Yearlong Meditation Part 1: Day 1-61

When the Himalayan Institute announced their Yearlong Meditation project, I signed up right away. I knew it would be a challenge to meditate every day for a year—my longest streak is 116 days—but I also knew I was at a point in my practice where I was capable of rising to the challenge. After two and a half years of ParaYoga study, I’d gone deep into meditation practice, particularly mantra japa. I not only wanted to make a serious commitment to meditation; I wanted to feel more connected to the Sri Vida Tantra lineage.  

As I was thinking about how to structure my year of meditation, I decided I wanted to include both mantra and kriya. Since 365 only divides into 5, I decided to create five sub-practices of 73 days each. In addition to my mantra, I decided that for the first 73 days I would practice Samma Karuna, which I learned from Tracee Stanley. Just past the 40-day mark, I realized there were actually going to be 366 days in this year of meditation, since 2020 is a leap year and February has 29 days. Since 366 divides into 6, I decided to change my plan to six units of 61 days each. Last weekend, I completed day 61.


On July 16th, the first day of Yearlong Meditation, I did my practice in a hotel bed, propped up on pillows. I was in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, and had spent the previous day with a terrible bout of traveler’s illness. I was still quite weak, but I got myself into a position where I was able to practice. Then, I embarked on a long journey home: a flight from Puerto Maldonado to Lima, a six-hour layover, an overnight flight to Houston, and a two-hour drive back to Austin. All while still recovering from physical illness. I arrived home and slept most of the afternoon, and didn’t get to my meditation until nearly bedtime. But I got to it. 

Three days later, I was sick again, with a summer flu. I resumed practicing with a lot of pillows and blankets propping me up. Thankfully, I was at least strong enough for supported sitting. And I kept going.  And I made it through the first seven days.

Fortunately, the rest of the days have been somewhat easier. Which is not to say it’s been simple. My practice time is in the morning, but there have been some mornings where my schedule is off, and I don’t get to practice right when I wake up. I have to make time for it later in the day. There are days when I just don’t feel like sitting. There have been days when I’ve really struggled to settle and find stillness. There are days when I feel bored of my chosen practice. But I made the commitment, and I’m going to stick to it. Because I’ve never regretted my meditation practice. Even on days when it’s been a challenge to make time and get calm, I’ve done it, and I’ve always been glad that I did.

Since I began the Yearlong Meditation, I have been paying more attention to the effects of my practice. Over the past 61 days, I’ve definitely felt more in tune with my intuition. I’ve allowed a sense of grace to unfold regarding my practice. It’s not perfect every day. But it happens every day. Even when I have to squeeze my dedicated 20 minutes into random, unusual times, it gets done. And I’m feeling more in tune with the kinds of practices I need in my yoga life. For example, I began an in-depth study of the five prana vayus. I realized I didn’t understand them very well, and so turned my asana and pranayama practices in a more targeted fashion, and also started incorporating vayu mudras into my asana practice.

My newfound intuition and clarity also means I’m giving myself permission to break free of my six 61-day practices if I need to… And I’m beginning to think I might need to. I’m not sure yet. We’ll see. I’ll be sure to keep you posted.

Are you participating in Yearlong Meditation? How’s it going?

Tidying Up as Spiritual Practice Part 3: Additional Critiques

I’m officially back on the tidying wagon, and it feels great. Part of my resistance came from the fact that I’ve gotten through clothes (easy), books (easier than I thought), and papers (very easy and very fulfilling), and now I’m in the biggest category: komono, translated as miscellaneous items.

Komono includes media such as CDs and DVDs, toiletries and makeup, valuables, electronics, office supplies, cleaning supplies, kitchen goods, hobby items, and whatever else is in your house. I have a lot of komono, and after stopping the tidying process to travel, getting back into the thick of komono was overwhelming I finally got motivated out of sheer need: I thought I had lost an important document for the nonprofit I volunteer with, and it was only through the act of tidying my office supplies that I managed to find it.

As I delve back in, I am reminded of what I appreciate about the process of tidying: really tuning into the relationship between myself and the things I own, and remembering that this process is changing my behavior toward compulsive spending. Yes, I’ve bought a few books since tidying my shelves. But I haven’t spontaneously purchased every single vaguely interesting book I came across. I’m using my library card regularly. I find myself being excited to wear the clothes I have on hand, and when I’ve needed to replace something, I’m making choices based on what makes me feel good… not what might make me feel good if I lost a few pounds. I’m also doing a lot better at remembering to deal with bills and other documents that come in the mail, because I have an organizational system that keeps papers consolidated but still in my field of vision, so I don’t forget about them. I was so distressed at the amount of really and truly expired food in my pantry (like, condiments I had purchased back when I was still married) that my grocery shopping habits changed immediately, and I’ve improved at just buying what I need, and when I overbuy (hey, you can’t just buy half an onion), making sure I use up the leftovers.

Consider yourself lucky that I forgot to take a before picture of the fridge.

Consider yourself lucky that I forgot to take a before picture of the fridge.

