Summer Blues Bring Autumn Hues

The days are getting shorter as the sun is growing dimmer.  The songs of the birds have grown quieter and the buzzing sounds of the cicadas have dampened down.  From my view of the woods outside of my windows at home, I set my gaze on dried out brown and golden leaves twirling like helicopters as they make their way towards the ground.  Summertime here in the Northeast is coming to a close and I am beginning to feel this shift on an extremely visceral level.

Change is good.  Change is inevitable.  Change is the one thing in life we know we can count on for sure.  I embrace change with open arms.  EXCEPT for the change of season this time of the year.  I know many of you look forward to the Fall like a kid in a candy store, surrounded and mesmerized by all of the vibrant colors, scents and tastes of sugary sweets abound.  But not me.  This seasonal transition brings about a certain degree of internal grief and melancholy that forces me to look within and reflect in more thoughtful and careful ways.  This is not at all a bad thing, per se, but it certainly is a change that requires more effort on my part to stay attuned to my own inner world in my quest for balance. 

The rhythms of my body and mind are asking me to pay attention in different and greater ways than what was required of me in the Summer.  I can no longer rely on the intensity of the sun for my boosts of energy, even though I still have just as many (if not more) obligations to fulfill.  My anxiety is heightened, my brain is scattered, my skin is beginning to dry out just like the leaves on the trees, and worst of all, flip flops are on their way out.  Say it isn't so!  This means wool socks and boots are in my very near future.  So very confining.

Thanks to my self - care practices, relief is only a reach away.  I would love to share with you some of my Fall rituals that help keep me warm, balanced, and grounded during this time of the year.  Maybe you too could use some of these suggestions. 

1.  WALKING MEDITATION - Nature heals.  Because I begin to feel a sense of loss and mourning this time of the year, my soul needs more nurturing than usual.  I have found walking meditation during the Fall to be extra healing.  I notice the leaves on the trees, I watch them fall to the ground, I pick one leaf up at a time to trace my finger along the veins, I feel the texture, I notice the colors, the spots and the jagged edges.  I connect to the leaves as though they are a part of me (because they are) and honor this process of dying, shedding the old, moving on and letting go.  I recognize the impermanence in all things, in myself, in life.  I embrace the decaying of nature the same as I do the decaying of my old self.  And when I do this, I open myself up to all that will be new for me again. 

2.  YOGA & BREATHING PRACTICES - Yoga always.  Especially now.  Particularly grounding practices with the intention of bringing love and gratitude for myself, for others and for the changes all around.  I prefer moving slower through my practice one pose at a time with longer holds.  Here is a mini sequence that feels good in my body for grounding:

Child's Pose to Downdog to Mountain

Warrior 1 to Warrior 2 to Triangle to Wide Legged Forward Fold to Pyramid - REPEAT on other side

Tree Pose to Yoga Squat (malasana) to Supported Bridge (with block under sacrum) to Legs up a Wall (viparitakarani) to Savasana

Breathwork: Alternate Nostril Breathing (Nadi Shodhana) - click here for benefits and directions

3.  WARM BATHS/ BODY OILING/ SELF MASSAGE -  I use almond oil or sesame oil all over my body before bed and/or after a warm bath or shower.  I even put oil in the bath water and massage it into my skin while in the water.  I reapply after my bath.  This is a great way to combat my dry skin, leaving my skin smooth and supple. 

4. DIETARY CHANGES & TEA TIME - I incorporate root vegetables and warm soups into my diet, while trying to avoid foods that are on the dry side.  This helps me stay warm, supports my skin, and helps me stay grounded in my body and mind.  Also, a warm mug of tea goes a long way in keeping me warm and is a the perfect reminder to slow down and savor the moment.

While Fall time may be a difficult transition for myself and for some of you, it truly is an opportunity to shift gears, to listen more deeply, to turn inward, tune into the natural rhythms of nature, and to take greater care of ourselves.  So, bring it on Fall.  I am ready for you and all you have to offer!

