Does This Bindi Dot Make My Head Look Big?

I’ve been meaning to address a topic that might get me banned from the internet, and I’m not sure that’s an entirely bad thing. I am a white woman who has worn a bindi dot on more than one occasion, which is a gemstone or jewel-like adornment affixed to my third eye, typically with some type of adhesive or by some magical powers developed by virtue of intense meditation practices. My bindi dot came from the scrap book  section at Michael’s and stays in place because it has an adhesive back like my Scooby-Doo stickers. I began wearing them when I started belly dance classes last year.

I looked up the meaning of the bindi dot and learned that they often indicate the woman wearing it is married within the context of Hindu and Jain culture. It might also have something to do with the magic of the third eye chakra, commitment of some sort (aside from the millieu of marriage) and a willingness to reflect the light of a thousand suns into the hearts of all those you meet. It also wards off bad luck. I’m sure there is more than one well intentioned Ally scoffing at my flagrant cultural appropriation; and I haven’t even started talking about belly dance classes yet. I began studying oriental dance about a year and a half ago because, in addition to my interest in the Orient regarding spirituality, I wanted to learn a form of dance that does not require a partner to practice or enjoy. That put swing dancing and ballroom squarely out of question.

Bollywood, which is India’s flavor, is too bouncy for my taste. Turkish style feels aggressive and the Iranian dance style, though graceful, is too demure for me. I fell in love with Egyptian style dance. I know these styles because my teacher instructs us not only in the methods of dance but in the variations in styles across the Middle East so we’re not an ignorant bunch of coin belted hussies but a respectable group of well trained dancing girls. My favorite form of Oriental dance is the shimmie intense Egyptian style. When I wear my cat ears and finger cymbals I feel like a priestess of Bastet, resonating with the lifelong summons I’ve felt towards Egypt.

Dear Reader, in case we have not met in real life and you’re not sure of my cultural background, I am not Egyptian or of Middle Eastern descent at all. I’m white, born in the south with a native culture about as interesting as a bar-b-cue down at the Baptist community center. That’s essentially where I come from, with some Catholic pepper flakes and one generation removed from upper class suburbia – on my mother’s side – for good measure. I grew up lower-ish with middle class tendencies. We didn’t go to church but my great-aunt liked to use her answering machine to remind callers, “Jesus loves you” even though in her own dealings she didn’t choose to utilize the same emotional generosity. The people I come from do not wear bindi dots and they do not shimmie, though I’ve heard my mom was hell down at the disco in 1978, but her people were Methodist.

I study and teach yoga. I remember when I taught at the yoga center in Pensacola there was a woman from India who came to my class. She intimidated me. I wondered who in the hell I thought I was, trying to teach this fifty something year old lady from Kathmandu how to chant the Gayatri mantra.

In a way, this lady had an answer to some of this unworthiness I held around teaching. One day after class we were chatting and she explained to me that they do not teach or study yoga as openly or as freely as we do here (in the United States). Not as many people are exposed to it so there aren’t so many teachers. Most families have their own deity and method of worship and so few people extend beyond what they know from having grown up with it. In a way, she reminded me that I was empowered to teach this stuff because I studied it. Not because I grew up with it, not because I went and stole it, but because I love it and believe it in.

What, on the outside, looks like another white girl with a yoga mat is really a devotee. I’m not a devotee of the God of my father. I had to reach beyond what I knew, because I knew there was more to life than the limited spirituality I grew up with.

There is a lot on social media about cultural appropriation, mostly by well-meaning white folks who want to do better and in so wishing to improve their relationships with the global community from the inside out have made walking the thin line of ownership of inherent racism and rampant cultural appropriation their hobby.

When we snatch something from another culture because it’s cool and, therefore, makes us look cool – like a Native American headdress at Burning Man, then we might need to look at our fashion decisions and deeper motivations in life.

Where I think we need to be careful, whilst making white people walk that line, is the chance to overcompensate in our willingness to apologize for racism, for bloodshed and psychological damage wrought by insensitivity, brutality and ransacking of cultures for its sparkly spoils. Because there has been misuse and under-appreciation of so many people, I have noticed within myself the urge to stay in my own corner. I don’t want to do anything (else) wrong. I feel like if I say anything, it is wrong. I don’t want to offer excuses and I certainly don’t want to fan the embers of white fragility – which is a term I understand to mean an unwillingness to recognize participation, whether active or overt, in the objectification of others and a need to be reassured when faced with its reality.

Well meaning souls are typically sensitive souls, who wouldn’t want anyone to feel bad, taken for granted or taken advantage of. Our world is diverse. We need healing desperately. The dialogue around cultural appropriation feels achingly divisive, so much so that if one is a white person then the only thing they can say is “I’m sorry”.

