Archive for the ‘Yoga Adventure’ Category

Yoga Inspiration

November 8, 2016

I am back home now.  I woke up in the middle of the night trying to figure out which city I was in. Was I in Kyoto, Koyasan, Osaka, or Miyajima? Or was I in Tokyo or back in Tsukiji at Kazuko’s apartment? Gradually, I figured out I was back at the condo in Green Lake, home sweet home, with the memory of Japan freshly imprinted in my mind. The Japan experience was incredible, rich, and so varied in scope.  I have a lot of processing to do!

There are a few more Japan-related blog posts to come. For now, I share this poem with you, along with photos of my fellow travelers and yogis, whom I spent the last two weeks of my life with, in the land of the Rising Sun, the Land of Kindness, Japan.

I chose the poem below before going on the trip. It embraces the philosophy of Hokusai and I feel it reflects what we experienced on our trip. Hokusai was an Edo era painter and lived from 1760-1849. He is most famous for his work of art called The Great Wave. He is the best-known and most revered Japanese artist and was extremely productive. He is perhaps the most famous non-Western artist and may very well be the equivalent of Michelangelo.

I think the poem depicts the way of the yogi. I loved the words of this poem and ideas conveyed before I left for Japan, but as I read this poem to the group on our last yoga session, I realized that the words had taken on a deeper dimension after having experienced Japan these past weeks. The poem embraces values found in Japanese culture as well as a deep running undercurrent of the Japanese approach to life.  It is a blend of the indigenous Shinto religion where stones and trees hold spirit and intelligence and of Buddhist philosophy and wisdom, where awakening oneself to the moment, living a life of mindfulness and awareness of thoughts and actions, and living a moral life lead to becoming an enlightened peaceful being.

Hokusai Says

Hokusai says look carefully.
He says pay attention, notice.
He says keep looking, stay curious.
He says there is no end to seeing

He says look forward to getting old.
He says keep changing,
you just become more of who you really are.
He says get stuck, accept it, repeat
yourself as long as it is interesting.

He says keep doing what you love.
He says keep praying.

He says every one of us is a child,
every one of us is ancient
every one of us has a body.
He says every one of us is frightened.
He says every one of us has to find
a way to live with fear.

He says everything is alive —
shells, buildings, people, fish,
mountains, trees, wood is alive.
Water is alive.

Everything has its own life.

Everything lives inside us.

He says live with the world inside you.

He says it doesn’t matter if you draw,
or write books. It doesn’t matter
if you saw wood, or catch fish.
It matters that you care.

It matters that you feel.

It matters that you notice.

It matters that life lives through you.

He says don’t be afraid.
Don’t be afraid.

Love, feel, let life take you by the hand.

Let life live through you.

– Roger Keyes

Divya

Divya

Theresa, Daphne, and Fran

Theresa, Daphne, and Fran

Sisters! Debby and Daphne

Sisters! Debby and Daphne

Wendy

Wendy

JD and Kim with the lovely Maiko-san

JD and Kim with the lovely Maiko-san

Ginger and Woody

Ginger and Woody

Kevin and Fran

Kevin and Fran

Marc and Nellie

Marc and Nellie

Don

Don

Jeff and Karin

Jeff and Karin (Udon Cooking School)

Bill and Bridget

Bill and Bridget

Marc, John, Daphne, Bridget, Debby, and Bill

Marc, John, Daphne, Bridget, Debby, and Bill

Yukiko and Chiaki

Yukiko and Chiaki

Last night in Osaka: Jeff, Kevin, Don, Karin, and Fran

Last night in Osaka: Jeff, Kevin, Don, Karin, and Fran

Up the Holy Mountain

November 6, 2016

Last night was our last night at the monastery in Mt. Koya. Mt Koya is the center of Shingon Buddhism, a sect introduced to Japan in 805AD by Kukai (also known as Kobo Daishi), one of Japan’s most significant religious figures.  Mt. Koya is also the site of Kukai’s mausoleum and the start of Shikoku 88 Temple Pilgrimage. 

We have been staying at a Shukubo (authentic temple lodging and Buddhist monastery) and have a huge tatami room for yoga. It’s not the easiest place to stay, but we have had rich experiences here.  The monastery is very spartan.  Monk-like living quarters.  Very authentic. We sleep on futon mats placed over the tatami mats.  Our shared bathrooms are a schlep down the hall.  And if you prefer a shared bathroom that has Western-style toilets, and has one room designated for women and the other for men, then it is worth your while to wind your way down two flights of stairs, across long hallways and over an outdoor bridge (in the frigid weather at night) and across long corridors that are not heated and walled in by paper windows.  In this special bathroom, you will find a heated toilet seat and all is clean and pleasant.  I think it was worth the hike!  Bathing is in a sento (one for men and one for women) and the hours for hot water are restricted between 4:30pm and 9pm. Our life here is filled with the monks’ chanting, prayer and fire ceremony in the morning, a walk through the mysterious ancient forested Buddhist cemetery Okunoin, making Buddhist prayer bead bracelets, visiting various temples and shrines, seeing gorgeous autumn leaves.  The chanting, prayer, and fire ceremony was a deeply meditative and powerful experience for all of us.  Here we experience sunny days that warm the heart and fill your vision with views of brilliant red maple leaves and golden ginko leaves, and cold nights that bring frost over tiled roofs and pine branches. 

