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Two practices to go, before the marathon home starts. Going home is usually a bit easier because you have been camping in Mysore for the last month and are used to cramped quarters and a natural suspicion of any food you are given. Today was led primary for me, but I rush out atfter urdhva danurasana so that David can make it in time for practice. I had a weird sideways spot in the room that was hot with the occasional blast of cold stinky air from the bathroom – so my practice was a bit ridiculous. But I still like practicing to Sharath’s count.

My cold that turned into a sinus infection that ebbed back into a head cold has now evolved into a bronchial hacking cough that actors use in movies to indicate their characters are dying soon. I’m sad to leave my practice here, but if I don’t eat something green soon, I might actually perish.

Holden’s Walk for Farm Animals was a success. We took a rickshaw out to Chamundi HIll and we made it up – okay maybe 50 steps. We didn’t see any monkeys at first, which was totally disconcerting, because usually they are all up in your shit there. Instead the steps were occupied by goat families. When we got down we saw some monkeys hopping around and eating the bugs off each other.  Holden was only groped by one person, before David pushed them off – which is an improvement on our other experiences of tourist destinations in Mysore. Holden also raised almost $1400 for charity, which is awesome, and can be mostly attributed to the greatness of his hair

Last night while reading No Roses For Harry.

Holden: There? (points to a picture of a man in a store)

Stan: That is a man going shopping.

H: There?

S: That is a family going shopping.

H: Shopping. There?

S: That is a lady going shopping.

H: There?

S: I think everyone on the street is doing a bit of shopping.

H: (points to cats) Cat.

S: What do you think the cats are doing?

H: Shopping.

S: What do the cats need to buy at the store?

H: Brushes.

True say, Holdy, true say.

When I was a little girl, I thought every farmer had a couple pigs, a couple cows and some chickens. And then one day while everyone was minding their own business on the farm, the farmer (always a man?) would come out and shoot one of the pigs – Charlotte’s Web style – and then we would have bacon the next day at our house. I loved bacon, but I thought that arrangement was horribly unfair for he pig. My dad egged me on a little and on my 8th birthday I stopped eating meat. I started up again years later, but for a while I ate chip hotdogs at birthday parties and picked the pepperoni off my pizza.

Now I know that we don’t raise meat that way – or at least we don’t raise meat that way anymore. My whole family, except for the cat is vegan and I try to do whatever I can to support vegan organizations and spread the word about how awesome it is being vegan. You do feel so much better. Since I became a mom I had to really think about my choices and if they were safe for my baby. So far, Holden has been a very healthy guy and we are lucky that he has such a big appetite. As a mom, I feel kind of emotional about what breeding food mammals have to go through in a factory farm. Mercedes and Holden are my everything, and it is difficult to think of the horrific nightmare of being constantly pregnant and having your babies taken away over and over again to be eventually killed.

Anyway, I get to keep my baby, so my baby is walking for all the animals who don’t. On September 29th, while his sister and the AYCT team are walking for farm animals in Toronto,  Holdy will be walking on Chamundi Hill. Maybe not all the way up, but certainly up enough to get freaked out by the monkeys (okay that is step number one).

All the proceeds go to Farm Sanctuary. If you donate, I promise to send you a picture of Holden in his official Farm Sanctuary Walk for Farm Animals tee with the monkeys. He is very proud of his t-shirt which came in the mail for him and is for a child 10x bigger. It has a picture of a pig on it, which Holden assures me is actually a dinosaur. So, maybe he will be walking for dinosaurs, I don’t have the heart to tell him that it is a lost cause.

Here is the link to his donation page, with a super cute picture of him. Totally worth the clickity click.

Here is a picture of Holden at Farm Sanctuary in upstate New York this year, petting a goat:

And just a short drive from Farm Sanctuary is a place to get vegan ice cream. it was a big day.

David went to the last conference on Sunday. The Baby was sleeping and so I stayed at home. It turned out to be about ahimsa and vegetarianism

I became vegetarian on my 8th birthday. I am blessed with very patient and understanding parents and they spent the rest of my childhood cooking extra tofu or beans on the side for me. When I went to university, I began eating meat again. I stopped when I moved back to Toronto. Interestingly enough, I think of my university days as some of the most unhappy times in my life. I was away from my family, a little sad and lonely – trying to figure myself out, and I ate meat, drank and smoked.

I do really believe that the reason I fell into Ashtanga – and not say Bikram, where eating meat and wearing leather is Ok – was to put me in touch with other vegetarians and create a vegetarian community. Being vegan is the single most important lifestyle choice I have made. It is also easily the most important part of my practice.

