A Month in Mysore — The First Two Weeks

Our flights departed Philadelphia International Airport on the evening of February 26th, 2015. We arrived at our destination, Mysuru, India, approximated 8,400 miles away, almost 2 days later…

Layover in Frankfort, Germany airport

Layover in Frankfort, Germany airport

Day One in India :: After over 30 hours of travel, including a 45 minute Level 3 Security Screening for me that left me in tears, two 8 1/2 hour plane rides, a 5 hour layover, endless times in lines, and a 3 hour car ride to our hotel, we arrived at a hotel in Mysore at 5am on Saturday. Bleary-eyed and covered in travel-slime, we stayed up just long enough to take in the free breakfast and then all 3 of us crawled into bed and closed the curtains on the arrival portion of our adventure…

First Practice :: John, Raine and I arrived at the Shala during the check in times only to be told to come back in a few hours. Not sure why, but other groups arrived as we walked away and were told the same. We laughed about how this would go over at home — can you imagine if we had listed something on the Dhyana Yoga website and people came thousands of miles at that time and got turned away?!!? Haaaaa! We’d be bombarded with pointy emails! So we go back later, and even though we only have half of our paperwork, we have a 3 year old with us so they mercifully let us through. We get our assigned practice times. John is with Sharat, Mysore practice daily 6am, Led at 4:30am on Saturdays and 5:30am Mondays, off on Sundays. I am with Saraswathi, daily at 8am (so we can trade off watching Raine), Led at 8:15 on Sundays, off on Saturdays. In a twist of fate, I, who wouldn’t mind another day off, will be the first to practice, and John, who is foaming at the mouth to roll his mat out, will have to wait until Monday… the Leela continues!
Sunday morning, I nervously arrive at the Shala almost an hour early. I am not the first one there. A girl smiles at me and I sit next to her and we talk. She is a Vinyasa teacher from Jordan. At some point they usher us into the room. I watch how everyone is setting up and do the same. We wait. 35 minutes later Saraswathi enters the room. I know very little about her, but upon seeing her I remember what my very first Ashtanga teacher, Tim Miller, said about her, that she is “just darling.” We stand and chant the invocation and she begins leading us through Sun Salutations. She messes up the count during the 2nd round of Bs, and she laughs and says, “oh! mistake!”

I didn’t come here expecting anything at all, this is really John’s trip, but at that moment something shifted. I looked at her at the front of the room, sweetly laughing at her little mistake, and I’m all in. She has given us permission to be imperfect. Jai ma!

After practice I was shaking, but a “Love” smoothie at everyone’s favorite local cafe, Depth ‘n’ Green, set me straight. Can’t wait to get back on the mat tomorrow…

Settling In :: On Monday, we could finally move out of the hotel and into the apartment we’ll be staying in for the month. John was detoured on his way to practice, and, again, in full India Leela, he will have to wait another day to roll out his mat. I arrive early again, and go in early, because parents are allowed to go in whenever they want. It’s awesome how family oriented they are at the Shala, but also, in all honesty, it’s a major difficulty factor having a child along. You’re not getting rest, you’re preoccupied with their safety, you’re carrying them and all their stuff…and you’re doing so lovingly, as a conscious parent. As Sri K. Pattabhi Jois famously said, “parenting is the 7th series” — the most difficult Yoga.

