Monday, March 24, 2014

Recovery and Yoga: Create a Physical Foundation for the Pose and Be Up to Something Bigger than Yourself

Recovery and Yoga:
Create a Physical Foundation for the Pose and
Be Up to Something Bigger than Yourself

I am in the work of recovery.

That is a loaded sentence. Just look at it- “I am in the work of recovery.”

Yes. I research it. I help others find it. Perhaps most importantly, I am in it (see blog post:

I have found that to be recovered you must follow one of the central tenants of Baptiste Yoga:

Create a Physical Foundation for the Pose and
Be Up to Something Bigger than Yourself

Yoga is a big, giant metaphor for life. Who you are on the mat-- is who you are off the mat. Perhaps there is a small group of individuals that can keep the two distinct. Still, for most of us-- the metaphor works and works well.

Within the Baptiste Yoga tradition, teaching is centered on the principles of True North Alignment. In its essence, it is the neurological and psychological integration of the self, our center line. Read more to see the parallels with the latest neuropsychological research and theory (see Dan Siegel for example).

As we become neurologically integrated and work from the center, from our True North, we feel better and do better. According to Dr. Siegel, we manifest FACES. We become more: F = Flexible, A = Adaptive, C= Coherent, E = Energized, and S = Stable.

In Baron Baptiste’s words (see, the first element of True North Alignment (our new code word for neurological integration) is:

Create a Physical Foundation for the Pose and
Be Up to Something Bigger than Yourself

Follow this two step process below to use this tenant to help you maintain your recovery. Better yet, use this to prevent struggle in the first place.

STEP ONE: Create a Physical Foundation for The Pose

In my recent book, Healthy Eating in Schools (Cook-Cottone, Tribole, & Tylka, 2013), I constructed a model for understanding the “create a physical foundation of the pose” for our off-the-mat-world. To be in recovery, mental health, and solid emotional regulation, you need to be in practice of the pillars of emotional regulation:

1.     Nutrition
2.     Hydration
3.     Exercise
4.     Self-Soothing
5.     Rest
6.     If needed and then prescribed--  medications

See Chart Below:

That translates in lived-experience like this:

  1. Eat nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day.
  2. Drink 6-8 glasses of water a day and vary as needed for weather and exercise.
  3. Exercise for 60 minutes a day- yes- 60 minutes.
  4. Do one thing a day that calms you (no substances, all action). Think of cuddling with your dog or cat, taking a bath, going in the hot tub, sharing a foot massage, etc…
  5. Get the sleep you need so that you wake up rested and restored (no substances for this either).
  6. If you need to or have been prescribed medication—take it, like it is prescribed. Please note, that if you do numbers 1 through 5, your need for 6 might be considerably less.

STEP TWO: Be Up to Something Bigger than Yourself

This life you have been given, it is a gift. You are here for a reason. Your heart beat and precious, beautiful body are here to contribute. As you create a physical foundation for the pose (i.e., your life), you will create space for being up to something bigger than YOU!

As you practice STEP ONE, you will be fed, hydrated, physically prepared, centered, and rested. You will notice that it is time for you to re-organize your thinking to what is possible beyond YOU.

We all have stories, true and sometimes horrible stories, of what has happened and what is happening to us. Life is a challenge that way. But these things that have happened to us do not define us.

That place between stimuli and response- between what has happened to us and what we choose-


Dig in deep there (between stimulus and response) and grab onto what you want for this one precious life of yours.

Yes- be up to something bigger than you.

Adherence to STEP ONE makes STEP TWO possible. Interestingly, STEP TWO makes STEP ONE manageable. You see, we take care of ourselves when we get it—when we get that we are of value, we are needed and important. We realize that just maybe- there is something that won't happen if we drop the ball. AH- then we realize that in order to do what we were meant to do in this world, what the world needs us to do in this world, we need STEP ONE. Yeah- YOU are that important, we need you, and for you to be you- you need to take care of you. So, it works together like that.

Zuri’s Story

Today- Zuri looked up at Miss Amanda during yoga class. Miss Amanda was asking the students as they stood in Warrior I, “What would you do, if you could do anything?”

Without pause, Zuri thought, “I want to become a yoga teacher.”

