Practices For The Summer Solstice

Feeling a little sleepy, a little sluggish? That’s a natural during this sacred time of the year, during the Summer Solstice. “June 20th and the 21st will be the longest days of 2017 for anyone living north of the equator.” The Solstice comes around twice a year; there’s the Winter Solstice and the Summer Solstice.

In the tradition of our ancestors of ancient Khamit, this time of the year yields a more intense sacred vibration. It’s a time when our spirit is most open to suggestion. It is therefore recommended to be a time of quiet, of meditation and prayer, of visualization for what it is we would like to manifest in our lives.

To practice this full throttle, one would take off from work and spend the four days of the solstice fasting, praying, meditating and sleeping. It is often called “The Sleep”.  This is because it is best to be in a quiet state of mind, to receive what the Universe is emitting at this special time of the year.  You may not be able to take the practice this far (this time around) but you can take some extra time after work for reflection and meditation, for introspection and quietude when you do arrive home from work. You may not be prepared to fast, but you can refrain from junk food or snack food and increase your intake of wholesome, life sustaining fruits and vegetables food and drink.  If possible it is recommended to wear all white during the Solstice.  Everyone can practice the Solstice to the degree to which their lives and or commitment allows.

Shaman Cologne Created Withe Bespoke Frankincense and Myrrh

It is a time to refrain from partaking in entertainment, so… no television, movies, partying, alcohol, recreational drugs, sensual or sexual activities. And for myself, I’ve included refraining from social media during the Solstice. It’s a time to clear and cleanse mind, body and spirit so that we are better able to tune in and receive insights and blessings available to us. The height of the Solstice will take place on the last night, the 24th. Perhaps because it’s a Saturday, you may be able to take full advantage on that day of the making the sacrifices stated above.

We can use herbs and oils to take us deeper into our prayers and or meditations. Preparations that have essences, botanicals like frankincense, myrrh, sage and other sacred herbs are great for both wearing and  fumigating in our homes during this time.

Do what you can and have a wonderful Summer Solstice and summer season.

 

 

Thailand – Land of the Buddha

Back in October when I asked my friend Patricia Patton if I could join her on an excursion to Thailand, I really knew very little about Thailand, except that I’ve always enjoyed Thai massage and Thai food. This was going to be my gift to me for my 60th!  I had forgotten that the movie The King and I,  was based on a true story and in many ways influenced the future of Siam aka Thailand.  Nor did I realize that the food chain 7- Eleven was founded by a man from Thailand.  Those stores permeate the country, with over eight thousand 7-Elevens in Thailand, and over three thousand of those are located in Bangkok.

And I had no idea the level of devotion to the teachings of the Buddha, the Buddha consciousness that is palpable throughout Thailand. Despite the fact that most of the population are poor, people appear at peace and happy.  This may sound naive, but I do believe it’s the culture, tied in with the beliefs of the Buddha (regardless circumstances, happiness is available in every moment by controlling the mind) that makes for these easy going population. I’m not saying they’re happy to be poor, but the Thai people are just very pleasant to be around.

Patricia and I

I cannot deny what it requires of me mentally and physically to take these exceedingly long flights to far away lands. The whole mind game to endure an 18 hour flight to Thailand was substantial. There are some folks who travel around the globe on a regular basis and think nothing of the travel time. Many of them tell me they just sleep through it. I find it quite grueling and resort to all kinds of techniques, like talking to myself and practicing breathing exercises, watching lots of movies and reading. Still, I feel like a kid constantly trying not to ask myself “How much longer? Are we there yet?” And I was so thankful for the compression socks my sister loaned me. At the last minute I couldn’t find mine.  But won’t travel without them. What a life, legs, saver!!!

Typically, I was never one who could sleep on airplanes. But these days when I travel, I used my Spritzers and essential oil blends to calm and center myself. These Spritzers are my constant travel companions whether traveling locally in my car, on the subway or headed across the globe. Their botanical ingredients provide an easy access to natures healing powers.

