Thursday, December 30, 2010

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

How do you measure a year in the life? In daylights, in sunsets, in midnights, in cups of coffee?

(I don't think I wanna know how many cups of coffee went into 2010....but I don't mind running over the year in terms of music, and sunsets, and laughter, and love.) How are you measuring your year? In breaths? Sometimes I think that's the best way of all. Then we cease to take them so easily for granted. Inhale, exhale, repeat. And, somewhere in there, a year flows by.

Seasons of Love ~ Rent (YouTube)

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

At left, a little Lion's Breath to start your morn. Have you done yours yet today?

I looked up from my desk the other day and realized that my 1920s fireplace bears these two fierce lions, breathing fire. We usually finish our asana practice with a series of several Lion's Breaths, that traditional bug-eyed, open-mouthed, roaring pranayama exercise meant to get rid of all leftover toxins, anything stirred up from the yoga practice that you might not need anymore, be it physical or emotional. I love the fact that whenever I turn around, there are my two lions-in-residence, reminding me to breathe fierceness and fearlessness into all that is.

The mellow week that was to be is not so much. Things are hopping. In the best of ways. So here's to the end of 2010. May it ring in a wild, fierce, living, loving new year.

Yoga Journal: Lion's Pose

Monday, December 27, 2010

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Ballet season is around the corner. Sweet jesus, yes. One more performance of The Nutcracker to go, and then that [ahem, tired] standard is packed up again until next Christmas. So ready for the real action to hit. The SF Ballet has another exquisite season planned, and I find that I'm already wishing January away so that sparkles and split leaps can once again fill my evenings.

In the meantime, god, do I love me some Alonzo King LINES Ballet. This gem of a contemporary ballet company calls San Francisco home, and we're lucky enough to find its dance center (rich with community dance classes as well as professional-caliber training) right downtown off Market Street. You can hit the SF Public Library, the Asian Art Museum and the LINES dance center all in one fell swoop, and then pick up some drugs on the corner on your way home. Sa-weeet.

In all seriousness: holy inspiration. I love, love, love the cross-pollination between art, music, dance and yoga here; really, when we're talking about union (that real definition of yoga), that drawing-together of body, mind and spirit, the arts are where that happens, more than anywhere else. It's hard not to crave that stillness, that silence of a dark auditorium, proscenium or not, or even a black box studio, where you can slip into listening and breathing and sighing away whatever chatter's running through your monkey mind, and just be there now to watch a body or six become an instrument of art.

Watch this excellent short video from the LINES ballet. It's got spirit, soul, direction, inspiration, and artistic legitimacy to fuel you for ages. There are days when I want to chuck everything and go back to being about twelve and just commit to spending my life in a leotard and tights and maybe some character shoes to balance out the uptight ballet action, hair pulled back and mind quiet and body breathing heavily. This is one of those days. (Erghh, time.)

So this video will have to do instead. Enjoy it, think about playing your own instrument, ruminate on finding that intuitive space in your own art, whatever that might be. And I'll see you on the mat, or in the studio, or at the theater, or at that divey jazz club in the wee hours. Holy arts. Sacred arts. We are so blessed with flashes of inspiration like this, which remind us so authentically what it is to be alive, in a body, which breathes, and feels, and moves, on a Monday morning in December.

LINES Ballet from LINES Ballet on Vimeo.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

A quiet catch of calm this morning before another big day unfolds, and hello, keyboard, why, how've you been?

Yesterday looked like a too-early morning after a too-late night, legwarmers, yoga, leftover peppermint fudge frosting, a frontier ghost town SF (be still my heart), thick foam at Philz, a luscious (and rare) afternoon nap while the rain pounded and the laundry dried, a hot Skype date with the dear ones in snow-covered mid-country, music, headstands, a welcome return from NYC by my girl C, and a jaunty cab ride through deserted streets to the Four Corners, where the Balboa twinkled like a buzzing lighthouse in the dark city and people hummed and it felt like home and Christmas and San Francisco amidst sweet sparkly solid people whom I adore.

(Peppermint cupcakes from Friday morning at the studio below; vegan, with a little candy cane action, and crimson tulips and dendrobium orchids on top. Yes.)

And now it's to writing, big writing, and football, big football, and slinging drinks and sipping coffee to burn off the brain fog, and watching that inevitable huge holiday snowstorm pummel my beloveds on the East Coast, and looking to the last week of the year and what I want for it to be. How we got here, now, I dunno, but the sky's clear and the morning's bright and the long day stretching ahead promises to hold much being alive in late December 2010.

So I'll take it.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Raw, idiom, 14a: in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

Swooning over moon songs this morning in the wake of last night's lunar eclipse, as I piece together a stardust playlist for this evening's candlelight flow.

It doesn't get much better than this. Tony Bennett and k.d. lang's stellar version of that mid-century jazz chestnut, "Moonglow," has been catching my breath in my throat for upwards of a decade now. It remains so. Give it a listen.

(And happy solstice. Shortest, darkest day of the year. From here on out, it all brightens. I'll drink to that.)

Tony Bennett and k.d. lang ~ Moonglow (YouTube)

Monday, December 20, 2010

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

No need to hurry. No need to sparkle.
No need to be anybody but oneself.

~ Virginia Woolf,
A Room of One's Own

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.

For it would seem - her case proved it - that we write, not with the fingers, but with the whole person. The nerve which controls the pen winds itself about every fiber of our being, threads the heart, pierces the liver.

~ Virginia Woolf


That long herky-jerky churning march to the holidays is officially over. From now on, it's all downhill, baby. For some of yous, yes, I realize, it's just beginning: that onslaught of family gatherings, those treacherous drives through snow-blown highways, the interminable hours spent waiting, waiting, waiting at the airport. (No better reminder of how little control we truly wield comes to us than in the waiting for the fog to lift, the skies to clear, the wind to slow, the ice to melt, the plane to arrive, the baggage to load. We are so powerless indeed. Kind of nice, when you stop resisting it, eh?)

