What I’m writing: November 2014

These are stories I wrote that were published this month.

Balancing Act: Yoga Essays

balancing actCarla Jean Whitley dwelled primarily in the world of her mind–and she was OK with that. That is, until she turned 30. The bookish Carla Jean recognized that finding some physical movement was the best way to keep her body, and therefore her mind, intact for the long term.
She found the answer in yoga.
Carla Jean came to yoga because of those physical issues, but fell in love with it because of its mental and emotional effects. After falling head over feet for yoga, she quickly became a yogavangelist, telling everyone who would listen about the practice’s powerful benefits. This slim collection of essays recounts her journey from yoga newbie to certified yoga instructor. Buy “Balancing Act: Yoga Essays” at smashwords.com or your favorite ebook retailer. Sign up for either of my enewsletters at right for a coupon code.

Second Avenue North offers many dining options

As this dsecond aveowntown street has transitioned from revitalization mode to a loft-district favorite, a variety of eateries draw patrons back time and again. Read more “Second Avenue North offers many dining options” at bhammag.com.


LIVE CHAT: Discuss local shops and their buyers with writer Laurel Mills

buyersThe holiday shopping season is upon us, but those who purchase items for area stores completed their shopping months ago. In the November issue of Birmingham magazine, writer Laurel Mills interviews three of those buyers to learn about their responsibilities and how they determine what the hot items will be each season.  Read more “Live Chat” at bhammag.com.

LIVE CHAT: Recipe developer and photographer Melina Hammer shares cooking tips

autumn picnicMelina Hammer draws inspiration from the seasons, and that’s clear in “An Autumn Picnic,” the cover story she produced for the November issue of Birmingham magazine. Join Melina, a recipe developer and photographer, for a live chat today from 1 to 1:30 p.m. She’ll answer your questions about her inspiration, favorite seasonal cooking tips and more. Read more “Live Chat” at bhammag.com.

Treat Us Like Dogs, and We Will Become Wolves: Investigating a curious collective 

chuteThe Settlement is a community of about 100 people who live outside of the view of the rest of America, tucked away on a patch of land near Egypt, Maine. This curious collective, the focus of Carolyn Chute’s latest novel,Treat Us Like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves, is not altogether unlike the one inhabited by Chute herself. The author and her husband live off the grid in Parsonfield, Maine, where they run the 2nd Maine Militia and rely on the community around them for sustenance. Read more “Treat Us Like Dogs, and We Will Become Wolves” at bookpage.com.

4 Blog Post Ideas to Hold Your Fans’ Attention

laptop-headphones-liThe musician’s life isn’t always glamorous. But the average fan doesn’t have an understanding of what that life is really like – and they’re often eager to find out. Sharing your story byblogging can help build a lasting fan relationship. None of this has to be complex; a few good sentences or a photo that offers insight into who you are and what you’re doing will keep your fans interested whether or not you’re releasing new materialRead more “4 Blog Post Ideas to Hold Your Fans’ Attention” at sonicbids.com.

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“Balancing Act: Yoga Essays” is now available for purchase

IMG_6503Writing has always been my passion, and in yoga I’ve found a perfect counterbalance. It takes me out of the rat race of my mind and the to-do lists that so often dictate my days. Yoga also addresses many of the physical issues common among those of us who spend hours each day hunched over a computer. I suspect my yoga practice will continue to influence my career for decades to come.

It’s natural, then, that I’ve documented my yoga journey through the written word. Those columns are now available as an ebook, “Balancing Act: Yoga Essays.” This short collection traces my journey from yoga newbie to yoga teacher. It’s available for virtually all ebook platforms for $2.99 through Smashwords.com, and will soon roll out to other retailers as well.

I’m excited to share this with you. The journey has only just begun.

FAQs (or what I imagine would be FAQs if I didn’t go ahead and answer them)

Q: How long is the book? 

