Balancing For Beginners

I love yoga balancing poses. Not the arm balancing stuff like handstands or arm balances – I’ll leave those to people whose elbows actually straighten, and who can support the weight of their body with the help of their bones (it’s true, I can’t straighten my elbows but somehow still manage to be a functioning human).
I’m talking about standing balancing poses.
Vriksasana (tree pose), Ardha Chandrasana (half moon), Utthita Hasta Padangustasana (hand-to-big-toe pose) – these are some of my favorites.

We don’t use our balancing skills much in everyday life, save for reaching up to the top shelf for the chips and coming off one leg in the process. Or maybe if you’re really feeling sassy, you put on your socks while standing up. But other than that, we sit, stand, walk or run…
When was the last time you took 5 breaths standing on one foot?

Many of the people I teach are new to the practice of yoga. Their feet and legs hurt when doing standing poses, as they begin to engage muscles they didn’t know they had. Their shoulders are tight and scrunched up around their ears. And when we start balancing poses… invariably I hear sighs of frustration and wobbly feet hitting the floor.
Because when we don’t practice balancing – it’s hard.

As a yoga teacher, I facilitate classes for students, creating a space for them to experience their own practice. It’s my job to watch, and to adapt the poses and cuing to fit what I’m seeing. I rarely practice yoga with them, because I am watching and helping. But when it comes to balancing poses, all that often flies right out the window, and I get on my mat, and play along with everyone else, because I love them so much. Please don’t tell the yoga police.

Sometimes, I’ll put as many as four to six balancing poses together in a row, moving from one to the other without a break in between. I could stay in balancing poses all day. Sometimes when I’m in tree pose, I completely zone out, coming into a state of bliss, and I actually forget how long we’ve been standing there.

I’ve known for a while that I’m in love with balancing poses, but until recently I couldn’t articulate why, except for the idea that they keep me in the present moment. But in the last few weeks, I’ve finally found the understanding and the words as to why this type of practice floats my boat so much.
You guessed it: they’re a perfect metaphor for how I live my life.

In my view, the process of learning to balance can be done by following a simple process. In class, we go over the following steps and use them as guidance. Some parts are written in “yoga teacher-ese” but hey, phrases like “root to rise” aren’t just trite sayings, they’re TRUTH.
I’ll let you fill in the metaphorical bits, because I know you are good at that.

Step 1: Listen to the feels
Stand tall. Can you stand straight, bringing the earth’s energy up through your body, while still feeling relaxed? Notice what you are feeling, and where. Close your eyes. Feel your feet on the ground. As an experiment, slowly begin to take yourself off balance – moving from side to side, front to back. Can you identify what muscles engage and compensate for your movement?
I get lots of different answers when I ask what muscles people feel as they move. Your muscles are accustomed to keeping you upright. But if you take yourself off center, they don’t have as much practice at this. They aren’t as strong. You will feel them more.

Step 2: Find your center
Stand on the ground, feet a little narrower than your hips. Your knees are soft – not bent, just soft. Your hips are aligned, your spine is long, shoulders are back and down, the palms of your hands face forward. Notice your feet on the mat, notice how the mat feels under all 10 toes. Balance your weight so it’s distributed evenly between both legs. Feel the strength of your core.
How often do you simply stand up tall, in stillness? How long can you do it before you get fidgety or your mind wanders from the present moment? This in itself is a great exercise. Hint: you may want to master it before moving on to balancing poses…

Step 3: Take off
From your place of strength and centeredness, take off. Fix your gaze, try tree pose. Stand tall, add some branches to your tree. How long can you balance? Can you move from tree pose into another balancing pose?
Yoga is the ultimate multi-tasking discipline. Whoever said “multitasking doesn’t exist,” never tried yoga. Can you remember to stand tall, keep your gaze soft, keep your hip open, breathe – and still stand tall – and stay in tree pose? And where are your thoughts? As soon as your mind wanders, guess what happens…

Step 4: Fall out
Your tree pose looks beautiful! Let’s try a twist. Or a backbend. How about hand to big toe? Warrior 3? And balancing pigeon? How about all of them in succession, one after another, without a break?
Keep playing. You will fall out. It’s OK. It’s fun! And look how strong you are becoming! The muscles in your feet are getting better at keeping you balanced. Your hips are stronger, keeping your balancing leg steady. Your core is rock solid.

Step 5: Do it again
If you fall out of a balancing pose, take the time to find your center, before beginning again. Bring both feet to the ground, find your center, then take off. Play. Fall. Repeat.
So many people try to hop right back into a balancing pose when they fall out. They don’t take the time to stop, recenter, and restrengthen, before they begin again.

