Really, Yoga Journal?

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Editor’s Note: the below is opinion, and should be enjoyed in the spirit of communication, dialogue, listening and constructive criticism.


I’ve watched with some distress over the years as Yoga Journal has devolved from my once-beloved source of solid information about the nuts and bolts of yoga…to another popular magazine shaming women to sell a copy.

Still, I did not unsubscribe, since it seemed to me that for every ridiculous article about so-called yogic fashion and of-the-moment yoga superstars, there was a good, solid piece about the history, the philosophy, the physiology and many other important aspects of the practice.

Well, I’m sad to report that the gig is up. The latest and by far the lamest issue yet has me reeling in dismay. Featuring Hilaria Baldwin on the cover—you know, that sage yogini who is best known for her Instagram snaps and her famous husband—it also includes a Cosmo-esque spread of Mrs. Baldwin doing dancer pose and handstand in four inch heels (who doesn’t practice in heels?, you ask) followed by a Teen Vogue-worthy six page piece about yoga “style solutions” for your inherently flawed body. I read in horror as my fellow yogis were reduced to meaningless, cliched labels like “hourglass” and “pear,” and were advised on how best to cover “thicker thighs” and conceal “butt dimples.”

What the heck is going on here?

Yoga, and by extension yoga publications, are supposed to be an oasis from all that noise, not another vampire sucking on the fragile egos of people who have been told by modern culture that if they just buy some particular thing or look some particular way, they will finally be okay.

I was raised, as an American female born in 1970, on a steady diet of “how to be thinner” and “how to please my man.” The images, the messages assaulted me, and every other girl I knew, from every side, relentlessly, day after day, changing who we were on a molecular level. I remember being in my mid-20s and making this radical decision to not read popular magazines anymore. It felt so strange, turning my back on this world that I had allowed to define me since my very earliest memories. The first few weeks I still gazed longingly at the glossy pictures on the newsstand, desperate for a fix. I wanted to know the tips and tricks they promised inside that would make me beautiful, desirable, enviable. But after that weaning period I realized, I could finally feel my own heart and look at my reflection and see my own face—not how I wanted it to be, but how it was.  It may sound silly, but years later I am still cleaning up the mess of all that false idolatry. I still struggle with self esteem, and still fight to remember that physical beauty is not the holy grail.

One of the most important pieces of this fight has been my commitment to yoga.

Especially during yoga teacher training, I felt that old blocks were shifting and dissolving and I was so grateful to have some relief from the madness inside my brain. I’d say that madness is about 50 percent cured—so, like a recovering addict, I’m in a perpetually fragile state where the subject of beauty and cultural norms and expectations are concerned.

Which is what makes it all the more vexing when, in exploring what is supposed to be a scared venue, I am once again plopped into the vampires den. F*CK Based on the direction YJ has been going, I’m going to have to accept that this is a permanent state of affairs, and it is with great bummed out-ness that I will be canceling my subscription.

The good news is, I’ll have more time to actually practice, and read stuff that matters like books, or the Yoga Sutras, or maybe even a few elephant journal articles.


Relephant Reads >>>

Flawed, Imperfect, Emotional…but Alive. ~ Danielle Vinson

How to Critically Analyze Yoga Articles (Part Three). ~ Bernie Clark

The Pros & Cons of Social Media on Eating & Body Image Issues. ~ Dr. Stacey Rosenfeld

Yoga Teachers & Selfies: Do They Harm or Inspire? ~ Jennifer Ginsberg

Stop! Don’t Post That Perfect Yoga Photo: Read This First.

A Look at How Yoga Became a Tool for Women’s Empowerment & Activism: An Interview with Kate Clere McIntyre ofYogawoman.

