Sunday, October 31, 2010

Earthbox Update - Week Twenty-Eight: A Big Bucket of Dirt

A week ago I haphazardly planted innumerable lettuce seeds, threw some dirt over them and let the garden gods take it from there.

I watered. I waited. And now these teeny tiny, itty-bitty, positively minuscule little things appear. lettuce? Is that you?

Despite the fact that it's almost November and the temps have definitely started to feel chilly  overall , we got a glorious late-summer blast of 76-degrees and sunny. Maybe that lured these little guys out of the soil. Hopefully they'll keep on growing despite the return to more-season 50-something degree days.

In the meantime, I'll just keep tending to what basically looks like a big bucket o' dirt.

Whatever will I do when it's too cold to garden? Oh yeah, get back to yoga.

But in the meantime, I'll keep the peppers going inside and the bring the herbs in when it finally gets too cold from them out there.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Earthbox Update - Week Twenty-Seven: Seasons of Change

Full disclosure: I like oldies and classic rock.

Well...some oldies and classic the Rolling Stones and Van Morrison, for instance. And lately, as it's getting chillier and chillier, I've had that song "Turn, Turn, Turn," by the Byrds, stuck in my head. "To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven; a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, a time to reap that which is planted..."

Despite my observance that this is true, I still feel sad that the summer/growing season is coming to an end. It's sad when things end. And I'm sad to bid farewell to my little urban garden, after creating and tending to it for six months.

Which clearly explains why my Carmen and yellow bell pepper plants now live inside, under an UV light, and why I step outside to tuck my beans in with a beach blanket every night. I'm just not ready to let go.

But what is this desire to cling on to that we enjoy, instead of being more gracious about enjoying and releasing and then moving on? Shouldn't I be all yogic and zen and "it's the way of the universe, man" in my tie-dyed yoga unitard? (Or is that just my stereotypical vision of a yogi?!)

Anyway, I steeled my will, gave up hope that the green tomatoes still clinging to the vine were going to somehow ripen, and ripped the plant out to free up space to plant lettuce--a heartier crop for colder temps.

Side note on lettuce-growing: um...those seeds are TINY. Minuscule. Minute. Itty-bitty. Teeny-weeny. Get the picture?

Additionally, they need to be planted half an inch apart, in rows two inches apart, and covered under one-quarter of an inch of dirt. you know how small all of those measurements are? My big clumsy fingers could barely manage to pick up a seed at a time!

So basically, I got impatient and sprinkled them haphazardly around and then sprinkled some dirt over them. We'll see how/if that works.

One thing I have definitely learned this season: plants WANT to grow. They want to survive. They want to live. They will surmount incredible odds to make this happen. Whether it's a tomato plant that grew from a discarded shell out of a carpet, or plants that made it through the ten plagues, they really do have amazing resilience. Sort of like people, but, you know, greener and leafier :)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bringing Yoga Back to Its Roots

This article, which appears on today, profiles a group of five venerable yoga teachers (Barbara Benagh, Patricia Walden, Natasha Rizopoulos, Justine Wiltshire Cohen, and Peentz Dubble) who will participate in a panel on Sunday night to address some kinda weighty issues. Mainly, the question of is the ancient (traditionally spiritual, mentally-stilling) practice of yoga becoming diluted and/or commercialized?

You can see how some would think so. With $108 yoga pants and equally expensive gear becoming more pervasive, the cost of classes rising, and ever-more mainstream versions of yoga workouts popping up (hip-hop yoga? Pi-Yo? Yoga Booty Ballet?!), it can be tough to remember that the roots of yoga always, always, always trace back to spiritual origins. Indisputably, yoga originated as a spiritual practice. In Patanajali's "Yoga Sutras," which is widely regarded as the foundational text of yoga, the physical practice of yoga comprises less than 1% of the whole.

Who can argue with that?

