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Friday, February 14, 2003

Simple Formula for Defining Spirituality


After month's of private practice with Fortune I could not let this week slip by without posting something (I am honored that she would ask). An article of mine has been posted on this site in the past and I had hoped to let this be an opportunity to show some excerpts from a new piece I'm writing entitled "Ethical Imperitives and Sexually Responsible Behavior", but I still have more work to do on it and it would be premature to show it at this time (pun intended- if I can to it in the next day or so I will). In lieu of this I offer you something else to play with, a "simple formula for defining spirituality":

Birth - (inherent)
Situation - (born into, and then created)
Choice - (behavior and actions)

Birth + Situation + Choice = Direction

Direction can be changed through alteration of Situation and/or Choice.
Situation and Choice can at the same time be altered by a change in Direction.
(Birth being a given)

(from Webster’s NewWorld Dictionary, second college ed.)
1. the life principle, esp. in man, orig. regarded as inherent
in the breath or as infused by a deity 2. The thinking,
motivating, feeling part of man, often distinguished from the
body; mind; intelligence 3. Life, will, consciousness,
thought, etc., regarded as separate from matter 4. Frame
of mind; disposition; mood 5. Real meaning; true intention
6. strong alcoholic liquor produced by distillation 7. A
pervading animating principle, essential or characteristic quality

May all beings be free from suffering,
May our practice of life contribute to peace,
and May we have the strength and courage
to overcome any obstacles that lay before us.

Om Tat Sat.
J. Brown (

posted by j | 2:07 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Chocolate and Coffee Meditation

I would like to begin my contribution to Fortune's wonderful, informative and entertaining "blog" with a sincere expression of gratitude to her for providing me this opportunity.

Now, I know there are many yogis and yoginis who look askance at the consumption of chocolate and/or coffee (and so when they indulge do so guiltily!) but I am not one of them! Indeed, my first Ayurvedic teacher reminded me that one should eat a large variety of foods in moderation. Chocolate and coffee are considered "rajasic" which means leading to passion, craving, disturbance -- it's the the energy of activity. (Milk Chocolate is considered "tamasic," leading to sloth, lethargy and dullness). As one who is on the Kaphic side constitutionally, a littel rajas is just what the (Ayurvedic) doctor ordered, and so I enjoy my daily allotment of dark chocolate, and a good cup of "joe" on most mornings.

What I'd like to share today, is how one can join me in a cup of coffee and a nice piece of chocolate (figuratively speaking) as a yogic practice of mindful meditation. First, once the coffee is prepared (and one can do this in mindfulness), and poured into your favorite mug, before doing anything else, really look into the cup of coffee and the chocolate set before you. Thich Nhat Hanh points out that if we don't give ourselves some time to really look at the food we are about to consume, then it doesn't become "real" to us. If we are consumed with thoughts of work, or anything other than what is in front of us, all we do is eat our plans, worries and daydreams!

As you look at the coffee and chocolate, you can contemplate that within it is the whole of the universe -- the earth (minerals from the stars), the rain, the sun, much hard work. If we are unaware of where and how the coffee and chocolate has come from to us, there may have been a lot of suffering that entered into it also. This realization may compel us to look deeper into the source of our chocolate and coffee so that we needn't continue the cycle of suffering. Fortune has long campaigned for choosing free trade coffee and chocolate.

We can remind ourselves that in order to be "worthy" of consuming this offering from the earth, we should indeed offer it our whole-hearted mindfulness. We can make the aspiration to transform our unskillful states of mind, especially our greed, and learn to eat in moderation. This reminds us that if we are consuming the chocolate and coffee from habit, or emotional needs, we will ultimately be disappointed with the coffee and chocolate, as no food can provide the peace of mind we wish to cultivate.

The fourth contemplation is that we are determined to consume only foods that nourish us and prevent illness. Now, thankfully, Fortune has provided many, many accounts of science showing us how moderate amounts of dark chocolate (With at least 60% or so of cocoa as its main ingrediant) and coffee do in fact have beneficial health benefits!

And finally, we make the intention to consume the chocolate and coffee so that we may realize our "Buddha-mind" and live in understanding and compassion.

As we take the first bite of chocolate, please chew slowly and well. Let the tongue savor all the tastes of the chocolate. When you sip your coffee, let it swish around a moment and gently swallow feeling the warmth of the liquid flow down into your belly. If you take the time to really be there for the chocolate and coffee, I can gurantee that you will enjoy them both more then if you simply eat and drink while doing something else.

Many people think yoga/buddhism is joyless. They are wrong and haven't a clue. Those who understand practice are filled with joy, and can enjoy the pleasures of chocolate and coffee without becoming attached or lost in the action. They eat and drink in freedom. May you enjoy the next cup of coffee, the next piece of chocolate and be peace!

frank jude boccio

posted by frank | 11:06 AM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

Yoga and The Immune system

So I guess I am one of those anticipated guest writers. I read something where I was described as, the intense Carl Horowitz. Who knows? Perhaps that is a good description. I will let you judge for yourself.

