Before I had kids, when I wanted to exercise, I ran. Never long distances, but enough to keep my heart healthy and my muscles strong. It was a quick, efficient way to get my heart rate going and work up a good sweat. I loved it.

I stopped running at some point during my first pregnancy. I marveled with bewilderment at the women at the gym who ran through their third trimesters, but that wasn’t going to be me.

A couple of months after I had Gia, I set out for my first postpartum run. I was about a mile from home when I took a step and felt a sharp snap in my knee that stopped me in my tracks. I managed to hobble home, but I was in a lot of pain. I elevated and iced it, but the next day it was clear that damage had been done. An MRI showed a torn meniscus. The orthopedist recommended surgery. I opted to try physical therapy first, as I had my doubts about surgery.  In therapy, I learned exercises that would build the muscles around my knee to support it in such a way that the tear might heal. Several weeks into my sessions, my physical therapist asked how my knee was doing. I told her that I was pretty much able to do everything without pain, everything except run.
It was easy for me to decide that giving up running was a better choice than trying surgery in the hope that I might run again. So I got into indoor cycling and I walked and hiked and, of course, practiced yoga. But for five years, I didn’t run.
Then, recently, I started wondering if I had healed enough and regained enough strength to try jogging a bit. So on a morning walk, I decided to pick up the pace. I came home enthralled to tell my family I had run all the way around the neighborhood. The next morning, as I set out again to exercise, Gia asked, “mommy, are you going to run?” I told her I was going to try. She asked me to wait until she could position herself at the window and watch me go. I realized that in all of her five years, running is something she’d never seen me do. I’m not sure that I would have chosen to go out and run again that morning, but because she was waiting to see me do it, I did.
Now, it’s become a thing. I get ready for exercise and she’ll say, “mommy, run the whole way around!” On a particularly sleepy morning last week, I started off walking and heard her screaming from the kitchen, “run mommy! Ruuuuuun!” I decided I’d jog until I was out of view, but wouldn’t you know it – the rhythm kicked in and I didn’t stop. There’s no better feeling than surprising yourself with what you are capable of.
In the eyes of a child, mommy can do anything. Gia yells, “run!” with all the confidence in the world that I can do it. She knows not of de-conditioning, nor of the, “I’m 40 now/I’ve had two babies in the last five years/I’m afraid I’ll hurt my knee again/I’ve moved on to other things/I didn’t get enough sleep/there’s not enough time” excuses. She watches me do this thing that’s good for my heart, muscles, and mind and knows with every once of her being that I can do it.
She won’t always think that I’m omnipotent. But right now, her belief in me has reignited my belief in myself. At the moment that I think, “maybe I shouldn’t, I probably can’t,”she yells, “run mommy!” and I try, and I realize I can.
As mothers, we are so good at doubting ourselves. Especially in this age of analyzing our every parenting move – we are quick to question whether we’ve handled something with our kids well or whether we could have done better.
Our self doubt would not be easily understood by our young children. Their unyielding belief in our power to do anything, and make everything okay, is a beautiful reminder to believe in ourselves. We’ve got this – we can do it. One foot in front of the other. Run, mama, run.
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Last week, I took Gia to her kindergarten screening. While she was hopping on one foot and drawing shapes for a teacher, I had the opportunity to meet with the Principal.

The first thing she asked about was Gia’s strengths. Glowingly, I went on and on about her compassion and empathy and kindness and the wonder with which she experiences the world around her. How she loves her friendships and is inclusive and just. The Principal smiled and took notes and I left feeling like I had done my job in describing the essence of the little girl who is growing up before my eyes.

Just a few days before that, I had spent the day with an inspiring group of women co-teaching the 5th Finding the Om in Mom Retreat. The theme of the day was listening – to our inner voice, our intuition, our own wisdom, our hearts. The yoga classes and discussion, the entire flow of the day, was designed to help the women connect back to that ability- to truly hear themselves.

We worked all day on the throat and heart chakras – on both opening and going inward in these vulnerable and expansive places – doing so in an effort to find our voices, heed our hearts’ desires, and acknowledge our selves. All of that work reminding us that the key to connecting to our true essence is opening our hearts.

