How I Fell in Love With Sun Breath

As the next stage of my yoga education comes to a close and I reflect back on the last six months there is so much to take in. 

We began in a studio then all hell broke loose. We left the studio and stayed home and miraculously our learning continued as the studio beautifully transitioned all its learning to the Zoom platform. There were workshops and asana classes and lectures and posture labs and practice teaching and pranayama and meditation and, and, and…. Then all hell broke loose a second time as the collective wound of systemic racism was opened again, this time with a force to be reckoned with like we haven’t seen for decades. I looked on with anger and sadness as more lives were torn apart with looting in the face of protests. I became more and more afraid of the aftermath of us experiencing 1918 and 1968 at the same time, welcome 2020. I put my head in my hands as I listened to company after company vow to support Black Lives Matter and pledge to be more inclusive as they have done countless times before. I did Sun Breath, a lot.

I have always loved the revelatory nature of my yoga practice. When I think about the number of downward facing dogs I’ve done, that we’ve all done, the mind reels. If each one were the same the practice would have lost its appeal long ago. But they are never the same. Each one is proof of our malleable nature, changing day to day, moment to moment. Like much of what we do, it’s something that deserves attention and not something to be rushed nor taken for granted.

Enter Sun Breath. That thing that I have been rushing and taking for granted.

As expressed in my previous posts in March and April I injured both my ankles. Those injuries are still impacting my mobility. I want to think that I would have tuned in to my breath even if that had not happened but I’ll never know and I have to be OK with that. As I continued my practice I found that at moments when I might have strived for greater length, depth, balance, I found my breath, reliable, steady, calming.

Sun breath has saved me as it has become my “go to” for staying balanced, focused. It has allowed me to explore my inner landscape in new ways. It is now given the respect it deserves and I will no longer take it for granted.

Inner Forest Meditation for Self Reflection

Over the last two weeks I have struggled with my personal reaction to the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, now Rayshard Brooks, all the innocents who came before and unfortunately all who will come after. I have watched in horror as looting in response to some of these events targeted hard working Blacks who put their hearts and souls into their businesses only to see them turn to rubble in a heartbeat. I have listened to mostly Brown man after Brown man recount their tales of terror as the police and others have demonstrated to them who holds the power. I experienced that moment when the realization sets in that the reason hypertension is so prevalent among Black males is precisely because they are Black males, targeted and living in states of fear and hyper vigilance as their bodies internalize being constantly threatened. I received at least a dozen emails from companies with whom I’ve done business pledging their allegiance with Black Lives Matter and promising to do better in their recruiting and representation efforts. These are the same companies from whom I’ve received the same emails on occasion when there is a reason for White Guilt to be present. I also started to think about myself as a mixed-race and outwardly appearing Black woman and my own role in this drama. 

The more I turned inward and examined my reactions the more I started to consider my response and so I offer this. 

This Friday, June 19, 2020 at 9:00 EDT, I will host a public meditation, via Zoom, designed for inner reflection. During this guided meditation participants will identify different aspects of themselves and maybe even generational aspects of their existence before settling into silence, being with what was revealed, clearing energy and focusing on the future. Pre-registration will be required and donations of any amount will be collected via Venmo to benefit the Equal Justice Initiative. Donations will not be required for participation.

Please join me.

Zoom Meeting ID: 793 5055 4326

Password and Venmo information will be provided upon registration.

Learn more about the Equal Justice Initiative here

The Revealing Nature of Injury

In an effort to stay active during this COVID-19 lockdown I took up trying to run to supplement my yoga practice.  I’m lucky, I guess. I live in a place where I can do that while staying far away from others, over 20’ for the most part. 

I don’t like to run. It’s kind of miserable but I found an app that makes it bearable by letting me pretend that I’m helping during a zombie apocalypse, supports you with gentle workouts and doesn’t make you feel like you’re going to die, unless it’s from a zombie attack.

Three weeks ago I was finally starting to enjoy myself when I twisted my left ankle pretty badly. Eight days later I was out walking and the ankle was feeling ok. It was still swollen but pretty pain free so I started to trot again. I was feeling pretty good doing the intervals and on my last one, within the last 20 feet of my last running spurt I twisted the other ankle. This one was worse. I hobbled home, defeated and angry, locked myself in the bedroom and therapeutically screamed six or seven times, turned on the yoga class I had registered for but then just curled up on the floor and cried for 20 minutes. After that I made my way to the couch to self medicate with Bloody Marys and TV.

The screaming and crying, while precipitated by the prospect of being incapacitated by a stupid injury were really a reaction to the current situation. I miss going to the office, people are dying, I’m afraid that this is it, that humanity has met its Waterloo and I’m afraid of what the future holds for my 17 year old who is planning on starting college in the fall. It took a fall for me to face my fear and it wasn’t pretty.

