Friday, April 29, 2016

We Met at Size 8: My adventures in Europe, Part I

The planning began two years ago. My sister and I were sitting in her small den off her bedroom. After a glass of wine, she told me that to celebrate my 50th birthday, she was going to take me on an all-expense paid trip to anywhere I wanted to go in the world. She knew she needed to give me two years to digest this. For those of you who read my blog, you know that I am not a willing traveler. Being away from home for extended periods of time (especially out of state) is way out of my comfort zone.  Honestly, I would have been happy going to a contiguous US state. She insisted it needed to be out of the country. How could I be away from my family for that long? What if they found out that they didn't need me anymore? Writing this, I can see how crazy this sounds, but in my heart, those fears are real.

Originally, we had decided that the Caribbean would be a nice place to relax for a week and a half. I wasn't married to this place, hell, I wasn't married to even going! But this place was the closest to my home. I wanted to be able to leave at a moment's notice should there be a problem. Basically, I was picking a destination for its proximity, not as a perfect destination.

Our minds were made up when my brother married a beautiful Spanish woman who lives in Cambridge, England. They came to the US to marry, so I was able to meet her (on the day of the wedding) and I immediately knew my brother was one lucky dude. We had to visit them in England! This was the first time in the past two years that I had started to feel excitement rather than dread. My sister planned the trip leaving no arrangement (car service, train ride...) left to chance. Our itinerary? Cambridge, London, Barcelona! We had invited our brother and his wife to join us in Barcelona. Unfortunately, my brother's visa hadn't been updated to allow him to travel outside of England--a topic my brother has little good to say about. But that didn't stop his wife from joining us.

The weeks approaching this once-in-a-lifetime trip seemed to drag by. Each day was long, and the weeks even longer. And surprising to say, my attitude was improving and my fear abating. I would be spending my 50th birthday celebration in Europe!

Friday, September 18, 2015

My Yoga Present to Myself: Sukhava Bodhe 2015

My planning for my 50th birthday retreat seemed to go on forever, but my trans-formative weekend went by in a flash. Planning is one thing, but the experience is something completely different. What surprised me was my full immersion in the weekend. So much of my planning time was spent worrying about being away from my family. My kids would tell you that they were thrilled I was leaving! This left them the entire weekend to do guy things. Had I allowed myself to really think on that, it may have stung, but I know that they, too, need time, just like me, to rejuvenate, explore, and just have fun.

Our cozy yurt
This is exactly what I got. My retreat, Sukhava Bodhe, was amazing. The yurt my friend Jen Vincent and I stayed in was delightfully cozy: right smack-dab in the middle of the festival. We had people stop by and talk with us, and a couple of people even sat and shared food with us. The atmosphere was one of complete trust with all of the people there. I have never experienced so much of that concentrated in one place before! We were asked to trust the practice of yoga, each other, our space, and we didn't even have a key to our yurt. I was assured that the people at the retreat were all good/trustworthy people. Jen and I even left our windows open when we slept. Anyone could have peeked in, but I doubt there was enough light to see us tucked in and snoozing. Truly this comfort and trust was remarkable for me. What I found out about myself surprised me. I had anticipated becoming completely altered after this retreat, and that frightened me, but I had a wonderful conversation with an instructor (one of the people that stopped by and shared watermelon I had on our picnic table) that changed my thinking about this. He said roughly this: Yoga doesn't necessarily have to change you, it allows you to release and let go of all the accumulated stuff that sits in our bodies and minds. How right he was. And the pictures below illustrate this concept perfectly for me. My yoga practice looked very different compared to those pictures below. I have used words in my discussions with people about my body's limitations. No longer! I used those words with an instructor saying, "My knees won't do that." Her response, "Not yet!" How true. I learned that my mind can be my biggest enemy or my greatest gift. I learned to trust that a base can hold me up. That I can hold up a flyer! Even a 190 lb. one! I learned that I can do an inversion. While I haven't (yet) stuck a handstand without assistance, I will. I will. I experienced Kundalini yoga for the first time. What an experience that was. I had what some might refer to as a Kundalini awakening. It was a bit frightening, but I was assured this is perfectly natural and expected in the beginning. I have now begun to incorporate some of the Kundalini teachings into my own practice. Little by little, starting my 50th decade (November), I'm filled with hope and excitement for more trans-formative experiences. I am open to what is coming my way. AND I just may return to Sukhava Bodhe next Labor Day weekend. Who knows? I'm keeping my options open!