Resuming the process, I’ve also been thinking about an excellent essay that was published this week at Popular Culture and Theology: Marie Kondo: Tidying Up and Spirituality” by Kim Anderson. Although I am not Christian, I appreciate the way that Anderson uses Christian Environmentalist values to give a thorough critique of the KonMari method.

As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, the KonMari method is not perfect. Most of my analysis has looked at the issues of class and privilege inherent in Kondo’s system. In her article, Anderson points to some other concerns that I had not addressed before. For example, she points to the hidden costs in what we own, using the example of finding a shirt for her daughter that only cost $0.98. She explains: 

When you stop to think about it, just the cotton to make the shirt should have cost 98 cents. Or the labor to make it. Or the fuel to ship it from where it was produced. Or the wages and benefits of the people who produced it OR who sold it to me. But lo and behold, here it was, marked down to 98 cents. Even at the original price of $10, many people/resources had been exploited in the process of selling it to me for a good price. This is something we don’t take into consideration when we find a shirt for $1 or $10, and then discard it a year or two or even five years later when it no longer brings us joy, serves a purpose in our lives, or is in fashion.

It’s easy to forget that our clothes demand the resources of the Earth and of other people, and bother are regularly exploited under capitalism. This is both a class issue and an environmental issue, and reminds us that we can’t separate the way we treat consumption from the way we treat the planet, and the way we treat each other. I try to shop primarily at consignment and thrift stores to offset this problem in my own life; it’s not a perfect solution, but it’s a step. Not everyone can do this, though. For example, until recently, many thrift stores did not have great options for plus-size people. While that’s changed some in recent years, I know many plus-size friends who would like to purchase more from secondhand and consignment stores, but don’t always have many options.  

Anderson also points out that Marie Kondo doesn’t encourage us to think about why we accumulated so many things in the first place. That hadn’t occurred to me, largely because in my own tidying process, I’ve frequently asked myself, “Why the heck did I buy this?” and “Why the heck did I keep this?” Often, I have an answer: I thought I might have use for it; I was at an event and felt pressured to buy something; I was dealing with a bad mood by shopping. While I don’t always know how to answer that question, more often than not, I at least have a sense of why. If you’re doing the KonMari method, I recommend that, as you work through each phase of the process, take some time to reflect on why and how your habits developed. 

One of my favorite parts of Anderson’s essay is when she asks, “Is this a real lifestyle change? Or will we just repeat this behavior?” Let’s face it: Kondo boasts of a 0% recidivism rate, but we have no way to assess whether or not that’s true. (I’m going to say it’s dubious. I don’t know of any medical, psychological, or spiritual method for any problem that has a 100% success rate in the long term.) I have two friends who have talked about repeating the process. I do think that, in my own case, this is resulting in a real change. I already mentioned some examples above. There have been points in the process where I thought, No wonder she can claim a high success rate. Who would want to do all this work over again? On some level, the thought of doing the KonMari method twice in a lifetime is overwhelming. Once is enough. I’d rather change my spending habits so I avoid constant accumulation, and having to go through this again.

At the end of her article, Kim Anderson asks us to consider the following questions:

  • Does this bring me joy?

  • Do I value the cost of production?

  • Am I paying a fair price?

  • Will I keep it for a long time?

  • How will I dispose of it when I am done with it?

  • Do I recognize that it has come from God?

 Even if the final questions doesn’t resonate with your spiritual belief system, I believe these are valuable points to ponder. You could even, if it made more sense to you, substitute a phrase such as “the Universe” or “the Earth.” (Yes, even your child’s plastic toy came from the Earth. Where do you think we got those petrochemicals to make the plastic in the first place?)

Maybe these six questions seem like a lot to think about when you’re shopping. On the other hand, what if we did all of our shopping with that kind of intentionality? What if we approached our grocery, clothing, furniture, tool, gift, and media purchases all with the same kind of reverence and care? I honestly would wager that if I put all six of these questions into every shopping trip, I would resolve my compulsive spending issues in a year.

Okay, maybe I wouldn’t resolve them 100%. Who would? Nobody is perfect. Sometimes, you completely forget that you are out of dog food, and you just have to run to the store and get a can of wet food from 7/11 because the dog wants his dinner now and the pet store is closed. Sometimes you get caught off-guard by your period and have to rush to buy tampons and some new underwear from a chain store you wouldn’t normally frequent, because you need to deal with biology now. Sometimes you are going to have a truly bad day, and because you both got a flat tire and fought with your best friend and found out you need $500 worth of dental work done, you will forget to be mindful and you will just buy something frivolous. That’s part of being human. We make mistakes and we try to do better next time.

Just because we are human, though, does not mean we shouldn’t try. As soon as I post this essay, I’m going to write Kim Anderson’s six questions into my planner, which goes with me on every shopping trip. I’ll be able to see and review them regularly. I’ll put them into regular use. And hopefully a year from now, I’ll remember that I wrote this post, and I’ll let you know how it worked out.

