Friday, June 3, 2011

Life is not a recipe

"Life is not a recipe. Recipes are just descriptions of one person's take on one moment in time. They're not rules. People think they are. They look as if they are. The say, 'Do this, not this. Add this, not that.' But, really, recipes are just suggestions that got written down." ~ Mario Batali

I haven't written in awhile.  I've had some things to say, but they just haven't made their way here.  A series of quotes have inspired me recently.  Mario's is one of them.

I love to cook.  I took a cooking class from Edward Espe Brown a couple of years ago.  One of the big realizations I took home from that class was that I wasn't tasting my food while I cooked.  I followed the recipe.  That generally came out fine.  But flavors get built along the way and tasting is a form of mindfulness practice that keeps your cooking alive and asks for your full participation.  Recipes are fine places to begin.  But every ingredient has the potential to vary.  No tomato tastes exactly the same.

Funny...I'd learned that in my yoga practice.  When I first began to practice and much later to teach, I followed the recipes of my teachers.  Most of the time that came out okay.  But I began to meet teachers who weren't offering recipes but were teaching me to cook.  Try this, taste it.  That's when my yoga practice really grew and my teaching felt authentic.  

Here's a mudra to try...vajrapradama mudra...a gesture of unshakeable trust.

Interlace your fingers lightly, your thumbs are free. Place your hands across your chest.  The feeling of your hands on your own heart will have an immediate effect but rest with it awhile.  Taste it.  You could look up more information on the internet.  You could find a recipe for this mudra.  But perhaps just see how it feels to you.  How long do you want to sit with it? Do you rest your hands on your chest or away from your body?  How is your breathing affected? Taste it.  Trust yourself.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I've been thinking about attention.   Shining the light of my awareness strongly helps me discern the "what's going on here?" in my practice.   But somewhere recently I heard someone use the word diffused in describing the attention in a yoga posture.  I was intrigued.   The image in my head was of light diffused through green leaves...dappled, cool, soft.  I've been using this diffused attention more often.  I like the feeling of shifting between the two.  I travel the body bit by bit, making little adjustments here and there.  I feel my way into my body as it wants to respond to this shape today.  And then I allow my attention to diffuse through the whole body all at once.  It brings ease to the shape but also to my mind.

Sunday, August 29, 2010


I recently stumbled across "Rapt - Attention and the Focused Life" by Winifred Gallagher.  She writes of a universe of ways that paying attention (or not) create the life we live.  The book contains plenty of neuroscience for the geeks among us, but it's an easy read for the less geeky.  Here is how the book ends...

Attending to pleasure is a reward in itself, but savoring also boosts your quotient of positive emotion, which in turn expands your focus and may confer health benefits, such as improved resilience and immune function.  During an illness, says Bryant (Fred Bryant, psychologist at Loyola University in Chicago), 'you should savor not just for the sheer joy of it, but also to help yourself recover.'  Then too, he says, 'just because something bad is happening doesn't mean lots of good things aren't also.  They're two very different phenomena.  The joy and meaning you find in life and the current stressor -- an illness, a troubled relative, a career setback -- are separate concerns, and you can experience both.'
The best strategy for savoring is learning to pay rapt attention to carefully chosen top-down targets.  To practice this skill, Bryant suggests taking a 'daily vacation': spending twenty to thirty minutes focusing on something you enjoy or suspect you might but have never done.  Then, at the end of the day, you revisit and relish that pleasurable interlude and plan the next sojourn.  After seven days, he says, 'most people say,  "What a great week! I wish I could do that all of the time!" Well why not?'

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Art of Choosing

I'm at the gym,  peddling my way to nowhere on the stationary bike, listening to a TED talk by Sheena Iyengar (not THAT Iyengar) on the art of choosing.  I've included it below.  It gave me this whole new perspective on how people choose which yoga class to take.  I think perhaps we sometimes only find the right class for us by sheer luck.

For instance, she mentions that in one study she put out seven different kinds of soda for the participants to choose.  She was surprised when one person said, that's not a choice, it's all one thing...soda.  So I realize, to someone completely new to yoga, a list different yoga classes with different names is one  It becomes really important to be clear then what a person new to practice wants (even though that may change over time) and needs from yoga at present.

There were also cultural differences related to how one approaches choosing.  Dropping the cultural significance and simplifying, I will say that there are the people who want to figure it out for themselves and people who are more comfortable with  choice assisted by a respected source.  I started thinking about how some yoga systems have structure and lots of adjustments. (A friend once said he would try yoga if he could go to a class where  they would teach him to do it right.)  Other styles of teaching that encourage an exploration that only begins with form but is ultimately INformed by form.  The yoga posture feels right.

