The Best Job Ever That You Would Reconsider If You Only Knew…

Joe was an awful baby. He cried when I wanted him to sleep. He slept when I needed him to wake. He only smiled when no one was around. And often he would squish his face in disgust when anyone walked into the room. He never ate. When he did eat, it came right back up. In desperation, I weaned him off of the boob and onto food only to be told that we had to go back to breast-feeding a month later. What troubled me most of all about Joe was that I had no idea what I was doing. I was defeated. He was my fourth kid – it should have been a cakewalk. Yet, I felt hopeless, helpless, and deeply inadequate as a mother.

To make a long story shorter, I eventually figured it all out. Thanks to our beloved Dr. Lisa, I realized that I knew nothing. She taught me that raising children is a combination of learning to juggle fiery knives and trying to predict the weather in Kansas from within an Alaskan cave… while knitting socks for elephants… and humming the Ave Maria. The only thing that I could do is learn to listen to my babies and give them what they needed – not necessarily what I decided. As babies, my children were not exactly good communicators. But, I learned to hear their cries, giggles, coos, and translate accordingly. As toddlers, I learned to interpret the whining and No! into requests for food, sleep, and cuddles.

Now as kids and – yikes! – teens, these little people have the same needs but a different language. They are more capable of doing for themselves and actually have responsibilities and society. While I can certainly call the school and gear up my “Helicopter Mama” ways, I know that it doesn’t help them to learn to live in this world. Instead, I have to teach them to be independent and free to discover the realities of the world. Even if those realities are sometimes harsh and less forgiving that we want our children to experience. Since then, I’ve discovered there are varying degrees of allowing children to experience the world. The best practice I’ve found as a parent is to equip them for success and allow them to fail.

“The environment itself will teach the child, if every error he makes is manifest to him, without the intervention of a parent or teacher, who should remain quiet observer of all that happens.” – Dr. Maria Montessori

How this plays out in daily life is the reason that a Mother’s job is so challenging. Here are my best tips:

1. Assign Responsibility. In our house, everyone is responsible for their own “stuff”. Clothes, toys, books, homework, pets, etc. However, everyone has a checklist for what needs to be done on a daily or weekly basis. No one is above a checklist.

2. Teach. Don’t assume that everyone knows how to unload a dishwasher, fold a towel, or even feed the dog. If you expect your kids to take responsibility, at least give them an opportunity to learn how to do the task. Not only will they be equipped to meet your expectation, but they will be proud to have followed your lead.

3. Reward. Let’s be clear. Sometimes the reward for doing something is that you don’t have to suffer the consequence of NOT doing it. Whether or not you decide to pass out ice cream cones or just give a big hug should always depend on the situation, the task, AND the kid! (Joe is often given a simple “Good job! It looks nice,” for making his bed and Ted often gets a ticker-tape parade for doing the same!)

In the end, my job is to do the best job I can to grow good people. The task is always daunting and never easier than it seems. But the rewards are unmatched.

Hi, My Name is Lily…

20131020-200003.jpg

This is Lily. She is 63 years old. She’s a black belt in Jiu Jitsu, Judo, and her cooking will leave you begging for an invitation to her next dinner party.

What I admire most about Lily is that she is always learning. It is her constant inquiry into how to live better that I think keeps her young in mind and heart.

63 isn’t very old. But if you saw some of the takedowns and chokes that she taught me today… you would wonder what else she puts in her Wheaties.

P.S. This picture is of Lily learning how to improve her Vrksasana.

What’s in a stretch?

If I had a piece of chocolate for everytime someone asked me this question…

So, to get my hamstrings to stretch… do I just need to stay in that pose for a long time? How long is long enough?

My answer is always the same.

As often as you can, as long as you can.

But. let’s be clear about this activity that we call Stretching. When you stretch, you are working on loosening up the muscle fibers and fascia that is so tight that your mobility has been compromised.

Most doctors and physical therapists will tell you that it requires 30 seconds to 180 seconds to loosen the tightness in the muscle or the connective tissue that you are stretching. Ultimately how long you stay depends on what you were trying to achieve. Learning the appropriate position and pressure is key to increasing sensitivity and getting what you want from the stretch.

Tips for the Best Stretch:
1. Set up in a relatively comfortable position where you can stay for a period of time with little fatigue. I usually recommend slanting Uttanasana for hamstrings (also known as Butts-Up-the-Wall).

2. As you increase the pressure, breathe and relax the muscles you are stretching in order to release the contracting muscle fibers and connective tissue fibers.

3. Continue to breathe and let go of the contracting muscles. In other words you have to make a concerted effort to relax what is contracting and pulling. This is not always an easy task. But as your sensitivity increases you will have more control.

4. Stay for at least 30 seconds up to three minutes. Continue to breathe and become more sensitive so you are better able to actively relax what is tightening.

