Inspiring health and happiness in body, mind and spirit

Family Yoga Month (Compilation)

March 2, 2014
!!In February 2014, my family battled the mid-winter blues by committing to a month of yoga together. I wrote about our experience through the month, and have organized all of my posts here in chronological order.  Family Yoga Month didn't turn out the way I had expected, but it was a beautiful and bonding experience nonetheless. I hope you enjoy our story.

1
We returned from our Caribbean vacation with the hot sun and salty sea still on our skin. We were greeted by ten inches of snow in the front yard and not a single speck of blue in the sky. No one was entirely thrilled to come home.

We also returned with a cacophony of grumbles. Headaches, hip aches, stiff shoulders, heavy hearts. Exhaustion, tight shoulders, overactive minds and not too much to look forward to for the remainder of winter's harshest month.

I declared February to be Family Yoga Month and announced that I would offer yoga classes each day for anyone in the house. Just a few simple stretches to keep our joints fresh, our muscles strong and our minds stable. I made it clear that no one need join me, but all were welcome.

I must admit, I did have ulterior motives: A slump in someone's shoulders in need of straightening. An ache in someone else's hip to chase away. A wish for a little more self-care and self-mastery for some. But I didn't tell that to my participants, I just offered a few simple stretches.

Our first class began with a few truants, but by the end of our 20-minute session I had entire population of humans and animals all nestled together on the floor. Comments ranged from, "We need to do this every day," to, "I don't think I hurt anything!"

I also received requests to write down instructions for our sequences. And since I'm doing that, I'm going to share what we're doing here, just in case you might have a few friends or family members in need of a little sprucing up with a bit of yoga. If you have a little yoga experience, then you, too, can easily offer up a few midwinter stretches like these to keep those you love sane and happy until spring.

I'm keeping this simple - just a handful of postures each time - and I'm steering clear of too much philosophizing. My secret aim is for everyone - the six-year-old up to the 70-year-old - to be fluent in a dozen safe and simple yoga stretches that cultivate body awareness and move the body through a well-rounded practice by month's end.

I'm also taking this opportunity to do something I've long longed to do: rename some of my favorite yoga postures. I've long wished those old yogis had chosen slightly more prosaic names for their poses - something a little closer to the "cloud hands" and "white cranes spreading wings" of tai chi. Names that have feeling and that connote movement and ease. So don't be surprised here to find familiar yoga friends dressed in new clothing.

I hope you'll join me in sharing these bite-sized nuggets of yoga to those around you. Maybe your children could be coaxed into reaching for the sky, or your spouse could be cajoled into walking the wall. Perhaps your office-mates would love to learn how to spiral their shoulders. No big deal - just a few simple stretches that will help each of us reclaim our strength and our spirit.

A recap of our first yoga session follows. I'll post more detailed descriptions of each stretch soon.

We started out by Walking the Wall (half-uttanasana with the hands pressing into the wall). The key focus here was to hinge from the hip joint rather than the waist. I had planned to hold this for 10 breaths, but the moaning convinced me to stop at five.

We moved on to Birds in Flight (standing in tadasana and sweeping the arms outward and upward on the inhalation and back down to our sides on the exhalation). My intention here was to promote simple breath awareness and promote healthy and enthusiastic breathing. Just a few rounds of this seemed to be plenty.

We followed this with simple Shoulder Spirals (gently rolling the shoulders forward, up, back and down). We started with one shoulder, followed with the other, and then did both. Shoulder spirals help open the upper chest, beginning the process of returning the head back over the spine and de-slumping the back.

We finished up our standing sequence with Reach for the Sky (standing with legs slightly wider than hip-width apart, and then stretching one arm out to the side and up overhead for a nice long lateral stretch of the torso).  This one just feels good, and also helps create movement and feeling in the hips as well as the shoulders. And then we repeated Walking the Wall one last time.

We settled onto the ground for the rest of the class. By now, everyone in our family had been lured into the room, and the cats began slipping in with bemused looks upon their faces. One participant  hauled a suitcase full of yoga props into the room and began distributing straps, pillows and balls. Bodies were strewn amid the furniture, in a messy, happy let-it-all-hang-out sort of way.

