Sunday, March 25, 2012

Sutra 1:33, the Commuter's Sutra

I made a promise to myself to start devoting more space in my blog to thoughts on things yogic other than asana in order to compliment an effort to do the same in my teaching.

It is appropriate then to start with my favorite sutra (1:33):

maitri karuna mudito pekshanam sukha duhkha punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam ||33||
मैत्री करुणा मुदितोपेक्षाणांसुखदुःख पुण्यापुण्यविषयाणां भावनातः चित्तप्रसादनम् ॥३३॥

All that is mutable in human beings (chitta) is harmonized through the cultivation of love (maitri), helpfulness (karuna), conviviality (mudita) and imperturbability (upeksha) in situations that are happy, painful, successful or unfortunate. ||33||  (taken from

Elsewhere, I've seen this translation in pairs:  approach happiness with love; pain with compassion; success with conviviality; and the unvirtuous with indifference. 

In a nutshell, approach each type of person or situation with the appropriate response.  If you are happy, love yourself.  If someone else is happy, love them too.  If you feel pain, be compassionate towards yourself.  Be compassionate towards others who may be in pain.  If you become successful, be friendly.  If someone else is successful be friendly towards them (instead of competitive or jealous).  And finally, if someone is being a jerk, be indifferent toward that person.  Don't get wrapped up in their stuff.  If you feel jerky feelings, don't entertain them.  Let them go.

A lot of this is about cultivating the right kinds of relationships in your life.  Rather than getting jealous or wishing ill on someone who is experiencing more success or happiness, you should be happy for them and love them for that which will in turn let some of that maybe rub off on to you.  On the contrary, if someone is negative and treating you negatively, you should ignore them. 

I think about this sutra on a daily basis when I bike around the city.  It is very easy to get caught up in the honking and aggressiveness out on the road.  I have to make a very conscious effort to not react to the negativity out there with more negativity.  Instead, I try to ignore the negativity and focus my energy on the positive aspects of the commute.  I smile at other bikers and people walking their dogs.  I practice compassion by slowing down for the elderly and allowing them to to cross rather than running lights.  

This sutra applies to many aspects of life.  But for me, it is very much the Commuter's Sutra. 

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Spring Breakthrough

If you have been reading my posts for a while, you may have caught on that I have a kind of white whale relationship with pasasana.  I would never say that I hate the pose.  Once in it, I very much enjoy the opening it gives the in chest and shoulders.  On the right side, I get the delicious "pop" in the hip. 

But getting into it would be the issue.  I once described my problem to a non-yoga friend: long muscular legs (especially muscular thighs) and abnormally short arms (I know everyone says that, but it's true) coupled with an old biking injury in the left shoulder-ish area.  He said "oh, you're like a tyrannosaurus!"

image from National Geographic

 One of these days I'll post a photo of me in the pose to see if you agree.

My teacher is very good at stepping in and squeezing the arms towards each other for the bind.  On occasion, I have been able to walk my hands down a towel and touch my own fingertips.  But in the six years since I received the pose, I have never touched my own fingertips without a towel or an assist...until Wednesday!

Oh the joyful shock of feeling my fingertips graze each other!

I can think of several things that may have helped with this opening:

Pinchamayurasana and Karandavasana are building awareness in the shoulders
Binding in backbending is opening the shoulders and chest
Weekly assist in Kurmasana (I've only recently been able to hold the bind)
Frequent assist in tititbasana C to bind
The seasonal cleanse cleared out a lot of gunk

Bhakasana B is also returning at irregular intervals after a three year hiatus.

In all, it's been a great week for the asana practice.

I'm making it a goal to start writing more about the other aspects of the practice.  They are as important to me, if not more so, but I find it difficult to articulate my thoughts on more esoteric subjects.   Be on the lookout for these posts over the coming weeks.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Cleanse is Over - Long Live the Cleanse!

I ended my spring cleanse this week.  It was overall a fairly intense experience this time around.  Here are some of the lessons that I learned:

It is hard to turn inward when so much is demanded of you from the outside.  The first week was fairly smooth going.  In part, I chalk that up to an easy week at work.  It was spring break and our students were away.  The second week was much tougher as my workload increased significantly.

Allow flexibility.  Spring arrived early in Philadelphia this year (Did winter even show up this year?).  With the warm weather, I mixed in some salads instead of kitchari.  It just felt like the right thing to do.  I dressed them with a squeeze of fresh lemon. 

