The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time


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Guru-ji Leaves This World for the Next

I don’t have a lot to say tonight, but I wanted to at least share something.

B. K. S. Iyengar passed on today.

In looking for a quote to share by Iyengar from one of his books, I came across this passage that I hadn’t remembered underlining in The Tree of Yoga that comforted me:

Death is unimportant to a yogi; he does not mind when he is going to die. What happens after death is immaterial to him. He is only concerned with life –with how he can use his life for the betterment of humanity. Having undergone various types of pain in his life and having acquired a certain mastery over pain, he develops compassion to help society and maintains himself in purity and holiness. The yogi has no interest beyond that.

Iyengar lived this. May we all strive to do the same.

B. K. S. Iyengar was a powerful bright light in the yoga community and will be missed. I, among millions of other Westerns, owe my yoga practice to him. I hope we, as a community, can continue to carry the light in his absence.

This is a lovely personal account by a yogi who happened to be blessed with right timing to attend his funeral rites

NY Times obituary

Namaste.

 

(P.S. This is a quick post tonight, but I will return soon with more. The wedding was wonderful and I am looking forward to share with you)


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Summer Lovin’

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a lovely lady’s slipper I found in my backyard

Hello Beautiful Readers,

This is just a quick note to explain some of the busy-ness I alluded to in my last post. I’m getting married this summer! The date is fast approaching and I’m starting to feel the pressure of juggling ten too many things on my to-do list.

So I will be taking the rest of the summer off from blogging. Since, I’m guessing, after the wedding I will be needing some time to pick up life where we left off pre-wedding, and to enjoy the beginning of married life.

Hope you all have a fantastic summer! Keep up with your practice, and enjoy that sunshine :)

I will see you again in the fall, (if I can stay away that long ;) ) I’m sure with lots of new stories to share!

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feelin’ the love, the strawberry-heart punch my friend made me for my wedding shower

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a butterfly and some chives enjoying the summer breeze


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The Meditation Practice that’s Working for Me Now

As my life seems to be getting more and more complicated lately, I have had a strong need to simplify my yoga and meditation practice.

For some reason Kundalini Yoga has felt too complicated. I can’t quite explain why, and I feel this is probably a temporary state, but it’s where I am. I’ve moved back to the basic hatha poses and sequences I started my practice with.

My meditation time too has simplified. I was having trouble picking from one of the many many Kundalini meditations, not having anything in particular I want to work on right now, other than the meditation practice itself. I have been drawn to simple silent meditation. Even chant and mantra has felt like too much.

So I sit.

I sit in silence.

An outward silence anyway.

I long for the simplicity of silence from within.

But the thoughts come.

I try to ignore them.

More thoughts come.

I’ve employed one simple technique to stop the thoughts before they carry me away. This is a practice I first read about in the book A Gradual Awakening, by Stephen Levine. Recently I have gone deeper with it and found it the most effective way to stop my thoughts, dead in their tracks.

I simply call them something. I give them a label and it appears this stops any momentum they were beginning to pick up. It’s like throwing a wet blanket over that thought.

I get quite specific with these labels, and this was the new difference for me. Before, all of my thoughts got one of four labels –planning, thinking, judging, remembering. But I discovered I could be more specific. Some planning thoughts are near-future planning, far-future planning, work planning. Many are rehearsing, where I’m lead into an entire imaginary conversation with myself. Much of my “thinking” is analyzing, processing, longing, wishing, wanting. A lot of times, putting the label on it allows me to see how silly, or pointless, or useless the thought is for this present moment.

Then there are thoughts that don’t hold much power over me in and of themselves, but the emotion attached to them does. Most of these thoughts are remembering. The emotions attached range from guilt, to sadness, to anger, to joy. Labeling the emotion lets me see it clearly for what it is. Once named, the emotion can just sit there with me, without holding on to me. I can go back into the silence, and it can join me or leave me there. I’m still sitting meditating, with or without the emotion.

I can go back into the silence for another moment, until another thought tries to take it over again.

Some thoughts are distractions from my environment –noticing bodily sensations, feeling, hearing.

Sometimes I actually find myself spending too much time thinking of the label, so, as silly as it sounds that thought gets one, “labeling.”

