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Pre-Season Gardening (and diksha)

In yoga practice the concept of diksha — initiation or threshold — carries with it a sense of right timing and conscious understanding of readiness for the next level.  For example, knowing I was not yet strong enough, this past weekend I chose not to try to jump from adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog) to svanasana (headstand), but instead concentrated on doing the poses one at a time, even though I was surrounded by people who could do the transition with ease and my ego was challenged.  Until I am stronger and better able to hold the alignment in poses at that level, I would be too much at risk of hurting my neck and shoulders.

In the garden, it is easy to be fooled by a beautiful weekend to move right to activities that are still 3-4 weeks premature.  Even though it will hit 70F this weekend, it is not time to plant (other than perhaps an experimental row or pot of kale, chard, or beets, which like the cold).  The best gardening you can do in the beginning of March when the weather is swinging wildly from below freezing to unseasonably warm is to read and plan and start seedlings indoors, just like it is best to warm up and work on strength, alignment, and flexibility before going for harder asana in your yoga practice.  It will be tempting to get out this weekend, but do the prep stuff and the clean up.

Here are some favorite books of mine to get ready for planning.  It is mostly more practical stuff (rather than the super glossy, beautiful garden as splendid art and architecture picture book reading) with some food and yoga overlap and a bias for small urban gardens.

The Yoga of Herbs — An Ayurvedic Guide to Herbal Medicine, D. Frawley and V. Lad (Lotus Press, 2d Ed. 1988)

Gardener Cook, C. Lloyd (Willow Creek Press 1997) (OK — this one is kind of cooking, gardening porn)

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

The Bountiful Container, McGee and Stuckey (Workman Publishing Co., 2002)

Small-Space Gardening — How to Successfully Grow Flowers and Fruits in Containers and Pots, P. Loewer (The Lyons Press, 2003)

Kitchen Herbs — The Art and Enjoyment of Growing Herbs and Cooking with Them, S. Gilbertie (Bantam, 1988)

The New Kitchen Garden, A. Pavord (Dorling Kindersly Ltd., 1996) (Also pretty and glossy, but still practical)

Pressure Cooking

I admit it.  A couple of years ago, when a friend was waxing poetic about the virtues of pressure cooking, I was skeptical.  Shortly after the second or third conversation on the topic in a short space of time, I came across Lorna Sass’s “Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure” at the Lantern (used bookshop).  Seeing it as a sign, I bought the book and a pressure cooker (an Aeternum — pricey, but sturdy and easy to use).

What I like best about the pressure cooker is that it cuts the cooking time of beans or soup from 1-3 hours to 20-35 minutes.  Kitcheree (indian rice and lentils) cooks in 15 minutes.  I’d estimate that in the two and half years I’ve had my cooker, I have saved over 200 hours of cooking with gas time.  Not sure how much cooking gas I’ll have to save before I’ve made up for the energy to manufacture and ship the pot to me, but I should cross that at some point in the life of the pot.  Even better is that I can come home after a full day at work and cook dishes with dried beans or slow to cook grains without staying up all night.

Once you put the cooking ingredients in the pot, get it up to pressure, turn down the flame, and set the timer, there is no need to watch the pot.  So today, for lunch, with only about five or ten minutes of prep time, I have rice (with saffron and amaranth made in the rice cooker) and pot beans (coco rubico from the Dupont Farm market, seasoned with celery, onion, garlic, sun-dried tomatoes, dried chiles brought back from Tucson, and dried bay leaf, epazote, and mexican oregano from my own garden).  Start to finish about a half hour (I did presoak the beans).  Able to continue working except for the minor prep time.  Wonderfully content to have nourishing, delicious food to warm and inspire my day.  I do better work (I do work better) when I eat well.

Native Seed Search

One of the delights of my trip to Tucson, was visiting the Native Seed Search’s shop.  Native Seed Search works to gather, safeguard, and distribute native and adapted seeds to farming and gardening communities, and to educate farmers and gardeners about the uses of those seeds.  When I go to Tucson, I make sure to visit the shop (so much more fun than shopping on-line) to buy unique varieties of peppers and beans for cooking.

The first time I went — three years ago — I did not buy any seeds.  I was not certain that I should be bringing seeds from the southwest to DC for planting.  This year, after the last two years of heat and drought, I bought a few varieties of southwestern greens and some pink green beans to try in containers.  I had a good chat with the workers in the shop about shifting what we plant as the climate changes even as we might otherwise try to avoid bringing new species into the area.

I went small with this experiment.  As long as I do not let the amaranth (to eat as greens not grain) go to seed and pick the beans to eat or replant, nothing will spread.  It will be interesting to observe if these plants require less water or tolerate more heat here than the greens and beans we are more accustomed to planting.

