Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Omily Tarot: A Tarot Deck By Any Other Name...

How were your holidays? Mine were way too much of a whirlwind to write blogposts. I managed to get in two aerial workouts, a tarot reading, a reiki healing, and some deep breathing, and frankly, I am just thrilled with that. I'm prepared to give myself a medal for getting that much of a practice in.

I had kind of a reach gift on my Christmas list this year...The Tarot deck designed by Salvadore Dali. I wasn't too surprised not to get it...though I did get a tarot deck. I wasn't sure what to think when I opened it: it was a little kit with a deck, a mini book, and a mat you could use to lay the cards out in a particular spread. It seemed...beginner-minded at best, and kitschy at worst...but as soon as I opened the deck, I was intrigued. I'd never worked with a deck with a black background before, and the images, highly simplified, and whimsically arbitrary, were fascinating. It just goes to show you that you never know where you'll find a good deck. Maybe I'll use it for my 2014 Card of the Year pick!

It's definitely time to schedule your New Year's Reading! Get an overview of the challenges and situations to focus your energies on, and prepare to be the best you you can be with a tarot reading! Here are some pictures of the new deck. If you're as intrigued by it as I am, let's break this baby in with your New Year's Reading!
Here is the design on the back of the cards. Isn't it striking? I love how detailed and beautiful it is!
These animals with human faces pop up throughout the deck. I wonder why the rabbit was selected as the magician. It's interesting that the rabbit is holding the planet Mercury. Mercury has to do with communication, intuition, travel, and...I believe, magic.
I love the idea of the hermit being depicted with a snail shell. There are so many ways to think about that: a shy snail retreating into its shell at the slightest provocation...a person on a long journey of discovery carrying their sense of home with them...the invulnerability that comes along with avoiding relationships with other people...
This is a pretty traditional depiction of this card. We have the animals with human faces again. I love the kitty with wings at the top of the wheel! The monkey barely holding on on the upswing is pretty fitting, too.
I love this depiction of the devil! Doesn't it give you the shivers in the best possible way? I know this is the devil I'd fall for: not trying to trick me regarding who he is, but so dapper he doesn't have to!
I was at first shocked, and then intrigued by the simplicity of these major arcana cards. It seemed like there wouldn't be enough symbolism to draw from for a thorough reading. This one is such perfect moon imagery, though: the owl is a symbol of Athena, goddess of wisdom, the hunt, Athens, and of course, the moon!
I'm so fascinated by this card. It feels like a total departure from traditional imagery. What does a butterfly have to do with judgement? I can make an easy connection with the keys because of my Catholic background: St. Peter holding the keys to Heaven. Maybe the butterfly is about how delicate, and seemingly arbitrary judgement can be. We just don't know how things will turn out and in whose favor they'll go...
 This is a detail shot of the back of the cards. The little matches around the sun are such an interesting touch. The closest thing to a household object like that elsewhere in this image would be the cups or cards the two people are juggling. Maybe they aren't matches at all. They look similar to the pistils coming out of the blue flowers on either side of the moon.
Here are all the cards I took close-ups of, laid out with the rest of the deck above. I should have put something in for scale. These cards are a nice size: fairly small, but not miniature by any means: just easier to shuffle if you don't have huge hands...or aren't that good at shuffling. A big spread wouldn't take up too much space with these, which is always nice. Nothing like having to readjust everything just to make more room for a few more cards.

What do you think? Would you enjoy working with this deck? I'm still having trouble reconciling how fascinating it is with the fact that it came in a little box that says, Tarot: The Complete Kit on the front. The deck itself doesn't seem to have a name at all! What a silly idea! I don't feel like my tarot kit will ever be complete. There's so much to learn, and so many different decks to play with.

Did you get any new decks for Christmas? Tell me about them! Maybe I'll take the time to review more tarot decks in 2014...

Friday, December 13, 2013

This Blogpost is a Bit of a Stretch

I'm going a little crazy training for two aerial performances tomorrow, and our flight home on Monday, so instead of dragging a mediocre post out of my brain, I'm just going to share with you an article I stumbled upon in an old issue of Yoga Journal about Flexibility. I learned so much about the anatomy of stretching, and what prevents us from getting into those beautiful, contortionist shapes, and how I can maximize the effectiveness of the time I spend stretching. Enjoy!

http://www.yogajournal.com/practice/209

Live Omily!
~em

P.S. If you're in the NYC area, don't miss my performance at the 4:00 showing of Big Sky Works' Holiday Circus Cabaret!



Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Eating Omily: To Bake or Not to Bake? Get to Your Farmers' Market Either Way!

I know I get excited about things I find at the Farmers' Market at least once a month, but seriously, you'll want to sit down. This is big. At the Farmers' Market, on Fridays, at the Hot Bread Kitchen stall, I found...Marzipan Stolen!!!!

Are you not squealing with delight? You should be! Stolen is a German Christmas sweet, a yeasty bread filled with candied and/or soaked in brandy fruits, sometimes nuts, and a core of sweet, sticky marzipan! Sometimes it's topped with a glaze or icing, and sometimes it's just given a generous coating of powdered sugar. Either way, it's rich, moist, and perfect with coffee in the morning. Or, you know, anytime...
These stolens are the real deal: the marzipan was made from scratch, starting with raw shelled almonds, the fruits were soaked in brandy in small batches, and careful research went into making sure the recipe was authentic to the German tradition. This is some delicious pastry, and you do not want to miss it! At $15 a pop, it may seem like a lot for a fairly small loaf, but stolen is rich. I'm crazy about it, but I still can't eat more than three or four slender slices at one go. It'll easily last you till Christmas if you get one the day after tomorrow, and if you know what's good for you, you'll buy two and freeze one for the New Year!

Maybe you're not the type to buy a pre-made treat. Maybe you'd rather make your own Christmas cookies and sweets. Don't forget that you can get flour, butter, eggs, milk, cream, honey, and maple syrup all in your Farmers' Market! If you're making cookies, or another treat that doesn't rise much, whole wheat flour will provide your family with fiber to help stabilize your blood sugar, and extra nutrients without changing the taste or texture of your favorite recipes. Whole wheat flour also has less gluten per cup than all purpose, because the other parts of the grain are left in, and dilute it. Just sub it in wherever all purpose flour is called for! Farmers' Market eggs will give you whites that beat up stiffer faster, and rich, golden yolks with better flavor and color than anything you'll find at the grocery store, and the butter? Once you try it, you'll never go back.

What else is going on at the Farmers' Market these days? Heads-up! Next week might be your last chance for fresh fish...I bought half a pound of smoked blue fish today for a quick, easy, delicious dinner: the fish is hot smoked, so it's already cooked! All I need is toast, and perhaps something creamy to serve it with, and a vegetable! There may be a fish monger willing to stay out to brave the colder months, but catches will be slim, and attendance tends to drop in the Winter. I have yet to have a fish monger tell me they'll be around to get us through the lean months. Enjoy it while you can!

While you're out, you can do some Christmas shopping at the Holiday Market right next door to the Farmers' Market in Union Square, take the train uptown to enjoy some holiday windows, the Rockefeller Christmas tree, and baby snow leopards at the Central Park Zoo! I love this city...

AND, if you're looking for something to do this weekend, come see me perform on silks as part of Big Sky's Holiday Circus Cabaret! I'll be performing in the 4:00pm show this Saturday at Big Sky Works, on Wythe by N14th Street in Williamsburg, $15 at the door. You can go from there straight out to Galapagos Art Space to see the Nutcracker Circus Suite! I won't be performing in that one, but I absolutely won't be missing it!
Light and Love and Happy Holidays! Spread Christmas cheer by buying what you need from those who need your business!

Monday, December 9, 2013

The Omily Tarot: Festive Time is Tarot Time!

