Reiki Positive: Steps to Generate Positivity

Steps to Generate Positivity

Photo courtesy of BK

Break the trance of fear, then shrink the fear with positive energy with these 7 tactics.

  • Name your fear so it cannot ambush you – All of us are afraid of something, but rather than run away or freeze, fear can open you to opportunity and growth. It’s a useful negative emotion to study and gain more knowledge about yourself. Always lock eyes with the fear, name it, and thank it for teaching you, BUT it is not in charge of your life – you are!
  • Listen to your intuition – Practice getting quiet in a deep trance style, with a drum, or guided, or silent, or walking, or in any way you can coax your “brain chatter” to quiet down. Intuition comes to each of us differently, keep listening for it. I hear my intuition when I write or when I listen to moving water. Search for your inner voice.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Passionate Energy

Passionate Energy

Photo courtesy of wishful photog

Winter vacation during a cold snap. 3 kindergarten boys + 2 moms + 1 little sister + local indoor playground = a sanity break for everyone. Climbing structure, water play, firefighter dress up, lunch break. The boys, used to eating together in the school cafeteria, plow through lunchbox contents and are ready to play far more quickly than we are. We suggest they go run around the open space nearby, farther from the tables but still within sight. There’s grabbing and take downs, but all three are smiling and well matched – rules I learned from another mom of boys.

Soon, little sis joins the boys. Big bro pretty quickly knocks her down and piles on top. Her expression shows she’s not hurt, but not happy. Their mom calls him off and running resumes. Then big bro tackles little sis again. This time, brother’s friend piles on top too. And I watch my bright eyed boy run gleefully to join the fun and hop on the pile.

Three boys, each twice her size.

One little girl underneath. Not smiling.

Walking the line between not my place and not OK, I call my own child off with the sharp tone he knows to heed immediately.

Not OK.

You guys are all the same size, so if you want to wrestle and everyone’s having fun, that’s ok. But the rule in our family is it’s not ok for bigger kids to pile up on a littler one.

During a visit to Grammy and Poppy’s, a gleeful tickle game turns to tears. Escaping my father’s grasp, he announces his intent, I’m gonna teww on you to Mama.

He’d said stop. Poppy didn’t listen.

Later that night, my dad and hubby get an earful from me.

You are the most important men in his life. His biggest examples. He needs to learn from YOU that when a person sets a rule about their body, a good man listens. He stops. This isn’t about tickling. This is teaching him about respecting rules for other people’s bodies.

Both understood. Both know my story.

When my parents talked about sex, they always wrapped the details in an unwavering abstinence message. We were good (read Christian) girls; we would of course wait until we were married. I remember vividly one conversation when I was 16 about my attraction to my on again/off again boyfriend, the boy who would later feature prominently in my most egregious #metoo narrative.

What did I see in him?

The phrase I’d use now is vibrant life force. Intensity. The word I knew then was passion.

Mom, trying to bridge the gap, tentatively ventured, you mean, sex?

No! I stomped. That’s exactly what I don’t mean. I knew that’s what you’d think!

Passion, joie de vivre, intensity, vibrancy. We tie them all to sex. Those qualities are certainly sexy, attractive. And so much more.

Yoga philosophy names brahmacarya as one of the ethical tenets of yoga. Brahmacarya. The sex one. Brahmacarya is commonly translated as celibacy. (What?! Yoga philosophy teaches celibacy?!?) This view singles out sex as separate, something to suppress. I find wisdom – and healing – from teachers who define brahmacarya as responsible sexual behavior along with the conservation or moderation of life force energy beyond sex.

It helps me to acknowledge the other ethical pillars brahmacarya stands on: nonviolence, truthfulness, and not taking from others. Like remembering to breathe deeply and taking time to stretch my muscles, working with these interwoven ethical practices improves my quality of life. Hopefully too, my quality of parenting.

So with my son, we are not pushing an abstinence message. We focus on consent. We try to use proper names for body parts and sex acts and answer the questions he asks, which are getting more and more explicit – gotta love sleepover camp! He’s still in the eeew stage (thankfully). But we know that will change, even if he can’t imagine why anyone would want to do that?!

Last weekend, we attended a small birthday party which featured abundant candy and caffeine in addition to cake. Their sugar high was exponentially frenzied. Five boys running and wrestling, tackling and tickling. Close to chaos, yet never spun out of control. And when the birthday boy’s little sis joined the fray, I was heartened to see my son slow down, pretend wrestling with her – half his age & size, moderating his energy to play appropriately with her smaller, younger body.

Maybe some of our teaching is getting through.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice. http://www.ginnyhamilton.com

Off the Mat: Homework Time

Homework Time

We’ve made it through another September. Once again, I successfully avoided the back to school shopping circus with my kid. Not yet fashion conscious, his drawer full of t-shirts proved sufficient. Still Minecraft obsessed, he made no request for a new backpack. And wondrously, our district provides the essentials: loose-leaf, composition books, and a stocked pencil box. I was shocked to discover this during Kindergarten orientation years back;  teachers, not parents provide school supplies?! Really??! Really. In our well-resourced town, the system provides the necessary study tools.

