Art and Culture

“Enjoy Your Day, Regardless of the Weather”

So said the meteorologist, when I called to check the weather yesterday before getting ready to go out for work.  I thought, “it is easy to enjoy your day, ‘regardless of the weather’ living in a nice house with enough money for heating and cooling, working inside, and getting food flown in from wherever, if the garden isn’t doing well.”

I am awed and fascinated by the weather, although living this almost entirely protected and secure (from the elements, less so from other people) urban life, it is an almost vicarious relationship.

One of the reasons I love gardening is that it links what the weather — a rainy and cool spring like we are having; a drought, like we had for the past four years; violent thunderstorms; a snowy winter — with what food grows well, how my wildlife supporting little garden in the front thrives, helping to tie me back to the earth.

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Living with Illness and “Spiritual” Journeys

This Sunday, William Penn House is hosting a potluck and discussion on life changing illnesses and spirituality.   Whatever your relationship with “spirit” or religion (such loaded terms in our history) and whatever your individual practice, I think (especially knowing the dedicated, loving persons who are speaking) this talk will be illuminating.

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Daylight v. Day Lights

A year or two before Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth was released, I went to a panel discussion and film (alas, I cannot remember the title of the film) about global climate change.  One of the speakers was a Nepalese attorney who was working on a case in the World Court that sought to address the impact of various corporate practices on the Himalayan snow cap.

One of the things this man said continues to resonate with me:  “Why is it,” he asked, “that Americans are always turning on lights in the day time?  Do you ever think about how much energy we could save and dangerous, climate-changing emissions we could stop, if we just relied on day light during the day instead of adding unnecessary electric lights?”

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“A Balanced Diet, in Moderation, Is the Best” (Yoga of Eating Part IV)

Geeta Iyengar, in Yoga, A Gem for Women, sums up the proper diet according to Ayurveda as follows:

“A balanced diet, in moderation, is the best.  Ayurveda says that the stomach should be filled with two parts of solid food and one part of water, and that one part of the stomach should be kept free for the movement of air.  Food which is not congenial to the system should be avoided.  Too oily, dry, spicy, and sour foodstuff are not good for the system.  A diet which is balanced, light, varied, and well cooked is ideal for health.”

In other words, to be healthy, we should eat fresh, varied, well-prepared, tasty food.  We should eat with sufficient awareness to know enough the effects of what we eat on our energy level, sleep, digestion, and ability to move and think that we know what is good for our system in small, large, or any quantities (and eat mindfully in accordance with that knowledge).  We should not eat to the point of fullness and beyond (this is a common suggestion in the West for losing weight, i.e., stop eating when you are full or right before — think getting away from the unrealistic American portion size).  Any other dietary practices should serve to find this place of moderation and enjoyment, the two real keys to health and happiness with and in eating.  Diets that take us away from balance will be hard to follow, unhealthy, and cause all sorts of other shifts in our mind-body.  What is best for you depends on your own knowledge of yourself and your environment.

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What Wakes You Up in the Morning

A little after 5 this morning, the sound of the unexpected rain brought me out of my dream state.  I was not ready to rise, so I realigned myself into a good savasana and just listened — following no other thoughts — until the morning musical awakening arrived at 6.

I could have thought of it in this language:  the rain woke me up and I couldn’t get back to sleep, but I was still tired so I lay in bed until the alarm went off.

Hotels, I think, were on to something when they started offering “wake up calls,” though the sound of the phone ringing in the middle of an intense dream can be shocking.  When did we start naming the sound we use to bring us from dreaming to waking “the alarm?”  What perspective does it give to our day to think we need an alarm to start it?  Why not at least “alert” or “signal” for the days when the only technology (think about that piece of it) was a jarring sound?

I have been thinking a lot about what wakes me up since Becky passed away.  For 21 years, either Henrietta or Becky was lying on or next to me purring before any electronic signal could go off.  They knew when it would go off and every morning sought a little petting (and then food) before they heard any signal to start the day.  They incorporated it into their rhythm and created a good waking routine around my schedule.

Some of my waking with the cats instead of the electronic sounds must have been me ready to be shifted from sleeping to waking by the cats’ attention, because I am still waking 10-20 minutes before Bose technology utters an automatic sound (usually yoga chants) to make sure I get off to work.  I also know from conscious attention to the effects on my sleep from when and what I eat and what I put into my day and until how late, that when I am keeping my eating, practicing, and sleeping schedule steady, I have no need to be called awake by something outside myself to start the day.

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Food is the link between self and spirit (Taittreya Upanishad and the Yoga of Eating Part III)

The Self in man and in the sun are one./  Those who understand this see through the world/ And go beyond the various sheaths/ Of being to realize the unity of life./ Those who realize that all life is one/ Are at home everywhere and see themselves / In all beings.  They sing in wonder:/ ‘I am the food of life, I am, I am;/ I eat the food of life, I eat, I eat./ I link food and water, I link, I link./ I am the first-born in the universe;/ Older than the gods, I am immortal./ Who shares food with the hungry protects me;/ Who shares it not with them is consumed by me./ I am this world and I consume this world./ They who understand this understand life.’  Taittreya Upanishad, 10.5, trans. Eknath Eswaren.

