A flash of thought: Is Minimalism intrinsically Masculine? An effort to seek the formless- or to pair down form to its barest essentials? Pure Consciousness- Purusha?
While the world of Prakriti- the Feminist essence of life, teems with abundance and fullness. An overgrown forest floor, vs a barren dessert? Our full luscious bellies, vs trim starvation? Is our obsession with minimalism another mark to override the feminine fullness?
Wandering thoughts of a Vata mind… My question to you: Is Minimalism intrinsically Masculine?
Once upon a time, there was an Introverted Yogi who stayed in her cave…
*note: This post was originally a newsletter email. It was very well received and I thought it would make a good blog post.
Did you notice that your email inbox was completely flooded with emails over the holiday season? Between the gift giving frenzy of December, and the Resolution & Healthy Living Frenzy of New Years, I spent a lot of time trashing promotional emails. I vowed NOT to contribute to all that inbox “noise”. I told myself I would be quiet, and when the distractions slowed down, I would send out a message of Love to my fellow Yogi’s (that’s YOU).
But I cheated. I wanted to be in my home-cave, feeling a fondness for ancient Himalayan Yogi’s meditating all day in quiet caves. I am completely happy and satisfied being all by myself, keeping busy with my study and creativity, and being quiet. As a school student everyone use to think I was “shy”. This assumption confused me. I didn’t feel shy, I just didn’t always feel like talking. If I wanted to talk I had NO problem doing so.
According to the 1998 National Representative Sample, about 50% of the population is introverted (http://introvertzone.com/ratio-of-introverts). This is a surprise to most people. We often think someone is extroverted if they are friendly and talkative, but introverts CAN and DO have healthy social skills. The primary difference between an introvert and an extrovert is that an introvert expends energy in social situations and they need time alone to recover that energy. An extrovert NEEDS to be in social situations to feed their energy. I see this example in my two daughters. Isabella is clearly and introvert. She can spend all day in her room, drawing comics, writing stories, and listening to music. She might pop out for a moment, eat some food, give me a hug, and then she disappears into her “cave” again, completely content to be alone.
Now, my daughter Ellessia is a total extrovert. Not only is she incredibly talkative, (I like to joke and say she talks to simply to hear herself have a conversation), but she NEEDS me to be there with her. She NEEDS her sister to play with her. She has a very hard time playing on her own. When she has friends over she is in her element. I feel sorry for her because she lives in a house full of introverts who actually prefer a quiet environment.
We finally took an online personality test based on the classic Meyers-Briggs test, and YES, Ellessia is an extrovert. The rest of us in the house are the most rare types of introverts around, and yes, we need LOTS of down time to feel well and balanced. I think its a good ideal to take one of these tests to gain clear insight into your true nature. We can look at our strengths, weaknesses, and areas of struggle, and work to make adjustments when needed. If you are struggling in a job that doesn’t seem right for you, it REALLY might not be right for your personality. If you are over committing yourself to causes that feel worthy, but somehow make you feel tired because they ask you to be out all the time, you may not be listening to your needs as an introvert. If you are trying to work from home, or to be a stay at home mom, but somehow feel too lonely and crave company, it may be your extroverted tendencies needing attention. With the insight gained from this kind of personality test we can stop comparing our lifestyle to someone else and instead focus on how to make our own living conditions ideal for the person we were born to be.
So my challenge to you is to take the personality test and let me know your type! Does it sound accurate? Did you learn anything you can use?
Maybe you too will see that it means you need lots of time to be quiet in your own little cave.
In a previous post I shared a free practice series for you to follow along with. Now I will go through and break down the steps one at a time. It is a common act to seek the new, rather than to refine the basic. You could practice one pose for a whole year and it would remain a mystery. My attempt here will be at a deep inquiry into each pose as a source of inspiration. Meditate, experiment, and stay curious with the basics.
Inquiry 1: Sitting & Centering
It is essential to begin each practice with a moment to sit and be still. This is potentially the most important practice of all. Despite any discomfort or trouble in your life, you always can make time for this one breath sitting in quiet inquiry.
Sit on the floor or in a chair if that provides more comfort to knees and back. Sitting and centering clears the mind and sets the intention for your practice. My one intention in each practice is to be present. I find this to be a lifelong practice, and one I may never quite master!
