The Secrets of Yoga

 

Recently in our advanced yoga teacher training, I was trying to convey the idea that we need to be careful about how we use the word yoga. More often than not, when Americans say the word yoga they really mean asana. Asana is the physical practice; yoga is the spiritual practice. Asana makes our body stronger and more flexible; yoga gives us a connection to the Divine. It is true that asana is part of yoga, but it is only a tiny part. There are zillions of “yoga teachers” out there, but many of them would more correctly be called “asana teachers,” as they are simply teaching postures and not anything about the greater teachings of yoga. Yoga is a much broader practice than just asana, and to limit it to asana is to misrepresent it.

In fact, I often say that the more I learn about yoga, the less I know. When I first began the practice it seemed to me that the practice was a physical one that happened to help calm the mind. When I decided to learn more about it, I realized that it is much larger than that. I saw how the knowledge I had about the full scope of the practice was minuscule. Every time I learned one more piece of information about yoga, it became apparent to me that I could spend my whole life studying that one thing and never know it all – and that there are endless aspects of it!

The more I learn about Yoga, Ayurveda, Vedanta, Tantra and Jyotish, the more excited I get about their practices and the less interested I am in focusing on asana in my personal sadhana and to some extent, my teaching. There is a whole new world of knowledge available to us, but if all we do is focus on the physical practice, we won’t see it. There are so many ways of connecting to the Divine within us and around us, and it thrills me to learn more about them.

My vision is to create a group of people who are as excited as I am about going beyond the physical practice and learning about some of the more esoteric teachings of Yoga. It is from this intention that I have begun offering a new class at the studio called The Secrets of Yoga. Rather than simply being another asana class, it will instead be discussion-based. We will meet on a monthly basis, and each class will have a new topic – anything within the realm of yoga. Each time will serve as an introduction to a new idea or practice, and my hope is that it will be inspiration for further self-study and sadhana for the students. In my mind, this is what it means to be a yoga teacher in the truest sense of the word.

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Walking the Walk

I am a firm believer that a yoga teacher should practice the principles of yoga in all aspects of life rather than just spewing “spiritual” nuggets while teaching an asana class without actually living it. A yoga teacher is meant to carry themselves according to yogic guidelines and use their personal experiences as inspiration while teaching. Whether this means simply coming to the mat and cushion daily for asana and meditation, incorporating pranayam into the day, infusing the home with mantra, spending time each day studying ancient texts, or hopefully all of the above, there is so much that we can (and should!) do to facilitate our own spiritual growth – and it is completely and utterly necessary if we are going to guide others to do the same. So often I see teachers that don’t have a sadhana, or daily spiritual practice, and I see how they struggle to be authentic and powerful. Simply put, we cannot transmit something we haven’t got.

I’ve always been very disciplined in my sadhana, and it was instinctual to me that I needed to be committed to it in order to effectively teach. That said, my sadhana has continually changed over the years. As I work through my own stuff, my needs have changed from my practice. As I’ve learned new methods of practice that are meaningful to me, I’ve incorporated them into my sadhana and let go of ones that I no longer need. We are not stagnant beings; we evolve over time and our daily practice should too. What worked for us yesterday may not be what we need today. It’s not good or bad, it just is.

When I first began my yoga practice, I had a lot of issues to work through from my past. I very quickly realized that asana wasn’t enough for me, and began a mantra and meditation practice in earnest. That road led me back to Kundalini Yoga (which was my gateway into yoga and then quickly set aside), and it was incredibly profound for me. It allowed me to heal myself, gain confidence, let go of old hurts, find my voice and discover my truth. I spent countless hours practicing Kundalini Yoga on my own, in public classes, in women’s retreats, and long weekends away in community. Taking the Kundalini Yoga teacher training was a life-changing experience for me, and I created bonds with my teachers and classmates that I still cherish. I was so excited to bring this practice to our studio, because it meant so much to me personally. It’s such a different type of yoga practice, and I loved sharing it with others and seeing their eyes open to its beauty.