The guy who has been living in the apartment the past month is not ready to leave when we arrive, but he told us the day before to come whenever we wanted. There are 3 awkward hours where he and his girlfriend wait for his taxi, and our little family hovers near the door with our bags. On first glance, the apartment is sweet, we are psyched! 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a deck, a balcony, sizable kitchen, and washing machine! But I am anxious to clean and set up house…
Finally, we say our goodbyes to our new friends and I begin to work the magic of the Divine Feminine on the space. It has clearly just housed a bachelor, and being a rental, it’s likely people only invest a certain amount of effort in it each month. There is questionable food in the fridge and there are cobwebs throughout. All but 2 light bulbs in the whole place are burnt out. The altar is beautiful but cluttered with random items like sunglasses and single earrings, likely items left behind by previous renters. The first 3 things I did (that you can also do in your space right now to activate it’s energy):
1. Reboot the Altar : Not being ours, I would not add or take away anything (except trash), but you can put anything that inspires you on your altar. I carefully moved the Ganesh murti, the photo of Pattabhi and Sharat, and the images of various deities aside, dusted, shook the altar cloth out, and replaced them thoughtfully. The incense box got cleaned out and I lit a fresh stick of pungent Lakshmi doop (which I also walked through the entire place with for clearing). Finally, offerings of a coconut, bananas, and flowers were sprinkled around. If you don’t have an “altar” like us, maybe your altar is your mantle of family photos, or something you brought home from a favorite vacation.
2. Get rid of clutter : We didn’t bring much, so packing and putting our things away was quick work, but in your place, you may have to do some letting go, or at least invest in some storage bins. Don’t be afraid to throw things out. Nothing is really yours anyway, and if you haven’t used it recently, either use it, or give it to someone who will. This act is all about freeing up flow. I wouldn’t throw things (except old food) away in this rental, but was able to move the little bit of furniture around so all the pathways were clear and we each had somewhere to put our things. After the de-cluttering stage, look around and make aesthetic adjustments — when your eye lands on something, is it pleasing? If it’s crooked, even it out, if things could be grouped, do so! And whether you are male or female, invite in the Divine Feminine by lighting candles or having some flowers around.
3. Make it your own : Even if you’re renting, you are there for a certain period of time, so your space will effect your energy. Do what you’re going to do sooner than later and enjoy it longer! We reorganized the kitchen and made the beds. I put out a candy bowl and John went to the store for fresh food. All the light bulbs were replaced. We talked about a few things we could pick up at some textile shops to brighten up the place, and John cooked… which is a story I’ll get back to later!

Our apartment is on the top floor of this building in Gokolum, just off of Shala Road!

Our apartment is on the top floor of this building in Gokolum, just off of Shala Road!

Later on, we got in a rickshaw and set off to find the school we are trying to enroll Lorraine in for the month, ABC Montessori, which I’ve been in touch with over email. As we bounce along through the delightfully noisy, dusty streets of Mysore, I keep thinking of a sign I saw posted in a nearby restaurant that says, “Any place is a palace if you see it that way.”

Celebrating :: Even though our taxi driver from the airport said “No, not this month,” when we asked him if there were any festivals about to happen that we should know about, there seem to have been celebrations every day since we arrived in Mysore. There are little celebrations each time we come to our mats, bigger ones as old friends reunite and hug at the Shala, a seemingly continuous rain of chants over a loud speaker we can hear from our apartment at all times of day, and even the actual Springtime holiday, Holi, took up about 3 days last week — and this in a region that is not known for celebrating Holi!

Celebratory Post-Practice Coconut Ritual!

Celebratory Post-Practice Coconut Ritual!

Marking off holidays is one way cultures have used to mark time. We go from one to another, orienting ourselves on our made-up calendars, trying to anchor ourselves in time by season, by year, by month, by day. We try to find a line to walk in non-linear space-time. We look at clocks to figure out when we should be where and get annoyed if everyone else isn’t playing by the “rules.”

As I type this, at 6am, Mrs. Ganapathy (owner of the building we are staying in) is ringing bells and performing her morning ritual. I walked up as she was doing it once and stood back to observe. Eyes closed and lips moving silently, she rang bells over lit oil lamps in front of the doorway to the house. I folded my hands as she held incense and turned 3 times with it, then stuck it in a plant. When she saw me she smiled and I smiled back, our eyes and hearts meeting in the early morning quietude. I felt her welcome me into her celebration of the blessings of this household. We both said Namaste, giggled a little, and then shuffled on with our mornings.

As I understand the Ayurvedic view, it is believed that each breath cycle represents one full day of the universe inside of us. The Inhale is an entire day, the Exhale an entire night. When I honor that cycle of life by paying attention to my breath, it symbolizes the respect for the gift of that breath. It is not guaranteed. My own mother passed away in her sleep when she was just 24 years old, so I grew up understanding that this life is so very fragile that you really might just not open your eyes again one morning, and for no particular reason. It is not guaranteed.

So ring the bells, celebrate! You have morning! You have everything. Breathe.

Take Rest :: Our first Moon Day, or Lunar Cycle, or Tithi, or Holiday from Daily Practice (as you wish) came all too soon for me after our arrival to Mysore, India. I had just started doing (assisted) Drop Backs 2 days prior — something I have not done since, like, the 90s — and was eager to do more of them. But such is the gift of Moon Days. They give you pause so you don’t reach too far too fast, and they bring you back into peaceful awareness of the rhythm of the natural world. AND they stoke a great desire to regain your rightful position at the top of the mat again the following day… at least for me they do!

