Thursday, September 29, 2011

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

Lifting up all that is fierce and wild and compassionate today. The Hindu festival of Navratri kicked off yesterday and runs through October 6th, which basically means that for the next 9 days, we're celebrating all that is creative and divine and goddess-infused — a.k.a. all things shakti.

I can get on board with that.

After years spent buried in feminist eco-theologies and sexuality texts and body theologies and the like, it's easy to appreciate a festival that lifts up the divine feminine. At the same time, I hesitate anymore, ever, to slip into any broad generalizations about the divine as goddess or god or any such anthropomorphic creation, especially on the basis of binary gender norms. It feels a little outdated, you know? Hip contemporary queer theology pokes really astute holes in that. But whatevs. I say: suspend disbelief a little and just enjoy these few days of celebrating our — all of our — abilities to be at once wild and fierce, compassionate and caring, creative and creating.

We'll give a little shout-out to Kali Durga tonight in class before moving on to a little Lakshmi and Saraswati in the days to come. (That'd be Ms. Kali above left.) Do a little Googling and get up on your latest goddess info. There's some good stuff out there, even if you just start with the basics on Wikipedia. And then bellow out those chants in your biggest, boldest voice, baby.

Navratri (BBC - Religions)

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

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

Seasons change.

The warmth turns to grey. Legwarmers fall in. Blues and browns take over. We're reminded that all is impermanent, all is changing, all is fluid. That all things arise, suffer change, and fade away.


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

My colleagues Stacy, Briksha and Natasha prepare for Bhakti Kitchen's upcoming workshop on The Yoga of Eating at Glow Yoga & Wellness. Please note the delicious bowl of fresh cherries in the middle there. Priorities, people.

Are you coming? Details here.

Monday, September 26, 2011

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

What kind of effect does chanting have on your mind?

We consider chanting to be a form of meditation. When you set your intention on chanting correctly, melodically, and as crisply and clearly as possible, you become focused. It quiets the monkey mind and establishes a direct connection to the dharma. I can only guess how it compares to what people experience in silent meditation. The times I have tried silent meditation, it’s been very easy to just pop into this place that I have found through chanting. So I assume it’s the same.

I know when I first heard the chanting, there was something very powerful about it that really appealed to me. It stuck in my head and in my heart.

— excerpt from "A Right to the Dharma,"
An Interview with Myokei Caine-Barrett, Shonin

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

By request, a few new tunes for you. This is the playlist from last Thursday's and last night's classes. I've had those final three on repeat all weekend myself, particularly the Eddie Vedder. So good. Enjoy.

LifeB, Nicken
Shyam!, Deva Premal
In the Light, Soulstice
Le Booty Cinematique, J Boogie's Dubtronic Science
Break Me, Beats Antique
Mantra, DJ Free & Brent Lewis
Le Sangre, J Boogie's Dubtronic Science
Ramana, Prem Joshua
Spiderbite, Beats Antique
Dope Crunk, Beats Antique
20 Past Noon, Moves
Beautiful (Jaswho Remix), Karsh Kale
So Butterfly (Instrumental), Bassnectar
Love Comes First, Techno Squirrels
Purnamadah, Shantala
Guaranteed, Eddie Vedder
Om Hari Om/Sharanam Ganesha, Sean Johnson and the Wild Lotus Band
Bells, Lhasa de Sela

Friday, September 23, 2011

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

I'm out of the studio this weekend playing Rev. Rach for the wedding of two dear friends. Please visit my most excellent colleague Alicia Maness, who'll be stepping in for our usual 4:30 Saturday rendezvous at Flying Yoga.

(Now, to come up with a few words about love for that sermon o' mine...)

Back on the mat Sunday evening at Glow.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

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

I am caught up with, consumed by, crazy about, the notion of emptiness of late. It's that same lifting-up of non-existence, nothingness, that runs through so many ancient traditions, in different names and forms, yes, but always the same basic idea.

It's Buddhism's anatta, or non-self, the recognition that since we exist only in relation, our selves are contingent upon the creatures that surround us; it's Pali's sunyata, the rich void that is expectant fullness; it's Christianity's kenosis, the self-emptying that recognizes letting go as essential to the practice of being generously in the world; it's Taoism's oxymoronic recognition that completion comes only through incompletion (as evidenced pop-culturally in Tyler Durden's inadvertently Taoist Fight Club prayer: May I never be complete); it's yoga's neti-neti reminder that we are not this body, not these thoughts, not this breath; it's a deliberate stripping-down, a hollowness, an echo, lack, silence, darkness, void. Choose any synonym there, in any language, and find in it a reflection of so many of the themes resonant in mindfulness traditions, antithetical to much of Western psychology, which encourages the building-up of the Self as the means to maturity and actualization.

