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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.

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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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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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Dinner with Darwin

May 1, 2018

Darwin’s an impressionable, charming, and very bright young guy in his 20s, originally from Mauritius, living in Catania. We met him last year at the villa, as he is the son of the villa’s caretakers and he helps his parents with their workload at the villa. Those of you reading this, who were also at last year’s yoga retreat at Villa Saracena, will remember him.

“I work part time at a bar. The food’s the best. You should come by.  No, I don’t work on Thursdays, but I’ll plan on being there the night you come by.”

So we connected via “messenger” before our Thursday evening date with him and came to find out he no longer worked at the bar.  He had quit the night before we were going to meet. “The owner wouldn’t pay me, so I quit. But it’s ok, I’ll meet you there.”

After hearing more about his nightmarish-ex-boss, I suggested we meet elsewhere.  And so we had dinner with Darwin in an outdoor trattoria in the Massimo Bellini Opera House Piazza.  Darwin speaks English as if he were born in the back streets of London. He studied at Cambridge Preparatory High School while living with his uncle. He knows all the colloquial British English expressions, the good ones and the bad.  He’s witty, funny, charismatic, knows just about everyone, and is at that special place in his life, you know, where the whole wide world is about to unfold for you!

We enjoyed asking him questions and listened to his animated replies. As we conversed, people strolling by on their evening passeggiate saw him, and greeted him, “Eh, Darwinneh! Che mi dici?”  (Hey Darwin! What’s goin’ on, man!) And there was our attractive waitress, who came to our table one too many times so I asked him, “So, Darwin, is she your friend?”

“Well, yeah, yeah, but I don’t know her name. I just call her Mella. I call everyone Mella or something like that.  You know, Carmella/Carmello is such a popular name, so I just call everyone Mel, Mello, Mellina, Carmel, Armel, and you know, it kinda works. They love it! The women find it sexy when I call them Carmella!  Even if it’s not a given man or woman’s name, and 5 times out of 10 it is their name, they just get a kick of it. ”

He grabs his cell phone, unlocks it. Tosses it my way and says, “Look!”

I was wrapped up by his English accent and was trying to figure out why a woman would find it sexy to be called someone else’s name (in fact, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t like it if you called me Carmella!), but I managed to catch his phone.  He leaned over and opened up his contacts and there it was, in plain English, an endless list of Mellas and Mellos, and variants on the names, complete with phone numbers. Sometimes he writes in a second name to differentiate various friends: “Mello Grande (big), Mel Alto (tall), Carmello Birra (beer-probably had a beer with the guy), Carmella Serena (quiet, serene).”

I also noticed that when Darwin’s Italian friends, both men and women, young and old, stopped by our table to hug him, tap his head, punch his arms, tweak his cheek, greet him, or give him a kiss on the cheeks, Darwin added a little zest to his perfect Italian: instead of rolling his r as Italians do, he would pronounce his r like the soft throaty French r.  Now this would make sense, given that Darwin speaks French because he hails from Mauritius.  However, I have heard his English r and it doesn’t sound French.  And I have also heard him roll his Italian r, so I know he can do it. So I asked him about it.

“Oh, well, you see…they love it!  Yes, my friends love it! They find the soft French r charming, especially the girls.  Yeah, the French r!”  His laughter is contagious. “Francesca, you actually caught that?”  He doesn’t realize I’ve been around the block a few times and I understand and am fascinated by the subtleties and power of language.

“Hey, Darwin, what did your dad say when you got your nose pierced?”

Actually, Darwin’s septum is pierced and he wears a septum ring. Is that what it’s called? I should have asked him!  I think it’s just called a “nose ring”, whether the piercing is in the nostril or the septum.  It looks really good on him and gives him a certain look, along with his close-buzzed head.

“My dad? No problem. My dad understands me.  He’s cool.  He loves me and accepts me.  Yeah, he’s the best.  He’s super cool with this.”

Darwin’s a really good guy!

“So, what are your dreams?”

We found out that he once-upon-a-time wanted to be a surgeon. Why? Because he wanted to help people.  He is definitely bright enough to pursue this dream, but he quit school.  He did part of his high school in England (Cambridge), but later quit. Just didn’t work out for him to attend school.  He was bored. So now, the surgeon dream is out the back door and in through the front door is a new dream to own and run a bar with a friend in Catania.  They already have found the place and are renting it at a great price. Now they are saving money to get the business going.

I bet when we come back next year, we’ll be visiting Darwin at his new bar, assuming a more attainable dream doesn’t drift in through the side door.

The next day, we left Catania and headed to Siracusa. Below are some photos from Siracusa.

