A poem by Heather Sullivan
This altar is for you…Michael, for you Dad, for you Brother, and also you Brother, and you uncle and to you my friend and mentor.
The veil to the spirit world is thin now and I remember you, my little niece.
And I think of all the mothers, sisters, aunties, and daughters and cousins and sons, and wives and husbands who have passed as well. And Grandmothers and Grandfathers, this candle is lit and extinguished for you.

This altar is for all of you.

Knowing you has brought me gifts, the greatest gifts of life.  True love.

And during these darkening days
as leaves fall from the trees and the sun dips closer to the horizon
I offer flowers, and food, a candle, and remnants

I am so grateful to have known you
to have been touched by you
and loved by you.

You are part of me and live on with me.
Until I too slip to the other side of the veil.

During this season, if you feel called to…consider making an altar or offering for your loved ones who have left this physical world.

Fall Balance in a Bowl

O Lord was it a glorious day when a friend shared the revolutionary idea with me that oatmeal didn’t need to be sweet! My mornings went from a syrupy mas o menos to a savory delight.


Oatmeal is a perfect grain to enjoy for fall, as it is Vata season. The qualities of Vata are cold, dry, light mobile and erratic. When we are out of balance in Vata we can experience symptoms such as constipation, anxiety, fear, indecision, lower back pain and dry skin…to name a few! Oatmeal is warm, moist, demulcent and sweet. It is naturally a sweet grain. Sweet, salty and sour tastes balance Vata. A warm bowl of oatmeal is an anecdote to Vata imbalance!If whole groats are used, they are especially grounding as they have the most earth element of any form of oats. Because whole groats take longer to cook, I’ve found using a pressure cooker or a crock pot over night great ways to keep breakfast prep efficient. In a pressure cooker, the ratio of water to groat is a little less that 3:1.

Try this for a delicious bowl of groats: add a generous spoonful or two of ghee, nutritional yeast, some black pepper and soy sauce. Ghee is a digestive stimulant so it stokes your digestion, allowing you to digest and reap the benefit of a healthy fat during a dry fall and winter. Don’t be shy about adding plenty of ghee unless you have a Kapha imbalance, in which case, use only minimal fats. If you don’t have aggravated Pitta, add some hot sauce and a fried egg a top. Egg yolks and peppers increase pitta. Some of us may have excess pitta and still need to “cool down” after a hot summer and should refrain from the yolk and hot sauce.

When we eat and how we eat is as important as what we eat.

Eating meals at the same time daily is especially important for keeping Vata in balance. Routine balances the erratic nature of Vata. Eating at the same time also helps your digestion function optimally.

Chewing our food well and eating slowly and mindfully aids in the first stage of digestion when food mixes with saliva. This is helpful for Vatas who tend to have finicky digestion, sometimes leading to constipation and accumulated toxins.

And as we know, but often need to remind ourselves: gratitude is the attitude! Preparing our food with love and taking a moment to appreciate the blessings of our meal and life go a long way. Praise the Lord for savory oatmeal:)

For more Ayurvedic tips and recipes, including information on seasonal cleanses, visit


Lessons of Self-Reliance and Trust

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t experience butterflies in my stomach before my first solo backpacking trip. Though I’d thoroughly packed my gear and outlined my route, uncertainty remained a major element of the experience. Would I be able to light my stove properly? Did I have enough food? What would I do if I got injured? These questions popped into my mind from time to time, as I prepared and even once I began hiking down the trail.

BR10Lakes714-55-X2While, in photos, Yosemite appears to be a fantasy land of sweet summits and meadows, in actuality, the Land has a way of reminding you to respect the wild in wilderness. Gentle and fierce. Close and distant. Merciful and merciless. Yosemite embodies the full spectrum of experience, and it’s beautiful, even when you’re lost in the middle of the woods, panicked and alone. I’ll never forget the rush of gratitude I felt once I found the trail again, or the pride I felt whenever I located myself on my map thereafter.

Getting lost was one of many challenges that arose during that journey, and I wouldn’t trade a single one of those experiences for the world. In those times of raw emotion and pure intuition, I truly came face-to-face with my fears. Those experiences were cleansing and regenerative, spurring the release of a whole world of self-doubt in order to create space for surrender to fill. Searching for guidance, I gazed up into the vast sky and opened my heart. There was no other choice but to trust. I learned to trust myself, and in growing to trust myself, I grew to trust in the wilderness, in the Divine Purpose, and in the Guidance of the land. My passion for the outdoors continued to grow, and along with it, my passion for the important work that Balanced Rock performs. The wilderness is the best teacher of radical self-reliance that I’ve ever encountered, and Balanced Rock provides an amazing service to the world in connecting people with nature’s wisdom.

Interning with Balanced Rock empowered me far beyond my expectations, because those lessons I learned about calm problem-solving and confident independence extended far beyond my journey alone in the woods. Whether I was teaching yoga classes to the community, leading a day hike up a mountain, or picking up 19 bear cans from the Yosemite Valley Wilderness Center, on Balanced Rock missions, I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone into the realm of the unfamiliar. Most cases involved not only personal self-reliance, but the knowledge that a whole group of people were counting on me to work efficiently and accurately.

Throughout the course of the summer, I began to internalize the yogic attitude that I observed from my mentors. Despite any unforeseen circumstance, each member of the Balanced Rock staff effortlessly embodies virtues of adaptability, positivity, and grace that permeate into all they do. I’ve never been so inspired by a group of people, who display mastery of surrender and trust.

It was primarily through observation that I learned about the nature of guiding. As Yogi Bhajan once said:

“Trust only comes when you trust yourself. When you trust your dignity, you will always be dignified. When you trust your love, you will always be lovable. When you trust your beauty, you will always be beautiful. When you trust your greatness, you will always be great.”