Tidying Up as Spiritual Practice Part 2: Books, Intuition, and Letting Go

I’ve loved books for as long as I can remember. My mom sometimes tells the story about the time she and my dad brought my newborn sister home from the hospital. I was three years old. My parents had concerns about me being jealous, and had read in a parenting book that the father should carry the new baby in so the mother can greet the older child (or children) with open arms. My aunt was in the middle of reading to me when my parents arrived home with the baby. My mom was prepared to embrace me. Instead, when they walked in the door, I barely looked up. I said to them, “Just a minute, I’d like to finish this book.” Clearly, the passion had already started to take hold. 

About 33% of the way done. (I lost the photo of the before picture when I unexpectedly had to wipe my phone.)

About 33% of the way done. (I lost the photo of the before picture when I unexpectedly had to wipe my phone.)

My mom is a librarian. She and my dad started reading to me the day they brough me home from the hospital. My sister and I could always expect a stack of nice new books at Christmas and on our birthdays. I started writing poetry when I was twelve years old. I got a B.A. and M.A. in English literature, and an M.F.A. in creative writing. Even though I no longer had most of my childhood books, and even with the occasional culling of my library whenever I moved apartments, by the time I turned 35 I had amassed a huge collection… and most of it was in the to-be-read pile. When I started Marie Kondo’s tidying up process this year, I estimated that 2/3 of my books had never been read. I had an entire cedar chest in my closet filled to the lid with untouched books, a large bin of books next to my bed, and a pile on top of that bin almost as tall as me.  

Tidying up my clothes was relatively easy. I’ve never had the same attachment to clothes that I’ve had to books. I spent nearly two hours digging up all my books and placing them in piles in my living room floor, dreading the inevitable process of sorting through them. I had to accept that, if I was going to take this seriously, I was probably going to give away a lot of unread books. At first, I felt anxious. I had some serious FOMO going on. But as I stacked the books in piles that came up to my hips, I realized that many of these unread books had been sitting tucked away for four or five years. What was the point of holding onto these books when I clearly showed no evidence of reading them? If I hadn’t made reading them a priority yet, would I ever get around to them? How could something spark joy just sitting in a crate? And what was the point of keeping books that were never going to fulfill their purpose, which was to be read? Better to let them go into the homes and libraries of people who would actually enjoy them.

A point of clarity: there has been a lot of hubbub on the internet about Marie Kondo ostensibly telling people they should limit their personal libraries to only 30 books. That’s not entirely true. Kondo says 30 books is what turned out to be the right number for her. While she does clearly skew toward minimalism, she also recognizes that some people will be their happiest surrounded by many books. She elaborates on this point more in Spark Joy, her follow-up book. I haven’t counted the number of books I have left after the tidying process, but it’s definitely more than 30. It’s not the hard number that matters; it’s that you’re comfortable with your personal library.

I spent eight days tidying up my book collection, investing 1-3 hours a day in the process. Marie Kondo recommends doing every category in one fell swoop, but I had so many books, her advice just wasn’t realistic. Still, I think breaking the process up into chunks actually helped me. Trying to go through all my books at once would have been exhausting, and ultimately, I probably wouldn’t have made the best decisions. Being able to return to the project fresh each day helped me approach my books with fresh eyes.

I applied the process of determining what sparked joy, I had the opportunity to reflect on what that meant for me. On some level, the spark of joy can’t be explained rationally; on some level, it’s intuitive. But many of us in this world have been cut off from our intuition as the result of contemporary life. Some of us have work we need to do in order to be able to access our intuitive selves. The tidying process is one that has helped me with that. Tidying books has been particularly effective. The more I dove into the process, the easier it was for me to let my instincts come forward to help me decide.    

The books that stayed.

The books that stayed.

One of the things I’ve learned from this process is how to be less judgmental of what people choose to have in their homes. My boyfriend’s house isn’t messy, but it’s definitely full. All of his walls have beautiful art. Every table and dresser has some sort of decorative object. He has collections of masks, musical instruments, seashells, and music from his travels. He has three whole walls filled floor-to-ceiling with books; he has another shelf that’s floor-to-ceiling with records. I’ve often teased him about how much stuff he has. But as I’ve gone through the work of tidying up my own space, I’ve been able to see his home from a new perspective. It’s not the way I would choose to decorate. But I’ve started to see how having an office full of books and records really does bring him joy. I’ve started to understand how much he values each and every object on his coffee table and his desk. I’ve come to appreciate the effort he’s made to organize his art collection just so. We’re never going to share the same interior aesthetic. But I can still see how his home brings him joy. Far be it for me to tease him about what makes him happy.

As of this writing, summer travel and reentry have interrupted my tidying process. The project remains unfinished, but I plan to continue it this week, and continue updating as I go.

Tidying Up as Spiritual Practice Part 1: My Life as an Unrepentant Slob

I can’t recall a time in my life when I was tidy. Not for want of trying. When I was a child, I was expected to clean my room, but the end result never seemed to last more than a few hours. My mom was frequently exasperated by the state of my closet. While I did make an effort to straighten up every weekend, my drawers were perpetually overfilled, and my closet truly was a disaster.

 Admittedly, while I went through the motions of cleaning, I honestly didn’t care much about being tidy, beyond not wanting to get in trouble at home. In college, I full-on embraced my slovenly ways.

