Friday, December 31, 2010

Happy New Year!

Happy 2011, Yogery! As I write this, the new year has already brought sunshine and fresh made friends. I haven't made any resolutions this year, and I don't know if I will. Here's what I know: if you make one cake this year, I hope it's that one up there. Zen Muffin posted the recipe earlier--it's the cardamom cake with butter rum drizzle. Yes, it looks like a giant donut, but it tastes a million times better than anything you'll find at Krispy Kreme. My rum butter drizzle is on the bottom of this cake--it's more of a burnt caramel rum sauce, and it's delicious.

So no big resolutions for me, but lots to look forward to. Close friends are returning to Shanghai, bringing along their new baby daughter with them. A trip to Thailand in a few days--ahh! I am venturing into the sweet world of momma and baby yoga for the first time--a truly awesome experience.

I suppose I'd be lying if I didn't mention I do have one yoga specific goal this year: Eight Angle Pose. Casey's got me working on the prep, nice and easy, and I'll be damned if I can't get it by this time next year!

Happy new year! Tell me your plans and resolutions!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Homemade Oreos

At first I thought it necessary to post my own personal Christmas wish list. It's maybe too late for that. But here, friends, is my list of things you should buy because you want them. And because they are cute. And because you might need something new to brighten up your dreary January.

1. Listen, I know - not from firsthand experience - that Van Morrison can be a jag. But when he makes music as beautiful as this, I'm not going to hold it against him. My dad has this record and it is a blessed thing.

2. I'm a sucker for cutesy shit. Some samples: un stylo, durable vinyl for your cash, and this Bozo nose.

3. Yes please.

4. Who doesn't want some of this? I will take anything and everything, as long as it's on sale.

5. Put whatever you want in these. I don't care. Whatever. Just get them.

6. Wrap yourself up, put a bow on your head, and I'll probably go for it.

7. Go stay at someone else's house. They have beds, they have kitchens, they have hot tubs, and they have a view.

8. Buy stuff for your dog, because they love you more than anything. And if you can't buy them anything, love them more than anything. And if you don't have a dog, get one.

I have very little wisdom. But because this is an end-of-the-year post, and really is an end-of-the-decade sort of thing, I feel compelled to include a bit of what I've learned. I am always humbled by what I do not know, and that's a lot. Doing things because I feel the obligation is rarely the best thing for me. Sacrificing self and supporting others is sometimes - a lot of times - the best thing for me. It is important to know the difference. Be intentional about everything. My parents are only getting older and so am I; our relationship will change. It doesn't really matter how long it took me to apply, and get accepted, to graduate school. It OK that I'm still not convinced it's a good idea. I will give the most time, love, affection, and self to people who deserve and protect it. I will be a really good aunt.

Happiest New Year's, fireworks. Eat and be merry!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Elvis, on a Yoga Blog!

Inspiration comes from unexpected places sometimes.

I've been sharing from the Bhagavad Gita in class for a few weeks (thanks, Kira, for getting me to do that!). The line I've been sharing is, "He who finds happiness, light, and delight within himself is a true yogi." This is SO much harder than doing the most advanced poses!

All day I unsuccessfully looked for my inner happiness, light, and delight. I was actually itemizing yogic techniques in my brain, trying to come up with one that would directly put me in contact with my 'inner happiness.' Then my music shuffled to fellow Iowan Greg Brown covering the old gospel song, "I Shall Not Be Moved" and, well, I was moved. When the heart can feel, the thinking head can rest, and inner happiness is more available.

Here is the Elvis version. Greg's mellower version is not available on YouTube. That's ok because this version will knock your socks off with its bulk supplies of happiness, light, and delight.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Bodies in Urban Spaces

These photos are from a public art installation called "Bodies in Urban Spaces" by a choreographer (Willi Dorner) and a photographer (Lisa Rastl). I recommend doing a google image search to see more, but I chose a few of my favorites to share below.

I love the democratic nature of the project. The artists use their bodies as a form of expression but we don't see them in any really hard poses, looking athletic or idealized, as so much art tends to do. Anyone could do this. A mere turning upside down in an everyday space (and we can't discount the charm of the bright colored clothing) creates instant playfulness, humor, and joy.

How much of our posture and carriage comes from socioeconomic and cultural factors? How do our cultural and political beliefs literally shape our bodies? More on this in a couple days when I finish reading Yoga Body by Mark Singleton, which puts yoga in a broad context of politics, colonization, morality, and a constantly changing societal relationship to the human body. I know your breath is bated.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Yogery's SECOND Annual Gift Guide! We followed up, oh yes we did!

Last year we posted the Yogery's First Annual Gift Guide. We suppose that implies we have to do a second list, doesn't it? So here goes...the Yogery's annual list of fabulous presents that mostly the authors would enjoy.

Merry Christmas from French Toast and Zen Muffin (in Shanghai and Ojai respectively!)

1. Infinite Itunes gift certificates. I wish itunes sold some sort of lifetime membership that entitled the holder to infinite downloads. Since that doesn't exist, a Really Large Gift Certificate should suffice. French Toast adds: Amazon! Do they make gift certificates? They should. Or any online book seller..who doesn't love picking out books online and then getting them in the mail?!

2. Yoga Passes! Come to Zen Muffin's very own Yoga classes at the endlessly charming Lulu Bandha's studio in Ojai, California.

3. Street Food of India: The 50 Greatest Indian Snacks by Sephi Bergerson. The food is the real reason many international yogis make a pilgrimage to India. That's why I want to go anyway. Not the yoga, but the samosas and lassis and chai oh my! This book has ridiculously amazing photos and will please anyone who is a food geek at all. French Toast turned me on to it and I bought it for someone who I'm pretty sure does not read the Yogery. If they do, surprise! Oops!

4. The Gro-Bot. SO cute. A Robot plant-holder almost as cute as Wall-e who holds onto your plant like it's his best friend. He will soon be YOUR best friend.