Jen and me

Me as a flyer
Ready for lift off

Great stretch...
Flying again with a wonderful base

Jen taking Paddle board Yoga (SUPyo)

Getting ready to go into supported handstand...didn't quite make it!

Me as a base

Me as a base
We were without an instructor, so we just played

Me flying in throne...Now this was exciting!
Slacklining...this was fun!

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

The Gift of Yoga: Thoughts about my Upcoming Retreat

Labor Day weekend is coming. My planned yoga retreat is just around the corner, and I am filled with so many mixed emotions. This is the first time ever that I have given a present to myself on this scale. Celebrating my 50th year, I knew I had give myself a gift that supports my belief of the importance of self-care and healthy living. I had the idea of splurging most likely in 2013. The thoughts of turning 50 seemed daunting at the time, but if I chose to, I could celebrate rather than mourn my changing body and passing years. So I put it down in writing, maybe just to set an intention, or maybe just to remind myself that each year, each day offers us something new if we are willing to open our minds and hearts. Looking back at this post, Present to Myself, I can see that it did the trick. Setting that intention gave me the direction I needed to keep that dream alive.

The emotions I'm feeling seem to be normal, but I can't help compare myself to those who are able to give to themselves much easier than I am able to. My sister, for example, travels often for business and pleasure. She travels with her family and takes trips with her friends. I honestly don't know how she does it. The part of me who is excited about this retreat is also feeling guilty for giving myself this. While this is not necessarily an expensive trip, it is more than I am comfortable spending. I have saved for this, but I can't help wondering if this money would be better spent elsewhere...and that's when I stop myself.  A good friend of mine said something to me years ago that has stuck with me ever since. My oldest son was 9 months old at the time, and I had been having severe lower back pain. My doctor had ordered physical therapy, but I didn't want to be away from my son any longer than was necessary. My friend knew how I was struggling with the pain, and she said this: Two hours a week taking care of yourself will make you a better mother. You are doing your son no good when you are in pain. So how does this relate? This weekend has the potential to give my mind, body, and soul a rejuvenating lift to make me a better person all around. This link will take you to the festival. The line-up is quite impressive. Sukhava Bodhe Yoga Music Festival 

My Dream Yoga Retreat is almost here. I hope my enthusiasm will outweigh my guilty feelings of going. The connections I am sure to make both personally and socially are sure to have  a profound affect on me. I hope you all are enjoying life in your neck of the woods. Namaste.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Rebooting: Mind, Body, Soul

Hopefully, in your neck of the woods, spring is in the air. Here in Northern Illinois, sometimes it's spring, sometimes not...ahhh, Midwest either love it, hate it, or accept it. But after a relatively long winter, it's time to open up the windows, breathe in the clean fresh air, and re-energize your mind, body, and soul. For me, that means so many things.

Spring time is proof that dormancy is a must. It gives the creatures and plants of this world time to rest. If you're like me, I tend to view the last month of winter as God's joke. Are we being put to the test to see if we have what it takes to get through? Or is this a reminder that we still need our rest before we begin the re-awakening of life. Sometimes I animals feel cranky at having to slow down? Or do they appreciate the break? Humans do not have that luxury to shut down in the winter. We work, pay bills, all to keep our families healthy and safe. Is it OK to not feel guilty that we do not have the energy needed during these months? I'm learning to appreciate the battening down the hatches of winter. This past winter, for me, has been one of the best in recent memory. I allowed myself that time to rest, and now that spring is here, I feel ready to move on to the next big thing. Whatever that may be.

