Wednesday, October 30, 2013

On Embracing Your Ghosts

Headless horsemen and haunting and All Hallow's Eve everywhere you look this week, accentuated by the City's own seasonal cool and gloom.

Haunted by a few ghosts of your own these days?

Don't worry; we all are.

Maybe those apparitions look like remnants of the past that linger in your wakefulness; maybe they're the looming fear of what is to come; maybe they're the whimpering wisps of craving for that which will never be. However you want to look at them, these creeping, craving, lurking, never-satiated spirits love to wrap their long winding fingers around our hearts, breathing eerie, raspy voices into our thoughts, urging us on to dissatisfaction, destruction, turmoil, tumult, despair.

Fantastic Kripalu teacher Amy Weintraub has written a gorgeous piece on that classic Buddhist concept of the Hungry Ghost.  Here's a blurb:

For many years, when feelings of grief or humiliation or self-hatred overwhelmed me, I reached for the anesthetic at hand — sometimes food, sometimes alcohol, sometimes an addictive kind of love and sometimes, in the beginning, even yoga practice. Maybe you’ve identified your own numbing-out strategy, or maybe you haven’t, but most of us have struggled with these cravings. In fact, they’re so common that there is an ancient archetype associated with them — and it’s called the Hungry Ghost.

Who is this Hungry Ghost? Though I call her “she,” my own Hungry Ghost is androgynous and so ugly she’s lovable. She has an enormous and wrinkled head, and, unlike traditional representations, she has a great cavernous mouth into which I have poured various unhealthy substances in order not to feel. Yours, if you have one, may look different.

You may have seen a picture of the Buddhist Wheel of Life, a mandala that depicts the Six Realms of Existence, realms we cycle through endlessly, birth after birth. Beneath the Human, Animal and Hell Realms is the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts. These creatures are withered, E.T.-like, with bloated bellies and necks too thin to eat or drink without feeling unbearable pain. Hungry Ghosts wander, insatiable, unable to nourish themselves. “The very attempts to satisfy themselves,” writes Buddhist psychiatrist Mark Epstein in Thoughts Without a Thinker, “cause more pain….Attempts at gratification only yield a more intense hunger and craving. The Hungry Ghosts must come in contact with the ghostlike nature of their own longings.” They must understand their own emptiness. Remarkably, the Boddhisattva of Compassion appears in the Realm of the Hungry Ghosts, “carrying a bowl filled with objects symbolic of spiritual nourishment,” says Epstein. It is only when we embrace the Hungry Ghost with compassion that we feed its starving spirit....

I've long loved this notion, inherent as it was in my old academic work on desire, culture and consumerism; that image of the ever-craving empty-bellied ghost dances over and under so many of our most complicated religious and cultural concepts. Take a few minutes between Halloween parties to sit with Weintraub's beautiful writing, and in so doing, to come home with great compassion to your own Hungry Ghosts, to be gentle with them, to find peace and perhaps a glimpse of santosha in the midst of your all-too-human hauntings.

What is it that you crave? What is it that you grasp for? What is that one thing that you think to yourself: "Oh, man, if I could just get [rich] or [skinny] or [the perfect job] or [the perfect partner] or [that new gadget] or [fill-in-the-blank], then everything'd be absolutely friggin' PERFECT, and I could finally be happy and complete and my parents would actually be proud of me and those high school bullies who were so mean to me would finally, totally feel like the jackasses they were?"


As Weintraub points out, the archetype of the Hungry Ghost comes to us in many forms, across many cultures: as the Fallen Angel, as La Llorona, as the Sanskrit Preta. This universal naming of the pain and pleasure of Desire strikes me as somehow so heartening, reminding us that we're all in this together, craving and dissatisfaction and all, and that the practice of saying "It is enough" is in fact a shared challenge, a major victory, a super-sweet daily aim. Can you be brave enough to glimpse your own Hungry Ghost in the mirror, and, rather than running away from her, or numbing her out, or shutting her down, give her a loving nod, maybe a wink, maybe a curious tilt of the head, seeing her for what she is, and thanking her for the inadvertent teaching she's wrought in your life? It's a worthy practice, this sitting with ghosts, on an otherwise deep dark dank Halloween week.

So get your ghost on already. Give her a fond squeeze. And then let her go.

