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Posts Tagged ‘Inspiration’

Fall Focus: Top Tips For Finding Balance During Vata Season

Happy Autumnal Equinox! Here at Five Pillars we hold the Intention to move through life in synch with the seasons. Listening to the messages and even advice each has to share with us and going with the flow or counterbalancing where beneficial – letting the pillars of Right Movement, Nutrition, Breathing, and Relaxation support and inform our choices.

According to Ayurveda—an ancient traditional system of medicine in India that’s been called Yoga’s sister science—Fall is Vata season. As the humidity of summer begins to wane and the Northeast experiences the incredible annual display of colorful Fall leaves, you may discover some signs and symptoms that suggest your Vata dosha is aggravated. You can adopt Vata-balancing practices to attain optimal health and feel your best.

But first, what’s a dosha? Three primary energies (aka doshas) based on the elements make up our physical and mental constitutions. These energies are Vata (Air & Space), Pitta (Fire) & Kapha (Earth + Water). Each of us has all of these elements, though one will likely be dominant in our constitutional makeup. If you want to #GoDeeper, try an online quiz.

The cooling weather patterns, Fall winds and shifting daylight hours that have arrived with the equinox often aggravate Vata. After all, the qualities of the Vata dosha are cool, light, dry, moving, and erratic—just like the weather patterns—and a basic tenet of Ayurveda is like increases like. Some common symptoms that occur when the Vata dosha is out of balance are anxiety, dry or chapped skin, indigestion, sudden bouts of fatigue, and light interrupted sleep.

Additional symptoms can occur on the physical or mental dimensions.

Common physical signs of a Vata imbalance:

  • • cold hands and feet
  • • constipation
  • • gas
  • • bloating
  • • aversion to cold and wind
  • • irregular appetite
  • • twitches
  • • spasms
  • • restlessness
  • • low body weight
  • • aversion to loud noises
  • • hypertension
  • • arthritis
  • • weakness
  • • restlessness
  • • irregular menstruation

Common mental signs of a Vata imbalance:

  • • nervousness
  • • fear
  • • panic
  • • racing mind
  • • worry
  • • spacey
  • • scattered
  • • inconsistency

The Five Pillars of Fall Wellness can help bring you back into balance, achieving your optimal state of being.


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Right Intention: Want To Book The Next Plane Ticket Out Of Here? Think Again And Dig Into A Steady Routine


When the Vata winds blow, we all need a little more grounding and stability. Now is the time to dive deeper into your mindfulness practices and stick to routines. It may help to begin by creating healthy patterns of eating and sleeping—try to sleep before 10 p.m. and eat regular meals around the same time each day. Beyond the basics, this is the perfect time to pick up or continue a yoga and meditation practice. Set an intention to be gentle and loving with yourself, and allow for plenty of time to reflect and go within. Your inner clarity will keep your health and wellness on track no matter what life throws your way.

Our recommendations: Take time to set an intention to stay grounded and stable during Vata season. Avoid the temptation to discard your routines and book the next plane ticket out of here. Instead, take a moment to organize your days into a soothing routine full of self-care and balance.


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Right Movement: Take It Easy


Choose a Right Movement practice that is light and easy on your body. Focus on flexibility and balance rather than long distances and speed.

Top movement tips: Walk through the park or take an easy breezy stroll with a friend. Power down your yoga practice and opt for therapeutics or gentle yoga, yoga nidra, tai chi or qi gong. Take some time out to practice pranayama and meditation. Focus on breathing deeply and be gentle with yourself.


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Right Breathing: Alternate Nostril Breathing


Pranayama (aka breathing practice) has incredible balancing effects on the entire body and can ward off unwanted stress & anxiety. Our favorite pranayama for inner balance and harmony during the Fall season is Nadi Shodhana Pranayama, otherwise known as Alternate Nostril Breathing. Nadi Shodhana Pranayama synchronizes the right and left hemispheres of the brain, helping to focus the mind and keep unwanted stress and anxiety at bay, providing the very foundation we need to stay peaceful and responsive no matter what the Vata winds blow into our lives.


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Right Nutrition: True Nourishment For the Fall Season


Fresh, cooling crudites were perfect for the hot summer, but the crisp fall air invites forth a natural desire to nourish ourselves with warming butternut squash soups, more protein, and hearty stews. Freshly cooked veggies are easier for our bodies to digest and assimilate than raw produce. If you are already in the practice of eating fresh, seasonal foods and shopping at the farmer’s market, you may notice the natural seasonal shift toward heartier produce that balances the vata dosha.

Begin to see your vegetables as vessels for healing herbs and spices. Each of the ancient, lasting cuisines around the world incorporate delicious, healing herbs and spices into meals. Oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary make their way into Italian sauces. Turmeric, cumin, ginger, and cayenne spice up Indian fare.

As you know, food is so much more than fuel and nutrients. Many of the aromatic herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, anti-fungal properties. As we spice up our recipes and savor the incredible flavor of international cuisine, our meals become medicine that support the immune system, keeping seasonal colds and the flu at bay.

Try cooking a healing coconut-milk curry with plenty of spices and seasonal vegetables. For inspiration, view this recipe: South Indian Style Vegetable Curry. For more information about Ayurvedic wisdom, check out this article: Vata Pacifying Diet.

Additional Vata-Pacifying Recommendations:

  • *Eat full-sized, well-portioned meals, but avoid overeating.
  • *Sip on tea and warm liquids throughout the day. Avoid chilled beverages.
  • *Sweet, sour, and salty tastes pacify Vata. Favor warming, oily, and heavy foods such as natural grains (particularly rice and wheat), soups and stews, cooked root vegetables, and sweet fruits (bananas, avocados, coconut, figs, grapefruit, oranges, lemons, melons, papaya, peaches, pineapples, dates, etc.). If you consume animal products, warm milk soothes Vata. Buy organic eggs, chicken, turkey and seafood.
  • *Integrate Vata-pacifying spices: cardamom, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, mustard seed, basil, cilantro, fennel, oregano, sage, tarragon, thyme, and black pepper.
  • *Avoid bitter, pungent and astringent foods. Minimize your intake of beans, aside from mung bean dahl and tofu. Light, dry fruits such as apples and cranberries can aggravate Vata. To avoid indigestion, steer clear from cabbage, sprouts, and raw vegetables in general.

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Right Relaxation: Self-Care


Book your favorite masseuse, invest in acupuncture, or get some reflexology done. These practices boost circulation and promote relaxation. Consider investing in a weekly or monthly self-care routine that includes your favorite treatments.

Want to keep it simple and stay at home?

  • *Give yourself a massage using warming oils such as sesame or almond.
  • *Play relaxing music
  • *Connect friends who make you feel calm and relaxed
  • *Try aromatherapy
  • *Take deep breaths often
  • *Pause in between tasks
  • *Take an Epsom salts bath
If you’d like to discuss how best to attune to the season, we’re here to support you! Feel free to contact us with any questions or concerns, or for an individual consultation.

