Full Show Notes
As parents, we tend to worry about our teens when we’re preparing for an important talk. We worry that they won’t understand what we are trying to communicate. That they will be distracted by their smartphones and social media accounts. That they simply won’t care enough to listen.
But we don’t often worry about ourselves.
How can parents get into a more open, receptive state before jumping into an important conversation? What can we do to make sure that we are centered and present? That we don’t overreact? That we’re perceptive enough to ask the right questions?
In this episode of the Talking to Teens Podcast, I sat down with J. Brown to discuss these issue along with many other helpful topics. A world-renowned yoga and meditation teacher with a popular blog and podcast, J. Brown blew me away with the insight and wisdom of many of his remarks and recommendations. From general life principles to specific strategies for centering yourself before an important talk with your teenager, we found a lot to talk about in this interview.
Step-by-step guides for applying the ideas from this interview
1. Plan Your Preparation for Your Next Important Talk:Write down some different things you could do before the next important talk with your teenager in order to get yourself in the right state. During his interview, J suggested some breathing or moving exercises but you can do anything that works. I often like going for a walk to clear my head. Maybe you love music and it would center you to listen to a song or two. Brainstorm a list of 5-10 possible strategies you could use then circle the three that excite you the most. Commit to trying one before each of your next three important parent-teen conversations to see what works best. Then tweak as necessary. BONUS: I had a class in college where the professor led us in a breathing exercise every period and it really started things off with a great vibe. Could you possibly do one of your centering exercises along with your teenager?
2. Practice Oojai Breathing to Calm Yourself Down:(Members Only)
3. Overcome Your Snap Judgements:(Members Only)
4. Engage in a Collaborative Activity with Your Teen:(Members Only)
Complete Interview Transcript
Andy: So it’s really hard to be non-judgmental with your teenager because they’re messing up. You can just see it so clearly, but of course they can’t a lot of times. There’s this aspect of non-judgment that you just can’t fake as much as you try to pretend like you’re being open. If there’s a part of you that is judging what this person is telling you, they pick up on that. They notice it. And I wonder how it might apply to a parent-teenager kind of relationship.
J: Well, first of all, let me say, I have a seven year old daughter and a two and a half year old daughter. So your question speaks to me, especially since my seven year old already seems to exhibit the behavior of a teenager. It’s freaky. I looked at your website talking to teens and some of those things that you point to that teens do, she already does that stuff to me. So in terms of non-judgment, I feel like that is a very primary yogic principle, but one of the things that I’ve discovered about most principles like that in yoga is that trying to be non-judgmental doesn’t work where the non-judgment-ness comes from is my internal state. That’s one of the few things I can have some say over. I can’t have say over what my daughter’s going to say or do, but I can have some say over what state I’m in. If I’m in a frazzled state and I’m in a bad mood that colors my perception of the moment and leads me to be judgmental or treat her in a way that’s less than helpful or whatever.
Andy: Yeah. I’m fascinated by this. And what you’re getting at is so true. And I think there’s a lot of studies on this same sort of thing. Like when we’re tired, when we’re emotional, when we’re, as you say, not fully centered, our more rational part of our brain has less control in those instances. And I think it’s an evolutionary adaptation, right?
J: I actually was hearing someone talk specifically about our brains and how they function certain ways when we’re hungry and when we’re not hungry. Judges are more likely to give probation right after they’ve eaten as opposed to right before lunch. And it was drastic. It was a 90% difference or something. Someone’s judgment, you could see from the numbers, was determined by how hungry they were. And when you ask the judges, they would say it has no effect. They wouldn’t acknowledge that they were making drastically different decisions just because of whether or not they were hungry or not.
Andy: How dare you even suggest such a thing?
J: Exactly. How would you call into question my impartiality, my non-judgmental-ness. Although actually judges are supposed to judge. That’s their job, right?
