Archive for the ‘Washington State’ Category

Stehekin-Dazzle

July 28, 2017

We made our annual trip to Stehekin last weekend.  Stehekin, Washington is a place that awakens the nature-loving adventurer and dazzles the eye of the outdoor enthusiast.  I didn’t see any bears this year, but I did see a grouse, big as a hen, on the trail.  Leslie and I also spotted a baby osprey in its enormous nest. The baby osprey was squawking for its parents.  While there, we hiked, read by the river, visited Karl’s Stehekin Garden.  And I got in a lot of restful sleeping time.  The bed in the cabin is so comfortable, the night so quiet, and the air coming in from the open window so pure, fresh, and soothing.  I slept deeply and dreamed of the night forest.

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Stehekin is a wilderness place of forests, waterfalls, mountains, and tumbling creeks (26 creeks flow into the river). It is a place where time seems to stand still.

Stehekin refers to the grand 17-mile long river, which carries glacial water from the Cascade Mountains. The Stehekin River a surreal blue as a result of the glacial melt.  It flows into Lake Chelan, a 50.5 mile lake.Stehekin also refers to the community, which sits in the Stehekin Valley and is part of the North Cascades National Park.

One reason why Stehekin remains so pristine and wild is because the area is not accessible by road.  You can only reach Stehekin by hiking, float plane, boat, or ferry.

Below are some photos from last weekend’s visit.  It was not quite as hot this year and the mosquitoes were not so bothersome as they have been in the past.  And there were no forest fires this year so the vistas on our hikes were very clear.

Our champ, Miss Winnie, resting at a creek after a long deep drink of cold water:

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Morning Sun on Cabin:

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The Stehekin River greets us in the morning:

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Reflections, a perfect Stehekin morning:

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And I found these waders drying on the clothesline amusing (along the forest path leading to Karl’s Garden):

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Old cars like this Chevrolet, in excellent running condition, abound in Stehekin:L1390773

Refreshing water stop during one of the hikes:

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A trip to Stehekin requires:

  • Hiking and a visit to Rainbow Falls
  • Fly-fishing (if you are a fisher-person)
  • A visit to the Stehekin Bakery (their pies are ridiculously delicious)
  • A visit to Karl’s Organic Garden

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A visit to Karl’s garden is one of my Stehekin highlights.  Karl’s produce is beautiful.  He keeps bees and sells honey.  And he has goats and sells goat cheese.  The perimeter of his vegetable garden is studded with flowers.  This time of year, Karl’s dahlias are in full bloom.  I could not help myself.  I kind of went crazy on the flower photography.

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Karl also offers food for thought on his white boards.  Here are some examples of his words of wisdom:

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I love Stehekin  (one of our hiking lunch spots below):

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The Chakra Rainbow

July 20, 2017

Last Saturday, MJ Conboy, of MJ’s Plant Smart Kitchen, and I offered an in-city yoga and cooking day retreat at a very modern and elegant condominium in the Belltown area of Seattle.

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The day could not have been more beautiful.  It was a day filled with pure sunshine and a slight breeze.  It was nice to start our gathering at 8:30am.  The casual half hour before the morning yoga session gave participants leisurely time to meet each other and to connect.

The morning yoga session was held out on the terrace.  I took the above photos during the yoga session. As we practiced yoga, I admired the herb garden.  Obviously, it was planted by loving hands.  And as we practiced yoga, we looked out over the trees that line 4th Avenue downtown Seattle.

Chakras were the theme of the day.  The word “chakra” means wheel in Sanskrit.  Ancient yogis felt specific energy vortices along the spine.  They felt this energy moved like a wheel spinning fast, producing energy.

The chakras are energy centers. There are specific yoga postures or categories of poses for each chakra.  I always find it fascinating that a given posture, or physical movement or stance,  can help bring the various energy centers into balance.  Each chakra has its own color, its own element, and an area of spiritual growth associated with it.   The colors of the chakras make a rainbow.

Root Chakra (Muladhara)

  • Red
  • Earth Energy
  • Represents cultivating stability, ability to thrive when one’s foundation is good, focus on shelter and sustenance, connection to earth, nature, and home.  Root chakra asks us to examine and work through our fears.
  • Postures (Asanas) include all poses that involve balance such as Tree, Eagle, and Half Moon.  Also included are pelvic tilts, bound angle, and child’s pose.

Pelvic Chakra (Svadhisthana)

  • Orange
  • Water Energy
  • Represents physical well-being and learning to honor the body by balancing nutritional needs, sleep, work, and pleasure. This chakra controls our emotional center and how we experience emotions.
  • Postures (Asanas) include all poses that are hip openers.  I included the following: pigeon, crescent moon, horse pose (stretch version), triangle, wide forward bends, seated forward bends, and uttanasana (forward bend with feet hip distance apart).

Navel or Solar Plexus Chakra (Manipura)

  • Yellow
  • Fire Energy
  • Represents internal, physical, emotional and spiritual strength. This chakra rules our sense of self-worth, self-confidence, and self-esteem.  As this chakra comes into balance, we learn how to use our strengths in a very positive way.
  • Postures (Asanas) include all poses to help us grow strong, such as Warrior I, II, and III.  Also included are Horse Pose, Chair Pose, and Archer.  All abdominal strengthening poses are included such as Side Plank (all variations) and Boat Pose.

Heart Chakra (Anahata)

  • Green
  • Air Energy
  • Represents vitality and love, love that nourishes our spirits and this is unconditional and free.  This energy center helps us to become loving, kind, and generous.
  • Postures (Asanas) include all poses that open the chest, lungs, and shoulders.  Arching (backbending) and twists help to move energy into the heart center.

