Wednesday, July 08, 2009

There’s an endless soundtrack that runs through my mind…all of our minds. It’s the mental chatter of everyday life, the background music that sets the mood and tone of our days. I’ve been thinking about how often (I speak for myself) that chatter is critical, negative, second-guessing and full of resistance. It’s a practice to realize that nonviolence, and even more than nonviolence, the practice of compassion begins at the level of thoughts. After all, thoughts are something which accompany our every waking (and even sleeping) moment.

But it’s challenging and I admit that I notice myself slipping into critical thoughts nearly every other breath. I didn’t do it right, it wasn’t good enough, and so on (insert specific situation here). So the practice of shifting thoughts is one that requires activity. Criticism is easy, compassion, now that takes work.

This morning, I signed up on: to make the commitment to practice nonviolence. It’s a practice that begins in my own home—and the most intimate part of my home—my head and body.

Pradipakshabhavana is a fancy Sanskrit term for this practice. It’s described by Patanjali in the classic text the Yoga Sutra as one of the key components of a yoga practice. Pradipakshabhavana is the art of cultivating the opposite thought when we are caught in or stuck in a negative groove. It’s a way of reframing, looking at thoughts or a discussion from a different light. This is far different than repressing, being in denial or looking at the world through rose-colored glasses. Pradipakshabhavana asks us to take a broader view. Yoga asks us to take the vow of nonviolence—and compassion—that begins with ourselves.

After all, our own mind, our own thoughts are the only ones we can control. If we work at it.

Monday, June 29, 2009

My comfort foods are spaghetti and chocolate milk. They have been for years. Not necessarily together, at the same meal. Especially not together since it would be a prajnaparada, a crime against Ayurvedic wisdom, since milk (the dairy variety) does not mix well with other things. They’re comfort foods because of the carbs and the subsequent serotonin effect, because they were both comfort foods for me growing up and have those pleasant childhood associations. And, in some ways, I suspect there’s a bit of the addictive allergy that may not be the best thing for me at play in my relationships with those two foods.

People often ask me about cravings: do we crave what will bring us into balance or do our cravings throw us further out of balance. The answer: It depends. It depends because it depends on our relationship with our ability to listen to ourselves, to our state of being in balance, to the nature of our body and mind’s innate intelligence.

So, when we’re truly craving something that is good for us, that we’re calling for from the depths of our being, and when we consume it, each cell in our body sings in a joyous symphony, well then, we’re craving something good for us, that is going to bring us back into balance, or keep us in balance in the first place. We can feel it, if we’re listening and being truly honest with ourselves.

On the other hand, if we’re craving something that merely makes us more out of balance as we already are, that exacerbates the condition of too much air, or too much fire or too much heaviness of earth, well, then that’s something to question, to stop and pause. To ask ourselves if we’re craving it out of mental habit, emotional desire or some convoluted need to ease some pain. Habit is a strong force, from an Ayurvedic perspective, and one which can pull us in directions we maybe shouldn’t go.

But then if we are craving something, we can look at what it is, and perhaps, what are some alternatives that could even be balancing. I’ve substituted chocolate almond milk today; it’s not as congesting or kaphagenic. I added freshly ground black pepper, fresh ginger root and some pine nuts to the pasta to heat up the wet and damp qualities of the wheat. And it’s been at least a couple months since I indulged in pasta, so for an experiment, I can check on how I feel. Tomorrow, it will be time to eschew the pasta for greens and not get caught up in the habit.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Today is a writing and editing day (after teaching morning Intention Yoga at lululemon) for me. Which means that part of the day involves work avoidance (my favorite pumpkin cookies at the Sojourner, turning down a movie but wandering into the Apple store and Borders with Shelia), and part of the day involves daydreaming and staring into space and part of the day involves searching for things on the internet like stainless steel rice cookers and vegetable steamers (since I’ve reconnected with my love of steamed rice but realized with dismay that my rice cooker is aluminum!). And, some of my day actually involves writing fueled by hot water and lemon accompanied by chocolate.

But chocolate and hot water are not enough to feed the muse and keep the fingers going on the keyboard. Searching for steamers became a perusal of recommendations on websites, the news of the day, changing the twitter background to green to support Iran and then the nodding of the eyelids. Writing, after all, is not really a mental gymnastic exercise. Like anything that we do, writing takes place in the body (even if we think otherwise). I began to get more done when I flung open the window, wider, to taste the breeze on my check. I walked out onto the balcony and shook the residual ash off of my Manduka mat to stretch out into a downward facing dog. I don’t write with my thoughts or even my fingers, I realized. I write with the extension of my left pinky toe.

