Archive for December, 2013

Winter Solstice Liberation: Mahasamadhi, The Last Asana

December 22, 2013

December 21, Winter Solstice 2013

Some of you may have read this story before. This week, I received a letter from a friend who had just read it for the first time.

He wrote: “You have no idea what a joy it was to stumble across your account of Ruth’s passing. As you may recall, my wife and I were best friends with Ruth for many years. We lived in her apartment; she took us in when times were tough, and later on we lived across the street from her. She wrote to us sporadically after we left Ojai. We found out about her death and its manner through a third party. So many memories of Ruth return with reading your account. She had told us years earlier that this was the way she’d probably die.”

Suzaji's Blog


Winter Solstice Liberation: Mahasamadhi, the Last Asana

December 1987

In the end—and it will end—your life will seem to have sped by like a fleeting dream.

—Doris “Granny D” Haddock

The Winter Solstice is upon us. It was at this time of year, many years ago, that I rode my bicycle over to Eucalyptus Street, as I often did, to see my old friend Ruth. It was a crisp, sunny day after a long rain, and I was not really in the mood to be stuck indoors, but Ruth had called to say she had something important to tell me.

The moment I stepped inside, I could sense that something was up. Shirley, the next-door neighbor who checked on Ruth twice a day, was in the kitchen dumping oatmeal into the garbage disposal. She didn’t waste any words telling me what was going on. 

Ruth says she’s going to…

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Vegan Marijuana Butter

December 16, 2013

December 15, 2013

It was a week of shocks and vegan marijuana butter.The human mind is not rational, and we can never know what someone else is thinking. This was the week I found out that a couple who had befriended me many years ago had committed suicide. These were people with ample funds to live a life of pleasure and play. We had great fun together when they came to visit Ojai. Every night they treated me to dinner at any restaurant I liked, or they’d buy the best organic groceries and come into the kitchen of the spacious country house I had at the time, and we’d create a fabulous vegetarian feast. We’d splash Kahlua in our soy milk, drink champagne, and laugh about everything.And there were other shocks as well.

Life is so bewildering.

I’m still thinking about the Ventura County Board of Supervisors meeting I attended last Tuesday, to speak in support of a mandatory spay and neuter ordinance. As I listened to almost three hours of testimony, I saw again how human beings seemingly live in completely different realities. Even though the law provides for exemptions, all the cat and dog breeders argued that this law would be an invasion of privacy, would cost more money, would be ignored by the very people it’s intended to target, would punish responsible people, and would not solve the problem.

I confess that I kept thinking how you can say the same thing about almost every law.

One of the many speakers opposing the ordinance, a retired police officer who had just purchased her first purebred dog and, if I understood her correctly, now wants to learn to be a “responsible breeder,” said that this is one more law that is “impossible to enforce.”

I’ll listen to the videotape of the meeting to be sure my ears heard this right, but the sole supervisor to vote against the ordinance gave the example of how we all know that, when you tell a child not to do something, it doesn’t work. It just makes the child rebel and disobey. . . (Surely I only dreamed that he actually said this. Otherwise, this will have been the first government meeting I’ve ever attended at which both a lawmaker and a law enforcer point out that laws don’t work!)

Every time one more speaker at the podium argued for why “this law won’t work,” I couldn’t resist turning toward my animal-rescuer friends and laughingly whispering, “Then they must also be in favor of legalizing marijuana!”

As I listened to all the testimony, my mind went to the thousands of adoptable cats and dogs killed in animal shelters every day. I didn’t want to start a riot, and I understand the importance of being diplomatic, especially in order to vote in a new law, but when it came my turn to speak at the podium I couldn’t help but point out that there are numerous rescue sites for homeless purebred dogs too. And one of the speakers after me testified that she had pulled 60 boxers, some with papers, from shelters in the last few months alone . . .

The next day, Wednesday, was warm and sunny, and, after spending Tuesday afternoon in that windowless government building, as I sat staring at the computer I suddenly heard that wonderful Elton John song from the “Friends” soundtrack playing in my head: “I meant to do my work today, but a brown bird sang in the apple tree . . . ” I just had to get outside!

While I filled my backpack with water and fruit, I remembered that a few weeks ago a friend had brought me a care package of homemade vegan tomato soup, raw seed crackers, other healthy goodies, and a small glass jar with coconut butter that, she carefully explained, was infused with marijuana. She gave me instructions for adding this herbal elixir to a cup of herb tea.

This friend happens to be a fun, health-conscious, spiritually minded vegan, so I figured this special mixture had to be of the best, highest-grade medicinal quality. BecauseI can’t stand smoking anything, my last experience with marijuana was about 45 years ago when I burned my throat inhaling smoke from a joint. End of story. But on this day that little jar of vegan marijuana butter beckoned me. So, with the dogs jumping up and down and chomping at the bit to get going, I quickly followed my friend’s instructions to the best of my recollection: “Boil some water, make some tea–any kind of herb tea, and add a little honey. Then stir in the coconut butter.”

