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,
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
- 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).
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.