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My resolution for 2015 went way better than expected. It may have resulted in me neglecting my blog, but, I DID IT! I followed through on my vow to choose reading over Netflix. I’m a much better person for it, and plan to continue in 2016. 

For my fellow bibliophiles, here’s what I read:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy: Not an uplifting start to the year, but tremendous writing. 

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See: Excellent historical novel. Friendship is complicated, isn’t it?

Hunger Games trilogy: I’ve never read Harry Potter, and was skeptical of being taken in by some lame pop-culture phenomenon, but I really enjoyed this during a very long snowstorm.

The Fault in Our Stars: Bring your hanky. John Greene perfectly captures the tumultuous emotions of young love in this heart-breaking work of art.

Disturbing the Peace by Richard Yates: An intricate look into the rapidly decaying mind of a man perusing the “American Dream”. Riveting and disturbing, indeed.

Gone Girl: HATED IT. Hated all the characters; it was too long; cemented my distain for Ben Affleck forevermore.

NOS48TU by Joe Hill: Wow. Excellent storytelling. This is a spell-binding trip down the horror genre for those who dare.

The Martian: Great read! I was so excited to learn Ridley Scott had made this into a film, and was not disappointed by Matt Damon’s portrayal of the beloved Mark Watney at all.

Heart-Shaped Box (Joe Hill again): Another riveting tale from the son of Stephen King. I hear they are making this into a movie? He generally features very strong main characters (who he proceeds to put through absolute hell), creative story lines, and fast-paced action.

Finders Keepers (Stephen King): Interesting read from the King of Horror. I was not surprised to learn this was actually the second in a trilogy, but it held its own as an independent story.

World War Z: excellent read, nothing like the movie. Rather, a scientific post-mortem review of how the zombie apocalypse went down, as told by various worldwide players.

Tried and failed: The Manual of Detection (okay, kind of noir, but the storyline failed to pick up enough steam to hold my interest). Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance (I will get to this one day).

I started the new year by buying “All the Light We Cannot See”. This was an amazing book. Storytelling at its best. I highly recommend it.

And now, on to the next book!

I haven’t posted in a while because I’ve been sort of burnt out.  I’m teaching three yoga classes a week, which is awesome, but there for a while, I was a little yoga’d out.  If I saw one more cheerful Kathryn Budig post on my newsfeed, I was going to barf. If I read one more kitchy list or crunchy essay on Doyouyoga or Yogananmous, I was going to sell my yoga mat and sign up for CrossFit. (Just kidding.  The CrossFit-ters would sniff out my Type B personality in seconds and put me in a protein shake.)

So. I’ve been sort of lying low. Keeping my social media consumption to a minimum. Reading a lot of non-yoga related books. Back at the gym, I’m running more, and even lifting weights. I had to diversify there for a minute.

 I’ve streamlined my classes so the “three classes a week” is not so overwhelming. Since my students range so widely (from the “I have an unlimited pass at the local studio” to “this is my first yoga class”, plus an array of injuries and levels of interest), I was trying to tailor each class to each group. THAT WAS FRIGGIN’ EXHAUSTING! Finally, I gave up and decided upon a MUCH simpler approach: Each week, I pick a theme.  Last week was backbends. This week is hip openers.  I write a skeleton of a class, and then tailor the class to the group. As it’s happening!! (That last part is really sort of scary for me!)

This is taking a LOT of improvisation. Many moons ago, when I studied acting, I loved improv. I wasn’t particularly good at it (read: I wasn’t all that funny), but I wasn’t the person who got tagged in and the rest of the class silently thought, “Oh, God no.” 

When I first started teaching yoga, improv was definitely one of my weaknesses. I wrote a class; I taught that class. I didn’t have enough experience, or confidence, to stray far from my trusty page. Not surprisingly, when I first started, some of my classes were total flops. I would see that some of the students weren’t able to keep pace, and I just panicked. I offered modifications, or props, or adjustments. Going completely off script was simply too terrifying to even contemplate.

Over time, and with experience, I’ve been able to – HAD to, at times – more or less scrap the class I walked in with and, instead, teach a class that my students needed. This little exercise, the themed week of classes, has really strengthened my teaching skills. It takes some time, as you’ve got to develop a well of alternative routes (as well as transitions! That can be a real bitch on the fly!), but it can be done.

As scary as it can be, I’d suggest that new teachers (who share my fear of having NO PLAN) try the skeleton approach. Workshop several different ways the class can go. Be ready to break it down – waaaaay down – or help students into wheel or headstand if that’s the direction the class takes and that is what your students NEED.

