Archive for March, 2013

The aching yearning for Spring makes the birdsong sweetly joyful. It seems like the world rejoices in the song of life with the holy week for billions–Passover, Easter, Holi.

The same sun shines over all life without distinction
The water flows with no attempt at prejudice
The earth holds us all without labels
The tree gives fruit and shade without judgement
The breath flows from one to another giving life to all
The sky covers us with the umbrella of infinite space
Rich or poor, dark or light, man or woman
No East, West, North, or South
Seeing no country or religion
Just Being
Why let the mind divide what Nature does not

Happy Holidays and Spring to all!

Here is Richard Blanco‘s gift to all in his inaugural poem “One Today” (January 2013) copied here from NPR:

One sun rose on us today, kindled over our shores, 
peeking over the Smokies, greeting the faces 
of the Great Lakes, spreading a simple truth 
across the Great Plains, then charging across the Rockies. 
One light, waking up rooftops, under each one, a story 
told by our silent gestures moving behind windows.
My face, your face, millions of faces in morning’s mirrors, 
each one yawning to life, crescendoing into our day: 
pencil-yellow school buses, the rhythm of traffic lights, 
fruit stands: apples, limes, and oranges arrayed like rainbows 
begging our praise. Silver trucks heavy with oil or paper—
bricks or milk, teeming over highways alongside us, 
on our way to clean tables, read ledgers, or save lives—
to teach geometry, or ring-up groceries as my mother did 
for twenty years, so I could write this poem.

All of us as vital as the one light we move through, 

the same light on blackboards with lessons for the day: 
equations to solve, history to question, or atoms imagined, 
the “I have a dream” we keep dreaming,
or the impossible vocabulary of sorrow that won’t explain 
the empty desks of twenty children marked absent 
today, and forever. Many prayers, but one light 
breathing color into stained glass windows, 
life into the faces of bronze statues, warmth 
onto the steps of our museums and park benches 2 
as mothers watch children slide into the day.

One ground. Our ground, rooting us to every stalk 
of corn, every head of wheat sown by sweat 
and hands, hands gleaning coal or planting windmills 
in deserts and hilltops that keep us warm, hands 
digging trenches, routing pipes and cables, hands 
as worn as my father’s cutting sugarcane 
so my brother and I could have books and shoes.

The dust of farms and deserts, cities and plains 
mingled by one wind—our breath. Breathe. Hear it 
through the day’s gorgeous din of honking cabs, 
buses launching down avenues, the symphony 
of footsteps, guitars, and screeching subways, 
the unexpected song bird on your clothes line.

Hear: squeaky playground swings, trains whistling, or whispers across café tables, Hear: the doors we open for each other all day, saying: hello

shalom, buon giorno


namaste or buenos días

in the language my mother taught me—in every language

spoken into one wind carrying our lives

without prejudice, as these words break from my lips.

One sky: since the Appalachians and Sierras claimed 
their majesty, and the Mississippi and Colorado worked 
their way to the sea. Thank the work of our hands: 
weaving steel into bridges, finishing one more report 
for the boss on time, stitching another wound 3 
or uniform, the first brush stroke on a portrait, 
or the last floor on the Freedom Tower 
jutting into a sky that yields to our resilience.

One sky, toward which we sometimes lift our eyes 
tired from work: some days guessing at the weather 
of our lives, some days giving thanks for a love 
that loves you back, sometimes praising a mother 
who knew how to give, or forgiving a father 
who couldn’t give what you wanted.

We head home: through the gloss of rain or weight 
of snow, or the plum blush of dusk, but always—home, 
always under one sky, our sky. And always one moon 
like a silent drum tapping on every rooftop 
and every window, of one country—all of us—
facing the stars 
hope—a new constellation
waiting for us to map it, 
waiting for us to name it—together

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David Brooks, the political commentator at The New York Times, has an interesting column today titled “Forecasting Fox” (March 22. 2013). His writing provokes broader thinking, whether there is agreement on his views or not. Today’s column is not about a political viewpoint but about the ability to make better forecasts.

What caught my attention was this:

The teams with training that engaged in probabilistic thinking performed best. The training involved learning some of the lessons included in Daniel Kahneman’s great work, “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” For example, they were taught to alternate between taking the inside view and the outside view.

Training the mind to alternate between taking the inside view and the outside view is precisely what my guided meditation CD Being in Flow: Meditations for Peace, Insight, Clarity, and Focus does.

