Where Hawaii Meets Meditation



Honolulu’s Meditation Gems

When you first move to a new city, it’s always an adventure finding new circles to network in, adventures to experience, spaces to explore. Foodies might hit up Yelp to check out the local kine grinds; or if you’re big into drinking, you’re probably good just cruising out to the ‘hood with the most bars per square mile, and having a little stroll.

If you happen to be a yogi/meditator/Buddhism-phile who just moved to Honolulu, choices of meditation communities are pretty easy to locate through a Googly search:

Kailua Shambhala Meditation Center: Shambhala lineage Tibetan Buddhist mindfulness meditation and workshops.

Kagyu Thegchen Ling: Tibetan Buddhist meditation center offering daily pujas and weekly meditations.

Siddha Yoga Meditation Center: weekly satsang and hatha yoga classes.

Diamond Sangha: meditation classes offered to the community three times per week, as well as workshops and residential programs.

Honpa Hongwanji Hawaii Betsuin: a Jodo Shinshu Buddhist temple offering weekly sits, as well as judo, ikebana, and other activities.

Aloha Sangha: a group of meditators meet on Thursday evenings for yoga, meditation, and dharma talk, led by a former Buddhist monk.

There are also more private meditation sanghas one generally needs a personal introduction to in order to join; I know of just a few, from friends who’ve been on the island longer.

As for open public sits, after just a few months of seeking, I’ve visited with the sanghas at Bodhi Tree and Native Meditation – and loved them both.

Bodhi Tree is located in a gorgeous three-story house in Nuuanu Valley, graced with a view of Diamond Head and twinkling Honolulu city lights. Weekly Vipassana sits are 40 minutes long and followed by a dharma talk with a larger community of about 15 people or so. Loving Kindness meditations are also offered on the full moon, and the center hosts an array of workshops on Buddhist practices.

I had two lovely sits here, followed by invigorating chats with the teacher and a fellow sangha member in the circle who’d been living at the center for a few months. It’s definitely a sweet spot for meditation and meeting experienced community members.

My first experience with a community sit in Hawaii was actually with Kit Kanohoaloha, a teacher in the Shambhala lineage. His space was recently about to be made a sister center to the Kailua Shambhala Center, but the paperwork and whatnot got in the way and Kit is now running his sit as Native Meditation. Intimate, welcoming, and very beginner-friendly, Kit starts out with 20-30 minutes of introduction to the practice and lineage for new students. The next hour or so is sitting meditation (eyes open), and walking meditation; he alternates between the two for a few rounds and then everyone shares their experience.

Meeting my fellow meditators in the circle was super inspiring. Everyone had such interesting backgrounds – an Italian first-timer, a hula-dancing seeker, and a new transplant to Honolulu from China – and we all convened here, in Kit’s warm abode, to sit quietly and contemplate life together. I left the house feeling connected and jazzed to continue my practice at home.

It’s really been so fulfilling to come into contact with these groups, bringing peace to themselves and the community, on a regular intentional basis. When I grew up here, I was never really aware of all these possibilities for growth. My former Hawaii life was all plate lunches and movie theaters. Now, it seems I can have my meditation … and plate lunch, too!

Broke da Mouth Matcha Shake

No joke, brah.

Here be the super simple list of ingredients in perhaps my favorite shake of all time:

  • Soy milk (or, if you prefer, hemp, quinoa, almond, cashew, or some other nutty milk)
  • A few handfuls of spinach (mmhmm, I said spinach, baby)
  • ½ teaspoon (or more – vroom vroom!) of matcha, powdered green tea
  • Hemp seeds (or hemp protein powder)
  • Cashew butter (basically, just ground up raw cashews)
  • ¼ (ish) of a banana
  • ¼ (ish) of an avocado
  • Agave (or honey, maple syrup, etc. Click on the links to check out the mineral content and glycemic index for each natural sweetener. Note the agave numbers are for just 28g, while the honey and maple syrup figures are for over 300g.)
  • Vanilla or almond extract

If you’re a fan of creaminess and matcha (together, at long last!), this is a pretty killer combo, especially in the morning. The matcha is chock full of antioxidants and caffeine to get your day started off bright (sans the acidity and nervousness coffee can create), and there’s a whole lotta protein to kick start your metabolism, thanks to the soy, cashews, hemp, and avocado.

