Nature Immunology recently released a very cool video showing how the immune response plays out in your gut. Watch and learn!
Sunday, March 9, 2014
Monday, March 3, 2014
It's about 18 degrees Fahrenheit out there, and expected to drop even further, to around 8 degrees by tomorrow morning. The federal government, my area's largest employer, is closed, as are all the county offices and school districts.
Even the bus system has shut down. All of these events have transformed my neighborhood in Arlington, Virginia, just three miles outside of Washington, DC, into an oasis of utter quiet. No buses trundling by on Lee Highway, a half block away from my house. No cars. No sounds outside at all, except the bluster of the wind as it rattles my windows every few moments.
I could rail against this, point out that we've had just about enough winter already, thank you very much. Or I could dismiss it, the way many of us who have been transplanted to Washington DC react to the inevitable freakout that accompanies every flake that hits the area, saying it's just a little snow and people here don't know what real snow is, not the kind of snow we had back in Idaho and Montana and North Dakota.
Or I could notice how quiet it is. I could notice how relaxed I am, how peaceful it feels in my house, how tasty that lunch was that I just made for myself. Tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich! What could be better? I could notice that the snow is clean and white and beautiful, as snow always is. I could notice that our heat is working because our power is still on. I could notice that I am grateful for this, and for all of these things.
I could also notice that it is snowing whether I want it to snow or not. I could notice that nothing I say or do or feel will change the fact that, today, it is snowing. Again. This is today's truth.
In yoga, we have a set of ethical principles, the yamas and the niyamas, which appear in the yoga sutras as guides to our practice. Among the yamas, which are the "external disciplines," we find satya, which means truthfulness. When we practice satya, we focus on that which is true, that which is--not that which we would like or wish to be, but that which actually exists.
When we apply satya to our asana practice, we are truthful with ourselves about just how far we can stretch those hamstrings or bend that back. We don't pretend that we can stretch farther than we can or bend more than we ought. If we do, we are being untrue, to ourselves, as well as to the practice.
When we apply satya to our lives, we are truthful about everything--we accept the truth of our past and our present, we accept the truth of who we are, and who we are not. And we especially accept the truth of things we cannot control, like the weather.
Among the niyamas, those "internal disciplines" that guide our yoga practice, we find santosa, which means contentment. A verse in the yoga sutras says, about santosa, "Contentment brings unsurpassed joy."
And, thus, we arrive at the essential lesson of these two yogic principles: by letting go of our attachment to the way things ought to be, and accepting the truth of the way things actually are, we will find joy.
It is snowing. Let it be.
Friday, February 28, 2014
Here is my calendar for this month, and it's actually not too bad, despite the way it seemed at the time. The type of writing I've been doing varies from day to day, but this month has been divided between (a) weekly exercises assigned for my Fiction Techniques class at Hopkins; (b) blog posts; and (c) freewriting.
Although I would have liked to see some time spent on the novel I'm supposed to be revising, I do think it's been wise to set it aside for awhile and concentrate on classwork. I hope to begin working through my revision plan for the novel starting in March....but we'll see how that goes next month. Which starts tomorrow!
I have spent a considerable amount of time on freewriting this month, and this was actually a conscious choice. For some time now, I have been working on developing a technique that more intentionally integrates my yoga practice with my writing. When I talk to myself about this, I call these integrated yoga and writing sessions Asana-Freewrite time, because the method involves deliberate focused asana practice (asana means pose or posture) followed immediately by a session of timed freewriting.
I started to more consciously develop this technique last summer when I took a weekend workshop in Iowa from Robin Bourjaily of Poses & Prose. Her method, inspired by the teachings of Jeffrey Davis, author of "Journey from the Center to the Page," crystallized for me the approach I had already been using for years with my writing, even though I didn't realize this was what I was doing.
I noticed quite some time ago that if I went directly into writing after a period of movement in yoga, the images and characters and ideas that came pouring up were vivid and new and exciting to write about. I got several story ideas this way, many many characters, even an entire novel, but it wasn't until Robin's course that I began to make the connection between the intentional practice of yoga in the process of creating new writing. [By the way, if you are intrigued by this idea, Robin will be teaching the workshop again, at the 2014 Iowa Summer Writing Festival.]
So, I've been working on that for a number of months, trying to find the best way to combine these two core activities in my life. And I haven't wanted to talk about it much, or write about it, because I was just beginning to see what worked for me, and what didn't. I still don't know a lot of specifics, but I do know that I need a starting phrase or two to get the writing flowing once I move off the mat and pick up my pen or sit at the computer.
The phrases that work best for me are ones I learned in a fabulous book by Natalie Goldberg, Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life. This amazing book changed the way I write by showing me how to do freewriting in a productive way. She has many suggestions in this book, but the approach that works best for me is the following: Set the timer for ten minutes, then write the phrase "I'm thinking about...." and put down whatever thought or image or idea is in your head. When you get stuck, write "Now I'm thinking about...." and keep going, for ten minutes. Walk around for a couple of minutes, not speaking or reading or engaging with words in any way, then return to the page. Set the timer for ten more minutes and write "I'm not thinking about..." and continue with this for ten minutes.
By combining Natalie's freewriting method with Robin's "take your writing to the mat" method, I've now got a technique that works for me, both for generating new material when I need it (such as for those all-too-frequent weekly writing assignments) as well as for revising or adding to material I'm already working on.
Some days, an entirely new piece comes to me, which is what happened today. I took some time to type it up and have filed it in my "Beginnings" binder. Some day, I will pull it out and work on it again, but it feels great to have found a way to capture at least a small portion of the flood of ideas that the Asana-Freewrite method unleashes.
And now: onward to March!