practically perfect

Why do we do Yoga?  For each person who practices there is likely to be a different answer.  I know why I went for the first class; my friend Katrina made me feel like I’d be missing something if I didn’t go.  Why did I go back?  I’m not sure exactly, except that it had to do with a feeling.  In hindsight this feeling embodied a limitless sense of possibility and pure joy.

In the years since that first class, I’ve experienced many feelings, some that evoke that initial whiff of the infinite and others that run the gamut from elation to frustration.  It is that first feeling, however, that lives in my bones and had hooked me from the start, sustaining me through my life on the mat.

Lately, a shift occurred on my mat in my approach to my practice.  I’ve been almost distracted by “perfecting” my alignment, whatever that means, so that I may discover something previously hidden by habitual pattern.  Deepening my practice on the physical level, so I might have the feeling of flight that some of the poses seem to promise, became my prime directive.  This new feeling that is no less inspiring to my purpose, ironically, is happening during physical distress in my body that is imposing its own limitations.

Last week I was reacquainted with a part of myself I didn’t realize was lost.  I went to Beth’s class; Beth, whose voice softly echoes the kernels of my better self.  Her lilting tones reflect a love so deep I dare anyone not to be affected in her presence.  Her authenticity and depth of feeling reached out from her heart and grabbed me by mine and shook it just enough to wake me up.  I was jolted by a physical memory of that first feeling and smiled.  I am grateful for every waking moment!

While alignment is essential to good form, progress and keeping the body safer from injury, it is only part of the picture.  With practice, the alignment integrates itself and becomes as effortless as the breathing we do on the mat.  Tapping beginner’s mind with every breath brings mindfulness to the otherwise second nature intuition of the body.

I have found that seeking out different voices born from different experiences on the mat, creates a wholeness in my practice that keeps me fresh.  I don’t have to choose alignment over the spirit of the practice; they are each part of the same whole and to be honored with intention and integrity.

If, on your journey, you catch a bit of that feeling, don’t trade it for the perfect pose.  There is a way to enjoy both experiences without forsaking either one!

CAYA Yoga ~ Come As You Are

To begin with a total oversimplification, here is a sample of some of the styles of yoga we enjoy today:

Anusara, heart-based/alignment-focused yoga (John Friend)

Ashtanga, power yoga (K. Pattabhi Jois)

Bikram, hot yoga (Bikram Choudhury)

Iyengar, detail/alignment-based (B.K.S. Iyengar)

Kundalini, releases Kundalini energy (Yogi Bhajan)

Viniyoga (Vinyasa), connecting breath with movement (Sri T. Krishnamacharya–teacher of Iyengar & Jois, and father of T.K.V. Desikachar)

Got it?  (There are many other styles, including Jivamukti that seems to be a blend of many–as are many others, but you get the point)  There’s something for everyone.

As many styles of yoga there are, there are as may ways to practice.  Some yogi(ni)s are purest, when they find a style they love, that’s it.  Others go through phases where different styles speak to them at different times in their lives.  Others studio and style-hop, finding that the ever-present lightbulb illuminates with certain teachers and not necessarily a specific style.  Perhaps your practice style is not reflected in these reduced descriptions; I’d love to hear what makes your yoga tick.

The lightbulb started flickering for me today when I realized what to call my form of yoga:  CAYA Yoga™ ~ Come As You Are Yoga™.  Characterized by its intention to serve the individual as seen as part of the whole, CAYA Yoga™ touches something different in each person while honoring that sacred space that binds us all.  Then I realized that’s what Yoga, in general, is all about!  It’s ALL CAYA Yoga™!  Whew!  What a relief!

CAYA Yoga™ does not have a studio or structure out which it is disseminated, rather it is the yoga you take with you when you step onto your mat to practice whatever style calls you!  Perhaps the distinction is that a sense of humor is required if you’re going to call your style CAYA Yoga™.