Being “Bags of Mostly Water” (‪credit: Startrek, TNG), we are as deeply effected by the pull of the Full and New Moon cycles as are the bodies of water on our planet. No one will dispute tides are higher and lower during these phases. So whatever it is you do with fervor, consider getting a calendar that shows Moon Phases and resting during the Full and New Moons. You may find a day OFF is just what you needed to move ON!

The pull of the waters was strong for John, Raine, and I on our first Moon Day, so off to the much talked about “Silent Shores” pool we went! We swam, rested, ate veggie burgers and drank milkshakes to our hearts content, and everyone slept well after a relaxing day in the sun!

With temperatures edging easily to 99 every day, you're bound to spend some time at Silent Shores Pool if you get to Mysore!

With temperatures edging easily to 99 every day, you’re bound to spend some time at Silent Shores Pool if you get to Mysore!

What Tim Said :: As the days of early morning practice, mid morning chanting, getting Raine to and from school, and afternoon Sanskrit classes edge on, we begin to settle into what feels like a very normal life in Mysore. The initial excitement has worn off, and I finally had a morning when I didn’t want to go to practice. My routine (waking, washing face, a quick coffee, brushing teeth, and then changing into the practice clothes I laid out the night before so I don’t have to think too much in the morning) supports me in getting going. Yes, I have a coffee. I also eat 3 almonds I have soaked in water overnight. It’s my jawn. I also carefully lay out Raine’s school outfit for the day, in the order the pieces are to be put on, and make her lunch, leaving John with strict instructions to brush her hair before she goes (which he never does). Finally, I cover up with a long skirt and scarf, grab my mat bag, and flip-flop my way down the road to Saraswathi’s Shala.

As soon as I start, I decide it’s hot enough that I could just do 3 As and 3 Bs and be plenty warmed up. After the 3rd A, I was convinced Saraswathi was counting and freaked out in my head enough to go on and complete all 5 As (I’m talking about the warm ups, Sun Salutations, for any non-yogis here). But I’m still set on just 3 Bs, maybe just 2. Of course by the time I get to the 3rd B, I realize it’s silly not to do the last 2 after coming that far. You just can’t go wrong with 5 and 5.

I’m plenty warm! Sweat actually pours up into my upside down nose in my first forward fold. I don’t remember a lot after that, as practice goes, but I’m left after certain sections feeling like this is a good, solid practice. I’m glad I didn’t give in to the temptation to stay home. “Good for you,” I hear in my head over and over. “No Circus!” and after a particularly nice interface with a certain pose that has been alluding me I also hear, “Some small progress!” It’s Tim Miller’s voice. I hear it all the time.

I have had a lot of good fortune in my life, but practicing at Tim’s old studio in Encinitas, California way, way back in my 20s is something beyond luck. I only went there for 2 reasons, and I have to be totally honest here so feel free to laugh at me! 1. It was close to my apartment, and 2. the surfers went there. Whatever your reason was for starting Yoga, maybe cross-training, maybe because an Ex dragged you there and you kept going after the break up, I get it, it’s all good. God has to get you on the mat somehow. Doesn’t matter how.

Anyway, Tim was the teacher who made me LOVE Yoga. It made my insides hurt (metaphorically) I loved it so much. His place was special and it changed me. But here’s the interesting thing, I don’t remember Tim ever actually paying any attention to me, or giving me an adjustment or anything. There was an assistant in the room who helped me, and I even took a few privates from him, but Tim was helping other people. You have to understand, in the Mysore room, the teacher is helping certain students with some poses that really require a hands on assist, and that they have been working with those students daily for years, maybe decades. Also, I was a terrible student. Much as I loved practice, I was not there every day, I was working at a radio station and doing all the late-night things that come along with that, and you can’t expect a teacher to pay more attention to you than you’re willing to pay to yourself. Still…
I would hear Tim’s voice from across the room. “Why making Circus?” he would laugh. “Good for you,” he would say in a tone that simultaneously felt like ‘congratulations’ and ‘so what.’ And of course, the epic, “Some small progress!”

