Summer Rituals

Summer is here! The “farewell to spring” clarkia wildflowers are in full bloom, temperatures are rising, and the Merced river is running beautifully with snowmelt from the High Sierra. For Balanced Rock this is a special time of excitement as we prepare to shift our focus from yoga in the foothills to backpacking and practicing in the subalpine landscapes of Yosemite. journal

One of my favorite summer rituals discovered through Balanced Rock is writing a letter to myself. Every Balanced Rock course shares this powerful activity in a facilitated fashion. After spending a few days out in the wilderness reconnecting with our true nature we are ripe for clarity and, as my British husband says; “having a word with ourselves”. We all take a few hours to be silent and reflect, writing or drawing whatever comes to us and sealing it in a self-addressed envelope. Six to twelve months later Balanced Rock sends out the precious letter and it arrives at your home. Each and every one of the letters I’ve received from myself has been a gift. An encouragement and a reminder of the freedom and power I feel when out in the wilderness.

I’m honored to share a poem that recently arrived in my mailbox, which I wrote to myself last year near Ten Lakes. It is a reflection of who I am in connection to the earth. I hope you enjoy it, and that it inspires you to join us in transformative inner work this year in Yosemite’s wilderness!Blogsubmission_Poem

Blogsubmission_Poem *Kanistha mudra is a hand gesture that deepens our sense of embodiment and connection to the Earth.  It activates the qualities of stability, firmness and support. You can try it along with the words; the Living Earth pulses within my being, infusing me with all of its essential qualities. (Reference: Mudras for Healing and Transformation by Joseph and Lilian LePage). 

The Living Earth pulses within my being, infusing me with all of its essential qualities.

Written by Paula Wild

Stream of Life

We are honored to share this beautiful piece of art and inspiration with you! Huge thanks to No Frontiers Media for capturing the essence of Balanced Rock’s work in the world. Here’s to strengthening our connections with the stream of life!  

My Morning Practice

Written by Marcia Hodges: previous President of Balanced Rock’s Board of Directors and a participant on our first course ever (WildWomen Workshops, 1999).

My most consistent morning practice is journaling. It’s how I debrief my prior day and record what’s going on in my life. It’s how I get irritations or worries out of my spinning brain. It’s also how I often receive inspiration that is clearly not from my brain.


I’ve been journaling for almost 20 years now. I go through a journal every 4-6 weeks. The amount of time I spend on it is probably about an hour every morning. Yes, I’m an early bird. I love mornings! Sipping on that cup of tea. Having a candle burning. Slowly warming up the brain to both let go and receive.

I’m highly selective when purchasing journals. The outer cover has to feel right to me physically, visually and emotionally. The whole process is one of the ways I connect with myself. It helps to ground me.

One of the best benefits for me is it helps my brain to stop spinning (as much) about irritations or worries. I record what’s happening, how I’m reacting and how I feel about it. Or if it’s a worry, what my options or actions might be. And as I write, I pay attention to how I feel. Are tears coming up that need to be released? Is a possible action feeling good, like if I go in that direction, I’ll relax into it? Or does it feel bad, like I’ll be trudging up a mountain with a 100 lb. pack on my body? I pay close attention to those feelings, because I believe that’s my inner guidance system telling me what’s the next best step to take.

When I’m journaling, I often feel like it’s a form of meditation; that I’m receiving Divine guidance for how to live my life or what action to take.

Some might call it intuition. Others might call it “God shots”. It doesn’t matter to me what it’s called. I just know it when I feel it. And I don’t try to make anything happen while writing. I don’t try to be inspired or intuit. It’s the consistent morning practice of writing when I’m letting go of what’s twirling around in my brain that then allows for those moments of clarity and understanding to unfold and be revealed.

