Monthly Archives: July 2016

Writing, Gardening, and Killer Laurel Hedges


Surrounding my Seattle home is my new mortal enemy: the laurel hedge. In the decade my husband and I have lived in this house, our laurel hedge has been trimmed eight times. By eight different landscapers. Each of whom says when they finish, “I will never trim that hedge again.”

The last few years have presented a special problem, because our beloved dog’s health is waning. She goes crazy when strangers are near her house, and she’s susceptible to injury. In the past, we’ve taken her out of town whenever gardeners have been present, but we can’t do that anymore. So we let the hedge go.

Or, to be more accurate, we let it GROW.

This year, we couldn’t delude ourselves anymore. Something had to be done.

Since we couldn’t hire anyone for fear of harming the dog, hubby and decided to trim it ourselves. Five days and thirty-nine overly full yard waste bags later, I came to realize that trimming a laurel hedge has a lot in common with writing.

There are plotters and there are pansters. Plotters are like my husband. They buy three different ladders and four kinds of clippers, each which trims exactly one branch at time. They have a plan, you see. A process. From beginning to end, they know exactly how they will tackle this monster, the tools required for each step, and the artistic creation that will emerge.


Then the panster (yours truly) comes to a startling realization: this process will take FOREVER. The panster then grabs the closest clipper and starts cutting. “Let’s just see where this leads us!” she says. The plotter groans.

The project feels like an insurmountable goal at first. You clip, clip, and clip some more. Blisters form on your fingers. You look back on your day’s work… And realize you’ve written less than one chapter. (Or in the hedge analogy, you’ve clipped only a few branches.) This is when you first realize that you’re completely in over your head. Unfortunately, you’ve already told everyone you know that you’re clipping the Great American Hedge. You are committed. So you keep clipping, cursing your big mouth and your idiocy.

Once you get in the groove, you don’t want to stop. Frankly, you become a little obsessive. Nothing matters as much as this hedge. Not your family, not your job, not your life. People whisper behind your back and try to pry your hands off of the clippers. Some part of you knows you’ve become addicted to clipping. It doesn’t matter. All that matters is Finishing. That. Hedge.

At some point you see progress, followed soon after by hitting “the middle.” The point at which you realize how far you still have to go. The point at which you know, without a single doubt, “I suck at this.” This is, of course, after it’s too late to turn back. You’ve committed yourself to this monster even though you know, deep in your heart, that you are the worst hedge trimmer that has ever lived.

Every now and again, you step back to evaluate your work. Some places you trimmed look all green and healthy; some yellow and sickly. Some are great big plot holes showing nothing but sticks. But you keep going, knowing that what you can’t fix now will inevitably grow back in time. And if you killed it, well, then at least you won’t have to do this again next year.

Somehow though, in spite of your bumbling, clip by clip, word by word, you start to make progress. That progress propels you forward.

When you’re done, your hedge needs lots of editing. The lines aren’t straight, and for some unknown reason everywhere you look you see brown areas that you don’t know how to fix. The work needs distance. A second eye.  Someone who can look at it, tell you what you did wrong, and help you learn for the future.

People’s reactions to your work vary from “Way to go!” to “Are you crazy?” to “I’d never do that,” to “I could trim a hedge better than that,” to “Hey, I have a hedge. I’ll point you to it and all you have to do is trim it!” to “For goodness sake. Just hire someone competent to trim that hedge already!” All you can do is take a deep breath, smile, and keep clipping.

When you finish, you swear you’ll never do it again. Seriously. Never. You’ve learned your lesson. The gardeners you hired in the past were right. This thing is a monster. An evil being to be left alone. A being that will surely take over the planet.

Months pass. Most people don’t even notice your lovely hedge. Some do and really like how you trimmed it. Others give it one star on Amazon, saying, “Not my kind of hedge,” or even worse, “Meh.” But before you know it, new green leaves start showing, new idea tendrils form. Before you can stop yourself, you become convinced that you could trim that hedge easier next time.  Faster. Better. Prettier.

So you start all over again.

And so it begins.

Tracy Weber

PS–all three books in my Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at  Thanks for reading!

Yogi Interview of the Month with Rene de los Santos! AND a YOGA CRUISE!

Important note from Tracy:  Rene will always have a special place in my heart, because he was the person who talked me into offering my first yoga teacher training oh-so-many years ago.  He’s a fabulous yogi, a great friend, and an overall wonderful human being. 

And you can see that for yourself this November!  Rene is leading a Mexican Riviera yoga cruise! He’s got a great group already formed and they’d love to have you join them.  Double click on the flyer below for more information or e-mail Rene at


Now, on to Rene. Tell us your yoga story!

