I've been contemplating what to write today on and off for the whole morning. A little bit ago I sat down to stare at this blank text box thinking inspiration might strike, as it often does if I get quiet enough to let it.
Time passed, and the text box was still blank.
I listened to some music, practiced a little more, and gave myself some time to enjoy watching the big fluffy snow falling outside my office window.
Still, no ideas came. No light bulb moments.
I got another cup of coffee and ticked off a few of the to-dos on my Monday list.
So far, this is proving to be a very average Monday. Not completely uninspired, but not overflowing with inspiration. My practice today has been satisfying, but not necessarily amazing, my meditation was its usual amount of distracted, The coffee tastes good, and I genuinely love the snowy view I have from my space.
I won't leave the house today since my lessons continue to be online and I'm still staying home as much as possible (where is there to go, anyway?). But, home is nice. My cats are here and they are excellent company. Later, after I teach some really great students, I'll make dinner with my husband and read.
So, we have to face the facts. Today is Monday. It's an average day. It's not bad by any stretch of the imagination, and it's also not a day I will make a groundbreaking career advance or share something that gets me an astronomical amount of likes on social media (as far as I know).
Today I will do the things I know help me improve at my work. I will meditate, practice, and plan. I will interact with, and hopefully help, my students. I will talk to people I love and do things I love.
We are conditioned to look for monumental moments to share, accomplishments and knowledge to push out to the world every single day that say we are successful, important, beautiful, and relevant.
We are all those things, but in our own way because we are also human.
I am important in my own life, but not to everyone. I am successful in some ways, but not by everyone's definition. I would like to think that we all add something beautiful to life, but it's possible not everyone will see your beauty.
So for today, it's ok that I won't have a genius idea to share, a monumental break-through in my flute playing, or a post that goes viral. It's ok if I don't convince someone who didn't know who I was or who didn't like me that I am actually awesome.
Today I will make music, even if I do it alone. I'll turn air into sound and help my students do the same. I will meditate, drink coffee and hang out with my cats. I will probably do some yoga. I will spend time writing out snippets of ideas and inspirations that may turn into a monumental project later, but not today.
When the world was busier, it was easy to forget that this is actually life. I certainly forgot that it's often these quiet in between moments that get us ready for the next thing, and that remind us it is what's closest to us that matters.
As I gain more experience in my music career (read: as I get older), I’m realizing that feeling successful has very little to do with what we accomplish or what is recognized by other people.
If I reflect on the various times I have felt the most satisfied with my work, it’s when I've made steady progress toward a worthwhile goal or when I've regularly created with intention. Those two things may sound inspired, but they’re often not.
It’s not the quality of daily progress or the value of your daily creations that produces the satisfaction, but the act of doing on a regular basis.
We have all experienced performances where we’ve been totally “in the zone” as well as practice sessions that feel like we are uninspired and banging our head against the wall. And yet we keep coming back to the art, to our practice.
Because we know deep down that the real satisfaction is in the making - in working through the ruts and the imperfections and coming out a little bit better.
The satisfaction in a creative career is not actually succeeding, but creating regularly with intention in a genuine way.
Realizing this is where we start to get to the magic.
Routine Inspired: Getting it done in spite of yourself
I was moved to action after reading Deep Work by Cal Newport and Essentialism by Greg McKeown. Both books were excellent from cover to cover but, coming off of a year (or two) of feeling relatively uninspired and mostly stuck, there were two main ideas that basically jumped off the page and hit me over the head.
Newport’s whole book focuses on the value of deep work (uninterrupted, undistracted time spent focusing on a cognitively demanding task), and he gives concrete advice on what we can do to make it fit into our lives.
Obviously as a musician or disciplined creative you are no stranger to deep work, but how often do you allow your phone to pull you away from a practice session or put off practicing for something that could wait, like answering emails? Newport stresses making time for deep work each day and tracking it somewhere you can see it.
Essentialism by Greg McKeown focuses on being more selective about what we deem worthy of our valuable time, sacrificing what is good for what’s great, and choosing to focus our efforts toward what we deem essential.
These two concepts together have the potential to completely shift what we can achieve in our day to day life as creatives by implementing routine, something that McKeown stresses is a must, and pairing it with Newport’s suggestion to track yourself doing the deep work.
