Embodying the Wisdom Goddesses of Yoga

My latest women’s yoga blog introduces the ten Mahavidya Goddesses of Tantra and describes how their powerful archetypal energies can be embodied into our yoga practice and lives, bringing us great boons, including greater Self-awareness, empowerment, creativity, joy and abundance.

As this is my first blog on these deep mystical and profound teachings, it is rather chunky with a lot of the background including:

  • my personal discovery of Goddess archetypes
  • who are the Mahavidya Tantric Wisdom Goddesses and why include them in your yoga practice
  • what is this thing called Tantra?!
  • the importance, particularly at this point in human history, of awakening and empowering the Divine feminine
  • what is shadow and how to embracing the dark and the light

I then cover in more detail the first of the Mahavidya’s – Kali, the Goddess of transformation. I share seven practices for your own home yoga practice.  I also include some personal reflections of working with this powerful Goddess of yoga, from one of my students as well as my own life journey (so far!).

My discovery of Goddess archetypes

I was first introduced to the goddess archetypes in the 90’s through Jean Shinoda Bolen’s book Goddesses in Every Women. I discovered how the goddess archetypes, in this case the Greek Goddesses, can represent energies in our lives. I loved how the mythical symbolic realm played out in the synchronous weaving of my conscious and unconscious worlds, bringing me greater awareness and significant healing and growth.

Tara: Goddess of Compassion

Tara, the Goddess of compassion

More recently I have had the delight to discover the eastern goddesses of the Hindu pantheon, initially through Sally Kempton book Awakening Shakti and then in my yoga teacher training Sacred Journey into Yoga with Lorraine Taylor. I learnt that through the practice of yoga we can embody the wisdom of the Tantric Mahavidya Goddesses. I have found that practicing with these goddesses can lead to profound healing, transformation and awakening. I was so inspired by these teachings that I now include them in my own devotional home yoga practice as well as my Tantra Flow Yoga classes and workshops.

What is Tantra?

Kandariya Mahadev Temple

Kandariya Mahadev Temple

Most people in the west when they think of Tantra think sex! Whilst Tantra does embrace sex (unlike, in my experience, most religions and yoga traditions) it is only a small proportion of what it is.

There are many translations of the Sanskrit word Tantra. One common definition is: Tan: ‘to expand or develop’; tra: ’to liberate or redeem’. This definition embraces my personal experience of Tantra as an art and practice of transformation and liberation.

A core feature of Tantra is the principle of non-rejection, where nothing is considered outside of the Divine. Another meaning of Tantra is ‘weaving’. Tantra embraces the world as a tapestry of energies, all of them aspects of the energy of the Divine, and all of them sacred. Thus Tantra can be a powerful path for ‘householders’ looking for a path that merges spirituality with life in the ‘real’ world.

One of the unique aspects of Tantra is how it recognises, acknowledges and embraces the power of the Divine feminine. Goddess practices are a key means of doing this. Tantra perceives the Divine feminine as the source of power, life force – Shakti in contrast to the Divine masculine – Shiva, which is consciousness.

Tantra offers us a framework to understand the energy and the dance between the Divine feminine and masculine, both within our bodies and lives and with others in relationship. Tantra also helps take us beyond the limitations of the duality of gender, whereby men and women can embrace both the Divine feminine and masculine within their lives.

I believe that there is a great upsurge of Tantra teachings and offerings in the west as we are living in time where we need to heal and reawaken the Divine feminine, in both men and women.

These teachings and my writings, are not limited to women, although this is currently who my classes and workshops serve as there are many women in need of a safe space to heal and awaken the Divine feminine.

Who are the Mahavidya Wisdom Goddesses?

The Mahavidyas are a special group of goddesses that arose in certain Tantric circles in the Middle Ages in South Asia. These Deities represent Divine consciousness at all levels of the universe, including our inner and outer worlds, as energies in culture, body and mind. They include 10 goddesses, who each represent a particular approach to self-realisation.

The Mahavidya Wisdom Goddesses are known, respected and in some cases feared, for their wild, independent, liberated, sexually empowered and autonomous expressions of consciousness (Frawley, 1994)

Below is a list of their Tantric names and some key aspects of each goddess. For some of the more commonly known goddess I also include the more commonly known Hindu goddess names.

  • Kali: the Goddess of transformation and liberation. Later in this blog, as I describe in more detail Kali, the first of the Mahavidya’s, including 7 yoga practices to support change and freedom.
  • Tara: the Goddess of compassion, sound and breath
  • Tripuri Sundari: the beauty of the ‘three worlds’, pure perception, and the Goddess of erotic spirituality
  • Bhuvaneshvari: the Goddess of infinite space; the queen of the universe
  • Bhairavi (Durga): the warrior Goddess of protection, courage and inner strength
  • Chinnamasta: the Goddess of radical self-transcendence, consciousness beyond the mind
  • Dhumavati: the crone Goddess of disappointment and letting go
  • Bagalamukhi: the power of hypnotic silence and stillness, self-observation
  • Matangi (Saraswati): the Goddess of creativity and the spoken word
  • Kamalatmika (Lakshmi): the Goddess of abundance and good fortune, including material and spiritual wealth

Whilst the 10 Mahavidya’s are traditionally listed in the above order, Uma Dinsmore-Tuli (2014) discusses how these Goddesses energies are cyclical, and can shed light on and support the different life stages of a woman life. For example, Tripuri Sundari celebrating Menarche, Bhuvaneshvari supporting pregnancy and birth, Bharavi embracing our power, and Dhumervati welcoming the wisdom years.

Whilst all of the goddesses are always present as a part of our energy fields, some are more familiar to us, some less, and some we might not even be aware of, in our ‘shadow’. At different times of our lives different goddess energies can awaken and bring their gifts or boons to you.

Shadow: embracing the dark and the light

The shadow, is the unknown ‘’dark side’ of our personality. Dark because it tends to consist of negative, primitive, socially or religiously depreciated emotions and impulses, including sexual lust, power strivings, selfishness, greed, envy, anger or rage. These aspects of ourselves are often obscured from consciousness.

Essentially everything about ourselves that we are not conscious of is shadow. Aspects which we don’t like about ourselves, pains and traumas that are buried. It can also the hidden potentials, that may have been or not nurtured, or even actively suppressed, in our childhood.

Jung saw that the failure to recognise, acknowledge and deal with our shadow is often the root of problems for individuals as well as within groups, organisations and society as a whole. Therefore any healing, growth and self-realisation work needs to include the incorporation of our shadow natures.

Becoming familiar with the shadow and integrating the dark’ ‘negative aspects’ of our selves and the ‘positive’ un-lived potential of our higher Self is an essential part of growth and individuation and of becoming more rounded, more whole.

The Goddesses archetypes can help us to explore the hidden aspects of our psyche. Through meeting ALL sides of these Goddess energies we can to embrace and integrate the dark and the light aspects of our Selves.

At a more superficial layer of Goddess practice, we can be tempted by the allure of the qualities of the different Goddesses such as bliss, wealth and power. Whilst Goddess practice can be approached to gain health, wealth, fame of other more ordinary goals in life, it is important that we are aware of any selfish or egotistical intentions.

Anyone working with these archetypal energies, need to remain cognisant of the shadow aspects of these Goddesses – each have within them deeper layers and energies that we need to be be willing to open to. It is the integration of the shadow and the light of these goddesses offer greater freedom and liberation.

There are specific shadow practices for each particular Goddess. As a general invocation I find it helpful to set an intention to open to the wisdom and teachings from the Goddess for the greatest good of my highest self and the greatest good of others.

Why include the Goddesses archetypes in a yoga practice?

Gods and Goddesses are ‘real’ in that they exist in eternal forms of energy in the subtlest realms of consciousness. Within the human psyche, these beings exist as psychological archetypes.

An archetype is a subtle blueprint that both transcends individual personality and lives in it, connecting our personal minds to the cosmic or collective mind. (Kempton, 2013)

The Goddesses can personify energies that we feel but may never have thought to name both in our selves and in our worlds. They offer a powerful means of understanding the capacities of our own psyche as well as the world around us. And by actively practicing with the goddesses, we are in effect, working to bring parts of our psyches/Selves into consciousness.