Christmas is coming! We just bought our Christmas tree yesterday, and I'm dreaming sweet day dreams of seeing it decorated with beautiful tarot cards, swaying in the ceiling fan breeze, and glowing in the candlelight...does anyone know if there's a Christmas tarot deck? Because I want it! (Why, yes! Yes there is...)
Christmas may not be the holiday you celebrate, but whatever festive occasion is brightening your home in the early days of Winter, know that this is a perfect time to tarot! Odds are, you're surrounded by family and friends in a contemplative frame of mind, there's a good chance at least some of those people are too stuffed to move, and are desperate for an excuse not to hear Grandma's upteenth telling of the Christmas she lost all the rest of her teeth at once to an aggressive toffee pudding...ok, I made that part up, but every family has at least ONE story no one wants to hear again!  Assuming your family is tarot-friendly, or at least tarot-tolerant (and if they're not, this is the post for you), break out your cards!
You'll get some solid practice in, AND you'll have a golden opportunity to explore objectivity: how does knowing the person you're reading for, perhaps very well, influence how you interpret the cards? To some degree this is inevitable, for better or worse, but objectivity is an important skill to work toward as a reader. You don't want to use the cards to deliver a thinly veiled lecture on the evils of a client's behavior. That's not your place. If what he or she doing is unhelpful for her or him, the tarot will be sure to point that out, assuming it's the most important concern that person has right then.

If you suspect something you're about to hear in a reading, or just the person you'll be reading for is a potential judgement-trigger for you, try to take a time-out before the reading.  Breathe deeply, release your preconceived notions, and remember that you are a conduit for the collective wisdom of the universe. Relying on your own lenses through which you view that wisdom will only distort the view for your client.

There's a good chance this skill is a work in progress for you, and as such, you may bump into potential readings where staying clear and objective is just not realistic for you. If that's the case, don't hesitate for a moment: tell this person, kindly and respectfully, that you are not the right tarot reader for them at this time. If you know another reader who you think can help them out, make that referral and gain some karma points. You don't have to tell them why. Many people are so in awe of tarot cards and tarot readers that they'll just assume you read their aura or something and will leave it at that. If the person does press you for a reason, say that this particular area of introspection is outside of your area of expertise right now.

This is also a great time to practice your tarot readings because we're getting into the home stretch of the year, and it's time to start contemplating the energies that will be in play next year. Doing a tarot reading on a whole year may sound daunting, but remember: a more complex reading does NOT necessarily mean a more complex spread. My favorite New Year tarot readings are the ones when the client and I choose just one card to represent the new year for them, and we mine it for all its worth. New insights will continue to spring up as the year progresses, the chosen card serving as a focal point for meditation, contemplation, and regeneration. If gleaning a whole year out of one card seems daunting in its own way, go ahead and throw a few more! Your unique choices regarding reading the cards is what makes your offerings as a tarot reader so useful for the rest of us!

In closing, here is a cute picture of my cat in a bag. Happy taroting!

Friday, December 6, 2013

Pure Yoga is Probably a Myth Anyway

I've never been much of a yoga purist. My first yoga experience was pretty traditional vinyasa, but I didn't know that at the time, and quickly enough I had segued into something more new-age, and well-suited to people moving their bodies for the first time in a long time. I knew I liked the first kind better. And then I wound up at Yoga to the People, where there is no seated pose, no oming, and no post-savasana closing of class. The first few weeks I kept saying I wouldn't come back...but I was wrong. They had me hooked. And I did my teacher training with them after two more years.

So then I knew was Vinyasa was, and that I liked it, and that I taught it, and I knew a very little bit about what Kundalini and Bikram yoga was, because we had taken one class of each as part of our training. And I knew there was some other stuff out there: Iyengar, Ashtanga...

I started teaching at a Hatha-Vinyasa yoga studio, so then I knew what Hatha yoga was, and Restorative yoga, too, though I didn't really know where all these different systems fit on the spreading Yoga Family Tree. I spent quite a while learning and growing with that studio, and I started to pick up on bits and pieces of Ashtanga before finally being shoved out of the nest.

It was after that that I stumbled upon the Candy Shop for Non-Yoga-Purists: Om Factory. I learned about Ashtanga, acro yoga, aerial yoga, some stuff called shadow yoga that I still don't actually know much about, and of course, yoga fight club. People were doing this stuff? Just willy-nilly combining yoga with other things that they loved? You could do that??

I also started teaching at a brand new studio, right from when it opened, and without even realizing it, took advantage of the unformed studio culture to play the music I wanted to play, and teach the yoga I wanted to teach: dumb jokes, super-challenging poses, and a firm focus on where this was all going philosophically speaking.

It felt good, like I was meeting myself as a yoga teacher for the first time, instead of just teaching other people's yoga.

It took a while longer, but I finally started teaching aerial yoga. And of course, it fit perfectly with the teaching style I had already cultivated.

And then the director of Bella Vita, the new studio I started at over the summer, wanted to talk about changing my schedule: she was canceling a Monday Yogalates class, and wanted to know if I could fill in the slot. With something similar. I've only ever taken one pilates class. I really liked it, but I'm supremely under qualified to teach such a thing. What about yoga with more toning, more core work? What should we call it? It'll be forty-five minutes long...

Suddenly I was staring the parameters I had always put around yoga in the face: how could I fit a complete practice in only forty-five minutes? What did toning–working hard to achieve a change in physical appearance–have to do with yoga? But I wasn't about to turn down a teaching opportunity over some qualms about how best to make this new hybrid work. I pulled together yoga poses, aerial conditioning moves, and some creative transitions, and started class with grounding and meditation, and ended with Savasana. We had fun...and my thighs were sore the next morning.

I do think there are compatibility issues with doing yoga when your goals are about changing how you look. It's hard to reconcile that with the goal of yoga: to quiet the ego, and find your true, good-enough self on the inside. On the other hand, there are so many roads for getting to that place...and teaching a class that will attract people who aren't already on that path to self-acceptance, and then introducing those ideas to them in a familiar atmosphere can only be a good thing. And there's nothing wrong with working your muscles, after all.  Exercise is really good for you, regardless of how it does or doesn't change your body on the outside.

I'm looking forward to seeing how my students change my ideas about what is and isn't yoga, again, through this new class. Come share your yoga with us at Bella Vita: Yogi Toning is every Monday from 3:15-4:00pm. Sign up at www.bellavitaworld.com.

What do you think about hybrid yogas? Which traditional school of yoga do you think is the most purely passed down through the ages? Does it matter?
Live Omily,
~em

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Eating Omily: Getting into the Holiday Eating Spirit

Oh, the morning after Thanksgiving! Glorious because of the left-overs, distressing because of the dishes.  We started our day off right with an amazing breakfast: sausage and eggs (of course) with left-over mashed potatoes formed into patties and fried in butter, left-over crescent rolls smeared with whipped cream, and cranberry relish.

We got most of the dishes done around midnight, which is pretty good, I think!

So...do you know what the next thing we did was?  If you've been reading along for a while, you can probably hazard a good guess!  What was left of our beautiful pheasant had to go in the stock pot with cold water, salt, pepper, a bay leaf, carrots, onions, and garlic to get turned into golden, fragrant stock.

Now I've got two icecube trays full of stock, and a big mixing bowl-full in the fridge, waiting its turn to be frozen.  In another day or two, we'll have a couple-month supply for soups, and other yummies.  You can add stock to anything you would add water to, and aside from coming with more flavor of course, it also comes with vitamins, minerals, and gelatin, which aids in digestion.  You can also use it in place of dairy if you don't always digest dairy well, or are concerned with the quanity of saturated fat in a dish.

Though you should know that if your dairy is coming from animals that eat grass when there's grass outside and hay (dried grass) when there's not, the saturated fat in dairy is actually healthy and full of superfood compounds that nurture your heart and your brain: the exact same stuff in coconut oil that everyone's suddenly going so nuts over! You don't have to have coconut oil shipped to you from across the planet (though full discloser: I keep a jar around for when I run out of butter/need something that can handle a higher heat point than butter) to get all those joint lubricating, heart healthy, metabolism speeding benefits.  You can just get butter from the Farmers' Market, and eat it, guilt free!

