Saturday, May 31, 2014

31 Days in May!

We've reached the end of May... the final day of my writing challenge!

Looking back I didn't do too poorly with it.  I actually surprised myself a little.  I only missed about eight days, so I guess I achieved somewhere around 75% of perfection!  More importantly, what this month has encouraged me to do is keep up with writing more frequently, which is a delightful consequence of challenging myself to write every day for the month of May.

I have received some wonderful feedback over that past 30 days, and I'm so grateful to know that some of my experiences, which were translated into words, have touched your hearts or lifted your spirits in some way.  So thank you for your support.  It really helped me through this month and motivated me to keep going.

We are in Ontario right now, somewhere north of Toronto sitting in a cabin over looking a lake.  It pretty much took us two full days (minus an overnight rest) to get here, but after a full night's sleep and a little time to take in the view, it sure was worth it!  This is a beautiful setting.  I'm feeling very Canadian sitting here writing, overlooking our natural landscape, and feeling the peacefulness of being completely immersed in nature, while listing to the morning birds sing and taking a deep breath of fresh, clean air.

We are here with Jeff's family, his two brothers, sister-in-law, their kids and of course his parents, as we're here to celebrate his parent's 50th wedding anniversary.  Now... 50 years - that's something to celebrate! 

Thus, in the middle of this vast and expansive scenery, we find ourselves in the midst of three generations; and it comes to mind that if our parents represent the past, and our children represent the future, then here we are in the balance of the two, weighing what has come before us, while trying to manage and shape what is yet to be.  We are the present.  It seems this is the key to everything:  AWARENESS of the PRESENT MOMENT.

As the month closes, I find myself contemplating time.  Time is slippery thing.  Forever moving.  Always elusive.  It is uncatchable; except perhaps, in those still quiet moments when we are able to sit in the seat of our own inner soul, and fully immerse ourselves in the present, when we become one with time per se, without thinking, analyzing, or judging - a moment of pure active observation: YOGA.

Life can feel overly full at times; but we are blessed with this unique opportunity to be on this planet, at this exact time in history, conscious beings, alive, awaking up more each moment.  I encourage you to make time in your day to seize those fleeting occurrences of calm, and remind yourself it is truly a gift to be alive!  

As Guruji would continually bring to our attention: "you are given, maybe, one hundred years, don't waste your time!


Wednesday, May 28, 2014

But... Green is my Life!

Jediah and I were driving yesterday in our car, and I pointed out how the construction crew had cut down a whole bunch of trees in one area to make a clearing for a new road and bridge that they are building near our home.

At which point he says, with a very sad tone in his voice,
"but... Green is my life!"

I started to smile and as always, I was in awe of how profound, yet simple, the words of a three year old could be, and I replied, "it is true, Green is my life too.  Green is everyone's life."

We were on our way to the doctor, and at the office I was flipping through a magazine and came across this advertisement for Conservation.org. It was incredibly effective, and since Jediah was there due to some trouble with his breathing, it seemed very synchronistic to our current situation.

It reminded me that we are so intricately connected to nature that sometimes it is easy to overlook how absolutely essential and necessary it is for our existence.  Everything we need and depend on is provided by nature - yes... even your computer and iPhone! 

For example, did you know that there is no living thing on this planet that can survive without water?
In an ideal environment, a human may be able to last a total of 12 days without water, but more then likely would die sometime around the five day point.

Here in Canada, we are championed in environmental activism by David Suzuki and his foundation. They bring attention to many issues, and also provide simple solutions that are easy to incorporate into your daily routine, and can significantly help to reduce our negative impact on this planet. You see, every breath we take, everything we eat or drink, and everything we own is derived from nature, even our homes are made from natural materials. We are completely dependent upon sustaining a harmonious environmental balance for our survival.

