Monday, May 9, 2016

Staying Positive

Something we often mention in yoga class is the idea of keeping your thoughts positive.  Instead of thinking of the heat as an obstacle, think of it as a gift that allows your body to go a little deeper into postures, which in turn allows for greater overall benefits.

I often catch myself thinking things that are not of a positive nature.  At times, frustration sets in when my body is not able to do what it used to be able to do.  Or, when I look in the mirror and see half a dozen physical qualities that I label as flaws.  Or I think of how impatient I was with Bill or one of my kids at one time or another and spend too much time beating myself up about it.

Thinking and expressing positive thoughts, for me, is an ongoing practice, very much like my yoga practice.

I have practiced the Bikram series for more than 12 years and I've gone through many stages of my practice.  In the beginning, I was way too tough on myself.  I demanded a lot of myself with my practice.  I got burnt out and would end up having to take time away because I couldn't bear to be in the room and practice in the way that I was on a continuous basis.
I had learned and believed that this yoga series was meant to me hard, and intense and relentless.  It is what I knew, what I understood and I knew how to work with this mentality.  But something was definitely changing because I was having a hard time keeping up with this.

It was only when I was about to walk away from the Bikram series, as a student and as a teacher that I somehow found myself in NYC at a Bikram teacher seminar with Diane Ducharme.   She talked about practicing and teaching this yoga series in a way that I had felt for so long but had never heard from anyone before.  And that was that it is a  therapeutic yoga series.  It is meant to heal, restore and make the body stronger, more flexible and more balanced and for many of us it is about learning how to take care of ourselves in a better way.  It is for any body, any age, and any ability level.  It is to be taught with kindness and compassion.  It is to be taught so that students can practice without causing more pain to themselves so that they may improve the quality of their lives.  I sat that day and I listened to every word spoken.  I listened to questions teachers had about postures and questions teacher had about students who needed modifications.  I listened to the answers of these questions and I watched demonstrations that were presented to us.  And I knew well before that day ended, that not only was I going to continue practicing and teaching this yoga series, but I was committed to opening a Bikram Studio.  In the time that followed this life changing seminar and the time I began the process of opening my own studio, I travelled frequently to Boston, MA to learn as much as I could from Diane.  I was able to write up a mission statement for the studio.

To contribute positively to our community by providing a safe, welcoming and healing environment for Bikram Yoga students through teaching with compassion, kindness and integrity.

This statement is what has led me in so many decisions I have had to make with the studio and it has kept me on track in the direction that I believe still fits our studio.

As I sit today and write this note to you and wonder how the words will all come together, I hear these thoughts trying to squeeze their way onto the computer screen.   I feel horrible.  My throat hurts.  My chest hurts.  I don't know if I can bear another sleepless night from the constant coughing.  Nighttime has become such a sweet time for me.  A time to slip into bed, knowing that the day is done, looking forward to the next and enjoying nothing but to relax and sleep and be grateful for so many things in my life.  But this past week, my lack of sleep has been relentless.  And I really miss being at the studio.  I have had to give up all of my classes this week.  I was five days into my 30 day challenge and it looks like I will have to start that over, doing most of it on my own.  Which is a bummer because there is nothing like having the support of those around you working towards a common goal.  And what really aggravated me today was that Bill was sick last night, but got up today, worked from home and ended up able to go to yoga tonight.

So then I ask myself what the heck is wrong with me.  Why am I so sick and why is it taking me so long to get better.  It has been a very long time since I have been this sick.  Bill had to take Emma to her voice competition this past weekend and take her to pick up her prom dress and buy her shoes.  Surely I will be losing mom points for this.  

After allowing myself this little pity party, I remind myself how hard I have been working these past few years.  I consider all of the things I have accomplished.  All of the mistakes I have made and learned from.  All of the new amazing people in my life.  All of the ways in which my life has changed over these years.  It has been as significant as that day I spent in NYC realizing I was going to open a yoga studio and understating why it would be so important.

