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Loss, Nature & Spirituality

All of  us experience loss in our lives and need to find ways to grieve and cope with this natural and challenging transition. Balanced Rock Foundation was formed following the tragic loss of a dear friend and community member Joie Armstrong, in an effort to provide a space for healing in nature using the tools of yoga and creative writing. If you have experienced a recent loss, we urge you to reach out to us and consider coming on a backpacking or campground-based retreat to support your grieving process. We are grateful this month to share the following guest blog post from Jennifer Allan about moving through losing a loved one. 

Finding Solace in Nature and Spirituality after Losing a Loved One

By Jennifer Allan

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

The Holmes and Rahe scale, used by doctors to predict future illness, lists the death of a spouse or child as the single most stressful event that can occur to a human being. Losing a family member turns one’s world upside down, changes our plans for the future, and can lead to a sense of solitude that is difficult to bear. At this time more than any other, it is important to lean on others but also to search for a sense of connection. Research carried out over the past two decades has shone a light on the important role that nature and spirituality can play in helping human beings survive through the toughest of times. Studies have shown, for instance, that being part of a spiritual community is the only social activity that promotes sustained happiness. Nothing else – including volunteering and other selfless acts, provides quite the same level of support.

Nature, Spirituality, and Bereavement

A study published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing investigated the effect of spiritual activities on parents who had lost a loved one (in this case, a child). They found that spirituality assisted mothers with symptoms of grief, depression and PTSD, and promoted greater personal growth. Fathers, meanwhile, seemed to find greater solace in religious activities. Of course, spirituality per se is a much wider concept than religion. It can include self-reflection in nature, leaning on family and friends, meditating in a natural setting, or taking part in worship. Harvard academic Casper ter Kuile notes that these days, millennials in particular are seeking spiritual connection in everything from mountain climbing and trekking, right through to taking part in Crossfit, or communicating regularly on social media.

Nature Awakens our Rich Interior World

Many studies have been carried out on the effects of spirituality on bereavement. Around 94% of findings show positive connections for both men and women who rely on religious/spiritual beliefs to get over life’s vicissitudes. What can those who are not used to prayer or other introspective activities do to find their spiritual place? Nature is a great place to start. Carl Jung noted that divorcing ourselves from nature wrests meaning from life and makes us feel small and alone. He wrote that it was only when beholding the majesty of Nature that human beings could comprehend the magnitude of the spirit or be reminded of the importance of tending to their spiritual health.

Where to Begin?

To find the spiritual activity that resonates with your needs, think of what used to ignite your passion before you lost your spouse. Did downhill mountain biking get your heart racing? Was simply sitting in a park your way to disconnect? Did you feel a sense of peace and calm by doing a yoga class or meditating? You could start with something as simple as forest bathing, which involves simply visiting a green area such as the mountainside, a lake, or a park. Open your sense to the sights and sounds around you. Touch leaves, and trees, walk slowly through a lush area and enjoy the smells and textures that connect you to something far larger than yourself.

Spirituality and nature can play an important role in soothing symptoms of grief, including anxiety, stress, and depression. Studies have shown that even contemplating imagery of natural scenery can significantly lower stress hormone levels. Imagine what actually walking into Mother Nature’s embrace can do to your psyche at a time when you most need solace, peace, and quiet.

How Backpacking Changed My Life #2

This is the second of a series of posts from Balanced Rock’s current staff. We are excited to share with you how backpacking has impacted our lives. We hope you enjoy the stories!

By Paula Wild

When I write the word HOME what comes up for you? This can be a really loaded concept for many of us, and I’d like to share with you how backpacking has helped me heal my relationship with the idea of home.
 
I am an immigrant; my family came over from communist Poland in 1988 when I was five years old. I don’t remember what that was like, however I do know that most of our extended family remained in Poland while the small nuclear family of mom, dad and me set off into the huge landscape of America.
 
My childhood was fraught with confusion and often embarrassment. I was forever caught between cultures and feeling alien. My folks spoke Polish with me and we ate the food they had grown up eating. However when staying over with friends I was exposed to a Midwestern American culture that felt both foreign and exciting.  I often cringed and wondered why my parents’ accent had to be so strong, and why we couldn’t just fit in?!
 
In 1999 my father passed away unexpectedly and my mother and I moved into a new “home”. I was heartbroken and bewildered, and began heavily using marijuana as a means of coping with my discomfort. I went on to attend University continually feeling lost and out of place. For these two decades I was completely adrift without a real sense of my roots.
 
Enter backpacking. As I write this, tears of gratitude well up in my eyes for the people and landscapes that helped bring me “home”. As I began to explore this concept of filling a pack with everything I would need, shouldering it and walking many miles I immediately felt at ease.

Whatever the weather I am HOME!

In the backcountry I am a citizen of Mother Earth, just like you. Our differences fade or quiet down and our innate humanity comes forth. We each have our own fears (wild animals, thunderstorms, the inability to walk another step etc.), and our moments of surmounting those. We can each celebrate the stunning beauty of the landscape, the magically clear sounds of the place at night, or the delight in a warm meal.
 