Andy: That’s in the job description there a little bit, huh? Okay. So this brings up two things I think here, right? The first is the preparation. When you know in advance that you’re going to be maybe having a difficult talk or there’s something that you need to talk about that’s going to be important. What’s the preparation to put yourself in a space where you can be more open, non-judgmental. And the second is, well, it’s inevitable, right? At some point it’s going to happen where something comes up and you didn’t have time for that preparation. And you’re not in that place of being completely ready for it. So how do you deal with that?
J: First, you have to actually make the time. You got to schedule it. My preparation to have that time with her, to be able to listen to her is to be able to set aside all of my pressing matters. That’s a really difficult thing to do. Those pressing matters are really important. That’s my identity and my survival. Paying my bills and all of that, but in a way to be there for her, on some level, I have to be able to set that aside and let it be about her.
J: And what that takes getting ready for that, one, making the time, two, breathing and moving exercises. If I was in an out of sorts kind of place and I need to sit down and have a talk with my daughter, I might go take 10 minutes by myself first to do a little breathing and moving, get myself into a good place and then go have the talk with her. As opposed to just, “It’s time to have the talk with my daughter.” And I jumped in there and I’m not really there. She senses it, you said earlier. She can tell, man. My daughter has the ability to see right through me in ways that other adults do not. She has the ability to push buttons in me, but fortunately I’ve worked hard to have a little space inside my head where I get to make a choice. I get to choose how I’m going to behave in that moment rather than reacting. It does boil down to my ability to be present and able to choose how I wish to respond rather than reacting and having to apologize later or something.
Andy: I had this class in college and my professor would start every class period off with a short breathing exercise and everyone would close their eyes, take a few deep breaths. And, man, it was really powerful. You could see the change in everybody’s demeanor just by taking that short breathing exercise. So then you were talking about taking 10 minutes to myself before trying to have a conversation like this. I wonder if you could also do it together, like, “Hey, we’re going to sit down. We’re going to have some time, but first humor me here and let’s do a little thing,” or whatever?
J: I think that’s a excellent idea. And in most cases there’s really simple things that you could do together that would be fun. And also do what you’re saying. Get both people into a mode of communicating that’s really fruitful. I will just, as an aside joke, that it’s a little bit different with me because I’m a yoga teacher. My daughter definitely rebels. If I try to be the teacher, it’s like forget about it. So I think we would do yoga practice, but I would let her tell me what to do rather than me tell her what to do. That’s kind of the new dialogue among yoga teachers is letting other people have voices in the room. So that’s what we’re talking about, letting our kids have their own voices in the room. Although I have to also say a seven year olds real different than a teen. When they get older, they might not be so down. I don’t know, I have yet to find out.
Andy: So you mentioned there are some fun things that you could do that would have that effect. What would some of those things be?
J: Well, the one thing that I teach as a primary technique, I’ve actually taught some teens this and I sort of wish someone had taught it to me earlier. It’s a very specific breathing. They sometimes call it ocean breathing. And what it involves is you breathe through your nose and you regulate your breath creating this sound. It’s like a hissing H. It sounds like the ocean. I’m going to do it and you could probably hear it in this mic. And that regulation, the bringing of your attention to your breath and the elongating of it with the sound, it’s a tangible thing that you can do. And it tends to have a sympathetic response on someone’s nerves. And you can just sit in a chair and do it, or it’s often nice to put simple things, like simple movements, or you can just lift your arms up on the inhale and arms down on the exhale. You could do it in a chair. Super simple. Or if you were into it and you went to yoga classes, you come up with a short, five minute father-daughter yoga routine.
Andy: You were talking about how you’ve kind of built a space into your mind where you have the choice, that allows you to choose. It’s funny because it sounds almost identical to stuff that they teach in cognitive behavioral therapy.
J: I’ve heard that.
Andy: And so what you’re doing is a metacognitive technique that psychologists would teach their clients. There’s multiple steps, but the first step there is that you have to notice that you’re having this reaction. I have to pick up on that. And then exactly like you said, I have to not act on my immediate natural reaction, but I then have to create that space where I can step back from it a little bit and see that I’m having that reaction, but choose not to act in that way. And to me that’s one of the big ideas of yoga and of meditation in general, being able to step back a little bit, notice that you’re having this response, but then choosing to do something different.
