View into the smaller room and of the first set of french doors on the far wall. This will lead to another private patio and will be the private entrance into the yoga sanctuary.
The picture to the right, shows the view from the main yoga room, out onto the patio and into the garden. You can see the second set of french doors that are part of the smaller yoga room / meditation room to the left. Behind the glass door of the second set of french doors (meditation room's french doors), you can see one of the two windows that are also a part of the smaller meditation room. It's going to have a lot of natural light :) What color do you think we should paint the meditation room? The main yoga room? Any ideas???!!!
The two new windows in the smaller room. Notice the second set of french doors that lead to the main patio and garden in the back yard.
Slowly but surely the yoga room is coming along. So far, we have put in french doors and added windows to one wall of the meditation room. The single window in the far wall is coming out and another set of really large french doors will take it's place. :)
"It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."
~~ Antoine De Saint-Exupery
WHEN I WAS ABOUT SIX YEARS OLD I received the essential bodhichitta teaching from an old woman sitting in the sun. I was walking by her house one day feeling lonely, unloved, and mad, kicking anything I could find. Laughing, she said to me, "Little girl, don't you go letting life harden your heart."
Right there, I received this pith instruction: we can let the circumstances of our lives harden us so that we become increasingly resentful and afraid, or we can let them soften us and make us kinder and more open to what scares us. We always have this choice.
If we were to ask the Buddha, "What is bodhichitta?" he might tell us that this word is easier to understand than to translate. He might encourage us to seek out ways to find its meaning in our own lives. He might tantalize us by adding that it is only bodhichitta that heals, that bodhichitta is capable of transforming the hardest of hearts and the most prejudiced and fearful of minds.
Chitta means "mind" and also "heart" or "attitude." Bodhi means "awake," "enlightened," or "completely open." Sometimes the completely open heart and mind of bodhichitta is called the soft spot, a place of vulnerable and tender as an open wound. It is equated, in part, with our ability to love. Even the cruelest of people have this soft spot. Even the most vicious of animals love their offspring. As Trungpa Rinpoche put it, "Everybody loves something, even if it's only tortillas."
Bodhichitta is also equated, in part, with compassion--our ability to feel the pain that we share with others. Without realizing it we continually shield ourselves from this pain because it scares us. We put up protective walls made of opinions, prejudices, and strategies, barriers that are built on a deep fear of being hurt. These walls are further fortified by emotions of all kinds: anger, craving, indifference, jealousy and envy, arrogance and pride. But fortunately for us, the soft spot--our innate ability to love and to care about things--is like a crack in these walls we erect. It's a natural opening in the barriers we create when we're afraid. With practice we can learn to find this opening. We can learn to seize that vulnerable moment--love, gratitude, loneliness, embarrassment, inadequacy--to awaken bodhichitta.
An analogy for bodhichitta is the rawness of a broken heart. Sometimes this broken heart gives birth to anxiety and panic, sometimes to anger, resentment, and blame. But under the hardness of that armor there is the tenderness of genuine sadness. This is our link with all those who have ever loved. This genuine heart of sadness can teach us great compassion. It can humble us when we're arrogant and soften us when we are unkind. It awakens us when we prefer to sleep and pierces through our indifference. This continual ache of the heart is a blessing that when accepted fully can be shared with all.
The Buddha said that we are never separated from enlightenment. Even at the times we feel most stuck, we are never alienated from the awakened state. This is a revolutionary assertion. Even ordinary people like us with hang-ups and confusion have this mind of enlightenment called bodhichitta. The openness and warmth of bodhichitta is in fact our true nature and condition. Even when our neurosis feels far more basic than our wisdom, even when we're feeling most confused and hopeless, bodhichitta--like the open sky--is always here, undiminished by the clouds that temporarily cover it.
Given that we are so familiar with the clouds, of course, we may find the Buddha's teaching hard to believe. Yet the truth is that in the midst of our suffering, in the hardest of times, we can contact this noble heart of bodhichitta. It is always available, in pain as well as in joy.
A young woman wrote to me about finding herself in a small town in the Middle East surrounded by people jeering, yelling, and threatening to throw stones at her and her friends because they were Americans. Of course, she was terrified, and what happened to her was interesting. Suddenly she identified with every person throughout history who had ever been scorned and hated. She understood what it was like to be despised for any reason: ethnic group, racial background, sexual preference, gender. Something cracked wide open and she stood in the shoes of millions of oppressed people and saw with a new perspective. She even understood her shared humanity with those who hated her. This sense of deep connection, of belonging to the same family, is bodhichitta.