Well, I imagine that the flip side of the argument is that not everyone is open to a spiritual practice. As I've mentioned, many students won't even chant "OM" with me. So if we can't force students to accept the spiritual aspect of the practice, and we probably all agree that forceful spirituality isn't appropriate or even very spiritual, then why can't yoga just be fun for those who are seeking just-a-workout yoga?

Maybe the solution is to let Yoga Booty Ballet and Pi-Yo be what they are and serve who they do, but also ensure that more traditional yoga is available elsewhere for yoga purists.

Yoga purists may feel that that dilutes the very purity of this ancient tradition. But the yoga-for-fun crowd could serve the purists a dose of their own medicine with the "Ahimsa" argument. Ahimsa, the principle of non-harm, is the first and most important order of the Sutras, (and the concept features prominently in this article). So, one could claim, if workout-driven, non-spiritual yoga doesn't actually take anything away from the purists (or the purity of the form itself), then how is there harm in that?

But the purists might counter that is DOES take something away from the purity and therefore IS harmful. If yoga is a spiritual practice, creating a Yoga Booty Ballet practice could be akin to commercializing any other spiritual practice or religion...aerobic Mass, anyone?

And that's not even touching on the concept of the purity and ahimsa of teacher training and how a work-out-driven practice or an under-trained teacher could seriously injure a student.

Argh. Complex issues for sure.

I fall into the purist camp, but would LOVE to hear any thoughts, on either side.

This article in its entirety can be accessed here or read in-full, below.

What happened to yoga?

Teachers wonder where it’s heading, while they try to steer it away from commercialism and other distractions

Justine Wiltshire Cohen, Natasha Rizopoulos, Patricia Walden, Barbara Benagh, and Peentz Dubble of Down Under Yoga. 
From left: Justine Wiltshire Cohen, Natasha Rizopoulos, Patricia Walden, Barbara Benagh, and Peentz Dubble of Down Under Yoga. (Globe photo / Essdras M Suarez)
By Linda Matchan Globe Staff / October 14, 2010
A few months ago, Boston yoga teacher Natasha Rizopoulos conducted a weekend workshop to teach experienced yoga students how to be instructors. She led them through three rigorous hours of postures and a long meditation, and discussed the philosophy of yoga, explaining the transformative power of physical practice that helps train the mind to be fully present.

But as she expounded on the benefits of yogic principles, two students in the class didn’t quite grasp the idea of spiritual enlightenment. Sitting cross-legged, they were busy firing off text messages.
“It was astonishing,’’ said Rizopoulos. “And this was a self-selecting, serious group.’’
For this reason, among others, Rizopoulos is aligning herself with some of the country’s foremost yoga teachers who are trying to take back yoga from the masses who they believe are running afoul of the traditions of a 5,000-year-old spiritual, intellectual, and physical discipline.

“Everyone is afraid to talk about the white elephant in the yoga room,’’ said Justine Wiltshire Cohen, founder of Down Under Yoga in Newton. She has invited Rizopoulos and three other nationally-known Boston-based yoga teachers — Barbara Benagh, Patricia Walden, and Peentz Dubble — to teach at her new studio. Some of them will participate in a “summit’’ on Sunday to discuss the future of yoga in America. Yoga, she said, is supposed to be “an art passed down from teacher to student.’’ It’s meant to calm the fluctuations of the mind. It advocates ahimsa, which means “do no harm;’’ and aparigraha or non-possessiveness.

“Humility is the whole point,’’ said Wiltshire Cohen, a lawyer-turned-yoga teacher whose training included Sanskrit, anatomy, yoga philosophy, and yoga history and who said that studying yoga was harder than law: “I didn’t cry in law school.’’

But humility, they say, is becoming less and less the point these days. “My worry is that . . . what we do in the yoga room is becoming the same as what we do outside the yoga room,’’ said Rizopoulos, a former ballet dancer who studied yoga in India. “Which is behaving like lunatics.’’

