PEERS Social Skills Groups in Philadelphia by Julie Anne Caramanico

Friendship is a very important part of life. We all know that the teenage years are an important and exciting time for to meet new people and make social connections, and we also know that social pressure is high for teens in middle and high school. Making and keeping friends may be especially hard for teenagers with autism, anxiety, ADHD, or depression. Did you know that having just one friend can have a positive impact on our mental health and well-being? It’s true! I love this program because it empowers teens to find their people, and gives them practical tools for making those connections.

The PEERS program is really special because it is specifically designed to help teenagers navigate their tricky social world, and empowers them with strategies for common challenges like teasing and bullying. In addition, there is a parent group where parents are able to learn the same skills as their teen, and they can support their teenager when putting the strategies to use. It is an evidence-based treatment because it has been successful in helping kids make and keep friends!

If you’re interested for yourself or a teenager you know, please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask questions! You can shoot me a message through the website here, or call the number on the flyer below for more information and to set up a screening interview.

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Thriving through the Holidays by Julie Anne Caramanico

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The holidays - with its flurry of activity - can be an especially stressful time of year. The sentiment behind the season of giving is a beautiful one. Giving of our time, energy, kindness and material gifts to others is wonderful. However, if we don’t turn our attention to ourselves, we can feel depleted. If you’re like me, stress causes a feeling of being overwhelmed. This can paralyze us into procrastination, then rushing to get things done. These stress responses, while incredibly common, can bring us to giving from a place of obligation rather than love and kindness.

The key to thriving in the midst of the holiday shuffle is taking time for yourself! I know it may seem counterintuitive, but its actually when we are so busy that it is most important to care for ourselves. Take a few moments a day to reflect on all the things you’ve accomplished for others, and balance it out with self-care. Here are some mindful tips to keep stress at bay and thrive this holiday season:

  1. Check in with your breathing. Place your hands on your low belly and focus on allowing the breath to fill that space so your belly expands and presses out toward your hands. Repeat for 10 rounds of breath, or even up to 5 minutes!

  2. Tackle your holiday to-do list by writing down 3 things you can accomplish today! Keeping the list small and focused will help everything feel much more manageable. Notice if you start avoiding your to-do list by doing anything but what you need to do (like me!) and remind yourself that you’ll feel so much better when you’re done. Get to it!

  3. Find balance! Spend a few moments in mindful breathing before or after a shopping trip, or do some of your favorite yoga poses before a holiday party. It will make all the difference!

  4. Move your body! Physical activity does wonders for your mind and body, and a quick 10 minute yoga practice or workout routine is a great way to show yourself some love and care throughout the holiday season.

  5. Do something you love. Carve out a little time to do the things that make you feel awesome! I love to play the ukulele or spend some time reading. Whatever it is that makes you feel good, allow yourself some time to do this so you can re-set and re-energize.

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Standing Forward-fold

For a quick stress-buster, try a standing forward fold. Start in mountain pose by standing with your feet hips distance apart. Press your feet into the ground and keep a slight bend in the knee. Roll the shoulders down the back and take a deep breath in, then on your exhale fold down. Take your hands to your shins, or to the floor or a block, and allow your head to drop down towards the floor so the neck becomes long. Continue breathing deeply and imagine that the stress is rolling off your back!

If you’d like some guidance on managing your stress and wellness, contact me here! I see clients in private practice on Saturday mornings at the Well-Being Center in Ardmore.

New Services! by Julie Anne Caramanico

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New Services!

My personal and professional experiences have led me to explore the incredible healing that is possible when evidence informed mental health care and mind/body interventions work together. I’m so excited to announce that I’ve begun offering psychotherapy at the Well-Being Center in Ardmore, where I use an integrated approach to therapy. My therapeutic style integrates Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy with the yoga and mindfulness interventions that I’ve studied and taught for the last 8 years. I specialize in working with children and adolescents with autism and social challenges, as well as stress and wellness for adults. Get in touch with me here on the Contact page or via the Well-Being Center, LLP website to set up your first appointment!

New Year, New Mindset - Register for my next workshop at Motherheart studio in Fishtown! by Julie Anne Caramanico

I'm so excited to offer this new mental health yoga practice geared toward starting the year fresh! We'll reflect on the past year, let go of what we don't need and set intentions for positive mental health habits in 2018. 

In yoga, we are taught that in each moment, we have the chance to "begin again". No matter what we thought, said or did in the moment before, we can always start anew. The New Year is an opportunity to begin again. Similar to what we do before a yoga practice, we ask ourselves: what are my hopes, goals or intentions? Mental Health Yoga leaders Jessica Pavelka and Julie Caramanico would like to support YOU in this journey of "beginning again," with New Year, New Mindset, a mental health yoga workshop to ring in 2018. This workshop will offer psychology tools and discussion for positive mental health habits, yoga asana, journaling, tea and connection. Put your New Year intentions into practice. Join us for New Year, New Mindset on January 7th from 1-4pm! We look forward to sharing the space with you. Some yoga experience is recommended.