Happy to be safely, dryly ensconced in my own little garden haven here on the downslope of Nob Hill with no foreseeable travel plans to be had. After last year's terrific [terrible] Nebraska blizzard debacle, I vowed to plant myself firmly and oh-so-happily at home for this go-around. And this morning as I began to kiss my dears goodbye, watching them trod off to family gatherings in Fort Lauderdale and Fargo, I couldn't help but be glad for the space, the silence, the stillness to come.

The City empties out over the holidays, since most of us here are transplants who've fled our native climes; the ghost town that is San Francisco in the wake of the masses fleeing to Tahoe and the like suits me and my yin wintertime spirit just fine. Most of my yoga classes are canceled this week, most other obligations on hold, too, so for the first time in I don't remember how long, this vast spaciousness has opened up. And that airy room to breathe means long-ignored sleep, some finally-folded clean laundry, and a helluva lot of time spent channeling Virginia Woolf.

This is my mission, Woolfian, yes: to write, write, write. Stating it here, now, clear, "out there" to all three of you readers (thanks, sibs): I will be a writing machine. Big deadlines abound. I've got six articles in half-completion that will see their end in the next few days. I've got interviews to be transcribed and clever quotes to be attributed. And, most importantly, I've got a patiently-sleeping book manuscript thisclose to being sent to agents that will be my beloved baby for the next two weeks, that sweetly-gestating little creation that has just wanted to be birthed now for far too long, and will finally be getting its due.

In the early 20th century, Woolf prescribed a room of one's own and a bit of money as necessary for the aspiring urban literary bohemian mademoiselle-type to be able to crank out her own words. I've got both, and more silence than I've savored in months, and a waiting piano to take me out of my head, and yoga escapes to break up the writing, and early mornings with coffee to fuel the fire, and evenings to be spent behind the bar shaking martinis to add material to my listening and inspiration to my narratives - and I think that's about as close to santosha as any chilly singing writing yogini can get on a cool wet winter Sunday in late December, 2010.

It is enough. It is so much more than enough.

Let that be your practice in this week to come, a pre-holiday whirlwind that more often than not ends up a rush of buying and mailing and cocktailing and bad sweater-wearing. Let yourselves step back and see it all with new eyes, with the eyes of a child, with the wonder that accompanies the white lights twinkling down in a deserted Financial District off California Street, or the marvel that remembers a bad 1970s version of Little Drummer Boy played on an old record player in a living room in South Dakota buffered by blizzard winds and the scent of baking bread.

It is enough. It is so much more than enough. I promise.

Beauty, the world seemed to say. And as if to prove it (scientifically) wherever he looked at the houses, at the railings, at the antelopes stretching over the palings, beauty sprang instantly. To watch a leaf quivering in the rush of air was an exquisite joy. Up in the sky swallows swooping, swerving, flinging themselves in and out, round and round, yet always with perfect control as if elastics held them; and the flies rising and falling; and the sun spotting now this leaf, now that, in mockery, dazzling it with soft gold in pure good temper; and now again some chime (it might be a motor horn) tinkling divinely on the grass stalks - all of this, calm and reasonable as it was, made out of ordinary things as it was, was the truth now; beauty, that was the truth now. Beauty was everywhere.
~ Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.

Ten days till Christmas, and there's only one song I wanna hear, over and over, but especially for savasana. Sara Bareilles covers Joni Mitchell's 1971 classic, River, and her live version, heavy on the piano, simply kills. There's something about melancholy music that suits the holidays; here in the midst of the shortest days of the year, so dense with darkness and cold, the somber sorrow feels honest. And, grounded in that sorrow, a space for joy opens up.

It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
But it don't snow here
It stays pretty green
I'm going to make a lot of money
Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly

Sara Bareilles ~ River (Live) (YouTube)

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Bittersweet truths from Mary Oliver...

Every year
I have ever learned
in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side
is salvation
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world
you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal; receiving raw treatment from his friends.

Today I'm attending a DVD taping with Gary Kraftsow. I'm pretty fired up. (You know you're a yoga nerd when the prospect of sitting still for 3 hours listening to obscure Hindu philosophy in complicated Sanskrit terminology is a major highlight of your week. Yipes.)

I had the pleasure of studying with Gary as a part of my program in Yoga Philosophy at the California Institute of Integral Studies a few years back. The man is remarkably knowledgeable, soft-spoken, measured, grounded and wise - especially considering that within just the last several years, he's been grappling with the after-effects of a near-fatal brain tumor.

Today's lecture/taping will address Gary's new work in yoga therapy and yoga for anxiety and depression. At a time when much of the yoga industry is oriented toward asana and a tight ass, I love and respect Kraftsow's emphasis on the ancient philosophy underlying the practice - the fact that "doing your yoga" might have absolutely nothing to do with asana, and everything to do with mind, breath and spirit.

Read more on this brilliant philosopher over at Yoga International. This excellent interview: Radical Healing - Yoga with Gary Kraftsow, explores Kraftsow's background, his experience of the "gift" of a brain tumor, and the ways that tumor has shifted his Viniyoga practice and his teaching today. Inspirational. Real. Authentic. Yoga.

American Viniyoga Institute
Radical Healing - Yoga with Gary Kraftsow (YI)

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

How can you not love MC Yogi? Badass beats, smart lyrics, inspirational backstory.

Give this recent interview a listen. NPR sits down with Nicholas Giacomini, aka MC Yogi, to talk a little about where he came from, how the whole hip hop beat came to meet yoga philosophy, and the inspiration behind a few of his tunes.

