Author Archive: Elizabeth

In Watermelon Sugar (Starting Each Day Anew)

I have in my library books in which just one phrase or just the very beginning is most resonant.  It is this time of summer, when the light seems endless, and the heat just setting in as if on a permanent basis, that my thoughts turn to watermelon in food, and again in literature.  I think of watermelon differently each summer from the perspective of having lived another year, and the same in having experienced the taste and the thoughts of the taste so many times before.  When it comes the time of year when thoughts of watermelon spontaneously arise,  I revisit these words:

“In watermelon sugar the deeds were done and done again as my life is done in watermelon sugar.  I’ll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant.  Wherever you are, we must do the best we can.  It is so far to travel, and we have nothing here to travel, except watermelon sugar.” (R. Brautigan, In Watermelon Sugar).

Refreshed, I put the book back on the shelf, look forward to eating watermelon from the fresh farm market, and set the intention to start each day with open, receptive, and unjaundiced eyes, ready to learn and experience the same old things as glorious new ones, and to do the best I can.

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Afternoon Nap — Sometimes a Necessity (Like Savasana)

Sometimes, the best thing to do is nothing.

The past few days have been very full.  Last week was an intense week at work.  I am enjoying having a house guest and deepening a new friendship.  The workshop sessions on Friday night and this morning with Amy Ippoliti at Willow Street were wild and rich with information and play.  I always enjoy teaching my two Saturday classes.  Among all this activity, I hosted a little dinner party last night, which was quiet, but bubbling over with conversation.

After the workshop this morning, instead of going right home, I rode to Dupont Circle and had brunch with a fellow yogini, after which we walked up to Columbia Heights through Meridian Hill Park.  We had a fantastic time talking and catching up, and I loved doing a little exploring in a part of the city that is outside my usual haunts.

All of these activities were healthy and life enhancing, but still, it was a lot.  Just as including savasana is critical to assimilating the benefits of a good yoga practice into the fabric of being, taking a nap this afternoon before having one more evening of visiting with my friend Elisa and my getting ready for a couple of jam-packed, demanding work days, the sweet rest of a Sunday afternoon nap was critical for me to allow all the delights of the weekend to settle and integrate, to feel rested and enriched, instead of feeling like I need another weekend to rest from the weekend.

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Ripple Effects (and personal yoga)

Yesterday I looked at the continuing news about the crash.  Among all the other stories, it seemed fairly unlikely that there would be metro service between Capitol Hill and Takoma Park by the weekend.  This created a complication for me.  Living without a car and commuting a number of times a week to Takoma Park to teach and take class, I had to figure out how to get there.  It will be easy enough (I think) to get to Willow Street on Saturday to teach by taxi cab and to find a bus combination to get home.

In addition to teaching, though, I had been looking forward to studying with Amy Ippoliti on Friday night and Sunday morning.  I could take a taxi and a bus combination to study with Amy this weekend or just forego my tuition.  All that would be easy enough.  But I had invited a friend to come and visit to take the whole weekend with Amy — which includes another 12 hours of teacher training on Saturday and Sunday, where I will be off doing my own thing.  Since my friend and I will have very different schedules for this yoga weekend, and neither of us are much of a driver, renting a car was not really a viable option.  I thought about just staying in a hotel in Silver Spring.

Then I got to my personal yoga.  One of the hardest things for me to do is to ask for help (of almost any kind).  I am good at offering to help and am good at both helping when asked and saying I cannot help (the latter took some practice).  What I know from being a “helper” is that I get great joy from giving and offering assistance.  My never asking, then, means not giving those in my life the joy of providing assistance.  I overcame my deeply ingrained reluctance and asked for help.  Not big help.  Just is there someone already attending the training who can give a ride from the workshop into the District each night or provide an extra bed for my friend.  Fellow yogis were indeed happy to help; there are now a surfeit of options.