As of this writing, #culturalappropriation is 120,560 (120,645 twenty-four hours later) posts strong on Instagram. The topics range from blatant racism, female objectification, Native American headdresses as a Halloween costume, yogis in bikinis, men whining about the unfairness of the world and Nick Jonas taking his fiance to India and how, where and whatfor can any of us ever hope to be loved like that.

I am not kidding. I’m not even sure Instagram even knows what it’s talking about anymore. But I feel like I should say something, in the least, because I benefit from Hindu culture because it is the basis of my spiritual practices, because I can’t imagine life without my belly dance classes, because I make and sell Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim style prayer beads and because it is not unlikely you will see me with a blue gemstone stuck on my third eye until I can get the real thing to open and sparkle like a diamond in the sky of my mind – because that’s what I’m really waiting on.

But sometimes, what looks like cultural appropriation is in reality a form of self defense. Were it not for what we call cultural appropriation, I would be stuck with the God of my father, though my dad isn’t very religious if the truth be told. I’m sure somewhere in our family history, someone burned someone for witchcraft. I’m sure someone was in the KKK. If I were left among my ancestors, they’d burn me at the stake, too.

I want to be the the hard turn in the road of my family lineage. I don’t know that I could have done that with what I was born into. I do not come from a bad family, but I come from a white, southern family in which I didn’t always feel like I belonged. Each of us have an opportunity to craft a legacy. My Teacher says that with the endeavor to grow and heal we may offer healing for seven generations – ahead of us and for those who have gone before. I believe this, but I believe it takes a whole lot more than one parcel of the planet; an endeavor such as that requires every resource available, so we must reach and support the honest and earnest reaching of those around us so we can be lifted up in our search to find the Divinity within.

I’ll use anything at my disposal to deepen my relationship with my own Soul. I’ll share whatever I learn along the way, not as my own, but if I’m lucky, I’ll get to be the conduit of Grace. Sometimes, the Grace is found in reaching outside ourselves and finding the light of recognition in that which seems most foreign, which at once brings you Home.

 

 

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Mala Puja

My first mala was a silver capped Rudraksha I ordered on the internet about twelve years ago. It’s a half mala made of 54 beads and doesn’t fit all the way around my wrist in the bohemian chic yoga fashion we have all come to know and love, but it’s a good mala anyway. I learned there is such a thing as Shiva, mantra, and prayer beads as a necessary accessory simultaneously – I shopped immediately and with abandon.

I chose the silver, chain linked number for the same reason I bought that shirt with the zipper all the way up the back that time – style and function. By my estimation, if it’s chain linked then my mala isn’t likely to break, which back then would have been a travesty because I didn’t yet know how to make or repair them. This mala needed to be sturdy because I was hell on wheels; determined to do both spiritual practice and maintain the half drunk social life I cultivated all the way back in beauty school, it wasn’t uncommon for me to do my japa (mantra repetition) in the CVS parking lot where I bought my cigarettes on my way to the bar.

This mala, in particular, has seen the best and the worst I have ever had to offer. This mala witnessed nightmare boyfriends, all night benders and career changes at the speed of light. It was with me in teacher training and the first time I went to Kashi Atlanta; I wore this mala around my neck and I felt both conspicuous and liberated.

At some point, I wanted a new mala. This is when I decided to learn how to make my own and the rest is history. I make prayer beads all the time now; for sale, for gifts, for friends and teachers in training and I feel very lucky to to do it. That first mala is something special because I realized it could be done, that I could envision it and then have it in hand. It is black ebony with gold flecked acrylic accent beads and a black and gold elephant charm beneath a small Rudraksha (the same brown seed bead of which my first ever mala was entirely made) – this mala looks like it should be around Michelle Pfriffer’s neck in Married to the Mob.

married to the mob

You may wonder whatever happened to that unbreakable chain linked mala that got me all the way to the cushion to begin with? When I learned that it’s appropriate to drape a mala over a picture of a beloved Teacher or Guru, that’s exactly what I did. I don’t know how long those Rudraksha beads circled Neem Karoli’s image, but it seems like a long time. The silver began to look dull and the tiny dog tag with Shiva in place of a tassel tarnished so it was hard to make out the image of the meditating Lord.

I’m not sure exactly when, but that mala fell into a tea light so that two of the silver capped beads were coated in white wax. I wasn’t sure how to clean wax out of the crevices of Rudraksha beads and, having decided that it lent an authentic, well loved took to my altar, left them alone until last week when I wrote “clean wax off mala” on my to-do list in my dot journal.

I don’t know what inspired me to add this to my to-do list, but once it was there I felt like I should actually do it. I’d moved the mala from the wood frame to the bowl of a blue lotus candle holder once I decided to clean it, and I retrieved it from its ceramic cradle last night. I looked dubiously at the tarnished metal, uncertain of my plan to rehabilitate it and not even sure why I felt inclined.

Alas, I took it to the kitchen sink over which I began to pick at the wax with my thumb nail. I was delighted that it flaked off easily enough, but there was still the matter of more deeply embedded wax. My plan was to boil it out with hot tap water, which worked like a charm. The wax melted out of the small channels of the dark beads quickly.

