Posts Tagged ‘journal writing’

Moving right along

January 31, 2014

January 30, 2014

Finding my balance in nature

Finding my balance in nature

I’ve moved out of the river bottom, and back again, countless times. The property where I’ve been living this past year and a half was once an open field, and before the two-story house that now stands here was built, I lived in a house trailer that was transported here from the Ojai Foundation land in Upper Ojai.

Later I lived in an old one-room structure that still stands at the back of this property, with glorious views of the river bed and sunsets in the direction of Lake Casitas. I was here the year that the now dry creek bed was a roaring muddy river that almost jumped the banks.

It was here that I got my first huge, heavy computer–in the days before email or Facebook. It was here that I actually began the cumbersome one-finger typing process of getting the draft of  The New Yoga for People Over 50 copied on those now ancient square discs.

I woke up this morning feeling sore, stiff, and tired from schlepping boxes of stuff to my storage unit these past two days. Fatigue drains not only the body but the spirit–I realized I’d better stop in my tracks and take the morning off to do yoga and walk in nature, to replenish myself, even though I’m under the gun to be out by tomorrow.

My muscles felt so fatigued that at first all I did was align myself symmetrically on the floor in Savasana, the Corpse Pose. The process of moving, packing up all the stuff we identify with, leaving the familiar cave we’ve been sleeping in, is like a little death.

It felt so right to just lie still on the hard floor, watching the river of the breath, absorbing the utter impermanence and fleeting futility of the struggle of life.

Physiologically, it takes about twenty minutes of consciously resting in Savasana for the body to completely relax and let go. There’s a pleasant feeling of the bones of the body, the whole skeletal structure, sinking into the earth. In Savasana we learn to completely let go of everything we identify with and surrender our mortal physical vessel back to the earth.

After the long Savasana came a series of deep floor twists and the always-good-for-us basic lying-down leg and hip stretches . . .

By mid-morning Honey and Chico let me know it was time to go outside. It was drizzling, and suddenly there was a burst of hopeful raindrops–it was wet enough to make me run back inside and grab a jacket.

In the midst of this drought, we Ojaians remain eternally hopeful. The promise of rain hangs in the air, a few drops fall–and then it’s like the sky changes her mind.

* * *

Chapter Three of Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir, is titled, The River Bottom

Photo credit: Amy Joy Bakken — in Ojai, CA.

Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir, Yoga Teacher Magazine

January 28, 2014

 Book Review by Ivan Nahem,  founder/editor, Yoga Teacher Magazine

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Fishing on Facebook: A Writing Yoga Memoir is a well-told, well-paced and timeless tale. It’s really not all that much about yoga per se, although one might say it’s about the wisdom that comes from both yoga and suffering. Suza is a renowned yoga teacher with several wonderful instruction books to her credit, but this is more about her personal life, a disappointed-in-love story. As in most memoirs, the author is a good part of the story, and here she’s quite a character in and of herself. And the portraits of the supporting cast are vivid (especially the villain), and we even get fine ambience in the description of the Ojai environment, including the yoga scene there.

What threw me a few times while immersing myself in this story is that I kept hurting for the author, cringing for her unfortunate decisions, sharing her distress over the jerk with whom she was falling in love, and with whom she kept thinking, despite mounting evidence, she could make it work. Maybe it’s because I live with the handicap of being a guy and so I know guys – as in the principle that you can’t bullshit a bullshitter (not that I’m anything of the sort, of course!) ― he just seemed transparent, such a scammer, the kind of guy you run for the hills from. He proves to be a pathological liar, the kind of person who lies to themselves at such a deep level that lying is a way of life. AND he’s terrified of sex and does everything he can to avoid any such real situations; love is just power play. As a reader I sensed early on where the pattern was headed, so I knew that this paramour was a lost cause and that sometimes made the narrator’s choices appear inexplicable. In any case there were times when her hurt was so raw — and then she would see him AGAIN! — and I was quite tempted to hurl the book against the wall, but the book is actually in my Kindle, so that would have been counterproductive.

