Tuesday, May 31, 2011

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

Earlier this spring, yoga philosopher Michael Stone tweeted (yes, tweeted) that "the term vinyasa originally meant tattooing the inner body with mantras." I was struck by that definition, really struck; it dovetails so nicely with the concept of samskaras (grooves, habits, ruts) in the body, and the ways in which a yoga practice, hitting the mat time and again, can break down old patterns and reconstruct healthier, more life-giving, more prana-rich samskaras. And, while I've never been much one for tattoos, I loved the idea of marking the inner body, of inking mantras dedicated to peace, lightness, openness, you name it, on the more ethereal aspects of our always-changing, never-really-existing selves.

So Sunday's NYT ran a simple gallery of 10 or 11 shots of tattooed yogis. Bendy people with ink will not be a new phenomenon for anyone who's spent a few hours in an urban yoga studio of late. Tattoo central -- and more lower-back Oms and goddesses than you can shake a stick at. That's cool. But as a collection of photography, of art, I like the minimalism of these shots, and the brief stories outlining the intention behind each. Check it out. Body art can be a way of clinging to a construct of a self, for sure; I always take care to remind myself that bodies come and go, and that any grasping at permanence in bodily state, be it plastic surgery, tattooing, liposuction, or the like, can really only ever be that -- grasping. But at the same time, if we look at bodies from a different angle, celebrating their impermanence, knowing that they'll change, decay, fade away, body art like piercing or tattoos can be just one more way to lift up their constantly-changing nature, an affirmation of the fact that the body that walks in a room and guides itself into Adho Mukha Swanasana is never the the same body that walks out 90 minutes later.

Flux is the only constant. How's that for a mantra to tattoo on your guts?

A Movable Canvas -- Tattoos in Yoga (NYT)

Monday, May 30, 2011

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

Struggling with Memorial Day a bit. I always do. Something about the glorification of these "fallen heroes" makes my stomach churn. People. People who were killing and were killed and are killing and might yet be killed, all as the hands of some nation's military machine. I struggle. Who to support? The people? The people who were simply doing the work of some greater force for chaos and tumult? The people who were "securing peace" in the process? Whew. Don't know that I can go there this Monday morning. Too many questions, too many unresolved answers.

We memorialize with barbecues and beaches and the day off work. And that fact that now you can wear white until Labor Day. I guess that's an attempt. The City's been relatively quiet this weekend, folks having fled to Tahoe, and I always savor these long weekends for that very factor. They'll crawl home today, tonight, backing up traffic at the Bay Bridge, and then tomorrow morning it will be routines as usual, maybe a little more sunburned, a little more rested than usual.

Brand new morning. Brand new start. I'd rather look to this holiday as an opportunity to reboot, to set new intentions, to reflect with a certain unremitting sorrow on the foolishness that has been so many wars over so many years, on the shocking imbalance of funds channeled toward bombers and away from schools, health care, the arts, you name it. I woke up this morning and felt heavy with the awareness that Om shanti, Om shanti, Om shanti, we sing of suffering, the suffering we create in and of ourselves, and the suffering we create amongst one another, and the big suffering, that suffering that is loss and destruction and violence, and I turned immediately, rhythmically, waitingly, to the natural counterpart to that song of suffering: Om peace, Om peace, Om peace, praying that we might consciously create peace in and of ourselves, peace amongst one another, and finally, that big peace, the big peace that we generally assume to be unavailable but which always waits patiently, lovingly, kindly, perhaps even a bit irritably as it watches us, over and over, get lost in the push and pull of inter-national, inter-personal, inter-cultural dramas that are too often inadequately resolved by violence.

Om shanti. Today we choose peace. And a heavy pour of bittersweet remembering, that all of those lives perceived as acting heroically in the perpetuation of violence in the name of one nation or another might not have been wasted, that some reconciliation, some measure of goodness, might have come from the senseless knee-jerk violence that's too often an excuse for peace-making.

My heavy heart sings. Om shanti, Om.

