Monday, January 31, 2011

Ashtanga yoga in Tallinn

I remember Tallinn very well. I went there over 15 years ago and spent a week, wandering the enchanting medieval streets during the day and talking to my ethnic Russian landlady in my rudimental Russian at night. I will never forget that city at that time,  just waking up after long decades of communism and Russian rule, trying to figure out its place in the new order.

I have seen this absolutely beautiful video recently on Youtube posted by a guy named Jock who follows my guru Lino Miele and has his own Ashtanga school in the Estonian capital. I hope to go back to Tallinn sometime soon, see the changes the city has gone through since I last went there, and practice with Jock, who seems an overall nice and interesting guy. What I find nice about the internet is that you can create these virtual relationships in the yoga world that are nonetheless relationships and which one day can come true. 

Here is the vid, enjoy, relax by just watching and listening.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Seeds

Today I have celebrated my 30th day of being a vegetarian. Sometimes yes, I wish I could have a beautiful slice of prociutto crudo. I miss seafood and steak. But as someone who is dearest to my heart, a vegetarian himself, said, being a vegetarian just makes you a better person, calmer, less agressive, and more healthy. It's a moral choice we can make and sets us, humans, apart from the beasts. And I totally agree with him. Of course, I want to avoid becoming a self-righteous ass who judges meat eaters and feels superior to them. But I do believe that somehow doing away with meat makes you a better person. I have developed this weird theory - and I'm sure it's not new at all - that when you eat meat, you really eat suffering. When an animal is slaughtered it suffers, not to mention the kind of constricted, inhumane, albeit short life these poor critters are forced to lead.

For me vegetarianism is also a huge challenge.  I want to eat interestingly, not just boring salads and veggie soups. It is also important not to overdo the bread and cereal angle as many vegetarians do. And do I get enough protein in my diet? is another concern. What about iron? As I get more and more sucked into the whole vegetarian biz on the internet, I discover the various sub-fads as well, raw foodism, veganism, non-grain eaterism, paleo-vegetarianism, fruitarianism etc. But all this also makes life more interesting right now as I put more brainwork into what I put into my mouth. 

I have recently discovered a whole food group out there that I have neglected all my life. SEEDS. Allora: linseeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, apricot seeds, quinoa. Turns out these seeds are incredibly nutritious and taste great. Today, in my no-grain effort, I made bread using some of the above seeds (ground), added a bit of chick-pea flour, an egg, a dash of olive oil, salt and water. I had no recipe, I played it by ear but it came out nice. I was thinking, compared to that pale slice of bread from Terni (an Italian town famous for its salt-free bread) my bread was chock full of nutrients and tasted loads better too. I guess this is the nicest thing about being a vegetarian right now, discovering a whole new world of flavor savor and zest hitherto totally unknown to me. Cool, cool, cool.


 “If animals died to fill my plate, my head and my heart would become heavy with sadness”, says Guruji. “Becoming a vegetarian is the way to live in harmony with animals and the planet.”

Monday, January 24, 2011

compulsive shopper

my compulsive shopping habit... hmmm...  a long time ago, in another lifetime, my  now ex husband cut up my charge and credit cards in a rage when he realized that i had maxed out on all of them in one month and spent my monthly salary a couple of times over on stupid stuff i could not even find anymore among all the other stuff that i had purchased previously. i have never had credit cards since, but i have never had any money put aside for a rainy day in the bank either, and even though i have always worked hard and earned well, i have also always been totally broke. but my wardrobe... my bookshelves, my jewelry chest, my bathroom... full of STUFF... STUFF and more STUFF. i have 35 pairs of blue jeans. 15 pairs of black jeans. i have green jeans, pink jeans, purple jeans, grey jeans, white jeans. that's just jeans. 


i won't go into linen pants, leather pants, dressy woolen pants, leggings, corduroy slacks, shorts, silk trousers, etc.  i have a hundred skirts.  i have boots in all the colors of the rainbow. i have dozens of leather bags. thousands of books. tons of bling. i don't even know what i have. and I am not Carrie Bradshaw or whoever just a simple woman trying to live the yogi life.

