Tag Archives: yoga

New Year’s Intention & Perimenopause

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It has been almost seven months since I last posted here.

I can not say I don’t know where the time has gone, because I actually do know where a great deal of the time / bandwidth has gone.

It has gone toward my new year’s intention: practicing non-attachment. Non-attachment to expectations, to people, to projects, to myself. It’s really hard…  and it’s like a paradox: who says when you’ve achieved non-attachment? Is it ok to be non-attached to your non-attachment? Does that count? And what is the balance? (I’ve likely already failed.)

It has gone toward me applying my best intentions toward practicing detachment from my eldest son’s college experiences. He is doing well, learning lessons that only life can give. Learning academically of course, and doing quite well, but he is learning things in the way that I wanted for him to learn: that you can’t unring a bell.

It has gone toward a near-obsession with the American political landscape. I believe it was around the time that I last posted here that our official presidential candidates were nominated. I won’t go into details or great depth here as this blog is my refuge from those energies, but I will say that I believe I’m finally coming out of the fog from all those days.

It has gone toward a reinvestment of myself into my yoga teaching. I have almost doubled my adult teaching gigs and dropped two children’s yoga gigs. It was both difficult and easy to make those decisions. A part of me wants to help children and teach / inspire them but I have to let go of the notion that I am going to make a difference for some of them. We are all here on this planet in a season which matches our mission(s). I have realized that my mission here is to not try to appeal to all people and those people needn’t appeal to me. The doubling of my teaching time has had an effect on my body: it’s tired. I have learned that I needn’t demonstrate nearly as often as I used to and while I’m physically relieved from wear and tear, I’m a bit bummed about it because some of my teaching cues come from being actually in the pose with the yogis.

It has gone toward hands-on mothering of two sons rather than three. While my eldest still needs me in a philosophical sense, he doesn’t need me to make him dinner, to wake him, to take him for haircuts or dentist appointments. My younger boys still need me for that and believe it or not: the reduction in demand does take some getting used to and head counting. It’s almost the reversal of “Did I leave the baby in the carseat in the front hall?”

It has gone toward not writing. I sure do miss it.

It has not gone toward my laundry practice.

My husband turned 50, and that was a low-key big deal here. I gave him a nifty band for his Apple Watch and took him out to dinner with our younger two sons, his brother and his wife. Connor later snuck home with his girlfriend to surprise his dad with some favorite gelato and a cozy fun time was had by all.

I turned 49. I unfriended some people on Facebook who no longer contribute to the fullness of my life. One is a relative. I am really ok with this decision. The entrenched victim narrative surrounding this person’s every behavior had corrupted our visit over summer to such an extent that when I made the choice, it was not a Newtonian reaction. In fact, I paused for several weeks. I can say confidently though that the distancing from this and the other persons has resulted in stability, actually. I’m tired of feeling as though my every thought was being monitored. And I was tired of monitoring them… (if we are going to be honest here…).  I hope everyone is doing well, but I don’t care enough to ask. Sometimes you just have to close the door, y’know.

I am experiencing shitty perimenopause on a daily basis. This hormonal experience is not for the psychotic… because it already has moments of psychosis and sleep deprivation and knee-jerk reactivity built in. Do you see the middle graph? (Don’t even fucking look at the first one or the last one until you look at the middle one first.) That second / middle graph has been my life for the last 10 years. I started perimenopause when I was 39 and it was all cute and curiosity at first: “Oh, I wonder how long that badger will live in our yard?” but after five years, it has been nothing short of a fucking mystery and I don’t know how much longer I must endure its caprice and coquettish ways.

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This is not my personal pattern, but one from NIH or something like that (I give up trying to divine the exact source and so should you:  I’ve had that graph for at least a year).

Let’s look again at that middle graph which ostensibly covers a six-month period and copy it 20 times and run it linearly (as in a timeline) to cover a 10-year period and then you will have a SNAPSHOT of WHAT MY LIFE HAS BEEN LIKE.