Throat Chakra (Vishuddha)

  • Light Blue or Turquoise
  • Air/Ether (Space) Energy
  • Represents communication, the ability to say what you mean to say, to speak truthfully, to speak one’s own words, to express oneself well.
  • Postures (Asanas) include doing the Shoulderstand Cycle, which includes Shoulderstand (Sarvangasana), Plough, (Halasana), and Fish Pose (Matsyasana).

Brow Chakra (Ajna)

  • Indigo
  • Air/Ether (Space) Energy
  • Represents ability to perceive, to tap into one’s wisdom, to be perceptive and intuitive, to be mindful and aware.  The brow chakra helps us to see, know, and understand ourselves and the world we live in.
  • Postures (Asanas) include seated and guided meditative poses such as Shavasana or Seated Meditation.

Crown Chakra (Sahasrara)

  • Violet
  • Ether (or Cosmos) Energy
  • Represents the source of all healing, the highest attainable energy center.  The crown chakra represents tapping into one’s full potential, connecting to the soul’s longing for peace, love, and happiness.
  • Postures (Asanas) include inverted poses.  In a given chakra class, I work the inversions in before the final meditation portion of the session.  Inverted poses include Legs Up The Wall (Viparita karani asana), headstands, shoulderstands, and downward facing dog.

And of course, the food was as colorful as the Rainbow Chakras!  Below is a photo of a Green Glo Drink:

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MJ’s Green Glo Drink was made with the following ingredients:

  • Green Apples
  • Lemon
  • Ginger
  • Parsley
  • Spinach

A few photos from our outdoor terrace session (choice of sunshine or shade for all).

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Lunch included food preparation demo from MJ.  Below is a delicious and colorful Thai spring roll (dipping sauce was made from almond butter):

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And a Creamy (non dairy) Avocado Cucumber Zucchini Soup made in a blender and served at room temperature, topped with dill and pistachios:

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After lunch, we took a fun and brisk walk over to the Olympic Sculpture Park.  We all marveled at how beautiful this park is.  I always feel so proud that we have this fabulous park in Seattle:FullSizeRender 15

Words of wisdom, with love from Fran:

  • Do yoga and take time to sit still in meditation every day.  Even short bursts of yoga and meditation count!
  • Walk and walk some more and enjoy your environment (even in the city there are many green pockets).  Seek out green spaces and breathe in prana-charged air.
  • Include more plant-based foods into your diet.  Explore new greens, new vegetables, new recipes.  Respect your body and eat wholesome, nutritious foods.
  • Take a day of wellness for yourself.  You deserve it!

A photo of MJ and Fran (moi) in front of a Belltown Mural:

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Summertime…

July 9, 2017
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Summertime

And the livin’ is easy.

I’ve always loved Gershwin’s “Summertime”.  And this season is also my favorite.  Living right across from Green Lake is like having a big park as my own front yard.  It’s a fun place.

So fun, in fact, that I’ve been slow with my blog writing.  Imagine me, when not teaching, taking aerial yoga classes, sweating profusely as I walk the not-so-dreadful-anymore Blaine Stairs twice a week with my pal Jeri, walking Green Lake, weight lifting with my trainer Tom (one of the fittest guys at Seattle Athletic Club), and sitting on my sun-drenched almost-too-hot balcony reading and making my way through a pile of great books Donni left me before she moved to Oregon to start her new life.

I’m cardio fit and strong, and back to the weight I was before going to Sicily where I freely indulged and ate too much good food (!).  It has taken me five weeks and a lot of sweat to get back to my pre-Sicily weight.

And so you get the idea.  Summer, it’s a great time to be in Seattle. Below are a few photos from the past few weeks.

We’ll start off with the garden at Ocean Shores.  We started the garden design summer of 1999. Today the garden is mature.  The roses are in bloom and the crocosmia soon to follow.  A watering system is in place. Blooms burst open in Ocean Shores about two weeks after I see the same bloom in Seattle.  Today I saw a hydrangea in bloom in the city, so I know what my garden will be doing two weeks from today.

The garden at Little Renaissance gives me so much pleasure.  I spend as many weekends there as possible in the summer.  Sometimes when leaving for the city, my heart aches to leave the garden looking so pretty.

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All of the photos in this blog were taken on my iPhone so the quality isn’t as good as the ones taken on my Leica.  It seems I haven’t been taking my camera around with me as I used to.  I will make a point of taking it with me again.

The photo below is from a houseboat/barge dinner party on Lake Union near Gas Works Park.  We did yoga on a grassy strip under big-leafed trees and then came back to the houseboat to continue a fabulous evening.

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One of Simone’s artistic bouquets from her garden for our gathering at the houseboat/barge:

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Below: I got artsy with water and reflections.

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And what is summer in the Pacific Northwest without a hike?  Global warming had Seattle temperatures reaching 97 degrees one fine Sunday.  What did I do on such a hot day? I went on a hike to Wallace Falls with Leslie and Winnie.  The heat combined with the 12-mile hike nearly whooped me off my feet.  Wait, it did!  I slipped and caught myself on a log.  A bruised hip and a sprained hand later (yup, Leslie…I really did sprain it..tell you more later),  I still look back and say it was one fine hike!

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We spent the Fourth of July with my family-in-law at the Clark’s Cabin in Home, Washington.  And no one seems to know where Home is! Most people who have lived in Seattle their whole lives confess, “I googled Home to see where it is.” Home, WA is a small community on the Key Peninsula and sits on the waters of Carr Inlet.  (Carr Inlet is an extension of Puget Sound).

Stunning views of Mt. Rainier and cute beach houses await you if you get to visit Home. In the 1800s, a group created an anarchist community in Home.  Home was a place where they embraced radical views and free love.  In 1911, three women and two men from the community were brought to court on charges of “indecent exposure” because they were seen skinny dipping. read more about Home

Home is where we celebrated the 4th of July at Geoff and Jan’s lovely cabin:

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And Arvind Singh was briefly in town all the way from Varanasi, India.  On Thursday, I enjoyed dinner with him and a lively group under a summer sky in Kelley and Jack’s magical garden.

