More Moment, Less Striving: OmCakes

This morning I’m experimenting with a white bean & pear pancake, listening to Sunday Edition and simply soaking up home: the way the light trickles and dashes through windows and prisms creating pools of light where white, black and red dogs soak up their colors; the one wall we have yet to paint in the front room (which is famlivchen: family room, living room, kitchen, dining room) that has become familiar from neglect; the knitting that’s come undone in my box of rose petals; the dog snout on my lap, a gentle breakfast bell; my orange tennies beckoning a walk for the starving dogs, and the scent of pear sugar caramelizing as the “cakes” take form.
I started with one can of white beans & 2 whole pears, blended in a food processor. That tasted wonderful, sprinkled with nutmeg while on the griddle. But it wouldn’t bind and became mashed white beans when I tried to flip it (I already make mashed white beans with onions & roasted garlic for breakfast, and recommend them highly: lots of fibre and heft to start the day, but still light enough for brain brightness. Here, though, I’m hoping for a sweet, fruity pancake experience). So I tried just thinning it & going toward crepe… no go. The addition of half a banana & some baking powder (thank you vegan cooking site) made some progress toward unity: A bit more cakey, but no flippy. So another can of beans, the other half of the banana & 2/3 package Mori Nu silken tofu. Ahhhhh. This one would have flipped if I hadn’t covered the entire bottom of the 9 inch skillet. Lovely golden brown color, smooth and consistent enough to flip and serve!
I’m not sure why or how I get obsessed with creating yummy you’d never guess vegan goodies. I’m not vegan. I’m not even vegetarian. I still eat cow. I drink wine. I eat shrimp and crab and sometimes even cheese. True, not daily or even weekly, but I do eat eggs almost every day and fresh wild fish every week. Why do I not just crack an egg into this blissful pear & bean concoction, flip the cakes and call it a breakfast?
I’m fascinated by the chemistry of food, of how it goes together, how it puts us together, how it feeds and binds and loosens and extracts, and of how my moods and feelings of wellbeing are so intimately connected to it. I’m fascinated by vegan recipes, simultaneously convinced that I am lighter, healthier and freer when I eat this way, while equally persuaded by lightheadedness and animal craving that I’m best off when I occasionally eat meat. True, the lightheadedness doesn’t really start for a couple of weeks and the near criminal lust for blood and flesh doesn’t hit til near the third month. (That’s even combining foods, watching my nutrient balance, not relying on processed cheesey subs or even vegan burgers, but rather eating fruits & veg & nuts & legumes by the boatload… or so it seems to me.)
And so I am content with my little bit of this, little bit of that, tailor made for me, thank you very much diet. I may secretly hope and desire that my forays into vegan culinary miracles (they really are miraculous, you have to make these things to believe the yummy goodness) are a sign and a method of my gradual transformation into vegan lightness.
The smaller cakes are in process right now; I’ve also reduced the temp for slower cooking. Et voila! More crepe like now, I simply lifted with my fingertips the delicately curled, caramel hued edge and turned. At which time I realized that the dogs, who are used to being walked and fed by this time, were languishing and naughtyizing by turns in their upendedness. The second side took precisely the amount of time I used to feed three dogs, complete with fish oil caps (I have to bite the one for Oso open, or he won’t eat it) and kisses. The second batch proved that size really does matter – no more than ¼ cup on the griddle. And you really don’t even have to turn.
These were so yummy even Oso wanted seconds! For a dog who won’t eat his food with a gelcap full of stinky fish oil in it, unless you pop and drizzle the oil for him, that’s an endorsement.
So, having persisted so long, you may wonder, “What has any of this to do with yoga?” Just this: so often, too often, maybe every class and every day, we think we will be “real” yogis (growups, people, mommies and daddies, artists, writers…) when…. We compare ourselves, we improve ourselves, we grasp for the perfect expression of urdva baddha trikonasana (yes, I made that one up). What if all it’s really about, all it really takes is responding to the calls of the moment – the dogs naughtyizing, the light caressing, the cans of beans and the surfeit of pears. That’s all. Just respond to what is, and your response and reflection and desire and creativity will transform you like eddying currents of an oxbowed stream toward… yourself. No goal, no destiny, no fantasy – Only method in the moment, the highest form of experimentation: a jazz riff in the key of om.
OmCakes
1 can white canelli beans, rinsed nutmeg for sprinkling
1 pear
½ large banana
¾ t. baking powder
1/3 package of Mori Nu silken tofu
¼ – ½ cup of water: the batter should pour lightly