Remember, as your Health and Wellness Educator, I am here to support you, your children and your family.  Be sure to check out these Fall Inspired Yoga and Mindfulness Practices for Children, Families and Educators and be inspired in the present moment together!

I am excited to announce that I will be offering a Fall Wellness Retreat for Women at West End Yoga Studio on October 30th.  This half - day wellness program is designed especially for mamas, educators and caregivers.  I would love to spend this day with you!  For more details and to register, click here

Also, another offering for women only at West End Yoga is the next Kick - Ass Female Entrepreneur Event: Move, Meditate and Mingle.  This free meet up takes place on September 26th at 7 pm.  Click here for more details.  Come check out the studio and meet other women in your community!  

Additionally, I offer weekly adult yoga classes at West End Yoga Studio, and weekly children's yoga classes throughout Lancaster county at different early education centers and schools.  Grow Wise Programs in schools also support school educators and staff. 

Most recently I have partnered with Move It Studio in Lititz and will be offering Grow Wise Parent & Child Mindful Movement Classes this Fall.  Registration is open now!

Lastly, I am available to work with you as your very own personal Wellness Mentor.  Schedule a free Wellness Consultation with me now and receive a special gift to get you started on cultivating greater well - being and happiness for yourself and discover the ripple effect this will have on your loved ones.  

I look forward to staying connected to you in all things wellness.  And may you transition well throughout this Fall season. 

 

The Joys and Benefits of Play

Hello from one of my favorite places on Earth - The Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY!  My family and I have been looking forward to this week all year long.  It's family week at Omega and we came here together to immerse ourselves in our own versions of play and rest in the safe haven of this little oasis.  

My husband and I are both enjoying the Joy Of Play Camp for adults together, while our son is off as a "junior ranger" in the Little Forest People Camp.  We are harmoniously communing with nature, revisiting with friends we made from last year, making new friends, resting, swimming in the lake, and best of all, we are playing. 

Oh the joy of play!  Being here always reminds me of the importance of play.  Play is the original form of learning.  Through play, we not only learn about the world around us, but about ourselves and others as well.  As a child, play was the catalyst for how we met other kids.  It's a form of connection to ourselves and to others.  When we play together, we become in sync with one another.  These are a few of my intuitions about the benefits of play anyway.  And as it turns out, science supports many of these intuitions (and more!) about the benefits of play. 

According to current research, play improves memory and stimulates the growth of the cerebral cortex.  When kids are given brief and frequent opportunities for free play, they gain a greater capacity to pay more attention to academic tasks.  There is empirical evidence that play promotes creative problem solving and that play increases the capacity for both language development as well as mathematical skills.

Essentially, to play is to develop real life coping strategies that allow for the social and intellectual skills necessary to thrive in relationships with other people and in academic settings.  To play is to explore, to investigate, to be in the flow and to have fun!  When we play, we build connections and creativity with friends and family.  It's a golden opportunity to let go and just be, no matter what age we are.  I encourage each and every one of you to get out there and play today and everyday.  Now if you will excuse me, I am off to play some more!

For those of you in Lancaster, PA who are looking for an opportunity to play, you can catch me teaching a Vinyasa Flow Yoga class at West End Yoga Studio every Wednesday evening at 5:30 pm.  Beginning August 20th, I will be teaching Yoga Basics for beginners at West End Yoga every other Saturday at 1 pm.  I look forward to seeing you there and I promise to bring the joys and the benefits of play to you in each one of my classes. 

 

I Can See Clearly Now

Photo Credit: Valerie Smith of Grace Photos

Photo Credit: Valerie Smith of Grace Photos

As I reflect on my experience as a mother for almost a decade now (gasp!), I look back on one of my most pivotal parenting moments that set me on the path to greater clarity in my life.  This moment I speak of occurred when Eli was around 2 or 3 years old.  I decided to take him outside to the next door neighbor's swing set.  He quickly entered into a joyful state of play, as all children do, so very naturally. 

There he was, right before my eyes, my greatest teacher, a master of play, a master of being in the moment.  And there I was.  Lost.  Lost in my own thoughts, completely disconnected from feeling his joy, completely disconnected from genuinely sharing that moment with him.  My physical body was present with my son, but my emotional body was not.  Simply because I was preoccupied with my own thoughts. 

