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