Bodhichitta exists on two levels. First there is unconditional bodhichitta, an immediate experience that is refreshingly free of concept, opinion, and our usual all-caught-upness. It's something hugely good that we are not able to pin down even slightly, like knowing at gut level that there's absolutely nothing to lose. Second there is relative bodhichitta, our ability to keep our heart and minds open to suffering without shutting down.
Those who train wholeheartedly in awakening unconditional and relative bodhichitta are called bodhisattvas or warriors--not warriors who kill and harm but warriors of nonaggression who hear the cries of the world. These are men and women who are willing to train in the middle of the fire. Training in the middle of the fire can mean that warrior-bodhisattvas enter challenging situations in order to alleviate suffering. It also refers to their willingness to cut through personal reactivity and self-deception, to their dedication to uncovering the basic undistorted energy of bodhichitta. We have many examples of master warriors--people like Mother Theresa and Martin Luther King--who recognize that the greatest harm comes from our own aggressive minds. They devoted their lives to helping others understand this truth. There are also many ordinary people who spend their lives training in opening their hearts and minds in order to help others do the same. Like them, we could learn to relate to ourselves and our world as warriors. We could train in awakening our courage and love.
There are both formal and informal methods for helping us to cultivate this bravery and kindness. There are practices for nurturing our capacity to rejoice, to let go, to love, and to shed a tear. There are those that teach us to stay open to uncertainty. There are others that help us to stay present at the times that we habitually shut down.
Wherever we are, we can train as a warrior. The practices of meditation, loving-kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity are our tools. With the help of these practices, we can uncover the soft spot of bodhichitta. We will find it behind the hardness of rage and in the shakiness of fear. It is available in loneliness as well as in kindness.
Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, yet at the same time we want to be healed. But bodhichitta training doesn't work that way. A warrior accepts that we can never know what will happen to us next. We can try to control the uncontrollable by looking for security and predictability, always hoping to be comfortable and safe. But the truth is that we can never avoid uncertainty. This not knowing is part of the adventure, and it's also what makes us afraid.
Bodhichitta training offers no promise of happy endings. Rather, this "I" who wants to find security--who wants something to hold on to--can finally learn to grow up. The central question of a warrior's training is not how we avoid uncertainty and fear but how we relate to discomfort. How do we practice with difficulty, with our emotions, with the unpredictable encounters of an ordinary day?
All too frequently we relate like timid birds who don't dare to leave the nest. Here we sit in a nest that's getting pretty smelly and that hasn't served its function for a very long time. No one is arriving to feed us. No one is protecting us and keeping us warm. And yet we keep hoping mother bird will arrive.
We could do ourselves the ultimate favor and finally get out of that nest. That this takes courage is obvious. That we could use some helpful hints is also clear. We may doubt that we're up to being a warrior-in-training. But we can ask ourselves this question: "Do I prefer to grow and relate to life directly, or do I choose to live and die in fear?"
All beings have the capacity to feel tenderness--to experience heartbreak, pain, and uncertainty. Therefore the enlightened heart of bodhichitta is available to us all. The insight meditation teacher Jack Kornfield tells of witnessing this in Cambodia during the time of the Khmer Rouge. Fifty thousand people had become communist at gunpoint, threatened with death if they continued their Buddhist practices. In spite of the danger, a temple was established in the refugee camp, and twenty thousand people attended the opening ceremony. There were no lectures or prayers but simply continuous chanting of one of the central teachings of Buddha:
Hatred never ceases by hatred
But by love alone is healed.
This is an ancient and eternal law.
Thousands of people chanted and wept, knowing that the truth in these words was even greater than their suffering.
Bodhichitta has this kind of power. It will inspire and support us in good times and bad. It is like discovering a wisdom and courage we do not even know we have. Just as alchemy changes any metal into gold, bodhichitta can, if we let it, transform any activity, word, or thought into a vehicle for awakening our compassion.
Dedicated to my sister, Bobbi.
Taken from THE PLACES THAT SCARE YOU, by Pema Chodron.
I express the wish that we will apply the teachings in our everyday lives and thus free ourselves and others from suffering. I encourage you to keep an open mind. This is often likened to the wonder of a child seeing the world without preconceptions. As the Zen master Suzuki Roshi put it, "In the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."
I dedicate the merit of this blog to all beings. This gesture of universal friendship has been likened to a drop of fresh spring water. If we put it on a rock in the sunshine, it will soon evaporate. If we put it in the ocean, however, it will never be lost. Thus the wish is made that we not keep the teachings to ourselves but use them to benefit others.