If sitting on the floor, it is very important to sit up on a blanket or other support cushion to elevate your hips. Sitting on support will help to keep the natural curve of your lumbar spine. You can also sit near a wall, with your back directly at the wall, or to place a bolster between the wall and your back. Avoid slouching spine and shoulders. The spine should lift and the shoulders should lightly draw back and down. Imagine a tiny thread at the top of your head giving your whole spinal column a tender lift. Bring one hand to the head and feel your head lift up to that hand. Lengthen the back of your neck. Feel your ribs draw in, offering a gentle support to your inner organs. Let your belly be soft, fluidly moving with each breath. Feel your hips and legs grounded, this means they gently press and engage down towards the mat and provide a strong stable base of support to the spine. Soften tension in the legs. If you feel strain in your knees, you can tuck a blanket or block under the knees. Maybe take a few 1/2 neck rolls and roll the shoulders a few times. Breath in to the count of 5, and then out to the count of 5, and emphasize your exhale, perhaps breathing out through the mouth.
Once you feel settled in your seat, bring your hands to your belly, and breath deep, feeling your body move towards and away from your hands. Then slide your hands to your ribs. Feel the ribs expand with each breath, and gently contract away with each exhale. Then, bring your hand to the top of your chest, near your collar bones. Feel the breath lift up into this space, while still moving deep in the belly and wide through the ribs. Take 3 more breaths this way. Then place the hands on your knees again.
Sit here as long as you like. Let your breath act like a broom for the mind, sweeping away dust, debris, and thoughts that do not serve your best intentions. Let your breath move into any place in the body that may need more nourishment. In this way, prepare for your practice or simply prepare for the day ahead.
In my yoga classes, I have been discussing the concept of Soma. In Ayurveda and yoga, Soma is the nectar of life- it rejuvenates and restores the body to create a feeling of fullness in Prana – life energy. In some references, Soma is a special plant that offers the elixir of long life. Amrit- or nectar – is another description of Soma. Soma is said to be made in the body via the pineal gland, and is related to the upper Chakras (Ajna and Sahasrara). Soma provides a youthful vigor and sharp mind. I have been discussing Soma because it is autumn, the season of Vata. This is a time of year where the natural world “dries up.” As cold weather moves in, we move indoors and become more susceptible to illness. To balance out these tendencies, we should engage in practices that will nourish and restore our bodies and our minds.
Luckily, autumn is the time of year where people begin to return to their yoga practices. As every yoga teacher in New England knows, the summer months can feel a little empty in the yoga studio. Everyone is outside enjoying the beautiful weather, walking, biking, hiking, or just sitting on the porch with a friend or book. Going to yoga class takes a back seat, and sometimes the entire yoga practice does likewise. I understand: I too like to be outside in the garden, walking, and hiking. But yoga practice gives us more energy to engage in those activities. Our yoga practice improves circulation of water, blood, and lymph, increases synovial fluid in the joints, and creates peace of mind, all of which are important to keeping up our energy and our immune system. So when I see folks returning in the autumn, I am happy to know that they are attending to their health and well-being, so that they have a better reserve to help them through the cold winter months.
The immune system takes a hit in the winter. Our immunity according to Ayurveda, is connected to Ojas – our “vigor” or essential life energy. This is due to several compounding factors: less sun in the Northern Hemisphere, more time indoors where we spread germs, dry air which affects our nasal passages and makes it more likely that we will catch a cold or flu, and the added effort of the body to keep up with the stress of the colder months. Autumn is a transitional season where it becomes important to build our inner reserves of energy, our Ojas, by keeping up our healthy lifestyle practices like yoga and healthy eating, so that we have the reserves to get through the winter months. We might catch a cold or other sickness, but if we take care with mindful Soma-increasing practices, an illness may be shorter, or we may suffer fewer symptoms, or simply not catch it at all.
We need to engage in Soma-increasing practices often. We can benefit from these practices at any time of year, and ideally will include them on a daily and or weekly basis. A deeply engaging, active, or even aggressive yoga practice will build strength, muscle tissue, endurance, and many important qualities. But if you only practice these heating and active “Yang” types of practice and do not balance that practice with a Soma-inducing practice, you will deplete your energy reserves of Ojas and become more susceptible to stress, illness, and injury.
What are Soma-inducing practices? Shavasana. Yoga Nidra. Yin Yoga. Restorative Yoga. Mantra Japa (repetition of a mantra). Meditation. Other practices to increase Soma include sitting in the light of the full moon (said to emit Soma), and eating and drinking certain foods. These practices will rejuvenate and replenish the body through their specific effect on the nervous system, and also through their ability to counter the effects of stress and cortisol in the body.
Three Practices to Build Soma, Restore Ojas, and Prepare For The Cold Season
Here are three Soma practices that will build your reserve of Ojas in the body. A mantra, a recipe, and a meditation.
1). The Maha-Mrtiyunjaya Mantra
This Mantra is to the deity Shiva- He is said to be both Agni (the fire) and Soma in one. Thomas Ashley-Farrand, author of “Healing Mantras” says that this mantra relieves one from death and disease, relieves a wide variety of illnesses, and is a general support for the immune system. While in India, we chanted this every day and at the beginning of any car trip or journey.
