BlogPaws Jeans-Friendly Morning Yoga

Yoga for a Saturday morning blogger who has been on her feet forEVER, it seems. Oh, and Mystery picked some of the asanas, just because he likes them.

This practice begins in dandasana, or staff pose. Feet are normally flexed with heels on the floor in this pose (unlike mine here!)









Massage your feet gently, making sure to pay attention to all of the toes as well as the entire sole of the foot.














Interlace your fingers and toes. Breathe deeply and allow the toes to relax.












Massage the top of the feet, ankles and calves moving in an upward direction.














In cobbler pose, badha konasana, bring your heels in close to the groin, but not so close that your knees can't open.


Come into tabletop position. Spine is in a neutral position, hands beneath shoulders, knees beneath hips.













This is the "cat" of cat-cow stretch.














Here is the cow. Alternate between the two, with a linked breathing pattern, usually breathing in when the body opens and out when it closes.















Tuck your toes under as you sit lightly on your heels.












In the fully realized yoga squat, the heels will be firmly rooted in the mat.












Take a neutral standing posture.












Stand on the noodle as you stand in high heels!

Now, let the noodle help you reverse that feeling.

Golf balls make great aids for foot massage. (Make sure to keep track of the ball, so your dog or cat doesn't get it.)














Shift your weight to one side. Lift the other leg and touch that toe to the top of your standing foot.


If you feel like moving deeper into the posture, open your leg to the side and place the foot against your calf. Repeat on the other side. Notice differences in balance from side to side.





Hug your knee to your chest. Find your balance. After the thigh stretch, repeat on the other side.











Extend your opposite arm for balance, take hold of the ankle and move into a gentle stretch.









Keeping the spine neutral, raise the arms and bend the knees.












Find the hip crease with your hands. Maintain the natural curves of the spine as you fold forward to horizontal back. Support yourself by placing your hands anywhere on your thigh or shin (avoid the knee).

From pyramid pose, add a twist in the middle of the spine for triangle. Come back through pyramid to come out of the posture.













Tip toes, arms up, star pose is energizing!












From star pose, drop your heels, bend your knees, and bend your elbows. This is sometimes called horse dancer pose and sometimes pose of the goddess.














Fold forward from the hips keeping the natural curves in the spine. You may put your hands on the floor directly under your shoulders.













Before relaxation, roll on the noodle for a bit of back massage. You can also relax into a gentle backbend while supported by the noodle.










The end of practice.

BlogPaws Mostly Seated, Jeans-Friendly Yoga

Here are pictures that correspond to the Friday BlogPaws yoga session. The idea behind this sequence is that can be done in a chair while blogging to reduce some of the typical tensions that build up while working on the computer for hours in a row.

If you weren’t at BlogPaws or didn’t attend the yoga session there, this is the sequence without instruction for moving in and out of the postures. If you’d like more instruction, please say so in a comment and I will add more when I get back from Salt Lake City.

Begin by sitting tall, feet hip-width apart, parallel on the floor. Take several deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling through the nose.














Raise arms overhead on an inhalation. Stretch up from the hip. Wrap right hand around left wrist. On inhalation stretch toward the right. Repeat on the other side.















Lift chest for a slight bend in the upper back.













Alternate the backbend and a rounding of the back (hold onto the chair for leverage) for seated cat and cow stretches.

Place your hands in the crease where your torso and legs to help you remember to lengthen the spine in preparation to fold forward.














Place your hands in the crease where your torso and legs to help you remember to lengthen the spine in preparation to fold forward.














Hug knee to chest.













Extend leg for foot stretches.














Place left ankle on right thigh. Find hip crease. Fold forward SLOWLY. This helps to open tight hips.














Roll shoulders back. Lift arms overhead. Raise buttocks off chair and move into utkatasana, also known as chair or fierce pose. Be sure to locate the chair with your hands before you sit back down.















