Sunflower Mandala

Archive for the ‘Stress management’ Category

Soak Your Feet, Soothe Your Mind

Treat yourself (or someone you love!) to a relaxing at-home foot soak

by Reyna Gonzalez

relaxing foot soak

 

As a yoga teacher, I’ve watched students scrutinize their feet, wiggling and pulling at their toes in Uttanasana (standing forward bend). I’ve done the same, and I admit that I have occasionally assessed my need for a pedicure while in Uttanasana. I’m not vain about my feet, but as a teacher, I know that my feet get looked at, and I want students to focus on alignment, not grooming. Most people think of a pedicure as a treat, but not me, as I have extremely sensitive feet. For me, the real treat is the foot soak part of the pedicure process. 

I love submerging my feet into the warm, swirling water as I sit back in the vibrating chair that massages my back.  I know that the true sense of relaxation is coming from the warm salt bath that is soaking and soothing my feet, so when the nail specialist removes one foot to begin the grooming part of the pedicure, I always feel rushed. Good-bye, relaxation. That is why I decided to develop a deeply relaxing foot soak that could be easily done at home.

Not for Feet Only

Foot soaks are not just for relaxing the feet. They have been part of healing practices in Asian and other cultures for thousands of years. In her article “Sole Wisdom: The Benefits of Ayurvedic Foot Massage,” published on the Yoga International website in 2013, writer Dakota Sexton notes that in some ancient spiritual traditions, the body and soul were perceived as connected to the soles of the feet. “The ancient healing traditions of China, India, and Egypt also recognized that the feet serve as mirrors of our overall well-being,” she writes.

In an interview in Yoga Journal, Melanie Sachs, author of Ayurvedic Beauty Care, notes that foot massage (followed by a relaxing foot soak) can relieve eye strain, which will relax and open the face and allow our inner beauty to blossom. Article author Niika Quistgard points out that Sachs’s words are supported by a classical Ayurvedic text (the Ashtanga Hridaya) that identifies four major nerves in the feet that connect to the eyes.

Every day we are subject to a host of toxins from the air we breathe (both indoor and outdoor), the foods we eat, and what we put on our skin, which is the largest organ in our body. There are many ways to limit our exposure to environmental toxins, including detoxing diets, calming practices like yoga, and using household cleaners and personal care products that contain more healthful ingredients. But at the end of the day, a relaxing foot soak may be the easiest and most soothing pathway to removing some of the toxic burden from our body. 

Get Salty

Because salt water reminds me of how relaxed I feel after a long walk along the beach, I was inspired to develop a foot soak that contains products formulated with marine botanicals. The ocean-inspired detox soak outlined here is easily done at home and requires very few tools. I recommend that you use products that are not tested on animals and that are made without harmful chemicals. You can find several “DIY” recipes on the Internet that use simple ingredients like Epsom salt and essential oils to enhance your foot soak. I prefer to use ready-made products like Arbonne’s SeaSource Purifying Sea Soak, which contains mineral salts and trace elements. (Its clean smell reminds me of the sea!)

The ocean-inspired detox foot soak outlined here is easily done at home and requires very few tools.

For your relaxing foot soak treatment, you will need the following: 

  • Large Basin (big enough to accommodate both feet)
  • Bath brush
  • Epsom salts or a product that contains sea salt  
  • Massage oil or lotion
  • Large towel 

If you want to follow your foot soak with a foot scrub and a mask, you will need a few additional items:

  • Salt scrub
  • Clay mask
  • Plastic roasting bag or plastic wrap
  • Ribbon

You can make your own salt scrub or use a packaged product. To make your own, mix ½ cup of oil (like avocado or sweet almond oil) with 5 to 15 drops of an essential oil and 1 cup of sea salt (or sugar if you have sensitive skin). This will yield enough scrub for several sessions. My favorite packaged scrub is Arbonne’s Foaming Sea Salt Scrub, which helps exfoliate the skin.  If you want to add a clay mask to your foot treatment, I recommend choosing one made with bentonite or Montmorillonite clay, which contains volcanic ash and is regarded for its cleansing and healing qualities. (My favorite is Arbonne’s Sea Mud and Face Body Mask.)

