Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Wonder of Life...and Death

The birds are still singing. The sun came up. Life carries on when someone dies. I think we all expect that somehow, the world stops or takes a pause when someone we love dies. I know that I often expect the clouds to co-mingle, cover the sun and allow only a single stream of sunlight to shine through as if it is the path leading that soul, the person I lost, to Heaven.

Yesterday, a strong and sweet woman died. Elisa Bond was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer three years ago within days of her husband getting a diagnosis of stage three rectal cancer. She fought long and hard and though her husband won his battle, she did not. She touched many lives along the way and will be missed by many who never even got the chance to meet her.

My path crossed with Elisa multiple times. The first time I met with her was when she was pregnant with her daughter and she found my prenatal yoga class. She was a beautiful pregnant woman and had spunk and a lot of spirit. I met her again when she came to look at an apartment I was living in. Again, she was bubbly and full of life. The next time I met her was when her cousin contacted me to tell me that Elisa had been diagnosed and asked if I could offer some private yoga sessions to help her through. I was on it! And I gladly offered Reiki and Restorative Yoga to help Elisa stretch and feel strong during treatment as well as help her detox from the overload of chemicals in her body. We met several times over the course of her treatment and in various stages of the disease. Through all of it, she always had a big open heart and a great attitude.

With my background in yoga and Reiki, I have had many lessons and exposure to life as we know it, as well as death and the many beliefs of what happens when our body dies. Though I can sometimes find a balance in my heart, soul and mind when someone passes, there is always sadness when someone passes away. Today, when I got the news that she passed away yesterday, I fell apart a few times. We were not best friends. Our social circles overlapped a bit. But I went multiple charity events for the family. Supported how and when I could. And I had and have a great deal of respect for her and her family.

When we live, truly live, we touch so many other lives and people. We make an impact. We leave a mark on their souls. And though the world does not stop revolving and the birds do keep singing, the people we touched will take pause, break down and feel that loss. The world is forever changed when we come into someone's life, leave it and then again when we leave our own life behind. It reminds me of the wonderful movie "It's a Wonderful Life." Clarence the guardian angel says, "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives, and when he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" 

Elisa, there is a hole left behind. I am certain that you have been called to some amazing task on the other side. You lived your life fully. You shared your heart. You danced no matter who was watching. In your angelic journey, you should have no doubt that your daughter learned all of these things from you and has a solid foundation of who you were and what it means to be a strong, smart woman. I will cry some more for you and your family. I will also smile (sometimes through tears) when I think of you. There is no more pain for you, only peace. If Heaven is anything like "Defending Your Life," you will have many happy moments to playback in your life.

And may we each learn from you, Elisa, to live life to the fullest. To our own individual tune. To live fearlessly and love generously, even if it means getting hurt along the way. May we live in truth and as if there is no promise of tomorrow or next year. I thank you, Elisa for all the lessons you have taught me and reminded me. We all send you love and light on your journey beyond. You lived a wonderful life. Namaste.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

10 Years of Gratitude

This year also marks 10 years as a yoga teacher. Last night, I got very choked up teaching the last class of the year to many pregnant women, a mom (and friend) and a dad. I am so honored to sit or stand at the front of a room and share yoga with all of you. I see you come into the room sometimes frazzled and heavy in heart and leave light and smiling. In college, I remember knowing deep down that I wanted two things in this life: to help people and find inner peace. Yoga has helped and continues to help me do both.

In teacher training, I remember being barely pregnant to very pregnant by the end and knowing that I would be working with pregnant women. I was lucky enough to be guided to a mommy & baby class and a teacher that was moving cross-country who needed someone to take over her class. I shadowed her prenatal and mommy baby class and smoothly took over the classes with love. It was a perfect fit and I knew that this would be my life, teaching other mothers with babies with my baby nearby. 

