Tuesday, March 31, 2009


There are another couple of limitations that I think are worth mentioning.


On a physiological note there's bone proportion. Sometimes in the yoga class I hear "I can't do that, my arms are too short!" And then people chuckle. But there very may well be truth in a comment like that. Lets take the humerus for example - (the bone in your arm that goes from your elbow to your shoulder). If you are trying to do a headstand and your humerus is relatively short you may literally not have enough space to lift your head from the ground (in Rilley's video "Anatomy for yoga" you will see someone with this particular problem. And if you can't get hold of the dvd imagine a baby trying to do a headstand and you'll get the picture) . So sometimes it has nothing to do with lack of strength, will or practice it's simply as in this case, proportion. 

Ground substance

Have you noticed that doing yoga in the morning (apart from being a wonderful way to start the day) is often "harder"? - you feel more rigid and stiff - certain asana that seem easy in the evening suddenly become more challenging after breakfast. (ooops - obviously one attemps yoga on an empty stomach only!). This is due to "ground substance" . It fills the spaces between connective tissues (bone , cartilage, tendons and ligaments etc.) and along with other elements helps slippage and lubrication between joints for example. Ground substance is usually fluid but it congeals and loses moisture with lack of movement causing everything to become tight and brittle; muscles  lose their elasticity. So after a night's sleep where you have been relatively immobile for a long period of time, ground substance starts to lose it's moisture and therefore lubricating ability. Luckily as  we go on  moving throughout the day "morning stiffness" lessens due to the ground substance regaining its properties (for more information on this see "Anatomy of Yoga" by Coulter) - and yoga gets easier.


You may find in a twisting position for example, that keeping your eyes open you get to a certain point then stop. Try doing the same with your eyes shut and you may find you can twist around just a little further. Why is this? I presume it's because your sight helps you decide where you think you can get to in a position, it's used as a kind of (sometimes unreliable) yard stick. So with your eyes shut  you just let your body be its own measuring tool - you push yourself to your real limit rather than to your presumed limit. You listen inwardly rather than look outwardly. 

Listening inwardly is a great amplifier of your physical state. It's like looking through a magnifying glass to really find out what's going on inside there. When pregnant both times with my girls I under went a  "villocentasi". It's a procedure used to discover if your unborn baby has down syndrome along with other disabilities, and one which requires the insertion of an incredibly long and surprisingly thick needle into your womb through your tummy, which then sucks up the "villi" (tiny finger like projections that line the womb) with the chromosomic information there contained. The doctor's assistant told me in no uncertain terms before the needle touched my skin; "whatever you do keep your eyes OPEN!" Through years of experience she had come to understand that by keeping your eyes shut you come far more into contact with the interior world  which when affronting pain is best to be avoided. But when on the yoga mat it is best made advantage of. 

On the other hand I recommend that whilst meditating one keeps ones eyes OPEN, but that's for another post! 

Mental outlook

"there's no way I'll ever be able to do that!". How many times have I heard that.... And not because I demonstrate particularly amazing or unachievable asana (I have lots of  physical limitations; back bends  - having little range of movement at my thoracic and lumbar spine all the particularly jaw-dropping asana are beyond my grasp-    I'm not being modest nor implementing a mental unfounded limitation; physiologically that is simply the way it is) the reason is  because people doubt themselves before putting themselves to the test. What a shame! My teacher always used to compare this scenario to a child learning to walk. A child will pull herself up, fall and try again fall and try and again and again (even when she's not perhaps yet physically capable of doing so) until finally she can get up on her own two legs. She would never think to say "well...there's no way I can do that!!!". Without self-critisism or self doubt she just goes for what she wants. She's not boastful, or arrogant, she's not overestimating her abilities, she's simply.....learning. Without mental barriers. I invite you to do the same. 

