Tag Archives: yoga

Five “Wins” from 2015

Goodbye, 2015!Thanks for the memories!

One of the best parts of blogging is that I have an easy way to review my year.  I can’t say that 2015 was my greatest year ever, but there are definitely things I’ve learned this year.

5. I earned my certification as a Third Age Woman educator.  As someone who is in the beginning of the peri-menopausal phase of life, this course was educational for both personal and professional reasons.  In addition to confidently helping perimenopausal women in person, I’m busy developing an online course to help other women develop strategies to balance fitness, hormones, and the priorities of life in their 40s and 50s.  Subscribe to my newsletter if you’d like to know when it launches!

4. I’ve undertaken the longest training cycle in my nearly 30 years as a runner.  In June 2015 I started prepping for a 5K on July 4th.  That was the beginning of a training cycle that will peak (hopefully!) on May 29, 2016 in Durban, South Africa at the finish line of Comrades Marathon.  I’ve had a busy fall of training and racing.  The end of 2015 marks the halfway point– stay tuned for what’s coming to get me ready to toe the line in Pietermaritzburg in just under five months.  (You can click on the Comrades tag on the right ————> to find all the blog posts about this adventure!)

3. I made my first attempt at blog post series this year.  The first series was about aqua yoga— I absolutely LOVE aqua yoga, but since I can’t be with all of you poolside, sharing the highlights of this practice was the next best thing.  I also ran a video blog series about How to Do A Pull Up. Looking for an achievable fitness milestone?  Follow the videos and feel the confidence that comes with the strength and coordination of doing a pull up.

2. Even as my business grew this year, reaching more personal training clients and swimmers than ever, I was able to balance work and family.  From the ways kids can help me see the world in different ways to how having older kids is really fun to the occasional night out as a family of five, I’ve enjoyed sharing the stories of my family with you.

1. I earned my certification as a Prenatal Kriya Yoga instructor.  This is a bit of an ironic highlight to my year, as I don’t really teach prenatal yoga very often. However, the certification process was a fantastic education in yoga, and the summation retreat in California was one of the best few days of my whole year.  It was a great reminder that when business growth and personal growth can happen simultaneously, I’m one lucky gal.

Hope your 2015 had some meaningful wins for you.

Here’s to good health and great happiness in 2016!


Congratulations to Robyn— she’s the winner of the Leonie Dawson 2016 Shining Life Workbook and wall calendar.  

You didn’t win?  BOO!!!

You can still order a Shining Life workbook or planner for yourself — order a .pdf version, and start filling it out right away!  Go make a great life!


3 Last-Minute Gifts That Won’t Break the Bank

To say that I’m a frequent user of Amazon Prime is an understatement.  We could, apparently, make a Christmas tree out of boxes that have arrived on my doorstep recently.


If you’re struggling to find a gift for that active person on your Christmas list, it’s not too late for Amazon Prime to come to the rescue.  Today I want to recommend three budget-friendly items that I have bought and used myself that I recommend regularly to others.

My favorite socks

I’ve worn DeFeet socks for running for at least 20 years.  I like their thin profile, and I LOVE their fun designs.  I still race in Texas flag DeFeets, just like I did when I was a homesick Texan living in Boston in the late 1990s.

But my favorite socks for gifting are the smiley face socks.  I mean, really….how can you have a bad workout if your socks are smiling?  Impossible!

I love to gift these socks to my personal training clients as they reach their goals.  Hooray for smiley socks!

My favorite strength training book

Like many runners, I’m terrible about making time for strength training.  But this book has a program that’s so easy to follow (click here for full blog review) that there’s no excuse not to do it.

If you know a runner who is reluctant to begin strength training either because she doesn’t know what to do or because she feels like it will take too much time, this is the book they need!

My favorite yoga mat

It’s thick.  It’s cushy.  It’s not slippery.  All of these things is important if you’re trying to progress your practice, particularly doing balancing postures or work on hands and knees.

It has a handy carrying strap.  It comes in cool colors.  It’s affordable.

It’s pretty much perfect.

Go forth and give gifts!  And may you receive health and happiness in return!

The links included in this post are affiliate links.  If you choose to purchase an item through these links, I receive a small referral fee.

Yoga Club: Where Small Bodies Learn to Take Big Breaths


I’ve bragged about my kids’ elementary school before, noting the creativity of the PE program and its focus on finding ways for every child to develop an interest in a life-long sport. New this year is a parent-led Yoga Club, which meets each Tuesday from 7-7.30am. The group is open to students, parents, and teachers….no yoga experience required!
I volunteered to teach one meeting per month, and I brought my fourth grader along to the first class. He’s my super physical kid, The Monkey, the one who has never done anything with his body that he hasn’t enjoyed. I wasn’t so sure yoga would be his thing, though.
My class plan included asana that mimic animals. I wanted kids to think about how the spines (or lack thereof!) of animals align with their movement patterns. We were able to move through the invertebrates—fish and cobra—to the small animals—rabbit and frog—to bigger creatures like camel and horse. We finished with the pranayama of the lion.
As it turns out, I was wrong about The Monkey. He didn’t say much after the class while I walked him to his classroom, but after school he told me that the yoga helped him wake up and feel ready for the day. I explained to him that breathing deeply and thinking about how he moved his body with intention was a great way to fire up the brain/body connection.
Fast forward to the next week, when I wasn’t going to be the Yoga Club leader: Monday night at dinner, The Monkey says, “Don’t forget, Mom. Yoga Club is in the morning.”

