Open Your Heart for Happiness and Health

February is full of hearts; heart candy, heart arts & crafts, heart decorations and hearts all over greeting cards. They say Valentine’s Day is a Hallmark created holiday. Meh…I say who cares and celebrate the heart-ones in your life. While you are at it, open your heart wider. That is, open origami heartsthe space that contains it, your chest area all the way through your ribs to your collarbones. Go ahead, try it. Spread your arms out wide and take a deep breath, expanding your belly, your ribs and expand in the chest. Hold it for a second, and then relax. How did it feel? Did it feel calming and peaceful, make you feel more open, make you feel more exposed, or possibly make you feel courageous? All feelings are acceptable and all come from releasing tension and opening your heart space. Yoga classifies the poses that accomplish this as heart openers, and as backbends.

But why even bother with backbends? Many of us hunch our shoulders forward: on the computer, texting on a cell phone/scrolling through Facebook, doing the dishes, and even when playing with our children. This closes off our heart space when what we need to do is open and free it. A person who is depressed, anxious, withdrawn, or just going through an emotional or tough time also unconsciously closes up their heartteach kids yoga space by crossing of the arms, hugging their arms, along with hunching their shoulders and dipping their heads. This closing is constricting to our breathing and our blood flow, not to mention it creates tightness in the muscles in the front body.

When we wake in the morning the first thing we do is either stretch our arms overhead or put our arms behind our head and inhale deeply. Without even telling our body to do this, it already knows to act in a way to open us up, getting us ready for our day. Stretching through our front body eases our circulatory system, extends our breathing and helps combat the tightness contributed to a hunched over posture. When we do heart-opening backbends, we open the heart space which also means we expose it. This can makes us feel vulnerable. But if we can push pass that, we are actually opening ourselves up to giving and receiving more love. Why? Because we are leading with our heart in these poses.

Let’s walk through the Cat/Cow Pose, a gentle backbend, to see how breathing and stretching in a Yoga pose helps to open this heart space. Most people might not see 24777719856_941849c1e8_oCat as a heart opener, it looks like the opposite of a backbend. But, the rounding of the back, lifting out of the shoulders, and curling of the head inwards helps to relieve the tension in the neck and upper back that often keeps us from letting our heart space open. Remember that since this is a “closing” movement of the body, Cat is done on an exhale. While the chest expands into Cow it is the inhalation of the breath in to the chest that accomplishes this. Space is created in the chest by stretching the most often ignored strips of muscles in between the ribs (the intercostal muscle). Keeping these muscles supple helps the rib cage expand on the inhalation while you reach your heart forward opening the front side of your body. Your head is lifted with a soft gaze forward or up. You still stay lifted out of the shoulders, but now the shoulder blades slide down your back creating more space. This is considered a baby backbend, and it is the foundation for what the other backbends are built on.

Other backbends to open our heart space include the Sphinx, Cobra, Locust, Up Dog, Camel, Bridge and Bow Pose. Heart opening backbends not only strengthen the 13093317824_c2280f0030_zphysical body. Backbends also strengthen the heart chakra by bringing energy into the heart space. Briefly, this chakra helps to bring about selfless love and compassion. When it is closed off we may feel anger, resentment, bitterness and depression. This does not serve us well and it certainly doesn’t serve others.

So you see, it is better to have an open heart…physically and emotionally. Happy Valentine’s Day! Or should I say, Happy Open Heart Day!

Yoga and the Lymphatic System

The Lymphatic System only makes up 1% of your total body but it is the powerhouse lymphbehind your Immune System.  Think of it as your Immune System’s bodyguard.  It is a system similar to the Circulatory System where it circulates fluid throughout the body.  However, unlike the Circulatory System, it does not have a major organ, like the heart, to help push the fluid throughout the body.  But why is this important? This system produces lymph fluid made up of white blood cells, mainly a type called Lymphocytes that “eat” bacteria, dead cells, and cancer cells. The regular everyday job of the Lymphatic System is to filter the lymph fluid to remove these unwanted cells. When the system notes bacteria, it ramps up production of germ fighting white blood cells which causes the lymph nodes to swell. The lymph nodes are where the immune fighting cells are and is where the lymph fluid gets filtered.  They are located throughout the body but many of us have felt the ones in our neck swell when coming down with a sickness.  Breast cancer awareness note: the lymph nodes under our armpits need to be checked each month, too!!