5. Shop local. This year I tried harder than usual to balance the desire to find the perfect gifts with the desire to support Ojai's small shops. So many of them are struggling and closing. And, well, I realized that I like them there even if I don't often shop at them. But if they're going to stay, someone has to give them money. Most importantly, I get to save my soul from the mall.

6. D.I.Y. I think people genuinely like receiving homemade gifts or food items. I can't reveal what I am going to do this year in case any of you readers are on the receiving end. Or in case it is a total bust.

7. This AMAZING vintage Mexican wool bag. I am in love with it. I love those Mexican blankets that are in every yoga studio. This bag is like that, only it's actual wool with no synthetic fibers. And hey, you could carry your yoga stuff in it and then use it as a prop if you wanted!

8. Yogi-specific gifts: Any decent book on yoga is always appreciated. New books are great inspiration for yoga teachers. Double points for cool vintage yoga books. And any yoga teacher or devoted student would be delighted to receive a yoga bolster for Christmas. They are so expensive yet so wonderful for practicing.

9. Leslie Kaminoff's Online Yoga Anatomy Course. Nine months of intensive online study with one of yoga's foremost educators. Yes, please!

10. Heidi Swanson's Super Natural Cooking. I'm a regular visitor to her site 101 Cookbooks, and my mom owns this book--it's chock full of tips and tricks for eating super natural at home. Yum.

11. Celebrity Chekov. Oh, yes. Oh, yes.

12. Pretty much anything from Drawn and Quarterly is a winner, but this new graphic novel by Vanessa Davis looks pretty good. For the story lover in your life.

13. A food processor! These puppies are pretty hard to find in China, but if I had one, I'd be a hummus making machine.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

cardamommmmm + rummmmm

Cardamom Bundt Cake with Rum Butter Drizzle.
The very word "cardamom" is such a delicious thing in mouth, starting out sharp and ending round and soft. Things like that make me happy. Come to think of it, from above, a bundt cake looks like a bunch of m's gathering in a circle with their feet in the center. Awww. I'm feeling very silly tonight apparently. Edward Espe Brown's got me thinking about sweet round teapots with dents, then that gets me onto my chickens because they are also ample and round and cheery. And once I start thinking about chickens I get all warm and fuzzy inside.

This was the most successful thing I made at this year's Thanksgiving feast. The recipe comes from Nadia Natali's Blue Heron Ranch Cookbook.

preheat to 325

In a large bowl mix together:

8 T butter melted (one stick)
1 C Raw sugar (i used regular)
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla

Add to wet ingredients:

2 C white flour
1 T ground cardamom
1/4 t cinnamon
1/4 t nutmeg
1 T orange rind grated
2 t Baking powder
1/4 t salt

Add 1 C sour cream or yogurt to batter and mix all together. I was forced to use low fat yogurt because on Thanksgiving it's all the store had left. I think a higher fat yogurt would be even moister.

Butter and dust with flour a 10 inch bundt pan. Pour mixture into pan. Bake at 325 for 45-50 minutes or until a thin knife inserted into cake comes out clean.

Meanwhile, pour some rum, lots of butter, and lots of brown sugar, into a saucepan and bring to a boil. I didn't measure really, we just kept tasting until we found the right balance. Pour this generously over the finished cake and serve.

Face the Potato

When I change, I am always surprised, almost alarmed. In this case, my attitudes towards food are releasing their old shapes and becoming something else entirely. My old rigidity is loosening and I'm not quite so tempted into believing that following rules will save me. Nutrition seems so scientific that I have never treated eating as an art. It is time for me to admit that I have to find my own way. Food is a huge area of my life where I can start literally feeding myself better.

Eating is not only an art, it is a way of participating in life, a key way of getting Fed rather than being devoured by the fast pace of things. I just watched the documentary "How to Cook Your Life" featuring Zen priest and chef Edward Espe Brown. Most of the film is about something I've been thinking a lot about lately--why cook? What is so special about food you cooked for yourself when you could just buy it across the street and save so much time? One of my favorite reasons Edward gives for cooking is "Let the hands be hands!" Hearing that, I suddenly felt fondness towards my hands and even a funny rising sense of obligation to let them be used to their fullest potential. While I couldn't cook tonight, I at least drove across town to where I know the food is loved, and bought myself the greenest possible salad at Farmer and the Cook. It tasted so good. My frequent eating out to save time and energy is perhaps a false simplicity, however organic and natural my choices are. Edward said, "We pay a lot of money to not have to face a potato."

I recommend watching at least this touching final scene from "How to Cook Your Life." (link below) Edward talks about how, in a low moment of deep frustration, even despair, cheery but dented teapots reminded him of the beauty of sincerity and presenting ourselves to the world with our dents and flaws unhidden.

Now let's go and sincerely face our potatoes.

The link to the clip is here:

Yoga on Ropes

Last night I took a class using ropes. Although my hip creases and butt cheeks are sporting some pretty serious bruises, the class was great. What we did:

Hanging sirasana.
Uttanasana while standing in the ropes and folding forward, then reaching arms forward to lengthen the spine. Action was in lifting the rib cage, dropping shoulders back, and lifting the thighs up against the ropes.
Downward dog with ropes still in the creases of hips
option for hanging uttanasana (this was extremely challenging, as not only do you have to fight gravity but also just feels super weird)
backbending with option for dropping back into wheel. This was a super intense feeling for me--as I dropped back, I felt like I blacked out for a moment. We practiced this for a while, and as a result, I was up for hours last night. Zing!

We might have done some other stuff, but I can't remember now. Using the ropes created space to notice real alignment issues and really feel the work of 'simple' postures.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Who Owns Yoga?

This article asks the question "who owns yoga?" in light of a small but apparently growing group in the US called Take Back Yoga who claim we've lost touch with what they believe to be the true roots of yoga: Hinduism.

"In a way," said Dr Aseem Shukla, the foundation's co-founder, "our issue is that yoga has thrived, but Hinduism has lost control of the brand." 