Being sick right now feels hard and intense and relentless, much like the way in which I used to practice my yoga.  But, what has changed is that, although I do find myself thinking thoughts that are not really going to help me, I am able to let them pass so much easier and I am able to put things back into a healthier perspective.  I have learned how to take better care of myself and I believe as I age, my health and vitality will only become stronger.  I can't wait to get back to my yoga practice, to get back to the studio and see all of you.  I am proud of myself these days.  I can finally say this because every single time I walk in the room to teach, I am genuinely in awe of the strength, commitment and kindness that you show to yourself.  These are the gifts I have received from you.  Thank you;)

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Lessons From a Hedgehog

I had planned to have nine children.  I was one of nine. I loved being part of a large family. I was the third oldest and I was certain that I wanted to have a large family.
I admire the women who love/loved being pregnant.  I was not one of them.  I was horribly sick for many months during my first pregnancy and my second.  When I had Jack, my first, I remember thinking, "Holy shit.  How am I going o pull this off? I know nothing about being a mother."  What I did know was how to do many tasks that came along with motherhood. Changing diapers, getting bottles ready, holding a baby, bathing a baby, etc. 

What took me by surprise was the unbelievable responsibility I felt immediately after having my first.  I was certain that I did not have the adequate skills to carry the responsibility of being good enough to help this baby grow up.  But in realizing this, I already had Jack, so I had no choice but to move forward and hope for the best.  When Jack was about 4 months old, we decided to have another.  I knew my number 9 was not going to happen.  I felt barely capable enough to do good enough with one, but we wanted Jack to at least have the opportunity to have a sibling.  I certainly didn't want to add that my list of something I had deprived him of. Emma was born 10 months later and we had our little family. Once Emma was born, I began to think, "Ok. I can do this.  This might actually work out alright."  I was fortunate in that I was able to stay home with them and I did.  I did love being with them.  
16 years later
Jack is now 16, a junior and only two weeks away from getting his drivers license. He is currently happy to give me constant tips on how my driving could be better ;)
He is a funny kid.  He doesn't take things too seriously. He is very good for Bill and I.   Most of what he chooses to do has to have an element of fun or at least purpose.  Therefore, he is not fond of cleaning his room because the mess doesn't bother him, but he's willing to do it once a week because I tell him he has to.  And homework is not on the top of his list, but he does it because he has his eye on Northeastern University.
Emma is 15, a sophomore and loves to perform.  She has learned and can sing an incredible amount of Broadway musical songs and will belt one out at the dinner table, while driving, or on her way down the ski slope. 
She is very dedicated and very thoughtful. 
Because of her carefree theatrical tendencies, you can imagine that when she asked me, just a few weeks before the holidays, for a hedgehog, I at first thought she was just messing around with me.  After all who would want a hedgehog for a pet.  When she assured me that she was not kidding, that she really wanted one, I asked, "Can you even have a hedgehog for a pet." And "Where would you even get one?"
And this is where the thoughtful part of Emma came into play.  Not only had she researched the care and the expense, but had found a certified Hedgehog breeder, which happened to be only half an hour away from us.  At first I told her, "Absolutely, NO.  I was not going to be taking care of a hedgehog.  I don't have the time or the desire to add one more thing to..."