School came easily for me as a child. I did well without much effort. Until college. I finished eventually, but not without a little extra time and a lot of extra angst. Twenty years later – and a decade ago now – I began pursuing my current profession and line of study, yoga, mindfulness and healing modalities. The first week of yoga teacher training included an anatomy intensive. I was amazed at how quickly and easily my mind absorbed information about muscle mechanics while I was moving my body instead of staring at a lecture screen. My body provided the necessary study tools.

Last school year, I (finally!) completed my body work and Reiki teaching certifications. Briefly, I considered pursuing the next level of yoga teacher training or another in-depth healing course. But I paused. Instead, I committed to step back from course work and instead to go deeper with the tools I have.

One month into this school year, I regularly have to remind myself of this intention. How do I keep this commitment to study with no external assignment holding me to it? In theory, I can study on my own. I can read the masters – women like Devi, ChodronKemptonJudith – and apply their teachings to my life and work. Practically, the moments for reading and introspection get quickly filled with laundry and lunch making, and the myriad of other external commitments populating my to-do list. When I enroll in (and let’s be honest, pay for) a course, I make the time. Now that my commitment is wholly internal, qualms arise. Self-study feels self-centered. Self-indulgent.

And yet.

And yet I strive to live my life from a place of mindful awareness. I know yoga to be more than physical stretches, to be a practice that keeps me connected, mind body and spirit. Lately, my racing mind and sluggish body and…spirit? Oh yes, don’t forget spirit. Well, such signs point to the need to fulfill my internal commitment. To do my homework.

Yoga philosophy names svadyaya, or self-study, as one of the ten pillars for authentic living.  Originally, svadyaya referred to chanting sacred texts or mantras. Modern scholars have expanded this, for better or worse, tying svadyaya into the self-help culture.

Modern shaman Alberto Villodo encourages “study to know your own nature and cultivate wisdom.” Yoga Master Nischala Joy Devi defines svadyaya as the study of scripture, nature and introspection, then quotes Rabbi Hillel, “Study brings us wisdom. Wisdom brings us life.”  Sanskrit scholar Nicholai Bachman advises reading, listening, observing ourselves in action. “We may or may not like what we discover,” he cautions. Yet when we can look at ourselves insightfully, we are better able to grow our strengths and address our shortcomings.

While my habit of procrastinating by cleaning may have appealing outcomes, it is worth observing. My inner critic demanding professional “should” before exercise deserves curious attention. My interactions with challenging community members provide opportunities to find compassion.

My homework becomes applying the pillars of yoga philosophy – nonviolence, cleanliness, truthfulness, gratitude – to whatever life sets before me. At work. With my family and myself, my body, my home. This human experience provides the necessary study tools.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki Master Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice. www.ginnyhamilton.com

Reiki Positive: Love Is a Verb

Love is a Verb

Reiki means life force energy. Many of us refer to Reiki as Love, but love can be a tricky word. Love is multi-complex. To some, love means romantic love or adoration or a form of affection. I prefer using the term Reiki because it simplifies these complex ideas into simply offering positive energy to one another.

In Reiki, intentions are extremely powerful. Sending loving wishes to others is not unlike a prayer. In practicing loving-kindness meditations, it trains us to send love and kindness to ourselves, our friends, our family, our neighbors, and even our rivals. That is an act of love, opening the heart. To truly wish people well, even though you may not understand a word they speak or a belief they hold. That is love in action. Can you love the child that calls your son names? Can you love the child that teases your daughter? Can you love the parents that think you are a subpar parent? Love is accepting them regardless of those judgments. Someday it may be your kids doing those things or you being the subpar parent. No one said love was effortless. Read the rest of this entry »

Reiki Positive: Waves

Waves

Joy is never gone, it is simply forgotten.

Energy is everywhere, even in the waves. I believe in our human potential. I believe our natural disposition is JOYFUL and WHOLE.

I want balance. I don’t want to have my guard up anymore. As my kids grow, I get more and more worried for their safety. But what is safety? Are we ever really safe? How can I know if being on the highway is safer than sitting in a movie theater, is safer than flying in a plane, is safer than swimming in the ocean? Faith.

We went swimming with my kids at the ocean, and watching them was killing me. There were no lifeguards. It was cold. The breakers were hitting me in the crotch. The sun was burning my epidermis. So I decided to join them. Yee! Ha! It was fun to boogie board and enjoy the waves as they knocked into us. It takes your breath away. My kids couldn’t believe I was having fun with them. They were so incredibly happy that I was playing in the water.

On my last day of vacation, I watched from the beach around 7 PM as another family arrived to feel the ocean water. Mom and Dad watched their two kids, who were the same age and gender as mine (8 and 13). The four kids soaked in the positive energy. The parents worrying their eyeballs out on the beach. The father kept yelling from the rocky shore at his son to come back closer. He was clearly stressed out about how deep his son was wading in to the surf. He kept suddenly exploding in an anxious voice, “Christian!” His son diligently responded and walked back to lower water. After the tenth, “Christian!!” the boy rolled his eyes and finally said back to his Dad, “WHAT!?!?!?!”  Then he called his son all the way back in and told him all about riptides and their unpredictability. “You just don’t know,” he explained. “You can’t predict it.” Luckily, the boy went back in the salty surf anyway. That explains why Dad wasn’t swimming.

