Outside my window, the maples are beginning to blush. Soon, the whole woods will be bright with scarlet, gold, russet, and burgundy. In such a dazzling display, it's easy to lose sight of the individual colors.
Life can be like that, too. With so much going on in the real and virtual worlds, not to mention our own imaginations, it's sometimes hard to narrow our focus. Yet often that's exactly what we need to do to feel calm and grounded and to nurture our creativity.
I recently came across an intriguing exercise that reminded me of the benefits of concentrating on one thing at a time. In her Writing and Wellness newsletter, author Colleen M. Story wrote about boosting creativity with color walks. You pick a color before heading out on a walk and then let that color lead you as you search for objects of that hue.
Colleen's article goes into more detail, with tips on how to get the most from the practice.
I'll let you read that on your own, because I'm eager to show you what I found on my color walk. On the summer day I chose for my walk, everything was green, so as a challenge to my powers of observation, I picked yellow. I was surprised how many yellow things I found and how paying attention to them helped me see my familiar environment in a whole new way.
I hope you'll try a color walk, too, and tell me how it goes.
What with summer activities and chores and the myriad details associated with the launch of my memoir Mango Rash, I confess I haven’t been doing much new writing lately. I was inspired to make an exception, though, when I received a compelling request earlier in the summer from one of my favorite Michigan authors, Anne-Marie Oomen.
She was appealing to writers in her circle to join in an undertaking she called the Lake-love Letters Project. The idea was simple: write a love letter—no more than 400 words—to the Great Lakes or a specific lake. Not a huge investment of time and energy, but an important one, as Anne-Marie’s cover letter made clear.
I love our waters: lakes, rivers, wetlands, little sinking ponds, remote swamps. If it’s wet, I’ll probably like it. And of course, I’m worried about all of them, as I know many of you are. I often wonder what I can do. I’m not a scientist, politician, lawyer, not even a very good journalist. I often feel inadequate, a “fish out of water” when it comes to this work. This year, a question I asked myself: how might I use my small gifts a literary artist (creative writer) to do something for our beloved waters.
She went on to relate that just as she was considering how she might make a difference, she received a letter from Liz Kirkwood, director of the regional water organization For Love of Water (FLOW). The letter explained that in July, the International Joint Commission of the Great Lakes would meet in Traverse City. Liz wanted to enliven what might otherwise be a dry discussion (subject matter notwithstanding) by involving artists who are passionate about our water.
As Anne-Marie described it in her letter,
She had a vision: at the final meeting with the commissioners, could we showcase our love of water in a way that would involve the arts, particularly the writers. She spoke of the arts as one heart behind all the science and legal work. I was so grateful for her rare understanding. And she offered an idea that I could run with. Could we writers and artists do something with love letters to our waters. Love letters? Yes!
I usually take my time responding to requests that ask me to write, edit, or critique something. I like to consider what else is on my to-do-list and how interested I am in adding to that ever-expanding list. This time I didn’t hesitate. As soon as I found a sliver of writing time, I drafted my love letter. After a few revisions, I sent it off to Anne-Marie.
Here’s what I wrote:
Dear Lake Michigan,
You’re not like the others—the ones I grew up with. In that flat and dusty land, those pretenders to the title were mere puddles. Knowing no better, we suited up, dived in, toweled off, sat on shore with sandwiches, staring out across their dense, red-silted expanses, thinking, “Well, this is nice.”
Then I met you, and I had to expand my vocabulary. I’ll admit it: you dazzled me, spangled like a rock star, necklaced with villages whose very names enchant: Empire, Pentwater, Saugatuck.
The only time I didn’t love you as much as I wanted to was on that blustery September day I ferried across your liquid skin. Your ups and downs! How they unsettled me. Betrayed, I sulked until I reached the other shore and looked back at your troubled face, your spectrum of shades.
You, too, carry burdens, I realized in that moment. And also this: I may have loved you since we first met, but I haven’t really known you. Let me know you now.
Just before the commission meeting, Anne-Marie reported that nearly 100 letters submitted to the project would be presented in book form to each of the commissioners. In addition, she extracted sentences from some letters and shaped them into a ten-minute script to be read as part of the presentation to the commission. “Your words made a beautiful praise song to the lakes—thank you!” she wrote to contributors.
So often, writing feels like a solitary, inwardly-directed pursuit. It was gratifying to take part in this project, and it made me think about other ways I might merge my passion for writing with the issues I care about.
How can you apply your talents to something you care about?
FLOW’s video of the entire Traverse City meeting can be viewed here. The Lake-love Letters Project portion begins around minute 14 and continues to minute 28. FLOW and the commission also plan to post the entire collection of Lake-love Letters on their websites.