Register here: http://www.motherheartstudio.com/

Register for our Mental Health Yoga Workshop at Wake Up Yoga Rittenhouse! by Julie Anne Caramanico

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Join me and Jessica Pavelka for Mental Health Yoga: Enlightenment and Empowerment through Mind-Body Practice! This workshop explores the healing tools of yoga and psychology. Do you ever find yourself feeling “stuck”? Do you struggle with low self-esteem, worry or stress? Looking for new ways to feel powerful and resilient? Your instructors have blended modern therapeutic mindfulness methods with ancient practices of yoga for your ultimate mind and body wellness. This workshop is a gateway to your unconscious thoughts (Avidya) and hidden patterns (Samskara). With a fiery grounding asana, discussion about positive mental health habits, and time for meditation, journaling, and tea—this class will have you feeling empowered in your own being in new ways! Some yoga experience is recommended.

Using Yoga to Manage Trauma by Julie Anne Caramanico

The body remembers. When I started practicing yoga, I felt really good. Two years in, I became more dedicated to yoga and started doing a more intensive yoga practice (Ashtanga) for a few hours a day.

When I began to practice this way, I started to have strong emotional reactions while doing yoga. I’d feel this “wave” of sadness or anger wash over me, and I had no idea where it came from. An otherwise happy morning could turn into an experience where I was confronting difficult emotions.

What I didn’t realize then was that I had experienced a traumatic event and had repressed the memories and emotions that stemmed from the trauma. I wasn’t able to remember or articulate what had happened to me, but through yoga movement, I began to access the deeply repressed emotions associated with the trauma.

I then reached out to a therapist I trusted, and was able to begin doing the work to heal myself. “Yoga saved my life” can be a tired statement at this point. But in a very real way, yoga was the critical gateway to accessing the care I needed.

In the city of Philadelphia, 37% of residents report having four or more “Adverse Childhood Events” that predispose them to post-traumatic symptoms.1 Concurrently, yoga in our City of Brotherly Love is booming. Donation-based classes are wildly popular with anywhere from 30-80 folks showing up for community yoga sessions at the Race Street Pier and Schuylkill Banks. Yoga studios seem to be popping up on every corner.

In addition, the mental health community is recognizing yoga as a helpful method for therapeutic healing. Yoga is used in Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, which is an evidence-based treatment for trauma. With so many people in our city experiencing trauma, and so many folks getting out to community yoga classes, it’s possible that trauma survivors are turning to community classes and yoga studios for release. They may even be discovering their trauma for the first time on the mat.

In an effort to provide information for trauma survivors and yoga teachers, I spoke with Gwen Soffer and Melissa Lucchesi. They are incredibly dedicated to trauma-informed yoga instruction, and train yoga teachers in how to teach trauma-informed classes. Here are their responses below:

How is yoga helpful for those who've experienced trauma?

Melissa: Yoga is often considered a mind-body-spirit activity. You use all of those to practice yoga, and each is affected by the yoga practice. So is trauma something that affects mind-body-spirit. When a trauma survivor engages in a yoga practice, in a way that is safe for them, yoga can help process the traumatic energy held inside. 

So many trauma survivors are turning to yoga for healing. What is important for them to know or ask for when they come to a yoga class? What should they do to make sure they feel supported?

Melissa: Find out what you can about the type of yoga taught and the teacher leading the class beforehand. You can find out a lot from researching online to find what might work for you. I would also consider finding a studio that asks for permission before physically adjusting students. This can create a safer space on the mat where a survivor's consent to touch matters. Even if she is comfortable with touch, the idea that her word counts can empower a survivor greatly. Also, always remember that you are not committed to staying in or returning to a class where you are uncomfortable. There are many different styles of yoga and yoga teaching, and it is your choice what works for you.

What have you learned from becoming a trauma-sensitive yoga teacher? What has surprised you?

Gwen: I would say the most significant lesson that I have learned is to not assume what students are experiencing on their mat. As part of our trauma-informed teacher training, we ask people to share a safe experience they have had in yoga and an unsafe experience. I learn so much from these responses. Some of the situations are blatant and others more subtle, and each offers insight into the many ways students experience, both positively and negatively, yoga classes.

Teaching in a trauma-informed way is a practice in itself. It takes effort and presence, and most importantly it takes a lot of self-awareness; awareness of our own biases, our own experiences, and the assumptions we make about what yoga is and why people show up on their mat. When I keep my own ego in check, I am able to see more clearly how to be of service to my students.

How can yoga teachers create a safe space for those who've experienced trauma?