Confession: I haven’t made my bed since 2006 except for visits home. Even now, deep in the KonMari method, I have yet to make my bed in the morning. But as of this writing, I’m only about halfway through the process. So perhaps there’s still hope.

I was truly the worst person to live with. My second year of grad school in Cleveland, I lived in a house with four other women. One was tidier than the rest of us. She became so frustrated by the mess in the house that she decided to institute a chore chart. I refused to participate.  

Confession: the only reason I got out of it was because we hosted a party, got drunk, wrestled, and I won. I was pretty pleased with myself at the time. Now, I look back, and I repent. I was not a fun person to share a space with. I doubt Kathryn Anderson is ever going to see this, but I extend a much-belated apology nonetheless.

I went from grad school to being married. My then-husband wasn’t much neater than I was. We would clean whenever we hosted a party, but that was it.

About halfway through my marriage, it occurred to me that keeping a clean house was something adults were supposed to do. Yet, as I mentioned, he and I were both slobs. We were also unhappily married, financially unstable, and cycling between bouts of unemployment, underemployment, and jobs that demanded more than 40 hours a week. Some people create order in their homes as a way to resist the chaos of life. Our home simply fell prey to the rest of the chaos in our lives. 

I got divorced 15 days after my 30th birthday. Still a financial trainwreck, I moved in with a very nice stranger from Craigslist. Suddenly entering into a roommate situation, remembering what a pill I’d been to my last roommates, I was determined to do better. I was determined to be a tidy person.

 Clearly, that didn’t work out, because it’s five years later, and I’m writing this.

 I first heard about The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up soon after it was published in 2014. One of my friends got the book, loved it, and recommended it to me. I was definitely not ready to hear it. I’d very recently upended my life and gotten rid of so much stuff as part of the divorce process. I was also at a point in life where I wasn’t experiencing much in the way of joy. I was not in a place to be receptive to the KonMari message. In fact, I forgot all about it.

When the Tidying Up Netflix special launched in December of 2018, I spent several days unable to avoid mention of the KonMari method. Everyone had an opinion. At first, I was irritated that everyone had an opinion. Who cares about a cleaning show? I asked myself. Why is this worth arguing over? If you don’t like it, don’t watch it. And also I am not getting rid of my books. Ever.

Then, however, I became curious. Were the people claiming I could only have 30 books perhaps taking things out of context? Was this method really as extreme as people claimed?

Perhaps it was that extreme, and I needed that in order to finally have a neat, organized home?

And so, in mid-April, I began the process of tidying up. I also read both The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up and Spark Joy, and watched a few episodes of the Netflix special. As of this writing, I’m maybe halfway through. I’ve gotten through clothes, books, and papers. Now I’m working on miscellaneous items. It feels like the end is nowhere in sight. But I’m also finding great value in the process.

Spoiler alert: I actually got rid of most of my books!

 What I’ve learned so far:

1. This is not a perfect system that will work for everyone

And that’s okay. No system is perfect. No system will work for everyone. I’m not even going to try to convince my boyfriend to try this. It really won’t mesh with his style.

2. If you are chronically messy, this might be the system for you

Obviously, I still have a long way to go, but I can tell the process is changing my approach to how I think about and treat my belongings.

3. This system does require a degree of privilege

That’s my biggest complaint about it. Marie Kondo really does not seem to be aware of the extent to which this method will not work for people who are financially insecure, or who live in remote areas and thus need a lot of stuff, because you are an hour away from the nearest anything.

4. That being said, you don’t actually have to get rid of utilitarian items

The second book, Spark Joy, addresses the fact that you do need practical things in your life even if they don’t necessarily spark joy. Marie actually admits she’s made the mistake of getting rid of things she genuinely needed.  

5. Nor do you need to go full-on minimalism and you can have more than 30 books

Marie Kondo is a minimalist, but truly, you could have a maximalist aesthetic and still fit within the system. And the thing about only having 30 books? That’s her preference, but it’s not a hard and fast rule. Anyone who tells you otherwise took that out of context.

6. The second book, Spark Joy, is better than the first

It’s more comprehensive, and really clarifies things. I do think you need to read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up first to really get the framework, but provided you liked that one, definitely read Spark Joy.

7. The method is worthy of criticism; please read at least one of the books before you criticize

So much about the method is taken out of context, and the content on the Netflix special is really watered down. The first book is a fast read. Just know what you’re criticizing before you go off on it. 

8. This method really is about clarifying your relationship and attachments to your possessions

And that’s why it speaks to me. It’s not really about purging. It’s really about asking yourself why you choose to keep things. And, by extension, considering why you’ve held on to things you didn’t really like. That, for me, has been a very worthwhile endeavor.

This is literally just random stuff I fished out of all the bags and purses I had lying around.

This is literally just random stuff I fished out of all the bags and purses I had lying around.

There’s more to say on this topic, but I’ll stop for now. Stay tuned as I work through the process!