To counter the purity of vegan meals and the simplicity of sleeping on futon beds spread over tatami mats within a room with paper doors (shoji) and paper screened windows, many of us gather at night to enjoy clandestine  sake/whiskey/wine. These furtive parties take place in Kevin’s “abode” or in the Richardson’s tatami “suite”.  We sit on cushions piled high.  We drink the bootleg from our tea cups.  Here on this most sacred Buddhist mountain in the world, it may be 34 degrees Fahrenheit outside at night, but, indoors, we embrace the warmth of our group as well as the warmth from the heater in the corner of the tatami room. Our hearts are full and our spirits rich.

Oh, Japan! You are slipping away too quickly….I hear gongs in the distant night as I pull the covers tight and fall asleep. And again, upon waking, I hear the gongs as the monks gather to chant at 6am.

 

Photo by Karin ...Autumn Leaves at Mt. Koya

Photo by Karin Bigman …Autumn Leaves at Mt. Koya

Autumn in Japan, Mt. Koya

Autumn in Japan, Mt. Koya (photo by Karin Bigman)

Mt. Koya's temples

Mt. Koya’s temples

Temple Walls

Temple Walls

Prayers and Lit Candles: Inside the temples

Prayers and Lit Candles: Inside the temples

Oh, let's pose with a monk! with Ginger and Woody Howse

Oh, let’s pose with a monk! with Ginger and Woody Howse

Stone Garden

Stone Garden and Temple

Perfectly raked stone garden temple

Perfectly raked stone garden temple

Pillars inside temple

Pillars inside temple

Panorama of Fall Leaves Mt Koya

Panorama of Fall Leaves Mt Koya

Autumn Leaves and Rooftops

Autumn Leaves and Rooftops

Novice Monk fallen asleep on drum

Novice Monk fallen asleep on drum

Mt Koya cemetery: Okunoin, situated in the middle of an ancient forest

Mt Koya cemetery: Okunoin, situated in the middle of an ancient forest

The great Buddhist Monk, Kobo Daishi Kukai. Koyasan (Mt Koya) was founded by him twelve centuries ago.

The great Buddhist Monk, Kobo Daishi Kukai. Koyasan (Mt Koya) was founded by him twelve centuries ago.

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Okunoin

Dressed statues commemorate children who did not live long in this world

Dressed statues commemorate children who did not live long in this world.  They wear red bibs and are called Ojizu.

these stone carvings represent earth, water, fire, air, and ether, often the elements are marked in Sanskrit

these stone carvings represent earth, water, fire, air, and ether, often the elements are marked in Sanskrit

Ojizu

Ojizu

Moss covered head stone

Moss covered head stone

Autumn Leaves..Koyasan is the only place where the have leaves started to turn red already.

Autumn Leaves..Koyasan is the only place where the have leaves started to turn red already.

Cemetery Statue

Cemetery Statue

Cemetery Statue

Cemetery Statue

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Kimono Night in Gion

November 5, 2016

We’ve had so many experiences here in Japan.  Our guide, Chiaki, seems to say everyday, “Today, you have another highlight!”  And it’s true!  Everyday seems to bring on another grand adventure and unique experience. One of our highlights was the afternoon we went to Gion, the geisha and entertainment district in Kyoto, to dress up in kimono!

We went to a Kimono Rental.  First we were told to choose a silk kimono.  Next, the attendant chose a slip to match the kimono and helped us choose an obi (silk sash).  I was also told to choose a silk purse.  While the women in my group were choosing their silk kimono, the men where choosing theirs. From there, the women were led into one room and the men led into another.

Once in the women’s room, each of us had a professional attendant helping us with the whole process.  I was helped into a white robe/undergarment.  A few of us had chosen to pay the extra 580 yen ($5.80) to have our hair done in a traditional style to go with the kimono wearing.  I was led to the hair dressing department in my white robe where a women commenced to tease my hair.  I would rather describe the hair styling action as “ratting” but I know the proper word is “teasing”.  Rat-Tease-Spray-add a hair ornament shaped like a fan, and voila, before I knew it, I had an Audrey Hepburn-like hairdo.  It took about 10 minutes for the hair transformation.

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Then back to the dressing room, where the completion of the kimono wearing took place.  Layer after layer pulled tightly over my midsection, the kimono began to come together.  Then we were given tabi, socks with a separation for the big toe so we can wear our special geta shoes.

It was so fun to see everyone in our group so completely transformed. We then walked to a temple and park and took thousands of photos.

Hot off the press!

Hot off the press!  What a good looking group of kimono-clad-yogis!

We walked over to a park and took this photo

We walked over to a park and took this photo. 

Ladies!

Ladies!

And Gentlemen!

And Gentlemen!

with Don and Karin

with Don and Karin

The Lovely Canadians!

The Lovely Canadians!

with Jeff!

with Jeff!

Having a kimono on is like being hugged tightly.  You cannot slouch so your posture looks fabulous. You feel regal because, of course, you have a regal bearing to your stance.  You cannot, however, do yoga. When you walk, you have a mincing step…and below is Karin and me trying to do Warrior I.  Impossible!

