Baby, I Can Drive My Car

This morning I noticed that the color of the woods are slowly turning as the leaves offer their first hint that season’s change is coming soon. A few days ago a new fawn joined the family of deer that enjoy an evening snack outside our door. And last week I drove to the Lowe’s in Waynesboro all by myself.

That’s a bigger deal than you think.

Like any sixteen-year-old growing up in rural Pennsylvania I loved the freedom that having my drivers license represented. But I don’t know that I ever loved driving. It was a skill I needed if I wanted to get from home to Becky’s house, or choir rehearsal, or to Bake Oven Knob. I was never afraid of driving but it was less of a joy and more of a necessary chore. It always made me a little nervous.

I didn’t become afraid of driving until four years ago when my black Honda CRV, with me behind the wheel, was rammed from behind at a red light and totaled on Oregon Expressway just a minute away from my former home in Palo Alto. After that accident, an accident in which I was not injured, being in a car left me hyper-vigilant, white knuckled and close to panic. It was almost tolerable when I was behind the wheel but deepened when I was a passenger. Behind the wheel I had some control. As a passenger all control was relinquished. 

This fear had a huge and controlling impact on my life. I missed art exhibits in San Francisco I was desperate to see. I turned down party invitations and gatherings with friends. I said ‘no’ to going to the movies. I avoided almost every event where driving was involved even when my heart wanted something different. But to go anywhere required time for me to prepare mentally. 

There were exceptions, of course. A two-hour drive with a friend to attend an art workshop was doable because I had time to talk myself down from the edge. I had support from my friend who commiserated with my fear and who assured me that the SUV she was driving was an indestructible tank. And then there was the drive Ben and I made up the Pacific coast to Sea Ranch. The deep anxiety I experienced navigating the twisty, fog shrouded road on the final leg of our journey there was the price I paid for an exceptionally beautiful weekend on the sunlit ocean’s edge.

But this was no way to live. I was determined to leave my fear behind in California. I was not going to allow my fear of driving to control my life in Virginia. 

About a month ago I made my first trip to the Harris Teeter Market two miles down Rockfish Gap from our new home. And even though when I leave Harris Teeter I have to make a left hand turn onto what can sometimes be a somewhat busy two-lane road, I survived. I’ve been going to Harris Teeter a few times a week ever since. Even when we don’t need anything. Just for the practice. 

My next challenge arrived ten days ago when Ben needed to catch the train to DC. He offered to Uber to the station but I insisted we take the car. I wanted the challenge of navigating my way home. I could do that. Or I could shake off a little fear. I chose the latter and set Waze for the nearest Whole Foods. And again, I survived. I also survived two days ago when his train arrived back in Charlottesville and I was there to meet him. I can’t remember the last time I was there to meet Ben after a business trip. I didn’t know how much I missed doing that.

Remember when you were sixteen and you passed your drivers test? That’s how going to Whole Foods, doing the food shopping and then driving the twenty minutes home felt to me. That’s how finding my way to the train station felt. That’s how going to Dollar General and then all the way to Waynesboro felt. Such simple, ordinary things. Still, it was as if someone was handing me the literal car key to my freedom. That someone was me.

I still have some ways to go. I haven’t driven to Charlottesville ‘proper’ or navigated finding parking near the Pedestrian Mall. But I know that I will. There are too many things I want to do. Too many experiences I no longer want to put on hold. 

Do you have a fear you’ve been trying to shake? What steps could you take to begin letting go of that fear?


What Better Time is There to Practice?

What would happen if you gave yourself this gift of stillness? What would happen if you let the world take care of itself while you take care of yourself for these few, brief moments?

It’s out of character for me to ask questions during those last ten minutes of class, when we assume our final pose for the day, savasana, and prepare for guided relaxation. But at the end of a recent class, and even though my guided relaxation style leans more toward a body-scan sort of script, that’s what I did. I was hoping the questions might open everyone’s heart toward the idea of it being all right to rest without judgement of what’s happening in the body or with the breath.

Some might disagree but I’ve always believed that those final moments in our asana practice are the most important and the most difficult. We are asking ourselves to balance stillness with presence. We are letting go of the expectations we place upon ourselves. We are doing our best to not think about what we’re having for lunch.