Come off a cleanse gradually for more sustained results.  This is the first cleanse that I didn't end with complete dietary sabotage.  I'm making healthier choices because of it. 

Cleansing is not just physical.  In theory, I knew this.  In practice, I have a tendency to focus on the physical level.  This week I felt more empathetic towards people who usually cause me to lose my patience.  I felt kinder and generally more satvic in my practice on and off my mat. 

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Kanjee - Not the Japanese Letter Things - It's What's for Everything

Kanjee is taken when one is feeling ill or just needs a break on the digestive track.   I'm taking it today because I'm in a "purging" stage of my cleanse and need something gentle to eat.  I'm kind of proud of myself (BEWARE! Ego alert!) because this is actually the first time I'm finishing the purging appropriately.  That might be because I've never been a huge fan of kanjee (well, never, as is since I learned about it maybe 3 years ago).  I've changed up my teacher's recipe a bit but the base amounts of rice and water remain the same.  Here it is:

1 cup rice (soaked over night - I learned today that this step makes a big difference!)
10 cups water
1 tbs coconut oil
1 nub of ginger grated
1 tbs sweet spice mix from Kate's page

Combine the rice and water in a pot and bring to a boil. Turn down to simmer for one hour and stir occasionally.  In a small pan, combine coconut oil ginger and spice mix and heat until fragrant (careful not to burn).  Add the oil/spice combo to the rice.  Eat hot with maybe a drizzle of raw honey (unorthodox!). 

No picture accompanies this because it's just a bland looking white porridge.  But in this case, bland is the desired effect. 

Day 7 & 8 - Last Day of Phase One

Today is the last day of phase 1 of the cleanse.  I took the last dose of ghee yesterday.  It is getting harder to take on each cleanse.  I had to have it with a bit of soy milk.  You would think that it would get easier each time.  Not so.

I enjoyed an afternoon mantra meditation with this mantra to Lakshmi and an early bedtime (despite a new SNL) which helped me conquer the springing forward.

Practice this morning was quick and light.  Again the hands walked past the heels without assistance in backbending.  Maybe this summer I'm taking ankles on my own.

Today is purging day.  Again, details are omitted, because I firmly believe that if you want to do this yourself, you should be working with an Ayurvedic practitioner at least on the first go.  Suffice it to say that in a few hours my intestines and colon will be empty.  Woohoo! 

While waiting for that to kick in, I made kanjee, my food for today (I'll post on my own version later),  and finished making my home made veggie broth (more on that later as well).

Happy Sunday to all!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Kitchari - It's What's for Dinner

I think I have finally perfected my recipe for kitchari.  Here's what it looks like these days:

1 tbs ghee
1 tbs Kapha spice mix (from Eat, Taste, Heal)  or appropriate spice for your type
some salt
1 cup rice
1 cup lentils or mung dahl
1 cup veg (my favorite is sweet potato, though as a kapha dominant type, I should really steer clear and go for greens!)

Soak the rice and lentils together over night.  Heat the ghee and spices until fragrant, but be careful it doesn't burn.  Drain the lentils and rice and add to the ghee and spices.  Give it a stir.  Add 3 cups or more (depending on how soupy you like it) water.  Bring to boil and turn down to simmer for 20-30 minutes.  Stir frequently to prevent sticking.  Serve warm. 


Bonus (a not really a recipe recipe)!

It was warm here a few days ago which put me in the mood for raw food (cooked is usually a strong preference for me).  I made a lovely salad with the following:

Radish Sprouts
Sliced Baby Bella Mushrooms

Dressed with lemon juice.  

Day 6 - A little off and Yoga Stops Traffick

Yesterday will not go down in history as the most glorious day in Ayurvedic cleansing.  I lost my iPhone and then discovered through the miracle of technology that someone had taken advantage of me losing it and was enjoying it in Baltimore. Fantastic.  I hope you enjoy your new iPhone.  I wasn't quite upset by this.  I probably make and receive a total of 5 phone calls a week.  I probably don't even need a phone.  And I have an old one that I'll be able to have reactivated.  I was just exhausted by it; exhausted first from looking for it all over my house, exhausted from trying to figure out online how to track it, and exhausted by the thought of what I'd need to do to reactivate the old phone.  Though it seems trivial now, staying on the cleanse was going to be one more exhausting thing that I would need to do last night.

