Yesterday we made these yummy pork buns using Nga’s Kitchen blog, and they were a hit–even with my picky 3 year-old. Highly recommend trying them.
Yesterday we made these yummy pork buns using Nga’s Kitchen blog, and they were a hit–even with my picky 3 year-old. Highly recommend trying them.
Today she crashed during my yoga practice, and suddenly a little voice rang out inside my head said, “You’re finished. That’s it for the day. Take rest.” And that’s exactly what I did. I curled up right beside her and entered shavasana.
“You’re finished. Take rest.” Where does the voice come from? It’s not the lazy voice that I sometimes hear with a wondering mind. No. It’s not that voice at all. It’s a voice from deep within that is there in everything I do and has been present as long as I can remember–the body’s own way of saying it is time to stop.
I love watching children, because they hear the voice. They lie down and listen no matter where they are or what they are doing. It’s beautiful. Somewhere as we grow up, I think most of us learn to ignore the call to stop and take rest even when it is loud and strong. “No. I’ll just get a coffee and finish that paper, or I’ll make up that loss of sleep tomorrow.” I remember cross-country and marathon running days in college and graduate school when I wouldn’t stop for anything unless I logged at least 45 miles into my running diary each week. I just kept going until I fell down and literally ended up with an injury, or catching a cold. Even with regular yoga practice, until a few years ago I often heard the call to take rest and would just push myself thinking, “No. I will stand up in my backbend today–just a few more tries.” After a few more tries I was beat and grumpy all day.
Then something happened during a yoga session with Kino McGregor a few years ago. I arrived to the practice ready to really work on backbends. After completing primary series, I did my first backbends and drop back. She came from across the room and assisted with my next one. Then, just as a good Bangalore Aunty tells me to take rest after lunch, she nodded her head and immediately said “You’re finished. Take rest.” At first I was offended. How could she stop me? This was the main part of the practice I had come to work on. I wanted to do more backbends. But later in the day I realized something. I felt really good. I wasn’t tired or grumpy. She saw through my practice and knew when it was time to stop. Then I started listening myself, and I started hearing that voice again and heeding its call.
It is far too easy to ignore the call to take rest, but I try to listen for that voice inside that says, “You’re finished”–in yoga, at home, and in my professional life. The basic lesson: Sometimes less is more.
5 AM plunges into my dark room like a freight train racing through a cold winter night. The alarm on my phone begins—the harmonium followed by Abida Praveen’s deep alap to the tune of “Ali Maula.”
Darkness. I look down. My (almost) 3-month old son, Dhyan, is lying asleep on my chest, our tummies touching. He’s acquired our toddler’s cold and has spent the night alternating between nursing and wiggling back to this snuggly midpoint. My eyes are foggy and shoulders tight, and grrr….Yep, there goes my mommy tummy. I think about coaxing him into the swing I’ve placed next to our bed so that I can roll over and catch a few more hours of rest before the house awakes.
But NO. Then I think of the smiling photo of Guruji that hangs in the Woodley Park yoga shala where I practice Ashtanga yoga, and the warmth of the room as I step onto my mat. More, that magical energy that comes at the end of my practice—that positive light that beam through my day, and by the time that I finish that thought my hand has nudged my husband (aka, patron saint of yoga ) and feet have carried me out of bed toward the door.
Welcome to postpartum yoga. If it was hard to get out of bed before children, it’s grueling with them. Some mornings I succeed. Some mornings, not so much. But still, I try. On the mornings that I make it—I feel like Wonder Woman all over again–even if its practicing with my 3 month old beside my mat as my companion
The second time around I’ve realized the spiritual journey is what counts. The spiritual journey of practicing through pregnancy and the postpartum period is magical. It has provided me with a special connection to both of my children from the time they were in utero to the present. I believe the greatest gift one can give oneself is the practice of Ashtanga—pregnant or not.
The Journey. After the birth of my 3 year old I wrote this post about postpartum practice. It all still applies in my case, but the spiritual journey is wider and deeper than before. There is mindfulness that comes with each new practice on the mat. The start of each practice is like the quiet stillness of the world at 5 am and the light of awakening. The practice provides its own light and internal awakening that provides me with breath, and that breath is the gentle reminder to stop and pause before I react to events throughout the day. It sets the pace—like the notes in the alap of a raga in Indian classical music—it is stepping onto the mat each morning that provides the foundation for the journey wherever it may lead.
What I’ve learned: Every pregnancy and postpartum return is as different as every child born. The physical asanas and bandhas do come back together in their own time. Now it’s time to Stop, Breathe, and Enjoy the journey.
