Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Embracing the Feminine Divine

I have always been a little jealous of those rare Earth Mother types who truly revel in their femininity, whose Moon Cycles are a source of joy, who are brave enough to embrace their bodies in their natural states and not force themselves into the impossible boxes the rest of us spend our lives trying to fit. I wonder how these women are able to find such self-acceptance in the face of the sea of voices telling us we are wrong at our core. Whether its how we should dress, who we should sleep with, how fat/thin we should be, what our boobs should look like, how we should age (or, rather, not age), how we should hide our periods, how hairy we should be, when/if we should become mothers, what jobs we should take or what our sexuality should look like, everyone's opinion seems to be valid except for the individual woman. And, to be quite honest, it really gets me down some days. I can be quite unkind to myself sometimes, echoing these sentiments of a diseased culture that tells women their natural bodies are an abomination, and that sort of self-talk does nothing but make me feel chained to my body, instead of comfortably settled in it.

When I need to snap myself back into a place of gratitude for the gift of a female physicality, I get into a pose of strength like the Warrior Pose followed by a position of submission like the Extended Puppy pose, repeating them and similar poses to be reminded of my own power and the collective power of all women to nurture and heal. I also do everything I can to support my feminine health throughout the month to make my Moon Cycle less unpleasant, mostly with tea like Woman's Energy and Raspberry Leaf from Yogi brand teas and dietary supplements like powdered cranberry to keep my urinary tract healthy and a garlic-based supplement to keep my natural flora in balance.

Two cups of raspberry leaf tea make my debilitating menstrual cramps completely disappear without nasty painkillers (thanks to my friend, Kacie, for suggesting it). I was skeptical, but it actually (miraculously) works. Also, drinking a cup of Woman's Energy, which is Yogi Tea's take on the ancient Dong Quai formula, every night throughout the month greatly reduces my PMS symptoms when its about that time. When all of my systems are running smoothly, it is certainly much easier to appreciate woman-hood.


When I'm feeling small and powerless against the patriarchy, I remember the stories and traditions of ancient goddesses like Kali, fierce Hindu goddess of time and worshiped by some as the redeemer of the universe, or Demeter, the ancient Greek goddess of growth, fertility and the changing seasons. In a society overwhelmed with images of male warriors and deities, it is comforting to remember the ancient belief in the feminine divine within all of us.

Today, I am most thankful for the women, both online and in my personal life, who I can turn to with my concerns and self-doubt. Without these wise women, I would be lost. I have been blessed with truly great female presences in my life.

*To my female readers, what makes you most thankful to be women?*

Monday, November 16, 2009

Quinoa: The Underappreciated Seed

Today, I am thankful for Quinoa (pronounced "keen-WAH"), the gluten-free wonder grain! Once you get the hang of pre-rinsing the couscous-like kernels, you will be surprised by this delicious, hearty, and versatile carb. Full of protein, fiber, iron and amino acids, it kicks the pants off wheat, in my opinion. Quinoa was considered sacred to the Inca, who called it "the mother of all grains," and I tend to agree with them. It is the seed of a plant in the beet family, not a grain in the traditional sense, and so is free of the gluten that causes bad reactions for so many. As a delightful introduction to my favorite grain, I would like to pass on a simple recipe for Quinoa Stew, which can also double as a satisfying gluten-free, vegan stuffing replacement. Before you begin, be sure to thoroughly rinse the Quinoa. I prefer to dump the grains in a saucepan, fill the pan part-way with water, swish the grains around with my hand, then carefully strain it with cheesecloth.

Quinoa Stew

1.5 cups Quinoa
2-3 Tbls. olive oil
2 large carrots, chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1.5 cups vegetable broth

In a medium saucepan, saute Quinoa with olive oil until the grains turn clearish. Add carrots, onion and broth and bring to a boil. Turn heat to medium-low and simmer covered until all the liquid is soaked up. That's it! Experiment with other vegetables and spices to find the perfect version for you.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Taking Care of Business

That's what the past month has been about; taking care of business. Sometimes a yogini just needs to unplug and hunker down with the domestics. In particular, I got married a few weeks ago and apparently when that happens, time enters a vortex. As we hurtle towards the holiday season and on to the new year, I am compelled to share my gratitude for all of the myriad blessings this life holds. So, for the next month and a half, all the way up through Christmas (because why stop at Thanksgiving?), I will list something or someone I feel grateful for each day.

Today, I am grateful for my husband, who is my rock in uncertainty, my levity when I am sad, and the most supportive partner I could ever hope for. He has the patience of a saint and is a source of unprecedented joy in my life. I am thankful for the opportunity I have been given to practice the yoga of grace on a moment-to-moment basis with someone who makes it so easy. He supports me in all that I do and he is a good friend above all else. How thankful I am to spend the rest of my life learning how to love him better. Life is very good!