Silence lies within the spaces between all these thoughts. Putting a quick label on the thought suspends it. The more I do it, that little label pushes the thoughts back, creating slightly bigger and bigger spaces each time.

And this is what I want to get at. The goal of my meditation right now is simply the practice of it. The experience of those moments, split seconds sometimes, of meditation that is pure meditation and my mind does quiet.

This morning I sat zoning out a bit before I began my practice, watching the trees and grass outside. The sun was on the other side of the house, and it was a partly cloudy morning. I watched as, in a moment, everything became brighter and brighter, more vibrant shades of green and blue. The whole world changed as the cloud moved from the sun. It illuminated everything. Then just as suddenly, another cloud came back over it, and the colors dimmed again.

thoughts in meditation

the world under clouds

soul in meditation

sunshine illuminating everything

Meditation is like that for me. My thoughts are the clouds that muddy the moment. I can still see everything clearly, but nothing is illuminated. Then the clouds part for brief moments, and the sun, soul, God-particle, whatever you want to call it, illuminates everything and I can see what is really there.

Labeling those thought clouds seem to push them through the sky of my mind, letting that soul-sun shine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Namaste,

Catie

Introducing My New Blog, “Creating, Cate’s Way”

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This is just a quick post to share with you my new blog project. I find that everything I want to write doesn’t always fit in the context of The Approximate Yogi. So I started a new blog, focusing on writing, art, and the creative process, called Creating, Cate’s Way

Check it out! Here’s a post on my creative process to get you started: “Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.”

I’ll still be writing at The Approximate Yogi as well.

You can also join me on this new creative journey on Facebook and Twitter.

And if you’re not a part of The Approximate Yogi’s social media circle and would like to be:

Join the Facebook page here,

And Twitter here.

I use them not just for blog updates, but to also share interesting articles and inspirations I come across, and little moments of beauty I find throughout the day :)

Thanks for taking the time to check it out, and please share if you know anyone else who might enjoy!


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Finding Balance in Imbalance

working on balance

working on my balance pre-surgery

Yesterday I attended my first yoga class since my knee surgery. One of the things I had been wondering about in my home practice was whether I should continue to do the full expression of a pose (my full expression anyway) on my left side when I can’t do it on my right side, specifically standing poses like Warrior III (Virabhadrasana III), and Triangle (Trikonasana). My teacher suggested I should maybe do the full pose on my left side twice a week so my body remembers it can do it, but that the rest of the week the pose on my left side should match what I can do on my right.

It’s funny I had been debating the pros and cons of doing each with myself for a while and hadn’t been able to decide what was the best choice. But I hadn’t once considered this compromise –that I could do both. Sometimes I can be very all or nothing in my thinking. Allowing myself to compromise often admits a dose of reality I can’t always see. Yes, as much as I want to move forward in my practice, I have two sides of my body that are doing two different things right now as my right knee recovers, and I have to acknowledge that.

Imbalance –this is my reality right now. My left side, specifically my left leg (but I’m starting to notice the difference is in more than just my legs) is stronger and more stable than my right. Yet now, my right leg/side is more flexible than my left, because to get over the soreness in my muscles and stiffness in my knee joint I did a lot of stretching. A lot, like when I got out of my car to pump gas, when I stood up from my desk, in clients’ driveways. I sneaked stretches in the bathroom, or in the corner of the grocery store. I didn’t always have the time (or, let’s face it, the desire) to stretch both sides evenly since the necessity was in my right, so now my right side is quite a bit more flexible than my left.

tree pose, finding balance, yoga

imbalance is a part of life

I hadn’t quite realized the full extent of this imbalance, both of the imbalances at once — strength and flexibility, until class last night. Then it hit me, that is the word I was looking for to describe how I’m feeling at work lately. And emotionally lately. Imbalanced. This connection to my imbalanced body suddenly gave me a sense of relief. Yes, or course I’m finding it difficult to gain balance in my life, I am still gaining it back in my body. That body mind connection is such a strong one.

And that’s when I need to come back to compromise and acceptance. I need to accept a less-than-perfect, less-than-balanced reality, and submit to it, allow myself to compromise.

dancer pose, finding balance through yoga

As I get back to a more consistent yoga and meditation practice, it is easier to accept that life is a balancing act. As soon as you think you are on even footing, something will inevitably happen to push things in one direction or the other.

That’s ok. That’s life.