But when we feel agitated and when we know we have a long list of projects waiting for us after that final namaste’, assuming savasana and resting in present-moment stillness is challenging. Yet what better time is there to practice? 

When we are in a brick and mortar studio the idea of a practice feels somehow more available. There are few distractions and the quiet, intentional atmosphere of the studio offers a focus not always available to us when we are rolling our mat out on the living room floor and sharing a virtual class with fifteen others. And while we count the dust bunnies under the bookcase from downward dog and find cobwebs between the paddles of the ceiling fan our mind wanders and our ability to hold our attention on the sensations in our body and the movement of our breath wavers. 

And so I ask again: what better time is there to remain present in and with our practice?

By the way, I understand this challenge because it’s my challenge, too.

There’s a level of loneliness to the online class that doesn’t exist when we’re together in a studio. That’s why I believe it is important to treat our virtual yoga space with the same reverence that we treat the studio yoga space. To remember that we are sharing our practice with others and that while we apart physically we are united energetically.

What would that take to make that shift? 


Being Strong. Being Gentle.

This morning I’m thinking about what it means to be strong. How do we balance owning our strength – our physical and our emotional strength – with keeping a gentle, nurturing heart? It seems easier somehow to be strong for others, doesn’t it? To care for others. How do we care for ourselves? Are we strong advocates for ourselves when we need to be? Are we gentle with ourselves when gentleness is required? Can we say ‘no’? Can we ask for help?

Sometimes, when I’m facilitating a yoga class, I get into my head. I begin to think I’m not doing enough. That I’m not challenging students with more difficult asana or sequences. That everyone is thinking, ‘not this again’. When I fall far enough into my head I like to tell myself I’m a fraud.

Is there something in your life that triggers similar negative self-talk?

After a bit of wallowing I remember that I am not the only yoga teacher in the world and yet an amazing group of individuals continue to show up for my classes. And then I remember how long I’ve been teaching and how much I’ve studied and how those years have created a specific approach and a specific philosophy that I embrace. My gentle heart catches me and I remember how strong I am.

Wouldn’t it be great if we always felt strong? If our gentle heart always caught us before we trip and fall?

In my practice this week, on and off the mat, my intention is to do less but to feel more. I want to notice when I’m moving through life from a place of owning my strength but I also want to notice when I need to treat myself with gentleness. In other words, I want to pay attention.

How will you pay attention this week?


Touching Life: Change Takes Patience

Bruce the Cat is living his best life.

I can’t say the same for his favorite human companion. It’s been a wonderful and an exhausting month but I won’t feel at home until my brain can shift its thinking from ‘I moved to Virginia’ towards ‘I live in Virginia’. My body is here but my energy is somewhere over a cornfield in Iowa and until the two can meet this sense of being unmoored will stay with me. It’s as if there’s a glitch and my spirit is biding its time somewhere in the air between California and Crozet, like a little spinning rainbow waiting for the new software update to download. But that’s what a move is like, isn’t it? The body and the spirit need space to forge their alignment. Until then, balance and equilibrium is off kilter. Just ask my Vrksasana.

Change takes time. We know that. It might be a cross country move, a bad habit we’re trying to break or a new perspective we’re trying to find. Change takes time. And if we don’t see change for what it is – an opportunity to practice patience – then the disappointment we feel when the new conditions we’re expecting don’t arrive fast enough can mess with our head. It has definitely messed with mine. This past month – in between the excitement and moments of joy – I’ve been irritable and frustrated. I’ve lost focus. I’ve had trouble sleeping. To be clear, I haven’t once questioned our decision to relocate but the firm grip I had on the vision for my life and the purpose I knew was mine has slipped away. I don’t yet know who I am in this new home. And my brain won’t be able to transition to ‘I live in Virginia’ until all the things I can’t seem to find – including me – are found.

Change has its own rhythm. It’s own schedule. 

I need to take to heart the words I write. Change is an opportunity to practice patience.

