Road to redemption

How is it Thursday already? Yesterday morning, I woke up and saw Tim Miller’s weekly blog post, which always publishes on that juju-laden day of Tuesday. It had a promising start:

I think the Universe should issue a high-surf advisory for the coming week.

Intrigued, I kept on reading:

Wednesday morning at 2:27am PDT the Full Moon will occur in the Nakshatra (lunar mansion) called Hasta, “The Hand.” Hasta provides us with “Hasta sthapaniya agama shakti”—the power to put the object of desire in one’s hands. It is ruled by Savitur, the “Rays of the Morning Sun”, a deity who symbolizes the generative energy of the Universe.

Savitur has a jovial, light-hearted persona—he is often portrayed laughing. He is a playful deity interested in all kinds of tricks, amusements, and games of all sorts—mind games and physical sports—who is extremely clever with his hands. Hasta falls within the sign of Virgo, which is ruled by Mercury, exalted here in this nakshatra. Savitur is thought of as a combination of the vitality of the Sun and the cleverness of Mercury. The word “Has” means laughter, something that Savitur is fond of doing. Under the influence of Hasta we feel playful and want to have fun. Just as our fate is written in our “hand”, we also have the ability to determine our fate, to some extent, by taking matters into our own “hands”. Hasta stimulates a desire to change and grow and provides the necessary energy and playfulness required to confront the resistance that rears its ugly head when the status quo of our lives is challenged.

Speaking of challenging the status quo, we have a very interesting triple planetary conjunction on Thursday, when the Sun, Venus, and Uranus get together in the Nakshatra called Uttarabhadra. Located in the sign of Pisces, Uttarabhadra is associated with the deity known as Ahir Budhnya, “Serpent of the Depths”, the ruler of the celestial ocean and a symbol of wisdom much like Neptune. Ahir Budhnya relates to varshodyamana shakti—“the power to bring rain”–spiritual rain from the celestial ocean of consciousness with the opening of the crown chakra. The Sun and Venus together give us a desire to express ourselves through creativity and relationships. We want to be noticed and put ourselves out there in warm and friendly ways to attract the attention of others. Everyone gets a little more charming under this influence, but we may be susceptible to over indulgence and believing that we are the most fascinating beings on the planet, when others are thinking that we are incredibly vain and foolish. When Uranus joins the party, all hell breaks loose as we are given a jolt of liveliness intended to shake us out of our dreary, lifeless routines. Uranus is the planet of rebellion, striving to free us of whatever shackles we feel are binding us. Our samskaras (inherent tendencies) will be very much in evidence now and we will be faced with the choice of riding this big wave of electric and transformative energy, or trying to ignore it (not recommended).

Hmm: Choose to either ride this wave of transformative energy or choose — inadvisably — to ignore it. I guess it was the kick I needed. I had written the blog post below late Tuesday night, some 20 hours after I had gotten up. It was a pretty personal post written at the end of a very long day, and I wasn’t sure if I should publish it. (It’s rare that I wait to publish a post. Normally, I post as soon as I finish writing — strike while the iron’s hot, so to speak. Wait too long, and you start to tinker too much.)

But reading all this stuff about heightened desires, and accompanying heightened currents of energy, to change and grow inspired me to decide to go ahead and get it out there. I would have done it last night, after yet another long day, but it was pretty late and I had to get up early to practice (of course).

I’m getting back in my car right now to drive about an hour to a work event — maybe I’ll dig up a little Bruce for the ride.


During the 2004 Vote for Change tour, when I was living in New England, I boarded a plane from Hartford, Conn., to Detroit to see Bruce Springsteen live. I was newly obsessed with Springsteen, and soaking up his back catalog. I needed to see him live, and I couldn’t get any decent (as in, pit) tickets to a show on the eastern seaboard unless I was willing to pay cut-throat rates from resellers. Any reasonable person would fly to a show they could get clean GA tickets to, right? (Hardly flush with cash, I did it by getting a cheap ticket and not paying for a hotel, opting to crash overnight at the airport instead — not something I’d do today.)

That night, standing in the front row of the pit — I got lucky with the ticket lottery — I was finally experiencing what it felt like to be with thousands of Boss fans under one roof. I understood how people worshipped at the altar of Bruce. I understood that Cobo Arena was that evening’s church.