Word on the street is that MC himself will be teaching at Urban Flow come January. Not only is this musically fantastic, but it's also philosophically and athletically exciting; Nick and his wife Amanda met while training in India, and their asana is kick-ass. Get fired up.

MC Yogi NPR interview by MC Yogi

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Raw, adjective: 1. uncooked, as articles of food: a raw carrot.

Introducing our newest labor of love...

Bhakti Kitchen: Conscious Food
for Urban Yogis on the Fly

Practicing kitchen yoga is about more than just the asana; it's about thriving, in the most wonderfully countercultural kind of way! We've seen our own lives soften, bloom and grow through practicing kitchen yoga in its many forms, and we want to share that joy with you, too - so come, love and be nourished in this beloved melding of philosophy and practice. We use Patanjali's Eight Limbs of Yoga as a model for taking our yoga off the mat and into the kitchen, whether it's through cooking, baking, mindful eating, or just breathing well, and in so doing, learning to nourish our whole selves, one another, and the world. We believe that what we eat matters, that eating can indeed be a sacred act, and that yoga's an ideal path to that union with the divine. Inspired by progressives like Michael Pollan, Gabriel Cousens and John Robbins, we teach how to eat Real Food: whole, fresh, organic, local when possible, and plant-based, the kind of food that nourishes the whole being, the community, the body, the spirit and the mind, creating balance, or sattva, in the circle of life. Our work is grounded in a bhakti spirit of love and devotion, an emphasis on ahimsa and compassion, and great gratitude to our many teachers. By eating to awaken, food can truly become that which brings us from darkness into light. Namaste.

Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.

Baby birthday cakes - 80 in all - for today's Iyengar Institute of San Francisco celebration of B.K.S. Iyengar's 92nd lap around the sun.

Vegan chocolate pomegranate, with a pomegranate fudge frosting. Delphinium, hydrangea, and waxflowers to decorate. One mandala-shaped vegan chocolate coconut heritage bundt. And one very exhausted-but-content yogini baker, currently eating leftover frosting out of a saucepan. To quote How To Succeed in Business Without Really Trying: it's "been a long, been a long, been a long, been a long day."

Goodnight, bluesy babies.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.

Big weekend - (don't they all seem to be lately?) - teaching, working, breathing, and baking 80 baby birthday bundts in honor of Iyengar's 92nd on December 14th. We're hosting a birthday feast for celebration- and service-minded yogis tomorrow eve; this on the heels of throwing a similarly inspirational feast for some 50 teacher trainees finishing their 10-day Bhakti Flow intensive here at Urban Flow last Sunday.

Hence the blog silence of late. When the blog gets quiet, you can pretty well trust that there's a helluva lot of a) teaching, b) writing, c) baking, d) martini-shaking, e) arts-loving, f) life-living going on. Exciting updates to come, full of news of new gigs and unfolding projects and December in San Francisco and so very much being alive.

Until then, a very Happy Birthday to our beloved Iyengar. Go pick up your copy of his Light on Yoga in honor, and lose yourselves in that bible of yoga. And imagine that you're biting into a scrumptious little chocolate baby birthday bundt - decorated with lavender petals and waxflower beauties, of course - in the meantime.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Curious about the parallels between Christianity and yoga? Me too. Pick up Russill Paul's fantastic book, Jesus in the Lotus. You'll see the Christmas season in a whole new stretchy light.

If you want more, head on over to elephant journal, Spirituality & Practice, and Yoga Chicago for three excellent book reviews. Then get your theology on.

Jesus in the Lotus (

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.

I'm a wee short on time for baking these days (teaching and writing like a banshee!), but if I had a window of a few empty hours, these'd be first on my list.

Check out this gorgeous recipe for Maple-Walnut cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting. (Incidentally, they're vegan.) I wanna dive right into that frosting. This mid-holiday time is so rich with flavors: ginger, cinnamon, cloves, spiced pumpkin, sugared plum, etc., but maple's always been at the top of my list.

So give these a whirl if you've a minute or three. They'd do as well in baby bundt pans as in cupcake tins. And if that's still not sating you, order up a few of these rad Ninjabread Men Cookie Cutters (bwahh ha ha) and pair some gingerbread with ninjabread. Love it so hard.

Vegan Maple-Walnut cupcakes (Taste Goblet)
Ninjabread Men cookie cutters (Perpetual Kid)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Raw, adjective: 6. ignorant, inexperienced, or untrained: a raw recruit.

Feeling creaky, and sore, and blasé? Read this piece on 92-year-old rockstar yogini Tao Porchon-Lynch, and then try to tell me you don't just desperately wanna be her.

It's women like Lynch that give me a vision for what I want my life to be someday. My big sis and I remember so fondly a certain dance teacher of ours, Nevorah Adams, who at sixty-something - back in the early 80s - would rock her high-heeled tap shoes and long sexy legs and dance her ass off there in the wooden studio on the second floor of that dusty old prairie building in Brookings. I can't hear the Beach Boys' California Girls without remembering tap-tap-tapping away to it with that incredible woman in front of the big long mirror as what - a four, five year old?

Point being, I remember saying to myself as that young kid, even then: I wanna be her. I wanna be able to kick my nose when I'm 63. I wanna be able to rock the fishnets and the boa when I'm a sexagenarian (though I guarantee I didn't say "sexagenarian" at the time). And that drive's stayed with me all these years since, all because of one remarkable teacher, and her memory motivates me on days when I'd rather just say "meh." So thanks to Lynch, with her Indra Devi legacy and her Duke Ellington name-dropping (!!), and thanks to Nevorah, for planting a seed in the first place.

It takes just one powerful teacher. Just one. And then, well, life - it just unfolds.

