As I read the blogs and commentaries about the transition, I’ve been thinking a lot about John Friend’s exhortation that we should always start by looking for the good. This is a very unsettling time — economic and environmental crisis, two wars, etc, etc. I may disagree with some of the picks for cabinet, but not only am I not in charge, I neither have the desire nor the skills to be in charge. I often have an opinion about a way to enhance action, and then I try to take action to have my voice heard. I am saddened, though, by the onslaught of negativity. Hope for change does not mean instant transformation before even taking office. Why not look for the good, and then raise our voices for what else we think could make things even better. This works, too, for our own personal growth. I’ve personally experienced that when I stopped habitually criticizing myself, came to a level of acceptance and nurture and then worked for progress, that not only did I feel better, but I did change more because I wasn’t wasting energy on both the criticizing and the feeling bad.
Yesterday the mysterious beeping was beeping again in Studio 1B. I have all sorts of approaches to teaching with the beeping. One of them is to switch the attention of the ears to music. We flowed to Now by Bhagavan Das (because it was already in the CD player and I like it well enough) and listened to selections from Love Reigns by Diana Rogers during final relaxation. Monty asked me after class to give a list of some good music for home practice. Here are some of my favorite “yoga” cds in no particular order:
Krishna Das — Live on Earth; Faith of the Heart
Wah! — Hidden in the Name; Jai, Jai, Jai
Jai Uttal — Kirtan (this double CD also has a useful spoken background piece on what is kirtan)
Deva Premal — Love is Space; The Embrace
Ragani — Best of Both Worlds
Dave Stringer — Mala; Japa; Divas and Devis
Shantala — Sri; The Love Window
Many of these are available at the Willow Street Yoga Center shops. Most should be available on-line directly from the artists. Dave Stringer also has other music available for download. The rest can be obtained from Amazon. Also great listening is Invocation, which was put together by Ty Burhow. It is a collection of different artists offering versions of the Anusara invocation. Willow Street work studies are raving about MC Yogi’s Elephant Power, which is rap music telling the stories of various deities — funny and delightful.
Mostly, I prefer to teach and practice without music, but I was a dancer and find music helps to lead me into heart and body simultaneously. I find bringing music into a practice session especially helpful when I am having trouble getting settled on my mat. I do not just play “yoga” music, but play whatever gets me into the spirit of play or relaxation and contemplation as I am moved. My bias is towards chamber music (especially Bach) and Indian classical music for a late evening quiet practice and for an upbeat daytime practice anything that would go with being outside on a grassy field on a bright sunny day with frisbee players around. Alice Coltrane is also wonderful if you haven’t discovered yet her discography.
Play what enhances rather than what distracts. Also, check out the artists when they come to town: Wah!, Dave Stringer, and Shantala (Heather and Benji Wertheimer) all come to town. Enjoy!
In November 2006, the New York Times published a recipe adapted from Jim Lahey’s Sullivan Street Bakery for “no-knead”bread. I immediately adapted it further (as did many of those who commented on-line). Many thought the NYT adaptation benefited from more salt. I also have made it much more energy efficient (the NYT recipe expects the dough to rest in a 70F room and for the oven to be pre-heated for at least a half hour). In the winter, I keep my house at 62F, and pre-heating for only 10 minutes (or baking something else first that doesn’t need pre-heating) is much better for the environment.
As I was baking a loaf (whole wheat, flax seed variation) this week, I thought about how much this recipe teaches about skill and steadiness. The reason the bread doesn’t need to be kneaded, but still yields a crusty peasant-style loaf, is the high liquid content of the dough relative to kneaded breads and the very slow rise time. That one can achieve the results of active labor by mere patience and an understanding of the science of the process recalled for me something I learned at a Rod Stryker workshop a number of years ago about having a steady practice. Rod Stryker was asking students at a week-long intensive whether they had a steady meditation practice. One woman raised her hand and said that she had sat and meditated every day for 30 years. We were all thoroughly impressed. Rod Stryker asked her how long she sat. I think she said three minutes a day, it might have been five. I don’t remember exactly. I was still impressed. Not because she would claim to have a 30 year practice when it was just a few minutes a day, but that she had the self-knowledge to set an amount of time to practice that she could keep. The daily few minute sit was obviously not her only practice or she would not have been at a relatively advanced yoga workshop. It is easy not to develop a home yoga practice, a good home-cooked diet, a garden, or anything else that needs steadiness, if we set the bar too high at the beginning. We don’t want to set it too low either, but finding what we can do with steady commitment and then allowing growth to be spontaneous is the way to keep at it without feeling burdened.
