Posted by: Bruce Black | October 2, 2016

The Magic of Keeping a Journal

“My perception of the world softens as a result of keeping a journal.”– Lynn Burgess

(Earlier this year I shared thoughts with Lynn Burgess, the owner and director of Yoga From the Heart in Sarasota, FL, about keeping a practice journal. I found Lynn’s insights both helpful and inspiring, and I hope her observations inspire you to keep a journal as part of your yoga practice.)

Bruce:  I’m always curious about how others find their way to journaling about their yoga practice. Did you keep a journal when you first started your practice? What – or who – prompted you to begin keeping a journal?

Lynn: My first yoga teacher, Anita, kept a journal with notes on every class she taught. The details of her journal included the class sequence for that day, the students in the class, and a reflection afterward of what she needed or wanted to adjust or change. My respect for Anita’s brilliant teaching, along with my fascination with and love of yoga, inspired me to start keeping a journal shortly after I began practicing.

Bruce: Anita sounds like an inspiring teacher. I was lucky, too, to find a teacher who inspired me to keep a journal about my yoga practice. Rita was one of my first yoga teachers. One day she handed blank journals to each of the students in our class and suggested we use them to explore our practice. Her prompting meant something different, I suppose, for each student. For me it meant making a deeper commitment to practicing yoga.

Lynn: The moment I open my journal and begin writing, I find I am immediately more mindful. It feels as if slowing down to write in my journal signals to my brain and body “this is important.” This mindfulness helps me understand, remember, and notice things I may have overlooked or forgotten when I was practicing or teaching. Through journaling a deeper awareness and connectedness to the practice begins to emerge. There’s a pleasure in the way insights and realizations unfold, a unique relationship between the hand and brain, sparked by the composition of thoughts and ideas.

Bruce: Yes, that’s what I find, too. Somehow the process of keeping a journal encourages, as you point out, greater mindfulness in one’s practice. Keeping a journal helps me notice, for instance, when I might doubt if I have enough strength, patience, or faith to do a pose like Upward Bow Pose (Urdhva Dhanurasana). It helps me discover a link between these issues and similar issues that I might find in my life, such as doubting my strength to finish a project or trust a friend or believe that I can learn to do something new.

Lynn: When I first began journaling, I wrote in my journal after each yoga class I took. Over the years, my writing frequency became more PRN (that’s an acronym for a Latin phrase, pro re nata, which means “as the situation demands”).  When I am pondering how to make instructions clearer or come across a meaningful quote in a book or experience a random memory or thought, I jot it down in my journal. I make it a practice once a week to go back and read my notes to see if there’s further research or additional reading that I might do, or any clarity that I might have gained since making the journal entry.

Bruce: It’s interesting to hear that you go back to read your notes. I might try that some day, but it’s not something that I feel compelled to do at the moment. For me, the insight that I glean from the process of writing is the treasure. One of my favorite writers, Flannery O’Connor, said “I write because I don’t know what I think until I read what I say.” I try to write in my journal every day before I step onto my mat. If there’s enough time, I try to make notes after I finish my home practice, too.

Lynn: Writing in your journal almost every day . . .what a fantastic habit!

Bruce: I’m wondering if keeping a practice journal changes the way you look at the world after you step off your mat?

Lynn: Yes, in a magical way. My perception of the world softens as a result of keeping a journal. After stepping off my mat, I feel myself open up toward a particular situation, or I am able to move through a fear easier. Journaling helps transform my view of the world into a more beautiful and joyful experience.

Bruce: Do you ever journal about the poses and their physical architecture—the process and challenges of constructing a pose, for example?

Lynn: I journal about poses all the time! The other day I was playing with Half Moon Pose (Ardha Chandrasana). I wanted to find my ease, to become quiet, like a half moon in the night sky. Physically, I focused on aligning myself on the skeleton of my bottom leg so that very little muscular work was required. For a second I felt as if I was floating in the pose! The rest of the day had that same quality to it. I was able to glide through my to-do list, soar through making dinner, and sink into a deep sleep that evening.

Bruce: What a beautiful and poetic image! I love the way playing with your pose enabled you to find the same quality of playfulness and ease in your life.