Here are a few quick facts from Conservation.org that you might find enlightening:
Conservation.org
  1. At least half of all medicines in use worldwide are derived directly from natural components, primarily from tropical forests. Antiviral drugs and painkillers are among the modern medicines obtained from coral reefs.  Only a small fraction of tropical rainforest species have been analyzed for their medicinal properties. We may yet discover more cures in nature — if we don’t destroy them first.
  2. Most large, modern structures are made from concrete, glass and steel. All three are derived from nature. Steel making is one of the world’s leading industrial sources of greenhouse gases. In 2010, according to the International Energy Agency, the iron and steel industry accounted for approximately 6.7% of total world CO2 emissions.
  3. Most vehicles run on fossil fuels like diesel and gasoline. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, there are fewer than 1.3 trillion barrels of crude oil left in the world oil reserve, which at the current rate of consumption would last the world only 41 more years.
  4. Deforestation accounts for 20% of all carbon emissions, which is twice the amount that all the cars, trucks and planes in the world emit, combined.  That's pretty major, as there are more than 1 billion vehicles on the road worldwide, including buses and trucks, which are themselves, disproportionately heavy polluters.
  5. The production of one hamburger releases as many greenhouse gases into the atmosphere as driving a car 10 miles.
  6. The production of one burger requires 7,000 liters (about 1,850 gallons) of water, the bulk of which is used to grow grain for cattle feed.
  7. Beef production uses about 60% of the world's agricultural land, yet provides less than 2% of the world's calories.
  8. Because cattle ranching requires large tracts of land, producers frequently clear-cut tropical forest to provide pastures for their herds. Extensive cattle ranching accounts for 80% of the amazon's deforestation.
  9. Palm oil is an edible vegetable oil found in about half of all the packaged food products on supermarket shelves — not just baked goods and snacks, but also cosmetics and lotions, soaps and detergents, even pet food.  Palm oil is incredibly productive, producing far more oil than other crops on the same amount of land. Today, a third of all vegetable oil used worldwide is palm oil.  However, most palm oil is produced on large industrial plantations, primarily in Indonesia and Malaysia. Often, tropical forests are cleared to make way for oil palm plantations that are destroying the habitat for endangered species like the orangutan. This deforestation also releases carbon into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, contributing to global climate change.

Not to overwhelm you with the issues at hand; but, knowledge is power, and it is important to understand what is happening so we can make informed choices in how to respond and protect the environment that supports us day in and day out.

Our yoga teacher R. Sharath Jois is also very passionate about the environment and protecting nature.  I found a shirt he made awhile back that has on the it one of his favorite sayings from that period in time:  Save Nature - Nature Saves You.  I have always admired this about him, the fact that he see this Ashtanga Yoga Practice expanding beyond simply the asana into how we treat our environment, the animals, and of course other people too.

Each day we should wake up with gratitude for all that we have, most of all for this beautiful planet that nourishes and supports us through the endless offering of herself.  That is the reason why Nature is conceptualized as a Mother, because she gives and gives without hesitation, without reserve, unconditionally loving and supporting us to the detriment of her own welfare, and will continue to do so until she is completely depleted.  Any mother understands this innate inclination of sacrificial offering and unlimited relinquishing of everything, for her children.

David Swenson was quoted in Yoga International, as saying "the definition of a yogi that I like most is this: A yogi is one who leave a place just a little nicer then when they arrived!"
I think this is a brilliant definition, much better then: "the one who can do the most handstands!" (that's another issue for another day).

My friend Lara Land started a movement to encourage more awareness of bringing our practice into every aspect of our day both on and off the mat.  It's called All Eight Limbs and you can read more about it on her blog Adventures in Yogaland.  I think this is a wonderful idea, and I am excited to support her in reminding all the yogis out there that our practice has to be about more then bending and stretching, it has to be about transformation, of not only for ourselves, but for our whole planet!
(aside: I'm pretty sure that our world doesn't need more handstands; rather, it needs more people making the world a kinder, and more sustainable place for every living being).