I look at that graph, like it’s yearbook. And I suppose it is to a certain exent…

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Those premenopause years: from BIRTH to my 39th year, were all: Let’s go to the beach, then the movie and then dancing and frolic all in light-colored and white clothing, go to camp, learn to swim, play an instrument, have a crush, lose a friend, gain a friend, watch your parents fight … then one day in puberty do those things in those clothes except for XYZ days… and then let’s learn to drive, go on a trip, play some soccer, go for a run, fall in love, dance in the rain… pause….. then let’s have some friends over, and go to a mall, fall out of love, lose a friend again, gain another friend, stare at cute guys, go to college, apply for a job ….buy a car… get a place …. pause….. then let’s take a cooking course, stare at more cute guys … maybe date one… then marry one and then buy a house, have kids …. pause…. another kid (or years go by) ….

Then in my 39th year, this….

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I’m flying without radar here and as you can see, from that graph above, that flight plan is fucked up. Would you get on that plane? Go ahead, look at it again… it’s worth the laugh. And that’s what most of this has shown me: that I have to laugh. That’s not to say that I can’t cry (because I do, believe me) but crying over this (that image above) is unnecessary.

I’m not looking for a trophy or a badge or a pat on the back. I’m looking for an end to this stage of my life.

My mother is dead, and she was the only woman (just like her paternal aunt was the only woman in two generations) in her sibling pool, so I don’t have an aunt. And her being gone means there’s no soft-focus “Summer’s Eve” moment for me when I could walk down a misty, dusky beach with her (not that there ever was that kind of vibe to our relationship) and gently query her for finite honesty about her cycles and her reproductive history… that would require things she could not deliver.

The fun part about all this is that in order to be considered a member in the postmenopausal populace:

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you must be without a period (that bleeding stage) for at least a year. I have to say, I can’t help but see all those flat lines as… shitty. The very hormones that I’ve grown accustomed to, estrogen and progesterone, are leaving me at the party. No, they are taking the party away and leaving me there to clean up after the party.

But I’m nowhere near that, yet the eggs I’m spitting out are likely capable of creating life that would not be sustainable. I like to think my eggs, if they could be an emoji, would be this one:

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Let’s see… what else… I learned that I have two basal cell carcinomas scheduled for removal in a couple months. It’s the glorious results of misspent younger days under the sun with my then bestie whose parents were Puerto Rican and Greek. I am 71% Irish (thanks, big bro for getting the Ancestry.com DNA test). This friend would invite me over to her house and I’d go. I’d wear my royal blue with black piping one-piece LaBlanca swimsuit. We would “lay out” under the Virginia sun, in July, covered in baby oil and USE A SPRAY MISTER TO KEEP US SHINY! and she’d walk away like a Bain de Soliel model and I’d need paramedics to carry me away on a stretcher because I could not move my smooth muscle tissue beneath the exoskeleton I’d created in those four short hours in her backyard.

I joined a new studio to teach yoga (I touched on this earlier) and I’m really enjoying it. The owner feels like someone I’ve known all my life and I’m grateful to help her further her dream of providing a haven in the community to practice yoga, learn pilates, build strength and sometimes, just sit and be.

I directed a 660-boat rowing regatta the first weekend in November. The weather was sublime and glorious. I was in my element of serving people as well as protecting and reestablishing the brand of our rowing club after a couple years of inconsistency. I have offered to do it again for this fall. People think I’m crazy, but they’re right. But I’m really good at it — I am in a zone when I’m managing chaos with a smile on my face. (That was a scary sentence.)  I walked almost nine miles that first day. The second day was almost six. I was utterly wiped out. But I was really gratified too because it was such a rewarding experience. I bought myself some expensive Adidas shoes a week later.

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I do need a megaphone sometimes; it didn’t cut through the fog, but it helped me keep the coxswain’s attention.

 

The next night I taught yoga and two days later, still riding the regatta wave, we all woke to some really historic news: a woman was NOT elected president of the United States and instead, a man who strategically went after the electoral college (so: with an actual plan to win, not a hope to win) votes, attained more of them than the other people running for office. That was an ASTONISHING DAY for me. The night before, we had my brother and his wife and kids over. My dad too, to watch the election and just sort of huddle as if preparing for an apocalypse. We used the hot tub and had a really lovely night. My brother left around 10:30, glued to his iPhone. I decided at 11 that I was going to bed; I had to teach yoga the next morning. Some of the results weren’t in yet and the west coast had only recently begun to get later tallies. I remember clearly still that my husband came up to me to gently wake me the next morning in the pre-dawn darkness. He said, “It’s unbelievable. Trump won.” I was mildly shocked. I didn’t like Clinton, but I honestly thought she would win. I voted for Johnson.