I've never flirted with getting a tattoo; with my musical theater stuff, there was always that fear that an unfortunately-placed tat would keep me from getting a role that required a rockette costume or a period corset; but were I to brand something into my skin for all perpetuity (or, at least, these few fleeting years in this particular body) in a grasping approximation of permanence, it would be neti-neti, that reminder of essential emptiness, scrawled there, on my inner forearm, that soft skin, the drishti meant to catch my eye when I'm reaching sky-ward in trikonasana or shaking a martini or digging my fingers into a pot of soil, sleeves rolled up to reveal the Sanskrit scrawled in thick ink on my inner left arm. For months now, I've made it a practice to ink that mantra on my arm every day, and in some ways, that daily practice makes it feel even more real, more present, more living than a permanent tattoo might; the ink sweats off in a Bikram class, it washes off after an evening of scrubbing wine glasses in the three-part bar sink, it rubs off when I wear my wool 3/4-length sleeved vintage jacket. And that requires an ongoing engagement, a conscious re-writing of that tattoo-of-sorts every morning, leaving me with an inability to take it for granted, a perpetual reminder that all the things we are, even our ideas, our passions, our particular inspirations, are impermanent in and of themselves.

But — back to emptiness. Stuck on this theme, yes, so much so that it rides along on my inner forearm every day, wherever I go. So imagine how thrilled I was to find this web exclusive on Tricycle Magazine's website the other day, entirely focused on emptiness. Take some time to swim around in the many rich offerings here. And in so doing, make sure to read John Tarrant's beautiful piece on "The Erotic Life of Emptiness," in which he describes the "discovery of emptiness as a kind of falling in love," a "vertigo" of sorts.

Tarrant quotes the Heart Sutra, writing that "Form is no other than emptiness, emptiness no other than form. There are no walls in the mind." His piece explores emptiness's relation to "the theater of ownership, gifts, and generosity — how we love to receive things and how they begin to own us, and also how we can be free of them and in some way step into emptiness by passing them on."

Whew. Amazing. Read the whole thing. And make sure to check out my man David Loy's piece on The Dharma of Deconstruction offered there, too. Dreamy.

Emptiness: All or Nothing (Tricycle)
The Erotic Life of Emptiness (Tricycle)

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

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

Just two more weeks of Tuesdays and Thursdays at Urban Flow before my sweet little September there is over. That would make, um, four classes.

Are you coming? That setting sun in the northwest corner of the studio's gonna be out of control.

Just sayin'.

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

We seem to have forgotten how to die. We have come to equate religion with holding on, when we ought to have been learning to see religion as teaching us how to let go. Religious belief should be producing a self-emptying way of life: we live by dying, unattached, pouring ourselves out into the flux of life in such a way that death when it comes is not a threat but a consummation.

We should live as the sun does. Its existence, the process by which it lives, and the process by which it dies, all exactly coincide. It believes nothing, it hasn't a care, it just pours itself out.

— Radical theologian Don Cupitt, cited in
Michael Stone's The Inner Tradition of Yoga

Monday, September 19, 2011

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

Yes, it's true! I'm teaching a new permanent class at Flying Yoga. I so dig this space: full of thinkers and artists and writers and activists and rad folks who ride bikes and read books and wanna get their sweat on.

So join me now Thursday nights at 7:45pm for one more dose of bhakti flow. This means we can kick it together Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Just enough time for the ol' bod to rest between classes before hitting it again the next day.

Word to Oaktown. You rock my world.

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

I was chatting yesterday with some dear (and damn smart) friends over coffee at the cutest little pastry shop down on Church St. It was sunny and warm, that perfect kind of rare San Francisco day that breaks clear and bright and makes you forget all the fog and the gloom.

And we got to talking about spiritual teachers, specifically, er, the ones we have crushes on (or shall we say, "I" have crushes on), and that particular phenomenon we've noticed with a lot of brilliant very advanced meditation and Buddhist scholars (yoga teachers, too) wherein their personal affect, their tone of voice, their spirit, all of it, is so very non-reactive, equanimous, balanced, as to be almost monotonic.

