July 5, 2016

Top 6 Yoga Reads for Summer!

IMG_1584Sunny Summer reading days have arrived!
Of course Newfoundlanders know that we could just as easily spend July and August basking in rain, wind or fog (possibly all in the same day), but that is just all the more reason to have a good book on hand.

Here are my top choices from the past year of book club picks. Maybe one of these is the book you are meant to be curled up with this Summer!

IMG_15871. A New Earth by Ekhart Tolle This book of great insight sat on my book shelf, unread, for a number of years before it was chosen last Fall as our book club pick. Wow, so much wasted time! I know now why it is internationally loved. A New Earth is a guide to a deeper understanding of our true selves. It is complete with clear and simple tips on how to move toward the attainment of our highest potential, while aiding the evolution of those around us. I felt an outpouring of compassion and tolerance for those I interacted with in my daily life as I was reading. While the lofty goal of awakening to your life’s purpose is a life-long process, I can’t think of a better book to help you begin this practice, or to clarify the path you are already on.  The tattered condition of the copies of some of my book club members is testament to the life-changing nature of this book. But really, I should have known better than to doubt Oprah in the first place!

IMG_15862. The 4 Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz Are you looking for a book with a powerful message that gets right to the point and does not digress at all? This is the pocket book for you. Memorize the four agreements, put them into action and watch your life change! These four simple but powerful concepts are an ancient Toltec gift to the world. Short, concise and life-changing. If you love it as much as I did, there is also a work book and a beautiful deck of cards that you can get to stretch out your immersion in these rules to live by.

IMG_15893. The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer A pleasurable read that provides profound but simple insights into the true nature of our inner space. Simple techniques  are provided to help you change habitual thoughts, emotions and energy patterns. This book will have you taking a very deep look at your daily interactions. The result is a clearer understanding of your responses and how you can tailor them to improve every moment of your life. A beautiful book that will enhance your ability to live and love joyfully.

IMG_15954. A Path with Heart by Jack Kornfield This is a dense book of wisdom. Jack Kornfield writes with the joy and insight of a long-time student of meditation. The book begins with his personal experience as a monk of many years returning home from exotic locales only to discover that the world of daily routine is a whole new kind of practice. This perspective makes the book particularly relevant to the Western reader. A comprehensive and practical book that is deeply rooted in Buddhist teachings while also succeeding in incorporating the viewpoints of many different traditions. It describes the nature of the spiritual journey, it’s ups and it’s downs, in a beautifully integrative way. This is a book for the real world spiritual seeker. I’d suggest reading it in bits to give you time to fully digest each message. It is punctuated with meditations and teaching stories that make it a joyful read interspersed with a wealth of practice information. You may want to read it again and again. It is that kind of a soul guide.

5. IMG_2848Buddha’s Brain This is a book of meditation for those who enjoy an understanding of the biological and neurological processes of mindfulness and meditation. The scientific explanations are clear, concise and very readable for those without a science background. The beauty of Buddha’s teachings are skillfully woven into descriptions of our physiological response to meditative thought. Understand how you can create health, wellness, and joyfulness by knowing how the brain responds to your thoughts (and vice versa). Guided meditations at the end of each chapter are designed to teach meditation techniques that take advantage of what you have learned about your brain in the preceding chapter. A must read for the science loving yogi.

IMG_15886. The Essential Rumi is a book of sufi poetry that has been inspiring mystics and yogis for over a thousand years. It is not a book of lyrical joyful prose but one of profound and often difficult insights. He writes of joyfulness, of grief, and every other state in between. It surprises some to find a racy story littered here and there amidst higher musings. Rumi does not shy away from any aspect of the divine experience of love. This is a book of longing as well as a giddy dance of joy that will sweep you off your feet. If you are a yogi, chances are your yoga teacher has thrown out a Rumi quote or two during your final savasana. Every time I pick this it up I find a new favourite or have a new experience with an old joy. It is a book for the seeker rather than a light poetry read. A little surrender may be required, after all “A thousand half loves must be forsaken to take one whole heart home.”~Rumi

Happy Summer Reading Yogis!