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Arvind left early on Friday, but I was up at Richmond Beach again to enjoy a concert on the lawn by Deobrat Mishra and his nephew Prashant Mishra.  It was an excellent evening.  I first met Deobrat and Prashant in Varanasi.  They are 11th and 12th generation sitar and tabla players.  They are outstanding.

View sample of Deobrat and Prashant’s music.

Today, I am wonderfully tired from a hike to Snow Lake with Bev.  It was crowded, but that did not take away from the beauty of this place.  There was snow around the lake and the color of the water a deep blue.  I imagine the lake stays cold all year long, but I’d be willing to jump into it in late August.  Maybe one day, I’ll have a special photo to show you!  For now, here is Snow Lake from today.

At the trail head:

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Grand finale: Snow Lake!!!

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Gathering Circle

June 18, 2017

Quarterly, I offer a free yoga class at the Chief Seattle Club.  The Chief Seattle Club is in Pioneer Square, Seattle, and is a safe and sacred place where urban native peoples can rest, be nurtured, and receive services to help ease their lives.  Many of the members of Chief Seattle Club are homeless.  The club is open seven days a week from 7am-2pm.  It is a place where members can have a hot shower, get a warm hearty breakfast, receive medical support, housing assistance, computer training, legal assistance, mental health care, and chemical dependency treatment.  It also offers traditional healing practices as a primary method of healing.  There is also a Native Art Program and Gallery and there are regular outings to visit tribes and participate in pow wows.

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There is so much to say about this center!  Mainly, I believe it is a place where urban native peoples can be supported and find acceptance.

Many years ago, the building was a hotel.  The space today has been completely renovated and is environmentally friendly.  It has solar panels that heat all the water in the building and some of the construction material was salvaged from the old hotel.

My favorite part is the circular space with high ceilings and wood carvings located in the center of the Chief Seattle Club.  It serves as the Gathering Circle.  This is the spiritual center of the building. It was designed by Native American architect, John Paul Jones.  Weekly mass is offered in the Gathering Circle.  It is a gorgeous space and I feel honored to offer yoga sessions four times a year in the Gathering Circle.

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There are two ways to describe my teaching yoga experience at the Chief Seattle Club.  One is through this poem, written by Coast Salish Chief Dan George (Tel-Lal-Wah).  I believe this poem captures the spirit of the native people I work with, who are deeply connected to earth, land, and their ancestors.

My Heart Soars

The beauty of the trees,
the softness of the air,
the fragrance of the grass,
speaks to me.

The summit of the mountain,
the thunder of the sky,
the rhythm of the sea,
speaks to me.

The faintness of the stars,
the freshness of the morning,
the dew drop on the flower,
speaks to me.

The strength of fire,
the taste of salmon,
the trail of the sun,
And the life that never goes away,
They speak to me.
And my heart soars

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Teaching yoga at the Chief Seattle Club profoundly moves me.  I always leave feeling they gave me more than I was able to give them! Another way to capture and describe my experience there is to capture fragments of dialogues from discussions before and after the yoga session:

Me: Before we begin, let’s do a check in. Yoga is wholeness, truth, peace, connection….connecting to self, to community, to ancestors, to breath, to universal consciousness, to nature. This is your sacred time to share anything you feel will help you to connect with your yoga today.

I am not lost. I am strong, firmly rooted.  I come from a line of ancestors who live through me.  My work is to help people see that things are not as they appear. The world is an illusion. Things are not what they seem. I want people to see me as an artist, as a visionary.

I love yoga, but I feel unsettled so I can’t get to doing yoga as often as I’d like. I’m so happy to be here.

I’d like to stand and speak to you in my tribal language and then I’ll translate for you…

During the yoga session, they grow wings and become eagles, they grow stronger and become warriors, they grow roots and become trees.  I am humbled by this group.  As we do yoga, I understand they are true yogis, already connected and re-embracing wholeness.  I observe how they relax deeply in shavasana.

Me: How are you feeling?

I am the rock that rises to the top of the mountain as the earth’s plates push me upwards.  Eventually that rock rolls down to the deepest part of the ocean and eventually dissolves into sand.  That’s me.  That’s how I feel…right now.

Once in a dream, I watched a big sheet of glass shatter to the ground..big shards on the ground.  Sometimes I feel that’s me.  Today I was able to fit the pieces together again.  Every piece is needed to make this picture perfect. The ugly parts, the perfect parts, they all came together to make me whole again. 

I feel relaxed.  I almost fell asleep….I think I did.

She puts her jacket on, then takes it off, then puts it on again and off again.  I need to go, but I want to stay!  I feel so peaceful.

I cried.  The pain inside is gone.

I feel alive. 

I feel like all this energy is flowing inside me.  I love this feeling!

I am enough.

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A Simple Mantra

May 24, 2017

So Hum

We breathe in.  We breathe out.

We inhale and silently and hear SO.

We exhale and silently and hear HUM.

Two words create internal sounds that bring us to reflections of beauty.

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So Hum (also spelled Soham). This Sanskrit mantra is made of two simple words which bring us to truth.  I AM THAT.  THAT I AM.  I am the beauty I see around me.  I am a reflection of the trees, the pond, the sky, the trail, the yogis bursting with life, and the exquisite property so tenderly loved.  I identify myself with the universe.

