Manatee love

In 1967, manatees moved onto the endangered species list. Their Florida population had plummeted to mere hundreds.

The Washington Post reported this month that the simple, peaceful, joyful animals are making a comeback, thanks largely to 50 protected areas having been set aside for them.



Manatee populations worldwide are now estimated to be around 13,000, with more than 6,300 of them in Florida. That represents a 500 percent increase since 1991, according to the [U.S. Fish and Wildlife] service’s website.

Thank you scientists, conservationists, the Coast Guard, government agencies, concerned citizens and the resilient sea lettuce lovers themselves.

In yoga classes, we sometimes set intentions or dedicate a practice to someone or something who could benefit from our well wishes. These are ways of acknowledging our connections to others and our gratitude for the time and space to practice.

Manatee, this asana is for you!

simple, joyful reading

What is simple and joyful?

Finding good books in unexpected places. Such discoveries often mean reading something one wouldn’t typically open.

Tucker chooses to walk the alleyways of our Cleveland Park neighborhood. Last week, one block off Cathedral Avenue, we found a grown-up height Little Free Library. Inside, Kitty Sewell’s delicious thriller, Bloodprint. Curled up with it during this weekend’s “Snowzilla.”

dolphin in snow
Saturday’s view through my apartment window.

A colorful reading diet is as nourishing as a colorful plate of food. It’s about balance.

In addition to the guacamole of thrillers, the minestrone soup of Joy Williams, the shepherd’s pie of the poems of Charles Wright, I’m chewing my way through the steel cut oats of Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching. (I’ve renewed the book from the library three times.) A taste from a wise one:

The living Dharma is not just a library of sutra books or audio or videocassettes of inspiring Dharma talks. When I see you walking mindfully in peace and joy, a deep presence is also awakened in me….When you take good care of yourself, your brothers, and your sisters, I recognize the living Dharma.

A coverless book is the potluck canapé surprise.

A couple of weeks ago, when the weather was warm, among loads of paperback sidewalk give-aways on the neighborhood library’s rolling metal shelves, I found Next Stop Gretna by Belinda Dell, a Harlequin Romance published in Canada in 1970. This red-rimmed paperback somehow survived the rubbish bin.


Here’s my favorite sentence.

A smell of excellent coffee pervaded the atmosphere.

The raciest scene is on the second-to-last page and includes the word “deliquesce.” And,

A sensation like vertigo seized her; she felt as if she were adrift in a strange, multicolored cloud, frightened and yet filled with delight.

This sounds a bit like yoga!

Anyway, it’s a fun read and fun is good.

Last line:

People in love take no notice of trivialities.

Nor do people who love to read!

Who has snacked on crackers and peanut butter for dinner while finishing a good yarn?

Or looked up from the page to notice it’s dusk already?

Happy reading these winter nights and days! Dine well.



Still, snow

Dear Readers, Dear Students–

So much snow is predicted for D.C. this weekend that Sunday’s Breath and You workshop is canceled!

Whether you are stocking up on groceries and reading material or sitting somewhere sunnier, here’s a favorite snow poem of Emily Dickinson’s offered in the spirits of poetry, simplicity and joy.

Be well.


It sifts from leaden sieves,
It powders all the wood,
It fills with alabaster wool
The wrinkles of the road.

It makes an even face
Of mountain and of plain, —
Unbroken forehead from the east
Unto the east again.

It reaches to the fence,
It wraps it, rail by rail,
Till it is lost in fleeces;
It flings a crystal veil

On stump and stack and stem, —
The summer’s empty room,
Acres of seams where harvests were,
Recordless, but for them.

It ruffles wrists of posts,
As ankles of a queen, —
Then stills its artisans like ghosts,
Denying they have been.

Poems & time

A thought from poet and neuropsychologist Sean Haldane in his Time/No Time The Paradox of Poetry and Physics:

The final paradox is that we have got time the wrong way round. We think of time — and measure it — out there, in the universe. But the universe is timeless. Our clock measurements are simply lengths. Time is not out there it is in here — in us. We invent it as we live it. And our days are numbered by the external clocks we identify all around us. Yet we also experience, in occasional discontinuities, the timelessness of the universe of which we take part. Although we die — we are finite — we are eternal too. As William Blake wrote:

To see a world in a grain of sand

And heaven in a wild flower,

Hold infinity in the palm of your hand

And eternity in an hour.

Haldane says in an interview with The Guardian,

I don’t have huge faith in the possibility of psychotherapy to change people as I used to. In fact, I now think poetry has more capacity to change people than psychotherapy. If you read a poem and it gets to you, it can shift your perspective in quite a big way, and writing a poem, even more so.

William Blake’s Job, who famously struggled to come to terms with time.

Want to bring more poetry into your life?

Read poems. Aloud. Breathe life into them.

Want to write one? Get started here. Keep going.