Compassionate Practice: Embracing the Hungry Ghost (Yoga Chicago)

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Spicy African Peanut Slow Cooker Soup

Always hated cooking. Unbearably tedious and domestic. Unless I had a cocktail in hand, and even then, meh.

Then I spent the afternoon chopping sweet potatoes and singing Ella & Louis duets to my unborn son. (He needs to learn.)

Might've changed my mind.

Thanks to my little sis for the original recipe. It's cooking now. Perfect for autumn (to be devoured with an agave-drizzled hunk of that leftover cornbread from the other night). And for lazy rookie chefs who like to have lots of leftovers so as to avoid further cooking.

Smells delish.

Spicy African Peanut Slow Cooker Soup
from Peas and Thank You

  • 1 14-ounce can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
  • 1 sweet potato, cubed
  • 1 1/2 tsp. curry powder
  • 3/4 tsp. garam masala (I couldn't find any, so left it out this time around)
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 1 tbsp. minced ginger
  • 2 tsp. minced garlic
  • Sweetener to taste (sugar or stevia)
  • Dash of cinnamon
  • 1 14-ounce can of fire-roasted tomatoes, in juice
  • 1 14-ounce ounce can light coconut milk
  • 2 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 tbsp. natural peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup red lentils, drained and rinsed
Combine all ingredients in a crock-pot and set on high for about an hour, then switch to low for an additional 4-5 hours. If desired, garnish with chopped cilantro, chopped peanuts or sour cream.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Monday, October 14, 2013

Over It.

Ok, gotta say it: I'm so OVER all the yoga selfies.

As a teacher, I purposely don't post many pics of myself doing tricky yoga poses because I want to remind students that this yoga stuff is not about the physical form. The only selfies you'll see anytime soon will be me eating nachos and chocolate cake with my girl Andrea Maltzer.

Rogue yogis for the win.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Oh, hey! I'm pregnant.

If you've been to one of my classes in the last week, you've noticed that something's a little different.

Yes, that.

Oh, hey! I'm pregnant.


Today's National Coming Out Day, and I'll admit that in coming back to the studio this week, I've felt a definite sense of coming out of the closet. We've known about this Big! New! Project! for months, of course, but very deliberately kept the news to ourselves as long as possible. It felt sacred and sweet that way, you know? Like a little private treasure box of sorts.

We'd planned all along to keep Bebe quiet until after returning from our honeymoon, at which point I'd likely be sporting an excellent bump, and sure enough, by the time last Monday rolled around, there would be no more hiding things.

I'm a little over 5 months along. The little mister will arrive sometime late February/early March.

Did you catch that? It's a BOY.

Thanks to the wonders of technology, we've already glimpsed a few most-rad 3-D ultrasound images, and not only does he appear to have his dad's cute nose, but he's even smiling. By all accounts, he's a contented, strong, healthy little monkey, swimming around in there, forward-folds and lotus-legs all over the place, all fingers and toes and elbows and knees.

Little man is already a yoga ninja, wiggling up a storm first thing in the morning and late at night. I'm loving the fact that he's been able to hear us chanting for the past few weeks, now that his ears have developed.

(You realize you're all singing to him now, yes? That Guru Brahma chant has taken on a whole new meaning for me in these last several months. Talk about a teacher. Little man's kicking my butt with new lessons and humbling revelations. Like, for instance, oh hey, after 12 years of intense daily practices, no more twists or core or handstands or backbends. Say goodbye to mega-heated rooms, which don't feel so cozy when you've already got a hot-cross-bun in the oven. Even Warrior 1 feels strange and not-necessarily-healthy anymore. And I've been skipping Utkasana — with unbridled joy — since about June. And, feeling woozy? Sit down and listen, sister. Be still, rest, sleep, slow down, says Teach. I've never ceded my power — or my asana attachment — so willingly, or with such great love.)

We spent the summer months so full with work and wedding planning that we've been reserving our bebe reading for these slower, wet, dark, autumnal days, other than some big fatty tomes from the Point Reyes bookstore and a couple of week-by-week pregnancy podcasts that have alternately inspired me, comforted me, informed me, and made me want to chew my hand off in "mommy-culture" irritation. (More on that below. There are moments when I am convinced I am a dude in a woman's body. Except for, well, all the stuff.)

