Archive for the ‘Yoga’ Category

La Campagnia (The Sicilian Countryside)

April 25, 2017

We wake up to birdsong and sunshine.  We wake up to our beautiful villa.  We make jokes about staying here forever.  We breathe and take in the smell of orange blossoms, laurel in bloom, fragrant flowers that smell of jasmine.  We wake up to the great big Ionian Sea.  I do the sea a great injustice if I attempt to describe the water as a deep blue.  It is that and more.  The sky is the same.  Both sky and sea take on different colors at different times of the day.  We cannot take enough photos…of the sea, of the smoking mountain, of the great blue sky, of the food, of the sunrises and sunsets, of each other.  It seems nearly impossible to capture it all and it seems not to be enough to simply stand still and take it all in.  But, we do that too: we stand still, breathe in the Sicilian air, draw in the Sicilian sunlight, and open our hearts to this experience.

our villa

our villa

Yesterday we had two beautiful outdoor yoga sessions.  We worked on elongation of the spine and on creating space.  And then we discovered, in our yoga sessions, how lovely the lettini (pool chairs) are.   You will see below how comfortable it is to do our ending meditation with legs up the chair, a form of viparita karani (legs up the wall pose) along the poolside.  Everyone in the yoga group is relaxed, happy, peaceful.

Legs up the chair pose, shavasana Sicilian-style

Legs up the chair pose, shavasana Sicilian-style  (Woody and John!)

Hello Nora!

Hello Nora!

We drove to the countryside, passing the most beautiful green terraced fields, orange and lemon orchards, vineyards, and olive groves. Fields and fields of wildflowers grow brightly in the springtime in Sicily.  We passed cows, sheep, stone houses, and bright red poppies and purple thistles growing amid dainty yellow carpets of flowers I cannot name.

Wild Poppy

Wild Poppy

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Thistles

Thistles

And then a visit to an organic ricotta farm.  Yes, the real deal.  We were greeted by Maria, the ricotta and cheese maker, her sister Giovanna, and Maria’s husband, Nino.  Their walls were filled with photos of their four daughters and their families, of their daughter’s wedding photos.  We watched Maria make the ricotta.  It was amazing!  They cooked so much homemade food for us. We felt like stuffed birds at the end of the visit. They served us their homemade wine, their country bread (and they also had gluten-free and dairy-free to suit some dietary needs in our group), their homemade pasta and sauce, their various cheese made from their ten cows, their prosciutto (yes, we saw the little piglets oinking around), and so much more.

Maria makes the "tuma" for the various cheese.

Maria makes the “tuma” for the various cheese.

The cow's milk is boiling to make ricotta cheese

The cow’s milk is boiling to make ricotta cheese

Ginger helps with the stirring (we later did a "Stir the Ricotta Asana"

Ginger helps with the stirring (we later did a “Stir the Ricotta Asana”

Maria makes all this cheese and it is later sold at local grocery stores to to private clients who come to the house.

Maria makes all this cheese and it is later sold at local grocery stores to to private clients who come to the house.

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Nino

Nino

A Tavola!  The feast.

A Tavola! The feast.

When it came time to leave, Maria and Giovanna packed up bags and bags of food for us to take home.  There were 14 of us at the table, but our farmer hosts had cooked enough for the army of the Roman Empire.  They kept bringing out food.  I made the mistake of not telling my group that the first dish set out on the table was just the appetizer, that there was more to come.  Oops!  Rick delighted in having our group experience Sicilian hospitality, country-style, just as my relatives have done for him time and time again.  We now have enough ricotta to last us a month, though it is meant to be eaten right away.  We will share with our caretakers and driver.

Ricotta Farmers Maria and her husband of 45 years, Nino.

Ricotta Farmers Maria and her husband of 45 years, Nino.

Their adorable dog, Chico (sounds like Kee-Koh and means little something small and dear)

Their adorable dog, Chico (sounds like Kee-Koh and means little something small and dear)

At the end of our visit, Maria tenderly gave me a special mystery gift, all wrapped up in butcher paper.  “Here, Francesca.  This is just for you.  A little something made with love from our farm.  Take this home with you to America.”  Later, at the villa, I unwrapped the mystery gift and saw about a large hunk of prosciutto.  The real thing, crudo prosciutto, made from their own pigs, pigs lovingly raised from piglet-hood, fed on figs.  An extremely valuable chunk of meat, cured so perfectly that it can last 1-2 years.  I know the value because I know.  Of course, I will share with the group.  Even though I don’t eat prosciutto, I can still appreciate what it is.  Our unique ricotta experience was truly remarkable.

