Community and Family

thoughts on how we fit into the web of community, family and society

Start with the Foundation (On and Off the Mat)

John Friend tells us in teacher trainings that when we are observing students, start at the foundation.  In order to help a student have the highest, most joyous and expansive experience in a pose, the foundation must be secure, aligned, and basically in the correct form.  If the student does not already have a steady and aligned foundation, adjustments to other aspects of the pose will not well serve growth and understanding.  When we are practicing on our own, starting with the foundation is also critical.  If we do not make sure that we have the physical, energetic, and mental understanding of a pose, at best, we will have little appreciation for our practice and, at worst, risk injury.

Off the mat, the principle of starting with the foundation is even more important.  If we do not teach all of our children basic reading, math, history, and civics, how can we have a functional democracy?  If a house does not have a sturdy, well-built foundation, what is the point in spending lots of money decorating it?  If we do not plant a seedling at a depth where it can be properly rooted and supported, how can it best flower and give fruit?  If we do not provide all with adequate shelter, feed ourselves in a way that fosters both the environment and natural health, build an infrastructure that makes drinking water and breathable air for all, and have proper respect for the process of dying, how much true health care can come from privatized insurance, however regulated?


When I am Settled

When meditating and practicing in a group, if I am feeling settled and grounded myself, it does not disturb my practice that others near me are fidgeting or not fully present.  Just as I can meditate on a bus or in a waiting room, I am responsible for descending into my own inner space.  If I am unsettled myself, then I am more likely to notice others fidgeting.  But it is not their fidgeting that disrupts my practice, but that I am having a day when it is hard for me to center on my own.

It is true, though, when practicing with a group, that sometimes we will all be deeply centered and then the power of the group can bring all of the individuals to a deeper experience.


Two Tangible Things You Can Do in Response to the Earthquake in Haiti

Donate to support the peacekeeping efforts of the American Friends Service Committee (or other organization of your choice).

Write to your elected official about granting temporary protected status for Haitian immigrants.  The Friends Committee on National Legislation has made it easy to take action.


Winter Yoga Greetings (Web Version of Winter Newsletter)

Happy new year to all! I hope 2010 is off to a good start for you. My days are full with work and practice and teaching and photographing and cooking and indoor gardening and telling stories (aka blogging) and connecting with friends and the general miscellany of life.

My intention for the year to approach each day with a sense of fullness and wonder, whatever comes. A key element of feeling things are deliciously full rather than overly busy is appreciating how things are and can be ordered in space and time. This winter, in classes and workshops, we will be exploring the mysteries and techniques of sequencing on and off the mat. Come join me.

The Willow Street session started this week, with my first classes this Saturday, January 16th (Level 2 @ 8:30 and Gentle/Therapeutics @ noon on Saturdays in the Takoma Park studio). It’s not too late to register. It’s great to come every week to get all a session has to offer, but feel free to drop in any time. Register on-line at or in person.

William Penn House all-level classes continue on Tuesday nights @ 6:30, with the special reduced rate of $12 for not-for-profit workers, students, and seniors. This month’s Wednesday night intermediate/advanced group practice proceeds are going to the American Civil Liberties Union.

Feeling a bit tight from the cold? Join me from 3pm-5pm this Saturday, January 16th at Capitol Hill Yoga for the first “Serenity Saturday” restorative workshop of the year. There will be a special focus on opening up muscles tightened from the cold, including self-massage techniques. To register, please visit

Dreaming of Springtime in the garden? Put it on your calendars: I’ll be offering “Yoga for Gardeners” again on Saturday March13th, just in time for the season to get started. More details at

Looking forward to seeing you soon.


Ice on the Potomac

A treasured friend and respected colleague who left her body late last week was buried this morning.  The work year started, then, with some colleagues and I leaving the office for a portion of the middle of the day to drive up to the cemtery and offer our love to her family and our good-byes to her physical presence.  On the way back to the office, I noticed that the Potomac has been icing over, which is very unusual.  I also remembered that I had my camera in my pocket.  So I took it out and caught the moment in honor of my friend who would have loved the way the birds were dancing on the ice, in honor of beauty, in honor of the life teeming above and below the apparently still, frozen river.potomac ice


The Fisherman and His Nets


Earlier this week, I took a wonderful class with my friend J, who is an Anusara teacher based in NYC.  She started class telling a story of a fisherman.  The fisherman had worked hard and long during the spring, summer, and fall and was looking forward to a rest during the winter months.  He left his boat and went ashore, looking for shelter.  He came upon a brightly lit house and was invited in by a friendly host.  He was given a delicious meal and then brought to a beautiful bedroom with a fabulously made, soft bed with exquisitely scented linens.  He got into the bed, but tossed and turned and could not sleep.  Agitated by his inability to sleep, he left the house, went back to his boat, wrapped himself in his fishy-smelling nets and promptly fell sound asleep.