We started with a Zig Zag Twist (lying on our backs with knees bent and feet on the ground, and then dropping the knees together to one side and then the other). This is one of my all-time favorite stretches, as it eases the back, releases the hips, frees the breath, quiets the mind, and just feels good. If you're a student of mine you know this pose well.

We then slipped into half Rocking the Boat (squeezing one leg toward the chest and rocking gently from side to side, while letting the other leg rest in either a bent leg or outstretched position), first on one side and then the other. This is another lovely stretch for those hip and leg muscles that can get a little stiff and sticky.

We moved on to a simple Bridge Pose (I haven't renamed this one... yet). I suggested just barely lifting the pelvis off the floor, but my eager participants couldn't resist building bigger bridges. This pose is a beautiful, simple backbend, and also a good strengthening pose for key postural muscles.

We returned to a few more Zigs and Zags, and then we lay back to Float on a Cloud (savasana). By now, my prop-happy children had become my assistants, and insisted on propping up the adults in the room with every pillow, blanket and eye bag they could find. Finally they, too, settled down onto the floor to float on their own. I offered just a few simple reminders to breathe and relax, and to rest the mind in the experience of the beautiful here-and now.

A lovely quiet settled over the house. I looked outside and noticed that the snow had begun falling again, and that the midwinter white outside was actually quite beautiful and lovely. My eyes returned back to the room and I smiled to see my very favorite people in the world flat out on the floor, resting peacefully, breathing quietly, with three happy cats snuggling nearby. And I gave thanks, yet again, for the gift of yoga, which somehow works its mysterious magic every single time.


2
The best thing to be said about our second session of my self-declared Family Yoga Month is that it happened. How can enthusiasm wane so quickly? Are we ready to give up already? Must we be dragged to the mat? (Yes, occasionally, it seems, which is a good reminder that sometimes it takes a village, even when it comes to yoga.)

We scheduled our session today for four o'clock, and at three thirty the kids gathered up all the yoga props they could find, hauled them downstairs, and laid out mats, bolsters, straps, blocks and eye bags. They were, at least, enthusiastic about props.

Five minutes after four arrived, and the adults had gone into hiding (or perhaps, napping). A few grumbles were heard about our class already starting late. But finally everyone was lured into the room by an enthusiastic bell-ringing six-year-old. (Ringing bells and singing bowls are essential if you're practicing yoga with kids.)

My plan was to stick with yesterday's general sequence - a few simple standing stretches, followed by some lying-around-on-the-floor postures. In the beginning, especially, a simple routine with a set sequence of postures can help keep everyone on track.

I also wanted to sneak in a few basics about healthy alignment, especially when it comes to standing and sitting. We have some lower back issues brewing in our family, and I wanted to experiment with the possibility of restoring healthy alignment to the spine.

We started out lying on the floor with a rolled blanket beneath the lower back, hoping to coax the lumbar spine into the teeniest bit of extension. This pose can sometimes help with lower back pain, as it encourages the lumbar vertebrae to move away from the c-shaped slump and toward a happier state of alignment.

Grimaces ensued, and blankets were rearranged to make the lower back supports even gentler. We didn't stay here long, especially since the younger set had opted out of the posture, choosing bell ringing and pillow throwing instead. After just a few breaths, we decided to move along.

We stood up in mountain pose, with feet parallel and hip-distance a part. We spent a little bit of time experimenting with exactly what hip-distance apart means for each of us - and this was good news for some (your hips aren't that wide!) and bad news for others. We drew the thighs back so the hips were over the heels. We rooted the feet downward into the earth and pressed our heads up toward the sky, creating just a little energetic oomph and tone in the spine. And we released the tail and let the lower back slip into a happier, healthier alignment.

And from here we followed our same standing poses as our first session, in a slightly different order (Birds in Flight, then Walking the Wall, the Shoulder Spirals, Reach for the Sky and a little more Wall Walking). Alas, today's standing sequence was accompanied by one child pinging about the room like a pinball, pausing occasionally to ring the bell, and the other attempting a spontaneous handstand in the middle of the room. "This isn't exactly relaxing," one participant lamented.

