Thursday, December 11, 2014

Tis the Season…to "SpOil Your Pet!"

I don’t have a pet, though my son’s goldfish has been living with us for a time, having graduated from college a few years back. I admire my friends who are pet owners (and most of them are) because caring for a pet (even a goldfish) takes time, care, commitment, dedication, money, knowledge, patience and vast quantities of love. In fact, it can be just as much work as having a child-- if not more work these days-- with doggie play dates, obedience school, grooming, and other pet-related activities. So hats off to pet owners, and if you’re looking for a special gift for yourself or a pet-loving pal, SpOil Your Pet: A Practical Guide to Using Essential Oils in Dogs and Cats by Dr. Mia K. Frezzo, DVM and Jan C. Jeremias, MSc is just the ticket.
            I don’t usually write about products on my blog (other than Yin, Yang, Yogini!) but SpOil Your Pet is so special that I felt I needed to make an exception. Jan is a trained clinical research scientist, yoga instructor and reflexologist who has been using essential oils for a decade. Dr. Frezzo is a Veterinarian; the two authors have poured their vast knowledge of essential oils into this guide, which includes more than 50 common ailments and conditions found in dogs and cats, with easy directions on how to use essential oils as a complement to traditional veterinary care.
            Jan and Dr. Frezzo observe that both people and pets can benefit from essential oils, which are the “volatile aromatic compounds found in the seeds, bark, stems, roots, flowers and other parts of plants.” They clearly explain how the oils work to enhance the immune system, and benefit health. They cover such topics as diabetes, cancer, burns, bites, autoimmune disorders, ear infections, seizures, and many other problems and conditions.
You can order the book on Amazon (ISBN 978-1937702236) and it’s my suggestion that you do so soon, especially if you’re planning to give it as a gift, as I am (btw, it’s beautifully designed with adorable pictures and quotes as well as hands-on practical oil information).  
            I guess essential oils won’t benefit our goldfish, but I’m quite sure that if they did Jan and Dr. Frezzo would be the first to know! These awesome animal lovers are doing their very best to make sure all our pets are healthy, hearty, and happy.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Lights: On!

The other day as I was driving to yoga class in a wintry mix of snow and rain, I noticed a van on the highway that was speeding along without lights. Since I could scarcely see the road ahead with my car lights on, I wondered how this individual could be so unaware that he/she had ventured out onto the road without some form of illumination to guide the way (not to mention the hazard this posed to other drivers).
This got me thinking, not surprisingly, about yoga, and the teachings we use to guide our paths, because for me the principles and tenets of yoga are like beams of light that help to illuminate the path I’m on each day, regardless of whether the weather is sunny or bleak.
For instance, if I’m thinking of making a snide remark to someone who has crossed my path, I’m often reminded of the yogic tenet of Ahimsa, to do no harm and to show compassion for all living things. If I’m conjuring up a little white lie (or even a big one!) I’m often held back by Satya, or commitment to truthfulness. The physical postures (or asanas) practiced in yoga keep me physically fit (or at least, headed in that direction), and the mantras and meditations that are used in my practice connect me to the knowledge that there’s a greater energy overseeing the planet (for many, religion may offer some of these same functions, of course).
But for me, yoga is the way of Light, the practice that reminds me to turn on my headlights every day. Being aware and in the present moment ensures that I don’t stray too far off the road I intend to be on, and also ensures that I don’t willingly or knowingly do or say something that might cause harm to another. How many people, I wonder, are navigating their daily lives without even realizing that their headlights aren’t on? Like that van driver, how many are putting others in danger because they’re too preoccupied or disconnected to even realize the hazard they pose to others’ emotional or physical wellbeing?
As I arrived at my yoga center that day and emerged from my car onto the slippery parking lot, I was ten steps away before I realized I’d forgotten to turn my headlights off. I thought that was a rather humorous nod from the Universe, which seemed to be suggesting that once you’ve become “aware” there’s really no turning back to the darkness.
 Still, a car is a car, and I didn’t want to run down the battery!

Monday, November 3, 2014

The Courage of Trees

Trees are resilient. People chop at them, build fences through them, and torture them in various ways; still, they drop their seeds and sprout up again. Every year, on the East Coast, I’m reminded again of how much trees give us; when the hills are shimmering with vibrant color, I’m reminded that trees offer shelter, shade, and beauty every day.
           We’re like trees, as every yogi knows. We can stand straight and tall, our roots planted deeply into the earth even when the wind blows, even when insults are hurled our way, even when we face illness, or the death of a loved one, or any number of tragedies. Like trees, we just keep coming back, asking for more. You can knock us down, but we don’t give up easily. Like the tree, we possess the will to live, the will to grow, and the will to spread our little acorns around.
          Long ago, I wrote a story about some trees that the city chopped down in front of my childhood home. My dad, who was an avid tree-lover, retaliated by planting butternut trees where the maples once had stood. Today, those butternut trees tower into the sky, and their butternuts sprinkle the street, no doubt still a headache for the man who runs the street sweeper (who probably is clueless about my deceased father’s long-ago disagreement with the local government). I’ll never forget the pride in my father’s voice when he told me about his idea; and I’ll never forget the pride I felt, knowing that my father cared enough about trees to conjure up such a scheme.
         As winter grows near and the trees shed their leaves in my neighborhood, I look forward to the still, frozen nights when I’ll gaze out my window and see their bare branches arching against the sky. There is an oak tree not far from my house that has been there for more than l00 years. My neighbor has had it lovingly trimmed and cared for over the years (ironically, her father is a tree man too—the kind who actually climbs high up in trees to clip off dead branches).
        Trees serve as excellent examples. They stand tall every day and hardly ever  say “I can’t” or “I won’t” (except perhaps in a terrible storm, when they might be toppled). They may bend and sway, but rarely do they give up of their own accord. They remind us to open our hearts and spread our arms to embrace the world. They remind us to be brave—and not to slump.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kicking Breast Cancer's Butt

