16 Sep 2014

To Surf or Not to Surf - Japan Pacific Ocean

I started body-boarding regularly in 2000, and probably didn't actually start riding waves properly for a couple of years after that, by then it was a twice a week trip to the sea, from May to October.  Just something I did, enjoyed the thrill of riding waves and being in the sea, away from it all with chilled people.

It wasn't until the Earthquake/Tsunami/Nuclear Meltdown trio occurred when my heart was breaking did I fully realise just what an important part of my life it was.  And actually I still didn't realise this until I went for the first time in the Summer of 2012 and remembered just how good I felt, how much more alive.  It was then I knew what had been missing, why things had felt flat, something not right. I'd never identified, or labelled myself as a body-boarder, it was just something I did.  Just a part of my life.

For anyone who have never surfed waves, how to explain this feeling. There is nothing else quite like it, snowboarding powder is the closest I've come to it, but still not quite there.  To ride a wave, to be one with the sea, flying along on the energy in the wave, connection, oneness and total concentration.  Nothing else exists.  It is a very yogic state to be in.  No wonder there are so many surfing yogi.  Ride one good sized wave, and any stress, worry, tension just disappears, replaced with a grin and the best feeling of exhilaration, oneness and calm.

However, my local surf spot was wiped out in the tsunami, including the schools, houses, and shops around. It wasn't a built up area in the first place, but the scene immediately after was, well, devastating.

We went out there the day after the quake, all emmersed in sea water.

The next year, 2012, we went, there had been a Buddhist ceremony on the beach for the souls of those not found.  There were mountains of debris, as far at the eye could say, people steadily working to sort, shift and dispose, little by little.  Brand new shiny incinerators dotted the coast line.

2012 Remains of House after Tsunami.  Some only the concrete foundations were left.

Mountains of Debris

Nature returns regardless.  In the background you can see temporary quarters for workers and an incinerator. 

Working, little by little, on what must have, at the beginning, seemed like an endless task.

The following year, 2013,  I can't remember, as that was when and where I finished off my knee and went in for surgery the next day.

This year though, the mountains of debris were gone, as were the incinerators, all that was left were shards of pottery in the dirt and a huge new sea wall constructed.  There is still work going on, and rumours that they might make facilities for a surf spot.  It is where I've been going since I started, it's my local place.

New Sea wall, gleaming new, stretching for kilometres.  Debris and Incinerators all gone.

Seeing this made me very optimistic and hopeful. Despite all the cristiscm in the papers, I see people, in all areas inJapan working as hard as humanly possible to rebuild and recover, and this is beautiful.  We also drive past temporary housing complexes, and I really feel for those, they have lost everything, and are still in cramped, rabbit hutch like living quarters.  But work is in progress.

But, it is also relatively close to the nuclear power plant in Fukushima.  So the decision to surf or not has been a very tough and emotional one. On the one hand I am yearning to get in the sea, yet on the other fear of radiation consumes me.

You can read anything you want to believe on the internet, so it's hard to determine what is fact and what is rumour.  Radiation is a very emotive topic, one that seems to be fueled by misinformation, not to mention political and financial agendas on both sides.

So like the good yogi I try to be, I try to inform myself, with correct knowledge, and to not be a victim to fear and mass hysteria.  I have been looking at the facts and reading 'scientific' resources. But I am not a nuclear scientist, even though I probably have more knowledge in this field now than the average person, due to our proximity to Fukushima.  Our surf spot is 70 km north of the power plants and 12 km south of a big river that runs all through the mountains of Fukushima.

I decided to go back into the sea based on the figures that were being released from the radiation monitoring sites, all being way under that of the limit for drinking water.

So, the limit for drinking water in Japan (which is very strict compared to that of other countries in the world) is 10 Becquerels per litre.  Now, I saw that the water in the immediate vicinity of the power plants is generally coming in under 0.8 Bq/L and this is down current from where we surf.  For anyone interested here are the latest figures for the sea water, Sea Immediate Vicinity to Nuclear Power Plant, the levels on the sea bed however are another matter.  Radioactive particles, are heavy, and so gather on the sea bed.

