Embrace Spirituality with Radhanath Swami in India

Embrace Spirituality: Journey to Divine India

Embrace Spirituality in India with Deborah Charnes of The Namaste Counsel and Radhanath Swamiby Deborah Charnes

I’ve always been enthralled with India. In 2011, I spent a month there. That wasn’t enough. In the last few years, I wrote about many tours to India, all with people I know and respect. There wasn’t a one that didn’t pull at my soul. So, how can you choose between so many wonderful options to embrace spirituality?   Now I’m ready to open my heart to embrace spirituality through Embrace the Grace: Sacred Journey to Divine India

If you want to embrace spirituality, join me on a very intimate tour.  January 19-31, 2019. I’ll be both a participant, and the resident yoga teacher.  

Here’s why I chose to embrace spirituality on this Sacred Journey to Divine India. 

Embrace Local Culture and Hospitality

Embrace Spirituality with Shivani and Shivangi in IndiaFirst, Embrace the Grace allows participants to experience the depths of India. See the real India. Through your eyes. But also through the lens of your heart and soul.

Large chain hotels and oversized tour buses turn me off. One of my fondest experiences in India was what should have been a short road trip. It was 14 hours. My tuk tuk driver spoke no English. But I understood him.  When he offered me a chai, that meant we were stranded.  I showed little grace when I  got to my “resort” after wading through mud with my suitcase. Yet, the next morning I recognized the journey was unforgettable. 

Furthermore, Embrace the Grace is led by two women that I have known for several years. They are positive, vibrant, spirited twins that want to share their love for the culture and spirituality of their homeland. As part of the tour, participants visit the twins’ parents in their Delhi home.

Embrace Spirituality with Shivani and Shivangi in India

“Spending time with family is one of the most important elements in the trip because it gives people the warmth of being genuinely loved and personally cared,” says Shivani one of the twins.

“100 percent of people/friends we talk to or meet are struggling/looking for some personal attention, happiness and solace…when our friends have stayed or spent time with our parents, they experienced the true joy, love, gratitude, experiencing the need of making immense sacrifices for a higher principle. It is very eye opening for them to feel the need of selflessly caring for someone without any expectations or rewards. People in the west are more into Give and Take; Use and Throw, what is in there for Me? But when they experience someone opening their doors to welcoming them with genuine feelings, their hearts are transformed.” 

Embrace Spirituality–Regardless of Your Religious Affiliation 

India is a highly spiritual land — for people of all faiths. Embrace the Grace takes you to a majestic Baha’i temple and the mosque complex of Qutar Minar. Among sacred Hindu sites are, Vrindavan/Mathura and the Yamuna River. 

“We will explore yoga’s timeless philosophy which can be applied to all religions and belief systems, bringing us all to a place of unity within diversity,” explains Shivani.

Embrace Spirituality with Radhanath Swami in IndiaOne of the magnets for me is four days at the International Bhakti Yoga Retreat. Bhakti is the branch of yoga I can’t live without. I travel every year to Bhakti festivals. In 2019, I’ll go a bit further. What better place for Bhakti than an award winning eco retreat center in India inspired by Radhanath Swami.   

Radhanath Swami is a native Chicagoan, like me. I’ve written a number of articles based on his workshops.  His extraordinary autobiography, “The Journey Home,” about his becoming a Swami in India, reads like an Indiana  Jones story. Not surprisingly, it was made into a feature film

One of last year’s attendees called the twins’ tour a once-in-a-lifetime trip. She was “humbled to experience Radhanath Swami’s daily classes for hours, followed by dancing in bliss in kirtans. The amount of spiritual growth that came from this trip was unparalleled.” 

Embrace Seva or Karma Yoga

Food For Life Vrindavan

Moreover, Karma Yoga is essential for me. It was engrained in me many years ago. Karma Yoga, or seva, is selfless service. Giving, expecting nothing in return. However, I still get so much in return. In fact, for the last eight years, I’ve practiced karma yoga in Mexico and Central America. That’s one of the things that turns me on about this trip.