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We wore our outfits to dinner, too. We went to Ganko Takasegawa-Nijoen for a multi-course Kaiseki dinner.  Kaiseki is a meal at one with nature. Every food that is served is in season.  When guests eat kaiseki dinner, they will often find things from nature such as flowers and leaves adorning the food.

Ganko Takasegawa-Nijoen is more than a restaurant. It is a villa-turned restaurant with an exquisite garden that has a river and waterfalls running through it.  It was originally the villa of the Edo-period business magnate Suminokura Ryoi and later that of Yamagata Aritomo, the Prime Minister during the Meiji period.  The historic home has occupied the same location for 300 yeas. The restaurant has a spacious Japanese garden that hardly anyone would expect to find in the middle of Kyoto.  The food is refined and the overall experience was one of a kind.

Bill stands near a lantern in the garden!

Bill stands near a lantern in the garden!

Kim and JD enjoying their meal

Kim and JD enjoying their meal

We wore our kimonos back to the hotel and returned them to the front desk that evening. It took me about 15 minutes to untie the obi and to undress.  Someone counted 19 pieces of garments to undo and take off.  It was a great relief to have it off, but also I felt sad because I suddenly no longer felt the postural support I felt all evening.  I also felt like Cinderella at curfew time.  All the magic was over.  I was just plain me again.  We asked Chiaki if there is a special word for the feeling one has when the kimono is taken off. She promptly replied, “We just say Ahhh!”

Boosting the Immune System with Yoga and Wholesome Food

October 19, 2016

I am writing from Japan.  Japan posts soon to start coming (so exciting to be here!), but first a follow up on two fabulous in-city one-day retreats that I just offered with MJ Conboy of MJ’s Plant Smart Kitchen this past weekend.  The retreat’s focus was on building and boosting a strong immune system via yoga asanas and learning a few new recipes espousing a plant-based diet.

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Read on below.  I hope you are able to glean some ideas from this blog post, be inspired by the photos, try the yoga sequence, peruse the cook book titles below, and be inspired by the various readings shared in our retreat.

Plant Based Cook Books:

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Books with recipes based on a plant-based diet:

The Urban Vegan by Dynise Balcavage

Salad Samurai, 100 Cutting-Edge, Ultra-Hearty, Easy-To-Make Salads by Terry Hope Romero

Veganomicon, The Ultimate Vegan Cookbook by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero

The 30-Day Vegan Challenge by Coleen Patrick Goudreau

The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone

A Grateful Heart, Daily Blessings for the Evening Meal from Buddha to the Beatles , edited by M. J. Ryan

Chloe’s Vegan Italian Kitchen, 150 Pizzas, Pastas, Pestos, Risottos, and Lots of Cremay Italian Classics by Chloe Coscarelli

The Macrobiotic Path to Total Health by Michio Kushi and Alex Jack

the milf diet, Let The Power of Whole Foods Transform Your Body, Mind, and Spirit…deliciously by Jessica Porter

Macrobiotics for All Seasons by Marlene Watson-Tara

Mayumi’s Kitchen, Macrobiotic Cooking for Body and Soul by Mayumi Nishimura

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A yoga sequence for Immune System Boosting:

  • Seated Forward Bend (relaxes the nervous system)
  • Half Spinal Twist (Seated, twists help to cleanse, stimulate and strengthen the internal organs)
  • Dolphin (like downward facing dog, but on your elbows) to an inverted pose balanced on your elbows (can be done at the wall or with your legs walking up the wall) inversions are excellent for bathing and enhancing function of the endocrine system.
  • Uddyana Bandha (standing breathing exercises sometimes called the Abdominal Lift) breathe in through nose and exhale through the mouth while pulling belly in.
  • Sun Salutations
  • Standing Forward Bends (feet together and feet apart)..when in a wide angle forward bend, you can add twists
  • Arches: lying over a block, camel, bow, cobra, upward facing dog, full backbend (some of these were done in pairs with a helper)
  • Seated side bend
  • Shoulder stand—plough—fish pose
  • Block under your upper back (another way to do fish)
  • Legs up the wall (great for movement of the lymphatic fluids, enhances the lymphatic system)

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Yoga helps boost the immune system by reducing stress and strengthening the lungs (with the breathing).  We all know that psychological stress doubles the chance of a person getting a cold!  Yoga practice lowers stress hormones and calms the nervous system.  The fight or flight response is eclipsed by the relax and renew response.  It also helps by optimizing the functions of the following systems:

  • circulatory system
  • lymphatic system
  • respiratory system (the yoga postures help improve mechanical efficiency of our lungs by conditioning them.  With yoga, we increase the elasticity of the lungs and strengthen them)
  • nervous system
  • immune system

Twists specifically increase oxygen to organs for optimal function.  They also cleanse, rid the organs of toxins, and supply the organs and glands with fresh blood supply.  Twists massage the body and internal organs and help us to relax.

Restorative postures, such as lying over a block or bolster, putting legs up the wall, or lying in shavasana, are soothing.  They help us to relax and they also help build vigor!

