Art! Stay wild

Nature is awesome. It never fails to bring me closer to the present. When I practice yoga in nature, it’s like getting a zen boost. Chris Burkard really captures the AWE-someness of being surrounded in it. If you can’t make it out there yourself, this is the next best thing.

stay wild.

 


Image Credit: Chris Burkard

 

One week in Japan

Japan is…amazing. I didn’t expect to like it so much. The nature, the food, the people, the architecture, it feels like I’m discovering something that was carefully crafted and maintained with pride and love.

Our first stop was Haneda, a small fishing town close to the airport:

I really enjoyed this first stop. It gave me a taste of everyday life in Japan: quiet, clean, and efficiently beautiful.

Our next stop was Tokyo. Here we used M’s Hilton points to treat ourselves to a two night stay in the Hilton Tokyo. It was a fun two days; we had some down time and enjoyed a nice dinner to celebrate our anniversary, and we met up with a childhood friend of mine who lives in the city.

Though sometimes crowded, Tokyo is really quiet! There was no honking, no loud conversations. Not even a loud sneeze! As a former New Yorker, this was baffling.

Then we took our first Shinkansen (bullet train) ride up to Nikko National Park. A small mountain town where almost all the food shuts down by 5 pm. Still, we saw some pretty awesome shrines, temples, and mountain views.

Hiroshima was our next stop. M really wanted to visit, and I’m glad we went. The memorial was beautiful and inspiring. It paid respect to those that died, those that sacrificed for the better of others, and those that will go on to make a better future. I wonder if the US would be able to memorialize a tragedy this way.

Finally, Kyoto. Old Japan. There were plenty of tourists and Western restaurants along Pontocho district, the iconic narrow streets next to Kamo River. We enjoyed a stroll down those streets and ended up grabbing a beer and a simple meal at the end of the night. Gion was also filled with tourists, but it was still nice to see some of the architecture and participate in a tea ceremony!

On our last night in Kyoto, we stopped by Hachimonjiya, a small 3rd story bar/gathering place for artists, writers, and locals owned by photographer Kai Fusayoshi. We had great conversation with Kai and our bartender V, who was from Lebanon and here for her PhD. I highly recommend for anyone who enjoys tucked away local dive bars and street photography. Finally, our last bullet train from Kyoto to Osaka to catch our flight to Taipei:

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All in all, it was a great if not busy week. We walked an average of 7 miles a day, which just about balanced out all the yummy food we ate!

On Stillness

Imagine a spinning top. Stillness is like a perfectly centered top, spinning so fast it appears motionless. It appears this way not because it isn’t moving, but because it’s spinning at full speed.

Stillness is not the absence or negation of energy, life, or movement. Stillness is dynamic. It is unconflicted movement, life in harmony with itself, skill in action. It can be experienced whenever there is total, uninhibited, unconflicted participation in the moment you are in — when you are wholeheartedly present with whatever you’re doing.

– Erich Schiffmann, Yoga: The Spirit and  Practice of Moving into Stillness

This morning, I meditated in my hosts’ garden. It is filled with trees, flowers, fruit, and herbs, and butterflies and hummingbirds often come to visit. As I closed my eyes and began to listen to my breath, I also heard, smelled, and felt the alive-ness of my surroundings. The soft grass and uneven dirt underneath my feet, the smell of the flora around me, the hum of a hummingbird’s wings (so I imagine with closed eyes), the gentle fullness of a summer breeze grazing me as I sat. I felt at peace and at ease.

Afterwards, I sat on the patio overlooking their garden and read those words above. It’s been awhile seen I’ve seen or even thought of a spinning top — is there an app for that? — and I’d never thought of stillness that way. Stillness to me was the calm surface of a lake or the quiet of the deep ocean. But Erich’s words resonate. Because after all, doesn’t a lake, pond or ocean always have little waves, no matter how calm the winds? Doesn’t the deep sea move in a conveyor belt fashion and transport nutrients to the upper layers? In fact, a big misconception of meditation is that you’re supposed to empty the mind, quiet it of all thoughts. Good luck with that! Meditation is actually the practice of allowing thoughts to pass through, letting go of the holding-on of these thoughts and the feelings that follow. Meditation is about checking in with your internal weather and allowing that weather to exist.