If you’re concerned about how fatty avocados and nuts are, rest assured, the kind of fats contained in these foods are your friends – they actually help to improve your cholesterol levels (and are much easier to digest than animal fats).

If you dig on sweet . . .

All ingredients at the end of the ingredients list in this shake of joy are really just a matter of taste. The suggested proportions should definitely be fiddled around with, and you might have some other sweetener, spice, or herb you could throw into the mix. I’m a big fan of caramely vanilla tones, so I tend to use almond, vanilla, agave, honey, and maple syrup on solid rotation. Maple syrup is the most nutritionally valuable sweetener, thanks to its manganese and zinc reserves, but the agave has an extremely low glycemic index. Honey’s biggest selling points are probably the anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties so effective in soothing respiratory and digestive discomfort. At the end of the day, I tend to choose a natural sweetener that tastes best for the brew!

Deja vu?

If you’re following the blog, you know I have a special place in my heart for matcha (and taro … mmm … taro…), and, technically, I’ve written about matcha shakes before. This week’s version, however, is new and improved, with lots of spinach and hemp to make it uber nutritious.

So here’s to honoring your body with the freshness and tasty love a divine temple deserves … kampai!

Yoga Resume?

It’s 2014, ya’ll. I’ve seen so many modern clashes with yoga, especially in the last four years or so, I’ve had to take a step back and contemplate whether or not to remain a part of it all.

Twerking in a “yoga” class (for real, though?? Another blog is coming of that one…), America’s cursed classism/racism divides, yogi-preneur courses, and the iconoclasm of asana (my unintentional contribution below! Please definitely read some of my posts on asana if these images lead you to believe I equate asana with yoga ;)).

But I can’t stay away from sharing a practice that’s not just transformed me for the better, it’s literally saved my life. That and … the universe keeps talking to me, “Teach again, Jogini, it’s time!”

Back when I was friggidy fresh out of teacher training, I always had a yoga resume handy. For a good few chapters in my life, I moved countries or states almost every year, so re-establishing myself became a fine art and science.  I still have a yoga resume, though I haven’t really needed to use it much since coming home. This time ’round, I made a conscious decision to work at a non-profit full time and not pursue teaching opportunities.

Now, those opportunities are pursuing me, through friends, family, new acquaintances, and other teachers I’m meeting along the way.

First of all, I’m honored. And at the moment, I’m not sure how necessary a yoga resume is any more. Going through the latest iteration of my resume, I can’t shake this feeling that I’m missing something, some training, or experience . . . some crucial part of the story that’s not being told. It doesn’t specify that each class includes pranayam and meditation. Nor does it really say all the places where I’ve taught. There are no images (though I use them in online mediums), and definitely no stories.

Then again, let’s face it, resumes are fairly limited in their narrative capacity, and is a “resume” even an appropriate summation of a yoga teacher’s ability? Is a resume too Western or modern a way to present a yoga teacherʻs skills?

Whatever the answers to those questions may be, as part of the process of transitioning from “consciously not teaching” to “opening to teaching again,” I’m posting the short version of the resume, along with my asana photo album, as a symbolic gesture 🙂 And it feels really good to do it!



Catching Up With the Past

Week three of UH Manoa’s Hawaiian Language, Legends, and Lore class, and flashbacks of my 7th grade Hawaiian History class are beginning to come into sight. Today’s lesson sets up the stage for the rise of Kamehameha, the battle of Nuʻuanu and the beloved king’s family tree. If I close my eyes, I can go back in time and see Mr. Nguyen, standing in a sweat-stained polo shirt at the front of the class. Stevenson Intermediate, circa 1993, hot sun pouring in through the wooden jealousies above him, a used hardcover textbook highlighted and dog-eared sat upon my desk. We memorized war days and ruling days, amounting to little else but daze in my former hormone-riddled self.

