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!!!