My Dharma path

Kimberly Hoenie ERYT-500, YACEP

March 25, 2022

What is the Secret to Life? That is a question I asked myself many, many years ago. I read countless books, watched numerous videos and listened to hours of “advice” from family and friends but to no avail. What is the purpose of my life? I still had no idea so rather than find understanding I placed my effort into living life.

As a (very) young wife and mother of two, I remember feeling completely happy and satisfied. I enjoyed the day-to-day activities of cooking, cleaning, running a household and raising my two young children. There was never a shortage of tasks and I felt fulfilled. The only area of life that experienced struggle was finances. So when my spouse insisted that I get a job, I did.

It didn’t take long for me to feel unhappy and resentful. I justified my feelings by knowing I was doing the best thing I could for my family by providing them with a “better” life. Little did I know that “better” became “even better” which became “better still”, completely trapping me in a cycle of making more and more money.

During this cycle I was moving through several jobs. I would start a new one with anticipation and excitement but once I learned the skills necessary to succeed and thrive, I became bored, resentful and unhappy. I didn’t understand why. I always excelled when given a new task, skill or direction. I can remember being told many times that “I would fail” or “You can’t do that” which only fueled my resolve to accomplish the goal. “I will show them”, I thought. And I did. That is what drove me to succeed. It wasn’t the job or the skills required to perform the job but rather the dare…the impression that I wasn’t good enough or strong enough. That is what fueled my passion, my ambition and my desire. Of course, that bit of information would have been lovely to know back then.

Unfortunately, I did not know what I did not know. Instead, I practiced some self-study and realized that the jobs that made me happiest were the ones when I was training or teaching others and/or included some form of creativity. So in my late 30’s, I went back to school to obtain my Interior Design degree with a minor in Architecture. I thrived in the educational environment. And even secured a job in the design field very early in my education because of my previous sales experience. I was happy…at least for a short time. The job became entirely focused on how much money I could make. There were sales contests which of course, I had to win. There were trips, bonuses and high end furniture to earn. All of which were driven by sales. I was caught in the cyclone of money once more. Never having enough; never making enough and always striving for more. Fortunately, I was good at it.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t happy or fulfilled.

Now in my 40’s, I reflected and asked myself again, “What is my purpose?” I couldn’t imagine spending the rest of my life cycling through jobs and the feelings of unrest. Still trying to provide for my family, I did not have the luxury to quit working completely but I did understand that working in the current environment was not serving me well. I had been doing some design work on the side and decided to devote myself full-time to my own business. This would allow me more free time for family and fun which I believed would bring balance into my life an ultimately I would be happier.

This mid-life reflection also led me to take a yoga class…finally. It had been years of prompting, advising and mere suggestions that finally convinced me to give it a try. Maybe it would help me to be happy? To say it was love at first class is an understatement. I adored the stress relief I experienced during and after every class. It was this relief that kept me coming back. I listened intensely to my teachers who spoke a very foreign language. I really didn’t care. All I knew is that I felt better. I felt happier than I had in years.

Adding this balance to my life allowed me to flourish in business. I loved working with clients. Each design job challenged me and I was able to educate my clients along the way. I was also approached by the college I had attended and offered an adjunct teaching position in the Architecture & Interior Design departments. I jumped at the opportunity remembering my earlier self-study. It wouldn’t pay much but I would teach in the evening so I could continue running my business. I thought I had found the secret of life…working at something I loved without regard for or the temptation of money.

I spent many years with this combination of work. I once again felt fulfilled and happy. That was until I was presented with the dissolution of my marriage. The security I enjoyed through my spouse’s employment would be gone. No regular income, no medical insurance. You see, being self-employed particularly in the design field, means pay is sporadic. I would take a percentage deposit on a job which would typically be used to secure vendors and contractors to do the work. My profit would only be realized once the job was 100% complete. It could be take years in some situations. While my business was doing extremely well, I always knew there was another income available to take care of personal bills. To make matters worse, at that time, reasonable self-employment health care did not exist. I was scared.

Money came back into play as a primary driving force. I had to have a job that paid a regular paycheck so I could to pay rent. It was also impossible to rent an apartment with self-employment income (see above). So I was hitting the streets looking for my next job. I was hired at an upstart design company in downtown Detroit, the city undergoing a major revitalization. It was commercial design work in an upbeat environment. I initially continued working with my personal clients but took a leave of absence from teaching for a term.

Settling in, I loved the vibe. It was high energy, I walked all over the city every day working on the various buildings that were being renovated. It was exciting being part of something from the ground up. I worked long hours every day. I left in the dark morning sand returned in the dark evenings. But I was happy and free. I had a beautiful new apartment, great friends and an exciting new career. But that didn’t last very long.

The company I was working for was a small upstart within a huge conglomerate business dominating the city of Detroit. The work ethic in the larger portion of the business was beginning to invade our small portion. Longer work hours were required. 24 Hour availability was the norm with phone calls and emails expected to be retuned at all hours of the day or night. I was making great money and I rationalized it would all be ok.