What I’d Like to See in a Serious Yoga Magazine. ~ Michelle Marchildon

5 Fabulous American Yoga Books You Must Read.

Being a Fat Yoga Teacher. ~ Kate Robinson

21st Century Yoga: Questioning the “Body Beautiful”: Yoga, Commercialism & Discernment. ~ Frank Jude Boccio

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Editor: Travis May

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anonymous Apr 8, 2016 8:18am

I just purchased a subscription.

anonymous Aug 28, 2014 2:43pm

Agree with you, Erica. I got a free 2-yr subscription when I purchased my insurance but I have yet to be moved/motivated by a single recent article in Yoga Journal. I barely look at it and end up giving it away soon after it arrives. While I am all for fun photos of asanas and a playful and joyful approach to the yoga practice, I would also like some substance in their issues. If the handstands and cool yoga pants bring practitioners in to practice, that's great — but the publication should offer them spiritual nourishment that takes them past the initial draw as well. If I wanted to read about body types, cellulite, flat tummies and movie stars, I'd read Cosmo. 🙂

I did recently purchase a copy of Mantra, mostly because it featured Robert Sturmann's photography. I found that their interviews and content was much more interesting and varied.

anonymous Aug 22, 2014 9:14pm

It is timely that the outcry over the vapid commercialism of YJ is dovetailing with Iyengar's passing. It is interesting to see that Iyengar's picture has supplanted Hilaria's on the website. The two couldn't be any more opposite in their practice and intention. Iyengar's light will shine for generations to come. Meanwhile, Hilaria's shallow selfie practice is highlighted and exposed for all that is wrong with commercialized yoga today.

    anonymous Aug 28, 2014 5:28pm

    Also intereting that when Iyengar was asked, What is the greatest threat to yoga, he replied, Commercialism. I think it's important to distinguish between popualrisation of yoga– spreading teachings & knowledge–and commercialisation, self-gain, profit. Big difference in motivation. Anyone who thinks they are disseminating commercial images of yoga for the greater good are kidding themsleves.

anonymous Aug 22, 2014 3:19pm

I felt the same way when mine showed up a few weeks ago. It's a bummer. Thank you for posting.

anonymous Aug 22, 2014 10:17am

thank you for saying that yoga has become a marketing and business affair rather than a spiritual path in this country

anonymous Aug 20, 2014 10:10am

Thank you for this article. The above is EXACTLY why I cancelled my subscription, not to piggy back off other's comments. Yoga, as I was taught, is to be about taking self care. Meaning, loving your body, yourself, and others. I don't want to be reading from a yoga magazine about how to make my chest look fuller or how to hide the dimples on my thighs. Such an article is destructive and teaches one to self mutilate.

anonymous Aug 20, 2014 7:36am

Oh =/ Since I started doing yoga (and stoped, and started, and stoped, and started……) I think about signing it, though I never read it. Yep, that's it. I always chose blogs like this over the magazine. But always hoped to read it someday. Now they started translating it to Brazilian Portuguese and I thought about it again… So… What a pitty and a shame. But fine, I still have elephantjournal =] Thank you!!

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 11:55pm

i'm not a regular reader of yj but i don't see much of a change since 2006 when it was bought by investment-fund creation active interest media, whose magazines are immediately noticed for how secular they are- horses, boats, muscles and karate; nothing controversial or approaching discussion of a consciousness that is as it is and undergirds all perception. they are designed to space-out and not to space. it will be a shock if they show iyengar on the cover even in light of his acquiescing to light, because the company is solidly secular, and iyengar was religious, and his teaching clearly spiritual. it would be nice if they did, but even if they would will be in terms of wonderment (the only spiritual outlet secular culture has) and at him not with him. in consumerist terms wonderment means the body (sex and health) and gadgetry (i incude horse play in this category), not "bad" but easy distraction from practicing peace, an activity that beguiles sales, being strung on sharing.

ps. practice peace!

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 11:23pm

Very disappointing but they have been on a downward slide in yoga ethos for a while and they are sponsored by Lululemon for yoga pants
for some time so it seems to be a trend in the same direction and fortunately people are catching on. Leading me from the unreal to the real.
Let us march on.