I love water analogies. One of my most favorite things to do in life is to be in a river or lake and just be lifted up with the buoyancy. I’ve always felt a magical freedom while floating, ever since I was a little girl learning to swim in the community pool. So for me, journaling helps me experience a little of that magic. If I’m feeling like I’m struggling with trying to swim upstream against the current, then I know I’m headed in the wrong direction. But if I flip over, put my feet up, let go and relax into the flow, then I know I’m headed in the right direction. There may still be rocks that bump my arse, but I’m generally headed the right way.

For a couple years now, my favorite affirmation has been, “If it’s easy, it’s meant to be.” Journaling helps me recognize when I get there…when I can feel I’m floating down stream with the current. Then I have confidence I’m headed in the right direction. That’s why it’s my most consistent morning practice. And since it’s easy for me, it must be meant to be.

Marcia Hodges

The Meaning of Aum

Nearly ten years ago, I was substitute teaching a yoga class at the Yosemite Bug Hostel. The class make up was three women, two from Ireland who had never practiced yoga and one local that I knew and had a regular yoga practice.

At this point I had been teaching in the Yosemite area for about three years and was at a point in my teaching that I was sharing my personal practice. Generally, I would start off class with a quiet grounding moment, a chant, an intention dedication, and end with the sound om (AUM) three times.

Since two of the women were new to yoga, I opted to omit the chant but to be true to my practice keep the om piece.

As often can happen, I began the om and did not hear anyone join in. I continued for the second round and had to open my eyes as the sound of stifled guffaws were blurting out. The two women in front of me were in stitches…laughing. This was just too much for them. Too weird? Too cheesy? Too California? Too yoga? All I could do was join them in laughter and then try and re-group and re-direct the class.

We moved into some basic poses. I ditched using any Sanskrit terms or any type of phrasing that could seem at all oovy-groovy and break us all into hysterics again.
There were lost of smiles and giggles and the class was very fun.

During the re-direct, I explained that I too found chanting om challenging. Sometimes it didn’t feel authentic to me. At first I didn’t even know what it meant. At this point I understood it to be the sound created at the beginning of the universe.

The root in Sanskrit is similar to the root in Latin meaning All or everything. Omnipresence. Omnipotence.

I loved this explanation and the sound and resonance I felt within my being when I chanted it. This is why it was a part of my practice. I felt connected to the natural world around me and within me as I practiced this connective sound.

As my practice has grown and expanded, I have continued to honor this tradition and have learned more of what this sound and symbol mean.

  • The Latin word ‘Omne’ and the Sanskrit word ‘Aum’ are both derived from same root meaning all and both words covey the concepts of omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. The word can also mean the best praise or the best prayer.
  • The symbol Aum is comprised of three syllables, namely, the letters A, U, M and when written has a crescent and dot on its top.
  • There is an entire Upanishad (the Mandukya Upanishad) solely devoted to elucidating the meaning of the syllable.
  • The letter A symbolized the conscious or waking state (jagratha-avastha). The letter U symbolizes the dream state (svapna-avastha) The letter M symbolizes the dreamless sleep state (susupta-avastha) of the mind and spirit. The entire symbol, together with the crescent and the dot, stands for the fourth state (turiya-avastha), which combines and transcends them. This is the state of Samadhi, (a state of super-consciousness brought about by profound meditation, in which the aspirant becomes one with object of meditation and the Universal Spirit).
  • The letters (or phonemes) symbolize speech (vak), the mind (manas), and the breath of life (prana), while the entire symbol stands for the living spirit, which is but a portion of the divine spirit.
  • They represent the three genders, masculine, feminine and neuter, while the entire symbol stands for the Creator who transcends the limitations of time.
  • They stand for the three gunas or qualities of sattva, rajas, and tamas while the entire symbol represents a gunatita, one who has transcended and gone beyond the pull of the gunas.
  • The letters correspond to the three tenses -past, present and future-while the entire symbol stands for the Creator who transcends the limitations of time.
  • They also stand for the teaching imparted by the Mother, Father and Guru. The entire symbol represents Brahma Vidya, the knowledge of the Self.
  • They represent the three stages of yogic discipline namely asana, pranayama, and pratyahara. The entire symbol represents Samadhi.

