SMARTer bodies

Category: Organizations and Professionals

Book Review: The Perfect Score Project

Book Review: The Perfect Score Project

We have said before that your emotional state will have an influence over the success of any undertaking. The neuroscience and psychology behind learning are brain-candy to us nerdy women. So, a book like Debbie Stier’s about conquering the SAT and turning it into a positive experience for all those taking it piqued our interest. Debbie’s academic odyssey is both fascinating and healing for those of us who have horrible memories of that damnable test. Check out Mel’s review (below from her GoodReads account) and buy a copy for yourself, as well as for any individual preparing to take the marathon exam: The Perfect Score Project. The author’s blog is full of fascinating facts about the test, its history and tips of how to perform at your best. Even if you’ve already survived the SAT you’ll want to check it out!

This book was a complete and exceedingly entertaining surprise! My own experience with the SAT was scarring and traumatic. I definitely had reservations about reading a book that would take me back to that disappointing experience. But from the beginning I was easily swept up by the author’s determination to dispel the mysticism that adds to the test’s enormous intimidation. Debbie approached the goal of getting a perfect score with the belief that consistent and methodical hard work can make it happen. The over-achieving nerd in me, who always believed the same despite abysmal SAT scores, was hooked!

Debbie’s journey as a student was the most engaging aspect of her story. I hadn’t realized how many unresloved bad feelings I still had for the standardized testing process until I rediscovered them witnessing Debbie take test after test after test. It is a profoundly inhumane process. For myself, I found witnessing her varied tutoring/study approaches and testing experiences fascinating and emotionally healing. I know there are many other teenagers and adults who identify as smart, ambitious and nonplussed by the disparity between a shining high school track record and terrible SAT scores. The abundance of tips Debbie learns and SHARES in the book had me thinking, “Had I known that!” Those tips made me better understand where I had gone wrong and even had me thinking I might try a test just for myself again one day. The fact that I was feeling inspired to try the damnable SAT again was shocking and a testament to the book’s valuable information.

I actually wanted to try again, so as to reclaim my experience and do away with having felt S-T-U-P-I-D. Debbie’s book is an invaluable guide that every teenager, parent, guidance counselor and educator should read!!! Parents will be inspired by her willingness to go a step beyond the usual to help her typical teenage son (smart, but disinterested in the SAT) understand that with the correct and individualized strategy the SAT can become a less torturous undertaking with better-than-hoped for results. I applaud the author’s courage for honestly sharing the tension this project caused in the relationships with her children. It’s fair to say that they were not as inspired or excited by her enthusiasm (self-professed) for beating bad-test-score fears. It benefits everyone who reads to see how well-meaning parents can have difficulties trying to help their children do their best. There is no perfect parenting formula that will instantly create bonding families and loyal/gracious teenagers. As in life, this book has exciting moments as well as events that will have readers commiserating with a, “That sucks!”

The Perfect Score Project helped me to reconcile my shame about hiding behind the “I’m a bad test taker” label by realizing I was under-prepared and on my own. I can now be proud of what I was able to accomplish without any parental guidance (which I would say is CRITICAL) or preparation. I still managed to graduate from Smith College in 2003 with fond memories, both academic and social. But I can now look back with pride and no more shame about standardized testing. I dare say, I really might try again…at least play around with a few College Board questions.

Turning Point: The Shower Project

Turning Point: The Shower Project

Mel is fortunate to work with a non-profit organization in Brooklyn called Turning Point. The amazing staff at Turning Point help their clients find resources to make better decisions for brighter futures. Services like helping someone get the GED, find permanent housing, improve literacy, and even providing HIV tests are improving the Brooklyn community.  Over 7,500 people are using Turning Point’s varied services everyday!  That kind of community service needs support.  We would especially like to let you know about another essential service that they provide called the Shower Project:

The Shower Project is the gateway to mental and physical well-being for many Turning Point clients. A community outreach initiative, the project invites the homeless in for a shower, change of undergarments and a hot beverage. A washing machine is also available, as is access to detergent. It’s a simple service, but one that is irreplaceable to the hundreds of people the project serves.