Bobby

 

 

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April 21, 2016

The Dirty Dozen

smallWhich Produce Should You Buy Organic?

The season of summer salads and cool fruity treats is just around the corner! We know that the benefits of eating fruit and vegetables are many, however ideally we would like to get these benefits while ingesting a minimum of the pesticides that they can expose us to.

A happy medium might be found in staying up to date with the Environmental Working Group’s “Dirty Dozen” and “Clean Fifteen”. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is an organization that works to inform people of the chemical presence on common foods.

IMG_1610The EWG compiles a yearly list of recommendations that they base on data from thousands of tests for pesticide residues by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the U.S. Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA). This list provides you with the information to make informed decisions when deciding whether or not to buy organic. The 2016 list is below. The lower the number the higher the level of pesticides.

The 2016 Dirty Dozen
1 Strawberries 2 Apples 3 Nectarines 4 Peaches 5 Celery 6 Grapes 7 Cherries
8 Spinach 9 Tomatoes 10 Bell Peppers 11 Cherry Tomatoes 12 Cucumber

The 2016  Clean Fifteen

1 Avacados 2 Corn 3 Pineapple 4 Cabbage 5 Sweet peas 6 Onions  7 Asparagus 8 Mangos
9 Papaya 10 Kiwi 11 Egg Plant 12 Honeydew 13 Grapefruit 14 Cantaloupe
15 Cauliflower

What I like about this list is that it allows you to choose which food items should be top priority if you feel that you are unable to afford to buy completely organic, or cannot find all the items on your shopping list in the organic aisle.

Happy shopping in the produce aisle to you, as we get back into the swing of crisp, cool, and healthy Summer eating!

April 21, 2016

Yoga in Uganda 2016

 

crop tree

Yep, those are rhinos grazing behind these beautiful trees!

Is this your year? As I prepare for what will be my 4th trip to Uganda there is snow all around. My thoughts keep floating ahead to the much warmer Ugandan climate that I have been blessed to be able to languish in for a few weeks  each year. Here is a taste of what to expect if  you decide to join me (and a number of other yogis, from Canada and beyond) this coming May to do yoga, and experience Uganda: The Pearl of Africa. .

We are usually awakened each day at 6am by an enthusiastic rooster or two. I move through my morning yoga practice surrounded by the ear splitting, early morning orchestra of bird and animal cries coming from the trees all around our guest house. At 7 we all do a morning yoga practice together before breakfast and then walk to the Shanti Uganda site.

zz Shanti

Boda ride to Shanti

On our first day however, we usually go by boda boda (motorcycles). If it is your first time in Uganda this is such a treat. We first pass the busy main street and then drive down the side roads lined with children playing, in varying states of dress. They have beaming smiles for us as we pass. Their parents are hard at work in the gardens near their homes, or setting up shops. There are no toys anywhere. These children are playing with sticks, or other items that may be lying around and their joy cannot be contained. The winding side road soon becomes a tree lined pathway that drivers fly along at breakneck speeds past women carrying loads of water or firewood on their heads and men on bicycles loaded up with bunches of bananas, the main ingredient for the local staple of matoke.

 

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Fresh-made local food for lunches

Each day we reach the Birth house and are greeted by the bright white smiles of the staff. There are just 3 humble structures, the reception hut, the gazebo, the birthing rooms and a small laboratory. There are plants and herbs growing in the gardens all around this lovely site and we are usually given a tour on our first day.

 

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Lecture & discussion on reed mats, in the shade by this time day!

The Prenatal Yoga Teacher Training portion of my trip to Shanti Uganda is a gift. Every year the balance of participants just feels absolutely perfect. We do lectures on reed mats under the trees and on our last day we practice teaching with the mommas who come for prenatal visits every Thursday. Our study time is broken up with cultural experiences such as rhino safari, village walks, and availing of the fresh, nutritious food made with love by the women of Shanti Uganda for our lunches. As we study, women may come and go for prenatal and birth support.