“Routine is one of the most powerful tools for removing obstacles. Without routine, the pull of nonessential distractions will overpower us. But if we create a routine that enshrines the essentials, we will begin to execute them on autopilot.” - Greg McKeown
After reading these books I considered, did I have a daily routine? What did it look like? Had I actively and consciously chosen what was included in it?
The answer was that while I had things I did each day, there was not a lot of intention behind what was essential and I was, in fact, getting pulled in a million directions all the time. So I let myself daydream a little bit - what would I do every day if I could choose to focus on what was absolutely essential? What might that look like in a morning routine?
All that daydreaming made me realize that the only thing stopping me from doing deep work and what was essential every day was me. It was my lack of planning and intention that was leaving me in a creative rut feeling lost and rudderless.
Putting it into practice
I proceeded to make a morning routine with a focus on what I know needs to happen for me to focus on my essentials: being a good musician, feeling balanced and being creative. During this routine my laptop stays closed, and my phone is on silent somewhere I can’t see the screen.
It looks roughly like this:
Some days I’ll flip writing and yoga, and you’ll notice this is not militaristically timed. It does leave me a small window to answer emails, but not until I have done the most essential tasks with uninterrupted attention.
Starting my day this way means I don’t get conned into sacrificing something non-negotiable for something that needs done “immediately.”
I don't keep this routine on the weekends. Instead I fit these things in at whatever point they make sense (or leave them out if they don't). Having done these tasks so deliberately during the week, I can afford to be flexible on the weekends when I might have other things I want to do, like hang out with my husband, run errands, or read more.
You may think this all seems obvious, but the difference is that I am truly treating my morning routine (as inspired by Essentialism) as the deep work that Cal Newport discusses. I allow myself to fully engage in the tasks at hand, and therefore can tackle creative challenges in a way that stretches my abilities each day.
Although I wasn’t taking on any remarkably new and earth shattering tasks, giving new attention and priority to my routine created a significant and noticeable difference in less than a month:
1. Clearing mental clutter: Having a routine in place that I follow without having to figure it out each morning frees up mental space. I know that once I’ve had my coffee I will meditate, and that once I do that I will practice. It’s not up to how tired or awake I feel - each task gets done because it's part of the routine. (Think of the famous anecdote about successful people like Steve Jobs owing seven of the same outfit so they don’t have to think about what they wear each day).
2. Create more by default: I was writing more blogs, creating more resources for teaching, learning more music, etc. All of that was without any herculean effort on my part, only that I made sure there was time to do these things each day.
Generating more output automatically helps us feel more successful as creatives. Whether we’re making a defining element of our work or not, we are exploring our potential and making.
3. Reduce internet "faffing" and self judgement: Another massive benefit of this routine is the way it has reduced my internet scrolling and browsing in the morning. I intentionally read a few daily blogs that I love and may or may not shuffle through a few friends posts before it’s time to start the routine. I spend so much less energy on wondering why I’m not accomplishing what other people are and spend it figuring out what I can create on any given day instead.
Have I have measurable success since I started this morning routine? Maybe it depends on what lens you are viewing things through, but I feel productive, inspired, and creative and I would call that a win for routine.
Give it a try
I hope this inspires you to implement your own routine by considering what is essential to you and how much deep work you are really doing (I’d also encourage you to read the books I listed above!). If you want to give it a shot, I’ve found it helpful and motivating to see my dedication in writing.
You’ll find a free download here of a routine tracker that you can use to tally the days you do deep work/stick to your routine. Tape it up somewhere you’ll see it each day when you begin your routine.
It takes time for things to sink in - this is a monthly tracker for a reason, so give it time. It’s also great to evaluate at the end of each month. What positive outcomes did you have? What’s not lining up with your essentials? Just because something is essential to us now, doesn’t mean that won’t fade with time and that's ok.
Establishing this type of routine has given me a tangible way to grow that has nothing to do with my perception of success or my feelings of self confidence.
No matter how good or bad I feel about myself on a given day, how inspired or uninspired I am, the routine isn’t about creative genius or accomplishment. It’s about investing in what I value, and I can always get on board with that.
We've all heard the saying "practice makes perfect."
I can't stand it.
We are as familiar with the concept that perfect doesn't exist as we are with that age old saying.
No matter how good we get - there is always something that can be better, always something left to tweak, adjust, improve..
