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Practice and all is coming

 

 

 

There is something magic about a few sun salutations in the morning.
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Note to a younger friend

I have a younger friend who, apparently, is in many ways a younger version of myself. She struggles with stress, impatience, and anger. So I’d like to share here my story just in case it can help.

Dear friend,

I was a very short-tempered and angry teenager and young adult. I would react very quickly and snap mean remarks to the people who were closest to me and I loved most. I felt very sorry, but by the time I realized I was sorry, it had already shot out of my mouth. It all happened so quickly and I just couldn’t control or stop it. I was high-strung, frantic, probably stressed and scared, and not very happy – obviously – nor very pleasant to be around. I found I was putting barriers of irritation and snarkiness between me and the people I loved and needed most.

Then I started practicing yoga in Greenville, SC. It was not just any kind of yoga. In this yoga, deep breathing was the most important element. I learned to slow down and deepen my breath (ujjayi breathing). This type of breathing alone calms the nervous system. Soon after learning it, I found that just the sound of a few breaths while driving to work calmed and soothed me. The yoga classes themselves aligned breathing, movement, and attention. I learned how to observe myself (body, mind, moods) very closely. How to scan my body in each pose and see what I can relax. To relax my face and keep the breathing slow and smooth even when my leg muscles were getting uncomfortable and shaky after holding a pose for a while. This taught me a number of important things:

  1. That I can make myself feel better. I was, and still am, amazed at the powerful mood changing properties of yoga. I would walk into class a stressed, frantic mess, and walk out floating on pink clouds. The difference was so big and sudden I would tell my teachers that “she sold happiness at $10 a shot; and it’s so good it should be illegal :)” I discovered a deep sense of peace and joy – that everything was already OK – that I am not sure I had ever felt in my life. I learned that I could improve my state of mind and soul without the help of friends or that glass of wine.
  2. To observe myself closely, and to pay attention to my body. As I started observing myself more closely, and scanning my body to feel how things were, time slowed down. I noticed that anger and irritation do not happen as quickly as I thought. They usually start with a tickle and a tensing of the area around the stomach or the heart. With a line of electricity that tenses my shoulders and lower back. I felt it coming long before thoughts and words formed in my head. It is a very unpleasant feeling. I had to breathe through it. But it gave me time to make a decision about whether I really wanted to say something, and if so, what – and how. Many times, I decided I would say something anyway – otherwise, I felt I would have a heart attack. Some times, I was able to at least rephrase things so they were not as abrasive. With time, I got better and better at that. With time, the intensity of the original feelings of irritation lessened. I just don’t get quite that angry anymore. Not that often. Not several times a day. 🙂
  3. I learned that I can keep calm, smooth and soft (just like the ujjayi breath) even if my heart is racing, even if things get painful and uncomfortable. I learned to bear through unpleasant sensations and moments without letting them freak me out. In yoga class, yes, my legs hurt, but it was OK. It was safe. My heart raced and I was dripping sweat. Yet my breath and mind were calm and smooth. I learned to carry that over outside the yoga room. I started with physical pain. I would just try to relax my muscles (tensing intensifies pain), not be scared of the pain, not fight it, and just breathe smoothly and deeply (btw – you cannot feel pain on a deep exhale – just try it. I use that trick when I get injections).

Together, all these things changed my life deeply. Yet, I still struggled with occasional sadness and depression. I was OK, but I wasn’t happy enough. And then, a couple of months ago, I started practicing a tiny bit of yoga (15 minutes) every day. It changed my life all over again. It feels like every day I turn on the joy. I am in awe of the deep mood altering effects of just 4 sun salutations. I do not understand what is happening. I just know that by the time I start the second one, my body and mind seem to light up like a string of Christmas lights. I feel awake. And by the time I’m done, there’s a deep calm and joy that lasts through the day. Here is my dear teacher Liz guiding you through 7 minutes of modified (easier) sun salutations:

I also practice a bit of mindfulness meditation. It is great, but honestly, much harder than yoga. Yoga gets me into that meditative state just by moving my body, which is easier for most of us to control than our minds. I explain that in a different post.