It's always been a bit strange to me how I can read a Buddhist or yogic text and really feel connected to one particular author or another, really feel like they "get it," and then perhaps I meet them in real life, and there's this seriously non-plussed, almost robotic demeanor that meets me in the form of that writer. And personally, I dig a little fire, a little charisma, a little rough-and-tumble spirit in someone's being. That's attractive to me; it speaks of humanity, and life, and presence, a real true acknowledgment of the reality of being in a body, which means highs and lows, joys and sorrows, all of it, baby.

So we got to talking, these smart friends of mine and I, about whether you're destined to automatically turn monotonic, measured, oh-so-reasonable in affect once you hit a certain point in your meditation practice. And I realized that I don't necessary want to ever hit that passionless place, if it means losing that natural light.

But, that in mind, quite serendipitously this morning Susan Piver shared her latest blog post: "Do meditators get pissed off?". And it addressed quite perfectly that entire conundrum, in regard to a friend who'd struggled with her feelings of anger after something dear to her was stolen:
The thing about practice is that it does not mean you will feel non-plussed or that you will always feel kind and gentle towards people. (Personally, I was quite chagrined to find this out.)

However, you can begin to recover your softness by offering some kindness and gentleness toward yourself--beginning with cutting yourself a break for your feelings, for being human. Being well-practiced doesn't mean you won't get upset at anything, it means that when you do get upset, you are able to turn your attention toward it immediately, on the spot, and open your arms to it, not to condone (or reject) it, but simply to feel it. The more readily you can embrace and inhabit your experience as it is, the more you can deem your practice a "success." So it's not about shutting out anything, even the so-called "bad" things such as lack of charity and anger--it's about opening up, allowing your humanity, neither judging nor acting on your feelings. This is where kindness begins. First, as mentioned, toward yourself. From here, such kindness naturally expands to others. ....

Of course, your meditation practice provides the foundation for all of this. First, it teaches you how to turn toward your thoughts and feelings without judgment, simply to allow them. Then it teaches you how, by adopting the stance of observation, to introduce a space between what you feel and what you do. (Very important, that.) Finally, it gives you the precious ability to meet what seems so solid in your mind--anger, judgment, and so on--and know beyond doubt that they will change, you can expand to include them, and by doing so, remain seated in the midst of your own experience like a King or a Queen. There is tremendous dignity in this and it stems from your very simple (though not easy) sitting meditation practice.
Absolutely. Piver writes from a predominantly seated-meditation perspective, but the same can be said for asana as moving meditation, or even the kind of simple "watching our thoughts" that can happen on a 10-minute bus ride or a 3-block walk.

I talked a little yesterday in class, given the day's perfectly pristine blue sky, about that metaphor for meditation that employs the blue sky mind as a parallel for sunyata consciousness, and the thoughts and feelings (sometimes unmanageable or ugly) that roll across the blue sky consciousness as merely wispy clouds floating on by. They appear, stay for a moment, and blow right by. And we're reminded, in the watching, that all of those clouds, be they stormy or peaceful, will pass, and so we are never stuck in moments of loneliness or sorrow, anger or jealousy, because those big black clouds are merely passer-bys on the big peaceful blue sky that is our ultimate reality.

Great to remember in those moments when you're suffering through Supta Virasana or Double Pigeon and just wanna cry your eyes out because the pain feels too much to bear. It will pass. It always does. But you sit with the pain, the frustration, in the meantime, and come back to the breath, and somehow, somewhere, in the end, it's all good.

Susan Piver: Do Meditators get Pissed Off?

Sunday, September 18, 2011

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

(Sweaty Friday morning savasana a few
weeks back. Urban Flow.
The best.)

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

I like to think that yoga's a potentially radical, subversive practice. As teacher Donna Farhi says, “Yoga is one of the most politically subversive practices that any person, male or female, could do in our time.”

Sounds great, right? I mean, go yoga rebels, you.

