2 Dec 2012

Warm for Winter Practice

I often jokingly say I live in a paper house, yet it's not too far a stretch from the truth.  Old Japanese houses certainly keep one close to nature.  In summer all the windows and ducts allow any wind there might be to pass through.  The light construction, wooden frame and walls shake well in earthquakes.

But in winter we have to be pretty tough, and learn how to keep warm. Especially here in the North, in what is called the 'Snow Country'

OK so it's not that cold, only gets a few degrees below freezing, it's just that when I wake up in the morning, there is really only a couple of degrees difference between inside and outside. There is no insulation in the walls or roof, so we heat the room up as needed.

The room I practice in, in fact all the rooms in this house, open on at  least three walls.  We cannot, as such, say walls in the truest sense of the word, as every wall has either a window (no double glazing in rented accommodation), complete with paper screens, or cardboard like sliding screen doors.

It is cold.    We use kerosene stoves, I have one with an exhaust which makes me feel a little better about possible fumes, but it's a dry wind and I don't like to overheat the room with it when practicing.  All the deep breathing makes one very conscious of what one is inhaling.

So I have taken a new tactic in keeping warm in general and for practice.  Keep my body temperature high. I am learning the art of bathing.  This is a new experiment, shall report on bathing techniques in another post. But my theory is to keep myself warm from the inside as well as the out.

In winter I practice in merino wool snowboarding base layers.  Wonderful fabric, stretches, super soft on the skin, feels nice to sweat in, and best of all it is natural and environmentally ethical.  I've always tried to avoid synthetic fabrics.  They are just not nice for you, or for the environment, like wearing plastic.

The biggest problem us Snow Country Yogis have in winter though, is dragging ourselves out of bed into the cold.  Best way to solve this is to sleep in the lovely wool baselayer, wearing silk five finger socks and cotton and silk leg warmers.  This all keeps me seriously warm.  Warm enough to get out of bed, slip on another layer and then a down vest.  Into the kitchen for my warm water with lemon juice, then up to the icy yoga room, turn on the heater, and out for a brisk brisk warm/jog/run to get the blood flowing and warm.  Then am reading for practice.

All this seems to be working.  Am practicing, and not feeling the cold too badly yet.  I also think the bathing is helping.

Finally, the BEST bit about winter practice is the sleeping bag for Savasana.  The ONLY way to achieve total relaxation is to have a warm body, and this is the coziest end to a practice.  I have to set my alarm as security as it's very conducive to nodding off again.

How does everyone else cope with cold climate practice? I guess if one is lucky enough to have double glazing and a little insulation things don't get so chilly indoors, or do they?

28 Oct 2012

Alone but Not

Practice was precluded a little while back, for the first time in eight  years, two weeks of zero asana practice.  Not by choice. Am fine now.  But wasn't.  I made the most of a dreary situation, and actually it was quite nice.  Physical practice was out, but mental practice was abundant..  I let go.  I read, drank tea, and for once just took it easy.

Back on form now, and just spent a while catching up on some blog reading, was thinking to let this blog go, but I feel that it keeps me in the cyber shala, even if no-one reads it that's fine. Was wondering why I do this,  I don't have too much to say, and the more I practice the less and less I have to say.  No that's not true, I have lots to say, just don't feel the need to share right now.  Maybe selfish, lazy, not sure.  Perhaps, and this is how it feels, I am in a time of, so to say, digestion, quiet time.  I like it.  But I like the cyber-shala too, so shall dip a toe in from time to time.  Of all things in Yoga I do feel community of every kind is one of the most important things.

In fact a while back, a teacher I like very much said the ingredients we need for an effective yoga practice are:
1. Teacher
2. Community (Sangha - Spiritual Community)
3. Study and Effort
4. Time (I took this as in making time in the day, but apparently he meant accumulated time, either way)

Of course there is much more, but this simple little list helped me a lot.  I used to feel a little envious of those who have a shala they can go to, a teacher in whose hands they can trust.  I teach, and I sometimes wished I were in the students place instead.  But I do feel, that because I teach, and because people come, we have a community, albeit small, that does help keep me going in my home practice. As time goes on, my desire to visit, and travel to see teachers becomes less and less. Knowing the really important work is always done alone, in the daily practice.  I have met so many wonderful teachers who always show the way a little further.  However, right now, I feel I am at a point where I need to walk alone for a little while. It's a nice place to be, and the shala-envy I once felt has gone.

These days, as it slowly gets colder and colder I find myself feeling very calm and content.  Staying home, practicing yoga, reading, drinking tea, listening to music and sewing.  Sewing, sewing, sewing, sewing.  Just love every aspect of it, from choosing combinations of colours, to shopping for threads and zippers, learning how to do it better, all the preparation, cutting, ironing, finally to the meditative tat tat tat of the machine as the needle goes in and out. Solitude.  My work takes me out, and in the midst of many people, it's the perfect balance. Sociable work, for a recluse.

27 Sep 2012

Dreams and Hormones

My dreams have been so realistic I am confusing them with reality.  My reality, my waking, hours have been spent with Satan in Moscow in the depths of the novel 'The Master and Margarita'. All the while my hormones are raging and I try to keep a lid on what's bubbling away inside.  Why can't hormones make me happy, peaceful, kind and patient?

Yoga practice does ease the pressure.  But it is the practice off the mat that I'm working on.  To smile when I don't feel like it, and to be patient when I'm in a rush.  To nurture calmness in a storm.  Accept all as it is.

12 Sep 2012


Anyone out there read it?  What do you think?

