Healthy Summer-time Screen-time boundaries for Tweens & Teens

It’s the beginning of August – halfway through summer. A season that’s supposed to be a time where life slows down and the kids get outside. But, it can be long and very stressful for working parents (and who isn’t a working parent these days?) Between work, juggling who’s driving who where, camp drop-offs, etc, it’s overwhelming. Along with that, camps are expensive, and babysitters/ nannies aren’t cheap either. If you’re a single parent, or in a relationship where both of you are working and struggling to save (who isn’t), summer gets complex. It can be a struggle between free play/downtime & structured time. Screen time can creep in and those device hours can become unruly.

And, this brings up my question: how have you handled screen-time with your kids so far? Have you unplugged the XBOX and moved it to the basement so it too gets a vacation? Or set time parameters either verbally or through a 3rd party, setting certain hours and limiting screen time? Have you booked a vacation to a remote sport where WIFI isn’t an option? Have you given in & given up, like so many of us do? It’s understandable… the struggle, as they say, is real.

That said, it’s worth the effort – data increasingly shows this. Multiple groups, from the American Heart Association to the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology are ringing alarm bells around screen time and obesity – and recommending strict daily limits. We aren’t doing so well at it, as a society. A recent study by the National Institute of Health looked at adolescent behavior, particularly around screen time, sleep time, and physical activity. Of the over 4,500 children studied, only 37% met the recommended max screen time per day of two hours. And perhaps even sadder? Only 18% met the recommended minimum 1-hour physical activity per day – likely because they were hunkered down, playing Rocket League or on YouTube.

It can get overwhelming – how do we create healthy boundaries around screens, while maintaining parental sanity? On the one hand, there are tons of online articles with screen time checklists & parental control ideas: no screen time until lists, swapping chores for screen time lists, screen time rules, 5 rules to follow, and more rules. That can work well if your child is younger (although I was more of a fan of the marble jar idea – check out that article to come). If, however, you are a parent of tweens and teens, this approach can backfire – they’ll push back if forced, and find ways to work around the rules. They tend to be well able to do that pretty well (Want to know the fastest growing online communication tool amongst the kids these days? It’s not SnapChat – it’s Google docs… they can & will find workarounds). Draconian approaches don’t respect their independence – they are growing up & looking for responsibility & are ready for it. Not to mention, they’re going to need to own these habits throughout their lives – you do them no favors if you don’t teach them how to stand on their own.

I’m a fan of getting your tween & teen on board to help set their own boundaries around screen time with you. The key is together. Call a family meeting and ask them if they feel they have had a healthy summer screen time summer so far. See what they say –  and then check out what their phone and other screens says. Sit together, and look at the phone – it tells you what you have used and for what, with the right apps installed. Tom’s Guide has an excellent list of options, and it’s well worth reading. This can be mind-blowing for them and you! From there you can start a conversation around setting healthier boundaries for the remainder of summer but breaking it down one week at a time (or it can seem too overwhelming). What’s realistic for 7 days? Let them work on setting a goal. At the end of the week, call another family meeting and review. Look at the results and talk about them: what helped cut down on screen time for them and what’s the goal for next week. What app did they use most? Was it music or was it YouTube? Or did the screen hours go up and if so what went up and why? 

Action plan breakdown that encourages teen & tween cooperation & responsibility:

  • Call a Family meeting at the beginning of the week 
    • Look at screen time on phone, iPad, video games, etc together
    • Together, set healthy goals for a week
  • Call a Family meeting at the end of the week and check-in
    • What worked well? What could go better?

Encourage collaboration, connection & cooperation. Hope that helps keep the conversation flowing between you and your tween & teen. And, I am right there with you – I’ll let you know how it goes with my teen & tween!

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Kids are Brilliant

Kids amaze me. I was teaching a 2nd-grade yoga class, during the school year and shared with my students that I was learning how to overcome my fear of handstands with my yoga teacher.  One of the girls asked, “Why do you have a yoga teacher?  I don’t understand.  Aren’t you a yoga teacher?” Brilliant. This led to a rich discussion about how we all have teachers, and how many teachers are also students;  that we are all learning from each other.  The girl next to her said, “Yah, it’s like your Mom when she goes to work has a boss, but maybe she is a boss to someone else.”  Yes! I love how intelligent these little beings are.  They truly amaze me – constantly.  I told them that I learn from them all the time, and they thought that was pretty funny.