 

shanti uganda student malasanaOn some days the income generating program women will be on site, hard at work in their brightly coloured dresses. This is a program to provide employment for mothers and grandmothers struggling with HIV and AIDS, a huge problem in a country where millions of children have been orphaned by AIDS. They use the skills they learn at Shanti Uganda to help them provide food and shelter for the families they support. Many of these women are widows caring for large number of children and grandchildren. One day, as I passed out nail polish I had brought for them from Canada they stopped working to giggle as they did their nails, passing the bottles around until everyone had a finger of every colour. I am humbled and awed by this spontaneous display of joy. I think of the things that bother me at home. The things that stop me from feeling joy all day long and I am ashamed. I think of how very fortunate my life is and say one of many silent thank yous to Uganda for this reminder.

As the income generating women work diligently under their grass-roofed gazebo shelter, birthing moms may wander about Shanti, leaning on trees during a contraction or possibly taking in a yoga class. Shanti’s reverence for birth as a natural, normal event is so obvious. Each woman is given skilled, genuine and personal support. For this space to birth mindfully and all of the other loving supports provided by Shanti staff, these mothers pay a little over one dollar, a steal for a service that I consider to be priceless.

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Walking to the Shanti site on the village roads.

The days at Shanti often end with a home cooked meal at the guest house or at one of the program participant’s homes. We leave the birth house each evening to make our way along the winding road back to our guest house. The village activities vacillate between bustling activity and stillness, snapshots of babies being washed in tubs in front of houses, meals being cooked in lean-tos, children playing with scraps of tires, whole families driving by on the same motorcycle, goods of all types being carried on top of people’s heads and above all, smiles and laughter…..in essence life is being lived. And despite the grinding poverty and many social issues that continue to be a challenge in Uganda I cannot help but feel that it is being lived well. So well in fact that I know that each year I return home committed to bringing a little more of Uganda into my daily life back in Canada.

zx

Morning Yoga outside our bandha on the last day in the wildlife sanctuary

Last year I was fortunate to share this experience with my mom. This year I have booked a post-training safari, and for the first time ever, Gorilla Trekking! I cannot express how excited and grateful I am to be able to have these experiences. Get ready for some awesome photo posts!

Namaste, Bobby

December 21, 2015

Zucchini Spaghetti

IMG_0360As many Newfoundlanders with backyard gardens know, not everything loves our climate but zucchini seem to really get it. This year I figured out how to take advantage of our abundance in the form of zucchini spaghetti. It has become my new favourite veggie meal. Try it with, tomato, beet or squash sauce. It works with everything, even lightly sauted on it’s own with salt and pepper.

Zucchini are not only easy to grow but they are great for you. Zucchini peel is a good source of dietary fibre and they also contain folates, B-complex vitamins, vitamin A and C, and lots of potassium. I can’t imagine a lighter, healthier meal to balance out holiday indulgence.IMG_0354

To make this super simple meal you need a spiralizer. They can be cheap, simple hand-held versions like mine or fancier styles that chop lots of different shapes. If it isn’t too late to get a spirializer for the holidays I’d suggest you put this on your gift list. It is strangely addictive. If you are like me you will just keep trying to think of new vegetables that you can make spaghetti out of.

This is more of a how-to than a recipe. Clean and spiralize 1-2 zucchini per serving (depending on size of vegetable). Saute them in olive oil on medium heat and add salt and pepper to taste. Cook until they are soft but still definitely spaghetti textured. The big thing to remember is to NOT cook for too long or they will become soft, transparent and lose their shape (still tasty but not spaghetti-like anymore).

On its own this is a fast and easy side dish. With a sauce it becomes a full meal. Homemade or bottled tomato sauce works, as does beet and squash sauces if you are feeling creative!

Enjoy!