More prompts here from my Meditation, Movement and Verse class.

Want to memorize someone else’s poem? Here are tips.

Ready to try reading a poem at open mic? Tips here.

Curious about intersections of poetry and psychotherapy? Check out the National Association for Poetry Therapy.

Here’s a sample of writing that grew out of a workshop I attended.

And writing from a workshop I led. Three Weeks Before Summer guides you through a similar process.

Move past roadblocks

Karr’s tips for moving past writing roadblocks, adapted for Yoga Stanza.

  1. Keep a commonplace book for copying out chunks of poetry or prose. When I was struggling to understand Wordsworth’s long poem “Michael,” a professor suggested I copy the whole poem longhand. Bingo! I saw the poem clearly, as if through magical reading glasses.
  2. Write reviews for online outlets. Follow the guideline of Right Speech as you review–is it kind, necessary and true?–and remember your task is to serve the reader of the review.
  3. Augment a daily journal with a reading journal. Copy passages, record connections, ask questions.
  4. Copy quotes longhand onto index cards and carry them around. Karr suggests including writer’s name and source. You can also share these with friends.
  5. Memorize poems. I suggest making the shape of viparita karani while you memorize. Or pace the room. Or carry the poem with you to memorize and refer to it.
  6. Write longhand letters to your characters.

More bits of advice that have stuck to my writing socks like burrs:

7. I heard Barry Lopez suggest cultivating another art in addition to writing, preferably something hands-on. Through the years, I’ve crocheted scarves, kept a garden, made postcard collages and baked pies.


8. From Julia Connor: Treat your writing as you would your granddaughter (or grandson), tenderly.

9. Also from Julia: Think of your journal as your personal art studio. You have a place to go.

10. From Sherman Alexie: Read a thousand pages for every one that you write.

11. From Susan Kelly-DeWitt: As an artist, you don’t want to feel like you’re moving backwards. I think of this also as being willing to let go of the edge of the pool. Be brave. Swim.

12. Also from Susan: When you’re the least sure of what you’re doing, that’s likely where the magic is happening. Write through uncertainty.

13. From one of the inmates serving a life sentence at New Folsom Prison. “Care for your creativity. Respect it. Take care of it and it will take care of you.” Don’t ever take it for granted. Don’t forget to feed it. When I teach children, I sometimes liken creativity to a dog who benefits from training and requires assistance making a home in our world.

14. From Kate Braverman: The world needs more readers, not more writers. Maybe keeping a journal is enough to satisfy your storytelling and there’s no need to write for public eyes (at least sometimes).

15. One more from Susan: Know that you marry your writing. That’s the level of commitment at which it happens. (Be sure your partner’s on board!)

16. Still want to write? Like Karr, I’m not super-keen on writing exercises per se. But I have held on to The Triggering Town. It’s effective for prose and poetry. Get a taste of it here.


Memoir, the art of

In The Art of Memoir, Mary Karr suggests meditation as a way to get going.

To tap into your deepest talent, you need to seek out a calm, restful state of mind where your head isn’t defending your delicate ego and your heart can bloom open a little.

This proves true in my workshops–Meditation, Movement and Verse, Day Poems, Gestures and At Home in Our Bodies–that combine stillness with gentle movement and writing. Karr tells the reader,

Just apply your ass to the chair…and for fifteen or twenty minutes, practice getting your attention out of your head, down to some wider expanse in your chest or solar plexus–a place less self-conscious or jittery or scared. The idea is to unclench your mind’s claws.

She explains how inspiration arrives.

You’re seeking enough quiet to let the Real You into your mind. Inspiration–the drawing into the body of some truth-giving spirit read to walk observantly through the doors of your past.

By stilling, the memoirist invites herself to the page.

For months and years, the writer must be willing to re-vision anything she sets down.

Writing, Karr says, isn’t linear.

I always circle my own stories, avoiding the truth like a pooch staked to a clothesline pole, spiraling closer and closer with each revision till–with each book–my false self finally lines up eye to eye with the true one.

Reading Karr’s book feels like visiting an older sister who’s made a life off the main road and is glad of your visit to her.

Much of the book cautions against even attempting a memoir and clarifies why Karr–who started in poetry and fiction–chooses the genre.

It takes an obsessive streak that borders on lunacy to go rummaging around in the past as memoirists are wont to do, particularly a fragmented or incendiary past, in which facts are sparse and stories don’t match up. I don’t know if memoirists are lied to more often as kids or only grow up to resent it more, but it does seem we come often from the ranks of orphans or half-orphans-through-divorce, trying to heal schisms inside ourselves.

At this point in The Art of Memoir, about four-fifths of the way through, it occurred to me the book is not so much a how-to as a why-to, which makes it especially useful.

Like everybody, I suppose, people we loved broke our hearts because only they had access to them, and we broke our own hearts later by following their footsteps and reenacting their mistakes.