Approach your practice with a light heart and an inner smile. That is my one proprietary rule.  Otherwise, just Come As You Are!

ps.  Adding the was my way of having fun with the, sometimes, proprietary nature/language of yoga today. None of these thoughts are original, I just express them in my words. Yoga belongs to the world, I’m just happy to be part of the world that enjoys yoga!

Namaste!

Real Yoga Housewives ~ It’s not all OMs & Namastes

Just for fun, here's Bethenny Frankel, former Real Housewife NYC, in Side Crow @ Yogamaya in NYC (My friend Stacey's Studio)

Okay, so I watch the Real Housewives series with alternating giggles and shakes of my head.  I am intrigued, disgusted, amused and often rapt by these post-modern personalities.  The pendulum swings between extremes that are more typical on reality television than in reality, itself.  It is the voyeuristic, passive view, distanced by the medium of television, that sets my heart racing and oh so grateful for my life as it is.

I love how shows like these tap into the unexpected in people.  Well, maybe I should rephrase that.  I love how unexpected people tap into these shows.  (Sort of like my 30+ year addiction to General Hospital – or as I call it, my residence in Port Charles – often elicits gasps or giggles from people who know me.)

There are no secrets on Facebook, so I got to gasp and giggle when I saw that many of my Yogi(ni) friends were present among the droves who “Like” certain Housewives.  There’s divine poetry in a Universe that Yokes seemingly disparate aspects into something whole.  Isn’t that the definition of Yoga?

As I delve deeper into this bottomless (and dare I say topless) practice, I am awed by everyday examples of off-the-mat yoga.  Profound, sometimes, in its ameba-like simplicity and other times challenging in its utter complexity, the Yoga pendulum swings freely with an open invitation to take the ride or observe it with wakeful eyeballs.

The challenges I face in my asana practice off the mat are largely logistic.  I am often torn between a visceral desire (and need) to be ever present for my children and husband and charging toward the divine finger that beacons me toward a different bliss.  Remaining present with each choice is as much a part of the practice as perfecting my downward dog or learning to effortlessly float and invert.

I want to include my family on this amazing journey.  I want my children to feel a certain non-attached ownership with yoga and not see it as the reason mommy wasn’t around for hours at a time.  I want my husband to experience the openings, discoveries and overall magic of this practice for himself and not just take my word for it.  Looking at this paragraph, I see a lot of statements that start with, “I want.”  I’m not exactly attached to the outcome of these desires, but would love to see them play out nonetheless.  After all, it’s just yoga.

Following my bliss (thank you for the language Joseph Campbell), I must also adhere to  the cardinal rule of Ahimsa, doing no harm, to my family or else it’s really all in vain.  The tight rope is shrinking and challenging my balance with every choice I make.  This is also yoga!

A Real Housewives show featuring Yoga Housewives is one I hope is never produced for the masses.  The idea of this show, however, is one at least worth examining both from the perspective of the Yogini Housewife, as well as, that of her family who are directly affected by her treading this path.

Conflict and coping are part of life.  Yoga is a beautiful context within which to figure it all out, or just be okay with not knowing a thing!

A couple of end notes:

The following clip would suggest a yoga seed growing in the RH franchise:  LINK TO YOGA IN RH NYC

Check out Yogamaya when you’re in Manhattan!

Yoga Highlights, Hair & Hippie, Hippy Namaskar!

It’s been a while since I’ve written here.  When I’m smack dab in the eye of a creative storm, inspiration for writing becomes that elusive shiny thing gleaming ever in the background waiting patiently for the storm to pass.

This recent respite began around the time I took the Seane Corn workshop at Yogaphoria.  

I was just beginning to re-enter my body after months of sciatic/SI joint discomfort which often left me at my most limited range of motion.  Thankful for balance, these physical limitations yielded to a broader & deeper spiritual response.  By the time I got to my mat, I was ready to revisit my edge.

Excited to take my body and mind to unexpected places – and sharing the experience with some of my favorite yogi(ni)s while meeting new friends – my anticipation met the reality with wonder and love.  I was not disappointed.

