Resources for Mindfulness in Western Massachusetts

Resources for Mindfulness in Western Massachusetts

What is meditation?  Carrying different meanings in different contexts, Wikipedia defines meditation as, “a practice where an individual trains the mind or induces a mode of consciousness, either to realize some benefit or for the mind to simply acknowledge its content without becoming identified with that content, or as an end in itself.”  In other words, when people meditate, they are focusing their awareness on the present moment, often times to their breath, allowing thoughts to enter and pass through their awareness without attachment, constantly balancing their attention back to the present moment.

According to health psychologist, Kelly McGonigal, because the brain is like a muscle which strengthens with practice, meditating can also help to exert willpower in other areas of your life. The prefrontal cortex is the area of the brain associated with reasoning, problem solving, impulse-control, and perseverance. Being mindful of the present moment through meditation, as well as some other activities like physical movement, sends blood to the prefrontal cortex. McGongial suggests that a regular practice of meditation could help you accomplish many other goals which require the same kind of perseverance and attention.

Mindfulness is something you can practice at any time, in any place. Still, if you don’t know anything about how to meditate or practice mindfulness, you may want to find guidance and support in the form of community-based classes or groups. Luckily, western Massachusetts is home to many organizations, courses, and sanctuaries for people to learn about and practice mindfulness. 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: Bravery is Being Scared But Acting Anyway

Dad’s Dreams, Mom’s Heart

What’s an anxious Mama to do when presented with a last minute chance to travel to Alaska with her Dad? I remind myself what I teach my son: Bravery doesn’t mean not being scared. Bravery is being scared but acting anyway.

Date night, Pioneer Valley. Scrunched down in my seat at the Academy of Music, tears roll down my cheeks. And I let them, which is unusual for me. On stage, Heather Maloney sings,

I am made of
All the same stuff
That makes the seasons what they are.
I am made of
Dirt and stardust
My daddy’s dreams
My mother’s heart.

What do I know of my dad’s dreams? What did he hope to be when he was six? A country boy with a frog in his pocket, he knew the answers but rarely raised his hand because of his lisp. I know he was often the kid picked last. I know he preferred Gene Autry to John Wayne. Were there dreams in between being a cowboy and a retired chemical engineer? Had to be. An outdoorsman turned corporate traveler, I learned last summer that he’s made it to all but six U.S. states. Next week, he and I check Alaska off that list. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: Letting People Help

The Village Helps

Yoga instructor and pain specialist Ginny Hamilton has never been good at asking for help. In this month’s Off the Mat: Reflections on the Practice of Parenting, she shares a story of independence and interdependence from her first days of motherhood.

I’ve always been fiercely independent, which is not necessarily a useful trait in the blurry days of new motherhood. Pushing 40, it was my first time around – and for me the only time. Thankfully, my sister came to help. She played with her newborn nephew overnight so I could sleep, taught us to swaddle, and fed me while I fed him. And she provided the other main support I wanted: company as I tried to go about daily business by myself. I drove, baby in back, sis in the passenger’s seat. We took the subway downtown, bought button-down tops to make nursing easier, and she stood guard as I nursed in a dressing room.

The store clerk, an older woman with a Middle Eastern accent, cooed over my tiny son curled up in the ergo carrier. “I’m amazed at how people in this country bring babies out so young. In my country, the mother stays home. Aunties bring what you need to you.” Her tone wasn’t critical. More sympathetic, offering condolences.  Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: The Binding Thread of Peace for Mother’s Day

Honoring Traditions, Honoring Ourselves

This Mother’s Day, I expect to receive more handwritten letters. My six year old loves to demonstrate this newly acquired skill. Ms. Jarvis would be proud.

As Mother’s Day approaches, I’m contemplating paths to outer peace – on a global scale of state on state violence, on a societal scale of institutional violence, on a frighteningly personal scale of schoolyard gun violence, on a kitchen counter scale as two 6 year old boys negotiate train positions.

Did you know that early efforts to establish Mother’s Day were responses to the Civil War? Abolitionist, peace, and women’s rights activist Julia Ward Howe organized the Mother’s Day for Peace, calling on women to stand up against the horrors of war. Less well known, activist Ann Jarvis was in the trenches, caring for Union and Confederate soldiers. She organized meetings of moms who had lost sons on both sides of the conflict. Her daughter led the charge to make Mother’s Day an official holiday and reportedly was widely outspoken about the almost immediate commercialization that followed. Apparently the younger Ms. Jarvis lamented Hallmark creating Mother’s Day cards. She had envisioned hand written letters figuring prominently in Mother’s Day celebrations. I can only imagine she’s rolling in her grave as we greet mom via text message. Read the rest of this entry »

Off the Mat: The Reflections of Parenting Bring Self-Awareness

The Mirror

One of the truths of parenting is that my child is also my mirror. I see my expressions looking back at me. I hear my tone, my words, my affect in his bubbly little voice.