Whirl in food processor til smooth, nearly the consistency of loose pudding.

Warm griddle to medium, lightly dress with your favorite nonstick cooking treatment (grapeseed oil is my fave) and drop by the tablespoonful (no more than 2 at a time). Sprinkle with nutmeg as it begins to bubble and cook through. ~4 minutes, lift off and enjoy!

Write & tell me how you experiment and tweak, with this recipe or with your practice and how it makes you more self and less striving.

Yoga Sutra Conversations I.33: "By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward happiness, compassion toward suffering, delight toward virtue, and equanimity toward vice, thoughts become purified, and the obstacles to self-knowledge are lessened."

“This week’s sutra ought to be emblazoned in all public places.” ~Dharmayoga

I’ve been given the power to delegate 🙂 and so I do. I delegate: reading the newspaper to my boyfriend, big bosoms to some of my girlfriends, eating sugar to my kids, enjoying hunting to the hunters and giving the kids a cat to my ex. (at his house).
What I get out of this practice, is SERENITY. If I really believe we are all one – than I truly can enjoy soo many things.
~Jenni

If there was any doubt that yoga is more than what happens on the mat, here’s the antidote. The first time I heard this quoted,  I wrote it down and soon thereafter was digging in the Sutra like it was a life raft.

Sounds so simple: be friendly to happy folk, compassionate toward unhappy, take joy in good action and try not to get to het up about the bad stuff. Yoga is about the path, the everyday, every breath, every moment, what am I getting so excited about, where’d all my energy go, what’s it all about and how do I figure it out path.

Simple is not easy, though. I wrote this on the clipboard I carry everywhere at work and when I felt my heart skip or my dander rise, I’d look at it. So much of behaviour is reactive and what this Sutra asks us to do is choose how we respond. Don’t react, respond, and do that with consideration… for your own peace.

One of the things I admire about the translation above from Mukunda Stiles is that where other translators state these responses will bring us peace or quiet mind, he states they reduce obstacles to self-knowledge. In Sanskrit, the claim is “Citta prasadanam” which has overtones both of purification and calmness  regarding the mind. “Lessening obatacles to self-knowledge” reminds us we are discussing the path that leads to yoga, which happens in the mind that isn’t identified with its disturbances. We can, little by little, step away from all our identifications, the things we act like matter even when we would say they don’t if asked point-blank, but we react to them as if they were everything, and so make them into our world.

Peace comes from self-knowledge. In such a state we are transparent to the truth of our own being. How to reach this state? Start taking the veils off the dancer: the obstacles to self-knowledge must fall. But like any drunken reveller, when the veils start to ripple and fly we want to get caught up in them: Ooooo, look at how they catch the light! look at how they ruffle over the surface! smell how they catch the heady scent! We forget that the veils aren’t what they cover over, or we tire of the effort steady abiding, and we settle for the ruffle and sparkle, running off in the direction of the wind.

In this sutra we are aksed to tend to our own responses to our worlds and in return, the world to which we respond will reveal itself as different than we’ve previously experienced. Not sure changing the world can be so simple? Try it. Practice your equanimity when buffetted with derision or insult. Practice being undefended and friendly when you are around happiness. Practice being undefended at all. Undefended and compassionate in the presence of Sadness? How do you keep your heart open and your boundaries clear? Yoga is a razor’s edge and you walk it with your heart. When you truly open your heart in experience, the world you experience transforms, and so do you.

