Sunday, December 28, 2014

New Beginnings: A Review

Yesterday I taught a class with two new students, both first time to The SweatBox and completely new to Bikram Yoga. At the end of the class, one student came out with wide eyes, bright eyes and a little grin. "You did great!" I said, "How do you feel?"

"That was tough," he chuckled back, "but I'll be here tomorrow."

The other new student came out and bolted for the door. When she was already out of my sight, I hollered, "Goodbye...... did you have any questions?" She quipped back, clearly agitated, "Nope" and was gone.  A few moments later a regular student came out and told me that,while changing in the dressing room, this student was pretty vocally unhappy about her experience. I don't think she'll be back.

This drastically different response to the same exact experience made me think about my own responses to struggle, change, new things because, I, like many of us, push back against things that are hard. And how perfect to reflect on this when we are just days away from ringing in a new year. Every year the New Year sneaks up on me and I want to be a cynic and hater. By this point in 2014, I am fully holi-Dayed out. But I'm actually not a hater. I'm a lover. A lover or fresh starts, new beginnings, clean slates.

Last year, I committed to meditating three times a week.

In 2013, I decided to give up half and half.

The year before, my daughter and I made a joint resolution to "not be perfect."

In 2011 I did my first every Polar Bear Plunge.

And, I didn't start this blog until February of 2010, so I don't know if I had any resolutions that year!

As far as meditating goes, I've maintained my average, sometimes skipping weeks, other times doing it daily. I am still half-and-half free. For about a year, I gritted my way through black coffee. I now have a new plan involving milk that I feel really great about. Perfectionism is in my blood. I still hate to be wrong and I struggle to accept change gracefully, but having a daughter who I see battling with similar issues is my best and most constant reminder to model being open to change, open to failure, and proud of doing my best.  The Polar Bear Plunge.... been there. Done that!

Right now, in this moment of reflection, I feel very very grateful for this blog. This is one of the most grounding places in my world. It helps me remember the things I'm sure of, the things I'm still learning, and the profound number of things I don't know, at times when I most need reminding.  It is through teaching Yoga and trying my best to be a good partner and parent and friend that these lessons come.

I still have a few days to come up with my resolutions for 2015. I'm open to ideas........

Friday, December 19, 2014

Do you really want to use a calculator for that?

My daughter Lucia is learning Algebra right now. She's forever trying to figure out what 92 is divisible by or if 3X=194, is there a remainder.... There is so much she doesn't know, so much she has to parse apart to get to an answer. Once, after Lucia went to bed, I tried to do her math-- without a calculator-- and it was truly work for me. My math muscles have most definitely atrophied since fourth grade.

For those of you who have taken my class, you know that I draw some hard lines with Standing Head to Knee Pose. For many reasons, I feel 100% committed to teaching this posture really true to form. For one, it is really hard to balance when the posture's foundation is compromised (bent standing knee); two, you could hurt your back if you don't have proper alignment and a solid foundation; and three (and most important), if you skip the hard work to get through the steps of the posture, you've missed the most important part of the posture! Last week I said to one class, "Kicking out on a bent knee is like doing math with a calculator!"

But still I see it every day, people kicking out on a bent knee, or bending their elbows with a bent knee, even trying to touch forehead to knee with two bent knees! If you are a regular practitioner, you know what  I'm talking about. I know this shortcutting I see is just human nature. People are excited to "get there", to that final position of the posture. That's only natural; we are trained from toddlerhood to get to the finish line, to make the goal, to hit a home run.

In Yoga we are practicing a different paradigm. It's not the end point, it is the process of getting there.  In the process, our muscles develop, both physically and mentally. In Standing Head to Knee Pose, our quads strengthen and new neural pathways get established, but only if we give them the time and space to do the work.

It is so like Lucia doing her math. I've watched over these three months of fourth grade: the first week complete confusion over what an integer is; how the heck long division makes sense; those pesky word problems! Day in and day out though, math homework comes home and Lucia struggles with these problems from the beginning, sometimes going back a unit to refresh certain concepts, but she's getting stronger and more solid in her math practice.

Some days when I practice Standing Head to Knee and my back feels good and my knees are happy,  I can kick out and hold my form. Other days, I'm not so strong, or my muscles are tight, or I have an injury, and I have to back track, refrain from kicking out first set, or maybe both sets. Every time I do the pose, I have to connect with what my body knows, what part of the posture is clicking into place, before I move onto the next part of the posture. Only then will I be able to get to the next part of the equation.

In not taking shortcuts, in not assuming our bodies "know it all" every time we practice, we're basically choosing not to use a calculator to get the final answer. We're choosing to use opportunities to build our strength, to learn new things, to uncover what we don't know.




Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A different kind of mirror

I spend a lot of time looking in the mirror. In Bikram Yoga, looking in the mirror is a big part of practice. What I love about it is that, because so much else is going on,  it feels very different from normal looking in the mirror. It's more like seeing or witnessing. When I have been in my greatest depths of sorrow-- a break up I was sure I would never survive, the death of my Nana who made me feel more special than anyone else in the world, post-partum blues-- the mirror, like my trusted friends and confidants, was a place to just see myself as I was. I could bring myself to the mirror in whatever state I was in for that moment.

Last night we had a big SweatBox fundraiser. It was incredibly vulnerable and I was painfully nervous to get in front of all of these people from whom I needed something.  Earlier that day one of my students said, "Laura, why are you nervous, your JOB is speaking in front of people." But this was different. I am usually the one who is giving to this crowd, teaching and offering my love and support to my beloved students. Last night the tables were turned. When I got up to do the little schpeel, I was voice-shaking nervous.  And then I saw all of those faces, familiar faces, filled with love, not judging not criticizing, but loving! I could see it in their eyes, in their smiles. I could feel the energy in the room, and it was calm and comforting and LOVING.

The room of bad-ass Yogis became my mirror. They were there for me, supporting me in my nervous state, my vulnerable state. And maybe I was boring or irrelevant or tangential, but it didn't matter. What I got from the audience mirror was what I get from the mirror when I practice-- a witness to who I am, however I am. What a gift.  Thank you everyone.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Your body is an ecosystem

Last night my friend Alia, who is a nutritionist and a yogini and a dancer and a mother, not necessarily in that order, said "I think of the human body as an ecosystem." She was talking about one of her passions, nutrition. She talked about many other cool concepts related to the gut and our health and how we process proteins and all kinds of things I could have listened to for hours, but it was this idea of the body as an ecosystem, a tiny little complex planet, that lodged in my brain.

I looked up "Ecosystem" this morning. One definition is: "a complex network or interconnected system."  Another: "a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment." When Alia was using "Ecosystem" as a metaphor, she explained that, just like the earth needs to find balance, so do our bodies. The oil spills, the plastics leaching into our water and soil, deforestation, all of these things are leading us to a frightening imbalance in our ecosystem.

I don't have a fraction of the knowledge that Alia has about nutrition or the digestive and elimination systems, nor am I an expert on the delicate nature of balancing our earth. But I am committed to finding balance, both as a student and a teacher in the Yoga room.

When you think about the body as an ecosystem, you have to include the mind. And yoga, of course, means "union" or connection, between the body and the mind. In practice, it is easy to focus just on the asanas--  are my shoulders level, can I balance for one whole minute, is my spine straight? But there is so much more. We are each a complete ecosystem, most of us rife with pollutants. The body, the mind, the heart, all the energy swimming through our bodies is interconnected. Everything must work with everything else to make balance.

For me, the pollutants that inhabit my ecosystem come in the form of coffee, poor night's sleep, too much screen time, shabby diet, a terribly busy life. I need to practice regularly to counter the energy that comes from being who I am, how I am. Sometimes when I practice, I am mentally hijacked- worried, stressed, tingling with nervous and chaotic energy. On those days, when the toxins originate in my mental and emotion body, I know that the most immediate path to balancing my ecosystem is to bust my own ass physically. I know that process will clean out some of the pollution. I need to work so hard that every thought, every fiber in my body is channeled into my practice so my mind, the part of my ecosystem that is nearing dangerous levels of contamination, can get a break. 

Other days, in less stressful times, when my mind quieter, cleaner, my brain chatter a little bit less active, I have mental energy to practice differently. I can be more focused on the nuances of each asana, trusting that my brain won't take me to judgement or competition or other sentiments that inevitably lead me outside of my practice. My body still gets the physical practice; the process of balancing my ecosystem is still happening, but from a slightly different angle. On days like this, balance comes from drawing a little more from the mental part of my ecosystem.

Everyday when you practice Yoga, your little world needs something different. The end result is the same- balance. 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Change is gradual. Until it's sudden


Change is gradual. Until it's sudden. All my life I have been athletic. I started swimming competitively when I was five and practiced multiple times a week until I was 17. By that time I was fully identified as a good swimmer, a really good swimmer, sometimes a great swimmer. When I went to college, I stopped practicing. I was tired of swimming, tired of competing, tired of being "a swimmer." I gave up that feeling of being proficient, good at something for smoking cigarettes and eating bad dorm food. During my sophomore year in college I moved off campus. Occasionally I would visit the pool at my university and attempt a workout from the olden days, but it was always unsatisfying. I wasn't really a swimmer any more. I didn't fit with the competitive bodies still actively participating in my old sport. I was an outsider.

Despite my attempt at a new identity- "smoking, quad-sitting co-ed", my body still craved exercise. So, I ran. I ran in the park near my new apartment off campus. I never ran very far, and I was inconsistent. After my daughter Lucia was born I inherited a baby jogger and I forged a plan to run off my baby bulge by running a half-marathon. I ran, but not that far. During that period in college and post part, I lost patience with how hard it was to improve. After having been so strong at another sport, I couldn't abide the pace it was taking to improve. I never got to the point where I was when I was a swimmer. That was twenty-five years ago and, in fits and starts I have always run a little bit at different stages of my life.

When I started practicing Bikram Yoga in 1994, I felt fulfilled physically. And I became more nourished mentally and emotionally than I ever was as a swimmer. In the last five years, for myriad reasons, I started running again--- a group of friends and I wanted to do a triathlon, I wanted to be outside more, my friend Kate invited me to run with her. At first my running felt very much like it had during college or after Lucia was born-- half-baked and noncommittal.  But then after a few years, I started noticing that running felt easier, more fun. I set some goals, I made some personal distance records, and I kept going. After all these years, I was finally noticing some change.

Last week my running buddy Kate and I went for a run to the lake. It was 28 degrees out and windy. We set out for our six-mile loop through and around Seward Park, eyes watering from the cold and wind. "I actually feel like a runner." I said to Kate, "When we started running before the triathlon, I never thought it would feel like this." Kate squeeled in agreement , "IIIIIII know!" It can take years, decades, a lifetime for a body to change, a mind to change, a life to change. And then, in one joyous moment, you notice it. Change is gradual. Until it's sudden.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Yoga is the gateway drug to joy

Last week when I taught my Roots of Empathy class, I asked my 3rd and 4th graders what they think comforts a baby. When they came up blank, I shared that when my daughter was tiny, turning on the hair dryer immediately calmed her down. The gentle hum of the hair dryer sounds very similar to the hushing sound babies hear in utero. As we develop-- from infant to toddler to child to teenager to adult--- finding the thing that comforts us, brings us that calm, gets more and more elusive. For me, the one constant thing that's offered me comfort like this over the last two decades is Yoga.

But every couple of years,  I get slightly dormant in my Yoga practice. I practice less, and I'm not fully there mentally when I do practice. When I come out of hibernation from my Yoga strike, it is like I've discovered a whole new world. The rush comes right back!

When I am doing a regular Yoga practice, I feel so much happier. My body needs it. I have tight, tight muscles, maybe from my years of swimming or maybe from my newfound love of running, or maybe because I'm an uptight neurotic human. Regardless, I have a body that needs Yoga to stay pain free (maybe everyone does).

My mind needs it. I am a person whose brain goes ALL the time. Not in a bad way, although sometimes the activity can make me feel simultaneously like throwing up and passing out.  I very rarely take time to settle. I need a place to quiet down. That happens for me in the yoga room. My body becomes bigger than my brain and my breath becomes louder than my internal voice(s).

Spiritually, I need yoga. It makes me happy, hopeful, joyful. It is a place where I feel there is something bigger, better, stronger, than me. I feel lighter, held in a way that I rarely feel in other areas of my life. Yoga is my gateway drug to joy.

The joy doesn't come right away, except in the form of endorphins (which are definitely a kind of joy). It comes over time. You start to appreciate you body more, your strength, your flexibility, your intention in your practice. Then you notice how you are actually a little bit quiet mentally in Savasana. Oh, what a relief to have that peace. And then, maybe after years, or decades, you notice that your heart sings a little bit when you practice. All layers combine to bring a sense of joy. And then, for some random reason, you take a break from Yoga. You have an affair with Crossfit or spinning or knitting! But when you come back, the feelings are all there. And it doesn't take long until you're addicted. Again.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Open your Armpits



As we approach Thanksgiving, I am trying to remember to be grateful and thankful daily. One of the things I am so grateful for is the Lake (Washington). It is one of my greatest sources of calm and inspiration. I see it everyday and I run on it often.

The distance from my house to Seward Park, once around the loop and back, if you take just the right extra turns and jogs in the path, is a little over 5 miles. Outside of a slightly longer run that goes through the inner trails, this is my favorite catharsis.  My ritual is to put on my Strava (I'm slightly OCD about mileage), tune Songza to inspirational pop favorites, and run down the hill to the lake.

This afternoon, after a hard interaction with my daughter that left me feeling a little depressed, I knew running would be the antidote to my sorrows. The tip of Seward Park is the half-way point of my run. It's also a popular spot for people to sit on the benches and look out at the lake and across to Mercer Island. Today, as I approached the tip, the clouds were pink, the lake was completely placid and there were a handful of people with their dogs standing, looking at a flock of birds floating on the lake. Everything and everyone was still, even the dogs.

As I approached this idyllic scene, Flo-Rida's "Good Feeling" was playing and I was running at a pretty good pace. I felt SO happy, so energized! The combination of everything was overwhelmingly peaceful and beautiful. I found myself raising my arms over my head with glee. I read recently that one of BKS Iyengar's students heard him say, "If you open your armpits, you'll never get depressed." That thought came into my head as I ran, arms spread, for a few paces.

The remaining miles home were equally blissful. Seattle, and the area around Seward Park where the lake dominates the view for miles, is perfect. People rowing crew, fishermen, eternally hopeful, happy couples walking together, finding time that will make everything better, bikers in their colorful clown-garb, runners, like me, bouncing with happiness at the scene. Open your armpits. And get a good feeling.


Thursday, November 13, 2014

GOLDEN BIRTHDAY, MAGIC BATHROOMS, and LOVE

Life offers us a variety of dishes--- some are delicious, tasty, at the very least, palatable. And some are horrible, tasteless, bitter, even rotten. As many of you know, The SweatBox is currently in the process of digesting a rather unsavory meal. We've hit hard times and are working our best to move through it, to get to the other side, to a place where things taste good again.

When things get hard, or uncomfortable, unpalatable, for many of us, the tendency is to move out of the way, to get to another space. I have wanted many times, during this last spell of incessant construction that's smothering our studios, to flee, to drop everything and become a kindergarten teacher.  It's hard, it's uncomfortable, it's sucky. And, there is another side.

A few months ago when I was teaching, I noticed that lots of people were going to the bathroom. I'd notice the same people going, at the same times, during each class. One day, in an effort to be more empathetic, more open-minded than usual, I took some time to really think about why these students were in this pattern. It occurred to me that they must believe that something will happen, change, disappear in the bathroom.  I said, "Did y'all know that there is nothing magic in the bathroom?" "Chuckle chuckle", went the class. "The magic is on your mat" I said, "it lives in you, not in the bathroom."

Tomorrow, November 14th, 2014, The SweatBox will officially turn 13 years old! That means that next year, November 14th, 2015, we will be 14 years old. For those of you who don't know, when you turn your age on the date of your birthday, it is considered your GOLDEN BIRTHDAY.  That's pretty special, and it is a good reminder for me to persevere through these hard times. For thirteen years, over 30,000 students have graced us with their presence, every single one bringing with them a little bit of magic! The magic of our studios, thanks to all of you, still lives at The SweatBox. And even though we're struggling financially and are, for the first time, reaching out for help, we still feel it.

When I think about throwing in the sweat-drenched towel, I think about all of the magic years of The SweatBox. Thirteen years, approaching the golden age! Sure I want to go to the bathroom and find something new different, magical. Who wouldn't?! I'm not going to though. I'm not going anywhere. We're not going anywhere. We're going to ride this challenge, hold on tight, and get to the other side. We'll do what we need to because we've got all of your magic driving us to the other side.
This is going to be a great birthday!We sincerely thank you all.

Monday, November 3, 2014

I don't wanna play goalie!

My daughter's soccer team is awesome. They are eleven strong, fast, feisty 9 and 10 year olds.  They are the Meerkats and they are mighty! Many of them have been playing together for close to five years. They are committed and connected. For the most part, the girls are pretty versatile. Their coaches play them all over the field and they usually go with it, except for goalie.

There are only two girls on the team brave enough to volunteer for goalie every time. Usually, each of these two heroines plays goalie one half of every game. A few weeks ago, one of our little goalies got her confidence crushed. Though she played hard, she let lots of  goals in and she felt like she'd let down her team.

I have two friends who played college soccer, one of them was the goalie for Guam's national team. I asked them if they'd do a small coaching session with our two goalies and a few other girls. Graciously, they agreed. Dressed in their soccer duds, these forty-something women gently guided  four goalie-resistant Meerkats through the ins and outs of playing goal keeper.

I watched from the sidelines as they dove, rolled, made upside-down and right side-up "W" shapes with their hands and hobbled like gorillas keeping close to the ground so as to never miss a ball. At the end of the session, as the girls stretched, one of the coaches had the girls go around in a circle and share, "Say one thing you did well today and one thing you want to work on."  Naming what they wanted to work on was easy; saying what they did well was much more challenging.

After the coaches left, the girls all stayed to play Lighting, a fast shooting game where the goalie rotates. Normally, no one wants to play goalie, especially during Lightning. But on this day, all of the girls kept their keeper gloves on (and it wasn't very cold out) and fought to play goalie.

Later that day Lucia said to me, "Mom, I really need to practice playing goalie more." What the hell!? "You like goalie?" I inquired, trying to keep a neutral tone. "Yeah" she quipped, as if it was obvious.

What changed? The girls got a lesson and they had fun. They went into something feeling afraid and their new coaches broke the fear down, lightened it up for them. Do you remember when you first started practicing yoga? I do. I felt completely in the dark. And I often still do. I needed my teachers then, and I need them now, to break things down for me, give me support and strength and guidance.

Today when I taught, as I often do, I felt incredible gratitude for my job. I love it. Every class I teach, I love. The looks on the faces of students struggling to hold balance or find alignment is infinitely inspiring. I know I give a lot of feedback about what students can do better-- "lift your chest more, relax your forehead, balance your weight more evenly across your feet." But I might not say enough, "Think about what you did well today." Forgive me if I don't say it because I think it. You do a lot well. Everyday.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Checky.com

One of my favorite things to do is wake up on Sunday mornings to the New York Times. Invariably, even when I don't have to, I get up really early, even on Sundays. Often, I hear the smack of the heavy Sunday NYT on my garage door.  My first stop is always "Modern Love" in the Style Section. Then, Week in Review and Business. In last Sunday's Business section, there was an article called "Trying to Live in the Moment (and Not on the Phone)."

The article talked about how unconsciously we check our phones. It's, like so many other things, a habit. For me it's a bad one. The article gave suggestions for a few smart phone apps that track how many times you check your phone. One sounded really great but it was $4.99. I went for the free one, Checky. The first day I had Checky on my phone, I was mildly conscious when I checked it,  but I wasn't actively trying to restrict my use. At the end of the day, Checky told me that I had checked my phone 43 times. Holy shit! That's borderline embarrassing.

The next day I made an effort to only check my phone when I really needed to (when do we ever really need to?) I dropped my opens to 20. I was really shocked that I had 23 unnecessary openings the day before. What was I doing? Was I even conscious of using my phone or were my fingers just used to pushing that small round button that lights up my screen?

It's not unlike habits anywhere else, like the Yoga room. When we are in the practice room, we are adjusting to a new environment. No phone, no computer, no chit chat with your neighbor. But, in place of those other things, and the habits the accompany those activities, we create new ones. We adjust the undetectable wrinkle in our towel. We move our water bottle to that perfect place. We blow our nose, even when it's not running.

Changing any habit is really challenging-- which means it can be kind of fun. Right now as I type this, my phone is sitting beside me. I am resisting looking at it because I want my opens score to be lower than yesterday. And in not pushing that button, in not succumbing to that urge, that habit, I am focusing my energy elsewhere. I am writing my blog, an activity that I don't do as much as I want to. I am listening to my favorite soundtrack (Les Miserables) and I am focused on focusing!

It's the same in the Yoga room or in the kitchen or in your child's room at night when you are having a end of the day chit chat or ten-minute focused reading date. Whether your phone is close to you or not, don't go there. Don't push the button to see your texts or think about what's happening next. Resist. Challenge yourself. It feels pretty good. I'm done with this blog. Now I get to check my phone. 17 opens today! VICTORY!









Monday, September 29, 2014

When I learn it, I'll get it

This year, for fourth grade, Lucia is in a new school where the curriculum taught is two years above grade level. In other words, in fourth grade, the kids learn sixth grade math. In Lucia's first week,  on our drive home from school, she said, "Mom, at school we had a math test and I only got like 20 out of 80 correct!" There was no discomfort in her voice; she sounded almost happy. I eyed her through the rear view mirror to see the expression on her face. She was calm as a cucumber. As she stared out of the window, she thoughtfully added, "But y'know Mom, I don't know that math yet. Once I learn it, I figure, then I'll get it." Boom. End of discussion.

Lucia, bless her little soul, is a bit of an A-type, even at the tender age of nine. She struggles when she does not know things and is much more comfortable in environments where she feels proficient. Shock and awe were my reactions when I heard her nonchalant response to her abysmal math performance. And happiness, relief, joy and pride.

While I wanted to shout to Lucia, "Yes, that's great. What a great reaction! You are learning. You will get it....", I did not. I've been doing this parenting dance long enough to know that silence is sometimes more effective that offering my thoughts.

Since this one-sided conversation with Lucia, I have watched and helped her do her math homework. She has definitely struggled--this new math is significantly more rigorous than the math at her last school. But she's also been okay. Somehow, somewhere, Lucia got in her mind that, first you learn it, then you do it.

I've learned a great deal from being a parent, and this is another great lesson. Doing new things--harder things, different things---is hard for everyone. Sometimes things come easier for some than others. Lord knows I've had my days of stink-eye (hidden deep inside, I hope) as I watch a brand new yoga student do postures with ease that I've struggled with for twenty years! But perfection is not the point.  Learning to do something new, different, hard, is the point. Bravo Lucia! Thanks for the lesson.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Running to nowhere....

Last weekend I ran my first ever trail run-- a 10K. I really had no idea what to expect. I half-thought maybe I'd find a bunch of super-fit men and women in camouflage running gear with mud streaked faces. But when we got there, they were just regular people, runners in running shoes and shorts. There were about 100 of us running the 10K and another 50 more running a half-marathon at the same time. Being novices and not knowing what to expect, my friend Kate and I started toward the back middle. The trail was very narrow, only enough for one runner in most places, so the initial bottleneck was long and we spent a good ten minutes just getting to a point where we could run steadily.

Once we started running, the pack spread out and Kate and I ran together for about 15 minutes. Unlike normal runs where we run side by side chatting, here we were running single file and too focused on avoiding ditches and tree roots to talk much. At some point, Kate said, "Okay, I'm going to make a break. You coming?" Knowing that Kate's natural pace is usually much faster than mine, I was non-committal, "It depends on how fast you go," I told her. And off she went. I couldn't maintain her pace and with the dense forest and switchbacks, I quickly lost sight of her.

Now I was running on my own with a smattering of other runners in front of and behind me. It was so beautiful, completely green tree cover and quiet all around. The only sounds were my breath and the pounding of feet, mine and those behind me. Without Kate, I had no one to pace me and no idea of the distance I had run, how far I had to go, how many inclines, declines. I ran for a while behind a young woman in red tights with a big ponytail and an Olivia Newton John headband. She seemed fit and confident and I decided that if I could keep her pace, I was doing well. Eventually though, I felt stuck behind her. Passing wouldn't be easy because, in front of her were another few runners at about her pace. To pass, I would have to be sure that I could get past all of them and maintain a faster clip for at least a little while. If I couldn't maintain, then all that trouble to pass would have been for naught.

After psyching myself up, I chirped, "On your left" and passed all three runners in front of me. I ran faster and found that I was okay, I could maintain this speed. Eventually at the water station at the top of the hill I met up with Kate who was waiting for me. We ran together again. I still had no idea how long we'd been running, though I assumed the water break was about half-way. The running felt exciting-- we had to dodge big tree roots, decipher the direction we had to go at every fork, make way for passers, pass others in our way....

Knowing that I was likely on the second half of the run, I gained confidence. I still felt strong and took that as a great sign. Surprising myself, I told Kate, "I'm going to pass you." And again, I was without my pacer. I had to go within, feel how I felt, and trust myself. As I ran, coming closer other runners who I'd have to negotiate passage around, I'd ask myself, "Do you have the energy for this?" Once I was sure I did, I'd pass. By the end of the course I could faintly make out the clearing of the parking lot and I was able to run faster. I was so happy to find the finish line (Kate and I finished within a minute of each other) but I was surprised by how much energy I had left, how much more I could have given.

I felt a great accomplishment from finishing that run, but more than that, I felt excited about what I learned about myself, about listening to my internal physical cues. Not knowing where exactly I was going, how far I had run, liberated me from the messaging I normally experience when I run. Because I didn't know, I had to do something different. I thought about this a lot when I was doing yoga yesterday morning. If I can practice and listen more to my internal cues rather than fall into my regular patterns (tired at triangle, overheated at camel, blah blah blah), I might find that I'm stronger than I think I am.



Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ride your bike!


Melancholy is incompatible with bicycling. ~James E. Starrs


I recently moved further south of where I used to live, basically doubling my commute (from 3 miles to 6 miles). This summer I've been bike commuting to and from work, about a 40-minute ride each way, mostly along Lake Washington. I am a notorious multi-tasker, chronically distracted and over-stimulated. Each time I mount my bike to ride, Nancy, my partner, looks me in the eyes and says, "Laura, be careful. Pay attention. Focus." She knows how easy it would be for an inattentive rider like me to get squished by a crazy text-happy driver.

I love riding my bike. Using my body as a means to get to a destination is the ultimate in efficiency for me. I'm helping the earth, trimming my waist, AND getting to work. What's better than that!? As I rode yesterday, I was filled with energy from the riding-- wind on my face, muscles working, heart racing. But I also had this intense sense of calm; of focus. My phone was safely tucked in to my pannier on my rear bike rack so that distraction wouldn't enter the picture until my final destination. The geese and the ducks were doing their inexplicably organized circle dance on the water. People were scattered all over on rafts, inner tubes, paddle boards, sail boats, enjoying the sun and the water. I looked on the I-Dock as I always do for the resident great blue heron who likes to hang with the fishers. Everything seemed so alive, so big, so connected-- these sensory experiences are so diluted, even absent completely when I am driving. "This is incredible." I thought to myself, "when am I ever this happy?"

The only other time I am indeed that happy is when I'm doing Yoga. During Yoga practice my cell phone is way out of reach, and I'm engaged in a similar energetic-calm when I am in yoga and on my bike. On my bike I have the chance to see the world around me, to appreciate things I miss when I'm driving in or when I'm a passenger staring at my phone. When I'm practicing yoga, I get that same great sense of energy from the exertion inherent in Bikram practice. And the absence of distraction takes me inside instead of outside, providing that same awesome sense of connection I have when I am riding my bike. I have a chance to notice more clearly what I am feeling-- both physically and mentally. I notice things I am removed from when I am outside of the yoga room. It's the perfect combination-- riding my bike to practice yoga! And it's so efficient!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Last night I dreamed the strangest dream



Last night I dreamed that The SweatBox was hiring a new teacher. I was eager to take her class as I had never met her before (unusual circumstances). I overslept and had to run to the studio. I got there about halfway through the class, frantic and breathless already, only to find about fifty students sitting around big old library tables, studying! The teacher was lying on the podium at the front of the class on a towel. Asleep.

I marched right up to this teacher, shook her awake and said, "Hi. Do you know who I am?" She blankly looked at me and half-awake drawled, "What?...No?....."
"I'm the owner," I bellowed, "and you're fired!"
This was obviously a dream because, even in intense anger, I do not have the cojones to be such a hard-ass. If only I could be such a hard-ass....

Anyway, in my dream, after firing the teacher, I yelled to all the students, "Move these tables! Put those books away! Get out your mats!" After all of the students were neatly placed on their mats, I gave a reprimand. "You are working too much. You do NOT NEED to be working. You NEED to be taking care of yourselves, doing your yoga. YOU WORK ENOUGH!"

Now, it is true that I am highly stressed right now. I'm moving, construction around my business continues to hammer away at my sense of calm and well-being, school's out for the summer.... But the response in my dream was extreme. Severe. And so true.
This morning when I taught, I told the students about my dream. I said, "this is why we don't offer shorter classes. We need to make more time for yoga, not more time for work." Research shows that self-care ultimately increases productivity, yet many of us continue to think that working more hours creates better outcomes.

Sometimes committing to 90-minutes seems like self-indulgence. We fight against doing it because there are so many other forces pulling us--- If only I could squeeze this in to my lunch time or If only I could make the 8:15am bus. The reasons for wanting to short-change ourselves are endless. The reason that you shouldn't short change yourself is that, once you start (cutting your yoga practice short; eating dinner standing up instead of sitting down; sleeping six hours instead of eight; brushing your teeth for one minute instead of two) in order to make more time for work, it is like a runaway train. It's really hard to stop.

So, go from the other direction. Make time for your self-care, your yoga, your sleep, your meals, and structure your work to fit into this life. It will be hard at first. Sometimes justifying additional time for self-care creates more stress than just succumbing to the work pull, but in the long run, short-changing ourselves leads to bigger problems. Start small. If you are practicing once a week, do twice. If you are sleeping six hours, try six and a half. You'll start to notice that, while you are spending fewer hours working, more hours taking care of yourself, probably your life is better, not just in your personal life but in your work life too. See you in class.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

You can walk if you want to!

Since my last post about training for a half-marathon, I have revised the idea a bit. Kate, my running partner, told me that she had a goal to run 200 miles this summer. And, being the competitive, team-player that I am, I jumped on that bus! So, here we are, separately, and sometimes together, trying to accomplish this 200 mile goal. It averages to somewhere between 15-20 miles a week which, so far, has been okay. Most days it's only 3-5 miles with one 6 or 7-miler a week. Those, for me, are the killers. I die on the long runs. I sometimes die on the short runs.

Currently, Kate is on an extended vacation with her family for a month so I am left to run the death marches solo. For the past two weeks I've managed to do a long run on my own. The first week, I used Kate's technique of pretending I was in the Hunger Games while I ran through Seward Park. That worked great! The second week, I managed to clock 6.8 miles because my partner Nancy and my daughter Lucia came with me. They rode bikes while I ran. Periodically, we'd all stop and jump in the lake. They'd get back on their bikes and I'd run to our next dunking destination. That was fun!

In support of our challenge, another friend sent an article about the importance of walking to support faster running. The article suggests that, "walking reduces the impact forces on the muscles, joints, and tendons, and reduces breathing rate and heart rate, so runners are able to cover more distance with better form and alignment, and a reduced risk of fatigue." What!? I can walk when I run and it holds therapeutic and performance value? This, for me, was groundbreaking. I have always felt like a loser when I have to walk during a run. Not anymore.

On Monday night after a long day of work and a pretty significant bike commute, I forced myself to do a 4 mile run. It was dusk so it wasn't so hot, and I anticipated that I would have an easy run. But it wasn't easy. I was dehydrated. I was tired. It was a grind from the moment I walked out my front door. As I ran down my street towards the hill on the Chief Sealth Trail about a mile into my run, I remembered the article. "I can walk up this hill!" I did. I managed that run okay. It wasn't easy and I had to walk two more times, but I did it. My plan for that night was to meet two of my favorite friends for a beer at the end of the run. I managed to sprint the last quarter mile to my destination. I think the walking helped.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

It's true. I'm not a doctor.

When I was in fourth grade my sisters and I were talking about what we wanted to be when we grew up. I knew right away. My super cool aunt who lived with us during medical school was (and is) a pediatrician at the Mayo Clinic. She also loved board games, had really great hair and was married to my super-crafty, musical uncle, who I adored. "I want to be a pediatrician," I said. My mom overheard us talking and said, "Laura, if you want to be a doctor when you grow up, you're going to need to get much better grades." Of course she was right. Doctors have a rigorous school path to manage and they need to be smart and capable. But as a fourth grader in my fifth year of a really crappy Chicago Public School education, I hadn't ever been exposed to any kind of academic rigor. I had no idea if I was smart or not.

I don't blame my mother for the fact that I'm not a doctor. I am sure she barely remembers that comment and she was likely just trying to steer me in the right direction for my future. But I think about that defining moment ALL THE TIME. What if I had never made that decision to not follow the doctor dream in fourth grade? What if I hadn't absorbed that message? Maybe I would have taken a wholly different path. And maybe I would still have ended up being a yoga teacher (a job that I wouldn't change for anything, by the way.)

A few weeks ago, I was talking to a yoga student about running. She told me that she'd never been a runner but had recently been inspired to run a half-marathon. "That's way out of my league," I told her "My max is six miles. I could never do a half-marathon."

Two weeks later the same student came in with a copy of her training sheet for me. "I was so shocked to hear you say you could never do a half-marathon," the student said, handing me the 10-weeks to 13.1 miles training sheet. "You of all people who tell us all the time what we can do." And she's right. I tell students every day to be open to new things their bodies can do, that just this simple act in Yoga will open up other paths too. It can be big or small-- touching your forehead in standing head-to-knee pose or just breathing calmly in Savasana. It can be telling your boss how you really feel or just asking for a new cubby at work.

It's so insidious-- the self-doubt that surrounds us, lives within us. It's a constant effort to stay open to new ideas about ourselves. I went home last night and ran 3 miles, the shortest run on the training sheet, and today I woke up and ran 3 miles again. Tomorrow, according to the sheet, I get a break. This weekend I have to run 5 miles I think. I don't know if I'll actually run an official race in ten weeks, but I'm going to do the training. It's true. I'm not a doctor but maybe I'll run a half-marathon.

Friday, May 9, 2014

What am I doing?

I've noticed my daughter Lucia recently being a complete scatter brain. When my partner Nancy or I ask her to make her bed or set the table or let out the chickens, she starts her chore and, en route or mid-way she says, "Wait. What was I doing?" Jeez, what's wrong with her? The apple doesn't fall far from the tree, and of course parents teach their kids thousands of not-so-great habits every day just by unconcious modeling.

Lucia's newfound vocalization of, "what am I doing?" is maybe the result of a higher responsibility of chores now that she's nine or perhaps, like most adults in the world, her brain is getting too full of crap. For kids, playing is the perfect place to let go. Run outside, play tether ball, dress up like a matador and play baby bull. Like many parents, I am anti-screen-- no video games, minimal special movie time, no iPad babysitting. All that stuff just clutters the brain. There's plenty of time for that in adulthood.

Adults need play time too. Of course there's the old standby-- cocktails and letting our hair down. This can be a decent antidote to the overly-full brain, but it's not really doing anything except pausing the mental chatter with chemicals, and sometimes it doesn't even do that. Don't get me wrong. It can be incredibly enjoyable and relaxing, but it's time-limited and it's not sustainable as an every day practice.

When I first stared practicing yoga twenty years ago, I got addicted to the physicality of it. As a lifelong athlete, I had found something that got my blood going in a way that felt familiar and fantastic. In those pre-teaching years, I was a social worker working with incarcerated youth and families involved in the criminal justice system. I carried an overload of emotional baggage of my own, my clients, and the Department of Youth Services. Without ever naming it, my practice in those years, was my one true place to put that stuff aside. My yoga practice grew because I always wanted to get back into the room, knowing that when I walked out, I would be clear headed for a few hours, maybe even a few days.

In the years since I have been a teacher, I have spent thousands of hours helping other students get themselves into the asanas. I have spent an equal number of hours guiding students into a mental state that is different from their digitized every day. Like me, most people find oga because they are drawn to the specific physical practice. Moving beyond the physical, into the mental, is truly a challenge. Exploring this challenge is, in part, why I started this blog. Sometimes when I am standing in front of the class, imagining all of the thoughts swimming around people's heads, I think, "What can I tell them? How can I help them?" Different words, different postures, different combinations of words and movements-- there's no one thing that quiets everyone's mind.

What I do know is that, like Lucia, I ask myself at least fives times a day, "What am I doing?". And it's never when I'm practicing yoga.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Sometimes you have to play without a sub....

On Sunday at my daughter's soccer game, half the team was absent, leaving them with no subs. The girls, all energetic little nine-year-olds, ran their butts off, and all of us on the sidelines could see from their faces and their progressively slower approach to the ball, that they were really exhausted. At one point my daughter's friend Oona came running over to the sidelines and barked to the coach (her dad), "I need a SUB!!!!" As kindly as he could, Coach Dad replied, "There are no subs..."

Poor Oona, her brow furrowed, pig-tails flopping, she ran back out onto the field and did her best. At half-time, all the girls hobbled off the field collapsing onto their respective adults for water, comfort and praise. As the girls entered the second half, three out of five were limping and not one was smiling.

But they played. And played. And played. At one point Oona got hurt and had to leave the field and our team was down to just four tired little players. Oona's mom rubbed her injured shin as she sipped her water. About five minutes later, Oona hop-trotted up to her dad and asked to be put back in. The little crowd went wild. "Yay Oona!!!"

The next day when I was practicing yoga, I felt tired. I'd had a weekend away with some of my mommy friends and we did not treat our bodies kindly. Monday morning I was not at my best doing yoga. As Frankie guided us through the postures, I found myself thinking about five heroic nine-year-olds--Oona and Lucia and Imogen and Etta and A'Yanna. I smiled to think of them all playing without any breaks, whining a bit, but playing their hearts out. In those moments when I wanted to throw in the towel-- triangle pose, toe stand, camel pose-- I thought of the girls panting, struggling, bone-tired. I finished class, feeling righteous that I'd pushed myself through those moments where I thought I couldn't. It's so true. Sometimes you just have to keep playing, even when there are no subs.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Kinda crazy

Last week when I was practicing I set my mat up in a place that I regretted as soon as class started. I couldn't really see myself and I felt like I was strangely in no-mans-land-- not front, not back, not right, not left, not even middle ..... As soon as Pranayama started, I began to feel agitated. "I'll move my mat during party time." I thought to myself. But then, during the Half-Moon Series, I convinced myself that it would be a good practice to just manage my existing spot; to let go of the perfect practice mat placement for this class.

I felt pleased with my decision. Letting go is the single most important reason that I practice Yoga. When I am in the room, I am truly in a different space from the rest of my life. On this particular day when I was practicing, there was student to my left having a LOT of anxiety. I could tell that she was struggling and working really hard to stay in class. On the other side of me was a student who was weeping. It happens to lots of people-- the emotional release from an extremely physical practice. Both of these students inspired me to stay on course-- to accept my less-than-ideal placement on my mat, and to focus my energy on my practice and nothing else.

After class I had to immediately get on the phone to deal with some bullshit about Girl Scout Camp logistics for my daughter. I was talking on the phone in my fast-paced clip, inquiring about Session Two, Group B or some stupid detail, taking notes, asking questions about transportation. When I hung up, a student from the class was sitting on the bench beside the desk staring at me. "Are you always like that?" she asked.

"Like what?" I quipped back.

"Kinda crazy. You're so calm in the room, I would never guess you were like that."

"That's why I practice!" I practically yelled back, "in the Yoga room is the only time I'm not kinda crazy."

I can't wait to get in there.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

You work really really hard. And then you rest.

Last week, Sarah, one of our beloved students finally had her baby. Sarah practiced through her whole pregnancy until two days before she went into labor. She had a fast labor that ended with a healthy baby boy. Sarah is an incredibly focused, dedicated student. She works hard and she doesn't take herself too seriously. It was a delight to teach her every week while her belly grew and her practiced evolved with her changing body.

The week before Sarah went into labor (by this point she was already days overdue), we talked about a preparatory conversation she had with her midwife. In getting Sarah ready, her midwife said, "Sarah, you do Bikram right? Giving birth is a lot like Bikram-- you work really really hard and then you rest."

Yes! That's so true. You work really really hard. And then you rest. I remember being in labor. It was a slog, 42 hours, 6 different midwives, nipple stimulation, stair walking, yoga poses. When I heard Sarah retelling her midwife's advice, it all came flooding back to me. Yes, you work hard and then you rest. In the final phase of my labor, right before I was ready to push Lucia out, I literally fell asleep between contractions. I was working so hard and I needed to rest. My body knew what to do.

In yoga, our teachers guide us into postures, encouraging us to work hard, and reminding us to rest when we need to rest. In childbirth, we do this as a means to an end, to get to the baby. In yoga, we are practicing the "work hard-rest rhythm" to rebirth ourselves, so at the end of our practice, while there is no new baby waiting, we get to welcome our new selves, rebirthed in our own way, happily worked out and fully rested.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Consciously place your mind.

Last week I was reading Cyndi Lee's newsletter in which she talked about basic mindfulness meditation and the instructions to "consciously place your mind." As most of my students know by now, Savasana is my favorite posture to teach. There is so much there. To be able to consciously relax offers us a respite for all that ails us.

When I read those words, "consciously place your mind", I was so excited. What perfect words to share with my class! A lot of yoga practice is about putting your body into different physical positions, some people would even say contorting the body. We spend years learning to balance, bend, stretch, open, and twist. Savasana doesn't require that same coordination, but it involves a similar intention. Just as we position our bodies, so too can we position our minds, consciously place them in a state of relaxation.

I've learned in my own practice and observed over the last twelve years as a teacher, that Savasana is the pose that takes the most work to get into and it is the easiest pose to fall out of. My personal balance in Savasana is tenuous: I can lose my focus if I am not fully engaged. Everyone has something that helps them reach a place of conscious relaxation, and for many, that thing changes daily. Focusing on the rhythm of your breath, keeping your eyes fixed on one spot, following the movement of breath in and out of your nose. For me, recognizing the similarity between my physical practice and my mental practice in Savasana has helped profoundly. I work so hard to coordinate all of my limbs in Garurasana, twisting, pulling, bending. I am very consciously positioning my arms and legs and hips and shoulders. Now, when Savasana comes, I tell myself, "consciously place your mind Laura." And just as I tell my body where to go, I am helping my mind to find its place.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

I'm Siii-iiick

I am recovering from a two-week bout of coughing. My cough came with extreme fatigue. In other words, I was sick. People who know me well will tell you that I always say, "I never get sick." That's almost true. Getting sick for me is like admitting defeat. I don't like it. For two weeks I was grumpy, cranky, convinced that I was just lazy or depressed, but on Sunday I started coming out of the sick feeling and on Monday I finally got to practice yoga again.

I intentionally went to Frankie's class. I love Frankie. She is my long-time business partner and even longer time yoga teacher and I know what to expect from her class. Mostly she doesn't say much to me. She has a lot of other students to focus on and taking her class felt like a great place to be on my first class back after two weeks of sicky.

Class was hard! In the standing series I did about every other posture, lying down in between, barely able to keep my eyes open. I was struggling physically and mentally I was letting myself fall prey to my own dramatic tendencies. At one point during Triangle pose, Frankie gave me a correction and I immediately got indignant, even a little pissed. "God. She knows I've been sick. She must see how weak I've been all class..... blah blah blah," whined my internal victim. But I made the correction she gave me. And as I stretched my right arm higher, like a flash I realized it--- "Frankie's brain. My body!" Frankie was not teaching with my sick-identified brain. She was teaching with her brain and her brain had a much different message.

I continued to struggle in class, but differently. I had snapped out of my victim state and joined the ranks of just a bunch of other students who are working hard, doing their best. My indignation at Frankie was misdirected. I wasn't responding to her correction, I was responding to her not being in my pity party with me! I thanked Frankie after class. I felt better; I had turned the corner and was among the walking well. I still have a cough. But I'm no longer sick. See, I told you.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Breathe Bertha. Breathe.


Sometimes when I am teaching, I'll look out and see a student's face bright red, grimacing, trying to get into or hold a posture. They look like one of those big Olympic weight lifters (minus the little suspenders and shorty shorts) trying to hoist a 400-pound barbell. When I see a student turning purple like this I tell the whole class, "An important aspect of yoga is that you are breathing. Normal breathing. If you are holding your breath to get into a posture, you've stopped practicing yoga." That weight lifter might get the barbell up, but he drops it just as quickly. In yoga, we are trying to hold the postures, hold our balance.

In Seattle right now, our city is undergoing a major construction project, much like the Big Dig that happened in Boston several years ago. Big Bertha is the world's largest tunneling machine and it is boring right through Seattle's underside (follow her progress here). Big Bertha has a big charge. She's slated to drill two miles through Seattle's downtown area, a project that will hopefully increase the beauty and efficiency of our fair city.

Back to breathing. Often when a student, especially a student new to yoga, is trying to do a very challenging balancing pose, he or she will hold their breath, perhaps thinking that this will make them more steady, give them more strength. When I see students grinding through a posture, even a whole practice holding their breath, it reminds me of Big Bertha getting stuck, pushing and pushing to no avail. I recently read that the obstruction for Big Bertha was an 8-inch diameter steel pipe. Imagine it. Bertha is 57.5 feet high, as tall as a five-story building and she is stuck on a little pipe.

Some yoga postures are easy for our particular body. We each have different strengths, flexibilities, and comfort levels in different poses. The thread through all of the postures, no matter what your personal strength or personal proclivity, is to breathe. When you hold your breath, you create a blockage so your body cannot open, cannot stretch, cannot balance. Try it in some of your more challenging postures. If you are one of those people who bears down, grinds your teethe, holds your breath and gives one good kick or pull to get yourself into a pose (I see this all the time in standing-head-to-knee pose), slow down, stop, take a breath, feel where the obstruction might be, and try again.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Twelve minutes

On January 1st of this year, I committed to meditating three times a week. I've gone in and out of regular meditation practice many times, so I didn't have supremely high expectations that I'd succeed. To my happy surprise, though, I have meditated daily with the exception of three of four times where my days were extremely out of the norm. On January 15th in the New York Times, there was a great article, "Breathing In vs. Spacing Out" (by Dan Hurley) in which psychologist Amishi Jha described her research training United States Marines in mindfulness meditation. Jha found that, "getting as little as 12 minutes of meditation practice a day helped [the] Marines to keep their attention and working memory-- that is, the added ability to pay attention over time-- stable." I don't have any first hand experience with being in the military, much less being a Marine in combat, but I can imagine that having a keen ability to focus and concentrate is of the utmost importance.

In this blog over the years, I've written a lot about busy-ness-- my own, that of other people in my life, of the world at large. For many people, being frantically busy has become so much the norm that they don't even question it. But what if it really did take as little as twelve minutes a day? Would people actually squeeze out this time from their already busy day to improve their overall quality of life?

I have only myself as an example. Since I recommitted to a daily meditation practice, I have added to my already full plate: a major home remodel, a big business opportunity, and an online class in real estate. Here's what I notice: I am a better listener, I am less overwhelmed with the largeness of some of my undertakings, I am happier.

In Hurley's article, he shares other research by Yi-Yuan Tang who, in studying the effects of mindfulness meditation, found, "that it [mindfulness meditation] enhanced the integrity and efficiency of the brain's white matter, the tissue that connects and protects neurons emanating from the anterior cingulate cortex, a region of particular importance for rational decision-making and effortful problem-solving."

My renewed commitment to meditation happened before I read this piece in the New York Times. It was inspiring to read about improving the integrity and efficiency of my brain's white matter. I love knowing that a short daily mindfulness meditation can help soldiers develop better mental resilience in a war zone. But what I knew, even before I read that ground-breaking scientific research, was that my daily meditation was my gift to myself. There are days when it feels like I can't squeeze out my meditation time-- there are lunches to be made, laundry to be folded, flooring samples to choose. These are the days when I feel like I am disappearing into the details of life. Giving myself 10, 12, 15 minutes of mindfulness meditation every morning reminds me that, no matter what else is going on, there is still room for me. Twelve minutes.






Friday, January 17, 2014

Don't think about that stuff, you're meditating.

Most of my life I have been a New Year's curmudgeon. I obnoxiously espoused how silly resolutions were, how absolutely unrealistic and empty they were. Im sorry if I offended anyone. This year, in an effort to help my 9-year-old daughter Lucia (still hopeful and optimistic) understand the concept of resolve, I made a "Goals and Dreams for 2014" chart. It's basically a big piece of butcher paper on our wall with a jar of sharpies next to it. It is an open invitation for anyone to write their goals and dreams for the upcoming year.

For some reason, introducing "Goals and Dreams" instead of "Resolutions" helped me. I found myself happily writing three of them: meditate three times a week; do sit ups; and stop eating sweets for the month of January. I felt different committing to actions that I perceived to be for me as opposed to resolutions that I historically viewed as punishments. All of the things I committed to on our Goals and Dreams chart were things that would help me, so even though they might be hard or restrictive, they were gifts (goals and dreams) that would make my life better. It is January 17th and I can proudly report that I've accomplished my goals and dreams successfully for 17 days straight.

The trick for me with the meditation has been to keep it really short and sweet. A short 5-10 minute meditation (depending on the rush factor associated with any particular morning) is what I'm committed to. About two weeks ago Lucia asked if she could meditate with me in the morning. I've mediated with Lucia a handful of times in the past but nothing regular. Now most mornings Lucia wants to do it. "Mom," she'll ask when she wakes up, "did you wait for me to meditate?!!" To my great surprise, Lucia really loves this morning ritual. We sit in the living room cross-legged, facing each other, set the timer, close our eyes and breathe.

I explained the first time we meditated together to try to just focus on her breath and keep her mind as clear as possible from other thoughts. Last week after the harp-tone of my timer alarm sounded and we slowly opened our eyes to see each other, Lucia said, "Mommy, while I was meditating, I kept thinking about other stuff, but then I'd remind myself, 'don't think about that stuff, you're mediating.'"

"That's meditating," I explained to Lucia. "You're teaching your brain to quiet down."

That morning after I dropped Lucia at school I went to take a yoga class. During Savasana I listened to Frani coaxing us into relaxation. "Inhale let your belly rise...." My mind, as it often does, wandered. I thought about the work ahead of me, scheduling piano lessons, toffee bars, and eventually landed on my morning meditation with Lucia. Wise words from a nine-year old helped me calm my brain down, "Don't think about that stuff, you're meditating."