Well, there you have it. An early Christmas present from me to you: butter's a health food.

In other really good news, did I tell you I found chestnuts at the Farmers' Market?? I was super excited about this because buying chestnuts from a street vendor and using them to keep my hands warm while looking at store windows is something the holidays wouldn't be complete without...and now I can make them myself!
They're easy to make at home, too: cut an X into the flat side of each chestnut, all the way through the skin, then roast at about 425 degrees for about half an hour. Partially because of the roasting, their texture isn't like other nuts. You'll probably get a few burned ones in your batch that are too crunchy to eat, but the perfectly done ones are soft, almost like an underripe banana, but sweeter, and tasting just a bit like that, too. They have a really rich flavor that I love. We ate ours with butternut squash soup, and sautéed brussels sprouts for a warm, comforting, and nutrient-packed holiday dinner.
If you make more than you want to eat right away, peel all of them as soon as they're cool enough to handle! The cooler they get, the harder it is to peel them.  The side you cut the X into will have peeled up a bit, and if you press that side hard enough, the shell will usually crack into a couple easy-to-remove pieces, but the shell can be sharp, and it gets harder as it cools, so if you wait too long you'll want to use a tool to help you instead of your tender thumbs!

Think you'll make roasted chestnuts this Christmas? Or perhaps you have your own traditional treats you can't do without? Have fun awakening your Holiday appetite!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Omily Tarot: They Didn't Teach You This in English Class

Did you miss me? Sorry for the break between posts; things have just been a little hectic around here, especially now that we're fostering our first dog just in time for Thanksgiving.  I've been poking around looking into different tarot readings, and I stumbled upon one that really appealed to me.

You may or may not know, I'm really into grammar and other aspects of the English language. I write everything out longhand with proper punctuation when I text. Aside from showing respect to the person I'm communicating with, it also makes it easier to realize when I'm texting and should actually be calling to speak to the person, or maybe e-mailing. I've also been known to diagram sentences in boring magazines in waiting rooms and on airplanes...

So, when I found a three-card tarot spread in which the first card is the subject, the second card is the predicate, and the third card is the direct object, I couldn't wait to play with it! With Thanksgiving approaching, and us on the fence about whether to have an intimate feast for two, or join one of the many Friends-givings going on in our circle, asking how we should celebrate seemed like an appropriate question to start with.  Here's what I got:


A kitty (Leia loves to help with tarot readings, and also the Three of Staves, the Seven of Staves, and the Ace of Cups.  Feel free to take a moment and read my interpretations of those three cards from earlier in the blog by clicking the links. I'll wait.

The Three of Staves is our subject. What nouns do I associate with the Three of Staves? I'm always drawn to the metaphor of waiting for my ship to come in, and not knowing how things are going to turn out. That led me to think that this figure represents Skip and me, watching and waiting, and unsure how best to celebrate our first holiday without family coming up from Ohio to join us.

The Seven of Staves is the predicate, or verb, of the sentence, so what verbs come to mind when looking at this card? For me, this card is about cooperation, or the lack thereof. It's about wanting everything to be just right, and being unwilling to risk letting others participate since they might not do it the way you want them to. I associate it with feelings of defensiveness as well.  Thanksgiving is typically a stressful time for me (though I always have a wonderful time, too), because I love traditions, and I love making the same dishes and using the same recipes every year, but every year I have a choice: allow those recipes to be tweaked, or switched up completely when my family helps me make dinner, or take on a ridiculous amount of work and do it all myself so it's all done exactly right. Each year I get a little bit better at letting go of control, but perhaps this year is my chance to step away from tradition all together and do something completely different. "Step away from tradition" is a perfectly acceptable verb (and prepositional phrase), but I think there's more to this card: who is she pushing away, and should she be pushing them away, or is this card an admonishment to get out there and celebrate with others? Since it's reversed, I think perhaps the message is that it's not anti-social defensive to choose not to celebrate with others. It's actually a big challenge for me, since I'll be cooking up a roast pheasant with whiskey sauce with only my husband and I to enjoy it: no accolades from others. Perhaps the full sentence thus far would read, "Skip and I will step away from tradition and embrace celebrating for our own sake, instead of to impress others." That's already a complete sentence...and a long one, but that's no surprise since I'm such a wordy person.  What's the direct object? Well, we actually already have one: "celebrating for our own sake instead of to impress others", but perhaps the next card will back up, or change that object.

The direct object card is the Ace of Cups, which is one of my favourites! This card is about beautiful new beginnings, and all things associated with the element of water: dreams, emotions, matters close to the heart, intuitions, etc. This card seems to suggest that in walking away from tradition, it's important that we embrace the spirit of the season: being thankful for the wonderful relationship we have with each other, and the wonderful life we're building together.  I especially like the suggestion that this is only the beginning, and there are great things to come in the future.

I'd say our final sentence is:

"Skip and I will walk away from tradition and embrace a true celebration of all we have to be thankful for, including our love for each other, and the beautiful future we are working toward together."

I think that means we'll be staying in with our pheasant.  Do you think you'll try this kind of reading? Don't be intimidated; a completed sentence need only be three words long with this spead, and you could even do just a two card reading with one card being the subject and the other being the predicate to simplify even further.  Have fun!

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Chewing With Your Eyes Open

The debate about how we should and shouldn't treat animals has evolved quite a bit: I read a 10+ year-old copy of Yoga Journal recently, and there were several angry letters to the editor complaining about a past article that had dared to suggest that eating meat might be a legitimate personal decision that some yogis make for themselves, instead of something that should instantly excommunicate one from the yoga fold. Holy shit.

That same old narrow mindset is still pretty prevalent, though: whenever the Humane Society posts something about improving animal welfare laws to protect food animals from cruel treatment, it seems like the bulk of the responses are about how we should just all be vegan.

Our society offers two lenses through which to view the creatures we share this planet with at oppsite extremes of the same spectrum, and like many opposite extremes, they end up being the same in many ways.  On one hand, there are the many people who buy whatever meat their family will eat that is on sale, cook it up, and eat it without sparing a thought for the creature.  We're assured that professionals in animal husbandry are managing livestock, so why would we worry ourselves about it?  The animals are out of sight, out of mind.

On the other end are the members of PETA and those who agree with them: animals have no place in our daily lives.  No meat, no eggs, no yogurt, no leather, no wool, no honey, no lanolin, etc. etc. etc.  The animals these things come from are tormented horribly, so it is wrong to use these things. If you push them, they'll come out and say that they believe any use of an animal for our own gain is exploitation and morally wrong, so even the happy cows moving as a herd and eating grass, with protection from the elements available to them are miserable slaves. But they don't talk about this in their efforts to convert. They show the same horrible footage over and over, and the idea that we could do better, that in fact many ranchers and farmers are doing better, is simply not allowed to be part of the discussion. So animals are still being kept out of sight, and out of mind.

I'm proposing a third option.  Which is actually only the second option.  Stop keeping the animals out of sight, and out of mind.
Most of us can't visit farms on a regular basis, let alone CAFOs or feedlots, and slaughterhouses have a huge incentive to keep you out: they want you to keep eating the diseased, contaminated meat they produce.  But animals are everywhere.

