Try Slow Yoga

I taught myself yoga when I was 13 years old.  This was back in the 1960s, in a suburb of Philadelphia, where most people thought yoga was that strange pudding-like food that  health nuts ate.  There was a wonderful old bookstore in my neighborhood – what would now be called an “independent” bookstore — back then, that’s all there were – independent owners of independent, quirky bookstores that reflected the tastes and passions of the owners and bookstore employees.

 

I can’t remember the name of this store.  It was in the Lawrence Park Shopping Center in Broomall, Pennsylvania.  It was a miraculous place for a young, introverted and poetic young girl.  Not only was it where I found this yoga book that changed my life – it was called Yoga for Americans by Indra Devi – but I also found books by D.T. Suzuki on Zen Buddhism, poetry by Richard Brautigan, Trout Fishing in America, In Watermelon Sugar, A Confederate General from Big Sur…this was heady stuff for a 13-year old.

 

So, I suppose it makes some kind of sense that, when I think of yoga, I think of a huge time of awakening in my life.  A time of poetry, spirituality and the discovery that there are people out there in the world who care about the things I cared about, unlike those people who made up the rest of my family.

 

No matter.  Back then, bookstores were portals of mystery and magic, where young solitary girls could go to discover that the world was bigger, had more possibilities, than anything contained in the minds of her parents.

 

There I was, 13 years old, reading through the chapters of this yoga book, learning hatha yoga from the writing and the pictures – Gloria Swanson was one of the models, no lie.  The positions were all about patience, breathing and holding.  The value of these postures was in your body’s ability to hold the positions while you breathed deeply and relaxed into yourself.  Many decades later, that is what yoga still is for me.  It’s about slow, patient holding and breathing.  It’s about flexibility and strength found in the ability to balance, to stretch, to bend, to breathe.  Yoga breathing is crucial to the process; it reminds us to breathe more deeply, more fully, more slowly.  It helps us to oxygenate our bodies and our brains.  It calms us and centers us.

 

I’ve never understood ‘hot yoga’ or ‘aerobic yoga’ — I do cardio, weight training, pilates, ballet training.  But yoga, real yoga, as far as I’ve always been concerned, is the yoga of slow and intentional movement.  Slow yoga.

 

That’s why I was not at all surprised when recent studies out of UCLA indicated that yoga is a “stress-buster”.  In fact, I’m surprised that anybody finds this surprising.    Other research, in the journal called Psychoneuroendocrinology (no, I’m not kidding), talks about yoga’s ability to reverse dementia.  One of the most exciting things the medical community has recently discovered is that yoga reduces inflammation, which is considered one of the primary causes of much illness, including dementia, multiple sclerosis, cancers, heart disease.  The list is not a pretty one.  By the way, another thing that causes inflammation?  Processed food.  Another shocker, right?

 

Many people believe that yoga won’t work them out hard enough.  They believe that sweating and straining is proof of a healthy workout.  While there are plenty of benefits to cardio, and I practice it regularly — a blog for another time — there are many benefits to be had from the kinds of workouts that require balance, strength and holding.  Pilates comes to mind.  Ballet.  And, of course yoga.

 

Yoga is in a class by itself, since it is not only an exercise practice.  In fact, one of the big errors of American yoga can be found in this enormous misunderstanding.  Yoga means “yoke” – and yoga is a practice that brings together the mind, body and spirit of the individual, creating greater harmony among our various aspects of being.  One of the other big errors of American yoga?  The belief that you have to buy and buy and buy — yoga mats, yoga clothes, yoga DVDs, yoga books and magazines and equipment.  For heaven’s sake, people.  Take off your shoes and your clothes, put on a comfortable pair of pajamas, and with bare feet just do the damn yoga.  Seriously?  Does someone really have to TELL you that?

Anyway, bottom line:  try slow yoga.  If you’ve never done it, you might be appalled to find yourself to be stiff, inflexible, awkward.  But trust me.  Keep trying.  Slowly, your body will stretch, your movements will become more graceful, your ability to balance and breathe will not result in you falling onto the carpet.  It’s about patience.  It’s about intention.  It’s about learning your body, quieting your mind, learning to listen to the “self” inside, about making discoveries regarding the truths your body holds for you.