Where to start? In your next human interaction, your next breath. Heck, have you practiced compassion and undefendedness with your own precious self? Be friendly toward your own happiness, befriend and cultivate it. Have equanimity when you catch yourself in bad behaviour – no self-derision, no guilt. Steadiness, abiding breath and choice, whether in line or Ardha Chandrasana, these are the things that build our practice.

Resolution: Contentment

Samtosha: Contentment
Power of Intention 

 
 “Contentment means just to be as we are without going to outside things for our happiness.”  ~Satchitananda
 
You might be thinking, “It’s New Years! It’s time to improve and strive and make plans! It’s time to loose weight, stop smoking, make a budget, exercise more & eat healthier! Those are the five most popular New Year’s Resolutions, after all. What’s all this talk about contentment?
 
Contentment both grows from and fuels practice.  Yoga is an empirical endeavor. All the theory in the universe doesn’t matter at all if a posture disturbs you, or tweaks an injury. Our time on the mat is an experiment in awareness, breath & embodiment. Practice gives us freedom to explore the relationship – or simply enjoy it! – between our body, breath & mind. Observing our breath as we work with opposing forces, muscularly, structurally and maybe even emotionally, gives us feedback about our mind & our relationship with the world. We adjust our posture, and maybe even sometimes our lives, accordingly.
 
As an experiment in breath-body-mind interaction, it is important to have clarity about what is the case before we start off into fantasy. Clarity can feel intimidating, perhaps even confrontational if there’s something on our mat we think we don’t want to see. Contentment comes not from satisfaction with whatever we find, nor from images of what we think we’d like. Contentment comes from realizing that what we want comes through acknowledging what is.
 
Contentment is not magic, nor is it part of the self-esteem movement. Acknowledgement of what is – called Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach – brings us into the present moment. Investigation of what is brings us into this breath, how our body feels in this moment, and where in our body we feel a particular condition. The present moment is not a measure of time, which we know because of how our emotions effect our perception of time. The present moment, the Now as Eckhart Tolle dubs it, is always utterly unique in content but identical in form: it is timeless. This is our key to universal consciousness, always with us, never separated but not always acknowledged.
 
Aristotle, a yogi of a very different tradition, noted as the very foundation of his ethics that happiness is most reliably achieved not by aiming at happiness, but by participating in activity with full engagement. And his teacher, Plato, noted that all beings desire only happiness, we are just frequently deluded about what will bring us happiness. Since Resolutions are all about what we think will bring us happiness, perhaps it is wise to start with contentment on the mat: come to the mat, be “just as we are” and find out about that being. The intentions we plant spontaneously in that present moment take root in a far more powerful place than our daybooks or blackberries can capture.

Drawing In

I tried this as an experiment recently: Sivasana at the beginning and end of class.  I’ve decided that it’s an advanced practice.

Doesn’t sound tough does it? It’s like nap time at the beginning. But have you watched three year olds who just came in from recess try to lay down? It’s like that pop-up gopher game where you’re meant to pop the puppets back down with a soft mallet. Monkey mind most active.

What a tremendous testament to our practice. Sivasana is nearly torturous for many at the beginning, and almost always luscious at the end. What’s changed? The embodied mind.

If you want to try this practice of playing dead both before and after, I suggest that you give yourself some structure for the beginning. Begin by noting sensation in your extremities. Really pay attention and feel it. Then pay attention to your sensation in your core (if you can find any at this stage, you’re particularly in touch that day). Then with each breath draw the sensations from your arms and legs and neck into your core. Now, I’m not suggesting you draw in pleasure or pain, just the unnamable raw sensation, unjudged. Some might call it energy. But it’s very concrete when you locate it within your body: the sense you have of your own body. Use your breath to draw it in.