Who or what are you most thankful for today?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

What Does Yoga Mean to You?

In my post before the soup, I suggested that we do yoga every day, working towards a life-long "Yoga Month." Thinking about it since then, I have realized that "doing yoga" is very vague. What a daily yoga practice looks like in my life today is going to be very different from the Indian guru who has been practicing for 80 years or the high-powered attorney who does Ashtanga to power up before court. As a matter of fact, my yoga practice today isn't going to be the same as my own practice 20 years from now. So, what does it mean to "do yoga?"

Western cultures put a lot of popular focus on Asana (postures), because they are the easiest to see, feel, teach, and, for the able-bodied, easiest to do. They are the external tools for internal change. The rhythms of squeezing and releasing, bending and extending help us be more mindful of our breath, the purifier and facilitator of meditation. Of course, Asana has all of the side benefits of flexibility, strength, circulation, detoxification and general health, which are awesome by themselves, but we mustn't get wrapped up in the pursuit of them. There's a very cute animated short that has been circulating the net for a while that sums this up nicely.

The external rewards should not be the ultimate goal. Asana alone is not yoga. There are seven other limbs to choose from in our daily pursuits, the sweet fruit of sweaty Asana. They are:
  • Yama (abstentions)- not harming in word, action or inaction
  • Niyama (observances)- austerity, contentment and non-grasping
  • Pranayama (breath control)- using the breath to purify and facilitate meditation
  • Pratyahara (abstraction)- resisting identification with external stimuli
  • Dharana (concentration)- fixed attention on a single object/idea
  • Dhyana (meditation)- intense contemplation on the true nature of existence
  • Samadhi (liberation)- merging consciousness with the whole of existence
Of all of the yoga limbs, the one that is most prominent in my life is my commitment to non-harming. I am drawn, at a level of vocational compulsion, to facilitate life and health for all beings. Sounds great, right? Sure, on a conceptual level, who actively wants to cause harm to others? Very few of us, I would imagine. On a practical level, however, it's less simple. It is not active harm that I need to check myself about, but my unconscious reflexes. I'm not about to go eat a big greasy beef burger, while driving a giant, gas-guzzling SUV and splashing old ladies with puddles. What I do need to worry about is the harm I can cause with my words and apathy. I must be constantly mindful to never be complacent towards harm or allow myself to do things that cause harm to me or anyone else. I am rambling a bit now, but my point is that, we can do yoga every day without necessarily stepping foot on a mat. We can do it in our speech, with our temperance, with meditation and concentration on our breath. I like to expand it even beyond the 8 limbs to include anything we do with kindness, selflessness and intention is yoga. My daily practice includes mindful speech, keeping my home clean to provide comfort to my mate, guests, and students, cooking nourishing food for my family and taking a few minutes to find peace in my breath. On a perfect day, my practice also includes lots of Asana, a trip to the gym and a blog entry, but life isn't perfect. There is no universal daily ritual to "do yoga," because every day is nuanced and different. The beauty of yoga is in its all-encompassing flexibility in what it means to be yoked to existence in its holy pursuit. I'm very curious to hear what leading a yoga life looks like in your world, so please comment about your daily practice!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cold/Flu Season is No Match For:


It is vegan, gluten-free and full of immune-boosting vitamins and spices to kick the pants off whatever ails you. It takes about 45 minutes including prep time.

3 or 4 Tbls olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 inches of fresh ginger, grated
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 a pound cauliflower florets
2-3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tsp cumin or garam marsala
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2 pinches of cayenne
5 cups veggie broth

Saute onions, garlic, ginger and olive oil in the bottom of a big soup pot until lightly browned. Add the spices and let them bubble together for a minute or two. Add broth, cauliflower and potatoes. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to medium-low heat until the potatoes are tender (about 12 minutes). You can either eat it right away or let it sit for a while. It gets tastier the longer the spices are allowed to sink in.

We can get through this flu season together without the dangers of that pesky flu vaccine. Get plenty of sleep and drink lots of water. Don't overload yourself with alcohol, caffeine or nicotine. Do yoga along with at least 20 minutes of aerobic activity every day, even when it's cold, to lower your stress levels and boost your immune system. Eat foods that nourish your body and soul. In short, use common sense and take care of yourself this fall; listen to your body and it will serve you.