In addition to all these physical benefits, some of the most important benefits will come through an increased and prolonged sense of calm, even in what used to be stressful, hot button situations.  Yoga, put simply, will change you in many ways for the better.  It’s a valuable practice, which is why it has lasted for thousands of years.

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Celebrating the Solstice in a Revolutionary Year

We are a year away from the end-time predicted by the Mayan sages, and it already feels as if this year is going to be even more intense than the last few. The Arab Spring has caused the ouster of some of the most entrenched leaders of the Middle East, and the people’s struggle to redefine their system of government and economy continue. There is a somber lesson to be learned from the Egyptian revolution, where it appeared that the military stood with the people, only to reveal themselves now as working to usurp the revolution. The violence there has erupted once again — and we around the world who have joined the struggle against billionaire elites, corruption, and calcified power abuses must stay vigilant.

Do not be seduced by the military or police who “come over” to our side. They are not to be trusted too easily. In the same way that the American Occupy movement has let it be known that they will not be co-opted by either political party, we must let it be known that we will not be co-opted by seemingly repentant members of the military or police. Speaking of the Occupy movement in the United States, the first wave of occupations have ended, with the eviction of most of the occupiers from the various public spaces they once held. But the solidarity, the commitment, the comradeship that has been formed through those times of living and working together will not end. In fact, they are growing stronger as the movement reaches out in many directions: to combat the abuses of agri-business and its damaging and dangerous effects on our food supply, to stand up and demand a return to a high-quality public education system K-16 which is no longer in the hands of corporate power, to demand healthcare for all, restore and strengthen workers’ rights, to face down the lies of corporate-owned media, to erase poverty, to end police abuse, wars around the globe, the corruption of the big banks and mortgage companies and fight against eviction of homeowners, to end the lobbying criminality in Washington, D.C. and the wholesale purchase of our former representatives, who now represent the interests of the 1%.  This video, from Occupy Wall Street, is a thank you to all supporters; it offers a wonderful message of hope and determination for the future directions of this movement.

What has come to be called the “main stream media” in this country was often heard saying that the Occupy Movement has no focus.  “Where are the leaders?”  was a question heard often.  “What do they want?” was another.  Either with intentional misunderstanding and will to deceive the public,  or sheer inability to see, these commentators and journalists have missed the point of the Occupy movement. The attempt at pure democratic process meant there were no “leaders”,  rather that each person was equal in the decision-making process of the movement.  The “demands” so often asked for were resisted, not because we didn’t know what we wanted, but because “demands” are too simplistic.   To name the narrow issues when all of them flow from a systemic breakdown much larger than any individual issue was to diminish the energy aimed at that larger problem – corporatism and the way it has ruined life for too many people around the world.  Jim Smith, an Irish activist writing against the many atrocities being heaped on the shoulders of the Irish people, fully understands what this global uprising is about.  In his article, “The Occupy Movement: When the Other Shoe Drops,” he takes an historical view of global capitalism, the takeover of rabid, for-profit-at-all-cost international finance, and the unbelievable hardships suffered by the majority of people around the world at the hands of this system.

As millions of people around the world begin to rise up against the various forms of tyranny that greed and cruelty have caused, the response of most nations, including the United States, has been to meet their demonstrations with force – beatings, pepper spray, shooting, arrest, murder.