Ortigia

We toured the catacombs under the church of San Filippo.  As you enter, a skeleton is painted on the wall.  He’s been there for hundreds of years and his job is to greet you, to welcome you to this underground world of the dead.  One of his arms rests on a balcony and the other arm and hand is ready to sweep you up:

The next two pictures are also from this burial chamber. On one side of the chamber, the picture of the skull and bones says in Latin, “We were like you.” And across from this, another skull and bones says in Latin, “And you will be like us.”

Well, after such grim greetings, we walked around and delighted in the beautiful homes, the fresh sea air, the sun-filled day.

 

We see the artist Fiore’s beautiful work everywhere!  His signature works of art are on the walls of shops, restaurants, on table tops, and on planters filled with geraniums.  His colors are vivid and he really captures an essence of Ortigia and Sicily. And today, while walking around, we met him!  He was in his atelier, door flung open to the sea.  He was intense, focused, and busy at creating another masterpiece.

 

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Greek Sicily enthralls me.  The next two photos are from Apollo’s Temple. The columns are Doric style. The temple was built in the 6th century B.C. You can see the temple embedded into the nearby homes (see the second photo below). At one time, the space between the temple pillars were filled in to construct the walls of a mosque and later a church. Today, the temple stands near the lively outdoor fish and vegetable market.

And I have to include photos of Cat Lady.  Cat Lady, the woman in the photo below, stepped outside her open door and asked me to take a photo of her and the cats so I took a few photos. Believe it or not, that’s a “smile” on her face because I had just given her some money for cat food.

Using dramatic hand gestures and a passionate voice, she told me her story. “I don’t know why, but I keep finding kittens outside my door!  And what am I supposed to do?  They come to me! So I have to take them in.  They love me. I love them. I feed them. Sometimes I eat less so they can eat more.  They are wonderful! Would you like to come in? Would you like to take a photo or two?  Would you like to pet them? They love to be pet!  They don’t like to go outside. They love my home.”

And let me tell you.  I have never seen so many cats in my life. I asked her how many cats she had and she promptly said, “Eleven.”  I’d say take her number and multiply by 5. Maybe more. And, oh, did the place stink!  I took the photos by standing in the doorway.  There was no way I was going to cross the threshold.  I don’t know how the woman could still be alive inhaling that stink.  Her house was all mottled and filled with pictures of Jesus, the pope (with head bowed, praying), angels, and Mother Mary.  Maybe Cat Lady is protected by the pope’s prayers?

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And we will move away from cats and end this blog with a sunset.

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Storm (Hice Storm)

April 10, 2018

It was a stormy blustery weekend at the coast, tempestuous, complete with sideways ice-cold rain and hailstones. Rick’s impromptu spoonerism created a great new word, a noun, an appropriate description of what was falling from the sky: “hice”, a mixture of hail and ice. And the new word stuck just as the hail stones were sticking to the deck, the cars, and to all exterior surfaces outside our ocean home. The rain continued to come in angles. The rain came in sheets. The angles changed direction and it was all so unpredictable. Looking out the window at the forest surrounding our house, the scene looked slightly unbearable, very exciting, and utterly chaotic as gusts of wind deeply bent the branches of the swaying trees.

If you love storms, there is no better place to be than in Ocean Shores, Washington.

I had my Women’s Spiritual Group out at the coast last weekend.  We did yoga and meditated. We laughed. We stared into each others eyes (yes, really! and it moved me to tears). We drew and read from a deck of Inspiration Cards and talked about our lives and our dreams. Sometimes, we discovered, our lives and our dreams intersect in beautiful ways. We told stories and read tarot cards. We shared books, wonderful meals, conversations.  We munched on popcorn and stayed warm by the wood stove.

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Carpe Diem! Seize the Day! This was one of the message cards that was randomly picked out of the deck of Inspiration Cards.

And we were inspired. We decided to take action.

“Let’s go out!”

Cabin fever is a type of illness and there is only one cure for it. The cure for cabin fever is to go out into the elements. Never mind if the gusts of wind were coming in at 26-36 miles per hour (strongest gust was clocked in at 56mph), never mind that we could hear the roaring surf from inside the house with all windows shut tight.. going out IS the remedy for cabin fever.

Out we went, braving the storm. We bundled up in our rainproof gear and decided to drive out to the jetty. The roads were isolated. Even the deer and the birds were in hiding.

We were surprised to see a line up of cars, engines idling, dotting the parking area near the jetty. People in the cars sat staring at the enormous waves crashing over the jetty. The jetty parking lot had become an impromptu outdoor drive-in theater, the waves the movie, the popcorn missing!

