How To Do Tree Pose

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Or

What I’m Learning By Practicing Yoga

I’m not actually going to give you a tutorial on how to do tree pose.  For that you should consult one of my little first graders. He drew that adorable picture and also wrote step by step instructions on how to complete it.

I just officially began learning yoga a few months ago.  It was actually my first graders who gave me the push I needed to really get into it.  I’ve been interested in yoga for a bit and I will admit that I’ve had a yoga mat and blocks and a strap and maybe a DVD or two for quite a while.  5+ years would be my rough estimate.  Maybe I used them thrice in that time. (Yikes! Embarrassed face.) But this year my students are learning some yoga at school, so I was inspired to learn a little bit more than they are. (Are you smarter than a first grader?)  I had been worried that I wouldn’t know enough to take a class, which is silly, I know, but true. So I finally joined a little beginner class at a nice studio nearby.  I have a wonderfully knowledgeable teacher and sometimes no one else shows up to class and then I get a private lesson.  I thought I’d share just a few little tid-bits out of the many things I’m beginning to learn and think about as I do my poses.  Spoiler alert — It’s not all about the physical poses.

The first happened one Sunday when my friend invited me to join her at a different yoga class.  I was a little nervous about venturing out of my beginner level, but I figured that yoga people are supposed to be all peace and nice, right? So I went.  It was a lot more crowded than my usual group and slightly cut-throat about mat placement, but once everyone was settled and the lights were dim, it did feel like peace and nice. There was even nature-y sound music in the background.  I sweat a lot more than usual and a few portions were beyond my beginner ability, but there was a sweet little yogi lesson that I’ve been thinking about in every yoga class since, and many times off my mat too.  Once we had gotten into a pose (I can’t remember the name of it, but it didn’t feel so hot to me), the teacher said something to this effect, “If you’re uncomfortable, try not to get out of the pose as fast as possible, instead, see what you can do to get a little more comfortable in your discomfort.”  She suggested that we maybe lean on a block or bend a knee. And, oh, yeah…BREATHE!!  I kept thinking about that as I finished the class and it was really helpful.  I felt like I didn’t have to resort to giving up on some poses that were a stretch for me, I could just maybe change a little bit or take a few breaths and then the uncomfortable didn’t feel so bad.

Right around this same time, I read a great quote shared online by another yogi who writes at a site called “The Spiritual Spoon.”  I highly recommend you check her page out if you’re into yoga, wellness and/or spirituality. She writes and shares some really wonderful and inspiring words.  The quote she shared said, “The way you do anything is the way you do everything.”  That feels kind of overwhelming at first.  I mean, everything I do is a lot of things.  Is that the point, though?  Hmmmm… Anyway, I end up thinking of this quote often before yoga class and many times during it.  Before it because there can be times when something happens that makes me think I might skip class.  I have a super busy day or my friends have other plans and can’t go with me and I think about maybe just staying home instead.  But if the way I approach yoga class is the way I approach everything, what else am I going to skip out on? So I go.  And inevitably during each class there’s at least one pose that feels a bit uncomfortable for me.  I remember my first yogi lesson and try not to get out of the discomfort ASAP and when I hold the pose without toppling (or crying!), I think, what other discomforts can I make it through?

Just this past week, the teacher was showing me a pose and as she was demonstrating she actually said, “I think you can do this.”  But guess what…I couldn’t.  We tried to modify; she tried to support me. It wasn’t happening. I felt like I had zero control over my leg.  (Who’s leg is that?!)  I just couldn’t do it.  After a few tries she said, “Well, here’s your practice.”  I love that yoga is often called a practice, like every time doesn’t have to be perfect, as long as we’re trying. It’s something we work on.  We do it over and over again and try to improve. I can keep trying to improve.  So, if that’s the way I’m trying to do yoga, that’s the way I’m going to try to do everything, even when it’s uncomfortable.

Namaste

In only five simple steps…Namaste!