Lynn: Yes, the more I loosen my grip, both in my yoga practice, and in my life, the easier it is to connect with the beauty that surrounds us, and to be satiated and grateful.

If you’d like to learn more about Lynn Burgess, the founder and director of Yoga from the Heart in Sarasota, FL, where she teaches public classes and workshops, offers private instruction, and conducts teacher training and advanced-studies programs, visit her website:

And if you’d like to learn more about keeping your own practice journal, you might enjoy taking a look at my book, Writing Yoga



Posted by: Bruce Black | September 1, 2016

What Happens Next?

In that moment before you step onto your mat, the moment when you slip off your shoes and walk barefoot across the floor, when you roll out your mat, uncertain what will happen next, that’s when you are practicing yoga.

You can’t know what the future holds. Each moment, even in poses that you’ve done before, is different. And you can’t hold onto the past. You have to trust that you can step into the unknown, to come to that place where future and past, known and unknown, are linked.

Yoga invites you to step into the present, to listen to the sound of your breath and to feel the way your toes squeeze into the mat. It brings you the peace that you seek from doubts and fear. And it lets you hear the sound of your own voice, which is so often drowned out by the din of our daily lives today.

As you fold over in Uttanasana (standing forward bend) or kneel in table top–wrists under elbows, elbows under shoulders, knees under hips–your yoga practice invites you to have a conversation with yourself.

Good morning, hamstrings! How are you feeling today?

Hello, wrists! What’s your story?

Yoga gives you an opportunity to listen closely to your body as it grows and changes in each moment.

It gives you the chance to find some part of yourself that you might have overlooked yesterday or might never have seen before.

Each pose invites you to unfold into the unknown, to expand into wonder and delight at how your body moves, knowing the next moment will come as it’s meant to come… and the next… and the next.

Each pose reminds you of the flow of time… and lets you step into that flow with grace and ease.

Yoga helps melt away our worries about the future.

It encourages us to delight in what is.

Practice journal: How does yoga help you step into the flow of time? How is time on your mat different from time off your mat? And how does your body feel different depending on your perspective of time? Write: 10 min.



Posted by: Bruce Black | August 1, 2016

A Love of Yoga and Words


What I remember from the years that I worked with my Rodmell Press editor, Linda Cogozzo, who retired a month ago, is her deep and abiding love of books, her gratitude for the miracle of each book and for the miracle of words that found their way to each page.

Her gratitude for the miracle of the text, for the miracle of letters appearing on a page, was almost palpable. Before I ever knew I’d work with her, I’d bought or received copies of some of Rodmell’s titles—Charlotte Bell’s Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life, for instance, or Judith Lasater’s Living Your Yoga—and I remember how opening these books felt as if I were opening works of art.

Her basic publishing philosophy, if I might take the liberty of describing it here, was a reflection of her yoga practice. “It takes as long it takes,” she often said, quoting another remarkable editor, William Shawn, who performed his magic at The New Yorker.

Throughout the book-making process, Linda’s close attention to the smallest details reminded me of the way a master yogi refines a pose. She had an unending desire to get it right, no matter the effort required. The weight and heft of the paper, the texture of the cover stock, the tasteful design, the way the words were set on the page, each letter, it seemed, caressed by Linda’s loving pen.

From the start of our author-editor relationship, she made clear to me that it was my book. But no matter how often she told me this—and as much as I was grateful to her for the respect that she gave me during the editorial process—I always felt the book was ours, hers and mine, throughout the book-making process as well as afterward.

It was a shared experience, much the same way a yoga class is shared by teacher and student. Linda was my teacher, my guide, and she helped me explore the pose of writing, offering encouragement to gain greater clarity, giving suggestions for alternate approaches into the work, helping shape the manuscript in the same way a sensitive yoga teacher might help shape an awkward student’s pose.

Always, she tried to create a book that readers might love as much as she loved the manuscript. I felt it was a gift to watch her work, to see a book begin to take shape in her mind and then come into being in the sets of galleys that we passed back and forth over the months it took to create the book.

She had the gift of being able to envision an entire book from concept to publication and beyond, and she worked with the precision and love of beauty that you’d expect to find in the work of a great artist. Indeed, that’s what made her so special as an editor. She was a remarkable artist, and her creations were the books that she brought into the world each spring and fall.

