Are Selfies Yogic?

A while ago I noticed myself posting more selfies than usual – and I started to wonder what that was all about. 
I have always had mixed feelings about selfies, as something self-indulgent and something that you maybe do, but only secretly! It wouldn’t usually occur to me to post them – after all it’s ‘just my face’.  But then after some recent conversations with friends about the value of selfies I started to reflect on whether they are actually all that bad, and if they can in fact be useful.. 

Two inspiring ladies have recently been starting interesting conversations about selfies – my sister, a professor at Boston University, who asked her students to take a selfie with an object in the Museum of Fine Arts; and my friend Kima, a photographer and video artist who proposes selfies as a mode of self-exploration and healing.

Selfies are ubiquitous now – and many of us have a love-hate relationship with them but we cannot deny that they have become a new mode of communication.  Here I am, here we are, alive, now! It’s a way to try and understand ourselves in this new technological world. 

But if selfies are a way to express ourselves, then what are we saying? As with most things it’s not just what but how. How are we portraying ourselves – and what fiction are we thereby telling ourselves? 

You would assume that selfies wouldn’t fit into the yogic way of life, being an expression of vanity after all.
Vanity – it’s a fascination with the frivolous, a disregard for the  meaningful. When we are preoccupied with outward appearances we ignore what’s important – your appearances are just a shell, one that crumbles away with time. 
Yoga goes further to say that it’s not just your appearance but your whole I-ness that is temporary, and when we are attached to that sense of self, we miss what’s really going on inside and out.  This ‘I-ness’ (which is how you directly translate asmita) is one of the five afflictions which hold you back from achieving freedom and basically make you miserable. And it’s more than selfishness, it’s more than ego – it’s the identification with that sense of self that you have within, which motivates everything that you do. Yoga tells us that we are so much more than just that and when we get attached to our small self, it causes us to get attached to all the other things, good and bad, that pass our way, which causes all sorts of other problems! (YS 2.6)

Okay so if we are taking pictures of our small self, then that’s bad, right?

Maybe not. Yoga tells us that our sense of I-ness holds us back – but only if we are attached to it.  In fact, if we don’t allow our ego-principle to drive us blindly (we spend so much time blindfolded behind the wheel), then it can be a powerful motivator to do good (as beautifully explained by Sally Kempton)
The individuating principle, which yoga calls ahamkara, literally ‘I-maker’, is less of a permanent thing, but rather an action of delineation – it’s what separates me from you from the table from the river. Thus it drives us in the world, keeps us alive and makes us do great things. It makes me write this blog, bake a cake for my husband, teach a class, have a conversation with my friend. Without ahamkara, frankly, we’d be a blob on the floor. 

When you start to realise that the individuating principle is not necessarily a monster, you can get closer and examine it better. When we peel away the layers of mind, we find that beyond logic and desire and all of that, that sense of self is the last layer before we get to the real juicy stuff. As the witness to all other experiences, in its subtlest form asmita is the innermost layer of being nearest to the atman, what you could call the soul. (YS 1.17)

The only way to get to those juicy inner layers, though, is to go on a journey of discovery through all the others. If you want to dismantle something, you have to confront it – this means really looking it fully in the face, warts and all.

You know the front facing camera on my phone automatically smooths out blemishes? One time I had a rash on my face and was trying to record it for the doctor and I couldn’t take a picture of it because my phone kept trying to artificially beautify me!  Anti-yoga selfie phone.. 

What if I turn my phone around though and use the main camera to capture my face as it really is, blemishes, circles, food on my face (as ever!) and all. What can we learn from having the courage to see our ugliest sides and not always posing with our best angle?

When you confront things, they have a tendency to look less scary. Michael Stone said, ‘the more intimate you get with the breath, the less personal it is‘.  The closer you look at things the more dispassionate you can be and the more easy it is to choose how you are going to react to something. 
The funny thing is also that you start to see your different traits and characteristics, and how they come and go, too. The vital sense of I-ness that you thought was your whole world starts to look a little less rigid.
Yoga Sutra 4.4 says ‘ Many minds come from the primary sense of I-ness’ – that is, your one deeper sense of self gives rise to many different aspects of your personality, the many faces of your You. The more you confront that I-ness, the more you see those different faces and how in fact none of them are really you either. 

