Yoga Nidra Offers New Path To Peace, Relaxation

My week got off to a good start because I took a relaxing Yoga Nidra class at the Legacy Foundation Chris-Town Family YMCA on Sunday.

I’ve been doing yoga for a long time, but this was my first time trying this type of practice. With the stress of the holidays not too far behind me and multiple other projects on my mind, I was ready to relax.

A warm, friendly teacher named Jill greeted us as we entered the large, open studio. She said practicing Yoga Nidra would be like getting four hours of sleep. Since I slept strangely the night before, waking up every few hours, I was eager to get started.

We began with breathing exercises and rocked back and forth on our backs before she led us through the meditation. I’ve listened to numerous yoga teachers in person and on DVDs guiding me through Savasana or corpse pose, but this was unlike any guided meditations I had experienced before.

The combination of Jill’s soothing, but firm voice, the images she asked us to envision and the vast room where we could hear only the lulling sounds of a few cars passing by outside, took me to a deep, relaxed state. I focused on walking through a beautiful park with flowers as I felt the fresh morning dew on my feet and watched a gorgeous sun starting to rise. I imagined feeling the calm warmth in a temple with intricate stained glass paintings and candles.

We were told to think about someone we loved and I pictured two people very important to me smiling, giggling, running around and hugging me. Jill said to then feel that love without picturing our loved ones specifically. It was easy to hold onto the comfort and joy I feel when I’m with them as I continued breathing deeply.

For the rest of the day I felt more present, focused and joyful. That night I slept peacefully, not waking up until the next morning. I can’t wait to try Yoga Nidra again and to deepen my practice. Namaste and sweet dreams!

A New Year of Giving

With 2015 just days away, and a birthday just a few weeks behind me, I’m reflecting on what I want to do in the coming weeks and year.

Like many people, as I get older I think more about what’s important in life and what I want my legacy to be. I’m a journalist, who writes about news in various parts of the country every day, hoping to make a difference in the communities I cover. But I realize there’s more to life than the day-to-day grind of cranking out news stories.

As I reflected on these “big picture” issues this past weekend, I watched just the movie to inspire me to make a difference, “Pride.” It’s about a group of gay and lesbian activists based in London who, starting in the summer of 1984, raise money to help striking miners and their families in a small village in Wales. Headed by Mark Ashton, the gay and lesbian group endures insults, attacks and discrimination, but stays determined as it continues to support the miners, who have experienced similar kinds of injustices. The movie also touches on the devastation of people suffering from AIDS, as the disease becomes more widely known and more people are diagnosed with it in the country. Ashton died in 1987.

The movie spoke to me because I grew up in the 1980s and 90s, and was starting to form my own opinions about civic and political issues as a middle school student, about the time Ashton and the other activists were making a big impact on the world. I was born in Detroit, and my late grandfather worked for Chrysler and was an active union member. I’ve long believed in the power of unions for their ability to prompt fair wages and better working conditions for everyone. The subject of HIV/AIDS also touched me, as I remember clearly watching the TV news in the dorm, as it was announced that Michigan State University and Los Angeles Lakers basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson had been diagnosed with HIV in the early 90s. That was just the start of a series of news stories, advertisements and outreach prompting the public to practice safe sex.

I’ve volunteered for various political candidates and professional organizations in the past, but I want to do something different this time. I want to volunteer my time and talents to supporting causes close to my heart, including workers’ rights, HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention and any organization or person who believes in empowering others through education. These causes are not new, and I’m not the first person to get inspired by a film or favorite celebrity. But I think what’s important is just to take action, and it feels great to feel rejuvenated, despite having some gray hairs and being years and miles away from where I was as an impressionable, but earnest student forming my opinions about the world.

Giving Thanks for Inspiration

Thanksgiving is a great time to talk about something I’m grateful for all the time, and especially while the economy is still weak, and many journalists are struggling to find jobs, stay employed and make enough money to support them.

It’s something that’s easy to find whenever I connect with the many talented, hard-working, creative and gracious fellow journalists I know in the Valley and around the country: Inspiration.

I found it most recently when going to a Valley of the Sun Society of Professional Journalists meeting in Phoenix, where I talked with a small, but mighty group of journalists planning upcoming events. While they, like so many of us, are facing uncertain futures, they’re still upbeat, determined and productive. They are finding ways to do what journalists do best: Discover and nurture great sources and tell stories, whether it’s through blogs, stories, websites, social media or photos. If a job doesn’t exist, or doesn’t fit the format they need, they’re creating new opportunities for themselves and taking on other jobs outside of the traditional journalism industry to pursue their passion. All the while, they’re keeping their sense of humor and finding time to reach out to others who need help.

