Thursday, December 20, 2007

Baking as Yoga

Since we are well into the holidays, and probably all the eating that goes with them, here is a guest post from my friend Anja Zander, who bakes like the proverbial domestic goddess! She is also a dedicated Ashtangi, maintaining a regular practice and even squeezing in a bit of teaching, despite regularly (always) working 14-hour days. She tells me the New Year will hold more balance on that front...

My favorite memories of my childhood are eating freshly baked bread (which was rather super healthy with loads of seeds and not an ounce of white flour in) smothered in butter or eating Apfelstrudel with heaps of fresh cream. Birthdays were most important because then I could have either a Malakoff cake or Profiteroles filled with cream and peaches. My love for baked goods never subsided. Yet years would pass were I would not eat cake never mind attempting to bake. Shop bought cakes or biscuits never had any appeal to me. They tasted all of sugar and bland flour to me. Some have said growing up in a Austrian/German household spoilt me a little bit in my tastes for baked goods......

When I had the chance to go to Europe, I would make sure I had my croissant and bol au chocolat in Paris, my cream smothered Sachertorte in Vienna or the Apfelstrudel with (once again) cream. The smells of their good quality sugar, grounds hazelnuts, flour and butter made me feel calm, comfortable and for a few blissful moments, all was good in the world.

Yet, I was a lousy baker! I could not cook nor bake. Not being able to cook never bothered me, I love throwing salads and pasta together which requires very little cooking. But baking, there was a whole world out I wanted to discover there yet every attempt to bake ended up in total failure. Burnt, stodgy, boring, too sweet.

Until the day I got hold of the book by Nigella Lawson, How to Be A Domestic Goddess. I liked the title. A book written by a modern woman with a good sense of irony and self depreciation, someone who unapologetically loved food and as she said herself, was not someone who liked fancy pretentious food. A woman after my heart! I enjoyed the little introduction to each recipe (scoffing dark chocolate cake at midnight is always a good thing according to Nigella) and decided to try bake. I cannot even remember what is the 1st thing I baked but I know it worked! I could create something so tasty out of flour, sugar, butter and some good dark chocolate. Around the same time I realized I could bake, I started to take yoga up again. Like baking, yoga had been part of my life early but I abandoned it because I lacked good guidance. I found a wonderful yoga teacher (Nadine...yes you!) who re-inspired me to do yoga, who taught me how to be more gentle, calmer and be in the moment.

There have been many a tear and panic moment when some cake did not turn out the way I had in my head - from a cake bursting into flames in the oven to plastic melting around a cake to just me having way too high expectations of what the cake should look like. I do apologies to everyone around me who had to put up with the angst that I managed to artificially create! As the years passed, I did more and more yoga and stopped punishing myself in yoga if I could not pretzel myself as the teacher could or as the pretty picture in the yoga book. I learnt, without really consciously thinking about it, to be in the moment, enjoy the poses I could to in yoga and realize we all have different limitations and to work within those. And what seemed to be quite sudden, the yoga poses came more easily to me, I managed to do poses I never thought I could. And one should not measure oneself according to what one can do but it is so fun when one can do something one never thought one could!

And this brings me back to baking, now I bake and bring a whole lot less angst into it and the cakes turn out so much better. Oh yes, occasionally there is the still the moment of angst and I am sure everyone around me scuttles off then (as much as in yoga I have moments of annoyance with myself). In general, I talk to my baked goods while they are rising, mixing, melting or resting. Seems perfectly sane to me :) I lovingly melt the 70 % dark chocolate into the smooth butter, I coax the egg whites to be all firm and well behaved, I have a rather good relationship with yeast, which produces yummy cinnamon buns with a maple pecan topping (they are I must admit one of my favorite recipes and I think most of my friends agree). Nigella and her humorous descriptions and reassurances helped me become a Domestic Goddess, but yoga taught me to be in the moment, to focus only on what I do now and baking needs that, as does yoga. The ingredients need your full attention and to really be there and then they do happily as you want it. Every now and then the baking faeries get a bit sneaky and mess it a little bit up;I laugh and try again. Or maybe try something different. As I do when I get stuck on a yoga pose.

To yoga and baking - both bring benefits of good friends (and not just because I feed them occasionally) and a certain peace of mind and fulfillment!

* Sorry about the poor-quality photo of Anja - it was the only one I had to hand, and I had to fiddle with the color/contrast a bit.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

No Obligation

I am sure you have all noticed: I am having trouble keeping up with my blog reading (and commenting!), never mind regular posting. Life is getting in the way - recent drama aside, it is the birthday/party season, so life is a social whirl, and on top of that I am busily knitting gifts for Christmas.

I declare myself a member:

I have a whole bunch of cool posts planned - some Q&A's with great ladies and everything. I just don't have the energy to get it all formatted and posted right now. I'll be back. Y'know, when I am back.

In the meantime, hope you all have wonderful holidays, festive seasons, down time, and yoga of course.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Learning to Pray

prayer, originally uploaded by kimxtom.

My family and friends have been subject to basically the full gamut of unfortunate events lately: sickness, death, bereavement, financial penury, relationship troubles, and, probably the worst, two terrible accidents in which children were badly hurt.

In the midst of this chaos, my head spinning, I wonder what I can do to help. Apart from some moral support, just about all I can do is pray. And I do that every morning by dedicating my yoga practice to the one who needs it most, and through the day by dedicating my teaching to the one who needs it most. The list is long right now. Todays recipient is my friend's four month old daughter, who was bitten by a dog in the windpipe and rushed to ICU last night. It happened, from what I can gather, in the midst of her six month old cousin's christening celebration. I think my efforts must be paying off, because she was taken off the ventilator this morning, and is looking much better. Well, my efforts and those of the many others who prayed for her through the night and into the morning.

It is amazing how different a yoga practice feels when it is for one who needs, not just a way to stretch out the kinks in your muscles - if you know someone in need of a little help, maybe you could dedicate your practice to them, or, if you have done this in the past, I would love to hear your stories!

I have read about this same practice on some knit blogs - except with knitting - and totally off the topic, I plan to post a list of my favourites for your reading enjoyment. Be patient, all is coming!

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Tag, I'm it!

So I have been tagged by Christine - thanks for finding me, Christine!

Tag rules are:
  • Link to the person that tagged you, and post the rules on your blog.
  • Share 7 random and/or weird facts about yourself.
  • Tag 7 random people at the end of your post, and include links to their blogs.
  • Let each person know that they’ve been tagged by leaving a comment on their blog.
OK, as usual I am the dead zone girl for tags etc, so I'm gonna ask that if you want to participate, take yourself as tagged - and send me a link!

Now: 7 Random and/or Weird Facts About Me:

Trikonasana parivrtti var

  1. My thumbs are a truly strange shape, yet I have never had an issue with them. My nose is normal, yet I spent my teens thinking it was unsightly. Go figure.
  2. I really, really hate rock music involving screaming guitars. I'll take Johnny Cash any day.
  3. I love early summer in Johannesburg, because of the flowering Jacarandas and Bougainvilleas.
  4. I only discovered what peonies were last week - bought them because they were pretty, and found out their name from a client afterwards.
  5. I call SUV's and MPV's and all those big-ass cars stupid-mobiles. Not politically correct, but then neither are those gas guzzling resource chewers.
  6. As a teenager, I not only dressed super-sluttily (retrospective shudder) but also had five body piercings. I still think the piercings were cool, but would never repeat the clothes. I think I might re-pierce my nose...
  7. If I had been completely honest, I would have studied linguistics at university instead of business.

