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Taoist Travel Tips

Taoist Travel Tips Canal St

I had a bit of an adventure today – two train rides and one dash through Manhattan via the subway. So I thought I’d take this opportunity to share some ways that I streamline these kinds of big travel days.

Travel Tip #1: The Train is Awesome.

I love the train – it beats riding on the bus every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Some of the views between the city and upstate are simply fantastic. The train rocks my world for so many reasons, including:

  • The train is much more time efficient than the bus
  • I can actually work or read without getting motion sickness
  • The chance of getting stuck in traffic in minimal
  • There’s no risk of crazy drivers.

Instead of dealing with all that, I’m can sit back and do a bit of writing while sipping on hot tea.

Travel Tip #2: A thermos makes a trip ten times more enjoyable.

The train is far less stressful than other kinds of travel (except for maybe riding a bike). Airplanes are much more time efficient but the altitude swings are pretty tough on the body. As for boats… despite growing up on the coast of Maine I’m not a huge fan of boats. To each their own, but the train is the best form of Taoist travel that I’ve found so far.

Beacon Waterfall

I call it Taoist travel because Taoism teaches us to move through life much like moving with the current of a river. This doesn’t mean living in complete submission to whatever happens to you – it’s about learning how to engage skillfully and navigate life more effectively.

One example of Taoist travel is to avoid wasting energy by fighting unnecessary battles (this includes dealings with unsavory people). You can see this principle in nature, where animals instinctively know to conserve their energy by traveling the paths of least resistance.

Taoist Travel Tips Emily Seymour

Travel Tip #3: When it comes to stuff, less is always more.

What would you pack for a two month trip? I pretty much live this way. Schlepping my gypsy carriage (which consists of a roller suitcase, backpack, cooler bag and yoga mat) has taught me that as little stuff as I think I might have it’s always too much. Try lugging a suitcase up two flights of stairs in a busy subway station and you’ll know what I mean.

Travel Tip #4: Escalators and elevators are like gold.

As much as possible, try to save yourself from unnecessary strain. Take the escalator or elevator whenever possible. A little hard schlepping never hurt anyone (it probably builds character) but try to balance the effects by switching your carrying arm regularly.

Travel Tip #5: Take your time.

There’s no need to rush. Give yourself plenty of time to figure out where you’re going, to eat slowly, and to find your connections, gates or exits. When you’re able to enjoy the journey your mood improves. You might even find yourself smiling at strangers.

Do you have any Taoist Traveler’s Tips to share?  Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

You might also enjoy reading: More Taoist Travel Tips

Taoist Travel Tips Brooklyn Bridge

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Winter Retreat Recipe – Potatoes au Gratin

Potatoes au Gratin

When the weather’s cold and gloomy all I feel like doing is eating comfort foods. Potatoes smothered in cheese have been on my mind so I decided to whip up a batch of potatoes au gratin. This is one of my “go-to” winter recipes. The potatoes, cayenne pepper and onion are all “warming” foods and the sharp cheddar cheese sauce is full of good fats and protein. In the winter slow-cooked foods are where it’s at!

A few tips about this dish.

I used organic potatoes so I left the skins on. You could peel the skins if you wanted to but if you leave them on you’ll get an extra dose of fiber. I don’t recommend leaving the skins on if you’re using conventional potatoes though.

A great way to reduce your prep time is to slice the potatoes and onions in a food processor with a slicing blade attachment. Slicing by hand takes a lot longer and the pieces tend to be uneven. You can also shred your cheddar cheese in the processor, just switch to the cheese grater attachment.

Cayenne pepper is a powerhouse superfood.

I always use cayenne pepper instead of black pepper. Many people don’t know this but black pepper is mildly toxic. Cayenne lowers cholesterol, increases circulation and even strengthens the stomach lining [to learn more read: Health Benefits of Cayenne Pepper].

