Dear Teacher…

“A Teacher’s major contribution may pop out anonymously in the life of some ex-students grandchild. A teacher, finally, has nothing to go on but faith, a student nothing to offer in return but testimony.”
– Wendell Barry

 

Dear Teachers,
Here it is. Another school year. A fresh start. New students; a re-commitment to why you chose this profession or rather why this profession chose you. You are who you are because of how you are made. You are the human symbol of compassion and (mostly) patience. You give more than you receive on so many different levels. And you care deeply—at times more that you would like—for the children you call your own over the course of 185 days. The world outside of your uniquely constructed classroom sees just the outside of you, the teacher appearance of what you represent. Parents at back to school night admire your organization, presentation, bulletin board, and careful way you write their child’s name on their desk. Most parents appreciate all you do, but they don’t know all you do and really you can’t expect them to. The truth is, as parents, we take you for granted and sometimes I think you feel this. You’re okay with that though, it’s all part of the selfless act of love that you factor into the profession that chose you. Often times, you wonder how you get it all done. And many times you ask yourself if this was the right choice. Between changes in curriculum, a possible grade switch next year, another student with an IEP, observations, and oh yes, the content that somehow you hope sinks into the 18 pairs of eyes who are supposed to be engaged while you are teaching.
You are teaching in a age right now that undermines the origins and roots of what education was founded upon. Your task is great, but your heart is greater so it all works out. I write you this letter on behalf of so many parents who DO understand what you are up against. 2500 years ago, the ancient Greeks saw the true value in teaching from the inside-out. This approach, referred to as the Socratic method or the dialectic approach, was guided by the inquisitiveness of the learner. The teacher as the facilitator; the student as the guide. The inner workings of that student expressed himself freely because he was encouraged and permitted. This is the entity of mindfulness! The script of curriculum, the same 3 questions asked per lesson, and standardized tests were far off in the distant future. Enough was presented through the eyes of the learner that could fill a teacher’s planner for an entire lifetime. And the teacher was allowed to be attended (mindful and present) to what that child craved and needed most.
The kids aren’t ignorant of what they’re missing out on in the classroom. They know and feel that this process of learning is unnatural because simply, it feels that way to them. As an educational culture, we have shifted the process of learning to that of an “outside-in” approach. You, the teacher learn the curriculum at a workshop over a few days. You then do a wonderful job engaging the learner through a variety of techniques and the use of manipulatives that you see fit. But the end goal is still the delivering of content, the pouring in, the “making sure they get it approach as it is scripted”. This goes against the grain of just about every learner and frankly probably also most teachers. Am I being too critical? Maybe, but do teachers deserve to be validated and recognized for what they are up against? Absolutely.
One thing I learned early on in my years of parenting is that even though my children may have come from me and we share the same DNA, it’s really of no importance when it comes to the inner-workings of who they really are! I grew up riding horses and competing, and I loved it. I identified with all things equestrian. I couldn’t wait to get out of school so I could walk a quarter mile to the stable where I took lessons and boarded my horse. I loved the smells, I loved the brushing, the riding, the dust-filled air, the sounds, and the quiet. It was everything a classic introvert craved. I was me when I was at Stepping Stone Farm. So many years later, I thought it would be fun to introduce my 6 year old to the world of horses. It didn’t take much to convince her it would be a good time. Little girls plus horses go together like peas and carrots. The first few lessons were fine, but in time, I realized that I was the one wanting this for her. She really had no interest and I finally learned to pull the plug when she rode by trotting while she rolled her eyes at me. A piece of me was sad, but another piece of me celebrated her authenticity and ability to own the fact that she did not like this at all. Today, at age 10, she’s a knock-out surfer, a fierce soccer player, and her social calendar is busier than mine. True extrovert, nothing like me and I wouldn’t change a thing! I share this story because it reminds me that we must begin to honor the child in a way that respects how they were made. Too often I hear parents say, “He’s just like me because…” Is he really or is it you wanting your child to have that same trait. Kids believe what they receive and so many of them are receiving the same content in the classrooms in the same way.
How is this affecting them? To put it plainly and to call a spade a spade, I think we are disservicing them for years to come. It’s our job as parents and educators to be mindful of the child placed in our rooms and our lives. YOU were chosen for that child by an act of faith. YOU are entrusted to decide to be an honoring part to their life or a dismissive run-of-the-mill teacher in their life. You can all remember the handful of students who had an impact on you. What about the students out there who will recall a certain teacher recognizing them for them.
I remember my third grade teacher—Mrs. J.—fondly. What do I remember most about her? I remember her eyes. They were blue and wide and her eyes listened to me. I remember her walk, she almost floated around the room, like she knew intuitively which child needed her at the exact right moment. Upon reflection, she represented mindfulness without even realizing it. She was living it and it had a profound impact on me as a learner. I struggled with math, the times tables were frustrating, I was quiet and constantly afraid she would call on me to read aloud. She spent alone time with me often to go over those darn 7 facts and she rarely called on me to read in order to save me the embarrassment of flushed cheeks and a racing heart. She felt me, she felt all of us on a resonant level. She was living and teaching behind the pouring in of content. Most importantly, she was present.
Teachers, you are up against a lot and even though I am a former teacher, I’m not sure I could go back with the awareness of the current state of the education system. I simply want to encourage all of you that you are where you need to be at such a time as this. Our world needs teachers who are mindful and present more than ever. Continue to do the best you can with the limit of creativity that you are allowed. Instead, I challenge you to connect with your students personally each day. Ask a question, put your hand on their shoulder, commend them even when you have to search for a praise. You will be remembered so much more beyond the standardized testing preparations. You will be cemented into their mind as foundational to the development of their character. And someday down the road, they will refer to you as their Mrs. J!