Each teaching experience I've had has helped me help every student that followed. Each training I've taken, even unrelated to yoga, I have shared that knowledge with all of you. My classes have evolved over the years, along with the music I choose. From teaching at a Moms Club, my living room on Sunday mornings, a gym, to now, no matter the location or setting, you students have been there to receive my instruction, guidance and adjustment.  Though students may come and go, each one has shared their energy and made their presence known in my classes. I am not always great with names, but your faces and hearts stay present with me even long after you've moved away or moved on. 

I have watched so many beautiful pregnant women go from curvy Pregnant Goddess to lovely, confident Mother. I am awed that some of my former in-womb students are now in second and third grade now! I truly believe that each child chooses his/her parents and that each of you becomes a wonderful parent to that child. Our children teach us as much as we teach them and I enjoy watching that exchange in my classes or hear about it. 

When I look back 20+ years (pre-yoga) when my life seemed tough and, in many ways, pointless, I am so thankful that I made it through to this beautiful, happy, fulfilling life. I am blessed in so many ways and I thank each of you for being part of this existence.

Take a moment today or tonight or any day and reflect on your "George Bailey" moments. I assure you that you have touched many lives (mine included) and your life and purpose here on this earth is just. Shanti Baby Yoga, my husband, my children, my family, my friends are all part of my Wonderful Life. Thank you for the past 10 years as my students. I look forward to many more!

Monday, October 28, 2013

What's Your Excuse? Well Excuuuuuuse Me!

This morning, a friend posted this image and asked what everyone thought. As a mom, I was outraged. "What's your excuse?" What's your EXCUSE?! There is no "excuse" for not looking like that 8 months postpartum. As a yoga instructor who walks, bikes and does yoga all the time, I got my body back quicker than most, but to accuse anyone of making excuses for not having six-pack abs 8 months after giving birth is ridiculous and insulting to the entire human, let alone female, race.

As a prenatal and postnatal yoga teacher, I can tell you that no woman should even start exercising until at least 4 weeks postpartum and many shouldn't even start for an additional 4 weeks. With my son, I was back to exercising 6 weeks postpartum and only delayed because of a C-section. I was working out 3-4 times a week, not including stroller walks and playground chases, swimming, etc. But six months postpartum, I still got asked when I was expecting (even though I was with my 6-month-old son). This was not because of lack of effort, but I was not obsessed with finding my inner six-pack, but rather staying healthy and being the best mother for my children (both under 3 years old).

Some of us have the genes for fitness or musculature that looks magazine cover worthy. I've always had a "soft" belly, even at my best and I spent much of my 20s doing ab workouts. During the cesarean section birth of my son, my OBGYN said that my insides looked "beautiful" and whatever I was doing prior to this birth, to keep doing it. I took that compliment and continue to wear it with pride, even though I will likely always have a sag of scar-tissue mixed with skin and fat that hangs over my almost invisible scar. I love my body. I can't say I always have, but I celebrate my health and all that it does for me.

I spent most of my first year postpartum with each child in awe of the miracle of breastfeeding. My miraculous body was producing the most perfect food for my child(ren)! I never felt the need to post a photo of me with each babe on breast with "What's Your Excuse?" over my head.

This society has gotten more and more judg-y as social media allows people to blurt things out without thought or consideration of consequences. Magazines and memes feel it's okay to advertise airbrushed images that make people, particularly women, feel bad about themselves. I would much rather see a photo of Maria Kang when her 3 year old is staring her down or pulling her eyelids open at the crack of dawn and her 8 month old had her up until 3am, because he has his days and nights confused. How about being the poster child for exercise as a preventative for postpartum depression instead of showing us you in your bikini, straddled over your youngest son?

I invite all mothers, new and old, to ignore the shaming of the above photo/poster. Parent with love. Eat healthy. Exercise your mind and body in whatever way you can, but LOVE the body you're in! Pregnancy is beautiful and you will miss that round belly that was once filled with your little girl or boy. The belly that is left behind is a reminder of the miracle that your body is and the amazing feats of strength and commitment you just went through to have this baby. Give yourself a break and even more, give yourself a hug. You are beautiful! To your child, you are the most beautiful woman alive! There IS truth to that. So don't make up excuses for or pick reasons why you are not beautiful or perfect (if you think that's what Maria Kang is), but why you ARE. Namaste.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

If the Shoe Fits...