She stopped me mid sentence and made it very clear that the reason she wanted one was because she wanted to be responsible for it.  Something that was hers,that she would need minimal support with.  She told me the maintenance was reasonable and that she has money saved to contribute to the initial expense and will use allowance money to pay for bedding and food.   After a very long and heartfelt conversation, including an exit strategy in the event that it wasn't working out and a PowerPoint presentation to convince her father, it was decided that Emma would be allowed a hedgehog. 
The teenage years are hard because it's hard in knowing when to step back sometimes and just let them go. Jack is only a year and a half away from college and Emma just 2 ½.  In many ways, they will be on their own to figure out so much.  When Jack walks out the door, gets into a car to dive off with his friends, I just can hope he makes the best choices. 
And this was the lesson for me with Emma and her beautiful, not so soft, hedgehog, Hedgewig Maz.  Step back and let her take lead in this part of her life. 
Driving home with Hedgewig for the first time amusingly reminded me of driving home my first baby for the first time.  Hedgewig was in a box with Emma holding her on her lap.  She was concerned when I drove too quickly over a bump and concerned that he may not be warm enough.  I told her I would drive more carefully and of course I was happy, as a Bikram student, to turn up the heat in the car!
I knew we had made the right choice and was happy for Emma.
During Hedgewig's first few weeks, it was important that Emma handle her daily so she gets used to Emma's scent and identify her as her caretaker to become comfortable with her.  I walked in one night, with Hedgwig and Emma sitting together.  Emma said to me, "I don't think she likes me.  She keeps curling up in a ball when I go to hold her."  I said out loud, "Better get used to that.  It will happen all throughout parenting. You both are just figuring your stuff out together."   At that Emma smiled.
Lessons From A Hedgehog (Featuring a Teenage Girl)
Greetings from the Teenage girl mentioned above! I see my momma has taken a very educated and insightful view into my desire for a hedgehog. I do not have such a view. For me it's simple, Hedgehogs are really cute and I just wanted my own so we can be best friends. Also, it doesn't hurt that now I can look at her adorable little face forever because "I decided a while ago not to deny myself the simpler pleasures of existence" (John Green, The Fault in Our Stars).
I mean just look at Hedgewig's face it's great and I make her sit in little teacups, which I doubt she enjoys but she will learn to love it, and I thoroughly plan to force her to love me; this is a run on sentence but I imagine it represents my thoughts at the moment so I'm sticking with it. Wooh. Deep breath.
Well I hope you've enjoyed my ranting as you've been simply grand for getting through it!
Emma Barrett
Post Scriptum:
The "powerpoint" my mom mentioned above was literally a drawing of a hedgehog on a chalkboard; however, I like to think that my extreme skill at drawing hedgehogs resulted in getting permission to adopt Hedgewig.

POST post Scriptum:
Her name is totally awesome because it is both a pun and a reference to Harry Potter's pet owl, Hedwig. But she's Hedgewig because she's a hedgehog! Ha! Punpunpunpunpun

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Life is About Change

I think I am finally willing to embrace the truth that life is about change. 

And willing to celebrate change as if it were a piece of the most delicious chocolate cake or the feeling you get when you watch your kid achieve something that allows them to shine or when you have a day out with your spouse and are reminded of what brought you together in the first place or that feeling you get when you walk out of a yoga class and feel at complete peace with yourself.

I have worked most of my life trying to get everything in its place, thinking that when I did, only then I would realize the joy of life. I am finding out that it doesn't work that way; regardless of how hard I try.

One of my yoga posture dreams is to do a standing split in standing bow.  Every time I come into class to practice I imagine what this accomplishment would look like.  I have wanted it so badly at times, that I have hurt myself by pushing too hard.  And I believe that how you practice your yoga is a clear example of how you live your life.  For better and for worse.  And for me, it seems that to use my practice to look at myself and determine what is well for me and what is not, will only allow for me to do things outside of my yoga practice that actually encourage a joyful life. 

Over these past several years, while running the yoga studio, some of my biggest personal growth spurts have taken place.  And with the growth spurts, so much change has found it's way into my life.  I am sure change has always been there, but I was always too busy trying to control it and trying to push too hard to make it fit into my life in the way I wanted.  I used to be a person that could plan out a day, a week, a party, a vacation minute by minute and I would make sure everything went as planned.  What I have learned from running the studio is that there simply is no way around change.  Things come up that I have absolutely no control over and somehow I must find a way to adapt. I am finding that I don't have or simply do not want to use the energy to fight against change any longer.

As I sit and write this, I wonder how this recent realization will unfold and I imagine that once I am beyond the phase of sitting in the middle, wondering what changes to make and how to make them, that things will work out wonderfully. I do know that, if what I have been gifted through all of my experiences, with all of you, at this yoga studio is any indication of what the rest of my life will bring, I have a lot to look forward to and be excited about. 

Thank you for that.