So Hum. The images tumble forth.  The yogis in the group become poets before my very eyes:

Iridescent blue of the damselfly on the pond, SO HUM

 (photo by Rick)

(photo by Rick)

Dark water, red leaves, blue dragonfly SO HUM

The barred owl casing the robin’s nest, SO HUM

(Rick's photo)

(Rick’s photo)

Eye of the owl  SO HUM

Purple blossoms falling on the grass SO HUM

Creek crashing through the sea SO HUM

Moss on the temple  SO HUM

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The color Chinese red on the house door  SO HUM

Path leading to the house where we do our yoga

The skittering wind  SO HUM

Beauty and artistry of the carved wood  SO HUM

(photo by Rick)

(photo by Rick)

Hummingbird by my red bandana  SO HUM

Kathy (wearing her red bandanna) and Dayna

Kathy (wearing her red bandana) and Dayna

So we took a day to experience the glorious nature of Vashon Island and revel in our unique surroundings.  We enjoyed a morning session of Hatha Yoga, followed by an organic lunch made with love from Karen Biondo, farmer of La Biondo Farm & Kitchen on Vashon Island. The weather was fine enough for us to eat at a long table outside, the inviting forest formed a backdrop to our meal.  After lunch, some of us went on an hour hike to Fern Cover and others took naps, walked solo around the property, rested, read, socialized, took time to stop and be.  Some forged new friendships.  After lunch, we met at the temple and meditated.  We also did some standing yoga on the temple grounds. Then we brought our  yoga session indoors again and finished up our yin session with a long shavasana.  A perfect day in so many ways.

One of the entrances to the Chinese Tea Merchant's House, where most of our yoga took place. Gigantic doors open up to the landscaped garden and forest beyond.

One of the entrances to the Chinese Tea Merchant’s House, where most of our yoga took place. Large doors open up to the landscaped garden and forest beyond. (Photo by Milo)

Rhododendron (photo by Rick)

Rhododendron (photo by Rick)

Leaves and Light (photo by Milo)

Leaves and Light (photo by Milo)

Lunchtime! (photo by Fran)

Lunchtime! (photo by Fran)

An exceptionally fine May day! We ate our Salad Nicoise at the outside table. (photo by Fran)

An exceptionally fine May day! We ate our Salad Nicoise at the outside table. (photo by Fran)

A hike to Fern Cove (photo by Fran)

A hike to Fern Cove (photo by Fran)

Rick reads poems at Fern Cove, at the end of Mill Creek Trail (photo by Fran)

Rick reads poems at Fern Cove, at the end of Mill Creek Trail (photo by Fran)

My playful friends!! (photo by Leslie S)

My playful friends!! (photo by Leslie S)

Yes, our chef gone upside down in headstand! (photo by Leslie S)

Yes, our chef Karen turning the world  upside down in headstand! (photo by Leslie S)

Rick's photo of us doing yoga outside of the temple!

Rick’s photo of us doing yoga outside of the temple!

End of the day...shavasana (nice enough to have doors open to the land and forest of Vashon Island.)

End of the day…shavasana (nice enough to have doors open to the land, fresh air, and forest of Vashon Island )

NEXT VASHON DAY RETREAT WILL BE HELD MAY 20, 2018.  NEVER TOO EARLY TO SIGN UP!  (just let me know in your comments below if you’d like to reserve your space and I will be in touch with you!)

And I leave you with a poem I read to the group on Sunday:

Prayer for the Great Family (after a Mohawk Prayer) Gary Snyder

Gratitude to Mother Earth, sailing through night and day–
and to her soil: rich, rare, and sweet

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Plants, the sun-facing light-changing leaf
 and fine root-hairs; standing still through wind 
and rain; their dance is in the flowing spiral grain

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Air, bearing the soaring Swift and the silent
 Owl at dawn. Breath of our song
 clear spirit breeze

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Wild Beings, our brothers, teaching secrets,
 freedoms and ways; who share with us their milk;
 self-complete, brave, and aware

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
 holding or releasing; streaming through all
 our bodies salty seas

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through 
trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
 bears and snakes sleep–he who wakes us–

in our minds so be it.

Gratitude to the Great Sky
 who holds billions of stars–and goes yet beyond that–
beyond all powers, and thoughts 
and yet is within us–
Grandfather Space.
The Mind is his Wife

so be it.

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A very special place, indeed!

Get Strong with Yoga

January 23, 2017

On Saturday, prior to the Seattle Women’s March, a group of yogis and I experienced first-hand how yoga postures, such as Warrior I, II, III , and Archer’s Pose, can help build physical and emotional strength.

As we moved from one posture to another, I could feel my body unlocking and becoming free.  As a yoga group, we were more present than ever.  We felt the strong loving presence of community.  A new unleashed energy was flowing! We were strong. Eagle Pose seemed to be a call to the two bald eagles flying overhead at the start of the Women’s March.  Tree Pose was an invitation for both men and women to be rooted to the earth while holding up the sky together. Long after the yoga session ended, I continued to see Brave Warriors practicing their right to free speech, concerned world citizens walking for Mother Earth and civil rights.  The yoga practice instilled a sense of peace, awareness, and internal strength.

Eagle Pose

Eagle Pose

To demonstrate the strength yoga imparts, I want to share what one participant from Saturday’s yoga session wrote:

Thanks so much for the heartfelt send off to an amazing day. During the Archer Pose, I pulled in the energy from the room and the positive energy from the universe. I held it in my heart and then released it back to the universe. It was a powerful feeling and a beginning to action.  I couldn’t have achieved that without yoga.  As I left, my warrior, archer, and om were dancing in my body all the way to the march….The whole day was over the top of my expectations. I still feel the positive energy in my body.

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Morning yoga at Town Hall (Yes, there were a handful of men present, too)

The work of building physical, emotional, and spiritual strength continues with an all-levels WORKSHOP  I am offering on Saturday, January 28 from 3-5pm at Seattle Athletic Club (downtown Seattle).  If you are interested, please comment below (or email me) and I’ll be in touch with you.  SAC members and guests are welcome to attend.  The workshop is called STRONG because, simply put, in addition to so many other benefits, yoga makes you strong.