Seane Corn, in addition to humoring my need for “the hair” shot, enhanced my personal practice while informing my newly developing “teacher’s mind.”  Seane tapped into something much bigger than the individual, while bringing the work right back to the mat.  We practiced asana in her beautifully specific style, detoxed our bodies while redirecting our thoughts, stepped in and out of various shadows and returned to the light.

Thank you, Melanie, for inviting bright stars into our universe, creating a most unique and formidable constellation under which we can all practice, contemplate and grow.  Your bright light casts its glow wide enough to warm us all!

Still riding the incredible wave generated by that weekend, I hurled myself into planning for the two classes I was to teach to complete my teacher training program.*

Noticing that my back issues were in part due to tight hips, I decided to design a double sequence called, “Hippie Hippy Namaskar,” complete with groovy tunes.  As the Surya Namaskars greet and salute the sun, these series would do the same for our hips and our inner hippies.  (I think only one person fled the room to challenge authority and protest in the streets;-).

While I love the chants and verses that are often the soundtrack to a yoga class, I felt that a compilation of some of my favorite classic rock songs would be more appropriate to the theme.  The first class was a diverse playlist including the Grateful Dead, The Beatles, John Lennon, Cat Stevens, Janis Joplin, The Rolling Stones, Joni Mitchell and CSNY.  The second class, but for the first song which was the Grateful Dead, was entirely Beatles.  There’s something about snuggling close to your edge while hearing Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds that is strangely satisfying.

The outpouring of love was amazing!  Friends filled the studio for both classes, adding that extra cushion of support that carried me through to Sivasana.

The songs I find myself gravitating toward for Sivasana all have references to death.  This seems poetic to me since Sivasana is Corpse Pose.  What a gift it is to have regular practice for this Final Pose, knowing that it is just a rehearsal.  And hey, a melodic reminder is only that, a reminder set to music.

I have so much still to process from those first two classes as I embark on imagining future classes.  Perhaps this examination will show up in the next blog.  So, stay tuned…

*  I am so grateful to have a number of wonderful yoga studios to embrace.  I’ve said it before, but when I left NYC I was convinced that was the end to the standard of quality to which I had become accustomed.  I am happy to say how wrong I was!  In the nine years we’ve lived in Bucks County, the yoga world has exploded with amazing and various teachers, styles and studios.  You know who you are!  (Prancing Peacock, Yogaphoria, Yogasphere, YogaLove, Dig Yoga).   If I’m missing any, please leave a comment with your favorite!  Inclusion and diversity is what serves me and I hope you are nourished as much by the numerous offerings!!

I must mention Liz from the Prancing Peacock and thank her for meeting me where I am, allowing me to even entertain the idea of teaching this awesome practice!  You are a most generous “River Guide.”  😉

Namaste!

Bon Om!

What does French cooking have to do with Yoga?

When the movie “Julie & Julia” was in the theaters, I dragged my husband to see it.  Every so often he would nudge me or squeeze my hand in those moments when he recognized some idiosyncratic similarity between Julie and me.

The movie touched on some of my favorite things:  Writing, cooking, storytelling, eating & biography were the main entrees.  Besides being backdropped by my favorite city, I was skewered by the wonderful aromas and flavors the juxtaposing stories evoked.  Each story was seasoned by the telling of the other.

While I love to cook, I am admittedly more of a “mad scientist” kind of cook than a recipe-following chef.  Among the many jobs I’ve held, working at the Fancy Food Show was responsible for some of my favorite “rocking chair story” memories.  I worked at one in Washington, DC, where I saw Julia Child in a group of three, standing at the top of the escalators, deep in conversation.  My connection to her, then, was the Dan Aykroyd sketch on Saturday Night Live and disjointed blurbs from her television show.  But, looking at her in her small group, she not only loomed over the other two, she was larger than life.

“Who’s your vote for Yoga’s Julia Child?” I asked on my Facebook page.  Excited to get a conversation rolling, I was hoping for a snowball effect of votes.  One beautiful vote came in, but the polls are not closed…yet.

