Mung Dal Soup


[Tiki Misra’s Mung Dal: Photos by Linda Swaty, 2012]

About Mung Dal Soup

Mung dal soup, as my family will tell you, is far and away my favorite food. I’d eat it every single day if I could — and have done so in India. It doesn’t take much more than that and a couple of hot chappatis to make me happy.

Dal is the Hindi term for dried beans. Mung dal (Phaseolus aureus or radiatus) is the split and husked version of the small green whole mung bean, that is the size of a BB. (Whole mung beans are commonly used in the U.S. for bean sprouts.) Mung dal is yellow, flat, and oval-shaped, about 1/8” long. It is the most popular dal in North India, cooks relatively quickly, and is easy to digest.

My approach to cooking Indian food has changed over the last thirty years: When I was in my twenties and thirties, I was attracted to the pungency of chili peppers. I gradually eliminated them from my diet as I began learning about the ayurvedic properties of spices, and how to finely calibrate seasoning to benefit one’s constitution.

The six basic tastes are sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter, and astringent. The artful combination of these five tastes produces depth of flavor. Mung dal is primarily sweet and secondarily astringent. Among the countless ways to prepare mung dal, varying the way it is spiced tempers these tastes and their effects on body and mind.

Mung dal calms vata and pitta.[1] Its sweet taste, which consists of the earth and water elements, tends to cool and aggravate kapha. But, its kapha nature is offset by warming spices such as cumin, mustard seed, ginger root, and black pepper. The lightness and dryness of its mild astringency, a combination of air and earth, aggravates vata. However, the heaviness and oiliness of the salt and the baghar — as well as additional water — counteract vata. For those with a pitta constitution, additional coriander powder and coriander leaf (cilantro in Spanish) offset the pungent ginger, garlic, and mustard seed, cooling it even more. Because the pungency of onion is moderated by sautéing, it can be substituted for the hotter garlic.

Here’s two recipes that use the same spices. As Tiki repeatedly emphasized, this is just the way she made it for us on one specific day. I, too, vary my recipes according to the desired taste, time available, and ingredients on hand. It’s rarely the same.

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Discipline in Yoga


[B.K.S. Iyengar teaching the Ladies’ Class @ RIMYI, January, 1984. Photo: Bruce M. Roger]

© Bruce M. Roger 2012

Yoga pays no heed to excuses

Whenever I quote Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar, “You love yoga but hate to practice!” the class laughs knowingly. How many of us still find excuses not to practice? Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras cite disease, lack of resolve, doubt, neglect, laziness, pain, and fear amongst many other obstacles.[1] Underlying these negative traits there is a tacit belief that if we do nothing, our situation will improve.[2] That is what Patanjali calls viparyaya, a false understanding. It could be true, but is not likely to be so. When lulled into complacency by the inertia of tamas, our resolve is tested.


Yoga is a discipline

Patanjali’s very first sutra is Atha yoga – anusasanam, “Now yoga discipline [is explained].”[PYS I.1] For beginners, yoga practice entails the beginning of discipline, not necessarily the end of suffering. For adepts, the prefix anu in anu-sasanam (“follow up – teaching”) implies that the pupil has practiced the preliminary restraints of yama and the self-disciplines of niyama — the first two limbs of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga — to prepare for samadhi.[3]

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Tasting the Nectar of the Pose

©2012 Bruce M. Roger


[photo: Lalbagh Flower Show, Bengaluru 2011— Linda G. Swaty]

Happiness that, in the beginning, is like poison, but, when transformed resembles nectar (i.e. immortality) — that happiness is born of the clarity and tranquillity of the ‘spirit of oneself’ and is declared to be sattvic.

That, which, in the beginning, through contact between the objects of the senses and the senses, resembles nectar, but when transformed becomes poisonous — that happiness is known as rajasic.

 — Bhagavad Gita XVIII.37-38

Every good cook understands the importance of presentation, taste, and digestion. In order to entice the diner, food must first appeal to the eye, then the nose, and finally, the tongue. But how often do our senses lead us astray — such as eating one too many slices of pizza? Then the delight of pizza turns into the pain of indigestion. That’s what the Gita is referring to when it says that which first tastes like nectar and later turns to poison is rajasic. Greed and delusion are not the ultimate sources of happiness.

Teaching yoga is like being a good cook: we depend on the beauty, grace, and rhythm of the pose being “served” to entice the beginner. Our task is to wake up the intelligence. How can we spice it up to inspire beginners to continue long enough for the intelligence to penetrate?