My friends in the local SPJ chapter and at the news service where I work show me every day how little steps can make a big difference. A blog or blast on Twitter or Facebook can spark a national conversation and inspire news organizations to pursue a story. Even without a healthy budget or a full-time job at a news organization, journalists are finding innovative ways to tell stories and stay relevant. Their training, education and years of experience are paying off, even if the Internet and economy are prompting news organizations to let go of senior journalists. They are bouncing back and succeeding, serving as great mentors for young journalists, showing them how strong writing, excellent interviewing skills, good instincts and a talent for researching and finding the latest, most accurate information will pay off.

Inspiration is something that keeps me going every day and I have many friends and colleagues to thank for that. Thank you for helping me stay focused, strong and determined as I enjoy a wonderful journey in an evolving career.

I like coffee…I like tea!!!

In my quest to get healthier and shed a few pounds, I have started drinking coffee. It might sound weird, or like something I would have started back in college or when I worked overnight a few years ago.

I’ve been a tea drinker for about ten years, but I was never a “real” coffee drinker until now. That is, I would treat myself to some “frou-frou” drinks like Starbucks’ Mocha Coconut Frappuccino once in awhile, but I shied away from black coffee.

I did some research on my favorite sweet, iced teas, though, and found they had a lot more calories than I would have guessed. It’s one of those misconceptions I had about nutrition, thinking coffee was always more fattening and more unhealthy than tea.

The articles I’ve read about coffee over the years are conflicting. Some say it causes cancer and it’s addictive. Others say it helps alleviate depression and can actually reduce chances of cancer. I’m by no means a medical expert, but I believe no one knows for sure. What I’ve found is there are some definite benefits for me in the short-term to drinking coffee but also a few drawbacks.

Coffee definitely gives me a buzz like hot tea and iced tea never have. Sometimes if I drink too much too quickly, though, I find another side of myself coming out: One that’s a little more outspoken, snarky and types even faster! If I sip the just the right amount of coffee, though, and cut back on sugar and caffeine elsewhere, I find the coffee helps wake me up a little faster and gives me a spring in my step. It also gives me that little boost I need to get in a work-out. Namaste!

I feel like an adult now because I’ve graduated from Frappuccinos to the plain coffee at work with just a tad bit of Sweet N Low. I still like to treat myself to a chai tea latte and enjoy my iced green and peach teas now and then, too.
As an added bonus, I have found myself bonding with people at work I didn’t talk to as much before as we wait for another pot of coffee to brew. Watching tea steep doesn’t usually draw as much small-talk.

Is coffee or tea better for me? I can’t say for sure, but I’m enjoying the taste test for now!

Ballet Arizona Brings Down House With ‘All Balanchine’

I truly believe dance is the most beautiful art form, and Ballet Arizona demonstrated why I feel that way when performing “All Balanchine” at Symphony Hall in Phoenix this past weekend.

The diverse and unique dancers interpreted some of the legendary, late choreographer George Balanchine’s contemporary dances in three very different pieces.

In the first one, “Walpurgisnacht Ballet,” the movements were romantic and airy, graceful and feminine as the dancers flawlessly floated through pique turns. The Phoenix Symphony transitioned to heavier, more solemn notes in another part of the ballet, where the dancers wore their hair down and executed more frenetic, serious movements. As a former long-time amateur dancer, I was impressed that the dancers could carry out their precise movements and maintain their focus with their hair whipping around their faces.

The second dance, “Episodes,” was what I would consider classic Balanchine choreography. In simple black and white costumes, the dancers precisely performed developpes and shifted angles in a strategic dance that looked like something you would see in a ballet class. I loved seeing their flexed feet in otherwise classical ballet moves. They weren’t emotionless, but the focus was more on their movement, rather than on a particular story. There was a fun duet between a man wearing all black and a woman in all white where they crept around each other, sizing each other up as their bodies played with the shadows cast on the stage.

The last dance was an amazing combination of classical ballet and folk dancing called “Western Symphony.” It was a real crowd-pleaser as ballerinas portrayed lively, flirty saloon showgirls and the men took on the rugged, carefree vibe of cowboys in the old West. I loved how the women performed graceful fouette and chaine turns while still maintaining the fun, loose style of the showgirls. The songs the orchestra played, including “Red River Valley” and “Oh Dem Golden Slippers,” really made the piece like no other ballet I have seen before. I was blown away when the whole ensemble performed a series of fast jumps and turns at the end of the dance with endless energy until the curtain fell down. The dancers looked like they were having a blast and showed why I love seeing Ballet Arizona bring their own style and great technique to every show.