When we are in the wilderness, judgments and comparisons seem to somehow fade or quiet down and we can simply be. The daily tasks of filtering water, cooking a meal, pitching a tent are all that needs to be accomplished. There is a certain simplicity in having everything you need on your back. A whole lot of spaciousness opens up to just be who you are; a human being.
 
The study of Evolutionary Psychology reminds us that our DNA is informed by 50,000 generations of pre-farming wilderness nomadism, and only 500 generations of settled agricultural domestication. This really explains to me why I feel so at ease and so fully ME when I am backpacking. I am truly going “back to my roots” in a profound way (even though no one in my family has ever backpacked).
 
In the space of the backcountry I always feel more open to connect and share, which is why I LOVE Balanced Rock trips in particular. It never ceases to amaze me that we get a group of 5-10 people together who have never met, and after only four days together in the wilderness we have created bonds that often last a lifetime. 

 

Loving life and connection on an annual girlfriend backpacking adventure. 

After spending countless hours in the backcountry, far away from any human-made structure or cell signal, my soul finds itself. I know exactly where my home is. This is a beautiful thing, and I know I need to tend to it. Every year I plan multiple backcountry outings to keep that connection with my soul’s home alive and thriving.
 
Tend to your soul’s home and hearth by going backpacking this year! Balanced Rock has some really great trips planned, check them out here.  


 

Paula Wild, E-RYT 500, is honored to serve as Director of Operations, Instructor and Guide for Balanced Rock. She is a masterful yoga instructor and therapist who most deeply enjoys practicing and teaching in nature’s outdoor studio. She believes that the tools yoga and time in nature offer are the most effective ways to connect with our own inner wisdom and expand our potential in the world. Access Paula’s latest musings and offerings on her blog and website: wildawakewellness.com

How Backpacking Changed My Life #1

This is the first of a series of posts from Balanced Rock’s current staff. We are excited to share with you how backpacking has impacted our lives. We hope you enjoy the stories!

By Deana Barone

I am the type of person that really likes staying inside of my comfort zone. The experience I had on my first 10-day tour working on Yosemite’s very first fish removal crew in 2007 changed my life forever and forced me, not only outside of my comfort zone, but to a place of massive realization and not within the realms of what I was physically and mentally capable or comfortable doing.

I was 27 years old and considered myself an experienced backpacker in the Sierra Nevada. I was assigned to do a series of 10-day tours in the high country of Yosemite roughly 5 miles northwest of Cold Canyon to a quiet and unvisited lake named Virginia Lake. The fish crew consisted of Jeff Mauer (Aquatic Ecologist and Biologist), Eleanor Hartney, and myself. On the first tour into Virginia Lake we were accompanied by a few other NPS rangers to help carry in a full load of gear and food we would need for the whole 10-day tour. Our packs were each 95-100 pounds and we moved liked slugs along the trail past Glen Aulin into Smokey Jack Meadow. When it was time to leave the trail and travel via cross country utilizing our map and compass, it got harder to breath and harder to focus on what I was doing. We had been traveling for 8 hours straight and gaining elevation for about 5 of those hours. I became quite dehydrated and lethargic by the time we arrived to the lake and didn’t care about how beautiful it was. I was truly exhausted so I set up my tent and went to sleep. This was unequivocally the hardest backpacking trip I had ever been on.

The next morning I awoke to Jeff whispering a Dr. Suess story outside of my tent, “One fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish…..” After a generous cup of Earl Grey tea and bowl of belly-warming oats for breakfast, we climbed to the highest peak above the lake to scope out the scenery, and there it was– one of the most beautiful sights I had ever seen in my life. Virginia Lake which is situated right at the confluence of Return Creek, Matterhorn Creek, and Regulation Creek, a pretty epic spot in my favorite part of the park. Completely surrounded by towering granite peaks and rounded domes, I felt a surge of energy rise up from underneath me and run throughout my entire body. Awake and gazing down at both Matterhorn Canyon and Virginia Canyon, I felt every step was worth getting to this amazingly beautiful spot in Yosemite. I was home.

For ten days, we swam in the crystal clear crisp waters of Virginia Lake, we drank the water straight from the lake without purification, we ate huge 55 centimeter Brook trout that we caught with our bare hands from the lake, we watched damsel flies emerge from their cocoons and may flies swarm us in our float tubes. We observed a neighboring family of yellow-bellied marmots that lived in between two boulders near our camp, and at night we watched the special star show that the dark night put on for us making it impossible for us to go to sleep. The lake had these natural stadium-shaped granite benches that we perched upon every night to watch the stars reflect off the stillness of the water. It was breath-taking and awe-inspiring. Every afternoon I would solo hike to the edge of the lake where the water pealed over the edges and poured downward thousands of feet into Return Creek. I would go to this special sacred spot in my mind and in my heart that I had never tapped into before. This place of “being” in wild and raw mother nature was magical and terrifying at the same time. I felt wild and free.

