Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Yoda was a yogi

"Try not. Do. Or do not. There is no try."  Yoda was definitely a yogi - this is great advice for pranayama.

Other insights from the past 30 days include previous glimpses but are useful reminders to myself. These should be mantras for my pranayama practise:
  • Do not overthink! The brain is not the mind is not the breath.
  • You do not ‘do’ pranayama. Pranayama does you.
Over the last month, more than 50 hours of yoga during the Spring Sadhana, the weekend intensive, and the pranayama workshop, have helped me feel parts of my body become stronger, more flexible and accessible.

“After the perfection of asana comes the cessation of the movements of inspiration and expiration called pranayama,” says Patanjali in his sutras.  
Despite my best efforts I don’t think I will ever reach perfection, on this planet, in this lifetime.

Still, it was fitting to end the sadhana with a pranayama clinic, including some practical tips to incorporate into every day. I learned a neat blanket roll to help me during pranayama when lying down (kind of an inverted ionic column shape)... I also especially appreciated that we finished with a seated posture to reinforce that mindful breaths can be taken anywhere, anytime.
By concentration on the breath, the mind and body can focus on the present. Virtually every meditation technique, whether Buddhist, yogic or Western, uses breath in some way. The breath is a natural focal point for the mind; no external point is necessary. No matter what situation is at hand, one can center one’s mind in the present by focusing on the movement of the breath. Like an ever-present guru, the breath reminds us of the here-and-now.
Judith Lassiter, What is Pranayama

Sunday, March 29, 2015

A little romance...

Again, by coincidence, my book clubs and personal reading have clumped around a common theme this month.


A four letter word, after all. And so many trillions of words spoken, sung and written on the subject.

What is love = more than a billion definitions on a google search.

The novels were all very different from each other but tell stories where the central characters overcome obstacles to win love, lose love and somehow gain it back. 

Come to think of it, in all four of these books people are redeemed or saved by love. They grow, they become heroic, they become less self-centered. They are motivated to act for the good of their beloved even when it causes them loss or pain.

Romantic love is all about the self, whereas true love (and its becoming), is more about the 'other' or the greater good. Instinct vs. spirituality. These books have varying measures of both kinds of love.

Longbourn,  Jo Baker
Historical fiction (BPYC Book club)
What a great premise to tell the story of parallel lives. The servants to Jane Austin's famous Bennet family must deal with the dirty details that go unmentioned in Pride and Prejudice. The mud on petticoats, the slop in chamberpots, lascivious lords, wars, bastards, hidden heirs.  Although Sarah and James are the main romantic storyline, the book mentions other marriages and affairs that helped keep the plot engaging.

Gargoyle, by Andrew Davidson
Fantasy/tragedy (Book Babes)
A porn star and cocaine addict drives his car off a cliff and suffers horrible injuries that put him in the burn hospital, where he meets the mysterious Marianne Engel. She's a regular patient in the psychiatric ward who is also a sculptor. She also tells him stories of their part lives together. The meet repeatedly over centuries, across continents. The love stories, and the main story, involve incredible suffering, unrequited love and loss. The ending is not a happy one. Or is it?

Gods Behaving Badly, by Marie Phillips
Zeus, Hera, Apollo, Aphrodite, Dionysus, Hermes and others all share a dilapidated house in London. Their powers on the wane because people don't believe in them anymore. The dysfunctional 'family' cross paths with two mortals, Alice and Neil, as their love story unfolds. Neil goes to Hades and back to win his love. And they all live happily after.  The movie based on the book was released in 2013 with a star-studded cast to underwhelming reviews.

The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion
Popular fiction
This romantic comedy will likely make a wonderful film. The lead character, Don Tillman, somehow stays endearing despite being ignorant of the effects his actions have on others. The fact he suffers a mild form of Asperger's syndrome and remains unaware of it may be part of the reason readers are quick to forgive. Although he might not show his love in typical ways, Don does grow into becoming his better self. I can see why this became one of Bill Gate's favourite novels.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Spring Sadhana - 2015

Back in the yoga studio for 30 straight early mornings to welcome in the spring.

We have been doing a lot of poses to help open the chest and lift the heart. It lifts my spirits and energizes me, doing many of these poses. Others are a bit more challenging.

