29 May 2011

Food as Medicine - Walnut Tofu

I am no cook, but I love to eat, so I persevere with my cooking efforts, when I have to.  H-san is busy so I'm on cooking duty.   I just have no food sense, but I guess it's down to more practice on the cooking front. 

Temple Cuisine 精進料理 Shojin Ryori
This is the type of food I want to master, to eat, am on a detox lighten up mission at the moment.  It is a pure vegan cuisine, simple, pure and most importantly, all the ingredients are available in my local shop. I shall still eat other things, but am going to try and make this my staple.  Takes time, partly because the best recipes are in Japanese and my reading isn't so fast yet, again more practice needed.

These photos are from my  first attempt at Walnut Tofu. Japanese walnuts are very different from the American type I grew up eating.  I didn't believe this until I tried to shell them.  Almost impossible.  We ended up having to soak them overnight, then dry fry them until the shells opened a little and were then able to insert a screw driver to pry them open.  The shells are thicker darker, with deeper cavities and the flesh is much oilier.  Not as sweet either.

Decided to keep it strictly traditional; using traditional equipment.  Preparing the nuts took the time, after that it was just a case of mixing them with kuzu powder, water and beet sugar.  Cook, stir like crazy and leave to set. 

It was delicious! I did it!  Looked and tasted how it should.

Looked up Kuzu in my favourite book on Japanese Food.  It's great for information, but I'm not a fan of the recipes, too westernised and a little strange for my Japanese sensibilities.  Here's some excerpts.

Kuzu: The Wonder Root
One of the world's largest roots. Roots are the reservoir of a plant's energy.  Been eaten and used medicinally in Japan for 2000 years.
Good for relieving bacterial infection, abdominal aching and intestinal irritation. Also contains a very high concentration of flavanoids, well know as antioxidants.

Clinical studies have proven these medicinal effects of Kuzu's flavanoids; reduce high blood pressure, regulate blood sugar, relieve chronic migraine headaches, ease aches in shoulders and neck, lower cholesterol levels, reduce formulation of blood clots, protect the heart against cardiovascular disease, protect the brain by dilating cerebral microvessels to increase blood flow.  Also contains phytoestrogens, and the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Tokyo has shown it can help prevent bone loss induced by estrogen deficiency.  More recent research has been into it's effects on controlling and suppressing appetite for alcohol. 

Who'd have known eh!?  But, most importantly, it tastes good! 

23 May 2011

Reading the Air 空気を読む

Practicing with people, or perhaps that should be practicing to practice with people. I am not very good at it, it seems. I am used to my own company, which can be pretty bad, but I don't have to deal with others eccentricities while working on my own.

A rare morning practice in company. Very nice on the heat, sweat、concentration, and companionship on this solitary ashtanga path.

But oh do I need some practice in tolerance. Savasana could be said to be my most difficult asana to stay in. Teacher after teacher have warned, advised and cautioned me to prolong my rest at the end. After all it is when, as one teacher said, we absorb the energy created in the practice and when healing occurs. I always feel a little restless and tend to jump up and want to continue with my day, I need an alarm set and optimal conditions to get into it, as in warmth and silence and sometimes a good smell. But when in a group and others finish their practice and proceed to bang, clomp, thud and wipe mats continuously, it tests me. I have never experienced such avid mat wiping and organising of bags as in Japan. Not all but there is always one. OK so I do need to work on my tolerance, but I do think others also need to work on their awareness.

Developing awareness of fellow practitioners can be one of the most valuable practices, one which we can continue to practice throughout the day, to be aware of our impact on others, how our actions, words, even thoughts affect those around us.

In Japanese they call this skill reading the air, I love that expression and am trying hard to refine my air reading skills.


Someone who can’t read the air is one who is socially oblivious, most of us non Japanese fall into this category when we arrive here, but I hope I am learning something and am getting better at this practice. A lot isn’t said in social interactions, the Japanese really are a bunch of air readers, things don’t have to be spelt out, I love that part of this culture, but it can be the most difficult and frustrating.

What are other's pet shala peeves?  Mine would have to be the noisy chattery wipe cleaners and those who make breezes wafting their rugs around.....something about that gust of wind on sweaty skin that the vata in me just does not find pleasant...  anyone else?

