Yoga: Mindful Wellness for Body and Mind

By Vera Minot

(how I feel about running, most days)

When I arrived in Waco in 2013 I had no idea that my cross-country upheaval would catalyze an entire health and wellness journey for me.  I began researching nutrition and preparing my meals at home, and to complement this I began working out in a gym (for a while), and I even (gasp! This part was hard) started running again.  I was training for my first 5k (a big deal for me!), with bigger dreams to come, when I was hit by a car on my way home for lunch one day.  As I began nursing several spinal injuries, I came to find I could no longer walk for extended periods of time without debilitating pain, let alone run.  Facing potentially lifelong demobilizing injuries, I ceased my workout routines, further increasing the wellness void I had been looking to fill since arriving in Waco.  I needed to find an activity that would honor my injuries, aid in my healing process, and give me the physical outlet I yearned for, I turned to that in which I had only dabbled in the past: yoga.

I started practicing yoga consistently in June of 2016, and I found that when I did my back pain decreased!  Despite there being limitations to the poses (or asanas) I could perform due to my injuries, as the weeks went on I noticed I was gaining some strength in my arms, core, back, etc.  Yoga seemed to be the perfect solution for what I was seeking!  What I didn’t realize yet was that physical benefits are only a small part of what yoga has to offer to any one person.  My journey may have begun as one of physical health, but after 7 short months I can see that while the physical benefits are many and varying, the mental health benefits greatly exceed any expectations I didn’t even know I should have.

(child’s pose, or balasana, a common resting/healing pose)

I’ve been an anxious person for as long as I can remember—I’m very self aware, so I mull over past events looking for cues for how I can better myself (“oh gosh, I didn’t ask her enough questions about herself!  I need to make sure to do that more, I hope she didn’t think I was egotistical?!”), and when I’m not doing that I’m often considering the various [typically disastrous] ways a near-future event may pan out (“ok, maybe I’ll invite her for a hang out next week and I’ll make sure to ask her what she likes to cook and focus on her, but what if she thinks I’m prying?  Maybe a hangout next week is too soon?”).  Long story short, living in the present hasn’t always been easy for me, and unfortunately anxiety resides and thrives when I focus on the past and the future.  This is where yoga comes in.

Since beginning my practice, not only have the frequency and intensity of my anxious moments decreased drastically (I realize anxiety manifests differently for everyone and as such it’s very much an umbrella term), but I’ve noticed more specific benefits to my mental health as well.  Naturally, there’s the obvious increase in endorphins that happens with any exercise.  There’s also the incredible sense of pride and accomplishment I feel when I make progress with an asana I wasn’t able to perform before.  Perhaps most importantly though, I have increased concentration and focusing abilities (especially when it comes to doing tasks I didn’t really want to do, like vacuuming my house and going to work 🙂 ), I find that I am able to stop, breathe, think, and then act as opposed to charging forward with my conditioned, emotional reactions, and best of all my tolerance for stress and stressful situations has increased significantly!

A personal example of these benefits presented itself recently when I had to have some tough conversations with a good friend of mine.  Our friendship had gone awry, and as you can imagine the conversations that can ensue around a situation like this tend to be very emotionally charged.  Both of us were upset, and in that moment I would rather have been anywhere other than on her couch, talking about whether this friendship was worth continuing.  In the past I probably would have written an impassioned letter, detailing every wrong, every hurt, regardless of its necessity, and then run away so I wouldn’t have to see the fallout.  Present “me” was able to sit through the “awkward” silences in the conversation that night, stay true to my needs and boundaries, and respect my friend despite the incendiary nature of some of the accusations being hurled my way.  We weren’t able to resolve our issues, but I was able to move forward with a sense of calm acceptance I know would have been foreign to me even 2 years ago.  I credit yoga 100% for arming me with the skills to handle that situation.

