About Deborah Crooks
Deborah Crooks (www.DeborahCrooks.com) is a writer, performing songwriter and recording artist based in San Francisco whose lyric driven and soul-wise music has drawn comparison to Lucinda Williams, Chrissie Hynde and Natalie Merchant.
Singing about faith, love and loss, her lyrics are honed by a lifetime of writing and world travel while her music draws on folk, rock, Americana and the blues. She released her first EP "5 Acres" in 2003 produced by Roberta Donnay, which caught the attention of Rocker Girl Magazine, selecting it for the RockerGirl Discoveries Cd. In 2007, she teamed up with local producer Ben Bernstein to complete "Turn It All Red" Ep, followed by 2008's "Adding Water to the Ashes" CD, and a second full-length CD "2010. She's currently working on a third CD to be released in 2013.
Deborah's many performance credits include an appearance at the 2006 Millennium Music Conference, the RockerGirl Magazine Music Convention, IndieGrrl, at several of the Annual Invasion of the GoGirls at SXSW in Austin, TX, the Harmony Festival and 2009's California Music Fest, MacWorld 2010, Far West Fest and many other venues and events. She toured the Northwest as part "Indie Abundance Music, Money & Mindfulness" (2009) with two other Bay Area artists, and followed up with "The Great Idea Tour of the Southwest in March 2010 with Jean Mazzei.
Latest Posts by Deborah Crooks
Unlike many trends and fads, the increased popularity of yoga leaves room for people of all ages. While the fit, youthful bodies leaving many a studio may intimidate a more mature newcomer, it’s never too late to venture into a yoga studio to enjoy the benefits of practice. Taking on a yoga practice will entail a bit more effort (one translation of yoga is “work”) than plastic surgery or the quick fix of medication; however, the ancient discipline does more slowing down of the aging process than most any conventional treatment.
Increasingly recommended by the medical establishment for various conditions ranging from hypertension, pain associated with arthritis and even as a helpful adjunct to a cancer treatment, yoga is truly for everybody.
Alice Rocky, a popular yoga teacher in California who has taught an Iyengar class at College of Marin for more than 30 years, is the first to admit that older students face challenges unique to their age.
“It is difficult to start later,” she says. “For one, older students are just stiffer.”
Tim Salz, a 59-year-old Mill Valley psychologist and dedicated Ashtanga practitioner who came to yoga when he was 52, agrees. “You have less energy,” Salz says. “Your body does not change shapes as readily.” That’s a significant difference. Admittedly, Salz had some aptitude for yoga that kept him practicing amid a room full of younger students. “I’ve always been more flexible than average. I’m adept because I have long limbs, but I notice it takes me longer to recover. You can’t stop. You take a month off and it is brutal going back.”
Nonetheless, the benefits of yoga outweigh any downside, and older students tend to appreciate those benefits all the more. The age range in Rocky’s class is astonishing. She has 19-year-olds practicing next to committed 80-year-olds, and a spectrum of age groups in between. And counter to conventional belief, many of her younger students are less flexible than her older students.
Rocky herself, who taught modern dance before she began practicing yoga 33 years ago, has a physique that epitomizes the benefits of yoga practice—strong, flexible and energetic, she appears much younger than her years.
“I once had a football player come watch class and he pointed to one of my older students and said, ‘Why can’t I do that,’ ” she laughs. “I said, ‘Oh, age has nothing to do with it.’ ”
What it does have to do with is regular practice as well as genetics and environmental factors, which are unique to each body. As such, the same rules apply to a more mature student as they do to any yoga newcomer. Start slowly, consult with a doctor if you’re working with an existing medical condition and communicate any special conditions or injuries to your teacher. Don’t be cowed by what other students may be able to do; advanced poses are to be worked toward, not completed the first time tried. If you haven’t been very physically active, start with a gentle yoga class or introductory series of classes geared to the beginner rather than a sweat-inducing Hot Yoga or more aerobic power-yoga class. Inquire at studios about their staff to find a well-trained and experienced teacher who continues to study with teachers of her own. A good teacher will help students tailor their practice to their particular needs. Different bodies have different aptitudes for postures and most postures can be modified without losing the benefits. Take a variety of different styles of yoga—Iyengar, Ashtanga and Viniyoga (which have all the same basic roots, even if their look and feel is different)—and find one that suits your sensibility and general fitness level.
