Archive for July, 2013

Forgive me my teacher…

Posted on July 30, 2013. Filed under: Blatant Silliness, Yoga |

Ever get the nagging feeling something is missing in your yoga practice and interactions with teachers?

A yoga class.

A yoga class. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Sometimes there’s an attitude of relativity and acceptance that simply doesn’t always fulfill me.

I can always take down dog or child’s pose as I need to?  Or uses props and adjust as I want in the asanas?  It’s my practice and don’t need to compare it to others?

Really that just doesn’t leave room for good old fashion guilt! 😉

I almost feel like I want a yoga Priest/Priestess where I might confess my yoga sins.  Perhaps something along these lines:

Student:  “Forgive me my teacher.  It’s been a week since my last practice.  And almost two since my last class…”

Teacher: “Go on.”

Student: “I go to using a prop out of habit without awareness and so avoid really exploring the asana I’m working on.

Instead of listening and learning from my body’s action in a pose, I subtly twist and look at the clock to see how long I’ve held it so far and how long until the class ends.

Often in savasaana, I think about when, and what,  I’m going to eat afterwards and whether I worked hard enough to get a treat too….”*

Teacher:  “I see.  Take 3 extra Sun Salutations each practice and work on three new asanas you’ve never tried before in the coming week.  And work toward changing all that.  Now go and practice in peace.”

Whew.  Feeling better already!

I wonder if I’ve earned that chocolate bar I’ve been eying while writing this…

*  For the record – yes I do all of those things.  I’m probably the worst clock watcher ever.  Even when there is not a clock to watch I follow the time in my head and think about it. 😉

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Summertime Fun – When Life Gives You…

Posted on July 24, 2013. Filed under: Food and Cooking, Kitchen Herbalism, Urban Herbalism |

Sometimes you just have to remember to have stop taking herbs so seriously and have fun with them – and luckily that is what this post is kind of about. 🙂

Fun with Lemonade (Image by Michael Blackmore - Mad Crow Herbalism)

Fun with Lemonade (Image by Michael Blackmore – Mad Crow Herbalism)

The other week Boston was suffering under a heat wave and in a nice bit of serendipity the medicinal herbal CSA I belong to included some Staghorn Sumac berries that week.  Thus Staghorn Sumac lemonade was totally on the agenda.

But, of course, being who I am – I didn’t stop there.   I went all herbal lemonade crazy including making:

  • Lavender
  • Basil
  • Jasmine
  • Rose

and more.   I also used blueberries, raspberries and strawberries and limes instead of lemons in my mad experiments.    In the picture above the lavender is on the left and jasmine on the right.

It was all good and so much fun.

The basics are embarrassingly easy.  Make a tea of your favorite herb that you think would be fun, add some lemon/lime juice and the sweetener of your choice (honey, maple syrup, succanat, etc.)  – stir and chill.  You can also add the juice of other fruits – berries especially are awesome.

I did overnight infusions of the herbs in a quart mason jar myself.  And for that size I preferred the juice of a whole lemon/lime and used either honey or succanat.

But that’s me.

Why don’t you go, play and make some for yourself.

Herbs are meant to be fun and are fun to play with.

You won’t be sorry. 🙂

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Book Review – Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr

Posted on July 17, 2013. Filed under: Book Reviews, Path of the Healer, Random Musings, Uncategorized, Yoga | Tags: , , |

I recently finished reading Hell-Bent: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga by Benjamin Lorr  for a book club discussion and have to admit that it, and the discussion at the book club, stirred up a lot of thoughts for me about yoga practice, healing, herbalism and life.

Cover to book Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr

Cover: Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr

The Basics:

Even setting aside my complete aversion to heat to the point which hot yoga is as about as welcome a practice to me as a soapy bath is to a cat.  I have to admit the book was a bit of bear for me even though there were parts that I found good (such as his way of really getting into the heads of the some practitioners) because there were others that I found almost painful (like his sidestepping the more egregious goings on.)   I felt at times that the author was trying too hard to present all sides and often looking a bit too much to rationalize some of the behavior in the beginning of the book.

While he does toward the end of the book begin to look at some of the problematic aspects of Bikram and his style of yoga – he tries a little too hard to sidestep using the word “cult-like” to describe some of the goings on and that is just screaming out even through the filter of the author’s narrative.  Let’s face it, what else can you call a man who while leading a teacher training sits on an elevated throne, with a special air conditioner to keep himself cool while overlooking a sea of students sweltering in the heat, as a collection of women massage his body – it’s hard to sugar coat the imagery, and expletives, which something like that invokes.

At times, I try to be generous and assume he’s simply trying to present “both” sides while trying to preserve his access to write the book – as well as letting us draw our own conclusions. At others, I suspect it’s a disturbing blind spot.  Still a worthwhile read in trying to understand a world I, for one, would never want to be part of.

 The Deeper Stuff:

What’s really interesting to me about all of this is the issues of pain, growth and what is yoga (and healing) in general that this stirred up.

I often look at these people who pursue these extremes of heat and exertion in yoga (and other things) and I tend to wonder if some of them are a bit addicted to the brain chemicals the body releases to help you deal with it pain and stress on the system.

Frankly, when it is hot your body doesn’t want to be terribly active.   And if you’re exerting yourself extremely in the heat it can only assume your life is in danger and releases chemicals to suppress pain and cover up the damage and shifts the flow of blood and oxygen to the where it would be most needed until the crisis is over (which means shortages to the rest.)