I moved everyone to the ground, which I hoped might bring relief to all of us. But even this evoked grimaces from my reluctant participants. One child decided to assist, rearranging arms and legs and hips and shoulders, and stacking pillows and bolsters in yogic and occasionally unyogic ways.

Another child launched into his own yoga flow, which was admittedly quite beautiful and pleased me intensely. (He has been watching me all these years!) The others followed me - more or less - through the same lying sequence as yesterday: Zig Zag Twist, Bridge Pose, and Rocking the Boat.

Many questions were asked about healthy hip and lower back alignment. We spent quite a bit of time learning how to arch and round the spine (from cat tilt to dog tilt, if you speak in that language), especially in Bridge Pose. And we tried again to add a little extra support under the lower back while setting ourselves up for Floating on a Cloud (savasana).

By this time everyone was lying around, and at least a little contentment and ease seemed to have slipped into the room. We breathed, we softened, we settled, we sank. We settled into the here and now, tuning into the raw sensations of each passing moment. We practiced acceptance, and we practiced love.

And then that bell began ringing again, first quietly, and then a little more enthusiastically. And then over and over and over, insistently, until everyone was coaxed from their respective clouds and had their feet back on solid ground.

People smiled. People offered thanks, People left the room with a little more lightness in their step. And no one even complained that our yoga class ended five minutes late.


3


When we started Family Yoga Month, I had visions of a beautiful line-up of restful bodies lying peacefully on the ground. Of people smiling and cheering each other on. Of enthusiasm and commitment. Of deep and peaceful exhalations, perhaps even in unison in recognition of how we are all one, as a family and a universe.

I did not expect to find myself marching through the house sweeping up participants - in some cases  grabbing them by the hand and dragging them into the room. I did not expect rice crackers to be passed about during standing poses. I did not expect insults - or eye bags - to be hurled across the room. I did not expect Harry Potter books to accompany savasana.

Despite the vast chasm that exists between the dream and the reality, we have persisted. We have accommodated, recalibrated, and realigned our vision. We have surrendered our dreams of perfection in favor of the messiness and fallibility of real life. And most importantly, we have lowered our expectations. Life seems to ask that of us time and time again, doesn't it?

We stuck with the basics in day three, in hope that a little routine and familiarity would help us overcome inertia. We began with our few simple standing poses: Birds in Flight, Walking the Wall, Shoulder Spirals, Reaching for the Sun. Apparently we had grown familiar enough with these yoga postures to form opinions about them. One person refused to reach their arms toward the wall and slip into a gentle forward bend ("It hurts my shoulder.") Another complained about my creative yoga names ("You tell me to walk the wall, but I'm not moving anywhere!"). Participants seemed just a little too eager to critique each other's stooping shoulders and bent legs. Arguments developed about whether spines were really straight or feet were truly parallel.

And when an eye bag flew across the mats -  not in a malicious way, but most definitely in a disruptive way - we lost one participant to book five of the Harry Potter series. Understandably. I decided to assert my authority as to reclaim a little order, requesting that props remain earthbound and critiques be left to the teacher.

Again, we focused on alignment, which is a good introduction to the body, and how we hold and carry ourselves in the world. We practiced standing in tadasana with the head over the spine instead of in front of it, and with the hips over the heels instead of leading the way. We considered strategies for standing and moving and breathing in ways that cultivate ease and energy in the spine.

We finished up with the same simple sequence of beautiful lying around on the floor poses, (Zig Zag Twist, Bridge Pose, Rocking the Boat), and a sweet and simple float on a cloud.

And our session ended, as usual, with Floating on a Cloud, followed by vigorous bell ringing that everyone has come to expect by now. (Although the pragmatist among us still asks, every time, "What's all the bell ringing about? Is that yoga?")