Another recent article regarding the identity of yoga from Clutch asks why black communities in the US have not taken up the practice as readily as white communities. It makes me sad to hear stories about students showing up to class, seeing a teacher of color, and then leaving, but I suppose it shouldn't be surprising. Race, class and gender are inescapable forces, even in yoga class. 

It's true that yoga has become, in some parts of the world, a past time for privileged people. It's expensive, it's trendy and it's filled with well meaning white people. How do we change that?

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving, Yogery!

Whatever the holiday means to you, I hope it is a delightful weekend filled with pie, movie marathons and red wine. And, of course, yoga! I'll be in Shanghai baking pies and teaching yoga this weekend, but remembering fondly T-days in Boulder with pumpkin cake, Beatles singalongs and two days of LOTR.

In light of the long weekend for those of you in the USA, I'm posting a sequence I've been teaching lately. Here's to taking some time to get on the mat!

Opening with whatever suits you.

chair twist
transitioning from chair twist into lunge
crescent lunge
dancer's pose
stepping back into warrior II
reverse warrior
side angle
back to warrior II
warrior I
twisting lunge

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Gavin Rossdale Does Bikram Yoga, WHAT?!

In sixth grade, I had a picture of him posted in my locker. Now he's a yogi? Be still, my sixth grade heart. Okay, fine, being a yogi to my sixth grade self means nothing. Happily, I find this whole thing refreshing. Now if only he was in a pose...

Full 'story' here. What's funny about it is the emphasis on him being shirtless. As if there's any other way to do Bikram yoga!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Phillip Askew's New York City Vinyasa

This video is surprisingly interactive--near the end, I found myself exhaling along with him as he settled into Savasana. Check it out:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Are You There, Yogery? It's Me, French Toast.

Hi. I've been away. Traveling, running, writing, baking, moving to another apartment. But yoga-ing still, ever so quietly. In my own practice, the classes I'm teaching and in my life, this has been on my mind:
what do you think? fits, yeah? 

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Meditate in Your Unders

At least that's what Lake and Stars would have you do, and I can't say I disagree. Many a Sunday morning I find myself meditating in my under-belows, sprawled across the bed, practicing telekinesis on the PS3 control. Link is from the delightful fashion blog Kingdom of Style.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

I grew very fond of this cake last weekend. I could relate to it. Yes, that's it, I emotionally identified with a pink, artificial cake from Vons. The photo does not do justice to the obscene, girlish pinkness of this thing. In the midst of a weekend retreat of purity, contemplation, and organic food, this cake was a reminder of my own absurdity and artifice. I was assigned to the task of cake-keeper, since my trailer had a big enough refrigerator for the thing. Silently I carried it over the kin-hin footpath to the trailer, believing that mindfulness could sanctify even a fake strawberry cake. That was on the first night. The second night, we ate leftover slices at 11 pm with our bare hands and went to bed slightly ill.

My first zen retreat so long ago was semi-sacred, so exotic and intimidating that I was scared to break any rules. Now I'm questioning the benefits of sitting on a cushion for hours and hours and more aware of other ways to "practice." To test that idea, as well as to counterpose my usual tendency to obey rules and be a good girl, I skipped a lot of the sits in favor of hiking, writing, and helping in the kitchen.

Plus, my sitting practice wasn't going anywhere that I could discern. I mostly kept thinking of pop songs. I have a lyrics problem. Sometimes it feels like every one of my emotions has already been described in a pop song, but I usually suppress the urge to point that out. Say I'm feeling, "You're cute and you make me happy." I stick to my own inexpressive way of saying things when I'm really thinking in Weezer-ese, "You're just like Buddy Holly and I'm Mary Tyler Moore." And in meditation, forget it, I might as well just be listening to my itunes on shuffle. I felt an interesting sensation of fire coming up my core and water washing down the outside. And so I started singing in my head, "You and I are like when fire and the ocean floor collide." Thanks, Saves the Day. Really? After 10 years, you are still stuck in my head?

The lyrics that I really couldn't get out my head this weekend were from the song "Lust for Life" by Girls: "I'm just crazy/ I'm totally mad. Yeah I'm just crazy/ I'm fucked in the head." Which never felt so true and so irreversible. But we're here to stay, pink cakes and my crazy head.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I missed yoga today. Again! Otherwise I would not be here writing this blog. Am I the only one that does that?! I think there might be something missing in my brain. Some lobe that plans out the timing of my morning schedule. It's like my body takes over and becomes this robot. A robot that takes long showers, drinks Sense of Peace tea, sleeps in despite the tiny dog jumping onto its face, waters plants, tosses out the old kefir, gives out belly rubs to any animal that asks, and listens to just one more song on that cd. Then suddenly it's 8:50 and it's too late to go to class without slouching in late and ashamed--again--and THAT's when the human wakes up and realizes what she has done.

Oh yeah, and all this complaining and self-pity about missing yoga has made me lose focus on what I wanted to share, which is the above clip from the movie My Neighbor Totoro. My words can only diminish the experience of the movie. This particular clip makes me want to stand out in front of my garden and do sun salutations to see if it grows faster. Grey Kitty/Clooney will have to play the part of Totoro. He has the soft belly for it.

Sarah (French Toast) is in Thailand this weekend. If she does not come back we can safely assume she has joined the Sea Gypsies (Chao Le).