Our days have grown shorter and shorter as we have approached the winter solstice, and it has been hard not to feel the heaviness of the dark in these terrible days. The latest polls and research indicate that 1 in 2 Americans are living in poverty. More and more families here are facing homelessness, joblessness, and are braving the cruelty of an uncaring Congress and White House. Lots of posturing and lip-service come our way, but little is done to fix the problems. And now, the National Defense Authorization Act which threatens to allow military arrests of American citizens on American soil, effectively suspending a citizen’s civil rights, is one of the few bills that sailed through Congress. How is it that such a bill has met with none of the paralysis experienced with bills to aid homeowners, or the unemployed, or the uninsured? How is it that no such zeal was seen in the prosecution of the big banksters for the fraudulent behaviors that caused this global economic meltdown? No, instead we have a bill that threatens to undo the rights of American citizens even more than the atrocious Patriot Act, and we see it sail right on through both houses. What does this say about the real concern and loyalty of these elected “representatives” of the people? The winter solstice season has traditionally been one of observance, and scholars tell us that spiritual practices that pre-date recorded history have been layered over with other religious practices, so that the solstice celebrations that were combined with Christmas, for instance, then take on several stratifications of meaning. So let’s consciously layer on additional meaning, in this time of approaching revolution: let us say that this is the time of the returning light of equality, peace on earth, harmony, compassion for each other, love. Let us commit to each other to stand determined to face down the growing resistance and punishment that is surely coming here in this so-called “free” country, as it has come to the other countries where people have had enough and have taken to the streets to demand change. Let us promise each other that the year of 2012 will be a year when our spirits will join, around the world, to usher in a new dawning, a new time when even the most vulnerable among us will finally be able to rise, to feel the warmth of light and love, and the hope of a new beginning.  Let’s give our all in the hope that, by the Winter Solstice of 2012, the beginning of an entirely new world can be experienced, celebrated and welcomed.

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Occupy Philadelphia – a growing community of activists come together

A young bride and groom, amidst the tents of Occupy Philadelphia

The growing movement, called collectively, Occupy Together, was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, which claims that part of its own inspiration was the bravery and determination seen at Tahrir Square.  Barbara Ehrenreich, in an interview on “Democracy Now” in August 2011, said that she was stunned at the lack of outrage in America.  People were taking to the streets and town squares everywhere…where were the American protests?

Well, Ms. Ehrenreich, I am happy to say — here they are.  The movement continued gaining force, even as it was ignored by main stream media. Occupy Wall Street is now a month old.  Other occupations are a few weeks behind, but multiplying all across the nation.

As a Philadelphia resident, I am thrilled to be able to take part in Occupy Philadelphia, which has been recognized across the country as one of the most organized, well-run and peaceful occupations.  Credit goes not only to those who are doing the occupying, the organizing, the activities, but also to the city’s mayor and administration, and to our police force. While a total absence of conflict is never possible in direct Democracy – the goal and determination of the Occupy movement — the commitment to peaceful demonstrations, to harmonious relations and the non-violent model have been demonstrated on all sides here.  Perhaps we are, once again, earning our name as The City of Brotherly Love.  But let’s be clear: we are seeing Sisterly and Brotherly Love.  The Occupy population is determined that there will be diversity among us.  That no voices will speak above others.  Men and women stand side by side to speak.  All races, all orientations, all walks of life, are seen at the Occupation sights; and this is clearly true in Philadelphia.

A walk around City Hall, where the occupiers are encamped, will present you with an information tent, where well-informed and engaged people will offer not only information, but help in whatever you might require.  A legal tent is staffed around the clock.  Two medic areas have staff and assistance available day and night.  There is a food tent area which has grown as the occupation has grown.  The last I heard, we served nearly 1500 people in one day.  An education tent provides written information, schedules teach-ins and other educational events.  The arts group works to provide help in making your signs and posters.  It also works with the artists of the city to bring in performances, readings, live music. Howard Zinn’s play, MARX IN SOHO, was performed a few nights ago.  The tech team keeps the very necessary technology running.  The media team works with news outlets, reporters and journalists eager for information.  There is a family area, where people with children can rest a while, enjoy some time to play with the games and toys that have been donated.  The homeless outreach group is committed to taking care of those homeless citizens who have lived at City Hall long before the occupation began; they work to make sure they are fed, clothed and sheltered from bad weather.  One of the homeless women who lives on Dilworth Plaza in front of City Hall said that, at first, she didn’t want the occupation.  But now, she never wants them to leave.  “I’ve never felt so cared for,” she said.