But in "Yoga for War: The Politics of the Divine," Be Scofield challenges us to shift our focus from beyond our own self-transformation to creating justice in the world around us. Be asks: is the divine really some "anti-war, hybrid car loving, kombucha drinking burning man regular" shaped in our own image? And what about when yoga's used on behalf of war or corporate banking?
If the divine were truly politically subversive and could be experienced via yoga could it be incorporated into the military industrial complex? Why wouldn’t it change the hearts and minds of the air force bombers? How could Goldman Sachs bankers practice yoga and simultaneously defraud people of millions? If any sort of spiritual practice were politically subversive wouldn’t connecting to our highest self mean having our consciousness changed on some political level?
Great questions, all. Uncomfortable, maybe, but great. Read it.

Yoga for War: The Politics of the Divine (Tikkun)

Thursday, September 15, 2011

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

Everything is connected
Nothing lasts.
You are not alone.

(A rephrasing of the Three Marks of Existence
from Buddhist teacher Lewis Richmond.)

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

Tonight! Just found out about this:

Locals, if you're around, swing by Books, Inc. this evening circa 7pm. Suzanne Morrison, author of the new book Yoga Bitch: One Woman's Quest to Conquer Skepticism, Cynicism and Cigarettes on the Path to Enlightenment, will be reading selections from her work, and she'll be joined by the ever-fabulous faces behind Recovering Yogi, Joslyn and Leslie.

I've got dinner plans, but they might just have to be bumped back for this rare treat. Hit up my 4:30 class at Urban Flow just down the street, and we'll head over for a dose of reality and a few strong drinks.

(Well, the cocktails are optional. But in my world, there'll be vodka.)

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

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

Does pranayama — yogic breathwork — make you wanna pack up your bags and run out of the room, cringing, all twitchy from those weird hippies breathing through their noses?

It used to do that to me.

Breathwork always left me so impatient. There I'd be, rarin' to go, ready to get my asana on, and then some dumb yoga teacher would make me just sit still and breathe. Dammit, I wanted to stretch already, and sweat! What was up with this bizarro loud breathing stuff that sounded vaguely like Darth Vader and made me feel all self-conscious and awkward and shy?

Well, needless to say, I've learned: there's a whole helluva lot up with it, a lot of good stuff, that is. And while it's still hard for me sometimes even now to sit still and watch my breath rise and fall, or to pump my diaphragm like a bellows in Kapalbhati breath instead of just jumping right into a few fiery Sun Salutations, I know now how important pranayama is, how central the breathwork is to a grounded, life-giving yoga practice, and even just to cultivating a still mind.

If you, too, struggle with breathwork, or are even just a little confused or intrigued by it, check out this fantastic pranayama primer from Yoga Journal. The article walks you through the basics of pranayama theory, and then outlines six different traditions' practices.

Claudia Cummins writes:
The elegant shapes and impressive contortions of the asanas may be the most eye-catching element of hatha yoga, but yoga masters will tell you they're hardly the point of practice. According to yoga philosophy, the postures are merely preludes to deeper states of meditation that lead us toward enlightenment, where our minds grow perfectly still and our lives grow infinitely big. But just how do we make the leap from Downward Dog to samadhi? Ancient yoga texts give us a clear answer: Breathe like a yogi.

Pranayama, the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. It has a mysterious power to soothe and revitalize a tired body, a flagging spirit, or a wild mind. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. In the process, the mind is calmed, rejuvenated, and uplifted. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga--like asana--and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation.
Read on for so much more. Your asana practice will shift when you go from simply trying to "get through" the breathwork and learn to actually enjoy it, and maybe even to bring it into your life off the mat. If I had a dollar for every time I found myself turning to Ujjayi breathing while pouring beers at the tap on a crazy Friday night behind the bar over the years....well, I'd be a rich lady.

Inhale. Exhale. There's something to it. For sure.

Prescriptions for Pranayama (YJ)

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

I promised you a few tunes. Here's last Sunday's playlist (from our 9/11 meditation of breath and sweat and song — lokah samastah, darlings), followed by last night's from Urban Flow and Flying Yoga. Love.