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 9:10pm

I agree about Yoga Journal but wonder, Erica why you show yourself in your profile picture with so much makeup and carefully fashioned hairdo. How about practicing what you preach?

    anonymous Aug 20, 2014 8:22am

    Actually, that hair was the result of an almost two hour yoga photo shoot in which I sweated profusely..I didn't do anything to it prior except let it air dry. The make up was on because I was doing ANOTHER photo shoot right beforehand for a friend who was trying get her photography business off the ground and asked if she could use me to model and have her make up artist practice on me. The reason I chose that pic is because I had just collapsed out of a pose, was feeling very vulnerable and happy, and wasn't trying to be perfect in any way. It was a special moment to me– I was totally unguarded. Sorry for the long response, and I can see how you would have misinterpreted the photo, but I really felt I needed to clarify. xo

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 2:31pm

Yoga Journal is a business above all else and is aiming for a younger demographic, one that they *hope* has the $ to buy all of that expensive fashion, go to their conferences, etc. Younger people use the web and social more and that extends the brand reach so it's a calculated move. Subscribers are less important than they used to be. Not saying that it's a good thing….

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 2:24pm

I didn't care for that either. I don't care about celebrities. And Alec Baldwin is no one to be proud to be married to. He is not a likeable person. And yes the high heels are gross.

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 2:11pm

bravo! i let my subscription run out about 2 years ago for the same reason.

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 1:03pm

I contacted them the other day and cancelled my subsription as well as asking them to not send me anymore advertisements and/or offers in future. Feel lighter already.

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 12:47pm

This article really speaks to me. Very recently I decided to stop buying, reading, searching for beautify tips, celebrity instagrams etc. I'm trying to cleanse my mind from all the socially constructed ideals and comparisons that I have been bombarded with on a daily basis. Yoga is a safe zone and I trust it. Because of this, I am most vulnerable when I am at my studio or reading about yoga, so finding articles that bring up the same issues I'm trying to overcome is really disheartening, specially when it is coming from a trusted yoga source.

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 9:29am

Thank you for sharing your thoughts. As a yoga teacher and a young woman in my late 20's, this speaks to me loud and clear. Two years ago I completely gave up reading women's "fitness" magazines, and tirelessly counting my calories and hours of cardio every week, waiting for that elusive, idealistic body of an exercise queen. Thanks to a TON of work done on my yoga mat and on my meditation pillow, I realize now this is a cursory approach to beauty and worth. For a while, I thought YJ was a safe haven, but things started going downhill for me when they featured a model-turned-yoga instructor on their cover, and who preceded to say that she didn't "care" about yoga tradition in her interview. I just received this issue in the mail a few days ago and haven't gotten around to reading it yet…perhaps I should just revisit "Yoga Mala" again.

Ladies, you are all beautiful, just as you are. Let your yoga practice be an exploration of your true self, and enjoy the journey.

In love and light,

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 6:49am

Great article! I gave up reading Yoga Journal a long time ago.

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 5:18am

I cancelled my subscription last year also. Most of the issue was advertisements for overproced "yoga" clothes and vitamins. I will also havemore time to read old yoga philosophy books and elephant journal! Good article 🙂

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 4:41am

I’ve had enough if the materialistic “perfect-ness” of YJ and Athleta. I’ve complained to YJ only to receive fluffy bullshit responses or no response at all. YJ is nothing more than a marketing magazine filled will images if what true yoga is not. It’s sickening, quite frankly.

anonymous Aug 19, 2014 1:54am

I remember years ago when I'd splurge almost 15 bucks to buy a copy of YJ overseas. It used to be a source of inspirations, my go-to when I was feeling down and needed a boost. I'd read it cover to cover and it was an oasis for me. I have been disappointed for a while now. Every issue is getting skinnier, and the minimal content can hardly be called that. There is always about one or two really good pieces on wisdom, but the rest is just filler. When I was visiting the states this summer I picked up a copy of Mantra which was filled with so much that it took me several attempts to read the whole thing.

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 10:21pm

I cancelled my subscription to Yoga Journal about 4 or 5 years ago because the whole focus of the magazine had changed. I saw a review of this article last week and immediately noticed the shoes and was appalled and so very glad I had made the right decision years ago.

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 10:02pm


The short-term profit, the easy sale, the celebrity draw.

Whatever gets them on the mat, pack them in the studio, crowds the festivals, and fills up the privates' room. It's all good. It's all good.

And … don't forget to breathe.