As we have crossed over the halfway mark of January 2013, many of us are already scrambling because we either haven't started or have already fallen off the wagon of our New Year's Resolutions. Rather than chastise yourself for "failure," why not accept that everything worthwhile takes work, dedication and will likely have a few missteps and mistakes along the way? Many of us unconsciously believe "One Size Fits All" for so many things, but in fact, we all have a different way of thinking, looking at things, approaching and accomplishing the same task.

For example, if your New Year's Resolution is to lose weight, you may think cutting out sugar, cutting down on meat, full on diet, exercise or a combination of those things. But what type of exercise is the "right" type? What diet is best? That answer is different for each individual. For me, yoga and a healthy diet has served me very well through the years. For my husband, working with a personal trainer is what keeps him focused and motivated. For another, Zumba is the only thing that will keep her coming back for more.

Over the years, I have had a variety of students for a variety of reasons and for various lengths of time. Some students have been with me almost as long as I've been teaching. Others come exclusively while they are pregnant and I don't see them again until they are pregnant again. Some students have come to my class and at the end of it told me that I was very nice, but that the class just wasn't right for them. I am always happy to hear it, because I WAS that student at some point in my life. There are many yoga teachers and many yoga styles and I can't be all things to all people. I applaud the people who know themselves so well that they are willing to try something new and decide if it "fits" them. I welcome the feedback, because it helps me understand who I am as a teacher and, in turn, who my students are. I cannot ever please everyone all the time. I can't be all yoga things to all yoga students. And I am honest in knowing that some students of yoga will not thrive in my class. That's okay.

I consider myself an open teacher and I enjoy feedback and I encourage my students to offer suggestions for poses or styles of classes. I often ask what body parts people need work on to help tailor the class to what everyone needs. I've also had 
"pop-up classes" with fun themes, like Rock Vinyasa and Abs & the 80's. I believe yoga and working out should be fun and playful. When we take ourselves too seriously is when we tend to fail and look at ourselves with judgment, disappointment and un-forgiveness. When we take ourselves too seriously is when we give up on our goals and resolutions. Try new things. Allow yourself to try and fail. Relish in the mistakes and heed the lessons they bring rather than beating yourself up over them. Allow for the meandering thoughts and distractions at times. They often help us get exactly where we intended to go.

Bay Ridge has a small-town feel to me. Many of us know each other or know of each other. I cannot walk out of my home without running into a student or former student or someone who knows me as Michelle The Yoga Teacher. I've had people apologize to me for not coming to class. I never want someone to see me and feel guilty. Nor should people feel guilty for not sticking by a New Year's Resolution that they made for themselves. John Lennon said "Life is what happens when we're making plans." So we set a goal and make plans and obstacles get in our way. We have to figure out if we plow through them, go around them or just steer clear and change our goal and path completely. So if yoga is not part of your path now, I'm not hurt by it. I'm glad that it was part of your path then and that I got to know and spend time with you for however long. The yoga mat "fit" you then, but maybe it doesn't now. As long as you are living your life healthy and happy, you're living a yogic life.

If you've faltered from your New Year's Resolution or you haven't started yet, relax. You have the entire year to work toward that goal. Make a loose plan. Take small steps toward that goal at your pace and try lots of things to figure out what "fits" you. Most of all, enjoy the journey and all the people you meet along the way. I'm so thankful you've been on my journey for however long. Namaste.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Sandy, You Hurt Me Real Bad...You Know It's True

I cannot even believe it is already November 10th! So much has happened over the past two weeks and, for many of us, life has changed drastically. Many of my students live in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. However, I often have some come from Staten Island, Sheepshead Bay, Marine Park, Mill Basin and even The Rockaways. Sandy hit many of those students hard. As some of you know, I have been doing my best to be part of relief efforts through donations and deliveries and organizing and helping however I can. As I told my children, "We are all New Yorkers and we are all brothers and sisters. New Yorkers take care of their families and that is why we help however we can." My children have collected clothes, beloved books and toys because they can't even imagine what it would be like to have nothing. Every day, I take inventory and see what else I can give or do.

