Sunflower Mandala

Archive for the ‘Stress management’ Category

Making Changes and Mixing Mocktails

A recipe for success: Mixing mocktails helped this health-conscious yogi revitalize her energy while making a major life change

by Reyna Gonzalez

As a child, I loved watching old black-and-white movies, and one of my favorite stars was Shirley Temple. Like many others, I was drawn to her charismatic presence onscreen and wowed by her tap dancing. I loved all things Shirley Temple, so when I discovered in my teens that there was a cocktail named after her, I was determined to have one. Back then, I felt that ginger ale itself was a special-occasion drink, but the Shirley Temple—with the added grenadine syrup and the maraschino cherry garnish—now that was pure sophistication! The Shirley Temple was the perfect summer drink for me when I was a youngster, but as an adult, I felt that the drink credited as the “original mocktail”–a cocktail without alcohol—could use a splash or two of vodka. Hence the Moscow Mule, with ginger beer and vodka, became my favorite grown-up summer cocktail.

It’s still summer time, with the Labor Day holiday on the way, and there is nothing quite as refreshing and festive as a cocktail served over ice and garnished with seasonal fruit or the quintessential paper umbrella. Beer and wine are the norm in the cooler months, but cocktails take center stage in summer. The challenge is that they’re so refreshing that you might be tempted to have one too many. Another disadvantage is that cocktails can be high in sugar, from both the simple syrups used to sweeten them and the alcohol itself. For those who do not drink alcohol, a mocktail is a delicious and equally festive alternative.

Getting Into the Mocktail Mix

I began mixing mocktails in early 2018 when I decided to go alcohol-free. It wasn’t a New Year’s resolution; I was not “sober curious”; nor was I joining the growing Dry January movement that had started in 2014 in the UK.  That January, I had decided it was time to make changes and move on to the next phase in my life. Selling my home of 23 years was part of the plan.

If you have ever sold your home, you know that the physical and emotional work is stressful.  As a procrastinator, I knew I had my work cut out for me, and I was concerned that this endeavor was going to drive me to drink, literally. In turn, that would only slow the process down: I had learned that drinking alcohol slowed my mind as well as my movements, which I could not afford at this demanding time. If I was going to have any chance at success, I would have to go cold turkey. 

The seed of inspiration for going alcohol-free had been planted several months earlier, when a colleague of mine, Jennifer Rajala, took on an “Alcohol-Free Summer Challenge” on Facebook. I honestly thought that she was setting herself up for a summer filled with deprivation and no fun. She documented her journey on Facebook, sharing videos of herself mixing mocktails. I was delighted to see that she was clearly having lots of fun, not to mention that her skin was glowing.

Truthfully, I was curious. I had done an elimination diet in the past. It required avoiding several foods as well as alcohol, but that was only for 30 days at a time to reboot metabolism. The result was better sleep, more energy, and some weight loss. Still, a whole summer without my favorite cocktail, the Moscow Mule, didn’t hold any appeal.

I needed a bigger incentive to inspire me to take on such a challenge, which came when I met with the realtors that January. They walked through my house, with piles of memories of the last 23 years tucked away in every corner. The realtors said that it would take at least a year to declutter the house to prepare it for market. I was adamant that the house would be ready sooner, and with my desire to move quickly, I needed a clear head and laser focus. I now had incentive to go alcohol-free, at least for the time it would take to prepare my house for market.

For those who do not drink alcohol, a mocktail is a delicious and equally festive alternative.

I made my decision based on knowing that, with age, my body had become more sensitive to the effects of alcohol. A couple of glasses of pinot noir with dinner would result in a restless night’s sleep and foggy thinking the next day. I was also aware that steady alcohol consumption could lead to weight gain. In contrast, not drinking alcohol would likely result in a variety of benefits, including improved sleep and concentration. But would this task be doable?