Sunday, March 29, 2009

MEDITAZIONE 6 - a cura di Lia Camporesi

La concettualizzazione è l'ostacolo maggiore che si frappone fra noi ed il nostro sè. Tutti i preconcetti, i riti, le abitudini hanno formato delle sovrastrutture nel nostro modo di vivere che nemmeno ci accorgiamo più di vivere in maniera non autentica e falsa. Dobbiamo allora uscire dalla "caverna della concettualizzazione", come dicono i Maestri zen per purificarci da tutti quegli inquinamenti emotivi ed immergerci in quella meditazione profonda che ci permette di aumentare il livello di consapevolezza della nostra vita che ci porta verso l'unità dell'uomo (emozioni, sentimenti, pensieri, razionalità, inconscio e spirito) con se stesso, gli altri,  lo Spirito. 

Nell'uomo c'è molto di più del conscio e dell'inconscio: c'è un'area di mistero che i buddisti chiamano "natura del Buddha"; gli indù Atman o Brahman; gli ebrei chiamano "immagine di Dio"; i cristiani orientali "energia increata"; i cristiani dicono che l'uomo è "in-abitato" dalla Trinità ed i  mistici di tutte le scuole parlano del "fondo" o del "centro" dell'anima, del vero io, del vuoto, delle energie cosmiche. Ed è lì che la meditazione vuole portarci. Il primo passo abbiamo detto che è la pacificazione del corpo perchè solo un corpo rilassato permette il secondo passo che è la pacificazione emozionale (le emozioni negative devbbono venire controllate prendendone coscienza ed osservandole in modo distaccato). Il terzo passaggio è la pacificazione mentale che è la più difficile perchè la mente penetra in ogni attività sia a livello fisico che emotivo e si identifica con essi. Ottenuto il silenzio della mente ed avendo calmato il corpo e le emozioni, si potrà arrivare alla meditazione vera e propria. La pratica della consapevolezza è la pratica ascetica più difficile, ma anche la più importante perchè si tratta di interrompere continuamente l'appagamento dell'ego dato che la persona consapevole non si limita a scorrere con il flusso dell'abitudine e non permette che la propria consapevolezza appunto segua questo corso arbitrario che impedirebbe di penetrare nel profondo del proprio sè. Quindi ci si allontana dall'ego e pertanto non siamo più dominati da una mentalità egositica ma aperti all'esperienza ed agli altri. 

La nostra pratica è stata l'ascolto del nostro corpo ed attenzione all'intelligenza del corpo, del suo funzionamento che avviene senza la nostra volontà, senza che intervenga il nostro ego e ci siamo allora domandati chi è che fa funzionare il mio corpo? Che cos'è il mio corpo? Che cos'è una sensazione? C'è un'intelliganeza cellulare del nostro corpo? C'è una sua saggezza? Chi lo fa funzionare è un'energia, è l'energia della vita che alcuni chiamano "prana", altri "ruah" oppure respiro cosmico o physis, o forza della natura. Non importa il nome: è un'energia intelligente che funziona ad un ritmo molto lento e legata al silenzio. E poi ci siamo fermati su una parte del corpo o sul respiro cercando di "sentire" quella parte del nostro corpo ed ascoltare quello che ci dice.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


Before you continue reading I invite you to reflect on the following question and try to answer it. The question is "What makes you really happy?".  Think about it and when you have come up with your answer keep it there, to be pulled from the depths later.

Sometimes in life you have moments of real revelation. Wake-up calls, inner mental fireworks explode and planets collide as a truth suddenly makes it's way from the "universe" (a book in this case) to you and your understanding. This happened to me when reading "Happiness" by Matthieu Ricard (a genetic scientist and buddhist monk). The revelation for me can be summed up in three words;

Happiness isn't pleasure. 

At least not long term “real” happiness. 

