Missives from the Mat 16 — 10 Pointers (Lessons Learned) for #Teaching #Kids “How” to #Yoga


Teaching yoga to children was my early passion as a yoga instructor. I began as a volunteer in 2007 at my kids’ elementary school. The PTA was in need of a teacher to take over one of the classes for its “Sixth Grade Electives” program which was a parent-run (and possibly exclusive to our school) endeavor. The concept was simple: give the 6th graders a choice of what to do with 50 minutes of one day a week for eight weeks in the second semester of their final year in elementary school.

The more memorable choices ranged from “journalism” where they would work on stories of interest, to “cake decorating.” Other classes included “fashion design” and “personal finance.” These classes are taught by actual people with businesses, degrees and certifications in the offerings. Yoga was offered after a couple kids aged out of the school and so did their parents and the PTA president at the time knew I was a practitioner with several years’ experience and that I had kids of my own, so natch, I was a fit.

I hemmed and hawed. I wasn’t sure. I was terrified.

Comedian John Mulaney has a great line about why 13-year-olds still terrify him, mostly because they will be able to make fun of you and be extremely accurate. So, that was me; I wasn’t terribly ready to face up to ten 12-year olds.

But my friend the PTA president persisted and I stepped up.

Fast forward several years, more encouragement from my PTA president friend, more volunteering, more experience and here I am: a certified yoga instructor with a bonus specialization in teaching kids.

I’ve been at it, as a paid professional, for almost three years now, and recently got picked up by the local parks department to teach two after-school classes at two different schools.

While I don’t have a degree in education, or teaching certificate, I am a communications professional and I make clear communication — regardless of the age of the participants — an absolute foundation of everything in which I engage.

Other than the absolute requirement that you have a sense of humor and the ability to be mentally flexible, here’s a list of what I’ve gleaned from teaching yoga to kids as a kid’s yoga teacher. It’s meant to help parents and teachers engage with all yoga kids:

  1. Truth. Active children will always be active children; putting them in a yoga class will not impel them to be less active, it will teach them (hopefully, if they are developmentally ready) to learn how to recognize what they are doing. So it’s all a matter of drawing attention to what isn’t “known.” I have adults in my classes who tell me, “I hear you in my head now, ‘belly button gently pulled toward the spine, shoulders back and reaching down toward the hips… release the jaw…’ and I never knew I wasn’t doing that until I heard you tell me to do it…”
  2. Habits. With particularly active kids, it will take time, consistency and patience to have the children understand how to recognize their urges to move, their inability to sit still, and their tendency to act on impulse. One 8-week session of yoga will not do it.
  3. Expectations. Don’t expect yoga to turn your kiddo into a Tibetan Monk. Just as you have your ups and downs, your good days and bad days, so do kids. Sometimes we as parents don’t really see our kids for who they really are. Sometimes we are the stressed-out ones, and they are just being  … kids. Remember children are supposed to be active and curious and lively and spontaneous. Maybe it’s the parent who needs the yoga, to look inward and give himself or herself some mindful breathing and relaxation, maybe the child is just being his or her normal. It’s all relative.
  4. Breath. Metaphors and visualization are CRITICAL to helping children understand the concept of mindful breath, which is the root of yoga. Always with the palms touching (that joins the two halves of the brain from a sensorial / neural standpoint) we begin our conscious breathing. Getting them to close their eyes is NOT important. They are children, remember. Their eyes are part of their experience. They are all about data collection. It’s good — as long as they’re still and aware, it’s all good. For some kids, closing their eyes means they press them together super hard and that creates tension in the face, then the jaw, then the neck… They look so uncomfortable. that’s NOT what we’re going for. I give all the little hints, “lightly touch the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth” but if I told you, an adult to do that, can you be reasonably assured you’re “doing it right”? So much bliss gets lost in details and our need to “do it right.” For kids, I’d rather have them look around or at a fixed spot on the floor and do their breaths than “struggle to meditate.” For some kids, sitting composed, as if about to levitate, and silently in “criss-cross applesauce with namaste hands” comes super naturally.  For those kids in my yoga classes, I use “Smell the flowers” (not “sniff,” because sniffs are short, like bunny breaths) and say “blow the bubbles” (the kinds of bubbles from a bubble wand, not “motor boat” bubbles in a pool). Before we begin, I remind them by asking, “What happens if we blow too hard through the bubble wand?” Invariably, the kids say, “THEY WILL BURST!” and they’re right. So we go with that. As they are blowing their bubbles, as repetitions increase, I ask them to count the number of bubbles forming from the wand… And then I ask them to blow out just one more bubble. … Maybe two more bubbles? Watch them float away as you smell the flowers to blow more bubbles. I’ve begun with a couple new ones too, “smell the warm cookie fresh from the oven … … cool the warm cookie fresh from the oven…” Either way, we’ve got lots of brain activity going on. After about the fifth round of “yoga breaths” I talk about “that floaty, dreamy feeling in the body… Do you feel like a feather drifting in the air? Like a bubble? Do you feel like you’re safe and so calm?” That’s the feeling we are going for, that’s the bliss I’m trying to impart to them. “And by doing your yoga breaths, no matter where you are — if you’re afraid or sad or surprised or mad or even super happy, mindfully using your yoga breaths will help you feel floaty like a feather…” I say this a lot, during class, but most of all during “savasana” which is our “yoga rest” time.  Using that word that we see so much of these days: “mindfully,” is critical in helping all of us make the link between a sensation (state of mind) and breath (the body doing something it does anyway but now doing it consciously). Getting any of us to slow down our breathing and notice that floaty feeling is the magic of yoga and mindfulness.
  5. Boundaries. Lots of kids in all my classes talk about their stresses. STRESS? FOR A KID?! Man, as adults in this world, we have got to get our stuff together. No child should even KNOW that the word “STRESS” exists. Are we foisting our stuff on to them? We need to save our stories about being backstabbed by a friend, or tales of woe from the office, or the latest headlines for our peer groups. We would all do better to be more mindful of keeping the flow of information from the kids up to us. Goodness knows we don’t want to know everything President Obama knows, do we? No. Say no to that. So let the kids be kids. Answer their questions in a simple way. I have a band-aid on my face from recent Mohs surgery to remove a basal cell from my cheek. All the kids asked about it, and I said as simply as I could: “I have a cut on my face that a doctor gave me to take a boo-boo off my face. So the doctor fixed everything and I’m ok.” Inevitably the next question was, “How did you get the boo-boo?” So I said, “I believe I got it because I didn’t wear sunscreen. So when your Mommy or Daddy wants you to wear sunscreen, you need to let them put it on you.” And then lots of conversations started about sunscreen, relatives who are doctors, going to the pool, swimsuits, beach towels, which beach they love, seeing dolphins, then then I steered that into doing dolphin pose and we were somehow back on plan.
  6. Sharing. One day after playing a particularly arduous game of “rainbow tunnel” I asked the kids to sit on a line in the gym and slow down their breathing by counting the bubbles we were blowing. When they were calm, I asked if anyone had any questions. One asked, “Why do we do yoga?” And I was about to answer, but I paused and let a kiddo answer. It was amazing. The responder said, “because it’s good for us, to learn about ourselves.” Yeah. I couldn’t have answered it that way. I would’ve said “for flexibility” or “for balance”  (which were amongst some of the children’s answers) but I was really not at all prepared for that answer. So sharing time in the yoga circle is really important because it builds empathy, peer recognition and mirroring. One of them answered, “for stress” and then the sharing really began. Some kids talk about: their bigger siblings heading off to college; hearing parents talking about money; parents traveling and the kids feeling like they are having too much put upon them by the babysitter when the parents do travel. (One actually said, “I get scared too when my parents leave, I want the babysitter to take care of me, not just ask me to help out.” I encouraged that child to talk to his parents before they travel.) Some speak about their siblings’ lack of boundaries and physical altercations with their siblings or school mates and how doing their “yoga breaths”(flowers and bubbles) helps them so much. Other kids talk about classmates, even in the yoga classes, who are domineering, interruptive, and make them feel small. Other kids talk about going up to their rooms and doing yoga breathing when their baby sibling is throwing a tantrum.
  7. Feelings. Let the kids talk about their feelings — so often we want the kids to “relax,””get over it,” and “move on.” As an adult, you take a pause for a second with me, breathe in, and relate: How annoyed and condescended to do YOU feel when someone tells you to move on or to get over it? Do you feel rushed, unheard, dismissed, insignificant? So might your kid. The point is, we all have feelings and feelings are just sensations. Sensations are fleeting. Sometimes we get stuck in a rut, but even those can pass. The sooner we can acknowledge and safely allow anyone’s feelings, the sooner we can process them. I’ve had situations in my classes where one child feels diminished or put-upon by another child. I stop things almost as soon as I can, I actually get down to their eye level and say “namaste” to the child and we talk about it. There is real healing going on during those moments: the perceived brusque child is NOT chastised, but rather has a moment to step back and explain herself and the offended child has a moment to hear and feel heard. Sometimes we just bump into each other during a rousing game of “musical mats” (The. Best. Game. Ever.). We always end a quick chat with a namaste to the group and go back to what we were doing. The namaste to me, is like the wave of thanks in traffic when someone lets you in a lane or you let someone in ahead of you. It’s just a kindness — a pause, a moment to simply acknowledge each other. Too much of that, our seeing of one another, is missing these days.
  8. Engage. Just like you like to be asked about your day and you like to hear about your kid’s day, asking about something specific, like yoga is no different. Ask open-ended questions and I get it that some parents might not know what to ask. So here are some ideas: Q: Did you play any games today? Q: Can you show me how to do “downward dog”? Q: How do you do a yoga breath? Q: What does “namaste” mean? (I tell the kids that it means “I am good and I see that you are good too.”) Q: Did you read a story in yoga? What was it about?  If you have a kiddo in a class I teach, ask about: “Teddy Dog” or “musical mats” or “the cricket during yoga nap” or the “thumb piano” or “Jacob’s ladder” or the “balancing birds” or the “sneezing giraffe toy” or what about when we play “super kids” and the things we rescue when we put on our scarves. Ask them what we do during “cat” and “cow” pose (it’s not quiet). Have them show you how to sit in “namaste” or ask them to teach you how to “smell the flowers and blow the bubbles…”
  9. Presence. Give yourself a gift and really listen to him when he answers you. Give her your full attention, even if it’s for five minutes. Let him teach you. Let her show you. Do the pose with your child. If you want to meditate with your child or have her sit with you in a few minutes of quiet, I recommend you light a candle and have her focus on the flame with you. There’s something about the animation of the flame, the unpredictability of it all that keeps everyone entranced. I am not permitted to light a candle during my in-school classes for obvious reasons. I’m repeating because it’s worthy: So when you ask, make sure you’re really able to listen without interrupting; sometimes these concepts are hard for a child to impart to an adult.
  10. Affirm. Back to point number 1: You Must See Your Child Exactly As  Your Child Is. If she really doesn’t like yoga, I’m not insulted. Put her in Tae Kwon Do, or dance. I know I’m bringing my A Game each time we meet. I’m naturally very observant, and as a mother, I know I have to be ready to shift gears in a microsecond. As a teacher, I do shift gears because all it takes is one kiddo to divert the “plan” of class: Say one kiddo is acting like a bumble bee and no one else is, but that one bee won’t stop buzzing. In a traditional classroom, that bee is neutralized, told to sit down and stop buzzing. Good luck with that. In yoga, that bee is “followed”: we will all start buzzing and it’s great. After a minute or two, when I see some kids slow down, we stop buzzing and put our hands on our hearts and feel our lungs eventually slow down from all their amazing work of making us busy bees. Affirming someone’s higher energy gets all the “willies” out and we have a great time. I’ve started classes with two minutes of full-on laughing or 30 “mountain climbers” (which are now being requested, so we’ve got some budding Cross-Fitters out there…) or being “washing machines” (seated in criss-cross applesauce with cactus arms up and twisting side to side very quickly with the breath) to wash our hoodies. If the kids are still active, we put the hoodies in the “dryer” and we tumble our arms as we bow up and down and then we check the dryer to put on our nice warm dry hoodie.

