Soften into Freedom

Soften

Photo by James Chororos

A Yogic Experience for Rosh Chodesh Nissan

“The image is a warm spring wind steadily dissolving winter ice. This is meant to teach us that it is through perseverance and gentleness – rather than aggressiveness – that we overcome what is hard.”
– Brian Browne Walker

As you begin your practice, come into a comfortable seated position. Bring awareness to your breath and let your mind begin to settle. Start to take deep, full, cleansing breaths. Take note of any areas of tension or discomfort in your body, without judgement or resistance. As you start to feel more connected to this posture and your body in the present moment, bring the image mentioned above into your mind. Connect to your breath and feel it moving within and throughout your body. Allow the breath to be the warm, spring wind, moving to the areas of tension, melting them away. As you try to soften in that place, visualize the rough chips of ice melting away. Breathe. Connect. Soften. Repeat in whatever yoga poses you come into throughout your practice.

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I love this image, especially for Rosh Chodesh Nisan, the beginning of the Jewish calendar. True, we have more than one new year. While Rosh Hashana, in the month of Tishrei, is thought of as the anniversary of creation of the world, Nissan, most noted for the holiday of Pesach (Passover), is thought of as the anniversary for the creation of Jewish people. Pesach commemorates the Jew’s being taken out of slavery in Mitzrayim (coming from the word for narrow, meaning Egypt) in order to become G!d’s nation. Rightly so, the month of Nisan is full of references to feelings of breaking out of our enslavements – both external and internal. We don’t eat any chametz (leavened bread products) during this time as we associate them with ego, arrogance, and pride – the ways of Mitzrayim from which we’ve broken free. We have a Pesach Seder in order to retell and re-experience our story with the younger generations and in order to experience the transition from slavery to freedom within ourselves each year. We eat matzah both at the seder and throughout the week in order to cleanse ourselves of this negative, prideful ego and, in turn, move toward freeing ourselves.

I could go on for hours about all of the depth and richness of this holiday and time of year. It struck me in a new way today, however, when I was thinking about this warmth melting coldness, the idea of softening in relation to Nisan and Pesach. So often in life, especially in my life in Israel, I feel the opposite reaction happening in and around me – hardening, strengthening through agression, jagged perseverance. I wonder how much more I could progress and persevere in the long run if, instead, I tried to transform that built up agression into softening. Move from slavery into freedom by allowing the ice to melt away to reveal the true strength within. After all, it was enduring inner-strength and a relationship to that which is true that got us out of Egypt.

This idea refreshed me as I walked through the park today with the first warm winds of the season guiding me through the olive trees, melting away any residual winter harshness I was still carrying with me. As the beginnings of this idea continue to steep in my mind, I will leave you for now with thoughts of what it means to soften, release, and free ourselves. What does freedom mean to you? How can we incorporate softening and releasing both on and off the mat? What does it mean to achieve strength and freedom through softening?

May all the physical labor of preparing for Pesach and ridding our homes and ourselves of chametz allow us to leave our modern-day Mitzrayims and connect to our purest, most essential selves. May the breaking down of barriers and experiencing oneness this month leave us humble and whole.

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In Between Spring and Brownies

We are finally tasting the beginnings of spring here in Jerusalem and I am loving it. Longer days, warm sun, fresh air cleansed by all the rain we’ve been granted this winter. Although I know it will be a short lived season and soon we will be in sweltering summer, longing for the cold nights of actually sleeping under blankets, for now I will appreciate the in-between.

There’s something to be said about in-betweens. In a yoga class once, a teacher once directed us to our own internal in-betweens. The brief, easy to miss moment when one is at the end of his or her exhale and before the next breath…and again at the top of an inhale before exhaling. Try it. What happens for you in those spaces? Are they different? For me, at the edge of my exhale, I feel calm, grounded, centered, connected inward. At the top of my inhale I feel full of life, potential, expansive. Almost like Shabbat and the rest of the week. They two paradoxes are always working within us, working in unison. The solid core and capacity for expansiveness need to work together to create the reality in which we live. These days, I am trying to connect to my breath and this notion of awareness in my daily, seemingly mundane tasks. I was reminded of the importance of this by a friend in the neighborhood who wrote: “There isn’t any moment in my day that doesn’t deserve my full attention and when I convince myself otherwise, I wind up feeling checked out and wondering what’s missing.” And look how much I could have missed out on otherwise!

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Speaking of mindfulness, I love food. I should clarify – I love eating food. And mindfully eating good food. You should know, I am not a chef. I didn’t grow up in the kitchen, helping to prepare food, like so many of my friends and my husband (who are amazing chefs) did. I have always loved food and even share a special trait with my Dad of being able to remember a meal from any given occasion in the past (he is much more talented than I in this skill – remember the squid ink pasta in Venice?) Before the days of keeping kosher, I would have easily booked an entire vacation based on food (check out my friend Local Belle‘s recent posting about foodie tourism!) Transitioning from a food lover to a food preparer, however, has been quite a mess. And while I do a lot of this:

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What I really want to be preparing is this:

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So welcome to my recent obsession with brownies. A few months ago it was Oatmeal Walnut Chocolate Chip Cookies. Now it is rich, dark, fudgey, brownies. Weirdly enough, although I’m not so fond of cooking, I am loving my exploration into the realm of baking. I want to share with a super simple, fast, delicious recipe that I’ve adapted from Smitten Kitchen incase you want to share in the indulgence. These are perfect for that extra slice of time you have between preparing for Shabbat (or any huge meal) and resting, getting ready, lighting candles, etc, and somehow seem to make it all worthwhile : )

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one-bowl, simple, darkfudgeydelicious brownies

85-100 grams of an extra dark chocolate bar (70-85% cocoa), broken into pieces
115 grams unsalted butter, chopped
1 cup demarara (natural brown) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup whole wheat flour
(optional: walnuts or extra chocolate chunks)

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Pre-heat oven to 175C (350F). Place chopped butter and chocolate in a bowl over simmering water and stir occasionally as they melt together. Before fully melted, take bowl off the pot of water and stir until fully mixed. Next, mix in the sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add in the eggs and mix well. Lastly, stir in the flour and any nuts or extra chocolate that your heart desires. Pour mixture into buttered or parchment lined 8×8 dish and bake for 25-30 minutes.

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Don’t forget to lick the bowl.

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Somehow I never manage to get a picture before Ben grabs a bite…

Enjoy! And may you carry your own mindfulness with you in all of your endeavors – from walking to baking to breathing. Now time to do some dishes.