 

 

*Photo by Dawid Zawiła on Unsplash

The Yoga of Swimming

If you love swimming and are interested in deepening your pranayama practice on the mat, you are in for a wonderful surprise. Whether you swim laps or enjoy water recreationally, you probably recognize that swimming can transform the way you feel. Similar to yoga, the before and after effects are astounding! A powerful, low-impact activity, swimming can also become a incredible pranayama.


Pranayama refers to breathing exercises or breath control. Breath control is one of the very first things we learn during swim lessons by blowing bubbles into the pool. Aside from yoga practice and swimming, there are few places in life where we intentionally control our breathing. With intention and awareness, we can transform swimming into yoga.


What was that about pranayama? Most of the time, we breathe automatically. During yogic breathing exercises, we control the breath to create more energy or prana in our bodies. Pranayama is one of the eight limbs of yoga (Ashtanga = eight limbs) in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Ashtanga Yoga is a pathway to ultimate freedom and bliss. Although modern-day yoga is often dominated by yoga asanas or postures, breathing exercises are given equal importance in the Yoga Sutras.



How do we practice pranayama while swimming? When we swim, we hold our breath to go under water and then slowly let the air out while we propel ourselves forward or backward. When we surface, we take another big breath and continue the pattern we have started. The more rhythm we create with our breathing, the more ease we feel when swimming. In essence, we learn to coordinate our breath with movement, which is the foundational concept in a yoga vinyasa class. In fact, the word vinyasa means “a method in yoga in which movements and breath are coordinated.” Paying attention and controlling our breath during yoga practice and swimming alike has the capacity to create a vinyasa, or a moving meditation.


 Swimming and pranayama are mutually beneficial.


Practicing swimming requires breath control and rhythmic breathing, which will deepen your yoga practice on the mat. And practicing pranayama on land can help to enhance your swimming techniques and lung capacity in the pool. Win-win.


That said, you may be thinking to yourself: I swim all summer and even during the other months of the year, but my mind races while I swim and I am hardly aware of how I am breathing… I am on autopilot. How is this like yoga?


Like the ease we feel peddling and balancing once we have learned to ride a bike, breath control while swimming becomes automatic. Even though we are raising our energy levels and opening energy channels in our body when we swim regardless of our intention, awareness and mindfulness gradually shifts our experience in the water.


The Yoga of Swimming = Swimming + Intention + Awareness


Without intention and awareness, yoga resembles stretching, calisthenics, sitting, or even napping. Similarly, without mindfulness, swimming is the act of moving through water. Intention and awareness transforms these movements and postures into what we call yoga. Yoga is the union or yoking of mind with spirit.


When you cultivate mindfulness and intention, swimming can become yoga, leaving you with a deep sense of inner peace, freedom, and even bliss! Ready to dive in?



Three Ways to Practice the Yoga of Swimming:


In the pool: How does your physical body feel before and after you swim? What happens to your energy before and after you swim? Do you feel pulsing, streaming or tingling sensations? How do you feel emotionally before and after your swim? Notice your state of mind before you enter the water. Then notice your state of mind at the end of your practice.


On the mat: While you are practicing yoga on your mat, imagine you are moving through water. Anytime you expand (raise your arms, lift your heart, head, or hips), inhale deeply. And anytime your contract (fold forward, root into the ground, sink your hips, lower your hands), slowly exhale. When you hold postures, create long inhalations. Imagine you are about to dive under the water at the top of your inhalation and pause. Then slowly exhale. At the bottom of your exhalation, imagine you are still under water and pause. Continue this breathing pattern. With a little intention and imagination, you can use your experience in the water to deepen your yoga on the mat.


Practice yoga by the water: Practice yoga by the water. If you are by a pool, take your standing balancing postures into the shallow end of the pool. Then, end your asana practice with savasana on a floatation device or lying down next to the water. Try meditating near water after you swim or practice yoga.


*Be sure to use safety precautions while practicing by water, especially the ocean, and have fun!

 

 

 

 

Yoga 101: Intro to the Chakras

Begin your day with a simple chakra meditation to alleviate stress and anxiety, improve self-esteem and boost your overall health. Although it takes less than five minutes, this meditation goes deep, re-balancing your body, energy, emotions, intellect, and spirit.

 

So what is a chakra anyhow?

 

Chakras are “wheels” or “disks” of energy concentrated in different locations throughout the body. There are seven main chakras that coincide with major organs and nerve centers located along the spine. Alongside a strong connection to the physical and energetic bodies, the chakras have psychological and spiritual significance. Each chakra is associated with a color, a location in the physical body and a deeper meaning.

 

zen-chakra-meditation

 

The Meditation:

 

This uplifting chakra meditation comes from the Nosara Yoga Institute. It’s simple. Sense each chakra and picture the coinciding light rippling outward from the energetic center in your body as you repeat the following affirmations. Begin by sensing one chakra at a time, starting at the root and working your way to the crown. At the end of the meditation, you can imagine all of the chakras lit up at once.

 

The Affirmations:

 

Root Chakra: I have the right to be here now.

Splenic Chakra: I have the right to feel all of my sensations, feelings and emotions.

Solar Plexus Chakra: I have the right to be myself.

Heart Chakra: I have the right to love and be loved.

Throat Chakra: I have the right to speak my truth. I have a voice!

Third Eye Chakra: I am guided by my own internal wisdom.

Crown Chakra: I surrender to the divine flow of the universe.

 

Go deeper with this video:

sources:

*image taken from Zen For Life

Warm Up With Our Winter Yoga Sequence

Winter is in full swing and it has been absolutely frigid. If you are feeling stagnant and finding your Right Movement practice challenging, you are not alone. After weeks of freezing weather, you may be feeling a bit lethargic, blue or just not quite yourself. Albert Einstein said, “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Although we obviously did not create the frosty weather, we are often able to choose how we respond to our circumstances. Yoga is the perfect practice for shifting mindset, re-energizing the body and the mind.

So when when the doldrums set in- or better yet, before the blues take hold- take 10 minutes to practice our short soothing sequence to build warmth from the inside-out. You will find yourself renewed and ready to take on your Winter plans with presence and zeal.

This sequence is designed to slowly warm up with breath and continuous movement; and then go deeper into energizing postures that will leave you feeling ready to head out into the brisk air.


Sun salutation variations plus some standing
core-strengthening postures build heat.

This helps to warm the muscles up and prevent injury.

It also begins the process of moving in meditation. 
Once the heat and breath flows, deeper twists, folding and backbending
postures open up stuck energy channels and generate much-needed life force.
Take your time flowing from posture to posture, breathing deeply and moving joyfully.
Hold postures for 3-5 deep breaths.


 


Sequencing is about balance — exploring a posture and then offering the body a soothing counter posture. Winter is a time to balance the natural tendency to turn inwards with postures that open the heart and generate a sense of openness to the world. Rather than push through the stagnant energy that so easily builds during Winter, there is the opportunity to breathe deeply and move into yoga postures slowly and deliberately, paying attention to the subtle shifts that emerge.

