The Approximate Yogi

Conquering life one breath at a time

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Yoga Book Review — Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses

Poser: my life in twenty-three yoga poses, by Claire Dederer (2011), is a memoir of a mother and wife, but also of a yoga practitioner (she doesn’t like the term “yogi”), in which she weaves in threads of yogic wisdom she’s gleaned from her teachers over the years.

Yoga Book Review

She also scatters bits of the history of modern yoga throughout the book, yet it never gets bogged down by these facts. The book moves at a fast pace through her present life as a mother of two young children, and wife of a writer. She sprinkles bits of her own history in as well, and the book suddenly turns into an exploration into the modern woman and her ideas on marriage and family life. This was a happy surprise for me as a reader. Reading this book in the days leading up to my own wedding, I was giving a lot of thought to this topic.

Dederer, came to yoga, as many of us do, a skeptic, but looking for a cure for something. (For her, it was anxiety and tremulous nerves.) What she found was not that, yet so much more than that. Dederer offers us her experience of yoga, not from the perspective of a guru or teacher, but a humble practitioner, which creates a really refreshing and honest perspective. In her easy-going and humorous style, I found myself laughing with her, remembering some of my own thoughts and judgments while attending my first yoga class. She doesn’t pretend to be holier-than-thou, openly admitting to the things we all do in a yoga class –looking around to see what everyone else is doing, comparing ourselves, judging, longing, wanting.

These stories are all cleverly organized into chapters revolving around a specific yoga pose that further moves along the theme and/or narrative. I would recommend this book to anyone, whether a yogi or not (in fact, maybe especially not). I love a good memoir that lets me peek into the intimate details of someone else’s life journey, while enticing me to probe into my own. This book does that for me.

I’d like to end with this lovely little nugget Dederer discovers while attempting wheel pose:

It was easy to think of yoga as a cure, a program, a teleology. You were going to end up somewhere really great if you just stuck with it. I often thought about what yoga would give me: yoga butt, open hamstrings, equilibrium, a calm mind, that mysterious yoga glow…The idea was, you got better, looser, stronger while you were at yoga, and then you exported that excellence to the rest of life…What if, as [Boulder yoga teacher Katharine] Seidel said, we just enjoyed the way our bodies and minds were when we were at yoga, and stopped freighting it with expectations? What if the whole point of yoga wasn’t getting ready for the future, but was instead finding whatever pleasure we could in the present?

What do you think? What is the purpose of yoga for you?

Sidenote: Some of you may have noticed my infrequency in posts as of late. I have to admit, my focus has been elsewhere lately. You can find some of my other projects at my other blog, Creating, Cate’s Way. And for the month of November I will be participating in NaNoWriMo again, so you may not see much of me then either. But I hope to return to a more consistent posting schedule after the holidays. Hope you are all well. I have enjoyed hearing from some of you and about your own yoga journeys. Namaste.

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Iyengar 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



(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)


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.









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!


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?


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.


miso soup


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.


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!


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.


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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