Sunday, April 26, 2015

How Do You Say Goodbye to Your Mom?

How Do You Say Goodbye to Your Mom?
Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag

I like to follow the instructions. I like to read the books. I want the answer, the right way. Give me the 10 steps, the empirically supported intervention, the best practice. I have Googled, asked, reviewed, and searched key terms like grief, Hospice, and life-after-death. Apparently, there is no amount of information that can help me do this. I can’t seem to think my way out of this one.

For some things, there just aren’t any answers. It just is. It just hurts.

There are these moments. Her obituary comes across Facebook as a student remembers her. One of my sisters or brothers texts how much they are missing her. Sometimes that is me; “I miss mom,” I text. An innocent scroll through my photos that brings up an image of mom. I walk by a store and, “Mom would love that” runs through my mind. All these, each followed by a deep and heavy hurt.

Sometimes, I don’t see them coming.

Then, the really hard parts. The fights you got into in high school. The things you said and didn’t say. You know, I wanted to show her Chloe’s latest art and I forgot to grab it before I left. I forgot.

It hurts to breathe.

I told her goodbye. I said I was sorry. I told her I loved her a million times throughout her life and during those last days.

For some things, there is no amount of talking that helps. It just is. It just hurts.

I have been busy. But that doesn’t help me say goodbye.

For some things, there is no amount of busy that helps. It just is. It just hurts.

How do you say goodbye to your mom?

When there are no answers, maybe you are asking the wrong question. More, maybe it’s not a question at all.

Maybe, just maybe, you are not supposed to say goodbye. Goodbye is something we can do. It is something that might fix things. I have done it many times through lovers or friends. It gets too hard- goodbye. Easy. Done. All fixed.

Mom, you and all of our feelings and loves and fights and connections and disconnections- were not meant to be fixed. They just are. Some of it is deeply agonizing, a piercing pain, and some of it is nothing short of sunlight almost caught in a just-fallen drop of rain, whispering on a rose petal. The way you loved Stephen and dressed up for dinner with Dad. The way you ruminated about the one student who wasn’t journaling in English class and the inventive ways you could reach her. The way you watched movies as if you were dancing on an over-turned boat, singing in the rain, protecting a mouse in a fist, and waiting for your lover to show up, sky-high in Seattle.  

Sunlight in rain, on roses.

I think God, the universe, wants to me to do something else this time. Something beyond, bigger than, outside of- saying goodbye. I think I am being asked to stay. To stay present with and to all of it- the deep, chest pressing, gut wrenching, loss- the melancholy missing of your romantic, idealized, if-only approach to life- the ache for conversations I wanted to embody with you and now will be ephemeral, in spirit- the hoping and working toward believing that you can see how amazing my daughters are today and will be tomorrow. Mom, Chloe had a great game and you should hear Maya sing….

So, no goodbye. I am here in all of it.

I need time though. Sorry Mom, I can’t bake cookies yet. Not yet. It would feel too much like saying goodbye.

When I do, will you help me?


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

We've got this! The Story of Little Frog: The Yoga Garden at the White House Easter Egg Roll 2015


The Story of Little Frog:
The Yoga Garden at the White House Easter Egg Roll 2015
Catherine Cook-Cottone
The Yoga Bag
WHEER 2015 Yoga Garden Photo 
Meghan Powell Photography

What are the stories that move us? The first man on the moon, the 83 year old who finishes the marathon, the soldier who saves his comrades despite incoming fire, the inner city kid who makes it to- and through- graduate school and returns to bring her neighborhood up, the mother who risks her life to save the life of her child, the young woman who drops the cultural narrative that objectifies women and lives from power and inner beauty, the sports teams that- against all odds- win.

These are our heroes. What makes someone a hero? Heroes are those who are noted for feats of courage or purpose. They have looked challenge in the eyes and said, “I’ve got this” and they do!

People like Dan Nevins. 