By no means is this an exhaustive list. It’s just my top 10; many other ways are helpful for creating presence with your little yogi. I love to teach kids, they are the best teachers: they show me that even a “grown” woman is a big kid at times… and that it’s nice to not have all the answers.

Thank you and namaste. Especially to that PTA president and those first kids (who are now sophomores in college!) all those years ago…



Missives from the Mat 15 — Seeing Things for How they Really Are #teaching #yoga


It has been a very long time since I last wrote a blog post. Personally, lots of things have been going on; primarily, bronchitis and a sinus infection for me, a mild concussion for my middle son, college visits for the older son, Hallowe’en (which is truly a Holy Day around here), lots of glorious rowing, and helping to run the registration desk for a large regatta. Oh! And I had a basal cell carcinoma removed, but I’m good. (I’ll write about that later, it’s pretty funny. Well now it is…)

The most notable executive news for me is that I have decided to stop teaching my evening adult yoga class. This wasn’t an easy decision to make. When I took over the class from a well-known instructor and teacher trainer, I remember her sigh-saying as she handed over the metaphorical keys, “I always thought that this class would blossom with someone in the community running it…”

Looking back through my jaded lenses, that should’ve been a sign to me… I have been reluctant to admit the truth about the reality of the yoga potential here.

You can’t get much more “in the community” than me as I live less than a mile from the facility. The logistics remained the same. Even payments carried over. For students, it was easy-peasy.

That said, changes were a’coming and people don’t always adjust to change.

The first change was that people were about to get a new yoga teacher. GULP.

The second change is that I was about to shake up the payment scheme. People do like their money. They also like to do whatever the hell they want with it.

The third change was actually a constant: I can’t change who I am… But people said they liked my style, they loved my classes, they wish they could keep taking them…

In retrospect, at first, I tried to be all things to all people: I tried to be that departing instructor. Then I also tried to be the original instructor who started the class. So that’s two separate people besides me — the funny thing is: I never attended either one of those teachers’ classes, so who knows what I was trying to replicate.

The first two instructors ran the classes on what I like to call a “peace love happiness” hippy punch-card scenario. That’s not at all my style. I treat yoga more as a studio business would: you buy a set of classes in a “session” (a finite period, say 10 weeks, so you attend the commensurate amount of classes remaining during that session and classes could carry over only per request).

Upon taking the helm, I decided that I would honor for two more months whatever “balance” remained on the punch-cards, as several of these cards had been in circulation for TWO YEARS and were unused.

In fact, several of the people on the original email list never contacted the second instructor, they never attended her classes for the one-year period when she took it over. It was only when they heard from me, that “use it or lose it” was in effect, that they attended classes.

In a punch-card world, someone has to keep track, someone has to “X out” a class on that card. At a studio, a receptionist can do that. I don’t have a receptionist. I don’t babysit adults, nor do I “X out” anything. We are in our 40s and beyond, people. If you’re going to make your yoga teacher hold you accountable, you’ve got problems.

Before starting the classes, I consulted with my brother. He’s an MBA with a big job and he and wears fancy shoes. He gave me his advice and told me why he likes to pay for his fitness instructors and how he “gets it” that this isn’t about “nice feelings” but rather, it’s a transaction of values. “Don’t let people confuse you either, this is a business transaction. Yes, yoga is all about energy and feeling good, and being good, and all that shit; but it’s also a transaction. It’s about money.” He told me (along with my own yoga teacher) to change the payment program to “buying a group of classes in a ‘session'” instead of a “punch-card” because a punch-card doesn’t impart a commitment to the self and to the practice, and that self-improvement, as we all know, only works when you work it.

“If you don’t show up, or you don’t do the work, how can you expect any changes?” he reminded me. “I could go get McDonald’s or a Slurpee instead of coming to your class. I don’t value you if I don’t show up. I also don’t value myself, but that’s totally different, and not your problem. Your problem is waiting on people to follow through: to take you up on the service you are trained to provide them. Your service won’t be like anyone else’s, that’s what they’re buying. They’re buying YOU for 90 minutes. Not with a punch-card, but for that time only.”

He could sense that I had a problem asking people to pay me for a service that I felt they could just as readily perform on their own.

“But they can’t, can they? They can’t see their own misaligned knee or that their shoulders aren’t stacked, can they, unless they’re looking for them… but even then, if they’re looking, they’re not ‘doing yoga‘; they’re concerned with their appearance… They can’t see how the pose is performed, or hear you talk about what to feel or engage what muscles where or to loosen their jaws, can they?”


“That is reason enough to pay you. Shit, no one but a trained and observant teacher who is doing the work with them, and who can talk about where things are working, as they do the work with them, can tell them that stuff.”

So he was right. Over the last 21 months, the count of participants ebbed and flowed. My most successful quarter was about a year ago: I had about seven registered session students, and several drop-ins. I bought myself a pair of boots last year. I didn’t ever make a killing. I could use the money to pay for gas for a long road trip and maybe a nice dinner out for my family, but that was it.

