Just Do It!

I really think that Nike slogan is pure genius. It’s so easy to make excuses for not doing something you should, whether that’s exercising or finishing your college degree. There will always be a reason NOT to do something. That’s why you should Just Do it! But, sometimes a little planning can take you a lot further than a corporate slogan can, no matter how brilliant it is.


We’re halfway through the year, and many of you may be assessing how far you’ve gotten with your New Year’s Resolutions. Are you on track, or have you wandered off course? If you’ve lost your way, here are 5 easy steps to help you get back on the right path when it comes to goal setting.


1.       Be specific – don’t set a vague goal. One of my goals was to publish three books in 2012. I’m more than halfway there with one released in April, the second scheduled for August 31st and another at the end of 2012. If I had simply said, “I want to publish more books,” there would have been no way for me to track my progress, and it would be a lot easier to just dismiss that goal altogether.

2.       Be realistic – I didn’t set an unachievable goal of publishing 10 books. I still have a day job, which only leaves so much time for all the little tasks that go into publishing a book. If you set the bar too high, you’ll either kill yourself trying to reach it, or you’ll kill yourself for not reaching it. Do yourself a favor and inject a little reality into your dreams. You are only human, after all.

3.       Prioritize – some goals are going to get pushed to the back burner. One of my goals was to devote more time to my yoga practice. Well, the first couple months of this year were totally nuts and I just didn’t have the time or energy to practice yoga more than once a week. And I decided that was okay. I would put that goal aside, while I took care of some much more important matters, and then return to it when life allowed.

4.       Take baby steps – set small milestones to help you reach your goals. One of my goals was to finish my novel, Picture Perfect, by June 1st. I had about 40,000 words yet to complete when I set that goal, and knowing such a big task was ahead of me, I had to figure out how to tackle it. I decided to do it chapter by chapter. Breaking it down into small chunks made it easier to accomplish. I just focused on that one chapter until it was done. And then I moved on to the next. And by June 1st, I had met my goal.

5.       Celebrate the milestones – achieving a big goal, such as writing a novel, is going to take time. Make sure to celebrate the completion of the milestones along the way to stay motivated. Post your accomplishments to Facebook and Twitter, or simply share them with your family. Just make sure to give yourself a much deserved pat on the back.      


So, now that you’re armed with a little ammunition, it’s time to aim for the bull’s eye, and Just Do it!




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Genre Bending

I love vinyasa yoga. It’s a fast-paced, heat-building practice that tests your strength, flexibility and balance at breakneck speed. It’s not for everyone, but that’s okay. I truly believe there is a yoga for every body. And even though vinyasa is my favorite style, I do sometimes like to switch things up. In fact, the last couple of weeks, I’ve been yoga-hopping.


I got a Groupon for a month of unlimited yoga at a local studio, and I’ve been trying out all sorts of different classes – none of them vinyasa. It’s been a great learning experience for me. As a yoga teacher, I always get something out of every class I take, whether it’s a new approach to teaching handstands or a variation on a restorative pose. A new perspective, if you will.


I believe it’s a good idea to break out of our routines now and then. When we spend too much time doing the same activity over and over, our bodies get used to those movements, and it becomes difficult to continue growing, moving forward. I think the same is true for writers.


I love Chick Lit. I read it, write it, even dream it. But I also like to venture into other literary territories once in a while, just to shake things up. I’d been on a Chick Lit kick for months, reading fabulous new books by debut authors and devouring them like cake pops (who decided it was a good idea to put a cupcake on a stick? Irresistible!). But I needed a change of pace, and settled into an epic historical fiction novel set in Leeds in 1870. It was a juicy drama filled with scandal, unrequited love, madness, and a touch of romance. I loved it. But when it was over, I was ready to jump back into modern day tales of cheeky girls having fun while trying to have it all.


And how does this help my writing? It gives me a new perspective. One of the things I love about Chick Lit is that I can relate to the plight of the heroines. I know what it’s like to struggle in my career, to fall for the wrong guy, to commiserate with my best friends. It’s my life reflected through another lens. But sometimes it’s good to travel to another world or another time to see what life is like in Queen Anne’s court, for instance, or in a parallel universe. And you begin to realize that what all these different literary genres have in common is the human condition. We are all really just looking for fulfillment, happiness, a place to belong.