For yoga master at 92, there is only the dance (Yahoo)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

While a person dies every day during the eight or more hours in which he or she functions as a commodity, individuals come to life afterward in their spiritual creations. But this remedy bears the germs of the same sickness: that of a solitary being seeking harmony with the world.

~ Che Guevara

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Lokah Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

May all beings be happy and free.
Peace. Peace. Peace.


Try starting your day with this mantra. It's amazing how your focus will shift. It's not about the frazzled commute. It's not about your spilled coffee. May all beings be happy and free, with lightness in their feet and rhythm in their bones. And may their peace begin with yours.

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Who owns yoga?

Hinduism? Patanjali? Your mom?
Hindu group stirs a debate over yoga's soul (NYT)

And after you read that, dig into this gem from the WaPo:
On Faith: The Theft of Yoga

Well done, smarty.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Please, oh please, sit down with your Advent-blue clad self and listen to my main woman Ella Fitz scat her badass way through this incredible version of Irving Berlin's "Blue Skies." It's always been one of my favorite tunes, this, in spite of the way it veers dangerously toward the perky; the melody's perfect for humming while walking down the street by your lonesome, especially here in SF where we sidewalk-singers don't even merit a second glance from passerby accustomed to all things bizarre.

Pay attention; really listen, I mean, really listen. Throw yourself into a headstand, maybe, for the full duration of these fabulous 3:47 minutes, or a shoulderstand, if you're wanting to get a little more yin on. And notice, just notice, the yoga going on here: the in-the-moment improv, the fluid flexibility, the fearless sense of play. It's all yoga, baby. No mat necessary. You really can find it everywhere - especially in music like this - if you just open your eyes.

Ella Fitzgerald sings "Blue Skies" (YouTube)

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.

That would be me. Advent me.

Purple-bluesy, snapped-in-the-moment, sweaty-after-yoga me. I dig that pic. It feels true. November-true, at least; wintry. The days here in SF have been nippy of late, the nights even moreso; the ice skating rink's set up per usual down in the shadow of Saks in Union Square, and there's this heavy dark atmospheric quiet that makes me want to lose everything to cab franc and cowl-neck sweaters and red lipstick and books and words. Winter, fer sure.

Today's the first Sunday in Advent. Did you forget, too? I sat down at my desk this afternoon and looked at the calendar, realizing this, and suddenly it all made sense: why I've been swimming in Krishna blue of late, why I can't get enough deep violets and murky plums and periwinkles, why this season that feels like so much darkness and chill always comes to me so wrapped in deep lush lilac hues.

So it's Advent, that old familiar liturgical season that means the first of four Sundays anticipating the Main Event, the big shebang, that huge Christmas Eve service when the church lights up in and of its own accord, simply by the grace of the flickering candles throwing light on midnight-massed faces.

[Tears come on writing this, interesting, yes.]

As a kid, growing up a PK, this was a big deal. The long post-Pentecostal stretch was over, and the thrill of the holidays really began when we dug out the dusty Advent wreath with its four blue candles and unrolled my mother's quilted Advent calendar and hung it on the wall. It was inevitably cold and frozen there on the Great Plains; I can remember the blizzard winds howling around the corners of the house in South Dakota like a train, an angry, unpredictable, threatening meteorological force. The warmth of the candlelit liturgical season combined with the hope for the holiday to counter that barren month of cold, capped off by an unusually lazy Christmas Day itself, which was the rare day we actually got to skip church. Since Pops was a campus pastor and his students were always out of session over winter break, he got a sweet day off - which also meant that for one precious Christmas Eve service a year, all six of us got to sit together in the same pew. Pretty rad, even before you consider the Barbie convertibles and Little House on the Prairie boxsets to be found under the Christmas tree the next morning.

SO anyway - here we are again, Advent, shivering, lighting that first candle on the wreath, and I spent the morning at the yoga studio instead of in the back pew as I would've two decades ago, and that felt right, though perhaps I haven't strayed as far from the institutional church as I'd first thought: I unknowingly (subconsciously?) threw on monochromatic purple this morning on barrelling out of the house, late, highly-caffeinated, half-asleep: purple yoga skirt, purple tank, purple long-sleeved shirt. So the Advent colors were there, embodied, this first Sunday, without my even realizing it; and as we look toward Christmas and the unfurling month to come, the December that flies by so quickly as we grow older (do you remember how it used to creep when we were kids, waiting, hoping, anticipating that big Christmas morning under the tree?), I'm graced by the sense of quiet, the yin, the darkness, that's part and parcel of this liturgical season.

It's no coincidence, you know, that the purple-blue hues of Advent mirror the same violets of Lent. Both liturgical seasons are laden with urges toward reflection, mindfulness, stillness, peace. We celebrate peace now, as North and South Korea threaten one another; we cultivate stillness, in the heavy winter evenings that roll in earlier and earlier with each day, until the solstice finally curls us into that shortest day of the year; we sit in the quiet, in the yin, in the blue silent moments, and come back to the breath, and become aware of the suffering, and donate our coats or our canned goods or our time or our labor so that others' suffering might be eased even in the least; we reflect on the year that has been, the year that will so soon draw to a close, the creeping lines on our faces, the aching joints in our bodies; we remember where we were one Advent ago, and ten Advents ago, and twenty, and give thanks for the ongoing presence, for the fact that we can even celebrate one more; and we hope for warmth and nourishment and compassion and care there in the midst of that violet-colored December chill.

So roll around in your purple, get your monochromatic lilacs on, light your life with blues and periwinkles and lavenders and royals, and let that bluesy-ness draw you more deeply into reflection, stillness, presence, gratitude, peace. Whether it's the Krishna blue of Hinduism or the deep violet of Protestant Christianity, the color can be a much-needed muse for finding the kind of grace and peace promised in the mindfulness of the season.

