2012-12-28

Vegan Peanut Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies


Ingredients (Group 1)
* 2 tablespoons golden flax meal
* 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons non-diary milk or milk
* 1/2 teaspoon apple cider vinegar


(Group 2)
* 1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons flour
* 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
* 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
* 1 teaspoon salt




(Group 3)
* 1 3/4 cup sugar or substitute
* 1 3/4 cup unsalted peanut butter
* 1/4 cup coconut oil, ghee or butter (melted)

(Group 4) 
* 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
* 1 teaspoon molasses
* 1 cup + 2 tablespoons chocolate chips

1. Pre-heat your oven to 350F (177C). Add group 1 together and let sit for 10 minutes.

2. In a bowl add group 2, mix and put aside.

3. In another bowl add group 3, mix followed by group 1, mix and group 4 and mix.

4. Start adding group 2 (flour mix) and incorporate together. Use a spoon or dig in with your hands.

5. Roll into 1 1/2 inch balls and spread out on a cookie sheet about 3 - 4 inches apart. Flatten with a fork.

Tips:

~ I added chocolate chips to the flattened dough while on the cookie sheet. This offered more of a chocolate taste (peanut butter can be overpowering). Visually it also improved the way the cookies looked (not that cookies need much help).

~ Don't flatten the cookies too much (they'll spread while cooking). For a big cookie make big balls. :-)

~ Watch your cooking time. They may not look done but if you want your cookies crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside this is an important aspect!  Approx, 10  to 15 minutes.

~ I experimented using the heat only from the bottom and another batch from both the top and bottom.
   The cookies turned out really well with only a bottom setting. Cooked on the bottom and less on top!

Enjoy!

WARNING: This is how not to make a cookie and a sample of my first attempt. The secret of this recipe lies in the cooking time as well as the setting of the oven. My first batch was on the wrong oven setting so the cookies were done from the top down :-)  (Don't laugh.)


2012-11-06

Easy Hearty Lentil Soup


Cooking a great home-made soup is a truly satisfying experience. I've been trying out a few and usually by-passed cooking with lentils. I thought a lot of prep-time was needed. When I found this recipe I was happy to see that was not the case. This one is great for a cold, fall night and even if you are in a warm climate you’ll like it for lunch. It’s a meal to itself.

Serve it with organic olives and a salad.

* 1 carrot
* 1 onion
* 2 cloves of garlic
* Salt and pepper (I prefer to grind my own)
* Other spices may be added
* Extra virgin olive oil
* Brown or red lentils
* 2 tomatoes
* Tomato paste

Dice the onions and the garlic into thin pieces.
Cut the carrot into small bits.
Chop the tomatoes into small bits. 
Boil 4 cups of water.

In a sauce pan cook 1 ¼ cup of lentils after draining and washing them.
Bring to a boil and let it continue to boil for 3-4 minutes. 
Drain and set aside.

Wipe the saucepan and sauté the onions drenched in olive oil (add garlic when the onions are clear).
The original recipe states the success of the soup depends how much olive oil is used. However, using too much gives the soup an oily base. I’m not a fan of too much oil or like to see it floating around in my bowel. I used about 2 generous tablespoons of oil.

When sautéed add the lentils and stir before adding the carrots, tomatoes and 2 tablespoons 
of tomato paste. Mix together and add water. Bring it to a boil and let simmer for 20 minutes.
Add salt and pepper to taste.

Here’s Where I Deviant from the Cookbook

Cook
The cooking time suggested is 30 to 45 minutes or at least until the lentils are soft. I don’t like to cook the heck of out the food so I only let the soup simmer for 20 minutes. The more the food is cooked the more the natural enzymes are also cooked. My approach is to take it half way and cook to taste.

Spice 
While simmering add some of your favourite spices. The original recipe did not mention more than salt and pepper. I found without a little punch it tastes a bit blah blah. Here you can get creative by exploring with all kinds of stuff.  I have a little stash of Indian spices so I added turmeric, biryani masala, jeera and curry.

Serve
Add a few pieces of fresh parsley, mint or other leaves. Tastes great and is a nice contrast.

ps: Dress up the table. These are real shell napkin holders.

pss: Good source of iron and vitamin C.  






2012-10-06

The Journey So Far


Here I write about travel, my developing culinary skills, the practice of yoga and new ways of living; basically the journey so far. 

After closing my yoga school, I began to travel a lot and in particular to South Germany near the Swiss border. For me, this is great but not because it is always a high moment. In fact, landing in a new country and closing my school, which was a fabric of my entire being for 15 years was definitely tough. I say it is great because of the trials and tribulations it sparked by making me grow and change in both new and unexpected ways. Ultimately what I mean by great is the gamut of issues that change creates.

It takes courage to step away from the 'known' to live a new dream. In life, I have found you have to let go of some dreams in order for another to be birthed.   

Change is difficult and there is no way around it.  My inner muse is fond of reminding me how other forces were and are at play. I think we tend to believe we are in control of our fate, but life and certainly love has its own course. 

For me and having taken my wedding vows later in life I am positive it made me more aware of my reactions to change. It feels more uprooting to change having built a life before it especially over 40. I had made other dramatic moves in my life like moving to South Korea, but I was also 25 years old. As we age we develop many layers and a rigidity as to how far we want to go. A lot of this may be unconscious until circumstances and your life situation bring it to the surface. Or, let me put it another way, I become more aware that the distance between fulfilling any of my dreams was decreasing in comparison to the time left to reach them.  


We generally believe  that if we get the job, the marriage, the salary, the new house and whatever else everything will become great. And it probably is like that for a while. However, as real life happens becoming too comfortable is a lot like not living at all. I once read from Pema Chodron,  'We are conditioned to believe life is about seeking security and comfort, but life is really about having the carpet swept from under your feet.


When I choose to close my Yoga school and embark on a new journey it wasn't necessarily a difficult choice to make as it was more difficult to "live". I had been very successful in founding and directing my own school. It sustained and fulfilled me both mentally and financially. I was able to take annual trips to India to study under my teachers and had great students who were loyal to me. But something was missing or rather something was yet to be fulfilled. By most standards, I had a great career, a good practice and was making a living. No one should think I closed my school because I couldn't cut it. 

But in my life the pendulum had swung too far in one direction. I had to swing it back and hopefully I would find myself somewhere in the middle; somewhere down the line.  

Now when I press fast-forward and with my first child it feels like another new beginning and with it a series of other ones to follow. I always knew I wanted to be a mom, but had pushed it so far back with my career ahead of it. I was 42 years old when I became pregnant for the second time. I was fortunate enough not to undergo fertility treatments to become pregnant. And I also had an incredible water birth without medication.   

From these experiences I really can say it is not possible to have it all; at least not at the same time. I could not have had my son and run my school, house, practice, study and travel.  For me, it was so much more than a business, but I had to let it go. This is why I feel we often have to let go of some dreams in order for another to be born.  

If you hang on too tightly what will your life become? I think, it is important to find balance, peace and love in life. 

And if we have to give up something to do it then that 'something' is not the real thing anyway.  
2012-09-28

Champery, Switzerland


I'm in Champery!

A very old and charming village located in a huge skiing area of Switzerland. Despite the modern-age it has still maintained its old world charm of wooden chalets, flower window boxes and the rugged mountains as the backdrop. The contrast between the lush, green mountains of the late summer turning to autumn mixed with the coming of winter and the snow-capped mountain tops is stunning. Being here made me wonder how it would feel to open my door each morning to such a spectacular view. Another life, another time and certainly another idea on what's it all about.

Why does it take, however, looking at nature to remind 'me' or anyone of the continuous beauty around us and move away from materialistic thoughts. My mind races to think of what I am doing later and what I didn't get done before we left. Mountains have this wonderful way of getting you to stay present in their majestic beauty. They sort of seem to say very astutely, "I am here." Yogananda Paramahansa used to say that when most people see a mountain they see a mountain. But when he sees a mountain he sees God.

Did some negative conditioning toward 'enjoying' yourself get wedged under our skin and we hardly noticed it? One should be working, producing and doing something good for the world instead of staring at mountains! However, the over glorification of being busy has ruined the simple appreciation of watching a bird fly, a sun set and a mountain top glimmer in the sun.

These great mountains are the perfect reminder and the gift of the universe. It is not outside of us, but inside of us. And for me, when I see this is as God, I feel pretty good. What is also lovely is that this little are is actually called "Les Portes des Soleil" (the gates of the Sun).


A main highlight of the town is the old stone church (1702), which is located right on the street corner. When I saw it I thought of my mom who loves stone churches. It's not often you see a real stone church.


This area of Switzerland is also French speaking so I wore my beret! Hats are lots of fun and with 
a closet full of them why not wear one!?  A personal but universal lesson is to enjoy what 
we have, where we are and whom you are with. Dipa Ma (a Buddhist meditation teacher) said, "it is not what the world is but what we bring to the world." Everything in life she felt was useful, usable and we should make the most of it while we are here, while we have time and energy. Dipa Ma went on to say 
that not doing so was a waste of our human birth and missing the true purpose of our lives.    



Dream Castle of Walt Disney Land


I'm in Germany driving to an 18th century castle!  



It was a terrible rainy day. It rained just once and for the whole day. Actually, my husband said it as we drove along in fog, rain, sleet and haze. None of this stopped us from heading to the beautiful castle in Germany that inspired the replica in Walt Disney Land. In fact, that wasn't even a second thought.  

Called Schloss Neuschwanstein, the castle was commissioned by Ludwig II of Bavaria and the home to Richard Wagner (a German composer and theater director). It houses beautiful paintings, a grand piano and much more.  



The castle is only reachable part way by car. The rest is either on foot or the romantic way in an old historic horse and carriage ride. Now, I have to say it might have been until you sit with 10 other tourists, their children and at the front. Having a front row view of the scenery was also a front view of the horses asses who were blowing gas and taking a dump on the way. One father took a freak, which we thought was a bit over the top, because at the end of the day we are riding with a real animal not a machine. 






This father's reactions was like the many people who love the puppy but can't stand the shit. They love the package but don't like the work behind it. In the 'real' world we need to learn to take the bad with the good and the good with bad. That means the cow dung, the horse shit and all that other garbage, which is also by the way good nutrients for the soil makes the plants and flowers grow.  



This is how the castle looked when we were there. It was also under-construction 
Because of the fog it didn't look much like the picture below, which is an ariel shot. 
What an awesome scene, which is a picture of a picture (re: a poster). 


I drove to Graz, Austria

I'm in Graz, Austria!

A fabulously old, charming and beautiful city. The drive from the house in Southern Germany is about 800 km's. My husband and I shared it, which made it easier. It was my first time on the Auto-bahn (Germany's highway) and doing a speed of 190 km. If you are not familiar with German rules there are  long stretches of the highway where there is no speed. A large white, round circle with a line through it indicates you have entered the 'unlimited speed' zone.  I drove 400 km's, which is the furthest I have ever driven in one shot.


It was also my first time going through tunnels. There are a lot of tunnels in Germany. In Europe in general there are many undergrounds carved into the mountains, which range from one km to many more! We lost track of them but we probably went through at least thirty tunnels during the entire trip.

       View from our hotel room in Graz, Austria. 

The highlight of the Graz (the second largest city next to Vienna) is Schlossberg (meaning the castle on the mountain). I walked up the 260 steps, which were built by the Russian prisoners and the Austrian pioneers. I had to say I sighed and paused a bit as I climbed the stairs thinking of how many of us enjoy these steps today but really from the suffering of others. I just wanted to take a moment to think about that, because history does matter! 

    View at the top of the mountain castle. 




On the top of the mountain are cafes, gardens and restaurants. There is also a terrific view of the city, which is overlooked by the protective Clock Tower. Such a glorious view. I didn't notice at the time (no pun intended) but the hands of the clock are actually backward.

Earlier in Graz time was only on the hour. The second hand was added later (and I guess by someone who figured it was any which way).







The more I tired to learn and understand Graz's history, the more the city amazed me of its deep history. And the more I walked through old alleys of the city and landed in gardens and courtyards the more there was to learn, know and discover. I sometimes feel that there is no much to learn there is hardly time. So, I was reminded of our permanent state while alive.

Dancer posture (Tripura Harasana)


The statue of Natarajasana (Shiva) says it the best.

Being both wise and ignorant.

Hoping to be exclusively wise is probably not possible.

Being closer to ignorance seems more realistic since life is so vast.

The dancer pose is the best illustration of the one leg of Shiva stepping and dancing into cosmos while the other is grounded.





It symbolizes the ability to be awake and aware while rooted in this time sphere, but being part of another. It is also symbolic of maya (illusion), avidya (ignorance) and the covers (koshas) to uncover.

                                                         Dance (Tripura Harasana)
Dancing right along another highlight of Graz was buying chocolate truffles at a shop that was once part of old cathedral. Check out the ceiling (below).    

Next to this highlight and perhaps more sur-real was the coffee and cookies at the King's Bakery. We enjoyed lovely, small cookies called 'panthers', which were once served to the King himself. The bakery store front is decked out in wooden frames with a glided crown dating back to 1569! You cannot miss it as it stands out like a great wonderful piece of the past. This was the only place where the King bought his baked cookies and each of the chefs were hand-picked by the King.




Graz is so full of glorious architecture, street artists, pretty box flowers and the view above the city is like no other place else. It cannot be rightfully compared to any other city or town. It's just Graz.

This picture says it all.


2012-09-18

Is Love Enough?




I'm in South Germany near the Swiss border. This is a poem sent to me by a martial artist.
---

The power of love is often underestimated.

Love has great tranformative power,
it has great protective power,
it has great healing power!

It is not a quick fix, but it has a deep and lasting effect.
It requires patience and perseverance.
It requires the ability to see beyond present circumstances,
to the inner circumstances,
to the vision of perfection that is flowering in your heart.

The world will not always support your endeavor to love.
It will often seem to turn against you, to try and thwart your efforts.
Certainly you will be judged.

It is simply not looked upon as normal to rely on this great power.
People will question you (though they are really questioning themselves)

"Is love really enough?"

Their minds are already made up

"No, it is not enough."

They will give you all the REASONS why.
You'll get all the "other things" that are required.

How can you argue? It will be hard to argue because their ideas come from knowledge.
But the idea that LOVE IS ENOUGH comes from knowing
a sense deep in your being
a voice calling out
an inner certainty.

How can this be proved?
No, it must be felt.

Once felt, no argument
no matter how logical, practical nor persuasive
can ever convince you otherwise.

Yes the power of love is often underestimated,
but we can at least demonstrate our knowing
through our thoughts, words and actions.

As time goes on this will leave the residue of love on the world
and it will change.
One day humanity as a whole will embrace love
and know that it is enough.