Every once in a while I bake bread that takes attention every day for seven days in a row and then involvement multiple times on the day of baking. It is my having spent the time making more difficult breads that has enabled me to create variations the “no-knead bread” and know it will still come out well. The “no-knead” bread, only modestly varied, I can make whenever I’m out of bread whether I’m busy or not. It just takes throwing a few ingredients in a bowl on a night when I know I’ll be at home the next afternoon or early evening for a three-hour block of time (doing other things almost the entire time).
The basic recipe is as follows:
3 cups of flour. (At least half needs to be bread flour; you should add a tablespoon of wheat gluten for each cup that is not bread flour, e.g., whole wheat or rye.)
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt (NYT had 1 1/4)
1 and 5/8 cups water
cornmeal or wheat bran for dusting
Day one: mix all the ingredients in a large bowl. If you store your flours in the freezer (which helps keep them fresh and lowers electricity usage because a full freezer is more efficient than an empty one), let them come to room temperature before making the dough. Dough texture is sticky. Cover bowl. Let dough rest for 15-20 hours depending on room temperature.
Day two: dough is ready when the surface is dotted with bubbles. When dough is ready, lightly flour a work surface, place dough on it, sprinkle dough with a little more flour, and fold dough over once or twice. Cover loosely and let rest for 15 minutes. Using just enough flour to keep it from sticking to work surface (I have a cutting board I use only for baking) or hands, shape dough into a ball. Coat work surface and a kitchen towel (not terry) with flour, bran or cornmeal. Place ball of dough, seam-side down on work surface and cover with floured towel. Let rise for about two hours until doubled in size and dough does not readily spring back when poked with your finger. If dough is slow rising because of cool room temperature, put near radiator or put it near stove when cooking something else and when starting to pre-heat oven.
Pre-heat oven to 450F with a 6-8 quart covered pot (cast iron, enamel, pyrex, or ceramic) in oven while pre-heating. When pot and oven are hot and dough is ready, carefully put dough, seam-side down into pot and shake pan to distribute dough more evenly. Don’t worry, it will straighten out as it bakes. Bake covered for 25-30 minutes. Then remove lid and bake for another 15 to 30 minutes until browned. Cook on rack.
Variations: Use just 1/4 cup rye flour along with bread flour. It will taste like a classic french bread. Incorporate a teaspoon or two of olive oil. Semolina flour works well and turns the loaf a beautiful shade of yellow. You can add constituted cracked wheat, but you have to know what dough should look and feel like, because it changes the moisture content. Same for oat bran. I’ve taken to adding flax seed meal into most of my baked goods for the nutritional benefits. Because flax seed meal can be used as an egg replacer, you cannot replace it one for one with flour, but if you replace a quarter cup of flour with a third cup of flax seed meal, and keep the liquid the same, it has worked for me. Try it without a variation first. Practice, enjoy. The more you know about bread-baking, the more options you have. I’ve done it with beer and molasses as part of the liquid and mostly a mix of whole wheat and rye flour to make it taste like pumpernickel. Not my favorite, but it worked.
Play in the same kind of way with your yoga practice at home. Start with a favorite pose you you learned in class. Start small. Start simple, and then let yourself get inspired by the desire to create your own variations.
11-11 is the eleventh day of the eleventh month of our calendar. It is Veterans’ Day (still on 11-11 and not on the nearest Monday). It is a day to contemplate what I, as a citizen, can do to invert a National policy of creating war and turning our young people into soldiers and then neglecting and abusing them when they come home wounded physically and psychologically. Surely, it should be the reverse: we should be doing everything we can to avoid war and then do everything we can to take care of the health and welfare of those who have served.
11-11 is also a day for me to honor my own ancestors; it is the anniversary of the day my beloved Grandmother Rose left her body.
11-11 is a day of celebration; it is my mother’s birthday. She has said that when she was a littlge child, that she thought the parades and the day off from school were for her birthday.
