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Birthday Wishes

It’s always kind of interesting to receive digital salutations expressing the ‘Happiest of Birthday’. I prefer a person-to-person connection, but regardless of the forum, I always appreciate the love shown me when people remember and honour this date in history, including the many of my online wishes.

Here is a favourite email felicitation that brings a smile to my face, from my Airstream Forum group. I can’t help but think about why I love the dreamy lifestyle we lead and my lust for all things aluminum:

hb Birthday WishesHappy Birthday from your friends at AirForums; we wish you all the best in the year to come.
May your aluminum be leak free and shiny.
May your tires be round and always properly inflated and
May your days be filled with the exquisite pleasure of new adventures, fabulous destinations and excellent friendship.

Going Deeper

DSC 3650 Going Deeper‘Going Deeper’ is a focused Meditation Retreat at the Mount Madonna Center that begins for us today. Officially it began on Friday night but we were uprooted from the full experience by full paying customers who registered last minute. I was quite disappointed, but am grateful to at least experience part of the process. What exactly is this retreat, you might ask?

meditation Going DeeperA small group of around 25 participants are set in seclusion for 4 days, embarking on a personal journey that invokes a deeper level of meditation and purification practice. To help calm the mind and allow it to turn inward, the staff incorporate a light diet of pure foods alongside a variety of purification practices, an observance of silence, and a meditative cave-like atmosphere of seclusion, all designed for inner reflection. A number of hours each morning and afternoon will be devoted to prescribed meditations, breathing exercises (Pranayama) and practice of asana in the tradition of Ashtanga Yoga as taught by Baba Hari Dass. Time for reflection and study, spiritual stories, rituals, chanting of mantra and other devotional practices are also part of this special retreat.

Lotus Flower Inspiration

All of us, children and adults, are beautiful flowers. Our eyelids are exactly like rose petals, especially when our eyes are closed. Our ears are like morning glories listening to the sound of birds. Our lips form a beautiful flower every time we smile. And our two hands are a lotus flower with five petals. The practice is to keep our “flowerness” alive and present, not just for our own benefit but for the happiness of everyone.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh

 Lotus Flower InspirationSince coming to Mount Madonna, my education on the finer things of all things yoga (think Ashtanga Yoga and its eight limbs — we’re not just talking asana) has multiplied beyond my wildest perceptions. My meditation and pranayama practice has lovingly developed to an almost daily tradition that allows for a deepening of clarity and vibration in my life. It’s indeed beautiful and awakening in its energetic magnitude. In our weekly classes, I have learned so much more about the art of yogic breathing, the ability to go inwards, the energetic properties of prana (life force & vitality) which flows through each of us, the chakras and so much more.

Chakras Lotus Flower InspirationWith learning more about the chakras, as they are associated with our pranayama meditations, the imagery of a lotus flower (Nelumbo nucifera) comes up quite often. When we are taught about of the chakras, the lotus is visualised as seated on the crown (Sahasrara) in a subtle form of a thousand petaled lotus that opens upwards to receive divine cosmic energy. Also, it is typical for chakras to be depicted as either flower-like or wheel-like. I was truly curious about the symbolism of this flower. And so began my research. According to Wikipedia.org, in Buddhist symbolism, the lotus represents purity of the body, speech, and mind as if floating above the muddy waters of attachment and desire, and is a symbol of wisdom and purity. According to legend, Gautama Buddha was born with the ability to walk, and lotus flowers bloomed everywhere he stepped. The lotus flower grows from the bottom of streams and muddy ponds to rise above the water, opening when the sun rises and closing when the sun sets, sinking below the muddy water, resurfacing the next day, untouched and unsoiled.

Lotus2 Lotus Flower InspirationFrom this interesting blog, the author states that the eight petals of the flower could be taken to signify the eight noble paths. The white coloured lotus stands for mental purity and spiritual perfection, the red for purity of heart, love and compassion, the blue for wisdom, and the pink lotus is often considered as the supreme lotus reserved for the most exalted deity. This behaviour of the flower is a metaphor for the mind … without spiritual knowledge, the mind withdraws its beauty and form; with sadhana, the mind blossoms with illumination. Overall, the lotus flower is an archetypal symbol of the evolutionary potential and sacred development of each human being, signifying purity of consciousness and the journey of transformation from ignorance to awakening. The ‘Enlightened Yogi’ lives like a lotus flower, being fully grounded in earth yet aspiring towards the divine.

