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Exploring The Eight Limb Path: Samadhi

Back in April we launched a series of posts exploring the historical and philosophical foundations of yoga based on the writings of Patanjali, one of yoga’s foundational architects. Patanjali’s thesis, The Eight Limb Path, posits that yoga is a practice that starts with our behavior toward others and ends with connecting to divine, universal consciousness.

The links to all of those posts are below. They’re worth revisiting before we jump into the deep end that is the eighth and final limb, Samadhi. 

 

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YAMAS  * NIYAMAS * ASANA * PRANAYAMA

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PRATYAHARA * DHARANA * DHYANA * SAMADHI

In reading about Samadhi I came across an article by the wonderful Judith Lasater. In it she joked that in tackling the topic she was tempted to leave that page of the article entirely blank. Encapsulating samadhi is a near-impossible task: It is a state most of us have glimpsed but cannot quite grasp, or an experience we can’t reliably translate for someone else.

The idea of Samadhi is shared across wisdom traditions. In Buddhism it is the last of the eight elements of the Noble Eightfold Path, the final step towards liberation from suffering; in Sikhism samadhi is the practice which produces complete concentration on God.

In the yogic lineage, samadhi, along with dharana and dhyana makes up Samyama, the perfected control of the mind. These three limbs are often studied together and are called Antaratma Sadhana, or the innermost quest. Grouping the final three limbs together makes sense: If dharana is about concentration on one point and dhyana is about absorption into that point, samadhi is about utter, uninterrupted, nonjudgemental immersion in all points at once.

Or, as Lasater puts it, “Samadhi is a state of being intensely present without a point of view. In other words, in samadhi you perceive all points of view of reality at once, without focusing on any particular one.”

Unattainable? It’s tempting to turn to the image of the levitating sadhu in his cave, high from oxygen and lack of food, and dismiss the pursuit of samadhi as something from a different time and place. But samadhi is essential to today’s world.

Think of the practice of samadhi as ego eradication at the highest level. In samadhi we dissolve the barrier between self and other and connect to the humming, vibrating chord that thrums through the whole universe. With universal awareness and consciousness as a goal, we can increase compassion, empathy, understanding, and hope.

Get to Know The Gods: Exploring the Hindu Pantheon

This week marked the beginning of Ganesha Chaturthi, a 10-day festival celebrating one of the most ubiquitous deities in Hinduism, Lord Ganesh.

The timing seemed right to launch a new series of posts exploring the history and mythology behind the Hindu Pantheon, i.e. those multi-armed gods and goddesses whose images or icons might be in your yoga studio, printed on your mat or screened on to your leggings.

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Lord Ganesh is considered the god of new beginnings. He’s often invoked at the start of projects or ventures, so he’s an appropriate kick-off subject; plus, the riotous festival taking place in his name this week (pictured above) celebrates his birthday, so we had to give him a little love.

Ganesh’s origins are appropriately incredible. Here’s one of his many creation myths:

Longing for a son, the Goddess Parvati created Ganesh from clay that she moulded into the shape of a boy. Shortly after creating him, Parvati enlisted Ganesh to guard the door to her bathhouse while she bathed. When Shiva, Parvati’s husband, returned and demanded access to his wife, Ganesh denied him entry. Enraged at his impudence, Shiva cut off his head. Hearing all the commotion, Parvati emerged from her bathhouse and furiously reproached her husband for killing their son. Shiva ordered that a new head be found for the boy and promised to bring him back to life. The first available animal was an elephant, so that was the head Ganesh received. A deity was born.

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Given his start in the world it’s not surprising that Ganesh is known as the remover of obstacles. There are no yoga poses named after him, but his perseverance and calmness in the face of challenge is applicable on the mat and off. And Ganesh’s unusual elephant head is a lesson about the ego: Without his original head Ganesh represents not the individual self but the larger, universal Self. He is able to see beyond his own experience, another benefit of a regular yoga practice that extends beyond asana.

Stay tuned for more history lessons on other Hindu gods and goddesses, some of the original yogis. 

Photos: Festival photo found here; pink Ganesh found here.

New Moon Meditation

Today the moon starts its cycle anew. It will be absent from tonight’s sky, but in a few days a skinny crescent will appear as the moon waxes into fullness on the 18th.

As a harbinger of a fresh lunar cycle, the new moon is a potent time to start something new here on earth; from our perspective down below it appears empty, a vessel waiting to be filled. Dark and unilluminated, a new moon also marks an opportunity to turn inward and reflect on those aspects of ourselves that often remain unseen. By the midpoint of its cycle, the full moon, with its bright light and pulsing energy, is a time to celebrate and transform. The new moon is a time to plant seeds for that future growth.

Journaling, meditating and carving out time for quiet introspection and self care are all practices supported by the new moon’s tranquil energy. To acknowledge this new phase, consider planting something you’d like to grow. A simple intention setting practice can ground you into the larger rhythms at play while revealing the beginning of a new path.

