Gilbert stands in an upright lunge pose, she is seen from the front in silhouette as the sun sets over the water behind her
J. parenting columnist Nicki Gilbert doing yoga on a beach

Yoga wisdom for summer vacation: balance and breathe

“Identify your right arm from your left and don’t mix them up!” The instruction is clear. I’m relieved someone is telling me what to do, especially so early in the morning. “Swing your right arm underneath your left, cross at the wrists.” With varying degrees of effort and success, we do as she says.

It was the chaos of the beginning of the school year that motivated me to seek strength and mindfulness in the very hot yoga studio, where the only sounds are the instructor’s voice and my own breathing as I struggle to stand on one foot with the other wrapped around my calf and my arms twisted like ropes in front of my face. Somehow this is easier than figuring out afternoon carpool or getting my kids to school on time every morning. These things still need to happen, but once you’ve made even small progress in eagle pose, even the impossible seems possible!

Now it’s the end of the school year, and I’m still here on my yoga mat, trying to balance and breathe and focus on nothing except those two things. If only for the duration of the class.

We move from eagle to standing bow. I try to stretch my leg above my head and lower my upper body toward the floor, at the same time. My breath comes in short gasps, and my heart races. The cardiovascular part of class they call this, like it’s a good thing. I feel that I need to lie down immediately. The posture is over before I know it, and I take a deep breath and listen for the next instruction.

“Be in it,” I hear the wise instructor say, above the deep inhales and exhales around me. “Really be in the posture when you’re in it. Don’t hang out, waiting for it to be over.” I think she’s talking directly to me.

There are eight school days left before summer starts in the Gilbert house, and I think about the truths I’ve discovered while breathing and balancing in that hot room. Gentle prompts that remind me how to get the most out of every day, every experience, every moment. Small reminders perfect for a bunch of kids about to start their summer vacation. What’s true in the yoga studio is usually true outside of it, too.

“If you can, you must,” is my favorite yoga teacher’s mantra. If you are physically able to touch your forehead to your knees, do it! If your spine is able to bend backwards, bend! If there are new friends to make and new foods to try, go for it! Wonderful and exciting opportunities may present themselves to you this summer. If your body and heart are able, seize them. Your life will be fuller, richer, brighter. If you can, you must.

All yoga instructors teach, “Where your eyes go, your body will follow.” This is for you, my often cautious daughter, as you stand at the edge of the pool wondering if you’ll clear a good distance when you dive. It’s for you, my fearless son, as you descend the half pipe on your skateboard: Don’t forget to look up! And it’s for you, my youngest and oldest, as you embark on new adventures — your first time at Camp Ramah, your first time as a CIT (counselor in training). Look ahead, look beyond, look for something new. Where your eyes go, your body will follow.

As we stand on our mats in the yoga studio, we are always reminded to be considerate to our fellow yogis. To make sure the people behind us can see themselves in the mirror. To not enter or exit the class during a pose, as it is distracting. To take care of others. As we head into summer, look out for each other. Look out for your friends. Offer help, a hug or a high five. Share your food, your water, your bug spray and sunscreen. Share your love and yourself. Be kind. Take care.

The summer promises to be as busy as the school year. There will be fun adventures and new experiences for all of us. And I will continue to practice yoga. Because if I can balance and breathe inside the yoga studio, I can probably do the same outside of it, too.

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Nicki Gilbert

Nicki Gilbert is a writer, Alcatraz swimmer and country music lover who lives in Piedmont with her husband, four kids and dachshund puppy. Her blog is RedBoots.me.