Yoga was no longer an option as I couldn’t make it to class and I was so distracted at home that I couldn’t practice there either. My guaranteed stress relief was far from a daily or even weekly practice. I had to give up my personal clients and was unable to return to teaching at the college. There weren’t enough hours in the day. Life became more focused on making money to live. Unfortunately, I didn’t have any time left in my day or week to actually use the money. Friends and family were concerned as I became more withdrawn. All I did was work and I was beginning to resent it. I missed holidays, my kids and my free time. Something was out of alignment but I didn’t have the time to think about it or to change it.

Then, I crashed. I couldn’t spend one more sleepless night on work. I had to make a change.

Now in my 50’s, I wondered again, “What is my purpose? What am I supposed to do in my life to make a difference? I returned to my yoga practice. I wanted to know more. The teachers I had knew more than what they were sharing with me in class. What did they know? They all seemed so peaceful and stress-free. Maybe I need to know what they know. So I started my search.

It eventually led me to Heartwood for 200 hour teacher training. I was blown away by what I heard but more importantly, I felt home. This, I suspected was my purpose…finally. I knew deep within my being that I was supposed to be on this path…to teach yoga. I knew my purpose!

Once I knew I was able to reflect back and notice those periods in my life when I felt happy and saw the pattern of teaching or educating. This I surmised was who I was meant to be. Happily, I continued my yogic journey, delving deeper through continuing education. I am an Educator I would vehemently say. This is where I am happiest; this is who I am at my core. But is that the secret to my life? Not quite, I was soon to uncover.

You see, it wasn’t until I explored the concept of dharma and delved fully into dharmic studies that I fully understood what the secret was. That secret that I have searched decades for.

What is dharma you ask? Dharma in the universal sense is divine law; individually, it is conformity to one’s duty and nature. Dharma is the right path; the true path for one’s life. Living one’s dharma means one finds themselves  in harmony with their rightful purpose. When one is not living their dharma, they find themselves irritable, unhappy, stressed, misdirected and miserable. This is when I knew the secret. The secret of life is to understand and live one’s dharma.

What a revelation! I had been looking in all the wrong places. My search was always outward…people, books, experiences, jobs, skills, experiences. Where I needed to look was inward. I needed to understand myself at my deepest level. The part of me that drives me. The part that fires my passion. My advanced yogic studies led me to the concept of dharma. The concept of dharma finally led me to the deepest recesses of my being where I discovered that I am a warrior, a leader who has evolved to take on educator qualities. My truest path is to learn all I can and then lead others on a cleared path, guiding them past the pitfalls, detours and misadventures that I experienced. My path is one of continuing education, finding other paths that are cluttered with rubble and fighting my way through to provide a clearer path for others.

So here is me living my dharma. Learn from my story and recognize when you have fallen from your path. Each time, I let money be my focus and purpose in life, I was contradicting my dharma. Money is in direct contrast to the warrior dharma…it is our downfall. This is why I was so unhappy and unfulfilled. I was on a convoluted path far from my true nature. I was living a dharma that someone else wanted for me or I thought I needed to survive. When in reality, if I had been aware of my rightful path I would have thrived. I would have taken the path meant for me and provided by the universe. But now, at long last, I am here…living my dharma.

Maybe today is the day for you to begin looking inward. Perhaps today you will learn what fires your passion at your deepest level. But mostly today, I invite you to find your truest path and begin living your dharma. It is the Secret to Life.

Namaste.

A New Podcast. Heartwood is Taking to the Air!

About a year ago, after a series of morning philosophy lectures, a student turned to me and said, “I wish you had a podcast. I could listen to these conversations forever.” As someone with more on my plate than I have time for already I kind of chuckled and said , “Someday maybe . . .”

Of course, all it takes is an idea or intention for set off the spark of creation, or so that is yoga’s theory about how all things come into being. This led to many conversations with the staff that ended with “and one of these days we really should get around to . . .”

During Covid we were inundated with the task of developing online programs and the thought of adding one more project to our aspirations was quickly filed in the “future” basket. But recently, we found we had not only caught up to our to-do list but had time and space to begin considering what would be the most helpful and supportive way to move forward and support our students while also expanding our relationship with teaching. And the podcast idea came up again.

Now, in theory I was all for our starting a podcast. In reality, the concept was quite intimidating. I am not technology savvy, and while I had no difficulty making extensive lists of subject matter I’l love to cover in a Podcast, the actual steps I’d have to take to learn how to record, edit, publish, get listed on various platforms etc. was overwhelming. Podcasting is a new generation thing, and I am a baby-boomer who still has trouble figuring out my I-phone.

But I am, if nothing else, a good student who loves learning new things. So I took a course on how to Podcast. For a month or so, I worked with my online mentor, fascinated and excited at embarking on a new form of communication to do the thing I love most – teach.

So here it is, the New Heartwood Podcast, Yoga Perspectives. Denver and I, as directors of Heartwood, are the primary hosts, but many people will be invited to join us – people who have information, insight, and inspiration to share. We are lucky to have such a vibrant community of authentic yogis visiting Heartwood often for trainings or yoga experiences, and much of the content of our podcast is inspired by heartfelt questions, shared insight, and the recognition of a lack of understanding when our industry shifts. The podcast is valuable to anyone who wants to learn the deeper dimensions of yoga; however, our slant will be towards material for yoga teachers since our work circles around supporting and educating instructors and mentors.