Blessings,

Sarah

August 12, 2017: The Opposite of Yoga

So maybe this blog post won’t relate entirely to all things yoga, but it will relate to the current climate of our country and the need for us to take a deeper introspective to self.  In response to the awful happenings in Charlottesville, ask yourself

these questions:  Presently, what do I feel? Presently, what do I read and resonate with? Presently, what

do I dismiss, hold onto, or agree with, or do I choose not to care?  Asking ourselves questions like these after the self-inflicted wound our country is scrambling to bandage is essential in not only our personal growth, but the collective heart health of the greatest country in the world.

To look at the world as a whole, it’s easy to feel as though you are a small working part. In fact you are, but you are still a part. Your very being is here to impact not only the ones closest to you, but every human being you cross paths with. You leave a mark, whether you realize it or not; people listen to your words (mostly) and digest them later. Your impact, compassion, and passion crafts their opinions and reactions to the world. We are a bundle of moving parts, complicated, messy and beautiful. We have intentions to do good, but we are despairingly bad at working together toward that goal!

Think about this. What are some of the first things we teach our toddlers when in a group with others? We teach them to be kind, to offer help, to share when their turn is done, to acknowledge others and respect the emotions of those around them.  We teach them that life, to their dismay, is not solely about their needs. Not a concept the average 3-year-old finds it easy to come to terms with. How do they learn? They learn through modeling, through practice, through guidance, and eventually (thank goodness!) maturity. The white supremacist hatred and exclusion that took place on the streets of Charlottesville is comparable to a group of grown adult toddlers unwilling to adhere to basic human rules. These rules: to respect, to share space, to acknowledge the differences among others, to essentially understand that life is not about your opinion only. These are the same rules that we promise to teach the tiny 7lb. human we hold in our arms. Something happens with these people between age two and beyond. There’s a breakdown in the human foundation, one cinderblock at a time being dislodged, causing an undermined foundation. A foundation that no strong, steady, architecturally sound home could stand upon. When our foundations are compromised, we think we are smart humans—we already know how to fill those crevices that have been created. We justify our disgusting actions and convince ourselves that what we believe is the only true and right way. You might even think that I’m acting a bit self-righteously as I write this blog post. Here’s where the rubber meets the road: If we can’t simply agree that the actions of hate groups are wrong on every level and every extension of that level, we are choosing support forces in our country  intent on moving backwards rather than forwards. We cannot go backwards, that’s not the nature of America.

So what can you do to make your moving part an aid in the healing? Sure, you can go to rallies, write letters to government officials, run for a political seat, the list goes on.  Or, you can choose to practice a present moment awareness mindset. You can pause and breathe in the sadness and choose to react in love and forgiveness. You can be a model of acceptance and you can voice to your children that humans have the ability to do terrible unjust things, but that they also have the ability to do amazing, life-empowering things. When you choose present moment awareness, you choose to model one of the most powerful truths you can live: the truth of yourself. And that truth is the uniqueness in you that the world needs a part of. How many people stroll through life never tapping into their positive power and abilities to better the lives of others?  We were not placed on t

his earth to exclude and segregate. We were placed here to exchange ideas, to inspire and admire the ones among us and the ones who have gone before us.  And please, don’t dismiss the millions of those who fought for this country because they felt deep in their hearts the value of its worth. Choose to live out integrity, wear it proudly, not shamefully,  and speak that truth to the little eyes watching. Because those little eyes see beyond the hateful words and loud jagged voices; they see and feel the energy of darkness being reinforced. Choose to be present, choose to ask your self the tough questions, choose to teach the right truths, choose to embrace and share the gifts you have been given, and most importantly choose to love.

Blessings,

Sarah

Relationships Matter

I have always been an observer of people. I find them fascinating! Everyone has a story so entirely unique to them. The human recipes comprising of an infinite combination of personality, lifestyle, formative years, past hurts, current hurts, present joys, and places where love is spent. Airports, NYC, the Boardwalk . . . such great people watching places! I observe the tentative hand-holding of teens on a first date as they search for words to keep the awkward conversation going. The guy in the business suit, in a rush, on his phone, wearing his sunglasses inside the airport in order to avoid any connection with anyone. He’s escaping the pressures of home with two toddlers, a boy and a girl. But work is his excuse; he’s the provider. The exhausted mom, pushing a stroller along the boardwalk, barely having enough time to apply lip-gloss in order to get out of the house on time and really just taking the walk with her littles in order that nap time would arrive sooner. The child, loosely holding the hand of the parent, being tugged occasionally, little feet scurry to catch up, but the inquisitive eyes wish they could stop and look, feel and ask questions about all they see. The woman, late 50’s pondering how quick the years went, hoping that today their beautiful son or daughter would take some time between their classes to call and just say hi. My favorite, the older couple, holding hands. Matted hair on the back of their head from a good night’s sleep. They walk slowly, words come easy, they have time to smile at the toddler who waves, and almost like an invisible wave of emotion you can feel what they’ve been through the past 40-50 years. Complete respect and admiration on my end.
And through the thousands of people I have observed in my lifetime I’ve noticed that they all have one thing in common: they all want to be heard. Everyone has a voice, some louder and more polished and practiced than others, but it’s there, unique to them. However, often that voice gets pushed aside. Too many people don’t practice revealing who they are to the world because they’ve been taught through culture and life that unless they do something great or know someone important, they really aren’t that important. Wrong. We are ALL worthy to be heard and it’s up to us as humans to build each other up, refuel and affirm each other, and love.
So I am taking it upon myself in this month’s blog post to speak truth to you and ultimately challenge you to apply some simple practices that will make life less about you and more about others. There is great truth to the phrase, “The more you give, the more you will receive.” And not to act out of greed for what could come your way if you do that one thing for someone else. Instead we need to naturally condition ourself to give in such a way that it would come natural and in turn, to receive with humility when the good comes back our way. Call it Karma, your light, whatever you want. It’s basic human goodness and here’s a list that can support you in this endeavor.