I hope in your life, you stop worrying about all the risks of waves and just ride them, and know both sides, the worrier and the warrior. I’m happy to report, Christian’s mom put on her suit and was soon screaming with joy in the icy waves with her son and daughter, while Dad stood on the edge!

Photo credit: Valerie

If you’re looking for guidance and support in raising your little ones, Alison would like to help! Send your questions to: a.vale5000@gmail.com


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alison Vale

Alison was born and raised deep in the woods of Pennsylvania, where her childhood imagination ran wild and free. As a scabby-kneed tomboy she seemed fearless, yet as she grew older, her fears and anxieties clearly got worse. She attained her Master’s Degree in Sport Psychology. As a clinical researcher and biostatistician at a university medical center for 18 years, Alison co-authored many medical articles and observed first-hand the short-comings of conventional medicine. She left clinical academia to become a Reiki Master Teacher and author. Her goal is to forge energy medicine into conventional medicine and share more intriguing stories and workshops. She has an 8-year-old son and a 12-year-old daughter, and is still learning every hour of every day how to parent.

Off the Mat: Lessons in Unconditional Love from Piggett

Things that Fly

My boy is at school. Kindergarten. A whole new world. He’s only a mile away, much closer than the preschool over-the-river-and-through-the-woods. Still, it feels farther. Distant. I was in and out of his preschool room. Most days we said goodbye at his cubby-hole, but there were regular opportunities to come in and play, read a book, or just cuddle until he was settled.

Now, we say goodbye as he sprints out to the bus. If he remembers to say goodbye. He goes into a big building and hangs his new big backpack in a cubby I have never seen. May never see.

Apparently, stuffies don’t go to kindergarten.

I remember him that very first day, all wrinkled and noisy. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: The Age of Contentment

The Age of Contentment

Contentment is a nine year-old in summer. He runs like fluid water, swift and effortless and fresh. We can’t keep up anymore. I don’t even try. His unconscious skip-hop step betrays the simple excitement of moving. He devours chapter books, curled on the sofa with one of the warrior cats’ adventures, then bikes to the library to get more. He makes his own sandwich (though clean up skills are still lacking.)

He’s aware of his appearance, but not yet in a self-conscious way. “I like my hair like this” he says of his flattened-on-one-side bedhead. His simple self-confident acceptance is irritating at times, until I realize my irritation is jealousy. To be so content!

He considers his life far from perfect. I am the meanest Mama in the universe because he doesn’t have his own phone, unlimited Minecraft time, or ice cream with every meal. Even so, he sings himself into unbroken sleep. He smiles with his whole body.

By contrast, too many adults I know, myself included, are largely malcontent. I scowl at my never ending to do list, dust under the couch, spider veins and cellulite. Begrudge the beauty outside as I hunch over laptop indoors. Resent the bright moonlight for interrupting elusive sleep, and then lie awake cataloguing all I’ve left undone – personally, professionally, spiritually. How much energy do I put into being aggravated?  Read the rest of this entry »

Reiki Positive: Let It Be

Let It Be

I believe in energy and unseen entities. There was a time I thought I might be clairvoyant and intuitive. My inner guidance was strong. I was confident I was making decisions that were ideal for me. Being a Reiki Master and Teacher, I felt aligned, but then doubt came back – a dark, familiar figure. I was meditating one day and I saw only darkness and shadows behind my eyelids. I was looking and searching and trying to find answers. As I struggled and sat more to meditate for guidance, I grew more and more frustrated by my opposition. Was the universe ignoring me? I thought I must be useless or forgotten. I was lost.

I began to get stuck in this negative cycle of trying to meditate then feeling so incredibly alone. I sought professional help because my friends were telling me I seemed depressed. I criticized myself for everything I might be doing wrong. I had been so joyous for two or three years of my life, but now I felt like a failure and I kept telling myself I was a failure. In the cold, dark days of winter, I told myself I wasn’t earning enough money. I told myself I wasn’t looking attractive anymore. I told myself I wasn’t a happy person and my kids were cursed with me in their lives. I told myself I wasn’t successful. I felt like the failure I had feared all along. Sadness descended upon me. I cried for myself. I cried for the loss of my connection with Spirit. I thought I was doomed to sit in suffering, isolated. Was I being punished? Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Sarah: Lying

Moving, Sending, and Settling Energy: Family Exercises

Moving, Sending, and Settling Family Energy

Have you ever noticed that some individuals are grumpy and some are joyful? Is it mood or energy? Energy is ever-present, all around us, but the question is: how do we direct it? That’s what matters most. Pouring our attention into positive thoughts and actions creates powerfully important increases in energy and lifts many people around us. Charismatic people are enthusiastic and energetic. Enthusiasm is contagious and powerful, plus it heals! Our words and actions impact one another. What we do and what we say is where our control and magic lie.

That’s not to say we all have to be perfect, but rather to raise our awareness and pour our attention into positive thoughts and actions. None of my suggestions in this column are meant to replace medicine, therapy, or basic science. Energy medicine is a complementary method intended to enhance other approaches. My personal goal is to show all people the value of their hearts, and raise their awareness about what they already have to offer of themselves in the form energy, touch, compassion, and positivity. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Fear Itself

Fear Itself

He’s hit 54 inches, or close enough for Six Flags safety standards. With his extra effort to stand tall – viola! – he’s cleared to ride Superman. As the train climbs and climbs that first hill, I gaze down at the beautiful, absolutely unobstructed view of the river 200 feet far below.