Soak Away Your Troubles

Before you start your soak, scrub your feet with the bath brush to stimulate the skin. Then, mix warm water and ¼ cup of sea salt in the basin. Soak your feet in the warm salt mixture for up to 30 minutes. (To keep the water comfortably warm, keep a pot of boiled relaxing foot soakwater close by and add to the basin as needed.)

Sit with a cup of herbal tea, or use this time to practice some pranayama or meditate.

You can end your foot soak after the 30 minutes and move on to drying and massaging your feet, but I prefer a little more pampering first. After the soak, scrub your feet with a salt scrub. Feet certainly feel softer after the soak, but using the salt scrub helps to exfoliate the skin. Next, rinse your feet in the same soak water. Empty the basin, refill with hot water, and put aside.  

The next step—also optional—is my favorite! Apply a clay mask to your feet. Then place both feet into a roasting bag (or wrap the feet individually with plastic wrap) and tie the bag around your ankles with a ribbon. As with a face mask, you can feel the mask dry against the skin, and you can imagine the toxins being drawn out of your skin and into the clay!

Have some more tea, meditate, or do a little more pranayama.  After 15 minutes, wash off the mask in the basin and dry your feet with the towel.

Finally, massage your feet with a little massage oil or lotion. Take your time with this part of the treatment. Rub each toe individually from the base of the toe to the top. Then make a fist with the opposite hand and apply the desired pressure to the foot, starting at the toe mound and slowly moving down to the heel. You can also use your fingers to explore sensitive areas of your feet, applying gentle pressure to alleviate any soreness.

After the massage, sit quietly with your eyes closed for a few more minutes and notice how warm, smooth, and alive your feet feel. Then notice how relaxed the rest of your body feels. If the feet are truly the “mirrors of overall well-being,” then this at-home treatment should leave you feeling that pampering your feet is worth the effort, both physically and spiritually.


A certified yoga teacher, Reiki Master, and an Independent Consultant with Arbonne International, Reyna Gonzalez enjoys sharing her love for healthy living. In her spare time, Reyna enjoys tennis, tango, and spending time with her two sons and life partner David. You can contact Reyna through her website, ReynaGonzalez.Arbonne.com.

Photo credits: relaxing foot bath © Ye Liew | Dreamstime.com; foot massage © Pleprakaymas | Dreamstime.com

Tuesday, May 31st, 2016

Breathe, Then Breathe Again

Never underestimate the healing power of your breath

pranayama illustration

In a late July issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association, Dr. Elizabeth Levin shared a transformative journey, both personal and professional, that speaks directly to the heart of the yogi.

In her fourth year of medical school, in a subinternship at Cook County Hospital in Chicago, Dr. Levin worked with a 36-year-old woman, a mom, with metastatic breast cancer. On the final day of her rotation, Dr. Levin visited the patient for the last time. During their conversation, the patient talked about her plans for her young son’s care after her death. As the women spoke, Dr. Levin began to cry. “I could not stop myself,” she wrote in her JAMA article, “Learning to Breath.”

Dr. Levin continued, “As I continued to cry, she cried as well. I knew she was upset with herself, and me, because she felt crying was a sign of weakness. Despite my best efforts, I cried and, in the process, upset my patient even more.”

As part of her medical training, Dr. Levin was taking a course in mindfulness-based stress heart in handsreduction (MBSR). On the same day as that painful goodbye, the MBSR class focused on coping with stress encountered during clinical practice. During a meditation segment, the instructor asked the medical students to talk about a difficult time they’d had with a patient. While her classmates shared their experiences, Dr. Levin struggled to relax and breathe. She was losing her focus, her presence in the moment, and she dreaded sharing her experience with her colleagues.

She writes, “ . . . the time came for my turn and I began my story of the day. Crying, I felt the pit in my stomach. I became aware of my breath, the short inspirations and the tightness in my throat. But I felt relief as I told my story to the group.”

Over the following weeks, the doctors-in-training observed and documented how challenging patient interactions affected their own bodies and breath. Dr. Levin noticed that she often held her breath when confronted with sadness or suffering. With practice, she learned to stay present and not be swept away by the rising tide of emotion during stressful encounters. 

