The ethical journey

Today, a non-yoga post. Or maybe an Ahimsa-related post (is there such a thing as a non-yogicly relevant post?).

Last weekend, I went shopping for boots at mooshoes, as the inside of my previous pair of boots was so worn out that it made my feet hurt, and I had already had them repaired  once.  I found a nice pair of wood and faux-leather boots, made ethically and sustainably in Portugal, for $150. While it’s not cheap, this is around the price I would have paid for “regular” boots (aka leather boots in any fashion shop). And it made me wonder: if the price and quality are the same, why are ethical and sustainable options not more widespread? If faced with two similar-looking boots, one ethical and the other not, would people still buy the non-ethical option?

Thinking about this made me realize how far along the way I’ve come in terms of values. Being ethical has not always been one of my core values, or rather, if you’d asked me I would always have thought it was important but I was not always acting in agreement with it. Simple exemple: I’ve not always bought ethical chocolate. If the supermarket didn’t carry fairtrade cocoa, I would buy the regular one. If they had both, I would have likely bought the fairtrade one, but not really thinking about it.

Let’s be honest, it’s hard to live ethically in today’s society. First, everything is aimed at consumption. More, more, more. Buy more things, eat more food, produce more. So it’s kind of weird when suddenly you wake up and want to Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, Rot. Suddenly, all of your purchases become an act of mindfulness. Do I get the out-of-season veggie that’s not wrapped in plastic, or the plastic-foiled in-season veggie? What about vegan junk food as you want to support vegan brands, yet are obviously more wasteful than eating unprocessed plant foods? Or fruit that might spoil while being transported to work vs packaged dried fruits? What if your ethical item is not available at the moment, do you change your whole plan or do you buy the non-ethical version? And if you order your ethical groceries online, is it really better than buying regular groceries near you?

I realize some of these question are more practical issues compared to not knowing what the best option really is. But even the definition of veganism includes “as far as possible and practicable”. At some point, when you have two hours of your day spent commuting, 8-9 hours of work, one hour cooking, 1.5 hours working out or teaching, spending one hour comparing products at the grocery store feels exhausting. And that’s all the while being privileged, and having enough money to choose what I buy and where I buy it from.

Some days I feel as someone who has the money to support ethical brands, I am morally obliged to do so. And I often do. But there is also an incentive to consume less, get rid of what we don’t “need” and live a simpler life. Which I also try to do. Finding the sweet spot is sometimes difficult. A while ago, I was at a friend’s place for dinner and other friends of this friend I didn’t know asked me about my fairphone, and veganism. They commented that if everyone cared as much as me, the world would be a better place. While on the one hand it made me happy that they acknowledged my trying, on the other hand I just wanted to say “it’s not that hard! Everyone can do it!”, and while that might not be completely true, I do believe that everyone can do something better. We make so many choices everyday, yet we rarely think about them. And I think that’s where the bottleneck is: how do you get people to start to think and be more conscious about all these decisions they make everyday?

Definitely not by retiring out of society, while it sometimes seems like the best way to have the least impact on the planet. I tend to think that leading by exemple is the best option, showing that you can still live “normally” yet make better choices for the planet and its inhabitants. So far, it’s been the extent of my activism. Yet there are issues which this approach too:

  • I’m not perfect. No one is, and I’d like to think that makes me actually relatable, and empower people to change what they can. But I’m clearly privileged, and I flew transatlantic a few times last year due to my boyfriend and me living on different continents. So there’s ground for criticism, and some people would easily jump on the occasion to say that since they didn’t fly, they can eat all the meat / use all the one-use plastics they want / etc. And I get it, changing something you do on the daily  (habits, yogis, habits!) is much more difficult than forgoing one flight. But I think that’s missing the point. We should all be in this together, and if you use less resources than I do, kudos to you!
  • I tend not to speak much about these choices I make, with the exception of a few friends and on this blog. And it can be depressing to see people get a take-away plastic lunchbox and/or coffee everyday. It does feel like all the efforts I make are for nothing…
  • Some things are definitely NOT practical. Or cheap. For exemple this year I wanted to plan holidays without taking the plane. I figured that from NYC I should be able to go to a couple of nice places with the train. One plan is to go to New Orleans. The trip takes 30 hours and costs upwards of $800 for two people in a cabin one way, while the plane takes an hour and is $100. While my boyfriend is on board with being eco-friendly, that discrepancy was a bit too much for him (He’s what you’d call frugal, too). We compromised on going one way with the train and back with the plane (plus some greenwashing donations), yet I feel most people would not hesitate and book a return ticket with the plane.