Strengthening the Muscle of Empathy

If we’re lucky, moving through the holiday season usually means more time spent with friends or family – we spend time catching up on all the highs and lows in our loved ones’ lives. There are many moments of joyful connection, and probably many moments where we feel our buttons being pushed! The holiday season is more of a marathon than a sprint – we need to keep calm, open hearted, compassionate and patient as we interact with others over the next six (long) weeks or so.

To run a marathon you might need to train with a coach. Enter Brené Brown.

If you haven’t already hear of her, Brené Brown is a researcher, storyteller, scholar, PhD, and author of NYT bestselling books Daring Greatly (2012) and The Gifts of Imperfection (2010). She is a calm and illuminating voice on the subjects of vulnerability, shame, and courage, delivering powerful and applicable tools to use in our interactions with others, and in our own self-development.

Her defining Ted Talk really elevated the discussion of the strength in vulnerability to the next level. And now a sweet, simple and informative video is circulating on another important distinction: the difference between sympathy and empathy.

 

 

~ Some of us feel like “fixers” and that it’s our responsibility to weigh in on other’s choices and help them “do better” in the world.

~ For some of us, it’s easy to get defensive when a loved one is sharing something that has upset them.

~ Or we might get judgmental when we hear about a conflict in their life.

~ I admit I’ve often experienced all of the above and more: I’ve tried to help find the silver lining of a situation, assuring a struggling friend that “it’s not all bad.” I was surprised to see how even this common response isn’t really empathy!

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According to Brown, we can all strengthen our muscle of empathy, lending an ear or a shoulder to cry on in a constructive way. This three minute video points out a couple of simple yet critical differences between empathy and sympathy, ultimately revealing a path to true connection that isn’t that complicated!

Give it a try and let us know how it goes via Facebook

Learn more at PsychologyToday.com

 

Four Ayurvedic Practices to Boost Your Immune System

Leaves blanket the ground creating an artful display of fall colors. Hearty root crops and winter squash are abundant at the farmer’s market. According to Ayurvedic wisdom, autumn is the vata season, known for its cool, light, dry, moving, and erratic qualities. There is incredible momentum, movement, and vitality that occurs with when the wild vata winds blow, generating transformation. And yet, we can also find ourselves forced to stop in our tracks as colds and the flu spread through schools and workplaces like wildfire during this time of year. To go forth with steady confidence and healthy bodies, favor a vata pacifying lifestyle which boosts the immune system and brings the body, mind, and spirit into balance. Check out these four tips to be well and stay calm.

 

One: Begin to see food as medicine.

Incorporate a vata pacifying diet this fall, which consists of foods that are warm, moist, smooth, and nourishing. Fresh, cooling crudites were perfect for the hot summer, but the crisp fall air invites forth a natural desire to nourish ourselves with warming butternut squash soups, more protein, and hearty stews. If you are already in the practice of eating fresh, seasonal foods and shopping at the farmer’s market, you may notice the natural shift toward heartier produce that balances the vata dosha.

Freshly cooked veggies are easier for our bodies to digest and assimilate than raw produce. Minimize stress and support easy digestion by consuming lightly cooked foods that are warming and soothing. Sip ginger tea with meals to aid digestion, or make a healing, anti-inflammatory turmeric-honey tea to support the immune system. Go deeper with this recipe from 101 Cookbooks.

Begin to see your vegetables as vessels for healing herbs and spices. Each of the ancient, lasting cuisines around the world incorporate delicious, healing herbs and spices into meals. Oregano, basil, thyme, and rosemary make their way into Italian sauces. Turmeric, cumin, ginger, and cayenne spice up Indian fare.

Food is so much more than fuel and nutrients. Many of the aromatic herbs and spices have anti-inflammatory, anti-septic, anti-fungal properties. As we spice up our recipes and savor the incredible flavor of international cuisine, our meals become medicine that support the immune system, keeping seasonal colds and the flu at bay.

Try cooking a healing coconut-milk curry with plenty of spices and seasonal vegetables. For inspiration, view this recipe: South Indian Style Vegetable Curry. For more information about Ayurvedic wisdom, check out this article: Vata Pacifying Diet.

 

Two: Wake up before sunrise and create a morning routine.

Routine balances the vata dosha. The early morning hours before sunrise are the vata time of day, inspiring movement and energy. Practice pranayama, sun salutations, yoga postures, and meditation first thing in the morning to stimulate your body’s cleansing systems and set the tone for your day. Sip room temperature or lukewarm water with lemon first thing to stimulate and balance your digestive tract.

Poses that work on the colon (the bodily seat of vata), intestines, pelvis, lumbar spine, and sacroiliac balance vata by bringing energy back down into the base of the torso. Spinal twists and inversions of all kinds soothe this dosha. Sitting and standing forward bends are choice poses, particularly for insomnia; boat, plank, staff, and plow are also powerful vata-reducers. To support grounding, work with standing poses such as mountain, triangle, warrior, and tree. Avoid back bends, such as bow, cobra, pigeon, and arch, which increase vata, or hold them briefly. If you enjoy vinyasa, do sun salutations S-L-O-W-L-Y. Let child’s pose lead you back to your innate innocence and trust. End your practice with a long Savasana (20–30 minutes); it is really okay to do NOTHING for a while.

Selection taken from Kirupalu’s Yoga and Ayurveda article. 

Three: Give yourself a thorough rubdown.

A self-massage with warming sesame oil may provide the moisturizing nourishment your skin needs to maintain its healthy glow this fall. Plus self-massage boosts the immune system, improves circulation, and activates the parasympathetic nervous system, calming the body and mind. Follow the sesame-oil massage with a relaxing bath or shower. For more information on balancing your skin and body, check out Five Pillars’ recent article by Erika: Defeating Fall Dryness.

 

Four: Practice alternate nostril breathing.

Alternate nostril breathing is very balancing year-round, but particularly supportive during the vata season. Check out this video to go deeper:

 

 

The Upanishads: Moksha

There are a handful of ancient texts that modern day yogis turn to for foundational wisdom. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are one of them; the Upanishads are another.

A collection of philosophical texts, the Upanishads were written in India sometime between 800 and 500 BC. They emerged from a time of shifting spiritual sensibilities, when traditionally Vedic Indians were moving away from external religious practices to more internally-focused spiritual pursuits—put very simply, fewer sacrifices and more meditating.

The books of the Upanishad are made up of the teachings of that day’s spiritual leaders and guides. Although we refer to them collectively, each book (there are about 200 total) stands on its own. The name Upanishad reflects its content: upa (near) and shad (to sit) form to mean something close to “sitting down near,” that is, sitting at the feet of a sage to embark on a session of spiritual study.

Of all the concepts unpacked in the Upanishads there are four that we’ll look at in a little more depth over a series of posts: samsarakarma, dharma and moksha.

Gajendra Moksha: A tale in which Gajendra the Elephant King, under attack from a crocodile, appeals to the gods not to save his life but to free his mind from ignorance.