A: It’s 9,060 words, or 54 pages on my Kobo Mini. Your ereader will likely be different.

Q: Will it work on my Kindle?

A: Yes, there’s an option for that (download the mobi version of the file). The book will not be available through Amazon, but it is totally Kindle compatible.

Q: Why did you decide to publish an ebook?

A: Well, why not? The publishing industry is rapidly changing–I’m sure that’s not news to you–and this project allowed me to familiarize myself with another aspect of the industry.

Q: Did you pay Smashwords to do this? Was it hard? Did it take a long time?

A: No, Smashwords’ deal is they get a percentage of all sales. (The division is favored heavily toward the author, in case you wondered.) Since I had already written each of these essays, all I had to do was format the document per Smashwords’ stipulations and design a cover. That took about three hours, all told.

Q: So wait a second–this is stuff that has already been published as blog entries. Can’t I read these essays free on your website?

A: Of course you can. They’re not going anywhere. This is merely another option if you prefer ebooks or to read these as a collection, rather than interspersed through a great many other entries here.

Q: Can I get a coupon?

A: Actually, yes. Through Jan. 1, sign up for either of my enewsletters and you’ll receive a coupon code for 33 percent off the ebook. You can sign up for the books newsletter here, and the yoga newsletter here.

Q: Can I get a coupon for “Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music” instead?

A: I’m sorry, but no. That’s determined by my publisher and individual retailers.

Q: Well, is it at least available as an ebook?

A: Yes indeed! You can buy it from your ebook retailer of choice.

Q: Roll tide?

A: Roll tide. And go Seminoles.

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“You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.”

Sacred Glow Yoga's class of 2014

Sacred Glow Yoga’s class of 2014

On Nov. 16, I graduated from Sacred Glow Yoga’s 200-hour teacher training program. I’m now a certified yoga teacher, registered with Yoga Alliance and excited to help you find your way on your mat! The nine-month-long training includes writing a number of papers, which I’ve posted here because, well, that’s what I do. The final writing assignment was to reflect on the experience as a whole. 

I’m rarely at a loss for words, but I don’t know how to reflect on the nine-month period that has encapsulated yoga teacher training. My head spins when I try to recall the amount of information we’ve covered in these 200 hours, as well as the knowledge imparted from assigned reading and practice teaching. And of course, daily life has continued throughout this training.

That’s probably the most significant thing I’m taking from this experience: deeper knowledge of how my time on the mat affects everything else in life. I’ve learned how much I struggle with discipline as I try to build a regular home practice, and I see that pop up as well when I’m faced with a task that I’m less than enthused by. I’ve finally learned what the SI joint and sacrum are, and I now find myself regularly moving through not only a lengthening axial wave, but also a Y wave to relieve stress on those areas. I have a better understanding of my body (and the tight hamstrings that limit me so!), and through that I’m better able to offer others grace in their practices.

I’ve worked for years to establish boundaries, saying no when I need to and recognizing how much energy I have to offer other people and obligations. But this training has also helped me in saying yes. I’ve been challenged to recognize my strengths, and to define myself by those rather than my weaknesses. I am capable of so many things, and there’s nothing to be gained in denying that.

But most of all, I’ve realized how much I still have to learn. Whether it’s chakras or anatomy, developing a deeper understanding of yoga has introduced me to concepts and knowledge that I don’t always find easy to grasp. As I begin to live out these lessons as a teacher and guide others through them, I hope to continue reading, studying and increasing my understanding of this physical, spiritual, mental practice that has had such an effect on my daily life.

The journey has only just begun.

Join me for the next step Sunday, when I’ll lead a free, public class at Lululemon. The hour-long class begins at 6 p.m.

Today’s subject line comes from the poem “Wild Geese” by Mary Oliver … which I found by googling yoga poems. Of course.

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Behind the “brand”

You are your own brand. That’s become a modern-day mantra, and it seems most creative professionals I know have a suite of features to back that up. But I hadn’t given too much thought to my personal branding until this summer, when several factors converged.