 

Anyhow, what are some things you feel you could do better ethically-wise? How do you deal with these daily dilemmas? And how far have you gone if you look back a couple of years? What type of activism do you think is most effective? Does your ethical living  bleed into your work too?

PS: I’m trying to gather the courage to become a Terracycle recycling collector for toothpaste and snack wrappers. Will probably do it soon, just need the nudge…

PPS: if someone knows of a solid toothpaste which contains fluoride, please let me know in the comments below!

Advertisements

Don’t be like toothpaste, be like broccoli!

Last weekend, I went to the New York Institute to follow a workshop with Gabriella Giubilaro. Gabriella is a senior teacher from Florence, and she has been spreading the Iyengar yoga knowledge for numerous years, as you can see in the video below:

More interestingly for me, is the fact that she has a PhD in physics, so I can relate to her pretty well. She’s a great role model, and from her teaching you can see she allies the strictness that is sometimes associated with older Iyengar teachers (as yoga is, and should be, serious business) with a softer, caring side and a great humour.

It seemed to me that she was a bit disappointed with the practice level during the workshop (though she did not say anything of the sort). She had planned to work on the hips in headstand for exemple, but made us all come down and look at Bobby Clennel (who was participating) to show what a stable base looks like). I could only go on Sunday, as I am working on Monday, but the whole workshop was open to Level 3+ students. But somehow already previously have I noticed quite a big gap between the practice at Level 3 and Level 4, and a difference between what these levels mean between the Netherlands and the US (or at least NYC). Most definitely the headstand practice is not as strong in NYC. I’ve only been to a Level 2 class  in NYC once, and I was a bit flabbergasted to find out that everyone was expected to do headstand at the wall. In Utrecht, 90% of Level 2 practitioners would do headstand away from the wall, if not in the middle of the room. But then again, I always find the headstand practice too short during classes at the NYC Institute. Now, the Level 4s are true Level 4s, but I was under the impression that these are really targeted at full-time teachers (since who else can make it for a two hour class in the middle of the day?).

Anyways, back to topic. It was a 3-hour workshop, so relatively short. And initially, during the first hour of standing poses, I didn’t feel very inspired. I felt like I wasn’t learning anything, mainly because the cues were going everywhere. She did try to focus on the core / hips and even extension of the trunk, but she constantly was getting back to legs and arms, I guess because stability in the poses was lacking. But once we started working on sitting poses, I starting getting much more out of the workshop.

It was mainly a twist class, with the focus on even extension as I mentioned previously. In all poses (also standing) but especially forward bends, we should pay attention to getting an even extension of the front and the back of the body (true for all lims, but here she was talking about the trunk). As we learn to straighten up and lengthen the spine, the tendency is to push the lower ribs forwards / lower back in, which is fine to do in the beginning to get the lift or when beginners learn to stretch, but once more advanced practitioners bend forward the lift or extension has to be even on the front and back body.

We did Bharavadjasana II and Gabriella was very careful about how we should hold the Padmasana foot and said “it’s the foot that holds the hand, not the hand that holds the foot!” which resonated well with me as giving the power to the foot instead of trying to pull with the hand is not only less risky for the Padmasana knee, but it also left me feeling more even. At this point she was trying to get us to lift the spine more, and so she said this amazing sentence “Don’t be like a tube of toothpaste, be like… (she was looking for an exemple here) a broccoli!”

Would you rather look like this?

Or like that? Look at that extension!!!                                                                                                                           (now I keep on imagining my chest as a broccoli during twists)

After that, we practiced Janu Sirsasana and she mentioned that you do not want to turn the chest towards the straight leg, but instead you want to slide the ribs from the straight leg side out, while you slide the ribs of the bent leg down. Really interesting perspective on the pose, which I found very helpful to keep the chest more even.

Finally, in Paschimottanasana, she mentioned that having weight on the ankles help to improve extension. While we are supposed to keep the ankles heavy by ourselves, she said that we could also put weight on them to help feel the extension ( we did not do that in the class).

So overall I did enjoy the workshop and learn some new things. Gabriella is a great teacher, and you can get some pearls of wisdom in the classes available (for free) on Roads To Bliss on Youtube:

 

Moving on

Sorry I’ve been pretty quiet here recently. But that’s for a good reason: I finally moved to NYC! New country, new apartment, new job, and lots of things to take care of. There is still some furniture waiting to be assembled, but most of the paperwork has been take care of.