These meanings caused my appreciation for the sound and symbol to grow, and have brought more vigor into my practice and chanting of it.

I do consider my audience and often will go into more or less explanation of the practice depending on the class. For that class with the three ladies we ended the class with one om together. And though we all may have been smiling, the sound we created was very heartfelt and connected. I honor those women for being open and willing.

Written by Heather Sullivan.

Live simply. Eat well.

Live simply. Eat well. Get after it. Laugh and love as much as possible.

firepicThe glow of the campfire lights up the cast of characters that surround the fire tonight. Grimy down jackets, a variety of warm beanies, jeans, Carharts and sandals for footwear mark the fashion. Uniform are the big grins that explode into caverns of laughter as an old story of mutual friends gets told again and possibly again.   A guitar comes in and out of range as the stories abate allowing for listening and appreciation and then eruption of song when a familiar tune is played. Libations are shared as the adventures of climbs of the day are told. Someone pores over a guidebook by the fire-light and discussions to do it all again tomorrow abound.

About every 10 minutes, someone turns the large cast iron pot with a tightly sealed lid at a 45-degree rotation. All eagerly and naturally participate in dinner prep, chopping and dicing and contributing opinions as to how it all should be done, sharing stories and enjoying one another’s presence.   This efficient group has finished the majority of dishes– a major bonus to Dutch Oven Cooking. This leaves more time to savor one another around the campfire.

The fire was started just before dark as the first adventurers arrived back to camp. This is to ensure the glowing orange coals that are best for cooking. More coals are placed on the top than the bottom which creates something kin to a convection oven. Tonight’s contents include a whole chicken raised by a friend, all the veggies were grown by those around the fire, a delicious tomato sauce was poured from a mason jar into the pot. The firelight illuminates the granite boulders and the Joshua Trees behind us. We are all hungry, knowing the goodness that will come from what we fondly call the “Dutchie.” Dutchie is short for Dutch Oven, which these types of cooking vessels are commonly known as.

Though I have cooked over Dutch Ovens for at least 20 years, I have only recently been compelled to learn more of the history. We often cook in Dutch Ovens on our Balanced Rock front-country courses and it is such a fun way to cook, to hang out, to spend time, and to be.


I have found myself happiest when living simply with a radical community of individuals who would describe being “Full” , “Happy”, or “Nailing it in life” to be sitting around a campfire in a grimy down jacket, eating fresh, seasonal local and beyond organic food cooked in a Dutchie over a campfire after a day of adventuring and sharing with best friends.

Five of my favorite Dutch Oven Dishes:

-Enchilada Pie

-Turkey or Chicken Roasted: with potatoes, carrots, onion, garlic, fresh herbs and orange

-Stone Fruit Cobbler

-Corn Bread



Tips for Dutch Oven Cooking:

-Start the fire early to get nice glowing coals

-Put 8- 10 coals on bottom, 12-16 on top

-If fire is too hot, take Dutchie out of fire and bring coals out of fire

-Be mindful of fire danger….don’t cook this way if it is a fire hazard.

-Rotate the Dutchie every 10 minutes or so.

-If you smell it, often it indicates it is done.

-Use a metal tool for lifting, lifting lid, rotating

-Clean out and oil Dutchie after each use

-Don’t leave water in Dutchie or it will rus

-There are different size Dutch ovens and they can stack!!

-Enjoy with good friends in beautiful places


Kid’s Yoga

By Heather Sullivan
Co-Foundar and Program Director of Balanced Rock

My yoga highlight this fall and perhaps overall highlight was teaching a 6 week Kid’s and Parent’s Yoga Series for our local community in El Portal. Classes were open to all ages and were donation based. The age range turned out to be from 1.5 years to 6 or 7 years.

kidsyogaEP1For this class, we set up in a circle. The students formed an inner circle and the supportive parents circled up in an outer circle. Occasionally a parent or guardian would move in between two excited friends.