My journey continued for those summer months in and out of Virginia Lake and it had changed me forever. It never got easier, but it made me crave the outdoors in a way I never knew I would embrace.

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Celebrating Chelsea Griffie and Women of Color in the Wilderness

Interview with Chelsea Griffie, by Heather Sullivan Co-Founder of Balanced Rock

In 2003, Balanced Rock was a fledgling organization under its former name, Wild Women Workshops.  It was winter and we hosted a writing and yoga workshop at the Yosemite Bug Hostel in Midpines, CA.  A woman named Deni Hodges from San Francisco was a participant on the course and yoga teacher herself.  At the end of the course, she told me she really got a lot out of the course and wondered if we would consider offering courses for women of color (WOC).  “As you can see,” she smiled, “I am the only black woman here.”  I looked around, agreed as it is common in these Sierra Foothill towns, and responded that we would consider it.  She was really interested in our backpacking trips and thought it would be great to get a group of WOC on the trail.

The next summer we offered our first WOC backpack.  One of my first challenges was how to staff it.  As with Deni’s observation in the café that day, a similar reality holds true in outdoor leaders and guides.  At that time, I knew of one woman who held the credentials Balanced Rock requires in guides.  She was a local “rock”-star, Chelsea Griffie, and also a dear friend.  I was excited to tell Chelsea about this trip and more excited to see if she would lead it.  I was more than surprised at her initial response, “Am I of color enough?” As someone who generally has an opinion on most things, I didn’t really know how to answer.  I found myself really uncomfortable with this question, with the fact Deni was the only woman of color in the room that day, that I only knew one guide who could potentially lead the trip or what  “of color enough” meant.

To my relief, Chelsea said Yes.  And not only yes to that trip but she has been leading the Balanced Rock WOC trip for 13 years inspiring WOC, recruiting women to take this chance and representing WOC in the backcountry.  “You should see the look on people’s faces when we pass them on the trail,” Chelsea says.  “It feels so good to be out there” and one participant stated, “I feel like this is my Park too, now.  I didn’t feel that way before.”

Chelsea Griffie

Chelsea Griffie

Chelsea told me this year she was moving on to other things and giving her knees a break.  Everyone at Balanced Rock wants to thank you, Chelsea, for your dedication to this program and for really championing the importance of WOC in the wilderness.  What a legacy you have left!

Here is a recent interview I had with Chelsea and some reflections from past trip reports.

Give us a little background of yourself (Where you grew up?  How you got into outdoor endeavors?)

I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago. My mom was an RN and led a couple things with Girl Scouts when I was young.  But my mother didn’t do camping.  I always knew I wanted to do backpacking.  In my mind, I knew I would have to wait until someday when I moved to California to try this.

When I turned 13, we moved to San Diego. I saw mountains and snow and I wanted to be in mountains and snow. 

So I started these outdoor pursuits in my late 20’s.  I started rock-climbing around 27. I first backpacked in order to go rock climbing in King’s Canyon National Park.

Who introduced you to outdoor activities? 

A boyfriend at the time named Chris introduced me to climbing.  I was living in L.A. and we did a lot of car camping and climbing in Joshua tree and Idyllwild, CA.  Car camping is a great introduction to camping…kind of easing your way in.  I started leading some outdoor trips after that and eventually came to Yosemite to climb.  We climbed El Capitan in 2001.  My first time climbing it we climbed it in 26 hours.   We were aiming to climb in under 24 hours but I was just so excited to climb it! I have climbed that formation 4 times.   Oh, and I was the first black woman to climb El Cap.  That’s kinda cool.

How do you support people to feel more comfortable in the wilderness?

 Good food makes everyone happy and calm.  Culturally appropriate food makes people feel at ease.  A recipe I like is veggie chili…. it seems to work for everyone (unless someone doesn’t eat tomatoes (insert un-mistakable Chelsea laugh).

Who were influential people in your life, specifically to working in the outdoors and as a WOC?

My first real guiding job was working with Yosemite Guides.  They did trips with kids:  hiking, fishing, bird-watching, and that kind of thing.  I learned of an organization called Bay Area Wilderness Training (BAWT) who were offering outdoor leadership trainings specifically for people of color (POC).  I took this BAWT training and moved into leading trips for them and was eventually asked to be on their staff as Program Manager, which I did for 5 years.

And then you founded LA Wilderness Training (LAWT)?   

Yes…I realized there was nothing like this in the Los Angeles area and since I saw that need I decided to go for it with BAWT as a model. 

So you just started another non-profit on your own?!   

Yeah….I realized the need and I knew I could do it.  That said, it is really hard to run a non-profit in L.A. especially trying to get people outside.  There is a lot of inherent fear.  People imagine it is dangerous….bears, snakes, etc.  Many people don’t have the gear, confidence, experience or support network to do it. 

What is the importance of having programs like the Balanced Rock WOC program?

If you look on a hiking trail, you see mostly white people, at least the places I’ve been. I felt lonely out there and wanted to share how awesome it is to be out on a trail and seeing such beauty with others and other POC .  I wanted to get more POC out there!  Hiking, backpacking, climbing.  There’s nothing like just seeing a lake amidst the big mountains.

