Poetry and Yoga
Poetry is something I never understood when I was younger. Things changed when I started taking yoga. Parvathi, my teacher, would often read poems in asana class. You would be sweating like crazy in a demanding pose like ardha chandrasana 2, praying to hear “come down into child’s pose”. Instead a line from Mary Oliver’s poem “Wild Geese”, met your ears and you would sink deeper into the pose, your mind got still, and you might possibly weep.
When I first started to study with Mukunda and I felt powerful energies starting to move, suddenly I was writing poetry. When I fell in love with my husband it started again and when I experienced a time of extreme grief, the verses poured out. This once foreign language of poetry helped me to express what I couldn’t express, and once expressed, my poetry powers would leave as quickly and unexpectedly as they came.
I looked up some definitions of poetry and found this online:
“The art of rhythmical composition, written or spoken, for exciting pleasure by beautiful, imaginative, or elevated thoughts.”
I loved this definition because it explained to me how poetry fits into a yoga practice. The rhythm, like music, helps to calm vata (air element). Invoking the imagination and elevating the thoughts helps to balance pitta (fire/water), and the appreciation of pleasure and beauty helps to refine kapha (earth/water element). These are things we strive to do with asana classes using the sequencing of asanas, the imagery and directional cues and the music played. Poetry can help to refine and balance these elements without ever having to step on the mat! Now, it’s not like reading poetry in your arm chair will have all the same benefits of an asana class for your physical body, but you might notice a quieting of the mind and a heightening of the senses with a few good poems.
We usually use poetry as the subject of the month in February, but you can get an early jump on experiencing the poetry/asana connection this Thursday at the Thanksgiving Day class. Warren Cooper will be reading some original works (his first poetry book will be published soon!) and Mike Wojik will be playing some music. Come see how this combo can help you get into the gratitude groove. All proceeds will go to the Frenchtown Food Bank to help our neighbors share our bounty.
I want to chat about chai, one of my favorite topics.
I looked up the health benefits of chai and there are a ton of articles out there. So you don't need me to tell you how good chai is for you. Google it and read for yourself. What I wanted to write about instead is the magic of chai!
When I was in my first teacher training the boxed Oregon Chai had just come out, or at least it had just come to my attention, and it seemed like a magical drink. I couldn't get enough of it. I had recently given up coffee as I was pregnant with my first child and this sweet milky concoction, was an excellent replacement. It was difficult to find in coffee shops and restaurants, so I bought it in the health food stores whenever I saw it.
Later on in during the training my teacher had passed around a canister and asked us to look at the ingredients, smell them, and then go home and recreate it. It was wonderfully mysterious! We were to let our senses lead us in this task. The mixture, as you probably guessed, was chai spices. We all trotted off home and a week or so later presented her with baggies full of spices, all looking and smelling completely different from each other. It became a big deal for us- we waited anxiously for our “chai grade," which by the way, never came. (I have since prepared chai for my teacher, and she always drinks it, so I guess in some way, I passed!)
One of my favorite memories of Ganeshpuri India was getting up very early to go to the temples for the morning aarti. After, the lingering smell of temple rituals heavy in the air, we would sit on plastic chairs at the chai stand to sip a metal cupful of steaming hot, ridiculously sweet chai that was lightened by milk fresh from the cow, transported to the chai wallah in a plastic bag. All for 25 rupees. I would have paid the fee just to watch the man make the chai! It was quite a beautiful procedure.
I recall a few years ago having house guests and serving chai for breakfast. When someone commented on enjoying the brew my husband puffed up his chest and said with pride "We have this EVERY morning". It was nice to have him inspired enough to brag about our indulgence with something as easy to make as chai. Yes, easy now, after many years of experimentation. Since the time my teacher passed around that canister I have been playing around with chai spices to come up with a suitable blend. I have tried different ways of preparing it for large gathering, making a concentrate for easier travel, experimenting with dairy free versions, different blends of black tea, different ways of sweetening it, on and on. One thing that stays constant is people always love it. It makes sense as it satisfies so many of the senses; the smell is heavenly, the taste (usually) mouth watering, the caramel color appealing, particularly when you first pour the milk into the dark brew and watch the pillows of white milk clouds puff out. Those of you who come to classes will sometimes hear me exclaim that the chai was particularly good, and abundant, that morning, which is ultimately why the class that day was inspiring. Really, it's not me, it's the chai.
If you don't want to sift through the dozens of articles that extol the virtue of chai, here is a nice short one that goes through the main ingredients and what their benefits are by Dr. Isaac Eliaz: https://www.mindbodygreen.com/0-5825/Why-Everyone-Should-Drink-Chai-Tea.html.
If you want to sample my years of experiments, we are selling small jars of chai spices mixed with special black tea at the studio. Just add water, milk and sweetener if you want. It is drastically on sale so you might want to pick up a jar for yourself and one for whomever is cooking thanksgiving dinner for you. Jars of just chai spice are soon to come!