Hello and Goodbye

It was my hubby's birthday on Saturday, and we had a (pizza) party to celebrate. It was a bittersweet day though, because my aunt had died that morning. So we were celebrating the continuation of one life and mourning the end of another.

Ironically, today was my mom in law's birthday and also my aunt's funeral. So I was once again celebrating the continuation of one life and mourning the end of another. I watched my cousins, only a little older than me, who are now without their mother, and I wondered, what if?

I am so grateful my parents are still with me, and I am so grateful for all those whom I love and who love me. I hope I can remember this all the time, not just on a day like today.

Au revoir, Marion. God keep you, and may the next time be easier.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Yoga Legere

That's (probably bad) French for Yoga Light. By which I mean the lighter side, rather than 'Lite' like less serious, or sugar-free or something. It's been a heavy week for me, and I have been glad of something light. And sweet.

I am, in fact, referring to Hip Tranquil Chick by Kimberly Wilson. This is one yoga book that appeals to me because it gets the basic concepts across without being preachy, and the tone is light, fun, not at all the usual rather heavy textbook stuff I tend towards. It is sometimes such a relief not to have to take things sooooo seriously. Plus there are quick, simple practice sequences - so nice to do when you want to practice at home but don't know what to do. Yes, I have those days too. Don't you?

If you are in SA, your best bets are Loot or Kalahari, regular bookstores don't seem to have it - I tried several.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Q & A with Kimberly Palmer

I first started reading Kim's blog, Good Girl, after she did a guest post over at Hip Tranquil Chick, quite a while ago now. She has since moved on to Creating Ms Perfect, and, from what I can tell, she's doing a pretty good job. I love reading her blog because she explores what it means to be a woman, in the context of our day-to-day lives; how we relate to our husbands and parents, how we feel about careers, and being happy. To this end, she is delving into the wonderful world of self-help books. We did a Q & A, so you can all get to know her a bit better before visiting her fabulous blog!

Why did you start following women's self-help books?

I first became fascinated with women's advice books about 10 years ago, when I found a marriage manual in my grandmother's closet in Bath, England. It was incredible -- it advised wives to always look good for their husbands and to make sure not to share too much "intimacy" or you might tire each other out. Some parts were so different from the advice we get today, but then others sounded so familiar. Then, when I got married, I realized I could use some old-fashioned advice, not just for figuring out marriage stuff, but also for deciding how I was going to feel like I was contributing to the world, and how to be happy -- so that's how "Creating Ms. Perfect" got started. It is basically my quest to figure out what kind of wife and person I want to be with the help of women's advice books.

What's your favorite advice so far?
The most enlightening thing so far has been realizing that's it's okay to embrace cooking and cleaning. I've always avoided those two things because I was raised to be a feminist, and I am, but I realized it's possible to be both a feminist and a lover of the domestic arts.

Which advice did you hate?
I really do not enjoy most of the beauty advice out there. I am a flats-wearing, make-up-avoiding kind of girl. The idea of getting regular manicures, waxes, and spray-on tans makes me cringe.

What does your husband think of you following the marriage advice?
At first, he hated it. Well, he hated the idea of me blogging about it, and of people possibly thinking he wanted me to be a traditional type wife. But then he realized I was having fun with it. And he doesn't mind the occasional well-cooked dinner.

What about your yoga practice? How does it tie in with the advice you have been reading?
Lately, I've been focusing on books on finding meaning in life and identifying your passion. One of the key messages is that it's essential to have quiet time each day to make sure you're in touch with yourself, and in touch with how you're interacting with the world. This is where yoga comes in for me. I practice almost every day -- on busy days only about 15 minutes, but still, even a few sun salutations or child's poses mixed with other restorative positions (my favorite is legs-up-the-wall pose before bed) help me to quiet my mind. It's not that I have any huge revelations during this time, it's just that it somehow clears my head and let's me feel calm and open to whatever is happening in my life.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Zombie Yoga

I am afraid I seem to be feeling silly. Blame this on my husband, who found it!

If you can't view the video, check it out at Boing Boing (because I have NO IDEA how to fix what's broken!)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Shoulderstand Part 2

Some cool pics - thanks, you fabulous Flickr posters:

straighten up, originally uploaded by *trigger hippie*.

21 february 07, originally uploaded by 2achel.

And I know this isn't a real post, but I thought those of you who haven't read the comments from the first shoulderstand post might be interested in some of them - I certainly was:

Karen Beth said...

My arms are not strong enough to do shoulderstand (although I wish they were!) and my teacher never pushed me to do it. I tried it anyway once and also made my neck sore.

It is a student's responsibility also to know their limitations. Any teacher who insists and insists upon them doing what they know they can't isn't a good teacher.

People should listen to their bodies and teachers should respect and know that and never push.


Karen Beth :)

Linda (Sama) said...

"This means I have been remiss in my teacherly duties"

not necessarily, nadine. more likely your students don't "have the bones" to do shoulderstand comfortably. as Paul Grilley says, "yoga is all in the bones."

when I train with him and he wants to show examples of the "winners and losers" (and you have to know him to know that he really doesn't mean you're a loser!) we line up for certain poses and he looks at our bone structure. someone with "winner" bones can do a pose easily, the "losers" can't. the angle of the neck determines who can do a shoulderstand comfortably.

for shoulderstand, he has us drop our chins to our upper chest. now take a ruler or stick, place it on the back of your student's neck going up the back of the head and look at the angle. less of an angle (i.e., the more upright the stick is) the more uncomfortable; more of an angle (in other words, the top of the stick is lower), the more comfortable the student will be in shoulderstand, neck-wise.

and if someone never does shoulderstand, what's the big deal? we're so attached to our bodies, to the "forms" that we are "supposed" to do. why?

Linda (Sama) said...

"The catch is that after class, Mary is a judgemental and mean person."

sounds like those 30 years of yoga study really hasn't done much at all...have they?

all the technical knowledge doesn't mean anything if it doesn't evolve the heart.

Total Health Yoga - Kris said...

I can completly relate to your concerns and questions -- is it appropriate to even introduce certain poses? The issue I find is in most classes there is a wide range of abilities. I don't introduce shoulderstand, handstand, headstand, or hand balances in a beginning class, because even if someone is flexible and strong it's the "awareness" that I stress when starting Yoga (and always). However, in one of my classes that's been going on for a while, we do shoulderstand sometimes--because their are folks really ready for it. In that same class there are folks really not ready. Ah, the dilema! I tell them what to look for (such as the Paul Grilley suggestion for the neck angle) to be sure they are ready. However, I do not play the parent. I literally say, "I'm not going to make you do or not do anything. If you want my recommendation, I will offer it, but I'm not going to make you come down." (I've only insisted once that a woman not go up--she has major neck issues. Regardless she says she does it all the time at home....)
This might not be the best approach, but it's the one I've taken to. Point is, I want to offer more challenging poses to people that can really benefit from them. At the same time, I offer info and guidance. But in the end, people will do what they want. "You can lead the horse to water, but you can't make them drink it." You offered alternatives (legs on wall), but you can't make someone not take it. Perhaps allowing each student to back off (and maybe bruise the ego a bit) 'on their own' is a lesson in and of itself.
Hope I'm not rambling too much....

