28 June 2011

Raw Food

My interest in, and consumption of raw food has sky rocketed over the last two weeks.

It probably started when I went to Simi and Kosta's place for dinner about a month ago. They had just bought a dehydrator and were drying out flax seed crackers. I got to taste a couple from the previous batch and they were delicious. Simi had also made little truffles from dried fruit, nuts and tahini - equally delicious.

I googled flax seed crackers last week and made my own batch in a very low oven (I don't have a dehydrator). At the same time I remembered a delicious raw dip recipe, the base is brazil nuts, sunflower and pepitas with fresh coriander and flax seed oil, garlic, lemon and some other ingredients.

So I've been munching out on seed crackers, raw green dip and truffles (my son calls these donkey balls).
Add to that my already high consumption of raw food - fresh fruit and nuts during the day, big salads and carrot/beetroot juice for dinner - and the result is an abundance of vitality and a bright glow – this is our natural state.

Although my normal diet is mostly raw foods, the difference is that I'm now consciously choosing them over those other habitual ‘comfort’ foods. The occasional breakfast croissant has been replaced with sprouted wheat bread (its surprisingly sweet), commercial crackers are replaced with flax seed crackers, my daily dose of dark chocolate is replaced with donkey balls, and fresh vegetable juice washes down my dinner salad of sprouts and greens.
The only thing I won't be replacing (yet) is my morning kick-ass coffee.

During my mid twenties I read 'Raw Energy' by Leslie and Suzanna Kenton and spent just under a year on a completely raw food diet – seed and nut chesses, wheatgrass juice, the whole lot, so this is not a new phenomenon. I well know the scientific reasoning for including an abundance of raw foods in my daily diet (the live enzymes in raw foods are destroyed by heating), but scientific evidence is no comparison to personal experience - ask anyone who has converted to a diet that is at least 80% raw and they will rave about their increased energy, clarity, lightness, skin glow, bright eyes, positive outlook etc...

And an additional benefit is that once you get a taste for raw foods and their vitalising effect on your physical and mental wellbeing, you won't want cooked or commercially produced food anymore - it seems dead. The 'life energy' (prana) in raw food is almost visible to those who can sense subtle energy. My body tingles with expectation now when I think of food that is still pulsating with life. My body wants to stay tuned to this higher frequency.

Dead food has become unattractive.

Image: Mature sunflower sprouts ready for harvesting and baby lentil sprouts on my kitchen window.

Practice notes

Yoga practice today was in two parts and they couldn't have been more different.

A short half hour practice this morning before work was fast, intense and wild - 5A + 3B Sun Salutes, Pada Hastasana, Trikonasana, Ardha Chandrasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Padmottanasana, Handstand at the wall, Pincha Mayurasana at the wall, Shoulderstand, Halasana, Urdhva Dhanurasana.

It was fast because I had a strong Ujiyya breath leading the way.
It was intense and wild because I didn't bother preparing for any of the poses; I made no excuses and just launched into them; each pose was unique and stand-alone - not a preparation for the next pose nor an extension of the last pose. Each pose felt like a separate primary colour, no blends, no greys.

Evening practice started with Mr Iyengar's Week 31-35 sequence:
10 minutes in Headstand with all the listed variations - the only trouble I had was getting my second foot in place for Padmasana in Sirsasana on the first side – it didn't quite get there - but the second side was easy and the twisted variation with legs in Padmasana was awesome on this side.

I've discovered that the Sirsasana variation where one leg remains upright and the other leg lowers to the floor is much more satisfying when I envisage the foot of the lowered leg coming towards my head rather than towards the floor. Relaxing the muscles around the hip joint helps release the top of the femur in the joint, and this has to be coupled with keeping the whole hip lifted and the top of the femur pressing towards the back of the joint – this helps to make a fulcrum whereby the top of the leg moves back and the lower part of the leg swings forward towards the head.

Parsva Eka Pada Sirsasana is dodgy though, this is where one leg remains upright and the other leg rotates externally and lowers to the side - I have to be very vigilant to keep the upright leg strong like a rooted tree trunk and lift up and out of both my shoulders evenly (my shoulder resolve weakens when my attention is too focussed on maintaining an asymmetrical balance). If I can keep a steady focus on these two areas (shoulders and upright leg), the side hip joint will release the satellite leg down of it's own accord.