And so it will be. Our little Zuri has started her path of embodiment. She will eat, drink water, practice yoga, cuddle with Rashan, and get her rest (STEP ONE). She will study and work in school. And she will be up to something bigger than herself (STEP TWO). She wants to give these gifts she has received to other children who have it hard like she does. Yes- Zuri is up to something bigger than herself. It feels like fire in her belly. At this moment, she digs her feet into her mat, lights up her legs, draws her naval into her spine, and extends through each and every finger on her two hands- and Zuri- she feels amazing. You go Zuri.

The Process

Now it is your turn reader.  Today, begin STEP ONE- Create a Physical Foundation for The Pose (your life). It is funny. In Western culture, we say, “When I feel better, I will start taking care of myself.” Turns out, when you start taking care of yourself, YOU WILL FEEL BETTER- go figure.

After STEP ONE has been in place for 24 hours--  in a quiet moment--  ask yourself, “If I could do anything, what would I do?”

It is here, where you will find the stirrings of being up to something bigger than yourself. You will be on your way to finding your True North Alignment- your integration- your best version of YOUR SELF. You go. And as you do-- the struggles-- well, we shed them like old clothes that just don’t feel right anymore.



Saturday, March 15, 2014

The Worry Tree

The Worry Tree
Catherine Cook-Cottone

And so…… Miss Amanda (the afterschool yoga teacher) told Zuri a Story….

“Once upon a time there was a little girl named Catori. She was filled with worries. When the sun rose, Catori worried. When the sun set, Catori worried. In between, Catori worried. She worried every minute of every day.

Catori had a little sister, a mom, and a dad. Her mom, dad, and sister traveled often and Catori would worry about that. She was afraid they might crash on a plane, get in a car accident on the way to the airport, or maybe even crash on the way home. Sometimes she would lie in bed worried that a tornado would swirl all around her house, take her right out of her bed, and whip her up to the sky. She worried that once she was up there the wind would stop and she would crash to the ground. She worried that someone might break into her house and steal away her little sister. 

Catori worried all day at school. Her teachers would say, 'Catori, pay attention.' Then, Catori would. She’d pay attention, for a bit.

Much of what Catori worried about wasn’t even possible.

There was some stuff she worried about that was. Her sister was sick. That is why her parents and sister traveled so much. They had to go to the big city to get Catori's sister her treatments. When Catori wasn’t worried about the stuff that could never really happen, she worried about her little sister and the stuff that was really happening. The real, hard stuff.

Catori lived in a little town called Two Rivers. The big city was more than two days’ drive away. Two Rivers was very old. No one really knows how old. The indigenous people of the Americas (i.e., Native Americans) have lived there as long as time is remembered. It is told that many years ago the city was called, Two Rivers Big Tree. Catori was told that when new people moved to the town, Two Rivers Big Tree was too long to say. So, they shortened it to suit them.

Catori stayed at her Grandmother’s house when her parents and sister traveled for treatments. Her grandmother was wise. Her Grandmother’s Mother’s, Mother told Grandmother the stories of their tribe. Grandmother told Catori these same stories. It was Catori’s Grandmother who named her, “She will be named Catori the word for spirit.” She told Catori that the reason she worried so much was that Catori felt the spirit world more than most. Grandmother explained that these feelings are many and complicated often overwhelming for a little girl. They had long talks like this often. Catori’s grandmother would stroke her hair while she spoke, a fire lit in the fire place.

Grandmother told Catori of the Great Tree of Two Rivers. It still stands where it has stood for as long as grandmothers of grandmothers tell tale. The Great Tree is called The Great Tree of Worries. Grandmother called it The Worry Tree.

Grandmother explained that The Worry Tree grew strength from the honor of holding the worries of the people. She told Catori that the tree was given to the people by Earth Mother to help the people. Grandmother explained that for many years, spirit girls like Catori, would go to The Worry Tree and leave their worries for safekeeping. She asked Catori if she wanted to go.

'Yes!' Catori told Grandmother.

The next day, after the sun rose, Catori and Grandmother hiked to The Worry Tree. Catori was sure to bring all of her worries, the real ones and the ones that were never really going to happen- she brought them all.

They traveled through the fields by the farm across the way. They walked past the fields of sunflowers and corn. They hiked into the forest over rocks and down lightly travelled paths. As they walked, they saw densely grown trees waste high with ferns and foliage. As they walked, they saw little meadows that opened up to sunshine and wildflowers. Just over a hill, where the two rivers joined, Catori saw it—The Worry Tree.