Friday, May 27, 2011

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

"To offer no resistance to life is to be in a state of grace, ease, and lightness. This state is then no longer dependent upon things being in a certain way, good or bad. It seems almost paradoxical, yet when your inner dependency on form is gone, the general conditions of your life, the outer forms, tend to improve greatly. Things, people, or conditions that you thought you needed for your happiness now come to you with no struggle or effort on your part, and you are free to enjoy and appreciate them - while they last. All those things, of course, will still pass away, cycles will come and go, but with dependency gone there is no fear of loss anymore. Life flows with ease."

~ Eckhart Tolle

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

My so-thoughtful friend Gordon surprised me with a copy of Gregor Maehle's Ashtanga Yoga: Practice & Philosophy the other evening. I love Maehle's work and have found his writing very useful over the years, so was pleasantly excited to sit down with his book yesterday.

Gordon and I got to talking about Maehle and his acknowledgments. In the front of the book, before even the table of contents, Maehle writes this:

To the first and foremost of all teachers,
who has been known by various names,
such as the Brahman, the Tao, the Lord, and the Mother,
and who, after all names are left behind,
is still there as the incomprehensible, luminous,
vibrant, silent, vast emptiness in my heart.

G found himself not sitting well with this idea of the divine as emptiness. I found myself lost in the perfection of that definition. Sunyata, emptiness, the void, all of it; thank you, Gregor Maehle, for that. It feels honest, true, right to me. And I've kept the page open here next to my desk as a reminder ever since.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

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

I've found my newest baking yogini apprentice. Meet Rachel Lynn, goddaughter extraordinaire. She's at the ready with bundt cookbook in hand and tambourine at foot. What more could you want in a bhakti goddess-to-be? Get ready, world.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

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

So much love and gratitude to the beautiful folks over at Balance Yoga. We've had the warmest welcome here: sweet sangha, sweaty asana, open hearts, chocolate-y fingers, creative little artists, and finally, this morning, soft shoulders.

One more asana session this rainy Sunday morning, and with the help of some lilting tunes and a lot of Pigeon and Humble Warrior, we should have some really open hips, as well. Karen and I met last night after our morning workshop together to look toward future collaborations with The Kitchen Yogi, and I'm fired up to get moving on our upcoming plans for world domination. Stay tuned for that.

In the meantime, enjoy your easy Sunday morning. If you're in the 'hood, come join us. If you're a little further away, crank up the volume on your mellowest of weekend playlists, wrap your arms and your legs up in Gomukhasana, close your eyes and imagine you're swimming along with us on a quiet Sunday morning in Northeast PA.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

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

Maple brown sugar walnut, with a maple buttercream frosting. Hydrangea for the pretty.

Celebrating today, among other things: the birthdays of my boy Ben and my girl Alexis, the wedding anniversary of my favorite Aaron & Courtney, this insanely sunny, fresh, beautiful spring afternoon, the fact that I am not the baby mama of Arnold Schwarzenegger's unfortunate secret love child, the weekend's impending reunion with so many old friends 3000 miles away, Jane Monheit's killer rendition of "Spring Can Really Hang You Up the Most," a month of several pleasing publications, the infinite source of joy that is butter cream frosting, the incredible folks I get to share my days and evenings with, whether barefoot in the studio or behind the bar, and well, let's be honest: vodka and fingerless gloves, those two stalwarts of my days.

Jai Ma!

To life! To liquor! To lust!

Monday, May 16, 2011

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

The Church says the body is a sin.
Science says the body is a machine.
Advertising says the body is a business.
The body says: I AM A FIESTA.

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

Please meet Karen and Amy, my New Jersey-based baking yogini sisters, with whom I'll be teaching this Saturday at Balance Yoga. Aren't they fab?