I had an epiphany when I posted this question.  Julia Child brought the otherwise inaccessible art of French cooking to masses of American households.  And now here comes the connection:  Lilias Folan did the same thing with Yoga.  Her 1972 PBS TV show, “Lilias! Yoga & You” was Yoga’s answer to “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.”

I know about as much about Lilias Folan as I did about Julia Child, so went to her website, to learn more about this person whose vague, but potent, identity had appeared so boldly in my blogosphere.

In the tab “About Lilias,” here is part of the first paragraph:  “Recognized as the “First Lady of Yoga” since her ground breaking 1972 PBS television series, Lilias! Yoga and You, Lilias Folan is regarded as one of America’s most knowledgeable and beloved Master Yoga teachers. Time magazine called Lilias the “Julia Child of Yoga.”

The connection had already been made.

Each of these formidable women broke boundaries of gender, culture and expectation without losing themselves in the process.  I chose the above photo of Julia Child, not to poke fun but to share in the fun she brought to her audience.  And of Lilias, I want to know the person in this photograph.

Thank you, Lilias & Julia!

Namaste & Bon Appetit!

Citizen of the World

I love Manhattan.  It’s a fact of my life.  When it came time to leave the city (I got pregnant with our first child and it became cost & life-prohibitive), we looked in the Hudson River Valley first because I was so reluctant to give up my New York address.  It turned out that a New York address only made sense to me inside the boundaries of the Hudson & East Rivers.  So, south we went toward Philadelphia (home of my birth suburb).

Nearly 17 years of living in a city so vibrant with arts and culture, culinary excellence and human diversity, my resident bubble was big and all-encompassing; but it was still a bubble.  I was of the mind and heart that if it had roots in NYC, it was in the vicinity of being the best.  I’m still inclined toward that position, but now the bubble, with its pin-sized holes has deflated, opening up to include worlds I never before would have imagined or embraced.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever completely give up the inner dialogue that compares goods and services outside the City with those contained within, but the voice has gotten much softer.  My world—while chaotic with a family of five, a growing business and life’s general logistics—has slowed down enough for me to truly appreciate the greatness that exists in other places (and by other places I mean the suburbs and not more exotic locations like those that are found on other continents).

I asked myself, while feeling this piece, if what was actually happening was that I was lowering my standards to acclimate to life outside the City.  This thought makes me laugh; what a New York thought.  The answer is, No.

There are really great chefs & restaurants, yoga teachers & studios, creative minds, hair dressers, farmers’ markets, schools, shoe stores, entertainment and anything else that might nourish the body and soul; they’re just not necessarily within blocks of each other or walking distance from home.

If greatness and authenticity were limited to location then the best Italian food could only be gotten in Italy; Yoga, in its purest form, could only be practiced in India, and the only chance we’d have as outsiders to enjoy these flavors and practices would be to be born into them.

So, I guess the next question is, what is authentic?  Is my devotional practice of Yoga any less authentic because I was not raised in the tradition?  I honor this practice and have no dreams of reinventing (or patenting;-) it.  I am, however, bound to my knowledge by my teachers, the books I read by teachers closer to the source, and my heart.  This practice can be extremely personal, yet it is of the world.

I find myself drawn to a wide variety of teachers, some obvious and others most unlikely, each one offering something of his or herself that contributes to the ongoing evolution of my authentic self.  I keep my eyes open to the world of possibility which includes inviting lessons and experiences by the guru in the turban, as well as, the well-dressed suit, five year old preschooler or checkout person at the grocery store.

I don’t have to wear a tie-dye or be from San Francisco to touch the essence of the Dead Head inside; nor do I have to speak in dulcet tones in order to lull people into my yogic world.  I don’t have to live in NYC to touch the human experience deeply (or know good Chinese food from bad); nor do I need to discount the City for its abundant gifts.  I just have to show up.

Sometimes I feel like I have dual citizenship with New York City and the rest of the country.  What used to be limiting is now liberating!  I am awake to my life and love how it feels, looks and tastes whether I’m in New York, Philly, an unnamed suburb or traveling to global destinations.