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Grrrr. Om.

omg this makes me sooo happy. look at this cute bear doing yoga! she has just the right laid-back attitude.

here is the original article in the guardian, with even more awesome photos:

Monday, September 6, 2010

Chinese Breakfast of Champions

Instant coffee, hot soy milk, and a fried dough stick, aka you tiao. (yo-tee-yow)

In yoga-as-party-trick news, you know how when you tell someone you practice yoga, often the response is some joke about how flexible you must be? Or maybe they snort and say, oh yeah, so you can like, put your foot behind your head or something, right? (And let's be honest: it's usually a dude who says these things.) Well, dudes, I can officially put my foot behind my head, as of two days ago! After some deep, deep hip openers and a little manipulation of my shoulder placement, my foot made contact with the back of my head. Wooooeeeee! Call me for your next party. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

More On My Love of Roger Ebert

I've always trusted Roger Ebert's movie reviews. For as long as I can remember, I've looked to his thumbs for film advice. I knew he had cancer, and had lost the use of his voice, but did not realize the severity of his condition. He cannot speak, drink or eat. He has no tongue. His communication is limited to gestures, scribbling notes and more gesturing. And yet he's written a cook book, dedicated to the rice cooker of all things. This NYT article touches on all this, but mostly Ebert discusses food. It's not about yoga, I know, but it's just too good to miss.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Yoga and Paragliding

Om Om Om Om Om before GO GO GO GO

and...just fly! Before take off--which involves just running your heart out off a cliff until the wind fills the glider--I was staying calm by chanting in my head. In fact, I was so focused on chanting that when the right wind came along, I didn't realize we were running until my feet were swept up off the ground!

Yoga with George Clooney

This post's title is misleading. I would not be against posting something about the real George Clooney doing yoga but I don' t know his thoughts on the subject personally. The George Clooney I refer to is a stray cat normally referred to as Grey Cat.

As Grey Cat and I have gotten to know each other he has come to be called many things, from Grace Jones (before I knew his gender) to Grey Kitty to George Clooney and now just Clooney or Meow-meow. My sister (pseudonym French Toast) and I co-named him that due to his universal appeal--like the actor. Clooney knows my car and at night when I pull up to the curb he waits for me by the tree, scratches his claws on it in some mysterious ritual, then escorts me to my door in safety so that no raccoons can get me. He is a shape-shifter who survives on his adorability. He purrs so loudly that today I tested whether my own voice would also vibrate if I held him against me, kind of like when you talk into a fan.

He loves it when I get on the floor to do yoga. Sometimes he sits on the chair above me, like, "Why would you lay on the floor when there are chairs?" Other times he sits directly on me or on my notebook when I'm trying to write out a sequence for class. Then I say, "Ok, Clooney, you're right. What was I thinking? You're the most important thing in the world. And here's some catnip."

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Modern Day Mantras Part 2

In April I posted this list of modern day mantras. This is the second installment. Feel free to comment and add your own.

So many allies, so many allies, so many allies. Feel the love come off of them and take me in your arms. Peel all of your layers off. I want to eat your artichoke heart. OM. (Thom Yorke, "Atoms for Peace")

Everything is everything. What is meant to be will be. After winter, must come spring. OM. (Lauryn Hill, "Everything is Everything")

Llevo en el alma un camino destinado a nunca llegar. OM. (Manu Chao, "Desaparecido")

I'm ready to let the river wash over me. OM. (Tracy Chapman, "River")

I want to live where soul meets body. OM. (Death Cab for Cutie, "Soul Meets Body")

What am I here for? I left my home to disappear is all....You don't know me- I am an introvert, an excavator. OM. (Santogold, "L.E.S. Artistes")

I wait, yeah I wait. For something good, something great. OM. (Ben Kweller, "Penny on the Train Track")

Like a bird on the wing, I just wanna be free enough to do my thing. OM. (Aaron Neville, "Hercules")

All is full of love. OM. (Bjork, "All is Full of Love")

I'm vulnerable. I'm vulnerable. I am not a Robot. OM. (Marina & the Diamonds, "I Am Not a Robot")

And another incredibly cute version of this song:

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Seriously Moist Carrot Cake

As Jack Kerouac wrote, "The prettiest girls in the world live in Des Moines." In addition to being the prettiest, we also bake the bombest Mostly Vegan Carrot Cakes. By we I mean Neena. Maura found the recipe, hosted the party, and kept her veggie-phile cat out of the salad (mostly). Neena did the baking in a little black dress that was soon covered in flour. She even hand-smooshed the pineapple into the batter due to lack of baking equipment. I shaved chocolate on top to make it aesthetically appealing. This recipe worked! Even my grandparents liked it the next day. With the exotic spices and everything. The frosting is pretty runny so this cake has kind of a homey appearance but the taste is delicious.

Here's the recipe. Enjoy the funny notes from Maura.


Makes 1 - 3 layer cake (we did two 8x8 pans which worked perfectly)

Prep time - 30 minutes (who knows if those things are ever really accurate, especially if you're distractedly cooking with friends & wine!)
Cook time - 40 minutes

  • 2 cups white flour
  • 1 1/2 t. baking powder
  • 1 t. baking soda
  • 1 1/2 c sugar
  • 1/2 t. salt
  • 1 t. cinnamon
  • 1/2 t. ground ginger (I think it would be fun to try it with freshly grated ginger... or freshly cut ginger chunks. Yum... ginger...)
  • 2 c grated carrots (I think it could have even used more, if carroty carrot cake is your thing)
  • 1 c chopped pineapple (we used canned, worked swimmingly)
  • 1/2 c canola oil
  • 1/4 c applesauce
  • 3 large egg whites
  • 1 c walnut pieces
  • 1/4 non-dairy milk (we used vanilla almond milk - yummier and more creamy than soy/rice milk)
  • 1 T. apple cider vinegar
  • 1 t. vanilla
We mixed it up a tad with the spices (always add more spice to any recipe, right?!) - added cardamom... yum!

  • Preheat oven to 350. Lightly oil and flour your pans, tapping out excess flour
  • In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, cinnamon (and cardamom!), ground ginger and salt
  • In food processor (or by hand if you're cheap/ghetto like me and don't even have an electric hand-held mixer thing) combine pineapple, canola oil, applesauce, egg whites, non-dairy milk of choice, apple cider vinegar and vanilla, until well combined.
  • Add the wet mixture to the dry mixture and stir and such
  • Stir in carrots and walnuts
  • Pour batter into prepared pan. BAKE!... until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, yadda yadda, about 40 minutes.