So if we're not striving for perfection, what are we doing when we practice? What are we aiming for?
We are exploring the expression of imperfection.
Every time we practice, we are striving for a different type of imperfection - one that serves us better than the previous version.
As we develop our musical abilities we make large and small changes to the habits we have created. Sometimes we are trying to adjust the direction our air travels by the slightest amount, sometimes we are taking on a more monumental task like changing our embouchure.
Over the course of our long musical journey we may change those things again at a later time, and then again after that. They're never perfect. Rather, they serve us better each time we make an adjustment.
I once took a week long class with Thomas Robertello, who is an extremely logical and systematic teacher, and this topic came up. His comment shaped my view about this idea of perfection and mistakes in a very impactful way. Someone who was performing in the class bemoaned how poorly they did something and how it held them back. Robertello's response was that at one time that method, that way of doing things, was their best. Just because it wasn't anymore didn't make it or them bad.
At some point as we grow, our imperfections shift and change. We leave behind what used to be difficult or impossible for a new difficult or impossible. We don't need to berate or judge ourselves for the old way of doing things - we were simply working with the resources we had. Instead, we can focus on exploring our new knowledge and skills.
Taking this mindset in practice is mentally freeing. It allows us to release judgement of previous mistakes and "imperfections" so we can focus on attainable goals that lead us to better expression of our true abilities.
Many of us have or have had the mindset that we are practicing to make something perfect, when in reality we are practicing to make ourselves able to consistently display our current best.
Instead of zeroing in on perfection in practice, we should be exploring what is not serving our playing and focus on developing those habits to better express our true ability.
We will never be perfect. No one will be. But we can develop our skills and continually work to display a truer picture of them.
Trying new things in practice, a willingness to explore our focus and method, and digging in to why a certain "mistake" or "bad habit" resurfaces is where we improve.
Mistakes and difficulties are where we grow and a curiosity of them is the catalyst for that growth.
Our overarching goal in music making is not the absence of mistakes, but playing intentionally and thoughtfully so that we can share our music. Mistakes will happen because we are human and not perfect, but by exploring imperfection we can release our focus on mistakes while developing and expressing our abilities.
What you accomplish in practice depends completely on your mindset and objectives. The next time you practice, instead of focusing on the need to make a passage perfect, focus on what's not serving you and how it can be embraced as a tool for improvement.
It's not uncommon to see everyone looking for some kind of quick fix.
Don't we all want to feel more rested without having to actually give up more hours to sleep, be fitter without having to exercise more, or be better at something without having to sacrifice hours and hours a day?
Fast food, food delivery services, Cliff Notes....all kinds of things around us tell us that we can be better for almost little or no effort.
I'm not buying it.
If you are a musician at any level, you may already know (or at least suspect) that there is no replacement for putting it in the work. One of my teachers growing up called it "woodshedding" (I actually still use this term a lot - I like it's meaning, but I also like it because it makes my students look at me like I have two heads.)
Basically, if you want to get something tough done, you've got to take it out to the "shed" (somewhere you're by yourself), make a mess, and get it done.
Still, we often take shortcuts without even realizing it, and I would argue it's because they are prevalent in our culture. We don't exactly value you things that require us to be there for the long haul before we see results.
In teaching, I find this is something that I really have to show my students. Most of us are impatient in some way, but they are growing up in an impatient era. So we often do the work together - our "woodshedding" is communal. I think that they need to really experience the positive outcomes of doing the work to be willing to do it in their own practice time.
In my own practice, I sometimes have to remind myself that if I stop checking my email or thinking about that meeting I have tomorrow and just spend the half hour or hour I need on a technical piece with the metronome, all of my subsequent practice will be better, more productive and progress more quickly.
A side note here: I'm not talking about spending hours and hours aimlessly. What I'm talking about is slowing down and taking the time necessary for intentional practice and practice methods.
I was reminded of this while working on a piece this week that has a lot of scale patterns in unusual modes - they were both not in my fingers or in my ears, and the only way to get them there was to woodshed. I took the tempo WAY down (by half!), worked in small groups, then slightly larger groups, then just slightly quicker in small groups and then slightly larger groups, and so on.
Two days later, I can hear where the piece is going and it lays well in my fingers. Had I not done that tedious work I would still be banging my head against the stand trying to go fast, learning a bunch of bad habits, and not making any real progress. (Admittedly, I made most of the progress on the second day - things take time to sink in, even when we do it right!)
