Fighting Hidden Demons

I’m really not sure what’s up with my body. ūüôĀ I usually never get sick, and if I do, it’s usually fleeting and somewhat restrained. ¬†Five weeks ago, I started to get the flu, and it hit me HARD for 3.5¬†solid straight weeks. The first week, neither slaDE nor myself got much sleep with my fits of hacking and constant waking. I still have a lingering wicked annoying cough (thankfully all the phlegm has dried up) and I am SERIOUSLY tired all the time. I’m¬†napping¬†where I can and getting 8 hours of sleep a night. Maybe I need more cardio? Never a bad thing. But with being so tired, it’s hard to get motivated. And with these 5:30am morning starts, I’m challenged but sticking with our routine of 2 hours of daily yoga, meditation and pranayama. Could it be mono, whooping cough, iron deficiency, pneumonia? I’m hoping to see a doctor in the next week. I can’t take all this tiredness and perpetual coughing accompanied by a squeaky¬†voice. I haven’t wanted to resort to antibiotics, so I’ve been stocking up on my Ayurvedic medicine as well as echinacea, astragalus,¬†turmeric, golden seal and other immune fighting herbs. Can’t seem to get much done. Blah …. ūüôĀ

Tantra Sadhana

mudraToday is our precious day off from our hectic volunteer schedules here at Mount Madonna. Getting up at 5:30am for our daily yoga, meditation and pranayama session has been difficult at times and really challenging, especially as we both have diligently practiced Dinacharya each morning prior to our 2 hour morning yoga class. This morning we instead chose to arise at 4am as we were asked to participate in a Tantra Sadhana practice. On Thursday morning, Amita (the teacher and first female Puja Priestess here at the Center) asked slaDE and I if we practiced the 3 bandhas (interior Body Locks used in Yoga РJalandhara Bandha {Throat Lock}, Mula Bandha {Root Lock} and Uddiyana Bandha {an Upward Abdominal Lock}), and if we had practiced it consistently over a 3 month period. As I had learned about the bandhas when I first learned Ashtanga Yoga asana in India 6 years ago, I have regularly used at least 2 of the bandhas in my practice (Jalandhara not so much). This was one of the desired requirements for participating in their Tantra Sadhana ceremony as taught by Baba Hari Dass at MMC. slaDE has lesser experience with using the bandhas in his practice, but as they needed a 7th couple, we were both invited in to the circle. Those undergoing their YTT 500 (yoga teacher training) were especially encouraged to join in this sadhana (a spiritual practice). From the email we received, these were the prerequisites:

Requirements are:

  • a working knowledge of the 24 hand mudras preceding¬†meditation and the 8 following meditation;
  • intermediate pranayama¬†practices (including Bhastrika, Sahit Kumbhaka, and the Maha Mudra¬†series);
  • intermediate asana with some breath retention (modifications¬†will be given);
  • and the ability to comfortably sit for roughly 2-3¬†hours, staying in the circle for the entirety of the practice.

In order to move forward with this practice, we need, but are not limited to, 7 couples: 7 men and 7 women. Gender difference is the only stipulation to create a couple; you need not be connected romantically to form a pairing.

We were delighted at the prospect of particpating in such a spiritual practice reserved for the community members who were longer residents, practitioners and residents here at MMC. What an experience this would be, we thought. Truly I had NO idea. Prior to this morning, slaDE and I practiced the hand mudras as taught by Babaji.¬†The 3 hour ritual was an amazing ceremony that¬†invoked a pinnacle of male and female energies. Couples were placed in one big circle, reflecting an infinite wheel / the 6 chakras. The 7th pair were the facilitators and the altar, seated in the centre of the circle. There were beautiful observances of prayer, meditation, asana and advanced pranayama over the entire span of 3 hours. It was incredibly powerful, deeply moving and challenging at times (especially knowing that I couldn’t¬†fidget¬†or move from the room … I’m was born restless :)).