What have been your highlights working this program over the years?

It is exciting to get other WOC outdoors and doing what we do in terms of introducing the Balanced Rock curriculum of mindfulness practices, dialogue, and learning the hard skills of how to backpack and set up camp. 

I’ve had amazing co-leaders over the years:  Echo Davenport, Cynthia Ramaciotti, Elizabeth Sy, and Miho Aida.  All of these women are doing amazing things in the world in terms of inclusion and awareness and social justice.  They have brought so much to this program as well.

Have their been any challenges working this program over the years?

Of course.  Every trip is different with different challenges.  The trick is to figure out how to work it out.  Funding is one.  It is important that people know about the program and that there is a specific WOC scholarship fund that they can donate to.  It is great that tuition assistance is available for this course and all BR courses

What advice would you give to future instructors of this program?

I recommend doing and teaching what you know.  Be communicative.  Work things out.  Talk things out.  Be present. Be a bit methodical.  And always ask:  What are the implications of what I am doing/saying/modeling?  Be flexible and use intelligence in decision making.

What wisdom would you impart on future participants of this program?

Have patience being out there…if you are weirded out or feeling challenged because it feels hard or unfamiliar…stick with it and see where it takes you.

Be open to see if there are parts of the experience you like or if there are some surprises and learnings to be found.   Often people’s most challenging moment(s) on a course become their highlights or biggest learnings.

Why is this WOC trip important to have in existence?

Oh wow.  It is important for so many reasons.  It is important because everyone should get to share this beauty.  Everyone should feel that parks and open spaces belong to them It is important to enjoy great views across a lake, or experience the challenge of walking there, or work together with other people to make a camp or climb a summit.

It is important to be able to claim this space as our own.

It is important to have a safe space to have important discussions of race and diversity and inclusion.

It is important for women to learn from other women and WOC to learn from other WOC. 

I have heard from instructors and particpants of this course that a highlight is the community created on this trip and some of the really rich or deep discussions and sharings.  What are some conversations/discussions that arise on a course? 

We’ve had a lot of really great and important discussion out there.  One was on the definition of what WOC is.  One is how it feels to be a WOC in the wilderness.  I remember one share about the podcast, Code Switch, that discussed how people of color have different ways of talking based on audience.  This was a really interesting insight because we then observed ourselves doing it at times when we ran into different people on the trip.  

What is next for Chelsea?

Well, I am 50 and noticing myself getting older.  I think I am going to get into nursing.  My mom was an RN and recently I had a doctor who was a WOC that was able to give me a diagnosis that other doctors were not able to give me.  This was inspiring and so important to me.  I think I’d really like to work with people who are getting older.  I’ll be moving back to Oakland in May.

Thank you Chelsea.  For this interview.  For all you do and have done in this world and continue to do.  Bringing your laugh and unique view and your go-for-it-ness into this world.  We are glad you will be closer to us in Yosemite.

Balanced Rock is committed to the WOC program and keeping this space for WOC who wish to learn wilderness skills and connect to wild places in a supportive community.

Check out more information on the Balanced Rock 2018 Women of Color Wilderness Backpack and to meet our newest instructor Grace Anderson who will be co-leading this year’s course with Miho Aida, who has now led the course for the past three years.  We are excited to see where Miho and Grace will inspire the program that Chelsea has been so fundamental in laying the framework for.

Grace Anderson

Miho Aida

 

 

 

Never say “Would Have, Should Have, Could Have”

Written by Kerry Carter.

I started my yoga practice 9 years ago after some health problems prevented me from lifting weights. What a change from the gym! I attended my first beginner Vinyasa class at a local neighborhood boutique yoga studio. I struggled with the poses and finished in a pool of sweat and exhaustion.  A beginner class? I was challenged and hooked immediately. The studio brought a new balance of body, mind, and breath I had never felt. Unfortunately, the studio went out of business 6 months into my practice.

I wandered from studio to studio around the city of Austin, TX. I experienced total 105 degree baking exhausting yoga to serene meditation studios but I was not able to find the “Zen”, that total “balance” that was created by the atmosphere of that little boutique studio.

A year later I found a tiny ad in the back of Yoga Journal for Yoga Retreats in Yosemite featuring hiking, camping and yoga. All of my favorite activities. This was my introduction to Balanced Rock.

I arrived at the campsite at McGee Creek on the Eastern side of the Sierras near Yosemite. I received a warm welcome by the staff and other attendees. The next three days were a wonderful experience of great food, genuine people, and the most breathtaking scenery for a yoga practice I have ever experienced.

The last day of our retreat was a hike to a glacier lake so clear we could see to the bottom and witness the fish jumping in the lake. After a brisk swim, I spent some time alone meditating on a rock and reflecting on this trip for what was next in my life. On the plane ride home I had the thought of opening my own yoga studio. Many reasons came to light why I could not do this, why I should not do it, but it was clear to me I had to build my own studio in order to get that “balance” back in my life.