It seems to me that not only do we need to help people understand the styles of yoga available but also the styles of teaching available.  Do you want tough love? Nurturing?  Drill sergeant or goddess of mercy? We need to offer  up the explanation of choices in a way that gives clarity rather than judgement...and perhaps a little finesse.

Give the talk a listen.  Even if you don't find yourself relating it to choosing a yoga practice, it's a really interesting look at how we choose.  Sometimes it's art!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


Today, in savasana, my mind was whirling away about a variety of things.  Not worrying, not fretting, just thinking.  I was thinking about yoga and how it really takes discipline and patience.  That's the tough love bit I haven't been sharing much lately.  There's the nice relaxing "I-sleep-better-on-the-days-I-do-yoga" experience of yoga.  There's a lot to be said for that kind of experience.  But I suspect there's a little bit of cotton candy quality to it.  It seems substantial but melts into nothing fairly quickly.

I was thinking about how there's "change" and then there's "transformation".  Change happens no matter what.  There's no stopping it.  Transformation takes discipline, mindfulness, and patience.

The first of the yoga sutras of Patanjali is sometimes translated as "And now the teaching of yoga begins", as if that occurrence happens once and then we are on the path.  I've come to realize that that moment where the teaching of yoga begins happens now...and now...and now.  And so do the opportunities to miss the moment.  Fortunately the  moment comes around again.  It's never too late.

While this was all swirling around in my head, I woke up to the fact that my body had found a place of profound relaxation.  So profound it sent a ripple of pleasure through me to notice it finally.  Mostly that doesn't happen.  When the mind is busy the body sort of picks up on it as well.  But today my body took me where I needed to go and then waited for me to notice.

And now the teaching of yoga begins.

Lu was always really good at Savasana

Saturday, July 24, 2010

A work in progress

This week I've been having some lively conversations in person, on Facebook and in emails about yoga.  I got my knickers in a twist, as they say, after reading a couple of articles in the paper that I'm going to say were a bit shallow and...well okay...I got annoyed.  I got defensive.  Yoga really doesn't need to be defended.  My practice is what it is.  It's a living event, a work in progress...and so am I. (Sometimes it's art!)

Usually I say yoga and if they are two different things. But for me, they are one and the same thing.  Sometimes I'm moving and sometimes I'm not.  So when I practice yoga, everything is grist for the mill.  Even getting grumpy over someone else's comments about yoga is folded into practice.  This week, perhaps I'll practice renunciation.  I'm going to renounce worrying about what people in the popular press say about yoga.  Or maybe I'll just see my annoyance and defensiveness as some kind of love instead of a character flaw.  Who knows what I'll find.  That's why I love to practice yoga.  The living event unfolds in unexpected and sometimes delightful ways.

Here's a piece from Paths to God, Living the Bhagavad Gita by Ram Dass.  He talks about playing with renouncing desires, but renouncing pet peeves seems like it will be just as fruitful.

"If you want to play a little bit with a renunciation practice, pick some desire that you encounter every day. You decide which one: the desire to eat something or other, the desire for a cigarette, whatever it is you want to play with. Pick something that you usually give in to every day — like, let's say, a cup of coffee in the morning — and for one day, don't do it. Then the next day, do it much more than you usually would — have two cups of coffee. Start to study your reactions. Notice the difference in your feelings toward the desire on the first day and on the second day.

"Maybe another time you'll want to take two desires to work with: one day don't satisfy one and doubly satisfy the other, and then flip them around. Try to be very attentive to what's going through your mind about it. If you're keeping a journal, write about it in your journal. Start to relate to your desires as something you can scrutinize rather than as things that totally suck you in all the time, things that consume you. Get into a friendly relationship with your desires. Play with them, instead of being driven by them all the time. Desires get to be fun, really, once we're observing them instead of mechanically reacting to them.
"The whole game of renunciation and purification is an experiment — an experiment in how quickly we can extricate ourselves from being attached to our desire systems. Notice that it isn't a question of getting rid of desires — that's a misunderstanding. Trust me, the desires will stay around! We're just loosening their hold on us, getting clear enough of them so we can see them in some sort of context.”

And ps...check out this blog post from the Dalai Grandma on the Basis of Practice.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


"As Sri Pattabhi Jois, founder of Ashtanga yoga, said: 'Yoga is 99% practice and 1% theory.'

Doctors should really be prescribing practice to patients: practice healthy eating habits, practice exercise, practice good relationships, practice discipline, practice creativity, practice confidence, practice learning, practice working hard.  Because everything takes practice.  Health, contentment, love, good relationships, success...these don't come easily to anyone."

This is from the blog Prescribing Yoga by Christina Palmer.  It was chosen for recognition by one of my new favorite online magazines...The Magazine of Yoga...this morning.  It's so nice to be reminded that everyone needs to practice.  Whatever appears easy and effortless is always the result of practice.  We're all in this life together, practicing.