In addition to the featured poses and breathing pranayama exercise to help boost the immune system, don’t forget to inject these other essential elements into your daily life:

  • LAUGHTER
  • OPTIMISM
  • ENOUGH SLEEP
  • ANY ACTIVITY THAT HELPS YOU RELIEVE STRESS (can be walking, dancing, listening to music, vigorous aerobic exercise, reading, spending time with people you love)
  • EAT WELL (and eat as much of a plant-based diet and non-processed food diet as is possible_

We also shared several readings (below are a few):

“The food movement is about quality of life. What we eat affects how we feel physically and emotionally. How food is grown and processed has an impact on the health of those who eat it. How our food is produced affects the environment, the existence of wildlife, and the size and characteristics of our country’s farms. It also impacts the local and global economies. How we eat affects our ability to interact with others and provide for ourselves, and it influences relationships with friend and families. Eating and preparing food with those we care about provides a much different experience than driving through a fast-food restaurant or eating in one’s car. How we spend our food dollars determines the kind of food system we create, and the health of our farms, families, and communities. As Wendell Berry said, ‘Eating is an agricultural act.’ With the present focus on local food systems, now is the time to vote with our forks, as well as our ballots, and make positive changes in the food system.”

Marion Kalb, Co-founder, National Farm to School Network

OK, the food we made and ate did not have cheese or meat, but I couldn’t help but read this fun poem by Shel Silverstein.  I read it with gusto…You really have to wet your tongue with a bit of olive oil and recite this aloud.  It’s a mouthful:

Italian Food
Oh, how I love Italian food.
I eat it all the time,
Not just ’cause how good it tastes
But ’cause how good it rhymes.
Minestrone, cannelloni,
Macaroni, rigatoni,
Spaghettini, scallopini,
Escarole, braciole,
Insalata, cremolata, manicotti,
Marinara, carbonara,
Shrimp francese, Bolognese,
Ravioli, mostaccioli,
Mozzarella, tagliatelle,
Fried zucchini, rollatini,
Fettuccine, green linguine,
Tortellini, Tetrazzini,
Oops–I think I split my jeani.

Very exciting was learning how to perfect making Nori Rolls!!

Roll your own! Nori Rolls

Roll your own! Nori Rolls

Got the hang of it. Perfect food to take with you on flights, for travel, or for lunch

Got the hang of it. Perfect food to take with you on flights, for travel, or for lunch

Read to cut

Read to cut

A sharp knife should do the trick of cutting the rolls easily!

A sharp knife should do the trick of cutting the rolls easily!

Macrobiotic Chef MJ Conboy

Macrobiotic Chef MJ Conboy  (So much fun working with her! She brings much nutritional knowledge to the table.)

Wholesome ingredients for making chocolate truffles!

Wholesome ingredients for making chocolate truffles!

Truffles..we also rolled them in cinnamon. Some rolled in cacao powder

Truffles..we also rolled them in cinnamon. Some rolled in cacao powder

Windblown on the rooftop (Saturday's group)!

Windblown on the rooftop (Saturday’s group)!

After the storm (though it was not as much of a storm as was predicted)

After the storm (though-thank goodness- it was not as much of a storm as was predicted)

Jumpin’ Above Hoops

September 25, 2016

He goes by the nickname Dream Caster and I am lucky enough to be graced by his towering and gentle presence three times a week, when he comes to my yoga classes at Seattle Athletic Club.  He always arrives early, rolls out his impressive “runway” mat, which is long enough to accommodate his 6’7″ height.  Once his mat is rolled out, he proceeds to set up his yoga oasis with two bolsters, two Gripitz (props used to protect wrists when doing yoga), four blocks, two straps, an eye pillow filled with beads, and a few blankets.  Intrigued by and respectful of this giant of a gentleman, I asked if I could interview him and write about him in my blog. He happily agreed.

His name is Vester Marshall.

Vester lives his spirituality.

“I’ve been a student all my life. School, education, and society try to put you into a box.  Life is much greater than what we learn in school.  You’ve got to go out on your own and explore! Surround yourself with mentors, people who offer opinions you can respect!  Be a seeker! Be a seeker and have enough trust to go to a counselor, a therapist, a psychologist, or a psychiatrist for help when you need it.  Being a seeker has taken me out of the box.  It’s what takes you outside of being black or white.”

Vester Marshal was a former Seattle Sonics player during the 1973-74 season. He told me once that as a forward he was known for his ability to jump high and now, in his late 60s, his knees are fairly worn out.  That doesn’t stop him from walking.  In fact, he hasn’t owned a car in over 25 years.  He lives in the heart of Belltown in downtown Seattle and walks everywhere.  He has been sober and clean for well over 25 years.  He is the kind of guy you can’t categorize in any way.  He is a father, a street minister, an herbalist, a certified yoga instructor, a visual artist, a fisherman.  As a teen, he was a political activist and marched in support of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement. He was active in registering blacks to vote in the 60s. Later he was a grunge band manager in Seattle! He has been active in the anti-nuclear movement. He worked at the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla. Diversity is the name of Vester’s game!

He was born in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.  He went to the University of Oklahoma on a scholarship and played basketball for the university. “Basketball was a path which allowed me to follow the path to greater knowledge and wisdom.”  Playing for the Sonics led him to great connections, such as meeting governors, senators, and legislators.  He used to go to Olympia to take state politicians fishing!