I did hand out a little homework, in deference to family members who thrive on feeding their hungry brains with how the world (and our bodies) work. I shared the following favorite resources for basic instructions about healthy alignment and healthy spine, which I hope will feed your brain (and body), too:

- Judith Lasater's classic Relax and Renew includes a chapter on the spine and a chapter on how to sit. These explanations are clear and concise, and great starting points for beginners.

Ageless Spine, Lasting Health by Kathleen Porter is another great place to start for anyone interested in learning how to live in a way that supports and strengthens a healthy spine. Beautiful photographs of well-aligned bodies offer additional insight and inspiration.

- Jean Couch offers a wealth of information about healing your back at her website. Watch the videos she highlights there, and read this enligthening article, which she wrote for Yoga International magazine.

- And for those with chronic back pain, Yoga for Back Pain by Loren Fishman MD offers detailed information about different causes of back pain and yoga postures to help keep the back strong and healthy.


4
Breakthrough! Session four was a hit! Everyone participated at least a little. Poses flowed just a little more gracefully. Bodies cooperated a little bit more. And participants seem to have already formed opinions about which poses work for them, which means they're engaging in the experience and feeling into their bodies.

It could have gone either way, I think. I could have surrendered to yesterday's inertia and given up when our family developed a new form called Grumbly Yoga Filled With Reluctance and Ill Will.

But we persisted. We mustered up the discipline it takes to embrace something new and challenging. We acted on faith, committing to the long view (health and happiness) rather than the small and immediate (fatigue and inertia).

We've established a bit of a routine by now - a few standing poses, a few reclined poses, then savasana. I wanted to stick with that routine in session four, but I also wanted to add a few new variations and creative challenges. This is a challenging balancing act, and one I face every day in my regular yoga classes. I want to give my students a sense of routine and familiarity, but I also want them to feel like they're having new experiences each session and not just the same old downward dog.

We began today by looking again at spinal alignment. We leafed through Ageless Spine, Lasting Health so we could imprint clear images in our brains of the various ways people hold their bodies, from the all-American slouch to the upright, integrated posture of grace. We continued by exploring  how we hold our hips relative to our heels with an exploration I learned long ago from Barbara Benagh, one of my very favorite yoga teachers. Here's how it works:

Stand in a happy, easy tadasana, noticing sensations of tension and ease throughout your body. When you're ready, imagine a strong breeze is blowing from the back of the room to the front of the room. Keeping the feet firmly in place, let the rest of the body shift forward as far as possible, as if it were a sail filling with the breeze. Notice sensations of effort and ease now. (If you don't feel much, stay until you do.)

After a few moments, let the imaginary breeze shift, so that it is now blowing from the front of the room toward the back. Again, keeping your feet firmly on the floor, allow the rest of the body to sail backward as far as possible without toppling over. Notice how sensations change with the shifts in your body. (Again, stay in the extreme stance, if necessary, until you notice how hard your muscles are working to keep you from falling over).

Sail forward and backward between the two extremes (wind coming from behind and wind blowing from the front) a few more times, paying close attention to how much effort you are expending to stay upright.  Do you catch the moment - somewhere in the middle - when you pass through a delicious place of balance and ease? Play around with this until you find that sweet spot where your body feels as strong, elegant, beautiful and effortless as possible. This is likely the place where your body is nearing its healthy alignment, with the hips hovering over the shoulders, the shoulders over the hips, and the head atop the spine.

If you enjoy this, you can experiment with breezes coming from the right side of the room and then from the left, and if you're still interested you can play with shifting from all four directions in different ways, circling the hips front to left to back to right. You're looking for the spot of ease and alignment right in the middle of the circle.

I love this exploration and the way it leads us inward toward the experience of the body in the moment, awakening a deeper sense of how our body is held together. I love the way it guides us toward healthy alignment in an experiential way. And I love how it reminds us that balance an ever-shifting dance of moving from the extremes toward the center, and finally to a place of steadiness and ease.

The room now quiet, with our eyes drawn inward, we moved through our standing series (tadasana, birds in flight, shoulder rolls, reaching for the sky), this time slipping in a few forward folds (uttansana), being very clear that we were folding from the hip joint rather than the waist.