Here’s my story and I’m sticking to it! I discovered Yoga (some would say “you were ready to discover”) in early 2001 after two different Yoga instructors mentioned “You should try this”!

My belief system dictates that when two different people who don’t know each other make the same request of me in a relatively short period of time – it’s really the universe (or ancestors or spirit) making the request.

My mothers voice resonates in the back of my head “If all of your friends went and jumped off the end of a bridge – would you jump too”?! To which I always responded “Probably”.

The connection was immediate in the very first practice. Yes, the very first class. Although the room was filed with people, I felt completely at peace. My body responded positively to the movements. The practice was lead by a male instructor, Roy Holman (who later became a good friend) which gave me hope! This was definitely for me. By the third class – I knew this was something to be pursued and shared.

After taking classes from several instructors over the course of three or four months, the time had come to practice more consistently and on the regular basis. The search was on to find a Yoga studio where I could go connect with other yogis and expand my experience.

Walking down the street one day with my partner Mark on Greenwood Avenue,  I noticed a woman placing balloons on the sidewalk underneath a sign that read Whole Life Yoga. It had a nice ring to it. Another sign read Join Us for Our One Year Anniversary Celebration! I was in class the following Sunday morning.

I didn’t know then that the simple act of connecting movement to breath would change me profoundly.

After that first class at Whole Life Yoga, I distinctly remember having a conversation with Tracy… not sure what was said but my mind was going a hundred miles per hour; This is great! Have to do this! Yoga, where have you been my whole life?! When are the classes?! Do I need special pants? Etc..etc.

After participating in 500 hours of formal training with Tracy at Whole Life Yoga, endless workshops from coast to coast, traveling to India, lectures, books, more books, years of personal practice, videos and classes, I am still discovering Yoga. My studies are in their infancy.

The greatest lesson I’ve learned as an instructor is to share. Share what you know so that other can benefit. krishnamacharya said “Teach what is inside you. Not as it applies to you, to yourself, but as it applies to the other.  The greatest lesson as a student; Desikachar said “The success of Yoga does not lie in the ability to perform postures but in how it positively changes the way we live our life and our relationships”.

I truly believe that the most successful Yoga teachers are those who teach with the intention of helping and serving others.

What I really appreciate about Viniyoga practice and Viniyoga philosophy is that it focuses totally on the practitioners and what THEY need on every level; obvious and subtle through the use of breath, movement, chant and meditation to name a few tools. As Yoga instructors, we must connect with our participants on a deeper level over time; as Yoga students we must be willing to adapt over time in order to serve others. There is no room for superficiality. It’s not meant to be cool or trendy – it’s a lot of work! It’s life changing.

And I have a lot of work to do! I’m glad that Yoga allows me to learn and grow, to adapt.  I’m not perfect and I’m ok with that. Looking forward to more training, practicing, moving changing and growing.

Although not currently teaching a regular on-going class – I know I will be when the time is right.

You should try this!

Thanks, Rene.  You inspire me every single day.  It was my great fortune that the universe pulled us in each others’ directions.

Rene De los Santos is a graduate of Whole Life Yoga’s 200 and 500 hour yoga teacher trainings. He can be contacted at

Tasha’s Tips for a Successful Dog Walk

Silhouette of a German Shepherd holding a leash and ready to go for a walk

As many of my readers know, Bella, the German shepherd hero in my Downward Dog Mystery series, is based on my own German shepherd, Tasha.  Both are huge, often unruly (at least in Tasha’s younger days) and smarter than most people I know, myself included.  They are also both reactive.  A reactive dog isn’t aggressive—it’s frightened. It sometimes barks, lunges, and makes a scene, not because it’s mean, but because it wants to make the scary thing go away.

As Kate learned early in Murder Strikes a Pose, walking a reactive dog is far from easy, especially in a populated city like Seattle.  So when the folks at asked if I’d be willing to share some tips for a successful dog walk, I jumped at the chance, with one exception:  A blog this important had to be written by an expert. So, for your enjoyment (and hopefully education!) below are Tasha’s Tips for a Successful Dog Walk.  Take it away, Tasha!

