Vegetarian on trial

So, I’ve made up my mind, and I am going to try and be a vegetarian during August (so, starting next Saturday). It’s something that’s been bothering me for a while already, and I want to see if I can sustain a vegetarian diet on top of my allergies.

” Even before I started yoga, when I started looking into how and what I was eating due to my allergies, I watched a lot of documentaries about farm factories. If I’m honest, I have never really felt bad for eating meat or killing animals. My grandparents had a farm, and since I was a kid I had seen animals being killed for their meat and it never bothered me. That’s just how it was. In my family, you have to have some kind of fish or meat at each meal. There’s no other way to eat.

I started diminishing my meat consumption because I cared about the environment. Eating so many animal products is simply not sustainable.

Nowadays, I rarely buy meat or fish when I am grocery shopping. But I am not a vegetarian. I wish I were, but I do not see how that would be feasible with my allergies. It would basically mean that I would have to stop socializing at all. It is already very difficult for me to go out and find food that will not make me sick. If I get rid of the possibility to eat animal products it becomes almost impossible.

Socializing has never been my forte, being introverted it costs me a lot of energy to go and interact with people. It is already hard to have to explain my allergies which are not a choice, I am not courageous enough to also bear with explaining why I also don’t want to eat animal products.

I feel relieved when I don’t have to eat meat, but I enjoy it when I do.”

Vegan sidekick, funny comics about veganism

I wrote this extract some time ago, as part of my yoga teacher training – a philosophy exercise about the struggles we have following Yamas and Niyamas (see below for an explanation).

Since then, a couple of things changed.

Mainly, I realized I am not being vegetarian for wrong reasons. Am I really not being not vegetarian for practical reasons? Since when am I not doing something because it’s complicated?

Or because I’m afraid of judgement? Since when have I been not doing what I think is right because I’m afraid of people’s reaction? Admittedly, in this case, mainly my family’s? If I can’t be honest with myself, what’s the point?

What I’m afraid my parents will say at Christmas if I’m still vegetarian by then…

Also, I enjoy less and less eating meat and fish. I guess the taste doesn’t match the uneasiness it puts me in anymore.

So that’s it, I’m gonna be a vegetarian for a month, and see how it goes. I’m only expecting issues going out, but I already know a couple of places where I can have nice vegetarian and allergy-friendly food, so I guess it’s only going to be a question of less spontaneity.

Relevant: an article with a different point of view on vegetarianism that went out today, coincidentally.

Yamas & Niyamas: the don’ts & do’s

Yamas and Niyamas are the first two branches of yoga.They are rules of conduct in society.There are five yamas: ahimsa (non-violence or non-injury), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacarya (continence) and aparigraha (freedom from avarice or non-covetousness).

There are also five niyamas: śauca (purity), santosa (gratitude), tapas (sustained practice), svādhyāya (self study) and Īśvarapraṇidhāna (surrender to something bigger).
The exercise we had to do was write about one yama and one niyama and the never-ending path it is to try and follow them. The extract is what I wrote about my struggle with Ahimsa, non-violence. Ahimsa can be interpreted in many ways but this is what I felt the need to write about at that time.


All is full of love: a reminder, and a gratitude practice

Last week, I got bad news, and when I brought it up to my friends, I was overwhelmed with the kindness and support they showed. And somehow I started listening to this song from Björk without thinking about the lyrics, and when I realized what they were about I felt it was the perfect song for this exact moment in my life.

Then a ladybug landed on my bag when I was waiting for my bus, and I was suddenly very grateful for my life, and my friends, and decided I should make something productive out of all these feelings. Since I was on a journey for quite some hours, I had some time to come up with the first idea of this sequence, which got changed a couple of times meanwhile, but the idea stayed the same.

I tried to make a story, which I hope is sort of understandable for someone who has been practicing yoga for a while and knows the names of the poses. For the non-initiated, it’s a story about the fight (warrior poses) to stay balanced (side plank, arm balance) after an unsettling event and keep your heart open (backbends are also called heart openers) for whatever comes next (falling into the unknown) and finally standing up to bridge the gap (hanumanasana).

Disclaimer: I did warm up before this sequence, do not try this at home :p this is not my usual style of yoga, I practice Iyengar yoga (where we hold the poses longer and have time to fine-tune) and I’m having some issues with how imperfectly aligned some poses are :p Also, sorry for the poor video quality… this was more about the idea than the video itself!

Jonas, Camilla, Martina, and Pradeep, this vinyasa is dedicated to you. Thank you!

Thank you to the yoga studio owners, Claas and Hiske from iYoga Utrecht, who allow me to practice there when there are no classes!

Art & Physics, by Leonard Schlain (2006)

I have just finished reading Art & Physics, Parallel visions in space, time and light. I didn’t know what to expect; I bought the book after watching the documentary from Shlain’s daughter, Connected, on Netflix. Even though I thought the documentary was not very good, mainly because it felt a bit like an unfinished, messy product, some of the themes and ideas were interesting.