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Happy Feet

No, this is not an article about the perfect pedicure. This post is about giving your feet the much-deserved love and attention they need & require. This is about saying yes to happy feet. 🙂

Looking around my yoga class, I see many students with what seem to be various feet/toe ailments. When asked, the answer is yes – oh, those “painful bunions, plantar fasciitis, neuropathy, turned out feet, flat feet, high arches, collapsed arches”, etc. The list never seems to end. Our poor feet!

As New Englanders, we stuff them in shoes all winter, which are usually tight and have some variation of a positive heel (both tight shoe box & positive heel = problematic for feet, see below). Then, come summer, we wrap our toes around flip flops (not a good solution either, again: see below). Our bare feet rarely hit the ground running or hit the ground at all, let alone meet varied textured surfaces. Yet somehow we expect them to carry us where we want to go, to run, jump, play, walk, stand, square dance (or default dance depending on the generation). They’re somehow supposed to do everything – they are our mobility and our stability.  However, we rarely think of them at all; they are the furthest and farthest from us – until they speak up, and then it’s usually in a “you-can’t-ignore-me-anymore” way.

The cliche ‘if you don’t use it you lose it’ applies here. If we don’t use the muscles in our feet they atrophy. In addition, as we progress in our years, we lose circulation in our feet. That’s the bad news. So consider this a call to action – and there’s hope yet. Because the good news is that we can change our feet (and anything) – ANYTIME, ANYWHERE. We are never too old or too set in our ways. We are generally the way we are because of poor habits, of holding or moving (or lack of moving) patterns. But when we tune in and change the habits that don’t serve us, and find a take on habits that serve us better, then we are on our way to life long adventure and fun.

The key is to move in as many different ways as possible, as often as possible- that includes not only your feet but everything else. It’s all about balance – about checking in and rechecking. For example, when in line at Market Basket (I seem to live there, with 2 active teenagers, a voracious bunny, and hungry husband) – I work to stay aware: am I favoring a hip, are my feet turned out, shoulders slumped forward, head forward, etc? These are opportunities to work our feet (and our head, our shoulders). We can raise, wiggle & spread our toes, bring our head back, open our chest – check in on our habits, be mindful.

Here are some great, easy, accessible exercises to work your feet:

  • walk barefoot, walk on the beach, walk in the grass – use your feet muscles in as many different surfaces as possible
  • raise & spread all 10 toes
  • can you raise just your big toe? how about just your pinky? can you play the piano with your toes? (okay, that last one’s pretty advanced 🙂 )
  • place a tennis ball (or therapy ball) under your feet and roll it – move your fascia!

For more mindful feet & toe exercises, come to my Happy Feet Workshop or contact me. Also, check out Katy Bowman’s foot book (Foot Pain Relief) & web site – she’s a movement queen (www. nurtitiousmovement.com).

Remember, you are how you move. You can change!

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The Best all Body & Brain Workout: Clean your House

That’s right. Cleaning your house is one of the best body & brain workouts you can do. Move as much as you can, in as many different ways as you can. It’s not rocket science that movement helps maintain mobility, but new research suggests that it also reduces risk of dementia as we progress in our years. “Now a study finds even simple housework like cooking or cleaning may make a difference in brain health in our 70s and 80s” (Neurology Journal). Woohoo! And it’s free. Plus you don’t need to drive anywhere & you save on house cleaning costs. The benefits are numerous and we haven’t even begun – catch my drift? So, put on some fun music & get down (& up). Clear the cobwebs in your house, and clear the ones in your mind.