Yoga practice with the Goddess is a form of Self-inquiry, a means of acquiring knowledge. Practicing yoga with these Goddesses help us embody the subtlest power of the universe which can affect us psychologically, spiritually and physically, and collectively.

Deity meditation has powerful psychological benefits. When a practitioner invokes these Goddess energy through asana, meditation, visualisation, mantra we can uncover psychological forces that can transform and awaken. It can help unlock psychological blocks, including issues with power or love. Invoking the appropriate Shakti, as represented by the ten Goddesses, can open up, heal or transform stuck energies.

As a spiritual practice, it opens up transpersonal forces within your mind and heart. Practicing with these Goddesses gives us direct connection to an inner life force that can powerfully transform consciousness itself.

The transformative power of the Goddess energies can untangle psychic knots, calling forth specific transformative forces within the mind and heart. It can cleanse our mental and emotional bodies, put us in touch with the protective powers within us, and deeply change the way we see the world. It can shift the way we see ourselves, giving us the power to see the Divine qualities we already hold (Kempton, 2013)

Kali the Goddess of Transformation

The ‘Kali Chop’, Tantra Flow Yoga workshop, Seven Sisters 2017

Including the Goddesses in asana practice has the added benefit of embodying these energies. Women’s health and vitality is very much governed by our cycles, our monthly menstrual cycles, the moon as well as our life cycles, of Maiden, Mother, Maga and Crone.  Yoga when practiced with these Divine archetypal energies honours the changes in our cycles, calling us to be more present in our womanly bodies, and in my experience has brought a whole new dimension to yoga.

Collectively, we live in a time where there is a great need for the re-emergence of the Divine feminine. Goddesses come alive when they are invoked and worshiped. Human consciousness and imagination are so powerfully creative, our attention to these forms can have a powerful effect on our own life experience, and can also affect collective consciousness.

Awakening and Empowering the Divine Feminine

These Goddesses offer us great wisdom for our current times. Many of us can feel disempowered by the current structures, governments and systems.

Many contemporary writers have pointed out that our survival as a species may depend on our ability to re-engage with the feminine (Sally Kempton, 2013). And that despite women (particularly in the modern world) enjoying more freedoms and opportunities than in the past, very few of us actually live from our intrinsic feminine strength and intelligence.

Goddess practice is a form of sacred feminism. In contrast to political feminism, sacred feminism it is a feminism for the soul. In the west we are used to seeing the feminine as essentially receptive… even passive. The wisdom Goddesses offer us a much wider and more diverse (and even radical) spectrum of feminine possibility. Sacred feminism looks at true feminine power. It embraces everything that is beautiful in the feminine, as well as everything that is terrifying.

Tantric sages have always seen, respected and revered, the power of the feminine. In Tantra, the feminine is the life force, the Shakti, behind all evolution and change.

I have personally found that practicing yoga with these Divine feminine energies has been deeply healing and empowering, awakening my innate and fuller range of feminine qualities.

Goddess practices are not merely an adulation of feminine forms or qualities. It may start with the image of the Goddess, but reaches far beyond the limits of name, form, and personality to the impersonal, the Absolute (Frawley, 1994)

Personal reflections of practicing with the goddesses

One way to demonstrate the power of practicing with these goddesses is through personal stories and experiences. In this blog, as I cover Kali in more detail, I thought I would share with you a couple of personal Kali stories from myself and one of my students.

Over the 4 years of practicing and teaching with these Goddesses I have experienced many times over Kali’s power of transformation and liberation. Kali has certainly been a Goddess of my 40’s! (which I have observed can be for many women during peri-menopause).  Practicing with Kali has helped me through my (multiple!) midlife crises including my and my families health, relationship and career crises. I have experienced profound transformation on many levels including a transformation in career identity from working in leadership change roles in the corporate work world to now teaching yoga.

A couple of years ago, on a full moon night, I held a bonfire ritual in my back paddock where I burned four large boxes of documents that I had been holding onto from my last job as a change manager in the state education department. This role was the final undoing of me and my health and a dramatic and traumatic end of my working for big organisations.

I felt it was time to let it go of these physical boxes, and my intention through the ritual was to burn the documents, and transform them into something new. I held a lot of grief, shame, regret and confusion (and attachment) to this work, and was lost (confused and angry) as to how all the hard work, both in the job and all my years of study and qualifications, was a waste of time. I needed help to transform my passion and vision for change in organisations into my world now as a yoga teacher.

burning the past away

Kali full moon ritual, Taradale 2015

So I burned it all, bit by bit, calling on Kali and her power to let go and transform. The papers took 2 days to burn, as a researcher there was a lot of dense reports and data! My dog joined me by the fire. I recall him barking ferociously around the perimeters of our property, which is unusual, as he is such a friendly happy dog. It felt like a powerful ceremony.

A week later, possibly unrelated, however powerfully related in my world and change process, the State government began a corruption inquiry into this department. After 6 long weeks, the inquiry found two of the leaders who I had worked for and with, had been stealing millions of dollars from state schools system for their own and their families gains. This inquiry is ongoing as the ‘corruption’ runs far deeper and wider in the culture of the system than these two individuals. This ritual and the subsequent unfolding of the Truth of what my change ‘role’ was up against, was incredibly liberating for me and a turning point for me in letting go of my identity in these roles and moving more fully into yoga teaching.

Kellie one of my students, works in a role in the not-for-profit women’s health sector. She recently shared with me that upon hearing that there was additional funding to continue her contract, whilst her colleagues were all relieved and happy, she noticed and felt she was not overjoyed. By listening more deeply, she recognised her Kali energy. As a young working mum, with little time for her own creative pursuits, she actually wanted more time to follow her creative path of writing. Through listening to this energy, she negotiated with her workplace a reduction in her working hours, giving her more time to follow her love and passion of writing.

Kali: the Goddess of transformation

Kali card

Doreen Virtue, Goddess Guidance Oracle Cards

Kali as the Goddess of transformation is strong, dynamic and powerful. She is a Goddess of revolution, of rebirth and teaches us in order to bring about the ‘new’ we must first let go of the ‘old’.

Her great power is the power that comes with acceptance and change, and the willingness to let go in order to grow. Her gift is in the dissolution of outworn structures, be they ego, thought, or relationships.

Kali is death. She is the ending of the inessentials, that which no longer serves us. In this way, Kali brings about freedom.

Kali - Sangjay14

Kali Maa, Sanjay14

She is often referred to as the black Goddess: dark, destructive and unpredictable, and so is feared my many.  Frawley (1994) describes Kali as dark blue in colour, wearing a garland of skulls. She has her tongue sicking out and is laughing. She has four arms and hands, and in one she holds a sword and another a severed head dripping with blood.  With her other two hands she makes mudras of bestowing boons and dispelling fears.

The severed head represents the cutting away the ego and her tongue represents the power of yogic will to eat up desires and throughs so that our essential Self and awareness can reveal itself.

Kali is also the benevolent loving mother, the Divine mother Ma. She embodies Mother Nature, the goddess of life, death, transformation, destruction, endings and beginnings.

The literal meaning of Kali is time. Time is the power of change that forces all living things to grow and develop.  Kali teaches us that if we give up our attachment to the events of our lives, we gain mastery over time itself. When we drop the limitations of who we think we are, we can experience limitless potential of what we can become.

Kali also offers us a doorway into our wild passionate energy. Embodying her in our yoga practice and meditations assists to awaken our kundalini energy.

Kundalini shakti, the secret yogic power of transformation within us, works through Kali’s grace and motivation. Kundalini ascends and dissolves all the chakras, or energy centres within us, back into the state of pure unity consciousness that is Ma Kali’s ultimate abode. (Frawley, 2016)

An emotion commonly associated with Kali, is Anger. As anger can be a difficult emotion, particularly for women to embrace and express. I have found the Kali practice to be a wonderful support to access  and express the emotion of anger.  I recommend this TED talk the Fierce Face of the Feminine, by Chameli Ardagh to my students, for her passionate sharing of myths and contemporary stories of Kali (approx 18 minutes). Showing us that anger is not a ‘bad’ emotion, and how Kali can help us embody the power, beauty and necessity of feminine rage.