 

 

 

 

December 21, 2015

Book Review

yoga and quest for true selfYoga and the Quest for the True Self 

is a most enjoyable overview of the practices of yoga. Stephen Cope writes of the disillusionment with his outwardly successful life that set him on a one year journey of self discovery that turned into a 10 year sojourn. As a newcomer to yoga his experience is an authentic, down-to-earth look at what yoga is, it’s traditions and how it continues to be relevant in the daily life of a modern day Westerner.

Yoga and the Quest for the True Self is structured around Stephen’s activities during a prolonged stay at the Kripalu ashram in Massachusetts. Being a psychotherapist his insights combine psychological perspectives with his knowledge and respect for yoga and its’ traditions. This, in addition to his use of student transformation case studies, serves to make the often confusing and contradictory writings on yoga traditions accessible to the western reader. For those who like intrigue this book even spans Kripalu’s great guru scandal that forever changed the landscape of this organization.

The combination of ancient teachings and modern musings makes this book suitable as an introduction for the new yogi, or a clarifying review for the more studied yogi. The end appendix also has a very short, extremely comprehensible overview of the various traditions of yoga. I have recommended this book to graduates of our yoga teacher training program for that little gem alone.

A definite stocking stuffer idea for the yogi on your list.

Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope, Barnes and Noble, 1999

 

October 26, 2015

Does your Nana Really Need That?

Yogic Lessons on Non-Hoarding from my Northern Nana

My Nana and Grandad in the Grenfell Jackets that my mom made and gave them for Christmas that year.

My Nana and Grandad in the Grenfell Jackets that my mom made and gave them for Christmas that year.

This Summer I was fortunate to receive a posthumous lecture on non-hoarding (Aparigraha) from my late grandmother. She was born in 1921 and like most pre-confederation Newfoundland women she worked hard and endured much. Her life story in written or pictorial form would be a powerful and inspiring one, however no autobiography was ever written and cameras, during most of her life, were scarce to say the least. For better or for worse (depending on your perspective) my nan also did not live in a time of smart phone photos and social media updates, so much of her life experience left this world with her in 2004. Imagine my delight in finding a few video snippets of this wonderful woman in a heap of soon-to-expire VHS cassettes in my mother’s basement; an ironic location to to find a lesson on non-hoarding to be sure.

Using this found footage I decided to create a video memorial of my Nan as a birthday gift for my mother this year. Putting this soon-to-be irretrievable footage into digital video turned out to be a priceless gift to both my mother and myself. What began as a nostalgic and heartwarming project expanded to include a reminder of the transitory nature of life and our contradictory need to hold and compile (parigraha).

Aging VHS cassette with precious memories.

Aging VHS cassette with precious memories.

Patanjali’s yoga sutras present aparigraha, or non-hoarding as an important foundational yoga practice. It’s translation into English varies as interpreters attempt to capture the multi-textured meaning of this concept. Whether it is described as non-possessiveness, non-grasping or non-greediness it is generally understood to mean the practice of keeping one’s desire for possessions down to what is truly necessary. Of course this varies with one’s life stage or situation. The fact that I worked so hard to hold on to my grandmother’s image might of course be argued to be an example of grasping. I obviously won’t take this video with me when I leave this body, however having had the opportunity to “visit” again with Nan at an older and more insightful stage of life feels meaningful. It was also a timely find, as I had just begun a home purge, getting rid of garbage bags full of clothing, toys and furniture. In a most wonderful and joyful way, Nan seemed to be sending me a message underscoring how little we need most of the “things” we have in our homes.