Tasha’s Tips for a Successful Dog Walk

  1. Keep your pup on lead!  Like most of my canine buddies, I love to run off leash.  Even though I have an amazingly good recall, sometimes my brain shuts off.  Like when I see bunnies. Or squirrels. Or balls bouncing into the street. When I’m in the middle of an attack of the zoomies, I could easily get hurt.  So could someone else, like the driver of that car swerving to miss me.  Where’s the fun in that?
  2. Ask before you let your dog approach another dog, even if your dog is friendly.  Especially if your dog is “friendly.”  You might not know this, but “friendly” in human-speak often translates to “rude and obnoxious” in dog land.  I once had a “friendly” dog wrap its retractable leash around my leg. Then it ran away and yanked it.  That HURT!  When I was younger, stranger-dogs sometimes jumped on me and hurt my bad hip. Now that I’m older and more frail, I could easily be permanently hurt. I like my vet, but I really don’t want knee or back surgery.
  3. The same goes for you and your children.  If the human walking a dog says the dog is nervous around strangers, don’t argue with them. Even if you think I will love you. Even if dogs always love you. You don’t know my history.  Maybe a person who looked like you kicked me when I was a pup.  Maybe kids pulled on my ears.  Maybe I’m in pain and your touch hurts me.
  4. Don’t jerk your dog’s neck.  Next to their humans, treats are a dog’s best friend, though I hear some dogs love toys even more. So why jerk your dog’s leash or grump at him?    If you want your pup’s attention, talk to her in a happy voice or offer her a treat instead. Believe me, your dog will still respect you.  I know you want to be alpha (whatever that means). Treating your dog with kindness won’t prevent that. You can easily be alpha without acting like a bully.
  5. Don’t stare in my eyes and show me your teeth.  My human says that in human-speak, this is called eye contact and a smile, and it means that you’re friendly.  But did you know that in dog-speak the same expression means “I’m a big jerk who’s threatening to bite you?” Instead, look to the side, crouch low to the ground, and let me approach you if I’m comfortable. Remember, always ask my human first!
  6. Ask before you feed me treats. I love treats! I’d eat anything you fed me. And then I might get really sick later. I have food allergies, and I’m not alone. Food sensitivities are common in dogs these days. Some foods make my skin break out in sores. Others give me diarrhea. That tiny piece of cheese you give me will make me sick for days afterwards.

So that’s about it! Six simple tips that will make your dog walks happy, safe, and fun for you, your pup, your dog walker, and for other dogs like me.

Thanks for reading! And if you’re interested in reading my human’s mysteries, check out the link below.


books available

PS–all three books in Tracy Weber’s Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at  Thanks for reading!

Forming Good Professional Relationships: An Excerpt from The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga

As a long term blogger, I often get requests to review yoga books.  I almost always decline.  I couldn’t resist this one, though.  Books on the business of teaching yoga are few and far between.  This one has tips on all aspects of the business of teaching  yoga.  This chapter below on relationships in yoga especially spoke to me.  Enjoy!  If you’re interested in exploring it further, check it out at this link.


As yoga teachers, we are in a relationship business. To be successful, we must embrace relationship building on many different levels. It’s especially important for us to see our students not as devotees who should serve their teacher or guru but as paying clients deserving of nurturing care and attention.

There are seven primary kinds of relationships that are important to yoga teaching:

  1. Relationship with the divine
  2. Relationship with oneself
  3. Relationships with family and friends
  4. Relationships with individual students
  5. Relationships with staff and colleagues
  6. Online relationships
  7. Relationships with classes and community

For your own personal growth and for the good of your teaching, it’s important to assess each of these types of relationships in your life and ask yourself whether any of them need more attention. This may seem repetitive, but self-inquiry and growth are a huge part of being a yogi.

Let’s consider some of these relationships in more detail.

Relationship with the Divine

When we are connected to the divine, we feel more inspired, and thus we teach at our best. But this relationship often gets put on hold when we get busy. Today, with all the distractions of electronic devices and social media, it has become more and more challenging to unplug and find a moment of quiet. When I feel cut off from spirit, I increase my meditation and mantra repetition, get outside, put my bare feet in the grass, light a candle, or write in a gratitude journal. It does not take much to revive the dialogue.

Relationship with Oneself

Yoga teachers are taught to model self-care, but they’re often not consistent about following through. Being more stressed than your students is not a basis for good teaching. One of our graduates reported that after she consciously increased her self-care and spent more time unplugged, her teaching improved dramatically. Her students noticed and responded very positively to the difference.

Relationships with Family and Friends

According to the author and actor Ben Stein, “Personal relationships are the fertile soil from which all advancement, all success, all achievement in real life grows.” Your closest friends, loved ones, and family are vital to your growth and ability to stay inspired as a yoga teacher. When these relationships are nurtured, you also model the importance of personal relationships to your students.

To make sure you’re devoting time to tending these relationships, schedule a regular date night with your partner, put regular hang-out time with your kids on your calendar, keep in touch with out-of-town family more consistently, or set up frequent get-togethers with friends.

Relationships with Individual Students

Early in my career, more than a decade ago, I taught a weekly class in a basement room to sixty-five wholehearted New Yorkers at Crunch Fitness in Manhattan. Little did I know that the relationships I formed in that gym would lead to meaningful lifelong connections.