1. Listen
When we are in conversation, most of us pretend to listen. Secretly, we are thinking about a personal experience or topic that can relate to what the other person is saying. We wait, often impatiently, for a break in conversation in order that we can squeeze our way in and just be heard. But are they listening? Probably not entirely. They are doing what you just did! How can they keep this conversation going so that eventually it turns back to who they are? In this space of conversing two people want to be heard by the other, but instead they play a dance. Slowly tossing the “I” voice in each others courts. Practice being the one who doesn’t need the ball in your court. Better yet, don’t be afraid to ask questions. But mostly just listen, be the holder of their space and all the things important to them at that moment. Because someday maybe (or maybe not) they will listen to you in this same way.

2. Give
What does it feel like to give? It feels wonderful! Giving doesn’t have to be grandiose, it comes in so many forms and functions. Giving is giving a ride home to a friend even if it isn’t on the way. It’s finding a seashell and giving it to your two year old knowing that, although you really wish they would keep it, you will soon enough find it broken. Giving is paying for the order of the person behind you in the Dunkin Donut’s drive-thru. Giving is pouring more water in an empty class. And this one—a must, not even a choice—give your hand to the older woman in the Target parking lot. She won’t refuse. When we give, we build others up, we pat ourselves on the back and we leave feeling, well, just plain happy.

3. Surprise
Remember when you were a kid how easily surprises came our way. The Cracker Jack box surprise, The snow day surprise you impatiently waited for next to the radio, hoping not to miss your school announcement among the alphabetically ordered list of closings. The surprise when that cute boy asked to dance with you at the 7th grade dance. The magical surprises on Christmas morning. But, what surprises us as adults? The water bill, the “check engine” light, the phone call from the teacher (and not the good phone call), the Evening News, which usually isn’t positive these days. The point is, there are not many good surprises in our adult lives.
Surprise someone! Come to work with a cup of coffee for them because you know how they like it. Ask them to go for a walk with you. Remember, people want to connect and feel like others want to spend time with them. Likely they will say yes to this unexpected invitation. Surprise the Toll Collector with a smile. They don’t see many of those. Bring back the joy that can be found in a surprise! But just surprise and don’t look for how this can benefit you. Because naturally it will.

4. Hug
Hug more. That’s all. Human touch is important. Hug those you love, squeeze your children so hard they feel the depths of your love. Hug some who invites you in their space because the truth is that you don’t know the last time they had the opportunity to hug, let alone be touched at all. Touch is power and beautiful energetic connection from one soul to another.

5. Look Them in The Eye
Eye contact requires vulnerability. The eyes, referred to as the “the windows to the soul” allow people to connect and feel deeply for one another. It takes a glance of the eyes to build up or a different glance to accuse and tear down. Be that one friend who can hold a gaze, it shows the other person that you are fully present, willing to put aside your “stuff” and just listen. Practice this with the ones you love, notice how comfortable or uncomfortable you are with connecting in this way. You might surprise yourself, it’s harder than you think, but something that goes a long way when you chip away at the practice of it.

6. The Birthday
Our birthday is the one day in the year that the purpose of the day is to celebrate who we are! Yes, some are better than others, but all have a similar attachment to them. The attachment… this day is mine, it’s for me, and therefore I’m important if not to anyone but my mother and father, I’m still very important. Send a happy birthday FB message, a private message, share something encouraging, make it more than a sentence. Your words and actions mean more than your gifts anyway. Words are lasting. Gifts (though fun) are shiny at first, but lose their appeal over time. Your words penetrate the soul. There are a million ways to make someone feel special on their birthday. My favorite…remember it and say it in more than two words!

7. Apologize
Relationships thrive with humility. Anyone married for at least five years can attest to this. Be humble and apologize. Similar to the phrase, “nothing good happens after 1am” is the phrase “Nothing good happens if no apology is given.” Search your soul and extend an olive branch of self. This action shows courage and it shows that your confidant and real enough to own your mistakes. It’s my somewhat backwards way of thinking that hopes my children remember how often I apologized to them. I’m wrong more than I’m right and I want them to see that they have a mother who’s human and not super-human.

8. Be Humble
How can we celebrate the joys of another if we can’t stop talking about ourselves? Here’s the thing…that person you’re talking to knows what your good at. They know that you just bought a new car, they know about the promotion, they know of your recent amazing vacation because of the pictures you posted. No need to re-hash information about how great we are, our greatness out-pours naturally by just being us. When you humble yourself, you reject your selfishness and create space for that other person to just be in your company. In fact, if it’s an encouragement at all, the less we talk about ourselves the more confidant we appear. Be you in all your humble beauty. And when your friend shares his or her recent accomplishment, smile and say, “that’s awesome!”

9. Send the Card
In this age of texting code for phrases and words, e-mails from cell phones, FB messaging, and a slew of communication tools at our finger-tips, we have nearly forgotten how to write by hand! Who doesn’t feel like their hand is going to fall off if given the task of writing a full page document. We almost never write, only when we absolutely have to. As a result people don’t receive cards like they used to. There’s something so magical about seeing a colored envelope in your mailbox with your name on it. Your mother’s hand-writing you recognize immediately of course, but whose writing is this you wonder? Be that person who sends the card just because. Very likely it is one of the bright spots in this person’s day. My grandmother was good at sending cards. Not just birthday cards, but Valentines cards, Easter cards, and the “I’m just thinking of you while your’e at college card”. I still have them; they are precious to me and they always will be. Allow your card to end up in a pile of special items in someone else’s home. You never know how long your words will last if they are happened upon in the future. Take the time, send the card.