Sunday, aka Lokah Samastah:
Lokaha, Wah!
In For The Night (Buddha Edit), The Moontrane Conductors
Rosada Flor, J Boogie's Dubtronic Science
Cape Porcupine, Achillea
Le Booty Cinematique, J Boogie's Dubtronic Science
Om Triambakam, Deva Premal
Evaporate feat. Nica Brooke, Rocket Empire
Hot Photon (Ambient Mix), King Kooba
Straight Blue, Rocket Empire feat. Marian Music
You Already Know, Bombay Bicycle Club
(The Only) Dark in the Light, Rithma
Live High, Jason Mraz
Breathe Me, Sia
If You Want Me, Glen Hansard and Marketa Iglova
Firefly, Over the Rhine
Om Sri Matre, Wah!
Diamonds in the Sun, Girish

Let It Be Me, Ray LaMontagne
Hot Photon (Ambient Mix), King Kooba
Yeah That's Right, Rocket Empire
Shrine, Beats Antique
Burr Dubb, Rocket Empire feat. Mina Fedora
Mission, Beats Antique
Arboleda de Manzanitas, Eighty Mile Beach
Vinyasa, DJ Free and Brent Lewis
Peaceful Steps, J Boogie's Dubtronic Science
Launch, Rocket Empire
Seen the Rain, Rocket Empire feat. The Eloi
Fools Work, Inara George
Blue Mind, Alexi Murdoch
The Hill, Marketa Iglova,
Moonlight Sonata, Ludwig Van Beethoven
Etcetera Whatever, Over the Rhine

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Monday, September 12, 2011

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

Today is Mindfulness Day 2011. What will you do to celebrate?

I'm gonna clean my house. Scrub my toilet. Fold the laundry. Clean out the fridge. Mindfully, per my man Thich Nhat Hanh:
“To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity,for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles!”
Amen, buddy. Especially that one with the spinach dip crusted all over it. Miracles, all.

Mindfulness Day: Sept 12th, 2011

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal

Silence feels most appropriate this morning. There are plenty of folks saying plenty of important things without my needing to try to add anything.

All my heart can beat over and over is: lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.

That feels like enough.

But just now I read San Francisco yoga teacher Kerri Kelly's moving story of how the loss of her stepfather in the WTC collapse ten years ago today set her life on a transformative path away from the everyday, those usual scripts, and toward something more life-giving. Moved by her grief, she turned away from what she was "supposed to do" and came into yoga. And in so doing, her most painful loss became her greatest teacher.

That's the power of the practice. The learning to find grace, opening, life, in the shadows, in the uncertainties, in those moments that challenge us to want to be alive at all. For today, that's enough.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

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

Compassion means that friend and "enemy" are one and the same.

Your suffering is mine; my joy is yours; there is no separation.

The greatest challenge to this peaches-and-cream Tantric notion comes in those moments wherein it is so very hard to love another. To have compassion for those we've deemed in opposition; to be kind and wish peace for those who've brought shadows into our lives.

I'm reading the news gingerly these days. All talk is of tomorrow's 9/11 anniversary. I'm challenged to find ways in which we can observe the decade that has passed since that morning in 2001 without reverting to divisive "us/them" rhetoric and the kind of self-pitying talk that conveniently, myopically overlooks all the atrocities that we Americans have been responsible for inflicting upon the world.

I liked what Susan Piver wrote this morning:
True compassion has much more in common with fierceness than softness. It arises when you allow someone else’s pain into your own heart without a personal agenda.

To view our “enemy” as part of the human family rather than a scourge to be obliterated means we have to take on their pain as our own and this seems absurd. Nonetheless, we must do it anyway. It requires fearlessness and humor and a sense of genuine power, and is not some kind of lefty do-good politically correct pose.
Compassion is the only way. Lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu.

Friday, September 9, 2011

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

Hey, look!

Thanks to Yoga Journal for featuring my June 2011 story, "Preserving Summer," in this week's newsletter. Always a little strange to see your own name up there on the screen. There's even a sweet shout-out to our new baby, Bhakti Kitchen. Love.

Raw, adjective: 4. painfully open, as a sore or wound.

Tomorrow, my loves.

Join me for hips, hips and more hips. A little pigeon here, a little upavishta konasana there, and maybe an astavrakasana just for kicks.

Then, we'll sit oh-so-comfortably at

Thursday, September 8, 2011

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

It's been a year now since this sweet small-world surprise. I found myself wondering today, as I read the program for this year's Opera in the Park concert, whether I'd run into new-old friends Michelle and Stacy again this third year in a row.

This Sunday's will be the eighth Sharon Meadow opera extravaganza for me since moving to SF, and sometimes I can't believe how much has changed since that first one, tucked in solo with the Chron and a cup of coffee, in September of 2003, new to the City and freshly new to yoga, too, as of, oh, about a week or so.