“Let your mat be your mirror,” the teacher said. “What does your yoga practice reflect about your life?”

Ah! That was easy to answer. Teacher after teacher would remind me to slow down, to find ease. To relax. Not to work so hard.

I immediately recognized the reflection in my mat-mirror: Work-a-holic off the mat, work-a-holic on the mat. 110% effort. Muscle through. Overthinking everything, not allowing flow. Filling every empty space with busyness. Not accepting myself as good enough. Erring on the side of perfectionism instead of acceptance. Hard work was my emotional currency: how I tried to earn my worth.

So for my self-study project during the months of my yoga teacher training, I worked to cultivate the opposite tendency from my habitual relationship with work and time. I committed to take Fridays off for the final months at my high stress job and to reflect on that experience. (Work-a-holic + no kids then = oodles of unused vacation time.) While I did not take off every single Friday, I was much more conscious of my inner dialogue about my choices for spending that time. And I did take off far more days than I had anticipated! Read the rest of this entry »

Classes in Noho ❥ Yoga to Art. Pottery to Swimming.

Mash Notes to Paradise by Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Note 17, All Those Classes Everywhere

Sometimes, when you hear friends from big cities discuss the options for classes available—chess clubs for preschoolers or some such, ballet barre workouts for adults, you get the idea—it’s acceptable to get momentarily jealous. As I delve down a rabbit hole that is simply called yoga by others less prone to rabbit hole diving afflictions, I’m reminded that for a not-urban spot, we are incredibly well endowed with amazing learning opportunities taught be masterful folks.

I guess I have to start with yoga. I’ve spent a bunch of time over the past months in classes taught by Brandt, Anna, Doris, and Abigail. I’ve just begun with the newest noontime teacher at Yoga Sanctuary, Khalila and am looking forward to her classes.

If your thing were more Pilates or Gyrokinesis, I’d say, there’s Kate Faulkner and Michelle Marroquin through Studio Helix to try or Katrina Hawley at the Pilates Studio in Hadley.

Your kids like art? Art Always is your spot. You like art? Ditto. You like pottery or your kids do? Try Northampton Pottery or check with a favorite potter: Tiffany Hilton is offering classes in Florence; Molly Cantor is offering classes in Shelburne Falls, so you get the idea.

For swim instruction you cannot beat Craig at the Valley Swim School. He’s famous—with good reason.

Karate abounds; the hidden gem is James’ Dragon Den dojo. I should know; my second guy goes there (leave a comment if interested, for the number). If you’re more interested in the awesomeness that is Capoeira, you are in luck.

You can even learn to sew; a sewing studio has opened up in town so I am told.

And in a category unto itself is the Y—I can vouch for the Hampshire Y but I know others can do the same for Holyoke and Greenfield. Our Y is a truly democratic institution, with sliding scales and a commitment to healthy community—and some kickass teachers, teams and all that good stuff. I have just started (this week) to use it for its yoga offerings. my daughter Saskia begins her classes this week (gym and swim plus a second gymnastics class; may she go down a rabbit hole of her own soon). Plus, there’s a sauna.

I’d love people to add tips in comments, because the few options I’ve listed here are some I happen to know, tip-of-iceberg ideas. For the record, a ballet barre workout class is on my lifetime bucket list so seriously if I’ve just missed the opportunity (especially in Northampton), please pretty please do tell.

Editors Note: Check our Suggest A Class bulletin board and the bulletin board section of our list of Weekly Suggested Events for classes happening throughout Western MA.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Werthan Buttenwieser

Sarah is a writer, who lives in Northampton with her husband and four children. She contributes to Preview Massachusetts Magazine, as well as other publications and writes a parenting blog Standing in the Shadows at the Valley Advocate. She moved to the Valley to attend Hampshire College—and found the Valley such a nice place, she stayed!

Calling all Hilltown Yoga Teachers

Michelle Ryan of Chesterfield, MA writes:

I’m a yoga teacher from Chesterfield, MA. I and my fellow yoga teacher and “Chesterfielder” Sarah Prince, are writing to you in an effort to reach out to yoga teachers throughout the Hilltowns.   Sarah and I came up with an idea as a way for Hilltown yoga teachers to work together to network with each other, market ourselves and help effectively bring the benefits of yoga to the families living in far-flung towns.