Sometimes Some Small Progress creates Some Small Boo-boo!

Sometimes Some Small Progress creates Some Small Boo-boo!

I will never, ever, ever, ever, ever in a million lifetimes ever be able to thank Tim enough for making me love Yoga. There is nothing I could say or do or give him that would be proper repayment. Anything I have offered to anyone in terms of Yoga or Dhyana Yoga or just talking about Yoga all goes back to him, though. What I can do is practice. Especially on the days I don’t want to go. To sweat up my nose. To finish with pruned fingers and completely disheveled hair. To not force or want or strive for anything, and to do it all AGAIN.

ALTERED SPACE // I GO TO WORK

Last week I was talking to a group of teacher trainees at DY about business, and I found myself saying what I always say when asked how I’ve managed to build a successful business : “I go to work.”

I joked about trying to write this article for weeks now, and having a block because my big secret is : “I go to work.” End of story. Publish. Share.

My husband and I have another joke about how we are people just made to work. We come from hard-working stock. My mother’s family was from Baja, Mexico and worked hard not only to get to Los Angeles, but to survive there. I am actually more Mexicana by blood than Italiana, but my driven father who raised me is Italian and he instilled in me a gut wrenching work ethic which he himself had to develop at a young age in order to put himself through school. When I am happy, I go to work. When I am sad, I go to work. When I am tired, I go to work. When I am scared, I go to work. When I am depressed, I go to work. When I am excited, I go to work. It’s this weird reflex I have… I go to work.

If you could see the table I am sitting out now, I have my computer in front of me so I can do this work. To my right is my journal and some scribbled notes I just used to work on an update of my Bio for the website. To my left is a stack of colored paper and beads and goo to work on some crafts when the baby wakes up from her nap. Off to the side a pile of Italian grammar and vocabulary books tugs my eyes their way and whispers, “don’t forget to do your homework!”

When I am on the mat, it’s hard work. Nothing comes easily to me in Yoga. You might find it funny that I am not particularly good at Yoga asana. But I persist, 25 years into practice, and when I have that great blessing for all the stars and planets and things in my busy life to align that allows me to actually get on the mat these days, I am just happy to do my work there. I know other people are more graceful and accomplished and playful than me on that mat, and that looks nice. But it’s not what happens for me. When I practice, I have to work. Oh sure, you’ll see me smiling here and there at something the teacher may have said, or laughing when I splat out of a hand balance, but then, it’s back to work!

Work sustains me. It makes my heart feel full. I love my work. It’s never about the pay, either. You could be getting a huge paycheck and be miserable, and be getting a little check and be happy. That happiness has more value than ANY paycheck. I happen to get an effervescent feeling from doing a good job at all things big and small. I enjoy contract negotiations as much as cleaning out the fruit bins in the fridge. I sit back and look at the paperwork or sparkly drawer when I’m done and marvel at the job well done! If I am not satisfied with my work, it’s just not finished, so I get back to it. No biggie. To me, that’s the nature of work, do your best, wait for some feedback, and plan your next step. Adjust. Get creative. Maybe you are done. Maybe you need a toothbrush to get into the murky corners, or maybe you need to let go. It’s all part of the process.

One of the verses from the Bhagavad Gita that has always struck a chord with me is, “Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible. Therefore fight, O Bharata.” (2.18) Krishna is advising us to do our Dharma, the “fight” is a metaphor for the task at hand. The good work we do is infinity being channeled through us, and the deeds we leave in our wake are a legacy of energy that we ride until our own finite body turns to dust, and that all of those thereafter will inherit. In other words, you’re here for a short while, why not leave something nice behind?

I’m just going to call this the “Preface” to future installments on how I started Dhyana Yoga and things that I learned along the way, and I will definitely address the great questions people have specifically asked, especially the ones that you can’t find out through a Google search. But for now, the baby is rustling around, so it’s time for me to… ah, probably PLAY for awhile!

Make shapes that create Harmony, Peace, and Love in your life!

Sat Namaste!

Diana

ALTERED SPACE // I’m The Poster Girl for “Hang in there”

April 18, 2012. The best day of my life. At 9:23am in a very baby friendly hospital in Elmer, New Jersey, John and I welcomed Lorraine Devi Vitarelli into the world. My Dad once told me that after my Mom had me, she said it was as if something had always been missing from her life but she didn’t know it until I arrived. That’s exactly how I felt. Raine was our little puzzle piece, the one that brings the picture into focus.

