Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Yoga Sadhana and Traditional Vedic Cooking...

The Yoga Sutras say: “Yogas’ citta-vrtti-nirodhah” or as translated by Edwin Bryant, “Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.” Yoga is also commonly defined as the union between individual consciousness and cosmic consciousness, or, you could say between the everyday self, including; our mind, sense organs, emotions, and intellect, and, our deepest true Self. Finally, as stated in the previous post, Yoga is the act of bringing into union our feminine and masculine energies. From a Vedic perspective, all of these ways of understanding Yoga are essentially one. When our mind becomes still, our everyday self, which is both masculine and feminine, experiences integration and wholeness, as it unites with our deepest cosmic self. In this sense, Yoga opens pathways to an awareness of our true nature. As we discover the serenity within, we manifest the potential to unveil and realize the deepest truth of our being.
There are many traditional Yoga practices including Hatha Yoga, Japa Yoga, Nada Yoga, and Raja Yoga charged with thousands of years of practice sustained through transmission from teacher to student. It is a great blessing to learn any Yoga or Vedic science in this manner. For me, learning Vedic cooking in a traditional way has been an indescribable blessing, enabling me to create something extraordinary out of something ordinary. But in many ways, Yoga is not about performing a particular activity, but the sacred art of engaging an activity with focus, devotion, and in alignment with the rhythms of nature, that is, as sadhana.
In Women’s Power to Heal, Maya Tiwari describes sadhana as “the ancient bedrock of nature’s seasons, cycles, rhythms, and sustenance from which Ayurveda sprung.” Affectionately known as Mother Maya, Tiwari says the tradition of Wise Earth Ayurveda teaches the potency of Inner Medicine…the transformation of everyday routines into sacred rituals that awaken our intrinsic forces of healing (12).
I recall learning how to make ghee, kichadi, chutneys, and masalas years ago in a traditional Vedic fashion. Mother Maya taught us from a low table holding a gas stove as we sat in front of her in a meditative posture. I loved the experience of blending meditation with preparing food. It was nurturing and strengthening. I also realize learning these practices in such a way transformed my relationship with cooking. Yoga and meditation teachers often instruct students to practice asanas or meditation everyday in the same space and the same time to benefit from a mind that loves conditioning. In a similar way, learning Vedic cooking as a traditional sadhana guided my mind to absorb the notion that grinding spices, cutting vegetables, and making ghee and kichadi is a form of Yoga.
Cooking is an amazing sacred practice, offering plenty of opportunity to develop focus and concentration through repetition, leading one to a state of tranquility. Since preparing food is part of our everyday lives, we do not necessarily need to take time away from our family and loved ones to practice cooking sadhanas; they naturally flow out of the everyday rhythms of life. Whether caring for children, partners, elderly parents, or other loved ones, transforming cooking into Yoga sadhana creates harmony and community within the home.
With love,

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Yoga of Masala Blending…Unveiling the Magic of Spices!

My favorite Wise Earth Ayurveda cooking sadhana is grinding spices to prepare a seasonal masala (spice blend). When studying with Mother Maya (Maya Tiwari), I learned that according to the Vedic tradition, the mortar represents “Parashakti, the primordial feminine power” and the pestle represents “the lingam, or Parashiva, the masculine force.” I also learned to grind spices in a clockwise rhythmic manner as sadhana while squatting or kneeling on the ground to help ignite a sense of wholeness and contentment.

In The Path of Practice, Swamini Mayatitananda says:

“Spice grinding is more than just a way to make masala. It is meditation in motion—a practice that helps us grow into maturity and splendor…When we grind our spices, we bring our masculine and feminine forces into a state of balance” (313).

In Women’s Power to Heal, Swamini Mayatitananda also reveals that in the Yogachudamani Upanishads it states:

“The purpose of yoga is to unite these two principles so that Shiva and Shakti (feminine principle) become one within the self.”

The idea of Yoga as the union of the masculine and feminine energies is also revealed in this popular image of Lord Siva who is understood as the “Lord of Yoga” in the Vedic or Hindu tradition.

March 15th marks the beginning of spring on the Ayurvedic calendar. This is a great time to blend a fresh seasonal masala to join in the rhythms of spring time. Masalas are not just for Indian inspired dishes, but also add a nice flavor to most Western dishes. Simply add 1 TBSP of your masala early in preparing a dish and allow the spices to simmer with the other ingredients. You can also add some a few minutes before a dish is ready. Preparing a masala in the traditional Vedic way adds a very sensual dimension to preparing food for those you love. I am always delighted by how much people enjoy smelling freshly ground spices, both before and after they become part of a dish. There is nothing like unveiling the magic of the spices!