She was a remarkable yogi, too, who found the balance between letting each book go into the world each season, yet remaining connected to its author (and the book itself) for years after the book’s launch. She wanted to keep the book afloat, alive, and I can’t thank her enough for nurturing my book with that kind of support, and for so long, with the kind of fierce love that only a dedicated editor like Linda knows how to offer.

I wish her well in the days ahead, and I’m sure, when I find myself struggling with a yoga pose on my mat or a particularly gnarly sentence, I’ll remember her voice offering encouragement: It takes as long as it takes.

And I know her words will inspire the same sense of gratitude and love for the miracle of yoga and words that she shared with me from the beginning.

Note: I’m pleased to say, thanks to Linda’s efforts, you can now find my book (Writing Yoga) and other Rodmell titles on Shambala’s list. It’s an honor to be included among Shambala’s many fine works. Here’s a link, if you’d like to check out their offerings:


Posted by: Bruce Black | July 1, 2016

The Miracle of Our Hands

IMG_9247Our hands have the ability to hold a sand dollar that we’ve discovered half-hidden at the edge of the sea or a newborn infant that’s just come into the world.

They help us connect with life, and with each other, in the most intimate of ways.

They play such an important part in our daily lives, yet so often we take them for granted.

When was the last time you noticed your hands as you lifted a glass of water to your lips or used a fork to twirl a long strand of pasta into your mouth?

Or when you embraced a friend or shook a stranger’s hand?

Or when you held onto a subway strap or turned a steering wheel or brushed your teeth?

It’s easy to overlook our bodies when we’re healthy, isn’t it?

And it’s especially easy to overlook parts of our bodies, like our hands, and forget the miracles that they let us perform every day (such as typing this blog post).

Our yoga practice can help us become more aware of our our hands and the large role they play in our lives.

After all, we use our hands in every yoga pose, even if it’s simply pressing our palms together in front of our heart in Anjali Mudra, or using one hand to balance on our mat in a twisting lunge as we lift our free hand into the air.

Imagine a handstand without hands to support you, or a Downward Dog without being able to push against the mat.

Hands, like the rest of our body, are part of the miracle of being human.

Did you know that the human hand has 27 bones?

Fourteen of these bones comprise the fingers—the phalanges (proximal, intermediate, and distal)—which we can use to touch our toes in Standing Forward Bend, or help us balance in Triangle Pose.

The other thirteen bones of the hand comprise the metacarpal bones, which connect the fingers with the wrist, and allow us to rise upside down in Handstand, or push ourselves off the mat in Cobra.

Here’s something else that’s amazing: the thumb alone is governed by nine individual muscles controlled by three major nerves.

That may be astonishing, but even more astonishing is that there are thirty-four muscles that move the fingers and thumb. Seventeen of these can be found in the palm of the hand. The remaining muscles can be found in the forearm.

And that’s just the miracle of muscles and bones. There are also forty-eight named nerves in our hands —three major nerves, twenty-four named sensory branches, and twenty-one named muscular branches.

Our bodies are part of the miracle of nature.

Each time I grasp a cup of coffee, caress my wife’s cheek, or use a keyboard to type, I’m relying on my hands to feel or communicate something.

In each pose I try to remember this. I try to remember how lucky I am to have been given the gift of these hands.

Practice Journal: How does yoga help you become more aware of—and grateful for—the miracle of your body? Write: 10 min.


Posted by: Bruce Black | June 1, 2016

In My Yoga Teacher’s Garden

IMG_8560This giant blossom dropped onto the driveway from one of the flowering trees growing in my yoga teacher’s garden last month.

He bent over to pick it up and held the colorful blossom in his hands so that it reflected the sunlight falling through the upper branches of the trees.

Jaye Martin is as masterful a gardener as he is a yoga teacher, and his entire yard is a garden devoted to flowers and bushes, ferns and trees, a lush world of greenery and colors that can take your breath away.

Often at the start of class, he’ll share stories of working in his garden to set a theme for the class that he’s about to teach.

It’s as if he’s planting us, his students, as if we are flowers that he’s encouraging to bloom while in his care.