Demonstrators stand along the west side of the occupation sight with signs and banners, as the downtown traffic drives past on 15th Street.  Many drivers honks and wave, and are greeted with waves and smiles by the demonstrators.  Even the police here will honk and offer a thumbs up to the demonstrators.

Not everyone is thrilled about this occupation, obviously.  “Get a job!” is sometimes heard.  “Druggies, bums, scum of the earth!” was hurled at the people yesterday.  But the occupiers smile and remain polite.  The determination to remain peaceful, not only in action but in thought and speech, continues.  This is the new generation.  Some would say these are the Indigo Children and the Crystal Children, now in their young adulthoods, who are leading what many hope to be the dawn of a new kind of world.  Idealistic?  Of course.  But whatever has been accomplished without idealism?  This idealism is coupled with steely determination, don’t be fooled.  There will be no backing down. There have been marches on the big banks in downtown Philadelphia.  We’ve marched on Big Pharma and on the For-Profit Healthcare Companies.  There have been demonstrations and walk-outs expressing solidarity on the area college campuses.  Of course, there have also been marches to Independence Hall, and the area steeped in Revolutionary War history. The spirits of those who signed the Declaration of Independence is always felt here.  The spirits of the Framers of the Constitution are nearby. Philadelphia is a city filled with revolutionary history, of which it is very proud.

Two weeks ago, a bride and groom walked solemnly into the midst of the occupation tents with a photographer.  They stood, hand in hand, looking directly into the camera.  I thought of those sienna photos from the 1920s of our great-grandparents.  This couple knew that generations from now, their family members could show those photos, “This is your great, great-grandmother and grandfather on the day of their wedding, during the Revolution of 2011.”  Am I over-reaching?  I hope not.  And, isn’t this what it is, ultimately, about?  The wedding couple surrounded themselves with the signs and symbols of revolution.  But they, themselves, are a sign of hope, of belief that a new kind of life is possible, and that love remains eternal.

Occupy Together is a global awakening of the 99% who have suffered for far too long in a system of growing inequality.  Occupy Philadelphia is one city’s contribution to this movement.I’m proud to be a small part of what is happening here.  I’ve waited most of my adult life for this.  I will always be proud of what these remarkable people are committed to accomplishing.  I pray for success.

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Veggydelphia: Top Five Vegetarian Restaurants

Are you a vegetarian or vegan who works or lives in the downtown area?  
Guest blogger, Nikki Beard offers some great suggestions for vegetarian/vegan restaurants.

By Nichole Beard

Su Xing: Enjoy Chinese food, but can’t find many vegetarian options at your local China No. 1? Su Xing is an amazing all vegetarian Chinese restaurant in the heart of Philadelphia. Su Xing offers an abundance of vegetarian-safe versions of popular Chinese dishes such as Sesame Tofu (amazing; my go-to dish whenever I’m there), Kung Pow Tofu, and Teriyaki Tofu. At modest prices for both lunch and dinner, Su Xing is a must for a Philly vegetarians and vegans!Where: 1508 Sansom St. Philadelphia, PA 19102  Website: www.suxinghouse.com
Citi Marketplace: With how amazing Citi’s food is, I’m surprised this little eatery hasn’t gained more popularity. On first glance, Citi Marketplace looks more like a corner shop than an eatery. Trust me, you want to go inside and order something. Citi offers vegan and vegetarian breaskfast, lunch, and dinner—all prepared fresh in front of you. Menu highlights include the Veggie club (vegetarian bacon, slices of tofu, veganaise, lettuce, and tomato on a choice of hoagie, wrap, or bread) and Veggie cheesesteak (tofu cheesesteak! Finally a vegetarian or vegan can enjoy what Philly is famous for!) After you’re done eating, check out all the organic products the shop has to offer.  Where: 1318 Walnut St. Philadelphia, PA 19107  Phone: (215) 545-2085
Govinda’s Gourmet Vegetarian: Much like Citi Marketplace, Govinda’s offers vegetarian safe chicken, tuna, and seafood salad sandwiches, vegetarian cheese steaks, and tofu wraps. Govinda’s also offers vegan-safe ice cream and bakery items! Go for a casual lunch during “Gourmet to Go” hours, or for a fine dining experience for dinner. The menu highlight at only $7.50 is the Golden Tofu Wrap: Tofu slices in ginger, tamari, and tahini accompanied by jasmine rice, peppers, and vegan cheese! Where: 1400 South St. Philadelphia, PA 19146  Website: www.govindasvegetarian.com
San Samosa Indian food has long been a refuge for vegetarians and vegans alike. Located a few blocks from Citi Marketplace, San Samosa offers a surprisingly wallet-friendly lunch buffet, and equally modest dinner prices. Don’t be fooled by the buffet status, as San Samosa’s food is always exquisite. I used to go here (and Citi) multiple times per week when I was working downtown, and they never disappointed. Be sure to check out their great naan, vegetable kofta balls, and mango lassi.    Where: 1214 Walnut St. Philadelphia, PA 19107  Website: www.sansamosa.com
Do our readers have favorite vegetarian/vegan restaurants?  Share your information with us in the comments!  
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Top Five Eco-Friendly/Veg-Friendly Beauty Products