While talking about the potential health benefits of yoga Fortune recently wrote:

<<…at that time he told me that concentrating on proper breathing in yoga sent helpful brain signals to the glands that helped control the parasympathetic nervous system, which in turn helps control the immune system.

i must say i greeted this explanation with a raised eyebrow. but the study above makes it seem that he was actually 100% correct. . .>>

So there is a kernel of truth in this. But I would have greeted this information with a raised eyebrow also. The truth is, in certain respects it is much more complicated than this and in other respects it is much simpler. Therefore, I would explain things a little differently.

When you control your breathing you can change your heart rate and blood pressure. The results you get will depend on the type of breathing and the way in which the practitioner is executing the practice. Long, slow, relaxed breaths could slow your heart rate and lower your blood pressure to a degree. If the breath is tense though, it could have a different effect. In my experience as a yoga teacher, the idea of a right way to breath can actually create tension in the breath. In a yoga practice you are trying to make breathing more efficient and therefore less tense.

The direction that the Yoga Sutras gives about the postures is sthirasukhamasanam. This translates as: the postures should have the duel qualities of strength without tension and softness without laziness. If you are doing this then there is efficiency in the work of the body. Otherwise the qualities of strength and softness will not both be present.

The next thing you are doing in a yoga practice is focusing your mind on one thing. If your attention is fixed on what you are doing there is efficiency in your mental activities as well. This is very different from the normal condition in which the mind jumps from thought to thought in a fairly random fashion. So you have efficiency in respiration, efficiency in the use of your body and efficiency in the activities of the mind. The result is less stress, less tension.

And then there is the thing about the parasympathetic nervous system. This area of the nervous system is connected with the relaxation response. Saying “…that concentrating on proper breathing in yoga sent helpful brain signals to the glands that helped control the parasympathetic nervous system…”, sounds fancy. However, I would explain things differently. The workings of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems are a little more complicated than this explanation implies. If you want to get into the relationship between the levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood, the endocrine systems production of hormones and its relationship to the functioning of the nervous system this explanation could go on for ever. And how many yoga teachers actually understand how to control the potential effects of the practice they teach so that they can target particular glands to produce the correct amount of the hormones that would cause a desired affect.

So why make things more complicated than they need to be? The parasympathetic nervous system functions are related to the relaxation response.

When you really examine the physical practice of yoga the whole practice is setting up the circumstances for relaxation to occur. For many people in our culture, just getting to relax for a few minutes is a challenge. Creating the situation where the mind is focused on one thing, the body is relaxed and working efficiently and the breath is also, prepares the practitioner so he or she can deeply relax. The result is that your system is not being inappropriately taxed. Healing and growth of body tissue occurs when we are at rest. For a person who practices consistently there are obvious benefits. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense that there would be a boost in immune functions and an increase in the body’s ability to produce antibodies to fight off an infection or a flu vaccination.

Peace. Carl

posted by carl | 10:05 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Monday, February 10, 2003

1 in 8 children starving?

"the [u.n. world food programme]'s director in nicaragua, krystina bednarska, says that 45% of under five-[year-old]s in these regions are chronically malnourished."

"one in eight children is starving as a direct result in the loss of income from the coffee crop, and no one knows how many children have died. in just one hospital, 18 children have died of malnutrition in 2003."

these two quotes come from the usually reliable bbc. they have a disturbing article today on the effects of the world-price depression in coffee prices (the so-called "coffee crisis") on the children of the coffee-growing areas of nicaragua.

in a few days, i hope to have my guest bloggers post their views on various amusing and highly charged subjects. and when the anti-fair-trade/anti-organic rules posts come, please think: are these coffee importers and roasters just belly-aching about their own paperwork?

do they have a clue or any concern at all for the children of nicaragua? does paying an extra US$0.10 or US$0.20 per pound really endanger these importers/roasters/traders?

and finally, would consumers -- in an evironment where folgers raised its prices US$0.60 last year -- notice a US$0.20 increase in coffee coming from these independent business people?

but this aside, dear readers, once again i urge you to consider a small donation to that excellent charity coffeekids. . .they have active projects in nicaragua and can help. . .

finally, one last thing: a couple of my guest posters a still a little new to the net. i know we'll be patient with them and happy to see what have to say!

posted by fortune | 4:24 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

Sunday, February 09, 2003

yoga crests. . .

you know that yoga is now totally mainstream when you go the supermarket and cocoa-cola's dasani water brand is running a context -- win a private yoga teacher for a year

alas the entry forms for this incredibly exciting offer had all been swiped from the front of the beverage aisle. what's a poor yogini to do?

hmmm, maybe those grumps harrumphing about the commercialization of yoga have a point. . .?

posted by fortune | 7:03 PM | top | link to this | | email this:   |

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