Be well!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Making My Own Yoga Month

September was National Yoga Month, and normally timing doesn't matter to me when community-wide events happen. I become aligned with the rest of my community, open and flowing in communal yoga bliss with great ease. This September, however, that was not the case. As of late, I have been woefully out of balance. I suppose it began with the soaring heights of joy and excitement I experienced early in the summer upon walking away from capitalist, Western pursuits to dedicate myself to the call of teaching yoga. I was feeling more expansive and sure of myself than ever before. As the excitement and action grew, I completely latched on to this idea of who I was "supposed" to be as a yogini, ever-smiling, ever-excited, never disappointed, sad or lacking confidence, instead of showing myself the grace to become at my own pace. When that initial excitement wore off, as can be expected in the natural course of things, it was followed by a series of emotionally grounding events that I did not accept with grace. I became discouraged and listless, grasping for my dwindling high and disappointed with myself that I couldn't be the "perfect yogini" (whatever the hell THAT is) every day, or even at all. The height of this negativity culminated right at the beginning of Yoga Month. I became careless with what I was feeding myself, comfort/stress eating instead of seeking mindful nourishment and looking at my yoga practice as a chore, not a tool for transcendence. Unsurprisingly, I became very ill. Chronic problems long dormant reared their nasty heads and I found myself able to do little more than lay in Savasana on the couch for two weeks. That gives a humbled yogini plenty of time to contemplate her choices with 20/20 hindsight.

Attachment had bit me in the butt yet again. It sneaks and creeps up on me when I am most distractedly happy. Detachment is certainly easier for me when I am in unpleasant circumstances, but in those moments when I am ablaze with joy, I want that feeling to last forever. Over the summer, I had a wonderful time experiencing the bliss of epiphany, but instead of accepting that moment for what it was and letting it pass away when it was time, I clung to it long after its expiration date. By not ceding my attachment to one moment, I denied the advent of new moments, new epiphanies and thus ensured my own suffering and imbalance. Who, besides the most advanced gurus, does not instinctively prefer joy to sorrow and ease to difficulty? A more immediately attainable goal than overcoming nature is to remember in the moment that my preference for comfort is not necessary to my own bliss. Never has it been more clear to me that to walk the path means to shun attachment by treating the great highs and the most crushing lows with the same regard. They simply ARE.

Essentially this long-winded post is me publicly recommitting to my practice of yoga and unity, body with spirit and the self with the whole. I know now that I can only approach this life with patience and unconditional love for my limitations. I am, in this moment, utterly grateful for such a starkly contrasted experience in attachment and I will carry it with me in the hope that I will not repeat it at such an extraordinary scale. October is my new yoga month, which will carry on to a yoga year as I commit the rest of my days to living a Yoga Life. Won't you join me?


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Is Mercury in Retrograde or What?

I don't know about the rest of you, but the past few weeks have been a little heavy on my side of the world. I have been deeply introspective as of late, caught up in my own meta-analysis of the human condition and thus, my blog has lain fallow. Yes, Mercury is indeed in retrograde and when that happens there does seem to be a marked increase in communication disruptions and a drain on creative energy in myself and those around me, but Mercury can't be the whole story. It's easy to place the blame for our actions and emotions on an external force, like astrology, a god figure or the weather, but these ideas are most likely based more in our deep-seated need to find order and meaning in our suffering than in any concrete reality of these phenomena. The vast majority, if not all, of our suffering comes from defending the ego, our idea of the self as a separate, vital entity, incongruous with the rest of existence. Instead of owning that suffering as being of our own creation, we externalize the source on natural or supernatural forces out of our control, in protection of an ego that requires blamelessness to retain legitimacy. If we are ever to be free of suffering and the bonds of the ego, we must accept responsibility for the pain we create in the pursuit of differentiation. We must remember that we are all one; there is no Other.

Sorry about my absence. I would like to say that it won't happen again, but that is simply not a promise I can guarantee I will keep. Deep, contemplative states need to happen sometimes and they never follow a schedule. I do know that today I felt more alive than I have in a few weeks. I even went for a run for the first time since I experienced a catastrophic knee injury a year and a half ago. I wish you that same level of joy and freedom in your life every day.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Age of Instant Gratification and the Modern Yogi

Is the yogic path inherently at odds with modern life?

A few years ago, when I was younger and more of a zealot, I would have said yes to that. Before I moved to an urban environment, out of the pastoral utopia of rural southern Indiana, I would have claimed that off the grid was THE only way to effectively transcend this plane of existence. As life would have it, I was brought to a very urban environment, with all of the distractions and seething bits of humanity one would expect here. There is early morning construction and abrasive late-night neighbor noises. There are gun shots, earth quakes, and every pathogen expected in a buzzing hub of immigration and tourism, high-speed internet and HD cable. One might think so many wonderful and awesome distractions would make my meditation practice more challenging, my quest for peace and detachment from materialism, futile. But does it?

Short answer: no. Think about it and give me your own thoughts in the comments.

