Monday 13th April - Cave Meditation, Chocolate Cupcakes, a Chant and Chris Packham
This Week's Class Notes... Feeling the feelings you're feeling, and The Cave Meditation
At the beginning of one of my live class on Zoom on week we paused for a few moments to acknowledge all the different emotions we might be experiencing. Feelings might be coming thick and fast at this moment, see-sawing from one extreme to another and adding to the sense of discombobulation that I know many people have spoken about. I find that I can be quite peaceful and content one moment (especially when I am in my garden) and then switch to anxiety if a thought about my mother (in isolation not locally to me) or my daughter (living in a flat in London) comes into my head.
Yoga invites us to feel. Rather than just going through the motions of moving the body yet being somewhere else in the head, the practice of yoga wants us to acknowledge what we are feeling - whatever it is. On the physical level we are encouraged to notice the different sensations in the body when we are in each pose - to really notice where feels tight and restricted, and where feels spacious and open. This helps us to prevent injury - we notice if we have moved too deeply into the pose and are experiencing strain or pain and we can quickly adjust. It also helps us to move deeper into the poses when it is appropriate, working areas that need it a little more strongly. When we are fully present in the poses and are curious about, and interested in, how the body feels as we move and breathe through the class, we are watching our physical habits and tendencies and getting to know ourselves better.
Yoga, and the practices of pranayama and meditation, also teach us to notice our mental and emotional states. When we are aware of the thoughts and feelings that come up 'on the mat' (for example, frustration when we can't quite do a pose, satisfaction when we can, and contentment when we lie down and relax at the end of class) we can bring that awareness into other areas of life 'off the mat'. And when we are aware of them we can manage them better. We can recognise the thoughte and say to ourselves 'I see you, I know you, but you are not going to take over right now.' This acceptance of all emotions is explained really well in the Cave Meditation that I read out in the class. It comes from a very old and much-loved book called The Spirit of Yoga by Cat de Rham and Michele Gill...
"Imagine a cave within yourself.
A fire flickers.
On your right is Anger, Sadness to his left.
Greed sits across the circle talking to Joy and Jealousy.
Some in the group are loud and strident, blustery and strong.
Others are weaker, skinnier, with whispery voices.
It is difficult to make head or tail of what is going on.
These are your thoughts, desires, moods and judgments.
Ego, will, intellect. This is what you think of as you.
But they are not you.
While your guests are part of your mind, they do not control or own you.
They need attention and understanding in equal measure.
They need acknowledgment without involvement.
Do not follow the conversation of one over the other.
Validate each one for what it is.
Learn to befriend your inner landscape with respect and compassion.
Learn to step back and be a journalist of your own mind."
If you're a member of Thrive Yoga Online you'll find a video of the Cave Meditation under the 'Pranayama and Meditation' section.
If you ever come to my Restorative or Yin Yoga classes at the Studio you'll know that I like to read little stories and poetry as you're relaxing in the poses. One of my favourite poets is Morgan Harper Nichols and I wondered what she had to say about this topic. Sure enough, she has some very lovely and wise words for us...
Feeling More Than One Thing At Once
It’s okay to feel
more than one thing at once.
In some moments,
you will feel tender
and in some moments,
you will feel strong.
And in every moment
there is grace,
and in this life,
you still belong.
No matter what is missing
you are still becoming.
Let the flowers springing up
you are still
And when you feel many things at once,
Light will continue to find you.
Artwork by Julianna Swaney
This Week's Recipe... Shiny Chocolate Cupcakes and Sauerkraut... separately of course!
As it's Easter I thought I'd make something nice and chocolatey - loads of sugar but very delicious indeed and vegan too.
Shiny Chocolate Cupcakes (recipe courtesy of a little cafe called Small White Elephant that used to be in Peckham). The ingredients are measured in cups so I've used a conversion table to calculate the amounts into grammes for you in case you prefer your measuremens that way but, just so you know, these tables can vary! Using cups works well as long as you use the same cup for each ingredient so the proportions stay the same.
You will need...
For the cakes:
1 1/4 cups (150g) of plain flour
1 cup (200g) of sugar
1/3 cup (40g) unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup warm water
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/3 cup (75ml) vegetable oil
1 teaspoon white or apple cider vinegar
For the glaze:
1/2 cup (100g) sugar
4 tablespoons margarine
2 tablespoons soya milk or other plant milk
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
2 teaspoons vanilla
And here's how to make them:
Preheat the oven to 180 C, gas mark 4
In a bowl, mix the flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking powder and salt together with a fork.
Add the water, oil, vanilla and vinegar and mix well.
Pour into greased muffin tins (I put mine into paper cake cases just to ensure they didn't stick), or into a greased, lined 20cm x 20cm tin
Bake for about 15 minutes if you're using a muffin tin (I checked mine with a skewer at 12 mins) or 25 mins if you're using a tin.
Allow to cool for a couple of hours then make the glaze...
Use a small pan to bring the sugar, margarine, milk and cocoa to the boil, stirring frequently.
Reduce the heat and simmer for 2 minutes, stirring the gloop continuously
Remove from the heat and stir for another 5 minutes.
Add the vanilla and stir well.
Using a tablespoon, ladle onto the cakes.
Allow to dry.
Eat lots of them - they're yummy!!
