Thinking Yogi

The intersection of two loves: yoga and writing.

Posted by on in Health

It's starting already: the holiday busyness, obligations piling up one on top of another, so many fun things to do that it makes me want to curl up in a heap and go to sleep. There's the CTA holiday train, the Lincoln Square Christkindl Market, the Waters School Artisan Fair, and that's just a short list of the things happening this weekend! For all the merriment and joy this season is meant to invoke, it often just feels like too much of a good thing.

We have a children's book at home by Todd Parr called It's Okay to be Different. I love this book for many reasons. It's fun, inclusive, honest, warm, and silly. In the book, Todd shares wise, simple thoughts that are reminders for all of us:

"It's okay to need some help."
"It's okay to come in last."
"It's okay to do something nice for yourself."
"It's okay to eat macaroni and cheese in the bathtub."
(Can you really disagree with that last one?)

Lately as I've been feeling the pressures of the many holiday party invitations that are already circulating and the thought of having to get my shopping list in order, I've been coming back to one line in particular from this book: "It's okay to say NO to bad things." The page shows a picture of two fish with bulging eyes, staring at a hook that's waiting to snag them (definitely a bad thing for them).

In the context of the holiday season, though, I've been thinking about this sentiment from the opposite perspective. I picture the two fish with an unlimited supply of their favorite fishy foods easily within reach, several schools of fish friends waiting for them to come play, and a whole bunch of neat fish castles for them to swim in and out of. Despite all these seemingly good things I imagine them surrounded by, I still picture them with eyes bulging, overwhelmed by it all. And I want to say to them, "It's okay to say NO to good things, too."

I've really embraced the idea of saying NO as a way of balancing out my tendency to pack lots of activities and projects and fun into each day. The seed of this idea was first planted when I attended Lisa Sandquist's Restful Yoga to Reduce Holiday Stress workshop at Bloom last year. Lisa offered up a very simple but profound suggestion for us as we headed into the busy holiday season: when you're feeling overextended, it's okay to say no to parties and other obligations, even if they sound fun and your favorite people in the world will be there. Seems simple, but consider how many times you have accepted an invitation because you thought you should or you had to, even though you felt like one more outing might put you over the edge.

Over the past year, I've practiced giving myself permission to say no to even the very good and very fun things that come my way if I know that they will push me into exhaustion mode. When you feel your eyes bulging, give that NO a try, even if the invitation is one you would like to accept. It feels so good, and as Todd Parr likes to say, it's okay!

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Posted by on in Family

Parenting spoiler alert - having kids is not all pony rides and lollipops.

I was talking with a friend on the playground the other day about the challenges of staying patient despite the everyday irritations of life with small and inherently less-rational people. On those 40-degree mornings where my kids refuse to wear jackets because they claim that extra clothing slows them down when they play tag on the playground, I remind myself that part of my frustration comes from the unrealistic expectations I have for my kids. For some reason, despite years of proof otherwise, I expect that they will take the logical path over whatever impractical, fun idea is stuck in their heads. And as they shiver yet refuse to budge in the coat department, I feel the tantrum boiling up in me, and before I can stop myself I say (to my two kids under the age of 6), "Why can't you act like normal adults?"

Parenting is trying. Children are wonderful, sweet, loving, and hilarious, but parenting them is a lot of work. Knowing that, I was surprised to find that one of my happiest parenting experiences occurred the week my husband was out of town for work and I was in charge of the little monkeys for 5 straight days (with some help from my wonderful sitter). I fully embraced the fact that I was the one who had to get snacks and drinks and break up arguments over Hot Wheels. I let small things go, knowing that I couldn't possibly fight every fight, knowing that it didn't matter if they behaved "perfectly." I had more fun with them than I'd had in months. Instead of policing their kid-ness, I tried to find more ways to be silly with them in order to entertain myself so being "on" full-time wasn't so much a job as a chance to spend time connecting with two very special little human beings. I realized that if I let my adult self go for a little bit, I could find the humor and playfulness in many of the same ridiculous games that would have normally driven me crazy.

Then my husband came back and I had a little more time to myself and I found myself getting crabby again. Now, don’t get me wrong. I'm a big believer in taking time for myself; I know it makes me happier and healthier and better prepared as a parent to nurture my children. But I also now know that the shift between sane, adult "me" time and crazy, sleeve-tugging child-time can be enough to make any adult throw a tantrum. I come home to incessant fights over who gets to use the tape dispenser first? This isn't fair! Don't these children know I just had an amazing massage? They're going to undo 60 minutes of relaxation in 60 seconds.

I'm practicing better managing the transitions between times when I've been away as an adult, in a sane and rational world, and then I come home to toys strewn about and children who need something every five minutes. I'm practicing detaching from that part of my life instead of clinging to it, instead of wishing that I could send just one more email or read just one more page of the book I was enjoying before I came home. If I am honest with myself and recognize that "me" time is over as soon as I walk through the front door, I can fully give myself to the present and really be with my kids wherever they are - silly, whining, or somewhere in between. Sometimes just the thought of having to do it makes me want to throw a full fledged tantrum, kicking and screaming on the floor, but then I tell myself to use my words and we all make it through just fine.