 

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When I Practice NOT Listening

As a teacher, you could probably catch me saying the word ‘listen’ just a few hundred times a day. But a big practice of mine is choosing not to listen. Somewhere along the line, I noticed a little habit of hesitation in myself. Part of me feels a little lame admitting that, like it’d be much cooler to start out saying that I’m a spur-of-the-moment kinda gal, fly by the seat of my pants, I’ll just jump right in at the chance to do anything. Now, I can be spur of the moment. Sometimes. But the truth is, it’s not my default mechanism. I’m much more likely to overthink be thoughtful about things. Thoughtful is reeeeelly nice for some things, but over-thoughtful can hold you back… if you let it. The best things often happen when I don’t listen.

Here are a few examples of how it’s gone down recently…

Remember when I went to the beach to see the sun rise on this new year? Well, I had the idea to do that a few days before New Year’s Eve, but then, I spent longer than I’m comfortable admitting, debating with myself about whether it was really a good idea or not. It sounded something like this in my mind: “Is it crazy to drive an hour there AND an hour back just to see a few minutes of sunrise? It’s going to be really cold. Do I feel like being that cold? It’s warm in my bed. I’ll have to wake up pretty early. Wouldn’t I rather sleep in? It’s going to be dark for most of the drive. Are drunks still driving home at that hour? Is this safe? That headlight still isn’t fixed, what if I get pulled over? That would suck. That would just ruin the whole thing.” I could come up with a ton of reasons not to go, reasons that I thought might make people think I’m really weird. But then this thought slapped me across the face, “Really?! Are you gonna let yourself talk yourself out of the first idea you had for yourself for this new year?” And that same thought bubbled up again and woke me up at 6 o’clock, with no alarm, just enough time to throw on the warmest clothes I have, drive, park and catch the 7:20 sun show. I’m so glad I didn’t let the hesitation win.

It will keep trying though.

Just this past weekend, I had another idea. One of my friends from college sent a message to a few of us in this ongoing group text session we have. Her kids were trying her patience and for a while we joked about why do we ever get so excited about teaching kids to walk and talk?! Because after a little while, we’ll do just about anything to get them to sit still and be quiet!  We’re kidding. We love kids. But if you spend any deal of time around children, you’ve likely had a day or two like that, right? So my idea? I’ll go surprise my friend. I’ll drive to her house in the morning with some coffee for her and her hubby and doughnuts for the kids. Won’t that be fun? Cue the doubts: “Doughnuts? Not the best thing to calm kiddos, is it? What if they’re still sleeping? What if they have early morning sports? It’s a forty-five minute drive and they could not be there. It’s literally zero degrees. I can’t even leave the treats on the porch if they’re not home. ‘Hey, I left you some sugar rocks and coffee ice-bergs.’ What if they wanted to go out to breakfast? It’s Valentine’s Day, what if they want some privacy? What if one of them is sick?” But then I imagined my friend’s laugh, her surprised face seeing me on her doorstep.  I could almost hear her laughing, like we were in the same room and I thought, “I wanna be in the same room as her!” So the next morning, I picked out all the heart shaped doughnuts and started driving. Halfway there, she sent a text. One of her boys HAD gotten sick the night before. “Long night,” she wrote. Sounds like someone who’d be happy to have a hot cup of coffee delivered to her door. And you know what? She was! She was super surprised! And we sat around the kitchen table and drank coffee and laughed, just like old times. Not listening wins again! It sent me on a little not-listening-high and I surprise-visited my brother and sister-in-law on my way home!

When I confessed my whole sunrise story to a friend, complete with all the worrisome thoughts, she said, “I thought all those same things for you when you sent me that sunrise pic.” So I know I’m not the only one who hears some hesitation, but I love when I’m NOT listening. Or else I would have missed this…

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Be a Mind Pen Pal

That little gem of advice up there is brought to you by one of my first graders.  Allow me to explain and then maybe you’ll want to join us in sending some love notes.

On a recent January morning, we were having a class conversation as we prepared to attend an all school meeting.  We were talking about how to participate in a meeting with all the kids in the whole school, and I was trying to push my students past their usual responses geared toward politeness – be quiet when someone is speaking, sit still, don’t put anything in the person next to you’s ear – that kinda stuff.  I was urging them to participate actively.  I said something like, “If someone asks a question, really try to think about the answer in your mind. It’s not enough to just sit there like a cute, little ball of first grader being still and quiet.  You have to be engaged. Maybe even raise your hand and say your ideas out loud.” Then a little girl warned, “But if someone says the wrong answer, don’t laugh at them.”  I started to smile and nod, but she followed up with a question, “Well what SHOULD you do then?”  It was kind of a dose of my own medicine because I’m always asking them that, “If you’re NOT going to _______, fill in the blank – run, hit, use your pencils as swords – what WILL you do?”  A few kids started to pipe in their own answers, “Nothing.”  “Yeah, if you don’t have something nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”  Fine choices, really.  Wouldn’t we rather them sit quietly than laugh at someone? But what if I pushed them a little more here.  There was a little seed I’d been wanting to plant in them.  “Well, maybe you could do better than nothing, maybe you could send them a little love.”  To which they replied, “EWWWWWWW!!!!”  With grossed-out six-year-old  faces, giggling and some kissy noises.  “No, not that kind of mushy-gushy, boyfriend-girlfriend kind of love.  That’s not even allowed in first grade.  I mean kindness.  What if you just thought a little message of kindness in your mind like you were talking to that person, something like, ‘It’s ok, friend.  We all make mistakes.  You’re still a good person.  And we love you.’  Maybe think that.  I wonder if the person would be able to feel those thoughts. ” And that’s when a little guy in the front row chimed in with, “Be a mind pen pal!  Like you’re writing nice notes to people, but in your MIIIIIIIIIIIIIIND! (taps head for emphasis)”  YES! Right on, dude!

I’d actually been trying this out myself for a few months before I urged the kids toward it.  A few times recently, the idea of purposely sending positive thoughts out to others has crossed my path.  Over the summer, I read a book called ‘The Celestine Prophecy’ by James Redfield.  Early in the book, a few characters are discussing an experiment testing the effects of positive human attention on plants.  I’m not sure of the scientific validity of the whole thing, the book is a novel geared toward spirituality,  but in the story, they ask a person to sit with some plants and mentally ask them to grow stronger and to focus all his attention and concern on their growth.  Can you guess what happens?  They grew faster and stronger.  When I read this part, I pictured myself in my classroom with my students gathered around in a circle as we do before we start each day.  I imagined myself mentally asking them to grow and learn.  I wondered what impact my positive thoughts might have on them.

Fast forward a few weeks into the school year, after I’d been mentally urging my students to grow and learn every morning when I remembered. I came across another inspiration about sending silent messages to others.  I’m a big fan of Elizabeth Gilbert’s.  She wrote a post recently in which she asked her readers, “Are you searching for the light?”  Her advice, if you are, is to BE the light.  Liz went on to describe how, in a time of deep depression,  she developed a practice of silently wishing blessings upon the people she passed on the street.  She would think to them, “May you know happiness.  May you be free from suffering.”  She told how she often wished these blessings to strangers, so she wasn’t sure if it was working for the people she blessed, but that she began to feel it working in herself.  It made her move her focus off of her own sadness and on to others in the form of positivity.

So I’ve been trying to expand my mind messages beyond a morning wish for learning.  I send them often now during my days, to strangers when I’m out and about, to my friends and family near and far,  but I do it especially at school with my little learners.  When they’re distracted and I’m waiting for them to pay attention, “May you have good things on which to focus your attention.  May you develop self control.”  When they’re sad because someone teased them, “May you know you’re worthy, no matter what anyone else says.”  When they’re nervous and don’t want to try something new or hard, “May you know your own strength. May you be surrounded by people who will encourage you.” When they make me laugh, “May you experience so much happiness.”  Of course, I very often speak these words out loud to them. Sometimes, it doesn’t seem to be changing them, but it’s definitely changing me.  It sets my focus on the positive leaving less room for worry or frustration when things get uncomfortable.  It cultivates a calmness in me and I hope that seeps out into the classroom… and beyond.

A job perk of being a teacher is that the kids give me lots of cute little notes, and while the ones I give them aren’t often made with crayons, I hope they know we’re pen pals.

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Stuff Your Octo-pi-hole!

Do you love food?  I looooove food! Right now I’m borderline obsessed with avocados. And a very happy part of many recent days has been when I ate some smashed up avocado on toast for breakfast. Mmmmm…  If you know me in person, I may have told you about it, or I may have droolingly noticed the avocados in the salad you brought to work for lunch.  My good friend Kellie even gave me some of her de-licious homemade guacamole as part of my Christmas gift. Now that, is friendship.

I love food, but sometimes I can get into a restaurant rut.  You know, heading to the same close-by, easy, good-enough places when really, there are lots of new (or new-to-me) restaurants with delicious food just waiting to become my next favorite meal.  So when I made my winter goal list, I said I wanted to try some new restaurants and freshen things up for my taste buds. The great thing about this goal is that my friends were more than happy to join me in making it happen.  So off we went…

...to this place for some Mexican and Peruvian cuisine!

Jenna suggested this place for some Mexican and Peruvian cuisine!  And you know what that means…MARGARITAS!  It’s a BYO place, so, you tote in some of your own Tequila, and the lovely people of El Tule will bring you a pitcher of margarita mix.  It’s a happy start to Friday night dinner. Plus, there was guac.  I could have stopped there.

and then

But I didn’t.  I went ahead and ordered the Chaufa de Marisces y Quinoa.  How do you pronounce that?  I don’t know, but it means – –  “kind of like fried rice except with quinoa…and SQUID and OCTOPUS!”  That’s just a loose translation.

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They were very tiny tentacles, but I ate them with crazy-eyes just to taunt Kellie,  who was a weensy bit grossed out about me eating octopus. I guess that wasn’t the nicest thing to do to my best guac supplier. Sorry, Kell.

Contrary to Kellie’s expression in that pic, my dinner was very tasty. Everyone liked their dinners. A lot!  Kellie got a chicken dish. Jenna got the fish tacos. And cleaned her plate! Evidence of goodness! Jackie had those enchiladas up there on the menu, with the crab. Kellie and I polished off her black beans. Just go ahead and clean your friend’s plate.  It’s fine. Yum! We recommend! I can’t wait to go back to El Tule in the warm weather.  They have a cute little backyard table area that looks like a fun place to have some cocktails and tacos!

The next weekend, to make up for my tentacle teasing, and just because it’s how we do, Kellie and I headed out for an early morning breakfast.  For crepes!  Have you heard about the new crepe place in Princeton?!  It’s Jammin’! No, they weren’t playing Bob Marley in there. It’s what the place is called, ‘Jammin Crepes’ on Nassau Street in Princeton.  I don’t know the story of the name, perhaps because they also make their own jam and put it IN crepes?   I think it opened last spring or over the summer. It’s very, very cute inside with big wooden tables and mason jars filled with charmingly mismatched silverware.

They use a deck of cards to keep track of orders and if you get as lucky as we did, maybe a nice lady sitting next to you will give you a lesson about the history of the chocolate hazelnut combination.  The Italians started it all.

They use a deck of cards to keep track of orders and, if you get as lucky as we did, maybe a nice lady sitting next to you will give you a lesson about the history of the chocolate and hazelnut combination. The Italians started it.

Does the history lesson give you a hint about what I ordered?  The "Nut-Cho-Tella" Crepe!  They offer a whole selection of savory crepe choices as well, with fillings such as trukey, ham, eggs, veggies and goat cheese.  Which makes this place a good choice for lunch or dinner as well as breakfast.

Does the history lesson give you a hint about what I ordered? Yep, the “Nut-Cho-Tella” Crepe! They offer a whole selection of savory crepe choices as well, with fillings like turkey, ham, eggs, veggies and goat cheese. Which, if you’re not into breakfast for lunch or dinner or dessert for breakfast, gives you some other options.  I, personally, could eat dessertbreakfast all the day long.

They make their own chocolate-hazelnut-almond spread.  I loved it!  They make their own jams and fruit spreads too.  You can take a jar home with you.

They make their own chocolate-hazelnut-almond spread. I loved it! They make their own jams and fruit spreads too. You can take a jar home with you.

Obviously, Kellie was not grossed out by this meal.  She has cinnamony-apple goodness in that thing, with whipped cream on top!

Obviously, Kellie was not grossed out by this meal. She has cinnamony-apple goodness in that thing, with whipped cream on top!

Next time, I want to sit at the sunny window seat and watch the Princeton people go by.  Maybe I'll see you there!

Next time, I want to sit at the sunny window seat and watch the Princeton people go by. Maybe I’ll see you there!