Nurturing seeds of trust and stability within yourself creates a landscape much like the forests of Yosemite. Wildflowers start to grow out of your heart and your eyes, and people can see the beauty of your garden of virtues. Even when a fierce wind passes through your meadow, the trees stand tall and sturdy and provide shelter for others to rest upon. It all begins with developing trust in yourself, and once you build that foundation, others can trust you too. To open up a safe, healing space, you must cultivate the garden of your mind, body, and spirit.

Thanks for an amazing summer,

Rachel Peterson

Photo by Patrick Bremser

Ikigai: what lights you up?

The core curriculum for the upcoming Balanced Rock, Living the Dream retreat can be summed up in the Japanese concept Ikigai. I was so happy to have a social media post from my friend, Jamie Anderson, to put words to the curriculum I was in the process of writing! According to Japanese thought, everyone has an Ikigai, and it is essentially ‘a reason to get up in the morning’ or a reason to enjoy life.

Ikigai is essentially ‘a reason to get up in the morning’ or a reason to enjoy life.

The Wikipedia definition describes the terms as indicating the source of value in one’s life or the things that make one’s life worthwhile. Secondly, the word is used to refer to mental and spiritual circumstances under which individuals feel that their lives are valuable. It’s not necessarily linked to one’s economic status or the present state of society. Even if a person feels that the present is dark, but they have a goal in mind, they may feel ikigai. Behaviours that make us feel ikigai are not actions which we are forced to take—these are natural and spontaneous actions.


On our course this August, we will be delving into this concept during our hikes to high alpine lakes and domes, in our journals and in some facilitated discussion around the campfire.

We will explore this concept:

  • Have you found your ikigai or want to search for your ikigai?

And in terms of the work, hobbies, and things we spend time doing:

  • Do you love it?
  • Does the world need it?
  • Are you good at it?
  • Can you be paid for it?

How can you live with purpose today, to live a longer and healthier life? (ie: How can you live your dream?)

I feel lucky to have found my Ikigai through my work with Balanced Rock. When I graduated high school, I knew I wanted to create an education center that involved deep connection to experiencing nature, spiritual exploration and growth, community building, and creative expression. I continued to follow a varied path of mountain guiding and rambling, restaurant and service industry work, non-profit management, environmental education, doula, massage therapy, yoga instruction, housecleaning, beekeeping, and farm work to name only some.  Sometimes my jobs seemed “random” but always taught me lessons and new skills and provided contentment and new opportunity.  I love learning and teaching and sharing and taking risks and entrepreneurship. I love healing modalities. I love variety and non-traditional work schedules. I love following the rythym of nature and seasons.   Balanced Rock is and has been this for me. It is why I get out of bed in the morning. I feel happy and life meaning from this work. I am very grateful for this.

We would love to hear thoughts on how you are now living your dreams. Please comment on our blog!

And if you would like to brainstorm more, join us for Living the Dream Retreat August 12th-14th.

Here’s to finding daily happiness and purpose!

Heather Sullivan

Managing Director & Co-Founder of Balanced Rock


Yoga Saves the World

This is an essay written by Brandi Bosch, a recent graduate of Balanced Rock’s WildYoga Teacher Training. She is a great new yoga teacher with a brilliant practice, and unconditional love for her students. Brandi’s essay is a powerful statement of how yoga can be instrumental in saving the world!



Changing the world begins with returning to or establishing an inner state of peace, contentedness, and balance – just as nature is responding to a feedback loop to reach a state of equilibrium in an ever-changing, ever-disrupted global climate.

There is a deep connection between the practice of yoga (in its entirety) and the various ecosystems we live in (Eagan, 2011). In the article Yoga, Personal Transformation, and Global Sustainability, Dr. B.K. Bose reminds us that “the keys to global sustainability lay in aligning our thoughts and actions so they are congruent with our long-term interests as a species and life on Earth while requiring us to delay our need for immediate gratification. Yoga is a practice that makes this possible”. This work, to live conscientiously and in harmony with our world, is life long and it takes effort. Immediate gratification may temp us initially to take an “easy” approach to the complexities of existence, but when we look deeply with mindfulness, we understand that growth and sustainability cannot be immediate – it takes perseverance.

Looking carefully at the eight-limbs of yoga, specifically at the yamas and niyamas, we are given a basic blueprint for living a whole-hearted life, one which nurtures the body/mind/spirit connection and can also bring about a sense of peace when faced with the myriad challenges and stressors present day to day. It is a practice. A practice which requires patience and mindfulness. It is a practice that aligns our inner-space with the world around us.

The practice of yoga can act as a catalyst for deepening our understanding of the grand connection with all of life and foster participation in a sustainable community for the present and future generations.

The practice of yoga can act as a catalyst for deepening our understanding of the grand connection with all of life and foster participation in a sustainable community for the present and future generations. I believe this to be true. I also believe it to be some of the hardest work one will ever encounter. Once you begin to notice subtle changes in yourself, areas of stagnancy or pain, rather than running or burying the burden, yoga helps you to settle into the discomfort with an open heart, mind, and whole-hearted compassion – just as we must look at environmental dilemmas with a goal of sustaining and working toward equilibrium.

Whether or not I opt to teach yoga, it has slowly been changing my mental and emotional processes, and allowing me to see the areas in which I am imbalanced. Often I do not fully understand how to work with these imbalances, but the goal is clear. Each time I mindfully practice, deep healing is taking place. And in turn, the stage is set to heal the planet.


2015-2016 WildYoga Graduates and Instructors


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