Although I do not get this right on a daily basis, and I do not want to give the impression that I always practice what I preach, I do know, however, that I have tools to reboot. Here is my list:

  • Start the morning with my yoga practice, reminding myself that yoga is not a regimented practice, but a where-you-are-at-at-any-given-moment practice, giving myself permission to have slow days and vigorous days. 
  • Reflect on my past, pray for strength for the day, and give thanks for all I have (I do this while I drive to work).
  • Greet each person with respect, even those you feel do not deserve it. Because by acting respectful, you are filling your higher purpose. I need to be able to look in the mirror at the end of the day and know that I did the best I could (which many times is way less than perfect).
  • Remind myself that hardships are temporary, as is ease and happiness. Be grateful for all experiences...they make up who we are--and aren't we all complicated?
  •  Practicing mindfulness in all aspects of my life. How I choose to act is in my control. Being reactionary is self-destructive. Difficulties in relationships happen. It's how you choose to respond that defines who you are.
  • Garden! I can't get enough. What a way to reboot! Getting my hands in the dirt and planting, weeding, pruning, gives my mind, body, and soul the lift it needs. In fact, I just planted kale and cauliflower. I'm sure looking forward to fresh salads from my organic garden.
  • Biking! I got a new recumbent bike that I love! The back support gives me the pain-free ride my body needs. And exercising outside! What could be better?!
  • Walking! Love it! Enough said.
  • Spending as much quality time with my family as possible. As a mom and a wife, I sure do make's how we move on and accept ourselves as we are, and love each other...warts an all.
  • Reading. That is something I do all year long. Especially in the winter. It refuels me at so many levels.
  • Creating. I make jewelry, crochet, and dabble in soap making--though this hasn't happened in a few years...maybe it's time to get back to that. To me, being able to create something with my hands allows me the meditative experience needed to keep me grounded. And what an expression of your soul.

I sure could go on and on. Maybe on those days where just getting out of bed is a chore, I will read this list and remember: practice. Life is an ever changing adventure. Nothing stays the same! Enjoy spring! Namaste.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Indie Author, M. Rae: With Grace Under Pressure

I had the pleasure of meeting indie author, M. Rae, during a summer writing workshop in 2014, and was excited to read her new book With Grace Under Pressure. As I was so taken with this beautiful story, and wanted to share it with as many people possible, I asked if she would like to be interviewed. My hope is that after you read the interview, you will purchase this gem of a book. You will not be disappointed.

With Grace Under Pressure is your first book. This is an eloquently told story of five women, who through different reasons, come together eventually to run a half-marathon. Would you talk about the experiences that led you to write so eloquently about each character?

Thank you for your kind words.  The characters in With Grace Under Pressure have some very different challenges to face and overcome, most of them being situations I have not personally experienced.  However, the things they all share, are also things I, and many of my readers share.  As a mother, I have certainly felt the ambivalence of Eva, the protectiveness of Japlo, the camaraderie of Gracie.  As a daughter I can relate to the undying support of a parent-- father and mother.  As a runner, I have ebbed in and out of the many reasons these women run: to compete, to clear my mind, to escape worries, to lose weight, to raise money for a charity.  As a friend, I have felt the incredible acceptance of that one person who just won’t let you fall, no matter what.  These moments are unique to each of us, but, as is true with so much in life, they are also the thread that weaves us all together in the human struggle to find meaning and inspiration.

I couldn't help but notice your literal and metaphorical use of the word run throughout the novel. Mindful of not giving away too much, briefly talk about how you see the characters as individual runners and what running means to them.

Running is the activity that brings these women together, but as individuals, the word holds connotations of power, independence, survival, organization, and even a bit of a revolution.  It is through this physical activity that each woman is able to attain her greater personal need for self-realization.

My blog focuses on yoga, healthy living, and living with chronic pain in safe and positive ways. Understanding that you are not giving medical advice or endorsing any program, per se, what would you say to my readers about running?