Gwen: Trauma-informed teaching has specific techniques and approaches that create a safer classroom, but more than that, it is an attitude. We refer to teaching through a trauma-informed lens. In other words, through that lens or awareness you are able to assess your words, your actions, and your expectations in the face of individual experiences. Since we cannot know what every student needs, the safety of all students is built by a universal approach that respects boundaries, understands the power of words, and positions the student as the expert of their own body and practice.

How can people who've experienced trauma find trauma sensitive yoga teachers?

Gwen: The awareness around trauma-informed yoga is growing, and there are many advocates of this approach to teaching yoga. We want to reiterate that we believe this approach creates a safer classroom for all students regardless of the specifics of their personal story. At the core of practicing yoga is learning to live in your own body. This being said, creating safe space that promotes student-driven choice is important to self-discovery.

Our advice to students is to know that there are a variety of types of yoga and teaching styles and to trust yourself if you do not feel at ease in one class, there are others for you to choose from. Finding a good fit is important, so talk to friends about their experiences. We also have a registry on our website of teachers that have trained with us. There are many trauma-informed yoga teachers throughout the country, so we hope to expand this list to include others that have committed to this work.

Learn more information about the Trauma-Informed Lens Yoga Teacher Certificate Program: http://www.experienceenso.com/events/trauma-informed-lens-yoga-teacher-certificate-program

Participate in the Trauma-Informed Lens yoga survey: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeySTLSrT3UkS0aNWk_ibezB3Pv3A_Xw8cf9XLfs3e0fq6LwA/viewform?c=0&w=1

Julie Caramanico, MS, RYT, RCYT  is a certified yoga instructor for adults and children with a master’s degree in Health Psychology. She teaches trauma-informed yoga to adults (vinyasa style) and teaches kids yoga for children with special needs. Find out more at www.yogawithjc.com.

Gwen Soffer E-RYT is co-owner of Enso Yoga Studio in Media, Pa., and co-founder of Trauma-Informed Lens Yoga. She is a masters in social work and trauma certificate candidate at Widener University. In addition to her trauma-informed weekly public classes, she leads trauma-sensitive group classes and individual sessions with community groups as well as in service agency settings. Gwen is co-lead teacher of Enso Yoga Studio’s Yoga Alliance-certified teacher training and co-lead teacher of Teaching Public Yoga Classes Through a Trauma-Informed Lens Certificate Program.
www.experienceenso.com , www.traumainformedlensyoga.com

Melissa Lucchesi is founder and director of Voices, Inc., in Media, Pa., which offers healing groups for survivors of sexual and domestic violence. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Widener University and is currently enrolled in Chestnut Hill College’s masters of clinical and counseling psychology and trauma studies program. She has worked in the victim-service and trauma field for over 11years on a local and national level. She sat at the White House Roundtable for Trauma in Women and Children and has presented workshops on victim services, laws surrounding violence on campus, and trauma healing across the country.
www.connectwithvoices.org

- See more at: http://healthymindsphilly.org/en/blog/using-yoga-to-manage-trauma#sthash.At1Sgp9B.dpuf

Yoga & Mental Health by Julie Anne Caramanico

Research about the healing benefits of yoga is growing. Many people are turning to yoga as an emotional release and to improve their mental health. How come? We know that our emotions can be felt as physical sensations in the body. 

Stress can be identified by a quickened heartbeat or muscle tightness in the upper back and shoulders. Depression or sadness can be described as a physical heaviness. Feeling these feelings can be downright uncomfortable.

Oftentimes we try to avoid pain and experience something -- anything -- better. However, emotions are part of the life experience. Talking through our emotional pain in therapy is incredibly valuable and necessary, but yoga allows us to tap into the embodied nature of our emotions.

In yoga, we repeat the same challenging postures over and over again. We get to know how our bodies, minds, and -- yes -- our emotions will be activated by certain poses. What's more, we learn how to accompany those postures, and any feelings that arise, with full and deep breaths. Then, when you encounter a challenging situation or emotion in your everyday life, you’ve practiced breathing through it.

You may be able to access your breath in a way that you may not have been able to before. For this reason, yoga is a great complement to the therapeutic process and wonderful tool for self-reflection.

Interested in getting more out of your yoga practice? Try journaling after your next class! Write about your experience and how you felt during the practice. Think of one challenging moment or pose and write about how you got through it.

- See post at: http://healthymindsphilly.org/en/blog/yoga-mental-health#sthash.qYKSnTI0.dpuf

Fresh Start by Julie Anne Caramanico

In the last few months, I’ve been taking a step back from teaching yoga classes. I returned to full-time work and have been adjusting to that. In that time I’ve also been contemplating how I want to teach yoga. I started teaching because I wanted to use it to help kids with autism. This is something I’ve accomplished and I love teaching yoga for autism events at various centers in Philly. While working towards that goal I also fell in love with teaching vinyasa classes. I’ve loved teaching students at the various venues I’ve been blessed to teach in - and have seen just how important it is to bring this practice to as many people as I can. I believe that yoga - specifically learning to breathe and be present - is vital to our lives. But I’ve also seen that attending yoga classes can be a real struggle for the everyday person.