The track Insight into Problems (13 minutes and 24 seconds) trains the mind to have an inside view and an outside view for better problem solving. It makes the mind more open and  less subject to conditioned thinking and behaviors. The thinking process is more divergent. This way of perceiving is helpful in everything from research, family relationships, challenging situations, political predictions or policy making, math problems, artistic or writing creativity, innovation of any kind, making corporate decisions, looking at a legal case, trading and quantitative analysis, really anything.

There are many points where we can observe direct convergence of behavioral economics, psychology, science, and yoga/meditation philosophy. Each seems to affirm the other on several aspects, and yoga meditation provides practical training to theory.

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Antioxidants slow aging, repeated faithfully without question is not holding up well in numerous studies. Antioxidants may actually cause aging, or trouble, in some cases.

“The free radical theory has filled a knowledge vacuum for over 50 years now, but it does not stand up to evidence” said Dr. David Gems to BBC News on December 1, 2008. David Gems breakthrough study was written up in Medical News Today, also on December 1, 2008. Google search does not show it appearing in other mainstream media as one would expect considerable attention to this work. The study then became the foundation for ‘The Myth of Antioxidants” by Melinda Wenner Moyer in Scientific American, February 2013–five years later.

What is the free radical theory and hypothesis?

According Wikipedia:

The free radical theory of aging (FRTA) states that organisms age because cells accumulate  free radical damage over time. A free radical is any atom or molecule that has a single unpaired electron in an outer shell…. (Electrons normally exist in pairs.) Most biologically relevant free radicals are highly reactive…. For most biological structures, free radical damage is closely associated with oxidative damage. Antioxidants are reducing agents, and limit oxidative damage to biological structures by passivating them from free radicals.

The man who came up with this theory in the 1950s was a chemist by the name of David Denham. It is because of this hypothesis that we are told by our doctors, nutritionists, the media, and advertisements about the wonders of antioxidants taken as multivitamins. They are available to us in supplements, in fortified foods, in cosmetics, in soaps and hair products.  We spend billions on these products.

Then came David Gems’ experiment and he was trying to prove the FRTA hypothesis. Much to his surprise, his experiment challenged it and did not support it. Thinking he had made an error he asked a colleague to repeat the experiment. The result was the same.

David Gems Experiment: Gems uses a certain type of round worm in his aging studies. Certain enzymes in these worms are the organism’s naturally produced antioxidants.  Gems bio-engineered the worms so they no longer produced these enzymes, no antioxidants. As expected, without antioxidants the free radical levels in the worms shot up. Now according to FRTA, the worms should have died prematurely. But they did not die prematurely.

Gems is Professor of Biogerontology, Department of Ageing (spelled the British way), at the University College of London.  The link to his profile will lead to some of his papers for further reading.

Arlan Richardson Experiments:  This information was gleaned from the Scientific American article. In Richardson’s experiments, 18 strains of mice were genetically engineered in two ways–some to produce more than normal levels of certain antioxidant enzymes and some to produce less than normal levels. According to FRTA, the group with higher levels of antioxidants would outlive those with lower levels. But the lifespan curves demonstrated no difference in the life spans.

Richardson is the Founding Director of the Barshop Institute; Professor of Cellular & Structural Biology at the University of Texas Health Science Center,  Cellular & Structural Biology and the Barshop Institute.  The link to his name will take readers to further links to a PBS interview with Richardson and the lecture  “Can we slow down aging, should we?”

Rochelle Buffenstein experiments: Again this is sourced from the Scientific American article.  Buffenstein’s research demonstrates that the naked mole rats have lower levels of natural antioxidants than similar sized mice. Consequently they  have more oxidative damage, and at an earlier age, than mice. But they live eight to 10 times longer, virtually disease free.

Buffenstein is a professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center and her work can be viewed via the link.

Free radicals clearly accumulate in the aging process. They may not be the cause, but the byproduct, of aging. In small amounts, they may possibly boost the body’s ability to repair cellular damage. However, in large amounts they can create damage and lead to various diseases.

Interestingly, Moyer writes about a study comparing a group that exercised and took antioxidants with a group that exercised but used no vitamins. Paradoxically, exercise produces free radicals but is beneficial. The group that did not take any supplements was healthier and showed fewer indications of developing type 2 diabetes than the group that took antioxidant supplements.

There is clearly a lot more to learn about aging and antioxidants. But do we have to take all these antioxidants? Beta carotene and retinol may actually increase the odds of developing lung cancer and heart disease (see article link for charts). The article concludes that taking antioxidants may do us more harm than good. It must be noted though there is a difference in the way an organism may react to naturally found antioxidants in food versus manufactured antioxidant supplements.