470591_10150741641279703_266408929_oAnd if I reflect in all honesty, I’ve been deceived myself a few times, so my discomfort with her naiveté is ultimately unwarranted. It’s apparent that Suza’s story strikes a chord, especially among other women (shocking surprise!). Recently I had a dialog with another yoga teacher about her lying ex-husband (or “wasband” as she put it) and how deceived she felt in that relationship . . . Well obviously this is not a unique theme, but Suza makes the story work with all the very verisimilitude detail. If you’re in the mood for a cautionary tale like this, definitely give it a read. Suza’s a deft writer and her voice is very welcome.

Ivan Nahem is the founder/editor of Yoga Teacher Magazine.
http://www.yogateachermagazine.com/review/fishing-on-facebook%3A-a-writing-yoga-memoir

The purpose of life: Finding a place to put your stuff

January 25, 2014

January 24, 2014

I must have looked somewhat out of character driving a U-Haul truck down Shady Lane, because, when I stopped at Ojai Valley Imports auto repair to pick up my friend David, he started clapping his hands and practically rolling down Ojai Avenue, laughing his head off.

I had called him the night before to see if he could help me unload the heavy stuff into my new “apartment.”

“Well,” he said, “it all depends on what time. I’m taking my car in for an oil change at 8 a.m.”

When I found out that where he was dropping his car was right on the way to where I’d be unloading the U-Haul, I exclaimed, “That’s perfect! While they’re doing the oil change, you can help me unload the shelves, my oak desk, the filing cabinet, and other heavy stuff.”

David hoisted himself up into the cab, and through the whole short drive over to my new “gated community,” he kept laughing about seeing me behind the wheel of a truck. I didn’t mind; it always gives me great joy to be the source of someone else’s amusement.

It’s true that I had needed convincing from another male friend that I was perfectly capable of driving one of the smaller trucks. I had driven it tentatively around Bryant Circle before heading down Ojai Avenue, getting used to no view in the back and the big side-view mirrors. My daughter and her husband had helped me load all the heavy stuff, making me realize that I’d better line up a helper at the other end.

I punched in the code and the gates opened wide. I swung the truck around to my new temporary digs, apartment #26.

Then I jumped out of the cab and unlocked the back of the U-Haul. Learning to unlock and secure the lock contraption at the bottom of the door had first required all my powers of concentration, but now I did it like a pro. David, who knows how hard mechanical things are for me, was visibly impressed. We both jumped out of the way as the door flew up, obeying the “Caution: Objects May Shift and Fall Out” sign. Only my bicycle, the last thing I’d put in, was leaning precariously over the edge. Everything else, including my yoga backbender, was miraculously still in its place.

Next I opened the door to my “apartment.” David let out a whoop and promptly declared, “There’s no room for any more stuff.” He saw with a sweep of his eye all the journals, photo albums, pots and pans, boxes of books, my collection of Utne Readers, and all the little things I’m still attached to, taking up every inch of floor space.

“There’s no room for any more stuff,” he kept repeating.

“There’s plenty of room,” I declared with equal vigor. “Just help me unload everything and then you can walk back to your car.”

“You’ll be here all day,” he protested.

“I know what I’m doing! I’ll have everything put away in half an hour.”

I had to get it done in record time because my hands and bare feet were freezing cold. I’d forgotten how cold Ojai mornings can be in the shade.

I hoisted myself into the truck and started lowering the filing cabinet down to David, who was still regarding me with an incredulous look on his face.

“How much are you paying for this place?” he asked as he placed the filing cabinet on the ground.

“$230 a month,” I replied. “And I found a coupon online for half off the first month. I was lucky to get the last one. Every large unit here is rented! Where else in downtown Ojai can you find a clean place with high ceilings and 24-hour security cameras for that low price?”

“Right,” he agreed. “Plus the neighbors are quiet and hardly ever home.”

While we unloaded the truck, I explained to my friend that I would be living in a tiny guest room, high on a hill, with a panoramic view of the mountains and valley below, plus trails nearby where I could hike with Honey and Chico.

I told David that when I’d found out I had to move from the river bottom, I’d started house hunting. The last house I looked at, on the corner of Canada and Oak, had just been REDUCED to $2,300. And, as usual, SORRY, NO PETS! I probably won’t know till my life flashes before me whether or not I’ve made the right decision hanging on to my dogs, even if it means having to put all my stuff into storage and taking along only what I absolutely need to keep body and soul together.