While athletic, Salz had never taken a yoga class until he was past 50, and was struggling to manage a heart-related medical issue. Dissatisfied with how his doctors were treating it, he looked to alternatives.
“I decided to try and control my condition by cutting out caffeine, changing my diet and practicing yoga. I’d read that yogis could control their heart rate—and yoga worked for five years.”
Though it wasn’t a long-term fix for his heart, Salz is quick to point out the other benefits of his commitment. “I have less anxiety and a sense of peacefulness. I am overall much calmer. I utilize yogic breathing at other times as a stress reducer. And I maintain my flexibility. There’s a slowing down of the aging process which is a good feeling.”
By the time a person hits his mid-20s, the spine begins to naturally atrophy. Generally, height starts to decrease due to the long-term effects of gravity, habitual patterns of holding one’s physical body, compression of the discs and decreased space between the joints. The arches of the feet tend to flatten and older people tend to shuffle when they walk.
One of the advantages of practicing the yoga postures, whatever the style, is to counter such typical aging patterns. This is chiefly for its focus on keeping the spine flexible. Rather than place stress on the body like many weight-bearing exercises, yoga practice builds strength and flexibility, serving to elasticize the spine, while countering stress. Poor posture begins to improve, flabby arms are toned and the internal organs revitalized. Inversions naturally reverse the effect of gravity.
“People come in [who haven't been practicing] with such tight upper bodies,” notes Rocky. “As people age, their hands start to cup inward and they shuffle when they walk. If one stays flexible, one’s posture is so much better. You won’t start rounding forward. With all the downward-dog poses and arm balances we [yogis] do, we keep the ligaments and muscles stretched. We work at separating the muscles and ligaments so everything can move the way it should.”
Weight-bearing postures and inversions are especially beneficial for musculoskeletal conditions such as osteoarthritis and carpal tunnel syndrome. Triangle pose helps strengthen neck muscles, backbends open the heart, and twists improve digestion and tonify the internal organs while upward dog helps counter habitual hunching.
Rocky is a fan of inverted postures, such as head- and handstands. “Inversions are the best anti-aging poses,” she says. “I like to think of inversions as natural face-lifts. They bring blood to the brain and the eyes, and benefit the heart, lungs and digestive system. With all those things, people sleep better, they’re calmer.”
Likewise, most students who commit to regular practice naturally make lifestyle changes outside of class that support their overall well-being. Many adopt a vegetarian or lower fat diet, and cut back on drinking alcohol or smoking.
Like most physical practice, results come with commitment. While an older body may take a little longer to adapt, strength, flexibility and overall range of movement will improve with consistent practice over the course of several months.
And yoga is as much a practice of mind as body and one of its side benefits is clearing away beliefs and judgments about the possible. One of the first beliefs to be banished is the judgment around the limits of physical age.
“If I have a struggling student I’ll be like, hey, come on, look at her,” says Rocky, “And I’ll point to my 80-year-old doing a perfect half-handstand.”
Salz counts starting yoga among the most important things he’s done in his life. “It’s totally changed the way it feels to be me.” Salz says. “I wish I started when I was 23. It would have been a treat to enjoy the benefits of yoga throughout my whole adult life. It’s a great thing.”
Musical Mini Marathon with Peter Whitehead. Guest schedule below.
The San Francisco International Arts Festival will take place through June 5 in San Francisco. This weekend CALI & Co and Matt El bring the HERE show to the area guest collaborators Kyoungil Ong and Sooyeon Lyuh from the USA and Korea.
