The musings of an academic geek yogi
CENSORED: The form that is used to accept letters to the editor by the Bakersfield Californian has censored my attempt at submission So here is a copy of what I wrote that is considered by robots to be obscene:
While a student government leader at CSU Northridge I organized campus events, the most memorable was, The Vagina Monologues. A 20-year-old conservative catholic that devoutly spent my weekends at mass & debate tournaments was then put off by the word “vagina” on my meeting agenda.
When I first got involved it felt like an HBO free preview weekend filled with things that I felt shame for watching but was immensely curious about. The impact for me was so profound that the next year I auditioned & was cast. I sent postcards for the performance to my family in Bakersfield (as you might imagine that did not go well).
Before Facebook & Facetime existed, I sent the now infamous postcards with a Georgia O’Keeffe inspired flower and scrawled note that said, “come see me perform in the Vagina Monologues.” The arrival of the cards triggered a phone tree of prayers to address every Mexican mothers fear realized: I had moved to LA & been lured into porn. None of my relatives came to watch me but, in their defense, I sent a sexually suggestive postcard with zero context & not everyone tunes in when they get free HBO.
Bakersfield is fortunate to have a vibrant & sometimes scintillating art happening here. This production will shine light on persistent problems that we need to discuss such as sex trafficking and violence against women. I hope you will join me in attending the Bakersfield Vagina Monologues on February 9th at the Fox Theatre.
My body and spirit have been broken many times in my life. My left arm will forever filled with metal and the sound of a car door slamming still causes my heart rate to elevate. In 2008, I found Iyengar yoga and my life changed completely. However, the last few months my practice has become more solitary; I have not been to an institute or taken a class at my home studio since I listened to a story on NPR about sexual abuse by teachers.
A close friend emailed me the KQED article that exposed a reputable Iyengar yoga teacher as interacting inappropriately with students. My initial reaction to the report was annoyance that a photo caption had mislabeled a pose as adho muhka svanasana (downward dog) that was clearly ardha uttanasana (half intense forward bend). My first emotions were quickly replaced with a sense of profound sadness. I could not divorce my own experiences of trauma from the accusations facing my community, a community filled with people that have been so critical to my own healing. Each social media diatribe dismissing accusers on Iyengar groups has only increased my turmoil.
Educators in society are always in a position of power over their students both in and out of the classroom. The argument could be made that yoga instructors have more agency than most teachers because those that cross the thresholds of a yoga studio as newcomers are vulnerable. People turn to Iyengar yoga because they are sick in their heart, their body or their mind and want to be better; the quest to be better is not undertaken lightly. If anyone abused the sacred trust of a student, they should face severe consequences.
I have felt shame for disengaging from both my yoga practice and this conversation. I am fortunate to say that I have never been victimized as an Iyengar yoga student in a class, workshop or at a convention. However, the barrage of reductive and defensive commentary by fellow yogis online has made me, as a survivor of sexual assault feel marginalized.
It is commendable that IYNAUS has responded to this crisis by being more transparent. That policies are being reformed and the teacher certification process will soon include a conversations of consent. However, as a millennial I cannot reconcile what leadership has communicated from what is happening on social media. To recruit and retain the next generation that will carry on the mantle of Iyengar Yoga virtual spaces cannot be neglected. Deleting conversations with testimonies of those who have felt unsafe is an attempt of erasure of that person, their voice and their suffering. Online discord within the Iyengar Yoga community has caused me to distance myself and consider walking away from my practice and teaching.
I authored this post to help me find my way back to my mat. But I also wrote it because I wanted to say to any fellow yogi survivor that has felt ignored, victimized or afraid, that even if you never unfurl a mat beside me: I believe you.
When someone is wronged in a relationship the communication between the people involved becomes strained. Conversely, conflict can provide an opportunity for growth. This idea is supported by the academic field known as The dark side of interpersonal communication. The dark side first introduced in the mid-1990’s provides a theoretical framework for understanding that there is a duality to communication and argues that some evil or darkness can help ignite a deeper investigation of communication processes. Even editors of anthologies on the subject would agree there is not clear definition of the darkside they posit that a dialectic approach moves studies away from stagnant communication and looks at the possibility that strong interpersonal communication can be misused.
This talk contends that when something bad happens in interaction in a relationship that positive communication, like board games, can counter that damage. The three things that help darkness into the light are trust, play and time.