In my work in research at UPenn, I travel to many School District of Philadelphia schools. I go into classrooms and meet students and teachers. I learn how that classroom is currently operating and help the teachers determine how to implement research-based practices in the real, wild world of an urban under-resourced school. I train them with what we call internal capacity - the ability to implement a practice so that they can do it for themselves. The tool is evidence-based practice (or ABA strategies), the setting is the classroom, and the goal is progress in language and social skills. In this capacity, I’m able to bring the tool to the people and teach it to them when and where they need it most. How does this apply to yoga? 

When I teach yoga, my students struggle to implement yoga practices in their lives very similarly to how teachers struggle to implement teaching strategies. Here - the tool is yoga, the setting is your life, and the goal is well-being. How do we make yoga work for the everyday person in their real, wild life? How can yoga help everyone - especially those who can’t spare the time or funds to get to class? How do I give you the internal capacity to practice these tools so you can make the miracles happen on your own? How are teachers bringing yoga to people in real and sustainable ways? What is my part in all of that? These are the questions I’ve been asking myself for the last year. I don’t know the answers yet. I’ll be learning as I go and I’ll share my offerings with you here. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from you - do you want to make yoga part of your life but struggle with following through? What gets in the way? Leave a comment below.

 

comeback by Julie Anne Caramanico

This photo was taken a couple weeks pre-concussion. I was obsessed with going upside down at the time. It was Labor Day weekend at the beach, and I remember taking every opportunity I could to get to the wall and practice going upside down. I wanted to nail handstand so bad. A few weeks later, the concussion happened, & I discovered I could hardly do simple inversions (like down dog) let alone something like this. It took about a month for reality to set in - I wasn't going to have a normal practice for quite a while. After having a wrist injury that had just healed, I was beyond frustrated by the setback. My teacher was my saving grace. I messaged her while she was studying in India. I was looking for guidance because I was so distraught with where my practice was or wasn't going. She told me not to look on it as a setback, but as an opportunity. She advised me to explore the subtle realm of the practice - breath and bandhas - and told me that when I came back I'd be stronger than ever. I took her words to heart, and spent the next 7 months doing what I could on my mat. Some days my practice was literally just sitting and breathing. Most days I could get through (or halfway through) standing poses, but then I'd have to stop. It was frustrating and humbling to say the least. Taking child's pose for every down dog completely shattered my ego and brought me back to when I first started practicing, before teaching was even on my radar. It felt like I was starting over. Day by day, I began to realize that I was re-learning, refining and improving upon the "simple" postures I thought I already knew. I could feel my bandhas beginning to wake up, and an internal strength was forming that had always eluded me before. I often referenced my teacher's words on the particularly challenging days. She was so right, because of my "setback" I was getting stronger from the inside out. It's funny how life does that, huh? This injury was certainly not what I wanted, but it taught me what I needed. Internal strength. Breath. Focus. A humbled spirit. I'm still not quite ready to be upside down, but I feel 10x more grounded and strong than I was in this photo. I feel like I'm in the part of a movie where there's a comeback montage, kinda like Rocky - ha! I'm getting there. I know when headstands/handstands are back in my practice I'll be flying from a much stronger place than I was before. As they say "in every difficulty lies opportunity" ... I know that now more than ever.

kindness. by Julie Anne Caramanico

I was working in a school one morning, and I had a pretty major headache.  For my work as a research consultant, I travel a lot from school to school and had a lot to do that day. I was hoping to make really quick work of what I had to do.  4 kids, 4 interviews.  No problem. However, things didn't go exactly as I planned, which is often the case in schools. It took some extra work to get the kids I needed to speak with since I was late. I was feeling rushed and irritated with myself for not getting there earlier like I was supposed to. After some coordinating, I was able to talk with the kids I needed to see. I've developed good relationships with the students and staff at this school, so usually once I get around the logistics I can do my work really well. But this particular morning, the first kid came over looking like he didn't want anything to do with me. He gave me a some attitude as he sat down.  I ignored it and just went through the questions I had for him, but was surprised by his behavior and irritated at the 'tude. Headache + logistical issues + the time crunch gave me less than my usual patience. "Come on kid," I was thinking, "I just need to get through this and you can go". In that moment, I decided he was a difficult kid and that he probably wouldn't be part of my program once it got up and running - since I'm looking for nice peers for my students with Autism. I was mentally writing him off & struggling with him to get the work done.