Days before my book released, I spoke at See Jane Write’s inaugural Bloganista conference. Keynote speaker Megan LaRussa Chenoweth of Southern Femme encouraged everyone in attendance to have a logo. Graphic designer Aly Hathcock quickly tweeted she would offer a discount to any conference attendees, and I took her up on it, even without knowing exactly what I’d do with a logo.

The end game wasn’t clear, but I was already in the process of organizing an LLC, Ink-Stained Life. I’ve worked as a freelance writer and editor for more than a decade under my own name, but selling copies of my book at non-bookstore events changed the game a bit. I opted to adopt my blog’s name as my business name, and Aly’s offer kept those wheels spinning. A logo might spur a slight website rebranding, I thought, and who knows how else it’ll come in handy?

As I’ve attended book signings and speaking engagements, numerous people have requested my business card. I’ve got Birmingham magazine cards, of course, and folks can always reach me there. But I try to limit my work correspondence to work, just as I try to keep said correspondence outside of my personal email. Quickly, I realized it would be worth my money to invest in personal business cards.

In a Facebook group I’m part of, some women recommended incorporating your headshot into business cards to amp up the mental association. It’s an idea that makes sense, but didn’t feel comfortable to me (only in part because I update my headshots more frequently than I run out of business cards!). A friend suggested I use the illustration on my stationery, and so I reached out to Sara Beth Cobb of Nimblee Design to discuss options. Sara Beth created the stationery for me years ago as a birthday present, and it always makes an impression. I was thrilled when she agreed to incorporate both the illustration and my logo into a business card–and even more excited by the results. Both Sara Beth and Aly took my ideas and created designs that capture my personality.

The most hands-on part of this branding process for me, though, was my website’s new header photo. I’m not a strong photographer, and I was unsure whether I’d be able to create an image I’d be happy with. But I had a vision in mind, and my 1920s Underwood typewriter was at the heart of it. (I told Cheryl Joy Miner of Cheryl Joy Miner Photography, who also took my headshot and yoga photos, that I seriously contemplated if I could carry the typewriter on my flight to Florida, where she’s based.)

Because that wasn’t practical, Cheryl instead coached me via text message as my bedroom became the site of a DIY photo shoot. She gave me advice on composing the items and ultimately encouraged me to carry the entire setup outside. Not only did that achieve the lighting and quirky interest I was after, it also ties back to the photos she took of me in her backyard.

The end result is a suite of branded materials that feel true to me and my work, made all the more special because of relationships with the wonderful, creative women with whom I collaborated.


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What I’m writing: October 2014

These are stories I wrote that were published this month.

New from Old: Artist Darrell Ezekiel uses found objects to craft contemporary works of art

Photo courtesy of Sylvia Martin

Photo courtesy of Sylvia Martin

You may have seen Darrell Ezekiel’s work around town. Perhaps the quirky faces that once hung at Hawthorn Gallery and Nordys Gallery piqued your curiosity. Or you know Ezekiel from his time at Clay Scot Artworks, where he and his co-owner sold not only their own work, but also the work of others.

If you’ve been following Ezekiel’s career for a while, his caricature-like paintings and smaller gift works are familiar. And while the artist’s latest work may seem out of character, his use of bright color and repurposed objects remains. Even with those common threads, Ezekiel’s shadowbox quilt assemblages may surprise some. Read more “New from Old” at bhammag.com.

Wolf in White Van: A Gamer’s Need for Escape

Wolf in White VanWho is Sean Phillips? And how did he end up like this?

That’s the central conceit of John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van, a compact but wide-ranging novel that follows Sean’s development from unpopular teenager to reclusive adult. Read more “Wolf in White Van” at bookpage.com.