Is seems juvenile to some to suggest that gaming accelerates the growth of trust. However, they are a powerful interface for couples in crisis because they provide the participants with clear rules, and boundaries. For example, many couples working through problems choose to take time apart but games give them a chance to be close together.
Strong communication is not just about words and nonverbal communication encompasses many things but overall refers to ways that we share information without words. In particular Proxemics has to do with nonverbal communication related our own personal space. Edward Hall talked about how we communicate ideas and feelings through our physical space. The closer we are to a person the stronger the relationship. Gaming allows adversaries to be close contact within the safety of a specified task.
My hubs is a math teacher and he loves puzzles and rules but riddles and brain teasers are not what has drawn me to games. For me it is all about the fantasy. The idea that you can be someone else, have super powers, save the world all within less than a three-hour time frame. People try board games and then keep going back because this simple truth is that as human creatures we love to play.
Many interventions for couples in crisis relate back to an investment in time. In a society that values instant gratification the process of assembling and partaking in games in not always alluring. However, choosing to participate in recreational games slows down the social engagement process. When people give themselves over to the world of play without aggressively monitoring time and rushing the process is when they find joy and their way back to a partner; In this way games give time instead of taking time away from a couple.
I have been teaching introductory yoga classes at Bakersfield Yoga Space for more than 8 years. During this time I have never had the opportunity to work with a room full of raw beginners who were completely unfamiliar with yoga. I never had that chance before, that was until I quit teaching in our established studio and brought yoga to low-income outlying areas of my community. At the end of 2017 I had the opportunity to collaborate with Bakersfield College Delano and Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics (IYT) to bring yoga to one rural central California community
My day job is as a Communication community college instructor in the center of California, between the Northern coastal bay and urban areas of Los Angeles. The college campus where I teach is nestled in a tiny agricultural city named Delano California. The city was an epicenter for the United Farm Workers (UFW) labor movement and remains an agricultural powerhouse. Two hot topic issues plaguing this community are immigration and poverty; more than thirty percent of people in Delano are living in poverty (U.S. Census Bureau, 2016).
This month, February 2018, I recently started offering free Iyengar yoga classes again but the launch of this effort began between September and December of 2017 in partnership with Bakersfield College Delano campus and the Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics program.
When I started teaching in Delano I was surprised by the turnout. The age range of the students varied from 18 to 40 and the gender was divided with men as 33% of the registered students. Student that attended the yoga sessions self-identified as Black, Filipino, Mexican, Arab and Indian. It was a strange experience because the demographics of this Delano yoga program stood in stark contrast to the predominately white female clientele that frequent yoga businesses in neighboring cities.
In my grant report to Iyengar Yoga Therapeutics (IYT) I recounted my observation that hardship impedes people’s ability to understand and address physical and emotional pain. More than one in five people living in Delano did not have health insurance in 2016, which is more than double the national average (Thomas, 2017; U.S. Census Bureau, 2016). Many of the people I have encountered while conducting outreach through presentations, tabling and social media perceived yoga as a hobby of luxury not mechanism to better understand their own bodies.
My Experience Teaching Yoga in Delano: A Beginner’s Mind
As teachers, we are trained to observe students limits for their own safety while reminding them that they must also listen to their own bodies. At the start of the program when I inquired about previous or existing injuries not a single student indicated a problem. Even so, as they began to practice I watched as they struggled to come up from the floor or hunched while standing in tadasana (mountain pose).
After my third session, a few students volunteered to help me move the props back to the storage building across the campus and began to share more about their lives. One student flippantly remarked that, “I don’t have any injuries, my back just hurts all the time because I have worked in a packing house moving boxes for so many years.” This 18-year- old man had embraced discomfort as a financial necessity and had found a way to dismiss what his body might be trying to reveal.
In this moment, Pantanjali’s description of yoga in sutra 1.12 took on a broader meaning for me. That quieting fluxuations of the mind does not just heal the body because we are capable of gaining intelligence all the way down to our pinky toe nail. But yoga helps quiet the mind so that those who need to can build a bridge back to an entire body that they may have chosen to disconnect from.