J: I think that it’s a very specific teaching in every class I give it’s most clear form is in the practice of tree pose. I don’t know if you know that pose. Tree pose is simply when you stand on one leg, it’s like an icon pose. Standing on one leg without falling over equals you being a more balanced person. But it’s a misguided notion because I know lots of people who can stand on one leg without falling over, who are a complete wreck and they’re not balanced at all. And then I know all kinds of people who can’t stand on one leg, they’re falling over and they’re living wonderfully balanced, calm lives. So the physicality isn’t the indicator, but the indicator for me is what happens in the moment when you fall over and how much say do you have in that moment? So I have this thing where I ask everyone to do me a favor when they fall over, they will smile or chuckle about that.
J: But the idea is to be able to assert something in that moment, because the immediate reaction to falling over is this, “Ugh.” This frustration or this failure or something. It starts to create an idea in someone’s mind about it. And I get all kinds of emails now. People tell me about all these horrible situations in their lives, where they say, “I got through because I did my tree pose,” which just meant that they were able to not be at a state of reacting to it. But they were able to have that little bit of space where they get to choose how they’re going to respond. And it’s incredibly powerful thing actually.
Andy: It’s funny because I think that that’s exactly what we’ve been talking about this whole time, but you’re turning it to self-judgment. There’s this way in which we judge other people. But also I think at what you’re pointing out here is that, “Hey, I fell over. I must not be a balanced person.” It’s the snap judgment that we sometimes make about ourself.
J: That’s probably a better answer to your other question about non-judgment. Self-judgment starts there maybe. In order for me to be non-judging of somebody else, I’m going to have to be non-judging of me.
Andy: Right. And then what you’re describing is a technique to start achieving that. And this is in a specific instance, but I think we judge ourselves constantly in so ways from looking in the mirror to judging ourselves as being lazy or not motivated, or not talented, or not good enough in some way. We compare ourselves to other people so often. Maybe a good practice, for anybody, but especially for parents is trying to identify a few of those, maybe a few with yourself and a few with your spouse and a few with your kid that are on a more consistent basis, “What are the judgments that I seem to be making about myself, about my daughter, about my son,” and writing down a few of those and then starting to just notice, and then like you’re saying, not just noticing, but figuring out what do I replace that with? And it might even be as simple as a smile.
J: That’s what I always saying. The reason why I ask people to fake it sometimes even if they don’t feel it. And I acknowledge if you’re in a bad mood and I’m asking to smile and you don’t want to, that’s totally annoying. I’m very sorry about that. I don’t want to be annoying, but the idea is that if you don’t have a new thing to go to, like a new pattern, it’s kind of impossible to change a old pattern. So if you have a new thing that you’re going to… Even when it doesn’t even feel natural yet, like that expression fake it till you make it, which I don’t always subscribe to. There’s lots of instances where I don’t think that’s true, but in some instances it can be true and helpful that there needs to be a new thing that you’re going to, even before you’re totally familiar with it. Having that new thing to go to means another choice. There’s another choice that is available to you, another possibility. And sometimes I like to think of that and that’s something I learned from a friend of mine, Amy Matthews, who’s a really special teacher that it’s about opening up fuller ranges of possibilities as to what you could do or what you could say or how you are.
Andy: That is so cool. A lot of what I teach parents is that here’s a few different ways you could respond to this, or here’s a few different ways that you could start talking about a difficult topic or whatever it is. I don’t want it to feel it’s a strategy or a technique that you’re using. It is to a certain extent, but I think a lot of times we get locked into just doing things one way. And there’s a lot of studies on this. Once we have a strategy that seems to be working for us or that we’ve gotten away with in the past and it’s been okay, we just tend to keep using that same strategy over and over again.
