by Lara Szlamkowicz, BambooMoves Yoga Teacher
For so many of us, there are certain people out there who instantly flip a switch inside of us, releasing the deepest, crudest, most annoyed reactions we didn’t even know we were capable of. (Come on, you know what I mean!). It could be anything, from the pitch of a voice, an attention seeking behavior, a stare, an expectation, or anything that for some reason or other gets under your skin. But have you ever labored over exactly why this type of reaction was triggered? if you’ve contemplated this long enough, you might have realized that it’s probably something about your own self that you’re seeing reflected in this other person. And maybe, if you’ve really done a great deal of searching, you might recognize that this very person who stirs this strong emotion within you, is a perfect guru, sent just for you, just at that right moment. Unfortunately, most of the time we simply react with a judgement or expression of that dark feeling. Of course, doing that often only creates more anger, and so the cycle continues.
What if everyone were to carry a sign with them at all times, stating the circumstances which created each chain reaction, preceding the very moment of your contact? Some would say, “I’ve lost my job,” “I was abused,” “I’ve been traumatized,” “I just fell in love,” “I have a sick child,” “I have food poisoning,”…etc, etc. In that very moment of contact they might very well be bursting with very real, strong emotions, which quite possibly, even they are unaware are spilling out for the world to experience, or maybe they simply don’t know what to do with their exploding hearts. If you had a sign around your neck, what would it say? Wouldn’t you wish for everyone to know that when you carry yourself in a less-than-graceful fashion, it’s because you’re in the midst of some deep inner mechanical breakdown? Isn’t it so difficult in those moments, to stop and realize that these things are really just manifestations of the ego?
Of course, the more we practice Yoga, the more we become in tune with our true self, which is divine light and love. Yoga teaches us how to pause in those moments that stir up strong emotions, and to use the breath to stretch the moment long enough to learn its divine lessons. At our very core, there lies a pure soul, which yearns to feel love. The Dalai Lama says that, “The true essence of humankind is kindness.” What does it mean to be kind? One simple way to think about it is by the very definition of the word. A preliminary word search gives, “A group of people or things having similar characteristics.” In this light, kind means the same. So too, being kind invariably means recognizing that we are at our core, all the same. As living creatures, we are each and all innately the same. To be kind is to recognize this so profoundly, that in doing so, we ignite the spark of divinity that is within each of us. Being kind means looking past behaviors or qualities in others that otherwise might elicit a negative response. It means practicing deep compassion for others, and understanding that like you, they have a story to tell, and quite possibly haven’t been as fortunate as yourself to cultivate enough self awareness to go beyond their emotions in that moment. This is no easy task, however, given the chance to rest at the forefront of your consciousness for some time, you allow yourself to express more and more of your own true nature.
Perhaps you will try to make eye contact with a passerby, smile and wish them a good day. Or better yet, the next time you encounter a person who gets your goat, you can pause, take a deep breath, and remember that they too have a vast history that brought them to meet you at that very moment, and that God has orchestrated that very moment for your Self realization.
Who Am I?
by Nina Rabinowitz
Recently, one of my students posed the following question to me: “If I’m not my body and I’m not my mind, then who am I?” The answer to this question is the crux of yoga, so let’s start at the beginning.
Since the beginning of time, philosophers and scientists asked themselves the very same question. In their quest for an answer, they learned that they were able to break everything in the universe down into two basic “substances”. They called these two “substances” purusha, or pure consciousness, and prakriti, a.k.a. matter. From prakriti emerges all the sub-atomic and atomic particles we know of. (You can think of the periodic table of the elements as symbolizing the different iterations of prakriti.) It only takes a few moments for one to realize that the human body is made up completely of prakriti, since we can break it down into the most elemental material particles. The interesting aspect of this theory, however, is that these ancient spiritual scientists understood that the mind, senses, and intellectual faculties are also manifestations of prakriti.
The process through which the basic prakritic elements become other parts of the material world is sometimes compared to what happens when one churns milk. Depending on the catalyst with which the milk is churned, something different (i.e. yogurt, cottage cheese, or butter) emerges. These products can then become other products, depending on how they are manipulated. Similarly, when we “churn” prakriti, the first substance we get is the intellect. From there, the intellect then is churned into another substance called ego, which is then churned into the mind. With further churning and mixing, we get any of the other substances from which the elemental universe is created.
This is Yogic metaphysics in a nutshell.