Dream Caster with his salmon

Dream Caster with his salmon

Vester is a visual artist.  “I’m capable of doing what I want to do.  When we do art, we create. We produce.  We work our way through different problems and become connected.”

What are his words of wisdom?

“You have to know yourself.  You have to be real!”

Warrior I

Warrior I

How do you make a difference in this world?

“By just being me, by making good choices, by being responsible for myself.  Be an example.  You see what I’m saying? You’ve got to be an example for the world to witness.”

Triangle

Triangle

How has yoga changed you, Vester?

“I’d be dead now if I hadn’t taken an inventory of my lifestyle. Drugs and other hippy addictions were killing me. I looked around.  My friends were dying all around me.  All the people in the rock ‘n roll scene around me in Seattle were dying.  I felt like there was a strong invitation for me to get clean. I made a decision to clean my life.  I went through a detox program with medical help. Shortly after that, I found yoga.  Yoga taught me how to be mindful, how to be kind.  Yoga IS all about kindness and friendship. Yoga is unconditional love.  Yoga has taught me to be a part of a community where everyone is working on becoming their better selves.”

Warrior II, Spiritual Warrior

Warrior II

What are your keys for good living?

“I always have enough.  I live within God’s means.  Because of this, I’m in a beautiful place and I live a beautiful lifestyle.  I walk a path where life becomes divine.  I never worry.  Yeah, I’ve got issues with my knees, but I seek advice from the right people, the right doctors.  I take action and I never worry.”

Vester Marshall has class!

Vester Marshall

Living Your Yoga

August 17, 2016

Mostly I’d like you to enjoy these photos.  I believe these photos give you a good sense of the feel of Yoga on the Beach Retreat at our home and sanctuary, Little Renaissance on the Washington coast.

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The weekend yoga retreat at Little Renaissance is always held in August.  It is an annual event, one we have run every year since 1999! Generally, the weather is warm enough for us to enjoy at least one session of yoga on the beach.  While it was in the 90s in Seattle, it only hit a high of 70 at the coast.  In the morning, when we would generally go to the beach to do yoga, it was 49 degrees one morning and the second morning, we were immersed in the beach fog that covers this area much of the summer.  Beach fog and drizzles made for indoor yoga. Even so, a 70 degree high at midday on the beach is very nice and we got to enjoy a long walk on Saturday.

We enjoyed our walks on the beach and we had lovely retreat participants!  Good company, our organic garden produce used as ingredients for the meals, music, lots of yoga and lots of exploring of yoga toys/props including inverting on a sling, long walks on the beach, fair weather, hot tub, lots of visiting deer, bucks, and fawns, AND whale sightings on Sunday made for a very special weekend!

Mark your calendars for next year’s annual Yoga on the Beach (never too early to sign up!):

The Next Yoga on the Beach Retreat: August 11-13, 2017

Walking on the beach

Walking on the beach

Rick soaking up the rays

Rick soaking up the rays

Delicious meals made from organic garden produce! (Carrot soup)

Delicious meals made from organic garden produce! (Carrot soup)

Trees, Beach, Ocean, Sky!

Trees, Beach, Ocean, Sky!

Reaching for the sky

Reaching for the sky

Hanging out!

Isaac:  Hanging out on the outdoor sling!

Bev: More fun on the inversion sling!

Bev: More fun on the inversion sling!

More yoga props: Backless Yoga Chairs!

More yoga props: Backless Yoga Chairs!

Music

Music

Triangles on the beach (was too cool this year to do a yoga session on the beach in the morning)

Triangles on the beach

Pure Energy!

Pure Energy!

Isaac and Fran: a quick dip of the legs

Isaac and Fran: a quick dip of the feet!

Relaxxxx

Relaxxxx

Sucker Holes and Pure Outdoor Freshness

June 17, 2016

My annual Yoga in the Park classes continue this summer.  Not sure how many years I have been running the classes in the park.  Seventeen years is what comes to mind!  We meet on Tuesdays from 6-7pm during the months of June, July, and August in Meridian Park, Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle.

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The first Tuesday of June was the most lovely of evenings, not too hot, not too cool, around 77 degrees.  We were graced with magical breezes and then bursts of calm, yoga under a big blue sky.  People showed up in large numbers and the session felt dreamy.  That was the first Tuesday this summer.

The second Tuesday, however, was different.  The weather called for thunder storms and showers.  And it was rather cool out.  All day, I fretted over the dark clouds, not knowing if I should cancel or hold class.  I’d look up at the brooding sky and sometimes I’d detect a promising patch of blue.  I kept thinking about my father-in-law and how he calls those “promising” patches of blue “sucker holes”!  “They get you every time!  Don’t plan anything anything grand.”  Only a “sucker”, one easily duped by a false promise, would trust those patches of blue!  This is Seattle after all. I know it rained that day in some areas like on Mercer Island, but it did not rain downtown or in Wallingford.

