Saturday, February 16, 2002
mr. right and i have been drinking coffee lately. . .
most recently, we've been tasting different roasts from caffe d'arte. this has long been one of my favorite coffees. last week, i got a half pound each of the parioli espresso roast, the decaf espresso, and the firenze espresso roast.
mr. right is the decaf drinker; after a latte with the decaf, he reported feeling as buzzed as if he'd had regular caf. hmm! maybe he's ultra-sensitive?? after several days drinking, however, we've both pretty much agreed that the firenze roast -- the light, northern-italian style, is really the one we both prefer.
this surprises me, because for many years before i could make good espresso at home, i drank very darkly roasted, aged indonesian coffees. but i find as my means of making coffee improves, the lighter roasts really sing out. . .those i still sometimes love an aged sumatra in a french press. . .
Friday, February 15, 2002
i hate to keep going on like this, but. . .
at a certain point one just has to admit that it's jacques torres' world and we're just lucky to be living in it.
came back from yoga for a valentine's dinner to find mr. right had brought home a perfect grimaldi's pizza margherita. with extra fresh basil to strew on top at whim.
then came the pinnacle, what surely is the most incredible valentine's gift i have ever received: a hand-made torres dark-chocolate heart-shaped box, about 9 inches across, filled with jacques' best chocolates! the entire thing is edible, all made of his own dark chocolate. inside: candies filled with creamy coconut, ground pistachio, espresso ganache, sunny passion fruit.
it's all too perfect to eat -- what on earth am i saying?
Thursday, February 14, 2002
and a happy valentine's day to you, readers!
naturally today i'm going to drop a chocolate link on ya: that of chocolate artist jean-paul hevin. he is best known for breath-taking and elaborate architectural/sculptural effects in his desserts and displays.
his work is widely compared to that of a jeweller, such as harry winston or chopard. and of course he is also know for his novel mix of cheese and chocolate.
jacques torres considers him one of the greatest chocolatiers working today. . .
Wednesday, February 13, 2002
great tip from a fellow new york coffee and chocolate lover -- she writes:
A small Italian roaster, Crestanello Gran Caffe Italiano, has just opened on Fifth Ave. between 40th and 41st Streets, across from the public library. I went on the first day so am not sure how they are doing. They were then having difficulty training workers, I think, but the quality was excellent. Even if you do not like the coffee, a visit will be far from a waste, because you can have a cup of their wonderful, thick, European-style hot chocolate that is like soup. Heaven.
let's hop the subway, readers, and check this out. coffee or hot chocolate, take your pick. please write and tell me what you think -- but i must confess: jacques torres hot chocolate would be quite difficult to beat!
Tuesday, February 12, 2002
just wanna take a moment to remind you. . .
that i am planning to upgrade this site to one that uses advanced stylesheets (css2) and xhtml. the new site will be readable in older browsers, but won't look like much of anything. this is degrading gracefully. those of you still using older versions of netscape (that means 4.x) will see a plain, dull page.
the rest of you will revel in the glories of the new design. but seriously, please take this opportunity to begin the process of upgrading your browser. anything numbered 6 will do!
i intend to change over the home and main archive pages first; then the search page; and finally i will take some time time to do the remaining archive pages. so it won't happen all it once, and i'll certainly work to ensure i don't break any links. i'm already thinking about the design and hope to start the change over within a few weeks. just a heads up!
Monday, February 11, 2002
i love getting letters from yoga teachers. . .it's so like the old pre-tina brown new yorker. . .when the coy letters from a friend in wherever was, as everyone knew, archly penned by an incredibly famous writer. . .the trick was to know the author by the style. . .of course i don't know any famous yoga teachers, but still:
Letter from a concerned practitioner/teacher
After years of study in several styles of asana and pranayama practice (i.e. Ashtanga-vinyasa, Iyengar, Sivananda, & Viniyoga), I have become increasingly aware of the problem/trap that many of these standardized systems present. People come to yoga for different reasons, but the experience that we have when we come to it and our ability to embody it is determined by the teachers we choose and how we use what they teach us. As the yogic forms are being adopted by the physical fitness industry and used for their purposes, the essence of practice is often being lost. This concerns me greatly.
Krishnamacharya teaches that yoga can be found in any chosen direction, course of action or object of observation, whether that be a seated meditation or a chocolate Entenmanns donut. Asana and pranayama just happen to be particularly fruitful vehicles for yoga because body and breath are our most tangible realities (granted some vehicles are more fruitful than others). Often it seems that people are practicing asana that are not serving them and in fact impose struggle and injury on the student. Anyone who has practiced consistently for some time begins to recognize that how we work with our breath and body is very much a metaphor for how we go about life. If in our practice we are constantly struggling to attain something that is always in the future, carelessly throwing ourselves into positions that make us feel inadequate, then this is the model we are working with. The purpose of Asana and Pranayama are to facilitate a model of grace, ease, and well being. If an asana does not encourage this in the student then perhaps this is not the right asana.
Again and again students come to my class after years of practice having never received any instruction on how to go about facing the challenges that asana presents or having received instruction that actually encourages them to hurt themselves in the name of tapas or opening. Often it is described as a cathartic experience to simply get through their practice and what a torture it is some days to do so and how this is all part of the practice, to use force and will to plow through overwhelming obstacles, striving to receive clarity or peace. This is not an asana experience that is leading one towards yoga. How we go about overcoming the obstacles in the present moment is the yoga not where we will end up at some point in the unknowable future.