Our bus/van

Our bus/van

Sicilian Green Bean Salad

Sicilian Green Bean Salad with Capers (served last night at the villa)

Sicily: Notes to Self

April 23, 2017

Does anyone else wake up at 3am to write a blog in his or her head…and then promptly go back to sleep, later wake up at a decent time and write it down?

Sicily: Notes To Self

  • All of my hard work is worth every second of effort put forth.
  • I must believe in myself ALL OF THE TIME.
  • Some mysteries in my life will never be solved.
  • Yoga has kept me sane. Often, it is the only part of my life that makes sense.
  • The vivid dream I had of my father on my second night in Sicily is more than just a dream.
  • The smell of Sicilian orange blossoms is the most beautiful smell in the world.
  • The Beatles had it right when they said, “Love is the Answer”.
  • I must take some photos of the Sicilian wildflowers in bloom.  The poppies are particularly beautiful.
  • Sicily is a gorgeous sun-kissed, energy-loaded island that merits many more visits during my lifetime.

And some photos with captions taken yesterday and today:

Catania Shop Window

Catania Religious Shop Window

Triton at the Catania Market Fountain

Triton at the Catania Market Fountain

Santa Agata mural in the market in Catania

Santa Agata mural in the market in Catania

 Enormous Pesce Spada (Sword Fish) in the Catania fish market

Enormous Pesce Spada (Sword Fish) in the Catania fish market

Serena enjoys her spaghetti

Spaghetti Girl

Adorable Spaghetti Girl

Adorable Spaghetti Girl (slightly blurred, but I couldn’t resist posting!)

Our wonderful driver, Francesco

Our wonderful driver, Francesco

The Apollo Temple in Ortigia

The Apollo Temple in Ortigia

Sea Nymphs (fountain), Ortigia

Sea Nymphs (fountain), Ortigia

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Yoga this evening at the villa

Yoga this evening at the villa

Mt Etna this evening, taken right after shavasana

Mt Etna this evening, taken right after shavasana

Cooking, Sicilian Style!

April 15, 2017

Next week I will be leaving for Sicily, where I will be hosting two back-to-back yoga retreats.  I have been so incredibly busy, with teaching classes and workshops and planning Sicily 2017!  You haven’t seen many blog posts from me, but I hope to post more often these next few weeks!  I am very excited to share this sun-kissed island with this year’s yoga retreat participants.

Last time there in Autumn of 2014, we did a cooking course with the chef Maestro Peppe Barone.  It was a great experience.  He and his staff welcomed us.  We cooked and later ate the fabulous meal we cooked under Chef Peppe’s guidance.  Afterwards, we walked the lovely Baroque town of Modica.  Below are the photos from 2014.  We will be going to the same cooking school with my yoga groups this year.  I sure hope you are not hungry as you see the photos below!  The food that stands out in my mind -and taste buds- are the cannoli!

I am so excited for my yogis!  They are in for a treat.  Of course the food below belonged to the Autumn menu.  The spring menu will be completely different and equally delightful!

The enchanting town of Modica (Sicily)

The enchanting town of Modica (Sicily)

The beautiful interior of the cooking school and restaurant in the heart of Modica

The beautiful interior of the cooking school and restaurant in the heart of Modica.  Beyond the doors on the right is a lovely terrace surrounded by lemon trees.

Michelin Star Restaurant

A Michelin Star Restaurant, Fattoria delle Torri has the honor of having received many awards!

Action!  One of the chef's assistants teaches Don how to make the pasta for the ravioli.

Action! One of the chef’s assistants teaches Don how to make the pasta for the ravioli.

Ricotta Ravioli

Ricotta Ravioli made with the pasta in the previous photo.

And the finished product!

And the finished product!  Perfection.