I think the most important thing is that I gained that sense of “everything is OK.” I am less scared. Less insecure. I don’t need to control things quite as much (though that is still a work in progress). I don’t have a strong sense that things must be MY way, otherwise my position (at work) or my sense of self or who knows what will suffer. Everything is OK. That feeling of “everything is OK” is inside. All the time. It just takes going through a few motions (in my case, sun salutations) to unlock the door and access it. What a miracle!

So, dear friend, I hope my story helps you. And if I can help you with some customized advice, I’d be happy to. But really, the best advice I can give you is this: go to a class. Community Yoga is wonderful. Start with Tammy or Debra.

With love,

MV

A day without morning yoga

By all “objective” measures I had an easy day today. Yet as I was walking from the parking garage to my office building for the first meeting of the day, I felt a sense of tiredness, discomfort, and sadness that I haven’t felt in a long time (2 months, to be precise). As I was wondering what was going on, I remembered that I had to leave the house in a hurry and I didn’t practice my 15 minutes of yoga this morning.

The day got worse, but in a very familiar way – one that once was my normal. I felt tired and frazzled, very frazzled. The peace and joy that have accompanied my daily life for the past couple of months were nowhere to be found, just faint memories without any truth in the present moment experience. It’s like I forgot to turn them on today.

By the time 5:30 came around I was desperate to make it to yoga class and get into child’s pose for a few minutes. I felt much better after class, like I always do, and sat for meditation as soon as I got home.

Today, I wondered how I even got through life until 2 months ago when I started practicing just a tiny bit of yoga every day. The difference in the tone of my day is huge. I am amazed at what a big difference just 15-20 minutes a day can make. I’m addicted.

Dear darling self, remember that.

Meditation stats

I think when the average reaches 10 min something magical will happen – LOL!

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Your voice

I just finished reading a spiritual memoir, Red Hot and Holy – A Heretic’s Love Story. I will write more about this book, but for now, I am thinking at the huge difference between the author’s writing voice and speaking voice. In writing, she is irreverent, powerful, raw, naked, strong, awesome, potty-mouthed, strong. Her speaking voice is meek, shy, little, afraid. It barely comes out through the top of her throat and her nose, unlike her writing voice, which comes from the depths of her body.

I read a theater book about voice training a few years back. (Or maybe it was this one.) It explained how so many people, women especially, do not speak in their natural voices. They distort their voices and make them higher pitched, often nasal – very much infantilized. Many strong, great women sound like little girls. I won’t get into the politics of that. They are obvious. I observed that many more women’s voices seem to be distorted here in the U.S. than in Romania. I don’t know what that is about.

Anyway, that book recommends some exercises for helping you find your natural voice. It claims that your natural voice is the one that you use when you utter the sound mmmmmmmm in a speaking, not singing voice. Try it: breathe in, and then: mmmmmmmmmm. They use this as one of many exercises to warm up the voice, which apparently teachers should do, too. (If you use your voice correctly, they claim, you do not feel discomfort in your throat even after speaking for 3 hours.)

I think the sounds of our voices are not only that. I think infantilizing and censoring our real voices is much deeper than the manipulation of the vocal cords. We don’t speak our truths. We don’t speak from our hearts – let alone our bellies, or our (yes) vaginas.

Sera Beak’s awakening (or breakdown/through) was triggered by listening to Marion Woodman speak. Marion Woodman spoke from her belly. She embodied her soul and her voice cam from deep within.

I also know at least one strong, intelligent woman (much smarter than me) whose voice is barely audible. It barely comes through as a very weak stream. Her words and ideas are very smart and deep. Her belief in them isn’t. She speaks but without making sound. I want to get her to roar from her belly. Yes, we’ll do that someday. I notice this in many women from East Asia.

