Yoga in the Company of Dogs

August 19, 2018

Ruby – Cleopatra – Sidney – Bo 

These four furry characters graced a recent yoga session I led on Marrowstone Island this past weekend.

Don’t know where Marrowstone is?  Neither did I!  This was my first visit to Marrowstone Island, a small island located just 15 miles from Port Townsend.  I was visiting a friend who has a weekend home on the island. We had such a dreamy relaxing time doing yoga outdoors, enjoying an evening dinner together on the large front porch, taking long beach walks, foraging blackberries and apples, eating cobbler. The sky finally cleared of smoke from the terrible Canadian forest fires.

844 fortunate people make beautiful Marrowstone their home.  I saw a sign on a beach house that said:

If you are lucky enough to live on the beach, you are lucky enough.

But back to Yoga in the Company of Dogs!  Not every culture sees dogs as a source of great company, as creatures capable of great affection, as sources of great pleasure and undying faithful love.  I am not a dog owner, but I love dogs.  Dogs can make you feel loved like no other.  They can make you feel safe.  They do not judge people based on social status, physical appearance, or personal hygiene.  No human will ever celebrate your presence the way your dog will when you come home after a couple hours or a few days of being away.

I’ll bet you have heard this prayer:

Lord, help me be the kind of person my dog thinks I am.

Research shows that oxytocin spikes in both human and canine brains when a dog gazes at its owner.  If you are reading this blog post, and have a dog, you probably already knew this before scientists measured oxytocin levels.  And if you are from a country or a culture where dogs (or cats) are seen in a different light and not esteemed in this way, you may be surprised to learn that many or most dog (cat) owners in my culture see their dogs (cats) as full-fledged family members. We will go to great measures and shell out great amounts of money to seek medical/veterinarian care when our pets are ill. Often, in my culture, dogs (or cats) are our best friends.

So it is not surprising that the yoga session I held on Saturday morning, in the company of four dogs (Ruby, Cleopatra, Sidney, and Bo) was delightful and deeply relaxing.  I have done yoga in the company of dogs many times before.  They become deeply relaxed.  Tiny Cleopatra, a chihuahua who is normally very nervous around strangers, became so relaxed that she got out of her little cuddle bed and ventured out to sniff at my legs.  She even started interacting with the larger dogs, who were equally relaxed.

All the dogs were off leash, but none strayed very far.  Toward the end of the yoga session, all four dogs were crowded near us.  Some were lying in Shavasana-like poses.  Others were finding comfortable perches on our bodies.

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Summertime in the Midwest

August 13, 2018

It’s been a while since my last blog post! You may be wondering what happened. What happened is that I have a newly designed website and it took many intense hours to pull it together. I’m hoping this blog post will reach my subscribers. (I’m also hoping you will have a look at my website frangallo.com). I was disconnected from my subscribers for a month and so my wish is to be reconnected with all of you! We will soon find out if all is back to normal when I hit the heart-pumping PUBLISH button.

And I just got back from Indiana, where I was born and grew up. Going to Indiana is like going back to the cradle. My sisters, brother-in-law, nieces, nephews, and cousins welcome me back wholeheartedly. Every day with them feels like a celebration.

August in the Midwest seems like the worst time to have competed in a duathlon with my nephew, but there you have it. That’s exactly what I did in Chicago. We cooked up this plan last October and we followed through with it last Sunday! And I got to spend a few days with my nephew, his wife, and his adorable kids at their house.

Jake-the-Bombay-Kitten. Panther-like in so many ways, he playfully stalks the children around the house. I love this cat!

Prairie flowers welcome me at Chuck and Erin’s house!

Summertime in Chicago and NW Indiana is hot and humid. The day of our race was no exception. Having lived in Seattle for the last 27 years, I have lost my tolerance for the humidity of the Midwest.  Even so, taking part in the triathlon was a great experience. I was so thrilled and proud of myself to have done better than I expected. I had imagined the possibility of blacking out in the 96 degree heat, but that didn’t happen. Instead, I finished the race with some new wisdom: never ever doubt what you can do.  The triathlon started at 7am and I finished before 9am. The strong heat of the day had not yet begun. I loved riding and running with my nephew and I’d do it again in a heartbeat. Nephew Chuck and me below. We are 14 years apart:

Sweaty and Over-Heated Champs!

After the triathlon, I headed to Valparaiso. There are many strip malls and mega-stores in NW Indiana, but there are also vast acres of cornfields. Valparaiso is a university town. It has a thriving downtown area with some handsome historical buildings, very nice restaurants, wine bars, breweries, and shops. Downtown has an outdoor public area for summer concerts and winter skating. As we drove along country roads in my sister’s convertible, our hair flying wildly in the hot summer wind, we passed old farm houses and new subdivisions, and thin stands of black oaks. Weeping willows dot the landscape and drape across lush green lawns. I notice the lawns are perfect and I think perhaps the lowly dandelion has been eradicated in this part of the world.

I sat in my sister’s screened-in porch late at night and watched the fireflies light up the night sky. Lightning bugs is what I called them growing up. I have always loved them. Late into the night, we talked. It seems there is no end to our family stories, our memories of mom, dad, and Jeanie. Every year adds to the volumes of memories lived and cherished. Together, we pulled up the old Sicilian words and expressions mom and dad used to say. Together, we remembered them. “Cuatolati! Bundle up!”, mom would say to us in the winter as we got ready to confront a blast of cold arctic air.

It is soothing and healing to be with my sisters who have known me since the day I was born and who have always loved me. “I am so lucky” I kept thinking to myself as I sat with my sisters, feeling their love, watching the pink sunsets, listening to the cicadas and crickets singing deeply into the night.

Nora and John’s screened in porch.

Indiana! There are the dunes of Lake Michigan, the bursts of summer rain showers, the lightning and thunder loud enough to shake the house and wake me up from a deep sleep! Cardinals, finches, and swallowtail butterflies flit across my field of vision. Conservative folk, friendly folk, church-going folk, working-class folk, next-door neighbors with a ferocious fenced-in barking dog and plastic flamingos that light up at night, the fabric of this tapestry is colorful. This is the Indiana I know and admire. It has not changed very much since I lived here so long ago. I have changed, but I am still warmly welcomed.