The foregoing was a joke.
Had that been Yoga Journal's real goals, all hope for Yoga is lost right here at the tail end of the Kali Yuga … last place for it needing to happen …

    anonymous Aug 19, 2014 6:43am

    Whew! For a minute there I thought you were serious!!! 🙂

    anonymous Aug 19, 2014 9:29am

    Really, can't we see that the old paradigms are falling away that Y/J has spun into absurdity at the same time Lululemon is taking a nose dive? Who would have thought of it? It's a great time of unveiling the lies we have been conditioned to are now being broken apart and the Truth of our own Being will shine through so let us rejoice in such demonstrations of the death of the old and give birth to t he new like midwives.

      anonymous Aug 24, 2014 8:21am

      This is one heck of a painful breech birth if you ask me …

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 8:05pm

Thank you for this article ! I too felt like you and so many others about Yoga Journal straying from the true heart of Yoga..

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 7:22pm

Is it concerning that YJ feels more like Cosmo? Sure. But it's also a very interesting comment on yoga in the cultural discourse. It's been an evolution, and we're now in the era of yoga selfies and pretty outfits and acrobatic stunts. This is what people think of when they think of yoga. And I don't judge that. If a splashy magazine gets more people onto the mat, or into the moment, or just being kinder to each other, then that's yoga. What happens after you really connect to your practice is up to you. If the choice is for YJ to fold because it isn't relevant in the media market, or for it to start playing the glossy game, you play on player.

    anonymous Aug 18, 2014 9:03pm

    Kara, I appreciate your point, but getting people on the mat while making them feel as if that are not enough "as is" is a disturbing trend. We get to hear that message everywhere else, it would be nice if yoga writers/magazines took the higher ground.

      anonymous Aug 18, 2014 11:00pm

      I feel you, and maybe they will after this issue. It's clear that this was a deliberate change in their editorial style – and if it's how they stay alive and stay relevant, I'm down to learn about Alec Baldwin's wife's pants. Lots of things used to be better back in the day, and we sound like old farts shaking our fists at kids today. I trust that it will even out between what's authentic to yoga and what's authentic to this newly emerged yoga scene. Until then, there are lots of great things to read. Like your pieces!

    anonymous Aug 28, 2014 5:21pm

    except the motivation is commercialism not popularism therefore unethical

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 6:12pm

Thank you for telling it like it is. This issue with Hilaria Baldwin was very disappointing indeed. Showing women that we have to practice in heels etc. is disgraceful. Also, just the interview itself was lame. She is no yogi if you ask me. Her fame is attached to her husband, shame on her.

    anonymous Aug 18, 2014 7:45pm

    Why shame on her? Wasn't she still a yoga teacher with an Instagram account before she met her famous husband and had her famous baby?

      anonymous Aug 24, 2014 8:17am

      Do you know what a trophy wife is, Kara?

      Being one of those trophy wives is what made Hilaria the yoga teacher she is today.
      Oh, and maybe she can self-promote a little better than far more talented teachers whose voices yet have to be heard on a national scale in magazines such as YJ…

      But, then, you'd have to actually read some of the local New York City press about them to find out … the rest of the story …

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 5:39pm

Not surprised. YJ has been slowly 'evolving' into another woman's fashion celeb look-better-by-doing-this magazine. Just like Self and many other first well intentioned magazines. I stopped subscribing to YJ years ago and would only glance at more substantial articles now and then in the bookstore or with a Google search. Yoga International was a far better magazine and sorry to see it went to on-line content but I understand why coming from a Publications background. It's all about ad revenue and this is the direction you go to get higher circulation numbers to attract more advertisers.

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 4:28pm

Our sister Hilaria is an exuberant ambassador for yoga. Thank you, to our sister, for shining the light on this path. Grace and peace and namaste.

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 3:42pm

It is time for serious yoga practitioners to start going back to the original texts and basing their practice from those texts. Yoga Journal and sorry to say even Elephant Journal are just becoming spiritual spam.

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 2:28pm

this is awesome! i feel you really hit on some important women's issues here. thanks for the great article!

