Waves (or, Big Decisions: Part 2)

IMG_2478

Season’s salutations to you! As we find ourselves in the shortest, darkest days (here in the northern hemisphere, anyway), it is a natural time for reflection, introspection, and quite possibly some changes.

You have probably noticed by this point in your lifetime the wavelike nature of it all – the ups and downs, highs and lows, good days and bad days, success and failure, clarity and confusion, inspiration and aimlessness. These waves do not necessarily follow a regular periodic rhythm or have equal amplitude from peak to peak, but we all experience the fluctuations of being alive. To be truly skillful in navigating the course of your own individual life, it is helpful to be able to observe yourself in these different phases – without becoming overcome by the low troughs or ungrounded in the soaring heights. If you can train yourself to do that, you will find a state of equanimity, able to fully appreciate both the glowing bliss, as well as the opportunity to grow as you pull yourself out of the muck. You might be surprised what you find there.

A few recommendations:

  • On the dark days, make sure to get outside and find movement. Go to the water or the mountains, or go for a short walk.
  • If you feel isolated and alone, reconnect with a friend you haven’t seen for a while, go to a yoga class, or volunteer to serve others.
  • When you are overwhelmed by time with family, holiday parties, conferences, or being around people in general, take a break to be alone. Go out for a run, make music, paint, or curl up to read or write. Be still, be quiet, and let your awareness go inward, toward the deep internal calm that is always there.
  • Breathe fully. Let the breath move freely through the entire body.
  • Make time for what you need.

On a personal note, this fall has been an interesting transition time (see my Big Decisions post from October). After a few months of not being fully involved in science, but teaching more studio yoga classes, I realized that that was not the right balance at this point. So here is the next next Big Decision in coming back toward a state of balance and riding the waves: I have accepted a Postdoctoral Fellow position starting in January, up the hill at NCAR (the National Center for Atmospheric Research, based here in Boulder at the iconic Mesa Lab overlooking the city), modeling the polar ice sheets and their interactions with the atmosphere and oceans to understand the changes that are coming with changing climatic conditions.

It is always amusing to see what falls into place. This decision in no way compromises my commitment and dedication to the practice of yoga, or to passing on those teachings. In fact, it gives me the freedom to fully follow both paths of science and yoga, and will also allow me to teach you in the most effective way. Starting in the New Year, I will be teaching much less in the form of regularly scheduled weekly classes, and I sincerely encourage you to consider joining me for one or more retreats next year. This actually follows more closely the way yoga has traditionally been taught by sages and teachers in the Himalayas for a long time – where you physically spend time with your teacher only occasionally. The real potency lies in what you take home with you from those periods of practice and study, and how you cultivate that over time through your own individual effort and practice. So I invite you to join me in Paonia in February and/or Mexico in May! See what grows out of it.

Enjoy the holidays. Please stay in touch, and know that I am here to support you in any way that I can.

With great love,

Aleah

2019 Retreats.

To immerse yourself in yoga practice in an unhurried way, to explore new territory both externally and internally, to access more of your individual potential, to spend quality time with new and old friends, to eat well, to return home with a sense of lightness, expansion, and clarity about your role in the world – join me for a yoga retreat in 2019.

I am delighted to announce three carefully selected retreats on the calendar for next year – there is something for everyone to look forward to.  Reserve your spot early!  Details are here.

Paonia, Colorado in February

Riviera Maya, Mexico in May

Broome Hut, Colorado in August

 

Big Decisions.

IMG_4405

At various stages through our lifetimes, we are faced with big decisions about what to do with ourselves.  Beyond providing for our own individual basic needs, this becomes a question of how to be most useful to the world, leveraging all our experience, training, privilege, and unique inclinations and circumstances.

You may know that I was in graduate school for the past several years, developing numerical models of ice sheet dynamics and meltwater drainage beneath glaciers.  This is arguably important work, as these processes have significant consequences for sea level rise and global climate effects in the coming decades, and we need accurate predictions in order to properly prepare and adapt.  Upon completing my PhD in civil engineering this summer, I was presented with some very nice, stable, well-paying opportunities for postdoctoral research in academia and at national labs to continue similar modeling work.  After serious consideration, I turned them all down.

What have I done?  Why would I do such an irresponsible thing and not “use” my degree?  I see a distinction between the ice sheet modeling work, which is useful for predicting sea level rise and dealing with problems that are coming, and teaching yoga to people, which has great potential to actually change how things move forward.