To boil this all down, look at the Lymphatic System as the drainage system for the waste in our cells. How do we know when our system is clogged up?  It’s easy to see when a sink drain gets clogged but not so easy in our body.  If you have any of the following then you may have a “clogged” Lymphatic System:

  • rings on fingers start to feel tight
  • brain fog sick
  • water retention
  • feeling tired, itchy skin
  • cold hands and feet
  • soreness/stiffness in the morning
  • soreness/swelling breasts during cycles

How do we keep the system clean and draining well?  Muscle contractions of movement (think exercise), massages, and the simple act of being inverted help to move the fluid in the Lymphatic System around.  Movement comes in many forms of exercise: dancing, running, yoga, etc.  Any pose which places the head below the heart, like standing forward bend and supported should stand, moves lymph fluid into the respiratory organs where germs often enter the body.  Once the head is back above the heart, gravity again assists the lymph fluid sending it toward the nodes for filtering.  Add these poses to your sequence regularly, not just when you have the first case of the sniffles, to build up your immune system as we enter into the winter months: down dog, dolphin, rabbit, forward folds (ragdoll and wide legged), shoulder stand, plow pose, supported bridge, wheel, camel, and child’s pose.

If you are a yogi then you may be thinking that you move enough through yoga.  However, another aspect of a clogged Lymphatic System is built-up stress by living in a chronic stress state.  This would be where our restorative yoga comes in as a key to unraveling stress with the added benefit of moving lymph fluid throughout the body.  Legs up the wall can be thought of as the “go to” pose for helping our Lymphatic System.  In this pose your legs are straight up against a wall with your back flat on the floor.  Here our legs are above our chest area allowing the flow of lymph fluid to reverse due to gravity, thus aiding our body’s legs up wallwaste removal process.  This helps to restore body fluid to the upper body which also helps to reduce swelling and fatigue in the legs, feet, and ankles.  One of my young yogis came into my class not feeling well and I had her put her legs up the wall while I continued with class.  The teacher came in and asked what she was doing and was surprised by my explanation.  She was further surprised when 10 minutes later the little girl felt better and wanted to join the others in class!  A month later a cold was going around the classroom and that same teacher requested that I end the class in legs up the wall to help the students’ immune system.  Who doesn’t need a little relaxation, less stress and a better immune system keeping every little cell happy and well?

Staying Active in a Winter Wonderland

Kids are inherently more active in the summer due to the freedom from school and, of course, the summer weather and the activities it brings.  Depending on where you live, keeping them active in the winter months can be challenging due to the cold weather outside.  Winter time, especially after the holidays, seems to be when my kids want to 23198553392_e8c4a14f20_zplay video games the most.  They complain it’s too cold to ride bikes, jump on the trampoline, hike in the nearest park, play laser tag in the yard or even run with the dogs.  It’s time to become creative.  Here are some tried and true tactics that have worked in my home to keep my boys active and off the couch.

Find a space in the house for some indoor activities like jumping rope or hula hooping.  This is usually our garage with the car pulled out.  And yes, I have attempted to teach my kids the age old practice of the hula hoop.  This usually gets us all into fits of laughter, which is also a good activity burner.  Turning on the radio or putting on some old records/CDs and having an old fashion free dance session also turns into fits of laughter for us.  Don’t forget those old games of hide and go seek, building an obstacle course (you’re gonna have to be ok with the couch cushions coming off for this one), or a scavenger hunt where you hide items around the house for them to find.  You can make all of this as high or low energy level as you need.

Check your local parks and recreation department.  We are very fortunate where we live to have a robust recreation department that offers classes and sports year-round.  Indoor sports leagues include soccer, basketball, volleyball, kickball and the dreaded dodgeball (or is that just me?).  If your local recreation department doesn’t make the grade, find “open hours” at places like MyGym, an athletics center, a gymnastics facility, an indoor pool, roller/ice skating rinks, indoor wall climbing facilities, indoor inflatable 22698676857_dd0e6447ef_zplay areas (such as Pump it Up), and indoor trampoline parks are up and coming as well.  Kidding Around Yoga also has kid and family Yoga classes all year round, all over the world. There are a few outdoor sports too.  They do involve playing in the snow like downhill skiing, cross country skiing, tubing, sledding and outdoor ice skating (ok, the last one would be hard in snow but you get my drift).