It was also wonderful, on this icy cold day, to take the seed packets out of my bag in anticipation of spring.  Planting season for cool weather greens, etc (etc meaning beets, turnips, and radishes) is only a couple of weeks away.

Home (and sauca)

It was wonderful to visit another city, to enjoy a change in climate and scenery, to see friends, and to study.  I am happy to be home, though, even with the responsibilities and obligations.  That I am always happy to come home from a trip away (even when I have gone to places perhaps more spectacular or interesting than where I live and met people who are able to do things that are outside of my reach) is one of the things that reminds me that my unassuming life suits me well enough.  Part of this delight in coming home is my having for the past decade steadily practiced the principle of sauca or contentment.

I remember having a talk with a friend a number of years ago about practicing sauca.  She expressed surprise that contentment could be a practice.  She said she had always thought that happiness was something that just came to you.  Happiness may come more easily to some than others, just as some are born with physical beauty or material comfort and others are not.  It is my experience, though, assuming our basic needs are met, that by practicing sauca, we will be happier both with what we have chosen and what we have been given.

Vacation

I am delighted to be going on a short trip to a warm place (Tucson) to do nothing but yoga and visit with friends and acquaintances.

My work life is such for the next several months that I cannot take a long vacation.  I can find a few days here and there, though, and it is critical to my working well.  I find if I work with too much effort or for too many hours or days in a row, I lose my sense of humor and my creativity.  These are truly essential components of doing a good job.

If you cannot get away for a day or two or five, take five minutes to just breathe without following your thoughts.  It is not a vacation.  It is meditation.  It will not serve in the way of a vacation, but it will provide a needed break from attachment (perhaps to the point of misalignment) with the mindstuff (citta) and will enable you to continue with your efforts more at peace with both the efforts and yourself.

Kleshas (and the absence of helicopters)

Last night when we walked out of William Penn House from the Tuesday night yoga class onto East Capitol Street, we could see a convocation of police cars in front of the Capitol — presumably in preparation for the President’s speech.  Karen asked, “where are the helicopters?”  “Maybe, Obama doesn’t need them,” I replied, “maybe he is choosing not to live in fear.”  There weren’t any army or police helicopters all night.  This was the first Presidential speech in eight years where helicopters did not relentlessly drone overhead, calling people to be afraid and to act from a place of fear.

Patanjali’s yoga sutra II.3, says:  avidyha asmita raga dvesa abhinivesah klesah.  BKS Iyengar translates this sutra as follows:  “The five afflictions which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness are:  ignorance or lack of wisdom, ego, pride of the ego or the sense of ‘I’, attachment to pleasure, aversion to pain, fear of death and clinging to life.”

The world is far scarier now than it has been for most of the past eight years.  In some ways, though, at least in my neighborhood, it feels less frightening because the signs of being afraid are not being emblazoned everywhere to call all to share in the fear.

We can practice choosing to turn to a place of strength rather than fear on our yoga mats.  When we choose to do the difficult poses that are at our edge that bring up fear and aversion, we can notice the fear and aversion, but not become fully engaged in it.  By using the Anusara principle of opening to grace, we can accept fear and aversion as part of human being, but then soften and open to the full range of being, and not just cling to the fear.  Instead of avoiding the poses or beating ourselves up for being afraid, we can choose to use the yoga principles we know to invite a full experience of the moment and the possible poses.  Remaining open to witnessing the full range of our being through the pose, we next engage muscular energy (strengthening by embracing the muscles to the bone, hugging into our center [midline], and drawing from the periphery into our core).  Having found our strength, we expand more fully (expanding/inner spiral).  We then have space to draw more deeply into our core power (contracting/outer spiral).  With this balance of embrace and expansion of ourselves, we then can fully embody strength by reaching outward (organic energy) and making offering.  This pulsation of principles in poses has led me to discover physical and energetic abilities in my middle age I had not dreamed possible.

Off the mat, the same principles can lead us to move from love and strength instead of fear and clinging.  As I got into bed with the peace of the night uninterrupted, I pondered how these principles can manifest and gave a profound thanks to whomever decided the harbingers of fear — the helicopters — were unnecessary.

Snowdrops and Crocuses (and Spanda)

Snowdrops have been showing up for more than a week, but crocuses?  They seem a little incongruous with the bitter winds and as much a reminder of global warming as of spring.  I feel a bit confused seeing them, though delighted.

It has been a good winter.  I have learned to appreciate the cold and dark, which gives us time to enjoy the pleasures of home and introspection.  Now, I am looking forward to spring, the effusive colors, the warmth, the ability to get back out into the garden.