If you don’t have a strong foundation before beginning again, if you aren’t truly centered, how will you ever have the strength to take off and fly?

And no, I’m not really talking about yoga anymore.


The Yoga of Experience – Beautiful Flowers

Coming up in a few days, it will be the sixth anniversary of the death of my mother. Without getting into it too much, I’ll just say that it was a tough, tough time, those thirteen months in 2010 – 2011.

Some days I find myself dwelling on it, those thirteen weeks between her diagnosis of metastasized stage 4 lung cancer (she never smoked) and her transition. But those days are much fewer, and much farther between. And when the memories do appear, it gets easier to gently give them a little hug and a pat on the head and send them on their way, down memory lane, where they belong.

Some days I find myself wondering though, if I did a good enough “job.” Did I make the right decisions regarding pain medications, did I cause her any unnecessary suffering? Everyone kept looking at me to make decisions that I could only use intuition to make. Was I right?

As I learn more about the teachings of Abraham Hicks, I understand more fully the meaning of the word “resistance.” And I think of my mother’s passing in terms of resistance. She was so resistant to making her transition. She held on, much longer than she should have. But I myself had a huge amount of resistance – resistance to her impending “death,” and resistance to having to make decisions that I didn’t feel qualified to make, and having to see things that I was definitely not courageous enough to witness without becoming unhinged on some level.

So did I add to her resistance, did I make her experience more difficult by being so resistant myself?

I may never know the answers to these questions.

Except that’s not true.

I know the answers to all these questions. It’s the same answer for every question I could think of asking about that experience. The answer is “it doesn’t matter now.”

I did the best I could, and so did she. And it’s all OK now.

I still miss my mom, in the way we typically think of when we say we miss someone. I miss hearing her voice on the phone, or meeting her for coffee. I miss her telling me what the weather forecast is. I miss looking at her beautiful hands, and I miss her girlish laugh. But I miss those things less and less, to be honest. Because she is with me more now than she ever was when she was alive. And she’s damn funnier now, too.

I notice her around me a lot – usually when I’m not looking for her. This morning, I was driving to the yoga studio and I was slowing down at a stop sign on the road outside our neighborhood. Each corner is an empty lot, filled with trees and tall grass. I noticed a small bunch of beautiful yellow daffodils growing under a big old tree. And immediately I knew, there she was. She was the flowers. She is all around me – in the leaves of the trees, on the breeze. She is the rabbit that basks in the sun in my back yard. She is the sunshine.

We are all connected; what happens to me, happens to you. Where I go, you go. Everything we do affects the whole, and becomes part of our collective consciousness. She is wherever I am.

It used to bother me to think that my mom was everywhere, because I didn’t want her in my business anymore, and I wanted the experience of being completely independent. I no longer wanted her judgement. But the more I become comfortable living my own life, the more I am able to let her come back around, and the more I enjoy her presence, and know that she is always loving me, never judging, never sad, never resisting.

Sometimes, when I’m least expecting it, I catch her looking back at me from the mirror. It makes me incredibly happy. I sometimes tear up a bit, but I always smile. Because I know she is OK. And so am I.

walden pond, where we scattered my mom’s ashes 3/13/12 (one year anniversary).

The Yoga of Experience – I Just Lost My Good Excuse

I often come up with snippets of ideas for stories. I’m not exactly sure how to categorize these stories though. I guess they are children’s stories? I mean, the protagonists are often mice or cats or other small furry creatures (with the occasional bird or turtle thrown in the mix). The plots are fairly straightforward. So maybe the best way to describe them might be “stories for children of all ages.” Yes, that sounds about right.

Usually, these stories write themselves. I start out with a little bit of an idea, and I sit down and write. And the story writes itself. When this happens, I know I’m onto something – that the story comes from somewhere else besides my brain. They are mine, but it’s like I’ve “written” them somewhere else and it’s just a matter of tuning in and downloading them through my fingertips and into my computer.

When a story is jagged or somehow irking me as I write it, or if I feel frustrated, I know that its time hasn’t quite come yet. I back off, leave it alone and try again another day until it’s ready to show up. It’s a really satisfying process. Sometimes when I go back and read the finished product, I’m surprised. In a good way.

Many times after I’ve written a story, I think, oh now this needs some illustrations! Yes, wouldn’t this be so much cuter or more fun or whatever if there were some cute little sketches that accompanied this story!