Children are born with wide open hearts. As we grow, life inevitably presents us with sadness and loss and troubles and it gets harder to keep ourselves so totally wide open. At five, Gia’s heart is still as big as the sky. Days after that long-winded conversation in the Principal’s office, I realized that Gia’s wide open heart is indeed her greatest strength. Just like babies are born natural yogis – doing child’s pose and toddling their way into downward facing dog – children are born with a natural capacity to love and to listen– maybe not to us, but to themselves. As adults we work so hard to get back to that place where we began.

When life challenges us in big ways, and keeping our hearts open gets hard, it is helpful to remember that, in the words of Lady Gaga, we were born this way. Life presents us with big, tough stuff, and sometimes we have no choice but to shut down. It’s self preservation and we’re born with that, too. But when we can reconnect with our ability to open up, to find that sense of wonder and belief in all that’s good and right, then our hearts expand again, and we shine.

The other day I emailed a friend I hadn’t spoken with in a while. We exchanged the details of our lives, she told me a bit about the work she is doing abroad, and we shared updates about our kids. At the end of her note she said, “I hope you are well my dear – where have your Om emails gone?”

It’s true that weeks have gone by since I last wrote. What had been a longstanding weekly writing practice has, this winter, fallen off a bit. At first, taking a break from it felt just like that, a break. But one week has led to another and sure enough, I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing and into the habit of not writing.

Anytime this happens, its helpful to take a look at what else might be going on to contribute to the inertia. Long cold winter? Check. A steady onslaught of minor yet disruptive viruses in our household? Check. Trying to figure out the balancing act that is parenting two young children? Check. So much to do and not enough time? Check check.

But writing is something I’d managed to find time for week after week for the last few years. It’s something that helps focus and ground me. It’s helped me take a look at things that are working for me and see the places where I could grow and stretch. It helps me pay attention and reflect on the moments that inspire both small and big lessons. The process of putting my experiences into words is as much for me as anyone else. For all of these reasons, my friend’s query “where have your Om emails gone?” struck a chord.

Then, last Friday, I took my daughters with me to the DMV. Yes- that’s right – I took my toddler and my almost 5 year old to stand in line at the Department of Motor Vehicles. Most of you will agree this was a terrible idea. But my license had expired and I had to go and I had to take them with me. It felt like a rite of passage to do it, and there we were, weaving through velvet roped lines with Gia pushing Sada’s stroller (she insisted), and later, me holding Sada low on one hip as I stood for my new ID photo (she insisted). Strangers looked at me with what i imagine was both pity and pride.

For the first time in a while, that familiar inner dialogue came to the surface. “I could write something about this moment.” I thought, “there’s a lesson here.” And there it was – me getting back to me. Getting back to what I do and how I view my world. Me finding my mother-of-two mojo at the DMV and wanting to share it.

That evening, I sat with my friend and partner Randi to start planning for our next Finding the Om in Mom Retreat Day. The conversation quickly came to a topic we love- about the importance for mothers to remember who they are, as Randi puts it, “beyond mom.” Not only remember, but nurture and honor. And so once again I was reminded that while its okay to get away from the things that make us ‘us’, it’s oh so important to get back again.

For many years, I worked with adolescents at a health clinic in New York City. It was actually at that clinic that I taught yoga for the first time, to a group of young people struggling with multiple life challenges. My experience teaching those kids was what inspired me to go and get certified as a yoga instructor, and led me on a path that I never had imagined I would travel.

Since then, I’ve mainly taught in studios, (mo stly to adults), and of course, I’ve taught many mamas & babies. So when my friend Lauren invited me to teach at her amazing new community space, The Arts Oasis, I immediately knew that I wanted to offer something different, and came up with the idea of a class for parents and their teens. Doing so really felt full circle, taking me back to the beginning. Including parents made sense for me because of my work as a therapist, where time after time I see families challenged by how to remain connected as children venture through their teenage years.

As parents we often lament about how quickly our children grow up. “I wish he could stay this age forever,” I’ve heard friends say. Always one to look at the flip side, I’m quick to point out that every age, every stage, is pretty amazing. I observe how my parents still beam with pride at my sister and my successes- how they still think that we are amazing. Things change, we change, but the love doesn’t change. The admiration, the wonder, that goes on.