18 May 2011

Bakasana B: Third time lucky

First time in a week to have a slightly calmer mind; the recent sunshine plus an outing with a borrowed geiger counter yesterday seemed to help calm a few fears. If it's not bad enough feeling for all those who have lost homes, for those who are still, and will be for a long time, working at the nuclear power plants, for those who are trying to rebuild their lives from scratch, while dealing with intense loss, those of us in very close proximity to all this have to deal with all kinds of rumors. Fear inducing paranoid rumors. However, due to the nature of radiation and governments one can't always be sure what is true what is real and who is crazy. Yet an outing with a geiger counter whilst enjoying some of my favourite spots was fun. Everything normal and measured, hard scientific fact to calm my emotional mind.  Thank god for friends with geiger counters.

Today's practice was joyful. I even managed a little lotus, after being out of action for quite a while now. Not pushing it, but it's healing and all is coming back. Even managed very messily to get both legs behind my head.

But today's focus was on Bakasana. I just cannot manage to straighten my arms in Bakasana A. Am thinking it's an uddiyana bandha thing, need to lift up more from my core, curve my back and widen and pull down my shoulders. Then there is the mysterious Bakasana B, I can only ever land it on the third attempt, which is fine, first is always too high, second usually a head plonk and third leaves me just satisfied enough to continue on with the series.

Wanted to upload a video, but don't seem to be able to, gotta figure this out, not sure if it's my computer, or internet connection or something else... so a photo of a Bakasana A will have to surfice.

16 May 2011

Vata gone haywire

Every questionnaire, ayurvedic doctor, friends in the know have told me, I am very vata-pitta. When I first read about my dosha it rang hilariously true! A consultation with a Ayurvedic doctor in India two years ago said I am Vata-Pitta with a Pitta imbalance. I have always related more to the angry, irritable, hot and sweaty pitta in me. Although everyone else pins the vata label to me straight away. Now my vata side is really rearing it's head and taking control, enough for me to sit up and take note, why have I always denied the vata in me, when it is clearly my ruling dosha.

My thoughts are all over the place, ideas springing up but sadly with not much follow through. I have note books full of plans, sketches, thoughts, all of which have not been taken through the necessary steps to completion. Half-baked.

My eating and sleeping would be even more erratic if it weren't for my incredibly stable and grounded husband. Even that can feel a bit like being tied down and I often feel the need to cut free and whirl off on my own hot air - but in reality he is more like the rigging to my sail - without which who knows what wind would carry me off. As it is, I billow and puff, flutter and flail in one general direction. When vata eases pitta can come through, and it's time to roll up my sleeves and get down to the nitty gritty.

As of 11th of March, vata has been disturbed, to put it mildly. When the ground, which I was trying hard to stay rooted to in the first place, decided to shake and ripple, the darker side of vata, fear, worry and anxiety have been taking their hold. It creeps up on me during the day, all of a sudden I am fearful and full of worry. One worrisome thought leads to the next and the next and then I'm in a big old whirlwind of a tiz. Centre scattered and sent keeling off tilter. After shocks, radiation, and strong strong winds blowing in yellow sands from China. This windy vata girl needs to stand firm and strong.

Ashtanga has been doing a fine job helping me ground. The strong steady asana of primary series, combined with ujayi, a dash of calming pranayama and most importantly the wonderful yoga community both virtual and physical. Reading blogs, the positive ones, and trying to keep away from the dooms days freak me out ones, really don't need anymore fuel for the fire. It is not easy living here right now. Classes have been filled with wonderful people who are joining together in this practice at this difficult time. The energy and comradeship is amazing. Everyone enjoying the power of their combined energy, to practice in a group really is a special thing. I still remember Sri K P Jois counting a New Years day class of about 60 people, the sound as everyone inhaled into upward facing dog. One of my best memories. So different from a lone practice, which does have it’s highs too, my very stable and steady pitta friend comes from time to time to practice with me – makes a huge difference. I am thankful for the simple things, friends, love, flowers and stable ground.