Knew it was gonna be a bit of a mess-with-my-mind, rattle-my-insecure-ego, kind of a book when I read the first page.  Still unsure how I feel about it, I felt it spoke some truth and yet continuously contradicted itself.  I gleamed many gems and also became rather insecure, an enlightenment being  in Jed's terms can appear very much like a sociopath. 

This is a no messing around, very un-flowery version of what it is to be enlightened.   Am still very much mulching over what this means to my practice right now.  I lent it to a friend so I would have a partner to discuss things over with.  

Generally it all rang so very very true, shattering the popular version of what an enlightened being 'should' be.  Once in India I went to listen to someone everyone said had achieved full Samadhi.  One of my more interesting experiences.  When she entered the room one could tell she was different.  But the surprise came when she acted like a total bitch. In this book Jed explains that before enlightenment you are your ego, during you destroy and shed your ego, after you don your ego like clothes to enable you to function in the world again.  So do we tell if a person is enlightened or not just insane?

One simple line that has stayed with me and seems relevant to where I'm at in my practice right now is:
"In the process of waking yourself up, you quickly realize that there's no outside authority. You have to verify everything yourself"

Yes, that's it.

24 Aug 2012


Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise.
Seek what they sought.

22 Aug 2012

Obon - Death Beliefs

Incense has been drifting through the air this past week, along with the occasional sound of bells or chants.  People dashing here and there, to and fro, from relatives houses, to temples, to bar-b-ques.  Typical three day Obon in Japan.

Obon is a time when families gather at the ancestral home and go to the family grave to pray. The ancestral spirites are visiting.  Incense, food and flowers are offered. It's a time that always raises questions for me.  As I go with my husband to pray at his family grave, I'm instructed to hold the Buddhist rosary, place my hands together, bow, pray, perhaps light incense, depends on whose grave and the timing.  I do as I am told.  But no one has ever told me what to pray for.  I just prayed that they found peace wherever they may be.

This is the confusion.  They are dead.  They have been dead for a long time.  If it's someone who just died I hope that they have found rest, and are on their way.  But these ancestors, I just pray that all is good with them.  What to do?  Am I supposed to be making requests?  I don't get it.  I always thought Buddhism entailed reincarnation, which would mean these ancestors are no longer our ancestors, but into the big melting pot and onto the next incarnation.  I have a feeling this pray to the ancesters predates Buddhism.

Some of my students told me it's not for them, but for us, to remember where we came from, to give thanks and remember our lineage. That makes sense.

A while back I joined a 49th day Buddhist Funeral Service which was a very interesting and touching experience. A very hot and sultry summer day, gathered in our black formal attire, we went and sat in the shady ornate temple. It was 49 days after this lady had passed on.  According to Buddhist belife her, she has gone on her tour of the seven hells and seven heavens and is in the stage of transmigration.  Our job, the purpose of the ceremony, is to offer support and prayer to help her secure a good position in the after life.  Although the Pure Land Buddhists say this isn't really necessary, as ascension is assured This has us chanting Namu Amida Butsu and banging on the most beautiful items of ceremonial percussion.  It was a beautiful gathering and I sincerely hope it helped.

However, I have great difficulty in believing in the rituals created by man. I was raised Christian, had a depressive atheist episode, which developed into a hopeful agnostic view, then on to Tibetan Buddhism, which led to Zen, brief episode of forgetting with alcohol and such, another awakening and a slow path to the more spiritual  yogic view.  Which resonates very deeply with me....on one level.  I mean my experiences to date are affirmed by what the Yogi's have passed down, but I still have that drop of existentialist cynicism. I've been told it's good to question, not to have blind faith.  But these slumps of belief or rather conviction, in this yoga and what is slowly becoming my all religion encompassing world view, get me down.  Old beliefs rear up and ridicule me. I studied psychology which had us believe we are a production of neurotransmitters, chemical reactions in our supercomputer brain giving us the impression of something other than this flesh we inhabit.  Anything  experienced to the contrary can be explained away by the unfathomable brain's workings. Is the idea of an eternal being, a soul, purusha, just one thought up by men to provide comfort whilst facing our own mortality.  A feat which seems to make us human.  Other animals, though how we know this I don't know, cannot conceive of their own end. Contemplation continues. Reincarnation, move on to the next level, spirit merged with the universe, recycled, the void....should probably just get on and enjoy where I am right now. Not concern my mass of tangled cells and chemicals with the ultimate in unknowness. That's where it's at right. Now.  Back to Zen.

Thoughts anyone?

* Five minutes after publishing I step out of my house to watch an absolutely amazing display of lightening, flashes, sparks, multi-colours electrical show.  Got that feeling of beauty and awe, puts my soul at rest in a very primal way *

2 Aug 2012

Sweat Festa - Japanese Summer

H's yellow watermelon, delicious!

I've spent the last three summers in the UK, lovely as it was, it is indeed wonderful to have a sultry summer in Yamagata.  I just love these tropical, hot, humid summers.

Wake  up at 5.30 and it's a cool 27 degrees Celsius.  By the time I finish practice at around 9 it's risen to 29.  Practice is a sweaty sweaty affair.  Feels great.  Always reminds me of a John Scott workshop I attended where he brought in a rose and talked about how it would wilt and die faster if we didn't give it fresh water, a lesson in the importance of sweating.  So, this morning, I changed my water.  Thoroughly.

Practice is returning to 'normal' slowly after my fly with my bicycle.  Did my first full primary, post-crash, on Sunday, it felt great.  Back still twinges a little in back bending but it doesn't seem to make it worse or better whether I do them or not.  Certainly no drop backs for me though.