I’m interested in art and in science, so what could possibly go wrong with a book about these two subjects? Lots, actually. Could be very boring.  Could be unavailable for the reader. Though an art amateur, I have no training in art history (even though my dad is an art history professor…) and limited knowledge, and same applies about physics and the theory of relativity (even though I have studied quantum theory in my first years at university, I am far from considering myself knowledgeable on the topic).

But none of my doubts were confirmed; Shlain is a good writer, and makes his theory and other’s very available for the general public. I honestly couldn’t put the book down. The book is well documented (the scientist in me appreciates the references to actual scientific articles for each claim he makes), entertaining, full of relevant quotes (both from artists and scientists) and artwork, but just what is necessary to illustrate his point, as well as clear graphs to help understand the physical theory, there is nothing much I can criticize about Art & Physics. 

Even though most of the book is based on a western vision of art and the world, he still made an effort to have at least a chapter about more eastern theories and art forms, which the nipponophile I am appreciated even though it could definitely have been more prominent.

This book also made me understand a bit better contemporary art, which until now I had been very hermetic to. The parallels drown with physical theories helped me to understand better both worlds, which I hope was the goal of the author, to whom I say “well done”!

The book almost ends on the differences between left and right brain, apparently a favorite topic of Shlain, which he wrote about in The Alphabet Versus the Goddess: The Conflict Between Word and Image, which I have put on my to-read list. I don’t want to go through all the points I thought were interesting or all the “aha!” moments I had while reading the book (I also learned why Jurassic World is complete bullsh*t, but then again, I have never been especially interested in Dinosaurs), but I do want to mention that I realized one of the reasons I really like yoga, and especially Iyengar yoga is because it likely balances my left and right hemisphere.

I have read some people criticize Shlain’s knowledge of the theory of relativity, and/or find it confusing; if that is the case I must admit my own knowledge is not sufficient to notice the pitfalls. He has also been accused of cherry-picking his examples, and re-reading the history. I do get the point, but I still think his ideas are interesting; after all, aren’t we all seeing the world through our own lens? In any case, I found Art & Physics to be a bit of a literature UFO and unlike anything I had read previously.

I hope I made you want to read the book, and if you do, please let me know what you thought of it; I’d love to discuss it further since I think there is a lot of food for thoughts, and a second lecture once I have digested part of the information will be in order.

PS: I have just noticed this lecture by Shlain is available on youtube.

” The eye, which is the window of the soul, is the chief organ whereby the understanding can have the most complete and magnificent view of the infinite works of Nature” – Leonardo da Vinci

Matisse : the cut-outs, a brief feedback

Today I have been to “The oasis of Matisse”, an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The main pieces of the exhibit were from the cut-outs. Interestingly, I had been on the closing weekend to the MOMA in NYC to see an exhibition about the cut-outs in February. I thought it would be interesting to compare the two exhibits.

First, I was happy to see that the Stedelijk was not packed, which allowed to take a proper look at the art. At the MOMA, I thought I was going to suffocate and ended up taking only a glance at some of the art because I could not move in any direction. Note to self: never go to MOMA on the closing weekend of a popular art exhibit.

I am under the impression that there were less pieces exposed at the Stedelijk but bigger murals, and generally that there was more space, allowing each piece to stand on its own while still in context. Notwithstanding the people, I do think that the exhibition at the Stedelijk was bigger, and also from the way the museum is built, the rooms are simply very spacious. Which is very appreciable when you are looking at the cut-outs.

The acrobat, Matisse

The acrobat, Matisse

I missed “The acrobat”, which I had really enjoyed seeing at MOMA, it’s not everyday that you can admire such an artistic vision of Urdhva Dhanurasana (an article on yoga and art is coming soon, I promise). Plus I had this idea that I may be able to get a picture of myself in Urdhva Dhanurasana in front of the Acrobat, which would have made the perfect profile picture, and that didn’t happen. Oh well.

In my opinion, the best part of the “The Oasis” was the room on “The Jazz”. A full room was dedicated to it, with most of the prints placated on the walls. I spent some time lost wandering around the room, reading the beautiful, magnificently calligraphed thoughts from an artist I admire.

Blessed are the ones who sing with all their heart, in the righteousness of their heart.  Finding joy and the sky, in the trees, in the flowers.

Blessed are the ones who sing with all their heart, in the righteousness of their heart.
Finding joy and the sky, in the trees, in the flowers.

This page in particular caught my attention, since whoever know me knows that I sing ALL THE TIME. And definitely from the bottom of my heart. The translation (made by me) doesn’t render that well, but I swear in French it is very poetic. Definitely struck a chord within me.

My main issue is that there was no translation of what it all meant in English; which made me realize how lucky I am to have been born in a country with such a rich history and especially gifted with wonderful artists, but also what a shame it was that I was unable to share this joy with the friend I was visiting the exhibit with, unless I was to spend 30 minutes translating each page one by one.

At MOMA, they were exposing much less of Jazz, and it was under glass, not on the walls; which made it harder to appreciate the work as a whole, or even at all; but there were translations, so at least I could communicate with the friend I was with during that exhibit about why I was so excited.

