Category Archives: Physical

Meditation Made Easy

meditatingI used to swim daily in the warm ocean waters of La Jolla California. I remember my body felt light, buoyed by the salt water and the lapping waves. As I turned my face into the cold ocean I saw  tendrils of seaweed reaching towards me from the dark recesses of the ocean floor. The rhythm of my breath was the prominent sound and my mind became singularly focused on reaching the buoy in the far distance. For years I practiced this daily ritual and yet if someone asked if I meditated I would say, “no, I can’t sit still long enough.” This rather narrow perspective was altered when I studied the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. He practices walking meditation and explains there are many opportunities throughout the day to reach deep meditative states by simply observing the subtle body through breath and mindful presence.

Years later, when I moved to the  Central California where the ocean water is an average frigid 57 degrees, I gave up ocean swimming for dance. Here too, I found an opportunity to go into a deep state of meditation. My teacher, Arjuna Vinn Marti, descInner Dancerribes the inner spiral and teaches a simple technique he calls the ABCDs. Assemble, Breathe, recognize that motion is Circular and when you are ready, Dissolve. Through this practice the dancer discovers an inner resonance unique to themselves which ultimately expresses itself in the dance.

Whether your movement is dancing, running or gardening, by bringing conscious breath and focused awareness to your activities, you can achieve deeper meditative states which can help to reduce stress, improve concentration, elevate mood, improve sleep…the benefits are multitude and varied but the proof is in, meditation enhances well being and changes brain function. So if, like me, you are a person in motion, stop, breath, pay attention and reach a whole new level of performance both physically, emotionally and spiritually. Namaste.

Gourmet Backpacking in Big Sur

big sur coast
Looking South from Big Sur

We just got back from a gourmet backpacking trip in the Big Sur Wilderness  which was, in my expert opinion, the perfect spa vacation. It is low stress, great exercise and the solitude of the trail offers many opportunities for reflection. Why gourmet? You are rewarded for your exertion with two hot springs, delicious food, restorative yoga, 5-star views and excellent company!

The Pine Ridge Trail begins at the Big Sur Station just past the popular River Inn on Highway One. The destination is Tassajara, a Buddhist monastery deep in the Ventana Wilderness which offers lodging and sulphur hot springs. I recommend planning on taking four days, for although only 23 miles, the trail travels from river valleys to mountain peaks three times and can be very challenging depending on the weather and the conditions. Neck high brush and extreme temperatures are not uncommon on the eastern half the mountains. Also, it is nice to  relax in the afternoons and enjoy Sykes Hot Springs on the Big Sur River or have time to recover at Pine Ridge from what we laughingly call Agony Trail.

Tubs at Sykes Hot Springs

 

On day three we get up at  dawn in order to beat the heat as we climb a steep rocky faced path to Pine Ridge. Done in the early morning it is an easy three mile climb. If done in the afternoon, the brush, combined with the sun reflecting off the shale, can be agonizing. Hence the name, Agony Trail. This is when you begin to regret the extra granola you packed. Minimal is best when hiking this kind of terrain.

Wild flowers along the trail.
Wild flowers along the trail.
Pine Valley Overlook

There are rewards for at the end of this challenging hike however. The views and the wild flowers are spectacular from Pine Ridge and you can see vistas all the way to the Monterey. There is also a beautiful spring that comes right out of the mountain and is the sweetest water I have ever tasted. Restorative yoga, coffee and sweets are traditionally on the afternoon agenda.

Cave hands
Ancient Esalen Indian pictograhs

The next day is the trek to Pine Valley. An easy four miles that drops you into a low hanging valley covered in a field of lupine and poppies. Oak, Lucia Pines and Sugar Pines dominate the landscape and the sandstone cliffs harbor Indian caves where one can find mortars and ancient pictographs left by the Esalen indians.

The last day is a five mile run in order to make Tassajara by lunch. By day four a fresh salad and steamy bread are strong motivations to hike out early. Church Creek trail offers beautiful vistas of sandstone rock formations but is often poorly marked and brushy. No obstacles are great enough to slow down the pace as we imagine showers, hot springs and fresh food.

Monk crossing bridge.
Monk crossing bridge.

When entering Tassajara there is always a hush that comes over me. The monastery has a sacred energy due to the monks strong meditation practice. The lack of electricity and the constant gurgle of the river immediately soothes one’s soul. In the Japanese tradition the baths separate the sexes which leads to complete ease and fun conversations. The steam room is a testimony to the Zen aesthetic which combines beauty and simplicity. Lined in colorful river stones with solid redwood benches and a small window looking towards the river. It is by far the nicest sauna I have ever frequented.

I wanted to share this trip not only because it was so much fun but to remind people that a “spa vacation” can be inexpensive and free of the hassles of traveling in airports. We live in such an amazing state and have wilderness within short distances. The hiking equipment is lighter weight these days and the hike not only feels good at the end of the day but affords you privacy, a continual change of spectacular scenery and possible adventure!

 

Live Life Happily Die Majestically

 

Iyengar 2On August 20, 2014 BKS Iyendar died a robust 95 year old. In 1952 he introduced yoga to the west and brought yoga from obscurity to the mass popularity we witness today. I always considered Iyengar my teacher. I only saw him once, in SanFrancisco, in the 1990s where he demonstrated how yoga can heal certain ailments. He was mesmerizing and I was inspired by his powerful presence and his vast knowledge.

