Why I love kids yoga

Last Wednesday morning, ten three-year-olds and I went on a trip. We packed our bags, took an airplane ride, went swimming on the beach, and went dancing in New York City, all without leaving their colorfully decorated classroom in Northwest DC.

Partial class plan for Planes, Trains and other Mobiles:

Itsy Bitsy Yoga for Tykes - Tree Pose
pack our bags

  • wash our clothes: twistee
  • dry our clothes: nahbi
  • hang them on the clothes line: half moon
  • iron the fancy stuff: moon toe
  • fold the shirts and pants: toes to nose
  • put everything in the suitcase: forward bend

pack the car: in-out breathing

drive to the airport: red light-green light x2 or x3

check our bags at the airport: ring around the yogi

airplane ride: play The Airplane Song: jump, spin, gallop, dance (Laurie Berkner)

visit the beach

  • make a sand castle: wide angle forward bend & variations
  • read book: sing These Are My Glasses (Berkner)
  • take a bicycle ride

train ride home

Sure yoga teaches patience and mindfulness and is a physical exercise that’s good for kids, but it’s also wildly fun. Join me in new classes this fall:

Mondays at Capitol Hill Yoga
Itsy Bitsy Yoga

  • 9:30 am – Tots, crawling to 2 years
  • 10:30 am – Tykes, 2-4 years

Register for my next Itsy Bitsy Yoga class session.

Contact me for more information about upcoming classes or join my mailing list by following the link or filling out the form to the right.

Photo credit:
Preschooler demonstrates tree pose, a pose taught in Tyke Itsy Bitsy Yoga. Yoga Girl photo by Flickr user naturalmom / CC BY 2.0

Softening into Intensity through Utthan Pristhasana – Lizard Pose

This post was originally published as Capitol Hill Yoga's February 2011 Asana of the Month.

Lizard pose is one of my very favorite asana, but it hasn't always been so. The pose is an intense hip opener that, as a runner with tight hamstrings and IT bands, I used to find excruciating. It was not, as asana is supposed to be according to Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, a comfortable, steady posture (2.46).

deep lunge on forearms
photo flickr user YoGeek Mami/Creative Commons license

What I learned by working with lizard pose is to find ease in something that is difficult. By hugging compassionately to the midline of my body, embracing my tight hips with muscle energy, while softening my resistance and shifting my focus to opening my heart and organically extending my spine, I found that, while the pose was still intense, the struggle and suffering dissipated. And that is the yoga.

Getting in to Utthan Pristhasana – Lizard Pose

  • From all table pose or downward facing dog pose, step one foot to the front of the mat into a lunge.
  • Lift and spread your toes, embrace your muscles to your bones drawing power from the earth into the core of your pelvis.
  • Keep hugging to the midline as you use the strength of your inner thighs to take your the tops of your thigh bones back and apart. Pay special attention to inner spiraling your back leg as you draw the hip of your back leg forward and the hip of your front, bent leg back.
  • Keeping the alignment and commitment in the legs, bring both hands to the inside of the front foot.
  • Draw your tailbone down and in to engage your core.
  • Leading with the heart and extending through the spine, bring your elbows down to the ground or onto a couple of blocks.
  • Once in the pose, hug to the midline and recommit to your legs: Press into the heel of your front foot to further descend your front thigh bone further toward the floor and, at the same time, charge the muscles of your back leg to maintain the lift in your back thigh.
  • With each breath, soften your heart and extend your spine, melting any resistance to the pose.
  • To come out of the pose, root down through the feet as you press into your hands and come back up into a lunge.  Step your front foot back into table or downward facing dog and rest for a few breaths before switching sides.

Tips for Utthan Pristhasana – Lizard Pose

  • One of the keys to finding easeful alignment in Lizard Pose is carefully aligning both hip bones in lunge to be parallel with the front edge of the mat before bringing your elbows toward the floor.
  • Keep your head in line with the spine to help extend, rather than collapse in the pose.
  • If you opt to drop your back knee to the ground in the pose, isometrically drag your knee forward and front foot back to maintain muscle energy regardless of whether you tuck your toes or place the top of your foot on the ground.
  • An alternative to doing this pose with blocks but still not bringing your elbows to the ground would be to simply bend your elbows, drawing your shoulder blades toward each other to open your heart as you descend toward the floor.

lunge thigh stretch backbend 2
variation, flickr user YoGeek Mami/Creative Commons license


Cultivating a Sense of Wonder

image from www.flickr.com
 “I ride the metro with God.”