For the duration of the class he’ll give us the same care and nurture us with the same gentleness and kindness that he shows his plants.

And somehow, magically, we are no longer his students but plants that he is helping to grow.

When he leads us through a series of sun salutes, he showers us with attention in the same way he might water all his plants, making sure each of us has enough water, enough fertilizer, enough rich earth in which to put down roots.

It’s as if each of us is a plant that he’s noticed and helps to grow with grace and compassion toward the light.

Sometimes during class he will offer a hands-on adjustment, and his hands will help us feel more secure in the pose, more rooted to the earth, as we explore unknown paths that we’ve never traveled before.

His hands hold the flower in this photo with such gentleness, care, and devotion, which are the same qualities that he brings to all of his classes in order to embrace the hearts of his students.

He is the kind of teacher who inspires his students to see themselves as flowers opening to the light.

And with his guidance and care, we can open to new, unfamiliar poses, and we can see each pose filled with possibilities.

By the end of class, we can begin to feel a tiny seed within ourselves, hidden, preparing to emerge into the light, radiant, aglow with the joy of life, ready to enter the world.

Practice Journal: When was the last time you noticed the way a teacher helped nurture you in a challenging pose? How did your teacher share his or her wisdom with you? What qualities might describe his or her teaching style? Write: 10 minutes.





Posted by: Bruce Black | May 1, 2016

Finding Tranquility in Tree Pose

Have you noticed

the variety of trees—


trees that sway and bend,

straight trees,

misshapen trees,

trees with branches

tied in knots,

trees with limbs

as bare and white

as the bones of ghosts?


Tall trees,

short trees,

thick trees,

slim trees,

mighty oaks,

royal palms,

long leaf pines,



just to name a few.


What tree, I wonder,

will you be today

when you lift your leg

off the ground

to balance

in Tree pose?


And will imagining

a tree

in your head

change your pose

on your mat?

And how will

your pose—


a tree—

change you?


Each of us is

a different tree

at different times

of our life—

weeping willow,


sugar maple,






Thanks to yoga,

no matter which tree

we are,

we can still feel

rooted to the earth

and find tranquility

in how we stand

on just one leg,

arms like branches

reaching above

our head,

hands folded

in front of

our heart,

like fragile



to life.


Practice Journal: As you lift your leg in Tree Pose today, are you aware of the trees around you? Tall oaks or swaying palms, flaming maples or budding birches, they can offer you inspiration to find your balance and stability in Tree Pose. What tree will you be today? How might choosing a certain kind of tree alter your perspective of yourself and others? Write: 10 min.


Posted by: Bruce Black | April 1, 2016

The Yoga of Aging

Of all the things in life that are out of my control, one of the hardest to accept is that I’m getting older.

With age comes all sorts of challenges—health challenges and limitations, cultural expectations, negative stereotypes, and a shift in status from working youth to, ultimately (I hope), senior citizen.

I feel lucky to have found through yoga a way of becoming more mindful in my practice, and lately I’ve wondered how to take that mindfulness off my mat so I might live life more fully aware in each moment.

How might I embrace aging gracefully, and can I learn to embrace aging the same way I learned how to embrace a challenging pose on my mat?

So, as a way of challenging myself, I decided to grow a beard.

In the past I’d grown a beard but it lasted only a week or two before it started to itch, the gray hair started to make me feel old, and I eagerly shaved it off.

I guess I’m not the only one who feels older when seeing gray. A good friend admitted a while ago that she dyed her hair black because seeing the gray depressed her. I understood why. But I didn’t want to dye my beard.

What I wanted was to feel this moment in my life, whatever age I might be, as fully and completely as possible. I wanted to live this pose, this age, right now, with the same energy and enthusiasm that I muster when I step into a challenging pose on my mat.

But would I be able to accept my own gray hair without judgment, and with the same equanimity and grace as my teacher, who had recently grown his own gray, bushy beard?

After a week without shaving, I examined the gray stubble reflected in the mirror.

My yoga practice helped me see the gray hairs as neither good nor bad, young nor old. Gray was simply another color of life, a part of living in this moment.