Now back to the question at hand. When we talk about our small self, we are talking about the aspects of our being which are made up of the different forms of prakriti, namely the intellect, ego, senses, and other parts of the physical body, however gross or subtle. This is the individual person; the part of us that we work to move away from identifying with through the practice of yoga. When we talk about our True Self we are talking about the purusha, also known as the soul, or any other number of names. This is the part of us that is pure consciousness; the part of us that animates our dead material nature with life.
In the same way that we typically walk around in clothing, so too does the Purusha/Soul/True Self spend It’s time “wearing” prakriti, or the material body. Whether you choose to wear clothes for the purpose of fashion or not, it would be silly for you to associate your entire self with the clothes you happen to be wearing on one particular day. The goal of Yoga, therefore, is to help us come to a place where we are identifying with the True Self, instead of with the clothes we are wearing.
Recipe: Quinoa Salad with Spinach and Pears
This Quinoa salad combination is one of my favorites. I am always adding or subtracting items, depending on what is in my fridge or pantry. Feel free to experiment with what you like to eat.
Feeds 2-3 people
1 cup cooked Quinoa
2 cups Spinach
½ cup of craisins
1 cup Walnuts or Pecans
½ cup Gorgonzola Cheese or Brie
1 ½ tablespoon Brown Sugar
1 tablespoon Butter
Directions: Begin by cooking your quinoa. I season the water with a little bit of salt and pepper and a bay leaf. If you like more flavor to your quinoa add Vegetable stock. This should take about 20-25 minutes. In a small sauté pan on low heat, melt butter, brown sugar, and a pinch of salt together. Add your nuts of choice and let them get to know each other for about 2-4 minutes. Wash your spinach and place in a large mixing bowl. Add craisins, pears and lemon juice. Pour the nut mixture over the spinach, I make sure to get every last drop of deliciousness out of my pan. When quinoa is finished cooking, add to salad. I like adding warm quinoa to my salad because I like my spinach a little wilted, if you don’t, let your quinoa cool first before adding it to your salad. Lastly, add your cheese. I find that pecans and brie, and walnuts and gorgonzola are nice pairings. Find what works for you. I usually make this salad the night before and bring it with me for lunch the next day. If you haven’t already started to eat your salad, begin cleaning meditation.
Cook, Bless, Enjoy! Namaste ~Erin
I am that I-AM
by Nina Rabinowitz, BambooMoves Teacher
My father is a devoutly religious Orthodox Jew. Recently, he and I were comparing notes on the differences between the two spiritual traditions of yoga and Judaism. While the content of what we discussed was extremely interesting, I would like to highlight one issue that kept coming up. My father wanted to understand how it is that when we chant different names of God, for example, it is still not considered polytheism. (If you’re interested in the answer to this question, please let me know and I will be glad to answer. For now, however, I am just using his question as an illustration of the point I am about to make.) No matter how much I explained to him the difference between dualism and non-dualism, the difference between materialism and monistic idealism, or the weakness of the mind-body problem, he still could not resolve this basic misunderstanding. You see my father kept trying to understand his question within the context of his previous understanding. However, in order to truly understand something, we need to let go of our opinions, our previous understandings and all other mental associations. In order to truly understand something, one needs to let go of all preconceived notions and just absorb the knowledge.
This is a central teaching to Zen Buddhism. The concept in Zen goes as follows: instead of searching for knowledge, one must search for no-knowledge.
Enter the biblical story of Exodus. When Moses asked God what he should tell the Israelites when they ask how they know he is really God’s messenger, God says, “Tell them ‘I am that I-AM’”. (Many religious groups and theologians take this saying to mean the name of God. Notice the similarity in the sounds I-AM and AUM. This similarity translates to the Ancient Hebrew form as well.) Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj explains that “I-Am” is an abstraction in the mind of the Stateless State, the Supreme reality, also known in yogic thought as the Parabrahman. It is “pure awareness, prior to thoughts, free from perceptions, associations, memories”.
Once one lets go of preconceived notions, the mind is able to take a back seat in order to connect with the True Self. This is what is meant by the third sutra of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, “Tada drastuh sva-rupe vashthanam”. “Be still and know I am That I-AM.” Once we silence our mental disturbances and get rid of our attachments, then we can reside in the Supreme reality, the I-AM.
Recipe:Ginger Carrot Cookies (vegan or gluten free)
This is a great kicked up version to your regular old Ginger Snap cookie.