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Gayatri Mantra

Hmm, the Gayatri Mantra is a great way to wipe the slate clean each new day, I could do with that after my last post. This is sooo cool, in a slightly cheesy way - link courtesy of a student:

Return of the Killer Shoulderstand

In the last week, two of my students have got sore necks from practicing shoulderstand. This means I have been remiss in my teacherly duties. It shouldn't have happened. As I was apologizing profusely to one of them this morning, she said to me,
"But I don't blame you: I wanted to do it even though I knew I could just do legs up the wall. And it felt good while I was doing it."
But. I am the teacher and I should have know better.

Which got me to thinking:

Kris over at Total Health Yoga recently posted this entry:

My friend currently attends a class with a very knowledgeable woman. We'll call her Mary. Mary has studied Iyengar Yoga with Iyengar and many of his senior teachers for 30 years. She leads a well-structured class and has a firm understanding of how to guide students. My friend feels safe in this class and appreciates how Mary is able to watch and ensure folks don't overextend themselves. Sounds great, right? The catch is that after class, Mary is a judgemental and mean person. This really bothers my friend and she's questioning whether-or-not to continue attending a class given by someone that she can't respect or like as a person. There is another teacher, in the Anusara style, that she can go to. This gal is very sweet and nice, but she keeps stressing the class to go a little further--take it deeper. I have heard this frequently in Anusara--constant encouragement to "take it to the next level." (A blog topic for another day.) My friend is concerned that she could easily get hurt in such a class.
And I posted this reply:

I wonder, does your friend not have other options by way of teachers? Because it sounds like neither is REALLY kind - pushing too hard in class is almost as bad as being mean outside of it.

I think, on balance, kindness is the most important quality for a yoga teacher. Even if you don't know what you are doing, as I feel I frequently don't, harm doesn't tend to arise with a kind, present teacher.
In spite of which, it appears that I have been the bubbly bully this week. I am sorry. Shoulderstand will not be making an appearance for a while. Nor will any other joint-threatening poses. Let's just hope I have learnt my lesson...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Oh wow, more yogi knitters!

Aha, turns out I have loads of great company on the knitting front - many of you will have seen this article from the September Yoga Journal. I didn't because:
  1. I was traveling
  2. I have been a little off YJ of late - too many unfeasibly beautiful people, not enough substance. It's back in favour right this second, though.
If you want more mindful knit-spiration, check out Tara Jon Manning's blog, Earth-Sky-Knitter. Lovely!

And, just so you know, knitting really is therapeutic. Except when you mess up in a lace pattern and can't figure out where things went wrong, so you are forced to live with the glitch. Grrr. Well, it makes the items handmade I guess.

Lastly, I simply MUST have this book:

Greetings from Knit Cafe. I think I might want to knit everything in it. Now. Right after I finish this slightly dodgy, very simple-lace scarf (yes, scarf! Leopards can change their spots, it seems.)

Treat the Individual

So, a little more on stuff I learned at KYM in August (quelle longtemps!)

One day, in an applications of yoga class, someone asked what you would do if a thyroid patient couldn't do sarvangasana, since that is the best pose for normalising thyroid function. The teacher, with a horrified look on her face, replied that you should Never. Never. Never. Treat the symptom. You treat the individual, and just moving the body in any kind of asana practice goes a long way towards restoring homeostasis.

It got me to thinking: it really is overly simplistic to say that this treat this and that treats that - basically like prescribing headache pills. We all get headaches for different reasons, so the solution will be different in each case too. It gives us far more, erm, flexibility in how we structure and practice our yoga.

For example, it may be appropriate for one person to do very little asana and a lot of philosophy, while the reverse may be true for another. I know I have said this before, but when I heard the shoulderstand exchange at school, it sank in just a little more for me.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Puppetji. Really

This is a great blog I found via the link at Paper or Dysplastic?

If you have a few minutes to kill and want some light entertainment with your wisdom, Puppetji is you man. Erm, guru. Erm, puppet.
Ahh, just have a look!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Real Yoga for Real People

The trailer for Mark Whitwell's DVD by the same name. I think we all need to hear what he has to say, over and over again.

Friday, October 12, 2007


Isn't this just the cutest piccie of baby L practising her morning yoga? Her mom, a gorgeous yogini currently living in Brazil, said I could share this with y'all!

A Balanced Yogi?

Yeah, I know this has already done the rounds, but it is kinda fun. Now, if you'll excuse me, I am off to work on being as fabulous as the quiz results say I am!

I'm a Balanced Yogi!

A Balanced Yogi

You love your friends unconditionally and accept them for who they are no
matter what their yoga style preference, religious beliefs, or spending habits.
You focus on the good in people and would never try to change them. Almost
everyone feels comfortable in your presence. You live your yoga. You are an
inspiration to yoga students everywhere!

Take the Yoga Journal Yoga Snob Quiz!

PS: Don't you think this picture actually looks a little like me, hair and all?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

What I learned

I learned so much at KYM that it is difficult for me to put it into words, but, at Linda's urging, I shall try!

Of course, I learned a great deal from what we were actually taught, but I learned almost as much from the way our teachers conduct themselves. I think this is the great power of great teachers: leading by example. All of the teachers at KYM are very well trained, and receive a few extra hours of training just about every day, something we in the West can usually only fantasise about. But. Far more importantly, they all teach yoga because they really believe in what they are doing. Some are former housewives, but many are people who overcame great obstacles with the help of yoga and want to pass that gift along. Sometimes they take time off from their businesses or jobs to teach, sometimes they do other tasks at KYM in between teaching, and even more impressively, some of them give up lucrative careers to teach yoga for not very much money at all. I believe this is because they are following the example of their teacher, who has lived modestly all his life, following the example of his teacher.

It helps to have a good example. Something else I noticed about these teachers: never a bad word crosses their lips. I particularly noticed this with Shaheeda Murthy, a consultant at KYM who taught us yoga therapy (Always my favourite subject for some reason.) She would praise the teachers who presented their students to us for case studies, and she always found a kind word for the students too. Even the ones who were presented to us as 'failures'. We specially asked for those because it seems that KYM has a much much higher success rate in getting people to actually do the yoga than we do in the West. They do, but they still have a few fall off the wagon, and that was so encouraging to see. Imagine always being able to find the good in someone. That, I think, is a skill that takes years of cultivation; watching Shaheeda, I noticed that her way with people made them stand a little taller, glow a little brighter, and, for a while, see themselves in the light of her praise. This was not fake praise either. It was the real thing. She seemed to keep silent unless she could find something real to say. Wow.

And this brings me to one of the 'new ' definitions of yoga we were given:
Yoga not just as a binding or union of the various parts of ourselves (mind, body, spirit...) but also as a function that we all perform. In the context of the course (yoga for women) this is done particularly by women. We link our inner selves to the outside world, our nuclear family to the extended family (birthday calendar, anyone?), our children to their activities and so on. In order to be an effective link in the chain, we need to be whole, not broken - or we would be the weakest link, maybe even the broken one. And nobody wants to be the weakest link. This, say our teachers, is why we really really need yoga. So we can yuj to the world, just as my lovely teacher Shaheeda creates links with her kind words.

This is Shaheeda, in the centre. Isn't she lovely?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

The Future of Air Travel


All travelers: Standard procedure, for your own safety and protection:

  • Please undress in the curtained booths and put on one of these standard paper jumpsuits. Place your clothing in the plastic bag, and we will perform security checks on it. We might return it at the end of you journey.
  • Please shave you head and all other body hair.
  • Your luggage will also be security-checked, and incinerated if it is a security risk. Or if we just don't like the look of it.
  • Please arrive 24 hours before your scheduled flight in order to allow us to complete security checks in a timely manner.
  • If you have a green passport (i.e. Third World somewhere), you are not welcome. Anywhere. Go home.