You can recognise Kali in sudden changes in life, especially those that involve disruption. Kundalini awakening is also very ‘Kali’. She is represented by storms including lightening, tornados, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions  I have noticed that in the week that I teach a Kali yoga class there are often local lightening storms. I have also found that when we open to these Goddess energies we start to see them everywhere. I love hearing my students experiences, and hope to share more of these through my writing.

On a bigger picture, some contemporary writers suggest we are living in a time of Kali.

Kali is the Yuga Shakti or the power of time that takes humanity from one world age to another. She works to sustain the spiritual energy of the planet through both the ages of light and darkness (Shambhavi Chopra, 2007)

As the transforming power of time, she can usher us into a new era of global peace and understanding.

Seven Yoga Practices to awaken and embody Kali

  1. Set an intention before you begin your yoga practice. Think of an area of your life where you are stuck, you need to change, let go of or move on from something. Consciously invite Kali into your practice. It can be helpful to visualise an image of her, or visualise a fire or flame.
  2. A helpful Pranayama to include is the lion’s pose / simhasana, where you can feel into the embodied sensations of Kali’s tongue. For instructions of this general pranayama practice go to yogajournal. You can also practice this in vajrasana or rock pose, sitting on your heals.
  3. To invoke Kali into your asana practice, adopt a more vigorous ‘fiery’ vinyasa flow, compared with the more gentler Goddesses. She can be a wonderful Goddess to move with as she teaches us to release constriction and stuckness, blockages and any suppressed emotions.
  4. Practice with some devotional or kirtan music. Here is a suggested Kali Yoga play list. If you like the music, please follow, share and support these musicians.
  5. In Savasana (as well as before going to sleep at night) you can practice deep surrender to the end of your yoga practice/the end of the day. Empty your mind, embracing endings/‘death’, as if it is your last day. To die each day is Kali’s daily worship, allowing for the birth of each new day as the first.
  6. When practicing with Kali, it is important to be aware of Kali’s shadow. Anger can be a common emotion for Kali, and as many of us have grown up in society that does not embrace healthy anger, we can often see it presenting in Kali’s shadow. Shadowy Kali anger can be passive aggressive patterns in your life, both in your self and in others around you. If you are angry, notice if you are projecting it out into the world, onto others, or circumstances, and instead, try to bring the energy of anger inwards for inner transformation and clarity.
  7. Puja fire ceremony can be conducted ideally with a fire. You can also substitute with a candle or visualisation of a fire.  Write down or verbalise some personal qualities that you are wanting to let go of and visualise yourself physically throwing these into the fire. Imagine Kali dancing in the flames, receiving what you are letting go of, invoking transformation.
Autumnal fires - buring away the old

Kali Fire, Taradale 2015. 

Bibliography

Sally Kempton (2013) Awakening Shakti: the Transformative Power of the Goddesses of Yoga. Sounds True.

David Frawley (1994) Tantric Yoga and the Wisdom Goddesses. Lotus Press.

David Frawley (2016)  http://www.dailyo.in/arts/hindu-mythology-goddess-kali-shiva-hinduism-yoga-spirituality/story/1/9920.html

Shambhavi Chopra (2007) Yogic Secrets of the Dark Goddess: Lightning Dance of the Supreme Shakti, Wisdom Tree Books.

Uma Dinsmore-Tuli (2014) Yoni Shakti: A woman’s guide to power and freedom through yoga and tantra. Yoga Words.

Lorraine Taylor (2014) Notes from Sacred Journey into Yoga Teacher Training.  For More information go to Lorraine Taylor Yoga for her 200 hour Sacred Journey into Yoga for Women, a month long ashtanga vinyasa yoga teacher training journeying with the Ten Mahavidya Goddesses.

 

Warm Woolly Wrap

Knitting can be a wonderful meditation practice, particularly in the the colder months where we spend more time indoors. Here I share with you a simple knitting pattern for my much worn (and loved!) Warm Woolly Wrap.

This is an easy pattern, suitable for the beginner and experienced knitters. The repetitive rows, back and forward, can help facilitate a calmer meditative state and when finished, it makes a wonderful shawl to wear for yoga and mediation.  It is a really versatile layer to help adjust changing body temperatures during menopause hot flushes/flashes!

All you will need is:

  • 1 pair 7.00 mm knitting needles
  • 8 balls of a chunky 12 ply yarn

Before you start the project, create a gauge. Cast on 13 stitches and knit 17 rows in stocking stitch to create a square of 10 cm x 10cm. Adjust the needle size to obtain the correct gauge i.e. if it is larger, use smaller needles; if it is smaller, use larger needles.

You are now ready to start the wrap.

Cast on 80 stitches.

1st Row: (right side) Knit

2nd Row: Purl

Repeat 1st and 2nd rows until work measures 140cm from the beginning.

Cast off loosely, keeping yarn attached at the last stitch.

Pick up 80 stitches, with the right side facing you, from cast off point, along the longer side of the rectangle.  Turn, Purl.

Continue in stocking stitch until the piece measures 80cm from the picked up stitches.

Cast off loosely.

You can use a lovely broach to hold it in place or just drape the wrap loosely around your body.

 

 

 

 

Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup

Autumn and Winter are the time of year where there is an abundance of wild mushrooms growing in our gardens and community. Here in Central Victoria the mushrooms that are simple and easy to identify are the Saffron Milk Caps and Slippery Jacks and can be found in our numerous local pine forests. They provide a nourishing and readily available food source.

** Please ensure that you receive guidance/training on how to correctly identify these mushrooms before picking and eating them.

Here is a simple and easy Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup to warm you on a cold winters day.

Ingredients

75g butter

1 brown onion, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, crushed

1 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh rosemary

500 gms Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms, coarsely chopped

1 L (4 cups) home made stock, chicken or vegetable

Ground nutmeg (to taste)

250ml (1 cup) thickened cream (keep a little for garnish)

Garnish with finely chopped fresh parsley and/or chives

Cooking Instructions

Gently melt the butter, add the onions and cook until soft. Add garlic and rosemary, stir for 1 minute and then add mushrooms, stirring for a further 1 minute to coat with mixture. Add the stock and nutmeg, bring to the boil and simmer until the mushrooms are cooked, approx. 10 minutes.

Add the cream then remove from heat and blend until smooth. Serve with a dollop of cream and sprinkle of parsley and chives.

Yin Yoga for Winter

Winter is the season of introspection, hibernation, and surrender. It is a perfect season to practice Yin yoga. In this winter yoga blog I share with you my love of Yin yoga: what it is; it’s benefits and a short 30 minute practice for you, that is beneficial for the water element and the Kidney/Bladder meridian.

Wintertime … the call to more Yin time

Winter is the time of year of shorter days and longer nights. It is generally colder and can be wetter and damper (depending on where you live). Our natural inclination will be to slow down, become less active, and spend more time indoors. We find that we need to spend more time resting.

Sadly, the developed world has got out of balance with the seasons. The ‘ON’ button is often permanently switched on. The use of unnatural lighting, to extend our ‘productivity’ means our body’s clock gets confused and does not get to respond to natures call to rest.

Most of us are overworking, if it’s not our jobs we are often spending long hours on devices and social media. We are not giving ourselves enough ‘yin’ – receptive, quiet, passive time.

Adrenal exhaustion is a common and a growing problem in modern life and is largely unrecognised by the medical establishment, despite stress and adrenal exhaustion becoming a ‘21st Century epidemic’.

My journey into teaching Yin yoga

I discovered Yin yoga at a time of my life that I was suffering from adrenal fatigue/burn out and it has been a profound practice for balancing my over active, over functioning, adrenaline charged body and mind.

I was blessed to be introduced to Yin yoga during my yoga teacher training with Tina Nance, whose knowledge and passion for yoga, meridian theory and women’s health is inspiring (www.tinanance.com).