Which means I need to stop worrying about the damaged refrigerator sitting like a monolith in the middle of my kitchen and take joy in the truth that there’s a new, undamaged refrigerator in its place. By next week it the broken monolith will be gone. By next week shelves for the garage will arrive and trying to find the car won’t require navigating a maze of cardboard. After that the boxes still unpacked will be open. And after that we’ll have a few chairs for the patio and will be able to enjoy hot tea in the cool mornings as the sun rises. I’ll begin to learn how I fit in this new place, this new world.

Until then I will continue to repeat the mantra ‘Change is an opportunity to practice patience’. And the first place I will practice patience is with myself.


I’m a Coach. Don’t Roll Your Eyes.

When I began my training with International Coach Academy (ICA) at the beginning of the pandemic (and isn’t it odd how we now tell time according to COVID?) we were asked to find peer coaches with whom we would practice our developing skills. One of my peer coaches – who I’ll name Jane – was close to graduating from the sixteen-month program. I found Jane’s coaching prowess intimidating. She possessed limitless self-belief and her blinding confidence glowed like a pulsating aura. What Jane lacked was empathy. She didn’t notice that my habit of comedic self-deprecation is the tactic I use to disguise my fear of failure. It was both her loss and mine.

Before my peer coaching relationship with Jane began, I believed coaching was easy. I had no doubt that I was going to sail through ICA’s intensive program without breaking a sweat. But the opposite was proving true. Coaching is a skill that takes practice and dedication to master and I was struggling. Jane was blind to my struggle. When she told me that 80% of the individuals who graduate from a coaching program never become professional coaches, she didn’t see the movie reel of my life as a coach burst into flames. She couldn’t know that the committee in my head, my little saboteurs that run around with needles to poke holes in my hopes and dreams, never once thought to tell me I could be in the 20% who succeed. And so, when I graduated from ICA I didn’t shout my achievement from the rooftops. It was more of a whisper. And these days, despite my excellent training, I use my coaching skills on the sly. No one even notices. What a shame.

Newly minted coaches are encouraged to practice with peer coaches. I have two that I see on a regular basis. We use our time together to refine our skills and to share experiences. Most recently we’ve been trying to determine why, as bright and well trained individuals, we find it so difficult to ‘sell’ our services.

Part of our struggle is found in the knowledge that, like yoga, life coaching is an unregulated industry. And although coaches have a strong governing body – the International Coaching Federation – for there is no incentive to jump over the many rigorous hoops required to earn accreditation through the ICF when the truth is that anyone who attends a weekend long ‘coach training’ workshop can then hang out a shingle. For that reason, if you are interested in finding a coach, it’s important to review their qualifications in the same way that you might want to know how long your yoga instructor has been practicing and where she did her teacher training.

Another industry problem is the myth that working with a life coach is a luxury only the self-indulgent can afford. While it’s true that some coaches bill at a rate per hour that is so high as to be offensive, others offer their services on a sliding scale or are willing to negotiate payment options. 

Some parts of the health and wellness industry view the coaching industry as nothing more than an interloper riding the coattails of licensed mental health professionals. But coaching is not therapy. Coaching does not examine the past. It begins in the present moment and builds a scaffolding of accountability and action to support the client’s journey forward. It is a grounding, effective technique with which we can navigate and overcome the obstacles that prevent us from achieving our goals and living by values that, for us, carry heart and meaning. Coaching shifts perspective. It helps us to become ‘unstuck’. 

As a coach, I facilitate your journey toward the clarity required to find all the possible paths that will lead you to the future you envision. I create space for you to uncover and to shift the long held limiting beliefs that prevent you from bringing your best self fully into focus.

Coaching is client led. The relationship can be thought of like this: 

Imagine you and I are on a road trip together. I’m your coach, sitting in the passenger seat. You are behind the wheel. You are choosing the destination and the road we’ll take to get there. Along the way you might discover a different road and maybe even a different destination. My job is to help you find your way around roadblocks and to navigate detours. I help you determine for yourself if the choices you are making and the journey you are creating are coming from a place of authenticity aligned with who you are and who you hope to be.