Patricia Walden, who has taught yoga in Boston since the 1970s and considers yoga a spiritual calling, remembers when it was different. She’s one of only two North Americans to hold a senior advanced certificate in the Iyengar method of yoga. (The founder, B.K.S. Iyengar, is her guru; she travels to India to study with him.) Her DVDs, including “Yoga for Beginners’’ helped popularize yoga worldwide, and she still teaches internationally as well as in Cambridge and the Down Under studio.
The yoga she recalls from the 1960s and ’70s grew out of the counter-culture movement’s infatuation with Eastern philosophies. It was a time when Indian swamis who embraced yoga as a full spiritual practice were opening ashrams in the United States, and yoga was embraced by seekers, intellectuals, Woodstock attendees, and a wide variety of Om-chanters. “It was deeply wedded to psychedelics,’’ said Stefanie Syman, author of a new yoga history called “The Subtle Body: The Story of Yoga in America.’’

Yoga classes were no-frill; there were no special yoga clothes or yoga mats. “We just used the floor,’’ said Walden. “It was what I’d call “flow and glow’’ yoga: You’d turn the lights down really low and the students were in a circle and we gave them instructions with their eyes closed. We never got up to adjust anybody or tell anybody what to do.’’

Yoga was so exotic back then, she said, most people had never heard of it. Once, a man sitting next to her on an airplane asked her what she did for a living and he thought she was talking about yogurt. When she explained, he smirked and dared her to put her leg around her head.’’ “I’m sure I rose to the occasion,’’ said the lithe Walden, doing an effortless encore in her living room.

What happened to yoga in the last 30 years?

“It’s recombined with dominant forms of the culture; it’s very malleable that way,’’ said Syman. There is yoga for every taste, energy level, and aspirant — hip-hop yoga, hot yoga, rock pop yoga, weight loss yoga, Christian yoga, even “Yoga Booty Ballet,’’ which bills itself as a dynamic fusion of yoga, booty sculpting, and cardio-dance. If there is any doubt that yoga has left the ashram and joined the mainstream, consider that yoga was part of this year’s Easter Egg Roll festivities on the White House lawn.

It’s also been “monetized,’’ Syman said. Practiced by celebrities, fitness buffs, and fashionistas, yoga is a $6 billion industry with some 16 million American followers. Many of those millions are pouring into the trendy lululemon yogawear stores — purveyor of $90 yoga mats, $25 yoga water bottles, $40 yoga towels, and other nonessential yoga accessories such as yoga thong underwear and an $88 “yoga mat carry system’’ with a “Helmet friendly design.’’ [So you won’t hit your head with your mat while riding your bike.]

Even the venerable magazine Yoga Journal, considered the bible for yoga practitioners, has evolved from a nonprofit publication founded in 1975 in a Berkeley basement to a glossy magazine with celebrities on the cover and sexy ads for pricey yoga gear, a trend that’s infuriated one of its founding editors.

“I feel sad because it seems that Yoga Journal has become just another voice for the status quo and not for elevating us to the higher values of yoga: spiritual integration, compassion and selfless service,’’ Judith Hanson Lasater wrote in a recent letter to the editor.

Yoga Journal’s editor in chief, Kaitlin Quistgaard, said she “completely respected’’ Lasater’s letter, “but we also need to run a commercial venture. . . . We are Americans and one thing Americans do is shop and like nice things. And one of the ways we identify ourselves is having a certain look. The yoga industry does support our desire to create self-identity through what we wear or what we purchase.’’

Yoga may be malleable, but can it still be considered yoga?

This is the “white elephant’’ question that Justine Wiltshire Cohen is posing at the Oct. 17 summit, “Balancing Acts: Poses, Products, and the Future of Yoga in America.’’ It’s being held at the brand-new Down Under Yoga studio in Newtonville, Wiltshire Cohen’s first permanent location after years of teaching in Newton churches.