When yoga teachers go of on what seem like tangential excursions into the placement of the right ring fingernail or the left tip of the shoulderblade or the protuberance of the right hip, it’s not because those obscure body parts have meaning, but because we need to do the pose with our whole body. Each piece is emblematic, symbolic and representative of the whole. And if we can bring our attention into what may seem like the dark cobwebbed corners of our body, then we are really doing yoga.

And when I am really doing yoga, I am writing. I’m in computer asana. But at the same time, I have a cup of steaming hot water sitting next to me, the fragrance of lemon peel stimulating my senses. I’ve oiled my feet and left them sans socks, wrapped in a cotton flannel sheet to feel both the grounded energy of the Earth element (kapha in Sanskrit Ayurvedic terminology). When I can become embodied then the words are there, existing in the alchemical play of the elemental forces I drink in through the open window.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I often spray it on my pillow at night; I keep a bottle of the essential oil in my car for the anti-road rage emergencies. I use it to cool and calm my often irritated skin.

The other day, I bent over, forgetting that the mug of just-out-of-the-teapot water was in my hand and it spilled over onto the joint around my thumb. It was the instant burning sensation that made me aware of my inattention. First I rinsed with cold water to take away the worst of the burn. Next, it was a dousing with the ever-present lavender oil by my side. It was the lavender oil that really changed things. After a few minutes, I could no longer feel the heat, even though the skin was still tinged pink. But the throbbing had stopped, the burning sensation ceased. Now, three days later, there is still a pink tinge, but no pain, no tightness around the skin, and it’s rapidly healing.

I know that there are a number of remedies for burns. Freshly picked aloe applied to the burn site as soon as possible is a good one. Without an aloe plant, aloe juice or gel is also a good remedy in the moment as well as after the fact on an ongoing basis to help the skin heal. The other day, I received a not on my Facebook page that another remedy for burns is to mix agnihotra ash (from the sacred agnihotra fire ceremony) with ghee to apply to a burn. All good ideas.

Friday, May 29, 2009

We need darkness as much as we need light. It’s a funny thing to think about isn’t it? Because sometimes we focus on sunlight, the hours of light in the day, yearning for the sun when it’s cloudy or grey. We read in bed, watch TV to fall asleep, get used to the glow of the computer. But the darkness, the absence of light, the black that surrounds us to the point where we can bathe in it and feel comforted by it, it’s a necessary part of our daily rhythms.

Our body (specifically our pineal gland, perched deep within the base of our brain) produces melatonin, one of the hormones important in our sleep cycles, in the presence of darkness. Not in the presence of light, but in the presence of darkness. This is why turning off the lights, bathing ourselves in darkness is crucial to our health. This is why spending time in a dark room to fall asleep, or even standing outside in the darkness is part of the ritual action necessary to help us sleep.'

Blanketing ourselves in darkness. Try it for deeper sleep.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

We sometimes forget that there is one relationship that we will have our whole lives, and that’s our relationship with ourselves. It extends from our first breath to our last and no other relationship we have lasts as long. Not our parents. Although as I write this, both my parents are thankfully alive so they’re currently matching me in terms of that relationship. Not our children (while I don’t have any at the moment), because we have a life before they do. Not siblings, or partners, or friends or pets. My sister is four years younger than I, and although she is in my heart and frequently in my thoughts, it is my own breath that I hear, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, fifty-two weeks a year. And on it goes.

And when we think about the relationship we have with ourselves, how do we treat ourselves in that relationship. Is it functional, dysfunctional, abusive, difficult, happy, unhappy? What do we do to cultivate it, to keep it going, to make it memorable, enjoyable, delightful. How do we honor ourselves, take care of ourselves? Are we creating a relationship that we want to be in, that we long to come home to? Are we creating a relationship that is home, for our body is what we inhabit always, all of the time?

When I frame things in this way, thinking about the relationship I have with myself, it makes me stop and pause more frequently. Am I talking to myself in a way that I would talk to someone else that I cared about? In a way that I would want a loved one to talk to me? Am I serving a meal that I would be proud to offer? Am I inviting a level of love and care and fortitude and gratitude? Am I the lover and the beloved?

Tonight I served myself a meal that I would be proud to serve to another: beets, fennel and leeks sautéed in olive oil and rosemary. Salad with sunflower sprouts and farmers market lettuce and radishes and crushed pepper and olive oil. I was cooking and preparing for only myself, knowing that there was no one more important than I to share this meal. And if there had been another, the reverence I had for them would have been a reflection from the mirror of my own self-love.