Leaving my Home Studio
Throughout my yoga journey I have needed the same thing I am aiming to help my student find; a bridge back to a part of themselves they may have lost. I have received messages and calls about my choice to leave my lucrative studio schedule and dedicated following. In addition to my day-job, as a full-time college professor, my soul has lead me on a strange detour into teaching yoga at local non-profits and rural communities that otherwise would never experience the BKS Iyengar yoga tradition.
To my dedicated and beloved students please know that I have not abandoned or forsaken you but feel that I must follow my passion. Please be assured that in the near future I will continue to offer privates, workshops and substitute at my origin studio. However, I beg of my students to please be patient as I take the time to more deeply explore this facet of my teaching and community.
Thomas, L. (2017, April 11). Health Insurance: The number of Americans without health insurance rose in first quarter, 2017. Retrieved from Consumer News and Business Channel (CNBC): https://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/11/the-number-of-americans-without-health- insurance-rose-in-first-quarter-2017.html
U.S. Census Bureau. (2016, July 1). Quickfacts: Delano City California . Retrieved from U.S. Census: https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/delanocitycalifornia/PST045216
If you are just starting out as a vegan this is just a quick overview of three cannot fail meals that picky kids will eat. As I mentioned in my last post going vegan is not a guarantee of weight loss because I still eat plenty of carbs but I do know what ingredients I am putting in my body. I will happily take some carbohydrates and sugar over all the carcinogens that are loaded into processed meat and cheeses that are in almost every pre-packaged meal for kids.
Our favorite family meal is by far the easiest. I wash potatoes and put them in a crock pot with olive oil and pink salt. We poke holes and leave them on warm setting (8 hours) and the potatoes are cooked when we get home. We use the appetizer crockpot which hold 3-5 potatoes which is just enough for there to be no leftovers for our family of 4. When we have extra mouths to feed I just use the bigger crockpot. When you get home open a can of chili or use leftovers from former meal. The other option is just to steam some broccoli and add salt and pepper.
Cream Pasta with Peas or Broccoli
The two important ingredients here are Not Chik’n Cubes and raw cashews. I soak cashews for about 30 minutes then in food processor or vitamix combine seasoning cubes, cashews, sautéed garlic and onion and nutritional yeast. I use the vitamix when I have enough ingredients and freeze half of the recipe. I just blend until its completely smooth then mix in with cooked pasta and peas or broccoli. I must be honest that I do not measure. I just keep adding until it gets to a consistency I like dumping in whatever I have. If I have extra firm tofu or cauliflower they also help with the texture and taste of the cream sauce.
Here is a cream pasta recipe with approximate measurements from the amazing minimalist baker but I must tell you that like potatoes the pasta and vegan cream sauce is a family staple.
Vegan hotdog with prepackaged rolls
Yup, Pillsbury crescent rolls are vegan who-hoo. And you can buy em’ in bulk pretty reasonably if you have a Costco card. I have learned that if you cut the hot dog in half they don’t cook evenly and you get a mouthful of cold hotdog. Just make crescent rolls like normal but longwise quarter the hotdogs and then wrap them. This recipe is so easy my kids make it on a regular basis and they are 8 & 10 years old.
MUST HAVES ON MY BI-WEEKLY SHOPPING LIST
Other Must Haves
Cashew unsweetened milk (Target/ Sprouts)
Not Chick’n Cubes (Sprout’s)
Garlic (frozen Trader Joe cubs are amazing)
Nutritional yeast (trader joe brand great)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Buy Bulk Bins
Whole Wheat Pasta (I like Penne)
Reflection: Today I will remember that I am what I have eaten, so I will strive to know ingredients especially when I share with those I love.
I have started the new year thinking a lot about food. Like many, I am not ashamed to admit that I fell off the wagon during the holidays. When it comes to my approach to food, the momentary pleasure or convenience was not worth the headaches, acne or weight gain. Let me be clear, being a vegan for me is an act of social justice but it is also critical for my health. After being a vegan I can tell you it is impossible to go back to mindless food consumerism and not notice how terrible your body feels.
This post is one of two articles I am posting on my website with some tips for my local central valley friends who might want to try a plant-based diet.
I am frequently asked if it is challenging to be a vegan. The short answer is yes. But not for the reasons you might think. The biggest challenge is I try to never eat something without knowing exactly what is in it. I have been shocked by how many restaurant staff are oblivious to what is in their food.
