look back 20+ years (pre-yoga) when my life seemed tough and, in many ways, pointless, I am so thankful that I made it through to this beautiful, happy, fulfilling life. I am blessed in so many ways and I thank each of you for being part of this existence.

Take a moment today or tonight or any day and reflect on your "George Bailey" moments. I assure you that you have touched many lives (mine included) and your life and purpose here on this earth is just. Shanti Baby Yoga, my husband, my children, my family, my friends are all part of my Wonderful Life. Thank you for the past 10 years as my students. I look forward to many more!