Yoga in London

I am finally back on home soil, after much hanging about in airports, and assorted red tape. Suffice to say that wasn't my favourite part of the travelling, and more on that in a separate post.

I did manage to get to a few yoga classes in London, which was very exciting! Here is the rundown.

Jivamukti Yoga London

Fabulous studio, clean and pretty in a nice part of town, but be warned, it is a 15 min walk from the nearest tube station. 10 if you are willing to trot. I enjoyed the class, classic vinyasa, warm and sweaty, heavy on arm balances and inversions, but the instructor was young and inexperienced and he did a few things that made me uncomfortable. My friend Huma, whom I met at KYM last year, works there though, and so I got the plus of a yoga class and catching up with her.

Yoga in London costs, but Jivamukti has a ten day intro offer of ten pounds. Not bad value at all!


I loved these classes, and went back three times. Amanda, the teacher, looks like Yoga Barbie, but without the huge bust! After the class with her, I felt euphoric, the way I did when I first started yoga. She is great, and I can't recommend her highly enough. Classes are a little out of town, in Uxbridge, but if you find yourself anywhere near Northwest London, you gotta go. Really!

Her prices are reasonable too, starting at five pounds fifty.

I wanted to check out more classes, but ran out of time. Sigh. So much yoga, so little time!

Monday, September 17, 2007

Yoga Anyhow

My last post was about how I have managed to do asana in odd places - and thank you guys for reading and commenting!

I ran across this post at Daily Cup of Yoga, about how any exercise can get you to the same place as yoga. Read it. I don't need to add anything!

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Yoga Anywhere

I know most of us associate yoga practice with asana, and I must admit I really like to do a daily asana practice, as long-time readers know. I have managed a full asana practice almost every day since we have been travelling, with the exception of heavy travel days, when it just wasn't possible.

I can now say for certain that it is possible to practice anywhere. Really, anywhere. These are some of the places I have practiced in the last six weeks:
  • Yoga school in Chennai (duh)
  • Grubby apartment floor in Chennai
  • Hotel rooms, of generous proportions, in Pondicherry, Mamalapuram, Mumbai
  • Tiny London hallway, belonging to the friends with whom we are staying. There is no space to put arms out to the sides, or indeed really overhead, but I have managed a full practice nonetheless - it is the only space available!
  • Guesthouses and hotels in Dublin, Kilkenny, Cork, Killarney and Dunlaoghre. Some of these we of quite petite dimensions, especially in Cork where our room was in an attic with a dramatically sloping ceiling, no room to stand up properly...
So asana doesn't really present me with a challenge: I would have liked to attend more classes but that hasn't been possible.

As to the other yoga, the real reason we practice, well, that has been more of a challenge. You know how with continued practice you are meant to find a deeper connection to your inner self? I thought I was doing OK on that front, until I realised most of my internal connection is with my Inner Control Freak (we shall call her ICF.) ICF is not happy about the holiday weight gain, caused by too many restaurant meals, treats and the like. She thinks right now is a great time to start a Better Eating Plan. Despite the fact that we will be home in two weeks, and until then I don't have as much control over my life and food routines as I would at home... Sigh.

The only sign of progress on this front is that I am able to see the process as it unfolds. Some progess, c'est bien.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Whistle-stop touring

I am not given to coach touring: I tried it in my twenties, and I think I am neither young nor old enough to find it enjoyable. I found that all the destinations, in-between places and toilet stops merged into a homogeneous mass. Nonetheless, I have just spent the last week on a frantically-paced road tour of Ireland, in particular Dublin, Cork and Kerry and the Wicklow Mountains. The trip was arranged by our very kind London-based friends, who came with, of course!

I found (again) that sitting in a car all day leads to all manner of discomforts for me, not least of which are seized-up hip flexors and, unfortunately, a bladder infection. Not great to need toilet stops every ten minutes when there is A Schedule! So again, I was reminded that it is good to know what manner of beast you are (a non coach-touring kind), and also to be reminded that sometimes it is good to get out of your comfort zone. Just as we do with our asana and pranayama practice, we slip into life ruts too, and having someone else in charge of the travel plans (or the yoga practice) can shake things ups a bit, remind you that you can in fact be flexible, if you just allow yourself to be! Note to self: you can be flexible, you can be flexible...

Ireland is a pretty place, even more prosperous and tourist-ridden than when I was last there eight years ago. The cities are teeming with foreigners working there, foreigners visiting, and a few actual Irish folk. The outskirts of most cities and towns are turning into McHouse paradise - a sign again of the economy's prosperity.

The countryside is for the most part still quite pastoral, cows and sheep everywhere and cute little villages, especially in the Ring of Kerry, which we completed in one day, whistle-stop style. It is weird, though, in Ireland and the UK, how as the population becomes more varied, with people from every corner of the globe moving there, the shops become ever more homogeneous. It was really quite unnerving to see the same window display (exact to every detail) at four branches of a chain store in four different cities, as we whipped past. The portion sizes, for example of coffee, are also insanely large. What happened to a small, or for that matter a medium cup? Who needs a tankard of coffee? This kind of consumerism, which must be mindless, since people are buying the over-sized coffee, worries me. I have been eating starter portions because the main meals are, as a rule, too large, even for someone with as healthy an appetite as me!

We are back in London now, for a few days, and hoping to catch up with friends and family and see a few sights before we head to Paris and then home.

Hope you are all well!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

How (not) to see Mumbai

I am now a seasoned traveller, and feel that I can share my vast store of how-to with you all. I did everything right, and the post that follows is not based on my experiences, this all happened to a 'friend'...

What not to do when visiting Mumbai (A Comedy of Errors)

  1. Arrive during monsoon, guaranteeing delays on either end of your flight
  2. Book into a hotel, which, while comfortably appointed and close to the airport, is far from absolutely everything else
  3. After travelling all day, spend the next day travelling all day, leaving yourself no time to recover from aching muscles, dehydration and exhaustion
  4. Spend an hour and a half schlepping from said hotel to the Gateway of India
  5. Eat your obligatory lunch at the famous Taj Mahal hotel and pay more than you have anywhere else in India. For entrees only
  6. Buy tickets for the ferry to the Elephanta Caves, and trust the toothless tout, parting with three times the going rate for an info booklet
  7. Catch the ferry, in mildly nasty weather, not realising you will be on board for an hour, and get sunburnt (this happened to the husband in this little tale, not erm, my friend)
  8. At the Elephanta Caves, refuse the help of the security guard who is showing you around, because you think he wants a bribe, as everyone has so far today
  9. Find yourself being trailed by a large, boisterous family from Rajastan who want (endless) photos with the foreign Auntie
  10. Step in mud of questionable provenance and break your sandal, after seeing only one of the caves
  11. Realise the security guard doesn't want a bribe, and finally accept his offer of help
  12. Hobble down the (steep) hill on your broken shoe, climb into the ferry, and spend the next hour spitting out sea water and praying, because the waves are like something out of Perfect Storm, and, this being India, the ferry is in poor repair, it is spectacularly overcrowded, and a life jacket has never crossed the threshold
  13. Back on dry land (miraculously), lose your taxi driver and spend the next hour hobbling around, looking for a phone to call him or the hotel. Eventually give up and ask at the Taj reception. Where they help you. Could've gone there first and saved an hour...
  14. Spend three hours in Mumbai's best traffic, getting back to the hotel at 9pm
You may want to take the odd pointer from this. I think maybe this is why so many people we have spoken refer to Mumbai as that city. Believe it or not, it wasn't actually such a bad day!

Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Tomorrow, we leave South India for Mumbai, where we will spend our last few days in India, before we fly to London. We are in Mammalapuram, aka Mahabalipuram (this renaming business makes for great confusion). It is most famous for its beach resorts, impressive examples of Dravidian architecture, and the Shore Temple, which was in fact part of a complex, but the rest is now under water. I am told this discovery was made by the common man in the wake of the Tsunami, when the waters receded dramatically.

It seems to be a poorer town than Pondy or Chennai, with many, many people using the beach for all their ablutions (yes, everything.) It is sad, because on the whole South Indians look quite prosperous, and most seem to have their basic needs for sanitation and clean water met to some extent. I think perhaps the government is concentrating its infrastructure efforts in the larger towns and cities.

Seeing the poverty and filth in this little town, like so much else about travelling, especially in India, shows up all the habits I have in thinking, seeing, judging (see the Auroville post!). I notice again and again how I dislike change, and fight against it, even if I instigated it - case in point: the way I was disappointed that our current hotel is not as nice or homely as the wonderful Le Dupleix in Pondy. I also notice that if I feel my needs, for example in terms of cleanliness, are not met, I get uptight. Then there is the spending. India's beautiful goodies erode my self-control and I always buy more than I need to or should! Watching my husband do the same, but on a larger scale, with art pieces, has been educational too. I am not as flexible as I should be, but again, travelling forces the issue, because sometimes, if you are not flexible, you will be without transport or accommodation! How lucky I am to have such a mirror: the yoga of travel.


So I mentioned how much I liked Pondicherry. Well, our visit to Auroville made an interesting interlude. The visitors' centre is clean and well organised, the community seems to work, the big golden globe at the heart of it all, the Matramandir, is suitably impressive. But. I find the philosophy behind the community a little odd. The basic premise on which Auroville was founded was that it be a spiritual community, but rejecting all religion. So far so good. But then why name the four supports of the Matramandir after the four great Hindu goddesses? And why have images of the Guru and the Mother everywhere, literally enshrined?

This is just my opinion, but I think it is very difficult to lead a spiritual life without it somehow crossing over into the realm of religion. Faith and ritual, practiced in a community, led by a guru, can be only two things: religion or cult. So if it isn't a religion...

However, if the mind that conceived all this was used to Hinduism with its many internal contradictions, including atheist doctrines, none of these inconsistencies would be a problem. And I probably need to learn from that, instead of muttering under my breath about people not reasoning things out.

Another interesting aspect to our Auroville visit was my insta-celebrity among the Indian tourists, mostly groups of young men from places like Calcutta. They literally followed me around, asking to have a photo taken with me! One chap was waiting for me on the side of the walking path, another group ambushed me at the Matramandir viewpoint, and still another guy had to be physically dragged away by his friends because he was staring so hard. My husband may as well have been chopped liver. Now. That day I was sweating so profusely that my mascara (yes, even on holiday!) was streaming down my cheeks, I was wearing loose trousers and top, and I am really just an ordinary looking woman, especially in Auroville, where there are lots of Westerners and indeed even people of mixed heritage. So why all the attention? I am still puzzled.

The only two things I can think of are these: my extreme pallour (unusual among Europeans in India who go for the darkly tanned look) and the umbrella. I mean, surely only someone special would be such a princess as to carry an umbrella against the sun! Little do they know it's just because I lost my hat! Picture to follow, it is priceless!

Friday, August 24, 2007

Pondy Pilgrimage

We are currently in Pondicherry (recently renamed Puducherry, but there is no way I am calling it that silly name.) We made the journey from Chennai in the quetionable comfort of a frigidly air-conditioned Ambassador taxi. I mention the aircon because it had only two settings: FREEZING, and off. We favoured the latter, but our driver, in the way of minor bureaucrats everywhere, kept switching it back on. The basic rationale seemed to be: you paid for aircon, this car has aircon, so now you will have it, whether you want it or not. It took the rest of the day for us to defrost, even in the humid heat of coastal Tamil Nadu.

Our journey was, however, enlivend by the streams of orange-clad Christian pilgrims walking past on their way to Pondicherry. Their clothes ranged from lurid day-glo orange to faded sherbert tones. Some wore shoes, many more didn't. Some carried flags, and some even pushed carts blaring music and containg icons of Jesus or Mary - of course! I wasn't able to get full details from our driver, but he did tell me that the walk takes ten days, and is undertaken by South India's Christians. Now here is an interesting pseudo-fact: depending who you ask, between one and two percent of India's population is Christian. Seems like a number to overlook, no? But it represents somewhere between 10 and 20 million people. South Africa's entire population is only 45 million. And this is maybe a metaphor for all of India. It is BIG. So many people, so much faith, so much heat, so many insects. And lots of poop!

We are really enjoying Pondicherry - it is a small town, clean and quiet compared to Chennai. The old French town - the Ville Blanche - is riddled with gorgeous old buildings and seems to be undergoing a period of gentrification. We are staying in one such renovated building - our hotel must be the best in the town - it is named for the ill-fated French governor of South India, Le Dupleix. We ended up in this upscale establishment through a combination of two factors: leaving our travel arrangements to the last minute, and exhaustion with the profound grubbiness of our Chennai apartment. Cleanliness in India runs to different standards than I am comfortable with. But now, according to the Le Dupleix catchphrase, we are sleeping like governors and eating like nawabs. See the pictures (courtesy of the Le Dupleix site) and weep!

Yup, that is our room. Perfect for naps, sloth, and, of course, yoga.

Stay tuned for tales of our trip to Auroville and the Matramandir, including my sweaty brush with celebrity.

Sunday, August 19, 2007


20070812 chennai amethyst, originally uploaded by Nadine Fawell.

Want to see more from the las two weeks? I have put a Flickr badge in my sidebar, but if you get this by email, just follow this link.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Another borrowed post

I saw this clip on Linda's Yoga Journey just now, and thought you might enjoy it if you haven't seen it yet!

School's Out! (Almost)

Two more days of yoga school, how time flies. I am learning loads, simple yet sophisticated techniques that I will need time to absorb and digest so I won't be blogging about them just yet.

Instead, here is a guest post from my husband. I thought this story was hilarious when he told me.
i was at a tourist destination called marina beach,
apparently the second largest beach in the world.
and home to chennai university that has amazing architecture on the campus.
so being who i am and enjoying architectural pics i wondered onto the campus
to capture some of said wonderment.
in order to get on to the campus there were a number of ancient security guards
with batons and large whistles that i just walked past.
so i get to the first building and i am just getting my composition desirable
when i start hearing whistles blow behind me, like an invasion army.
but not realizing the cause of the blaring i continue with my crafting.
and before i get to take the first picture i am grabbed from behind by
a red faced, eyes bulging, midget whistle blower
having a seizure with a d*mn whistle.
he scared the cr*p out of me!!!
so now after having jumped in fright it dawned on me that i was the creator of the
whistle symphony and that i was being escorted off the campus for trespassing.
white touristy guy taking pictures a threat to campus security.
so after the indignity subsided i nearly wet my pants from laughing...
it happens all over the world.
give a guy a whistle and a baton and he is important.
he will blow it at every opportunity.
it is crazy out there...