10. Tell Them
Your voice is one of the most powerful tools you have to offer the world. You don’t need to stand on a podium to be heard. You just need to look someone in the eye and affirm them, tell them you love them, tell them you appreciate them, tell them they matter. Because the truth is most of the human race, even the rich and powerful, feels entirely inadequate. Be truth. Live truth. And most importantly, embrace your own truth.

Blessings,
Sarah

Stitch by Stitch

I grew up watching my mom quilt. And I admired her for it. I still do. Her tenacity, patience, and love for a dying art was something she enjoyed and lost herself in. She quilted a Raggedy Anne Doll for me when I was about eight, she sewed

countless buttons back on, repaired hems, poured hours into wedding quilts for my sister and myself, and made baby blankets for all five of my babies. My favorite however, was her attempt at Skidz pants when I was in eighth grade. The fashionable pants were expensive and though I did own one pair, and wore them tirelessly, she put her motherly talents to work to produce a home-made pair!  She even took great care when embroidering the little emblem on the back pocket. I don’t think I ever wore them to middle school, but good job Mom! Even then I saw the intention in the gesture of your hands.

Though quilting produces different outcomes in its ability to create or repair, and though it can take many forms, it does hold one consistent theme and that theme is time. Things of beauty and art need time. They need time to formulate in one’s mind, they need time for the sake of planning, they need time to grow, and they need time for one to admire the final outcome. Without time, the end product is a result of haste and the hours spent clearly do not reflect one’s dedication to the craft. None of my mom’s projects reflected this. Each stitch of my Wedding Ring quilt was done by hand, stitch after stitch. Occasionally stitches were pulled out and re-done in order to keep the integrity in tact and to ensure that the final result was something to be proud of. I continue to admire these tapestries of love and will forever be grateful to my mom’s diligence and time sacrifice as she crafted these treasures for our family.

I’ve been thinking about the idea of quilting and the piecing together of fabrics; the whole concept of bringing together and making new, the blending of art, the development of ideas and how this somehow all relates to the process of discovering new channels of the self. As we know, Yoga is a tool in our back pockets that encourages us to travel the new paths we know we should. The problem is that these are often the ones we don’t want to travel. We walk blissfully along our life journey with no intention of finding trouble, but we do find it sometimes. We constantly face channels of decisions and opportunities for growth, but also potential pit-falls to set us paces back. Still, the possibilities of the world are always there to support the leaps that deep down the self wants to take. A chance to piece another colorful tapestry to our quilt; to stitch it together; to realize step by step that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Just as every stone thrown into a pond ripples differently, so do the choices we make. And the stones stored in the cupboards of our being remind us to ponder the past choices of victory, disappointment, and change.

And though the concept of embracing the forks in the road and exploring ideas is motivating, there is a substantial speed bump that works effectively to delay us, sometimes even stopping us in our tracks. This is attachment.  We cling to the same ways of thinking, to our possessions, to the past and present voices in our heads that say “you’re not good enough.” Attachment is an endless battle and ultimately one of the driving forces that keep us from supplying stitches of color and uniqueness to our personal “life quilts.” If we cling to the same-ness of us, we will never understand the beauty that could await us ahead.  Attachment is safe and one can certainly float through life in this way, but wouldn’t you rather de-tach and ride the rapids, take the bumps with joy and the turns with anticipation?  Start by letting go in simple ways. Change your routine. Let go of that not-so-fulfilling friendship in your life. Turn away from needing that next new thing. Try something entirely new! Take out a few stitches that were loose anyway and see what happens when some previously separate fabrics are blended.

Detachment is not easy. It doesn’t come naturally, and as humans who are often guided by fear and doubt (whether we let anyone see it or not) we must learn not to allow these two evils to take over. It takes courage and strength to learn that it’s okay and necessary to let go of the old ways, particularly when they are unhealthy. Understand that detachment only allows for new growth to take place. It makes room for the self to explore small caverns of opportunity. And just as a quilt is planned ahead with pieces that are cut and prepared, so are the choices we make to move forward in the creative process of us!  Be it a small or large brush-stroke, we can step out of the painting and recognize how unfinished it seems. It may not be apparent at first, but over-time as new strokes are added, that one stroke is still needed for the full completion of the project.

You are a unique work of art and not only are you the piece to be admired, but you are the artist with many mediums to choose from. You alone have the ability to undo what’s been done, to re-craft and recycle the old, and most importantly to empower and discover the colors and texture of how amazing the journey ahead can be. Don’t stop working on you. You’re worth it and the world needs every stitch of your beautiful being!

Blessings,

Sarah

Step Off The Line

FullSizeRenderI have a 10 year old who sincerely lives her truth. She lives these truths in the best way she knows how: by being full and complete in who she is. She’s strong willed and powerful; graceful, yet fierce. She embraces challenges head-on and walks with a strength and knowing-ness that I wish I had a dose of when I was her age. When you’re a child, living your truth is available and it’s free. There are less strings attached, less that gets in the way, and it’s natural to be you in a world that often feels like it’s against you as an adult.  My Molly believes in unicorns. It’s not something you challenge her on, because in her mind, that one belief serves as a truth. Something that she needs to believe in order to nurture the fierce joy and imagination she holds. In fact, while in church a few months ago she went as far as to submit a prayer card to our Pastor. The prayer card requested that people would begin to believe in unicorns. I smiled, and almost instantly felt a bit of envy. Her truth was pure. Her belief was entirely her. Her ability to live that fantastical truth was unashamed. I admire her.