'Oh, Grandmother,' she said, 'It is beautiful.' Its bark looked old and strong a deep dark, brown. The bark seemed as if it was the holder and protector of wisdom.  It's branches were bigger than anything Catori had ever seen. Moss grew over the tree and its roots descended deep into the earth obviously strongly connected with the Earth Mother. 

Grandmother told Catori what to do. Grandmother sat at the edge of the meadow watching Catori approach the tree. The Worry Tree was alive. Alive in a way that was more than the alive that is in the trees we see. Its branches moved like arms. As Catori got closer she felt as if she could feel the tree’s heart beat. Scared, she looked back at Grandmother who smiled and nodded her head. Catori walked closer.

There she stood, looking up into the great branches of the tree. She set down her bag. Like Grandmother told her, she brought her hands together pressing the heals of her hands toward each other and touching each finger of one hand to the same finger on the other hand. She left a space in the middle between the palms of her hands. She closed her eyes and she brought her first worry to mind. She placed her thumbs on her forehead and let the worry float to the place between her palms.

Catori reached her hands up to the tree offering her first worry to The Worry Tree. The tree’s branches extended toward Catori’s outreached hands.  Catori stood on her toes and stretched her worry toward the tree’s branches. The tree’s leaves opened Catori’s hands and wrapped around her worry and pulled it in tight. The Worry Tree drew the worry into her grand branches with tiny branches and thick, strong leaves wrapping around the worry tightly sealing the it in safe and sound. Catori felt a little less weight on her shoulders and her heart.

Worry after worry was offered up as Catori handed them to the tree. She did this until all of her worries were gone.

Catori looked up to the tree. Somehow, she still isn’t sure how, it seemed as if the tree was smiling at her. More. The Worry Tree seemed stronger after Catori had handed the tree all of her worries. Pleased, Catori smiled back. She turned on her feet and flew into Grandmother’s arms, light from the giving.

Grandmother told Catori that her worries would be safe and sound for as long as Catori needed them to be. Grandmother told Catori that if she wanted her worries back she could get them now. She told her if she wanted them back in the time it takes the moon to be a half-moon, she could get them then. Grandmother told Catori that if she wanted her worries back when the moon was full, she could get them then too. It was for Catori to choose.

The two walked back to Grandmother’s house as the sun moved toward its nightly decent. Once home, the two ate Grandmother’s bread, soup, and cookies. After the meal, the two cuddled in by the fire, Catori light hearted and Grandmother stroking her hair. Far away, The Worry Tree held Catori’s worries so that she could rest."

Miss Amanda finished telling her story to Zuri. 

Like all things in the spirit world, The Worry Tree is there for all children, not just Catori. It is there for little girls like Zuri. The Worry Tree is there for all of us-- young and old.

You need only close your eyes. Your mind will take you to the path, the sunflowers, the meadows, and the forest. Your mind will take you to the place where the two rivers meet and the great tree lives. There, you need simply hand The Worry Tree your worries. She will hold them for you, safe and sound, for as long as you need. When you’d like, when it serves you, you need simply reach up and take them back.

And so goes the tale of The Worry Tree.


Catherine Cook-Cottone
copyright 2014




Wednesday, March 5, 2014

The Confusing Thing About Karma: Why Does Difficult Stuff Happen To Good People?

The Confusing Thing About Karma:
Why Does Difficult Stuff Happen To Good People?

Karma is difficult to understand. Some believe that perhaps it is beyond our understanding. It is especially challenging to understand Karma when you see difficult things happen to really good people. This is true for Zuri.

Zuri’s Story

It has been two months since Aunt Jasmine took in Zuri and Rashan (her little brother). Eric, Zuri’s older brother, is still attending school….just enough to be on track for graduating. Still, he won’t come stay with Jasmine. Zuri knows Eric. She also knows when he is using. He is like their mom when she uses—broken promises and all that. He is definitely using.

It is March and the weather won’t break.

Zuri feels like there is a crust of snow over everything, a cover over it all. When Aunt Jasmine drops her off at school, Zuri notices the crunch of the snow under her feet, the dusting of the new snow on top of the old, and the frozen ice on the sidewalk that doesn’t melt because it is so cold the salt won’t work. Even though she knows that spring follows winter, when it is cold like this……when the cold holds like this……. when your mom won’t stop drinking like this……. it feels like winter will never end.