Winter Funeral Ship Cove 1957

Winter Funeral Ship Cove 1957

One of the video snippets of Nan was filmed to send to me while I was living away. Nan was then almost 80 and was showing me her Christmas presents from that year.  Nan’s Vanna White-style presentation of the gifts was given in her lovely northern accent and included lines like “ Dis is a jug and a sugar basin a friend gave me, but you know I don’t use stuff like that now because we got the old can and we takes it and we just pours it out, you know…” and “This is a nightie your aunt gave me, just the right size [laughs naughtily], a mini skirt my dear!…but still, you know, it’s all right”, along with “This is a pair of slippers that haven’t opened up yet cuz I got so many pairs lying around, maid. The way it tis, you don’t know what to get…”.  As I listened to Nan I was reminded of a trip I took to the burning ghats in Varanasi, India years ago. I was watching a body being burned on the pyre in preparation for final resting in the Ganges when I noticed something on the ground to my left. I turned to see a small pair of thin feet sticking out of the end of a small canvas wrap. They looked like they might belong to an older woman and were still covered with the grime and callouses of what appeared to be a hard life. This was the next body to be burned. She was essentially leaving this world just as my nana did despite Nana’s yearly receipt of well-meaning knick-knacks. Both women left this world with only their life experiences as they impacted on, and were absorbed by, their souls in this lifetime.

This burning ghat analogy above only references physical belongings, however Aparigraha does not just simply refer to the grasping onto things. It is about getting rid of all the unnecessary baggage in our lives. Even as we daily get closer to leaving this world we continue to add more things, thoughts, beliefs and opinions to our experience. We don’t just grasp desperately onto our physical possessions. We grasp our experiences in the form of obsessively taking photos of every experience and in over consumption in general, trying constantly to extend and get more out of every experience rather than simply being there. We keep ideas, thoughts and beliefs often long after they have ceased to serve us. As a result we can be unwilling to listen to other perspectives with compassion and respect because of grasping onto our own belief systems.

My nan spent much of her life in spiritual development. She hosted travelling preachers at her home back when rural towns didn’t have fixed locations for church services. While she did spend a lot of her later life in one particular denomination she was not tied to any particular doctrine and would go to any church. In addition to attending church she studied spiritual texts on her own, with great sincerity, her whole life.  She worked hard to live her spiritual path and yet surrendered to whatever was presented in an often difficult life without complaint, and with creative perseverance. Maybe because of this, even when the affluence of modern times produced fancy milk-serving-sets her aparigraha lifestyle dictated that pouring the milk from a can of Carnation would do just fine, thank you very much. This insight was reflected in her joyful presentation of gifts that had obviously little or no use to her but were understood to be given with love. While she died probably never even knowing what the word yoga meant I cannot think of more outstanding example of yogic living.

My holiday goal this year is to get better at choosing meaningful gifts, to find items or experiences that will not be re-gifted or end up in a landfill. What things can I give that will actually be taken by those I love when they leave this world? I know it won’t be as easy as a one stop shop at a department store. I am still working out the details of this shift but I hope to slowly add more and more gifts that transcend the physical. It doesn’t mean that I will never give another physical gift. But I want to be sure that the things given are going to inspire, be used and loved or at the very least needed. Time spent together, food or other items made with love, granting forgiveness or being more tolerant are some of the things I am working on. It could even be as simple as holding back my own opinion, and perspective  over the family holiday meal and listening instead as a viewpoint that I usually oppose is argued; maybe in doing so I will be able to let go of a little more grasping. As my Nan knew, we could all use a little less of that.

I hope you are inspired by my Nana’s video below. Her lovely accent is thick and may not be easily understood by my mainland readers but it should be a delicious treat for any yogis hailing from the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland.

April 10, 2015

SEED BITE POWER BALLS

paleo balls close up

(A Recipe by Practically Paleo Bites)

These tasty power balls are the brain child of Suzanne Mullowney of Practically Paleo Bites. My family is  one of the lucky taste testers for her new products so we get excited whenever we hear she is developing a new bar. These Power Balls are great for on-the-go healthy snacks, and are seed based so can be packed for school lunches as well. If you love them as much as we do you will probably also enjoy the Practically Paleo Hunger Gap Bars available at Food for Thought and The Real Food Market.

