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The Terracotta Warriors of Emperor Qin (and Iccha Shakti)

I went today with my younger sister and brother-in-law to see the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the National Geographic Museum.  Even with only a few of the warriors and photographs of the site, it is possible to imagine the sheer magnitude of the vision of thousands of these life-sized images living underground at the tomb of the Emperor.  I then thought of how vast must have been the Emperor’s yearning for power and the wildness of his vision of this extraordinary tomb for it to have become manifest.  Trying to expand my imagination to understand the reality of such ambition and creativity I thought of the principle of iccha shaktiIccha shakti is the very will of consciousness to be, to creatively manifest, to become diversified embodiment out the universal.  Ego and will are not themselves bad, but our very freedom allows us to choose a path that is out of alignment with the principles of joy and unity.

The Terracotta Warriors show the immense possibilities of exercising will.  In their very existence and the manner of their coming into being, they evidence both enormous cruelty and disdain for life and a wondrous manifestation of human creativity, collaboration, and effort.  One of the goals of yoga, in teaching us the possibilities of our own freedom and creativity, is to lead us to choose a life that is progressively better aligned with nature and with all of beings.  This is the path of one who practices, and I find it ever a challenge.

Celebration and Loss (last of the arugula)

last arugula

As you can see from the photo, this tender arugula was not likely to make it through the night (temperatures forecast to be in the mid-20s).  It is a cause for great celebration that it made it through last weekend’s snow storm, several nights below freezing, and provided a little spice to my salads for a couple of months.  It lasts this long because I over plant, first eat the greens as I thin them, then pick them by the leaf rather than by the root to encourage the plants to grow more vigorously, and finally start pulling them up by the handful when the danger of hard frost calls for the inevitable demise.  Tonight, I cut everything in the pot down to about a 1/2 inch.  It is possible, though not likely based on the current forecast of a cooler than normal winter, that if we got a couple of warm weeks in late January or early February that it would come back.

I am celebrating what I have grown in this tiny space and the exquisite delight of eating greens from right outside my door this late into the year.  I am sad that the outdoor gardening season is just about over; I will miss it.  If I had more space or a firmer intention (maybe the latter will come in another year or two),  I could build a cold frame or go for plastic tunnels.  In my little micro-climate, that would probably get me through the winter.  I rather like, though, a space of time with no obligation to the outdoor garden.  A time to dream rather than work.  I know what a luxury it is to be able to rest in such a way and still have bountiful food.

Using Your Head to Connect (and skull loop)

I think one of the most wonderful things about the Anusara principle of skull loop is that it uses the head to bring mind into connection with the body.  Far too often, staying in our heads or using our mind can disconnect us from the body.  Skillful practice of “skull loop” reminds us that the head is part of the physical body. Skull loop, like all the loops, is a refinement that typically would not be the focus of alignment after not only the major principles (open to grace, muscular energy, inner spiral, outer spiral, organic energy) are set in the pose.  It is also the refinement that generally would be done last in most poses because of its distance from the foundation of the pose.

I rarely work skull loop as a focus without also concentrating on shoulder loop and the relationship between the two.  Both start in the upper palate.  While shoulder loop acts to integrate us and draw us in by hugging the shoulder blades onto the back of the heart as a refinement of muscular energy, skull loop helps us to reach out and serves as a refinement of organic energy — inviting us to extend more fully out of the crown of the head.

Even though skull loop helps remind us how much organic energy — a reaching out with offering that goes all the way from the focal point (more on that another day) out through the periphery, including the head — can empower us, skull loop also has a sweet and subtle reminder to come back to the first principle.  Skull loop starts in the upper palate and goes up the back of the skull to the crown of the head.  That initial action is what helps with organic energy, and when done powerfully, it can really give a lot more strength and lift to a pose.  The second part of the loop softens the forehead and lower eyelids, bringing our inner gaze (drishti) back to the heart.  Skull loop thus shows us both that the head is physically an powerful and important part of the movement of the body and that no action of the head is complete unless it brings us back to the heart and the ultimate purpose of our actions and offerings.

Robber Barons v. Philanthropists (a memory triggered by reading the 1994 New Yorker article on SYDA Yoga)

When I was in eighth grade, my history teacher, Mr. B,  assigned to the class engaging in a debate as to whether Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Mellon were philanthropists or robber barons.  We were put in teams and told which side we had to argue.  When we were given the assignment, I went to Mr. B privately and said it was not possible to argue one side or the other.  These men were only able to be philanthropists at their level of giving because of the money they had made as robber barons.  My teacher said that was an unacceptable position.  I was to argue the position I was assigned, I was wrong that it was not an either or debate.  I should understand that what was critical to this debate was which aspect was the elemental identifying characteristic.

Where I think was our real difference of opinion was that Mr. B thought that one could/should not recognize both enormous evil and enormous good in the same person.  If one was evil, then the good was essentially irrelevant.  If one had done tremendous good, then it should not matter if there was bad along the way.  I tend to see the whole.  I take the good where I find it (for example, I have found great truth and utility in the writings of Swamis Muktananda and Chidvilasananda although I would not recognize either as my “guru”), but do not expect the “bad” to be absent or non-coexistent with the “good” and tend to be outspoken in my recognition of both.  I still sometimes get in trouble for this.

