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During the past year, I have had some “issues” with yoga. After years of regular practice and deep immersion in the yoga world, I began to realize that the yoga community can be a little too extreme, as well as how a yoga practice can easily be taken in what I feel are unhealthy directions–physically, mentally, and spiritually. These feelings and changes in my relationship with yoga came about from a variety of experiences, and in order to fully process them, I found myself needing to take a complete break from my yoga practice, and eventually, from any type of spiritual practice at all.

Though losing what I thought had been a solid foundation in my life was difficult at the time, I now realize what a gift this past year has been. By gaining distance from the yoga world, from spiritual extremism on one hand to pop culture fads on the other, I gained the perspective needed to reintroduce various practices and ideas into my life with greater discernment. As a result, I am now creating a more sustainable practice (physically and spiritually), rooted in experience, balance, and a deeper understanding of myself and my subject matter.

During my years of practice and trainings in the yoga world, I studied many techniques and philosophies related to coming into balance and finding optimal health in mind, body, and spirit. As I begin to reintroduce the practices that I find most healing into my own life, I would like to begin sharing them here, with all of you. Take what works for you, forget what doesn’t (or come back to it later). Ultimately, the greatest way for any of us to reach wellness is to follow our own intuition.

Pink Lotus © 2007, Juniper Stokes

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I still remember my first trip to Europe. I was 20 years old and I had what I thought was a great camera. A film camera. That’s right. When I was 20 years old, digital cameras were still far beyond the reach of the average person. This meant, especially for an indecisive Libra like me, that every photograph was taken with an extra pinch of stress. Is it worth it? Is this really the view/angle/timing I want? What if there is a better picture later, and I’ve run out of film?

And then came digital. My first digital camera was some sort of old Canon point-and-shoot. I remember taking 200 pictures of my pets within the first weekend of owning it. Soon I evolved to nature photography, where I would take 50 pictures of a piece of moss, convinced that fine art was in the making.

The results of these early pictures were silly, but the process was fun. Eventually, I upgraded to a Canon digital SLR, added an Olympus Tough, and for some reason regressed to a ridiculously cheap (with quality to match) Nikon digital point-and-shoot.

In my life so far, I have been to 39 countries, and I have taken one or more of these lovely inventions with me on every trip. I can’t say my photography skills ever actually improved from pet and moss photo shoots, and I seem to be incapable of actually reading a manual. Still, all the travel I’ve done has left me with some improved subject matter and wonderful memories.

I’ve decided to start sharing some of these photographed memories on what will be “Photo Fridays”, so here is the first:

© 2008 Juniper Stokes

Batur Volcano at Sunrise, © 2008 Juniper Stokes

It’s a bit dark (taken before sunrise), and taken with my first, old, digital camera. Still, I love the clouds! I took this picture during my first trip to Bali back in 2008. I was doing a week-long yoga retreat in Ubud, the cultural (and now new-agey yogi) center of Bali. The morning this photo was taken, we had awoken at 3am to drive to a viewpoint of the famous Batur Volcano for a sunrise practice. We warmed up with several sun salutations, which had never felt more appropriate, and then agreed to take a break from practice and soak in the vision before us. Above the cloud line, we could see the clear peak of the volcano, a sacred mountain reaching toward the heavens. The towering clouds next to the volcano seemed to be striving for even greater heights of consciousness. I snapped this photo and continued to soak in the view for a bit before returning to a magical morning practice.

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