So what does it mean to live our truth as adults in a world where asking Google can replace human interaction?   Where we find our relationships with others a mile wide and an inch deep?  And where we can barely find room to breath, to quiet, to still the infinity of moving parts that Just. Keeps. Going?

Living your truth is living who you are. It’s your passion, it’s the simmering desire deep within the caves of your soul that (if allowed) would burst forth with trumpets declaring its song. Your truth is a part of you that makes you unique in this world. It unconsciously opens up opportunities for those around you to live their best selves. It’s part of your complete and whole design. We have all heard the phrase, “for every action, there’s a reaction.” So think about that as it applies to your role in the world—your town, your home, your closest relationships. Your actions, words, vibrations, and TRUTH send out a ripple affect that connects you to others and creates pathways to greater things. It can also be destructive depending on how you use it.

So if a unique truth is in all of us, why do we have such a hard time tapping into it? My natural response to this question is two-fold. First, we aren’t willing to step away from the internal chatter and the whispers of inadequacy that we all (whether we admit it or not) deal with. Secondly, declaring our truth takes more than a bit of vulnerability on the part of our adult selves. The child enters the world vulnerable, speaking her mind, saying what we wish we could blurt out in the midst of a church service or boring award ceremony or extra long restroom line. As adults we are conditioned to move with the masses, conform to social norms, and not rock the boat, firmly walking the line. The thing is…change through truth doesn’t happen unless you step off the line a little bit. Now I don’t mean this as a suggestion to break the rules or cause disrespect. Instead, don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions and challenge the ways things are done so that maybe you can find your own unique path—what makes the most sense to you.

You live your truth by living the dream you tucked away since you were 12; live it by researching what makes you happy; live it by going back to school even if it’s one course in something you are passionate about; live it by taking a huge step of faith—one that’s often scary. It’s not supposed to be easy. Regular people live easy. Don’t be regular. Come up with what makes you unique and watch how your willingness to surrender to truth begins to cause reactions in every facet of your life. It’s not a switch, it won’t happen over night. It’s a process, and it’s allowing yourself to stand firm in the center of your truth circle as you watch all other responses swirl around you making connections.

Ultimately, allow your mat, that safe place where you can explore your depths be the place that reveals truth to you. On our mat is where vulnerability is practiced and always allowed. Yoga in all its mystery holds great truth, a firm pillar next to love. Keep working on building those pillars and never stop believing in unicorns.

 

Autism and Yoga

 

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Most of you who know me know the one thing that drives my need to bring yoga to children. That one thing this is my son, my teacher of patience, sympathy and acceptance toward something I never imagined having to navigate when signing up for parenting 13 years ago. Autism is a word we as a culture throw around so loosely without a real understanding of its depth unless you are the parent or the educator to one of these beautifully gifted children.
The acceptance thing for me wasn’t so hard primarily because I already knew a bit about my son’s diagnosis. The fact that I wrote a college thesis paper on Asperger’s Syndrome way back in 1999 when little was known concerning it seemed to somehow be God’s way of preparing me for such a time as this. I embraced the task of Asperger’s Syndrome, and even though I sometimes grieved the moments I wished were easier, I learned quickly that I was chosen for him, and even more profoundly he was chosen for me!
As we venture into April— Autism Awareness Month— I am grateful for the cultural acceptance and recognition that seems to be growing. And with this growth comes the understanding that we must continue to seek any tools we need to support these children in their gifts and talents. What tools can equip them to come down more effectively from a rage, a transition, an anxiety filled moment, or a socially related fear? In this never ending search is where I discovered the powerful connection between yoga and the energy system of the child dealing with the differences of autism. You must understand: Autism chose them, they didn’t choose autism and we need to choose to assist them as they navigate a sensory world not set up to support them.
Though I have been given many opportunities to work with children handling ADHD, OCD, ASD, and Generalized Anxiety Disorder through my children’s Yoga Classes at the studio, it wasn’t until recently that a student who wasn’t my son confirmed my role as a mentor to one of these wonderful children. When Jenna first came to my studio, she explored, walking the perimeter of my wooden floors, taking in the details of the walls, asking questions, and undoubtedly seeking to connect with me if only for the briefest of moments. We eventually moved through poses, some activating, some grounding, but all driven by her need, her spirit, and how she in that moment needed nurturing. She craved sensory pressure and was willing to negotiate with me during the more difficult breathing techniques so we could move into massage and rest. I was fascinated by who she was, and soon realized that her presence enriched me by simply allowing me to enter her world. What was this channel that allowed me to walk so easily into her thought and self? The answer: yoga; the poses, the breath, the use of bolsters, blankets, blocks, and most recently, color.
One of Jenna’s outstanding gifts is her ability to draw pictures from memory. At the close of our first session, she promised me she would bring a drawing for me at our next meeting. I knew she would keep her promise as these kids are wonderful rule followers! Not only was it a drawing from memory, it was captivating and emotionally stirring within my own soul. I couldn’t stop looking at this drawing and I can only attribute that to the connection and thought put into it. Our spirits somehow connected and I was beyond grateful. (See the drawing above)
With my new-found understanding of Jenna’s love for all things art, I decided to incorporate this into our next yoga session. The deal was this: she must hold a pose for 5 breaths, but during that pose she must think primarily of one color that she felt resonate through her body while in the pose. She quickly understood and what followed brought genuine tears to my eyes. We practiced 8 poses and for 7 of those 8 poses, Jenna associated each pose with the appropriate Chakra energy system. This was not something taught, but felt; a sensory based human living in an energy-based world. She connected so easily with something most of us have to learn via written text and practice. I watched in awe as pose after pose she took a felt tip marker and drew a simple symbol directly related to the energy system evoked in her body. If I wasn’t sold yet on the need for yoga in children, I had nothing to argue with at this point.
Here’s the thing about Yoga: it’s mysterious but simple. It’s there to hold our space and guide us as long as we’re willing to keep our heads out of it. A child who naturally navigates primarily through energy and sensory driven action doesn’t need to learn the proper technique or steps in order to attain the benefits. Their bodies already know what they need and yoga simply feeds the desire and satisfies the thirst. What if we start taking lessons from these beautiful ones? What if we close our eyes and feel rather than compare and strive while on the mat? The only thing involved in that process is ego and that’s something most of these gifted children don’t need to battle against. They simply are, and they know what they need because they are naturally intuitive enough to feel it.
I genuinely believe that these children were sent to us. They are here to teach us patience, deeper love and understanding. If we are willing, we can adjust to their world, rather than forcing them to fit into ours. Be aware this month and days to follow that Autism is a gift, a treasure not to be taken for granted. Believe that you can learn wisdom from a soul already wise beyond its years. Combine that with your mat and you have something astounding. You will simply be one more step closer to understanding your true, authentic self.