So, I fell off.  I won't go into the gory details.  My falling off was not quite as egregious as eating an entire pizza but not quite as "innocent" as eating a tiny square of chocolate.  I went to bed thinking that that would be it for this season.

When I woke up, my mind had changed. This too could be an experiment!  I had never had such a trial with the cleanse.  What would do this do to my body and my state of mind?  And so, I'm picking back up where I left off.  I took my last dose of ghee this morning and am gearing up for castor oil tomorrow.


On an unrelated note, I participated in Yoga Stops Traffick this morning at Yoga Mala Shala.  My teacher and another local teacher organized this event in Philly as part of the global Yoga Stops Traffick event to raise awareness about human trafficking in India and to raise funds for Odanadi, an organization in Mysore that supports the healing process of women and children who have been removed from the grips of sex trafficking.  My role was to teach a round of 18 (of the 108) sun salutations.  A few people came out from the community, but volunteers far outnumbered the participants. It could have been a disaster. But my teacher handled it in such a beautiful way.  2 people or 200 wouldn't make a difference.  The spirit of the event was really moving. All the volunteers, none of whom really planned on practicing, rolled out their mats in solidarity with the few participants who showed up. Instead of adjusting between our turns teaching, we took turns participating in the sun salutations.  It was moving to think of the analogy of the mala necklace.  Each of the participants was one little bead. Each sun salutation represented a larger community bead. Our collective 108 suns represented still another larger bead on the necklace with all the other studios participating.  And so on into infinity.  Every day I am grateful for this practice and what it has brought into my life.  To share in that with others in such an interconnected way is such a gift.  Namaste to everyone participating today and everyone who is benefiting from our efforts.   

Friday, March 9, 2012

Day 5 - And...

I woke up feeling better after a bout with a flu yesterday.  I took practice this morning.  It was lovely practicing by myself in the upstairs room at the shala with warm sunlight pouring in and the bright green and gold Buddha painting on the wall behind me.

Feeling better, I was able to take more notice of what was happening inside me and not just on my plate.  That is one of the great things about cleansing.  It reveals a lot that we don't often like to face.  The lack of calories leads to a lack of energy, which causes you to slow down.  In slowing down, we begin to perceive things more clearly.  For me, this time around, this is bringing up a lot of sadness. 

Two examples of this came up yesterday.   We were at a meeting to organize for the Yoga Stops Traffick event coming up on Sunday.  There were several people at the meeting whom I'd never met before.  There was also a person there who I see quite infrequently.  I always feel awkward when meeting new people.  I'm not sure what to say.  I'm uncomfortable starting conversations.  I feel alienated and want to hide in my turtle shell.  This I already knew.  It was easier for me when I was a big drinker and could play the role of the "life of the party" but now that I'm not that any more, I'm not sure what role to play.  I feel very unnatural.  None of this is news to me.  Then, something revealing happened.  A woman showed up late with her dog.  I felt every fiber of my being change from scared and reserved to excited and engaged.  I wanted the dog to be near me and to pet him and cuddle with him.  And then I realized how my attitude towards people also makes me a little bit sad.  I had never really thought about that sadness before last night.  It was interesting to see it so clearly as though the statement was always "I'm shy and reserved..." and was never quite complete. Last night I was able to complete that sentence with "...and sometimes that makes me sad."

The other example was more intimate.  My best friend was going in to have her baby.  She and I both left Boston around the same time two years ago.  Since, I have seen her once in Pittsburgh. Both of our busy lives make it difficult for us to connect sometimes.  When I read on Facebook that she was going in, I realized that's how I would learn about her baby, too.  I wouldn't get a phone call.  It wasn't like with her first baby where I was able to go see them in the hospital after work.  There is a distance there now that's both physical and emotional.  Again, it was something that I realized for a while now.  But the event really chrystalized for me that sadness which I had been avoiding.

So, at this moment anyway, in this cleanse, that's what's coming up for me.  It's interesting to see what happens when you have the clarity to complete your own thoughts.


I'll end with a less narcissistic story.  I was on the phone today with a colleague.  She just came back from a ski trip.  Rushing in to work yesterday, she tried to pass someone coming up the stairs from the subway.  She slipped and broke her pinky finger.  When telling me about it, she said, "I learned an important lesson here.  That extra minute I would have gained is just not worth it."