Monday I practiced intermediate, minus kapotasana, it'll be a while longer before that comes back.  Again, a sweat dripping all over the place, hot and humid affair, but wonderful.  Rest of the week my personal mix of primary and intermediate and prep poses.  Just fine. Savasana has been divine with the morning sun filtering in through my bamboo blinds and the sound of cicada signalling the peak of summer.

By midday I"m sewing away in my sweatshop, 36 degrees, but it's amazing how little it's been bothering me, as I'm enjoying my sewing projects so much.  Home grown water melon for breaks, and although I hardly ever drink beer, have grown very partial to an ice cold glass at the end of the day.  Bad lady, but hey, it's summer.

When the heat does get too much, I take myself away to a waterfall or mountain lake to cool down and refresh.  It's hard to imagine this is the same place as the icy winter a few months ago.

14 Jul 2012

Instant Karma?

A couple of weeks ago on the Summer Solstice we held a Charity Yoga class up the mountain.  It was my favourite kind of morning, a beautiful cloudy sky with greys, blues and purples, interspersed with openings of blue sky here and there.  It was beautiful.  The air was fresh, the birds singing, we practiced some pranayama, asana, and finished with a short meditation session.  Lovely.

It was a blustery day, which is pretty rare here, as we are surrounded by mountains.  As I drove along the expressway I could feel the crosswind.  I saw a large hawk hunched down low by the barricades.  Then a little sparrow flew down low in front of my car.  I hit the breaks thinking I might just make it, or the bird may fly up, or out of harms ways, but the flurry of feathers confirmed my fear.  At least it was fast I thought.  A bolt from the blue.  I started to worry that the bird was rushing back to a hungry clutch of chicks in a nest.  Wracked with guilt, chanted a little mantra for the birds soul, told myself feeling guilty wouldn't help anything. What's done is done it was our karma to meet in this way.  Then I thought about all the creatures that are killed on roads each day, walking is much less harmful.  Our fast paced lives just lead to destruction on many levels.  Vowed to ride my bike and walk more. But for this job, drive I must and I must work.

Later that night, while cycling home from the bookshop, close to my house with no lights.  I took a short cut down some back alley.  All of a sudden it was like a hand from the sky came down and stuck me, I flew through the air and landed on my stomach involved the deepest and most violent backbend I have ever experienced.  My first thought was, I hope I haven't broken my back or neck.  Feeling no pain, and being able to move all body parts I felt around for my glasses and looked around to see what the hell had happened.  Seems I had cycled straight into a barricade in the road so that cars couldn't pass.  Oh the stupidity of it.  Seriously.

But that moment of being stuck totally unexpectedly, like a bolt from the blue brought back how that little bird spent it's last split second.

The next few days my whole body ached.  Especially my abdomen.  Then came the next and back pain.  Almost all better now, almost.  But it seems that I have whiplash in my lower back.  I've been practicing my yoga asana constantly.  At first only stretching postures that felt good.  Slowly adding in the strengthening ones.  Then a few cautious upward facing dogs. The only time I feel pain is in back-bending and headstand.  This is getting less and less.  Slow, patient, practice.  I'm sure it's thanks to my yoga practice that I escaped with minimal injury and again thanks that the recovery is in progress.

I'm actually enjoying my hybrid practice of primary and intermediate.  Back bends are out for now, and upward-facing-dogs I've cut to a minimum, don't want to aggravate anything.  So, it's a primary, interspersed with the middle part of intermediate.  Very nice balance.  Am enjoying.

Pranayama, finally have a routine.  Just a little before I practice every day now.  Rolf's words on this matter have stayed with me.  He said pranayama is like watering a garden.  Too much water you kill the plants, better water little little every day, a few times if possible.

13 Jul 2012


I went to see this film a couple of weeks ago with a friend.  It was great, it expressed my beliefs, I found affirmation of the way I think in it. Wonderful.  Please watch, you can buy the DVD here- Economics of Happiness DVD or on Amazon it seems.

Afterwards there was a talk by a local miso maker.  He was saying how he was going out of business due to people choosing the cheaper varieties of miso available now in Supermarkets.  These cheaper versions however are full of additives and are not fermented in the traditional way.  It is the traditional style of making miso, pure, free from additives, that gives it it's amazing health benefits.  So as ever, buy cheap, get cheap, bad for us, bad for the environment.  The message is clear, why is it not reaching people.  OK so we are all a little short on money.  But people's priorities are all mixed up.

Anyways, I went to watch this with a good friend from Yoga.  Afterwards I wanted to pass on the information to the people in my class, but for me to write in Japanese is still a chore, takes me a long time, and, well I'm still not what one could call eloquent.  This friend however is a good writer, and wrote a wonderful review of the film linking it in with our lives and yoga.

Thanks to this it has been quite a topic of conversation in my yoga classes. We are talking, they are interested, change is in the air.  This is a topic I feel, and since I was about 14, have felt very strongly about.  I remember my first trip to India, being impressed by the way people lived in, by my western standards, states of poverty.  Yet had a happiness and lightness of being I had never seen before.  Especially the Tibetan communities I encountered.  A richness of spirit, I thought, makes us far happier than the richness of material that we are led to believe is the path to all happiness.  What is good for us is good for the planet.

Everything is connected. The more we realise this the better.