My stomach clenches. Hands clamp. Breath catches. Until I reminded myself – this is supposed to be fun. We pay for this fear! I exhale and enjoy the ride. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Sarah: Chores

 

Dear Sarah,

What do you think is a good age at which to start giving children chores? Should chores be a requirement for getting an allowance?

Signed,

Uncertain in Belchertown

Dear Uncertain,

Ah, chores! This is a hot topic among many of the parents in my practice and one that I have struggled with myself, over the years. I am a big fan of chores for several reasons:

  1. Chores teach children to be contributing members of their families, which is the beginning of learning to contribute to their teams, workplaces, and communities.
  2. Chores provide an opportunity to teach children to do a task on time, thoroughly, and without complaining. These are important skills for holding down a job someday.
  3. Requiring our children to help in meaningful ways protects them from the overwhelm, exhaustion and resentment that their parents feel when parents try to do it all alone.
  4. Learning new tasks and mastering challenging jobs help children to build confidence and competence.

If you ask three different parenting consultants you will probably get three different answers, but I will share with you what works for me at my house. My 14 year old daughter, who is not a big fan of chores, might not agree that my approach “works” for her! As I say to her, “That’s ok, I don’t like all of my chores either. You don’t have to like them, you just have to do them.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Irons in the Fire

Off the Mat: Irons in the Fire

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Willpower. Intense discipline. These concepts call to mind early memories of my dad smoking a pipe. He was about 38 and had smoked for 20 years when he quit. Just quit. His dentist, concerned about palate irritation from the pipe stem, suggested he switch to cigarettes (no joke). Dad decided to go cold turkey. No drama or public declarations or program. He just did it. As a result, my expectations of willpower are perhaps a tad bit unrealistic.

In my 20s, I worked a series of campaign jobs, promoting a particular local candidate or political cause. These jobs were intense: long hours for little pay demanding deep passion and youthful vigor. One included collecting boycott pledges in busy public spaces and recruiting teams of local volunteers to do the same. Read the rest of this entry »

Dear Sarah: An Advice Column Addressing Everything from Toddler Tantrums to Teenager Troubles

 

Dear Sarah,

The #MeToo movement has me wondering – how we can raise daughters who will speak out about harassment and abuse, and know that it is not their fault? Can you share your thoughts about this?

Signed,
Concerned Mama

∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞∞

Dear CM,

I am raising a daughter too, and I share your concerns. I congratulate you for broaching this important topic. As parents, we are the earliest and best teachers of our children regarding their bodies and their rights. We can empower them from very young ages in a wide variety of ways.

Here are just a few of my thoughts for parenting all children – our daughters and sons:

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Tell it Slant

Off the Mat: Tell it Slant

Photo credit: Whitney H

In my 20s, a girlfriend introduced me to May baskets. She purchased old baskets from Goodwill or wove paper ones and gathered small treasures like stickers, maybe candy. Then, early on a weekend morning, the two of us would drive around town snipping blossoms to fill the baskets. We only took flowers from public places (we decided campuses counted as public) in ways that were respectful of the plant’s growth, never too much from one spot. Flower glutton that I am, the back seat soon filled with apple blossoms, rhododendron, plum, pear, and if lucky, a few remaining sprigs of forsythia. Baskets overflowing, we’d drive to our friends’ houses, still very early on a weekend morning, sneak a basket onto the stoop. Ring. And RUN!

Don’t be seen. Don’t get caught. And don’t tell. Even when asked, lie through your teeth. I think I still have friends these 20+ years later who – believing my dishonest denial – still wonder who delivered those baskets.

I don’t remember now how many years we did this, maybe five? More? As the friendship shifted more into our 30s, I stepped out of the tradition.

Until the year my kiddo turned seven. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Walking on Air – April 2018

Off the Mat: Walking on Air

Photo credit: Eugene Goffredo

Browsing for books for a friend’s toddler, I came across the Science for Babies picture book series and was reminded of this exchange from many moons ago. Putting his squirmy wormy legs up the wall next to his changing table, my oddly polite two-year-old states, “Wawk up dere, peese.”

“Walk up the wall?” I confirm his intent.

“Peese. Wawk up dere and over dere and down dat side.” He gestures to illustrate his intent to climb the wall and cross the ceiling.

My freeform self wants to encourage this outside the box thinking. My anxious self flashes to headlines of fatal falls from fourth floor windows by kids wearing blankie capes, attempting to fly. Must I teach my child about gravity? The thought is so…heavy.

It’s not that I’m opposed to limits. Far from it. Painted hands and feet stay on the paper, not the floor. Splashing stays in the tub. Hitting in all its variations (punching, kicking, butting, et al) is not allowed.

Yet somehow it saddens me to think I must tell my child he can’t walk on air.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat for March 2018: Coming Clean

Off the Mat: Coming Clean

Saucha – cleanliness – leads to a heart-mind that is happy, focused, not distracted, and ready for experiencing the divine light within.” Nicholai Bachman, The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga

My hubby and I are fighting about dishes. Mundane of the mundane, but increased demands on us both have bumped cleaning lower on our priority list. Our best intentions to wipe down the kitchen each night fall victim to email needing reply, uninterrupted phone call opportunities, exhausted naps on the child’s bedroom floor.