Le Loup, Matisse

Le Loup, Matisse

Finally, I could not NOT include The Wolf. My last name is related to the animal, so since I was a kid it has always played an important role and the iconography of my life. This one is kinda scary…

The dictionnary of obscure sorrows

Have you ever thought that there is no proper word to express the feeling you’re experiencing at that moment, and there definitely should be? Like this way of thinking about the past that is neither nostalgia or regret, a bit similar to what I was saying previously about these parts of ourselves we give others and continue on their way independently from us.



Never heard of Klexos?

John Koening created a website, the dictionary of obscure sorrows, where he invents words to make up for that absence, and sometimes makes graphic videos to accompany this newborn word.

It’s beautiful, it’s poetic, and each word is created from a mix of etymologically relevant words.

Check it out :

And you can read an interview here.

I like my men like my books…

Meaning they need to stimulate my growth. Give me food for thoughts.

I like men who are independent thinkers and passionate about what they do and/or like. This usually turns against me after some time when they go away to focuse on whatever their heart draws them to.
I am rarely the one terminating a relationship, probably because terminating my first, long relationship was one of the hardest decisions I made in my life. I feel like I hurt more from terminating that relationship than from the relationships being terminated by my partners later on.

The companionships I have had through my (short) life are all very precious to me. Even though we are not in a couple anymore, I still love, and always will, love the men who shared their lives with mine, ever so shortly.

It’s like I’ve given a piece of my heart to them, and they to me; except this piece keeps on growing. It never stops expanding. Once it’s cut from its source, this piece lives an independent life, one that’s so integrated with mine, that I sometimes forget it wasn’t mine to begin with.

Why it’s hard to study scientifically the effects of yoga (specifically asana)

Since I’ve started practicing yoga, I’ve heard numerous claims about its effects. If you start reading on the Internet, you’ll find that yoga can do anything and its contrary. It seems that everyday a new study about the benefits of yoga is published. While I am convinced that a yoga practice is indeed beneficial, I am not ready to take an authority argument for granted – especially when no studies are quoted, but even when some are, knowing that most people don’t get half of the jargon used in scientific studies.

I have tried to look for studies backing up said claims, and I have been appalled, not only by how few actual studies there are, but also by the quality – or lack thereof – these studies; even though this explains why some studies find opposite claims.

Nowadays, yoga is practiced by millions of people around the world, and is increasingly popular. So why are there so little proper studies about its effects?

The thing is, it is actually very difficult to study the effects of yoga in a way that would satisfy scientific criteria. The technique used for most scientific studies is called the double blind study. It works in the following way: you take a group of people, the largest and most homogeneous as possible, and separate it into two groups of the same size. One group is assigned to the treatment you want to assess, while the other group, called the control group, is assigned to a treatment whose effects are known. In the case of a medicine, it can be a sugar pill if there are no other treatments available, or the medicine used standardly if there is. Both groups are assessed by a medical doctor at the beginning and the end of the treatment and fill in questionnaires about their perception of the treatment. Neither the participants in the study nor the doctors know to which group they have been assigned, thus the name of the technique. This prevents any bias in assessing the efficacy of the study.

So let’s get back to our yoga studies. See where it gets complicated? How are you going to hide to the patient the fact he/she is doing yoga and not going for a run? And if the patient knows, it is also very hard to be sure the M.D. is not going to know as well – a slip of the tongue is quick to happen!

For statistical relevance, you need a large group of people. This is easily understandable if you think of political polls; if you ask a thousand people who they are going to vote for, you will have a better idea of the end result than if you ask ten people, or even a hundred. So why don’t we always make studies on thousands of people? There are two main reasons : the price – even if patients take part in the study on a voluntarily basis, which is usually not the case, the treatment and medical control are not free – and the homogeneity. You can indeed imagine that the effects of a treatment are going to be different on a 80 years old sedentary male compared to a 26 years old active female.

Now if you want to study the effect of yoga, or even of one specific asana, on the body, you need to find a large group of people who have never practiced yoga and are willing to do so (or something else if they are in the control group) for at least three times a week, for weeks. In the Iyengar system I am currently studying, there is a particular attention to the inverted poses, such as Sirsasana (headstand) and Salamba Sarvangasana (shoulderstand). It is claimed that these poses regulate hormonal levels. In a sequence called “the immunity sequence” which supposedly boosts the immune system, these poses and their variations are held for longer than half an hour. For a beginner to get to the point of being able to perform this sequence may take years, if they ever do. Meanwhile, the participants in the study would need not to move out, change their eating or exercise habits, get pregnant if they are women, etc. And this is notwithstanding the cost of such a lengthy study. Of course, there are ways to modify the poses so that everyone can get at least a little bit of the desired effects of inversions such as doing Sirsasana in the ropes, but then you are likely not to get the full benefits of the pose (otherwise why do the classical pose in the first place?) and it would be a substudy in the study!

So while the “perfect” yoga study may be impossible to perform, it does not mean we should not try and study the effects of yoga on the body. Longer studies with a bigger group of participants is an option; studying “advanced” yogis compared to professional sportsmen/women would be another, and it is also possible to compare two groups of yogis focusing on a certain type of asana during their practice. But you won’t make me trust the result of a study performed on ten people during two months, or any study in which the M.D. knows to which exercise regimen the patient has been assigned.