There was a time when I reacted to the words ‘life coach’ with a Pavlovian eye roll – even when becoming a coach was tickling my intuitive heart. Now I understand how coaching works. I understand the skill and the techniques involved. I’ve experienced coaching’s magic. The way it can bring lost ambitions, goals and values back into focus.

Have you lost focus? Do you feel stuck? If you have an important decision to make or a habit you would either like to break or create – let a coach climb into the passenger seat. You’ll be happy you did.

International Coaching Week is happening soon. What better time to try coaching?


Growing Freer

I’ve been thinking about balance.

At the start of the pandemic, which now feels a lifetime ago, I decided that my new found spare time offered me room to begin running again. It didn’t matter that over the previous two decades I moved no faster than a brisk walk. In college I ran to relieve the stress of studies and an unhappy marriage. After college and well into my thirties I ran because when I ran I felt strong and invincible. I wanted to feel that way again. And so I made my preparations. I researched the best shoes for my finicky feet and purchased what I could afford. I found websites and apps with titles like Running for Women, Running for Seniors and Running for Senior Women. I downloaded training schedules and created a list of routes to run and calculated the distances. It didn’t take long for me to graduate from brisk walk to shuffle to an actual jog and in those first weeks I looked forward to a healthy body, a clear mind and the lean, organized structure to my life that I craved.

And then a broken side walk came between my toe and my hopes. While my knees and my thumbs healed I considered giving up. A few months later, when I had a second hard fall, I did give up. 

Falling down was not a rare occurrence when I was a child. My mom would tease, You can trip over thin air, she’d say. When I was in sixth grade one of our teachers who was fresh out of college watched me stumble my way through a tangle of classroom chairs and then, dripping sarcasm, joked about my ‘grace’. It’s funny how we remember these things and not our moments of actual grace. To be fair, it’s true that my knees were skinned more often than not throughout my childhood. But I don’t believe it was because I was clumsy or awkward. I was too busy thinking about the next adventure to notice where I was going. My head was always a million miles ahead of my feet.

And I didn’t think too much about having skinned knees when I was a kid. I always bounced back up, brushed myself off, stuck a bandaid on my scrapes and moved on with life.

But last year the cracks in the sidewalk that sent me flying caught me by surprise. I didn’t bounce back like I did when I was a girl. Something was different. For the first time the trust I had in my body, that all would be well, was questioned. For the first time I found myself afraid of the future and the changes my body would continue to go through as I aged. 

When I stopped catastrophizing about a future that is a mystery to me and began to think clearly I realized that there was plenty I could do now to improve my strength and my balance. How I take care of my body now will inform how my body thrives in the future. I can eat more vegetables. Especially cruciferous ones. I can take Vitamin D. I can add more weight bearing exercises to my routine to keep my bones strong. I can remember that physical balance can be practiced. And then I can make sure to include standing balance poses to my yoga practice.

I don’t really have a formal game plan. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I’m not working toward my healthy future. It means I’m letting go of some of the anxiety I hold about the future. Over the last few weeks I’ve realized that a balanced body goes hand-in-hand with a balanced mind. And to keep a healthy, balanced mind I need to remain present with what is rather than focused on what might be. I can smile more. I can reach out to friends more often. I can immerse myself in the things that I love like art and reading and cooking. 

And I can remember that sometimes we sing the body electric’. Sometimes we fall down. 

This Pablo Neruda poem appeared in my Facebook feed this morning along with this advice: we are growing freer…not older.

You Start Dying Slowly

You start dying slowly

if you do not travel,

if you do not read,

If you do not listen to the sounds of life,

If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly

When you kill your self-esteem;

When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly

If you become a slave of your habits,

Walking everyday on the same paths…

If you do not change your routine,

If you do not wear different colors

Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly

If you avoid to feel passion

And their turbulent emotions;

Those which make your eyes glisten

And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly

If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,

If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,

If you do not go after a dream,

If you do not allow yourself,

At least once in your lifetime,

To run away from sensible advice.”