I learnt how Yin yoga sequences can focus on particular meridians and how these meridians are governed by one of the five elements. I have found these sequences to be helpful to align my body with the seasons which, as Ayurveda teaches us, is a foundation for optimal health.

I find the practice of Yin yoga according to elements, meridians and the seasons is a beautiful and profound practice that aligns my body and spirit to nature’s rhythms bringing me greater health and vitality on all levels.

I now share this practice with women in seasonal workshops throughout the year, where women come back each season for deep relaxation and to connect to and nourish, the body, mind and spirit to align with the energy of each season.

Jane’s Yin yoga workshops offer a deep connection with not only yourself, but the seasons. They allow contemplation, opening and deep relaxation and a melding of the mind, body, spirit and the environment. For me, they have become anchor points in the busyness of the year. Lisa Eastley, Naturopath

What is Yin yoga?

Yin yoga was first developed by Paul Grilley, and has at its foundation ancient Yogic and Taoist Meridian and Acupuncture theories. Students of Paul including Sarah Powers and Bernie Clark have continued to develop and spread these teachings.

Yin yoga is a relatively new yoga that is growing exponentially in the western ‘yoga world’.  I believe this is because our society has been so out of balance, predominantly operating in overactive, switched on, predominantly ‘yang’ way.

Most forms of Yoga that have been practiced in the West can be seen as more “Yang” (e.g. Ashtanga Iyenga, Hatha etc) with an emphasis on muscular movement and contraction. In contrast, Yin yoga targets the deeper connective tissues of the body.

Yin Yoga is designed to calm, rather than energise, enabling the parasympathetic nervous system to relax, heal and repair the body. In contrast to the more ‘Yang’ styles of yoga, which tend to target the more superficial, soft tissues of the body, such as the muscles, and tend to be more movement oriented, dynamic, rhythmic, repetitive and stimulating of the sympathetic nervous system (Tina Nance, 2014)

Yin yoga uses long passive holds to work on the deep, dense connective tissues of the body, the tendons, ligaments and cartilage, which can often be difficult to engage and open.

There is increasing evidence that the network of connective tissue corresponds with the meridians and nadis and therefore the opening, strengthening and stretching of the connective tissue of the body may be critical for long-term health (Paul Grilley, 2007)

Connective tissue responds best to gentle engagement over a long period of time, so Yin postures are held for longer, usually for 3-5 minutes, so as to stretch the deeper layers of the physical body, and to stimulate the flow of chi through the meridians.

Yin yoga is also different to Restorative yoga. In Restorative yoga the body holds positions that relax ALL parts of the body. It is generally used to help an ‘unhealthy’ or injured body restore itself back to ‘normal’ health. In Yin yoga the muscles are soft, but the deeper connective tissue is engaged in order to open up the meridians and to affect the flow of chi in the body.

Benefits of Yin yoga

Like all yoga, Yin yoga can benefit us on all levels: physically, energetically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. As the poses target the meridians, our organs by virtue also benefit, which benefits all levels of our health, wellbeing and vitality.

On the physical level, Yin yoga can help increase flexibility. The main target areas of Yin yoga are the hips, pelvis and lower spine where many of us can hold deep-seated tensions.

Many of my students find Yin to be a wonderful compliment to their more ‘yang’ yoga practices as it helps increase flexibility and mobility. In addition, as many of the postures work with the hips, Yin yoga enables us to be able to sit more comfortably, and for longer, benefiting our meditation practice.

Energetically Yin yoga stimulates the flow of chi/prana or life force through the meridians of the body that flow through the connective tissue, enabling the energy system to move towards its own natural equilibrium, balance and harmony. This explains why after a Yin yoga practice it can feel like you have just had an acupuncture or shiatsu treatment.

Yin yoga is very empowering, where through our own personal practice we can support and open our energetic body, helping release blockages along the meridians, allowing our organs to function more efficiently. This helps to raise the level of chi, which raises our vitality.

Yin yoga can be very beneficial emotionally as the practice invites us to sit with emotions as they arise and to cultivate mindfulness whilst deepening into the posture. We are invited to remain present with any emotions as they arise allowing the emotions to rise and fall, open and change. Challenging emotions related to the meridian or season can often be activated, for example grief (Lung/large Intestine), fear (Kidney/Bladder) and anger (Liver/Gall Bladder). Yin Yoga helps let go of old emotional patterns that are stored deep in the body and is a way to develop equanimity.

Whilst Yin yoga can be hugely challenging for some people when they first try it, as engaging with buried parts of us can be confronting, we can learn that releasing any deep holding within can bring great benefits.

Yin yoga helps develop our mental faculty and our capacity to concentrate. Through focusing our attention and cultivating an awareness of what is arising Yin yoga helps us access our deeper states of consciousness and insight.

Yin yoga is a body-centered meditation. Through deep and still postures we can access a deep meditative state. In the past I struggled with many meditation approaches, particularly ones that attempted to still my active mind or practices that separated me from my emotional body.  I have found Yin yoga to be a key for helping me develop and deepen my meditation practice.

Yin yoga facilitates the cultivation of patience, endurance, mindfulness, contentment, equanimity insight and the art of being with what arises and letting go (Tina Nance, 2014)

Yin yoga for Winter

The gift that Wintertime offers us, with the darkness and stillness surrounding us, is the opportunity to rest, look within, and reflect on our lives. It is a time of year to review where we are physically, mentally, and spiritually and consider where it is that we want to be going when the time for movement comes. Our Truth can be revealed when we allow ourselves to surrender to this natural cycle of finding stillness. Yin yoga is a wonderful practice to help us do this.

In Meridian Theory the season of winter relates to the water element, which governs the Kidney and Bladder meridians. Their function is to store, balance, and distribute our bodies’ fluids and maintain our energy reserves.

The Kidney/Bladder meridians and organs in Chinese medicine, are the foundation of Yin and Yang balance for all the other organs. They are the storehouse of vital energy and need to remain balanced for all the other organs to function well (Sarah Powers, 2008). When the water element is depleted we may experience exhaustion or feel overwhelmed as we struggle to cope physically and emotionally without healthy energy reserves to fuel us.

Below is a Yin Yoga sequence that is gentle and nourishing for the cold winter months ahead and will help tonify the Kidney/Bladder meridian.

Winter Yin yoga sequence

IMPORTANT! Please read the Yin yoga practice tips below before attempting any of the postures. *

Disclaimer.  As I am not present to guide you through the practices, if you choose to perform the following yoga postures, you are agreeing to the following:

  • that you take full responsibility for your wellbeing while performing these practices and you will read and follow all instructions carefully to avoid injuries.
  • that no responsibility will be taken by Jane Mallick, for injuries from, or as a result of, your practicing any of the yoga postures shared.
  • for any serious health concerns or medical conditions you may have, that you consult you doctor or health practitioner to gain permission to practice.

Important practice tips for Yin yoga

Yin yoga, in the main, is practiced on the floor, either sitting or lying down. The practice uses gravity to assist the body to surrender deeper into the posture. The emphasis is on ‘passive stretching’ or surrendering to gravity. It is not about pushing or forcing oneself into any posture.

  • Be mindful while slowly and gently moving into a posture.
  • Find your appropriate edge. Don’t go straight to your ‘maximum’ in the pose and never stretch so far as to cause pain.
  • Safety warning!! If you feel at any point a hot sharp burning sensation that continues (i.e. does not change), gently ease out, to lessen the depth of the posture. With practice, you will be able to distinguish between the potentially injurious intense sensations and those that are beneficial for opening the body.
  • Come to stillness. Begin to consciously release into the pose. Cultivate a mindful awareness of the sensations as they arise, and fall, evolve and change.  Use the exhale of your breath to gradually, and effortlessly, surrender to gravity.
  • Props, such as a bolster and folded blankets can used (if needed) to support the body, and allow it to surrender more fully.
  • Hold the position: start with holding a pose for 1-3 minutes and progress to 5 minutes.
  • Rest in stillness and become aware of the sensations in your body. Breath into the various parts of you body that are opened within the posture, especially the target areas suggested, or the areas where you experience the strongest sensation.
  • Some postures can be challenging at times, creating an intense physical or emotional response. The invitation is to stay present to the intensity and observe it change and release in time.
  • Take your time transitioning between poses, staying quiet, and aware as you do.
  • Rest (approx. 5 breaths) between each pose, in the suggested resting poses. Observe the effects of the practice on the body and the mind.