I wish for you to continue with your practice through the holiday season and in the coming year.  And if you haven't practiced in a while, I welcome you to come back. 

It is truly the best thing you can give to yourself.  


Friday, November 13, 2015

Healing from the Inside Out

This past weekend, we had a remarkable event at Bikram Yoga Hamburg; a seminar with Diane Ducharme. One of my main take aways from the weekend was in learning how to work smarter, not harder.

My father was born in Calabria, Italy.  He is one of nine siblings. My kids and I, along with a couple of my siblings and their families were fortunate this past summer to be able to go with my dad and visit his hometown of Reggio, Calabria.  Over the years, he has shared with us many stories of his childhood and of his journey from Italy to America, but to see it in real life and to try to imagine what it was like living his childhood in the way he did, was very humbling.  It allowed me to understand that one of the biggest gifts he passed along to me was how to work hard and to appreciate the people that we surround ourselves with.  Being one of nine siblings myself, I believe I had an extraordinary advantage in learning how to work within a community from the very early ages of my life.  I look at how, within our large family community, we had to learn to share and cooperate.  We had to learn who was in charge and how to trust and follow that lead.  We had to do our part and sometimes more than our part.  And as an older sibling, I also had to learn how to take lead in order to help out my parents with the younger kids and jobs around the house.    
My dads' drive to work hard was driven mostly out of need to survive while he lived in Italy.  Once in America, his survival was about learning how to make his way in a country as a teenager without knowing the language or the culture. 

I have always known that I was fortunate in growing up the way I did.  While, many things were a struggle for many reasons, I had an incredible opportunity to learn how to grow into myself because I was taught how to work hard and not give up.
As a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sibling, a friend, a teacher and a studio owner, I have always tried to give complete effort to the work that I do and the relationships I am in.  I have found myself exhausted many times and simply unable to do my best because I was trying to be more than my best.

I've shared many times that I began my yoga practice in hopes of healing a knee injury.  And I did do that in a short amount of time. But, what surprised me the most throughout my practice was the mental and emotional healing and growth that I gained.  All of these benefits were gained through my willingness to show up and put the effort in.

This practice is one that we use to not only heal our bodies, but to heal ourselves from the inside out.  We are using our bodies to make us stronger, more flexible and more balanced.  As much I know this and teach this, I gained a much deeper understanding of what this means to living a more quality life by practicing my yoga in a way that is useful, not hurtful.
And it is by trying to do less.  It is by working in a way that does not hurt my body.  It is by listening to the words of the teacher, getting into set up correctly, keeping proper alignment, and then finding more depth which allows my body to open up.  Then this allows me to be calmer, more trusting of myself and able to do more with less effort. 

If I am willing to practice in a way that is honest and well for me, then I can accomplish great things, little by little, step by step. One of the most impactful things I heard from Diane this weekend was, "Differentiate between pain and discomfort.  Pain is sharp.  It stops us in our tracks and takes our breath away.  Discomfort is change."

Next time you are in class, I invite you to really listen to the words and allow your body to practice in a way that is not hurtful to you, but healing.  For many of us, this will be a great learning process, but one that I can promise will change the way you appreciate your practice and it will change the way you live your life.      


A Day with Diane Ducharme

This past weekend, we hosted a Diane Ducharme's seminar. 

First, I want to say that I believe our studio and students are exceptional.  I have seen and heard from many of you as to how much your yoga practices have impacted your lives.  

Next, I want to share with you how my first seminar with Diane Ducharme impacted me and how it is the reason why I was able to take the first step into opening Bikram Yoga Hamburg.

It is not a secret that Bikram Yoga has some controversy attached to it.  When I first started practicing and teaching this series years ago, many of us taught and practiced in a very aggressive way. The hotter, the better. The harder, the better.  If you weren't suffering or forcing your way through class, you weren't trying hard enough.  In my personal practice, this mindset caused an injury that I came in with, a much longer time to heal. It also caused minor irritations in my body to become ones more pronounced.  I don't believe all studios or teachers taught this way, but I do know that many did.  I did and I was at a point with my practice and with my teaching where this did not feel right to me any longer. I no longer had the ability to fight myself through my practice and I certainly did not want to teach this way.