This time of year, with the radical contrasts of cold winds and flowers does highlight the play of opposites, the very pulsation of existence — in yoga terms, the spanda.  This time in society seems to have a similar play of bitterness and sweetness.  Staying steady with our yoga practice and our community, we can delight in what we see and what we have, even as we may be worried and working for change.  That too, is part of the play (lila).  To invite in a steady warmth and support from our practice and our community, even as we see difficulties and challenges, want things to be different, and know that our work may not necessarily bring about the change we seek.

Midnight Yoga

Every once and a while, I find myself restless at bedtime or wakeful in the night.  The following series serves to make it easier for me to go to sleep and for me to feel fully rested as if I had not been short sleep:

1.  Vipariti karani (legs up the wall).  Start with legs up the wall for five minutes or longer, then move legs into baddha konasana (butterfly) for several breaths, then put them back up the wall.  While your legs are up the wall, first just watch the breath.  Then concentrate on the breath, inviting the exhales to be twice the length of the inhales.

2.  Twisted forward bend.  Using a bolster and a folded blanket (or two or three folded blankets) lengthwise on your mat, place the left thigh next to the edge of the blanket pile, allow yourself to sit heavily.  Staying sweetly grounded, hug your hips together to embrace your core and then draw the left waist back as you bow forward onto the support of the blanket. You can allow your forearms and hands to rest on the floor or you can bend your elbows a little more and tuck your hands between the blankets under your forehead.   Keeping the attention on the breath, inhaling lovingly draw in, exhaling more fully accept the support of the blanket.  Hold for a few minutes and then repeat on the other side.

3.  Supported balasana (child’s pose).  With your knees wide apart and the big toes together, draw the blanket pile between your knees up to mid-thigh.  Place another blanket (or a pillow) across your calves.  Bow forward onto the support of the blankets.  Half way through, turn your head to the other side.  If your thoughts are still active, just let them be and turn your attention back to the breath.

4.  When you are ready to come out of balasana, tuck your toes under and lift your hips into adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog).  If you’d like, you can stay here for several breaths with your head supported by the blankets.  When you are ready, walk your hands back to uttanasana (standing forward bend).  Quietly and mindfully get back into bed and lie in savasana.

Sweet dreams!

To do list? (Yoga citta vrtti nirodaha)

Twitter?  What would be

The point without an I-phone?

Buy one? Save the nation?

Last night I wrote this “twaiku” (why is it not a “twittiku?”) after having read yet another series of articles on why or why not to Twitter and still more articles on why it is important for a nation of consumers to keep consuming even if that is what got them into trouble in the first place.  One of the articles was lamenting the loss of true communication that comes with being limited to 140 characters, and it set forth some examples of how peculiar, when taken out of context, some twittering can sound, especially to the uninitiated.  In my attempt to keep an open mind about devaluing language while still communicating in language, I was led to think about haikus v. sonnets and other longer poetic forms.   A haiku easily fits into 140 characters.  This led me to wonder whether anyone had created a haiku trend on Twitter?  A quick Google search revealed that I am way behind the times in terms of the twaiku?

One of the articles suggested that Twittering is about being in the moment.  Contrarians say it fosters attention deficit disorder and a host of other language-loss ills.  This led me to think of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali “yoga citta vrtti nirodaha” (yoga is stilling/aligning with the thoughwaves of the mind).  When evaluating what to consume, when to consume, and how to consume (whether it is language and communication methods or electronic goods or anything else), if we are serious about taking yoga off the mat, it is good to think about whether our consumption eases the trials of being embodied or makes daily living more agitating, and whether our consumption brings us more into alignment with nature/spirit (brahmacharya) or turns us away.

Grandma Rose’s Philodendron

The other day, when I was in NY visiting,  I told my mother about the blog entry on Robert’s dendrobium. (Being physically present and discussing the blog entries is the low-tech way of getting comments).  She pointed to the philodendron and some cuttings she was rooting from it and said, “that philodendron was your grandmother Rose’s; it must be 70 years old.”   It might not be 70 years old, but it is at least 40 or 50, as my grandmother left her body in 1977, and I remember her having houseplants.  It is possible, even, that the plant originally came from a cutting from my other grandmother, as that was how we obtained and grew most of the family houseplants.

My mother offered the plant for me to take home.  I declined, but thought about taking a cutting.  By the next morning, I had forgotten, but I will take a cutting one day.  I did not need the cutting to enjoy thinking about bringing home a bit of life that had been living in my grandmother’s apartment and remembering both my grandmother and a space that I had loved.  That was delightful enough.

(ps — one of the many reasons for the name “rose garden yoga” is in honor of my grandmothers — for my grandmother Rose’s name and for the love of gardening I learned from my grandmother Ann).