Yoga/Movement Feed

The Fifth Anniversary of the 'Dreamslippers,' a Yogi Detective Series

BOX SET 2

Back in 2013, I decided to try my hand at writing a mystery novel. I had interviewed Seattle's mystery literati for a cover story in Seattle Woman magazine, and I'd also steered the storylines on hundreds of mystery-themed computer games for my employer at the time, Big Fish Games.

Another of my chief inspirations, perhaps oddly enough, was the 20 years' experience I had as a yogi. I'd practiced anywhere from three to seven days a week, first the grueling style known then as Bikram (hot) yoga and then the very energetic Baptiste-inspired style called Shakti (like dancing on your mat).

I also lost Grace, my would-be mother-in-law, to pancreatic cancer in 2011. She'd made a great impression on me in the short time I knew her and was a huge inspiration for the character Grace in the series. She was also a very practiced yogi herself.

After that, I knew I wanted to do two things with the book: 1) create an older female character and 2) make her a magical sort of yogi. 

I was also a huge fan of the TV show "Medium," about a psychic who helps an Arizona police team solve crimes. Allison DuBois, played by the fabulous Patricia Arquette, often struggles with the limitations built into her gift, sometimes making mistakes. Her fallibility, not to mention her authentically portrayed marital relationship, made the show rise above the fray (for seven seasons!). And there's one more thing. I'm someone whose childhood trauma led to PTSD nightmares, which plagued me for many years. So the often disturbing subject matter in DuBois' dreams resonated with me personally. I was used to looking for the truth in my dreams, sorting out the terror from the lessons.

All of that background and interest is reflected in the Dreamslippers Series, a three-book saga (plus novella) about a family of psychic dreamers who solve crime using their ability to 'slip' into your dreams. Solving crime that way is a lot tougher than you can imagine, as it's not like the culprit will dream of his guilt, pointing the erstwhile dreamslipper toward all of the clues. The matriarch of the family, Amazing Grace, supplements her sleeping skills with waking-life pursuits such as meditation, visualization, yoga, and even a somatic dance style called Nia, which I practiced myself for a few years. Young Cat McCormick, the hero of the inaugural book in the series, has an entirely different take. She bends and breaks the rules, and she capitalizes on an emotional connection to solve a mystery involving a Midwestern, fundamentalist preacher and his (not-gay-at-all) right-hand man.

BRAG medallion ebook CAT IN THE FLOCK

I released Cat in the Flock under my own imprint, Sky Harbor Press, in July 2014. It zipped up the Amazon sales charts, occupying the No. 1 spot in the Private Investigators category within the first year. It was praised by Kirkus Reviews, Midwest Book Review, Readers Lane, Book Fidelity, and countless other review sites, blogs, and institutions. I was contacted by a Hollywood producer about rights, and later, by more than one game studio interested in making an interactive novel out of it. Cat in the Flock won me my first IndieBRAG medallion, awarded to only the top 20 percent of independently published books. I would also be awarded the IndieBRAG for the other two books in the series.

Bolstered by the success of the first book, and full of more Dreamslippers stories to tell, I followed up with Framed and Burning. This second book in the series is set in Miami amidst the high-stakes art world, and its prescience can be seen in the Jeffrey Epstein case today. Cat and Grace follow the clues to a murder frame-up, which takes them into the Darknet and the powerful players behind a child pornography ring. While the characters and scenario are fiction, it's based on a great deal of factual research. I also lived in that colorful Florida city for two years while working toward an MFA in creative writing, which I earned from University of Miami. And I was once married to an artist, so my experience of that world is very much first-hand.

FRAMED AND BURNING IndieBRAG 2

Framed and Burning was a finalist for the prestigious Nancy Pearl Book Award, and it was also nominated for a RONE Award, in addition to winning the IndieBRAG.

The third book in the series, Bound to the Truth, is in a lot of ways my best. It continues the series' sex-crime theme, but back in Seattle, with an informed, fair portrayal of the Emerald City's sex-positive community. Cat and her grandmother visit a sex toy shop and a sex dungeon in their quest to track down the killer of a prominent Seattle architect. It was my answer to the huge disappointment that is Fifty Shades of Gray, not to mention an homage to Seattle's openness to all, quirkiness of the best kinds, and kinkiness in spades. As a divorced woman in her late 30s living in Seattle in the 2010s, I don't think I could have had a safer, more colorful, more ripe-for-literary fodder dating experience in any other city.