J: Having ideas or options that make it feel possible is really important. And I’m with you on trying to stay away from it being thought of as a strategy and then you accomplish results. It has to be a process. Like a ongoing evolving process. I keep thinking about the difference between my seven year old and what it’s going to be in 10 years or so from now. And I already have a sense with her, and I don’t know this from experience because I haven’t been a parent to a teen yet, but I feel like when I can catch her involved in things that she really cares about or is passionate about is where she’s the most open and available to me.
J: So I imagine that as she gets older and she developed her own interests, whatever those are, which I hope to encourage her to do, that if I could find a way to have a thing that we could both be into together, I don’t know what it is, like for some people it’s golf, or I don’t know, whatever it is. I think of golf because there’s so much time on the golf course for talking. I, somewhere in the back of my mind, hope to try to see if I could spark an interest in that for her. But my idea is that it’d be something that’d be really fun for me. I enjoy genuinely. And if she enjoyed it genuinely too, and we could share in that then that common shared thing that we both enjoy individually and together, I think makes conditions for this kind of communication that we’re talking about.
Andy: It’s funny that you’d say that, but actually there’s a lot of science behind that. There’s something about having, like you say, an experience together and a couple aspects of golf, one, a lot of studies showing that when we get out into nature together, it tends to break down barriers. But the other thing is there’s a shared goal in golf and there’s something where, when we do something with somebody, where we feel we’re on the same team, kind of working towards a similar goal. It facilitates more open communication.
J: That makes a lot of sense to me. And golf’s such a process because you never arrive at it. But the funny part about that too is I played a fair amount of golf before I had kids. And then I basically haven’t been able to play. Can’t justify. It’s too much time and money, but at some point I hope if I could get her, that’s going to be my grand coup, is if I get her into it. But I like what you say too. It doesn’t have to be golf. I do think outside is also part of it. Realizing my own screen addictions. The new technology is something I talk a lot about these days because it’s an area in myself where I am aware and then I’m still not good about it sometimes.
J: I just think if it’s that addictive to me, our kids don’t stand a chance. Billions of dollars have gone into making these phones completely addictive, so we’ll spend more time on them. That’s a fact. I don’t know. So to me, getting outside without screens has something to do with that in the current state of affairs. As another ideas to anybody listening. I had a neighbor who was a drum teacher, music teacher, and I had her have drum lessons and she got really into it. So she’s been drumming and I’m a bass player. So we’ve had two actual jams and it was so good. But it’s what you said is there’s a common thing that we’re both working towards. That could be a jam or it could be having a happy life together.
Andy: Yeah. But especially with music because it’s like we’re trying to stay in sync. We’re trying to be on the same beat and we’re getting softer and then we’re getting louder and we’re creating something together. There’s something about it, and I know it’s not easy to find, but yeah. An activity that is collaborative like that or that there’s some kind of a shared goal that you can be working on together is powerful.
About J. Brown
For more than fifteen years, J. Brown has been developing techniques to teach people how to practice yoga in a deeper and more fulfilling way. He is also a well known writer, having been featured in Yoga Therapy Today, the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, Elephant Journal, and Yogadork.
J. Brown came to yoga by way of his mother’s death from Leukemia when he was 16. Reconciling that loss, and wanting to be free from the crippling grief and disillusionment that came with it, fueled his passion for learning to make himself well.
J studied with renowned teachers such as Alison West and Richard Freeman in the States before heading to India to continue his training. There, he learned that yoga practice was not a linear progression towards some unknown thing, but rather a process of learning how to take care of oneself. Back in NY, J stopped going to regular group classes and devoted himself to a self-practice, ultimately finding his way to an entirely therapeutic orientation.
After spending more than a decade as a popular teacher at various schools in Manhattan and Brooklyn, J founded Abhyasa Yoga Center in Brooklyn, NY. He starting blogging at www.jbrownyoga.com and created a highly successful podcast called “Yoga Talks”. He broadcasts his classes to the world and has produced a series of DVDs, streaming videos, and meditation recordings, all of which are available on his website.