Do you have pet?  Most of us think of our pets more like junior people than animals, but they are in fact non-human animals.  Sit back and observe your pet sometimes. Notice how sometimes your pet's motivation for her or his actions are easy to figure out, and other times, he or she seems to be operating according to some secret code you don't know at all.  Notice how clearly your pet can communicate with you sometimes, but how other times, your attempts seem to totally fail. If you can, look into your pet's eyes. You'll see it: something innately familiar, but at the same time, irretrievably alien. And cats and dogs have been bred to live with, communicate with, and be intelligent enough to learn from people for thousands of years, many many more in the case of dogs.
Watch squirrels in the park.  Read up on the impressive intelligence of pigs, and the legendary stupidity of turkeys, sheep, and cows. Keep in mind that just like cats and dogs, these animals have been bred for thousands of years to particular standards. Animals bred to live their lives in horrifically stressful conditions are better off being as stupid as possible. Intelligent animals are capable of psychological conditions that would interfere with their usefulness to humans. Stupid animals will keep on running the instinctive program encoded in their DNA no matter how miserable you make their lives.  If you don't know how badly animals are treated in modern CAFOs, or if you think it must be exaggerated, do your own research. Explore how the dairy and egg industries work. Look into those animals' eyes, too. We know suffering when we see it. Whether an animals's smart or stupid, how do you feel about it going through a lifetime of pain and misery so you can eat it?
Look further.  What are the environmental ramifications of raising so many animals in so small a place without the presence of the types of plants and animals that would provide balance in a natural ecosystem?  What are the environmental ramifications of texturized soy protein crumbles, and coconut yogurt substitute? What about people living in undeveloped countries?  Why did we start herding and raising animals in the first place? Read about Heifer International, and why they do the work they do.

Obviously, looking is about educating yourself. It's about seeing all sides of the issue, instead of oversimplifying things to make your life easier, but it's about more than that, too. Looking, seeing, is a form of honoring.

The other day I finally took the time to clean and condition my leather jacket, and that process, the slow application, rubbing in, and buffing of different pieces of leather carefully cut and stitched to make up a warm, durable garment, connected me not just to the cow the skin came from, but to the craftspeople who designed and made the jacket.  I saw the light reflecting off the smooth grain, the way that these funny triangular shapes leading up to the sleeves made the jacket more fitted to my body at the waist, saw that even with great care, the jacket wouldn't last forever, because once removed from the cow, cellular regeneration was no longer taking place. It was a meditative, even awe-inspiring experience, to see and comprehend all these things, and at the end of it, with the jacket hung up to air out, I wondered if I would buy another leather jacket one day.  Knowing that most leather is a by-product of the inhumane meat industry, I knew doing so would mean research, and a higher price even than a high quality Italian leather jacket already costs.  But I could see that it would be worth it for what I would be getting. I felt such gratitude for all the beings involved in the making of a jacket that most days I throw on if it's between 30 and 60 degrees and not raining without giving it another thought.

I try to see the meat I eat in the same way: the pig that was foraging for grubs in fields in upstate New York not that long ago is never far from my mind when I smell the bacon in our skillet. I relish the flavor of that bacon so much, and it's only more meaningful because I know of the sacrifice that went into it, not only the pig's, but the farmers who work so hard to make a living in an incredibly difficult industry.

And it is a sacrifice: being stunned, then having your throat slit does not sound like my idea of a good time.  No matter how carefully it is done, it involves some suffering for the animal.  I think that if you're living with integrity, fully exploring and comprehending the consequences of your actions, then you can make the decision for yourself if that suffering is warranted, and how far you're willing to go to reduce that suffering.

The people on the GO VEGAN side of the debate do want to remedy that lack of awareness...but only on their own terms.  Go to PETA's website.  They won't tell you about the small farms and ranches all over the country that work hard to preserve beautiful, unique heritage breeds of livestock by cultivating a market for them, allowing them to live an instinctive and low-stress lifestyle for the duration, and then slaughtering them in as quick and painless a way as possible.  They want everyone to know about the atrocities of factory farming, and I do, too, but once they've got those points across, seeking awareness or delving into our relationship with animals is replaced by platitudes:

"We have so much in common with animals. We all feel pain. How can we eat them?"

Those ideas don't reflect truthfully on our relationship with animals.  The first one is true enough. The second doesn't really mean anything.  If we're supposed to be acting based on how much in common we have with animals, then we'd definitely be eating them with no concern for their comfort or happiness, just like all other omnivorous and carnivorous species we share this planet with.  I believe we are called to do more, but I don't believe it's appropriate for us to act in a way not in line with the animals we are.

If you look for yourself, really look, I trust you to make up your own mind.

Live Omily,
~em

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Eating Omily: Pumpkin Spice Pudding, Please!

Ok guys, I know...this was due weeks ago, and you probably thought I would never get to it...but I did!  It just took some doing to get the recipe right, but lucky for you this one is fool-proof!  It even works if you leave it on the heat unattended till it burns all to hell on the bottom and you're still trying to scrub the pan clean a week later, and the resulting pudding tastes a bit like roasted marshmallows...NOT THAT I WOULD KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT.

Ahem.

Here's how it goes:

Start by roasting a winter squash, whatever kind you like to work with best.  Puree the tender flesh, and set aside.

Then, gather up milk (from local pastured cows not given antibiotics, hormones, or homogenized as you value your health, come on guys), three eggs, sweetener (I used mostly maple syrup and a little granulated sugar to help dissolve the cornstarch), corn starch, butter (same conditions as above), vanilla extract, salt, and your favourite autumnal spices.

Whisk together 1/3 cup granulated sweetener (if using; I used a little white sugar just in case not using any would mess up the slurry I was making), 2 Tablespoons corn starch, and 1/4 teaspoon salt in a medium saucepan.

While whisking continuously, whisk in 1/4 cup of cold milk until the mixture is smooth, and all the cornstarch is incorporated. Be patient.  THEN, whisk in two more cups of milk, and any liquid sweeteners you're using.

Cook the mixture over medium heat until it's steaming hot, but not bubbling. Stir it the whole time.  Not every second, but close.  Meanwhile, separate your eggs. Put the whites away for another use, and put the yolks in a small bowl or cup. Whisking the egg yolks constantly, add a little of the hot milk mixture at a time until the bowl the eggs are in feels warm to the touch. This is called tempering the eggs.  Think of it like when you run a bath for yourself, and it's too hot, so you do that silly dance of lowering in just a bit at a time. If you don't do this, you'll have thickened sweet milk with scrambled eggs floating in it.  Not as good.
Pour the tempered egg mixture back into the pot on the stove, whisk until incorporated, whisk in your spice choices (enough to make it smell amazing) and then, switch utensils to a spatula, or something with a flat edge so you can thoroughly scrape the bottom and sides of the pan as you stir.  As the mixture continues to heat up, it'll hit a magic temperature and start to...well, pud.  Once it starts pudding, keep stirring, but start checking for thickness.  You want to be able to dribble a ribbon of pudding off of the spoon back into the pot, and have it sit up on top of the pudding before dissolving back in.  Don't worry if that still seems thin; it'll set up much more as it cools.

Once this happens, turn off the heat, and whisk in 3 Tablespoons of butter cut into small pieces, and 2 teaspoons of vanilla extract. If you don't trust your egg tempering, you can strain the pudding to remove any scrambled egg bits.  Put it in a bowl, press plastic wrap down onto the surface (or just put a lid on if you like eating the pudding skin off the top of the bowl; I won't tell anyone. I wouldn't know anything about this either, by the way), and pop it in the fridge, NOT on a glass shelf if the bowl is still hot, and no, I WOULDN'T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THAT, EITHER.
When the pudding is chilled and set, you have some options: I layered the squash puree with pudding on top, and added a sprinkling of home-made pumpkin spice granola (recipe from Candice Kumai's awesome book, Cook Yourself Sexy).  In subsequent servings, I stirred the puree into the pudding so the two flavors could meld instead of being layered.  You could layer it in parfait glasses with gingersnaps and whipped cream (shut up, I am so doing that next time), bake merengue cookies with your eggwhites, and top the pudding with those...all kinds of pretty presentations!


Nom nom nom...get your Pumpkin Spice on!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Omily Tarot: Inspiration from Unexpected Places

You probably have a mix of friends in terms of the tarot: some who are into it like you are, some who are curious, but not fascinated, some who are curious, but simultaneously spooked, and some who think the whole thing is nonsense. I love talking tarot with other tarot enthusiasts (see the Brooklyn Tarot Meet-Up group on Facebook), but on the other hand, some of the coolest tarot lessons I've ever learned have come from people at the other end of the spectrum. Surprised? Why? You know what the Buddhists say: "In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert's, there are few."  People who can look at the tarot with objectivity instead of awe, and questions instead of answers are inevitably going to see possibilities in it that you'll miss.