Postures for building strength include:

  • Warrior Poses
  • Archer’s Pose
  • Chair Pose
  • Boat Pose
  • Horse Pose
  • Plank
  • Side Plank
  • Eagle Pose

Don’t worry, counter poses will be worked into the strengthening yoga sequence. Counter poses give the body a chance to stretch, rest, and relax. As a reward for your hard work and effort, there is the added bonus of a long deeply relaxing shavasana at the end of the session.  This workshop speaks to those who are building muscle mass as well as those who are in need of a greater range of motion in their already-strong bodies.

Warrior Shadows in Winter Sun

Warrior Shadows in Winter Sun

Just how does yoga help build strength?  Many exercises that build strength, such as weight lifting, are muscle shortening.  These strong contracted muscles are powerful, but they can’t be used effectively because the muscle fibers are short and restricted in movement.  Yoga can unlock strong muscles and give the strong muscles a larger range of motion.

Yoga increases flexibility and expands the fascia.  Fascia is a thin sheath of fibrous tissue enclosing a muscle. Once the fascial structures expand, muscles can grow.  Flexibility can add to the strengthening or muscle growing aspect of yoga.

Yoga works to build strength through a method called “repeat effort”.  Below “repeat effort” is defined:

Repeat effort is  when we do something repeatedly and increase contractile proteins within the muscles, which increases force output.

Below is a repetitive sequence we experience every time we practice the Sun Salutations:
  • downward facing dog to
  • plank to chatturanga (yoga push down) to
  • upward facing dog to
  • downward facing dog.

Though Hatha Yoga does not offer a vinyasa flowing style of yoga, it does involve some repetitive sequences such as the one above.  During our workshop for strength, in order to experience “repeat effort” and reach a high level of strength potential, we will practice the Sun Salutations as well as the Warrior Series.

Yoga is key to building efficiently moving muscles and physical strength that has great functionality.  The yoga practice is a great way to improve overall health and performance in all activities.  Yoga builds strength and flexibility to enhance all activities and sports including golf, squash, basketball, swimming, skiing, cycling, running, hiking, and rowing to name a few.

Chair Pose at Seattle's Olympic Park (there is no chair behind me-optical illusion)

Chair Pose at Seattle’s Olympic Park (there is no chair behind me)

Yoga for Strength helps “synergize” your muscle groups.  Think of “synergy of muscle groups” as the cooperation of two or more muscles, muscles engaged in team work, muscles that work together in a harmonized way to help you with overall balance and daily actions that require you to be functionally strong.

Below are more ways in which yoga makes you STRONG:

  • Holding or sustaining yoga poses helps increase muscular endurance and stamina.
  • Yoga builds strength in the core stabilizer muscles of the abdominals, obliques, lower back, and pelvis.
  • The stretching and relaxation aspect of yoga gives your muscles, joints, and bones time to repair and grow.

If you are reading this and live in the Seattle area, I hope you’ll join me next week!

Double Plank!

Double Plank!

Christmas Growing Up: Indiana 1960s

December 27, 2016

When I was growing up in Indiana in the 1960s, Christmas meant time off school, time to play in the snow and make a snowman. I always received Perfect Attendance Awards in school, mostly because I was healthy, but also because, even if I had a tummy ache, my mom ignored my complaints and sent me off to catch the bus. Unfortunately, as soon as Christmas vacation came around, I usually got sick and spent the first day or two in bed with the flu.

Christmas time meant a family drive to Chicago to see the Christmas decorations in the shop windows along the Magnificent Mile, a one-mile stretch of shops on North Michigan Avenue between Oak Street and the Chicago River. I loved my Dad fiercely as he fearlessly drove alongside big trucks and thick traffic to get us safely into the heart of the big city. We splurged on paid parking, but we saved on meals: mom packed her homemade impinialata (olive onion bread) and had prepared plenty of hardboiled eggs. In our family, there was no driving adventure without at least a dozen hardboiled eggs in tow. (Years later, the first time Rick went on a road trip with my family, when offered a second hard boiled egg, he asked me, “What’s with the eggs?”) In the big city, bundled up as I was, my little feet always got painfully cold and my dad had to give me horseback rides up on his shoulders! The Christmas decorations looked especially beautiful from up high.

Christmas meant having the whole family together. It meant dad coming home early from work at the Indiana Toll Road on Christmas Eve. He entered the house, bringing in snowflakes and a gust of freezing wind, holding a gigantic basket filled with jam, cured meats, mustards, nuts, various types of cheese, crackers, fresh pears, dried fruits, and deluxe chocolates. He proudly handed the basket over to us as we unwrapped it and inspected its rich contents. He won a gift basket year after year for being one of Indiana Toll Road’s best and hardest working employees.

We loved Christmas because it meant my dad had a few days off work and we got to spend every waking moment in his lovely company, all of us! We played his favorite opera and Sicilian folk music records on the turntable. He told us stories of the old country, he sang for us, and he smiled his beautiful contagious smile as he and mom made homemade sausage. The sausage meat mix was ground pork, flavored with salt, cracked pepper, oregano, aniseed, and red pepper flakes. I begged for bits of raw seasoned meat before it made its way into the sausage casings via the hand-crank machine. Again and again, mom and dad patiently swatted my little hands away. Those were the happiest of times.

Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve at St. Stephen’s was packed with other large Catholic families. Some families were so big, they took up a whole pew. My family -seven of us always arriving late- took the back row. Why were we late? Because mom always had one more chore to do, one more dish to prepare, one more item to put away, one more daughter to dress, one more door to lock. Dad waited patiently in the car. He sat rubbing his gloved frigid hands together and kept the engine running, the car warming up, the windows frost-free.