In that moment, I received the "divine download":  Michelle, wake up.  THIS IS IT.  Bring your attention to this miracle happening in front of you right here right now.

I got the message loud and clear.  At the time, it sounded like a very simple command.  Well, as I have learned, its not so simple.  I am still practicing.  Everyday.  I have made leaps and bounds compared to where I was that day at the swing set with Eli.  I also continue to struggle at times.  It's all part of the process and I no longer view myself as a "bad" parent when I lack full presence with my son.  Besides, it is impossible to be totally present with anyone 100% of the time anyway.  For anyone trying to be, I urge to stop because that is just plain unhealthy. 

What I am talking about here is that I have discovered a profound ability to connect wholeheartedly to my child.  Unfortunately, it's not something that came incredibly easily to me in the beginning of motherhood.  I know I am not alone in this.  Sometimes we need a little guidance where we are lacking it.  I certainly have.  It took me this "divine download", following Eli's lead, many books and my yoga and mindfulness practices to learn how to cultivate mindful awareness, wholehearted connection and presence with him. 

Because I chose to listen to my "divine download", I earned the badge of awareness that serves to remind me to notice when I am lost in my own thoughts.  This awareness allows me the choice to either stay lost in thought or return to the miracles happening right before my eyes.  I honor the progress I have made.  I cherish many sweet moments with my son.  I truly feel the miracle he is, the giant essence of his being, his spirit, his soul.  Just as I did the day he was born.  And when I get lost, that is what I continue to return to over and over again. 

Now that Eli is a wavering and unpredictable 9, almost 10 year old, I find this practice to be more challenging than ever before.  I find myself creating these moments of heartfelt connection with him these days.  Before, he naturally and organically created them for us, simply because that is the nature of small children.  They are masters of mindfulness.  Then one day, like adults, they too become busy in their own minds.  Because I can see clearly now and because of my years of practice and learning from Eli, I am up for the challenge.  This is it.  Right here, right now. 

 

If you would like to bring more mindfulness, presence and heartfelt connection into you and your family's life, follow this link to access 7 Mindfulness Practices for Children, Parents and Families.

 

BELOW ARE RECOMMENDED BOOKS THAT HAVE BEEN BENEFICIAL FOR ME IN PRACTICING PRESENCE, WHOLEHEARTED CONNECTION AND MINDFUL AWARENESS IN PARENTING AND IN LIFE:

Buddha Never Raised Kids and Jesus Didn't Drive Carpool - Vickie Falcone:

Jesus and Buddha Book.jpg

Parenting From the Inside Out - Daniel Siegel, M.D., and Mary Hartzell, M. Ed. :

Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting

- Myla & Jon Kabat - Zinn:

The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle

 

 

 

 

 

7 Mindfulness Practices for Children, Parents and Families

1.    Singing Bowl/Chime EXERCISE

  • APPLICATION: Listen to all of the sounds outside of the room, inside of the room, and all around.  Pause.  Share what sounds you hear and notice.  Ring the chimes or singing bowl singing bowl.  Listen to the sound the whole way through until it stops with eyes open or closed.  You can raise a hand once you no longer hear it, or open your eyes if your eyes were closed.
  • SUGGESTIONS: Incorporate this exercise throughout the day (during transitions) to create more pauses in your everyday routine.  Incorporate into family dinners together by sitting down at the table and doing this exercise followed by each family member expressing gratitude for one thing.  Once the exercise is complete, everyone is welcome to start eating. 

2.  Take 5 and Drop In EXERCISES

  • TAKE 5: What do you see?  What do you smell?  What do you taste?  What do you hear?  What do you feel? 
  • DROP IN: Scan your body from head to toe.  What do you feel on your skin?   In your muscles?  What do you feel inside of your body? What emotion or feeling are you experiencing?  Happy?  Sad?  Grateful?  Scared?  Uncertainty?  What do you sense beyond your emotions?

