For Everyone Who Worries About The Kids In Their Lives Who Worry

Monday, May 31, 2010


One night a few years ago in a beautiful yoga studio in Connecticut, I took my first private yoga class with one of my favorite instructors. During class, she stopped me and said, "Angela, you have a lovely yoga practice, but you don't know how to breathe."

Don't know how to breathe? How had I gotten through 37+ years of life without knowing how to breathe? Air in, air out. Not so hard, right? But then my yoga mentor began teaching me how to breathe, and I realized - she was right.

Not knowing how to breathe correctly probably started for me as a young child. I had constant ear infections and colds and often couldn't breathe out of my nose. My doctor said I was a "mouth breather". Tubes, medication, and getting older helped me to begin breathing out of my nose, but I had another problem. Not only was I a mouth breather, but I was also a chest breather. (I know ... you may be saying "So? Mouth, chest, lungs - aren't you supposed to use these to breathe?") Then, like many teenagers, I wore my designer jeans that were tightly fitted around the waist. Which means a lot of holding in of the stomach and not much room for the diaphragm to expand.

As a teacher, I can remember feeling by the end of the day as if I had not breathed at all. I was often so stressed and in a rush to fit everything in that my stomach was clenched and my shoulders and chest were tight. Not great for breathing it turns out. Also not great for one's health. And forget about breathing correctly as a mom! Who has time for that?

So it wasn't until my yoga instructor began showing me how to breathe, that I realized how truly important it was. Concentrating on the breathe and breathing fully and correctly can literally change many aspects of your life. Your anxiety level can go down, you can focus more on the moment, you can physically and mentally accomplish more, and your health can greatly improve.

Relaxed, diaphragmatic breathing where we are breathing in and out of our noses and from our belly has a "positive effect on the cardiovascular, neurological, gastrointestinal, and muscular systems, and has a general effect on sleep, memory, energy levels, and concentration."(from Yoga Calm for Children)

How can we teach this type of breathing to our children, and ourselves? You can have your child lie on his back, stand, or sit in a chair with his hands on his belly. Have him take a deep breath through his nose very slowly to a count of three. Your child should feel (and you should see) his belly go up. Then, have him exhale through his nose to a count of three. He should feel his belly go down. As he continues to breathe, his belly will go up and down like the waves of the ocean. If you see his shoulders rise up while breathing, this is a sign that he is breathing through the upper chest and not the abdomen. Your child can practice this breathing in a relaxed setting, and then be taught to use it whenever he is anxious.

Once I started "belly breathing" rather then "chest breathing" many of my gastrointestinal problems went away. And I use this breathing to relax, focus, fall asleep, and go further when exercising. And when my kids breath this way it relaxes them and centers them so that they can calm themselves and make better decisions on how to handle problems and anxious situations.

So stop sucking in that belly and start breathing into it instead! Fill it up like a balloon and then deflate it. Make your breath like the ocean and dwell in the peace it creates.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Silly Bandz

OK. Let's have a show of hands here. Who else went out and bought silly bandz for their kids because "everyone has them mom!"? Because really, why else would I spend five dollars on 12 rubber bands that are going to get broken, lost, or discarded in a matter of days? Was it because they came in different colors? Because of the cool shapes? Because my kids would have hours of fun with them? NO - I admit it - it was because I didn't want my kids to feel left out. I knew having the silly bandz to show off to their friends would make them feel happy and 'cool' so I bought them. As much as they want to fit in, I want them to fit in too.

But I did stare at the silly bandz display in the store for awhile deciding what to do. I actually left the store empty handed the first time. But then I saw more and more kids with them over the next few days, and heard more and more 'please moms' from my kids so I decided to surprise them and go back and get them. Where they thrilled? Of course. For a few days. But now as predicted, many are lost, others broke in half, and the rest are scattered around their rooms. They come out again when a friend comes over wearing them, but otherwise they sit untouched.