I taught three yoga classes, as I always do on Wednesdays, and I witnessed a three-generational fog in those classes. In the morning, I teach women my age and they were all … quiet, sort of blown away. In the early afternoon, I teach mostly seniors or people older than I am and they were all subdued. The children I usually teach on the afternoons were simply stoic. Little girls openly cried in front of me, “My mother said a bad man is going to be our president…”

I felt as though I HAD to openly discuss the election because they were so affected and because they are children and are not savvy to the nuances I employed in my earlier classes. One of the little girls, who is usually a game show host in my classes, who likes to co-opt what I teach and preempt me as much as possible asked to stay in “child’s pose” the ENTIRE class. She didn’t even want to play “musical mats” (which can usually get any kiddo out of a funk).

I don’t have an inflated sense of who I am to these people, but in a sense, especially for the first class, this was likely the first social gathering of their day. I didn’t feel compelled to speak to the election, but I also wasn’t ok with ignoring it. I can’t remember what pearls of wisdom I may have imparted other than to suggest what I always do: “Whatever you’re feeling is OK.”

On Christmas Eve, we went to dinner at a restaurant in Georgetown. The buildings are historic and their floors are uneven. I slipped down the steps but managed to stop my fall by grasping one of the spindles on the landing I was escaping. I had just taught a power vinyasa that morning, so I was still “worked” from that but I did hear a snap. I didn’t tear my rotator cuff, but I definitely strained it. I believe the “snap” was from the heel of one of my brand-new Frye Boots smacking the riser as I stopped my fall.

When I returned to the table, after announcing to the numerous wide-eyed diners and the freaked-out expression of the maitre’d rushing to my aid, “I’m good, I’m a yoga instructor!” (I do NOT know why I said that other than to spare myself some embarrassment [it didn’t work] but more likely shame [ditto] and more likely to spare any discomfort on the part of the restaurant staff), I had immediate tingling in my arm, and almost near-immediate numbness. I raised my arm above my head, I did some classy yoga moves with it at the table (with some wincing, so I knew the nerve was OK) and the sensation returned within five minutes. I could move my arm on its own.

That night was the last time I colored my hair. (Nice transition, huh?) I’d been dancing around the concept for awhile, but I’d like to see how I look with my natural hair color and I’d like to spend the rest of my life not sweating my roots coming in. So far, so good. I don’t have the chutzpah that some people have: going cold turkey, so that’s not happening. I am getting a chemically assisted transition or detox. My tactic has been to wear my hair pulled off my face as often as possible because it shows people what’s coming in and what to expect. It also helps me deal with the choice, which if I can say so myself, is pretty damned gutsy. I don’t believe that I need to adhere to an unattainable standard based on artifice. I’ve long struggled with my own “lie” of coloring my hair while being someone who is SO WHOLLY INTERESTED and devoted to alignment and truth.

To spur me on, I joined a Facebook group “Gray and Proud” which is a supportive and empowering collection of humans (mostly women) who know that this choice “to be the way we were born” can be hard. I do not mean to imply that I know the struggles of those who’ve chosen to live a cloistered life because of fear of coming out as their true selves, but I do believe I share a kinship with them. We are all afraid of being judged and sometimes, truth scares people. Sometimes, people like to live their lives and their narratives. I’m cool with that. Sometimes other peoples’ truths upset another person’s narrative. Well, that’s not the other person’s problem.

The previous time I tried to go gray I was 36 (I’ve been coloring since I was 20) and it didn’t look right. I wasn’t feeling quite as confident and as “fuck it” as I have been lately. Don’t get me wrong, “fuck it” does not mean I’m “letting myself go”; “fuck it” means I’m letting you and your standards go.

It means I’m trying to walk my intention for the year. I’ll post pics on my progress, but not yet; there’s really not much to see here.

The dogs are doing great: Charlie, now three, and mellowing a bit is a sweet and loyal boy. He still barks at things that are not there and tries to take down Murphy at every chance he has when Murphy is standing up (which isn’t terribly frequent these days as he’s now nine, AND he’s a dog).