Local restaurants have been a pleasant experience for me. In some instances, mostly while traveling, the kitchen will make me something vegan even if there is not an option on the menu. There are several restaurants in town that will happily adjust a vegetarian meal to make it vegan and a few of my local downtown favorites include:
La Costa Mariscos- veggie fajitas and house margarita
Narducci’s - veggie sandwich and Italian ice
Jasmine and the New Taste –yellow vegan curry with brown rice
Woolgrowers- Monsignor Craig’s Pasta (sans cheese)
The Hen’s Roost
If I need a quick hearty vegan meal the best kept secret in Bakersfield is the Hen’s Roost. They are not always open but when they are it is vegan heaven. With my other spots I have my go-to vegan dishes but with the Roost I have never eaten something bad.
Most people no matter how health conscious find themselves faced with a drive through window at some point. When this happens the regularly updated PETA website is super helpful in laying out what is and is not vegan.
Lack of time is not a good reason to eat animals. At this points in my life it is almost impossible to always be able to sit down to dinner. My go-to fast-food preferences are: Chipotle, Pizza Rev, Starbucks, Jack in a Box, and Taco Bell. I know you are probably thinking Taco Bell? But the bean burritos sans cheese or sauce are still filled with enough warm carb and sodium flavor to hit the spot. Starbucks has good oatmeal and always has processed sugar infused granola bars. Jack-In-Box curly fries are good but do risk cross contamination. When I go to Pizza Rev I get so excited to eat thin crust pizza with a mound of fresh veggies.
WEIGHT LOSS and HEALTH
On a final note, I wanted to be totally clear that it is silly to become a vegan with the sole aim of losing weight. If you want to lose weight see a professional nutritionist and cut calories but do not think veganism is a magic cure. I can say with all honesty for most people, me included, a plant-based diet helps you feel better. However, if you only eat french fries and oreos then being vegan could cause you to gain weight quickly.
Part two of this article is coming soon and will provide some tips on vegan family meals and easy meal preparation. But if you have any questions or additions please feel free to comment.
Reflection: Today I will put my money where my heart is and shop and buy local.
A few times a year we visit the in-laws in central Florida and the closest Iyengar yoga class is more than three-hours away. I do not use my lack of studio access as a reason to forgo my practice. Instead, I remind myself that the goal of my travels is both to reconnect with loved ones but also to have time that is about replenishing my body and spirit.
Dictionary.com defines vacation as
Pack Yoga Clothes
If I do not bring sneakers when I travel then I have a good excuse when I do not meet my step goals. Similarly, if I do not have yoga clothes when I travel It is an easy reason to skip my personal practice. Yoga pants are notorious for being both comfortable and flattering. Instead of some tummy control lulu pants I choose to bring yoga shorts that I only ever wear for my practice. Like yoga, when I was a distance runner I always wore shorts because after the first mile my legs always warmed. To help wake my body in my morning practice I choose not to wear too much warm of clothing when I practice during winter months and warm up my body quickly. It is notable that I am practicing in California and Florida so cold is a relative term that for me means 40’s and 50’s (kudos to my snow loving friends but that cold weather is just not part of my reality).
Social Media Inspiration
It is embarrassing to admit that I frequently troll on my phone though various social media when I am bored and vacation is no different. My guilty pleasures are Instagram and Pinterest. Part of the draw is that I follow Iyengar studios and people and find inspiration from the photos and videos shared. If you are looking for some inspiration go to my Instagram and click through my “following” you will notice quickly that I have a great array of inspirational folks to follow.
*Click the camera instagram logo bellow to be directed to my profile
Do Not Over Schedule
The most freeing part of my vacation practice is that I am not limited by a time block. There are no papers to grades, kids to get off to school or piles of never ending laundry waiting to be folded. It is just me and my yoga shorts working through my asana practice. I am fortunate that unlike everyone else in my family I am an early riser; my body is just defaulted for my day to start between 5:30 and 6:30 am. Without laundry to fold there is no good reason for me to not roll out of bed and just begin my practice.
Remember that your practice belongs to you. It does not matter if you practice every day for 90 minutes or if you do not get a chance to practice at all. For me it matters that I realize indulgence in food, drink and spending are not what vacation is about. Respite and restoration require that I take moments for myself and including my Iyengar yoga practice helps with that self-care process.
Reflection: Today I will be still and love myself enough to include asana as part of my day.