Saturday, June 29, 2002
viniyoga teacher mark whitwell = all rad tantra feminist anarchist. way cool!
big workshop today left my little head spinning. it wasn't so much an asana workshop as a viniyoga philosophy talk. and he did a lot of chanting: the gayatri; om shanti; and one to laxmi, om shreem hreem kreem laxmi namahah, that also went into kali ma, durga ma, all the cool chicks; and also one to ganesh, while we visualized our sorrows and obstacles leaving us through our feet. . .
but on the asana front, we did do a real sun salutation while actually chanting to surya (om krim krum krahaha krom surya namahah, or something like that -- me no spell sanskrit good. . .). we also did several short vinyasas, like standing on the knees, exhale to child's pose, inhale to low cobra, exhale back to child. and a trikonasana (triangle pose) vinyasa as well.
he truly emphasized ujjayi pranayama. in fact, he said that alignment during asana was of secondary importance; "the body will align itself around the breath." perfectly synchronized movement -- body, breath, and relationship -- was the essence of his message.
mark is tall, lanky guy with a graying braid not too much shorter than mine. in fact, his hair might just equal my length. and he has the most charming new zealand accent, a direct gaze, with an intense but relaxed manner of speaking. when he wanted you to continue something, he'd say "go to" and when he wanted you to stop, he'd say "good enough now."
he sat in front of the fancy gilt three-tier shiva altar on this hot afternoon at brooklyn's yoga people in a pair of faded persimmon drawstring pants, bare-chested but for several large pendants -- what looked like a jade figure on a cord, a shorter necklace with a triangular pendant, and some bead necklaces. he began by discussing the social and political tyranny of attainment yoga -- that is, any teaching that denies the innate perfection that already exists in life as life.
he urged us as students to be skeptical of anyone who told us we needed to do x or y to "improve" or to become more spiritual, to "make progress." he felt that true yoga started to happen only when a student stops "trying to be what they are not" and practices with the breath they have in its fullness. he repeated several times with growing emphasis his trademark sun analogy -- that one's relationship to the sun is obvious, in all its depth. it's not like we have to go "searching" for the sun. it's not that we doubt we depend on the sun to live. it's truly obvious, there in the sky.
and we should realize that our relationship to life is exactly the same in all its dimensions. in fact, he was arguing for the simple obviousness of god.
naturally, as someone who is at ground zero every day, as someone who has been walking by ground zero every day since late october, i had to ask him about this. because looking at ground zero, at the world trade center pit, i just don't feel this obviousness of god. in fact, i feel a great lack of any such thing. he looked at me with clear eyes and replied without hesitation that the events at ground zero were a perfect example of what he was trying to say.
that the mistaken and perverted ideas held by the perpetrators of the attack, the "political" uses of the divine they attempt -- this is the trap of attainment. you the believer are inferior to the adept (the terrorist demogogue) with the greater answers (the propaganda), you must die for our cause to attain perfection (heaven). he argued that this sort of attainment theory -- whether in politics, education, terrorism or yoga class -- was oppressive and made "our beautiful earth a hell."
he discussed the archaic orgins of yoga, and offered a theory of upanishadic society, where a shamanistic view that all people and all things were equally divine prevailed. he urged us as students to return to this attitude, to see the divine continually, equally, and already present in all. to accept ourselves as such, and to reject any teaching or system that denied this fact.
he also discussed the importance of realizing that the "yoga," the union, was already complete in us as we were. he stressed the importance of the ha- and the -tha (the sun and the moon, or the masculine and feminine) as the basis of yoga. he encouraged us in our ujjayi pranayama to experience the true ha-tha in our exhale and inhale. as he sat before us, he took his right hand to his forehead and the left to his navel; to emphasize his point he did an exaggerated ujjayi breath while moving his hands fluidly to meet and pass each other until they reversed. it appears a characteristic gesture, and i think one integral to his teaching.