Classes were 30 minutes long which seemed just right for this age and attention span. The time of day was slightly challenging for focus as students were tired and hungry (5:15pm-5:45pm). We averaged 22-27 people (kid’s and adults)/class.

One parent shared a great quote with me. She asked her daughter her highlight of the week. “Yoga.” She smiled. When asked what her low-point of the week was she said, “All the other days there was not yoga.”

Classes begin with guided meditation, focusing on a special rock, candle, or watching our own breath rise and fall in our chest. We then sit quietly and set meditation for the session. The students all love to join in the chant of the universal sound “OM”. Usually I will tell a story or read a story to set the tone for the class theme.

From here we move into simple sun salutations.

The theme that works best for this group is:


We do each pose three times, first time, silly, second serious, third silent. This was a really nice way to have fun and build up to focused practice.
Some poses we worked on during the course are:

• Mountain Pose
• Warrior 1
• Warrior 2
• Warrior 3
• Triangle
• Downward Dog
• Child’s Pose
• Tree Pose

Some of our more fun/creative/non-traditional poses that we worked on during some of the classes are:
• Newt pose
• Newt-ball pose (group)
• Motorcycle pose
• Motorcycle through Yosemite Valley pose
• Peeing Dog pose

Every class ends with a guided Savasana rest time. The students really respond to chanting and silence during this time.

When we are ready to sit up, we close class with a breath together and a lovely salute to one another, “Namaste.”kidsyogaEP2

Due to the popularity and pure fun of this course, Balanced Rock will offer it again in 2016 and is exploring offering a Kid’s Yoga training in the area. I have also been offering one-on-one private classes for students where we can focus on the individual’s needs.

Research shows that yoga for students of this age is beneficial in these ways:
• Develop body awareness
• Learn how to use their bodies in a healthy way
• Manage stress through breathing, awareness, meditation and healthy movement
• Build concentration
• Increase their confidence and positive self-image
• Feel part of a healthy, non-competitive group
• Have an alternative to tuning out through constant attachment to electronic devices

In a school setting, yoga can also benefit teachers by:
• Giving them an alternate way to handle challenges in the classroom
• Giving them a healthy activity to integrate with lesson plans
Give them a way to blend exercise into their classes

I have loved the new connection Kid’s and Parent’s Yoga has given me to some of my youngest friends and community members. We talk about big life principles such as the first Yama: Ahimsa or non-hurting. This course we really focused on ways we could be kind and compassionate to one another. We talk about the change of seasons, the phase of the moon, the weather patterns, natural occurrences like rain events, drought, the state of the river. One day a parent brought in a tarantula to class, another day we all found special rocks outside to meditate on.
This connection to one another, our natural world, natural cycles, our breath, and our mind, body, spirit are what draw me to yoga and to want to share with our next generation.

Yosemite Facelift Yoga

Yosemite Facelift Yoga Schedule

Yin, Yang and Yosemite: My Summer with Balanced Rock

Anna VrksasanaWritten by Anna Dunn
Photo credit Dr. Breezy Jackson

One of the yogic teachings that I consider most important is that darkness, heaviness – yin energy in yogic terms – holds as much value and beauty in life as lightness and positivity – yang energy.

Balanced Rock’s genesis was as a vehicle of healing after a tragic event. As I understand it, Wild Women Workshops, as the organization was then named, allowed a space for people to hold and express that yin energy with one another in order to own it as part of life, to turn it into yoga. The Sanksrit word yoga means to yoke – so to harness the energies, the yin and yang that make up the prana of life, in order to turn it into something of value.