That said, there is still no bagel in the world as good as an H & H!  (They are NYC-based, but will deliver! 😉  www.hhbagels.com

Slowly Unwrapping the Gift of Pain

It doesn’t happen immediately.  The pain does not reveal its gifts in the moment it consumes the body, prevents simple tasks and distracts the mind from its priorities.  The gift is wrapped tightly in a process of discovery.

It starts with denial and the pushing through of daily chores, popping the occasional Ibuprofen and believing the pain a temporary and annoying obstacle.  A few days later, prescriptions of rest come flying from loved ones concerned about the escalation of the pain.  And it does escalate.

Frustration follows rest as the lists get longer, the laundry piles up and the forward bends that used to come so readily all but shatter in the shadow of memory.

If you’re lucky enough for the pain to continue without lessening, sooner or later, acceptance settles in.  Acceptance does not mean giving in, rather it is the experience of letting go the expectation that the pain will disappear in a neatly tied-up time frame.  It also can inspire a mission.

I am on a mission.  And I am not my pain.

When I received this particular gift, I had several weeks left of my 200 hour yoga teacher training.  The worst part was that I wasn’t able to swim the in the deep end with the others in my class.  I was forced to wade by the steps, modify everything and slow down.  I guess that part was the ribbon I had to unravel to get to the goodies.

The herniated disc (which may or may not be the source of the pain*) and constant sciatic sensations force me to surround myself with props: blankets and bolsters and blocks, oh my!

Viewing my practice through a fresh lens inside a body requiring a new map to navigate it, began to reveal the subtleties of pain’s gift.  Where I had been convinced that I had tamed the ego beast, I now discovered that it had the ability to seep through the cracks of my yoga identity.  I know now, where there is pain, there is no room for ego.

My pre-pain self that could touch the center of the earth in a standing forward bend, now smiles as my flat back folds its few inches, barely increasing the angle of my rooted Tadasana.  I still long for the feeling of the deeper fold, but I am here now and am endeavoring to find the nourishing feeling of this new place.

Like the child who receives the toy she’s been begging for, and when she gets it, plays with it for a day or two and conveniently forgets all about it, I don’t want to stop appreciating these many gifts.  My fear is that the pain is continuing to keep these lessons learned and not forgotten.

Empathy is a big part of what is contained in this gift; it also informs a major part of my mission and that is to share these nuggets with others who have yet to unwrap their pain.  It will be part of my daily practice to meditate on these revelations so that I’m not destined to keep receiving this sacred gift.

As I write this, my left foot is falling asleep from the pinch in my nerve and the pin point of pain in my sacroiliac (SI) joint keeps me alert to the present moment.  Still, I look forward to taking the classes led by my peers from the training and deepening my practice and understanding of pain’s gift.

But where do I throw the wrapping paper?

* Recommended reading for anyone suffering from neck, shoulder or back pain:  “Healing Back Pain ~ The Mind Body Connection” by John Sarno, MD

Mythasana

I love a good story!  I see “Once Upon a Time” everywhere and love to watch plots, fictional and real life, unfold like a lotus flower.  Like a good story, asana practice has a beginning, middle and end with every unrolling of the mat, from the first OM to the last.

Mythology (specifically Arthur Lore) was a passion of mine for many years.  I couldn’t get enough of the tales of King Arthur and the many characters whose stories arose from this myth.  My yoga path criss-crossed this other love of mine for a while, but each seemed distinctly separate from the other.  I had no idea that one day I would revisit the mythological realm on the yoga mat.

During my teacher training at the Prancing Peacock, I  delved, not only into the prescribed syllabus, but into the literature of the practice; this included a wonderful book called, Myths of the Asanas:  The Stories at the Heart of the Yoga Tradition by, Alanna Kaivalya & Arjuna van der Kooij.  It was from this book that I was able to put a context to some of the stories and origins of the Asanas.

