Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Earthbox Update - Week Ten: Attack of the Killer Zucchini?

OK so these Earthbox zucs are getting so big, so fast that I am actually starting to get a little worried. I kind of want to ask, "Um...how big are you guys going to GET?!"

I only ask because I want to know if I need to start construction on an addition to house my humongous zucchini? (And is it just me, or does that sound a tad naughty? "Hey, baby, check out my big zucchini...heh heh heh." )

And just to give you an idea of exactly HOW big my zucchini is (heh, heh, heh), here's a picture of a leaf that dwarfs my hand. (Important side note: I have unusually large hands for a woman. Basically, they're man-hands. And this leaf is STILL bigger. Yikes!)
It took me 45 minutes to haul enough water out here for all these plants. Um...why did I think urban gardening was such a great idea? ;)

And now...enough procrastinating in the form of gardening and blogging, and back to work. Pages and pages of thrilling copy edits await.

Give me your thoughts on gardening--the good, the bad, and the humongous...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Earthbox Update Report #2: Week Nine

Well it's Week Three of Earthbox testing for this urban (potted-plant porch) gardener and I have to say they are growing...well, like weeds. (Though as previously noted, this system of putting what is basically a giant shower cap over box tops doesn't actually allow weeds to grow at all.)

As you can see, this box of zucs and cucs is kinda out of control for a three-week old!

The other potted plants are also doing well, but somehow they're just a little less exciting because I grew tomatoes and cucs in pots last summer and they follow the usual plant, water, weed routine. No weird shower caps or water reservoir-wicking-self-watering system. (By the way, I'm going to email the Earthbox folks about their water system--those little tubes are incredibly annoying/challenging to pour water into. They should've made one end a funnel. How the heck am I supposed to hoist 4 gallons of water (which is what, 32 pounds?) balance precariously, and pour it into a tube whose circumference is the space between your thumb and forefinger if you press your finger tips together? I end up sloshing, losing water, and then having to climb in and out of my window more times to finish watering. Argh.)

Anyway - that's how my garden grows this week :)

Monday, June 21, 2010

The High Cost of Yoga

The article below recently appeared in The New York Times. Here are my four takeaways in terms of interesting and hotly contested ideas. I wanted to put it out there to see what other people think, so please share your two cents. Below are mine.

1. The COST of yoga. Reporter Mary Billard rightly points out that the price of classes is skyrocketing. She references NYC, but it's just as applicable everywhere else. Here in Boston, the cost of classes is at least $15 and higher. At that price, if you go once a week, you'll spend $780 a year. If you go twice a week, $1,560. Three times a week for a year will run you $2,340. Getting that yoga glow will cost you.
Especially in this economy? Ouch.

  • My take: It's definitely getting out of hand. And take it from me, a yoga teacher, the high cost isn't going in the teacher's pocket. Trust me. Unless you're doing privates, and even then, teaching yoga is a hard way to make a living.
2. The cost of yoga accessories. $108 for a pair of pants? $100 for a mat? Apparently, looking cute while attaining that yoga glow ain't cheap either.

  • My take: I think it's totally out of control! $108 for a pair of pants that I'm going to wear to the studio/gym? Really? At that price, they better be magic pants. Magic pants that transform me into Scarlett Johansson.
3. The celebrity of yoga teachers. The reporter talks about some yoga teachers becoming as recognizable as Oscar winners.

  • My take: As long as they don't become ego manaical a-holes, why is this a problem? You know, aside from that whole, yoga as a spiritual practice and humility thing.
4. The importance of not getting attached to one teacher.

  • My take: Hmmm. I see what Greg Gumucio is getting at. But I have to disagree. Yoga teachers vary WIDELY in training, knowledge, ability, and personality. Just because someone is a Yoga Alliance-certified teacher (and not everyone is) at either the 200-hour or 500-hour level, does NOT mean that they all received the same level of thorough training. Innumerable students sustain injuries from teachers with bad technique, bad assists, lack of knowledge, or lack of watchfulness. So if you find someone that you feel safe with, someone whose style works for you, someone under whose guidance you see positive results and progress...someone, in short, who works well with and for you, I say STICK WITH THEM! It's really not easy to find a good match. Kind of like dating. So when/if you do find that special someone, don't be afraid to commit (or "go steady" as my 95 year old Nana liked to say).
So those are my thoughts. What are yours?