Running changes everything.  It changes your body, your health, your adaptability, your “grit”, your relationships.  It makes you strong in many different ways.  It is impossible to not get better, especially if you are new to running.  You just need to get out the door on a regular basis, and let your feet take care of the rest.

Now a technical question. One of your characters is portrayed as a new runner. She decides she needs new running shoes, since she has nothing at all to run in, and she is surprised to find a piece of equipment that is used to choose the shoe she will 
wear--she doesn't choose the shoe, the shoe chooses her. Does this technology exist and what can you tell us about this?

I am so glad you noticed that!  This is, in fact, a wishful version of a piece of technology that I have seen in stores (although it may be less wishful by this point).  I have had running shoe stores use a variety of computerized tools to choose a correct shoe style for me, but I have not personally seen that it suggests a particular shoe brand -- I imagine that might be difficult with all of the changes that shoes go through year to year, but it sure would be nice!   

How do you fit running into your life with your busy schedule? As much as you are comfortable, help us to get to know you.

I have found that running is one of the most time-efficient exercises for me.  The hardest part is truly making the decision to run “now”.  If I can run in the morning, before work, while most of the world is still asleep, I feel the best all day, and I don’t need to wonder if I’ll get to it the rest of the day.  Admittedly, it is hard to wake up early, but once you make it a habit, your body just responds.  
I also try to have running gear on or with me if I think I might have an extra 20 - 45 minutes during the day.  Lunch time, soccer practice, post-work/ pre-commute are pockets of time that are just begging to be filled with a good run instead of a latte and web surfing.
Running with a group or a buddy is a great way to make sure you have a reserved time for your run, with someone who will expect to see you there and will push you to get going, keep going, and finish strong.  
If you remove lounging, chatting, complaining and fussing from the whole process, you find that it is over in a very short time.  And of course, the faster you run, the farther you can go in that amount of time!  

What didn't I ask you that you would like to share with my readers?

While this novel focuses on women, and running, I do not feel it is a book about women running.  I hope that men and women, runners and non-runners, will find this to be a story of strength, community, and dedication to making our human experience one of ease, even as we face challenge.  
As Anna tells us,

“our greatest joys and deepest despairs are never ours to bear alone.”

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Yoga is for Everyone. Even You!

Last March,'s  journalist, Leslie Vandever,  wrote this article It Doesn't Hurt: Natural Ways to Treat Pain as a guest contributor to my blog. This year, Ms. Vandever has contributed another guest-blog post about Yoga.  I am honored to host and Ms. Vandever. I do hope you enjoy! Namaste.

Yoga is for Everyone. Even You!

By Leslie Vandever

What image does the word “yoga” conjure in your mind?

If you imagine a slender, attractive young woman bending her lithe, flexible, perfect body into pretzel-like positions with an expression of blank tranquility on her face and a Mona Lisa smile on her lips, you’re not alone.

Most people associate yoga with people who are young and in peak physical condition. They don’t have flab, weak muscles, love handles, or double chins. They don’t suffer from a chronic illness or have chronic pain. Their bellies are pancake flat and their legs are long and steely. They have perfect behinds and prefer bean sprouts and chickpeas to cheeseburgers and french fries.

But this image of the average yoga practitioner is wrong. You don’t need to be young, healthy, strong, thin and ultra-flexible to practice yoga. All you need is your body—in whatever shape and condition it happens to be in at the moment—and a desire to learn, along with an open mind.

Don’t forget that most yogis and yoginis (male and female practitioners) don’t start out strong, lithe, and fit. Just like you, they came to yoga with a not-perfect body. They, like you, approached it with a sense of curiosity—and a rather serious doubt that they would ever be able to bend like that, because at the time, they couldn’t. But with patience and calm perseverance, their bodies learned, adapted, and changed, growing strong and fit. Yoga is a mind/body practice, one that changes with the individual.

Created in India more than 5,000 years ago, yoga is a meditative movement practice that branched into many styles over time. The most common style in the U.S. is hatha yoga. It combines breathing techniques, physical postures (or “asanas”), and meditation, aiming for physical strength and stamina, mental peace and balance, and good overall health.

