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Monday, November 09, 2015

My Report: 99 Yoga Classes

In August 2014 I decided to act upon the advice I'd received from several practitioners and try yoga, like for real. NOT using DVDs I would do until the phone rang or I got sick of it (i.e. ten minutes.) NOT taking a class every five years  But really giving yoga an effort that would allow me to determine if yoga was something I would want to have a part of my life in the future. I decided 100 yoga classes in a year would be truly immersing myself into the practice.

Since today is November 8, and I'm only at 99 classes so I didn't quite hit that goal. But I am ready to sum up my results.

Most of the yoga classes I did were Bikram, which is a hot yoga. The room is heated to 105 degrees and you go through a series of 26 specific poses two times each, holding them for one minute the first time and then 30 seconds the second time with breaks in between some of them. The Bikram classes work every bone, muscle, ligament, tendon, and system of your body. It lasts 90 minutes and at the end I am drenched with sweat--like dripping-from-my-elbows-drenched-with-sweat:

What was hard:

  • My studio is 20 minutes from my house, add a 90 minute class and minimum 30 minutes to get showered and ready after it's done and you're looking at almost 3 hours. You can't NOT shower after a hot yoga class, and the studio I go to is the closest one to my house and furthest north studio in the state of Utah. Working 3 hour blocks of time into my weekly schedule was so hard. Every week it was hard. Never got easier. I set countless goals to do a class 5 times in a week and it never happened. The most I ever did was 4 classes and it required many other things put on hold.
  • I'm not overweight, and I didn't do this simply to try to get "hot" (no pun intended) but I expected that working this hard would drop 10 pounds in a year (maybe 25 :-)). The classes are hard sweaty work--cardio and strength training--so I expected some weight loss as a bonus. I did notice some changes in my body--which I'll put in the "what was good" portion of this post--but I did not lose even five pounds that stayed off through the year. Yes, I may have added muscle, but remember that my pants are still fitting the way they did when I started. And, no, I didn't make significant changes to my diet so that certainly was a factor, but still.
  • From the start I noticed that many of the women who attended the classes were excited to see each other. I hadn't signed up because I wanted to make new friends, but there were days where conversation would swirl around me in the locker room and I felt invisible. There were times I would try to start a conversation and get this look like "Who are you to talk to me?" I don't know if that was because I put off some vibe, or because I was more conservative than most of the other people in the class, or what it was, but I often feel conspicuous at this studio. I didn't see this coming.  
  • There is one particular teacher that I just did not like no matter how hard I tried. I finally started looking up the schedule so I could avoid her classes. This feels like a personal failing on my part that I could not find my groove with her, but I just never did and I wish I could have.
  • I think I had a semi-unconscious expectation that yoga would mellow out all my anxieties and mood spikes, that the practice in and of itself would "fix" certain feelings and emotional overloads. It did help, but it did not turn out to be a magic pill for me. Perhaps because I didn't take on all these other lifestyle aspects of yoga, but regardless the emotional change wasn't as significant as I hoped it would be. 
  • The classes are stressful for me. Stressful to get to, hard for me to focus in, hard for me to enjoy. I loved the accomplishment, but I never got to the point of feeling excited that I was able to go to class. I'm saddest about this "con", because I wanted to love yoga with my whole soul.
  • I never experienced the emotional release that I hear many, many people have with hot yoga. I don't know if this means I'm too uptight or what, but I really thought by the end of my goal I would have those moments of insight and release I've heard a lot about.
  • I have been doing long distance running for about six years, but struggled off and on with back, knee, and arch issues/injuries. I started training in the summer for a fall season race and since I'd been doing yoga for about 8 months I felt pretty confident that I was in good shape and would avoid injury. But I messed up my knee, and my arch, and ended up with six weeks of weekly chiropractor visits to deal with them enough to run my race. I know that yoga isn't a fix-everything, but I was disappointed to still have the injuries when I had felt as though I was working my body in a way that would avoid exactly that. That said, I am getting older and maybe I'm just not meant to be a runner anymore. 
What was awesome:

  • Yoga was absolutely good for my body. Although I didn't lose weight, I have gained flexibility I did not have before. Little aches and pains I often felt in my hips and back have disappeared. I have had a rounding of my upper spine--early kyphosis--that has been remedied to the point I can see the change in my posture and no longer get upper back pain after writing. The tightness in the left side of my neck that kept me from being able to turn my head all the way to right is gone. I've never been flexible, and to anyone else I probably still don't look flexible, but I am more agile than I have ever been in my life. The "work your whole body" aspect of yoga has been great for me and something I absolutely feel in the days after a class. 
  • On the nights I had yoga, I slept better. On nights I didn't have yoga I would still struggle as I have for the last few years. When I cut out artificial sweeteners in September, sleep got even better. I have slept better the last six weeks than I have for years. A good night's sleep is priceless.
  • Prior to these classes I had some intermittent numbness in my hands, not surprising for a writer, but concerning. I would also have my hands swell up from time to time and get pain in my forearms, especially my left. One of the first improvements I noticed was that the achiness went away after just a few classes, and I honestly have not had numbness or tingling even once since starting my practice. Lotus pose works specifically on your arms, elbows, and wrists and I think it made a significant difference for the health of my hands. I hope it will help me to avoid carpal tunnel that afflicts so many other writers I know.
  • I found quickly that the poses I was best at were those that were strength-based, like chair pose and vinyasa. As I continued with yoga I got even stronger and the shape of my body changed. My shoulders are more defined, I can see the outline of my biceps, my waist is a bit smaller and my legs are more defined than they have ever been. If I had lost ten pounds and fit in my pants better I could better appreciate this :-) But I do feel and look stronger than I did in the beginning. 
  • I am a naturally competitive person but yoga is competitive only with yourself. At first it was really hard not watch everyone else in the class and judge myself accordingly, but I learned that every body is different. The guy who can't get his leg up in tree might have an amazing camel. Someone might have a tight spine, but great flexibility in their joints. It was good for me to forgive myself my limitations, take confidence in my strengths, and not feel competitive with the other people in the room. I eventually didn't even feel competitive with myself; if my head-to-knee was better two weeks ago, I was okay because I knew I was doing my best that day. 
  • I feel more gratitude for my body than I have in a long time, even without the weight loss. You watch yourself in the mirror throughout class, which was hard for me at first because I would be so critical. In time, however, I have gained acceptance and gratitude for this body I have and the things I can do with it. Seeing so many other body types in class was also very validating in the realization that taking care of my body isn't only about how it looks, it's how it moves and works and how it will take care of me thirty years from now. 
  • While yoga didn't fix my mood swings, I am definately more emotionally centered. I feel that I better cope with stress than it did, and I learned breathing exercises which help me to physically calm myself when I need calming outside of class. Even though yoga itself is often stressful, I do feel the mental/emotional benefits stay with me long after the class is done. 
  • Other than a couple of classes where I was not hydrated enough and came home trashed, I didn't have anything more than a minor cold for an entire year. I'm not someone who gets sick a lot, but a few times a year I battle strep or some respiratory thing, but I didn't this year. Yoga is said to boost your immunity and I think in my case it did that. 
  • I would often use my savasana (laying on your back with arms at side, palms up) to pray. It was not so formal as most of my prayers and though I didn't have the emotional breakthroughs I had expected, I had some spiritual meditation that I had not expected and which was very sweet to me. I grew closer to my Savior through this meditation and had moments of great peace and relaxation during which I felt wonderful communion with Him.
My final answer:

This was a good experiment for me. I don't think I'll ever be a true "yogi" whose life centers around the practice, but I do plan to take a class every week for the good of my body, my mind, and my spirit. If anyone is interested in trying hot yoga for themselves, I recommend that you plan to take 5 classes before you decide if you want to continue. No exercise is a quick fix, but it took me about this many classes to recognize the benefits in my day to day life. Know that there are all shapes and sizes--some days I felt like the oldest fattest person there, and other days I was the youngest and trimmest, usually I was one of many middle-aged people like myself that aren't going to be on a magazine cover any time soon but are learning to love what they have more than they have in a long time. I also recommend that you read THIS article from O Magazine and check out Luisa Perkins BLOG where she blogged about her 60 classes in 60 days, which is amazing!