After visiting my parents last week, I received an email from my dad, a retired astrophysicist who spent his career studying cosmic rays to understand the origins of the universe.  He wrote: “I’m not sure there is any way to get there from here, but wouldn’t it be neat if the world were full of compassionate and mutually supportive rational beings?  We should collectively kick away the ladder of evolution, which got us this far up, and start perceiving things in a better way.”

This is precisely why I am drawn to the path of yoga.  In a way, the decision was already made long ago.  The practices and teachings have somehow always seemed familiar; some people would assert that this is a result of practicing in previous lifetimes, but you can think what you like about that.

Sometimes there appears to be a divide between yoga and modern Western science or physics, with each side misunderstanding or misrepresenting the other perspective, or trying to draw inappropriate comparisons.  This usually isn’t intentional, but is typically a result of not having the proper background in the language of advanced mathematics or the subtle internal language of yoga.  Both disciplines provide systematic methods of understanding the nature of reality, and I find myself in a somewhat unique position of being relatively highly trained in these seemingly distinct realms.  It will be interesting to see how this might be useful, and what doors open along the way.

I am delighted to be teaching at The Yoga Workshop now, in the Ashtanga tradition, which is a tremendously effective approach to personal yoga practice.  Beginning next week on October 22, I will be teaching guided Short Forms classes on Mondays and Wednesdays at noon, and I am also assisting Ty Landrum in morning Mysore classes on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

Plans are underway for retreats and workshops in 2019 to explore the expansive possibilities and purpose of yoga.  Details will be forthcoming soon.

I’ll look forward to seeing you again, and I would love to hear about what you have been up to, along your own path.

With great love,
Aleah

img_4291.jpg

Seeing what is right in front of you.

Whatever you might think yoga is, it is probably not quite that.  This is the beauty of it, the endless inquiry through experience that opens itself up and keeps unfolding.  Part of it is technique, creating the right conditions in the body and mind and surroundings, and that requires sincerity, discipline, and consistency.  Once you have some amount of structure and competence, a significant component of yoga involves softening and giving it away, letting things merge in ways you might not expect.

If you understand this in some way, that is good.  If you have no idea at all what I mean, that is also good.  We all experience life in different ways, depending on the particular circumstances we find ourselves in.  And instead of becoming complacent in our situation, we can continue to look inside ourselves and look outside at the complex world around us, again and again, with fresh, bright eyes.  It is all right there, but we have to remember to look.

I hope you are enjoying the summer so far, soaking up all the sunshine and adventures.  Stay in touch, and I’ll look forward to crossing paths again some day soon.

With much love,
Aleah


Summer Garden Pesto

Growing up in Utah, my family always grew an abundance of basil in the garden to make pesto all summer, with even enough to freeze to tide us over for the winter.  This year, I have two basil plants in my patio garden that are doing quite well, so it has been a good pesto year.  (The past few years, the basil didn’t thrive, and we had to make do with arugula and kale pesto – which is quite good, and still tastes like summer.)

This is how I usually make my pesto these days:

What goes in:
Basil
Olive oil
Lemon
Walnuts
Salt
Black pepper

What to do:
Put the basil leaves in a food processor, with some olive oil and fresh-squeezed lemon juice.  Run the processor briefly until the leaves are chopped finely.  Add and grind the walnuts in, then salt and pepper to taste.  Adjust the consistency by adding more olive oil or walnuts.

I like to eat pesto with bread and salad for a delicious, fresh dinner on late, warm summer nights.  It is also obviously excellent with tomatoes, gnocchi, pasta, rice, in quesadillas, on sandwiches, or in many other settings…

It’s always changing.

IMG_3731

How beautiful is the spring, with all its growth!  If you put your face close to the dirt, you will see many things happening.  If you look up, you will see young leaves and blossoms bursting forth on tree branches silhouetted against the backdrop of sky.  Our days are longer, and there is a palpable sense of relief and invigoration that summer is coming and we made it through another winter.

Everything happens on many different scales.  The tilt of our planet with respect to the sun is huge from our perspective, but is tiny in comparison to the scale of the galaxy, which is tiny itself when considered as part of the entire universe.  Then you can go the other way, and scale down from our usual frame of reference to all the different organisms that make up your body, and even smaller still to molecules, atoms, subatomic particles, and so on…  You may have heard the term “microbiome,” frequently used in the context of the bacteria that live in your digestive tract.  You yourself are an entire ecosystem (wow!).  My dad is a retired astrophysicist who spent his career thinking on very large scales, studying cosmic rays to infer information about the origins of our universe.  Recently, he acquired a microscope and has become fascinated by the “Small World” (cue the Disney song…) that we don’t ordinarily perceive with our eyes.  There is a lot going on at the small scale, alien-looking creatures going about their lives, that influence the larger scales, and on and on.  How wonderful!