Warriors We Are

Warriors We Are

Well, since I didn’t cancel class, I went to the park in the hopes that at least a few hearty souls would show up.  And, much to my surprise and delight, three people showed up for yoga!  Tina Koyama, sketcher extraordinaire (Tina’s BLOG), also showed up to sketch the class.  Not sure how she managed to sketch us.  It was so cold out that I just kept everyone moving.  No long holds, just keep moving.  And Tina had to capture our moves.  Her hands were cold and, somehow, she had to keep sketching to keep her fingers from stiffening up!  It was 48 degrees out.  By moving, we yogis managed to stay warm-ish!  Like the Tibetan yogis, we used breath to generate heat and prana.  We practiced the yogi’s adage: “The true yogi feels the cold but does not feel cold.”  Yes, this is why we have come up with the month of June-uary here in Seattle!

Reach for the Sky!

Reach for the Sky!

Below are Tina’s lovely sketches and a wonderful poem Larry Iwafuchi wrote.

Local readers, please note that there is NO CLASS on Tuesday, June 21st, but YES, there WILL BE class on June 28th and forward until and including the last Tuesday of August (last class followed by a potluck!)

Double Trees Sprouting from the Earth

Double Trees Sprouting from the Earth

Bridge of Friendship

Bridge of Friendship

It happened!
Yoga In The Park on Tuesday,
despite the threat of storms.
Kept checking for a cancelling e-mail,
hoping there wouldn’t be one.
There wasn’t.
So there we were.
Just four of us, a small but mighty group.
Big groups have power and spirit.
Small groups have intimacy and connection.
Dark clouds surrounding us,
a ‘sucker hole’ of blue sky above.
Feeling the outside cold
offset by the warmth within.
Sitting back to back,
close yet apart,
reaching upward.
Looking up
and seeing the sky,
my hand,
leaves and branches
bent by the wind.
Out of the corner of my eye,
seeing my partner’s hand,
reaching upward alongside mine,
We are apart in our individual efforts,
and yet
we are connected.

Back to Back Meditation (instead of Shavasana) kept our backs warm!

Back to Back Meditation (instead of Shavasana) kept our backs warm!

Take a Walk on the Wild Side

May 23, 2016

While in South India a little over a month ago, we really did take a walk on the wild side.  India is a land of extremes.  Summer temperatures can exceed 38 degrees Celsius.  Just two days ago, during one of the longest heat waves in India, India hit a record temperature of 51 degrees Celsius (123.8 Fahrenheit) in the north-western town of Phalodi.

In this land of extremes, I learned about and saw a fascinating variety of animals.  We visited Periyar National Park, a dense tropical forest, a refuge for the native wild Asian elephants.  From a boat on Lake Periyar, we saw elephants come to the lake to drink one evening.  It was an exhilarating experience.  The anticipation of and then actually seeing the elephants in the wild, made us (those sitting near me and myself) giddy and silly, so much that the uptight French tourists on the other side of the boat were giving us dirty looks because they wanted “Du Silence”!  Of course, their disapproving looks only made things worse and we became uncontrollably giddier.  (Yikes, the French tourists ended up at our hotel that very same evening and I am sure they had very strong opinions about us when, at the dinner table, a cicada dropped onto one of my group participant’s clothing  and caused great alarm!  She had never seen a cicada before and had no idea what sort of insect was clinging tightly to her!)

On the following day, in the wee hours of the morning, we were led by three guides/naturalists through the dense forest on foot, where again we saw the elephants and a rich variety of wildlife.  The guides really knew their birds and animals, but they struggled with their English.  Still, they managed to teach us about the wildlife around us.  Later, I did some research on the wildlife of Periyar Park in South India. With the guides’ information and what I found on line, below are some fascinating facts about South Indian wildlife (wildlife habitat of the animals below ranges beyond Periyar National Park):

Dense forest in Periyar Natinal Park

Dense forest in Periyar Natinal Park

A wild Asian elephant:

  • They eat 130 kg-169 kg of vegetation per day!
  • In Periyar National Park, water hyacinth becomes an important food source for elephants when grass dies in the dry season.
  • The tip of the trunk is prehensile for easy grasping of grass and other leafy vegetation.
  • An elephant drinks 100 liters of water every day just to survive.  Tourists who come to Periyar Lake by boat can always expect to see the elephants come to the water’s edge in the evening to quench their thirst.
  • As you can imagine, elephants produce prodigious amounts of dung.  Butterflies feast on the dung, benefiting from the minerals found on it!  There were many colorful butterflies throughout Periyar National Park.
A clump of dry elephant dung

One of our guides proudly displays a clump of dry elephant dung

  • The adult females create a mobile fortress for the baby elephants.  This way, the calf stays safe from the Royal Bengal Tigers.  Mother elephants are fiercely protective of their young.
Baby is in the middle of the elephant fortress

Baby is in the middle of the elephant fortress

  • Female elephants gather to witness births and to witness the first steps of the baby calf!  The calf does not walk immediately, but within hours it will be walking underneath its mother in its early infancy, never losing contact with her body.
  • The elephants stay in herds because an extended family increases chances of survival.
  • A bull can weigh as much as 6 tons (the largest Asian bull ever recorded weighed just over 7 tons).
  • When compared to African elephants, the Asian elephant is slightly smaller and has smaller ears. Elephants are excellent swimmers, using their trunks as snorkels.

