Yoga & Mindfulness During a Pandemic

Shared by WildYoga Lead Facilitator and Instructor Heather Sullivan, with written reflections by our recent Yoga Teacher Training students

The following short essays were a written assignment from our newly graduated Balanced Rock 200hr Yoga Teacher Training (YTT) students. This 200-hr training has been accomplished across multiple weekends over the course of 8 months. The last two modules were done completely online due to COVID-19 and we had our graduation ceremony on May 3rd via Zoom. Different times for sure!

The words of our graduates share both vulnerability and the realness of this situation, and how practices of yoga and mindfulness can really be an antidote for the pandemic at hand. I feel hopeful to have these three teachers emerging into the world at a time where self-care, wellness, and mindful teachings are very needed. -Heather Sullivan


The prompt: 

How is yoga influencing your time during the COVID-19 pandemic?

What are you learning about yourself during this time?

How can we use this Balanced Rock 200-hr Yoga Teacher Training to be of service to our communities and the world right now?


You did it!
Emerald Wong celebrates earning her 200hr Yoga Teacher certification with Balanced Rock

Yoga During the COVID-19 Pandemic

by recent 200-hr YTT grad Emerald Wong

Yoga during the pandemic has been a constant! During this time where everything is changing and they way of the world is in complete unknown, yoga has been something that I can recognize and find comfort in. My experience during Covid-19 has been a highly increased workload with quite a bit of added stress – yoga has been able to keep me moving in a positive forward direction through it all. Speaking with so many of my own friends and family during this time it is so interesting to see how many individuals are craving a yogic experience. The world needs meditation, healing and self love now more than ever. During this time yoga offers the perfect way to take a look within rather than focusing on the outside elements around us.

Throughout this experience I am learning to try to take a step back from the crazy world that we live in and truly enjoy what I have. The gratitude for the space we live in and my dearest family and friends has been pouring out of me during this time. A world pandemic really puts things into perspective and I have learned just how much I can change my day or outlook by incorporating a little yoga and me time! Change has been another very present element while experiencing the ups and downs of the pandemic. Everything around us is in a constant state of change – finding out how comfortable and fluid I am with that has been another eye opener. Time online and working with the camera/video has been a huge challenge, one that I am trying to continue to feel comfortable and work at. I am finding it easier to adapt to change in all aspects of my life and really push to find the good in all the situations that can at first look unfortunate. I think this time is a wonderful test for both myself and the world.

It is time to share yoga with the world – it is so needed! This is an incredibly difficult experience for so many individuals. To be able to give the gift of yoga and show people just how much it can change your perspective on any given day is a pretty amazing thing to be able to do. Using this training to explore the world of yoga and find the most approachable way to deliver the gift is a key focus of mine. This training not only focuses on the movements of yoga, but the gratitude to nature, the space around you and the person within. Taking a moment to share those feelings with others and help them realize just how wonderful the world is and how important it is to honor your inner self is crucial. My hope is that we will be able to help bring out the best in others and create positivity within our reach. This will be a constant challenge I know, but leaving this training with the tools we have learned is the perfect starting place to share the transformational gift of yoga!


Catherine Wortmann is earning her Advanced 300-hr Yoga Teacher Certification through our WildYoga Teacher Training Program

Yoga During COVID-19

by current 300-hr YTT student Catherine Wortmann

When the only thing constant is change, practice Yoga. During the stay-home-order, and the stress that comes with a global pandemic, Yoga has been my saving grace. This practice has been woven into my world in all aspects of my being …mother, partner, woman, entrepreneur, farmer, and land-owner. Yes, I am a certified Yoga Teacher with some fancy poses, but that is not the practice I am referring to. I am speaking to the cultivation of inner calm even when the world seems chaotic. There is opportunity in each breath to begin anew and as Iyengar said, “Like the leaves of a tree dance in the wind, our thoughts move with the breath”. When my world seems difficult (or even unbearable), the breath is my beacon, my guidepost, and my truest companion.

My mother commented on how Covid 19 seemed like a suspenseful movie, one that she could not stop. My reply to my dear mother is this, “oh, but you can stop the movie”. It is as simple as taking a long-slow-deep breath in, and then letting that breath out even slower. Lengthening the exhalation has been proven, by science, to shift us from a sympathetic nervous system or stress response (fight/ flight/ freeze) to a parasympathetic response (rest, digest, & boost immune system). The key to this practice is awareness. Before yoga, I was not even aware this calm place existed within me. If I was unaware of a stress response occurring within me, why would I take a breath to shift it? I no longer let the unpleasantness of life hold or define me. Those raw emotions “good or bad” pass through me, they do not live in me; riding in-and-out with the breath. Only after I had cultivated the stillness within was I able to recognize that I had shifted away from my place of calm. Yoga (including meditation or focus practice, pranayama or breathing practice, and asana or poses) teaches us how to recognize the self in all experiences. 

There are some incredible struggles going on now, all around the world. Everyone has been affected by the pandemic differently. My personal experience during the pandemic is not nearly as bad as some. I come from a place of privilege, on many levels. Currently, I am home with my two young children (7 & 4), unable to work much. My husband is still working 40 hours per week but with ⅔ less income, as he is in the restaurant /bar industry. My business is struggling, but I am offering online wellness including distance Reiki, Group Zoom Yoga, Free FB Live Yoga & Meditation and private lessons via Zoom. Check out Echo Adventure Cooperative for more information on all of my offerings. I don’t know if my business will survive the pandemic but I know one thing, for sure, Yoga will guide me through it all. 