So, as you go, try your best to tred lightly on this planet and leave it a nicer, cleaner, happier home for everyone, because Green is our life, whether we want it to be or not.


Let's bring our yoga alive - and start living our practice - All Eight Limbs!  






Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Moving Beyond the Practice Plateau

When I first came to the practice of Yoga, like many, I immediately fell in love with it.  The sensation of lightness and clarity I had after my first class was like nothing I had experienced before.  It blew my mind.  I was hooked.  Each practice brought with it a sense of euphoria, and the changes in my body and mind were both obvious and exciting. 

I've seen this same initial passion for practice in many students over the years.  At the beginning it is encouraging to see all the visible transformation happening, and you might even get to taste a little bit of bliss, an aftereffect from this practice, which is distinctly different from any other activity you might have dabbled in.  

However, after some time, maybe months, if you're lucky it's years, the fascination and exhilaration wear off, and all that's left is you and your practice day in and day out.  

The changes become imperceptible, and the overwhelming sense of well-being that was so novel at the beginning becomes your new normal; and it's around this time that the practice starts to get hard; consequently,  I would argue that this is when the real yoga truly begins.   

Unfortunately, it seems that it is also around this time that one starts to hit a wall or plateau and many students head for the door and start to look for the next best thing to entertain their minds, bodies and senses; some fall back into old patterns that work against the practice, while others move onto something more gratifying to their ego.  
For those who decide to stick with it, many obstacles and challenges come up along the way that act to deter or sidetrack us from keeping our eyes firmly fixed on the goal of liberation or Self-realization.  

Personally, I found that difficulties often arise to keep my ego in check.  They are obstacles disguised as life-lessons and opportunities to go deeper into what Yoga really is all about, and what it's calling us to become.  They are like a spur that urges me to get unstuck from that universal habit of stroking my ego with pride about some physical or pseudo-spiritual achievement.  They help me to refocus on what is important, and identify less with the things that are not real and do not ultimately matter.  

Over the years, I’ve become very conscious about trying to remain unattached to the fruits of my practice because in the past, it has seemed that whenever I started to feel a little bit high on myself it never takes very long for the great fall from grace to come, and I have to pick myself up and start from the beginning again.  

Once we start on the path of yoga it can be a long journey back home to our True Self.  

One of Guruji's favourite quotes from the Yoga Sutras was: sa tu dirgha kala nairantarya satkarasevito drdha bhumih  
"Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated without interruption and with sincere devotion over a long long period of time." (Yoga Sutra 1:14)  

This is the recipe for a successful yoga practice.  It must be sustained without interruption and with love for the practice for a long long period of time, likely your entire lifetime, and possibly several lifetimes (if you believe in that kind of thing).

I often compare the relationship we have to our practice with a marriage.  At the beginning it is all rainbows and butterflies, excitement, passion, and adoration; but after some years, your spouse becomes so close to you that at times you barely notice them, their presence is your new normal as the titillation of unfamiliarity is replaced by routine.  

You might not even realize how integrated that person is into the very fabric of your soul until they are gone.  In many ways they start to act as a mirror for you, to see all of your own stuff, both good and bad, and all the areas you need to work on, if you are to evolve spiritually and become a better person.  Interestingly, if you can see this, and respond positively, you will figure out a way to keep that spark alive through the test of time, and your relationship will have the space it needs to grow, and change, and move through all the different phases of life together.  
You will be able to adapt and overcome all the obstacles and struggles that undoubtedly will come up along the way because you are open to giving your whole self, without reservation, and your love and connection will become deeper then you ever could have imagined.  You verily become One.  
You are yoked - this is also Yoga.