(this is me doing Bakasana, or Crow’s Pose, one of the first times I was able to successfully do it! Still working on the form of course)

The benefits to my mental health since beginning my consistent practice have been so great that naturally I began to wonder why.  I’m by no means a voice of authority on the scientific relationship between yoga and mental health, but here’s what I’ve found—it all seems to come down to the same couple things.  BKS Iyengar, the esteemed founder of Iyengar Yoga, said “Penetration of our mind is our goal, but in the beginning to set things in motion, there is no substitute for sweat.”  What we practice physiologically develops new habits and reconditions old ones that affect us mentally.  When we breathe through a difficult pose, breathing deeper into the muscle or joint that’s struggling, we learn how to endure a stressful situation.  When we focus on keeping our inhales and exhales even and slow to regulate our heartbeat, this keeps us in the present moment (being in the present moment is also called mindfulness)—this in turn quiets our mind, which is key in increasing concentration and focus.  Mindfulness is grounding, and neurologically this helps train the brain to stay in executive thinking mode (this is where the stop, breathe, think, then act happens) as opposed to the more primal fight/flight/freeze mode.  When we are practicing our balance, we are attuning to our body, making the tiny adjustments necessary to stay in a pose.  Learning to attune to my body has helped me recognize the physiological precursors to stress and anxiety so that I can deal with them with a calm mind and heart as opposed to letting them overtake me.

(Kim and her daughter in the studio foyer, photo credit Sarah Hill Photography)

There are some yogis and yoginis out there who learn these lessons on their own, in their home practice.  I, however, benefit greatly from a teacher’s guidance, so I’m so grateful that Yoga8 exists here in Waco.  I’ve experienced all the studios in town, but when it comes down to it the feeling of love and acceptance for who I am and where I am in my journey that I feel at Yoga8 is unparalleled elsewhere, in my opinion.  Kim, the owner of the studio, has a beautiful spirit as well as an incredible knowledge of the human body and its capabilities, and all of the other RYT-200 certified teachers at the studio truly take to heart Kim’s mission when she opened Yoga8 two years ago.  Their mission is to improve as many lives as possible.

My short time with Yoga 8 has truly revitalized me.  My time spent in their myriad classes, from the restorative Healing classes to their sweatier Kick-UR-Asana classes (and any of the classes in between) has taught me how to attune to/regulate my body and be mindful whether my toes are on the mat or not.  The lessons I’ve learned and will continue to learn as I progress in my yoga journey have dramatically increased my mental health, and as such improved my life.  To Kim, I can say: mission accomplished.

Vera Minot is a reluctant adult from Arizona trying to navigate life in Waco and in this world.  She finds joy in cooking, gardening, her cats, social justice, creative endeavors, books, and of course yoga.

Financial Freedom: Two Things….Windfalls and Local Resources

By Phil Oliver

Thing One:   How to treat a financial windfall in a healthy way

Were that it was just about money—-this concept of financial freedom would be such a breeze!    However, when the financial situations become dire, we are ready for help and assistance in creating quick financial solutions to solve a complex set of multi-reason patterns of spending that upset EVERY aspect of our lives…not just financial.

In past blog articles, I have addressed many ways I help clients as a Financial Coach to look authentically at their income and spending and look at the possible resources in our community to help “bridge the gap” toward reaching their main financial goal.  I take a much different approach than a Financial Advisor because he looks more for investment opportunities, while I deal more with looking at how to better spend and enrich the relationships in your household with the income you currently have.

So, this article will look at healthy ways I would recommend as a Financial Coach to handle a possible time when a financial windfall is placed in your lap.

For some, it is this season of tax refund, for others it is an inheritance, for others it is a work bonus, or another unexpected cache of cash.    Whatever the source, thought and planning will give much more lasting results than quick, random spending.

First, I will go back to my first question in this series:

What is the main financial goal you seek?     This is the foundation for all subsequent decisions, sacrifice, budgeting, and celebration.

The second is just as important, but a little more allusive:    Why?

This is where the income becomes intentionally targeted on the GOAL, rather than the SPENDING.    Money is simply the means to better accomplish what we really want to happen in life and the relationships that drive the real source of our true wants.

Looking at cash windfalls is no different than the budget building process we have already covered.  The biggest change is to move from planning for needs (or even temporary wants) to planning for shared dreams and life enriching experiences and events.