For more, please refer to the Scientific American article (link above) and visit ScientificAmerican.com/feb2013/aging

National Institute of Aging concludes:

Antioxidants protect the body from the harmful effects of by-products known as free radicals, made normally when the body changes oxygen and food into energy. The discovery of antioxidants raised hopes that people could slow aging simply by adding them to the diet. So far, studies of antioxidant-laden foods and supplements in humans have yielded little support for this conclusion. Further research, including large-scale epidemiological studies, might clarify whether dietary antioxidants can help people live longer, healthier lives. For now, although the effectiveness of dietary antioxidant supplementation remains controversial, there is positive evidence for the health benefits of fruits and vegetables.


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Yoga studios around the world will be celebrating Maha Shivaratri on March 10, 2013. It will not be a religious event in numerous studios who have members of all faiths, but it will be an affirmation of the universal meaning of yoga–the communion of the little or individual self with the big Self or cosmic Self (universal consciousness). I find the meaning of Shivaratri echoed in The Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross, showing how all paths are illuminated by the same Light.

Here we have the allegory explained by the late and renowned yoga master Swami Satyananda Saraswati, founder of the Bihar School of Yoga which is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

Shivaratri–Union of Shiva and Shakti

By Swami Satyananda Saraswati, Yoga Magazine March 2007, published by the Bihar School of Yoga.  Printed here with permission from the Bihar School of Yoga.

There are two concepts of spiritual illumination. One is that Shakti awakens, goes up sushumna nadi and unites with Shiva in sahasrara chakra. Shiva represents the higher cosmic consciousness and Shakti represents evolution of energy. Kundalini yoga is based on this concept.

The other concept is that consciousness goes to meet Shakti, and this is Shivaratri. The concept of Shivaratri is the awakening of consciousness at the material level of existence and uniting with Shakti at a higher point in evolution. Therefore, the word used is ratri, meaning dark night. What are the night and day of consciousness? When the individual experiences existence, the objective reality all around him, that is the day of consciousness. The night of consciousness is when the consciousness is all alone and no objective experience takes place. You don’t hear, see, feel or know anything. Time, space and objectivity-–three qualities of mind-–fall flat. Consciousness alone remains. That is the dark night of the soul, the stage just before illumination. (Readers may want to refer to a previous blog post with commentary written by Ivan Granger on The Dark Night of the Soul by John of the Cross–who would have thought that the famous poem describes the same concept as Shivaratri. As I read the two together, it becomes quite clear.) So Shivaratri is a symbol of the spiritual state of samadhi. But for us, Shivaratri means the state preceding samadhi, illumination.

In the story Shiva, who lived in the forest, went to marry Parvati, daughter of the Himalayas, who lived up in the snow peaks. He was the master, guru and controller of ghosts and demons, and so they were part of his marriage procession. Some had one eye in the back of their head, some had no eyes, or eyes in their belly. Some had only one ear, others had huge elephant ears or only holes for ears. Some walked on one leg, others on three.

Parvati’s family sent out a reception party to escort them to Parvati’s house, but when they caught sight of Shiva and his strange companions, they took to their heels and ran for dear life. At Parvati’s house they related what they has seen in awe and horror. “Oh, he is terrible! The son-in-law has come riding on a bull. He is naked and his body is smeared with ash. He has snakes all over him and his companions are most hideous.” Parvati’s mother was so upset. How could she accept such a horrible son-in-law? But Parvati remained calm and resolute.

The moment Lord Shiva’s procession entered the Himalayan kingdom, he and his funny companions turned into dazzling divine beings with beautiful faces, fine clothes, fragrant flowers and so on. The demons changed into lovely people. Everything was transformed in the twinkling of an eye, and so the marriage took place.

Shiva is symbolic of consciousness. For the individual, consciousness is moving higher and higher towards Shakti. It moves along with all the instincts and animal propensities, with all that we are. Even as you practice yoga, everything is still with you-–fear, anger, passions, worries, anxiety-–you are moving with all your companions. Your soul is also evolving, progressing, along with all your companions. But there comes a point in spiritual life when all these companions are transformed, and the same instinct becomes intuition.

During the course of spiritual evolution, you try many times and fail-–you go to the church for the wedding but when you get to the door, you find that the bride is not there and you have to return home disappointed. You have inspirations, you may catch a glimpse of the higher state, but it is not complete. When the time comes and the transformation occurs, the ugly companions turn into divine attendants with suits and ties! The horrifying aspects of your personality become your ornaments, your helpers.