How to practice: There are many options for mantra practice. You could simply chant this once a day, in the morning, as a blessing for your day. You could sit with mala beads, and run through 108 repetitions, with a short meditation after. If you are in great need to boost health and vitality, try chanting it 108 times both morning and night for at least 40 days.
2). Recipe: Ojas Boosting Milk
I like to drink an Ojas boosting formula in the winter. Try this recipe in the evening and see if it helps you to have a more soothing nights sleep:
1-2 cups Almond milk
2-3 dates (depending on how sweet you like your drink)
a pinch of saffron
a pinch of turmeric and a slice of ginger
2 tsp of coconut oil
Add ingredients to a pot. Bring to a light boil, 2-3 minutes. You might strain out the ingredients, or keep them in (I like to keep the dates in, and eat them when the milk is gone!).
3). Meditation on Body Points
I have been using this meditation in my yoga classes with incredible success. Students leave feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. It is proof to me that these Soma-inducing practices restore us on a deep level, giving us more energy to do the work we need in our day, and helping us to live healthy wholesome lives. The following meditation is based on the Marma points, Ayurvedic energy points in the body, and was inspired by the teachings of the renown teacher of Ayurveda, David Frawley.
1. Direct your attention to your toes. On inhalation, gather your energy at your toes. On exhalation, release. Feel your toes energized, healed, and relaxed.
2. Move your attention to your ankles. On inhalation, gather your energy at your ankles. On exhalation, release it. Feel your ankles energized, healed, and relaxed.
3. Move your attention to the middle of your calves. The middle of your calves. On inhalation, gather your energy there. On exhalation, release it. Feel the middle of your calves energized, healed, and relaxed.
4. Move your attention to the base of your knees. The base of your knees. On inhalation, gather your energy there. On exhalation, release it. Feel the base of your knees energized, healed, and relaxed.
5. Move your attention to the middle of your knees. The middle of your knees. On inhalation, gather your energy there. On exhalation, release it. Feel your knees energized, healed, and relaxed.
6. Move your energy to the middle of your thighs. On inhalation, gather your energy at the middle of your thighs. On exhalation, release it. Feel your thighs energized, healed, and relaxed.
7. Move your energy to the base of your spine. On inhalation, gather your energy at the base of your spine. On exhalation, release it. Feel this region of your body energized, healed, and relaxed.
8. Move your energy to the middle of your hips. On inhalation, gather your energy at the middle of your hips. On exhalation, release it. Feel your hips energized, healed, and relaxed.
9. Move your energy to your navel. On inhalation, gather your energy at your navel. On exhalation, release it. Feel this region of your body energized, healed, and relaxed.
10. Move your energy to your heart. On inhalation, gather your energy at your heart. On exhalation, release it. Feel your heart energized, healed, and relaxed.
11. Move your energy to the root of your throat. The very root of your throat. On inhalation, gather your energy there. On exhalation, release it. Feel your throat energized, healed, and relaxed.
12. Move your attention to the root of your tongue. On inhalation, gather your energy at the root of your tongue. On exhalation, release it. Feel your tongue energized, healed, and relaxed.
13. Move your attention to the root of your nose, deep at the base of the nose. On inhalation, gather your energy at the root of your nose. On exhalation, release. Feel your nose energized, healed, and relaxed.
15. Move your attention to your eyes. Deep in your eyes. On inhalation, gather your energy there. On exhalation, release. Feel your eyes energized, healed, and relaxed.
16. Move your attention to the point between your brows. On inhalation, gather your energy at the point between your brows. On exhalation, release it. Feel this region of your body energized, healed, and relaxed.
17. Move your attention to the middle of your forehead. The middle of your forehead. On inhalation, gather your energy there. On exhalation, release. Feel your forehead energized, healed, and relaxed.
19. Move your attention to the top of the head. On inhalation, gather your energy at the top of the head. On exhalation, release. Feel the top of your head energized, healed, and relaxed.
20. Spread your attention throughout your whole body. Your whole body. On inhalation, fill your whole body with energy. On exhalation, release and soften. Feel your whole body, energized, healed, and relaxed. Energized, healed, and relaxed.
I am the type of Gal who ends up reading 4 or 5 books at once. My husband usually reads one book through all the way, and he usually reads fiction of at least 500 pages (probably a magically inclined, zombie-vampire apocalyptic type book). I like to think the reason why I enjoy having multiple books open is my preference for reading non-fiction. I have piles books ranging in topics of of spirituality, health and nutrition, vegan eating, homeschooling and unschooling, nature and world cultures. I do enjoy fiction, but I am very particular about the stories I let myself get involved in. Reading several hundred pages is a serious time commitment, and I want to make sure my time is being well spent. When you read a fiction book, you are usually so engrossed in the story its hard to put the book down. When you read non-fiction, you might like to cross reference something, or look into an idea or concept further in another book. Or you might simply enjoy the inspiration from opening multiple books.