Reading Response: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

I love to read, particularly poetry and nonfiction. I haven’t been really into fiction since finishing my first graduate degree, though I do still read it on occasion. I try to keep a diverse reading list, and try new things. In 2011, I set myself the intention of reading one yoga-specific book a month between February and December (January was reserved for finishing books I started in 2011). In addition, I’m immersed in Hafiz’s poetry this year. And finally, I’m also interested in exploring recommendations from other writers and yoga teachers.

I also had intended to write blog posts about my yoga and yoga-adjacent reading, but as you can see, I’m a bit behind on that!

Well, this week I’m finally diving into reading responses, starting with The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho.

Credit: HarperCollins Publishers

Credit: HarperCollins Publishers

I’ve been familiar with The Alchemist for at least 10 years; it was a mainstay at the independent bookstore where I used to work. But I never got around to reading it until Danni Pomplun announced he was making it part of the Yogi Misfit Sessions book club. While I unfortunately won’t be able to make the live discussion, I decided to read it anyway, as I’ve been curious about it for a long time. Danni is not the only yoga teacher I’ve known who loves this book.

After reading it, I can definitely understand the appeal. I can understand why the book was a huge success in 1988 (when it was first published), and again after each subsequent translation (it first appeared in English in 1994). The Alchemist is a novel concerning the wanderings of a young man named Santiago, and his quest for self-realization. The journey starts in Spain, in Andalusia, and ends all the way in Egypt. Along the way, Santiago makes mistakes and experiences serious loss, but also learns to read omens, and stays committed to his Personal Legend (the book’s term for one’s dharma).

While I understand the appeal of this novel, I have to say that it didn’t resonate with me. There are a few reasons:

  1. My extensive studies in literature mean that this particular narrative isn’t new to me;

  2. I’ve come of age in an era of self-help and inspirational books, and thus the allegory here feels stale;

  3. As a feminist, I’m bothered by the portrayal of women in this book

I’ll break things down point by point.

First, I will say that this is a beautifully written and beautifully translated book. In terms of the craft of writing and the craft of translation, it’s excellent. While I respect the craft, though, the story felt stale to me. But I have a B.A. in English Literature, an M.A. in English Literature, and an M.F.A. in Creative Writing. I have spent 13 years of my life immersed in the study of literature and writing. And that means reading a lot of novels. Even though my M.F.A. was in poetry, I still had to undertake extensive coursework on prose narratives. I have read a lot of stories about young men on personal quests for realization. The Alchemist is the perfect embodiment of Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Honestly, I have to admire Coelho for what a spot-on job he did of hitting all the points of this trope. As someone who has read a lot of novels in her life, though, I’ve seen the Hero’s Journey dozens of times. Too many times. I’ve read of enough Hero’s Journeys to easily recognize the trope, and not find it particularly engaging. That’s no fault of the book. I’ve just seen this type of story too often to really respond to The Alchemist. Especially because, through my formal education studying canonical literature, so much of my reading focused on men. I honestly don’t need another story about a man on quest in my life.

As for point 2, The Alchemist is fundamentally concerned with realizing one’s Personal Legend, which in yoga would be dharma, or life’s purpose. Self-help books have existed for a long time. In fact, I’ve heard many teachers talk about how Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras constitute the first self-help book. Still, the self-help genre has primarily been nonfiction, and I can see how a novel directly invoking self-help rhetoric and encouraging people to find their purpose was probably quite inspiring and interesting at the time. But now I live in a world where there seems to be more self-help writing than ever, and quite honestly, the yoga world is definitely quick to espouse and promote much of it. So none of the underlying philosophy of The Alchemist seems like something new. I really have heard it all before… probably because so many teachers I’ve worked with have read this book! I’ve gotten the message of it so many times that the original text unfortunately falls flat. Honestly, I think if I read this 20 years ago ,I’d have loved it. I’ve just learned enough in the last 20 years that The Alchemist isn’t teaching me anything new.

Which brings me, finally, to the treatment of women. In The Alchemist, women do not go on adventures. They’re poor fortune tellers. They’re shopkeeper’s daughters. Or they’re women of the desert who stay home waiting for their beloved men to return from the adventures they absolutely must go on in order to realize their Personal Legends. The most developed woman in the novel, Fatima, repeatedly espouses that because she is a Woman of the Desert, she is happy to stay behind while Santiago goes off to discover himself.

I’m a desert woman, and I’m proud of that. I want my husband to wander as free as the wind that shapes the dunes. And, if I have to, I will accept the fact that he has become a part of the clouds, and the animals, and the water of the desert. (102)

I’m not opposed to Santiago, or any other man, wandering free. What I’m quite frankly pissed about is a novel in which men get to do this while women stay behind, and while women are all portrayed as being proud to stay behind. As I mentioned above, I didn’t really need another novel about a young man trying to find himself. I definitely did not need a novel in which women proclaim that it is their mission in life to stay behind and wait. This part of the book honestly made me angry, and even though I finished this last week, I am still angry!

I can see why this book is beloved. Most of the reasons I don’t like it have to do with things independent of the book itself. That being said, I’ll be looking forward to the Yogi Misfits discussion, and I really hope that someone brings up the gender issue.