A year later, working as a resident in internal medicine, Dr. Levin used the tools of mindfulness, particularly deep breathing, to help support another critically ill patient and her family. She remained compassionate, but in control. She wrote that this pivotal experience, and others that followed, would not have been possible had she not learned how to breathe.

I came across Dr. Levin’s piece while looking for articles about yoga research, and was touched by her experiences and her honesty. Her article reminds us that yoga is not only practiced on the mat, or in a pose. This young doctor is practicing yoga when she uses her breath to steady herself in difficult situations; she’s using yoga when she shows her patients compassion.

Never underestimate the healing power of your breath. As I regularly tell students, observe your breath. Observe it when you rest and as you move. Let your breath calm you, cool you, warm you, serve you. Breathe, then breathe again, before you scream harsh words at a loved one, when someone cuts you off on the road, when you’re pissed at your boss, when you feel like you’re losing your mind. And cherish your breath, because it keeps you strong and alive.

To learn simple yogic breathing techniques, click on the Pranayama tab.  

Lotus Mind illustration: © Antaratma Images | Dreamstime.com; Your heart in my hands photo: © Mitar Gavric | Dreamstime.com 

Saturday, August 8th, 2015

Sleep Fat, Walk Thin

Cats do it, so can we

 

Cats are born yogis. Acrobatic and agile, they can gracefully and gleefully eclipse the dazzling moves of a seasoned vinyasa practitioner. Restorative yoga? Cats invented it. Savasana?  Cats live it.

To me, what is more impressive than the cat’s innate physical yogic talent is her curly-clawed grasp of the importance of deep relaxation, a key benefit of yoga practice.  Kitty is the master of pure, peaceful, bony-heavy rest. Unlike many of her two-legged friends, the cat does not need planning, preparation, or convincing to settle down and relax. The four-legged yogi shifts from bristling activity to total stillness in mere minutes, maybe with a bit of kneading foreplay to set the mood. Instant Maui.

Cats “jump in a streak” and “walk thin,” wrote American poet Rosalie Moore in her poem Catalogue, but 

Cats sleep fat.

They spread out comfort underneath them 

Like a good mat . . . 

I frequently share an excerpt from Moore’s poem at the beginning of class as a reminder that our bodies and minds benefit from the balance of movement and stillness. We regularly hear about the importance of physical fitness, but the benefits of mental stillness are not as widely touted. Studies have suggested that yoga, particularly the practice’s breathing, meditative, and restorative aspects, can help support our emotional well-being in many ways: 

Unlike humans, cats are naturally skilled at remaining present, or “in the moment,” an important tool for mental health. Recently, I was talking on the phone with my sweet cat Selene dozing nearby. As I chatted, I gently stroked Selene’s silky tail between my fingers. In conversation, I began recounting the details of a minor car accident I’d had the previous day. (Memo to self: shift to lower gear when driving down Leewood Drive in a snowstorm.) The fear I felt during the event fresh in my mind, I unknowingly tensed my body. A loud hiss from Selene, followed by a sharp-toothed nip, brought me back to the moment.

Inadvertently, I realized, my soft touch on Selene’s tail had hardened to a pinch while I was in the grip of anxiety. I looked sheepishly at Selene, expecting an accusatory scowl, but was met with the face of serenity.  Selene did not haughtily rescind her tail or move away. She had shifted from “fight or flight” to “lie down and light” with flip-a-switch ease, while I, although safe in my armchair, was physically and emotionally reliving my slippery slide down a busy snowy street.

Being only human after all, my instincts and abilities are very different from Selene’s. But through a yoga practice that soothes body, breath, and mind, I continually work to overcome my innate two-legged foolishness. On my yoga mat, I can sleep fat, spread out the comfort, and bask in it. 

Sunday, January 18th, 2015

If Cinderella Practiced Yoga

In her own little corner, on her own little mat . . .

What is your favorite Cinderella story? I really enjoyed Russell Crowe’s Cinderella Man from 2005, but when I was kid, I was crazy about the 1965 television version of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Cinderella, which introduced a swan-necked Lesley Ann Warren as the title wench.