But my Hawaiian class today … offers a depth I can appreciate. Illustrating connections between language and culture always tickles my fancy, and I’d signed up for eight full weeks of almost entirely new material under both categories. I’m in brain sponge heaven!


Professor Carol Silva (center, above) paces back and forth along the whiteboard, her blonde white mane of hair resting lightly down the length of her back. She’s bubbling with so much knowledge of our ancestors’ experience, you can feel their ha, breath, flowing through her, through her own breath, through her rhythmic delivery – you may even feel graced by its presence.

She waxes lyrical about the cool compassionate moon goddess Hina and her aggressive counterpart, Ku (check out the featured image at the top). The opposing pair reminds me of the yin and yang in Chinese philosophy, the ida and pingala in yogic thought. I think we see our lives in opposing pairs as a result of the structure of our brains, how the left and right hemispheres control such different aspects of our thought processes. It’s easier for us to see things in black or white, right or wrong, as binary forms; when really it’s all hamajang mixed together, an ever-changing balance of chaos. Or maybe it’s the duality of life that shaped our brains that way!

But thereʻs a certain beauty and accessibility to the humanized Hawaiian version of this phenomenon. Hina and Ku …

From mtn-world.com: "I chose to paint Ku, the god of war, but also wanted to show the Ku as the lesser known god of husbandry. Ku protects love and provides for his family. I painted Ku and Hina dancing as a perfect yin and yang. Hina is the Hawaiian moon goddess and guides the wa‘a navigators across the Pacific Ocean.  Prime helped to emphasize this by adding the double-hulled wa‘akaulua canoe. Ku is also the god of prosperity and to show this, I rendered fish swimming at his feet, and kalo plants surrounding Ku and Hina." Mike Bam
From mtn-world.com: “I chose to paint Ku, the god of war, but also wanted to show the Ku as the lesser known god of husbandry. Ku protects love and provides for his family. I painted Ku and Hina dancing as a perfect yin and yang. Hina is the Hawaiian moon goddess and guides the wa‘a navigators across the Pacific Ocean. Prime helped to emphasize this by adding the double-hulled wa‘akaulua canoe. Ku is also the god of prosperity and to show this, I rendered fish swimming at his feet, and kalo plants surrounding Ku and Hina.” Mike Bam

My favorite lesson from the eight week course was about the difference between the words koʻu and kaʻu.

20140821_201925[1]Koʻu is used in a similar way to the word “my” in English, but has more to do with expressing a relationship than an ownership. There is no Hawaiian word for ownership. Telling, eh?

Koʻu words relate to beliefs, where one gives deference, things and actions that are critical to existence; they are often things that transcend time to the Hawaiians, like gods, elders, land, emotions, and the spirit realm. Family (ʻohana) would take koʻu, because family is forever, as is love for a friend, internal thoughts, or even lei when it is in contact with a part of a person. Lei that is touching a human has received some of that person’s mana (transcendent power, as in prana, ki, or chi) and becomes more powerful.

When the lei is not in contact with a person, when it is on a table, for example, it would take kaʻu.

Kaʻu is used for things you would not defend with your life … such as a husband or wife! Also very telling. Hawaiian partnering was sometimes for life, but often not, and separations were considered natural. Children of these broken partnerships would often be cared for by grandparents as their parents would be busy working and making a life on their own until the next partner came by.

Other kaʻu words include food, or speaking, giving birth, and children. Such things are often those we can control but, control is eventually relinquished, as with children, who inevitably grow up, leave the home, and make a life of their own.

The lesson spanned a few meetings and our teacher made sure to comment that most modern Hawaiian language schools, including many of the Kaiapuni immersion schools in the state, do not differentiate between these two kinds of words and the kaʻu/koʻu usage. She warned against losing the nuances of the culture in our push toward increasing the quantity of Hawaiian language learners.

I’m so stoked I was able to participate in this course at the UH Manoa Outreach College. Check it out for some lifelong learning opportunities – these classes are treasure troves of wisdom and passion!


Integration in da ‘Aina

The new theme for my bloggy blog. Aaaah, finally!

