Rox Does Yoga

Yoga, Wellness, and Life

Toddler Yoga June 26, 2014

Filed under: books,yoga,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 9:18 am
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Bagel salutesSomething that happens more and more often lately is the YB (who hasn’t turned two quite yet, so can still be called “Yoga Baby”) will pull out the mats and ask to do yoga. For a long time her favorite part of the process was simply rolling out the mats – and always mats, plural, because she insists on having one of her own instead of just practicing on mine – but now she’s starting to actually do poses with me.

I don’t have any training in children’s yoga beyond a 15-minute presentation one of my YTT buddies gave a few years ago, and it is hard to figure out what asanas to show her! Her favorite is downward dog, of course, because she can do it super-easily (with her head on the floor, but still). But you have to do more than just down dog all day. At first I was doing half sun salutes, because she liked how I would peek at her during the up and down and it mostly kept her attention (at left is YB doing a bagel salute last month). Lately, though, she’s been wanting more.

What’s been surprising me is that she mostly wants poses on the ground. I tried tree pose, and then just “let’s stand on one foot”, and then anything resembling a wide-legged warrior stance, and she just couldn’t figure out what to do with her feet, got frustrated, or did something else entirely. Maybe her coordination just isn’t quite there yet? Instead we’ve been doing some poses on the floor: boat pose (which she can do beautifully if Mommy holds her hands to give her some balance), cobra/sphinx and locust (all of which we’re just calling “snakey pose” for now), happy baby (although I don’t think she believed me that it’s a real yoga pose), and cobbler (“butterfly”). She can’t stand up and step one foot forward and one foot back, but she can sit down and press her little feet together. I’m brainstorming other ideas of floor poses that can have animal names that we can do together. (Happy to take suggestions here too!)Babar's Yoga for Elephants

We’ve also experimented with some partner poses. She loves climbing on my back when I’m in child’s pose (or any pose where I’m low to the ground, really). She also LOVES yoga flying. We’re nowhere near the point of being able to do anything like this, but maybe in a few years!

One thing that has helped more than I expected is Babar’s Yoga for Elephants, which I didn’t think we’d use till she was older. This is the only Babar book we have, a gift that a friend from my old job spotted at a yard sale and scooped up for me. The level of the text is still a little beyond YB for me to read to her, but she loves looking at the pictures of the elephants doing yoga. We flip through it together looking for poses we can do.

I still have some more continuing education to do to keep my Yoga Alliance registration current. At this point it would be more than I could handle to try and do some sort of children’s yoga training, but I am looking at different books to read, and I’m considering downloading a webinar or two from Yoga U Online. (I’ve downloaded some of their free ones, and listened to an interview with a children’s yoga teacher so far, but I’m not yet ready to pay them money for their content just yet). I figure if I need to clock some hours anyway, I might as well do it on activities that will help me share yoga with her. And overall I’m just really enjoying practicing yoga with my little girl.

Double Down Dogs

 

Books: The Art of Happiness, by H.H. the Dalai Lama and Howard C. Cutler May 27, 2014

The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for LivingThe Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living is based on conversations that Howard C. Cutler, MD, a psychiatrist, had with the Dalai Lama over several years. The author’s introductory note states that the purpose of the book was to collaborate “on a project that would present the Dalai Lama’s views on leading a happier life, augmented by [Cutler’s] own observations and commentary from the perspective of a Western psychiatrist” (ix).

Cutler chose to organize the book’s content thematically. The topics include the following:

  • Part I: The Purpose of Life (hint: it has to do with happiness)
  • Part II: Human Warmth and Compassion
  • Part III: Transforming Suffering
  • Part IV: Overcoming Obstacles
  • Part V: Closing Reflections on Living a Spiritual Life

Each part except for Part V is comprised of three or four chapters discussing related topics. Cutler will often introduce a topic by giving a brief overview of the Dalai Lama’s thoughts, then will delve into the psychology behind the issue before returning to H.H.’s viewpoint and suggestions for dealing with the issue. Overall I feel like Cutler succeeds in meshing the sometimes very different viewpoints of Tibetan Buddhism and Western psychiatry, and I enjoyed the stories that both of them had to offer, but there were times when Cutler just didn’t seem to get what the Dalai Lama was saying and vice versa. In those instances, I was more interested in hearing the Dalai Lama’s viewpoint and just wanted Cutler to stop harping on whatever it was already, but overall this was pretty rare; I tended to enjoy both viewpoints.