We then paused for a short lecture on how to sit in a chair (please sit on your sitting bones and not your tail!), and did a few chair stretches. My intention here was to sneak in the epiphany that yoga could be done anywhere, even at a desk or in an airplane.

At last we settled down to the ground for Zig Zag Twist (Everyone agreed that this twist is worth doing every day, and some confessed that they've even been doing it in bed.) We added Sphinx Pose to our reclining flow (Cobra Pose on the forearms instead of the hands). This one is often soothing for achy lower backs, with its gentle invitation to let the lumbar vertebrae settle inward toward the body's core.

We also added Eye of the Needle Pose (reclined half lotus), another good one for stiff and cranky hips. And then we nestled into Savasana, with bells, of course.

I can feel the roots of habit beginning to form, along with a blossoming awareness of how we carry our bodies as we move about our days. Enthusiasm for family yoga is growing. The adults have told me that they can already feel yoga helping with their aches and pains, and they are eager to keep it up. The kids have been showing off the poses they've learned and have even come up with some new ones of their own. I'm hopeful that by the end of the month, we'll have a few more yoga enthusiasts on the planet, standing tall, breathing freely, and embodying balance and ease.


5
Our class today was an adults-only affair. The children, I believe, were too busy spying on us to participate. And that turned out to be just fine, since it let the adults focus on some finer details of yoga that would never make it past whizzing eye bags and snacks-on-the-mat.

There's a reason adults and kids are typically taught in different classes. Adults need one kind of vibe (Relax! Breathe!) and kids thrive on another (Jump! Howl!). As I've discovered, Relax-Jump-Breathe-Howl! is a tough act to lead.

There are benefits, though, to all ages practicing together. We learn from one another, and we are cultivating an attitude that embraces the sentiment that "we are all in this together." I have a feeling the adults are showing up for class to set a good example for the kids, and the kids are participating in order to keep the grownups motivated. Everyone gets a little yoga, and everyone walks out a little taller.

My secret aim in our classes is to develop something that the adults can carry with them after Family Yoga Month ends. And I do see a well-rounded program taking shape - one that can be dressed up or dressed down, depending on time and energy level. One that can be done by almost anyone, pretty much any time, in regular clothes, without props.

We've been starting out with some simple upright postures, first with legs together in tadasana (Tadasana, Raising the Arms Overhead, Uttanasana, Shoulder Spirals, with the possibility of a Tree Pose or a Wall Uttanasa for variety). We then stand in a wide-legged Tadasana, and add some lateral stretches and shoulder openers.

We've added a little sequence on all fours, just to keep the spine and hips limber: Waking up the spine  by arching and rounding the back (Cat and Cow poses), smoothing out the hips with a dance between Child's Pose and Cobra Pose (or Sphinx, for achy wrists), and resting for some happy belly breathing face down in Crocodile Pose (with some added spine-strengthening Locust Pose for those looking for a little heat.)

And then we have our reclined sequence forming: Zig Zag twists, Bridge Pose, Rocking the Boat, and a few more twists. And then, of course, Savasana for dessert.

I'm losing the battle over the names of the poses. The pragmatists among us favor clarity over imagery. And there is value in sticking with tradition: you know what I mean when I tell you we lifted our arms overhead (in Urdhva Hastasana, for the real purists), but you may be flummoxed when I tell you we practiced Birds In Flight. Perhaps we'll find a middle way.

With the kids AWOL (or rather, hiding in the corner beeping back and forth in their secret code), the adults spent a little more time exploring the nuances of spinal alignment and flow. We took a look at a few good resources for lower-back pain in general and sciatica in particular, which I found both clear and informative. Here's a real gem about sciatic pain by Doug Keller, and another on the piriformis muscle, also by Doug Keller, and one more interesting piece courtesy of YinYoga.


6
Today's class was held in the living room with bolsters serving as the featured prop and pretzels as the chosen snack. I'm starting to feel like we are playing out some warped version of that old board game Clue. ("Colonel Mustard practiced backbends in the drawing room with a Manduka mat and a purple zafu.") Whatever it takes, I suppose.