By Nichole Beard

Like most environmentally conscious minds, you might find your conscience weighed down by the origin of the beauty products you use. We all think: oh well XYZ brand couldn’t possibly test on animals, because they are too well known or too credible. But the truth is, a lot of well-known beauty product companies still employ inhumane practices to produce their products.

I found myself upset and frustrated with the lack of compassionate products on the market, so I made an effort to do the necessary research to find cruelty free and eco-friendly products. Over the past year, I have found some products that I swear by. Although these compassionate products might be a bit pricier than the more mainstream products, please be advised that having a guiltless conscious is worth more than a cheap beauty product.

 

 

1. Tinted Moisturizer by Organic Wear

Ever feel your “face” melting off during the summer months? During the winter, does your foundation seem to flake off with your dry skin? Organic Wear’s tinted moisturizer offers a pleasant-smelling solution for both scenarios. Upon discovering this product, I discontinued using liquid foundation. I have some Rosacea blotchiness on my cheeks, and I find that the tinted moisturizer does a better job than the liquid foundation in covering up the redness. Not only is this product good for my skin, but it also smells of lavender.

 

2. Jumbo Mascara by Organic Wear

There are an abundance of mascaras on the market today, all trumping their apparent ability to plump, define, and lengthen. Ever wonder what beauty companies put in those mascaras to claim such abilities? With Organic Wear’s Jumbo Mascara, you don’t need to worry. Not only is this mascara hypoallergenic for sensitive eyes, but it also offers the volume that the other products boast.

3. Sun Protecting Lip Balm SPF 8 by Burt’s Bees

With skin cancer on the rise, and consumers scrambling to find the right sunscreen, the lips often get overlooked. No matter the season, your lips can take a beating from the sun. If you find that your lips chap easily (like me), this sweet smelling lip balm won’t leave you disappointed.

4. Dandruff Relief Shampoo by JASON

That itchy scalp problem might be embarrassing for some, but with this product, there is finally relief! Along with sensitive skin, I also have a sensitive scalp, which meant years of on and off dandruff. I used several mainstream products such as Head & Shoulders and Neutrogena T-Gel to no avail. JASON’s all-natural ingredient dandruff relief shampoo quickly repaired my scalp and relieved itching.

5. Tea Tree Skin Clearing Lotion by The Body Shop

I’m sure you’ve all heard endless praise sung of green tea. Not only does green tea boost metabolism, but in lotion or face wash form, green tea calms and nourishes the skin. In my experience, tea tree has been a cure-all for hair and skin. This face wash is gentle and gets the job done—and with a highly respected cruelty free company producing it—what’s not to like?


Our guest blogger, Nichole Beard,  is a graduate student at Rosemont College and will soon earn her MFA in Creative Writing. In addition to interning at my arts organization, Hidden River Arts, Nichole is a reader for The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts and is currently editing her novel, a historical fiction piece set in post-WWII Japan. Her fiction has been published on http://www.yesteryearfiction.com, and her articles have been published in Penn State’s Alternative Journal. Her author website can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/44952yx   She obviously shares our concern about finding organic, healthy alternatives to the toxic cosmetics sold in most stores.  Be sure to share your own experiences and suggestions on ways to go healthy and not have to go without beauty products!