Monday, April 27, 2009

basketball stadium. Everywhere you looked, there were scarves tied loosely, draped over shoulders, wrapped and looped and folded. Pink, purple, black, white, brown, blue, green, patterned and plain. I was doing my part to represent by wearing three scarves: different shades of purple and pink, layered.

From the perspective of Ayurveda, scarves are a great way to calm vata, the elements of air and ether or empty space. When we are exposed to the cold, the wind, the air, the air within us blows even more. One of the ways to keep the winds that stir up too much calmed down and in a pattern is to warm, contain, soothe and nurture. Wrapping a scarf around ourselves contains what could be a potential hurricane when the winds pick up.

Packing a scarf is one of the most important things I do as I get ready to go on a trip. On an airplane, in a car, riding a boat or pedaling a bicycle, a scarf is one of the most important items of clothing I can wear. It keeps me from feeling cold in shifting temperatures and climates, breathing the canned air of a plane or cutting through the windy air on a bike. It keeps my core temperature warmer; it even makes me feel more grounded. For a group of people coming from the high windy steppes of Tibet, what better gift is there than a scarf?

Sunday, April 05, 2009

Waking up and going to sleep are the in-between times, the times when our malleable consciousness has the opportunity to shift and change and adjust. What we think and repeat and process and do in these moments can set up the tone of our day, or even reprogram our mind and our state of being.

I love the early morning hours before dawn, before sunrise, when quiet envelopes the earth, when quiet is like a soothing blanket. This is the time when there is the promise of renewal, new beginnings. These are the hours of vata in the Ayurvedic system, of emptiness and movement, of potentiality and possibility. If we can take the opportunity to set the tone of the day in these moments, we can build a momentum that sees us through the day. We can fill ourselves with the joy, the love, the peace, the birdsong, the vibration of the universe and the intention and that is what we can wake up with, that is what we can walk with when we set our feet on the earth.

As I write this, the sky is slowly becoming brighter. I hear the harmony of chirping that is a sound more profound and more delightful than any alarm clock. To accompany this, lately I’ve been chanting, either out loud, or in my mind each morning when I wake up. It is a great gift, this life, and how we begin each day every day prepares us for our ability to give our greatest gifts and receive our greatest love.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

I find myself craving silence. Not just a moment of silence or the thought of silence or some time when I’m not talking, but the kind of silence that I can wrap myself in like a blanket. It’s the kind of silence that doesn’t involve going to a yoga class in a studio where a teacher provides instruction or there’s music or there’s people wanting to say hello before or after class. I’m looking for the kind of silence uninterrupted by music, even instrumental, or the television. Silence. I do, though, welcome the sounds of the birds outside my open window. And the birds remind me a bit of the whispers of my breath, the wind through the trees, the far off sounds of cars that are inescapable in my current habitat but blend in. The far-off foghorn, that’s okay too.

It’s not that I’m antisocial. Far from it, in fact. My morning started today with cutting and pasting and editing class descriptions and teacher profiles for the New Living Expo, this month in San Francisco and then moved on to my regular class at the Montecito YMCA complete with goofiness, made-up words (think unstiffify yourself) and admonitions to get juicy in the joints. Next up, board of directors’ conference call, the California Association of Ayurvedic Medicine (CAAM). It reminds me a bit of episodes of Pinky and the Brain my ex-boyfriend loved to watch, and I got hooked on by proxy: “Brain, what are we going to do today?” “Take over the world.” So CAAM’s purpose in life is to take over the world and spread the message of the healing power of Ayurveda. Nearly an hour and a half of concoctions before I’m off to see Sri Karunamayi chant and sing to remove our obstacles and honor our divine nature and then talk about the need for laughter (and we laughed), turning the tide of negativity, finding that part of ourselves that is divine and then blessings and lunch with friends old and new. Hours and hours of social time.

Now, all I want is silence. It’s rejuvenating, regenerating, restorative. Our words have power, so when we take a moment to hold them in, the charge builds. Silence allows us to digest. And digestion, according to Ayurveda, is the essence, the root of our health and well-being. All day long we absorb and take in sensory impressions, through our mouth, our eyes, our ears, our skin. It nearly never ends. Everything we take in, in every moment, becomes part of us, part and parcel of our cellular makeup, our mind and our body and our very being. Without taking the time to pause, we get indigestion. It’s just like if we ate constantly, never stopping the motion of tasting, chewing and swallowing. When would we process?

So those moments, minutes, hours of silence when awake are precious, to be treasured, enjoyed, savored. It’s part of what makes us healthy. It’s the yin to the yang of activity and socializing.