During a Summer of interning I’ve witnessed plenty of yang light – the positivity that is inherent in spending time in a beautiful place with beautiful, lovely people together contributing to something you deeply believe in. But I have also borne witness to a profound amount of the honesty, purity and beauty of yin energy when it is allowed to be fully expressed and owned – a rare occurrence in our culture.

Balanced Rock retreats, in the heart of the awe-inspiring Sierra, provide a unique space for people to connect, to share and to pour their hearts open to complete strangers who become immediately and fleetingly as intimate as family through shared first experiences of dipping in rivers, basking in alpenglow on a granite temple and pooping in the woods. To melt and so to be healed in a way that years of searching could not.

To climb a mountain is always a challenge. As we sit halfway up its talus face we can become convinced that we have nothing left. Yet to surmount the slopes and to stand upon the peak is made so much more beautiful when we have broken and realized that after we break we are always still whole.

The breaking is a part of the making and so the two halves of yin and yang meet to become complete.

A fire rips through the Sierra and allows the sequoias to thrive, the bears to feed on the bugs and honey exposed in the heart of burnt tree stumps, and allows the eco-system to regenerate – to progress.

And so I guess that’s what is most pertinent to me about my experience interning with Balanced Rock. Life would not make as beautiful poetry, laughter would not be so full-bellied, and a river flowing on and on would not move us so, if they were swaddled in sunshine and bathed in yang energy all the time. That’s the lesson of the Sierras for me – one of the lessons of the true untameable, undying wildness of the world – and for that I owe deep thanks to Balanced Rock. For so artfully facilitating and supporting me in learning and truly understanding the balance of yin and yang over a Summer in the Sierra Nevada.

As Dogen Zenji says, “when one thinks like a mountain, one thinks also like the black bear, so that honey dribbles down your fur as you catch the bus to work.”

Walking Past Rattlesnakes

Written by Narinda Heng in her blog Transitional Zone last year following the 10th annual Women of Color Wilderness Retreat led by Balanced Rock. This year’s adventure hits the trail in just one week! musclesgroupshot_2014WOC copyThe rattlesnake lay partially coiled on the right side of the trail, still making faint sounds of wariness and irritation when Miho started hiking again. “Do you want me to go first?” Elizabeth asked as I hesitated.  I looked up at her, then promptly turned and walked past the snake as it slowly slid around the small boulder and descended the hill, making its way out of sight.

We were about halfway through our 5-day backpacking trip along the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River. We had started from White Wolf and would finish at Tuolumne Meadows. It was late July. It was hot. It was rattlesnake season. The El Portal Fire was still burning through thousands of acres though we didn’t see much evidence of it in the sky. We were a group of eleven women of color from age 22 to 53, brought together by Balanced Rock Foundation for this backcountry journey, on the tenth anniversary of these women of color trips. The claim is that it is the only trip of its kind in the country.

I know that there are women of color leading other women of color on trips in the backcountry in the United States, but it seems that the Balanced Rock trip is indeed the only institutionally-led and supported one.

Maybe it’s because I grew up in an immigrant household– not only an immigrant household, but a refugee household– that I had not considered working in the outdoors, or even backpacking recreationally. It was never in my range of vision. I didn’t see it as a possibility for me. From outdoor exploration camp in sixth grade to team-building high ropes courses through college and beyond, I cannot recall a single counselor or instructor who was a woman of color.

That’s not unusual, of course. Everyone has different interests, different vocations, different ways that they recreate, different places they want to spend their leisure time. The practice of carrying 30-40% of your bodyweight across long distances in remote places is understandably not commonly appealing across any demographic. And taking such journeys is far from the only way to recreate outside, nor is it necessarily a more valid way of experiencing nature than to spend an afternoon in a regional park.

laughingbackpacks_2014WOC copy
I don’t think everyone should go backpacking. I don’t think everyone needs to try rock climbing. But what I recognize now that I think about my journey into outdoor education is that these activities were on the edge of my subconscious. Like the students I watched walk back and forth in front of the LGBT Resource Center office at UC Irvine, apprehensive about walking in. But I knew that I could walk into the LGBTRC. I saw people like me in there. And for most of my life, I didn’t see people like me backpacking, I didn’t see people who looked like me climbing.

