Monthly Archives: November, 2010

What is Yoga? Part 2

I am really not a lot closer to my answer to the question What is Yoga, but I do know what it isn’t, and I guess that is some sort of progress.  It is definitely not just cool poses, although it sure has those and some of my favorites include Tree Pose, Eagle Pose, Triangle Pose, Bound Side-Angle Pose, and of course, Downward Facing Dog–and I must apologize for not having the proper Sanskrit names learned as I think that is really important also, but languages are definitely not my forte.  Furthermore, yoga is not just poses with the correct breathing.  In fact, there are actually 8 limbs to Yoga, namely, yama, nyama, asana, pranayama, prathara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi.  I’m just starting to explore some of these, and the metaphor of the eight limbs as part of a tree really does speak to me.

Yama represents the root of the tree, without which the tree will not stand.  Here on Vashon we live on glacial bedrock so that our trees have roots which can only go a few feet deep.  While the giant 50+’ firs and others do spread their roots wider as a result, nonetheless, a good windstorm (of which we have had two so far this winter) will cause the trees to become unstable and fall, because the roots are shallow.  The same, I suspect, may be true with Yoga, where the root or yama is pretty fundamental.  This area of yoga deals with our relationship to the outside world and consists of five abstentions, namely Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (freedom from avarice), Brahmacharaya (control of sexual desire), and Aparigraha (freedom from greed).  It is vital to stay centered in our selves by adhering to these principles and I think that if that were all the yoga a person did, it would still be incredibly powerful.

Niyama is the trunk of the tree and deals with the self.  Again there are five practices, namely Saucha (cleanliness or purity), Santosa (contentment), Tapas (ardor or passion), Svadhyaha (self-study), and Isvara-pranidhana (awareness of the divine).  Again, a strong and well-nurtured trunk is vital to the life of the tree.  I actually had to have 5 trees removed from my property recently (thankfully before the storms hit) because they were dying and the only really visible outward sign was their trunks which had become blackened and damaged.

Asana is the part of yoga which is most familiar to Western students, and that is the postures or poses.  These are the limbs of the tree and by some estimations there are more than 800,000 unique yoga poses!  I guess I won’t run out of new poses!  But the important thing for me to remember is that I have to be comfortable with my physical body and in harmony with it.  Over-stretching or over-doing only leads to injury, and I now have a hamstring pull in my right thigh and something else going on my left thigh, so I need to focus on taking care of myself more.

Pranayama is said to be the leaves of the tree and it is breathing.  There are over 100 breathing exercises (which I’ve only been exposed to briefly), and being able to coordinate the body and the mind while practicing the breathing is really important as this allows the life force to move freely.

This is about as far as my yoga development has taken me.    I will discuss the other 4 limbs at a later date, but they have to do with non-attachment, contemplation of our true identity, meditation with focused awareness, and equanimity.  What I have learned in all this is that yoga is a very powerful and a very spiritual practice which is definitely not about how many poses I can do or how well I can do them.  Since I am definitely feeling my age at the moment and since I’ve never had a great deal of physical flexibility (and maybe truth be known not a lot of intellectual or emotional flexibility and maybe they all go hand in hand), I think what is going to be most important to me is concentration on my roots and my trunk even if I have fewer branches and fewer leaves (I’ve always preferred conifers–wonder if I can have needles instead of leaves!).

One major lesson I’ve learned from my yoga practice is better balance, and I continue to try to carry that concept into my everyday life, balance in all things.  That is also a primary belief in Daoism so again, I do wonder how all these things fit together, at least for my spirituality.  I would love to have reader comments on any and all of this.  Namaste.

What is Yoga? Taoism? Buddhism? Meditation? Mindfulness?

My yoga teacher gave me an “assignment” last week when we had to cancel our session because of the weather (power outages, snow, ice, cold).  She asked me how I would define yoga.  I have thought and thought and surprisingly I’ve come across blog posts discussing that as well.  One blog post that I thought was really weird said that some Christians think that doing yoga will turn them into Hindus.  Go figure.  Anyway, the point is that I haven’t a clue.  I’m exploring Daoism and I read Buddhist blogs as well, finding insight from both.  I actually know nothing about Hinduism, but I follow yoga blogs and really learn a lot from them also.  And all of these Eastern philosophies and religions seem to have a commonality but is that just because I come from a Western culture and tradition and so have a hard time differentiating between various Eastern philosophies and religions?  And how does the practice of Mindfulness fit into all this.  Is that unique to just one system of beliefs or thinking or is it a tool used by many?  I know that Daoism has different flavors, as it were, such as religious Daoism and philosophical Daoism, although I’m rather unclear about the difference between the two.  And the blogs I read on Buddhism (which also comes in more flavors than I can follow) seem to indicate a daily life practice which is very similar or at least in tune with what I know about Daoism.  I am especially drawn to Tibetan Buddhism and/or Zen Buddhism.