Blessings,
Sarah

The Crack in the Door

 

imagesWhether or not you attend yoga classes at your gym, are a devoted member to a particular studio, or know nothing at all about yoga, it’s still likely you know of someone who has spent 6 months or several intensive weeks to complete their 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training. You envision 200 hours of poses—complicated ones—those things real yogis call “asanas.”  It’s likely you also suspect there’s meditation sprinkled in there along with a scholarly way to approach the language of actually teaching yoga. These were my impressions when I sent in my application for Yoga Teacher Training at One Yoga and Wellness Center in East Windsor, NJ. My intention at the time was to enrich my personal training business and to learn more about something that just kept finding its way back to me. As I’ve said before on so many occasions…yoga will find you; it’s rare you have to seek it out. But, be sure to respond to the call when it does find you. In this case I did respond and as cliche as it sounds, it really was life-changing. In this month’s blog post, I would like to give you personal perspective, but also a perspective from a teaching stand-point concerning what to expect if you ever find yourself considering Yoga Teacher Training.

On January 13th, 2012, my life stopped and then re-started. I was well into my 4th pregnancy (a boy) when it was discovered that I would have to do the unthinkable. Deliver my very pre-term baby and head home without him. After three months of what I refer to as my “darkest days” which included not-the-best parenting, pathetic family meals, and days combining sad movies and too much exercise in order to escape the pain, I finally discovered that this hard and awful loss could lead somewhere beautiful. By God’s grace alone my breaths became deeper and I realized that the foot-prints I would stare at on Max’s birth certificate were my little boy’s and always will be whether or not he was in my arms. But still, how can his loss somehow be a gain or eve
n beautiful? Here was where the opportunity of yoga teacher training presented itself. It’s always something I was interested in doing, but easily found excuses to push it aside, convincing myself that it was selfish and not the right time. Because of an  incredibly supportive husband who loved me through my pain and wanted to see me whole again, he encouraged me to dive into the training. With three young children at home and the time commitment involved, it made me realize the depth of his love for me. That self-sacrifice thing in marriage that we have to work at? For Kyle, it came easy. I am forever grateful.

What followed was six months of study not only in asana, meditation, history, mudra, prana, teaching methodologies, philosophy,  and anatomy, but most importantly, myself. The study of me, the good, the bad, the places I wanted to hide from. I was in too deep to run from it, my tuition checks were written, I couldn’t back out, but what had I gotten myself into? This was certainly not what I was expecting! And though, every yoga teacher training program is different, I felt a deep gratitude that I found training that could not only equip me to become a proficient yoga teacher according to the standards of Yoga Alliance, but that I could peel back layers of who I was, who I’m working to become, and learn how I can make one small mark of love at a time and m
ke a difference in the world around me.

I share this with all my students on the first day of Yoga Teacher Training: “It’s a journey that continues beyond the six months of schooling.” It’s also a humble calling; a gift to first yourself, and then to be shared and lived with others. It transforms how you view relationships and the nuances of everyday life that take place. It brings to mind that we need the mat to catch
us when we feel like falling and not just in crow pose. I don’t have to list the pressures of our world. You have your own, the ones that are known and the ones you keep hidden. They pile up like ragged beach sand after a storm with a heavy surf. Isn’t it like that sometimes? Wave after wave, we are hit with decisions, financial burdens, temptations, every day difficulties that remind us we need to keep coming back to the mat, our Faith, and ultimately our self.

As a seasoned yoga teacher, I understand that I will never arrive. There is no final destination in yoga, or special award once you’ve mastered every single variation, of every single pose, in every single style, with every ounce of efforts belonging to breath and meditation that makes you supreme. It’s simple, it’s a practice, it’s daily reflection and living. It’s believing that you are a vessel and the Powers that Be are channeled through you to bless, guide and encourage those who you have a conversation with or who become students of yours. And for you, yoga is a way of life. It’s the decision to live your life a little bit differently. In a world fueled by hate and unrest, yoga provides a necessary retreat and balance to the chaos we confront everyday.

I encourage you to be open to the small crack in the door which could open and someday invite you into yoga teacher training. For me, it was the sacrifice of my dear Max William. Out of ashes there came beauty and he handed me an opportunity for a life I had no idea I would be living. Doing what I love and getting paid for it. And “love” is really all it boils down to. Love towards self and family, but also love toward the ones who are challenging to love, and a love devoted to an ancient practice that heals, restores, and never disappoints. I think of my sweet baby every day envisioning the four year old who would have been, and my heart overflows knowing that we will be re-united again. In the meantime, I’ll keep living the calling that he gave me.

