Roots and Resolutions

2 Jan

The first week of 2011, I found myself zigzagging down the lanes of hillside California homes, descending Mission Ridge into Santa Barbara proper, sun rising red-orange over the far end of the south-facing beach. I could learn to cherish this view if I lived in Santa Barbara, but, of course, this was the idealistic fantasy of the tourist: Living here day in and day out, I’d never be up this early.

I was only doing it today because I was catching a ride downtown with a friend, herself up only to lead a 7 a.m. yoga class – which happened to be located next to my favorite coffee shop, where I could write when not staring dreamily out the window at the Santa Barbara hills, glowing in a thick yellow light of morning.

Full of that new year’s optimism about life changes, I tried replacing the California morning mountains with the dawn view from my bedroom writing table back in Worcester: The sun appearing through the tree limbs, rising above the ridge of the city yard waste facility. (Hey, it’s prettier than it sounds.)

Even as I wrote in my journal that morning, I knew better than to formalize this early rising into a resolution. And a year later, as I looked back this weekend, even my actual resolutions – the usual ones about diet and exercise – fell apart the in the late going, amid the orgy of calorie consumption that is the holiday season. But I still find myself thinking back to that morning, in large part because of a gift last holiday season from my yoga-teaching friend.

That gift was Chakra Deck – a neatly packaged box of 50 cards, seven color-coded cards for each of the seven chakras. Written by Olivia H. Miller and illustrated by Nicole Kaufman, Chakra Deck follows in the tradition of other kits from Chronicle Books, with Yoga Deck and Stretch Deck two of the many.

Coming from a background steeped in not only Christianity but also a journalist’s love for specific, concrete evidence, I don’t know how firmly I believe in the seven chakras, with the rotating wheels of energy that, by definition, are undetectable by the scientific means I usually trust.

But it seems as foolish not to believe –especially when the yoga poses for each of the chakras, and the bodily and mental challenges they address, do make a certain amount of sense.

Especially the first chakra in the deck, the root, which, according to the deck, addressed addictions such as food and drink. While working on the obvious physical goals of all my yoga – strength, balance, and flexibility – focusing on the philosophy that went with the poses made me more aware this past year of the degree to which anxiety and insecurity drives my appetites, which then both pads my waistline and lightens my wallet.

On still deeper levels, I began to see a dichotomy in my daily existence – the cliché of the mind-body split. I tend to revel in abstraction – the dreamier aspects of religion and writing and romance, or even the idealized elegance of designing a class or a panel discussion – at the expense of the mundane daily discipline of running my life in the here and now. Chakra Deck has helped me focus on how the daily routine – the time one takes to tend to these body-spirit connections – is actually one more expression of the imagination.

Self-care does not have to be at odds with inspiration; instead, as Thoreau might say, it can build the foundation under those castles in the air.

How does this relate to this blog, with its concern for stories of service? Let’s just say that this box of cards helps dissolve another dichotomy – that between the individual pursuit of well-being and the need serve others. The truth is that when I live with more respect for the root chakra – transcending the anxieties that sharpen appetites and addictions – I cultivate mental clarity, physical energy, and even fiscal resources; in concrete terms, I have more concentration to give to both an individual student and the course I construct for all students, more energy to put into my work and into my interactions, and more money left over to donate to causes. So as we enter the new year, I hope we can accord resolutions, large or small, the measure of respect they deserve. At their best, such goals not only make us better for ourselves, but for others.

Meanwhile, when my friend came back around to the coffee shop a year ago, she said only one person showed up – meaning that her net pay for rising so early to teach was a whopping $3. But she would’ve done it anyway. Teaching yoga, she explained, was for her, a pastor’s daughter, a form of ministry.

As was, it turned out, giving me that box of cards, which a year later, I work from almost every day – the one resolution I’ve kept.

(You may reach Olivia Miller, author of Chakra Deck and a wide range of other card deck guides, at

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