The other concern lays in the river 12 km to the north.   No fooling, there is radiation in that river.  As I said it's heavy metal, and so the sediment in this river and on the banks have been shown to have levels of up to 2200 Bq/L.  But the water being measured at the mouth of the river is much lower,  in fact all results showing readings of under 1 Bq/L.

So one would presume that surfing a few hours a week, in the water, should be fine, right?  Also I found this article reassuring and well informed, rational, and well, the fear and stress, I do believe have a incredibly detrimental effect. OK so I won't be going as much as I used to for a while, but I've been twice this summer,  it felt good.

The fear I felt over the threat of radiation literally almost paralysed me, so much misinformation and fear mongering. Yes, these is danger, but sadly there is danger everywhere these days. As much as I love the internet and blogging etc there is a lot of misinformation, I do not want to add to this, and am learning to navigate my way through, searching for truth.  Whether it be about Yoga, Radiation, or whatever.  The age of information is indeed a double edged sword.

7 Sep 2014

Psychosocial Themes in Yoga Injury

Thanks to a heads up from a kind comment left on the blog I came across a new blog.  Very interesting.  I shan't give my opinion in too much detail yet though as I still need to see more, mull it over.  I haven't seen much of his stuff yet, but shall be having a delve.

All I can say is I'm reassured that I find the content of the discussion, at times, shocking.  I practice and teach, and am relatively isolated.  I see a few teachers from time to time, go away and study, but generally keep myself to myself. I practice alone, and  like to research and check things out for myself, talk to other professionals.  Although, I  have heard, mainly from reading on line, what Matthew Remski talks of, it always seemed in some distant place.  Certainly not what I see in class around me.  I too hold a practice,  as the sutra says -2.16,  is one which helps to avoid future suffering (mentally and physically)  to be ideal, one which makes you stronger and calmer, more resilient.

I also find the way Remski deals with his data, classifying it and breaking it down very well done.  I graduated from University with a degree in Psychology and Health Psychology and this kind of discussion appeals to me.   A wonderful way to initiate intelligent inquiry, I hope  Keeping it anonymous is a good thing, we don't need accusations but rather education and change where it is needed.

Listening for pain in the body is a very delicate process.  The discomfort felt when working muscles is a good kind of pain.  The painful massage my physio gives my knee to soften the surrounding scar tissue is always rewarding with pain free walking, improved flexibility and generally feeling the better for it.

Also, the culture of praising those who are flexible is certainly one to watch for.  I see it a lot, some people are naturally more flexible. Rather let us praise concentration, ability to smile, to make efforts to change.

And yes, life can be tough on the body at times.  I have had injuries and ailments, but most of them have occurred being hit by cars while on my bicycle (twice!), riding down snowy mountains at high speed, being pregnant and miscarrying, losing muscle tone and revealing a hip deformity I was unaware of, contributing to knee problems, resulting in surgery. Oh, everyone has a story.  We all have lots going on in our lives.  I love to think that yoga is a tool for healing, as much through community and relationships built. Through it all I have kept a thread of yoga practice, with times of rest.  I am grateful to all the people around me.  We support each other. I felt that, throughout the years, it seems I have unconsciously spurred people on, encouraged and challenged, am well know for dragging people up mountains, and into rivers and on trips of discovery, and apparently helped shed some light. This time, when I was a bit down, these same people, and others, spurred me on, encouraged and supported me.   I am so very grateful to all these people and to my physiotherapist for helping me recover after surgery.  Still a work in progress, but it's happening.  Rebuilding my yoga practice little by little.

Most importantly though, is that one's practice will provide the energy and strength to enjoy life, and helps those around you to do the same.

20 Aug 2014

One Year Post Surgery

Primary Practice 
Dripping sweat on tatami
Head Clear Body Strong

This year, since my knee surgery has felt like an eternity, ups and downs, leaps, bounds and plateaus. It's been a strange year. But one with a steep learning curve and a large dose of humility thrown in. I have learnt so much more about the way bodies work from my amazing physiotherapist.  Finally my muscles are almost balanced between right and left legs, sacrum is straight. I have learnt the very hard way that deep back bending is certainly not a good idea with a misaligned sacrum.  Flexibility is coming, as is strength.  Been hard work getting here, still a long way to go, but have hit an important milestone today.