  1. Floors: ice skating. Put a Swisper cloth (or any wet cloth) under each foot, and start to ice skate. Once you get comfortable going forwards, try going backwards. Change the angle and go sideways, and skate all around – get each nook and cranny! To up your game, bend your knees more deeply and play with going faster and then slower. Ice skating across your floors strengthens your inner and outer thighs, core, gets your heart rate up, and is fun.
  2. Under your bed: baby cobra, backbend. On your belly, with dust clothes, slither forwards and reach your arms out in front. Keep your neck relaxed, try to concentrate on engaging the upper back, as you reach for those dust bunnies. Then, slither backwards, arms back by your side.  This exercise strengthens your back body.
  3. Cabinets: down low, squat and up high, stretch your plantar fascia (note: I recommend doing this barefoot, so you get the full foot workout). Get out a cleaning cloth & spray, and come to Malasana (a squat) – so good for us! Great for your digestive system, hips, and ankles. In addition, as you make circles with the cloth, you are strengthening your wrists, shoulders, and arms. Make sure to switch hands. To get cabinets that are higher up, come onto balls of your toes (stretch for your plantar fascia), & keep your attention on your ankles. Notice if they bow out and if so firm them in so that you strengthen your ankles (ankles are the most commonly sprained ligament in the body). Then reach with your arms, creating circular movements with your hands as your cabinets begin to shine. Make sure to switch hands here as well.
  4. Vacuum: coordinate arm & leg movements, with a lunge, push and pull. Grab hold of your vacuum and switch hands – yes, use your opposite hand to hold the vacuum handle (note: it will and should feel weird). Then, think of creating a samba-like dance movement with your legs  – you are pushing and pulling – moving forward and backward, side to side. Can you use the opposite arm & leg? Cross bodywork is so important for your overall health – strengthens your mind & body connections.
    1. if not afraid to vacuum toes, do this barefoot to work your feet.
  5. Spot Checking: get into plank and look at your carpet – any spots? change the angle, and look some more – perhaps you find you missed a spot.
  6. Dust: down low & up high. Get your dust cloth and for those spots down low, hinge at your hips, stretching your hamstrings. Then, to get up high, come onto the balls of your feet, stretch out your plantar fascia, and remember your ankles – firm them in, strengthening them. Then reach with your arms (allowing your shoulder blades to rotate out & up, i.e. don’t pull your shoulder blades down your back), and move your hands in as many different angles as possible. Go for those cobwebs!
    1. bonus: do this barefoot to work your feet

Try it out and let me know what you think. Enjoy cleaning your house: your body will thank you, your brain will thank you, and your pocketbook will be happy. Clean away.

Recently featured on NPR, All Things Considered: Daily Movement — Even Household Chores — May Boost Brain Health In Elderly: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2019/01/16/684589375/daily-movement-even-household-chores-may-boost-brain-health-in-elderly

 

 

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The beneficial surprises of releasing, undoing, slackening

I am always surprised at how much more my body can relax and release – even after I think a tight area has released to it’s maximum. Lately, I have been doing a restorative version of Half Frog first thing in the morning (while still in bed – how marvelous), and then lastly at night (in bed again – how magnificent). You can see it in the picture below (no that’s not me, otherwise I’d never get this post published, but thank you Ekhart yoga for the pic and FYI, I don’t do this pose on a bolster – it would be nice, but first thing in the morning, it’s got to be easy, and at night too). Most mornings, I need a good two minutes on each side before I feel some tightness in my piriformis & low back dissolve. However, this morning when I was on my left side, and I was sure I had relaxed that area plenty, I stayed for one more breath and couldn’t believe how my glute dropped & released some more. It got me thinking that the body can release more than our brain think’s it can. This is great news! We can keep releasing beyond our expectation – I sense a life lesson here….

In addition, I have noticed that I get the greatest release from tight cranky parts when I focus my mind and breath on the specific muscle area vs. thinking about all of the things I need to do today. With each breath I actually focus my mind on letting the tension there go -telling my muscles that they can let go, that they don’t need to hold on any longer. It sounds so simple and almost goofy – talking to your muscles, to your body, like it’s a third person, but it works (more about this to come in a later post). If I can release tension and pain on my own, I’ll take it, try it, do it. Woo hoo.

We spend time talking about this in my kid yoga classes as well. Though kids aren’t necessarily dealing with tight muscles per se, they are dealing with things like anxiety that can show up in the belly and other areas. Realizing the different types of belly aches, like a stomach flu belly ache vs. “butterflies’ in my stomach” ache, helps kids to understand the language of their body. How cool is that! Not only is your body talking to you, but you can talk to your body. More on this to come in another post….

Lee Albert, the king of Positional Therapy, says that although our muscles need stretching and strengthening, then also need to go slack, i.e. release – a concept that many of us don’t think about or incorporate because it doesn’t feel like you are “working.” Barbara Benagh calls this process “undoing.” And folks it’s vital. Trust me. For someone who works super hard, and loves to sweat, the releasing piece didn’t jive well with me at first. Ironically, if you are like me, you need it most.

In case you were wondering, releasing isn’t sleeping and doing nothing. In some ways, the undoing is harder work because the mind has a greater tendency to wander (see my pointers above for how to help keep the mind focused via the breath). Lee Albert gives a great string analogy to demonstrate the difference between stretching and slacking:  “If I take two ends of a string and pull them farther apart, this is called stretching. Slackening a muscle is talking two ends of the string and bringing them closer together…If there is slack, there is no tension. If there is no tension, there is no pain.” He goes on to say that for the muscle memory to take hold and keep that muscle loose, you need to hold a ‘slack’ position for two minutes. The results are well worth the time – the pain seems to just vanish.