Parvati symbolizes the higher energy; she also symbolizes the kundalini shakti in tantra. The divine union which takes place when Shiva comes to meet Shakti represents enlightenment in absolute darkness.

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Travel is not normally a part of this blog, but hearing how vegetarians and Indians travelling to Morocco have a hard time with food, we thought we would share our positive experiences and suggestions. The secret to good eating lies in the home-style cooking of riads. The spices used are very similar to Indian cooking (coriander, cumin, turmeric, paprika, cinnamon, ginger, fresh herbs).  Fez is a little more challenging for vegetarians than Marrakech. Hopefully our recommendations will be helpful as vacations on an empty stomach are not much fun!

Hotels and riads serve good breakfasts (usually included but check) and it is a good beginning to the day. Moroccan oranges are abundant everywhere and  are wonderfully flavorful. You will see orange juice served all over the place. At Riad Dar Dmana (see below) we had the best orange juice ever. You can request the excellent Moroccan mint tea or coffee nuss-nuss (half coffee, half milk). There are plenty of breads served: one is a cross between a crumpet and a pancake. It is eaten warm with lots of butter and honey. Another is the Indian paratha made of plain white flour (maida). There is a flattish semolina bread and little fennel flavored buns. Yogurt and fruit are often included.

Food served at eateries around tourist sites is very restricted for vegetarians–vegetable tajine with seven vegetables, couscous with seven vegetables, or vegetarian pastilla (layers of filo encasing a mixture of vegetables and sometimes cheese). Ask if the harira soup is vegetarian. Many places serve a three-course meal for MAD 60-70 (MAD 8 to US $1). This would be a soup or salad, tajine or couscous, and fruit and possibly mint tea. It is fine to share a meal. But the food is usually mediocre and there is not much variety.

So tourists need to explore other places. There are plenty of Italian and French choices, especially if you leave the medinas and go to Ville Nouvelle in the various cities. For us, riads were sources of varied and good vegetarian food but you have to know which ones and they may serve just dinner. Most places only accept cash. A good tip is about 10 percent. Taxes are included in the price of the dish. The price-ranges below do not include any drinks besides water.

Here are some of the places that you may not find anywhere else (Riad 58 Blu) and they are the ones we really enjoyed:

Riad 58 Blu is  not only a charming place to stay without blowing your budget, it also serves fabulous vegetarian food made-to-order. It is not a restaurant and riad guests place an order the night before dinner the following day. It is home-style cooking and it was by far the best vegetarian tajine we had–nothing like what is served in places around the medina. The salad was very generously portioned and fresh with lots of flavor. Even if you stay elsewhere, you can call and eat in this pretty riad with gracious service. It is an easy walk from the medina and you can speak to, or e-mail, Mohammed or Paolo (the Italian owner) about your dietary needs. For four of us, two dinners were enough but we feasted on three. Our tab for four adults was MAD 600 plus tip.

On our way to the souks, a short walk from this riad, was a lovely French cafe where we ate a delicious dinner one night (soups,  salad, spring rolls).

Pepe Nero is a five-minute walk from Riad 58 Blu. The restaurant is part of a stunning riad (upscale prices). The restaurant is open to other guests for lunch and dinner and is incredibly beautiful. This is not a cheap place and reservations are essential (the day or morning before). However, you can still eat well by choosing carefully. Also you don’t have to be all dressed up–we saw people in shorts, jeans, as well as dresses and jackets.

The restaurant has a Moroccan and an Italian menu (vegetarian pasta and risotto) and you can choose a la carte–ask for it. We chose to share two vegetarian mezzes between the four of us and then had four orders of soup–two harira and two cream of leek. The soup portions are very generous and I could have been very satisfied with just soup and the fresh bread. We then had Moroccan pastries, really cookies, and they are simply delicious here–cornes de gazelle is light with barely sweet marzipan inside. Other concoctions are also stuffed with nuts sweetened with honey, rosewater, and orange water.

Remember you can share–our tab was MAD 800 plus tip for four people. Our waiter Said was charming and thoughtful, always smiling, and we had impeccable service. By New York or London prices, this is about $25-$30 for an outstanding meal in a luxurious setting. Pepe Nero accepts credit cards.

Cuisine de Mona‘s owner Mona told us that for the last two years when movie stars flock to Morocco for the International Film Festival, the Indian heart-throb Shah Rukh Khan (SRK) calls her to place huge take-out orders. Moroccans adore Shah Rukh Khan and people mention his name everywhere if they think you are an Indian.

Well, if SRK orders from here, he knows good Lebanese food. It makes a welcome change from Moroccan food. And Mona is a passionate cook. She served us six different mezzes–you need four orders for four hungry people. Every dish was fresh, well prepared, with very clean flavors. One member of our family wiped every bowl and dish clean with pieces of really thin and light pita. I am still waiting for Mona’s beet spread recipe for Mahasri Yoga. Expect to pay around MAD 600 (or more) for four, plus tip.

Mohammed from Riad 58 Blu ordered us a grand taxi (MAD 250) to take us to Cuisine de Mona and back–this was very helpful as it took a little time to find the restaurant and not knowing French or Arabic we would have had a hard time in a taxi from a taxi stand. Also it is not easy to find a grand taxi to get back–petite taxis only take up to three passengers.

Read before you go. It is helpful to know what you like and read recommendations from other tourists–read Tripadvisor, travel guides, newspaper articles, and travel magazines..


Riad Dar Dmana is inside the medina in a quiet alley. It is a family owned and operated, comfortable, and relatively large mid-range riad.  The owner, R’chid, is very helpful and we ordered dinner for two nights. The order must be placed the day before as this is not a restaurant. Haayat, a family member, practically lived at the riad. She made and served our breakfasts. She also cooked our dinners. One night we had excellent, home-made harira soup served with dates and a little sweet called shebbakiya  (similar to Indian jalebi). This was followed by a delicious tajine of vegetables stuffed with rice (eggplant, squash, peppers, potatoes, onions, carrots). The meal ended with a platter of fresh fruit. The second night we had  seven to eight cooked Moroccan salads (little side dishes that fill you up as a meal) with bread. These were very well prepared. Then came a buttery couscous served with powdered sugar, cinnamon, and chilled milk. R’chid explained that this is a dish served at the beginning of a wedding feast. Children may enjoy this more than adults. The meal ended with Moroccan oranges and bananas. Expect to pay MAD 400 to 500 for two to three shared vegetarian dinners, plus tip and water charges.

Clock Cafe in the medina was not a big hit with our family even though it had several vegetarian and vegan dishes and it was recommended in many places. The falafel was overcooked and dry. The tabbouleh was also dry, tasteless, and was mainly cracked wheat with just a sprinkling of herbs. The tapas platter was passable.  The beans and lentils we ordered had no flavor.

Maison Bleue was pricey at 60 euros per person. As we negotiated (yes, you can in many places), it came down to 20 euros per person for a vegetarian dinner but by this time we  were turned off this well-rated place and opted to eat at Riad Dar Dmana. This upscale riad is a five-minute walk from Riad Dar Dmana and if you choose to go, remember to reserve. Riad Fassia is also an upscale place, well-rated for food,  five minutes away.

Hotel Merinides is perched near the tombs of the same name. It is very pleasant to sit out on the terrace with a spectacular view of Fez. We thoroughly enjoyed our pizza as a welcome change. It is also great to just sit out for drinks, coffee, tea and take a break from the souks and the medina. The cab ride from the medina cost us MAD 5-6 per petite taxi. So it is very cheap to take a cab and there is a taxi stand a short walk from the hotel for a ride back. The pizzas were MAD 60-75,  coffee and tea MAD 30.

If anyone has other good suggestions or recommendations, please share them to make for a better experience for vegetarian tourists.

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Whole Planet Foundation is a private, non-profit organization established by Whole Foods Market. Its mission is poverty alleviation through micro-credit in communities that supply Whole Foods Market. Mahasri Yoga has found a perfect partner in Whole Planet Foundation to make a difference in the poor communities around the world. Yoga as a power of transformation is already having an impact at the individual level.  It can now help transform our communities as well through such a partnership.

Mahasri Yoga embodies the vision that universal, timeless practices of the yoga tradition can benefit people everywhere. It is the belief that internal harmony leads to externally harmonious communities. To that end, Mahasri Yoga provides information, support, and guided step-by-step practices to alleviate anxiety, stress, pain, and to release infinite potential. The website has a global presence (readers come from over 100 countries).

All profits, 100 percent,  from the sale of the CD and the workshops conducted are donated to charity. Some of the selected charities provide assistance to create self-sufficient, economically independent families (others provide education, food, healthcare).  There are no deductions for administrative expenses or time as these are funded privately. Whole Planet Foundation is an excellent fit for Mahasri Yoga.

Purchasing the meditation CD Being in Flow: Meditations for Peace, Insight, Clarity, and Focus makes the statement that our vision and efforts are aligned, as a percentage of  sales of this CD goes to Whole Planet Foundation on an on-going basis.



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