Friday, October 17, 2014

Post Traumatic Growth

Ask me how I am and I'll tell you I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay. I'm okay. After going to my first session of bereavement counseling with Haven Hospice 4 weeks after the death of my father, it was finally setting in. I was not okay. My dad is gone and he's not coming back. I found myself crying at some point every day for two solid weeks...sometimes thinking of him...sometimes without any warning. People who have lost loved ones have been telling me that the grief comes in waves, that we will be hit with an unbearable sadness out of nowhere. It's hard to prepare for and you rarely see it coming. The waves will either wash over your feet and just bring tears to your eyes or they will pummel you to the ground, knocking the wind out of you and you won't be sure if you will ever get back up. I've felt all degrees of these waves...and these past two weeks I've been learning how to surf. It's not easy and you will fall. Sometimes really hard. 

We all experience a period of Post Traumatic Stress after losing someone or even something, be it a job, a relationship, a place to call home, a physical ability. And the pangs of loss can hit hard - sadness, anger, bitterness, shift in appetite, insomnia, intrusive thoughts, social anxiety, or the fear that you will never feel better again. I've decided to allow myself to feel all of this rather than running from it or pushing it away. It's not pretty, nor is it fun to be around. But I've come to realize feeling it is a part of the grieving process that we will all face at some point in our our lives, in some form, whether we deal with it right away or years later. The question is, what do we do with the feelings as they come? How do we not let it suffocate us? How do we get back up and keep going? We may not have control over some situations in life, but we do have a choice in how we react to it. 

My lesson with the kids last week was "Resiliency". In my after school classes, by a show of hands, I asked how many of them had fallen down through out the day. Each day, at least 50% of the kids had tripped or fallen before, during or after school. Kids fall a lot! I asked them to think abut how they reacted without any judgment on themselves - did they cry, did they laugh, did they lay there either in defeat or embarrassment. Did they get back up. (Of course, they all got up...they did make it to yoga class after all.) Some fell just walking or running. Some fell while playing a sport or a game. Some got pushed down. But none of them stayed down. This is resiliency. How we deal with our falls says a lot. When we see a child fall, we help them up. We check in, see if they're okay, address what may not be okay and then teach them to keep on going - maybe with more awareness, caution and care. As we get older, we continue to fall and we continue to get back up, even when at times we may want to curl up and lie there. We think about what happened, we learn and we keep on going. We teach ourselves how to be resilient.

When we come to our yoga mats, it's good to come with an open heart ready to experience whatever it is the teacher and the practice itself will bring to us. Sometimes the flow of the class will feel good, sometimes it will feel too easy, sometimes it will feel too challenging. At times we lose our balance causing us to step or even fall out of a pose. But with gentle care of ourselves, we come back into the flow and keep on going. There comes a point in the class where we might get stuck, or frustrated, or fearful of falling and may even say - no way I'll ever be able to do that! Maybe it's one of those challenging poses like Crow, or Wheel, or Headstand that just set us off. The kids feel it and we even feel it as adults. So I always like to create space for the kids to play, experiment and try their best with these challenging poses with an understanding that we may not get the pose today, but over time with practice and a bit of resiliency, maybe one day we'll get it! 

I like to play a game called "Blocked". We create a random pile of foam blocks each with a sticky note on it displaying a pose that usually can "block" us in our practice. Starting from youngest to oldest, a child picks a block to challenge the class with. We spend about 5 minutes on each pose, picking it safely apart seeing if we can take it to its full expression. When we all agreed we've had enough, that child starts the tower, stacking the blocks on it's highest end in the middle of the room and the game continues. A foam block tower can only go about 6 or 7 high before it wobbles and falls. When it does fall, we all go down, too! Into Plank Pose holding for as many seconds as there were blocks in the tower. We hold, we breathe, and then we start all over again! 

The fall is what makes us stronger. Resiliency. 

A fall, like a loss, can be traumatic, but it can also spark growth. A term I'm learning to love through bereavement counseling is "Post Traumatic Growth". It is learning how to take the traumas of life - the losses, the deaths, the injuries, the illnesses, the tears, the pains, the falls - and grow from them. This does not mean to move past or to put behind you. This does not mean to lessen the severity of or take away from the experience of. It means that if it will always be a part of you...if it will most likely change you and your outlook on life...then let it be the thing that drives you, the thing that shapes you, the thing inspires you. Let it be the thing that makes you stronger...the thing that makes you resilient. 