It’s now been almost five years since my landlord died and I lost the wonderful country house I’d leased for 14 years. During these past few years of communal living and various shared-house situations, I’ve had many opportunities to rent quiet condos, apartments, or guest houses within walking distance of town, in nice, park-like settings. But they’ve all stipulated NO DOGS–especially not a large dog.

At one point in this looking-for-a house-that will-take dogs saga, I met a wonderful couple on the trail who were looking for a companion for their large collie-type dog. Honey and their dog got along great, and when they learned of my predicament they offered to adopt Honey. At the time, it seemed a cosmic blessing–like the Universe was stepping in to help! This couple had a spacious home, with plenty of fenced property for the dogs to roam and play in. In a moment of desperation, I agreed, realizing how much easier my life would be without a dog. (This was before I adopted Chico.) I gave Honey away with the understanding that, if things didn’t work out, they would give her back. I couldn’t risk having her end up back at the shelter.

For about two weeks, I got daily phone calls with glowing reports on how happy Honey was and how well everyone was getting along. But in the third week I got this message: “We love your dog and she loves us, but we sense she’s still waiting for you to come back and pick her up. Maybe you’d better come over for a visit so we can talk . . . she’s just not bonding with us like we’re her family.”

Honey

Honey

I’ll never forget how my heart turned over when I heard that Honey was still waiting for me! And she practically flew through the ceiling with pure joy when she saw me again.

As George Carlin says in his classic standup routine about the importance of Stuff in our lives, “What is a house but a place to store your stuff?” So that’s why my stuff is in storage and I stick with Honey. As I told my friend as we unloaded the last of the industrial-strength steel shelves that hold 3,000 pounds, “This is a great place. Not only is my stuff totally secure–they can see everything that goes on here on the big, flat surveillance screen in the office. Plus, if I die, they’ll auction off my stuff and that will be the end of it.” — in Ojai, CA.

 

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HONEY HUG

I’m only just beginning to learn to listen to the language of wind

January 19, 2014

January 18, 2014, Ojai, California

I have only five minutes, but I want to describe the sound of the wind that sings here in the river bottom all night long.

Two nights ago, the wind was like the waves of the ocean, loud and energetic, like strong, deep breathing . . . inhaling, exhaling . . . reminding me of the time I slept in a teepee on a beach in Mexico. I long to sleep outside again, but for now can only open all the windows and rest where I can still see the sky from my bed.

Last night, as I looked up at the bright moon shining down, the sound of the wind was like the softest, gentlest, sweetest lullaby, like feathers, whispering.

Then this morning, when I wandered outside into the early light of dawn, with the moon still smiling down so bright in the palest blue-pink sky, as I turned in the direction of Matilija Canyon I stepped into a pocket of cold air, and here the wind grew louder. And I realize I’m only just beginning to learn to listen to the language of wind . . .

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The full moon, reflecting the light from the sun, soars serene above it all

January 17, 2014

January 14, 2014, Ojai, California

The full moon, reflecting the light from the sun, soars serene above it all. Down below, we humans stew in our juices. Walking the bone-dry creek bed tonight, I felt the warm winds blow. The light of dusk is magical– it illuminates every dry yellow stalk, every fading leaf, and makes the rocks and dirt come alive.

Here in Ojai, the Valley of the Moon, the sky below the moon toward Meditation Mount was a strange pink tint–almost like there’s a fire somewhere. We’re in a drought, yet the water flowing out of the faucet lulls us to sleep. But when we step outside and sink into nature, we can feel the thirst of the plant and animal kingdoms–especially when the evening wind feels hot, as if it were summer.

I look up at the radiant moon and enjoy her beauty. I lean back over a backbender-shaped boulder and stretch my arms overhead and down the other side, leaning way back so I can see the landscape behind me.

I’m tired–bone tired. My spine and back ribs like lying down against the familiar hard rock–I can let go as the bones of my body rest on the rock. I can feel the “wings” of my body–my rib cage–spreading. I find the perfect crevice to support the back of my hard, bony skull, then press the soles of my feet deep into the ground till I feel rooted. My heart feels happy.