Ancient ruins with countless statues like this of the Buddha – It was 105 degrees this day

It was incredibly hot when we arrived in Thailand.  We later found out that we arrived at the beginning of the Thai summer season. Ours would be the last tour of the season due to the extreme heat.  That first week the temperature ranged between 95-105 degrees. No wonder they have Night Markets, where mostly tourists shop at outdoor markets in the evenings when the temps have cooled down. One thing I did notice with all that heat, the little aches and pains I typically have were non-existent.  Now that I’m back home to cold, damp temps, those little annoyances have returned….We also happen to be in Thailand during the Thai New Year, April 13th-15th. Since it’s so hot during the New Year season, that it is celebrated with water.  And people literally douse each other with buckets of water, water guns, water hoses, it’s hilarious and fun.

In the big city of Bangkok, there seems to be no rhyme or reason as to how the city is laid out, if you can even call it that. It’s a mesh-mash of shanty type buildings thrown right in with 5 star hotels. Not my idea of beauty. Though there are many fabulous boutique hotels and other businesses that have all the bells and whistles. I found the city of Bangkok quite congested and unattractive along with the underlying smell of sewage; much like what I have experienced in Africa and the Caribbean.  These facts did not subtract from the overall experience of Thailand, which was just incredible. For my taste, the countryside is far more appealing with rice farms and lots of greenery, palm trees, coconut trees and all kinds of huge plants abound. We traveled to five cities but they were all up north, nowhere near the amazing beaches of the south in cities like Phuket, the place that introduced most of the world to the word tsunami.

Young novice monks on daily walk to receive offerings of food

What most amazed me was the devotion to the Buddha and his teachings. It’s in the air in the way that the people conduct themselves and interact with others. Imagine begin in a place where everyone who greets you brings their hands into prayer position and bows their head. This is everyone, from the children on up, the shop keepers, the concierge at the finest hotel restaurants, everyone greets you this way in Thailand. There’s something very sacred about that kind of interaction. It’s a cause for a mental pause, to really see the person you’re greeting and who is greeting you. People tend to be easy going and calm, gracious and patient, soft spoken and considerate. Drivers give each other the right of way, and there is no car horn blowing in Thailand. Drivers have the option to buy their cars with or without a horn, and most do not. Imagine that!

An artisan making a Buddha

There are incredible images of the Buddha, everywhere. There are 14 million people in the city of Bangkok alone and our tour guide said that there are least 3 Buddha statues to every one person. Thailand is an ancient country with statues of the Buddha that date back 700 years. There are ancient temples and ruins to the Buddha that both local people and travelers pay homage to daily. They bring offerings of money, bouquets of fresh cut flowers, garlands of flowers, jewelry, incense, they burn candles, genuflect and pray. The monks are given food daily by the people as a way of honoring those who take very seriously the teachings of the Buddha. All this to say, I was happily in a kind of, Buddha heaven until that last day. The many innumerable temples of all varying sizes, ages, details, are too many to list here.

The King graciously accepting a flower from an elder

Another point that stood out in a major way is the love that the Thai people have for their deceased king; this is evident everywhere. Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej, was the world’s longest-reigning monarch; he died on October 13th 2016, after 70 years as head of state.  All over the city, the country, in the homes and businesses are huge photos, posters, and elaborate water resistant framed images of this king, the late Rama the 9th.  Yet, he was hardly ever in the headlines.  Why, because he was a great man, an upright leader who cared.  Had he been a tyrant we would have heard much about him.

Seemingly he was a king of and for the people. Our guide told us of the many ways he regularly went into the proverbial trenches to support and empower the people, to be with them through natural disasters, to uplift the farmers, to teach the Cambodians other skills so that they gladly left the lucrative business of opium behind. His Highness passed last October, but if you were there now, you’d think he just died the other day as buildings, businesses and homes are draped in black and white mourning cloth. He loved his people and their love for him is still quite apparent.

Sitting here with young girls from the Karen Long Neck Tribe

Last but not least, this time around on Thailand, are of the beautiful indigenous people who live in the hills of Chiang Mai. There are 10 Hill Tribes and the one that is most well known are the Karen Long Neck Tribe. They are located up the hill from the elephant reserve in Chiang Mai.  Unfortunately, these tribes are becoming like most indigenous people around the planet, scarce. Their numbers are declining as the elders pass on and the young people succumb to the influence of western civilization via satellite television and tourists. There are seemingly more people who live in the 75 brownstones on my block, than who reside in those 10 tribes, put together. There didn’t appear to be even 100 people in those hills.