Tagged in: motherhood transitions
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Posted by on in Yoga

This morning on my way to the studio, the light went from gray and rainy to gloriously golden in a matter of minutes. I took off my scarf, looked around, and for a moment felt unsettled: I had no idea what month it was. Were it not for the leaves falling it could have been spring, the start of the warmer weather.

Seasonal transitions test our ability to go with what is. We can't control whether we'll luck out with the gloriously golden or have to endure the gray and rainy. The only thing to do is to dress in layers and prepare to be surprised.

I'm working on the equivalent attitude adjustment with life transitions.

It's much harder, because more is at stake. I want to know clearly where I stand at every moment, I want to control how all the pieces fall. But when I am in transition, I am neither this nor that, and it can be painful for the ego to experience this confusion. The ego's job is to assert its 'I-ness,' but during in-between moments it can't fully do its job. My initial tendency is to project perfection on the future state I am transitioning to, to imagine that things will be so much better when I get there. But is that really any way to enjoy my life?

I've found it helpful to practice being okay during transitions on a physical level first, on my yoga mat. Sometimes it's tempting to think of the practice as only its end points, the asanas themselves. But when I feel unsettled in my daily life, when I'm not sure how everything will come together, I slow down on the mat and really focus on the transitions between poses. I try to be fully present as I move from up dog to down dog. Rather than 'shutting off' after up dog is complete and 'turning back on' when I get to down dog, I pay attention to precisely how I move from one pose to the other: I consciously roll over the tops of my feet to shift my weight back and grow into that long, satisfying stretch. There's a little itch to just get there already, to just be in the pose I'm headed towards. But then I remember, that is exactly the point: the transition is the practice, too. The transitions, the in-between times are my life, too. When I really work at it and experience these in-between moments fully, they are just as glorious as their end points.

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Posted by on in Health

November marks seven years since my husband Zach and I opened Bloom Yoga Studio, and I've been thinking about all that's changed (and all that hasn't) since then.

In those early days, Zach and I logged long hours 7 days a week behind the front desk getting to know all the wonderful people who came through our doors. Though we're not behind the front desk as much these days, we're still scurrying around behind the scenes and love every opportunity we get to connect with students and massage clients. With our fabulous front desk managers now holding down the fort, we've been able to continually revisit our mission statement in order to keep Bloom growing.

Our mission when we opened was to make yoga more accessible and less intimidating, and to provide a space where people could pursue health and happiness in their daily life. That mission is as strong as ever and still informs the decisions we make on a daily basis.

Over the past couple of years we've reached out to the community to bring yoga outside the studio via our Bloom Workplace Wellness programs, and it has been so rewarding to see students who may have otherwise never tried yoga benefit from the practice.

This fall we started our first yoga teacher training program to help dedicated practitioners share their love of the yoga tradition with clarity. Though we're only a month into the program, I've found the process to be energizing and exciting, and I'm so proud of the work our pioneer trainees have done so far.

Our original crew of instructors and massage therapists was small but mighty. Over the years our staff has grown and we've been proud to get to know so many stellar instructors, massage therapists, and managers. We're grateful for all who have been part of our team. They truly are what makes Bloom special.

Many of our current students and massage clients have been with us from the very beginning, and others have so seamlessly become part of the Bloom community that I can't remember them ever not being here. We've been lucky enough to see many families grow, and as Zach and I welcomed our own two children into the world, our fabulous Bloom friends have been incredibly loving with them (even when they are loud during savasana....sorry).

The circumstances of all of our lives have changed over the past seven years, and together our community has shared good times and come together during difficult ones. But at the core Bloom has remained a friendly place where a wonderful group of people gather together to pursue a happier and healthier existence. I couldn't be more proud to be part of that mission.

Big, big thanks to all of our Bloom friends. And here's to many more years of yoga, massage, health, and happiness!

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Posted by on in Health

As a kid I was known to lie upside down on our stairs for hours. I spent plenty of time standing on my hands and doing all kinds of weird stretchy tricks, all within the context of gymnastics or ballet or whatever sport I was pursuing at the moment. I look back fondly on my active childhood, but as we've recently started a new Tween Yoga workshop at Bloom, I've been considering how my tweenaged life would have been different had I had yoga during those delicate years.

Maybe I would have learned how to avoid getting stressed out over homework and tests. Perhaps I would have used deep breathing and relaxation techniques after a fight with a friend rather than wallowing in hurt feelings or turning to junk food. I imagine my time on the mat would have helped me develop the self-confidence to stop worrying how I measured up to other girls. While I'm pretty sure yoga would have been no match for the powers of teen acne, pretty much every other aspect of my day-to-day existence would have been better with yoga.

I'm starting early with my own two kids. They're many years away from tweendom but I regularly welcome them to join me on the mat when I practice at home. Having a yoga teacher for a mom means that you learn down dog before you can even talk, but I take care not to force it on them. Instead, when I'm feeling stressed and just need some time to reconnect I tell them that I need to practice yoga because it helps me to feel better. When they get frustrated to the point of losing control, I hug them close and suggest they take a couple of deep breaths to calm down. I'm planting the seeds for them to come to the practice when they decide it will be helpful. If you love yoga, and you love a tween, I invite you to find the places where those two loves meet. Yoga + Tweens = Awesome.

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