What was I seeking there? Hope? Maybe. Solace? Yes. Redemption?

Absolutely.

The promise of redemption runs deep in Springsteen’s songs, and there was something going awry in my life. I was emotionally not equipped for some of the stuff I was dealing with, but I didn’t know it then. On the surface, things were fine. Inside, shit was getting twisted.

I needed Springsteen’s word that redemption was possible. But over the years, rock ‘n roll was never able to show me the actual path to it.


I woke up this morning at what is now my usual Tuesday time: 3:20 a.m. That allows me to get dressed, make the 60-minute drive to the ashtanga yoga shala, practice for 90 minutes, and then assist for another 90 minutes before starting my work day.

Was it the couple dozen backbends I did on my mat, rolled out in the long room’s first row? (I think I had an extra kapotasana today, for a total of four, and I don’t know, maybe 20 notes of urdvha dhanurasanas. My back-of-the-heart armor is slowly finding some movement.)

Was it assisting in a room of 25 to 30 super sincere practitioners, all so earnestly and honestly doing this challenging practice as a devotional song to a more harmonious life? (Talk about a powerful energy as concentrated as any space I’ve ever been in.)

Maybe it was the proximity to the full moon.

Or maybe it was that this was a normal Tuesday for me now.

On my commute back to work, I cried for much of the way along US 23 North, not quite composing myself until I hit I-96 West. As much as I believed it was possible, standing on the thundering concert floor and paying homage to something bigger than myself on the concert floor wasn’t enough to orient me. The guitar riffs and lyrics that rang so true weren’t enough to help me figure out how to bridge the gap between who I wanted to be and who I was.

But showing up to stand at the top of my mat day in and day out, breathing and moving in a silent Mysore room — this has somehow been enough.


I thought about what the orienting questions my ashtanga teacher asks herself in challenging times: “Who am I, and why am I here?”

The “who am I?” part is something I can only experience, and share, as a vibrational quality.

The “why am I here?” part — an answer found me today.

I am here to share the gifts that have been shared with me.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[VIDEO] Three Questions with Angela Jamison

Angela Jamison sitting for an interview

A few of us who went on the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat to Xinalani earlier this month did so with a goal of leaving behind online and social media distractions. I was one of them, taking my iPad only to write, and using my iPhone for photos and video. Given how intensely relaxed everyone was able to be, I was a bit shy about asking my teacher and our retreat leader, Angela Jamison, if she would be willing to sit down for a YogaRose.net Three Questions set. On the other hand, when else would we have this setting, and this time? So I asked, and she sweetly said yes.

We set up a chair in the retreat center’s dining area, and you can hear the waves of Xinalani Beach below her as she speaks. (Thanks to the gorgeous lapping of the waves, if you have headphones, I think that’s the best way to listen to these videos.) The videos are listed first, and then some thoughts follow.

What is radical f-ing acceptance? (Hint: Think equanimity with an edge.)

What are the slowest openings? (Hint: Think about the places with the least tangible structures.)

What are questions to live by? (Hint: Think about orienting questions that keep teachers close.)

Radical f-ing (or is it effing?) acceptance

At the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor (AY:A2) shala, we talk a lot about radical f-ing acceptance, so this has become part of my vocabulary.

As an AY:A2 apprentice, I had the chance to observe Angela teach a workshop in Canton, Mich., last month for a group of mostly vinyasa yoga-based practitioners who didn’t have radical effing acceptance in their parlance. This discussion came up in the context of a student’s question about what she can do about the feeling that her ribs are being crushed in twists like marichyasana C. Instead of launching into an anatomy answer, Angela starting by talking about a two-step process that can help remove resistance in our practice.

The first step involves this radical effing acceptance, which can help take that first level of judgment out of the picture: “Most of the time we’re subtlely kind of fighting with our experience,” she said. She explained that learning on a subtle level to cut the nervous system’s circuit of attraction-repulsion — to learn how to step away from the fight for a minute — is a skill in and of itself, and it’s not an easy one. The next step is to work with the energetics of this: “OK, this is information. It is what it is and it’s OK. If you don’t have that baseline of just radical acceptance, you won’t actually get access to all that information.” In step 2, in other words, if you’ve confirmed that you’re safe, then can you see if there’s a way to relax? Is there a way to let that experience flow?