Then the numbers started to really drop last spring.

Lives change: elderly parents get sick, job requirements shift, people move, bodies ache, people lose their jobs or their motivation… My purpose on this planet is not to judge anyone’s decision to do anything, but to rather look at where I was feeling satisfied and if I was being “of service” to people; if I was actually helping people instead of sitting there picking my navel and feeling sorry for myself because no one showed up anymore.

The numbers continued to drop. I had three registered students, and only one regularly showed up. More logistical challenges for the other members, wrenches thrown in the engine.

It became a real drag.

I have a giant IKEA bag holding 12 yoga blocks; 6″x 2′ strips of my old yoga mat for extra knee / spine / elbow support; and 12 static double-D ring straps to hold poses or to stretch more effectively. I played amazing music (Todd Norian, “BIJA,” get it) too. I spoke softly and humorously about what was working in the poses. I offered modifications to challenge or support the body. I sprayed lavender oil mist in the room. I recited a guided breathing exercise during savasana for anyone who was interested. I infused a brief yoga nidra during every meditation. I had created, in my estimation, the very class I always wanted to attend. It wasn’t perfect: I was nervous teaching inversions, but I tried every so often and most people didn’t really care for them. I was not teaching to change people, or to get them to do something they’re not comfortable with. My goal always, has been simple: to help people feel good and let go.

But the numbers continued to drop. One day, I was quite certain no one would show, so I texted the people that hadn’t let me know and one did come to class! I was thrilled to see her! In fact, I even had a drop-in that night! Two people in the room with me! It was really nice! But I knew it would be short lived, so I decided that night I was throwing in the mat.

If it weren’t for one seriously dedicated person, and she knows who she is, I would’ve given up a long time ago. She asked me one night, “Is it discouraging when no one else comes?” I was so touched and surprised and defensive of the question. I answered sort of automatically, “No, it’s nice you’re here; I enjoy being here with you…” But I do wonder about it all… I said to myself.

The concept of “walking out on this class” never occurred to me. Nor had the idea that I had a choice. Growing up in the world I did, with the mother I had and the father I had, I couldn’t leave my post, or my mother would falter. She could die. I couldn’t stop my sentry work, or things would fall apart. My father was relying upon me to keep watch, to let him know how things were going, to let him know if Mom was sick or where she was, or what she was doing or who she was with. I had to stay. I had to keep my post. The same thing happened with the yoga, I guess. Even as I type this right now, I realize that I’d taken the position of yoga instructor to heart. There’s nothing I don’t do that isn’t done 100% and I think people have come to expect that from me. I have come to expect that from me. That’s fine, because I’ll always try to deliver. But my duty was to the yoga mat, and to hold the door open, so to speak, to the space where we practiced. To always be ready for people to come in. And to wait, even alone, in the dark, in that big room for people to come because that meant they would be safe. That meant they would be well. That meant they were taking care of themselves. I could relax when people were doing yoga, because they were secure. I knew where they were.

I’d never been given permission to retire. Failure was not an option, nor was deciding that the seas were too strong and that the prevailing winds were simply trying to teach me something: to lie down, to batten down, to steer my craft to calmer seas… to stop waiting for adults to show up at night. (Woah, that use of “adults” just now, just typed itself.)

It’s hard to admit. If it weren’t for the health club where I was recently hired, and if it weren’t for the growth in those attendances and the news from the health club management that I “have quite a following” for my yoga classes, I would be crushed.

They say ego is not supposed to be part of a yoga teacher’s energy, but if it weren’t for a healthy ego, I would keep trying to make this work despite the obvious signs it wasn’t working. It’s November, chilly, and once daylight savings time ends, people go into hibernation mode. They do NOT want to leave their homes, no matter how glorious the yoga. I get that. But still… it’s hard on the ego. However, empathy must prevail: it’s cold and dark out, who wants to leave home?

What also must prevail is the absolute truth that anyone’s decision to not come to yoga classes that they’ve already paid for has NOTHING to do with me. I really have to get my head out of my ass.

I have had some really interesting students, too, in this evening class. These are amazing people with some pretty spectacular disorders and physical challenges; I’m grateful for the opportunity to teach these people because they taught me as well: that no matter how strong a teacher I want to be, there are SOME THINGS I will never match. (That sounds a little too familiar to my story growing up, doesn’t it?)

In the very beginning, I had a student who became very attached to me. She was sweet and sparkly-eyed. But I have limitations and I’ve done a shit ton of couch time to not only allow for the existence of the flags, but to see them and turn heel and run.

I can’t handle that, when people become attached to me. There are only four people and two dogs I will be OK with attaching to me: my kids, my husband and Charlie and Murphy. This is not to say I’m not a reliable person. I absolutely am reliable. Just don’t expect me to be your everything; I’m barely my own anything.

This one student somehow identified with me. Maybe it was my kindness, or my optimistic attitude toward her situation, and my utter newness toward her and her idiosyncrasies. I was sincerely proud of her accomplishments despite a major disability. But, like they all do, these empty souls whose mommies didn’t love them enough (raises hand sheepishly), she attached to me. She idolized me, for something, and inevitably, I disappointed her. I treated her like I treated everyone else, despite her identification of me. She thought she was someone special to me, because I was someone special to her.

My job as a yoga teacher is to teach yoga, not cleanse your soul. I teach yoga, not emulate Jesus. I teach yoga, not act as your therapist. I teach yoga, not solve your problems. I teach yoga, not be your mother. I teach yoga, not set you apart. I teach yoga, I teach yoga, I teach yoga. I ask for payment. I expect you to show up. I teach yoga. That is all. If I am lucky, we will become friends, but we are equals. I am not superhuman, but I am very sensitive to energies, so the moment I feel people set me apart and think of me as special, I start to feel sick, as though I am picking up their self-loathing; it’s a very tenuous sensation: it feels like you don’t know if you’re coming or going: “are these my shoes?” After many years, I know when I start to do that to other people, make them my saviors. So I take a deep breath and I re-center myself. Don’t make anyone else your idol; it’s a lot to live up to. 