Dan Nevins, WHEER 2015,  
Meghan Powell Photography

“In May 2008, Nevins was awarded the George C. Lang Award for Courage, the highest award bestowed by Wounded Warrior Project. Although Nevins was a highly decorated soldier, the Courage Award remains his most significant honor. Dan gives credit to Wounded Warrior Project for his successful rehabilitation, positive attitude, “can do” spirit, and more importantly his passion for helping his fellow warriors in any way he can. On March 1, 2009 Nevins joined Wounded Warrior Project in an official capacity, and now serves as director of Warriors Speak, a prestigious group of wounded warriors and caregivers who have been selected to share their personal, inspirational stories of courage and integrity with the public. By sharing his own story and personal accomplishments, Nevins is an inspiration to his peers and the warriors he serves. He recently climbed mount Kilimanjaro with two of his fellow wounded warriors and feels honored to be a part of an organization so significant in the lives of our nation’s military heroes and their families.”

Dan Nevins, WHEER 2015, Meghan Powell Photography
At a certain point, Dan- like all heroes- probably said to himself something like this, "Dan- I am here for you. I see you. Breathe and be present. You’ve got this!

I had the honor of teaching yoga along with Dan Nevins and a group of amazing yoga teachers (i.e., heroes = see the list below), in the Yoga Garden, at the White House for the White House Easter Egg Roll (WHEER 2015) as part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move and Gimme Five Initiatives

What were we up to? Sharing yoga.

Why share yoga? Because yoga is a powerful tool for self-regulation, health, and creating a life in which anything is possible.

How does yoga do this? Read this….

So, you know those hero stories? Like I said- they are the stories of individuals who, despite challenge and struggles, “pulled it together” and persevered. That is, they integrated mind and body in service of their mission, goal, and dharma- and did it!  This is yoga- yoga yokes- it integrates- it pulls you together so you can say- from a very powerful and integrated place- I’ve got this!” and with practice YOU DO!

So what are you yoking? What are you integrating in your yoga?

Your material self- your body.

Your energy self- your breath, movement, and processes of the body (some call this spirit- the spirit it takes to win the game, to persevere despite all messages to the contrary, to know you and what you are up to matters).

Your dharma- a Sanskrit word that means “your reason for being.”

It is our charge to nurture each of the three. Together, these three aspects of self can create a life of unlimited possibility- a hero life. Neglect any one of those three and you can lose or miss out on your story. And this- this is the really interesting thing- if you don’t take the challenge; if you pass up the opportunity to integrate body, spirit, and dharma- there is no compelling narrative. You won’t be your own or anyone else’s hero. There is no, “I’ve got this…

Yoga, Intention, and Dharma, Cook-Cottone, 2015

It goes like this- at birth, we are a beautiful bundle of humanity full of energy and life. However, aside from some rudimentary reflexes and neurophysiological patterns that set the sleep-wake and hunger-satiety cycles, attachment process and growth into motion, we are far from integrated. We are a set of reactions to both internal cues/signals and external experiences.

Each day we are alive, we have the opportunity to become more integrated. As human beings develop, they become more capable of intentional action. Repeated practice of intentional action integrates you. Dan Siegel has done a wonderful job in several of his books describing what neurophysiological integration looks like (see The Developing Mind and Mindsight). An integrated human is flexible, adaptive, coherent, energized, and stable. Trust me, these are things you want and nurturing your physical and energetic self in service of your dharma will get you there.

The most effective way to do this is to live ON PURPOSE. To live on purpose is to be present- body and breath and to know and be in service of your dharma- intentionally every day. It looks like this:

When we are little and developing, our parents help keep us together, integrated. In a funny way, they help us be in our yoga- our integration. Of course, lots of stuff can happen on the way that is dis-integrating. Things like trauma, divorce, stress, war, accidents, injuries, etc.. When these things happen, effective parents and loved ones help their children pull things back together, they help them re-integrate. They tell their children, “I am here for you. I see you. Breathe and be present. You’ve got this!