The practice of Yoga also teaches us to find the silver linings and to come from a place of gratitude. Anytime I witness myself veering in the direction of self-judgment, guilt, frustration or any other harmful emotion I anchor to gratitude. Anytime is the perfect time for gratitude. Try it now, say, “I am grateful for _____” (fill in the blank) and you will cultivate more of that. Right now I am grateful that during Covid 19 I have been overwhelmed with examples of human kindness, generosity, and compassion. My children are bonding like never before, and watching their relationship grow has been a gift. My husband and I have the opportunity to examine where we need to improve, and where we are strong as a couple. My garden looks amazing from all this time at home. I have reconnected with nature on a new level. My kids and I take our homeschool classroom to the outdoors, at home or in our local woods. I am grateful to have made the Sierra Nevada foothills our home. I have moved out of my comfort zone, moving my yoga business from in-real-life to online. I have re-implemented some beneficial Ayurvedic daily routines. I am grateful that I stepped on this path seven years ago and was enrolled in Balanced Rock’s Teacher Training program when the pandemic began. I have some tools in my kit, easing the emotional toll of this pandemic. Every day, I start with gratitude. 

I have been dedicated to this practice of Yoga for a solid seven years, as teacher and student (recently completing Balanced Rock’s 200hr Yoga Teacher Training). I have learned that the sea of knowledge is endless because the subject is the self. Yoga never gets boring and it takes a lifetime. I am certain that I am worth the investment, we all are. …to truly know yourself, what a gift! All this time in reflection has brought up some big emotions, and feelings. There have been experiences from my past that resurfaced, and concerns about the uncertain future. I still struggle with self-love, and self judgement on a daily basis. Some days, I meet myself on the mat and all I can do is cry. Whatever version of myself I am met with, in that moment I know I am doing my best. I continue to breathe and let the ebb and flow of life carry me along. I surrender and I trust the process, even if it’s painful at times, reminded that “practice” is all the time, going way beyond the Yoga mat.


2019-2020 WildYoga 200-hr Teacher Training graduate Ashley Born

Yoga During the Stay-At-Home Order

by recent 200-hr YTT grad Ashley Born

The stay-at-home order has had many interested effects. While I only worked at night for about five hours this did give me some semblance of routine which is completely gone now. Another addition has been my boyfriend is home during the day. The added distraction of having another human around who is inconvenienced when I take up the whole floor of the house, i.e. small room, we share adds even more resistance to doing yoga. I have found it much harder to create my own self-motivated routine and to stick to it with all these hurdles. I have also found that when I do yoga I have been crying. I would imagine that is from the stress of the state of the world and the deteriorating state of my father. All in all, I haven’t done much yoga this month. 

I have been able to stick to my ayurvedic routine that I created, which gives me some consolation. The morning and evening add-ons were easy to integrate and maintain because I have already set up doing something at that moment of the day and they don’t take much more time. Yoga has become an almost 2-hour process with meditation, pranayama, asana, nidra and chanting. Once I start going it’s hard to stop. My mind goes, well you’ve got five more minutes for pranayama, once around the mala is great but let’s do another with Ram, that was a lot let’s just rest and do a nidra, etc. This is wonderful and I feel great afterwards but hogging the whole “house” for that long everyday isn’t sustainable and two hours can be a lot of time. I am not a morning person but I wish I was as this would eliminate some obstacles. 

I already knew I lack self-motivation and have a hard time sticking to self-imposed routines. This time in quarantine has solidified this knowledge. My desire to create yoga videos was robust at the beginning and after one failed attempt I haven’t tried again. I have a whole group of ladies who wanted me to teach them on a regular basis and I haven’t. I bought many books on various yoga limbs and have not read any of them. I started with a strong personal practice of yoga at least five times a week and now I’m lucky if I create one day of yoga. I set out with many art projects that are mostly unfinished. I have not thrived in the ways that I wanted to. My good intentions have fallen into the hole of “things undone”. I am probably not alone in this and that is where I can be of service.

I can hold the hand of someone and say, I too have failed to achieve my best self in times of change. I too have questioned if any of these things I am doing to help myself actually do anything. I also need structure to succeed and when the structures I created fail, I flail. I have been in this place before and will once again rise out of it, because the great universal truth is that everything changes. I don’t know how to get myself to “do the thing” every day, but I will keep searching and trying. Most importantly, in striving to be kind to myself, I have deep wells of understanding and kindness to give to others. Life doesn’t stop if you fail, the sun rises the next day, the breath moves in and out, and each moment is exactly as it should be propelling you to the next. 


If you are interested in becoming a Certified Yoga Instructor through our WildYoga Teacher Training Program, visit us online or email us with inquiries. We are currently planning our 2021 program and will be posting details via social media, so stay tuned to our channels!

Email us: info@balancedrock.org

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Building Resiliency in Times of Uncertainty

Reflections and Tips for Building Resiliency from Heather Sullivan, Co-Founder & Executive Director of Balanced Rock

As we descend the crest of the Vernal Equinox, familiar seasonal patterns emerge at the gates of Yosemite: a late season snow-pack forming in the high mountains, river and waterfalls growing, redbud and rainbows bursting, birdsong abounding and verdant green filling in the canyon between swaths of wildflower color blasts.

The last two weeks have been a whirlwind of uncertainly, destabilization, question, concern & fear. Stay at home mandates have many humans in many states and globally in our homes and anxious about what the future holds. Some people are losing jobs and income, students are home from school, some are shifting to work from home and nothing is as it was yesterday.

Lessons and opportunities I have learned this week give me hope for what, at times, can seem a very bleak or challenging future. These lessons are of the resiliency of humans and of communities.


Here are 10 concrete ways I have seen resiliency building within myself and in my community this week (while practicing social spacing). And I’ve included a suggested practice or action to accompany each one…to encourage your own building of resiliency:

  • Power of Connection: We are social creatures. This week, I have met or chatted with more of my neighbors over the fence than in the year I’ve lived in my house. We are all usually so busy moving around that we haven’t had the TIME to talk. One neighbor helped me fix my chainsaw so I could do some work, others called to see if I needed anything, one helped with yard work. We need to reach out and connect with each other during this time.