In January, avoiding my favorite cocktails was easy, as it was wintertime. But I had grown accustomed to having a glass or two of pinot noir with dinner. Giving that up would be challenging, because I found the process of decluttering very stressful, and the glass of wine at the end of the day was something I had looked forward to. 

Fun With Fizzies

I was determined to stay focused. As an Arbonne consultant since 2013, I had access to a variety of vegan supplements that provided me with nutrients and antioxidants. One supplement in particular helped keep me on task: the Energy Fizz Stick. Better known as a “Fizzy,” this powdered drink is formulated with Vitamins B6 and 12, chromium, coenzyme Q10 and green coffee bean extract. When mixed with water, this powder fizzes—hence the name—and becomes a refreshing and energizing drink. So Fizzies (or just a glass of plain water) replaced pinot noir at dinnertime.

By the time spring rolled around, the house was decluttered and we were down to painting and making minor repairs. But as warm weather approached, I yearned for my beloved Moscow Mule. The cool, spicy, sparkling drink with a hint of lime screamed summer to me, but I had come too far to be sidetracked and stuck to my Fizzies. Still, I craved more variety (at the time, Fizzies came in only two flavors) and fun.

Then I remembered my friend’s mocktail videos. Inspired by her creativity, I concocted some of my own. In my early days of mixing mocktails, the Fizzies provided the sweet and carbonated base, a key element in mocktails. The fun part was experimenting with different fruits and herbs to enhance the fizz drink. These refreshing drinks kept me energized and focused, and the house was ready for market at the end of May of that same year. What’s more, it sold in ten days!

To Drink or Not to Drink?

I felt a great sense of accomplishment, not only for being able to abstain from alcohol for several months, but also for being able to tackle the monumental task of decluttering a house in a fraction of the time that the professionals had estimated. I felt so good that I wanted to remain alcohol-free. What this would mean socially? I wondered.

Drinking alcohol is a social norm. Or so I thought until I read an article online entitled “Inside the Growing Trend of Low- and No-Alcohol Beverages” by Taylor Dunn for ABC News. In her 2019 article, Dunn reported that the non-alcoholic beverage market was expected to reach over $1.6 billion in sales by 2024. Furthermore, Dunn noted that conversations regarding low- and no-alcohol consumption on social media were on the rise, while conversations regarding casual and heavy alcohol drinking had significantly declined. Author Dunn quoted Devon Bergman, CEO of Social Standards, a consumer analytics company, who credited this shift to consumer focus on health and wellness. 

My friends supported my decision. Many of them embrace healthy lifestyle choices, and I peaked their interest in mocktails when I started to post pictures of them on my social media. I haven’t convinced anyone to go alcohol-free (yet!), but you might consider having a mocktail with dinner, instead of a glass of wine, from time to time.  It would be a great alternative that is fun, delicious, and beneficial.

. . . . you might consider having a mocktail with dinner, instead of a glass of wine, from time to time.

Whether you are choosing to go alcohol-free or looking for a new tasty and  festive drink to enjoy, there are a few key elements that go into mixing mocktails. The ingredients must be fresh, bold tasting, and varied to add complexity to the drink. Herbs, spices, freshly squeezed fruit juices, acidic juices, and sparkling water all add layers of flavor. When these are poured into a cocktail glass over ice and garnished, they will compete with the taste and presentation of any alcoholic cocktail.

While the taste of ginger ale in the Moscow Mule is still my go-to summer flavor, I also crave the taste of summer fruits like watermelon and pineapple in my mocktails.  Below I share three of my mocktail recipes using these summer favorites. Two recipes call for Arbonne products; however, I have included substitutes for these items. Perhaps these recipes will inspire you to try mixing mocktails on your own. Enjoy!

Reyna’s Mocktail Recipes

Watermelon Daiquiri Mocktail (serves 2)


1 cup watermelon, chopped into chunks

1 lime: juice one half and cut two round slices from the other half for garnish

4-6 ice cubes

6 oz water

1 packet Arbonne Energy Fizz Sticks, pomegranate-flavored *

2 oz sparkling water 

2 paper umbrellas (optional, but highly recommended!)