This sadhana I added a bit of a booster by including an intensive - an extra workshop Friday to Sunday.  I jokingly said to someone that I wanted to know what the intensive would be before I signed up - if we were going to focus on twists I would take a pass. I signed up, and yes, well, twists it is. Which includes my nemisis, parivrtta trikonasana (revolved triangle). Also Parivrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose). And seated twists. Twist, twist, twist and twist again.

Let's twist again, like we did last sadhana. ha ha ha. 

Eye on the clock. After the first hour and a half it felt like the class should be finished, because that is the length of time of the daily morning practise. How much longer? Well, two and a half hours to go. Might as well forget about the time. What is it about twists anyway? Why don't I like them? Do they not like me? O just be quiet and do. Marlene is saying, "Don't twist with your spine, twist with your para-spinals...  start the twist from the lower outer hip." So I pay attention, and the twists seem to become more accessible. Still, I leave feeling exhausted.

The next day's session is filled with poses I like. The strong inversions. Back bends. Pranayama. The work I have done the day before is helping me move more freely. My shoulders are actually listening to me when I ask them to roll back, or to relax, or to be firm. I leave feeling exhilarated. Refreshed.

When friends ask about the kind of yoga I do I explain about the concentration Iyengar brings to alignment. You think so hard about your outer foot or right shoulder you don't have time to listen to the chatter of your monkey mind. You try to cast your mind-fullness to places it doesn't normally travel. And when the practise is going well it seems your mind is cooperating to reach all the parts of your body. And when it is going really, really well, your mind seem to spread beyond its limits, to something beyond.

Serotonin? Neuroplasticity? All this, and something more.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cèilidh Ukulele

Seven ukulele players took to the stage at Friday's Open Mic St. Patrick's Day party. Cheryl, Laura, Barb, Laura, Rob, Don... and me, strummin' my red uke in my green Hawaiian shirt.

BPYC was packed. Probably 30 different people got up to perform that night. Our group was up just after the washboard band and before the Irish sing-along. When we played the third song, Sail Away, most of the musicians came up 'on stage' with us, and there were almost as many people playing as there were in the audience.

I've never played an instrument in front of a crowd before, and it was exhilarating, although I admit I kept my eyes on the music and stood far from the mic. We didn't sound half-bad, thanks to some of the more experienced players and audience participation on the vocals.

Making music with a group vs. listening or leaving it up to other people to entertain has a whole different feel. That night seemed the perfect time, place and community for enjoying the experience. We may also have inspired some people there to go out and pick up ukuleles of their own. Perfect instruments for the boat... small and portable. It could be a very musical summer on the lake!

Knowing we were committed to play that night kept me motivated to practice a little bit every day, and I'd like to keep up the habit. I read somewhere that 15 minutes daily is probably better than two hours once a week. I think I can commit to 15 minutes.

Maybe I can add this one to my repertoire:

Tuesday, March 10, 2015


There is something so convivial about gathering around a table to share an informal and leisurely meal that stretches out for a couple of hours. Sipping wine, enjoying conversation, and nibbling away. No rush

The tabletop raclette is the perfect device to grill veggies, seafood or meat while simultaneously melting cheese. People cook their own portions and eat at their own pace. You can stretch out the festivities for hours... and that's exactly what we did did!

A group of us gathered to test out the tabletop grill, tasting asparagus, kielbossa, potatoes, and of course... cheese. These are some of my favourites and the flavours seemed to deepen when they were slowly melted:
  • Le Marechal
  • Smoked Applewood Cheddar
  • Extra Aged Comte
  • Etorki Basque (Sheep's Milk)
I can't believe I didn't actually pick up the traditional Swiss raclette cheese to try in the grill.  Maybe next time...

The following wines were satisfying accompaniments:
    The  Reichsgraf Von Kesselstatt RK Riesling 2008 (Germany), just released last month, was a fabulous match with the cheese, fruity & not overly sweet.

    The red on hand was Bodega Volcanes Tectonia Pinot Noir 2012 (Chile), which was better paired with the more flavourful cheeses and kielbossa. 

    Monday, March 9, 2015

    What a Wonderful World

    Perfect synchronicity!