18 minutes in Shoulderstand - again I did every variation listed with no problems, AND in the right order. Knowing all the variations that follow the first one, I can't just hang out and leisurely enjoy that first Shoulderstand. I spend 20 breaths lifting up out of the inversion, drawing my thoracic spine deeply inwards and strengthening the upward energetic pull of mula bandha. If I don't do this, the next three 'no-hands' variations are wobbly. But I seem to be nailing these every time so my preparation is paying off!

Part of the Shoulderstand sequence goes like this: I fold my legs into Padmasana while in Shoulderstand (then stay 5 breaths), fold the Lotus legs down from the hips into Pindasana (and stay another 5 breaths) then twist to each side (that's 5 breaths on EACH side) for Parsva Pindasana. THEN extend the legs back up into a full Shoulderstand, change the cross of the Padmasana legs and repeat it all on the other side.
If I've attempted Parsva Pindasana before, I strangely have no memory of it. The twist was quite intense to my side abdomen and I could see and feel it squeezing my intestines and organs. I thought I might come out of the pose with a permanent knot inside my stomach.

In another first since my lumbar injury, I lowered from Shoulderstand to Setu Bandha Sarvangasana tonight, something I usually can't even attempt because Buffy is wedged into my back by this stage. Admittedly I did cheat a little and got down into it one leg at a time (Eka Pada style). The correct way is to bend the knees, keep the chest lifted while slowly reaching the feet to the floor, all the time curving into a deep backbend. The muscles that stabilise my lumbar spine aren’t strong enough to support this slow descent yet, but it's something I can keep working on.
The progress from being completely crippled by a damaged lumbar for 2 years to regaining my current degree of strength and flexibility is an inspiring testimony to yoga's powerful healing properties.

It's been a while since I approached these poses (or this sequence) with such enthusiasm. The long Headstand and Shoulderstand sequence was a joyful, playful experiment tonight. And the more I do this sequence, the more I come to love how it's pieced together. I've mentioned before about the extreme compression and extension of the neck after 15-20 minutes of Shoulderstand variations. Jatara Parivartanasana and Supta Padangusthasana are wonderful follow ons. Being supine poses the back body is supported by the floor which gives some relief; and although in Light On Yoga, Mr Iyengar keeps his head centred for both of these poses, I take full advantage of the opportunity to turn my head in the opposite direction to release the tension and stimulate the free flow of blood through the cervical spine.

Moving into Virasana tonight I noticed a sudden change - my consciousness heightened, my breath slowed down quite abruptly, and a deep stillness descended upon me. Five long, slow breaths here lasted an eternity.
And practice dropped down into the zone.

Full consciousness pervaded the poses that followed - I was really IN them, deeply, intimately, sensually, spiritually.
This is quite an intense state to practice in and not sustainable for too long. When I'm in it, I can get lost inside the poses - like Alice down the rabbit-hole. Not a bad thing, quite interesting...especially if I can keep part of my attention on watching the process.
Janu Sirsasana, Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana and Triang were all diving boards into the deep unknown. Krounchasana was my final pose before a 5 minute Savasana.

Another camping trip

My last solitary camping trip to Yorke Peninsula was at the end of March.

Having rearranged work and life to enable me to go off camping for a 3 day weekend once a month, it was the third trip for this year...and part of my strategy for taking time to grieve and feel and process all the emotions around Mark's death.
That was 3 months ago and the urge for solitude, silence and communion has once again crept up on me. My new employer is fairly flexible so I've been able to get next Monday off work. I'm so excited to be planning this next trip...I'll pack up the camping gear on Friday night and leave very early on Saturday morning.

This trip will be different to the others.
The trauma and shock of Marks death have subsided (though I suspect not quite as much as I think). My outlook is positive and almost joyful. And I am happy.

A few hours of meditation last weekend whet my appetite for silence and stillness - they facilitate the spirited journey towards the centre, so I'm looking foward to the opportunity to explore at length where the deeper, quieter states of consciousness will lead. It's only possible with long, uninterrupted hours of sitting.

So the plan for this camping trip is to sit: a minimum of 5 hours on Saturday, 7 hours on Sunday, and 5 hours on Monday before packing up camp around 3pm...
A few solid hours of sitting is nowhere near as intense as a Vipassana retreat, but if nothing else, it will soothe my soul and rekindle my meditation practice.

How grateful I am to be returning to the campsite that I will now and forever associate with an extraordinary period of my life.