Here's an example:

The husband and I were in Korea visiting a couple of friends of ours teaching English there.  We were in a foreigner bar in Busan drinking beers and laughing about the differences between Korean and American culture, when I pulled out my tarot deck (because tarot readings done a couple of beers in at a bar are always the best ones.  Seriously).  Rose and Audrey (our friends) were asking questions about how it worked, how you did a reading, etc., so to keep it simple, I just laid out one card for each of us on the square table.  It made for a fun spread: four cards each facing a different direction. I was picking up all kinds of ideas from each card for each person, and not really listening to my husband explaining how he saw the tarot as a jumping off point: what was interesting about it was what the images provoked in you, 'cause whatevs, I know all about it, right?

And then he reached both hands over the cards, and rotated all of them 90 degrees around the center of the table, so now each of us was looking at a different card. I was pretty miffed. I had been in the middle of working out interpretations for each card, and I had been totally yanked out of my flow.  How was I supposed to remember what I had had in mind for each person now that the cards were all different?  But then, looking at the new arrangement, different ideas started jumping out at me.  I was tempted to point out that these weren't the cards that had been chosen for each person...but did I really believe it mattered?  If the Universe had a truth to tell, wouldn't it find its way out regardless? And wasn't the husband talking about something I had often said: that the cards function as inkblots, reflecting back to us whatever issues we're currently working with?

There are actually tons of possibilities for spreads that move the cards around on purpose, or tarot reading exercises where different people get the chance to interpret different cards in light of different positions, but I never would have considered the possibility without the husband's beginner mind getting all up in my spread.

Admit it: don't we all have a nasty habit of tuning out when someone who's a mere dabbler in a field we're crazy about starts to talk about it?  We assume we must know more than this person, so anything they have to say will just be a repeat, or something that will never work, but that's not always the case.  Next time you're talking about what you do with someone who doesn't do it, let me be an opportunity to mine that person for fresh perspective.  I'll bet you a drink at the next Tarot meet up that you'll come away with something awesome to ponder. ;-)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Going to a Yoga Class is Great! Listening While You're there is Better

I love teaching 'advanced' poses to my students.  They're just party tricks, really, but they give students confidence, a sense of accomplishment, and the drive to come back to class week after week...and they're party tricks that build core strength, and generally offer all the benefits of an inversion: that's a win win win!

On Tuesday, I specifically prefaced a few sets of dolphin dives (forearm down dog to forearm plank and back) by telling my students that when they finally get to a full headstand, they'll be surprised by how easy it is. Being upside down on your head is easy because you're just bone stacking: it's just like standing on your feet, but upside down.  The trouble is, the long bones of your legs are uniquely designed to bear the weight of your body, and your muscles have had years to learn how to safely support your weight in this position. When you flip it around, your muscles don't know how to lend their support, but they're needed more than ever, because your seven little neck bones are NOT designed to support the weight of your body. Proper shoulder alignment, and proper shoulder, arm, core, leg (everything, really), engagement is crucial for you to inhabit that space safely.
And yet...when we were playing with crow pose later, and a student asked me to demo the end-game: a transition to tripod headstand, they ALL responded with, "Oooooh, we can do THAT!  That look easy; why are we doing this crow pose?"
Um...weren't you here ten minutes ago?

Crow pose is all about using muscles that it's not immediately obvious you're depending upon to get you into the shape, and make it possible to stay there.  Once you have the strength to sustain that pose, and the control to lower the crown of your head slowly the floor, I know you're ready to safely attempt a headstand.
Kicking yourself up against the wall provides no such feedback.

Maybe I should have seen the writing on the wall when I had to repeat instructions a few times before all the students in the room were clear on where their feet were going.  A couple of them were too busy predicting where I was going based on previous classes, or a previous flow from this class, or standard flows that pop up in most vinyasa classes...instead of listening to the instructions I was giving.

And this doesn't make them bad students, or unusual ones: I've gotten ahead of myself in many a yoga class, thinking I can see where the teacher is going with a shape only to find out she's making a transition I'd never seen before, or thinking I knew a pose so well I didn't need to listen to the verbal cues...only to find myself getting some heavy hands-on correction because I didn't pay attention to what aspect of the pose we were working on.

Not anticipating is a constant theme in my personal yoga practice, learning to tune in and heed every word, and when I do know what's coming up, because we just wrapped up the sequence on the first side, not letting my mind go there, where frustration, and resistance to muscular discomfort, or a pose I struggle with, are all I'll find.

The lessons of yoga about staying in the moment are applicable in your daily life, but, big surprise, they're also a big help in the classes themselves!

Listen to your teacher.  Really listen.  You'll stay safe, you'll get better, and you just might learn something!

Live Omily,
~em

Monday, November 4, 2013

Eating Omily: Local Eats and Delicious Cheats

Eating local offers some amazing benefits, and some life-changing flavors (no exaggeration: remember trying a local heirloom tomato for the first time? A strawberry in May? A grape in October? Mmmm...)

But, moments of supreme flavor ecstasy aside, eating local has it's bummers, too, especially if you're a cooking enthusiast, because so many amazing recipes, and whole cookbooks are written without a single thought to seasonality, let alone whether the reader happens to live in a tropical region.  Even the cookbooks that offer a token endorsement of seasonality will turn right around and suggest you make an arugula salad topped with grilled nectarines, or some other such seasonal impossibility.  Excuse me while I head desk.

And most of our preferences, and nostalgic connections to certain foods were formed in kitchens where the localness and seasonality of what we were eating wasn't even imagined, a scenario that can leave us close to tears when in the throws of a potent craving for banana bread, or pineapple upside down cake...

First of all, I feel your pain.  Second of all, I'm here to help.  Here's my list of substitutions for common non-local ingredients...and ways you can follow the spirit of the locavore for those times when your heart requires you to break the letter of the law.

Bananas: This is a big one!  These guys are delicious, sweet, high in potassium, and are a key ingredient in many succulent baked goods.  Here's how you get around it.

If you're after the nutrients in bananas, the answer is easy: potatoes have MORE potassium than bananas!  And, by cooking up those potatoes with plenty of salt, you'll have the perfect hangover helper on your hands: load of potassium AND sodium to rebalance your electrolytes and kick that headache in the pants!

If it's the flavor you crave, turn to other fruits.  Peaches and nectarines offer a similar soft texture in full Summer, and ripe pears can be downright buttery...just be patient and let them get soft before you sink your teeth in.

If you've got your heart set on the perfect pancakes, muffins, or quick bread, from mid-Summer, all the way through the darkest days of Winter, you can turn to Winter squash!  I keep roasted-till-tender butternut or acorn flesh around at all times this time of year.  You haven't lived till you've tried pumpkin spice pancakes, pumpkin bread, or, that magical recipe I hope to perfect today...pumpkin spike pudding!  Earlier in summer, you can turn to zuchinni bread, using whatever Summer squash you can get your hands on, and I've seen some awesome apple-spice bread recipes as well.

All that aside, if you just can't live without your banana fix, and trust me, I get it: for me it's avocados, do your research and find a source of Rain Forest Alliance Certified bananas.  These guys will be grown sustainably in a way that doesn't entail clearing rainforest, harvested by workers getting paid fair wages, and delightfully free of creepy pesticides and other not-so-fun stuff.  You can actually feel good about eating these bananas, in spite of the long flight they took!

Coffee: So...there are suggestions like, herbal teas from locally grown herbs, and um...grain coffees?  Which, if you're into that sort of thing...I mean, they say coffee is bad for you anyway...but yeah, just buy yourself some GOOD coffee, roasted within days of purchase, and bearing the trifecta of seals: organic, fair trade, AND, bird-friendly OR shade-grown.  Those last two are vital, assuring you that your coffee was grown the way it evolved to grow, as a shaded under-story crop in a thriving rainforest, instead of on a plantation where rainforest used to be.