For a  while after the earthquake here in Japan, I wanted to become a celebrity, no, not because I wanted the fame per se, or the money, but because I felt so frustrated and wanted a voice, a voice that would be heard.  The T.V. celebrities in Japan are generally vapid.  No opinion expressed on anything, if they do contracts will be withdrawn, all I hear is utter vapidness on T.V.  One celebrity has made a stand, and joined anti-nuclear demonstrations and I want to applaud him.  He has indeed lost a lot of work. The media here is controlled by the old boys, in with the government, in with the big money makers, in with the nuclear industry. Yet they cannot control the internet. Yet.

We need to change this world.  It's on a destructive course.  I do believe we can make the change.  As Gandhi famously said, be the change that you want to see.  So let's change. We as individuals have more power than we think, combined this power is mighty.  A small portion of Japanese society is realising this and weekly anti-nuclear demonstrations are being held, local governments are being pressured, people are thinking, acting, changing. It is good. It is a start.  But still when I go to work in High School and listen to the students voices, ultimately that of their parents, I realise there is still a long long way to go.

I am working on changing myself, and hopefully influencing those around me, who in turn will spread to others.  Like a virus.  It could happen worldwide.  Indeed I do believe it is. The fact that so many people around the world are being drawn to yoga and other traditions is hopeful. We are waking up. Yoga philosophy is a tool for profound change.  A tool  know yourself.  To know what is true and what is not true. A tool to change consciousness.

To raise us up out of the T.V. comfort coma the modern world has slipped into.  We need to proceed with awareness.  To use technology and our amazing knowledge and skills wisely.  Not like infants.

Yogis knew.

Zen Masters knew.

So I have new fuel for my fire, my tapas is strong.  I'm doing my best in my little corner of the world to bring a little more light.

Om Shanti

1 Jul 2012

A note of thanks

To whomever it may concern.  Because I am thankful that the earth is remaining still, the seas calm, the sun shines and the rain falls.

I pray -insert -  hope, wish, dream - as you please - that the nuclear reactors remain contained, that the government will act responsibly.

I am thankful for where I am and what I'm doing.

I am able to practice yoga daily, I am able to earn enough to live.  I have beautiful spirits who come join me in yoga, friends who come up the mountain in the morning to enjoy the sounds of birds and rain, breath in the sweet fresh morning air.   Breakfast with a friend outside with a beautiful view and the peace that only a morning on a mountain brings.

I am thankful to live in a beautiful place surrounded by green mountains, a peaceful city with a very relaxed vibe, where I am able to collect delicious cool pure spring water for the week.  Grateful to have work to keep me busy.  To have health to allow me to be busy.

I am able to bath in natural hot springs whenever I have the time or inclination, I am able to eat delicious brown rice grown by a relative, vegetables and fruit grown by my husband.

These are the thoughts that came after practice today.  I counted my blessings, relished them, and you know what the worries, fears, and problems didn't seem that bad.  No I shall not be listing those too.

14 Jun 2012

On the Periphery

Had a three days of Mysore class with T-sensei this weekend. Nothing like the knowing gaze of your regular teacher.  Regular in that I see him two or three times a year.  It was great.  He has great energy.  The classes always feel light and joyful. He teaches in a way that I can get,  he says, I understand, try, and can do.

Thanks to some pointers and hands on help am nearly landing Karandasana.

He brought news from the Ashtanga world both in Tokyo and Mysore.  I really am on the very periphery of this ashtanga scene, yet feel very much in it in the ways that matter.  I have links with some wonderful teachers, a consistant practice and some friends scattered here and there, not least my classes here in Yamagata, and other fellow teachers and associates ; )  I was vaguely aware that Sharath was in Tokyo, I knew he was coming, but it being out of the question for me to attend I didn't pay it much heed.  Sharath had a good time in Tokyo, hearing about him made me want to go practice in Mysore again.  Didn't go but got the t-shirt, ha!  Not my usual kind of thing, but am feeling that I want to be in the group at the moment. A feeling that people who practice this yoga are connected, there is connection and community, and that is good.

However, I do like my peripheral postiotion, in part brought on by my northern distant location, and in part by my nature. I have always been on the edge.

Foreign parents referring to 'english people' this 'english people' that, at school I stood out, something not quite the same as all the other kids on the council estate. I ate different food, wore slightly different clothes and spoke a little differently.  Nothing major but enough for the kids to pick up on.  I did experience bullying, nothing that has left me traumatized, but enough to set me apart and I feel make me a stronger more independent person.

Because of my exclusion from school friends I made freinds on the streets out of school.  Not always the most savoury of types, other people on the edges of society, but not in the same way as me.  Kids in homes, on the street, into all sorts of things I'd rather not write about here,. lets just say periphery kids. then at Univeristy I found myself more comfortable with the 'mature' students, rather than the 18 year olds who'd just be let loose from parental control for the first time, again on the edges of it all looking in. So it's no wonder I feel comfortable enough in my postition as foreigner in Japan. A part of the group and society, yet able to look in from outside with a slightly clearer view.  Being here has also made me see my home, the UK much more clearly.  Being on the periphery does give us perspective, and I enjoy this very much in the yoga world.  Very much a part of it, but not wrapped up overwhelmingly in the circles and groups that form.

31 May 2012

Back bending - Coming through the Confusion

Post Rolf and Marci practice. Been working hard on the back bends. Marci pointed out that all the action in my back bending was happening in one place, like a hinge in my lower spine. She said I had an over extended lordic curve and was in danger of damaging my spine if I continued in the way I had been going.

I had read the theory of back bending, but obviously hadn't applied it to my own practice, I couldn't see myself clearly and in some cases couldn't make the connection to certain muscle groups on my own, without the helping hand of a teacher.