In honor of the Prancing Peacock, I offer this morsel of my inspiration:

Of Yogis, Gods, Sages, Animals & Earth were these asanas born; their stories give us the forms and we infuse them with breath and life.

Like the constellations in the sky, we often need to employ our imagination to make the connections between what we see and what we’re told is there; the same can be said of the names and shapes of the poses we play with on the mat.  The difference here is that every time we practice, we discover something new.  Practicing while guided by the mythological tales from which the asanas were born, shifts the practice from a simple meditation in motion to a timeless meditation in motion nourished by potent images and emotions.

Here’s an Amuse-Bouche (one bite appetizer) to whet your mythological palate:

Mayurasana:  Peacock Pose

Kartikeya is the six-headed son of the Pleiades (six heavenly sisters), originally born as six individual identical sons of the six sisters.  Parvati (Shiva’s consort), under whose wing & heart the boys were reared, squeezed them with her goddess-like strength and equal force of love, forging them into one powerful being.

Only a few months old, Kartikeya was already a formidable warrior.  His choice for transportation was the Peacock (also known as a fierce fighter).  The peacock, in contrast to its beauty and majesty, was able to kill and eat Cobras and transform the deadly venom into something of grace.


It was upon this glorious creature that Kartikeya led an army of gods and demigods into a conflict that was to restore their rightful place in the heavens.  The good of the gods prevailed in no small part due to the fearless and loyal peacock.

Yogic mythology honors the peacock, its sattvic nature & symbolic ferocity, fearlessness & loyalty.  Krishna even wears a peacock feather in his  hair.

Mayurasana, over time, aids in our digestion just as the peacock was able to digest the cobra’s poisonous venom.  Humans digest any number of toxic entities (in our food, air, water, thoughts, words, actions, etc.) that can be transformed into something of beauty.

This is an oversimplification of the myth, but touches on its essential quality and message.  The book merely touches the surface of the potential for discovery we have on the mat; it provides a delightfully fresh lens through which to view and experience asana practice.

Once upon a time…

The End.

Life Warriors

For those who practice yoga solely for its physical benefits, I applaud you for finding your way to the mat.  It will certainly open your body to its possibilities and gradually extend the boundaries of your physical limitations.  Perhaps curiosity will one day move you deeper into the mystery, wisdom & gift that is yoga.  Or not.

Yoga is so much bigger and more inclusive than simply strengthening the core, increasing shoulder range of motion or allowing more flexibility in a back bend or forward fold.  The Strength, Range of Motion & Flexibility stretch far beyond the body to effect change in the world off the mat.  Practicing the poses not only prepares the body to open up and cope with the changes it inevitably undergoes, but helps grow the mind and spirit to follow suit.  So, when life presents a challenge, we are in shape to handle it.

(Pictured: Kim DeZutel)

There are some universal truths that bind us together, East & West, North & South, Religious & Secular (and any other seemingly dualistic pairing you can imagine); that is, the Human Condition.  In addition to the joy, celebration and abundance that is life, there is suffering, pain and loss.  While the experience in our emotional bodies may put celebration and suffering on opposite sides, this practice is a reminder that they are not separate.  We can approach a tight situation with same openness and suppleness that we greet the easier times.

Yoga & meditation are boot camp for living.

The key is practice.  So, when I’m whining about my sciatic pain that has me frustrated and hurting, I have a moment when gratitude squeezes through the walls my habits have built over the years.  A deep fresh breath brings me back and makes me smile.  I’m still hurting, but now I have a growing arsenal of tools I can use to minimize the times when perspective fails me.  And trust me, it does.

Like soldiers who do push-ups, obstacle courses and drills to make their physical bodies prime for unexpected dangers, yoga warriors sit with stillness and mindfulness, stretching their bodies, hearts and minds to make them prime for life’s unexpected challenges.  Both are oversimplifications of the process and the point, but each has a hint of its own truth.