HERE captures the rapture of existence through a new piece de resistance by CALI & CO dance/Matt EL music with guest collaborators Kyoungil Ong/Ong Dance Company and Sooyeon Lyuh. HERE is a rare, creative amalgamation of identity and culture through traditional Korean dance and music with American modern dance and rock music. Coursing shadow and light through its structure, HERE seeks to highlight the beauty and soften the pain of existence.
It is a shared bill with Dana Lawton Dances at the Cowell Theater. More info including how to get tickets and background on other performances over the next couple of weeks can be found at www.sfiaf.org/.
Q: You’ve been so active in music, I didn’t realize you hadn’t recorded your own solo work. How did you know it was time?
Oakland musician Michele Kappel-Stone is one of those rare hybrids of cool, talented and nice. The Baltimore native is always playing somewhere and she’s a seemingly tireless advocate of her fellow artists.
When she’s not working on her own projects, she can often be found sitting in with another band, helping book a show or organizing an event for The California Roots Union.
I’ve been catching Kappel-Stone on various stages in various guises — playing as Tippy Canoe, putting together shows at The Starry Plough — around the Bay for years, but one of my favorite of her artistic incarnations is her recent collaboration with Laura Benitez, Heartache Sisters.
The duo project is a winning spin-off of Laura Benitez & The Heartache in which Kappel-Stone plays drums and sings backup. The duo’s voices blend well, they can play multiple instruments, they exude fun and look great doing it. Think Shovels & Rope crossed with Loretta Lynn and you start to get an idea of what the Heartache Sisters have going on.
After meeting up for coffee in the burgeoning Grand Lake District of Oakland, which she now calls home, Kappel-Stone answered some questions about the evolution of her musical life.
Q How did you first start singing and writing songs? Who were some of your earliest influences?
MKS: My professional singing debut was dressed in a head-to-toe white leotard performing a song called “Sex In Wetsuits” for multi-media avant theater company Impossible Industrial Action’s original play “The Pleasure Raiders.” This was 1990 in Baltimore. Before that it was mostly singing into a hairbrush in my bedroom and daydreaming. I started writing songs seven years later when I was the drummer in The Kirby Grips. I was learning to play the guitar and set my sights on becoming a songwriter.
A portion of my earliest influences include the Grease Soundtrack, Patsy Cline, The Monkees, Donna Summer, Barbara Mandrell, Earth, Wind & Fire, Eurythmics, and The Pretenders. That’s a combination of my mother’s record collection and my first order from Columbia House Record Club (cost just a penny). My first instrument is drums. I have the theater company, I.I.A., to thank for this, too. They gave me a shot behind the kit when the “real drummer” suddenly quit.
Q What brought you to the Bay Area? Does the East Coast ever pull you back?
MKS The Bay Area’s arts and music scene was the initial draw. Secondly, I was deciding between New Orleans and San Francisco in the heat and humidity of Baltimore in August and my air conditioning broke. SF sounded “cool.” Lastly, my best friend, Mandy, decided to move here first and that sealed the deal. One of the reasons I’m excited to return to touring next year (both solo and with Heartache Sisters) is to get to visit my homeland again. I miss it, but always feel connected.
Q You’ve got your finger on the pulse of the Bay Area music scene as a steadily performing artist and a talent buyer — whose inspiring you now?
MKS There are far too many to name and I’d hate to leave out someone I really adore. Instead, I think I’ll name the bands I’ll be sharing bills with coming up. The Demons I Knew (10/11 at Amnesia, SF), The McCoy Tyler Band, Secret Town (11/13’s The Heartless Woman Ball at Leo’s, Oakland), Maurice Tani, Loretta Lynch, and Yard Sale (featuring Jill Olson, Denise Funari and Melanie deGiovanni) (11/22 at The Starry Plough, Berkeley).
Q Describe your writing process. Do you write words first or start on an instrument?