1. Sphynx Pose

The Sphinx Pose stimulates the Kidney meridian-organ as it flows through the sacrolumbar area and the ligaments along the lumbar spine. (Powers, 2008)

The Sphynx Pose b&w

  • Lie on your belly. With bent elbows and hands out in front of you on the floor. Gentle lift your upper body, and rest on your elbows, which should be shoulder-width apart and an inch or so forward of the shoulder line.
  • Your back will arch in a gentle sway, that creates length along the anterior of your spine and a gentle compression on the posterior side.
  • Allow your buttocks and legs to relax. Allow your belly and organs to drape towards the floor and relax your buttocks and legs.
  • Hold for 1 minute and then slowly lower yourself down. Repeat for 2-3 times.

Rest: Lie on your belly, with your head gently turned to the side, for 5 breaths.

Childs pose can be a beautiful counter pose to open the lower spine.

Childs Pose B&W

  • Come to kneeling, sit back with buttocks on the heals, and fold you upper body forward to rest over your thighs.
  • Place our hands to rest by your sides, or stack them like a pillow under your forehead.
  • Close your eyes, and rest 3 minutes. 

2. Full Forward Bend

Forward bend is one of the most basic and important postures. It stretches the legs and the entire spinal column. It stimulates the Bladder meridian as it flows down the back of your body and the backs of your legs. (Powers, 2008)

Full Forward Fold b&w

  • Sit with both legs stretched out in front of you, feet just under hip width apart.
  • Drop your chin to your chest, so the muscles and ligaments at the base of the skull are stretched.
  • Lean forward and clasp you ankles feet, or shins, wherever you have easy reach. Keep your legs straight but don’t work too hard, a slight bend of the knees is fine as long as you still feel the stretch.
  • Relax the muscles of the legs and spine and feel the stretch move up through the legs and hips and the spine.
  • Hold for 3-5 minutes.   

Rest in Pentacle for 5 breaths

Pentacle pose b&w

  • Lie on your back, spread arms and legs out to the sides in a comfortable and open position.
  • Close your eyes and let your physical body to relax and surrender your weight into the floor.
  • Feel into the different sensations around the body, noticing the parts of the body that were opened or activated during the previous posture. 

3. Reclined spinal twist

This pose benefits all of your internal organs which are gently massaged by the twisting motion. It stimulates the Kidney and Bladder meridians along both sides of your spine and the Kidney Meridian along your inner legs and torso. (Powers, 2008)

reclined spinal twist b&w

  • Lie on your back, hug your right knee into the chest, keeping your left leg straight.
  • Allow your right knee to lower to the floor to left, whilst keeping the right side of your upper back and shoulder weighted toward the floor.
  • If you shoulder is not resting on the floor, place a small cushion/folded blanket under the shoulder. If your knee does not rest on the floor, use a folded blanket or bolster to support the weight.
  • Rest you arms on the floor by your side. Stay in the pose for 3-5 minutes.

4. Savasana

Lie on your back, feet hip width apart, toes falling out to the sides, arms by your sides, hands facing upwards or slightly inwards. Move your head gently from side to side, allowing the neck to let go, and to find a balance of weight on the back of your head.

Savasana

Gently and gradually allow your body to relax. Bring your awareness to your natural breath, flowing in and out of the nose. Imagine with each exhale, you let go and relax. Rest for 5-10 minutes

Bibliography

Tina Nance (2014) Teaching Notes. Sacred Journey into Yoga, 2014

Paul Grilley (2007) Why Try Yin yoga? http://www.yogajournal.com/yoga-101/yin-yoga-2

Paul Grilley (2002) Yin Yoga: Outline of a quiet practice. White Cloud Press, Ashland Oregon.

Bernie Clarke. The Home Page of Yin Yoga http://www.yinyoga.com/

Sarah Powers (2008) Insight Yoga. Shambhala, Boston.

* The health information presented on this site is provided for educational purposes only. It is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice or a diagnosis provided by your medical or other health professional. Do not use this information to diagnose, treat or cure any illness or health condition. If you have, or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your physician or health care provider. 

© 2017 Jane Mallick. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

The Winter Healing Garden

Winter is all about slowing down and going inward.  With the shorter daylight hours, the fresh frosty and misty mornings, the trees have lost their leaves and the garden is in a dormant phase of its cycle. The still, stark landscape reminds us to pause, reflect and rest.

Winter is known as the ‘hungry gap’, where the autumn harvest is finished and the garden has gone into dormancy. There is minimal growth and production, before the beginnings of spring growth where the cycle of abundance begins again.

We are now turning to the freezer and the bottled preserves from our summer and autumn harvests. Even though the winter garden has slowed down, there is still much to be eaten from our garden, including the abundance of fresh leafy greens, root vegetables and many herbs to bring variety and healing properties and balance to the cooking.

This year we have four varieties of Kales: Calvo Nero, Russian, Green Curly and Red Ruby Kale, all offering quite different tastes for different dishes. The Ruby Red Kale is super high in antioxidants; you can actually see and taste the goodness.

The root vegetables deep in the ground, protected from the frosts also continue to provide for us with carrots, parsnips, beetroots and daikon radish. This year we have an abundance of little red radishes that went to seed in the pathways, making great fresh radish pickles.

bunch of radish

There is always a fresh supply of herbs. In winter we use a lot of parsley, garlic chives, chervil, marjoram/oregano, thyme, and rosemary which is a my feature herb for this winter.

Coriander is one of our most used herbs and is a wonderful herb in Ayurvedic cooking both in its fresh leaves and dried seeds.  Coriander is now a prolific weed in our garden, welcomed by randomly letting it go to seed every season, so it continually pops up everywhere ensuring an ongoing supply of fresh coriander.

Whilst the garden is dormant, there is still a lot happening in preparation for spring.

  • garlic and onions are planted, whilst growing slowly will be ready for harvest in spring and summer.
  • peas and broad beans are growing ever so slowly through the winter and will provide an abundance of broad beans and peas in late winter and spring. These legumes also have the added benefit of feeding the soil by adding nitrogen, through the nodules in their roots.
  • green manure crops are ‘fumigating’ the soils from the Solinacea (tomato and potato family) in preparation for spring planting of these summer crops.

Free Food Foraging in and around Taradale

We have also turned to the abundance that is offered more broadly through foraging in our local region, including Wild Mushrooms and Rose hips.

Here in Central Victoria the two easiest edible mushrooms to find, identify and eat, are pine mushrooms Saffron Milk Cap (Lactarius deliciosus) and Slippery Jack (Boletus portentosus).

We are cooking up an abundance of mushrooms on toast, risotto and soup. In this winters Healing Recipes I share with you a Cream Wild Mushroom Soup that is a perfect recipe for the Saffron Milk Caps.

We have dried the surplus Slippery Jacks to be used in our cooking throughout the  year. Slippery Jacks are from the same family as Porcini mushrooms so make a great addition to to Italian soups, rice and pasta dishes.

This year I have harvested an abundant crop of Rosehips from a friend’s property, as well as from the roses running wild in and around Taradale. Rosehips are best harvested after the first frost, then dried, and stored. They are delicious as a refreshing tea, and are a valuable source of vitamin C. This year has been a wonderful season for these wild ‘hips with the unusually high spring, summer and autumn rains.

drying rosehips.jpg

In winter, one of our most used herbs would have to be rosemary which has many healing and magical qualities and is my feature herb for this winter.