5. Remember to always move with careful attention in and out of a stretching posture. I often see injuries occur when people haphazardly get out of poses. It pays to be attentive.

With regular practice you will find improvement in no time.

But you can keep the chocolate coming!

I remember when…

I remember when I was infinite.
It was grand.
And now I am whole.
And it is.

All these years, we write scripts for the life we think we are living. At what point do we start living in improvisation? And when we do, what happens? Will we still be happy and sad as we were before? Or will our emotions feel differently?

There is an old proverb, “We don’t see things as they are, we see things as we are.”

In my yoga practice, my challenge is always to see things as they are. No small task, which is why I hit the mat on a regular basis. But I often wonder what it would be like to actually not see things in our own reflection.

Food for thought.

The Walking (Brain) Dead

I ruined my son’s life today. There will be no iPods, iPads, tablets, Gameboys, or any other “technology” allowed. The only day that the kids will be allowed to use their “technology” is Saturday.

Ricky’s life is over.

The decision to reinstate this rule came after we played what should have been a friendly game of Monopoly last night. What typically is a night of conversation, teasing, jokes, and stories became a night of regurgitating and reenacting Vines, YouTube videos, and jokes they’d seen online. I felt as though my children’s minds had been hijacked by people I have never met.

So, this morning when I laid down the new rules, two of my three sons shrugged and made a feeble effort to put up a fight. They ended up deciding to head out to play a game of football. But poor Ricky. He spent the better part of the morning with his head buried in his pillow, making lists of why we are the worst parents on the planet.

Later, when Ricky was still buried deep in his cave of disdain, Joe asked me why I made the decision to ruin Ricky’s life. We talked about why I am actually a smart, caring mother contrary to what image I could feel developing in Ricky’s mind.

I explained that I consider our minds like a worm’s digestive system – garbage in, garbage out. If all we see, read, hear, and experience is offensive, sophomoric humor, then that’s what we’ll talk about, replay, and present to the world. I reminded him that he and his siblings are smart, talented, and compassionate. To water down their creativity with videos of kids twerking, adults falling into cakes, etc. wouldn’t be that much of a concern, except the time it takes to watch all of that. When can I expect them to practice their instruments, tidy their rooms, read books, play catch in the yard? Today’s iPods aren’t much different than the TV was in my youth. We can’t spend all day, everyday watching TV or eating Twinkies, or playing Clash of the Clans. That’s just not how we live life to its fullest.

So there I was, repeating the same conversation that I heard from my parents thirty years ago. Ugh. Which made me wonder what other Universal Truths in Parenting there were.

1. Garbage In = Garbage Out. Consider that what you put out in the world (via your athletics, academics, friendship) consists largely of what you’ve consumed.

2. A Smile for a Stranger Opens Many Gates. Is it so difficult to smile at someone? No. And believe it or not, your smiles create a sense of happiness that is contagious. Next time you are serving brussels sprouts, smile and see how much more accepting your kids are of your gourmet selection.

3. Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask Before Assisting Others. The truth is that if your child faints while you are putting on your own mask, you will still be able to help them. But if you faint, then you will be of no help to anyone. As dramatic as it is, this rule applies for many other areas in life.

I’m sure there are others that are equally crucial to surviving as a parent and molding responsible, productive members of society. This is a good start.

Maybe I’ll add more after watching the season opener for The Walking Dead… just kidding!

Easier Said Than Done

As a yoga teacher, one of the challenges of the trade is taht I am often asked about neck pain, back pain, and whether or not there is a pose that would help streacth a certain area in the body. What no one ever asks me is how to detach from designs, still the minds’ flucturations, or find steadiness and ease in a body and mind that appear so rigid and unadjustable. Funny, since those are the root practices of yoga.

I have always been under the impression that people don’t talk about the classical philosophy and practice of yoga because they don’t understand it or they are afraid. More likely it’s because of the public image of the cloth diaper-wearing, patchouli-laced, overgrown hippie who talks in strange vagaries about “beingness” and unrelatable terms that involve fabled stories of ancient times where fabled people always did the right thing and never worried about healthcare, taxes, or how to update their new iOS.

In reality, the psychology, philosophy, and practice of yoga is quite practical and very applicable to our modern lives.

The first aspects of yoga are physical. Yama and niyama remind us to be good and do good. Asana keeps us physically fit. Pranayama teaches us to be still and pay attention. Pratyahara bridges what is tangible to what is more abstract and brings us to examine our consciousness.

When we work on our consciousness – our “being-ness” – then we start to see changes in how we think, work, feel, and live. And believe it or not, therein lies our answers to aches and pains, depression, anxiety, and whatever else it is we are looking for when we type Yoga in to the Google search.

And, like all important practices in life, it’s much easier said than done.