Black-Eyed Susans, Rose of Sharon, hibiscus larger than my head, yellow prairie flowers, and sunflowers dazzle the eye. The farmers’ market is filled with the sweetest watermelon and gorgeous squash. The watermelon makes me think of my mother, who craved it when she was pregnant with me. The squash reminds me of my father, who grew so many in his garden that he had to give most of them away to his lucky neighbors.

I was tightly embraced in Indiana’s arms. The summer heat melted away months of tension in my body. Together with my family, I ate, I drank, I laughed. We reminisced and the memories we drew upon quenched my thirst. We enjoyed each others’ company. And then, I came back to my other home, my home of 27 years, Seattle.

Valparaiso murals. The postman in this mural is my sister’s postman!

Nora’s table laden with desserts, ready for our cousins to come over for a visit.

20+ Reasons to do Yoga Outdoors

July 1, 2018

While I do love all seasons, I find myself anticipating summertime more than any other time of the year. I love the long days of the Pacific Northwest. My garden comes alive and I love spending as much time as possible outdoors. Practicing yoga outdoors is a real treat.  I offer Yoga in the Park on Tuesdays in June, July, and August (in Meridian Park in Wallingford, Seattle). See details at the end of this blog post.  All are welcome to come to my all-levels Hatha Yoga classes.

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I have brainstormed and come up with 20+ reasons to do yoga outdoors. I hope you will give yourself a beneficial outdoor yoga experience this summer!

Note: the photos are from my Yoga in the Park classes.  The blue sketches were done by Tina Koyama, Seattle yogini and sketcher extraordinaire. She sketched these from last Tuesday’s class.

1. Practicing yoga outdoors can change your entire yoga experience!  Be soothed by the greenery around you. Take in the smells of summer, hear birdsong, breathe fresh air.  Natural scenery can heighten your awareness and awaken your sensory mind.  Scent, sight, hearing, and touch activate your brain and make you more present. Fresh air heightens breath awareness. All of your senses will awaken.

2. Practicing yoga outdoors adds a different dimension to your practice.  You experience yoga’s original link with nature.  The word “yoga” means “union” and when practicing outside, you can experience union with birds, butterflies, bees and other insects, flowers, trees, sky, clouds, wind, humankind, and connect to the universe.

A recent Swedish study found viewing nature, especially fractals (the organically occurring patterns in tree branches and fern leaves for example), increased wakeful relaxation and internal focus—two pretty important components of a rewarding yoga practice.

 

3. You will become a part of the photosynthesis process.  When you breathe out, the trees around you breathe in. Talk about feeling connected to the trees!  Experience your deep connection with nature.

4. Yoga outdoors allows you to experience human interaction and has some wonderful social benefits.  All of us, while doing yoga outdoors, hear the sounds of laughter, children playing, the happy sounds of other people enjoying the park.  Other people’s laughter has the effect of boosting your own sense of happiness.   You leave your yoga session with renewed energy.  (You also leave the park super hungry because movement, full breathing, and relaxation have a way of making you crave healthy nourishing food.)

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5. There is nothing more satisfying than doing yoga outdoors and spending time in nature, especially after a day of working indoors. You can spread your wings, take in deep breaths, feel free, and allow your body to be warmed by the sun. Doing yoga outdoors can replenish your depleted energy.

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6. Dr. Matthew Baral, author of This is Your Brain on Nature, says, “Nature connects us to our roots.”  “The grass, the ocean, the trees are all part of our primeval world.  It is where we feel most at home.”  Practice outdoors, connect to your roots, align yourself with nature, and come back to your true home.

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7. The beauty around you can help inspire your practice.  You will find yourself moving away from worry and disconnecting from heavy thoughts by moving away from stress-triggering environments or situations.  You’ll move away from newscasts, newspapers, your computer, TV, desk, paperwork, iphone to an outdoor environment. You will disconnect and reconnect.  In nature, you can connect to yourself in a deeper, more meaningful way.

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8. Being one with nature and exercising outdoors will boost your self-esteem. Perhaps this boost comes from soaking up Vitamin D, which has been shown to decrease depression.  Even if you are limiting your exposure to the sun, practicing in the shade sends feel-good signals to your brain.

9. If you have taken classes with me, you have heard me talk about “grounding” or connecting to the “earth” through your feet. It is a strange term to use indoors as our bare feet are placed on a mat, which is placed on a wood or carpeted floor.  However, when teaching yoga outdoors, telling people to ground their feet to the earth becomes an intensified experience and a new term arises, “Earthing“.

Earthing, also known as grounding, refers to contact with the Earth’s surface. An entire blog post can be dedicated to Earthing! I will include a quoted paragraph about the profound benefits of Earthing as per the following article: Link 

According to research, as read in the article/link above, going barefoot and connecting your feet directly to the earth, has the following benefits:

  • direct contact with Earth’s vast surface supply of electrons
  • sleep better
  • reduce pain
  • regulate diurnal body rhythms, such as cortisol secretion
  • neutralize free radicals
  • decrease inflammatory response
  • increase immune response
  • blood thinning effect
  • reduction of primary indications of osteoporosis
  • shift from sympathetic to parasympathetic tone in the autonomic nervous system (in simpler terms, Earthing helps you to RELAX and RENEW!)  You enter the relaxation zone!
  • increase in blood oxygen
  • stabilize the electric environment of all organs, tissues, and cells
  • grounding yourself, or simply having direct contact with the earth, be it sand, rocks, or grass, can reduce the risk of heart problems, pain, and stress.

“Emerging scientific research has revealed a surprisingly positive and overlooked environmental factor on health: direct physical contact with the vast supply of electrons on the surface of the Earth. Modern lifestyle separates humans from such contact. The research suggests that this disconnect may be a major contributor to physiological dysfunction and unwellness. Reconnection with the Earth’s electrons has been found to promote intriguing physiological changes and subjective reports of well-being. Earthing (or grounding) refers to the discovery of benefits—including better sleep and reduced pain—from walking barefoot outside or sitting, working, or sleeping indoors connected to conductive systems that transfer the Earth’s electrons from the ground into the body. This paper reviews the earthing research and the potential of earthing as a simple and easily accessed global modality of significant clinical importance.”