Makes about 2 cups

Prep time - 5 minutes

  • 1/2 cup dairy-free soy margarine (Willow Run, Earth Balance, etc)
  • 1 8-oz tub of dairy-free cream cheese (such as Tofutti, or that other brand we used whose name I always forget)
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • In a large mixing bowl (using an electric mixer if you're snazzy enough to own one), blend all the ingredients until creamy & fluffy - about 5 minutes
  • Use mixture to frost stuff, like cakes! May be stored up to 1 day (or maybe longer) in an airtight container in the fridge, until ready to use.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Roger Ebert, I Love You

From his review of the film adaptation of the book "Eat, Pray, Love":  

"She shows moral fibre by leaving such a dreamboat for India, where her quest involves discipline in meditation, for which she allots three months rather than the recommended lifetime."
Hee hee! Laughs aside, I have read the book but not seen the movie, and although Roger's warned me against it, I'll probably watch it eventually. As meditation and yoga practice feature heavily in the story, what are your thoughts on the book/movie? 

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Sonnez Les Matines

Sometimes I help Michaela and Deon with their animals. I absolutely love it. I call Michaela my chicken-parenting mentor. Morning on the farm is a happy time (except for the pigs, who are more like me and would rather hit the snooze button). The music is "Plekete" by Zap Mama.

From Leaves of Grass:

I think I could turn and live with animals, they are so placid and self-contain’d;
I stand and look at them long and long.
They do not sweat and whine about their condition;
They do not lie awake in the dark and weep for their sins; 685
They do not make me sick discussing their duty to God;
Not one is dissatisfied—not one is demented with the mania of owning things;
Not one kneels to another, nor to his kind that lived thousands of years ago;
Not one is respectable or industrious over the whole earth.


I am safe.
I am safe.
I am safe.
I am safe.

My body is safe.
My jaw is safe.
My eyes are safe.
My lips are safe.
My neck especially is safe.
My hips are safe.
Even my hair is safe.
My breath is safe.
My belly is safe.
My thoughts are safe.
My brain is safe.
My prana is safe.
My fragility is safe.
I am safe being seen.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

The Breath Inside the Breath

above: a glass sculpture of the breath inside the lungs by annie cattrell

Are you looking for me?
I am in the next seat.
My shoulder is against yours.
You will not find me in the stupas, not in Indian shrine
rooms, nor in synagogues, nor in cathedrals:
not in masses, nor kirtans, not in legs winding
around your own neck, nor in eating nothing but vegetables.
When you really look for me, you will see me instantly --
you will find me in the tiniest house of time.
Kabir says: Student, tell me, what is God?
He is the breath inside the breath.


How To Be Alone

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

My Dream Wedding Cake?

Sweet baby Buddha, it's made of cheese! Cheese! Am I crazy, or is this a totally mindblowingly awesome idea? Spotted on a cup of jo.

Pastry Pose

Lisa West invents a pose for The Yogery! This is parivrtta cupcake janu sirsana or revolved head-to-knee-cupcake pose. Props necessary: napkin, fork, and a cupcake from Knead Bakery.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Dear Yoga, It's Me, Ashley

A few things I need to get off my chest. Dear yoga, it's me, ashley, are you listening?

Dear yoga,

Without you I am so stiff and unfeeling and just SOLID in mind and body. As soon as I practice just a little bit I feel so much more open and able to go with the flow. Things seem funnier. Other things seem sadder. Everything is more infused with beauty. My concerns start to melt.
I would like to understand why you chose me. I was, after all, an unlikely candidate. But you spoke to me when I was a high school girl in Iowa, through a book that I can no longer find. I remember a picture of someone in Cobra pose. Am I just making that up now? I remember mimicking it on the wood floor of the "great room" in the house I grew up in and have never been back to. I remember teaching it to my Junior Varsity tennis team and everyone being amazed at that new feeling of openness in the chest and belly.

Then you and I drifted apart. I left for college in Santa Fe, New Mexico. My first yoga class wasn't very exciting. I was just there for a boy. And then that boy got more into meditating than yoga, and I followed, the puppy-in-love that I was. He left, and then I remembered you again. Or rather, a friend dragged me to see you at the Bikram Studio in Santa Fe. There, I remember the dirty brown carpet, the mirrors, the sweaty room. The baggy, crimson Harvard t-shirt I wore. The teacher exhorted us to "Push your hips forward to the wall! More! More!" in Camel Pose. And I pushed, thrilled at the daring feeling of the pose and the teacher's passion. We were back in love then, yoga.

But the world is a dangerous place for love, and we drifted apart yet again. I couldn't overcome the financial obstacles to get to you. And Zen, which was free, took your place for a while. I sat in stillness wearing all black and trying not to cough in dark rooms. I meditated as I polished wood, as I scooped peanut butter into my oats, as I kissed that boy, who came back to me, for a time, trading places with you. I studied and found meaning in everything but you. I didn't need you, I thought. I had The Odyssey, the Pythagorean theorem, Sophocles, and Chomsky and Annie Dillard when I needed to escape the Greats (which was more often than not). You, yoga, I resisted, ignored, saw through, as I sometimes do with those who I should really love and let in to my life. That is how our story begins, dear yoga.

With love,


A New Way To Love!

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Sunday, August 8, 2010

Eat, Write, Buy Things, Do Yin Yoga, Eat More

I just happened to notice that this post here, the one I'm writing now, is our 306th post! This number has no specific importance to me, but it's nice to know we've put three hundred and five posts out into the world about yoga, eating, baked goods and everything in between. At times it feels like a lonely quest, but Zen Muffin and I have thoroughly enjoyed having this blog to unite us across the oceans and connect with other pastry loving yoginis.

Speaking of baked goods, check out this ring I found on Etsy this morning:

It's a croissant on a plate on your finger! Talk about breakfast on the road. I love it. The other items in the shop weren't really my thing, but I find this to be totally charming. The shop is here.

While we're on the topic of buying things, anyone out there have any tips on those Yoga Toes or Yoga Socks? Its not that I'm traveling all the time, but it feels like often enough I find myself in a run down hostel or a carpeted hotel without my mat, and I'd like to be able to have a more full-on practice without schlepping my mat with me, or slipping on the carpet. Any good recommendations, or should I just stick to my hands and feet?