This vegan marijuana butter looked for all the world like that Indian butter, ghee. Don’t traditional Asian cultures also drink yak butter tea? My friend had cautioned me not to add too much butter:”You’re not used to it. Just try a little bit.” I couldn’t remember the exact amount that she advised, so I floated a tablespoon of this vegan butter concoction into my tea.

I sipped the tea. It tasted perfectly normal.

So off I went into the arms of Mother Nature with my happy menagerie. I remembered that my friend said it would take about 45 minutes to feel anything, so every once in a while I checked the time on my cell phone. When I wander in nature I often experience a palpable shift in consciousness; my brain cells and nervous system quiet down –at least to some extent. So, after about an hour, not knowing what to expect, I couldn’t really tell if the quiet that descended was the tea or just me.

About two hours later, still not really feeling anything unusual, I moseyed on back to the house with the dogs. I think it was shortly thereafter, while I was washing the dishes, that I realized something had “hit.” Usually, after a walk in nature, like after a yoga meditation practice, my mind gradually fires up again and I find myself back in the noisy stream of life. This time, the only way I can describe it is that everything felt more and more quiet and timeless. I’m inclined to say that it felt shamanic. Just for a while, my perception of the woman (me) washing the endless dirty dishes shifted. My kitchen sink is right by a door so I periodically stepped outside. My mind searches for the words to describe how everything looked strangely familiar, yet my consciousness had landed somewhere new.

A few days later, I mentioned to my friend how I’d tried some of the vegan marijuana butter she’d given me.

“Oh,” she said, “How was it?”

“Well, ” I replied, “I couldn’t remember the amount.”

“Just a tiny bit,” she said. “Not more than a teaspoon.”

— in Ojai, CA.


I’ve never seen such a lack of enthusiasm in my life!

December 16, 2013

December 11, 2013

I handed Honey a heart-shaped Newman’s Own Organic Peanut Butter Premium Dog Treat. I’ve never seen such a lack of enthusiasm in my life! Whereas Chico leaped up and swiped his out of my hand with all the Chihuahua gratitude his spirit could muster. So then, of course, Honey reluctantly nibbled her rejected biscuit, rather than let Chico nab it . . . — in Ojai, CA.





HOLY MOLY! I’ve just unlocked the secret of going up into Urdhva Dhanurasana

December 16, 2013
December 9, 2013
HOLY MOLY! I’ve just unlocked the secret of going up into Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upside Down Bow Pose), a pose that was easy two years ago when this photo was taken, but which gradually became harder with the convergence of not practicing backbends regularly, not going to class with teachers who might have assisted me, weight gain, and, most of all, the passage of time.
In my youth, backbends came easily. If I didn’t practice them for a few weeks, my youthful credit helped me sail past the initial stiffness simply by practicing a few preliminary poses. Now, at age 64, the reality of endless days at the computer and the inevitable stresses and strains of life has settled into my shoulder joints. But in recent months, though, inspired by B.K.S. Iyengar who will be 95 on December 14) and all the other teachers further along the yoga path than I, I’ve been experimenting much more with wall ropes, bolsters, and chairs.For older students or stiff beginners of any age, the most difficult part of pushing up from the floor is the first few inches–getting to the top of the head without straining the neck or shoulders. In my classes, when a student has developed the strength, flexibility, and, most important, whole-body awareness that is essential for bending backwards without injury, then most of the time all he or she needs is a little help mastering the dynamics of getting past that moment when the body feels like dead weight. Which is exactly how my body has felt these past several months of trying to press up from the floor.
Well, I don’t have a yogi hubby who gets up at 5 a.m. to assist me into backbends; instead, as they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” I’m sure if someone who didn’t do yoga were to have peeked in my window, the scene would probably have looked insane. Even Honey, sacked out on my bed, had an incredulous look on her face.For a good solid hour I practice Standing Poses with a single wall rope around the top of my back leg to get maximum elongation and traction of the spine, and to stretch shoulders, rib cage, etc, (also Parsvottanasana and Revolved Triangle with a single wall rope around the top of both legs, to keep pelvis level; then Downward Facing and Upward Facing Dog Pose, with both single and double wall ropes, and then, finally, drop-back backbends with a single wall rope around my bottom, both “free style” and back of my head supported on the chair seat.

You’d think, with all that warming up, that when I went to lie down on the floor, pushing up into Upside Down Bow Pose would be a piece of cake. But no, even with my wrists elevated on blocks against the wall (a yoga trick that worked for decades), my body still didn’t lift itself. I could have forced my way up, but at this stage of life I can’t risk injury.

If only I’d had a teacher standing behind my head who would let me put my hands on her feet or hold her sturdy ankles (which is what I do for my students to elevate their wrists and hands, which helps to open their shoulders).

My motivation to once again enjoy Urdhva Dhanurasana without injury is at an all-time high. So I began experimenting with not only lying back over a chair (with a firmly rolled yoga blanket at various spots in my back to further remove stiffness in spine and ribs) but with a chair facing me so I could grasp its front legs.