The minor inconvenience to me from this tragedy reminded me again to send healing energy to those who are suffering and to see things in perspective.   I was given a sweet reminder of the warmth and generosity of my yoga friends and colleagues.   I was able to practice with success addressing one of my continuing challenges.  I have been blessed, then, in the aftermath.  Contemplating these gifts with gratitude gives me more energy to send out for those in need.

For those of you who are local, I think there is still space in the workshop with Amy:  come join us for all level hip openers on Friday night and intermediate/advanced backbends and standing poses on Sunday morning.  See link to Willow Street above for more information.

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Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodaha

I slept restlessly last night and woke early with concern for those who were in the metro crash.  Being already a bit agitated, worries about getting things done at work also were arising.  Despite my restlessness, I made sure to sit for meditation.  Thoughts kept arising, but by the time I was into my sit, I was able to find a space, where I was not tangled or unsteadied by the thoughts.  I felt more peaceful and able to meet the challenges of the day.

In times of agitation, I often find myself drawn to contemplate again Patanjali’s sutra 1.2:  Yoga citta vrtti nirodaha. In classical yoga, it means to still the thought waves.  This is meant to be the ultimate purpose of yoga:  to still thought so that what is beyond mind and body can be revealed.

Practicing and studying from a tantric perspective, I think not so much of stilling my thoughts when I practice and meditate, but rather, finding a sense of alignment, an allowing of and making allowance within my being for the rhythm of the thoughts like a sailor getting sea legs on a boat, so that I can be steady (sthira) and have a greater sense of peace (shantaya) and light (tejase), no matter how wild are the thoughts arising and sensations entering in the field of my consciousness.

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Gratitude and Prayers

A little before 6pm my cell phone rang while I was sitting at my desk at work in the throes of a complicated task.  It was a friend and fellow yogi calling.  “All you alright?” he asked.  “I’m in the middle of a horrible assignment and I have cramps, but I guess I am OK” I replied, “why do you ask?”  He told me about the metro crash.  He didn’t see me at Willow Street and was worried that I was on the train.  Had I gone to class instead of staying late at work, I well could have been on the red line at the time of the crash.

I was grateful for my friend’s call and warmed by his concern.  I am busy checking in with the many people I know who could have been on the train.  I know many friends, neighbors, Willow Street colleagues and students, and co-workers who themselves or whose friends and loved ones may have been in the crash.

I am filled with concern and compassion for those from whom I have not heard and those who were injured, trapped, and afraid.  I will spend much of the evening practicing and holding all in the light.

Please all who commute on the red line, comment, post on face book, and send emails to let us all know you are OK.

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Making the Bed (and Sauca)

I have noticed over the years that I sleep more deeply and peacefully if I have made the bed before getting into it again.  Smoothing out the sheets and the covers and fluffing the pillows after waking, releases the energy of the dreams from the previous night.  This helps make sure that each returning to sleep is a new experience, an opening to the possibility of entering a wonderful state.

The principle of sauca (cleanliness or purity) invites us to be clean and clear before and as part of our physical and meditative practice and all our living.  Imagine trying to practice yoga on a dirty mat and going into savasana (corpse pose/final relaxation) on a tangled blanket.  Would you think it possible to become deeply relaxed?  Probably not.  If we want our space smooth to lie down for a yoga pose, how could we not need the same for a good night’s sleep, for a planned visit to another state of consciousness?

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Gardening, Cleaning, Cooking (and Vinyasa Krama and Kali)

Vinyasa krama is the art of sequencing.  How a yoga practice or flow is sequenced can determine whether it is uplifting or inward going, exhilarating or calming.  When we are trained and attentive, we start to know the most optimal order to open our bodies and our focus to align with the time of day, the season, the weather, our mood, and our health.  This incredible art helps us be positioned and aligned in a way that we feel free in time and space, rather than being constrained by time and space.