Making Caponata

Making Caponata.  Every village makes caponata slightly differently! Since we were in Modica, Chef Barone added pure dark chocolate powder to the caponata. When I told my uncle in Grotte about this, he crossed himself twice, saying over and over again incredulously, “Chocolate in the Caponata?” 

An interesting note about Modica.  Modica is known for its chocolate!  When Columbus went to the Americas, Sicily was under Spanish dominion.  Some of the men who traveled to the New World with Columbus were Sicilians from Modica.  They brought back chocolate beans and the ancient Aztecan recipe for making chocolate.  To this day, chocolate is made in Modica using the ancient Aztecan recipe.  View this interesting article on the history of chocolate and Modica.

A serving of caponata. I can almost taste it!

A serving of caponata. I can almost taste it!

Making arancini (rice balls)

Making arancini (rice balls):  Saffron makes them yellow.

The arancini before getting pan fried to become orange-golden like oranges (Arancini refers to "oranges")

The arancini before getting pan fried to become orange-golden like the color of oranges (Arancini refers to “oranges”).  In the center, you may discover melted cheese or a bit of ragu.

Action in the kitchen...making pasta

Action in the kitchen…making pasta

One of the pasta dishes....

This is what the pasta looks like after it is cut into tiny pieces…

One of the meat dishes...

One of the meat dishes…

And what would life be without cannoli?  This was studded with pistachio.

And what would life be without cannoli?  Ok, now I know your mouth is watering! This was filled with ricotta and studded with pistachio nuts.

Week One Group from 2014 sits down to enjoy an incredible meal.

Week One Group from 2014 sits down to enjoy an incredible meal.

Afterwards, we walked the town of Modica to explore and digest! Otherwise, how on earth would we be able to do our afternoon session of yoga?

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In Modica, we saw this street called Via Ritiro (Retreat Street) and had to do a yoga pose!

In Modica, Karin and I saw this street called Via Ritiro (Retreat Street) and had to do a yoga pose!

Modica!  It's a jewel of a town.

Modica! It’s a jewel of a town.

10 Reasons to Rock Your World With Pair Work

February 26, 2017

When I first started practicing Hatha Yoga 26 years ago, my teachers always included at least two or more opportunities to pair up with a fellow yoga student in class in order to explore a given posture more deeply.  I’ve always been comfortable working in pairs.  If there was someone I knew in class, I’d make eye contact with that person as soon as the teacher started suggesting pair work.  If I didn’t know others in class, I tried to find someone with a similar height.  Sometimes it just worked out that I got paired with a 6′ tall guy and all was well!

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Today, the trend is not to do pair work in class.  There are many reasons for the trend and it may have to do with a popularity in a flowing faster paced yoga class where there is no time to pair up, or because instructors are afraid of students getting injured, or some yoga students might not like to touch people they are not married to (or real-life partnered with), or they may be fearful of germs, or disgusted by sweaty hands (their own sweaty hands or the sweaty hands of others).

Fran and Rick on the beach at Ocean Shores

Fran and Rick on the beach at Ocean Shores

At any rate, I do less and less pair work in my classes (and no pair work at all at OmCulture and Seattle Athletic Club) as I try to fit in with the times, with what is needed and desired in a Hatha yoga class, and would like my students to be comfortable.  However, I do love pair work and, as a result, am devoting a whole workshop to Pair Work on Sunday, March 5 at the Seattle Gym at Queen Anne in Seattle (1-4pm).

Having fun at Little Renaissance

Having fun at Little Renaissance

Pair Work is a fun way to explore and strengthen Hatha Yoga postures.  Not only can we improve balance, stretch more deeply, and strengthen muscles, but we can also build confidence, motive and inspire each other, and, at the same time, laugh and have fun.  In my workshop, you will be guided safely into a variety of all-level poses.

Skye and Grace

Squared Up: Skye and Grace

10 Reasons to Rock your World Via Pair Work:

  1. Learn to let go
  2. Enhance your balance
  3. Go deeper in your yoga poses
  4. Concentrate on lengthening and grounding
  5. Pair Work will give you the confidence to go beyond perceived limitations
  6. Increase your sociability
  7. Pair Work produces oxytocin
  8. Reduce anxiety
  9. Add to your sense of adventure
  10. Improve self-awareness and trust

Live in the Seattle area and looking for a fun all-levels Hatha Yoga workshop to do?  SIGN UP for next Sunday’s Hatha Yoga Workshop with Fran here.