ACTION:  Write a letter to someone you have not connected with in awhile. Handwritten!! And send it! Or find another way to connect with someone.

  • Importance of Self-Care: In order to withstand the unknown, we need to find ways to relax, laugh, and enjoy life while exploring ways to keep our mind/body/spirit in optimal health. Staying hydrated and eating seasonally and locally are great practices to show our bodies the importance of self-care.

ACTION:  Begin the day with warm lemon water. Sip warm/hot liquids daily. Support local farmers or better yet, grow some of your own food. Plant some seeds today. Keep up vitamin C intake and Zinc. Get enough rest. Eat warm, nourishing meals.

  • Spending Time in Nature and remembering how critical it is to our health! I have been blessed to spend an incredible amount of time in nature through the course of my life. Over the last week, the moments I have been out and on walks have been overwhelmingly positive, nourishing and essential to my mental health and ability to process what is going on. Taking a break from news, screens and social media also gives a great spaciousness and mental clearing.

ACTION: Go for a walk (without your device) and observe how you feel while being outside. If you cannot leave your house, open a window and feel the air on your skin.  

  • Getting Exercise: It has long been tried and true that moving the body carries numerous benefits. Getting the heart rate up produces endorphins, which elevate the mood and even help support mental health. Through movement we stimulate our circulation, digestion, tone our muscles and so much more. 

ACTION: Make an exercise plan for yourself either outside (dog walks are great for this) or online classes that abound now: yoga, pilates, meditation, or even dance!

  • Cultivating Creative Outlets: In just a week I have seen incredible artwork made, music shared, creative responses to deal with the stress of C-19. I attended an online dance party, brainstormed signs for a spirit walk up our road, dressed up for a Zoom call in funny clothes and have cooked some delicious creations.

ACTION: Ask Yourself: What is your creative outlet? Spend at least 30 minutes that brings you joy in this realm.

  • Helping Others and cultivating a sense of purpose. The capacity to help others or being of service can bring great meaning to one’s life. This is a great time to check in on a neighbor, loved one or stranger and see if there is anything they need help with: stacking wood, a meal brought to them, picking up supplies or someone to talk with on the phone.

ACTION: Do something helpful this week for someone in your community (after your self-care routine! Remember that only when our cup is full can we help fill others)

  • Meditation/Mental Exercises/Breathing Exercises: Just as we train our bodies for optimal health we can work with our mind and our breath to bring forth health and wellbeing. Meditation, crossword puzzles, music, even learning a new languages!

ACTION: Experiment with a 10-minute meditation exercise (there are many great ones online if this is new to you. Observe any sensations you feel in your body or thoughts after the practice, feel free to write them down in a journal.

  • Getting Organized and Prepared for uncertain times or for any time can have a noticeable sense of grounding and stabilizing. This is great time for spring cleaning, deep cleaning, getting those projects done that are always on the TO DO list. You should see my “She Shed!”, she said. 

ACTION: Tackle one organizational project you have really been wanting to get to: that closet you pretend isn’t there, those kitchen drawers, your vehicle, those computer files…

  • Be Adaptable. Be Flexible. Easier said than done! But it’s beneficial to be willing to change to meet the circumstances, not to mention it has been how species have evolved since the beginning of time. As we face this current crises, we must look at how we change our current behavior to survive and hopefully eventually thrive again. Change starts on the individual level!

ACTION: Journal for 15 minutes about any ways you have noticed your behavior has changed in the last week that could be beneficial to you or others in the future.

  • Maintaining a Positive Outlook.  Last and certainly not least, in fact this may be most important! In dark times, maintaining hope and positivity may be the only thing that gets one through a tough situation. I have experienced this in my life and whole heartedly believe the way to raise my own and others vibration is to authentically look for the good, beautiful, positive and magical in the world…even in the bleakest of landscapes. Create a safe space to hold your darker emotions, but try to let the light of positivity lead the way.

ACTION: Gratitude Reflection. At the beginning of each day, start with a short gratitude moment. Express one thing you are thankful for. And at the end of the day, share 3 things you experienced that were positive, beautiful, or magical.

Disclaimer:  This may not be an exhaustive list on Building Resiliency, but it is a place to start and perhaps return to during these difficult times when we feel fear, worry, or despair creeping in.


Perhaps this list serves as a touchstone, like this image below.  I took this photo just before Yosemite National Park closed to the public. I sat alone in this meadow and under this oak–a place and view that have weathered some of my happiest of happy moments and saddest of the sad…and everything in between. I sat in befuddlement of what our world is facing…and then allowed myself a few precious moments to let the clouds dance above me, knowing it may be a long, long time before I can return to this familiar place. As I walked away…a raven settled in the middle of the meadow, a peregrine soared high above and a golden eagle circled mid-way between the two.

A rest for the meadow and return for the raptors…Resiliency, I thought. All creatures, all of nature…so resilient.

Photo credit: Heather Sullivan

Balanced Rock is a nimble, mission driven, primarily donor-supported organization. Ways we are Building Resiliency during this time are:

Above all, we are still striving to offer our mission to the community locally and beyond: inspiring health and wellbeing through deep connection to nature and spirit. Let’s continue to #BuildResiliency together!


Stay tuned to our social media channels for updates and access to Yosemite Yoga Online classes via our YouTube Channel. Use our hashtags below to share your health and wellness practices, and we’ll share them on our feed!