Moksha

Much like working toward a peak pose in a vinyasa class, we’ve been building up in our study of the Upanishads to the Big Idea: Moksha.

Moksha is the end of suffering. Take that in for a second. The end of suffering.

So that means what, exactly? Attaining moksha means being released from the cycle of death and rebirth that is saṃsāra. It is the end of life as we know it in a human form on this particular plane. It is freedom from ignorance, which is what ties us to our material existence.

Other words that come up in an attempt to define moksha are emancipation, liberation, and release. It is also closely related to the concept of nirvana—the state of cosmic bliss one enters after gaining enlightenment.

While the particulars of Nirvana (a Buddhist concept) and Moksha (a Hindu concept) are different, their essences are the same. Hindus describe moksha as the experience of oneness with Brahman, the Supreme Self. Buddhists explain nirvana as being Self-less. Both are the result of right living and ego eradication. For Hindus, dharma, the concept we explored in our last post on the Upanishads, is a means to moksha.

Atman and Brahman

The Upanishads propose that the true nature of our being is atman, an intangible and undefinable Self. We are not our bodies or our minds but a greater, cosmic force that is at the core of all creatures. We can touch atman through meditation and other practices that take us outside of our purely physical existence.

Brahman is what makes the universe. It is the creator and sustainer of all life and phenomena; it does not change, yet it causes all change. It is supreme and absolute. To try and describe it further is, basically, impossible.

A core tenet of the Upanishads is that atman and Brahman are made of the same substance. This passage paints a picture:

As the same fire assumes different shapes

When it consumes objects differing in shape,

So does the one Self take the shape

Of every creature in whom he is present.

(Katha Upanishad II.2.9)

Moksha, then, is when atman returns to Brahman, the source from which it camel; in being reabsorbed it is liberation from the illusion that we are all separate. This epiphany frees us from ego and the endless cycle of life, death and suffering that is samsara. When one achieves moksha one is embraced and subsumed again into Brahman, the wide-reaching arms of Absolute Existence.

So how do we get there? According to the Upanishads meditation and dharma are key. By meditating on our Ultimate Selves, atman, and stripping away our identifiers (gender, age, race, income level, etc) we can can see through the veils that separate us from the rest of existence. This is when we can “see” Brahman, the ocean that contains all of us as drops of water.

If all of this is too out there to sink into—reincarnation, cosmic divinity, dissolution of self through knowledge of Self—think of atman as your Higher Self, the version of you whose actions, values and beliefs you admire. If moksha is too weird or inconceivable a goal, think of connecting to your higher self as you move through this earthly plane. We are rarely in our highest selves all the time, but when we are, the feeling is right and aligned. Those experiences of connectedness are liberating and freeing in their own powerful way.

Photos: Main image from Nirvana Films Pure Production Bliss; Gajendra Moksha from Exotic India; water image

The Upanishads: Dharma

There are a handful of ancient texts that modern day yogis turn to for foundational wisdom. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are one of them; the Upanishads are another.

A collection of philosophical texts, the Upanishads were written in India sometime between 800 and 500 BC. They emerged from a time of shifting spiritual sensibilities, when traditionally Vedic Indians were moving away from external religious practices to more internally-focused spiritual pursuits—put very simply, fewer sacrifices and more meditating.

The books of the Upanishad are made up of the teachings of that day’s spiritual leaders and guides. Although we refer to them collectively, each book (there are about 200 total) stands on its own. The name Upanishad reflects its content: upa (near) and shad (to sit) form to mean something close to “sitting down near,” that is, sitting at the feet of a sage to embark on a session of spiritual study.

Of all the concepts unpacked in the Upanishads there are four that we’ll look at in a little more depth over a series of posts: samsara, karma, dharma and moksha.

Dharma

Ancient terms are tough to translate, and dharma [धर्म] is no exception. The Sanskrit root dhṛ means “to hold, maintain, keep,” and can be understood to mean “an established law.” Another definition gives the meaning “to support, hold, or bear” and is used alongside the concept rta, the order that makes life and universe possible; dharma is a steadfast condition that allows change and growth to occur.

In Buddhism dharma means “cosmic law and order;” in Sikhism, it means the path of righteousness and proper religious practice.

I first understood dharma to mean “one’s work in the world,” a concept that expands to hold one’s duties, rights, obligations, laws, standard of conduct and virtues; in short, a right way of living.

In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna tells a conflicted Arjuna:

“It is better to do your own dharma even imperfectly, than someone else’s dharma perfectly.”

At this point in the story Arjuna, facing a great battle, does not want to fight. Krishna points out that going into battle is Arjuna’s dharma. Arjuna is a warrior, so despite his reservations, his path lies on the battlefield.

Our dharmas are bigger than us. Specific courses to chart in the world, they may not be easy to navigate, but, as Krishna reminds Arjuna, it’s better to forge ahead than taking a path that wasn’t meant for us. The effort we put into following our dharma is as important as any result or outcome. It is the labor and not the fruits that are important.

Patanjali expands on the concept of dharma and right living in the The Yoga Sutras. The yamas and niyamas are restraints and observances that serve as guidelines for social action; they are the foundational ways of being that uphold order and make life possible. While dharma can be understood to be personal, it is also universal: Just as we each have our own unique dharma—the work we have to do in the world, with its own singular share of challenges, gifts, obstacles, and victories—there is a collective dharma we participate in as spiritual community members, as well.

In a 21st century yoga context, the concept of dharma is akin to reminding yourself not to compare yourself to the person on the mat next to you. On and off the mat, do your practice with compassion for your limitations and gratitude for your gifts; let go of any attachment to the outcome; and uphold the collective with your actions and conduct. That’s your dharma.

Photos: Dharma wheel; Bhagavad Gita.

Earth Day Feature- Tomorrow

If you still feel inspired from Earth Day festivities this past weekend and want to #GoDeeper, check out the French documentary, Tomorrow, recently released in the United States. Do not fear- this is not another doomsday storyline. The film is getting great buzz for its positive vibes and practical inspiration. 


This feature follows filmmakers Mélanie Laurent and Cyril Dion around the world as they discover and share community-based solutions to modern environmental dilemmas. 


Laurent and Dion aim to reveal the small steps we can each take in our own communities by highlighting creative solutions happening across the globe. The end goal? Finding hope for a better tomorrow.

 


Explore the trailer:


To learn more, check out this inspiring review taken from variety.com:


Mélanie Laurent and Cyril Dion’s engaging, César-winning eco-socio-econo doc is an optimistic guide for avoiding the end of humanity.


What a difference a year makes. In late 2015, Mélanie Laurent and Cyril Dion’s fresh-faced, paradoxically upbeat documentary about the complex, interrelated, and potentially apocalyptic issues facing our globalized world opened in France. The educational, continent-hopping investigation was a surprise hit, racking up more than a million admissions, winning the 2016 César for Best Documentary, and becoming a focal point for a gathering movement of citizens committed to putting its practical, inspiring, think-global-act-local solutions into practice.