INGREDIENTS:

1/3 cup (62g) Medjool dates

1 cup dried apricots (unsulphured)

½ cup hemp hearts

1/3 cup organic sunflower seeds

Paleo Ingredients 21 cup organic pumpkin seeds divided (1/2 cup processed, ½ cup remain whole)

½ cup organic shredded coconut

1/8 cup organic chia seed

3 Tbsp of tahini

1/3 cup Unpasteurized honey

1/8 tsp pink Himalayan pink salt

VARIATIONS

¼ cup dried cranberries (sweetened with apple juice) or ¼ cup organic cacao nibs

METHOD

Place dried apricots in a small sauce pan and add ½ cup of water.  Heat until simmering and stir for 5 minutes or until apricots start to plump up.  Remove from stove and drain water.  Set aside.

Add ½ cup pumpkinseeds, sunflower seeds and hemp hearts to a food processor and pulse until finely ground (don’t over do it, some larger pieces are good too). Remove ground seeds and place in a mixing bowl.

Add pitted dates (use butter knife to cut date open and remove pit) and apricots to processor bowl.  Process until combined and paste-like.  Add processed dried fruits to bowl with processed seeds. Add remaining whole pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, and shredded coconut and any of the variation ingredients, if using.  Mix to combine.

Paleo BallsAdd tahini, salt and honey to a small sauce pan and warm on low heat. Stir to mix the two fluid ingredients together.  Pour over seeds mixture in bowl and stir to combine.

Using slightly wet hands scoop a tablespoon of mixture and roll in between the palm of hands.  If hands become too sticky the balls will not form.  Rinsing hands to remove excess ingredients will help.  Place in a dish or container lined with parchment paper. Place dish or container in fridge or freezer to allow balls to firm up (15-30 minutes).

Practically Paleo Bites is a local business which provides grain and refined sugar free homemade foods. Check out the Practically Paleo Bites facebook page for more information on their nutrient dense, unprocessed and incredibly delicious foods.

Wondering where to find the ingredients for this recipe in St. John’s? Unsulphured apricots & tahini can be found at Food For Thought (84 Gower Street) and at all Bulk Barn locations in the city.  Tahini and organic cacao nibs can also be found at some Dominion & Sobeys locations. Organic pumpkin seeds can be found at The Natural Health Shop (16 Stavanger Drive) or Real Food Market (36 Pearson Street). Dried cranberries, organic cacao nibs and organic shredded coconut can be found at The Natural Health Shop (16 Stavanger Drive).

April 6, 2015

Spring Cleaning for the Soul (and Your Closets)

Spring Cleaning Buddha DustingWith the arrival of spring, thoughts of cleaning seem to burst forth with the crocus blossoms. As I pondered what I’d like to get sorted in my home, I was reminded of how all yoga teachings are really, at their essence, all about cleansing.

Yoga uses meditation to cleanse from the inside out, while simultaneously chipping away at the obstacles from the outside in, with practices such as asana and even maintaining our environments to help facilitate a gateway to experiencing the essence of yoga. In the book The Life-changing Magic Of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art Of Decluttering And Organizing, Marie Kondo brings a spiritual reflection to organizing and simplifying, such as only keeping things that “spark joy”. This simple observation holds so much wisdom. If the things in your home don’t spark joy why are they there? As we clean our homes for Spring with yogic mindfulness we can weave this same kind of reflection into our meditation practice.

A few years ago in India I was extremely fortunate to have received meditation instruction from a respected teacher named Dr. Bogle. He utilized spring cleaning in its non-literal form to help us transcend the many sensations and blockages that can present during meditation. Dr. Bogle taught that attempting to “do” meditation rather than waiting for it to “come” is a common obstacle to finding meditative focus.  It is challenging because the body gives off so many signals as we wait. In meditative observation we look into spaces that may not have been inspected for some time. Dr. Bogle describes the distractions that appear as mental and spiritual “dust” that rises as we begin to clean it with observation. Like a messy room it would be easier to let it stay dirty but eventually we have to come home to the mess, whether it is in the form of mental, emotional or physical distress. So if we are to ever clean this space we must come back again and again to the present even when the hard work of meditation is felt. Otherwise it is like spraying awareness on the mess but never picking up the cloth to wipe it clean (or maybe emptying out the overflowing drawer and leaving the mess on the counter top in a shoe box. Yes, I did that once).