One thing that I found interesting was how the Dalai Lama talks about eliminating negative states of mind. Just as in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Dalai Lama agrees that one of the best ways to eliminate these states of mind is to think of positive ones instead. For example,

“When talking about eliminating negative states of mind, there is one point that should be born in mind. Within Buddhist practice, the cultivation of certain specific positive mental qualities such as patience, tolerance, kindness, and so on can act as specific antidotes to negative states of mind such as anger, hatred, and attachment. Applying antidotes such as love and compassion can significantly reduce the degree or influence of the mental and emotional afflictions” (239).

This passage comes in Part IV, Overcoming Obstacles, in Chapter 12, Bringing About Change. This view fits in so well, to me, with Patanjali’s words in Sutra II.33: “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of.” I was really impressed and excited that Buddhist thought on this topic meshes so nicely with the yoga sutras.

The Dalai Lama’s wisdom is practical and straightforward; you can tell that he himself practices the same techniques he recommends. The book also includes instructions for several meditation practices (like this one), written in the Dalai Lama’s own words from transcripts of his talks. These are scattered throughout the book, as this isn’t intended as a meditation manual, but it’s nice that they’re included in places that make sense thematically.

Overall, I really enjoyed the opportunity to learn more about the Dalai Lama, one of the holiest and most revered people alive today, and to understand his perspective, his kindness, and his compassion.

 

Books: The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg August 6, 2013

Filed under: books — R. H. Ward @ 1:02 pm
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 The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles DuhiggIn The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business, Charles Duhigg explores what makes a habit – good ones, bad ones, petty little ones we can’t seem to manage to change – and how we humans, as creatures of habit, can examine our smallest actions and why we do what we do. According to Duhigg’s research, our daily habits may seem isolated and small, but making a small change to a daily habit may lead us to life-changing new patterns.

Duhigg analyzes the elements common to any habit, from nail biting to snacking to gambling, and finds the common thread: each “habit loop” begins with a cue, an event that triggers the habit to begin. Once the habit loop is activated, you experience a craving, and then carry out the routine of the habit itself, which results in a reward. Thinking about a habit in this framework allows you to isolate each aspect of the habit, helping you to figure out why you always need a snack at 3:00 or why you can’t stop checking Facebook. After establishing the habit loop pattern and some techniques to change it, Duhigg then looks at the habits of people in groups, at work or in social situations, and examines how these habit theories can be applied to effect change on a larger scale.

The Power of Habit is, from a readability perspective, nearly perfect. Duhigg uses compelling stories to make his points and weaves together multiple narratives to keep the reader engaged. He pulls together many different threads from his exhaustive research and hours of interviews, looking at the question of habits from every angle: neurology, addiction, education, corporate culture, and social change, to name a few. As a result, there’s something here to interest everyone, and because he distills each topic down to the individual level – one person who conquered her addiction, one CEO who changed a company – the reader can stay focused on the story and the prose never gets too dry. Duhigg’s own authorial presence is very light, telling each person’s tale matter-of-factly, without bias, and only rarely interjecting himself. Duhigg comes across as an expert, and as a reader, I trust his expertise and want to learn more.

For this blog in particular, I found this book fascinating because of the way Duhigg’s research fits in with my recent posts on identity-based goals. According to Duhigg, the reason people often fail at achieving their goals is because they’ve failed to change a key habit. By changing the cue-routine-reward habit loop and changing just one habit, people can make much bigger changes and achieve larger goals. This fits in really well with the idea of identity-based goals, which encourages people to not only set a goal but to (1) change the way they think about themselves, and (2) make small progress every day in becoming the sort of person who can achieve what they want to achieve. According to Duhigg, those little successes are key to reprogramming our brains with new habits that will drive us towards the goals we seek.

