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Lessons in Onion Cutting

When I was a kid, I was obsessed with watching my mom work in the kitchen. She made many traditional, Korean dishes from scratch—bulgogi, galbi, kimchi, banchan, etc. She took care in preparing every detail, even down to precisely how the scallions were sliced.

For every Korean meal, the scallions have to be sliced in a very specific way. For bulgogi, they have to be sliced at an angle and super thin. My mother has a deep respect for her tradition and culture. Every time she made a meal, I saw it. More than that though, I could feel that respect and reverence, especially when I was old enough to start helping with the cooking.

If I sliced the scallions at the wrong angle, or too thick, or too thin, I had to start over. After a while, cutting up the scallions became this meditative practice. I learned to take my time, to honor the tradition my mother helped instill in me, and I came to see the job as a sacred practice. Within that practice, I learned a lot about myself through the process, too. Cutting onions helped me develop all kinds of patience—especially since I had to redo them so many times!

Asian dishes are an art form. Believe it or not, cutting scallions for Korean dishes is a whole lot like practicing Ashtanga yoga. There is a beautiful tradition and culture to observe. That culture and tradition influences every move. When we treat our yoga like the art form that it is, we can learn so much about the practice and about ourselves.

That’s what we’re going to explore in this post. We’ll take a look at how culture and tradition influence our practice and have the power to transform our relationship with ourselves and our yoga.

The Benefits of Observing Tradition


Observing tradition and staying true to her heritage is one of the reasons my mother was so meticulous about how the scallions were cut for her cooking. Tradition holds sacred meaning for many, and it also provides guidelines for a specific practice.

My mother taught me the guidelines of onion cutting so that I could observe our tradition. She had me redo the cutting when it was wrong because doing it right was a testament to the importance of observing tradition.

Now, there’s a time and a place to break tradition, to create our own way, and to experiment, but what I’ve come to realize over time is that the observance and reverence I have for tradition has filtered into other parts of my life.

It’s made me more intentional with my practices and like I’d said last week, these practices have taken on a mindful, meditative quality because it takes all of my focus in that moment. The beauty of this is that tradition gives me the opportunity to live in the moment.

The Ashtanga practice is a sacred tradition passed down through hundreds of years. When we honor the practice in the way it was intended, we can allow the practice to become that meditative practice. There are some benefits you might not have thought of, too!

I know at some point, all of my students have sought assistance, and in that assistance, I’ve asked a student to start a sequence of postures over again, even if they didn’t need help with the whole sequence. And I also know that some of y’all aren’t happy about that!

There are a few reasons for this though:

  1. We start the sequence over to pay homage to tradition and to practice Ashtanga in the way it was intended.

  2. When we start over from an actual starting place (the beginning of a sequence of poses) rather than in the middle, we’re less likely to start bad habits that will be harder to correct as time goes on.

  3. We grow our capacity for patience and we learn more about ourselves (lemme tell you how much I learned having to cut and recut some scallions!)

Trusting Tradition Rather Than Overthinking


We are human beings with minds, and our minds want to understand. After all, it’s the brain’s job to think!

When I was old enough to start helping my mother in the kitchen, I had many questions. I wanted to know how things worked and why. I wanted to know the reasons behind the way we prepped and cooked. And you know what she said to me?

“You have too many questions.”

It is our nature to question things, to reason, and to figure things out. From an evolutionary standpoint, thinking and reasoning were required to help us survive. Our brains don’t always realize that we don’t need to think and reason everything out anymore. We’re not being chased by tigers or worried about whether or not there’s a safe cave to sleep in. It kind of goes against our nature to just “trust the process.”

That’s where tradition comes in. Tradition gives us a set of guidelines to follow. Once we learn that set of guidelines, we have the opportunity to shut our brains off and just BE. This is where trusting the process comes into action.

The Ashtanga practice’s set sequences, vinyasa transitions, and the cadence of the breath count give us the opportunity to just be in our bodies, and that’s where transformation happens. Once we get comfortable with the individual asanas and how they link together like beads on a mala, we get to just move with our breath and drop into our bodies.

Some think tradition is rigid and leaves no room for creativity. Some find tradition monotonous and boring. When we approach tradition—whether it be cutting onions at a precise angle and thickness for a dish or doing our fifth Sun B—with reverence and mindfulness, it can be transformative.

Leaning into the Embrace of Tradition


Innovation gives us the ability to explore uncharted territory and learn new things. Innovation can push us to our limits and make room for expansion we didn’t know was possible.

Tradition can do the same if we’re present in it. But tradition also offers us more: the embrace of the familiar.

Children usually only open up to the people they trust. They have to have that feeling of safety and security before they can truly share themselves. Many of our pets, especially if they’re rescues, are typically the same way. They have to be shown—over and over—that their humans will keep them safe and protect them from harm.

Our yoga practice offers us this level of safety and security. Yes, when we are truly present in our bodies and with our breath, we can learn things about ourselves that we might not have otherwise. When we are present with what is going on right in the moment on our mats, we can push ourselves to our limits while still making room for expansion. But we can also be held in the embrace of tradition, giving us extra safety and security as we explore our edge. There’s really nothing else like it.

I hope you find some space to be held and supported. Know that I’m keeping you all close to my heart.

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