The Maha Mudras explained:

Jalandhara Bandha {Throat Lock}

  • a Bandha for your throat, the throat chakra and the thyroid gland, stimulating blood flow and letting you breathe freely

 Mula Bandha{Root Lock}

  • stimulates your nervous system while moving muscles consciously that you have never moved before

Uddiyana Bandha {an Upward Abdominal Lock}

  • better digestion, no sexual problems, self-esteem and a healthy blood flow are only a few benefits of this very effective pose

The Rain’s Entrance

rainfallThe rain has finally come. Two months of no rain had¬†cultivated¬†a sense of worry regarding the water table levels . Conservation of the precious H2O here on the mountain has been a fervent plea expressed through the weekly web newsletter and with educational signs postered everywhere water is used (whether it be in the bathrooms, kitchen, dining halls, garden, etc),¬†available¬†to all those living and retreating here. For me, conservation at MMC is no different than living in an rV, where limited water stores is very much an issue (especially when boondocking). I’m grateful to have this rV experience behind me, as this helps me to be super conscious of my own usage, assisting and educating others, if the opportunity arises. The Mount Madonna Center (MMC) moves towards its sustainability goals by implementing improvements in water conservation by asking those on the mountain to:

  • Limit showers to 3 minutes
  • Turn faucets off in between tasks
  • Flush toilets only when necessary
  • Use the outhouses whenever possible

Additionally,

  • All water used comes from the property.
  • Rainwater runoff is collected seasonally in three lakes for firefighting, agriculture, and recreation.
  • On-site wells provide for drinking water and domestic water use.
  • All toilets and showers heads are low flow.
  • Treated grey water from the Conference Center and Mount Madonna School is re-used for¬†watering of the garden and landscape plants.
  • Grey water from many of our other buildings is returned back to the ecosystem after treatment via septic systems and leach fields.

morning gloryI am thoroughly impressed and in awe at the environmental policy steps that MMC has set in place to encourage and practice resource conservation. Clean  water is so precious, and not available to all on our planet. The Mount Madonna Center provides an amazing model as to what a community can achieve with thoughtful diligence and proactive steps towards a healthier better planet.

Reap What You Sew

reap what you sewSowing in the garden MMCI’m not certain when it happened but I have always loved to sew. Perhaps I developed the love in high school home economics? Not really certain, but what I do know is that, if I ever have access to a sewing machine (not very often with travelling so much), I find a project or two or four to work on. Today was such a day. Several weeks ago, I found 2 pairs of yoga pants in the ‘Free Box’ outside of our Community Building. It’s a really cool feature here at the Center with often times really cool finds and discoveries. The pants I stumbled upon were way too big but I made do by using elastic bands at the waist to cinch them up. I was tired of the bands bulking up everything I wore so I discovered a sewing machine here in the Costume Department. Giraji, the owner of said machine, was generous to offer it to me at any time that I sew chose. Very cool! For 3 hours I spent cutting and sewing (I even tightened up my favourite old pair of Lululemon pants which meant cutting them after my mending job — eek!), getting lost in my projects and almost missing dinner. Prior to that I went for an amazing hour walk getting lost in the Redwood Forest followed by a haunt through the garden in search of some lovely flowers. What an amazingly creative and beautiful day. One of my best here on the property yet!

In the Garden of Plenty

MMC gardenToday was a day filled with wonder, weariness and a certain emotional level of self-discovery and challenge. A family member went in for a surgical procedure that had my senses wound up and on the brink of tears and worry. I was wishing that I could have physically been there to support them through their process. Thankfully though, they have a huge life and love-force there to guide them through the next difficult few months whilst I am here with my beloved husband at MMC.

In my work service today, I spent several hours weeding through the magical garden that exists here at the Center. It is filled with vibrant yields of organic produce and flowers that, although off-season, still amaze me at their splendour and plenty (such a foreign concept: growing vegetables + flowers through the winter — outside of a greenhouse). With todays crew of 7 individuals, we were able to clear away a weed laden area that would be re-purposed as an additional growing area. Within a two hour time span, a large plot of wild overgrowth was cleared and opened, transforming it in to an enchanting new space of fertile availability. Interwoven in the mix were some herbs that I had never seen before beyond a herb book: mullein, foxglove, wild chamomile and milk thistle. I am not very proficient with learning names, especially that of the botanical kind (sort of like trying to learn the Sanskrit names of people within this community — foreign with no real context to relate them to). But I will take it slow and learn what I can, even if it means pestering people to repeat the names over and over again.