There are many parts of the practice that can make it challenging for my body and my ego. Waiting in the vestibule to be called in sometimes really bugs me. I often feel itchy and irritated when I don’t get new poses that I think I deserve. And then there is the usual thought garbage that comes up during practice: envy, competitiveness, anger, weird mat-territorialism, self-pity. I can make these feelings about the teacher: Why doesn’t he notice me?; the students around me, “How come she gets that pose and I don’t.”; or myself, “I just had a baby, my body is so broken.” Sometimes these feelings lead me to thinking I should quit, get up  and leave and take up running or something where I don’t have to deal with other people in the room, the teacher, the tradition blah blah. I do truly believe that this is part of the process and an integral piece of the practice.

In this blog, I like to explore the things that come up in my meditation – and I know it is about me, my own issues,  and not about Sharath or the person practicing next to me.

I have been thinking about this a lot in terms of veganism, because the tradition advocates dairy consumption as well as the practice of ahimsa (non-violence), and I don’t feel the two are compatible. This is one instance where after some reflection – I don’t believe it is about my own neurosis getting in the way of my practice or listening to my teacher.

Sharath told students at conference to eat ghee as part of a healthy vegetarian diet. He said that calves were given the milk first and the rest was used for human consumption. He also mentioned an organization in India that is working towards having no cows slaughtered in the country. I had several conversations with friends in India, who told me that drinking milk in India is different than drinking milk in the West because the cows are treated fairly and can roam the streets, eat what they please and generally be free.

To be totally honest, those conversations and the teachings from Sharath really aggravate me. There are a billion people in India. If you seriously believe that there are no factory farms in that country then you are, frankly, deluded. I think it is one thing to drink milk and say, “Yeah I drink milk – I participate in this.” It is another to pretend that the few cows you see wondering around Mysore are supplying the milk in your chai. They aren’t. And before that milk was extracted, it certainly wasn’t given to a calf. As lovely a story as that may be. Having had some personal experience with this, mammals tend to give birth to males as well as females. And while I see quite a few mama cows around town in Mysore, I see very few grown boys. Whether you sell the male cows to Muslims or Christians to slaughter them in India, or take them out of the country and slaughter them in Pakistan or whereever – it seems the outcome is pretty much the same. The cows are not free, their lives are short and brutal if they had the misfortune of being male; long, confined and painful if they are female.

Often people complain to me that fake meat or soy is not healthy for your body and that it would be better for you just to eat butter or free-range chicken or whatever. And while I am obsessed with digestion, and I know that those fake meats and margarine are pure garbage (and I choose not to eat them most of the time), I would rather eat garbage than participate in the industrial farming of animals.

The separation between animals and us is dangerous because it leads to other “us” and “them” thinking. I believe it changes the level of compassion and understanding we have towards other humans. If there are a group of living things that don’t deserve to be happy or free why should that be limited to the non-human variety of beings?

My type of animal activism is certainly the Farm Sanctuary variety. I like to pet the cows and make the connection to their sentience from their heroic rescue stories. I choose veganism because I can only imagine the hideous and brutal treatment animals receive in factory farms. I usually can’t watch insider footage of those farms because it is much worse and more inhumane than I can even fathom. It makes me feel hopeless and angry, but I know it works for some folks.

Here is the link to Earthlings, you can click and view if you are interested. The movie documents the way we use animals as pets, clothing, food, and entertainment. The site streams the whole movie as well as the trailer. I personally couldn’t make it through the trailer without crying, shrieking and hiding my face in my sweater. It is extremely violent and disturbing. It is probably a good view if you do decide to eat or use animal products. Ultimately, this is a personal choice and knowing what you are supporting is an important part of that choice. I choose to drive a car and buy plastic, and knowing some of things happening in Libya make this decision pretty uncomfortable for me. I suppose it is mine to live with and hopefully I can strive to make better choices in the future.

I’m still recovering from the Olympics. Holden has been waking up during the night every hour or so to eat and I am a total zombie. On Tuesday night, I felt I had reached a whole new level of sleep deprivation past the angry and sad phase and through “I can’t process information” phase into a totally new feeling where it actually hurt to move my limbs. Waking up to feed him, my shoulder would seize and my whole body was just wracked with soreness – like I had sprained every joint. So, I tried feeding him homemade rice cereal at night. Great success. I got four uninterrupted hours. Today, I swear I leapt onto my mat. Baby is certainly going to Harvard.