I turned on the cold tap and gathered the mala in my hand so the water could wash like prayers over the entire strand and with the cool water running over my hands my mind wandered back to Kashi. I thought about the Kali puja I attended with my Teacher. It was the February weekend workshop that culminated in a timeless practice of devotion through which I sang kirtan among my friends.

I witnessed my Teacher offer her hands to the care of Kali in the temple where we practice and learn. The room was awash in sunlight but we were all transfixed by the devotion and offering of time and attention taking place before us. There were candles and incense, fruit and chocolate, ghee poured onto a flame, there was a garland and flowers for the Mother. There was a palpable awareness that none of us would ever be the same.

Like the snap back of the space/time rubber band, I realized standing at the sink with my hands and prayer beads in running water that to practice puja means to take care, to tend to, to attend to. In a flash, this realization changed the whole feeling of cleaning this mala from the physical removal of debris to an act of devotion to that which is in service of the Divine. What else is a Mala meant to serve?

I dried this mala and noticed it felt lighter and sparkly, though the beads remained dark from the recent flood of water and years of use. I oiled the beads with jasmine oil and a silent passage of mantra over the beads to tune into the mantra, the mala and the Divine. I spent some time polishing that silver tag bearing Shiva’s likeness so that the tarnish lightened to a patina.

I realize as much as I have wanted to be told what book to read or which website might teach me about puja, it’s actually something that dawns like light in the heart. I might have been told a million times in a thousand lives, but having been shown is like the equivalent of muscle memory in the energy body – retrievable, irreversible, immanent. It is actually and absolutely the product of Grace.

But with this information regarding puja, it opens the practice of puja to limitless possibilities. Even self care can be a form of puja to the Divine dwelling within the body; drink plenty of water, eat good food, walk on the Earth.

Make effort on behalf of the good.

Give your full attention whenever possible.

As my Guru would conclude her emails, “This is my puja, and this is my prayer.”

Sunlight made visible
the whole length of a sky,
movement of wind,
leaf, flower, all six colours
on tree, bush and creeper:
all this
is the day’s worship.

Night and day
in your worship
I forget myself
O lord white as jasmine. 

 

 

What Does the Moon Think?

A little while ago, whilst sitting in meditation, I was thinking…

I have this marvelous space for meditation. It’s in the corner near the bed with a low writing table to my left so that when I sit down to practice all manner of witchy yogi things, I’m enclosed and low to the ground, thus facilitating a baseline sense of security. My meditation table in front of me is long and nearly as low as my writing table. The blue wood surface is covered with images of importance; murtis (deity statues), photographs, gemstones, malas…

I have back pain in the upper back, somewhere in the neighborhood of my shoulder blades. This pain is probably from restaurant work, wherein I heft trays laden with food to and fro. Sometimes, this ache makes sitting tall and straight a challenge, so I recently contrived a seat against the wall near the bed, still within energetic reach of my meditation table and all of the meaningful accouterments thereupon. It is fortunate that from this vantage I may view pictures of my Teacher, my Guru and a stone Ganesha on the wall.

I’m reminded of my recent visit to Kashi Florida, the ashram where the Teacher of my Heart studied and where I just went on retreat during Durga Puja – the culmination of nine nights of celebration in honor of the Divine Mother. Temples abound in Kashi Florida; you can’t go to lunch without walking by several sacred spaces and, in truth, the entire field of houses and green is sacred, holy ground.

While I was in Kashi, I had a different sense of myself, as though self-awareness mingled with a dream. I ambled into a treeline and appeared on the other side at a yoga studio in the jungle; green and welcoming like the small shala, which means home abode of Yoga. I might find the path around the Ganga pond and peer into a thick ring of bamboo sheltering the large golden Buddha, an expanse of crystal at his knees. Perhaps I enter a home residence and, walking through the kitchen, find myself in the theater of study where Ma Jaya taught, teaches still, before a tall glossy black Kali who summons me to her feet.

In the midst of these spaces, ideas don’t so much encroach. To-do lists crumple and burn like parchment on hot coals. My what-might-have-been mentality, which haunts the corners of my mind like newly made ghosts, decays into the rich dark soil that feeds the jungle shrubs where The Mother dances, just off the path to the dining hall. I can feel that space now, evoked by the writing, and errant thoughts float away like petals cast onto the quiet surface of water. Each question of my mind is answered with another question made more sacred for the asking; why was all of that running around so important? What was bothering me so?

Oh, yes, thinking in meditation.

Back home again, my work is to continue to remember that feeling and freedom and bring it through my own life. Is this really even work, come to think of it? It is the only work that matters, I have decided.

Dear Reader, unless you are brand new to my posts, you are well aware that my work has confounded me and made me feel misplaced. I have had ideas about myself that I am not always sure how to align with my reality, so I flail around and make decisions  without all of the necessary information.