Turn sideways in your chair. Hug one knee to the chest and as you let the knee drop down, take hold of the ankle with that hand. Exert light pressure back and upward to stretch out the thigh after the exertion of utkatasana. Release the foot, bring the foot to the floor. Repeat on the other side.















Sit facing forward, feet parallel, hip-width apart on the floor. Place left hand on the outside of right thigh and take hold of back of chair with right hand. Use these as anchor points as you twist gently toward the right. Return to center and repeat on the other side.














Return to center and relax.

The photos were taken in the temporary yoga studio (otherwise known as the front porch) under the supervision of Mystery, Garden Kitty in Chief.


I decided on some new commitments and directions for my work and personal life a few months ago. Now, I am allowing the new commitments to reorder my behaviors and actions to support them. I thought that once I made the decisions, everything would fall easily into place, but it turns out that I have forgotten some things I knew and have picked up some things that don’t fit anymore. Although these “things” are patterns of thought and behavior, the objects I’ve collected over the years represent the accretion.

Now, I’m reasonably sure that my survival isn’t threatened on a daily basis. I no longer feel compelled to try to be everything that someone in authority asks me to be. My ability to thrive will be enhanced by clearing space for the priorities and activities that are important to me now. I need only the objects that I choose to have around me.

I have acquired the tools of the trade for a number of sub-disciplines within the area I teach. I keep students’ work for years after they finish my class. I keep things in my office that were there when I moved in but that I don’t need to do my job or that get in the way of doing my job! I’ve bought things that I didn’t really need. I’ve bought things I thought I really did need and changed my mind. I hold on to things that belonged to other people because I believe they should be remembered. (I still do believe this, but I no longer believe that remembering requires me to keep every object or piece of paper I received from them!) All of the unnecessary stuff is going OUT (the first to go, back in August, was the enormous teacher desk that was in the office at work). The stuff I need, use and just plain want to have is going to be free to occupy the space!

This is going to take at least as much effort as deciding what is important to me now was in the first place.

I’m employing the Four-Day-Win philosophy to free my spaces from the artifacts of my journey to survive. I started with the goal of 15 minutes of de-cluttering activity for the next four days and rolled that back to 10 minutes a day. I’m great with this part of the program, establishing a goal that is ridiculously easy to achieve.

I’ve de-cluttered for 10 minutes (or a little more because it felt good) for three days in a row. The pictures in this post represent the results of this effort. A view of the floor in my office at work, a spot on the floor without a pile of paper and a table free of papers, boxes and randomly placed artwork.

I have some difficulty with the second element of the Four-Day Win — establishing rewards for achieving each day’s goal and a slightly more substantial reward for completing the entire Four-Day goal. I’ve identified four things that are getting in the way of planning rewards.

  • First, I inhabit a number of emotional ecosystems that don’t support the notion that any of us deserve rewards.
  • The rewards that spring easily to my mind all involve food.
  • Other “rewards” are things I think I “should” do. In other words, a reward of 10 minutes of walking outside to reward me for 10 minutes of de-cluttering amounts to a second goal to meet because I do not regularly walk but think I should.
  • Finally, although I often feel guilty for it, I pretty much do whatever I want. If I want to eat a piece of cake, carve, draw or hang with the Garden Kitties, I do. How do I build a sense of reward into these activities when I would do them anyway, I ask myself.

My daily reward is hanging a little extra time with the Garden Kitties. I haven’t established the more substantial reward for the fourth day yet, however. I need a little reward for myself for tomorrow because I know I can include 10 minutes of de-cluttering into another day. Some of you might say that the improved atmosphere in the spaces I inhabit is reward enough, but I don’t think that’s what Martha Beck had in mind when she suggested we reward ourselves for achieving our small goals. I’m brain-storming for rewards that aren’t food and don’t amount to adding a second layer of goal to my Four-Day Wins.

Any suggestions for how to reward myself for decluttering on four days straight? (I’ll let you know what I finally settle on.)