11-11 is also a delightful treat of relative leisure (Federal Holiday in the middle of the week).
It is rare for me that a single day has so many different personal imports. Each day, though, indeed each moment, impacts all of us so differently depending on our life circumstances. Some of those impacts just happen; some are chosen; some are how we react both to what happens and what we choose. I’ll be enjoying my day off to the fullest, but will also be sending loving energy to those in need, especially those suffering from current and past wars.
Yesterday (latest in the season ever — see interesting articles in the New York Times last month about Thoreau as a climatologist) I spent the morning bringing all my tropical plants inside. Part of the reason it was later is that I have learned that the orchids and night-blooming cyrius like nights in the low 40s and can tolerate the occasional single night in the high 30s, but most of it is that it is a warmer season than any in the decade I’ve had a significant number of tropical plants. I also bring inside the lemongrass and lemon verbena (annuals here; perennials where they are native). I also like to bring in rosemary in a container. Also, what were once small plants in growers pots are now a huge jasmine and a bay tree. When I bring all of this inside in the winter, I transform the house into a retreat. When I bring it all outside in the early spring, my tiny yard is full and lush before the annuals start flourishing.
Once the tropicals were all inside, I cleaned up, tended the beds and containers, and strew some more winter kale and baby spinach seeds (no frost in the forecast for the next 15 days — so I could have new kale and spinach through December; also, some of the seeds will wait and be the early ones that come up during that warm week we always have in February).
Putting the garden to bed has a sweetness to it. I prepare for next year, but also engage in tending what will flourish best when the days are coldest and shortest. It is a going inside, knowing that there is a need to go inside and let some things be dormant in order to flourish fully when the sun is bright and hot and calls me outside.
This type of gardening is stressful for the lower back, hips, and shoulders. Throughout the hours I am gardening, I like to engage my alignment by intermittently doing some poses, strongly integrating my shoulders, hips, and core: working strong “shins in/thighs out” I practice uttanasana (standing forward fold), utkatasana (chair pose), and adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog), and maybe even handstand. It is critical to make sure not just to bend from the knees, but also to make sure you have a good lumbar curve and your tailbone is tucked, when picking up containers or other heavy objects.
At the end of several hours of gardening (bringing the tropicals inside also entails vaccuuming), I need to realign, stretch, and reintegrate, but I’m tired. I also want to practice in a way that honors and celebrates the sweet inward nature of the work I have just done. This is what works well for me:
1. Seated foot massage.
2. Balasana (child’s posture) with arms stretched out, palms, forearms, and armpits lifted. Inhaling lift underside of arms to strenthen, exhaling soften between shoulder blades to integrate.
2. Chakra vakrasana (cat/cow breathing).
3. (putting the garden to bed sun salute): Table pose (if you make sure you have good lumbar curve, table is one of the best postures for making sure hips, back, and shoulders are aligned well); Downward facing dog (play in the pose to integrate and stretch the legs and arms and strengthen your core); Palakasana (plank);Table pose; Balasana;Table.
Repeat the series several times. Add in lunges (coming into the lunges from table). Add in twists from table, threading one arm through and coming down onto that shoulder). Add in pigeon pose (with a forward bend).
4. End with legs up the wall, a supported or seated forward bend or two, and savasana.
Enjoy how this practice nourishes and realigns, but generally draws the attention inside, getting you ready to enjoy the inside while waiting for the next growing season.
ps While I was practicing, I had a big vat of tomato sauce cooking from the last (perhaps second to last) harvest of cooking tomatoes.
Now the real work begins! That is what President-Elect Obama, the headlines, the pundits, the commenters, all said, hardly pausing to savor “victory.” Unlike 1992, no one is suggesting that it is now time to party like it’s 1999. I am elated by the result, but personally most encouraged by the earnestness of the reaction, the call for selflessness and effort to begin.
In yoga, one of the primary practices is seva or selfless service. I think a critical aspect of seva is joyousness. This is not a call to knuckle down soberly as a puritanical denial of pleasure. Rather, it is a call to discover the pleasure in giving of oneself without asking anything in return. I begin, this morning, by giving financial support to certain groups that are hard at work to end war and torture and support the environment, but in dire need of support because of the financial crisis. I have celebrated this morniong with heart-opening asana, and plan to take a lunchtime walk in the neighborhood and prepare delicious food from the garden, while most of my day will be devoted to working and teaching.