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New Moon Intention Setting 

  • First, make space. Dedicate time — from as little as five minutes to as long as an hour — to sit with yourself. First thing in the morning, before you’ve reached for your phone or had too much coffee, or in the final moments before bed in the evening are both nice times for self practice.
  • Create a sense of ritual. Light a candle, dim the lights, put fresh flowers on your altar. Gather any supplies you might need, like a journal, some incense to set the mood, or a timer to take the stress out of meditating.
  • Practice pranayama. A balancing breath like Anulom Vilom will bring you into the present moment; or, simply breathe in out from the diaphragm, with one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly.
  • With the air newly cleared, ask yourself what you’d like to call in. To make space for the new, you may first need to identify what you no longer need — a way of treating yourself or others, a destructive pattern or a limiting behavior or belief.
  • Make a list. You can write this down or keep it internal. It can be short or long, specific or general. My intention for this new moon is to slow down and listen to my body. My intention this month is to take five minutes every day to practice meditation. 
  • If you’ve made a physical list, fold it up and stash it somewhere safe. In a few weeks time when the moon is full, you can take it out to burn, bury or otherwise release what you put down.
  • Non-attachment is key. Be kind to yourself as you identify ways in which you’d like to grow or patterns you’d like to shift without fixating on progress.
  • Taking the time to see yourself as you are and being unafraid of the darker parts is the practice. Setting intentions is a way to articulate your innate and powerful potential.

 

Photos: Moon rising by Liza Lubell; “All The Moons of Our Solar System” by Stella Marie Baer.

Jai Amma!

Amma is in town this weekend as part of her annual North American tour. If you’re thinking about going to the Javits Center, here are some tips:

  • Arrive early.
  • Be prepared to stay late.
  • Go with the proverbial flow.
  • Be present! Your hug with Amma won’t last forever.
  • If someone is making dosas in the food hall, eat one.
  • Take it all in. If you’ve never been to India, the contained chaos of an Amma event is almost like being there.

So, why go? Here’s my story:

A few years ago I spent several months traveling through India. I had a very open itinerary (read: no plans), a flexible schedule (no return ticket) and an emergency stash of antibiotics in case things got messy (they did).

I had heard of Amma before I arrived. Several studios in New York had her picture on their altars, and I knew friends who had stayed at the Javits Center until sunrise to receive a hug from her when she was in town. But I was skeptical. Who was this woman people showered with so much devotion? The whole thing smelled culty to me, so I kept a polite distance.

Still, I was curious. When the friend I was traveling with saw that Amma was at her ashram and would be there for the duration of an intensive yoga training that started that week, we took it as a sign. We registered that night and arrived in the steamy southern state of Kerala a few days later.

Amma’s ashram looks like a bright pink wedding cake and is as close to a convent or a monastery as a New York bodega. In fact, there’s a lot of stuff for sale: Amma’s signature rose perfume in the gift shop, fresh juice from the fruit stand, and crunchy spirulina from the wellness shop.

The ashram is home to over 3,000 people, a number that shifts and expands with short and longterm guests, and operates like a small village. It is a dynamic, fascinating and confounding place.

Now I was even more curious. Who was this woman?

Born Mata Amritanandamayi in Kerala in 1953,  Amma had, by all accounts, a rough childhood. Pulled from school to help run the household, she often gave her family’s meager food scraps to those with less, resulting in punishments and beatings from her family. She persisted and soon coupled her generosity with spontaneous hugs — a physical gesture from a young girl that, then and now, was essentially verboten.

Mata’s acts of generosity and affection grew, earning her the name Amma, or Mother. The number of people clamoring for her compassion grew too. Soon, she had a following.

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Now Amma is famous for her hugs. She gives them, usually for hours at a time, as darshan. Darshan is one of those Sanskrit words and concepts that is difficult to define. It is a blessing, a vision, a glimpse of the divine. The way I see it, Amma’s work is the giving of love and tenderness without condition. Her divine nature is revealed in those moments of connection, making it a gift and an offering both.

It is also a feat of physical and spiritual endurance. Amma won’t stop until everyone in line gets a hug, and her hugging marathons have lasted over 24 hours. She has hugged upwards of 33 million people. She is always fresh, always present. The ions in her air space feel a little but more charged.

I received darshan three times over the course of my stay at Amma’s ashram. By the end, I was in. I wasn’t about to sell my belongings and move to Kerala, but any cynicism or doubt I’d had about Amma’s work had evaporated. The simplicity of her offering made it seem like there must be something else to it, but it is simply profound.

That’s my experience with Amma. If you’re curious, catch her on tour this summer and see what comes up for you. And, if you go, do yourself a favor and get a dosa.

To learn more about Amma, her charitable works, her current tour and her story, visit amma.org.

Essential Yoga Reading List

In anticipation of all of those blissful, unscheduled self-care hours you’ve set aside for yourself this year (right?), here are a few yoga-ish books to nourish your soul.

  • The Goddess Pose. This fascinating account of a globetrotting, Russian cabaret performer who charms her way into Krishnamacharya’s studio in India and brings his teachings to Western starlets like Greta Garbo is all the more enticing for being true. Michelle Goldberg’s biography of Indra Devi, née Eugenia Peterson, is as good as any Netflix binge.

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  • Light on Life by B.K.S. Iyengar. All of Iyengar’s books are worth a read, but this one is the culmination of his many, many years of devoted practice and self-inquiry. And it is full of quotable gems: “Yoga does not just change the way we see things, it transforms the person who sees.”  
  • Autobiography of a Yogi. Spiritual seeker Paramahansa Yogananda shares his inspiring story with plenty of humor, deep insight and guest appearances from some of the 20th century’s spiritual illuminati.
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Even if you haven’t read Marie Kondo’s minimalist manifesto, you probably know the drill: Throw out everything. Okay, not really, but Kondo insists our items pass the joy test — Do these socks spark joy? — or else send them packing. Decluttering is a practice, and the quote below is proof enough that Kondo’s a yogi:

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“When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are only two: an attachment to the past or a fear for the future.”