It is also a service that brings them in contact with Johnny, who runs the Shower Project. He is crucial in finding them help, first with a shower, then with access to all of Turning Point’s other social services, including education, housing, drug rehabilitation, HIV/AIDS care and prevention, and vocational and career development.

We humbly ask you to go to this link to donate. The link will lead you to the donation page for “DISCIPLESHIP OUTREACH MINISTRIES INCORPORATED,” the corporate name for Turning Point. Your contribution will pay for heat, hot water, soap, towels, basic toiletries and underwear.

  • Donate $20 and provide showers for one person for a week.

  • Donate $80 you will cover a month of showers for someone.

  • Donate $1,000 you will provide an individual with safe and warm place to shower for a year!

Give whatever you can. Every bit helps! We try to practice gratitude on a daily basis. As we rush through this Holiday Season, remembering that others may need something as a basic as hot shower is a poignant reminder that we should not only be grateful, but lend a helping hand. A hot shower could make the winter season easier to get through and help someone get a job or lift the spirits of an individual struggling to stay on a more productive path.

We are humbled by the efforts of the Turning Point staff to recognize a need and provide an answer.

Help Your Employees Manage Emotions and Guide Them Towards Success

Help Your Employees Manage Emotions and Guide Them Towards Success

Dr. Peregrine Kavros, the expert in mindfulness training in corporate and academic environments, will be speaking at a Human Resources convention in Atlantic City, October 28, 2013 – 3:15pm.  We first introduced you to Dr. Kavros’ work in this blog post from May.  She does an amazing job of helping individuals manage their emotions/moods by using advanced neuroscience, mindfulness training and the physical body.  Learning to manage these overwhelming emotions is key to taking charge of how well we interact with our external environment. This control opens the door to success in professional environments that previously may not have been possible.

If you are in New Jersey and looking to use Dr. Kavros’ methods to help your employees or organization then take her workshop at the Atlantic City Convention Center.  Here are the details:

Not everyone can regulate emotions within acceptable workplace norms. Destructive emotions directly impact morale, job performance and turnover. Emotional regulation improves creativity, team collaboration, and leadership. Long-term effects of mindfulness and emotional regulation can result in as few as four sessions of training. Exercises lasting no more than one half hour can be introduced easily into the employment setting and offered during on/off hours. HR Professionals are in a prime position to facilitate these exercises. In this workshop, I train the trainers to help their employees develop these needed skills in mindfulness and emotional regulation.

Chocolate Love

Chocolate Love

You know we love chocolate.  We have discussed its health benefits as well as shared with you some of our favorite brands and bars (on our FB page).  Now we’re happy to introduce to you Raw Chocolate Love. Those of you lucky enough to be in NYC (RepreZent!) have seen this brand in your favorite health food stores. The reason that RCL caught our attention was not just the yummy taste or healthy ingredients, but the obvious passion that goes into creating this product. No extracts, artificial flavoring, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free and vegan…All goodness.

mixed_bars_and_truffles

Shimon Pinhas started his chocolate-making company in 2008, driven not only by his love for the cocoa bean but also by his desire to create a taste experience that added to the vitality and overall well-being of a person. The resulting guilt-free treat is representative of Shimon’s education from the Institute of Integrative Nutrition and his experience as a Holistic Health Counselor.  Who better to trust when you are trying to be a conscious consumer!? His chocolate is completely raw, which for some, is a requisite for healthy consumption.  Because of its raw nature, Shimon’s chocolate tastes distinctively fruity and the other ingredients stand out to the palate, like a fine wine.  Our favorites were the Double Love with Chili, Sea Salt Love and the Truffles!

What is most wonderful about Raw Chocolate Love is that you can rest assured that no matter what flavor you choose (and there are so MANY), the ingredients are of the highest quality with the single-minded intention to nourish your body and soul. The chocolate content is never lower than 78% to make sure you are getting the benefits of the cacao itself. The salt is Himalayan, and the coconut oil organic, full of tocotrienols (a variety of Vitamin E) and lots of Vitamin L (Love).  Shimon makes his chocolates with agave nectar and was even conscientious enough to address the controversy over this particular ingredient.  He says, “The agave I use is truly raw and of the best origin I can find. Everything I use must have proven health benefits and, yes, there is bad agave out there.  But this is what makes my chocolate safe for diabetics.”