Super genius!

So, the Olympics! A mother of three won the Uth pluthi contest, and the prize was, of course, the Guruji book. The person who almost beat her, was a father of three who I don’t think was close to doing full lotus last year. It was pretty fantastic.  It made me feel all melty and happy. We had a downward dog chain race, a contest to see who could do the most garbha revolutions in 3 minutes (thank you LI Ashtangini – it was so freaking hilarious), and a utthita hasta padangusthasana c competitiion. The amazing winner of the garbha contest skinned his back – but other than that everyone came away unscathed.

Holden dressed up as his dad for Hallowe’en.

(photo by Sergio Lasky)

And we raised enough money to adopt another animal from Farm Sanctuary with left over to put towards a smaller animal or an emergency animal fund. Or Sprinkles’ dolla necklace. Tim was amazing, as usual, and we worked him to the bone. The photos came out gorgeous.

I was going through some of the videos of the adoptable animals and I came across this one of Angelo. Watch for Sprinnkles’ cameo appearance and careful your head doesn’t explode with happiness.

YouTube Preview Image

Yesterday, I went on a nature walk with a tree enthusiast in High Park and Holden and I learned so much. Philip raced around picking up leaves and bits of grass answering all of our questions. I can distinguish red, white and black oak trees, I learned why people are compelled to mow their lawns, and Philip gave me bird seed and a chickadee landed on my hand and delicately picked out a seed. Let me repeat that: A bird landed on my hand. Wild bird. My hand. Landed. I’m Snow White.


C-sections and Ashtanga:

C-sections are so common, I’ve talked to a gajillion women who have similar birth stories. I mean, my dog had two c-sections. I think in my case, once the birth started getting medicalized – I was strapped up to a bunch of machines, I was given a medication to speed up my labour and an epidural – I think a c-section was kind of inevitable. At a certain point I just couldn’t move to change the baby’s position or help move things along. I’m not sure if it is because no one knows how to use forceps anymore or doctors just prefer to intervene just in case, but I know more people who have had c-sections than natural births at home.

Now, four months later, I think anything is possible post c-section. There are just a few considerations. And I think everything moves a little more slowly because of the surgery. So far, I think it is all about learning how to collect your bandhas and reintroduce your abdominal muscles to each other. For the first two months, maybe because I went through labour, my pelvic floor was numb. For the first few weeks, I would only know I needed to pee because my belly would start to cramp. Lifting my perineum wasn’t really an option – I couldn’t feel it to lift it. I would see myself in the mirror holding the baby with my stomach sticking out and my lower back severely arched. David said that was why they call it householder yoga. You need to pull in your bandhas to carry around a baby.

I do think the biggest revelation has been how brave birth and a c-section can make you. Every time, I feel like wimping out a bit in my practice – I tell myself, “Hey! They sliced your tummy open and pulled a baby out. The epidural was wearing off when they sewed you back up. If you land on your face coming out of supta kurmasana is that going to hurt more? No way, toughie!”

So, having a c-section has made me even more stubborn than I already am.

Broken Toes and Ashtanga Yoga

I broke my pinky toe on Thursday rushing around. I heard the crack when my toe hit the corner of the wall and I just kinda knew it wasn’t the usual stub. I swore a lot and it felt pretty gross. On Friday the toe got a purple band around it with a slightly bluish hue down the side of my foot. And apparently, you do need your pinky toe to practice primary series. Lame. So, I am gently easing myself into and out of poses. Janu B and C on the left side are sort of out.  The good news is, my hamstrings feel better.

David broke his toe In Mysore several years ago when someone was sitting on his mat as he came out of Karandavasana. It was sort of the same thing – an evil-sounding crack followed by a sinking feeling and a purple band the next day. His cleared up in a week or so and I’m hoping mine will do the same.

And yes, I did tell myself, “Breaking your toe is nothing! You gave birth! Buck up, toughie and get on your mat!”

On Hallowe’en we are celebrating AYCT’s second birthday with our annual Ashtanga Olympics. The Ashtanga Olympics is totally the highlight of my year. Maureen, David and I made it up as a joke because ashtangis have a propensity towards competitive behaviour. We thought most people wouldn’t want to participate. But then, as the event was coming up, people started asking us about the events and trying to figure out ways to prepare. I had students demanding we tailor the contests to their strengths – long headstands, backbending etc. Last year I watched 10 adults pile themselves on top of each other in child’s pose for a free class, while I sat – newly pregnant – working my way through a mountain of cashew cookies. It was glorious. This year, I’m totally throwing myself on top of people. And I will also eat a mountain of cookies.