Yet as I continued on my own personal journey, I gradually found myself being called to do Kundalini Yoga in my own sadhana less and less. It simply didn’t have the same magnetic pull to me that it used to, and my excitement for it has therefore diminished a bit. My own personal connection to it has faded, which makes me feel rather uninspired to teach it. As I noticed this happening, I began to really struggle with the idea of me teaching Kundalini Yoga any longer. I cannot deny what it has done for me, and I know it is needed by a great many people, but it no longer feels like mine. And that makes me feel phony when I teach it – something that I never want to be as a yoga teacher. I teach from my heart, and when my heart isn’t in it any longer, I don’t feel I should be teaching it.

So I’ve decided to let go of teaching Kundalini Yoga. The decision wasn’t easy, but it’s been made and it feels right. A big part of me is sad to let go, but I know it isn’t necessarily forever…it’s just for the moment. Who knows what the future will bring. The other part of me is excited – excited for the extra time and space to put my energy into the paths that I have been walking down more recently, and the new potential for teachings that they bring.

With that, there is only one thing left to be said.

Sat Nam.

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My (not-so-secret) love affair

I am in love with my neti pot. There, I’ve said it. It’s only one of the best things on earth. Certainly the best thing since sliced bread. I’m not so sure I could live without it. Not happily, anyway.

If you aren’t familiar with the neti pot, let me fill you in on the details. It’s a small pot that can either be made of porcelain or plastic, and is filled with warm salt water and used to clean the sinuses. The pot is inserted into one nostril and runs the water through the sinuses and out the other nostril. It’s quick, painless, and easy. There is no reason not to do it.

Neti is one of the shatkarma, or ancient Ayurvedic and Yogic cleansing techniques. It is an excellent way to keep the nostrils and sinuses cleared of any excess mucus, dust and germs. We wash our hands everyday, right? Why not wash our sinuses too? In fact, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that “Neti cleanses the cranium and bestows clairvoyance. It also destroys all diseases which manifest above the throat.”

Ayurvedically speaking, the role of the nostrils is incredibly important in the absorption of prana, or life energy. Our nose is meant to be the apparatus through which we breathe. The nose is to breathe with; the mouth is to eat with. The nostrils naturally filter and warm the air that we breathe in, while the mouth does not. The nose sits right below the brain, and the breath we take in through our nose serves to energize our brain – but only if it is properly absorbed. When we are congested or otherwise unable to breathe well, we end up with a mind that is dull and foggy, and our thinking becomes stagnant. The key to the health and energy of the body begins in the nostrils. Keeping them clean is imperative.

One can neti every single day without adverse effects. If it seems to dry out the sinuses, then nasya oil can be applied to maintain moisture. If neti-ing everyday isn’t appealing, then at the very least neti as soon as you feel a cold coming on. It will sometimes flush the germs right out of you so that you don’t even get sick at all, or at least prevent it from coming on too hard. If sick and congested, it’s okay to neti twice a day (once in the morning and once in the evening).

Personally, I don’t tend to have sinus issues or allergies, but I neti anyway. However, for those who do suffer with sinus problems, neti-ing can be the solution. My son has horrible seasonal allergies. I refuse to pump him full of over-the-counter allergy medicine, and for years I sought out every natural solution I could find. I tried herbal remedies, homeopathy, diet changes, local honey…you name it. Several things helped, but not well enough. Finally, around the age or 4 or 5 I began to bribe him to neti, and the results were impressive. If he netis every single day during allergy season (and sometimes twice a day), he is virtually symptom free. Sometimes I will add a custom-made Ayurvedic medicated honey that I make for him, but the key is the in neti. It truly is life changing.

If you have never neti-ed before, I encourage you to try it. If you have seasonal allergies, starting neti-ing before allergy season begins, and don’t miss a single day. Just be careful; you might find yourself in the midst of a love affair too.