6:50am flight from BWI (I’ll be off of the computer until Monday)

I am lucky to have a non-stop.  The storm is supposed to have passed through.  So I can enjoy myself know matter what travel brings, I pack up a variety of reading materials — philosophy, handouts for the workshop, and fiction.  I switched my ankle warmers to bamboo knitting needles so I could get through security and knit (the ankle warmers are on size 2 needles, so it is taking me as long as a sweater).  I have my journal and a pen.  Best, I am traveling with two friends (all different flights, but no one waiting alone in the airport) with whom to visit, who are going to the same retreat.  Takes the edge off of the early wake up time.  Starts the retreat when I leave the door instead of when I arrive at the retreat center.

When to Get a Hug (and shoulder loop)

It has been my experience that there are times when a hug feels like too much or not right or that it will not ease what hurts.  First there is a need for an openness of heart, a little intrinsic brightness, some recognition of worthiness to receive the love, before a strong embrace feels right.  In Anusara, we are taught to practice the opening, brightening, expanding principle of “opening to grace” before we draw in with the embrace of muscle energy.

“Shoulder loop” helps us refine muscle energy and by drawing the shoulder blades onto the back of the heart and then lifting and expanding the chest, it can be incredibly powerful and healing.  My experience with shoulder loop, though, especially when I have active shoulder or neck pain, is that if I am at all collapsed, if I am not doing maximum “inner body bright” shoulder loop feels OK, but it it is much harder to access and receive.  When I open to the possibilities by radically filling with light and energy, especially around the back of the heart — in a word, meeting the possibility of embrace from the inside out — then the embrace of shoulder loop is almost instantly healing and empowering.

Website Version of December Newsletter

Note:  If you would like to receive newsletters or previously subscribed, but changed your email or have not been receiving emails, please resubscribe directly through the website or send me an email and I’ll try to get you on the list.  I do get some mysterious bounce backs.

I hope this email finds you well.  I’ve been enjoying the decorative lights outside and candles inside as we move towards the Winter Solstice.  Even with the excitement of the holidays, it is a great time to turn inward, to pause and refresh our remembrance and recognition of the light inside us all.

Many thanks to all of you who came to the Thanksgiving Oxfam class (in spirit as well as in person).  Thanks to the generosity of Willow Street and all of you, we raised almost a $1,000 for Oxfam.  All of you who come to regular classes help support the Wednesday night practice being 100% for charity.  All fall, in recognition of one of the biggest issues of our day, the charities selected have been health-care focused, and I’ll continue that for December.  If you have any suggestions for cause of the month for 2010, don’t hesitate to share with me.


December Serenity Saturday: Give yourself or a friend or loved one a holiday gift of sweet relaxation at the next Serenity Saturday, which is December 19th, 3pm-5pm, at Capitol Hill Yoga.  Do a little local shopping or dining at Eastern Market and then join us for the delight of a deep restorative practice.  To register, please visit  $5 discount if you register more than seven days in advance.

New Year’s Day Workshop: Flow into grace with an all-levels asana practice, followed by yoga nidra from 2-4 pm on New Year’s Day.  Suitable for the well-rested and late-night revelers alike.  Go to to register.


Needing a little extra yoga or to get back into the swing:  come drop in at William Penn House on Tuesdays at 6:15 for all-levels or at Willow Street on Saturdays (level 2 at 8:30am and gentle/therapeutics at 12 noon).

Holiday Schedule:

Willow Street is on break from December 21st through the end of the year.  I’ll be teaching through December 19th and then teaching free classes as part of free class week on January 9th.  Yes, there will be class at the William Penn House on Tuesday, December 22nd, but alas no class on December 29th.

As always, please visit the website at to get more information on classes and upcoming workshops and to enjoy the blog.

Peace and light,


Vegan Peanut Butter Wheatgerm Cookies

These cookies are loosely inspired by the peanut butter cookies from the Joy of Cooking because those were my first peanut butter cookies.

1.  Soften a half cup of vegetable shortening (preferably organic), then cream with 1/4-1/2 cup of sucanat (sweeten to taste).  Beat in 1/2 cup agave nectar or maple syrup.  Add in equivalent of one egg of either “egg replacer” or flax seed emulsified with water.  Cream in peanut butter (make sure the peanut butter is organic; creamy works best in this recipe as they are crumbly cookies), a dash of salt, and a 1/2 tsp of baking soda.

2. Mix together 1/2 cup whole wheat flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour.  Then mix the combined flours into the wet ingredients until well combined.

3.  Blend in 1/2 cup of toasted wheat germ (flax seed meal or a combination also would work).

4. Chill the dough for at least 1/2 hour for best results.  Lightly grease a cookie sheet while the dough is chilling.  Shape the dough into walnut sized balls (or make them smaller, but shorten the cooking time).  Make an indentation with your thumb to flatten slightly.  The dough will rise and the thumbprint will disappear during the baking process, leaving a smooth, round pillow of a cookie.

5.  Depending on your cookware and whether you have convection (needs lower temperature) or conventional oven, bake at 335F-375F.  Starting from a cool oven (many baked goods are fine without the oven preheating; to save energy, try to start baking with something that doesn’t mind starting in a cool oven and then baking several items at the same time to take advantage of the already heated oven), bake for 15-20 minutes, depending on whether the oven was hot already, until golden.

6.  THIS IS IMPORTANT:  these cookies crumble very easily when first taken out of the oven.  Leave them to cool for at least 15 minutes on the cookie sheet before transferring directly to a plate.

Variations:  any nut or seed butter.  Hemp would be particularly good, as would almond.