This blue marble

– and yet it spins


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Silence

Devon-2Life is in a flux again, and how hard it was to just be present in silence for a long weekend in the Devon countryside. Instead I found myself thinking of the future, the past, or an alternative present. When work-hour sign-up was open I signed up for garden duty, to get outside. And when garden duty started I signed up to shovel compost, so I would be worn out by the time daily meditation sessions would begin.

The young man assigned to the same task quit after one day. So for an hour it was just me, a wheelbarrow, a spade, the compost, and a hungry robin fluttering around my wheelbarrow, taking good chances of being covered in muck before breakfast was done.

And then, then it was silence in sitting, and silence in walking. And some reflective words every night. And so much silent kindness, from fellow retreaters of all ages. It is what impresses on me most deeply each time I retreat into silence: an expression of kindness needs no words.(Devon, United Kingdom; December 2019)


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My favorite yin yoga sequence

flowerLovely ones, something quite different for a change: my favorite yin yoga sequence. Why? Because yin yoga complements both daily stress as well as most types of workout, including ashtanga yoga. Yin poses first stretch the muscles open and then go to work on the connective tissue: the fascia, tendons, and ligaments. Not only are knotted muscles relieved, but blood flow into joints increases, as does overall flexibility.

The trick is to find a version of a pose that works for your body. One that is challenging but soft enough to allow you to stay in it for at least two minutes, preferably four or longer. Any stretches that make you grind your teeth and sweat within thirty seconds have no place in yin yoga.

I believe in a yin practice designed for each individual body and its issues, depending on how it is built and how it is exercised. Here is my routine, and why I love each pose. Links lead to photos, instructions, and summary of benefits.

  1. Spinal twist, first gently with both legs bent and perhaps one hand pushing the top knee down. For me this works more on the IT tendon and fascia on the outside of the thigh than it does on the spine.
  2. Spinal twist, the deep version with one leg straight along the spine line and the other bent, knee nearing the floor. Both twists are essential for the health of my back and I sometimes do these in bed, first thing in the morning.
  3. Broken (or open) wing pose. It was not easy to find a visual description of my version. To stretch my chest and shoulders I roll over the outstretched arm with a straight leg, placing the other leg on the outside of the straight one and supporting myself with my free hand. Great pose if you spend hours in front of the computer on a daily basis.
  4. Butterfly pose. This is not for hips or hamstrings, but for stretching the lower back. I place my forearms and elbows on the floor in front of my shins, hands facing forward. I stay for at least five minutes, beyond relaxing my lower back muscles, until I feel the ligaments loosen.
  5. Fire log pose. Stretches first the glutes and then the deep hip and piriformis. Hip opener for lotus pose. I usually lean over to one side, supporting my weight on my forearms and placing my forehead on the top foot.
  6. Half frog pose. Leads into frog pose but stretches different adductors for me, the ones that go tight from running.
  7. Frog pose. The idea is to ultimately have your shins, knees, and thighs on the floor, but I have never seen anyone able to do this. This pose is nearly unbearable for me at times of high stress or anxiety, because it stretches deep groin and hip muscles, where so much emotion resides. I also find this nearly unbearable during my period and tend to skip it at those times.
  8. Savasana, preferably as a heart-opener with a bolster or block under my spine to stretch my chest and shoulders.

(Copenhagen, Denmark; January 2020)


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The last weekend of the summer

Mon-2The sunlight still brightened the beach sand to a brilliant white, even if it was the last weekend of September. For many hours during those three days, I sat on the cool sand watching the little swirls of water rolling in, perhaps all the way from German shores. Mon-4We were just seven women on this private weekend retreat, of many ages and cultures. The old white-washed farmhouse on the countryside of Møn island filled with moments of laughter, moments of silence, and the scent of delicious vegetarian food. Mornings were for yoga and reflection, afternoons for silent meditation and skinny dipping, and evenings for dining, sauna, and sharing.

It was as if the unusually long Danish summer ended that Sunday, when we locked the doors and began the drive back up South.Mon-1(Island of Møn, Denmark; September 2019)


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Patience is not my virtue

yogaPerseverance does bring tiny improvements, which I notice because my yoga practice is the exact same sequence every single time. Last spring, after 5.5 years of practice, I got my hand down in revolved side angle pose, with my back heel down. And since this past fall I am able to get my feet and my raddled knees safely in some kind of lotus pose for a short while.

Ashtanga yoga is a good reminder for patience, which is (still) not my virtue.

(Vejle, Denmark; September 2019)


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But first, yoga. And then, Spanish and cleaning.

SSyoga.jpgBut first, yoga (early-morning ashtanga Mysore in a quiet, wonderful studio). And then, Spanish class.

Today we discussed the “futuro”: what will do next weekend, next month, or in a year? We were asked to create a list of activities we planned to do in the weekend. “Wash my clothes”, I wrote. “Sleep in my room. Practice yoga.” “Now,” our teacher said, “please invite the classmate next to you to join you in your weekend activity.” I turned to look at Swiss Mattias and dubiously asked him, “vas a lavar mi ropa conmigo?” Would you like to wash my clothes with me? “Ni hablar” he instantly replied. Don’t even speak of it. “Um,” I said, “vas a practicar yoga conmigo?” “NO” he responded, with emotion. “Uh, puedo limpiar mi casa” he said. I sighed. Obviously cleaning his apartment was more important. I gave up on the thought of asking him to sleep with me in my room.