Having had the pleasure of meeting with Shimon in person, we can definitely say that his positivity, enthusiasm and intention to make the world a better place one chocolate at a time is palpable.  “Everything must be done from a loving place and with love,” says Shimon as he advised us to close our eyes and rest a bit while enjoying the chocolate.  Before some of you start eye-rolling at the hippie sentiments expressed in this exchange, take a moment to realize that this may be the best product to assist you in finding a moment of meditative peace. You know that we are all about creating a fully immersive yoga practice that increases your awareness and allows you to experience the present moment.  So we couldn’t help but be seduced by a chocolate brand with the same message.

The next time you need a break, want to cap off an awesome yoga practice or just need to find a quiet moment to yourself, this chocolate can be the vehicle that can get you there.  It is good for you, produced with a care for the environment and fair-trade practices and, most importantly, tastes really good!  Now that we are entering cooler months, Shimon can ship to areas outside of NYC (the heat of summer melts the raw chocolate). Get ready to place your order online at www.rawchocolatelovenyc.com!

Health and Wellness to Veterans in the DMV Area

Health and Wellness to Veterans in the DMV Area

Our friends and peers at  Women’s Veterans Interactive and Yoga2Sleep have partnered to bring their collective project, Holistic Health and Mindful Yoga Therapy for Veterans to military veterans in the Washington, DC metropolitan area for free.  The kick-off for the project will be on Saturday, September 14th at the National Harbor from 11:00am to 1:00 pm.

Download Press Release Here

About Women Veterans Interactive
The mission of Women Veterans Interactive is to support women veterans through Advocacy, Empowerment, Interaction, Outreach and Unification (AEIOU).

About Yoga2Sleep
The mission of Yoga2Sleep, LLC is to assist the tired, restless and sleep deprived, serving communities through a deep passion for yoga. We encourage the wonder and discovery of an exciting, holistic way to channel energy so that rest and slumber come easier. Yoga2Sleep’s services help clients decrease stress levels to get better sleep for the best life.

 

Book Review of Fierce Medicine by Ana T. Forest

Book Review of Fierce Medicine by Ana T. Forest

First of all, nothing but deep respect for Ana Forrest as she shares her life story and how she triumphed over incredible obstacles including extreme childhood trauma and several addictive, self-destructive behaviors.  In the book you’ll learn techniques for disrupting and breaking physically and emotionally unhealthy habits.  Most of these techniques Ana discovered while facing the negative consequences of a brutal upbringing.  As readers, we observe her personal evolution as she discovers the power of yoga, meditation and Native American spirituality to help refine the methods of self-improvement she uses to sustain her progression to a more-realized being.

This really is the most fascinating and rewarding part of the read.  Ana’s ability to share the sadness and triumph of her story with unflinching truth, but without relying upon a sensationalist rendering of her abuse is a testament to her determination to “Mend the Hoop of the People.” Her use of the Native American spiritual framework refers to Ana’s mission, “to create in each of us a sense of freedom, a connection to our Spirit and the courage to walk as our Spirit dictates, and thus enable us to do our part in Mending the Hoop of the People.” (as taken from her website)  The effort to connect individual’s with their spirits is at the heart of Forest yoga and the book.  Ana shares valuable information about how to overcome seemingly impossible circumstances through a real life application of mindfulness practices and yoga postures.

That being said, the yoga aspect of the book is the least valuable. The inaccurate anatomy and superficial descriptions of the physical effects an asana practice couldl have on the body are easily disputed with a basic understanding of anatomy and physiology.  An example would be how Ana says that in order to get cerebrospinal fluid flowing optimally you have to practice lengthening the spine (you obviously know this isn’t true since you read our post about that yoga myth). But if one is able to look beyond the erroneous physical attributes of the yoga practice it can be a valuable tool to a person struggling with feeling more comfortable in her own body, especially when handling deep-seated emotional trauma.  The strength and courage with which Ana confronts emotional detritus is a powerful demonstration to students that have been running from unresolved histories.  In this regard, Ana’s light as a teacher shines brightest.  Ana keeps it REAL! She does not allow her “status” as a yoga teacher to interfere with her ability to help readers and students to really see the uglier sides of ourselves that we would rather ignore, for she knows this ignorance is malignant.