I was once recommended in an Ayurvedic consultation to practice Lion Pose – but instead of a “ha” exhale, to express a roar. This pose energizes the throat and the vocal chords and enables you to access your voice and express it – from the belly. I confess I don’t really practice it. It is awkward, even when I am home alone. But I should get over that.  See below video instructions on how to practice Lion Pose.

Personally, I think/feel my voice comes from my heart. I don’t know that my voice is distorted, but I know there’s some work I need to do there. How do you feel about your voice? Or about this topic in general? Have you noticed anything along those lines in you or the people around you? When do you express your full natural voice? What does it take to do so? Get angry? Drink wine? Laugh out loud?

I sat back down, crossed my legs, lit some incense, meditated for a half hour, and then proceeded to write what felt like “channeled material.” After about a minute of “channeled writing,” my dog, who had been lying peacefully next to me for hours, threw up … right on my keyboard. Then my Lady spoke:
This is a Relationship, Sera.
Not a one-way street.
You’re not a slave taking dictation.
I Want to Do My Wild Thang with you
Not despite you!
Remember, We’re In This Together!

Months after this incident, I came across wise words of Barbara Marx Hubbard in her book From Ego to Essence, which share a similar realization

“We don’t want to confuse this kind of self-expression with “channeling,” which occurs when people put aside their local self [ego self] and feel an external entity coming through them. If we want to incarnate fully, we cannot have hovering entities telling local selves what to do…. This kind of writing is the next step after so-called channeling. It is the process of the incarnation of deity…. You are not channeling a higher entity. You are the higher entity yourself. You are allowing “the word to become flesh”

Excerpt From: Beak, Sera. “Red Hot and Holy.” Sounds True. iBooks.
This material may be protected by copyright.

Check out this book on the iBookstore: https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=677438509

“Healing comes through embodiment of the soul” — quote from Marion Woodman, whom I have no yet read, but can’t wait to. What does it mean, to embody your soul?

Tropical French toast

I improvised one day and ended up with this delicious baked French toast with pineapple, mango, coconut and raisins. I added some sliced almonds so it would contain something healthy 😉

Here’s a tip for kicking up any cake and French toast recipe a notch: add orange or lemon zest to the batter (or egg and milk mixture, for French toast).

I also love making French toast with tart cherries (I get dry ones at Sam’s Club) and dark chocolate chips.

I have not yet tried a savory French toast, but I look forward to something with sun dried tomatoes, parmesan, and spinach.

What are your favorite French toast combinations?

French toast with pineapple, mango, coconut, and raisins

French toast with pineapple, mango, coconut, and raisins

Rosemary!

This summer I have discovered how much I love fresh rosemary. Here are 2 easy ways to use it:

Make a dressing with honey, balsamic vinegar, fresh rosemary and salt. Drizzle on any bread (sandwiches, paninis, etc.).

The second is inspired from the amazing St. Honore Boulangerie in Portland. It is a white bean and rosemary spread. I recreated it at home by mixing, in a food processor, butter beans, olive oil, with rosemary that I had crushed with salt (just like you would do the mint leaves for a mojito). It makes a wonderful dip or spread for sandwiches – I love it more than hummus! Here is a white bean, rosemary and lemon dip recipe.

Rosemary balsamic with honey

Rosemary balsamic with honey

Green summer soup

This soup is smooth, creamy, cooling and refreshing – perfect for a hot summer night!

Pea, avocado, cucumber and mint soup

Pea, avocado, cucumber and mint soup

Blend:

  • frozen peas (about 1 cup)
  • 1 small avocado
  • 1 small cucumber
  • handful of green leaves (spinach or kale)
  • 4-5 mint leaves (very important!)
  • salt to taste
  • vegetable broth (or water)

I sprinkled some cayenne pepper on top for contrast and to offset the coolness of the soup. Served with lime flavored tortilla chips.

I believe I might have invented this, but I am sure there must be similar and more precise recipes out there 🙂