Be prepared to be scared as shit. And fumble a little. And screw up some cues. And maybe have a real stinker of a class now and then (if you learn from it, it’s not a total waste). Try to stay receptive and aware, and one of these days, you’re gonna surprise the hell out of yourself. 

Alright, Kathryn Budig and Kino MacGregor, I “unhide” you. I’m coming out of yoga hibernation. (Hally Marlino, you and your beer and cheese and balls-to-the-wall yoga, you were never gone!) 

Mainly I mean taxes and yoga. I’ve been spending the last month trying to get everything ready to go for tax season.

This is not going to be exciting, but if you’re a yoga teacher (especially a new one, especially if you made over $600 teaching last year), listen up:

1) Get thee to an accountant. A good one. Get references from friends or your studio owner. Go talk to them. Do you like them? Do you TRUST them? No lie, accountants can be strange folk, especially if you’re coming from the bendy, breath-y world of yoga. You know who’s even harder to understand? The IRS guy who comes to audit you if your taxes are all screwed up.

2) Document the hell out of everything. Start a folder, or an envelope. Keep every yoga-related receipt you get. Buy a new mat? Keep the receipt. Travel to a training? Keep the damn receipt. For everything. If you’re a hella-nerd like me, start a spreadsheet. Mmmm, nerdy goodness right there.

3) Know your write-offs. Um, can I expense mileage when I go to teach a contract class (2014 federal mileage rate was $0.56/mile)? Yep! How about those blocks I bought for my students? Indeed! Talk to your accountant. Ask everything you can think of. Then ask more.

4) Be organized and prepared. Don’t walk into the accountant’s office with a fistful of receipts and a smile. Catalog it, organize it, whatever works for you. Make their job easier.

5) Don’t get ripped off!!! It can actually be cheaper to go to an accountant than to try to suffer through Turbotax or spend all that time trying to figure out what in the fresh hell Schedule C WANTS from you. Shop around. Find a good price.

An IRS audit is a world of pain. We may not all know this from personal experience, but we deeply suspect it from a primal place in our brains. Keep an eye out for those 1099s and get ready, yogis. Find your accountant and give them a hug. It will freak them the hell out.

Namaste,
SY

I had a great New Year’s post! It was clever and even had some photos! I spent a long time working on it. Guess what? I didn’t finish it. Then it was New Year’s and now New Year’s is over and the post is irrelevant.

So now I’m back. I don’t have anything earth shattering to talk about or share. But I’m tired of my procrastinating, perfectionist ways so I’M POSTING ANYWAY, DAMMIT.

Ahem.

Okay, I lied. I do have three things to share. None of them really have anything to do with the other, but nonetheless:

1) I found the best natural deodorant in the world!! This also had its own post, long unfinished, of course, but you don’t need the backstory! It’s a standalone, awesome thing! Suffice it to say, I tried many, many, brands of natural deoderant. Some of them were better than others. Some of them, at the end of the day, would leave you with lavender-scented BO. Mostly, they just leave you with BO, the main difference being if the BO started at 11 AM or 3 PM. I hate being smelly! As an active person, I needed something that could keep up. And everything I tried fell on its sweaty, smelly face. Until Truly’s.

*cue herald of angels singing

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This stuff! This stuff works! Yeah, it’s weird smearing the stuff on you or armpits at first, but you get over it. Find it here. Do it now.

2) Infrared yoga class. I tried this tonight for the first time. I was a little dubious, I will admit. There are a number of very crunchy health claims about the power of this heat (clean heat, detoxifies you, fountain of youth, yadda yadda). I can attest to this: it rules. If you’ve ever taken a traditional hot yoga class, this is very similar but without all the smells and the humidity. If you have access, get on that ish.

3) Frankincense oil. I got this stuff in my little essential oil starter kit. I read that it was great to use on your face. Anti-aging and all that miracle stuff. I thought, “If it’s good enough for baby Jesus, it’s good enough for me!” And oh, my. I got hooked on the stuff. I slathered it on every night. It smells a little funny, but I got right over that.

One day, I went to tip my little bottle and lo! It was empty! I skipped to the website to reorder it, and nearly shat myself.

It was a heart-stopping $75!! For a tiny, little 0.5 oz bottle!!

Before I go any further, let me tell you: there are oily purists out there and I am not trying to discredit them. I do agree that higher-quality oils are a better product. However, for $75 for a 0.5 oz bottle, you’d have to convince me that this product was being sourced from infant tears on the lip of an erupting volcano in deep Nicaragua. (Then I’d say, “What! Who would do that to an infant?! Away, you deviant!!” Of course. Also, $75 is STILL too much for that stuff.)