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Healthy Lung Month--Heather's Story

I was contacted by Heather Von St. James and agreed to post about her story as part of Healthy Lung Month. Heather isn't the person you think of when you hear about Lung Cancer, she was in her thirties, she had a 3 month old baby and the specific cancer she had Mesothelioma, an aggressive cancer specifically caused by asbestos. It didn't take long to realize where her exposure had come from; Heather's father was a miner, exposed to asbestos he inadvertently brought it home on his jacket which Heather would sometimes play dress up in. The diagnosis was devastating, the treatment was debilitating, but it's now been almost ten years and Heather has found in her struggles a voice she is using to inform people about how to keep their lungs healthy. Not just for situations like hers, but in regular day to day life. I encourage you to read her story in her own words HERE. You can also learn the difference between Mesothelioma and typical lung cancer HERE.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Writing Spaces Series: Writing Rooms

Thank you for joining me for the third and final post in the Writing Spaces Series. I hope you had a chance to read about "Writing Spots" and "Writing Nooks." Now we get to explore some "Writing Rooms" or home offices, or writing studios--whatever you want to call dedicated rooms set aside for writing. 

The proverbial man cave—a spare bedroom in the basement where I can seclude myself from the rest of the world in self-absorbed isolation—provides an ideal writing environment.  A small white IKEA desk against the west wall with a roll-out tray for my ergonomic Microsoft keyboard caters to my creative comfort.  Along the north wall, five Billy bookcases, also from IKEA, contain the tomes that make a townhouse a townhome.  On one of those bookcases, within arm’s reach, stand the dictionaries, grammar guides, and how-to books that inform the writer’s craft.  Of critical importance is the swiveling Amazon Basics Mid-Back Mesh Chair that allows me to rotate effortlessly from keyboard to reference books and back again.  A couch along the east wall is a great place for quiet, cozy reading, a sine qua non of any writer’s lifestyle.  The only missing luxury is an above-ground window that I could look out of to collect my thoughts or to distract myself now and then.
            The best thing about the writer’s man cave is the feel of the place, the soul-satisfying sensation that you are at home, in your element, doing what you were born to do, with the hope that your words will benefit readers as well.

I write in the car at soccer practice, in the waiting room of the fencing gym, outside on the picnic table, at my kitchen table, propped up by pillows in bed, on a chair in my husband's study, on the couch during a football game, my parents' cabin...pretty much anywhere. But here's where I'm the most productive. This is the writing nook in my office. My research books for the project I'm working on, and outlines--in case I need to look back--are right behind me, as well as character pictures on the bulletin board.
My white board has a list of tasks I need to do, but I mostly keep cute magnets on there. and pictures.
I have a beautiful antique sugar bowl on the desk to sweeten my tea, and if you zoom, you can see a little Wonder Woman, a model cannon, Lego Shakespeare and a Klepht soldier next to it, cheering me on.
I also have stool to rest my feet on, and a space heater beneath the desk because that window gets cold in winter!

I try to get up into the office every morning by 9 and stay in there with no interruptions until 12. But, of course life happens. I like the morning hours. I feel like my brain is more alert.  

So much ridiculousness goes on in this space. I have to purge clean it at least once a week. It's always a mess. Always.

The windows are east facing and in both sunshine and moonlight, the mountain views inspire me.

I teach guitar and paint and plant flower gardens in this space. But above all, it is where my stories come alive. This space has glass doors so I can close off the turpentine smell, play loud music, write in peace, and contain the mess, while still keeping an eye on my crazy kids.

If I am ever stuck on any project, in any art form, I've found that organizing my workspace will almost always rekindle the spark. But to be honest, when this room is so messy that I can't even open the door, you can find me typing on my laptop pretty much anywhere, especially in the mountains.

My husband and I remodeled our house six years ago and now I have a wonderful little office, which was previously our formal dining room. I have a nice L-shaped desk, so everything is nearby. My son talked me into getting two monitors and now, I couldn’t live without them. I’m near a window so I can look outside to my backyard.
I have a second ‘office’ outside. We have a little gazebo, which is my writing oasis in the late spring, summer, and early fall.  We have a large lot, about half an acre, with bushes, trees, a garden, and lawn, so I’m surrounded by greenery.  I love it! My husband put up blinds on two sides and I put up a dark fabric drape to cut down on the glare while I’m working on my laptop. I sit on a cushioned swing, with a table nearby that holds stuff such as pencils, pens, a bottle of water, and a jar of small candy treats, (for me) and doggie treats for my faithful companions, who come out to keep me company. There’s Brandi (pictured) a Welsh Corgi, Snickers, a dachshund (also pictured) and a Westie who stood off to the side when I took the picture. I also have several cats, and they come out too, either to curl up by me on the swing, or sprawl beside the dogs on the large pet bed I keep there.