Yoga practitioners in the ashtanga lineage know that asana is just one of eight limbs, and the physical practice is not the end all, be all of the practice. But it’s so easy, in that moment of trying to twist and bind — or get your leg behind your head or whatever — to not get caught up in it, and only it. Using a two-step process like this can help us turn every challenge in our asana practice — and we all know how many there are every day, much less over time — into a teachable moment for our nervous system.

‘Almost no experience in the body is solid’ — except perhaps thought forms

In that same workshop, Angela noted that in most poses, there is no stasis in our bodies. “Almost no experience in the body is solid — ever. Even when we’re lying in savasana for 15 minutes, there’s almost no stasis,” she said.

The most solid aspect, for instance, of what happens in the body’s zone that includes the belly, diaphragm and ribs — which are so much air and water — are our thought forms. “If we have a thought form of, ‘Oh, this is what my belly is, and I have this belief about it’ — that’s pretty stable. And we reinforce it and we think it again, and that stays. But really, in the meantime, the physical and energetic structures are always moving,” she told the group.

And maybe in that moment, a practitioner can simply exhale.

That idea made immediate sense to me — at the same time, it blew my mind to view our body-mind connection this way. Thought forms as more solid than what is actually happening in a body? Absolutely — I mean, think about eating disorders and socially constructed self-hatred-driven body image issues that both women and men deal with.

When is it appropriate to start teaching ashtanga? 

Although the Xinalani ashtanga retreat, held the first week of March, was set in a secluded paradise, there were workshops each afternoon for teachers and aspiring teachers that talked about everything from karma yoga to questions to live by, which is the focus of the third question above.

We also talked about when it’s appropriate for someone to start to teach ashtanga yoga. Angela writes about this in a fantastically candid blog post she wrote a few days ago on the AY:A2 apprenticeship program:

For ashtanga teachers, transitioning from sadhana to seva (from self-focused practice, to service) can be weird. It can stunt one’s growth dramatically if done without sufficient (1) preparation as a student, and (2) support from teachers and community. When this transition is made because the student puts herself in the teaching role, and not because her own teachers identify her as sufficiently skilled and prepared to teach, the challenges just mentioned are multiplied.

(Subtext: do not get in to ashtanga teaching unless you full-on cannot avoid it. Resist!! Don’t give yourself over to it unless you basically have to do it in order for your own practice to grow, and unless you have tons of support.)

Given these challenges, most teachers need active, invested mentors to whom they are accountable. (I do.) They need a (1) clear method and (2) a sense of history to keep from getting confused. They need to have strong equanimity and mental clarity, so they can (1) stand outside today’s “yoga” market and culture hype and (2) influence that culture positively.

Teachers need to be able to identify, and resist, the ego’s urge to use teaching to feed root chakra needs: money, sex, power, and attention.

We talked about this last point — that move from scarcity motives to abundance motives —  in detail during the retreat. While there is a kind of useful fire that can be generated from scarcity motives, there are dangers if someone doesn’t actually believe he or she has all the money, attention, sex and power needed, because that leaves open the opportunity to use the teaching to try to get it.

“Usually it’s not appropriate to teach ashtanga until the transition of scarcity needs to abundance motives has been met,” she said during one of our workshops. Here’s an example: Coming from a place of scarcity motives, other yoga teachers and studios can be seen as competition; from a place of abundance motives, the same teachers and studios are viewed as colleagues. It’s a world of difference, and it can have such a significant impact on how someone chooses to transmit the practice, interact with students, run a business, and everything else that surrounds the act of teaching.

My next beach reading

Back to the third video about questions to live by. Asking yourself: “Who am I and why am I here?” as a way to remain alive in an experience, no matter what it is — I’ve tried this since the retreat in ways large and small, from eating choices to teaching schedules, and it’s been interesting how it generates slightly different answers than I might get from thinking about an issue without these types of big-picture questions.