And that is what I thought about as I stood staring at the silly bandz in the store. Was getting these for my kids because everyone else had them really a great lesson for my kids? I want them to learn to be individuals, to do their own thing and be proud of it. To be their own persons, stand up for themselves and not care what others think. I also want them to learn that happiness comes from within and that money and possessions won't bring you happiness. Material things might make people want to be your friend, but they definitely don't bring true friends into your lives.

So then why did I buy the silly bandz? Probably because they were only $5 and for $5 I could make my kids happy even if only for a little bit! But if it starts with $5 silly bandz, where will it go from there? What about when my daughter wants the brand new American Girl doll because everyone at school has it? Or when my son wants the DSi in addition to his DS because the kids at school all have the new one. Cell phone? Ugg boots? Lucky Jeans? A car? Obviously there is a huge difference between getting my children silly bandz and getting them a cell phone, but is the message any different if the reason for getting them is because everyone else is doing it?

Growing up, I remember my own obsessions with what was 'in' at different moments. Cabbage Patch dolls that parents were getting into fights over. Jordache jeans (with the white stitching). Boom boxes. Leather bomber jackets. I remember feeling that I HAD to have these or I would be left out. Some I got, some I didn't. But none of them made me very happy for very long. Although I wouldn't have admitted that back then!

In trying to figure it all out, I often look to a best friend who has two girls ages 13 and 11. They moved a few years ago to another town in their state because it had a better school system. While they are happy with the schools, they didn't count on the extra peer pressure that was going to be involved with moving to a more affluent town. Almost all of her girls' friends have cell phones and have had them since they were 9 or younger. The clothes are designer labels, and the birthday parties sometimes involve limos and trips to the city. The easiest thing for her to do would be to let her girls have a cell phone, or have them shop only where everyone else does. But she chooses not to do that and makes no apologies for it. She sets the rules for her girls and sticks with it. Do they give her problems? Sometimes - but they also have learned to make friends based on interests and similarities rather than by popularity. They are amazing at sports and this confidence in their abilities makes them content in being their own person and letting their friends see who they truly are. Her oldest still loves Coach handbags and clothes from Abercrombie, but she has also learned that she better really want them because she will be spending her own money to buy them or waiting to get them as gifts. And when she wanted to start wearing make-up like everyone else, my friend waited until what she felt was an appropriate age and took her to get a make-up lesson and help her with her first purchase. Both girls have lots of friends and have learned to deal with any razzing they get about not having the latest gadget or fashion accessory. And they also have chosen to separate themselves from some former friends and classmates whom they feel are spoiled and no fun to be around. They are happy, respectful, friendly, confident, well adjusted kids and it has a lot to do with their mom setting limits and rules and sticking to them.

So when the next silly bandz like craze comes out will I go running to the stores? I don't know - I guess I'll have to make that decision then. I do know that I recently lost my iPhone (an adult version of having to have what everyone else does?!?!?). At first, I was going to run out and buy another one no matter what the cost (I truly did love that phone!). And then I thought about it a bit. Did I really NEED to have it? Yes it was fun and came in very handy at times, but I did live for almost 40years without one. So I decided to wait. I'm back to my phone that is just a phone and I am surviving. And I showed my kids that even moms can't always have what they want even when everyone else has one. Or that when we lose something, we can't necessarily just replace it - we need to be more careful with our things. They see that my friends are still my friends and that I can laugh at myself when these friend tease me for having a boring phone!

On the other hand, don't judge me if you see me walking around with the new version of the iPhone coming out later this summer. Hey, I'm only human!

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Short Stuff

Shrimp, shorty, shortcake, pip squeak...I heard them all as a kid. Yep, I was the kid always at the front of the line. If it was time to line up in size order, you-know-who was front and center. "Really sweetie, you need to be in the front row of the picture so we can see you." "I'm sorry, you have to be up to the bear's hand to go on this ride." "Here is a kiddie menu for you my dear." Ah, good times.