So when I answered the above question "what makes you really happy?" and the answer I came up with was "sitting on the sofa by the window, feeling the warmth of the sun on my skin whilst reading a book, or sipping a cup of tea" I suddenly realized that for all these years I had mistaken pleasure with happiness. And that my constant pursuit of what I THOUGHT was happiness was destined to failure a) because the object of happiness cannot come from outside of you, it's not due to circumstance or anything material,  and b) because all "pleasures" are destined to end. I'd spent the first thirty or so years of my life wanting, yearning happiness and I was looking for it in completely the wrong places – like at the bottom of my favorite mug. What was worse was that all the moments between the "pleasures" (the latter being cinema, eating, aperitivi, reading, etc. etc.) I lived as a "break" from living, an annoying "pause" between one pleasure  and another. Considering that "neutral" moments (like when you are walking to work or going around the supermarket) make up perhaps 70% of our lives and "pleasurable" moments perhaps 10%, I was underestimating, giving little importance to the biggest slice of my life. 

How can you differentiate between something  considered "pleasure" and something considered "happiness"? Happiness leaves an echo behind that can be "plugged into" and felt long after the "event" itself. Pleasure does not - on the contrary bringing to mind a past moment of pleasure may bring a sensation of longing, desire, need and therefore even at worst, pain. 

Second question; think of a time when you did something completely selflessely, and act of pure generosity towards another human being. Who was it? Where were you? What did you feel? Think about it for a moment. How does that "episode" make you feel NOW? Can you still feel the echo of the "joy"? 

My guess is YES. This is one example of real happiness. Opening up towards another person, giving of yourself, be it your attention, time or giving something material to another - these are examples of what "real" happiness can stem  from.

Talking of being open towards others Martin Seligman - a founder of "positive psychology" a field of psychology that works to go beyond getting mentally ill, or depressed people to being mentally healthy and feeling less depressed but to get "normal" (note the inverted commas!) people  to feel happy, has over a period of six years tried to find what differentiates really happy people from the rest of us. It turns out that they  all have ONE thing in common - it's not that they are all tall, slim beautiful, have fast cars, gorgeous partners, (nor that they can all do the lotus pose without wincing ;-) but what they DO have in common is  that they are extremely social. They all have a "rich repetoire of friends". This means that they are open towards others.  What a wonderful ingredient to happiness this is - and relatively easy to implement. 

Happiness in action

Martin Seligman has come up with a set of tasks which have proved to render people happier. He calls them “positive interventions”.

And here is my favorite;

Think for a moment of someone (who is still alive) who has really made a  positive difference in your life; if it hadn't been for him or her your life would have taken a completely different direction. Now you have that person in mind and what that he or she  did for you, sit down and write a letter of gratitude. Then call the person up and say you are coming over for a visit.  Once there read the letter out and enjoy....the tears hugs,smiles and joy. (Seligman has reported that this “gratitude visit" renders depressed people far less so even a long time after the event itself. And the simple memory of this self-less act makes happy people feel happier.) 

I'd like to end by saying that I am not against pleasure!  I happen to like pleasure very much thank you!  According to Buddhist philosophy (I am NOT a buddist by the way!)there are four basic types of happiness and “the happiness of sense contacts” is one of them . Buddha was quick to point out that this is the most shallow superficial of the four and can be a danger as sense pleasures can make us “lose direction” as we try desperately to hang on to them  and render them permanent (impossible, futile ,disappointing). Seligman above mentioned, also views pleasure as a (lesser form of) happiness and one of his “postive interventions” is to plan  yourself a “beautiful day” where you spend perhaps an entire saturday on sense pleasures – walk in the country, massage, sauna, meal in a great restaurant, making love...you name it – the choice and the day is yours. 

However I would like to launch the former “positive intervention” (the "gratitude visit”) as this weeks yogic invitation/homework. Sorry. But I promise you the echo of happiness will remain for years to come. Unlike a cup of tea.