This reminds me that I want to reread the Bhagavad Gita. Again. I’ve read the classic Eknath Easwaran translation twice in the last couple of years, but on the retreat, Angela mentioned Bhagavad Gita: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song, published in 2007 by Graham M. Schweig. It sounds like a lovely translation, and I will start it as soon as I can get my day job to stop being so demanding. (In other words, if only I had a beach to read it on without any distractions . . . .)


Want to watch one more video? See Angela discuss “What is mula bandha?,” which was part of this Xinalani retreat blog post.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Retreat dispatch] Xinalani means ‘seeds’

Despite the calendar alleging that spring starts tomorrow, it’s cold (quite cold) and snowing again here in mid-Michigan. That makes it a challenge to not think back to the warmth, beach and sun of the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat to Xinalani — so I thought I’d devote a post to the property itself. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in yoga workshops and retreats offered in breathtaking locations. But I had never spent a week abroad in a place designed specifically for yoga groups until this month, when I went to Xinalani with nine very sweet (and also hilarious) ashtangis.

map

Despite not having anything to compare Xinalani to, I’m pretty confident in saying that I can’t imagine a more gorgeous and compelling place to practice yoga and go deep:

  • See: The beauty? Check out the photos below or the official Xinalani photos — I think they speak for themselves.
  • Hear: As I previously noted, the fact that you can hear the waves day and night — as seemingly constant as your heartbeat — makes the location simply magical.
  • Feel: The property is thoughtfully designed to accomodate yoga practices. Whether moving through your practice in the Green House or the Jungle Studio, you feel like someone who must truly respect their yoga practice designed this space.

I even love the name of the place. Xinalani (pronounced “she-nah-lah-nee”) means “seeds” in ancient Mexico, according to the welcome book left in each of Xinalani’s guest suites. “Come plant the seeds of wellness,” the property whispers. [Done! :-) ]

Xinalani means seeds

Xinalani caters to yoga groups, but it also welcomes individuals and couples. (The one caution I would give about the place as a getaway would be for anyone with mobility restrictions. Because the retreat center is built up into a jungle, there are a lot of steep stairs to negotiate. Depending on where your suite is located, you might need to walk up 130 to 150 stairs to get from the dining area to your room, and another few dozen steps to get to one of the yoga studios or the meditation cabin.)

suiteI can’t say enough about the staffers, who were incredibly attentive. They made a point to remember your name, and they always had a smile and a “Cómo estás?” for you. The first couple of mornings when I used my flashlight to walk down to the dining area around 6:30 a.m. to get some hot tea before practice, I had to ask for black tea versus the chamomile that they had out. By the third morning, one of the waiters had remembered me and I never had to ask again  — he would bring it out as soon as he saw me. So thoughtful.

The whole set-up was actually far more luxurious than any of us had anticipated. I’ve talked about the meals and cooking classes. They were also eco-tours, spa treatments, surf lessons, and a host of other services to choose from.

It was important to our group that the owners of Xinalani have a commitment to an ethical venture and a low-impact lifestyle. Within 20 minutes of arriving, I’m pretty sure each of us on the retreat were trying to figure out how to keep the magic going — and how to get back here some day.

Want to see photos?

 

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Retreat dispatch] PVR –> DTW, without leaving the magic behind

Xinalani signage

One week ago today, after spending seven nights in the breathtaking seclusion that is Xinalani, I boarded a direct flight from Puerto Vallarta to Detroit. The flight home is normally when I take a deep sigh and realize that (1) while I will be so happy to see my family, (2) it will be like taking a cold shower to return to the daily grind of work and domestic obligations (project deadlines, home task lists, bills to pay . . . when’s my next vacation again?). During winter, I get the added dread of (3) returning to the cold weather.

Reentry is so damn hard.

This time, to my surprise, I was pretty zen about leaving — and it wasn’t because I didn’t love every second of the retreat (I absolutely did). I think part of it is that I went in with the right attitude, and part of it was that this six-day-a-week practice has helped me deal with everyday stress to such an extent that returning doesn’t seem like such a hard landing.

I thought in this post I’d share a few ideas I’ve been kicking around this past week for how to make the most out of a dream yoga vacation — in other words, how to not dread the flight back.