In the world of auto-tune, filters, fast food and endless distractions, sometimes we all need the reminder that: There is no substitute for doing the work with intention.
My teacher, Jean Ferrandis, said this to us all the time.
Stay on you. Be on you. On you.
There was a lot of meaning behind those small words. He was conveying many of the complex aspects of making music.
Stay true to yourself. There's no need to try too hard, to try SO hard. Physically, be present to yourself and stay in a neutral posture. Be in the moment.
Like many advanced aspects of making music, staying "on you" requires physical and mental aptitude, sharpened and precise physical and mental skills. It also requires you to stay neutral and to be in the moment.
It took me a long time to fully understand this concept, and even longer to begin to integrate it so that I could, sometimes, stay on me when I was playing the flute. (Until I became distracted or started trying way too hard again).
Not surprisingly, although eventually I was able to understand and begin embodying this instruction, as I've matured and continued to grow as a musician I have found new meaning and new layers to staying on me.
This concept is mental - it asks us to create a very detailed and clear picture of what the music is going to do, exactly how it will sound, and where it is headed. It is in many ways, an advanced visualization exercise. You must spend the time and effort to know what you want from the music and how you will sound when you play it. Then, to fully execute this visualization you must continue to think ahead as you are playing - what is coming next? How will it sound?
*You can try this as a long tone exercise.:
Doing this well takes a lot of mental training. To be able to be in the moment and ahead of it is not necessarily an inherent skill.
This concept of remaining on you is also physical - it asks us to stay neutral in our stance, in our posture, and in the way we hold our instrument. Have you ever really watched a classical musician prepare to play? Many take a lot of extra and unnecessary movements which ultimately create a lot of tension. Even more take an aggressive forward stance or shift their weight so it becomes uneven. It's almost like we're preparing for a fight.
*You can experiment with this in a simple way:
Both of these exercises bring us much closer to staying on ourselves as we play, in mindset and in the physicality of playing. This is how I began to understand Jean's instruction.
The other meaning he intended was to encourage us to use our own voice - to not only imitate or feel pressured to be or sound like anyone else.
But, I don't think that this instruction stops after these three major points. As I mentioned, I continue to find ways to explore this concept.
One of the great things about playing an instrument is the way we can tie it in to other interests we have, or that we can bring outside interests into our music and practice. An obvious example for me is my interest in yoga and meditation. There are unending ways I can use what I am learning about these pursuits in my flute playing.
Recently, I was doing a guided meditation where the teacher emphasized that it's important to make sure that you are truly feeling physical sensations, not just thinking about them.
How often do we do this playing our instruments? I know that, personally, I overanalyze many of the physical aspects of playing, even the ones that I have practiced into subconscious ability. I'm sure that my brain is in overdrive when I perform and practice in many unnecessary ways.
Think about your own practice:
Often, by trusting ourselves and immersing ourself in the sensations we can find solutions to our problems, become more fluid, or create a better phrase. There are many applications of this approach.
Staying on you when you play your instrument asks a lot of you. It asks you to stay mentally engaged in the current moment, to visualize in detail what is coming, to physically remain neutral, not overexert in mind or action, and yet to stay engaged in the physical sensation of what you are doing.
Listed like this, these concepts can seem complex and daunting. However, when you break them down you'll find that by staying on you you are simplifying your actions and pulling away layers of unnecessary habits you have built as you tried to be a better musician. There's nothing wrong with what you did previously, but maybe those habits are not serving you anymore.
The only way to truly share your music is to be on you.
"Quality over quantity."
I grew up hearing my mom say this often throughout my life. It's ingrained as part of my perspective on the world, but I feel whole heartedly about the value of this approach to many aspects of life.
Over the past year, so many things have become available online. Even more than we had prior to the pandemic - which was still a LOT of information that you could access from anywhere. I think music and music education could benefit tremendously from this transition - imagine accessing whoever has the skills you seek no matter where you or they live! Through this push to move online, I've seen many musicians take different approaches to marketing themselves and their skills.
You may have already noticed the typical "format" that is used for online marketing. Some snazzy looking instagram posts, a website, and some generic text about the value of the product or offering. Over the past year, a lot of companies have included their social, moral, and ethical causes in effective and not so effective ways. You may have noticed marketing on every digital platform that is both compelling and genuine, and overwhelming and insincere.