I’m excited to introduce a very special guest this week: Kirsten Voris, co-creator of the recently-released Trauma Sensitive Yoga Deck for Kids (North Atlantic Books). The deck of 50 yoga cards for kids aged 3-12 comes with a guide for trauma-sensitive facilitation that’s grounded in the evidence-based Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) methodology and the yogic tradition of ahimsa, or non-harming.
I met Kirsten through writing, not yoga—we were workshop-mates at the Tucson Festival of Books Masters Workshop a couple of years ago—and I’ve been a fan of her work ever since.
When she told me about this latest project, I wanted to hear more, both about the yoga cards and the role of yoga in Kirsten’s life. I know you’ll be interested, too, so I’m sharing our conversation here.
How did you first become interested in yoga?
The ﬁrst yoga shape I learned was headstand, and that was taught to me by a German boyfriend when I was in my twenties, so approximately 1992. Then, there was no yoga until I moved to Turkey in 2010.
In Turkey I wanted to swim, but there was no way to do so cheaply. There was a yoga studio close to my house, though, so I started going. I eventually signed up for teacher training, so that I could go even more often. I did my teacher training in Ankara, Turkey (Yoga Sala, Ankara, Turkey, class of 2012!).
What led you to trauma-sensitive yoga?
I was led to Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY) because there were things that didn't work for me, in regards to how I was in my own body and how I was taught to facilitate yoga for other bodies.
How is trauma-sensitive yoga different from other kinds of yoga?
TCTSY was developed as an intervention for complex trauma (also called complex PTSD). It is most helpful for people recovering from disturbed relationships with their bodies and the lack of agency and/or trust that can come from surviving systems of chronic disempowerment or neglect.
We use the shapes (forms or asanas) from yoga to practice making choices and noticing sensations in our bodies.
In a TCTSY class, participants are 100 percent in charge of their own bodies at all times. The facilitator stays on his or her own mat, and rather than setting goals or correcting or adjusting participants, simply provides them with choices for movement and highlights sensations they may feel in each shape.
In order to help us keep the focus on our bodies, there is no music in a TCTSY class.
What principles of yoga are most relevant to trauma-sensitive yoga?
From Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga, we focus on Asana, or the movement practice. And within the movement, Dhyana, or meditation.
In TCTSY we use our bodies and sensation in our bodies as the focus of meditation or mindfulness, as opposed to the breath. Instead of returning to our breath, we’re returning to our bodies when we get distracted.
I might invite a client to notice their breath if I know them well. However, in general we don’t work with the breath. For some people, feeling their own breath moving can be a very potent trigger.
Some yogic breath practices trigger anxiety and, with Pranayama (breath control), there is a goal involved: to become more centered, more calm, more energized. In TCTSY there is no outcome we are looking to achieve.
Ahimsa, which means non-harming, is a part of everything we do. We want to empower, not disempower. I am not someone who can teach others how to heal. I can be a witness, though, to someone’s healing. And I can hold a space for healing.
Judith Herman, a therapist, researcher, and author of Trauma and Recovery, inspired so much of what we do. She has another way of putting this. She wrote:
“No intervention that takes power away from the survivor can ever foster her recovery no matter how much it appears to be in her immediate self-interest.”
I love that. My body knows how to heal. So does yours.
How did the yoga deck project come about?
I met co-creator Brooklyn Alvarez in our 300-hour TCTSY facilitation training. We were assigned to be buddies. We spoke every week for nine months. We had both done some facilitation with kids with the available yoga cards and didn't like them.
One week in our supervision meeting we told Dave Emerson (director of the center), what we'd been talking about. He told someone at North Atlantic Books. Some time later, Dave announced that North Atlantic Books wanted to publish our deck of trauma-sensitive yoga cards for kids, which up until then, we had only been talking about. It was pretty mind-blowing how that happened.
Dave read through the pamphlet and helped us in so many different ways with ideas for content and questions around language and feedback on the cards and the pamphlet. He let Brooklyn and me have our own process when it came to resolving issues that came up during the creation of the final product. He was our first editor. I'm really happy to be associated with him in this way and to have him associated with us and the cards.
How do you envision the yoga deck being used?
Lots of kids love to move. This is an opportunity to harness that and provide kids with the opportunity to experience choice—in their bodies. And maybe notice sensation in their bodies, to help them ground in the present moment, which is the only place we can feel a sensation.
I'd like the cards to be used by people who love kids who have been through terrible things. Anyone can help a child heal. TCTSY practitioners who are therapists can use cards in session with their clients. Foster parents can use the cards to engage with kids in their care. The cards can be a supplemental activity or the main attraction. The pamphlet comes with ideas for group activities involving the cards and practices for one-on-one facilitation or small-group facilitation.