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Bad Tourist

We spent the day today doing the tourist thing around Chennai. A little bit, anyway. There is only so much you can do in the stewing heat before you need to repair to a nice air conditioned restaurant.

We began our morning by oversleeping, thereby ruling out the possibility of visiting the Kapaleshwarar Temple before it got too hot and they padlocked the gates. We consoled ourselves with brunch and light shopping at Amethyst, and then we went off to the Theosophical Society headquarters. It was closed. We were told to come back at two pm. We then went to the Ashta Lakshmi Temple on Elliot Beach (temple to the goddess Lakshmi). It was closed. We were harassed for money by pretty much everyone around the temple gate and ended up paying four times the going rate for some kitsch stickers of Indian deities.

It was almost two, so we went back to the Theosophical Society, and there, we were underwhelmed. It droops with an air of disuse and general neglect. We weren't allowed into the library to see the fabled book collection. The Big Banyan tree under whose shade J Krishnamurti disavowed his association with the Society is dead, leaving behind only its many skinny offspring - still technically the same tree, but not quite as impressive. But the sign still announces the Banyan as the largest living tree of its sort. Hmmm.

It was nearing four, and we decided to repair to a nice air conditioned restaurant. Did I mention that this is how my touristing invariably ends? There we ate a belated lunch and drank frozen beverages. Yes, ice, just like we are not supposed to do in India. I eat raw food here too. I am a bad tourist this way, because I don't follow all those rules we are given ' for our own safety'. I figure that the quality of the establishment is a better indicator of whether you will get ill than the type of food. Hope I don't have to, ahem, eat my words.

Another reason that I am a bad tourist is that I have almost no interest in little-visited museums, closed temples and the like. I prefer nice restaurants, pretty shops, and the homes of real people when forming an impression of a city. I suspect there won't be much more wandering around looking at monuments in my relationship with Chennai. If I am lucky, though, a Chennaivasi or two will invite me into their home, and I will see how they live...

PS: For more of J Krishnamurti's thoughts, check out his recorded talks, Direct Perception and Transformation, on emusic.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Saluting the Sun

Dang, it is hot here in Chennai. You know I was saying it was hot the other day? Well, it got hotter. Yes it did.

Today at school, we saw a case study of a lady who has suffered from terrible fear and anxiety, to the point where she couldn't leave her house on her own. She has been practicing yoga since March, doing mainly breathing and meditation as prescribed by a KYM teacher, and now she travels the city alone, and has completed several computer courses, which she didn't think she had the concentration to do. The secret ingredients?

Her own faith in the effectiveness of yoga, and the sun. Or rather, the meditation she was given on the sun. She was told to imagine she was absorbing the strength of the sun, and to chant several sun-related mantra's. We did a similar practice in our meditation class afterwards, and it was wonderful, and after school one of the women on the course told me she healed a difficult relationship with an extended family member by chanting the Gayatri mantra and then 'talking' to that person mentally.

In such a hot place, just like at home in JHB, the direct connection between the sun and life is all too evident, and the power of the sun is unquestionable. Consider:
  • The sun is always there: it rises every day, at the same time, give or take seasonal differences, and when we can't see it, people on the other side if the world are in its light
  • Although the sun will one day die, by human standards it is immortal
  • Without the sun there would be no life on earth
So if we tap into this immense and awesome power, anything becomes possible for us. Next surya namaskaras, remember this - you can do anything you want to with the help of the sun, and it is always there to help.

In other news, my never shop unless you need it policy is rapidly being eroded by the loveliness of India's textiles. And so cheap! All the teachers on the course wear these gorgeous punjabis or saris, and never ever the same one. One teacher actually told me she has now filled all the cupboards in her three bedroom house! They have as much trouble resisting as I do!

The principal culprit so far has been Anokhi, where my husband also got several kurta's, but tomorrow, since it is Saturday and we failed to get into the Ideal Beach Resort (fully booked) we will be having brunch at my old haunt, Amethyst. I anticipate that we will be parting with a little bit of cash. Or perhaps plastic!

This pic is from last year, a leisurely lunch at Amethyst. Pics from this year to follow when I (er, my hubby) figure out the USB picture loading thing.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007


I am into day three of Yoga for Women at KYM, and I am back to meltdown mode. The actual course work is not as new and overwhelming as it was last year, but I am now with a group of women who are like PHD students with me in my third year of university. In one way, this is great, because I get to learn so much, but it is, of course, intimidating, and I am, as I did last year, wondering what the hell I am doing teaching yoga. I think this is a good sign though: there is nothing worse than a teacher who thinks they know everything!

We are doing quite a lot of practical: one hour of asana to start the day at 7, we are working with shristi krama, which is the ' first stage' of asana practice, usually taught to kids and teenagers, and it is basically vinyasa style. Nice, I am even a bit stiff. We will move on to the other three stages (sikshana, rakshana, adhyatmika) as the course wears on, symbolizing the different practices appropriate through a woman's life. We then have two lecture sessions, and before lunch we chant for an hour.

After lunch, we have half an hour of pranayama, a lecture on yoga cikitsa (therapy) and then a meditative practices class (asana, pranayama, ending off with meditation). It's a lot of exercise- about two and a half hours a day, plus the hour and a half I have been spending walking to and from school and around the suburbs. The heat is getting the best of me, though, and I suspect I shall be using auto rickshaws for transport in the heat of the day!

Chennai is as it is: loud, overwhelming, green, friendly, intimidating, welcoming. All at the same time. Next weekend, my husband and I hope to head to the beach, and after that, to Pondicherry. I will keep you posted!

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Persistence equals serendipity

On Wednesday, we left home at 6.30 in the morning, and, after thirteen and a half hours of waiting for airplanes, flying, and waiting in airport queues, we arrived in Abu Dhabi at nine pm their time. We were tiiiired, and we had a 14 hour wait beforethe flight to Mumbai. It promised to be a very, very long night.

One of the Etihad ground staff suggested a hotel, but we have South African passports and no visas for Abu Dhabi, so we couldn't leave the airport. What to do? We began wandering the hallways, looking fora quiet nook to wait in. The idea of a hotel room had, however, lodged itself firmly in my brain, and that is what I was hoping for.

The concept of transit hotels is new to me - maybe because they are a newish idea, but far more likely because I have always traveled on such a tight budget that sitting on an airport bench for 14 hours would have been the only option. Not this time, though, and after a great deal of wandering and being turned away from various airline and first class lounges, we found a hotel.

Except that its signage announced it as a first and gold class transit hotel, leading us to believe that we would, once again, be turned away. By now it was almost eleven and we were ready to give up. But I couldn't, not when we were so close to a hot shower and a bed for the night. So I mustered the last of my courage, climbed the forbidding staircase, and asked the receptionist if we could stay...

"Of course, madam! You are welcome!"

I have never been so grateful for a bed and a shower, and the possibility of place to do some asana practice to relieve my flight-wearied muscles.

Moral of the story? How often do we give up, just as we are on the brink of achieving our goal? Far too often, methinks. And this is also yoga: persist, as Patanjali says in a number of different ways in the Sutra's, and you will make your own serendipity.

PS I will try to post some pics of the awesome Abu Dhabi airport from Chennai, where we are headed this afternoon.

PPS. We flew Etihad, and I have to say they have so far been one of the best airlines I have ever flown. Remember them next time you need to to do make some monster carbon emissions!

PPPS: Thanks for the suggestions about the carbon offests - trees it is!