 

  • Siddhartha. Hermann Hesse’s tale of a young man on the path of self-discovery is a classic. Set in ancient India, Hesse’s hero renounces his possessions, wanders as a beggar, meditates intensely and finds his spiritual teacher. But he’s not satisfied! With meta questions still looming, Siddhartha reenters the world and continues his spiritual quest. Adventures await.
  • How To Eat. One in a series of Mindfulness Essentials by beloved Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, How To Eat is a travel-sized — and beautifully illustrated — compendium of short meditations designed to enhance and unclutter our relationship with food, from growing it to cleaning up after eating it.

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Tune Into The Summer Solstice and Full Moon

The stars are aligned. Today the sun reaches its highest peak in the Northern Hemisphere — the summer solstice — making it the longest day of the year and the official start of summer. In a rare celestial coincidence (once or twice in a lifetime), the moon is also full tonight, meaning the sky will be illuminated all day and all night.

Full moons are powerful times for manifestation and purification practices. A major cosmic event like the summer solstice — a day that marks the transition from one season to the next — is another time to sit back and tune in. Today’s external forces create a potent platform for meditation or quiet reflection.

There’s even a word for the relationship between our external and internal landscapes:

zeit·ge·ber  \ˈtsītˌɡābər,ˈzīt-/

noun, PHYSIOLOGY

A cue given by the environment, such as a change in light or temperature, to reset the internal body clock.

In other words, the world is moving with you in it. You can resist nature’s energy or embrace it.

Here’s a simple and grounding practice for harnessing the sun’s energy and the moon’s wisdom.

If you have an altar or sacred space in your home (we wrote about creating sacred space here), set yourself up there. Or, since the sun and the moon are bringing their A-games, today would be a wonderful time to practice or meditate outside.

Begin in Child’s Pose. Take several long breathes, eyes closed, arms outstretched, heart sinking toward the floor.

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When you feel grounded and collected, press up and back into downward facing dog (you don’t need a mat or even yoga clothes). Walk your feet slowly to your hands and rise up to stand. Set an intention to honor and thank the sun. From here take at least one Sun Salute, Surya Namaskar.

The Sanskrit word namaskar comes from namas, which means “to bow to” or “to adore,” and surya is the sun. We can’t think of a better day to bow to the sun and honor our own illumination.

Finish in Tadasana, Mountain Pose, hands at prayer. Let your heart settle.

Next, Take a comfortable seat for Alternate Nostril Breath. Just as the sun is hot and fiery and the moon is calm and cool, so are we. Alternate Nostril Breath harmonizes and balances both aspects of our personality and prana bodies; it’s a pranayama designed to bring our inner fire into right relationship with our lunar nature. Set a timer so you don’t have to worry about how long you’ve been there. Close your eyes and sink in.

At the end of your breathwork, settle into a grounded seat. You can set the timer to minimize distractions and let the eyes close again. Sit with any intentions you may have for this new season.

  • What do you want to call in?
  • What no longer serves you?
  • In this bright and boisterous time ahead, how do you want to channel the sun’s energy?

Sit for as long as you like. The sun’s not going anywhere.

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Top photo from Kino Yoga; moon photo by aerospace engineer Jim Nickelson

Exploring The Eight Limb Path: Pratyahara

Over the next few months we’ll #GoDeep into Patanjali’s Eight Limb Path. If you’re just checking in, be sure to read our intro post on the path itself and its first limb, the yamas. So far we’ve also covered the niyamas, asana, and pranayama.

We’ve arrived at the fifth limb, pratyahara, the withdrawal of our senses from the world around us. While this may sound extreme, Patanjali has been building up to this. First, in outlining the yamas and niyamas, he created a guideline for engaging with the outside world; then, by introducing asana, he pointed to a practice designed to balance and purify our physical selves; once the body was sorted, he moved to our relationship with prana, the subtle internal energy that illuminates and guides us.

The gaze of the Eight Limb Path has been shifting evermore inward; pratyahara brings this internal focus to the forefront.

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The Sanskrit, as always, is worth exploring. Ahara means food, or anything we take in from the outside. Prati, a preposition, means against or away. Pratyahara, then, means moving away from, or gaining mastery over, that which we draw on externally for nourishment.

Food, in this context, is multi-layered. On one level it refers to the actual food we eat (dense or light, fat or sweet); to our sense impressions — sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell —  on another; and thirdly, perhaps subtlest of all, to our relationships and interactions with others.

Are we to eschew all food, feelings and friendships, then? No. Despite how it may sound, pratyahara does not need to be practiced in a remote Himalayan cave. Incorporate the practice into your daily life by first making room for the right food, feelings and friendships to enter your sphere. By choosing mindfully you are already gaining mastery over your senses; instead of being ruled or swayed by the outside world you are choosing your reactions to it.

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Incorporate pratyahara into your asana practice by noticing when your mind wanders during a pose. Instead of letting your cravings or senses take hold — I can’t wait to get out of plank. Ooh, what’s that smell? Why is the girl next to me sighing so loudly? Someone farted! — bring your awareness to the energy of the pose itself.

Pratyahara is about choosing where we want our energy to go, and from where we want to withdraw it. 