This approach reflects what are called the three noble principles: good in the beginning, good in the middle, good at the end. They can be used in all the activities of our lives. We can begin anything we do--start our day, eat a meal, or walk into a meeting--with the intention to be open, flexible, and kind. Then we can proceed with an inquisitive attitude. "Live your life as an experiment."
At the end of this activity, whether we feel we have succeeded or failed in our intention, we seal the act by thinking of others, of those who are succeeding and failing all over the world. We wish that anything we learned in our experiment could also benefit them.
In this spirit, I offer this blog of accumulated thoughts and teachings I've gained from others. May it be of benefit at the beginning, in the middle, and at the end. May it help move us toward the places that scare us. May it inform our lives and help us to die with no regrets.
Have you ever woken up in the morning and you just couldn't get started? Sometimes I wake up and it seems that my whole world is foggy. Sometimes I might do a little yoga, eat a little something, and go for a walk or rest a little longer in order to feel more awake or rested later. Other times though I just don't have the time afforded to me to go for that brisk walk or eat something. Then it happens... I look over at that coffee pot and that coffee pot looks at me. Each time I reach for my cup I can't help but wonder, "What is this doing to me? Is it really that bad? Should I feel guilty about this?”
I have decided to do a little research on this question. In this blog post I will dive into this very controversial issue of coffee—when it comes to our health, is coffee a friend, or foe? I will also share what I have learned about it through my Ayurveda studies. Questions like, "How do different bodies react to coffee based on their constitution or dosha?" will be explored as well.
Let’s take a look at some of the research on both sides before we can begin to judge for ourselves. If you would like a list of the resources I have used, let me know and I will email it to you! Otherwise, there are links throughout this blog to sites, articles, medical studies, books used and definitions. Click on them if you are curious. I've also sited the following website as the main resource for most of this blog.
I think it's interesting that so many people continue to say that caffeine is good for you. However, if you take the caffeine out of coffee, the benefits cited above remain relatively the same. So, if it isn’t the caffeine that is responsible for these benefits, then what is it?
There are about 1000 active constituents in the coffee bean and only a few of them are understood. We do know that the coffee bean, the seed of the fruit, is loaded with antioxidants. The most powerful known antioxidant in the coffee bean is called chlorogenic acid, a compound that is most concentrated in the green, un-roasted coffee bean but dissipates somewhat in the roasting process. The weakening of this compound in the coffee bean’s journey from bean to beverage may be why we need such high amounts of coffee to reap its many benefits. Today, green coffee extracts are available (here) to deliver the benefits of chlorogenic acid without actually having to drink the dark roasted brew.
The Bad :(
Most of the negative research on coffee can be linked to its impact on the nervous system. Coffee is a stimulant and increases the release of stress hormones, which are usually reserved for life or death, fight or flight situations. The elevation of these hormones is detectable hours after consumption. Interestingly, the release of the same hormones occurs with decaffeinated coffee. Coffee also tends to squeeze out the adrenals, hence the "crash" typically experienced after drinking coffee.
Coffee consumption (including decaffeinated coffee) releases an addictive neurotransmitter called dopamine. Dopamine is a pleasure hormone and when the brain is bathed in dopamine, it never forgets the source. After the coffee rush wears off, the brain starts thinking about its next cup, so that when a coffee drinker drives by a coffee shop, they may be compelled to stop even if they were not previously thinking about coffee. This is the effect of dopamine on the brain—it’s the addictive “I’ve gotta have it” hormone... sound familiar anyone?
Dopamine may only be one mechanism for the addictive nature of coffee, however. Withdrawal symptoms such as painful headaches, nausea, vomiting, loose stools, depression, anxiety, and fatigue are common when a coffee drinker tries to stop... I know I have experienced at least one of those symptoms before.
In addition, coffee:
• Raises homocysteine levels – a major risk factor for heart disease
• Raises blood pressure
• Raises cholesterol
• Is associated with heart irregularities
• Increases inflammation
• Damages the nervous system
• Increases risk of kidney stones
• Lowers bone density
• Interferes with sleep
The Ayurvedic Perspective
Using coffee as a stimulant to get energy, that in itself creates an imbalance. Using a stimulant to create energy (energy drinks, soda, drugs, coffee, etc) you do not have can potentially push you into debt, sometimes referred to as adrenal exhaustion. Also, coffee, via its dopamine activation, is a very addictive substance that creates highs and lows in energy. In turn, these highs and lows can affect mood and physiological function. Hence, the guilty feeling that tends to follow my morning cup of coffee.
In Ayurveda, it is also recognized that coffee has an effect on the quality of mind, stimulating it into a rajasic, or overly active, state. This goes against the volumes and volumes of teachings that expound on the health benefits of stilling the mind, as in meditation or yoga. Our world is already over-stimulated to the point that many of us cannot keep up. Taking a stimulant on top of that will quite possibly drive us to exhaustion.