 

 

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Yoga for Mental and Spiritual Focus

**I originally wrote this article as a guest blogger for another website, www.lifepsych.org. That site belongs to an amazing psychologist, photographer (she took the above photo), and world traveler (She has been to Antarctica! Twice!!), who also happens to be my aunt. Check out her site.**

When you think of yoga, what comes to mind? A good workout? Simple stretching? Most Americans today probably think of yoga poses and tight pants. What if I were to say that, traditionally, the physical postures are just a tiny part of the practice – and perhaps a very insignificant part?

Yoga, as it was originally developed, is meant to be a complete system for spiritual growth and healing. Much more than just a series of physical postures, it is a way to dissolve our limited sense of self and recognize the infinite possibilities that lie within each of us. Yoga provides guidance for living a life that is in line with our own personal truth, and its purpose is to help us realize our connection to the Divine. In fact, that is what yoga means: union. Often described as a way of unifying body, mind, and spirit, the true meaning of union in the context of yoga is actually the recognition that we are all One. Our identification with social roles and with the thoughts in our mind and the emotions in our heart begins to slip away, and we catch a glimpse of something much bigger and brighter than we ever imagined. We come to know the truth of our being and purpose of our existence. Sometimes this awakening is only fleeting, but it nevertheless changes us forever.

This is not the way that yoga is usually presented here in the West. Today the practice is often reduced to yoga-based exercise, which has completely narrowed our idea of the true meaning and purpose of yoga. Traditionally, the asana (yoga postures) were not meant to be the focus of practice but instead a way to prepare for meditation. It is only in deep meditation that we can connect to source and experience complete peace and union. No amount of downward-facing dog or tree pose will get us there. However, meditation doesn’t come easily for most of us. It is very difficult to plop down in a seated posture on the floor and sit still for any amount of time without feeling physically uncomfortable and mentally preoccupied with the day’s drama. Asana is a means of gently opening up the body, releasing tension, focusing on the breath, and quieting the mind. Only then will meditation become more accessible.

Meditation (even after asana practice) is often quite challenging. When we sit down to meditate, we often encounter one of two obstacles: an extremely busy mind, or an inability to stay awake. Yoga offers solutions for both of these issues.

In the event that our mind seem uncontrollable and our thoughts seem never-ending, yoga prescribes the use of mantra. Considered the classic tool of yoga, mantras are energetically charged words or phrases in Sanskrit designed to give the mind something to focus on that has a higher vibration than our thoughts. The very fact that the mantras are in a language that our mind doesn’t understand is useful; it prevents our mind from limiting its meaning and instead allows it to be an experience to feel rather than to intellectualize. With mantra, our mind has something to pay attention to other than the constant stream of thoughts that distract us, which is certainly helpful when our mind seems so incredibly busy!

In the event that we are fighting to stay awake during meditation, the answer is pranayama, or yogic breathing exercises. When our energy is low, blocked, stagnant, or even frenetic, specific breath work can easily bring us to a state of relaxed alertness. There are many different kinds of breathing exercises found in yoga, and they can make profound changes to both our body and mind. Once we understand how and when to use the tools of mantra and yogic breathing (and they are best learned from a qualified yoga instructor), we can begin our meditation session with them. After a few minutes of mantra recitation or breath work we can then fall into silent stillness and the true process of meditation can begin. We can go beyond the body and mind to a place of pure being and heightened consciousness.

Not every meditation session will result in a state of pure bliss. In fact, we are lucky if it ever happens. Mostly, meditation is practice – a continual recognition that our thoughts have wandered, followed by an attempt to bring our awareness back to a single point. It happens over and over again in every sitting. In fact, it is said that this is either our biggest obstacle or our greatest breakthrough. Either those never-ending thoughts trip us up and leave us feeling frustrated, or we realize that the very fact that we can observe our thoughts is proof that we are not our thoughts! We are the pure consciousness that is aware of it all happening! We can then rest in that state of the witness, just watching the thoughts go by without attaching to any of them.