If you are ready for intense/soulful work buy this book.  If you are not ready for intense/soulful work buy this book.  Fierce Medicine will help you to stir up the energy you need to take charge of creating a better life for yourself. The guided meditations in the book (particularly the Death Meditation) are gold.  Afraid to sit down with yourself?  It’ll be like Ana is there with you showing you how to find the courage to continue into your personal darkness to emerge into light.  Her energy medicine is some crazy good healing shit!  Do the yoga, because it feels good and don’t internalize all she says about the anatomy.  But do take in what she says about being in charge of and transforming the energy inside and around you.

We thank Ana for sharing her story and her work for Mending the Hoop.

A Discussion About Mindfulness With Dr. Peregrine Kavros

A Discussion About Mindfulness With Dr. Peregrine Kavros

Dr. Peregrine Kavros is a friend of ours who is a licensed Psychologist & Clinical Neuropsychologist who provides individual psychotherapy, couples counseling, and sex therapy.  She founded Management Focus to address the often overlooked needs of students and professionals in academia and the workplace: Among the many tools she uses, Dr. Kavros has found that mindfulness techniques can change the moods that control your life.  So, obviously we wanted to pick her brain and share with you what makes her work with others so successful. She explains the neuroscience that proves that there is indeed a connection between emotions and the physical body.  This science also proves the need for all of us to learn mindfulness techniques to help maintain a functional mind/body relationship.

SB: Dr. Kavros we believe the physical, emotional and mental bodies are distinct, but connected.  Can you speak to that?

Dr. K:  There is a clear systemic or neurological basis for the inter-relationships of the body, mind and emotions. That is why having a physical movement practice is so important in helping us to affect the change that we would like orchestrate in those relationships. Centering the body can be helpful when we feel out of control either mentally or emotionally.  It’s also important that the physical movement we engage in be fun and enjoyable!

SB:  We are big anatomy and neuroscience nerds.  Can you describe some of the brain functions that fit into the context of this conversation about the body/mind and trying to create a practice that allows us to keep that connection healthy?

Dr.K:  The specific neurobiological underpinnings of Mindfulness, in this context, can be read about in the work done by Drs. David Vago and David Silbersweig.  In the linked article, they describe how one may, “through meditation…modulate self-specifying and narrative self-networks through an integrative fronto-parietal control network.” (Thankfully, Dr. K will now translate for the rest of us.)

Rather than our thoughts, emotions or body controlling us, with practices of mindfulness, we develop a greater capacity to choose which part of us needs to be in control at any given point in time. Until a regular practice of mindfulness is enacted, the Narrative self, which is associated with the structures of the brain that are more likely to hold our “stories”, (the hippocampus, ventral medial prefrontal cortex, and other memory related structures), may be overly dominant. The Narrative self, the voice that does not seem to fade and replays over and over again, reminds us of what we’ve experienced in the past and how that past may influence our experience in the future. This process of recollection can be an overwhelming sensory experience. For instance, if an experience triggers a memory of an event you had when you were 8 years old then you can also re-experience the physical sensations that go along with that memory.

SB:  So the neurobiological process you have described can make moving beyond past trauma difficult as well as make it challenging to remain in “reality” due to our ever-shifting emotions. How does practicing mindfulness effect that process?

Dr K.: These Narrative brain structures that we have been speaking about compose what neuroscientists refer to as Task Negative Networks. When Task Negative Networks are shown during functional magnetic resonance imaging (a test that measures blood flow in the brain) individuals are engaged in non-goal related activities such as, daydreaming. Alternatively, Task Positive Networks, which involve structures such as, the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, precuneus (a structure involved with episodic memory, visual processing and self-awareness), frontal eye fields, primary motor cortex, parietal lobe, among others, activate on a conscious and unconscious level when individuals engage in goal related activities. In one study, prior to a sustained practice of mindfulness, the posterior part of the Insula (one of the brain structures associated with emotion) was activated at the same time as the ventral medial prefrontal cortex (the Narrative Self). After a sustained practice of mindfulness, the Insula was activated with the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex, thus shifting from rumination to a stronger capacity to attend, initiate, execute and follow through. Drs.  Vago and Silbersweig suggest that the brain actually becomes more efficient in integrating information and switching between the Task Positive and Task Negative Networks; thus, coordinating our processing of emotion and physical sensory in a much more helpful manner. Rather than being lost in our emotions and physical sensations, we can direct our activity where it needs to be directed, while at the same time feeling grounded and centered in our experience.