This process is easily done during the budget building process.    After the Bare Bones Budget is done, then a consideration of wants is added as the income improves.    For a windfall, the next step is to come up with household “dreams plan list” that, while unfunded now, can be anticipated, reviewed and considered for any future unexpected income.

Some common categories for households to use to construct a “dreams” list could be:

  • Buying a House
  • Starting a business
  • Education
  • Moving
  • Giving
  • Purchasing A Car (for cash)
  • Eliminating all debt
  • An Emergency Fund

Each of these can be part of a long-term dream list that can be intentionally planned for with overage each month, while an additional windfall would simply expedite the opportunity to fund the dream(s).

So, the first step is to get together as a household and “dream”.   A household brainstorming meeting could easily be part of the regular budgeting process where everyone is given input.    Then, use the conversation to make your “dream list” that is added to your budget as an additional page or addendum.    You can either make a plan to allocate a percentage of overages and/or windfalls to the listed items,

Which might look like this:

  • 30% to Giving
  • 30% to Eliminating all debt
  • 40% to An Emergency Fund

or to completely fund the list from item one to the next until the money runs out.

Which might look like this:

  1. Giving
  2. Eliminating all debt
  3. An Emergency Fund

Both continue to focus on intentional spending, rather than random and impulsive spending.

Once the list is compiled, the financial aspect can take a back seat to the relational possibilities of looking, anticipating, announcing monthly updates, or even “window shopping” for the things on the “dream” list during the month.   That can be just as exciting and rewarding as the actual spending!

I hope you will use these as just the beginning examples of ways of handling a windfall to maximize the current and future impact on your household.

Be Creative and invest in what matters most—-relationships!

Thing Two:   Getting Financial Help Locally 

We are fortunate in Waco to have so many community resources.   I have begun to compile and locate resources here in Waco that can help with Financial Literacy, Money Management, and Personal Financial Counseling.

Here are two of the best starting points for those who are seeking assistance:

  • Prosper Waco with their “Get Help Locally” page: — Look currently at Housing (to Buy) and Housing (to Rent).  Both of these categories give local agencies that help with financial literacy.   More will be added soon!
  • Call “211” or if your cell phone can’t call it, dial 1(877)541-7905. — Ask for resources in McLennan County for “Personal Financial  Counseling”

Most current resources are available with links on these sites and I personally know that Prosper Waco will continually and regularly add to their resource page as a direct result of their growing commitment to be a One Stop Shop for resources to enhance life for all residents in the Waco area.

If you have additional resources you would like to recommend, please call or text me directly at 254.744-8328, or Prosper Waco at 254.741-0081 ( )

Blessings and best wishes for a fulfilling, fantastic financial future!

Phil Oliver is a retired educator.   He is an independent Financial Coach, active mentor, and community activist.   He has spent the last 8 years empowering individuals and families to take charge of their finances through his FLOW system.  He is active in many community efforts to grow financial literacy and responsibility including Prosper Waco and Citizens for Responsible Lending.  He consults with many local organizations to teach and inspire their efforts to empower clients in personal finances.  You can contact him at:

 The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.




Santiago Fraga – Just another kid who loves (Challenger Little League) baseball

By Coleen Heaton

The sounds of baseball…the cheering crowd, the announcer, the crack of the bat. America’s pastime is a favorite for many. What happens, though, if you love the game, but the sounds just overwhelm you?

Eight-year-old Santiago Fraga is a huge sports fan, like many children his age. According to his mom, Evonne, he can spend a whole Saturday watching college football with his dad, and when there is not a game on TV, he watches videos of the Baylor Bears and the Dallas Cowboys on YouTube. They think he may someday be a sports announcer just like The Voice of the Bears John Morris.

Of all sports, baseball, it seems, was the one to capture his heart above the rest. When he was finally old enough to play baseball, his parents quickly signed him up. While that may be considered typical, this story is anything but “typical.” Santiago was born at 28 weeks. He has hydrocephalus due to grade three and grade four brain hemorrhages, and was diagnosed with quadriplegic cerebral palsy at the age of two. He uses a wheelchair to get around. None of that deterred his family from wanting to sign him up to play the game he so dearly loves and that was where Challenger League came in.