The Bound to the Truth cover is my favorite of the series, too. All three covers were created by Toronto designer Monika Younger, who's designed book covers for several of Harlequin's mystery imprints and brought a great deal of experience and vision to the series.

BOUND TO THE TRUTH 1400x2240 indieBRAG

After that, I went back and tackled Amazing Grace's origin story in a novella, Work of Light. It's only found in the ebook boxed set. Set in the past, when Grace first discovered her powers, it follows her to an ashram in the 60s, where she uncovers the guru's true nature.

I'm grateful to the many BETA readers who gave me feedback on drafts of the books. We writers are far too close to the work to judge it subjectively, especially the further into the drafting (or development) process we get. My BETA readers put on their "cruel shoes" and gave it to me straight, and I revised to the best of my abilities. I think it shows in the higher-than-average quality for not just an indie but for publishing as a whole.

Another dose of gratitude goes out to all of you readers who told your friends about the books, posted reviews hither and yon, and otherwise showed support for my indie publishing endeavor. When I look back on those heady three years with the Dreamslippers, I see that it truly takes a village to raise a book!

Finally, it's time for an important announcement:

In honor of the fifth anniversary of the series, the ebook boxed set of all three books plus the bonus novella is entirely FREE wherever ebooks are sold, except Amazon, where it's only 99 cents (that is the minimum price we are allowed to offer through Amazon). So please tell your friends. And thank you for your interest in my work. I'm so thrilled you find something of value in these words.

Handy book links here.

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Kick Up Your Heels on the Fourth of July - Literally!

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Installing my new FeetUp. Easier than IKEA furniture, and more sturdy!

Exciting news: That FeetUp Trainer I mentioned in this post about why you might struggle with headstands is now a whopping 33 percent off! Yeah, that knocks fifty bucks off this cute little yoga inversion prop.

As you can see in the photo above, I took advantage of the sale and snared one for myself. It's a great deal, so I wanted to share it with you, too. PLEASE NOTE: WE DON'T RECEIVE ANYTHING IN EXCHANGE FOR THIS POST OR FOR THE SALE OF THESE PROPS IF YOU GO AND BUY ONE.

Not that I didn't try. Before this great sale popped up, I had contacted FeetUp hoping to get some sponsorship for a post about their prop. They were cool and receptive, complimenting me on the inversion post and offering a $10 off coupon code for blog readers.

They wouldn't do more, however, like provide a free FeetUp in order to review it or any other compensation in exchange for coverage on the blog, because we haven't met the threshold they established for sponsorships, which is 10,000 followers on Instagram. Our Insta follower count is just shy of 500.

Oh, well. I get it. I mean, we're small potatoes in the world of sponsored content–we haven't made anything on this lifestyle blog and continue to put time, money, and resources into it really as a labor of love. I was totally cool with the $10 off coupon code for blog readers and a likewise small discount on the FeetUp for me, so I could order one to test out. I was just about to fill out the sponsorship form that FeetUp sent me...

Box
It came in a really big box, which the cat loves, but is surprisingly lightweight.

But then I saw this super sale pop up, and I realized FeetUp's own sale was a way better deal (like five times better) than the one FeetUp was willing to give me in exchange for coverage on the blog. So. I. Politely. Declined.

I asked them how long the sale would last so that I could schedule this post around it, and I didn't get an answer. The sale used to be valid on Amazon, which is where I purchased mine, but today as I write this, that's no longer the case. It is, however, still for sale on FeetUp's own website, and they're offering free shipping, so act fast! As this will post tomorrow (Sunday), I'm just hoping it doesn't end tonight. The site doesn't say anything but that it will end "soon."

While I'm both impressed that FeetUp was so responsive at first and feeling somewhat less in love after they weren't so helpful with the follow-through, I'm still super excited about my new FeetUp trainer.