Zuri loves school, her friends especially Emily and Jayla, and—of course—she lives for yoga in afterschool. Miss Amanda, Zuri’s afterschool yoga teacher, has been talking to them about Karma. Karma is complicated for Zuri.

You see, Zuri is, and has been, a good kid. Some would argue she is, perhaps, a great kid. Through all of her struggles, Zuri has worked really hard to find the good in things, look for safe people, and stay steady.

What Zuri doesn’t understand is why?….WHY?

Why is it that if she does all of these good things, NOTHING EVER GETS BETTER FOR HER. Her mom is still drinking. Her Aunt Jasmine has breast cancer. Eric seems to be drinking (or worse) and Zuri and Rashan are so lost.

Zuri feels like Karma can’t be a real thing. If it were, good things would be happening for her.

When Zuri has these big questions, the afterschool yoga program is grounding. Miss Amanda is a big part of that. Today, Miss Amanda explained to the young yogis all about doing the right thing. She explained that we should do the good thing, the right thing, no matter the expected outcomes. Miss Amanda said that Karma is about a focus on the here and now. You do things now because you just do. Your good actions are not for the reward, the positive outcomes, the payback, or to earn lots of credit so that the universe helps you. Your good actions are not for the fruits.

Miss Amanda shared a quote from Rumi, “Wherever you stand be the soul of that place.”

“You see,” she explained, “it is not about whether or not the place, or the people in the place, acknowledge you. It is simply what you do and what you do creates you.” explains Karma like this:
“According to Buddhism, this inequality is due not only to heredity, environment, ‘nature and nurture,’ but also to Karma. In other words, it is the result of our own past actions and our own present doings. We ourselves are responsible for our own happiness and misery. We create our own Heaven. We create our own Hell. We are the architects of our own fate.”
Miss Amanda explained that Karma is like planting seeds. She said that, “When you plant a garden you see the spring’s possibilities, you hope for summer’s blossoms, and dream of fall’s bounty. Still, there are no promises. Karma is like that. You plant the seeds that create growth in your heart and in the world.” She added, “That is all that matters.”
After a short pause, Miss Amanda added, “Oh, and you should be present and content in the planting of your seeds. The planting of the seeds is the thing itself.”
Zuri repeated what Miss Amanda told them in her mind as she was lying in savasana, “You plant the seeds. That is……what is. You see spring’s possibilities, summer’s blossoms, and fall’s bounty. Still there are no promises.”
Zuri walked out of yoga to wait for Jasmine. She watched her feet as they crunched on the snow. She sat down on the bench, waiting, cold. She looked over at the crunchy snow and thought about something she heard in church, something that Mother Teresa said:
“People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.
Love them anyway. 
If you do good, people may accuse you of selfish motives.
Do good anyway.
 If you are successful, you may win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway. 
The good you do today may be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.
 Honesty and transparency make you vulnerable.
Be honest and transparent anyway. 
What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.
 People who really want help may attack you if you help them.
Help them anyway. 
Give the world the best you have and you may get hurt.
Give the world your best anyway.” 

“So,” Zuri thought, “Karma means doing the right thing, the kind thing, the loving thing because it is right, kind, and loving and that is that.” She thought more, “Maybe things will keep being hard and maybe they will get better. But in all that, I will be in my actions of love and that will make the hard stuff better. Maybe that is Karma, my Karma.”
She sat there on the bench thinking. She thought about what might be under the snow. She thought about spring and the tiny little seedlings that will be struggling through the soil to peak out and start their leafy lives. She thought that they were probably already there, waiting, waiting for a bit of sun, a drop of rain, and the snow to melt just a bit.
She wondered if that was happening in her life to.

Sure, it is all snow covered and hard right now. But maybe, under it all, there was a bit of hope waiting, just waiting…. Zuri smiled. 
Zuri thought, “And really that doesn’t matter, cause I am going to keep doing the right thing and showing people love and kindness because it feels really good to do that. It is what Miss Amanda does and she seems pretty happy.”
Aunt Jasmine pulled up. Zuri dove into the car and hugged Rashan, “Hey Buddy!” Then, she leaned over the back seat and gave Jasmine a kiss on the cheek, “I Love you Aunt Jasmine.”
“I love you too baby. Let’s go get some dinner. I am starving.” And they headed home. Ah, Karma.
References Buddhist Education Web Resources
If you want read about Karma, there is a beautiful story of Karma in the book, “How Yoga Works.”  Buy How Yoga Works Here: