Thursday, December 31, 2009

Late New Year's Eve With a Paper Hat On Your Head

I have been implored, nagged, hassled, and downright demanded to write in this old thing. Zen Muffin, the prosecutor, rests all her cases on the idea that I'm teaching all this yoga. But for the defense, I offer the holidays, laziness, my mother. Yes, she was here and in the past two weeks the only class I taught was one to her, and it lasted all of thirty minutes. My other peeps, the ones who pay me, are either on vacation or just chilling with their families in Shanghai. So there's been little to no yoga happening. In fact, just yesterday I rolled my mat out and did a few rounds of sun salutations, and only because tonight's New Year's Eve and I planned on shimmying my ass into a tiny black number. (I know, I know--a few sun salutes won't do anything after two weeks of Chinese food and umbrella sized bottles of Tsing Tsaos..but Toast must try.)

So it's now New Year's Eve, I'm in my tiny black number, sipping (gulping) red wine and researching places for sushi. Before slipping into said black number, I did a few chatarungas because I'm painfully aware of my armpit fat getting the full squeeze from the top of this dress (EDIT i totally typed the word 'TRAP' instead of 'dress'!! Subconscious mind, as always, speaking the truth.) and a few push ups seemed to appease the languid muscles of my arms and shoulders.

But truthfully, dear Readers, I have not been doing any yoga because I've not been inspired to do any yoga. No great teacher pushing me, no amazing classes to attend, no students to prep. I've learned not a few things in my life, but one of the big ones that keeps coming back is that I do not know how to rely on myself for inspiration. I am the very definition of inertia at times; and furthermore, like the Sinead O'Connor song says, I could sleep all day and go out all night. So without any students to teach this holiday, with no classes to attend, I found myself floundering on my mat and watching too many episodes of Fringe instead.

I'm not one for new year's resolutions; two years ago, I vowed to my now boyfriend in a cheeky email my resolutions were to "get buff, play more Halo(a super violent video game) and eat doughnuts". Three years ago, I resolved to stop kissing so many boys, and boy, did that not last long. (ha, ha!) So this year I'll break tradition and actually make a resolution I can stand behind: to practice more yoga.

Tell me, dear Readers, what are your resolutions? What keeps you inspired to practice? To the comments we go! Happy 2010!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Reporting My Practice: Update

After I wrote the most recent post, I closed the computer, scooched over five feet, sat on a couple of pillows, and meditated for 30 minutes, shikantaza (just sitting) style. It was like jumping into a pool of cold water at first. Difficult to push myself into jumping, but refreshing and pleasant once the leap is made.

Reporting My Practice

I had a couple hours to myself this morning. I told myself I would meditate. I thought meditating might help me make the right decisions and prioritize my day correctly. Here's what I actually ended up doing:
  • Talked to my mom on the phone
  • Read a bunch of stuff on
  • Gave in to facebook mindlessness
  • Listened to Neko Case
  • Watched an episode and a half of Arrested Development
  • Took my vitamins (well, only the one that's supposed to make my hair and nails grow stronger)
  • Made my bed
  • Paid my credit card bill
  • Ate some popcorn
  • Drank some ginger tea with extra honey
  • Wrote this blog entry
Perceived Mental Obstacles that Kept Me from Meditating:
  • Don't have my nice Zen Alarm Clock here
  • Don't have a zafu
  • Don't know what to wear
  • Too thirsty. So I drank water. And then I was afraid I'd have to pee partway through.
  • Felt too crappy about mindless snacking. Thought maybe I should exercise instead of just sitting.
  • Don't want to turn off music
  • Don't want to be caught meditating
  • Won't be able to quiet my mind unless my credit card bill is paid
  • Couldn't stand the thought of just sitting there with my thoughts
  • Don't really want to be peaceful. Until my problems are fixed.
Ok now I'm going to go meditate. At least that's the plan. Maybe I'll let you know if it really happens.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Yoga in Philosophy

Yet it will appear that...those who stood considerably nearer than we do to the beginning of the human race and the source of organic nature, had also both greater energy of the faculty of knowledge, and a truer disposition of mind, so that they were capable of a purer, more direct comprehension of the inner being of nature, and were thus in a position to satisfy the metaphysical need in a more worthy manner. Thus originated in the primitive ancestors of the Brahmans, the Rishis, the almost superhuman conceptions which were afterwards set down in the Upanishads of the Vedas.

-Schopenhauer, The World as Will and Representation

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Yoga is like Cake

I can't embed this video, so here's the link.

Show me a little corner of the world covered in flour, sugar, and butter, and I think of yoga. Since this blog's guiding theme and title is The Yogery (Yoga + Bakery), I can't help but see the relationship between yoga and baking all around me. The video linked above, for example, about a New York Times food reporter learning to bake a 15 layer cake, seems to me the perfect inspirational allegory for a yoga student on the path to becoming a teacher.

In the video, the writer goes to a grandmother in the deep South to learn the baking techniques that have been passed from generation to generation. The grandma in question whips together a perfect cake, making it look easy as, well, pie. But when we see the reporter alone in her kitchen, trying to repeat the process and messing up every step on the way, we realize how much more there is to it. What is inspiring about the video is the way even though the reporter's cake is a mess, it's a charming mess, and she doesn't seem discouraged, saying, "it's not so bad." The mess of the learning process is its own kind of beauty.

With judgment released, there is room for the joy and fascination of exploration. A process that seems pat and simple opens to reveal scientific-artistic dimensions. Sometimes, with tasty results--despite its aesthetic flaws, I'm certain that the resulting mishmash of a cake tastes delicious.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Jam Session I, Day 3

It's a bit overdue, but as promised, here's some of what I learned at the Jam Sessions, which were chock-full of inspiration and learning.

Understanding follows attention: The subtle energies are accessible to me when I am really focused and attentive. When I'm trying but not trying. Sounds like a description of how people were able to see those Magic Eye pictures in the 90's (I never could). Or, if you've read the Golden Compass trilogy, the way Lyra trains her mind to decode the alethiometer (don't watch the movie though). The point is, I TOO CAN FEEL PRANA. It's not always obvious, or loud, but it's there. It's just a feeling of aliveness sometimes. Thank god, this means I can maybe teach yoga.

And whenever she was alone, Lyra took out the alethiometer and pored over it like a lover with a picture of the beloved...If she held the alethiometer just so in her palms and gazed at it in a particular lazy way, as she thought of it, the long needle would begin to move more purposefully...Although she understood nothing of it, she gained a deep calm enjoyment from it, unlike anything she'd known. Pantalaimon would crouch over the dial...and once or twice the two of them shared a glimpse of meaning that felt as if a shaft of sunlight had struck through the clouds to light up a majestic line of great hills in the distance--something far beyond, and never suspected. (p. 99)
Be just as diligently aware when relaxing: We often focus-focus-focus in the midst of our poses, and then we relax our muscles and our mind when the poses are over, tuning out. I love Kira's suggestion to stay aware of our bodies between the poses as well, so we can be just as alive and present with the feeling of relaxation as we are with the feeling of effort.

Best headstand ever: Kira helped me get into headstand by making sure my base was strong and lifting one leg at a time so that my spine was loooooonnnnnnng and my tailbone much more tucked. I felt so much more ease and balance than normal. When I came down and curled into child's pose, she put her hands on my neck and low back and I felt so happy and relieved that headstand could be so drastically better. Ever since then, I've felt extra interested in tucking my tailbone in all poses because I like the sense of simultaneous invincibility and ease it creates.

HelLO impressing the heart pose! Glorious to feel so supported in the heart and so open in the shoulders and neck. Laying on those blocks, I felt like I was floating; all the usual effort of lifting the arms overhead was gone.

Ujayyi (Ocean-sounding) Breath: All I will say is, ujayyi breath is pretty useful stuff.

Yoga allows us to DETOX: The word detox is so popular right now. Sometimes I feel so much compassion for us all and our deep desire to feel pure and light again. Last year, while working at the health food store, I helped dozens of people select bottles of Detox Pills every day. When probably most of those people just needed to make their exhales a little longer.

Trust, trust, trust, and be authentic: It's out of our hands. "Yoga wants to happen."

Practice: The practice will guide you to what you need to do.

Two Homework Assignments: One, to "choose to relax more often." Kira clarified that she didn't mean go numb, but instead, relax as you feel whatever you're feeling (homework hint: the ujayyi breath will help! :). Two, create a 90 minute yoga class that builds up to a pose by teaching its component actions and sensations in baby steps. I didn't know what pose I wanted to use until just now in the library bathroom. I remembered how much I love Dancer's pose. And it's got so many components. So maybe I'll use that. We'll see...

Yoga in Literature

Quotes from The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

When it came to girls, the brother had a mind like a yogi. He latched on and stayed latched. p. 282

Me and Lola were living up in the Heights, separate apartments--this was before the whitekids started their invasion, when you could walk the entire length of Upper Manhattan and see not a single yoga mat. p. 311

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The Yogery's First Annual Gift Guide!

$35 for all ten precious little poses.
Finally, Christmas decided to include Yogis. They're so cute we just want to EAT them. Oh wait, we can! You could also just print out the picture and use it as a yoga christmas card.

massage certificate
in shanghai, $7 an hour. in ojai, $120 an hour
Never underestimate the delight yogis take in getting our precious muscles pampered. We love to relax.

custom-made yoga pants
$30 plus shipping
from the fabric market in shanghai. choose your own colors and styles! yay!

$42 locally made and sold at Sassy Sally's
We don't know if actual men would go for this sweatshirt, but we feel they should consider it.

altar bling
Go to your local health food store and follow your nose to some nice beeswax or soy candles, incense, and/or sage bundles.

$150 or $175 for a set of 6 FABULOUS illy cups and plates designed by the director, with images inspired by 6 of his films. For the film-buff yogi.

$2000 plus airfare
Practice Yoga with Uschi. Tour Varanasi, famous for its silk-weavers, with a local. Meet the women who are part of Lucky Uschi's empowerment project.

hot cocoa kits

Mug + Hot Cocoa Packets + Marshmallows (try to find vegan/natural 'mallows if you can!) + Cookies

I stole this idea from the Coffee Connection in Ojai. You could either buy theirs or make your own. The Coffee Connection sells 3 packets of the divine Mayan Cocoa mix for $3.50.

chocolate chile roasted nuts

This easy recipe will literally warm the hearts of the lucky recipients.

2 C Pecans
1 C Walnuts
1 Large Egg White
1/4 C Brown Sugar, Firmly packed
2 tsp. natural cocoa powder (has a milder flavor than dutch-processed)
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Ancho Chile Powder (optional)
1/3 tsp. Cayenne Pepper
1/4 tsp. Sea Salt

Oven 350 degrees. In a heavy saucepan, whisk egg white until foamy. Over medium-low heat, whisk until egg white is liquid (1 minute). Then, whisk in the sugar, cocoa, cinnamon, chile powder, and cayenne until it looks like a grainy chocolate sauce. Take care not to cook the egg. Scoop the chocolate mixture over the nuts until thoroughly coated (about 3 minutes) and lift the nuts from the bowl with a slotted spoon to drain the excess liquid. Spread the nuts on a baking sheet coated with cooking spray. Turn each nut right-side-up. Bake 20 minutes until they look shiny, and feel dry. They will be slightly soft. When cool and crisp, you can take them apart if stuck together and store in an airtight container. The flavors become most fully developed after they sit overnight. Keeps 2 weeks. From the cookbook "Twelve Best Foods Cookbook."

coupon for one free yoga class from you! aw.
zen muffin and french toast's mother will especially will love this one.

delightful stay at The Yogery B&B in Shanghai, CHINA
Donation-based. Minimum five thousand bones.
We saved the best gift for last. Includes unlimited special pastries and daily yoga classes.

Jam Session I, Day 2

Didn't have time to blog last night because I went to see The Nutcracker, where I sat half-wishing I could have been a sugar plum fairy or a ballerina so some of this yoga stuff would be a lot easier.

Yesterday we spent most of our 3 hours practicing while Kira led the class and explained some of the reasoning behind the sequencing. It felt GREAT. It's interesting to practice with the thought of eventually teaching in the back of my mind. Suddenly there's more motivation to get things clearer so that I can explain them.


Prana and breath: What is the difference? I blurted out "Is our prana *actually* moving or is it just our imagination?" Sometimes I feel like I get prana; most of the time I feel highly skeptical and confused about it. When I DO think I feel it, I wonder if it's just my imagination. Kira is really great and patient about teaching it; the area where I most feel it's 'real' is in my leg lines, thanks to all the gross muscle action we've been doing there.

Mula Bandha: Again, I don't think I'm exactly getting it. The strength exercise didn't work for me this time. I've done it a few times and it always worked, but unfortunately I started wondering whether it worked due to my expectation that it would. And now I've got the opposite situation. I'm stronger when I'm not engaging mula bandha. I engage it, and my doubt makes my fingers actually weaker than before. Likely, I'm just not engaging it quite right.

Breathing technique: Wow, it is really hard to remember to engage (or attempt to engage) mula bandha AND direct my inhales towards it, but it does feel like a really effective way to protect my low back in poses like low lunge where I tend to crunch it. And then, in standing poses especially, I'm trying to feel energy traveling UP my leg lines and breath traveling DOWN my spine. It takes a lot of focus, which seems good for me.

L & R: For some reason, my brain is not wired to remember the steps of a vinyasa or a salutation. By writing down the entire sequence we did yesterday and then checking it against Kira's posted sequence, I was able to bake the flow more into my head but still. I can just imagine standing in front of a bunch of people and panicking and forgetting a vinyasa or a side. Question: Do you alternate which leg leads in stepping back to the lunge? How long should a sequence be at most?

Planning: Is it ok to completely plan a class out ahead of time? I think I would get so nervous that I would forget everything I know about yoga. What's downward-facing dog again?

Meridians: I've never bothered to try and remember what meridian connects to what organ but maybe I should. I keep meaning to ask, why do we massage those two particular leg lines in class and not the others? I've started to love doing that. I'm one of the slow ones.

Languaging: Committing a word to a feeling, especially when I'm so resistant to feeling most of the time, is hard. Like trying to describe a smell. The words and images I do come up with don't seem appropriate for a yoga class. Like, one time, I felt like a chia seed that had been soaked in water and had that gelatinous substance all around it. Wha? Gross! The words have to not only be accurate to the feeling but they need to be sort of poetic, like when Alana said her muscles felt like they were breathing. Yes! So nice. Unfortunately, my legs felt like juicy chicken drumsticks. Yoga fail! And why do I always feel like food? I need to practice this.

*tomorrow I will post some of what I am learning and what is getting clarified for me.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Jam Session I, Day 1

Kicked off the first Yoga Jam Sessions tonight with a yin practice and a discussion afterwards. It's a small, cozy group of 7 friends. Couldn't have thought of a better way to spend this chilly night than nestled in blankets in a softly-lit room cradled by majestic, cloud-covered mountains. The act of gathering felt powerful, activating.

topics of interest that I remember:

Winifred's perspective on seeing anxiety at its most extreme in her mentally ill students, then seeing some of the same manifestations of anxiety/depression etc. in others, but more subtle (raises the question for me of how do you read students?)

Broga: Yoga for men who would never normally go to yoga.

Demystification: Of the potentially kooky-sounding stuff. Of Kira's methods (that was my question--how does she manage to make class feel so good? I think I may be able to feel safe behind the most concrete tips possible, like, use an iPhone timer!)

Personal practice: what should this look like, especially if you're gonna try and teach yoga? I was struck by how different everyone's was. Everything from baths to working out to laying in bed with legs up the wall. Mine is just wacky, erratic in every way.

The science of emotions according to Peter Marchand's The Yoga of the Nine Emotions

How to deal with questions of insecurity like, when have we mastered a technique enough to be able to teach it properly?

Touch/Adjustments: Both Amber and Robert brought this up I think. Robert made a brilliant request for a few key gestures that he could use to enhance his students' postures without making them either rely on him or feel like they're doing something wrong

We all want to create a perfect, feel-good class. But we have to be willing to make mistakes.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Love at First Sight

For Kira:

When I saw this 88-year-old yoga teacher, it was love at first sight because, DAMN she looks good for her age. And because she rhymes in her class. And because she is teaching these brave grandpas and grandmas to stay healthy and even to give to charity. Inez Russo holds her head high and gently whips this retirement home into shape. My favorite thing about her though, the moment when I knew for SURE this was love I was feeling, was when I saw the way she scoffs at that silly question of money. Next time I'm in Buffalo, I'm going to Inez's class to bask in the spunkiness.

Falling into Eternity and Yoga Jazz

I fell in class the other day. We were working on transitioning from sirsana 2 (tripod headstand) to crow and back and somehow I tipped backwards from headstand and--boom!--landed on the floor. I felt strangely calm about it, other than feeling concern about startling the ladies I nearly landed on. Kira was right there to check on me, and I didn't really mind the fall. At least I was trying. And falling is a tiny high, a split second that expands into an eternity as you lose control. I still don't quite know what happened; I've been careful enough not to fall backwards for several years, since I first determinedly learned to do headstand on the soft lawn of our Boulder backyard with Chewbacca the cat grumpily stalking past me.

Preparing for the first YOGA JAM SESSIONS tomorrow by googling yoga extensively to learn at the last minute everything I feel I should already know. Found this funny list of new 'brands' of yoga. Here's one of my favorites:


“…Hum..Yea..all right now…”

For the jazz crowd. This is where you sit on your mat and watch the teacher do the moves. You bob you head a bit, give a slight applause after the teacher completes an asana and you never, never sweat. YoZzz is too cool for that.

Monday, December 7, 2009

The -Ery Part of the Yogery Gift Guide

Woo hoo for holiday consumerism! Check out this sweet toother's dream list for gifting.

Also, Zen Muffin and I will be composing The Yogery's first ever Annual Gift Guide in the coming days. Look out for must have items such as cold green and pink cash (now accepting both Chinese RMB and USD)!!

Yoga Shaky Dance!! Yoga Shaky Dance!!

I was googling Kundalini yoga videos and found this guy, who (or whom?) I am in love with now. Just go to 8:42 and you'll see why:

Sunday, December 6, 2009

ButtaScotch Baby

In a happier turn of events, I made butterscotch pudding this afternoon and it turned out looking and tasting exactly like butterscotch pudding! I've never seen corn starch thicken up so quickly in a pot, and stirring it up was a most satisfying experience.

I've also been busy with a few different tapioca pudding recipes, and one with coconut milk really turned out well. Sweet, creamy, rich and gooey. The butterscotch recipe came from this great book my mom sent me called "The Joy of Vegan Baking" by Colleen Patrick-Goodreau.

2 cups soy milk, divided
3 tablespoons nondairy butter ( i used margerine )
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
pinch of salt

On medium to low heat, mellt the butter down in a sauce pan and add the brown sugar, stirring until all the sugar is dissolved. Add a half cup of the milk and stir some more! Eventually add the rest of the milk and the salt, stirring all the while. Turn the heat off and let the milk mixture cool.

While it cools, stir together the corn starch and the water in a small bowl, mixing until it's totally smooth. Return the milk mixture to medium heat and pour in the starch mixture, stirring until it thickens. Stir in the vanilla for about a minute and then remove from heat .

To cool, pour into bowl and cover with saran wrap, pressing down onto the top of the pudding (if you want a skin on your pudding, don't use the saran wrap) and refrigerate for at least 2 hours before eating. Serves four.


It Is What It Is

I'm drinking a Coke right now! It's a little gross, and I wish it was a cup of hot, strong coffee instead, but I'm too lazy to run down to the Starbucks and for some reason we had a Coke in our fridge. It is what it is.

Just received word from my boss lady at the Bakery that due to financial problems she can no longer afford to pay me and thusly I no longer have a job. Great! I suppose it was only a matter of time. Dreams of actualizing Yogery now minus a phase. Sometimes I get way too excited about things and the disappointment is so crushing when those things aren't fully realized or fall apart. The job with CPY was another example of this. Blerg! I'm sure it's my duty as a yoga blogger to dispense some form of wisdom related to "leading with the heart" and the pursuit of joy and happiness regardless of risk, but I'm in no mood.

In any case today was my day off anyway and I plan on spending it upstairs practicing yoga. I somehow managed to pinch a nerve or twist up a muscle in my right shoulder and the pain has been, at times, intense. Doing the Compassion of Kira, as I like to call it, seems to help. I've been noticing how slumpy my shoulders get just walking around the house. Sometimes I'll just be standing in the kitchen nibbling on bread and realize my shoulders are practically touching my ear lobes. I remember a few summers back, after returning to Boulder from Lulu's teacher training, a friend saw me at a party and remarked she could tell I'd been practicing loads of yoga because my posture was great and my clothes were stretchy and comfortable. How much as changed since that summer. My life lately has me physically braced against it, instead of softening toward what comes my way. There's no flow here, and if there was I'd probably be too grumpy to go with it, anyway.

This Coke has officially grossed me out.

YogaDork Holiday Gift Guide

YogaDork, a great blog I keep meaning to read more of, just published a gift guide for the yoga lover in your life. There are a few items on the list I wouldn't say no to, like the Manduka mat or the tye dye yoga pants.

I can't believe it's almost Christmastime. I have a few yoga inspired ideas for Christmas gifts, but they're still under wraps for now! This morning I think I'll make some coffee and do a practice upstairs in our newly minted 'yoga and tv watching' room.