All the same, I sat down this morning after perusing this year's concert program (Copland! Bernstein! Candide! The Tender Land! Carousel!) and revisited the little ditty I wrote after last year's picnic and the sweet connections — the yoga, really, yes, the yoga — that came out of it. And I couldn't help but smile, remembering, and realize, yes, how very much connection and ease and balance and opening comes out of those places we least expect it: bundt cakes and picnic blankets and blustery days at the park hoisting Bravo! signs and sipping on sauvignon blanc in the midday sun.

Here it is, below, in its entirety. A year later I celebrate a new (old) friendship; ten years later we offer a somber nod to a tragic anniversary; and somewhere in there, time churns on, to the melody of a little Bernstein here and a little Mozart there.

As my man Girish would say: all good.

Reposted from Monday, Sept. 13, 2010:

The world is so charmingly small.

So Sunday — yesterday — I'm sitting in Sharon Meadow with my badass friend Autumn. We've just arrived in Golden Gate Park for the annual Opera in the Park concert, my long-standing favorite San Francisco tradition; we've staked out some primo territory to the left of the makeshift proscenium stage where the orchestra's been tuning up all morning, and we're laying out blankets to save space for the folks to come. The sun's flirting with coming out and staying, in between gusts of wind and churning fog.

I start pulling bottles of wine and quart bags of grapes and carefully-wrapped hunks of cheese out of my trusty wicker picnic basket. Autumn breaks out the rosé and starts making wine spritzers with club soda. We're fresh from yoga and ready to kick it for a few minutes before folks start rolling up. And then, out of nowhere, there's a tap at my shoulder, and I look up to see a warm open-faced woman leaning toward me, pink iPhone in hand.

She says, shyly: "Excuse me, I think I have a picture of you on my phone. Is this you?"

And, sho' nuff, I'll be damned - there I am staring out from her iPhone, well, that is, a year-old version of me with bobbed hair and purple print sundress, bundt cake and fake flowers in hand. Turns out this woman - Michelle, I quickly learn - had been on the adjacent blanket, right in front of the stage, at last year's sea of thousands at Opera in the Park, and we'd chatted, made friends, shared some cake, you know, the kinds of easy nice interactions you have with fellow arts lovers when you share outdoorsy live music traditions like this one.

So here we are, one year later to the day, and Michelle and her husband Stacy just happen to have set their blanket up on the opposite side of the stage this year, much further back, and I've happened to arrive much later than my usual 10 or 11 am, owing to a sick yoga class that kept me sweaty and not even home to shower til 11:30, and the two of us and our respective soireés have once again set up next to one another.

Turns out my new-old friend Michelle and her husband Stacy are from Chico, and they come here every year for Opera in the Park, as have I for the last seven years, even in those first few years when it was usually just me and a book and a bottle and the Chron, because I didn't know anyone in the City who'd want to take in hours of opera on a Sunday afternoon that happened to also be the onset of the nascent NFL season. But here in a sea of 15,000 people, we'd managed to find one another again, and Michelle gathered from my sundress and basket that it was the same picnicking cake-maker from last year, and she came over to say hello.

So we decided that the universe most definitely wants us to be friends, and traded digits, and made plans to see one another next year, same time, same place.

And I think the whole beauty of the story, this little ten-minute interchange that left me smiling and content even before the majority of my picnicking companions had arrived or the music had even begun, was that it reaffirmed that sweet theme that I've seen sung over and over in my bhakti baking practice these several years: the reality that a stupid cake, a silly over-frosted, tackily-decorated bundt cake, can soften strangers, bring them together, give them something to connect about, provide a reason for remembering, for noticing, for paying attention.

Michelle told me she'd said to her husband that very morning in the car: "Oh, I wonder if we'll see that cake girl in the sundress from last year?" And then not hours later, there I was settling in next to her.

The world can indeed be impersonal and huge and indifferent and overwhelming and magnificent in its existentialist loneliness at times, to be sure; especially in urbanity, where anonymity and purported isolation can give us implicit permission to ignore one another's humanity, we can so often feel there is so little hope for connection, that we live in a swarm of comings and goings, that we just look past one another on the sidewalk, that we're all so caught up in "getting our own" that we trample the people in our way. It can be easy to forget, in the midst of chaos and war, hatred and bigotry, and this weekend's anniversary of an atrocity committed in a spirit of fear and anger, that at the end of the day, we're just people, everyone's quite human, and that when you take the time to see the humanity in one another, to remember the faces, to pay attention to the sundress or the blanket or the picnic basket or the Sierra Nevada fleece keeping Stacy warm on a cold gusty foggy afternoon in the park, connection can be quite simple.