It’s that month again—Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I don’t need a pink ribbon or balloon to remind me—but I suppose it’s a good idea to give everyone a heads-up now and then so that we all remember this disease is still out there, and that the battle rages on.
            My favorite passage from my recently published memoir, Yin,Yang, Yogini (about my transformation through yoga and fight against breast cancer) speaks to this subject. I write, “Before dinner, I take a walk alone…It’s cold and bright out, and as I’m striding up the avenue, I nearly turn my ankle on a couple of those sticky balls that fall from the sweet gum tree. I gaze down at those damn balls scattered all over the place. Yes, sometimes you stumble on them, and some you avoid altogether. And some you just kick the f*#k out of your way.”
            Okay, so in the book I did write out the F word, because even though I’m not an angry person, there’s something to be said for giving a disease like cancer a kick in the butt. I believe in being grateful for everything in our lives—even for the challenges—but cancer is something I don’t want to make nice-nice with. Yes, it taught me some very important lessons, and I’m thankful that it did not kill me, but I also believe that we can learn these lessons in other ways, and that the toxic world in which we live has a lot to do with why so many women are facing breast cancer, even at younger ages. Each time I learn that another woman has been diagnosed that urge to kick butt rises up again—I just wish that no mother would ever again have to explain to her kids the cruel irony that the very breasts that once nourished them are now threatening her life.
            But getting rid of breast cancer is not so easy as a swift kick, and that’s why I support breast cancer research and such organizations as Dr. Susan Love’s Army of Women, which is working to find a cause and cure. Please join me if you can (anyone can join this “army,” you need not be a breast cancer survivor). You can donate money if you wish, or simply sign up online to participate in one of their research projects.
            Yes, it’s October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a perfect time not only to think and wear pink but also to rise up and kick every form of cancer the f*@k off the planet! (In a yogic way, of course.)

Sunday, August 31, 2014

"The Decisive Moment"

One late afternoon recently I was working at my computer and happened to glance up at the window nearby. Though the shade was pulled down half way, the sun was streaming through the panes, and my stained glass butterfly was fully lit by the filtered rays. I’d never noticed this before, as usually the shade is all the way up or it’s dark and no light is coming in. The butterfly was glowing so beautifully in the gentle light that I had to stop my work and simply stare.
            After a few moments, I decided to take a picture. I felt some internal struggle about this, because I was in the middle of writing an article and it occurred to me that I should finish first and then fetch my camera. But a little voice inside seemed to call to me, “Do it now!” So I spent the next few minutes fiddling with angles and settings until I got a shot I liked. I stared at the butterfly for a short time after that and then went back to work.
            A bit later, after I’d finished writing, I glanced back up at the window and noticed that the light had passed, and the butterfly wasn’t glowing any more. In photography, they call what had just happened “the decisive moment,” the moment when you click the perfect shot, when everything in your subject’s expression and form lines up perfectly, and you are able to capture the essence of the moment on film. The French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, who is considered the father of photojournalism, coined the phrase. Of course, I had more than an instant to capture the image of my butterfly above, but had I not put down my work when I did I'd have missed the opportunity entirely.
 I often think about how easy it is to miss those “decisive” moments during an average day…about how often we’re looking up when just at our feet is an extraordinary flower, or how when we’re looking down we may miss a gorgeous heron soaring through the sky. I know we can’t be looking everywhere at once, but it certainly seems that too much time is spent staring at cell phones and computer screens these days, and while we’re preoccupied with our little worlds we may be missing so many things…sunlight streaming through the wings of glass butterflies, for instance.
            I’m going to make an effort to be more aware of the beauty all around me (even as I typed this last sentence a woodpecker flew into the treetop nearby, a yellow leaf fell from my pear tree onto its pine neighbor in a most graceful manner and a bee began buzzing from flower to flower on my Rose of Sharon). Perhaps it would be more productive to move my workspace away from the windows, but I think not. There is so much to see, and we don’t need to have a camera in our hands to register those exquisite images in our hearts.

Monday, July 28, 2014

"Love Is A Substance"

Last week I attended a memorial service for a dear, sweet man who recently passed away, a friend of my husband’s we’ve known since our college days. During the service, the pastor--a woman of great wisdom-- repeated these words: “Love is a substance: Pour it out of your heart.” The words have stayed with me all week, and during a visit to a waterfall in North Carolina they resonated even more strongly.
            They are beautiful words and it’s a beautiful message. But what I like most about these two simple sentences is the word “pour,” which is a word of abundance and generosity. Sometimes, when my husband makes a very, very special blend of a particular coffee, I pour the liquid sparingly. I don’t want it to gush out or it might spill and a portion might be lost. But love isn’t like that—the more you pour, the greater the amount, the more energetic the flow the better. There is no reason to hold back, to pour love in measured amounts. Love can gush and flow and there will always be more. If we let it, love can be as unstoppable as a waterfall.
            Our too soon departed friend was a man who gave love in unmeasured amounts, who let his positivity, passion, and compassion flow freely. I wonder what would happen if we all opened the floodgates to love? Would we over-power the negativity and hatred on the planet, would we literally drown out the sorrow, vengeance, and fear?
            Certainly, it’s worth a try. “Love is a substance: Pour it out of your heart.”