Actress Mariel Hemingway uses the lessons and practices of yoga as a starting point for her own personal reflections and a larger-than-life family story. The result is a searingly honest memoir that is firmly practical, as well as a moving narrative of the author's struggle to deal with a complex and often stressful life.
Mariel was the third daughter born to Jack Hemingway, Ernest Hemingway's son, and Byra Whittlesey. Her older sister, Muffet, suffered for years from instability, while middle sister Margaux, a celebrated actress and model who was caught up in the fast lane, eventually died of the effects of her driven lifestyle. Their mother, Byra, was darkly moody and emotionally quixotic, and made no secret of her disdain for her husband, while Jack, himself insecure in no small part because of his celebrated father, a man he never really felt he knew, was an indifferent parent at best. Even before she was a teenager, Mariel was forced to assume the role of stable center of her family. In just about every way, she never really had a childhood of her own, a situation that was exacerbated by her sudden thrust into celebrity when she was first cast in sister Margaux's film Lipstick, then in Woody Allen's Manhattan. Suddenly, Mariel was a movie star.
Always an athletic person, Mariel turned to yoga and its meditative practice in an effort to maintain her center while much of her life threatened to spin out of control. As the title of this remarkable memoir suggests, much of her adult life has been directed toward finding and maintaining her balance in situations that have been heartbreakingly unsettling and emotionally disorienting. Throughout the book, Mariel uses her yoga training as a starting point for each chapter, carefully describing a particular position, then letting her mind wander into thoughts of the past and her rocky life. As each chapter begins with instruction, so does the book end in the same way, the exercises this time organized in a sequence that can be followed by anyone who wants to practice them. Included are photos of Mariel as she performs the various moves.
Living the life now of wife and mother to two teenaged daughters while still pursuing a career in film, Mariel Hemingway has weathered some of the worst storms that life can bring. Certainly she has found her balance. And in this deeply inspiring, thoroughly fascinating memoir, she shares for the first time the story of that journey.
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Simon & Schuster
December 31, 2002
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Excerpt from Finding My Balance by Mariel Hemingway
Chapter One: Mountain Pose, or Tadasana
I want to begin this story about my life by simply standing still. Standing on our own two feet with stability and awareness is hugely important in all our lives, and it seems easy enough. I stand here, supposedly straight and stable, balanced and awake. But am I really I rock my weight back and forth on my feet, trying to find my true center. The funny thing is that I am sure that what's center for me today was imbalance yesterday, or will be tomorrow. But forget that. I make a commitment to nothing except my willingness to be present on my own feet, inside my body, today -- right now.
The premise of Mountain pose, like all standing yoga postures, is to stimulate the body and the mind. I tense my thigh muscles and release them, and after that release I seek a comfortable holding position that feels invigorating without tension. Concentrating on the sensation, I try to bring all the muscles in my body into this pleasant state, while standing in this apparently simple posture. I find that it is not at all a simple thing to do. There are complexities to my body even while I am standing still. Am I making a line of my crown, ears, and ankles Are my sides extended evenly, with the same length, depth, and intensity I pull my spine up out of my waist, feeling lightness in the intention of a straight body. My neck is long and an extension of my long spine. I spread my toes to find my solid ground. Ah yes! That reminds me of the importance of my feet. Solid contact with the earth is the root of this posture.
As I reflect on Mountain pose and understand the implications of its name, I can begin to understand my great need for stability and groundedness. Something about stability is so appealing to me in a world where I find it very difficult to feel solid on my feet, or even to feel that I'm inside my body! I think this goes way back for me. Probably, like a lot of people, my sense of instability came from a childhood where too many things were turned upside down. Caring for a sick mother in a ravaged family, I became the parent at a time when I needed reassurance and mothering.
My childhood home in Ketchum was across Idaho's Big Wood River and a few miles upstream from the cabin where my grandfather Ernest had lived. He killed himself with a shotgun just four months before I was born -- the fourth suicide in his immediate family. Was it a genetic predisposition to depression and alcoholism, or an unhealthy family environment that produced disastrous emotional habits Whatever the cause, it's the kind of family album that gets you thinking. Continued tragedies in succeeding generations of our family have left me coping with a full slate of problems and fears every day in my life. Finding my own answers has come to seem like a matter of survival. That struggle has shaped me. It is the story I want to tell.