Rosemary: the Healing Herb of Remembrance 

Rosemainus officinalis is in the Lamiaceae mint family and has long been valued in the home for its antiseptic and antibacterial properties and as a useful digestive aid. It is rich in antioxidants making it a rejuvenating brain tonic. It is probably best known as a culinary herb to complement meats and stews. It also can be a wonderful herb to use topically as an oil on the body or in the hair and as well as around the home.

Growing Rosemary

Rosemary is a bushy (1-2 metre high) evergreen semi-prostrate erect shrub with needle-shaped aromatic leaves. There are also low prostrate cultivars now available that are ideal for rockeries and walls.

Rosemary has pale blue (or less commonly pink or white) flowers in the winter through to spring. It is a valuable plant for bees at this time of year, when other nectar is scarce.

rosemary flower with bee.jpg

Native to the Mediterranean, rosemary is a hardy drought tolerant plant, that likes dry hot climates, and fairly dry, rocky to sandy soil in full sun.

Rosemary is very easy to grow and is a common plant now in gardens all over the world. It can be propagated by seed, cuttings or layering. Slow growing at first, rosemary can live to a great age, over 30 years or more.

A rosemary shrub makes a handsome and hardy landscape plants especially for the warm dry climates here in Central Victoria. Use it in rock gardens, in containers on porches and decks. Plant the trailing forms where you can cascade over the edge of a stone-wall, hanging basket, window box or pot.

Rosemary is a good companion in the garden. It attracts predatory insects and repels sap-sucking pests. It is useful for repelling carrot fly. Tall bushes can be grown around the garden and prostrate rosemary on paths and between fruit trees. Rosemary and Sage enjoy similar growing conditions and it is said that they stimulating effect upon each other. Rosemary supports carrots, cabbage, cauliflowers and beans. Potatoes do not like to be grown near rosemary.

Harvest fresh sprigs as needed throughout the growing season. To dry rosemary, hang in small bundles, upside down in a warm, dark location for 1-2 weeks. Strip the needles from the stems, then store them in an airtight container.

Myths and meaning

Rosemary is often considered a ‘head’ herb. Rosemary has long been associated with memory. Its qualities have the capacity to strengthen memory. You will often see it grown at war memorial as a symbol of remembrance.

Rosemary and Taradale memorial

Taradale War Memorial

Students in ancient Greece twinned rosemary around their heads to stimulate memory and recall. Herbalists today recommend rosemary tea to strengthen the memory. Traditionally at funerals, mourners tossed fresh sprigs of rosemary into the grave as a sign that the departed would not be forgotten.

Rosemary is a symbol of love and fidelity, so it can be worn by the bride and groom.

Folklore says that rosemary placed beneath the pillow can help drive away nightmares. Rosemary, when burned, emits powerful cleansing and purifying vibrations. It is one of the oldest incenses. If you wish to receive knowledge, or the answer to a question, burn rosemary on charcoal and smell its smoke.

Healing qualities

Rosemary leaves have antispasmodic, carminative (gas relieving) antioxidant and anti-inflamatory properties making it a valuable herb for digestive, circulatory, respiratory, immune, urinary and reproductive systems; and the mental and emotional body (McIntyre, 2010).

Digestion: The apothecaries of the 16 and 17 Centuries prescribed rosemary to treat poor digestion and appetite, for the relief of intestinal gas and as a general tonic and digestive aid.

The tannins in rosemary can protect the gut lining from irritation and inflammation, reducing diarrhoea. It can stimulate appetite, digestion and absorption, and relieve flatulence and distension. It can enhance elimination. The bitters stimulate bile flow from the liver and gall bladder, aiding digestion of fats and the clearing of toxins.

Mental and emotional body: rosemary oil contains natural camphor, which benefits the nervous system. It is an excellent brain tonic, improving concentration and memory. It can also calm anxiety, lift depression and relieve exhaustion and insomnia.

Joint, muscle and nerve pain: The oil of Rosemary can also be used externally as a topical application for muscle and nerve pain, such as sciatica.

In Ayurveda healing, Rosemary is a stimulating pungent. It promotes digestion, increases appetite, promotes circulation, acts as an expectorant (removes phlegm) and is vermicidal (kills parasites) (Frawley and Lad, 2001). It is heating and decreases kapha and vata, and increases pitta.

Uses of Rosemary

Rosemary is a wonderful culinary herb which is invaluable for flavouring food and as an aid to digestion, particularly for starchy or rich foods. Because of its strong flavour and aroma, it should be used sparingly in dishes so as not to overpower the other flavours. Cut the leaves finely, otherwise sharply pointed, woody leaves can be difficult to swallow.

Rosemary’s flavour is pungent, somewhat piney and mint-like. Cooking with Rosemary can be a wonderful way to include its healing qualities in your daily life, particularly in your digestion. There are so many creative ways to add rosemary into your cooking.

The fresh and dried leaves complement many dishes, soups, pasta and stews, breads marinades, sauces and dressings. Rosemary is a wonderful complement to meats, especially roast lamb.

Rosemary enhances eggs, cheeses and many vegetables including tomatoes, spinach, peas, mushrooms, squash and lentils. It combines well with other herbs including chives, thyme, parsley, chervil and bay.  Rosemary is a wonderful addition to the Creamy Wild Mushroom Soup made with freely foraged Saffron Milk Cap mushrooms.

Fresh sprigs of rosemary and its flowers can be steeped in vinegar, wine or olive oil to infuse a subtle flavour.

Rosemary Infused Olive Oil for cooking

Coarsely chop two handfuls of fresh or dried rosemary sprigs and leaves and soak them in 500 mls of olive oil in a well sealed jar for 1-2 weeks. Strain and store the oil in a cool dry place. Since rosemary is a natural antioxidant, it should keep the oil from turning rancid.

I have found this oil to be a multi purpose oil in the kitchen and bathroom (see below). Use it in cooking as the cooking oil for oven roasted potatoes or wild pine mushrooms on toast!

For a creative touch, you can use the woody branches of the plant as Rosemary Skewers for grilling meats and vegetable kebabs. Or make a small Brush for Basting meats out of small posies of rosemary sprigs and stems.

rosemary-posies-for-mice-e1496127027880.jpg

Multiple uses for Posies of Rosemary including basting of meats, mice deterrants and insense.

Skin and hair care

Rosemary’s pleasant fragrance and antioxidant properties make it a beneficial addition to cosmetics, skin creams, soaps and lotions. It is particularly good for the hair and the skin and it is easy to make hair and skin care products in the home.

Rosemary Infused Hair Tonic

A strong infusion of Rosemary is an excellent herbal rinse for hair. It is a wonderful conditioner rinse, that will brighten the hair, bringing a natural shine. It can help reduce dandruff and folklore says it can thicken and re-grow hair. Use the following proportions. I usually make approx. 4 cups, which gives me 2 rinses.

  • 1 handful of rosemary leaves, crushed
  • 1 cup of boiling water

In a stainless steel pot bring the water to the boil. Once boiling, take off the heat, and add a large handful of rosemary leaves cut or bruised, cover with a lid and leave to cool. Once cool, decant into a container to take to your shower to use as your final rinse of your hair.

Rosemary Infused Oil for the Body

Rosemary infused oil (see Olive Oil recipe above, or use any other oil of your choice, e.g. coconut, sesame oil) makes a beautiful massage oil.  I have used this for my Abyanga self oil massage this winter, where I could certainly feel the healing and warming properties of this amazing herb.

The oil can be massaged into sore muscles to dissipate stiffness and pain.  Rosemary infused oil massaged on the stomach can help soothe stomach ache and offer pain relief from indigestion or menstrual cramp. Rosemary infused oil can also be used as an intensive treatment for bad dandruff. Massage the oil into the scalp, leave for at least an hour and wash out.

Other home recipes include:

Air freshener

Create an easy natural air-freshener by putting a small handful of rosemary leaf, 1 sliced lemon or orange, into a pot and simmer on low all day (watch the water level – you may need to add more water). It smells amazing and freshens the house for days. If you have a wood heater that is burning through the winter, place on the top to release a gentle fresh aroma to the room.

Pest deterrents

Rosemary can be an easy way to deters small pests like mice, flies and moths.