I met my landlady this morning. For five minutes, then she was gone. “Hola” she said, and tried to coax me into speaking Spanish first thing in the morning. She failed, told me to close the kitchen door when I was done, and left for work. Ainhoa is probably in her late forties, lives alone, rents out two rooms, and works two jobs: a morning job and an evening job. She is usually home between noon and 4 pm, which is why I never see her. And which is why everything in her apartment is covered in dust or grease. I would not wish to spend any precious time cleaning, either, if I had her daily schedule. But as it is now, my fingers itch to empty it all out, polish her beautiful dark hardwood floor until it gleams, and sort everything she owns into neat, beautiful boxes placed in her gorgeous hardwood cabinets (“accidentally” throwing 2/3 of her old foods, spices, cleaning chemicals, and cosmetics away).

Instead I sweep the sand from the floor of my room every day. I have not found a dustpan so I wipe everything up in wet toilet paper. I am afraid of offending my lovely landlady’s hospitality so I only dream of the dustpan.

(San Sebastián, Spain; August 2019)


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Life as a lotus

bologna-5To the buddhists, the lotus is a symbol of purity and transcendence: its feet bathe in the muddy bottom of the pond while its flowers and often leaves, too, rise into the pure air above it all. It is a reminder that one can have one’s roots entangled in mud and mess while still keeping a clear and pure mind above it all.

As I walked around the botanical gardens of Bologna I thought of how my own feet were currently so deeply embedded in the mud and mess and madness of this world. And how it seemed that the level of mud was rising dangerously close to my head. With honesty to myself I admitted that my head was probably already covered in spatters of mud, messing with my mind.

It is easy to see one is messed up. It is much more difficult to pinpoint how, and what to do about it. I almost wrote “and how to get out”, but really, getting out never helps. It is all about getting in, and working it out from the inside. bologna-6This year I have been following a personal development plan which revolves around identifying negative energy inside and around me. One of its action points is to repeat to myself when needed, “I am not my emotions”. I have found myself repeating this mantra over and over again these past few months. Another action point is to KonMari incoming energies, impressions, and matters: sort them at the door and not letting every single one in. And if needed, put the newcomers in separate rooms, close the doors, and deal with them later. I have found that my mental rooms are nearing overcrowded.
bologna-4Robin Sharma says that because a lifetime is precious and finite, there is no time for negative emotions. At all. That thinking a negative thought is to waste the time it takes to think that thought. This may sound like a highly platonically theoretic view, but when I think of all the time I spent dealing with negative emotions the past year I could probably amass a few weeks of life better spent doing other things. For example fully enjoying the botanical gardens of Bologna.

A dear friend once criticized me for being too solution-oriented. For offering my help in solving a problem when she would rather just wallow and swim in it for some time, until perhaps a solution slowly emerged. She gently told me that not all people want help, because not all things can be helped. Her words hurt me so much that I could not bear to spend time with her for two years. Some years ago I learned that not all problems can be solved. Not immediately, and perhaps not ever. Accepting the company of a deep injury for the rest of my life was possibly the toughest lesson I have learned in life so far.

And so I continue to trudge on through this life with my feet in the mud. As long as I remember to stretch upwards into the clean air, keeping my head relatively pure and sane like the lotus, I will be alright. bologna-7(Bologna, Italy; July 2019)


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Time for a winter reset

kitchariWinter detoxes and spring cleanses never seem to go out of mode. To be honest, as a scientist I do not believe in quick “detoxing” (I also do not believe one can “wring toxins out of the liver” while squeezing into certain yoga poses). But I do believe in resetting metabolism: resetting energy intake and resetting cravings for salt, sugar, fat, pickles, candy – you name your own craving.

And so, nearly my entire adult life I have taken a timeout of one to three weeks, early on in the year, and focused on clean, healthy, often light food. I have tried a version of the “heart surgery diet” or the “cabbage soup diet” – mainly for excess fluid loss and carb reset, not weight loss. I have also tried three or four different Goop detoxes and found them insanely expensive, adventurous, and delicious.

The past few years I have used a version of an ayurvedic kitchari detox. My ayurvedic dosha is pitta – except for that some of it, and especially my digestive system, is kapha. The combination of mung bean dhal, lots of spices, pickled ginger, and a little rice just works. Especially if you have a slow metabolism or kapha imbalance, or just feel tired during the winter time you might want to give this a go.

The catch with this winter reset, first published on Oh Holy Basil, is that you really must like this dish because it is all you eat. Every day. The recommendation is a three-day diet but I throw in a light almond milk based smoothie every morning and combine that with the kitchari for seven days. Why on earth?? Because it gives my stomach a well-deserved rest. No surprises. No difficult-to-digest raw vegetables, bloating short carbs and sugars, and no chemical additives or caffeine or alcohol. Just highly nutritious, easy-to-digest, clean foods. Every day. And this dish is delicious, especially with the condiments of pickled ginger, shredded coconut, sesame seeds, and fresh cilantro.