And compromising is ok. It is a necessary part of life.

How do you find balance in the imbalance of life? Where might you need to compromise?


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Miso Soup with Maine Seaweed

Today is a lovely rainy spring day -perfect for my first time making miso soup! Miso soup is a light broth soup. It is made with miso paste, which is a salty fermented soy bean paste -that sounds gross, but it is quite good and quite good for you.

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miso soup

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kombu (left) and wakame seaweed varieties

Miso soup typically has seaweed both floating in it (typically wakame) and soaked to use for the broth (kombu). I went shopping for these two seaweeds at a local health food store and was happily surprised to discover a little coastal Maine company that harvests the sea vegetable, VitaminSea (their Web site has lots of recipes I can’t wait to try with the leftover seaweed).

Benefits of Miso

Miso is high in protein and rich in vitamins and minerals. It’s really healthy stuff. An insert I found in my miso container sighted a recent study linking miso consumption to reduced risk of breast cancer. There are a few different kinds, with slightly different flavors. I honestly am no miso expert (here’s a link that gives a brief overview of the different kinds), but it is the white kind you want for the soup.

Benefits of Seaweed

From reading the back of the package, I found out that kombu seaweed is a great source of soluble fiber, iodine, magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Wakame is equally nutrient rich, having the highest source of calcium of any sea vegetable, along with B complex vitamins, and vitamins A, C, and K.

The kombu needs to soak quite a while (the recipe I used said at least an hour and up to overnight) to create the broth or dashi. I started soaking mine mid-morning and made the soup in the early evening. But after that prep time, it comes together quite quickly. The seaweed is really fun to work with, watching it expand to more than double its size in the pot.

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soaking wakame, smelled like the ocean in my kitchen (in a good way)

I used this miso soup recipe, at Je suis alimentageuse, a vegan cooking blog. This version of the recipe is vegan because you don’t add bonito flakes (dried fish), which worked for me because it was one less pricey and hard-to-find ingredient I had to buy. The other ingredients besides the seaweed can be found in most American grocery stores -tofu, scallions, miso paste (usually refrigerated and found near the produce), and I added some mushrooms to mine because in my book, everything is better with mushrooms!

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white miso paste

This made a nice big batch that I ate with dinner tonight and can eat throughout the week for any meal -miso soup makes a nice breakfast! However, I read you don’t want to cook the miso, as it looses its flavor, so if you’re making a big batch I suggest putting all the other chopped ingredients into the broth then refrigerate. You can reheat the broth, then you’ll just need to whisk in about 1-2 tsp of the miso paste with a fork for each serving.

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yum, miso soup feels so good!

What can you do with the leftover kombu seaweed after it soaks?

Make natural plant fertilizer!

Here’s my serendipity for the day. I spent the morning potting some houseplant clippings that had rooted. Then I went to the store to buy some tofu and was hoping they had a basil plant I could get, since I found this recipe for some red cabbage I needed to use up. They had one, and since it was in sad shape they gave it to me for free!

I read up online how to care for said sad basil plant and it needs fertilizer. It just so happens that all this seaweed I have lying around makes a great plant fertilizer, containing all of the nutrients plants need. So, I will be re-soaking the kombu, because I’m sure not all of its nutrients have left it yet, and use that water to fertilize my basil plant and the rest of my houseplants. I’m resoaking it in the water that the wakame rehydrated in.

Isn’t life and the Internet wonderful?

One more thought on red cabbage

The red cabbage recipe above turned out so delicious, I wanted to share a little more. The recipe is called Asian Red Cabbage Slaw with Peanuts, and I got it off of the Food Network’s Web site. But since I think raw red cabbage is a bit bitter, I wanted to cook it. So I sauted it for a few minutes, and since I was sauteing, I added 1/2 an onion. The result was kind of like a red cabbage pad thai. Very yummy, not to mention -what a healthy pad thai alternative!

Do you cook with seaweed? Got any good seaweed or miso recipes to share?


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A Guide to Enlightenment

Sorry again for my inconsistency in writing lately, and again I’m going to blame it on the knee. I’ve started back to work full time, and between work and recovering, that’s about all I’ve got energy for these days. I continue to be amazed how healing one small piece of my body affects my whole being.