Embrace the Grace includes three seva opportunities. One is at a school. Another, a hospital. The third is a free meal program. All are non-profits I whole-heartedly support.  

Sandipani Muni School in Vrindavan provides free education, books, supplies and uniforms for underprivileged girls. Educating the families and communities on the merit of education versus child marriage is also part of the school’s role, since only one in 100 girls in rural India completes school.   

For 25 years, Food For Life Vrindavan  has focused on providing free meals, education and skill training and medical help to thousands of young girls.  School children are fed clean, nutritious meals, free of charge, and there are also programs to serve needy families, widows and the blind. 

The third entity for service will be the Bhaktivedanta hospital in Mumbai. Its aim is to provide high quality holistic medical and spiritual health care to people, regardless of their financial situation. Among the free services offered, Bhaktivedanta conducts health care screening of more than 12,000 children annually. A mobile eye camp served 45,564 patients and performed 4,650 cataract surgeries in one year, alone. In rural communities, 200 hospital health camps screened 50,000 people and treated 10,000.

Embrace Spirituality via Colorful Customs

Embrace The Grace features a beautiful celebration at which hundreds gather to pluck petals from 2,300 pounds of flowers. 

Radhanath Swami explains that people from around the world are “sitting around the same little baskets of flowers, plucking petals, irrespective of what status, caste, sex or economic bracket we came from. Despite our incredibly amazing differences we are one in our love for God, in our compassion for each other, and in our appreciation for each other.”

In the evening the petals are showered upon temple deities as the crowds sing devotional music (kirtan). Then, for the finale, guests deluge each other with the flower petals. 

Embrace Transformation

Taj Mahal on the agenda to embrace spirituality on Sacred Journey to Divine India

“This is going to be very intimate and transformative,” says Shivani. While there may be hundreds at the festival and the retreat, this spiritual tour will be for a very small group. 

The twins will share their knowledge and passion, non-stop. Plus, morning sessions of breathwork, meditation and hatha yoga can be tailored for the participants needs and preferences. 

“We will have fun, long-lasting relationships/friendships and simultaneously explore the true wealth and potential that lies within all of us. This journey is meant to expose us to a newer dimension of reality beyond the myriad of roles that we play in our day-to-day lives. This journey will provide us with a strong foundational rhythm that connects us beyond the mind, the materialism, and the distractions.”

Embrace a Superb ROI

yoga with Deborah Charnes of The Namaste CounselFinally, this all inclusive trip costs what some pay for airfare, alone. It’s so affordable because it’s built upon seva. You get airfare, meals, accommodations, ground and regional air transportation, two full-time guides, plenty of workshops, and hatha and Bhakti yoga for about $1,500.

Plus, there’s plenty of time to save up your money. This incredible journey designed to awaken you to embrace spirituality isn’t until January of 2019, but spaces are almost full.  

Weigh the benefits of a ski trip in the mountains, museum hopping or sunning on the beach, versus a spiritual tour.  This is a no brainer.  Embrace spirituality. Transform your heart, and your life. The value is immeasurable.

In closing, Shivani says, “You will dive deep into the culture and lifestyle of the path of yoga that guides us towards God through love, devotion, prayers and meditation.”

Local Food movement at http://argusfarmstop.com

NON-VIOLENCE: LOCAL FOOD. FARM TO TABLE 

Honoring Ahimsa (Non-Violence) and Mindful Eating

Today, most Americans are disconnected from what may be one of the most natural parts of life: planting and harvesting. Local food. People tend to surf the internet, or stroll through unending lines of shelves in a big box store, to find their favorite food products. All this has a detrimental impact on our health, and the environment. We are committing himsa (violence), most often mindlessly. Yogis are taught to be mindful, and ahimsa (non-violence) is our first commandment. 

Before the advent of all the jet, TV or Internet, people were closer to nature. The connection between harvest and sustenance was clear. One ate what was available on their own, or  surrounding, lands. As Gandhi urged, progress starts with one’s self. “Be the change.”  When it comes to mindful eating, we must honor and respect what we consume. Likewise, we should refrain from needless slaying and torture of animals, and destroying of our environment, all of which are examples of himsa

I recently spent a few days in Ann Arbor, in part, to learn about its vegan-friendly, mindful farm to table movement. Michigan is a major agricultural state. In fact, it is the second most diverse state for farming, after California. Plus, there is a resurgence in getting back to the farm to table basics. Real food. Slow food. Local food. Non-violence. 