Parkas, anoraks, rainproof jackets zipped up, hats on, hoods pulled up, ears covered, rubber boots on, gloves and mittens on hands, we fought the winds and walked toward the jetty and onto the beach. Was it really April 7th? As we staggered forward, I wondered what the Pacific Ocean has in common with the word “pacific”. We walked, keeping a safe distance from the sneaker-waves and the blasting waves hitting the jetty. We watched the waves as the people in the cars watched us. I felt as if we had walked into their movie. We walked against the wind, holding on to each other. I felt a rare gratitude for every pound of my weight!

On the way back to the car, we were hit by a force of tiny icy crystal-like hail.  Bling Bling Bling on our faces. A Pelting Facial?  So, there was a silver lining! We laughed at the thought of it.

Tiny crystal-like hail stones pelted our faces. It was an exfoliation, pore-tightening, toning, firming, softening, wrinkle reducing, collagen-building, blood circulating, oxygen increasing,  deep cleansing, detoxifying, muscle-relaxing, lymphatic drainage-inducing, puffiness-around-the-eyes-reducing, complexion clearing, a slowing down of the onset of wrinkles, a cure for a sagging face, a skin cell renewal speed-up process, de-stressing, hydrating, moisturizing, absorption-increasing, nourishing, skin-breathing, rejuvenating Pelting Facial!

We came back to the house, placed our rain soaked clothing in the dryer, put on dry clothing, sat by the blazing wood stove, sipped tea, and marveled at each other’s rosy cheeks and bright youthful faces.  We had fun thinking of all the benefits of the Pelting Facial.  There was a steep price to pay for it, but it was quite worth the adventure.

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P.S. I had fun writing this blog entry.  I hope you had fun reading it.  Pelting Facial: highly recommended, at your risk, of course.

P.S.S. No one would dare take out a cell phone or camera in the storm, so no photos were taken of the storm proper and so no photos of it in this blog post. Descriptions will have to do!

Friends, Yoga Challenge, Fog, and Stepping Out in the Unknown

December 10, 2017

One day in early March 2010, Linda Tally said, “Fran, you should start a blog.”  And I started one that very month. My blog has been going strong ever since.  I may not write a blog post every day and, certainly, weeks go by without a blog peep out of me, but I do keep ’em comin’. Writing blog posts has made me better at crafting my words. Blogging has made me think more deeply and, over the years, my photography has improved.  Daily, I find myself thinking about topics I could write about, even though few of those topics actually materialize in blog form.  The countless topics are tucked away into the files of my brain.

I like to imagine that one day I will have more time for writing, but, for now, so much of my life is occupied by teaching and practicing yoga. I will just have to be content with whatever snippets of time I am able to devote to tapping out my thoughts on this computer.  What I’d love to craft is a book of essays on yoga thoughts, experiences, and philosophy.  Also on the back burner is a book about my Peace Corps experience and a return trip I took to Senegal long after my Peace Corps days were over.  My dad’s incredible life story awaits an audience as do the stories, swirling around in my brain, related to my Sicilian heritage and the many colorful characters who have helped shape me into who I am today.

Until then, you get a mishmash of this human’s thoughts and musings.

Yoga Challenge: As I mentioned in a previous blog, I started a personal yoga challenge on my birthday, November 25.  For the challenge, I am posting a photo of myself doing a yoga pose every day for a total of 56 days on Instagram (Yoga by Fran Gallo on Instagram).  Today is Day 15. Each day represents a year of my life.  The Yoga Challenge is much more difficult than I thought it would be.  Doing the pose under various conditions, taking the photo or getting someone to take the photo for me, and wanting to take shots outside when it’s darned cold out and often raining are some of the situations I’m confronting. The greatest challenge is the vanity issue.  I don’t like to be showy and I feel self-conscious taking and posting the photos, but it’s good for me.  I am far from perfect in form, physicality, and character, but I’m human -very human- and I’m doing my best and the photos candidly capture me just as I am the very moment in time the shot is taken. Yoga has been a part of my life for 27 years of the 56 years the postures represent.  Though far from easy, doing this challenge only seems right apropos my yoga practice and life.

And yes, sometimes it’s fun!

Below: Yesterday at Green Lake (Thank you, Jayne!)  The winter sun was bright and hitting the trees.  I noticed the long shadows cast by the sun and noted that it was only 2:40pm.  My face looks florid because of the light.  What I love most is the skinny tree-shadow my body is casting in this photo.