but what is actually worse than having all this stuff is the yearning for more. this constant desire, longing, craving for more stuff. wanting another pair of pants, this time shorter and tighter, hungering for another t-shirt or yet another pair of dr martens, the cool 18-eyelet model in the weird antique rose color. keeping my eye on the latest book of my favorite author(s), lusting for another bag or purse or pocketbook or backpack, some more trinkets or the umpteenth lipstick etc., etc...

i don't know where my tendency to buy buy buy and my desire to hoard more come from, probably some deep seated psychological trauma back before i was conceived. but i do know that by desiring and hoarding stuff i am breaking one of the 8 rules of yoga, Aparigraha - Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard wealth, that is part of YAMA.
 
Aparigraha means to take only what is necessary, and not to take advantage of a situation or act greedy. It also implies letting go of our attachments to things and an understanding that impermanence and change are the only constants.

i'm working on this now but it's very very difficult. but i'm working.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Montaigne and the macaques

Today I would like to publish  Saul Frampton's recent article in the Guardian. I am not sure how it relates to the 8 limbs of yoga, but I think it does.

Montaigne and the macaques

    Michel de Montaigne
     
    Michel de Montaigne. Photograph: Bridgeman Art Library 
    Sometime late in the 16th century the French philosopher and essayist Michel de Montaigne received an unwelcome knock at the door.
    His house stood on a hill a few miles north of the Dordogne, about 30 miles east of Bordeaux. Its walls overlooked his poultry yard and vegetable garden, the surrounding fields neatly embroidered with vines. At one corner stood a tower containing his library, some sooty paintings, a table and a chair. And standing as a solitary sentinel over all this was an ancient porter, "whose function", admitted Montaigne, "is not so much to defend his door as to offer it with more grace and decorum", making an attack on it "a cowardly and treacherous business . . . it is not shut to anyone that knocks".  Summoned from his books, Montaigne found himself confronted by a neighbour – a man he knew almost "as an ally" – standing "completely terrified" on his doorstep. He had, he said, just been set upon by an enemy about a mile away, and begged to be let in. This Montaigne did – "as I do to everyone" – trying his best to calm and reassure his terrified countryman.  But then, rather ominously: Four or five of his soldiers arrived, with the same bearing and fright, in order to be admitted. And then more and more after them, well-equipped and well-armed, until there were twenty-five or thirty of them, pretending to have the enemy at their heels. This mystery was beginning to arouse my suspicion. I was not ignorant of the sort of age in which I lived, how my house might be envied . . . However . . . I abandoned myself to the most natural and simple course, as I do always, and gave orders for them to be let in.  The "sort of age" in which Montaigne lived was that of the French wars of religion, which stretched from 1562 to 1598. Montaigne's house stood in the middle of the region of the most intense fighting. And he himself, having tried to negotiate between the warring factions, had made enemies on both sides. It was this civil unrest, combined with Montaigne's trusting nature, that the neighbour planned to use to his advantage. Having tricked his way in, he now stood in Montaigne's living room, his men greatly outnumbering Montaigne's, and his objective clearly within his grasp. But then, just as suddenly as he had embarked on his treacherous undertaking, the neighbour left: "He remounted his horse, his men keeping their eyes on him for some signal he might give them, very astonished to see him leave and abandon his advantage."  When Montaigne sits down to recount these events in his Essays, he says that his neighbour – "for he was not afraid to tell this story" – admitted that it was Montaigne's demeanour that had defeated his stratagem: "He has often said to me since . . . that my face and my frankness wrestled his treachery from him." Montaigne has a reputation as a sceptical and slightly otherworldly observer of human affairs, surveying life from the isolation of his ivy-covered tower. But in the body of his work – his Essays and the Travel Journal of his trip to Italy – his writing displays an obsessive concern with the power of personal presence in moral life, and a fascination with how people act on, influence and affect each other