In the beginning, I had limited access to understanding the healing capacities of this series and I certainly did not know how to practice in a way to heal my body or teach in a way to help people.  I was not willing to teach in a way that felt less than helpful for students.  I thought this meant I had to give up my practice, my teaching and the idea of opening a Bikram studio.  What didn't make sense to me is that it was so clear that I had received immeasurable benefits from my practice and I was receiving an incredible amount of joy from teaching because I knew the potential this series had in changing peoples lives for the better.  I knew what it did for mine and could only imagine what it had to offer if I stuck with it.  I had wanted to open a studio for almost as long as I had been practicing but had no idea how I would do this with feeling the lack of understanding in my yoga practice and in my teaching abilities.  I knew there was something more to understand. And I knew that I was at a point where it was now or never. I was ready to step away from not only the idea of opening a studio, but also my practice when I had randomly heard that there was a teacher's only seminar in NYC coming up.  Throughout my years as a teacher, I had attended as many seminars as I could from Bikram, as well as Senior Teachers.  I wanted to learn as much as I could.  This was the first time I had access to a teacher's only seminar and something about it intrigued me.  I went with a bit of a chip on my shoulder because I had thought I had made up my mind that I was going to step away from this yoga and this seminar would only give me more reason to know that walking away was the right decision.  This was to be the perfect excuse to stop doing something I knew deep down was a good thing, but simply because I was at a stuck point with my practice and teaching.  
I showed up to the seminar, not sure what to expect.  Not exactly sure what I even hoped, wanted, needed to get out of it.  I don't know how far along we were into the day, but I remember so vividly, being in complete awe as I listened to Diane talk and demonstrate, answer questions about how to work with students more effectively and how to help our own personal practices evolve.  She did hands on adjustments and worked with so much humor and with an incredible amount of kindness.  And I knew exactly how I needed to move forward with my teaching and my practice and I also knew opening a yoga studio was, without a doubt, my next step.  Last week's seminar with Diane Ducharme helped students gain great insight into their yoga practice. For new students to Bikram's yoga, it was a great opportunity to learn from the start by a senior teacher.

For those who have been practicing for a while, it helped in ways that surprised.  It's easy to find ourselves sometimes going through the motions once we've been practicing for a longer period of time because we are more comfortable and now the basics, but this time with Diane helped take our practice a step further. It was a long day, but what was gained from this day is immeasurable. 


It's All About Perspective

Several years after I went to teacher training, I started to wonder why I hadn't opened a studio yet.  I had known since training that I would open a studio of my own one-day, but I couldn't figure out why I wasn't moving in the direction of doing so and I wondered what was keeping from moving forward. 

I so vividly remember one particular morning; I was in the shower and I asked myself out loud, "What are you so afraid of?" I paused, wondering if I would get an answer back, afraid of what I would hear back. 

The answer that came was my kids.  I was afraid of not being able to fulfill my commitment to them and I was afraid that I would be pulled away from them. I adore my kids.  Not only do I love them, but also I really like them, even now as teenagers. I have certainly become a better person because of my kids.  Many times in my life, since being a mother, my only motivation to keep trying was because of my kids.  I knew if I were better, they would grow up to be healthier in all areas of their lives. 

How would I continue to be there for them, if I opened up a business?  I knew I would want to give 100% to this business because the yoga is something I truly believe in and have gained so much from. 

Almost immediately, my next thought was that I would have to look at this business like my third baby.  Each of my two kids is so incredibly different.  Each has different interests; different things that motivate them; different challenges that have had to be worked out through the years.  If I could be successful at working with each of them individually and keeping our family unit strong, then maybe I can add in the studio and work it the same way and I believe to this day that this little conversation I had with myself in the shower was what really allowed me to open up to the possibility of this studio and let go of the fear that I couldn't do it.