On days I'm going to draft or revise, I like to be pretty much anywhere but in my office. I find the internet too much of a distraction! So I'm usually in a park if the weather is cooperating, but the couch in this office is pretty comfy too. Still, I love my office (or my half, because I share the room with my husband who works from home a lot of times--talk about a distraction!). This is where I do all the business aspects of my writing. In front of my computer, I have three boards--one for my editing and formatting business; one for anything media related like reviews, my website, and my two blogs; and one for writing, which usually ends up being random things I need to add to my current WIP. On the wall to my right, you will see what my family lovingly refers to as my "stalker wall." These are pictures of the main characters in my WIP. It helps me keep track of their physical characteristics, try out their names (you can see one whose name has changed, if you look closely), and their quirks and characteristics jotted down on sticky notes beside their photo. Around the corner is my "Save the Cat" type outlining system. As I go along, I will move things around, see where I have plot holes (which will then be filled in with a bright sticky note to remind me it needs to be added). I use these sticky notes to start off my outline in Scrivener before I start writing, but then they get shuffled around as I revise. I love being able to see all of these things at once--it helps me remember where I am, where I need to be, and helps keeps things fresh in my mind! Happy writing!

I actually have two offices--one at home (it used to be the nursery, complete with stenciled butterflies, but kids do grow up) and one in an office suite my husband owns. For years I was the accidental bookkeeper for a business we own, and my pay was staying extra hours when the work was done to write without home-distractions. I became quite spoiled by my office away from home and still do the majority of my writing there. I have some writer friends who live nearby and we'll get together in the conference room of the office sometimes for write-days (a Saturday from 8-midnight or weekday while kids are at school) or write-nites (evenings from 5-midnight) but I usually write here in this corner by myself. Obviously it's very organized and conducive for creative tasks. :-) This would have better fit in the "Writing Nooks" post but . . . well, it's my blog so I can do what I want :-)

At home my office has been the catch-all for the house for a long time, making it anxiety inducing to try and produce in the space crammed with too much stuff. However, with my recent redo I am trying to change that. I've put some of the business things like mailing supplies, none-writing books, stock books, archives etc into the closet of the room or into a guest bedroom downstairs. The things on the shelves are things I love, or books I use. The Chaise Lounge ($200 on is new and, I hope, a place I can read/research/long-hand brainstorm. I'm trying very hard to keep this room "inspiring" which mostly means free of junk so that I'm not tempted to spend all my writing time reorganizing crap. You can see the edge of my IKEA desk that has my current reference books handy. As for essentials when I write, I use my laptop, always have my water bottle, and I need relative quiet. I admire people who have learned to write with their family buzzing around them, I get too snappy and irritable to do that--I hate to be interrupted. Sometimes music helps, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes internet helps, some times it doesn't. I have no writing schedule (though I usually write/work about 30 hours a week), writing goals (though I do pretty well with deadlines), special chants or charms or techniques. I mostly take my writing day by day and work through whatever might not be working that day. I love what I do and the flexibility of it that allows me to be available to my family and spend a good deal of time in my favorite place--home. I'm hoping this home office will make writing at home a better option for me. Maybe I should do a report in a year. :-)

Thank you for joining me for this blog series, I hope you gained some ideas or insight on how to make your writing spot or nook or room conducive to your craft. We are all different, we need different things and will use different processes, but there is so much to be gained from peeking in on each other's lives and seeing if there isn't something they do that can help you with what you do.
Other posts in this series:
"Writing Spots"
"Writing Nooks"

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Writing Space Series: Writing Nooks

I hope you had the chance to check out the "Writing Spots" post--accounts from those writers who have found specific places amid home and family and work and life. This series is about slightly bigger spaces, the corner of a room, part of some larger area that they have carved out specifically for writing. I asked them to share what works about their spaces and if there are any specific items that assist in their overall creativity and production. I hope you get as much out of their answers as I did.