I was reminded of my childhood favorite last weekend, when my husband attended the Chiller Theatre Expo in Parsippany, New Jersey. The biannual Chiller event is ComicCon-like geekfest that celebrates B horror films, sci-fi legends, classic 70s television, punk rock, and porn stars with equal zeal. For Mike and his college buddies, it’s a chance to hang out, reminisce, and get pictures and autographs from an eclectic group of celebrities. 

Lesley Ann Warren at Chiller Expo with her charming prince.

 

Also a child of the sixties (and a romantic), Mike was psyched that Lesley Ann Warren (sans glass slippers) was in the Chiller house this year. He had his picture taken with her, posted the shot on his Facebook page, and told me several times how dainty and lovely Ms. Warren was in person. When I joked that the actress “looks a lot like me, only way prettier,” Mike didn’t even notice my bid for false flattery: he was completely enchanted by Cinderella, even when dressed in her modern-day civvies.

From the moment our home was infused with Cinderella’s magic, I began thinking about the vintage Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, particularly its brilliant score. I remembered the start of my favorite tune, “In My Own Little Chair,” by heart: 

 

In my own little corner, in my own little chair, 

I can be whatever I want to be. 

On the wings of my fancy I can fly anywhere,

and the world will open its arms to me.

Cinderella sings this number while resigned to her dingy place by the hearth. To escape the reality of her sad existence, she imagines herself a grand lady, beautifully dressed.  For days I kept mind-singing the lyrics I remembered, finding comfort in sharing Cinderella’s peaceful little chair, and because all things relate to yoga, I contemplated her idea of “being”.  

Cinderella uses her quiet place as a launch pad from the present into fantasy. (I remembered her imagining grand adventures, like fighting dragons, but when I checked the lyrics prior to writing this blog, I was disappointed to see that her daydreams were all stereotypically girly, but that’s another story.) Cinderella wants more than she has, and who can blame her? Having to deal with a meanie stepmother and jerk stepsisters, even without the tedious chores, can ruin anyone’s day. 

In our yoga practice, we sing a different song. With our days brimming with the adventure of living even an ordinary life, we long to eschew the more, and welcome the less. In our own little corner, on our own little mat, we can be . . . forget about the rest of lyric. Simply be. Let go of the desire to do anything, go anywhere, or wish for something different. Particularly during Savasana, our final pose of rest, we can be content with nothing but the reality of our unique self.

All week long, I reminded my yoga students of this key learning of yoga. That we are complete just as we are. We don’t need fairy godmothers or bejeweled ball gowns to experience beauty. In our own little corner, on our own little mat, we can find a few moments of paradise. And what can be more magical than that?

Saturday, November 1st, 2014

Hocus Crocus

Celebrating the magic of springtime 

 

After this endlessly woeful winter, seeing a long-forgotten piece of sidewalk emerge from the snow was a welcome first sign of spring. Even patches of plain old New York dirt were starting to look pretty darn festive.

Here on the East Coast, the season has finally taken a firm hold. Not only can we see veritable expanses of cement, but flowers–that quaint, old-fashioned sign of spring–are beginning to bloom. In our front yard, dainty golden and purple crocuses are showing their true colors, while tulips are preparing to follow the lead of their little buddies. 

Already the slim crocus stirs the snow,

And soon yon blanched fields will bloom again

                                                           – Oscar Wilde

At our feeders, year-round backyard regulars, including cardinals and black-capped chickadees, are increasing in both number and cheery sounds. Some of the birds we haven’t seen much of this winter–robins, house finches, and white-breasted nuthatches–are making more regular appearances. For our pet kitties, this means nonstop windowsill entertainment, with “Cat TV” airing on all channels, all day long.

A time of renewal in both physical and spiritual realms, the season of life and light can inspire us to rejuvenate inside and out.  To freshen our homes, we open windows and invite the fresh air in. We spruce up weather-beaten yards, planting new flowers and purging fallen branches.  To perk up our aching winter-weary bodies, we might carve out more time for walking and other outdoor exercise, or renew our commitment to our yoga practice. 

How do you spell springtime? I am fortunate to be married to a constant gardener. Mike recently returned from a local nursery with boxed crops of baby lettuce that he’ll plant when the weather is a bit warmer. In the meantime, while I taught yoga this morning, Mike planted a small tree in our front yard. An Eastern redbud, it will offer a springtime crown of pretty-in-pink blooms when it grows up. (And if we’re lucky, it might attract some hummingbirds.)