I’ve grown resentful of our stereotypical tension, his long commute leaving more housekeeping to me. I’m irritated by the clutter: yogurt foil left on counter, coffee splats dried beside compost bin, ever present pile of backpack, coat, mittens, boots, socks blocking the front door.

I’ve tried to be Zen about it. I can only change myself, after all, so if I’m bothered by picking up after them, stop. And I do, for a few weeks, anyway.

And yet my cataloging mind still tracks who used the spatula still beside the stove, whose bread crumbs remain, a trail leading to tidying undone. Bitterness builds along with the stack of junk mail and soap scum in the sink.

***

I lived by myself only briefly. Left to my own devices, I was less fastidious; it was my mess, only mine. I was only inconveniencing myself by leaving my one skillet crusted with sauce. No one to set an example for, no one over whom to retain moral superiority.

Because there is judgement in cleanliness. Judgement against the messy. I apologize as I clear flotsam and jetsam off of my passenger seat, flinging it into hatchback so a friend can catch a ride to the potluck. My generation – or at least my cohort – of overcommitted mamas one-ups ourselves with how little time we have to tidy the way my mother’s generation, or at least her circle, measured their value with the good housekeeping seal of approval. Their expectation of being next to godliness.

We all have our places – our passenger seat foot well or junk drawer or grimy fridge. Whether public or private, accepted or shame-drenched, being human is messy.

I find it reassuring that cleanliness, saucha, is the foundational tenet of the niyamas, the personal principles of yoga. Learning to treat myself ethically starts with care for my body and my personal space. When I wash windows or clear smears from the bathroom mirror, I can see the world more clearly. See myself more clearly:

  • Recognize the resentments and projections separating me from my hubby, and instead choose compassion for his exhaustion and stress.
  • Acknowledge being my mother’s daughter, concerned with appearances. If exercise is my priority and time is tight, I can go out in public with greasy hair.
  • Accept my OCD tendencies. I do prefer to function with less clutter and mess. I want to inhabit the here and now, present in my mind and body. Sweeping Os off the floor is practicing yoga.

***

Monday morning, I enter the kitchen and am immediately affronted by Sunday night’s pots and pans. I cooked. It’s not my job to clean them. But my frustration festers every time I pass the sink. So I wash the dishes. And ask the water to wash away my irritation. I grant myself permission to leave Monday night’s pots and pans to soak.

Tuesday morning, I come down to find them clean in the drying rack, replaced by my hubby’s soaking breakfast dishes. We are a work in progress.

Photo credit: Laurens Kaldeway


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki Master Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice. www.ginnyhamilton.com

Off the Mat: Aspiring to Reverence and Love

Aspiring to Reverence and Love

While his wife was pregnant with their one and only, my friend found himself chatting with a colleague’s husband. Impending parenthood seemed a safe topic. “The difference between hitting your kids and not is knowing when to leave the room,” the man volunteered. My idealistic father-to-be friend found this odd. Startling. Inappropriate. But he chalked it up to the teller’s awkward reputation.

Until their daughter was two and the truth of the conversation came flooding back on waves of shame, realization, and thankfully, restraint.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: The Gratitude Muscle

The Gratitude Muscle

Gratitude is one of the decade’s buzzwords, printed in cheerful fonts on memes and magazine covers. And for a good reason: research shows that gratitude positively impacts cardiovascular health, immunity, and even our neurological wiring. Dr. Robert Emmons at UC Davis studies how gratitude changes the social-emotional area of our brains. He says that practicing gratitude is essential for our mental health.

Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Water as Self-Care

How Things Work

What makes the car stop? How are car brakes different from bicycle brakes? Train brakes? Roller coasters? How do hydraulics work?

These questions pepper my days these days. Raised for sugar, spice, and everything nice, my mechanical engineering knowledge is woefully inadequate. Thankfully, in his updated masterpiece on machines, The Way Things Work Now, author David Macaulay and his illustrated mastodons describe the inner workings of the toilet tank, stapler, and radio, along with Wifi and RAM. And hydraulics.

I’ve been reading about the power of pressure. When a fluid is compressed, it exerts pressure in all directions.  A container not strong enough to withstand the pressure will leak or otherwise be damaged. Properly contained, the fluid will transfer the force of its power into the world around it. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Autumn Autonomy

Autumn Autonomy

“Safety is what we want for those we love. Autonomy is what we want for ourselves.”   – Atul Gawande

My childhood yard held ample trees: the willow planted in the wet culvert that didn’t grow gigantic like we’d hoped. The huge blue evergreen. The fragile mimosa we were chastised for climbing. The red maple I practically lived in the summer I turned eight. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Sandwich Generation

Eclipsed

Full moon shines through the camper van window, directly onto my face. I take advantage, risk the click of the door waking my guys. Upon arrival, we’d scoped the lay of the land: bathrooms, camp store, path to the beach. I head toward the latter, no need for a flashlight in the moonlight.