Goddess Lakshmi Lotus Flower InspirationIn Sanskrit the word for lotus is padma पद्म. The lotus posture (Padmasana) takes its name from the position of the feet and legs, representing the petals of the lotus flower. This asana helps to open the hips, strengthen the back, and increases flexibility of the knees. Padmasana (Pronunciation: pad-mah-sa-na) is also used as a base for meditation, chanting, and pranayama as the pose creates a natural balance throughout the body / mind, facilitating relaxation, concentration and ultimately, meditation. I however beg to differ when sitting in lotus pose for any length of time. In doing full lotus for any length of time, my knees and hips both start to ache with raw pains shooting through my legs. Luckily, there are a few variations …

  1. Ardha padma-asana or half lotus posture (ardha means half) is where one foot is placed on top of the thigh and the other is placed under the opposite thigh (full Padmasana places both feet on the thighs). When I sit in this posture, I must periodically alternate my position so that I get an equal stretch in both knees, as it is a “two-sided pose”.
  2. When full or half lotus is not comfortably available to a person, one can practice baddha kona-asana (bound angle pose).

Kitchari, some afterthoughts

love mb Kitchari, some afterthoughtsIt’s been a few days since breaking my cleanse. And as my friend Paul has quoted, “As much as fasting [and cleansing] can be a spiritual practice, so can eating.” I am finding myself so incredibly ravenous, trying to make up for lost time, it seems! It’s not that I limited myself on how much kitchari I could eat, but I found out that I only wanted to eat a certain amount, and large amounts of one item didn’t appeal to me. I’m kinda burnt out on eating kitchari (at least the one way that we were prescribed to make it) ….. what a shame, as I used to love and adore it so much. Maybe this too will pass. Additionally, I’m hoping that my unlimited hunger becomes sated :).

As an afterthought, I have totally been grooving on sprouting my mung beans and eating them with my rice breakfast cereal. YummY!

Om Namah Shivaya

omnamah Om Namah ShivayaI was curious about the Sanskrit Translation for Hara Hara Mahadev, as it was commonly used around Shivaratri and in literature about the event.

Hara Hara Hara Mahadev Om Namah Shivaya Namah Shivaya

An approximate translation would be: Two of the names of Lord Shiva, which invoke His energy as the great God and destroyer of darkness. Om, I bow to Shiva.

DSC 4317 Om Namah ShivayaFrom the translation website proz.com: “Ohm Namah Shivaya” is one of the most powerful of Sanskrit mantras. These phrases are designed to create a transformation in consciousness. This mantra begins with the primordial sound ‘Om’, which is a mystic syllable, considered the most sacred of all mantras. “Namah” means “to bow” or “to honour”. In Hinduism, Shiva is that aspect of the Divine which breaks down or brings to a close the creative cycle. The mantra may be experienced as an appeal to God as the destroyer of our illusion and ignorance that stands in the way of perfect union.

From my very basic understanding, ‘Om’ is the sound the universe made when it came into creation. It is the merging of everything into one, an energetic vibration that contains all sounds. The About.com article on ‘Om’ explains that ‘Om’ is actually made up of three syllables: “It is made up of three Sanskrit letters, aa, au and ma which, when combined together, make the sound Aum or Om.”

When I first started yoga, we would sometimes chant ‘Om’ in our yoga classes. I had no idea as to what the meaning was behind this mystical vibrational incantation was all about. It appeared to be a ritualistic ceremonial offering that everyone seemed to understand but me.

AAaauuuuummmmm …. Do you ever chant om? What does it do for / mean to you?