    I arrived a bit early to the Scarborough Uke Jam, with a few minutes to kill, and decided to stay in the car to listen to Jazz FM.  I least expected to hear the ukulele, but there was Israel Kamakawiwo'ole singing and playing Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World.  So glad I paused, and was so richly rewarded. After the song played, the announcer told the story about how Israel and a friend called up a recording studio executive at 3 a.m. to sweet talk him into a recording session before he closed up for the night... Israel arrived 15 minutes later...
    "And in walks the largest human being I had seen in my life. Israel was probably like 500 pounds. And the first thing at hand is to find something for him to sit on." The building security found Israel a big steel chair. "Then I put up some microphones, do a quick sound check, roll tape, and the first thing he does is 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow.' He played and sang, one take, and it was over.
    The next day, Bertosa made a copy for Israel and filed the original recording away. But he was so taken with it, that over the next few years, he played it occasionally for family and friends. "It was that special," he says. "Whatever was going on that night, he was inspired. It was like we just caught the moment."  Voice of Hawaii
    Israel had mana:
    In Hawaii, we talk about this thing we call mana," says musician Del Beazley, who grew up with Israel and wrote two of his songs. "Mana is like an energy that you get. We believe we get ours from the elements first, the Earth, your sky, your ocean, your God, and all that is inside of us. And when we open our mouth to speak, to sing or to play, that's what we let out. But it's that that makes him [Israel] special, because his mana always came out.  Voice of Hawaii
    Five years after the late night recording session, 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow' was resurrected from the archives, and four years after that, in 1997, Israel died, just as the song was becoming an international favourite.

    His funeral was not a sad occasion, some footage is included in the video below.

    Thursday, March 5, 2015

    Full Worm Moon - March


    March 5th is the Full Worm Moon or Full Sap Moon.... but the ground is still very much frozen and I can't see sap running for at least another month.

    So this is really Snow Moon Redux.

    Tuesday, March 3, 2015

    Get Outside!

    Winter is long and hard. The boat is out of the water and my garden is buried in white. Although I get out for walks every day on my lunch hour it is definitely not the same thing as just sitting and being outside, soaking up the elements.

    Caroline has invited us out for a winter hike on several Sundays and it has been great to walk in the woods and tromp less-travelled paths. A couple of times we used snowshoes. It’s been at least two decades since I’ve gone snowshoeing, and  I forgot how much fun it can be to come across animal tracks,  or venture out onto a blank winter canvas to make tracks of your own.

    It's becoming a ritual for Rob to bring out the stirrup cups midway and pour everyone a treat. A peaty Laphroaig hit the spot, and so did our improvised snow cones....a scoop of nice clean snow into the little silver cup with maple liqueur on top. Now that's a Canadian cocktail!

    I’ve used both the old-school shoes and “fitness shoes” on these outings. The old school shoes are heavier going and a bit more difficult to navigate over fallen logs, but they’re almost worth the extra effort for the nostalgia kick. On a pleasure hike, I think I still prefer them, but if it is a more serious hike, the fitness shoes make a lot more sense.

    I've enjoyed getting outside in the winter weather but am looking forward to the end of this bitter cold.

    Get the Jump on Spring was recently held at the Toronto Botanical Garden, and I sat in on a couple of presentations. One was Using Horticulture as Therapy by Margaret Nevett. I’ve long appreciated nature’s restorative powers, but I didn’t realize there is a recognized designation  for Horticultural Therapists. The Canadian Horticultural Therapy Association applies therapeutic horticulture to improve cognitive, physical, social, emotional and spiritual wellbeing, and brings their science to long-term care facilities, psychiatric hospitals and prisons. They are looking at ways to measure the results of horticultural therapy so institutions make it a practice to invest in programs.

    Margaret mentioned a few books that are now on my reading list: 

    The Nature Principle, by Richard Louve (2011) 
    “The future will belong to the nature-smart—those individuals, families, businesses, and political leaders who develop a deeper understanding of the transformative power of the natural world and who balance the virtual with the real. The more high-tech we become, the more nature we need.”
    —Richard Louv
    Your Brain on Nature, by Eva Selhub and Alan Logan 
    “Recent studies employing land-use data and satellite technology have reported that access to green space within a kilometre of one's residence is associated with improved mental health. Indeed, large population studies show that those with the least green space within one kilometre of home have a 25 per cent greater risk of depression and a 30 per cent higher risk of an anxiety disorder. Multiple studies from Japan show spending time in forests can lower stress, improve mental outlook, and lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Separate studies have shown similar cognitive-enhancing effects of short periods spent in natural settings. Spending just 20 minutes in vegetation-rich nature has been shown to improve vitality. Given that vitality is defined in psychological lexicon as emotional strength in the face of internal and external oppositions, and living life with enthusiasm and zest, the implications for personal and planetary health are enormous.”