Saturday, October 17, 2009

What Does Yoga Mean to You?

In my post before the soup, I suggested that we do yoga every day, working towards a life-long "Yoga Month." Thinking about it since then, I have realized that "doing yoga" is very vague. What a daily yoga practice looks like in my life today is going to be very different from the Indian guru who has been practicing for 80 years or the high-powered attorney who does Ashtanga to power up before court. As a matter of fact, my yoga practice today isn't going to be the same as my own practice 20 years from now. So, what does it mean to "do yoga?"

Western cultures put a lot of popular focus on Asana (postures), because they are the easiest to see, feel, teach, and, for the able-bodied, easiest to do. They are the external tools for internal change. The rhythms of squeezing and releasing, bending and extending help us be more mindful of our breath, the purifier and facilitator of meditation. Of course, Asana has all of the side benefits of flexibility, strength, circulation, detoxification and general health, which are awesome by themselves, but we mustn't get wrapped up in the pursuit of them. There's a very cute animated short that has been circulating the net for a while that sums this up nicely.

The external rewards should not be the ultimate goal. Asana alone is not yoga. There are seven other limbs to choose from in our daily pursuits, the sweet fruit of sweaty Asana. They are:
  • Yama (abstentions)- not harming in word, action or inaction
  • Niyama (observances)- austerity, contentment and non-grasping
  • Pranayama (breath control)- using the breath to purify and facilitate meditation
  • Pratyahara (abstraction)- resisting identification with external stimuli
  • Dharana (concentration)- fixed attention on a single object/idea
  • Dhyana (meditation)- intense contemplation on the true nature of existence
  • Samadhi (liberation)- merging consciousness with the whole of existence
Of all of the yoga limbs, the one that is most prominent in my life is my commitment to non-harming. I am drawn, at a level of vocational compulsion, to facilitate life and health for all beings. Sounds great, right? Sure, on a conceptual level, who actively wants to cause harm to others? Very few of us, I would imagine. On a practical level, however, it's less simple. It is not active harm that I need to check myself about, but my unconscious reflexes. I'm not about to go eat a big greasy beef burger, while driving a giant, gas-guzzling SUV and splashing old ladies with puddles. What I do need to worry about is the harm I can cause with my words and apathy. I must be constantly mindful to never be complacent towards harm or allow myself to do things that cause harm to me or anyone else. I am rambling a bit now, but my point is that, we can do yoga every day without necessarily stepping foot on a mat. We can do it in our speech, with our temperance, with meditation and concentration on our breath. I like to expand it even beyond the 8 limbs to include anything we do with kindness, selflessness and intention is yoga. My daily practice includes mindful speech, keeping my home clean to provide comfort to my mate, guests, and students, cooking nourishing food for my family and taking a few minutes to find peace in my breath. On a perfect day, my practice also includes lots of Asana, a trip to the gym and a blog entry, but life isn't perfect. There is no universal daily ritual to "do yoga," because every day is nuanced and different. The beauty of yoga is in its all-encompassing flexibility in what it means to be yoked to existence in its holy pursuit. I'm very curious to hear what leading a yoga life looks like in your world, so please comment about your daily practice!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Cold/Flu Season is No Match For:


It is vegan, gluten-free and full of immune-boosting vitamins and spices to kick the pants off whatever ails you. It takes about 45 minutes including prep time.

3 or 4 Tbls olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 inches of fresh ginger, grated
4 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 a pound cauliflower florets
2-3 medium potatoes, peeled and diced
1 tsp cumin or garam marsala
2 tsp coriander
1 tsp turmeric
2 pinches of cayenne
5 cups veggie broth

Saute onions, garlic, ginger and olive oil in the bottom of a big soup pot until lightly browned. Add the spices and let them bubble together for a minute or two. Add broth, cauliflower and potatoes. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce to medium-low heat until the potatoes are tender (about 12 minutes). You can either eat it right away or let it sit for a while. It gets tastier the longer the spices are allowed to sink in.

We can get through this flu season together without the dangers of that pesky flu vaccine. Get plenty of sleep and drink lots of water. Don't overload yourself with alcohol, caffeine or nicotine. Do yoga along with at least 20 minutes of aerobic activity every day, even when it's cold, to lower your stress levels and boost your immune system. Eat foods that nourish your body and soul. In short, use common sense and take care of yourself this fall; listen to your body and it will serve you.

Be well!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Making My Own Yoga Month

September was National Yoga Month, and normally timing doesn't matter to me when community-wide events happen. I become aligned with the rest of my community, open and flowing in communal yoga bliss with great ease. This September, however, that was not the case. As of late, I have been woefully out of balance. I suppose it began with the soaring heights of joy and excitement I experienced early in the summer upon walking away from capitalist, Western pursuits to dedicate myself to the call of teaching yoga. I was feeling more expansive and sure of myself than ever before. As the excitement and action grew, I completely latched on to this idea of who I was "supposed" to be as a yogini, ever-smiling, ever-excited, never disappointed, sad or lacking confidence, instead of showing myself the grace to become at my own pace. When that initial excitement wore off, as can be expected in the natural course of things, it was followed by a series of emotionally grounding events that I did not accept with grace. I became discouraged and listless, grasping for my dwindling high and disappointed with myself that I couldn't be the "perfect yogini" (whatever the hell THAT is) every day, or even at all. The height of this negativity culminated right at the beginning of Yoga Month. I became careless with what I was feeding myself, comfort/stress eating instead of seeking mindful nourishment and looking at my yoga practice as a chore, not a tool for transcendence. Unsurprisingly, I became very ill. Chronic problems long dormant reared their nasty heads and I found myself able to do little more than lay in Savasana on the couch for two weeks. That gives a humbled yogini plenty of time to contemplate her choices with 20/20 hindsight.

Attachment had bit me in the butt yet again. It sneaks and creeps up on me when I am most distractedly happy. Detachment is certainly easier for me when I am in unpleasant circumstances, but in those moments when I am ablaze with joy, I want that feeling to last forever. Over the summer, I had a wonderful time experiencing the bliss of epiphany, but instead of accepting that moment for what it was and letting it pass away when it was time, I clung to it long after its expiration date. By not ceding my attachment to one moment, I denied the advent of new moments, new epiphanies and thus ensured my own suffering and imbalance. Who, besides the most advanced gurus, does not instinctively prefer joy to sorrow and ease to difficulty? A more immediately attainable goal than overcoming nature is to remember in the moment that my preference for comfort is not necessary to my own bliss. Never has it been more clear to me that to walk the path means to shun attachment by treating the great highs and the most crushing lows with the same regard. They simply ARE.

Essentially this long-winded post is me publicly recommitting to my practice of yoga and unity, body with spirit and the self with the whole. I know now that I can only approach this life with patience and unconditional love for my limitations. I am, in this moment, utterly grateful for such a starkly contrasted experience in attachment and I will carry it with me in the hope that I will not repeat it at such an extraordinary scale. October is my new yoga month, which will carry on to a yoga year as I commit the rest of my days to living a Yoga Life. Won't you join me?


Where I've Been!