‘Sahana Vavatu’ shanti mantra, assisted dropbacks — and trust

Assisted backbends

Since learning “Sahana Vavatu” — one of the “shanti,” or peace, mantras — during this year’s Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor Xinalani retreat, I’ve found it can provide a space of solace that I can return to at any time. Because I find it powerful, beautiful and deeply reassuring, I’ve used it as a talisman, going over it in my mind in situations in which I am struggling with uncertainty, doubt or anxiety. There are times I recite it quietly to myself simply because I want to connect with its meaning and its meditative qualities. And I like to chant it as I’m nearing the end of my hour-long drive to the yoga shala in the dark of the early morning.

There’s also something else about this chant. For me, “Sahaha Vavatu” forms the perfect soundtrack to a Mysore room’s sacred student-teacher bonding ritual of assisted backbends.

Behind the chant

Here is one exploration of the chant:

In many schools, the Sahana Vavatu is recited before the asana practice. These schools include the Sivananda and the Satyananda schools, as well as most of the traditional ashrams such as the Kaivalya Dhama of Lonavla and the Shantiniketan of Rishikesh.

ॐ सहना ववतु। सहनौ भुनक्तु
सह वीर्यं करवावहै
तेजस्वि नावधीतमस्तु
मा विद्विषावहै॥
ॐ शान्तिः शान्तिः शान्तिः॥

Om sahana vavatu sahano bhunaktu
Saha viryam karavavahai
Tejasvi navaditamastu
Ma vidvishavahai
Om shantih shantih shantih.

Om. May He protect us both (teacher and student). May He cause us both to enjoy the bliss of liberation. May we both exert to find out the true meaning of the Scriptures. May our studies be fruitful. May we never quarrel with each other. Om peace, peace, peace.

This invocation is found in several Upanishads among which the Taittiriya Upanishad. It is probably the most famous after the Gayatri. As a shanti mantra, it advocates peace between student and teacher, encouraging both of them to study and to practice yoga, without mentioning any particular god or any particular book.

Like ashtanga’s opening and closing mantras, every translation reads a little differently. I am drawn to this translation’s juiciness — the idea of studying vigorously and working together with great energy:

Om may he protect us both together, may he nourish us both together
May we work conjointly with great energy,
May our study be vigorous and effective,
May we not mutually dispute
Om let there be peace in me
Let there be peace in my environment
Let there be peace in the forces that act on me
Om peace peace peace.

I like the straight-forwardness of this recitation of the chant by Lakshmish Bhat, recorded at the K. Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute in Mysore (it’s the second chant in). And I might as well admit here that given how much time I’ve spent in yoga workshops of various stripes, it’s surprising to me that I was never taught this chant before this year. It’s not exactly hard to find; here is Ravi Shankar’s take.

Finally, here is commentary on the mantra by author and scholar A.G. Mohan, a student of Krishnamacharya.

Assisted dropbacks

There are many invigorating and reassuring aspects of practicing in a Mysore room, from the undulation of the room’s collective breathing to the consistency of joining a group of people in showing up to the same space day after day to practice.

One of my favorite aspects of a Mysore practice — versus a home practice or the led ashtanga environment that was my first exposure to ashtanga — is the time for assisted dropbacks before you begin your finishing poses.

It’s hard for me to believe now, but I didn’t officially switch from a mostly home-based practice to mostly practicing in a Mysore setting until about six months ago, when I committed to making the drive from Lansing to Ann Arbor at least three days a week. These days, it’s become just another part of my day to make the two-hour-round-trip-drive before heading in to work a few weekdays a week and to make the drive on weekends too, but it was a big deal for me to make the lifestyle changes I needed to make to get up at that early hour even three days a week.