Well, there is always lots more to say, but I’m at almost 2900 words and I’m a little tired. It’s nice to be back. I’ll come back sooner, I promise. Feel free to drop me a line in the comments and let me know how you’re doing.

Thank you.

Missives from the Mat 19: Here’s a Catchy Mindfulness Ditty for Kids (and Adults)

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I’ve been trying to come up with a song to begin my kids’ yoga classes.

We have one at the end, and it’s all well and good, but I need something to set the tone in the beginning. The more kids I teach and the longer I’ve taught them, I’m learning that they don’t have a CLUE about what it means to be mindful.

So here is what I came up with “When I’m Being Mindful” — sung to the tune of “On Top of Old Smokey” (or “On Top of Spaghetti”) — teach it to your kids and sing it to yourself.

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It will help. I promise.

When I’m being mindful
My voice is so kind
My body is stable
My breathing is calm

(breathe in / breathe out)

Mindfulness helps me
Be aware of my tone
Feelings in my body,
Its muscles and bones

(breathe in / breathe out)

From the top of my being
Right down to my toes
My body’s relaxing
My eyes don’t have to close

(breathe in / breathe out)

I’m aware of my breathing
And the things that I do
Mindfulness helps me
Be good to me and to you

(breathe in / breathe out
breathe in / breathe out
breathe in / breathe out)

(c) Molly Field 2016

Thank you.

Missives from the Mat #17: Thanking the Person who Knocked the Wind Out of You

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Yesterday I attended my husband’s extended family holiday party. In one of the group photos, I tried to count 67 heads. Give or take three, because I didn’t use a sharpie on my computer screen to mark them off, I think 67 is close; it didn’t include the photographer and the toddlers who ran to her side as she was shooting.

After that I attended a smaller version of the same, where my husband’s immediate family gathered for an after-party party. That was nice and we had a good time goofing off.

When we came home, we watched “Planet of the Apes” with Mark Walhberg. I asked my two older sons to watch it and just go with it, to commit to the willing suspension of disbelief that sci-fi cinema so often requires. They were full of comments and questions afterward, mostly directed to the social / racial / political / classist implications of the movie. My older son thought the messages were profound.

We all headed to bed. I tidied up the kitchen for a few minutes.

I encountered my son on my spot on my bed, talking with his father about a recent development in his life; he and his dad were parsing it out, mostly venting and sharing. He’s under a lot of pressure: senior year, college applications, social interests, athletic pursuits, and just a general sense of his growing up, which can weigh heavily on anyone’s shoulders.

I sprayed lavender. We talked about 20 more minutes.

He pushed off for his room.

At 12:14, ten seconds later, I heard my bedroom door open. He had some things on his mind, that just flew back into his awareness, completely uninvited. Stories on Twitter which bothered him. We talked about it, headed downstairs and I gave him some warm milk and a melatonin, which he consumed on the couch next to me.

He asked if meditation would help quiet his mind, help him to focus. Yes, it absolutely would, I said. I didn’t propose anything right there, I just started talking about how placing our hand over our heart, helps us feel a connection to our essential and physical being. How the heart shows our pulse and how when we breathe in, that our chests rise and that how when we exhale, the chest drops, bringing our hand closer once again to the vibration of our heart’s chambers. I talked about how when we breathe in, our bodies have a natural pause, ever so slight, that recalibrate our nervous system, and that when we exhale, if we can count to just one more heart beat, that we’ve begun to elicit the relaxation response our nervous systems so desperately crave. What’s the sign of our craving? When our minds start to spin out of control and we emotionally react. But ego tells us that we just need to think more. A super-active mind, to me, anyhow, is Spirit’s plea to just sit and consciously breathe.

I looked over at him in the dark beside me. The string of Christmas lights behind me gently casting a glow on him. His eyes were closed. His hand was over his heart. His jaw loosened when I suggested he place his tongue behind his upper teeth and release the lower jaw.

So I continued speaking in a modulated tone about the breath, our ability to find it, connect with it or give it a quality of speed, fluidity, or texture, in order to let him sink deeper into his restoration.

I continued for about five more minutes. Talking slowly and quietly, keeping him just in the zone of near sleep, the “twilight” of his consciousness.