Just then, we were approached by a teacher I had just met the day before. She came up to the child and used a very gentle tone with him, was super compassionate - and had a really kind and caring look in her eyes.  She said, "Once you're finished with Miss Julie, you can go into the cafeteria and then you can have your breakfast.  It'll be ready by then. You'll get your breakfast I promise".  It was about 10:45am, and the child hadn't eaten yet. The boy looked a little disappointed, and maybe a little embarrassed, but nodded and went right back to answering my questions.  My heart broke in half. No wonder. No freaking wonder he didn't want to talk to me.  Not only had he not eaten yet....he had to talk to me before he could do so.  I could see that he didn't want to talk about it, so we kept working as quickly as we could. I was determined to help him get finished quickly so he could get what he needed. We were a team now because I understood him. Everything had shifted and I saw him so differently than just a few moments before. His shirt was dirty, he was tired and he couldn't remember anything that I needed from him. But he was brave, and he was doing the best he could.

While we finished the interview, I kept thinking about how I had totally misjudged this child and his attitude toward me.  It wasn't personal, and he wasn't copping an attitude for no reason. Hangry is a real thing.  I've done it, and I can certainly forgive it. But on a serious note - I can't even imagine what its like to go hungry and I know that I take it for granted. I'll never know how many meals this child has had to miss, and I'll never understand how difficult his life must be day to day. I got to thinking about how easy it is to misunderstand a person. To see them incorrectly & judge harshly. Especially when we're not feeling so good ourselves. It can be really easy to make up our minds about a person and carry on as though we're right.  I can't say it for sure but I daresay we're almost never correct.  It's quoted so often that its become cliche - to "be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle" - but it is so, so true.  A friend once told me that we each have a lot of stories that shape who we are. My bet is that if we could know everyone's story, we'd be a whole lot kinder to one another. Everyone you meet has a story that would break your heart. We cannot know each others pain or the depths of the struggles each one of us faces - no matter what it looks like from the outside. A little bit of kindness and compassion can go such a long way. I saw that same kiddo the next day, and he smiled wide and threw his arms open to give me a big hug. He became one of my favorite students this year. Every time I see him he reminds me of the most important thing - be kind, be kind, be kind.  

 

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indomitable. by Julie Anne Caramanico

I haven't written in a while (concussion problems. yes, still.) although I've been feeling pulled to do so. I still have trouble looking at screens for too long. Not to mention that sharing my practice via writing scares me to death. Because really, life is a yoga practice for me. Sharing my yoga practice and/or inspirations means sharing about my life. And if you know me well enough, you know that expressing myself isn't my strong suit. It's my greatest blessing and occasional curse that I think & feel deeply about things. I'm always thinking about what takes place in my life and what it means from a larger perspective. It amazes me really, how there's an ordered chaos to everything. Sometimes I'd rather just turn my brain off and drink a freaking beer! Or you know, practice to get the same effect, whatever. I'd certainly rather not go through the excruciating discomfort of sharing it. But in my experience when there's something you feel like you need to do but it scares you - its a clear sign to do it. And you know what? This is me, for better or worse. 

 

indomitable

/inˈdämədəb(ə)l/

adjective

impossible to subdue or defeat.
"a woman of indomitable spirit"

My grandmother turned 92 last week. We celebrated with the whole family - and then 12 hours later I was sitting at my great aunt's funeral. Within 24 hours I celebrated the life of two really amazing women. It felt like a whirlwind. My Grammom's birthday party was an unexpected outpouring of love for her - about 35 of my aunts, uncles and cousins showed up to sing to her on a Tuesday night. I kept calling it "Sunday dinner on a Tuesday" because that deep family value and tradition of eating together on Sunday has been so ingrained in all of our lives, and it was fitting that we all showed up for her out of the usual routine. There was a strong energy in the house. Full on, straight up love and gratitude that she's still with us. She cried as we sang to her, I cried on my way home. I took a photo of the scene - trying to capture a beautiful moment. I showed it to her after, and she said "When is that from?" ...she thought my uncle was my grandfather in the photo, but he passed a few years back. She's sharp as a tack mentally, so I was surprised and we laughed and laughed but I know she misses him so much. My Grammom is so special to me, and I'm always trying to make her laugh. I tell her I know I'm her favorite, but as one of her 15 grandchildren I know she doesn't know how to love any of us less than completely.

My great aunt was such a wonderful lady. Kind and sweet and funny. She's probably the only human on earth who made me laugh instead of throw an eye roll when she asked who I was dating. She'd always say "So are you dating a right one, or a left one?" "Well Aunt Ida," I'd say, "I kind of want him to be a right one but I think he's a left one". She'd laugh and say "Oh that's alright my dear, the left one's pass the time until a right one finds you". I loved her so much for this. And her pizzelles. God those things were awesome. That woman just knew how to fill you up with joy and food. 