In Tantric philosophy, from which yoga emerges, the human body can be considered as a mini universe, and by understanding the rhythms, interactions, and subtleties of different pieces on different scales, you can gain better understanding of the world in general.  Everything in the universe is constantly moving or pulsing with its own rhythm, and this is true inside your body as well.  The heartbeat is obvious, but your other organs also carry on their own, independent beats to do their work.  These pulsations, along with the more subtle rhythms that most of us don’t notice, are called spanda in Sanskrit.  Most of us can’t control the spanda – with the important exception of the breath.  The body breathes even when you don’t intentionally do it, but you can deliberately alter the depth or speed or ratio of the breath, which then has ripple effects (think of the familiar example of how breathing slowly and deeply with a relaxed belly can calm the nervous system and slow the heart rate).  The breath is a useful link between mind and body, and there is much to explore.

Can we ever fully understand the universe?  No, and the unknown is an important part of the beauty.

In our everyday lives, we perceive the world in four dimensions: three spatial dimensions plus time.  Interestingly, time is the only one of these dimensions that has a distinct direction; we can’t freely navigate backward or forward as we please. Why?  This “arrow of time” question is still puzzling to physicists.  But as we move ever forward along the vector of time, everything is in a state of change, evolution, creation and dissolution.

If you can somehow sort out how to move forward with the rhythm of things around you depending on the circumstances you find yourself in, even the big unknowns or transitions seem to become exciting.  You may know that for the past five years I have been in graduate school, working on a PhD in civil engineering, with research involving meltwater drainage and ice flow of the Greenland ice sheet and its glaciers.  I am defending my PhD on May 30 (which happens to be the same date that Eli and I were married three years ago).  You may also know that Eli is in Kenya for four months working on toilets in the Kakuma refugee camp near the South Sudan border, so it is an interesting time, and very quiet at home.  I am basically in full hermit mode, practicing yoga in the early mornings, working during the day on last pieces of research and my dissertation, drinking lots of chai, eating simply, and teaching yoga in the evenings.  It could be a stressful time, but instead feels very calm.  What comes next?  We’ll see, but it is exhilarating to be on the verge of a big transition and I love not knowing.

With much love,
Aleah


Feeding the Physical Body

Eating fresh, simple, Sattvic food (calming and pure, not overly heavy or pungent) can significantly affect your state of mind and sense of well being in the body.  For a nourishing and refreshing lunch or dinner, this is what I like to eat:
  • Brown rice or black forbidden rice (freshly cooked is best, but these both take about 45 minutes to cook, so you’ll need to start early or cook enough to save for a few meals)
  • Half an avocado
  • Goat cheese
  • Fresh greens (arugula, sweet pea shoots, spinach, kale, or other spring greens)
  • Chopped cucumber
  • Fresh herbs (like basil, cilantro, mint, or thyme)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Lemon
  • Fresh ground black pepper

Improvise as you like – cherry tomatoes are also good, or raw cashews.  Assembly is intuitive: put rice in a bowl, top with greens, avocado, goat cheese, cucumber, and herbs.  Drizzle olive oil and squeeze a lemon slice over the greens, and grind black pepper generously over the whole thing.  At lunch, it pairs well with a big mug of chai 🙂


Oh, the Hips and the Knees!

It seems like a lot of people suffer from stiff hips and knees, which tend to get more uncomfortable and restricting as we get older, and also contribute to all sorts of other imbalances and pain in the back, neck, shoulders, etc.  Many of us rarely bend our hips and knees much past a 90-degree angle in day-to-day activities (think about our chairs, beds, toilets, cars, and even bikes or running).  Probably the most important simple change you can make in your life is to sit on the floor whenever possible instead of using chairs, and get rid of your raised bed frame to put your mattress on the floor.  This way you use a wider range of motion in the hips and the knees multiple times every day (and not just in yoga class).  I have been sleeping on the floor since 2009, and raised beds always feel a bit strange to me now!  It feels wonderful to sleep close to the ground.

A good practice to get in the habit of doing is to sit on the floor, and without using your hands, fold your legs into a cross-legged seated position.  This will tell you something about your knee and hip mobility, as well as the strength of the hamstrings and hip rotators.