All that was on Easter Sunday. On Monday I felt better, physically and mentally and I began to practice yoga truly modifying to accommodate the pain. I went through the week cursing my rotten luck and being frustrated by the fact that I couldn’t even feel good Adho Mukha Svanasana, then came Saturday.

In my Yoga Teacher Training we had been focusing on ascending and descending (Arohan and Awarohan) breath for a few weeks. This construct for me was initially limiting and confusing. Once practiced, it became informative and stimulating. The class for which I had registered that day focused heavily on this breath and in Parsvottanasana I became more interested in the feeling of the breath in this pose than whether or not my body would allow me greater flexion. From that moment in that practice my curiosity about each posture came from a place of breath placement that I’m not sure I had experienced before, ever. The feeling was unexpected and luxurious.

As yoga teachers we often say that if your breath catches or is constricted in a pose to back off and find a place where the breath can be free. We mean it, for ourselves and for our students. How often though, do we truly prioritize the breath over the Asana? We know we should but do we? This experience was different for me. The level of internal exploration was powerful, healing, wonderful and something I will explore for a while. At least while my ankles heal.

I have one gentleman who comes to class and isn’t happy if he can breathe. He tries to muscle his way into whatever Asana we’re doing, breath be damned. It kills me and the teacher in me can’t turn a blind eye, but it is his practice. I have faith too that one day he will discover what actually breathing can accomplish for him. When that day comes, we’ll rejoice together.

What I Learned About Skandasana, I Don’t Have To Do It!

In January, before COVID-19 upended all our lives, I made a commitment to participate in advanced yoga teacher training with ISHTA. I was excited and nervous about this undertaking. I was excited and nervous about aligning myself and my learning with another school. I was excited and nervous about continuing my practice, doing homework, continuing to teach and doing what most of know is one of the foundations of this practice, learning more about myself.

As part of the curriculum, trainees are expected to complete a Svadyaya Project of their own design and present it to the class at the end of the training. Svadyaya is one of the Niyamas of Yoga as documented in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and is generally translated as “self study”. During our early mentor meetings we put forth ideas for our projects and with my mentor’s help I settled on something seemingly simple and would take me out of my comfort zone nonetheless. My project is to approach my home yoga practice without a plan or agenda, to trust myself to do what’s right for me and embrace spontaneity. It’s actually kind of terrifying. I’m supposed to do the same with my knitting but that’s another story.

One would think that this “Sheltering in a Place” environment would be a playground for this but I am a master at procrastination. Having the opportunity to study with so many inspiring teachers during lockdown hasn’t helped. My home practice has become one where I’m lead daily through some lovely, inspiring and challenging practices.  Enter my ability to play.

These classes, live streamed via Zoom and other online platforms have become opportunities to try something new. When in a class, and going through a sequence, since I’m home, I can stop, contemplate, and take the time to explore my “what if” moment.

I know, it’s not the same thing. It is however serving as a launch pad for the kind of trust in myself that will help me to become a better teacher. This has been serving me particularly during moments when a class is instructed to do something that feels truly bad in my body; a movement or pose that serves me NOT ONE IOTA. For me recently, that was Skandasana.

Skandasana, that ridiculous (for me) exercise where you’re in Prasarita Padottanasana and you shift your weight from side to side, bending one leg then the other, getting increasingly deeper in the bent leg and maybe even flexing the foot of the straight leg. Ugh. The whole thing just feels so very wrong in my body.  Then, in one class we were asked to hold the position on one side. This suggestion served a purpose in the whole gestalt of this peak pose focused class and for me at that moment I was in hell. Why was I tolerating hell? There are times when you’re challenged physically and the purpose and impermanence of the gesture make the challenge worthwhile. This was not one of those moments.  

Enter the block.

I know, it’s so simple and at that moment it was revelatory. I could suddenly feel the purpose of the pose instead of cursing it. Sitting on the block at medium height (a height that worked for me), rather than shift my weight from side to side I stuck one leg out from Malasana then the other. I could suddenly find the space, strength and length to make Skandasana work for me.

I may see more self trust in my future.

Vikalpa

Recently, for the first time at a guided meditation I was asked to identify a Vikalpa.  I didn’t know what a Vikalpa was and was so glad to find out. At Yoga Nidra sessions participants are asked to identify a Sankalpa, something they want to manifest in their lives stated in the present tense.