No one saw our new outfits at Midnight Mass. We kept our heavy coats on during mass because it was so cold. I felt like an Italian-American Eskimo, but at least I could snuggle deep into my coat and doze on and off, unnoticed, during the long late-night mass. The priest, rather than celebrating the many people attending midnight mass, scolded those who only showed up for the holiday masses. I counted the seconds for mass to end. Mom stood at her full height, which was not very tall at all, proud of her well-dressed, bundled up daughters and her handsome husband, proud of the fact that my family never missed a single Sunday mass throughout the year. We were not the ones being scolded. Dad had a smirk on his face as he remembered Midnight Mass of his boyhood at Santo Rocco back in Grotte, where he, the cute blond prankster, tied all the widows’ black shawls together so when they made to leave, their shawls fell off their shoulders in one big tangle! What a commotion! He dared repeat his prank every year and no one ever figured out who the prankster was!

After mass, we came back home and opened gifts under the artificial silver Christmas tree that we, as a family, had proudly assembled and decorated with tinsel and mom’s ancient Christmas ornaments from Grotte, Sicily. The ornaments were hand-painted, made of delicate glass. How carefully we handled them, knowing they were mom’s treasures. She’d certainly kill us if we broke one.

The other treasure was the nativity set my family had brought over from Sicily. On the days leading up to Christmas and for days after the holiday, I loved to say goodnight to baby Jesus before going to bed. I could stare at the tiny figures for a long time and study the faces of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, the three kings, the sheep and the cows. The figures of the nativity cast a spell over me. Their faces held magic, a mystery that was too profound for me, a mere child, to understand. The nativity set, I knew, represented the rock that held my family in a steadfast knot of faith.

After midnight mass, we were each handed a wrapped gift from under the tree, while an electric light-gadget facing the silver decorated tree went round and round, magically casting colors and turning the silver tree and tinsel into a spectrum of red, blue, green, gold, and orange.

When I was little, my big sisters told me that Santa was a hoax and that the gifts from Santa actually came from mom and dad. I cried because what they told me was dreadful. How could they have come up with such a cruel story? I told my mom what I had heard. My mom sternly told me that if I continued to believe in Santa, I’d keep getting gifts from him, but that if I chose to believe that he did not exist, Santa would then stop bringing me gifts. It didn’t take genius-brains to figure out what I was supposed to do. I continued to receive gifts from Santa until I was 12.

I received dolls and toys until I lost interest in them. Most of the dolls came from Aunt Lily. Aunt Lily did not have children, so she splurged when it came to gift giving for her brother’s children. She was my godmother and adored me! She brought gifts for all my sisters, but I thought my gifts from her were always super special. I secretly believed she loved me more than anyone else in the world. When I lost interest in dolls, I started receiving practical gifts: underwear, socks, a winter coat, boots, a sweater, scarf, hat, mittens, flannel pajamas, slippers, and long underwear. We children received clothing items to keep us warm during long Indiana winters.

Mom cooked and baked for days before Christmas. We children were given the difficult jobs, like cutting onions and peeling garlic. Can’t believe I am divulging this embarrassing detail, but she made us girls wear hairnets in the kitchen! Serious eating began for my family on December 24 and continued for the next 24 hours. On Christmas day, Mom put a sea of fold-up tables together in the basement and then came the tablecloths, one tablecloth overlapping another. Out came her finest plates, the best glassware, and polished silverware. The concept of potluck did not exist in my family. If my mom was hosting Christmas, she made the entire meal. My dad’s sisters came over and helped with the finishing touches.

The gathering was no fewer than 20 people. We began with a pasta dish, usually lasagna or spaghetti with meatballs, followed by Italian Sausage with roasted peppers and onions. There was always a potato salad with hard-boiled eggs, a baked ham, salad, homemade bread, olives, and dad’s homemade wine. The meal went on and on. I will never forget those Christmas meals!

We ate with gusto and we all drank wine, including the children. Everyone talked and laughed at the same time. The noise level kept going up. My boy cousins could really tuck the food away into their bellies. Watching them eat pleased my mom to no end! The adults and the children all sat at the same table and we all interacted with one another.

At some point, eventually, my mom and the other adult ladies would clear the table, quickly do the dishes, and pull out the baked cookies! Someone started a pot of coffee. Even though I was allowed to drink wine, I was not allowed to drink coffee. A well-kept secret was that Aunt Lily let me drink coffee when I spent the night at her house. I kept my word to Aunt Lily and I never told my mother. I loved how the coffee made my heart pound! I always loved the smell of coffee. It smelled of comfort, warmth, of happiness. It smelled of home. My home.

And out came the desserts! Mom’s Sicilian Fig Cookies were the best. Mom called them cucciddrati. I think she made them from memory because I never found her recipe for them (recipes are below, just before the photos). The best part of cucciddrati is that they are topped with a frosting made of butter, confectioner’s sugar, and milk, and topped with colorful nonpareil sprinkles. Mom also made Anisette Cookies. Nonna Licata used to send a box of baked cookies for Christmas. The treasure in Nonna’s box sent to us from Grotte was the cobaita, a pure-goodness-almond-brittle that my grandmother made with sun-roasted almonds from her orchard. They tasted of Sicily!

Mom also made Sesame Seed Cookies, which are called giugiuleni in Sicilian. These hard cookies were delicious dipped in coffee. When in my mother’s house, I dipped them in milk. At Aunt Lily’s house, I dipped them in coffee!

Don’t forget we lived in Indiana, so a bit of the Midwest came into the dessert scene. Alongside the almond cobaita, the dried fig filled cucciddrati, and the sesame studded giugiuleni, mom presented her freshly made Hoosier delicacies such as potato chip cookies, or jello embedded with either cottage cheese or miniature marshmallows.

And NUTS! Christmas was not Christmas without a huge bag of roasted nuts. By the end of the evening, there were piles of nutshells on the table. My dad would crack nuts for me because I didn’t have the strength to crack a single nut. I couldn’t even crack open my favorite almonds and hazelnuts! As my dad cracked the nuts for me, he’d tell his stories!