Rusty always reminds us to "shrink the world, one person at a time" after the typical Namastes have been spoken at the close of a yoga class. Instead of chatting it up with your buddies from the clique, you reach out to the stranger next to you and just say hello, whasssup, "why are you here?", because you never know if that person might be your next best friend. In that same kind of shrinking-the-world spirit, I was touched, heartened, lifted by yesterday's little moment with Michelle. It reminded me of the power of paying attention, the potential for softening to strangers, the ease with which we can open to one another and find tenderness there, instead of living in bodies wracked with tension and fear and distrust.

Yoga teaches us to be flexible, yes, in very physical ways; it stretches the hamstrings and loosens the shoulders, opens the hips and softens the jaw, if we let it; but it also teaches us to be flexible in less tangible ways: to be fearless about speaking to the stranger on the blanket next to us, to approach without hesitation the lonely-looking man sitting by himself with the Chron and to offer him a glass of wine or a slice of cheese, to see the Krishna-Buddha-Jesus-Gaia in everyone, everything, with whom we come into contact.

For me, in my baking and the bhakti seva that's come out of that particular practice, I've seen it happen so easily, so softly, so naturally, that it continues to inspire me to keep baking. But the silly cakes are really just a vehicle for something that can happen without the aid of buttercream or bundt carriers. We can learn from the doing, and see the opening, and carry that on in little ways, in the eye contact we make with the grocery store clerk who probably feels invisible much of the day, in the authentic thanks we offer the mail carrier for that long-awaited package just delivered, in the asking the crying stranger on the sidewalk, kindly, tenderly: what do you need?

It's really quite simple, and beautiful, when you let it be. Thanks to Michelle, and Stacy, and the SF Opera, and Golden Gate Park, and my favorite Alice in Wonderland picnic sundress, and last year's ridiculous margarita bundt cake, for reminding me so.

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

You don't need to be told some things.

You can sometimes tell more by a man's silence and the set of his head than by what he says.

— Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow

Monday, September 5, 2011

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

I've long had a big ol' nerdy crush on Buddhist scholar David Loy. I mean, how can you not?

The man does incredible work marrying socio-economic theory with Buddhist philosophy. His work on capitalism, desire and society is head-noddingly good. So when I noticed this Loy article featured on Tricycle the other day, my eyes perked up.

Now, I don't know that I'm a Buddhist anymore than I'm a Hindu or a Christian or a yogi or a socialist or a box of marshmallows. Not a lot of need for definition, really, after so much time marinating in so much syncretic theology. But I do know how very much the rational, the reasonable, the simply elegant nature of Buddhist philosophy speaks to me, and how very much it overlaps with yogic philosophy, and that's enough for today, as far as I'm concerned.

Here, Loy asks why Buddhism needs the West. He even cites my other Zen boyfriend in doing so (score!):
In his 1969 book Earth House Hold, the Buddhist poet and essayist Gary Snyder wrote, “The mercy of the West has been social revolution; the mercy of the East has been individual insight into the basic self/void. We need both.” Over the years, this observation has been quoted many times by those making the case for a more socially engaged Buddhism. The challenge is to better understand the relationship between the two: the mercy of the East and the mercy of the West.
Read on for more on suffering, dukkha, politics and the self. It's good shit. The piece addresses that push-pull tension I often feel with yoga, which is that question of how to transcend the hippie-dippie navel-gazing New Age focus on self, self, self to make the practice about more than just stretching or getting a nice ass. This is why I love the bhakti practice so much: it encourages us to use our time on the mat to fuel up, to balance, to strengthen, to soften, so that we can then move into the world with a greater ability to bring compassion, kindness and balance to the people and the institutions surrounding us.