The kids seem most enthusiastic about the set up, the gathering together, the big beginning. They're possibility people. They eagerly arrange mats and bolsters. They unravel straps and pass out neck pillows. They decorate the room with eye-bags and my old collection of batik sarongs.

Their interest seems to wane from there. I must admit, today I did beg them before class to try to stay on their mats (It's your kingdom, your castle, your very own flying carpet, I told them). I suggested that I needed them to demonstrate some of the finer points of yoga. I told them their focus might help the adults stay focused, too.

The kids made it through the demonstrations (it's easy to see vertebrae sticking out of skinny little-kid bodies) and half of the standing poses before yanking their mats into the hallway to teach each other how to stand on their hands. I did my best to ignore the house-rattling thunks and prayed we'd make it through our class without anyone suffering a concussion. At least they were practicing yoga, more or less.

The adults continued with our established flow (legs-together standing poses, legs-apart standing poses, stretches on all fours, stretches on our backs, and then Savasana). Tonight I added a few simple breathing explorations, including crocodile pose, my favorite posture of exhalation.  (I wrote about it in a Yoga Journal article about breathing basics.) This is an unfailingly reliable stress reliever. The body is invited to completely relax, and the belly is able to soften and settle into the ground. The arm position draws the breath deep into the body, and the exhalations grow soul-satisfyingly long.

I also led us through a home-grown "Breathing Salutes" vinyasa, which I created when looking for an easy way to free the breath without having to change clothes, pull out a mat, or lie on the ground. The infinity loops, especially, were a big hit.

Enthusiasm continues to be strong, despite the bumpy, messy, not-particularly-ideal way our classes continue to play out. Everyone keeps coming back, and everyone asks for more.

I had hoped tonight to coax Savasana into a slightly longer meditation on happiness and ease. Stomachs must have been rumbling, though, because instead of satisfied exhalations I heard someone  mutter, "If we don't get this over with soon, we won't have time for dinner." I called for my junior bell-ringer, and class was adjourned.


7
By the time we remembered yoga, we were too late. A busy evening meant that we wouldn't all be in the house together until well after the kids' bedtime. No problem, I thought, we'll just let yoga slide today.

But the kids had other ideas and begged for a class anyway. "Let's do some real yoga," they said. "Not that old-people stuff."

This may have been a ploy to delay bedtime, and if it was, it worked. We pulled out mats in the playroom and stood in Tadasana. We jumped (and howled) our way through a few cacophonous sun salutations, complete with kid-friendly variations like Hissing Cobra, Jumping Frog, and the perennial little-boy favorite, Tinkling Dog (Dog Pose with one leg high in the air).

The boys stayed right with me, so I pressed on into a few big standing poses, some lunges, Camel Pose, Plank Pose, and finally "Chaturanga-anga-anga-dandasana." 

"I'm sweating," one boy said. The other took off his shirt in a Bikram-esque gesture of bravado. I stopped him when he started pulling off his pants. Not on my yoga mat, little boy!

I threw in a few backbends and simple arm balances (Bakasana and Bhujapidasana). The boys finally collapsed on their mats in exhaustion and surrender. "Wow, Mom, I can't believe you can still do that," one said. "That's pretty good for a little old lady."

Ahem. 

The boys decided to tackle full arm balance again tonight, this this time with a little assistance. I threw all my tricks their way, in hopes of helping them figure out how to kick up onto their hands against the wall.

They were relentless in their determination, despite my promises that we would try again tomorrow. They were undeterred by my reminder that I had once been sent to the doctor by an ill-fated attempt at full arm balance. ("But your toe wasn't really broken after all," they retorted.)

They asked me whether I might know just one more trick that could help them up. I thought of my yoga student who has spent years mastering the fine art of almost hopping up into full arm balance, and of her commitment to never giving up. I pulled out one last idea, and both boys managed to linger upside-down for a few seconds before toppling over. Good enough for tonight, they decided, rolling up their mats in triumph.