Have you ever looked at photos of yourself and felt a weird sense of unrecognition when you see your own face? In particular with old photos but even with recent ones. Something deep inside you tells you that this configuration of physical attributes corresponds with the embodied form that you carry around the world. And yet, does it really feel like you? 
I have to say that’s certainly how I feel when I see that weird gif above that I made to illustrate this article. 

The thing is though that we are embodied, we do exist physically in the world, and so we have to play by its rules. 
As man’s own nature, 
So must he act, however wise he be.
All beings follow Nature:
What can repression do?      Bhagavad Gita,
3.33
We stumble about the surface of the earth in our physical embodied forms with our fallible minds and our idiosyncratic personalities and try to navigate our way without bumping into the furniture too much, and so we search for tools and practices to help us understand our place in this context. 
Obviously yoga is quite good for that but I’d suggest that selfies can also be useful for understanding our place in the world – 

  1. your identity is your tool – being a totally unique combination of biological constructions, characteristics, and experiences, you have the ability to bring something absolutely new and amazing into the world. do it! your selfie can be your calling card!
  2. look your face in your own damn face – use the cold and dispassionate view of the camera to see yourself, and take a picture of your less attractive side, be courageous to bare yourself to yourself – and I’m sure you will discover something remarkable. 
  3. your selfies track your constant transformation. see how your body and your mind are always changing – see how you don’t have to be attached to being just one way, and how your qualities and the qualities of the things around you don’t have to upset you. 

After all your shell, be it beautiful and magnificent and powerful, is a temporary housing for the deep and eternal magic that it carries around within. 

cheese! 

Autumn coming – reap what you sow

Autumn is the time of harvests – the summer heat has been filling the earth up for the last few joyful months, and now the sunny days are winding in on themselves and the days are growing chilly, but the end of the heat gives us something else – summer days are over but instead we are rewarded with the abundance produced by the earth.

This abundance doesn’t appear out of nowhere – the amazing fruits produced are the direct result of the carefully planted seeds, the hours and hours of absorbing sunlight, and patience of letting the growing magic happen.

(My beautiful friend Jenni has a remarkable garden which has produced a glut of rainbow vegetables, many of which she has given away to me and other lucky friends!)

This is a beautiful example of cause and effect – one of the key principles of yogic philosophy, which you may have heard refer to as ‘karma’ . In yoga we understand that every action and every event leaves an impression on us, called 
samskara, and these then influence how we react and choose to act in the future. 

Where we are now depends 100% on where we have been and what we have done on the way.

Everyone’s experience, then, is completely unique. This is why it’s so unproductive to compare ourselves with others. We shouldn’t give ourselves a hard time if we can’t do something – we all have our circumstances.  Each of us plants our seeds in different soil, and no one has the same sun exposure or rainfall. All of our achievements and everything we are has come from the unique combination of factors that has influenced us. 

It’s for that reason, too, that we can’t expect to suddenly achieve our goals without taking some action towards that end. This is one of yoga’s moral principles – asteya, which means ‘non-stealing’. We don’t covet what’s not ours, and without some action our goals can’t become ours either. 

This may seem harsh – but in fact it should be a comfort. This is why we say ‘do your practice and all is coming’. Because of cause and effect you can know for sure that whatever you do now will bring you results!

We practise this every time we step on the mat. Yoga asana is hard! and it’s meant to be – we challenge ourselves to find our mental edge and make ourselves resilient as a diamond. And the practice is a wonderful measuring stick of how things can change. It can be very reassuring to see how with consistency and patience, things that seemed impossible can become suddenly accessible. 

I remember trying eka pada koundinyasana back in 2014 and the thought going through my head like, ‘What? How? Like, what? how is that possible?’  – and now, it’s one of my favourite poses. 

The fruits of your work may not always be what you expect but with honest effort you will always get honest rewards. It’s so easy to wish we were already at the finish line – but we don’t rush through summer just to get to harvest, we enjoy every golden droplet of sunshine. So should we be grateful for where we are now, while knowing that it will always take us somewhere amazing.