You can read a little more about them, their stories and how The Kitchen Yogi Cookie Cutter Collection came to be courtesy of this sweet piece from Om Yoga Magazine. The article doesn't appear to be online yet, so I've posted the PDF here below:

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

Monday morning, and my drishti turns toward next weekend: friends, it's time for a little East Coast workshop action. So fired up to fly out Thursday night for a full several days' of art, asana, music, the yoga of baking, and more.

We've got a great weekend planned at Balance Yoga, bookended with asana workshops Friday night and Sunday morning and a full day of sweet creative deliciousness with The Kitchen Yogi on Saturday. Beyond that, I'm stoked to reconnect with all my Mid-Atlantic stomping ground-based beloveds: goddaughters who are celebrating birthdays this month, old college friends who'll be in the 'hood, and even my dear sis and bro, who'll be driving up from DC.

Please join us for the weekend if you're near northeast Pennsylvania. In the meantime, this yoga nerd will be happily lost in workshop prep: crafting hot new playlists, feeling out intuitive new sequences, collaborating with the spirited (and rad) Karen and Amy of the Kitchen Yogi, and revisiting my manuscript on the yoga of baking in the process.

Sugary, stretchy love your way. See you this weekend.

Balance Yoga: Workshops with Rachel Meyer

Friday, May 13, 2011

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

On the heels of revisiting Sally Kempton's fabulous line below about how sticking out your tongue, Kali-style, can be "one of the quickest ways there is to get you in touch with your unconventional wild side," it only seemed appropriate, then, for Sherry Farr to send this gem of a photo my way yesterday, bursting with spirit courtesy of one Miss Sara, and captioned with such sage advice:

When in doubt, stick your tongue out.


Tuesday, May 10, 2011

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

Mother's Day last Sunday, and you know what that means: Kali and Durga all over the place, baby.

I've felt lush with chants to the divine feminine these days, heart beating and feet stepping along to the rhythm of "Kali Durga" and "Om Sri Matre," what with that Hallmark holiday having just filled restaurants and flower shops with all kinds of obligatory mother-honoring. May, of course, has always seemed to me naturally rich with peonies and blooms, fresh air and sunshine, all of those classical symbols of growth, newness, life, creation. And, in spite of its commodified Hallmark co-optation, Mother's Day's cultural reminder to offer thanks to the Creatrix, to the wild feminine, that spirit of nourishment and compassion, springtime and rebirth, has been a welcome one. So in classes over the last few days, I've been continually harping on tuning into that sense of creativity, vitality, an offering of gratitude for those beings in our lives -- blood-related or not -- who lend a mothering quality to what we do, who we are, how we grow.

Sally Kempton wrote a great piece for Yoga Journal a few years back celebrating the potential for unleashing Kali-style ferocity in our own lives. She writes that
Kali shows up in yogic art almost as much as the elephant headed Ganesh. Kali is the one with the wild hair, the bare breasts, and the severed heads around her neck. She usually carries a sword, and one of the ways you know its Kali is that she’s sticking out her tongue. (Try it as you read! Sticking your tongue out, all the way out, is one of the quickest ways there is to get you in touch with your unconventional wild side!) She’s usually described as the goddess of destruction, and she looks scary, even though when you look at her face and body, you realize that she is also beautiful. Kali is supposed to have arisen out of the warrior-goddess Durga during a particularly fierce battle with some demons. The demons had a nasty skill: their spilled blood turned into more demon-warriors. Kali’s job was to lick the drops of blood from the slain demons, and she did it so well that Durga won the battle.
Gradually, over the years,
this image of the wild-eyed battle goddess came to symbolize both spiritual and psychological liberation. She came to be understood as a form of the archetypal Great Mother, not just the warrior, but also the protector and giver of boons.
I love this understanding: that nuanced awareness that the Great Mother can be more than just conventionally, heteronormatively feminine; she can be wild and fierce and dark and destructive at the same time that she protects and gives, nourishes and comforts.