as is common in many students, most of us in the room tended to shorten the inhale, while easily lengthening the exhale. he diagnosed this as a closure or distance from our divine feminine, an almost unconscious refusal to be receptive, to take in and accept what the divine had to offer. he encouraged us to recognize our masculine and feminine, the union of shiva and shakti.
then he did a short meditation and pranayama with a simple yantra and mudra. that is, he told us to sit comfortably, but with a straight spine and mula bandha, to imagine a simple circle (the yantra) as large as our bodies. its center was placed at the heart. we breathed gently a few times, and then did a few rounds of alternate nostril breathing. after that, he urged us to return to visualizing the circle and instructed us to place our one hand with forefinger and thumb touching at our heart (the yantra's center or bindhu) while we held our other hand raised to the center of the room, palm open (the mudra).
he recommended that everyone practice in this way: an equal amount light asana and pranayama; half that amount both of meditation and chant. 20 minutes in the morning and 10 at night was his prescription. whatever "class yoga" you normally do, keep doing for the "sense of community." but the encouraged everyone to develop a personalized core yoga practice of the above structure every day.
3 hours and 45 minutes flew by in an instant. it was certainly overwhelming and as intense as when someone turns on a light suddenly in the middle of the night. that sharp, almost uncomfortable feeling of blind surprise that soon settles down to normal vision. you may or may not agree with mark whitwell's yoga, but it's an experience you should undergo. . .
Friday, June 28, 2002
that's right, during the fancy food show here in new york, the scaa is holding a little get-together at the colombian coffee federation table. i certainly intend to go, although it means i'll probably miss a yoga lesson. . .
for you serious coffee lovers, the scaa is working on creating a new consumer membership category, to help coffee devotees learn more about our favorite beverage and to facilitate more dialogue between consumers and specialty providers. i think it's a great idea.
right now it seems as if membership would be about US$30 per year and offer some kind of newsletter or access to a special website. maybe discounts on equipment from selected dealers. . . but the whole thing is fluid, the idea still evolving. i certainly think the scaa could do more to foster appreciation of fine coffee among the general public, so i'm already on the bandwagon.
the formal program apparently will start this fall, but a few people are part of an early group to work out what the membership benefits and such would be. this little get-together is no more than a quick way to meet the scaa's main events planner who'll be here in new york for the food show. still, i'm looking forward to it, and will report. . .
Thursday, June 27, 2002
howard schultz steps up and uses some of his awesome power as a global c.e.o. to encourage more help for coffee farmers. about time, big guy! i've ranted enough on this subject, dear readers, so i won't bore you anymore.
i'll just end by noting that this week's coffee auction in guatemala delivered on the promise of cup of excellence prizes -- the best coffee went for US$8.45 a pound. considering that the average world price for specialty coffee is about US$0.50 a pound (that's right, 50 cents!) it's a nice premium.
Wednesday, June 26, 2002
i was going to start the calvel bread recipe today, but looking at the weather forecast for this weekend, it's going to be about 98 degrees on the day i would be baking it. so we're going to have to let that project lapse a bit. please be patient until i can find a rainy weekend.
however, i do have a great thing happening this saturday. it's a workshop with mark whitwell, a world-renowned yoga teacher. his style of yoga is a little different than the one i normally do. but i have received only the highest recommendations about this teaching. so look for that on saturday night. . .
you know i began this blog thinking it would be mostly about bread and chocolate, but actually it's now mostly about coffee and yoga. strange. i began doing yoga 3 times a week to counteract the back problems endemic to all us computer people who sit and type and type and type.
now i have a serious yoga practice, 6 days a week. my yoga routine is like my favorite pair of blue jeans. it's not an activity, it's not an exercise, it's really become a helpful outlook on life. it just helps me be more comfortable and makes me feel more like me, even as it constantly challenges my assumptions.
i hope to be able to speak to mark whitwell about this. i'll report all the details to you. . .
oh, and by the way: a short political commentary. the 9th circuit court today ruled that the words "under god" in the pledge of allegiance are unconstitutional. since i grew up in kansas -- that place most recently noted for banning the concept of evolution in the schools -- i naturally have a certain feeling about this.
of course, the ruling will not stand on further appeal; after all the constitution itself mentions god several times. while the administration and the senate have already expressed their intention to make sure "under god" stays. but in what form?