I contacted the ex-owner of that first studio I attended and explained my vision. She had the yoga experience and I had the business model. After several failed attempts to get funding I took a big bite out of my savings to start the business. We handpicked and interviewed 10 great instructors that were aligned with the vision and 9 months later we opened FlowYoga in the same, now booming community with 32 classes heated, non-heated, and even kids’ yoga.

With little competition we were proud. We built it and so, they would come right? (so wrong!) We had to send teachers home on many occasions and I had to pour more money that I ever excepted in to keep it open.  What was wrong? I was ready to throw in the towel.

After some outside consultation and coaching we discovered we needed a strategic marketing plan. We put the plan in place, including a strong social media campaign, community campaigning, running creative new member specials and we started to fill classes! The rest was word of mouth. The testimonials and feedback from students was evidence the vision had become a reality.

After being open for 5 years my business partner had decided to move to Colorado and I decided, although bittersweet, it was time to let the studio change hands. I sold it last year however, the studio and that vision is still thriving today and growing steadily.

The walk away is to never do a “would have, could have, should have.” The experience built strong confidence, we gave something beautiful to the community, and well, life is just too short!

 

Kerry Carter, BBA, MBA, has over 25 years of management experience in the fields of Information Technology consulting. He was the founder and Co-Owner of Flowyoga, a Vinyasa yoga studio located in Austin Texas.

Kerry has held management and leadership positions with IBM, Dell, and Deloitte Consulting. His work is primarily in sales to help his clients including nonprofit organizations transform their business systems to operate more efficiently and cost effectively.

Kerry is married to Brenda. Between them they have four grown children and three grandchildren. Kerry enjoys traveling, is an avid yogi and also spends a lot of his off-time in the mountains hiking, camping, and snow skiing! Kerry has attended five retreats with Balanced Rock over the last 6 years which has led to his passion to see the growth and preservation of this wonderful organization.

He also has interests in the preservation of the planet from the environmental effects of global climate change and current on-going environmental sustainability efforts.

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Reflections on Water

We are honored and grateful to share a recent submission from one of the incredible healers who is currently a student of Balanced Rock’s WildYoga Teacher Training Program

Artist, herbalist, and explorer Jiling teaches herbal, nature connection, yoga, dance, and other classes around the USA, Taiwan, and China. She’s currently studying Chinese medicine (acupuncture and herbs) at Alhambra Medical University in Los Angeles, completing her 500 hour yoga teacher training through Balanced Rock’s WildYoga Program, and bridging relationships between plants and people through education, clinical work, and creative engagement. You can also read more on Jiling’s personal blog

 

How is the Water element a guiding principle in your life?

In Chinese medicine, Water is the element of the north, and governs the Kidneys and Bladder. North is a place of the great unknown, that liminal space between birthing and dying, where the Universe spirals back into itself, and spirals back out, creating in mysterious yet powerful ways. My experiences with water buoy me through difficult times in my life. I remember lying on rocks in full sunlight in the middle of river after precious river, feeling simultaneous freedom and exhilaration as I plunge my body into the cold waters of this Earth. I feel the wild power of the great pulsing ocean that I biked alongside for hundreds of miles this summer and slept next to each night, and the hot springs that heated and sanctified all of my cells in the rumbling hot springs of two different continents. I feel the pulsation of rage and sorrow from marching next to then tending the wounds of Water Protectors at Standing Rock last year, and the remaining fires from that water protecting journey, and how they light me up from within. Mni wiconi. Water is life.

Where/how do you experience connection to Water and where/how might you deepen this connection?

My favorite places to live and be are all alongside water. Water is life! Water nourishes our plants, for our food. Water cleanses my body and spirit. Water provides the source for my hydration, tea, and all nourishment. Water composes 60% of my body mass. Water is delightful. I went camping every week this month, twice alongside the San Gabriel River, the primary river that feeds my local watershed of the San Gabriel Mountains. I delight in the river’s song, lulling me to a deep sleep with powerful dreams, under the glistening stars and sliver of moonlight, water-fed trees dancing overhead. Every morning, I wake to splash my face with water, then drink hot tea with hand-picked herbs infused in boiled water. I water my plant babies as I brush my hair before asana practice, kneeling to watch the water sink into the soil, loving each millimeter of growth, sometimes a whole centimeter, that springs up each day, the plants imbibing the water, sun’s rays, and soil’s minerals. I say a prayer of gratitude to every river I come to, with reverence.

I deepen my connection with Water through activism: through sharing tea fed by stories of plants, place, and connection, of where our waters come from, and how to be more responsible in our water use, here in this arid landscape of Los Angeles I call home. I deepen each time I make botanical preparations, each time I go camping, and each time I expose a new heart to the beauties of our local natural environment.

What does the Water element have to do with yoga, and how might you share that with your students? 