He gently opened his eyes and sat up and said he was ready for bed. I followed him upstairs, sprayed lavender in his room and closed his door.

It was 12:42 when I slipped back into my bed. I was ready for sleep too. I had calmed both of us to a somniferous state.

When I woke around 9 this morning, I opened my email and discovered that someone had written to me over night. I am thrilled I turned my phone on Airplane mode (as I always do each night) and did not check my phone before I went to sleep, because if I had waited just 14 minutes more, I would have received the comment to this blog via email.

It wasn’t a nice comment. It was a forceful character assassination based on a post I wrote about my decision to stop teaching yoga on Monday evenings.

Your psychopathic-rant pretty much says everything about your character as a human being. I have attended your classes as well as many of the people you refer to and blame for YOUR issues

I will concede in that post that I wrote at length, so he’s got me at “rant”; (but I don’t think it was psychopathic, it was not violent, nor did it demonstrate a chronic mental disorder). I will concede that I shared some details which maybe weren’t especially necessary. Maybe he meant psychotic? Who knows. But it’s a blog, it’s my blog and it’s my perspective, my memory, my experience. I will also concede that I have issues — have you read my blog? But I really try to work through and learn from them.

When I saw his name, and the attached email address WordPress requires of all commenters, I shuddered a little. This was no troll in Russia. The author is a man who actually continued the balance of his classes with me even though he had started with another teacher entirely (I took over from her mid-session, as she was busy with other pursuits and was eager to move on).

I remember this person. He was kind, polite and mostly appropriate. When I shadowed the departing teacher one winter evening in March, three people, including me and he, attended her class. Snow was gathering on the trees outside the room. She and I had agreed that I would take over the classes, but she hadn’t announced she was leaving. Likewise, she decided to not share my identity. I wanted to attend so I could see how she ran her classes as I had yet to teach an adult yoga class though I’d attended hundreds. The snow was collecting on the branches outside, casting a spectral glow into the dark space during savasana.

Afterward, I said to her, “That was a lovely class, thank you so much,” and then he (the commenter) sort of stepped in and said, “Bipsy Carmichaelango* she’s the best, no one is as good as she is. I love Bipsy. She’s amazing.”

And I thought, Great. She’s leaving. I’m taking over. Shit. 

It was the way he said it though, that I recall felt a little ‘off’ to me. No matter, I let it go. Don’t be weird, I said to myself of myself, maybe he’s known her for years (even though she’s not been teaching this class a full year). Maybe she’s his mom, or aunt. 

I’m guessing that when I showed up on my mat in the teacher’s position two weeks later, after she made the announcement, that seeing me again might’ve caught his breath.

Mrrrp. 

When I took over, there were three weeks until Spring Break. He took at least two classes with me then never came back; a fellow legacy student said he’d moved from the area. But when I taught, he was polite, grateful even, and one time mentioned how my slow and methodical introduction into a pose was very helpful for his low back, which I recall Bipsy saying had been reconstructed or something. He was never unpleasant.

I have no issues with people leaving and not coming back. I was new to adults. I was a little terrified and I’m sure a bit stiff. I was also to their system: I changed the way payments were made, I changed the class time. My appearance changed a lot: I was NOT THE PREVIOUS INSTRUCTOR: I was me. Blame me? No, blame yourself because of expectations.

After reading his attack though, I wrote back, not instantly because I know that yields little in terms of processing. I made a cup of coffee and waited about 30 minutes. My response was likely 5x the length of his comment, and I was sort of a bitch, but I also softened, because in my heart I know it takes a lot to get so riled up at someone you haven’t experienced in a long time to spin out and go to the lengths to register your email address with the blog provider to leave a comment via mobile carrier (they save lots of identification info on WordPress). The email address he left is the same one I have from when I took over the class. When I read his comment, it was like I was hit from behind. I felt instantly and intentionally abused.

I thought, Christ. This guy moved away and almost two years later wants to hunt me from the ether? WTF?

  

People do what they do for all the reasons they do them. Sometimes those reasons are utter mysteries, especially to the person committing them. For me, to wake from a great sleep after a lovely day to the venom this person decided to spew at me, for no reason whatsoever, was jarring.
I can’t comprehend his reason. It’s not mine. It’s been almost two years since I’ve seen him. It’s been almost 18 months since the people he knew from yoga took a class from me. After I took over that evening class, the “roll call” changed comPLETEly. The only thing that occurs to me about how or why this man was so obviously hunted me down is that something reignited. Someone talked about me. Someone talked about my blog. Something set off, and that something is HIS.