  • If you can’t quite make it, get the legs as close to folded as possible (which might not be close at all), and only then use your hands to move them the rest of the way.
  • If it felt easy to fold your legs by themselves, now try folding yourself into half lotus (ardha padmasana) without using your hands.
  • If half lotus went well, go for the no-hand full lotus (padmasana).

hut2018_header

Save the date!  

The “Second Annual” Mountain Hut Yoga Get-Away will be happening September 14-16, 2018.

Details and registration will be coming soon, so keep it in mind.

Love.

IMG_3690

Love is the underlying most worthwhile aspect of human existence, and it is multi-faceted, with layer upon layer of incredible depth.  Around Valentine’s Day here in the US, love is cheaply associated with sex, flowers, and chocolate (and maybe stout here in Boulder… and “heart-opening” back-bending yoga poses).  These are all wonderful, but there is certainly more there.

Love is the attraction and connection to a partner or lover, the deep contentment of being held and seen, simultaneously codependent and independent, through the times of brilliant clarity and through the unsteadiness.  Love is the perpetual trust and comfort of parents and children.  Love is the laughter and immediate picking right back up when you see old friends after years of losing touch.  Love is that spark of recognition when you meet someone for the first time, and feel as though you have known each other before.  Love is the constant interplay of pure awareness (Shiva) and embodiment (Shakti) that gives form to that consciousness.  Love is in the pause between breaths, full of potential, in the stillness before the first breath, and after the last breath of life.  Love is a kind word, a touch, a moment of eye contact, a smile and a wave of acknowledgement to the bedraggled man at the intersection, even when you have nothing to give.  Love is respect and understanding, even when you’re tempted to retaliate.

Of course, love can be difficult.  What does it feel like to try to love someone whose attitudes and actions in the world are so at odds with your own worldview, who you can’t seem to understand, and would be easier to view as “other”?  Sometimes our love is betrayed, or we feel undeserving of being loved.  But could anyone truly be unworthy of love?  Indeed, as naïve as it might sound, learning to love all others, including ourselves, and including those we consider enemies or irrevocably different, could have a profound impact in the current circumstances of our modern world.  This stuff never gets old.

Back when I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Panama, I used to struggle with the expectations and hopes of an entire community to help them design and build an aqueduct (among other things).  I would worry in my bamboo hut, alone with the moon at night, if I was doing things right, or doing enough.  One evening, I realized that I was doing just fine – because nobody else was doing it.  And this applies to us all at whatever stage on whatever path we happen to be on – because nobody else is doing what you are doing, nobody else is living your life, walking your unique path.  So keep in mind that whatever you’re doing, you’re doing just fine.

“Self love” is kind of a trendy term these days, frequently appearing in the context of yoga retreats, massages, and other healing practices or luxuries.  As overused as the phrase might have become, there is something nevertheless potent about cultivating internal love.  It seems like when you are comfortable in your own skin, calm in your mind, and confident in your body and actions and role in the world (even with all your mistakes and imperfections), you eventually happen to find an inexhaustible well of love that somehow radiates out, touching others, without any need for external validation.  It may be worth a try.  What could be better?  And the worst that could happen is nothing.

With much love,
Aleah

 


Speaking of self love, here is my much-loved and fine-tuned recipe for banana bread…

You will need:
1 cup cane sugar (I like it quite sweet, but feel free to use less sugar)
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 old brown bananas
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup almond flour
¼ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional, but highly recommended)
a dash or two of ground cinnamon

What to do:
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Whisk together sugar and olive oil in a large mixing bowl.  Mash the old bananas, then whisk into the sugar/oil mixture.  In another bowl, combine flour, almond flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, and cinnamon.  Stir the dry mixture into the wet mixture until it is all combined.  Pour the batter into a loaf pan, and bake for 45-50 minutes.  Let cool for 10 minutes before cutting a warm piece or three.

After the bread cools, cover the pan with foil.  It will keep just fine on the counter for a few days (and banana bread never lasts very long around here).


Big News: 

We recently added a few more spots in a shared room for the Mayan Riviera retreat in May!  There are three spaces still available in this room (think of it like a “luxury backpacker dorm”).
To help make it more accessible to anyone who is interested, I’m pleased to be able to offer a substantial discount: Total cost of $800 per person if you and a friend sign up.

Get in touch if you want in, or with any questions.  I sincerely encourage you to join us for this adventure in exquisite calm!  There is something very special about going away on retreat, and it’s much more than just another vacation.

Details are here.

IMG_3652