Plus, you’re able to sneak in some veggies as well! The heat from the ginger
adds a nice kick to warm up any belly during the winter season!
-Erin Loscalzo, BambooMoves Teacher and Foodie
Bake at 375°F for 8-10 min
Yields 2 Dozen Cookies
1/3 cup Vegan Buttery Spread softened or Canola Oil
½ cup sugar + small amount for dipping
1/3 cup Molasses
2 cups flour, Whole wheat or Gluten Free
¼ cup water
½ tbsp. ginger powder
1 tsp. vanilla extract
¾ tsp salt
2 carrots shredded
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tbsp fresh ginger
½ tsp baking soda
2 tsp baking powder
Combine dry ingredients into a bowl and set aside. Combine wet ingredients until well mixed. Add dry ingredients to the wet mixture. The mixture will seem dry at first, but if it is too dry, add water 1 tbsp. at a time until desired consistency. Chill your dough for about 30 mins. During this time you can preheat your oven, practice cleaning meditation or Asana in your kitchen! When dough is chilled use a tablespoon to break off dough, creating a small ball. Roll this ball into sugar, or just dip just the top of the ball into a little sugar. Place on ungreased baking sheet and bake for 8-10 mins. Let your cookies meditate for 15 mins before tasting.
Bake. Bless. Enjoy!
Recipe: Sweet Potato and Carrot Soup
Enjoy this wonderful winter recipe, courtesy of Erin Loscalzo, BambooMoves teacher and resident food expert. This soup is great to warm your body in the coming months. It also contains ginger and other goodies that help boost your immune system.
1/2 Yellow Onion, chopped
2-3 Garlic Cloves, chopped
5 Cups Vegetable Broth
1-1.5 lb. Sweet Potato, peeled & chopped
1 lb. Peeled Carrots, chopped
1 tbsp. Freshly Grated Ginger
1 tsp. Cinnamon
1/2 tsp. Nutmeg and Cloves
Salt and Pepper to taste
Saute onions and garlic. Add vegetable broth. Add remaining ingredients. Cook about 1/2 hour or until veggies are tender. Blend. Bless. Enjoy!
Equanimity:This Too Shall Pass
By Nina Rabinowitz, BambooMoves Teacher
As many of us continue to recover from the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy, I would like to share with you an ancient Chinese parable.
Near China’s northern borders lived a man well versed in the practices of Taoism. His horse, for no reason at all, got into the territory of the northern tribes. Everyone commiserated with him. “Perhaps this will soon turn out to be a blessing,” said his father.
After a few months, his animal came back, leading a fine horse from the north. Everyone congratulated him. “Perhaps this will soon turn out to be a cause of misfortune,” said his father.
Since he was well-off and kept good horses his son became fond of riding and eventually broke his thigh bone falling from a horse. Everyone commiserated with him.“Perhaps this will soon turn out to be a blessing,” said his father.
One year later, the northern tribes started a big invasion of the border regions. All able-bodied young men took up arms and fought against the invaders, and as a result, around the border nine out of ten men died. This man’s son did not join in the fighting because he was crippled and so both the boy and his father survived.
In the past week and a half, many of us have been through a variety of misfortunes, from loss of internet access to loss of a loved one. I am not relating this story to you to say that these seeming misfortunes will turn out for the best. Maybe it will. But then again, maybe it won’t. That is why this is an opportunity to practice equanimity, or steadiness of mind.
Equanimity means maintaining an undisturbed state of inner peace despite all seeming fortune or misfortune. Someone without an equanimous mind will respond automatically to outside stressors and joys. To some bad news, he will frown. To good news, he will smile. At the sight of something disgusting, he will look away. At the sight of something desirable, he will pursue. By our very natures, we chase after pleasure and try to avoid pain. At least that is what our mind does. However, we can choose to release ourselves from the chains of our emotions. We do this by developing equanimity. It’s important to note that when practicing equanimity, we are not learning to become indifferent or cold-hearted. Rather, we learn to create space in our minds and in our hearts to accept both fortune and misfortune. This opens us up to living fuller, richer lives, free of hostility and ill-will.
As the saying goes, “This too shall pass”. The owner of an equanimous mind knows this to be true, and therefore chooses to free himself from his attachment to pleasure and pain.
To quote the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, “Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah”. “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind-stuff.” When we work towards equanimity, we are truly practicing the essence of yoga and uniting with the True Self.