Within my 4 hour kitchen shift, I learned some interesting tidbits. One being that they use neither garlic nor onions in the kitchen. I can’t imagine¬†eliminating¬†those items from my¬†vegetarian¬†cooking diet as they’re usually a big part of my regiment in food prep. But as it happens here, those types of foods are suited to a specific Ayurvedic dosha, so the food preppers eliminate these items from the community diet. Same goes for spices or hot sauces. However the latter are provided as additional condiments. Garlic and onions are not. I actually miss them, to be honest! Secondly, I learned a neat tasty trick for preparing delicious mashed potatoes without Dairy. When mixing the potatoes, add Quinoa to thicken and intensify the protein and nutritional content of the mash. It is an incredibly yummy vegan option that I intend to try once I get back to cooking for us on a regular basic. Yummy! All in all a lovely day intermixed with the strong influence of meditative practices to bring an easier¬†equilibrium¬†to my internally wound emotions and senses. Life here on the mountain is proving to slowly bring evolving positive changes. Me likey …

Om Away From Home

Coming to California for a three month yoga retreat, residing on the hilltops well above Santa Cruz at Mount Madonna in the midst of the Redwoods, was a no-brainer once I put aside my hopes and fears for winter 2011. I was totally expecting to find myself lapping up the yoga asana lifestyle and community with outright abandon and vigour. The biggest of my intentions was to establish a daily yoga practice for each day here on the mountain. Little did I expect to find here: a greater depth of yoga understanding beyond the practise of asana. Asana is but only 1 of the 8 limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. Both meditation and pranayama practices are strongly favoured as part of Babaji’s integral yoga teachings here at MMC. To experience a new appreciation for and awareness of the different methodologies that make up yoga’s 8 limbs is a really amazing process and journey. All this as we come in to our second week here. The next 3 months is going to be fabulous!

The Eight Limbs of Yoga {Ashtanga}

Compiled by Maharishi Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, the Eight Limbs of Yoga are established as a progressive series of steps or disciplines which purify the body and mind, ultimately leading the Yogi (one who practices Yoga) to enlightenment. While the physical part of yoga is certainly of significance, it is only one of the eight conventional limbs of Yoga practice, all of which have meditation of God as their rationale.
These are the eight limbs of the complete yoga system as found in the famous Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.

  1. Yama – Moral observances for interactions with others
  2. Niyama – Moral observances for interactions with yourself
  3. Asana – Postures
  4. Pranayama – Breathing
  5. Pratyahara – Sensory inhibition
  6. Dharana – Focus
  7. Dhyana – Meditation
  8. Samadhi – Blissful absorption of one’s individual consciousness in the essence of God.

Being Present in the Prep

menuDang, I almost cut my left thumb off in my first full-on kitchen shift today. I’m quickly discovering that chatting up a storm with my kitchen prep-mates while simultaneously cutting the greens is not a smart idea. I became a bit too involved in my skydiving conversation and wasn’t giving my immediate full attention to the task of vegetable chopping for the simple soup de jour.

This has turned out to be a very good lesson in being present, especially when working with sharp utensils! I know it’s hard to be on 100% of the time, but sometimes, I just have to prioritize what’s important and what is secondary.

Lesson #2: wash all vegetables before or after prep! You just never know what has graced the presence of your raw food (like blood and finger bits).¬†Another title for this blog post could be:¬†Finger Slicing Good Times. ūüôā

Service at the Community Level

serviceThe Mount Madonna Center is a conference and retreat centre for those looking to get away and pursue workshops and programs set out within the confines of a gorgeous setting and property. For us, within the community that supports the centre, our assistance is within the context of selfless service. Living with the guidelines of karma yoga has allowed this community to peacefully grow at an astounding rate, since the beginnings of MMC back in the 80s. Although there is plenty of opportunity for personal time and growth, the intent behind this residential service learning program that we have both volunteered for is to live within an intentional yoga community, with service as a primary goal.