Sunday, March 22, 2009

MEDITAZIONE 5 - A cura di Lia Camporesi

Quando cominciamo a meditare ci accorgiamo in prima persona quanto sia difficile controllare la mente. Allora iniziamo con un semplicissimo oggetto di attenzione come il respiro e ci alleniamo a tornare ripetutamente al respiro ogni volta che ci distraiamo. Questa prima esplorazione dell'abitudine a distrarsi porta a comprendere l'importanza di rendere stabile l'attenzione poichè i mondi che noi creiamo dentro di noi hanno tutti origine nella nostra mente. La presenza mentale è la qualità della mente che osserva ciò che è senza giudicare, senza interferire: conoscere le cose così come sono. C'è un saggio tibetano che dice: "L'attenzione è la radice del Dharma. L'attenzione è il corpo della pratica. L'attenzione è la fortezza della mente. L'attenzione è l'aiuto alla saggezza dell'innato risveglio. La mancanza di attenzione consentirà alle forze negative di sopraffarvi. Senza attenzione vi farete trascinare dalla pigrizia. La mancanza di attenzione è artefice di azioni malvagie. Senza presenza mentale nulla può essere realizzato. Senza attenzione sarete fantasmi insensibili, cadaveri ambulanti".

Le conoscenze scientifiche anche se si ampliano sempre più saranno sempre limitate, perchè l'uomo ha una mente limitata. Solo l'amore è illimitato nell'uomo perchè riesce ad andare oltre la morte. L'amore è più grande dell'intelligenza e della limitatezza della mente umana e l'uomo, appunto nella sua limitatezza,  non sa capire il perchè. Seneca ci ha parlato della felicità come misura nelle passioni, equlibrio nel riconoscere i valori della vita e libertà dal denaro, non nel moralistico orrore del benessere, quanto l'uso oculato e liberale delle ricchezze. Anch'egli dice che non dobbiamo lasciare nulla al caso ed alla negligenza, ma agire con consapevolezza senza dissipare però la vita regalandola a chi ce la vuole sottrarre ma vivendola con attenzione a quello che si fa, anche godendocela, ma senza sprecarla in chiacchiere oziose, passatempi frivoli o attività vorticose e ossessive.

In questo incontro abbiamo praticato la meditazione camminata in gruppo, sincronizzando il movimento delle gambe al respiro. Tenendo l'attenzione sulla pianta del piede (introversione) e attenzione al passo di chi ci precedeva (estroversione) ed osservando le nostre reazioni interne alla proposta (noia, soddisfazione, disappunto, senso del ridicolo, tendenza al perfezionismo, irritazione, disapprovazione, ecc.) Esercizio di conoscenza di sè e contemporaneamente di autocontrollo che ci hanno resi coscienti della nostra tendneza a reagire compulsivamente alle sollecitazioni del mondo esterno.
Vostre domande o considerazioni?...Lia

Monday, March 16, 2009

MEDITAZIONE 4 - A cura di Lia Camporesi

Quante cose si dicono e si fanno senza esserne veramente consapevoli! Si fanno tantissime cose solamente per abitudine. Facciamo meccanicamente senza renderci conto che prima dell'azione c'è un pensiero, un istinto, un'abitudine che ci fa agire. Dobbiamo liberarci dell'abitudine, dell'adeguarsi a quello che tutti fanno o dicono. Ritorniamo a noi stessi. Sono io che faccio e perchè faccio. Diamo una ragione alle nostre azioni, anche le più banali: rendiamoci consapevoli!
Quando ci mettiamo in meditazione non c'è immediatamente la sospensione del movimento mentale. Prima c'è la focalizzazione e poi, lavorando con gradualità, ci si educa senza violenza: il nostro lavoro deve seguire passaggi graduali e quindi prima riportare la mente alla unitarietà della concentrazione e poi andare oltre. Nel passaggio dalla dispersione alla concentrazione ad un certo punto la mente si accorgerà che non perde ma anzi acquista una forza che fa diventare la sua energia più compatta e più potente. Questo è un momento importante perchè la focalizzazione non è continua, va e viene, ma non bisogna fermarsi se ci pare un'impresa impossibile arrivare alla concentrazione continua perchè ci pervadono mille pensieri ogni volta che ci sediamo per meditare. Insistendo con perseveranza la concentrazione acquisterà sempre più durata e spazio. Importante è focalizzarci su un solo oggetto (mantra, respiro, una frase, un oggetto, una preghiera) che fermerà la nostra mente. Questa volta abbiamo meditato secondo gli insegnamenti di Thich Nhat Hahn e seguendo 5 stadi diversi:

1 - Inspirando so che sto inspirando. Espirando so che sto espirando. (per l'unione mente-corpo)
2 - Inspirando mi vedo come un fiore. Espirando mi sento fresco. (per favorire un senso di vitalità)
3 - Inspirando mi vedo come la montagna. Espirando mi sento solido. (per aiutarci quando siamo preda di emozioni violente a non vacillare)
4 - Inspirando mi vedo come un lago. Espirando rifletto ciò che è. (per rendere calma la mente ed evitare pecezioni sbagliate)
5 - Inspirando mi vedo come spazio. Espirando mi sento libero. (per creare uno spazio sia nel nostro cuore che intorno a noi e distaccarci da tante cose inutili)

Questi sono tanti piccoli suggerimenti per noi quando facciamo meditazione e possiamo appoggiarci a uno di questi sostegni per la nostra attenzione.

Thich Nhat Hahn diceva " Mindfullness , la pienezza di mente o presenza mentale sia un punto ben preciso. Qualunque cosa stiamo facendo, il gesto che stiamo compiendo, per quanto elementare e banale, modesto, la mente sia sempre presente. Non distratta in altre direzioni." e più avanti "se viviamo senza consapevolezza, se ci perdiamo nel passato o nel futuro, se permettiamo che i nostri desideri, la rabbia e l'ignoranza ci trasportino qua e là, non riusciremo a vivere profondamente ogni momento della nostra esistenza. Non saremo in contatto con ciò che accade nel momento presente e le nostre relazioni con gli altri saranno povere e superficiali".
Se avete domande...Lia

Thursday, March 12, 2009


Recently a client asked me to recommend books to him both strictly "yogic" or related in some way. 

Almost everything I know (within my "yogic" field) and communicate in my classes and my blog comes from the books I am about to name. To them and to my teacher Beatrice Calcagno. 

Now I have to say that I am always loathe to mention Buddha in my posts as I think it applies a label which is not useful to content. If I saw the name "Jesus" togehther with a book recommendation I probably wouldn't touch it with a barge pole (all be it mistakenly), and fear that some may have the same reaction reading the name of Buddha, and here below you will find his name mentioned frequently. Please do not be put off by this "slant". I'd just like to add here "for the book" (excuse the pun) that I am not a buddist.

I have tried to reduce and divide the choice of books into three or four per "group"  (what a difficult choice!) the groups being

1. Strictly yoga (mainly asana)

2. Yoga anatomy

3. Spirituality (from Buddhism o the mystic)

GROUP ONE - STRICTLY YOGA (mainly asana)

Light on Yoga 

by BKS Iyengar

The instructors bible, a Must Have although I don't dip into it as often as I should. Iyengar is perhaps the worlds most famous teacher, and in this book you will have the opportunity to see him in each of the hundreds of asana he proposes. It's almost scary. 

Pro; It's complete. Almost every asana you would want to experiment with is here. Great as a resource to find asana which help with ailments and problems; everything from flat feet to diabetes.

Cons; It's very very dry. Not user friendly (the print is very small). It's kind of old fashioned. No messing! Each asana is given it's name in sanskrit only. 

Asana Pranyama Mudra Bandha 

By Swami Satyananda Saraswati

This has to be one of my favorites and the one I dip into the most.

Pros; Easy to read. Concise. Illustrations are excellent. The asana are given in their sanskrit and non. Discusses not only asana but all four topics in the title. A wonderful resource book. 

Cons;There are no photos. It's dry (but easy to use).

Yoga - The spirit and Practice of moving into stillness

By Erich Schiffmann

This guy knows his stuff. You can tell he's totally passionate about what he does, he lives and breathes yoga and wants to transmit everything he knows. He must be a great teacher. 

It has a very "American feel" about it. 

Pros. He's extremely  thorough, very precise in "talking you through" the exact physical structure of each asana. 

The asana are given in their sanskrit and non.

There are photos of each asana presented. 