Blend the first 4 ingredients to a slushy consistency. Pour the Fizz Stick into the blender and pulse to blend into the slush. Pour into two wine or cocktail glasses and add 1 oz of sparkling water to each glass. Garnish with the lime rounds and paper umbrellas.

*If you don’t have the Energy Fizz Sticks, substitute with 1 oz pomegranate juice, up to 1 tbsp of simple syrup, and extra sparkling water.

Piña Colada Mocktail (serves 2)


1 cup frozen pineapple chunks

6 oz pineapple juice (use water instead to reduce the amount of sugar)

4 tbsp coconut cream

¼ tsp vanilla extract

dash of cinnamon

2 cherries (for garnish)


Blend all ingredients. Pour into two cocktail glasses. Garnish with cherries.

Herbs, spices, freshly squeezed fruit juices, acidic juices, and sparkling water all add layers of flavor.

Moscow Mocktail Mule a la Reyna (serves 2)


8 oz iced herbal tea (Arbonne’s Herbal Detox Tea is perfect)

2 tsp freshly grated ginger (or more if you want that mule to kick!)

1 lime: juice one half and cut two round slices from the other half for garnish

6 mint leaves: 3 finally chopped and the other 3 for garnish

1 packet Arbonne Energy Fizz Sticks, citrus-flavored **

2 oz sparkling water

**If you don’t have the Energy Fizz Sticks, substitute with the freshly squeezed juice of half an orange and up to 1 tbsp of simple syrup.


Combine the first 5 ingredients in a cocktail shaker (a large shaker cup can be used instead) and shake up carefully (the Fizz Stick is carbonated). Strain the liquid into two cocktail glasses filled with ice cubes. Add 1 oz sparkling water to each glass. Garnish with the remaining mint leaves and lime rounds.

A certified yoga teacher, Reiki Master, and an Independent Consultant with Arbonne International, Reyna Gonzalez enjoys sharing her love for healthy living. Reyna feels that while quarantine restricted her from her favorite activities, it did offer her a special time of reconnecting with her two sons and partner David. When restrictions are lifted, Reyna is looking forward to going back to playing tennis and dancing tango. You can contact Reyna through her website,

Photo credits: Summer Cocktails: ID 68575061 © Aas2009 |; Moscow Mule Cocktail:  ID 101989267 © Petr Goskov |; Lemonade With Fruit: ID 19725660  © Zybr78 |; Asian cocktail umbrellas: ID 534898 ©

Tuesday, August 25th, 2020

How to Break Out of Pandemic Prison

Find redemption on your yoga mat



When the coronavirus arrived in New York early this year, we, like Andy Dufresne in the 1994 film The Shawshank Redemption, began a painstaking, maddening, life-changing trek, breaking through concrete-wall obstacles stained with tears. It would be over soon, some said; it was just another flu, said others. But there was seemingly no end to the pandemic prison at the tunnel’s end, only more obstacles and challenges.

Portrayed by Tim Robbins in the film version of the Stephen King novella Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, Andy Dufresne is wrongly imprisoned for murders that he did not commit. Thwarted in his attempts to clear his name and win his freedom, he forms a painstaking, years-long escape plan that starts with chipping away his concrete cell wall–piece by small piece with a black market rock hammer (“a miniature pickaxe,” Andy tells his friend and confidante “Red” Redding, played by Morgan Freeman in the film)–to make a hole just big enough to squeeze through, and culminates with a torturous crawl through a stench-filled sewer pipe.

We, like Andy, have clawed our way through a tunnel of muck. Since we were sentenced to pandemic prison, we have battled fear, isolation, job loss, and illness, armed against a faceless enemy with the flimsiest of tools: cloth masks and rubber gloves. The doors of schools, places of worship, and businesses were shuttered. Many of us have lost family members, friends, or coworkers, or experienced illness or hospitalization ourselves. (Even so, thank God Covid-19 is not as deadly as it is contagious, or we’d be facing down the dawn of an extinction event right now.)