Roughly 16 months — and a highly divisive and contentious US election — later, it opens in America, just two days before France itself is due to go to the polls, fielding a far-right candidate for president who was among the only world leaders to call and congratulate Donald Trump’s win in the U.S. The political landscape that “Tomorrow” breezes into now is such that its issues, cataclysmically urgent though they are, could seem de-prioritized.


Read more: Click here

 

*Featured image taken from Tomorrow’s Facebook Page

The Upanishads: Karma

There are a handful of ancient texts that modern day yogis turn to for foundational wisdom. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are one of them; the Upanishads are another.

A collection of philosophical texts, the Upanishads were written in India sometime between 800 and 500 BC. They emerged from a time of shifting spiritual sensibilities, when traditionally Vedic Indians were moving away from external religious practices to more internally-focused spiritual pursuits—put very simply, fewer sacrifices and more meditating.

The books of the Upanishad are made up of the teachings of that day’s spiritual leaders and guides. Although we refer to them collectively, each book (there are about 200 total) stands on its own. The name Upanishad reflects its content: upa (near) and shad (to sit) form to mean something close to “sitting down near,” that is, sitting at the feet of a sage to embark on a session of spiritual study.

Of all the concepts unpacked in the Upanishads there are four that we’ll look at in a little more depth over a series of posts: samsara, karma, dharma and moksha.

Karma

We’ve all heard of karma.

It’s Newton’s Third Law: “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction” and a pop-culture concept with a wide reach. Do something bad and something bad will happen to you.

Our modern-day conception of karma is not very far off from the Upanishad version. In Sanskrit the word karma [कर्म] means action, work, or deed and, according to the sages, our actions and deeds—as well as our thoughts and desires—have consequences. While the concept of karma today carries an in-this-lifetime immediacy to it, the Upanishad version conceives of karma as actions that ripple out from one lifetime to the next; in other words, the ancient belief in karma presupposes a belief in past and future lives.

From the Svetasvatara Upanishad:

This vast universe is a wheel. Upon it are all creatures that are subject to birth, death and rebirth. Round and round it turns, and never stops. It is the wheel of Brahman. As long as the individual self thinks it is separate from Brahman, it revolves upon the wheel in bondage to the laws of birth, death and rebirth. But when through the grace of Brahman it realizes its identity with him, it revolves upon the wheel no longer. It achieves immortality.

Brahman is the Great Unknown; it is the divinely infinite and formless cause of all change that is itself changeless. All beings, the Upanishads posit, will be reborn again and again until they are able to transcend their material worlds and physical realms and see themselves as part of the infinite, encompassing All.

Karma’s deal in all of this is that it is our worldly actions that determine our fates. Evil thoughts and deeds = rebirth in bad conditions; good thoughts and deeds = rebirth in uplifting conditions.

It’s important to note that actions on their own are not enough to change fates. It’s actions plus intentions—the attitude with which we perform our deeds—that seal our karmic fate. The ancient scholars warned against doing nothing at all in the hopes of outsmarting karma, but inaction is not the same as good action.

From a chapter in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad:

Accordingly as one behaves so does he become. The doer of good becomes good, the doer of evil becomes evil. One becomes virtuous by virtuous actions. Others become bad by bad actions.

Inaction, then, gets you nowhere on the wheel of Brahman; or, worst-case scenario, it’s a potential “good karma” loss if the intention behind your inaction was to shirk your responsibilities and cheat the system.

Whether or not you believe in past lives or the boomerang effect of karmic comeuppance, the idea that we shape our fates through our actions is a compelling one. Taking responsibility for our thoughts and conduct is a wise step in any worldview, and the practice of mindfulness, yoga and meditation makes it easier to get clear on what the thoughts that drive our behavior are.

But maybe Justin Timberlake says it best:

I heard you found out
That he’s doing to you what you did to me
Ain’t that the way it goes

You cheated, girl
My heart bleeded, girl
So it goes without saying that you left me feeling hurt
Just a classic case scenario
Tale as old as time girl, you got what you deserved

Images: Boomerang; ripple effect; Wheel of Fortune

Get to Know the Gods: Exploring the Hindu Pantheon

Welcome to our mythology series—Get To Know The Gods: Exploring the Hindu Pantheon—a dive into the fables and rituals surrounding the Hindu deities. So far we’ve covered Ganesh and Durga.

Today, in honor of Maha Shivaratri—celebrations in honor of Lord Shiva taking place this weekend—we’re turning the spotlight on Shiva, one of Hinduism’s major players and the supreme God of Shaivism, a main branch of contemporary Hinduism. Shiva is a key player in most myths; we’ve met him already as Ganesh’s jealous father and as the creator of Virabhadra, the Warrior of Warrior I, II, and III.

Along with Brahma and Vishnu, Shiva is one third of the Trimurti, Hindu’s holy Trinity. Together these deities personify the cosmic functions of the wheel of life. Brahma represents creation; Vishu preservation; and Shiva transformation or destruction. Essentially, they represent birth, life, and death in its micro and macro iterations. (To examine this birth and death cycle through another lens, read about the Cycle of Transformation through Awareness.)

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In Shaivism tradition, Shiva creates, protects and transforms the universe. He is often honored as the patron god of yoga, meditation, and the arts. In that guise he appears in seated meditation, living a life of simple asceticism on sacred Mount Kailash.

In his more fearsome roles Shiva is a ruthless demon slayer, bringing transformation through death in most of his deeds. At his highest, Shiva is the primal Self, or Atman, of the universe. He is without form and limitless, a transcendent and unchanging Godhead.

Mahasivaratri Picures Lordshiva

Shiva’s Features and Accessories

You can recognize Shiva by his third eye, a feature that opened on the god’s forehead when he beamed a missile of fire out of it to destroy an enemy. This fire bomb effectively reduced Kama, the god of lust, to a pile of ash. Shiva’s third eye, then, represents the rejection of desire and ignorance.

The serpent around Shiva’s neck stands for the ego. Once mastered, it can be worn as an adornment.

An elegant crescent moon rests above Shiva’s brow. One of Shiva’s names is Chandrashekhara, the one who holds the moon (chandra) on his head. The crescent is said to be the moon in its fifth day; it symbolizes the cycle of time, from beginning to end, over which Shiva reigns supreme. He is beyond and outside of time.

The Ganga, India’s holiest of all rivers, flows from Shiva’s hair. He is a fount of spiritual teachings.

Shiva’s trishula, the trident he carries as a weapon, has many interpretations. It signifies the interweaving of creation, preservation, and destruction (Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva); the three gunas, energetic qualities in the physical world; and the nadis, energetic currents at work in the physical body.

Finally, Shiva’s damaru, a small two-headed drum represents Shiva’s role as the creator of all sounds, languages, music, and vibrations in creation. In one myth, the basic rules of Sanskrit arose when one of the language’s primary grammarians watched Shiva dance to the beat of his own damaru.

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Maha Shivarati celebrations in India

Images: Shiva illustration; seated Shiva; black and white Shiva; Maha Shivrati

The Cycle of Transformation through Awareness

One of the off-the-mat tools I find myself using again and again ties back into the ancient concept of Samsara, the continuous wheel of death and rebirth that we explored in an earlier post.