I thought it would be interesting to list the various books I am currently reading, or have by my bedside, or simply out for inspiration. You can tell a lot about a person by the books they read:
Be Love Now, by Ram Dass. I am enjoying this book a lot more than I thought. I am not interested in reading about one’s past psychedelic experiences, so had veered away from anything written by Ram Dass. Drugs do not equal enlightenment in my mind. But I can see that Ram Dass evolved from those 1960’s experiences, and has many insightful and inspiring teachings to share. The first page I opened in this book was on the chapter of Saints and the description of Anandamayi Ma. I took it as a sign to pick up the book, and I have not been dissappointed. A great read for yogic inspiration on the bhakti path.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is a fiction book. Josh told me it was phenomenal, so my interest was piqued. Admittedly it is taking me some time to get started with this book. The first few chapters moved slow for me, and I was not interested in the demons, bloodshed, and armor. But suddenly there is intrigue as we move into the writing of the story of Kvothe by the Chronicler. I anticipate that once the story progresses, I may not be able to put it down.
The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman. I have actually finished this book, but it was so very good I had to share it. This is a collection of short stories based on the founding of a Massachusetts town. The stories are intertwined and connected to each other- they actually build on each other historically. I love anything and everything that Alice Hoffman writes, and this book brought tears to my eyes at the end. Magically and Artfully written.
The Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran. This book gets picked up and put down quite frequently. I was inspired by the talk I attended with Swami Gurusharanananda over the weekend to read through the Gita again. This classic is like a good friend you visit over and over. I particularly enjoy this copy by Eknath Easwaran, and highly recommend anything written by him. He was a wise teacher who lived a simple life. His translation is profound and simple, not scholarly. This is a simple English-only translation. While Swamiji visited us he looked through this book and said he liked it very much. I figured that was as good approval as I needed for this version.
I always like to have the words of Mary Oliver out for inspiration. I am currently looking through West Wind as I was going through books to discard, and happened on this shelved jewel. It did not make it into the discard pile. Mary Oliver’s words are pure art.
Death Must Die, by Ram Alexander. This is actually a diary account of Atmananda, the European music teacher who studied with Krishnamurti, and then later became a devotee of Anandamayi Ma. It is a great insight into the incredible being and Saint that is Anandamayi Ma. The reader feels as though Ma is right in the room with Atmananda’s stories of and recollections. This is also a great account of a Westerner living in orthodox Hindu culture. I enjoy reading out of it from time to time, and had pulled it out a few days ago to read a few passages.
The Art of Attention by Elena Brower. This book is sitting on my kitchen table right now, and I had it out for inspiration during my morning yoga practice. A truly beautiful book. It inspires both my practice and my teaching. I have had the honor of taking a few classes with Elena. She is a remarkable yoga teacher and practitioner. Part Asana instruction, part inspiration, part workbook. I can’t bring myself to write in it.
Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Yes, cookbooks count. I mentioned this book in a post about being content. I am careful about which books I decide to purchase for the house, and this one definitely made the cut. I have it out on the counter, and the girls and I pick a different cookie to try each week. Last week we made chocolate oatmeal cookies. This week we tried Green Matcha Biscotti. You should probably own a copy of this book too. It will change your life. I also love Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.
This list of books will be different next week. I feel a fluidity with my books, and no, I don’t always finish each and every book. The journey matters more to me.
I met with Tracy in Brattleboro V.T, on a cold March day at Bhava Yoga Studio. Tracy recently relocated to Vermont from the Henniker, N.H. area. Tracy is an adept yogin and an inspirational teacher. She focuses on the deep spiritual understandings and teaching of yoga and its spiritual practices. To be in her presence, one is aware of a Being on a deep inner journey, thoughtful and introspective.
A little more about Tracy, from the Bhava website:
“Tracy has been studying yoga since 1995 with teachers of various traditions across a wide spectrum, from the strict alignment of Iyengar to the effortless grace of Shakti Flow. She has been teaching yoga asana and philosophy since 2006 and has completed 200-hour level trainings in both Kripalu and Jivamukti Yoga, as well as an advanced level certification in Shakti Flow.
Tracy guides intuitive flowing sequences that feel good for the body and help to liberate stuck or stagnant energy. Currently immersed in the practices of Shri Vidya, her teachings are inspired by Tantrik philosophy – with the understanding that asana and the practice of yoga is ever evolving and expanding, just as our true nature is.
Having recently moved from New Hampshire and her Henniker River Yoga community, Tracy is happy to be offering classes at Bhava Yoga. ”