If attempting padmasana is painful and produces a feeling of failure or tightness then there are several other poses that one can work with to open the hips and legs first, when padmasana can be done with ease and joy then so be it. I have found that I can bring students to the more advanced poses faster and with no injury working in this incremental way. Doing the same practice of pain and tightness every day doesn't necessarily open your hips and legs as much as it is likely to injure the knees (I know first hand).
When a student demonstrates ease and know-how about their practice, I always present them with a new challenge. If the challenge is exciting and fun for the student then it becomes part of their practice, to be done on the days when they feel strong and wish to challenge themselves (and only on these days). If the challenge is too much and I observe failure in the face of the student, then it is put to the side for a time. I then will place greater emphasis on the core poses that are needed for the more advanced practice (all advanced poses are a combination of core poses, in my opinion). I also explain to the student how these core poses are going to lead them to the initial challenge. Inevitably the initial challenge is returned to and overcome, without injury and with great joy.
I have no problem with rigorous work, only struggling and straining. Breath is the indicator. Is the quality of the breath calm or anxious, slow and smooth, or fast and furious? Ujjayi pranayama (ocean-sounding breath) is an absolute must. Also facial expression can be helpful in determining appropriate practice. Are they happy and playful in the face or stern and self-defeating? Is the practice serving to facilitate patterns of behavior that lead to happiness and well being or does it reinforce the existing patterns that keep us from it?
It is impossible to injure oneself practicing yoga. It is very easy to do so practicing a posture. If you have injured yourself in your practice then no yoga was happening and you should consider modifying if not completely changing the asana that caused the injury.
There seems to me to be a lot of misinformed teaching going on. It is often being taught that the body needs to be purified before it can receive enlightenment, and that the way to do that is to subject it to rigorous exertion. This implies that the body's natural state of simply existing is in some way inadequate, that something is missing that must be attained through austerities. To make such an implication is an incredible act of arrogance, to call into question divine intelligence.
If you are alive, breath happening, heart beating, sun and moon and stars circumambulating, then you are enlightened. Period. The purpose of Hatha Yoga is simply to maintain the proper functioning of the physical body, allowing for health and well-being, and enabling the consciousness that is embodied to manifest it's chosen direction.
Those who walk the path would never suppose to know what is right for another, but merely share their experience, make suggestion when invited to do so, and trust that all is coming in accordance with truth. It is our job as the student to put our teachers to the test. If you observe a yoga teacher behaving in a way that is unkind, in or out of the asana class, then you must seriously question whether this person is qualified to teach you yoga. Because if they have been practicing asana for 5, 10 , 20 years and are still behaving in this manner then they have really missed it.
I maintain a rigorous asana program. I have learned the hard way that if I do my deep back bending variations every day out of some idea that if I donít I will lose flexibility and be unable to do the big flashy demonstration that impresses everyone, I hurt myself. If I practice those same variations only on days that my back feels happy and I am inspired to do it because it's fun, I am always safe and the practice is injury free. I still do all the same asana and I have not lost any strength or flexibility, I'm just a whole lot happier and healthier.
The art of having a Hatha Yoga practice is developing the tools to know what you need on a daily basis and then provide it to yourself. Oneís asana program must be allowed to breathe and change with the phenomena of ones life. To stick to a set system as if it were a formula for enlightenment, to be enjoyed by only those capable of withstanding the torture of an unforgiving and inappropriate practice, is horribly silly and ultimately destructive.
If you are a disagreeable and unhappy person, who cares if you can do 3rd series Ashtanga-vinyasa?
By learning some principles of practice and being given an opportunity to develop an attentiveness and intelligence of oneís own, the student no longer depends on going to a class to experience yoga. He/she becomes their own best teacher. It is then possible to find the practice that is best suited to oneís individual needs, situation, and desires. The program of asana, pranayama, and meditation can be rigorous and demanding or simple and unchallenging as long as it serves to facilitate happiness and has been arrived at through informed inquiry.
Yoga is much more than asana practice. Anytime you are nice to someone, you smile and say hello; this is a bhakti/karma yoga. Anytime you read a book, play a sport or instrument or just sit around thinking, this is a raja yoga. Yoga is the simple fact of our existence, the reality of this lifetime now. It is inherently, in and of itself, a thing of beauty to be honored. Nothing need be done in life in order to deserve the title of beautiful or worthwhile for it is already given by birthright. The challenge we face in life is to honor this truth. The way we do this, honor our own inherent beauty and worth as humans, our yoga, is simply to find ways of enjoying ourselves while we are here. Whatever ideas, activities, or people seem to facilitate a genuine experience of joy to you would therefore be preferable, asana and pranayama (hatha yoga) are without a doubt one of the best vehicles I have discovered.
Yoga is any path towards union with the Absolute -- whether conceived as a named God or a nameless truth. On a grand scale it is a peace with existence. Practically speaking it is nothing more than compassion. To find the things that serve our best intentions, and do them as best we can -- this is Yoga.
I invite others to take issue with my comments.
May all beings be free from suffering,
May our practice of yoga contribute to peace, and
May we have the strength and the courage to overcome any obstacles that lay before us.
Om Tat Sat
of course, this was written by -- you guessed it -- punk yogi j. brown.
Sunday, February 10, 2002
something i meant to mention earlier --
at various times, i've talked about how coffee and chocolate appear to have suprising health benefits. a new benefit of yoga has been shown to help people with asthma. a yogic meditation technique can help the bodies of those who suffer from asthma respond better to medication.
asthma appears to be on the rise in many cities, including new york, where many young children suffer extreme forms of this disease. so if you know someone who suffers from asthma, maybe this can help. . .