It'll be over before you know it.

Take a deep breath, light a candle, and let your light so shine, preferably while getting your jam on to this chestnut of a Europop tune from the turn of the millennium. (This puppy flashes me straight back to a dark dance club in South Philly circa 2000, several Long Island iced teas in. We're well past the Long Island iced tea days now, but refill your red wine glass instead, and bust a move, please, there in your cowlneck and your thick socks. It's cold in here.)

The Christian Season of Advent
Eiffel 65 ~ Blue (Da Ba Dee) (YouTube)

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

If the only prayer you said in your whole life
was "thank you," that would suffice.

~ 13th c. Christian mystic
Meister Eckhart

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

Adbusters takes culture jamming to a whole new level this year with Carnivalesque Rebellion Week. Let this lead-up to the main event - Buy Nothing Day, on Friday the 26th - fuel you, fire you, stoke a burning in your belly.

So instead of just sitting around stuffing your face with overcooked turkey and rubbery cranberry sauce, shake things up. Question the establishment. Challenge the usual, whether that's by skipping the malls on Black Friday or chanting in public parks or spending your Thanksgiving cleaning sidewalks or cooking for someone who could use a little more to be thankful for.

In the words of the ever-fiery, ever-inspiring gang over at Adbusters, it might look like a little like this:

A few people start breaking their old patterns, embracing what they love (and in the process discovering what they hate), daydreaming, questioning, rebelling. What happens naturally then, according to the revolutionary past, is a groundswell of support for this new way of being, with more and more people empowered to perform new gestures unencumbered by history.

Think of it as an adventure, as therapy – a week of pieing and pranks, of talking back at your profs and speaking truth to power. Some of us will put up posters in our schools and neighborhoods and just break our daily routines for a week. Others will chant, spark mayhem in big box stores and provoke mass cognitive dissonance. Others still will engage in the most visceral kind of civil disobedience. And on November 26 from sunrise to sunset we will abstain en masse – not only from holiday shopping, but from all the temptations of our five-planet lifestyles.

Get it on.

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

You're an artist.

Yes, you.

Stop thinking you're not. It's in your handwriting - yes - and your breath and your voice and the way you move. All of it.

So do it already. What are you waiting for?

Raw, adjective: 2. not having undergone processes of preparing, dressing, finishing, refining, or manufacture

It's aparigraha week here at Raw Rach, and as such, the perfect time to revisit this excellent article from Tricycle Magazine. "Shopping the Dharma" asks how we reconcile our roles as consumers with our spiritual selves; it takes a ruthlessly self-aware look at the ways in which our consumer mindsets, ingrained as they are in our very being after swimming in the waters of an acquisitive culture all our lives, inform the way we practice as spiritual seekers:
Consumer culture is modeled on instant gratification. We say we want a close relationship with a spiritual mentor, but when that mentor’s guidance challenges our desires or pushes our ego’s buttons too much, we stop seeking it. At the beginning of our practice, we profess to be earnest spiritual seekers, aiming for enlightenment. But after the practice has remedied our immediate problem—the emotional fallout of a divorce, grief at the loss of a loved one, or life’s myriad setbacks—our spiritual interest fades, and we once again seek happiness in possessions, romantic relationships, technology, and career.
So what does it mean, then, to stay? What does it look like to stop shopping, to cease searching, to sit with and watch that urge to continually upgrade, move on, get a bigger and better model? Most of us see examples of this in and amongst one another: the wealthy businessman who constantly trades up for a younger and more surgically-enhanced trophy wife; the young kid who works three jobs to pay for a tricked-out car he doesn't need, because he thinks it'll bring him happiness and social status; the yoga student who constantly bounces from studio to studio, just when her practice hits a plateau and the revelations stop coming so effortlessly.

I always think of David Loy at this time of year; he of the Buddhist scholarship on Lack and American consumerism, he of the brilliant observation that capitalism is in fact our primary contemporary religion, he who challenges us to shift from seeking sustenance, meaning, joy, fulfillment in the shopping mall, the car lot, the McMansion, the football game to a sense of already-present abundance, to give in to a wild sense of affluence, the outlaw certainty of having, being, abandoning that source of suffering that is the desire for more, bigger, better.

That's the practice for us here, now, always, of course, but especially now.

So challenge yourselves to uncover the ways in which the consumer mentality functions in your own spiritual practice. It's there, as much as we'd like to pretend spirituality is free of acquisitiveness and craving:
We must become aware of how the consumer mentality functions in us and in our spiritual communities and institutions. We need to revive appreciation for the traditional model of a practitioner who lives a life of simplicity and humility, sincerity and endeavor, kindness and compassion. We must choose teachers with these qualities, cultivate these qualities in ourselves, and guide our students in developing them. We must remember that the purpose of a spiritual institution is not to preserve itself, but to facilitate the teaching and practice of a spiritual tradition. We should have only as much institutional structure as needed to do that, no more. This is essential to maintain the vitality of our spiritual traditions and to prevent them from becoming empty shells.
Yes, yes, and yes.

Shopping the Dharma (Tricycle)

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

You already have everything you need.

How does your life change
when you see it that way?

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal; receiving raw treatment from his friends.

Moved, touched, inspired by the beautiful "one story, many voices" narrative coming out of the It Gets Better Project. If you're not familiar with this powerful grassroots movement inspired by Dan Savage's initial "It Gets Better" video, created in the wake of media coverage of widespread bullying and gay teen suicides, you owe it to yourselves to sit quietly for a few minutes and take it all in.