Finally, draw all your attention to sensation down to your low abdomen and feel it expand and contract with each breath. By relaxing and contracting the low belly when breathing you are mechanically & chemically signalling your “slow down” nervous system to wake up. That’s right, wake up to slow down. There are all kinds of opposites that come together on the mat.

Roam the Hub of All Sacred Places….

“The light which shines above this heaven, above all the worlds, above everything, in the highest worlds not excelled by any other worlds, that’s the same light  which is in you.” ~Chhandogya Upanishad

What if all the thinking, all the words, ideas aren’t our minds? What if they’re the covering over our minds? Don’t get me wrong – they’re great tools. But what’s overseeing the job site? They’re not the tools you’ll need if you’re looking for your true self or for a steady place to stand.

Science tells us our minds are decentralized in the body. Yoga helps us settle into our heart, where wisdom and intelligence reside. Of course when we talk about heart in yoga, we’re not just talking about the juicy pumping muscle to the left of center in our ribcages. There are a lot of bits housed around there – chemoreceptors, baraoreceptors, lungs, thymus, arteries, lymph nodes, spine, circulating blood and air, esophagus, diaphragm. When we bring our attention to this area, when we just feel what comes up, we are contacting the heart of yoga. Our yoga.

Bringing ease to the muscles and joints around this area can be the beginning or development of this process. This is where many of us Western Yogis start, with asana. Maybe a little breathing practice. Then we might start calling that pranayama. Maybe we meditate for stress reduction. Somewhere along the way we realize these pesky emotions are less pesky, the aches are less achey, the mind is less muddled.

“The heart is the resting place of the pranas, the senses and the mind. It’s your true self, which is identified with intelligence and which finds repose in the space within your heart.” ~Nikhilananada’s Intro to The Principal Upanishads

So then we explore pratyahara – sense withdrawal. But then, where do the senses go? Niky above, says to the space within your heart, your true self. Makes some sense – it’s quieter there than the head or stomach. The feelings come up, but maybe we’re in a place where we can uncouple them enough from the words and judgments to just let them be a bit.

Now we’re practicing saucha in our hearts. Saucha – cleanliness, purity. We don’t often think of it in regard to our hearts, but after we’ve gotten glimpses of the Love that lives there, it makes sense not to store our crap on the porch. If we keep the windows clean maybe it will shine more brightly. The Sanskrit word for this place – Anahata – can be translated “unstruck”. “The space within your heart  is omnipresent and unchanging.” (~Chhandogya Upanishad ) Always with us, always available for us to touch and feel is a place that is unstruck by the blows of life, unmoved by the compliments and criticisms, the lost jobs and the awards. It is always what it is. We are always who we are. Sometimes we just cover it up with judgments, which are really old experiences in new clothes. Film on our windows.

Maybe this is the impetus to poke our noses into the pesky ethical side of yoga.  But if you’ve been cleaning your windows all by yourself, and someone gives you a step ladder and an extension for your sponge, you’ll be pretty glad to pay attention. And they’re pretty simple, deceptively so. Love, Truth, Conserve your energy, Be quiet, Be fierce, Stay Open, Be present, Learn you’re not in control, Study your experience, Respect Others’ Boundaries. But Wow! try to practice ’em all at once! That’ll give any college Ethics Professor a run for her money.

So you keep coming back to the place of quiet stillness to which your mat has become the doorway. “The heart is the hub of all sacred places; go there and roam.” ~Bhagavan Nityananda 

Love, Bodies, and Demons

I’ve been listening to Iyengar’s Light on Life, read by Patricia Walden (yes, I’m inseperable from my iPod). I’m not an Iyengar practitioner and have always been disturbed by the stories of striking students and denigration of the body. All third (or twenty-seventh) hand, mind you, but repetitive none-the-less. His dualistic perspective seems to me evident from Light on Yoga, and is not one towards which I gravitate.