A few days of posting flyers on over-stuffed merchant bulletin boards made us both realize that our individual efforts at marketing were not as effective as they could be. We both feel that the variety of teaching traditions represented by Hilltown yoga teachers is wonderfully broad, and can potentially benefit people of all ages; when intermingled, our efforts at bringing yoga to the Hilltowns more effectively and sharing expertise with each other can enhance our own, and our student’s, practices.

As yoga teachers and practitioners, we all share the same goals of growing as teachers, as well as effectively reaching out to potential students and building sustainable yoga student populations in our own communities. So, why not work together to make our voices heard?

Like a studio without walls, we could create a Hilltown Yoga Teachers Cooperative where we support each other through networking and shared teaching experiences, and through mutual marketing efforts, producing marketing regularly together, via poster/newsletter, through free community demonstrations, or by working with other marketing resources like the web or local newspapers like the Country Journal. And, together, we could develop a weblog that lists classes by town/teacher/style/day/time. This website could include greater detail on our classes, teacher bios, directions to facilities, descriptions of yoga styles, etc.

Another benefit of creating a cooperative would be the ability to continue classes even when we are ill or out of town, by subbing for each other (for example, I recently subbed Sarah’s Chair yoga classes in Cummington and Chesterfield while she was in Virginia visiting her daughter and new grandchild).

Finally, both the opportunity to attend another teacher’s class, and the luxury of being the student for a while in the challenge of a different tradition, are so refreshing that it would be wonderful to support each other in this way, too.

We’ve contacted the Hilltown CDC in Chesterfield to see if they could help us organize, and they are happy to help and give support to our efforts.

One big question that we are sure you have right now is “How much would this cost?” The honest answer is, “We don’t know.” However, if we organize and work together, sharing our mutual skills and expertise, we are hopeful the costs will be low, but the benefits will be great.

If you are interested in brainstorming with Sarah and I some more about this idea, or know of yoga teachers in the Hilltowns who might be interested, let Michelle know via my email, michelleryanart@aol.com, 413- 296-0122 or Sarah at sarahj0261@gmail.com, 413-296-9201.

If there is interest in this idea, we’d like to hold an organizational meeting in the next couple of weeks, at a place and time to be determined.

There are a lot of people out there wanting to do yoga who would love to find it in their hometowns – and in these tough economic times, buying local and being green are marketing points that we as Hilltown teachers can offer. We feel that we can approach the teaching of yoga throughout the Hilltowns with a sense of abundance, working cooperatively to enhance our own teaching and practice, and to make our voices heard throughout the region. What do you think?

We look forward to hearing from you!

Namaste,

Michelle Ryan and Sarah Prince

p.s. If you know of any other yoga teachers in the Hilltowns (within a 10-15 mile radius) that may be interested in this idea, please let us know, or share this letter with them.

Keeping Peace in the Home with Family Yoga

Family Yoga
By Rachel Besserman and Damon Arthur Blanchette (HF Guest Bloggers)

Family yoga practice evolved in our family out of a need first for partner yoga, and a practice of intentional touch and connection. We started with the book Partner Yoga by Cain Carroll and Lori Kimata N.D. as our entry guide, and then improvised from there. Eventually our four year old son Emmet wanted to join in too because he sees how much it helps keep the peace in the house, in our lives.

We start as partners and Emmet will say, ‘me too, me too!’ and join in. We touch palms and slowly move (like the mirror-movement exercise), bringing our hands up and down slowly with our breaths. Progressing from finger pads and back to palm-hand connection, we follow a sun salutation pattern where we move up and down like waves, and eventually to the child’s pose with our heads touching at the crown.

When we slowly return to sitting and eye contact there is most surely a relaxed smile on our lips. Our breath is slowed and calm, and we breathe the heart breath (H-E-A-R-T) in and out . . . and release. Altogether these tools add up to a healthier happier life with kinder interactions and more loving presence.

A more advanced practice we are exploring these days, and pictured here, is forming the partner table pose and balancing Emmet on top. We find this practice highlights the necessity of a strong and stable partnership for a balanced family structure that can support an enduring partner bond and successful child-rearing.


ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Rachel Besserman and Damon Arthur Blanchette live in Northampton, MA with their son and are partners in Emmet’s Essentials, an organic body care line.  Rachel is a graduate student in Education at Smith College, a certified yoga instructor, a trained Stillpoint Massage Therapist, and serves as Hebrew language tutor and classroom educator, innovating movement and technology (www.otiyot.com) in Hebrew language instruction.   Damon is a graduate of Worcester Polytechnic Institute,  currently  on staff at Smith College programming websites and databases in the Educational Technology Services department, and is a freelance graphics and web designer.

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