Happiness Is

A day that includes having the best vegetarian crepe for miles around

Followed by a most wonderful dessert crepe filled with vanilla cream cheese and topped with guava

Then finding the BEST Starbucks coffee that should already have disappeared from the shelves because it is produced in limited quantities

And then seeing a wonderful field of wildflowers right next to the supermarket parking lot

Crane Emerging

After the first day back in the studio

I thought I would spend this spring break working in the only room in my house that still has wallpaper the former owners selected. Instead, I can see a bird emerging from my branch of unknown wood.

I learned three big lessons this week:

  • A big change of plans isn’t that hard to accomplish, even when you’ve already carved a shape into the wood.
  • Mistakes are opportunities to find unexpected beauty.

Day Two: Head emerging

In a way, these first two lessons are really one: wood is malleable. I can carve deeper. I can use another technique to express my idea more fully. I can collect my sawdust and use it to build a place up or fix a crack.

The third lesson is more profound:

  • Carve away everything that distracts attention from what you want people to see in the sculpture.

At the end of Day 3: Leg, tail, body.

This means drawing deep, firm lines with the v-parting tool around all the body parts of the crane. It means making sure the grass isn’t so high that it hides the legs. Open up the area around the tail and legs by removing layer after thin layer of the branch until the crane emerges from the background.

At the end of the third day of work in the studio, Marika took a wooden cigar box out of the cupboard and said, “Take these tools home with you. You don’t need me.” She took the lid off the box and pulled out all the different kinds of carving tools I might need but don’t own. “These are small, but with the soft wood you have, they will work fine.”

When I had packed up my own gouge and mallet along with the treasure trove of borrowed tools and swept the sawdust and chips off the floor around my work table, I picked up my bag and branch to leave.

“Dare,” Marika said as I walked out the door.

Tears of Truth

ElephantsLawrence Anthony passed away last week. If you know his name, it is probably as the man who was responsible for rescuing animals from the Baghdad Zoo when it was abandoned and looted during the U.S. invasion of the city in 2003.

Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo begins with the story of an incredulous border guard who tried to convince the South African conservationist and his Kuwaiti colleagues that they should “worry about your own sorry asses” rather than take supplies to Baghdad to care for the animals they hoped were still alive there. Anthony didn’t listen. Instead, he navigated the violence and politics to protect, feed, relocate and eventually, to rebuild a safe haven for animals that had been living in the zoo and in the palaces of the ruling family.

The U.S. Army eventually awarded Anthony a medal for bravery in recognition of his service to the animals of the Baghdad Zoo. A handful of other international organizations also gave him awards for the commitment that the border guard thought was crazy.

When he went back to Africa, Anthony defended rhinos (the subject of his soon-to-be-released book The Last Rhinos: My Battle to Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures). He continued his work on behalf of animals in war zones through his non-governmental organization, The Earth Organization, and by spearheading an effort in the United Nations, called the Wildlife in War Zones Resolution to have zoos, animal reserves, parks and veterinary facilities deemed off limits as military targets.

He also befriended elephants (The Elephant Whisperer). Anthony established a deep and lasting bond with a herd of elephants who lived on his private reserve in Kwa Zulu Natal, South Africa. In all the teasers for the book these elephants are described as “rogues,” but they let him join their family. They hung out with him. Proud parents brought their babies to his house show him. A couple of years ago they went their elephant way.

They came back this week to say goodbye to their human friend.

When I heard this in the NPR story about his life yesterday, I burst into tears. Some people may need more proof that the elephants got the news and made the 12-hour walk from their current home ground specifically to bid farewell to a man who reached out to them with respect and kindness that they don’t always experience from humans. My tears are enough for me.

The image of the elephants crossing the road was taken by Jeremiah Blatz in Tarangire N.P, Tanzania, in 2007, and is used here under a Creative Commons License.