A few times I’ve tried to illustrate my own story (in 2014 and 2015 I released Christmas books that were stories accompanied by little sketches I drew), but usually when I try to do something “artsy” I get really frustrated and everything comes out looking like a potato with a bad hairpiece. It doesn’t work. Maybe I’m too critical of my own art. But whatever. I CAN’T DO IT. Nor do I want to, because it’s not my thing.

But I so often wish I had illustrations to go with my supacute stories. So a few times I’ve asked friends who are amazing artists (because I know a lot of them!) if they would be interested in illustrating one of my stories, they are all very nice and usually say yes. Hooray! Except.

Except they are very busy people and don’t have time to work on a small project like mine.

I don’t blame them at all! I get it. I really do. But I am still sad because my stories go un-illustrated. They are naked little stories.

After a while, I started saying this to myself: “I can’t find an illustrator to make my stories come to life so why bother writing any?”

And so I stopped writing stories. No more tales (or tails?) of below average intelligence partridges. No more spinning yarns about birds who teach their friends to knit. No more nail-biters about worms who save fancy dinner parties from being overrun by ants.

Until now.

As I grow up, grow older, and grow wiser, it finally hit me today. Screw the illustrations!

If I wait till everything has a drawing to go with it, I’ll be waiting a long time. I would rather share these stories without illustrations than to have them just sit as a bunch of 0s and 1s on Google Drive. I would like you to read them. And hopefully enjoy them.

You’d think I would have realized this before today. But I am a slow learner. A late bloomer. A conformist, apparently. OH GOD NO! NOT THAT!

Well, better late than never. It’s time to get them out into the world.

So I’ve started going back through some things that I’ve written. Some are finished, some are not. But I’m getting back to them – and there are more coming. About a cat with special sleuthing powers who travels all over the world flying his own plane. And another cat who lives on a farm on the Russian Steppes. And a bird who can’t decide what book to read next.

You’ll be able to draw your own illustrations to go with them.

This is an illustration by my amazing uncle, Jan Zaremba, which he did for my story “The Thunderstorm.” We published it in 2014 and it’s available here.


The Yoga of Experience: Tell a Good Story.

I have been kind of upset with myself lately, because I haven’t written anything in so long. I mean, the last time I posted here, it was Thanksgiving time. It’s now February. Donald Trump actually became POTUS despite my incredulity of the event.  The birds are telling me that spring is around the corner.

In December, I started to get concerned that I couldn’t think of anything to write about. No stories were coming. Then my new business, SisterMade Essentials, took off and I didn’t have time to write. I certainly wasn’t complaining! Oh well then I got the flu, I can complain about that a little. It sucked. Sometimes I am so bad at listening to my body telling me to SLOW DOWN that it takes drastic measures and makes me slow down. So, I slowed down. A little.

In January, SisterMade quieted down, and I took a little time to enjoy that. But then yoga picked up. Did you make a New Year’s Resolution? It turns out that lots of people made yoga their New Year’s Resolution. Class sizes increased, things got a little busier. I taught a 3-week beginners series, that sold out, and launched a whole new class of fledgling yogis out into the world. Boom.

So then February showed up. And I began to earnestly lament the fact that I haven’t written anything in so long. Do I really have no more stories to tell? Are all the thoughts I’m having not worth writing down? And the longer it became since I wrote something, the more I felt I needed to come up with something REALLY SPECTACULAR. A person can wait a really long time for that to happen…

Then, this morning, I had a thought while meditating. OK so maybe you’re not supposed to have any thoughts while you’re meditating but sorry, my brain doesn’t work that way. I was thinking about how I had just made bread, and the dough was rising, and how the timer would go off soon and it would be time to turn the dough out and put it in some loaf pans. Not very spiritual, I know. But then I realized something. The bread I was baking, was a story. It has a beginning, a middle, hopefully not too many plot twists, but with a definite denoument, and perhaps even a deus ex machnina. The ending is pretty good, leaving you satisfied yet wanting more. When’s the sequel coming out!?

When I make SisterMade BeeBalm, I am telling a story too. I put the ingredients together, I am thinking thoughts that go into the pot with the ingredients, I am pouring my love and attention into it as I pour the heated liquid into the tins. I print and cut labels, put them on the tins, and think nice thoughts as I place items in mailing envelopes to send them off to their new home. Each item then begins its own new story, in its new home.

sistermade essentials

And every single yoga class I teach tells a story. From the moment a class starts, all the way through to “Namaste” at the end, I have the privilege of taking students on a special journey, just for them. Each time, we create a story about movement, breath, love, acceptance, meeting challenges, creating community, and rediscovery. I get to tell that story almost every day.