I received this tool from one of my dearest teachers, Don Stapleton, co-founder of the Nosara Yoga Institute. I am indebted to Don and NYI for many lessons and epiphanies, as well as a deepening understanding of how the way we live in our bodies shapes our emotional and mental wellbeing. But, if I had to pick one teaching that continues to resonate, it would be The Cycle of Transformation through Awareness. 

This cycle has a direct antecedent in Joseph Campbell’s famous Hero’s Journey, a narrative pattern that Campbell identified and codified in which a hero sets out on a transformative, symbolic quest. On this challenging journey he meets with obstacles, discovers guides, and ultimately returns to where he started, wiser and victorious (see: Star Wars).

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If Campbell’s arc is something you’re interested in, be sure to read Maureen Murdock’s complementary text, The Heroine’s Journey. A woman’s quest, Murdock argues, must take into account her starting point, a society in which she has been defined according to masculine values.

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Back to the The Cycle of Transformation through Awareness. Don has a gift for distilling big, universal concepts and questions into easily relatable truth bundles: Esoteric ideas get rooted in the every day and life’s mysteries seem less mysterious. He also makes great posters:

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There are seven stages in the cycle.

  1. Normal Flow of Life

  2. Challenge

  3. Confusion and Chaos

  4. Fertile Void

  5. Inner Resources

  6. Integration

  7. New State of Being

The Cycle of Transformation starts when life is normal. This is the status-quo, everything’s-buzzing-along stage of life with predictable routines and and schedules.

Stage Two often enters with a bang. The challenge can take the shape of something unexpected—an illness, a death, a breakup. This test could also come in the form of a new job, a move to different neighborhood, or the start of a relationship. Whatever it looks like, Stage Two disrupts the schedules and routines in which we’d become comfortable. Our initial response may be to scramble to attain normalcy and make our lives look the same even though something major has shifted or changed.

Stage Three, Chaos and Confusion, is when any semblance of normalcy slips through our fingers. The map we’d been using is out of date, the tools in our toolbox are rusted, and everything feels topsy-turvy. Stage Three is when the foundational tasks of everyday life, like cleaning the kitchen and balancing the checkbook, likely get pushed aside. Internally we are out of sorts, unmoored, and possibly depressed or angry.

The Fertile Void is a wide chasm. In Campbell’s paradigm this stage correlates with the part of the journey that happens in “The Special World” or the world that exists beneath the one where we live our surface life. The Fertile Void is an alternate landscape; we move through it almost without moving, a time of waiting and contemplation in which the initial shock of the Challenge and the upheaval of Stage Three have passed. Not quite ready to leap, this stage is where the concept of leaping—of seeing possible paths, of refilling our energy reserves—feels, little by little, possible.

Stage Five is when we embrace that the only way through the trial is by using our Inner Resources. Help may come in the form of teachers and friends, but ultimately we possess all the tools we need. The hibernation of Stage Four gives way to guidance, in the form of messages through dreams, wisdom from guides and books, and clarity through meditation and journaling.

The next phase is when the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel gets brighter. Integration occurs when we incorporate the tools we’ve uncovered and the messages we’ve received into our life philosophy and action plan. The Challenge that upset our daily course of actions is a surmountable obstacle.

In the final phase, Evolution Into a New State of Being, we transform. It may be obvious or imperceptible, but our outlook and approach have changed; perhaps even the way we dress or present ourselves is different, and our frame of reference has shifted. We’ve been through an ordeal and come out on the other side, tempered by the hardships but also surer of our ability to persevere.

This is when the cycle starts anew. We will have some time in our new skin and our new lives to establish routines and get comfortable before a new challenge rises up to meet us once again.

If this continuous cycle sounds exhausting, take heart in knowing that it is, literally, how the world works. Every calendar year the earth goes through a parallel rotation of life and death, challenge and growth.

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In my own life I have found the ability to step back and ask myself where I am in the Cycle of Transformation at any given moment to be incredibly comforting and illuminating. Use it as a tool in your own life to bring clarity to difficult passages or to remind yourself of the necessity of change in order to grow.

Images: Wheel of the Sun album cover artwork; the Hero’s Journey; the Heroine’s Journey; Don’s Cycle of Transformation; the Sun Wheel

Dive Deeper

Cultivating a personal, at-home yoga and meditation practice is one of—if not the—best way to commit to a true off-the-mat yogic way of life. That said, starting and committing to a new wellness or spiritual practice may feel overwhelming; retreats and workshops can offer a strong but gentle kick in the soul to get you motivated and keep you inspired on your chosen path. There are several beautiful and secluded retreat centers across the country that offer participants the option of self-study or mindful, unplugged weekends. If the cost or commitment level of a themed or group retreat doesn’t interest or appeal, a private, self-guided retreat in a sacred space could be the spiritual recharge you need.


Blue Cliff Monastery

Pine Bush, New York

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A mindfulness and monastic training center founded by Vietnamese author, Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, Blue Cliff Monastery sits on 80 acres of undisturbed woodland in the Catskills, about two hours northwest of New York City.

The monastery permanently houses a community of monks, nuns, and lay practitioners; visitors are welcome year-round and can participate in a Day of Mindfulness or stay for longer personal or themed retreats. Hanh, who lives in Blue Cliff’s sister monastery in France, Plum Village, cut back on his traveling after a stroke in 2014, but his East Coast disciples are steeped in his teachings and mindfulness practices.

Visit www.bluecliffmonastery.org for more information.

New Camaldoli Hermitage

Big Sur, California

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The most famous retreat center in California’s stunning Big Sur is, hands down, the Esalen Institute. Less well known but just as gorgeously situated is a Benedictine monastery, the New Camaldoli Hermitage, which welcomes visitors for a minimum of two nights to unplug—there is no wifi or cell service at the monastery—and destress. Private rooms with a half-bath and personal garden overlooking the ocean are available, as are private hermitages, which offer a basic kitchen, full bath, and more chance of seclusion. It’s not all asceticism: The Hermitage’s bookstore features homemade “Holy Granola” and, in the spirit of non-competition, fudge from an order of Oregon monks.

Visit contemplation.com for more information.

Menla

Phoenicia, New York

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Buried in the Catskills’ twisting mountain roads, Menla Mountain is the upstate New York retreat center of Tibet House US. Tibetan Buddhist scholar and Tibet House US President Robert Thurman serves as the center’s Spiritual Director and teaches there throughout the year; the center’s vision, with the Dalai Lama’s blessing (he last visited in 2006), is to draw from Tibetan wisdom traditions to work with integrative medicines now becoming popular in the West.

The Mahasukha Spa offers Tibetan and Ayurvedic therapies, along with massage, sauna, and skin treatments. Guests can book appointments at the spa as part of a weekend-long R&R retreat or when taking part in a Tibet House Retreat.

For a full list of retreat offerings and accommodation options, visit menla.us.