For me, having the opportunity to work on assisted dropbacks was an integral part of settling into a Mysore groove. I still remember the transition of my teacher having me learn to walk my hands toward my feet in urdvha dhanurasana to one day walking my hands in far enough that my hands could be gently placed around my ankles. To step back from the process, it seems like the most unnatural thing to be doing at the crack of the dawn (or really at any time of day). Staying present in the moment, however, it feels like the most natural thing to do after reaching the pose you’ve been stopped at. What I love about assisted backbends is not just that they provide a gorgeous example of how a teacher can coax a student to going farther than she ever thought possible — it’s that I get to start my day out with a ritual built on absolute trust in another human being and absolute surrender to being in the moment. It’s harder to walk through the world questioning the intentions of people around you when you started the day out in the radiance of someone who, without a doubt, has your best interest at heart, and it’s harder to go through your day resisting things you can’t control when you have already let go so deeply.

What does it mean to approach life from a heart-centered place? That answer differs for each of us, but for me, starting out the day with assisted dropbacks helps prime me for greater receptivity.

Grabbing your what?

If you’ve never seen this very ashtanga practice, Kino MacGregor shows it in her video on chakra bandhasana, the formal name for grabbing your ankles:

In my experience, deep backbending with an experienced teacher means the difference between a safe, strong and effortless backbend versus one that comes from a place of overcompensation or recruiting flexibility from another part of the body. I have a pretty mobile low back, so had it not been for Angela Jamison teaching me how to stand strong in my legs, I would probably have eventually been flexible enough to grab my ankles even if I didn’t have the safest technique — and then I’d be unnecessarily taking the brunt of it in my low back. (Learning how to stand strong in my legs — I could do a whole post on just what that says about my relationship with myself in this world.)

More on trust

A few months ago, Kaz posted an awesomely candid post titled “Trust” on her Realizing Mysore blog. She talked about how, halfway through her month assisting Sharath in Mysore, she struggled with assisting students in grabbing their ankles during assisted dropbacks:

A couple of days later, I am still dodging students with flexible backs. And I decide to get up the courage to speak to Sharath, hoping for guidance, moral support–if you practice with this man, you probably know where this is going…

“Hi Sharath, um…so…I’m kind of afraid to take people to their ankles.”

He looks at me and says matter-a-factly, “I know.” He knows!

“Ahhhh…” I wait for some advice, encouragement, anything, but there is only awkward silence before he walks off to back bend someone himself.

Hokay… So much for feedback from the boss. In my optimism, I think he’s leaving it to me to figure out on my own. It’s not the first time. Last, year I struggled with a new posture. There was no feedback. No assistance, not even with back bending. At some point, I felt very alone as I muddled through the emotions that came up from it. By the end, however, the “personal time” was good for me. I learned a lot from it.

In practice, Sharath knows when to help and when to back off. I believe it’s one of his superpowers of perception. I’m going to read his acknowledgement paired with lack of input in this particular instance as a sign that he trusts me to figure it out myself.

I know it isn’t about strength. I’m dropping back guys much bigger than my petite Asian self. I understand the technique, more or less. I’m familiar with the ankle routine in my own practice. But I lack confidence. There is fear there…

Sharath’s right to leave me on my own. My fear is my responsibility. I know that I can’t continue to be afraid. I’m only halfway through the month of assisting and will not be able to avoid dropping back someone bendy enough for ankles. At some point I will be caught edging away from open backs, though Sharath probably sees my slipperiness already, probably smells the fear across the room. Most importantly, I just want to get on with it, I want to be totally present as I assist, and this fearfulness is getting in the way.

I look at my own practice. I ask myself, how am I at going to my own ankles? I can manage with more ease with Sharath helping me, but it is difficult when I am being assisted by someone else other than him, always stiffer somehow, a little less sure. I realize that I wasn’t always “successful” (for the lack of a better word) with assistants. It didn’t add up.

Maybe it’s easier with Sharath because I trust him so much. But what cause do I have to mistrust the assistants? Something in me stiffens when they are before me as I come up from backbend. Perhaps, it isn’t them at all, but rather something in me. Do I trust myself in this process? Or am I relying on Sharath’s magic touch to make what I still thought impossible possible? Did my mind create the conditions that made the fear difficult with others?

How can I expect others to trust me, if I myself had a hard time trusting? How can I ask someone to surrender to me, if I can’t manage surrendering myself?

Eventually, there is a breakthrough:

Then, one morning, I’m standing in front of a female practitioner who comes up from urdhva dhanurasana. She says something and all I catch is “ankles.” Here we go.