The postmodern narrative here - lifting up truth rooted in experience, in the multifaceted spoken testimony of what it feels like to be alive in an outlaw's body in the early 21st century - is so incredibly powerful. It's a rich reminder of our shared humanity, of the universality of loneliness and uncertainty, and of the potential power for connection in simply speaking the unspoken.

Over the last month, I've had the particular pleasure of watching my fantastic friend Kate produce Pixar Animation's contribution to this narrative. Sit down, take a deep breath and spend a few minutes listening to Pixar employees' stories of what it feels like to be the Other. And then remember that we're all the Other at one point or another, and that the compassion that can unfurl out of that kind of empathetic awareness can fuel the kind of care and connection that prevents cruel tragedies like the one we witnessed at Rutgers earlier this fall.

It gets better. This is true, whether it's because people eventually learn to tell the establishment to fuck off, or because the establishment finally realizes that much of the great art of our world comes from the visionaries outside of the mainstream. May the outliers, the renegades, the misfits remind us that the coolest thing, the richest thing, the best thing you can be is a freak. Because it's the freaks who gift us with creativity and vision, spirit and passion. Who wants to be cool? Who wants to be acceptable? Isn't it ever so much more alive to be subversive and spirited and your own?

So be your own. Belong to yourself. It gets better. Pixar employees will vouch for that below. And they'll probably have you crying, as well.

It Gets Better
It Gets Better ~ Love, Pixar (YouTube)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste: raw humor

Please spend the next two minutes of your morning with this bizarrely fabulous old gem of a film clip featuring none other than The King himself getting a little yoga on at the hands of a strange old lady wearing an ugly caftan. 1967's Easy Come, Easy Go featured our boy Elvis rocking the beatnik black and twisting it up pretzel-style with a bunch of orange-tights-wearing lady yoginis.

Beyond the kitsch value and well, the utter absurdity of the whole thing, you've gotta give props to anyone who can rhyme a sing-song "serious" with "posterious." That's most definitely not a word, but we'll give skinny little yogi Elvis a break for being surprisingly flexible and charming in that monochromatic black. It's just a shame he didn't stick with the yoga in lieu of those peanut butter and banana sandwiches. Things might've turned out differently.

Yoga is as Yoga Does (YouTube)

Monday, November 15, 2010

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Craving a dose of sparely-lilting, doe-eyed hipster melancholy, with some mid-1960s mod aesthetics thrown in? Yeah, me too.

Meet Inara George.

She of the big eyes, the twee pixie 'do, the legit musical pedigree, and the clear pure perfectly simple soprano has been haunting my melodies of late. Check out one of my favorite songs below (Fools Work), read George's interview on NPR's All Things Considered from a few years back, and waste some time Googling up a little of The Bird and The Bee, George's collaborative indie-rock duo with Greg Kursten (aka the Bee).

Love everything about their music, their aesthetic, their iconoclasm, their deceptive simplicity. And not gonna lie; kinda wanna be her. Go.

Inara George ~ Fools Work (YouTube)
Inara George extends 'An Invitation' (NPR)
The Bird and the Bee: Unusual and Irresistible (NPR)

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Sthira-sukham asanam (YS II:46):
The connection to the earth should be
steady and joyful.

sthira = steady, stable, motionless
sukham = comfortable, easy, "sweet space"
asanam = meditation posture (from the root ~as, which means "to sit")

Find a comfortable seat, ground yourself, soften, breathe, release your jaw. Spend five minutes in that comfortable seat reading Sogyal Rinpoche's beautiful piece on The Stability of Ease, from the ever awake-in-the-world Tricycle Magazine.

Ahhh. Much better.

Raw, adjective: 5. crude in quality or character; not tempered or refined by art or taste: raw humor

Crazy about this new site. You should really wander over and check it out. calls itself "a refuge for the spiritually disenfranchised," which means, in fancier words, a place where people somewhat burned by yoga can say it like it is. Calling out the hypocrisy in the yoga scene, punching holes in loosey-goosey New Age malarkey, and speaking truth to the fact that yes, in spite of how we all aspire to this gorgeous radiant love-filled light-bearing yogic existence, the yoga world is in fact as full of ego, doublespeak and propaganda as is the "real" world.

I love the frankness, the irreverence, the scandalous truths - in spite of, or perhaps because of, the fact that I am so very much entrenched in this scene. Believe it or not, there's a name for this kind of thing in the ancient yoga sutras; it's called svadhyaya, or self-study. Self-awareness. Breaking it down, cutting the crap, getting rid of what no longer serves us (to use an oft-maligned vaguely New Agey yoga phrase). We take ourselves far too seriously so much of the time. What a great opportunity to see ourselves as we are, warts and all, mucking around in the realness, the no-bullshit lingo, the propensity for swearing.

Check it out. I expect big things. And namaste, mother%$#ckers.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.

Autumn's my favorite baking season: we've got honeycrisp apples and squash and pumpkin and cinnamon and nutmeg and cloves coming out of our ears, and gingerbread and sugar plum cakes are just around the corner.

Meet a few of my recent babies:

Pumpkin spice with raisins, toasted walnuts and buttercream frosting, to celebrate the Giants' big World Series win. I've got no doubt that the bundt played a role in securing the victory. We toasted the win against the Phillies on the road to the World Series with a Chocolate Grand Marnier confection - orange and black, naturally, with a Grand Marnier fudge frosting. I'm already missing the baseball bundts and the many opportunities for making bad punny bunt/bundt jokes. Next year, my friends.


Vegan chocolate raspberry with a raspberry fudge frosting. This is one of my favorite recipes - gleaned from my Yoga Journal article last December, actually - because you can play with it so much. Add coconut; add pomegranate juice and fresh pom seeds for a little crunch; add kahlua to make it a little more dangerous, or espresso powder for a stronger Mocha feel. Whichever way you take it, it's always good. And healthy-ish. And, best of all: ahimsa-rich.