Written by Vivek (a Ninjustu artist and teacher) 
2012-08-24

Sweet India


"The real enemy of happiness is the mind's fixations and delusions. Look at the situation differently; see the truth and the suffering is less. If you have the right mind, you can overcome anything - you can be happy, no matter what."  –  Dalai Lama

You'd think to be in India one would be happy all the time. But that is not necessarily the case because as the saying goes, ``no matter where you go, there you are``. So, when I sail over speed bumps, glide out of the way of a truck, wipe grit out of my eyes and get caught in the monsoon I am not thinking, "Hap-peee". I am saying, "SHIT."

At the point of complaining I hear a voice saying, “Well these are the trade offs for studying yoga in India.” And I vaguley recall the lines from the Dalai Lama that seem far away.
  
Going to class and being with a teacher make up for these minor inconveniences and remain the most fulfilling and blessed aspects of yoga. But it is a regular effort to remind one's little petty self of this. When the attendant spends the entire night throwing up outside of my flat and loses my key to my scooter while the people downstairs enjoy a big party I've got to say, "This life ain't perfect." Or not everyone is interested in their sadhana.

Despite this I do not know of any other subject where you can keep returning and someone actually accepts you! In school we cannot stay glued to kindergarten despite how nice afternoon naps seem. We also might love our teacher but we ‘have’ to move on.

In Yoga, we have the chance to stay with at least one primary teacher far longer than any other teacher throughout our educational years. This is why it is an intense and challenging relationship. It is even more powerful and effective than our parents. For myself, it is a more open and honest relationship and one that appreciates my desire for practice and study.  My parents had other dreams and wishes for me. And so did I.

But when I return home and my mom says, "Glad you did not end up in a body bag", I understand for her India is not so sweet. And when she reports back that she met up an ‘old’ teacher at school who said she was so disappointed I was only a yoga teacher it is not only parental units who hoped differently. 

Forging ahead, however, by creating the opportunity to travel to India is one of the most rewarding aspects I have ever had.  I truly believe everyone should make the trip at least once (yoga or no yoga). Many years ago when a student of mine was suffering with knee problems I recommended for her to think about going to India; both for the benefit of daily practice and the daily immersion.

She tentatively asked me, “You think that will straighten me out?”

What I know is you will receive exactly what you need and then some in India. Leaving aside the fact you can attend class each and every day there is something deeply profound about being in the presence of your teacher. And this says nothing about the culture, which is immersed in devotion from the corner shop selling oily banana chips to the temple down the street. It is also a culture that brings you into extremes from the cow dung to the incense, from the beggar to yourself and from the sunny day to the monsoon rain.

Things are going great ~ I eat fresh fruit and salad every day. Things are shit ~ the power went down I never saved my work. Things are as I like them ~ I feel heightened by the practice itself. Things are not at all how they should be ~ the dog at the gate rubbed his hairy body all over my black tights. Today I am feeling good ~ I remained longer in the posture without scratching my nose. Yesterday I felt bad ~ my back is really stiff

When I first started yoga I never imagined how wonderfully inexhaustible the path is. I also must admit that it can also be a real pain in the butt. There are days when I don’t want to practice, when I would like to take a holiday (I can talk about this later) and I think about giving up on this whole crazy thing.

Many years ago I concluded being both a teacher and a student of yoga was demanding. It was asking a lot more from me than I wanted to give....and imagined I would or could give. First, there was studying the scriptures which is never ending and then there are 84,000 postures to do. And unlike what conventional educational teaches you, “Get your degree and you’re done” Yoga is the opposite. There is also helping people, guiding them and lending an ear, which often went beyond the yoga mat. Not being a therapist by trade it can also be draining to be a life-coach, friend and wannbe therapist. On top of this there is also my own practice...a tradition and a routine that I have always known to be correct for me as a teacher and a student of yoga. Bringing oneself to the mat to do their own practice is often far harder than leading others in a class.

As a teacher I avoided getting into this with my students who would either think I am telling a joke or somehow I was not a dedicated teacher. It was not until I read Murakami’s book, “What I talk about when I talk about running” that I finally found someone whom I could relate to. In an interview he was asked if he ever felt like not running. For the last 20-25 years he has been running and winning marathons.

He replied, “Every day.”    

One of the hardest things to get ‘good’ at in Yoga is the fact that it is not possible to reach a certain level and relax. Being impatient by nature I have been struck with anxiety and wanted to accelerate my practice or I felt the whole thing was too far reaching and depression kicked in. Striking a balance is what Yoga teaches. Both views as I have learned by struggling with terrible practices and what I felt were easier ones taught me the lack of foresight I can have. Also, progress is slow, steady and painful but practice needs to be regular. 

It is also not always physically painful but mentally challenging as the need for ‘finish’ and ‘done’ get melted down. We eventually learn how those thoughts are not helpful.   

On the flip side, taking the approach that we have all the time in the world can be self-defeating.  As Patajalm’s yoga speaks about Yoga is a skill; a force in action. But this force is not the one we may often think of it as. Let’s say you are working on a pose that is not changing physically and you get this feeling that if you squeeze it out physically then maybe it would get better. But what yoga tries to reveal is the change must happen inwardly; something on the mental level needs to shift first. You can go on forcing your body or one day understand a better approach. 

A few years ago, I remember my Sanskrit teacher Hema telling me that there are many ways to enter a single posture. She was not talking about jumping into handstand versus using one leg. She was talking about the mental approach, which is far less obvious to see and understand than the physical one.

Again, on the flip side you can get stuck in a posture physically due to a mental attachment. Case in point was a fellow student sharing with me how she was at the same level with a posture for years. At the same time she did not want to put `pressure` on herself. When I commented that finding the confidence within would help release where she was stuck (ultimately taking her where she wanted to go) I had a feeling that remaining in a position too long can also create a mental barrier. At those points, it is best to move on (do not stop practicing) but release becoming fixated on it. 

It is always about balance: Try to little and the practice can become dormant; try too hard the practice is just a circus act or a bunch of groaning.

As a teacher I receive many e-mails from students who talked about their classes and personal practice. The number one thing they usually complained about was a lack of progress. They felt nothing had developed over a long period of time, were stuck and did not know how to get beyond where they were presently. Usually these were with respect to their physical performance but Yoga first uses the body to then get to the root of the mind. What I also discovered was that usually many of these students had tried several methods. While it can be inspiring to try out other systems tbe best and surest way to success is staying devoted to one practice. 

I am also reminded of Iyengar who said that to enter Yoga we have to forget about being a body. When I landed in Mysore during my latest trip I came across this wonderful quote. But in today's Yoga this is an ironic thing. And as an aside, people should really get clear that it is NOT just Westerners who only think of Yoga as exercise. It is a worn out discussion. Many Indians are not interested in it at all. They want their son's and daughter's to be lawyers and doctors; NOT a yoga teacher. Many families laughed at me when I arrived at their homes to do my research on yoga. They felt it was a luxury. By claiming it is only the Westerners who have equated the asanas as being Yoga is totally off. Many times in India I got this:  

"Will it help me to lose weight?"
"How many asanas can you do?"
"Is that why you are skinny?" 
"What do you think it the greatest benefit?"
"What is your favorite pose?"
"Have you shown your mother and father what you can do?"
"Yes, it is very good and helps with the flexibility."  
"I wish I had time for yoga." 

When I start discussing the spiritual side, meditation, temple tours and other pilgrimages I am met with silence. 

"Oh, that Yoga." 

And it is 'that' yoga which brings me timelessly back to sweet India. 

2012-07-03

My Life Mysore Style


I'm in Mysore.

Here's a photo tour of my life here. 

Transportation:

Practice:

Breakfast:

Chai:

Study:

Every day revolves around the practice. On a personal note, that's why it's a good thing my husband is not here. When I told my teacher I would not be sleeping in on the days off (sort of meant as joke) he replied, "your husband might get frustrated if you continue this at home".  

I don't really think my husband wants me to make a choice between him or Yoga! No man should stand between a woman and her passion especially if there is an opportunity for them to grow closer as a result of it. Both people can give the other 'space' and still not feel neglected or left out. It is fundamental to a loving and lasting relationship.

However, the reality is people split and tensions rise especially when one partner is seemingly "in love" with something other than themselves. It is often hard to balance your life especially when practice is paramount. Several years ago at a Yoga Conference in LA,  I had the opportunity to hear a personal story from Rama Jyoti Vernon (one of America's first spiritual female teachers). It was about her 'then' husband and yoga. She had organized several Swamis, Gurus and teachers to come together from different traditions for a workshop. In the traditional manner they stayed in her home. For her, it was an exciting time and the highlight to all that she had ever done on the path. During the week one Swami was in the bathtub reciting the yoga sutras, another in the kitchen doing pranayama, a monk in the living room meditating, a teacher in the den practicing yogasanas and so on. Her husband, however, didn't quite get it and became very frustrated that the entire house was overrun by Swamis.

When she was on her way out to teach a yoga class he pulled her aside and told her, "Look.....You will have to decide. It is me or them."

When she told the story she paused for a while and then asked, "So who do you think 'I" choose?" The audience broke out laughing since the answer was obvious. Then she added, 'Now, husband number two...".

For the sake of the conference I would assume the 'full' story was somewhat edited. I also had the feeling her story was simply a way of portraying all the difficulties that take place when walking on the path of yoga. People do not understand you; they are critical of your eating habits, choose of work and wish you'd get a real job. We heard the simplified version. That said, the point was and is for each of us to strive to be open, caring and understanding of one another even it crunches our personal space or takes us by surprise.

The idea of 'space' after all is an interesting concept since in India there seems to be less of it than in the West. In India there is less 'ownership' over both public and private space. Having your house overrun by others would probably be more welcomed in India. I've been over to friend's houses for dinner and it is not uncommon for the neighbors to drop by. No one asks if they can enter they just do! At the service apartment where I am staying in Mysore a similar scenario takes place.  Speaking generally it is often a question of your 'space' being invaded only as it is a lack of respect.

It might be hard to understand but these are not necessarily intertwined.

When my husband decided to marry me he was very clear about Yoga's role in my life. We met in Mysore 5 years ago. Every breakfast conversation was dominated by yoga. During our marriage ceremony he spoke beautifully about the importance of Yoga to me. His vows included him wanting to share it with me. It was sweet, honest and right from his heart.

Love:



2012-07-02

How Much Water Should Yogis Drink?


Ever wonder how much water is enough to drink? Is there such a thing as drinking too much water?

Check out my post at MBG where I talk about my latest experiment in drinking 4 liters of water daily.

Sounds like a lot........Read more here


Mysur, Mysur, Mysurrrrrrrrrrr!!!!!!

I'm back in Mysore, India.

If you have ever been to Mysore and attempted to catch a bus at an overcrowded station this is exactly what you will hear!

While I'm not hanging around the bus stand, I am really excited to be back in Mysore. The number #1 reason is always for practice.

There aren't enough words to describe the experience other than to clarify this is not another journey in exercise, but a path in learning to watch the mind and move with the breath (otherwise known as the pranic force). This year my practice is 2 hours and 5 postures. After the sun salutations for 45 minutes (1 round only) each posture is held for 8 to 10 minutes. Before and after each position is standing for 5 breaths (in tadasana, the mountain pose).

Sound boring? 

Actually, it is one of the toughest practices I have known leaving aside intense backbending and traditional Ashtanga-yoga. In former times when Ashtanga students showed up at Yogachaya's school they frequently expressed how difficult his approach was. Notwithstanding the fact that there are no vinyasas, which might make it easier, Yogacharya teaches from a very different place. He is not interested in how flexible you are or how strong you seem to be. In fact, he wants to teach you what you don't want to learn. And that's tough both for the teacher and the student. Deep down we all have a layer of resistance and it is just dam easier to stick with what you know. Accumulating proficieny in many asanas may 'seem' like you are pulling it together, but quite often it is 'performance' rather than of a true inward connection.

But who can be the judge? No one. This is the ultimate test for each practitioner to realize for themselves and the aim that Yogacharya keeps as the forefront. It is curious that systems like Sivananda yoga never placed a lot of emphasis on the yoga postures. On the spiritual path it is very easy to get attached to the body. Instead of lessening our bondage to the body we end up reinforcing it through the asana practice.

Forget you are a body 

Being in Mysore is a great way to experience all these conundrums and the oxymoron of practice. That is, how to not be a body when you have one and it is the tool you are using in practice.  During my first week in Mysore, I randomly picked up a book with a quote from BKS Iyengar. It spoke about how when we start yoga we have to forget we are a body. This could be interpreted in many ways, but it serves as the foundation to practice.

The way I see it is like the more you struggle in practice with your body deep inside a seed is planted that ultimately the body is not one's true identity.

Holding postures beyond the traditional series of 5 to 8 breathing as outlined in the Yoga Mala is challenging. When I casually flipped my eyes at the clock during practice my teacher said, "That is none of your business." He was right on. As I repeat these postures daily I have the chance to look deeply at the fluctuations. This is one of the main reasons why we do not change the system or practice whatever we like.

Get bored early so you can get serious sooner.  

The whole point of practice is not to entertain the mind but to bring it face-to-face with the various levels of hidden resistance. These are the tamasic notions (often felt like laziness or heaviness) and rajastic feelings (ego driven practice). The entire process is to reach a sattvic practice.

What is a sattvic practice? 

It is a pure practice that in the ideal sense is not motivated for fame, money or respect.  It is also not for making a living. You may make a living (aka your demonstrations) and teaching, but this is not to be confused with the purity of the practice. And right now there is a lot of confusion with many people forgetting the real reason why they practice yoga, study yoga and enjoy yoga.

It should be said, however, to reach this level of practice takes years of burning it out in many other postures, chanting, meditating and studying. This is my journey. I practiced intensely for several hours every day for many years to reach several advanced asanas. When I turned 40, I found my motivation and level of awareness changed. Earlier I felt a needed to prove to 'me' I could do the postures. It was a game, a fun sport and I was happy to ride it. But later I felt a deeper shift.

Sometimes a practice like this (re: only a few postures) can make you feel like you are going backward not forward. But this is the next game the mind plays. Unfamiliar pains surface, the body reacts differently and my memory of the posture is not always as trustworthy as I imagined it to be. Before I was blindsided by my intense ambition and my 'rock and roll' behavior in wanting to get my yoga on!

Nothing wrong with this but there are plateaus, valleys, peaks and summits. It's not always up, up and up. 

Beginners of yoga might understand this kind of practice as too deep to start off with and more experienced students that you cannot break a sweat. It all depends on your level of concentration. Today I noticed how much my mind was fighting. Two minutes passed and my body was fine; my mind was not.

Many times I think students believe that once you get a posture then you can start thinking of the theory. However, by then it will be more difficult to train the mind and understand what this is all about. I also think it is important to discuss what is there to "get'? In practice the aim is to train the heart along with the head so that we go beyond exercise. We cannot throw the body away, but discover ways to practice with our limitations and problems; not getting caught by the emotional ups and downs. I always think of the body and the mind as the two ends of the mala. These make it whole and wearable.

How do you practice with the heart?

There are 3 ways:

First, have a main teacher to study under is critical as well as a teacher who does not want you to only succeed physically. A teacher who truly wants to see you transform yourself and not out of a need to please him or her, but to become 'free'.

Second, be honest. Start with superficial goals and not lofty ones. Every year I studied under my teacher I had a list of 'things.'  Handstands, arm balance postures, backbends and more. He had great patience with me and allowed me to ride the journey. It was not him pushing me, but me desiring it as a way to get to somewhere 'else'.

Where is that place? This is what the Rishis talk about as being not this or that or some other thing (netti netti). Essentially it is a way of not letting the mind become fixated on ideas or preconceptions that could be true today but false tomorrow. The teachings always encourage the practitioner to begin (aka the yoga sutras proclaim that the young, old, very sick can practice). The belief is no physical state is hopeless.

Third, put the work into it. It is hard work, but also joy.

Heading to my practice I take all of this with me. Because it is not that you reach point A and forget about how you got there. It's a continual review of how you got there, why you got there...and how to be there.

In the end, it is you, the mat and the breath. There is nothing to win, lose, show, tell, cry or laugh about.

And even when you do....that's okay too!

Copyright, 2012, Heather Morton


2012-06-12

my travel schedule


Note: 'Notizen' is German for notes. 
2012-06-08

Hungarian Thermal Baths and Practice

I'm in Hungary! I flew to Vienna and drove first to Eger and then a few days later to Budapest.

While travelling there are not many places in which I do not bring my yoga mat. I am embarrassed to say it, but it is pretty dirty too. In fact, it is so well soiled from my trips to India and using it at home that it went from being blue to a very dark blue.

This past week I flew to Vienna and drove 3 hours to Eger, Hungary just an hour outside of Budapest. Eger is a lovely old city that was once conquered by the Turks. Talk about history…it has this surreal feeling of standing still in time. Driving into Egar there are terrific  views of the vineyards in which the town is know for its fine red wines. Of course one of the locals informed us it used to be the whites! 

Either way it is a great place to visit since it also houses a very old caste dating back to the 10th century. I am a sucker for castles and love to stand at their edges and imagine what life was like. How it was, the way people lived and sometimes I even pretend that if you are really quiet you hear far off whispers from the thousands of people who have been there over time. The castle in Eger is no exception having been taken over by the Turks who ruled Eger for only a bit more than 100 years. In 1595 or so they were overruled and ownership was won by the Hungarians.

Not speaking a word of Hungarian can be fun in such a small town. The hotel people knew some English but most of them were baffled about my gestures to find out about the most important aspect. That is, the bathing areas, open pool and shared saunas. Right, shared with both men and women (not something you would find in North America). A few other differences in the hotel room itself was having the toilet and sink in a separate one from one another. And if you think about it this is actually smart. 
Eger is very well known for its healing waters, which are said to contain over 50 different elements. Every morning at the public fountain I witnessed at least 10 or more locals filling their water bottles. Some of them arrived with cases of empty bottles making it obvious that this is something of importance for them. 

In the open pool areana (still enclosed with a glass ceiling) there were 4 different saunas. I didn´t mind enjoying each one right after the other:  1) an aroma therapy sauna, 2) the ultra violet solarium, 3) the more traditional sauna and 4) the steam room. In between each of the saunas was a small pool with a bedded rock area to walk over. Good for the feet! I noticed how many people dumped ice from a near-by dispenser and into the smaller pooler. A great way to cool down after the saunas. 

Beside this was the open pool with both a Jacuzzi and a small waiting pool for dipping your toes. After relaxing a bit from the 4 saunas I also enjoyed each pool. The biggest one contained an rain shower that came on every 20 minutes. Fabulous!

While doing all of this I was not the only one of course. In the ultra-violet sauna was an older lady probably in her 70´s to my right with a gentlemen in his 80´s to my left. Because of Egar´s reputation for healing  it is said to attract an ´´older crowd´´. What I like about this is the way it reminds you of the aging process. That is, one day that could be me in my 80´s enjoying the violet rays from the sauna. Who never know....
Moving on to Budapest, this is an old city filled with the contrasts of both the trendy and the timeless. Often it has been referred to as the Paris of the East, but many say it has its own flair. Among the great architecture were the small details and things you never see in North America. That is, blankets on each chair on an outdoor door patio. How thoughtful!
Being of course true to every walk of life FASHION never disappears. I was really impressed when this lady could walk so well on the concrete. I took a picture because I also liked her shoes.

Egar: The castle, town at nightfall, healing fountain and saunas...


Dear Journal,

I'm in Budapest!

A dynamic city and I'd love to spend more time here on another trip.

Budapest photos:  Church of Our Lady, Parliament, the Chain Bridge and high-heels...





2012-04-30

Going Home



I am headed to Europe.

Going home
Without my sorrow
Going home
Sometime tomorrow
Going home
Without my burden
To where it's better
Than before
Going home
Behind that curtain
Going home
Without the custume That I wore....

~ Partial lyrics of Leonard Cohen's song Going Home from the album 'Old Ideas', 2012 ~
2012-04-08

The 8-Fold Path: Who Cares?


(Also posted on MindBodyGreen.)

During my post graduate work a professor bluntly asked me, “Who cares about the eight-fold path of yoga anyway?” As rude as this may sound it actually opened the door to some interesting discussions! If people are in fact satisfied with the physical does it matter they are missing the rest? The dilemma of course is that learning yoga as exercise is half, perhaps even less, of all that yoga is. This in turn posed the question, "Why settle for less?"

The foundation of the practices of yoga is based on the eight stages or limbs called Ashtanga-yoga. The word 'Ashtanga' is often understood today as the system of yoga taught by the late Shri K. Pattabhi Jois. However, the eight-fold path is the ground from which all systems of Hatha-yoga are united. At a glance the limbs appear as a linear ladder that moves from one stage to the next. In practice, however, it is a system that is highly interconnected often starting at the third stage (called asana, the postures).

Indeed we all begin somewhere and that is usually with the body. Yoga Master B.K.S. Iyengar clarified it by stating we start with what is tangible and with what we know. While Hatha-yoga is more popular and sexy than its counter- part Raja-yoga (the royal path), it is the latter practice that makes it complete. The right understanding of Hatha-yoga is that it leads to Raja-yoga (the science of mind control). The physical poses were designed to strengthen the body and prepare the mind for meditation. So whether it is Ashtanga, Iyengar, Sivananda, Bikram yoga or otherwise, the purpose is to purify the body for deeper practices in concentration.

So is it that no one cares? Or that people just don’t know?

Traditionally, yoga was understood as a means to enlightenment. For Patanjalim, the goal of yoga was to break the concept of the 'self'; a process that leads to Samadhi (the eighth stage). In the West, the understanding of ‘self’ is a bit harder to melt down. It also does not help that most of what is depicted as yoga in media is just flat tummies and pulsating biceps.

Yoga is a process: a discovery that the world and our identities are not as solid as we may think. As a yoga teacher it is not easy to introduce these more esoteric topics to students. Baba Hari Dass said it best when he said we come into this world believing we are this body, but we do not even know who this "me" is who is claiming the body.

I like this a lot because it hits the nail right on the head.


Yoga as an eight-fold path offers a great and tangible means to investigate and explore not just postures but the deeper meaning of life. The practice may begin with the physical, but leads to the mental and beyond. BKS Iyengar reminds us,

“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”

The answer to the question of who cares about eight-fold path is obvious. Whether teachers directly lecture on the topic is another story but that they hint toward the deeper nuances is going to change the way people practice.

So, it matters a lot when we care about the practice, the students and the teachings!

Ghoom Monastery: One of the most holy shrines is this renowned monastery that Lama Sherab Gyatso built in 1875 located in Darjeeling, North India. On the top are depicted two deer symbolizing that when the Buddha gave his talks creatures from far and wide gathered to listen to the teachings.

This beautiful monastery is a true haven of complete peace and calm. It is known for housing a selection of rare books on Buddhism. As well, it is home to a statue called the ‘Coming Buddha’ or known as Maitreye Buddha.




© The Yoga Way, Toronto, Canada 2012.

The Journey So Far

Life is an adventure and yoga is the greatest one of all. Here I share my love of Yoga, travel, practice and becoming a part-time cook. My life adventures have taken me from growing up in Toronto to living and working in South Korea to studying in India, marriage and finally closing my Yoga school of 15 years.

What I can say so far is that I truly believe that it is necessary in life to let go of one dream in order for another to be born. This might be painful to do so but it is the only way to move forward. We often believe that if our original plan does not succeed it is the recipe for failure. But what if it is the door to something new and great? The horizon is wide and life is not a straight line. This is the way I see it and my journey so far. Having also recently given birth to my first child and at 43, it is another new beginning.


ME

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Heather Morton
is a perennial teacher and devoted student of yoga. Having made 18 extended trips to India she studies with her teachers annually. In 1997 she founded and directed The Yoga Way (TYW), Toronto's only school for 6-week yoga programs and not drop-in classes. For 15 years, TYW was a part of the growing Toronto yoga community and supported many charities by offering karma classes. As a teacher she holds many academic degrees including a BFA (Fine Arts in Theatre) and a Masters of Education. With a published thesis on Yoga for Children in School, her post-graduate work was a 2-year ethnographic project in the Indian school system. Heather has produced 2 dvds, meditation cds, a backbending manual and podcasts. Freedom of the Body DVD is the first of its kind as an instructional practice to the backbends of yoga. Heather has been featured in the Toronto Life magazine, The Globe & Mail, Yoga4Everybody and other on-line sources. She contributes to MindBodyGreen, Hello Yoga in Japan and Elephant Journal. She writes to inspire and share her experiences with others on yoga as a life's practice.
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