I can go home now and face the rigors of being incarnate. I can face my humble life of endless maintenance jobs–magnified as I get older– and hungry cats and dogs . . .

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The last light of dusk

January 12, 2014

January 11, 2014

If you were wandering the hills tonight, I’m sure you saw it, too. The soul of Ojai reflected in the Pink Moment, the sky awash in blue hues, the ever-changing dance of colors in all four directions. And, amidst it all, the moon floating silently into her fullness.

The dogs and I wandered higher up than usual, in the direction of Lake Casitas, with me pausing often to whirl around and look back in awe toward Meditation Mount. Honey, my trusty guardian, running ahead, urging me on, and then patiently waiting while I stood still, soaking up the vast beauty of the landscape.

As it grew dark, the brightening moon accentuated the mystery of twilight. There was an uncanny feeling of the chains that bind you to the world loosening. I felt immersed in twilight –a feeling of being in between two worlds.

My reverie was interrupted by the awareness that it was getting dark. I sang and whistled to let the wild things know I’d lingered too long. With Chico on a leash and Honey running close by, we hoofed it back to civilization. The mountains were turning black, the horizon was ruby red, and in the last light of dusk the trail looked like a magical, winding, red road . . .

Photo Credit: Pink Moment, Jodi Brand                                       420152_10150741781489703_1319035889_n

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Winter Solstice Liberation: Mahasamadhi, The Last Asana

December 22, 2013

December 21, Winter Solstice 2013

Some of you may have read this story before. This week, I received a letter from a friend who had just read it for the first time.

He wrote: “You have no idea what a joy it was to stumble across your account of Ruth’s passing. As you may recall, my wife and I were best friends with Ruth for many years. We lived in her apartment; she took us in when times were tough, and later on we lived across the street from her. She wrote to us sporadically after we left Ojai. We found out about her death and its manner through a third party. So many memories of Ruth return with reading your account. She had told us years earlier that this was the way she’d probably die.”

Suzaji's Blog

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Winter Solstice Liberation: Mahasamadhi, the Last Asana

December 1987

In the end—and it will end—your life will seem to have sped by like a fleeting dream.

—Doris “Granny D” Haddock

The Winter Solstice is upon us. It was at this time of year, many years ago, that I rode my bicycle over to Eucalyptus Street, as I often did, to see my old friend Ruth. It was a crisp, sunny day after a long rain, and I was not really in the mood to be stuck indoors, but Ruth had called to say she had something important to tell me.

The moment I stepped inside, I could sense that something was up. Shirley, the next-door neighbor who checked on Ruth twice a day, was in the kitchen dumping oatmeal into the garbage disposal. She didn’t waste any words telling me what was going on. 

Ruth says she’s going to…

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Vegan Marijuana Butter

December 16, 2013

December 15, 2013

It was a week of shocks and vegan marijuana butter.The human mind is not rational, and we can never know what someone else is thinking. This was the week I found out that a couple who had befriended me many years ago had committed suicide. These were people with ample funds to live a life of pleasure and play. We had great fun together when they came to visit Ojai. Every night they treated me to dinner at any restaurant I liked, or they’d buy the best organic groceries and come into the kitchen of the spacious country house I had at the time, and we’d create a fabulous vegetarian feast. We’d splash Kahlua in our soy milk, drink champagne, and laugh about everything.And there were other shocks as well.

Life is so bewildering.

I’m still thinking about the Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting I attended last Tuesday, to speak in support of a mandatory spay and neuter ordinance. As I listened to almost three hours of testimony, I saw again how human beings seemingly live in completely different realities. Even though the law provides for exemptions, all the cat and dog breeders argued that this law would be an invasion of privacy, would cost more money, would be ignored by the very people it’s intended to target, would punish responsible people, and would not solve the problem.

I confess that I kept thinking how you can say the same thing about almost every law.

One of the many speakers opposing the ordinance, a retired police officer who had just purchased her first purebred dog and, if I understood her correctly, now wants to learn to be a “responsible breeder,” said that this is one more law that is “impossible to enforce.”

