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)