10 Awesome Breweries in College Towns

druid city tuscaloosaFew things go together better than football and beer, and as temperatures drop, our cravings turn from refreshing pilsners to a variety of other craft brews. These 10 NCAA football programs pair perfectly with the following beers from each institution’s hometown. Bonus: Many of the beers are distributed regionally or nationally, allowing fans to imbibe with pride nationwide. Read more “10 Awesome Breweries in College Towns” at pastemagazine.com.

How to Craft Your Band’s Pitch for 5 Types of Media Outlets

pitchThe media has come calling, and you can’t wait to tell your band’s story over, and over, and over again. Who cares if you sound like a broken record – any press is good press, right? Wrong. It’s true, you could have much worse problems. But think of it this way: If you saw an article about your favorite band (or actor, or comedian, or whatever), picked it up and dove in only to find the same anecdotes you’ve read a dozen times, you’d be disappointed and might even toss aside the whole story. Look at each media opportunity as a way to attract new listeners and draw your existing fanbase even closer. Here’s how to tailor your band’s story to maximize your chances of getting picked up by five types of media outlets. Read more “How to Craft Your Band’s Pitch for 5 Types of Media Outlets” at sonicbids.com.

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Experience is the best teacher

My teacher Melissa Scott and I in crow. (Yes, I'm wearing a pencil skirt.)

My teacher Melissa Scott and I in crow. (Yes, I’m wearing a pencil skirt.) (Photo credit: Lynn Whitley)

Experience may be the best teacher, but it’s also helpful to have constructive feedback from people around you. That’s what I found after teaching my first yoga class last week, and I aimed to implement that insight when I taught my second class earlier today.

Both classes were 60 minutes long, and I designed both to peak in a challenging pose. Last week, I spent four hours driving alone the day before I taught. I used most of that time to talk through the next day’s class, and I found it prepared me for teaching both because I knew the sequence and I had a sense of time tied to the music.

This weekend was busier, though, and I didn’t have quite as much time to do that. I was concerned that I’d have to refer to my notes mid-class, or that I’d otherwise lead my trusting students through an awkward, disjointed series of poses.

That didn’t happen. Perhaps it was because I reviewed the class in my mind as I went to sleep last night, or maybe it was because I slowed down and didn’t try to fit as many poses into a one-hour class. But I think the biggest factor was that I had taught once before, and so I was at least slightly more comfortable going into the afternoon.

As was the case with my first class, today’s students included beginners, a first-timer and a couple of people who are pretty familiar with yoga. On the advice of one of last week’s beginners, I spent more time breaking down poses, particularly those that we returned to often. After talking with him last week, I noticed that the classes I attend regularly also do this. Even though I’ve practiced yoga regularly for three years and have dived in more deeply in 2014, I welcome these moments of instruction. Sometimes a verbal cue will make something click with me, but regardless it’s a chance for me to settle into the pose and explore. I didn’t pressure myself to say everything quickly or smoothly, but instead tried to give those gathered an understanding of what we were doing and why.

Today’s sequence was still challenging, and it peaked in crow (during Nelly Furtado’s “I’m Like a Bird”–yes, that was intentional). It was rewarding to see students trying something a bit risky, and it was just as satisfying to see others take ownership of the class and recognize when a particular moment would have involved pushing themselves too far.

Yoga helps calm me down, pulling me out of the rat race of my mind. I don’t want to teach a class that’s going to push a student back into that litany of to dos and concerns about how they can be better. Yes, the poses have ideal shapes. But we are also individuals on unique paths. Your triangle may not look like my triangle. I may never again reach a full split. But the baby steps along the way challenge and stretch us, and that’s enough.

Here’s this week’s playlist (with covers substituted when the version I played isn’t available on Spotify). If you’d like to sign up for my email list to be kept informed of future classes, you’ll find that form here.


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What I’m writing: September 2014

These are stories I wrote that were published this month.