And all of these are suggestions. What is important is creating a sense of connection and safety for children. Caregivers can do this by practicing along with the kids in their care, not asking kids to do something and then standing back and watching. Yoga card time can be family time. Time to put down your phone, turn off the TV, and practice being in your body. Everyone practices together: the youth, the moms, the grandmas, the foster dads. Each person noticing their own bodies.
How has your own yoga practice evolved over time?
My yoga practice started out as anxiety management through overdoing it. I was in class every day and it was vinyasa or ashtanga class. I wanted to stand on my head and balance on my arms. I wasn’t interested in learning to be grounded in my body. Or still. I could not tolerate savasana, or rest. I kept my eyes open. I didn’t like being adjusted or touched.
Then, I began to get injured. I have healed-over hamstring tears. I have tendinitis in my left deltoid. In the wake of that particular injury, I couldn’t raise my arm over my head for one year.
I discovered the limits of self-medication through exercise. I started to slow down—out of necessity. My favorite teacher in Turkey had a Yin Yoga class that I began attending. It was very difficult for me to hold shapes for long periods of time and give myself over to them. But listening to her guide us through it, as she talked about all the different muscles and meridians we were touching though our practice, helped. (I dedicated my yoga cards to her.)
Eventually I began to notice and feel my body and realized that, before I got injured, I couldn’t feel my body at all. And because I couldn’t feel it, I couldn’t make good choices for my body.
After graduating from teacher training, I went to a week-long Yin training with Bernie Clark, who introduced me to the idea that adjusting people based on our idea of how a shape needs to look can hurt people. Everyone needs to find their own shape.
Since moving back to the US, my yoga is mostly at home. Learning and facilitating TCTSY has made it even more difficult for me to find yoga classes I like, because now I am super-empowered to say what I don’t like (I don’t like to be touched or adjusted or told what to do), and I now know there is a kind of yoga that doesn’t require me to do that to other people.
For the past two years I have been involved in an Open Floor Dance community here in Tucson. This is a conscious dance practice. You dance however you want, and you stay with yourself. I’m still learning, and this is the scary leading edge of my evolution as a human being. And it wouldn’t have been possible, without TCTSY.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Trauma Center Trauma-Sensitive Yoga is very new and very special, and the community is not that large. It has felt amazing to create something that I believe so strongly in, in concert with other humans who are equally passionate about the innate power we all have to help ourselves heal from terrible things--without having to talk about those terrible things. Through movement.
The Trauma-Sensitive Yoga Deck for Kids can be ordered through independent bookstores, IndieBound, Penguin Random House, and other online booksellers. ISBN: 9781623173289, $25.95
More about Kirsten and her co-creators
KIRSTEN VORIS (RYT-200, TCTSY-F) is a former secondary school teacher and adult educator who completed her initial yoga certification in Ankara, Turkey. Her interest in yoga as a tool for personal integration led her to Yin Yoga and the research-based Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY). She has facilitated TCTSY for volunteer aid workers in Cusercoli, Italy and brought TCTSY to therapists through PESI trauma training retreats in Sedona, Arizona. In addition to facilitating TCTSY for private clients in and around Tucson, Arizona, Voris has been the TCTSY provider for youth and children through a tribal health service in Southern Arizona. She offers an introduction to TCTSY to fourth year medical students and medical residents at the University of Arizona Center for Integrative Medicine.
BROOKLYN ALVAREZ is a clinical psychologist-in-training (doctoral degree expected 2021), certified Kripalu yoga teacher, and avid student of Buddhist psychology and mindfulness meditation. Alvarez's personal and professional experiences have inspired in her a fervent aspiration to specialize in the treatment of developmental trauma and, ultimately, to disrupt systemic hegemony.
DAVID EMERSON is the founder and director of Yoga Services for the Trauma Center at the Justice Resource Institute in Brookline Massachusetts, where he coined the term "trauma-sensitive yoga" (TSY). He was responsible for curriculum development, supervision and oversight of the yoga intervention component of the first of its kind, NIH funded study, conducted by Dr. Bessel van der Kolk to assess the utility and feasibility of yoga for adults with treatment-resistant PTSD. Emerson has developed, conducted, and supervised TSY groups for rape crisis centers, domestic violence programs, and residential programs for youth, military bases, survivors of terrorism, and Veterans Administration centers and clinics. In addition to co-authoring several articles on the subject of yoga and trauma, Emerson is the co-author of Overcoming Trauma through Yoga, (North Atlantic Books, 2011) and author of Trauma-Sensitive Yoga in Therapy (Norton, 2015). He leads trainings for yoga teachers and mental health clinicians in North America, Europe, and Asia.