The very first evening of our Xinalani retreat last week, Angela Jamison talked about how she likes to do daylong retreats that people experience in the middle of their normal lives. Retreats in spectacular getaways like this one, she said, can be challenging. If we become happy only because we’re in this space, we’re relying on circumstance-based happiness.

“What do you do when you when you leave?”

I don’t know that we ever returned to that question, but asking it on the first evening of the retreat was a sweet way to help each of us frame the retreat.

The last time I went away to a hypnotic place to practice yoga, it was 2011 and Mt. Shasta. I was with about 20 other yogis who were as thrilled as I was to have the chance to practice yoga and hike daily with Tim Miller. It was that retreat that kick-started my consistent six-day-a-week practice.

I’ve done weekend retreats to beautiful settings in Michigan, but a dormant volcanic and a beach-meets-jungle setting are my two anchors of going away — truly going away — to find something deeper. Based on these two experiences, I’ve thought about five possible ways to extend the fruits of your trip indefinitely.

1. Start the retreat like a sleuth on the trail of sparks of inspiration.
Flowers seen in the town of Yelapa, a short boat ride from XinalaniYou’re a detective, and the mystery is how you can make this trip last longer than your physical time there. The clues will show up in places large and small. I try to bottle up the space of feeling carefree that I’m experiencing, but in reality, that feeling can be so fleeting; the minute I get in that customs line back at home, I’ve long since forgotten what it feels like to not have a care in the world. So I try to collect momentos: I take pictures of clouds and waves, I blog about moments, and I record relaxing sounds. Far from enlightened, I need some concreteness to my inspiration.

 

2. Once home, use the inspirational sparks you’ve collected a little differently.

Xinalani rocksI used to look at beach pictures on my work desk and sort of sigh internally — if only I had won the lottery and were lying on that beach instead of sitting where I was. That is such an unproductive pattern of thinking, I realize now. I’m never going to win the lottery.

Or maybe I already have, time and time again, by being surrounded by incredible people day in and day out, and by finding this ashtanga practice.

These days, when I look at photos of paradises visited, rather than try to jump back into that picture, I try to pull out the essences of that place and time and import the feelings into my current space. That feeling of completely surrendering on the beach — I can’t have that at my desk, but can I drop my shoulder blades down my back and find a calming exhale?
Girl meditating via Viktor Egelund's Facebook pageA friend of mine shared a ridiculously cute photo of a little girl meditating a couple days ago, along with this Rumi quote: “You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop.” That flip was helpful, and I started thinking about Xinalani and Mt. Shasta, and how maybe I can see these divine places not as thousands of miles away from me, but thousands of ways already part of me. (This probably obvious to most everyone reading this, but it was a revelation for me. 😉 Old mental habits are hard to break!)

3. Journal every day

Write a little something every day, whether it’s with a smooth pen in your favorite notebook or using an iPad. Your journaling doesn’t have to be related at all the to the retreat, but getting your thoughts on paper can be incredibly therapeutic.

4. Spend a little time alone every day

I think this tends to happen naturally during retreats, but if it doesn’t, then consider taking some time alone each day. I think this helps to focus your energies on you — what you’re experiencing, what you’re getting in touch with, what you’re trying to avoid.

5. Start a new habit during the retreat, and stick with it for at least 30 days after returning home, starting with your first day back

The day that you stopI think retreats are invaluable. I know they’re expensive, but saving up for them — like I did for this one, $25 at a time — is worth more than any material possession you can buy. To make it more than just an escape, I try to use the experience to plant new seeds on the levels of the body, mind and spirit. That might mean using the retreat to work on re-patterning how I think about one very specific thing (work, an old relationship, a new relationship, or whatever). It might be to start a new habit, like a regular asana practice or meditation schedule. It might be to forge better eating habits.

That said, don’t look at your whole lifestyle and decide you want to change it all at once on this one retreat. It’s not going to happen, and you’re setting yourself up for failure and frustration. Instead, pick one or two concrete things and run with it . . .

. . . and promise yourself — hold yourself accountable — that as soon as the plane touches down on the runway, you’re going to do whatever it was that you told yourself you would do. I’ve learned from very wise women in my life that trying something for a month or 40 days does wonders to help the habit stick.