Financial Transparency in My Teaching Practice

In his intro to this weeks Yoga Talk’s Podcast (by the way, this is officially one of my top five favorite episodes, so please do check it out!), J. Brown puts out a call asking for yoga teachers to be transparent about their income. I’ve decided to take him up on that.


I started teaching in mid-March of 2017, so I’ve been teaching just under two years. I’m still a novice. I want to make that clear from the get-go because I think it’s important readers know that I haven’t been at this very long.

In addition, I honestly didn’t really put a lot of effort into teaching as a business for the first year and a half. Teaching? Yes. Business? Not so much. I had a regular studio gig teaching 1-2 classes a week depending on demand, and that was fine. I work a full-time job, so I’m not (currently) trying to make a serious income off of yoga. (Nor will I be anytime soon!) I didn’t really start taking the business side of things seriously until July of 2018. So when you see my 2018 numbers, keep in mind that for the first seven months of the year, I honestly gave no thought to treating my teaching like a business.

I teach in Austin, Texas. There’s a pretty big yoga community here, but I’ve been here nearly a dozen years, and in that time I’ve seen the culture move toward a heavy emphasis on asana, particular the power and hot varieties. I’m not saying that’s the only thing here; there are definitely teachers and studios that emphasize a broader focus. From my perspective, though, this is currently an asana-heavy community. As someone specializing in yoga nidra, I’m not exactly part of the trend. I’m also okay with that, because I’m teaching what I love. I’m happy with what and how I teach. And since I don’t rely on yoga to pay my bills, I don’t need to worry about that.

My 2018 Financials


I made $2700 as an independent contractor working out of a studio in Austin, Texas. I worked there from January-October of 2018.

At this studio, I got paid $20 a class. Classes were 60, 75, or 90 minutes long; I got the same hourly rate no matter the duration of the class. In addition, we were required to be at the front desk 30 minutes before class and stay 30 minutes after. That means that when I taught a 60-minute class, I was on the clock for 2 hours; a 75-minute class meant I was on the clock for 2.25 hours; a 90-minute class meant I was on the clock for 2.5 hours. At best, I that meant I was making $10 an hour; at worst, I was making $8 an hour, just $0.75 above minimum wage.

In December, I launched my Luna Nidra Online Advent Calendar. I ran it for free on my website for the month of December, and also made it available for purchase, for those who wanted to have the practices to keep. I sold one copy of the album for $8.00 when it was on sale; I also sold one copy of my Winter Solstice Nidra single for $0.99.


From My Business Account

In October of 2018, I joined Soma Vida, a collaborative workspace in South Austin. I pay a monthly membership fee there, and also rent space by the hour. Soma Vida has yoga/movement studios, office space, and a podcasting studio. In 2018, I rented the podcasting studio several times to do the recordings for the advent calendar. Between my monthly membership and recording rentals, I spent $336.50.

I spent $69 to CDBaby to have the Advent Calendar available on multiple platforms, including Amazon and iTunes.

I spent $28.00 on Facebook marketing. While I definitely got some traction on it, I don’t think I want to spend that much next year.

I also spent $139 on print marketing around town, which unfortunately did not really seem to pay off.

From My Personal Account

Because I could not afford to pay everything from my business account, I spent from my personal account as well.

I spent $25 to set up my DBA.

I spent $20 to register my website domain.

I paid $216 to Squarespace for website hosting.

I spent $200 to advertise in Natural Awakenings. This came out of my personal account, not my business account.

I spent $65 on business cards.

I spent $105.48 on recording equipment on eBay.

My Yoga Studies

As a yoga teacher, I think that continued study should fall under the category of a business expense. This section details what I spent to study in 2018.

$921 on studio membership to practice with my two favorite local teachers.

$55 on drop-in classes.

I spent $1,211.56 to attend Hanuman Festival in June. (Festival fees, lodging, flights, incidentals)

I spent $1,152.78 to attend a teacher training in October. (Tuition, lodging, flights, incidentals)


In total, I made $2,709 in 2018.

I spent $572.50 on business operations from my business account.

I spent $631.48 on business operations from my personal account.

In total, I spent $1,203.98 just on my business, meaning that if you look only at operational expenses, I actually made a profit of $1,505.02.

However, that doesn’t account for what I spent on studying yoga. I spent a total of $3,340.34 to study both in-town and in Colorado. When you factor in study, I’m in the hole -$1,835.32.

Long-Term Goals

Do I want to make my entire living off of teaching yoga? Part of me says yet. But part of me resists. Being able to teach without relying on said teaching to make rent and buy groceries gives me a lot of freedom. I can teach what I want, where I want, when I want, without having to worry about how many students show up to class.

For now, I would like for my teaching business to simply break even. I don’t want my teaching to be an expensive hobby. And right now, I have a hobby.

While it’s important for me to be mindful of my personal budget, I don’t want to have to worry about making serious sacrifices to support my teaching practice. I want to have a self-sustaining business. And I would like that business to support my personal practice, meaning I want income from my business to cover the costs of retreats, festivals, trainings, and other opportunities for yoga study and fellowship.