And that's when the magic happened. One boy shouted, "Blizzard!" We turned toward the window to see snowflakes as big as silver dollars falling through the trees. Out of nowhere a fantastic snowstorm had descended upon us. The wind howled. The snow danced. We watched as the world outside grew blindingly white.

We turned out the lights and sat down onto the floor. We marveled at the strength of the wind and the willy-nilly pattern of the snowflakes streaking by.  We whispered about what we saw: minnows skittering about in the ocean, starbursts, tornados, fireworks on the fourth of July. Hurricanes, the wind made visible, shooting stars.

And then we ran out of words. We sat there together in the dark, the three of us, watching the drama, the somehow suddenly beautiful spectacle of one more wintry snowfall. The room grew silent and still, just the way it feels when you wake up in the middle of the night and are overcome by the enormity of the world and the beauty of you being able to rest at its heart.

"This is like meditation," my older son whispered. I smiled and squeezed his hand.

And so it was that our yoga class ended not in corpse pose, not even floating on a cloud, but this time meditating on a big, beautiful blizzard -  my children and I  together, holding hands, happy and amazed.

8
Family Yoga continues, although it is less in the forefront of our days. I wouldn't say it has become an afterthought, exactly, but the newness or this family adventure has slipped into routine.

Our sessions also seem to have bifurcated lately, with adults and children requesting separate sessions. On the one hand, I feel disappointed, since the shared experience is lost. Almost-Family Yoga, or Sort-Of Family Yoga, doesn't quite have the same pull to me.

But the division into kid-yoga and grown-up yoga does make sense, and makes it easier for everyone. The adults haven't exactly been finding their inner peace amid the eyebag-snowball fights. The kids haven't been particularly wowed by my lectures on spinal alignment. Dividing things up makes it easier for everyone to find what they need, meaning everyone is a little more enthusiastic about what they're learning.

Adults continue to develop a simple, gentle yoga flow. We have one week left of this experiment, and I'm hopeful the adults will take with them into March a yoga flow they can do on their own. I'm doing my best to convince them that just 10 minutes of gentle stretching each day is enough to help their bodies feel stronger and their minds a little easier. It doesn't take much.

And the adults have whispered to me in conspirational tones that yoga works. Their bodies feel less achy and more flowy and alive. They seem to be on their way to becoming yoga enthusiasts.

For the kids, yoga has been all handstand all the time. They are demons possessed by the urge to turn themselves upside-down. I'm doing my best to ride this wave of enthusiasm while offering enough supervision to keep us out of the emergency room.

Watching their efforts has been a delight. Their determination has been fierce, and they head over to their spaces at the wall to practice several times a day. They have each managed to make it upside-down on their own but not every time, which is frustrating but only fuels their determination. They've been helping one another and making videos of each other flipping upside-down. They've even slowed down their videos to analyze their attempts and figure out what works best.

They've learned patience and persistence, putting into practice one of our favorite family mantras, "Never Give Up." They've practiced cooperation. And they've had a lot of fun exploring the limits and possibilities of their bodies.

What is it about turning oneself inside-out and upside-down that is so thrilling? What is it about climbing into one's own body and exploring the limits and possibilities that is so enlivening?

And for that matter, for the adults, what is it about rippling the spine on all fours that feels so good? How can just a few minutes of twisting and bending create such profound relief? How does yoga work such magic time and time again?

Occasionally I get close to making sense of it all, but mostly I remained awash in the mystery and the not-knowing of exactly how yoga works. What matters, I suppose, is that it does work. And that we welcome it wholeheartedly into our lives - sometimes together and sometimes a part - each and every day.


9 (Sort Of)
Oops. Life seems to have interfered with Family Yoga these last few days. Travel preparation, tax season, science experiments and a virus that's been slow-dancing through our family have kept us off our mats.

Yoga is still there, though, lingering in the background of our days. We're aware that we're missing, but often by the time we remember yoga we've run out of time, effort and willpower. We're just too tired or frazzled or busy trying to get dinner on the table before we're in our pjs.