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‘Night Mother: Seriously Strong Theatre

I had the good fortune of attending opening night of New City Stage’s production of ‘Night Mother last Saturday.  Go see this play.  It is a wrenching and relentless theatre, that’s true; it deals with the topic of suicide in a straight forward way.  But there is nothing straight forward about the issues that Marsha Norman’s script addresses.  Family relationships, dishonesty, disability, personal failure, misery — all of these are woven into the conversation between mother and daughter on what could have been any other normal, monotonous night in their lives.

Playwright Marsha Norman received the Hull-Warriner Award, the Susan Smith Blackburn Prize and the Pulitzer for this play.  She and Christopher Durang are currently co-chairs of the Graduate Playwrighting Department at The Julliard School.

Director Rosey Hay trained at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, and is Artistic Director of the New York-based REV Theatre CompanyShe has in-depth experience in directing Shakespearean works, including Hamlet, Othello, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet.  This experience is apparent in her approach to the direction of ‘Night Mother.  There is an on-going accretion of complications and character turns which, although played subtly, have the feel of a far-reaching tragic sweep — one that promises to echo long after the evening at the theatre has ended.   Norman’s characters are archetypal, and in Hay’s hands, resonate at that level.

Wendy Staton who plays Jessie, brings a strength and determination to the character that is shot through with believable vulnerability.  Jessie’s endless tidying up, organizing, and list-checking behaviors conceal a character who struggles with the chaos of grand mal seizures that have destroyed her ability to live a full life.  This is a sorrowful character, but she is not without wit and intelligence.  That her life has been one of such disappointment doesn’t diminish her vitality as a human being.  This is what makes her decision all the more tragic.    Having trained and practiced as an attorney before beginning her full-time career in the theatre, Ms. Staton brings a depth and grounded quality to her performance.  Previous performances include Our Town at the Arden Theatre,  Romeo and Juliet and Comedy of Errors at Shakespeare in Clark Park, Love Unpunished with Pig Iron Theatre, and In Arabia We’d All Be Kings.  

Cathy Simpson, as Thelma, is a mother who is slowly reaching the end of her rope, being confronted with the decision of her daughter, who announces that she is going to end her life.  She tries all the old ways of nudging her daughter into a safer emotional space – humor, sharp conversation, distraction, even accusation.  But what we finally see is a mother stripped of all ability to rescue her child.  Ms. Simpson, winner of a Barrymore and The Kevin Kline Award,  has been a company member at People’s Light and Theatre since 1994.  She has also performed with Philadelphia Theatre Company, Interact Theatre, Freedom Theatre, Philadelphia Young Playwrights, Philly Shakespeare Theatre, the Wilma and Arden Theatres.  Regional credits include the Studio Theatre, Arena Stage, The Kennedy Center, Woolly Mammoth, to name only a few.

Both Wendy Staton and Cathy Simpson are members of the Freedom Rising Company at the National Constitution Center here in Philadelphia.

New City Stage Company is a young theatre company in Philadelphia which has shown tremendous growth in a few short years.  They are dedicated to presenting high quality work which both entertains and raises issues important to the community and society.  Drawing from both contemporary and classical works, their focus is on including Philadelphia premieres of playwrights whose work and focus is not usually seen on Philadelphia stages.

Night Mother  runs now until July 3 at the Second Stage at The Adrienne Theatre, 2030 Sansom Street, Philadelphia.

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Live and Lit tonight at Chhaya Cafe, 7 to 9 p.m.

LIVE and LIT Tonight at Chhaya 7 to 9 p.m.!

Hidden River Arts is partnering with Chhaya Cafe at 1823 E. Passyunk, to present open mic events for musicians, poets and writers.  Come on out tonight – performers can sign up at 6:15; the show starts at 7 and runs until about 9.

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