As Kempton writes,
...tuning into Kali in daily life often means tuning into aspects of ourselves that we normally don’t have access to, a power that can step outside the conventional and become bold and fierce, fierce in our love, fierce in our ecstasy, fierce in our willingness to stand up to the ‘demons’ in ourselves and others. We don’t become free just by going with the flow. We become free by knowing when to say “No,” to fight for what is right, to be appropriately ruthless, to engage with the fiercer forms of grace.
So take a second to shout-out to the divine Mama, that wild goddess of destruction Kali, that fierce warrior woman Durga; sing out to the Kalis and the Durgas in your own life, that Om Sri Matre Namaha, we might all bow down to the divine mother who's given us body and breath, life and existence, be she Mother Nature or your own mama or that mother hen neighbor down the street who clucks and feeds and cares and holds you close. We can all take a lesson or two from their compassion, their kindness, their bravery, their fierce, wild care.

(And to the dear mamas in my life: to Mariah, and Toni, and Sarah, and Molly, and Austen, and Su, and Jen, and Christie, and Nici, and Alicia, and Rachel, and Suzette, and Henna, and Lisa, and Sherry, and Jenn, and Vanessa, and Jess, and so many others -- I lift you and your endless, fierce, fighting hearts up, over and over again, yes.)

Kali (Wiki)
Durga (Wiki)
How To Be Fierce (Sally Kempton)

Monday, May 9, 2011

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

Bhakti baking is in the house.

Witness at left: Fudge coconut cream bundt, with coconut cream frosting. Gluten-free, vegan, soy-free. Heart-shaped for the bhakti; topped with delphinium and hydrangrea for the pretty.

The teacher training beauties over at Urban Flow finished out their 10-day intensive yesterday, and though the weekend was thrumming with teaching, martini-shaking, and a most delicious theater date with the otherworldly-charismatic Hugh Jackman Saturday night, I had a perfectly cake-shaped few hours that afternoon, from which sprung this little guy.

You can find the recipe -- once again -- as a variation of that stalwart original chocolate vegan bundt from my yoga of baking article. I tell you: that recipe has proven itself to be such a trooper. Switch a few things up, replace the almond with coconut extract and the Chambord with real coconut milk, substitute the soy in the frosting for coconut milk instead, and voila! Yet another dishy variation, suited for the kinds of yogis who strive to eat mindfully (often sans gluten, dairy or soy).

Glad to hear it disappeared quickly. Love and wild blessings to this newest batch of freshly-minted yoga teachers. This marks the fourth Bhakti Flow bundt to have celebrated the close of a teacher training. It's a happy little tradition that just might stick.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

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

Crazy grateful to the folks over at The Magazine of Yoga for a warm, welcoming and down-to-earth interview in this weekend's edition. Head on over to the main site for their 3 x 5 feature on -- gulp -- Yours Truly. Said a few words about the things I love, lifted up the power of black coffee, and gave a shout-out to the brilliant minds with whom I'd like to collaborate one of these days (Chuck Palahniuk, are you listening?).

Check out the full interview here. And then stick around for awhile to peruse The Magazine's archives. They've got a rich, grounded, "keeping it real" kind of voice that I just adore. Pay attention. There will be good things emerging from this hot up-and-coming yoga rag.

3 x 5 Practices: Rachel Meyer (The Magazine of Yoga)

Friday, May 6, 2011

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

So pleased to have my summery story on the yoga of urban homesteading published in the latest Yoga Journal. Pick up a copy of the June issue for interviews with fab Berkeley chef Samin Nosrat and Oakland-based DIY cookbook author Vanessa Barrington, along with a few great recipes for Bread and Butter Pickles, Plum Verbena Jam (yum), and Heirloom Tomato Salsa.

(And a big thanks to all of you -- you know who you are -- who've shared your own urban homesteading stories with me over the last few months. I'm so inspired by what you're doing, with your own hands, in your own ways.) This practice, this union, this yoga really is anywhere you're willing to see it...whether that's the kitchen, the garden, the sidewalk, the coffee shop, or yes, even the mat.

Happy reading.