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 12:04pm

If it's not for you, it's not for you. There are surely other magazines or online sources to nurture what you need in yoga? I can understand feeling the loss of something that used to 'click' just right, but I also understand moving on…not hanging on for years when it's not right for you.

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 11:46am

well written.

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 11:41am

I too was very disappointed. The stilettos were the deal breaker for me, as was the repeated mentioning of Alec Baldwin. Did anyone else note that the first sentence mentions his name, which precedes hers? What does Alec Baldwin have to do with Hilaria as a teacher? They also mentioned his and her ages in the same sentence, which is a confusing thing to highlight. Why? If the article about Hilaria was a coded pun, and inspired by the “hilarity” of the idea that this publication is actually a journal, then it’s sort of genius. I will say that I was somewhat pleased to see the different body shapes acknowledged in the next section, even though the models were presented in a way that sort of fostered the idea that we need to conceal or hide certain body types. It was still rare to see these beautiful women captured in print. Yoga Journal is a giant clothing ad at this point!

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 11:06am

As a 61 year old yogini and teacher, I've long felt that YJ doesn't represent us. We are older, curvier and fierce, and the last thing we want (or need) to hear is how to push up our breasts or minimize our thighs. I just came back from teaching my morning classes and had a total of 50 baby boomers who came out to celebrate their unique and beautiful selves. We long for articles that reflect our enthusiasm and dedication.

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 10:10am

Why not support an online yoga magazine among many other things yoga related. Ecourses, videos, articles etc. They used to have a yoga mag, it's just now all online. And no cellulite shame here.

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 7:59am

This was the first YJ I've bought in over a year, just for the same reasons.
I opened it with anticipation, flipped through with delight and came across the articles you mentioned.
And once again I was reminded that somehow I'm supposed to believe I'm never enough.
Just not "quite" right.
Not practicing in high heels and looking lovely and at ease?
Not hiding my faults with flattering tops and matching Yoga bottoms?
Ah…shame on me. I got it all wrong again.
It's not about Yoga after all.

(tongue firmly in cheek)

Will be returning to my boycotting of Yoga magazines.

anonymous Aug 18, 2014 6:59am

Thank you! I decided after this latest edition that I'm not returning that renewal letter they sent me with my magazine. I cannot stand how yoga is being portrayed in the magazine anymore. I would love to see a stripped down YJ that goes back to the basics and foundation of yoga.

anonymous Aug 17, 2014 9:00pm

I'm with you, and thanks for writing. I saw that title on the cover (along with the usual, young, thin, white, female model) and thought finally! Some useful information for the curvy yogi/ni. Maybe I'll get some good tips about how to keep my ample breasts from attacking me in shoulder stand or perhaps some modifications that make it easier to breathe in certain poses. But no, just the usual body shaming crap. Got curves? For gods sake, hide them, ideally with some overpriced gear no doubt made by enslaved children in Bangladesh or Honduras. No thanks, Yoga Journal. If there's one thing I've learned in my brief time practicing yoga, it's that I'm just fine as I am, thank you, even with my nonstandard body and my thrift store clothes.

anonymous Aug 17, 2014 7:07pm

This magazine reads like Women's Health, with the same usual gang of celebriyogis; but with more yoga and many, many more ads per issue.

Least YJ can do is feature some serious mature celebriyogi beefcake such as Diamond Dallas Page – on the cover. The other half of the human race; and that part of the population that's the better side of 29 years old. Even the New York Times has picked up on this trend in yoga.
Um, even if YJ thinks that's not yoga … That viral Arthur video … I've changed my tune on that one … some of us get old, ill, depressed and finally have space and room in our hearts for diversity. And not just body diversity, which Cosmo and Glamor already cover. Just saying.