Depending on the Center’s needs, the daily tasks include housekeeping, event set-up, kitchen prep, dishes, recycling, general maintenance, gardening and landscaping. Today was my first real day of work within the kitchen. I’ve had 2 previous kitchen shifts, but both times, I was turned away and told to rest whilst this wicked bug has overwhelmed my body for the past 2 weeks. I am so grateful to feel better, despite the cough that continues to wreak havoc on my sleep patterns and vocal chords. Up for the challenge, I was allowed access to my kitchen duty where I spent my shortened shift chopping up swiss chard for both the simple soup and today’s soup du jour (tomato). From my perspective, it’s interesting to note how the intent behind doing certain food prep tasks allows, for me, a greater appreciation for the sustenance which ends up on my plate. The vegetables and food here are plentiful and organic, most locally sourced and prepared with abundant love. Today’s swiss chard was grown at the base of our mountain in a town named Watsonville. I was saying to slaDE that the food here at MMC, over the next 3 months, would probably be the most healthful and ecologically friendly choices ever to have graced our lives. It’s truly bounteous and amazing! I am feeling very nourished and blessed … so much for losing weight whilst here :). I’ll have to cut way back on the quantities (buffet style with 3 full meals a day lends itself to overeating on my part), weaning myself off the freshly baked breads and bounteous selection of nuts and high-fat munchables. At least I’ve been diligent with my daily yoga and dinacharya practice!

One full week

BabajislaDE and I have been at the Mount Madonna Center for one full week. So far the time on the mountain has given me a chance to:

  • become evermore curious about Baba Hari Das (a silent monk) and this exciting community that he has built here at Mount Madonna;
  • recognize familiar faces and associate the names behind the friendly features {many community members have chosen Sanskrit names — not an easy task to remember them all, let alone pronounce people’s chosen moniker);
  • discover the vegetarian menu as it unfolds (there seems to be a cyclical and rotational consistency to the menu with moments of surprise and awe thrown in);
  • develop a beautiful routine within these amazing surroundings ~ daily walks in the Redwood forests, a consistent yoga practise, evening visits to the magical garden, etc.;
  • feel comfortable and safe within this spiritual and yogic community.

menuI love that this communal environment, so far, has given me an incredible amount of space and flexibility to discover / accomplish whatever it is I have come to MMC to do (whatever that may be! I’m still assimilating and digesting this new reality). I’m learning such a wealth of information about the history and philosophical principals of Ashtanga yoga within our weekly gatherings, and at the same time, I’m flourishing within my own spirituality, exploring on so many levels, beyond the schedule of my volunteer tasks. Karma yoga in it’s most beautiful form!

Since finding the strength to participate in the early morning Pranayama classes, I haven’t missed a beat with my daily yoga and dinacharya session. This is such a fabulous fresh start to a new year. Not that I made a resolution as such, but rather, I wanted to give the full-on experience of this lifestyle a dedicated effort with supreme love, attention and devotion. I must admit, it’s been good for me, despite my continued and petulant flu / cold sickness. This nasty bug persists unrelentingly despite my daily efforts of Ayurvedic attention and nurturing. Time to be at peace with what is and know that I am doing my best to quell the beast within my body :). Hopefully it won’t drag on for months like it did 3 years ago. If the chesty cough and flemmy goo still lingers on for another week, it’ll be time to schedule a doctor’s visit.

Full Moon Blessings

Here in Northern California, the sun sets later than it does back home. The glowing sunset over the ocean eases into finality around 6pm this time of year. A bonus to have an extra hour of daylight compared to our Toronto friends. Tonight the full moon shone brightly as the darkness settled over the¬†valley. It made for quite the magical walk through the tall redwoods surrounding the Center and the Hanuman Temple. At 6:30am and 6pm each day at Mount Madonna,¬†Aarti is performed¬†in the¬†Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple. As explained on the wikipedia website, “Aarti is¬†a¬†Hindu¬†religious ritual of worship, a part of¬†puja, in which¬†light¬†from wicks soaked in¬†ghee¬†(purified butter) or¬†camphor¬†is offered to one or more¬†deities. Aartis also refer to the songs sung in praise of the deity, when lamps are being offered.¬†Aarti is not only limited to God. Aarti can performed not only to all forms of life, but also inanimate objects which help in progress of the culture.” It’s about a 1/2 hour ceremony that involves chanting, Kirtan, the blessing of a Tilaka,¬†Prasad offerings, and lots of ringing of bells and joyous invocations.”

It was an incredible experience surrounded by the thick smoke of incense. I must admit, the smoke irritated my already angry throat which made for an uncomfortable ceremony at times with hacking coughs to accompany the ringing of bells.