In an appendix, Karr lists more than 200 memoirs to read. Going through the list, I saw that I’d read many and taught a few. Some surprised me, for when I read them as a young woman I didn’t consider them memoirs at all, but rather life manuals. These include: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Lakota Woman, Out of Africa, In Patagonia, Black Elk Speaks, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, A Moveable Feast, Coming into the Country, House, My Brother, Surprised by Joy, and One Writer’s Beginnings.

My own list adds Molly Peacock, Kathleen Norris, Ivan Doig and Leslie Marmon Silko.

Mary Karr

Scanning the pages of suggestions, I recalled finding Karr’s The Liar’s Club, on a carousel at a bookstore in Ashland, Oregon during a 1995 trip to visit my sister-in-law.

It was one of those books that jumps into your hands and makes you fork over the hardback price without even counting your change.

I was in my first year of teaching language arts at Martinez Junior High and loved my students, and the work, with enthusiasm. My husband and I had been married a couple of years. We rented a one-bedroom on the second floor of a garden apartment complex on Marina Vista, overlooking the Carquinez Strait.

Nights brought the glare of floodlights from the baseball diamond across the street, the go-go-go!!! of a cheered base runner, the blare of foghorns and the confident calls of trains’ horns. When I took a break from grading papers to clean on Saturday mornings, dust from the windowsills stained the cloth black with soot from oil refineries.

Winter weekends, Matt and I hopped in our white Subaru Justy, cross-country skis and poles loaded on the rack, to race up the hill to South Lake Tahoe, where we’d moved from and remembered the trails.

Un-snowy weekends, we’d get together for potluck dinners and games of Scrabble (using two boards to amp up the excitement!) with another young couple who lived down the block.

A black cat moved into the apartment building and various residents fed him and put him up for the night. He kept me company on the futon as I consumed Karr’s story.

It wasn’t the first memoir I’d read, but it was the first I’d read with the awareness that it is a memoir.

My students were gathering oral histories of family members to write historical fiction for an eighth-grade project. Wanting to create a model for my students, on a trip back to Washington, D.C. I visited my 85-year-old grandmother, Kay Mergen, in her studio apartment, placing a bulky tape recorder in front of her.

For two hours, I questioned her about her Texas childhood. Kay and I had driven across the country together in my old, brown Nissan just a few years before.

I felt I was filling in gaps the way a woodworker uses putty.

I couldn’t get enough of Kay’s tales, especially the story of seeing her first airplane circling stunts above a dry Gainesville field.

Years later, in the months following 9/11, I was teaching community writing workshops in Bakersfield, Calif. and found people, especially those with grandchildren, or the age at which they’d have them, eager to set down their childhoods. I started teaching memoir in addition to poetry and found, as Karr explains, that the two genres fill different needs.

Simply put, in my experience, the poets are looking for beauty and the memoirists for truth.

That’s not to say prose doesn’t contain grace that catches our collective workshop breath or that truths don’t emerge from verse like pearls. The truths of memoirists often includes the grim, dry survivor’s humor of the absurd; the beauty of poets includes the gravitas of reflexive, fearless sensitivity.

The poets write their ways out of exile; the memoirists write their ways into belonging.

It’s all good.

Hands & breath (meditation)

This is a simple meditation you can do anywhere, even at the table.

Seated, rest the palms face up on your thighs. Close the eyes. Inhaling, let the fingers expand and fan open gently. Exhaling, let the fingers draw toward the center of the hands, closing. Breath guides movement. Continue for 12.


Hum for health

The year 2016 is here. Off to a humming start? Or feeling ho-hum?

In any case, try humming.

It’s free and easy, takes only a few minutes and seems to promote health and harmony.

Humming. Bird.

Humming turns the body into a musical instrument, creating vibrations that travel through spaces, such as nasal cavities. Like a hall monitor, humming keeps things moving to clear the way.

Recent studies reported in the New York Times show that humming “helps increase airflow between the sinus and nasal cavities, which could potentially help protect against sinus infections.” Mucus build-up leads to infection. That’s when your head feels dull and achey.

The musical aspect of humming may explain why it can be a mood lifter. We connect with another time and place by humming a nostalgic tune. Musicologist Joseph Jordania believes humming may be one of humans’ earliest means of communication, letting one another know they are safe.

As with singing, humming leads to a longer exhalation, which can be soothing. A humming breath sequence used in yoga, called brahmari, or bee breath, is said to deepen breathing and reduce anxiety. Practice the breath alone, where you might feel less self-conscious, or recruit a friend.

When I’ve led brahmari breathing in yoga classes, buzzing like bees proves so fun that people often smile. This exercise can delight children and — if you’re willing to hum like a hive with them — may distract them from a bad temper.

Want to try it?

Continue reading on My Little Bird.