Working Their Way Up: Another Alabama band is poised for its turn in the spotlight 

15830028-large coutesy of Josh Weichman

Photo courtesy of Josh Weichman

John Davidson and Jacob Bryant have been paying their dues. The duo is known professionally as John & Jacob. Along with bandmates and fellow Birmingham natives Jake Thrasher and Trevor Davis, as well as Texan Austin Smith, they made the rounds on the festival circuit this summer. The band played such high-profile events as Hangout Music Festival and Bonnaroo before opening for Kacey Musgraves at a number of stateside and European shows in advance of the Aug. 26 release of their self-titled, debut album. John & Jacob point to Birmingham Mountain Radio’s Scott Register and NPR Music’s Ann Powers, who lives in Tuscaloosa, as early supporters and direct contributors to the band’s success. “It’s really cool for Birmingham to take us to another league and claim us from the start,” says Davidson. Read more “Working Their Way Up” at bhammag.com.

Out-of-the-Box Dining: Hotbox offers quality food in a casual setting

Photo by Wes Frazer

Photo by Wes Frazer

It’s not a food truck, but neither is it quite what you expect of a restaurant. When Hotbox opened in a converted Airstream trailer behind Parkside Café, it introduced a new type of dining establishment. The restaurant is a collaboration among chefs Matt Ralph and Ryan Champion, both of whom most recently worked at Bottega, and business partner Ed Stacy. Read more “Out-of-the-Box Dining” at bhammag.com.

Hops for Honeys: Women’s craft beer groups take off

Photo courtesy of Hops for Honeys

Photo courtesy of Hops for Honeys

“I’m here because my boyfriend loves craft beer, and I want to better understand it.”

“I’m here because I want to try something more interesting than Bud Light.”

“I’m here because I need a night out and I was able to find a babysitter.”

“I’m here because I love craft beer!”

The latter answer has become increasingly common as attendees introduce themselves at Hops for Honeys, a Birmingham, Alabama-based women’s beer education group. Those women are part of a larger trend. Overall United States beer sales dropped 1.9% in 2013, according to the Brewers Association, which tracks the $14.3-billion craft beer industry. But craft beer numbers moved in the opposite direction, with a 17.2% increase and 49% export growth. Read more “Hops for Honeys” at pastemagazine.com.

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I hope we can all live more fearlessly

Yoga teacher training involves a lot of confrontation within a safe, supportive environment. As we’ve read through a variety of books, responded to those with reaction papers and verbally processed the lessons we’re learning on and off our mats, the members of my trainee tribe have opened up to one another. We provide grace when an individual struggles to offer it to him or herself.

But that’s not the environment we’ll teach in. Most yoga classes I’ve attended have been warm and welcoming, but I know I won’t often walk into a room full of people who already know my idiosyncrasies and care for me anyway. It’s just as likely that I’ll encounter students who have never taken a yoga class before, and that they’ll be side by side with those who are plenty comfortable moving through sun salutations with little direction.

Our homework before the next training weekend was to teach two 60-minute classes. That’s a fairly open-ended assignment; we could teach each other, or we could teach a class of only one person. (Our instructor specified, though, that our student must be human. No cat yoga for the purposes of this assignment!) I decided to challenge myself by inviting any of my friends to attend these two classes. I’ve also got a number of friends who have expressed interest in trying yoga, and so offering a free class is a way to invite them to try the practice I so love.

That’s how I found myself in front of a motley crew of yogis yesterday afternoon. The class included a couple of people who have practiced before and a couple who had very little experience with yoga, plus a young child. (He brought a book in case he got bored. That’s my kind of kid!)

I spent the days prior to this class determining what I wanted to include, considering modifications for some of the more challenging poses and building a playlist that would help me gauge time. I ran through the class mentally several times, and practiced it myself before the students arrived. As a result, I was comfortable making some adjustments as I went, removing a particularly challenging pose and substituting something more restorative.