It does takes a while to make this dish (about 2 hours) but it’s SO worth it! And your kitchen will smell amazing. For even more flavor you can garnish your potatoes au gratin with a splash of hot sauce. You could also sprinkle some chopped nitrate-free cooked bacon or lay a couple of fried eggs on top. Enjoy!

Potatoes au Gratin

makes 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 6 medium organic russet potatoes
  • 1 medium onion
  • salt and cayenne pepper
  • 3 Tbsp butter plus extra for greasing pan
  • 3 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp Kosher salt + more for seasoning the potatoes
  • 2 cups milk
  • 1 & 1/2 cups shredded extra sharp white cheddar cheese
  • Hot sauce (optional)

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter a 10″ x 8″ x 3″ pyrex baking dish.
  2. Cut the potatoes in half and cut into thin 1/8″ slices (or use a food processor).
  3. Layer half of the potatoes in the baking dish. Season generously with salt and cayenne. Set the other half of the potatoes aside.
  4. Cut the onion into thin slices and layer on top of the potatoes.
  5. Layer the remaining potato slices on top of the onion slices. Season again with salt and cayenne.
  6. In a medium-size saucepan melt 3 Tbsp butter over medium heat. Add the flour and 1/2 tsp salt and stir constantly for one minute.
  7. Add milk and continue to cook and stir until thickened.
  8. Add the cheese and continue stirring for another minute until the cheese has melted.
  9. Pour cheese sauce over potatoes and cover dish with aluminum foil.
  10. Bake in the preheated oven for 1 & 1/2 hours (or until the potatoes are fork tender).
  11. In the last fifteen minutes of cooking remove the foil to brown the top layer.

Potatoes au Gratin Hot Sauce

So good with a splash of hot sauce!

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Personal Retreat Reflections

Personal Retreat ReflectionsI’m on a personal retreat right now and have been diving into my practice. I’ve wanted to take an inner-teacher sabbatical during the holidays for years. I feel blessed to have an abundance of uninterrupted practice time. It puts me back into alignment with my own rhythms. And my inclination is to find ways to share this bounty with others. So here goes…

Winter is a time for hibernation.

The life-giving source of energy that comes from the sun is in short supply. Winter is also the season when apana, the downward current of energy is most prevalent. Apana is the force of energy that governs elimination in the body (excretion, urination, menstruation). Psychologically, it’s best described as a state of introversion. In nature it’s the force that draws sap down into the tree’s roots.

The holiday season presents an interesting counterbalance, which typically requires a great deal of output – emotionally, socially, financially, and physically. These cultural pressures don’t necessarily align with the laws of nature. Being extroverted can be very challenging when we’re disconnected from our natural rhythms. And with so much emphasis on externalization it’s easy to fall into the mental trap of thinking that we are not enough.

We might try to power through the season like a marathon runner but that’s a great way to make ourselves sick. Eating foods that we don’t typically eat, drinking excess amounts of alcohol and running around in the cold can take a significant toll on our physical health. Over stimulation and stress can make us feel like we’re wearing an invisible suit of armor.

While it is possible to cultivate energy through the holidays, it’s very important that we have enough gas in our tanks. So how to do this? Here are some simple suggestions of ways to practice “refilling your cup.”

  • Stay hydrated – drink plenty of room temperature, filtered water.  Add a little fresh lemon or lime juice if you have them on hand.
  • Eat the most beautiful food.
  • Be mindful of CATS (caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, sugar).
  • Turn off your television.
  • Avoid violent movies and fear-induced media hype.
  • Go outside and spend time in nature.
  • Don’t read the news when you’re eating.
  • Go to bed when you’re tired or take a nap.
  • Slow down.
  • Meditate. Light a candle or sit by a fireplace (the ultimate television).
  • Exercise. Move in ways that your body enjoys.
  • Breathe. A lot.
  • Relax in the sunshine.
  • Play, laugh, love.
  • Drink tea.
  • Sing your songs.