Yoga is accessible to everyone at any level, no matter what the initial intention is for practice. Whether coming for a workout, relaxation, meditation, or spirituality, every person can have their needs met. Sometimes what brings us in the door is what maintains our practice, and sometimes our practice evolves. For example, I began yoga practice simply because I was pregnant and physically uncomfortable, and I just wanted to get the physical benefits. In fact, at the beginning I was quite turned off by the chanting and meditation. Slowly, however, I began to feel that although my body was getting stronger and more flexible and my mind a bit quieter and easier to manage, something seemed to be missing. I decided to try mantra and meditation, and it changed everything for me. I began healing in tremendous ways and experienced amazing states of profound peace and total clarity; states in which I was able to see the beauty and perfection of everything and know precisely why I am here and what I am meant to do with my life. Now mantra and meditation are the foundation of my yoga practice while the physical aspect is secondary.

No matter what ails us – a weak core, inflexibility, limited range of motion, tension, low energy, an inability to concentrate, anxiety, insomnia, stress, restlessness, insecurity – yoga and all its practices can make a huge difference in bringing us to a state of well-being. Regardless of what you ask from your yoga experience, you will certainly receive much more than you ever expected. Come with an open mind and a willingness to embrace whatever the practice has to offer. You never know what you might walk away with!

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Light of Love

I can’t pretend to be okay. I’m not okay. The results of the recent election has me shaken to my core. I’ve been trying to work through my feelings, trying to get to the other side, but it is proving to be very difficult.

Luckily, I happened to be out of the country for the week of the election. We sent in our absentee ballots weeks before we left, crossed our fingers, and hoped for the best. As my family and I watched American news from Central America the night of election day, we were stunned as the results began trickling in. We went to bed that night not yet knowing the results, and I was still in total disbelief that he could possibly win. When my husband and I woke before dawn that following morning, we quickly went online to find out who won…and I was completely and utterly stunned. There was no going back to sleep for me, so I quietly snuck up on to the roof of our rental house and watched the sun rise over the Caribbean. My heart was heavy as I moved through my asana practice, and my meditation felt numb. I was struggling to digest what had happened.

That was a really tough day for me. I was (and still am) terrified. Terrified of what’s to come. Terrified at the thought of these racists across our country that have now been given the green light to say and do as they please. Terrified that my gay and lesbian friends will lose their rights. Terrified that my children, who are working towards their bar mitzvahs, will have to endure anti-semitic comments at school. Terrified about what will happen to Mother Earth if she isn’t properly protected. Terrified about what will happen to the rights of women, both in our ability to choose what they do with their own body as well as our right to be treated with respect. I’m embarrassed for my country. Embarrassed of my country. People around the world are laughing at us for electing such a clown to be our president. I’m horrified that my children’s classmates are now afraid of being deported. Horrified of the hate coming out of our president-elect’s mouth. Confused. Disheartened. Devastated. The list could go on and on…

As I watched my emotions blow around that day, as I worked through waves of anger and crying spells, I realized what I was most upset about. Putting aside the obvious ridiculousness of our new president-elect and his hateful ways and stunning egomania, what I was most upset about was that so many people in America actually voted for him to be president. I know she won the popular vote (thank god!), but there were still an awful lot of people that voted for him. I guess I thought we were better than that. I thought that people would see right through him. I thought that people would do the right thing for their brothers and sisters and for the planet. I really, truly thought that love would trump hate.

I felt let down. And it really hurt.

