Tag Archives: hawaii

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!


That New Neighborhood Vibe

Kaka’ako, once a bustling area for fishing and salt harvesting, is now an experiment in urban island culture.  Creative spaces for delectable dining and tipples are popping up on the regular, like Hank’s Haute Dogs (oh, lobster dog, you will be mine!), the collaborative culinary community at Taste, and the authentic NY hipster joint, Bevy (happy hour $1 oysters?  Oh, yes indeed.).  Amidst the warehouses, auto shops, and old school mom and pop shops, Kaka’ako’s future iteration is gaining momentum, heading toward (what I hope will be) a green, walkable, long-term sustainable ‘hood, supporting local talent and business.

A Burgeoning Kaka’ako

On Friday, I walked past a brand new integrative healing center that just opened up a half a block from my apartment.  Offering tea ceremony, ikebana lessons, yoga and the Okada Method, The Mokichi Okada Association will bring much needed nourishment to the populous elderly community here in Kaka’ako. The tea room is stunning and the welcome is warm, I highly recommend checking it out.

When there’s huli-huli chicken smoke in the air, you know something good is going down.  Saturday marked the opening of Kaka’ako’s farmer’s market – woo hoo!  I arrived at opening hour, around 8:00 a.m., and already the stalls were heaving with little old ladies, small families, and a few of us solo-shoppers.  Most vendors I spoke to were from the North Shore and Waianae – and everything I’ve eaten so far has been divine.  Check out some of the photos below for a visual breakdown!

Art galleries and nonprofits, a bike shop, a dope new ‘hood magazine, it seems like Kaka’ako can do no wrong.  Then again, the prospect of multiple high-rise condominiums looms with an ominous tone.  What kind of traffic will all those new residents bring?  Will the housing be made *reasonably* affordable?  And though this may be more of an island-wide concern, what can we do to help the homeless sprinkled about our quiet urban petri dish?  Building a new neighborhood, especially in Hawaii, is no simple endeavor.

Despite the challenges ahead, I see Kaka’ako as a prime opportunity to create a real ‘hood community in Hawaii, the kind of space that may play a vital role in encouraging reverse brain drain.  So many of Hawaii’s talented individuals leave the islands, never to return, many because they don’t see a place for themselves back on ‘the rock.’  Most of the island is based on a car-culture, which, though convenient for big families, has been proven to be socially isolating, detrimental to physical health, and inherently oil-dependent.

Some of the more frustrating aspects to island life are the slow pace and resistance to change.  Having just returned home, I hesitate to make grand broad statements about what “should be” (like the rail, more bike lanes, world peace, etc.)   But this is an exciting time for Honolulu, most especially if residents and developers alike can approach the evolution of Kaka’ako with transparency, vision, and a commitment to community.

Big, Da Family!

obama-clanHawaii families tend to be pretty massive.  Not because we have more kids out here than in other parts of the world, though I would say this is an ideal place to start a family.  The size of a Hawaii family feels a lot bigger, mostly because of the generous inclusion of extended members, a multilayered practice unique to the islands.  Like while I was growing up here on the south shore of Oahu, I used to play with a pair of siblings, Jacob and Missy, who were the kids of my mother’s former best friend from high school.  So we considered ourselves cousins, calabash cousins.  Which came in particularly handy when I’d get teased at school for liking Jacob – I could always just tell everyone that we were cousins, and they’d leave us alone to have fun, sans mockery!

So if Jacob and Missy were my calabash cousins, that made their mom, Ewalani, my aunty.  And I would call her just that – Aunty Ewa.  In fact, any adult I met, who happened to be very close to my mother or father, I tended to use “aunty” and “uncle” as a sign of respect.  Including my Dad’s crazy biker friends, like Uncle Animal and Uncle J.C..  Sometimes, your calabash relatives fulfill those familial roles with even more love and attention than your blood relatives.   We sometimes use the “aunty” and “uncle” titles for any person older than you encountered in public.  Like, “Eh Aunty, you like one seat?” If you were to offer a seat to an older lady on a bus.