So, try and incorporate slacking, releasing, undoing into your practice, like the restorative half frog. The benefits will astound you.

Further learning & resources:

To learn more about the piriformis and how when tight it can wreak havoc on your lower back and cause lovely things like sciatica, check out my favorite anatomy lady, Julie Gudmestad’s piriformis article.

To learn about Lee Albert & how you and your body are healing geniuses, visit his web site and/or purchase his awesome book: “Live Pain-Free without drugs or surgery: How to use Integrated Positional Therapy to eliminate chronic pain.”

More on undoing, check out Barbara Benagh’s undoing article for the neck, “Crick Fixes: tension can be a pain in the neck.

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Mindfulness & Creative Arts change your Brain Chemistry

We’ve all heard it in the news, maybe even experienced it on some level ourselves – the rampant opioid issue the US is facing. I was not surprised to hear it is present in my daughter’s middle school as well. It’s here, it’s there, it’s everywhere. How do we teach our kids (and ourselves) how to cope with stress. i.e. turn toward a natural high vs. an artificial one?

Harvey Milkman, a professor of psychology, was recently interviewed on NPR’s Here & Now, a show I frequently tune into (yes, I’m a total NPR junky), about a study he lead in Iceland. His book, Project Self Discovery: Artistic Alternatives for High Risk Youth, shows how art, dance, music and mindfulness drastically reduced Iceland’s substance abuse and other behavioral problems. By drastic, I really mean astonishing: “In youth it went from drunk in the past 30 days — 42 percent of the 16-year-olds were doing that — and it went down to 7 percent. And in terms of daily smoking it went from 23 percent to 3 percent. In terms of using cannabis in the past year it went from 17 percent to 5 percent.” Remarkable. The key was that everyone bought into the program – parents, schools, government, etc. – everyone was on board.

Having a range of recreational activities available for kids was also critical – not just if they were into basketball, but also offering things like ping-pong, drumming, etc. In addition, kids were taught mindfulness – how to manage their own thinking. That’s how the natural high program for at-risk youth was founded: offering youth healthy ways to change their brain chemistry. When you think about it, this is common sense: giving kids healthy ‘natural high’ alternatives to chemical ones works, and it works brilliantly.

Let’s face it, stress facing our younger generation is not getting any less or any better. Who is teaching our kids how to cope? How to handle it all? Yes, stress is part of life, but what’s hitting kids is not just regular ol’ stress but toxic stress. “Toxic stress occurs when life’s demands consistently outpace our ability to cope with those demands” says MindfulSchools.org. This is the dangerous mix that our kids are forced to navigate every single day: social media, readily availability of drugs, technology overload, maxed out schedules, pressure to get into X ivy league college (often starting in pre-school).  Just earlier today I overhead a 12 year old girl leaving class say to her Dad, “When we get home I have to wash and straighten my hair right away. I’m so stressed. I don’t have time for dinner because I need to be back in an hour for tonight’s show.” If I hadn’t seen with my own eyes that she was a child, I would have thought she was an adult – and she looked very serious, stressed, and down-cast when saying it! When did we turn our kids into mini adults? And to what purpose?

This can’t maintain. As a society we need to start giving our kids (and ourselves) a toolbox of options as to how to manage the stresses that are coming at them. To start, parents and schools need to begin to invest time and finances into teaching kids ways to handle stress. The financial expense is small compared with what it costs when a kid requires addiction treatment, probation, incarceration, etc. Empowering our youth with opportunities and choices like yoga, art, dance, music, fitness (healthy recreational activities), and mindfulness is critical to our kids well being, health, and our world. Kids are the future. Let’s help them find a natural high in life. The pay-off is well worth the investment.

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Using the Sutra and in our Daily Practice

According to the Oxford English dictionary, a sutra is “a rule or aphorism in Sanskrit literature.” Sutra literally translates into ‘thread, rule.’ It also comes from the verb siv , which means ‘to sew.’ One can think of the Yoga Sutras as a woven together manual or practical handbook, as Satchidananda denotes. It is an effective tool for learning about yoga, because the concise text makes it easier to absorb a section (or sections) at a time. One is able to put the Sutras down, and pick them up again, very differently from a novel. Satchidananda states, “let us slowly try to understand more and what little we understand, let us try to practice. Practice is the most important factor in Yoga.” In addition, it allows for our understanding of a sutra to evolve, like yoga itself.