There is a trap to these truths, however, and that is the expectation they create.  The extreme truth is enlightenment and most of us will barely touch the perimeter of the light it casts.  We may seek and practice and focus our intentions and along the way we will judge unnecessarily, complain, gossip, hurt and be hurt.  It is in that moment when we discover our digression that clarity pokes through and reminds us to wake up.

The truth lives in those living moments and not always in the telling of these ideals.

Instead of being disappointed in our teacher, friend or self for being human and perhaps falling off the path, be grateful for the wakeful moments and work toward having more of them than the others.

I write these words as part of the process and not an indication of having arrived anywhere.

I meet and honor you where you are and hope you will do the same for me.

Competitive Play

There are some moments that wake you up to the shifting boundaries of a life that has become comfortable and often predictable. These moments seem to accelerate and arrive more frequently with small children.  

Watching three year olds play soccer, tumble on gymnastics mats, “ha-ya!” in karate class or dance around at the Kids’ Music Round is pure joy. They run, roll, chop and dance with utter abandon, without any notice of skill levels, points or end goal; it’s all about the mini moments that make up the journey. It is an existential party, watching as each moment bursts with meaning.

And then they turn six. Things begin to change. The soccer coach is more eager for the goal. Cartwheel form becomes more important. The “ha-yas!” require precision with movement. Music Round is now for the babies and practicing an instrument becomes a chore.

Even watching these activities has an added amount of stress. The stress for me is the struggle between encouraging my kids to keep the joy safe and abundant while nudging them to strive to achieve their best (whatever that may be). I want to be on the sidelines cheering them on without them feeling attached to any end result. I want them to know both the elation of a win and the quiet humble moment of a loss.

Last night I found myself at my five year old’s karate class, near tears of love, watching as she was finding her voice, overcoming fear and charging toward an unknown goal. Some of these kids have been in this class for much longer than she and their skill levels show it. From the sidelines, one can easily spot the kids who are growing up in a competitive atmosphere. Their faces show seriousness and focus, almost gloating smiles when they excel and crestfallen eyes when someone edges them out.

I feel sadness for a childhood that may have missed something of a total joy absent of the need to do better than everyone else. The other side is that these kids will likely be very “successful” in the things they pursue. I wonder, though, if the satisfaction of successful fruition of a goal is synonymous with happiness.

Part of my job as a parent, I believe, is to give my kids the tools to cultivate happiness in their lives whatever else may be going on. Of course I want them to experience the full range of emotions and experiences that are out there, but their foundations should be formed by and layered with happiness.

Like sports, music and any other activity in which we choose to participate, cultivating a positive world requires practice. Not to be misunderstood, cultivating a happy life in no way precludes the need to recognize, cope with and embrace the human condition. This world is filled with sadness and struggles and we should never be complicit in denying this fact.

Yoga is the way I choose to balance these seemingly opposing forces. Unlike the endorphin rush that used to chase me off the elliptical machine at the gym once upon a time and would dissipate into whatever my next activity was, Yoga lingers.

The benefits of pure cardiovascular activities are abundant, for sure, and may even include a meditative aspect for some. Its focus, though, is the body and in many sporting activities, competition is key. This fosters a unique energy that serves a purpose and that is to achieve something; win the game, lose the weight, do better than the other team, be better than you were yesterday. No pain no gain.

Yoga also has a goal and that is to move into a place of greater flexibility and strength, not only in one’s body but in one’s mind, heart and life. The unique energy this fosters is one of opening; open your heart, open the mind, open the body, open to each moment.  No pain no pain (or if there is pain, meet it where it is and recognize what it is there to inform).

Yoga distinguishes itself in the realm of Western style exercise as an Eastern practice which reveals a bigger picture of health and wellness, where the breath rather than competition is the key.

Therein lies the challenge I face with my children. I want them to be their best and work hard to continue growing and becoming whatever that standard of “best” is for them without harming their spirits. Similarly, I wish to keep delving deeper into my mat, challenging my body and mind to discover their limitations while joyfully dancing to that edge.

My wish for my children is that joy and competition join forces rather than vie for dominance.