My personal practice is chugging along. I've been going for jogs with my laogong, and thusly my hamstrings and hips are suddenly screaming at me all the time. According to Yoga Journal, I should do lots of lunging to counter this. I should, but I haven't really. Maybe it's the heat, maybe it's my hips, I don't know. I've just been yinning like it's going out of style. Pigeon, frog, badakonasana, cowface; you name it, and I'm in it. It's been nice. I'm enjoying a softer, slower style for the time being.

I'll close with a photo of some liang mian(cold noodles) I recently had. Not sweet nor baked, but nonetheless delicious:

Wednesday, July 28, 2010


We are eating dinner in the company of four or five Jinmen police officers; the men responsible for keeping safe the inhabitants of this sleepy Taiwanese island. They are, most of them, young and funny, and eager to show us both the beauty of their island, and show us off to the island. We drink Taiwan's number one beer, a better version of Tsing Tao, and eat noodles, fried fish, and spicy tofu. One speaks English nearly flawlessly, and one not at all; most of them understand but find the words becoming warped in their mouths, and simply smile and snap pictures.
When they understand I am a yoga teacher, three nod their heads, ahhing with equal parts admiration and confusion. The officer to my left, however, a short man with limited English but deep enthusiasm for trying, immediately shakes his head. No, he says, no no. It's hot in the restaurant, and his brow is dotted with sweat. He brings both hands behind his right knee, as if to move it up toward his face. No, no, he says again, head wagging back and forth, as the rest of us begin to laugh. Another cop offers up the words Not Flexible! and spins the food back toward him, picking at the tofu. Don't worry, I say, we'll have more beer first, and then you'll get your foot behind your head just fine. His face remains serious as the conversation haltingly shifts toward how good American girls are at drinking beer.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Just a Little Snack

Nothing better to beat the heat from the beach than a big bowl of shaved ice, sweetened condensed milk and mangos! From Xiamen, Fujian, China. More to come...

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Yoga: "The Soul Destroying Poison of the East"

Nice NYT article (click here) on the introduction of yoga in America, that brings up great questions of what the cultural and economic climate have to be like in order for yoga to catch on at all, and then how those things determine what yoga looks like. And the perpetual question, what is authentic yoga? It's not like yoga is an antique vase and we can call in "Antiques Roadshow" to tell us, no, that's fake, or yes! that's real!!!! Priceless!

Whatever our motivations may be, I think it really can't hurt to just do it. The benefits, on all levels, come to us whether we know what we're getting into or not. Yoga always benefits me in ways I never expected. Sometimes I don't even notice for years. Even if you don't KNOW you're doing it for spiritual transcendence (and i'm not entirely sure on the meaning of that myself), you'll still feel better, act nicer, and love more.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Let Them Eat Cake (And Do Sun Salutes)

I know that Etsy has been around for awhile, but I've just never really clicked through it. My loss! 

I saw this lovely delight on the delightful blog Kingdom of Style, and my heart has been crying for it ever since, in the same way my heart cries for chocolate cake. If only I could have this, and another for the other wrist that says "Let Them Meditate" or "Let Them Do Sun Salutes", and my entire life philosophy would be summed up in two neat little wrist adornments. But seriously, this bracelet evokes cake, and for that reason alone I wish I had 35 USD to throw down and make it my own.

Well, you can't get everything you want. I'm sliding between productivity (organizing my visa run to Taiwan, laundry, planning for my pre-natal class tomorrow) and distraction (Etsy, cake, reading). Life has been stressful and money is tight, but we're doing all we can. Today that means baking cornbread and making a new play list for yoga class later. Pre-natal going well, there was a bit of a learning curve for me, but we're mostly over the hump. We focus on the obvious stuff: hip openers, breathing technique, and side stretching. One breathing technique I'm really enjoying is the Golden Thread, in which you imagine your exhale as a long, golden thread unfurling from your lips. A very relaxing and grounding breath that is easy to do and teach.

Here's the recipe for the chocolate cake. If you put it in the fridge overnight, it magically transforms into a more brownie like cake--dense and rich. I added shredded coconut to mine, but I imagine you can put just about whatever your heart desires in there: nuts, dried cranberries, or even a 1/4 tsp of cayenne pepper for a spicier cake.

Chocolate Cake, from "The Joy of Vegan Baking" by Colleen Patrick-Goudreau

1 1/2 cups unbleached AP flour
3/4 granulated sugar (i used about a half cup, and it was fine)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 cup unsweetened coco powder
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/3 cup canola oil (i've been using soybean oil for awhile now, as it's all that i can find, and it works fine)
1 tablespoon white distilled vinegar
1 cup cold water

Preheat oven to 350 F and lightly oil a 9-inch springform pan, Bundt pan, or muffin tins.

Combine the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and coco powder in a bowl until thoroughly combined. (basically, mix the dry ingredients first) Create a well in the center of the dry ingredients, and add the vanilla, oil, vinegar, and water. Mix until just combined. Pour into your prepared pan and bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick comes out clean. If you're making cupcakes, check for doneness in about 15 minutes.

Cool on a rack (I just let mine sit in the pan, as I have no rack..). For decorational purposes, a fine dusting of confectioner's sugar on top of this old girl would look real purty, or perhaps a nice chocolate frosting, but I think it's pretty tasty all on it's own.

Call up your friends and neighbors, and Let Them Eat Cake!


Saturday, July 17, 2010

Heart Mudra: I am in sync with all of life.

This baby lizard came into my house during the dinner break during our Laura Tyree workshop today. I caught him to release him outside and noticed that he seemed content just sitting on my hand so we did some mudra work together. The first three photos, my hands are in the heart mudra (hridai). Laura's mantra for that chakra is "I am in sync with all of life. I am richly blessed." How appropriate.
Yes, I may have even "yam"ed for him a little bit. Baby yam, for a baby lizard. And no, I'm not talking about the vegetable.