After the gargantuan meal, the adults played card games. Sounds of coins, banter, laughter still fills my ears. It feels like yesterday when I watched the adults become as playful as we children were. Sometimes we all formed a circle or a train and did Sicilian folk dancing. We’d move the tables so mom and dad could dance the tarantella. They were so light on their feet. Sometimes we children played “chase” and if you got caught, you nearly got tickled to death. The adults told jokes not meant for children’s ears. We were sent off to play, but we hid nearby and listened. We had a hard time understanding the play on words and the various puns in their slurred fast-clipped wine-dipped Sicilian dialect. The jokes went over our heads.

My mom would tell her animated played-out funny stories for all of us to hear. Every year, her bawdy stories grew more embellished, more dramatic, more comical!  She told her entertaining stories about flatulence happening at the most inopportune moments.  One of her stories, which took place at the Italian-American picnic grounds, was about an unfortunate elderly Sicilian immigrant lady, about to sit on a toilet seat, surprising a bird that was taking a dip in the very toilet she was about to sit on.  Mom also had a pocketful of stories about the many colorful characters back in Grotte.  Her stories filled every corner of our humble home with resounding laughter. Every Christmas, our house became a palace, complete with a banquet hall, a ballroom, and a court jester!

My Christmases as an adult are now quiet, the way I have grown to love them. This year, Rick and I spent three exquisite days at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula. The weather treated us well. We enjoyed cold crisp frost-and-sun-filled days, took long walks, enjoyed each others’ company, caught up on sleep, read books, watched the sunrises and sunsets, and savored life as it is today. I find I do not yearn for the Christmases of my childhood, but every Christmas I do say a silent prayer of thanks to my parents and my aunties for giving me the gift of Christmas memories I will carry in my heart for as long as I live.

And below are photos from our fabulous Christmas this year at La Push, Washington on the Olympic Peninsula.

Haystacks in the sea

Haystacks in the sea

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

Looks unreal. Color untouched, clear skies, cold day at La Push

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

My Winter Long Shadow against the frosted grass

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Rays of sunlight spill into the forest trail on our hike

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Another long shadow selfie: shadow against unblemished sand

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

Long Shadows Across Grass (color untouched, just as I saw it!)

The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick

Selfie: The author of this blog (Fran) and Rick at La Push

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle I

Ice Puddle II

Ice Puddle II

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Eye: Quileute Nation Totem Detail

Mist and Sea

Mist and Sea

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Pink Sand makes for beautiful art

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand

Rich Red Drift Wood Against Sand (unbelievable naturally occurring colors!)

Reminds me of my family's "steadfast knot of faith".

Kelp Strand: Reminds me of my family’s “steadfast knot of faith”.

The road leading to La Push

The frosted curvy road leading to La Push

Sunset at La Push

Sunset at La Push

The Best Season

December 12, 2016

In the memoir, Poser: My Life in 23 Poses, author Claire Dederer talks about how my yoga classes often have a theme related to the seasons.  Claire was my yoga student for years, and wrote a book about her life and, in part, about me/my teaching, so she would know the truth about my interest in the seasons and how we are affected by seasonal changes. Spring fills us with hope!  We are more energetic in the summer.  Kids do much of their growing spurts in the summer.  We tend to shed more hair in autumn.  My mother used to say in Sicilian, “Cadano li castagni”, which translates to “chestnuts are falling” because my chestnut-colored shedding hair was everywhere. We need more rest in the winter.  We crave light foods in the summer such as seasonal fruits and vegetables.  In the winter, we crave warm soups and starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and root vegetables.

Below is a poem I shared yesterday during the two yoga workshops I taught in Seattle.  The poem has to do with the seasons (!) and is followed by photos, shot throughout the years, representing the four seasons.  I took all of the photos with one exception: Rick took the tulip against the blue sky.  The author of the poem is Wu-men Huikai.  He was a Chinese Zen master who lived from 1183-1260.  He wrote poems about enlightenment and called his poetry “sacred poetry”.  He also wrote social, political, and anti-war poems.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn,
a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter.
If your mind isn’t clouded by unnecessary things,
this is the best season of your life.

“Ten Thousand Flowers in Spring” by Wu-Men

SPRING

Nothing like a tulip to say SPRING

Nothing like a tulip to say SPRING (Ocean Shores)

Fawns

Fawns (Ocean Shores)

Simone's poppy

Simone’s poppy (Simone’s garden)

Fragrant late spring rose

Fragrant late spring rose (Simone’s garden)

SUMMER

Summer Dahlia

Summer Dahlia (Carl’s garden in Stehekin)

Flower Power of Summer

Flower Power of Summer (Stehekin Garden)

Lilies in the Sun

Lilies in the Sun (Kelley’s garden)

AUTUMN

Color of Autumn

Color of Autumn (Fremont, Seattle)

Fire walking

Fire walking (Wallingford, Seattle)

Autumn Boots

Autumn Boots (Wallingford, Seattle)

A long stretch of Autumn

A long stretch of Autumn (Capitol Hill, Seattle)

WINTER

Jack Frost painted this fern.

Jack Frost painted this fern. (La Push, Washington)

Frosted vegetation

Frosted vegetation (La Push, Washington)

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Long Dark Nights of Winter

December 6, 2016

Winter Solstice comes early to Little Renaissance.  Every year, we celebrate a Hatha Yoga Winter Solstice Retreat on the first weekend of December at Little Renaissance.   We celebrate early before the busy-ness of the holiday season takes hold.

Winter Solstice is a time of quiet firelight, a time to nurture dreams.  The dark clear nights reveal the bright stars.  Late at night, I can sit quietly in the hot tub and see shooting stars trailing across the  sky.  I celebrate the shortest day and the longest night of the year with a wonderful group of yogis.  We anticipate the rebirth of the sun and contemplate our own spiritual rebirth.  We see this time of year as a turning point and a time of year to renew energy.