– Pablo Neruda


The Intentional Human

Have you ever met someone with whom there’s an instant connection? That’s what happened when I met my friend Evan. We became peer coaches for one another while completing our sixteen-month training with ICA, the International Coaching Academy based in Australia. That was two years ago. And now, every Monday morning, we meet for an hour ostensibly to keep our coaching skills ‘laser focused’. But no coaching takes place until we catch up with one another’s lives and more often than not laugh ourselves silly.

Evan talks a lot about intentionality. I like that about him. He’s curious about his purpose in life and how he might better live with intention. So keen is he on the idea of living with intention his company is named Intentional Human Group.

But it’s challenging, this whole ‘intentional life’ business. Where’s the user’s guide? There is none. It’s as if we’re handed something that looks like a map but it’s nothing but an empty white void with a red ‘you are here’ in one corner and ‘your purpose’ in the other. The only way to show the path that will lead us to the life intended for us is to take one well-thought step at a time.

In short, you better pay attention to your intention. 

Forty years ago Joseph Campbell urged us to ‘follow our bliss’. Like so many others I took the idea to heart. The problem is that the full quote – the idea Joseph Campbell was trying to share – doesn’t fit on the front of a tee shirt.  Why is it a problem? Because the notion of following our bliss has no foundation on which to ground. It’s as light and airy as a flatulent unicorn’s rainbow fart. Taking the concept of following our bliss to its extreme – which is far removed from Campbell’s intent – removes accountability for our actions and disregards the affect those actions have on the people around us. It gives us permission to see self-centeredness as a virtue.

Here is the full quote:

“Follow your bliss.
If you do follow your bliss,
you put yourself on a kind of track
that has been there all the while waiting for you,
and the life you ought to be living
is the one you are living.
When you can see that,
you begin to meet people
who are in the field of your bliss,
and they open the doors to you.
I say, follow your bliss and don’t be afraid,
and doors will open
where you didn’t know they were going to be.
If you follow your bliss,
doors will open for you that wouldn’t have opened for anyone else.”

Just for fun, change the word ‘bliss’ to ‘intent’. The word ‘intent’ creates a foundation on which we can build. It has edges, boundaries. It has form. Ask yourself, ‘What is my intent? What are my intentions? How are my actions and the choices I make intentional?’ 

It’s easier to live with intention than it is to follow bliss. Living with intention is a powerful choice.  

Let’s be intentional humans.


Creating as a Contemplative Practice

As a young girl I spent weekends at my grandmother’s narrow red brick row home, the one at the end of Poplar Street in Allentown, Pennsylvania, while my mom and step-dad went on the road with their country and western band. To cure my boredom, on Saturday afternoons my grandma would take a small bottle of Elmer’s Glue, some colored construction paper and a pair of child’s safety scissors from the metal cabinet tucked in a corner near the back door and put them down in front of me while I watched at the kitchen table.

Sometimes she poured all the dots left in the bottom of my grandpa’s hole punch into a bowl. Even better was when she gave me the hole punch so that I could make my own dots from the pages of a well read McCall’s magazine. Sometimes my grandma crushed the egg shells she’d saved from breakfasts that week, separated them into three or four Dixie cups and adding a few drops of McCormack’s food coloring to each one.

And then she left me to my own devices. I was free to create textured mosaics with the egg shells or to follow the outline of a pencil drawing with my pile of dots in all shades of color and tone. I sat at that table for hours while my grandma worked around me, grilling sliced onions, mixing horseradish with catsup and frying my beloved Minute Steaks while rolls toasted in the oven for my favorite Saturday dinner. 

The act of creating – whether it’s an egg shell mosaic or an egg filled soufflé, a loom knitted beanie or a black bean burrito – can be a balm that shifts our focus from ruminating on the past or worrying about the future to the moment in which we are living. This moment. The present. There is, however, one caveat. While our intent when we’re creating may be to produce something that we’ll gift to others, the act of creating must be something we gift ourselves. Because creating is a mind-freeing act of self-care.

It took me half a century and a global pandemic to figure that out. 