When I was in Germany, I experienced part of this Earthing movement via Sebastian Kneipp’s barefoot therapy and cold water footbath immersion therapy.  In the village where I stayed, there were barefoot walking paths throughout the fields and a few therapy pools for water wading.  After a long hike, it felt fantastic to walk barefoot on the paths or to immerse our feet in the cold water wading pools.

10. Doing asanas such as Warrior I or Warrior II outdoors can make you feel powerful.  Being outside can make you more attentive and emotionally balanced.  Fresh air can help clear your mind. When you feel balanced and when your mind is clear, stress levels are lowered, which in turn reduces the stress hormone cortisol.

11. Breathe freely, take in prana (life force), and improve your lung capacity.  Being outside improves respiration because we breathe in fresh air. The increased oxygen will make you more alert and improve depleted energy.

Your lungs have 6 liters of air capacity.  Being outside will make you want to breath deeper, allowing more oxygen in. This breaks up any accumulated pollutants and toxins that are trapped in your alveoli due to habitual shallow breathing.

12. You will connect to Mother Nature.  Surely, while being outside, you will hear some annoying sounds such as traffic in the distance, the occasional airplane, a dog barking nonstop, and you’ll be sure to have to swat at an insect or two.  You may have to deal with wind or cooling changes in temperature or drizzle.  The flip side is that you will be witness to sunsets, breathtaking views, varying shades of green.  You may see a butterfly.  It may land on you.  Or the rarest of birds might just land on a branch next to you. These are some aspects of our live planet, Earth. Doing yoga outside provides a means to love and appreciate our planet and all that she provides.

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13. Alleviate stress.  Doing yoga alleviates stress.  And when you take your yoga practice outside, in a forest, a park, or even in your own back yard, you experience nature as healer and a catharsis takes place.

Studies have shown that people who are exposed to a forested environment more often have far less stress than those who are only in urban environments.

14. Improve your balance.  There is rarely such thing as a perfectly level ground in a park, a forest, or a meadow. When practicing yoga, you will find you have to accept the lumps and unevenness under your mat or under your feet. When doing tree pose, for example, on an uneven surface, in order to stabilize your body and reach a point of balance, your legs and core muscles become stronger.

15. Become stronger and more stable in all aspects of life! When you are home, you can control your environment.  Too hot? Open a window, turn on the fan, or the AC. Too cold? Close the window, put on a sweater, turn up the heat, take a hot bath, make a cup of hot tea. Music too loud? Turn it down.  Don’t like the music? Turn if off or change the playlist. When you are out in nature, you are not in a controlled environment and you do not have control of the outer elements. You learn to welcome the breeze, you learn to move faster if you need to keep warm, your learn to use your core in a stronger way if you are sitting on an incline. You will learn to embrace the elements rather than fight or try to change them. You can no longer expect things to be a certain way and begin to accept the situation as it is in a given moment.

6-26-18 Fran's yoga class and Murphy at Meridian Park, Seattle

16. Your OM in the great outdoors will sound purely magical.  You may notice a crow cawing in the distance as you OM or you might just notice how your relaxed body and bolstered lungs can really belt out a strong vibrational OM.

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17. You get to feel intoxicated on Nature.  It’s the best high you will ever experience.

18. Sun Salutations were meant to be practiced outside!  There are no ceilings separating you from the sun.  You simply must experience this.

19. Experience the best yoga music ever: waves lapping, wind rustling leaves, birds singing, children laughing, happy murmurings in the distance.  The forest, park, and beach is alive and waiting for you.

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20. When in downward facing dog, look at the trees and see your world upside down.  When in tree pose, root your standing foot into the earth and connect to the trees around you.  When in half moon, imagine you are celestial, in orbit, a satellite.  When in shavasana, melt, surrender, and merge with the earth. Practice shedding an older version of yourself.  Being outdoors gives your asanas (postures) a unique dimension.  Your practice will improve.

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SEATTLE YOGIS:

It’s happening! Yoga in the Park is in full swing. It’s a great outdoor all-levels Hatha Yoga experience and I hope to see you in July and August (no class on August 7th and classes cancelled on rainy days). Classes take place in Meridian Park, Wallingford in Seattle on Tuesdays from 6-7pm (enter the park from Meridian, go up the steps and you will see us on your far right).  It’s a donation based class.  We’ve been going strong since 1998 (with one season hiatus last year)

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Live Music Coming Your Way July 10 at YOGA IN THE PARK:

On Tuesday, July 10, Liz Talley, Glenn Frank, and Lisa Latchford will play and sing for us while we do yoga in Meridian Park! Two years ago, they graced our outdoor yoga class with their music (see photo below). It was a pretty magical experience and I hope you will be able to come on July 10!

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There is a place…

June 2, 2018

There is a place….

where magic happens.  It’s not far from Seattle, just a short ferry ride away on Vashon Island. For a few years now, I’ve offered day retreats at what I will call a “secret garden”.  I’m not allowed to say on social media where this place is because it is a private property, but those of you lucky enough to have been at one of my yoga day retreats there will know exactly where it is.

The photos from this blog post are from a yoga day retreat I offered at this site two weeks ago.  I am afraid that this may have been my last retreat offered at this enchanted site as there are some changes taking place on the property.  I am not to talk about the situation.  Just like Jury Duty!  Being cryptic is not my style, but there you have it!

What I can say is that two weeks ago a group of 14 lucky yogis got to breathe in the emerald forest air, see a bit of Indonesia in the Pacific Northwest, walk among ancient stones imported from Asia, eat organic, locally-sourced food infused with love and tenderly prepared by Karen Biondo of La Biondo Farm on Vashon.  Together, we meditated in an ancient temple, shared some beautiful imagery we observed during our stay on the property, images we continue to carry in our hearts, did yoga in an authentic antique Chinese tea merchant’s house, and shared meals and warm conversations.  New friendships blossomed and old friendships deepened.  It’s the kind of gathering every yogi dreams of.