MKS The melody and chord progression come along first, then the words fit themselves in. Sometimes a single line of a lyric and the melody occur together while driving in the car and I’ll develop the rest when I have a guitar or ukulele in my hand later, but that’s less common.
Q How do you feel to have your first solo show is coming up? What can audiences expect?
MKS I’m excited for my first solo show under my very own legal name. Audiences can expect a slight tingling sensation, but it won’t be anything to be alarmed by. Musically it will be a mix of my new songs, with a few older tunes from projects that have stuck with me and deserve to live on. Style-wise, I suppose you can revert back to the earliest influences question and imagine what that mix sounds like filtered through my personality.
As timing would have it, we had a gig in wine country on the Sunday of the August Sonoma County Earthquake in California. It was in Sonoma County rather than Napa, but like most people living in the Bay Area, we’d felt the earthquake in the wee hours of the morning.
Like most California natives, the feel of an earthquake is familiar. The first hints of movement, the approaching tremors and then the peak of the shake. Kind of like thunder in the earth. This one felt long and steady (I think I woke up after the sharpest of the jolts), not enough to get out of bed but enough for us to know it wasn’t an inconsequential tremor.
It felt to me that we were at or very near the center of something moderate…or somewhere not too far away, some peoples lives were changing considerably…which they were. My best wishes are going out to those in Napa who are reeling from the 6.1 quake’s aftermath, and whose nerves are likely rattling from the 80+ aftershocks.
While I don’t think of moving from California when an earthquake reminds me how fragile things really are, something primal in the survival department does get rattled. The earth moving is an awesome event, period. And I have instant recall of the two other largish and large earthquakes I’ve been in (5.9 in 1979 and 7.1 in 1989, both while I was living in Santa Cruz), down to what I did (ducking and covering under a dining room table and doorway respectively), and who I was with, and also that knowing that ‘this one’ is a ‘big one.’
I had the brief thought on Sunday that maybe we shouldn’t go the gig in Geyserville because of the quake. There were bridges to cross, after all, and we’d be heading closer to the epicenter than we were here in Alameda. Then I realized how silly that was—that while we could control how close we were to a fault line, there are infinite risks inherent to living anywhere, but it’s the living, as risky a proposition as that can be, that’s the point. And so we made the drive, and enjoyed playing atop a beautiful hill with a bucolic view of Dry Creek Valley.
This past weekend, we took the ferry to San Francisco and spent half a day at the Asian Art Museum, catching the next-to-last-day of the Yoga: Art of Transformation exhibit. A much-buzzed-about-in-yoga-circles show (there were many accompanying events that drew on the vibrant and diverse Bay Area yoga community), the curators of the exhibit created a compelling narrative in 135 artworks that serves both as visual feast and food for thought, tracing the roots of yoga as a practice of renunciates in ancient India, to its overseas sensationalization in Europe and the US, and present-day popularity, and commercialization, worldwide.
A winding narrative of paintings, sculpture, drawings, photos and video, including South Indian temple-derived sculptures of multi-armed yoginis, pages from a 16th century treatise“Ocean of Life” (some of the earliest examples of asana illustrations), large early-1800 paintings of the chakra system from the Jodhpur court that carry both religious and political associations, and footage of Krishnamacharya and Iyengar practicing asana, very clearly showed how captivating, and widely interpreted, yoga has been throughout the ages. Fittingly, the show culminates with a wall-size piece by Pardon My Hindi, #WhitePeopleDoingYoga in the Education Resource Center.
The Yoga: Art of Transformation exhibition next travels to the Cleveland Museum of Art (June 22, 2014–Sep. 7, 2014).
Beyond such special exhibits, the Asian Art Museum, now housed in the former SF Publication Library that was built in 1917, is truly a treasure trove of Asian art and culture. Every time I’ve gone to a special event here, I take solace from the inevitable crowds in one of the upstairs galleries. This time, after viewing the yoga exhibit, we popped into a gallery filled with Japanese Buddha sculptures and then just stood a while in the beautiful interior court.