Her website makes it clear where she stands on the question. “We believe that yoga studios should act in ways that are consistent with the teachings of yoga,’’ it says. “We will never sell plastic water bottles that go into landfills [because ahimsa means ‘do no harm’]. We will never sell $150 yoga pants [because aparigraha means ‘identifying greed’]. We will never accept offers from companies to promote their gear in exchange for free publicity or products (because satya means “truthfulness’’). We will never brand, trademark, or pretend we’ve made up a new style of yoga.’’

This is a less than subtle reference to a trend that’s disturbing not just to Wiltshire Cohen but to other yoga traditionalists. One brand, though not the only one, that seems particularly irksome is the growing Texas-based global empire of Anusara yoga, a relatively new hatha yoga system founded by John Friend, who teaches worldwide and sells clothing, jewelry, and music. He blogs, tweets, and characterizes himself on his website as “one of the most charismatic and highly respected hatha yoga teachers in the world.’’ Friend was recently featured in a New York Times magazine article, which he noted in a three-page rebuttal posted on his website was “the largest article on yoga ever published in a major newspaper. . . . For me, it is another clear sign that Grace supports Anusara.’’

“The minute yoga is packaged and branded, you’ve lost it,’’ Wiltshire Cohen contends.

At 38, she is the youngest of the teachers participating in the summit, and in some ways the most adamant that yoga is losing its way. “It can’t be that any time you are moving your body in any way, it’s yoga. Otherwise, walking is yoga,’’ said Wiltshire Cohen, a lean, vibrant Australian who was introduced to yoga by her journalist parents when they taught English to Tibetan monks in the Dalai Lama’s community. “And when you have a fairly untrained teacher who knows nothing of anatomy, who is yelling names of poses at breakneck speed in a fashion that only an 18-year-old gymnast can follow, is that safe? And is that in keeping with ahimsa?’’

“Yoga has become very popular in the last 10 years which is wonderful,’’ said her colleague Peentz Dubble, who directs the Iyengar program at Down Under Yoga. “But as wonderful as it is to bring yoga to the masses, there’s some concern that we don’t kind of dilute it.’’

Down Under Yoga will host a panel discussion Sunday, Oct. 17, at 6:30 p.m. called “Balancing Acts: Poses, Products, and the Future of Yoga in America.’’ It’s part of the daylong yoga events marking the opening of the new studio at 304 Walnut St., Newtonville. 617-244-9642 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting Linda Matchan can be reached at

Earthbox Update - Week Twenty-Six: Time to Plant Greens and What to Do with What I've Got

Holy Garden Buddha! It's week 26. That means that I've been at this urban gardener thing for half a year. It's definitely been an adventure. We've had some highs--beautiful plants, lots of produce--and some lows--plagues of monsoon, disease, and insects. Oh, and let's not forget that personal low of having to help the zucchini "reproduce"--aka host a zucchini sperm bank and act as a fertility specialist. Ew.

Anyway, so now it's October 14 and it's become seasonably cool. Though it doesn't stem my sadness that summer's over (sniff, sniff), it's interesting to see how the veggies respond to this change in seasons. It's definitely curtains for the tomatoes, with scroungy, fading plants and only an occasional ripe fruit.

Although...the cherry plant that I found growing out of the outdoor carpet (let me repeat that as we pause to admire the resilience and determination of nature: the cherry tomato that I found growing out of the outdoor carpet--no dirt, no food, not even a pot of its own to call home) is still producing a few beautiful, orange sun-golds. But that's about it. The other guys--Earthbox and potted plants alike--have pretty much come to an end. Farewell, old friends. The green tomatoes that are still on the vine probably won't end up ripening. Hmmm...friend green tomatoes, anyone?

Future fried green tomatoes
"Darwin" - the amazingly resilient cherry tomato
 The Carmen pepper plant has 11 beautiful ripe horn-shaped reds ready to be harvested. What an amazing plant. Highly recommend. I will definitely be making a gardening note to self to invest in this lady next year. Actually, as I've been picking peppers, I saved some seeds, dried them, and put them away in an envelope. I'm sure I probably messed it up, but how cool would it be if I had a second generation Carmen next year? As in, Carmen's daughter? Then Carmen's granddaughter? A whole family tree of Carmens?! How cool, you ask? Very cool.