As a stop on the Eight Limb Path on the way to enlightenment, pratyahara is instrumental. By finding nourishment and contentment within we cultivate a greater understanding of and respect for our infinite capacities. This turns meditation from a bore into a delight. Every path given up is another path chosen.

Photos: Top image from Elena Ray‘s beautiful archives; Kurmasana pose @yogainspiration; pachimotanasana from Tasty Yummies

Join our 10-Day Attitude of Gratitude Challenge!

The week before the Thanksgiving holiday is an ideal time to deepen into an “Attitude of Gratitude.”

It’s impossible not to be reminded of the heartbreaking struggles and tragedies taking place every day around the world every day. This week, in the wake of such horror and such loss in Paris, Beirut, Kenya and elsewhere, it is easy to feel deep sorrow, confusion and even hopelessness. We wouldn’t be human if this didn’t touch us.

And even though our own daily struggles, god-willing, pale in comparison, it’s still easy to get mired in the daily grind, daily disappointments, daily frustrations.

It can be surprisingly easy to lose sight of our blessings.

This is a time of year that asks us to remember. That asks us to give thanks. That asks us to acknowledge all of the blessings, no matter how big or how small, make up our individual lives. And they are indeed, different for each of us.

Aside from cultivating a state of grace, compassion and connection, living in a state of gratitude has a host of incredible physical and psychological benefits. Forbes has published an article on seven scientifically-proven benefits including reducing aches and pain, reducing anxiety and frustration, reducing aggressive behavior, while boosting self esteem and supporting optimum sleep.

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Join The 10-Day Challenge!

Our invitation for you this coming week is to end each day with a reflection on three things you’re grateful for. You can write them down in your journal. Text them to a friend. Simply sit in quiet contemplation and think about them to yourself.

Join us via Facebook and share the things, moments, people or blessings your thankful for! 

As part of our gratitude for YOU — our community and students who help make Five Pillars Yoga the special place it is — everyone that participates on Facebook will receive 50% off your their class. 

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If you’re a little stumped on where to start, you can check out this fun article from Happify.com. They point out it’s easy to be grateful for the big things, like a promotion at work, but we’re also allowed to appreciate the small things — like just how delicious a piece of pie can be. You can go broad, like “I’m grateful for my family,” or specific like “I’m so thankful my daughter cleaned her room today!”

 

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Taking the time out to notice moments of blessings in your life will have a profound impact over time. You may notice as you attune yourself to notice blessings you’re more in the moment, more centered and calm. And when you attune to your blessings, you may begin to notice just how many of them there are!

 

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To kick off the challenge, I’d like to express my appreciation for Peter Tunney’s “Grattitude” billboard that soars over the Bronx. I’ve gotten to see it many times as I’ve been inching along in traffic on the Major Deegan Expressway, and it always reminds me in that moment to take a pause and count my blessings.

So give it a try this week and see how you feel.
Join us on Facebook to share the love!

 

 

From the Mouths of Babes

As adults most of us move through modern life as efficiently as possible – faster, more streamlined, less fluff around the edges.
We may gain an advantage in the workplace, or find the time to cross another item of our to do list. Which is great! And what is lost?
Sometimes it’s simply the moment of pause – the moment of choice – a moment of reflection that is compromised for the sake of speed.

 

As the momentum of the day goes on, our mood might also begin to race creating anxiety and a short fuse. The line for coffee might be a bit long, traffic might be thwarting your best laid plans, a little expectation isn’t met at home, at work, at school.

Without that moment — that pause – that choice point — it’s easy to be reactionary – to be curt with our child or a coworker, glib with a friend or partner.

 

We’ve placed such emphasis on teaching kids emotional regulation to navigate their schooldays. Perhaps we need to be reminded from the sage little people just how simple it can be.

 

The video below will not only reaffirm just how special our youth is, but see if it can also function as a mindfulness exercise in itself…

We dare you to actually take the 3minutes and 41seconds required to be present with the video (almost a lifetime in todays short-attention span culture) and try this:

 

Watch the pace of the video and watch the pace of your energy as it swells and then ebbs. Do you notice your mood or stress level higher or lower at the beginning or end? Thoughts perhaps settling like glitter in the bottom of a jar of water.

 

Your Green Yoga Lifestyle

Today’s topic: food waste.

 

Our culture of consumption has resulted in a major garbage problem. And, there is an easy solution that begins with you! And me. So let’s take our yoga off the mat by reducing food waste this week. Like other resources, we can reduce (take only what we need), reuse (leftovers? food drives?), and recycle (compost).

 

Food Waste Facts:

 

  1. 40% of food in the United States is wasted
  2. 97% of food waste still makes its way into the landfill!
  3. This waste breaks down anaerobically (without oxygen) and releases methane, which is a major greenhouse gas 21x more potent than carbon dioxide.

 

Ending food waste would be a major step toward easing climate change.

 

So what can you do?

 

  1. Reduce the amount of food waste generated in your household.
  2. Plan ahead and donate canned goods to a local food drive before they expire.
  3. COMPOST!

 

For more information on global food waste and what you can do about it, check this out: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/26/us/food-waste-is-becoming-serious-economic-and-environmental-issue-report-says.html?_r=0

 

Thich Nhat Hanh said: With negative energy you can make the positive energy. A flower will become compost someday, but if you know how to transform the compost back into the flower, then you don’t have to worry. You don’t have to worry about your anger because you know how to handle it – to embrace, to recognize, and to transform it. So this is what is possible. 