The work now is to spread the bend throughout my entire spine, to awaken my inner thigh muscles and keep legs parallel with unclenched buttocks and fully engaged bandhas.

In comes block work.  This was an eye opener.  Marci wanted me to hold a block between my ankles, another between my knees, and then with gluteus muscles fully relaxed, tail bone drawing to my heels and lower abdomen hollowed (uddhiyana bandha engaged) to lift up.  No belly popping, no thrusting. To do this with totally relaxed buttocks took some time to get.  But when I did, my inner thigh muscles started burning like they never had before.  Had one of those 'aha' moments.  This is how it feels to work the inner thighs fully, finally an awakening.

Have been continuing with this and the next stages. I am noticing changes.  Am able to work my legs hard. also my arms are working harder.  I don't feel any pressure in my lower back but some very strange muscle pains on either side of my lower back.

Actually, feel like I have back pain.  I've never had a bad back.  At least not since I was 15, and the doctor told me to get some excercise..  For a few days I worried, practiced gently, what did I do?  I've been practicing correctly, following the instructions.  Confusion and doubt crept in.

Consult my husband, a sportsman, who prods, questions and then bursts out laughing, telling me it's nothing more serious than a bit of muscle pain.

* * * * *    One month later  * * * * * 

All is great.  Still working with blocks and props trying to spread the bend along my spine.  Am using my legs and bandhas much more effectively now.  It feels amazing. Also my back no longer pops and cracks so much.  For a while there I felt the need to crack it a few times a day.  This has gone. Something shifted into place, and perhaps developed some long neglected muscles.  The back pain I had, was indeed some deep muscle pain.  Am enjoying working on this very much.  It is tough for me as my lower spine does bend so easily, to control it with strength is taking some doing.  I am enjoying working hard at practice again though, I can see, and feel change, not just in my body but my whole being. 

30 May 2012

Oh my Blog!

What has happened to my blogging instinct?  Gone, flown away, I guess I forgot to schedule blogging time into my new rout...ahem..rhythm. It's not that I've suddenly got nothing to say, I've never got nothing to say!  I have half-written posts coming out of my ears.  It's just that something else always needs to be done more urgently before I finish writing.   Maybe I don't have anything that important to say after all.  I was contemplating the amount of babble floating around in cyberspace, and wondering if my voice needs to be added to this, but a post by Grimmly reminded me why I started blogging in the first place.  To gather my thoughts and share them with those who may be interested, be a part of a community.

So this is just to break the ice, say hi, show my face in the cyber-shala.

So hello to anyone out there.  How are you?  Enjoying that what is Yoga?

To start with.  Practice.  It's been good.  I am still following Marci's advice.   It seems to be working.  The biggest change has been in Pincha Murayasana.  By stretching up through my inner thighs to the balls of my feet, stabilising my pelvis and working those bandha's in my hands I have finally achieved stability consistent enough to fold into lotus.  Feels great.

However, more than asana I have been working on my concentration and my thoughts.  Trying to not let my mind wander, and when it does, to keep it positive.  Actually, this is keeping me busy throughout the day.  Not letting my mind go down it's habitual negative street.

OK so nothing much but a post to break the ice and lubricate those keyboard tapping fingers and get the blogging juices flowing.

28 Apr 2012

Daily Rhythm

Read one line in a book (The End of Illness - Dr. David B. Agur) on the airplane to India that totally changed my perspective on an issue I'd been struggling with for a long time.


"Life needn't be monotonous and boring, but when it's rhythmic and imbued with predictability the body responds positively"

Not sure why this line caught my attention so, perhaps because I had so many negative assoications with the word routine.  Connotations of boredom, lack of creativity, and spontaneity.  On the other hand, I had also been noticing how my random schedule was draining my reserves, leaving no energy for creation.  Practice was becoming a chore I had to cram into my schedule somewhere.  Working late, eating late. Waking, practising, and feeding at random times.  Energy levels, circadian rhythms, gone haywire. Relying on coffee and sugar for energy when ebbing low.

When I started a regular daily asana practice I was in a regular 9-5 job. Practising everyday came easily with such routine, yet my job was so mundane and slow it was eating away at my spirit. Now I love all my little jobs. I have a lovely collection of work, I'm happy to be doing.  But it is random.


Rhythmic days on the other hand sound beautiful, like music, or the sound of waves.  Like a pattern that is fun to follow.  In India I always fall into a very predictable rhythm, and feel great for it.  Early morning practice, regular meals, early nights and an abundance of energy.There is still room for spontaneity in between the rhythm markers.  Of course, it helps that there is no work to get in the way.

Now, the challenge, was to bring this sense of rhythm, that my body and mind appreciates so deeply, to my erratic life back home.

I sat down, looked at my seemingly chaotic schedule and carved out a routine. Set a wake up time I could keep everyday, while getting just enough sleep and having time to practice before a breakfast time I could also, more or less, stick to everyday.

It's not just a daily practice that is key to Ashtanga yoga, but a daily rhythm which starts off with some sacred space. It's nothing new, but I'd let this slip in the craziness of self-employment.

The first week was tough, a combination of getting back to work after a month off, and breaking old habits.  With new determination I stuck to my simple rules of times to wake-up,  practice, eat, and sleep.

Finished the third week now. It hasn't been easy.  But I am sticking with it. It is working wonders.  It feels great.  Settled.  Simple.  Loving it. 