Spring Masala Recipe:

1 TBSP Cumin Seeds
2 TBSP Coriander Seeds For inspiration
1 TBSP Yellow Mustard Seeds (may substitute with brown mustard seeds)
1 Tsp Black Peppercorns
1 Tsp Cardamom Seeds
(Adopted from The Path of Practice)

*Lightly roast (1-2 minutes) and then grind each spice individually before blending them together. Place the masala in an air tight glass jar or food safe tin and try to use within a month.

* For inspiration and more information, watch the film Mistress of Spices or read Swamini Mayatitananda’s books, The Path of Practice and Women’s Power to Heal.

With love, Kathryn
An aspiring Mistress of Spices…

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Chopping vegetables as a sadhana, even in a crisis...

My father, who is diagnosed with bipolar and has been suffering from pretty severe depression and anxiety these past couple of months, becomes confused sometimes and enters into a severe state of panic where he is convinced he needs to go to the hospital. During such an episode a couple of weeks ago, we were on our way out the door when suddenly he calmed down and sat down on his walker to eat a banana and drink a protein shake. Although my mother and I are used to supporting my father during these ups and downs, these recent incidents of intense panic create quite a scare. Early in the day my mother and I planned to cook a vegetarian Chili recipe; we were slow cooking the beans and had assimilated all of the other ingredients. So as my Mom began escorting my father around the kitchen island to continue to calm him, I began preparing the Chili.

When I began chopping the vegetables and bringing my attention to their lifelines, I was overcome with a deep sense of serenity. Even here in the midst of crisis, I found myself entering a state of tranquility, and I was reminded I am forever grateful to the teachings of Wise Earth Ayurveda that emphasize an approach to cooking that is based on the principle of sadhana.

Swamini Mayatiananda, the founder and spiritual director of Wise Earth Ayurveda says:
"Wise Earth's path of reclaiming wholeness, radiant health, and abundance is rooted in the ancient Vedic principles of sadhana - living in accord with nature's rhythms and cultivating a nurturing, nourishing, and compassionate relation toward the self, toward others, toward nature, and all of her life forms. Sadhana practices teach us to cultivate the understanding that protecting nature within and without deepens our individual consciousness."  

Cutting vegetable according to their lifelines is one of the unique teachings of Wise Earth Ayurveda that serves to honor the Vedic principle of non-harming or ahimsa. The idea is that all of life, including plants and vegetables, is sacred and interdependent and we honor this by preparing our food in ways that is most benefitting or least harming. Ayurveda reveals that the stem of a piece of lettuce is its “life line” and the way to prepare lettuce for eating is to first cut close to the stem vertically on both sides before chopping the leaf horizontally. Cutting vegetables along their life lines first is also meant to awaken the “shakti” or inherent energy of the food enhancing its healing qualities. 

Creating a sadhana (practice) out of chopping vegetables has helped me develop a deeper understanding of ahmisa as an attitude of wholeness, awareness, and community, toward all that is…not simply, or even necessarily, a practice of perfect non-violence. If we accept the Vedic vision that everything is sacred, we cannot go through a day without harming. We have to “kill” to eat or even to walk. But we can prepare our food with as much awareness and gratitude as possible, and with the recognition that food and the elements that make up our food are not away from us, but part of our very being.

"May the universe never abuse food.
Breath is food. The body eats food.
The body rest on breath.
Breath rests on the body.
Food is resting on food.
 The one who knows this becomes rich in food and great in spirit".
                                  (Taittiriya Upanishad 11.7, Translated by Swamini Mayatitananda)

     My father ate a small bowl of the chili we prepared that night, and, for the past couple of days he has felt better!!!

Friday, February 25, 2011

Saraswathi, Later Winter, and Dark Phases of the Moon...