As a mother of seven, my writing space has typically been some sort of bag stuffed with my ailing but prized "mini" Acer (a loyal companion for more than five years), writing folders, pens, mints, sticky notes, Hot Wheels and animal crackers (the latter for the current toddler). The Writing Bag has served me well, allowing me to capture a few vital minutes at a daughter's art class, in between carpool, or during said toddler's preschool. 

Last week, I finally hit a nirvana stage when I created a Writing Corner in our bedroom. Thank you, IKEA! My daughter and I picked out the essentials, like a comfy chair but not TOO comfy (I'm to write, not nap); a back pillow, cozy lamp, and of course, the cardboard box (while I search for a side table). The Writing Bag sits like a trusted dog beside the chair.  

My writing must-haves aren't many because--cue the martyr music--they're not likely. However, they include: protein bars and a water bottle (no sugar until AFTER I produce), a lap writing desk, a project clipboard (with synopsis/outline/notes), and a cell phone in case one of the seven children sustains an injury I absolutely, positively have to resolve. 

I write at a little desk in my bedroom on a really old laptop. The most important element for me is the laptop. Because it's so old, it doesn't have a firewall, and I'm scared to access the internet from it. This eliminates the temptation to check my e-mail and social media sites. Unfortunately, it also means I have to use an older version of Word. When I'm revising, I often place the laptop on my tall dresser so I can stand while I type. Usually, music distracts me, but for some reason, I can listen if I stand up while I edit and do a little two-step back and forth.

Another great writing tool I have is a light-up pen that one of my sons got as a souvenir from the NRA museum near Washington, D.C. (I'd rather carry a pen than a gun anyway.) I keep it beside my bed at night, and when I get a good idea, I just grab my light-pen and write down a few lines. Before, I would have to turn on my lamp or a flashlight and always ended up disturbing my husband.

A couple months ago, I asked for a Neo 2 for my birthday and got an Alphasmart 3000 instead. Maybe it's not as good as the Neo 2. I don't know, but I love it. It's been a great way to turn off my internal editor. I have used it a lot for writing rough drafts and brainstorming.

I love my writing room, it’s actually in a little nook in our master bedroom. It’s away from the kids, quiet, and I’m surrounded by books. If I need to do some writing after our kids go to bed, I’m still in the same area with my husband without being distracted by whatever he’s doing. We bought the desk and shelves at Ikea so it didn’t break the budget, and I have lots of room to spread out. 
But, for me it goes beyond my space. I have a favorite sweater that I’ve worn for probably 90% of the writing time for all my books. It’s not too warm, super super-soft, and when it’s on, I’m automatically in my happy place. I’ve mended it many times, and one of these days it’s going die and a part of me will die with it. For now, it’s my writing sweater.

One thing I totally LOVE about my writing space is my computer setup. I have a monitor that connects to my 13 inch Macbook. I love this because when I’m at my desk, I’ve got a nice big monitor screen to work with (plus the additional 13 inch screen of the laptop if I want lots of screen space.)

But when I go to a conference, a trip, a retreat, or anywhere, I can just grab the laptop and go. It’s small, lightweight, and so easily portable—and everything is already saved on it, no transferring of data. I know this is a little more pricey than some computer setups, but if you can fit it in to the budget, it’s so worth it!

The older I get, the more my ADHD-I has reared its head, making it hard for me to focus when writing. The best thing for my focus has been a new spot I concocted after researching coping mechanisms and learning that movement can be key for maintaining focus for those with ADHD-I. Without money to buy a new tread desk, I invented a workaround that cost about $15. I bought a pre-made shelf at Home Depot plus some foam pipe insulation, which I cut in half. I put them on the armrests of the treadmill to protect them, then placed the shelf on top. I used some clamps we already had on hand to hold it all in place, and—tada!—a tread desk that’s easily detachable whenever someone wants to work out, and putting it back together takes less than a minute. 

I don’t walk fast while writing; 1.6 to 1.8 mph is right for me, an easy pace that keeps my hands steady on the keyboard and my mind focused. I can work on the tread desk for 2 or 3 hours. When I start aching (hello, age), I simply move my laptop to a table. After spending enough time moving, I can retain my focus at a desk for another hour or two, which is fantastic. It’s been a huge help for me.