Another fairly unique family layer in Hawaii is made up of hanai children, those taken in by a close family friend, or, in traditional Hawaiian days, children from a high ranking family creating an alliance with another high ranking family.  Queen Liliuokalani (in the featured image), Hawaii’s last ruling monarch, was taken in as a hanai child, and took in a few of her own as well.  Hanai are something akin to foster kids if the situation is temporary, or in more extreme cases, godchildren, if their parents were to have passed.

Today, however, I’m grateful for my big (immediate) family, from my parents to my grandparents, from my aunties and uncles, and especially for my cousins!  Without them, this move back home would have taken a lot longer, and been a lot more arduous.  Mahalo, cuzzies, you da best!

Bubble Tea Madness!

If you’ve been reading my blog, you’ve probably noticed by now my obsession with all things green tea and taro.  On one glorious morning last week, my cousin and I happened across a new dessert spot near Ala Moana (Honolulu).  I ordered a taro milk tea with green tea bubbles.  The smiley man behind the counter at Bambu Desserts and Drinks did not disappoint.

This was, hands down, the best bubble tea I’ve ever had, and I grew up in Hawaii and lived in Asia as an adult for several years.  The people at Bambu don’t use sugary pre-made powders to make their taro bubble tea, oh no.  They actually boil taro root themselves and blend it into the tea for a healthier, richer experience.  If you’re in the ‘hood, I highly suggest checking it out!

And if you don’t happen to live in Honolulu, here’s an easy recipe for making bubble tea at home from TheKichn.com!

How to Make Boba and Bubble Tea

What You Need


1/4 cup dried boba tapioca pearls per serving (NOT quick-cooking boba)
1-2 tea bags per serving, any kind
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
Milk, almond milk, or sweetened condensed milk
Fruit juice or nectar (optional)


Bowl for holding the cooked boba
Measuring cups


1. Cook the Boba: Measure 2 cups of water for every 1/4 cup of boba being prepared into a saucepan. Bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the boba and stir gently until they begin floating to the top of the water.

Turn the heat to medium and cook the boba for 12-15 minutes. Remove the pan from heat, cover, and let the pearls sit for another 12-15 minutes.

2. Prepare Sugar Syrup for the Boba: While the boba are cooking, make a simple sugar syrup to sweeten and preserve them once cooked. Bring 1/2 cup of water to a boil over high heat on the stove or in the microwave. Remove from heat and stir in 1/2 cup sugar until dissolved. Set aside to cool.

3. Prepare a Strong Cup of Tea: This can be done either while the boba are cooking or ahead of time. Allow enough time for the tea to cool completely before making the boba. Bring 1 cup of water to a boil. Remove from heat and add the tea bag. Use one tea bag for regular-strength bubble tea or two for a stronger tea flavor. Remove the tea bag after 15 minutes and chill the tea.

4. Finish the Boba: Once the boba have finished cooking, drain them from the water and transfer them to a small bowl or container. Pour the sugar syrup over top until the boba are submerged. Let sit until the boba are room temperature, at least 15 minutes, or refrigerate until ready to use. Boba are best if used within a few hours of cooking, but will keep refrigerated for several days. The boba will gradually harden and become crunchy as they sit.

5. Make the Bubble Tea: Pour the prepared tea into a tall glass and add the boba. Add milk for a creamy bubble tea, juice for a fruity tea, or leave plain and add a little extra water. Sweeten to taste with the simple syrup from soaking the boba.

Additional Notes:

Very Chilled Bubble Tea: For an extra-chilly bubble tea, combine all the tea, milk, and/or juice, but not the boba in a cocktail shaker. Add a few ice cubes and shake for 20 seconds. Pour into a tall glass and add the boba.

Shortcut Boba: If you want immediate gratification, just cook your boba until they are tender, 5 to 10 minutes, and use them as soon as they’re cool. This kind of boba don’t keep for very long (turning rock hard in a few hours), but are delicious if eaten right away.

Saving Leftover Boba and Making Boba for Later: Boba are best if used within a few hours of cooking, but will keep refrigerated with simple syrup for several days. The boba will gradually harden and become crunchy as they sit.

The Best Mangoes in the World

. . . are grown in Hawaii.  Seriously.  I’ve tried them in Thailand and India, from all over South America as well.  But the flavah involved in a Hawaiian mango is simply unparallelled.  No bias, I swear!