When I got back home and came in to teach my first yoga class after the election, I can’t lie – I wasn’t feeling like I had very much to offer that day. As I led the class through the practice I could still feel my own emotions swirling. As music has always been a way for me to work through my feelings, I was very purposeful of what songs I played in that class. During savasana I put on a song called Light of Love by Jai-Jagdeesh. This amazingly beautiful song is what made me realize what I need to do to get through my heartache. Here is the segment of words from the song that inspired me that day:

I will dive into each moment because I’ll die as I was born. I will walk at peace, at ease, in grace and flow with the Unknown. I will find the gift in everything, perfection in every way. I will bow at the altar of this and every day. I can’t promise not to feel some fear or to always understand but I’ll be the change I wish to see; I will hold every hand. I am tangled up in beauty, I see clearly that it’s me. I have opened up my heart and surrendered Unto Thee. I am the child. I am the mother. I am your bride and your lover. I am everything great and small. I am the One, I am it all. I am the light of love. I am the light of love.

So that’s just it for me. I don’t have to understand how we got into this mess. I don’t have to be okay with what happened. The only way through this, for me, is to rise above it. As Michelle Obama so eloquently put it, “when they go low, we go high.” I can be the light of love. I can be the lighthouse. I can still carry the message of equality, acceptance, and generosity, even when so many people in the country are saying and doing hateful and hurtful things. I can fill my heart with hope and light and love. I can be the change I wish to see. And I know I am not alone. I know I am not alone.

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My nine nights with the Goddess

Even though yesterday marked the last night of Navaratri, the Indian celebration of the Goddess, it has left an impression that I know will stay with me. Navaratri literally translates as nine nights, and it is a time to pay homage to the Divine Feminine in all her forms. Most specifically, we spend the first three night honoring Durga, the second three nights worshiping Lakshmi, and the final three nights honoring Saraswati.

I began my observance of Navaratri by planting barley seeds in an earthen pot on my altar as a way to give reverence to the great power of Mother Nature, as her grace is what sprouts the seeds and allow them to grow. This planting of barley is a traditional practice, as it symbolizes the shakti of Divine Mother Earth. It is thought that the growth of the barley is the Goddess bestowing her blessing upon us, and our nurturing the seeds is our expression of devotion to her.

As I spent the first three nights connecting to Ma Durga, I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming presence. It had always been my understanding that Durga is a fierce energy, with great power and strength and as such she always seemed a little bit intimidating to me. But on these nights as I was chanting to her, I felt an immense love and sense of protection, and I knew there was absolutely nothing to be afraid of; neither from her or from life. Durga is there for us, watching over us and taking us beyond any difficulties. She is the strength at our core, the grace with which we can get through anything. This is nothing for us to shy away from – it is meant for us to embrace. Durga is the power of the Mother, and her love for us is immeasurable.

The next three nights are spent with Lakshmi, who is the Goddess of wealth, prosperity, bliss, love, and devotion. Not only is she beautiful, but she has this very sweet energy. Her presence felt softer to me somehow, but nonetheless real. It brought me to tears to express my thanks to her, as she has been so very generous to me. When I look back to where I was twenty years ago compared to where I am today, I know that she has been watching over me. Both she and Durga have obviously been there, I just wasn’t in tune with their presence.

The final three nights of Navaratri are dedicated to Saraswati. She is that aspect of the Goddess that bestows spiritual knowledge. As I chanted her mantra each night, I found myself wrestling with my busy mind as so often happens for many of us during meditation. I had to keep reminding myself to surrender, to give myself over to her purity and harmony. She is always accompanied by a swan, which represents sativa guna, or the quality of pure peace and clarity. Our natural tendency is to keep moving, keep planning and to never stop – all of which creates ripples in the mind that sometimes feel more like giant waves. Instead, Saraswati gives us the grace to go beyond  the maya or illusion of this worldly existence and connect with our deepest truth and highest Self. We only have to remember to invite her in.

As I go forward from this Navaratri with my heart opened and the sense of the Goddess all around me, I look forward to maintaining this connection to her. I remember being in India and talking to Shambhavi about my Kundalini practice. Her words were strong, but her intention was sweet. She told me that I have no right to try to stimulate the kundalini if I don’t honor the Goddess. After months of thinking about what she said, I have come to see that kundalini is the power; the Goddess is the grace. Open myself to the grace, and the power will be found.