This also means that we can also be grateful for where we have been, no matter how messy or frustrating it might have seemed at the time. It all goes into the mulch, fertilising our experience – and look at all the riches it has brought us now. Knowledge, wisdom, friends and adventure, pumpkins and chard, and maybe a cheeky eka pada..

Sun Salutation C

Almost every yoga class has some variation on the sun salutation, and for very good reason. It’s not just a ‘warm up’ – although it does raise your heart rate and through the spinal flexion and extension builds heat throughout the body. 
Sun salutations contain so many of the foundational movements that come throughout the yoga practice – strengthening the shoulders, opening the pelvis, stretching the legs, working the core, opening the chest, building the foundation of the hands and feet..
Not only that, the sun salutations teach us to link breath to movement – inhale look up, exhale fold, inhale extend, exhale step back… When we are so connected to our breathing our bodies and minds come into sync, and you might notice thoughts don’t pop into your head quite so much!
And of course, this sequence is after all a salutation – the sun is the source of all life on earth, so this is quite a nice way to say, hey sunshine, cheers for that! 

If you were to do just one yoga thing, this would be it – and you can do just this every day, as many times as you like. Of course it does also get you going and focused, ready to launch into a whole yoga practice of your own.

This video takes you through Surya Namaskara C, which has a low lunge variation. I really like this one and also tend to add on extra variations to this, including high lunges, arm variations, side angles..etc!  In the video we go through the salutation on both sides once slowly, and then again at a more flowing pace, connecting with the breath. 

🌞 Happy Saluting! 🌞

Late Summer Vegan Quiche

Quiche was one of my favourite foods before I became vegan. When I was wee family daytrips were inevitably fuelled by quiche eaten straight out the box in the car. When I moved to Russia this dish was yet unheardof and so I taught myself how to make it – turns out quite easy. 
You’d think that for a vegan, a dish made of butter, eggs, cream, and cheese would have to remain a thing of childhood memories.. But no! Some clever blending and flavouring and lo, your summertime quiche dreams can easily come true. 

When it comes to eggs in the form of scrambles, omelettes, quiches, the magic ingredient is chickpea (gram) flour. Full of protein and with a consistency that holds together beautifully, it resembles a slightly starchier egg mixture.  Combining this with silken tofu  and a little cashew milk to balance it out with a more egg-white like consistency makes the perfect quiche-esque egg mix. The final secret is kala namak which has a slight sulphury aroma, recreating the taste of egginess in your vegan eggy situation. Nutritional yeast is my go-to for the cheesiness factor. I’m not a fan of commercial vegan cheeses, a bit too many weird ingredients and usually most of them are oil so not for me, thanks. I find some ‘nooch’, lemon juice, tahini and salt are usually enough to give you that cheesy fix. 

so let’s get to the point – the recipe! 
I have to admit I don’t usually measure quantities so feel free to adjust these amounts if required. 

QUICHE PASTRY
I made a spelt casing for this quiche, mostly because that was the flour I happened to have, but it was lovely and nutty in flavour so I’d definitely recommend. The only note is that spelt absorbs liquid more than plain flour so that’s why there’s a greater proportion of flour than usual. 
1.5 cups spelt flour
0.5 cups dairy free butter (I use Flora but vitalite and pure soy or sunflower are also good) 
1 tsp salt. 
0.25 cup cold water
Add the butter to the flour a teaspoon at a time, straight from the fridge. Use your fingers to rub the butter and flour together, until all the butter is absorbed and the flour has the consistency of sand. Mix in the salt, and then add the cold water, pulling the dough together until it forms a ball. 
For the quiche I don’t bother rolling the dough out any more – instead I just grease my tart pan well with some more flora, and then press the dough straight into the pan, making sure that the base is consistently thick (about 3/4cm) across the bottom, and goes up all the sides of the pan. 
Use a fork to prick a couple of holes in the base of the casing and place it in the fridge to rest. 
EGG MIXTURE
1 cup chickpea (gram) flour
1/2 block silken tofu
0.5 cup cashew (or almond, oat, soy) milk
1 tsp kala namak
1tsp sea salt
For the egg mixture simply place all the ingredients into a blender and whiz it up. It should be a fairly thick but runny consistency. It will firm up nicely when baked! 

Once you have your egg mixture ready, you can put the pastry case into the oven at gas mark 5/190C/375F just for 10 minutes, while you make your filling. 