So the next time you’re heading into your favorite yoga studio, or your local bookstore (are there any left?), try mixing things up with an Iyengar class, or toss a gritty murder mystery into your reading pile. You never know what you may discover when you step outside your boundaries.   




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Foundations First

When I began my yoga practice in 1998, Vinyasa yoga didn’t exist – or at least it wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. That meant that instead of whizzing through multiple poses at the speed of my own breath, I was forced to go slowly and spend several breaths in a single pose. This afforded me the opportunity to focus on my foundations – foot placement, arm rotation, weight distribution, alignment, etc.  I spent years working on my downward dog before ever dreaming of flowing through a standing series like a member of some modern dance troupe. So when I finally did make it to a Power Yoga class in 2008, I had already built the foundations from which to launch a smooth and flowing Vinyasa practice.


If only I had begun writing my first novel with the same careful and patient approach. But, like a lot of beginners, I leapt right in. Of course, I had been studying the craft of writing for decades. With a degree in journalism and a very expensive MFA from a prestigious film school under my belt, I thought I knew what I was doing. But I hadn’t studied the craft of novel writing until after I started writing one, when I joined a local authors group and critique group.


Though I had a strong voice and witty dialogue, my story wandered wherever my imagination ventured. Even when the path I meandered down had absolutely no purpose. Consequently, I got lost. My story ballooned to over one hundred thousand words and yet I still didn’t really know what it was all about. It took a lot of cutting, re-writing, revising, and re-structuring to get it into shape. And a lot of time that could have been spent working on my next novel. But luckily, all that extra work taught me a valuable lesson. Foundations first.


Now when I approach a new novel, I don’t just dive right in with Chapter One. I spend a good amount of time developing the structure of the story, defining the characters, and plotting out the action. As a creative process, it might seem counterintuitive. After all, creativity just happens, right? Well, that’s sort of like getting in your car and letting it decide where you should go. Sure creativity is a powerful engine that can take you many places, but if you give it some direction and a little guidance, the trip might be a lot more satisfying.


I suggest, whether you’re venturing into your first yoga class or fulfilling a lifelong dream of writing a novel, start with the basics. Develop a strong foundation, and then just have fun seeing where all that hard work can take you.




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Find Your Joy

I really had to laugh at last night’s episode of Mad Men when Harry Crane was suckered into a Hare Krishna chant. Because after being on my yoga journey for fourteen years, I’ve been there, too! The difference is, I went willingly. There was a period when I was exploring all facets of yoga, searching for the divine. It led to me many different places, and one of them just happened to be a special event hosted by Sivananda Yoga and the Hare Krishna Temple in Los Angeles.


A yogi friend of mine and I ventured into this strange and enchanting territory one Sunday afternoon, not really knowing what to expect, but hoping to find some sort of enlightenment. We were not disappointed. We were wary, at first. The group was a mix of western yogis like my friend and myself, and musicians, dancers, and Krishna devotees. And just seeing those guys in the yellow robes with their shaved heads was a little freaky. But once they passed around the music sheets and the lead guy brought out his harmonium, we quickly fell under the joyful spell of the chant.


So, when I saw Mad Men’s Harry clapping and chanting and singing along with complete abandon, I knew exactly how he felt. No, he wasn’t going to become a Krishna devotee. But he’d tapped into that place of freedom where the body and soul unite in a celebration of love. A place where time stops and fear dissolves. Pure joy. Unfortunately, it didn’t make a lasting impression on Harry. He went on to do some pretty terrible things later in the show, but I loved that someone as shallow and superficial as Harry could connect with his true Self, even if it was only for a few minutes.  