What are some other ways to nourish your spirit during this time of year? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

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Yogavotes is Spiritual Materialism in Action

YogavotesCo-authored with Christopher James Whitson.

Yogavotes, a national, nonpartisan campaign has petitioned an estimated 20 million American yoga practitioners to vote in 2012. Yogavotes claims that “yoga is voting,” which is a lie. Yoga was never intended to be political and should never become political. Yogavotes, or any political non-profit acting in the name of yoga is inherently unethical according to yoga’s clearly defined universal purpose.

For the record, we are libertarians and we respect your right to vote your conscience. Not all yoga teachers share this value and there is a growing trend where yoga teachers are endorsing candidates in their classes. While this tactic is not supported by Yogavotes, some of their ambassadors are publicly endorsing their chosen candidates.

There is nothing unethical about encouraging someone to vote or to vote for a particular candidate. But doing it in the name of yoga is a form of cultural genocide. It implies that yoga is something very different from what it is or was ever intended to be.

Telling someone to vote a certain way assumes that you know what is right. But what if you are wrong? Even if ONE person is hurt by those policies then what you have done can not be classified as karma yoga or seva because seva helps EVERYONE. In such a situation any action establishes further karma.

With all the hype about yogis “needing” to vote, is it any small wonder that the Yogavotes movement is being driven by propaganda? Yogavotes is attempting to change the stereotypical view of yogis as being “fluffy, spiritual people.” Yogavotes claims that certain yogic values of awareness, connection and participation are integral to the voting process. Yet they fail to offer a balanced perspective of the valid arguments that have been made against voting.

Despite Yogavotes’ claim of being non-partisan, they are appealing to a demographic that is predominantly comprised of Democrats. Since the 1960’s yoga has been branded a progressive or liberal practice in America, despite the many thousand year history of Sanatana dharma and the various schools of Indian philosophy (of which Yoga is only one). This is mostly due to the conservative slant toward Abrahammic religion and Christianity in particular. Many conservatives (though admittedly not all) view yoga as being outside of Vatican-approved practices and at worst from the devil.

Some may argue that hippies did significant work to popularize yoga in the West, thus implying that is a good thing. We disagree with the notion of this being a “good” thing. Some argue that the popularity of yoga exposes more people to it. This is faulty and inaccurate logic. What is commonly accepted and believed to be yoga is not yoga at all and never will be yoga.

Yoga, by its very definition, is “union” and “yoking.” Yoga can be illustrated by its single-minded aspiration and unifying purpose of Moksha (liberation) through Nirvikalpa Samadhi – the absolute ascension of one’s own intimate energy and consciousness. This and this alone is Yoga!

What does Yogavotes or voting have to do with Moksha? The idea of saving the world through a non-profit somehow continues to have a lot of curb appeal and non-profits pop up all the time. But despite the increasing numbers of non-profits the state of the world has become progressively worse.

Yoga was never intended to be political. If anything, it was intended as an escape from politics (if you define politics as karma). While the modern sage Aurobindo was politically active for much of his life, he had to give up his activity in politics in order to devote himself to spiritual pursuits. Aurobindo believed that for human society to reach its full potential and become enlightened, each individual had to undergo internal enlightenment: the unification of kundalini with the supermind.

Yogavotes is appropriating the power and authority of the word yoga for an aim that is not in any way a Yogic aspiration. The more people believe something the more that becomes their reality. If Yogavotes continues to influence people’s beliefs yoga will become nothing more than a political-social-marketing platform and an alternative to the bar scene.

Yogavotes is spiritual materialism (a phrase coined by Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche) in action. Not because it uses spirituality to sell something – it’s spiritual materialism because the ego is putting on a spirituality “suit” and is tricking you into thinking you are being spiritual by voting. And this ego-charade has infiltrated every aspect of the yoga community.

What is needed in the world today are more people who are willing to challenge their own egos, rather than making themselves look and feel good at the expense of true liberation (Moksha) and truth (Satya).