And what about Yoga–again, there are so many varieties of that practice.  Is Yoga a religion?  I know it is a lot more than a physical workout, although it can be that as well.  I know it is more than just stretching or figuring out how to manage a particular pose or asana.  Again, it seems, from the very little bit that I know, to be a mindfulness practice.  When I am doing my yoga I need to be concentrating totally on what I’m doing.  I need to be fully present, or I won’t manage the pose or I’ll lose my balance or I’ll injure myself.  Is this a form of meditation?  That is another topic I’m wrestling with–what is meditation?  

I keep finding recommended books on all these topics–Daoism, Yoga, Buddhism, Mindfulness, Meditation, etc.  At the moment I’ve done a lot more collecting of books than reading of them, but I’ll get there.  I am trying to deepen my spiritual life as that is the aspect of me (intellectual, emotional, spiritual) which is the most underdeveloped, and I suspect that what will work for me will be a mixture of the above beliefs, but I do need to become more grounded, more aware of what the actual beliefs are before I can pick and chose, so to speak, to find what works for me.

My yoga teacher’s question was well timed as it matches my own state of mind and my own confusion.  And I meet with her tomorrow for my next lesson.  At the moment, I have no clue what my answer will be, so if anyone has any insights they wish to share, I’d sure love to hear them.  

Facebook or How Many Ways Does One Person Need to Connect?

Ok I took the plunge and I am now also on Facebook (with a “badge” on the top of my blog).  I certainly don’t think that anyone needs to keep up with me on all of my sites:  my website (where I write a daily journal which is pretty much a diary of the day’s happenings), my blog (with its mostly more philosophical entries but there is occasional overlap), and now my Facebook page (which I have absolutely no idea what I will do with, but already it has put me in touch again with an old and dear friend).  I am nowhere near that fascinating, so pick what (if any) works for you.

As I’ve been excavating me to find the “real” me, if there is such a thing, I’m finding the courage to try lots of new things on a variety level–everything from body butter and shower gels (definitely keepers) through skirts and jewelry (ok, but not all the time, especially now that the weather has turned cold), to soy yogurt (which I really like after years of thinking it was icky thanks to my upbringing) to lots of other things as well.  I’m trying things out to see what really works for me and what doesn’t, and now my Facebook page is another such experiment.

I also realize that each of us has our preferred method for keeping in touch and one size doesn’t necessarily fit all, so as I try to reach out and find my tribe (see the post from this morning), I figure I should try different avenues.  If any of you reading this are on Facebook and would like to join me there, feel free!  Right now I have one follower on my blog and one friend on Facebook, and I’m very happy with both.  My Facebook address is  It has been an adventurous afternoon and I’m now going to try to finish winding more yarn for another weaving project before calling it a day.

Finding My Tribe or Internet Connections

I know I need to figure out a way to find my own “tribe,” but I haven’t exactly figured out how to do that either.  My therapist says that one thing I could do is envision what something would look like and try that out to see if it is really what I want.  For instance, if I had a partner, what would she look like, and what would my life be like.  When I did that exercise, I soon figured out that maybe it wouldn’t be so good–I’ve lived alone for a very long time and I am an individualist and I am very used to doing things my way and I’m currently having my home redone to suit me, a vision that I suspect few others would find suitable.  So that helped, but all humans apparently need social interaction, and I don’t have a “proper” family so I have to find my own network, my own tribe. 

How do I do that?  I’ve started blogging which has gotten me one follower (a lovely lady in Wyoming) and 2 others who have made comments, but I’m not sure if blogging is the way to go as far as finding a tribe.  I’ve avoided joining Facebook since I find it offensive that one can’t read Facebook entries without becoming a member, but maybe I could find kindred spirits there.  I’ve also discovered I’ve been thinking about what to post on my blog based on my perceptions of what my readers might like.  So far I’ve only written what I felt inspired to write, what was written from the heart, and that’s what I need to continue to do, realizing that those who have commented so far are moved to comment because they connect in some way with what I’ve written.  But as someone who follows a ton of blogs in Google Reader, and someone who is frequently moved by a number of posts, but who rarely leaves any comments at all, I realize that blogging may not be the most effective way to make connections.  I suspect I’m far from being alone in reading blogs but not making comments.  So how do I find my tribe?  