Farmer Mike and his baby tree

As you go through the days ahead, take some time to savor the sights and sounds of the season. Admire a flower, listen to (and maybe learn) the cardinal’s sweet song or the chickadee’s cheeky call. Just a few minutes of quiet contemplation can help freshen the mind and make your day–and your outlook–a bit brighter. 

Namaste. 

Sunday, April 6th, 2014

Weathering Sandy

These past weeks have put Atlas-sized stresses on our community and neighboring ones. Here most of us lost power for six days and more; children lost a week of school. The elderly mother of one of my students had to evacuate from her home on Long Island, only to learn that her entire first floor had been washed away. Tragically, another student of mine lost two of her cousins when a tree fell on their car in New Jersey.

What helps you get through troubled times: prayer? yoga? love? All of the above? A new (and wise) colleague of mine put it this way: “Yoga, meditation, shamanic practice, sacred dance, chanting . . . whatever it is that connects us to Higher Mind, Great Mystery, HaShem, God . . . not only makes our time here as humans more possible, it strengthens the field for everyone.”

We all deal with stress in different ways. For those of you who live in lower Westchester, consider sharing the gift of your presence at my Candlelight Restorative Yoga class at Yoga Haven in Tuckahoe. We meet from 6 to 7:15 pm on one or two Wednesdays throughout each month, and bask in a nurturing practice to help quiet the mind and soothe the body. A restorative yoga practice is one of many ways to cope with stress, and is one of the tools in my stress-beating toolbox. Consider adding it to your toolbox as well. Namaste.

       

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

Stuff I Learned From Tina Fey

Bossypants meets yogapants

 

Does it make you feel uncomfortable when someone hands you a book and enthusiastically insists you read it? Makes me feel pressured and cranky, and I usually wiggle-worm out of taking the book any way possible (“I have a big pile of books waiting to be read already . . .”; “the contact lens for my third eye is damaged and I can’t read for a while” . . .)

Recently, my wiggling didn’t work, because my yoga teacher Karen Safire looked me straight in my third eye and said she thought the book in her hand–just returned from another student–would make me laugh. The hot book being passed from yogi to yogi in her class wasn’t about yoga (take that, William Broad!), nor was it brand new. Bossypants (Reagan Arthur Books, 2011), penned by Tina Fey and published last year, is part humor, part memoir, and wholly wise. And, yes, it did make me laugh–from the first sneak peek (before yoga class) and every night that followed (so hard my husband thought I was coughing up a hair ball.)

In Bossypants, Tina touched on themes dear to my crankypants heart: anxiety, work frustrations, weight gain and self-image, parenting challenges, and being pissed off in general in a world that often still expects women to suppress their anger and never look harried. Tina’s narrative is honest, ethical, and smart, and will have you nodding your head so much that it may, unfortunately, trigger neck pain.

Since Tina didn’t offer any tips on improving Downward-Facing Dog that I can pass on, I thought I’d share a few of my favorite little somethings from her book:

Glamourous photos of thin celebrities are a crock and you should ignore them. While recounting her own celebrity photo shoot experiences (including being squeezed into a sizes-too-small dress that was left open in back for the photo), Tina advises: “Don’t ever feel inadequate when you look at magazines. Just remember that every person that you see on a cover has a bra and underwear hanging out a gaping hole in the back. Everyone. Heidi Klum, the Olsen Twins, David Beckham, everybody.”

It was Tina who wrote what is for me one of the most hilarious SNL commercial parodies ever–for “Annuale,” the birth control pill that allows the modern, busy woman to have just one period a year (“that’s all I have time for!”). For me, this skit is right up there with Colon Blow cereal and the classic Bass-O-Matic. Click here to view the skit on Hulu (don’t blame me if you cough up a hairball).

Blondes really do have more fun. Tina writes: “Why do I call it ‘yellow’ hair and not ‘blond’ hair? Because I’m pretty sure everybody calls my hair ‘brown.’ When I read fairy tales to my daughter I always change the world ‘blond’ to ‘yellow,’ because I don’t want her to thank that blond hair is somehow better.” Unfortunately it didn’t work: Tina admits that her daughter always left her reversible Sleeping Beauty/Snow White doll on her bed  Sleeping Beauty (blond) side up. Why? She told mom that she didn’t like Snow White’s hair. Sigh.