Yoga incorporates a philosophy, taken from Buddhist and Hindu teachings, that promotes spiritual growth and mastery over the body and mind. It is not a religion and it doesn’t challenge your beliefs or require you to change them.

The practice of yoga will help you become more flexible. It will stretch and strengthen your muscles and increase the range of movement in your limbs. It will teach you to breathe so that every breathe counts, and improve your balance. You’ll increase your endurance and stamina, as well. And if you have pain, a chronic illness, or you’re overweight, with modifications yoga can still fit your needs. It may even reduce your heart rate and blood pressure. It may lessen anxiety and depression. It can improve overall physical fitness, relieve stress, and enhance your quality of life. Yoga can fit almost any physical limitation, and it can help relieve pain and improve physical function.

Almost anyone can do yoga. Fat, thin, young, old, middle-aged, male, or female, it can work for you.

Leslie Vandever is a professional journalist and freelance writer with more than 25 years of experience. She lives in the foothills of Northern California.

·         Haaz, S. and Bartlett, S. J. Yoga for Arthritis: A Scoping Review. (2010, Dec. 3) Rheumatic Disease Clinics. Retrieved on March 11, 2015 from
·         Yoga for Health. (2013, June) National Institutes of Health. Retrieved on March 11, 2015 from

·         Yoga 101; The Beginner’s Guide to Practice, Meditation, and the Sutras. ( 2014, Oct. 7) Yoga Journal. Retrieved on March 11, 2015 from

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My New Blog about Writing

I am so thrilled to have a new blog about writing. I have worked with my students on all academics ranging from listening skills, reading, writing, algebra--basically all areas of literacy and math through Advanced Algebra. A wonderful friend of mine has been nudging me for quite a while to get started on a writing blog and share my ideas. Well, on March 10, I finally took the plunge. If you are interested, I invite you to visit my new blog Make it Happen Write Away! Youthful Yogini is still alive and well...just flexing my teacher muscles for a change! Enjoy!

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Reflections on "13 Poses to Break Bad Habits" from Yoga Journal

In the January issue of Yoga Journal (2015) is a fantastic article on how to break bad habits through a series of yoga poses. The title of the article is
13 Poses to Break Bad HabitsThe article suggests you give this sequence 40 days to really get your willpower working and your energy increased. I was particularly intrigued since it focused on setting intentions, or sankulpas, and since its the new year, I thought why not give it a try!

I began on January 5 with vigor. It didn't take me long to realize that I've really let my core muscles go. I was able to do all the asanas; however, not at the duration they suggested. As of today, I am close to the duration of the core strengthening poses, and I feel terrific. My stamina continues until bedtime. Usually during the week, if I can sneak in a short nap, I take it. My body seems to not need it now. I have not had a nap since mid-December!

A couple of nights ago, I was cuddling with my oldest son before bed and we have this lovely ritual that we do nightly. He asks me how my day was and the best and worst parts of it, I then ask him the same thing. For four days in a row I did not have a bad part of my day. He would nudge me and tell me to really think, but I came up with nothing. He commented, "Wow, Mom, four days in a row!" Could this be a coincidence? I think not!

My attitude is quite a bit brighter than it has been the last couple of years and the level of energy that I've been able to sustain hasn't happened since I was in my 20s. I truly believe this practice has shifted my view on life and has motivated me to continue. I will definitely make this a part of my practice--for much longer than 40 days. Namaste.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Year in Review

Looking back at 2014 actually seems exhausting to me right now. When I'm honest with myself, I can say that many good events and changes took place. When I'm feeling down, I may say that the year was tough and days were difficult to get through. I have a couple of people I know who are battling different types of cancer, and there by the grace of God go I. Really I am blessed and not dealing with a life-threatening illness. It is hard to keep that in perspective, however.

There is a wonderful saying that I think about in times of pain and stress: "Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind." Bruce Lee.. Many days I am the stiffest tree--in fact more than I'm comfortable with. It's when I notice that I'm being rigid that I need to get busy and change my patterns of behavior and my attitude.

