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Friendships Help Women Do Balancing Acts

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When we heard about Zoe Fishman's novel Balancing Acts, which is being released by HarperCollins today, we couldn't wait to get our hands on a copy of what sounded like a fun and entertaining read, but we didn't realize how much the themes and message of this book would dovetail with everything that we write about -- the struggles that all women face to feel "good enough," to be brave enough to open up to a new friend or a new love, and to somehow balance career, love, family, friendship, and self while maintaining such hectic lifestyles. This charming and sensitive novel is about four women who reunite on the yoga mat ten years after their college graduation, and how their yoga practice and friendships help each of them find balance in their lives. Our next book, Live Like a Hot Chick, is all about helping women find balance in every part of their lives, and so we were super excited to pick Zoe's brain about what her inspirations, yoga, friendship, and of course her own tricks to finding balance. Here's what she had to say:

1) We met each other in a yoga class and hear many stories from women who've met friends while doing downward dog. What do you think it is about yoga in particular that helps women create and/or strengthen friendships, and what inspired you to write about this?

Well, it took me quite a while to warm to yoga, truth be told. So many of my friends were into it before it became such a craze, and I absolutely rolled my eyes or sighed deeply whenever they would start waxing poetic about the glory of a sun salutation. For me, if you weren't practically dead when you finished a work out, you hadn't worked out.

When I finally did go to a yoga class, I was absolutely ensconced inside my egg shell of cynicism. However, a few classes in, the shell started to crack a bit. There was no denying how good yoga made me feel. By opening my body up via the practice, I opened my soul up. That shell cracked open. Which is not to say that I still don't cringe during a particularly passionate 'om' session, but I'm working on it.

At any rate, that kind of opening up provides an ideal framework for friendships, I think. By challenging your own boundaries through the practice, you project an appealing vulnerability that others are attracted to.

2) Likewise, yoga helps many of your characters reignite their forgotten dreams and passions. Why do you think this happens, and how can women use yoga to get back in touch with their truest selves?

There's something about the kindness and the quiet of the practice that encourages deeper thought, I think. Also, the fact that you can surprise yourself by enjoying it more then you thought you would initially -- as Bess, Sabine and even Charlie (who goes onto run her own yoga studio) do. Yoga encourages openness on both a physical and spiritual plane. That kind of encouragement inevitably leads to self-exploration.

3) In the book, yoga and friendship clearly work together to help these women find balance. What in your own life helps keep you balanced? Is it yoga, friendships, or something else?

Hmmm. Well, exercise in general keeps me balanced, although I am definitely guilty of slothdom at points. I call exercise "nature's klonopin", because it really reduces stress in such an immediate and rewarding way. My friends and family are top-notch, and keep me laughing and honest -- both key to balance, I think.

4) We talk a lot about how insecurities can hold women back in all areas of their lives, and this certainly seems to be true for the four women in Balancing Acts. Throughout the book, they learn how to let their guards down and become more vulnerable and honest with themselves, which in turn helps them become more confident. What is it about yoga that inspires this change, and what else (other than yoga) do you think women can do to let go of the insecurities that are holding them back?

I think it's that so many women try yoga for the first time completely expecting to hate it; or their cynicism meter is at code red the moment they walk (or are dragged by a friend) into the studio. That's certainly how I was the first time I went to a class, and even still sometimes when I try a new studio that either intimidates or annoys me for various, silly reasons. At the root of this cynicism, of course, is insecurity: "I can't do this; I look like a geek; Why are these people chanting? They need to get over themselves; I'm the fattest yogi in the world"-- you know, stuff like that. Once you quiet that loud voice of self-doubt by actually focusing on the yoga, you find yourself fully realizing its benefits. The same voice of self-doubt that haunts us in the yoga studio haunts us in all areas of our lives, I think. Every time we go out of our comfort zone, that voice is going to whisper something ugly in our ears. By challenging ourselves in small ways -- whether it's yoga or a writing class or saying "hello" to a guy on the subway the way Sabine longs to but can't -- we quiet that voice so that a new one can be heard: our own.

5) When we get overwhelmed with work, family, life, etc. (like the women in your book), many of us tend to shut out friends and think of them as one more thing that we don't have time for, but the friendships between the women in your novel actually help them find balance. Why do you think that adding friends to an already busy life helps ease stress rather than just create more?

True friendships are such a gift, and I am profoundly lucky in that respect. I have the most amazing friends in the world. Not only are they invaluable sounding boards for my own issues, but it's by returning the favor that I've really grown as a person. Learning how to listen and empathize in an honest way is crucial to self-balance, in my opinion. When you take the emphasis off of your own swirling tornado of problems and offer advice and love to others, the favor is inevitably returned. No matter how tough life can be, there is supreme comfort in knowing that you are supported and loved by friends that you respect as people; regardless of their personal relationship to you. Also, in terms of female friendships, there is nothing like a bona fide girl crush in terms of inspiration.

6) Your characters are ten years out of college and are each going through major life changes or are in the process of making life-changing decisions. What is it about this time in a woman's life (her early 30's) that lends itself to this type of angst and transformation?

For me, turning 30 was a relief. It sounds cliché of course, but my 20s were a hot mess in terms of knowing who I was and what I wanted out of life. I was so consumed by these preordained ideas about what being in my 20s in New York City meant, that I had no room for what I wanted, or who I was as an individual. Thirty meant many things to me, but mostly it meant a sense of self-confidence that I hadn't experienced before. Suddenly, I was a "woman", and I was happy to embrace that status in a confident, "sisters are doing it for themselves" kind of way. I thought about the women both in and out of my life that I respected, and made a vow to emulate their sense of self-worth and confidence. I think it's an exciting decade because you really take stock of everywhere you've been and where you want to go. By the same token of course, it can be a terrifying time as well. I guess it's part biological clock and part spiritual clock, in a way. Yes, the clock is ticking louder, but taking control of the clock is empowering, and I think only possible with the sense of self that aging hopefully brings.