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And then a complete turn-around in weather today.  The lake was foggy and the weather very cold.  I almost slipped several times on the sidewalk’s thin layer of black ice. The docks were covered in a thin film of frosted ice.  Sky and water merged to form a muted gray.  The photos from today are gems. (Thank you, Gail, for these very cool photos!) My friend Dayna says this photo looks mythical. I agree.  The ducks and geese add mystery to the photo.  Green Lake’s Duck Island seems to float. The fog was so thick that the photos almost look black and white. But the graffiti tells you another story.  In the photo below, the colorful graffiti vividly stands out, looks penciled in, an afterthought-splash of blue. The graffiti tells you the truth of the photo. It is not black and white.

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Because of the ice on the docks, the only type of poses I could do safely were balance poses. Yes, oddly, I had a greater chance of slippage with two feet down because there was no grip for my feet!P1010005

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David Whyte On a whim, I purchased a ticket to hear David Whyte read his poetry last night at the Center for Spiritual Living.  Let me start by saying that, even though I am married to a poet, I don’t always understand poetry when I read it.  It is best for me when I hear it read aloud, preferably by the poet who wrote the poem.  And what is most enjoyable is when the poetry is prefaced by a story, as happened at last night’s reading.

The evening was thought evoking and such a treat for my heart, my spirit, my mind.  Whyte grew up both in Ireland and in England.  It was a delight to hear him speak and read.  He is a master at story telling and poetry reading.  He connects with his audience and I especially love his mastery of the English language.  His words are rich with description.  His imagery transported me to Ireland, to a river, to a talking stone with the face of a sheela na gig carved into it set upon a plinth, to a conference of Catholic nuns seeking out deeper biblical understandings via the words and insight of a poet-heathen, to the Camino de Santiago and to Finisterre, where a pair of boots are burned to symbolize the end of one journey and the start of another.  Whyte’s imagery flowed into my dreams last night.  In my dreams, I walked on water.

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David Whyte’s words ask us to waken into this life:

There’s a road always beckoning

Just beyond yourself

is where you need to be.

David Whyte asks us to “drink from a deeper source”:

  • Nature calls out to you, asking difficult questions.
  • Be bigger than yourself.
  • By walking you make the path, the pathless path.
  • Dedicate yourself to the impossible.
  • Step out and get just beyond yourself.

As I write, I hear David reciting his poetry with his style of repetitions.  The words are repeated, the words are repeated, until there is an understanding, until there is an understanding, followed by silence, an understanding followed by silence.

Also of note, David Whyte spoke about friendship:

But no matter the medicinal virtues of being a true friend or sustaining a long close relationship with another, the ultimate touchstone of friendship is not improvement, neither of the other nor of the self, the ultimate touchstone is witness, the privilege of having been seen by someone and the equal privilege of being granted the sight of the essence of another, to have walked with them and to have believed in them, and sometimes just to have accompanied them for however brief a span, on a journey impossible to accomplish alone.

Thank you, David Whyte, for your insight, wisdom, and words on friendship.  I was very moved by the reading last night.  I think it lent to the preciousness of today and to an ever deepening appreciation of the friendships I have cultivated in my life.

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Celebrating Winter Solstice

December 4, 2017

I know we are still days away from the Winter Solstice, but this weekend, we had our annual Winter Solstice Hatha Yoga Retreat, always held the first weekend of December.

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For me, this time of year is an opportunity to seek light, a time to put up Christmas lights and light candles in the early evenings.  I also see this as a time to surround myself with light, with people of light and radiance. I did just that this weekend with the lovely retreat participants! The early evenings and long nights leading to the winter solstice give ample time for restorative yoga by candlelight, time to contemplate, rest, reflect, and renew.

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Here is a passage I found on line explaining the significance of the Winter Solstice:

Embrace the return of light.

Winter solstice marks the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the sun is at its lowest arc in the sky. The word solstice is derived from the Latin word solstitiumsol meaning sun and –stitium meaning stoppage. One ancient definition of solstice is “standing still sun.” Because the earth is tilted on its axis, the northern hemisphere leans farthest away from the sun during the winter solstice (on December 21 or 22), resulting in a long, dark night.

The winter solstice has carried strong symbolism for many, many years. Some refer to solstice as the rebirth of the sun—and not coincidentally Christmas celebrates the birth of the Son. Ancient cultures feared the light of the sun would not return unless they performed vigils and rituals on the solstice.

Solstice can be a magical, contemplative time—a night of spiritual reconnection and ritual. While solstice may not have gained the notoriety of Christmas, Hanukah, or Kwanza, many people celebrate it as a deeply meaningful holiday—a time to celebrate renewal, rebirth, and gratitude for the coming light.