What still hasn’t been taken care of however, it my yoga practice and teaching. I bought a 20-class pass at the New York Iyengar Institute, and I’ve been exactly… once. When I bought the class package. I gotta say, even though it is not very far from work, it’s still a good 20′ walking (no subway), which with changing means I would need to leave work 30′ before class. And since I don’t really want to go for a class that’s less than Level 3, the timings simply don’t work. I mean, two level 4 classes are 12:15-2:15PM and the third one is 5:15-7:15pm. I can’t really leave work at 11:45 and come back at 2:45PM (and if I did, I would probably be very stressed out when coming back!), nor can I leave at 16:45! I thought I would be able to go to Level 3s, but it’s the same: leaving at 5PM is too early and arriving after 10AM doesn’t really cut it either. It might be ok if I do that once every two weeks? I’ll see. Anyhow, the last class that I could manage to go to is the Saturday 4PM, but my weekends so far have been busy settling down in the apartment and prepping the rest of the week. Anyhow, if the only time I can go is during the weekend, I’d rather go for workshops, so I’m kinda regretting getting the 20-class card. I feel a bit frustrated to be so close to great teachers and not manage to go to class…

Meanwhile, there’s a yoga studio less than 10′ away from the apartment, and they do offer Iyengar classes! So I’m planning on visiting, since it’s way cheaper and more convenient (also time-wise: Saturday 12:30PM and Monday 7:45PM). But obviously the level might not be the same, so I’ll have to see if it really does bring me something. If not, it might also be an option for teaching, as I am still looking for opportunities. I have applied to teach at the BRC (I am mainly trying to volunteer / teach for free because of my visa) but they have so many applications the next volunteer orientation is mid-March, so I have to wait to see what comes out of it. Another option is the gym in my work building, which has a studio. They already offer yoga classes, so I want to try one out tomorrow, and see what I think of it – but in any case their schedule is far from full so I should hopefully be able to teach some kind of free class there. Just got to figure out the details. This would really be ideal, as I’d like to teach twice a week, and I already have a 50′ commute to work, so I’d rather not add to it.

Anyhow, I’m sure this is gonna be resolved soon, and I’ll keep you updated on what turns out to happen. Meanwhile, I have a lot of space to practice in my new apartment, so I’m enjoying a renewed interest in self-practice: see below!

Self-improvement

It’s this time of the year again, when everyone takes new resolutions to better themselves in the coming year. It’s been many years since I have taken new year’s resolutions, and this year is no different. I see self-improvement as something I do continuously, so I don’t generally have something specific on my resolutions list.

It’s funny that these good resolutions are so ingrained in our culture, yet most people do not think about self-improvement on a daily basis. Worse, most people are resistant to change, not only for themselves, but also for others. “Oh, you changed” is rarely a compliment (unless you’re back from the hairdresser… and sometimes not even). I personally get a lot of resistance to my changing of certain things, even from family members or friends (though I do feel quite lucky to have a generally very open-minded support group, which I attribute to having met most of them in an academic setting). One obvious point of contention is my veganism, but I’ve also experienced it with my journey of reducing waste, weightlifting, or even my yoga practice.

I think part of it comes from the fact that I’m trying something new, which often doesn’t fit with the idea they have of who I am. And they might be right sometimes, and I won’t stick with what I’m doing (looking at you, pole dancing – I have way too slippery hands). Other times it does stick, and funnily sometimes people who met me later in life cannot imagine me without it: for instance people who met me during my PhD have always known me as “the yoga girl with the allergies”. People who will meet me during my postdoc will likely have a hard time imagining me eating meat.

Conflict also comes when I do (or start doing) something others feel like they should be doing but don’t. I also have this, for exemple when it comes to zero-waste lifestyles, but I try to see it as inspiration instead of judgement. Because I cannot commit to a fully zero-waste lifestyle now does not mean that I cannot do anything. I can do research, I can change some things, I can limit my waste, I can talk to other people about the simple changes I am doing and how they can implement them too. And maybe one day I’ll be able to be fully zero-waste, but meanwhile I’ll be reducing-waste.

quote-you-are-personally-responsible-for-becoming-more-ethical-than-the-society-you-grew-up-eliezer-yudkowsky-81-90-22

I try to keep in mind that even though every little thing helps, in the grand scheme of things most people are not gonna become fully vegan or zero-waste. However, most people might become flexitarians or reducetarians. By striving in a lifestyle that is more compassionate and better for the environment, while still being relatable as fully part of society rather than an outcast (and hopefully a useful contributor to society as both a researcher and a yoga teacher), I hope and aim to inspire people to make small changes in their own lives. Even in France, I do see that things are changing, even for veganism, as usual slower than anywhere else (how dare you touch upon French Cuisine!), but at least in Paris, and in supermarkets, vegan products are becoming more broadly available.

I’ll still be taking the plane to move to NYC. I am convinced that we can live a modern lifestyle while being more respectful of our surroundings, and I don’t see flying stopping any time soon. However, I will not take the plane when it isn’t necessary: for exemple I went to Berlin by train a few weeks ago. The inconvenience+price VS ecological impact wasn’t enough to convince me to get a plane ticket. I would also like to see more initiatives limiting flying for science conferences for exemple, with all the options that new technologies such as Skype (and who knows, soon holograms?) offer.

’tis a complicated time to be alive, that’s for sure. Even when you want to make the right choice, and you do some research, there is so much conflicting information on ze internet that I cannot blame people who do not take the time to go through dozens of article, without any scientific training, and synthesize the information to make an educated choice. This is why I believe that we have to push for more certifications -even though there are already so many. I realize that more labeling might confuse consumers even more, but I am rarely as annoyed as when I am looking for information on a product and cannot find it. At least if it is there, you might or might not look at it, or spend much time comparing products, but you can do it. And there are often great people on the internet who will take upon themselves of making comparisons and come up with the best choice depending on both your budget and your values.

Anyways, are you readers taking new resolutions? Why / why not? And if so, what are they?

Gratitude

As 2017 closes, I try and reflect on my blessings. 2017 was a special year, full of closures: I obtained my Introductory II certificate, my PhD, published my first first-author article, got a postdoctoral position at NYU and the corresponding visa, and saw many friends graduate.

A year full of events, which also lets me much room for growth in 2018, as I will be moving to a new continent, thus realizing my childhood dream of living in the USA, and also moving in with my boyfriend, a much awaited step after more than a year of long-distance.

It’s thus with mixed feeling that I start 2018, the excitement of my new life that is going to start soon, but also the small ping in the heart of leaving the nurturing environment of Utrecht where I lived for the past five years. I have learned so much here, met amazing people who became great friends, and have definitely made myself at home. While I am looking forward to the challenge of both living together as a couple and living in NYC, I am sad to leave this comfy life I created here. And of course, I am trying to finish as many things as possible before I leave, which makes things a tad hectic.

A bad surprise I got when I came back from Christmas break in France was to find that the house I am subletting until I leave not only did not have the new kitchen installed as it should (and there is thus a hole instead of a kitchen), but the heating does not seem to be working. Which also means no warm water as the hot water is controlled by the same system.

f36976df81bab85aff9d5c96a42e2121

Not sure who I should credit for this illustration, please let me know if you do 🙂

It’s been almost four days as nothing would happen in the weekend or on January 1st, and I don’t know when the situation will change. Luckily for me, this year is the hottest “oud en nieuw” recorded since records exist, with around 12C at the hottest moment of the day (thanks global warming?!). The house thus stays between 10 and 12C, which while cold, is sustainable for sleeping if covered by two warm duvets.

While this is obviously annoying, this makes me reflect on how lucky I am in my “misery”. First, I do have a house. I’m not sleeping on the street, which means I don’t get wind or rain, and generally the house isn’t humid so I’ve not been cold and managed to fall asleep quite rapidly. Secondly, I can (and have been) go to the gym or the yoga studio to shower with hot water. I also have a key of the yoga studio, which is heated up, so on January 1st, I spent most of my time there. I practiced, took a shower, made some tea and browsed the internet in a warm and comfy environment until it was dinner time and I headed home to use the microwave I managed to plug in. Thinking of which: I do have a working fridge and microwave, cold water, and general electricity. So I was able to store some food in advance for New Year’s, when everything is closed (and I did take some leftovers from NYE home). Furthermore, I was at a friend’s for NYE and had a great evening. I am incredibly grateful for their like-mindedness. So it’s not that bad, and makes me see how many things I use daily and take for granted. And it’s great for the environment!

In any case, I hope it gets fixed soon. Meanwhile, I am grateful for all the things I take for granted, such as utilities, but also health, a great support system, a loving family and partner, and all the opportunities that have been offered to me up to now and in the future. I hope I can keep on working hard, loving hard, taking care of as many people as I can to make this Earth a slightly better place than I found it.

Happy 2018!

 

 

Alignment in the koshas – with Eyal Shifroni

This workshop is a hard one to write about. I wonder if others attending had the same feeling as I did; that it was quite special.