Now...what to do with 11 Carmens. To freeze or to cook, that is the question...

Every lady loves a nice big pepper

In the meantime, back to the change in seasons. As it cools off and tomato-pepper season winds down (oh, sweet sadness), it's time to put in greens: lettuce, spinach, kale, etc. Leafy greens tolerate the cold well. So do herbs...which are still growing great guns.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Earthbox Update - Week Twenty-Five: Goodnight Peppers, Goodnight Beans

Like millions of other people, "Goodnight Moon" by Margaret Wise Brown is one of my favorite children's books. This week, however, I entered my own gardening version of the children's classic.

It got too cold here too fast here last week for this inadvertent yogini. I know it's October, but 60s and raining during the day and upper 40s and...more night = not fun. Not fun for me, and especially not fun for my plants, who have to stay outside and freeze their fruit off all night.

Quick call of concern to my gardening guru, Aunt Joan at Primex, and my affiliation with "Goodnight Moon," a bedtime tale that illustrates a little bunny rattling off his "goodnights" to everything in the room, just got closer.

Apparently, I need to tuck-in all my plants at night. Yes, you read that right. Like, with sheets (or plastic bags). This, in an effort to stave off too-chilly temps that slow growth and veggie-production.

Now, this is not my proudest moment. But I've been dedicated to this garden since April, and I've even gone so low as to participate in zucchini cut to me stepping out onto the porch with trash bags and old sheets, tucking the little guys in, and thinking to myself, "gooodnight peppers, goodnight beans..." (cover, cover) "...goodnight tomatoes, goodnight greens..." (tuck, tuck) "...goodnight rosemary, parsley and thyme..." (cover, tuck) "...goodnight to all these plants of mine."

OK I'm not totally crazy. I didn't actually say/think that goodnight rhyme--I just made that up for the reading pleasure of you, my blog friends. But you should know that I AM crazy enough (or...ahem...dedicated enough) to be out here, freezing my tail off every night, tucking these babies in.

There you have it--my gardening obsession/OCD is revealed!

HOWEVER, lest you think these extreme measures are for naught, my garden responded with appreciation...

Tiny baby beans...aww

Ready for harvest...

So pretty! So plentiful! But not ready yet...

Today's harvest :)
And just to get super yoga-y on your ass, here's my Buddha shot:

Awww. I love my garden Buddha! It seems only right to include him in a shot. After all, he's been out here adding zen to this urban garden all season. :)

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Parking Ticket with Yoga Instructions...Say What?!

Got a parking ticket last night. Bummer.

Got a parking ticket last night while doing charity work for at-risk inner city kids. Double bummer.

Got a parking ticket that came with illustrated yoga instructions on the back detailing how to "give and receive the citation" through three asanas. Weird. But kinda cool.

According to the back of the ticket, picture below, this "citation salutation" is apparently "part of a public art project that proposes an alternative method of giving and receiving parking citations." Notice that one of the little figures has an automated ticket printer and an arm badge (the giver), and one is just a poor schlep (you).

Though it didn't quite take me from "ugh" to "OM," it did make me smile. If I'd been at the car when the meter maid came, I kind of wonder if he/she would've been willing to hand me the ticket via the Warrior One hand-off as illustrated below. I almost want to double park, in front of a hydrant, in Harvard Square, at the peak of rush hour just to see. Almost, but not quite.

Maybe it's to make you laugh as you fork over casheesh to the city gov. Maybe it's a public art project. Maybe it's a way to soften the blow. Maybe it's the artist's contribution to lowering overall rage, bringing yoga to life, yadda, yadda, yadda. Whatever it is, I have to say, ONLY IN CAMBRIDGE!!!