Practice Makes Perfect
Yonah, our third child, was born last year. Since her birth I have become increasingly aware of and dissatisfied with the way I manage the small moments in my life. Whether I’m eating, parenting, or having a conversation with a friend, I find it harder and harder to be thoughtful and present at every turn. At the same time I also believe that these seemingly insignificant behaviors and actions define my life and character as much as the obviously important ones. It is not enough for me to simply show up in life. Instead I have to ask: how am I showing up? What is the quality of and motivation for my words and actions? Furthermore, why have I chosen to show up at all?
To begin my quest, I wondered: is there any connection between living a conscious life and a life that adheres to a specific discipline or practice? Do people living this way frame their lives differently than those who do not? How does living such a life influence a person - as a partner, parent, woman, teacher, student, and daughter?
I asked two friends, who are also mentors and teachers, to write about their experience living lives structured by and deeply immersed in a discipline. They both exemplify steadiness and clarity in living their day to day lives. Their writing is a gift to me and to those of you reading.
The first post comes from Sara Strother, my friend and yoga teacher. Sara is one of the best yoga teachers I have practiced with. She not only teaches yoga, she lives it.
For the past 17 years I have devotedly dedicated my life to the pursuit of studying and living the practice of yoga. I became interested in how deeper states of awareness gave insight to the limitations of being embodied. Initially, I established a meditation practice which grew into a japa mantra practice and eventually into a daily asana practice. Today, I use all 3 to keep me on the path of framing and re-framing my mind in order to stay steady. Ultimately that steadiness unveils the divine spark at the root of all living things.
As a wife, stay at home mom, part-time yoga teacher, and mentor there is a lot on my plate every day. It is such a blessing to have all of this abundance but it takes work to balance it all. Yoga continues to fuel me and keep me aligned mentally and emotionally when life gets hairy. If I did not have the ritual of daily practice (whatever form that is - meditation, mantra or asana) or was only partially invested, I'm not sure I would be able to handle stress or see the divine spark. This discipline helps me to deconstruct my thoughts and emotions, and helps me to be in alignment with my core values and aims. It even helps me adjust and transition when those aims change, as dharma does so often over a lifetime.
Generally speaking, tantrik yoga encourages deep, penetrating thought in order to engage with all aspects of life and work towards revealing the gifts that are inherent in all. This can be the bridge to revealing the good even in the worst of situations. For example, my mother is living with breast cancer, a very aggressive version of it, and I sit and watch her receive poison intravenously in order to clear her of these rogue cells. Yoga asks me to take what I'm in and turn it on all sides to engage more fully. Yes, my mother's cancer is a horrible tragedy, but because of it I love and respect her more than ever. This has become an opportunity for us to put our differences aside and dive deeply into a nurturing relationship that prior was not there at all. I see a warrior inside of her now I was blind to before. I do not wish this on her, of course, but without the dedicated discipline to yoga steering me I may have remained blind and lost this opportunity to connect.
Perhaps the difference between people who are living a life deeply immersed in and thinking about ritual and practice than those who are not is connection to their potential. When we establish clearly the boundaries of a ritual or practice and strengthen our will to engage with it we are elevating ourselves and unleashing a freedom that prior we were unable to tap into. When we are dedicated to a cause we lead by example through our discipline and actions. This make waves that perhaps will inspire others to find their own rituals too.
Known for her attention to detail, challenging practices and poetic integration of yoga philosophy, Sara Strother provides students with a rich experience and potent opportunities for growth physically and mentally. Sara has been studying yoga since 1999 and is blessed to share life with her husband, Todd, and daughters Celeste and Autumn. She loves to cook, hike, read and craft. Catch her on yogavibes.com, in the studio at Yogaview in Chicago or as a contributor to Conscious Living TV.
Two Autumn Recipes
Slow cooker Beets with Oranges, Apples, and Rosemary
As soon as the weather changes, so do my taste buds. I crave earthy, warm, and comforting foods. I first tasted a variation of this recipe when my friend Sharrona Pearl brought it to a potluck dinner. I love how the slow cooker method makes the beets meaty, while also caramelizing the fruits. You can use this method for any root vegetable, such as carrots, sweet potatoes, or fennel. I suggest serving this with a smattering of dill and yogurt or feta cheese.
5 large beets, peeled (about 3 lb)
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup white vinegar
Juice from one orange (I throw in the oranges after juicing)
Chunks of apple (peel intact)
1 red onion, sliced
1/2 c. red wine
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Spray non-stick in bottom of slow cooker. Place peeled beets and other fruits in bottom of slow cooker. In a bowl whisk together the rest of the ingredients. Set slow cooker to low and cook for at least 7 hours.
In autumn we are inundated with apples. In addition to adding them to soups, salads, and eating them plain, I love to bake them with lots of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg. I eat apple bake all season long with anything from chicken to vanilla ice cream. I love it warm or cold. Added bonus: I gets better the longer it sits in the fridge.
Preheat oven to 350. Slice 5-6 apples of any variety, although it is best to mix apple varieties. Be sure to use firm apples that are a bit tart. In my experience the best apples to use for baking are: Granny Smith, Honey Crisp, Jazz, Macintosh, Macoun, and Pink Lady. Place in an oven proof baking dish. Sprinkle the apples with cinnamon, ginger, and cardamom. Bake covered for at least 20 minutes, or until apples fall away from their skins.