I remember going to my first yoga workshop, and being impressed, and learning so much. I also remember being a bit anxious going to my first “out-of-studio” workshop. Now, as you’ve probably noticed, I regularly go to workshops and study all over the place, so this feeling has evaporated a bit. While I always learn some new things during workshops, I also have learned a lot in the past years, and I often have already used props or touched upon concepts the workshop is about, so I am already familiar with the practice. And while I did feel a bit of that this weekend, I also felt that I could go one layer further with Eyal’s teaching. The depth of his teaching made me think whether I would have gotten as much if I had attended a couple of years ago. I also realize that other senior teachers might have spoken about things that flew way over my head at the time, and so I only remember my own “haha” moments, and others might have gotten something very different from the practice than I did at the time.

The theme of the weekend was alignment and the five koshas. If anything, the workshop really made me want to study philosophy more and reread the yoga sutras, though my copy with Guruji’s commentary is back home and I’ll have to wait until the Christmas break to get it back.

1221207_orig

Anyways. Where to start?

How about with the fact that after eluding me for the whole time of teacher training, the only thing I can feel in any pose now seems to be my hips. I can’t believe I’m only now getting all of these feelings and brush upon some kind of understanding. Maybe I needed my hamstring injury to start feeling the hips? Guess I’ll never know. I could go through all the poses and the props we used, but I would rather focus on the philosophical aspect in this article, so I’ll just mention that Eyal is amazingly ingenious with prop use. If you haven’t already, you can check out his books for more information.

But more broadly, the weekend’s practice was based on a lot of this article (You might want to read it first before going on with this article). On Friday, we worked on concentration (focusing on one point), taking the foot as the base and object of our concentration. The idea was that our foot should stay as if in Tadasana no matter what pose we would be practicing, so that there would be an even weight on each eight of feet (quarter of each of the two feet) at all time. This focus in observation led to everyone being quite slow while getting into the pose, paying attention to any subtle change in weight distribution and immediate correction if possible.

On Saturday, we moved onto the diffusion of the manas (mind) to the whole body, starting from the chest.  Think of  a cork block (the ones we use in yoga class). We were instructed to move into different asanas as if the cork clock was our chest and we were trying to keep this block as even as possible. So in Trikonasana for exemple, the block would simply be titled to the side, but both sides of the block (aka chest) would be evenly elongated. Thinking about creating an even length in the torso was very helpful for me, especially in Eka Padanghustasana, as it prevented hanging in the hip of the standing leg. We started talking about the heart being the center of a tranquil consciousness (citta), as buddhi (intelligence) origins from the heart. This was then explored by (trying) radiating our awareness from the heart to the rest of the chest (and eventually the rest of the body, we stayed mainly within the chest).

yoga-block-250x250

Our beloved cork blocks. So even!

Sunday was all about backbends, and a natural continuation of Saturday’s theme from diffusion of the manas to the radiation of buddhi (intelligence) from the heart to the rest of the body. I was on my period the whole weekend, but it was mainly on Sunday that I felt like I was missing out, as there were intense backbends and a lot of inversions. Even in the not-so-intense backbends I could practice, I found it way harder to go through the concentration-diffusion-radiation (Dharana-Dyana-Samadhi) triad (or even touch upon the radiation to be honest). Even though I was trying to create space within my backbends, I still find it physically taxing and difficult to breathe (not that I get out of breath, I can stay in poses for a while, but it is simply harder to create sufficient breathing space).

I thoroughly enjoyed studying with Eyal, and I hope our paths cross again. I’m sorry this article is actually so short and I feel like I’m barely going over the surface of things, but these are difficult concepts I still need time ton digest and work on. I figured it is still better for me to write a little about it than nothing. I’ll leave you with our “homework” question. Eyal asked us on Friday, what does alignment in all of the koshas mean for you? He mentioned that alignment in the Annamaya (body) and Pranamaya (energy) koshas were easy to understand conceptually, but for the innermost koshas this is more difficult to grasp. We discussed it briefly on Sunday, and there are no bad answers, so I would be curious to hear your opinions.

 

So I’m a doctor now

This year has been a year of graduations. After getting my Introductory certificate, last week I finally concluded five years of graduate school by (successfully) defending my thesis and officially becoming a PhD.

I genuinely enjoyed the day, as I wasn’t too stressed before the defense (maybe all this yoga was paying off?!) and I found most questions interesting.  My PI’s laudatio was great, and both the reception and the party were amazing. It was very emotional to see all of my friends and family together to celebrate my achievement.

And now what, you ask? Well, I’m in Utrecht for two more months, working as a postdoctoral researcher in the group I did my PhD in, before I move on to a new adventure in NYC next February. Exciting times!