"The answer must be, I think, that beauty and grace are performed whether or not we will or sense them. The least we can do is try to be there."
~ Annie Dillard,
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

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

Pema Chodron has a graceful piece over at Shambhala Sun exploring what she calls pause practice. I've read it four times in the last two days. It's quietly beautiful, and beyond useful in a very base, pragmatic, day-changing kind of way.

She writes,
I know from personal experience how strong the habitual mind is. The discursive mind, the busy, worried, caught-up, spaced-out mind, is powerful. That’s all the more reason to do the most important thing — to realize what a strong opportunity every day is, and how easy it is to waste it. If you don’t allow your mind to open and to connect with where you are, with the immediacy of your experience, you could easily become completely submerged. You could be completely caught up and distracted by the details of your life, from the moment you get up in the morning until you fall asleep at night.

You get so caught up in the content of your life, the minutiae that make up a day, so self-absorbed in the big project you have to do, that the blessings, the magic, the stillness, and the vastness escape you. You never emerge from your cocoon, except for when there’s a noise that’s so loud you can’t help but notice it, or something shocks you, or captures your eye. Then for a moment you stick your head out and realize, Wow! Look at that sky! Look at that squirrel! Look at that person!
That said, she encourages us to
Pause, connect with the immediacy of your experience, connect with the blessings; liberate yourself from the cocoon of self-involvement, talking to yourself all of the time, completely obsessing. Allow a gap, gap, gap. Just do it over and over and over; allow yourself the space to realize where you are. Realize how big your mind is; realize how big the space is, that it has never gone away, but that you have been ignoring it.
I continue to be a sucker for this notion of "practice," whether we're talking about practicing a musical instrument, practicing yoga, practicing being patient, or practicing eating more greens. Or practicing not yelling at the TV when Donald Trump comes on. And I like the way that Chodron brings the sometimes-intimidating aspects of mindfulness meditation into an easy-to-grasp sense of down-to-earth daily practice.

Chrodron writes about listening, about stilling the busy mind, about drawing out of "the gathering storm of our habitual tendencies" by "creating a gap" via the practice of pausing: "We can stop and take three conscious breaths, and the world has a chance to open up to us in that gap. We can allow space into our state of mind."

Three conscious breaths. That's really all she's saying. To stop in your tracks, in the midst of your rushing thoughts as you brush your teeth or walk down the street or run to work, take three conscious breaths, and be right where you are, and listen, and see, and feel the ground under your feet, and know that the past or the future or anything that is not right here, right now, is irrelevant, not useful, can be put aside in service to this practice of pausing and being right where we are.

The more I learn about mindfulness practice and Buddhist meditation, the harder time I have with endless chatter. I was never one for long girly telephone calls, even as a teenager, but as I get older and learn to sit with this rich practice of just being present, the yoga of listening, the stillness and sacredness of quiet observation, the less patience I have for the kind of company that involves having to chat-chat-chat about little irrelevant details. We wind ourselves up so much, so often, that, as "the great fourteenth-century Tibetan teacher Longchenpa talked about," we get lost in "our useless and meaningless focus on the details, getting so caught up we don’t see what is in front of our nose," such that "this useless focus extends moment by moment into a continuum, and days, months, and even whole lives go by."

It's all about that reset, that tuned-in perspective. A slowing-down, a drawing-in, a realization that your whirring mind doesn't have to be a factor in creating your day. That you can get just as much, or more, done, without being a crazed monkey-minded creature swinging from mental branch to mental branch. You can see an easy grace in the people who embody this ability. They have a calm that most chattery types are missing. And there's a certain peace to being in their presence.

It's something to strive for, something to practice. Those three little breaths. Until your life is just one big continuum of three little breaths, and a helluva lot of peace.
"These gaps, these punctuations, are like poking holes in the clouds, poking holes in the cocoon. And these gaps can extend so that they can permeate your entire life, so that the continuity is no longer the continuity of discursive thought but rather one continual gap."
Waking Up To Your World (Shambhala Sun)