For mice, tuck small sprigs of dried Rosemary into the backs of cabinets to ward of mice during the winter. We did this, and noticed a reduction in numbers of mice coming into the house. It feels like a nicer way to keep mice at bay, encouraging them to stay outside, rather than trapping or poisoning them.

Other ways to use Rosemary for pests:

  • Hang up bunches of rosemary in areas where flies are gathering.
  • Use dried rosemary leaves in sachets in cupboards to deter moths.

Rosemary drinks and tonics

Rosemary tea can alleviate headaches and calm taut nerves and is also a lovely tea to have when studying or concentrating. Steep approx. 1 tbsp of fresh or 1 tsp of dried rosemary in a cup of hot water. Sip and enjoy!

To lift the spirits, a daily nip of Rosemary Tonic is perfect in the winter. It is very easy to make. In a bottle of jar add the following:

  • A handful of fresh rosemary, crushed
  • 1 Cinnamon Quill
  • 3 Cloves
  • 2cm fresh ginger
  • 1/2 bottle of red wine

Leave to stand in a warm place for 10 days. Straining liquid from herbs, bottle and seal.

making rosemary tonic

Rosemary’s diverse array of healing properties make it a must in any garden. It is easy to grow, easy to harvest and has so many simple uses that bring the healing qualities of this herb into your home throughout the year.

Bibliography

Balick, MJ (2014) 21st Century Herbal. Rodale.

Cunningham, Scott (1997)Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs, Llewellyn, Minnesota.

Frawley, D and Lad, V (2001) (2nd edition) The Yoga of Herbs: an ayurvedic guide to herbal medicine. Lotus Press.

Heinerman,John (1988) Heinerman’s Encyclopedia of Fruits, Vegetables and Herbs, Parker Publishing company, New York.

McIntyre, A (2010) The Complete Herbal Tutor. Gaia.

Readers Digest (1994) Magic and Medicine of Plants. Readers Digest.

Shipard, I (2009) How can I use Herbs in my daily life? 4th Edition. David Stewart, Nambour, Qld.

The health information presented on this site is provided for educational purposes only. It is not meant to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis provided by your medical or other health professional. Do not use this information to diagnose, treat or cure any illness or health condition. If you have, or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your physician or health care provider. 

© 2017 Jane Mallick. All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

Thai-Inspired Pumpkin Soup

In the autumn, you can’t go by a bowl of warming pumpkin soup. This recipe gives pumpkin soup a special twist using the zesty exotic flavours of the East. This recipe is from Stephanie Alexander, The Cooks Companion.

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 tbsp Red Curry paste (from a jar if you are in a hurry, or make from scratch with recipe below *)

1 onion, diced

1 stick of celery, diced

1 tomato, chopped

1 kg pumpkin, peeled and diced

Salt

1l of chicken or vegetable stock

400mls coconut milk

Freshly ground pepper

Squeeze of lemon or lime

Fresh coriander leaves

Heat a large, heavy based saucepan over a medium heat, then add oil and curry paste. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until fragrant. Add vegetables and season with salt. Reduce heat and cook for 15 minutes, stirring often. Add stock and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes or until pumpkin is tender. Puree soup. Then whisk in coconut milk and adjust seasoning to taste. Garnish with coriander leaves.

*Red Curry Paste

From Women’s Weekly (1998) Easy Thai-Style Cookery.

Makes approximately 1 cup. Paste will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge. Alternatively freeze in ice cube trays, transfer into zip lock backs and store in the freezer for up to a year.

1 small red onion roughly chopped

3 cloves of garlic

2 tbsp fresh chopped lemon grass

1 tbsp fresh coriander root

2 red chillis

1 inch (approx.) galangal root (can be substituted with galangal powder)

½ tsp shrimp paste

1 kaffir lime leaf

2 tsp paprika

½ tsp turmeric

½ tsp cumin seeds

3 tsp oil

Blend all of the ingredients until smooth.

Autumn Harvest and Lavender Love

Autumn Harvest

Autumn is the harvest season. It is the second harvest festival in the pagan calendar – Mabon, a time of gathering and preparation. It is also a time to walk among the herb garden smelling the fragrances and gathering plants and herbs to be dried for culinary, medicinal, magical and other purposes in the home.

Each autumn, there is a continual abundance of food coming from our healing garden. During this season we enjoy beautiful tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, beans, potatoes, pumpkins, watermelons and cantaloupes. There also continues to be plenty of lettuce, endive, rocket, basil, mint, parsley and coriander available. Our two established and very loyal Nashi Pear trees provide us with kilos of delicious fruit every year. During the autumn, we are very lucky to be able to sustain our family mostly on meals made solely with produce from our garden.

Autumn is also a very busy time in the kitchen as we work to preserve the ‘glut’ to be stored for use throughout the year. From our tomatoes we create sauces, we freeze and dry to make sundries tomatoes. We also bottle the Nashi Pears for the winter when fruit is hard to come by.

Autumn is also a time to harvest seeds for next year. This year we had a favorable spring, which produced an abundance of healthy plants and seeds. At our garden in Taradale we use heirloom seeds. Year after year the seeds we collect from the garden are more viable having adapted to our local climate.

autumn-seed-harvest.jpg

When collecting seeds I always select the strongest plant, let it go to seed, dry and collect for next seasons planting. I enjoy sharing seeds amongst friends and the community.

Pumpkins are very symbolic of autumn. Planted in the spring as a small seed or seedling, pumpkin plants are quick to grow over the summer months. It has been wonderful to have such a big space in our garden to let the pumpkins sprawl to their hearts’ content, putting down roots and providing us with large crops of pumpkins that last us for the whole year.

Here is a recipe for our family’s favorite Thai-Inspired Pumpkin soup.

Lavender Love

Lavender is one of the world’s most loved and used herbs. It is a highly aromatic plant, grown mostly for its fresh healing fragrance. Lavender’s amazing breadth of healing properties makes it a must have in a healing garden. There are also many therapeutic and aromatic uses in the home.

The name lavender is derived from the Latin word ‘lavare,’ meaning ‘to wash’. Living up to its name, lavender is a widespread addition to soaps and shampoos and is also used in perfumery. Lavender essential oil has become quite mainstream and is a frequent addition to a home first aid kit.

Growing lavender in your garden can be a great way to bring the healing qualities of lavender into your home. Once you realise how easy it is to make the recipes below,  it minimises the need to buy soaps, body lotions and essential oils.

Lavender in the Garden

Many of us are familiar with lavender in a range of forms. There are many cultivars in the genus Lavendula. The two most popular varieties are English (L. augustifolia) and French (L. dentata) lavender.

We grow both lavenders here on our healing garden in Taradale. We use English lavender for herbal home recipes and French lavender for its display of beautiful purple flowers.

French and English Lavender varieties in the gardens in Taradale

Lavender is a wonderful addition to a cottage garden and can be combined with other perennials and annuals. I enjoy planting this beautiful flower around the garden borders, in rock gardens or in low hedges. Lavender acts as a pest deterrent whilst also bringing in bees and butterflies for garden pollination making it a good companion plant in a vegetable garden or orchard.

One of the best things about lavender is the fragrance that permeates the garden. The herb releases its scent when touched, so it is nice to plant in entranceways, along paths, decks or any area where people will brush against it while passing by, allowing the healing aroma to fill the air with a fresh, uplifting and relaxing scent.

Growing Conditions

Lavender is native to many areas stemming from the western Mediterranean across to India. It is a popular hardy perennial cottage plant and is widely cultivated in temperate climates.

Lavender likes dry, well-drained soils and grows best in full sun. It is also a drought tolerant plant, which makes it a great addition to our hot and dry Central Victorian garden.

Lavender plants can be easily propagated from cuttings in the autumn or spring. Woody and overgrown plants should be replaced with new ones every 4-5 years. The plants benefit from regular pruning, I am in the practice of cutting off about a third. This will keep the bushes in good shape and encourage compact growth and regular blooming. Even picking the flowers will give the bush a tip prune. Usually, this will make two new shoots develop and set new flowers from the cut stem, so you’ll get two harvests a season!