Takes you into a different yogic dimension; one which you may have experimented with but not yet put into words. He does the latter for you. (talks about energy lines for example).

Cons. where as the previous two are on the dry side this is exactly the opposite. We are talking "flowery" bordering on the "touchy feely". As you read it sounds like he is talking to you during a yoga class. It's full of "energize the leg lines", "Enjoy what's happening, it's exhilarating" "be cosmic and grounded". Whether this is a PRO or a CON will depend on  you! 

Il Libro dello yoga 

By Centro yoga Sivananda

This was one of my first books of yoga. Great for beginners and the very basics.

Pros. Explains the basics (in one page or maximum  two) of meditation, pranyama (breathing excersises), fasting, changing diet, mantra,  before going onto the asana.

Each page discusses one of the more well known asana with illustrations, and shows on the other page a photo of the position discussed - so it's very user friendly. 

Cons. It's a little dated. It has a very eighties feel about it. There aren't that many asana to choose from. 


Anatomy of Hatha Yoga 

By H.David Coulter

My all time favorite yoga book. If I were stuck on a dessert island and had to choose just one out of these two groups of books it would be this one. But saying this I warn you - it's an instructors book rather than a yoga practitioner's - so be warned! 

I could have easily put this book in the first group too as the section on yoga asana is wonderful, inspiring even though explained in a very anatomic way (obviously!).

He's a doctor, incredibly articulate, dry, sharp, precise and has so much knowledge of both the human body and Hatha yoga that it's difficult to believe that only one person can cover so much. An incredible piece of work. 

Pros. Well....where to start? He's excellent at explaining clearly quite complex anatomical matters. He uses great metaphors to help the non-medical minded among us to cope with what he's communicating.  

In order to get his point across he often litters his explanations with little exercises  to do to help you get your head around what he's saying. 

He is thorough with a capital "T". 

If you have any anatomical question about yoga this book will answer it for you.

Great photos and illustrations.

"Cons." (please note the inverted commas!)  it's incredibly dense. I would not recommend this book to a beginner, unless she has an  incredible thirst for anatomical knowledge. 

Yoga Anatomy 

By Leslie Kaminoff

Far more user friendly than the above. Gives the anatomical basics of the most well-known basic asana.

Pros; Dedicates on average a double  page to each asana, so you open it anywhere and on one side you have an illustration and on the other an explanation. This makes it very user friendly. 

Gives each asana in sanskrit and non. 

The illustrations are wonderful!!!! They have taken photos of the the person in the pose from the side, top and even sometimes from the bottom (so the practioner is doing the pose on a glass table so the photographer can get underneath) then a very precise drawing is made from the photo  with the muscle groups in question drawn in. Fantastic. 

Tells you what muscle groups are worked what obstacles you may encounter and how one should breathe. 

Cons. Being basically an anatomy book unsuprisingly  it's dry - the opposite of Schiffmann. No "cosmic grounding" going on here. 

Anatomy for Yoga 

with Paul Grilley DVD

A great eye opener into your yogic limitiations. He gets people of different sizes shapes and bone architecture  to come and do the same asana to show you how the above can limit or help you in your asana. 

It has a very Amercian feel about it. 

Pros. It's wonderful to see real people of all shapes with tensile and compression limitations doing yoga poses to demonstrate the differences in "results". I found it fascinating. 

Cons. it's very repetitive. The concept is easy and can be summed up in a few words - we are introduced to hours of it. However it's definitely worth buying, but more for an instructor than a practitioner. 


This is going to be really hard - I don't quite know where to start. 

Ok - I'll commence with the book that started me off on all of "this". After my first experience with yoga (going on a yoga holiday in Tuscany for a week) I popped into a book shop and bought "Il libro dello yoga" and this one together. I couldn't have spent my money better. All I can say is that doors opened.

La Pratica della Consapevolezza 

By Henepola Gunaratana 

A book on mediation -  which gives great insight into how our mind works. It's practical, gives answers to any questions you may have about mediation. I would say it's a beginner's guide but makes a fascinating read.  Although it talks about life on the zafu (mediation cushion) it's also an interesting insight as to how your mind works.  If you don't have a mediation instructor get this book. Although it talks about vipassana mediation (from a buddhist tradition) there are little references to buddhism itself.

