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.

27 Nov 2013

Mysore Class with Matt Corigliano

It was a much needed weekend of warmth, shared practice and confidence building for me.  I'd forgotten the joy of practicing in a Mysore room, it's been so long, the sound of the breath, the help of a teacher to push a little, to encourage and support.  Nice to be in students shoes again.  Such a beautiful position. I do love teaching, but I also very very much love to be a student.  Not to mention to be able to practice along side many of those who come to my classes was just lovely.

Matt Corigliano created a beautiful space for us to practice in, great energy - everyone had a great practice.

Practice has been bared back to minimum recently, but it's coming along fine, Matt pushed me a little further than I'd dared to go by myself and I was surprised at how much more I could do.  Also noted the fear still residing in my knee and hips and how much I needed gentle adjustments to coax my body into an actively relaxed state.   To trust again.

There was also the added challenge of hiking with Matt and two guests to the top of  Mt. Zao, to the crater lake.  Usually a fairly routine hike for me, but I was quite nervous as to how my knee would take it. I used stocks, much needed on the descent.  But again felt great to be up in the snow, fresh air and mountain energy.

In the workshop Matt talked a little about his parents practice, about the fundamentals of Ashtanga, not necessarily anything new for us, but I think we all needed reminding and everyone walked away with something to ponder.

For me I am again excited about my practice and am slowly finding my strength and confidence again.

Recently, I hadn't noticed, but with all the focus on physio and the physical aspects and challenges the practice had been presenting me with recently, I had been neglecting my breath and drishti a little.  This was brought into sharp focus this weekend. Boy did I feel better for it physically, mentally and emotionally.  Been letting too much slip.  Nice to be brought back into line ; )

15 Nov 2013

Conflicting Advice and Tradition

The mountains are all gleaming white, snowboarding season is fast approaching.

My physiotherapist, and the general canon of yoga  is telling me to take it easy, go slow.  Step by step.  Which I have been doing as much as possible.

However, my husband, an ex-pro-snowboarder, and the Doctor, a  sports man,  are telling me to move more, do the sports I love.  Make muscle having fun. Get on your board and go!!

Up until now I have generally followed the word of the therapist as law.  More about this soon.  But I feel that I am filled with fear of moving and my energy is being depleted.

Also, yes the modern approach to yoga is one of gently gently, but I feel it hasn't always been this way.  When I first started practicing Ashtanga I was very gentle with myself, but after visiting senior teachers I was often shocked at how hard they would push me, and how I was actually fine. One thing we must learn is to know our limits and ride the edge.  It was the intensity of the practice that hooked me, not a gently gently approach.  Not that everyone needs pushing, but my weak point was to hold back. This holds true in all areas.

Snowboarding is an extreme sport and people around us have had all kinds of injuries, and to hear how they all overcame these and got back on the mountains is wonderful.

One of my most inspiring friends is Anna, she broke her back snowboarding.  I was with her. They did an emergency operation to fuse two vertebrae together.  This was in a hospital here in Yamagata,  the doctor left it to me to break the news that she would never walk again.  I went in and told her straight, her reply still stays with me, she said 'Ganbarimas!' which roughly means, I won't give up, I'll do my best, keep on trying. She has done just that, and more.  Total inspiration.

Keep the body and the spirit strong.

My husband also told me about his friend (in his 20's) who smashed his patella to pieces, had surgery and was limping for 6 months after.  How, he went snowboarding while still in a cast, went down The Wall, a particularly steep slope, infamous, he did a few turns and then tumbled quite literally head over heels a few times. On the wall once you tumble there is no stopping till you hit the bottom. Anyways, he finished up feeling no worse for wear, infact better than before!

Could be something in it.  I won't go down the wall, but I do need to let go of my fear and begin to physically challenge myself again.

It is in this spirit that I shall head to three days of yoga class. No teaching, just practicing with all the guys. Can't wait.

Currently,  practice consists of a  very stiff, punctuated primary, interspersed with physio to focus on weak points.  I think it fits in beautifully. Tarik did say, regarding asana practice, that when injured the rules go out the window (n.b. meaning, one needs to adapt the asana a little, not blindly follow the rules regardless of pain nor, conversely,  to throw the baby out with the bath water). I usually practice alone, so am wondering how I should practice in the Mysore room, this weekend.  I love the Ashtanga tradition, and believe that there must be space for individual differences.  Not tailoring the practicing because it's what you feel like, but objectively looking at what is needed to get the body back to strength, alignment, and health.

Haven't been this excited about a workshop in a while!

13 Nov 2013

Power of the Group

The other day I was teaching an english class in a kindergarten, we were getting reading to do the London Bridge is Falling Down song.  I put on the music and a couple of children started stomping to the beat, within seconds the whole class of 50 was pounding together, jumping up and down, 40 four-year-olds, carefully watching each other, synchronised and in perfect time to the music, it was tribal.

Made me think how we as humans like to be part of something greater than ourselves, how this can bring us strength, comfort, and a feeling of connectivity and inclusion.

I think that's what people who practice Ashtanga style yoga particularly like, the fact that we are all somehow connected to something much bigger than us, bigger than a teacher.  That we can visit any Ashtanga shala in the world and fit in, be a part of it, find common ground. That's why I am feebly keeping up this blog, to be a part of the cyber-shala.

To to tangibly experience the energy of the group is inspiring,  The togetherness.

The whole is greater than the sum of the parts - Gestalt.


I always feel this, especially when meditating or practicing yoga in a large group.  Something happens, something beyond words and analysis.  Something different than when I practice by myself. The power of the group - a beautiful feeling.

One of my best memories so far of the group feeling was my first trip to Mysore, full led class on New Years Day, I think Pattabhi Jois was counting.  What stays with me most vividly is the sound and feeling of unison and energy as 60 or so people inhaled into upward facing dog.  Adequate words to transmit this sensation allude me. Let's just say it was a good start to the year.

Matt Corigliano is coming for three days of mysore style practice, we will be a group of 20 or so practicing together. I am very much looking forward to it, and to being bathed in the energy of a mysore rom. It's been way too long since I last went to a class.

I am practicing idiosyncratically and all, is indeed, coming. A punctuated primary, no jump backs between seated asana, using blocks to support my knee, slowly and gently and working on the breath, bandhas, relaxing and working.  Back to the fundamentals. Discovering what I can do daily.  It's a good reminder.   After surgery I wasn't able to bend my right knee for a while, and so couldn't open it out to the side, consequently things have really tightened up in my hips. But I am enjoying practice, and am integrating some physio exercises into my sequence.  Practice really needs to be adaptable during and after injury.

The mountains have turned white here now, talk has turned to snowboarding.   Doctor says I can,  that I should go boarding. Go make muscle. But to only put out 30-50%. In other words take it easy.  May have to keep out of the powder forests.  We shall see.

Anyway I am very excited.
Something about the fresh cold biting air and views of white mountains that makes me inexplicably excited and and energised. If I had a tail, it would be wagging wildly.