Learning From “Wild” Animals

A friend introduced me to the work of life coach Martha Beck recently, and after reading about her visits to South Africa to encounter amazing animals in their home territory on the “look-inside-this-book” pages of Finding Your Way in a Wild New World, Reclaiming Your True Nature on Amazon, I decided to find out more about her coaching methods and bought an audiobook of The Four-Day Win, End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace, which I am now reading. Although losing weight isn’t as dramatic as going to Africa to observe the interactions of large, wild animals, Beck is dealing with one of the most daunting parts of making changes in our lives in this little book: taking the first steps.

Her approach to weight-loss asks readers to develop a harmonious relationship with themselves rather than cruelly starving their bodies into submission. She supports her analysis of what works in weight loss with reference to psychological research and her own experience as a person who dieted mercilessly, and unsuccessfully, for years who has become a person who is fit and never even thinks the word “diet.”

She encourages dividing huge goals, like changing from overeating and self-reproach to eating healthy and self-acceptance, into manageable chunks. Beck calls her technology for this the 4-Day Win.  By taking on a part of the change that we can handle in a time-frame we’re not afraid to commit to, we get a “win” early in the movement toward the larger goal and build momentum. We also commit to reward ourselves along the way. I’ve already made a ridiculously easy goal to repeat for the next four days. Although I struggled with the idea of reward, I did finally establish both a daily reward and a larger one to recognize the finished “win.” I’ve already completed my commitment for Days 1 and 2, for both achievement and reward.

The 4-Day Win is applicable in lots of situations, and I will use it. However, I had a much more profound insight that could lead to deeper change in me when I read Beck’s metaphor that likens traditional dieting to “breaking” a horse.  Among other things, she noted that horses are great teachers for us because they are so sensitive to human emotions and the behaviors that indicate our state of mind. She also described a different way to train a horse that works through communicating, in a language of gesture and behavior that horses understand, the willingness to enter into community with the horse “join up,” as she puts it. When we stop chasing our bodies down with whips (as in horse “breaking”) and treat ourselves with care and love (“joining up” with our bodies), we trust ourselves not to subject our bodies to punishment and starvation and move without effort toward ideal weight and activity levels.

Honestly, the story Beck told about watching Koelle Simpson develop a trusting relationship with a mean, wild horse in less than one day made me yearn to learn from horses myself. Then, I realized that I have similar teachers living right alongside me on this little city lot. My feral cat friends are equally sensitive to my state of mind and emotion when I enter their wild world. When I approach them with respect and speak as much of their language as I currently understand, they respond with trust and approach me to get to know me better. When I am harried and rushing, they avoid me until I slow down with a deep breath and bring my concentration to our moment together. They are teaching me to how to gain their trust. When I’m at my best, they will follow me willingly. They come to my porch to gain reassurance from me when they are afraid in a storm.

Recently, I was petting Sparkle and Huck in the front yard when a new neighbor and his dog stopped to chat. Sparkle stood behind me while I admonished Huck not to chase the dog (yes, he’s a dog chaser). Mystery sat on a front porch step, watching and listening. I told my neighbor the cats were feral.

“It doesn’t look like it,” he said.


Helping friends we didn’t know

Every now and then a member of my online community has a problem. That’s not unusual. People experience hardships. The response of the community to the hardships is the unusual part. I used to be surprised at the generosity and care exhibited by this group of people who are united by their love of companion animals and separated by miles and miles of land and ocean.

I’ve known these people for three years now, so I was not at all surprised at the outpouring of support when a community member who lives in Kansas recently lost her home to fire. Almost immediately, one of my friends had opened a Chip In page for us to contribute cash to hep the family start over. Within a day, we had contributed almost $1000. By now, more than a week after the devastating apartment building fire, the Chip In fund has $3,350 and is still growing. (Look in the sidebar to the right for the link.)