He also posed in the ajna chakra mudra. Mantra: "I enjoy being." To me, lizards constantly embody that mantra. I always love the way they just sit, taking in the sun, doing the occasional push-up of joy (how else do you explain those weird little calisthenics?).

Chakras with Laura Tyree: Friday Night

Finally, Laura is here! She gave us so much information last night but we also got to feel the energetics of the chakras through mudra work, asana, chanting, and meditation. For me, the most obviously effective mudra was the giraffe mudra; it had the instant effect of making me feel lighter and happier. Very cool. I was also grateful to learn that the heart chakra 'ripens' between the ages of 21 and 28. So basically, we're learning how to love more wisely, if I understood correctly. That explains so much and gives me hope. If my heart feels a little incomplete or lost sometimes, well, I'll just wait until I turn 28 on March 8, 2011. There seems to be an almost mathematical or musical orderliness to the chakras. Every seven years a different chakra ripens until we're 35. If your first chakra is unbalanced, it's more likely that your third will be as well. And the same goes for the second and the fourth. Just like in music, you would play every other note to get a harmonious major chord.

Our homework for today is to choose one desire/idea/inspiration we want to make into reality. Just doing the assignment has shown me where I might be holding myself back. I made a list of things, and as I wrote each one down, I could hear my brain frantically telling me to stop, as if just writing it down was asking too much, like a bureaucrat that has to feel important by being consulted on everything. Luckily I'm in Deb Norton's writing class right now so I was able to let the pen forge ahead, leaning against and pushing on through the steady wind of my brain.

Now I know that as I'm dancing around my house to Weezer and cooking brunch this morning, I'm actually doing yoga and balancing my second chakra! "I am filled with pleasure and enthusiasm. I thrive and create." Laura's wonderful mantra for the second chakra is particularly true this morning. Can't wait for the rest of the weekend.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Nostrils: The New Frontier

In Kira's class on Monday, she had us feeling the movement of our breath in our nostrils as we rotated our weight to the inner edges of the feet, then the outer edges, and back and forth. I have very insensitive nostrils and usually I'm lucky if they can even detect air moving in and out. I just figured they were defective. Casey, for example, and I don't think he'll mind me talking about him, has the most intricate knowledge of what all of his movements do to the flow of breath in his nostrils. I asked him about it, and he just shrugged and said something about doing a lot of Vipassana retreats. So I kind of resigned myself to exclusion from the world of my nostrils until I finally managed to find 10 days to go and do nothing but feel them.

As you may have guessed, this story is leading to the obvious conclusion...yes...I finally felt a significant connection between my feet and my nose. It was so weird that I immediately opened my eyes in a moment of belief and looked at Kira. Class was magical. It was so simple in that we didn't do any vinyasas and maybe one downward facing dog. But the effort of staying tuned to the incredibly subtle sensations in my nose--and letting that inform my movements-- had me sweating and feeling deep into myself. At the same time, it was so energizing. Rejuvenating. Like finding the source of true energy.

We practiced the same thing today in class, and I was sooo glad we did. Because I got to compare experiences. Today I kind of lost the connection to the subtlety in the nostrils. More accurately, my brain took over with its self-doubt, like, "you didn't really feel that; you just wanted to. you're creating the feeling through power of suggestion." My brain needs things to be really obvious before it will believe them I guess. For the longest time I was convinced I had never felt Prana. Hah! Now I feel it all the time. It's not as hard as I thought. I think of it as just 'the feeling of being alive.' Someone once told me, "Feel your feet in contact with the earth," and I must have frowned, squeezed my eyes closed, and tightened my jaw, because then she said "You're trying too hard. It's simpler than that." I think about that all the time with yoga instructions that ask me to feel something. Feeling: It's Simpler Than That. (New Patagonia t-shirt slogan? They can have that one for free)

Hug Your Favorite Banana Tree

I had such an inspiring day of teaching. And I had the smallest classes ever! Long long ago in a land far far away, I thought being a successful yoga teacher meant that you stood at the front of a room with lots of mirrors, wearing clothes that showed off your yoga booty or core or whatever, and you had lots of sweaty students swarming around you. Can you tell I used to do Bikram? I can't believe how long programming lasts. But all I will say is, today only one person showed up to each of my classes. And I, for one, enjoyed myself. The world did not come to an end. In fact, it opened up a little bit.

Yoga Snack:

At first there was no one. But I just waited. And at 12:09 in walked the most perfect person for that class today. A light-hearted, funny, and kind woman. She requested "gentle." We barely got up off the floor. I had so much fun, and hopefully she did too. When there is only one person the class can be so personalized. I learned a lot and loved being able to have all my attention on just one student. I used a little bit of touch during final resting pose, which I haven't been doing if there's more than one person. Too hard to get to everyone.

I think Yoga Snack might be moving towards an even gentler sequence (it's scary for me to offer "easy." maybe i'm afraid people will be bored). Today, gentle seemed like just the ticket, and I am grateful to my one student for showing me that. Plus, as it gets hotter, there will be no choice.


Funny, the same thing happened. Just one student. My friend showed up. And since she was the only one, I invited her 7 year old daughter in for class too. The results were seriously beautiful. And adorable. I don't know if I would have normally felt so confident about inviting a 7 year old in, but I dropped in for an evening to Betsy Stix's Children's Yoga workshop this weekend, and learned a lot in a short time.

I will never again say "Reclining Bound Angle." It sounds so harsh and mechanical compared to "Resting Butterfly." I said "You are a butterfly and you spent the whole day busily sipping from flowers and now you are just resting." And the little girl, who had fashioned herself an amazing pair of butterfly shoes from the long purple strap, said "Oh, that's how my day at the zoo was for me!"

Her day at the zoo was clearly still on her mind. In Child's pose, she said she felt like a monkey and the bolster was her favorite banana tree. And when wobbling and hugging her knees to her chest she said she felt like a coconut.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Scenes from Sunday

French toast at Mr. Pancake House with Benjamin and an appropriately titled short story, "Dimanche", from the Persphone catalog I recently got in the mail from England! 


An afternoon rainy day yoga photo shoot outtake. 