So knowing how to handle and transform our waste can reduce our anxiety about bigger environmental issues. And as active participants,we make a big difference. Our efforts matter. We are all responsible. Sure, there are definitely some companies who contribute more waste than others, but every little bit counts! That means, the waste we generate in our homes, at work, and eating out adds up.

Actions that support a healthier planet also support your personal well-being. And your personal well-being and regular yoga practice supports a healthier planet. Win-win. But don’t take my word. The proof is in the compost.

 

Wellness

 

 

 

8 Ways to Boost Your Energy this Fall

Fall is officially here. According to Ayurvedic philosophy, this time of year is dry and light. You may feel more prone to erratic energy during this season, swinging between highs and lows. A steady, consistent yoga practice will support your vibrant, abundant energy… And yogic philosophy sheds light on re-balancing techniques that will keep you healthy and energized.

 

The prana-maya kosha in yoga is the sheath of energy that animates the physical body. This kosha is also called the prana bodyPrana is your vital, life force and this aspect of your being is also known as the river of life. You can sense your prana body by noticing any pulsing, streaming, or tingling sensations. Your breath and your bloodstream are the main components of this energy body, so specific actions that cultivate deep breathing and get your blood moving will do wonders for your vitality.

 

Practice the following eight energizing techniques to give your prana body a boost when you are feeling low!

 

 

One: Drink 8-10 glasses of room-temperature water throughout the day to stay hydrated.

Tip: Keep a reusable water bottle with you and fill it with filtered tap water. And avoid sugary drinks to prevent your energy from swinging from high to low. This also will support your fitness goals, as Americans consume approximately 25% of their daily calories in drinks!

 

Two: Breathe deeply… often.

Tip: Place your left hand on your belly and your right hand on your heart. Breathe into your belly as you feel your heart beat.

 

Three: Move your body joyfully and go upside down!

Tip: Walk in nature? Dance while you cook? Practice yoga. Spin, lift weights, cycle, run, jump rope, hula-hoop, or play active games. And then, take some time to rest your legs up against a wall and create an easy restorative inversion!

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Four: Laugh more.

Tip: Spend time with someone who makes you laugh… daily! Prioritize this healthy connection. And let the humor move you!

 

Five: Get regular sleep.

Tip: Check out these Twelve Steps to Improve Your Sleep, including establishing a pre-sleep routine: “Physically and psychologically stressful activities can cause the body to secrete the stress hormone cortisol, which is associated with increasing alertness. If you tend to take your problems to bed, try writing them down—and then putting them aside.” -Harvard Medical School

 

Six: Eat more often. Shoot for three balanced meals and two healthy snacks.

Tip: A balanced meal includes the six macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, and water. Eating smaller portions, more often stabilizes your blood sugar, prevents overeating, and boosts your energy. Plan your menu ahead of time and keep your meals light, with an abundance of veggies!

 

Seven: Listen to energizing music.

Tip: Do not resist the urge to dance. Shake that thing!

 

Eight: Let go of your worries.

Tip: Work within your sphere of influence in the present moment… and make the choice to release the rest“Lord, grant me the strength to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” ― Francis of Assisi

 

*legs up the wall image taken from yoga journal

Let Go With The Flow

Autumn heralds change… lush greens give way to brilliant scarlet, orange and yellow. Then, inevitably, leaves dry and curl and drop. This release is part of the natural cycle of life. The trees don’t fight it — and the results are glorious! So why should we?

This fall, see how it feels to embrace the idea of letting go.

Most of us know we’re inherently resistant to change. And that’s what letting go is. It’s releasing something that is our normal, our status quo. It’s changing something we’re used to. What’s on the other side is an unknown, and this is biologically and psychologically scary for us.
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The good news is, this can be a practice. We can just give it a try. There are lots of areas in our lives to explore Letting Go.

~ Some are perhaps easier — try cleaning out your closet and getting rid of clothes you haven’t worn in ages, or clear out your junk drawer.

~ Some might be more challenging, like taking stock of your friendships and letting go of connections that are at best not working, and at worst, toxic or abusive.

~ Some might be in the physical realm — is it time to let go of smoking, eating too much sugar, or other habits that aren’t healthy for you?

~ Some might be in the emotional realm, such as letting go of negative self-talk or an old script you constantly fall back on.

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Clinical and spiritual psychologist Tara Brach is in synch with the season! Just a few days ago she released a beautiful guided mediation on Letting Go of Judgement. Click here to listen.

 

You might explore letting go of expectations you place on a friend, child or partner. Or perhaps even unfair expectations you put on yourself.

Especially an expectation that “Letting Go” is an easy task. It’s not. It takes courage. Let it be a practice. Give it a try in the areas that you’re able. And you may find that, over time, as you get used to it, you’re able to let go of more difficult things, bigger things, and you’ll discover that “you’ll be ok” on the other side.

More than “Ok” in fact… Because even though we know that letting go is hard, we also know that when we clear the way, new things can arise. Out with the old, in with the new. We let go of the old, dry, brittle and stagnant to make room for new, fresh, vibrant opportunities in all realms. And why fight that?

 

 

Roasted Butternut Squash Salad with Cilantro-Avocado-Lime Dressing

Have you heard that “eating from the rainbow” supports optimal health? Well, this recipe is as colorful as it gets! With Fall equinox just around the corner, we can already see the leaves beginning to turn as the incredible deciduous trees begin to put on their annual artful display. And seasonal foods also begin to transition into an explosion of Fall colors— the oranges of Winter squash (harvested throughout the Fall and stored in the winter), the reds of bell peppers, and the yellows of fresh corn on the cob.