I enjoy the flowing nature of vinyasa, of dancing through asanas with fluid sequencing informed and inspired by water, and the free flowing lymph and blood through our bodies. Asana moves qi, which moves blood, awakening and enlivening the entire body, mind, spirit, and being. As I sequence my classes, I note where we flow in and out of movement, and where we hold, then release. Water, being the yin nourishing principle of our lives and bodies, is present in the undercurrent of our entire practice, especially as we flow between asanas. I take us out under the rain on a bridge, mouths open and smiling, eyes closed, pores cleansing. I share ancient stories and songs that inspires tears. Water, the oldest and most powerful medicine-making menstruum, the ancient building block of our sacred special planet, flows thusly through our bodies and practices, and onwards back into the substratum of the Universe, and back into the Earth.

One of Jiling’s favorite water photos from a special river spot in New Mexico.

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Intentions for the New Year

From Heather Sullivan

Winter Solstice marks the new year for me.  It is a time to go inward and reflect as we have the most amount of dark hours.  It is a time of rest and reflection.

This year I am practicing a different type of New Year’s intention: 

Settling into Enoughness.

Rather than try and make changes or work at a new resolution in my life, I am taking inventory of what I already have and do.   

The Practice (5 minutes per day for a week)

Find a quiet spot. Light a candle and set a 5-minute timer.  Close your eyes.

  • Contemplate on how you feel you are already enough in this world.
  • Contemplate on what material possessions you have enough of.
  • Contemplate on what you have already in abundance that you can give to the world.
Write these thoughts in a journal or on a piece of paper.
 
Try this practice for one week before setting any new intentions or resolutions to feel into your well for abundance and to bring light and insight into how much you already have and how much you already are.
Explore if you find any sense of inner peace or contentment when feeling like there is and you are enough.
 
From all of us at Balanced Rock we wish you an abundant, joyful, and peaceful New Year!

Mountain High

Thanks to Anna Stump for submitting her story about the Custom Journey she created with Balanced Rock for herself and six friends this summer. This is the perfect time of year to reach out to us and begin planning your Custom Adventure for next season! We hope you enjoy this tale of adventure and nourishment. For the full version please visit her blog

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About a year ago I contacted Balanced Rock, a Yosemite-based non-profit, and asked if they would be willing to do a custom journey for a small group of friends.  They immediately said yes and the planning began.  I loved their willingness to be receptive to what I had envisioned for the trip: A time to connect with other mamas in purposeful ways, a time to be in the wild without any agenda, a time to practice yoga without mats or fancy attire, a time to begin a new tradition that I could soon enter our daughters into, and a time to be introspective.

On Yosemite’s 127th Birthday weekend, seven women walked in the high country guided by one wilderness expert and their hearts. We were driven by a want for a deeper connection to ourselves, one another and nature.  We didn’t have any idea how much work it would be and how much we would grow, individually and together.

When we arrived at what we lovingly called, “Shangri La”, our base camp, we were surrounded by vistas that seemed surreal.  We walked together and alone, savoring the time and space to notice details everywhere, like the way the lakes that surrounded us looked as the mountain wind picked up during sunset; glossy with riveting patterns and crisp with alpine melt.   We noticed how contented we felt after a healthy and simple meal, like grits which we all helped prepare and put away, down to licking our bowls clean!  And we soaked in the time to converse with one another about topics that mattered deeply to us.

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Shangri La

 

We listened to Stellar’s Jays, anxiously anticipated Pika as they would dart across rocks and noticed even our eyelashes in our shadows through the afternoon hours.  We checked in with one another often, offering support, care and humor.

We became a tribe. 

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Mountain Mama Tribe

 

We practiced “Wild Yoga” and meditation overlooking the majestic Autumn-colored valley.  Finding our resting pose on granite, laced with quartz crystal, millions of atoms of energy beneath us.

We laughed until our faces hurt, sharing stories of our triumphant day as we marveled at the sunset sweeping over the Valley of Light.

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Radiance

 

We let handfuls of sacred Public Land soil soak into our grasps as we learned to anchor tent knots in preparation for dark clouds.  We felt the richness of this National Park land under our feet and without hesitation, let it anchor us up steep and narrow trails.

And when we came to Yosemite’s very center summiting Mt. Hoffman together, we found not only the valley’s strength of heart: We found our own.

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Summiting Mt. Hoffmann

 

Maybe, in our fast-paced world, we have to be more purposeful of slowing down and getting off the grid.  Maybe, we have to remember that keeping one another safe and cared for is community work.  Maybe, we have to let go of all connections to all sources of media, and just find the right connection within ourselves and the people who surround us.  Maybe, we need reminders of just how precious our land and environment is, and preserving it can be a daily effort as we go on with our day-to-day lives.  Maybe, we have work to do, to show our daughters that women have always encircled one another with care and support, and their truest friends in life will do the same for them.  Maybe, we have to spend time away from everything we know, to find potential within ourselves we never knew existed.  Maybe, just maybe, that “Mountain High” can be found within our very homes.

The adventure was much more than backpacking and yoga for all of us on the trip.  It rooted us.  It elevated our strength and confidence and allowed us each to feel so much more connected to what matters in our lives.

