Thursday, 12 April 2018

Compationately Responsive Parenting - Taking the "I-ness" out of it

In working with parents over the years, one common theme that arises over and over is parents taking their children's actions personally instead of it being a child's reaction to their experience.  Yes, a parent's own behaviors may be affecting the child and this needs to be looked at, though what I am talking about more is the reaction of "I'm not a good enough mom/dad," "I should ____ as a mom/dad," "what am I doing wrong as a mom/dad because (child) should not be acting like this. 

My first suggestion to all parents is to have a reminder of developmental appropriate behaviors for different stages of your child's life.  Sometimes it's easy to forget that the very behaviors your child is exhibiting are actually quite normal and appropriate and your job is to help guide them into learning more effective ways to make different choices.  I think most parents can identify with a 2-3 year old having a tantrum in the middle of a public place.  If your thought is "I should be able to control my child," then you will be embarrassed and angry. Most likely your behaviors will not be the most helpful ones in teaching your child how to appropriately express their emotions.  If you can meet their behavior (belief is "my role is to help teach them), in a calm and firm manner, offer the child options in connecting by using their voice to talk with you so you can understand, or they have "x" amount of counts to start to calm down or you will all have to leave, or even sit by them and start to take deep breaths to model how to get control again.  Here's a good list of developmental milestones:

From a yoga perspective, in the Yoga Sutras (a "how to guide" for yoga that was written by Patanjali prior to 400 CE and still highly relevant today), Patanjali address "I-ness" in Sutra 2.6 called Asmita.  Asmita "arises from the ignorance, occurs due to the mistake of taking intellect to itself to be pure consciousness" (  I think about this in relation to taking the role of parent as identity instead of a more of a role. When a person gains self-worth from being a parent, this is when taking the child's actions on as a reflection as one's identity or self-worth starts to create conflict.  An example from Aaron Beck in Cognitive Behavior Therapy is that a child does poorly in a class at school, the parent blames themselves for the child doing poorly...what will this parent's action be?  What I've run into is the parent becoming more forceful about the child's studying, getting upset when the child struggles to understand and I've even seen parents doing the work for the child to "get it right."  None of this helps the child and negates the responsibility of the child to work through the challenge and feel good about themselves.  Instead, when a child does poorly, talking with them, getting their input, and working as a support for the child in a more compassionate loving way is going to help them learn.  Maybe even enjoy learning and school again.  This isn't about you as a parent, it's about the child working through a life challenge effectively to feel more strength in themselves.

Changing from an "I-ness" centered belief to more compassion and putting responsibility to where it belongs takes time a practice, but in the end can be highly rewarding for parent and child, and actually strengthen that relationship.

Some Tips for practice:

1. Notice your reaction to your child.  If you notice yourself feeling defensive and reacting from anger, guilt, fear, etc, STOP.  You can almost always take time by saying, "let me think about this," "I don't know the answer right now, give me a few minutes."  Then BREATHE.  Breathing is so important because it can get us out of the reactive place to a place where we can think, feel, and go inward to find the answer that feels best. Take the time you need!

2. Remind yourself that "the way another person treats you is a reflection of them, not you."  Step back and use your powers of empathy.  My mother just shared a story about my brother when he was in middle school.  She found herself struggling to understand why he was acting the way he was.  She asked a male friend and he was able to give her some insight about how insecure and scared he felt when he was that age.  She then found herself talking with him about an incident that had happened and was able to take herself out of it and stated, "I can imagine that was really scary."  She shared that my brother just burst into tears with emotion at that comment, as this was really what was going on with him. Daniel Siegel, author of "Whole Brain Child" and many other wonderful books, explains this as "name it to tame it."

3. Take time to just have enjoyment with your child.  Time that's just about having fun, not about the "to dos" and "have tos."  We all need work in balancing the "have tos" with doing things that bring enjoyment.  We all need play time and time where there's no time constraints or rushing.

4. Self-care.  I can not stress this enough.  You, as a parent, have so much you are juggling in addition to this role of parent.  While this can be harder when children are younger, it can still be done with support of spouse, family, friends.  Allow yourself time to do things that are out of this role and about you connecting to you.  Whether it's a hobby, time with friends, exercise, just being by it!  And do it often.  You can not be your best self when you are run down.  You are a human like everyone else.  This also teaches your children the importance of self-care.

5. Self-compassion.  You are human, you will make mistakes and your intention is what is important.  Be kind to yourself and you will be able to be more kind and compassionate to your children.  More on this in the next blog.