 

Bright and delicious… and packed with incredible nutrition… this salad will not disappoint! The orange color in the butternut squash is indicative of vitamin A, which is essential for the health of your eyes and skin. This nutrient-dense superfood contains more potassium than a banana, supporting cell and tissue regeneration in the body. The bell pepper is full of vitamin-c and antioxidants, boosting your overall immunity. And fresh corn offers phytochemicals that support healthy vision, as well as fiber to cleanse the system.

 

The avocado and olive oil provide a lovely dose of healthy fats to help your body absorb all of these amazing vitamins and support your skin’s radiant glow. And don’t let the word “fat” mislead you! Avocado has been known to support weight-loss.

 

That’s not all! The lime and cilantro also boost your immune system. The lime alkalizes the body, while the cilantro balances blood-sugar levels and contains strong cancer-fighting antioxidants. Complete the rainbow by topping the salad with some blue borage flowers and purple nasturtiums.

 

Roasted butternut squash salad with cilantro-avocado-lime dressing is a perfect seasonal dish to prepare on Sunday to supplement lunches and dinners… or add quinoa or beans and turn this salad into a meal!

 

Bon appetit!

 

Ingredients:

  • 1 medium butternut squash
  • 1 large bell pepper
  • 2 ears of fresh corn
  • 1 bunch cilantro 
  • 3-4 limes
  • 1 avocado
  • olive oil
  • water to thin dressing
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: beans, quinoa, edible flowers

 

Directions:

 

Step One: For the Butternut:

 

  1. Peel the butternut squash whole. Then slice it in half  and scoop the seeds out. Chop the squash into even, bite-sized cubes.
  2. Toss cubed squash with olive oil and salt in a large mixing bowl.
  3. Spread out evenly on a baking sheet and roast squash in the oven at 375* for 10 minutes.
  4. Turn the squash to the other side with a spatula and roast for another 10-20 minutes, until cooked through— soft on the inside and slightly crispy on the outside.
  5. Set aside to cool.

 

Step Two: For the Red Pepper, Corn, and Cilantro:

 

  1. Shuck the corn, remove all of the tassels, and slice the kernels off of the cob.
  2. Core the pepper and slice into small, bite-sized pieces.
  3. Coarsely chop ½ cup cilantro leaves.
  4. Place the red pepper, corn, butternut squash (room temp), and cilantro into a large salad bowl and toss with salt and pepper (to taste).

 

Step Three: For the Dressing:

  1. Squeeze the juice of 3-4 limes into a food processor or blender. Add 1 cup cilantro (with stems). Add the meat of 1 avocado and ¼ cup olive oil. Toss in a pinch salt and pepper to taste. Blend. Add water to thin the dressing to a desirable consistency.

 

Step 4: Portion out salad and drizzle dressing over each bowl. Top with a sprig of cilantro or parsley and edible flowers (nasturtium, borage, calendula).

 

Variation: Add quinoa or beans and turn this salad into a meal!

 

YOGA 101: The Koshas

In yoga, we call the layers of our beings koshas. During our practice on and off the mat, we can begin to sense that we have several aspects of our beings.

  1. The physical body: skin, muscles, ligaments, joints, bones, vital organs
  2. The energy body: breath, heat, pulsing, streaming, tingling sensations
  3. The personality body: thoughts and emotions, direct response to sensory stimulation and environment
  4. The wisdom body: the non judgmental observer within, also known as intuitive awareness
  5. The bliss body: light, clarity, inner peace, unconditional love

And, when we begin to cultivate nonjudgmental self awareness and observe the layers of our being with non attachment, our hearts open… and deeper healing occurs.

 

pancha-kosha-5-envelopes-jivatman-paramatman

The five progressively subtler bodies that compose our personality are described in a yoga classic called the Taittiriya Upanishad:

 

 

 

“Human beings consist of a material body built from the food they eat. Those who care for this body are nourished by the universe itself.

“Inside this is another body made of life energy. It fills the physical body and takes its shape. Those who treat this vital force as divine experience excellent health and longevity because this energy is the source of physical life.

“Within the vital force is yet another body, this one made of thought energy. It fills the two denser bodies and has the same shape. Those who understand and control the mental body are no longer afflicted by fear.

“Deeper still lies another body comprised of intellect. It permeates the three denser bodies and assumes the same form. Those who establish their awareness here free themselves from unhealthy thoughts and actions, and develop the self-control necessary to achieve their goals.

“Hidden inside it is yet a subtler body, composed of pure joy. It pervades the other bodies and shares the same shape. It is experienced as happiness, delight, and bliss.”

Go deeper with this article by Yoga Journal: You Are Here.

And check out this article by Kripalu: Healing Anxiety and Depression: An Ayurvedic Perspective.

(Selection take from article originally published at www.yogainternational.com, Image taken from www.yogagardensf.com)

Seven Steps to Personal Transformation

We often think of yoga as movement, postures, or stretching… but the art and science of yoga goes so much deeper. Check out these seven steps for personal transformation and healing!

 

First, we can acknowledge where we are with non-judgment and curiosity, beginning to practice self-awareness on and off the mat. The first yoga sutra says: Atha Yoga Nushasanam, which can be translated to Now the Inquiry of Yoga Begins. 