Thanks to the movie and fashion industries, no woman has permission to be happy with the way she looks. In the “All Girls Must Be Everything” chapter, Tina lists the many physical attributes women are supposed to have to satisfy today’s insane beauty standards. The lengthy list includes (but is not limited to!) long Swedish legs, small Japanese feet, the abs of a lesbian gym owner, the hips of a nine-year old boy, and the arms of First Lady Michelle Obama. Dream on, guys!

Ms. Bossypants got some of her best career advice from Grover. Is there a difficult person between you and what you want in your workplace? If so, Tina suggests that you model your strategy after “Over! Under! Through!” a classic Sesame Street song. Don’t waste time trying to change opinions, she suggests. Instead, go over, under, or through your stumbling block. (I would add that practicing yoga can help make us flexible enough to do the over and under part.)

“Sleep when your baby sleeps” does not give new moms enough “Me Time.” Tina writes: “Everyone knows this classic tip, but I say why stop there? Scream when your baby screams. Take Benadryl when your baby takes Benadryl. And walk around pantless when your baby walks around pantless.” I wish someone had given me this advice when my son was a baby.

Another yogi is now reading the copy of Bossypants that was loaned to me, so I can’t hand it to you and insist that you read it. I hope you find a bossypants yoga teacher who has the book and who’s willing to pass on her copy. Don’t worry: Tina Fey won’t mind if you borrow the book rather than pay for it–she says so right in the book! And for this and many other reasons, I will always think of Tina Fey as Awesomepants.

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Homeschooling and Peaceful Parenting

A mom and her daughter discover that learning is as natural as breathing

by Miriam Shepard-O’Mahony

When I left Katy at school on her first day of kindergarten in 2003, I walked home in tears. I was crying for the idyllic years of her early childhood that I thought I’d never experience again. We woke when we felt like it and followed our own bliss each day. Katy was learning from playing and pretending, coloring, watching movies and TV shows, and listening to me read aloud. She was never bored and was a bright, cheerful little person. If I had known that day what the experience of school would do to her spirit, I would have been crying for another reason.

Six years later, I found myself filling out the forms to remove Katy from school. Two years previously, the school system had labeled her as learning disabled because she wasn’t reading and doing math on grade level. They had placed her in special education classes, which were accomplishing nothing. Katy would be moving on to middle school that fall, and I was sure that if she remained in special ed she would lose all of her will to learn. Although I had taught high school and college, the prospect of teaching my own child made me feel nervous. Nevertheless, it was a relief to say goodbye to the soul-shriveling mentality of the public school system that had transformed my cheerful 4-year-old into a miserable, school-hating 10-year-old.

Up to that point, I had never considered homeschooling, but my options had run dry. (We had tried a rigorous tutoring program that improved Katy’s reading skills, but she hated every minute of it.) That summer, I would do my research and explore how to go about homeschooling in the fall.

Miriam’s haute couture for fashion dolls

I’d been an at-home mom since Katy was born, so I thought that the transition to homeschooling would not be a dramatic life change for me. However, when Katy was in school, I’d use those seven hours to hone a craft that had fascinated me for years: designing and sewing haute couture for fashion dolls. My work had been shown in doll and craft magazines, and I was selling my designs on eBay. I was making a name for myself in the doll collecting community. While my daughter’s welfare came first, I had more than a twinge of self-pity when I anticipated giving up my creative work to homeschool come September.

When I pictured myself homeschooling, I imagined that I’d transform into teacher/mom at around 9 am, and Katy would cheerfully sit at the dining room table, do worksheets, and read textbooks. But within the first week of homeschooling that autumn in 2009, I discovered that the “school-at-home” model was not going to work for us: Katy ran from the room crying hysterically after I’d attempted a lesson on subtraction.

While talking to Katy later when we were calmer, I realized that her self-esteem had been damaged in school beyond anything I’d imagined. Everything “schoolish” filled her with loathing. Home had always been a haven; now it seemed as if school had invaded her home and her mother, and there would be no escape. I knew it would be impossible to teach her anything unless I used force, which I was not willing to do.