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Restore & Renew: Eliciting the Parasympathetic Nervous System

The Flight-Fight response of the sympathetic nervous system purpose was to help us flee from danger – think cavewoman fleeing from a tiger. In the face of a threat our body produces adrenaline to increase our heart rate, pupils dilate, blood flow shunts to extremities (to our arms and legs to prepare for fleeing), the body sweats, breathing increases, digestion is inhibited; growth, fertility, and immunity are compromised. Though times have changed, the Flight-Fight or stress response is dominant in modern life. We are in chronic stress, which is literally making us sick. The antidote is relaxation. Yoga, in particular restorative yoga, provides rich rest and relaxation. Restorative yoga elicits the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system (or rest-and-digest): our heart rate & breathing slows down, blood pressure decreases, brain wave patterns slow down, blood flow increases to our internal organs. Slowly our attention is drawn inward. As we focus on our breath, our mind and body are able to be quiet and still. By practicing restorative yoga, we allow our body to heal and mend.

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Patanjali’s eight-limbed path

In Sutra 2.29, Patanjali outlines an eight-limbed practical path to yoga. Though these eight-limbs can be seen as a step-by-step progression, they are all work together and are very interconnected. Western yoga emphasizes asana, the physical practice or posture practice, which is the third limb. The additional seven limbs (yama, niyama, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi) are not what made yoga big in the U.S. “Following the fitness and exercise boom in America, it was the physical practices [of yoga] that caught on,” said Philip Goldberg, a spiritual teacher and author of American Veda (Huffington post article, “How Yoga Became a $27 Billion Industry — And reinvented American Spirituality”, 2013). However, asana and yoga are interchanged, but asana without intention is just gymnastics. Many yoga classes do not inform students that yoga is more than the physical practice, and traditions are being lost. Gary Kraftsow, Viniyoga founder, states, “…there’s a lot of yoga that’s made up, modern stuff, with no understanding of depth and meaning of text.” In addition, emphasizing the physical practice, can lead to an ego and vanity driven nature, which goes against the very idea of yoga.

An advantage, however, to giving priority to asana, is that it helps prepare us for Pranayama (breath control), the 4rth yoga limb. The idea is that we need a relationship with our physical body first, so that we are able to open our thoracic, keep our abdomen soft, keep a lift and openness in our chest. In addition, most Pranayama is seated, so here too the physical practice is beneficial, for it helps us be able to stay seated, and be still. To be able to sit for long periods of time is also necessary for meditation, or Dhyana, the seventh yoga limb.

Asana can be an opportunity, a doorway, into the world of yoga. One could view the physical practice as a vehicle, a ‘hook’, that begins you on your yoga journey.

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Finding Steadiness & Ease in the Challenge

Applying steadiness and ease to each asana, whether to each pose or to the practice as a whole, creates a safe, active, and balanced practice. This is done by creating intelligent sequencing, and by giving precise and aligned instructions. With correct sequencing (gradually building towards a peak, weaving necessary puzzle pieces or component parts throughout) it makes the poses more accessible and safe, allowing students to have the best experience. In addition, precise and aligned instructions, not only creates safety (cueing, ‘pin your elbows in, catch yourself elbow height’ for Chaturanga, saves our shoulders from rotator cuff injury), but we also ‘work from the skin to the soul’, as Mr. Iyengar states. We get more and more subtle – using our fingertips to create lift in our forearms for AMS. When we do different actions, what is the effect? This also helps settle the brain, creating sthira. In addition, using counter poses (and transition poses) in our teaching, brings us back into balance. For example, after a peak backbend, like Urdhva Dhanurasana, it is good practice to follow-up with a supine twist, which releases the back and neutralizes the spine, bringing us back to balance. Lastly, counter actions (lift inner arches, as firm outer ankle in) themselves bring us back to the midline, to balance. Yoga should help us find the midline on mat.

Plank on the forearms is a challenging yoga pose for many students. In it’s very nature, it teaches and creates stability in the body (stable like a plank of wood). You get compact at your center (lift tops of thighs to ceiling, as you release tailbone to your heels). Your lower belly supports you like a tray. By pressing back with your heels, as you extend your sternum forward, you create length in the body and stability, like a taut piece of rope. Rooting down with your forearms, this too creates a steady, sturdy foundation. Focusing on the breath, making sure it is long and even, helps bring ease into the pose. Breath is key, as it is in all yoga poses. A soft Drishti, gaze, helps create Sthira and Sukha in the mind and body. Smiling helps too. In challenging postures, it is especially important to find steadiness and ease. The goal is that this will translate into life – that when we are faced with challenges, we can be find steadiness and ease.

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