In the first month of podcasting, I enjoyed a few remarkable interviews with students we have trained, but who I knew had their own wisdom and experience to share as yoga teachers. For example, Jim Dant is a Baptist Minister and after a fascinating conversation we shared where he explained the remarkable similarities between the yoga sutras he was studying with us and his Christian teachings I asked him if he’d like to be featured in our podcast. His insight and references are powerful and clear up many assumptions that often interfere with Westerners fully embracing yoga’s teachings. Cody Mcneeley, another graduate of Heartwood, is developing a program for LGBTQ youth, a subject that explores not just the meaning of yoga for LGBTQ, but the challenges this community faces and why they are attracted to yoga as a path to healing, and he joined me to explain why it is important for a yoga teacher to develop awareness and how and why to create safe spaces for this community.

Our podcasts are exploring issues such as how a Yoga teacher can and should set boundaries, Whether or not joining Yoga Alliance is important to one’s career and involvement in the industry, The perils of Spiritual Materialism (or immaturity) and how a yoga teacher can remain true to the teachings while also establishing a sustainable business (Yoga teaching and money). With a list 5 pages long of subjects we can’t wait to discuss, I see our podcast covering a great deal of ground in a way that sparks thought, action and brings clarity to yoga teachers who long to grow and deepen their authenticity as well as their practice.

We hope everyone will give Yoga Perspectives a listen. Subscribe so you never miss a post. Like us and send us your thoughts or suggestions for future broadcasts. The more people who join the conversation the broader awareness develops not just for the listener, but for everyone he or she teaches as well.

You can find Yoga Perspectives on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Amazon Music, Podcast Addict and several other forums. We hope you will join us!

011 – Yoga is not diet culture Yoga Perspectives

Join Denver Clark, IAYT Yoga therapist, LMT, and co director of Heartwood Yoga Institute for a candid talk about yoga, body image and diet culture in America. The discussion introduces important considerations for yoga teachers with recommendations on how to focus a class and use language to promote body acceptance, health and a positive association between our physical bodies and our yoga practice.
  1. 011 – Yoga is not diet culture
  2. 010 – Setting Boundaries
  3. 009 – Empowered Language for Yoga Teachers
  4. 008: Yoga Therapy- What it is and where it is going
  5. 007: Yoga Alliance: to be or not to be

Yoga is Not Diet Culture

Here we are again.

It’s January. The time when news feeds, commercials and billboards are all flooded with ways to improve ourselves. “New Year, New You” messages inundate the airwaves of our subconscious and most of these messages allude to the fact that the best way to improve our miserable lives is to make drastic changes to our bodies. Couple this with a 2-year COVID landscape and the messages of undoing our depression and isolation induced weight gain are even louder and more difficult to ignore.

It saddens me that even as a member of the yoga community, surrounded by individuals and corporations who are jumping on the body positivity bandwagon (and profiting from it) I’m still seeing messages about how to “eat Ayurvedically to lose weight” or how to “tone your arms and tighten your core with inversions.”

At Heartwood Yoga institute where I teach, we often refer to the philosophical concepts of yoga as “Big Yoga.” What we mean by this is that there is so much more to yoga than just postures. Luckily here in the west we seem to finally be catching up to this idea (albeit rather slowly). What does this mean exactly though? What exactly is the deeper meaning of yoga? And how to we utilize postures in a way that isn’t detrimental to our mental and physical health when all we can see on Instagram are thin, white, female bendy bodies upside down in crop tops?

I have found so many students arriving at yoga Teacher Training with a mistaken idea of yoga, not even aware that the physical practice is only 1/8th of what we consider Hatha yoga. Even less often do we start this journey with an understanding of the magnitude of impact that our subtle body energies have on our physical body. “The issues are in the tissues,” as they say. What I love about the health and wellness community is that more and more often I am hearing these ideas come directly from the mouths of doctors and therapists (mine included), giving Yoga Therapists like myself more credibility than we have ever had before.

So I’d like to take this opportunity to explore where yoga might fit in the western world of body-obsessed individuals and what yoga teachers could be “Selling” instead of new year’s body goals.

Promise – “Yoga promotes physical change or improvement”

Reality – Yoga promotes Self-awareness which brings about a decision to be our best self

Yoga Asana (or the physical practice) is one of 8 limbs of the practice of Hatha yoga. Many lineages believe that the only reason yoga practitioners ever practiced postures is to prepare the body to sit for extended periods of time in meditation. That Meditation itself is the actual, ultimate goal of yoga. If this is the case, then it doesn’t matter if we can balance in Tree pose and stick our toe up our nose. If we cannot be still and go inward in reflection, then we aren’t practicing “yoga” at all. We are simply exercising. We may as well go find a spin class instead. There is a time and a place for asana to be of importance and for many students, this is a way to begin channeling our energy to discipline and growth, but the answer to weather or not we are actually doing this is in our intention. If we can be completely honest with ourselves and notice when our ego is guiding our practice, we should never have a problem knowing if our asana practice is legitimate or not. How do we start to recognize our ego? Meditation! To truly be an advanced yoga practitioner, it is said we must be able to be still and listen inward. Openly, honestly, without fear. If our goals are driven by ego, by the desire to be better, look better or win against ourselves or others then we are missing the whole point of yoga.