A Yoga Manifesto

ZEN is expensive. The flattering Groove pants, Lululemon’s answer to Spanx, may set Luluheads, the devoted followers of the yoga-apparel brand, back $108. Manduka yoga mats, favored for their slip resistance and thickness, can reach $100 for a limited-edition version. Drop-in classes at yoga studios in New York are edging beyond $20 a session, which quickly adds up, and the high-end Pure Yoga, a chain with two outposts in Manhattan, requires a $40 initiation fee, and costs $125 to $185 a month.
You can even combine yoga with a vacation in the Caribbean, but it will cost you: in August, the luxurious Parrot Cay resort in Turks and Caicos has a six-night retreat with classes taught by the “yoga rock stars” (in the words of the press release) Rodney Yee and Colleen Saidman. The cost? A cool $6,077. (In August!)
And is it surprising that yoga, like so much else in this age of celebrity, now has something of a star system, with yoga teachers now almost as recognizable as Oscar winners? The flowing locks of Rodney Yee. The do-rag bandanna worn by Baron Baptiste. The hyper perpetual calm exhibited by David Life and Sharon Gannon, who taught Sting, Madonna and Russell Simmons. The contortions (and Rolls-Royces) of Bikram Choudhury.
Yoga is definitely big business these days. A 2008 poll, commissioned by Yoga Journal, concluded that the number of people doing yoga had declined from 16.5 million in 2004 to 15.8 million almost four years later. But the poll also estimated that the actual spending on yoga classes and products had almost doubled in that same period, from $2.95 billion to $5.7 billion.
“The irony is that yoga, and spiritual ideals for which it stands, have become the ultimate commodity,” Mark Singleton, the author of “Yoga Body: The Origins of Modern Posture Practice,” wrote in an e-mail message this week. “Spirituality is a style, and the ‘rock star’ yoga teachers are the style gurus.”
Well, maybe it is the recession, but some yogis are now saying “Peace out” to all that. There’s a brewing resistance to the expense, the cult of personality, the membership fees. At the forefront of the movement is Yoga to the People, which opened its first studio in 2006 in the East Village on St. Marks Place, with a contribution-only, pay-what-you-can fee structure. The manifesto is on the opening page of its Web site, yogatothepeople.com: “There will be no correct clothes, There will be no proper payment, There will be no right answers ... No ego no script no pedestals.”
One more thing: There are no “glorified” teachers or star yogis. You can’t even find out who is teaching which class when, or reserve a spot with a specific instructor. And that’s exactly the way that Greg Gumucio wants it.
LATE on an overcast Saturday earlier this month, just a little before sundown, Mr. Gumucio, the founder of Yoga to the People, was sitting on the rooftop of his East Village studio, surprisingly refreshed after a birthday party downstairs for his son, who had just turned 5.
Propped on the ledge on a round pillow, his wavy, shoulder-length hair framed by the urban jungle backdrop of tar-covered roofs, Mr. Gumucio recounted his biography, and how it was linked with that of Bikram Choudhury, perhaps the most famous name in yoga today.
“The idea for Yoga for the People came to me because of Bikram,” Mr. Gumucio said, explaining that he worked for Mr. Choudhury for six years, from 1996 to 2002, sometimes running teacher training for Bikram Yoga in Los Angeles, commuting from Seattle, where he was living. He channels Mr. Choudhury, one suspects not for the first time, talking with a raspy, slightly accented voice: “Boss, do me a favor, take everybody’s class and tell me what you think.” Mr. Gumucio obliged, and when reporting back, mentioned one teacher whom he didn’t like. Mr. Choudhury was not sympathetic. Just the opposite, telling Mr. Gumucio to, in essence, suck it up and go back to the class — that the problem wasn’t with the instructor, but with Mr. Gumucio himself. “You are your own teacher,” Mr. Gumucio said he was told. “You are responsible for your own experience.”
It was a revelatory moment for Mr. Gumucio. If the student was more important than the teacher, why was there such an emphasis placed on the individual instructors? Too often, Mr. Gumucio saw students stop doing yoga because they couldn’t practice with a favorite teacher. Why not jettison that system? Why not just assign students to the next available teacher?
A second revelation occurred in class when he was struggling to keep his body in a difficult position. “I was sweating, my muscles shaking, in triangle pose, and Bikram was talking about how fast he was as a boy in Calcutta. How he could catch this dog.” The situation was almost more than Mr. Gumucio could bear. “In my mind,” he recalled, “I was thinking ‘What is wrong with you. Stop this stupid story!’ ”
