The monsoon seems to have arrived in Langkawi at last and the rainfall has made the temperature pleasantly cool as well as filling the islands waterfalls, which look magnificent at the moment.
Asana of the Month
Padahastasan – Standing forward bend
This is one of the most straight forward (no pun intended) yoga asanas.
Even people who have never done any yoga will know that being able to touch the toes is a good measure of overall flexibility. However, it is not at all necessary to be able to touch the toes to perform this asana and reap the multiple benefits of this simple, semi-inverted pose.
How to do padahastasan:
- Stand with the feet together.
- Stretch the arms over the head.
- Inhale deeply.
- As you exhale push the hips back and stretch forward extending the spine.
- Keeping that extension, lower the hands and the head towards the ground.
- Keep the legs straight.
- Relax the back of the neck so that the top of the head is towards the ground.
- Stay in the position for as long as is comfortable.
- Don’t bounce.
- Don’t extend the fingers.
- Just relax and let gravity do the work.
- Breathe slowly and evenly.
- Push the hips towards the sky as you inhale.
- Contract the abdomen as you exhale.
- Feel the blood coming down into the face and brain.
- Keep the back of the neck relaxed.
To come out of the pose bend the knees and roll up slowly vertebrae by vertebrae keeping the head down until the spine is erect and the shoulders are back.
Another way to come up is to bend the knees deeply, then lift the head straightening the back, then the knees.
Sometimes you might experience some dizziness when you come back up, especially if you have low blood pressure. In this case come up very slowly and when you are standing straight move the arms and legs to stimulate the blood circulation.
There are many variations to this pose:
- You can stand with the feet slightly apart.
- You can fold the arms.
- You can bring the hands behind the legs and either hold the legs or ankles (like in the photo above) or interlock the fingers.
- If you are flexible enough you can stand on the palms of the hands or push the palms of the hands flat on the ground.
- You can point the fingers in the opposite direction and walk the hands back pushing the palms on the ground.
Stay in the position which ever variation you try. Keep still and breathe slowly. If the body is constantly moving then the mind will also be agitated. The stillness in the body will help bring stillness to the mind.
If you have back problems (e.g. slipped disc) then do the forward bend with the legs bent. Don’t hold the position for very long if you have high blood pressure.
It is not a good idea to do this (or any other yoga poses) straight after eating or drinking.
- The heart is higher than the head, so the blood flows naturally to the head, bringing oxygen rich blood from the heart.
- The heart gets a slight rest as it doesn’t have to pump so hard to bring the blood to the head.
- The frontal lobes of the brain are thoroughly irrigated, stimulating the parts of the brain responsible for the higher mental faculties.
- As with all forward bends, the mind will naturally become calmer.
- The hamstrings get a very good stretch.
- The whole length of the spine is extended, stimulating the nervous system.
- Pressure is put on the internal organs, stimulating them and improving their functioning.
- Due to its calming nature padahastasan is very useful in treating anxiety, insomnia and hyperactivity.
Recipe of the month
You can take the man out of Ireland, but you can’t take Ireland out of the man. I must confess that living in Asia there are times when I’ve had enough rice and noodles. Some of you who have known me for a while have even heard me sing: Rice is nice, maybe once or twice, but everyday - no way. So this month’s recipe will be potatoes. Yes, good old fashioned honest spuds.
We usually serve this dish on our yoga retreats and many people have asked for the recipe, which is what gave me the idea to include it here.
- Shitake mushrooms
- Sesame oil
- Dijon mustard
- Fresh parsley
- Sunflower seeds
I prefer to use new potatoes for this recipe. The vitamins are in the skins. They have to be scrubbed and washed well. If you can’t get new potatoes then this recipe will work just fine with ordinary peeled potatoes.
- Boil a pot of water with some salt added.
- Cover the pot with a lid – you’ll save time/ gas / electricity / the planet.
- While the water is boiling you can clean and chop the potatoes into bite sized chunks.
- Put the potatoes into the boiling water.
- Peel and slice the onions finely.
- Chop the garlic roughly (I like the sudden taste explosion when you get a piece of garlic in the dish.)
- Alternatively you can grate the garlic finely, which allows it to ‘melt’ into the dish and lift the overall taste.
- Chop the parsley. Fresh basil or marjoram would also make interesting substitutes if you happen to have some growing in your herb garden.
- Slice the mushrooms.
We are lucky to have a Chinese shop nearby that sells fresh shitake mushroom vacuum packed. The dried ones are never quite as good, but if you can get fresh button mushrooms or field mushrooms they’ll work fine with this recipe. In fact any fresh mushroom will do. Do not under any circumstances use canned mushrooms – they are an abomination and an insult to the entire mycological genus.
I like to serve this with a little salad of grated carrots. You can keep some of the chopped parsley and mix it with the carrot. Raisins or sultanas have a special affinity with carrots and a few toasted sesame seeds sprinkled on top look and taste nice too.
This dish is tasty, nutritious, easy to digest and satisfyingly earthy. (The perfect antidote to rice overdose).
Please note: This recipe, while purely vegetarian, may have raised a few yogic eyebrows. Traditionally Buddhists & Hindus do not eat onions or garlic and Hindus don’t eat mushrooms either. Onions and garlic increase ‘passion,’ which in turn makes it more difficult to sit and meditate. Mushrooms are Tamasic, since they grow in the dark and do not receive Prana (vital energy) from the sun. Other prohibited foods include eggs, chives, scallions, spring onions. Jains won’t eat potatoes…the list goes on.
On the other hand, nutritionally onions and garlic are excellent, and mushrooms, as well as being really tasty, are a great source of protein. Potatoes (since they grow in the earth) are very grounding.
Wherever there are rules there will be inhibitions, and inhibitions are an obstacle to achieving peace of mind, which is after all what yoga and meditation are about. Sometimes we can get too attached to our food rules (I can’t eat this, won’t eat that…) and end up making our lives (and other people’s lives) more difficult than they need to be. Any attachment will create suffering and we have probably all noticed how attached people can be to their ‘vegetarian’ status.
The Dalai Lama, a man I admire immensely, says that being a vegetarian is very good for us, for the animals, for the planet. He also says (almost in the same breath) that for health reasons he himself eats meat every second day and adds laughingly that this means he is a vegetarian for 6 months of the year.
Being vegetarian doesn’t necessarily make us a good person. Adolf Hitler was a strict vegetarian. (Incidentally he also hijacked the Hindu/Buddhist symbol of auspiciousness, the swastika, (from the sanskrit root word Svastir – meaning auspiciousness) and made it into anything but. However the swastika is still ever present and used in its original context in India and throughout Asia.) I digress. Back to the point.
Some of us are full time vegetarians, some of us are not. These are choices we make for various reasons such as religion, ethics, health, economics or just plain taste. The important thing is to be happy with what we eat and thankful for what we eat.
It is so easy to take food for granted, but on this little planet there are more than a billion people today who don’t know where their next meal will come from. When you sit down to eat, spare a thought for these people and then enjoy your food. It is your duty to enjoy your food out of respect for those who don’t have any. You should also respect the food and give it the attention it deserves.
You might not have the discipline yet to sit and meditate every day, but you certainly take the time to feed your body. Make mealtimes part of your meditation practice. Turn off the TV, computer, put down that book or magazine and really focus on every mouthful, examining the sensations, the texture, the taste. Taste is a sensation and sensations are always in the present moment. Use mealtimes to come in to the present moment. Eat slowly. This practice will bring us back to centre and help us appreciate the important things in life. With a little bit of practice you might start to observe other sensations in the body such as how the different parts of the tongue register taste or how salivation occurs or perhaps even more subtle energetic affects.
There has been a recent increase in the rate of illegal logging in the rainforests here on the island. Hardwood trees that are hundred of years old are being chopped down to make room to plant bananas (of all things!). None of the relevant authorities show any concern or feel the need to intervene and constantly pass the buck between departments.
The Langkawi branch of the Malaysian Nature Society has created an online petition, but until now there has been a very low response, which reinforces the opinion that no one really cares if all the trees are chopped down. If you’ve been to Langkawi, you’ll probably have spent at least a little time in the magnificent rainforests here. If you’ve been on the planet for even a few years you probably understand already how important it is to save the remaining rainforests.
If you have a moment to spare you can sign here.
Here are some dates we have pencilled in for upcoming retreats, but of course we can still work around your own dates even if they are not listed below.
- September 6th to 9th
- September 10th to 17th (8 day / 7 night Intensive Yoga Retreat)
- October 1st to 5th (5 day / 4 night)
- October 17th to 20th
- October 21st to 31st (11 day / 10 night Intensive Yoga Retreat)
- November 2nd to 5th
- November 7th to 14th (8 day / 7 night Intensive Yoga Retreat)
- November 18th to 21st
- November 22nd to 25th Intensive Yoga Retreat
- November 27th to 30th
- December 1st to 5th (5 day / 4 night)
- December 6th to 9th
- December 12th to 19th (8 day / 7 night Intensive Yoga Retreat)
- December 22nd to 26th (5 day / 4 night)
- December 27th to January 2nd (7 day / 6 night Intensive Yoga Retreat)
Thanks for your time and wishing you peace and harmony in your daily lives.
Hari om tat sat.
Marc and Meng Foong (a.k.a M&M)
May all beings be happy.
Determination, courage and self-confidence are the key factors for success. If we have firm determination, we can work out obstacles and difficulties. Whatever the circumstances, we should remain humble, modest and without pride.
- Dalai Lama