For now I am pleased that I have finally made it through primary.  Even played with some second series asana today.

Hope to restart the blog properly. Have written numerous posts, but had no heart to publish.  Not sure why, when I need a cybershala most I hide away, retreated from everyone, tying to wade my way out of the slump I'd fallen in.

10 Dec 2013

From Fasting to Sour Plums

Umeboshi Drying in the Sun, photo from here.
Since my three day water fast a few weeks ago I have fallen in love with Umeboshi - salt pickled sour plums.  I've never had strong feelings about them either way, but now I positively crave them.

I broke my fast with brown rice porridge topped with a little miso and umeboshi, after not eating for three days it tasted divine.  But this infatuation with sour pickled plums has continued long after.  Now I plop one in hot water in the morning, mash it up and happily sip the concoction.

I began to wonder why the craving, is there anything particularly good in these squishy red balls, I knew they were healthy but had never paid much attention before. So I  turned to my old faithful book that explains all about Japanese Foods that Heal.  I just loved what I read, and so I shall continue my love affair with this salty sour delicacy ; )  Which require a fairly lengthy process of soaking in salt and drying in the sun and adding red shiso leaf for colour.  Next year I vow to learn how to make them.

From the book:

"Japanese food authority Robbie Swinnerton compares umeboshi's taste to the culinary equivalent of a cold shower. Swinnerton writes, 'The abrupt, searingly tart, tangy, salty taste jolts the eyes open, shakes the stomach awake, sandpapers off any staleness from the taste buds, and gets the day off to an unforgettable start.'"

Yes, exactly I thought.

"Japanese pickled plums have remarkable medicinal qualities. Their powerful acidity has a paradoxical alkalinizing effect on the body, neutralizing fatigue, stimulating digestion and promoting the elimination of toxins and the absorption of calcium. In addition, umeboshi is said to help the liver process excess alcohol, restore the skin, help regulate sugar metabolism, prevent or cure anemia and relieve acute stomach and intestinal pain due to gas"

Wonderful!  And to think I was going out of my way to drink lemon juice in the mornings, when I had the local equivalent sat right on my kitchen table!

So I shall continue.  I guess my fast served it's purpose.  I had never properly fasted and the decision to do this one was very whimsical.  I wanted an exercise in self-discipline to get me back on track with my eating habits which had become rather yogically delinquent. So three days, only water. It was not fun, I was left very tired and cold, and no spare energy.

But the fast did make me realise how much unnecessary stuff I put into my body throughout the day as a treat, or form of procrastination.

Then two days of rice gruel with miso and umeboshi.  So simple and so delicious.

I am still enjoying simple food, have regained a modicom of self-control, and a new found love for the "Venerable Pickled Plum"

29 Nov 2013

A Tiger for Malgudi - R.K.Narayan

Narayan has become one of my favourite authors since visiting Mysore. His books are all set in a fictional town called Malgudi, yet have a distinct feeling of Mysore about them, as indeed the author lived there for a while. I love visiting India, and seeing as I can't go right now, I am arm chair travelling.  I love the way he captures the essence of South India, the sunshine, slow pace of life, how the spiritual and the mundane blend. I often go back to re-read his books, like taking a little holiday.

This book is a beautiful tale of a Tiger and a Yogi, both on the journey to enlightenment. The Yoga Master guiding the tiger.   Reading this always brings me a sense of peace and calm, and the enjoyment of a good story.

I was just re-reading it again, and these passages stood out this time, especially after my weekend of practicing in a group and remembering the importance of drishti.

This is the Master teaching the Tiger.

"This is one of the rules of yoga to steady one's mind, to look down one's nose and at nothing beyond. That's one way not to be distracted and to maintain one's peace of mind."

"The eye is the starting point of all evil and mischief. The eye can travel far and pick out objects indiscriminately, mind follows the eye, and rest of the body is conditioned by the mind. Thus starts a chain of activity which may lead to trouble and complication, or waste of time, if nothing else; and so don't look at anything except the path."

So true.