  • SUGGESTIONS:  Use these exercises 1st thing in the morning for yourself & get creative with using these exercises throughout your day with your children.  Make up a game around TAKE 5 (i.e. I spy with my little eye, I smell with my little nose…). 

  • OTHER SUGGESTIONS:  For smell, use different scents with children (i.e. essential oils) and have them guess what scent they smell (i.e. orange, lemon, etc..).  For taste, have them close their eyes and have them smell, taste and savor the provided food (i.e. use a raisin and have them feel the texture between their fingers, on their tongue, texture as they chew slowly, sweetness of juices.  Bring this “game” into family dinners when eating together. 

3.    Get Grounded EXERCISES

  • TREE EXERCISE:  Stand tall and steady with feet firm into the ground and say: My body is like a tree.  My tree has roots.  My roots reach down to the Earth’s core.  I send my breath down into the Earth.  I release frustration, anxiety, fear, etc…

  • SUGGESTION: Use with yourself if you are feeling unsettled and ungrounded and use with children by asking them to stand like a tree when their energy is scattered, disorganized, upset, etc...

  • ROCK EXERCISE:  Curl up into child’s pose on the ground and say: My body is like a rock.  I am still and calm.  I am safe and secure.  I am strong and steady. 

  • SUGGESTION: Use for yourself to calm and ground.  Do it with your children when they are feeling out of control.  Place a hand on their back while you reassure them that they have the control inside of themselves to be calm and still.  Reassure them that they are safe and loved.  Let them know you understand how difficult it can be to get calm and still.  Praise them.

4.    Anchor Breath and Buddy Breath EXERCISE

  • ANCHOR BREATH:  Ask child(ren) what an anchor is and how it helps a ship in the ocean.  Ask children what happens to a ship in water that is not anchored to the ocean floor and what happens to a ship that is anchored to the ocean floor.  Show them the singing bowl or a different object and have them imagine it as a ship with an anchor at the bottom.  Either demo or ask child(ren) to lie on their backs and place the singing bowl on child's belly and ask them to breathe in through their nose to smell the flowers and let it go.  Have them watch the bowl rising and falling as they breathe in and out.   Explain to them that their breath is just like a ship anchored to the ocean floor.  Explain that focusing on our breath can helps us stay calm in the middle of the ocean even when there is a storm swirling around.

  • SUGGESTION:  Ask your child(ren) if they can think of a time in their lives when they think they might be able to focus on their breath to calm themselves down.  The answers you receive may include: when I am mad, angry, sad, upset, or even happy (it is true, sometimes we get overly excited and need help calming ourselves down).  Act out an example such as laughing hysterically (little kids love this) and then return to your breath with one hand on your belly to show how to calm yourself down just by focusing on your breath.  Then have each child place his or her own hand on their own belly as they breathe.  Explain to them that this is their anchor breath and they can use this breath to calm themselves down anytime they need to, even while sitting or standing. 

  • SUGGESTION: Use this exercise for yourself and with your child(ren) to find your/their anchor breath in times of overwhelm, frustration, upset, anger, etc..  It’s important our children understand that we too experience strong emotions and we need to take moments to settle ourselves back to a feel good state. 

 

  • BREATHING BUDDY:  Have your child(ren) choose their favorite stuffed animal, lie down on their backs and place their stuffed animal on their belly.  Ask them to watch the animal moving up as they breathe in and down as they breathe out.  Tell them this is their breathing buddy and whenever they need to calm themselves down, or whenever they are feeling scared, they can always use their breathing buddy just like this. 

  • SUGGESTION:  Use this exercise with children before bedtime for a more calming transition to sleep.

5.    Leaf Meditation EXERCISE

  • APPLICATION:  Find a few different leaves with or without your child and carve out some time to examine each leaf together.  Notice the color, the texture, trace your finger around the shape of the leaf, is it pointy/jagged/soft/crispy, etc..?  Look at the veins on the leaf, notice any holes on the leaf, etc..