Om shanti

6 May 2011

Clutter Cleaned and a Painful Primary

Ouch, why did primary hurt my legs so much today?  Think all that walking in Tokyo with very flimsy ballet flats took its toll.  Today I felt like I was dragging feet of concrete through practice and lumbered straight into finishing after Navasana, just couldn't do it today. Bad lady!  Ha ha ha!

On a good note, my annual spring clutter clean has been successful...still in progress but feel like I have a whole new room.  Serious change in energy.  I can think again.  Am very excited about all the things I can do in my new space.  One big change is a new piece of furniture that was handed down to me. Isn't it cute? It's a traditional Japanese tea cupboard, but is perfect for my little office space. Trying to move away from plastic which is so prevalent here in Japan.  This has made a huge difference to the atmosphere.

Every time I start ,  I re-read my clutter bible, 'Clear Your Clutter with Freng Shui' by Karen Kingston.  Anyone out there in a bit of a rut, a mess, confusion, or just want to make life flow more smoothly, I highly recommend this book.

Full of gems of wisdom and words of motivation to achieve, clarity, simplicity and the physical, mental and energetic space to create and be.

She talks about the flow of energy in the house, the energy in the objects and how these effect your energy.  Also certain areas of the house represent certain areas of life.  It is fascinating to see which areas of your life your clutter acculmulates in.  My biggest clutter section is my prosperity, weath and abundance section, and it is indeed rather stagnant and jumbled.

A lot is common sense, but it is the best pep talk ever!  She has written sections on every kind of clutter and strategies to deal with it. My two personal problem areas are clothes, I just can't let go, fabric and paper work.   My goal of a simple, free, light, energetic living space gets closer and closer. 

"When you get rid of everything which has no real meaning or significance for you, you literally feel lighter in body, mind and spirit."

"When your things get jumbled up and confused, the strands between you and them become like entangled spaghetti.  This creates stress and confusion in your life rather than the peace and clarity which comes from knowing where things are."

"A major clear-out is absolutely essential if you truly want to have passion, jay and happiness in your life.  These feelings are the experience of great energy flowing through your body and this cannot happen if your channels are clogged"

"No matter how many possessions you have, you never feel secure.  True security can only come from knowing who you are and what you are here to do."

"The territorialism and desire to possess things comes directly from the ego, which strives to own and control things"

4 May 2011

Tokyo, Teacher, Tears

Sped through the mountains and down the plains to Tokyo to uber-urbaness.  Phew...

My first whiff of Shinjuku, aah that sweet city smell, crowded streets, a plethora of people with all the styles.  It's Golden Week, national holidays galore, everywhere jam packed, and I am one among this.  Horay!  Tokyo in full-on-bloom. 

On my first night I was the recipient of unbridled anger from an old friend. I shan't air our laundry in the blogsphere but the effect it had on me, I haven't been the target for such anger, and negative energy for many a year, if not ever. We resolved it over dinner,  it was a good lesson to be on the receiving end of such negativity.  Little bit more non-violence awareness practice.

Aside from catching up with friends over curries, cofffees, and galleries I got a mysore practice with T.  The room was less crowded than usual, but still busy by any standard.  Everyone working hard.

Practice, well, body has been out of sorts.  Clonky hips and knees, bit of a stiff back, not quite centred, not quite flowing right.  My practice was average, good concentration, strong vibrant energy in the room.  I've been practicing only primary for a while now, feeling the need to get balance, strength and calmness back in order, been doing the trick nicely.  Back to second it is.  Got some much needed help in the legs behind head asana. Felt akward again.  Some assisted back bending, I often duck out of that, but today I felt the need for it.  Then went to a back dark corner and tears flowed before shoulderstand. Not sad, but a release.

Walking in the sunshine through Shibuya afterwards was just beautiful, felt lighter, smoother.  Must get down to Tokyo more, lovely to practice in a big mysore room with friendly happy people. Mind, T will come up and visit us here in July, so got that to look forward to. For now to work on Dwi Pada and keep up with the back bending, time to focus on Nadi Shodana, the nerve cleanse.  \(・o・)/

Photo is from an exhibition on pictoral photograpy in Japan in the late 19th early 20th century, very beautiful.  Thank you Tokyo, for the good energy and inspiration. x