This is, right now, an extraordinary period of my life.

20 June 2011

Here comes the sun

Here comes the sun...
here comes the sun...
and I say...
it's alright... ... ... ...

little darling
its been a long cold lonely winter

little darling
it seems like years since its been here

Here comes the sun...
here comes the sun...
and I say...
it's alright... ... ... ...

The sweet voice of George Harrison rouses me from a deep peaceful sleep. Instantly I smile, glad to be alive, glad that the sun is on its way, glad that my heart is opening so early in the morning.
I programmed Here Comes The Sun as my wake up alarm, but this song is definitely not an alarm!
It's the most simple, joyful, tender song ever written.

On long cold lonely winter mornings at 5.30am, I will often get to hear it at least three times before I finally get out of bed.
This morning, the alarm was on the other side of the room.
I open my sleepy eyes and listen to the whole song before it stops and goes to auto snooze.
I lay in bed, wide awake, aware of the joy it has implanted in my heart.
Ten minutes later, it plays again. I love this song, so I listen to the whole song again.
For the next ten minutes it replays in my head.

This was one of the songs my children played in the car last year when we drove to the Flinders Ranges for our first camping holiday together. The sweet memories come flooding back.

Another ten minutes go by and it plays again.
Finally I get up, walk across the room and turn it off.
Its 5.50am.

Putting on wooly warm clothes as fast as I can, I feed cat and dog, go to the toilet, wash face, brush teeth, and take dog for a walk in the crisp dark early morning.
I'm on the yoga mat just after 6.30am, which gives me about 40 minutes to play with.

Not feeling too bright or energetic today, I lay on my back and start with some knee-to-chest stretches to begin the painful process of opening my stiff early morning hips and lower back.
It becomes immediately clear that neither my body nor mind are in an Ashtanga mood. The heaviness of yesterday's emotional breakdown is still in my body, I feel a sharp burning behind my eyes, not from the tears, but from a more complex release of trauma related hormones into this area.

I marvel at how I can be so full of joy and love one day, then crash land into a messy quagmire of unresolved emotional turmoil the next. Death stirs up a powerful cocktail...

I spend the next 40 minutes just easing the emotional pain out of my body.
The lunges tunnel into my hip joints, the slow sun salutes gently and systematically open up all the other joints.
My hands find their way into reverse namaste for Prasaritta Padottanasana, and this intensifies the work on my legs - I play in the pose, adjusting the weight bearing under my soles, intensely curious to sense the different effects on my body as I shift the weight from the inner ball of the big toe to the outer heel and back again. Pressing on the ball gives an easy lift up the inner legs and activates the perineal energy; weight on the outer heels seems to stimulate the sacral energy.

Then the urge to do a few handstands - I wan't sure why at the time, but looking back it was obviously a subconscious need to induce the sensation of perfect balance, an example of how an action in the body brings about a parallel reaction in the mind. Deep yoga therapy.

Remembering that backbends counter depression (not that I'm depressed - this is preventative medicine!), I go for Ustrasana instead of Urdhva Dhanurasana today. I stay arched over for a while - it's glorious to blossom open the heart (here comes the sun...). While in the pose, I detect an annoying stiffness in my left front ankle that has arisen lately - it needs unclogging, so I sit in Virasana, then lay back into Supta Virasana to get the full front ankle stretch. When I come up my body wants to twist so I stay in Virasana and twist slowly and deliberately, sliding my navel around as if it has detached from my torso, twice on each side.
Ankle stiffness has disappeared.

After Dog Pose I do a Headstand for 20 breaths (another balancing pose). My equilibrium is returning. Grounding my forearms and almost lifting my head off the floor I twist to each side for Parsva Sirsasana, again swivelling my navel around, balancing and twisting deeply.

After strong coffee, and a half hour drive to work listening to Dead Can Dance Spiritchaser, I arrive at my parking spot just after 8.30am. Walking down the street to work in my lavender pink coat and black boots, I feel so weirdly disorientated.
Where am I going?
Who am I supposed to be today?
How old am I?
I need reprogramming to fit in.

Two birds swoop overhead and land in a nearly tree...
I say hello to a passing stranger...
Its Monday morning.

15 June 2011

Iyengar Yoga with Buffy

At last, the Iyengar Week 31 - 35 sequence in its entirety tonight.