through their physical being. In this, Montaigne can be seen to reflect a characteristically Renaissance concern with gesture and deportment. Shakespeare, in The Winter's Tale, describes Leontes and Camillo as having "speech in their dumbness, language in their very gesture". And Francis Bacon observes: "As the tongue speaketh to the ear, so the gesture speaketh to the eye." But in his writings Montaigne seems to go beyond language – and language as metaphor – and begins to explore a deeper, more instinctive conception of our understanding of others, one that has only recently begun to be understood. For the question remains – why did Montaigne's neighbour leave when he had got so close to his supposed objective?  In the early 1990s, a team of neuroscientists at the University of Parma, headed by Giacomo Rizzolatti, discovered the surprising behaviour of certain neurons in the brains of macaque monkeys – they fired not only when the monkeys grasped food, but when they saw the experimenter grasp it. These neurons have since come to be known as "mirror neurons", or "empathy neurons". And in April last year, researchers at UCLA reported the first direct recordings of mirror neurons in humans, a fact that had long been suspected. The neurologist VS Ramachandran predicts that this discovery "will do for psychology what DNA did for biology". Scientists are excited about the huge advances to be made in the understanding of autism, schizophrenia, language, consciousness – indeed, what it is to be human. These neurological findings not only help us to understand human and animal behaviour, but also to explain and in some ways legitimate whole swaths of the history of human culture.  The philosopher David Hume argued that "No quality of human nature is more remarkable, both in itself and in its consequences, than that propensity we have to sympathise with others". And Shakespeare's theatre can be seen as a great neurological hall of mirrors in which characters both reflect and fail to reflect the emotional states of others. But it is perhaps Montaigne who has considered this realm of human nature most deeply. As he looks into himself he recognises his "aping and imitative character"; "whatever I contemplate, I adopt – a foolish expression, a disagreeable grimace, a ridiculous way of speaking"; "I often usurp the sensations of another person". He sees that such capacities lie behind the power of theatre: how sorrow, anger, hatred, pass though writer, actor and audience, like a chain of magnetised needles, "suspended one from the other", causing us to weep for those we care little about. For Montaigne, as for contemporary neuroscientists, humans thus have an inbuilt imitative, sympathetic capacity. Moreover, he does not see it as species-dependent (this is backed up by Rizzolatti's discovery). In one of his most famous aphorisms he asks: "When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me?" And he tells how animals themselves form "a certain acquaintance with one another" and greet each other "with joy and demonstrations of goodwill". Then, in a lengthy comment added to the final edition of his essays, he completes the circle from animal-to-human to human-to-human again, concluding that we cannot help but communicate ourselves in some way – that our own physical movements "converse and discourse" – even if it is something to which we are habitually blind:  What of the hands? We request, we promise, call, dismiss, menace, pray, supplicate, deny, refuse, interrogate, admire, count, confess, repent, fear . . . There is not a movement that does not speak, and in a language intelligible without instruction, a language that is common to all. From which it follows, seeing the variety and differences between other languages, that this one ought to be judged the true language of human nature. The "true language of human nature" may seem an exaggeration, but in fact many argue that language is built on this more ancient capacity for "mirroring" the actions of others. Montaigne says he understands people "by their silence and their smiles, and I perhaps understand them better at the dinner-table than in the council-chamber". He imagines sitting next to Alexander at table, seeing him talking and drinking and "fingering his chess-men". And he notes how the ancients were more attuned to the physicality of others. Hippomachus claimed to be able to tell a good wrestler simply by the way he walked. At this point one might ask why, if the existence of mirror neurons is such an important factor in our makeup, human history is not a series of pacts, congresses and get-togethers, rather than a chain of wars and massacres? Here, too, Montaigne, has something to