Don’t be afraid of the video games IF they are the active kind.  I’m thinking specifically of the Xbox Kinnect, Nintendo Wii, or Playstation Move where the games are played through bodily movements (not just the thumb and finger kind).  My kids have literally broken a sweat to some of their favorite action games and I sometimes can sucker them into a “dance off” on Just Dance (adult and kids versions).   That being said, join in on the fun with them!

I am also not above bribing my children.  When the pleas to play video22252190290_d8460be5c1_z games and boredom is too much to handle, I admittedly will cave.  However, it will most likely follow a statement like, “If you do (fill in the blank) for 30 (or more!) minutes, then you can play a video game for 30 minutes.”  Fill in the blank could actually be getting them outside playing fetch with Fido, helping Daddy with yardwork or Mommy with housework.  I also like the idea of a fitness challenge like a jumping jack challenge or even a squat challenge.  Let the child pick the challenge or just do different fitness activities.  And by all means, get the whole family involved.  That way, it’s more fun for everyone to take turns picking the challenge or the activity. The fitness activity can be as simple as arm circles or as fun as some family yoga.   Remember, the best way to get your child active is to join them…and have a blast making some memories this winter.

Gratitude – More Than a Feeling

If you spend any time on the internet, you might notice a common theme said to describe the younger generation. I often laugh when I see young adults and kids categorized as innately entitled and ungrateful as that has not been my experience working with children. That said, there are incredibly important traits that make for a healthy, happy, and helpful character and that need help and encouragement in building them. Gratitude is one of those traits. Sometimes, kids are the best inadvertent teachers in the lesson of gratitude!

To have gratitude means to be grateful or thankful for what one has, physically and metaphorically. You can be grateful for a brand-new set of Shopkins or have gratitude that you are able to put food on the table with relative ease. Part of being grateful is realizing that not everyone has the same privilege as you. What? What I mean is that you realize how fortunate you are by becoming aware of the ease with which you can survive by having access to necessities and by your ability to obtain and enjoy everyday luxuries that other people may not have. Kids get this so quickly once exposed to the realities, it is unbelievable! They recognize that they feel gratitude for what they have and are able to do because they can look around and discern that, unfortunately, life can be unfair to others.

Gratefulness must go beyond a mere feeling though. Gratitude is thankfulness in action. It is the part of us that goes out and seeks to make the playing field more equal. It shares. It helps. It listens. It seeks to eradicate inequality and make someone’s life better, in the best way it can. Easy ways to build this in kids is by helping them to recognize their privilege and encouraging them to empathize with others. Ask them questions about how they would feel if it were difficult for them to get around town because of a disability. Ask them what people could do to make it less difficult to move about town.

Take it a step further and act on the suggestions! When clearing your closet, get them thinking about the others who may need a warm jacket during the winter. Where could your too-small coat go instead of the garbage? When their best friend is sad, encourage them to be good listeners. After dinner each night, go around the table and name one thing you are thankful for that day. You don’t have to wait until once a year to do this activity.


You don’t have to solve everyone’s problems in the world, but the first step to gratitude is to put yourself in the place of others. Long discussions, games, and activities are great ways to begin the process. One game I use in my kids’ yoga classes is called “Orange You Grateful“. Sitting in a circle, we pass an orange (or an orange ball) around the circle, using only our feet. As we take possession of the orange, we share what we are grateful for and then pass the orange. Pinterest is full of ideas, too.

But the best teacher in this case is the self. A guide is all that is needed. It can be an uncomfortable topic because it means we must recognize that unfairness exists even with our best efforts. However, part of gratitude means we are always trying to make the world a little bit brighter for our fellow humans so that they can enjoy it too.

The Lure of Mandalas

(Children already know how to calm themselves naturally with crayon and paper.  This article is for the adults that forgot this hidden gem.)

19164176013_2c9528bb7d_zMandalas seem to be everywhere nowadays.  I go into the local book store and they have a table dedicated to these intricate coloring books.  I go on Amazon and see them on the sidebar or under “often bought together.”  Even my Facebook feed will every now and then pop up with a mandala coloring book it thinks should be marketed to me.  I’m not sure how to take the “swear-word” one, but I totally get the Doctor Who one (I did try to get the latter but it was extremely backordered).  If you are in need of a special occasion version, just Google and you will be sure to find one.  Some places market these as “adult” coloring books, even though the first time I saw a mandala was from my sons’ yoga class. So with all the hype of mandalas, I decided a blog was in order to help understand the lure (and the hidden need).   