The journey to finding these things that are so important now (camping, climbing, outdoor education) happened in small increments. I could say it began with a roommate in college who instigated a camping trip. She was Vietnamese American, and really really into camping. Her excitement was contagious. A bunch of us went car camping somewhere south of Orange County, along a river. We slept under the stars, cooked over fire, and, because we were in college, drank quite a bit. And though I didn’t do much camping until years after that, I think of that experience as the first time I realized that camping was not just a white american thing. (There’s a lot to unpack there about growing up perceiving myself as not ah-khaing, not American, associated with this as well.)

Despite a lifetime of exposure to American ideals about individualism and following bliss and doing what the heart truly desires, I am coming to understand how the smallest spark of encouragement, the smallest invitation, has a profound effect on expanding what I believe is possible for myself.

(To be continued.)

The Gift of Giving

If you have ever donated to a cause you cared about, supported a friend in need, or volunteered your time you have probably felt the tremendous rush of pleasure and contentment that comes with the act of giving.yoemite6114-317-M

There are numerous peer-reviewed studies that indicate giving is actually good for us:

  • A 2008 study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues found that giving money to someone else lifted participants’ happiness more that spending it on themselves.
  • In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect.
  • In his book Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Stephen Post, a professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook University, reports that giving to others has been shown to increase health benefits in people with chronic illness, including HIV and multiple sclerosis.
  • Stephanie Brown of the University of Michigan saw similar results in a 2003 study on elderly couples. She and her colleagues found that those individuals who provided practical help to friends, relatives, or neighbors, or gave emotional support to their spouses, had a lower risk of dying over a five-year period than those who didn’t.
  • In a 2006 study by Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University and Kathleen Lawler of the University of Tennessee, people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than participants who didn’t, suggesting a direct physiological benefit to those who give of themselves.
  • A study by James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, shows that when one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to behave generously later, toward different people. In fact, the researchers found that altruism could spread by three degrees—from person to person to person to person. “As a result,” they write, “each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know and has not met.”

In many Eastern cultures the practice of dana or “the virtue of generosity” is regularly exercised throughout society. Monks and other spiritual practitioners don’t work for money, but receive alms from people daily in a beautiful exchange of material for spiritual support. In many Western cultures philanthropy is practiced extensively, and the new trend of online crowd-funding is increasing the ease with which people can give to projects of various sizes.

And now YOU have the opportunity to jump on this amazing charitable train of joy and donate to our current Fundrazr Campaign! Balanced Rock, Be Floored Final 5 copy

Join Balanced Rock’s effort to permanently install a dance-savvy, yoga-friendly, and indestructible wood floor in the El Portal Community Hall! This floor, combined with the newly remodeled kitchen and bathrooms (thank you, National Park Service), will make the Community Hall an incredible space for the benefit of all. The next step is to purchase and install flooring. We need your help now so that yoga classes can resume in the fall. Even if yoga isn’t your thing, we guarantee you will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy the floor – think Octoberfest!

Balanced Rock is donating 1,000 square feet ($20K), so we only need 500 more feet! We are asking all families, community members, extended community members, seasonals, partygoers and yoga enthusiasts to collectively match Balanced Rock’s community gift. Please donate and together we can make this happen! It’s only $20 per square foot!

Community Match Goal: 500 sq. ft.
10 sq.ft. for $200
8 sq.ft for $160
6 sq.ft. for $120
4 sq.ft. for $80
2 sq.ft. for $40
Any amount is appreciated!

All donations are karmically depositable and tax deductible.

Thanks to Jason Marsh and Jill Suttie of the Greater Good Institute of UC Berkeley for references used in this post!

We make a living by what we get, we make a life by what we give.

~Winston Churchill