Someone once told me that Deepak Chopra stated, "If we stopped taking other's behaviors and actions personally, 99% of our conflict would go away."

Compassionately Responsive - The Necessity of Self-Compassion

Practicing self-compassion, coming back to it over and over again, has been an integral part of my positive change process. I see it as an essential element in coming from a more loving place. In fact, everything that is opposite of compassion is fuel for living from fear.  I know that all parents have a goal for their children to grow into adults that are happy and at peace.  My first question is are you doing this for yourself?

Dr. Kristen Neff, who has made her lifework out of focusing on self-compassion (and has a wonderful website, defines compassion into three different parts: Kindness, Common Humanity, and Mindfulness.  I love this because I think it makes the practice and understanding of self-compassion much more accessible.


Kindness as a part of self-compassion to me is treating ourselves as we would a best friend.  Think about the words you use towards yourself when you make a mistake.  Some words that have come to my mind are "you're so stupid," "why did you do that, now no one will like you," and "why even bother, you won't get it right anyway."  Even as I write those words I feel sad.  I would NEVER say any of those words to another human, let alone my best friend.  So why would it ever be okay to say them to myself.  The thing with how we treat ourselves is that on some level, it will be the message that we eventually send to others around us through our body language, tone of voice, worrying.  My tip to start, right away, on more kindness towards yourself is AS SOON AS you hear any unkind words towards yourself, STOP.  Then ask yourself "How would I treat a best friend who is going through this situation?"  And go with those words towards yourself. Notice what happens as you keep practicing this.


Yes!  I love this trait of compassion.  I mean, come on, out of 7 billion people on this planet I'm really the ONLY ONE going through this or has ever experienced this.  (I just fell on the floor from laughing so hard at this).  We are ALL humans.  That means we make mistakes, we aren't perfect, our minds are tools that love to take over the driver's seat, we have amazing strengths and sometimes those very strengths can be part of our misery, we are able to feel immensely, and, again, we all make's a big part of how we learn and grow.  This one reminder can help to step back, look at the reality of the challenge we might be facing, and then ask, "Ok, so how am I going to meet this challenge or mistake," instead of berating ourselves into no action and self-pity.

REMEMBER: A mistake is a LEARNING.  That's the new definition.  Use it!  Use it with yourself and use it with your children.


Mindfulness, to me, means awareness and self-responsibility.  To change our ways of thinking, believing and behaving that we are tired of, we have to be aware when we are in those patterns.  We have to be aware in order to learn what triggers those patterns.  We have to be aware in order to try another thought, belief, or action.  It takes practice, practice, practice.  And we will fall back into old patterns, which gives us the opportunity to remember that mistakes are learnings and be our own best friend.

Taking responsibility can create a lot of fear and anxiety AND it is where empowerment comes from.  Owning our mistakes, owning our emotions, thoughts and beliefs that are currently happening, owning the present moment all help towards conscious change.

Start practicing this by noticing your reactions to your children's behaviors.  Question yourself.  Why did that situation bring up that emotion up?  Why did that bring up the urge to ___ in me?  Is there another way to look at that situation?  Where is the learning here?  And notice what opens up to you by doing this.

Make Self-Compassion your number one priority.  Don't go another moment without thinking about it and practicing it.  Your world will change just with this.  And Dr. Kristin Neff's website has even more ways to practice self-compassion,

Love unites!  Fear Divides!  Where is your relationship with your child?

Compassionately Responsive Parenting - What are you modeling?

Being Compassionately Responsive requires us to go more inward in order to notice what is going on with our reactions and to notice what we are modeling.  That old saying of "Do what I say, not what I do," is an example of what not to do.  The best thing anyone can do to teach a child is to practice and model what you'd like to instill.  Any change we want to create begins with what we have control over, ourselves.

Let's start with the cell phone, specifically smart phones.  Studies show that there is a correlation between excessive screen time for kids and depression.  Computers, smart phones, TV are all stimulating to the nervous system.  I hear from parents all the time that they are concerned how much their teens are on social media.  My question to you is how much time are you spending on your smart phone and how much time are you spending with you children without it.  If you want to really check this out, there is a free app called "Forest: Stay focused."  It's an app designed to motivate time periods where we do not pick up our phone to retrain ourselves that the smart phone is not an appendage we can live without.  What message are you sending your children, who are trying to get your attention, but you are busy on your phone?  (My phone is more important or you aren't important)?