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During the weekend retreats, we often do shared readings.  The theme this weekend was winter solstice and I love what the retreat participants shared.  Below is some of what was shared:

“Did you rise this morning
broken and hung over
with weariness and pain
and rage, tattered from waving too long in a brutal wind?
Get up, child.
Pull your bones upright.
Gather your skin and muscle into a patch of sun.
Draw breath deep into your lungs;
you will need it
for another day calls to you.
I know you ache.
I know you wish the work were done
and you
with everyone you have ever loved
were on a distant shore
safe, and unafraid.
But remember this,
tired as you are:
you are not alone.
Here
and here
and here also
there are others weeping
and rising
and gathering their courage.
You belong to them
and they to you,
and together
we will break through
and bend the arc of justice
all the way down
into our lives.”

– Audette Fulbright Fulson

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I found the following poem by Maureen Edden:

The Shortest Day

it is night when I get up each morn
I have hardly made it to the noon
before blue shadows cross the lawn
and I am looking at the moon

L1400277The following Turkish Proverb was shared:

Good people are like candles; they burn themselves up to give others light.”

And here is a good reflective poem by William Stafford:

A Ritual to Read to Each Other

If you don’t know the kind of person I am
and I don’t know the kind of person you are
a pattern that others made may prevail in the
           world
and following the wrong god home we may miss
           our star.
For there is many a small betrayal in the mind,
a shrug that lets the fragile sequence break
sending with shouts the horrible errors of
          childhood
storming out to play through the broken dike.
And as elephants parade holding each
          elephant’s tail,
but if one wanders the circus won’t find the
          park,
I call it cruel and maybe the root of all cruelty
to know what occurs but not recognize the fact.
And so I appeal to a voice, to something
         shadowy,
a remote important region in all who talk:
though we could fool each other, we should
         consider—
lest the parade of our mutual life get lost in the
dark.
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to
          sleep;
the signals we give — yes or no, or maybe —
should be clear: the darkness around us is deep.
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And the following two poems speak to tonight’s Super Moon.
On a night
when the moon shines as brightly as this,
the unspoken thoughts
of even the most discreet heart might be seen.
(Izumi Shikibu 10th-11th century)
All night I could not sleep
Because of the moonlight on my bed
I kept on hearing a voice calling:
Out of Nowhere, Nothing answered, “yes.”
(Tzu Yeh 3rd-6th Century)
We experienced the very bright night skies last night and the night before as the Super Moon, not quiet yet full, was lighting up the cloudy night skies.  We especially experience the brightness of the moon here at Ocean Shores, where there is little light pollution.  Today, because of the gravitational pull of the Super Moon, when we took a walk on the beach, the tide was very high, leaving very little room to walk along the shore.  You can see the long shadows cast by the noon winter sun and the narrow stretch of sand on a beach that normally has a very large span of sand.
L1400275L1400282L1400278Lucky us…Jerry gifted all of us with her freshly pressed apple juice from her apple orchard.  So GOOD!!!!  Stay healthy and hydrated, readers!  And get out there and look at the super moon tonight!

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Whidbey Island Visit

October 16, 2017

My weekend seems to have begun on Thursday evening when I went to see the dress rehearsal for the opera, The Barber of Seville.  It was delightful!

Then on Friday, after teaching a morning yoga class downtown, I went to Whidbey Island for two days. We were blessed with gorgeous autumn weather and we went hiking at Ebey’s Landing.  It’s one of my favorite hikes.

L1400087You can see the trail goes along a cliff overlooking the sea! Wind, sea, cliffs, prairie, forest, fields, views, history, a nearby historical graveyard, Ebey’s Landing has it all.  L1400089

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Fields along the hike:

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Gigantic strands of kelp on the beach:

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After the hike, hungry as ever, we headed over to the Front Street Grill in Coupeville for a Penn Cove clam dinner.  The clams were the best ever, done up Thai style in a coconut milk sauce.  Then back to Linda’s to rest and relax.

Linda’s decor is magical and festive:

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On Saturday, I woke up to an exquisite sunrise.  Luckily, I dashed outside to get a photo because the spectacular show didn’t last very long:

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The sunrise was the perfect opening scene for the one-day private home-style retreat I led that day.  We had an all-levels active Hatha Yoga session in the morning, followed by a delicious lunch and an invigorating walk to Meerkerk Gardens.  In the afternoon, we enjoyed a long restorative yoga session. For some crazy reason, I decided to transport all my bolsters over from Ocean Shores to Whidbey for the afternoon restorative session.  Glad there was space in the car for them!  It made for a wonderful session!

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Meerkerk Gardens have a grand collection of rhododendrons and plenty of other trees, including maples, which were in full autumn splendor:

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Hope you are enjoying this Autumn Season!


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