Next, the family — a couple, their cat and guinea pig — stayed briefly with a nearby community member. Then, the quilters among us started planning a community quilt to give to Amy. I’ll be making a nine-patch block and my mom is one of the piecers-in-chief for a rail fence block that will give the non-quilters in our group the opportunity to sign a block and share their love to the family. Wanda, a quilter of amazing energy and verve, designed the quilt and will be assembling it once we’ve all had a hand in it.

Along the way, we learned that another animal lover had also lost her home in the fire and one of her kitties didn’t make it out. Her surviving kitty was badly burned but got good emergency care and was OK. (Here’s the part that amazes me although I should expect this sort of response from this group of people by now.) We hadn’t met her, online or otherwise, and my friends set up a ChipIn to help Kathi and her cat CJ as well. (Look in the sidebar to the right for the link.) I believe there are plans for a quilt for them to be made when Amy and Sebastian’s quilt is finished.

I am proud to call these generous people my friends.

I drew a picture of CJ, which is my way of mustering positive energy for animals in distress who are far away from me, and sent it to Kathi, so she will have some art for the walls of her new home (once she settles in again). We’re taking pre-orders of CJ cards at our ArtFire store now, and we’ll contribute all the proceeds from the sale of this card to the fund for CJ and Kathi.

I hope you’ll consider buying a card or two for CJ and his mom.

To see how CJ is doing in his recovery or to check in on Sebastian and his, drop by A Tonk’s Tail blog for the details of their stories and the progress they’re making to start over after the fire.

Direct link to the fund for Sebastian and Amy.

Direct link to the fund for CJ and Kathi.

Plug Into the Energy Source

Leading a useful, pleasant life requires energy. Although those wiggling ads on the Web promise me infinite energy if I buy a book, an apparatus or some seemingly magical supplement, I can recharge my battery without paying the hard-sell pros any of my hard-earned cash.

I’ll share some of  my energy secrets with you and I hope you will fill in Number 10 with one of your energy recharging practices.

10 ways I recharge my energy:

1. Practice yoga

Technically, my yoga is usually “charging” rather than “recharging.” While I wait for my water to boil in the morning, I do a few sun salutations, usually at least three sun salutation A and three sun salutation B. If the kettle hasn’t boiled yet, I add any postures that I feel like adding or dance around in the kitchen.

2. Practice mindfulness

The practice of resting my mind by disengaging from my thoughts and feelings is vital to me. I like to start and/or end a day with about 20 minutes of mindful attention to my breath. If I find my thoughts are leading me to tense my shoulders (or anywhere else!) during the day, I pause wherever I am and draw my attention away from thoughts and toward the breath until I feel the muscles in my jaw and the middle of my forehead soften.

3. Drink warm water

A few years ago I consulted with an Ayurvedic nutritionist who introduced me to therapeutic uses of drinking hot water. For her clients who drink coffee, she recommends starting the day with a cup of warm water (boiled, not microwaved). I start every day this way. If I feel dizzy, inordinately hungry or more stressed than the day’s activities merit, I have another cup of warm water. Sometimes two.

4. Care for someone you love

Although I might have things on my mind from the work day, I put them aside when I care for my kitties. The outside kitties greet me in the drive, and the insiders are waiting at the door. All of them are eager to see their beloved human, and I leave my peevish thoughts from work in the car. We have several feeding and grooming rituals that nurture me at least as much as they nurture the cats.

5. Make something

A few years ago, most of my “somethings” were edible. During a particularly stressful time at work, I acquired a new cookbook. By Sunday afternoon one weekend, I had made SIX new dishes. Not only did learning to make the new dishes move my mind away from my worries, all that cooking also gave me an excuse to invite friends over to share the bounty. Now, I’m more likely to draw with my markers. ( You can see some of my drawings in our ArtFire shop.)

6. Play with my online friends

My online community changed my life. Someone is always awake in my virtual world. Someone is always ready to help figure out what an overwhelmingly horrible smell might be and to laugh when it turns out to be skunk, not a meth lab. Someone is always ready to play or lend an ear to hear about a distressing day. My online friends’ generosity inspires me to live out as many of my generous and kind impulses as I can. Especially Henry, the most generous bear on Earth.