You know that old Bob Seger song, “Roll Me Away”? It’s been running through my mind lately. Only this time, I’m not the one rolling away. My dearly beloved motorcycle rolled out of our driveway for the last time a few weeks ago, destined for a new owner’s garage.
Now, for the first time in our twenty-seven years together, Ray and I have no motorcycles, as he recently traded his last two in on a side-by-side quad.
It’s a strange feeling, a little sad and yet absolutely right. In the seven years since we moved to Newaygo County, I’ve gotten so involved in other activities—yoga, hiking, kayaking, photography, plus this blog and the book project I’m absorbed in right now—there just hasn’t been time for the long motorcycle rides I used to enjoy so much.
But there’s more to it than that. Lately, being out on the road, even in a car, has started to feel a lot more hazardous. I don’t know if it’s my age, the increasing number of distracted and aggressive drivers, or both, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an experience on the road in recent years that left me thinking, “Thank goodness I wasn’t on a motorcycle!"
So I put the motorcycle up for sale, and before I had time for second thoughts, a young man was pulling into our driveway with a motorcycle trailer and a wad of cash. This would be his first motorcycle, he said, and seeing his excitement brought me joy. For good measure, I threw in saddlebags and a heap of other accessories and sent him and the bike off with my blessings.
Now, my motorcycle days are memories. But what memories!
It all started when Ray gave me my first bike—a Harley-Davidson 883 Sportster—the first Christmas we were together. (So much for that $100 gift limit we’d agreed upon.) I had yet to learn to ride, but riding had been high on my hope-to-do-list for a long time. So I signed up for a Motorcycle Safety Foundation Basic RiderCourse at a local community college the following spring, practiced in parking lots until I got up to speed, and then took to the road.
Together, Ray and I took motorcycle trips to Milwaukee, South Dakota, Oklahoma, and around the perimeter of Michigan’s mitten. I rode to work in Ann Arbor, and took long, meandering rides all over Southeast Michigan.
When I outgrew the 883, which Ray had customized for me, I sold it and moved up to a 1200 Sportster. With custom paint and Ray’s touches, it became my dream bike—just the right size and weight, with forward controls, a comfy seat, a stylish Sport Bob tank, spoked wheels, fringed lever covers, and other cool details.
At one point, I joined a women’s motorcycle group, the Chrome Divas of Motown, and though I’d always preferred riding solo or with Ray, I came to enjoy the camaraderie of our group rides and social activities. When my “bonus daughter” Michelle (Ray’s daughter) joined the Chrome Divas, riding together gave us new common ground.
Riding gave Ray and me a lot of shared experiences, too, and it certainly made gift shopping easy. There was always one more bike accessory or piece of riding gear to be bought. One Valentine’s Day, Ray heard a jewelry store ad on the radio: “This Valentine’s Day, buy your sweetheart something shiny.” So naturally, he headed to the Harley dealer and brought home the perfect gift for his sweetheart: a chrome tachometer cover.
We covered a lot of asphalt over the years, and every memory of every ride—even a couple that resulted in broken bones—is a treasure.
Now, it’s on to new dreams. That wad of cash I got for the bike? It’s going into my fund for a trip back to Samoa. But before we take off on that journey, come with me on a trip back through my motorcycle memories.
Ready? Cue up Bob Seger, roll on the throttle, and let’s ride!
In this week’s blog, you’ll meet Mark Andrews, one of my favorite West Michigan photographers.
Born and raised in Newaygo County, Mark got the travel bug early in life on trips with his family. He went on to work in the travel industry, for airlines and tour companies, including a stint in Barbados.
“I started with photography in the 80s with an old film camera and fell in love with taking pictures,” says Mark. “I worked for Kodak in the early 2000s as a sales rep selling digital cameras and had some training over the years with them. Most of what I’ve learned has been over the internet and practice, practice . . . ”
Mark is especially fond of photographing places that evoke a sense of the past – Cuba and old Route 66, for example.
In addition, he has visited and photographed Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, Greece, Turkey, China, Russia, Philippines, Mexico, much of old Route 66, Hawaii, and National Parks including Grand Tetons, Yellowstone, Yosemite, Arches, Grand Canyon, Zion, Great Smoky Mountains, Canyon Lands, and Monument Valley.
Where hasn’t he been, you might ask. Well, still on his list are the Amazon, Ecuador, Israel, Italy, Spain, Lisbon, “and a whole lot more.”
In this post, Mark shares tips for taking better travel photographs, as well as advice on finding travel deals to your dream destinations.
Tips for Taking Better Travel Photos
Written from the heart,
from the heart of the woods
Read the introduction to HeartWood here.
Nan Sanders Pokerwinski, a former journalist, writes memoir and personal essays, makes collages and likes to play outside. She lives in West Michigan with her husband, Ray.