I’ll listen to the videotape of the meeting to be sure my ears heard this right, but the sole supervisor to vote against the ordinance gave the example of how we all know that, when you tell a child not to do something, it doesn’t work. It just makes the child rebel and disobey. . . (Surely I only dreamed that he actually said this. Otherwise, this will have been the first government meeting I’ve ever attended at which both a lawmaker and a law enforcer point out that laws don’t work!)

Every time one more speaker at the podium argued for why “this law won’t work,” I couldn’t resist turning toward my animal-rescuer friends and laughingly whispering, “Then they must also be in favor of legalizing marijuana!”

As I listened to all the testimony, my mind went to the thousands of adoptable cats and dogs killed in animal shelters every day. I didn’t want to start a riot, and I understand the importance of being diplomatic, especially in order to vote in a new law, but when it came my turn to speak at the podium I couldn’t help but point out that there are numerous rescue sites for homeless purebred dogs too. And one of the speakers after me testified that she had pulled 60 boxers, some with papers, from shelters in the last few months alone . . .

The next day, Wednesday, was warm and sunny, and, after spending Tuesday afternoon in that windowless government building, as I sat staring at the computer I suddenly heard that wonderful Elton John song from the “Friends” soundtrack playing in my head: “I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree . . . ” I just had to get outside!

While I filled my backpack with water and fruit, I remembered that a few weeks ago a friend had brought me a care package of homemade vegan tomato soup, raw seed crackers, other healthy goodies, and a small glass jar with coconut butter that, she carefully explained, was infused with marijuana. She gave me instructions for adding this herbal elixir to a cup of herb tea.

This friend happens to be a fun, health-conscious, spiritually minded vegan, so I figured this special mixture had to be of the best, highest-grade medicinal quality. BecauseI can’t stand smoking anything, my last experience with marijuana was about 45 years ago when I burned my throat inhaling smoke from a joint. End of story. But on this day that little jar of vegan marijuana butter beckoned me. So, with the dogs jumping up and down and chomping at the bit to get going, I quickly followed my friend’s instructions to the best of my recollection: “Boil some water, make some tea–any kind of herb tea, and add a little honey. Then stir in the coconut butter.”

This vegan marijuana butter looked for all the world like that Indian butter, ghee. Don’t traditional Asian cultures also drink yak butter tea? My friend had cautioned me not to add too much butter:”You’re not used to it. Just try a little bit.” I couldn’t remember the exact amount that she advised, so I floated a tablespoon of this vegan butter concoction into my tea.

I sipped the tea. It tasted perfectly normal.

So off I went into the arms of Mother Nature with my happy menagerie. I remembered that my friend said it would take about 45 minutes to feel anything, so every once in a while I checked the time on my cell phone. When I wander in nature I often experience a palpable shift in consciousness; my brain cells and nervous system quiet down –at least to some extent. So, after about an hour, not knowing what to expect, I couldn’t really tell if the quiet that descended was the tea or just me.

About two hours later, still not really feeling anything unusual, I moseyed on back to the house with the dogs. I think it was shortly thereafter, while I was washing the dishes, that I realized something had “hit.” Usually, after a walk in nature, like after a yoga meditation practice, my mind gradually fires up again and I find myself back in the noisy stream of life. This time, the only way I can describe it is that everything felt more and more quiet and timeless. I’m inclined to say that it felt shamanic. Just for a while, my perception of the woman (me) washing the endless dirty dishes shifted. My kitchen sink is right by a door so I periodically stepped outside. My mind searches for the words to describe how everything looked strangely familiar, yet my consciousness had landed somewhere new.

A few days later, I mentioned to my friend how I’d tried some of the vegan marijuana butter she’d given me.

“Oh,” she said, “How was it?”

“Well, ” I replied, “I couldn’t remember the amount.”

“Just a tiny bit,” she said. “Not more than a teaspoon.”

— in Ojai, CA.

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I’ve never seen such a lack of enthusiasm in my life!

December 16, 2013

December 11, 2013

I handed Honey a heart-shaped Newman’s Own Organic Peanut Butter Premium Dog Treat. I’ve never seen such a lack of enthusiasm in my life! Whereas Chico leaped up and swiped his out of my hand with all the Chihuahua gratitude his spirit could muster. So then, of course, Honey reluctantly nibbled her rejected biscuit, rather than let Chico nab it . . . — in Ojai, CA.