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Yoga Practice Options

For those of you who haven't been getting my emails (you know who you are!), here are some great practice options to try while I am away:
  • Natalie Botha, who teaches in Norwood. Call her on 072 198 9798 for more info about her class times, rates etc. She also does private sessions, as some of you already know!
  • Clara Woodburn at Yoga Warrior - many of you know her, and her fabulous new studio will be opening mid-September as far I know. Her website is
  • My friend and teacher, Ann, whom many of you know, teaches a class at the Ishta Centre from 9 - 10.30 on Wednesday mornings. I f you want to know more, their website is
  • Lastly, try the Sivananda Centre in Parkview, where my friend Brian Appleton teaches every Monday at 5.30. Their website is
Happy exploring!

Gurus, God, and carbon emissions

People keep asking me when I will be getting to the ashram. I keep telling them that I am not going to an ashram, but rather a yoga school. Why is it that all yoga learning seems to be associated with ashrams?

Why, you ask, am I not going to an ashram? Well, the short answer is that I don't play well in groups. For the long answer, consider this:

Take a group of people with disparate tastes, circadian rhythms, personalities, cultural backgrounds, belief systems, body types, and tell them you know the way for them to achieve yoga. It is as follows:
  • You must all wear the same clothes
  • You must all wake up and go to sleep at the same time every day
  • You must all eat the same food, at the same time of day
  • You must all do the same asana practice
  • You must all do karma yoga, even if you are not so inclined
  • You must show devotion to the Guru, for it is through the Guru that you will reach God
  • No sex, not in this establishment!
Do you think this cookie-cutter solution will work for all of them? Er, no. A few, perhaps. But not all.

Now take the same group and say to them:
  • You can wear whatever you like, as long as it is respectful of the culture you find yourself in
  • You can wake up and go to sleep whenever you like, as long as you get to your classes
  • You can eat whatever and whenever you like, hey, this isn't a residential program. You can even drink if you are so inclined (not that I am!)
  • We will teach you tools to personalise your asana, breathing, and chanting practice so that it suits you on any given day in your life
  • You can do karma yoga if you find it useful. Otherwise, don't
  • Please show respect for your teachers and the information they are sharing with you, but you can choose your own path to God
  • Sex? Not our business what you do in your private life, just please do it responsibly
OK, I know I am over-dramatising a bit, but let's be honest, option 2 is going to work for a whole lot more people. Still not all, but more. That is why I am going to KYM and not an ashram.

I think often of the anecdote we were told to distinguish between a Guru (one who who shows you the way) and an Acharya (expert teacher).

Guru: Do as I say, don't do as I do
Acharya: Do as I say, because I am doing it too

I am a Westerner, and a stubborn one at that, and the concept of gurus is not entrenched in either my culture or my psyche. I just can't understand why we are so often told we need a conduit to God, when yoga gives us all the tools to find enlightenment on our own, with the guidance of a teacher we trust. Note: guidance. Thank goodness for teachers like Mark Whitwell, who are saying just that: it's all in you right now, you don't need to change anything, and you certainly don't need a guru. Unless you want one, of course!

Now (blush) I must confess that I don't know how to offset my carbon emissions from all the flying, because I haven't done it before. I am running out of time before we leave on Thursday morning, so it may have to wait until we get back. Can any of you offer advice on this one? I would love to know what you have done.

In the meantime, I am looking forward to seeing the statue of Patanjali in the KYM courtyard once again.

Monday, July 23, 2007

December Yoga Retreat

Hosted by my lovely friend Geraldine from 16 - 23 December

Use your VOICE

om, originally uploaded by State Of Mind.

A couple of days ago, Mary was saying that when she returned to yoga class after a hiatus, the asanas came back easily, but chanting OM at the beginning of the class proved more of a challenge. Mmmm, interesting that.

Sometime in early April, I completed my thousandth hour of teaching yoga. That is a lot of teaching, I am sure you will agree. Although I still keep a log in case I need it at some future time, I am no longer totaling the hours, but I would guess that I have taught a few hundred extra hours since. So much teaching has changed many things about my style, but one of the most noticeable changes has been to my voice. Those of you who have been practicing with me for a few years may have observed this: the pitch of my 'teaching voice' has dropped, and, most of the time, I am able to project sufficiently. This was not always the case.

Nor was it always comfortable for me to get up in front of a group and lead the chant to start class. Now I do it all the time, and often chant other things too! I really love vedic chanting, one of the reasons I am so excited to return to KYM. More chants learned and taught, yay!

As my voice has changed, I have observed how others use theirs. Mary's chanting issues are so incredibly common. I notice that many people just can't make a sound issue from their throats, and many others, mostly women, chant from the top of their throats in a falsetto.

Now, think about the link between sound pitch and power. Do you find you are more inclined to listen to a speaker with a low melodious voice, or one with a high, wavering one? Thought so.

Strangely, several people have told me they were taught to chant in a high voice. I will keep to myself my political views about women being taught (not) to use their voices. But if you chant from deep in your guts, the sound resonates powerfully from, well, deep in your guts. And to my mind, this makes it far more effective. Try it, try it at home if you have to!

Chanting OM is a great place to start since it is, after all, the pranava, the great syllable - as Wikipedia says,

praṇava, from a root nu "to shout, sound, praise"

If you know other chants, and like them, chant those. Use your voice - shout, sound, praise!

PS when I return to SA, if enough of you are interested, we can have a chanting workshop. Lots of fun!

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Yoga in Paris

Yoga in Paris, originally uploaded by kajo55.

Oh wow!

Look at this amazing photo I found on Flickr. I am going to be in Paris in September! So I can now drool over that gorgeous backbend in that gorgeous city.
(Note to self: Remember, Nadine, that backbend is because of her bones...)

For those of you whom I still haven't told, this is how the next few months look for me:

  • August 6 - 17 - KYM's Yoga For Women 2 course in Chennai
  • August 17 - September 1 - assorted travel around Tamil Nadu and South India, with a possible side trip to the Taj Mahal and Agra
  • September 2 - 19 - London! Yoga in London. Definitely more than vist to Jivamukti London
  • September 20 - 28 - Paris! All the sights but probably no yoga to speak of. This is assuming our visa goes through fine, we still don't know. But we bought suitcases anyway.

Home on the 3rd October.
Lucky us, life is definitely looking up!

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Soul Soothing

You know when times are bad? When you feel down? Anxious, tired, yucky all around?
What music do you put on?

A while back YogaGlamGirl tagged me, to which I responded with deafening silence. One of the questions on the meme asked which five songs you know all the words to. I don't know the words to any songs. Not real ones. Only sanskrit chants. I know lots and lots of those, and when times are hard, I chant them. A Lot. The other music I always turn to for comfort is Tori Amos. Any of her work will do, but my favourite is Sorta Fairytale off Scarlet's Walk. I *love* that song. It fixes what's broken. And sometimes, I practice yoga to this song. And sometimes, this is what happens:

A nice, anxiety-releasing backbend sequence, starting with surrender in child's pose, knees apart, feet together.

Inhale into a deep kneeling back arch, as deep as is comfy and safe for you.

Exhale and surrender into child again.

Inhale and flip over your knees into this back arch (kapotasana variation maybe?)
Hands and knees in exactly the same position as for child.

Exhale and surrender forward into a full prostration.
Then follow these instructions backwards to go back to child pose.