tell us. For in many ways the Essays constitute not only an argument for people's capacity for sympathy, but an extended disquisition on how and why it breaks down. The reasons he gives are diffuse and wide-ranging, and invariably filtered through his experience of 16th-century political and religious life. Above all, he concentrates on a very simple element, one that we tend to overlook in our attempts to arrive at a universal moral code – that our ability to feel sympathy with others is directly proportionate to our proximity to them. So while the Stoics advised that one can prepare oneself for death and bereavement by imagining our children and wives as fragile objects, Montaigne insists: "No wisdom is so highly formed as to be able to imagine a cause of grief so vivid and so complete that it will not be increased by the actual presence, when the eyes and ears have a share in it." For Montaigne, as for ourselves, the language of emotion is couched in a language of spatial intimacy: we feel "close to", "attached to" and "touched" by others – as Montaigne shows in his essay "Of Friendship", dedicated to the memory of his close friend Etienne de La Bo├ętie. And just as importantly, Montaigne recognises how vice thrives on distance. He quotes Lucretius on the callous pleasure of seeing someone far from shore, struggling against the storm. And in Rome he notes that the brotherhood of "gentlemen and prominent people" that accompany public executions hide themselves behind white linen masks.  For Montaigne, human proximity is at the heart of morality. Piety is easily faked: "Its essence is abstract and hidden; its forms easy and ceremonial." But "to hold pleasant and reasonable conversation with oneself and one's family . . . this is rarer and more difficult to achieve". What is interesting is how this link between moral urgency and proximity – so blindingly true – is also something that seems to be hard-wired within us.  In his infamous series of electric-shock experiments carried out at Yale in the 1960s, the psychologist Stanley Milgram exposed people's willingness to obey figures of authority. But in a series of variations on his experiments he also showed how this was affected by distance – subjects were less likely to inflict pain on those close to them, rather than in another room. This might seem obvious, but one still needs to ask why we feel less sympathy with someone distant – it is not as if we somehow doubt the truthfulness of their pain. It is therefore interesting to note that very recent scientific research suggests that mirror neurons can fire in ways that are dependent on spatial proximity. In a paper co-authored by Rizzolatti and published in Science in 2009, it was shown how different sets of mirror neurons fire depending on whether rhesus monkeys are witnessing actions inside or outside their peripersonal space – that is, within the range of their grasp. Could it be too far-fetched to suggest that something similar happens in our moral responses to others – that they seem more vivid, and more relevant to ourselves, the nearer the other person is, and that this is more than simply a self-interested, "rational" response? Did Montaigne intuitively know that by inviting his would-be enemy into his living room, and into the moral equivalent of his peripersonal space (or something like it), he was simultaneously invading the moral intimacy of his assailant, and was therefore in a better position to influence him, and precipitate in him a decency similar to his own? Montaigne's general point is clear: that we have an inbuilt propensity for sympathy and understanding, but that proximity matters. And whilst some could see this as a depressing limit on the jurisdiction of our moral sympathies, we can also see it as something on which to build. Montaigne is no political theorist, but rather a man who wishes to remind us of a fragile but significant fact: that the preservation of our moral awareness relies on the preservation of the nearness between us – something that no number of emails or tweets can ever properly replace. Even the pope is not immune to the affective influence of the nearness of others, as his secretary records during Montaigne's meeting with him in Rome – he is still a man of flesh, and blood, and feet: The ambassador presenting them then got down on one knee, and turned back the pope's robe from his right foot, on which there is a red slipper with a white cross upon it. Those who are on their knees drag themselves along in this posture up to his foot, and stoop down to the ground to kiss it. Monsieur de Montaigne said he had slightly raised the end of his toe.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