“Balanced Rock” is a perfect name for the organization, for it is exactly how each of us felt leaving.  Balanced Rock believes in, the Hero’s/Heroine’s Call.  It encompasses the idea that someone hears the call to adventure, they go and answer the call.  When they return home, they share of their experiences and learning.  All I can think about since returning home, is how excited each of us women have been to share with our daughters and families.   The Hero’s/Heroine’s Call is already being placed in our daughters’ hands for we want them too, to feel Mountain High.

Text and photos submitted by Anna Stump. Edited by Paula Wild. 

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Reflecting on the Women of Color Retreat

This inspiring heart-felt piece is written by Diana Zuniga who attended the 2016 Balanced Rock Women of Color Wilderness Retreat. We appreciate Diana’s contribution very much. Any political views expressed here are Diana’s personal views and don’t represent Balanced Rock’s a-political stance as a non-profit. We haven’t edited her submission at all and hope you enjoy reading it! All photos were provided by Diana.

 

Now in this time when some of us are in a constant state of fear because of the interactions we see on the street and the hate words thrown around by the federal administration, I knew it was time to remember my first sola trip. A journey with a group of incredible people at the Women of Color Backpacking Retreat through the spaces of Yosemite National Park and solo down the California landscape to visit Keough Hot Springs, the former internment camp that held Japanese people at Manzanar National Historic Site, and Santa Barbara. It was my 29th year and I knew I needed to be away and alone as much as possible. I needed to be close to nature for an extended amount of time with people that looked like me and with souls that had a connection to femme energy.

I googled “women of color retreat” and  found the Balanced Rock program that prioritized teaching women of color about the outdoors and was led by two extraordinary women, Chelsea Griffie and Miho Aida. I was ecstatic and luckily was able to attend after being on the waiting list and being notified that two people canceled. It was meant to be!

I remember sensing fear again as I got ready to take this trip alone and drive through California as a woman of color in a time where Trump was already spitting his slander. I saw signs on several different farms in the central valley saying “Another Farmer for Trump”, one of which had strong graffiti art across it. I sensed the fear driving my little Prius up the Yosemite mountain with a gut full of butterflies since I am afraid of heights, and some uneasiness as I drove through nature to get to my destination to meet my group. I’m glad that I moved through that fear which led me to meet people from Canada, New York, Texas, and to reconnect with a friend that had been in my organizing circle. I met people of color confronting the status quo by inserting themselves in the corporate world, in theater, in fashion, and in art. I was a part of discussions confronting our experiences with race, gender and being female identified in the communities we were a part of. I’m also glad I moved through that fear and allowed my body to experience what I did up in those mountains and creeks for four days.

Here is some of my reflection the day after I left Yosemite:

I just finished my Yosemite journey and I’m now in a little tent built for two at the Keough Hot Springs. I feel so good being here and so fulfilled. I know I have to reflect on this experience. A thing that fed my soul, my body that had been asleep for a while, and my mind to know that I can really do anything. I can do anything I want.

As I lay here done, I just feel so complete. So complete I want to cry. So many times I moved through mother nature masked in concrete and loved it.

But these last four days I saw mother nature in her rawest form. I moved like her — completely vulnerable. I remembered how to rely on skills, my brain and my body’s energy while constantly leaning on the internal thought, “I have to do this”, and survival on my mind.

The moments when my legs were so sore I thought I couldn’t take another step upwards. When my breath was so dry I didn’t think I could swallow. When my arms were so tight I had to stretch them like I was flying to move my trekking poles again. And even now as I lie here and place my legs down I can feel the pain.

I was so in my body. In a way that I don’t think I’ve been before. Maybe this is the next phase of my process. Really being in my body. The last phase felt like a restoration of my faith which is evolving. My mind has always been ahead of me and I’m getting to a place where emotions are easier to share. But my body has always been hard to read. These four days I listened to my body. I appreciated it in every way possible and had no idea how I could complete this challenge without it. I’m so grateful for her.

The journey of Balanced Rock was healing for me. It brought me back to my body. It made me realize just how strong my body and mind are. Just how connected I am to the earth, to the stars, to the moon — to mother nature, to pacha mama.

I will continue loving my body for all the sustenance it gives me, for always being there, for taking anything that comes its way, and for being so damn beautiful. I will heal the wounds that my body has absorbed. I will do this so that I can continue to walk strong, so that I can ease the tension in my back and shoulders, so that I can breathe better and love better. All for me from me.

I have been trying to carry this reflection with me everyday as we live in a world that can place uncertainty and fear into the lives of female identified women of color. Fear of being female identified because of our beautiful bodies, fear of the color of our skin inciting unwarranted insults, fear of policies limiting our movement to and from other countries, fear of the restrictions our bodies might undergo, fear for our families and friends that can be impacted by continued racism and oppression — I invite us to move through that fear by remembering our voices, protecting our spaces, and entering closer to the natural world that will always welcome, protect, and hold us. Just look at how the National Park’s are using Twitter to defy Trump.

Now is the time for people to enter into mother nature and  relearn how to survive living with her. I invite all my people of color to take a look at Balanced Rock’s programs and to choose to be a part of one along their life’s journey.