Every week, I came to class early and stayed after to talk with students, work on their therapeutic issues and injuries, answer their questions — and just hang out and gab. Some people sat around talking for an hour afterward. Most nights after class I brought students with me upstairs to Jivamukti Yoga Center to catch the tail end of Krishna Das’s weekly New York kirtans. We’d sing and sway, do puja, and delight in the fruit salad Prasad.

I am still in touch with many students from that time. Some of them went on to travel with me to new and beautiful places on retreat, and some became master yoga instructors in their own right.

These kinds of students can become loyal supporters who spread the word about your classes and help build a loving community of people around a common interest: yoga.

Relationships with Staff and Colleagues

Do you make a habit of being kind and speaking respectfully to gym and studio staff? I don’t claim to be any kind of saint, but I do my best to be friendly and considerate to these colleagues. Not only is this important to my sense of myself, but it makes for easier and more collegial working relationships, which make for better teaching.

Stories abound of yoga teachers at fitness gyms who act entitled, elitist, and pretentious, brusquely demanding specific conditions for their classes and acting as if the other gym staff are ignorant about yoga in general. How much cooperation do you think these teachers are likely to receive?

Because yogis often practice in community, we have a tendency to develop what I call yoga tunnel vision. Yoga, like anything else, can be taken to fanatical levels, to the point where practitioners can’t relate to non-yogis! And isn’t yoga supposed to be about connection?

Good manners, curiosity, kindness, helpfulness, generosity, enthusiasm, and sensitivity go a long way to demonstrate the spiritual and emotional benefits of yoga, as well as the physical ones, and help yoga continue to grow in the mainstream. Here are some specific ways to nurture relationships with colleagues at a gym or studio.

  • Get to know other teachers at the gym or studio and take their classes. Learning from other yoga teachers is a vital part of a yoga practice. Taking fitness classes at the gym can boost other aspects of your physical health as well as help you develop good relationships with the other instructors.
  • Attend all meetings and social functions of the gym or studio. Showing up for meetings and gatherings where you work, even if you are busy, does two very important things: it helps you know and be a part of the team, and it increases your visibility among managers and students. Managers who see you getting involved with the gym or studio are more likely to give your name when a student asks what class to take or is looking for a teacher to work at a special function, like a wedding party. Attending studio functions lets you get to know current students and gets your name out among potential new students.
  • Keep lines of communication open with colleagues and staff. Whether you’re a studio owner/manager or an employee, touch base regularly with the people you work alongside. Share your needs, goals, visions, feedback, and even grievances. Don’t let ill-feeling fester to the point where neither party is willing to try to resolve a problem.
  • Maintain good communication by establishing it before there’s a problem. If you teach at a studio, for example, chat with the studio owners about getting classes covered, or share with them how you handled a difficult student. By establishing a dialogue when nothing is wrong, you will have a good channel of communication in place if you need to bring up a touchy subject.
  • Be friendly with teachers of other styles of yoga. It’s simply unattractive when a yoga teacher says something negative about another teacher or style of yoga. Don’t do it. You’re the one who ends up looking bad. Instead, use differences in opinion as an opportunity to see and learn from another perspective.
  • When you don’t like something, offer a solution. If you are upset about something going on where you work, go directly to the source or the person in charge, state the problem, and then offer to find a solution. This way you won’t be seen as a gossiper or complainer.
  • Be a “go-giver,” not a “go-getter.” A go-getter comes in, teaches a class, and leaves. A go-giver comes in, sees what he can do to pitch in, and asks what announcements need to be made for upcoming events. After class, he folds blankets, puts away props, blows out candles, and picks up water bottles and Kleenex left behind.

Never think that you are above these tasks. Making this effort increases the feeling of goodwill in the studio, and studio managers who see you pitching in will be more apt to give you prime teaching slots when they open up.

Amy_Taro2-BlueAmy Ippoliti and Taro Smith, PhD are the authors of The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga and founders of the online school 90 Monkeys, which has enhanced the skills of yoga teachers and studios in over 40 countries. Amy is known for bringing yoga to modern-day life in a genuine way and has been featured on the covers of Yoga Journal and Fit Yoga Magazine. Taro is the Chief Content Officer at Yoga Glo and has over two decades of experience developing yoga, medical, and wellness enterprises. They both live in Boulder, Colorado. Visit them online at and

Excerpted from the book The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga: The Yoga Professional’s Guide to a Fulfilling Career. Copyright © 2016 by Amy Ippoliti and Taro Smith, PhD. Reprinted with permission from New World Library.

PS–all three books in Tracy Weber’s Downward Dog mystery series are now available!  Learn more at  Thanks for reading!