I liked to get to the space early, to loosen up myself and to prepare to teach, go over notes, play with a transition or a flow, or select a reading for the class. It was as though she could see the parking lot from her house because as soon as I pulled up, she would be walking up or waiting on the steps for me. She would text me in the morning, “Hey Doll! Have a great day!” on days we didn’t have class. I said inside to myself, for her benefit, please don’t do this to me, don’t do this to yourself.

On the one day she wasn’t waiting for me or preternaturally aware of my arrival, she stormed into the room. She started barking out her day. This was fairly common, but I could usually get her to simmer down, to let it go… but she was having none of that. I spoke to her gently and privately before others arrived about her disposition; suggesting that maybe she should take her dog for a strenuous walk instead of yoga, that I’d credit her for the class. She said the others knew her better and longer than I did. She wanted to pass out her business cards to the people in the class. She wanted to cross all sorts of boundaries. I said no. Absolutely not. “People come to yoga class to practice yoga, to get away from their day and their lives off the mat,” I explained to her. Do the business card thing later. Not before.

People started coming in. She was erratic. Like a loose puppy. I sat and waited, made small talk with students. I took up my chimes and started to sit up straight. People started to center on their mats. She fidgeted.

As I did during every pranayama (the seated opening breath and meditation sequence), I invited the group to give themselves “the gift of keeping the day outside and preserve this space, for the yoga, inside,” and I rang the chimes three times with our conscious inhales.

As usual during pranayama, my eyes were closed, so I don’t know if she glared at me, but I did open them after hearing her huff and snarl, to witness her get up, gather her things as noisily as she could, and let the door slam behind her.


I spent a little longer in pranayama, for entirely selfish reasons, and we did some sort of conscious breathing exercise, likely alternate nostril breathing. I can’t recall the exact one, but we did it for another five minutes.

She never came back to my classes.

I fell from grace.

I became the “anti-her” person. Another bad guy. Another reason, as she told me in a text, during that class, for her to not leave her house.

Don’t give me that power. I certainly don’t deserve it, nor do I know what to do with it, I texted back to her the next day, followed by telling her I was glad she got home ok.

After several very quiet months, despite telling me to never contact her again (and I hadn’t to begin with), she sent me an email. A blog post from MindBodyGreen about how to be a good yoga teacher, “I thought you would find this helpful,” she wrote as an intro. It was about the importance of teachers keeping their egos in check; to not show off or show up the students with displays of magnanimous self-control or pious self-awareness. To not demonstrate crane, or bird of paradise, or dancer poses because it was too upsetting to those students who felt unable to perform them.

Ask any of my students if I’ve ever demonstrated crane or dancer without a request to do so; you will hear crickets. I purposely keep my classes mellow, meditative, mostly on the ground, and introspective because I know that no one is coming to me to look like the cover of Yoga Journal. I never expected this woman to exceed the massive limitations of her disability, but I never made her limitations the focus of the lessons. As an “all levels” teacher, you must teach to the highest ability, so that’s what I taught. No one was in those classes to levitate or balance on one toe, the classes were well-designed and challenging.

After Little Miss Backhanded-Awareness sent me that blog post about keeping the ego in check, I ceased all communication with her, and told her to give me distance as she demanded of me: “I’m not your Virgin Mary, your Jesus, your Buddha, your Saint. I’m a flawed, suburban mother of three who is working her ass off to conquer her own demons, so save your blame and finger pointing for your mirror.” >booya.<

But here we are again. Admitting the truth: the number of people coming to my evening classes has fallen. I can’t beat out the four health clubs in the 3-mile radius with their fee-inclusive classes; nor can I beat out the churches with their “Christian yoga” (ha! it is ABSOLUTELY to LAUGH!) versus my “satanic yoga,” I guess. So I am not going to try. I am finished being Sisyphus. I am letting the rock roll.

Look out tiny village below, here comes a boulder.

I’ve decided to go back to my teaching roots and teach children’s yoga. The classes are shorter, the students are shorter too. The kids are game, sometimes too game, but that’s what being a kid is all about. For me, teaching yoga to them is a game, and we play games. Kids are super honest and they are also really into noticing how things affect their bodies. At least in the way I teach it, they get that yoga is about everyone, not just one of us.

In my next post, I’m going to write about what it’s like to teach yoga to kids, and how we as parents can know if our kids are truly ready for the mat instead of us just wishing they were…

Thank you and namaste.

Update: Wearable Activity Trackers; Polar M400 vs FitBit Flex


I wrote a little while ago about a FitBit Flex my husband and kids got me for Mother’s Day. The idea wasn’t some passive-aggressive pitch a la, “You’re a sloth and we want you to get active, so put on this attractive arm band and report back to us every day” hint. I was curious about the technology and wanted to see how active I was because I felt reasonably exhausted at the end of each day.

By the end of June, the FitBit died.

“I win!” I thought to myself. “I killed the FitBit! I am so active, it couldn’t keep up!” Because we were still within the 90-day period from its purchase, Brookstone gave me a store credit because it was beyond their 60-day something or other. But we ended up having a bonus even more, because I didn’t want a new one, I felt the piece / technology was limited. But FitBit sent me a new one anyway after they noticed through their Minority Report software that the pod had died (but they didn’t bother proactively contacting me, I had to go to them…grr). So I took the new one, my kids use it for curiosity and I bought two blankets and a nifty lap desk from Brookstone with the store credit.