This was undeniably evident in these recent Parent/Teen classes. During one session, as everyone settled into Savasana, one of my favorite songs came on – a lullaby about the sweet simple moments and the deep love between parent and child. Every time this song comes on at mama & baby class I look around the room and my emotions swell.

As the lullaby played and I watched the parents and almost-grown children resting on their mats, I was equally moved. The words rang just as true about the deep and unconditional love between the mothers and teenage children in that room. Things change, they change, but the love is just the same.

Last Sunday would have been my grandmother’s 96th birthday. As the years pass since she died at the age of 89, one might think I’d think about her less. Instead, I think about her more and more.

Sometimes, when we are sharing this life with the people we love, their influence on us almost goes unnoticed. It’s only when they are gone that we begin to reflect, and recognize things in ourselves or our loved ones that feel so familiar. In those moments I realize, “that’s Grandma” and recognize that people stay with us long after they are no longer here.

Particularly as a mom, there are certain lessons learned from the way my Grandmother lived her life that resonate so deeply. These are just a few.

Love. She fell head over heels in love with my Grandfather and appreciated the love they shared, nurtured it, and remained committed to it throughout her life, even long after he had died. Love in a relationship must be attended to. She did that. She wasn’t afraid to be loved and receive love. She knew she was worthy of that. She loved her family just as well. She adored my mom and made sure she knew it. She loved her siblings, she was fiercely loyal to them. And then came the grandkids….my sister and me. She loved us unconditionally. She said it, but she didn’t have to. Her love surrounded us. Her eyes spoke of it. In her presence we felt it. She was generous with love and that came back to her in spades.

Laugh. My grandma had a wicked sense of humor, and she could laugh at herself. She would often say to us, “I’m not laughing at you, I’m enjoying you.” For her, it was true. She loved our theatrics and our antics and our stories. She laughed when she was happy and when she was proud. She laughed when she was grateful. Laughter was her way of expressing her joy and her wit. I imagine it kept her going in difficult times and as the years went by.

Pay Attention. Grandma noticed the smallest things. She looked around her. She didn’t miss a beat. She was one of the most naturally present people I knew. With all of the available distractions these days, this is one of the most important lessons to remember.

Enjoy. I remember so often we’d go out to a meal, or visit for an afternoon or share a holiday. At the end of it she’d exclaim, “This was such a wonderful day.” “Wasn’t that so nice?” She meant it. When she spent time with the people she cared about she was truly happy. Because she was present she could deeply experience that.

Create. She was a fabulous knitter. She spent hours doing it. She made gorgeous things. She did it because she loved it. It was an expression of who she was, meticulous and understated and beautiful.

Give. My grandmother liked fine things, but she was always ready to give them away. I learned not to tell her that I liked a piece of jewelry or household item, because her response was to offer it to me. No, I’d tell her, you enjoy it. But it would have made her as happy to give it as it did to have it.

Move. For her it was walking. She and her sister would take long walks through her neighborhood everyday. Even after my Aunt passed away, and even after she started to become unwell, she continued to get outside and move. Never motivated by fitness goals or competition, she simply did what felt good for her body and soul.

Let it Roll. My mom, sister and I have talked about how Grandma would worry about the littlest things, but when the big things happened, she was cool as a cucumber. We’d be worried about upsetting her with bad news and she’d consistently take it in stride. She had faith that things would be okay and believed in our resilience, as well as her own.

Be Brave. My 4 foot 10 inch tall grandmother and her equally petite sister once stopped a purse snatching by beating the assailant over the back with their umbrellas. Another time, she gave a stranger the heimlich maneuver in the middle of a restaurant. She always did the right thing, even when it meant garnering every ounce of courage.

Be Kind. She was kind to everyone. Enough said.

Friendship Matters. She had lifelong friendships. She connected with people everywhere. She enjoyed their company and she cared about them, and they her. She understood their value in her life and she appreciated them. Her relationships were real and they increased her capacity for compassion and love.

Pets are Family. She loved to quote her mother who said, “if you’re going to have a pet you shouldn’t treat it like an animal.” (she always laughed when she said it.) New parents often confess that they don’t have much patience, time, or concern for their pets. Grandma would have said hogwash. It’s good to be reminded of that.