Reaching the rest of us … maybe it's only a no-brainer only in places that are not historically crunchy granola college towns, I guess …

anonymous Aug 17, 2014 6:36pm

Oh my gosh. I got my copy in the mail and felt the exact same way! Thank you, Erica!

anonymous Aug 17, 2014 6:25pm

They gave some advice that I thought was actually bad advice: They advised to wear a bra with an underwire for more support. Definitely do not do that. An underwire will jam into your ribs on belly-down poses, it will interrupt breathing in backbends, and it will just plain hurt. And if it hurts, it's not yoga.

    anonymous Aug 18, 2014 7:05am

    Michelle, I thought the EXACT same thing!!!

anonymous Aug 17, 2014 5:59pm

So appreciate this article. Sad to see this magazine go this way. I will say that I cancelled my subscription a couple of years ago when I noticed most of the magazine was advertising. The only magazine I subscribe to now is Mindful.

anonymous Aug 17, 2014 3:37pm

Yep, I'm ignoring the subscription reminders coming through.

I've better ways of spending my time than reading 101 articles on froth.

anonymous Aug 17, 2014 12:37pm

You have company on this one. Was the article on body shapes a way to absolve the now YJ business partner LuLuLemon of the Chip Wilsonisms? I thought last month with Tara Stiles was bad enough but the focus continues on celebs and body images. I will not be re-subscribing. I would bet that Judith Hansen Laster has an opinion on this latest YJ change. As I was hoping for western yoga to loose some of the commercial gloss, it has increased. Sigh.

    anonymous Aug 17, 2014 3:53pm

    Exactly. Super sigh.

    anonymous Aug 18, 2014 9:28pm

    I totally agree!!! Did you read Tara's interview? I almost cancelled the magazine after reading it but this was the final straw.

anonymous Aug 17, 2014 12:10pm

This is why I cancelled my subscription a couple of years ago. Yoga Journal = Hard Tail (come on! Not sexist at all…), performance clothing, performance accessories. etc. As a male yoga practitioner, I could see who they were marketing to, and what they were marketing. Selling Yoga itself (Yogash chitta vritti nirodhah) may not have mass appeal, so they sell more and more 'Kool-Aid'. As the number of subscriptions rise, so does the number of yogis 'drinking the Kool-Aid'.

    anonymous Aug 17, 2014 3:54pm

    It's nice to know I'm not the only one who thinks "Kool-Aid" is poisonous.

    anonymous Aug 17, 2014 7:10pm

    Mantra Magazine = Athleta. Which may not be their actual sponsor, but is definitely their mindset. A slight improvement.

    I think one may have to bite the bullet and go for Yoga International before that one folds into online only …

      anonymous Aug 18, 2014 9:29am

      I love Yoga International…. you get a ton of stuff for free, online videos, great real articles about yoga, meditation, etc. I am letting my subscription to YJ expire after many years. It's become like Cosmo or Glamour to me.

      anonymous Aug 19, 2014 2:43pm

      Alas there is no more Yoga International magazine. I could be biased of course but it really did try to bridge the gap between Americanization of yoga and yoga’s deeper teachings. Nothing remains in the magazine world that takes yoga as seriously but with a light hearted touch.

anonymous Aug 17, 2014 12:08pm

I am a YJ subscriber…and I was thinking the same thing regarding the "how to hide your flaws" fashion spread! It read like a typical fashion magazine whose goal is to remind us how physically flawed we are so we can buy their products.

    anonymous Aug 17, 2014 3:54pm

    I was wondering if I was over reacting, but I can feel very clearly in my heart that I am not. I'm glad to know others feel the same way.

anonymous Aug 17, 2014 11:37am

Thank you. I've felt this way for awhile now — and you summarized it eloquently. In one of my articles I added the stiletto-handstand example and was admonished by another writer-yogini-teacher. Thank you for speaking the truth. xo

    anonymous Aug 17, 2014 3:56pm

    Really? Someone admonished you for that? Oy vey. It's just so absurd, it would be funny if it wasn't real.

      anonymous Aug 18, 2014 12:11pm

      Aww, c'mon. It's very sensible: doing handstand in stillettos is a great way to avoid twisting your ankle or getting bunions because of the shoes. 😉

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Erica Leibrandt

Erica Leibrandt is a licensed mental health clinician, certified yoga instructor, and mother to six heathens who masquerade as innocent children. If she occasionally finds herself with a fried egg on her plate or dancing until dawn, she asks that you not judge her. Life is short, she knows the chicken that laid the egg, and we can never dance too much. Connect with Erica on Facebook and Twitter. And visit her website.