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Smooth-Coated Otter:

  • These Asian otters are larger than other otters and have shorter coats and fur-less noses.  We saw them swimming in Lake Periyar.
  • They are used for commercial fishing in Bangladesh.  They are bred in captivity and trained to chase fish into fishing nets.
  • Otters can stay underwater for 8 minutes.
Please Note: Otter photo is not my photo, taken from the web

Please Note: Asian Otter photo is not my photo, taken from the web

Cobras:

  • Happy to report I did not see a cobra in the wild.  I did not even see the occasional snake charmer working to collect some money.   Snake charmers are being outlawed these days.  A ban has been in effect since 1991, but only recently is being enforced by the government.  Apparently the government views snake charming as offensive to the culture, a bit backwards.  There was a news article that talked about how upset the snake charmers are.  Some 800,000 snake charmers are up in arms over the now enforced ban and recently took to the streets to protest the loss of their livelihood: article
  • Cobras are snake eaters!
  • The venom from one cobra bite can kill 10 humans.  I read one account that the venom from one bite can kill 26 people. Look on line and you will see a variety of numbers.  Even if the number were just one, it would be a terribly frightening statistic.  Cobra venom is neurotoxic and spreads extremely quickly throughout the bitee (I just made up that word..Cobra is the biter and the victim is the bitee!).

Giant Squirrel:

  • Ok, so when the guide pointed out the Giant Squirrel up in a tree overhead, we didn’t understand him at first.  I truly believe the word “squirrel” is one of the most difficult English words to pronounce for non-native English speakers.  And besides, even if we did understand, the animal we saw up in the tree could not possibly be a squirrel.  We were in disbelief.  The giant squirrel is a beautiful creature.  It mostly stays up in trees, where it is safe from predators.
  • One single leap from tree to tree measures a span of 6 meters or more.
  • The Indian Giant Squirrel is only found in tropical forests.
  • And Indian Giant Squirrel has the cutest round ears and a “hand” with an inner paw for gripping.
  • They weigh over four times more than our common Western squirrel.  The Indian Giant Squirrel weighs up to four and a half pounds and the average squirrel we see in America and Canada weighs about one pound.
  • They are omnivorous, eating flowers, fruit, eggs, and insects.
  • An Indian Giant Squirrel group is called a “dray or scurry”.  We did not see a scurry of squirrels and I am relieved that our guides did not have to use the expression “a scurry of squirrels”
Indian Giant Squirrel (Photo is not mine, and was found on line)

Indian Giant Squirrel (Photo is not mine, and was found on line, but I wanted you to see its adorable ears and human-like hands.)

This is my photo of the Giant Squirrel

This is my photo of the Giant Squirrel

Macaques:

  • Found in Wikipedia: “Macaques have a very intricate social structure and hierarchy. If a macaque of a lower level in the social chain has eaten berries and none are left for a higher-level macaque, then the one higher in status can, within this social organization, remove the berries from the other monkey’s mouth.”
  • Their diets consist mostly of fruits.
  • The number one fruit for the macaque are the figs from the Ficus tree
  • Macaques can live in social groups of 30 members.  The leader is generally a female.
  • Males tend to the young.
  • Macaques can swim (and occasionally can be seen soaking in hot springs in Japan).
Yawning

I caught this one yawning!

Golden Langur:

  • They use all four legs and tail for balance.
  • The langur and the forest deer have a friendly relationship:  The langurs hang out in trees and disturb the red silk cotton flowers, which then fall to the ground for the deer to feed on.
  • The langur feasts mainly on leaves, but also eats fruits, grass, and flowers.
  • They live in groups of up to 40 individuals.
  • They are capable of jumping over rivers.  They can jump about 10 meters.  They have to jump rivers because they cannot swim!

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There are countless frogs in Periyar Park.  There were so many that we had to dodge them so as not to crush them under our boots.  There is also a seemingly infinite variety of birds in the park.  Here is a list I found on line (Some in our group got photos of the blue flycatcher.  It is other-worldly!):

Dee birding!

Dee birding!

About 265 species of birds can be seen in the park, including migrants. Endemic birds include the Malabar grey hornbill, Nilgiri wood pigeon, blue-winged parakeet, Nilgiri flycatcher, crimson-backed sunbird, and white-bellied blue flycatcher.   Other birds include the black baza, spot-bellied eagle-owl, Nilgiri thrush, little spiderhunter, rufous-bellied hawk-eagle, brahminy kite, great hornbill, Sri Lanka frogmouth, Oriental darter, and black-necked stork.

View link to see the variety of wildlife in the park (not all birds and mammals are listed in this blog, for example, we saw kingfishers, wild pigs, sambar, and spotted deer)

Frog Dodging!

Frog Dodging!  All those blurred black lines are frogs jumping (hard to see, but seriously, there were thousands and I am afraid to say that we stepped on more than a few).

We saw a fair number of cormorants and egrets.  The egrets eat fish and the many frogs we were trying so hard not to step on. The egrets appear to be the ambush specialists as they can stand still for hours and wait for a fish to appear.

Cormorants:

  • Cormorants are aquatic birds whose feathers are not waterproofed!  That is why they often perch with their wings outspread (in order to dry their feathers in the sun).
  • Cormorants have no external nostrils so they breathe through their mouths.
  • They cool off by fluffing their throats.

Termites:

  • Last but not least, the termites!  Some 100,000 termites can live in one colony.  They clear up dead wood and turn it into compost for the soil!