And these are just from one of the eight islands!
And these are just from one of the eight islands!


Tis the season for mango try something new?  The Food Network has oodles of ideas here.  Or you can try this tasty summer treat:

Seared Tuna with Mango Salsa Recipe


2 tablespoons good olive oil, plus extra for searing
1 1/2 cups diced yellow onion (2 onions)
2 teaspoons peeled, minced fresh ginger
1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
2 ripe mangos, peeled, seeded, and small diced
1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
2 teaspoons light brown sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 to 2 teaspoons minced fresh jalapeno pepper, to taste (1 pepper)
2 teaspoons minced fresh mint leaves
2 tuna steaks


Saute the olive oil, onions, and ginger in a large saute pan over medium-low heat for 10 minutes, or until the onions are translucent. Add the garlic and cook for 1 more minute. Add the mangos, reduce the heat to low and cook for 10 more minutes. Add the orange juice, brown sugar, salt, black pepper, and jalapeno; cook for 10 more minutes, until orange juice is reduced, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and add the mint. Serve warm, at room temperature, or chilled.

Heat a saute pan over high heat for 5 minutes until very hot. Season the tuna liberally with salt and pepper. When the pan is very hot, add a drizzle of olive oil and then the tuna steaks. Sear for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until the outside is browned, but the inside is very rare.

Serve the tuna on top of the mango salsa

Read more at: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/seared-tuna-with-mango-salsa-recipe/index.html?oc=linkback

Meditation, Keaiwa Heiau

IMAG0539There’s no diggidy, no doubt about the proven benefits of meditation these days:

1. Strengthens the immune system (Davidson et al. 2003; Tang et al. 2007)

2. Decreases stress-related cortisol (Tang et al. 2007)

3. Increases grey matter in the

  • Insula
  • Hippocampus (a/b: Hozel et al. 2005, 2008)
  • Prefrontal cortex (Lazar et al. 2009)

4. Reduces cortical thinning due to aging in prefrontal regions strengthened by meditation (Lazar et al. 2008)

5. Improves psychological functions associated with these regions, including

  • attention (Cater et al. 2005; Tang et al. 2007)
  • compassion (Lutz-Brefczynski-Lewis et al. 2008)
  • empathy (Lazar et al. 2005)

6. Lifts mood by increasing activation of the left frontal regions (Davidson 2004)

7. Increases the power and reach of fast, gamma-range brainwaves in experienced Tibetan practitioners (Lutz et al. 2004)

8. Helps a variety of medical conditions, including

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Asthma
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • PMS
  • Chronic pain (a-e: Walsh and Shapiro 2006)

9. Helps numerous psychological conditions, including

  • Insomnia
  • Anxiety
  • Phobias
  • Eating disorders (a-d: Walsh and Shapiro 2006)

10. Improves focus.

Studies show that even if you’re a novice meditator, meditating just three times a week for twenty minutes a pop will yield you (and those around you) many of these potent results.  Empirical evidence like this helps comfort me when I let my personal practice slip, when I succumb to the ebb and flow of life, and find myself in beginner’s shoes now and again.

IMAG0541On my way to drop off my rental car at the airport today I noticed a park on the map I had never been to before – Keaiwa Heiau Park.  I stopped off at Down to Earth to pick up a few snacks and zig zagged up Aiea Heights to the piney top of the mountain ridges.  The citrus pine aroma tickled my senses when I opened the car door.  My eyes felt brighter, my mindscape clearer already.

IMAG0536Walking over to the heiau, I felt surprisingly shy, like I wanted this experience to be more private than I knew it would be.  A family sat picnicking at a bench not far from the entrance to this ancient burial site, their kids playing tag, this earth no different from a playground.  A group of 20-somethings looked to be discussing the heiau in a workshop-esque gathering on the opposite side.  I wanted to be alone, so I could hear the ancestor’s whispered stories, so I could smell the offerings of the past.  I wanted only the trees to watch over our exchange.

But death is just another stage in life, and reverence is always subjective.  So I continued on.