Sauerkraut, a traditional German food, is well known for its health-giving properties. Fermented foods have lots of beneficial bacteria and enzymes which help to keep your gut microbiome and digestive system healthy and improve and enhance your immune system. I'm all for improving my immune system at the moment - if I do get Covid19 I want to be in the best health possible to help me get better - so I thought I'd make me some sauerkraut. It's surprisingly nice, really easy to make and I'm adding it to my lunchtime salads and sandwiches so I have a portion of it every day. There are a few things to point out before I share the recipe though. You want your sauerkraut to be fermented but obviously not go mouldy so it is important that your jar is scrupulously clean - I sterilised mine in the oven for 10 minutes and boiled the lid in a small saucepan of water for the same amount of time. You also need to make sure the cabbage is always covered by the brine otherwise it could go mouldy. You need to open the lid every other day to let it 'burp'! (this made me smile every time I did it) and you need to be careful about your salt ratio. Over-salty sauerkraut is, apparently, very common and really not very nice. I've done some research and found that it is recommended that your brine has a 2% saltiness - more than this will be too salty and less will affect the preservative function - for every 100g of cabbage you need 2g of salt so do weigh your shredded cabbage and do the maths so that this doesn't happen to you.
I used this recipe from Abel and Cole:
You will need:
1 heaped tbsp sea salt
1 tablespoon caraway, cumin or fennel seeds (optional)
And here's how to make it...
Remove one or two outer leaves of your cabbage and set aside.
Thinly shred your cabbage, discarding the core when you come to it.
Give it a good rinse. Shake dry. Pop it into a big bowl.
Dust 1 heaped tbsp sea salt over. Add your spice, if using, too. Let it sit for 30 mins-1 hr to help draw out some of the moisture.
Then, get your hands stuck in there and massage and scrunch it till you get a good bit of liquid (at least 1/2 mug full) coming out. This will take 5-10 mins.
Pack the juicy cabbage into a sterilised jar (wash with boiling hot, soapy water and dry in a 160C/gas 3 oven for 10 mins). Add the kraut little by little, packing down each layer as you go. Key is to ensure you keep as much air out as possible.
Use the reserved cabbage leaves to cover the compacted cabbage. Press down till there's a good layer of liquid (the brine created using the juices from the cabbage and the salt - this is what kickstarts the fermentation) covering it. Place a heavy object on top like a full jam jar or some clean stones to help weight it down - you can use a ziplock back to help. (Note: I used a plastic bag instead of the cabbage leaf cover, and weighed it down with ceramic baking beans.)
Pop a lid on it and keep it air tight. Open it once a day to release any building gasses and check your kraut to ensure it's still covered with liquid. If not, sprinkle a dusting of salt over the top (about 1/4 tsp) and pour over enough filtered or mineral water to cover the mix by 1-2cm.
Keep in a dry spot at room temperature for 5-7 days. Check daily to ensure the liquid is always covering the cabbage and that none of the cabbage is exposed to air.
After 5-7 days it should smell and taste like sauerkraut. Get stuck in. So long as it's fully covered in the brining liquid it'll keep for months in the fridge. Any time it looks or smells off, discard it. Otherwise, you're good to go. Let it ferment until the tang and tenderness is to your liking. The longer it ferments the more vinegary it will taste, and the softer the cabbage will become. You can ferment it for 2 weeks or more if you like but around 7 days is ideal for most. Once you're happy with it, pop it in the fridge to stop it fermenting further. Ensure it's sorted air tight and still covered with a layer of brine. Doing this means it will keep for months. If you have a lot of kraut, you can always decant it into smaller, sterlised jars - again ensuring it's air tight and covered with a layer of brine.
Sauerkraut in progress.
The finished product.
This Week's Mother Nature's Magic... Houseplants for Free!
My first video about anything other than yoga! I'm showing you how to divide your houseplants to make more (as if I need any more!!). I might now apply for a job on Gardener's World :-)
This Week's Musical Offering... The Great Bell Chant (The End of Suffering) composed, arranged and produced by Gary Malkin and Michael Stillwater, chanted by Brother Phap Niem, read by the Buddhist monk, activist, author and revered teacher Thich Nhat Hanh, video created by R Smittenaar.
I play the music and chant variation of this lovely piece in my Restorative/Yin classes sometimes, but this version also includes a reading by Thich Nhat Hanh. It's meditative and moving - can you pause for 7 minutes to sit and listen to this peaceful track?
This Week's Video... Wild Mornings With Chris Packham
This could come under the heading of Mother Nature's Magic too but, at this time when the natural world is such a solace to us all, and we need as much of its goodness as possible, I think I'll put it here.
This is a recording of Friday's Facebook Live broadcast with Chris Packham and his step-daughter Megan McCubbin, herself an experienced naturalist. They are putting on this fabulous live programme every weekday morning at 9am while we are all in lockdown. It's a bit like a DIY version of Springwatch - sharing sightings of the UK's amazing wildlife as it bursts into life this spring. It asks for public involvement too, so we can all share what we are seeing in our own gardens right now. I'm hooked and am tuning in live every day but if the time doesn't work for you, you can always watch the recordings later on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Chris's website too - links below. I'm learning a lot from every episode - and I'm more determined than ever to do everything I can to help our wildlife thrive. I hope you might give it a watch too - and if you've got children to home-school I'm sure it could be counted as a biology lesson!
Until next week, stay safe and enjoy your yoga. Namaste.