I sat at Ida's funeral and found myself deeply affected by these events. It seemed so connected that they were so close in time to one another - literally within 12 hours. It stuck with me for days, and I kept thinking about what made these women alike, why I love them both so much, and what it was that made these events seem so inexplicably connected. I remembered a moment I witnessed this past Christmas when I watched my Grammom and Aunt Ida greet one another. They held both of each others hands and started tearing up almost immediately. "Are you ok?" My Grammom asked and Ida answered, "It's hard, its hard, you know...". They had both lost their husbands, both in the later stages of life. They just understood each other. They knew each other's struggle. They seemed to see each other so clearly and have so much compassion for one another. As I recalled this moment the words "indomitable human spirit" kept coming into my mind. I realized that these women had a quiet strength that they carried with them through life. Neither of them had easy lives. Between them they survived the depression, a world war, cancer, leukemia, and heartbreaking loss - and I'm sure there were many struggles they faced that I know nothing about. Yet these events, no matter how tragic, never defined them. These women were the epitome of feminine strength - they saw struggle and they kept on living. They took care of themselves & their family with grace, humor, and a whole lot of love.

I don't think either of them did yoga a day in their life. However, I think many people get on their mats looking for something that they mastered - the art of taking care of themselves and the people around them. In my opinion, this is the highest yoga. These inspirational women reminded me of why I practice, why I teach, and showed me what true feminine strength means. We all have access to this indestructible inner strength and spirit, its within each of us. I'm so lucky I have my practice to help me figure out how to do what these women seem to do so naturally. Life can seem really tough sometimes and as humans we are wired for struggle in so many ways, but more importantly we are wired to survive. I share this story in hopes that the next time you get on your mat, you can find that indomitable human spirit. Tap in and take care of you, so you can go out and take care of the people you love.

 


concussed. by Julie Anne Caramanico

"I'm concussed!" I joke to my friends while they order another drink at cocktail hour; I reach for more water.  I tend to make light of situations, which I suppose is a good thing while at your friends' wedding. The injury happened while I was working at a local center for kids, and one of the kids rocket launched (see: kicked) a football that went directly into my head.  I saw him connect with the ball, and I had a half second to turn my face before it whacked me in the upper left quadrant of my brainholder.  (My only regret is no video, this would be an incredible gif.)  The future NFL kicker then ran up to me, and because he has Autism, wasn't sure how to react.  He stood before me but faced sideways, put his fingers to his eyes (literally holding back tears) and repeated "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry".  He said it over and over until I could formulate some sort of "It's ok".

I make jokes because I want people to laugh at the story. I need to laugh at the story. But dealing with a concussion in my day to day life has been no joke. On impact I could feel a jostling up there of things that shouldn't be jostled, and I knew it was a pretty bad hit. When I went to the doc, they called it a minor concussion and cleared me of any extra issues. I told him I was still having headaches (10 days post) and he said "that could be stress related, or emotional".  I thought ...well PROBABLY doc, since I just started a yoga program/business and this is terrible timing. Plus I'd just watched my mom recover slowly from a much more serious concussion last year after a bad car accident in Houston - so this freaked me out quite a bit.  

It's been a month post-injury now, and anyone who has suffered a concussion knows it can be a long, slow, and somewhat ambiguous recovery. I have it easy compared to many. Still - I look fine, but don't feel ok.  There's no clear time frame on when symptoms will ease up. I added a lot to my plate this fall. I'm trying to get my kids yoga program off the ground while paying my bills with other work in the Autism field.  All of the work I do requires that I actually do it - there are no paid days off.  However I've needed several days just to rest and recover. Rest involving no SCREENS of any kind.  (How on earth am I supposed to run a business this way?  You tell me.) Working at computers for too long gives me a massive headache, and I need to rest after. Forget about demonstrating poses in my yoga class.  I'm not able to do my yoga practice like I want to, and despite great instructions from my teachers, I'm having a difficult time accepting my body's current limitations. Before the concussion (BC, if you will) I was dropping back into urdvha danurasana solo, and now a standard downward facing dog causes me headaches.  I never thought that child's pose would be the most difficult posture to take, but surrendering my ego has been some of the hardest yoga I've ever practiced. I try to see learning opportunities in all situations. I know that there is some form of grace in this situation, if I can find it.  

In a very blunt and no nonsense way, this concussion is teaching me how to slow down.  I can't be everything.  I can't do everything.  And why do I want to?  It's forcing me to step back and evaluate what is really important in my life, and in my business.  I've been running at a clip for some time, trying to achieve goals and create the life I want.  But slowing down has helped me realize the things I'm most attached to - being busy, doing yoga, teaching yoga, and saying YES to every exciting opportunity.  Yoga is important to me.  My yoga work is very important to me.  But it should not, however, define me.  Work should not be all I do, even if its work I enjoy. I can't let those things fill me up because when they fall away, whats left?  Still me, just a person.  No frills or flashiness to impress you.  Just a human soul that still deserves my own kindness and respect despite my body's diminished capacity at the moment.  