Honey

Honey

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HOLY MOLY! I’ve just unlocked the secret of going up into Urdhva Dhanurasana

December 16, 2013
December 9, 2013
HOLY MOLY! I’ve just unlocked the secret of going up into Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upside Down Bow Pose), a pose that was easy two years ago when this photo was taken, but which gradually became harder with the convergence of not practicing backbends regularly, not going to class with teachers who might have assisted me, weight gain, and, most of all, the passage of time.
In my youth, backbends came easily. If I didn’t practice them for a few weeks, my youthful credit helped me sail past the initial stiffness simply by practicing a few preliminary poses. Now, at age 64, the reality of endless days at the computer and the inevitable stresses and strains of life has settled into my shoulder joints. But in recent months, though, inspired by B.K.S. Iyengar who will be 95 on December 14) and all the other teachers further along the yoga path than I, I’ve been experimenting much more with wall ropes, bolsters, and chairs.For older students or stiff beginners of any age, the most difficult part of pushing up from the floor is the first few inches–getting to the top of the head without straining the neck or shoulders. In my classes, when a student has developed the strength, flexibility, and, most important, whole-body awareness that is essential for bending backwards without injury, then most of the time all he or she needs is a little help mastering the dynamics of getting past that moment when the body feels like dead weight. Which is exactly how my body has felt these past several months of trying to press up from the floor.
Well, I don’t have a yogi hubby who gets up at 5 a.m. to assist me into backbends; instead, as they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I’m sure if someone who didn’t do yoga were to have peeked in my window, the scene would probably have looked insane. Even Honey, sacked out on my bed, had an incredulous look on her face.For a good solid hour I practice Standing Poses with a single wall rope around the top of my back leg to get maximum elongation and traction of the spine, and to stretch shoulders, rib cage, etc, (also Parsvottanasana and Revolved Triangle with a single wall rope around the top of both legs, to keep pelvis level; then Downward Facing and Upward Facing Dog Pose, with both single and double wall ropes, and then, finally, drop-back backbends with a single wall rope around my bottom, both “free style” and back of my head supported on the chair seat.

You’d think, with all that warming up, that when I went to lie down on the floor, pushing up into Upside Down Bow Pose would be a piece of cake. But no, even with my wrists elevated on blocks against the wall (a yoga trick that worked for decades), my body still didn’t lift itself. I could have forced my way up, but at this stage of life I can’t risk injury.

If only I’d had a teacher standing behind my head who would let me put my hands on her feet or hold her sturdy ankles (which is what I do for my students to elevate their wrists and hands, which helps to open their shoulders).

My motivation to once again enjoy Urdhva Dhanurasana without injury is at an all-time high. So I began experimenting with not only lying back over a chair (with a firmly rolled yoga blanket at various spots in my back to further remove stiffness in spine and ribs) but with a chair facing me so I could grasp its front legs.

My first attempt was a failure, as the second chair was wobbly. So I braced the second chair against the wall and weighed it down with four ten-pound sandbags.

Then, by golly, I sat backwards on the seat of the first chair, went back slowly, first holding the back of the chair, opening my chest and anchoring my feet as I slowly bent backward, then I reached back with my arms, firmly held the front rungs of the second chair, and EASILY lifted my back high off the chair seat into the most victorious, confident, heart-opening, exhilarating backbend I’ve done in a long, long time.

I know that if I keep practicing patiently with strategically arranged bolsters, wall ropes, chairs, and keep lying back over various back benders, that the day will come when I can once more press up from the floor without help as I did in my younger years. And, in the meantime, I’m enjoying all the benefits!

I promise to get a modern phone and take pictures of my prop set ups. To learn more, besides my own books for people at midlife and older, I highly recommend THE WOMAN’S YOGA BOOK, by Bobby Clennell (which shows many of the prop set ups I use in my practice). And Google, “yoga with wall ropes.”

Namaste!
s
Photo Credit: Cathy Snyder — in Ojai, CA.


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