Over the months, I’ve had conversations with friends and strangers alike about the FitBit concept and one of them said to me, “I didn’t like being FitBit’s bitch. Granted, I lost some weight and my health improved, but I didn’t cotton to the idea that I was being scrutinized.”

“Sort of like being under house arrest, huh? ‘Cept, you’re encouraged to go wherever you want, vigorously and repeatedly, but still being accountable to something outside yourself…” I said.

“Yeah.” She said, laughing at the irony of the whole thing. “So I’ll probably go juice it up and put it back on in the fall…” I have no clue if she did.

Another friend, who is a runner and yoga lover just puts her in her purse. “It was a gift. I don’t like plastic on my skin. It doesn’t breathe… ”

“And let’s not kid ourselves, it’s ugly as ass,” I added and she laughed.

And then there are the cheaters: I know people who put the devices on their dog’s collar, to get more steps in and win on the leaderboard of their FitBit challenges with “friends.”

Other people give them to their kids to wear to school. My oldest two go to a high school that used to be the largest in the state. I KNOW there are felonious FitBits roaming those hallways…

Another friend talked about how she liked the idea as a form of incentive, but she’s pretty active anyway, and after a while she determined that it was not so far off from an Orwellian world where we all wear bracelets to condition us into conformity. A nagging yet vocal 5% of me nodded in agreement; the other 95% of me, convinced that I’d already done too much to indoctrinate myself into this Orwellian culture, looked for the troops to drag me away, denying me my steps to the van.

As my brother and I decided over a conversation about primitive wearables like the FitBit Flex and Jawbone Up that we already know how active we are. It’s nice to have “sleep data” but honestly, you know when you slept like a dog and when you slept like a meth addict. So for people like my brother and myself, the concept was redundant after a while.  Plus, I became sleep paranoid: “IS THIS QUALITY SLEEP? AM I TOO FITFUL? IS THIS GOOD? DOES THIS SLEEP MAKE ME LOOK FAT? WILL I GET A BAD SCORE ON MY SLEEP TRACKING?” That. As I say to my yoga students, “If this breathing exercise brings tension to your body, breath, or mind, that’s counterintuitive. Please ignore it and let my voice be a drone in the background.”

Over time, it became just a thing to have and for me, if I was going to wear something to track my activity, I wanted more. I wanted data. I wanted to know really, how “active” I am. I wanted, given the specter of Orwwellian threat, to also be put into the “moderately active  with potential” camp when the van comes.

So I researched, a lot. I already have a “relationship” with Polar heart rate monitors (I attribute my ability to stay motivated and aggressive in my workouts because of the feedback), I decided on the Polar M400 which is part smartwatch and part workout buddy.

It’s Bluetooth 4.0 compatible which means it will connnect with most smartphones; it also connects with the Polar H7 heart rate monitor (HRM), which also connects to your smartphone if you want. The M400 is big. It’s about the size of the Apple Watch, but it costs about $130 from heartratemonitorsusa.com; if you need the H7, the pair is about $180.


FitBit Flex on the left; Moby Dick on the right.

Its smartwatch capabilities are pretty nifty and also pretty useless in the grand scheme of life.

Nifty: Paired with and within range of your smartphone, it will notify you of all the notifications you receive on your phone, including texts messages, traffic and weather alerts (thus configured) and incoming calls. Some of its features are executive: You can “silence” an incoming call and it will send it to voicemail. It will also provide turn-by-turn navigation if you are using a GPS app and your phone is running the free “Polar Flow” app. If you’re out with friends and are expecting a text, you don’t need to have the phone in your hand to get it (unless you like that barrier to socializing and being fully attentive to your peeps); its preview will show on your watch and you can decide what to do next.

Useless: come on. Who needs to have this shit in their face all the time? If you do, you need to get a life. Work with the homeless. Run for office. Volunteer with animals.

But as I said, I like data and I knew the FitBit was no longer going to satisfy me when I went for a five-mile row one morning and it came back and said I’d taken only 4,000 steps. So I wasn’t exactly thrilled. Here is another important aspect: these gadgets don’t know if you’re hiking the Ozarks wearing a 70# rucksack, pushing a double stroller with two 40# toddlers in it, or if you’re walking around the house with a feather duster in your dominant hand which is not the wrist bearing the tracker. 

The M400 has some sort of genius meter in it that knows when I am standing, sitting, lounging, and walking or running. After initial set-up with the Polar Flow desktop application, you can import upwards of 30 activities on to the watch and when you’re ready to get it on, all you have to do it choose one. I would love one for “housework” but I suppose “other indoor” will suffice. There is rowing, yoga, dancing, fencing, treadmill, rock climbing…Assault & battery… I wonder how it would have measured the two inmates who escaped from the maximum security prison in Clinton, NY? There is no “crawling” option.

It also boasts GPS service, so when you go on those five-mile runs or rows or hikes, it shows you  where you went. The more data you give to it, the more you get back. If you wear the heart rate monitor, it provides a summary of the activity with very encouraging praise. I’m into praise. If you just use the GPS and forget the heart rate monitor, then it tells you your pace, and says something nice about how your activity will benefit you in the long run. It’s not like Jillian Michaels: it’s not going to call you a mess and tell you how much you suck. If you want a sado-masochistic relationship with your activity tracker, this is not the one for you. I”m not sure there is one for you. You have issues.

Deep down, you know that even getting up and moving a little is better than not moving at all. If you sit still for more than an hour, it beeps at you and tells you “It’s time to move!” Sometimes (when I’m writing) I tell it to go screw itself; others, I get up and try to unbend my tight knee.