Jai ma guru!

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Honoring the Divine Feminine

As I was driving the other day and witnessing the beauty of Mother Earth as she begins to change seasons, I suddenly felt completely overwhelmed by the presence of the Divine Feminine everywhere I looked. Sometimes referred to as shakti, this energy is all around us and deep within us, but only some have actually tapped in to its powers. It is plain to see this force in nature, from the voluptuous gourds that are popping up at markets everywhere to the beautiful full moon we had just over a week ago, but it’s not always so easily felt inside. The process of awakening to our Divine Feminine power has increasingly become a focus of my study, daily sadhana and plans for group offerings. I believe that it is time to pay homage to this grace rather than dismissing it, to open our eyes to it and invite it in.

In shakti is the power of the entire universe. It is the pulse of life. In the words of Vamadeva Shastri (Dr. David Frawley), shakti is the underlying source behind all the forces of nature from physical forces like electro-magnetism to spiritual energies like the Kundalini. To not understand it, or worse yet, to not embrace it is to deny a fundamental part of ourselves that is meant to be our guiding light. It is our highest potential, and it is time to awaken to it.

I’ve spent three consecutive summers doing a week-long women’s retreat, where I have shed tears, found new freedoms, and healed immensely. I’ve spent much time studying Tantra in my trainings and studies at home and in India, which has opened my eyes to the power of the Goddess and helped me to surrender to her protection while reclaiming my own strength. I have taken to staying in tune with the cycles of the moon, as this represents the Divine Feminine in Vedic thought. The moon holds such beauty and space, and allows for a softness that compliments the fierce side of shakti, and keeping with her rhythms helps me to stay in physical and mental harmony. My next step is to advance my studies with a focus on women’s health from an Ayurvedic perspective, to help heal, energize, and awaken the female body, mind and spirit.

As I think of all the females in my life, I realize just how amazing it is that so many women I know are stepping into their power and shining so brightly. My friends are doing such amazing things; they are psychotherapists, music therapists and massage therapists, teachers of all kinds, healers on many levels, single mothers, married women, singers, doctors, pilots, philanthropists, administrators and psychologists. They are not afraid to be who they are, nor are they willing to live without leaving a mark on the world. I see them around me and hold them all in my heart, as they are truly inspirational. We all are, when we refuse to be held back by fear and instead follow our passions. We are all forces of nature, and should hold each other up rather than tear each other down. It is time for every one of us to recognize this energy within us. It is time to honor the Divine Feminine, in every pair of eyes that we meet.  The time is now.

Jai ma!

 

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Finding the right style of yoga for your constitution

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Recently one of our yoga teachers asked me why, after a hot yoga class, one of her students always walks away with noticeably red eyes. I explained to her that the eyes are pitta organs and that it sounds like this student is likely of the pitta constitution and taking hot yoga classes is aggravating that dosha. She asked what she could suggest to her student to help prevent it, and I gave the the only honest answer I could: that he should probably stop doing hot yoga.

That may not be the answer that she will want to give or that he will want to hear, but it’s the truth. Unfortunately, we are an out of balance society. The foods we eat, the stresses we take on, and the actions we make often cause us to become completely out of sync with our natural state – which is a place of total balance and peace. While doing yoga at all is certainly a wise choice to bring us back to center, Ayurveda suggests that we should be mindful as to which styles of yoga we do. There is no one yoga practice that is good for every body. Luckily, Ayurveda has some pretty common sense ways to figure it out.

According to Ayurveda, each of us has our own unique constitution; our own personal combination of earth, water, fire, air and ether. To live a life in health and harmony means to honor the elements prevalent within us and seek to keep them in balance. We can do this through our daily routine, diet, herbs, exercise, meditation practices, and even the styles of yoga that we choose to practice.

Ayurvedic healing rests on the premise that like increases like. This means that we should pay attention to the qualities within and around us, and understand that adding two (or more) similar qualities together intensifies them. For instance, if we are naturally someone who is always cold and we decide to eat ice cream on a winter’s day, we are going to get even colder. If we have little energy and are feeling physically and energetically heavy, the decision to sit at home on the couch all day is going to make us feel even lazier. Likewise, eating hot and spicy foods on a hot summer day will make us hotter. Once we begin to think in these terms, it becomes easy to recognize foods and actions that will keep us balanced or throw us off center.

As an Ayurvedic Yoga instructor in a studio that offers several styles of yoga, I see day in and day out how the practices impact people. In fact, this is why several years ago I stopped teaching hot yoga all together – I couldn’t find peace of mind by offering hot yoga to a group of people that shouldn’t be doing hot yoga. It wasn’t creating health and balance, even though they loved it. I felt that I was doing a disservice to our students, whether they knew it or not.

So which style to choose?                                                                                              Kaphas are those people that have a lot of earth and water in them. This makes them physically more solid, with cool, moist skin and a tendency towards heavy mucus production. They are often more slow moving and energetically heavy. Kaphas are generally easy going, lovable and sweet. In order to balance the elements within them, they need to pick a yoga practice that gets them moving, builds heat in the body, and stimulates energy. Good yoga styles for them include Ashtanga, Vinyasa, Kundalini and Jivamukti. Practicing in a heated room is excellent for kaphas. It’s okay for them to push themselves, since their natural tendency is to go slow and take it easy. Yin or Restorative yoga, with their very slow pace and low-to-the-ground postures, are not the best yoga styles for kaphas.

Pittas are people with an abundance of fire and water. They are usually athletic, driven, competitive, and hard working. They have a strong internal furnace, and so are often naturally warm. They often have a light or reddish complexion and hair color, freckles, and a muscular build. Their fiery nature gives them strong opinions and makes them push themselves to their limit. Pittas, therefore, should learn to back off during their yoga practice. Their best rule of thumb, when doing yoga, is to only go at 70%. To push themselves to their edge will only aggravate the pitta dosha. Unfortunately, pittas love to do a challenging practice in a super hot room – it feeds their sense of accomplishment. They should instead focus on backing off and being nonjudgmental of themselves and those around them. A slightly slower, more gentle yoga practice is what is best for them. Good yoga styles for pittas include a slower paced Vinyasa, Gentle, Yin, or Restorative yoga. Practicing in a heated room is most definitely not a good idea for pittas, especially when it is hot outside.

Vatas are people that have a lot of air and ether in them, which makes them highly mobile, ungrounded, cold, and dry. They often have narrow frames with less muscle and fat, and very busy minds. They are fast moving and tend towards nervousness and anxiety. They should really focus on slowing down when practicing yoga, as this will help calm and ground them. Therefore, Yin or Restorative yoga are excellent choices for vatas, as is a slow flow-based practice. Iyengar yoga is great due to its focus on alignment, which brings mindfulness to the practice for vatas since they tend to rush into postures without much thought or attention. The room should be warm where they practice, although sometimes too much heat can drain them quickly. Kundalini yoga can occasionally be too rapid and stimulating to vatas, and should therefore be approached carefully.

The hard part with this is that we often crave that which keeps us out of balance, which is why those fiery pittas love hot yoga, and why kaphas often don’t make it to yoga at all. When we are truly ready to makes changes in our lives to find a more healthful state of being, we can make small changes in every aspect of our lives (including our yoga practice) to make a big difference. Even if we aren’t ready to change our style of yoga, we can remember these simple guidelines per constitution in any yoga class: vatas should slow down, pittas should back off, and kaphas should work harder.

 

 

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Pitta pacifying drink recipe

 

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Now that we have come in to summer practically overnight, I thought I would share a recipe for a drink I like to make when I am hot and cranky.