Local Food

 A Michigan non-profit is encouraging local food for many reasons.

Local Food movement at http://argusfarmstop.com—First, more than a million acres of U.S. farmland is lost each year due to residential and commercial development.

—Second, a typical American meal travels an average of 1,500 miles before it gets to your table, or car seat.

—Third, conventional food distribution uses at least four times more fuel than local and regional systems.

— Fourth, each dollar spent at independent local businesses returns three times more money to your community.

—Plus, if every Michigan household spent $10 per week on local food, $1.6 billion would be added to the state’s economy.

Ann Arbor Farm to Table Restaurants

Local Food at Argus Farm StopIn Ann Arbor, and neighboring Ypsilanti, there are a number of farm to table establishments. 

Brandon Johns opened Grange Kitchen and Bar in 2009. “We are essentially a true local restaurant. We spend 90 cents on the dollar on local food. In the dead of winter we fall down to about 70 percent. There’s a ton of greenhouses here that extend our seasons. It’s amazing what Michigan produces because of Lake Michigan and Lake Superior. It’s not just cars.”

Travis Schuster is head chef at Ollie of Ypsilanti.  He believes in putting money back into the community by supporting local farmers. 

“My main goal with Ollie is to make locally and sustainably sourced food accessible to the entire community. I think that people respond positively to our sourcing practices because they want to feel that they are making a responsible decision when they chose to dine at Ollie. I hope that they are choosing to dine with us because they realize that we are taking their dollars and putting them right back into our community: whether it’s our staff who all live within walking distance of the restaurant, the farmers in our community, or the producers and artisans that are helping to shape and fortify sustainable Michigan foodways.”

Furthermore, Travis knows the farmers. He says the younger farmers tend to be well educated and idealistic. “There’s kind of a disconnect with the previous generation. The young farmers have longer-term goals. Not just the money.”

Local Food at Argus Farm Stop

Lisa McDonald is the owner of a bakery and TeaHaus. She agrees with Travis’ statement about the new breed of farmers. She has hired several farmers in their off season.  One, had a degree in philosophy.  

Lisa not only hires local farmers, but she buys from them. She recognizes the many hurdles small farm owners encounter. “It’s very expensive for small farmers to get the certified organic label. And, just because it’s stamped organic doesn’t mean they are. I’d rather know the small farmer. You know their practices, and what they’re selling.”

As Lisa mentions the hurdles local farmers have to go through, Brandon says it’s nearly impossible for small businesses to get national marks of approval. Case in point, USDA requires producers to have a dedicated bathroom for the USDA inspectors. While bureaucracy is working against these small businesses, the University of Michigan, is on the local food band wagon. The UM Campus Farm was established in 2012. The initiative is part of a plan to source food locally, or sustainably, by 2025. In addition to providing food for campus dining, the UM farm sells its produce at Argus Farm Stop, year-round. 

Ann Arbor Farm to Table Supporters and Suppliers

Local Food at Argus Farm StopArgus is a business enterprise that was established to support local farmers, 12 months a year. Kathy Sample opened Argus*, a unique direct-to-consumer farmers’ market, inside an abandoned gas station. She’s well aware of the challenges small farmers have today, and recognizes that most can’t make sufficient profits at the markets. Her business was launched to boost the local economy and give local farmers a practical way to survive and thrive.

More than 75 local farmers drop off their fresh crops. Kathy and her crew manage everything so that the farmers can get back to their lands. The farmers set their own prices, and the store only takes a 20 percent share. Since Argus is in business to help the farmers, a comfortable coffee house inside the Farm Stop is what keeps Argus afloat. And, twice weekly, the local food bank picks up food that hasn’t sold, so that it can be consumed by needy families.