I will always have a deep gratitude and respect for David Smith, who visualized this lush paradise and created this Indonesian-Meets-Pacific Northwest haven at his home on Vashon. David was a delicate gentle soul. When he passed away, he left this precious legacy behind.  The current caretakers of the property have done a marvelous job of keeping this place vibrant and ever more beautiful when I didn’t think that was possible. I can’t believe we have been lucky enough to practice yoga on this property.  I will continue to search out another treasured place to host my next day retreats on Vashon.  Wish me luck and if you have any leads for future Vashon sites, let me know.

Chillin’ before our meditation session inside this temple:

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Summer
Summertime brings joy
The sun warms us outside in
Nature calls us out

Beach Walk
Nature opens eyes
While great blue Herons hunt fish
Water sparkles wet

Poems by Milo Minnis: fellow yoga instructor, yoga day retreat participant, poet, student of Judith Lasater, visionary, beautiful human being

Serene: photo of statue below taken by Skye McNeill (Surface Designer, Illustrator, Photographer, Graphic Designer extraordinaire! visit Skye’s website)

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“As yoga teachers, our job is to mirror back the inherent goodness and inner wisdom of our students. But first, we have to find it in ourselves.”  – Judith Hanson Lasater

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High on Montana

May 31, 2018

Our yoga retreat at Walking Lightly Ranch in Whitefish, Montana was better than I could have ever imagined. The weather was excellent, the ranch and accommodations beautiful, the vast property exquisite, the guided hikes almost perfect (perfect except for the damned surge of voracious mosquitoes on the first day because it had rained the night before our first hike), the optional on-site massages with Michelle Richards therapeutic and deeply relaxing, the yoga studio spacious, fully equipped, and pristine.

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lounging

Swings

The guided hikes fell into two groups. The group who chose to do the easier and shorter hike was led by Amanda.  I was not in this group, but had a twinge of regret when I heard that Amanda knows her wildflowers and was able to identify the array of flowers popping up here and there, dotting the landscape.  The second group chose to go on the more challenging hikes, the first hike being a climb to the ridge on the property where the views were breathtaking. My group was led by James on both days. Though he does not do plant identification, he was knowledgeable in other areas: landscape and geology, plus we learned so much about his interesting life. There were only four of us led by James on the first day hike and two of us on the second day.  On the second day’s hike, Zimmie and I selfishly felt it was a treat to have James all to ourselves on the hike!

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Our happy group participants came from Seattle, Vashon, Eugene (OR), Whitefish, and from the District of Columbia environs. We enjoyed nutritious, abundant, delicious vegetarian meals made by our on site chef, Michelle Berry.  One evening after dinner, Michelle, a very talented and knowledgeable nutritionist, plant-based chef, and beautiful mother of three came and sat with us, answering our questions about plant-based nutrition.  We learned so much from her as you will see below.

How much water should we drink per day?

Take your weight, divide it by two and that is the number of ounces you should drink in water per day.  Drinking green drinks or herbal teas do not count as your recommended water intake.  These are seen as medicinal (good), but do not replace your water needs.

Sole Water Link 

Please refer to the link above to read about sole water!  I am going to try it. It is a great way to make sure you are getting essential minerals into your diet.  It helps prevent muscle cramping. All you need is Himalayan Salt and Water to make the mixture.

Name some Protein Rich Plant-Based Foods (this list is not complete):

  • Bee Pollen with Almond Butter
  • Spirolina (add to your smoothie)
  • Sprouts
  • Hemp Seeds

Strategies to Detox/Cleanse:

  • oil pulling using coconut oil (how to and benefits) LINK
  • Body Brushing on skin that is not wet and later oil your skin before your shower  (See technique and how it is done)
  • Michelle mentioned that there are many kinds of detox.  Detox can include “emotional” detox as well as “screen” detox. Screen detox means moving away from your phone or your computer for a few hours or for a whole day at a time.
  • Colonics

Diet for people undergoing chemotherapy (these detox strategies can be used by anyone, even when not undergoing chemo):

  • Include chlorella in your diet (probably in a smoothie)
  • Eats lots of cilantro (sorry to those of you who do not like cilantro)
  • Better yet, if you do the following, it is one of the best ways to support and cleanse your body when undergoing chemo:  Eat Chlorella.  Wait one hour.  After one hour, eat Cilantro.  Do not eat the two together.  Do not change the order.  Wait one hour before eating the cilantro.
  • Eat a super low carb diet and a high vegetable fat diet (ketogenic diet).
  • Follow the detox ideas above.

What are some Calcium Rich Plant-Based Foods (this list is not complete):

  • Figs
  • Tahini
  • Broccoli
  • Garbanzo Beans
  • Green Leafy Vegetables (includes Kale)
  • Almonds

What are some Protein Rich Plant-Based Foods (list is not complete):

  • Edamame (soy beans)
  • Spirulina
  • Peanut Butter and other nut butters
  • Nutritional Yeast
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Quinoa
  • Spinach
  • Chia Seeds
  • Hemp seeds
  • Chick peas
  • Kidney Beans
  • Black beans
  • Broccoli

Below: one of Michelle’s breakfast skillet dishes:

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Everyone we met on the ranch had a very gentle spirit and I am left to believe that those who are lucky enough to live in such a pure peaceful environment, take on a very grounded, peaceful, gentle, and content demeanor.

One evening before dinner, the manager of Walking Lightly Ranch, Dave, played music for us with his friend Lee. Dave plays guitar and Lee plays cello.  Put the two together and add vocals, lyrics from renown folk singers or lyrics written by Dave or Lee, and you have a delightful impromptu evening of pure joy!  The next day, Lee came to the yoga studio and played cello for one of our yoga sessions.  Wow!!