 

Second, we can choose to take personal responsibility for our health, our wellness and our lives, letting go of blame (I feel the way I do because of someone else or something external to me) and shame (I am not enough). We begin to focus our attention on creating peace in our inner worlds rather than fixing and changing external circumstances. Our inner worlds begin to influence our external reality.

 

Third, we can create a vision for where we are going and a personal mission statement based on inner principles to guide our decisions in life. In that sense, we are making conscious choices rooted in character rather than reactive responses based on short term pleasure or fear. To support this process, check out Patanjali’s eightfold path and pay special attention to the the yamas and niyamas, which are observances that lead to healthy habits. 

 

Practice:

CREATE VISION- What does living a healthy and fulfilling life look like? Feel like? When you imagine a life where you are happy, healthy and living a life full of purpose and integrity, what are you doing? Who are you surrounded by? How do you treat yourself and others?

If we know where we are going and the principles are guiding us, we discover a sense of stability, integrity and inner peace in the healing process. I find my personal mission statement and vision board helps me to align the choices I make in the present moment with my deepest, most integrated self… and this in turn gives me the patience and awareness to sacrifice pleasure in the moment for long-term happiness… most of the time.

 

Fourth, we can practice presence and and self-awareness on and off the mat… letting go of attachment to end results. We can let go of trying to arrive in some complex posture or at some future destination and, instead, we can become interested in our own experience in the present moment. Here, we take the seat of the witness or nonjudgmental observer within. The asana practice in yoga (postures and breathing exercises translated as “to sit in the seat of one’s self“) is a wonderful tool to support this step.

 

Fifth, we can discover new information and personal tools to support our process. We identify gaps in our knowledge or support base (perhaps we choose to develop resources for self-soothing, or we find individual or group support systems around issues we face) and gather new resources to aid our growth. And then we can allow these external resources and support systems to interact with our own “gut” or inner compass, taking baby steps in each moment of our lives, knowing these small moments add up to big changes.

 

Sixth, we can ground our personal understanding, mission and practices in community by discovering our tribe.

 

Practice: Are there other people who are interested in exploring mindfulness practices, yoga, personal growth, or your chosen spiritual practice? How do you feel when you join this community? Who in your life already makes you feel authentic, whole, abundant, and alive? And where are there people who are being, living, doing, thinking in ways that align with your mission and vision?

We can go through life protecting ourselves and avoiding authentic connection- and yet, when we open our minds and hearts to love (not necessarily romantic love), we find ourselves attracting other people who are asking similar questions and enjoying life the way we like to enjoy life. Although it is wonderful to spend time around people who are incredibly different from ourselves, finding our tribe- people who are aligned with our core values- gives us a sense of connection and resilience in our lives.

 

Seventh, we can begin to know ourselves as multidimensional beings and “yoke” or “unite” the various aspects of ourselves. Yoga means “to yoke” the sun and the moon, the masculine and the feminine, the light and the dark, the yin and the yang. When we experience moments of yoga (the integration of the layers of our being), we move from darkness into the light… and we bliss out! We access a healing state of inner peace and experience personal transformation that is rooted in a sense of infinite abundance, love and light. 

And we remember the saying Jack Kornfield introduces in his book A Path With Heart: “After the ecstasy, the laundry.” Kornfield goes on to say, “The dazzling effects of lights and visions, the powerful releases of rapture and energy, all are a wonderful sign of the breakdown of the old and small structures of our being, body, and bind. However, they do not in themselves produce wisdom… Even great openings of the heart, kundalini processes, and visions can turn into spiritual pride or become old memories… Spiritual experiences in themselves do not count for much. What matters is that we integrate and learn from the process” (Kornfield, 129).

 

So the bliss itself is not necessarily indicative of lasting transformation… it is in the life-long, moment-to-moment process of learning from direct experience when personal transformation occurs! Beginning right now…

Simply Delicious Summer Recipes For A Gourmet Dinner Party

When crafting the menu for our Summer Wellness Retreat, co-founder Karen Mehiel and long-time collaborator chef Jaime Sydney wanted to not only come up with delicious dishes, but ones that upheld the pillar of Right Nutrition.

They began with quality, seasonal ingredients… then created some fun and balanced combinations… which allowed the preparations to remain super simple.

The results were palate-pleasing and packed with nutrition.

Below you’ll find recipes for a light and flavorful quinoa salad, perfect to pair with a nice piece of arctic char finished with a zesty lemon & herb green sauce.

The quinoa is a super-food, as we know, with a good bit of protein and twice as much fiber as other grains. The raw zucchini in the salad helps with cholesterol and weight management, plus delivers high doses of potassium, vitamin A, vitamin C and antioxidants for healthy skin, hair, eyes and immune function. Heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil has a strong concentration of polyphenols, which have both antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Finally, the lemon and herbs alkalize and cleanse the entire body.

These dishes are flavorful, healthy and as gourmet as it gets… And they are easy breezy to prepare!


Roasted Arctic Char with Meyer Lemon and a Green Herb Sauce

*Serves 12

 

Ingredients

For the Fish: 

  • 12 Arctic Char Filets
  • 3 Meyer Lemons, zest and juice of 2 lemons
  • Kosher Salt and Pepper
  • 4 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

For the Sauce:

  • 4 Cups of Parsley leaves, washed and dried
  • 2 Bunches of Chives
  • 1 Lemon, juice only
  • 1 Cup of Olive Oil
  • 2 Pinches of Sea Salt and Ground Pepper

Directions

1. Place the char on a parchment lined baking sheet. Season the fish with salt, pepper, lemon zest, and olive oil. Bake at 400 degrees for 13-15 minutes or until done.