Challenger Little League, first established in Texas in 1989 (and then in Waco in 1990) as a separate division of Little League, is an adaptive baseball program for boys & girls with physical or cognitive challenges. It offers children the opportunity to enjoy the game of baseball along with millions of their peers who participate in the sport worldwide. Over 30,000 athletes participate in Challenger Division every year; over 100 of them participate right here in Waco.

Four years ago, Santiago became a Challenger League baseball player. However, those beloved sounds, the cheering crowd, the announcer, and the crack of the bat, bothered him so much that he spent much of his first season on the field crying while his mom and dad cried at the fence. Volunteers continually encouraged his parents, saying it would take some getting used to.

The league uses “Buddies” to assist and encourage players during games. Santiago’s buddy was then-China Spring High School student Mason Gist (also a huge baseball fan). The love of the game brought the two brought together and they developed a deep friendship along the way. Mason helped Santiago focus on the game and encouraged him when he became overwhelmed. Noise canceling headphones helped, too, and Santiago was able to finish his first season.

The beginning of his second season was much the same as the first: he was on the field, and his parents were crying at the fence. Santi, however, was no longer crying (he was laughing and enjoying his favorite sport with his teammates). Mom and dad were now crying tears of joy. They were so proud of how far he had come and so thankful that they stuck it out through some difficult times.

Each season has been better for him than the one before. His parents say Santiago has made many new friends, is more independent, and has so much fun out on the field. Mr. and Mrs. Fraga have also made new friends on this journey with their son, “amazing families who have been so supportive in our journey, as many of them are in similar situations,” says Evonne.
During his time with Challenger, he has played on Baylor Baseball field multiple times in the Shriner’s Classic. He has had his name called over the loud speaker while at bat, and has had his picture on the jumbo-tron. He was once invited into the press box at a Texas Rangers game to meet and speak with Tom Grieve and Steve Busby. Recently, he attended Lunch with a Legend where he met Baylor Baseball Coach Steve Rodriguez and David Murphy.

In addition to baseball, Santiago plays football, basketball, and soccer.

If you know a child who wants to join Santiago and the rest of the challenger players, registration for the 2017 season is underway. There is no registration fee and anyone ages 4-18, or up to age 22 if still enrolled in a school program, with a physical or developmental challenge may participate.

Waco’s Don Deatherage Field, a unique baseball field modified to meet the needs of all players, is located at 2021 North 44th Street, between Cobbs Drive & Trice Avenue, behind the Lake Air Softball Fields.

One of the benefits of having Challenger Division is that it encourages the use of “buddies” for the players. “Buddies” assist players whenever possible, encouraging players to bat and make plays independently. However, the buddy is always nearby to help when needed. Often buddies are peer athletes who are participating in a Little League Baseball or Softball program. As with Santiago, buddies can make all the difference!

Challenger is a uniquely rewarding program, always welcoming new sponsors and volunteers. For more information on how to become a player, sponsor, or volunteer, contact league representatives at or look them up on facebook and like their page, Challenger Little League in Waco Texas.

Coleen Heaton has volunteered with Challenger League in Waco for over a decade. She has coached in the past and currently recruits and trains volunteers (“Buddies”). She also is part of No Limitations Athletics, a local organization offering sports to the special needs community. They currently offer flag football and cheerleading in the winter, basketball in the summer, and soccer in the fall. In addition to sports, they have a Girl Scouts Troop (Troop No Limitations), plan an annual special needs prom for the area, and began an online support group for special needs moms. They are also pushing for an inclusive park to be built in Waco.





Walking into the Future of Downtown

By Ashley Bean Thornton

I like to walk, and I like downtown, so when I discovered the book Walkable City: How Downtown can Save America, One Step at a Time (by Jeff Speck) I picked it up.  I mentioned it on Facebook to see if I could rope a few folks into reading it with me.  Soon we had about 20 people signed up for a book discussion.  It was such a great conversation that a handful of us decided to keep meeting. We have adopted the name Waco Walks. Now we’re even getting T-shirts, so what do you know?  We’re a real “thing!”