Up in the hills where nature and beauty prevails

I was heartbroken that this was not a part of our scheduled tour. And since our tour was so jammed packed, it was just a few of us who decided that on the last day in Thailand (when I was out of steam, time and money) we would get up early to make the journey to see the people of the Hill Tribes. They were the real deal, the ones with the ancient artistry, living the way of the ancient customs and traditions. This was for me the soul of Thailand. I would have gladly skipped spending one more day seeing yet three to five more temples and dozens more Buddha images to spend a whole day and even several days in the hills with the Hill Tribes.

A young Kayaw girl weaving on loom

These people of art and the land make their living selling their amazing artistry to tourist. I found myself feeling guilty for being there as a tourist, taking photos of them and with them. I felt like I needed to be doing more, giving more than just an exchange of money for their goods.   I’m still grappling with this and wondering what more can I do? But needless to say, despite all the many Buddhist temples and incredible statues of the Buddha, this 45 minute visit to see the people in the hills, was the highlight of my trip to Thailand. If I ever make it back to Thailand, this is where I will be spending my time and money.

This wonderful Akha elder had us all smiling

There’s so much more that we experienced and learned, like ride on the elephants (images of elephants are also quite prevalent in Thailand) learning how to cook Thai food, we learned how to make paper with botanical designs in the paper, and the list goes on and on. If you haven’t already visited, consider going to Thailand for a most unique and fortifying experience.

It Hurt So Good – Thai Massage

After 17 hours of  flying time to arrive in Bangkok, Thailand today, I couldn’t wait to have one of those amazing Thai massages.  It hurt so good, I felt I had to share this incredible treat with you.  Thailand is called the land of the Buddha. But another thing that Thailand is quite famous for is, Thai Massage. Thai Massage has a profound healing affect on the body, due to the many levels of the body that this massage technique is able to access.

Our tour guide informed us that there is no hip or knee replacement surgery in Thailand due to great affect Thai massage has on the body. She mentioned that Thai massage is also the reason why senior citizens of Thailand have no problem squatting to use their traditional, hole in the ground kind of toilet. BTW, squatting is the natural position to relieve one’s bowels. It is a toddler’s tendency to assume the squat position before they are taught to sit on a potty. Indigenous people around the planet, squat to relieve themselves. Squatting prevents straining, undue pressure on the legs and thereby prevents hemorrhoids.

Thai massage addresses meridians also known as channels along the body. When having Thai massage some of the points along the channels are extremely tender when pressed by the therapist, due to blockages. It’s the kind of tenderness that can cause you to groan in pain. Yet, by the second, or third round of adding pressure to that same area, the tenderness subsides, indicating the blockage has been cleared and you don’t have to consider knocking out the therapist for causing you such discomfort.

The massage therapist uses fingers and thumbs for small areas, forearms and elbows for medium size muscles and the foot and knee for larger areas of the body like hamstrings and gluteus maximus. Actually, they use their whole bodies to massage you. They pull and stretch you like you’re a rubber doll. It’s quite incredible. It’s the one massage modality that doesn’t require you to remove your clothes.

One of the ladies I’m traveling with has been to Thailand so many times, the only thing she’s interested in buying this time around are massage therapy sessions. On our first day here she had a four-hour massage. Another friend of mine who lived in other parts of Asia and the Emirates, used to also travel to Thailand just for the massages. Not only are the massages great, they cost under $10.00 US dollars per hour. Often those in the know travel to Thailand just have massages all day long and or for days in a row.

These massage parlors are ubiquitous in Thailand as everyone here receives these services.  I was the only foreigner in the little spot I went to today.  The parlor I visited had approximately 7 “stations” in one large room.  All of the massages are done on a mat, on the floor and it was very clean.  I had to chuckle when near the end of my session one elder therapist asked where I was from.  I said, New York.  She couldn’t understand me even after I repeated it, so my therapist whispered to her, “New York, she Negro American.”  I never felt so good to be referred to as a Negro before in my life.  Somehow the way she shared my heritage, touched my heart and caused a sweet internal laugh.