I’m not stupid: I am a member of this community in which I live. I am actively engaged with it on a handful of fronts: academic, parental, social, outreach, political, and the yoga. I also write. Publicly, as in this here post on this here blog. I am for the most part, an open book: I have no real secrets and most of my crimes are not that fascinating: speeding tickets in my 20s, ill-begotten behavior in my college years… standard stuff. No arrests, no convictions (other than the speeding tickets), no jail time (other than the emotional prison I occasionally place myself in). I worked at a bank during college and my fingerprints have been captured for that, and then for the security clearance job I took as a technical writer after college, and most recently as a yoga teacher for children. My fingerprints are on file.

After I read the comment this morning, I didn’t feel guilt, so much as vulnerability. I felt a little guilty that I’d clearly done something to set this person off, but I know in my heart that it’s his, not mine. I suppose if I’m guilty of anything, it’s trying to live an emotionally healthy life. It’s an attempt at discernment, to learn over time what’s mine and what’s someone else’s. That’s how I teach yoga: I can help you with yoga things… not so much with life things, unless I know you off the mat. And the help has to be an exchange, and it usually is: that’s the value of relationships. When it’s NOT an exchange, then we feel depleted. I try to avoid depletion now, I try — even in shitty situations — to find a silver lining.

I try to be professional, complete and courteous in all I do. Do I get along with everyone? No. Absolutely not. I have a big mouth, and I shoot it off when warranted. But never without cause; I actually have to be provoked. These days, it’s pretty hard to provoke me, as I’ve got a pretty thick skin and some important things lot on the line: my employment as a yoga instructor to children, to adults at health clubs and my commitment to be a kind and nonreactive human being on this planet, which lately has been all too off-kilter.

Only after about six hours of digesting and processing that comment and talking with my husband and kids about it, was I able to come to some sense of gratitude for it. I want to thank him, sort of, for being so abrasive, because as a result of his note, I ran an inventory of all the things I’ve done in my recent life and tried to discern if I did them for glory or if I did them for love.

I’ve determined that for some of those things, sure, I did them for vanity: I wanted to be seen, I wanted to be cheered and thanked — who doesn’t do things for external reward? That helps us keep going. But as I moved into some of those more vainglorious pursuits, I transformed, and I ended up doing all of them because it fed my soul and helped me to better understand my purpose. As a teacher, I have been graced with teaching people who present many measurable neurological conditions ranging from ADHD to epilepsy, or migraine, crippling anxiety, or Tourette’s syndrome. Physically, I was confronted by hypotonia, spinal stenosis and hip replacements and lumbar fusion. Having those students made me a better teacher.

All the legacy people who decided not to stay after I took over the classes did so in reaction to my policy that paying upfront for a certain number of yoga classes within a defined period was a tangible commitment to one’s health. Those who were committed kept coming. In other words: we are adults here, no special exceptions, you pay you play, no free guests without notice (I don’t care how the other teacher ran it, she’s not me) lest the place run amok. Time’s up: I’m damned tired of defending this position. People don’t like change and they like being coddled, but I’m not a coddler. I’ll get in the dirt with you, but I’ll soon encourage you to get out of it.

I have boundaries. People generally don’t like them, I have learned. I have experienced people actually cringe like a vampire from garlic when I mention the word “boundary” or “accountability.” Especially regarding yoga: people like to assume a yoga teacher has no discernment, that we just float and take on peoples’ stuff as though it’s our own, because y’know, yoga and sutras, and goodness, and kumbaya… No.

What today’s nastygram and the pursuant self-examination showed me is that my gut read is usually right and that when things start to feel familiar in an unhealthy way (for me: codependence) that they will continue to feel that way until I carve out some boundaries and self respect. I’m only as strong as my boundaries.

So while my come around from the comment I received is likely NOT the intention of the man who sent it, I’m pretty pleased with it. Years ago, this would have taken a few days or maybe weeks to really get over.

*Bipsy Carmichaelango is not her real name.

Thank you.

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

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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…