SB: Nice!  So can a physical practice, like yoga or dance, that demands your focus be part of a mindfulness practice?

Dr.K: Absolutely! Engaging in a physical practice, while also directing one’s attention, can help us develop our muscles, so to speak, as we shift our brain activity. The brain does not function with separate conversations happening in distinct areas of the brain.  Activity in the brain is more like a chorus of voices and we are the conductor.

SB: Aaaah.  A tenent of SMARTer Yoga™ is that your physical practice should increase your awareness of your body, of your mental processes and of your emotions.  We believe that with this increased awareness comes the ability to make better choices.  Do you believe that this relates to the neuroscience we are talking about here?

Dr.K:  Absolutely!  A mindfulness practice (physical or meditative) can help one to discriminate among the voices that make up the chorus in an active brain.  With mindfulness it is easier to choose the voice that will help us to pay closer attention or complete our task without necessarily being distracted by memories that can negatively influence our experience. We become less reactive and are able to stay focused in the moment.

SB: This is so exciting! Integrating information in a way that lets us make good choices is ultimately the reason we have a practice that is physically demanding, yet meditative.  Taking our time while confronting uncomfortable sensations, breathing, staying focused and making good movement choices is the way we learn how to evaluate pieces of information in daily life, but not be overwhelmed by triggers.  Mindfulness can be an incredibly empowering experience.  How would you recommend someone begin practicing?

Dr.K:  Start with what you have: your body.  Begin by focusing on your breath for 5-10 minutes a day.  A really simple beginning to your practice can start by counting to 4 on the inhale and then counting to 4 on the exhale. One can also go to Dr. Dan Siegel’s site for more information and examples on how to begin.

 

Go Do Yoga and Give to Charity

Go Do Yoga and Give to Charity

Mel will be teaching a yoga class tomorrow (Tuesday, April 30th) at the Paris Health Club (Upper West Side, NYC) for a charity event.  Details:

Paris Fitness is reaching out to the community by helping our local children at PS 75. For one full week from Monday, April 29 to Sunday, May 5 the Paris Fitness team will donate their time and talent to help raise funds to support our local public school. Paris will donate over 15 classes to raise money for PS 75!

kidsSo if you want to make it tomorrow or for the rest of the week go to the Paris Fitness Facebook Page and sign up for a class at the email address below, drop your donation in the lockbox and participate in classes taught by top of the line Paris Fitness instructors. All proceeds will support PS 75 enrichment classes, gym equipment and much more! Classes will be held at Paris Fitness at 752 West End Avenue.

Sign up today for as many classes as you like!
To sign up write to fernando@parishealthclub.com for details and class schedule.

Run Strong For Boston

The city of Boston has suffered unnecessary tragedy and ensuing violence.  Grief is the primary emotion that has been felt this last week, not just in Boston, but by everyone witnessing as well.  But now is the time to find strength and help our Bostonian brothers and sisters to reclaim their streets and sense of freedom.  There have already been runners pounding the pavement in solidarity around the country and world.

London runners take a moment of silence for Boston.
London runners take a moment of silence for Boston.

The runs for Boston will continue on Monday, April 22nd.  For a list of those runs go to this Facebook Page made by the Independent Running Retailers Association.  If you can’t make it for a run show support by contributing to one of these causes listed by the Huffington Post.  Efforts like these have already raised, “more than $7 million in 24 hours” for the One Fund Boston.

Runner shows support for Boston
Runner shows support for Boston

For more specific information on joining runs in New York City go to the Facebook page (this one is for Central Park) made by the retailer JackRabbit Sports.  After such inhumane actions it’s important to come together and reestablish our connections to one another as loving and peaceful beings.  So, run far and run free!