Kripalu Revisited! Mindfulness and YogaArts For Kids :)

In August, I made a return trip to Kripalu with my son, Eli, who is 5 years old. Ever since I went to my first yoga retreat, he's been asking me about it and when he could join me. My children have always been comfortable with me going away for a night or so, but only recently have they begun to question what I am doing when I am gone. It's as if they are finally realizing that mothers have their own interests and hobbies too!

Looking through Kripalu's course catalog,  I noticed that they occasionally run children's programs. This summer, they held a 3 day program called YogaArts, which was a blend of yoga, outdoor recreation, and art activities. The children participate in their programs while the parents participate in their own program (do-what-you-will R&R retreats or specific training programs) and everyone meets up for meals and evening activities. They even offer extended care for the parents whose programs had a time overlap with their children's.

My program was called "Mindfulness in Psychotherapy". It was run by Dr. Ron Siegel, who is a psychotherapist and Assistant Professor of Psychology at Harvard University. He's authored a number of books on mindfulness and it's practical application to psychotherapy. I figured it would be a good training for both myself personally and my practice. I have been trying so hard to work on my self-care skills and part of that is reinforcing it for myself so that I can better help my clients who are interested in these techniques.

Eli and I talked about our potential visit to Kripalu all summer. He's usually a pretty confident kid but can be shy at times and was going through a little bit of a rough transition out of nursery school. He'd been a little clingy and tearful recently so I wasn't sure how he would handle having to attend a program separately for a few days. We discussed it at length and eventually he decided that he would be okay and so we booked the trip for early August. I arranged for my other son, Ethan, to visit with my sister for the weekend so he could also have a special solo trip. I explained to Ethan that since he was only 3 years old, he would have to wait until he was 5 years old to go to Kripalu. Most programs are for ages 5 and up.

When the weekend came, we packed up and made our way to the Berkshires. The weather was beautiful and on the drive there, I thought how I would make a conscious effort to make sure that our time would be quality-no rushing, encouraging exploration, loving talk and affection, and all of the good mother/son bonding stuff. The fact that I had to gear myself up for just being present for a few days with my son made me a bit sad...that our society is so busy that it's seemingly unnatural to have relaxed structure-free days. I know that I am a good mother, but like any parent, I am often plagued with insecurity and frustration about the lack of time we have to just be in our families. So I was really looking forward to this time away together.

Our weekend was perfect! We swam in the lake, hiked in the woods, attended a beautiful kirtan concert, ate healthy meals, and had a wonderful time. We attended our evening sessions on Friday, three sessions on Saturday and a final session Sunday morning before check out. It was great to see Eli experiment with new foods at Kripalu's plentiful buffet. He said his favorite foods were the nuts and seeds and the rice cakes, believe it or not! The open buffet definitely encouraged him to try things he would never try at home. At each table, there is a basket of various spices. Eli experimented with a bunch of them-his favorite was cinnamon which he sprinkled on pretty much everything he chose. One time, he mistook the coriander/turmeric (I think that was the combination) for cinnamon and doused his entire meal with it. Despite the mistake, he assured me it was still good and proceeded to eat the food anyway. Never mind that his meal consisted of seeds and rice cakes, I was just happy that he was exploring different tastes and was eager to do so. I let him have full choice over his meals and to serve himself from the buffet, which I always notice makes him more willing to try new things because he feels like he has control over what and how much food he's eating.

My training was very informative. I purchased a few of Dr. Siegel's books from the gift shop and some of the guided meditation CDs he suggested. I really enjoyed some of the experiential meditations that the group participated in, including the outdoor walking meditation and mindful eating experiment. Both things really shined a new perspective on how people can find more mindful moments in even the mundane and practical things we do each day. The more I learn about mindfulness and mediation, the more I realize how simple it truly is. It's like one of those things that seems so complicated and when you learn more about it, it's really quite easy to practice. The key is to realize that doing it is a practice, that a person can get more comfortable with meditation but that anyone who is attempting to meditate, is meditating. Nobody fails. There is no right or wrong. I walked away with some good tips for myself and armed with more knowledge to fuel my therapy practice.

Eli loved his YogaArts training! He had no problem separating from me, which was a huge relief. The whole point of going on a yoga retreat is to relax, and I would have had a hard time doing that if I had to peel a screaming child off me in order to leave. We came home with some really cool art projects- a sand art decoration, a batik dyed scarf, and a beaded necklace, to name a few. Most importantly, my son made some new friends, boosted his confidence, got to roll down the huge hill in front of Kripalu, and had a great bonding experience with his mom! One of my favorite moments was where we were walking down to the lake and he saw a couple of kids with their dad and said "I'm sad for them because they aren't here at Kripalu with their mom alone!" It made me happy to know that he recognized the specialness of our little trip and will keep those memories close, hopefully forever!

This last photo was taken by Eli :) Overall, we had an amazing time. I was glad to be able to step outside of our busy life and take a few days with my oldest son. We both enjoyed our trainings and I was even able to squeeze in a quick yoga class in the midst of all our activities. Kripalu again offered the perfect environment for connection, learning, soul-searching, retreat, and joy. I can't wait until Ethan is old enough to go and he reminds me on a regular basis that once he is 5, he will be going to Kripalu too.

Marisa EttingLenox, MA, USA