My father had always been a strong person, but in the 5 years that the Leukemia slowly took over his body, I had never seen anyone be so resilient. Chemo treatments, blood infections, blood transfusions, pneumonia, weight loss would all knock him over, but he would always get back up. Sometimes on his own, sometimes with help from us. I've never seen someone live so hard as they were dying. Someone who would fall over and over and keep getting back up. It has truly been an inspiration. Now that I sit with this sadness in my heart and heaviness on my chest, I know I want to live like that. I know it will take some time. I know I will still feel pain. But I'll keep on going. And in the end, my father taught me what it takes to keep on going. My father taught me resiliency. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Socktober!!!

It's Socktober at Alluem Yoga!! Help keep our friends at the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless warm this winter! Drop off a pair of new socks this month! #socktober
To learn more about Socktober, watch the Kid President video!

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Feeling Sad

Duck is sad. Black clouds hang over her head and even the flowers are sad. She doesn't know quite what to do, but with the help of her friends, she comes up with a plan that gives her the feeling that she has the power to change things. So Duck sets out to find the sun...and slowly the color and light comes back into her life.
Sometimes we feel sad...so sad that the darkness and heaviness of what we may be sad about, overpowers the light and the color that surrounds us. Sometimes it takes a bit of encouragement, love and support from others. Sometimes it just takes time.

I asked one of my classes this week what yoga pose we might go to when we feel sad? What shape might our body want to take? With heavy shoulders, every child in the class went into Child's Pose - a resting pose. Baron Baptiste once said, "Sometimes the storms in life can literally bring us to our knees. Child's Pose give us the opportunity for spiritual surrender, to realize that 'of myself I can do nothing, but there is a power in me here that realizes I can." While taking a Child's Pose may be viewed as weakness, giving up, or defeat...we realize this moment of "pause" and surrender is the exact place where we regain our strength and will to continue. Over the past 16 months that my father was on Hospice, I had fallen to my knees time and time again. I had fallen in exhaustion. I had fallen in fear. I had fallen in what felt like defeat. Those were my moments to pause, to breathe, to pray, to be sad...and then ultimately to find the strength to keep on going. Taking these pauses are essential to our mental and emotional health...for us and for our children....to keep ourselves healthy so we can continue to support each other. So, in class this week we all paused together in Child's Pose.

On September 6th, I watched my father take his last breath. Kneeling in his bed, I leaned forward and held tight to his hand. He surrendered and we all paused with an unbearable sadness. Watching someone die is a profound experience...and then your heart breaks. I'm sad...and there is a heaviness...and sometimes the color and the light is hard to find. Then I see a picture of him or someone shares a story about him that makes me smile and I know he would want me to be happy. So I look in the sky, for the sun, for the light and the color. I have seen some of the most beautiful sunsets this past week...then I know he's okay. I don't believe my dad "lost" this 5 year battle with Leukemia/Lymphoma...because a battle fought with courage, dignity and grace is not a loss...it is an inspiration. May we all be inspired.

Thank you to everyone who has stood by my family's side this past week...comforting us, cooking for us, praying for us. Sending flowers, sending cards, sending love. Sending so much gratitude your way. May we all keep taking the time to pause, find strength and keep on going.
I love you, Poppyseed.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Home from Haiti