I first studied yoga at the Iyengar Institute in San Francisco with Iyengar’s  Master Student, Manousoan enigmatic teacher who taught with a precision and intensity that appealed to me. I was an triathlete at the time and the detailed exploration of the poses’ alignment became a meditation for me. I also noticed a new grace in my walk and a greater sense of balance physically and emotionally.

Although having practiced since 1985,  there have been long periods when I have forgotten my practice.  Work, motherhood and even hiking became distractions but l always turned back to yoga during emotional turmoil or in response to health concerns. I consider yoga my spiritual home base.

Yoga is also my physical home base and precludes all my other activities. Hiking and dancing, my two passions, are supported by yoga. A straight spine and a strong flexible body are essential for good health. I am able to avoid injuries and explore the tightness, or the blockages and through breath and stretching heal myself. I am very grateful for the excellent teachers I have had over the years and I know that my yoga practice will enable me to grow old gracefully.

Namaste

Excellent Yoga Links:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ylIh2IBEWKU&list=PLFCB0B21D4E7EB4C2

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4j4SuAvcmps

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vBaQlOq1KoU

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kundalini Rising

Dance SoloI was at Esalen this weekend for another Soul Motion Dance workshop with Arjuna and I want to share my kundalini experience!

The sacred spiral is one of the building blocks of the Universe. Interestingly it is also the motion of the kundalini or shakti that runs up the spine through the crown chakra. In Soul Motion this subtle micro movement is the foundation of our dance.

kundaliniDuring my dance this weekend I began to follow the spiral of energy up the spine  and was profoundly shaken by the discovery of a a blockage at my throat chakra. I literally started to gag as I felt the energy’s inability to move past this point. When I finally felt the release I burst out in tears of gratitude for this powerful lesson.

I have spent a lifetime swallowing my words in order to maintain a harmonious environment. I know this problem is common for many women. As the peace makers in the household we value harmony above all else. Of course, what results is a burning resentment which, in my case, actually expressed itself as bile!

What I love about dance is that this emotional lesson was manifested in the physical. Speak up dear sisters. You are wise and powerful and have a lot to say. Also dance, sing and laugh….this helps!

 

Say No to Diets!

The pitfalls of dieting.
The pitfalls of dieting.

One day, at the tender age of fifteen, I noticed my growing belly and announced to my mom that I was going on a diet. By the end of the first day I had managed to devour an entire  banana cream pie!  Just the mention of going on a diet can inspire us to binge.  There was the time my sister went on The Watermelon Diet. It ended with us devouring a gallon of Dryer’s Rocky Road Ice cream. I still remember the feel of the spongy, sweet marshmallows and the creamy dark chocolate on my tongue.

Why is there such a strong tendency to binge when we deprive ourselves of the things we love? What you resist, persists and sure enough as soon as I declared my weight a problem, it became one.  What finally cured me of this debilitating pattern? Moderation and self acceptance. This small shift from fixating on my problem to focusing on balance and well being, liberated me from the constant worry about my weight.

As I’ve aged my metabolism has slowed down and again I had to shift my eating patterns.  Over the years I have slowly and so almost effortlessly eliminated some of my worst food addictions starting with white sugar and white flour. So many of our food choices are habitual and surprisingly some of the healthier alternatives are more delicious than the traditional desserts.

Interested? Read on….

Rich, creamy & delicious.
Rich, creamy & delicious.

Coconut Ice Cream

1 can coconut cream

1 tsp cinnamon

3 Tbs raw cocoa

1/4 c  Xylitol

1 tsp vanilla

2 bananas

2 tsp chopped walnut

Blend all the ingredients together except the walnuts. I use a Cusinart but a blender would work too. Freeze for 2-3 hours and serve with sprinkled walnuts.

If you are unfamiliar with Xylitol it is a natural sweetener made from the Birch tree. It has the lowest glycemic index of any natural sweetener and is one third of the calories of white sugar.

Dance, dance, dance!

Dance Solo

I discovered Soul Motion Dance at Esalen last February. For me it was a life transforming experience.  This is a free flow class with few guidelines but what emerges is a spiritual practice which is deeply self nurturing.

Arjuna, the founder of Soul Motion is a remarkable teacher who drops golden messages throughout the dance that evoke both tears and laughter. The practice itself is such a heart opener and a fun way to strengthen the body. I have never walked so tall and am so pleased to find myself leading with my heart instead of my head.

There seems to be a global dance explosion and between Monterey and Santa Cruz County there is lots to choose from. In addition to Soul Motion there is also Gabriel Roth’s 5 Rhythms. I am currently taking a class from Rachael Jordan in Santa Cruz who is a student of Gabriel Roth. Gabriel Roth taught that there were 5 natural rhythms to our dance; flow, staccato, chaos, lyrical and stillness. The dancer moves through a musical “wave” that explores all 5 rhythms. The practice of these rhythms become a metaphor for one’s life and is a powerful way to heal old emotional wounds or discover aspects of oneself that may otherwise  remain dormant.

The dance environment is completely non judgmental and there is an emphasis on play and making connections on the dance floor which create friendships and camaraderie among the dancers. Arjuna encourages these connections through simple techniques such as corridor dancing whereby students dance through the corridors of the dance circle. Each taking the limelight in the center of the dance briefly and moving with each other in and out of the corridors. The effect is a sensation of wholeness on the dance floor. We all become each other’s dance. It was wonderful! GO…..

Links to local dance:

http://www.dancejampg.org

http://www.the418project.com/current-class-schedule

http://www.consciousdancer.com/

Soul Motion Video

Corridors of Dance

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Wh2gpxzBA0s