Each day, as this new path opens and work continues, I will strive to remember the words of Hafiz: “[Spirit illuminates] the affairs/ Of the whole universe /While throwing wild parties/ In a tree house — on a limb / In your heart.” (The Subject Tonight is Love, 60 Wild and Sweet Poems of Hafiz, Versions by Daniel Ladinsky).
I was first taught that adhikara meant “studentship.” Although that is not a literal translation, adhikara implies a dedication and steadiness in the student that makes the student worthy of receiving the teachings (of yoga). As I was steadying myself during this momentous time and working in the garden, I was thinking about how the principle of adhikara applies to so many aspects of life, including gardening and being a citizen.
One of the literal translations for adhikara is “competence.” What is the competence one needs to have in order to participate in the study? As I harvested the last of the peppers and eggplants and pulled up the plants, making room to sow another round of greens (not too late in my sunny, protected yard in the city), and decided to leave the orchids out for another week, I thought about how I knew what to do when in my garden. By being present and observant for two decades in my yard alone, I have grown competent to know what will likely grow in my little patch of earth and for how long into the season, depending on the year’s weather. My initial competence, when I started this garden almost 20 years ago, was some basic training in other gardens, reading technical books, and enthusiasm. My consistent efforts to learn yielded results delightful to me from the beginning. As I have continued my studentship in the garden, my appreciation grows. The same is true for me also with cooking, relationships, and my participation in the community (not necessarily in that order).
The fundamental competence of a student is having the basic skills to participate at the level of the teachings. For a gardener, it is recognizing our climate, our space limitations, and our soil, and being open to learning what can be changed in a particular space and what must be accepted. For a citizen, it is knowing basic civics, what are the most relevant issues for us and society at large, and what we can change and what we must accept (I think knowing the subtle differences between what we can change and what we must accept is incredibly difficult). For yoga, it is much the same: we must know what are true limits and what are false ones and be consistently present, practice steadily, and be ever open, not only to studying, but to the fruits of study (expected or not).
I cannot change the weather, nor guarantee how other voters will vote, but I can continue to maintain the adhikara necessary to be a fully engaged student of this life on all days and not just the days it is fun or gratifying. The yoga, on a day like today, is to act fully, accepting, and perhaps even appreciating, the limits on what I can control.
It’s no surprise: I find myself more and more consumed by thought and activity regarding the state of the country and what I can do as a citizen (including voting) to make things better. As I seek to stay engaged, but grounded and without anxiety, I find solace of the teaching in the Bhagavad Gita that true yoga is action without attachment. To be detached is not the same as withdrawing from action. In fact, the Gita suggests that the path of action is better than the path of renunciation.
What is actionless action? Given the Gita’s fundamental premise that we must act in accordance with our duty (what that means is the subject of much debate that is beyond a simple blog), actionless action does not mean disengaging from the process. It also does not mean not caring. Rather, it means that we should act fully in accordance with our principles (which principles should be shaped by the yoga guidelines of non-harming, truthfulness, non-stealing, alignment with nature, non-greediness, cleanliness, contentment, fervor, self-study, and surrender), but with the mental understanding that we are ultimately not in control of the outcome. We act because not to act is a cop out. We offer the fruits of our action to forces beyond ourselves. We act out of love — not selfish love for personal gain — but with loving gratitude for being able to act at all. We engage fully and then still seek to be free of being unsettled by either pleasure or pain from the outcome. Whatever the results, we keep acting, we keep doing our duty, fully and with loving engagement.
See: BG IV.19-20: He whose undertakings are free from anxious desire and fanciful thought, whose work is made pure in the fire of wisdom: he is called wise by those who see. In whatever work he does such a man in truth has peace: he expects nothing, he relies on nothing, and ever has fullness of joy. (trans. Juan Munoz)
He who has abandoned all attachment to the fruits of action,/ Always content, not dependent,/ Even when performing action,/Does, in effect, nothing at all./ Performing action with the body alone, / Without wish, restrained in thought and self,/ With all motives of acquisition abandoned, He incurs no evil. (trans. Winthrop Sargeant)
P.S. I will have voted in the morning and will be teaching at Wm Penn House on Tuesday so come join me resting in yoga before going home to watch the returns.