As we move into adolescence and adulthood, it becomes our responsibility to self-integrate. This process involves staying present, breathing, and taking care of your body. It is the process of telling yourself, “I am here for you. I see you. Breathe and be present. You’ve got this!

It also involves realizing your dharma, your reason for being. It starts small. It starts with practicing with intentions. Small accomplishable intentions like- “I will finish my homework,” and “I will make my bed.” Even tiny efforts, help fuse your material self and energetic/spirit self. For example, as I type, my material-self fingers are moving as my energetic body drives them- why? So that I can type this message- my intention is to share yoga with you. And so I type- on purpose and with purpose- I type as a form of yoga.  

As we mature we extend out intentions to larger things, into goals: “I will get good grades this year,” and “I will make the team.” Once we are old enough, developed enough, it is time to get present to dharma- the BIG ON PURPOSE. It is time to begin living intentionally toward your reasons for being. You move toward your BIG I’ve got this! With presence (I am here for you), awareness (I see you), and breath- you will find you dharma.

Yoga does this. There are other pathways. Still, yoga was built for this. It makes sense then that yoga practice has changed my life. It has made me a healthier and better person. As yoga began to change my life, I wanted to understand how and why and to share it with anyone who would listen. I started researching yoga in 2002 as a way to prevent eating disorder among young girls (see I wanted to help young girls learn tools that could help them face the, relational, cultural, and media challenges presented to them daily- and I did!

Girls Growing in Wellness and Balance,
Cook-Cottone & Kane, 2013
It was this kind of being ON PURPOSE that helped open door to more being ON PURPOSE. It is powerful stuff. It is a magnet of awesome. It helps you find other people who are BEING ON PUSPOSE- and you help each other. It is what we call generative. And so I met Leah Cullis ( 

.....and I got the chance to BE ON PURPOSE together- with a bunch of other awesome ON PURPOSE people at the White House Easter Egg Roll- 2015!

The WHEER 2015! YAY!!! 

What now? What do I do?  When you are living on purpose- those answers come easy- what did I do? I aligned with my ON PURPOSE. So, when I had the chance to teach yoga at the White House, I thought I would share a story that I use when I work with young girls. It is a story of a little frog who went to warrior school [and truth be told- this little frog is a lot like me- and warrior school- is a lot like yoga]. I thought to myself, Catherine- I am here for you. I see you. Breathe and be present. You’ve got this!” This is what I did....

Little Frog Goes to Warrior School

“You see there is a lake in the Adirondacks called Brantingham Lake. It is there that I love to do sun salutations on the dock, paddle board, and swim (we did sun salutation A’s- in the Washington DC sunshine- ahhhhh). 

Albina Rippy (as Little Frog) and me,
WHEER 2015,
Meghan Powell Photography

At this lake, there are dragonflies and frogs. We can do yoga in the shapes of dragonflies and frogs (and we did!). 

And maybe, not too very long ago, there was a little frog who was a little afraid of everything (we curled up in a little ball- balasana).

Little Frog longed to be big and strong, steady and sure. She wanted to be like- what they call- tadasana- or LIKE A MOUNTAIN (we did mountain pose).

She heard of this place called warrior school. A place where she could learn to be like the warrior frogs- those who share what the love without fear. Her heart said “Little Frog, you must go.”

Little Frog needed to go across the water to get to warrior school and so we took a boat- that is-we did boat pose and sang, “Row, row, row your boat….” Until we go there.

At warrior school- you guessed it- there were lots of chances for Little Frog to learn warrior poses! Little Frog learned all sorts of warrior asanas (postures) and strong warrior thoughts (Mantras).

I am strong!
I am brave!
I am a warrior!

She learned to breathe in strong thoughts and breathe out worries. She learned to hold warrior energy in her body. She was present and mindful, breathed into to her warrior ones, and twos, and threes, and she practiced her words ‘I am strong! I am brave! I am a warrior!”