So I found an off-brand. Something that’s mixed with jojoba oil. And guess what? (Cover your eyes, oil purists!)

It’s rad. And for a whopping $4.99 for a bottle, it doesn’t hurt my feelings.

That’s it! That’s all I got! Happy New Year from this ace procrastinator!

Tonight I could be found on my living room floor, hair slicked back to my head in dye (from a box, I’m not proud), rummaging wildly though the cutesy storage boxes I’ve had for years but never bother to go through.

I was on a savage hunt. For a recipe. Not just any recipe, mind you, but THE recipe. My cousin Marco’s meatball recipe.

It might seem strange that a vegetarian would be wildly scouring her apartment for a meatball recipe. It IS strange, but this holiday season has been different. I’m usually more of a “meh, humbug” kind of gal when it comes to Christmas, but this year I let myself get swept up by the season. It’s been pretty fun. The boyfriend and I put up a tree. We hung stockings. We chased each other around with various annoying Christmas melodies (his weapon of choice was Aaron Neville; I preferred “Dominic the Donkey”).

One of the by-products of “Christmas cheer” for me has been Christmas nostalgia. Not melancholy, really, just thinking back to the times and people that made holidays in the past memorable. Mostly the people.

Aforementioned cousin Marco loved the holidays. Easter was his favorite, but in the weeks leading up to Christmas, he’d embark upon a baking and cooking frenzy. Every recipe had a story, and I spent countless hours with him in the kitchen – his “helper” (I use the term loosely as my cooking skills were still in their nascency). Basically, I’d pour the wine, measure out spices, try not to break the eggs, and made sure his Whitney Houston remixes kept going. And of course, listen to the stories.

So this Christmas, as I wrapped gifts and hung ornaments and tried to decide which cookies to make, my thoughts turned to Marco. He crossed over to the Big Disco in the Sky several years ago. I imagine him debating recipes with Julia Child (and cursing her in Italian when they disagree), and sliding, always so gracefully, across a flashing dance floor with Cher thumping through the heavenly speakers.

I digress.

While rummaging through my old files and boxes for THE recipe, I stumbled upon an assortment of artifacts from my own life. Forgotten maps, old love letters, things I had picked up in my various travels and on long-ago adventures. Cards from my parents. Maps of Iceland. An empty tin of Italian cigarettes. The photos of William S. Burroughs and Tom Waits I had hanging in my college dorm room. And the journals. Every trip I’ve ever taken has been carefully documented. Napkins and train ticket stubs are taped to pages filled with the stories of my life.

I didn’t find the damn recipe.

I did find myself overcome with gratitude. It’s easy to get caught up in the daily ebbs and flows of life and forget the bigger picture. The people, and places, and experiences that have shaped us into who we are. The people…

I like to think that celestial Marco led me on this little goose chase for the meatballs. He led an interesting, robust life. Telling me those stories in his kitchen in Manhattan made me realize I wanted fascinating stories to tell, one day. And now I do.

Happy holidays, everyone! Don’t forget to tell the people you love that you love them. Don’t forget to appreciate all the stillness, or the wildness, that has shaped you. Don’t forget to remember your own story. I bet it’s a good one.

Love,
SY

I haven’t had a lot of time lately to write! I’ve been working two part-time jobs in addition to my very full-time job. Luckily, things have started to quiet down a bit. I’ve been feeling very impatient. With a schedule that was stretched so thin, I started to get snippy.

I didn’t have time to get on my yoga mat as much. I didn’t have time to write. I didn’t have TIME. But you know what? That’s some BS right there.

I had time. I was trading it for US currency. What little free time I had left over after work and teaching yoga, I decided to farm out to a part-time retail gig. The job itself was not awesome, but I met some great people there. At the end of the day, though, I was exhausted. I wasn’t hitting the mat enough. Yoga keeps me sane. I wasn’t writing at all. I enjoy writing.

Finally, the other week, I decided that it wasn’t worth it. The extra dollars in my pocket were not enough compensation for what I was ultimately losing. The Universe, call it what you will, usually knows exactly what you need. It tells you in subtle ways, at first. If you’re bullheaded like me, it takes some considerable knocking to get the message across. I wore myself out. Like a damned fool.

As soon as I decided to “retire” from my third job, I got an offer to teach another yoga class. Then another. I will be still doing the side hustle (the one I love), but it will be muuuuuuch easier on my schedule. Funny how, when I made a little room in my life, Awesome slipped right in.