You don’t have to travel all the way to Thailand for Thai massage, especially if you live in New York or California, but if you can, it will be worth the trip, because you will get the real deal, at a price that will make you feel guilty. It’s the best guilty pleasure of them all.

 

Celebrating My 60th Year!

This past weekend I celebrated my 60 birthday by marking the date with a photo shoot. My father was a  photographer for the navy; and as such I’ve been in front of the camera with a professional photographer starting in my youth.

Part of me was hesitant about this decision because when I mentioned it to key people in my life they seen to yawn at the idea. But I found certain images kept reappearing before me as if they wanted to be born. Finally, I called a long time friend, photographer Edward C. Jones, who I’ve known since our days at Howard University and asked if he was up for this venture. His was the first positive feedback. Even with that vote of confidence, I vacillated many times, I wanted to cancel, but eventually I went forward with this plan.

Part of my inspiration to do this shoot was to address “looking younger” than my age. What has been most important to me, is feeling vibrant and healthy. I have often felt humbled by these compliments and wanted to share that my looking younger and being healthy did not come from “good genes”. My so-called youthful appearance, I believe has come from a lifestyle of both discipline and sacrifice.  What has been most surprising to me is that as I become older, being disciplined has not become easier.  There is a part of me wants to rest on my laurels, but I know it doesn’t work like that. You use it or you loose it. I know that I’m only as good as my last meditation, my last yoga practice, my last act of compassion.

When in my 20s and 30s I was not out partying and drinking on weekends like many people are at that age. I was at home going to bed early, including on the weekends, after standing on my feet braiding hair for 8, 10, 12 hours a day. Instead of partying and drinking alcohol, I was consuming herbal infusions and fresh pressed juices, and in bed most nights by 10:00.  And practicing yoga helped mitigate the occupational hazards of that sedentary work of standing and sitting on a high stool for hours on end.  Yoga saved me.

I am still an early to sleep, early to rise kind of gal. I was also a vegan at that time and practicing yoga on a regular basis as well as doing aerobic workout regularly (mostly power walking and bicycling around Central Park when I lived in Harlem and Prospect Park when I moved to Brooklyn). In addition, I belonged to Ausar Auset an African religious organization that focused on yoga, meditation, a spiritually based lifestyle and many of the same spiritual concepts and practices that I am re-visiting through the teachings of the Buddha, via the teachings of Thích Nhât Hanh, I was also introduced to at Ausar Auset .  Most of my close friends from that time are still my close friends today and they are all healthy, vibrant and on no medications; and many of them are five to seven years older than I am.

I sincerely believe my decision to live a healthy life style was greatly influenced by loosing my grandmother, who was my best friend, at the age of 8. My grandmother was just 48 years when she died of complications from type 2 diabetes and stroke. Diabetes “runs” in my family. But as we all have learned by now, that it’s really the diet and lifestyle that “runs” in the family and creates the conditions that lead to type 2 diabetes.

On the table behind me, my Ancestor shrine with photos of my dear grandmother and other family and friends now on the other side of eternity.

My grandmother amazed me as I watched her inject herself with insulin; she was a courageous hero in my eyes. And like most grandmothers of that era, she didn’t exercise. My Grandmother was a hairstylist who ended up with varicose veins, that later crippled her when she had a botched operation on them.  Additionally, my mother has been very sickly all my life in and out of hospitals ever since I was a young child and the same is true to this day. I did not want to continue this legacy of illness in my family. But of course I did not realize this consciously as a child.

It has been an amazing journey to reach this age in my life, many years past my grandmother’s time on the planet. My inspiration for this photo shoot in addition to celebrating my 60th year, is to hopefully inspire others to take care good care of their selves and consider including the wonders and benefits of yoga into their lives to uplift both the inner and outer body as well as the mind and spirit. And to also say, “Here’s to you Grandma.”  I feel she’s never left me, she ever at my side. Feel free to reach out to me for a yogic consultations and or private yoga classes.  You can reach me at Anu@AnuEssentials.com

Grandma, I made it! 60 and healthy with a life full of love and joy!

 

Check out the my YouTube video of a little Vinyasa Yoga Flow.

Photos by Edward C. Jones @edwardcjones3 / Make-up by Prentiss Anais @the1prentissanais