Mind the Gap

“Mind the gap” was the theme of the John Friend yoga workshop I attended a couple weeks ago. The message is that what happens between, is what’s important. Between inhaling and exhaling. Between the busy-ness and the being-ness. Between the effort and the letting go. The subways in London warn you to “Mind the Gap.” In NYC, you are to “Watch the Gap.” Not nearly as poetic, nor as relevant.

Watching implies seeing, but if you mind something, you do more than just see it. You pay attention. You listen. You ponder what it means. You take responsibility. You mind the children. You mind your parents. The dictionary says you “regard as important and worthy of attention.” That’s exactly what Friend had in mind at “Dancing with the Divine.”

I’ve been practicing yoga at Shakti Yoga Shop for nearly two years. It is an Anusara shop, and John Friend is the founder of this particular branch of yoga. His visit to Iowa was a chance to learn from the guru. I went with a certain cynicism. My expectations were low, but he was amazing, and far exceeded those expectations.

Friend has a quirky sense of humor, and a depth of knowledge about a broad range of astrophysics to zoology. One of the funniest bits was when he gave us a physical demonstration of how humans are the only critters with shoulder muscles. The message was clear. We’ve got them so we need to develop them. He talked quite a bit about what we do with our bodies has a nearly immediate effect on evolution. Our genes remember our behavior.

On that Saturday afternoon, Friend talked about the increasing weight of the self-help book section addressing mindfulness. It’s a good thing, but these books usually focus on minding what you are doing or what’s happening. If you’re minding the gap, you’re paying attention to what’s not happening. On the resting. On the being, not just the doing.

Friday morning when I called my mentor, I was in a dither. The condition of the house was interfering with my serenity in a big way. She told me “go outside. Not to do something, not to make a list of what you need to do, just to be.”

I sat down in my hammock, with my phone still to my ear, and immediately felt the weight lift. Pat said she felt tears come to her eyes, hearing the relief in my voice. I minded the gap. First I had to create it. Then I paid attention to it. I lay down and looked up at the bright blue gap between the Locust and Pin Oak trees above me. And I minded it.

Afterwards I was able to return to the busy-ness of the day, to put things away, organize the house. And I was able to find some more gaps and mind them too.

Salute the Sun

Yesterday I did 108 Sun Salutations with about a dozen other women at Shakti Yoga Shop. It was challenging, but went by surprisingly fast. One of the first things we asked was the significance of 108. The answer took up about 3 pages, and included–

…which brings us back to saluting the sun. Winter solstice is less than 2 weeks behind us. It is my favorite day of the year: it marks the day when daylight begins to lengthen. I can only imagine our earliest forbears watching the dwindling light and heat, fearing it was the end of the world, developing ceremonies and bargains to make the sun return for a year.

We continue many of those traditions around the holidays. Lighting candles, bringing in greenery, putting up Christmas lights. On this first day — 1/1/11, I hope for a lighter year, for peaceful, brighter days. I hope for clarity on the problems facing our planet. Perhaps by saluting the sun, still the source of life, we can perhaps begin to mend the earth.

Practice Yoga

I lost a dear friend a month ago, and what I thought was a lifelong relationship fell apart the next day. To say the least, I was reeling for about a week. The first morning after the breakup, I went to yoga. Paula met me with a box of tissues, saying she had seen my Facebook status change to “single.” She found me a spot in the back row and told me to just do whatever I needed. I practiced my yoga and cried off and on. Afterward, one of the other students listened with sympathy to my tale of woe.

I have practiced yoga most days since then. It’s making me strong, inside and out, and I am becoming part of the kula. I’ve enjoyed dinner, breakfast and coffee with other members, and am feeling a closer bond with everyone. I’ve long preferred to attain spiritual growth through physical practice, and yoga is again confirming that preference. During 2010, my “year of good health,” I’ve lost nearly 20 pounds, and developed a much healthier body image. I’ve become stronger, more balanced and bendier.

I tried a couple of places before I settled on Shakti Yoga Shop in Des Moines. The instructors focus on Anusara Yoga, and offer two to three classes a day most weekdays, and at least one class on weekend days. I love the continuing encouragement, the small corrections that help you get the most out of every pose. Next month I plan to attend my first workshop, and take my practice to new levels next year. If you are in need of a “year of good health,” try yoga in 2011.