Pros. a very practical guide, perfect for beginners who are definitely NOT dummies. 

Happiness a guide to developing life's most important skill 

By Matthieu Ricard

This is quite a recent discovery, and one which was both startling and revealing. Stunning. Very well written and researched. Matthieu Ricard, son of a french philosopher,  is a cellular geneticist and a Buddhist monk (if one doesn't put you off the other probably will!). He's currently an active participant in scientific research on the effects of meditation on the brain. You do not have to be  a Buddhist sympathizer to reap the rewards of this excellent read. 

This is one of my favorites  and I have bought many a copy for friends.

His thesis is that happiness is not an emotion but a skill which can be learnt. He goes into all the different elements of happiness and gives practical exercises to train the mind in developing this very important "talent". A lifeboat in the shape of a book. Anyone interested in happiness (so everyone) should read this book. 

"Start where you are" A guide to compassionate living

By Pema Chodron 

A very western modern slant on implementing some of Buddha's teachings. 

Pema takes 59 tibetan Buddhist maxims and puts them in a very contemporary light. She is very to the point, uses "everyday" life situations which are often funny and usually eyeopening, to get the maxim's message across. Pema is an american who became a buddist nun. And is usually dressed as one. I'd like to give you a snippet of something in her book which made me laugh out loud but which may have something to do with my english sence of humor.  She's talking about the maixim "Whatever you meet unexpectedly , join with mediation." Which is basically saying that nothing in life is an interruption. It all makes up the tapestry of life even the bits that are a bit shabby or dirty. Doesn't matter. And when you DO come across something that SEEMS like  a distraction instead of turning yourself AGAINST it, turn yourselves towards it and use it as a wake up call. It's like saying "hey!!! wake up and get yourself out of that mental film in your head and back to this present moment in time!!!" (which is why when I mediate I think of outside noise as a great tool in getting me back to "here and now"). Anyway.....One day when she was driving along, kitted out I presume in her buddhist attire....

"I was being driven in a car one day, when a horn honked loudly from behind. A car comes up to my window and the driver's face is purple and he's shaking his fist at me - my window is rolled down and so is his - and he yells, "GET A JOB!!!". That one still stops my mind."

I don't know why but I find it amusing - and how about that for a wake up call!

Svegliati a ciò che fai! 

By Diane Eshin Rizzetto 

I LOVE this book. Wonderful, wonderful stuff. Again it uses buddhist philosophy as a back drop. To be specific it uses buddist precepts to find self awareness. Diane is American too and very switched on. In each chapter which starts with a precept that she has interrupted for a more western mind so she talks about a precept, gives her own or her students experience with each one, has a 'discussion" part (between her and her students) at the end and gives you an exercise to help you work on each  particular aspect. My "homework" on "speaking" was heavily based on a chapter in this book. 

Cabaret Mistico 

By Alejandro Jodorowsky

Ok for the more "buddhist shy" amounst us - for funny, mystical,  a little outrageous, incredibly motivating  suggestions about life and Living. Littered with anecdotes, it's a great wake up call. If you are having trouble seeing the wood for the trees, this gives you the the right vision and an very interesting view. Contemplating a major change in your life or find you are unable to do so? Read this.

Others worth mentioning:

The attention revolution - Alan Wallace Mediation for the hard core. For those who already have some mediation experience, but interesting if somewhat intense for nonetheless for a beginner. 

Eight mindful steps to happiness - Bhante Henepola Gunaratana Great introduction to Buddha's  teaching.

Voices of insight - Sharon Salzberg  Western teachers share stories in this wonderful anthology - Particularly interesting are those who describe how and why they decided to choose their spiritual path. 

Swallowing the river ganges  - Matthew Flickstien For the serious student of buddhist teachings - a practical accessible guide based on Vishuddimagga which is a work far more technical and far less user friendly.