Argus Farm Stop for Local Food in Ann Arbor“We started (in 2014) because we saw 93 percent of our local farms were gone. We thought what if we started a real grocery store…and nice coffee bar,” Kathy recalls. “We hope to impact the agricultural community…The average age of a farmer in the U.S. is 57. Most are telling their kids to get a job at GM. There’s a lot of reasons why we need to help farmers find a better way.”

As her fellow farm to table mindful restaurateurs noted, USDA doesn’t support small farmers. “Most slaughterhouses are gross and inaccessible for small farms. The big houses wrote the rules…same for eggs. We need to see a resurgence of small processing plants that do it humanely. If you’re going to eat meat you should care about how it got onto your plate.”

Everything is geared to industrialized farming, she says. American farm land just isn’t making enough profits. “The only way a young person can get land is if their parents give them money. Or getting people to loan you land.” And yet, there’s a continuing interest by the younger generation of idealists in the heartland. 

Mindful Sourcing Beyond Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti

Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are great examples of the slow, local food movement in Washtenaw County. There are 14 farmers’ markets, although most are not year round. Additionally, there are 18 farms that allow public access to pick and take home produce like blueberries, apples and pumpkins. Considering the county population is under 359,000, that’s a pretty good score card. 

Local Food at Argus Farm Stop

Most of us are aware of Flint, Michigan. Though not for their local food initiative. In addition to your traditional farmers’ markets, Flint has a mobile unit to take produce to underserved neighborhoods. Of course, like any local food campaign, it’s a win-win situation. Producers get more income to continue their hard work, and consumers get better quality fresh food at fair prices without the middle man taking all the profits. 

Surprisingly, Detroit has become a world leader in urban agriculture.  Wayne County, of which Detroit is a part, has 29 farmers’ markets, 1,400 community gardens and urban farms in the area. In fact, the Eastern market is one of the oldest in the U.S. and has helped to buoy the growth of others in Wayne County. In some respects, Detroit is just going back to its pre-automotive roots.  

For example, one co-op  began six years ago. Seven participating Detroit farmers refrain from using synthetic pesticides or fertilizers, and their soil is free of contaminants. In 2016, the co-op supplied more than 10,000 pounds of produce to local families. 

In the meantime, the Michigan Farmers Market Association, now represents 140 farmers markets and 220 farmers. Residents can pay with SNAP and WIC. 

Finally, as Kathy says about the local food movement, “A rising tide floats all boats. It’s got to happen.”

*All images on this page were taken at Argus Farm Stop.

Plant-Based Eating: Then and Now

When Pizza Was King

Plant-based diets, then (salad) and now (everything)By the time I got to college, I was already a committed vegetarian. However, I knew nothing about nutritious plant-based eating, nor how to forage for wholesome meatless options on campus.

In my entire dorm, there were just a handful of us vegetarian or kosher dairy folks. Fortunately, my dorm had peanut butter, Grapenuts and salads. Then, there was Garcia’s. They delivered whole wheat crusted pizza, even at odd hours. Frances Moore Lappe, one of the leading pro-vegetarian authors of the day, said cheese and wheat were good combinations. Done deal.

That was basically it. Choices were bare. But, I stuck it out. 

That was the 80s. When I moved to San Antonio in 1998, there wasn’t a single vegetarian restaurant in town. Now, we have terrific vegetarian, vegan and veg gluten-free dining spots. A sign of the times. People want healthy — and tasty — food options. Plus, consumers recognize it’s not only better for your body, but for the planet.

Times They Are A Changing

My alma mater was Champaign/Urbana, Illinois, three hours south of Chicago. Recently, I was invited to an eating spree in another Big Ten towns.  Plant-based students the universities and community colleges in that area have it pretty good. Same for their parents, teachers or anyone in the area that just wants a good meat-less meal.

There are 300 food businesses in a fairly small geographic area near the University of Michigan. Plenty have options for the plant-based or plant-preferred community.  In fact, Huffington Post placed this college town on the country’s top ten vegetarian cities. And, Animal Equality voted Ann Arbor among the Top 10 Vegan-Friendly Small Cities. 

All Vegetarian

Deborah Charnes at Seva in Ann ArborSeva was the lone bird back in the day that I was a student at UI. The all-veg diner opened more than 40 years ago. They cater to everyone, not just the PETA plant-based peeps. 

My cousin, David, Goldberg has lived in the Ann Arbor area for what seems like forever. He knows Seva well.  He says the food is far from dull. “Seva stands out because they amaze with great flavors and textures, and presentation.  While I’m not vegetarian or vegan, I feel no sense of loss there.”

Consider starting off with a parsnip chowder which was featured in Vegetarian Times. Taste the tempura-battered cauliflower or gluten-free bruschetta topped with a vegan basil cashew pesto. For entrees, how can you beat pumpkin manicotti? Some diners say Seva’s Pad Thai is among the best, with our without the eggs. Top off your meal by choosing from vegan gluten-free ice cream in three flavors: volcano salt vanilla, coffee and maple bourbon.

Earthen Jar is another favorite of David’s. When he picks up a carry-out order, he can’t resist noshing on the way home. Earthen Jar is all vegetarian (and kosher) Indian food with banana pudding that David says is a real winner. While Earthen Jar was the first kosher place in town, Vedge Cafe is a new kosher vegetarian small shop. Owned by a vegetarian registered dietitian, she makes seitan salami, turkey and corned beef plant-based alternatives. Sandwiches include a vegan Reuben, caramelized onion with cremini mushroom and tomato-mayo. Plus, Vedge offers a vegan gluten-free soup that changes every day, and several hearty salad options. 

The Vegan Trifecta

Detroit Street Filling Station plant-based platterThe Lunchroom, The Lunch Room Bakery & Cafe and Detroit Street Filling Station  evolved after two community organizers opened a food truck. 

They offer comfort foods like cinnamon buns, pepperoni pizza and chili cheese tater tots. In addition to trying to build a better planet though plant-based foods, they are avid supporters of the Youth Justice Program.  Beyond monetary contributions the vegan restauranteurs make, many of their employees have been assisted by the non-profit which seeks to ensure human dignity and full participation in the community of people who had been incarcerated as youth. And, this is one of the few dining establishments where employees get health care benefits, including paid time off if they’re sick. Most other restaurants subtly encourage sick staff to come to work so they don’t lose out on a day’s pay. Of course that just doesn’t make sense in the food industry.

The owners see the shift to plant-based eating moving quickly. Joel Panozzo says, “We’re at least broadening peoples consciousness of what vegan food is. Nowhere on our menu does it say vegan. We’re just trying to provide the option so people can make more meal choices. I think more restaurants we will cater even more to these communities as they become larger.”

Go East

vegan mediterranean foodAll studies confirm Americans go overboard with meat on their plates.

On average, consumption of protein in the U.S. is double that of people in other countries. Which is why I’ve always preferred Middle Eastern or Asian cuisines.

Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti residents or visitors can get plenty of vegetarian or vegan foods at ethnic eateries. There’s Jerusalem Cafe, Moroccan Casablanca, Eyse’s Turkish home-style cooking or the previously mentioned Earthen Jar, to name a few. 

But, what I find especially encouraging is mainstream establishments that understand people don’t always want to have a cow.

Plant-based Main Platters

Ollie's head chef, Travis, serves plant-based foodsTravis Schuster is the head chef at Ollie in Ypsilanti. 

“I use animal products less as main events, and more like seasoning in my personal diet,” he said, which is how meats tend to be used in other countries. 

Schuster acknowledges the trend in healthy living. About a quarter of his guests are vegetarian or vegan, and everyone can appreciate good plant-based food that’s served up right.  

“I believe that many of our patrons are health conscious. Omnivores do frequently order vegetarian and vegan dishes.”

Ollie does a stellar job at serving tasty and healthy vegan and gluten-free dishes. A large number of the brunch dishes are vegetarian, or can be veganized. The dinner menu includes a tartine made with roasted sweet potato spread, charred broccoli and cauliflower tossed in tahini vinaigrette with fried shallots and toasted squash seeds which was out of this world. Schuster whips up a sweet potato burger with pickled beets, caramelized onion vegan aioli, cashew spread and farm greens.