J interpreted the story as saying that our familiar patterns bind us and keep us from discovering and receiving true beauty and bliss.  This interpretation resonated with the students; one called out in a conversation about the quantity of nets we have, that she could alphabetize hers, and we all laughed.  I heard something different in the story, though perhaps it was because I had seen part of The Wizard of Oz when channel-surfing in my hotel room the night before.  What I heard was that when we accept our work and our place, we find a place of true rest.  When the fisherman realized that his place was on his boat — at home with his work, instead of seeking ethereal bliss — then he found peace and true rest (“there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home…”)

What is missing from the movie version of The Wizard of Oz, though, is that in later books, Dorothy goes back to the land of Oz, bringing her family and work (albeit that of a child) with her.  She, in effect, integrates the importance of prosaic home and work life with being in a land of enchantment.  In that, both interpretations of the story of the fisherman are partly true.  We need not to let our old habits bind us, but we also need not to cast off work, home, and community as things that interfere with our discovering bliss.  Instead, we need to find enchantment in our very being, as we live and work and relate in this world.


Happy New Year (and vegan Hoppin’ John variant)

Having grown up in the New York metropolitan area without much in the way of traditions of any kind, I was not familiar with Hoppin’ John.  I am fairly certain that the first time I heard of it was from a college friend whose family has been in South Carolina since before the Revolution.  As it is not part of my tradition, I do not feel bound to any particular recipe (I am sure it is sacrilege in some circles to leave out the ham/bacon) or to eating it at any particular time of day (e.g., immediately after the clock strikes 12 midnight).  It would not be Hoppin’ John, though, if I did not know its tradition and know where I was deviating from tradition.  (Though this would entail a much longer blog than is within my time frame today, this balance of freedom from tradition and needing to know and honor tradition is very much an issue for the Western yoga practitioner.)

1.  Soak a cup of dried black-eyed peas for at least several hours or overnight.

2.  Dice one small onion or 1/2 large onion (about a cup), a few celery stalks, including the leaves, and mince a couple of cloves of garlic.

3.  Heat a few tablespoons of a flavorless oil (peanut, corn, or safflower) in a pressure cooker (my preferred method for saving energy and time) or a stock/stew pot.

4.  Saute seasoning vegetables along with a few hot peppers until onion is translucent.  I used the last habanero from my harvest and so left it whole.  You can use fresh or dried chilis in an amount to your taste/tolerance for spiciness.

5.  Stir in a cup of brown rice until rice is coated with oil.

6.  Pour in 1/4-1/2 cup of white wine and stir until absorbed (as if making risotto).  [You could use stock instead.  If you are using white rice, skip this step, which serves to partially cook the brown rice, so that it will take the same amount of time as the black-eyed peas.]

7.  Crumble in some dried thyme (preferably from your own garden) and a bay leaf or two.

8.  Drain and rinse the soaked black-eyed peas and stir into the cooking pot until all ingredients are combined.

9.  Add one 28 ounce can of diced tomatoes and 2 1/2 – 3 cups of vegetable stock or water.  How much liquid depends on (a) whether you want a soupy consistency or one more like pilaf or risotto; (b) how liquid are the tomatoes; (c) whether you are using a pressure cooker (less liquid needed) or cooking in a pot.

10.  If using a pressure cooker, cover and bring to full pressure, then lower heat and cook at full pressure for 28 minutes.  Allow natural pressure release (about 15-20 minutes additional).  If cooking in a regular pot, bring to a boil, stir, then lower heat and cook for an hour or more until rice and peas are tender, stirring occasionally.

11.  While rice and peas are cooking, mince a few cloves of garlic.

12.  Rinse and chop several handfuls of greens (collard or curly kale are best; don’t use spinach or chard, they are too tender).  Heat oil and garlic together.  When garlic start sizzle, add damp greens and saute until greens are wilted and dry.

13.  When rice and peas have finished cooking, stir in sauteed greens and bring back up to full heat.  Adjust seasonings, adding more salt and your favorite hot sauce to taste (or allow guests to add their own hot sauce at the table).

I don’t know whether having eaten this will bring me luck and prosperity, but I’ve started the year with lots of vitamins, minerals, fiber, flavor, and cooking, which for me means health, love, technique, tradition, flexibility, and joy!  Try this, make your own, read all about Hoppin’ John, or call a friend from the South who must eat Hoppin’ John on the New Year and learn about the tradition and what it means.