Instagram: @balancedrockorg #balancedrockorg #yosemiteyoga

Facebook: Balanced Rock Foundation

YouTube: Balanced Rock Foundation


Practicing Love through Self-Care

Reflections from Balanced Rock’s Yoga & Ayurveda Weekend

Catherine Wortmann receiving grounding ear oiling treatment at Balanced Rock’s Ayurveda Intensive weekend
photo credit: Heather Sullivan

Words from Heather Sullivan and Catherine Wortmann

What are ways you nourish yourself?

Valentine’s Day doesn’t have to be Hallmark.  Why not use this or any excuse to practice love, loving kindness, and self-love?

Last weekend, Balanced Rock hosted its Ayurveda Intensive module of the 200-hr Yoga Teacher Training. In this training we explored “The Study of Life” (Ayur-veda). Through this lens of the world, all things are created of the 5 Elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Ether/Space). According to Ayurveda, all things in the universe are comprised of these elements, humans, being one of those things.  

We looked at our daily routines and how we may adjust some of our habits and tendencies to bring ourselves more into balance with the natural world and natural/seasonal rhythms.

A student from the training, Catherine Wortmann, writes a great piece on how she brought her studies home with her to integrate and not have yoga/Ayurveda practices be separate from her home life:


Words by Catherine Wortmann, earning her 300-hr RYT through Balanced Rock

Assimilation 

How is it going? How is your first day of routine? 

This surprised me. I pull into my driveway at 5:46pm. I have an appetite and look forward to dinner. Inside, nothing is cooking. My husband suggested we go out. My vata (air/ether elements) brain starts to panic because I have been traveling for four days. My pitta (fire/water elements) brain starts to get mad and judge. I take a breath before I speak. 

Grabbing my Balanced Rock binder I open to Eliza’s recipe for Kitchari. (easily digestible split mung bean and rice dish) “How about this, and do you want to help”? 

My son Lucian (4), and my husband poured the spices and stirred the pot. We made it incorrectly and didn’t quite have all the ingredients, but it was delicious. The kids loved making it their own with toppings. It was at least made with love. 

After the boys went to bed I showed Jamie some of the pages on doshas (constitutions) from our binder. He laughed and said “I’m kapha!” (earth/water elements).  I know that he has pitta too because he was an athlete. He’s competitive and motivated more than a true kapha. I showed him how to do a hot oil foot rub – for himself. He loved that. This morning he said his feet felt good and he was looking forward to doing it again tonight. 

This morning I drank 32 oz. of warm water. Then I scraped my tongue. I finished my oral routine and then drank the water. Lucian woke up, then Barrett. I told them I was going to meditate and do some yoga, and asked them if they wanted to join. Making our way to the living room I set out a blanket and two bolsters. Barrett (6) sat on his bolster directly in front of me facing the same direction as me. We chanted Om. Then we chant the Gayatri Mantra and he tried his best to follow along. Then we sat, in silence. He got up when he was done and left me to practice. The entire time Lucian played quietly with LEGOs. 

This experience has proven to me that I can be the anchor. I can continue to create my sacred space while coexisting with young humans. 


How self-nourishment keeps us balanced

Catherine found a way to make this work in her life and her timeframe.  

That weekend while we were at the training, I was receiving texts during break about the wildfires in Jerseydale and the windstorms in Yosemite and the High Country reeking havoc…

How are you in Midpines? People were asking.

We had oil in our ears all morning. I feel really relaxed, I thought.

This struck me as the elements and world around us were literally swirling apart and burning up, we were relaxed and nourished in our practices.  This is why these practices (daily yoga, mediation, relaxation, study, self-care) are so important.

When our outside environments are out of control, we can stay calm and centered and execute what we need to, in those moments.


A Journal Prompt for You:

Proper nourishment is such a key part to health and balance.

How do you nourish yourself? Take a few minutes to jot this down in a journal.

There are so many ways and we are all different: For some it is exercise, being out in nature, literally through food, through music, through art, through spending time with family/friends…and the list goes on.


Share with us your nourishing practices! Comment below or post your practices on social media and tag us. IG: @balancedrockorg #balancedrockyoga #yosemiteyoga — we’ll share your story & tips on our page!

Interested in learning more about Ayurveda? Join us this summer on our 4-Day Yoga & Ayurveda Backpacking Retreat in Yosemite! Led by Ayurvedic practitioners, professional yoga instructors and experienced wilderness guides, this trip will delve into “the study of life” while exploring Yosemite’s incredible backcountry landscape. Delicious and nourishing Ayurvedic meals will be provided, and this trip is accessible to all levels with tuition assistance available. Register now!


Author Resources:

Check out what the authors of this blog post are doing locally for health and wellbeing:

  • Catherine Wortmann, Founder of CWhealing and Wellness Ambassador for Basecamp Wellness in Groveland, CA. Find her on IG: @CWhealing
  • Heather Sullivan, Co-Founder of Balanced Rock. On the web: balancedrock.org  | IG: @balancedrockorg | FB: Balanced Rock Foundation

Expressing Gratitude: Participant Testimonials from our Summer Retreats

As the summer comes to a close, we reflect on our front and backcountry retreats from the season with participant testimonials. Thank you to each and every individual who joined us on these experiences, and the instructors and staff who made the trips possible! The feedback we receive allows for us to continue to make our retreats and experiences even better for the participants.

Participants smile in front of Yosemite Falls during the Writing from the Heart retreat led by Heather Sullivan

“I attended the Writing from the Heart retreat. From the moment I stepped into the campsite, I felt loved, welcomed, and safe. Our yoga practices were centering and our writing time helped me to reignite my love of writing. Heather Sullivan was an amazing leader. I am so thankful for my time in Yosemite. The peace and rest I found there are truly indescribable.”

“Writing from the Heart was very well run and organized. I felt very provided for, and I think Heather’s heart and professionalism created the opportunity for a transformative experience for me.”