At this pivotal point in Katy’s and my life, I came across the philosophy of “unschooling” and the writings of home education advocate Sandra Dodd. Unschooling revealed a way to respect Katy’s interests and skills and put me in the role of learning facilitator and partner rather than authoritarian instructor/antagonist. Unschooling is often described as “peaceful parenting.”

A key principle of unschooling is that learning is something we do all the time and is as natural as breathing. Whenever our imagination and interest is engaged by new information or skills, we are learning. It doesn’t just happen in school, and it doesn’t have to be divided into academic subject areas. It doesn’t even require teachers.

Unschooling parents encourage their children to pursue their interests and live according to their own schedule, without formal lessons. There is a strong emphasis on respecting your child and thinking of him or her as a person, not as a different form of human life that you can coerce. Since I had a bright, independent child who did not respond to traditional didactic methods, I thought that this approach would work for us.

Whenever our imagination and interest is engaged by new

information or skills, we are learning. . . .

In the years that have followed, Katy has flourished. She spends hours at the computer exploring Web sites and using art and editing software. I discovered that YouTube isn’t just a place to watch cat videos or Justin Bieber–it is an amazing entertainment and information resource. Katy developed her own taste in music by watching music videos, found how-to videos on a variety of topics, and even learned some Japanese language.

One of Katy’s favorite things is watching reviews of classic TV shows. She has  developed an amazing understanding of plot and character vocabulary as a result. Another passion, watching toy reviews, inspired Katy to create her own reviews on YouTube. She found Japanese Anime on the Internet, which led to her to Manga literature, a popular form of Japanese graphic novels. When she started haunting the Manga shelves at the bookstore, I was delighted: it was just a joy to see her finally reading for pleasure. Most recently, Katy discovered superhero comic books. You’d be surprised at how much she’s learned about World War II, Greek mythology, and the science of DNA and radiation by reading comic books and then asking questions and doing further research on her own.

Today, my 13-year-old daughter and I live a life that is similar to the idyllic existence we had before she entered kindergarten. There is no more nagging Katy to get out of bed, get dressed, breakfasted, and out the door to be in time for school. It doesn’t matter what time she wakes up now, as she has the whole day to learn: her “school” day is her own to shape.

As for me, I discovered that homeschooling allows more time for my creative endeavors than I’d thought possible. Free from the stress and constraints of the daily school schedule, both Katy and I have more energy. And because I allow Katy the time she needs to attend to her own projects and passions, she understands my need to work through a project that has me in thrall.

Free from the stress and constraints of the daily school schedule,

both Katy and I have more energy. . . .

I am no longer the arbiter of Katy’s bedtime. She goes to sleep when she is tired. Usually we end the day together, watching TV shows we both enjoy and talking about what we did that day and what we plan for the next.

There are as many ways to homeschool as there are families. For children who have difficulty functioning in the classroom because of physical or mental differences, children who require individual attention and extra time to figure things out, and children who want to focus on one skill or interest at a time, homeschooling can be a wonderful experience. When you are not spending all your energy trying to comply with the arbitrary academic demands of the school system, but rather focusing on your child’s developing needs and abilities, life gets much simpler and focused. Having my child learning at home has given my husband and me a more peaceful life and a happier child than I would ever have imagined.

For Further Reading

John Caldwell Holt. How Children Learn (Classics in Child Development). Da Capo Press; 1995.

John Holt and Pat Farenga. Teach Your Own: The John Holt Book of Homeschooling. Perseus Publishing, 2003.

Sandra Dodd and Pam Sorooshian. Sandra Dodd’s Big Book of Unschooling. Lulu; 2009.

John Taylor Gatto and Thomas Moore. Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling. New Society Publishers; 2002.

 


Miriam Shepard O’Mahony has a BA in English from Hofstra University and an MA in English from Georgetown University. She was working on her PhD dissertation in English at the University of Maryland when she decided she’d rather have a baby than another degree. Her haute couture fashion doll clothing, YumYum couture, has appeared in doll and craft magazines and has earned first prizes in competition. Miriam lives in Maryland with her husband Kevin, daughter Katy, and two cats.