It was unbelievably easy to put together (like IKEA flat-pack furniture, but with way better assembly instructions), is made from good quality materials (wood, metal, a lovely vegan faux leather), and feels very sturdy. I'm both naturally curvy and, especially after 25 years of yoga, pretty muscular, and I felt completely supported by it on my first couple of inversion tests.

FeetUp

I want to practice with it for awhile before giving a full review. I'll post that later on, with some pics of my awkward glorious inversions (!). But I wanted to let y'all know about the super sale in the meantime. Only the white/light wood version qualifies for the sale, but you get a nifty pose sequence poster along with it. It's a great deal.

Sure, a hundo is a lot to spend on a yoga prop, and maybe you could get something like it for cheaper. But it's important if I'm going to turn myself completely upside-down on something that that thing be made of quality materials and feel like it can support me without issues. I practice yoga daily, so for me, it's a good investment in a prop that will get a lot of use. Just yesterday, I inverted for a few minutes after a long bout of desk jocky-ing, and I felt renewed by it.

If you take advantage of the sale and get your own FeetUp, tell me about your impressions in an email, and I'll include them in my review, either with or without your name attached, just let me know. You're welcome (but not required) to send pics, too!

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That Finnish Lifestyle Is Hard to Beat

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We came back from Helsinki raving about what an awesome quality of life Finns have, and we'd like to give you a rundown of the three main areas that make it so. Finnish style is both Old World European and cutting-edge modern, and that's reflected in the cuisine, physical activity, and design.

Food

Notably scarce in Helsinki society: junk food and fast food. Once we left the airport, we really didn't see too many fast-food restaurants. There are a fair number of Starbucks cafes, which is not surprising, given the coffee-centric culture, and I don't know, maybe a Starbucks looks like a cool, exotic American place to get a coffee if you're a Finn. We avoided them, because why? 

There were also a handful of Subway restaurants, which bewildered us at first until I realized that Scandinavians are all about the sandwich, so to embrace a Subway footlong isn't beyond the pale. I did wonder if they eat it with a fork, though, as sandwiches are open-faced and consumed that way throughout Scandinavia. We went to a "Mexican" restaurant once during our stay, and our tacos came with a set of instructions for how to eat a taco (1. fold, 2. pick up with your hands, 3. eat). I figured that was due to the practice of eating open-faced sandwiches with a fork as well. The rice and beans were actually split peas and white rice, so there you go. Finnishized Mexican food.

There's a lot of soup in Finland, maybe because of the cool climate. We tried salmon soup three different ways during our stay, and the one at Story Cafe in the Old Market Hall was the best.

Salmon soup
A typical Finnish meal, with salmon soup, hearty bread, rhubarb crumble, and "overnight oats" also with rhubarb. They are big on rhubarb in Finland. Overnight oats is a grain porridge, a breakfast staple.

Back to my main point: Finns eat healthier than Americans. Probably not surprising, but the quality of the food is higher, too, with fewer processed food options and much, much less sugar and salt. They're big on bread and cereal; the national food is rye bread. But hold the usual overload of sugar and salt we Americans add to these foods. I find it interesting that the food cultures in European cities tend not to be gluten-phobic, as the U.S. is increasingly becoming. (A popular snack is Karelian pie, a rye pastry filled with rice porridge.) But neither is their bread processed with loads of fillers and chemicals and made from GMO wheat. Rather, bread is usually baked fresh, with just a few high-quality ingredients. Our hotel, for example, offered a daily brunch featuring sourdough rye baked early that morning. 

Yesyesyesdinner
Though the Finns like their meat, which ranges from bear to all manner of fish to reindeer, you CAN eat here as a vegetarian. Here's one of our favorite meals, from the veg restaurant Yes Yes Yes: Halloumi fries with pomegranate, arugula salad with hearts of palm, avocado-pistachio dip, and naan bread.

Meat and cheese are staples, too. Again, rather than dropping these items from their diets, Finns generally prefer to craft them from local ingredients, close to the source, rather than processing and adding preservatives and additives. I've noticed that I've been able to eat a much broader range of foods when I'm in Copenhagen, Barcelona, and Helsinki--all cultures that share this emphasis on high-quality, locally sourced food. (I've written about my experiences in Barcelona here.