Also, notice what is going on with how your body and mind feel after spending an hour, or two on the computer/ smart phone.  I know it increases racing thoughts in my mind, my breath is short and shallow and my energy buzzing.  I feel anxious afterwards and it takes a good amount of time to "come down" from it.  Start with refining your habit with your cell phone.  Set specific boundaries as a family like no phones at dinner or no phones after 7pm.  We all grew up without 24/7 information at our finger tips...  We all need to learn how to's essential for our sanity!

Next, I want to address time management.  I have become amazed at how challenging it is to schedule appointments with children and adolescents because they are going from the moment they get up to the time they go to bed.  There is less and less time for them just to enjoy being a kid, the opportunity to work through boredom and into creativity, and the full schedules are part of what is creating stress and feeling overwhelmed.  Again, reflect back to your personal habits.  What is your time management like?  Do you find yourself looking at your schedule for the day and feeling overwhelmed?  Do you rush from one place to the next, leaving no room for incidences to happen like traffic and then being late constantly?  Do you find yourself getting rid of your self-care activities because "there's no time?"  Again, what are you modeling for your children?  SLOWING DOWN is essential for being able to be more compassionate, to be more responsive than reactive, and for basic self-care we all deserve.  Most of the time we are doing this to ourselves to prove we are a good enough ____ (parent, employee, friend, etc).  This has to stop.  What needs to happen in your life so that you have time to just sit and relax, time to reflect and be aware, time to laugh and just enjoy life?  We are running ourselves ragged and teaching our children to be good enough we have to be busy.

Finally, the good news is that these and many more behaviors are just that, a behavior.  They can change.  We can unlearn to stress inducing behaviors and the mindset that have been taught to us and make a choice to reduce the stress we create.  As you, a parent, do this, you will be teaching your children much more healthy, sustainable, and stress-reducing ways of meeting the world.

Words from my teacher, Prasad Rangnekar: "If it's stressful...don't do it."

Sunday, 8 April 2018

What is Yoga-based Counseling?

My private practice, Samya Yoga Healing, provides yoga-based counseling services.  The number one question I get is, "What is yoga-based counseling?"  I hope to explain it with this blog.  Feel free to email me with any questions at

1.  Yoga does just not mean yoga poses.  Yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali (a "how-to" yoga guide from almost 2000 years ago) is eight-fold:
  • Yamas (Ethical Practices)
  • Niyamas (Ethical Practices)
  • Asana (Poses)
  • Pranayama (Breath work)
  • Pratyahara (Withdrawal of Senses)
  • Dhyana (Practice of Single-minded concentration)
  • Dharana (Meditation)
  • Samadhi (United with Truth)
We in the west have narrowed the focus of yoga to just Asanas (poses) and yoga has so much more to offer.  All of these steps in the eight-fold path contribute to helping the practitioner identify limiting patterns in the body and mind (emotions, thoughts, and beliefs) to move towards a more true understanding of who we really are, which leads to immense peace, joy, and satisfaction.

2. Counseling, to me, is partnering with an outside, trained person to move past emotions, thoughts and behaviors that are creating pain and suffering in a person's life.  The focus is the "client" and the therapeutic relationship is about supporting the "client" in whatever changes they are looking for in their life.  There are very few other relationships in life when we get to be the center of focus, not worrying or thinking about the other person.  Because the focus is on you, the "client," amazing learning and self-understanding can be fostered, supporting positive change.

3. Yoga-based counseling is using a yoga philosophy lens, which can be summed up that all of us already posses all we need to live fully in peace and contentment.  So, the work is about identifying and changing from a limited mindset (thoughts and beliefs that are more of a story of a perceived reality rather than reality itself) that is creating all of our misery and suffering and moving towards a mindset that is based in reality, compassion, and empowerment.  Many tools of the yoga tradition are incorporated: meditation, breath work, mantra, hand-gestures, ethical practices, and self-study.  "These tools can help reduce stress and improve mindfulness, helping us maintain peace and presence while dealing with the challenges of daily life.  Finding and practicing the tools that fit you can help to navigate even the most challenging moments from a place of compassion, presence, and openness….(Michael Lloyd-Billington,"

If you already practice yoga asanas in a class or at home, you most likely already have experienced what yoga has to offer.  You may be a more spiritually-minded person, already experiencing what happens when you come from a more loving and compassionate place.  You may be questioning your beliefs and lifestyle choices, feeling a calling towards doing it differently.  Samya Yoga Healing and yoga-based counseling may be a good fit for you!  Contact me (Twyla) at anytime for a free consultation,


Friday, 6 April 2018

Gratitude for my time with Middle Schoolers

The past two weeks, I have been spending time with middle schoolers in breathing and meditation classes I'm offering and some classes at a local middle school teaching tools for stress management.  As usual, those who I work with, whether adults or children, tend to be my teachers as well. 