18 Apr 2012

Rolf and Marci

Still in the process of digesting all that I learnt whilst in Goa.  Takes a while for things to sink in, to experiment, to make the experience mine.   I felt like I was on a information gathering mission, to collect, bring back, lots of homework to keep me going for a while.  Mission accomplished.

So Rolf and Marci what a duo. Teaching the same thing yet in such different ways.

Rolf was very very peaceful, powerful adjustments and sparkling eyes.  His adjustments hit the mark, and teach in one movement what a 1000 words couldn't do. Gentle and strong.  His body was no that of a 'normal' person, nothing spare, when at ease very soft and still, yet sinuous and powerful when in action, a Yogi (in the true sense of the word) at work.  It felt wonderful to be in his presence and under his gaze.

Marci, great knowledge of body mechanics and how yoga works.  I totally admired and respected her teaching, but sometimes the energy that came with it, the delivery of knowledge grated on me in a very physical way.  All kinds of emotions came up and out while under Marci's gaze, at times it felt like she was the destroyer of ego, which is good, at others like she was just a bit too busy and stressed out.  Not sure, many people had many theories on Marci.  There was love in her eyes and passion in her teaching. She is a difficult person, but then so am I. Actually when explaining to a couple of friends they said perhaps you are alike. She is a straight talker that's for sure, no sugar coating and not trying for popularity.  Rather to teach what she believes and knows, with total integrity. I respect that wholeheartedly.  I was feeling a little fragile, physically, emotionally and mentally,  I had been storing the trauma of the last year in my body and so there was some pain.  But certainly no injury. Healing.

But boy does she TEACH.  I felt frustrated that my time with her was so short, yet somehow between them they seemed to cram everything I needed into to my short stay.  I bow down to their lotus feet in appreciation for reviving my lagging practice.  They both work so hard, tirelessly, honestly, devotedly.

Since coming back the quality of my practice has improved, where I was stuck, although there is no real change, I do not feel stuck anymore. They provided me with the tools and the route with which to proceed.  Between them it felt like they provided a mirror of both my good and bad sides, I can see a bit more clearly now.

I hope I'll be able to practice with them both again.  But for now I have much work to do.  I had picked up bad habits and shortcuts and Marci slammed me for them, no holding back.  There was no surprise, leg behind the head and back bending needs much work..  When I asked which was worse in back bending, splayed feet or heels lifting, she replied both are totally unacceptable.  So I started back bending 101.  I continue with working with Marci's words with me and am excited to take practice again.

12 Apr 2012

Goa - Last on my List

Been a while, was nice to forget about the world for a time.  Lots to blog about so shall break it up a bit.

To begin with Goa, Goa, Goa, hmmmm.

I've always said out of all the destinations in India Goa would be right down there on the bottom of my list of places to go, and I still hold this to be true.  But for this trip it was fine. Actually it's very beautiful and easy going, but not the India I love.

My first week there saw me a little disgruntled, it was dusty, expensive, super westernised, rubbish scattered everywhere, very very touristy and in need of a good downpour of rain.  It is the trance party capital of the world, and also a popular family beach holiday destination, neither of which hold much appeal for me.  So I had to let go of my India expectations and accept Goa as Goa and remember that I came for the yoga, to heal and rejuvenate.

 It was also much more expensive than I had imagined.  The quality and thus cost of living is a little higher than in other parts of India and so I went way over my budget.  Usually I stay in the cheapest most basic room, but I wasn't in the mood for austerity this trip and plumped for a room with kitchen, bathroom and an antique four poster bed, set in a beautiful garden with a friendly family and smiley dog in their traditional Portuguese style house, it felt safe, the garden air green and pleasant and most importantly, quiet and relaxing.

Often it felt like I had come into collision with an old version of myself.  Being around all the party people made me remember how I was 16 years ago, and so I also saw how much I had changed, some good some bad.  One big change was that I felt Japanese and yearned for Japanese company, but at first, due to my un-Japanese looks and my Japanese shyness I found it difficult to enter the circle.  I  felt like I had been ejected from the nest, a most peculiar sensation.   Finally when I spoke Japanese to them and they realised I lived there and was one of them they opened up, it felt so comforting to be among Japanese in India. The other side of me naturally gravitated towards some of the party people, was nice to hang out with non-ashtangi,  who have a very interesting often yogic perspective on life. I had no inclination to party, that went a LONG time ago, but the people felt familiar.  It's often the people you meet in India that make the trip, and this was especially true in Goa, it's where like minded folk congregate. I found myself with a lot of Israeli, such warm, open and friendly folk

The food was an experience, fell in love with the Goan thali, so wholesome and simple.  But, Goa being the tourist destination that it is had the restaurants to go with it so I had very good Italian, Greek, Israeli, Thai and French food, quite a treat, more variety than I can get here in Northern japan, the supermarket was very international too.

All in all just what I needed, may even return there.

7 Mar 2012

Off to Goa I go

Finally after jumping many many hurdles, overcoming the obstacles, I am leaving on a plane tomorrow.  I read somewhere that although Ganesh is said to be the remover of obstacles, he in fact places the obstacles in order for one to learn how to overcome them.  To be taught valuable lessons.  Well I've had more than my fair share recently, so  I  paid a visit to a secret Ganesh temple to say thanks, maybe enough...?

So, am packing to go practice under the guidance of Rolf and Marci in Goa.  Very excited.  It'll be my black mat's first trip to the subcontinent. I usually take the lighter purple one and always, always, wish I'd taken the heavy duty surface.  Splashed out on a fancy bag to lug it hither and thither, got the obligatory amulet from a Shinto shrine for protection.  All set.