Exercise

Finns are a lot less sedentary than Americans. Helsinki is a highly walkable city, with pedestrian-only streets common, along with plenty of walking and bike paths even on high-traffic streets. Beyond that, the Finns take great pride in their physical activities, with an active culture around swimming and using the sauna (Finns super-love to get naked and sweaty, and this is an occasion for a sandwich, too!) as well as a plethora of winter sport options. 

Finns are pretty wild about jooga (yoga). Apparently one of 12 undeniable proofs that you're married to a Finn is that you "yoga breathe in the passenger's seat." 

Jooga

We witnessed many Finns opting to take the stairs, which were more accessible than they are in America, where it seems in a lot of buildings they're only provided for emergency purposes. Our business associates, who've spent a good amount of time in the U.S., remarked that they always gain "at least 5 kilograms" when they travel to the States. They attributed it to the car-centric culture, types of food, and portion sizes. Which is not to say that Finns are New York-skinny; they're not. Finnish women, from what I've seen, look like healthy Midwesterners!

Exercise sort of blends in with the lifestyle, too, rather than being something designated as separate and requiring special clothing, a scheduled time slot, or a specific place to do it. Finns walk everywhere, and they walk fast, in regular clothes. Which doesn't mean they won't stop for a glass of wine in the middle of that activity.

Cafeursula

Design

Maybe it's not as direct a quality-of-life issue as food and exercise, but the place where form and function meet is definitely important to Finns. Things must not only work well, but they must please the eye as well. Conversely, if they're only pretty but not at all functional, Finns don't want any part of them, either.

Case in point: HVAC ductwork. The below circular art piece--I mean heating vent--is all over Helsinki. This one's from the aforementioned veg restaurant, Yes Yes Yes. 

Ductwork

What's remarkable about them besides how cool they look is that they seem to work a lot better than the ones we have here in the States. The little baffles circulate the air, rather than aggressively blowing it in one direction. You know that problem where you sit down and then have to move because the vent is spewing right in your eyes or making you too hot or too cold? Never happened to me in Finland.

Besides the HVAC, that triple-Yes restaurant was a triumph in fresh interior design, from the gorgeous patterned wallpaper to the simplicity of the retro pitchers and bright, happy colors.

Wallpaper

There's a love of domestic objects here, and a common theme of bright, uncluttered, natural interiors, with both an organic sensibility and clean lines. The natural world is a focus, whether that's how plants are displayed inside or in the design themes themselves, like the magical coffee mugs our hotel used, designed by Finnish firm Ittala

Ittala

I've shared my love of Finland here on the blog this past week, and I hope you'll experience it for yourself. Tomorrow, I'll list my top 5 travel accessories, and tell you about a very special discount, too!

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The Real Reason You Can't Headstand

Headstandatwork
This lopsided version of Shirshasana is about as good as it gets, folks.

Over the 25 years that I've practiced yoga, I've struggled with a great many things. I've struggled to harness my breath, and I've struggled to bring my mind back to the room when my thoughts have wandered. I've struggled mightily with my own ego. These are good challenges, the real work of every yoga practice. I have eventually felt a kind of victory or maybe the word is mastery over these challenges--if not permanently, then for gratifying moments. 

But there's one aspect of yoga that never ceased to be a struggle for me--until I wised up and decided to cease with the struggle altogether. That's inversions. 

I've never felt great about headstand and have almost always experienced pain in my neck after performing the pose. I struggled with this for many years. My critical mind kept after me: 'Why can't I do this? I should be able to do this.' After years of trying, the best I could do was a sort of lopsided headstand against the wall, as pictured above. Maybe you've had a similar experience.

For a long time, I thought maybe my inability to get to the impressive level of headstand done with seeming ease by my peers was psychological, as that was suggested to me by more than one teacher, like I had some kind of "block" or "fear" about it. This is quite an accusation, and I now know that no yoga teacher should ever suggest that to a student. It's likely just wrong, and even if it's right, who are you to make that diagnosis of someone else's yoga practice? Seriously, are you a yoga teacher or a therapist? 