History and Mythology

Lavender has enjoyed a long and well-documented place among human civilization as an antiseptic, a protective and love-inducing herb and in perfumery. Key meanings and suggested powers of lavender include: love, protection, sleep, chastity, longevity, purification, happiness and peace.

Ancient Egyptians used lavender in their funerary rites, including it in their mummifying process, as well as for perfuming their clothing and themselves. Cleopatra was reputed to have used lavender as one of her secret weapons for seduction. Lavender can be used in love spells to attract love.

Healing Properties*

Lavender is well known for its soothing effects. Lavender contains chemical compounds that have anti-inflammatory, muscle relaxing, pain relieving and sedative properties. It is also a powerful antiseptic and has antifungal and antiviral properties.

Mental and emotional. Lavender can act as a carminative, nerve tonic and/or sedative, making it excellent for use against anxiety and stress-related symptoms including headaches, palpitations and insomnia. Lavender has also been known to lift the spirits and restore energy in fatigue or exhaustion.

Digestion. Lavender benefits the digestive system by stimulating gastric juices, including bile. It can help your body release spasm and colic as well as combat wind and bowel problems related to tension and anxiety.

Respiratory. Lavender is an antimicrobial and therefore can increase resistance to colds, coughs, chest infections and the flu. Lavender is also a decongestant and expectorant, which can help your body clear phlegm or relieve asthma.

Immune system. The volatile oils in lavender are antibacterial, antifungal and anti-inflammatory. Taken as a hot tea, lavender can reduce fever and increase the release of toxins through the skin and urine.

Externally. Lavender can be used as an antiseptic for inflammatory and infective skin problems, such as eczema, acne, varicose veins and nappy rash. It can stimulate tissue repair and minimise scar formation when the oil is applied to neat burns, cuts and wounds. Lavender also repels insects and relieves bites and stings. It can further help soothe pain of bruises and muscle tension.

In Chinese Medicine, lavender is recognized for its cooling effect and its affinity for helping the Shen, or mind, by cooling the Heart. It can help to find relaxation and respite from troubles that keep the mind in motion while causing tension in the body. Lavender is useful in cooling an overheated liver as is often found in women entering into menopause.

In Ayurveda, lavender is used as a pungent and cooling herb, and is a carminative, diuretic and antispasmodic. Lavender will lower Pitta and Kapha and has a mixed effect on Vata because of its ability to be calming and relaxing as well as stimulating and invigorating.

Lavender in the Home

Herbal folklore says that lavender is conducive to a long life and should be smelled as often as possible for longevity. Fresh and dried lavender can be strategically placed around the house, bringing the healing properties of this amazing herb into your home.

Posies and tussie mussies 

Lavender flowers are a wonderful addition to a bouquet of posies or tussie mussies. It is said that by combining different flowers into small posies you instill the qualities of the flowers and magic. Traditionally, tussie mussies were to be worn on a lapel. I use these bouquets as a wonderful addition to the altar of my yoga classes and workshops, and for my home yoga practice.

Sachets and sleep pillows

Small sachets of freshly dried lavender are invaluable in the home. You can tuck them amongst your clothes to keep your laundry smelling fresh. You can also use these sachets as sleep pillows, tuck one under your pillow to cultivate restful sleep.

I enjoy sewing so like to make muslin bags full of lavender and embroider them with a personalised motif. You only need to make the sachets once, then you can refresh year after year with each new harvest of lavender. These sachets also make great gifts.

lavender sachet

Potpourri

Lavender is one of the best flowers to use in homemade potpourri. Mixed with other flowers you can create your own personalized healing potpourri to strategically place around your home.

I enjoy creating potpourri out of spring rose petals, dried lavender and chamomile flowers. These can be collected from fallen vase flowers. This unique blend imbues the collective healing properties of each of these flowers. Store the potpourri in a wooden bowl and occasionally scrunch the mix to release the fragrant dried flower aroma.

Bathtime 

Mix fresh lavender with a bit of Epsom salts in your bathwater for a calming and relaxing bath that will relieve sore muscles and tension.

Lavender infused oil

Homemade lavender oil is wonderful for massaging the body. It can be used to ease period pains or for tension headaches by massaging gently into the area of pain. Lavender oil can also be used in a foot massage before bed to ground the body into a deeper sleep.

Lavender oil can also be used in your daily Abyanga. This self-massage technique is particularly beneficial for countering the stressful lifestyles of modern life. I have found Abyanga particularly beneficial to ease the symptoms associated with menopause. See my blog the Magic of Menopause and how Yoga can Support your Transition.

Caution: people with sensitive skin should test a small amount of the oil on their skin before applying it.

Lavender infused oil is so easy to make:

Fill a jar with dried lavender buds and pour in melted organic coconut oil. Allow to sit on a sunny window ledge for a minimum of 2 weeks. I find a good month of sitting in the sun is ideal for drawing out the aroma and essence of the flower.

Drain the mixture through cheesecloth, and discard the flower buds.

Lavender oil ingredientsjpg

Lavender water

Lavender water can be used in a variety of ways around the home. Use it as a misting spray to freshen and to bring a sense of calm to a room or as a soft spritz on freshly laundered linens. I also use lavender water as a skin toner – a spritz or two on the face will tone and refresh your skin.

Here is a simple recipe for lavender water from the garden:

  • All you need is a handful of fresh lavender and 100ml boiling water.
  • In a heatproof bowl or stainless steel pot place the lavender buds in the boiling hot water.
  • Cover the bowl or pot with a lid and leave the to steep for a few hours until cool, preferably overnight. The heat will draw out the oils from the flower and the water will become scented with the essential oils from the lavender.
  • Drain the mixture through fine mesh strainer or muslin/cheesecloth.
  • Discard the flower buds.
  • Pour the water into a bottle and place it into the fridge.

Use the water within 2 weeks. Lengthen the shelf life by keeping it in the refrigerator. To lengthen the shelf life of the lavender water, you can add a little alcohol (e.g. pure vodka) or witch hazel to preserve. My last batch I used Colloidal Silver as a preservative. Note: if planning to use it on the face, keep in mind that alcohol tends to dry out the skin.

If you don’t have any lavender in your garden, you can simply mix a few drops of lavender essential oil with some fresh rain or distilled water to create your own lavender water spritzer. lavender oil and water

In the kitchen

 We usually do not think of lavender as an herb for the kitchen, but it has many culinary applications.

Lavender flowers and leaves add colour and slightly pungent bitter flavours to sweet and savoury dishes. Lavender can be used to flavour oil, vinegar, cheese, jam, ice cream and other desserts. The flowers can also be candied and used to decorate cakes.

Flowers can be dried and steeped as a tea either on its own or blended with other herbs to make a delicious hot concoction. Here is the refreshing combination of lavender with lemon balm and mint.

herbs for tea (incl lavender)

Lavender’s diverse array of healing properties, make it a must in any garden. Lavender is easy to grow, easy to harvest and has so many simple and fun applications that bring the healing qualities of lavender into your home throughout the year.

Bibliography

Balick, MJ (2014) 21st Century Herbal. Rodale.

Frawley, D and Lad, V (2001) (2nd edition) The Yoga of Herbs: an ayurvedic guide to herbal medicine. Lotus Press.

McIntyre, A (2010) The Complete Herbal Tutor. Gaia.

Readers Digest (1994) Magic and Medicine of Plants. Readers Digest.

Shipard, I (2009) How can I use Herbs in my daily life? 4th Edition. David Stewart, Nambour, Qld.

The practical herbalist : Lavender: Love-inducing Protector (https://www.thepracticalherbalist.com/holistic-medicine-library/lavender-love-inducing-protector/)

The health information presented on this site is provided for educational purposes only. It is not meant to substitute for medical advice or diagnosis provided by your medical or other health professional. Do not use this information to diagnose, treat or cure any illness or health condition. If you have, or suspect that you have a medical problem, contact your physician or health care provider. 

© 2017 Jane Mallick. All rights reserved.