Promise – “Yoga promotes weight loss or management”

Reality – Yoga regulates our nervous system and this keeps our bodies in their optimal state

In addition to the self-awareness that yoga gives us, the stress relief of yoga is what mostly leads to a healthier body. When we feel a sense of inner balance and peace in savasana or meditation, our bodies move out of the sympathetic nervous system stress response and into a parasympathetic nervous response where we lower blood sugar, stress hormones and improve digestion and organ functions. Heart health is improved and our bodies return to a natural homeostasis. This does often lead us back to whatever shape our bodies were naturally intended for and hopefully along the way we find acceptance of what that shape is as well. Surprisingly enough however, physical movements can have very little to do with this change.

In the modern world where our nervous system is inundated with noise and stimulation and stress  – the most healthy activity we can do for our bodies, hearts and immunity is to simply relax. In addition, the concept of non-attachment or Aparigraha teaches us to accept that life will not always be perfect and our job is to stay grounded and present even when things totally suck. This allows us to regulate our own nervous systems even when there is chaos, because we have practiced it time and time again on the mat in a controlled environment. Weather you’re working toward 108 sun salutations or laying on a bolster for 30 minutes, whatever activates that parasympathetic response in your body is helping you win at health and longevity. How do you know you got there? One benefit is improved circulation to your digestive system = stomach growling during savasana is a great thing!

Promise – “Cleanses are part of yoga”

Reality – Your body cleans itself every day. Yoga DOES help you get rid of the mental gunk.

Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga. One element of this practice is eating in accordance with your given constitution. This means that some of us are built to eat meat, others are not. Some crave spicy foods and others crave sweets, etc. When we add like to like, it throws our bodies and energy out of balance. Firey people + firey food = inflammation and anger, for example. By practicing self-awareness and knowing what our natural tendencies are it is said that we will be able to stay in balance in part through the foods we eat. When we find ourselves out of balance, Ayurveda recommends a “cleanse” that involves natural elements such as oiling the body inside and out or eating a simple mono-diet of rice and mung beans etc. These types of cleanses are recommended based on the individual’s constitution and spoiler alert: NONE of them involve living off of lemon water, tea or mushroom milk for a month. The purpose is to reset the digestive system in a way that is soft and kind to the body under the care of a licensed or certified ayurvedic counselor with thousands of hours of schooling. Watch out for diet culture creeping into yoga spaces. Real Ayurveda will never come in the form of a one size fits all advertisement. It is always curated for the individual after careful one on one counsel.

IN ADDITION – The concept of “removal of toxins” is NOT a reality. Your body has specific mechanisms in place to remove wastes (digestive, lymphatic, sweating and more) and yoga postures do not “squeeze” wastes out of you. Movement can improve the function of your organs but speaking about the body as if it were “toxic” creates an unhealthy relationship with it for many of us living with body image issues. (More on language in yoga classes in another blogpost) The best cleanse that yoga can provide is the one where we release our expectations, our judgements, triggers and our self-deprecating thoughts.

Promise & Reality – Yoga is life.

So the next time you or someone you know mistakenly touts yoga as a way to “get rid” of the undesirable parts of themselves (physical or otherwise) perhaps you can gently remind them of all the wonderful things true yoga can add to our lives instead, such as:

– self-awareness
– acceptance
– compassion
– love
– inquiry into the subconscious
– empowerment
– stress relief
– mindfulness
– energetic awareness
– Ayurvedic education

– freedom from our thoughts and emotions

– union

After all, yoga isn’t about changing.

It’s about connecting to our innermost, untouchable, radiant self.

And we are perfect as we are.

YTT: The road to someplace new

Yoga has a way of touching people in the deepest recesses of their heart and mind. It calls to individuals in need of internal peace, a softer way of living, and to those carrying the burden of unresolved issues. Many students begin a yoga practice hoping to conjure up a bit of health and fitness, and indeed gain some flexibility or a lighter body.   People don’t always know why yoga feels good, but they know there must be something special about the practice because in addition to the physical benefits, yoga leaves them feeling stirred up emotionally, deeply calm or surprisingly at peace. 

When yoga students begin to recognize the poignant side effects beyond the physical benefits of stretching, they become seekers. A seeker is someone who looks beyond the mat to understand the physiological, emotional and energetic benefits of yoga, elements which open doorways to deeper connections that forever shift the way one interacts with others, the environment and their own sense of self. 

Once a student discovers yoga as a path to personal growth and wellness, the typical hour long class on the mat can feel limiting. There is a sense that there is more to yoga, but what exactly and how does one learn the deeper elements of the practice?

The physical practice of yoga is a metaphor for life, but it takes a guru or powerful teacher to help a student see that and to understand how to use the tools of yoga to enhance their life and perhaps the lives of others. This, more than any other reason, is why so many people choose to enroll in RYS-200 yoga teacher training programs.  It is exciting to imagine a career as a yoga teacher (or even a part time job to pay for your own yoga classes and workshops if nothing else) but it is even more enticing to dive deeper into the self-discovery of yoga as a path to empowerment and self-actualization. 