Food or Medicine?
That said, I am a believer that all plants have a purpose and we must try to understand them rather than pass judgment on them. Some plants are meant to be used as a food and are safe to eat regularly, others are more like medicines.
We also have to consider that the way we process coffee may seriously alter its properties.
There is a long process from bean to brew, and many factors along the way that can change the effects of the original plant as nature intended it. Until more studies are done on the raw green bean, the research we have to work with is based on the coffee drink, and it’s clear from this research that coffee has medicinal properties. But is it safe for regular long-term use? Is it free of chemicals? Is the next organic cup coffee you buy a free trade product? These are other questions to ponder when purchasing your next cup of coffee.
Being very acidic, coffee may stimulate the digestive process and act as a digestif. There is also research that suggests that coffee may help control after-meal blood sugar spikes. However, even using coffee in this way can have undesirable effects in the long-run:
1. It is an intestinal irritant that can inflame the digestive tract.
2. It is overly acidic, which can congest the lymph and detox pathways.
3. It can desensitize the mucosa of the gut, causing chronic constipation.
4. It is extremely dehydrating and can dry out the skin, gut, and respiratory tract.
For these reasons, I wouldn’t suggest an espresso with every meal, but in moderation and for the right body types, coffee may be supportive for digestion. However, that same cup of coffee on an empty stomach in the morning will stimulate the adrenals to make excess energy and stress hormones that may deplete the body’s reserves. As I mentioned, the boost one feels from coffee is in fact stimulating the body to prepare for an emergency.
It is possible that coffee has the capacity to create a higher state of health for a short period of time, so as to help the body best cope with the “emergency state” of an illness such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, or Parkinson’s, to name a few that I mentioned earlier (see “The Good” section, above).
My concern is the long-term effect of stimulating the body in this way. Given the facts, it seems more logical to recognize coffee as a drug or medicine: it boosts dopamine and drives degenerative hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and norepinephrine, and inhibits calming GABA. These changes may be helpful in an emergency state or illness, but whether you would want your nervous system affected in this way in the long-term is questionable.
As for the reported health benefits, I attribute them to:
- Stimulating the body into a medicinal/emergency response to deal with a potential health threat, and
- The wealth of antioxidants present in coffee, which certainly can’t be ignored. But has the roasting process altered the natural blueprint of coffee’s delicate balance of caffeine and antioxidants?
A Constitutional Approach
Ayurvedically speaking, certain constitutions will tolerate coffee better than others:
• Vata types: The hyper-metabolic vata types will be easily over-stimulated by coffee and quickly become depleted by the over-stimulation.
• Pitta Types: The already over-competitive pitta types will be driven even further by the coffee boost. Coffee is also very acidic and heating. This can be too much for the already hot pitta body type.
• Kapha types: The hypo-metabolic kapha types are easygoing and heavy by nature. Coffee may in some instances offer a medicinal boost to stimulate or enhance metabolic function of the body.
*What’s your body type? Take this quiz to find out.
Coffee as a drug or medicine may have its place. But how long will the benefits last?
If you find yourself depending on coffee for boosting energy, mental clarity, keeping a headache at bay, or keeping your bowels regular, this may be a problem as the benefits may be short-lived.
Soon, more coffee may be needed to create these “benefits,” eventually leading to over-stimulation, adrenal exhaustion, negative side effects and even addiction. And, as with any addiction, it will ultimately leave us and our health at a disadvantage.
The green coffee extracts on the market may show some promise as preventative and healing agents, and I look forward to more studies about their efficacy. If we could harness the amazing benefits of this plant without risking the negative side effects, that would of course be ideal.
CARDAMOM: ELETTARIA CARDAMOMUM
Not only does cardamom coffee taste delicious but also the cardamom is reputed to neutralise the over- stimulating effects of caffeine, thus making it a drink more conducive to the health of your nerves than ordinary coffee. You can buy cardamom coffee or make your own by heating, almost simmering, 4 split cardamom pods and 4 heaped teaspoons of ground coffee in a pint of water for about 15 minutes.
