I’m releasing Connect to Your Creativity on April 11th, and I’m so excited! Read more to get a peek at the journey so far.Read More
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.
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:
My extensive studies in literature mean that this particular narrative isn’t new to me;
I’ve come of age in an era of self-help and inspirational books, and thus the allegory here feels stale;
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.
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.
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.
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.Read More
An overview of January and my plans for the rest of winterRead More
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.Read More
How I’m keeping my inner heat and inspiration alive through the first third of the year.Read More
A look at my personal practice plan in 2019.Read More
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.
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.
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)
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!
Announcing my upcoming autumn equinox event!Read More
“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