Sure, I’d love to be widely recognized someday for my stories. But in the meantime, realizing that I’m constantly telling them, even if I’m not writing them down, is enough. It’s satisfying and makes my heart happy.

So many stories get told by us all, every day. Each one is special, unique, sacred.

Tell a good story.


The Yoga of Experience: Love Letter to The Resentments

I am a student of the Law of Attraction. I definitely don’t believe in coincidences anymore; everything that happens (or doesn’t happen) has a reason and a purpose, and is revealed to me (or not) because of my own doing (or not doing). And thanks to my studies this year, I’ve learned more about myself and the world I live in during the past 5 months than I had the last 5 years combined.

There are lots of paths that ultimately lead to the same place; it’s just a matter of finding one whose scenery you like, and whose winding, often less than straightforward course makes the most sense to you. For me, this path is via the Law of Attraction, and the teachings of Abraham Hicks.

On Saturday November 12, I was fortunate enough to attend an Abraham Hicks workshop in Dallas. It was… indescribable. I don’t quite have words for it yet – not sure I ever will. No, I haven’t manifested a million dollars in the last week, and no I’m not two inches taller or living in Hawaii (yet). More importantly though, I’m much, much happier. I’ve taken more responsibility for my own life, and I’ve begun to manifest small bits of awesomeness, and interesting synchronicities. Life is fun, full of magic, and oh so deliciously sweet.

So it was only fitting that after that workshop in Dallas, I went to Austin for a few days. I went so that I could have some down-time to assimilate the workshop, but I also went down to see some music. I was heading to Sunday Night Services at the Saxon Pub, to see The Resentments.

I’ve written about The Resentments before. Probably more than once (try here, here, and  here, for starters). Because they aren’t just my favorite band ever, they’re also one of the best experiences of my life.

I discovered them a little over 5 years ago and watched a whole lot of YouTube videos until I finally went down to see them in person. In fact, the very first time I went down was exactly 5 years ago this weekend – I drove down to Austin from Tulsa on the day after Thanksgiving.

Since then, I’ve managed to get down to the Saxon Pub a few times every now and again, to get my fix. It’s so worth the trip.

The Resentments are a group of singer-songwriters, who get together every Sunday night at the Saxon, to play some music and throw around some witty conversation. There are currently 5 core members – Jeff Plankenhorn, Miles Zuniga, Scrappy Jud Newcomb, Bruce Hughes, and John Chipman. Not all of them are present at every show, but whoever is there, it’s always a great time. They are all incredibly talented musicians and some of the nicest people you could ever hope to meet. They’re funny, intelligent, kind, and when they play together, the result is magical.

When I’m listening to The Resentments, either in my car or while I’m working – or whenever, really – the music fills me with a sense of peace, and happiness.

When I’m watching The Resentments, when I’m sitting at the Saxon and the vibration of the music and the love fills the air, it’s like… well, it feels like home. It fills me up, it feeds my heart and it lifts me up and makes me feel human… but also it makes me feel more than human.

I’ve had this feeling from two other experiences in my life. One was when I did yoga for the first time, the other was when I saw a video of Abraham Hicks for the first time. Each was accompanied by a feeling of simultaneously knowing I had discovered something BIG but also that I was home, I was back, and I was exactly where I was supposed to be.

The Law of Attraction teaches us to feel, then think, then manifest. It encourages us to reach for good feeling thoughts, and reminds us that we don’t have to wait for something good to happen before we can feel good about it (in fact, it’s quite the opposite). This approach made this last trip to Austin a little different for me, as I had thought it might.

This time, when I went to the Saxon, it still felt like home. It still felt so right and so good and deliciously sweet. I sat alone, at a table with a perfect view, but this time I could feel myself soaking up all the goodness, taking it in on a more complete level than I ever had before. I could fully feel and appreciate what was going on better than I ever had before. And for that reason, I knew that I would probably not be back for a long time.

I realized that at this point, I no longer need the experience of going to the Saxon Pub to truly feel the sweetness of the experience.

I’m sure I’ll be back – I can’t stay away. The music is too good, the feeling is too sweet to stay away for too long.  But it will be different. There’s a sense of closure that wasn’t there before. It seems like I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t need to be there to truly enjoy the experience of it. I can carry it with me wherever I go. Like with yoga, or the teachings of Abraham Hicks… I will always have that love, peace, and pure joy with me.

And how cool is that.