Rainey Pants, just minutes old

Rainey Pants, just minutes old

It surprises people when I tell them I had a C section. Since we are both Yoga teachers and all about being natural, everyone expects that I had my baby in our living room. I wish! But the process of pregnancy and childbirth is the first lesson in parenting in that it lets you know you are no longer in control of timelines and planning. You do your best and surrender to reality.

Around my 40th birthday, I went in for a regular visit to my OB/GYN and mentioned that we were trying to get pregnant. She said, “don’t waste any time, I’m referring you to a fertility specialist.” I rushed to the fertility clinic immediately and met this great doctor, Dr. Jain, who has since moved to Ohio, and they checked to see if I was ovulating. Good news! They saw that I had 11 eggs, 7 in one ovary and 4 in the other — great for any age they said, but especially for a 40 year old! The doctor explained all the possible procedures we would go through to get pregnant with his help, but basically sent us home with instructions to have sex, and then call the office on the 3rd day of my next period so they could start the blood work they needed to do to advise us on next steps. We happily went home…and I never had to make that call. Instead, I called a few weeks later to tell them I had missed my expected period date and tested positive on an at home test. John and I were positively giddy! We had been wanting to get pregnant for a year, and finally, we were! The power of a little attention and intention, right?

The follow up blood work confirmed my pregnancy but then, to my surprise, it was recommended that I remain at the fertility doctor’s office for my check ups due to my “Advanced Maternal Age.” Advanced Maternal Age was a phrase I would hear over and over again for my entire pregnancy. Every sentence seemed to begin with, “Due to your Advanced Maternal Age, we recommend…” or end with “…so exercise caution, you are of an Advanced Maternal Age.” Oh my god. Am I old? Have I been living in a bubble? A Yes. And another Yes.

I’ve been doing yoga for awhile, and for the past 11 years my whole life has been centered around Dhyana Yoga, which is a really fun place to be! We’re just a bunch of big kids rolling around on Yoga mats in our pajamas laughing and farting and then laying down for a nap. I didn’t notice the years going by. This week a student in my Restorative class asked me how long the Haddonfield studio has been open and I said, “let me think, well, it’ll be 3 years on December 3rd…” and she looked at me funny and replied, “that’s today!” I had to laugh at myself, I’m aware of time but it passes in a weird sort of elastic way. I can’t believe it was 3 years ago that John opened that studio, it feels like we’re just getting started! And I couldn’t believe I was of an Advanced Maternal Age… but the calendar is a thing people make a silent contract with the rest of the world to agree upon.

Photo by Joe Longo (you can see the baby kicking here!)

Photo by Joe Longo of me at about 7 months pregnant (you can see the baby kicking here!)

I often say I’m the Poster Girl for “Hang In There Ladies!” because I was such a late bloomer. It always felt like everyone else had life figured out except me. I was 31 when I listened to the little voice inside me that said “open a yoga studio” (and it was mainly because I was so tired of running around from place to place teaching. I remember thinking it would be so great to just be able to leave all my CDs in one place…I already told you my age so I don’t mind how that dates me!), I got engaged at 37 and married at 39, and in a blink, I was of an Advanced Maternal Age.

The really cool thing about having an Advanced Maternal Age is that you get lots and lots of extra sonograms, which equal a visit with your baby when you’re pregnant. I was excited every week to go see the baby’s progress and John came to every appointment. As we approached my final trimester, the doctor (and our midwife) started getting concerned that the baby wasn’t flipping over. First it was just a comment, then it was a bit of an issue, then it became a THING. We thought for sure she’d flip! We did everything to encourage her to flip around. John and I are pretty weird on a regular day, you can image what we tried doing to rotate this baby. Headstands, inversion tables, music and mantras, moxibustion, acupuncture, chiropractic adjustments, pellets, talking to her, meditating, warm baths with a pack of frozen peas on my belly… she moved around a lot, but she would not flip. The doctors encouraged us to schedule a C section. One day they almost forced us to schedule it. We just really believed she would dive when the time came. Finally we went to another special doctor called, “The Baby Flipper.” He’s famous. He goes in and manually flips the baby over and he has a very high success rate. When we arrived for our flip, they did a preliminary ultrasound before the procedure to give the doctor a clear view of what he was working with and, upon doing so, found that the umbilical cord had wrapped itself around the baby’s neck like a scarf. I was 39 and a half weeks. The little bun in my oven was fully baked and the timer was sounding. We had to get her out.