Saluting the light during our Summer Solstice backpacking trip
Summer Solstice instructors and participants gather for a group photo

“My yoga and backpacking retreat couldn’t have gone any better. This was a life-changing experience where reconnecting to nature and spirit was the key. Breezy and JP are absolutely exceptional yoga instructors, they cared a lot about the welfare of the group, the food was super healthy and convenient, meditations were beyond my expectations, Yosemite was fantastic and the instructors were super knowledgeable of our surrounding environment.”


Yogis strike Tree Pose during the Wild Awareness backpacking retreat, led by Breezy Jackson and JP Salonen
Participants take a break during the Women of Color backpacking trip, led by Miho Aida and Grace Anderson
All smiles from the Women of Color backpacking retreat!

“This was the greatest weekend in my twenties thus far! I was challenged, loved, and supported!”

“This was such a beautiful and healing and joyous trip! Miho and Grace were extraordinary trip leaders. I felt totally safe and held by them and inspired by their wilderness skills and facilitation. I learned more about myself and others’ similar struggles and strengths through the meaningful and powerful exercises we engaged in.”

“I’ve been backpacking and climbing for over nine years, and this was one of the most special, healing, and joyous backpacking trips I’ve ever been on. I really loved spending time in the mountains with women of color–sharing space to talk about our experiences, joys, and pains in the outdoors, and cultivating the healing that comes with being heard and seen (and from plunges in freezing alpine lakes). Thank you to the trip leaders, Grace and Miho, for holding such beautiful space, and the Balanced Rock for providing this magical and necessary space!”


Sunset in the High Sierra
photo credit: Patrick Bremser
Starry Tuolumne skies
photo credit: Patrick Bremser

“What can I possibly say that would adequately summarize the exceptional leadership of Jana and Patrick? I would follow them around the world. They are wise, strong, insightful, beautiful people. I am so overflowing with gratitude for both of them. My being is full.”

“The amenities that Balanced Rock provided for a completely comfortable camping experience, made me feel very cared for.”

Group smiles in Tuolumne, led by Jana Kilgore and Patrick Bremser
photo credit: Patrick Bremser
Sunbeams and granite in the high country
photo credit: Patrick Bremser

Stay connected to our Programs Calendar to see what courses/trainings we are offering this Fall/Winter, and the upcoming 2020 Summer trip season!


Asana Breakdown: Uttanasana

Uttanasana, or Standing Forward Fold, invites us to look inward and reduce our stress

Uttanasana (OOT-tan-AHS-ahna), meaning “intense stretch or extension” in Sanskrit, is one of the most classic and beneficial postures in our asana practice arsenal.

The practice of forward fold can be utilized in many ways throughout yoga asana, but Uttanasana invites us to stand on two feet, hinging at the hips and bending forward to encourage the chest to melt towards the thighs. Read below for instructions on exploring this posture:

  • Stand in Tadasana, or Mountain Pose, by grounding down through the soles of the feet and shining the palms forward with the arms at the side.
Shining the palms forward, stand proudly in Tadasana or Mountain Pose to begin moving into Uttanasana
  • Inhale and extend the arms up toward the sky reaching through the fingertips.
  • Exhale and bend at the hips with a flat back, allowing the chest to melt forward and come into a folded standing position.
  • Depending on your flexibility, allow the hands or fingertips to come to the floor. Honor your body and acknowledge your limits, maybe allowing the hands to come to the thighs. Keep a flat back or take a generous bend in the knees and let the belly fall heavy on the thighs to avoid arching and straining the lumbar spine.
Uttanasana, or Standing Forward Fold, invites us to look inward while allowing for lengthening and stretching along the back body
  • There are a couple ways to come out of this posture, 1) place the palms on the ground in front of the feet and step back into high plank pose, with the option to move through Chaturanga, or 2) slowly rise back to standing by rolling up the spine one vertebrae at a time, allowing the head and neck to be the last thing to come up as you return to Tadasana.

Benefits: Uttanasana has many benefits. The physical perks include stretching the hamstrings, hips and calves and alleviation of pain and stiffness in the neck and back. The practice of yoga asana is inherently physical but the mental benefits are also abundant. This posture invites us to look inward, cultivating stillness and mindfulness. Uttanasana is a rejuvenating pose, allowing the ease of stress and nerves as we allow the upper body, neck and head to hang heavy and relax down.

Modifications: Standing Forward Fold can be modified based on your level of flexibility and needs by the use of different versions or props. The most important element to remember is to avoid straining the lower back by “reaching” for the ground. Keeping the knees bent and letting the belly rest on the thighs allows this posture to be truly restorative without stressing the lumbar spine.

Utilizing props is also a great way to modify this pose. A great article explains the use of blocks in the posture, as well as others, in “Yoga Blocks: Everything You Need To Know” on RelaxLikeABoss.com. Section 3.4 dives into using blocks in Uttanasana to bring the floor up to you, so as not to disturb the alignment of the spine.

Contraindications: Back injuries or torn hamstring muscle/ligaments (practice with bent knees to reduce stress on these areas and consult your physician or physical therapist before performing if you are injured).

Practicing Uttanasana is extremely beneficial and adding this posture to your daily practice will increase flexibility and reduce stress. If you want to learn more about yoga asana to deepen your practice join us for our WildYoga Immersion, starting October 2nd. During this immersion course we will offer daily asana, meditation, pranayama, philosophy and more in some of the most iconic locations in Yosemite. We will deepen our relationship with the Five Elements (Earth, Water, Fire, Air, Space) as expressed through our yoga practice, in our bodies, and by the planet that sustains us. Click here to learn more about his upcoming training and register today!