I have several athletic acquaintances who have had similar accidents.  Nothing happens to them when they are focused and absorbed by their sport.  Then, they injure themselves doing the mundane.  It's interesting to me how similar other athletic activities can be to yoga when they are done in that way, almost meditative.  Also, interesting how it's important to carry that state of being into your day to day life.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

A Bump in the Road - Day 3

Everyone at the shala is getting a stomach bug.  It looks like I'm no exception.  Yesterday, on my third day of the cleanse, I started feeling flu-like symptoms around one.  My head was pounding and my stomach was upset.  I stayed at work but missed my class Tuesday night.  I half road and half walked my bike home.  When I came home I simply passed out.

I stayed home from practice this morning.  Tomorrow is a moon day, so I'll take today's practice then.  I am feeling a bit better already, but stayed home from work just in case. 

Today I started taking ghee.  I don't know how this will figure in to feeling fluish.  Hopefully, that will pass and the cleanse will continue.  I will keep you posted. 

Monday, March 5, 2012

Day 1 - My Motto is Preparation

Sunday was the first day of my cleanse.  I'm going into this with the motto of preparation and planning.  So far (ok, it is only one day in!) it is working well.

I knew that I had a long morning ahead of me.  On Sundays, I practice at 7:00 and then teach at 9:30.  Yesterday was extra long, because we were teaching the Vinyasa teacher trainees at 1.  So, I was at the studio from 7:00 to 2:30. 

I packed a few lemon/ginger tea bags, a baggie of soaked almonds (which were also appreciated by non-cleansers), and a nice big container of kithari.  When my friends went to lunch, I was able to accompany them without being enticed by the WF hot bar because I had my lunch with me. 

To keep this going, I'm trying to create a cycle.  Drain one batch of soaked almonds, add a handful of almonds to water to soak.  Make a pot of kitchari, start soaking the lentils and rice right away.  Hopefully, this approach will get me through Day 2-14.

Coffee.  I am not a coffee addict.  However,  my office is very cold.  I'm currently wearing a wool sweater with a long sleeve t-shirt underneath and am freezing.  This morning was very hard without coffee (so I had some!  But I'm not going to beat myself up...tomorrow I'll be better prepared).  I needed something hot. And yes, I had tea with me.  But there's something about the smell of coffee that is also very warming.  Normally, I drink about 3 cups in a day.  I only plan on having that one today and hopefully none tomorrow.

So far:
I feel pretty good.  I got to bed nice and early last night and felt well rested this morning.  There was a tiny headache at bedtime, but it's gone now.  The stomach is a little bit rumbly but I suspect that will subside in a day or two. The white parts of the eyes are already super white.  Pinchamayurasana was, dare I say, easy today.  

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Spring Cleansing

Tomorrow I start my 14 day spring cleanse.  I'm actually starting on kitchari tonight because I like it that much.  As I was pulling together my cleanse, I started to think about what makes a "successful" cleanse (whatever that might mean).

Here's what I've come up with.

  • Preparation -  I am most successful with a cleanse when I am well-prepared.  If three days in I run out of lentils or ghee or spices, I'm really letting myself get into the danger zone.  Today I prepared by stocking up on everything that I'll need for abhyanga and my diet for the next 14 days. Yes, I'll have to run out occasionally for veggies.  But the basics are on hand.

  • Timing - This is so intertwined with being prepared.  First, I try to look at my calendar and schedule the ghee days and the liver tonic days.  I make sure there are no birthday parties and work lunches, and menstrual cycles.  If any of these come up, I have a plan in place for my meals.  I also look at which nights of the week are tougher to get my lunches together.  Monday night I know that I need to make food for Tuesday lunch and dinner and Wednesday lunch, because apprenticeship happens Tuesday evening.

  • Support  - I let my friends and family know what I'm up to.  My husband knows that he's on his own (more or less) to make his own meals.  He's there for me as I chow down on rice and legumes.  Cleansing as part of a group is a great way to build in support for your cleanse.

  • Flexibility -  Should the above fail, you need to be ready to forgive yourself.  My biggest obstacle during a cleanse if forgetting that I'm cleansing.  Accidentally eating a piece of chocolate or getting half way through a cup of coffee before realizing that I was supposed to be cleansing.  I just have to let it go and come back to the cleanse.  Beating myself up or giving up on the cleanse over little slip ups is self-defeating.  

Do you participate in seasonal cleanses?  What are your tips for success?