It is the same with your yoga practice.  Over time it will go through different stages and phases. Growth will not always be in an upward moving linear projection.  Sometimes we have to go back to the beginning to understand the inner workings more deeply, to get reestablished in something we missed the first time.  The practice also acts like a mirror showing us our areas of weakness and the places in our lives where we need to let go.  Ultimately, if you stick with this practice through the good periods as well as the less enjoyable ones, it gets interwoven into every moment of your day.  
 It becomes your time to connect intimately with the Divine.  

It becomes your very heart.  




Sunday, May 25, 2014

Soup Kitchen Craze

Early on in the day I set out to make this salad that I love.  It's called "Hail To The Kale" from Planet Organic (recipe is below).  It usually takes about 30 minutes for a normal person. 
For me however, it turned into an epic all-day cookathon, whereby I made a huge pot of vegetable soup, a massive amount of tomato based pasta sauce, and an abundantly large pot of mushroom soup, all in addition to the salad.  I started around 11am, and finally just wrapped up at just after 8pm! 
It was definitely over-kill on my part.  I think I got a little carried away.  I guess that's what happens when you only set out to cook once every couple months! 

Now, the big problem is... we don't have enough tupperware to store it all! 

I guess you know what I'll be doing tomorrow... going out and stocking up on new freezable containers to store all this soup and sauce in! 

Anyone want some? 



HAIL TO THE KALE SALAD
prep time:
30 min
total time:
30 min

Ingredients

  • 1 bunch Kale, chopped
  • 3 cups Carrots, grated
  • 1/2 head Red cabbage, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup Tamari pumpkin seeds (see method below)
  • 1/2 cup Tamari sunflower seeds (see method below)
  • 1/2 cup Flax or hemp oil
  • 1/3 cup Bragg Liquid Aminos (or organic soy sauce)
  • 5 tbsp Balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tsp Oregano, dried

directions

  • 1 - Wash kale and chop. Be careful to rinse the leaves to remove dirt and grit.
  • 2 - In a cast iron skillet over medium to high heat, stir sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Remove from heat when they’re toasted golden brown. While the skillet is hot, add in a few drops of tamari, which will sear onto the seeds. Remove and let cool.
  • 3 - In a large bowl combine chopped kale, carrots, cabbage and seeds. Set aside.
  • 4 - In a small bowl whisk together oil, Bragg Liquid Aminos, vinegar and oregano and pour over kale mixture. Toss until evenly coated and chill 2 hours before serving. This salad keeps well refrigerated 2-3 days.
  • Makes 8-10 Servings

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Finding Inspiration in Parkour

Jeff inadvertently found the inspiration for my blog today.  He started showing me all these videos on a discipline called Parkour.  You may be familiar with it as something called "Free Running."

It made me start thinking though, how Parkour shares many similarities to Yoga.   It is a philosophy of living.  It is a discipline and a daily practice.  It is not about gymnastics.   However, it is about connecting deeply with an internal force of energy and moving efficiently, and effectively through space in unison with this flow that is within us, and all around us.

It changes one's perspective on life.  Using the body as a platform for discovery, it unravels our preconceived ideas about what is physically possible, and in doing so it frees our minds from the constructs we've built to control our reality.  

These restrictions were once adopted to protect ourselves; but eventually they grow and begin to strangle the joy from our lives, and we become enslaved to our limiting ideas about who and what we are.  

Pakour is about becoming connected to a flow of movement.  To the force of prana (cosmic energy) that thrives and pulses within us.  There are no limits, no boundaries, except the ones we create in our mind.  It forces us to breakdown the prison we comfortably enclose ourselves within.

Through daily practice, there is a possibility that we can potentially evolve, transcend, and become more then human.  Facing our fear of death (abhinivesha) and courageously moving beyond it, we hope to realize our true identities as embodied, divine beings.

It encourages Play.  It dares us to Change.  It makes us question whether we are really, truly Free.

I hope these videos inspire you to keep Exploring and Playing in whatever form that might take.  Explore yourself, your capabilities, and your infinite potential.

Become ONE with God.  This Is Union.  This IS YOGA.