I look out the window and see the garden boxes through sheets of rain.  The garden boxes look spent from having produced so generously all summer long.  Gratefully, the soil lies resting, patiently waiting for the warmer and brighter days of spring.   The resting soil of the cold winter days and nights reminds me that the future holds promise, always.  Come spring, seeds will germinate and take root.  Likewise, I believe the future will manifest our visions and dreams.

For now, while we wait for the rebirth of the sun, we stand still.  Winter Solstice is a time of repose, a time to light the wood stove, stoke up the heat, soak in the hot tub, sit quietly surrounded by lit candles, delve into a good novel, and dream.

Below are photos from our past weekend’s Winter Solstice Yoga Retreat.  This group of yogis has been coming to Ocean Shores biannually for 10 years running!

The dunes leading to the Pacific Ocean beach

The dunes leading to the Pacific Ocean beach

Carol and Skye walking past driftwood

Ready for winter winds: Carol and Skye walking past driftwood

Pretty driftwood log

Pretty driftwood log

Vast Ocean Beach

Vast Ocean Beach  (Skye and Dan)

Remnants of an old boardwalk

Remnants of an old dock

Group Shot I

Group Shot I

Group Shot II

Group Shot II

A Forest Takes Root in the House

A Forest Takes Root in the House

Collage I put together from Skye's photos

Collage I put together from Skye’s photos

Second collage I put together using Skye's photos

Second collage I put together using Skye’s photos

Industrial Yoga

November 19, 2016

A crazy idea, an industrial yoga photo-shoot. Why do it? Seems easier to ask why not? The idea came to me on a rainy day in Seattle, during the rainiest month of the year, November, my birthday month, in this rain-forested part of the world, the Pacific Northwest. I wondered if this idea had ever been explored before?

Yoga and Industry?

Yoga and Gray Buildings?

Yoga in an Industrial Setting?

To find out, I went on line in search of “Industrial Yoga Photo Shoot” and nothing came up. I tried other wording and, still, nothing. What I did find were photos of yogis inside studios that looked like large lofts, lofts serving as yoga studios within former industrialized buildings, fully remodeled with a fresh post-modern look and the telltale interior brick wall to indicate the building’s humble beginnings as a warehouse or supply depot.

I dragged my friend/massage therapist/visual artist, MaryAnn Kuchera, into the rain, to the SoDo District, South of the Dome, the dome that no longer exists, the one that was blown up to bits in order to make way for a bigger-better sports arena. I dragged her to this industrial district that has become the home of Starbucks headquarters. Not sure how I convinced MaryAnn to join me in this endeavor. There wasn’t much in it for her (or me) except that we got to hang out together in the rain. She must love me because there was no glamour in this project. But I wanted no one but her engaged in on my off-the-wall creativity. I thought I’d have to do some heavy convincing, but she agreed right away to be my on-the-scene photographer.

MaryAnn has an eye for detail. She is an artist. And she’s busy. We had to work hard to find a time that fit into our busy schedules. I wanted a Northwest winter setting, read “rain”, complete with gray buildings and low clouds.

Talk about getting what you want!

The day we chose was bone chilling cold. It was pouring. We knew what to expect. After all, it was winter in Seattle. I was worried that, with the cold weather, my body wouldn’t be elastic enough for some of the asanas. MaryAnn took her place behind the camera. We did our work. I warmed up enough at times to take off my many layers. Then I’d get shivery and have to layer up again. One thing I can say, the experience felt real because it was real! It was a typical winter day in Seattle. There were many areas, like the shipyards, which were off limits to us, barred by high chain linked fences and barbwire. And I was in no mood to jump barbwire fences. As is, I climbed fire escapes and loading docks, risked standing on train tracks, and took in the hard stares from the drivers rumbling past. I did all in the name of capturing a part of Seattle that seems to be hidden from the everyday downtown worker, the backbone industrial area, an almost hidden essential artery of the city.

But why yoga in this setting? I am still trying to figure this one out. When I first saw the photos that came out of the shoot, I was not satisfied. They weren’t really what I had in mind. Or so I thought. I put the photos aside and didn’t look at them again for a while…until today. Almost one year later. Now I kind of see it.

It’s about me and all of us, adapting to our environment. It’s about yoga teaching us how to ground, how to navigate life, how to perceive with new eyes. It’s about yoga teaching us how to be playful and, at the same time, how to put your nose to the grinder. With the lines of my body, I explored and fit into the open lines of the city, the loading docks, the wires, the fences, the streets, the railroad tracks. This is something we cannot do within a studio setting.

I did yoga asanas in this setting in order to draw attention to the overlooked, to what may be viewed as the possibly polluted parts of the city, in order to promote the enhancement or rejuvenation of these areas. Starbucks headquarters has moved into the old Sears Building in the SoDo District. Others will do the same. Perhaps what we captured will soon be a ghost of the past, buildings that once existed, destroyed to make way for something bigger, better, racier.

We care about our bodies. Well, why not care about the industrial artery of the city? On a bigger scale, why not take care of mother earth the way we care about our bodies, with respect and tender care? There is definitely a relationship between yoga and the environment. Seattle’s Duwamish River is a silent witness to this photo shoot. As I did Warrior II, I was aware of the Duwamish’ rushing presence, the Duwamish showing signs of revival. Finally, she is starting to thrive through much effort to clean her up after some 70 years of chemical dumping and neglect.

At times the industrial area felt dark and somewhat frightening. Do they have a soul these vast buildings and machinery, concrete and steel, cold and hard surfaces? Perhaps this yoga shoot was about shining the light of yoga on the darker parts of the city.

Our world is changing so fast that these places might not exist for much longer. The gray building could go down overnight and be replaced by a high rise apartment complex. On a regular basis, this city takes structures, knocks them down, and within months, newer bigger buildings come into being. Maybe this photo shoot is the start of something big, something new?  A new awareness through yoga.


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