For myself personally, this book gave me new ways of looking at my own habits: on the negative side, I’d like to change my nail-picking and Facebook habits, and on the positive side, I’d like to strengthen and deepen my yoga practice. I now have some ideas about how I can transform these habits: for example, improving my 5:45am yoga practice to deliver a stronger reward, therefore increasing my motivation to get out of bed early. (More specifics on that plan coming in Thursday’s post!) Overall, I strongly recommend Duhigg’s book. Whether you have bad habits you’d like to change, good habits you’d like to strengthen, or people in your life whose habits drive you nuts, this book will be a fascinating read.

 

books: Step-by-Step Yoga for Pregnancy, by Wendy Teasdill June 18, 2013

Filed under: books,yoga — R. H. Ward @ 1:04 pm
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Step-By-Step Yoga for Pregnancy by Wendy TeasdillStep-by-Step Yoga for Pregnancy is an excellent guide to all aspects of prenatal yoga, from physical postures to pranayama and meditation. Teasdill discusses the implications of pregnancy on yoga practice at each step of the way; she makes the poses fresh for those already familiar with yoga, and her warm tone is encouraging for  new beginners without being overwhelming. This nicely illustrated book is appropriate for new students as well as experienced practitioners.

In chapter 1, Teasdill begins with an overview of how the body changes during pregnancy and how yoga can facilitate good health; chapter 2 discusses some yoga basics and describes how yoga can be beneficial in everyday life. Chapters 3-5 detail the physical asanas appropriate for each trimester, with drawings and descriptions of how and why to do each posture. Teasdill links the asanas in several sequences to accommodate different times of day or energy levels. As the pregnancy progresses, Teasdill focuses the chapter on a different aspect of yoga practice: pranayama in the first trimester (chapter 3), asanas in the second trimester (chapter 4), and meditation in the third trimester (chapter 5). She finishes the book with chapters 6 and 7, discussing labor and birth and life after the birth, respectively, including yoga postures to help heal the body after childbirth.

Teasdill explains clearly which poses are safe to do at which stage of pregnancy and offers plenty of options for modification or support with props like chairs and bean bags. For the spiritual side of prenatal yoga, Teasdill includes several nice guided meditations to foster relaxation and connection to the growing baby. Yoga teachers will find this book an excellent reference, and expectant mothers will appreciate Teasdill’s expertise, guidance, and sensitivity.

 

Books: Caretaking a New Soul, edited by Anne Carson March 28, 2013

Filed under: books,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 8:24 am
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Caretaking a New SoulCaretaking a New Soul, edited by Anne Carson, is an anthology of short essays about spirituality, education, and young children, aimed at families who don’t follow a traditional Christian path. Most people in the US are Christian; of adults who no longer practice, or practice a different faith, many were raised in a Christian household, chose a different path later, and are now searching for meaningful rituals and traditions to share with their children. Caretaking a New Soul fills that need, exploring a variety of faith perspectives, from Buddhist to pagan to the “buffet style” spiritual practitioner who likes a little bit of everything.

My favorite pieces in the collection are those from the Buddhist perspective, as that’s the faith closes to my own ideals.Raised Catholic myself, I appreciated the advice on how to teach meditation to a child in two essays: “The Education of the Buddhist Child,” by Rev. Jiyu Kennett, and “Call It Something Else,” by Karey Solomon. In “The Education of the Buddhist Child,” I really appreciated the perspective shift in discussing the differences in raising a Buddhist versus a Christian child. In “Call It Something Else,” Solomon talks about one specific method for teaching meditation to preschoolers. I’m looking forward to helping YB learn how to “make her star shine bright.” I’ve made copies of both articles for future reference.