It creates a kind of chicken-and-egg problem, too. A student feels reluctance about headstand, probably for good reasons, and is told she has a "block" or "fear" about the pose, which could actually create a block or fear that wasn't really there before!

Later I realized how wrong that assessment had been, and how it might have only served to give me yet another point of self-criticism that I didn't need. An odd thing happened when my husband and I took acroyoga classes together. I found out I had no trouble with inversions when supported on the floor by my base. As a flyer, I took to the upside-down poses with ease, even delight. Nope, not a single feeling of being "blocked" or "afraid" of inversions.

Acroyoga lisa and tino
I love this pose!

Still, the critical mind likes to criticize, so I thought maybe my block or fear went away in acroyoga because I had the "support" of a base--in the photo above, my husband. Yeah, I found a way to beat myself up about it, like I can't do headstands "on my own," like I'm a weak person who needs "help."

Raise your hand if you talk to yourself like this, too. OK, now let's pledge not to do this anymore.

It wasn't until my teacher training this year that I figured out why I had always struggled with headstands on a mat. As it turns out, the real reason isn't psychological; it's anatomical! My humerus (upper arm) bones are relatively short compared to the span between my upper torso and the top of my head. What this means is that I simply cannot get my forearms under my head enough in a headstand to use them as support. You can see this in the first photo above: My upper arms don't extend far enough to give me clearance. The result is that a) my scapula have to come away in a destabilized position in order for me to get my arms flat to the floor and b) even with this unstable attempt to reach my forearms above my head, my neck still bears my full body weight.

Now some yogis can handle headstand even with short upper arm bones because they have muscle strength in their necks that allows them to take on their full body weight. But I'm not one of those people. Due to scoliosis and multiple car accidents, I really should not ask my cervical spine to bear my full body's weight.

It's liberating for me to gain this anatomical understanding of a limitation my body has known of intuitively for years. All credit to Paul Grilley and his amazing yoga anatomy DVD for this wisdom.

I'm not the only one rebelling from the headstand/handstand pressure we yogis feel. 

I can't handstand

Here's Instagram's @hippiehealthfreak reacting against the expectation in the yoga world that teachers and students alike should be able to pop into these poses regardless of anatomical limitations. Forcing ourselves into these poses can do real damage. Here, it's wrist injury from handstand, which could come from anatomical differences in the rotation at the elbow, wrist, and shoulder joints as well as the compression angle of the elbow.

Note this doesn't mean inversions are off-limits to me--or anyone else with similar anatomical limitations--forever. Remember, I have no problem with them in acroyoga. When my shoulders are supported, as on my base's knees in the acro photo above, and my neck is simply hanging free, I feel great. 

Perhaps this is a good time to talk about another weird misperception in the world of yoga, and that's the one that causes an aversion to props. A lot of yogis won't use them, often because they've gone to a class where the teacher pooh-pooh'd them as a "crutch" or "training wheels," I guess. But that's not a logical way to look at props. They can literally make up the difference in an anatomical limitation, enabling you to do a pose that is otherwise off limits. In the acroyoga photo above, aren't my husband's legs, in effect, a prop?

What happens if we substitute a physical structure for the human prop in this instance? Well, you get something like the below. I haven't tried any of these products yet, but I'd love to hear your thoughts and recommendations. Would you use any of these? Have you? Which would you suggest I try?

1. Desire Life Yoga Headstand Bench

2. Sisyama Fitness Yoga Chair and Inversion Bench

3. The Original FeetUp Trainer

 

Tell me your thoughts in the comments below!

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Why You Shouldn't Compare Yourself to Yogi Superstars

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Zander's amazing Pashchima Namaskarasana

Whoa?! My stepson, Zander, must have been practicing yoga since birth to have such an advanced Reverse Prayer Pose, right? He should totally be an Instagram yogi star. #yogapose #yogafit #yogabody #yogafitness #yogaaddict #yogagram #yogaholic

Aaaaactually, no. The only yoga Zander's done in his 19 years were a handful of acroyoga classes his dad and I dragged him to years ago. (His favorite pose was one where his father carried him around like a backpack.)