And have the beach to myself, so far as I know. Talk about a once in a lifetime opportunity! I sit. Listen. Think. Stretch some. Breathe. Notice. The movement behind me is my own shadow. I cast a moon shadow. Yes, it followed me, just like in the old song.

Weeks later… Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Take a Breather

Take a Breather

Stomach tense, not grumbling but hard, a potato sized stone sitting just below my ribs. Centered, which isn’t where my stomach is. So this is muscle tension? Breathe in more deeply and breathe out, focus on the potato. It softens, moves down an inch or two. Let’s try again. Yup, there it goes. And beautifully, the deep inhale harmonizes with a dissonant chord in the Bach cello piece playing on the stereo. Breathing with Bach.

Stomach looser, I now notice the scowl on my face, there since waking. Can I relax it with breath, too? Purposefully smooth the skin between and above my eyebrows. Feels a little surprised. The remaining frown below the spread brow feels sad. Feels like the moment of realization – whatever the realization might be – that tears are coming. Feels like disappointment. What can breath do for my mouth? I’ve heard it takes more muscles to frown. Is that accurate? In this day in age, it seems more of an effort to choose happiness, to concentrate on what’s working and what’s hopeful than on what’s wrong. Especially when hormone cycles resemble spaghetti bowl tangles more than predictable sine curves.

♦♦♦

Letting breath guide movement is central to my yoga training. We teach what we most need to learn; I’m someone who holds her breath walking down the sidewalk!  Yoga breathing practices purposefully employ our inhale, exhale, and retention of breath to affect our physical, mental, and emotional health. Science now has the technology to explain how and why this works.

Researchers at Northwestern used brain scans to show how breathing through the nose affects areas of the brain associated with emotions and memory. A team at Stanford has identified jumbles of nerve cells that connect the brain’s respiratory center to the area in charge of alertness and attention. (If you geek out on this stuff like I do, this article in Neuroscience News describes the findings in understandable terms, down to a description of mellow mice.) One researcher described the almost 200 neuron subtypes as “well stirred spaghetti.”  This spaghetti tangle serves to calm. Breath is automatic and can be controlled through behavior, as well.

Too often still, I look outside of myself first – caffeine, conversation, therapy, vacation. I “should” myself with goal setting and exercise plans, social media challenges. Bemoan the lack of resources: money, sure, but also time, for self-care. And yet the simplest tool is right here, flowing in and out, rarely noticed except in its absence.

♦♦♦

Teaching yoga class, I notice one of my students looking flushed and worried. I check in – she can’t catch her breath. There’s a slight edge to her voice as she shares how she’s trying to breathe deeply but not getting air and fears she’s triggered an asthma attack. In my best calm teacher voice, I instruct her to breathe out all the way. She releases a long, large exhale. Now there’s room for fresh air to come in. Oh! She smiles, breathing in deeply.

♦♦♦

In the Sanskrit language, the word for breath, prana, is also translated as life force or spirit.  Some days, the only dedicated yoga practice I can muster is breath. Close my eyes. Turn attention to breath. Soften belly, gently spread ribs, lift collar bones as breath stretches me from the inside. Comfortably full, muscles lift from inside, gently squeezing air up and out of my lungs. Repeat. Long, smooth inhales. Full, complete exhales. In and out through my nose. Notice the movement breath creates. Sound like ocean waves. Unwind the strands of my mental tangle. Free my spirit.

[Photo credit: (cc) Lorianne DiSabato]


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ginny Hamilton

Pain specialist, yoga instructor, and Reiki practitioner Ginny Hamilton teaches simple & proven techniques to release pain & restore energy in the workplace, group classes & private sessions. She has put down roots in South Amherst with her spouse and young son. Daily she’s amazed by the beauty the Pioneer Valley offers, though her allergies beg to differ. In Off the Mat, Ginny explores how yoga’s physical and mindfulness exercises help her parent and how parenting shapes her yoga practice. http://www.ginnyhamilton.com

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Off the Mat: Independence

Independence

Heat has me up early. Serendipitous, since perennials from a neighbor’s garden need to get into the ground. With soil and space they’ll bloom beautifully without much assistance. At this moment though, they’re still dependent on me.

Once outside, I’m unwittingly drawn to the overgrown flowerbed by the patio. A mix of should and want rise within me every time my gaze lands here, which is often, given its location across from the kitchen window. It’s been a four year desire to clear this bed. I’ve toyed with it a few times, until shovel meets root bound resistance or halfhearted weeding leaves the area looking like a bad haircut.

Today, it’s less a decision and more a reaction. Oh, I guess I’m ready to do this. Perhaps due to dampness from recent excessive rain, this attempt feels easy – notably different from the last few times I’ve tried and given up. Separate bulbs. Root out weeds. Uncover perennial treasures left by a previous garden mama.

As a reasonable hour dawns, my house wakes up. We join briefly for meals but mostly go about our own Saturday projects. Weeding near the street, I hear my son and his friend squeal in the back yard. It occurs to me I hadn’t been monitoring their whereabouts at all. Focused on dirt and weed, lost in my own independent thoughts.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Stay

Stay

Many of my yoga students are surprised when I share that the seminal text on yoga doesn’t describe physical poses at all. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written down about 2,000 years ago, collects aphorisms passed from master to student in the oral tradition. Scholars describe them as talking points, bullets, or pneumonic devices, chanted to memorize the concept. Patanjali would’ve have done well with PowerPoint.