(I recently heard the suggestion that anytime you hear yourself say, "I don't have time," you should substitute the words, "That's not a priority for me," and consider that this may be a more accurate explanation. Ouch.)

Here's the silver lining: While we may not have been gathering together on our mats these last few days, yoga does seem to have wiggled its way into the twists and turns of our day. Lego building is occasionally interrupted by handstand practice. Dinner conversation sometimes includes talk of spinal alignment (If you hear a shout of "BPA" then straighten up, because someone has just issued a Bad Posture Alert!) YouTube yoga videos are shared. Photos are taken and quick notes scribbled down in hopes of developing a simple sequence of postures that can be done any time, by almost anybody, almost anywhere.

We've also been playing around with a few new yoga toys. This wedge, which was designed to help improve spinal alignment while sitting (transforming your "sad dog" posture into a "happy dog"), has been passed about. I like it and am keeping one in my car. And this strap, designed to help open the chest and keep the shoulders happily positioned, has been put to many uses - some of them more yogic than others. (Maybe I'll tuck this one away for my yoga classes.)

We've also been having a lot of fun practicing bhramari (humming bee) breath, which is beautifully explained in this Yoga international article by Timothy McCall. It's simple, safe, and utterly delightful. It's gifts are myriad: shaking free clogged sinuses, calming anxiety, opening the heart, and best of all, cultivating joy.

Everyone in our household seems to love this breath, which is a little like chanting with your mouth closed. The vibrations seem to ricochet throughout the body and out into the cosmos beyond, unsticking the sticky bits within and creating a feeling of brightness and ease.

I'm hopeful that we can climb back on our mats together a few more times before the month ends and life takes us in different directions. And in the meantime, we'll all keep humming.


10
I had high hopes that we would end family yoga month with one rousing finale, with everyone participating happily, cheering each other on, and reveling in the glow of our month of family yoga.

Once again - and as usual - life had other plans.

It wouldn't be fair to say we hobbled to the end, exactly. We did have a drop-out and perhaps a yoga rebel or two, who opted for a more individualized interpretation of family yoga. We did run up against busy schedules and end-of-day exhaustion. We did waffle and waver toward the end.

But still, we did it. And the most unlikely participant of all turned out to be the most enthusiastic, which meant I got to spend some quality yoga time with my beloved father. (Who knew we would ever sit down at the kitchen table together and consider the ins and outs of child's pose?) I developed a very basic 10-pose yoga sequence for him that seems to offer a gentle, well-rounded tune up for the body, and that I'm eager to share with others. Yoga did slip a little more deeply into the folds of all of our lives.

The youngest are still hurtling themselves up against the walls, growing more confident in their handstands every day. They say they long for summer when they can practice in the grass without fear of falling into door frames or onto legos. They hum a lot, practicing that brahmari breath in mostly appropriate ways, and they occasionally ask to do some "really hard pretzel poses."

And the older have, I think, gained a newfound appreciation for mindful movement. It's amazing how little it takes - a stretch here and a twist there every day - to keep the body feeling fluid and free. We also learned how important it is to have the support of a community when trying something new and forming new habits. We learned how to fine tune the practice to the winds of each day.

Hopefully the echoes of family yoga will live on for all of us, in small and unexpected ways. My dear father, at least, is keeping with yoga on his own, emailing me each day with news of which dramatic, sunny view he surveyed while sailing through his yoga sequence. He also emails me for long-distance consultations.

And so I'm declaring our family yoga experiment a success. It wasn't at all what I envisioned when we set out on our journey together. It was noisier and bumpier, I suppose. It was filled with surprises, which we came to love only when we traded in resistance for acceptance. We had many sparkling moments. All in all, it was a beautiful ride.

Maybe that was the biggest epiphany for me last month. Reality rarely matches the perfection of possibility. It's messier and noisier and harder, and filled with unexpected twists and turns. The trick is to manage it with faith and grace and open arms. With persistence and resilience and a willingness to improvise. A playful spirit helps, as well as a patient and forgiving heart.

It's a beautiful, beautiful journey, this life. And it is so much more lovely when shared with those we hold most dear.