More from the Xinalani retreat:

(Photo credit: Meditating girl, as shared on Viktor Egelund’s Facebook page; Self-destructive sign, as shared on the Love, Sex, Intelligence Facebook page)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

[Retreat dispatch] Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Repeat.

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani food

WRITTEN ON SATURDAY, MARCH 9, 2013 AROUND 5:45 P.M. WHILE 37,000 FEET IN THE AIR. :-)

The Michigan contingent of the Xinalani retreaters are on the plane ride back from Xinalani. We’re on the same flight as all the university students ending their Puerto Vallarta spring break trip, so there’s a lot of hangover discomfort in the cabin — drawn shades, kids holding their heads in their hands, requests for extra glasses of water and soda. The 10 of us who just spent a week eating three lovely meals a day, on the other hand, are returning home with a spring in our step.

“Are you kidding me?” seemed to be the refrain at each meal this past week. We had lemongrass juice (my personal favorite). Tamarind juice. Papaya juice. Desserts included tamarind popsicles (a big hit with everyone), avocado mousse (outstanding) and chipotle truffles (yes, they were as good as it sounds). Several of us became inspired to go home to replicate some of the hot and cold soups we oohed and aahed over, including fava cream soup and basil cream soup.

The only downside to the way we ate this week was that we all overate (the exception was our teacher, the only one who had the self-discipline to skip dinner entirely each night because, at 7:30 p.m., it was served too late to not interfere with the morning Mysore practice). We had the best of intentions to not eat every beautiful morsel that appeared on our plates, but for the most part, we weren’t successful.


Five of us took a cooking class with the retreat center’s jolly chef. For me, more important than the preparations was the reminder that cooking should be done with ample heapings of joy and enthusiasm. Chef Feliz Cabrera clearly loves his craft, and it was important to him to see that his guests were both happy and happily nourished all week.

On the first day he promised us: “Every day, the food gets better and better.” He was right.

Xinalani board and meal


On my lap here is Salt Sugar Fat, which I’m nearly halfway through reading. It was a wonderful week for contrasts, eating the way we did at the dining table while reading on the beach about the science and marketing behind America’s processed food industry. The chapter on Coca-Cola’s tactics provided this interesting tidbit about a 2005 study produced by the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council with tips on how to better persuade teens and adults:

The study included a ‘shopper destiny map,’ done up in bright yellows and reds to mark the ‘hot spots’ where most shoppers go. Whisked through the front doors, they typically start at the right side of the supermarket — moving counterclockwise and, in a surprise, from back to front. Thus the main racks of soda should be placed toward the rear of the store, on the right side. By contrast, much of the center of store has light traffic, the report warns, calling the area the ‘Dead Zone.’

Coca-Cola, in this study, also urges grocers to find ways to catch shoppers off guard. Federal health officials who are righting the obesity epidemic advise consumers never to enter a grocery store without a shopping list, which helps to ward off the impulse to load up on sugary, salty and fatty snacks . . . . ‘Sixty percent of the supermarket purchase decisions are completely unplanned,’ the Coke study says. ‘Anything that enalbes the shopper to make a faster, easier, better decision’ will help spur those unplanned purchases. (p. 112)

Earlier this year, I started making a weekly meal grid the night before my weekly grocery shopping trip. It has done wonders for me on three fronts:

  • Spending less money
  • Making better decisions
  • Wasting less produce

I love my new system because it keeps me on the straight and narrow when I shop, especially by preventing me from buying too much produce that will go bad before I can get to it during the week. It also helps me prepare more flavorful and nutritious meals that are just as fast as spontaneous dishes.

Now, with my Xinalani inspiration, I’ll have to start picking up lemongrass for juices and beets for roasting. And it’s equally exciting to see fresh uses for stuff I already buy every week — like using avocado for mousse and fava beans for a creamy soup. As for the fun and pride in preparing the food itself, I’ll just have to channel Chef Cabrera and picture him in my kitchen, ready to regale taste buds with his next creation.

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Retreat dispatch] Flames, tapas and bandhas

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani bonfire

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON FRIDAY, MARCH 8, 2013 AROUND 11:35 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

Mysore-style ashtanga retreats, with early practices, aren’t conducive to late nights. But it’s our last night at Xinalani, and for the first time all week, most of us made it past 10 p.m. After another spectacular dinner, we enjoyed a bonfire overlooking Xinalani beach. With the new moon just around the corner, the tide was particularly strong and high, lapping right up, it seemed, to the edge of our dining space.