Through the Lens: Photos from our July Backpacking + Yoga Retreats

Explore memories and sacred moments through snapshots from two empowering backcountry trips this past month in Yosemite’s High Sierra


July.

The height of the season when the air is drenched in heat and the Sierra granite sizzles and shines in the summer sun. It’s that time of year when locals and visitors alike wander out of Yosemite Valley and set their sights to higher places–namely the High Sierra–for a little respite from the heat and some sweet, sweet elevation gain.

Here at Balanced Rock we absolutely love this time of year for that reason, and how that evolves the kind of experiences we can offer our participants on our summer backpacking trips. The passes open up, and so do the options for backcountry exploration and deep connection to these sacred spaces within the bonds of community.

We most recently facilitated two incredible treks into the High Sierra, led by a team of wonderful guides and instructors. They were asked to document moments and memories from these trips through photos, here is their story:


Wild Awareness 4-day Yoga & Meditation Trek, Ostrander Lake, July 18th-21st

Wild Awareness participants and guide Breezy Jackson go through the backcountry gear
Saluting the mountains in tree pose
Guide JP Salonen offers an assist in headstand on the 2019 Wild Awareness backcountry trip
The group strikes tree pose during their backcountry adventure this past July
Many thanks to this amazing group for a memorable 2019 Wild Awareness backpacking trip!

Women of Color Wilderness Retreat, May Lake, July 25th-28th

Our WOC program is one that is very near and dear to our hearts, and one of our absolute favorite experiences to share. We believe that women, specifically women of color, are highly underrepresented in the outdoor and Westernized yoga sectors. Since 2004 we’ve offered this program to encourage WOC to participate in these environments, and to foster the belief that these public lands belong and should be accessible to everyone. Every year, this trip invokes powerful and meaningful experiences for the participants and guides. Here are some treasured snapshots from our 2019 WOC Wilderness Retreat as they set out for May Lake:

Hikes through the backcountry
Photo credit: Grace Anderson
The 2019 group poses for a photo lakeside
Photo credit: May Vang
Miho & Sandy keeping the vibe high during the rainstorm!
Photo credit: Sandy Hernandez
Balanced rocks and High Sierra sunsets
Photo credit: May Vang
The group takes in sweeping views of the High Sierra
Photo credit: May Vang
The group gathers amidst sweeping vistas
Photo credit: Grace Anderson
Smiles all around!
Photo credit: Endria Richardson
Swim anyone? Cooling off in High Sierra lakes!
Photo credit: Grace Anderson
Sharing and empowerment in community by way of the backcountry
Photo credit: May Vang
Mountain silhouettes and High Sierra sunsets
Photo credit: Bryana Moore
Our incredible instructors for the 2019 WOC trip, Miho Aida & Grace Anderson
Photo credit: Grace Anderson
Smiles, community and bonding bubbled over on this 2019 WOC trip!
Photo credit: Bryana Moore
What a group of incredible humans! We are so grateful for these strong participants and our talented instructors for guiding another amazing WOC trip!
Photo credit: May Vang

A huge thank you to all the participants & guides for sending their photos from these two adventures, and to the entire BR support staff for making these experiences happen.

If you are interested in attending one of our trips please visit our programs page for more details, we will be posting our 2020 trips this winter!

In Your Own Words: What kind of yoga does Balanced Rock teach?

We asked our WildYoga Teacher Trainers and support staff to share, in their own words, what kind of yoga Balanced Rock offers the community through our YTT program

Balanced Rock has been offering a unique Yoga Teacher Training since 2008 in and around Yosemite National Park. The next round of Yoga Teacher Training and Immersion will begin in October 2019, click here for more information.

Below are words the instructors & staff for the WildYoga Teacher Training came up with at a recent gathering beneath the summertime trees in El Cap Meadow. After compiling all these journal entries….it’s hard for us not to want to go as students!!! Here is how they describe our yoga teacher training program:

From Dennis Eagan, 500hr-ERYT |  www.wildyoga.com

Balanced Rock offers a holistic approach to yoga that blends the practices of asana, pranayama and meditation with the energy field that sustains us–the biosphere. It is a deep exploration of yoga’s roots in nature and provides a bridge between eastern philosophy and our western culture.


From Jana Kilgore, 500hr-ERYT | www.janakilgore.com

Inclusive, all levels and nature based modern yoga influenced by classical teachings. 


From Eliza Kerr, 200hr-RYT | www.elizakerr.com  

It is my understanding that the yoga we teach is true to the original meaning of yoga. We offer a variety of tools that help the students connect to their truest self.


From Heather Sullivan, 500hr-RYT | www.balancedrock.org

LOVE. Love could suffice as my full answer but just to clarify; heart-felt, nature-inspired, 5-Elements, authentic, niche, accessible, comprehensive, infused with Ayurveda and Nature and Creativity. Compassion. Union. Service. LOVE.


From Paula Wild, 500hr-ERYT |  www.wildawakewellness.com

Balanced Rock offers accessible yoga classes inspired by nature that are welcoming to beginners through expert, all ages and all body types. Yoga that is rooted in deep connection to nature and spirit. Yoga which incorporates attention to the breath and connection to our body as nature. 

BR has many instructors trained in different yoga lineages. However the thread that weaves through all of the classes is a lifelong connection to nature and wild landscapes that inspires the teaching. Each class is unique; certain instructors offer a more vigorous practice, while others take a more gentle or restorative approach. What you will find in every BR yoga class is a connection to your body as nature and a focus on the breath. 

BR classes include yoga asana, however the focus is not on physicality, rather it is on connection; to self, the breath, community and nature.


From Cassidy Engfer, BR support staff & 200hr-RYT

The yoga that Balanced Rock teaches not only yolks or unites the mind, body, and spirit- it reconnects our unified self to the natural world. 