Oh! and we are setting up a photo booth for students to get asana shots taken and all the money will be donated to Farm Sanctuary to keep Sprinkles and Samuel in bling. Tim Bermingham is taking the pictures, his work is fantastic and I always feel relaxed and comfortable working with him. He took my pregnancy asana shots that I have so far been too overwhelmed with baby stuff to work with.

So, basically, unless you live outside the GTA, you have to come. If you don’t, we will all just assume you hate animals and Sprinkles won’t be able to get this necklace that he was dreaming of.

He really needs one!

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Mercedes reminded me the other day of something I used to talk to Holden about when he was in the NICU. I was really scared out of my brain for him and his relatively short stay seemed almost interminable.

The culture at the NICU is strange because they have your baby at such a young age, the nurses and doctors take a bit of ownership over your little one. Every new shift change is a new negotiation, how can I convey the issues my baby is having? how can I get you to let me hold him? take him out of here?

I can see if you were there for a while, you have two options either you develop a good relationship with the staff or you just sort of check out of the whole thing and wait for the staff to let you know when you can take the baby home. After spending some time in the NICU, I wouldn’t judge either decision and it seemed that both types of parents were present (or not present as the case may be).

For the first day and a half we could just touch Holden through the arm holes in his incubator. He seemed really big in comparison to the little early babies around him. When one baby would cry, the babies would domino on down the room – a wave of tears and high pitched cries. You could tell when it was your baby crying right away. This is my favourite picture from that time, because he looks so relieved to be held, finally.

Trudging back and forth from my room to the NICU in my elegant hospital gown/coat combo I started thinking about our trip to Farm Sanctuary, and if Holden and I could just make it through this we would go the farm and everything would be OK. When I was allowed to hold him at 3 hour intervals, I would talk to him about the goats and the chickens on the farm. I told him the goats would nibble on his toes and the chickens would be scared of him because he was so big. Getting to the farm at that time seemed so far away from the beeping of monitors and recycled air of the hospital.

When we did get to the farm, I had forgotten about the stories I told Holden, and  seeing the goats, although amazing and fun, wasn’t as crucial for healing as it was the day after he was born.

I found his diapers that we took home from the hospital and they are so impossibly small. How could he have been that small? When he was born  I thought he was huge. He won’t ever be that small again.

It never seems like that big of a deal at the time, and then afterwards I realize how quickly everything has changed in such a fundamental way – for my baby and my family. All these big monents, I hope I can stay present for some of it before time rushes it out of my hands.

I have been internetless in Farm Sanctuary over the past week. But I am going to make up for it with critter pictures!

AYCT sponsors a pig and a cow from Farm Sanctuary, which is a charity that does rescue and advocacy work for farm and food animals. Every year for the last three, David and I have travelled down to Ithaca, New York to visit the animals and spend time on the farm. It is a peaceful and beautiful place and it puts me in touch with why we are vegan.

This year we learned that Sprinkles, our pig had some medical problems due to his unnaturally large size. He wasn’t bred to reach this age, and he has developed leg and hip problems. He is on medication, but he seemed pretty content when I caught up with him again.

Samuel, our adopted cow, is in the special needs herd because he likes the senior citizens. He is also massive. He was pretty bothered by flies when we were hanging out and was swinging his head wildly from side to side, which is why we are keeping a respectful distance in the picture.

My favourite are the goats. Goats are friends with everybody, so you can always be sure of a warm reception in the goat barn.

Holden liked the goats too.

But the tour was pretty exhausting.

Practice Notes:

I practiced in YOGA PANTS for the first time in 6 weeks last Tuesday. Usually I practice in my undies at home, but that isn’t really acceptable attire at the studio. Yippee! It was stinking hot, but I had such a great time. I went up to Janu C and I did a backbend and full closing. At this point I have worked up to navasana with dropbacks, and David told me today that I am ready to finish primary, which I am a little scared about. Navasana is basically the hardest thing I have ever done in my life. Trying to lift my feet off the floor for the pick up seems like a far away dream. My belly is still pretty numb from surgery, but I can keep plugging away at it.

I love the studio, I love being able to practice. Mercedes watched the baby and I felt an overwhelming amount of gratitude that he has such a great older sister. It was such a gift to be back.

We are in Buffalo for the next few days, and by golly we have internet! I hope to update over the weekend with Holden’s practice notes. He took his first yoga class today. Super genius!