Yoga teacher training does exactly that. It teaches people the hows and whys of sharing yoga with others, but more importantly, it unveils the less obvious elements of yoga that leads to transformation and personal enlightenment. Yoga Teacher Training is an unfolding that begins with the familiar – learning the correct way to do poses. Anatomy, sequencing, hands on adjustments and corrections are an important part of learning to be a teacher, but the physical practice of yoga is only one of the eight limbs that make up a viable yoga practice, so a great deal more must be introduced, explored and practiced to become an authentic yogi. RYS-200 courses venture beyond the mat to explore pranayama (breath work) meditation, concentration, philosophy and the difference between western attitudes and eastern approaches to health and wellness. Studying the energy systems, such as quantum healing, chakra theory, and marma points, opens a practioner’s eyes to a whole new level of physical, mental and spiritual understanding.  People who have studied yoga for years and years participate and most will agree – the more you learn about yoga, the more you realize you don’t know. That makes the entire YTT process a great adventure. Expanding awareness is like seeing the world anew. One should not worry about how much they don’t know, and instead be excited for all there is to learn.

At Heartwood the most important part of YTT comes after students have studied the basics of the eight limbs.  Students are guided through intention setting sessions where they begin exploring their own lives, experiences, and relationships in a yogic context. Applying the tools of yoga often leads to a softening of their outlooks and attitudes and they begin healing themselves.  This is not only important so that each individual feels more whole and enriched by yoga training, but so future teachers learn firsthand how deeply powerful yoga can be. When a teacher experiences the healing aspects of yoga personally, they become passionate healers themselves and they go on to teach with conviction and purpose.

Heartwood does not focus on one lineage or style of yoga, and instead exposes the students to a variety of the most popular yoga techniques in America today. By comparing, contrasting and considering yoga beyond its commercial form students uncover the authentic core of yoga beyond the ego, hype and preconceived assumptions associated to defined methods. A diverse foundation is vital to preparing teachers for a variety of employment opportunities too.  A broad-based approach also gives students a wider understanding of yoga’s endless diversity and helps them serve different populations while also discovering and evolving their own voice and style. Just as a college student often receives a liberal arts education before committing to a major in grad school, a broad-based yoga foundation prepares a student to consider the many directions they can take their career or future studies.  

A competent yoga teacher must learn more than how to guide a class through a series of postures. They must learn to integrate all the teachings into the practice. This is the difference between teaching authentic yoga and teaching calisthenics with yoga poses.

A competent yoga teacher must learn more than how to guide a class through a series of postures. They must learn to integrate all the teachings into the practice. this is the difference between teaching authentic yoga and At Heartwood, we encourage teachers to embrace their creativity, instinct, and draw on life experiences to teach people, not poses. A great teacher does more than regurgitate concepts or words that have been programed in by someone else. They must live their yoga and be an example for others.

At Heartwood, we encourage teachers to embrace their creativity, instinct, and draw on life experiences to teach people, not poses. A great teacher does more than regurgitate concepts or words that have been programed in by someone else. They must live their yoga and be an example for others.

Students’ come to yoga teacher training thinking they know exactly what they want from the course, but they often leave with an entirely different idea of yoga and their place in the bigger scheme.  That is what transformation is all about. You just have to begin the journey with non-attachment, because you never know what you will find or where yoga will lead. All you can be sure of is that a deeper study of yoga will lead you someplace new and different. That is the foundation of every great adventure.   

Looking Back on the Year

by David Shaddock

So many times we say hindsight is 20/20.  It is with great relief that I realize that 2020 is now only hindsight.  As the year fades into the rear view mirror of memory, I feel the momentary need to pause and consider what we’re so gladly putting behind us.  It wasn’t all bad. 

I’m reminded today of Charles Dickens’ classic A Tale of Two Cities, which famously begins It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  A Tale of 2020 could start the same way, for Heartwood at least.  The year began with horrible wildfires in Australia, burning away much of the bush and imperiling millions of wild animals.  Some of those were the world’s most dangerous snakes, but others were koala bears.  We made contributions to a fund to save the koalas (and the snakes, I guess), during the month of January when every indicator told us we were going to have our very best financial year ever, with every course we offered that month bursting at the seams and boasting a waiting list.  February was equally busy and we couldn’t wait to catch our breath in March, when our last spring students would leave and my massage therapy training at Manatee Technical College began its spring break. 

March 10 saw us sleeping in until the unheard-of time of 6 am, and then getting up to start our ten-day juice fast.  I was determined to go back to school with six-pack abs showing, so every day I worked out and we made juice for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.  After the fourth day Ginny cracked and looked up research that told us it was much healthier to break the juice fast each evening with a protein meal.  And she decided that making the juice into smoothies by adding bananas and whey powder made for a more survivable beverage.  So we didn’t quite make the ten day pledge, but I lost 11 pounds and she cut out six.  And I felt great, especially after kicking my caffeine habit.  I haven’t had a cup of coffee since. 