Just the decisions of what books to take and how many??  Is it worth also carting my big SLR camera, or make do with light and compact.  Hmmm....

2 Mar 2012

厄年 Unlucky Years

In Japan there is a belief that certain years are unlucky, bad things will come. One belief is that if you have done many bad deeds then they will come to haunt you in your unlucky years.  These years are different for men and women.  They are called Yakudoshi  厄年.  The big ones are 33rd year for women and 42nd year  for men (so this would be age 32 and 41), there is also a pre, and post year, so it amounts to three years of bad luck. I am on my second batch of Yakudoshi, 37th year. I made it through the 33rd year, just.  It is thought to be essential to visit a Shinto shrine to be, for want of a better English word, exorcised.

This year I suffered from a very extensive cold, which is unusual for me, topped off with a heavy dose of sinusitis and a slight chest infection, I've been tired, worried and generally melancholic.  This is not the normal state of affairs for me in winter.  I've been feeling irritable and angry, especially while driving and cycling.  I totally lost my temper when a bus nearly ran me off the road, flipped out like a crazy woman. I've also been very critical of the driving skills of my fellow road users.

Thus it seems karmically fitting that, the day before I planned to visit the Shrine for my Yakudoshi ritual,   I do the most stupid thing one can do while driving, rear end someone at a traffic light.  Totally my fault.  Still now do not know why this happened.  I wasn't rushing, eating, talking on the phone, drinking, mailing, sleepy, or tired.  In fact I was having a great relaxed day. Finally feeling healthy and happy. Who knows.  It was a slight bump.  But the lady feels she has back pain.  I have apologised and am waiting to see how big the fine from the police will be (I never knew I'd have to pay a huge fine too), and just before I'm due to go to India.

I did go to the Shrine the next day.  First I practised Primary series, then visited a hot spring.  The aim was to purify myself before visiting the sacred mountain.  Wanted this exorcism to be as potent as possible and Mt. Haguro is reputed to give the most effective Yakudoshi ceremony.

The ceremony itself is impressive. The Shinto priests dressed in all their finery perform intricate, beautiful, and precisely performed rituals with sonorous chants.  But it's the drumming that rocks my boat. The huge taiko drums sound like thunder in the cavernous Shrine, it's dark, and very very atmospheric.  We all bow down and the priest shakes, what I can only describe as a jangly wand over our backs.  This is ridding us of any bad luck spirits that have attached themselves to us.  It feels cold and sends a shiver down my spine.  I used to be cynical, but now I am taking a Pascal Wager view of these things.  The ritual reassures me.  I should have done it at the beginning of the year.

Guess this is a good lesson.  It's bad enough, my car is slightly damaged and shall remain that way for a while, but it could have been much much worse.  A cautionary note before I set off to India.

I was feeling so down that I have potentially caused another person pain (perhaps) and damage to their car and facing a huge fine at the same time I'm taking a month long trip to India.  My hard earned savings zapped in a moment of idiocy.

But then it's not all about the money.  OK so I shall be poor and pulling in the belt strings.
I came home from yoga class where I could meditate with beautiful souls around me, to have warm hearted and kind people come to yoga class, to come home to lovingly prepared food on the table, this made me realise the true meaning of the the phrase 'Count your blessings.'  I may not have money for a while, but I am blessed, and I can still go to India, on a shoe string.

I have been humbled and taught a few lessons, perfect for pre-India experience.

12 Feb 2012

Have I turned Japanese?

Before coming to Japan I worked for a while in a big Univeristy hospital.  I remember seeing a patient wearing a surgical mask and being escorted down the corridor, whatever he had looked serious and the mask intimated contagion. I was told in a whisper he was a tuberculosis patient.  

A few months later I boarded the plane to Japan, and stepping into the cabin I was shocked to see half of the passengers masked.  Get me off this plane, was my first thought, what could be the matter with all these people? It was a creepy sight for one uninitiated to the Japanese way.

Now, am used to seeing face masks every day, students, teachers, truck drivers, housewives, office workers, dustbin men, shop staff, EVERYONE wears masks.  

I have shunned them, ridiculed them and generally thought Japanese people had a mask fetish.  Another layer to hide behind, to shield themselves from the world.  I refused to wear them, it was my last bastion on the 'I am not Japanese' front.

I yielded.
This week I have worn a mask to bed, around the house, when driving.  I wore one even to the supermarket the other day, still feeling very embarrassed, so of course, as luck would have it, the lady behind me in the queue screamed 'Esther!!!  Long time no see!!!  Wow how are you??? ' I wanted to crawl further under my mask, I'd been caught red handed.  Mind you, she was masked too, and didn't bat an eyelid.

It is always a strange sensation talking to one whose face is partially covered.  Yet it is curiously comforting, more private.  

However, I still hold fast that these masks are, in my opinionated opinion, grossly missued. Surgical masks are generally most effective at stopping the wearer from passing on their disease not the other way round, at least not these cheap ill fitting ones popular here. Maybe they offer protection in reminding people to keep their hands away from their face (the importance of washing hands) or in that they keep your nose nice and warm and moist, cold viruses tend to prefer dry and cold conditions.  Who knows. But the Japanese love them dearly.

In my case I sprinkled a couple of drops of Eucalyptus oil, and can inhale the warm moist healing vapors, making my sinuses feel wonderful.