Now, back to the birds and the breath.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

We often perpetuate patterns that we repeat without intent or consent. We tend to mimic behavior that has been modeled for us, thinking that it is normal. Whether or not our behaviors or patterns or choices, conscious or unconscious, actually make our lives better, is another consideration entirely.

And it’s one I’ve been thinking about lately as I examine my work patterns. I’ve fallen into a bit of a trap of complain, suffer, get exhausted, repeat. Before I something allowed me to stop and consider, I don’t think I realized that I had gotten on this particular express train. I didn’t wake up thinking, “Oh, I’m going to complain as much as possible, make myself as miserable as possible and then wear myself out to the point of exhaustion.”

So, now I’m trying to rethink this pattern, to notice when I get caught up in it, to make sure I take the time to stop and practice and check my reactivity and my assumptions. And to ask, am I doing enough to nurture myself, take care of myself and slow down. And am I doing things that I find fun? Am I spending enough time alone to recharge? Am I doing things to actually make my life easier instead of make it more difficult? All good questions to ask. Always good to question. Without questioning, we only repeat patterns. When we stop, when we pause, when we question, we can actually change patterns.

Speaking of which, I’m committing to getting back in the pattern of regular blog entries!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I love winter sunsets. There’s something about how low the sun is in the sky. There’s something about that sweet moment when gold bathes the treetops and sends it’s brilliant hue across the leaves. In this moment, gazing out over the sky, the trees, the sky beneath the clouds, that I feel that no matter what has happened today, there is something beautiful about this life. Amidst all of my frustrations, difficulties, pettiness, challenge, unhappiness, wishing things were different, the setting sun and the light it shoots out uplifts my heart. I feel lighter, more joyous.
I have to remember that life is all of these things: it is the challenge, it is the despair, it is the agony, the fear. Every time we want it to be easy, every time we want things to fall in our laps, every time we want the solution to appear before us, we have to remember the glory, the joy of solving the problems, of crossing the finish line, of training and sweating and struggling.
I’m reminded of the fact that bone density, whether we’re considering building or maintaining, is triggered by the stress applied to the bone by the surrounding musculature. Bones only grow, they’re only strong, when we place some mechanical stress upon them. It’s not unlike the lives we lead. We need the adventure, the drama, the difficulty. And sometimes, when it’s missing, we create it and manufacture it.
We may get caught up in things that seem to be of dire importance, life or death decisions, even if they’re not. When they’re not easy, when someone makes a comment that rankles, when we argue or stick to our guns or question our decisions, we may question, waffle, wonder, struggle. But it’s all important. It is.
And then, watching the sun set, I feel like I’ve made the right decisions. Even the ones I’ve bungled terribly. And I feel oh-so-very-lucky to have this day.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The easy part is making New Year’s Resolutions. The easy part is drafting a list, setting goals, coming up with plans and wishes and desires and creating intentions. The more challenging part is the day to day transforming intentions into actions.
Manifesting New Year’s Resolutions and making them part of our daily routine, our very breath and our embodied experience of who we are is the real practice. This is the tapas, the fire of our discipline. It is in the fire that our practice is forged, and who we are as a person is shaped and formed. Just like building a fire and keeping it going, the practice of integrating resolutions in our everyday life takes attention and awareness. Transmuting a New Year’s Resolution into a habit involves daily decisions where we choose to take a specific action. We tend to live our lives in familiar grooves, from pattern to pattern like continually driving a car down a muddy dirt road. When the tire tracks create deep grooves in the road, it is easy to drive down those same paired grooves. It takes more effort to drive the car along another path. This is what it is like when we try and create new habits and incorporate them into our lives. We have to gently coax our steering wheel, our tires, onto another track. We have to peer at the map and set a different route than the one that may have been chosen automatically by the GPS. But with enough repetitions of the new pattern, it becomes ensconced in our bodies. With enough time, the new becomes familiar. People say it takes anywhere from 28 to 40 days to create a new habit and for that habit to become part of our bodies, part of the routine of our everyday lives. Embodied thought.
I thought about this while gazing in the bathroom mirror this morning. One of my New Year’s Resolutions this year is to floss my teeth, one of the repeated recommendations of my dentist that I diligently repeat for a while before the intention falls away. It’s time to recommit and to remind myself that the implementation of this resolution comes in the daily decisions, in deciding to pick the dental floss up off of the counter and actually use it. Every day. Every day it’s a new decision, and that new decision creates a new habit. Soon, the resolution is part of our everyday lives, integrated as fully as the breath, practice made personal.