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We also had an inspirational Shared Reading one evening after dinner. Some of what was shared follows:

When the soul lies down in that grass, the world is too full to talk about. Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

Rumi

 

Mary Oliver
In Blackwater Woods

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
everything
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

 

The Yoga Exercise by Floyd Skloot

Within a rushing stream of morning light

she stands still as a heron with one soul

held flush against the other inner thigh

and her long arms like bony wings folded

back so that when the motion of a breeze

passes through her body there is a deep

repose at its root and in an eye’s blink

she has become this gently swaying tree

stirring the wind of its breath while linked to ground by the slow flow of energy

that brings her limbs together now in prayer

and blessing for the peace she is finding there.

I already look forward to going back to Walking Lightly Ranch for another long weekend retreat. Not too early to sign up for February 2019.  Just let me know of your interest by commenting below and I’ll be in touch with you.

Feb 15-18, 2019 (3 nights) Yoga + Snow Shoeing (two guides: one for an easier shorter trail and another for more challenging longer trails offered on both days).

and further down the line…

May 22-25, 2020 (3 nights) Yoga + Hiking (just like this past one)

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I came back from Sicily and hit the ground running with teaching my weekly classes, leading the Vashon Yoga Retreat (a blog post yet to come!) and leading the Montana Yoga Retreat, doing workouts geared to get me in shape for a 5k Run for the Ovarian Cancer Fundraiser I am doing for my friend Lynn Fallows and for a duathlon I am doing with my nephew Chuck in Chicago in August (am I insane…a duathlon in August in Chicago??).  AND Jury Duty, on top of it all, these past two days.  I really wanted to be on the case as it appeared to be very interesting, but just got dismissed today.  A much needed quiet restful weekend at Ocean Shores awaits me this coming weekend.

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Yoga and Hiking in Sicily

May 24, 2018

I will let the slideshow of the Yoga and Hiking in Sicily say it all!  The slideshow is set to the music of Carmen Consoli called Madre Terra, Mother Earth.  Carmen Consoli is from Catania, Sicily and has a soulful voice that is as rich as the Sicilian soil.  Turn up the volume!

I do want to mention that most everywhere we went has been deemed a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  The retreat was a complete success and, though I have been back only 10 days, I miss Sicily terribly.  I miss my group, the caretakers and cooks at the villa, and all the wonderful people I have met via my Sicily journeys.

Not too early to sign up for next year’s yoga retreats in Sicily. Contact me for more information:

Week I September 7-14, 2019 (Yoga + Cultural Outings, includes a visit to a ricotta farm, a day at a cooking school, two fabulous winery visits)

Week II  September 14-21, 2019 (Yoga + Hiking, includes one cooking course and a visit to a winery)

Dentro L’Etna

May 10, 2018

Sicily Yoga and Hiking Retreat is in full-swing and there is no time to blog…will post these photos of our exhilarating trek up Etna.  Climbing Etna was tough, but we did it!  It is one of those bucket-list activities that we dream of doing.  Yes, we did it!  We were accompanied by our trekking guide, Federico, plus a volcano specialist, the vulcanist Amilcare, and we also invited Darwin to come with us.  At one point, the vulcanist Amilcare shouted, “Siamo DENTRO l’Etna! (We are INSIDE Etna!) and my skin was covered in goosebumps by the very fact of it. I looked around me! There we were inside this great mountain, on the cinder slopes, looking down at Etna’s massive crater.

It was incredible!  It was a high that I have never felt before. Stay tuned for next year’s Sicily Retreats September 2019.  (only one of those weeks will be focused on yoga and hiking and we will be sure to trek Etna!)

Below is our group at the start of our trek up the mountain. We look so fresh and excited in anticipation of our adventure.  At this point, Amilcare explained to us that Etna is a woman, a mother, one who deserves our respect.  He told us that we were about to enter her sacred territory and that we should approach the mountain with reverence for Mother Earth, Etna, Gaia.

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Fantastic Federico of Step Siracusa Trekking and our volcano specialist, Amilcare:

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Dramatic cloud formations:

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Sweeping views:

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Mountain-Man Vulcanist Amilcare:

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Clouds clear so we can see Mt Etna’s peak:L1400879

Dentro Etna:

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Mounds of new growth on Etna’s lava fields:

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One of our Hale and Hearty Yogis:L1400885

Looks like a lunar landscape.  We practically floated and flew down these ashen slopes, boots full of ash.L1400897

Rick, my Mountain-Man:

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Us, the little specks on the mountain:

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Sicily in Film

May 5, 2018

I love Italian films and attend Seattle’s Cinema Italian Style fiIm festival every November.  My only regret with the Seattle’s film festival is that I have to teach during the week and I miss out on viewing many of the festival’s featured films. And I can’t stay up late at night to attend the film festival because I have to be up at the crack of dawn during my work week.

I seek out films that were shot in Sicily.  I made a list of films I have watched which were set in Sicily for this blog post. And before writing this blog, I checked on line to make sure I wasn’t leaving any films out and I now feel overwhelmed with the number of films that have been filmed in Sicily which I have not yet seen.

Yesterday’s blog post was about Sicily in Literature.  Some of the movies mentioned below are based on novels written by prominent Sicilian writers such as Leonardo Sciasica, Luigi Capuana, Federico De Roberto, Ercole Patti, Elio Vittorini, Vitaliano Brancati, Gesualdo Bufalino and Luigi Pirandello.

In this blog post, I will include films I have watched and would recommend.   Please note that this list is NOT a complete list of movies filmed in Italy.  The blog post would be too long to include them all! Also, note that I am not a professional film reviewer.  I just know what I like and would like to share this list with you.  Perhaps you, my readers, have watched these films or would like to watch them.  Many are available on Netflix and others are available at the public library.  Sometimes the films are found with their English titles, sometimes with the original Italian titles.

Angela

This film was directed by Roberta Torre and is set in Palermo. Donatella Finocchiaro plays Angela, a woman trapped in the Mafia lifestyle.  It is based on a true story.  For more info: link  

Baaria

Directed by Tornatore.  The film had a lot going on, sort of chaotic, reminded me of a Fellini film. Shot in Bagheria and Tunisia. I found it hard to follow.  I mention it here because so many people really liked it.