But March 23, when I was supposed to go back to classes, we were told to stay home and hunker down.  We started zoom classes to keep our training going, and Heartwood began online work as well.  Denver and Ginny began putting huge amounts of effort into filming training sessions we’d always wanted to do, but never found the time.  Denver poured herself into anatomy and posture focus work, with help from other teachers and students who were willing to come to Heartwood, and Ginny dove deep into philosophy and marketing work.  We held ourselves to high standards in terms of video quality, investing in light boxes and better microphones to go with our broadcast-quality camcorder and tripod. 

The upshot was that, although we weren’t able to hold many of our normal courses, we were able to serve our community of teacher trainees using online tools, Zoom, and Thinkific.  We actually were able to graduate several groups of very engaged and highly competent teachers from allover the world after holding 200 and 300 level courses with the blessing of Yoga Alliance. 

I say we…  honestly, this was Ginny and Denver, and also Rachel Belle, who had come to work for us in the spring to help out in the office, teach some coursework, host some Zoom sessions, and generally fill in the gaps.  What was I doing? 

Well, in March during what I thought was my 13 days of spring break, I tore apart the old office and lobby and turned it all around, with Ginny’s advice and suggestions.  We now have a secure area for three people to work the office, more privacy for the bathroom, and a lovely boutique area that Ginny keeps stocked with amazing merchandise at bargain prices.  This all seems to be a favorite with our crowds of customers—but we don’t get crowds anymore.  Covid has changed all that.  No overlapping classes, no simultaneous trainings, no overflow students.  Everything is limited, and so far, due to all that caution, we have yet to see a case of Covid here.

So with all the bad comes a lot of good.  If we pay attention, we have a balance—sometimes shifting in one direction and other times coming back in a more positive way.  We watch the plight of black people in now-publicized peril, and feel their anguish, but we are heartened as more and more Americans and those in other countries become more aware and more active.  We are dismayed at the loss of our beloved country’s standing amongst the nations of the world, but we see the moves we’re making toward getting back on track.  We are heartsick as we hear stories of people taking online trainings that teach them little or nothing, but then we still have would-be teachers seeking quality education and willing to do the work to find us. 

I passed my medical board exam for massage therapy on my first attempt, which was an incredible relief, and then graduated my course and was licensed, right in the middle of a ban on massage work.  So it was hard getting started, but that freed me up to make more improvements on the property.  We now have blacktopped driveways all over Heartwood except for our gravel parking lots, a hefty expense by our standards but a long time coming and this will keep down our dust levels and make the property neater and cleaner year round.  And I have an excuse to dig out my size 14 Rollerblades. And we installed a new, bigger septic and upgraded the electricity to keep up with our growing needs.

We lost our beloved India, the best Heartwood dog ever, but within a short time Ginny had found a puppy replacement, an adorable little Australian shepherd.  We named him Shiva as a reminder to our yoga students that Shiva is the name for the male energy & supreme consciousness in the Hindu tradition.  He has a lot more male energy than we’d like at the moment, but day by day he’s settling into a more mature groove.  At four months, he’s over 30 pounds and he just loves people.  We have high hopes that he’ll grow into a great Heartwood greeter and protector.  Wish we had some sheep to keep him busy, though.

Along the course of this year, Denver and I both were able to return to massage work under safe circumstances.  Some truly wonderful people have come into my life this year, some through massage and others through trainings, but some through business relationships.  I feel truly blessed that so many remarkable friends appear at Heartwood, and so many appreciate the calm and peace that seems to envelop anyone who enters the front gate. 

There are a lot of new homes in my family this year.  Neva bought herself a house in Baltimore, since she’ll be stationed at Fort Meade for most of her work in the Air Force.  Her significant other moved in with her several months later and they got to enjoy the Covid shutdown under the same roof.  I didn’t get to see my mother from March until the end of the summer when I helped her move up to Amelia Island near Jacksonville, where she now lives in the downstairs master suite at my older sister Laurie’s gorgeous new home.  And Denver and her fiancé Nick bought a house together about ten minutes from Heartwood, a lovely two-story place in a gated community.  All seem happy and content with their new digs.

We are here at Heartwood, utterly grateful that during the time of the shutdown we were quartered in a place with seven acres, gardens and pathways, and a pavilion for exercise.  We had cases of bamboo toilet paper that had arrived on a delivery schedule but were unused because we didn’t have customers.  We had three refrigerators and a freezer full of food which we dove into and prepared hundreds of great meals, at home, and finding ourselves saving thousands of dollars because we weren’t running off to restaurants to grab a quick meal or get away from work for an hour here or there.  Ginny has continued to exercise and shed weight, and I’ve been working hard and staying in shape by hauling materials, digging trenches, and working around the place.  And our biggest project yet is still underway but almost completed at this point—a total teardown and renovation of our house kitchen.  I’ve added two feet to the old kitchen layout, and we bought custom cabinets that give us an embarrassing amount of storage.  All the old 1983 appliances are now replaced, and we love the new look and increased utility. 

So it was a hard year in many ways but it was a rich and rewarding year in many others.  Yes, I’m very glad to see the end of the 2020, with its destructive wildfires and horrid weather and political turmoil and rampant illness and utter isolation.  But I am grateful—grateful that I’m Buddhist enough to live in the present, not fearful of the future and always forgiving of the past, and grateful that so many good things happened last year to make us appreciate what we do have here in Heartwood and those who come here to share our lives. 