Spring Cleaning Blue SkyTo help you Spring cleanse on the inside as well as the outside I thought that I would also share three of Dr. Bogle’s meditation insights that have continued to resonate within my meditation practice for some years now.

  1. As you meditate, especially if the mind wanders, repeat “Something is happening in the body”. This reminds you to trust that the discomfort of coming back to the present means that cleansing/change is happening, that there is value in simply coming back to the breath. We just need to keep waiting, feeling, and not being concerned about reaching a specific state of “meditation”.
  2. Remember that techniques of meditation can be taught but meditation itself cannot be taught. Just as a mop is simply a tool for cleaning the floor, meditation techniques are merely tools to help us clean the mind. We may need to utilize a specific technique for an extended period to cleanse the mind, but one day we will leave it behind in pure meditation. We won’t get there, however, by trying to meditate. Thoughts cannot be removed before meditation “happens”. So don’t worry about the thoughts. Thinking about stopping thoughts is just another thought.
  3. All experiences in meditation are correct. Close the eyes, become aware of the body, observe the thoughts, return to the breath. If you are having problems “meditating” then stop, count to 10 and go back to the breath again.

As Marie Kondo writes, to truly cherish the things that are important to you, you must first discard those that have outlived their purpose. That applies I think to thoughts as well as those knick knacks collecting dust on the fireplace mantle. This spring meditate internally and externally, enjoy the process, expect nothing, and be content with whatever comes. It is all meditation and it is all cleansing. I will leave you with a spring quote from the great Sufi poet, Rumi.

Come to the orchard in Spring.

There is light and wine, and sweethearts

in the pomegranate flowers. 

If you do not come, these do not matter.

If you do come, these do not matter.

February 12, 2015

Dark Chocolate Biscotti Valentine’s Treats

Cocoa is packed with natural antioxidants which we all know are good for the heart. So be kind to your heart this Valentine’s Day and eat high quality dark chocolate to keep your heart in top shape for the month of love!

Try these yummy biscotti yourself with a cup of piping hot tea or package them in clear cookie bags with red ribbons as a tasty, made with love, Valentine’s day gift.

???????????????????????????????Ingredients:

  • 2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 3/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 6 tbs butter (unsalted/room temp.)
  • 3/4 cup cane sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1-2 100g bars of organic fair trade Chocolate (70% cocoa)

Instructions:

???????????????????????????????Preheat oven to 350 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a mixing bowl mix the dry ingredients (flour, cocoa, baking soda, baking powder & salt). Use a stand mixer to beat the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the vanilla and eggs and beat for another two minutes. Then slowly add the dry mixture to the wet mixing it in gradually. Mix in the chocolate bars, crushed into large chip pieces.

Place the dough on a work surface and knead until chips evenly distributed. Divide the loaf in half and take one half roll it into a 12 inch cylinder. Flatten the cylinder until it is about 3/4 inch high and the whole piece is rectangular shaped. Carefully place onto the baking sheet and s???????????????????????????????prinkle with sugar. Repeat with the second half of the dough.

Bake on the center rack for 25 minutes (until just slightly firm. They will spread and crack a little). Remove from baking sheet and cool for 20 minutes on a cooling rack. (Don’t turn the oven off!)

Cut each log of biscotti with a sharp knife into 3/4 inch thick slices. Stand the slices up on the baking sheet arranged with spaces between each slice. Now bake your biscotti again for 10 minutes before once again putting them on a rack to cool.

Makes about 30 biscotti.

February 12, 2015

The Only Meditation Proven to Increase Happiness!

IMG_7624Loving Kindness Meditation is an absolute must-have addition to all the Valentines Day chatter about cards, chocolate and candle light dinners. As yogis, this meditation practice is the essence of what we strive to achieve in our practice whether we are sweating through postures or sitting in contemplation. We learn to forgive, be kind, and compassionate toward ourselves. From this place of self-love, we are then able to extend this practice beyond our sphere of existence into the rest of the world.