Not only can cardamoms protect against the harmful effects of caffeine but also they can be positively beneficial for the nervous system. In Ayurvedic medicine they have long been esteemed for their ability to lift the spirits, reduce pain, restore vitality and induce a calm, meditative state of mind. Originally from the rainforests of India they have been prized for centuries for their beautifully fragrant flavour and aroma as well as for their therapeutic effects. They were carried from the East to Europe along caravan roots from classical times, first to Greece and later to Northern Europe where their tonic and energising properties were apparently put to good use in love potions and aphrodisiac preparations. Today in the West they are still highly valued for their ability to relieve tension and anxiety, to dispel lethargy and nervous exhaustion, to lift the spirits and to improve memory and concentration. While there is not a massive amount of scientific data on cardamom, it is known that up to 8% of cardamom seed consists of volatile oil that includes limonene, cineol, terpineol and terpinene. (1) Studies from Saudi Arabia have demonstrated that the essential oil has anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties. (2) Over years in practice I have observed that cardamom is highly effective as an antispasmodic, relieving muscle pain and spasm throughout the body.
One of my favourite recipes using cardamom pods is a deliciously warming tea which I drink regularly in the winter to keep me warm and ward off colds, coughs and flu. Take:
4 cardamom pods
4 black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick
a few slices of fresh ginger
Place all ingredients in 1 pint of water, heat to nearly boiling, covered, for 20-30 minutes. Strain. Add a little almond milk or honey. Drink a cupful hot twice a day.
The next time you need a pick-me-up, don't automatically reach for that dietary crutch. Instead, try a natural stimulant, like a quick walk in the sunshine, some deep breaths of fresh air, or your favorite yoga pose (my favorite is handstand or downward dog. These are parasympathetic poses and will wake you up fast.
Your favorite breath technique (pranayama) can also help oxygenate—and wake up—your body and mind. Pranayama is the formal practice of controlling the breath, lies at the heart of yoga. It has a mysterious power to soothe and revitalize a tired body, a flagging spirit, or a wild mind. The ancient sages taught that prana, the vital force circulating through us, can be cultivated and channeled through a panoply of breathing exercises. In the process, the mind is calmed, rejuvenated, and uplifted. Pranayama serves as an important bridge between the outward, active practices of yoga--like asana--and the internal, surrendering practices that lead us into deeper states of meditation. Click on the above links for popular practices.
~~~ Partly borrowed with love from www.elephantjournal.com
The Blessed Yoga Studio was brought into being by the two loves of my life: my partner and my love of spiritual spaces. The beginnings have been quite humble, when, after a period of studying and practicing on my own around Sedona, (with the hope of creating a home for Ashtanga Yoga... where people could develop their practice in the town,) I began by teaching a friend or two at their homes or in the wilderness of Sedona.
Over and over I was told by my fellow yogis how they desired a place to practice yoga outside their own home that was still private and special like our one on one sessions tended to be... A place away from the distractions made by pets, children, cell phones or pending chores. With a growing number of enthusiastic practitioners, I started to play with the idea of opening my own studio, which would foster the growing Ashtanga/Vinyasa community in Sedona. While searching for the ideal location, an auspicious moment occurred when I walked into the lower level of my split level home one gorgeous early morning. Climbing the stairs down to the bottom floor, I was greeted by the familiar scent of incense burning in my office, and realized that this room constantly draws me into its soft embrace. When I first walked into the room of this original space, it was warm, with a window in the front that was facing the sunrise as it came up over Sedona. I knelt down in front of the window, taking it all in. Before long I realized I’d found my place. This location, so far the original Blessed Yoga Studio, was little more than a one-room studio, with a bathroom to provide change rooms and a closet to put yoga equipment. But with tender loving care I am slowly creating a space filled with quiet love, Prana and early morning sunrises that take your breath away. Over time, my sweetheart Mike and I have created a backyard oasis and have made the final decisions in regards to the renovation of the whole lower level of our home. We are basically knocking out closets, walls, adding a fireplace, french doors that span two walls that face out both east and south, a private entrance and patio, access to the garden, hardwood floors, mirrors and a yoga/ayurveda library... additional lush plants, hammocks, pillows and alter will be the final touches.
My goal is to provide to others the space they have always wanted in their own homes. A space that they can come to at any time, just to be. To practice with me or on their own. To read and study yoga books, or just talk to a friend.
I hope that over the next three years, Sedona's Blessed Yoga and the space we create together will establish itself as the place to practice yoga in Sedona when you need to just "get away", "drop out" and come back to yourself. I’m confident that with time, the need for a larger studio may become necessary, and at that time I will take a walk along 89A and most likely come upon the space for our next Blessed Yoga Studio.
Until then, Sedona's Blessed Yoga seeks to connect with all those interested in enhancing their lives through yoga in a space they built themselves. From the ground up, with their beautiful presence, love, mantra, prana and grace.
Love is the essence of our life. I have written this blog with love, and I offer it to you, dear reader, with the hope that the suggestions offered here will become a vital part of your self-healing and continued well-being.
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