If You Build It – they may or may not get it.

The other day, a yoga teacher visited Heartwood, toured the grounds with my daughter and said, “What a gorgeous and unusual place, I’d love to buy a center like this one day.”

Denver smiled and replied, “You can’t buy a place like this. You have to build one from scratch. Nothing was here until my Mom got an inkling to make a yoga center out of an old piece of agriculture property. Only vision and hard work leads to owning this kind of place.”

She didn’t get the feeling that the woman fully believed her.

Later Denver said to me, “Everyone loves the idea of Heartwood, but I don’t think many understand how much work and ingenuity was required for you and David to create this place. And they have no clue about how much work this little 7 acres is to maintain. Some yogis may think they want a Heartwood of their own, but they’d change their mind once they realized that the work is never ending and most of what they love out here cost money and demands ongoing effort, but doesn’t support paying the bills.”    

That is certainly true, but David and I don’t mind the effort because we look at Heartwood as “living art”. Sometimes, hard work has a purpose unrelated to the equation people so often make of calculating a measurable return on investment for their time and money. Art for art’s sake fuels something deep inside. For the creator, there is an alignment of creative energies that makes the artist feel connected to self and the divine. For those witnessing and enjoying the creation, there is pleasure and the reminder that beauty & inspiration can provide us with opportunities for insight and inner connections.   

David and I design spaces that meld with nature and celebrate our love of Yoga and spiritual studies. We seek utility with each project – a view or place to sit, dream, meditate or practice. We imagine people visiting and being called to pause, breathe and convene with the natural world. Considering we started the idea of Heartwood with just a run down, overgrown agricultural property and scant resources to devote to development, what we have done thus far feels satisfying. We know we won’t have the stamina to keep at this forever, and our limitless dreams for this place will never be fully realized (at least by us). We have inspiration for dozens of projects that most likely will never manifest due to our age and limited resources. But for now, Heartwood still calls to our creative spirits.

Our favorite pastime is walking the grounds with a cup of coffee after hours, looking at what is blooming or enjoying evidence that people are using our spaces. We take stock of all the work needed to be done to maintain our projects, then share ideas for upgrades or new spaces that start with “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool if . . .”

We call Heartwood “Living” art because, like life, our creations often grow, thrive, then decline and die. (For the Yogis, I’d say the gunas are truly represented here-  Rajas, Sattva, and Tamas in all stages around the property.)  

We once had a beautiful bottle garden gracing the property. Dozens of reclaimed colored bottles hung from trees and surged up out of the ferns. I scoured Goodwill looking for colored bottles and dragged dozens of huge bottles home from Homegoods. The bottle garden turned out so beautiful Country Garden’s Magazine featured it along with our Chakra garden in an 8 page spread. Our bottle garden became a signature area of Heartwood. David designed all kinds of contraptions for keeping frogs out of the bottles and to stop the dog from knocking them down. He designed a variety of caps for the tops, landscape lighting to illuminate the bottles at night and mounts so that when the ferns grew too robust the bottles would be elevated for display. I had to clean the bottles every few months and took charge of replacing those that broke or wore out. Again and again I sealed the tops and changed the wires to hang them so they would catch the light.

Despite our efforts to maintain this pretty area, time and the Florida sun slowly deteriorated the bottles.  Hurricane Irma took down several of the trees holding up the bottles. Slowly our bottle garden grew tired and old.  I tried moving the bottles, but the new location just wasn’t the same. Eventually, that lovely little work of landscape art became history. Am I sorry we put so much time and effort, not to mention money into all those bottles, considering they are now history? Not at all. Because that bottle garden was not only fun to create but left us with memories of Heartwood’s early stages of development that will be with me forever. And how is missing the bottles any different than my missing the tulips that boom for only a few days each year? All things are impermanent. What is important is to appreciate what you have while you have it, and not grasp onto what is meant to die or no longer be present for you.    

The law of the universe reveals that while something fades, something new comes into existence.  Creative inspiration usually starts with an innocent comment, like, “Gee Dave, look at this cool labyrinth picture on this journal therapy e-mail I received. Wouldn’t it be fun to have something like that out front where those dang trees keep dropping limbs and nothing will grow? Of course, that would be a huge undertaking, and who knows if anyone would ever walk a labyrinth way out there. We certainly couldn’t afford to make a big old labyrinth when there are so many practical things we need . . . but dang, doesn’t that look fascinating . . . ”  and thus, the seed of an ongoing conversation has been planted.  

For fun we start talking about what kind of labyrinth we would make and how big, if only . . .. We next start reading about labyrinths, sharing history, folklore, and other tidbits of information over dinner (which is a much nicer conversation than talking about bills or politics). We start noticing Labyrinths in our travels or around town.  In time, our random comment has blown into a loose plan that if ever we can spare the time and money, we will certainly build one.”