Later, Mr. Choudhury again dismissed his complaints, telling Mr. Gumucio that distractions were everywhere: “Candle, incense, music, easy to meditate!” Mr. Gumucio recalls being told. “Try being calm and peaceful in your car when someone cuts you off.”
Message learned. Yoga isn’t about a pristine environment — yogis can work downward dog to downward dog, no matter where they are, even if in a crowded, unadorned studio. “Being able to do yoga with a foot in your face, that is a really powerful practice,” Mr. Gumucio said. He would take that no-frills philosophy with him when he left Bikram in 2002, and a few years later (after a stint as a mediator in small claims court), in 2006, moved to New York to open his own studio. “The first few months there were four or five people, but within three months, it really took off,” he said.
Today. Mr. Gumucio has three studios in New York (including two hot-yoga studios that charge $8 a class), one in San Francisco, one in Berkeley, Calif., and one to open later this year in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. He has just signed a lease in Chelsea and is considering expanding to Austin, Chicago and Los Angeles. (But his philosophy of keeping a low profile seems to be working: a question to many students about what they think of Mr. Gumucio usually provokes little more than a blank stare and “Who?”)
High volume is the key to his business model — he says up to 900 people may go to a Yoga to the People studio in a single day, with perhaps half of them paying at least something in the form of a donation — as well as an important part of his overall philosophy. “I truly believe if more people were doing yoga, the world would be a better place,” he said.
LAST Sunday morning, the sun streamed through the windows of the clean airy loft on the second floor as the teacher, Haven Melynn, stood at the buzzer letting in students from the street. On a metal stand sat an empty tissue box. Some students dropped a donation into the box, others didn’t. The students fit in one studio, and at prime times, the teacher will send any overflow up to the studio above, and then the studio above that.
Mats are rolled out, a few inches apart, with no one under the illusion that it may be an empty class. The classroom holds about 60 students, and people are socializing, chatting about their late nights, where to get falafels, and upcoming art exhibitions. Music plays quietly in the background. No opening “Oms.” (“I like that there isn’t any chanting, or big spiritual message,” Layan Fuleihan, a college student, said afterward. “I like that you make the class what you want.”) Instead, Ms. Melynn started off with slow movements to warm up, sun salutations, then quickly picked up the pace. Jammed, yes, but the yogis stuck to their own mats, boundaries defined, during a sweat-producing vinyasa class, flowing and moving, as the teacher cajoled people to make cathartic exhales of HAA-sss — all to the sounds of a play list that includes Michael Jackson and the Dave Matthews Band.
Yoga to the People isn’t the only entity raging against the yoga machine. In New York, other studios are popping up, offering affordable, if not entirely donation-based, yoga. Do Yoga and Pilates, in TriBeCa, is donation-based; Tara Stiles, who has an iPhone app with Deepak Chopra, has opened Strala Yoga in NoHo, offering multiple class levels for $10 each. Yoga Vida NYC on University Place opened in January. Classes are small and it costs $10 drop in, $5 for students. “Our studio isn’t better or worse, it’s just different,” says Hilaria Thomas, yoga director of Yoga Vida NYC and a former instructor at Yoga to the People. “Different energies.”
Better-known rivals in the yoga world don’t seem to take offense at this back-to-basic movement. “I think the donation model is awesome,” says Baron Baptiste. “It’s a balancing act. If someone has the means for what I’ll call ‘high end yoga,’ like going on exotic retreats, they should enjoy it.” He adds, laughing, “I never know what the term rock star yoga teacher means. Someone like Iyengar, one of the most famous teachers in the world, is he a rock star? Is Iyengar the Bono of yoga?”
Mr. Gumucio knows his niche — “the ABC’s of yoga” — and that Yoga to the People has its critics. Its detractors say that classes are too big, that there isn’t a lot of advanced alignment breakdowns, that the exclamation HAA-sss isn’t the way you are supposed to breathe. He mimics a naysayer, sniffing: “Oh, that’s not yoga!” He laughs and shrugs, a wordless: Who’s to say what is yoga?