Soon friends began offering opinions. Some suggested the beard made me look distinguished, others thought it made me look like a beach bum. A friend told me that I looked like a professor, another like a hippie radical. One of my neighbors told me I reminded him of a Russian immigrant from Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Another laughed and told me–this was in late December–that I looked like a skinny Santa.

Much to my surprise, many people told me the beard looked becoming, even flattering. One of my fellow yoga students said it made me look rakish. Rakish! No one mentioned it made me look older. That was my issue. When I saw my reflection in a dark window, I thought I saw a 90 year old man.

Part of growing the beard meant learning to accept these opinions as theirs, not mine. The beard was like a Rorschach test in that way.

And then one morning, a few weeks after starting to grow the beard, I happened to notice a painting hanging on my office wall.

It was a portrait that my mother painted from a photograph of her grandfather, my great-grandfather, who had lived in a small village in Poland. The painting shows him wearing a dark brown cap, brown jacket, and a long, thick beard.

I had looked at that same portrait on my office wall every day for years but never really saw it. Now that I had a beard, I noticed my great-grandfather’s beard. What would our portraits look like, I wondered, if I placed them side by side?

So I took a picture, and the comparison stunned me. How similar we looked—similar noses, lips, and eyes!

Unexpectedly, my beard brought me closer to my great-grandfather. Each time I looked in the mirror, or at his portrait, I saw him looking back at me, expanding my vision and connections–to family, to who I think I am, to who I might be and who I might still become.

Since then I’ve shaved off the beard. It’s April in Florida, after all, and the daytime temperature is inching up into the 80s.

With or without the beard, though, I’m still aware of myself as aging, but more willing to accept where I am and how I feel and how much I might be able to do.

That’s because every time I step on my mat, yoga inspires me to accept each moment as it is and to accept myself as I am–with or without a beard, young or old–and to live each moment, fully alive.

Practice Journal: What about you? How do you feel about aging? And how does yoga help you accept getting older as part of life? How does it inspire you to live fully in each moment? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | March 1, 2016

Exploring Limits

“Limitations are inspiring: they lead to thinking, so I don’t mind them.” – Mike Nichols

My yoga practice inspires me to explore and think about limits in new ways.

Each pose, and the limits of that pose, help me better understand and acknowledge what I can and can’t do.

But it’s not just the poses that help me explore limits.

Limits are involved from the very moment that I step on my mat.

The mat, this rectangular piece of rubber, is the limit within which all my yoga happens at first.

Notice how the mat is relatively small compared to the size of the room. It’s a small slice of space, isn’t it?

I’ll stay on the mat for the length of my class or home practice, and for that time I’ll define the limits of my physical space within the dimensions of my mat.

But rather than confine me or shrink my world, the mat offers me the freedom to explore my body in different poses and from different perspectives.

It gives me a point from which I can view my self and those around me.

It lets me go deep into my self because of the safety and security it provides by helping me establish the limits of my own space.

Safety and security.

Two benefits of limits.

I think it offers serenity, too, not by helping me see what I can control (on the mat) or what I can’t control (what happens off my mat or on the other mats in class), but by giving me the ability to recognize the difference.

It gives me the chance to explore the limits of my body—the length of my arms and legs, the strength of my muscles, the ability to bend forward or backward or kneel or twist, the depth of an inhalation or exhalation—in a way that gives me a new knowledge and understanding of my body.

With this new knowledge, this self-knowledge, comes a certain sense of peace, as well as joy.

It’s the joy that comes from stepping on my mat and discovering a new perspective, and a new range of possibilities, in each pose.

Practice journal: How does stepping into the limited space of your mat inspire you to think differently about the limits of your body and your self? Write: 10 min.

A special note of thanks to the yoga teachers-in-training at Yoga Village who inspired these thoughts on limits.

Posted by: Bruce Black | February 1, 2016

Just Words?

This morning I was returning home from a peaceful walk before breakfast when I met one of my neighbors walking her dog.

“What do you think of Trump?” she asked.

“I wish he’d walk off a cliff,” I said, stunned by the words as they came out of my mouth, unable to take them back.

“Oh, I’d never wish death on anyone,” she said, interpreting my words in the most extreme way possible.

Is that what I’d done? 