That’s where it gets interesting to me.  Advocates for that sort of thing talk about how you can get deeper into your poses than in normal temperatures.  But then I see accounts of people, like in the book, who can’t do the same poses in a normal temperature room that they can in a hot one.  So essentially it seems to me to be a prop – but one that some of the advocates aren’t letting go of so they can learn to do the work without the external aid.  So at best it can be a illusion of a short cut to what their practice could be like, but actually isn’t.   As well as perhaps illustrating a classic Western obsession with achieving a destination, while missing the point that the true wisdom lay in the journey there and not the actual destination.

More importantly, it seems antithetical to what I view yoga as being.  Part of yoga is learning to listen and communicate with your body.  At its best, it can be a deep communing and learning encompassing both the body’s places of ease and discomforts.  When you push into such  an extreme position that your body masks its own injuries and pain to keep you going you’ve lost that connection and communication and instead are embracing a lie and false view of self. That is missing the meaning of yoga for me.

Beyond Yoga:

What struck me beyond this- is how much it parallels the way it can be sometimes with Western medicine, with herbalism  and in life in general as well.

Too often, we seek a drug or an herb to mask a symptom – lose that connection with the body and so avoid the deeper truth of what is going on.  Cover up that persistent itch or pain that is a warning and miss dealing with the deeper cause of it because you mask the symptom – avoiding communication and exploration.

Or we do something to mask a symptom of what may be going on with our lives and cover up that discomfort rather then learn from it to see what it is we truly need to change about how we are, and what we do, in our world.

Something to think about, isn’t it?

Just my insane .02 in reaction to the book.

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Herb(s) of the Week – Marshmallow Loves Me

Posted on July 9, 2013. Filed under: Herb(s) of the Week | Tags: |

I’ve started what I thought was a summer affair but instead it has become something so much more substantial. How did I never notice the full wonders of Marshmallow before?

Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis)

(Image via Wikipedia Commons)
Marshmallow (Althea officinalis); Family: Malvaceae

I think on more than one occasion I’ve heard herbal teachers do the usual herbalist litany of how it is considered sweet, cooling, moist and bland with lots of mucilage that makes it helpful  for gastrointestinal problems and soothing to the whole digestive system.   Then move on as if wanting to discuss something more exciting.  So over the years I built the same dismissive shorthand of digestive issues = consider Marshmallow.

With the onset of Spring/Summer in Boston I began to feel a little heat imbalance in my system (or in Ayurvedic terms my Pitta was getting unbalanced) and this was showing itself in odd rashes here and there.    So I was looking at my herbs thinking of what would be a cooling counterbalance and Marshmallow winked at me….

It’s probably a bit of hyperbole on his part but according to Pliny:  “Whosoever shall take a spoonful of the Mallows shall that day be free from all diseases that may come to him.”

Even beyond that the very Latin name for it and its plant family speaks volumes – Althea is from the Greek altho (to cure)  while the family name Malvaceae comes from malake (soft) for the softening/healing qualities of the whole plant family (which also includes Cacao; Okra; Durian fruit and Hibiscus.)

In the usual herbal speak it’s considered to have many general actions such as being  demulcent, nutritive tonic, alternative, anti-inflammatory, expectorant, antitussive, analgesic, diuretic, antilithic, mild immune stimulant, galactogogue and antihistamine.

Which is all very long winded and filled with herbal buzz words instead – just look at some of its general historic uses to get a better idea of its magic:

  • inflammation in the digestive system
  • diarrhea
  • IBS
  • ulcers
  • constipation
  • heartburn
  • dry coughs
  • UTI
  • irritable bladder
  • skin problems
  • kidney stones

Matthew Wood talks about it having a special affinity for the kidneys which I wouldn’t disagree with, but I particularly like it’s cooling anti-inflammatory nature. And it is thought of as having the special ability to bind and remove toxins to help the body to cleanse itself.  It’s plain nutritive aspects can’t be ignored either since it has impressive amounts of calcium, in a readily absorbable form, as well as magnesium.

In Ayurveda,  it is considered good for all three doshas but particularly calms high pitta thus reducing heat and inflammation (Pitta is always there when there is inflammation!)  This is where I really began to appreciate its magic.

Where you can use it:

  •  As a poultice for burns, bruises and wounds
  • Just use the leaves on insect stings and bites; or mix with lavender essential oil, in a carrier oil, for skin inflammation
  • Use as  wash for eczema

Or simply drink a nice tea of it to calm the savage Pitta.  I’ve begun to truly love the cooling almost nervine like aspects of a cold infusion of Marshmallow tea in my life.  It seems to to help not only physical inflammation but emotional and nervous “inflammation” as well.

Sometimes I like making the cold infusion with a bit of Licorice as well.  And James Green’s book The Male Herbal introduced me to the lovely notion of adding Chamomile and Cinnamon to it too.  So yummy and calming in all the right ways.

While you can use flowers, leaves and roots, I’m particularly fond of the roots for tea.  Generally it  better as a cold infusion to extract the mucilage.  There is a long tradition of decocting it – as well as boiling it in wine as a cough aid.

Finally, there’s a old folk saying that if you rub your hands in the sap of plant – you won’t be stung by bees.  I have yet to try that one myself…. 😉

All this made me realize that not only do I really love Marshmallow but maybe it loves me too.

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