Shambhala Mountain Center

Red Feather Lakes, Colorado

With the 108-foot tall Great Stupa of Dharmakaya on its grounds, you would be forgiven for thinking that Shambala Mountain Center was in South East Asia, not Northern Colorado. The stupa and grounds—the property spreads across 600 acres of rolling hills and native-growth forest—are open to daytime visitors, as are daily meditation practices and meals in the dining room.

Longer stays are available, as well, either in the form of a self-guided getaway or an Arts & Creativity retreat or one centered around Relationship, Family & Work.

The Shambhala Vision is rooted in the principle of human decency and goodness: At our core, we are all okay. Chögyam Trungpa, the author of Shambhala, The Sacred Path of the Warrior, and the Buddhist meditation master to whom the center’s stupa is dedicated, believed and taught that enlightenment and enlightened societies could be actualized. His teachings, and the works of the center, seek to draw out and foster the inherent goodness of people.

For more information, visit www.shambhalamountain.org.

Breitenbush Hot Springs 

Detroit, Oregon

 

Breitenbush Meadow Pool

A worker-owned resort community, Breitenbush Hot Springs is the site of a geothermal springs surrounded by the Willamette National Forest in Marion County, Oregon. With a decades-long history of offering counterculture holistic and spiritual retreats—it is famously clothing optional—Breitenbush was sustainable before that was a buzz word. With over 20 miles of hiking trails, along with rustic cabins, tent platforms, a meditative stone labyrinth, meal offerings and a yoga-meditation sanctuary, this bucolic spot has a loyal following of locals and long-distance peace seekers alike. Personal retreats, workshops, and day visits are all an option.

For more information, visit breitenbush.com.

Images: Top of photo of Menla by JBM Weddings; Blue Cliff Monastery courtesy of Blue Cliff Monastery; Big Sur image by @alisontheodora; Menla meditation room courtesy of Menla; Shambhala stupa by Insight Guides; Breitenbush hot spring by Travel Salem

The Upanishads: Saṃsāra

There are a handful of ancient texts that modern day yogis turn to for foundational wisdom. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are one of them; the Upanishads are another.

A collection of philosophical texts, the Upanishads were written in India sometime between 800 and 500 BC. They emerged from a time of shifting spiritual sensibilities, when traditionally Vedic Indians were moving away from external religious practices to more internally-focused spiritual pursuits—put very simply, fewer sacrifices and more meditating.

The books of the Upanishad are made up of the teachings of that day’s spiritual leaders and guides. Although we refer to them collectively, each book (there are about 200 total) stands on its own. The name Upanishad reflects its content: upa (near) and shad (to sit) form to mean something close to “sitting down near,” that is, sitting at the feet of a sage to embark on a session of spiritual study.

 

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Of all the concepts unpacked in the Upanishads there are four that we’ll look at in a little more depth over a series of posts: samsara, karma, dharma and moksha.

Saṃsāra

Samsara is a wheel. It’s the cycle of reincarnation, a continuous spin of birth and death as the soul completes its time in one form (human, animal, or divine) before landing in another.

Whether or not you believe in actual reincarnation, there is a profound lesson to be had from the concept of samsara itself: Everything changes, continually. In the course of our lives we will birth and let go of many identities, beliefs, goals, relationships and epiphanies. In this way we are coming into new forms again and again. An appreciation and understanding of samsara as a natural and necessary process may make it easier to work through those moments of transition: They are periods of illumination that urge us to grow. The more we come to expect and anticipate these moments, the more comfortable we can become in the big-shift feelings that accompany them—the euphoria and anxiety of creating something; the sadness and tenderness of letting something go. These are as natural and necessary as the events the spark them.

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On the mat, on a micro level, we move through this cycle of continuous flow over the course of a yoga class. We start the class feeling one way and emerge at the end changed, however subtly. Each pose, held for a series of breaths, has a life cycle: the satisfaction of finding it; the deepening of sensation the longer we stay in it; the frustration of holding it for too long; the decision to stay with it; and then the relief or sadness at leaving it.

Play with samsara in your on and off-the-mat practices. Notice your cycles. See what shifts.

Images: Om symbol by Geoff Kim; teacher and students; serpent wheel

Living Your Yoga

Over the next few months we’ll be exploring a few yogic concepts that happen off the mat. First up: seva.

Seva is the Sanskrit word for service. Its root siv, or sev, means to serve or to honor, so its definition encompasses both the act of doing and the spirit in which it is done. Seva is often referred to as selfless service: an undertaking or an offering with no benefit or payoff for the doer. Seva is done out of goodness or devotion.

We can track the word back to the Mahabharata, the epic Sanskrit poem about the battle for the throne in ancient India. In that tome, performing seva was a personal act of service for one’s guru or spiritual teacher. Today’s broader meaning, in which acts of seva are performed for the greater good, is analogous to the altruistic example set by famous giver-doers like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and that person who always offers up her seat on the subway.

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“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

 

To posit that acts of seva have no benefit or payoff for the doer is, of course, dubious. Anyone who’s helped someone or some cause just because—from holding the door open for a stranger to making sandwiches for a food drive—has more likely than not felt lit up by the experience.

Seva takes that practice one step further and adds the element of intention. When mindfully performing acts of service as a spiritual practice they become a tool for elevating consciousness. This is seva.

Volunteers working in soup kitchen

A personal example: I spent a few weeks at Amma’s ashram in southern India and performed a daily seva as part of the exchange for staying there. My job was to clean the main temple. On the first day I received a bucket of water, a bunch of frayed rags, and a huge, very dusty staircase to clean. As I scrubbed, the water in the bucket got dirtier and dirtier. The steps collected new dust the minute the old dust lifted, and people left footprints in their wake. Fixated on doing the job “right,” I grew more and more frustrated. At this rate the staircase and temple would never get clean. I was horrible at doing my seva and a failure in general.

By the third day I softened. I used my hour of seva to turn off my hyper-aware and fault-finding mind. Instead of rushing through each assignment I gave myself fully to the task at hand, letting myself be absorbed by the balustrade I was polishing or wood carvings I was dusting. I was tending to a divine place of worship, adding my energy and efforts to it and giving it my full focus. I had done away with the idea of being “good” at doing my seva and realized that doing so missed the point entirely. I had been seeking approval or praise and internal validation from my actions when seva is about stepping into the actions so fully that approbation loses all meaning.

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There are many ways to do seva. It can be a quiet, daily practice (see: subway seat donator), or something bigger, like committing to a cause like Off The Mat Into The World.

In the holiday season, charitable giving and volunteering get a lot of air time; there are many organizations, like So Others May Eat and God’s Love We Deliver, that receive more volunteer requests they can handle over the holidays but need help the rest of the year. If the idea of seva resonates with you right now, be sure to check back in after the new year.

If you’re interested in incorporating seva into your practice, The Yoga Service Council is a wonderful resource. An umbrella organization dedicated to maximizing “the effectiveness, sustainability, and impact of individuals and organizations working to make yoga and mindfulness practices equally accessible to all,” it’s a yogic toolbox for giving back.