Caro Diario (Dear Diary)
1994 Directed by and starring Nanni Moretti.
This semi-autobiographical film, for which Nanni won Best Director at Cannes, reads like a diary and is divided into 3 episodes. Link

Cinema Paradiso
This is a great film! Giuseppe Tornatore’s 1989 Academy-Award-winning film is a romantic look at growing up in a remote village. The filmmaker returns to his Sicilian hometown, Bagheria, for the first time in 30 years and looks back on his life. This film has become an Italian classic. The director, Tornatore, was born in Palermo.

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Diario di Una Siciliana Ribelle (first film, a documentary, I did not see)

The Sicilian Girl (Second film is based on the above documentary. I watched this and it is really good. Based on the true story of Rita Atria, who went from devoted daughter to mafia informer.)

1997 Marco Amenta.
The first film is is a documentary of Rita Atria, a 17 year-old daughter of a mafia don who gives her diaries to the authorities to avenge her father’s death. Her evidence and work with Borselino and Falcone proved extremely valuable in the exposure and convictions of many important gangsters. Bravely told, director Amenta was so captivated by Rita’s story that he made a second film, The Sicilian Girl (2008) to explore Rita Atria’s psychological and emotional journey. The rest is history. Filmed around Palermo.

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Divorzio all’Italiana (Divorce, Italian Style)
Pietor Germi’s 1961 comedy had Marcelo Mastroianni as a Sicilian aristocrat seeking a divorce when divorce in Italy was not legal.  Filmed in Catania, Ispica and Ragusa Ibla.

Il Gattopardo (The Leopard)
Luchino Visconti’s 1963 film version of Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s novel.  Set in revolutionary Sicily in the mid-1800s, the film stars Burt Lancaster as a Sicilian prince who seeks to preserve his family’s aristocratic way of life in the face of Italy’s unification by Garibaldi.  Filmed in Palermo, Mondello and Ciminna.  The costumes are incredible and it is said that a fortune was spent on making this film. The cast also features Alain Delon, Claudia Cardinale, Paolo Stoppa, Rina Morelli, Romolo Valli.

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Il Postino 

Michael Radford’s ultra lovely romance set in a small Italian town during the 1950s where exiled Chilean poet Pablo Nerudo has taken refuge. A shy mailman befriends the poet and uses his words to help him woo a woman with whom he has fallen in love. Filmed in Procida (Bay of Naples) and the Aeolian Island of Salina. Some scenes were also filmed in Pantelleria. The main actor, the painfully shy postman played by Massimo Troisi, was having heart issues at the time of filming so they moved the filming to Procida to be near hospitals. Sadly, he died before the end of the film, but enough scenes had been filmed in order to finish the film.

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Johnny Stecchino

(Comedy, translates to Johnny Toothpick) 1991 comedy directed by and starring Roberto Benigni. Stecchino (Mr. Toothpick) is a hapless bus driver who is believed to be a snitch for the mob. Filmed in Bagheria and Capo Mulino.

Kaos (Chaos)
Directed by the brothers Paolo and Vittorio Taviani and released in 1984, Kaos tells four stark powerful tales of old time Sicilian life based on stories by Luigi Pirandello. Filmed with haunting and mesmerizing music around Pirandello’s hometown of Agrigento. On Netflix under “Kaos” the Greek word for Chaos.

L’Uomo Delle Stelle (The Star Maker)
1995, Giuseppe Tornatore
This film, from “Cinema Paradiso” director Giuseppe Tornatore, is about a con man from Rome who, posing as a Hollywood talent scout in post-war Sicily, travels with a movie camera to impoverished villages, promising stardom – for a fee – to gullible townspeople.

To follow the locations of L’uomo Delle Stelle (The Star Maker) you need to move from one end of Sicily to the other. One can recognize: Monterosso Almo, an old village in the heart of the Iblei Mountains, and Ragusa Ibla, the old Benedictine convent just outside Gangi, in the Madonie Mountains, and the little fishing village, Marzamemi; the rural area of Casalgiordano, also in the Madonie, near the Petralies; the Gurfa Caves, a rock settlement in the territory of Alia (Palermo province), the Morgantina archaeological area and the ruins of the village of Poggioreale, destroyed by the 1968 earthquake and today used as a setting for a lot of films. The locations included in this movie inspired Theresa Maggio’s book The Stone Boudoir.

La Terra Trema (The Earth Trembles) (very old film, depressing, but a classic)

Luchino Visconti’s 1948 adaptation of Verga’s I Malavoglia, the devastating story of a fisherman’s failed dream of independence. Originally a failure at the box office, the film has emerged as a classic of the neo-realistic movement.  Filmed in Aci Trezza. (on Netflix under the Italian title)

Mafioso, 1962 Mafioso is a 1962 Italian mob black comedy film directed by Alberto Lattuada.

Malena
2001 Directed by Giuseppe Tornatore
Set during WWII and filmed in Messina, this is the story of the life of beautiful Malena, her husband’s absence, a boy’s obsession, and angry townspeople. Shot in Siracusa.

Mid-August Lunch

2008 Filmed in Rome and not in Sicily, this film shows the influence Italian mothers have over their grown sons. Gianni di Gregorio writes, directs, and acts in this film! Humorous.

Nuovomondo (The Golden Door)
2006 Directed by Emanuele Crialese
It is the turn of the century and these poor illiterate farmers want to emigrate to the land of opportunity, America. This is their story, the story of old customs, courage, fears and the importance of the homeland.

Respiro
2002 Directed by Emanuele Crialese
A story of family, mental illness, and misunderstanding. Filmed on the island of Lampedusa.

 

Rocco & His Brothers (Rocco e i suoi fratelli)

A 1960 Italian film directed by Luchino Visconti, inspired by an episode from the novel Il ponte della Ghisolfa by Giovanni Testori. Set in Milan, it tells the story of an immigrant family from Sicily and its disintegration in the society of the industrial North. The title is a combination of Thomas Mann’s Joseph and His Brothers and the name of Rocco Scotellaro, an Italian poet who described the feelings of the peasants of southern Italy. The film stars Alain, Delon and Claudia Cardinale, in one of her early roles before she became internationally known.