Yoga is intended to be completely non-partisan. How can ascension and liberation be partisan? Please, don’t put yet another stain on Yoga by condoning this Yoga Lobby.

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Yogis Can Eat Meat (if They Want to)

Yogis Can Eat Meat
I’m a flexitarian, which means that I eat small amounts of healthy meat. As a yoga teacher, people tend to assume that I’m a vegetarian. I enjoy vegetarian cuisine and have experimented with vegetarianism, but it isn’t in my best interest to eat that way.

I could replace meat with supplements or food combining options (such as rice and beans) and would do so if I had no other options. I just know that my energy level and health is enhanced from animal proteins. I understand that every person’s body is unique and their diet should reflect that. This is just what works for me.

I grew up in an American home. My family belonged to a co-op for a while and supported the Maine organic farmers association. I experimented with vegetarianism when I was in high school, but quite honestly I had no idea what I was doing.

When I went to college I didn’t like the cafeteria food, so I wound up eating a lot of cereal, bagels and salads. My boyfriend came to visit and saw how depleted I was, so we bought a hotplate and we made pasta and sausage in my dorm room. That first home-cooked meal was like finding water in the desert.

After a year at college I decided to take a leave of absence and began apprenticing with my dance teacher. Being on the road and eating out a lot while teaching five days a week took a major toll on my body. During spring break I experimented with the Blood Type Diet. After just a week of eating according to my Type O recommendations I felt healthier than I had in years. I was eating sprouted grain breads, vegetables, fruits and small portions of healthy meats and fish. The higher cost of eating this way kept me from continuing, so I fell back into my old patterns.

After my dance teacher passed I became friends with a group of people who had a cooking tradition. Each week a different person would cook a shared meal. I was very nervous about cooking for a large group, and my first attempt was a failure. One of the older women shared some of her cookbooks with me. One was specifically for “starving artists” like myself.

I started teaching myself how to cook.

I began to integrate these books with what I’d been learning about food energetics. Cooking became a meditation for me as I practiced listening to my intuition while preparing simple meals.

I moved to New York where I met a Chinese doctor and martial artist. He taught me about cooking alchemy from an Oriental medicine perspective. I started to view my food as medicine. For the first time in my adult life I started relaxing my belly while I ate. As a dancer I’d always held it in out of fear of eating too much. I was exercising a lot and learned that in order to train effectively I had to have enough of the right kinds of fuel in my body.

I went on to study yoga and Ayurveda, and continued learning about food as medicine. Like any other food, meat has medicinal benefits. My yoga teacher (who eats fish and eggs) taught me about the importance of gratitude and the power of prayer when eating.

There’s a common misperception in New Age circles that eating meat is somehow less “spiritual” than vegetarianism or veganism. There are many yoga teachers who eat meat and even the Buddha ate meat. Apparently eating meat was what killed him though – the story goes that he died from being served contaminated pork, which is a great argument against mishandling.

Every person has the right to eat however they want.

This is just my story about food and I’m interested to hear yours. Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

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Is Power Yoga the Anti-Yoga?

Is Power Yoga the Anti-Yoga

A friend sent me a coupon for a week of free yoga classes so I decided to check out a studio in Manhattan. I’d heard good things about this place – that it’s one of the better studios in the city. On their website they describe their signature style as being based on the chakra system. I let go of any pre-conceived ideas of what this could mean and went with an open mind.

There was a strong MTV element.

The walls were painted with graffiti and one wall displayed a mural of Ganesha holding a boom box and a stack of dollar bills. The floor was covered in glitter and pink hearts that were arranged to help students align their mats so they wouldn’t kick one another in a packed room.

The studio owner came in sporting an Obama tee shirt and a half sleeve. I’d never seen such a blatant political advertisement by a teacher (yoga is not political BTW). The music was bumping from start to finish and the sequencing included some creative variations. The predominant theme of the class was fun, Fun, FUN! It must be what the student-clientele are willing to pay $18 a class for.