7. Watch a show or film with an engaging plot

I watch crime shows when I want to get out of my own soup. Comedies just don’t do it for me. The only shows I find really funny also remind me of the big social, political and economic problems that worry me. Fail. When I watch Luther or Criminal Minds, for example, I am riveted to the story. I suppose I could pick up more to worry about from the shows that focus on the cruelest, most out of control people, but generally I don’t even have nightmares after watching. I must say that I can’t watch two in a row and sometimes I’m so exhausted after watching that I need to watch a bit of fluff before turning off the TV.

8. Get a change of scenery

Sometimes, I want a really big change of scenery, like going to the Himalayas in 2009 or Southeast Asia in 2007. Most of the time, however, I’m not that extravagant. The drive to the coast from here is about 3 hours, and I’ve gone twice in 10 years. Mostly, I like to go into the city and sit in a coffee shop where I can see people reading and hear them talking about books and movies. Or I like to go to art museums or galleries.

9. Do something kind

I don’t mean something extravagant. I just mean that when I notice I’m feeling overloaded or run down, I deliberately look for the kindest approach to the situations I find myself in. I hold the door for someone. I buy lunch for my companion. If I’m not around other people, I practice a little loving kindness meditation. I always start with myself and then hold others in mind when I think or recite, “May you be peaceful. May you be safe. May you be happy. May you be healthy.” If I can’t find it in my heart to offer loving kindness to other human beings, I offer it to my cats. Invariably, I feel better for having found a space for kindness in my own heart.

10. I could go on and on, but I’d like to know…

What do YOU do to charge up or recharge?


Carving Compassion in Wood

This is my first sculpture. I started studying carving with wood in December under the guidance of Marika Bordes, who, by happy coincidence, also lives in this little city on the plains of South Central Texas. I’m amazed that I’ve already finished a piece.

The piece you see here is about two feet tall and four inches wide. I started out practicing line carving in the center of a cast-off board, a remnant of more than one home-improvement project. Then, I moved toward what became the top to practice making a raised square. I worked with my gouge and my mallet until I had a decent looking rectangle and then showed it to my teacher.

Marika’s eye recognized something in the lowly board with my practice gougings that I hope one day to be able to see myself. She suggested that I add the bigger rectangle at the bottom because the lines I had already carved suggested a figure to her. I’m a willing student, so I set to work carving a big rectangle, happy to be consolidating my skill at placing the gouge and popping little orzo-shaped bits of wood up out of the board.

It doesn’t take too long to sketch a rough rectangle into a soft wood like pine. The real commitment to the sculpture comes in the sanding. I sanded for hours at Marika’s studio and more hours on my front porch at home until the wood felt like the example Marika had shown me to help me understand how fine a finish I would need to close the pores and seal the wood from the elements and time. In sanding, I saw every wound I had made with my inexpert wielding of the gouge. I could “fix” some of the misplaced cuts but not all of them.

It’s my first sculpture, not my only sculpture, because I’ve already started my second. Actually, I started the second one before the first. I intended this one to be a sculpture, whereas the “first” one graduated from practice board to finished work.

Truth be told, I was too scared to carve the branch Marika gave me. I was afraid that my inexpert hands were not only not going to be able to shape the wood to the image I hold in my imagination for it, but were going to destroy the natural beauty of this found piece of wood. I wish I had taken a picture of the raw branch before I cleaned the bark off, so I could show you the wood in its raw state. I also wish I had taken a picture before I — with the help of Marika and Howard Crunk — started to coax my imagined whooping crane out of the soft, soft wood. Although we don’t know for sure which tree produced this branch, I can tell you that it carves more easily than a pound of butter that has been in the freezer.

From time to time, I’ll update you on the progress of my second sculpture, and my development into a person who can carve her vision into wood.