Again it was cold when I stepped onto the mat at 6.45pm.
A brisk set of sun salutes would have been the conventional warm up but my lumbar and hips were too cold and stiff to step or jump forward, so I did a very unconventional warm up - 4 minutes of skipping - a good old aerobic warm up that doesn't require much flexibility, but gets the breath and blood moving quickly and heats the body instantly.
After 10 minutes of preparation poses (Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana and Supta Padmasana) I officially started the sequence at 7pm.

The first problem I encountered was in Urdhva Padmasana (the lotus variation of Headstand). I'm sure I could have done this tonight if I hadn't left my thick socks on - my feet had no grip to manoeuver into Padmasana which left me stranded upside down in a half Padmasana and unable to go on to Parsva Urdhva Padmasana or Pindasana in Sirsasana on both sides. After finishing the Headstand variations my feet were warm enough to take off my socks, but it was too late then. But I'll know for next time.

The next ten problems I encountered were all caused by my dog: sitting into my back while I did all the Sarvangasana (Shoulderstand) variations, and getting under my legs during Halasana; then I couldn't drop from Sarvangasana into Setu Bandha or I would have squashed her - I had to roll out of Sarvangasana diagonally to avoid her then plonk her off the mat and do Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (and Eka Pada) from the floor.
She climbed on me whenever she could tonight, and she dropped litle toys and dog bones under me when I wasn't looking that stuck into me when I rolled out of poses. She even curled up on my calves during Ustrasana and tried to go to sleep. At times her solid body weight was useful on my thighs (she climbed up onto my thighs in Supta Virasana and gnawed on her bone, and again in Salabhasana which added 10 kilograms to the leg lift). Towards the end of the sequence, she took advantage of my comfy Baddha Konasana lap for a couple of minutes before she got tossed off yet again!

Despite Buffy's non-stop attention seeking, the practice was thorough.

I'm really enjoying this sequence now, its well designed, balancing backbends and forward bends, and its quite familiar. My neck loves the first part - it gets a muscular workout from holding the extended Headstand variations (8 minutes total tonight) then an extreme forward bend stretch in the extended Shoulderstand sequence (17 minutes tonight), followed by a good twist in Jatara Parvatasana, then a short rest during the abdominal poses before being fully liberated in Ustrasana, a pose that squeezes every last bit of tension out of my neck.

Dinner was a late one - 8.45pm. Then poor neglected Buffy finally got her long sniffing walk around the streets. I let her go as far as she wanted and simply followed her like a puppy.

Its late now and my alarm is set for 5.30am. But I'm looking forward to morning practice...

14 June 2011

Perfect practice

I failed to get up at 5.30am for practice this morning.

To make up for this, I did an evening practice when I got home from work.

I started at 6.45pm and although I had the week 31 - 35 Light on Yoga sequence open in front of me, I knew I wouldn't be doing a by-the-book practice.

My room felt particuarly freezing tonight, and so did my body.

The Padmasana warm up pose seemed to exaggerate my stiffness so I abandoned all notions of getting into and early Padmasana in Headstand and just started the practice without any expectations...

Instead of all the Headstand variations, I just did a simple 50 breath Headstand, then 5 breaths on each side in the twisted variation...7 minutes in all.

After recovering in childs pose and dog pose, I did a Shoulderstand for 40 breaths, then Halasana, Parsva Halasana and Eka Pada Sarvangasana (one leg pointing straight up, the opposite leg lowers to the floor). Too cold and stiff for fancy variations tonight.

I can now sense the profound effect these inversions have on my physiology. Already I felt nourished and transformed. Any further poses would be simply icing on the cake.

Pressing on I lowered down from Shoulderstand keeping my legs up at 90 degrees then moved straight into the twisted Jatara Parvatasana, Supta Padangusthasana then the two Navasanas. Before tonight, I don't think I've ever touched my nose to my leg quite so easily in Supta Padangusthasana.

The wonderful thing about tonight's practice was I had no expectations and no goals.

There were no rules.

I was free to explore whatever I needed to do, free to wander off course.

And I did.

After the Navasanas, I moved into the next pose Ustrasana. My body still hadn't warmed up and it took some time to stretch it up and open into the backbend, but I so enjoyed the slow quiet journey into this pose, not pushing my body, or even trying to stretch it, but allowing it to open gently in its own time, and it did.