Maha Shivaratri

DSC 4238 Maha ShivaratriDSC 4283 Maha ShivaratriMaha Shivratri (Sanskrit: महाशिवरात्रि),is a Hindu festival celebrated every year in reverence of the Hindu deity Lord Shiva who represents the Pure Conscious Principle. Shivaratri literally means the great night of Shiva or the night of Shiva; Shiva literally means “auspicious” and as Shankara, he is the giver of happiness and the god who destroys evil. This year, Shivaratri will be celebrated on Sunday, the 19th of February into Monday, the 20th. The program begins on the morning of the 19th with the ritualistic creation of 1008 Shiva Lingams (a Shiva Lingam is symbolic of the creative power of the universe. It denotes the truth that God does not have any definite form). At sunset the community continues their vigil: chanting kirtan to Shiva and performing ritual throughout the night in the Community Building. The closing ritual ends just before dawn.  Offerings are then carried to the Hanuman Temple for Arati, and finally to the Newt Pond where the offerings and participants submerge into the cleansing waters.

DSC 4289 Maha ShivaratriTraditionally Shivaratri is observed on the lunar fortnight, when the moon is waning, in the western month of February or March. This particular night is considered a time of consecration and dedication, which can result in the mind’s illumination. The festival is principally celebrated by a multitude of offerings to Lord Shiva, with all day fasting by those participating in the ritual circles and an all night long vigil by those who wished to celebrate in Shiva’s name.

Kirtan played the biggest part of the evening with Puja and Yajna ceremonies intermingled between the kirtan marathon sessions. The holy mantra most commonly chanted throughout the evening {with many different artists offering their renditions and blessings} consisted of five-syllables: “Na” “Ma” “Shi” “Vaa” “Ya” (Om NamaH Shivaaya) in praise of Lord Shiva. Nataraja (the king of dancers) is a favourite form adored by dancers and musicians.
An example of one of the evening’s mantras:

Sanskrit Wording:
shiv hymn1 Maha Shivaratri

English Meaning:
At dawn I contemplate on Shiva, the God of gods, the remover of the fear of transmigration, who holds the Gangã in his locks, and rides a bull, the Lord of Ambicã (the Divine Mother), the wielder of the club and spear (in two of his hands) and with the other two offering boon and protection and who is the one infallible remedy for the afflictions of relative existence (Samsãra).

Breaking the Cleanse

karmacleanse Breaking the CleanseUp until today, working in the kitchen and eating meals within the community has been a valuable test of my will and austerity. For example, witnessing and smelling the decadence of a creamy chocolate cake being prepared and decorated was the ultimate in divine temptation. But I have remained true to my cleanse, only consuming kitchari over the past 5 days. This morning, I helped to prepare Sunday morning breakfast and found the time to make my own kitchari with time left to ponder and relax. One thing that the cleanse has offered me is clarity in vision, and the ability to fine tune whatever task I have been handed. That’s been a superior benefit to this daily routine that I’ve been witness to! With Shivaratri festivities starting today, several ceremonial rituals involved a fasting regiment for at least 18 hours. I have wanted to participate in all 3 ceremonies but that would have meant starting my fast last night. And there was no way that I had the physical stamina or willpower to do without food for 36 hours. I needed sustenance beyond a liquid diet, after 5 days of a mono-cleanse that left me wanting for ‘normal foods’ and a routine of nutritional variety and sustenance. So instead, I have decided to eat my kitchari with the addition of steamed vegetables for breakfast. At 10am, I would start my fasting!

The best foods to eat after a colon cleanse are fresh raw / cooked fruits and vegetables, vegetable broths, well-cooked whole grains, nuts & eggs and lots of water. Alcohol, fried foods and processed foods should be avoided at all costs. Alcohol is not an issue as no alcohol is allowed at Mount Madonna. Fried foods I tend to stay away from. Chocolate and processed foods: a bit more of a challenge. However, today I stayed true to a fasting ritual: I incorporated a drink of homemade yogurt and rice milk to my liquid fast today. However, in the evening, my tummy was bloated. At first I thought it might be the dairy, but my co-cleanse partner Annie thinks it might be the rice milk and the processed oils contained in it. Regardless, I am taming the shrew and cutting back on my Lassi drink (my tongue is super coated with a thick white mucus = perhaps a dairy intolerance??).