Of the almost 200 verses, less than 2% talk about physical yoga postures. There’s no mention of downward dogs or triangles. Rather, these few lessons center on the purpose of the posture. In short, stretch your body so you can sit comfortably, with steadiness and ease, to do yoga.

Postures get us ready to do yoga.

The majority of the Sutras contend with how to focus attention and quiet the mind. One verse basically says it doesn’t matter what you focus on, just choose something!  Sit with steadiness and ease, breathe, focus attention, repeat. By doing so, the mind will begin to still, freeing us from the exhausting perseverations, nagging, and judgments of our inner dialogues and the mania of our outer lives. Choose a focus. Keep at it. Keeping coming back.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: On Motherhood

On Motherhood

The author, branded as Mama.

His cry has a different tone than I’ve yet heard in his 9 months of life. Urgency. Bewilderment. Entering his room, I see why. Child and crib covered in vomit.

Chubby baby arms reach toward me, fully confident that Mama can make all this right. Resisting the urge to recoil from the smell, I lift and comfort him as the next wave of puking begins. Aim into the crib? On the rug? In a split second, I realize the most comforting and most easily cleaned barf-target is…me. So I hold my sick, sobbing kiddo to my chest and let him throw up on and down my shirt. This, I think. This is motherhood.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Down the Drain

Down the Drain

Fascination with drains.

My two-year-old son and I sit beside the water in the Boston Public Garden. Picturesque landscaping, iconic swans, a steady stream of smiling passersby – business people, kids with caregivers, tourists of all ages. If it were duckling season, we’d be in a McCloskey picture book. Morning errands accomplished, there’s nothing to stop us from enjoying this beautiful sunny morning in one of the city’s finest spots.

Separation anxieties run high at the moment. It takes extensive coaxing for him to walk away from the water’s edge, across the foot path, and 2 feet into the lawn to throw away a wrapper in the nearest garbage can. When he finally accomplishes this Herculean feat, 3 onlookers (no joke!) applaud his success.

One, a police officer, rewards his bravery with a sticker badge. It’s even yellow, his favorite.  I’m telling you, it’s a picture book day.

Sticker comes on and off. On and off. Less sticky. More rumpled. Barely recognizable. Still the object of great fascination. So it’s only natural it would come into contact with another item of fascination. A drain.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Gentle Discipline

Gentle Discipline

Early in the school year, my wily son and his 7-year-old co-conspirators figured out they could “trick” their teacher into extra recess by sitting longer. He says we’ve been sitting too long, and we say no, we can sit for 5 more minutes, and he lets us and then we get to go outside, my kiddo tells me with a sneaky grin.  When I ran to relay this story, his teacher laughed heartily – please tell him to keep tricking me!  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Bearing Witness to an Act of Compassion

Ode to a Hamster

My anxious boy follows hamster ball through kitchen, every 2.3 minutes asking, Can we put her back in her cage? What if she gets out? What if she gets stuck? Hurt? What if I can’t find her?

The worry. The holding on too tight. The annoyance of being woken up in the middle of the night. The basic cleaning and feeding. There’s a certain pleasure in watching him shoulder these responsibilities. Welcome to parenthood, kiddo. Welcome to caring for another living creature.  Read the rest of this entry »

Suggested Events for January 28 – February 3, 2017

Hilltown Families List of Weekly Suggested Events

“[Last year] was the first year my three year old participated in the Valentine’s Day swap & we had a blast making and receiving our cards in the mail. This site truly enhances what western Massachusetts is all about community and our great state!” – Summer Mikaitis (Pittsfield, MA)

Suggest EventIf you have a community event, educational program or service opportunity for youth/families happening in Western Massachusetts that you’d like to let us know about, self-post your event at any time on our Suggest An Event bulletin board. The events below are “suggested.” Please take the time to confirm that these events are happening, along with time, place, age appropriateness, and costs before attending.

Enhanced PublicityServing Western Massachusetts since 2005, Hilltown Families supports development and enhancement of our local economy and community. Local businesses, individuals, schools and non-profits are encouraged to partner with Hilltown Families through sponsorship and advertising. Let us help get the word out about your after-school/homeschool class, event, camp, workshop, fundraiser, business/school, service, open house, volunteer opportunity or general announcement. Deliver your message to thousands of families living throughout the four counties of Western MA while supporting the community development work of Hilltown Families! Click HERE to find out more.

Hilltown Families Events

It’s that time of the year again for the Hilltown Families Annual Handmade Valentine Swap! For the past nine years Hilltown Families has coordinated a community Handmade Valentine Swap — and we’re doing it again! Making handmade valentines is a great way to push against the commercialization of yet another holiday, while being creative with your family and friends. JOIN US! It’s free to sign up and open to all families in western Massachusetts! Last year our community generated over 1,550 handmade valentines! Let’s do it again! Deadline to sign-up is Wed. Feb 1st!