According to Advaita Vedanta (the philosophical vision of the Vedic tradition), the wholeness or fullness we seek is the very being of all that is…including oneself. As Vedic practitioners we seek to realize our whole, full, or contented Self through devotion, contemplation, and service, ultimately seeking to gain a clear vision and understanding of the truth that has always been. This vision of truth is revealed in the Vedic "mahavakyas" or "great statements" such as: “I am Consciousness” and “I am identical with the Whole.” Because Consciousness or Wholeness is recognized, in the Vedic tradition, as the very being of all existence, it is invoked through infinite images, objects, and even concepts. In India there are temples honoring countless deities as well as temples that honor time and space. When I was in India last summer, I joyfully witnessed priests performing an elaborate ritual upon installing a washing machine and dryer. I also discovered Hindus hold a special day to care for their automobiles when no one is supposed to drive! The vision that everything is sacred and part of the Whole is very compelling and inclusive, a vision I hold dear.
A popular female image in the Vedic tradition is Goddess Saraswathi. Some trace her history all the way back to the earliest Vedic times when Vac, or speech, was recognized as a Goddess. Saraswathi has multiple forms and images and is used not only to invoke Wisdom or the Creative aspect of the Whole, but also to invoke Wholeness itself. This again reflects my own general experience of Hinduism where the worship of any God or Goddess is often, for the practitioner, a worship of all the Gods and Goddesses, and thus a way to invoke the Whole. I recall spending Navarathri (a celebration of the divine feminine lasting nine nights) at my teacher’s ashram on the East Coast where the temple deity, Dakshinamurti, a male deity, was dressed as the Goddess for the duration of the celebration!
Hindu Goddesses are often portrayed as “light” or “dark” goddesses reflecting the rhythms of the new and full moons. Although Saraswathi is most often portrayed as a “light” or full moon goddess, She is sometimes portrayed as a dark moon goddess, as revealed in the image above. I find this particular image of Saraswathi very powerful as we enter the waning cycle of the moon and the final stages of “Late Winter” in the Ayurvedic calendar. Mother Maya, the author of Path of Practice, teaches that Late Winter is a time to reformat our minds by burning up our negativity or karma through practices such as japa, journaling, meditation, or contemplative yoga asanas. These practices are also encouraged, especially for women, during the waning cycle of the moon.
Also, according to Ayurveda (the sister science of Yoga), the predominant taste of “late winter” is bitter. But the “bitterness” of “late winter” is not only felt in the bitter dry cold air, but is also felt inside of us, in our bodily humors, and perhaps  even in our thoughts or feelings. So, this can be a good time to neutralize the bitter taste of winter by sweetening, or adding a salty or sour taste to our food, and, by taking some solitude, if possible, to transform any bitterness dwelling within, perhaps into some fiery insights, or into a soothing sweeteness of self care. By aligning ourselves with the rhythms of Mother Nature herself, we transition more easily into the new season and the new moon, refreshed for new beginnings. If you are like me, you are anxiously awaiting warmer weather, but as we wait, we can take this opportunity to transform and lighten up our insides for the upcoming spring days ahead!

Jai Saraswathi!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Pranams Saraswathi

On a beautiful spring day almost nine years ago I arrived on Eastern Washington University's campus to teach my first Introduction to Philosophy courses. I remember feeling this strong sense of purpose, that I had a mission to bring Sophia (our Western Saraswathi) back into Philosophy. I had grown very disheartened by academic philosophy over the years, especially in graduate school, where truth and wisdom were mostly reduced to science and logic. Upon giving up my academic career for some time, I became a committed yogini and through my study and practice, I fell upon the path of the Mother, in particular the path of Goddess Saraswathi. As the Vedic goddess of Wisdom and Creativity, Saraswathi became my cosmic inspiration and even my cosmic Mother. Over the years I have been surprised in the ways my colleagues have supported me on this more mystical approach to Philosophy. The last few weeks have been especially meaningful where I was blessed with the opportunity to give a course on Women's Spirituality to a group of amazing inspiring students as well as share some of my path with colleagues on the day of Saraswathi on the Vedic calendar. Finally, I joined with others to host a women spiritual leader, Swami Radhananda, whose speech resonates of the Goddess herself. Swami Radhananda’s guru, Swami Radha often mentioned Saraswathi as the goddess of speech. She encouraged women to recognize the power of speech and to offer their words in service to the divine feminine. In a world where the womanist/feminist voice is still reclaiming its space in academia this remains an important message. So in celebration of the feminine aspect of wisdom becoming more unveiled in the academy, I dedicate this blog to Goddess Saraswathi in all of Her forms, including Wisdom Herself, and to the amazing women teachers and students who continue to encourage and inspire me. Jai Saraswathi!

Swami Radhananda (middle) and Swami Lalitananda (left) and Kathryn