31 March 2010

Passover and Yoga

Passover, or Pesach, lasts for 7 days and runs from March 30 through April 6. Rabbi and yoga teacher Heather Altman wrote an article for LA Yoga Magazine entitled Off the Mat, Up to the Table. Acceptance of others and their traditions is one way that our yoga practice manifests in daily life.

While I'm not Jewish, people often assume I am. That may be because of my eastern European ancestry, my looks, mannerisms acquired from grandparents and great grandparents, growing up in New Jersey - I don't know. I do know that I've always had an interest in how other cultures and religions celebrate special days. Maybe that's because they all incoporate food in some special way? Partly, but it's the symbolism inherent in the specific foods that I find fascinating and there are special recipes for vegetarian kosher dishes that look like good nosh for any occasion. One of the things I loved about growing up in New Jersey was the availability of high quality and varied food. This includes the phenomenal Jewish delis. I miss blinis, blintzes and knish. I've never found better rye bread anywhere - this is making me hungry and I want a cream soda!

All cultures have their own music and klezmer music is something I thoroughly enjoy. Last year I went to hear the Klezmatics when they played at the University of Richmond. That show featured music from Woody Guthrie's Happy Joyous Hannukah and also incorporated world music. The Klezmatics earned a Grammy award in 2006 and if you've never heard them listen to a few songs linked in the sidebar. Mermaid Avenue is one of Woody's.

Whatever your religion or your dietary and musical persuasions, enjoy the season, celebrate your friends and family, be grateful for your teachers and your practice and have a Happy Passover!

26 March 2010

Springtime - Allergies?

This is a helpful video from the Himalayan Institute showing how to use a Neti Pot.

The pot I currently use is this one. It's stainless steel and I ordered it through the health and yoga store here. It came from India, no problem with delivery and the packaging was priceless! Because of its size, the stream is stonger than a common neti pot. It also won't break or crack the way a ceramic pot might.

My travel neti pot came from the Himalayan Institute and works great. It's plastic and light (don't ever heat it in the microwave).
Use pharmaceutical grade, super fine, non-iodized salt. It dissolves fast and is free of any possible contamination. Happy rinsing!

20 March 2010

Norooz 1389 - Happy Spring! Happy New Year!

Today is the celebration of Norooz, or Persian New Year. Norooz is not a religious holiday but marks the new year and fertility by celebrating the first day of spring - it's literally a new day.

Prior to this New Year, a special cover is spread on a carpet or table in every Persian household. This ceremonial table is called cloth of seven dishes (each one beginning with the Persian letter cinn). The number seven has been sacred in Iran since the ancient times, and the seven dishes stand for the seven angelic heralds of life - rebirth, health, happiness, prosperity, joy, patience, and beauty. The symbolic dishes are:
  1. Sabzeh or sprouts, usually wheat or lentil representing rebirth.
  2. Samanu is a pudding in which common wheat sprouts are given new life as a sweet, creamy pudding.
  3. Seeb means apple and represents health and beauty. 
  4. Senjed the sweet, dry fruit of the Lotus tree, represents love. It has been said that when lotus tree is in full bloom, its fragrance and its fruit make people fall in love and become oblivious to all else. 
  5. Seer, garlic in Persian, represents medicine. 
  6. Sumac berries represent the color of sunrise; with the appearance of the sun Good conquers Evil. 
  7. Serkeh or vinegar, represents age and patience.
To reconfirm all hopes and wishes expressed by the traditional foods, other elements and symbols are also on the sofreh:
  • a few coins placed represent prosperity and wealth;
  • a basket of painted eggs represents fertility;
  • a Seville orange floating in a bowl of water represents the earth floating in space;
  • a goldfish in a bowl represents life and the end of astral year-picas;
  • a flask of rose water known for its magical cleansing power, is also included on the tablecloth;
  • Nearby is a brazier for burning wild rue ,a sacred herb whose smoldering fumes ward off evil spirits;
  • A pot of flowering hyacinth or narcissus is also set on the sofreh;
  • A mirror which represents the images and reflections of Creation as we celebrate anew the ancient Persian traditions and beliefs that creation took place on the first day of spring.
  • On either side of the mirror are two candlesticks holding a flickering candle for each child in the family. The candles represent enlightenment and happiness.
I've had the privilege of taking part in this celebration many times and particularly enjoyed a game that was played by firmly gripping a painted egg in your fist and tapping the tip of your partner's egg to see whose broke first. Persian food is one of my all time favorites and on this holiday includes dishes with fresh herbs and fish. There is much music and dancing over the period of Norooz. President Obama has issued a Norooz greeting to the Iranian people and a statement to Iran's government.

The music, food, art, architecture, and poetry of Iran are so beautiful they can make you cry.
Happy New Year to you all !

The Subject Tonight is Love

The subject tonight is Love
And for tomorrow night as well,
As a matter of fact
I know of no better topic
For us to discuss
Until we all
Die!

Hafiz

08 March 2010

Asteya/Santosha

Non-stealing is one of the yogic restraints (yamas) that can be taken quite literally. When teaching children, I became especially aware of this. They cried, "But we don't steal things!" I explained to them that there are many ways we can take what doesn't belong to us and used cheating on a test as one example. Another is being late for class and taking time away from others. Hoarding might be considered taking more than you need - this could apply to food, housing, work, possessions. Desire compels us to want or to take what is not ours or what we don't need. Fear is often the fuel for this desire. Contentment, or santosha, is one of the yogic observances (niyamas) which is key to helping us in our practice.

Without contentment, we will be pulled this way and that by advertising, media, technology, people. . . the list is endless. Contentment fosters serenity and I believe it can be a choice. This doesn't mean we have no goals or plans, but that we are fine where we are while continuing to move in the direction of our dreams.

I found this on Wikipedia - makes it look easy!

01 March 2010

Patience is a virtue

Wow - where have I been! At least I wasn't waiting for the udumbara flower to bloom - that apparently takes 3,000 years! Thanks to Heath Gordon, a young man of infinite patience, for alerting me to this previously unknown (by me) phenomenon.

Yoga builds patience. As a teacher, I see this development in my students. To witness it in myself, I must be able to admit that I am occasionally impatient. This requires humility, an expression of satya, and practice.