'leading schoolchildren in a pledge that says the united states is "one nation under god" is as objectionable as making them say "we are a nation 'under jesus,' a nation 'under vishnu,' a nation 'under zeus,' or a nation 'under no god,' because none of these professions can be neutral with respect to religion,' the judge wrote. oh, i disagree. . .
i propose just that: we should revise the pledge, while keeping the concerns of the godly in mind. if it's unfair to make some people say "under god," as that is not neutral, then we should simply rotate the deity/not-deity named. mondays would be "under shiva;" tuesdays "under avalokita;" wednesdays -- "under . . .," why, pick the dogon spirit of your choice!; thursdays could be whatever rational value the secular humanists prefer; and friday could be for the organized atheists, who might choose "under the great horned aleatory."
i would love to hear certain famed evangelists say "under nommo," frankly. but as long as everyone has a chance to name the divine being or not of their choice in turn, why isn't that "neutral?" no one is being favored in this system. . .
those evangelical christians, who wish to expose everyone to the benefits of religion, could still have their wish. we could also teach children about other cultures, other religions and about that crucial insight: how it's actually great that people hold wildly different points of view. more power to you, nommo and st. jude both!
we can dream can't we?
Tuesday, June 25, 2002
that's right: chocolate pirates smuggle in illegal italian eggs from canada to u.s.a.
and now i've figured out a way to supplement my day job -- matchmaking those lithe, limber, longhaired yoginis with the men who love them.
the male mail is substantial (o.k., so it's 2 so far; that's still a lot, considering. . .); these guys wanna know how to meet that mane of their dreams. only on the net! my answer to them all: get a mat and hit your nearest yoga class a.s.a.p!
Monday, June 24, 2002
it's amazing, the power of the internet. i send out a true cri de coeur about the best hair for yoga, and long-haired yoginis around the world reply!
how could i not know of the huge community of long-haired yoginis who gather at sites like longhairlovers? one kind correspondant suggested i ask my question there. and results to braiding sites were forthcoming: dreamweaver braiding, for example. the crown braid was said to be the answer to my dilemma.
but who on earth knows how to do these things? am i supposed to try the patience of the sweet jamaican ladies atthe hair parlors in downtown brooklyn? and where on earth am i going to get that darned bone bodkin?
still, if one happens to roll out from underneath the bookcase, i now know what hairstyle to wear to the chicest event, the summer's hottest ticket: the yoga party.
Sunday, June 23, 2002
long-time readers know that i have hair long enough to nearly sit on. while usually a social asset, it does cause problems in one my favorite activities: yoga.
how to keep it out of my face and up during vigorous sun salutes? a bun works. but then, when the poses hit the floor and you have stretch out on your back to set up for full wheel, i waste time taking the bun down. the resulting pony tail let my head stay flat on the floor with a straight spine, but i ended up pulling my own hair when i slid my feet over my head for plow.
what is the perfect long-hair yoga hairstyle? 1 long braid suffers the drawbacks of a ponytail. 2 side braids dangle all around and whip about in sun salutes. 2 braids wrapped around your head like the sound of music work until it's time for headstand. readers, this seems like a laughably small thing, but it was driving me nuts every day. . .
finally a really cool yogini from laughing lotus gave me the answer, although it took me several weeks to actually gather the courage to leave my house wearing it: the princess leia.
i kid you not. although mr. right couldn't help hooting "help me obi-wan; you're my only hope!" as i dashed out the door this evening, i must say it's true. the princess leia is the ultimate hairstyle for the yogini on the go. highly recommended, if you can endure the giggles on the street.
how to do it at home, yoginis? this hairstyle can actually be seen in english art of the 14th century; ladies in illuminated manuscripts often sport it. check out more beautiful braids for detailed instructions. . .