Thursday, March 30, 2006

Energy Exchange

Because she's too modest to tell anyone, I wanted to note that Gwen is featured in this season's copy of Yogini magazine, and the studio got a nice write up in the back as well. Yogini comes out every three months, so check it out if you see it on the newstands.

The story they did with Gwen was a perfect fit for Yoga Garden. Gwen and one of the magazine's editors went to Chiba earlier this month and met a group of people who are trying to live more simply. The Hayashi family in particular has endeavored to live in a natural community that reduces waste and reliance on modern amenities. They live on a hilltop overlooking rice fields in a 200 year old house without air conditioning, plumbing, or electronics. They were interested in trying yoga, but there were no teachers in the area, so the editor of Yogini contacted Gwen and together they drove to the community to give them a lesson.

What's most interesting about this community to me is that they have created their own currency called "awa." They use awa between themselves and 100 or so other spots around Chiba and Tokyo that have agreed to take part in the plan. Gwen was payed 2000 awa for her yoga lesson, and she used her awa to buy lunch and some organic vegetables from the farmer on her left in the photo. You can "pay" with awa at the barber, flower shops, bookstores, and many other stores. You could also use your awa to have snow cleared from your driveway, wood chopped, or your yard maintained.

What I love about the idea of "awa" money is that it's working on a principle of direct energy exchange. Our modern monetary systems remove us several steps from this basic and life affirming feeling. We have all agreed to see money as a thing unto itself, not just paper that represents the sum of our labors. Imagine how different the world would be if we truly appreciated the energy and effort that went into getting those little pieces of paper that we throw around carelessly.

We can't all participate in an alternative currency like the Hayashis, but we can keep in mind the idea of energy exchange in our relationships. When you have a conversation with a friend, are both of you getting more of less equal energy from the dialouge? Are you giving too much energy, depleting your resources? Or taking too much, not seeing that your friend also needs to speak and share their opinions? Does your job give you as much energy (in terms of salary, free time, and happiness) as it takes from you? Anyway, something to think about and work on with small, mindful movements.

Take care!

For more information about the awa money movement, check this site.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Please See the Attachment Below...

Greetings from America! My trip here is halfway over, and I finally found some time to share an experience I had on the way here.

For this trip to America, one of my grandfather's friends generously let me use one of her "buddy passes" that she receives each year thanks to her husband's long years of work at the airline. If you've never heard of these, here's how they work. You don't get a ticket for the flight, you fly standby, meaning you show up after all the other passengers have checked in. And if there's a free seat, you get it for a great price. The beauty of the buddy pass is that if that free seat is in business class, you fly business class, no questions asked. In fact, the only way that you don't get business class is if it's full (which is rare) or someone else with higher priority uses a buddy pass and takes that seat.

Tokyo to Atlanta is a long flight, and for weeks I had been imagining myself living it up in business class like this:
Feet up, drinking champagne, and choosing from a wide variety of movies and menus offered to only the most valuable customers, people who deserved it. People like me.

The day of the flight came. All the regular passengers checked in, and there were 6 of us waiting for standby tickets. We were told that there were three seats in business class available, but that some of us would have to fly economy class. I looked at the others with pity, poor sods, having to sit in economy while I enjoyed my luxurious 12 hours in the front of the plane. The tickets were passed out... I glanced at the ticket, gate 94, seat G32, class... Coach.

The horror! How could this have happened? There must have been some mistake. Those two ladies with the paisley baggage must have cheated me, or maybe someone slipped the check-in person some cash in his passport... the check-in lady seemed to know one of the people, she probably bumped me so her little friend could ride. Someone will pay for this!!!

Seriously, these were the thoughts that went through my head as I trudged through security. I had fallen into a trap. The trap of human life... attachment.

Attachment is a very poor translation of the Pali word samudaya. Many people use the word clinging or grasping instead. None of these three words really captures the tone of samudaya, so I'll just use attachment as it has become kind of a standard in Buddhist texts. Attachment is simply giving energy to the idea that you own something, deserve something, or don't want to lose something. According to Buddhist philosophy, it is attachment that is the cause of all human suffering.

We all have ideas about how the world should be. We and our loved ones should have long, happy lives, we should have enough money, we should be rewarded for our work. If we have these things, we should be happy, if we accomplish our goals, we will feel satisfied at last. These are the biggest of our attachments.