Blessings,

Sarah

Be Love.

189537-Do-All-Things-With-Love

 

I’m not a fan of Valentine’s Day; never have been and I’m not entirely sure why. I can’t blame it on a dissatisfying experience as a child or a college boyfriend who forgot to surprise me with a white teddy bear holding three roses. I had a mom who never failed to surprise me and my siblings with candy and trinkets in cute, heart-shaped baskets in the morning.  Maybe my aversion to the day of red and pink is related to  the fact that there wasn’t one boy in the entire 7th grade to buy me a $.50 carnation, but I doubt it. Valentine’s Day for kids is like Christmas in tiny little candy hearts and scratch-n-sniff packages. Hologram Valentines always trumped the home-made ones. Those poor moms who spent so much time and effort, and yet cooler Valentines were the easy ones. That’s the thing, we over-think it, over do-it, over-sell it. It’s just another day, highlighting “love,” which is something we should highlight and embrace every day. Hallmark and Target marketers cackle with glee at our overindulgence of such things. Pushing us to embrace love as some kind of one-time celebration. Not true. And as far as I’m concerned this is part of the problem with the breakdown of self, families, and our children.

Love, a word we use when describing our favorite coffee, movie, band, or book should be a respected word. A word placed in a category where we stop and think, digest, and apply to our daily living. The problem is that we don’t know how to love. We know how to love our families, that’s easy, it comes naturally, it’s born in them and us. It’s the self-sacrificing and protective love as a dad and the fierce and sometimes wild nature that unexpectedly is unveiled in a mom. But how do we love beyond what’s easy? And how do I equate yoga in this entire equation?

Yoga, as  I understand it, is a path to self-love. It’s returning to your mat feeling empty, unappreciated, drained, and tired to find at the end of the practice that it was love which brought you there in the first place. You chose, your body knew (your mind not so sure), but love prevailed as you surrendered to taking care of self. That’s self-love. You take self-love with you, the affirmation of the act and carry your mat to your car feeling lighter, a smile forming at the corners of your mouth, an appreciation for family and those you hold closest. You’re happier, sweeter, not quick to anger, but more apt to respond in love. That’s self-love and its by-products are endless.

Here’s the thing: self-love is the center of the wheel. The spokes are varied and many. Your ability to accept self amidst the obvious flaws and self doubt, negative thinking, and over-analyzing changes and you see things differently. Once glimmers of acceptance emerge you are better equipped to continue the chain of love through giving, listening, hugging consciously, or sending a card to the person on your mind for no other reason besides, “I’ve been thinking of you.” And once your surrender to this way of living, you notice is comes back ten-fold. People are attracted to love, and whether or not they can voice it, that attraction is something they crave because it’s guaranteed that they are not getting enough of it in their own life.

During the past several weeks as our nation has absorbed a new shift in power, we have experienced the full spectrum of what love looks like in a country that knows what hate feels like. The posts and opinions are endless; some divisive, and some trying to pull a divided nation together. I don’t read them,  I scroll past them and find safety in accepting that my one small but powerful contribution to this national disaster of division is that I’m practicing how to love. I may not always love myself well enough, but that will come with time. I try to live love daily through my actions. People crave it, they want to be heard, they need to feel important and taken care of. More than anything, love will cure this and it starts with your response to surrender to self. Give a little more—tip the gas attendant. Listen a little more—even to the lady at the ShopRite check out who’s complaining about her longer than usual work day. You don’t know her story; show compassion. Give of your time, offer to help the person whose car broke down on the parkway. Make a meal for the new mom feeling completely inadequate to take care of the tiny human in her arms. Call your mother. Send a thank you card.

Yoga, just one way to nurture self-love, can go a long way if allowed. It’s a conscious way of living and yes, it’s sacrifice, but the return to your investment is great. Love your families because they will remember; love the person who’s difficult because they can’t argue with that; love the teenager in your home who’s gone cold and distant. Be love. And just as simple as hologram valentines were back in the day, keep it simple. There was a lot more effort put into the Valentines that were homemade, but there was very little return on that investment.  Invest into the expressions of love at people will see and appreciate.  The store-bought ones were the Valentines I kept in my nightstand drawer all year. Be that kind of love, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable, just be. It’s as simple as that.

In Peace and Love,

Sarah

As Iron Sharpens Iron

 

I’m not a resolution girl; never have been. Always felt like they were a bit pointless and passive aggressive. The mechanism in my head tends to be the more I resolve to do something, the more I don’t want to. Plus, when one commits to something new, there’s pressure iimagesnvolved—a sense of waiting to feel like a failure when we can’t come through with our self-declared promises. I do agree that a New Year brings a feeling of starting fresh, repairing broken relationships, being a bit more co
mitted to regular self-care. And that’s a good thing. But why do we need to use January 1st as the launching pad for 365 day ahead? Why can’t we simply intend to live our truths, healths and goodnesses daily, one baby step at a time. Back when I was marathoning regularly, I never viewed my races as a whole 26.2 miles. They were broken down in tiny chunks; split times written in black sharpie pen on my left forearm.  Every 1/2 mile was a quick glance down to make sure I was on track for that particular mark. Things didn’t always go as planned, but that reference guide was my security blanket and served as a reset button as each passing mile became just a bit more challenging. It gave me a short term goal for a long term result.

In yoga, we teach our students to set intentions at the beginning of their practice. These intentions fuel the energy around the practice and they are the center point we can refocus on to think and feel through the process. What is an intention? It’s a positive, self-affirming statement, often the first thing that comes to mind after quiet introspection. Examples are, “I intend to speak softer”, “I intend to forgive”, “I intend to smile more”, “ I intend to listen more than speak”. Intentions can run deeply on a personal level or they can be smaller sighted, yet both approaches are still very effective.