Many people come in and say they are afraid of the heat.  They are afraid they are not flexible enough or strong enough or they have no balance. And when they write to me or talk to me about why they are afraid, I tell them that I can relate and what I know is that if they choose to take that step, the gifts waiting are immeasurable. 

So here we are, three years in. When I look around at what this studio space has grown into, I sometimes wonder how it happened. But as I reflect upon how incredibly strong our yoga studio community has become, I understand how this all happened. Every person who has walked through our doors has taken the chance to explore something new of them selves.  For some, it was an easy decision.  For others, it took a lot of courage.   For most, the benefits have exceeded any ideas originally set.  I see everyday the achievements made because of your willingness to look at things with a different perspective. 

The number one thing that I find 100% joy in at the studio is when I walk in that room to teach.  I am continuously inspired and humbled by all of you.  Thank you for three years of what is only the beginning of an incredible experience that we all share together.


Monday, July 6, 2015

It's All About Balance

I am someone who, when having an idea or setting a goal, is determined to accomplish it.  The studio is a perfect example of this.  I knew from very early on in my yoga practice that I would teach and open a studio.

It took me nearly ten years to achieve this goal, but I did.  In the ten years prior to opening, I was continuously working on myself and on plans for the studio that has developed into an amazing place for people to come to, practice their yoga and change their lives day by day as I continue to do each day with myself.  Aside from being a mother, it has been one of the toughest things I have done in my life.  And like motherhood, it has been most rewarding.

This past March, I came up with the idea to practice 100 days of yoga in 100 consecutive days.  I am unsure as to what intrigued me enough to commit to this, but I found myself easily showing up each day and happily practicing side-by-side many of you who continued on with your practices.

During this time, I also decided to cut back my sugar intake as I, very easily and much too often, find myself consuming more sugar in a day than food of high nutritional value. It was relatively easy for me to do this because I was already practicing so much yoga and feeling so good that it seemed almost automatic to give up my sugar habit.  I found myself very clear minded and able to be more efficient, getting things done with more ease and productivity.
I was in a great place, feeling strong and accomplished.

At about 60 days in, I found myself questioning whether to continue or not.  At the time, I thought I was just hitting a wall and I expected it to pass.

But, after having two major studio events on back-to-back weekends and a few weeks where I had to double up on my teaching schedule, I found that my life was completely out of balance.  I hadn't sat down with my family in over a month for dinner.  Bill was picking up too much of kid responsibilities and although he was willing to do it, I noticed it was affecting his work productivity.   My kids where often asking when I would be home.  And at the ages they are at, 14 and 15, they are usually happy when they have free time at home without mom.  So, I knew this was something to pay attention to.

It was when I spent Mother's day in bed for most of the day exhausted and sleeping, I realized that I needed to make a decision to be better for myself, my family and the studio and students.

In yoga, we talk about three main things: Strength, Balance and Flexibility.  These exist within the physical body as well the mental and emotional bodies.  If you are working through an injury, you may not have the physical strength you'd like, but your gain comes by using your mental strength by showing up and working your best and your body will follow.  If you have a strong body, but limited flexibility, you create better balance for your body by learning how to use your strength to gain greater flexibility.

I had the strength and endurance to see these 100 days through, but I was losing overall balance and I had to decide to be courageous enough to use greater flexibility and change the direction of my original goal.

So at day 72, I made the decision to change gears.

I had completed 66 days of yoga in 72 days. During this time, I had participated and completed in the studio's 30-day challenge.  I participated in the studio wide "Grow Out Of Your Comfort Spring Challenge", practicing without water, doing a double, and wearing a bra top instead of full tank!!
I decided to celebrate what I did accomplish in these days and to continue on with a more reasonable yoga practice and connect with what I had lost touch with.

Here are a few of those moments that created a better balance for me: 
  • Spending some time with my amazing nieces and nephews
  • Going to the theatre with my daughter, Emma!  
  • A day trip with Bill! Here we are wishing our son, Jack, good luck on his Chemistry exam.  
  • Thursday night soccer games! Love how the boys' coach has the team run to the parents side line after each game!