When asked how my trip was, I can't help but reply with, "One of the best experiences of my life." And that's far from an exaggeration. We spent the first half of our week at the Haitian American Caucus with a group of 15 school teachers. Our goal was to give them skills and tools to use right within their classrooms with their students. We designed a curriculum and broke the 3 day training into themes of Connection, Energy Building, and Relaxation - thinking of course, what would be the most beneficial approach to reaching children through yoga during their school day. Many of the students were new to the practice and had beginner yoga questions. So, in order to experience the practice of yoga first hand, each day they were taken through a kid style yoga class based on the three themes. This way, not only would they know how to share the benefits of yoga with their children, they would be able to absorb the benefits of the practice themselves. 
And benefit they did! Not only did they enjoy the experience of yoga through play, but they were also able to connect in a way they may not have known they could reach – they were fullof life and able to let go, all within the same session. We left the group with breakdowns of poses to use with their children to help them find connection to themselves and their surroundings through breath and movement. We left them with yoga games to play, like Yoga Freeze Dance, Animal Asana and Pass the Pose. We left them with creative calming activities like Mind Jars, Eye Pillows and various meditations. We left them with ideas to either lead a mini kids class right within their classrooms or to simply take the much needed classroom yoga breaks. We even left them ideas and supplies (thanks to the generous amounts of donations collected) on how to build a Peace
Corner within their classroom - to have a safe space available for the child who may be in need of taking a break and finding some peace. And amongst the questions upon the closing of our training...when will you be back so we can learn even more!? My heart was full. 
I didn't think my heart could get any fuller, and then it did. When we arrived to Petionville, we met 20 beautiful young adults who had been in a year long yoga teacher training through Ayiti Yoga with Lizandra Vidal. They had an established yoga practice, amazing body awareness, and had already begun how to learn how to structure an adult yoga class. Our goal here was to teach a 4.5 hour workshop on how to structure a children's yoga class, since that is the population the majority of them would be teaching to. We reviewed the comparison of an adult class to a kid’s class...very similar, except we may be playing some games after our Sun Salutation, as well as mooing and meowing through Cat and Cow! After experiencing a fun-filled and heart warming kids class, we broke down the 5 Pillars of
 Children's Yoga, a comprehensive approach to teaching a kids class inspired by our own training with Little Flower Yoga - Connect, Breath, Move, Focus, Relax. Or as our Haitian friends may know it - Konekte, Resipre, Bouge, Fokus, Relanche. Following the workshop, we travelled through the streets of Haiti with mats on backs, to the local YWCA. Breaking down into small groups, they began to structure mini classes to teach the groups of girls there. 
Outside under a canopy of trees, I stood observing these young budding yoga teachers put into practice what we had just taught them. They had a bag of tricks to use with their kids and I had tears in my eyes, loving what I was seeing - not only had they grasped the beauty and lightness of bringing yoga to children, but you could also see a sense of love and lightness in themselves. It's something I strive for every time I teach or step on my mat to practice - to be able to put down whatever it is we carry - our stressors, our worries, our fears, our doubts - and to find freedom from that which weighs heavily on our shoulders. Sometimes it feels like we do, but no one person can carry the world. When we come together and share a common good, like the practice of yoga, we begin to unite, find support within the community built and ultimately let go. Watching these children practice yoga, in a part of the world that has been traumatized and devastated, fills me with hope and continues to open my eyes to the beauty and magic that fills every corner of this ever inspiring country. I’ve been home from Haiti for a little over 2 weeks now…and I can’t wait to go back! 
Confucius says, “Wherever you go, go with all of your heart.” I feel as though I’ve left a piece of my heart with each of these groups and in return they have filled my heart with the strength and courage to continue on my own path. Yoga is union, connection, community. I definitely feel more connected then I’ve ever been and I thank Go Give Yoga and the community of yogis in Haiti for that. Much gratitude always.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Go Give Yoga!

The Go Give Yoga Foundation empowers children to maximize their physical, intellectual and emotional well-being through yoga. They provide yoga classes for children as well as educational tools and leadership skills to the adults who support them to the 
communities who are in most need.
On July 20th, Karen thrilled and honored to be heading back to Haiti 
with Go Give Yoga to co-facilitate a Kids Yoga Intensive for Haitian educators allowing 
them to learn the many benefits and uses of yoga within their classrooms. 
So many of you have already been so generous dropping off monetary donations! 
THANK YOU! If you are interested in helping us fulfill our wish list needs, please drop off your donations to the studio by July 16th. Much gratitude always! 

Monday, June 30, 2014

Little Flower Spotlight!

Jennifer Cohen Harper, founder of Little Flower Yoga, has been a huge influence in my life over the past 5 years since I've completed my Kid's Yoga Certification with her. It's a great time to sit and reflect on my path since then...what an honor to be featured on the Little Flower Yoga Blog!

Joyful Commitment to the Local and the Global: 
An Interview with Karen Gilmour

"And it was like a light went off...
this is what I could do with my life!"

We are so proud to spotlight Karen Gilmour, the inspirational director of Alluem Kids in NJ. Karen traded an office job in for full time kids yoga in 2010. This September, she will present at the First National Kids Yoga Conference. 

  READ FULL ARTICLE