It turns out Angela Jamison, our ashtanga teacher (and yoga camp leader!), is a pro at stoking fires. I found great symbolism in that, since one of the premises of the ashtanga yoga practice is that of stoking the sacred fire of tapas.

Bandas, our energy locks, help us build up that internal heat that burns and transforms, and I had an interesting study in bandhas — or lack thereof — in this morning’s practice. I should probably be taking ladies’ holiday today, but it’s the last full day of the retreat and happily, exceptions can be justified. I was instructed to practice without revving up the bandhas. So I stepped vinyasas rather than did jump-backs; kept my feet on the floor for navasana; practiced malasana instead of bhuja pidasana; and so on. I’ve never practiced primary series this way, and it felt like a sweet restorative primary series practice. But upping the ease in the practice by turning off my energy locks also took away the internal heat, and I was reminded that if I always practiced this way, it would be quite difficult to ever discover edges — physical, mental and otherwise.


Talking about bandhas is always a great opportunity to revisit the perennial ashtangi question of what the heck mula bandha is in the first place. Ask any teacher or pick up any book, and you’ll see vastly different answers. I loved Richard Freeman’s take, which I heard late last year, that mula bandha can be something you serve.

So, what is mula bandha? Angela was kind enough to spend time today answering some questions for this blog, and this is what she said in response to this question:

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Retreat dispatch] The eyes (well, dristi) have it

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani greenhouse, where we practiced each morning

The Xinalani greenhouse, where we practiced our dristi each morning. The fact that it was such an amazing space meant it also offered potential distractions — and thus even more reason to hold our gazes!

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON THURSDAY, MARCH 7, 2013 AROUND 10:45 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

As the keys of my little iPad Bluetooth keyboard click away, the waves are rolling and music from the retreat center’s salsa night blares down below in the lounge as the other yogis on vacation here drink and dance a bit. (All the ashtangis, however, are in their rooms, and most are no doubt asleep. I should be too, but what else is new?) It’s a strange mix of sounds, but everything fits somehow.

Seeing the evening’s salsa instructor stroll in as I headed up to my room to start settling down to bed reminds me that it’s been far too long since my husband and I have had our own salsa lesson. One of the last times I saw my salsa teacher, he told me — as he does every time I see him — that I need to relax.

I remember the exchange really well. “I am relaxed,” I insisted.

“No you’re not,” he said. I must have given him a look, because he continued, “Do you know how I know?” I shook my head.

“Your eyes.”

He was right, of course. My head, as usual, thought I was relaxed, but some part of my body, as usual, gave it away that I wasn’t truly. Being the yoga dork that I am, I immediately thought of dristi at the moment, and how important it is to the ashtanga practice.

I’ve been blessed: My extreme near-sightedness has helped me keep my awareness on my own mat even early on in my yoga practice, when I didn’t have an ashtanga teacher to teach me about tristana (the concentration practice of breath, bandha and dristi). People just several feet away aren’t defined by clear lines; I see them as blobs if my glasses aren’t on. So even if I wanted to dart my eyes around the room, I wouldn’t have been able to see anything clearly enough anyway.

These days, I get to employ dristi to help deepen my internal awareness, and the more tools I have to keep the discursive mind at bay, the better. It’s also just a relief: I spend much of my time at work needing my eyes to flitter between my two computer screens (a set-up I love, don’t get me wrong) and sometimes my iPhone too. In the 700 miles or so that I drive each week, my eyes have to be focused and also scanning to keep me driving defensively and safely on the road. Only focus on one place during practice? I’m all over it.


Each evening this week, we’ve had an evening workshop that looked more closely at a couple of topics key to an asana practice or to a meditation practice, and the workshop yesterday on dristi sparked a lot of interesting discussion. Angela talked to us about two emerging fields that involve therapeutic use of eye movement: eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) and brainspotting.

Fascinating stuff. I know there is some resistance, and even controversy, over some of these techniques. But knowing the power of dristi — whether it’s in the yoga practice or in life and literature (eyes give lovers away all the time, don’t they?) — the concepts instinctively make sense to me.