Of course, everyone comes with their own set of personal attachments. Have you ever seen a picture of yourself and thought "that's not how I look!" That's the attachment to your projection of yourself speaking. In yoga people often get frustrated that they can't do certain poses... this too is attachment to the "right pose" or "good flexibility." Or maybe you have your eye on a shirt in a store, and you tuck it in the back of the rack so no one else can get "your" shirt. In reality, it wasn't "yours" until you formed the attachment to it.

Well, needless to say, I had been nurturing this attachment to my "dream flight" for a few weeks, and when the reality turned out to be different, it really hurt! And my first reaction was be angry, to blame, and to see enemies all around me. Even with a Buddhist background informing me of exactly why I felt like that, it took me an hour to get over it.

And here is the real danger of attachment. During that 60 minutes I lost all sense of gratitude for my chance to travel to America for a great price. I forgot that I would get to see my family soon, and that I have the opportunity to travel around the world and have adventures. And I'm sure during that hour I wasn't particularly kind to the security workers, the check-in people, the flight attendants, or the passengers next to me. Attachment spreads suffering liberally!

Anyway, I have the same chance to fly business class on the way home in a few days. But this time I will go to the ticket counter with a much more sane mindset. If I get business class, great! If I don't, then that's also great. Life is great. The present moment is always there, real and accesible, if we can just let go of things enough to see it!
See you soon!

This is only the surface of the four noble truths of buddhism. If you want to learn more this is a nice link.

The best way to get your head around these ideas is to meditate. Come by any Sunday at 6pm for free zazen!

**PS . I didn't get business class on the way home either, but I was lucky enough to have the seat next to me be unoccupied. Without the expectation of a great seat, this small fortune seemed even better.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

New Mats!

Hi everyone!
I've seen it a dozen times, one of our students comes into the studio and excitedly tells me they've taken the plunge and bought their own mat. "That's great," I say, ".... is this the first time you've unrolled it?" If the answer is "yes," we're in trouble.

Why? Well, in the manufacturing process, most mat companies apply a thin veneer of oil to the surface of the mats. This is to keep the mat soft and supple during the months between its production and your purchase. Mix that layer of oil with a little sweat on your palms or feet, and "downward facing dog" becomes "sliding onto your face dog." Simply put, a brand new yoga mat unrolled for the first time is very, very slippery.

What to do? A lot of people recommend putting your new mat into the washing machine with a mild detergent before using it. That will take care of the problem very quickly, but personally, I think that it makes the mats too sticky, they lose some of their organic feel. I prefer a gentler breaking in period of a few weeks. I like to lay a mat out in the sun, and simply do a lot of yoga on it. Other ideas are putting your new mat under an old one for a few sessions, going over the mat with one of those green backed sponges (using the green scrubby part). Whatever method you use, do it before the lesson so you can enjoy your new mat!

Speaking of which, many people ask me which kind of mat they should buy. Prices range from 1000 yen to 10,000 yen. We have seen really poorly designed mats for 4000 yen, and some very durable, thick mats for 1000 yen, so don't let price alone decide the matter. There are a few factors you should consider.

1. Thickness. Mats come in all kinds of thicknesses, which you will be able to compare easily in the store. If you are a little bony, you should opt for a thicker mat. Gwen uses a double thick Gaiam mat at the studio, but I use a relatively thin mat, because I like to feel the floor more during poses. Another thing to consider is that a thick mat will be harder to fit into yoga bags and (in general) be a little more difficult to travel with.

2. "Grippiness" This is the amount of friction between you and the mat. Thicker mats will offer a much stickier feel because your hand or foot actually sinks into the material. It's difficult to tell how "grippy" a mat is in the store, but you can get an idea from how raised the bumps on the surface are. The higher the bumps, the better the grip. (I once saw a really cheap mat that just had bumps painted on it, and was actually a single, slick surface) Actually, the bumpy style is going out of fashion now, and lots of rubber mats are coming out that offer superior grip. They are usually covered in a grid or squiggles. (the downside to these is that they are heavy and expensive)

3. The "it" factor. This is simply choosing a mat that you connect with. You will be spending a lot of time with it, and having some fondness for the style and color is really important. These days the choices are amazing. You can get every color in the spectrum, funky patterns, or a dragon descending down the mat. So don't just say "this one will do," make it fun, shop around, until you see a mat and say "that's IT!"

Gwen and I just got some traveling mats for the spring and summer. Bright, huh?. And thanks to Rika for getting us a good deal on them!