This drink is a great way to cool down when the internal fire has gotten too strong. It only calls for a couple ingredients and comes together in a flash.

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  • 3 cups coconut water
  • 1/4 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 inch piece of fresh ginger, chopped
  • juice of 1/2 lime
  • 1 tsp maple syrup

 

Mix together and serve chilled.

 

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A River of Transformation

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I was recently able to spend several weeks in India, and while I was there I spent a considerable amount of time on the Ganga. Known affectionately as Maa Ganga, this river is considered sacred by Indians, and her healing effects are felt by everyone who meets her.

IMG_0648I first encountered the holy river in Varanasi, or Benares, as the locals call it. Benares is an
incredibly old city, and you can practically see its age in the water. There the Ganges is brown, stagnant, and dirty, and yet somehow still magical. We spent several nights on the water for the evening arati, and she certainly held the space for us. One morning, we got up early to get on a boat and watched the sunrise, which was a truly amazing experience. To see the locals come to the river’s edge for a bath, or to do laundry, or just to take a sip of her waters was incredible. She has so much to offer, this river.

 

My next real meeting with Maa Ganga (aside from a IMG_0794quick dip of our feet in Haridwar) was in Rishikesh. Now that we were much closer to her source in the Himalayas, she was changed. Her color was amazing – a beautiful blue-green –  like I’ve never seen in any other river. Again we spent the evenings by her edge for arati, and our chanting seemed to be completely absorbed and also intensified by her.

From the town of Rishkesh we traveled north to The Glass House, which was our beautiful retreat location. The Glass House sits right on the Ganga, and we got to spend a glorious week chanting to her, playing in her, and meditating with her. She was quite rough here, and her force was one not to be played with. She demanded respect, and it was obvious that she had tremendous powers to transform, cleanse, and heal. Watching her rush by and hearing her roar is something I will never forget.

IMG_0933On the day of the solar eclipse, which came right after the holy night of Shivaratri, we took a dip in the Ganga. Of course I was sick with a cold that day, and her waters were freezing, but despite all that the experience was…well…indescribable.

One day we took a trip to Vasishta’s Guha.  This cave sits along the river, and I found Maa Ganga’s temperament to be much different here. In this place, she was gentle and soft, quiet and nourishing. Her grace fits the scene beautifully – this is a place for deep meditation, as Vasishta and countless others have done before me. Unfortunately my meditation in the cave was long enough that I didn’t get to visit the water’s edge here, but I didn’t need to be on her banks to feel her energy. She quietly whispered to me from the mouth of the cave, and that was enough.

I spent day after day with Maa Ganga, having my chai with her, offerings her my prayers, hunting for rocks, washing my feet, shedding tears and experiencing peace. Before my trip I was holding on to sadhanas that I had been doing daily for a long time – some practices for months, and one practice was part of my sadhana for two full years. I was often times just doing my practices and no longer feeling them because they had gotten so familiar, but I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) let them go. When I got to India, I decided to stop clinging and just allow myself to experience all that was being offered. I realized that so much of what I had been holding on so tightly to was simply no longer serving me. Sometimes we have to let go in order to reach for something new. It was in that realization that I was able to transform my sadhana, and experience the grace of the Divine in a different way. I have no doubt about the role that the river played in this experience.

makara-vahana-goddess-gangaIn India, the Ganges River is called the Ganga because of the Goddess. The Goddess Ganga came pouring down from the heavens only to have Shiva catch her in his dreadlocks to protect the Earth from her unstoppable force. He released her carefully and now she flows; sometimes powerfully, and sometimes gently. She is highly revered, and it is believed that anything she touches is purified. Considering her importance on our journey and her impression on me, it is only fitting that we spent much of our time on this retreat connecting to Shakti, or the Divine Feminine. Maa Ganga has been imprinted on my heart, and will stay there forever. Our next meeting can’t come soon enough.

Jai Maa Gange Svaha!!

 

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