Start Your Business

I think I’ve been a frustrated entrepreneur my whole life, so developing Next Step, Inc. has been an exciting adventure. When I was in high school, a lot of people thought that girls could only be moms, nurses, teachers or secretaries. But now women run some of the world’s most successful businesses–Pepsi is headed by a woman. And then, of course, there’s Oprah.

Do you want to work in the business world someday? You could be an officer in a bank or open a shop and watch it grow. Invent something and sell millions on the internet. One of the Chrysalis After-School groups–the Whyld Girls–started a business about 2 years ago. It’s called Product with Purpose, and with the help of their mentors, the girls run it themselves. The profits from their jewelry sales go into a scholarship fund; two Whyld Girls are set to graduate from high school this spring. The Product with Purpose scholarship fund is there to help them achieve their dreams.

If starting and running a business sounds like fun, check out Business Horizons, a week-long camp for high school students where you’ll learn about the world of business while you have fun and meet new friends. Participants stay on Simpson College campus in Indianola, July 25-30, while they explore their talents and how to use them.

At camp, each business team develops a product and figures out how to sell it. Teams create marketing plans and infomercials about their products, and then present their product ideas to potential investors. The teams manage mock manufacturing businesses where they make decisions about pricing, production, marketing, research and development, and capital investment. Here is what a couple girls had to say about the camp–

“Man I had a great time this summer! I am kind of disappointed that it is only a week long. Someone told me that this was a business camp… who knew business was so fun!”–Kashonna Drain, Waterloo

“Business Horizons was an amazing program. This week I was able to …network with some entrepreneurs in the Des Moines area, and I had a great time doing…this. I would recommend this program to anyone, it was an amazing experience!”–Kristi Philips, Ames High School

Love Your Body

There’s been a lot of controversy during the last week about a photo of a “normal woman” in the September issue of Glamour Magazine. Body image is certainly an area that trips a lot of women up, and I am one of them. The blog post about the reaction to the photo talks about how important it is for us to see women who look like us to be able to develop healthy self concepts. Being happy in our own skins is something that most women have to continually work on our whole lives.

The Supergirl Dilemma outlines two areas where girls’ attitudes went backward instead of forward between 2000 and 2006–

  • 84% of girls say they are under a lot of pressure to dress the right way
  • 60% of girls say the most popular girls in school are very thin

Dove’s Self-Esteem has a Toolkit and Resources you may find helpful. Here are some other sites you can take a look at–

  • Memoir to My Former Self–This video, written by 17-year-old Katrina Garcia, explores body image, eating disorders, women’s rights and cliques. It presents several viewpoints and delivers a message of developing a strong sense of self. Some processing questions might be–
    • What are the issues facing the girl in the video?
    • Have you had any similar experiences?
    • How did the video make you feel?
    • How do you feel about being female?
    • What would you do if you were the girl in the movie?
    • What would you do if you were her friend?
  • A Girl Like Me–This movie was directed by Kiri Davis, when she was a teen living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, New York. The film is about an experiment Kiri conducted based on one from the 1950’s. Her film was featured on Media That Matters and is an inspiration to any young woman or filmmaker, present or future.
  • Shea B. invented the #Freshface Friday campaign to combat the pressure she and her high school friends felt to wear makeup. The Miss Representation Facebook page highlights actions like hers that promote healthy body image. Their Web site has a link to a movie and a lot of other stuff you can do about this important issue.

Venture into Social Drama

Annie Mielke and I met last year and got excited about the potential for working with girls on drama and then training them to work with younger groups as a service project. Annie’s specialty is working with kids with Asperger Syndrome and Autism, so her audiences learn a lot about these mental disorders, the challenges people with these diagnoses face, and how to relate well to them. Adventures in Social Drama visited several Chrysalis After-School groups last year, including McCombs PRIDE.

The goals of Adventures in Social Drama (ASD) are to:

  • establish safe environments in which drama enables individuals to explore creative moments as learning opportunities
  • utilize appropriate forms of social interaction
  • facilitate meaningful participation in a group dynamic
  • coach individuals to express themselves through creative thinking
  • promote positive interpersonal relationships
  • develop self-worth through episodic memories

Adventures in Social Drama specializes in dramatic exploration: Each program is specially designed to meet the needs of your organization. Free initial consultations are available. ASD works with people from 4 years old to adults. Depending on the size and length of the class, the cost is $150-$500.