Both recipes can be found in my blog archives. Have a little wander around there; you'll find several other excellent seasonal recipes to get you in the mood for a hot toddy or three.

Now bring on the gingered pear, already!

Pumpkin Spice recipe
Chocolate Grand Marnier recipe (modified; sub out the vanilla ingredients for chocolate, and you're good to go)
Vegan Chocolate Raspberry recipe

Raw, idiom, 14a: in the natural, uncultivated, or unrefined state: nature in the raw.

My Zen boyfriend Gary Snyder's on the telly as I write. In case you've missed it, check out the trailer below for a preview of the fantastic new documentary highlighting the work of this beloved Beat writer, Zen scholar and poet laureate of deep ecology.

The Gary love's been well-documented here; his embrace of the wild, his incredible poetry, his Buddhist-infused teachings all make my heart beat fast. I just want more. Watch the trailer; follow the official Facebook page for updates on national showings, and find an excuse to revisit Snyder's incredible writing in his 1990 The Practice of the Wild, after which the documentary is named. He's one of our great national treasures, right up there with Yosemite and North Beach and bourbon whiskey.

Here's a blurb from San Simeon films, followed by the trailer itself:
'The Practice of the Wild' is a film profile of the poet and Pulitzer Prize winner Gary Snyder. Snyder has been a creative force in all the major cultural changes that have created the modern world. Along with Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg, he was a central figure of the Beat generation. He helped bring Zen Buddhism into the America scene, was an active participant in the anti-war movement and an inspiration for the quest for human potential. All along he was a founding intellect, essayist and leader of the new environmental awareness that supports legislation and preservation without losing sight of direct wild experience -- local people, animals, plants, watersheds and food sources.

This film, borrowing its name from one of Snyder's most eloquent non-fiction books, revolves around a life-long conversation between Snyder and his fellow poet and novelist Jim Harrison. These two old friends and venerated men of American letters converse while taking a wilderness trek along the central California coast in an area that has been untouched for centuries. They debate the pros and cons of everything from Google to Zen koans. The discussions are punctuated by archival materials and commentaries from Snyder friends, observers, and intimates who take us through the 'Beat' years, the years of Zen study in Japan up to the present -- where Snyder continues to be a powerful spokesperson for ecological sanity and bio-regionalism.
Beautiful. Now watch.

"The Practice of the Wild" trailer (YouTube)
The Practice of the Wild book review (EcoBooks)
"The Practice of the Wild" film review (SFGate)

Friday, November 12, 2010

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Asteya. Offering back everything that you've been given. It's the opposite of feeling entitled to things. It's the sense that nothing is yours. Everything is on loan -- even your body, even your mind.

~ Ruth Lauer, Sweeping the Dust

Monday, November 8, 2010

Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.

On a Monday morning that may or
may not feel sluggish, slow, difficult,
too-early, hard-to-get-up-for, or
just neverendingly long...

...wouldn't you say it's a
good tactic?

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.

Tonight we set our clocks back an hour, and the shadows lengthen. There's no hiding from November once the sun begins to set at five o'clock. Spend your extra hour of darkness tomorrow with the beautiful Scott Blossom, whose season-appropriate, dosha-balancing Shadow Yoga sequence will ease you into late autumn's Yin.

Can't get enough? I, too, find the beauty of Shadow Yoga entrancing, in its own nourishing, quieting, calming, fabulously rich, dark-deep-dank kind of way. So if you want a little more of the philosophy behind what Scott does, head over to his excellent Shunyata Yoga website. Read up on the Buddhist and Ayurvedic theory behind it, skim through a few of the excellent articles in Scott's archive, and expand your practice a bit in conjunction with the seasons.

Finally, head over to the Chronicle's coverage from last winter's Yoga Journal conference here in SF, where Scott Blossom taught an excellent Shadow Yoga class. I love Blossom's emphasis on Shadow Yoga's lack of commercialization. A breath of fresh air, indeed, at a time when so much in the yoga world is about marketing and industry.

Yoga Home Practice ~ Season Finale (YJ)
Shunyata Yoga
Shadow Yoga offers a fresh twist (SFGate)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.

Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. We live, we die, age beautifully or full of wrinkles. We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. At the same instant we have magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on this earth. We are important and our lives are important.

~ Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones

Raw, adjective: 10. not diluted, as alcoholic spirits: raw whiskey.

Magical morning here in SF, basking as we are in the afterglow of one of my favorite nights, ever, here in the City by the Bay. Just when I thought I couldn't possibly love this place any more, the Giants go and win the World Series, and the people erupt.

There were flashes last night, here and there between slinging drinks like a ninja and keeping one eye on the ballgame and high-fiving happily-tipsy bar regulars, when I thought to myself: This is the kind of moment you remember, always, even (especially?) when you're 80 and decrepit and probably can no longer shake a martini with any kind of acuity. But you remember the rush, and the feeling so alive, and the community, and the people, and the bodies, and the spirit, and the vibe in the air, and the door wide open onto the bay across the street, and Edgar Renteria whacking one into the stands to ensuing jubilant celebration, and Rick the Golden Retriever running into the bar and up to the sinks in search of a martini or three, and the local news anchor and her sportswriter friend drinking at your bar, and the former mayor - Da Mayor, yes, that one - sitting there calmly, serenely, taking it all in, just a few steps away, and the foghorns blowing when Nelson Cruz swung for a final out, and Brian Wilson turning and screaming with that mouth-wide-open glee, and the pitching and the post-game round-ups and the champagne-soaked Matt Cain and the Cheshire Cat-grin on Cody Ross and the really truly unchecked joy, and the sense of belonging, and the being really truly in the center of all that heaving life, and the coming home hours later, late into the night, with horns still honking and people still driving along the Embarcadero popping up out of their sunroofs, and Coit Tower lit up like an enormous orange phallus there on Telegraph Hill,