Because I no longer have a baseline income from a studio and am 100% solo, I expect that 2019 is going to look quite different from 2018. But we’re only in February. Time will tell. I’ll be sure to report back next year.

12 Ways My Practice Helps Me With Writer's Block

I would be surprised to meet even a single writer who had never struggled with a creative block. We find ourselves blocked for any number of reasons. One of the biggest ones people struggle with is balancing their creativity with the rest of their lives. When you’re tired from your day job and/or taking care of your family, sometimes, it feels like there’s no energy left for your writing. Others report that struggles with self-confidence hold them back from diving into their projects. Physical and mental health issues can also take a toll on your creativity. And of course, there’s the classic burnout. I’ve been struggling with that since finishing my MFA in May.

Fortunately, I have my yoga practice, which helps me weather all the difficulties of life, including creative blocks. Below are the 12 ways my practice sustains me when my creativity feels depleted.

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My 2019 Teaching Plan

While listening to an episode of the Yogaland podcast a few months ago, I got inspired to try writing a teaching curriculum for the entire year of 2019. Yes, I’m trying a long-term teaching plan in addition to a long-term practice plan. Since these are both big undertakings, they deserve their own posts. Here’s the first look at what I plan to teach in the new year.

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Give yourself the gift of self-care this December

I’ve never outgrown my love of Advent calendars. Although my family observed secular Christmas, the act of opening a tiny door every day and finding a new surprise never ceased to delight me. My favorite Advent calendar was one we used for years during my childhood. Behind each door was a tiny ornament, which we placed on a miniature tree situated between my bedroom and my sister’s bedroom. This pre-bedtime holiday ritual remains a cherished memory.

As an adult, I’ve come to love the creative ways people have used Advent calendars to incorporate creativity, self-care, charity, and connection into the holiday season. One of my favorites is the Two Sylvias Press Poetry Prompt Advent Calendar. If you’re a poet, definitely check this one out!

A few weeks ago, I got a sudden flash of inspiration: to create a yoga nidra Advent calendar to help people foster a sense of relaxation and stress relief during a busy time of year. Even those who are not religious frequently feel stressed out in the hustle and bustle of the holidays. It seems all but impossible to avoid getting caught up in the hectic nature of December. Plus, with the weather turning to winter, it’s easy to feel blue.

My offering to you this December is 24 nidra practices. I’ll send a new practice to your inbox each day. You don’t need to pay anything, you don’t need stretchy pants, and you don’t need to be flexible. You just need an email account to receive the audio practices.

To sign up, check out the mini-retreats page of my website. Again, this is a no-cost program. I know how hard it can be to justify giving yourself a break in December. But in a time when we’re giving to charity, giving to family, and giving to our jobs, we also need to remember to give to ourselves. Make this your free gift to yourself.

Fall in love with your writing all over again

In the months following graduation from my MFA program, my writing hit a lull. I had no motivation to create. I knew this was a fairly normal phenomenon. After all, after three years of intense focus on my poetry, I needed a break. I needed to let my creative center lie fallow for a while. I needed to explore other projects.

Yet at the same time, I was worried. There are plenty of stories out there about writers who completed an MFA but never wrote anything else again after graduation. And I feared that was happening to me.

What got me through? A few things. The writings of Natalie Goldberg, who always reminds me how to cultivate my creative spirit. The work of Tommy Pico, which made me want to write again. And, ultimately, my yoga practice.

Showing up on my mat gave me structure. Meditation and mindful movement allowed me to connect body, mind, and creativity. The chance to practice yoga nidra, to make time for deep rest, helped me heal from my unhappy MFA experience.

Now I want to bring the tools of yoga nidra to you and your writing practice. Please join me on January 26th in Austin, Texas, for a two-hour mini retreat. This event is open to all writers of any genre. No yoga experience required. Come as you are; you don’t even need stretchy pants. After a gentle movement practice and freewriting, we’ll delve deep into guided relaxation, and then have space to work on our projects.

I’m offering 20% off on registration through the month of November. Please check out the detail on the Mini-Retreats page of my website. I look forward to helping you expand your creativity and fulfill your literary ambitions.

Happy Free Day of Yoga!

Free Day of Yoga is one of my most favorite things about living in Austin. No matter how much the city has changed over the past decade, this mainstay of our city is still going strong. 2017 was my first year participating in Free Day of Yoga as a teacher, and it was such an honor to give people a chance to try some free classes.

This year, I'm looking forward to trying out the yoga nidra class at Be Well Austin. I'm hoping to check out an early morning class somewhere new as well. I always enjoy the opportunity to visit new spaces and meet new teachers. Meanwhile, I'll be teaching the 6:15 restorative class at Modo Yoga Austin, so come on down if you want some free relaxation!

This year, in honor of Free Day of Yoga, I'm offering my first free download on this site. My goal is to bring you a new free offering every quarter to help sustain your practice. This first offering is a PDF of 100 sankalpa examples. While a sankalpa is ideally something you make up for yourself, I remember that back when I was first practicing, I struggled to come up with my own sankalpa. Feel free to use this guide to help guide your personal practice. To access the guide, visit the Free Downloads page of my website.