That in mind, I have to be sure that I am taking care of myself and immediate family first. This Monday, I went to the Rockaways and delivered a variety of donations I picked up from some wonderful, beautiful, generous women in Bay Ridge as well as six bags of Bagels, muffins and more from Bagel Boy. I was moved in many ways by the volunteers out there, the community and especially the children who had their wits, their playfulness and minds completely intact. But emotionally, the trip left me drained and the blend of not-so-pleasant smells in the air out there left me feeling under the weather. Although I was able to keep from getting sick, the rest of my family fell one after the other and I had to keep my relief efforts concentrated to organization and planning. I created and coordinated a Gift Registry on Amazon for the families affected by Sandy. I also re-posted important FB updates about where needs were and how people could help. My main focus, however, had to be on caring for my family.

In yoga we must do the same. We don't compete with each other in class or on the mat, we turn our concentration inward and on the breath and body to find peace and balance within so that we have the resources of a strong self to share with the rest of the world. Inner Balance affects the balance of the Earth and the Universe. When we feel good inside, we want to share that feeling (share a smile mentality), we become generous and want to help others. That feeling moves on and we each pay it forward to others in our path. The gratitude I experienced from the volunteers and families in the Rockaways was priceless. I was a nameless person with a car, food, clothes, diapers, etc. I was not Michelle Kennedy, yoga teacher, mom, etc. that day. I represented all the people in Bay Ridge that had contributed to the collection of items I brought. I was Bagel Boy, I was Bay Ridge, I was Brooklyn, I was New York, I was American, I was the Human Race. It doesn't matter what you can do. Whether it's directly helping or behind the scenes, monetary or voluntary, doing anything matters.

For the rest of the year, please bring what you can to class: cash donations (to be used to buy necessary items for families and Bay Ridge Cares-Serving Meals that Heal), non-perishable food, diapers, baby wipes, latex gloves, work gloves, heavy-duty garbage bags, pet food, baby food and any other item that will continue to be needed by the families hit hardest by Super Storm Sandy. No clothes please, except for new-in-package socks, underwear, gloves or boots. Thank you!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Body by Yoga

In all of my classes, I end with an affirmation and have everybody repeat how beautiful and wonderful they are. I'm never sure how many people are really absorbing the words, description and positivity, but I believe that it is all true of each of us. We are all beautiful and magnificent in our own unique way. Yet, each of us can easily find fault rather than stop to take notice of our talents and brilliance!

Adam Levine is a man that is very in touch with his brilliance and magnificence. Some of us may swoon over him and some of us may be bothered by his ego, but I have to give a nod to him for being happy with himself and recognizing his own talent. Adam Levine is a fellow yogi and I enjoy Maroon 5 and the antics on The Voice.  He comes off as a pretty cocky and typical lead singer and perhaps, in person, he might be. In order to write the songs he does, sing the way he does, he has surely had his share of pain and geeky moments. As an artist and yogi is able to live in the present moment and perform his brilliance for us all to live in and enjoy through his musical projection of talent.

Some of you may even know that I consider myself a closet/shower/karaoke singer. I can appreciate the bravery it takes to put yourself out there. Whether writing, speaking, painting, acting or presenting, putting ourselves out in front of other people and opening ourselves to judgment is taxing, stressful and courageous. Having the confidence to say, "I'm good enough to be here." or "I deserve to be heard!" is part of what yoga is all about. Finding that beauty, that perfection within the imperfection that is you and letting it shine.

In an article in, Adam focuses on the physical benefits of yoga, saying he got into it by noticing the lean and attractive muscles that yoga builds. He says, "I don't like how people bullshit about how yoga is not about vanity." Now don't be turned off by what he says. Take it one step further or scratch beneath the surface of that and what I say in class. The confidence that yoga helps come out, whether it starts on the outside or inside, is that "vanity" he is talking about. If you feel good, you look good; if you look good, you feel good.