As far as yoga, I’m getting back into some standing poses, focusing on the basic sun salutation and some core strengthening poses. This time around, I am noticing the leg strength needed for each one, and my right leg’s lack of stamina. Being ok with going slow and a less-is -more approach is still my biggest lesson right now.

The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, A New Translation with Commentary by Chip Hartranft

The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali, A New Translation with Commentary by Chip Hartranft

As I wait for my body, I am continuing to exploring yoga through my reading. This week I finished The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary, by Chip Hartranft. (I wrote about other yoga reading I’ve done in this and this post)

The Yoga Sutra is a classic yoga text, probably the classic yoga text. It’s author, Patanjali could be considered the grandfather of yoga, but not much is known about him (her? them?). Nearly 2,000 years old, the Yoga Sutra was written in a time when not many students were able to read, so it was done in a terse, quite poetic style in order to be easily memorized and recited by students. This type of text often needed the aid of a teacher to interpret, as it was written as a very sparse guide.

A guide to what?

Put simply, a guide to enlightenment. Patanjali outlines the yogic path to Samadhi, enlightenment, or as Hartranft translates it “oneness, integration.” This is definitely some heady stuff to wrap our minds around, but that’s just the thing –one can’t really wrap a mind around enlightenment. It is beyond the mind, beyond the self. Reading about it is very interesting, because it is, of course, all theoretical. I am not reading this as something I myself have experienced. And in the end, it really all comes down to the experience –the experience of reality, not through the lens of self, or even consciousness, but an “integration” with reality that us humans can’t really tap into through our daily lives as most of us live them.

So, is this discouraging? Yes, and no. Reading the sutras, I found myself frustrated with my own meditation practice at times –why am I so far from even glimpsing what Patanjali writes of? But then I remind myself, wherever I am on this yogic path is perfectly ok, because I am on it. This text is a beautiful affirmation of the heart of yoga, why we practice, what we can achieve, no matter where we are on this path.

Now, I don’t want to summarize the sutras, nor could I after only a first read. But it was a great introduction to a very dense text that anyone serious about their yoga practice should not only read, but read often (and by often, I mean I want to try to read it once a year). I will say that the yoga Patanjali describes is far from the asana-heavy yoga most of America currently practices today. In fact asana, as we know it, doesn’t really factor into Patanjali’s yoga.

Patanjali's yoga more closely resembles Gautama Buddha's meditating than your modern Vinyasa Flow class

Patanjali’s yoga more closely resembles Gautama Buddha’s meditating than your modern Vinyasa Flow class

So my big question now is how did we get from there to here anyway? I’m currently in search of a good book on the history and evolution of yoga.

Any recommendations?

I’ve been eyeing The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy, and Practice, by Georg Feuerstein as fitting the bill.

Has anyone read it?

A few last thoughts on the Yoga Sutras

I enjoyed Hartranft’s knowledgeable and scholarly translation of it. He also includes an interesting essay on its relevance and relationship to today’s yoga. I liked that he included a commentary-free English translation of the entire Sutra in an appendix, which I read first, then read the sutras with his commentary interspersed, which is the main portion of the book.

Other versions of the sutras I would like to read include B. K. S. Iyengar’s (Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), and Swami Satchidananda’s (The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali).

Patanjali? This is, apparently, what he looked like

Patanjali?

And I wanted to leave you with what I found to be the most poetic passage of Hartranft’s translation, as a little taste of the sutras. In Chapter 1, Patanjali makes a list of distractions (like apathy and doubt) that act as “barriers to stillness” of consciousness, then lists ways that one can subdue these distractions:

1.33 Consciousness settles as one radiates friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity toward all things, whether pleasant or painful, good or bad.

34 Or by pausing after breath flows in or out.

35 Or by steadily observing as new sensations materialize.

36 Or when experiencing thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow.

37 Or by focusing on things that do not inspire attachment.

38 Or by reflection on insights culled from sleep and dreaming.

39 Or through meditative absorption in any desired object.

40 One can become fully absorbed in any object, whether vast or infinitesimal.

I just think that’s such a lovely list.

 

One last thing, since we are in the month of May, I thought I would share again this post with the recipe for May Clove Water. I’m continuing this practice for my allergies this year, since it seemed to help last year.

And if you have any recommendations for books on the history of yoga, leave them in the comments.

Namaste.

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