Each Willow Street session, I choose an overall philosophy topic or book to inform the themes for my classes. I choose them based on something that I believe is relevant to what is going on in the world, something that has captured my interest, or something that I believe supports the growth of the groups of students attending my various classes.
When exploring particular readings for this purpose, I do more than read. Rather, I contemplate, journal, practice asana (in a sense choreographing the philosophy using the principles of alignment), and meditate with the reading in mind. Paul Muller-Ortega calls studying by going beyond book knowledge and continuously contemplating, refining, and exploring its living meaning for us is vikalpa-samskara — the practice of study. (Siva Sutra Pravesana, An Introduction for Practitioners of Yoga).
This session, the central text I am reading is Swami Chidvilasandana’s The Yoga of Discipline. The book contains a series of lectures discussing how being steady and constant in our yoga practice (including bringing yoga principles to our daily lives) will help us become more gracious, happy, and able to serve society. The lectures draw on teachings from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and from the Bhagavad Gita (suggested translations in another blog entry to come). I am freely drawing on those as well, even those sections not discussed in The Yoga of Discipline.
I picked this text at this time because I am feeling such a deep need and such gratitude for my yoga practice, study, and community in this time of uncertainty. It has been my own personal experience that longer I have had a steady practice, the better able I am to come from a place of light in times of flux, pain, or complexity.
Last year, when it was dry and hot early, I had an extraordinary season of peppers, tomatoes, and cucumbers. This year, the peppers and cucumbers were not particularly abundant. The heat came too late and the rain has been too inconsistent for them to thrive. The eggplants, though, were ecstatic this year. Every week brought at least two and sometimes four. When cooking for one, it is easy to find two eggplants a week far too many. It was a relief to go to Santa Fe, where I could eat seasonal vegetables that did not include eggplant.
I was delighted, though, knowing I was about to host a party, to come home to five eggplants almost ready to be picked. What better base for a potluck party dish than eggplant? Knowing the crowd, I anticipate baba ghanoush by the bucketful; could not make that. The tomatoes are not longer succulent enough for caponata (they must all become sauce); that was out. I chose, then, eggplant caviar. Not a bad pick. What could be a better offering for a party in Washington DC at this time in history than what is often called poor man’s caviar?
I do not know the historical basis for it being named poor man’s caviar. It does not look like caviar. Not really. It does not taste like caviar. You can put it on bread or crackers the same way you would serve caviar, but that certainly does not further the explanation. It is, though, a delicious and festive dish that pretty much requires only having eggplant growing in the backyard (or a trip to the farmer’s market) and the time to take care of it.
Eggplant caviar is a dish that reminds me that with only a little space and the willingness to provide nurture and pay attention for a season and to cook a simple dish slowly, I can experience what it is to enjoy and share little luxuries without being entirely dependent on money. I am finding that comforting and encouraging. (I do recognize that there are those for whom a little space and times are luxuries they cannot even imagine. For me, choosing the simpler luxuries allows for more to share and offer. Going entirely without comfort would not help much of anything. As for sharing and giving, I certainly do hope those help.)
Recipe (adapted from Thomas Keller’s Eggplant Caviar in “New York Cookbook,” Molly O’Neill)
Take 3 to 5 eggplants, depending on size of eggplant and number of portions desired. Cut them in half, score the flesh and salt it. Let the eggplants drain cut side down, weighted by a heavy plate or pan, for 45 minutes to an hour. Rinse and squeeze out the eggplant. Roast, cut side down, until very tender. (In my convection oven, that’s about 25 minutes at 350F). When cool enough to handle, scoop out flesh and chop coarsely. Drain again in a strainer for 10-15 minutes.
Meanwhile, wisk together olive oil, pressed garlic cloves, and dijon mustard to taste (to be local, you could use walnut oil, and it would taste excellent; I expect, however, that there may be party guests who are allergic to nuts).
Squeeze out the eggplant pulp and mix it with the remaining ingredients. Best if sits overnight or at least a few hours. When ready to serve, adjust the salt and pepper.
Variation Make with mushroom. Skip right to roasting (or even just mince finely and saute until juices evaporate).