Mandalas, a Sanskrit word, are spiritual geometric symbols representing the universe.  Mandala can also mean “circle” or “world in harmony”. Practitioners of Buddhism and Hinduism sometimes use mandalas to meditate on one’s unity with a higher power and as a guide to an inner wisdom or inner purpose.  Tibetan Buddhist Monks spend weeks creating sand mandalas only to destroy their work of art upon completion as a reminder that nothing is permanent.  The history and meaning of mandalas get very, very deep. The mandala books we find in mainstream stores use the term mandala more as a generic term for a geometric pattern. 

Let’s get back to how we can use this ancient practice to maintain sanity in our daily lives. This recent fad is actually a really good one versus some others of the past (anyone remember the Fry Daddy?).  In a society where everything is rushed, over-scheduled and stressed, we need a simple activity to help us calm down.  Years ago I9322975574_1b65ff1bed_z had heard that coloring was a natural de-stressor and anti-depressant.  I was in the military and just moved overseas.  Moving to a strange country all on your own can be down-right scary.  I always considered myself an adventurous type but I may have called a family friend from JFK and completely lost it.  These feelings were foreign to me and it took a whole year to adjust.  One of the things that helped me was a box of crayons and a Winne the Pooh coloring book (not kidding).  At the time I didn’t understand why it was helping me, I just knew that it did.  I have since learned that the coloring of a mandala is a form of mindfulness meditation. 

In an article I recently read, it claimed that coloring could be the new alternative to meditation.  I maintain that coloring is a form of meditation.  The psychologist Carl Jung used mandalas in the early 20th century with his patients as a way of getting them to focus and to allow the subconscious mind to let go.  There is definitely the need for mindfulness to stay within the lines of coloring the intricate designs in some of the mandala books out there.  However, just focusing on the colors and letting the lines flow gets us out of busy minds and may stir up memories of a simpler time as a child.  Working with the mandalas circular shape (true mandalas have no beginning or end) helps the mind t25235706466_1cc4a6ed55_oo relax which can aid in balancing the body’s energies.  This can indeed help support healing the body and mind from the everyday stresses of adult lives.  Through focusing on coloring we move our mind away from focusing on our worries, to-do lists and negative thoughts. 

So the next time your child sits down to color, take their cue whether it’s with an intricate mandala book or Winnie the Pooh. 

Yoga and the Lymphatic System

The Lymphatic System only makes up 1% of your total body but it is the powerhouse lymphbehind your Immune System.  Think of it as your Immune System’s bodyguard.  It is a system similar to the Circulatory System where it circulates fluid throughout the body.  However, unlike the Circulatory System, it does not have a major organ, like the heart, to help push the fluid throughout the body.  But why is this important? This system produces lymph fluid made up of white blood cells, mainly a type called Lymphocytes that “eat” bacteria, dead cells, and cancer cells. The regular everyday job of the Lymphatic System is to filter the lymph fluid to remove these unwanted cells. When the system notes bacteria, it ramps up production of germ fighting white blood cells which causes the lymph nodes to swell. The lymph nodes are where the immune fighting cells are and is where the lymph fluid gets filtered.  They are located throughout the body but many of us have felt the ones in our neck swell when coming down with a sickness.  Breast cancer awareness note: the lymph nodes under our armpits need to be checked each month, too!!

To boil this all down, look at the Lymphatic System as the drainage system for the waste in our cells. How do we know when our system is clogged up?  It’s easy to see when a sink drain gets clogged but not so easy in our body.  If you have any of the following then you may have a “clogged” Lymphatic System:

  • rings on fingers start to feel tight
  • brain fog sick
  • water retention
  • feeling tired, itchy skin
  • cold hands and feet
  • soreness/stiffness in the morning
  • soreness/swelling breasts during cycles

How do we keep the system clean and draining well?  Muscle contractions of movement (think exercise), massages, and the simple act of being inverted help to move the fluid in the Lymphatic System around.  Movement comes in many forms of exercise: dancing, running, yoga, etc.  Any pose which places the head below the heart, like standing forward bend and supported should stand, moves lymph fluid into the respiratory organs where germs often enter the body.  Once the head is back above the heart, gravity again assists the lymph fluid sending it toward the nodes for filtering.  Add these poses to your sequence regularly, not just when you have the first case of the sniffles, to build up your immune system as we enter into the winter months: down dog, dolphin, rabbit, forward folds (ragdoll and wide legged), shoulder stand, plow pose, supported bridge, wheel, camel, and child’s pose.