I can remember my friends all going to the juniors department to find their dresses for 8th grade graduation. At the same time, my mom and I searched Dutchess County and beyond for a size 10 children's dress that LOOKED like it came from the juniors department (there was no Limited Too or Justice back then!). Going to the movies with friends was always scary because I knew the ticket vendor was going to try and sell me the ticket for the under 12 price - even when I was 16. Simply the end of the world for a 16 year old hanging out with her friends.

Sure, being short sometimes had its advantages. I got to be the guardian angel in the Christmas pageant because I was the only one who could fit in the costume. I think I also got to be cheerleading captain for awhile for the same reason.

But mostly being "different" from my friends in this way, left me in constant fear of being teased. I hated the nicknames, and the misunderstandings about my age due to my small stature. I just wanted to fit in, but being smaller than most everyone else made me at times feel awkward and not good enough. I had lots of friends, did well in school, and had a great family, but these worries still hurt.

Just about every kid in every school in every country is going to get teased about something in his childhood. Let's face it ... kids can be mean to each other! But is there something we can do to help our children deal with these times? (Besides going to take care of the little teaser ourselves - come know you thought about it!) Is there a way to help prepare them for this awful part of childhood and to give them strategies for handling teasing so it doesn't hurt as much? Or to teach them how to stop it when it happens to them?

I think about what I did or could have done when being teased about being small. I could have told those closest to me that the jokes made me uncomfortable. I wasn't the best at opening up to friends, so maybe that was something I could have been taught to do. I could have stood up for myself more. Maybe I could have also learned to laugh along with some of the comments or events. Instead of getting upset about not fitting into the juniors sizes, maybe I could have joked with my friends about needing to borrow one of their little sister's dresses. I could have shared my anxiety, rather than hide it. Laugh at it, rather than worry about it. Now that I think about it, chances are there were other girls who weren't fitting into a size 2 or 4 at age 13 either. We could have commiserated together.

So, now as a mom I think about how I can teach my child to laugh at herself or open up to her friends about her worries or unhappiness with their comments. I think one way is by setting the example in my own life. Instead of complaining and getting upset on a bad hair day maybe say, "Wow, this is what they mean by a bad hair day! Wait till the moms at pick-up see this do - we are all going to have a good laugh this morning. Whom should I make laugh first?" Or when forgetting a friend's birthday, instead of voicing concern that she will be "so mad at me" say, " I can't believe I forgot her birthday! But you know what...she is such a great friend that I know she will understand. I am going to call her right now and wish her a belated birthday and tell her how much I love her." And instead of venting to everyone when a loved one makes you angry, say, "You know Uncle Paul made me really upset when he teased me about my opinion being stupid. I'm going to call him right now and talk to him about it so I don't waste any more time thinking about it."

I think that one of the best things I can do for my children is to be there for the hugs, the comfort, the talking it out after a bad day. Make sure that they understand that home is a safe place to let it all out. Now matter how small their worry may be, I will listen and take it seriously. And work with them to find a solution - or to just hold their worry for them so that they can move on. Because maybe that is what they need from us - to give us their worries so that we can help them carry them and make their load easier.

I want to teach my children to be strong. To stand up for themselves. To laugh at their mistakes and imperfections. To not take life too seriously. To learn that when other people make fun of them it is usually because of the other person's insecurity or jealousy and not because of them. To be kind and care about people, but not let anyone walk all over them.

It is a lot to teach, but I will try - one day, one moment at a time.