It was upon these ideas about myself I was contemplating whilst trying to meditate with my back against the wall. My small white dog made herself comfortable at my shins, not unlike the large crystal mountain range below the Buddha in the bamboo garden. Here I’m breathing into my heart, submitting my thoughts to the churn of that space in spite of the pesky protests the mind sees fit to produce.

As though from on high, a thought unoriginal to the low mind illuminates the moment; The Moon has no idea of itself and there is nothing else like it in the cosmos. There are other moons, how many does Saturn have? But none like ours… there is not another like ours. It shines radiant and full or collapses into the thinnest sliver, finding in its own darkness a well of renewal and replenishes us all with its draw on the tide.

This new train of thought is bright, like moonlight without the competition of garish streetlights. I am emboldened, thinking of the Sun, which has no idea of itself, either, but is simply bright and burning as a constant service to us all.  And there are stars, each unique in its combustion and placement, not a one contemplates its future or its distant, molten past.

Closer to Earth, I think of the black cat I adore. She sleeps unself-consciously, never doubting for a moment that she will be nourished with food and love. She does not question the path that lead her to me, or me to her; she has no idea about herself perhaps other than Love and being Loved as a feeling of wisdom in the language she speaks. My little dog at my shins dozes without the intrusion of ideas, just simple awareness of our nearness.

Granted, who am I to know what the Sun and the Moon are thinking? Who am I to say what the Cat knows? I don’t know, except that I know myself to be a disciple of the Sun, I am the Moon’s daughter, the Cat and I are Sacred Companions. I am learning that ideas are vastly different from inspiration; ideas can be unyielding, inspiration can expand and contract, like the breath, so it is life giving and sacred. An idea may only be acted upon, inspiration moves through us and we act of its behalf. I think, more than anything, ideas come from the outside in, from points of reference. I think inspiration is a gift from the inside out, like a heart beat’s cosmic reverberation.

I think ideas are meant to be guideposts until we can listen from the inside, thereafter to answer and call forth inspiration through the art of our practices, so we can see the path that leads into the treeline, and follow that narrow trail of rich Earth all the way home to ourselves.

 

 

 

Rethinking The Great American Eclipse

This is the day before the Great American Eclipse and let me tell you something – I’m tired of hearing about it. I’m tired of seeing articles on it and talking about it, too. I read horoscopes and Vedic astrology and like any decent new age kid I follow The Hood Witch, Mystic Mamma and Serpentfire on Instagram, so I kinda already know everything about all the woo woo of this eclipse in Leo. Just saying.

Right now I’m over it all. There is an expectation in the air for this eclipse, like we’re collectively going to be able to release dogmas that have held us back from being our best, brightest and most enlightened selves. We’re going to break through or jump over this eclipse portal to be somehow different and better than before. It’s like 2012 all over again without the hysteria and subterranean fear of aliens no one wanted to talk about until after it was over.

This eclipse portal and all its fetishized implications, the least of which is that this country’s leadership will somehow come under the control of someone with some sense, makes me feel like an under achiever. There’s lots of internet chatter, which I have resolved to henceforth ignore unless it’s in regards to this blog or my Etsy shop, about this eclipse aligning us with our true purpose, our dharma, our raison d’etre. I’ve heard that before and now it’s just starting to piss me off.

Maybe it’s because I have a cold and feel like an under achiever, because all I want to do is drink ginger tea and eat noodles, but I feel pissy about this topic of dharma and purpose. Does this mean that in my pissy-ness I will neglect my practices, that I won’t do my mantra or that I’ll say to hell with you all and those damn cardboard glasses that make everyone who puts them on look like ALF?

Of course I will do my practices, but I’m not doing them with any certainty that lightening will crack open the sky and I’ll have a clear vision of my own raison d’etre – eclipse or no. In fact, I’m not so sure about that whole reason for being anymore, at least not in the great sweeping sense of finality that has made me feel like a desperate yogi on the lookout from some outpost on the edge of the world. Maybe we’re not supposed to have the one, explicit unchangeable thing that we are – poet, doctor, lover, priest, garbageman, physicist…. What if the work isn’t to discover what we are but, instead, to peel away everything we are not.

I spent six years thinking, decidedly, that my purpose on this planet was to teach yoga classes. I fell in with a crowd who I let convince me that “job” and “calling” must coincide and I’ve been miserable ever since. By the time I wrapped that up a few months ago, I felt strained resentment for the “profession” and annoyance at the decidedly shiny happy people who insist on yoga #everydamnday and never ever admitting to feelings of sadness, frustration or anything below the acceptable baseline of utter joy.