If you are a yogi then you may be thinking that you move enough through yoga.  However, another aspect of a clogged Lymphatic System is built-up stress by living in a chronic stress state.  This would be where our restorative yoga comes in as a key to unraveling stress with the added benefit of moving lymph fluid throughout the body.  Legs up the wall can be thought of as the “go to” pose for helping our Lymphatic System.  In this pose your legs are straight up against a wall with your back flat on the floor.  Here our legs are above our chest area allowing the flow of lymph fluid to reverse due to gravity, thus aiding our body’s legs up wallwaste removal process.  This helps to restore body fluid to the upper body which also helps to reduce swelling and fatigue in the legs, feet, and ankles.  One of my young yogis came into my class not feeling well and I had her put her legs up the wall while I continued with class.  The teacher came in and asked what she was doing and was surprised by my explanation.  She was further surprised when 10 minutes later the little girl felt better and wanted to join the others in class!  A month later a cold was going around the classroom and that same teacher requested that I end the class in legs up the wall to help the students’ immune system.  Who doesn’t need a little relaxation, less stress and a better immune system keeping every little cell happy and well?

A Kid’s Guide to Keeping Kids Off Screens

*Our very own 11-year old yogi-author, Kaden, is back with games for the family*

Well, the school year is over and summer has begun! But what if your child decides he game-1232879_1280doesn’t want to play outside, spend his time riding his bike, taking a swim in the pool and just being a kid? (I always enjoy when I can just run outside and play with my little brother! Ah, summer!) What if they want to stay inside and play… dun….dun……dunnnn!…video games? Well don’t worry because today I’ll be telling you some fun activities and games to play with your children.

This first activity is an activity that requires a bright and sunny day with clouds in the sky. Lie in the grass with your children and look at the clouds imagining what shapes they make. Does it make a plane? A unicorn? A slice of pie? (Or maybe I’m just hungry.)

The next activity is probably one of the simplest games ever known and I have had so much fun playing it. It started when I was in elementary school and we were stuck inside on a rainy day. We didn’t know what to play so our teacher got a beanbag and told us the rules of the game Hot Potato. (French fries would be nice right about now.22698676857_dd0e6447ef_z Maybe I AM hungry?) You play the game by finding a beanbag and telling whoever’s playing to get into a nice big circle. Then have a radio or cell phone and turn the music on. The people playing the game pass the “Potato” around as fast as they can. When the music stops whoever is left with the potato is ELIMINATED!!! I had and still do have lots of fun with this game.

The next game is a game called “What’s Missing?” To play this game, find some tiny toys to fit on a plate. Once you have found those toys then pick one person to be the presenter. Once you have chosen who will be the presenter, have the presenter show everybody else what is on the plate. Take a close look at all of the objects on the plate. Then the presenter goes into another room and switches something up on the plate. (I wonder if one of the objects could be cheese danish.) Once the presenter is finished, have them come back and show the others the plate. It’s up to them to find out what’s different. I first came upon this game when I wanted to watch TV but my mother and father told me no. I found a box of cards that had 60 alternatives to watching TV. So I went back to my parents and suggested we play this game and they agreed. We all had very much fun with it.

This last game that I want to share with you is a game called “Mother May I“. Most of you have probably heard of this game or have played it. Find a nice open spot and someone is picked to be Mother or Father. One at a time, the other people ask “Mother may I…” For example, “Mother may I, Take 1 big step.” The Mother or Father responds 22252190290_d8460be5c1_zby saying either yes or no. However, if Mother says no, then Mother must come up with some other step they must take. It’s up to the players to think of what kind of steps they can create, such as Mad Scientist step, Kitty Cat step, or even Cheeseburger step. (I think I should go grab a sandwich.)

I hope you all enjoy this list of games for summer fun. You have my eleven year-old oath of honor that at least one of these games on this list will work. And while you’re reading this blog, see if you can find out the secret messages I put in here to give a hint to my next blog. Thank you for reading and from here on out Namaste. .