Zander is what you call "double-jointed." That's honestly a bit of a misnomer, though, as there's no 'second' joint. A better way to describe his structure is to say he is hypermobile, which simply means the range of motion in his elbows and shoulders extends far past the average person's. About 10 to 25 percent of the population exhibits such hypermobility.

Hypermobility is a huge advantage in advanced yoga poses, as it can enable a beginner like Zander to pop right into a visually stunning pose like Reverse Prayer, without years of practice and the stretching and strength-building that come with it. If you're hypermobile, think of it as a gift. 

But if you aren't, and most of us simply are not, don't compare yourself to those who are. Try to do Reverse Prayer yourself, and maybe your hands don't touch together, or it's best for you to grab your elbows behind your back instead, as trying to force your arms and shoulders into what Zander's got going on leads to pain.

Lisa_prayer

Here's my take on the same pose. I've been practicing for 25 years and have done Reverse Prayer probably thousands of times. At first, I could only reach behind my back far enough to grab my elbows. Eventually, I was able to touch the fingers together, and then finally, more of the hand. But this is about as good as it will ever get for me. Because of limited range of motion in my shoulders and relatively short humerus (upper arm) bones, there's simply no way I will ever get my hands up between my shoulder blades as Zander was able to perfect on day one.

And that's OK. The important takeaway here is that Zander didn't do anything to earn his stunning Pashchima Namaskarasana. He was born with hypermobile joints. So why would I hold him up as an example by which to judge my own pose? Ditto a lot of the yogis in photos you see that show some impossible pretzel-twisting feat. Their poses may take your breath away, but they might be impossible for your body's structure, no matter how dedicated a yogi you are. 

Here's another way to look at this whole thing.

Lisa chin to chest
Jalandhara Bandha, or as I like to call it, Double-Chin Pose.

Compression of my cervical vertebrae prohibits me from closing the throat bandha any more than this. I simply can't touch my chin all the way to my chest. No amount of yoga will ever change this. It's how I was born.

Compression is pretty much bone hitting bone, and it can't be altered through yoga or any other exercise. In the photo above, it's the compression of my vertebrae that won't permit flexion any further for me to get my chin to my chest. 

In the other direction, however, I have much more range of motion, slightly more than my husband, Anthony.

Lisa and Anthony
If I were warmed up, I could probably go a bit further, but here you can see I have a wide range backward in my cervical spine without even bending the rest of my spine.

So just because you have a limitation in one area doesn't mean you have it in all areas. Quite the contrary! I have a really wide range of motion in my femur (upper leg)/hip socket joint, allowing me to get my femur parallel to the floor in Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I), now that I've also built up the strength to support it. I can also touch my chest to the floor in Seated Angle Pose, at least most days, when I'm fully warmed up. Some of my fellow yoga teacher training classmates will never be able to do this, and that has nothing to do with their effort, dedication, or desire.

This whole bone structure difference thing isn't limited to yoga, either. It has bearing on other exercises as well. My friend Allyson Miller, who loves herself a gym workout, says:

Recently I came to understand that my long thighs/femurs are the reason I struggle to do squats in a narrow stance. I found a video where a professional trainer explained it, and I felt a lot better. For years I thought I was just clumsy, but certain exercises are borderline impossible for me. I have to have a wider stance to maintain good form.

She shared with me this article from the Glute Guy on how femur length and other structural factors affect squat mechanics and this one from the Barbell Physio on how to adapt the squat technique to better fit different body types.

I hope these examples will help you understand your own body and its built-in advantages and limitations. If you're interested in learning more, I highly recommend the Anatomy for Yoga DVD by Paul Grilley. We're studying it in my yoga teacher training, and I'm not exaggerating when I say it's blowing my mind. If you teach yoga, YOU NEED TO WATCH THIS VIDEO. 

Before I sign off here, let me remind you not to compare yourself unfavorably (or even favorably, for that matter) to anyone else, whether Insta yogi star or the person on the mat next to you in class. Chances are they've got some bone-length or other I-was-born-this-way advantage you don't have, and vice-versa. I leave you with these side-by-side images; remember, Zander on the left has less than a year of yoga experience, and I've been practicing regularly for 25.

ZanderLisa2
Zander's natural-born gift vs. my quarter-century of practice.    

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