On another note, the whole “time” thing is especially poignant for me tonight. A friend of mine – a hilarious, snarky, sweet man – is in the final stages of cancer. He is far too young, too bright of a spark, to be dimmed so early. As I sent thoughts and prayers up to his husband and family tonight, I thought a lot about time.

For me, these events have lined up in such a way that I will really give thought to my “time” in a different way now. It was a lesson I’ve needed to learned (knowing my bullheadedness, I may well have to learn again down the road).

Now that I have had a refresher on “time”, I plan to post more regularly. Weird stuff. Deoderant. Recipes. Essential oils. Yoga sequences. Guys, I’ve been gone a while. We’ve got lots of catching up to do.

Namaste,
SY

When I don’t post for a while, it’s always because there’s been some shakeup in my personal life. My attention has been drawn elsewhere. These past few days, as I’ve been hanging pictures and sorting things in my new apartment, I’ve been plagued by the nagging feeling that I’ve forgotten something. Something important.

Plunger? No, I bought a plunger.

My ridiculous Ganesh bedspread? No, I saw that in a box somewhere…

Oh! It’s this! This writing thing I sometimes do! This thing that, besides yoga and my family, has been the only constant in my life over the past 15 years!

I’ve been hustling, working three jobs, so what little free time I do have has become very precious to me. I’ve been trying to build a life here in these hills of West Virginia, in an environment that is simultaneously completely foreign and the closest thing I’ve ever known to home. See, while I was a big, bad New Yorker for thirteen years, I grew up here in Appalachia. My family moved from Western New York to Eastern Kentucky when I was about ten. Uprooted from everything I’d ever known, the landscape (the rolling hills, the dips and valleys they called “hollers”), the climate (coming from the Snow Belt, the heat was oppressive until it became a old friend), the people (intensely guarded yet polite, until they took you in as one of their own, at which time they would, unblinkingly, die for you), were so strange and unknowable to me. Until I started to know them.

This was my first real lesson in adapting.

Being faced with something new is always scary. New jobs, new homes, new friends, new love – all are sort of terrifying until you get your bearings. It takes a certain amount of patience before you can navigate it with any confidence. And if you do this enough times, eventually this, too, becomes something of an old friend. This fear eventually propels you, challenges you, and forces you to grow.

I’m not saying that people who have faced minimal change in their lives are somehow less. Being born and raised in the same place, surrounded by the same people, staying there and forging your own foundation, are things I will never know. I imagine it requires a different kind of courage.

But this constant change has made me the person I am. The idea of changing jobs or living spaces sends a certain familiar thrill up my spine now. I know it won’t be easy, and many times it won’t be fun, but I’ve grown to embrace the challenge. Because soon, this, too, will become familiar. Soon, this, too, will become home.

Aluminum foil! That’s what else I’m forgetting!

It’s time for a new adventure.

Two years ago today, I was in India! We were about ten days into our yoga teacher training and our yoga teacher, the incomparable, always smiling Babu, suggested we attempt 108 sun salutations as a way of celebrating the summer solstice. As we were practicing classical suriya namaskar (in which one round is actually comprised of TWO salutes, one leading with a right leg lunge and the next with a left leg lunge), we only made it through 54 rounds. Technically, we DID complete 108 salutations, but at the time it felt like a failure to me. Even though, at the end of the 54 salutations, we were all sweaty, some were shaky, and some had given up alltogether.

It’s not about completing 108 Sun Salutations, I realized this winter as I sweated and trembled through 108 sets of suriya namaskar (A! I have yet to attempt classical!) on a yoga mat far, far away from India and my wonderful teacher. It’s not some kind of physical challenge, some kind of “Yoga Achievement – Unlocked!”. Seeing something through to completion is important, no question. But this exercise is about something more than that. It’s about devotion. It’s about surrender. It’s about finding humility. Bowing down one hundred and eight times, no matter what your personal beliefs are, you can’t help but get deep, man. What or who are you bowing to? Why are you on that mat? Why prostrate yourself one hundred and eight times?

Maybe it is just a physical challenge for some. For me, it’s become a crucial ritual in my personal yoga practice. It’s a chance twice a year to get humble, experience gratitude deeply, pray for peace, and set intentions for the next six months. One hundred and eight times.

Happy Solstice to one and all!

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I started puttering around with DIY beauty one winter a few years ago when my dry skin had me burning through tubes of Eucerin cream every few weeks. It was getting pricey and I was becoming more conscious of what I put into (and on to) my body. Economics and curiosity combined to encourage me to explore alternatives.