“Da ‘aina” is the land, the state of Hawaii, 808, my home. A place where that special sumpin’ sumpin’ – whether you call it mana, prana, chi, or ki – feels more geographically apparent than anywhere else in the world. It’s where the earth is re-birthing, just below sea level, everyday, to create new space for life to unfold. Yup, volcanoes are some mind-boggling thangs.

And integration. Integration, at least in terms of this blog, takes on all kinds of meanings. Having just returned home only 10 months ago, I find myself re-integrating into Hawaiian culture – but not as the same Ewa Beach kid I once was. Seventeen years in Hawaii, and seventeen years away, though at the core of me nothing’s changed, I think I’ve morphed in a way, into a kind of … international kama’aina. Equal parts global citizen and homegrown keiki.

Hawaii, especially Honolulu, is also not the same place it once was. This city has developed a not-so-surprising sophistication along with the influx of entrepreneurs, artists, and adventurers from around the globe. These newbies to “the rock” find their unique harmony against the backdrop of a local majority who preserve the mixed-plate culture unique to our state, tinged with a pidgin cadence, accented by Locals slippahs. And some of us Hawaii kids are returning home, now with broader perspectives, cultivated passions, and a drive to innovate in the name of collective benefit. It’s an inspiring time to be back.


When I say “integration,” I’m also aware of this conscious steady process of applying the wisdom and insights I’ve gained on the  fragrant – and sometimes lonely – spiritual path to an everyday life where friends, family, work, and logistical errands intermingle in what can sometimes feel like a surreal, though fully natural way. What is unfolding before me is wildly ordinary, predictably magic.

And maybe “unfolding” isn’t the word … because it takes effort, patience, and a whole lotta humor to finagle your way back into the “real” world after visiting the life of a semi-ascetic. Equanimity and focus are much easier in a cave than in a typical workplace where competing egos and objectives inevitably come head-to-head.

But I’m learning.

The determination cultivated during that 10-day silent Vipassana training in India has come in particularly handy during those days I work 12 hours at my desk to organize webinars on logic models (a what now?). Walking by the homeless dudes in Chinatown I counter my instinctual fear with a compassionate reminder that we’ve all known suffering at some point in our lives, and that, at the very least, connects us somehow. When I sit in my studio apartment, instead of wishing for the 3-bedroom 2.5-children flavor of life, I am simply content (santosh!) to have a bed so large and soft, it makes memories of my ashram furnishings seem like they’re straight out of a Bergman film.

Which is not to say I don’t miss the ashram days, full of practice, service, singing, and sitting under trees.


I often wonder what life would be like if I had taken my guru-ji up on the offer to assist him at the ashrams in Canada, France, Thailand, and around the world. And I sometimes wander into wondering about what life would be like if I had accepted that scholarship to pursue my journalism masters in New York. But that’s what the mind does … it trips! In moments like those, I remember my heart, which quite clearly requested I pack up my bags and get my booty back home.

So. Here I am.

DSC02715Thankfully, Hawaii is an ideal place for integration, not only because I was born and raised here, and am also part Hawaiian, but the landscape reflects the unique juxtaposition of spiritual beside material, where the natural world meets human-made construct.

Driving down Kapiolani Boulevard I’m grateful for the massive monkey pod trees lining the sidewalks, offering shade from the tropical rays, and respite from the concrete slabs unfolding ahead. They were placed there with care, in the same way I am learning to sprinkle my day with mini-treats of asana, pranayam, and meditation. The apartments of Makiki are nestled into the ridges of Punchbowl in the same way my work life co-exists with my yoga life – and in some spaces, the lines are so blurred it may just be “life.”

Not a bad view.
Not a bad view.

A life surrounded by the great Mama Ocean, whose presence brings me a sense of safety in infinitude. She draws out my imagination with unknown depths – and I’m reminded of the days when lived at my grandparents’ house and pretended to be a goddess of the sea. If I could command the waves then, I can certainly command them now, at least when it comes to the vrittis of my mind. Yoga citta vritti nirodha – yoga is the cessation of the waves of the mind. (Well, there are at least 22 solid permutations on how to translate that particular sutra (Gordon White, 2014) from Patanjali’s oft-quoted text, which is actually dualistic in nature, and therefore somewhat far from my own interpretation of the Divine/existence dynamic. But anyway, it worked well for that analogy :o).)