From Meaghan Olsen, BR support staff & 200hr-RYT

Elemental. Philosophical. Modern yoga influenced by classical teachings. Wild. Expansive. Grounding. Connected to Source. Nature-based.


Some of our instructors and program support from our recent gathering in El Cap Meadow!
(From left to right: Heather Sullivan, Breezy Jackson, Jana Kilgore, Dennis Eagan & Cassidy Engfer)
photo credit: Meaghan Olsen

If you find yourself connecting to these elements then check out our 2019-2020 WildYoga Teacher Training! We offer full course enrollment to become a 200hr-RYT, or stand-alone modules for continuing education credits. We offer tuition assistance, and all of our teacher trainings are certified through Yoga Alliance. Join us starting this autumn!

We Come With A Story: Reflecting on the Writing from the Heart Retreat

Lead Instructor Heather Sullivan recaps on powerful experiences from our reflective writing & yoga retreat in Yosemite Valley


“I am just back from facilitating a weekend in Yosemite Valley during a verdant spring with a late dogwood bloom and thundering rivers and waterfalls.  Afternoon thunderstorms and downpours added excitement and decorated the skies as our group met and convened in fireside discussion, yoga class by the Merced river, around lovingly cooked meals, and internally in our journals through writing.

Participants putting pen to paper to reflect and share their stories during our Writing from the Heart retreat this past May/June

Each of us came with a story.  Many stories. Some easy to share and some we didn’t want to share…at least at first. A safe space was created for each of us to share what we needed in the moment and each one of us to listen to one another and hold space for one another. Yosemite Valley, carved by the flows of rivers and glaciers over time has seen it all and can hold so much.  It can hold it all. The joys, the pains, the loves, the losses.  It is the ultimate witness and this weekend was witness to the love and vulnerability of our sweet group of 10 souls.

Participants explored different perspectives on this 3-day Yosemite writing retreat

I left the weekend feeling in awe of each person there and in awe of what every person’s story can be and how much we each as humans endure in our time on earth. Equally I was left in awe of the beauty and the magic in the world that can help each of us on our journeys of hardship and triumph….of simply trying to breathe and show up as our authentic selves each day. 

Bathing in the magical sounds of the cello in the meadow of El Cap
(a huge thank you to local cellist Erin Wang!)

Here are a few of the writing prompts we shared.

1. Use the following sentence stub for a free flow prompt:  As I begin the day in gratitude…..

2. We each came up with 5 topics we wanted to write about.  This came from a participant brainstorm:  I was walking next to sadness and I put my arm around it.

3.  Spend 10 minutes writing.  The story I need to tell but haven’t been able to.

Then try writing it again from a different perspective. (From the perspective of a waterfall. From the perspective of a squirrel.)

The group poses with Nancy Aronie’s book “Writing From The Heart”, a key inspirational piece for the program

This course is inspired by my writing mentor, Nancy Aronie. Nancy facilitates writing workshops on Martha’s Vineyard with Chilmark Writing Workshops and has written a book about writing and life called: Writing From the Heart. We will be offering this course again next year so stay tuned if you are interested in this type of heart journey.”

words by Heather Sullivan

Hugs all around as we say goodbye after an amazing weekend of reflective writing and sharing in community
Our deepest, most heartfelt thanks to all the participants for showing up in authenticity, reflection and love. We couldn’t have done it without you!

Journaling, Yoga and Embracing the Seasonal Change

Cultivating creative outlets to embrace and nurture your highest Self during times of seasonal shift

This spring we have so much energy.  So much in bloom.  So much water flowing. Take 10 minutes and write/journal on what is blooming for you in your life right now. Or what is blooming in your heart. If you need inspiration for this, sit in front of a flower and observe it for 5 minutes before writing.

If written expression doesn’t feel right for you then explore other creative avenues of reflection: drawing, painting, composing a song, or artfully preparing nourishing food for your body. Cultivation and reflection in creativity can be found almost anywhere!

Pausing in reflection can offer so many things for us: cathartic release, enlightenment, empowerment, or a deeply grounding experience. Harnessing the power of written word to check-in with ourselves and cultivate deeper self-awareness can open doors to the vastness of the Universe and the depths of our soul. If you are seeking to dive deeper into your reflective writing practice, or have interest in starting one, consider joining us for our Writing from the Heart retreat from May 31st to June 2nd in beautiful Yosemite Valley. Led by Heather Sullivan with special guests, participants will be guided and inspired by the landscape and yogic practices to embrace their inner, one-of-a-kind voice. Visit our Program Calendar for more details on this new and exciting retreat in Yosemite!


Our spring has come at last with the soft laughter of April suns and shadow of April showers.” –Byron Caldwell Smith
Redbuds in bloom on banks of the Merced
Photo credit: Bryan Weaver

Practices & Remedies for Springtime Allergies

  • Heal your gut: Nourishing the body with light, warm, cooked vegetarian food allows the digestion fire a chance to rest. Allowing the gastrointestinal tract to reset provides gut stability so you can enjoy raw greens and salads come summertime.
  • Decrease or avoid dairy products: Consuming dairy products inherently causes mucous and hinder the body’s process of removing toxins. To ease congestion opt for dairy-free alternatives to allow the body to process and remove toxins more efficiently.
  • Drink warm, cleansing water: Cleansing the body by drinking warm water with lemon and/or local honey is a simple and effective remedy for calming irritated passages. Lemon acts as a purifier and detoxifier, while local honey gently soothes and comforts. Not a fan? Drinking ginger lemon tea is also a wonderful alternative.
  • Consider herbal compounds for immune support: Allergies can feel impossible to manage if our immune systems aren’t being supported. Using herbal compounds to assist can be incredibly helpful. Our friend Prashanti de Jager has an Ojas Mix from the Himalayas that helps support the immune system, which features Ashwaganda, Cinnamon, Saffron, Suduchi, Licorice, Arjuna, among others. Visit his website and Instagram for more information and inspiration.
  • Use a Neti pot: Spring bloom brings high levels of allergic agitators that can wreak havoc on your sinuses. Clearing the nasal passages with warm salt water offers some relief to allergic congestion. *First time users please defer to your preferred health practitioner before using a Neti pot
  • Gentle exercise and pranayama: Practicing relaxing asana and breathwork allows for refocusing the breath and re-centering the mind. Mellow poses like Cow (Bitilasana), Cat (Marjariasana) and Cobra (Bhujangasana, see above photo) allow for gently warming up the spine and opening up the chest space which can feel tight during spring allergy season. Moving with the cadence of your breath permits the body to decompress and return to a state of rest.