Sometime around my first year of teaching yoga I did Rod Stryker’s online workshop on The Four Desires, which is a book about helping the aspirant uncover the fundamental intention of their soul and purpose for walking upon this Earth. The book talks about intention, decision and the four aims of life which are the investment of oneself equally in duty, wealth, pleasure and the pursuit of liberation. I don’t know about you, but that’s pretty much me #everydamnday

Upon further contemplation and a few years under my belt, I am given pause at the audacity of someone implying I must qualify my existence with an acceptable statement of intent.  All of the stream of consciousness writing I did during this online workshop with The Four Desires left me feeling as confounded as reading about the implications of this eclipse we’re looking at tomorrow. If there is work to do, I don’t know what it is. If there are special maaracas I am supposed to shake, then I don’t know where they are. If I am supposed to be something more or different than myself after the moon dances in front of the sun tomorrow afternoon, I don’t know what that looks like.

Dear Reader, have you ever practiced puja or prayers in which you left offerings on your meditation table or altar? Perhaps a bouquet of flowers or a small cup of water in front of a picture of the Black Madonna or Jesus? Have you ever removed the pits from dates and left them before a statue of the Buddha? Have you ever dared to leave dark chocolate before an image of Kali?

Well, I have (or variations thereof), and sometimes I wondered if there was something else I was supposed to do other than leave the milk, the oats, the water or incense. Should I do something more than leave an offering? Ought I to say a special mantra specifically designed for aspirants on the spiritual path to say while making devotionals? If so, I don’t know what it is and am confounded by that, too.

Then, like lightening opening the sky, one night it struck me that it’s not my job to know what to do with the offerings. I hand it over for a reason…. I give over the chocolate, the flowers, the water, the flame and I set it down. Setting it down is part of the practice. Perhaps, for some of us, it is the hardest part of the practice. But by the very virtue of being the one leaving the offering, I am not the one who has to know what to do with it.

So here we are on the precipice of this magnificent celestial event, and if you’re anything like me you might have cultivated all sorts of spiritual expectations and psychic implications around it. It’s okay, as you can see, clearly I have too. But I’ve been doing some writing today, and I’ve been doing the one practice I have clung to during the maelstrom of information, astrological guidance and implicit warnings regarding the path of the moon’s shadow passing over our great nation.

That one practice to which I have clung is the silent mantra, which is a great tool for overcoming the shadow of negative thinking that stretches across the mind during times of transformation and change. Sometimes, negativity manifests as expectation. Think about it – has doing something awesome ever made you feel like crap? No, it hasn’t. But any wall of expectation you built around the awesome thing you did might have made you feel like crap. If it didn’t then you’re more enlightened than me, so…..call me, tell me your ways. Because if I write and publish a book and it’s anything less than a run away best seller, I’m going to feel like a failure. See, isn’t that crazy? That’s what I’m talking about.

I see the real potential for this eclipse to leave folks deflated and a little depressed, like the wake of a few weeks into the New Year, because I’ve seen a lot of talk regarding the expectations of this eclipse. There is a heightened sense of something, and even though we don’t know what it is or even if it’ll be good, at least it’ll be different.

Make your expectations like an offering to the Sun – set them down and let ’em go.

At the eleventh hour, when I’ve had quite enough of all this talk of dharma, transformation and upheaval, I’m going to suggest you do whatever it is you’re gonna do and to the best of your ability, let it go. Get grounded before you stare into the sun, set your feet firmly on the path to which you committed and hold onto your practices with both hands. If you’re doing that, then you won’t have a free hand to hang onto expectations and projections so, whether this eclipse is just a really cool astronomical occurrence or a major astrological event that ushers in a time of peace and prosperity, you’ll be receptive and present.

Also – this is what everyone I’ve seen so far looks like wearing their eclipse glasses….

alfglasses

 

 

The Great Outdoors

For the month of March we endeavored to practice one yoga pose every single day. We went with the same posture; downward facing dog. One down dog every day and see what happens.

I thought about adding onto this, building a pose by month sequence so at the end of the year we’d get up to twelve poses a day. But the weather has been so pretty lately and I can be such a shut-in that I want to offer a variation on home practice.

Let’s practice outside. I know what you’re thinking because it’s the same thing I was thinking when I wanted to practice outside – bugs. Bugs and sunshine. Yuck. Combine the two and you have a perfectly good nightmare.

Last week I ordered an all-weather picnic blanket. The thought of eating outside is almost as horrific as doing yoga outside, so a picnic blanket is not something I thought I’d ever own, but it’s Spring and I’m feeling it. The pattern on my large all-weather picnic blanket is blue flowers on a darker blue background and looks not unlike a sheet set we had when I was five. I love it.

Last Sunday, thanks to Amazon Prime and my decisive internet shopping bonanza, I take my blue hippie flower all-weather blanket outside and find a nice area of the yard free of dog poop. The wind blows through the branches above me, which I take for a good sign. I go in and slather SPF 50 on my dedicates and ink, some of which overlap. Unperturbed by the heat, I grab the dish towel with a faded strawberry pattern to keep handy in case I sweat. Even though the Florida sun cannot possibly be hotter than an unholy hot yoga class, I decide to play it safe. No need slipping in a puddle of sweat and having to wait for someone to find me.