There’s Nothing as Cute as a Baby. She loved babies. She’d stop in the street to talk to them, leaning over strollers and smiling at mothers. How she would have loved her great grandchildren had she been here to meet them. Instead she is in them. Her spirit shines through each of them in a slightly different, yet so familiar way. She would have loved my stories about mama & baby yoga, she would have laughed at the sight of it. Because she’d have enjoyed it. And she’d have enjoyed that I enjoyed it. And because there’s nothing as cute as a baby.

If you ever think your love for your baby is over the top, my Grandma would have said nonsense. There’s nothing so wonderful as a baby. Enjoy.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about attachments. Not in the parent/child bonding sense, but in regard to the things we hold on too tightly to. Attachments to possessions (keeping them/getting them/using them). Attachments to values, ideas and beliefs. Attachments to hopes, goals, outcomes, opportunities, and plans.

In yoga, there are guideposts called the yamas and the niyamas. We sometimes refer to these as the “don’ts and dos.” One of the yamas is Aparigraha, or non-hoarding. Don’t hold on. Don’t be greedy. Do let go.

Why is letting go so hard? Why do we grasp so tightly? What are we afraid will happen if we simply drop our hold? We hold on to the things we think we want. The things we think will make us happy or better. We hold on because we fear being without. But so often, that holding on is the very thing that ends up causing us strife.

In the new year, a time where many are thinking about goals and attainment, what if we were to ask ourselves, “where do I need to loosen my grip?” “What can I do about my attachments?” “Where might I let go?”

Letting go is freedom. Freedom from expectations, greed and desire. Freedom from judgement, anger and fear. Freedom from the strain of holding on. Letting go opens up our hearts and our minds and creates a great spaciousness where we can abide in peace.

Most of the classes that I teach begin in Sukasana, which translates to “Easy Pose”. It’s funny, because for most of the women that come to class just getting there is anything but easy…let alone the day to day of caring for a new baby. But nevertheless we begin in “easy pose” and we begin with the breath.

By connecting with our breath we begin to connect with the idea of easefulness. By beginning with the breath we begin to connect with ourselves. By beginning with the breath we begin to connect to each other. We all take an inhale. We all breath out. Sharing the prana, or life force that is ours and our babies’ and everyone’s, everywhere.

We begin in our easy seat and we use the breath to find ease and connect. And then we start to move. We feel the ground beneath our hands and feet. We play with balance. We stretch. We stretch our bodies but in doing so, we open our minds. We twist and we bend and in doing so, we open our hearts.

According to the teachings of yoga, all of the physical yoga poses prepare us to sit for meditation, to come right back to this easy seat. Anyone who’s tried meditation knows that it’s anything but easy. There’s more to this seat than meets the eye.

But, by practicing – by moving and breathing and opening your mind and heart – it’s easier. And if it’s easier on your yoga mat, it just may translate to being easier off of it – in your world. Your connection, your open mind, your open heart, your use of breath – serves you when your practicing yoga but moreover it serves you when you’re raising your baby and when you’re living your life.

At this frenetic, exciting, exhausting time of year, the benefits of practicing your “easy seat” are immeasurable. Your seat is always there, your breath is always there. It is a gift for you at the holidays and all year long.

One morning several years ago, I was making the bleary-eyed trek from my apartment in NYC to the yoga studio where I taught a 7 am yoga class. I taught that class two mornings a week and I pretty much knew the number of steps it took to get me from one door to the other – I think I could have made my way with my eyes closed. Lost in the fog of still waking up, focused on the pavement ahead of me, it sometimes felt like that’s exactly what I was doing.

Then, one particular day, about a block from the studio, for some reason, I looked up. I was walking toward the East and in front of me was the most magnificent pink sky. It took my breath away. I immediately awoke to the moment and realized that I had been someplace else completely, not at all present. It was a good reminder to look up, pay attention, and appreciate the beauty that is all around us.

That morning I shared my experience with my class. It was a good teaching, at once simple and profound. And it was one that stayed with me for a long time.

Fast forward to the past few weeks. My one year old is finally starting to sleep through (most) nights. What this means for me, aside from more sleep, is a much earlier waking time. Sada sleeping 8 or 9 hours means that she’s waking up before dawn, at which point I go into her room, scoop her up, and bring her back to bed in the hope of getting a little more rest.