After visiting each of the sacred circles and altars, I found some shade under a tea leaf bush and meditated.  Just a simple session focused on breath, HA in Hawaiian, the conduit of mana (known as prana in yogic philosophy).  It was only a short sit, and rather than experience the grounding heaviness I expected from a site of this nature, I felt incredibly light when I opened my eyes.  And so grateful for the opportunity to practice in such a sacred circle, on a mountain formed from a fire beneath the sea, in a place I still call home.


Gajananam Sloka, Ewa Beach

Auspicious beginnings may be a matter of set destiny, random luck, or some combination of the two extremes.  But on my first day home to live, after seventeen years away, I wasn’t about to take any chances.


As soon as was humanly possible (since  the power of “Beam me up, Scottie” remains a dream yet to manifest) I drove myself, along with four rather burly suitcases, to my childhood beach.  It was no easy task, especially after 2 hours of sleep, a 10 hour plane ride, a mission getting to the rental car spot, and a dying cell phone.  I realized, no matter how sticky logistics might be on the surface, when you have a solid intention that comes from the core of your being, it doesn’t feel “difficult” at all.  All those challenges are simply what you need to do to get where you want to go.  And everything finds a way to unfold . . .

To the backdrop of sapphire waves and the imminent Diamond Head, with mynah birds chirping, and a cool salty breeze on my cheek, it all started, like so many amazing moments in my life, with the Gajananam Sloka.

ganesha-with-lotus-flower-julie-oakesGajananam Bhutagaanadi Sevitam
Kapittha Jambu Phala Saara Bhakshitam
Uma Sutam Shokavinaasha Kaaranam
Namaami Vigneshvara Paada Pankajam

I prostrate myself before the lotus feet of Vigneshvara (Ganesha), the son of Uma, who destroys sorrow, who is served by the host of angels, who has the face of an elephant, who partakes of the essence of kapittha and jambu fruits.

Shadananam Kumkuma Raktavarnam
Mahaamatim Divya Mayura Vaahanam
Rudrasya Sunam Surasainya Natham
Guhaam Sadaaham Sharanam Prapadye

I always take refuge in Guha of six faces (Subramanya), who is of deep red color like kumkuma, who possesses great knowledge, who has the divine peacock to ride on, who is the son of Rudra (Siva), and who is the leader of the army of the devas (gods and angels).

saraswati9Yaa Kundendu Tushaara Haara Dhavalaa
Yaa Shubhra Vastraavritaa
Yaa Vina Varadanda Mantita Karaa
Yaa Shvetaa Padmaasanaa
Yaa Brahmaachyuta Shankara Prabhritibhi
Devaihi Sadaa Pujitaa
Saa Maam Paatu Saraswati Bhagavati
Nishesha Jaadyaapahaa

May the Goddess Saraswati, who wears a garland white like the kunda-flower, the moon and the snow, who is adorned with pure white clothes, whose hands are ornamented with the vina and the gesture of blessings, who is seated on a white Lotus, who is always worshipped by Brahma, Vishnu, Siva and other gods, who is the remover of all inertness and laziness, protect me.

pbaab002_lord_shiva_meditationOm Namah Shivaaya Gurave
Sat-chit-ananda Murtaye
Nishprapanchaaya Shaantaaya
Sri Sivanandaya Te Namaha
Sri Brahmanandaya Te Namaha

Salutations to Guru Shiva, who is the embodiment of Existence-Knowledge-Bliss Absolute, in whom worldliness does not exist, who is ever peaceful. Salutations to Sri Sivananda, Salutations to Swami Brahmananda.

Om Sarve Mangala Mangalye
Shive Sarvartha Sadhike
Sharanye Trayambake Gauri
Naaraayani Namostute
Naaraayani Namostute

I salute the three-eyed Divine Mother Narayani, who brings auspiciousness and who fulfils all the desires of the devotee (both spiritual and material).

maori-ganesha-tattoo-1803208837 Ganesha, by the way, is said to remove and place obstacles along one’s path, keeping things smooth, or putting you in check, depending on what is needed.  Just hearing this sloka sends a warm release through my body, but chanting it aloud is a fully empowering practice.

I set clear intentions for moving home – though probably not nearly as prolific as my journal entries, I think I covered them all!  I sat in receptive meditation, gave thanks to the universe, and finished it off with a prasad of spicy poke and grapes.

Oh, it’s on . . . 🙂