I had a hard time concentrating.

The over-stimulation was a stark contrast to my usual “studio” of parks and nature. It felt like I was in a dance class rather than a yoga class. I didn’t experience anything about the “signature style” to indicate a relationship with the chakras. It may have not been a part of the lesson that day (which I honestly don’t remember).

A few days later I received an email from a Buddhist Dharma teacher who shared his reflections on the benefits of Slow Yoga. He said that Slow Yoga helps his students with their meditation practices and that they believe that power yoga is the anti-yoga, or at least anti-enlightenment in the same way that guided meditation is anti-meditation.

With the MTV yoga experience still fresh in my mind, I had to agree that power yoga presents an obstacle. It’s not to say that power yoga can’t be used as a stepping stone but its primary function is aerobic entertainment. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that guided meditation is anti-meditation though…

What do you think? Is power yoga the anti-yoga? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

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The Bowl of Light

Hawaii Sunrise Bowl of Light

As I was digging through some old papers I found a letter from when I traveled to Hawaii in 2008. I was staying at a hostel on Maui’s north shore and the owner was a native Hawaiian. After a few conversations he started teaching me about Hawaiian spirituality. Before I left he gave me a letter with a story. These are his words:

The ancient Hawaiians believed that we are NOT human beings here to have the occasional spiritual experience, but that we are spirit beings here to LIVE the human experience. And they had a very beautiful story which represented this called the “Bowl of Light.”

Each child, as they were born, would have a bowl carved for them by one of the elders. And it would be given to them at birth and explained to them as they grew that this bowl represented them, as their True [self].

They were like bowls of shining LIGHT. They were ‘uhane nui’ – spirit greatness – and that all humans are spirit greatness, and that we shine from this place. We shine as spirit light. And as we go through life and as things occur that are not pono (in divine order), it is as if a pohaku, a rock is put into the bowl, it blocks out the light and we can no longer shine, shine as spirit greatness the way we were meant to be.

The Hawaiians had a very simple solution for this: they would just huli the bowl. In other words, turn the bowl over so that they could continue to shine as the spirit of light that they were meant to be.

There are similar lessons within yoga and Buddhism. It can be tough to let go of things that aren’t working but it can also be the best medicine. When life puts rocks in your bowl that is THE best time to practice. And when it seems like the whole world is being turned upside down it might just be a necessary step in emptying the bowl. Especially if we’re having a hard time letting go of the rocks.

May you shine as spirit greatness, the way you were meant to be.

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Tandem Yoga FAQs

Yuki BirdWhat is Tandem Yoga?

Tandem Yoga is an umbrella term for partner, contact and acrobatic Yoga.  Tandem means a group working together, and Yoga means union, as in a pair of opposite forces uniting.  In Tandem Yoga we work together to understand and experience this balance of opposition through our shared Yoga practices.  This playful, heart-centered practice takes yoga to the next level.

What are the benefits of Tandem Yoga?

There are many benefits, some of which I talk about in a previous article (read: Tandem Yoga – Inversions).

Do I need a partner?

No, it really isn’t necessary.  Many practitioners claim that it can actually be more challenging to practice with their significant other.  It’s best to come with the idea that you’re going to have fun playing with friends.  Of course, if you and your partner want to attend together that’s fine, but you should know in advance that you’ll have the opportunity to practice with a variety of people.  Tandem practices are a great way to get to know a person for the first time.

Are there any Tandem Workshops just for couples?

Yes and they are advertised that way – example: Valentine’s Day.  I also offer private Tandem Yoga sessions.

Can you recommend any videos?  

Yes, you’ll find that there’s a lot of free material online if you search for ‘partner’, ‘acro’, ‘contact’, etc.  For our purposes, I’d recommend that you start by watching the video “108 Seconds of Aero Yoga.”  This includes a lot of the basic floor poses that are taught in Tandem Workshops:

 

Other questions?