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Take a "Chants": OM with Me!

I've noticed that when I teach in yoga studios, practitioners are all about the OM. They love to chant to open and close the practice. The class's chanting is hearty, vibrant, and somehow always naturally harmonized. It's really lovely and it makes me feel supported as a teacher. It always makes me smile. But when I teach in gyms, I find that practitioners are usually more reticent, self-conscious, and...how shall I say this? Um...extremely "reluctant" to chant OM.

I wonder why? I really want to know! Please let me know your thoughts on this. Do you like to chant? Do you refuse to chant? Why or why not?

Here are my best guesses:
  1. It seems kind of weird and out there (what's next? A gong? Incense? Balancing on one pinkie?) and you're just here for a workout
  2. It seems vaguely religious and you are opposed to religion in general or worry that it conflicts with your own religious views
  3. You don't like how your voice sounds
  4. You're too embarrassed/self-conscious
  5. You don't see the point. Why bother?
  6. You don't know what the heck it is and until you have more information, you're just not going there
  7. You once suffered grievous chanting injuries as a child and are still dealing with the PTSD after-effects.
  8. You recently had your voicebox surgically removed
  9. You're too busy wondering what the Celtics/Lakers score is
  10. Wait...there's chanting?
Feel free to respond with a number from the above list or fill in your own. Educate me, people! I'm dying to know!!!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Veggies, Herbs, and Earthboxes, Oh My! Or: Urban Gardening, Here We Go...

Since...oh, about January, I have been itching to start planting, and counting the days until Summer. But as an urban dweller with an apartment the size of my suburban-dwelling friends' living rooms and absolutely no yard, I had to get resourceful and turn my ledge into a porch full of planted pots. Next up: the fire escape. Ahhh, sweet urban oasis. I'll carve out some green space for myself come hell or high water. I need it. Kind of like yoga. Or air.

In fact, I consider my gardening another way to live my yoga off the mat. Obviously, I only use organic everything--soil, plants, fertilizers, etc. And I try to get pots made from recycled materials. So this kind of gardening is good for the planet and for you--sort of like yoga, but in a slightly different way. I'm also adding green to my neighborhood, aiding with pollution, and of course, cutting down on fossil fuel demands because I'm eating less stuff that had to be shipped across the country, or even the world. I also find it incredibly soothing to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty (only in organic soil though!). Seriously, is there a better way to feel really connected to the Earth than to actually get some earth on you? Is there anything more rewarding than stepping outside and harvesting something that YOU grew and then eating it seconds later? When it's still warm from the sun? When its nutritional value is literally at its peak?

Anyway, enough philosophizing.

The first week of April I planted three kinds of lettuces--two different red leafed varieties and a pointy-leafed kind. In the past eight weeks, they've grown to look like huge green bouquets. So beautiful! I also planted a box of herbs--parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme. Yes, I'm aware I pretty much walked straight out of the Simon and Garfunkle song, but then I added oregano which kind of throws the lyrics off but will really great for my cooking. They are also growing like there's no tomorrow (see the photographic evidence below). Herbs and greens (lettuce, kale, chard etc.) are super easy to grow and like the cool spring temps in the Northeast.
This past weekend, I got the warmer-weather guys in: cucs, zucs, tomatoes, and peppers (two different kinds of each). I'm looking forward to seeing if the "mortgage lifter" tomato lives up to its name. If it does, maybe I can upgrade to a place with a bona fide yard! I'll casually buff my nails on my collar and sigh to my new neighbors, "oh...yeah, it's all about the tomatoes..."

This season, I am branching out (pun fully intended) from my usual pots to try Earthboxes. Have you guys heard of them? My aunt, a veritable gardening genius at Primex Garden Center, suggested I give them a try. Basically, each rectangular box is a "self-sustaining garden" system that cuts those pesky aspects like watering and weeding out of the growing equation. Wait--no watering and weeding?! I'm confused. Whatever will I do all summer in between eating the 50# of tomatoes that one box (of only two plants) in guaranteed to yield? I guess I'll be forced to lounge in the shade, sip iced tea, and do yoga instead.

So...we'll see if these Earthboxes do, in fact, yield 50# of tomatoes per box and comparable quantities (and high quality too of course!) of the other veggies. I'll be keeping tabs via posts and pictures on this blog so stay tuned!

My first pic of the plants going in is featured below.

Any thoughts on this whole gardening thing? What do you like to grow and how do you grow it? Success stories? Horror stories? Entertaining anecdotes? Any experience with these Earthboxes? Do tell!