So many of us become attached to the roles that define us.  Then, when something threatens that role or its taken away, it can be depressing because we hung our hat on being "great teacher" or "business owner", etc. The attachment to that role as our identity gives the not doing of it so much more weight, and it'll crush you if you let it.  This is what is so deeply valuable about practicing yoga. Connecting to the breath. The soul. Our highest self. Whatever you call it, its that reservoir of peace inside that is untouchable, unknowable and altogether indestructible despite the physical challenges we face in life. We don't need to hang our hats on an outer identity; the inner one is far more fascinating and deserving of our attention.  But still, we are human.  We live in a social world and its tempting to let something that makes us feel good, something that brings us satisfaction and love and attention, become who we are.  Letting ago of attachments in life is no easy task; it's a lifelong practice. It doesn't mean we relinquish all the things we love and live in a cave.  Rather, acknowledge the thing (person, job, role, etc) as part of us but not what defines us is the key. Still care, still love, but create a bit of space. It can be downright uncomfortable, but I'm so grateful for my yoga practice and the opportunity to learn more about my own attachments. They snuck up on me. Kinda like that football. It didn't quite knock me out, but in many ways it woke me up.

Benefits of Yoga for Kids by Julie Anne Caramanico

Why should kids do yoga?  

I've been getting this question a lot lately.  I've seen firsthand how kids can benefit from yoga after just one session.  Many kids are taught to focus, pay attention, and take a deep breath.  Do kids know what that means?  Sure - look at what you're telling me to look at and calm down.  But do they actually know how to do it?  Knowing they are being told to calm down and actually being able to are two very different things.  

What does the research say?

Research has begun to support the claims that yoga is beneficial for kids.  Read an excerpt below:  

In 2009, the Journal of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine published a pilot study of fourth-and fifth-grade students in New York who attended an after-school yoga class once a week for 12 weeks. After just 12 yoga sessions, the children who participated showed increased well-being and enhanced self-worth, and fewer negative behaviors were reported in response to stress (Berger, Silver, and Stein 2009). Another study of young adults found a reduction in symptoms among people with mild depression after just five weeks of yoga practice (Woolery et al. 2004).

Do they know HOW to do it?  

Yoga teaches kids super valuable skills that can benefit their growing bodies, developing minds and their emotional health.  Yoga can help kids learn real strategies to deal effectively with the demands of life, which have become increasingly stressful for young people.  There is constant pressure on kids to perform in academics, sports, and extracurricular activities - and to excel in all areas.  Yoga is a place where kids can come to relax and unplug.  They'll learn games that help them focus, ways to breathe to help them relax, and be encouraged and supported as they learn to take these methods into their daily lives.  How great is that?  

Useful Daily Benefits

Just like many adults notice when they practice yoga, they will find that knowing how to breathe, be still and get present will help them function better in many areas of their life.  When a teacher says "take a deep breath" - they'll know how.  When a coach tells them to focus, it's something they've practiced.  

Student Success

I have taught yoga to kids with Autism Spectrum Disorders, and there was one child in particular who really struggled to regulate himself.  He would get really hyperactive when he got upset, then crash - which for him meant shutting down communication and becoming destructive.  Through a lot of practice and after learning yoga strategies, I watched as one day he noticed he was becoming upset.  He excused himself from the group and took out my deck of yoga cards, read his favorite calming activity, and calmed himself down.  When he was ready, he returned to the group.  I was so proud of him!  This type of emotional maturity is a true gift to any child.  Yoga can provide this - and so much more.    

For more research and information visit: http://www.eomega.org/learning-paths/body-mind-spirit-mindfulness-yoga-health-healing-relationships-family-family/yoga-mindfulness-for-kids#sthash.C7Dqj6df.dpuf

 

 

 

 

Lessons on being a human. by Julie Anne Caramanico

I work with children.  Many of them have Autism.  These kids teach me a lot about life, compassion, and straight up being a human being.  Every once in a while I meet a child who makes me take a step back and really think, and that happened today.

I like your yellow hair. It looks like spaghetti. And snakes! There are snakes in there. Do you like snakes? Can I touch it?

This funny and endearing, although challenging, child spit out rapid fire questions and barely gave me a chance to answer.  There was nothing in my blonde, curly hair, although it seemed to remind this kid of Medusa.  I'm used to kids calling out any and all personal characteristics, whether I'm comfortable with them or not.  

“No, you can't. Let’s do some work.”  The unpopular response I give when I have a job to do.

NO! (bangs on table)  Can I punch you in the face?? Would that hurt you? Would you be sad? I’m going to push you into the wall! Would you cry?