  • SUGGESTION:  Find a special, accessible place in the house to keep your leaves.  Maybe have acorns, flowers and other objects from nature in a box with the leaves.  This exercise can be used as a transitional exercise from one task to the next.  Can also be done organically as you are headed out to the car to go some place, stop with your child to notice that bug, the clover, the leaf or flower on the ground.  All with intentional pause, presence and curiosity.

6.    Create a Scavenger Hunt

  • APPLICATION:  Make a list of items that would be found outside.  The list can be made with your child(ren) or not.  Write those items down on paper and begin to search for those things together. 

7.    Mirror EXERCISE

  • APPLICATION:  Take a moment with your child to look closely into one each others eyes and see if you can find each others reflections.  Ask your child to find their own image in your eyes and you try to find your image in their eyes.

  • SUGGESTION:  Use this exercise when speaking to them or to anyone else.  Always look for that connection when with another person, especially your child(ren). 

 

MORE TIPS:

The above exercises are useful in establishing connection, presence, intention, attunement, focus and attention – all things mindfulness.  Remember, there is no end goal in mindful parenting, just an ongoing practice for both you and your child(ren).

As long as we are taking good care of ourselves and have good practices in place for ourselves, we will better be able to help our children do the same for themselves.  Adopting a regular sitting practice allows for us to strengthen our mindfulness muscles and in turn allows us to help our children do the same.

Always be sure to try as best you are able to use a calm voice, remain as steady as possible in the heat of the moment, make eye contact, validate and feel your child(ren)’s feelings with them (i.e. it seems like you are angry.. that’s a strong feeling… I know how it feels to be angry and it can feel tough… I am here for you and I love you).  Be willing to forgive yourself when you don’t get it “right”.  Be willing to have compassion for yourself.  Be willing to apologize.  Your children are looking to you for the lessons on forgiveness and compassion.     

Place a gentle hand on your child(ren)’s back when redirecting them or when they have repeated themselves over and over again (i.e. place hand on back and say I heard you say that already, or I’ve asked you three times now to pick up your toys). 

Use questions instead of telling children to stop unwanted behavior.  Examples: Do you notice your behavior right now?  Do you notice how you are talking to me?  Do you notice that you are not treating others with kindness right now?  This allows children to reflect and figure out what it is they are doing on their own, leading them to their own solutions rather than being told how they should behave.  Redirect them by asking them to try that again (i.e. will you try that again please?). 

 

 

 

 

Your Well - Being Depends on Your Nervous System

Oh the amazing mechanisms of the human nervous system!!  I just love talking about the autonomic nervous system (ANS) and its two branches: the sympathetic nervous system and the parasympathetic nervous system.  These two systems work together to maintain homeostasis (balance) in our bodies and minds.  An imbalance of these systems can lead to poor health.  Constant low - grade stress or high intensity stress can lead to autonomic nervous system imbalance.  Below is a diagram of the basic structure of the human nervous system.

 Our well-being is dependent upon the balance between the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems. 

We can think of the sympathetic nervous system as an emergency system.  When it is activated, it inhibits the parasympathetic nervous system because emergencies take precedence over relaxation.  Our systems become out of balance when we are unable to shift out of sympathetic activation (high gear) back to parasympathetic activation (low gear), resulting in high levels of stress and poor health. 

Our bodies are meant to handle and deal with stress, but not the amount and frequency we are commonly faced with today.  And did you know that we release the most stress hormones (cortisol) within minutes of waking?  Just thinking about the events of the day ahead triggers our fight or flight instinct and releases cortisol straight into our blood.  Isn't it incredible to consider how powerful our own thoughts are?  The fact that our thoughts alone can activate our sympathetic nervous system is quite profound, in my humble opinion. 

Something else profound to consider is that, emotionally, the sympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system is associated with fear while the parasympathetic nervous system is associated with feelings of love.  All you need is love!  Love always drives out fear!

To promote balance and healing, the goal is to keep the sympathetic system turned off as much as possible.  Simple ways to do this are to rest, practice relaxation and think positive and happy thoughts often.

Click here for some simple, practical wisdom on ways to keep your nervous system balanced throughout your day.  Your health and well - being depend on it!