UFO's, a dubious looking and probably tasting but nonetheless common sight in Chinese bakeries. 

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Woppin' It Out, Shanghai Style

(Title taken and adapted from the excellent Lauryn Hill song "Every Ghetto, Every City", in the spirit of Zen Muffin's super duper post on Ms. Hill.)

First and foremost:

The Jolly Green Giant! I love my new bike. I love Shanghai when I'm riding my bike. The city teems with charm when you're on a cruiser. Yesterday I rode it to the Garden Hotel Park, which is actually the lawn of a big hotel in the middle of the city. It is one of the only places in the city where people are actually allowed on the grass, which on the weekends makes for a crowded lawn. But on a Wednesday afternoon? Perfect solitude. I rolled out the picnic mat, stripped down to my swim suit, and did an hour's worth of yoga right there in the park. Aside from the swim suit I was sporting, practicing yoga in the park didn't really phase any of the people that strolled by. Many, many Chinese people come to public spaces to practice Tai Chi, take dance lessons, do Kung Fu, or employ Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) tactics while walking (slapping themselves gently on opposite shoulder, clapping one hand up and down arms, etc), so a few sun salutes seemed in the norm. In fact, I might make it my new mid day routine.

After an hour or so, the sweat was beginning to both distract and gross me out. Some friends arrived in the nick of time with home made squirt guns.

The grass seems to invite inversion practice, and we all started flipping upside down; or, at least attempting to flip upside down. Free standing head and hand stands still elude me, but crow and side crow have become a cake walk. I once was afraid of them, so its only a matter of time before I'm on my hands, right?

In sweets-related news, there's not much to report. The oven has been off for a week or so, and the air-con is blasting. In all this heat, the only things that sound good are iced teas, frozen yogurts and cold beers. Good yogurt is hard to find here, and the flavored ones are runny and cloyingly sweet. In an effort to make a sweetened Greek-style yogurt, I drained some plain yogurt overnight in a coffee filter, and then stirred in some fresh squeezed OJ the next morning. It thickened in the fridge, and sucked up all the OJ after a good stirring--pretty good!

Monday, July 5, 2010

That feeling you get when you hear Lauryn Sing

Lauryn Hill is the dakini of hip-hop. She's in touch with something, I think. NPR published a rare interview with her, in which she says, "That feeling you get [when you hear me sing], I get first." I actually teared up reading this interview. If you're a fan, it's worth reading for just a sip of the wisdom and singularity of "Ms. Hill."

As I inevitably turned on "Miseducation" after reading this article, I heard her singing "karma, karma, karma" and thought, "Lauryn Hill was my first yoga teacher." It's a funny thought. But teachers are everywhere. I was an impressionable 15 when her album came out. It's now one of my favorite albums ever. French Toast and I listened to it so much that we would compete over who knew the fast-moving lyrics the best (remember? "more powerful than 2 cleopatras"). In Iowa, that may well have been the first time I ever heard the word karma in a non-joking context. Maybe I can't really call her a yoga teacher, but I can say that in her I saw what ART looks like, which is not that far off from YOGA. You cut through the illusions and find the truth. Whether you're singing or moving your body or living your life, it will look and sound and feel like real power.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

"A Lululemon Clad Priestess"

Here's a hilarious McSweeney's piece containing some painfully true observations of a yoga class gone wrong...where the teacher turns walking her dog into a Spiritual Lesson and uses distracting analogies for everything. A "Lululemon Clad Priestess." This author's poor substitute yoga teacher is probably great, but we never like The Sub for our beloved regular teacher. (Thank god I have regular classes now :)


April 16, 2010

- - - -

Dear Substitute Yoga Teacher Who Won't Stop With The Imagery,

It's not like you're the first. Other substitute teachers have come out with some real dillys too. Who can forget "think of your spine as a flexible snake in space?" So I expect people subbing for the regular, non-imagery-inclined-teacher to spout wacky shit.

But the problem with you, Substitute Teacher Who Won't Stop With The Imagery, is that your lust for describing things by what they are not is like a runaway train careening through my body-as-temple on wings of steel. (Accompanied by bouts of psychotic ujjayi breathing.)

It begins as soon as you walk in the door. Like all of us, you've already had some mundane thing happen that day, but your mundane thing is inspirational, annoying in itself. Say you walked the dog and it was sunny. Sun + pet = return to simplicity and unbridled panting. Or maybe the dog ate lots of grass. (Filling the void, freeing the void... something about a heaving void.) Your daily life/revelation is difficult to ignore as you walk among us, a Lululemon clad priestess (to use language you might understand), dispensing epiphanies and the faintest whiff of dog.

Today you told us you played your flute at dawn, prompting the revelation that we are all instruments, all the time. As we began in cross-legged position you observed that our "sits bones" are like that prong thing at the base of a cello. Try as I might, thinking "my ass is a cello" did not help me sit up any straighter. By the time we got to forward lunge with inner thighs conducting prana so as to vibrate the jiggly bits like violin strings, I had an urge to remind you that strings can snap, but kept schtum since I was trying to play my instrument pianissimo. Forte gets you kicked out of yoga.

The first time you appeared it was on Canada's national holiday called, cleverly, "Canada Day." It has no traditions other than sleeping late and drinking. Us regulars dragged our sorry cellos out of bed and came to yoga anyway; little knowing that while in triangle position we'd be forced to view one extremity as Vancouver, the other as Halifax. (I guess even you aren't flexible enough to cross the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Newfoundland.) I had to do a meditation on vodka tonics just to try and block out the imagery, but the stress of trying to relax with you in the room made me strain a muscle in Halifax anyway.

So here's the thing. I don't want to think of my kneecaps rising like excited birds in flight just because you happened to see cormorants wheeling across the city as if someone were hunting them (which maybe someone was because they're really filthy birds). I don't want to embrace risk with my heart center because your house offer fell through. (Since when can a yoga teacher afford to buy a house?). I just want to do the goddamn yoga. So please stop with the imagery, already.

Li Robbins