I've begun again listening to Rod Stryker's Four Desires meditations. My favorite is the Bliss Meditation. It gives me the relaxation I need, the peace of mind, and the practice gets my head in the right place. If you haven't tried meditation, I suggest you do. Rod makes it so very easy with his soothing voice and simple instructions. It does take time to get used to sitting still and clearing your mind, but with patience and fortitude, you will get all the benefits promised.

At times I think I'm going backwards with my growth. When things do not go according to plan, I feel I am slipping. Not so, I have to remind myself. Maybe my soul/spiritual guides/God have decided that I'm ready to deal with the difficult situations that have needed to be addressed, and now, with the skills and tools I've gained, I'm ready to confront them.

What I do have going for me is that I am a willing participant in my life. I find ways to better myself through doctors and a therapist who makes me take hard looks at myself, but does so in a very gentle way. For anyone who has ever considered or wanted to try therapy, I fully recommend it. Honestly, if anyone has ever told you that it is shameful to go to a therapist, then you absolutely must change your thinking. My sister once said to me that people had often asked her why she chose therapy years ago, and she said, "Why wouldn't you?" And those simple words got my butt into therapy all those years ago.

Here are some of my wishes and suggestions for anyone who has taken time to read this: You are the most important person in this world. It took me years to figure that out. If you are not healthy in mind, body, and spirit, then there is no way you will be your best with your family, friends, and colleagues. Take the time out of your busy schedule to take care of yourself. In the long run it will be worth it. When I had my first child, I was afraid to be away from him. Going to work after my maternity leave was one of the hardest things I had to do. A dear friend of mine saw the struggles I was having and told me to get into an exercise program. I didn't have time and I didn't want to be away from my family. She actually told me I was doing my family no good in the state I was in. She was dead on right.

Please do not get the idea that I get this right all the time. I don't. Not even close. You teach what you most need to learn--not sure who coined that aphorism, but it is true. So looking to the new year, I will continue my self care and discovery, and my wish for all of you is that you take the precious time you need to refuel and re-energize your life so that you can live it to the fullest. Namaste.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Live Each Day as if it were Your Last!

Is it just the start of fall, the beginning of the school year, or the impending snow that inevitably gets me into a funk every year? I have seen this occur with many of my friends, so I do think the seasonal variations definitely have something to do with it.

This is my 22nd year of teaching. I can't believe it. Where has the time gone? And I feel this itch that I need to be doing something a bit different. I said to Jeff, "I wish being a yoga teacher paid as well as a public school teacher." Because quite honestly, I'd get my yoga certification in a heart beat.

But honestly, what is keeping me from getting it now? Most likely the cost factor. I have looked at the 200 hour courses and it seems to me to be cost prohibitive at the moment. My heart is truly there...but, knowing what I do about mindfulness, I need to be present in my life right here, right now.

This past summer I attended a program offered through the Illinois Writing Project. It changed the way I view myself as a writer and how I teach my students to value their ideas and get them on paper. This also has gotten me to think of offering professional development to different school districts, but you know that thing--Money?! Seems that school districts, too, are hanging on to all they have, like me.

That great saying that says 'Live each day as if it were your last'. Not sure I have the energy to do that. But here's what I'd do:

  • I'd practice yoga 1 1/2 hours a day in a beautiful, peaceful room in my house
  • Take long walks with my family
  • Watch funny movies often
  • Go to all the yoga retreats I could find
  • Explore all the exciting places in the U.S. with my family before my kids get too old to want to spend time with their parents
  • Learning more crocheting techniques. I'm 1/3 of the way done with my first afghan and I crocheted my first mitten--albeit it could fit the Hulk!
The list could go on and on. Remembering to do this is completely another thing all together. And here's the thing I really need to remember. There will be good days, bad days, days in which you are grateful that the day is over, and days that you wish were more of. What I do know is this: there will always be change. It's how I choose to react to it that will determine my peace of mind. Namaste.