9 Feb 2012

Forgot my Tools

A few years ago while I was in Rishikesh I found my self surrounded by Yogi of a different breed, they were busy tongue scraping, urine drinking, stomach purging, string and water nose washing to name but a few of the cleansing techniques that were being practised around me.   I began to feel that perhaps I was missing out on something, should I too drink a litre of salt water every morning, and bring it back up to cleanse my stomach.  I've never been a fan of detox diets, fasts and purges, thinking it's more balanced to do these things gradually in daily life, like the yoga, rather than a boot camp, do little by little daily.  I asked my teacher about this, she said these are tools, good to know if you ever feel the need.  I always feel the need for jala neti (water nasal cleansing) in dry and dusty India,  rarely so in Japan in my forested humid location.

Seems I thought I was superwoman in January and overdid it in every way possible.  Was feeling worried, confused and overwhelmed.  Practised yoga too hard, went snowboarding a lot, worked a lot and didn't dress, eat, or rest properly.  Came down with a cold that led to infected sinuses.  Not fun.

Anyways, I had forgotten about my neti pot (my mother reminded me), and the key principle of moderation and rest!  But I picked up my tools again,  and am on the road to recovery, and smelling great.  Found an interesting remedy for sinusitis which I am trying out now, seems to be working.

8    Tbsp of Fine Sea Salt
10  Drops of Rosemary Essential Oil
6    Drops of Tea Tree
Mix well.  Half a teaspoon into the Neti pot and rinse away with warm water.

Also been using Lavender Spika to ease congestion and help drainage.
Eucalyptus for clear breathing and it's anti-bacterial and viral properties.

Add a healthy does of relatively gentle Asana practice, a large dose of Pranayama and a scattering of snowboarding, interspersed with adequate rest and hot springs.

22 Jan 2012

Miksang - Contemplative Photography

Blog dilemma over.  As I sit by my lovely new stove with a kettle bubbling on top, I finally have time to reflect on the crazy state of mind my even crazier schedule helped produce this week. Of course if I were a realised yogi my mind would have been calm, like the eye of a storm, but obviously I still have a long way to go.

Seems that this whirlwind busy week of mine, work, making travels plans, decisions, PMT and a more than healthy dose of catching up with old friends, got my mind spinning so fast it just whirled past it's use-by-date and started creating spurious problems which were both unnecessary and detracted from the real work at hand.

Why did I develop a blog dilemma all of a sudden?  After a lovely yoga practice, which slowed the spinning down I realised that my blogs are fine. It's all OK. But I do need to stop making rules and barriers for myself. I like to post photos with few words on black, and post words with few photos on white, and would like to invite anyone curious about daily life in Northern Japan to take a look at the photos.  This was my original blog, made for the purpose of showing far-away friends and family where I live and what I'm seeing.  I love taking photos and had thousands I never showed anyone, and began wondering what the point in it all was, if not to show someone, anyone.

At the beginning of this year a friend sent me a yoga magazine.  When I finally got a chance to sit down and read it I had a huge 'Aha!' moment.  It was an article on Miksang, or contemplative photography.  'That's it!'  thought I, that is what I'd vaguely had in mind as an ideal for my photos but hadn't known this was actually an art form.  I am nowhere near realising this  yet, but I have found a direction for my photo-blog.  I've fallen into a tedious rut of pretty scenes, clouds, mountains and food. So if you do visit I apologise for lack of inspiration.

The article in Yoga International states that;

Miksang, which means "good eye" in Tibetan, is a process that captures arresting moments of everyday life - and deepens our awareness of them - by using the simplest mechanics of a camera.

It feels like all my interests are slowly coming together, (for years it felt like I had too many and should drop a few) that of Yoga, Tibetan Buddhism, Photography and Art (there are many MORE, but not relevant here..).  Now I need to put in a little more work, or rather need to stop a little more often to smell those roses and practice some Miksang photography.

Thanks to far away friends for inspiration and support in both the digital and paper formats.

20 Jan 2012

To merge or not...

I may be in a blog transition.  I have three blogs, which seems excessive.  It feels like three different faces. I want to merge. I have always held the belief that a realized person would have a personality which is integrated, by which I mean, presents the same face (to a degree) in all situations.  I used to have a friend who when we were alone was thoughtful, philosophical and sensitive and yet when we were out socializing would turn into an absolute lout, sexist, crude, loud and coarse, it was like Jekyll and Hyde. When we talked about it, he knew this was happening and seemed it was stemming from insecurity, a desire to be accepted.  However the Japanese have this worked into their culture the public and private face are two very different ones.  Which is right I don't know.   I have a photo blog, an English yoga blog and a Japanese one for posting my class schedule.  I may combine the photo and English one, especially since I do feel the act of seeing and creating has been a part of my practice, and discovered there is actually a school of photography called Miksang, or contemplative photography. But I need to chew this over a while.  I also find I like to write on paper, privately, and am feeling a kind of pressure to write posts this year. Which is wrong.  Maybe I just don't have anything useful to say right now.

I am a home Ashtangi and I love that there is a cybershala and want to be part of it, and am now in the processing of integrating my cyber self. Are there any blog land rules....unspoken etiquette? Why do you blog?    To merge or not....  any ideas welcome x

4 Jan 2012

Year of the Dragon 2012

The Year of the Dragon will, apparently, be marked by excitement, unpredictability, exhilaration and intensity.  Sounds pretty good to me.  Last year was tough.  It felt up-hill all the way.  Emotionally straining and painful.  I learnt a lot and feel stronger for it.  But enough.  Am ready to work, get my energy and spirit back.  

Last year my mantra was light and simple.  I have lightened up considerably both emotionally and materially, and this shall remain a work in progress.  

This year I'm going for intensity (tapas) some energy and focus.