Is it flawless? No. It’s close though. There are still some connectivity issues to wortk out; the most trouble seems to stem from the Bluetooth and the GPS — basically, don’t pair your H7 HRM to your phone. I did that in the beginning before I ever got the M400 or even my FitBit because I wanted to use RunKeeper and have it connected to my music and the Polar Beat app which communicates with the H7 via the phone… blah blah blah… so don’t synch the H7 HRM to your phone. That seems to solve a lot of problems. I think the people at Polar like to THINK they know a lot about the Bluetooth stuff, but they don’t. They just don’t. Also, if your H7 is paired to your phone, sometimes the H7 will communicate with the phone if it’s in range and that will kill the non-rechargeable battery on the HRM…

The M400 is not constantly online with the app the way the FitBit is. You have to consciously synch the watch to your app. I don’t think that’s a bad idea; it saves battery life. Speaking of which, it lasts a pretty good while: five days? Charging takes very little time too. The graphic interface on the watch is customizeable. I chose analog because I’m under some delusion that setting this small television on my wrist it to look like an actual watch will make it appear elegant and less HAL / Space Oyssey 2001 -esque. I know… I’m troubled. Sometimes it just doesn’t synch; I call it Scarlett O’Hara then. Try again. Tomorrow is another day.


See the little iPhone in the upper left corner? That means it can’t find the paired iPhone.

The Polar people were too close to the watch when they wrote their user manual. There are definitely instances when you lose connectivity with your phone and an icon in the upper left corner shows a tiny smartphone with a question mark in it (see above photo). That means the connection is lost. Not to worry, it will reacquire when in range. But you won’t find data anywhere that tells you what that icon means. I had to make four calls to get to the bottom of that. Even the people at Heart Rate Monitors USA didn’t know what it meant. I considered returning it because the issue was so problematic between the watch, the H7, the Bluetooth to the phone and the Bluetooth to the H7 and the planet Mars and Orwell… But I figured it out. Just keep the H7 unpaired from the phone.

Polar has upgraded the apps a bit, so that has been a plus. I will say this, however, Polar could make some serious improvements to the firmware, such as allowing users to create more alarms and other customizations such as editing what “other indoor” could mean for you. In that realm, FitBit has them beat.

In other ways, the M400 doesn’t deserve to be compared to the Flex. Polar knows you’re more than a walking machine. It offers three grades levels of your personal activity and goals based on your lifestyle; not just steps, so when you’re having a busy day, but you’re “not getting your steps in” the M400 has your back.  

these are ways to meet my activity goal, which is level 2: sitting for short periods but otherwise active… or something like that.

 It knows you’re doing other things. Throughout the day, as you check your progress on the watch, it also offers ways to achieve your goal with examples of activities ranging from playing 30 mminutes of squash to walking your dog for 50 minutes to baking for two hours and 15 minutes. Yes, baking… Niiiiiice

I’m shocked by how easy it is to keep the M400 clean. As you can discern from the photo above, I bought the white one, for some reason it felt less ominous and monolithic and more like Moby Dick, and I’ve thrown major yard work its way.  I even spilled mustard on it and it came off. The band is comfortable, oddly velvety soft and non-binding. The FitBit is harder and less negotiable. Plus, the FitBit just pops off every once in a while. My husband had to buy tiny O-ring washers to put around the clasp to keep it from popping off. FitBit knows about this, the complaints about the clasp are rampant. Their offers of assistance are mediocre. They already have your money, suckers.

The Polar community has always been a motivating group. It’s neat to see how long these watches have lasted. I’ve had a Polar F5 for at least 10 years, and way back when in 1995 my husband and I bought a NordicTrack skier and it came with the polar heart rate system and ever since then, I’ve been hooked. I could chalk all this interest in my own presence and performance as narcissism or consider it a form of validation from recovery of a pretty hard childhood with dysfunctional parents and a lot of addiction chaos.  When people tell you all through your childhood that what you’re seeing isn’t happening or they deflect your inquiries altogether or dismiss you, it can be hard tobelieve  yourself when you say you saw and did things. Either way, I love the hard data and the encouragement.

The Polar Facebook wall is very cool and the staff seem relatively responsive. People have been posting pictures of their V800 watches, which is a souped-up version of the M400, and there’s some crazy clamping thing going o when folks are trying to recharge their watches. The V800 is prohibitively expensive (for me) but quite rugged.  It makes the Apple Watch look like a lace doily. Which we alll know it is…

A while back, I posted some intial inquiries and unsolicited suggestions to the Polar FB wall and I can’t find that thread anywhere; they seem to have removed it. I knew I would be writing this post eventually though, so I’m glad  I saved it to my reading list, and here’s the link if you’re so interested:

The bottom line, for me, is that these devices make me more mindful; the M400 encourages me when I need it if I’m slacking and praises me when I’ve rocked it out. However, when I’m brushing my teeth it thinks I’m running. When I’m drying my hair, it thinks I’m running. When I’m running it thinks I’m running. So the only reliable measure of you actually stepping is if you put a sensor on the sole of your foot. Just take your data with a grain of salt and be aware that you’re moving around.

I am also more mindful about standing instead of sitting or leaning. Somehow it knows. The paranoia can get a little tiresome, so I don’t wear the M400 all the time. I’ve actually had an “easy day” when I just wear the FitBit because it’s there. I also go several days or weeks not wearing either. 

I will admit that when I first got the M400, I did try to compare them. And I’ve found that they vary in step count by about 150 steps at the end of the day. However, I find it vexing that when I teach yoga, the M400 says I’m sitting but I’ve learned to get over that. If I tell it I’m going to teach or practice, it gives me little heart icons because I’m awesome. Here’s what a typical Wednesday looks like for me:

On Wednesdays I don’t sit much; but when I do, I’m either teaching or driving or peeing, and as you can see, I went to bed close to midnight. Thay “grey” zone from 12am to 8am is me not wearing the device until 8.