 

Salvatore Giuliano

1961 Directed by Francesco Rosi
While exploring the Sicilian world where politics and crime exist in a turbulent marriage, Rosi sets this film in the 1950’s western Sicily. The city of Castelvetrano, the piazzas of Montelepre, the mountains, and the small villages are scenes of the life of the Sicilian Robin Hood, Salvatore Giuliano, one of Italy’s most beloved criminals. This dark Neo-Realist film tells the story of how his passion for an independent Sicily brought him to be murdered at the age of 27. The story is so captivating that Mario Puzo wrote The Sicilian a dramatized version of the story in 1984. It was subsequently made into a film in 1987. An opera entitled Salvatore Giuliano by Lorenzo Ferrero premiered in Rome in 1986

Sedotta e Abbandonata (Seduced and Abandoned)

1964 Directed by Pietro Germi
With Lando Buzzanca and Stefania Sandrelli
A masterpiece of a comedy narrating the grotesque story of a beautiful girl that is, as the title says, seduced and abandoned. Set in Sciacca, this satire on Sicilian society, focuses on the importance of saving honor.

Stromboli, Terra di Dio (a classic)

1950 Directed by Roberto Rossellini
Roberto Rossellini filmed this classic on the Aeolian Islands in 1949. Stromboli, Terra di Dio marked the beginning of Rossellini and Ingrid Bergman’s highly publicized affair.

Terraferma, directed by Crialese Drama

A Sicilian family deals with the arrival of a group of African immigrants /refugees on their island. Based on a true story and the African woman in the movie played herself and is the very person this story happened to! Very interesting and very much a current issue in Sicily since Sicily is  so close to Africa.

The Italian Americans  (I have not watched this yet)
2014, John Maggio Productions
The Italian Americans is John Maggio’s film about the Italian immigration experience. This four part documentary is intelligently done and while exploring how they evolved, helps to dispel many misunderstandings about Italians. It can be seen on  PBS video, purchased, or rented through Amazon. (the whole series is on Netflix…on my DVD queue…have not watched it yet)

Italian TV SERIES available at the library: Inspector Montalbano (Il Commissario Montalbano) 1999, based on the detective novels of Andrea Camilleri. Very popular in Sicily. Filmed in Ragusa. Try to watch at least one of the episodes and meet the cunning Inspector Montalbano, the famous commissioner with his Sicilian riddles.

Sicily in Literature

May 4, 2018

I have compiled a list of books that were either written by Sicilian authors or were written by non-Sicilians about Sicily.  The list is by no means extensive, but this is a start of some books you might consider reading if you have an interest in Sicily.

  • The Late Mattia Pascal This novel was written in 1904 by Luigi Pirandello. Its Italian title is Il Fu Mattia Pascal.  Pirandello was born in Agrigento and is Sicily’s most famous play write. This novel focuses on Pirandello’s favorite themes: the theme of “mask” and people in search of an identity. His most famous play, Six Characters in Search of an Author, also deals with the same theme. There is also a Sicilian film, Kaos, the Greek word from which we have our English word chaos, is a series of vignettes based on some of Pirandello’s short stories. Kaos is available on Netflix. images
  • I Malavoglia, by Verga Giovanni Verga was a Sicilian writer born in 1840 in Vizzini (that’s the same town where my friend Francesco was born) and died in Catania. He was best know for his depictions of life in his native Sicily. Verga is considered one of the greatest of all Italian novelists.  I noticed that he died weeks after my father was born. Verga was an Italian realist writer and his style is called verismo. The book looks at the life of an impoverished fisherman’s family and portrays what happens when economic and social structures break down. The English title is The House by the Medlar Tree and there is also an old black and white film based on the book called “The Earth Trembles”. The novel and the film are very bleak, but very moving and interesting.  He also wrote Little Novels Of Sicily.  I see his books in every Sicilian bookstore! images-1
  • Sicilian Carousel, by Lawrence Durrell  I enjoyed reading this and I wish the Sicilian Carousel Tour Bus still existed. It was a tour company in the 70s that took tourists all around the island, stopping at ruins and other places of importance.  I like how Durrell talks about Greek mythology and brings the Greek gods and goddesses to life as he journeys this ancient place.

 

  • What Makes a Child Lucky, by Gioia Timpanelli  Love her writing! images-2

 

  • Behind Closed Doors: Her Father’s House and Other Stories of Sicily, by Maria Messina. Maria Messina was a recluse. She suffered from MS. She was born in 1887 in Palermo, and wrote 18 books that portray women’s lives during her era of life.

 

  • The Day of the Owl, Leonardo Sciascia. Leonardo put the town of Racalmuto on the map and Racalmuto is the town next to my parents’ blink-the-eye-and-miss-it-village of Grotte in the province of Agrigento. Sciascia was the first writer to stand up to the mafia and lived to tell the tale. The Day of the Owl was also made into a movie. It is true crime fiction genre. The Italian title is Il Giorno della Civetta.

 

  • A House in Sicily, Daphne Phelps  This book reminds me a lot of Under the Tuscan Sun, a dream come true to refurbish an old home.

 

  • On Persephone’s Island: A Sicilian Journal, Mary Taylor Simeti

 

  • The Stone Boudoir: Travels Through the Hidden Villages of Sicily, Theresa Maggio  Teri Maggio’s writing will get you hooked to her easy style. She also wrote the next featured novel below.images-4
  • Mattanza, Theresa Maggio  I liked this one, too. After I read this book, I looked at YouTube videos of the Mattanza and I read up on the tuna fisheries in Sicily that were thriving way of life for thousands of years.  It makes me sad that the tuna numbers have dwindled to dangerously low numbers.  However, here you have it, the fishing done on a day to day basis, the way it’s been done for millennia.

 

  • The Terracotta Dog, Andrea Camilleri Everyone loves Camilleri in Sicily. He is Sicily’s Agatha Christie, another great mystery writer. Camilleri has many many books to check out if you like mysteries. His mysteries were set to a very popular tv series here in Italy. And you must watch at least a few of the Inspector Montalbano television series. They are based on Camilleri’s books, subtitled and available at the library. I love the Montalbano series.