I am an introvert and in all honesty a bit of a recluse.  My energy is maintained by being on my own, in my own space.  I am very much a homebody.  But if I never go out, I won’t ever meet anyone to discover if they are part of my tribe.  On the other hand, I remember that my father had many very rich friendships which were conducted entirely or nearly entirely by correspondence.  That idea really appeals to me, and so I’m thinking that what I need is kindred spirits who like making blog comments, who like e-mail correspondence.  Also, since I don’t like leaving my home and certainly don’t want to leave my island, the Internet allows me to spread a wider net–I have the chance to meet more people and hence I will be more likely to find kindred spirits.  I think this is a good plan for now, and what I need to remember is that it takes time to find kindred spirits, and that if my purpose in writing a blog is to find my tribe, I need to continue to write about what is important to me and stay true to myself.

Doing Versus Being–Defining Myself

Am I “me” because of what I do?  Or is there a “me” that just is?  Most of the time, when meeting someone new, the first question asked is “What do you do?”  And now that I’m quickly (1 month from today, in fact) approaching my 65th birthday, I’ve reached a “respectable” age for retirement, so the question changes to the past tense.  For most of my life I’ve defined myself by what I did/do.  I was a mother (well still am but that’s another story for another day), or I am a tutor, or I am a quilter, etc.  Having defined myself in such a fashion, it follows that I need to keep doing whatever it is that has defined me so that I still have a meaning or purpose in life.

For most of my life I’ve been very self-sufficient and I have kept incredibly busy (well, I thought it was incredibly busy until I read about a few others, such as my son and his family) doing whatever I felt I had to be doing.  This busy-ness also enabled me to ignore my inner life.  Doing, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.  As with everything (as my therapist keeps telling me), the key is the motivation.  Why am I doing?  Is it because I’m truly enjoying what I’m doing or is it because I’m afraid not to be doing?  In my case, most of my life has been governed by fear and in our fear-driven culture I know I’m not alone.

A prime example is my method for coping with the holidays this year.  It has been many years since I’ve looked forward to the holidays at all, and in fact, I know I’m healing and making progress because this year, for the first time in about 10 years, I didn’t go into a real funk when I saw the neighbor’s holiday lights go up.  I know I am far from alone in finding the holidays a most difficult and painful time, a reminder of major losses at the core of my being.  But my “solution” this year has been to begin an enormous remodel project!  I am doing (well, actually, other emptying out cupboards, closets, and rooms, I am not doing much of the actual doing, but still) and changing my home to fit me, which is a very good thing as I excavate (my therapist’s term) my inner mind and try to figure out just who I might be.  But the timing of this project was very deliberate–it gives me something to focus on other than the traditional holiday activities which I no longer have.  Personally I think those of us who have a hard time with the season would agree that finding a coping strategy is a good and healthy thing.  And I am trying not to use it simply as a “cover-up,” and a distraction as I’ve done too many times in the past.

But all this “doing-ness” has a price.  For most of my life I have kept myself outrageously busy in order to avoid thinking beyond a very superficial level.  And if I didn’t keep really busy I tended to sink into depression.  However, I’ve now reached a point, whether it is just “old age,” or the result of living on adrenaline for way too many years, where I can’t be doing all the time.  And so, I’m having to learn how just “to be,” and to be comfortable with that.  I’m trying to go with the flow, slowing my pace to match what my body is telling me, and doing not out of fear but from genuine pleasure.  I love to quilt and to weave, and heaven knows my output has been prodigious!  During the summer when I had fewer activities and it was also the season for productivity I quilted like a busy bee.  But now is the season for slowing down, for introspection, since humans are also carbon-based life forms whose bodies naturally follow the seasonal cycle.  And so I shall work on learning to sit quietly, to enjoy reading with Sasha in my lap, to do more writing, to listen to my music, and to do the things I enjoy at a slower pace, moving with the rhythm of the Winter season and preparing for the increased activities and energies of Spring.

An Amazing Story

I received the following e-mail from my yoga teacher and she was forwarding it on so I’m sorry that I cannot cite a proper source for it, but I thought it was so very beautiful that I did want to share it and after all the writer does say to pass it on, so hopefully I am doing that appropriately.  Experiences such as this one should help us all to realize that we are not the only intelligent species on this planet (or undoubtedly in the universe, but let’s start with our own planet), and we are also not the only species to be able to express gratitude.  All of life is sacred and we need to remember that always.