and making it all even the sweeter is the fact that these guys were a bunch of misfits, the ones nobody wanted, washed up, too young, out of shape, you name it; but they did it, and the City's been a constant whirl of orange-and-black for the duration of this charmed post-season run, and now we have a parade and sunshine and celebration tomorrow to look forward to, and in the meantime it's Election Day and we've got a new governor on the way, and the morning is fresh and breezy and my garden's lush in spite of what the calendar says, and that's the charm of living in this blessed Bay Area climate of ours, and so you sit and take a minute and drink some black coffee and breathe it all in for a flash before the moment passes and you go on with your day and attend to the errands and the teaching and the usual routine, but it feels different today, on this day, of all, and the cable cars' windows are painted orange and black, and you ride them with a different sense of pride and marvel at the bizarre fact that this is your life, this is your home, this is your team of scrappy misfits, and you give such thanks for living here, now, enough, and the wild santosha kind of overwhelms, on a Tuesday in November, Election Day, post-World Series win, in the 94109.

I left my heart. For real. Big mad love to my blue-skied SF, and to Peggy Lee, whose earthy-sexy-perfectly-slinkily-trumpeted rendition of Black Coffee accompanied my own on this morning of mornings. To celebration.

Peggy Lee ~ "Black Coffee"

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Raw, noun: 13. unrefined sugar, oil, etc.

Ready to get your winter baking on?

Head on over and say hello to my sweet baking sisters over at the The Kitchen Yogi. Their charming cookie cutters in the shape of yoga poses will light up your holiday cookie-baking. Order Navasana (Boat Pose), Vrksasana (Tree Pose), or Sukhasana (Easy Seat), gather your favorite small children, and spend a few flour-covered hours in the kitchen together.

And don't stop there. You can take these clever cutters out of the kitchen and turn them into art projects: trace them, hang them as ornaments, give them as gifts. Support this creative and intuitive melding of two great meditation practices - yoga and baking - and find the art in both. Sweet.

The Kitchen Yogi

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

If you're looking for a progressive voice to counter a lot of the conservative influences in the media's coverage of religion these days, look no further than the fantastic forward-thinking Sojourners Magazine.

This level-headed, justice-driven publication churns out consistently thoughtful pieces on the latest in progressive, activist-minded Christianity, spirituality and social justice in general. It's a much-needed antidote to a lot of the passionately partisan screeds being published in support of narrow-minded, exclusivist, hate-mongering behavior in the name of religion.

Check out Sojourners' November issue for some seriously smart writing on the theology of the Tea Party. Let Jim Wallis's measured analysis and step-by-step unpacking of the theological implications of Libertarianism make you rethink the mass media packaging of these so-called "Christian" candidates, and question whether Ayn Rand-style individualism is really compatible with the compassionate central mandate to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Vote for love, vote for compassion, vote for justice, vote for peace. Isn't that what Buddha, Jesus, Krishna would do? I think so, too.

The Theology of the Tea Party
Sojourners: Christians for Justice and Peace

Raw, adjective: 11. unprocessed or unevaluated: raw data.

Thanks for being here! I love that you're reading.

If you haven't yet, take a sec to click the link at right to find Rachel Meyer Yoga on Facebook. There, you'll discover additional content, useful links and a few more kicky photos now and then.

On that note - there's a great campaign on the part of Off the Mat, Into the World to get our yogi activist community to the polls as we approach Election Day next Tuesday. Take a few minutes to browse through their fantastic seva-inspired work, and then head over to YogaVotes to show your support for yogic action at the polls.

Living our yoga means taking those qualities we so strive to develop on the mat - patience, kindness, compassion, peace - and employing them in the world around us. Vote for the candidates who most espouse those qualities. Your spirit and your seva are so wrapped up in your vote.

Rachel Meyer Yoga
Off the Mat, Into the World

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Raw, adjective: 9. disagreeably damp and chilly, as the weather or air: a raw, foggy day at the beach.

Autumn's in the air here in SF, in spite of the teasingly weak sunshine that comes and goes in the late afternoon, and the cold foggy nights slither open into foggier-still mornings here on the downslope of Nob Hill.

Take four minutes to get out of your head and come back into your breath. Let your heavy feet make a home on the floor, place your open palms on the fronts of your thighs, sit up straight, lengthening the spine, and close your eyes. Alexi Murdoch - that beautiful creature, he - demonstrates this most simple of meditation asanas in the snapshot below.

Even better, turn yourself upside down for those four minutes, placing your head below your heart in Headstand (if you're craving a good energy surge via a revitalizing rush of blood to the head) or in Shoulderstand (if you're needing the yin calming effects that come from balancing the weight of your body on your shoulders). Close your eyes, feel gravity reverse, and use those fleeting few minutes as a sacred space for emptying your racing mind.

And just notice: what are you aware of this cool morning in late October? What's haunting you, filling your mind, stirring your heart? Can you watch it and witness it, not judging it, just letting it be what it is, and thinking to yourself, "Oh, isn't that interesting?" Isn't that interesting that I'm worried about this, or obsessively running over that, and can I maybe let it go, just for these four minutes, and let my head empty and my thoughts grow quiet and the breath just become still?

Music and meditation can so often become one and the same, when we let ourselves get lost in them. Lose yourself in Alexi Murdoch's big doe eyes and spare melancholy guitar, and let his gentle urging bring you back to your breath, reminding you of the simplicity and the marvel of just being alive in a breathing body on a Thursday morning in October.

And let it be enough.

Alexi Murdoch, "Breathe" (YouTube)