 

  • The Sicilian, Mario Puzo (author of The Godfather)  If you are Sicilian and reading this, you probably just cringed! Sicilians have fought hard against political and social corruption and they are not eager to talk about mafia or subjects of protection money and violence.  They shudder at the thought that people actually come to Sicily to do “Mafia Tours“, where certain sites of massacres are visited, and former homes and hideouts of mafiosi visited and where tourists visit the places where scenes of The Godfather were filmed.  I am surprised that such tours even exist, given how much they are abhorred by the locals!  The Sicilian is a book about the Sicilian bandit, the black market food smuggler, Salvatore Giuliano.  Giuliano was Sicily’s Robin Hood and I have actually been in humble homes where there is a huge poster of the very handsome Giuliano right smack on the wall of the living room.  I have even seen photos of Giuliano with his arm around his mother! He is a bandit who could very well be a movie star with his good looks and poise! He is local hero of sorts from the past. The photo below is Giuliano. See what I mean? latest

Persephone’s Island

May 3, 2018

Perhaps this blog post is like a star exploding.  My mind has been both calm but also wild like the winds that have whipped around this island all day today.

So many of my readers asked me to please include a photo of Darwin (read about him in my previous post)!  So, I texted him to ask permission to post a few photos of him and within seconds he replied with an enthusiastic, “Sure!”

Our man Darwin (and his sister Seemee)

And he signed his email, Meluccio (yet another Sicilian nickname for Carmello)!

Sicilians are terrific at creating nicknames for people.  You give them your name and you are reinvented into something else within seconds of giving out your name.  During one of my yoga retreats, one yogini, Rebecca, was renamed Rossella, as in Rossella O’Hara (Scarlett O’Hara’s Italian name in Gone With the Wind) by our guide Toninio in Pantelleria.

In case you are curious about Darwin’s real name, he was named after Charles Darwin, the English naturalist, geologist, biologist, contributor to the science of evolution.

And the title of this blog post refers to the nickname the Greeks gave to the island of Sicily: Persephone’s Island.  The Greeks, who colonized Sicily as early as the 8th century B.C., considered Sicily to be Persephone’s Island because, according to the myth, Hades, the ruler of the underworld (his Roman name was Pluto), abducted Persephone from the Sicilian town of Enna and imprisoned her in his underworld domain.

Persephone was the beautiful daughter of Zeus (his Roman name was Jupiter) and Demeter (Her Roman name was Ceres and she was the goddess of agriculture, grains, harvest, and fertility). Our word cereal comes from her Roman name and there is a beer here in Sicily named after her, Ceres.

Hate to mention this, but you probably already know that Demeter was Zeus’ sister. Zeus violated his own sister. Persephone was the child of their union. Persephone was absolutely gorgeous.  And she was a very innocent child. She spent her days running around the lands of the earth. Her birth name was Kore (or Cora) which means “Maiden”.  She was so beautiful that she attracted the attention of many gods.

After she was abducted by Hades, she become his queen, his reluctant bride, Queen of the Underworld. She renamed herself Persephone (Proserpina was her Roman name), which means “Bringer of destruction”.

The abduction happened as Kore (later renamed Persephone) was gathering flowers in a Sicilian field in Enna.  I can see it now.  Kore gathering red poppies and Hades bursts through a cleft in the earth and grabs her.  Kore’s poor mother Demeter searched the entire earth for her daughter.

Below is a description of what happened once Demeter found out what had happened to her daughter:

So Persephone’s grieving mother, the goddess Demeter, goddess of agriculture, plunged the island into a barren winter, until Zeus, the father of the gods, struck a bargain with Pluto to let Persephone return to the land of the living for six months of the year. So it is that when Persephone is released from Hades, Demeter allowed the world to thaw and bloom before her daughter must once again return to Pluto and Hades.

And so the seasons were born!

Below are a few more photos of paintings from the artist Fiore (also mentioned in my previous blog post).  We met a wonderful man who showed us his hotel and some of his Fiore painting collections.  I bet you can guess the hotel owner’s name: Carmello.

Carmello is a collector of Sicilian antiques and of Fiore’s paintings. I especially like Fiore’s cats:

Below is one of Fiore’s earlier works from 2003 (before he became famous)…I really like his old style:

Fiore tables!

A reminder of what happens when you eat too much pasta:

simply put: this is a beautiful place!

I spied this kitty in the courtyard through this iron fence:

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This place makes me dream:

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Creative drift wood artwork:

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I looked on line to see how many churches there are in Ortigia. I found one site that showed 14, another showed 26.  Rick and I both agree there are far more than that. Rick agrees with me and says there are certainly over 100 churches on this tiny island.  There is one on nearly every corner.

We saw one that dated back to the 3rd century AD.  San Martino Church, below, dates back to the 12th century:IMG_4472

And lastly, I leave you with this Stomachion. We came across this gem on the courtyard wall next to the San Martino Church.  It was designed/invented by Archimedes. Archimedes was born well over two thousand years ago in Ortigia when it was a Greek Colony. Archimedes is Sicily’s famous son, the great mathematician. You can still see the Piazza Archimede, where Archimedes is said to have run buck naked in the plazza shouting excitedly, “Eureka, Eureka!!” because he had just made a discovery:

“Eureka!” was shouted after he had stepped into a bath and noticed that the water level rose, whereupon he suddenly understood that the volume of water displaced must be equal to the volume of the part of his body he had submerged.

But back to the Stomachion below. It is a puzzle Archimedes invented. It became a mathematician’s game.  No one quite understands why the Greek name has the same linguistic root as the word, “stomach”, but it does.

I am including two links below the photo to better explain the concept of Archimedes’ intricate and complex puzzle.  This is the oldest known mathematical puzzle. The inscription below the photo explains that a Stomachion always has 14 pieces, which make a square and that the 14 pieces can create endless geometric figure imaginable. It is too complicated for me to understand, but the web links below are pretty fascinating.

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http://mathworld.wolfram.com/Stomachion.html

http://www.math.cornell.edu/~mec/GeometricDissections/1.2%20Archimedes%20Stomachion.html


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