And so we ended up in a cold, bright operating room in the South Jersey Hospital instead of the warm, water filled tub we had reserved in the birthing suite. A nurse let me lean on her while the anesthesiologist worked behind me. I felt really alone at that moment. Then I felt nothing! I was laid out in a T shape on a table with both of my arms and my legs strapped down and a drape across my chest so I couldn’t see my body. John came in the room looking like a hot doctor but bawling his eyes out. A nice lady I had never met said she was my doctor. My midwife, Karen Shields, was there, and everyone else was named Tracey. I was floating! The doctor said, “my goodness, I’ve never seen such strong abdominal muscles! You must tell me your secret!” as she sawed away at my body and I can’t remember if I answered but John and I laugh about that all the time. There was lots of tugging and pulling and talking and I think the midwife leaned on my belly to help move the baby. John and I kept eye contact and repeated “Om Ganesha Sharanam” over and over and then suddenly, angels sang, everything else went out of focus, and all I saw flying in the air was a beautiful baby! She was here, she was healthy, she was gorgeous, she was making cute sounds, and she was perfectly clean! I thought they must have had a stunt baby waiting on the side to show me or something, but within seconds that very same little baby was placed on my neck and John held her to my cheek while it felt like a horse sat on my torso and the nice lady put my guts back inside of me.

It was the best. It was not what we planned. It was not what you’d expect. But it was perfection. It was the most epic, operatic moment of my life. And then life, redefined, began. In my new life, at my even more advanced age, I “Hang in There” a lot. Through the painful recovery from that abdominal surgery, through the shifts and negotiations (and fights) in my changing relationship with my husband, through the post pregnancy hormonal weirdness and hair loss, through the feeling that the walls of my house are closing in on me, through the confusion about whether to work or not and if so how much, through the attempts to get back on the mat, through the probably well meaning but often offensive comments from others about our parenting choices, through the feeling that I need to keep cleaning but nothing is ever going to be clean enough, through the nagging shoulder pain and the sleepless nights of early parenthood, through the baby’s first cold…I’m hanging in there.

There’s a great saying, “Bean by bean, the bag gets filled,” that runs through my head a lot. Life isn’t about gobbling everything, every pose, every relationship, every job, every experience up. You can go at your own pace, take detours, circle back, climb mountains, admit mistakes along the way, you can pause and start again. It’s not about going fast, it’s just about going. It doesn’t matter when you bloom, you’ll bloom when it’s your time. I’m glad I learned how to stay the course in life. Yoga taught me that. No matter what’s happening, or not happening, just keep putting one foot in front of the other, taking one breath after another, reminding yourself that you’re doing everything right, and surrounding yourself with good hearted, inspiring people who love and support you. After all, life is happening, so Enjoy the Hang!

Hangin' and Hoopin' on a Yoga retreat at 5 months pregnant

Hangin’ and Hoopin’ on a Yoga retreat at 5 months pregnant

ALTERED SPACE // What We Eat

Most of the time I prefer to eat at home. I like the experience of going out to restaurants, and communing over a meal with a big group of friends or catching up with someone I haven’t seen for awhile over lunch, but I’m always left wondering about the quality of the ingredients and the way what I ate was cooked. When you cook, you’re putting your Shakti (primordial energy) into the food you make and whoever eats it, is also integrating that energy. So it’s really important to get yourself into a good mood before you start cooking! You can also say mantras while you prepare meals, think loving and peaceful thoughts, and stay relaxed by being aware of your breath. According to Ayurveda, the highest level of nourishment is achieved when you also take such environmental factors into consideration when you eat. Here are some helpful tips to bring more awareness into your regular eating routine:

1. Eat in a quiet, calm environment, 2. Eat only when you are hungry, 3. Do not eat when you are upset, 4. Eat at a comfortable pace, 5. Don’t overeat; leave 1/4 to 1/3 of your stomach empty to aid digestion, 6. Eat freshly prepared foods, 7. Eat what is in season and local.