My initial experiments yielded heavy, gritty, funky-smelling “body butters”. I have since played with a variety of ingredients. My favorite and most successful combination is a Shea butter/coconut oil/jojoba oil blend. I use 1:1 Shea and coconut oil, and a healthy squeeze or two of jojoba oil. Since natural Shea butter has an earthy, nutty smell that I’m not too keen about, I add 10 – 20 drops of my favorite essential oils.

The trick, for me, has been whipping the butter blend with a handheld mixer. After blending it on medium speed for a few minutes, the mixture starts to take on a light, fluffy consistency. As long as it’s stored somewhere cool, the fluffiness lasts and lasts!

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It also depends on the quality of ingredients. Right now I’m using Mountain Rose Herbs, and I’m pretty happy with the products.
I found a recipe for DIY deodorant not too long ago! I may give that a whirl one of these days soon.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

I’ve seen the spinners at the gym. They’re the ones lined up a half hour before class starts, clutching two water bottles and a towel. They stand there patiently, shifting their water bottles from hand to hand, making quiet conversation. When the instructor arrives, they file into the room and proceed to pedal furiously on stationery bikes for the next 45 minutes while a slim young lady yells at them. LIKE A BUNCH OF LUNATICS.

Seriously, who does that?

Apparently, I do.

I recently joined the bike club here. In an effort to not embarrass myself on the first ride, I decided to try some spinning classes. While it’s not the same as riding my bike, it would at least get my leg muscles ready and add some much-needed cardio to my workout regimen.

It began easily enough. I shoved my feet into the pedal cages and tried a tentative revolution. Obediently, the beast sprang to life, whizzing the one non-fixed wheel with a satisfying mechanical purr. A knob at the base of the handle bars set the degree of difficulty.

The instructor, a perky brunette, cued up her music and climbed on her bike. “Hey guys, are we READY?” she yelled as a Lady Gaga song came crashing through the speakers at maximum volume. My fellow spinners whooped enthusiastically. I smiled nervously, wondering what kind of exercise class encourages battle cries prior to commencing. The instructor yelled out unintelligibly over Gaga. I caught snippets of what sounded like instructions, possibly important ones: “…then you…three positions….water…use your CORE…and then…stand UP…okay?”

“Okay!” we yelled back. I realized then I had passed the Point of No Return. There was no way of getting out of the class now without faking some kind of illness or injury. I hunkered down and grabbed the handle bars. “LET’S GO!” the teacher yelled.

We began spinning furiously. The first couple of minutes weren’t too bad, honestly. I spun happily along for the rest of the Lady Gaga tune. “HA! Who brings two water bottles to THIS kind of class?” I thought with very premature cockiness.

“Alright gang,” the instructor called out, “turn that knob a quarter up!” A quarter turn? No problem! I obliged, noting the slight increase in resistance. “Oh no! We’re hitting some wind!” she hollered, “Half turn up!” Some wind, you say? I laugh at you, wind! I cranked it up by a half turn. “Keep going,” she encouraged, “until it feels like you’re biking through wet sand!” The wet sand part was when I felt the smile evaporate from my face. My heart started to pound loudly and beads of sweat were forming on my forehead. I glanced down at my watch: Ten minutes had passed. TEN MINUTES ONLY.

“Keep it up, guys!” yelled the teacher. “Quarter up!” Again I complied, my thighs burning in protest.

“QUARTER UP!” the teacher screeched. “QUARTER UPPPPPP!!”

For the next ten minutes, I heaved my way though varying degrees of difficulty. Sometimes we were standing and pedaling. Other times she had us sitting. There was also this sadistic hybrid called “hovering” – not quite sitting but still, always, pedaling.

About halfway though the class, it dawned on me that no one was monitoring our bikes. WE set the difficulty. The instructor could sit up there yelling instructions at us all day long, but she couldn’t see how hard (or easy!) our bikes were set. Panting, thighs burning, I employed a life-saving technique I’ll call “the Phantom Turn”. When she screamed for us to turn the setting another “quarter up!”, I moved my hand, not the knob. Yes, it’s true, I was only cheating myself but I was okay with this.

By the end of the class, I noticed with a sense of rugged accomplishment that a few drops of sweat had accumulated under my bike. Looking around the room, though, I saw that most people (including and especially the instructor) had veritable pools of sweat under their bikes. I slid off the bike for the cool-down feeling fully humbled – just because I’m a fitness instructor I am by no means Master of the Gym Universe. In fact, if that class taught me anything, it was just how badly I need an ass-kicking cardio workout in my life.

I survived the class. I even felt pretty good afterwards. I still prefer riding an actual bike, outdoors, with no one yelling at me. But I WILL be there tomorrow, two water bottles and a towel in tow, ready to spin.