My week-long simple reset is as follows:

Morning: Half a lemon squeezed into a glass of warm water, with a dash of cayenne pepper stirred through (to wake up my kapha belly). Followed by a 4 dl smoothie blended from a banana, almond milk, super green powder (think spirulina, wheat shoots, nettle), and maca powder.

Lunch and dinner: Kitchari with rice and condiments, as much as you feel like having. Have some more in-between meals if you feel hungry. If you go for an entire week, make sure you go plenty on the ghee or coconut oil, and cook the mung beans well. I prefer to sprout them for up to 36 hours in a bowl of water in room-temperature prior to cooking, to aid my digestion. I also add up to twice as much spices than in the recipe below (and go even heavier on the turmeric).

To drink: No alcohol, of course. No caffeine also means no black or green tea. Only that glass of fresh lemon water in the morning, followed by herbal teas and water. There are lots of gently and tastily spiced herbal teas out there. Not sure how much good they actually do, but for example the Pukka brand is good for exploration during a reset.

This is not a diet to lose weight; it is a diet for feeling good. You might end up losing some fluid and weight if you go for an entire week. If you do not feel your stomach, even after a heavy meal, this diet is probably working for you. You also do not need expensive adaptogens and Moon Dust (google it if you don’t know what it is) but I like to throw in the things I normally take: holy basil, maca, ashwagandha if I am under pressure at work, and vitamin D + calcium as well as vitamin B12 (as I am vegetarian).

An actual reset is also about resetting one’s mind. Try yoga, meditation, or just sitting in stillness, listening to sounds around you and to your own body. Read, go for walks in Nature, or take a bath. Try to spend less time consuming anything in your life that is not either bringing you a sense of calm or a sense of self-improvement (and that includes dramatic tabloid news, Facebook, and cat videos on Youtube).

The recipe for the actual dish follows below, with a grateful nod to Dillon at Oh Holy Basil. If you have tried this, or another “detox” / cleanse / reset you absolutely recommend, please drop me a line as I do like to experiment and improve.

INGREDIENTS

The dal:
  • 1 cup yellow split mung beans (not the whole green ones she says, but I’ve never found yellow ones anywhere), washed and soaked at least 6 hours, preferably overnight, see note
  • 2 tablespoons ghee or coconut oil
  • ½ teaspoon mustard seed
  • ½ teaspoon cumin seed
  • 5 cardamom pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • pinch asafetida, if available, otherwise omit it
  • 6 cups water
  • salt to taste
  • 2-3 cups turnips, sunchokes or other mild root vegetables, thinly sliced into half moons
  • ½ bunch of kale or the reserved turnip greens from the turnips, sliced very thin
  • 1 lime, juiced
The best rice ever:
  • 1 cup basmati rice, preferably soaked for one hour, otherwise rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 4 cardamom pods
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups boiling water
Garnishes:
  • cilantro leaves
  • lime
  • shredded coconut
  • sesame seeds
  • melted ghee
  • ginger tonic, recipe follows

INSTRUCTIONS

For the dal:
  1. Drain and rinse the mung beans in a fine mesh sieve and leave them to drain of their excess water.
  2. In a medium pot, heat the ghee or coconut oil, cumin seeds, mustard seeds, cardamom pods and cinnamon stick over medium heat until the mustard seeds begin to pop. Immediately add the turmeric, asafetida and mung beans and cook, stirring frequently for about a minute. Add the water and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, partially covered and cook for about 45 minutes or until the mung beans have broken down, loosing their district form. Add the root vegetables and salt and cook for 15-20 minutes more, until they are quite soft. Add the greens and cook about five minutes more. Turn off the heat and add the lime juice. While the dal is cooking, make the rice.
For the best rice ever:
  1. Drain the rice in a fine mesh strainer and rinse a couple of times.
  2. Heat the ghee or coconut oil, cumin seeds and cardamom pods over medium heat and cook for about 30 seconds. Add the rice and cook, stirring frequently for a minute or two more, until the rice is well toasted but not yet browning. Add the boiling water and boil the rice, uncovered for five minutes. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer until all of the water is absorbed, about 10 minutes.
  3. To serve put some rice into a bowl and ladle the dal over top of it. Garnish with cilantro, a hearty squeeze of lime juice, the coconut, sesame seeds and melted ghee, if using. Top with a couple of teaspoons of the ginger tonic.

NOTES

If you forget to soak your mung beans overnight, do not dismay. You can do a quick soak by pouring boiling water over them and letting them soak for just one hour.

GINGER TONIC

This digestive tonic can be taken before meals to aid digestion and stimulate the agni. I also put some on top of my kitchari.
INGREDIENTS
  • a large piece of fresh ginger, peeled and cut into tiny cubes
  • lime juice
  • sea salt

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. Place the ginger in a small bowl and coat with a liberal squeeze of lime juice. Sprinkle with a good pinch of salt and set aside to let marinate for at least 20 minutes.
  2. Cover and store in the refrigerator.

 

(Brande, Denmark; February 2019)