The book was first published in 1989, with only a new preface added for the second edition in 1999, and this shows a bit in the content. I didn’t see any essays from a Hindu perspective, which would have been a welcome addition to me, or a Muslim perspective, which would have been great to include, but the second edition was published before Muslim spirituality came onto the scene in such a negative way with 9/11. Understandably, the need to demystify Muslim spiritual practice and childrearing wasn’t yet a major issue. There’s also very little discussion of alternative families. This issue doesn’t necessarily affect spiritual practice, but there are a lot of mentions of mothers and fathers that just wouldn’t be applicable for many modern families. And there are many “new age” sorts of references, and the pagan perspectives felt a bit dated to me. Overall the book still has a lot of excellent content for parents as spiritual seekers and teachers, but the reader has to be aware of the time lapse.

Interestingly for me, the pagan pieces made me think about my own bias: even in essays where I agreed with every substantive thing the author had to say, I still rolled my eyes at terms like “Goddess” and “Magick”. Why? As my husband F pointed out, a child is more likely to comprehend the idea of saying a magic spell over terminology like “the power of positive thinking” and “self-actualization”. Who cares what you call it, if it works? And reverence for the earth and the environment is important to my own spirituality, even if I don’t talk about the Earth Mother, and it’s definitely something I want to share with my daughter. Regardless of the words used, respecting the spiritual practices of others is important to me, and I will always want YB to be respectful, so I definitely have to examine my attitudes before I pass negative perspectives down to her.

In one section, Carson talks about how parents want more for their children. For many of us, our parents wanted us to have more than they did, largely in the sense of material goods and status: a good education, college, and fancy house and car. Carson, writing in the 1980s, notes that she wants her daughter to have more in the emotional and spiritual sense: more freedom from violence and prejudice, more self-confidence, more strength. That statement struck me hard, because those are the exact things that I want my daughter to have that I didn’t (and doing the math and realizing the Carson’s daughter is probably just a few years younger than I am makes me a bit sad, but also glad for the steps forward that have been made just in my lifetime). Thinking critically about spiritual issues and education is one of the main ways we can begin to build that future for our children.

 

Thinking about shame March 12, 2013

Filed under: books,reflections,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:21 pm
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Fear and Other Uninvited Guests, by Harriet LernerI’d read Harriet Lerner’s book Fear and Other Uninvited Guests before, about six years ago, but thought that rereading it now would be helpful for some of my current mommy guilt issues. And it was helpful, but I felt like a lot of the information was very familiar to me, either because I’d read the book before or from my yoga work and yoga reading. So rather than a full book review, I’ll just hit the highlights that particularly spoke to me this time around.

Lerner focuses on fear, anxiety, and shame, three emotions that everyone has but that no one particularly wants to deal with. Lerner’s book is unique in that she doesn’t attempt to come up with a quick solution. What she recommends is learning to work with these powerful emotions: rather than being afraid of them, dreading them, and trying to push them down, she recommends getting used to them and learning how to function with them. I kind of like this approach; it reminds me of what I’ve read in some Buddhist books about moving through strong emotion.

A few sample passages that I particularly liked:

Unlike guilt, the experience of shame is not tied to a specific behavior. Instead, it is linked to who we believe we are, deep down. We feel shame when we think we’re too ugly, stupid, fat, mentally ill, needy, or incompetent to be worthy of receiving love or even walking around on the planet, using up valuable oxygen. Shame feeds the conviction that another person couldn’t possibly love or respect us if he or she really knew the whole, pitiful, God-awful truth about us. Helen Block Lewis, perhaps the first psychologist to give shame its due, made this crucial distinction. Guilt is about doing. Shame is about being. (page 121)

Sometimes, though, our feelings about our appearance have little to do with anything about our physical selves at all. We’re anxious, insecure, or upset about something else. Shame and self-loathing get focused on the body, but the true sources of anxiety are obscured from view. Anytime we become anxiously overfocused on this or that part of our body or appearance, it’s a good bet that we are underfocused on something else, past or present, that we don’t want to look at. (page 155)

I thought these two passages described really well some of the things that I’ve experienced when I’m in a dark place. The first passage really nails my whole “I could be better” problem: it’s one thing to want to do a better job at something, but it’s something else to wish I were better in and of myself. There’s been many a time when I’ve been sobbing my eyes out in the kitchen telling F (or my previous partner, he got hit with it too) about how I fail at everything and wish that I were a better person: a better wife, better mother, better friend, just *better*. Reading this passage really connected, for me, that this wanting to be better isn’t about how good or bad I am in actuality, but is about some shame that I must feel about who I am. I can say confidently that this sort of shame can be really painful and debilitating. I struggle with it all the time.