Pink t-shirt courtesy of Debbi and Roots.
And look what else Debs gave me: a Just Breathe tee shirt!
She said she had to get it when she saw the logo...
Thanks, honey.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Good Cause

Three posts in a day, what can I say. If you have time, please click on this link to have your say about animal cruelty.

Maybe if we start to to treat animals nicely, we will do the same with people. We can only hope.


Yup, turns out I have the energy for another post!

Svadhyaya (swad-hee-ya-ya) is one of the yoga niyamas, and is usually translated as self-study. Self-study is a way to know yourself better, and through knowing yourself (your Self, perhaps) it is a way to know God, in whatever form that takes for you.

Faith has been prominent in my mind and practice lately, and although mostly I say that belief in God in optional but useful, I am starting to think that, when times are tough, belief in God can make the difference between making it and sinking. But that is a topic for a whole other post!

How, you ask, can I go about studying myself? I am tired of self-analysis, therapy, whatever.
Well, any activity that teaches you more about how you operate is a form of self-study. Obviously asana and pranayama, meditation, the yoga tool kit, are very effective tools for this, but there are others.

For example, I am now a (sic) dyed-in-the-wool knitter. And I have learnt some interesting things about me in my short knitting career. S0me I knew, but needed reminding of. OK, most I knew, but needed reminding of. That is why self-study has to be an ongoing process.

For example, I have observed that:
  • I am a knitter of bunnies, baby clothes, bags, hats and gloves. I don't like scarves (boring) or shrugs (boring) or large garments (tedious). I am fond of projects that are challenging enough to hold my interest, and that allow me to see results almost immediately. I like teaching yoga for the same reasons.
  • I like knitting in the round because there is no finishing work afterwards. Wouldn't want the project to be too challenging or long-winded!
  • I don't like poor-quality yarn, and would rather knit one item in pretty wool than seven in nasty acrylic. I suspect this means I am a princess.
  • I feel guilty that I am producing more stuff the planet doesn't need, and I wish I could find recycled yarn. This I didn't need reminding about.
  • I like clever, elegant patterns where the engineering of the item is effortlessly simple. Knitting that is almost like architecture. This reminds me that I like things to run smoothly and in an ordered way. And that I like understated beauty. It is good to know what manner of beast you are.
What do you hobbies teach you about yourself? Do you cook? Sew? Scrap? Walk? Play Scrabble? Sudoku? Notice how you react to the challenges, your chosen patterns of thought of behaviour when you are engaged in these activities.

Teaching as a Trust

I am trying to maintain a once-weekly entry in this blog, all that I can manage right now, so here goes (although there may be a part two, depending on energy and time.)

Two women came to class this morning, both of whom are experienced yoginis and both of whom had been to a yoga class at the gym the day before where the teacher hadn't shown up. A student took over teaching the class, and it seems to have made people uncomfortable, because they didn't feel confident in his abilities or compassion. This sparked some interesting debate today, and I am left thinking about the responsibility of a yoga teacher. A lot has already been said on this topic, some of it by me, but here are today's musings:

  • A teacher should know more about her topic than her class, even if it is just a little more.
  • As a teacher, you only have the authority you are freely granted. You don't get it just by standing up in front of a class!
  • It is a vital and necessary task for a teacher to have her own dedicated and regular practice and to constantly learn more about yoga philosophy, anatomy, communication skills...
  • Sequencing IS important, really really important. You can hurt people if you do this wrong.
  • Reading the room is important, really really important. Again, if you give asanas that are not appropriate and people actually do them, or you give a bizarre sequence, things can go badly awry.
  • Yoga is a sacred practice, and teaching yoga is a sacred trust. Most people who have practiced for a while begin to feel this. It is not just athletics or aerobics, and you hold that trust when you teach.
I am so grateful that there are some of you out there who are still posting comments! I probably won't respond, but if you feel so inclined, I would love to hear what you think about yoga teachers you have known, what you want from your teacher, what you want to achieve as a teacher...

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

It snowed!

Last night, it snowed in Johannesburg for the first time in 26 years. There is a whole generation of people who weren't born then.
The time before that was 1964, I am told.
So much for unseasonably warm winter!

These pics are of my parents' garden
(Mom I hope you don't mind, since I didn't ask permission to post them...)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Borrower

Before I post this (borrowed) piece, I need to tell you all that Anton (the hit and run victim) is on the road to recovery, no serious injuries, and will be back at work next week. Thank you all for your thoughts!

This lovely piece comes from the Moksha newsletter, written by one of their recently graduated teacher trainees:

The Oxford Dictionary defines 'faith' as a 'strong belief or trust'.

I believe that when we practise Yoga we begin to have that strong belief, we begin to have that trust: we begin to have faith in ourselves.

It's a bit like embarking on a train journey: the moment you step from the platform onto the train you take your first step of faith. You may stop along the way, but by just beginning, by just embarking on the journey, by allowing yourself the opportunity, you move your soul towards faith.

Asana is the movement, breath is the progression and in your back pack you have the codes of conduct, yamas, nyamas, and you have sense control, pratyhara. Your interpretation of these as well the diligence with which you practise them, will determine just how much that back pack weighs. Subsequently though, the more you pack in the more you have to draw upon during the ride.

You may break up the journey or take the express. You may change trains along the way or choose to take the non-stop train allowing nothing to detract from your journey. Either way you choose to progress, faith will climb aboard with you.

Of course if you stay on the train, instead of jumping on and off or changing trains all the time, the journey is smoother, the progress more steady and faith holds a lot stronger.

You may find the ride uncomfortable at times but if you sit by the window you will feel the sun warming your face. At times the scenery may be dull but if you stay on board you will see the bright field of sunflowers around the next hilltop. And when the noisy engine overwhelms you, you will sing louder than you ever have and no one on board will mind. So it is that you begin to know the ebb and flow of life and so it is with each experience that faith holds your hand a little tighter.

When we have faith in ourselves we are able to move through life with equanimity. We accept life's fluctuations and are able to make conscious choices within everything we choose to do and say and think and feel. We trust that everything is as it should be.

Yoga takes us to that faith in ourselves. Although the journey requires faith, it gives us the faith we need. As with yoga, discipline is required but yoga gives us that discipline, we need strength for yoga, but yoga gives us that strength.

And so, it is the practise of yoga that gives you the faith to moves towards and keep moving towards your true self and if we then embrace the challenge and surrender to the infinite possibilities that it offers, yoga is like a train ride that never has to stop and it takes you closer to your true self with each passing mile.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Strike, you're out

Warning: this is a rant!

South Africa has been in the throes of a public service strike. I understand that civil servants, who make a country run, need to earn a living wage. I don't understand why teachers at private schools, who earn a decent salary, need to strike. Nor do I understand how striking workers could deny an injured man access to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital after he was the victim of a hit-and-run accident.

This really happened. Yesterday, my housecleaner's son was run over by a car, which didn't stop (great karma to that driver...) A concerned bystander dragged the inert man into a minibus taxi and took him to hospital, where he was told they couldn't go inside for treatment. This is a poor man, not one who has private health insurance, and certainly not one who has enough money to pay the deposit at a private hospital. He may die. The striking healthcare workers made sure of that. To me, it is not OK to deny the sick and injured access to treatment while you are on strike, because the death and suffering that results accrues to your karma.

Today, please send a prayer or thought to this man, as his mother tries to arrange treatment for him.

PS: If you are wondering why I am still a bit erratic on the blogging front, it's because I am disinclined to be online right now, as it seems to make me anxious, but I am thinking of you all in between teaching teaching teaching!