Photos: Heart in hands; Gandhi; Ariel Skelley’s soup kitchen shot; beach clean-up.

Winter Solstice Meditation Practice

Today marks the Winter Solstice in the Northern Hemisphere, the day when the sun reaches its southernmost point, relative to the earth’s orbit, in the dome of the sky. We’ve been moving toward this moment since the Summer Solstice in June, when, after hitting peak sunlight, we’ve incrementally lost daylight, bringing us to today’s darkness. Starting tomorrow we’ll reverse course and add length to our days, eventually bringing us back to June’s longest day of the year. Then we begin the cycle again. Check your timezone to see exactly when the sun reaches it nadir today.

A celebration and acknowledgment of life cycles, the Winter Solstice is a fitting time to meditate, journal and practice mindfulness. Many Native American wisdom traditions use the Medicine Wheel as part of their spiritual practice to stay connected to the cycles of the natural world. The circle represents the passage of the sun and the seasons; the shift from night to day; and the cycle of birth, life and death.

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The Medicine Wheel and the Four Directions

Wheels vary from tribe to tribe, but many share similar attributes. The East is the direction of beginnings—the symbol of birth, illumination of the spirit and the season of spring. The South is where warmth and growth abide; in our life cycle, this is the direction where the Self comes into being. The West is seen as a direction of endings and is a space of introspection and growing old. The North represents winter’s tests and purification. It is here that wisdom is attained as the cycle of one life ends before it begin again in the east.

How To Use It In Your Practice

If you choose to set aside a few moments today to observe this stage in the earth’s orbit and in your own life cycle, play with working in these cardinal points. Orient yourself to the compass and sit facing in the direction that most resonates with where you are or where you’d like to be. A meditation using the Four Directions could be as simple as setting an intention for each one:

  • To the East: Something you’d like to begin.
  • To the South: Something you’d like to grow.
  • The the West: Something you’d like to release.
  • To the North: A phase you’d like to complete

For an asana practice, move in a wheel:

  • Salute the sun while facing east.
  • Move into standing postures facing south.
  • Navel-gaze in headstand or Viparita Karani to the west.
  • Take shavasana to the north.

As with all Self check-in and meditation practices, listening to your intuition and following your instinct is key. There is no wrong way to pray, tune-in or connect to the cosmos.

The study of the Medicine Wheel is deep and sacred; an in-depth look would require more space or knowledge than we have here. If you’re inspired to learn more, draw the four directions into your practice more regularly and see where that takes you. If you’d like to learn more about recent protests in the Native American community over the Dakota Access Pipeline, this is a great resource for getting involved.

Images: Winter lightMedicine Wheel illustration
 

Happy Bodhi Day

December is a month of sacred holidays across all traditions. This weekend marked the celebration of Bodhi Day, the Buddhist holiday observed in honor of the Buddha’s attainment of enlightenment.

As history has it, Siddhartha Gautama, a 5th-century BC Nepalese prince, left his kingdom at age 29 to renounce his worldly goods and become an alms-beggar and ascetic. In his quest for transcendence he studied meditation with ancient yogis, starved himself, and nearly drowned in a river.

After the river incident, from which Siddhartha was recused by a villager who revived him with a simple meal of sweetened rice cooked in milk, the erstwhile prince sat beneath a pipa tree (now called a bodhi tree), vowing not to rise until he had found the root of all suffering and the tools of liberation. He meditated for 49 days, confronted temptation by the god Mara and, at the age of 35, six years after his quest began, is said to have achieved Enlightenment.

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What exactly happened between Day 1 and Day 49 is, by its very nature, unknown, but the Buddha’s words, from an old Pali text, shed light on the awakening:

“My heart, thus knowing, thus seeing, was released from the fermentation of sensuality, released from the fermentation of becoming, released from the fermentation of ignorance. With release, there was the knowledge, ‘Released.’ I discerned that ‘Birth is ended, the holy life fulfilled, the task done. There is nothing further for this world.”

Bodhi Day celebrates Siddhartha’s passage from prince-as-beggar to an Awakened Being.

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Celebrate with a Metta Meditation

In the Buddhist tradition, Metta is a practice of loving-kindness, first toward oneself and then to all others, including, eventually, those who have harmed or hurt you or others.

To practice, find a comfortable seat and drop into a state of dharana, focused concentration. Slowly, internally, repeat the following:

May I be happy.

May I be well.

May I be safe.

May I be peaceful and at ease.

 

Eventually, after receiving the meditation’s message, bring to mind a loved one or a friend. Now direct the mantra outward:

May you be happy.

May you be well.

May you be safe.

May you be peaceful and at ease.

 

Repeat for as long and for as many people as you like.

 

Photos: Draped Buddha; Buddha under the bodhi treeBuddha statue and devotees by Allie Caulfield

Moving with the Moon

The full moon in Aries this week rose on Saturday night and will stay big and bright in the sky through this evening. Known as a Perigee or Super Moon because of its proximity to earth — closer than most full moons — it’s also a Hunter’s Moon; rising 30 minutes earlier than usual, it keeps the sky lighter longer, a traditional boon for hunters.

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If you’re sensitive to the moon’s energy at all, this time of the month may bring on insomnia or unexpected feistiness. While new moon energy is about initiation and contemplation, the full moon is party time. Everything we’ve been cultivating or growing is illuminated; energetically speaking, it’s about looking outward and sharing your insights and gifts. If the new moon is palms face down — a sign of introspection and contained energy — the full moon is palms face up, a gesture of offering and receptivity both.

Surya Namaskar A is a sequence that gives love to the sun. It is dynamic, heat-building and balanced. Chandra Namaskar is the Moon Salute. It is watery, leisurely and works the body one side at a time through a series of lunges. A gentle hip-opener, Chandra Namaskar brings us into our second chakra, the energetic locus in the body at the base of the sacrum associated with fertility, creativity, sexuality, the color orange and the element of water. In other words, moon stuff.

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Chandra Namaskar

The moon takes roughly 30 days to complete a full cycle, from one new moon to the next. In a nod to the lunar calendar, this flow is fifteen poses long, one step for each tithi (lunar day) in the moon’s transformation from new to full.

  1. Tadasana, Mountain Pose

  2. Utthita Tadasana, Extended Mountain

  3. Uttanasana, Standing Forward Fold

  4. Low Lunge

  5. Adho Mukkha Svanasana, Downward Facing Dog

  6. Table

  7. Balasana, Child’s Pose

  8. Rise to kneel

  9. Devotional Balasana, arms overheard with palms together

  10. Urdhva Mukkha Svanasana, Upward Facing Dog

  11. Adho Mukkha Svanasana, Downward Facing Dog

  12. Low Lunge, second side

  13. Uttanasana

  14. Utthita Tadasana

  15. Tadasana

This sequence can be taken as many times as you like. Move slowly, breathe deeply and enjoy the moonlight, you party animals.

yoga

 

Photos: Crescent lunge; full moon; Venus; Child’s Pose