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SAVE THE DATE (JUST IN CASE YOU ARE WONDERING, BELOW IS THE NEXT TIME WE WILL OFFER THE SOUTH INDIA TOUR.  IT’S A WAYS OFF, BUT GOOD TO PUT THIS TRIP ON YOUR RADAR):

SOUTH INDIA TOUR WITH DAILY YOGA FEBRUARY 2018

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A Soaring Heart

May 18, 2016

Permit me to be mysterious….on Sunday I held a one-day yoga retreat on a magical rain-forested island in the Pacific Northwest.  The day was filled with yoga, the beautiful company of lively  yogis/friends, a gorgeous environment, a healthy delicious lunch made of fresh local ingredients, fresh moist oxygen-filled air, and a hike along a dense forest decorated with moss and ferns.  The air was rich.  We did yoga, nourished ourselves with a hearty Salade Nicoise (made with lots of love), went on a hike, and did a meditation.  Below you will find two poems we shared during the day and some photos from our retreat.

Stone Path

Stone Path

During the morning yoga session, I read the poem below by Chief Dan George.  The poem speaks of a deep love of earth and life.  The poem suited the retreat day and the environment perfectly.  It is delicate, grand, and sensitive in nature:

My Heart Soars

By Chief Dan George

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

Maple Tree: Heart Chakra of the Property

Maple Tree: The Heart Chakra (center tree) of the my friends’ private property

Maple Tree II

Maple Tree II (The Heart Chakra Tree)

And while on our hike with the group, I asked Rick to read the poem, Lost, to the group.  No one could have read my fellow-Hoosier-Washington-transplant David Wagoner’s poem better than Rick Clark!  He sustained a captive audience as he read the poem with gusto, humor, curiosity, and a touch of drama.

Blurred, Action-Packed Hiking photo in the thick of the rain forest

Action-Packed (and blurred!) Hiking in the thick of the rain forest (some retreat participants stayed behind and enjoyed reading, resting, napping, walking solo).

Below is the poem “Lost,” by David Wagoner from Collected Poems 1956-1976 © Indiana University Press.

Lost

Stand still. The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. You must let it find you.

Wooden Lantern

Wooden Lantern (Our Meditation Hall)

Yes, a Pacific Northwest Gem

Yes, a Pacific Northwest Gem (meditation hall)

Sacred Yoga Space

Our Sacred Yoga Space

Thank you to Tricia Jewell for taking this photo of me

A big thank you to Tricia Jewell for taking this photo of me.

Oxygen-filled environment, thick with trees and ferns, but you will never be LOST!

Oxygen-filled environment, thick with trees and ferns, but you will never be LOST!

Salad Nicoise (view link for recipe)  Note: Recipe on link is not necessarily the exact version of what we had, but it is the foundation for your salad nicoise!

A somewhat blurred photo of our salade nicoise..see link for recipe below

A somewhat blurred photo of our salade nicoise.  Other plates held chunks of tuna, lettuce, various dressings, and olives to complete the salad.  Fresh bread and plenty of delicious fruit complimented the meal.

If you were not present at this retreat and find it of interest, please let me (Fran) know if you’d like to join me in a future day retreat at this unique gorgeous private setting by commenting below.  I will then be in touch with you.

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The Pulse of the Matter

May 5, 2016

I came across this inspirational quote:

“At the heart of each of us, whatever our imperfections, there exists a silent pulse of perfect rhythm, which is absolutely individual and unique, and yet which connects us to everything else.” —George Leonard

Not sure if Mr. Leonard was intentionally describing yoga when he wrote the above quote, but his words are yoga teachings.  One of the most incredible benefits of the yoga practice is just how connected we become to ourselves, to others, to nature, and to life!

After a yoga session, I feel my feet are more deeply a part of the earth.  And it’s not just me.  Many people leave their yoga sessions feeling more deeply connected to life. During shavasana, we come to stillness and in that stillness, we rediscover the flow of breath, the inhalations and exhalations.  We unearth clarity, we reestablish balance  and embrace wholeness.  Later, we leave our yoga sessions fully connected to a particular season, the earth, trees, grass, all creatures domestic and wild.  The yoga practice reminds us that we are connected to humanity, to possibilities, to wind and breezes, sky and rain and sunshine.

Yoga is a meditative practice, essential to physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual well-being. Yoga helps us unearth the “silent pulse of perfect rhythm” so we can feel more fully connected to life.

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Enjoy the photos below taken last weekend at a privately booked retreat at Little Renaissance.  The retreat participants, a very enlightened and joyful group who enjoy yoga, the beach, good food, and lively conversations, are co-workers from Casey Family Programs, a Seattle-based foundation committed to working with child welfare (keeping children safe and loved) and strengthening the resilience of families.  For more information, read about Casey Family Programs.

Dreamy beach days

Dreamy beach days, Rick photographing shorebirds.

Boot found this way, makes for interesting art. Is someone still looking for a boot?

Boot found this way… makes for interesting art. Is someone missing a boot?

Yoga Group on Log ("How many group photos have you taken on this log?")

Yoga Group on Log (“How many group photos have you taken on this log?”)

Shelter from the wind found!

Found: Shelter from the wind!

Pink!

Pink!


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