Feel free to post them here or send an email to mindbodymandala@gmail.com

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Yogaerobics is for Posers

PhysicalPoser: noun

  1. A person who poses
  2. A person who likes to be seen in trendsetting clothes in fashionable bars, clubs, etc.
  3. A person who attempts to blend into a specific social group
  4. A puzzling or baffling question

I’ll start this rant with a little disclaimer:

“Everyone does not have to like everything.”  

We all have our own share of experiences which form the basis of our opinions. That said, I’m going to be honest with you… I don’t like yogaerobics classes – I think they’re really boring. I know that saying this is a faux pas in some circles but I don’t care.

Some people will argue that sometimes you just need to move, so who cares how you do it? But if that’s the case, then why – out of ALL of the things you could do, then why choose yoga?  If you just want to move then why not EXERCISE?  Like running, or gymnastics or any other physical sport?

Part of the answer stems from the numerous studies in recent years highlighting the health benefits of yoga. They’ve been very effective in steering people towards trying yoga, but it’s only one piece of the yogaerobics puzzle.

There is so much money invested in blinding people from their true potential. People are being coerced into buying into the yogaerobics trend. Magazines and newspapers present us with well-crafted ideas of what it means to be socially accepted. If celebrities do it then it HAS to be cool, right? The groupthink mentality encourages people to become part of a scene. To create a scene is to create a market. (Mental health tip: don’t watch television). 

The yogaerobics industry is designed to foster the “see and be seen” mentality. It plays upon people’s insecurities so they get wrapped up in their appearances, so they’ll buy $200 stretchy pants and brand name accessories. The overemphasis on the physical leaves little room for contemplation of the subtleties of the practice.

Even basic comprehension gets skimmed over in yogaerobics classes. I recently took a poll at a studio that specializes in vinyasa classes. I was curious to see how many people actually knew what the word ‘vinyasa’ means. Out of six classes only a few people knew that it means linking movement with breath. It was totally mind-blowing for me. I couldn’t help but wonder how did this happen? How did so many certified yoga instructors manage to create such a huge gap in the general public’s comprehension?

It’s been three years since I wrote this article and I’ve revised it to reflect my current viewpoint. The challenges I described back then are still prevalent today. I’m not sure if there’s anything to do about them (other than what I’m doing now). If you have any insights to share on this topic feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

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Neo Yogis

Neo YogisSo I’ve had this idea lately. It’s still developing, but I’ve been thinking a lot about the “McYoga” epidemic and how the neo yogis can survive it.

Consumerism and materialism have done a number on watering yoga down. The evolutionary force of yoga is being overshadowed by the superficial results. The many recent innovations are wonderful but at this point it’s yesterday’s news. You wouldn’t know that from looking at a copy of Yoga Journal. Speaking of which, I flipped through one recently and didn’t find a single thing of interest in it.

Not even one.

I see gifted teachers falling into step with the politically correct monoculture (hey, everyone has bills to pay). The teachers who have stayed true to the call are widely dispersed. Some of them stay well underneath the radar. I can understand why.

The yoga market is a slippery slope.

On the flip side the iron is hot right now. Yoga has become a household word and people are ready to dive in. But they don’t necessarily know which pitfalls to avoid. These are revolutionary times and there have been some recent explosions in the yoga world.

It’s easy to get disillusioned and cynical but I do believe that within the widespread interest lies a seed of greater possibility. We are experiencing a resurgence of ancient wisdom in a technological era. It’s a blessing to be alive in this information age. We are part of a shift in the collective consciousness and people are waking up.

The potential for personal evolution is mind blowing and it’s all the more reason to meditate. But we have to shed the extraneous distractions and resist segregating ourselves.

Let go of the petty story lines.

It doesn’t matter whether or not you eat meat.

The greatest style is no style.

Enough with the New Age elevator music.

You’re not your fucking lululemons.

Let yoga be the discipline of freedom that it IS.

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