I like the second passage because it’s the first time I’ve seen someone explain another thing that often happens to me: that when I’m upset about something specific, like a bad day at work or letting a loved one down in some way, the next mental step I take is to get down on myself for my appearance. I call it “falling down the rabbit hole”, because my thoughts just spiral down and down. “I really disappointed my mom – she deserves a better daughter. I was such a slacker at work today, I didn’t get anything done. And I’m SO FAT,” I’ll think in disgust. And whether I’m overweight or not, what the hell does that have to do with anything? Nothing. It’s just another convenient way to put myself down, a shame target for my brain to aim at.

Lerner’s point is that no matter how strong emotions like shame, fear, and anxiety are, we can’t let them take over or stop us from doing what we want to do. We have to keep moving, through the bad feeling. Everyone has negative feelings sometimes – we can’t help that – but if we just hide out and wallow in it, the shame or anxiety will only get worse, more paralyzing. It’s by daring to take action in spite of our fears that we can learn to deal with these strong emotions and get past them.

 

Goals versus Resolutions* March 5, 2013

Filed under: books,yoga lifestyle — R. H. Ward @ 1:53 pm
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I recently reread Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project, and I came across this passage that I found interesting, particularly in light of my recent posts on identity-based habits and resolutions*:

I’d noticed idly that a lot of people use the term “goal” instead of “resolution,” and one day in December, it struck me that this difference was in fact significant. You hit a goal, you keep a resolution. “Run a marathon” makes a good goal. It’s specific, it’s easy to measure success, and once you’ve done it, you’ve done it. “Sing in the morning” and “Exercise better” are better cast as resolutions. You won’t wake up one day and find that you’ve achieved it. It’s something that you have to resolve to do every day, forever. Striving toward a goal provides the atmosphere of growth so important to happiness, but it can be easy to get discouraged if reaching the goal is more difficult than you expected. Also, what happens once you’ve reached your goal? Say you’ve run the marathon. What now – do you stop exercising? Do you set a new goal? With resolutions, the expectations are different. Each day I try to live up to my resolutions. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail, but every day is a clean slate and a fresh opportunity. I never expect to be done with my resolutions, so I don’t get discouraged when they stay challenging. Which they do.

– Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project, page 288

I like how Rubin has differentiated here between goals and resolutions – I think you can push the idea further and explore related or nested goals and resolutions. For example, the goal to run a marathon could be one part of a larger resolution to exercise more or live a healthier lifestyle. As Rubin notes, thinking about her resolutions every day helps her to live up to them, but a goal in tandem can provide additional focus. If the resolution is to exercise three times a week, adding a goal to run a marathon can help to keep you focused and in the habit. And resolutions can help us to achieve larger goals. For example, a resolution to show up on time for work every day can contribute to a larger goal of earning a promotion. Even Rubin’s resolutions all push her forward towards a goal: feeling happier in her life.

I think Rubin’s conception of resolutions (both in this passage and throughout the book) also fits in well with those identity-based habits we’ve been talking about. As part of her happiness project, Rubin identifies areas of her character she doesn’t like and uses her resolutions to change them. Rubin wants to be “happier”: she wants to laugh more, have more fun, and be less snappish with her husband and children. Throughout the book, resolutions like “Laugh more” or “Sing in the morning” encourage her to change her self-concept to encompass more humor, more goofiness, in small ways on a day-to-day basis. And it works!

*[While I recognize that the annual time of resolution-making has passed now that January is over and in fact it’s March already, I think it’s in the spirit of this blog to keep exploring the question if I want to. (And I keep seeing things that make me want to.) As Rubin notes, you don’t have to wait to start a happiness project – you can do it anytime – and this blog is all about exploring things that lead to happiness. Don’t postpone joy! So I think resolutions are fair game for any time of year and I shall post accordingly!]