The Mister has been amazing about picking out some smart books for us, so I packed a few along for beach reading in Kauai. I dove headfirst into Anne Lamott's Operating Instructions (she the patron saint of keepin' it real), a stellar, hilarious, heart-rending memoir of her son's first year, while we were lounging around on the lanai. It made me laugh out loud. Touched me deeply. And inspired me to get with it on keeping a journal, even if no one ever sees it.

Needless to say, there are a zillion and one blog posts that could be written about this whole experience. Most of them have been written, and written very well, by other people. I've had a surprising inclination toward silence these last several months. People have said, "Wow, you'll have so much to write about!" and I've thought to myself: "Yes, sure, but not right now."

Right now wants listening and reading and paying attention, noticing, being in it, in the day-to-day. Without dropping into clich├ęs, there are a shit-ton of miraculous and mind-blowing things going down on the regular. Most of them are hard to capture without feeling like just one more Gushing Mommy Blogger.

I've never been a fan of "mommy culture."  In fact, I rather hope the little man decides to call me "Ma" like some Jersey Shore prolonged-adolescent ("Hey MA, didja do my laundry yet er what?! I need that leather shirt to wear tonight at the casino") rather than "Mommy," which still sounds toothless and suburban and waaaaaay too domesticated for my tastes.

So it's been with some cultural and intellectual reticence and a great sense of clarity that I've been steadfastly making my way into this new terrain. It helps wonderfully to have several badass, sexy, brilliant friends who also happen to be fantastic mothers, and who remind me in countless ways that mothering doesn't have to mean getting lost in pastels and diaper talk. After 20 weeks spent squeezing my gonzo prego-boobs into yoga tops that have finally just gotten too tight, yesterday I finally broke down and hit up the maternity motherlode. Bebe's growing wonderfully well, and I trust that he'll continue to thrive until I'm nice and round come late February. Which means I should have a few clothes that fit, eh, even though I'm still avoiding the scary stretch-waist mommy-jeans in favor of cute dresses and forgiving leggings.

We're wrapping up the Festival of the Goddess right now in the Hindu calendar, which feels particularly appropriate given all this. The women in my family are fertile as farm stock and we tend to have an easy time of this popping-babies-out thing, and I am ever-grateful for health and good food and strong genes. Nothing has made me appreciate that more than discovering the wonders and terrors of genetic counselors, blood tests, prenatal diagnostics and the like.

Little Man doesn't know what he's in for. He's got the absolute best, most thoughtful, most kind, most gentle, most beefy, most wise, most patient Dad out there, ready to coach him in baseball and teach him sweet-ass dance moves and patiently classify the entire Grateful Dead oeuvre with him.

And I myself am stoked for a little boy. I realized at some point that I studied gender and feminist theory all those years not necessarily because I really dug being a chick; it was, in actuality, because there were so many aspects of being female that I really hated, that felt messed-up and boring and creativity-stunting and life-denying. And that, under all of that, I was more of a dude than anything else. My best friends were men, and they laughed, and cracked dirty jokes, and lived well in their bodies, and didn't apologize for being human.

I wanted more of that in my own life, balanced out with the sweetness and spice and lacy socks and fluffy skirts and love poems and sappy music and all that other stuff that came easily with growing up as a girl in this culture for umpteen years.

I am looking forward to teaching this little mister what it means to be at once curious and strong and fierce and gentle and compassionate and intelligent and embodied and light and earnest and adventurous and faithful and laughing and spirited and loving.

There is a terrific amount of work ahead, and a mind-blowing array of gifts before us.

In the meantime: lots of cozy autumn evenings meant for sitting in front of the fire, wrapping my belly in a dusty blue cotton throw, eating more cookies than I've consumed in the last decade, and reading everything I possibly can about this business of birthing a living being.

Wish us luck.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Autumn 2013 Teaching Schedule

      Urban Flow
          1543 Mission St. (at S. Van Ness)
          Tues 12-1pm
          Thurs 12-1pm

      Flying Yoga
          4202 & 4308 Telegraph Ave
          Sun 1045am-1215pm (in the Annex)
          Tues 730-845pm
          Thurs 730-845pm

      OMpower Cycling & Yoga
          66 Townsend Street (at 1st)
          Tues 515-615pm