So, there we were again—this time with The Stowaway in tow. She wants to do anything her big brother does, and she’s the one I often find having stolen my aqua yoga class plans trying to mimic the postures.


The mom who lead this class had a deck of yoga cards and let each kid pick a card to determine the flow of the class. The kids got really excited about choosing each new posture. We finished the class with a game of “yoga freeze”—a variation of freeze tag in which the tagged person had to hold one of the yoga poses we’d done earlier in the class until they were tagged again by a free player. As you might imagine, this was a big hit with the kids.

kids yoga
If you’re interested in starting a Yoga Club at your local elementary school, I highly recommend it. It’s a great way for kids to be introduced to yoga in a familiar setting; furthermore, the inclusivity of yoga allows kids to practice alongside their parents and teachers. Kids love anything that makes them feel part of a group, and Yoga Club does that without any of the pressure or expectation of competition.

Can I Speak With You?

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Every time I have a public speaking gig, I get that flutter of excitement, knowing that someone in the audience is feeling down about their physical health, the stress of life that prevents them from taking care of themselves, and the struggle of just how that’s going to change.

I’m excited because I know that the message I’ve crafted for their group is going to offer them not just hope but practical strategies for success.

As a public speaker, I love to take my stories of family, fitness, and wellness to groups who align with my message that everyday people do, in fact, have time for regular exercise.  My strategies for efficient, effective exercise resonate with people who feel stressed out by the realities of work and family pressures.  What I hope people learn is that an overall plan for wellness– meaningful exercise, plentiful sleep, and nourishing foods– is actually within their reach.

Who are these people?

  • Mom’s groups
  • Playgroups
  • Corporate wellness programs
  • Service & social organizations
  • Charity athletic teams
  • Goddess circles

Speaking to groups allows me to tap into the skills I used when I was teaching college and needed to engage a group of people with varying interest levels in what I was talking about.  By adapting my message to the specific group, my presentations offer real, practical advice to add value to the listeners’ lives.

Topics include:

  • Fitness & Family Time
  • Exercising with Baby on Board
  • Postnatal Fitness: Beyond the Mummy Tummy
  • Exercises for the Deskbound
  • Creating a Wellness Culture at Work
  • Training with a Team
  • Finding Power in Peri-Menopause
  • Yoga for the Unbendy

When I am engaged as a speaker, I also include plenty of time for questions and answers.  I love to facilitate group discussions about fitness and wellness, and I never pretend to have all the answers!  My extensive background of research in women’s wellness and practical understanding from my years as a personal trainer mean that I can connect the dots for people who find regular exercise challenging….and get them over the hump to see how taking care of their body really does make them feel better!

I look forward to hearing from you about how I can help the members of your organization craft a well-balanced life.  You can find me at karen@balancepft.com or leave a comment here so I can get back to you.

Good health and great happiness to you!

Full Moon, Broken Sleep


From an increase in emergency room visits to an uptick in babies being born, the human body and human behavior is affected by the full moon.  For years, this phenomenon was the realm of superstition.  But new studies support what ER nurses and physicians have always known: strange stuff happens with the full moon.

A ten-year-old study that has recently been revisited indicates that the full moon may be the root cause of sleep disruption.   Study participants had 30% less deep sleep during the full moon than on nights on either side of the full moon.  That’s a pretty significant shift!

Regular readers of OnBalance know I’m a stickler for sleep.  I believe it is the missing link for most people in their search for a more balanced, healthier lifestyle.

One of the best ways to encourage better sleep is to prepare your body and your mind for sleep.  While staying away from blue light screens (laptops, e-readers, and even televisions) for two hours before bedtime is ideal, that’s not a realistic adaptation for most people.  You can still create a wind-down ritual that will serve your sleep goals well.

The easiest habit to implement is relaxing breathwork.  The yogic practice of pranyama can be quite simple.  Try inhaling for a count of 4, then exhaling for a count of 4.  On the next breath, inhale for 5 and exhale for 5.  Keep adding one count to each breath until you get to 8.  Maintain that deep breath pattern, visualizing the breath filling and then leaving your body.

While the more popular sun salutation sequence is used to invigorate the body, the moon salutation chandra namaskar is a series of asana that can calm, focus, and bring the body to rest.  If done during the full moon, one might find it brings on more sound sleep.  The postures are simple enough even for a beginner to do.  Yoga Journal has an outstanding explanation of the history and process of chandra namaskar.