That was the thought that struck me at the end of chapter 7 of Donna Farhi’s Bringing Yoga to Life. The thought drove home the magnitude of creation, the sheer magnitude of Grace manifested into the diversity of this reality and its potential for constant rediscovery of the Self.  Two instances are not enough to capture an awareness of Grace over a day, let alone a month, but this is my attempt:

The bicycle commute: It’s cool, cold even, when I start my hour-long ride from Capitol Hill to Ballston, VA. I’m usually running late, so I peddle hard and the blood begins to pump faster through my veins, warming my whole body. My breath quickens. Often I can see it moving in and out, becoming me and becoming sky again, rushing past. Birds and airplanes soar overhead. I marvel at the contrast – that both can fly at all; that the rest of us don’t simply float away [1]

The toddler: A good bit of two-year-old anxiety is related to the process of defining identity. Where does she begin and end? She tells me, “I’m a butterfly today,” and retells the same stories, processing events of her day. “I fell down on my head and it went POP!” is a current favorite.  She’s magnetically drawn to the drama of human emotion, pointing out whenever anyone in earshot is sad (one of the more easily identified emotions). “The baby is sad” or “The little boy is sad,” she empathizes and looks to me to assure her that it’s ok. As she learns how she is separate from others, I hope she doesn’t completely forget that she is not.


[1] See January 20, 2010 – Astronomy Picture of the Day for a mind-blowing illustration of Grace. 

Originally drafted in response to a yoga teacher training homework assignment. Posted in response to today's #reverb10 prompt by Jeff Davis.

Combating the Lure of the Snooze Button

We sleep (3)
Originally uploaded by Studiojmm.

My solution to the challenge of accomplishing anything while looking after a three-year-old and juggling work and household tasks is to get up very early. My alarm goes off well before the crack of dawn and I stumble out of bed, leaving Mac and Maya to sleep while I practice yoga and get in some writing before the demands of the day hit.

Or at least that’s how it’s supposed to go.

In order for the early morning routine to be sustainable, Maya and I need to be crawling into bed for bedtime stories – pajamas on and teeth already brushed – by about 8:30 p.m. But between a late napper and evening commitments several nights a week, bedtime tends to creep later and later around here. We’re lucky if the crawl into bed thing happens before 9:30, and since neither of us fall asleep quickly, that results in not enough sleep for mom and makes that snooze button very, very tempting.

In his #reverb10 prompt this morning, Leo Babauta asked: “Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?”

Eliminating the snooze button is really a commitment to bedtime, so that’s what I need to work on.



In her #reverb10 prompt this morning, Gwen Bell asked participants to define 2010 in one word. Mine is “transition.”

While 2009 was actually the year in which I left my full time job, it was in 2010 that I really attempted to figure out what that meant. I began a yoga teacher training program and teaching kids yoga weekly, and I began to explore a new identity, separate from full time environmental advocacy.

The year involved a lot of casting about and feeling somewhat lost, not unlike a certain polliwog in one of Maya’s favorite library books: The Caterpillar and the Polliwog. He learns that, like the boastful caterpillar, he will transform into something else when he grows up, but nobody tells him what.

The word I will project on 2011 is “focus.”

transformation photo © 2005 Noyes | more info (via: Wylio)

Sacred Space

A lovely room that does not resemble
Jen's regular practice space.
Originally uploaded by beauty that moves.

My yoga home practice space is not a room dedicated to yoga and meditation with a lovely alter or plenty of wall space for practicing inversions.

I live in an old 3 bedroom row house housing 3 adults and a toddler, so pretty much every square inch of space gets used. On the second floor, we go vertical too, with shelving a couple feet down from the ceiling in 2 of the 3 rooms and 4 sets of floor to ceiling bookcases (a total of 6 once you count the ones in the front hall downstairs).

We've just hatched a plan to begin transitioning Maya to her own bed this summer, and that too involves going vertical with a custom built loft in what will eventually be Maya's own room.