“I just wish he’d disappear,” I said, already regretting the words that I’d uttered for exactly the reason that my neighbor had given.

But the words had just come out, and I was surprised by how quickly they’d emerged and how my feelings of fear and anger toward this man were so close to the surface. (I imagine others are dealing with similar feelings of fear and anger toward other politicians, as well, not just Trump.)

They’re just words, I tried telling myself as I continued my walk toward home.

They reminded me of the childhood remark my friends and I used to use when we were angry with someone: “I wish he’d take a long walk off a short pier.”

But I’m no longer a child, and they aren’t just words, just as Trump’s lies and fear-mongering racist speeches aren’t just words.

Words have power. They can become walls that imprison us in xenophobia, intolerance, and lies just as quickly as they can help us open doors, reach out in friendship, and spread the truth.

As Trump’s rhetoric grows more and more inflammatory, I believe it’s essential that we speak out against him and his intolerance, as well as against any others who attempt to spread fear and hatred.

Our yoga sages remind us that we must choose our words carefully so that we don’t fall into the trap of becoming intolerant ourselves, of letting our fear and anger overwhelm us as I did earlier this morning (or as I let it overwhelm me years ago as a child).

One way to help us choose what words come out of our mouths is to ask ourselves these three questions before we speak:

Is it true?

Is it kind?

Is it necessary?

In a recent yoga class, my teacher invited us to practice with a sense of peace, something that’s easy to lose these days as the primaries begin, even while taking an early morning walk.

It was this class and my teacher’s lesson that helped remind me this morning that peace is something that we can create.

It’s not just a word but something more–a sense of quiet contentment that we can feel in moments when our lives are in balance.

Peace is always within our reach as long as we choose our words with care, and as long as we treat others with the same compassion and love that we want to be treated with ourselves.

Practice Journal: Have you ever said something that you regretted as soon as the words left your mouth? How does yoga help you become more mindful of your speech… and of the feelings of those with whom you disagree? Write: 10 min.

Posted by: Bruce Black | January 1, 2016

Gifts Bestowed

For many of us, the gifts of our yoga practice extend beyond the mat into our daily lives, into our work and our relationships, into the very essence of our existence.

Each of the poses that we explore day in and day out–whether we find ourselves wobbling, swaying, or firmly rooted to the earth–have the power to remind us of these gifts.

For some of us, it can take years to develop the ability to see how our response to a specific experience in our lives has as its underpinnings in a certain quality that we learned from exploring a specific pose on our mats.

This kind of vision, the kind that lets us see a connection between what happens on our mats and what happens off them, is part of the beauty of yoga, but it doesn’t come the moment we begin our practice.

It can take years to become aware of this cycle of learning, to glean lessons about life from our mats and incorporate these same lessons into the experience of our daily lives, and vice versa, and to see these lessons as gifts.

It can take years to learn how to tap into this ever-present loop of energy, to understand it as a nurturing process that helps us learn and grow physically, mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.

As the years of practice add up, this loop of energy between on-mat and off-mat can become almost tangible, a resource in times of stress and challenges.

And as we begin to perceive the gifts of our lives–the gifts of vision, taste, hearing, smell, and touch–we can learn the pose of gratitude.

We can learn to offer thanks:

For the gift of sight with which we can see the beauty of the world;

For the ability to sit up each morning and get out of bed and walk across the room and go to the bathroom;

For the softness of our mat, the chance to stretch our body in a way that helps us feel better;

For the words of our teachers, and for our ability to hear their words;

For the touch of a partner, a lover a friend;

For the memory and anticipation of love;

For the sweet taste of chocolate or a morning cup of coffee;

For the coolness of a mat beneath our feet on a hot summer day;

For the way our knees bend and the way our spine supports us;

For how our body allows us to walk and bike and drive and climb and make love and sleep;

For the sweet breath that fills our lungs each day when we awake and before we shut our eyes each night;

For life and love and trust and faith;

For the gift of a new year and new beginnings…

For whatever gifts we have that we might have forgotten, let us offer gratitude.

Practice Journal: Make a list of the things in your life that you’re grateful for. Start with the phrase “I’m grateful for the gift of…” Write: 10 min.

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