2. To make the sauce, pulse the herbs in a food processor until they are finely chopped. Add salt and pepper. With the blade running pour in the olive oil until it is blended. Cover the sauce until it is ready to be served. Serve on the fish or on the side.

 

Lunch2

 

Green Quinoa with Arugula, Mint, Pistachios, and Raw Zucchini

*Serves 6

 

Ingredients

  • 2 Cups of Quinoa
  • 5 Cups of boiling water
  • ¼ Cup of Olive Oil
  • 3 Tablespoons of Lemon Juice
  • ¾ Cup of Pistachios
  • 1/2 Bunch of Parsley, cleaned, chopped
  • 6 Mint Sprigs, leaves removed, cleaned, julienned
  • 1 Zucchini, diced into small squares
  • 1 ½ Cups of Baby Arugula
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. Boil the water in a medium large pot. Add a few pinches of salt to the water  and cook the quinoa for 20 minutes (or until the grains open up). Set the quinoa aside to cool.

2. Add in the remaining ingredients and mix. Easy breezy.

 

Lunch1

 

 

10 Tips to Support Your Green Lifestyle 

Eco-conscious living has become in vogue in the 21st century. If you ask us, this movement is far more influential than the latest trend… jumping on board comes with incredible benefits that improve the health of your body and greater society. Green products are better for your body and the planet. Green business solutions save money and protect our natural resources. Reduce, reuse, and recycle has become increasingly important as we face major environmental issues.

 

Today’s topic: Sustainability

 

What is “sustainability” anyhow?: The concept of “sustainability” is based off of the principle that we take only what we truly need, protect our natural resources and also consider the needs of future generations (our children).

 

When we choose to go green and live with “sustainability” in mind, we are making the conscious decision to participate in conserving and protecting natural resources. Every bite of delicious food we take, each product we purchase, the fresh air we breathe, and the water we drink stems from nature and will ultimately return to the earth.

 

 

 

Here are 10 tips to support your green lifestyle:

 

  1. Ask yourself what you really need to live comfortably and joyfully. Include your family and/or friends in a discussion. Simplify your lifestyle and reuse, re-purpose, or recycle items you no longer need.

  2. Purchase with sustainability in mind: items with less packaging, items that do not harm the earth (biodegradable), chemical-free personal care.

  3. Green your laundry by washing on the cold setting and hang-drying your clothes.

  4. Carry a cloth bag with you to the grocery store and consider cleaning/reusing plastic bags or replacing plastic bags with reusable bags or tupperware.

  5. Consider buying more organic produce and learn about the clean fifteen (produce with least pesticide use) and dirty dozen (produce with harmful pesticides) to protect your body and the earth.

  6. Eat less meat.

  7. If your morning cuppa joe is a daily event, consider carrying a reusable mug with you.

  8. Consider walking, riding your bike, or taking public transportation instead of driving.

  9. Host a clothing swap with friends to keep an inspired wardrobe without buying anything new!

  10. When you need a break from the daily grind, try a staycation or check out a Stewardship Travel Program for a sustainable vacation.

 

 

create helpful habits reminder or advice on a  slate blackboard against rustic weathered wood planks

Yoga Lab: Heart Openers

The transition from summer to fall calls to mind incredible harvests, warm evenings and lovely weekends under the sun enjoying our favorite outdoor activities. This time of year also marks the return back to school, work and commitments, which can lead to an influx of stress as life speeds up and new routines take shape. A thoughtful high school teacher who came to yoga class recently put it so well: “Summer was a time where I was learning to be with myself in a healthy way… now my challenge is to be with other people again and this is when my yoga practice is really important.”

 

One way to create a graceful transition as life speeds up is to practice heart opening postures. During practice, we can allow the mantra love and be loved to be our guide. The way we relate to other people reflects our relationship with ourselves… so the practice of opening our hearts and cultivating nonjudgmental self-awareness during yoga practice can support healthy relationships off the mat.

 

Heart openers, also known as front extensions and more commonly referred to as backbends, support both psychological and physical health. Iyengar recommended heart opening postures to alleviate depression and anxiety, because these postures relieve the tension that builds up around the heart and they stimulate the thyroid and pituitary glands, energizing and balancing the entire body. Heart openers stretch across the shoulders and the chest, while opening the hip flexors. They also strengthen and tone the muscles in the back, arms and legs.

 

As you move into heart opening postures, imagine lifting and opening your heart, expanding across the chest, rather than bending over backwards. Like many postures in yoga, this offers a wonderful metaphor to support life. On a very practical level, this prevents over-stretching (and crunching) the flexible part of the lower back.

 

Three Tips For Heart Opening Postures:

 

  1. Warm up before moving into heart opening postures.
  2. Lift through the chest to avoid crunching the lower back: think “front extension” rather than “backbend.”
  3. If you have back or neck injuries, some heart openers can be helpful, but other postures should be avoided. Research individual postures with yoga journal’s step by step instructions to learn more and prevent injury. And check out this additional article by yoga journal to protect yourself in backbends.

 

The art and science of yoga invites you to learn from your direct experience and observe the effects in your body. To maintain inner peace and allow your loving heart to guide the way in life, check out this heart opening sequence by yoga journal.

 

Go deeper with this video: