Sunday, June 28, 2015

THE CASE FOR MOMMY & ME YOGA

I had been practicing yoga with my son, Scotty (age three), for about four months when my husband and I took him to the barber to receive his first professional haircut.

(Those botch jobs I had been doing on him with a pair of dull shears were no longer passing muster; but that’s a different story for a another day.)

The point here is that the mere notion of having to sit still while getting his curls chopped by a stranger scared the bejesus out of him – so you can only imagine how bad things got when Scotty heard the buzz and felt the vibration of the electric clippers.

It was bad; really bad: tears, incoherent pleading for it to stop. The whole nine.

And then I told Scotty to close his eyes…and breathe.

I told him – quite pointedly – to breathe just like we do when we practice yoga; to simply focus on his breath as he counts to ten and then back down to one again.

It took a minute. But, no lie, I could literally feel the muscles in his arms relax and release as I held his clammy hands in mine.

When Scotty was done and climbed down from the chair, I told him how proud I was of him for doing yoga just now.

He looked at me, puzzled and confused. “I got a haircut,” he said.

“You got a haircut while you were doing yoga,” I corrected. “Remember how Mommy told you that you can do yoga anywhere, and that it can give you strength when things get tough? It’s true.”

I don’t believe Scotty understood the full magnitude of my words.

But he will, someday.

Contrary to what we may have learned or come to believe, yoga isn’t just about twisting like a pretzel, or looking good in our workout pants – or our bathing suit, for that matter.

The purpose of yoga is to quiet our mind, to realize that all beings are connected, and, ultimately, to find peace and awareness within ourselves.

What greater gift could we bestow upon our children?

But, wait. There’s more. 

Children and parents stand to gain a ton from practicing yoga together. It’s an excellent way to bond, for one; and, secondly, children are impressionable, so the act of us doing yoga with them reiterates the belief that physical exercise is important and that we also value the mind-body connection.

The parent doesn’t even have to be an experienced (or flexible) practitioner of yoga!

None of that even matters.

The mere fact that you are accepting of your body – regardless of what it can or cannot do that day – and you choose to get on the mat and practice yoga anyway is golden.

What if some children copy what they see, and others won’t?

It’s okay.

What if your baby cries or needs to be changed or fed during class?

It’s no biggie. The class is designed to accommodate these types of situations.

What if your kid finds the mat itself to be the main draw, or, worse, your attempt to keep your child on the mat makes you feel as if you’re herding cats?

Keep coming to class anyway.

This is all new to them, and for many kids, yoga is unlike anything they’ve ever experienced.

There’s no rush to “master” yoga, and this isn’t a competition.

We all have a lifetime to learn and experience all the wonderful benefits yoga has to offer.

Some of those benefits can include better sleep; a more “settled” behavior with less extreme ups and downs; stimulation of bodily systems, including digestive and nervous systems; laying a foundation for future positive social relations between parent and child over the early years and beyond; and relaxation.

And, oh, yeah, you may just find yourself in need of a smaller pair of pants if you keep coming to class: Make no mistake about it, you will feel the burn.

But in a good way.

Plus “Mommy and Me” yoga classes are a great way to meet other moms with kids around the same age in your community, which can often translate into play dates outside of workouts.

But, to me, the greatest boon to establishing a yoga practice with your child is instilling in them the belief that there is tremendous value and unlimited benefits to harnessing the power of your own breath.

And while yoga certainly is the conduit, the truth is, the power was deep inside us all along.

Yoga only helps us connect to it.

I look forward to taking this fun, exciting journey with you and your children, and hope you’ll consider attending our “Mommy & Me” yoga sessions. (Details to come!)



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Sunday, June 21, 2015

TACKLING FATHERHOOD

Before my husband Scott became a father, he lived a very different life.

He was a Detroit Lions offensive lineman who blocked for Barry Sanders – and used his hands to tackle 300-plus-pound men in the process; next, he used his hands to write out plays and lesson plans while serving as a varsity head football coach and high school substitute teacher; and then, while wielding the sharpest of knives, he used his hands to chop Fuji apples as a New York City culinary student who interned at the renowned BONDST sushi restaurant.

But now Scott uses his hands to whip up his signature oatmeal for our toddler daughter (Kennedy, 1) every morning and help our preschooler son (Scotty, Jr., 3) learn how to put on his own shoes.

Here, I put Scott on the hot seat by asking him about discipline, the dreams he has for our son and daughter, and, of course, how the F-word – football – plays a role in fatherhood.

ME: Nearly four years ago, our lives changed when our son entered the world, then our daughter arrived two years later, and you were there to witness both births. What were those experiences like? And were they what you’d thought they’d be?
THE HUBS: It’s an experience that you can never quite imagine until you actually go through it…like running out on an NFL field on game day for the first time. It was amazing to finally have what we anticipated for so long.

ME: Think back to Scotty’s homecoming and those first few nights. The sleep deprivation, the crazy schedule or lack thereof…
THE HUBS: It was a relief, actually, to finally have him home with us. For me, the lack of sleep was more of an issue before he arrived. I would always hope that he would be okay and that the delivery would go smoothly for him and you. Once he was here, I was relieved. You, however, would have a different take on the sleep deprivation because you were the one up at 2 a.m. nursing him throughout the night since Scotty wasn’t ready to eat my cooking just yet.

ME: Time has flown so fast, and I can’t believe our first child is already in preschool. What are you most looking forward to doing with him when he’s older?
THE HUBS: I most look forward to playing football with him in our backyard, seeing him full of life and energy. Watching him run, jump, and play the way I did at his age.

ME: Speaking of football, do you have any expectations for Scotty? I mean, having a former NFL player for a dad can be a bit intimidating. How do you plan to guide him without putting pressure on him?
THE HUBS: First and foremost, I want him to experience all the life skills football has to offer, like teamwork, commitment, and goal-setting…all of which lead to triumph. When people think of triumph, they think of winning the game. But to me, triumph is being the best person you can be, and that’s all I expect from Scotty. Nothing more, nothing less.

ME: Let’s switch gears for a moment and talk about Kennedy. There is often this assumption that one’s approach to parenthood differs with boys and girls. What’s your take on this?
THE HUBS: I don’t think there’s really much of a difference – I just see them as my little ones, at least right now, because they’re so young. I just want to establish a solid foundation of love, respect, and honesty.  But, in time, I think the differences will start to reveal themselves: Young girls have certain needs, and young boys have unique challenges as well. But right now, I’m enjoying this stage and approaching them both in the same way.

ME: Fathers of daughters often joke about their inability to embrace the mere prospect of their daughters becoming old enough to date. But you seem unphased. Why?
THE HUBS: Why fight it? You can’t stop it. I might as well embrace it and try to help her make the right decisions to find that right person. And the best way I can do that is to show both Kennedy and Scotty what a man should do, and they’ll see how I treat you, their mother. I know I have said to you – in jest – that Kennedy won’t be able to date until she’s 50 or 60. But truthfully, I’m not worried. As long as I’m there for her to provide the proper guidance and advice, and I make sure that my relationship with her is solid and strong. That’s the most important thing.

ME: Let’s talk about what can be a hot-button issue for some parents: discipline. You’re a big softy for both of them now, but are you prepared to play the tough guy one day?
THE HUBS: Absolutely. As their father, I am their life coach, and coaching is a job that forces you to practice tough love.

ME: You are the oldest of seven and have nine nieces and nephews, so you’re seasoned when it comes to being familiar with kids. But how is it different raising your own?
THE HUBS: When they’re yours you can’t sugar them up and give them back to their parents…you are the parent! Not that I condone feeding kids too much sugar.

ME: That’s the perfect segue to my next question. How do you plan to instill in Scotty and Kennedy the importance of a healthy lifestyle.
THE HUBS: As a chef and former athlete, I know firsthand that eating well and exercising leads to productivity. I plan on preparing meals that are fresh, healthy, and, of course, full of flavor – for all of us.

ME: It’s been years since you played in the NFL, but you still remain very much involved in football at the youth level (as a USA Football Heads Up ambassador) and at the professional level (as the secretary of the Detroit chapter of the NFL Alumni Association) – and you continue to serve the community through both venues. Why do you feel this is necessary as a father?
THE HUBS: I want to lead by example and demonstrate to Scotty and Kennedy the importance of giving back. I want to show them the right way to do things. I was fortunate to have played in the NFL for six years, and if I can use that to better the lives of others and help them deal with hardships and challenges – or just put a smile on someone’s face – then why not? There’s a quote from the late Frank Gansz, my special teams coach at the Detroit Lions, that I’ll never forget it – and it applies here: What you keep, you lose; but what you give will grow.”


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Sunday, June 14, 2015

WHAT A YOGA CLASS SHOULD BE

I had been waiting months for this moment.

As soon as The Hubs and I booked our annual family trip to the Jersey Shore, I began trolling the Interwebs for new yoga studios I would visit while I was there.

And then I found The Yoga Loft.

One of their instructors, Kathleen, teaches a class entitled "Hips-Thighs & Stretching -Oh My," which is just my cup of tea.

As the name suggests, the class is designed to warm you up through stretching with a great deal of attention being focused on healthy joints. The class description also states that the intention is "to nurture your soul, focusing on self acceptance, through modifications and opening our hearts to ourselves and others."

I mean, really.

It sounds like heaven for a yogi like me with hips tighter than a drum.

I swear, as The Hubs pulled up to the entrance of the beautiful, tranquil Calco Gardens, which houses The Yoga Loft, I could barely contain myself.

Here I am on their front lawn, right before class, ridding myself of some excess energy by busting into a variation of Ardha Chandra Chapasana (Sugarcane in Half Moon Pose):

And when I stepped foot inside, it only got better.

The Yoga Loft is located in the attic of a large, old home on the Calco grounds, and as I climbed the stairs to the studio, the ambiance -- from the warm earth tones, to the aroma of apple pie -- made me feel nothing short of welcomed. 

The other students in the class -- about six; all of whom were older than me -- only confirmed my hunch that this class was going to be amazing.

And then in walks Kathleen.

She is a small, petite woman who gives off much more light and energy than I would think capable of someone who inhabits such a small frame.

She's funny and down-to-earth with a dash of quirkiness.

I like her.

For the next 60 minutes she guides us on a journey of delicious hip-opening, quad-lengthening, knee-strengthening postures that, at times, make me want to cry.

Not from pain, though.

Just the opposite.

It has been said that when we as people don't know what to do with an uncomfortable emotion -- fear, guilt, any sort of pain -- we store the energy of that emotion in our hips.

Which can even make sitting cross-legged a challenge for some of us.

But with Kathleen's gentle directive -- and cushy bolsters, straps, and blocks -- these stretches literally felt like tasty medicine.

Like something my body had been needing for a long, long time.

Here are three statements Kathleen shared during the course of the class, followed by why they resonated with me on a personal level:

"Today I give myself permission to be kind to my body."
Yogi or not, every single one of us should say this to ourselves everyday. We beat ourselves up literally by wearing heavy backpacks and/or high heels, standing on our feet while we work, or sleeping for 6 hours (or less) a night, when we know full well we need 8 hours or more. We beat ourselves up figuratively by berating ourselves for eating that last piece of cheesecake or not looking like a 21-year-old fashion model, when, truth be told, she doesn't even look like that in real life. Bottom line: We need to be kind to our body. It does so much for us every single day.

"We get what we get."
There is so much in life that we have absolutely no control over, our bodies being one of them. I do yoga, in part, to be healthy, but there are some things that no amount of yoga is going to change: I ran competitively for nearly 10 years and I have a bad case of shin splints to show for it. Shin spints don't go away. Period. During class, Kathleen talked about the challenges she faces with regard to the range of motion in her shoulders. We all have our own bag of "stuff." And while yoga can't erase these hurdles, it can help us cope better and breathe easier. Yoga gives us the tool of acceptance, to surrender and be okay with it.

"I'm not a naturally flexible person, but I work at it."
Oh my God, was this music to my ears. I consider physical flexibility to be relative. There will always be someone more or less flexible than you -- and it's not a competition, so, really, when you get down to it, our ability to be flexible is something we each have to handle personally. And gently. Don't rush it. Practice, yes. But don't ever, ever rush it. But do hold the belief that if you keep at it, you, too, will one day be able to move into postures that you once thought unimaginable.

Here's Kathleen and I -- all "blissed out" as I like to say -- after class:

Thank you, Kathleen, for the gift of your instruction!

~ Namaste ~


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Sunday, June 7, 2015

#BeachLife: WHEREVER IT TAKES US

We didn't plan for it to happen this way.

With nearly half of our family trip to New Jersey behind us, we decided to create a day devoid of a road map or any expectation.

The plan -- or lack there of -- was to simply drive to the beach in Seaside Heights (home of the famed MTV show Jersey Shore) and relax by the sea.

And that's precisely what we did.

And it was perfect.

We arrived just before noon, and since the temperature is always a good 10 degrees cooler on the shore versus what it is inland, we wore long sleeves to ward off the chill.

We started in Seaside, and then drove north, passing through the beach in Point Pleasant before making an impromptu stop at a playground right smack-dab on the beach in the city of Belmar.

Here's a glimpse of what our day looked like...



Where it all began. On the boardwalk in Seaside Heights.



I had been waiting months for this moment, for our baby girl, Kennedy, to experience the ocean...



And then it was Scotty's turn.




He's got a live one! No, he doesn't, actually, but I've always wanted to say that. He's really just holding an empty clam shell.



Now, my turn. This is a variation -- kind of like a combination of Upward Bow pose and Dancer's pose combined. But my jeans were too tight for me to lift my leg up any higher. 
There is a reason they make yoga pants.



Me and my boy.



The Hubs and K.



I love this shot of K's fat baby feet, covered in sand, while she enjoys her first Italian ice.



Driving north along the shore, just a block inland. The homes are eclectic, well-manicured, unique, and beautiful.



Here's another...



And another...



One more.



I loved this sight so much, that I continued to see it in my sleep later that night.



"Giddy-up, Mr. Turtle!"



"Go ahead and slide down! Daddy is waiting to catch you."



Bliss.



Kissing the clouds.


Thank you, Jersey Shore!!! We love you.
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