Loy gets it.
For modern Buddhists, the world shows us daily that our own awareness cannot thrive indifferent to what is happening to the awareness of others. As the old sociological paradox puts it, people create society, but society also creates people. Our economic and political systems are not spiritually neutral; they inculcate certain values and discourage others. As our awareness becomes more liberated, we become more aware of the suffering of others, and of the social forces that aggravate or decrease suffering. The bodhisattva path is not a personal sacrifice but a further stage of practice: If I am not separate from others, how can I be fully awakened unless they are too? Today our world calls out for new types of bodhisattvas, who look for ways to address suffering, dukkha, as it is institutionalized in our social and political lives.
This is yet another reason that I love yoga philosopher Michael Stone's work, too; like Loy, Stone emphasizes the mandate for social action inherent in the project of deepening our awareness. There's not really any point to becoming "enlightened" — whatever that means — unless we then carry that light into the world to ease that universal suffering that's generally unspoken but is always present. Now that's good yoga, whether you call it Buddhist or Christian or Hindu or nothing at all.

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

September is National Yoga Month.

As you crawl back from hikes and lakes and campgrounds this weekend and begrudgingly look toward tomorrow's return to reality, pencil in a few yoga classes for the week to come. It's a month of new routines, to be sure; folks with kids have been playing the back-to-school game for a few weeks already, and now as we look toward autumn and with it shorter days, cooler nights, and warmer clothes, we can already feel the energy shift.

Next week is the SF Opera's annual Opera in the Park concert. This, to me, always feels like a harbinger of fall. So as you shift into autumn mode, sharpening pencils and packing lunchboxes and coming back to the pace of school and harvest and the like, make sure to include yoga in your new sched. A regular yoga practice will lend a splash of stillness and balance to your surely already-busy routine. Those few minutes on the mat each day somehow make everything else a little easier to wrangle. And they make us all a little nicer to one another, too. And who doesn't want that?

I'll look forward to seeing you in the studio.

Saturday, September 3, 2011

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

Saturday morning baking-asana.


Vegan mini chocolate chip cookies with a dollop of chocolate frosting. Blue hydrangeas for the pretty.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Raw, adjective: 8. brutally harsh or unfair: a raw deal

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked. And the same well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with your tears. And how else can it be? The deeper that the sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain. Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter's oven? And is not the lute that soothes your spirit, the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

~ Khalil Gibran, The Prophet

(With thanks to my own sharp sis for the timeless, heartfelt, honest Gibran quote, and with great love to my sister-from-another-mister Jennifer Jarrett on the loss of her dear mother.

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

Yesterday we celebrated Ganesh Chaturthi, the Hindu festival marking the birthday of that most beloved elephant god Ganesh, remover of obstacles, seeker of wisdom and general cool dude. It was such a pleasure to even be present for MC Yogi's class last night, as he speckled the asana practice with all kinds of great details about this dessert-loving, mouse-riding mythological creature.

A friend of mine passed this fantastic little diagram on. Check it out. Who knew there was so very much symbolism in this sweet elephant's iconography?

Om Gam Ganapataye Namaha
ॐ गम गणपतये नम

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

Autumn 2011 Teaching Schedule

Bhakti Flow vinyasa, Urban Flow:
1543 Mission (at S. Van Ness), SF
Tues 430-6pm
Thurs 430-6pm

Music and dance-infused Vinyasa,
Flying Yoga Shala:
4308 Telegraph Ave, Temescal, Oakland
Tues 745-915p Bhakti Flow
Thurs 745-915p Bhakti Flow
Sat 430-6p Bhakti Flow
Sun 1045-1215a Bhakti Flow

Music and dance-infused Vinyasa, Glow Yoga & Wellness:
1548 Stockton St. (at Union), SF
Sun 6-715p Twilight vinyasa
Mon 6-7:15p All levels
Mon 7:30-8:45p All levels
Weds 9-10a Mellow Flow

Private Corporate Classes, Tishman Speyer:
One Bush St., Mezzanine
Tues 12-1p Intermediate
Tues 1:30-2:30p All-levels
Thurs 7-8a All-levels
Fri 11:30-12:30p All-levels

Non-Profit Classes at the Women's Building:
Alternate Thursdays, 2:30-3:30p, 3543 18th St. (at Valencia)
Sept 22

Master Classes, Oakwood Athletic Club:
4000 Mount Diablo Boulevard
Lafayette, CA 94549-3498
Sat Sept 10th, 1:30-3:30p
Sat Oct 8th, 1:30-3:30p
Sat Nov 12th, 1:30-3:30p

Assisting Rusty Wells at Urban Flow:
Saturday mornings, 9am, Level 2/3