With her new warrior skills she headed back to the lake- by boat of course! She thought to herself,
Little Frog- I am here for you. I see you. Breathe and be present. You’ve got this!

With her big strong courageous heart, Little Frog headed back to play with her friends.

Albina Rippy (as Little Frog) and me,
WHEER, 2015
Meghan Powell Photography

Together they hopped and then did tree pose! (yes we did!).

Then, to celebrate Little Frog’s gradation, we did a traditional White House Easter Egg Roll, Yoga Garden down dog bridge- and all the little warrior frogs in class got to run through the warrior bridge to celebrate!!!! Last, just like every good graduation party- we danced, and danced, and danced, until it was time for the next awesome yoga class!”

WHEER, 2015, The Down Dog Tunnel
Meghan Powell Photography

When Little Frog, and I, got grounded and integrated- we could be up to our ON PURPOSE. When we got present to, “I am here for you. I see you. Breathe and be present.” We could be up to our “I’ve got this!” Little frog and I both went on to teach the powerful tools of yoga to others- Little Frog at Brantingham Lake- near my parents lovely camp and me- right in Buffalo- at the University at Buffalo as an associate professor, as a yoga instructor at Power Yoga Buffalo, and through Yogis in Service ( as we provide access to yoga to anyone who is interested in learning.

When you get your material self and your energetic self together- its dharma that happens- big beautiful ON YOUR PURPOSE dharma- and trust me “You’ve got this.

So say it with me, “YOUR NAME HERE- I am here for you. I see you. Breathe and be present. You’ve got this!” and you will!

Thank you to Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move and Gimme Five campaigns!

Congratulations Little Frog and all of the powerful teachers that inspired me throughout the day!


WHEER, 2015 Yoga Garden Team, Meghan Powell Photography

THANK YOU to organizer and founder Leah Cullis
“Since 2009 Yoga has been a part of the annual White House Easter Egg Roll on the South Lawn.  I am grateful and deeply honored to have organized the Yoga Garden, the incredible team of teachers, and to have been a part of this event to share yoga in “America’s Back Yard”.

Along with Yoga the White House has hosted numerous activities designed to encourage “America’s youth to lead healthy and active lives,” according to a White House press release. Other activities have included cooking classes, basketball, storytelling, dancing, tours through the White House garden, the traditional Easter Egg roll and much more.  The White House Easter Egg Roll is the largest public event held at the White House for the last 135 years. An unprecedented 30,000 families experienced Yoga with each event in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012.  The Obama family has given the traditional event a twist, turned it into an active family oriented day, and include Yoga as part of the celebration.

Read more about my experience teaching yoga at the White House in Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine.

THANK YOU! White House Easter Egg Roll Teachers

Peg Mulqueen- Washington DC area-
Claudia Cavazza- Washington DC- Community Relations lululemon Ω athletica

Faith Hunter- Washington DC area-
Michelle Kelsey Mitchell- Washington DC area-
Rachel Dolan- Washington DC area-
Caroline Lowe- Washington DC area
Jafar Alexander- Washington DC area-
Ahmed Jabali-Nash- Washington DC area
Elizabeth Burris- Washington DC area-
Justin Blazejewski- Washington DC area-
Olivia Barnett- Washington DC area-
Jessica Micheletti- Sacramento, CA
Keith Mitchell, LA, CA-
Dan Nevis, Jacksonville, FL-
Tonya Farmer, NYC-
Bari Koral, NYC-
Nicholas Giacomini and Amanda Giacomini, Point Reyes, CA-
Chris Lucas, North Hampton, MA-
Nancy Sheridan, Houston, TX-
Roger Rippy and Albina Rippy Houston, TX-
Photos from Meghan Powell Photography

More here in the Buffalo News about Catherine Cook-Cottone’s WHEER 2015 trip