Mother/daughter photo: © Avava | Dreamstime.com; doll photo courtesy Miriam Shepard O’Mahoney

 

Saturday, April 28th, 2012

If Life Is a Shopping Cart . . .

Can you survive the horror of a checkout delay at the A&P?

I don’t usually grocery shop on a weekday, but today was my last chance to use both a $10-off coupon and a 5% reward coupon that I’d forgotten when I shopped this past Saturday at the Scarsdale A&P. At 11 am the parking lot was half-empty, the store uncrowded, and my buddy Walter at the deli counter was ready with his grin and good humor. Add the sunshiny weather, the discount coupons, and a shopping list that included Easter chocolates, and you can surely understand my upbeat mood. 

Some of the other shoppers were not so chipper, however. When I was about halfway through the aisles and making a turn at the front of the store, I heard loud complaining, then noticed that the four self-service checkout stations were closed. The regular checkout lines were therefore a little longer than you’d expect, and boy were folks cranky about it: 

“Look at her, she’s just standing there!”

“I can’t believe they only have two registers open!”

She’s so slow!”

I cringed at the sting of the words, which were certainly heard by the store staff. Anger can make something as harmless as a pronoun sound so nasty.  I can be a major cranky-pants, too (see my sourpuss blog entry below), but I found it ironic that we are on the brink of two major religious holidays that celebrate renewal, reflection, and appreciation, and here people were getting their tulip bulbs in a twist over a minor checkout delay. (It’s not like they were stuck on the Long Island Expressway.)

Yogic philosophy teaches us that we can avoid suffering. And one way to do that is to remain rooted in the present. I don’t think it’s the checkout line itself that triggers anger and frustration, but rather the idea that it will take you longer to get to where you are going next. And that it will take more time to do what you “need” to be doing. Or that you could and should have done something different to avoid the horror of it all. 

I can only imagine the inner dialogue of my mildly inconvenienced fellow A&P shoppers: “How long is this going to take?” When am I going to get out of here?”  “Now I’m going to be late for my doctor appointment/my lunch/my Easter bikini wax!” “I knew I should have gone to the Stop & Shop!”

The self-service checkout lanes opened about ten minutes later, and the lines–and the customer bitchfest–had evaporated by the time I was ready to check out.  So, yes, I was spared the horror of it all. Even better, I took home more than a foil-wrapped chocolate bunny and a brisket of beef: I was reminded to appreciate what’s in my shopping cart, rather than worry about when I’ll get to empty it.

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

When Is a Chore Not a Bore?

Nothing spells yoga to me like a sink full of dirty dishes

 

To open my yoga classes this week, I’ve been asking students to think about a chore they enjoy: a mundane, simple task that you do regularly and actually like. Think about what supplies you need to get the job done, and what you focus on while you’re doing the task. Consider, too, how you feel with the chore is done–reflect for a moment on your shiny, clean results. 

When I do a chore I like–such as washing dishes–I can feel fully rooted in the moment. I focus on the simple, repetitive movements of sudsing the sponge, scrubbing the dish, rinsing with clean water.  It’s a time to set aside the wouldas, couldas, and especially the shouldas, and focus on the task at hand. And how I love the gleam of a clean plate, and seeing all the glistening items stacked neatly in the dish rack for drying. 

Maybe it’s the tangibility of completion that is so satisfying. So much of what we do at work and in our lives doesn’t yield results we can see, and the road to completion is long. Web sites take months to design; sales goals might only be met at the end of a year. And then there’s always another project or goal on its heels. A clean plate is more finite–I did what I needed to do, and now I can rest.

For me, yoga practice is a bit like washing the dishes. As I mindfully go through each move in each asana, I can remain in the moment: rooted on the mat, present in my mind. Distractions don’t matter. And at the end, I feel all shiny, just like that gleaming, squeaky-clean plate. 

I invite you to think about a chore that you enjoy. Washing windows?  Weeding your garden?  Think about the satisfied, peaceful feeling you receive at the end of your task, and savor that feeling for a while.

 And if by the way your favorite chore is dusting, give me a call: I have a shelf full of tchotchkes waiting for you.

Tuesday, February 21st, 2012
Top of Page