When I begin my practice the sun has arced over head and is on its downward journey to the sea. It is still high enough to be brilliant and warm on my skin like a cosmic heating pad administering healing vibes to my sore muscles. Though it is warm, there is a steady Spring breeze that keeps me cool and inspired. There are a few clouds that hang around above me. They are full, white and comfortable in their powder blue home.

The dogs are displeased with this sojourn into the outside and that it excludes them, but they try to escape through the holes in the fence the raccoons dug and I don’t want to worry about them while I bask in sunlit tranquility. Also, they bark. I leave them inside to sulk.

I do the practices I received the last time I went to see Swami. It’s a beautiful sequence to the bright red moon. There is also a breathing practice and mantra sadhana (chanting practice) included at the conclusion. It’s the real deal, ya’ll, at least as long as a “real” yoga class, if not longer if you include the time I spent just looking up into the trees and sky.

This isn’t practical in the everyday world for a daily practice. It is hard practicing everyday and it is especially difficult if I have in my head it is supposed to look a certain way. But I think, given the warmth and sunshine, this is something I can do once a week for a month to see what happens.

So this is what we’re adding on; practice outside at least once a week for the month of April. I think that an enclosed porch, outdoor patio or balcony counts (one of the most amazing practices I ever enjoyed solo was on a third floor balcony in Gulf Shores around mid-night). If you like the beach and are into sand and that sort of thing, try taking your mat out there. There are also some really nice parks around, but the backyard is nice, too.

At this point, you might have a question you want to ask; Prana Devi, I’d love to practice yoga outside and bask in the tranquility of the sun. But I haven’t been practicing yoga for very long and I don’t know what to do. How do I practice yoga outside when I don’t really know how to practice yoga?

Excellent question! I’ll give you a few options. First, go to the bookstore. Find the magazine section and, I am not kidding, buy a print yoga magazine. This is how I built my own home practice. Most yoga magazines have at least one, if not several, practice sequences with pretty good explanations. Take the magazine outside with you and lay it open on your all-weather picnic blanket. Use crystals, your coffee cup or mala beads to hold the pages open. Do what the pictures tell you.

Your phone is another option. That marvel of modern technology has more computing capability than the first spaceships. Find a good educational yoga website, choose a video and do it – outside on your all-weather picnic blanket. I suggest Yoga International.

Lastly, start taking yoga classes and take notes of sequences you like. Ask the instructor to make a short sequence for you so you can take it home and practice outside on your all-weather picnic blanket. Remember your practice does not have to be long to count and it does not have to be complex to have meaning. You just have to do it. Let me know how it goes.

If you are still practicing the daily down dog stick with it and see how many days you can go. If you want to freshen up your single pose du jour, for the month of April pick an asymmetrical posture like Warrior 1 or seated spinal twist. You’ll have to do both sides which, if you think about it, is like doing two yoga poses a day!

Lastly, if you choose to order an outdoor blanket make sure its measurements are larger than your yoga mat is long. I practice on a longer 72 inch yoga mat so double-check your measurements to avoid disappointment. Who in the hell wants their yoga mat touching the ground? We mat be practicing outside, but we’re not insane!

Like Buttah

“The Buddha’s message was simple yet profound. Neither a life of self- indulgence, nor one of self-mortification can bring happiness. Only a middle path, avoiding these two extremes, leads to peace of mind, wisdom, and complete liberation from the dissatisfaction of life.” ~Bhante Gunaratana (from “Eight Mindful Steps to Happiness”)

I have been thinking quite a lot lately about practice. My schedule at the yoga center is changing in February. I am going down to one day a week at Uru and will continue to teach my regular schedule at Chip’s. I spent no little time hunched over my journal while I made this decision. In the course of personal essays written in mostly illegible script I noted that spiritual practice and discipline are kinda like the process of making ghee.

Ghee, clarified butter, is a main ingredient in the 10 Day Yoga Detox we do three times a year in Kashi Atlanta. It’s a very dignified process by which you get to stabilize blood sugar, re-set the metabolism and sort out any habits around which you’d like to bring a little more awareness.

Ghee, as part of the diet, is lauded for its health benefits*. It is golden in color, a little yellow and smells like the backroom of a bakery. Its texture is glossy and slick and it leaves a nice sheen on vegetables. In the morning during the detox we drink it. We only drink it in relatively small portions which grow incrementally during the detox week. Sounds crazy, I know, but with a little almond milk and a dash of ginger powder it’s like liquid birthday cake – almost.

During one of the detoxes last year my slippery hands dropped the ghee jar, whipping most of its content across to kitchen floor. I didn’t know you could just go to the store and buy more so I learned how to make it on the internet.