You know what, for me anyway, identifying a Sankalpa is hard; I want, I embody, I am, I wish.  The challenge is not taking something that isn’t and stating it as though it is, the challenge is coming up with that thing in the first place. Weirdly it can be like choosing a nail polish color.  You agonize over the decision when really you’re going to wear it for a week and then choose another one. It’s just not that big a deal. That’s no way to manifest life changes.

Enter the Vikalpa.  One definition of Vikalpa associates it with division, disbursement, doubt or confusion.  Holding on to these things is not a productive way to go through life and yet most of us do, dwelling and holding on to what isn’t working out of fear or because it’s comfortable.  Confession, I know I am guilty of this. Conflict, self doubt, too many options all contribute to this sense of floating through life.

So, the next time you’re asked to identify a Sankalpa, identify instead your Vikalpa, the voice in your head that says, “I’m not,” “I’m not going to,” “I wish,” I can’t.”  See what resonates strongly and allow the opposite to become your Sankalpa.

Taking this path has allowed me to explore some insecurities and move forward slowly in realizing some goals.

It isn’t a magic notion but one that may make your Sankalpa last longer than your nail polish color.

Happy New Year!!

I’m never sure what to make of the new year.  New Year’s Eve, December 31 is a memorable date being the day before January 1.  As the day progresses towards it’s culmination at 12:00 AM people plan and endure innumerable hardships in an effort to make the moment memorable.  In the end, it’s just another moment in a string of moments. January 1 brings gatherings of friends and families as the new year gets underway. I prefer this sharing of the passing of time in a carefree and caring manner and still, it’s just another date.  I say all this while still holding on to the fact that I had my first date with my partner 20 years ago on NYE. That really was memorable and as a result I will not forget our anniversary.

Why do we let the calendar govern our behavior so?  You can set goals, make resolutions, soul search on any day but the auspiciousness of 1/1 overshadows them all.  I think it’s important to remember that just because a goal wasn’t set on New Year’s Day it doesn’t become any less or more important.  I believe in having permission to reset your clock at any time. If your goals get derailed, take stock, sit, think, prioritize and begin where you left off.

And then there’s life, that stuff that fuels and drains us.  Working to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads.  I always say that if I did every day the things one says you should do every day (play the guitar, practice vocal scales, stand on my head, eat three square, practice asana, meditate and practice pranayama, eat my veggies, etc.) I wouldn’t have time for anything else.  

I write this now as though I’m some kind of expert.  I’m not. In fact I’ve abandoned more goals than I’ve accomplished.  This does not make me unique. It probably makes me average

I guess the moral of the story is “don’t beat yourself up.”  Your Sankalpa isn’t going anywhere and chances are you’re pretty terrific just the way you are. The work, the adjustments made over time will serve to make you more so. Sure, I have goals and those goals aren’t made, kept, met or shifted according to the calendar.  They are reviewed and analyzed regularly. There is freedom in this.

Embrace that.  

Yummy, Crispy, Gluten Free, Easy AF Crackers

Yummy Seed Crisps

For the graduation ceremony of the 200 Hr. YTT that I was privileged to mentor this past winter I made some crackers that were a hit.  I promised the attendees that I would give them the recipe so here it is.

It is so simple and nutritious and happens to be gluten free if that’s your jam.  It’s not mine but, whatever.

Feel free to riff on this basic formula with different seasonings and seeds.  I haven’t tried chia seeds yet but think they would be successful as is the flax meal.

1/2 cup flax meal

1/2 cup sesame seeds

1/2 cup flax seeds

2 tbs. raw sunflower seeds 

2 tbs. raw pepitas (pumpkin seeds)

1 cup water

1.5 tbs Bragg liquid aminos or tamari sauce

1 tsp. garlic powder

Additional spices might include garam masala, bebere, cumin, cayenne. Feel free to experiment.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Put all the ingredients in a bowl and stir.  Let it all sit in the bowl for 30 minutes.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Spoon the mix onto the parchment ant use an offset spatula to spread it evenly.  If you don’t have an offset spatula a knife or regular spatula might due.

Use a pizza cutter to score the batter in squares or whatever shape you like.  If you forget to score it, as I have on occasion, it’s no big deal. You can just break them up when they’re done.

Bake them for 45-60 minutes or until they seem sufficiently crispy.  They should be uniformly brown.  Under baking them will render a kind of chewy texture that is not so appealing.  You can tap around them to see if there are any soft spots.

When they’re done remove them from the oven and allow to cool before breaking and consuming.  While they cool they crackle like Rice Crispies.

Follow this link to the hummus recipe I served.  I add 2 tsp. of ground cumin to the mix.  It is so good when served warm, sprinkled with smoked paprika and drizzled with olive oil.

https://food52.com/recipes/22888-yotam-ottolenghi-sami-tamimi-s-basic-hummus