Chocolate: There's no getting around the fact that cacao trees don't grow in these parts.  If you happen to live in the south west, you can get your hands on some local carob, perhaps...

If, on the other hand, you're fortunate enough to live in a major urban center, it shouldn't be too hard to find small, local chocolate companies.  Mast Brothers, whose factory I visit whenever possible just for the smell (ok, and the samples...), has their own schooner that they use to purchase and transport their cacao from small cacao farms not owned and operated by multinationals, but by the people who live there.  Now that's a journey I can feel good about my food taking!

Another thing to think about with chocolate is the number of ingredients.  The more ingredients are in a product, the more miles the product has logged in total.  Chocolate should be simple!

Of course, as with all things, you can weigh pros and cons.  Another local chocolate company I love is Buddha Chocolate.  Their chocolate is raw, which means more of its superfood nutrients make it into my body, and is sweetened with a (not even slightly local) low-glycemic sweetener.  That's a lot of extra travel for my chocolate bar to have logged, but on the other hand, it is organic, fair trade, and made by young entrepreneurs...and did I mention how absurdly delicious it is?  I'm content to go back and forth between Mast Brother's and Buddha...they each have their own delicate flavors, so I could never be content with just one or the other.

You may not have local chocolate artisans plying their trade in their hood, but you know what you do have?  The internet!  You can order chocolate from both of these companies, and the many others that are out there, and by paying the shipping, you're not outsourcing the cost of travel onto others in the form of low wages!

Spices: A lot of my favourite spices do not grow around here.  I can trade in my shaker of ground cayenne for drying and grinding up the local hot peppers farmers are growing, but other than that, it's non-local cloves, or no cloves.  On the bright side, spices have been transported across hundreds of miles for thousands of years.  Spices pack a flavor puch: you don't need fifty pounds in a year.  You don't need half a pound in a year even, unless you own a restaurant.  Choosing organic is important because many non-organic spices are irradiated, and you don't want to go there, but in general, when I need a new bottle of cinnamon sticks every two years or so, I don't fret about it too much.

Of course, anything that grows in a temperate climate can be yours: sage, rosemary, parsely, mint, basel, oregano, bay, the list goes on and on...don't get lazy!  Check your Farmer's Market first, and what you don't use before it starts to wilt can be hung up to dry and used all Winter long.

Nuts: This one drives me nuts (sorry) because so many nuts DO grow in this climate, they just AREN'T grown around here!  Tree nuts take quite a commitment to grow, so I can't be too hard on my farmer friends who are worried the market won't be there after they buy the land, plant the trees, water and compost, and prune for years before they start producing...but that doesn't make me miss pecans any less!

If you just want that hit of protein and fat, look for peanuts in the Summer (they're legumes, not tree nuts, so they can be planted every year, making them a much lower risk crop), and sun flower seeds.  These are so easy you really can grow your own if you have space for a pot of soil in a sunny window. Don't forget to save those seeds from your Winter squash escapades!  Roast them up (sprout them first for optimal nutrition), and you've got the perfect (free!) nut substitute!

In the Fall, keep an eye out for chestnuts.  They'll be a smaller, hybrid form most likely, but delicious just the same as the chestnuts of 'roasting on an open fire' fame.  Depending on your specific region, you may hit the jackpot: black walnuts!  Walnut trees thrive in much of the counry, and if someone living nearby has the wherewithal to harvest them, shell them, and get them to your market, you'd better not balk at the premium price.  They are not easy to shell.

Yet another good option is to buy fresh beans when (and if) you see them, give them a soak, then toast them up in a dry pan.  Nutty, high in protein and fiber...who needs almonds?

Raisins and Other Dried Fruits: Buy seedless grapes in October and November.  Blanch in boiling water.  Dry in your oven.  Can't find seedless grapes?  You may be able to find cranberries.  Can't find those either?  Slice, soak in an acidulated solution, and dry apples and/or pears. Easy!

Tomato Products (sauce, salsa, etc.): This is one I'm seeing at Farmer's Markets more and more because it's a value-added product: by doing the work for you, the farmers are able to charge a premium and make more money off of the same tomatoes!  It's what the giant food factories have been doing for fifty years, except delicious, and sustainable!  What's not to love?  This stuff is also not hard to make yourself.  Find a willing friend, buy a case or two of tomatoes (you'll probably get a great discount for buying in bulk), and make and can tomato sauce, salsa, or just whole tomatoes for greatest versatility. Canning is a bit of an enterprise, but if you're serious about eating local, it's a skill you'll need to acquire, and once you're comfortable with the process, you'll never look back!

Am I missing any of your favourite non-local foods?  Let me know in the comments and I'll include them in a Part II of this post!  Happy eating!

Nom nom nom...

Friday, November 1, 2013

The Omily Tarot: The Moon is a Better Symbol of Halloween than you Think!

Happy trotting! Will you draw any cards during the Witching Hour? I don't believe the tarot works because of mediating spirits, but on the other hand, having the portal between worlds a bit thinner than usual can only help, right?

A few years ago, I shared some of the things I love best about Halloween in my Halloween Dance Party Yoga Class at Bella Vita. We started off by doing a short guided meditation, as always.  In this one, I started by inviting them to consider the stuff they associated with Halloween.

I know my associations aren't all that unusual: candy, booze, costumes that leave little to the imagination...to a greater or lesser degree (and of course depending on your personal associations), all of these things are about excess: enjoying sensual pleasure to an extreme.  They sum up the sense of license that makes Halloween great: you can wear whatever you want, you can eat fistfuls of trans fats and processed sugars and for the most part people will keep their mouths shut, and of course, people will probably be surprised if you don't get hammered.

And suddenly I had segued from a perfectly appropriate breakdown of the third and fourth chakras to a not-very-yoga-centric monologue about the moon's pull on our psyche: the temptation to go a little wild and do things we didn't think we wanted to do...or at least, didn't want to admit we wanted to do.  Yoga has its own set of associations with the moon, and while a number of them do overlap with Tarot's associations thanks to the universal concepts of sun as masculine and moon as feminine, when it comes to the Moon, major arcanum #18, it's a shaky connection.

But how I could I help it?  It was Halloween!  Werewolves and young adults everywhere were prepared to howl at the moon, and celebrate it in all its lawless glory...
The Moon in the tarot is about the incredibly strong pull of our animal natures on our minds.  We think we have things under control: buttoning up that suit and getting to work on time every day...but the more we insist we're wholly rational beings, the worse the reckoning when, inevitably, the tide rises high enough to overtake our defenses. If you've been an adult for at least, oh, about six months, you've experience waking up with a sense of horror and the words, "What was I thinking??" close to the forefront of your thoughts.

You weren't!  And you weren't supposed to be!  The Moon needs its chance to run wild and take you along for the ride.  If you don't plan safe spaces for this side of yourself to be expressed, the Moon will break out when you least expect it, and it won't be pretty.

And that's what Halloween is: a societally sanctioned chance to follow the glow of the moon: your animal nature, your craziest impulses, instead of your heart. Of course, that doesn't give you license to forget about the feelings of the other beings you interact with.  That's all the more reason to let your animal out for pre-planned play sessions: you can be sure you're indulging yourself with a minimum of self destruction and collateral damage.

How will you howl at the moon on Halloween Night, literally or metaphorically speaking?  How are you planning to honor your inner werewolf in the future? Why not let November be Moon Month (a redundant phrase if I ever heard one, since our months are based on the 28-day lunar cycle, and the words come from the same root), or tomorrow be Moon Day?  Ask yourself when the Moon has made an unexpected appearance, and what damage it may have wrought in your life.  How might you have prevented it?  What impulses do you struggle to control, or associate with shame? Can you look at yourself in the beautiful, silvery light of the moon, and love every complicated, messy part of yourself?
Aaaaaaaaaaooooooooooooouuuuuuuuuuuu!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ;-)

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Teaching How Teacher Teach...