We Are What We Eat

Our mission at Balanced Rock is to inspire health and wellbeing through a deep connection to nature and spirit. What better way to achieve this in an evolving and ongoing way than through the food we eat! We need food to survive and we can create a relationship with food that helps us to thrive. Below I share some ideas to inspire your connection to the very things that literally make you who you are.

Lauren Glikin from Raw Roots Farm with her bountiful produce.

All of these points can be employed simply by signing up for a local CSA. CSA stands for Community Supported Agriculture. In this relationship the consumer pays a local farmer money up front to produce crops that are harvested and directly delivered to the consumer over the course of the season. Read on for some ideas about new and exciting ways you might relate to the food you eat!

Trust 

We support our local farmers no matter what hardships may come. By investing money before receiving food we are making a commitment to another person’s dream and livelihood. Regardless of the weather, crop failure or pest problem the farmer is encouraged and empowered, always knowing that a large community of people is supporting them.

Eat Locally

The positive effects and joy of receiving food that is produced locally are quadrupled when we consider the fossil fuel savings that we are enacting by reducing the transport of food over long distances. The food is as fresh as one could hope for; it never sits in a warehouse and is often harvested the day before it is delivered to us. This insures that we are eating food at the height of its capacity for nourishment. Oxidation has not set in and we receive more nutrients and minerals when we eat locally grown foods.

Allow Rather Than Control

I have control issues. Do you? I want everything to be just so. Yet when I receive my weekly food share I have no control over what will arrive. I can only control what I do with the bountiful gift. Does that sound familiar? It should, because that is life. We can only do the best we can with what we are given. My CSA membership helps me practice this yogic truth regularly.

One Less Decision

Adults make approximately 35,000 decisions everyday. Each of these requires mental and emotional energy. Have you ever found yourself standing in a supermarket overwhelmed by the variety presented to you? Problem solved with CSA! The share arrives and you have one less decision to make, and a whole bunch of yummy beautiful produce to consume.

Easting Seasonally

Ayurveda (yoga’s sister science) suggests that we eat with the seasons in order to align our rhythms with the natural rhythms of the earth. That is why soups are so yummy in winter (they are warm and moist) and salads delight in summer (they are cool and crisp). Nature has a tremendous intelligence in that summer crops include lettuce, cucumbers and tomatoes: juicy foods that replenish a body dehydrated by increased sun and heat. In the same way nature offers us root vegetables in the winter to nourish our capacity to go deep into the darkness of the season and discover the fertility there. We are a part of nature, yet our culture and society attempts to convince us we are above, or better than nature. Much of our suffering can be attributed to this disconnect, and by eating with the seasons we have one more opportunity to reconnect with who we truly are.

Creative Juice

Do you ever get into a rut where you buy and prepare the same things over and over again? I guarantee this will cease if you enroll in a CSA. Every week there is a different variety of produce and with the help of the internet we can explore new and interesting ways to prepare it. Spice up your life on a daily basis through the food you prepare and eat.

Variety

We receive different food every week. This keeps us healthy by providing a balanced diet without the effort of researching every little thing. As Michael Pollan states in the beginning of his book “In Defense of Food”: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. The guesswork is taken out of dieting and we are left to delight in the culinary creations that are possible with a constant flow of fresh local produce.

Digesting It All

As human beings we not only digest our food, we also digest our experiences. In a fast-paced world we don’t often take the time to truly nourish our nervous system by pausing long enough the “smell the roses”. Making a commitment to cooking and more slowly eating your food will support the nervous system in regulating itself so that you can be more connected to your body, your environment, your relationships, and your life as a whole!

Gratitude On The Ground

What do you do once the food is on the table, everyone is present and it is time to eat? I strongly suggest you try taking a moment to pause and verbally express gratitude before digging in. Keep it simple. Whatever you feel grateful for, speak it. I have found that with a CSA it is even easier because instead of generally saying I am grateful for the people and land that produced this food I can picture the actual human beings who worked so hard to get it to my table. Gratitude is a powerful practice, made even more potent when we concretize it in time and space.

If you reside in the Mariposa/Yosemite community…

We can recommend Raw Roots Farm and Mountain Meadow Farms as wonderful choices for CSA membership. We use their products as often as possible on our courses striving to serve our participants the very best nourishment under the sun. Invest in your community, invest in your health, invest in yourself. The return is magic!

Inspired by our local bounty, I have begun offering a yoga class right before the Mariposa Farmers Market, just a 2 minute walk away. Come join me on Wednesdays May-Nov 4:00-5:15pm for Fresh Local Yoga at Studio M

Bon Appetit!

Paula Wild

Paula Wild, E-RYT 500, is honored to serve as Director of Operations, Instructor and Guide for Balanced Rock. She is a masterful yoga instructor and therapist who most deeply enjoys practicing and teaching in nature’s outdoor studio. She believes that the tools yoga and time in nature offer are the most effective ways to connect with our own inner wisdom and expand our potential in the world. Access Paula’s latest musings and offerings on her blog and website: wildawakewellness.com

 

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