A more interesting question is HOW meditation and moderation fit in a world of one-click buying and being able to indulge one's every whim, given the resources. Yoga and the Middle Way emphasize the detachment from grasping and I think the issues yogis take generally take with the modern world is the unfettered grasping, the way our culture rewards greed and cruelty in the pursuit of ever-more. The Middle Way provides the antidote to grasping through mindfulness. Being mindful of one's desires can go a long way to minimize your own impact on humanity's carbon footprint and limit your contribution to the ugly habit of modern consumerism. Meditation is one tool that can help cultivate the mindfulness necessary to navigate the urban setting as a yogi. Even the Christian Bible supports mindful living with God imploring us, "Consider your ways." Consider your every purchase, your every meal. Yes you can get anything you want as fast as you want if you have enough money, but do you need it? Does it nourish your soul? Is there a way to get the same thing with less environmental impact? Are your choices depriving someone else of their human rights? Is there a more ethical use for your resources? These are the questions we must be vigilant in asking ourselves amidst the many-splendored temptress of the urban environment and one-click technology.

We need peace and meditation and we can get tap into it anywhere. On the bus, in the financial district, in the ghetto, anywhere we find ourselves, if we are mindful of our thoughts, we can be a force for peace. The world is beautiful and miraculous no matter where you are, no matter how concrete your neighborhood is. We are constantly enveloped by the awe-inspiring vibration of the divine in the universe, pushed towards nirvana and expansion as we embrace open hearts, open minds and the throbbing, raw expanse of existence that transcends environment.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Of things to come

I'm putting together a post on being a yogi in the age of instant gratification and it's taking a while since I've been besieged by a migraine for the past few days.

So, in the interim, please consider and discuss this question:
Is the yogic path fundamentally in opposition with modernity, urban environments and one-click culture?

Talk amongst yourselves!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Why "fat?"

I'm Grace, the Fat Yogini, and I welcome you to my new cyber-home.

The name of a blog is very important, so why did I choose such a polarized and loaded adjective as "fat" to describe myself and brand my blog? Because, well, a little fat isn't a bad thing! In the West, we have been trained through our socialization to recoil from "fat," to be repulsed by even a few extra pounds and associate it with laziness, gluttony, and any number of other moral failings. The cultural fixation on thinness (not to be confused with healthiness) promotes the idea that there is but one paragon of physical perfection, and it doesn't involve any extra padding. Instinctively, we all know that every person has a different body, with a different metabolism, different needs, and different physical manifestations of "healthy," yet that doesn't stop us from buying into the idea that we should be thin, no matter the cost. We can see the psychological repercussions of this toxic social pressure in the epidemic of eating disorders, rates of cosmetic surgery, and the fact that the sale of anti-aging products and diet "tools" are a multi-billion dollar industry.

BUT WHY?! Fat isn't bad. We need fat to survive and to procreate. BMI is an antiquated arbitrary calculation that has been proven an inadequate measurement of health, seeing as it does not take into account bone or muscle mass. What is important is not some arbitrary ratio or pant size, but instead eating to live at the ideal size for YOUR body, not someone else's standard.

What is shocking to me is that this unhealthy obsession with healthy-equals-bone-thin is leaching into the American yoga industry. Yoga is being advertised more and more as this awesome "new" weight-loss trick, the magic bullet for fitness and the fountain of eternal youth. The popularity of Bikram Yoga, despite embodying a philosophy wholly antithetical to yoga's purpose, only highlights the industry's wholesale embrace of thin and "pure" by any means necessary. Is it that the wider American audience is not interested in a yoga that is meditative and welcoming to people of all sizes or is it that we just don't know what to do with a physical pursuit that isn't thin-driven? (I don't have the answer to that, but please feel free to voice your opinion in the comments section.)

Full disclosure: I am a yoga instructor and I have been practicing various types of yoga for almost 13 years. I am technically overweight (say it with me now, screw you, BMI!). When I am at my healthiest, which means nurturing my own yoga practice, teaching yoga and/or working out moderately 5 days a week, practicing poi, running after my nephew, and eating a low-fat, vegan diet, I am consistently 5-15 pounds "overweight." I'm not going to lie and say that I'm entirely okay with my naturally stocky build, trying to thrive in an industry chock full of naturally lithe and beautiful women, but really, what the heck am I going to do about it? I can't change my body type. I can't change my passion for yoga and my desire to help people. I can only work to be the healthiest, most energetic version of me possible and to help others do the same. This is what this blog is about: to promote, in the spirit of the yogic philosophy of non-harming, an embrace and a love of our bodies at all stages, working towards a goal of health that is not wrapped up in how thin we become. We are here to be strongest, healthiest version of ourselves, mentally, physically and spiritually, and yoga is an invaluable tool in that pursuit. Thanks for reading and I hope you stay.

Be well.

Where I've Been!