My first attempt was a failure, as the second chair was wobbly. So I braced the second chair against the wall and weighed it down with four ten-pound sandbags.

Then, by golly, I sat backwards on the seat of the first chair, went back slowly, first holding the back of the chair, opening my chest and anchoring my feet as I slowly bent backward, then I reached back with my arms, firmly held the front rungs of the second chair, and EASILY lifted my back high off the chair seat into the most victorious, confident, heart-opening, exhilarating backbend I’ve done in a long, long time.

I know that if I keep practicing patiently with strategically arranged bolsters, wall ropes, chairs, and keep lying back over various back benders, that the day will come when I can once more press up from the floor without help as I did in my younger years. And, in the meantime, I’m enjoying all the benefits!

I promise to get a modern phone and take pictures of my prop set ups. To learn more, besides my own books for people at midlife and older, I highly recommend THE WOMAN’S YOGA BOOK, by Bobby Clennell (which shows many of the prop set ups I use in my practice). And Google, “yoga with wall ropes.”

Photo Credit: Cathy Snyder — in Ojai, CA.

If I were still in Holland

December 16, 2013
December 8, 2013 
Right now the icy wind blowing on my face is still a novelty; walking the stony creek bed with my nose dripping is a carefree lark. The wind rushes through my hair and past my ears, and I enjoy the pleasant chill. If I were still in Holland, at this time of year I might be ice-skating on the canal across the street.As the wind blows harder, childhood scenes of pulling a sled play across the screen of my memory. In Holland, my feet and fingers nearly froze. The bitter cold went right through my wool mittens, and the snow seeped through my shoes. It hurt like hell when my well-meaning parents peeled off my wet wool socks and stuck my numb feet in a tub of hot water instead of thawing them gradually at a tepid temperature.

Chico sits shivering at my feet, wearing a warm yellow turtle neck sweater. Honey, as usual, is frolicking in total bliss. She drank some rainwater from the first hopeful puddles . . . if it rains more, we’ll be sloshing through running water and hopping from rock to rock.

The wind is kicking up; now it’s making a sound I haven’t heard for ages, a low hum like a wind instrument. It’s blowing harder and harder, and feels so good on my face. All the leaves are shimmering in the late afternoon light. The dry brush all over the river bottom landscape looks like it’s leaning forward, barely hanging on by it’s roots . . . Every plant is moving, except the cactus. No matter how hard the wind blows, the prickly cactus stands still . . .

My dad still tells stories about how we walked and rode our bikes everywhere in Holland, through rain, sleet, and snow. When he rode several miles to his office, he lined his pants and jacket with newspapers to keep out the chill. “You people are so soft, Suzanne,” he scoffs if I mention the cold weather. “You don’t know what cold is!”

(Photo of my mother riding her bicycle)


— in The Hague, Netherlands.

Should I sue Farmer and the Cook for the weight I’ve gained back after that three-week juice fast two years ago?

December 16, 2013

December 7, 2013

I just took a shower–and a good naked look in the mirror. And I’m thinking, “Should I sue Farmer and the Cook for the weight I’ve gained back after that three-week juice fast two years ago?”

When I’m standing in line at Vons, I’m never tempted to buy KitKat bars or Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. But, for some reason, when I’m waiting around at the Farmer, with my basket filled with cucumbers, carrots, oranges, fresh hummus, containers of fresh vegan corn, tomato, or squash soup, Mary’s Gone Crackers, and other good intentions, by the time it’s my turn at the register I’ve weakened and I hear myself telling the incredibly young, slim, vital-looking checker to please get me an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie, a banana walnut muffin, a couple of birdseed cookies, and a raw mango pastry out of the glass bakery case so strategically placed within arm’s reach of the register.

I tell myself I’ll nibble these treats as a reward while I’m writing, but when I woke up this morning, the cookies and muffins I bought at 6:00 p.m. last night were nowhere to be found. Except around my waist.

Among the many fatal errors I made this year was not having a full-length mirror in the bathroom. I do get an occasional glimpse of myself in the mirrored wall at Sacred Space Studio when I teach–and for a split second I wonder who is that chunky old woman–but then my eyes focus back on my students who mercifully (for the most part) love me just as I am.

But, I kid you not: there is a tactless woman in a class immediately after one of mine who, week after week, flat-out tells me, “Why’d you let yourself get so fat again? You were looking so good after that juice fast!” She repeats this every time we cross paths, like a broken record, and makes me want to tell her, “I’d rather be fat than a skinny bitch like you!”

I just smile enigmatically and say nothing. It would take too long to explain the complexities of my psyche and life situation.

Last week, when she asked me for the umpteenth time why I’ve gained so much weight, I laughingly replied, “I knew you were going to say that!” Then she gave me the nicest smile and said, “I don’t know why I give you such a hard time!”

I blame it all on moving back to the river bottom in Meiners Oaks, with the Farmer and the Cook conveniently located on my route home. The magnetic pull of their sesame seed birdfeeder cookies with that generous dollop of strawberry jam in the center is stronger than my desire to be slim.

At least for now. Things can change on a dime.


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