Stanalei Fletcher:

I’m a left brained person in a right brained career. My writing space is a shared space in our office. My husband has his corner and I have mine. My space has all the tools needed to get the job done—my resource books, as well as my favorite author’s books sit on shelves to guide and inspire me. I have the good fortune to take my laptop anywhere and be able to write or edit my WIP. But when I need to focus and tune out the world, I head to my desk where everything is at my fingertips. It’s a mess sometimes, but I can put my hand on anything I need in seconds. That appeases my left brain, so my right brain is free to do what it needs to create.

Please join me for the third and final blog in the series, "Writing Rooms." Don't miss the first post in this series, "Writing Spots."

Monday, September 28, 2015

Writing Space Series: Writing Spots

Early in my writing career I would get very hung up on doing things "Right." I felt like there was a secret that would make writing easier. Was it outlining? Was it scheduled time? Was it drafting long hand? Was it writing first thing in the morning? Late at night? In a cabin in the mountains? Surely "Real" writers knew something I didn't know and if I could learn that key element, the writing would come easier, my laundry would fold itself, and I would be an instant bestseller!

I tried everything and what I learned was that different things worked for different people. This could have been refreshing, but it wasn't. It meant there was no secret; no "trick" that would take away the "hard." Instead, there were things that worked for me that wouldn't work for someone else, and things that worked for them that would never work for me. The trick I DID learn, however, was to ask other writers what worked for them so that I had new things to try. Left to my own devices, I would never have thought of half the stuff that these days is essential to my craft.

A few weeks ago I decided to redo my office and hit google images for "Writers Offices." I wasted loads of lovely time exploring other writer's spaces. I got some great ideas from other people's great ideas and began making the changes I wanted to make on my own space. Then I thought of all the writers I know and thought about asking them what works in their writing world. The result is a 3 part series of "Writing Spaces." We'll start with "Writing Spots",  follow up with "Writing Nooks" and finish with "Writing Rooms." Thank you to all the authors who participated, I loved everyone's thoughts and have a few things I'll be trying out thanks to your inspiration.

I have learned in the past that my best writing is done when I'm in a relaxing environment (As evidenced by the occasional flashes of brilliant story ideas in the middle of church). I've tried writing at desks, or in silence, or at my old bookstore counter, but they just didn't help the words flow. I have learned that for me, sitting on my couch with snacks and music (Most often the Piano Guys station on Pandora) surrounded by my children is the best place for me to write.

 As they've grown older—and louder—I've changed to writing at night, but I still love my couch. It helps to relax my mind and move the story forward in ways I could never do anywhere else.

I have always felt like I’ve had to fight for every moment of writing time I can get, so I’ve learned to write wherever I can and whenever I know I’ll have waiting time. Dentist offices, doctor’s appointments—they’re all game. I even have specific memories of when my children were young and attending t-ball or soccer
practices. I would sit in my van with my laptop squeezed between me and the steering wheel and work on my current work-in-progress.
Now, my children are grown, and I have a little more control over when and where I write. Yes, I’ll still try to take advantage of miscellaneous waiting opportunities, but my most productive writing times are when I’m fully alert, when the house is empty of people, and when nothing else is around to distract me, not even an open window. With those principles in mind, I generally write at my desk or in my recliner, and if I’m plotting a new novel, I tend to handwrite it at the kitchen table.  

My writing space is one cushion on our living room love seat, and an end table. It's very glamorous. I was going to clean it up, but this is just reality. So I write amidst my son's schoolwork, my daughter's craft projects, hair brushes, and a sweater i forgot to put away.

As a father of six with a full time job, it’s hard to find time or a quiet moment to write. So I’ve learned to write just about anywhere: parks during soccer practice, my front porch while the kids play outside with friends, or on the floor of the hall while they settle down to sleep. During the workweek, I write in the company break room. During my lunch hour I sit in the same booth with my laptop and squeeze in as many words as I can. Most of the time the room is full of people talking. Sometimes there’s a TV on in the background. I’ve learned to tune out the distractions and focus on my stories. It’s my favorite and most productive place to write.

 Join me tomorrow for "Writing Nooks." to be followed with "Writing Rooms."