Practicing gentle heart openers like Cobra Pose, or Bhujangasana,
allows for expansion and relief in the chest space
Photo credit: Josh Helling

A Tribute to Arin Trook

Honoring former Program Director Arin Trook with words shared from the Balanced Rock community

Below is a compilation of photos and words about Arin from the BR community and beyond.  We miss him dearly.

“This news feels like a big meteor hit the Earth and left a huge deep hole. The complexities of this impact are beyond what I am able to describe. It is incredibly frustrating not to be able to adjust anything about it.

He was sparkly, kind, curious, thoughtful, engaging, and devoted. I think his super power was suspending time. When I had the opportunity to be around him whether for five minutes or an hour it never seemed rushed and somehow there was always enough time to plunge into and complete a meaningful conversation.

For those who had the opportunity to share days and years with him, I can only imagine what time is like after his death. It is not like we can go down the street and get another Arin. He definitely was one of those people that I think we all would be significantly better off if there were more people like him. I hope the world we live in is creating that opportunity.

If there is anything that I can do that would be helpful please let me know. You, Arin’s family, and the rest of his vast sphere of influence and inspiration are in my thoughts.”

With love,

Brenda Ostrom (Balanced Rock Board Member, Owner of Mountain Meadow Farms), Mariposa, CA


“While many friends’ memories of Arin will flash to high-country adventures and wanderings, my sweetest memories of Arin, Liesa and Kosma were of the most domestic kind in the low canyon living of El Portal. Arin and family stayed with our family on Incline Road during one of the many evacuation events here in EP; we felt lucky to get them to ourselves. Arin was good company in conversation and in silence. His comfort in his own skin and spark for living and connecting were palpable in his cleaning the kitchen, making food for his son, and hanging on the couch in the evening. He offered a cozy-hearted presence that invited others into the comfort of his kindness. Our blessings go out to Liesa and Kosma and Ria.” 

-Schuyler Greenleaf (Yosemite Conservancy, El Portal resident, Volunteer Yoga Instructor with Balanced Rock), El Portal CA

“Arin was a one of a kind human being with a captivating presence, who seamlessly balanced playfulness with deep reflection.  In my mind I can hear his voice, echoing jewels of wisdom embedded in the most engagingly presented stories.  I can see his smile- joyful and warm, with a pinch of mischief.  Arin was a teacher and a friend, and someone who led life in a way that inspired those around him.  He was a mentor for me when I was an eager young educator for NatureBridge in Yosemite, and again years later as I deepened my study of yoga.  Arin was an old soul, wise beyond his years. I am grateful for the time that I got to spend with Arin, and for the way that he touched my life. Arin, thank you for sharing your inspiring spirit with us all.  May you roam wild, peaceful and free. “

 –Jenna Beers  (Former Nature Bridge Instructor, Nursing Student, Wilderness Guide and Yoga Instructor for Balanced Rock), Columbia, CA


Story-teller. Heart open! Look at your Urdva Danurasana.. proud El Cap in the back ground! Lover of music and listening and singing and playing. Elf, imp, magician, sparkly, bright, twinkle. Soulful and wise. Deeply studied. You put in your time; your hard work.  Wicked smart, you Berkeley and Standford grad…Ha! they didn’t know what to do with all those dreads on campus! No sleep, too much to explore and celebrate. Caretaker, nurturer. Deep dedication and commitment to Liesa. To Kosi. To Ria. Family. Husband. Father. “

-Eliza Kerr (Ayurvedic Practitioner, Co-Founder and Board Member for Balanced Rock), El Portal, CA


“My memory of Arin is when he was the lead instructor for a custom trip of women from Oakland.  Most of them had never been backpacking before.  So they were excited and nervous.  We had a VERY slow trudge up the 10 Lakes trail to get to our camp site.  Arin was incredibly patient and played his guitar the entire time to serenade us.  We were all surprised he could be doing that, while we were just struggling to breathe!   Arin was amazing at reading the individuals and meeting their needs every moment during that trip.  His cooking was fantastic and his smile infectious.  I’m so incredibly honored to have shared this journey with him!  My heart goes out to his family and to the entire community!”

-Marcia Hodges (Top Facilitator, Balanced Rock Board Member), Oakland, CA


“One of my most vivid memories is when a woman who wasn’t on our trip got angry and started yelling at us. Arin was incredibly skilled at non-violent communication and within 3 minutes, this angry woman was hugging him and talking to him like she knew him for years. That is the kind of person Arin was. He was such an original. We had so many good laughs! Arin was one of the most gifted outdoor guides and storytellers that I ever met. He lived an absolutely authentic life, motivated by ecological citizenship and loving kindness. Arin was a facilitator of transformation, bringing out the best self you didn’t even know was there.”

   –Pam Kuhn (former Balanced Rock Executive Director)


ACES has set up a memorial fund to help Arin’s family:

https://www.gofundme.com/arin-trook-memorial-fund