After months of departure, I’ve decided that it’s time to return to this blog. I keep saying, “I’ll write when I find a good time–when it’s quiet and I have a little less work on my plate.” Reality check: It’s never a good time, and when I do find moments of quiet I often find myself sitting and enjoying the silence as long as I can before needing to jump up to catch my waking toddler or respond to the list of unanswered messages in my inbox. OK. There are never that many unanswered messages either, because I really cannot stand the sight of unopened mail, and I like my messages organized neatly in folders. And that Type A craziness, my friends, is why it’s never a good time to blog.
And here we are, right smack dab in the middle of spring. The grass is green. Our irises are in full bloom, and we’re surrounded by colors and growing plants as we slowly start our transition into summer. Life is full and beautiful, like the roses that have just come into bloom in our front yard. This year we’ve worked to landscape the yard, and I even managed to plant a small vegetable garden in the back. Our radishes will be our first harvest this weekend with tomatoes, cucumbers, corn, carrots and chard growing strong along with the beautiful herbs the husband has planted and maintains.
Days are filled with our usual toil of work, yoga, but mostly with the pleasures of watching our darling two-year old daughter as she grows and learns. My life these days is perfectly content in a series of what many may see as rather routine activities: day-to-day activities with a 2-year old, gardening, cooking (though I’m not the primary chef in our household), yoga and occasionally getting to sit down with a good book. Lately, we’re not really traveling much.
Sometimes I don’t feel I have a ton of deeply interesting topics to write about though I know this isn’t true. For there’s beauty in a grain of sand, a piece of salt, and the sun the flits a shadow against the wall on what seems even the most ordinary of days.
For instance, this morning I had the pleasure of “Shadow co-oping” at the preschool our daughter will attend in the fall. It is a cooperative preschool, meaning that parents participate in the classroom a set number of times throughout the year. In preparation, each new parent must participate and job-shadow and existing parent co-oper in advance. Today was my day. I have to admit that when I awoke, it was cooler than usual and raining. My daughter is recovering from a lingering cold and cough, and today is one of my work days. I thought to myself, “Am I really going to miss work and a day with my daughter to watch other peoples’ children? Shouldn’t I really be tending to so many other priorities? Is this really rational?” But once there, my mood immediately changed. It was so delightful to see 12 shining 2.5-3.5 year old faces glowing with happiness and creativity. The activities involved helping them in their activities and in their meals–a snack and lunch. Seeing the children interacting and sharing, and learning to share, was quite a great opportunity, and I’m so excited to watch our daughter go through this process in the fall.
Alas, a quiet moment. My daughter is napping, and I have settled into the sofa with tea, some dark chocolate and dried cranberries in hand to do nothing but luxuriate in the moment. The neighborhood schools started this week, and as quickly as it started, summer is once again on its way out. A few reflections from the land of Takoma Park….
It has been a beautiful summer, especially the month of August. The weather has been unseasonably cool around here, much more like Europe than the swamp that DC usually becomes this time of year. Temperatures have ranged between the 60s and 80s most days. We’ve had intermittent light rains which have kept the outdoors lush and green. It’s that time when the smells of herbs, basil, thyme, rosemary and lavender fill our neighborhood along with neighbors cooking outdoors. The area is never short of outdoor music festivals and the parks of full of neighborhood children engaged in all kinds of activities. Cool evenings have been great for long walks and park adventures. It’s really one of those magical summers filled with laughter, fireflies and muses.
We took a 10 day vacation right after the 4th of July to Puerto Rico of all places, where I wanted to go to attend a yoga and capoeira retreat led by the incredibly talented Marie Belle.
PR is a beautiful island. We spent a few days in Old San Juan before going to the Western most tip of the island to a surfing town, Rincon, where we rented a house on the ocean for the week. Old San Juan is wonderful for it’s museums, color and history. If you have not been, you might enjoy it for a weekend. The area has a rising food scene amid beautiful architecture and cobblestone streets. We stayed in a remodeled old convent-turned hotel, called El Convento in the heart of Old San Juan before venturing to Rincon. The Hotel reminded me a great deal of our fav NYC hotel, the Hotel Elysee. It also has has a nice parlor/ reading room with daily wine and cheese.
Rincon was so uncharacteristic of the typical places I would choose for a vacation spot. It turned out to be wonderful, one of the few places where I could enjoy myself so much, while doing so little. The town itself was taken over by hippies in the 60s and 70s and then later transformed to a modern-day surfing town where coastal yuppies and hipsters flea to escape their lives. There’s still a good local buzz too, and a distinctly Latin feel to the area. The benefit of local hipsters/yuppies is that there’s a thriving organic, and wonderful, food scene. Every place we dined was locally sourced and incredibly tasty from the beautiful scallops at La Copa Llena (the full cup) to the amazing sole fish at Ode to the Elephants (a small restaurant a local Thai woman runs from the balcony of her house). We also had the pleasure of cooking at home, since we had the beach house for the week. It was a charming town. Mornings were filled with my usual yoga practice. Then we’d take Diya to the beach, where she loved to play in the sand.