“Andy had gone into that pipe. . . . Five hundred yards. The length of five football fields. Just shy of half a mile. He crawled that distance, maybe with one of those small pen lights in his hand, maybe with nothing but a couple of books of matches. He crawled through foulness that I either can’t imagine or don’t want to imagine.”

                                                          -from Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemptionby Stephen King


Now, more than five months after the statewide New York lockdown was initiated, here we stand. Slowly, painstakingly, we are reclaiming our lives. We work if we can, shop when we need to, and worship via Zoom. Students took winter, spring, and now summer classes on line. And the American heroes—our healthcare workers, essential workers, and first responders—continue to support us and save lives. 

More possibilities are available now than back in March. With precautions in place, we can go to restaurants and hair salons. As of this writing (in mid-August), many students are expected to return to school classrooms in September, and churches will hold in-person services–again, with precautions in place. But it’s definitely not the life we had before, and may not be for a long time.

Meanwhile, we yogis continue to do what yogis do best. Stand strong, on our mats, in Tadasana (mountain pose). Rise up and balance in Vrksasana (tree pose). Take the graceful form of warriors in the Virabhadrasana poses, strengthening muscle and bone while cultivating inner peace. And ending our yoga practices in Savasana, or deep relaxation, to help reprogram our nervous system to a soothing setting.

In winter and spring, we practiced on our own in cramped bedrooms, watched yoga videos on line, and took classes via online platforms like Zoom. And because we New Yorkers played nice and wore our masks, we can now enjoy outdoor yoga in the warm summer sun—through our local yoga studio  (with proper social distancing, of course) or privately on our patios or decks, if we’re lucky enough to have them. I wouldn’t say so far, so good; more like so far, good enough–for now.


“. . . . Andy Dufresne who had waded in shit and came out clean on the other side, Andy Dufresne, headed for the Pacific.”

-from Rita Hayworth and The Shawshank Redemption, by Stephen King


Yogis may look gentle on the outside, but our hearts, bodies, and voices are strong. We are hammering away at the pandemic prison walls, and we’re not going quietly. “We are here!” I reminded my students in a recent Tuesday evening Zoom class. We’ve survived six sad, hard months of pandemic pressure, knowing that more challenging and probably stinky months lie ahead. 

We are here! We are here! We are here! Shout it loud and proud to whoever is listening, including the skeptics and pearl clutchers, as the wee Whos did in Dr. Seuss’s classic tale Horton Hears a Who! Most of all, shout it to yourself. Be proud of your determination, resilience, and strength, even on the days when you feel like crap. It’s normal to feel sad, scared, anxious, or depressed during life-changing, stressful times. But please don’t lock yourself in a mental pandemic prison of isolation and negativity. (I am not unfamiliar with this kind of cage; I have battled depression for most of my life.)

  • Take care of your emotional health and your body
  • Stay in touch with those you love and trust
  • Get outside for fresh air; if you can’t poke your head out of a window
  • Eat well and get some exercise
  • Make time for a good night’s sleep
  • Listen to and focus on the sounds of summer–bird songs and peeps, cricket chirps, and cicada crackles– especially if you need to spend most of your time indoors
  • Consider lessening or avoiding alcohol consumption at this time
  • Get in touch with a trusted healthcare provider if symptoms like anxiety and depression persist

Remember, yogis don’t build prison walls; like Andy Dufresne at the fictional Shawshank State Prison, we forge a pathway to lead us out of our cage, to freedom.

Thursday, August 13th, 2020

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,

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

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 |; Your heart in my hands photo: © Mitar Gavric | 

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. 


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 |; doll photo courtesy Miriam Shepard O’Mahoney


Saturday, April 28th, 2012
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