May your heart be at ease,
Angela सन्तोष

Friday, May 14, 2010

Roots of Worry

I guess I have always been a worrier. Being a good student, I worried about maintaining my status as one. I certainly did not want to get in trouble in school, and rarely did. I can clearly remember the time in 6th grade that I got yelled at by Sr. Margaret for talking too loud in the girls bathroom. Didn't matter that five other girls probably also got reprimanded, the fact that I did still stings when the memory comes up. The worry of getting in trouble often conflicted with my worry about the other kids liking me. I wanted to pass notes to be in the cool crowd, but was terrified of getting caught. I would lay awake nights hoping that I didn't get anything less than a 100 on a test (or 105 if there happened to be a bonus question), but then worried about looking like a know it all nerd in front of my friends. Yeah, I was definitely a worry kid.

That worry kid turned into a worry teenager, worry college student, worry twenty something, and worried adult. I don't think I realized through any of this that I WAS worrying so much. I just figured it was a normal thing to do. I mean, doesn't everybody worry? Doesn't everyone want to do well, have friends, succeed, be healthy and happy, have everyone like them, be perfect? OK, maybe not. Or maybe not to the extreme that I did. Looking back I see that worrying was my way of controlling the uncontrollable. If I worried enough about having friends, I would always have them. Worry enough about grades, and I would always get A's. Worry about making mistakes, and I would prevent myself from making them. Worrying for me led to thinking and thinking led to problem solving which led to taking action which often led to more worrying. And also led to a whole lot of stomach problems and dis -ease.

My head was a tape recorder (remember those?) set to shuffle and repeat that just kept playing the same messages over and over again: "If you don't agree with her opinion, she won't be your friend anymore." "If you drop the ball, they will all laugh at you, and know one will like you." " If you don't get a job right after college, you will not be able to repay your loans, and you will never become a teacher." "If you eat that pasta and don't exercise for an hour you will be fat." Over and over again, my brain replayed the same fears and anxieties and searched for away to solve the problem permanently, a black and white cure-all answer that would make me never have to worry about again. But even when one worry was solved or taken away, there was always a new one waiting to fill its spot in my brain. I don't think my brain, or my self, knew what to do if it wasn't worried. Those anxieties in a way were actually comforting to me - they were normal, what I knew best how to do - take them away and I would become depressed and bored. If I had no worries, who was I? Where was I going? What would I do?

Contentment, peace, true happiness - these are words that my brain would not understand till many years later. Thankfully, I am now in those "many years later" and am starting to realize the power of being content. The joy of not worrying. The miracle of the way this life really works.
And the meaning of true and lasting happiness. Does that mean I have all of the answers and don't worry anymore? Of course not. But my brain is also not the tape playing, anxious, future predicting monster it used to be. How did I get to this new place? Time, teachers, friends, reading, yoga, infertility - lots of letting go of of control. Like everything else, a journey. A journey I am still on.

And now I am a mom. Worrying can take on a whole new meaning when you are a mom. Doesn't it come with the territory? Is there anyway around it? Can you truly be a loving mom and not worry? Hmmm....I'm working on that too. Another road in the journey. A road in which I have picked up a passenger. A small, beautiful, innocent , young traveler just beginning this journey. My child. Yes, worry mom has a worry child. Traveling companions are always nice, but in this case I really wish he chose another route to his destination. But we are now here together, and as the older and wiser one (sometimes, just the older one) I want to show him the way. Make his journey a little quicker, less painful. Can he learn from my mistakes? Can I teach him another way to live? Can I help him become worry free? Oh hell -can I just take all his pains, illnesses, worries, hurts, sadness away so that he never is anything but happy and content. Really, is that too much to ask?

I know, I know...he has to go through his own experiences. Learn his own way. Develop his own strategies. Make his own meaning out of this life. But I am his mom. And I want to do what I can to help. I want to be a guide, an example, a source, a teacher. I can't take his worries away, but I can help him to learn to do it for himself. And in the process, I can continue to find ways to live my own life worry free. Because if I want my child not to worry, I must do the same. As Gandhi said "Be the change that you want to see." I'm sure going to try.

May your heart be at ease,
angela (Santosha सन्तोष - contentment)

For peace of mind, resign as general manager of the universe. ~Author Unknown