My husband and I now specialize in drawing monkeys and elephants in the sand. My friend Jen and her family joined us for vacation. They have a daughter Diya’s age, so we joked that, really the girls went on vacation and they brought us along.
It was nice to be by the ocean, to be with close family and friends, to continue yoga practice, to eat well and mostly to watch Diya and her dad playing and laughing so much.We needed the break, especially as housing construction continues here, and we are now weeks (rather than months) away from having a newly renovated, and much larger, house. While the construction project has been relatively easy for us–not having to really relocate, or to deal with too much noise–it has not been without it’s headaches and occasional hiccups.
In July I also returned to playing violin, and taking regular weekly lessons. I bought a lovely new instrument and bow from Potter’s violin shop, which have made me incredibly happy. I’m rusty, and but it’s a fantastic feeling to return to regular lessons. I’ve started playing Corelli’s violin Sonata Nr. 8 (Opus 5 in E minor). I’m currently working on the first 2 movements. More fun, however, is introducing our daughter to music. She also just got her first violin. It’s the 1/16th size.
At 18 months of age, she adores it. Yesterday at the park, she yelled: “All done. Go home. Play violin,” which sounds especially cute because she doesn’t quite pronounce her Ls fully. I feel proud. She won’t start formal weekly lessons for another 6 months –following the Suzuki method. But she can already hold the instrument correctly, which is quite an accomplishment. Mostly, she enjoys when I play and she has her very distinguished repertoire of Old MacDonald and The Wheels on the Bus, among other favs. She is so fast to learn, especially with rhythm and counting. If she never really takes up the violin, that’s fine with us. But I hope we’re instilling an appreciation for music that will continue as she grows up.
Alas, all else in life continues ever onward.
Reflections from May 8, 2014
“Dhrupad is more than music. It is a way of life.” -Ramakant Gundecha
Yesterday evening, in front of a packed audience at the Indian Embassy, my Gurujis, Ramakant and Umakant Gundecha, gave a performance and took the time to explain the fundamentals of Dhurpad music. Afterwards they answered any questions the audience had regarding the style of this ancient tradition, the oldest form of Indian Classical Music. During the dialogue, Ramakantji made two points important to any student of ICM. One, Dhrupad is the music of the body, and two, that dhrupad is a way of life.
First, Dhrupad is the music of the human body. It is more than a vocal tradition, because to practice one must engage all parts of the body. My lessons with Ramakantji over the last 5 years have focused on 3 elements: Voice Culture, Stability of the voice, and Sur. Voice culture involves developing the correct tone for the note, to produce the right sound. Stability involves strengthening the voice so that is stable. This element involves engaging different areas of the body from the head to the core to stabilize breath–a foundation I draw on from my ashtanga yoga practice and some basic Pranayama. Last, Sur is the pitch, but it is more than pitch–for to sync with the tanpura is to find a balance among millions of microtones ,and for a nano-second, it is the achievement of perfection. It is incredibly difficult to achieve. My violin teacher recently noted in Western classical music that we are all constantly out of tune as violinists. The difference between a great violinist and an OK violinist is just how quickly s/he can adjust her pitch to cover up that imperfection. In ICM, it’s all about how close we can get to sur.
Second, Ramankantji noted that dhrupad is not just a form of music, but it is a way of life. To practice the basic elements of dhrupad effectively, involves an internal transformation and commitment. If one ever visits the Gurukul, this is made apparent from the start. A student’s day starts at 4 am with vocal practice and sagam, followed by lessons in the morning as well as afternoon and evening practice sessions. It is incredibly touching to see the commitment of these students.
I sometimes feel I am constantly failing as a student of dhrupad, because to truly practice it, one must commit oneself. At this time in life, my priorities and commitments do not allow for that kind of practice. I merely look to my daily asana practice, occasional violin playing and bits of singing here and there as stepping stones, though I realize they barely scratch the surface in terms of growing within this musical tradition.
I remain ever grateful–and in awe of–dhrupad. Dhrupad sets a path for a kind of discipline in life. Once one has the foundations of dhrupad, all else can follow. The art form, with a few rigid principles set in place, allows for an incredible freedom, flexibility and playfulness, which is a beautiful allegory of life itself. Dhrupad is 99% practice and 1% theory (as Pattabhi Jois used to say of Ashtanga yoga as well).