And so it is with yoga asana. I do the same poses over and over again to practice being in the moment, letting go of judgments or assessments and honoring how my body is feeling that day. I practice being uninhibited, unconflicted and fully present in what I’m doing. I get better at it each time I try.

I’m intrigued, Erich. What else will your words teach me?

Happy Spring! Outdoor meditation

My partner and I are dogsitting this week! We both love puppies but due to our frequent travel and upcoming round-the-world trip, we do not own a dog now. So the last day and a half that she’s been here has been amazing! It’s wonderful to be around the warmth and positive energy of a dog, even if she does open your fridge and eat two chicken breasts while you’re out watching Captain America 😉

This morning, I took advantage of the outdoors as the pup and I were walking through the park . I spied a bench underneath the shade of a sycamore tree, and I made my way towards it, my furry companion sniffing and trotting happily beside me. After I secured her to the bench, I sat down and closed my eyes and began my meditation practice.

I started with nadi shodana, or alternate nostril breathing. This helps slow my breath down and my thoughts so that I can focus and hear my True Self. This was my first time meditating outside, and I felt a little self conscious: do I look weird? Will the dog bark or eat something she shouldn’t or try to tug away?

After I finished my breath work, I let my hands sit gently in my lap and continued into meditation. Currently, I’m practicing Merging Breath meditation: focusing on the pause between exhale and inhale, which represents the stillness that’s always there in our Selves. Though my thoughts were jumping around more than they would have if I was in my usual spot, I enjoyed the quiet and the sounds of birds chirping, the water splashing in the fountain nearby, the sound of the dog sniffing intently her surroundings. It was also nice to feel the gentle breeze and enjoy the scent of grass floating by. Most importantly, I wasn’t judging myself for having more thoughts and being more distracted (I admit, I peeked open my right eye to make sure the dog was still there).

I think the pup got something out of it too. This is her after we returned home:

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Yoga in the great outdoors: is it for you?

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Last weekend, my partner and I took a camping trip to Big Sur. Driving up the Pacific Coast Highway from Pismo Beach, we were in awe of the natural beauty along the coast. (And the size and number of elephant seals!)

Our campsite was surrounded by redwoods that seemed to graze the clouds and that provided cool, shaded shelter from the piercing sunlight. The presence of these trees was very grounding, and practicing yoga amongst them was awe inspiring and humbling.

How does being outdoors change my yoga practice?

First thing I noticed was the earth. No longer was I on a perfectly flat hardwood floor, but I could feel the bumps and grooves from the soil. This made a radical difference in what my poses felt like: was I grounding down with my root knuckles in adho mukha svanasana (downward facing dog)? Was I lifting my arches in tadasana (mountain pose)? I felt less certain in my stance and alignment, and realized how much information about my pose that I get from the earth.

Next thing that stood out was the surroundings and sky. Instead of being contained in a room with four walls and a ceiling, I was surrounded by trees, representing pillars of strength and resilience, and I felt the rays of sunshine that poked through the canopy. My practice felt limitless, my arms reaching towards the sky unimpeded, my nose touching and smelling earth when I lowered down.

The sounds of nature were its own soundtrack: the breeze rustling tree branches, the waves meeting the shore, birds vocalizing, the pitter patter of nuts falling to the earth. The sounds and rhythms were complex, but they complemented each other.

Finally, I saw many opportunities to practice. Some were very brief, like striking a tree pose by the ocean, and others were longer. But it was all playful, coming from a place of curiosity (Can I do a pose on a rock? How does this breeze inspire my flow?).

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Advice for practicing outdoors?

  • Use a good quality mat that won’t slip during your practice. Or practice directly on the earth!
  • Bring bug spray/sunscreen
  • Be open to the experience — it will feel different from an indoor practice, maybe in ways you don’t expect

Would I recommend practicing yoga outdoors?

Absolutely! It connects you with the aliveness of the earth, and opens your practice to new information. Maybe it will inspire your own flow sequence!

Whether you choose to practice yoga asanas outdoors or not, simply being outdoors can be a yoga practice in itself. Being in nature unites your individual self with the universal self — plus, who doesn’t love watching the sunset?

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