Ursula and Drew at the 2014 Sicily Hatha Yoga Retreat

Ursula and Drew at the 2014 Sicily Hatha Yoga Retreat

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.

morning yoga at Town Hall

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!

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

Yoga: I Love Light

November 21, 2016

Whether he is in Japan or back at home, every morning Don wakes up at 4am and does his yoga practice.  At the end of his yoga practice and meditation, he recites the following mantra:

I am a child of light

I love light.

I serve light.

Light is in me

protecting,

illuminating,

supporting,

sustaining.

I am light.

Don was recently on the Japan tour.  One morning I asked him to share the above mantra with us as we did yoga.  Of the 13 full days touring Japan, we, as a group, had 10 sessions of yoga.  As usual, I am unable to take photos when I am teaching.  But luckily,  Jeff (and Karin) got a few good shots!  I only took some of these photos.

The first set of photos were taken on our cycling trip in Kyoto.  That day we had standing yoga in Kameyama Park.  Since we had been cycling all morning, I told everyone not to worry about bringing their yoga mats along.  And since the ground was a fine white pea gravel, we also wore our shoes.  We called the class Standing Yoga.  It felt so good to take in the clean fresh air of Kyoto!

Debby and Marc forming a bridge of friendship.

Debby and Marc forming a Bridge of Friendship.

One more view of the Vol-Au-Vents (the name of a savory light pastry in France that means Fly With the Wind)

One more view of the Vol-Au-Vents (the name of a savory light pastry in France which means “Fly With the Wind”)

Happiness is the Bridge of Friendship. Ginger and Woody

Happiness is the Bridge of Friendship. Ginger and Woody (pant legs tucked in from the bike ride).

Our team magicians: Chiaki and Yukiko

Our team magicians: Chiaki and Yukiko

Last shot for the Standing Yoga in Kyoto: I think we look we belong to a scene right out of Saturday Night Fever.

Last shot for  Standing Yoga in Kyoto: I think we belong in a scene right out of Saturday Night Fever.

See what I mean?

See what I’m saying??

Then we have lots of yoga photos from the first Ryokan (traditional Japanese Inn with Hot Springs/Onsen) we stayed at on the island of Shikoku.  The room we had was unbelievable!  It was like a ballroom/atrium combo with glass windows overlooking the city of Takamatsu.  We did yoga in the evening, just before dinner and the city lights made for a dramatic and lovely backdrop to our yoga class.  One more thing: I had access to chairs so we did yoga using chairs.  Amazing what you can do using chairs for yoga!

Camel Pose

Camel Pose (Kim in the foreground)

Forward bends using the chair

Forward bends using the chair

Revolved Triangles!

Revolved Triangles! (Bill in the foreground)

Deeper Backbends over a chair (Karin)

Deeper Backbends over a chair (Karin)

Resting Crocodiles!

Resting Crocodiles!

Resting crocodile

Resting crocodile

Deeply Relaxed!

Deeply Relaxed! (Jeff!)

And photos were also taken at the Buddhist monastery at Mt. Koya.  I think that may have been the best room ever.  The floors were made  of tatami mats. There is a nice sweet grass-like smell that comes with tatami mats, which are made of rush grass.  They are gentle but firm.  The room we practiced in was cavernous.  There were several heaters which kept us warm.  This is a good thing because it was pretty cold on the mountain at night. The monastery had a great feel to it. In the morning we watched the monks chant, pray, and do their fire ceremony.  It was very peaceful and meditative. I think their good energy permeated the yoga space.  And it was quiet. A very quiet room with great acoustics so my voice carried over strongly.

Side stretching

Side stretching

Windmill

Windmill

Trees at the Monastery

Trees at the Monastery

Flip Your Dog!

Flip Your Dog!

And lastly, we found that doing Warrior I-or any yoga at all- in our Kimonos was impossible! (Fran and Karin)

And lastly, we found that doing Warrior I-or any yoga at all- in our Kimonos was impossible! (Fran and Karin)

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.

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)

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


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