But I was listening to Lara’s last YogaPeeps show (yay Lara! see my blogroll for a link…) Light on Life was one of the books highlighted at the end. And it was one of those turns of phrase that tells you, “hey, that’s something to check out.”

So here I am, listening to a book I’ve passed over many times before. And I am not only impressed, but awash in his wisdom. These are not, to my ear, the words of a body denigrating yogi. In fact, the bath of tears I find myslef taking when Walden reads his words about loving every cell of your body, putting love into every cell of your body, tells me the shoe may have been on the wrong foot.

I’ve been engaged in a practice aimed at dissolving obstacles recently. I began with exterior obstacles. I quit smoking. I’ve created healthier routines. I’m rearranging my work life to align with my creativity. All well and good. And then I became aware of some stirrings of internal obstacles, stirrings of bonds being shaken. Old bonds. Strong bonds. And then there was fear protecting those bonds. And I was able to dissolve some of that. All the while, mind you, I’m still not sure what the bonds hold, only that it’s part of me and that the binding is keeping it hidden. Also, this is taking weeks. Slow, wordless, sometimes dubious process.  I plod on.

And slowly I am aware of a subtle rumbling, an undercurrent of unhappiness. Not with this or that. In fact this and that all are well. Slowly I find it’s with myself. It’s a secret, long hidden but ever-active seemingly endless cavern of self loathing. That’s right. Self-loathing yoga teacher. if you want to put a label on it.

And actually this is where labels are helpful. Because when I’m teaching I feel the farthest thing from self loathing. I feel transparent and powerful and awed by my students’ power all at the same time. I feel beautiful.

But when I look at myself or find myself wearing the role of yoga teacher (as in “what does your wife do for a living? Oh, how interesting! kind of role) deep feelings emerge that don’t fit with my pictures. Unsettling feelings, feelings familiar from long ago, from things and times I thought I’d processed and released. The ugly little girl (not the truth, but my picture of myself). The chubby girl. The athletic girl (not used as a compliment). They’re all here with me once more.

And Iyengar’s wisdom in Walden’s voice is helping me to care for them, to love every cell of them. To enjoy all my steps, to realize my samskara, meet it with tapas, svadyaya, surrender and find samtosha. My bonds are little by little being released, and the prisoners are escaping. They didn’t need to be locked up. Only to be acknowledged and loved.

Fall back into your Self

Yesterday my practice was crunched between writing and dog walks and getting off to work, quick sun salutations to warm and move me. The familiarity helps me connect to contentment and stay open for the surprises of my body and my day.

I’d just finished writing on Gather about the pain body Eckhart Tolle talks about, so this way of relating to pain and perceived burdens was much on my mind. As I entered the rhythm of practice and my mind began to clear of such entanglement, I rose from the forward bend at the end of a cycle, arms circling wide, dropping my tailbone to raise my heart. The heaviness of these thoughts lifted and I sensed them as a cloud gathering from my root, up my core and coalescing in front of my third eye. As my hands rose and I lengthened my side bodies in Urdva Hastasana I felt lightness and clarity. And as I brought my hands together in front of my third eye to trace down my midline to touch my heart, it was as if my hands had come together to form a knife’s edge which dissipated the cloud.

Try it for yourself, intentionally imagining what weighs on you as a cloud in front. Standing, circle your arms up and out, coming together and slicing through the pea-thick murkiness. See how you feel.

In some cultures the Self is believed to live in the back of the body, around the spine. I was told this when I first had the bodily sensation of falling back into myself years ago. As if I’d been living out in front, disconnected, and becoming present felt like finally coinciding with myself. Fall back into yourself today. Take a quiet moment, ask what will bring you back. Even if you’re not sure what the “right” answer is, try your first idea and see how it feels, if it gives you another idea, or if you just want to stay with the feeling you’ve now found. Fall back into your Self today, again, and again.