Teaching a group that’s not training to be yoga teachers also brought other issues to my attention. If I teach a predominantly beginner class, I might want to break poses down in even more detail. Little things that I’m accustomed to, such as whether the tops of your feet should be flat on the ground or your toes should be curled under, become challenges for those who haven’t seen upward facing dog before.

I’ve got plenty to learn, of course, and I’m grateful for the friends who helped me process these lessons yesterday. I’m still listening to my yoga class playlist and reflecting on how much fun that first experience was! You can find a modified version of the playlist on Spotify; Atoms for Peace and The Beatles aren’t available through that format, so later I’ll add an iTunes playlist where you can buy each of these songs. The class was a heart-opening sequence that peaked in camel pose, and I tried to reflect that in my song choice, at times through the music and at others based on lyrics.

Join me for another round on 2 p.m. Sunday at Desert Island Supply Co. Can’t make it this week, but want to stay up to date on future classes? Sign up for my yoga mailing list.


Today’s subject line is from the Dixie Chicks’ “I Hope,” which appears on their 2006 album “Taking the Long Way.” It’s still my favorite.


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Who’s up for getting down(ward facing dog)?

Join me Sept. 28 and Oct. 5 at 2 p.m. for 60 minutes of yoga. We’ll work through a series of poses that will work the core of your body–and that goes much deeper than the six-pack abs we so often hear about.

Where (and what) is Desert Island Supply Co.?
This nonprofit writing center is on the first floor of Woodrow Hall in Woodlawn. The address is 5500 First Ave. N., and you can find more info at desertislandsupplyco.com.

What do I wear?
As long as you can move comfortably, you’re set! I do recommend wearing a top that won’t flip upside down with you. A pair of comfortable shorts or pants and a fitted top would work well.

What do I bring?
Come armed with a yoga mat (I will NOT have any on hand) and water.

Why are you doing this?
I’m weeks from becoming a certified yoga teacher, and this is part of my homework. I figured I might as well share the love with my friends!

Will you be teaching again?
I imagine so! Sign up for my email list here: eepurl.com/3mtKr I don’t expect to send you more than one message per month.

More questions? Holler at me! cjATcarlajeanwhitleyDOTcom


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We all have something to offer

I’m in the process of becoming trained as a yoga teacher, and the nine-month-long training includes writing a number of papers. I’ll post them here because, well, that’s what I do. The sixth writing assignment was a reflection on the book “Teaching People, Not Poses: 12 Principles for Teaching Yoga with Integrity” by Jay Fields. This is my favorite book we’ve read in all of training.

When I’m uncomfortable or unconfident in a situation, I tend to quickly fall back on my rule-following habits. Rather than bringing personality or my opinions and experience to a situation, I’ll stick to the letter of the law. That’s a crutch that helps me through these circumstances, but it’s often not the most effective way to function.

That’s especially so when editing a piece of copy or teaching a class full of students. I’m in those situations because I’ve got expertise to share, and sticking to what I’ve been taught and nothing more means giving my writers and students less than my all. Jay Fields’ “Teaching People Not Poses: 12 Principles for Teaching Yoga with Integrity” is a wake-up call, a reminder that I’m not an automaton going through a series of pre-set motions.

Throughout this slim book, Fields reminded me that I have something to offer. That’s why my journalism students and magazine interns stay in touch with me for months or years after our professional relationships end. I’m confident that I’ve given them instruction and encouragement that will help them build careers. As I begin to add yoga to my teaching repertoire, I’ll best serve my students by remembering that they, too, will return to me because I have something to offer–and that “something” is more than a series of poses. If all they wanted was an effective workout, there are plenty of yoga videos and smartphone apps to guide a student through a satisfactory practice.

I know already that’s a reminder I’ll need to revisit as I become a yoga teacher. I’m prone to let my Type-A tendencies take over and forget that there’s more to learn than a set of pre-established rules. I expect to keep Fields’ book close at hand to help me find my voice as a yoga teacher.

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