My first experience at the middle school was teaching about the breath as a tool for stress reduction in 5 gym classes.  I was asked to do this as upcoming standardized testing was coming up.  I was teaching to 25 and up to almost 40 students in one class. (That larger class was impromptu and not the usual students in that class).  Those of you who have middle schoolers or work with them know the energy and impulsivity that they can have at times.  Having that many together multiplies the energy and impulsivity (many, many thanks to middle school teachers).  Add on that this is a gym class, so the students have an expectation that this is an hour they get to run around.  I went in thinking I'd teach the entire class time, but with seeing the energy and knowing these kids needed time to run around, I ended up teaching for about 20-25 minutes.  I was generally impressed with how most of the students were willing to try and generally were redirected back to the practice by me standing by them or verbal cues when their minds and bodies 'wandered.' 

The next experience was with a smaller class.  My focus was to teach how to cope with stress using the body, breath and mind.  As I started, there were a handful of students who had decided they were not going to participate.  During the class they continued their plan, which took away from those other students who were listening and trying.  I left after the class, sat in my car and reflected.  I felt sad and powerless.  For the next day, I kept leaning into the experience, talking about it with a couple people, trying to make sense of my reactions to it, and doing my work on moving from a fear reaction to a more compassionate one.  After sleeping on it, journaling and then messaging my teacher, the lessons became more clear.

It was the negative energy coming from these students, these 12 year olds, that was most disturbing to me.  So young to be in that state. The thing is, that class was just a mirror of the greater community locally and nationally.  These students, who have such a strong foot hold in fear-based living, had such a profound effect on the rest of the class and I'm sure the rest of the school culture.  Whatever their experiences had been up until then, they have learned that their world is not safe enough to be vulnerable, to connect with others in a kind way, and to enjoy all to opportunities they have been given.  They have been 'schooled' to have an armor of self-defense that ends up creating negativity all around them.  The thing that they most likely are needing (love, support, compassion) is the very thing they are repelling because of their armor. 

These children and their behaviors are a lesson for us all because part of what has created this defense and their reactions are about the adults in their lives: in family, in the community, and in our country.  They are a reflection of parts in all of us that, if we aren't aware, can easily take over.

My question to myself was 'what to do with this information? Where is my responsibility?'  My answer was:
1. Keep doing your sadhana (daily spiritual practices) to transform you from fear-based reactions to a more loving and compassionate being.  Although I've been on this path with commitment for six years, that fear rises up, as per the above example.  My practice has helped me recognize right away when it's happening and allows me to learn and then choose a different response.  I feel more empowered, more at peace with the world, and more connected to my purpose because of my daily practice.
2. Despite my role as a counselor and yoga teacher, I can not "fix" anyone.  I can only provide opportunities for new ways of coping, opportunities to find different perspectives, and opportunities for taking self-responsibility.  I have no control over what another person decides to do with what I say or teach.
3. It's all about planting seeds.  Providing glimpses for young and old to see there are options for other ways of being in this world and they have the choice to make change in thoughts, beliefs and behaviors.
4.  Again, I need to keep doing MY daily practices. 

It is so easy to feel overwhelmed like the world is doomed when we encounter negativity.  These students reminded me that if I don't continue my own practice and focus on what I'm responsible for (my own reactions and behaviors), I can easily put back on my own suit of armor.  Change comes from within, it is about how WE CHOOSE to live our lives. 

A good question to ask is, "Is what I'm doing right now contributing to the fear or moving myself (and thus the world) to a more loving and compassionate state?  If it's the later, we need to STOP, right then, and take time to care for ourselves until we can move into that more loving and compassionate place.  That is how we can collectively move to a more peaceful state.  Begin Within and take other's behaviors as a learning for you.

Looking forward to my next two weeks with these young beings!

PS I was so impressed by one student who had been in one of the gym classes, who was fidgety and struggled with focus, remember some of what I had taught by what he shared in the smaller class.  Don't judge a book by it's cover and again, it's about planting seeds.