This week I had a really profound conversation with a friend about how the most important thing is that we have a good, healthy relationship with food. So many people are chasing the “ideal weight” or trying another weight loss fad, and end up sacrificing not only nutrition, but the sheer joy of delicious food! During the following week, I encourage you to take a few extra moments when you eat to really taste and appreciate the food you are blessed with, and if you feel old Samskaras (patterns) of emotions like guilt or shame arising, allow them to subside by taking a breath and becoming more present in the moment. After all, as Hafiz said, it’s a gift!

Impressive Beet Risotto

Ingredients: 1/2 stick unsalted butter OR 4 tablespoons of EVOO, 1 jalepeno, 1 small yellow onion, 3-5 small to medium beets, 1/4 cup Parmesean cheese, 4 cups warm water, 2 cups Arborio rice

Preparation:

1. Dice onion and jalepeno and sautee on medium/high heat on the stove until coated and soft (in your oil or butter) in a big pan or wok. Stir gently as it cooks, 3-5 minutes.

2. Dice beets and stir them in. Mix completely and slowly add in the rice as you continue mixing. Get the rice all coated in the mixture.

3. Slowly add in water about a 1/2 cup at a time. Stir until absorbed and only then add more. It’s going to increase in volume a lot! Take your time and enjoy this part.

4. After you have mixed all the water in, turn down the heat to medium/low and cover it up. Cook covered until rice is tender, about 8-10 minutes.

5. Lift lid and stir in the grated Parmesean cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and enjoy!

*If you use red beets, this dish looks BEAUTIFUL on a plate! Bright, vibrant red offsets pretty much anything else you plate up next to it, or if served solo, this risotto is plenty filling and looks nice with a little sprig of greens in the middle of the bowl.

*If you use golden beets, no one will guess it’s BEET risotto! Astound your friends and surprise your kids…and husband…by letting them know afterward!

If you get a beet the size of your baby's head, you'll only need one!

If you get a beet the size of your baby’s head, you’ll only need one!

This yields 6-8 moderate portions or 4-6 big portions.

OM,

Diana

ALTERED SPACE // QUICK QUESTION!

My friend Cindi is one of the coolest people ever. If you know her and agree, shout a little “Jai Ma!” right now — she’ll get the message. She’s just that tuned in! Cindi is the guardian of the most amazing temple. It’s called RUKA (www.ruka.com) and there’s a door to it on 19th between Chestnut and Sansom Streets in Philly, but RUKA really exists in all the homes, businesses, offices, yoga studios, and on all the altars that have been blessed by one of the treasures gotten by stepping through that door.

Cindi

Cindi finds a treasure!

Cindi travels the world to hand select the beautiful murtis, textiles, decor, and jewelry offered at RUKA. She even leads tours of India and Thailand for those who want a personal peek behind the veil of these exotic lands! When I had the chance to ask her a “Quick Question” to share here, I wanted to dig a little bit into her travel secrets.

QUICK QUESTION FOR YOU… When you travel, what things from home do you bring along that you just can’t be without?

“My amulets! On my travel journal I have a holographic OM sticker, on my backpack, my bag, my phone, my passport, my wallet – well, practically everything else – I have 3D stickerts of the Turkish God’s Eye Amulet (all infused with mantra, thoughts, and intentions of protection)!

My gold and silver Nepali Ganesha box pendant on a gold chain grace my neck, and on a longer sacred thread I have my Tibetan coral charms with 100 year old silver temple amulets – A circular one with the warrior goddess and a house shaped one with the feet of Shiva. Around my left wrist I have a sai sin – the white, un-spun thread blessed by the Buddhist Monks in Thailand, which I received on my last journey to Thailand earlier this year. I look forward to being blessed with a new one when I arrive in Thailand in early 2014!

As I move around throughout my day, on the other side of the world, I look at my amulets and I breathe deeper with inspiration that I am always safe and always home.”

Cindi also does beautiful Mendhi, henna designs that are beyond compare. She has covered practically my whole body over the years between doing the designs for my wedding and a pregnancy design and even a beautiful one for an anniversary. You can see some of the wedding Mendhi she did in the photo below! If you are interested in traveling with an experienced, fun, and thoughtful guide, Click Here — adventure awaits!

A Mendhi Heart with the groom's name hidden in the design!

A Mendhi Heart with the groom’s name hidden in the design!