The full moon is tomorrow night– give these tips a try and see how you sleep.

Good health and great happiness to you!

Let Loose the Lion


In my recent series about aqua yoga, I focused one of my posts on the benefits of pranyama in the pool.  Truth be told, pranyama– yogic breath work– is a relative newcomer to my regular practice. Much of my yoga experience is in fitness-based studios, and it was only when I deepend my practice by becoming an aqua yoga instructor and then undertaking a certification as a prenatal yoga instructor did I really learn about this important component of a yoga practice.  After all, without the breath, yoga is just stretching.

Today I want to focus on one of my favorite asana– Simhasana or Lion’s Pose.  As someone who has suffered from TMJ facial stress and its accompanying headaches for nearly two decades, the breathwork that is part of Lion’s Pose gives me release and relief.


  • While sitting with my hips on my heels, I splay my hands on my knees as if flaring my claws.
  • I take a deep inhale to grow the spine long, and then I exhale forcefully (and loudly!), trying to open my mouth and eyes wide.  My gaze focuses just beyond the tip of my nose.
  • My tongue hangs down.  Shoulders fall heavy.  Spine stays tall.
  • I am fierce!
  •  Continue the “roar” until the inhale naturally begins.

I like to repeat the lion’s breath 3-5 times, seeing if I can roar louder and longer each time.

Practicing Simhasana at the beginning of my session allows me to begin with a clean, clear head.  It also helps me to feel strong and capable as I begin my practice.

Lion’s pose has a benefit for those concerned with vanity and aging.  The deep, forceful exhale with mouth open and tongue extended engages the platysma, a muscle on the front of the throat.  Working the platysma keeps the skin of the neck firm and youthful in appearance.

Mostly, though, roaring like a lion with a tall, strong torso makes you feel like a beast who can conquer anything.

Good health and great happiness to you.

Aqua Yoga: Pranyama in the Pool

This is the final post in my five-part series about aqua yoga.

Before you read this post, take a deep breath.

If you’re one of those people who is interested in yoga but feel intimidated by all of the buff and bendy folks you see on the slick yoga magazines and the internet, I have a fabulous secret for you.

Yoga, at it’s heart, is about breathing.

It doesn’t matter how long your legs are or what the scale says or even if you can touch your toes; if you can breathe, you can do yoga.

(And since you’re reading this, I know you can breathe.  So no excuses!)

The yogic breath practice is called pranyama.  I must admit that I practiced yoga for years– mostly in fitness-oriented studios– and never encountered pranyama.  It was only when I started studying to teach yoga that I learned about pranyama.  And now it is one of the key parts of my practice.

But what does all of this have to do with aqua yoga?

I find pranyama practice in the pool especially effective at settling my mind and cooling my body.  Because I teach aqua yoga outdoors during the summer in Austin, integrating the cooling practices of pranyama are a key part of my classes.

Here are two types of cooling pranyama I use regularly:

Sitali breath


  • Form a “taco tongue” and inhale through the mouth.  (If you can’t make a taco, purse the lips for the inhale.)
  • Place the tip of the tongue on the roof of the mouth, close the lips, and exhale through the nose.
  • Aim to make the exhale longer than the inhale.
  • Repeat for 10-20 breaths.

I usually stand with my feet about 6 inches from the pool wall, back to the wall, and my fingertips lightly pressing in to the wall.  This helps me keep my shoulders low and chest open.

Single-Nostril Breath


  • Stand with your feet grounded under your hips
  • Use the right pinky to close off the right nostril.
  • Inhale and exhale with the left nostril only.
  • Repeat for 10-20 breaths.

The left side of the body is associated with the lunar tendencies.  The left nostril is considered the subtle channel, responsible for cooling the body.  I like this pranyama for the pool because water is also a lunar element.

Hey, Swimmers….

You’re well aware of the importance of breathing while you’re in the water.  Pranyama can help you become even more in tune with the inhale-hold-exhale-hold pattern we always have while breathing, but getting the timing right in the pool means breathing air rather than choking on water.

If you’ve ever tried lap swimming but struggled with regulating your breath, take a yogic approach.  First, establish a breathing pattern that feels comfortable to you– that may mean breathing every other stroke (so you’re always breathing to the same side) or every third stroke (alternate-side breathing).  Next, ensure that you’re exhaling into the water–aka blowing bubbles– when you’re swimming.  Finally, add a “hum” to your exhale.  Not only does this give you something to focus on to keep your rhythm steady, but it also creates a bodily vibration similar to chanting “om” in a yoga class.  The vibration is steadying and centering.

I hope you’ll take some of these ideas and play around with them next time you’re in the pool.  Breath work is one of the few silver bullets in the wellness world– breathe deeply and fully, and you’ll be amazed at how much better you feel.