Saturday, February 4, from 10am-12noon at Flywheel Arts Collective, Hilltown Families and the Flywheel Arts Collective are continuing the Saturday Morning Music Party series with a breakfast bash featuring food, dancing, and diversions for kids! During a free breakfast of fresh pancakes, juice, and fruit, you can craft handmade Valentines with the Easthampton Parents Center. Then we’ll enjoy special guests, DandyLions Garden, a musical act for kids and inner children alike. We’ll round out the morning with DJ Youthelectronix for the “best ever dance party before noon!” This is a fundraiser for both Flywheel & Hilltown Families, with a “pay what you can” admission to attend with your family. For more information, email info@hilltownfamilies.org.

Bulletin Board

Open House:Jan 28

The Common School: Community, collaboration, creativity, social justice, inclusivity, environmental education – Come learn how these words are put into action at their winter Open House on Saturday, January 28, from 10am-12noon in Amherst. Play in their classrooms, meet their teachers, chat with current parents, and tour their beautiful campus situated amongst 140 acres of conservation land on Larch Hill in Amherst. Light refreshments provided. Questions? Contact Director of Admissions, Dana Kadish at outreach@commonschool.org or visit www.commonschool.org.

Open House: Jan 29

Cloverdale Cooperative Preschool invites new parents to an Open House on Sunday, January 29th, from 2:30-4pm. Cloverdale is located in back of the First Congregational Church on 130 Pine Street in Florence and is a half-day preschool with the option of STEAM focused extended day hours. Come find out about their new expanded hours starting next fall while spending time playing with your children in their engaging learning environment. Meet the teachers and some parents who will answer your questions about their program. For more information, visit www.cloverdalepreschool.com or call 413-586-1106 after 12:30pm.

Open House: Jan 29

Sunday, January 29th: Open House from 2-3:30pm at Smith College Center for Early Childhood Education (Fort Hill). Visit welcoming classroom environments, chat with teachers, and find out more about the Reggio Emilia-inspired curriculum. Providing engaging, intentional early experiences that support children in becoming lifelong learners, joyful investigators, and thoughtful citizens of the world. Fort Hill has dedicated visual arts and music teachers and studios, an emphasis on natural materials, and classroom experiences that nurture joy, curiosity, deep thinking, and imagination. Consider joining the Fort Hill family! Actively accepting applications for infants, toddlers, and preschoolers for 2017-2018. Contact forthill@smith.edu for information.

Open House: Feb 4

The Campus School at Smith College. Prospective kindergarten through grade 6 students and their parents are invited to an open house on Saturday, February 4, from 9:30am-11:30 am at the school on Prospect Street. Tour the school. Meet teachers, staff, and parents. For more information, contact the admission office at 413-585-3270 or visit their website, www.smith.edu/sccs.

Open House: Feb 5

Sunday, Feb. 5th: The Center School Admissions Open House, 2pm-4pm. The Center School is a preschool through 8th grade progressive school, serving Hampshire and Franklin counties. Prospective families are invited to explore the school on Sunday, Feb. 5th for a Birds-of-Prey themed Admissions Open House. Come early to enjoy a live Birds of Prey presentation with raptor rehabilitator Tom Ricardi from 1pm-2pm. Then, classrooms will be open and teachers will be offer bird-related activities for kids of all ages. Light refreshments will be available. The Center School has been offering rigorous education for deep thinkers and creative spirits for 35 years and is currently accepting applications for all ages, for fall of 2017. centerschool.net

Feb 20-24

Looking for something fun and creative for your kids during the February break? Check out Valley Performance Playground’s February Vacation Camp with Sarah Marcus and Felicia Sloin! This 1-week camp runs Monday, February 20 – Friday, February 24 from 9am-3pm and will feature theater games, singing, drumming, movement, and fun times with creative friends for students ages 7-11. Valley Performance Playground’s February Vacation Camp takes place at the Northampton Karate Studio, 320 Riverside Drive, in Florence. Cost: $250. Registration Deadline Feb 1. For more information, email sarahlaurenmarcus@gmail.com or visit online at www.facebook.com/valleyperformanceplayground.

ADVERTISE HERE: Reach thousands of families in Western MA while supporting the community development work of Hilltown Families! See your summer camp, class, community event, school, open house, audition, homeschool program, workshop, volunteer opportunity, wellness program, local business, after-school class, or non-profit featured here in the Bulletin Board section of our list of Weekly Suggested Events and in our weekly eNewsletter, reaching thousands of families living throughout the four counties of Western MA while supporting the community development work of Hilltown Families! Find out more about our advertising options and how you can partner with Hilltown Families in your online marketing by emailing us at info@hilltownfamilies.org.

Become a Contributing WriterJOIN OUR TEAM OF CONTRIBUTING WRITERS: Interested in becoming a Contributing or Guest Writer for Hilltown Families? We welcome writings that reflect the community-building and educational efforts parents, teens, teachers, artists, activists and community leaders work towards and accomplish, and how that affects, supports and empowers our families. All writing styles welcomed, including local reviews, DIY posts, seasonal cooking/local food, and community-based educational & community service learning opportunities/resources. Send your query to info@hilltownfamilies.org.


LIST OF WEEKLY SUGGESTED EVENTS
January 28 – February 3, 2017

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Suggest an EventCultural Itineraries | Forecast | Museum Passes | Weekly eNewsletter | Farmers’ Markets | Storyhour & Playgroups| Berkshire Family Fun | Advertise/Sponsorship | en Español

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