I encountered Dog Pose three and a half years after beginning yoga. In my very first Iyengar yoga class, the teacher had a flexible young woman demonstrate. Her point of not over-rotating the hips to prevent dumping into the spine was lost on me. Knowing how tight my hamstrings were, I inadvertently blurted out, “You want us to do that?” Although everyone laughed, the pose tasted like poison to me. It was indigestible. I couldn’t understand why it hurt me and not the others.

That was thirty years ago. My pose has changed radically. It feels stable, there’s less fatigue, and I feel calm. That which first tasted like poison later turned to nectar.

What is Alignment? Transcending Duality Through Asana


[photo: Shiva Nataraja, 12th c. Chola Empire, St. Louis Art Museum. Photo by Bruce M. Roger, 2010.]

©2012 Bruce M. Roger

We are all bound by duality. We express likes and dislikes, we seek pleasure to avoid pain, and we perceive the body and mind as separate entities. In the Bhagavad Gita, before going into battle, Lord Krishna advises the warrior Arjuna to remain detached and not succumb to duality, else it will bind him to impermanence and impurity:

Treating alike pleasure and pain, gain and loss, victory and defeat, then get ready for battle. You will not lack merit.[1] [Bhagavad Gita II.38]

Although Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras state that the dualities cease when the asana is mastered [PYS II.48], only when I started practicing the Iyengar method was I able to reconcile how correctly practicing asana could transcend duality. B.K.S. Iyengar’s description of the joy of practice gave a voice to my feelings:

“In some postures, we lose the sense of duality and we live in peace, in a joy we cannot express in words. Even if we have to struggle for the rest of our lives to feed that joy once more, it is worth doing.”[2]

As I continued to study Iyengar yoga, I began to understand that the physical techniques of asana and pranayama served a greater intention. A building’s structure is not an end in of itself, but serves its architecture; likewise, physical alignment serves the ultimate the goal of Self-realization — every Indian’s goal.

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India: The Next Generation


[photo: Sara Swaty Roger holding an icon of Saraswati, 2009]

©2012 Bruce M. Roger

“Prepare for landing at Mumbai International Airport.” Our daughter Sara, who was now awake and jubilant, gave me a high-five, “We did it!” Sara, who was named for the Indian goddess of music and education, Saraswati, had grown up reading the mythic tales of India, and practicing Iyengar yoga with us at home. We were not surprised when she asked us in 2009 if she could study at the University of Hyderabad for a semester. First, however, Sara and I planned to spend time visiting the cave temple sites of Ajanta and Ellora, and then two weeks in Pune, while I attended class at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute.

Our immediate task was to find a taxi to Pune, a three and a half hour ride. A passenger shared the name of a taxi service as we exited the airport. Amongst the hundreds of people trying to get the attention of passengers streaming by, I saw a tout with the taxi sign and negotiated a price. All of this was on the fly: I’d never taken a taxi before, only had a vague idea of the price, and was trying to explain to Sara how to do it at the same time. Fortunately, she picked up on everything.

It was much faster and easier — if not cheaper — than fourteen years before. The taxi was air-conditioned, unlike the bus; the road had expanded from two lanes to an expressway; people had upgraded from two-wheelers to cars. And since everyone used cell phones — there were 525 million of them in 2009, owned by 44% of the population — we had our host explain to the taxi driver how to find the apartment.

After settling down in our apartment in Pune, Sara was ready to venture out on her own. She had seen me negotiate rikshaw prices and explain destinations by landmark. I walked her down to the rikshaw stand at the end of the block. She explained in pigeon English that she wanted to go to the museum. The rickshaw-wallah set the meter. And off she went.


Design of the Yoga St. Louis Studio

©2012 Bruce M. Roger


[Yoga St. Louis front door]

The design of our Yoga St. Louis studio is based on the philosophy of yoga and influenced by Zen temple architecture. I was moved by the simple and restrained Zen temples that used allusion, without ostentation, to attain serenity.

Most of you have noticed our front door. The basic concept was derived from an old door in a Kyoto Zen dormitory, similar to a Japanese farm door that used horizontal slat reinforcements below its window. Our slats are purely decorative and form eight spaces, symbolizing the eight angas, limbs, of Patanjali’s ashtanga yoga. The door bell itself was a gift from a young monk, Hisao Nagai, who lived in that dorm and took me on a temple tour of Kyoto.

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