Did I mention this teenage boy had a good 6 inches and 75 lbs on me?  But I knew he was harmless, just frustrated.  I commiserated that I too, was bored of the work we had to do.  That seemed to win him over just a little.  I asked him questions about animals,  something I knew he liked.   I then showed him the activity and we got some work done.  When he became frustrated, he asked more questions.   Some provocative, some not.  We were getting into a good groove of working together.  Then more questions.  And yelling.  And then he said…

I know, what’s wrong with me, right?  

He stopped talking and moving for a moment and just looked at me.  I heard my words before I could even think about them and said “There is nothing wrong with you.” 

His comment, and my reaction, were one of those moments frozen in time with its simple profundity.  He had heard this before, and likely believed, that something is wrong with him.  He wanted to know if I also judged him, and thought there was something bad about him.  It struck me how this child who from the outside seems very different from me was all of the sudden, not different at all.  A moment ago I was his adversary, making him do boring tasks that he did not want to do or enjoy.  But here we could connect.  It struck me how very human we all are despite our differences.

How many times have you thought that there was something wrong with you?  Maybe you felt judged or inadequate.  Maybe you wanted to yell it at someone too, but you held back, guided by a sense of social propriety.   It could have been a colleague, an acquaintance, or someone you love deeply…and you felt vulnerable.  And seen.  I know, what’s wrong with me, right?  How terribly and utterly human are those words?  Are these kids, with autism, really all that different from you or me?  Is anyone really all that different from anyone else?  This kid, for all his yelling and banging and provoking, had a wounded soul that needed reassurance.  Not unlike the rest of us, and certainly not unlike me.   At a very basic, human level, we are exactly the same.   We want to be seen, heard, accepted, and loved.  Maybe it is more socially acceptable to keep quiet, but probably not as effective.  I did hear him after all, and I believe that he heard me.

I meant it when I said there is nothing wrong with that child.  He is perfectly imperfect.  We all are.  Each of us is beautifully flawed and perfectly whole, regardless of how we pass judgment on ourselves or feel others pass judgment over us.   It’s not always easy to remember, whether you're the judger or the judged.  But sometimes the truest words come without even having to think about it:  there is absolutely nothing wrong with you.  We are all the same.  Beautifully flawed, real and human.  Nothing wrong at all.

Sharing with a purpose. by Julie Anne Caramanico

I created this website because I want to make yoga more approachable to anyone who's interested in starting yoga and/or living a healthier lifestyle, but just haven't quite been able to get there.  I experienced my own resistance to starting a yoga practice, and I believe in breaking down barriers and incorrect perceptions of yoga to get more people on the mat.  If you’ve ever thought about trying yoga or a healthy lifestyle but have experienced resistance in some way, you’re in the right place!

When I took my first yoga class, I absolutely loved it.  I was low on funds as a graduate student, however, and I thought I didn’t have enough money to start the consistent yoga practice that I desired.  In addition to financial barriers, I had some hang ups about doing yoga.  I thought I wasn’t strong or flexible enough, and that yoga was a little “weird”.  In short, I was thoroughly intimidated, worrying about what other people thought, and making excuses for myself.  I continued to practice when I could at the gym, but never made a real commitment to getting healthy.  Years later, I was ready to make the commitment.  I decided to do the Broad Street Run, but since I'd previously gotten stress fractures from running, I decided to do yoga as cross training to prevent injury.  I volunteered at Dhyana Yoga a few hours a week in exchange for classes.  I was thoroughly intimidated by the classes I was taking, the accomplished yogis in the room and by my own lack of skill.  Despite my fears and insecurities, I kept showing up.  After fumbling around on the mat for a few months, I started to become more coordinated in the flow.  I noticed that my body started to change. I was less anxious in my everyday life.  Less anxiety even helped me get better at my job!  I was hooked.  Oh, and I finished the race injury free.  

Not long after, I decided to do a teacher training.  I was laying in savasana (the final resting pose in yoga) after a particularly difficult class, and the idea just came to me.  I knew I had to do it.  My original plan (which still stands) was to do yoga with children, but along the way I realized I also love sharing yoga with adults as well.  It has become my mission to teach yoga in an accessible, approachable way.  Strength and flexibility is not a requirement, but it certainly develops with practice.  I never did well in any kind of sport and physical activity was always a struggle for me.  It sounds cliché but it’s the truth, if I could learn how to do yoga, literally ANYONE can.  And you don't have to take it so seriously.  I love working hard in my practice but also enjoy being able to laugh and smile in my classes both as a student and teacher.  I have a lot of fun with it and never take myself too seriously.  All of that being said,  I am constantly learning about and through yoga as both a teacher and practitioner.  I consider myself a student of life and yoga, and I look forward to sharing everything I learn!