So, my practice space, especially when I don't leave myself time to pick up more than the bare minimum, tends to look more like:

Continue Reading Sacred Space

Musings on Time

Mac got home yesterday evening complaining about the unusual amount of traffic he had encountered on his way back from Towson. He asked what time I needed to leave to make it to my yoga class, I answered, 6:30 for a 6:45 class. By 6:25, I was running late, as usual, and at 6:35 tore out of the house for the brief ride over to the studio. Upon entering, I noticed two things: one, this was not the usual instructor and, two, she had already started.

I pulled off my shoes and left them and my bike helmet on the shelf in the entryway, prepped my other things for easy stashing on the studio shelf, made some comment to the receptionist about someday being on time, and slipped into the studio. I rolled out my mat at the back of the class and took a few moments to settle before joining in. I was surprised to find that Stacey, the substitute instructor, was further into the warmup than I expected. Glancing at the clock in the studio I noted that it was just 6:45; what time had she started?

I must have looked puzzled and Stacey warmly informed me that we were doing the right side now. As I followed along into my second balancing table pose moments later, she made a comment about how the class was balancing so well that folks should consider staying for the second class. Second class? I take the second class. It starts at . . . 7:45.

I was an hour early for that class and 30 minutes late for this one. I had a bit of trouble balancing in single side balancing table because of the chuckling I was doing. I accidentally took half a core yoga class (in addition to my own) yesterday evening because I got tripped up over time.

Which brings me to my watch.

Running watch and parrotlet In the past few weeks both my athletic watch and my regular watch have stopped running. Honestly, I'm enjoying watchless life. I find not having a watch during my morning bike commute doesn't affect how quickly I get to the office but it does affect how often I check the time. Trains too go no faster because riders check their watches and worry about how late they might be. Fewer checks mean more relaxed ride.

It's been on my to do list to go to the Ballston Mall (now minutes from my office desk) to get the batteries replaced, but I keep not doing it. I think I'm going to finally do it tomorrow because I actually count on my athletic watch to time intervals when I run but I'm wondering about remaining watchless the rest of the time.

Between wall clocks, computers, and phones, it's not like I'm having trouble finding out the time. But it's nice to get away from it all (even if my cell phone is only a backpack pocket away).

Yoga Weekend – Reflecting on Yoga During Pregnancy



My daughter attended all nine Anusara
Yoga Immersion Weekends – but only
one on the outside.

 First cold weather car ride on Flickr

Back in February at the same time we decided it was finally time to have a baby, I signed up for a nine month Anusara Immersion program.

For the past eight months, I spent one weekend a month practicing asana and exploring Anusara, Tantric, and other schools of yogic philosophy with an amazing group of yogis.  For eight months, they watched Maya grow.  This weekend, they met her.

I was just a few weeks pregnant when I wrote the following essay on the meaning of the first principle of Anusara yoga.

Opening to Grace

Right now, to me, opening to grace means relinquishing the illusion of control in order to surrender to the divine.

If proper Attitude is a balance between effort and surrender, my challenge is to let go of my effort drive.  The drive to do more, push harder, set more goals, make more plans, and take on more projects can have an addictive quality and interferes with balance.  Resolution, willpower, creativity, and enthusiasm, crowd out mindfulness, quiet, harmony, and acceptance.

It is my practice on the yoga mat that regularly reminds me to release and surrender, opening to grace and a balance of essential heart qualities.

My husband and I are expecting our first child in November.  Even the first few weeks of this pregnancy has broken down any illusion of my control over it. No amount of effort on my part ensures a happy outcome and healthy child. There is no perfect dose of vitamins, exercise, rest, or extensive research that guarantees a healthy delivery. In fact, indulging a desire to control every aspect of pregnancy is not only futile, it may be harmful as it will inevitably lead to frustration, worry and stress.  While I can be a partner in creating this new life, I am not in charge of it; it is the work of the divine. This pregnancy has driven home the undeniable truth that only in surrendering to the divine, can I truly become a partner in creation.

Over the next several months, I will work to balance effort with surrender both on and off the mat for, at this moment, that is what opening to grace means to me.


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