For more information, contact Annie Mielke, 515-306-0030.


Visit the Art Center!

You and your group really should see the Tara Donovan show at the Des Moines Art Center. It blew me away! The scale, texture and rhythm are astounding, not to mention the materials she uses! Tara Donovan is a young woman artist who has made a name for herself across the country. The show lasts until September 13, 2009.

Rachael Jackson, Outreach Coordinator is anxious to set up programs and classes for your organization. Contact her and tell her Martha McCormick sent you. Their schedule is online so you can pass it on to your members or register for a class yourselves.

Build a Team with Keys

I had the neighbors talking the day I cleaned and took apart 12 old computer keyboards for the Chrysalis After-School Kits out on my front deck last fall. Each CAS kit has a set of these keys. Eric Martin and I developed these teambuilding activities and I’m sure you can come up with some more. We started with the International Association of Teamwork Facilitators by Tom Heck.

We used the keys at CAS Facilitator Training 2008 for introductions. Each person got a key and used the character on that key to tell something about herself. Then each facilitator took a letter key and the group formed as many words at they could in a set amount of time. As a group got together to form a word, the leader made a tally mark on a flip chart or white board.

Download the Keyboard Team Building Activity for more ideas–Keyboard Team Building.

Bust the Cliques

Cliques, gossip, put downs and relational aggression continue as difficulties for the girls’ groups. On the spring survey, about half the girls said gossip and put downs happen at least sometimes in their groups, and only about half the girls say they are stopped when they do happen.

In 2007, I worked with a small group of 7th grade girls at Brody Middle School to put together a video about cliques. One of the things the girls learned when they interviewed their teachers and counselor, was that adults have cliques too. When we played Group Juggle yesterday, people dealt with “gossip” by putting it in their pockets or throwing it on the floor so it wouldn’t interfere with the real work of the group. The real life parallel would be not passing it along or confronting the gossip with how hurtful it is.

Along with the video, the girls at Brody put together a program for the rest of their Chrysalis After-School Group. Here are some of the components–

  • The girls developed this survey to get an idea of what other girls in their CAS group thought about cliques. Mikhaila worked with small groups of girls in the afterschool program to complete it. Then I created this Survey Monkey version and entered their paper surveys; you can complete the survey here. The funny thing is that people around the country complete this survey every once in a while. Find the results here.
  • Brianna worked with small groups on sociograms. You can download a PDF of the directions for the Click Mapping activity here.
  • Missy facilitated a discussion around the “Circle of Courage” developed by Brendtro, Brokenleg & Van Bockern of the Reclaiming Youth at Risk. Download a PDF of the instructions for the Click Circle of Courage.

Discover Creativity

I listened to Speaking of Faith this morning while I did yoga. I use this routine to focus on spirituality and fitness; it’s easier for me to meditate when I’m moving! This week’s podcast was titled “Fishing with Mystery” and James Prosek said that creativity is our gift from the Creator. Discovering our own creativity and expressing it is a form of worship. From there my mind wandered back to the workshop Rachel Rockwell facilitated for Chrysalis After-School facilitators and mentors yesterday.

She worked with us on creating paintings and stories in the safe, respectful environment of Culture Inc. Afterward, one of the facilitators said she always becomes anxious when she is in a situation where she has to create. I think a lot of people feel that way, as we have had the products of our creativity judged and sometimes gotten little support.

I think it might help me to use James Prosek’s metaphor of connecting to the creative pipeline when I sit down to create. At times, I’ve experienced that connection when I’ve painted, written grants, facilitated groups. I think it comes more from letting go than from trying really hard. And again, it’s a process and learning experience.

Then there is the discipline required for creativity; I’ve found I need order. Stephen King requires himself to write 2,000 words each day before he does much else. The Artist’s Way recommends morning pages–two pages of writing first thing in the morning in a stream of consciousness mode.

So creativity is a sum of at least two parts–tapping into the pipeline and discipline–available to most of us.