I tell my prenatal students to find their Sexy inside themselves. Society makes pregnant women feel awful about themselves. In every class, I let my Pregnant Goddesses vent, and they tell me people say things to them like: "fat" "Are you sure you're not having twins?" "Should you be eating those potatoes?" Even their doctors, male OBGYNs are telling them they are gaining too much weight when they are clearly within a reasonable pregnancy gain. So we pick some groovy songs and a little disco at times and I allow and encourage them to let out the sexy woman that got pregnant in the first place and let her shine!

I encourage you to look at this other article about Adam Levine in Details Magazine and check out his yoga poses and see if that helps encourage you to see the beautiful, the sexy, the confident or the magnificent in yourself.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Living Life As If...

As many of you know, my grandfather passed away last week. He was 87 years old and lived a very full life. He was born in 1925 in Brooklyn, first generation Italian American. He lived through some rough times in his childhood, including hunger, the depression and having to leave school in 7th Grade to help earn money to support his family.

Though not an educated man, he had inherent wisdom. After having his own near-death (or dying and coming back) experiences during a surgery, he had many deep thoughts about death and the afterlife. For as long as I can remember, my grandfather talked about death and that he would be going soon. It became a joke amongst the rest of us after a while, because this man had multiple experiences when he probably should have died, but didn't. He told me that God was the Sun and when we die, we all go become part of that light. It sounded beautiful to me as a child and even as an adult, from what I have heard about people who have passed and come back, that bright light probably seemed like the Sun to him when my grandfather had his near-death experience. Like in yoga, life is temporary and we live in the pose, and in life, in the moment.

Talking about death on a daily basis, my grandfather seemed to live his life his way on his terms and to his fullest. Perhaps he lived his life as if it were his last. Perhaps he intuitively knew about impermanence. Regardless, he lived. He enjoyed his family. He loved his work and loved work in general. I believe I got some of that from him. My grandfather was always busy when we visited, gardening, rearranging things in the basement or taking a well-earned nap. The man knew the importance of a nap. Grandpa, I love my siestas too. ;-)  But he always made time for his grandchildren. He made up games, played hide and seek with us, allowed--in fact invited--us to jump up and down on his bed, and he unknowingly taught me my first yoga pose (Shoulderstand) that he called Uppapatz! (Forgive my spelling. I have been told that puppatz means puppets in Italian. I'm not sure that what we were doing was puppet-like, but perhaps lunging your feet and legs up to the sky and back down again was a little puppetesque.) In my first class back this week, I actually got choked up teaching Shoulderstand Pose, followed by a smile.

My grandfather often was able to bring a smile to many faces. He was like the mayor. Everyone on his block knew him. He knew EVERYONE. He knew famous people and told many tales (some unbelievably true and others...we'll never know). H knew how to wear a hat as well as a comb-over. He loved Halloween as much as I do and enjoyed dressing up for parties, dancing, singing, acting or whatever was called for--all stone cold sober. When he retired, he traveled with my grandmother on many cruises and trips. My grandparents traveled with us in our RV a few times too.

My sisters and I enjoyed our grandparents more than many children get to. We had sleepovers almost every weekend at their house. We asked lots of questions and learned all the best hiding spots and scary rooms of their house. (We were convinced there were ghosts.) The times we had there were priceless. We had fun. We stayed up late. We laughed and smiled often. We danced to lots of polkas! We were so loved and we knew it. I treasure both of my grandparents for all that they gave us in those formative years and I am thankful that I still have my grandmother to talk to and enjoy, reminisce with and learn my heritage from.

I am so grateful that I had my grandfather so influential and present in my life. My life has been that much richer for it and I have a hunch his was too. Living 87 years with nine grandchildren and seven great grandchildren alone is a life to be proud of. I know that my grandfather is proud of all he accomplished. I know he is proud of me and seeing from his perspective from the sun, I know he is proud of all the influence he has had on my life and how I live it. I will keep those lessons with me in my heart and work on keeping them more present. Thank you for sharing your life and time with me and our family. Now, it's time to turn on the polkas up there, Grandpa, and dance!