…The Whale… If you read a recent front page story of the San Francisco Chronicle, you would have read about a female humpback whale that had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines. She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line rope wrapped around her body, her tail, her torso, a line tugging in her mouth. A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farallon Islands (outside the Golden Gate ) and radioed an environmental group for help. Within a few hours, the rescue team arrived and determined that she was so bad off, the only way to save her was to dive in and untangle her. They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her. When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, and nudged them, pushed them gently around as she was thanking them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives. The diver who cut the rope out of her mouth said her eyes were following him the whole time, and he will never be the same.
May you, and all those you love, be so blessed and fortunate to be surrounded by people who
Will help you get untangled from the things that are binding you.
And, may you always know the joy of giving and receiving gratitude.
I pass this on to you, my friends, in the same spirit.

Power Makes All the Difference

Thackeray (back) and Laoise (front) snuggling to stay warm.

After a storm power outage that lasted 32 hours for me (other islanders are still without power and probably will be so until Friday, so I feel very lucky indeed!), I now have real power.  It is amazing how much better life looks with the addition of some heat.  After 2 1/2 hours with power the temperature in my living room has risen from 55 degrees to 66 degrees.  Leigh thawed my shower head for me and I was able to take my first shower since Monday morning, and it was wonderful to listen to the baby crows complaining while I was enjoying an abundance of hot water in my outside shower.  I honestly don’t know if I would have survived in “olden days,” before modern conveniences.  I am going to take immediate steps to find an alternative source of heat for times like this where the power goes out.  I thought I actually had done a reasonable job, but between a generator which wouldn’t start and a garage door which wouldn’t open, I was not able to get my alternate power source going in the first place, and the alternate source just wasn’t powerful enough to provide me with real heat, although it did keep the interior between 50-59 degrees, and that really is not safe for either me or my pets.

Thackeray has found a warm spot, relatively speaking.

It just is another example that power is everything!  There were issues not only of the actual electricity, but my ability to function, my personal power, and I discovered that I have neither the knowledge nor the physical ability to handle my current system.  Thank heavens for Kathy and especially Loyd who showed up many times to refill the gas in my generator, including once at 4AM!  Even if I’d not been too cold to go outside to do that, I couldn’t have done it safely with my tremor.  I was powerless and totally dependent on the generosity of very good friends, and I am most grateful to them for their assistance.

Sasha exploring near a space heater,

During the entire power outage I discovered that not only was I freezing cold, but I also felt very isolated and vulnerable.  I was most grateful that my generator allowed me to turn on my computer to stay in touch with what was going on here and the rest of the world, to read the blogs I follow, to receive comments on my blog entries which let me know that folks were sympathetic.  I was glad that I could also have my entertainment system going so I could watch Netflix streaming the series Ballykissangel (highly recommended, by the way).  I was glad that I could have my refrigerator and my microwave so that there was hot tasty food.  There were a lot of things to be most grateful for, even during the worst of it, and as tomorrow is Thanksgiving, it is fitting to remember that.  And right now, I am absolutely most grateful that my power has returned on a number of levels and life is getting back to what I call normal (as Leigh is ripping out walls behind me as I type–couldn’t ask for a nicer Thanksgiving present, and when she is done for the day I’ll post more photos).  

And so, I want to wish each and every one of you, my readers, a very, very Happy Thanksgiving!

Winter Storms and a Reality Check

Yesterday I wrote about how wonderful it was to have a snow day, and I still think that overall, but a winter storm last night has given me a new and frightening perspective.  My power went out last night, and I had to get out to the garage to find my emergency flashlight and phone since my stuff has been stashed away because of the remodel.  It was bitter cold last night and I was very glad that the power outage was only for 15 minutes.  I headed off to bed, but around 3:30AM my power (and all the island’s) went out for good, or at least the foreseeable future.  I had no desire to head out to the garage in the cold and dark so I snuggled down in my bed and waited until morning.  In theory, all I was supposed to have to do was open the overhead garage door, turn on the generator, and adjust my circuit breaker box to have the circuits I needed on.  So along about 8AM I headed out to my garage only to find out that I couldn’t get the door to move–I pulled the little red handle but it didn’t release the catch.  This meant, of course, that I couldn’t turn on the generator.  My dear friend Kathy called to check on me, and when she heard my plight, she said that Loyd would be right over.  And Loyd and two of his workers did manage to get the door up, but then the generator wouldn’t start up!  Meanwhile, my home was getting colder and colder!  Loyd, bless his heart, got me a new spark plug and got the generator up and running.  By this time my home was down to 50 degrees in my bedroom and 54 in the living room and my teeth were chattering and I was shaking all over. I quickly got a couple space heaters going, made myself a hot cup of tea, and sorted things as well as I could.  I’m certainly hoping, since I live in an all electric house, that the power outage won’t be as severe as it was my first winter when I was without power for 4 days.  At that point I had a wood-burning stove, even if it was faulty, but now I don’t.  And I can’t leave as I have 5 pets to care for in the first place, and in the second place there really isn’t anywhere else to go since the entire island is without power.  It has made me realize another way in which I (and obviously I’m not alone in this) am very vulnerable, and that without power, especially on the coldest days so far of this year (a low of 16 last night and it is to be colder tonight), life is very precarious.  However, at the moment, my living room has gotten “up” to 59 degrees and my bedroom has gotten to 52 degrees, and I’ve had hot tea and a hot amaranth/cinnamon/raisins breakfast, and I’m watching Ballykissangel on my computer on Netflix streaming, so things are looking better.  And I’m hoping that when the new utility pole finally arrives later on today by ferry (the wonders of living on an island) that its installation will result in power, although I’m told there is another spot with major wires down, so I’m not holding my breath.  It looks as if I shall have another “snow day” tomorrow as well, since the roads are extremely icy, the temperatures are staying below freezing, and we are to get more snow before Thanksgiving.  Life is wondrous and special and at the moment, rather cold!