To me, that’s what yoga is really all about. Connecting with your true Self. Finding the joy within. And you know what? You don’t have to spend hours in lotus pose to get there. Just do what you love, whether that’s gardening in your backyard or rafting the rapids or writing a novel. You don’t have to don a yellow robe and dance in the street to achieve enlightenment. You just have to connect with your joy. Find your joy, and then find time for it. If Harry Crane can do it, anyone can!




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When to Retreat

I recently spent a weekend at a yoga retreat in Ojai, California. It had been nearly 4 long years since my last retreat—a blissful week spent practicing yoga twice a day at a vineyard in Tuscany—and I was definitely due for some time away to reflect and relax and soak in the goodness of a yoga-infused mini-break.


When I’d booked this retreat, I was desperate for some “me” time. I was severely overworked and was also recovering from a very tragic personal loss. I was struggling with anxiety, which seemed insurmountable at the time, and all I wanted was to escape. But I had to wait. My day job and my small press were both in need of my attention. But I plowed through, knowing that a yoga retreat was just around the corner.


Oddly, by the time my retreat rolled around, I didn’t feel like I needed it. Things at the day job and my small press had calmed down. I no longer suffered from anxiety. I was maintaining my yoga practice, going out with friends, and working on my second novel. A retreat seemed unnecessary. But I’d put down a $200 non-refundable deposit, so I went anyway.


It was my first trip to Ojai, despite living only 2 hours away. And on that Friday, as I headed north on the 101 Freeway, I saw something amazing.  My world was opening. My horizons were expanding. You see, I live in Los Angeles, which is a huge city. And I often spend most of my time in my own little neighborhood, which is quite lovely. But going on this retreat forced me to step outside my circle, and what I saw was remarkable.


Crowded buildings and congested streets gave way to soft rolling hills, blue skies and ocean views. I marveled at the landscape, barely able to keep my eyes on the road for I wanted so badly to absorb the beauty surrounding me. And when I headed up into the mountains, the sights were even more stunning. Rugged peaks towered majestically over deep canyons, the crisp blue of the sky contrasting with the earthy browns and greens of the land. It was so much more beautiful than I’d imagined, and as I rolled into Ojai and up to the retreat grounds, I was overcome…with sadness.


How had I gone so long without stepping outside my bubble? Sure, my bubble was nice and comfortable, but I had forgotten how lovely life can be outside it. And all I had to do was take a two hour drive to rediscover that. I love traveling. But opening my small press in 2010 meant my travel budget went into my business. So, without the means to voyage to foreign destinations, I figured I should just stick close to home. Too close, in fact. And even though I’d taken a few quick trips to Vegas for a couple girls’ weekends and back home to visit my family, I hadn’t ventured out into the world. I didn’t give myself a retreat, time to just reflect and relax and soak in the goodness of nature, yoga, and the beauty that is right around the corner.


So, the next time you think you don’t need a retreat, I suggest, that’s exactly when you doneed a retreat. Even if it’s just an afternoon spent outside your bubble, I’m sure you will discover how much you really needed that brief respite all along.




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Dream On

I once lost three whole chapters of a novel I was writing when my laptop died suddenly on an airplane. I didn’t have internet back up, I didn’t have my chapters saved on a memory stick, I didn’t even have the ability to recover my hard drive. Over 9,000 words, gone in an instant. I was devastated.


It took me a long while just to come to terms with the fact I’d lost all my hard work. There had to be a way to rescue my words from obliteration, surely. But there wasn’t. My poor computer was beyond repair and those three chapters were history.


Eventually, I knew I had to start over. I had to recreate my creation. But I thought what I’d written was perfect, and I couldn’t imagine how to capture that magic all over again. So I decided to sleep on it. Or rather, dream on it. I’d read that Edison, Dali and other great minds had used their dream states for inspiration. They would drift off to sleep, and just as their subconscious minds took over, opening to the infinite wisdom of that mysterious space between reality and fantasy, they would wake with the aid of a key or metal ball dropping from their hands.


But I had a different sort of dream state in mind. Rather than completely drift off, I planned to open the path between conscious thought and infinite wisdom without engaging the wacky wonders of my subconscious mind. I was going straight to the “superconscious mind.” Carl Jung coined this term to describe the collective wisdom and knowledge of all our ancestors. But I think it’s more than that. I think it’s our true Self we’re really tapping into. And the best way I know to connect with that source of supreme intelligence? Yoga.