Our merry group has decided that we want to get out and walk together once a month. Our intention with these walks is to get a little exercise, enjoy each other’s company, and see what we can learn and do about making Waco into a community that walks!

Our last walk was on February 11.  We walked from the fine arts building on Baylor campus, down University Parks to Washington, and then across to Sixth street, before jig-jagging to Fifth Street to cross back under 1-35 to return to Baylor campus. Think about all the neat Waco stuff you get to see on that route: the Martin Museum of Art, the Mayborn Museum, the First Street Cemetery, the Downtown Farmer’s Market, the food trucks, the suspension bridge, the longhorn statues, the courthouse, the (soon to be open) Mary Avenue Market, the lofts in the old Gradel Printing building, the Silos, First Baptist Church, the Bear habitat, the beautiful new Baylor fountain in the middle of 5th street… It’s really a terrific 3.5 mile loop!

Where the sidewalk ends…

So why isn’t it more popular for walkers?  Well, there are lots of fun things to look at along the way, but they are not connected together all that well. There are big empty parking lots and dull or boarded up buildings in between the cool things.  There are long stretches of really nice sidewalk, but they are occasionally punctuated with unfortunate patches of badly broken sidewalk and places where you have to walk in the grass or in the street. Baylor and downtown are not too far away from each other to walk, but I-35 is a psychological barrier and the underpasses, while technically walkable and safe enough, are a little intimidating and not very inviting.  How do we go about overcoming some of these challenges and maximizing the benefits of the great pieces we have?

Enter one of the things I love most about Waco:  our awesome city employees!  We invited Clint Peters and Chelsea Phlegar from the City of Waco Planning Office to come with us on our walk.  They willingly took time away from their own Saturday morning plans to walk with us and educate us about some of the possibilities for making the area more walker-friendly.  They even brought handouts!

It was exciting to hear about upcoming plans for better sidewalks up and down University Parks and on Sixth Street, and new hotels and apartments with first floor retail and public space for pedestrians to peek into and enjoy.  We dreamed together about the possibilities for developing the parking lot and current drive-thru bank area between the courthouse and Austin Ave. into a walkable city square similar to the ones in Georgetown and Denton.  We talked about the pros and cons of one-way and two-way streets and how that affects walkability and storefront development. We talked about the culture changes needed so that people are willing to walk a couple of blocks instead of parking directly in front of their downtown destinations. Clint and Chelsea helped us understand overlay districts and TIF rules and the influence they have on making downtown more walkable and pleasant.  They gave us some great information about how we might be able to speak into the I-35 expansion project (if it happens!) in regard to making the underpasses more inviting and walkable “gateways” from Baylor to downtown.

What were my main take-aways from our walk together?  First, there are all kinds of terrific ideas and possibilities for making downtown more walkable and interesting. We residents of Waco need to educate ourselves about what it takes to actually implement those ideas.  Second, there are an awful lot of good things going on right now.  If we took this exact walk again in just six months we would see lots of new developments moving us toward the goal of an ever more interesting and walkable downtown.  Exciting times!

Are you interested in helping to make Waco a community of walkers?  We’d love to have you join us! Check the Waco Walks Facebook page for information about upcoming meetings and walks.

Are you specifically interested in downtown development?  On February 25, from 9:00 to Noon, Baylor Continuing Ed is offering a class called “Waco 101: How to Grow a Downtown.”  We’ll learn about the theory and practice of downtown development from Megan Henderson of City Center Waco, then we’ll take a brief walking tour of downtown led by local developer Shane Turner.  We’ll cap it off with a question and answer session with Megan, Shane, City Manager Dale Fisseler and City Councilman Dillon Meek.  It costs $10, you can register online at   See you there!  Walk on!

This Act Locally Waco blog post is by Ashley Bean Thornton, she works at Baylor, helps out with Act locally Waco, and facilitates the Waco Foundational Employment Network which is a part of Prosper Waco.  She likes to walk and doesn’t mind at all if you honk and wave when you see her.

 The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email for more information.