If you've fallen down the yoga rabbit hole far enough (and if you haven't, you will; give it time), you've internalized the understanding that it isn't about the asanas.  It isn't about mimicking the cover of Yoga Journal, or executing the perfect upward facing dog.

We teachers talk till we're blue in the face working to convince newbs not to worry about what the poses look like in their bodies, but what they feel like, and eventually, we push them even deeper: what does the mind feel like while we're doing these shapes?  What about the rest of the time?  We practice a little Pranayama, sneak a few minutes of seated meditation into long classes, invite students to close their eyes, all to tempt them away from the primrose path of pushing their bodies to be stronger, more flexible, (and probably thinner, too); more capable of assuming a certain school of shapes as the final goal, in favor of something deeper.  Something MORE.  Like, happiness.

But, most of us will never stop doing asana no matter how into the philosophy and meditation we get, because asana is freaking amazing.  And while it is part of your practice to work with the same old familiar shapes over and over and be present and find peace in a space that may be boring, you're going to continue to build your practice and attempt more challenging asanas. You just are.

And, knowing that that is so, we yoga teachers can't be so excited about the other eight limbs that we forget about the one limb that we are in fact teaching right this second.   Doing a yoga pose wrong means you won't look like the cover of Yoga Journal.  That doesn't matter in the slightest.  Doing a yoga pose wrong also means you could be putting your body at risk of injury.  That matters a whole lot.

It is a movement practice.  We are teaching you to move.  So we'd better do it right, right?

Most new yoga students are impressed by the teacher that can do the most advanced and challenging poses, who has been practicing the longest.  Those considerations are legitimate.  The trainings are great, but experience is what teaches you the most.  On the other hand, consider what happens when you get really good at a physical practice, basketball, aerial silks, anything:

You forget how you do it.  It shifts from being a highly cognitive activity that taxes your brain pretty hard to perform to something that happens automatically in your body.  Have you ever tried to explain to someone how you do something that you know how to do that well?  It generally doesn't go well.

Which is not to say that you should only take classes from teachers who haven't been doing yoga that long.  That's not a good idea.

What I am saying is that being really good at the fancy bodywork that is yoga is not at all the same thing as being good at teaching other people do that fancy bodywork, and the nuts and bolts bodywork safely.  The only way to get a feel for how good a teacher is at teaching is to take a few classes with the prospective teacher.  And during the first few classes, it's even more important than it always is to pay close attention to the feedback your body is giving you, and to not remain in any shape that doesn't feel right.

Personally I like, and am, a teacher who isn't afraid to say "I don't know," usually followed with, "But I can look that up and e-mail you!"  You don't want a teacher bluffing out of fear of not looking professional. No one teacher can be an expert on everything, so don't write a teacher off or knock her or him down a spot on your list if she or he doesn't have the answer to your question at the ready.  Of course, if a pattern develops, or your gut tells you this is something a competent teacher should have down...basically if your gut tells you this is not the teacher for you for any reason, move on.

Hopefully this has given you a little insight into what makes a good teacher a good teacher, and a teacher who needs more time to develop, just that. I know, the more you learn the more complicated it gets...just like doing Downward Dog! This is the part where I remind you about my Halloween Dance Party Yoga Class at Bella Vita this Thursday at 1:00!  Come play with us!  The first five sign-ups get yogi-approved Halloween treats!
Live Omily,
~em

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Eating Omily: Swap Sour Grapes for Sweet Ones

It's happening!  The tomatoes are down to a trickle, and the pumpkins are rolling in...and more telling still, we woke up the day before yesterday to the clanking of our radiators firing up for another year. Are you ready for Fall?  Maybe even excited??  Or are you, like far too many people of my acquaintance, already moaning about the cold and hoping it doesn't snow in the next five months?

Come on, guys!  Fall is a beautiful season, and Winter is, too!  Summer just wouldn't be Summer without it, let alone Spring.  What are some things you can enjoy especially in this special season?  Let me lay them out for you...

Mulled wine

Bean soup in roasted squash

Pumpkin Spice everything

Decorative Gords and Indian Corn

Celery and parsley root (with celery/parsley still attached to the top! Celery root is a different cultivar of celery than the type grown to be chopped up for soup bases or peanutbutter, though, so taste a bit before you decide what to do with those greens...)
Falling leaves
Cozy sweaters
Halloween!!!!!!

And soon enough, all the things about the Holiday Season in NYC that make me fall in love with this city all over again...

Feeling better yet?  If not, you may need more serious help...it's time to break out my secret weapon:

Grapes!
This is not a test!  These sweet, and way-more-flavorful-than-your-sissy-seedless-variety lovelies are around right now, and you only have a few more weeks to snap them up!  I buy them by the flat. The husband inhales them. I like to freeze them for warm-weather snacking, but you can, of course, make yourself the best grape jelly you've ever tasted if you put your mind to it! Upstate New York provides awesome climate and soil for grapes (as evidenced by the Finger Lakes wine country), so these are some of the best grapes ever! And if you don't believe me, just ask the bees. You'll see them buzzing around, but don't worry: they're way more interested in the grapes than in you.  Choose the crate they're checking out, and you're sure of getting some of the best.  Just give it a gentle shake to discourage any stow-aways before you carry it off.

If that's not enough to get you into the spirit, might I suggest my Halloween Dance Party-themed yoga class at Bella Vita this Halloween, Thursday the 31st, at 1:00?  I'm bringing treats...

Nom nom nom...


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Omily Tarot: Digging out of a Rut with a Deck of Cards

I've been having a rather slumpy week...perhaps you know the kind?  Too many demands on your time and not enough sleep leading to a horrifying lack of efficiency and a series of stupid mistakes that exacerbate both problems?  Yes, that.  I'm doing my best to rally, but then I had to drop off the world's cutest foster kitten because he has ringworm, which means a.) I'll never see him again, and b.) We probably all, cats and people, have ringworm.  Such funsies.

No doubt about it, I'm in a negative thought spiral that needs to be broken stat.  What can I do to turn things around?  Turn to the tarot, obviously!  That and the amethyst crystal my little sister gave me...

I'll be reading from my most beautiful, uplifting, and feminist decks (of course), and I'll keep it short and sweet.  Three cards: What can I do to improve my functionality and mood right now?  What patterns do I need to change to stay in that higher frequency permanently*? (as permanently as can be reasonably  expected seeing as I'm a flawed human) What's lucky for me right now?  That last one is such a wild card.  I've never asked a question like that, but my intuition tells me that's the right one, so we'll see what the tarot says!  I'll be using the Goddess Tarot, by Kris Waldherr.

Ermergerd, I love this resulting spread so much!  Two court cards, the immature male and female, facing each other!!  I'm having such a tarot geek-out...never mind that the last card is one of my old favourites from my early days with the tarot. So let's get to it! When I read with this deck, I like to take a peak at the LWB (little while book) that came with it, since it's a non-traditional deck with its own unique (feminine/ist) spin.
The book says that the Prince of Swords is courtly, but strong-willed.  He is a messenger who uses words to avoid confusion. Confusion is what I've got, but this prince is here to remind me to rescue myself with words: a thorough to-do list will keep me on track, and will help me be realistic about how much I can get done today, and when I may be able to do the rest.  With a manageable list of tasks to accomplish, I'm certain to feel capable, and once those tasks start to get accomplished, the feeling of accomplishment will be just the soothing tonic I need.

The book says that the Princess of Staves is a fiery young woman who inspires those around her to live passionately without compromise.  YES, that is who I'm supposed to be, even though it's easy to get bogged down by the fact the more awesome stuff I do, the more horrifyingly dirty the apartment gets...Energy.  Integrity.  Creativity.  Initiative.  Those are the words for me to live by if I want to live my life, instead of my life living me.  Love the Princess of Staves; she looks so introverted in the picture, but clearly she's a secret badass...