I might not be the best New Years resolution girl, but I try my best to live daily with intentions, thou
gh some days are better than others. Life gets busy with kids, running a business, getting food on the table, and managing the ins and outs of all involved, but it takes a 20 second moment in the morning, mid-day, or whenever to craft some room for a personal intention. It’s a one-day-at-a-time thing, a daily mind-set that over time can re-wire your inner being and re-craft your view and outlook on the world. And living in a world swamped in hate, jealousy and competition, our minds could use a break and retreat to come back to. I tell my students that just as yoga finds you, intentions do also. Your body knows what it needs to either let go, embrace, or change on a daily basis.

The bottom line is, keep the New Year’s Resolution if that works for you. But if not, go the intention route. Each day, or every other day, set an intention (something simple) and apply it. Don’t try to look for ways to apply it, just be open. They will manifest themselves when you need them the most. There’s a well known verse from the book of Proverbs that states, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” (Prov. 27:17). How beautiful our close relationships and general interaction with the world would be if we spent a little more time sharpening one another through our daily set of intentions.

Blessings this New Year,

Sarah

The Best Gift

My memories of Christmas morning as a child are that of joyful anticipation and heart-flutturig light-ness as I stumbled over my Strawberry Shortcake nightgown to beat my sister down the stairs. This race to the finish of course was not allowed until we heard the coffee pot brewing and my dad’s excited yet restrained voice, “Okay, girls!” The tree, loaded with color and a ridiculous amount of tinsel, welcomed us, offering surprises and 20 min. of completely chaotic unwrapping and giggles. My parents were proud, sitting up straight, unwrapping the presents with their eyes right along side of us. They worked hard and it made them happy to see us happy. It was easy for me to feel that as a child and it brought me ease that they felt accomplished as parents. Gifts for them and for my family in general were acts of love; a way of showing in a physical sense how that love could be offered beyond a hug or a conversation. Christmas was a the perfect celebration of that love. And almost always, every year, my dad “forgot” about one important gift or even better…one fell off the sleigh and was in the backyard. In the midst of stuffing paper and crumpled boxes into a big garbage bag in the middle of our living room, my dad would make the announcement. Sometimes the gift was hidden behind the tree, in the backyard, or in their closet. That final surprise gift came in the form of scooters one year, the coveted Cabbage Patch Kid the next, A VCR (which was the most AMAZING Christmas morning ever), and a snowmobile my dad proudly drove down the driveway as a grand presentation. Later that snowmobile carried me miles and miles away from home, exploring woods and roads unseen. Hard to think I was only 10! Yikes! How much things have changed. I can still smell the thick cloud of gasoline fumes embedded in my hair, clothes, and skin after a day of exploration.

The one thing that all of these Christmas mornings had in common was anticipation, combined with love, with full embrace of the moment and the gift. Rarely did I know what I would be unwrapping and that’s what made it so exciting. And once unwrapped, the ideas flowed, the joy spread and that gift now served as a representation of me and became a small part of me. But just like any material thing, over time, and with days passing into the next year, that one gift that held such sparkle on the morning of December 25th was now settling into it’s space in a closet, on a shelf or possibly already used up. That’s the funny thing about gifts. It almost doesn’t matter what you give; it’s more about the moment it creates and the relationships built because of it.

This idea led me to thinking more deeply into the gifts that impact and impart change. Obviously, nothing material has this capacity. Instead it’s who we are as people and how we are designed and woven together in careful ways in order to offer change to add goodness to the world. This comes in the form of the gift you have to offer. How can this gift, so different than someone else’s, be used in such a way that it will leave lasting beauty towards another or a mission bigger than yourself? Too often we discount what we are good at. At least I do. Recently, I had a dear friend look me in the eye and blatantly tell me to embrace my gift and walk confidently in the fact and know that I’m really good at teaching yoga. Was she right? Was it okay to feel that sense of confidence? Yes. Just yes. And I thanked her the next day for bringing this to my attention. It is my gift, and one of my purposes in this life is to be used as a vessel to teach not only the form of yoga, but it’s truths in faith, relationships, parenting the differently-abled child, and teaching one to simply learn how to listen. I’m still working on embracing and realizing how good I am at this. But to be completely honest I’ve ignored it for too long. This humble studio was 12 years in the making. Doors would have been opened sooner if I had believed powerfully in my gift.

Take a full scan of your own life. Look back at years ago, or even just the last few months. Where are you the most confident? Where is your love or your go-to hobby? What makes you simply you!? That’s the energy you need to cling to. Whether it’s a fantastic ability to teach and connect with the awkward 7th grader, a knack for baking, an understanding of how to organize a home, or the awareness of the inner-workings of an engine. Somewhere there is a gift that needs to be unwrapped with as much excitement and anticipation as the hot-pink scooter I received in 1987. But unlike that scooter, if cultivated your gift will add something to this world. You may not understand how, but you don’t have to. This is the mind-set of a yogi. Let things come to you (don’t force them!), keep being you, and you will be amazed at the doors that will continue to fly open. So many of us hold back, not believing our gift is worth anything to anyone else. Not true. YOU were perfectly made and designed to do what you do and to love your passions in life with a purpose. Don’t settle for the go-to flow of life day in and day out. Time is short and your energy is needed to keep moving a broken world forward. When you listen to that still, small voice inside your heart encouraging you to move toward your passion (or gift), only beauty emerges. Why? Because you listen and you don’t block that free-flow of energy and momentum. Great things await you. Take the jump, unwrap fiercely and marvel at the uniqueness of all that YOU have to offer!

Merry Christmas and abundant blessings,
Sarah