FILLING
For this quiche I used some of the glut of courgettes we are currently enjoying (hence ‘Late Summer Quiche’ ) but of course you can use any filling you like – mushrooms, potatoes, broccoli, peppers – whatever!
1 medium courgette
1 cup raw spinach
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1tsp Ras el Hanout
1 chipotle pepper in adobo, chopped, plus a little of the sauce
I just chopped the courgette into cubes, and fried the garlic, courgettes and spinach in a little olive oil before adding the ras el hanout and chipotle for some aromatic goodness!

Once the case has been in the oven for about 10 minutes to just firm up slightly (don’t let it get brown yet!) , take it out and place the vegetable filling inside. Spread the veg across the whole base, and then just pour the eggy mixture over the top of it, making sure that it is well distributed throughout the base.
Top with another grind or two of salt and pepper, the 2 tablespoons of nutritional yeast, then drizzle across about two tablespoons of olive oil. 

Bake at gas mark 5/190C/375F for about 30 minutes or until the top is browned and the quiche is firm. I used a pastry brush to brush the quiche with a little extra olive oil after baking, to retain extra moisture. 

Serve hot or cold! Perfect for a late summer picnic if you are lucky with the weather! 

Parkasana #2, late summer vibes

How lucky we were today to have a break from the Glasgow drizzle, so that we could have our last summer hurrah, ‘parkasana’, the yoga picnic. 

The last picnic we had was in the middle of July, spirits were high, we were jumping back from bakasana and leaping about all over the place!

But late summer is a different pace. The days are getting shorter, the kids are already going back to school – it calls for a different kind of practice. 

Clearly with energies slightly lower we want a less crazy vigorous practice, but there are other nice things that we can pay attention to. 

In mid to late August we already start to see harvests coming in, all the hard work of the spring and summer is literally bearing fruit. This means it’s a great time to stop and reflect, to look around and see just how much abundance surrounds us. The late afternoon dying rays of sun (if we’re lucky enough to have it in Glasgow), gluts of courgettes and apples overspilling, and the inevitable pies and chutneys, yum. 
This is the season of samana vayu – out of the five energy currents of the subtle body, samana vayu is the energy of assimilation, where all our good work is absorbed and distributed throughout the body. Similarly we can reflect on the fun we’ve had all summer, let it seep in through the skin and reside within us as we start to transition into the beginning of Autumn.

Late summer is also about a return to the Earth. We were lucky enough to have the chance to practice today right on the grass – where you can smell the soil and the grass, feel the springy and soft ground underneath you. Usually when we talk about rooting into the ground it’s a floor or cement or something manmade, but here we are, the absolute immediate connection with the Earth through our hands and feet and any body part lucky enough to make contact with it!

In the yoga practice, in order to deeper experience this earthy connection we work with the energetic ‘locks’, the bandhasmula bandha and uddhiyana and jalandhara, in particular in a supine pose like tadaka mudra. I also love teaching hasta bandha and pada bandha and all that really means is really using a strong active hand and foot to connect with the ground/mat.  Postures where you come into close contact with the earth such as locust and also grounding poses like malasana and goddess are some favourites at this time of year too. 

In fact the whole idea of Late Summer as a separate season comes from Traditional Chinese Medicine, where they characterise this transitional period as one of nurturing, digestion, and reflection. The Five-Element theory relates late summer to the spleen and stomach meridians in the body – the energy channels related to digestion.
In order to access these meridians we can use postures that work with the inner thighs, the belly, the underarm (mmm side bends! hi!) and the chest. So today we did various sequences including baddha konasana, goddess, side angle, wide legged folds, as well as some gentle backbending. 

Stomachmeridian

For me certainly it feels great to be able to connect with the seasons and the elements – I do believe that it has such a strong effect on all of us that we maybe don’t pay enough attention to. 

How do you feel in late summer? Do you have any favourite ways of connecting with the Earth at this time of year? Let me know in the comments below!

om shanti
xxEma

your heart is a sun

Yumi Sakugawa is one of my favourite illustrators and authors, her drawings perfectly capture the feeling of what it means to open up to your heart, to the world, to the things that scare you the most.
Her works bring me great comfort and inspiration and I hope they do to you too