Here’s a couple of Lassi recipes from the website Ayurvedic Yogi that I didn’t have access to a blender to follow, but will be making in the future!

lassi 300x250 Breaking the CleanseLassi

Aids digestion at end of meal as increases Pitta. Blend 2 cups of water with ½ cup plain yogurt, skim off the fat that rises to the surface, add 2 pinches of ginger and cumin powder. For Vata types, add a little rock salt; for Pitta types a little jaggery; for Kapha types a little dried ginger powder and black pepper.  Or try:

  • Pachak Lassi: Add 1 inch of fresh ginger, ½ teaspoon cumin seeds / powder, pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon chopped coriander to garnish. Balances all doshas.
  • Spicy Lassi: 2 tablespoons sugar, (or less) ½ teaspoon fresh, grated ginger or ¼ tsp. Dry ginger, ½ teaspoon ground cardamom. Good for all doshas.
  • Sweet lassi: 2 tablespoons sugar, 1 drop of rosewater.

Day 8: Final Day of Cleanse

DSC 4216 Day 8: Final Day of CleanseDSC 4215 Day 8: Final Day of CleanseI’m finding myself in a unique situation right now. I have been successfully diligent and fastidious in determination on and commitment to this 9 day cleanse. Today is Day 8 and tomorrow we are supposed to break our cleanse gently by consuming kitchari with vegetables. However, with this being Shiva Ratri at Mount Madonna, in order to participate in some of the ritual offerings (on a volunteer basis of course), one must fast for at least 18 if not 24 hours before the ceremony. The Lingam-making ceremony starts tomorrow at 9am and carries on for 3 hours, and participation in the making of the Lingams requires a fast to start from 12 noon. Yes, that would be right now! Hmmm, I am not so certain as to whether fasting on my final day of a cleanse is a good idea?

The advice out there is that the best foods to eat after a colon cleanse (which this cleanse literally is) are fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lots of water. It’s strongly advised that one should avoid alcohol, fried foods and processed foods at all costs (yes, that would include sugar and chocolate, oh my!). The rule of thumb is that it’s very wise to be gentle to the body after a colon cleanse, slowly introducing certain foods to the system. Not listening to this advice would send my digestive system and liver in to sensory and task overload. If I were to fast on the final day: who knows what might happen. That info is not provided in the book nor anywhere that I could find on the interweb. However, there are many benefits to fasting, a major one being preventive health care. Personally, I feel magnificent after 8 days! At times, a little bit tired and as the day has progressed, quite hungry. Yet I feel light-hearted, light in body and clear in vision and desire. So in the end, I have decided to break my cleanse early on the final cleanse day with a fast. This gives me an opportunity to participate in the full ceremonial rituals of Shiva Ratri.

Sidenote: As the day progressed, I realized that fasting for 48 hours on liquid alone would be too difficult after a 8 day cleanse. My hunger was overpowering by dinner time, even if I could only eat kitchari. I needed nourishment and sustenance. So I eliminated the idea of the ceremonial making of 1008 Lingams and followed my intuition on what my body needed. Regardless of what opinions I had read or been given, the end result for me lay in the importance of hearing what my body had to tell me. And I am grateful for having that ability to listen to and follow my instinctual body signals. A blessing indeed!

DSC 4292 Day 8: Final Day of Cleanse

Leaving the Bubble

DSC 3314 Leaving the BubbleDSC 3329 Leaving the BubbleFor the first time in 3 weeks, we left the Mount Madonna retreat to go in to town. What a revelation! Life all of a sudden became hectic, and the beauty of nature discovered in the Redwoods felt extremely distant. However, acclimatizing myself to life off the mountain is good thing. I thoroughly enjoyed our visit to Santa Cruz, stocking up on yummy organic chocolate from Trader Joe’s while also stocking up on Kombucha (I have a love affair with GT Dave’s Kombucha). We then made a glorious visit to the beach, following in our tradition to touch the ocean whenever possible. But alas our return to MMC and the Redwood Forest was even more splendid. A homecoming of sorts to the ideals, values and nature we have grown to cherish.