Before you know it, our random idea has become a quest, and we skip taking a vacation one more year and instead, David is out there mathing it up, plotting out a labyrinth with engineering precision and I end up spending what would have been my vacation time that season and the next 2 laboriously and painstakingly painting the dang thing over and over to keep the path from fading. Just like when you buy a couch and suddenly feel you have to paint the living room and buy new rugs because they now seem shabby, we start landscaping the area and adding additional details. Up comes a “before I die” board, and a river rock path. This spills out to a bamboo grove with meditation benches. And since it is so lovely out there now, why not build a pavilion so we can practice yoga near the energy of the labyrinth? Voila! Who can miss a bottle garden when there is a whole labyrinth to maintain!

For many people, building a labyrinth would seem a frivolous or wasteful use of limited resources, but every time I spy someone walking the labyrinth, I’m convinced that what was at first an unlikely idea was meant all along to be a collaborative project bringing purpose and meaning into our marriage and our world. No, I never regret any of the time or effort devoted to the artistic unfolding of Heartwood. Building Heartwood fulfills our Dharma.

The medicine wheel was another project fueled by curiosity and inspiration. David and I have been long interested in Indian history, spirituality and Shamanism and one day we started a random conversation about medicine wheels which turned into our both doing some research (not many pictures of formal medicine wheels for public use out there, so we didn’t have much to go on). We addressed the issue of a medicine wheel being of a different tradition than yoga, and perhaps no one would want to go out there even if we built one. We debated designs and different regional and cultural versions and then found a tradition that spoke to us. Once the concept of building a medicine wheel was a go, we had to figure out how to do so affordably. Of course, we agreed grudgingly that the best place to put this medicine wheel was an overgrown thorny area filled with tree stumps (clearing the area cost more than the actual project!) But before we laid the first stone, I could see it there in my mind.

We had a formal Medicine Wheel ceremony, laying the stones in the rain since nature chose not to make this easy, and later, completed the project with more colored stones totally blowing the budget. David built a huge bench around the entire ring inviting students to sit wherever energy called to them and made a 6-foot hoop for a dream catcher to enhance the décor of the area. To display this, we cut down some carefully chosen trees on the side of our property and dragged them over to the area to cement into the ground like goalposts. The dead trees deteriorated over time and a hurricane came a year later and knocked them down. That same storm flooded the medicine wheel so it all but floated into the ferns. Generous students arrived to help us clean up that mess and rebuild the wheel and months later, David built a more solid structure out of timber which he planted true north to hold the dreamcatcher and new windchimes. Next, he planted a shamanic garden with sage, sweetgrass, Indian Tobacco and cedar trees (all native plants used for shamanic ceremony) and we added small stone statues of animals to represent spirit guides for fun. The native herbs didn’t make it in the harsh Florida climate, but two of the three Cedar trees survived.

The medicine wheel is probably my favorite area of Heartwood. I teach a nature yoga class out at the wheel involving a semi-seated practice on the benches. The meditation and poses are steeped in shamanic themes. Unfortunately, this area can get uncomfortably sunny midday so some seasons the heat prohibits me from bringing students out to the wheel.  But never fear, David and I purchased two metal gazebo roofs some time ago at an end-of-season close out sale, and for more than a year we talked about making a few covered decks by the Medicine Wheel area so people (mostly me) could practice out there or meditate and have a shady, protected space to journal or hang out. The idea circled between us long enough that recently, we both felt it was time to act.

So David built two staggered, 12 foot covered decks. As is the case with almost every project we’ve done, people didn’t “get it” at first. They just didn’t see the vision we saw in our heads. David had several conversations with students that went something like this . . .

“What are you building out there?”

“Decks for people to practice on.”

“Where are you moving them to?”

“Um…. They’re decks. I’m building them where I want them to be. They are right where they will go.”

“Hummmm….. interesting. Don’t you think they are rather obvious, two big decks out there by the medicine wheel?”

“No more obvious than the 24 foot Medicine Wheel and 6 foot dream catcher, I suppose.”   

More than one person took me aside to say, “How do you feel about what David is building? Are you OK with that?” (As if I wasn’t the one nagging him to build those decks for two years and hadn’t given him my opinion about exactly where I wanted them. Ha.)

This week David put fans and lights in the ceilings of those newly finished decks so they will be more inviting. We are now planning some nice landscaping to keep the practice area partially hidden when you drive in and to add ambiance to the natural setting. Strategic planting will create a “room” feel for this space, but new plantings will require a watering system too. That means more work for a project that will not generate revenue, but man, what a beautiful and unique area this will be for visitors (and us) to practice. Like everything we’ve built here, it takes times for new spaces to “settle in”. Nature fills in the blanks left from construction, a few fun details will be added and soon it seems the medicine wheel had always magically just been a part of the landscape here.

I’m aware that building something like a Medicine wheel and practice decks seems an odd and unnecessary choice to those who don’t see a practical point in art for art’s sake. But if David and I didn’t find meaning and joy in Heartwood’s “living art” and instead focused only on practical projects that supported the revenue operations of this business, Heartwood wouldn’t have the charm or uniqueness it has. And I certainly wouldn’t feel as fulfilled as I do, dreaming up the next artistic project and marveling at David’s talent in making a vision manifest.  

About a week after David finished the decks, he went out to get the mail. When he returned, he handed me a cup of coffee and said, “There are two students out at the medicine wheel practicing on the decks. We both knew they had many places to drop a mat to practice, but they chose that one.

We looked at each other knowingly and smiled.