Many studies have been done on meditation, and while all types of meditation are now known to have numerous types of positive impacts on your physical and psychological well-being, only one kind of meditation has been shown to increase the level of happiness in your life; Loving Kindness Meditation.

IMG_7631The Dalai Lama has written much on this topic. He admits that this is not completely a selfless practice, that we reap benefits of our own as we learn to love the world around us, but states beautifully that if we are to be selfish then then we should be wisely selfish, practicing a philosophy of life that makes the world a better place as we make our own lives happier and more satisfying.

In addition to increasing happiness, studies also show that the positive impact of loving kindness meditation persists in the long term.(Michael A. Cohn, University of California San Francisco & Barbara L. Fredrickson, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, 2008). In this study, 15 months after participation in a loving-kindness meditation study, those who continued their meditation practice were found to continue to feel very positive emotions in their daily lives. Even those who had stopped meditating felt more positive than a control group that had never begun the meditation practice. What is especially significant about this is that feelings of happiness from events such as getting a great job or buying a new car dissipate rather quickly while feelings of happiness from loving kindness meditation endure.

Loving Kindness Meditation: How to do it

  1. Sit. To begin meditating on loving-kindness, first prepare yourself to sit in a comfortable position. Choose a place where you will not be interrupted, and allow yourself to settle into a natural breath rhythm for a few minutes.
  2. Love Yourself. Do a body awareness sweep. Smile at your feet and send love to them. Move up your body repeating this process until you have spent some time on each part of your body. Continue to do this until you feel full of this emotion, flowing completely into love, loving yourself unconditionally.  Initially there can be resistance to sending love to oneself. If you experience this, you may need to spend some time identifying and releasing feelings of unworthiness, replacing them with loving acceptance. Giving the practice some time to blossom in your heart will eventually allow you to overcome any feelings of self-doubt or negativity. This may not happen immediately, but with practice, you will remove this initial hurdle and be ready to systematically develop loving-kindness towards others. This is a key part of the process. When we feel genuine love and acceptance for ourselves we open the door to an unlimited source of love and kindness that can then be effortlessly shared with the world.
  3. Focus on someone you already love. Now cultivate the emotion of love by focusing on something, or someone, that evokes a powerful uncomplicated love response. Allow this emotion to penetrate your full experience and then slowly transition from the object or person that helped you connect with this emotion to sitting with the emotion itself in its purest form. Repeat silently “May they be healthy, live happily, and may they love others and themselves.”
  4. Love your family and friends. The next step is to allow this love to expand to include everyone in your close circle of family and friends, one at a time, or as a group. You can mentally repeat, “May they be healthy, live happily, and may they love one another and themselves.”
  5. Love everyone. Now expand your loving circle to include, acquaintances, strangers (This would include neutral people, the person who serves your coffee or unknown faces in far away locations, for example), again repeating, “May they be healthy, live happily, and may they love one another and themselves.”
  6. Love the difficult to love. Next, move on to include those who have hurt you in the past, those for whom you find it difficult to feel compassion in daily life, and again repeat the loving phrase written above. This step helps us better understand why Buddha described love as being the best armor. When we love those who are unkind to us, we remove the damaging impact that their behavior has on our lives and well-being. We cannot control how other people act. We cannot always understand what motivates them to do what they do, but we can control how we respond. If we feel loving-kindness towards those who do not treat us well, we remove their power to injure us and we stop the perpetuation of this behavior and energy.
  7. Enjoy the results. Allow yourself to sit immersed in loving-kindness for a period of time, visualize this feeling being released from your heart center to fill your whole body. Simply be with this love, sit with this love and breathe with this love.

Repeating this practice even for just a few minutes daily will allow you to cultivate these emotions more easily and in a shorter period of time.

Happy Heart Opening Yogis!