The Two of Cups is about merging masculine and feminine energies, and about enjoying attractions and relationships for what they are. Harmony, love, and enchantment are the things that pick me up and keep me going...if I follow the patterns the universe lays out for me, I never go wrong.

Ok, that's a prescription I can use...along with a piece of dark chocolate...There's definitely a lot more going on here than just that, especially since the Prince and the Princess are obviously dying to dialog...but it looks like it's time to go get some dishes done before heading to Om Factory early to work out on the silks before assisting the 6:00 class! Do you think this advice could be good for you, too?  How would you interpret these cards?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

The Niyamas in Korea


Last week, I talked about the Yamas using examples from my recent trip to Korea...or if you prefer, I talked about my recent trip to Korea as it relates to the Yamas.  It's the same blog post, guys.  Regardless, that leaves me with only one...well, two, things to do:

Talk about the Niyamas using examples from my recent trip to Korea, or talk about my recent trip to Korea as it relates to the Niyamas.  it's the same blog post, guys.

Just like Patanjali's Yamas, there are five Niyamas.  The first one is,

Saucha: This one means cleanliness, or purity.  Here is a hint on how well I do with this one: I remember the Sanskrit word for it with the phrase, "I'm saucha dirty hippie!"  Seriously, I lie like a rug when hairdressers ask when I last showered.  It's embarrassing.  But if Patanjali thinks it's important, then he must be onto something.  My new game is to throw my clothes in the wash the second they show even a hint of cruddiness, even if I'm just dying to wear it somewhere later in the week, and I'm pretty sure I can spot clean whatever it is I slopped on it.  If I can see something, or if it doesn't pass the sniff test, it goes in the hamper.  And, lo and behold, I find myself wearing a lot more of my clothes, and having a lot more fun experimenting with different outfits, because my old standbys are in the hamper kind of a lot.  BUT WHAT ABOUT THE KOREA?  If you guessed Saucha isn't just about not stinking up the yoga studio, you're right!  This word has to do with keeping different energies where they belong: cosmic organization, not just bodily cleanliness.  When you're operating in a foreign country, where you won't have an easy time explaining yourself if you violate a custom, you find yourself behaving much more by the book than you do at home, or at least I do.  I stayed to the right going down stairs, even if they weren't crowded, avoided walking between people and what they were taking a picture of, used 'please' and 'thank you' with considerably more hyper-vigilence than I do at home (which may have had to do with the fact that those were the only words I could say in Korean), and in all ways sought to respect and follow their way of doing things: their energetic categories.

Samtosha: This one feels like a bit of an onomatopoeia to me.  Just say it out loud: Samtoshaaaaa...doesn't it just make you heave a sigh and let go?  It means 'contentment', as in, everything's ok the way that it is.  This is an easy one to get under the right circumstances: you're home from work, dinner is taken care of, you're feeling comfortable, pain free, and thankul for the ease you're feeling.  Yeah.  Try cultivating it when things aren't so awesome.  Maybe you're running late for something important, or your back is really bothering you, or you're trying to get some information out of a company and they keep giving you the run around.  Not feeling that sigh and release feeling now, are you?  But this is when Samtosha comes into play.  Just remember: there's not a problem until you decide there's a problem.  Yes, sometimes there genuinely is a problem, and getting upset about it gives you the energy needed to solve that problem.  But, for most of us, the vast majority of the time, there is no solution, or at least not one that's worth the trouble, and if that's the case, where's the benefit in deciding there's a problem and getting all worked up? To put it another way, "If there is no solution, it is because there is no problem" (thanks, weird French cartoon).  There's just a situation that is.  Whether you accept the situation or fight it is up to you, but it's pretty indisputable that fighting it won't make you happy, but accepting it will.  Do I even have to explain how I was living this one in Korea?  I respected and appropriately expressed my negative feelings when I had them, but I also kept reminding myself that this was what was going on.  Whether it was how I imagined it, what I wanted, how I was told it would be, or not.  I could resist it if I wanted to...but why?

Tapas: Nope, sorry guys, this is not Patanjali endorsing restaurants that serve you tiny amounts of delicious food, but charge the same amount as normal restaurants charge for a big plate (Curse you, tapas restaurants!!!).  Tapas can be translated as heat, and one of it's meanings is that by working up a sweat doing asana, you can burn your less helpful tendencies right out of your body!  You don't have to buy that; Tapas also means dedication, diligence, determination...whatever it is you need to keep sticking to your practice consistently, no matter what.  Whether it's fun, or crappy, making a big different in your life, or zilch, tapas is the promise you make to yourself that you're going to power through.   This one came into play toward the end of the trip, when my eczema was flaring up along with my temper because of all the processed flour and white rice I was eating. I didn't have the option of ending my trip early, but I could have eaten all my meals at the Brooklyn Kitchen, a restaurant located in the basement of a department store a few blocks from where we were staying.  I did totally order onion rings there one time.  But, for the most part, I stuck it out and kept my mouth shut...except for one minor meltdown over salt...I tapped into the tapas I had built up over years of practicing yoga to see the saga through to the end.

Svadhyaya: This one is my favourite, and not only because it's so fun to say.  Svadhyaya means to draw near to yourself.  It's often translated as 'self-study.'  Svadhyaya, ironically, cultivates an attitude of taking a step back, and enjoying an objective viewpoint of your daily patterns, and reactions to stimuli.  That's because that stuff isn't really your 'self', at least not according to yoga.  That's your ego, and your samskaras (which means ruts, and refers to our mental habits, and how we react to one situation based on other situations we've experienced before).  Your self is the part of you that has no trouble at all with samtosha, because it's here, and its now, and it's just riding the waves of what is, without trying to row against them.  One of my favourite things about yoga is that it doesn't tell you to make all these crazy dramatic changes in your life so that you can be a better, happier person.  It tells you to just start observing your life.  Patterns will start to emerge, and just how much of your unhappiness is self-caused will become obvious.  Once it does, the changes will happen on their own.  You don't need to rush, or force anything.  Just start with Svadhyaya, and let the rest follow.  Which is why I was being so easy on myself when my ego started being a whiny ugly American on our trip.  I just sat back and watched.  I noticed how one thought along those lines quickly multiplied until my mood was in a tailspin, and worse, I watched my mood interfere with my friends having a good time.  That was all it took for me to find a balance between expressing myself when I needed to, and keeping my chin up and my attitude positive the rest of the time.  My trip went back to being a fun adventure in just a couple days!

Ishvara Pranidhana: This is a tough one.  It means to surrender to the divine, or if you prefer, to life.  It's a reminder that we can't control all factors, no matter how hard we try, and that means we can't control the affects or results of our efforts.  You can be the most patient, kind person in the world, and someone could still walk away from an interaction with you unhappy.  You can kick ass, and work your fingers to the bone for a client or boss, and still come up short.  You can stretch your legs every single day, and never manage a full split.  So don't worry about it.  Patanjali tells us we're entitled to our actions, but we're not entitled to the fruits of those actions.  Those we have to leave up to a higher power, or to chance.  On one hand, that's insanely frustrating.  No one likes to think they might be putting in lots of work for nothing.  On the other hand, it's liberating.  You don't have to worry about it.  The results are not your problem.  I repeat, the results are NOT YOUR PROBLEM.  You can do the best that you can, and then you can kick back and be proud of the work you did, regardless of the final outcome!  We're graded on effort, kids!  That's one hell of a curve on life!  This one came into play every time I tried to speak Korean or Japanese.  I did my best, but the results were laughable...literally, we got laughed at.  By ten year olds.  But that was ok.  The outcome didn't matter, because I tried.  Yippee!

What do you think?  Did this mini series clear up what the Namas and Niyamas are all about for you?  Are you confused on any in particular?  Let me know!

Live Omily,
~em