I think what catches us up when we consider creating something out of nothing is our predilection for wanting to make something perfect. Wanting to create precisely what we see in our mind’s eye. The perfect portrait. The perfect flower arrangement. The perfect layered cake. The perfect dance. When we abandon those ideas of perfection and decide instead to lean into the question ‘I wonder what would happen if…’ creating becomes contemplative play. As the chaos we’re living through continues to storm around us, creating as contemplative play becomes a gift of self-care that reduces anxiety, changes perspective and sparks joy.

Right now I’m spending my ‘creativity time’ playing with needle and thread, fabric and photographs. I’m learning new skills like felting and sashiko and boro and remembering old skills that I loved as a child like embroidery. 

When was the last time you dug out that set of colored pencils you keep stashed at the back of your desk? Or finished the blanket you began knitting two years ago? Or made your grandmother’s lemon bar recipe? Or dusted off that guitar? Or done any activity that lights up a different part of your brain and moves you from the routine to the sublime?

It’s time.


I Resolve

Scroll through the last ten years of Practically Twisted posts and you’ll discover a pattern. Every few years, around the middle of December, I write about the long list of promises that I resolve to keep in the fast approaching new year. And then I’ll confess to feeling the deep disappointment of personal failure when those promises are broken by February. In other years I write about how I’ve learned my lesson about resolutions. I decide to throw caution to the wind and to swear resolutions off for good. I give myself carte blanche to do whatever I darn well please.

But throwing caution to the wind is not in my character. It doesn’t sit right, this going rogue. There has to be a place for everything and everything has to (more or less) be in its place. I like to know where I’m going and how I’m going to get there.

I think that’s why I love this time of year. It’s the time of year that asks for introspection and reflection. It’s the time of year when I can look back and see that I’ve survived another circle around the sun more or less intact. It’s the time of year when I’m giddy with the anticipation of making a game plan for the next twelve months. Of figuring out how I can reach the heights to which I aspire.

I guess that’s why I like to make New Year’s Resolutions. Even when I try to convince myself that it’s a fool’s errand. Taking time to make a resolution suggests we’ve taken time to contemplate, to imagine ‘what if’, to ponder. And it helps me create order out of chaos. Resolutions are a road map. There’s plenty of opportunity for me to take side trips and short cuts, but resolutions point me in the right direction.

What about you? Do you set resolutions? 


On Purpose

I have a morning ritual. Bruce the Cat wakes me up at 5AM. While the kettle boils he and I go outside for a breath of fresh pre-dawn air. When he completes his ‘check of the perimeter’ (and after he is thwarted in his attempt to munch on a nasturtium leaf) we come back in, I make a cup of coffee or tea and sit down at my desk to begin my day. I write a few words in my journal and then open all the emails that arrived while I was sleeping.

Last Friday, in between taking the New York Time’s Weekly Quiz (I scored 10.67!) and watching Seth Meyers’s Closer Look (his impersonation of Mike Lindell the Pillow Guy is hilarious!) I opened my newsletter from Medium and scanned the page with my finger ready to ‘delete’ until I saw this quote from the actor Wil Wheaton: “Whenever possible be the person you need(ed) in your life. Do it on purpose.”  

On the surface it reads like one of those sickly sweet pseudo-inspirational phrases that show up on our Facebook feed. The ones written in a graceful, italicized font over a soft focused image of a field of flowers or the sun setting over the ocean.

It’s the second part of Wheaton’s message that struck home for me: do it on purpose

What the little guy from Stand by Me is talking about, I think, is intentionality. 

Back in the day I was in an acting class taught by Ed Hooks in the basement of a local church. Each week we’d perform a short scene with a partner which would be followed by critique. I can’t act my way out of a paper bag (I’m way too self-conscious) but I remember the question Ed posed to us again and again about our acting choices we made for our character: What is your intention? 

In the pre-pandemic Before Times, when I found myself contemplating something new, I often asked myself the same question: What is my intention? Knowing why my choices mattered to me helped me commit more fully to the process.

But the shut down changed all that. My spirit grew as soft as this new roll around my middle. I lost sight of my purpose. I forgot how to live on purpose. I forgot how to choose with intention. Did you?

As we begin to stretch our legs and make our way out of the den after a long COVID winter we might remember Wil Wheaton’s words: Be the person you need in your life. Do it on purpose

Live with intention.