My Handcrafted Natural Energy Drink!

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The life of a yoga teacher can be more physically demanding than people realize. For example, I practice Ashtanga 5-6 times a week and teach up to 15 yoga classes a week. Yet, in spite of my best efforts to eat balanced nutritional meals and drink lots of water, I have shown alarming physiological signs of nutritional depletion. I stopped into Co-Opportunity, my local, organic market and health food store, and had a chat with Ken Ohashi, (Assistant Wellness Manager). He said that my grueling practice and teaching schedule was draining my body of essential minerals and nutrients and suggested a few natural food sources for supplementation to help with rehydration and replenish the electrolytes, vitamins, and minerals that are lost through excessive perspiration.

I told him about the concoction I was already drinking in the morning–coconut water, lemon, lime, water, chia seeds and a scoop of collagen with Vitamin C. He said that blend was okay but I could use something more potent. He recommended: Himalayan Pink Salt, Organic Unsulphured Black Strap Molasses, and Apple Cider Vinegar.  Furthermore, he said, I was most likely stressing my adrenal glands and the physical symptoms I described were signs of excess cortisol production. He then also recommended an herbal blend formula to help support the adrenal glands (with Holy Basil, Siberian Rhodiolia, Ashwaganda Root, Wild Oats Milky Seed, Schisandra Berry).

I purchased all the ingredients and immediately went home to make my first batch. In addition, I decided to do a little research on the food sources he recommended and was surprised to find out how powerfully sustentative they were and concluded that, yes, my body was indeed short on many key nutrients.

After sipping on this homemade concoction for about a week, I decided an ingredient was missing so I added Spirulina, which made the brew just right! I’ve been consuming this handcrafted energy drink for a couple of weeks and I’m feeling much better. I’m also noticing some positive changes: sustained energy throughout the afternoon; calmness and mental clarity; feeling less tired when waking up in the morning, and some of the physiological symptoms seem to be dramatically reversing. This homemade beverage is better than many of the energy drinks on the market, which are loaded with chemicals, sugar or artificial sweeteners, caffeine, and artificial coloring. My homemade superfood elixir is also substantially less expensive, costing just pennies for the many ounces I’m drinking per week!

HAND CRAFTED ENERGY DRINK

I make this blend to drink in the afternoon, either after my practice or when teaching back –to- back classes. It’s actually very pleasant tasting and has a subtle richness almost like chocolate and just as satisfying. In fact, I’m craving less sugar in general. I drink this instead of consuming a typical sweet snack in the late afternoon (chocolate, popcorn, trail mix) all of which have more calories.

Put the following ingredients into a 20oz container:

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1 rock (pellet) of coarse Himalayan Pink Salt

1 tbsp of Organic Unsulphured Black Strap Molasses

1 tbsp. of Apple Cider Vinegar

1 tsp. of Spirulina

Natural Spring or Filtered Water

Put all the ingredients in a sealed container and let sit until the salt is dissolved.  Shake and drink. When you are left with about 1oz of residue at the bottom of your container, refill with water and drink the rest. Enjoy!

NUTRITIONAL BENEFITS OF FOUR SUPERFOODS

Himalayan Pink Salt: Apparently, there are 84 trace minerals in pink salt including, potassium, magnesium, calcium, sulphate, and sodium chloride. Among its many benefits when ingested, pink salt can help with hydration, muscle cramps, replacing key minerals lost during perspiration. Although the benefits of Himalayan Pink Salt are debated in some sources, I’m willing to try this for a while to see the results.

Organic Unsulphured Black Strap Molasses: I vaguely remember black strap molasses from my childhood. My mother would give us a spoonful now and then saying it was high in iron, explaining that she was given this a supplement when she was a child. This dense, dark syrup is the residue of boiled down sugar cane, and is high in iron, as well as calcium, magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese, selenium, chromium, B-vitamins and protein. Black Strap Molasses is an overall health tonic with many vitamins and minerals that are antioxidants that help the body with energy and cell-production, as well as, calm the nervous system.

Although 1 tbsp. provides a multitude of nutrients, it also has 13 grams of sugar—(please consider this if following dietary restrictions). I’ve been too active to experience weight gain from the sugar in this drink. Furthermore, since I’m extending my recipe out over two 20 ounce containers, I’m essentially diluting 13 grams of sugar in 40 ounces of water.

 Apple Cider Vinegar:  Apple cider vinegar is rich in minerals, like potassium, sodium, chloride, phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium, and trace minerals, like, copper, fluorine, as well as vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, C, and E, bioflavonoids, and pectin. I prefer to use “Bragg’s Apple Cider Vinegar” which has a significant amount of “mother” the beneficial enzymes and bacteria that settle at the bottom of the bottle.

Spirulina:  Spirulina has significant amounts of Vitamin A, calcium, niacin, potassium, magnesium, B vitamins and iron. It also has essential amino acids (protein) and antioxidant health benefits, which have been proven to aid in the body’s recovery from excessive exercise.

RESOURCES

Himalayan Pink Salt

http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/02/19/the-amazing-benefits-of-himalayan-pink-salt/

Blackstrap Molasses:

http://www.processedfreeamerica.org/resources/health-news/287-the-many-benefits

http://www.healthdiaries.com/eatthis/15-health-benefits-of-blackstrap-molasses.html

Apple Cider Vinegar

http://www.md-health.com/Health-Benefits-Of-Apple-Cider-Vinegar.html

Spirulina

http://www.livescience.com/48853-spirulina-supplement-facts.html

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Keiko & Kenichi Visit Los Angeles

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In July 2013 my YogaPlus colleagues from Tokyo, Kenichi Nemoto and Keiko Tanaka, made their first trip to Los Angeles to visit various Yogaworks studios. Kenichi (Ken) a student in my first TT in Tokyo (2012), is now a very popular teacher at Yogaplus. Tall, talented, and a former professional vocalist who notably performed in a touring company of “Phantom of the Opera.” Keiko Tanaka, whom passionately oversaw the expansion of the Yogaworks trainings at YP, was the quintessential programming director.

They were encouraged to come to LA and experience the thriving yoga community here and spent a glorious week filled with an intensive program of classes at a number of Yogaworks studios in Santa Monica (Montana Ave. & Main St.), South Bay, Westwood and Hollywood; and mandatory sightseeing.

Keiko and Ken were able to practice with so many popular Yogaworks teachers, including: Vinnie Marino, Mia Togo, David Lynch, Birgitte Kirsten, Chad Hamrin, and Alexandria Crow. At the Montana Avenue studio they took Lisa Walford’s Iyengar class and had a special meeting with her afterwards. They dropped into David Kim’s class at Westwood, and my class at Southbay. In addition, the two made a special visit to Gurrmukh at Golden Bridge Yoga in Hollywood; Exhale, Sacred Movement in Venice; and Yoga Loft in Manhattan Beach for a kid’s yoga class with Grenville Henwood, who has developed “Groovy Kids Yoga” trainings that are taught internationally. Both Chad Hamrin and Grenville Henwood would carry out successful trainings and workshops at YP.  Finally, a special treat for Ken was to be featured in one of David Kim’s class segments on “My Yogaworks.com.

Food became a secondary focus, although Californian fare isn’t as stellar as Japanese cuisine, there are plenty of popular spots in L.A. On our fist evening together we had dinner at Annipurna, a popular vegetarian restaurant in Culver City. Pumpkin Pie at Urth Cafe became one of our favorite treats–their salads were second best. Ken also insisted that we try Unami Burger—Unami is the “fifth flavor”–which often is the secret undistinguishable essence in a dish that makes it delectable.  Additionally, Ken and Keiko had their fair share of ubiquitous Mexican food, claiming they ate more tacos and burritos than they could stand, but we insisted they try Wahoo Fish Tacos. We were able to squeeze in our last lunch of wholesome sandwiches at Fundamental.

For more fun, Ken and Keiko toured the city from Hollywood to Venice Beach. One evening we drove up and down the mountainous Malibu Canyon Road and then headed north on Pacific Coast Highway towards Pt. Dume, where we spent a fantastic evening hiking the bluffs, then viewed a spectacular sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

In all, Keiko said that she was impressed by robust yoga culture in Los Angeles, which is diverse in many ways: people of all ages and backgrounds practicing yoga; lots of men, not just women taking classes (which tends to be the case in Japan). They were both very surprised to the large audience of yogis attending filled classes here at each studio, literally back to back. I told them that yoga is part of the mainstream environment  in Los Angeles, with so many choices of styles at dozens of studios, and of course great teachers, it makes it impossible to not to pick up your mat and participate. Once people see the benefits of consistent practice, they keep going. Furthermore, the studios become a social outlet and mini-communities are formed.

I was delighted that Ken and Keiko were able to visit Los Angeles and gain insight on how they could positively influence the yoga program at their studio in Tokyo, recognize the growing potential of partnerships, and the abundant opportunity for collaborations.

 

Mahalo and Aloha! With Love From Tokyo and Los Angeles

Our glorious and spirited  7-day retreat was winding down. On May 23 our sixth and last full day, a unanimous decision was made to spend the remaining time at the center: practicing yoga, swimming, strolling the property, eating, and resting. However, there was an exception to make a last-minute trip to nearby Hawi town for souvenirs! David led a tension releasing “Yin Yoga” workshop in the afternoon to encourage the final sense of “letting go.”

An orchestra of crowing roosters woke me up at sunrise, so I decided to walk the grounds before meditation class, taking in the freshness of the garden in the cool damp morning and glint of sunrise lighting up the center with dazzling rays.

After the morning practice and breakfast, the group of us hiked down to the center’s private beach.  An enormous steer emerged out of the pines and accompanied us for a while as wild hogs darted in and out of the brush. Finally arriving at the beach, we paused for a moment to look out onto the shore, and then took yoga shots on the rocks.

The afternoon was free time and many of us swam in the glassy saltwater pool, lounged, or started packing. IMG_3383Later that evening Mo made a special celebratory gourmet vegetarian dinner  including a special gluten-free chocolate cake. We dressed up in our finest tropical wear (some items purchased in Hawi or Hilo) to commemorate our adventurous week together. Friday morning, May 24 was spent squeezing in a final meditation practice and then checking out. Joyful goodbyes were exchanged and after shuttling people back and forth to the airport throughout the afternoon, a handful of us traveled down to Kona to take in a few more sights before departing later that evening.

This was my first international yoga retreat, daring and elaborate to organize, it was hard to imagine such an incredibly successful outcome. Yet, the results seemed effortless thank to David Kim my colleague, who was a seasoned pro at organizing such feats. I would learn so much from him that ultimately boosted my confidence as a teacher and retreat leader, but most of all, I learned how to appear gracious under pressure and how to be the greatest host. As yoga teachers, we not only guide and inspire people to learn, but in situations like this, we are leaders and guardians who can create a magical experience that touches people in a significant way.

Overall, our 5-day retreat—was a real Hawaiian Odyssey. We were able to merge diverse cultures from two great cities, Tokyo and Los Angeles, and share a broad range of exciting sights, delicious cuisine, myths, stories and many other cultural pleasures offered by the Big Island of Hawaii. It was also great to have the participation of the growing Japanese yoga community that David and I are part of, including our energetic translator, Yuri Nakamura Hayashi and Yoga Plus Manager, Keiko Tanaka who coordinated important details back in Tokyo.

I felt as if we had truly immersed ourselves in a healthy, balanced program of daily yoga practice, mediation, healthy food, sight-seeing excursions, to benefit tremendously from an amazing transformative experience. Yoga retreats can range from intense, challenging to relaxing and restorative, thus allowing people to create a special bond. We weren’t just traveling tourists residing at a commercial resort–our splendid and generous host, Jeannie and the HIRC provided a marvelous setting to offer something rare and exclusive.

I would later hear how many of the participants on our retreat were inspired to continue to develop their practice, pursue teacher training, or even make healthy improvements in their diet. David and I were also very pleased that lasting friendships were formed among us.

This story is dedicated to Alaric Phillips

Big Island Day Trip: Volcanoes National Park and Big Island Candies

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Volcanoes National Park, 30 miles south of Hilo, is the location of two of the world’s most active volcanoes, Kilauea and Maunalua. This approximately 300,000 acre park, features a diverse environment of terrain– from dense rain forest to dry, arid desert dotted with strange flora that is uniquely distinctive to this natural habit. It has been classified as both, a “Biosphere Site” and “World Heritage Site” by UNESCO.

We started with a quick trip though the 500 year-old Thurston Lava Tube, walking down a narrow wooden bridge into a dimly lit tunnel of hardened lava, then exiting out into a dense, moist rainforest of ohia and colossal and fantastic Hapu’u ferns  which I had never seen before.

Later we went to the area surrounding the Kilauea Caldera, the home of the volcano Goddess Pele who lives on the site. She “governs the flows of lava” and is the “goddess of fire, lightning, dance, volcanoes and violence” (1)  and figures prominently in Hawaiin mythology. I really admired the enchanting murals narrating the history of the Islands and the goddess Pele on view at the Kilauea Overlook center.

Plumes of steam wafted up from the wide, increasingly large crater which contents glow at night. The most recent eruption was in March of 2008 and since then periodic lava flows have streamed down Kilauea’s southeastern shore, covering acres of land with slag and destroying many structures and roads in its path.

After walking among the peculiar landscape taking pictures and amusing ourselves in the chilly wind, we raced off—making it to Big Island Candies just before they closed! This heavenly fragrant chocolate factory creates thousands of delicacies in countless varieties: chocolate macadamia nut cookies, brownies, chocolates made with locally grown macadamia nuts, Hawaiian Ginger, guava and Kona coffee. Everything comes wrapped in cheerfully colored boxes.  Each and everyone of us left with huge bags filled with gifts that would soon be ravished by friends and family back home.

Treats from Big Island Candies

Just in time, Big Island Candies

(1)http://www.mythicalrealm.com/legends/pele.html

Eating in Tokyo: Favorite New Foods From Adzuki Beans to Wakame

Japanese food is quite delicious, but figuring out what to eat in a restaurant or purchase in a grocery store, can be quite daunting, especially since the language presents a barrier that makes selecting food purely a visual choice.  However, I was a bit more daring with my culinary experiments this time. People often ask me what I ate in Tokyo–always assuming lots of sushi. I tell them “no,”  in fact,  what’s commonly eaten isn’t what most Westerners think. There are so many clichés about Japanese food and so much to learn and discover.  I came to realize that you will consume copious amounts of  bean curd in hundreds of dozens of forms; soba and udon noodles; miso and fermented foods; a myriad of things from the sea including fish, sea urchins, seaweed and many things I’ve never seen before; adzuki beans and lots of raw and cooked vegetables  and eggs.  I was also surprised to see a proliferation of coffee shops around the city and that tea is consumed privately at home.

Nevertheless, I developed a taste for some dishes, which became some of my favorite new foods.  At home I routinely prepared: raw or cooked cabbage with vegetables and black sesame seeds, sprouts, topped with bonito flakes and sesame dressing.  Additionally, a savory barley miso, was the base for soup I made almost every day with seaweed.  Soba noodles were consumed on an almost daily basis, but I particularly liked a lunch of cold udon noodles with sesame dip and a side dish of crispy chicken.  Colorful bento boxes  filled with a variety of small bites could always be bought daily in the grocery store.

Furthermore, Japanese curry is fantastic– fragrant and rich with flavor and hints of chocolate, leaving a delightful taste that lingers on the palate for hours.  I fell in love with all things matcha, from lattes to Meji Matcha ice cream.  Sumptuous fanciful deserts with a french flair, were a regular indulgence, as well as, tempura lunch specials.  I even tried to acquire a taste for Natto (pungent, fermented soy beans), but not sure if I ever will.

Overall, the cuisine is very healthy and remarkably good for my body–I slimmed down effortlessly and many persistent aches and pains subsided.  I’ve discovered through some research, that many of the foods have anti-inflammatory properties.  I always come back from Tokyo feeling and looking younger and physically lighter and hope that I’ll be able to take a cooking class on a future occasion. Meanwhile, although its difficult to replicate Japanese cuisine, I do my best to keep up with my Japanese diet while here in Los Angeles.

Erakokyuu Nakameguroten with Friends

Lots of Lights

A few of the students from TT 2012 wanted to organize a Yakaufune outing on the Tokyo river but bad weather forced us to make a change of plans.  We met instead for an outrageously fun and amazing feast at Erakokyuu Nakameguroten a traditional Japanese seafood restaurant. After a rendezvous in Nakameguro one chilly evening we walked under a canopy of budding sakura towards the restaurant which was situated on the canal of the Nakameguro River. After coming upon a the brightly lit exterior, we entered a rustic and lively setting primarily constructed out of wood. Expressively painted murals of sea themed images, including a rendition of Botticelli’s Venus–covered the walls, hand drawn banners listed the daily specials and colorful paper lanterns hung from the ceiling.
Today's Seafood Specials

A price is set per person for all-you-can eat and the meal was served at a steady pace throughout the evening.  We started off with a hearty miso soup flavored with fish bones, heaping bowls of sashimi and daikon, squid, crabs, salmon and roe, enormous clams, and Japanese fried chicken, mugs of beer and green or oolong tea.

Ensun Ahn Fusae, Natsumi, Mikiko in front of Venussaid that everything is caught and selected that day and even the scraps of seafood are used in the soup stock.  I stretched my culinary boundaries to eat some things, mostly raw, but couldn’t muster up the strength for others–particularly the “crab brains”–the innards of the crab which are considered a delicacy.

The meal evolved into laughs, stories and an exchange of gifts. One gift, scented eye pads, from Akie Asahi, heated up immediately once they made contact with the skin. We squealed with laughter as she explained their use the then said— “1 2 3 “zzzzzz!!!”  I used those eye pads a few nights throughout the training and they do put you to sleep immediately!  Mana Sasagawa gave me goody bag filled to the brim with treats and Tomoe Honjo, an illustrated book on kimonos.  She explained that she was one of the youngest experts on kimonos in Tokyo and carefully wrote out translated segments in key sections of the book. I looked around the able and realized that my students were now friends, and even felt in some ways like family especially since I was so far away from home.

For a good nights rest, gifts from Akie Asahi

I told them that I would always be able to offer help with their careers in the years to come. We made an agreement to meet at Nozomi Kadokura’s new venue Tulsi Yoga Studio in the weeks ahead, which included the presence of a few more students. That too was a special evening where we practiced teaching and gave informal evaluations and feedback followed by a pot luck, treats and gifts.IMG_2113Goody Bag from Mana...

Having a Great Reunion

(Left to Right) Nozomi Kadokura, Charlotte Kasumi Kabe, Romy Phillips, Mana Sagasawa, Eunsun Ahn, Akie Asahi, Mikiko Goto, Mimura Fusae, Tomoe Honjo, Natsumi Ishikawa

A Tuesday Morning at Tsukiji Market

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During the last week of April, Sachiko Inomata also invited me to join her for another outing on a Tuesday morning at Tsukiji Market.  Sachiko said that she goes there several times a year to stock up on special items.  The market opens to wholesalers at 3:00 a.m. and to the public after 9:00 a.m.  We started out early and took the Toei Oedo Line to Tsukijishijo Station, which features colorful murals and the pungent odor of fish which fills the air way below ground.

Boisterous and sprawling, the Tsukiji Market (Jonai Shigo) covers over 56 acres of land bustling with bikes, motorcycles, small trucks, machinery, throngs of people, amidst mounds of styrofoam crates and cartons.  As we walked amongst the aisles of stalls in the massive warehouses, I saw fish and seafood that I never knew existed, nor could I imagine eating.  Apparently there are over 450 types of fish and seafood represented and a visit here is not for the squeamish or vegetarians!  Yet, the market is a popular tourist attraction and I did enjoy the energy, excitement, visual and sensory stimuli.  The outer lying market (Jogai Shigo) is composed of blocks of restaurants, vendors and food stalls selling: fresh and frozen seafood, including sea vegetables; cooking utensils, especially knives and dishware; dried foods, such as, bonito, grains, beans; pickles, nori, ocha, seasonings and dozens of other delicacies.  Moreover, it was fascinating to see a multitude of exotic sources from the sea that are the basis for Japanese cuisine.

Sachiko and I of course had fresh sushi served up on large banana leaves at one of the narrow food stalls.  After our morning meal, Sachiko  picked up bundles of fresh bonito flakes to take home to her family.  She said that this particular bonito were the best quality and gave me a few packages as a gift. I have to agree with her–I have been sprinkling the flakes on salads or mixing them into soup broths, adding a delightfully distinct flavor to my meals. To my surprise I get a burst of energy,  which I’ve found is from the rich source of B vitamins that are inherent to the flakes.

As we set out to explore Jogai Shigo, we briefly visited the Namiyoke  Inari Shrine (c.1657)  which has been a fixture in the  marketplace for almost 350 years.  Namiyoke–“protection from the waves,” and Inari — “God of commercial prosperity and safe operations at sea.” Nevertheless, this shrine is designated as the unofficial guardian for the marketplace and traders.  The red and black male and female lion heads  (incarnations of Inari) are the highlight the annual “Lion Festival.” Sachiko lamented that the entire market and environs would soon be relocated to another part of Tokyo. This I couldn’t imagine, as there seemed to be so much history here.

Later, around twelve noon, Sachiko and I somehow ended up at a traditional Japanese tea house in Ginza where we had bowls of delicious sweets beans with cups of green tea. A very healthy dessert at the peak of the day!

Getting to Know Kichijoji

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Traveling around Tokyo to teach is pushing my boundaries in new ways this time,  forcing me to take trains further distances and explore different neighborhoods.  On my  first day of teaching in Kichijoji, Yuri met at the Gotanda station to show me the train route.  After class, I told Yuri that I wanted to stroll around the neighborhood and could get home by myself. She asked “are you sure?”  I said absolutely, “I remember how to get back.” I ended up getting terribly lost on the subway and it took me over an hour to reach my final destination! I slightly panicked because no one spoke English and I didn’t quite know how to get back to where I needed to go.  The subway map wasn’t quite making sense. I finally got some assistiance and found out later that I somehow got on the Chou “Blue Line” instead of the Chou “Yellow” Line. Furthermore, I should have changed trains at Shinjuku for the Yamanote Line (green)!  You really have to stay focused!

I teach two classes a week in Kichijoji and I absolutely love this location, its has a great balance of the old and new, affordable goods, and is bustling with creative energy. It’s also more manageable than, lets say,  Shibuya–even with the multitude of shops, cafes, restaurants, and stores–you get a sense of being in a close-knit neighborhood. Plus there is the beautiful Inokashira Park, which features a lake surrounded by hundreds of cherry blossom trees. I was able to get a first glimpse of the budding cherry blossoms earlier this week which will be in full bloom in the days to come.

Each Tuesday after class, I spend the afternoon wandering around, trying the local cuisine and taking pictures.  I’ve explored Nakimichi Street, Sun Road, and the surrounding areas.  Each turn down an alley or road reveals a new discovery. I literally walk until I’m completly exhausted before heading back to Gotanda. There may be more on Kichijoji before I leave Tokyo!

“Letting Go” @ La Casa De Maria

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I recently hosted a retreat with Indira Shekerjian at La Casa De Maria in Montecito, California the weekend of September 22 & 23. This was our second retreat together,  we first teamed up with Megan McCarver for a sold out weekend at White Lotus in Santa Barbara, May 2011. I’ve been to LCDM a number of times over the past few years as a guest yoga teacher for a series of retreats held by Dorothy James.  As a satisfied guest, I always desired to hold my own retreat there someday.

The theme for our weekend., “Letting Go” was based on certain aspects of the Fall Equinox where there is a perfect balance between “day and night,” the “sun and  moon.“ This is also applicable to the literal definition of Hatha Yoga: Ha”–sun, “tha”–moon,  and Yoga –“to yoke.”   Through the practice of yoga we strive to strengthen  and reinforce the connection and balance between the mind and body.   Therefore, it seems appropriate that as nature shifts into balance, we too, should try to do the same.  Furthermore, Pantanjali advises us in the Yoga Sutras to observe the niyama, Santoshacontentment (2.42)  and  abhyasa vairagyabhyampracticing non-attachment (1.12).    Indira pointed out in our group discussion, that we typically  start off the year making our “to do lists” and then over the ensuing months, keep pushing the agenda.  But, do we ever stop to see what we’ve accomplished? Is it enough?  As the year winds down, what can we “let go of?”

This welcoming center provided the appropriate setting for deep reflection.  LCDM is spread out over 26 acres covered with large shady oak trees—there’s even a towering 500-year-old eucalyptus tree on the property.  An eclectic assortment of  old Spanish Mission Style structures are situated around the estate. Each dwelling built at various times, has its own unique traits. For example, The Immaculate Heart Center, a stoic stone mansion built by a wealthy businessman in 1930, evokes the style and craftsmanship of an old world European manor, its rooms filled with antiques old paintings and religious artifacts.  Other facilities on the property include comfortable and soothing Retreat Rooms; Casa San Yasidro, a dormitory that accommodates more than 20 people, mostly youth groups; and there are houses, Casa Teresita and La Casitafor smaller groups or individuals.  The center has been undergoing renovation with an emphasis on energy conservation. While most of the buildings are being outfitted with solar panels, they still retain their historic charm.

The food is simply excellent whether you’re eating meals prepared by a private chef at the Immaculate Heart Center, or cafeteria food at LCDM, it’s all fresh gourmet mostly vegetarian/vegan fare that ‘s made primarily from produce grown on the property or from nearby organic farms.  A large orchard of fruit trees and a sizable garden further support the Center’s direction towards environmental sustainability.

This interfaith center has an interesting history  dating back to the Chumash Indians who once inhabited it, planting many of the trees, then later over the years privately owned.   The Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, A Roman Catholic religion purchased the property in 1940 and after breaking away from the Catholic Church in the 1960s & 70s, turned the estate into a non-profit organization.  What I like most about the center is that it’s off the radar for popular yoga retreat destinations.  It’s a retreat and conference center that harmoniously hosts many types of groups and non-profit organizations,  with “programs focused on meditation, spirituality, personal growth, community service, environmental awareness, education and art.”  Many individuals also go there for silent retreats, to write or create.

I also experimented with a new retreat format–an intimate sized group of 10-12 people and the option to spend the weekend or come up for one day.  Most traditional yoga retreat centers typically require twenty people minimum, putting pressure on teachers to get these numbers when in fact they may be happy with around 12-15.  This format  gave everyone the opportunity to connect in a profound way that isn’t possible in larger groups bringing a lightness and calmness to the weekend that proved to be refreshing.

Our group of eleven people occupied the cavernous “Lounge,” one of the meeting rooms on the property, with lofty wood beamed ceilings and a grand stone fireplace. In all, they had an excellent time participating in a well-rounded program of yoga, restorative and meditation classes and a provocative workshop and discussion led by Indira and I.  Everyone also had ample free time to hike, swim read, draw or simply take a nap!

Nevertheless,  LCDM is a good place for serious heartfelt discussion and contemplation. You’re given a rare opportunity to move inward and connect to your innermost self in a supportive environment that encourages you to open up,  reveal and  “let go.” We were all graciously taken care of.  I’ve finally found a “retreat home” and I hope you and others will join me there sometime in the future.

“Yokocho” Tokyo Alleys & Side Streets

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Space is a premium in Tokyo, alleys and side streets are prime real estate and I’ve discovered that they are hidden communities where locals convene to go to the market.  Yokocho means “alleys to the side of the main street.” One of my favorite side streets is Togoshiginza in Gotanda. I usually take a stroll there to relieve tension after the teacher training on Saturday or Sunday evenings; or to get my favorite fish sandwich for lunch at the bakery; shop for vegetables; or stop at the 100Y shop.  There are other neighborhoods interesting “side streets” as well, Sangenjaya is a maze of rustic and colorful venues; bargains can be found in Kichijojoi; and the narrow streets in Shimokitzawa make up a lively bohemian village.  Next to Ueno Park is the popular “Ameyayokocho,”  an exotic, sprawling mix of food stalls, shops and even a  gorgeous shrine. If you ever visit Tokyo, remember to be adventurous and look around the corner, you never know what you may find.