SNOW, iPOD AND YOGA

This morning my car was hidden under a pile of snow. This is only interesting because I live near Rome where it rarely snows. But then I live on the Monte Cavo, 700 meters above sea level. 

Monte Cavo with the Albano Lake


So sometimes it snows. By the time I get down to the next town, the snow becomes slush then rain. It's like living in my own micro-climate and I like it.

I wanted to practice this morning so last night I set my alarm at 6 o'clock. I wonder how it happened, but I don't remember hearing and then turning off the alarm.When I next opened my eyes it was 7.30. The first thing I saw was the grey grey snow through my bedroom window. I didn't so much feel like getting out of bed and practicing. Instead I took a pint of coffee into my bedroom, checked my twitter account and I read an interesting post about new German eugenics laws.

Tonight I tried to fix my new iPod but I don't think I am cut out for these state of the art technological gizmos. I did manage to somehow transfer all my yoga, meditation and om music onto it, which is cool. As soon as spring springs on us, I will meditate with Mr. Pod on the Albano lake.

I finally did do my practice tonight. I suggested that we all practice together, the whole family, and we did. It was a lot of fun, and really nice. I didn't do full vinyasa but it was still ok. I find this whole full vinyasa business a little disturbing. I know full vinyasa is the real thing and that's what I should do every day. But I find it really difficult to do, really hard on my body, and it also takes very long, almost two hours, which I rarely have. So often I end up not practicing at all because I chicken out of doing full vinyasa. I think I have to work at it. Go back to doing half vinyasa, and sometimes, when I feel like it, and have the time, do full. Just relax and take it as it comes. I think that's what I'll do.

After the practice we had a nice supper. It was literally supper, as the word comes from soup. So there was cream of white bean and pumpkin soup with my favorite bread, which is made with stone ground whole wheat flour and no salt. On the bread I put my walnut cheese spread and a little Casa Giulia fig jam. 

Walnut Cheese Spread



Ingredients:

100 grams walnut
100 grams blue cheese
200 grams low fat cream cheese
lots of freshly ground pepper

Instructions:

Using a hand held mixer, mix (blend well) all ingredients together and refrigerate for a couple of hours.







Thursday, January 20, 2011

new years resolutions

did yoga this morning. tried monkey pose (Hanumanasana), getting there, sort of half way.



this year i have made two new year's resolutions. 1. become a vegetarian. 2. stop shopping and splurging. for some reason i though becoming a vegetarian would be difficult whileas control shopping easy. it's precisely the other way round. i find vegetarianism fun challenging, and i've been feeling good, full of energy since i stopped eating meat. shopping is easy just loads of fresh healthy stuff. i'm really into soy and seitan products now, experimenting.

it's harder to resist shopping. esp when the sales are on.  i realize the prob is big, huge. some kind of addiction disorder. question is why me. and how to deal with it. sheer will power? do i have that? so far not so good, anyway. a despicable, disastrous failure, is what i've been. and the mind... the mind is kinda hard to stop. tomorrow i'm not gonna check out those ultra cool black leather pants 75% off i've been obsessed with for the last week. 

 

I could look like this above. Hmmm. almost anyway.


Tuesday, January 18, 2011

haven't been practicing

For some reason I haven't been practicing for the past few days and I miss the yoga. I am too tired to get up early enough in the morning, the only time I can practice. I usually get up at 5 and practice between 5.30 and 7. From 7 on everyday life and craziness starts, I have to get ready to go to work and get my little daughter ready as well, and start the day at the school at 8.30 the latest. In the evening I am too tired to practice.
Tomorrow is another day. I intend to go to sleep early tonight and get up early tomorrow to practice.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

a lazy sunday

today i have worked on designing my blog. i am totally not cut out for this. even though i am sure it is made for fools and the software is real user-friendly, i have spent a lot of time just trying to figure out what to do and how. i am still not satisfied with the result.

i have also cooked a nice vegetarian lunch, which we are going to wolf down in a moment. there will be cream of brussels sprout and lima bean soup, vegetarian chopped liver on whole wheat toast  (for recipe: http://kidscooking.about.com/od/snacksdipsappetizers/r/mock-chopped-liver-recipe.htm) and greek salad. it is a beautiful sunny day outside so well probably go and have an icecream after lunch.



before lunch i am going to watch my favorite ashtanga  demo video.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

the first day

today is my first day of blogging and i must admit i am totally new to this. i am doing this for myself, not to provide inspiration for other people. it is part of self study, or Svadhyaya, which is part of Niyama, the second limb of yoga.

When i discovered what yoga really meant, all the eight limbs, i felt exhilirated because i sensed that it would finally be the path, some kind of guidance, as to how to try to live. i have this theory that life is nothing except  an awful amount  of time until you die, that it has no sense or meaning, but somehow you have to give it both and structure the time until its time to exit so you dont keel over of boredom.

i was brought up outside religion, spirituality, or any framework of ritual. i have never been taught to pray or convinced that god existed. it is still difficult for me to comprehend that there is a divine or what it is, let alone meditate on or unite with it, which are the 7th and 8th limbs of yoga. i am not that far yet and i dont know if i ever will be. but i am kind of curious to see what would happen if i ever did get there.