Finally, everyone who signs up for my email list by 11:59 p.m. on Monday, September 3rd will be entered in a drawing to receive a customized, 15-minute yoga nidra practice. Visit the contact page of my website to sign up and be entered! 

(Thumbnail Credit: Free Day of Yoga Austin)


Honoring Teachers: Or, Why I'm Serving Double-Stuf Oreos at my Workshop

As I mentioned in the event description for my Equinox Equilibrium workshop, I’ll be serving Double-Stuf Oreos at the end of the class. I picked up the practice from a teacher of mine, and I’ve kept it up in my ACC classroom teaching now that I’m an adult. Since I’m teaching this special class on the equinox, it seems appropriate to bring that ritual into my yoga teaching as well.

When registering for my first high school classes, I was admittedly not all that excited about taking World Geography. Although as an adult I’ve developed an interest in geography and world cultures, at the start of 9th grade, I wasn’t as keen. I just wanted to take art classes.

Although I started the semester with low expectations, my attitude change quickly when I first walked into Mrs. Albee’s geography classroom. First, I was amazed at how her handbag, skirt, and shoes all matched. I was further amazed that her skirt, shoes, and handbag always matched. And they weren’t simple neutral colors, either. Mrs. Albee had a flair for bright colors and floral prints, and her outfits were always impeccable. While I never picked up her fashion sense, I remember the delight of a magenta skirt on a dull November day.

Mrs. Albee also put gold stars on our tests when we got As. She believed that high schoolers still deserved to have the fun signifiers of achievement we’d grown used to in elementary school. And while she certainly had bad days, I never recall her being in a bad mood, or taking her troubles out on students. Even people who were disruptive, even bullies, she handled with good-natured humor. She had an incredible ability to get a class on track, even after disruption. She had a seemingly unflappable sense of composure. I am continually inspired by my memory of her classroom presence.

But I think what I (and all of her students) remember most was her habit of bringing Double-Stuf Oreos to school on the equinox. She loved to observe the day that was equal parts light and dark. And what made the day extra special was that Mrs. Albee always had enough not just for her current students, but for older students no longer enrolled in her classes. As long as you were still enrolled at Hudson High School, you could come by her class on the equinox, and she’d hand you a Double-Stuff Oreo. Sometimes two. It was a small thing, and yet I’ve never forgotten it. Not in the several decades since leaving school.

So I bring the Double-Stuf Oreo ritual into my teaching for several reasons. First, it’s fun. Second, it’s a way to honor a teacher who had a profound effect on my life. A teacher who helped me become more invested in the world beyond my immediate town. A teacher whose classroom presence always displayed humor, strength, and compassion. A teacher who set a high bar, a strong example, and someone who I try to emulate whether I’m teaching technical writing, yoga, or poetry.

Equinox Equilibrium registration is now open. Click here to sign up!

How I Found Yoga Nidra

“Now we’re going to practice something called yoga nidra,” the teacher said 60 minutes into the 90-minute hot flow class. I didn’t know what yoga nidra was, but it definitely wasn’t part of the hot flow format, and from the very first second, I was completely and utterly resistant. I hadn’t come to this class to lie on my back and relax. I’d come to spend 90 minutes working hard and sweating. Instead, I was being asked to settle on my back, set an intention, and do a body scan. This was not part of what I’d planned on, and I decided from the first minute that I did not like this practice. Not one bit. I was never going to try it again.


But to paraphrase poet Joy Harjo, once you say never, you’ve pretty much guaranteed that the thing you never think will happen, never want to have happen, will definitely happen. And so it was a few months later, seeking help for insomnia, I downloaded the Insight Timer app and pulled up “Yoga Nidra for Sleep.” Sure, 30 minutes of nidra wasn’t what I wanted in my hot flow class. But I could lie down for 20 minutes in hopes that this would help me get better rest.

From there, I began to explore the other free yoga nidra practices available on Insight Timer. Then, when I began my Level 1 ParaYoga certification, I found that yoga nidra played a role in the curriculum, and my teacher, Rod Stryker, taught me approaches to nidra that I hadn’t encountered before. I moved away from just using yoga nidra as a way to manage insomnia, and made it part of my overall yoga practice. I’d gone from being completely resistant to completely in love.

Even as I was becoming enamored with yoga nidra, though, I never thought this would be the aspect of practice that I’d want to make my specialty. Yet as I’ve studied yoga nidra in more depth, and gotten more established in my own practice, I’ve become more committed to helping other people experience those benefits as well. I still love an intense, vigorous, physically demanding practice. But I’m also the type of person who tends to get too busy, work too hard, and need to slow down. Yoga nidra is how I finally learned to slow down and pay attention. And in a world where so many of us leave active lives with dozens of demands on our time, I think my role as a yoga teacher is to help people find the value in lying down, relaxing, and turning inward. I look forward to this new path my teaching is going. I hope to see you along the way.

Image copyright © Jennifer Piercy, Sacred Sleep Yoga