Like when we meet people in real life, we make judgements based on our impression of a person or product. Sometimes those judgements are wrong, but you can usually trust your gut if you think someone is being untruthful or if something just doesn't "seem right."
When more and more musicians began expanding their online presence as things shut down in 2020, this was very much the case. You could tell if something special was being offered, or if the person sharing it seemed on the level.
But there's another layer in between legitimate, high quality educational or performance offerings, and offerings that look amazing and don't live up to the hype. In between these two rungs on the ladder is what's offered because people would rather share something than nothing. A lot of the internet falls on this middle rung, in my opinion.
This is what makes me wonder. Is sharing something always better?
This is not just a question for musicians. This is a question for all of us who share on social media as the digital face of a business, and also as humans.
Let's say you are a chef with a large following online - sharing your morning breakfast and coffee routines is probably pretty interesting to those who follow you. It's also relevant to your business and gives insight into how someone with a lot of knowledge in their field is using it in their personal life.
But, let's say this same chef starts sharing bits and pieces of their personal life, maybe no-makeup selfies and personal clutter. Is this interesting in a human interest kind of way? Yes, maybe to some. It might make them more relatable, but does it really add quality to their mission? Not that I can see. From my perspective, this adds to the clutter online. It's just one more thing we can use to distract ourselves. Now, instead of only checking this chef's Instagram account for new recipes, I find myself watching ten minutes of archived stories about skin care.
My point with this example is that while some people do find more information and sharing more interesting, I don't think it's helping us. (I have certainly fallen guilty to wasting a lot of time on this kind of content - I am human, after all).
I don't think that selling basic skills like they are unique and ground breaking is helping us, either. Of course you need to market what you are good at in a genuine way, and you should be good at the fundamentals of what you do (a lot of my studio's success is because I am good at teaching the basics, and that is a worthwhile and marketable skill without trying to display it as something it's not!).
I'm also not suggesting that we don't share anything fun. You should be yourself. Love to meditate? (I do!) Maybe you love video games or reading. Or, you're training for a half marathon and love the enneagram. You can share the things that make you you in a meaningful way, and to some extent you should. It will help you connect with like minded people and project who you are and what you value at your core
What I am suggesting is that we share thoughtfully. That we share genuinely what our real skills are for their intrinsic value without overplaying them, and without cluttering those genuine skills and interests with a lot of noise just because we can.
Maybe this means you post a little less, but when you do I bet it will be really good, really worthwhile for those who read it, and way more appealing because the value will be evident to your audience (however big or small).
That's quality over quantity, and quality is how I believe we make an impact.
How often do you catch yourself overthinking things?
Do you ever find yourself lost in thoughts about what happened last night or last year? Maybe about what will happen next year?
Perhaps you start practicing and are suddenly lost in thoughts of that wrong note you played in a performance two years ago, or you're wondering what your income will be like this year and how the job market will look when the pandemic begins to subside? Maybe you're just thinking about that hair that's always completely out of place.
The examples above are valid and also distracting in different ways. It's certainly not uncommon to get lost in thinking about the bigger picture.
There are a million ways we can distract ourselves: overthinking something from the past, obsessing over things that haven't happened yet, focusing on things that are actually inconsequential, or telling ourselves what a terrible job we have done, are doing or will do. These are just a few that I may, or may not, have some personal experience with.
What has helped me tremendously with overactive and critical thoughts is mindfulness meditation.
I don't mean that meditating has stopped the ridiculous banter that can happen in my subconscious. I'm not actually sure it is possible to stop that. Rather, meditating has shown me a new perspective on my tendency to overthink and overcomplicate my day to day life.
The reality is, most of us end up in this chaotic mind state without even realizing we have let these thoughts run rampant.
What mindfulness meditation tells us is that we have a choice about how to react when we have these feelings or distracting thought patterns.
You may not notice right away that your mind has wandered, or that it's taken you down another rabbit hole of dissecting one of your self labeled flaws, but at some point you will notice.
That moment of noticing is the magic moment! When you notice you are telling yourself stories or being exceptionally hard on yourself, or even that you are simply distracted, you acknowledge that it's happening. Notice what it feels like physically and mentally. Then, send those thoughts on their way by beginning the task at hand again.