A Wonderful Snow Day!

View from my living room window into the backyard

Hummingbird feeding–notice the ice is starting to form.

Living in the Pacific Northwest means that we don’t have (usually) really severe winter weather, at least not by the standards of much of the country, but currently we are experiencing below freezing temperatures (not the below zero that my Wyoming friend reports, thankfully!) and snow.  This type of weather causes more chaos here than in other places because we really aren’t well-equipped to handle it, so I’ve just canceled my activities for the next couple days until it gets above freezing.  Instead, I am staying inside, warm and snug, watching the beautiful scenery and also enjoying a lovely (and very fat) hummingbird feeding outside my living room window.  I hope you enjoy the photos I’ve posted here and if you want to see more, just check out my photo of the day page (see the link at the top of this page).

This was one hungry hummingbird as she stayed here
for about 10 minutes, allowing me great photo opportunities.

Meanwhile, I am really enjoying the respite from my usual routine.  Growing up in Southern California meant no snow days (although I did get one rain day when my grade school flooded!), so I’m happy to take some of my share of them now.  The dogs did not go to the groomers as planned (they’ll go next Wed. instead), and I’m not attending a 6yr. old’s birthday party (on a very steep and treacherous part of the island–that’s another thing that makes this weather hazardous is the number of steep inclines), and tomorrow I shall skip my Yoga lesson and my tutoring at Study Zone, since I have no intention of taking my car out of the garage until the weather gets above freezing, a luxury I never had during the 20 years I lived in the Midwest, but I’m enjoying it now.  I am also practicing giving myself permission to say no when it is in my best interest.  I shall spend my two snow days quilting and weaving.

Beautiful Hummingbird

Cat Training 101

Thackeray and Laoise “patiently” waiting for Sasha to finish.

My oldest cat, dear Sasha, was diagnosed two weeks ago with aggressive oral cancer and she has a large (walnut sized) growth on the left side of her mouth.  It is not possible to remove it as that would take the greater part of her mouth and jaw, so the plan is just to give her the best possible quality of life.  To be honest, she isn’t really acting any differently than she did before the diagnosis when I didn’t know there was anything wrong until I saw some spots of blood.  And the cleaning up of the tumor as well as an antibiotic shot and an anti-inflammatory shot have helped her a lot!  The vet who saw her on Friday was amazed and was particularly surprised that she’d even managed to gain a little weight!

The placement of the tumor means that Sasha has much more tolerance for canned cat food.  I should say from the outset that I am vegan and all my pets (3 cats and 2 dogs) eat dry food.  But I love Sasha so much and want her to have what she needs, so I am feeding her (many times throughout each day) canned prescription diet A/D critical care food.  I have to admit that it doesn’t smell as “bad” to me as many canned pet foods, but it is a challenge.  

When I get the food out for Sasha, of course, the other two come running and as you can probably tell from the photo, neither of them needs to put on weight.  So now comes the training part (can anyone really train a cat?)!  With my careful monitoring, of course, we have devised a system where the dogs know they are not partaking of anything at this moment in time so they can just be content with the dry food in their bowl.  Meanwhile, both Thackeray and Laoise are learning that Sasha is to be left alone to eat as much as she wishes to eat.  When she is done, then whatever is left is fair game for them (and usually Laoise gets most of that).

It seems to be working and I don’t have to remind Laoise and Thackeray about the rules as often, and as long as I stay close by they are respectful.  This means that of necessity, I am spending much more time each day in my kitchen area, but this still does not mean I’m cooking!