It’s simple, really. You take a pound of unsalted butter and cook it down for about thirty minutes. It makes this little popping sound that sounds like fat raindrops landing on a low roof. To know if the ghee is ready you have to listen; you can’t look at it and tell. The popping becomes almost inaudible and there comes a point when there’s almost no sound. That’s when you take the pan off the stove and let it cool. There are three layers in the pot when it is cooled and this is where I started thinking about spiritual practice and in particular the path of yoga as I have experienced it.

The top layer is this frothy foam that you skim off the top. It is called “catch” and in India it’s sometimes mixed with sugar and is a sweet treat. This top layer of ghee that you have to scrape off is like the euphoric phase at the beginning of one’s love affair with yoga. This is the rainbow and unicorn stage, wherein everything is wonderful and happy and if it isn’t you better suppress it until no one is looking, because that shit ain’t yogic.

It is here that it serves us well to remember that unicorns are massive magical creatures with a sharp protrusion from their foreheads. I’m just saying, if you met a unicorn in real life it would probably be a little terrifying, even if it was friendly. Rainbows are often products of stormy weather and are a combination of sunlight and the shadow of a fine mist combined. But still, rainbows and unicorns it is.

It is best to scrape this layer off sooner rather than later but we get caught in thinking that this layer is the product of our efforts, like the rainbow and unicorn phase is where it’s at. This foam is not the goal, it should be scraped off, preferably with a hand strainer.

On the bottom of the ghee pot there are lactose solids. It’s heavy and brown and reminds me of the skillet my great-grandmother used to cook bacon in. She’d save this grease like it was gold to cook everything else with it. Dear Reader, you do not want to save this portion of the ghee making process, just leave it there. Better yet, pour it down the drain.

This heavy sludge at the bottom represents the opposite end of rainbows and unicorns. It is the this shit ain’t working phase of practice. If you have been at it long enough, if you have sat for meditation for more than five minutes ten or so consecutive days in a row you might know what I’m talking about. This is the heaviness, the unworthiness and the same old repetitive thoughts that will fall away if we let them go. The pound of unsalted butter has no problem letting this stuff go. It takes heat and the willingness to stay in the pot, which is why yoga practice and spiritual discipline are referred to as tapas which translates “to burn” or “fiery discipline”.

Between the froth and the sediment is the ghee. To get at it you scrape crap off the top and then, carefully, pour the clarified butter into a nice container. You have to angle the pot and hold your mouth a little crooked to keep from pouring any of the sediment into the pretty little jar with your clarified butter. With a little practice you’ll get the hang of it.

I think this is the part that represents the real, essential being. The space in the middle is buoyed above the featureless solid hunks that we think is who we really are. I thought about listing examples but decided to let you fill in the blank with anything that holds your heart down or keeps it closed. That’s the stuff that can go to the bottom of the pot. Your only job is to cook it long enough and then, when it is boiled down, to let it go.

I think we spend a lot of the first years of a spiritual discipline focusing between these two phases. There comes a time when, perhaps for just a second, we catch a glimpse of space between thoughts. The first handful of times I heard my Teacher talking about the space between thoughts I didn’t quite understand what she was talking about. After a few years of looking for that space I have come to think of that as an access point to our smooth, golden essence revealed from the heat of our discipline and devotion.

I don’t think we need to torment ourselves for being in one space or another, either. If I am stuck in a sunshine and lollipop stage I just try to remember that it isn’t the goal and to just keep practicing. When I’m happy I must practice. When I’m sad, pissed, confused or elated also I must practice. I think this is how we arrive at clarity and taste the space between thoughts – which is delicious, like buttah.

“This atman (Self), resplendent and pure, whom the sinless sannyasins behold residing within the body, is attained by unceasing practice of truthfulness, austerity, right knowledge and continence.”  – Mundaka Upanishad

*From the Yoga Detox Daily Email – 10 health benefits of ghee

  1. Flushes old bile from the body.
  2. Stimulates the liver to make new bile, so 94% of old toxic bile is not re-absorbed.
  3. Scrubs the intestines of toxins and bad bugs.
  4. Supports the primary source of energy and immunity for the cells of the gut.
  5. Supports the health of the beneficial bacteria in the gut that make butyrate, a short chain fatty acid (SCFA) that the intestinal tract thrives on, as it helps to protect the integrity of the gut wall, and then some!
  6. Lubricates and softens the hardened tissues of the body.
  7. Pulls stored fat-soluble toxins and molecules of emotion out of the body.
  8. Encourages fat metabolism and weight loss.
  9. Supports stable mood and energy levels.
  10. Supports the body’s natural defense mechanisms against bad bacteria and overgrowth.

Breaking Mala

merry mala 013

Last year I went to Durga Puja, an annual celebration in honor of the Divine Mother, which is celebrated around the world. I was in Kashi Florida with my Swami and friends and we danced around the Ganga with torches, ate marvelous food and generally had a most excellent time.