In mindfulness meditation, the goal is usually to focus on the breath. Or, that's the assumed goal. The real objective is to notice when your mind has wandered and bring yourself back to focusing on the breath.
The intention is to see your thoughts and patterns of thought as passing events. You didn't actively call upon them or set out to derail your warmup, meditation session, or performance, but once you notice that it's happening you can move on.
It's ok to also acknowledge anything helpful coming from these thoughts. In fact, it's encouraged. Can you learn anything useful from how you've distracted yourself? If you can, great, keep the material you can use. If you can't, also great, then it becomes even easier to let those thoughts go.
Here's an example of how this could play out in a regular activity, let's say, beginning your first practice session or warm-up of the day:
The real magic of mindfulness meditation is the awareness of what happens in our subconscious, and that's what I think translates so well to life, and especially life for a musician.
Give it a shot the next time you notice yourself thinking about that note that happened two lines ago or about all the reasons you shouldn't start practicing. Be aware that your subconscious has taken you on a little side trip and then do your best bring yourself back.
It's important to note that we will need to do this again and again, thousands and thousands of times. But like our muscles we train through regular practice, the more you exercise this ability, the stronger it becomes.
Thoughts and feelings are not truths, rather, they're events that we can choose to participate in or not.
How do you start practicing?
Quite literally, what are your actions as you begin a practice session?
Do you whip the case open, throw your instrument together and hurriedly begin your scales only to stop thirty seconds later when your phone dings with a text message or email notification?
Are you still thinking about what your friend said between classes or that test that didn't go very well?
Maybe you're working your way through all the major keys in a technical exercise, stop, and then can't remember which key you were on (full confession - this is what I struggle with!).
You get the idea - it can be difficult to turn off external and internal distractions, and we all know that there are endless amounts of them.
If we want to have productive and satisfying practice, we have to consider how we begin.
It's not always fun to set boundaries or use discipline to create structure, but if we are willing to do it we feel calmer and more satisfied within ourselves, and less attached to the external validation that distracts us.
Consider the first note you play in a practice session. How do you get there? Most of us immediately place the instrument to our face after we put it together and start blowing. It can take forever to feel like we're warmed up and in the moment, and by then our practice time might be up.
Alternatively, imagine how much more focused, more satisfying, and more productive your practice might be if you don't move instantly from taking your instrument out of it's case to playing scales as fast as possible like a technique maniac.
Taking even a few seconds to focus inward before beginning lets us practice with intention.
Here are some ways you can set the tone for focused practice:
This may look like a lot of steps, but the whole list together takes around 2 - 5 minutes.
By giving yourself the time to quiet the space around you and connect with yourself and your goals, you will save you much more than 5 minutes in distracted practice.
Give it a try - what do you notice as the biggest benefit of intentional practice?
"So many books, so little time." - Frank Zappa
I have loved to read since I was little, and while that interest waned a little bit when I was in school (required reading sometimes puts a damper on fun), reading is one of the great joys of my life.
I have been pretty consistent in my reading habit for the last few years, but with a lot of extra time on my hands last year and a desire to not watch the news 24/7, I kicked things into high gear. In the process, I realized how much time I could waste faffing on stupid websites, social media, etc., and how many books I could read if I was more attentive to how I was spending my time.
(Although, sometimes you just want to play Words With Friends, and that's ok!)
I use Goodreads to track what I read and it gives you a great summary at the end of the year showing all your books. (This is also a very satisfying way to celebrate yourself for reading!) After 21,051 pages in 2020, here are my top picks:
The Mindful Athlete by George Mumford
This book is one I know that I will visit over and over. I read this before I started meditating regularly, and I can't wait to read it again now that I have built a meditation habit. This book is a must for anyone with a high stakes job (like musicians!).
Deep Work by Cal Newport
I read several of Newport's books last year, and they all really make you stop and evaluate the things you do without thinking. This one focused on the deep satisfaction of craftsmanship and the benefits of learning to focus and limit distractions (not something that is exactly encouraged in our current culture). I also have to give an honorable mention to Newport's book Digital Minimalism. Like Deep Work, it encourages us to consider that what is common is not necessarily best, and that we should exercise our discerning mind rather than blindly accepting the norm.