Most of the time, my eyes are closed or I’m looking at her, or my mind starts spinning with to dos for the day. But the other morning I happened to open my eyes and turn my head at just the right moment, and there it was again. That magnificent pink sky. My literal and figurative wake up call. “Wake up!” it was telling me, look around you! Amazing things are happening all the time.

It was not enough to learn this lesson once on the morning in NYC. It’s not a lesson that’s easy to ingrain. A million little things will distract us and pull us further and further away from the present. These reminders bring us back.

In the Samatha meditation practice, the breath becomes that magnificent pink sky. It brings us back to the moment again and again. It forgives us when we go away from it. It assures us that we can always come back.

Look around you, look up, meditate, and breath. There are a million things taking you away from the moment and a million ways to come back to it. Rest assured, there are a million ways back.

Last week at work, we hosted a two-part memoir writing workshop called, “The Healing Power of the Personal Narrative.” 21 people, ranging in age from 28-94, came together to learn about the benefits of sharing their stories.

Everyone has a story to tell. Most of us have many. In the room that day there were hundreds of stories, each one unique and at the same time, common threads were everywhere.

A year ago, I wrote a piece about telling our birth stories. I had just had Sada and I realized how much the story of her birth meant to me, and how meaningful it was to share it. I still love to tell that story. And now there are also stories of her antics, milestones, and of her and her sister’s blossoming relationship.

Our stories place us in the ever changing context of our lives. They define us and connect us. Our stories make us stand out and at the same time, they are what help us relate to one another. Through telling our stories we may gain strength, insight, and perspective. We are seen and heard, and hopefully understood.

I am so lucky that in my job, I get to bear witness to amazing life stories. And each week on Wednesday mornings, I continue to be inspired by the stories that are told, and that unfold, at our sweet little class. These are the stories of life right now. Of motherhood. Of babyhood. Of womanhood. Of sisterhood.

This Saturday, I’ll be returning to the beautiful studio where I got my start teaching yoga, to teach a benefit class for Africa Yoga Project.

When I was invited to mentor a yoga teacher in Kenya, I assumed that he or she would be brand straight out of training. Instead, I learned that Margaret, my mentee, had completed her teacher training through Africa Yoga Project back in 2009, which means that she’s been teaching almost as long as me. When I realized this, I wondered how much I’d have to offer her. Weren’t we on a similar path?

The answer is at once a resounding yes, and a resounding no. Our respective journeys to get to the front of a yoga class were remarkably different. She faced extraordinary obstacles in every step of her path. She had little parental support growing up. She was a runaway and spent years surviving on the streets. She spent most of her life living in abject poverty in the urban slums of an underdeveloped country.

I have the great fortune of not having faced any of these challenges. In fact, it is difficult for someone with my upbringing to even come close to understanding her experience.

At the same time, she and I are in many ways the same. Before becoming a yoga teacher, Margaret was a yoga student. She fell in love with the practice and her teachers believed in her ability to share it with others through teaching. I came to teaching yoga much the same way. Margaret and I received similar training, both completing 200-hour certification programs. Margaret and I were both given opportunities to start teaching right away, which meant the rest of our learning has come from on the job (and on the mat) training, which never stops and never gets old.

Margaret and I share even more than this. We have both committed ourselves to work in service of others. Each week, Margaret brings yoga to women in prisons and children in villages that would otherwise never have access to such an opportunity. From the depth of her own struggle Margaret has risen and through yoga, now works to lift up those facing even greater obstacles than her own.

Margaret and I are both mothers, raising little girls and making every decision in our lives based on what’s best for them. We want them to be happy and healthy, and we recognize the importance of modeling that by the way we live our own lives, the way we treat ourselves, the way we treat them, and everyone around us.

There are many, many ways that Margaret and I come from opposite ends of the world, and were it not for Africa Yoga Project, it’s unlikely that our paths would ever have crossed. But the very first time I sat down in front of my computer screen to talk to her (via the miracle of video calling), the very first time I look into her eyes and saw her gorgeous, radiant smile, I understood that we are the same as much as we differ. We are human. We are women. We are mothers. We are teachers. We feel and we love and we practice and we shine. Margaret and I. You and I. Everyone of us.

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