I like the concept of the buddy or the “sponsor” but I also like to take a break every now and then knowing that I’m really a pretty good person and am active when I can be and when it feels right. If you are someone who’s second-guessing yourself and you have trouble making decisions, and you don’t know what from whatnot, don’t complicate your life. Go simpler. Go with the FitBit. But if you like technology, you are already active, but you LOVE the idea of it all being right there for you, get the MM400. Just be OK with not wearing it every once in a while, or you’ll turn into one of those people who talk about their steps all day… and if you’re one of those people, don’t sit near me at a restaurant. While I will be proud of you for making your health a priority in your life, I will still point and laugh at you. You truly are a Stepford.

The M400 offers tons of other stuff, too. This is a just a couple of numerous feedback pages from a row last month:


so even though i was technically “sitting” for my row which lasted 80 minutes, I was busy too.


this is some of the feedback i mentioned: it’s encouraging.

Given the cost of the M400, what it tells you and how it motivates you, I don’t regret this purchase a bit.

Thank you.

And lookee here… Just as I was finishing the post… This is what I do for you guys… 


Why Words Matter; Don’t be a Dick


Last week I read some comments after an article about Oliver Sacks, the recently late brilliant and influential neuroscientist and physician, and his lifetime of chastity and abstinence.

The article detailed that when he was quite young, 12, his mother excoriated him after she learned he was gay. This blast fell on the heels of a conversation his mother had with his father. It turns out his father had betrayed him after he’d promised he wouldn’t share Oliver’s confession that he made during an earlier discussion about the birds and the bees and young Oliver’s budding sexuality.

According to the article, the conversation went along the lines of:

Dad: You don’t seem to have any girlfriends. Do you like girls?

Oliver: no; not especially. I like boys, but I’ve never acted on it. It’s just a feeling I have.

The resulting excoriation from his mother, to Oliver’s face was, “You’re an abomination. I wish you had never been born.”

I admired Dr. Sacks, I didn’t know he was gay; it didn’t matter. Why should it? The man was a gifted and loving observer of humanity and his work provided immense insight into who and what and why we are.

The comments on the article were mostly sympathetic to Dr. Sacks and conveyed a sense of tragedy for his life; that his mother could be so hateful. Lots of people, cited an irony in Dr. Sacks’ inability to move past his mother’s comments: he was quite adept at psychology and through his study and life experiences he clearly might / could / should have been able to see his mothers’ comments for what they were: a projection of her self-loathing and rigidity. Her comments had nothing to do with Sacks himself, they were about her.

Then later on the thread, someone said that those who’d never been chastened by their mothers in the severity of Dr. Sacks clearly was, will never be able to understand the carriage and shame and weight from a mother’s words.

I found myself nodding softly in agreement, while I also felt a pull in my gut.

Mothers say some pretty mindless shit. My mother was no exception. To the people out there who knew my mother and were fans and supporters of her, I will repeat my refrain: she was complicated, you aren’t her daughter, you didn’t live with her and you really didn’t know her.

I had a neighbor who told me (without any irony at all) that her son didn’t know his name was James because she and her husband always referred to him as “boy” so when she was calling him one time when he was about FIVE(!), he never responded until she fumed, “Boy! I’m calling you! Don’t you hear me?” and he got up and said, “I only now just heard you call me; who’s ‘James’? Is someone here?”


Right? I also know someone who thinks that calling his kid “psycho” is a nice nickname. Yet they wonder why the child is so unpredictable and wild and summarily come down on him when he is.

I will concede that no one is all of one thing and none of another. We are kaleidoscopic.

I hear Dr. Sacks’ mother’s words in my head, it’s like they are large, black, heavy and broad: like the Chicago Daily Tribune’s “Dewey Defeats Truman” headline. Oops. While my mother never said things that severe, there were some pretty heavy contenders. But now I know the truth about my situation and her condition, and I don’t carry that stuff with me anymore and I’ve released it.

However, I am brought back, swiftly, to moments when *I* say really stupid and reactive things to my children. The level of things I say aren’t even close, but I do say stupid things like, “Please try to act like a normal person and _____ ___ _____.” Or, “You’re crazy, there is no ____ ___ ______.”

Why? Why do I say such stupid shit?

Do you remember when you were younger, a child? You wanted appreciation and acceptance from your parents; it’s the same for our kids from us. All our kids want is for us to see them. We don’t have to agree with them, we just have to see that they are their own people and to accept that they likely will think and do a whole bunch of stuff that we mightn’t agree with or care for.

That’s on us.

It can be exhausting to not be a dick. It takes awareness and mindfulness to not react like a horrible human being. If you’re unkind to yourself, you will become unkind to others. It’s only natural. And if you have kids, count on it that you will be unkind (a dick) to them.

“Until we have met the monsters in ourselves, we keep trying to slay them in the outer world. And we find that we cannot. For all darkness in the world stems from darkness in the heart. And it is there that we must do our work.”

― Marianne WilliamsonEveryday Grace: Having Hope, Finding Forgiveness And Making Miracles

If our kids end up doing things we don’t expect as a traditional (conservative?) thing: getting a tattoo, a piercing, eloping, coming out, making performance art, dropping out of ____ school, dating someone we don’t like, preferring another parent over us, marrying someone we don’t like, running for office, buying a gun, advocating pro-choice, canceling out our vote… our reaction is ours.

Some of this stuff comes out of us because we feel a certain way about ourselves, and that’s a deep habit we need to unbraid. Before saying something caustic and life-changing to our kids (or simply adding to the verbal crap we’ve unwittingly heaved on to them because we don’t hear ourselves) we need to take a pause and learn to watch the things we say not only to our children, but to ourselves. When we can hear what we say to ourselves and put into practice the art NOT saying it, then we will find we can be smarter and kinder with our kids.

Wake up…our kids are teaching us. Get out your red pen and edit yourself.

Thank you.