Devil in the White City by Erik Larson
I love reading about history, and basically inhaled all of Larson's books last year. They are written like fiction, weaving you through the stories of a chosen few individuals, but provide the broader context to understand what was happening in the world during events like Hitler's rise to power and the creation of the cross-Atlantic telegraph. Devil in the White City was my favorite, but they're all worth reading.
Maybe you Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
This book gives you a glimpse of what therapy is really like, and the ways in which therapists are also human. It's an endearing approach and pulls some of the stigma out of therapy. Gottlieb shares about herself and about different types of clients, and there is someone or some struggle in this book that each of us can relate to.
10% Happier by Dan Harris
This is the book that convinced me to just try meditating. It's a very down to earth approach about the ways meditation can help us, even though most of us won't achieve enlightenment. I can't recommend the app by the same name (Ten Percent) enough. Meditation is changing my life.
The Practice by Seth Godin
I have talked about Seth Godin's daily blogs before. I love the way he pulls information down into small, digestible, actionable thoughts. This book reads like one of his blogs with lots of very small chapters, but is an absolute MUST for creatives. After reading this on my Kindle, I plan to order a paper copy so I can go to town with sticky tabs and a highlighter!
The Henna Artist by Alka Joshi
My favorite type of reading to indulge in is fiction (usually with a tinge of history or fantasy), and this book was such a vivid read. The characters were realistic and easy to picture, and I loved the glimpse it provided into Indian culture, especially given my deep dive into yoga this year.
The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab
V. E. Schwab's books are amazing. She writes intricate and beautifully detailed plots and characters, and I love the way she uses language. I couldn't wait to read this book, and it didn't disappoint. The characters are exquisite and the story is both uplifting and heartbreaking. I actually lost my sense of time reading the end of this book and spent an unplanned hour in tears as the story resolved itself. Who doesn't want to read a story you can completely lose yourself in?
There were a few books I read last year that I didn't like at all, but even those were time well spent. I'm already excited about the books I'll read this year and the time they will help me spend not faffing around on social media! All the books below have links if you want to read more about them or the authors. Happy reading!
P.S. Leave a comment with some books you love - I'm always looking for more to read!
The chakra system originated in India around 1000 or 1500 BC. Chakra means "wheel" in Sanskrit, and refers to the energy points in the body. There are seven main chakras that run the length of the spine and work together when they are balanced..
In yoga, you can address the chakras through asana (physical poses). Considering the different chakras is also a great way to figure out where you might be overexerting in your life, or perhaps to find the things you are avoiding or bad habits you have developed.
In the yoga teacher training I'm completing, our training weekends are organized by the chakras. We learn what each chakra represents, how it communicates with the other chakras, what sense and element are related to it, and what asana can help balance it.
Just before the holidays, we met for training based on the second chakra - "svadisthana" meaning the self dwelling place where our being is established, or the sacral chakra. The element of the second chakra is water, and it's right is the right to feel and enjoy without guilt.
As you might expect, since the element is water, we discussed how water moves, its characteristics, and it's tendencies. Water can flow gently or violently, it can be a drip or a destructive current. It can create and destroy, depending on its intensity.
The other interesting aspect of this for me was the concept of our right to feel and enjoy. How often have you (or I) limited our enjoyment of something because we were distracted by the need to do even better, be even more successful, or have even more of something?
Shortly after that training weekend I took a class with a friend and we spent time together after class discussing my goals for learning about yoga and teaching it, as well as talking through questions and concerns I have about teaching.
I mentioned that I have always struggled with perfectionism. It has always been difficult for me to take the leap into doing something new if I don't feel like it's exactly right or completely ready. I have grappled with a lot of these issues in my music career, but yoga teacher training has brought many of these issues back to the surface.
Participating in this training is the first time in a long time I am learning something completely new and then very quickly translating that new information into action. I'm grateful for the ways it has brought my struggles with perfectionism and my tendency to hesitate to light.
By considering my habits through the lens of yoga , especially using the chakras, Ive also been able to develop new tools for feeling grounded, and for keeping myself moving.
When talking through this with my friend, she suggested a good mantra for me might be to "flow like water," and it was like a light bulb went off.
After a lifetime of restricting myself because I want things to be "just right," and limiting so much creativity that might occur in the moment, I realized that exactly what I need is to be fluid.
To be open to possibility.
So, it seemed that my word of the year is obvious: fluid!