Something happens when you practice yoga. It’s more than just physical exertion, and I can’t really explain it. But when you align your breath with your movement, it’s as if a portal opens to your higher intelligence, your true Self.


So, I unfurled my yoga mat, put on a little bing-bong music and set an intention – to find my words. I led my body through a series of sun salutations, standing poses and finally a number or restorative postures until my limbs were loose and my heart was light. Then, ready for inspiration to begin, I lay down in Savasana (corpse pose) and allowed the ideas to flood my mind. It didn’t take long, and soon I was at the keyboard typing away. And you know what? Those three new chapters were even better than the ones I’d lost.


The next time you’re struggling to overcome a block in your creativity, try taking your problem to your yoga mat. Or, just try my 10 Minute Stretch. It might open up a whole new world of possibilities for you.




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Finding Yoga

When I was a kid, my mom used to practice yoga in our living room with Lilias, Yoga, and You on PBS. It was an enchanting show featuring a soft-spoken woman in a blue leotard that could bend and twist her body into bizarre shapes and angles.  To me, it was play time. Time to get on the floor with my mom and do somersaults and splits and backbends. I had no idea I was doing yoga. I was just having fun. But when my mom went to work and we stopped playing with Lilias, yoga quickly faded from my life.


It wasn’t until 1998, when I very reluctantly took a yoga class because my aerobics class had been canceled, that I found my way back to the mat. I had almost completely forgotten about those days in front of our massive television set encased in wood cabinetry. In my mind, yoga was for hippies and grannies. Boy, was I wrong.


That re-introduction was tough. Not only was I thoroughly unprepared, as was the rest of the class, our teacher was channeling Bobby Knight and slinging harassing statements at us left and right as we struggled to maintain balance in tree pose, keep our hips square in Warrior 1, and reach our toes in forward fold.  We were pathetic. And I loved it. I had not been so physically challenged since I’d taken karate in college. I was an exercise junkie. I’d tried every fitness fad that came to Los Angeles, but because I thought yoga would be easy, I avoided it like the plague.


Luckily, my determination to master Half Moon and King Dancer had me practicing yoga almost daily for several months. I found a local yoga studio for guidance and invested in some books for self-study.  Before long, I was doing Headstands and Wheels with aplomb. But then something remarkable happened. One night, after a vigorous session at home, I was lying in Savasana and listening to Madonna’s Ray of Light when I suddenly found myself floating in space. Yes, I was still firmly planted on my bedroom floor, but my mind had tapped into some other world. A world filled with peace and serenity where ideas took flight, and fear, worry and suffering disappeared. I was free, if only for a few minutes.


I related my out of body experience to a friend of mine who was an astrophysicist. He scoffed, saying I must have placed myself under some sort of self-hypnosis. But I knew there was more to it. So, I started reading more books on yoga. Not on the physical practice of yoga, but on the spiritual aspects of yoga. Wow. What a world opened up to me then!  I came to discover that the asanas, the physical postures, are only a small part of yoga. Yoga is a philosophy, a spirituality. An avenue to the true Self. Not only was a yoga practice beneficial to my body, but to my mind and spirit as well.


Since that day, I have been on a journey of self-exploration. I’ve attended several retreats, I’ve gotten certified to teach, I’ve studied the Bagavad Gita, I’ve added meditation to my practice, and I’ve come to realize that I will never fully appreciate all that yoga is. Every day brings a new surprise, a new discovery. And that’s why I keep practicing, keep studying, keep going to retreats. Because there’s always more to learn, more to inspire me, more to enlighten me.


And just like when I was rolling around on the floor with my mom all those years ago, yoga is playtime. It’s a chance to be free and do silly things and discover secrets trapped in my subconscious. Yoga is so many things, and I’ve only scratched the surface of all its wonder. I can’t wait to find out what yoga has to teach me today.  


How about you? Do you practice yoga? How did yoga find you?

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