DSC 3650 Leaving the Bubble

Day 3: Ayurvedic Cleanse

So far, it has been pretty easy for me to just eat gentle foods that complement my dosha constitution. Rice, potatoes, vegetables, nuts and seeds, fruit. For the past three days, there have been so many choices without feeling like I’m lacking or doing without. Tomorrow however begins 5 days of pure kitchari consumption. No sugars, no enhancements, no extras. Just specific agni / fire-inducing spices, ghee, white rice and mung dal all cooked up into a lovely porridge mixture known as kitchari. The Kitchari Diet is highly observed as a mono-diet during Panchakarma (Ayurvedic Detox and Rejuvenation). As defined on the Ayurvedic website: ‘MichiMagic‘, Panchakarma literally means “five actions.” Five actions to cleanse, rejuvenate and balance body, mind and consciousness. Ayurveda recommends performing these procedures for each change of season, which is very beneficial for overall health, wellness and self-healing. Although it’s not a change of season right now (Spring is a mere 1 month away!), the timing of the cleanse is impeccable with Shiva Ratri being the ending day of our cleanse and with a support group of 3 others accompanying me along this journey. I love the idea of cleansing, of purification rituals, going to the Ganges, meditation and pranayama, taking a hot bath or sauna — anything detoxifying through a non-energetic means of sweating (cleanses take enough energy as it is). All of these methods have powerful psychological, religious and spiritual meanings. And in turn, a very positive effect on health. Other benefits of a cleanse? Clarity of thought, an invokation of peacefulness and lightness. Also, for many ancient cultures, fasting has helped people “lighten up” after a long winter, shedding any extra winter fat layer that has provided warmth. With us being in California, we really haven’t experienced a hard long cold winter such as I have experienced in the past, coming from Canada. Also, having just taken a course of antibiotics to clear up the remnants of my whooping cough, in addition to my 5 week bout of flu and low energy, a detox of sorts seemed to be a good thing for me to do right now, even thought it’s not a transition of season (when a typical cleanse is done). Spring is only a month away (!!!) and the timing of such an event is austerity at its finest. I’ve done quite a bit of research on different Kitchari recipes. But they all state pretty much the same thing about an Ayurvedic cleanse: the simpler the recipe’s constitution, the better for ones digestion. A mono-diet is defined as a diet that consists of only one type of food. This enables a cleansing effects on the intestinal tract because the mono-diet is easy on ones digestion. A mono meal is very nutritious, and supposedly one can not overeat on a mono meal because ones taste will change to slightly sour when feeling satisfied and full.

kitchari Day 3: Ayurvedic CleanseMy Proposed Daily Kitchari Recipe (Mungbeans and Rice)

  • approx. 5 cups water
  • 1 cup split mung beans (aka mung dal), sorted and rinsed well or sprouted whole mung beans
  • 1 1/4 cups basmati rice, sorted and rinsed well
  • 2″ piece gingerroot, peeled and finely chopped / grated
  • 2 teaspoons turmeric
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seed
  • 1 teaspoon ground or seed cumin (or both!)
  • 1 teaspoon ground or seed coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground or seed fennel
  • pinch of sea salt
  • chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/8 teaspoon of asafoetida (this spice is used as a digestive aid, also known as ‘Hing’)
  • 2 tablespoons butter or ghee
  1. Wash the mung dal and rice until water is clear. Soaking the dal for a few hours, overnight or sprouting for a few days helps with digestibility.
  2. Bring water to boil in a 6-quart soup pot. Add whole sprouted mung beans and cook at a light boil, uncovered. {If using split mung beans, pre-soak the beans for 4-6 hours and skip this first step. Add soaked beans to the ghee mixture with the rice (see step 5).}
  3. Melt ghee, add turmeric and fry mustard seeds (plus any additional seeds used) until they start popping.
  4. Add other spices and simmer on medium heat for 2 minutes. Watch and stir so that spices don’t burn.
  5. Add rice and stir fry for about a minute.
  6. When beans begin to split open, add rice and spice mixture {skip this step if using split mung beans}.
  7. Cook 20-25 minutes over medium-high flame, stirring occasionally, and more as it thickens.
  8. Remove from heat, add fresh cilantro and let it sit another 15 minutes (it will thicken up a little more like a hearty stew).