So I’m seeing a re-integration into my Hawaii community, and a continued integration of spiritual and ordinary life. But what of the integration of self? Are we ever fully integrated individuals, or is that process a life-long dance, sometimes guided by a particular frequency, transcendent, then sweaty and messy, the lights go on, and it’s suddenly time to go home?

panchkosha-bigOh, the perceived layers of self! On a simple day, I like to think of them as the mind-body-soul continuum, inextricably intertwined, on levels we are often not aware, but can train ourselves to tune in to. In Vedanta, the layers are described as the physical (stula sharira), astral (linga sharira), and causal (karana) bodies (koshas), each with corresponding aspects of self.  Whole texts have been written on the relationship between these “layers” and the atman, or true Self, though the word “layer” is misleadingly simple. If only we could directly access the core of our being by simply peeling away layers in a linear fashion, something akin to an onion. Sure, there might be some tears, but end result is something delicious!

There are innumerable ways to happily balance and harmonize the hypothetical layers, and though we are all connected, the recipe of techniques is unique to our constitution and lifestyle. For me, it’s been through yogic techniques like meditation, asana, pranayam, mantra, service, self-study, and Buddhist methods like mindfulness, sangha (community) cultivation, compassion, and kindness, or even through writing, journeying, body work, preparing food for loved ones, convening with nature on a hike or a swim, partaking in a ritual of drink with your homies, or taking a chance connecting with a new soul. Integration is about seeing more clearly who we truly are as whole beings, connecting with that inner-light, and feeling empowered to shine in ways that serve to evolve not only the self, but the communities we are a part of, local and global.

Those concepts may sound lofty, but I can tell you from experience, it’s the real deal. Straight up.

It took me 10 months or so to figure out what this next chapter was likely to be all about. I knew I’d continue my karma yoga practice, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be offering the typical “yoga class” we’ve come to expect in America. Sitting quietly with a rich internal dialogue on cultural appropriation, capitalization, and the downright watering down of yoga teachings here in the States has not been easy, especially after seven years of passionate sharing as a teacher. Yoga did, afterall, save my life. Why wouldn’t I take every opportunity to spread the goodness far and wide, especially now that I’m back in the fertile space of my birth home?

With these themes swimming around my noggin, looking for their rightful place along my teaching journey, I also knew a return to Hawaii meant engaging in a period of “needs sensing.” What’s already being offered? Is the community receptive to teachings I hold dear? Having grown up here, I know you don’t just roll up into Hawaii and think you know what’s up. But the offers to teach keep popping up … and I feel a forward (upward? expansive?) movement back into the teaching realm…

And all that to say, the new theme of this blog is “Integration in da ‘Aina.” 🙂

The next few posts will likely be about the Hawaiian class I took, the worst yoga class of my life (dude, so sad to say that was here, in Hawaii), and a special focus on the muladhara chakra (which actually lead to a free dirty chai – you gotta love synchronicity!).

So keep tuning in if any of this babble resonates, and I’ll see you in a week!

Thank You, Jon Stewart

. . . for being the voice of reason in times of chaos.  You know $hit’s hit the fan, when the best news commentator in a country is in fact — a comedian.  Playground politicians are frustrating enough.  Turning on a “proper” newscast, only to find party propaganda or the ratings equivalent to flashing a little cleavage, is just downright infuriating.  And so, I turn to you, Jon Stewart, for the *only* sane perspective on this Shutstorm – because clearly, farcical is what we’ve come to.

On a lighter, more inspirational note, check out Jon’s interview with Malala Yousafza, a 16 year old who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work in reviving education in Pakistan.  Her vision, passion and courage will give you goosebumps!


And by the way, this is my *last* week in a YEAR OF GRATITUDE . . . and incidentally, the year that led me back home.  Next chapter?  I’m taking suggestions . . .