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[Retreat dispatch] Waves, vrittis and meditations

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani waves

WRITTEN BY IPAD LIGHT ON TUESDAY, MARCH 5, 2013 AROUND 9:45 P.M. WHILE SITTING UNDER A LOVELY MOSQUITO NET BED CANOPY. :-)

The first thing you notice about the Xinalani eco retreat center on Mexico’s Banderas Bay — about a 20-minute boat ride from Puerto Vallarta — are the waves. They’re stunning, and amplified. They’re so loud it seems like the winds must be unusually high, or a storm is coming, or, though obviously not the case, the retreat center has strangely managed to mic the entire gorgeous beachfront and pipe the sounds to wherever you happen to be. And what you continue to notice — as you wake up, or practice yoga, or meditate, or get ready for dinner, or chat with your friends, or read on the beach, or wash sand out of your ears, or head to bed — is that incredibly, the waves are still there. It’s as if they’re being controlled by a larger-than-life metronome.

Descriptions of the waves that ebbed and flowed among our group members included the steadiness of a heartbeat — and the steadiness of vrittis, the fluctuations of the mind.

I don’t think I’ve ever had the chance to sleep this close to a beachfront, and I certainly haven’t had the chance to practice yoga in a place like this (though in 2009, I did get to practice yoga inside the inner sanctum of a Masonic center in Vancouver — that was totally weird). It’s the fourth night of our seven-night ashtanga yoga retreat led by Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, and the nine of us lucky enough to be on this first such trip are still so blown away by the whole experience — and especially by the waves.

We used the sounds of the waves during meditation today to explore an auditory element of a concentration-focused sitting practice. Among the questions explored: Could we meditate on the waves and experience the sounds as recordings, detached from any visual experience? What did we experience between the sensations in the auditory, visual and kinesthetic fields?


This afternoon, my friend Jade and I decided to get a little silly and play on the beach a bit. Against our better judgment, we decided to do an inversion on one of the beach’s many rock formations, even though it was late afternoon and high tide. After I got up into ardha sirsasana and settled into the relief that I was stable and balanced and hadn’t toppled over, a wave came in and, indeed, toppled me over. The exact same thing happened to Jade, even though I swore, now that we knew the pattern, that I would be able to warn her in time. Those waves move pretty damn fast.

We had such a blast getting knocked over by waves — far more fun than when mental fluctuations come out of nowhere (or at least seem to come out of nowhere, even though we should usually recognize the pattern) and throw us off course. They’re the memories from the past that run roughshod over your present moment. Or anxieties about the future that intrude on your current mood. Or the rumbling of some rambling thoughts — happy, silly, profound, whatever — that zap into your headspace at inopportune times.

Crashing waves

 

Jade and the waves


Knowing that Angela would lead a few opportunities to sit each day — and knowing that I would have time to sit beyond those periods as well — I came into this retreat with a goal of establishing a more consistent meditation practice.

I found the path to my six-day-a-week ashtanga practice back in 2011 following an ashtanga retreat to California’s Mt. Shasta with the very big-hearted Tim Miller. Meeting Tim in 2010 changed my perspective and my practice — and  by extension, my life — in profound ways.

Soon after returning from that trip, in which I let go of some pretty deep emotional baggage I was carrying around, I met Angela back home in Michigan. She is the teacher I now realize I’ve been looking for my whole life, and having this retreat time was the sweetest gift in the world.

(In case you can’t tell, I’m a big believer in retreats — they’re worth every dime you have to save up and all the sacrifices you have to make to attend, because for so many of us, daily life simply doesn’t afford the space to create a new pathway for yourself.)

So now I’m looking forward to converting the inspiration from this experience to finding a path to a deeper daily meditation practice. I’ve been meditating between five and seven days a week since this past fall, but the meditations have been at different times of days and for different lengths of time. I want some consistency so that I can reach more penetrating places. It doesn’t have to be the consistency of the waves I’m hearing as I type this, but I do want to make meditation much more of a constant in my day-to-day routine.

I know that the more this happens, the less those knock-out vrittis will get the best of me.


A momento I collected from the trip:

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.