Something definitely shifts. I’m calm. And things go smoothly as we both do our part. I trust myself. And what’s more, I trust her. I reckon she trusts me too. With the breath–both of us breathing together–she extends the spine and arches back. It’s so fast and at the same time so beautifully slow. For me, it is an amazing moment of synchronicity and surrender between two people that don’t know each other.

I reach for one wrist and then the other. There is no forcing, only a little guidance. And there in that place of trust, I find a sweet balance between being able to support her and also stepping out of the way, allowing her to reach.

I realize then that with this ankle grabbing business, I’m not supposed to do all the work. I’m support crew. People generally don’t go there unless they can and the real task is not up to me really but in the heart of the practitioner finding space to go the extra distance. And for those making that first leap into this strange territory, Sharath’s usually there, guiding them towards their feet.

By the end, I ceased running from ankle grabbing. But I didn’t chase it either. If I was called, I would do, trusting in the process of practice, trusting in the abilities of the student, and trusting in myself. With more confidence, it all worked out fine–thank goodness!

In the end, it doesn’t really matter whether I’m helping people to their ankles or not, whether we’re grabbing ankles or even dropping back on our own. What matters is that the practice cultivates the courage to go beyond, to see past the fears and the limitations of our own mind, and that it refines our ability to trust, trust in others as much as trust in ourselves.

Holding space

I’ve actually started this post a few times in my head since returning from the retreat, but it never seemed the right time to actually get these thoughts out. It’s interesting that I’m inspired to finally write this during a week my teacher is gone from the shala. She is on a silent meditation retreat several states away, and while I knew I’d miss her this week, I was surprised at how much I’ve still felt her presence in the Mysore room, and in my own practice, this past week.

Angela has told our group of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor apprentices that our job is to hold space. It’s not to adjust, though of course we provide a lot of adjustments. Our fundamental job in a Mysore space is to hold that space for students and their practices. We breathe with each student individually, and we breathe with the room collectively. To hold space, we need to be present, receptive, grounded, and heart-centered.

The balance that Kaz talks about in her blog post on trust — the balance of supporting a student while also leaving enough room to step out of the way so the student can reach — seems fundamental to holding space.

Your job is to hold space. It was such a simple and yet revolutionary idea the first time I heard it, and I think I’ve been able to feel the magnitude of this powerful concept so intensely this week precisely because Angela’s been gone. She has held space so consistently, so honestly, and so firmly, for her students who arrive every day at the Phoenix Center on Main Street in Ann Arbor’s vibrant downtown that even when she’s gone, her influence is palpable. It’s palpable in the way her students approach practice, and it’s palpable in the way her apprentices approach students. When the shala’s amazing senior apprentice, Rachel, comes by for assisted dropbacks while Angela is away, I feel the same envelope of support from her — and I hope she feels the same trust I have in her. I have this belief that when space is held as consistently and transparently as it is held in this shala, trust — the kind that’s earned and deserved — can become contagious.

So for me, an extension of the “Sahana Vavatu” mantra is that once the bond of the teacher-student relationship has been established, the lessons can expand and continue even if the teacher and the student aren’t in the same physical space. In consistently heading to the Mysore room to step on my mat, I have been consistently stepping into a space of self-discovery that has been held for me. I am realizing that as I live my life, I can actively choose to expand that space of learning and insight beyond the Mysore room. That space can, if I set my intentions with clarity, be expanded exponentially — to include just about my entire universe.


About the photos at the top of the post: I had thoughts about this theme of trust even before I went to the Xinalani retreat in Mexico, which is why I asked Angela if she’d be willing to take some photos with me to illustrate assisted backbends. She kindly said yes, and we held a short and sweet photo shoot in the yoga retreat’s distinctive Jungle Studio (so short and sweet that, without the benefit of a practice first, I definitely wasn’t going into any ankle-grabbing!). Thanks to the handy camera work of my friends Tim and Jade, I’ll always have the photos at the top of this post as visual mementos of this aspect of the sacred student-teacher relationship that means so much to 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] 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] 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.