This morning while I was out in the garden, I was thinking a lot about vinyasa krama and the goddess Kali — goddess of, among other things, time and change, and thus, of sequencing.  I woke very early, brought to consciousness by the long light of the solstice even through closed curtains.  As I went about my morning, rinsing the sprouts while heating the water for my morning coffee; cutting back the greens and herbs before starting breakfast; doing the major pruning and clean-up before doing more decorative garden work; finishing cooking before taking out the recycling; applying a facial mask before starting to vacuum; never walking up or down the stairs empty-handed; waiting to gather the bills until after I was clean and waiting for friends to arrive, etc., I realized how important sequencing is to the richness of my days.  By knowing the best way to order tasks for my needs, my day is simultaneously productive, unhurried, and enjoyable.

By the time my friends arrived around noon, I had meditated, taken care of the garden, gathered food for my own breakfast and to share with friends, talked to neighbors, cleaned the house and myself, done a little asana, written in my journal, and sorted the mail.  Had I not known from long experience and conscious attention how to sequence all the different elements, knowing which ones went together, which took longest, which ones if done earlier or later would create double clean up, etc, I would have been tired and the tasks unfinished.  Instead, after brunch, I came home to a tended garden, a freshly made bed, and time to enjoy a quiet evening.

These sequencing principles also apply for me on major projects at work.  If ordered one way, the work is exponentially harder, the deadline a fearsome thing; if ordered another way, everything comes together mostly as it should when it should.  When I order my work with attention (this assumes others cooperate with this endeavor), I have time to do a good, careful job and still take breaks, eat well, and leave the office in time to take or teach yoga class.

Whether you are doing your home yoga practice or cooking or working, choose to sequence the elements of your practice, your activities, or your day, with attentiveness, reverence, love, and respect, and Kali will support you and not show you her most fearsome face.

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Eagerness (and cherry tomatoes)

I am looking forward to going out to the garden to forage for things to bring to work with my lunch.  I know there will be at least four or five tomatoes, and I am expecting a small cucumber.  The greens and fresh herbs are a given.  Having exquisite fresh food and making sure I take at least 15 minutes to savor it always makes a hectic day a much better one.

Don’t have time to garden?  Try joining a CSA.

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Pulling Purslane for Breakfast

Look before you weed:  some plants you are throwing out or composting might make a great addition to your diet.

Purslane and dandelion greens make a delicious addition to the other greens in my garden — chard, spinach, arugula, mache, lettuces, amaranth, etc.  Instead of pulling the purslane and dandelions as invasive weeds when they are growing in between the bricks of my patio, I let them get big enough to eat, and then pull them to include in salads and stir fries.  I also pull small purslane plants and relocate them into hanging pots along with my geraniums and into other little empty spaces.  After having been encouraged to volunteer more freely for a number of years, the purslane is now appearing on its own in more places, mostly in places where other plants would not thrive without a lot of watering.

As both purslane and dandelions are volunteers (a/k/a weeds), they are free, hardy, prolific, and drought-tolerant.  I find purslane especially attractive if kept picked as any other forking herb or green.  Both purslane and dandelions are highly nutritious, especially purslane which is a great plant source for omega-3 fatty acids (see link above).

This morning, I threw some purslane into a warmed tortilla, along with avocado, sprouts (I am always sprouting something on the kitchen counter these days), a little local  goat cheese, and a few slivers of vidalia onion.  Densely nutritious, delicious, fairly good for the environment, and satisfying.  What a great way to start the day.

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Ganesha (Deity of the Marines?)

A senior colleague and I spent several hours today working together on a very challenging aspect of a long-term project.  When we were wrapping up for the day, I showed him a murti of Ganesha that another co-worker had brought me from the Norton Simon Museum when she had gone on a business trip to Pasadena, where our Los Angeles office is located.

I said that I do not believe in the Hindu deities as gods, but find them helpful for contemplation as archetypes (in the Jungian sense).  I said that being on this project has taught me much about yoga and about Ganesha.

“Ganesha,” I explained, “is not so much the remover of obstacles, but the one who places obstacles in your way to teach you the wisdom to grow and find a more enlightened path from having confronted the obstacles.”  “Oh,” said my colleague, “like the Marines:  adapt, improvise, and overcome.” “Well, sort of,” I replied, enjoying that we found a way to share laughter after our difficult afternoon.

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