As one who is immersed in the joy of growing, selecting, creating, and tasting food and studying and practicing yoga, it is no suprise that the Taittreya Upanishad (which Eknath Eswaren subtitles “From Food to Joy”) is one of my favorite readings.

The Taittreya Upanishad explains the five sheaths or koshas that make up the self — the food body, the energy body, the mind body, the intuitive body, and the bliss body.  What we take in with our senses and what makes us flesh and blood can, with right observance and practice, lead us to a consciousness of self as joy and spirit embodied.  This is the yoga of eating and of food.

For more details on the Taittreya Upanishad, please see Jon Janaka’s article, “I am the Food!”

Other sources:

Upanishads, trans. Patrick Olivelle (Oxford World Classics 1996)

The Upanishads, translated for the modern reader by Eknath Eswaren (Nilgiri Press 8th Printing 2000)

The Ten Principal Upanishads, put into English by Shree Purohit Swami and Wm. Butler Yeats (Faber and Faber, London, Reprinted 1952)

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Some Books on Food I’ve Been Revisiting (Yoga of Eating Part II)

I have been revisiting these cooking and gardening books from among my varied collection as I prepare for the “Yoga of Eating” Workshop.  In addition to having recipes and/or gardening techniques each teaches about health, ecology, plants, and seasonal eating, is written in a way that would appeal to both novice and expert cook/gardener alike (including some recipes in the gardening books), and some have very pretty pictures.  The key words for this focus in the titles:  enjoyment, art, healthy, ecological, seasonal, healthy, earth, practical — essential attributes/attitudes/directions for eating with yoga consciousness.

Cookbooks:

Bishop, Jack, A Year in a Vegetarian Kitchen:  Easy Seasonal Dishes for Friends and Family (Houghton Mifflin2004)

Sass, Lorna, Recipes from an Ecological Kitchen, Healthy Meals for You and the Planet (Wm. Morrow & Co. 1992)

Shaw, Diana, The Essential Vegetarian Cookbook (Clarkson Potter 1997) (Your Guide to the Best Foods on Earth:  What to Eat; Where to Get It; How to Prepare It)

Tiwari, Maya, Ayurveda:  A Life of Balance (Healing Arts Press 1995) (The Complete Guide to Ayurvedic Nutrition and Body Types with Recipes)

Waters, Alice, Chez Panisse Vegetables (Harper Collins 1996)

Kitchen Gardening:

Bremner, Lesley, The Complete Book of Herbs:  A Practical Guide to Growing and Using Herbs (Dorling Kindersley – London 6th Ed. 1993)

Gilberti, Sal, Kitchen Herbs:  The Art and Enjoyment of Growing Herbs and Cooking with Them (Bantam 1988)

Guerra, Michael, The Edible Container Garden, Growing Fresh Food in Small Spaces (Fireside 2000)

Lloyd, Christoper, Gardener Cook (Willow Creek Press 1997)

Pavord, Anna, The New Kitchen Garden (Dorling Kindersley Am. Ed. 1996) (A Complete Practical Guide to Designing, Planing, and Cultivating a Decorative and Productive Garden)

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Yoga of Eating Part I (what it is and what it isn’t)

Yesterday, a former student of mine stopped me in the hallway at Willow Street and asked whether the “Yoga of Eating” workshop I will be leading on June 13th  will cover Ayurveda.  “I will mention it,” I said, “but I will not be teaching it.”  I didn’t have time to explain further because I was about to lead class.  As far as I got was to add that I was not sufficiently trained to teach it.

Ayurveda is a wonderful science, and I honor and respect my yoga friends and colleagues who study, practice, and teach Ayurvedic principles.  Ayurveda is a much broader discipline than yoga, though, and is really medical practice rather than yoga.  Asana are among the practices that might be recommended by an Ayurvedic practitioner for a client or patient, but eating in accordance with the Ayurvedic principles is not the same as bringing yoga to how we eat.  For me, many of the principles of Ayurveda I have read or been taught are useful, but it has not resonated for me as a governing system, just as I do not believe in applying all of the principles of Western medicine to how I heal and nourish my body.

Bringing yoga to my eating, like bringing yoga to all of my life off the mat,  is both simpler and harder than being taught a science such as Ayurveda with fairly clear, but quite complex, do’s and don’ts and then following them.  For me, practicing the yoga of eating, is practicing conscious eating.  It is practicing reverance and moderation.  It is balancing nourishment and pleasure.  It is knowing deeply when the will to eat is serving us or getting in our way.  It is both simple and subtle.  It is easy to say, but deeply challenging and sometime complicated to practice — just like practicing the Anusara yoga principles of alignment.

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Backyard Wildlife Sanctuary?

Spotted in my backyard in the last month (in no particular order):  carpenter bees (concentrated wintergreen oil spray works to get them out of the deck; no need to use chemicals), yellow jackets, wasps, mosquitoes, house flies, aphids, sparrows, pigeons, morning doves, starlings, cardinals, robin redbreasts, mocking birds, gnats, earthworms, cabbage butterflies, slugs.  I have invited in praying mantis (hoping for the best).  I choose to trap the rats and monitor for termites (or I would be seeing them).  The ants are late this year.

Teeming with life or full of unwanted pests?  It’s all a matter of perspective.  What I do know is that the beings whose presence I welcome and enjoy would not be there if I just had a pesticide-laden chunk of concrete.

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