The previous February I’d made a mala of ebony and skulls. This is when I learned how to make malas. I knew exactly what I wanted in a prayer bead design and I couldn’t find it. I could find ebony malas and there were an abundance of skull malas but nothing that was exactly right. I took it upon myself to learn how to make prayer beads and it was such a gift that I wasn’t able to find exactly what I wanted because now I am a mala wallah.

It is this same mala I have around my neck on Sunday afternoon following Durga Puja, after more delicious food prepared by a certain Swami Rudra Das, when I am packing my things for the return trip home. When I pack for a yoga weekend I am not messing around with a light duffel and make-up bag, not when sequins are called for on Saturday night. I have plenty to track down and stuff into my large suitcase, which I manage well.

Etsy Mala and Halloween 016 Upon appraising the scene I see that I’ve got most everything together. I lean down to retrieve my yoga mat bag and in the leaning over my mala explodes. Now you might say, “Prana Devi, come on now. Malas don’t just explode…” and wag your finger at me like you’ve caught me in a lie.

I say this to you; malas most certainly do explode. Also, sometimes they’ll slide off your neck like a lazy snake and hit the floor. That could happen too. But on this occasion I mean this thing blew off my neck and scattered across the floor like it didn’t want to leave the property when I drove off in my Dodge. I had black ebony beads caught in my hair that I shook out like victory. Skull beads fell out of the hollow of my collar-bone into my yoga mat bag. It was pandemonium and very exciting!

I scoop up what I can find. I place the  sad tassel on the bed with the remainder of the beads and wander off in search of a plastic baggy. A very nice lady is in the kitchen. She looks up to see me tap dancing in the doorway. I explain my situation.

She clucks at me while she finds the bag. She is sorry for me that my mala has broken, she says.

But no! I tell her it’s my understanding that when a mala breaks it is a most auspicious event. I liken it to getting enough coins in a Super Mario game and getting to level up, energetically perhaps, but it’s a good sign. Perhaps whatever the theme of your sadhana (practice) has been while working with that mala has come to fruition or there is new or stronger energy coming in to support the practice in a different way (when I got home I emailed Swami just in case).

I am not the one to ask about specifics of how this works exactly, but it is grand news, if not a little sad that my favorite mala broke.

The lady is excited at this news, too, as she says she always looked at a broken mala as an inconvenience at best. Well now you know. She kindly agreed to place any errant beads left behind in a prayer room in the house, which pleases me greatly.

When I got home I placed the beads in a glass bowl so they may rest. I had another mala to work with and I didn’t know what I was going to do with the broken one. I even thought of making it into something else by using pieces of it for a necklace or bracelet. Then one day I walked by the bowl and beads and felt this urge to re-string them NOW!

So I did. I have a working mala made of ebony beads and skulls that I’m going to take with me to Durga Puja again this year. I’ll dance around the Ganga with torchlight reflecting on the water and I’ll eat delicious prasad when the night concludes.

I was inspired to write this post because breaking is part of a malas job. It holds energy and then lets it go. It’s a tool of transformation if used with that intention. When I make a mala for myself, a friend or to sell in my shop it is with the greatest care for the finished design and the components while I work with them. I focus on crafting meditation tools that are able to stand up to long use, however, they are not meant to last forever.

I am adding a restringing option to my Etsy shop so that folks who have broken malas littering their altar drawer or kitchen window (sunlight is an excellent way of cleansing stones) can see their malas back up and running. If you would like them made into bracelets or another commemorative piece of jewelry we can talk about that too.

If you have purchased a mala from me and it breaks within 60 days of receipt I will restring it for you at no charge and guarantee it for another 60 days following its repair. If your mala breaks after the 60 days the fee will apply to restringing your mala.

Bonus! Care and feeding of your mala:

Please keep it dry to the best of your ability as wetting the cord, whether hemp or silk, will weaken and stretch it over time. Malas are typically worn as a necklace. Wearing your mala wrapped around your wrist for extended periods of time weakens the material. I love to sometimes wear my mala around my wrist for special classes with my Teacher and this is fine. Just be aware that it can cause strain. It is also nice to have a mala bag or box for the storage and transport of your mala. It depends on your preferences.

I am also a fan of sleeping with my mala. I like to place it near my bed or tucked under my pillow. Sleeping with your mala around your neck can be hazardous to yourself and your mala, especially if you are a busy sleeper. Keep that in mind and perhaps make or buy a little satchel in which to stow your mala beneath your pillow. Sweet dreams!

Your mala loves sunlight and moonlight (gemstones have their own preference). Cleanse your mala in the sun or beneath the silvery moon periodically. Repetition of holy names helps keep your mala clear as does taking it to darshan and kirtans 🙂 Have your mala blessed by a holy person if you can; if no holy person is available may I suggest having your cat sneeze on it.

Message me with questions. Is there anything I forgot on mala care? How do you take care of your mala?

shiva moon