Virasana was sweet. I'm always surprised to find how askew my body is in some of the symmetrical poses. I notice it in small things - one hand sits on the knee slightly differently to the other hand (tension in one shoulder seems to cascade and spiral down the length of my right arm), one thigh is turned out more than the other so the front ankles don't sit evenly on the floor. I try to correct all the imbalances before laying back into Supta Virasana.

I put no time limit on poses tonight, so I don't know how long I was there before I arched up into Paryankasana. It was pure, sensual ecstasy. My upper back and neck rejoiced, my triceps stretched releasing my elbows towards the floor. I arched into a writhing fish, and breathed open every cell in my upper torso.

Going from this back bend into Janu Sirsasana was difficult. My body was still cold so I turned around and positioned my back close to the heater instead of my feet. My stiff lower back smiled as it soaked up the heat and I gently found my way into the twist of Janu Sirsasana. I stayed...and stayed...and closed my eyes...knowing that with each breath I was releasing and descending without any effort whatsoever. My focus here was on my extended leg, engaging the thigh and drawing up the inner leg seam to energise the root chakra. Another sensual pose that pulled me deeply into its folds. Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana was the final pose...and an anti climax that shot me back up to the surface.

This 40 minute practice fell way short of the Iyengar Week 31 - 35 sequence, but it was nothing short of perfect for tonight.

Six months on

Today is Monday 13th June 2011.

Mark died exactly 6 months ago on 13th December 2010.

I light candles by his photograph - little flickering flames, symbolising the fire of our love and our passion, a fire that led to his untimely death.

ely death.

Perhaps we were moths drawn to the intoxicating flame of love. Realms of magic opened up when we were in each others' arms, we'd found an eternal love that catapulted us to the precipice of our earthly existence.

Today I go for a wild and windy walk up in the mountains and contemplate the last 6 months from a higher perspective. The cataclysm of events has passed and my emotions have settled.

I don't feel the physical presence of Mark's spirit any more, yet he comes fully alive in my heart when I deliberately initiate contact to connect with his soul.

Heart to heart, soul to soul, these connections are real and they transcend space and time.

Top image: Mark at my front windows December 2010.

Bottom image: My front windows (with a new table) June 2011

My life has entered a new cycle.

I have a new job.

I am reigniting special friendships, and sweeping away the debris of inauthenticity.

My yoga practice is rapidly moving me into a new paradigm where presence is paramount and love suffuses every movement.

I greet the early mornings with new eyes, with a mystical tenderness in my heart and a life affirming embrace that carries me into the day.

And I believe a budding new romance may be setting my smouldering heart on fire again.

Sunday 12th June - Lily's birthday

My grand daughter Lily had her 7th birthday today.

I spent yesterday afternoon making her a pair of magic dragon wings.

She can fly now, and her dragon powers can move mountains.

My wizard powers have met their match.

The force is with her.

Return to Ashtanga

Today marked the day that I reclaimed an authentic Ashtanga practice.
I've been building up to this for a couple of months now.
Since starting my new job, I've been gradually setting up new habits, getting up earlier and earlier, rekindling the tapas of discipline.
I've been doing a semi-regular morning practice of sun salutes and some standing poses, occasionally finishing with a couple of backbends and inversions.
Not always a long practice, sometimes half an hour, sometimes one hour.
But it has radically increased my energy and my confidence, and helped to transform the apathy and sorrow I was carrying from Mark's death into a new joy for life.

Daily discipline is the flammable fuel of transformation - a combination of commitment and devotion sets our hearts on fire, it burns away mediochrity and propels us to rise like a phoenix and embody our ultimate dream.

So when I stepped onto the mat yesterday with the intention to do my first full primary series practice in over two years, I was excited to feel that it just might be possible, that one day soon, I may able to do this amazing practice fully and regularly again.

I resolved not to explore the poses too deeply, but instead just let the breath move me, staying a couple of degrees under simmering point, and keeping to 5 breaths in each pose.
Only twice did I have to stop when I couldn't remember the next pose in the sequence. But this was towards the end...it's been a long time since I went further than the seated forward bends.

Poses I hadn't done for a long time came as delightful surprises: Purvottanasana, Janu Sirsasana B and C, Marichyasana B, the uplifting balance of Upavista Konasana B, Urdhva Padmasana with hands supporting the knees...
The practice was amazing. Until I tried, I didn't realise I could still do so many of the poses.
After the finishing inversions I was fully cooked and the only option was a long, deep Savasana to settle all those bubbling juices down.

This is just the beginning...again.