“My main goal with Ollie is to make locally and sustainably sourced food accessible to the entire community. Overall, I think that people respond positively to our sourcing practices because they want to feel that they are making a responsible decision when they chose to dine at Ollie over a less environmentally/community conscious establishment. We are taking their dollars and putting them right back into our community: whether it’s our staff who all live within walking distance of the restaurant, the farmers in our community, or the producers and artisans that are helping to shape and fortify sustainable Michigan foodways.”

Go West—To California

Fred's in Ann Arbor serves up primarily plant-based organic foodsLikewise, one of the newest eateries is big on healthy dishes, that just happen to be meat-less.

Fred’s opened this year, near the UM campus. This eatery is influenced by the small health food cafes in California. In the trendier West, and at Fred’s, veggie, vegan and gluten-free options are plentiful. Furthermore, everything is organic. Colorful smoothies. Green matcha cappuccino. And super foods. Plant-based power protein bowls are made with delicacies like acai, almond butter, berries, seeds and cacao.   

To sum up the trend in healthy and more plant-based foods, Ollie’s head chef notes the rise in vegan dining options. 

“There is hope. People vote with their dollar.”

ahimsa: preserve the life of a happy cow

Preserving Ahimsa: A Road Warrior’s Guide

Ahimsa for the Warrior in You

ahimsa via a sattvic dietDuring my 15 years working for one agency, we called ourselves “road warriors.” Beginning 35 years ago, I was trained to have a bag packed and ready to go for last minute, business trips.  At airports, and in the sky, I ate popcorn or nuts. Oftentimes, I opted for nothing. I’ll never forget my first business trip to Texas. My client ordered ribs and I-can’t-recall-what-other-animal-part for a dozen guests. I found the courage to tell the wait staff to bring me a salad. Shock. Deep in the heart of cattle country came a Northerner following Ahimsa  (do no harm to anyone/thing). For me, that means no animal on any plate. 

Traveling in Southern India was uplifting for many reasons. Among them, signs everywhere indicated “pure veg” food and drink. In Israel, where milk and meat don’t mesh, it was pretty easy to find parve (neutral) vegan dishes. In smaller Mexican villages, I seek out humble street food, or freshly juiced drinks sold in plastic bags. All, made before my eyes, and to my specifications. But, in this “rich” land of whoppers and nuggets, our poor food choices too often reflect mindlessness rather than mindfulness.

Warrior 1: Acknowledge America’s Heartland Isn’t All Heart

As a vegetarian road warrior, I criss-crossed the country. Among my stops were America’s heartland.  Iowa. Kansas. North Carolina. Those were some of the places where my caloric intake was lower than normal.

Iowa is a pork industry state. The Iowa Pork Producers Association boasts, “At any one time, there are approximately 20 million pigs being raised in Iowa.” These are not your “Green Acres” Arnold Ziffel hogs that lounge in the living room. Rather, they are part of the killing industry that is propelled by Americans’ lack of mindfulness when it comes to eating. 

happy cows in Austria: ahimsaKansas has about 300 dairy “farms.” While traditionally yogis have consumed milk, butter and cheese, many are now vegan as a result of the increasingly inhumane dairies. One of my first yoga masters was from Austria. She spoke about the happy cows that nourished her in her childhood, which were a far cry from those in today’s profit-centric industries.

Meanwhile, North Carolina is the kiss of death for chickens.  About 6.5 billion pounds of these birds were packaged here last year. While Indian “pure veg” diets do not consume eggs, in the U.S., most vegetarians do. So, it’s important to understand that the egg-producing industry is no better than the broiler business.  The North Carolina Egg Association acknowledges, “We have approximately 9 million birds which lay about 7 ½ million eggs a day.” Again, nothing like the eggs that your neighbor has in the backyard.  Many claim the treatment of chickens in the U.S. is the dirtiest and cruelest of the food producing industries. 

Warrior 2:  Build Your Own Nest

baby chickWhen I first said no to meat, in the 1970s, the most common term to describe us may have been “rare bird.” There was minimal acceptance of people with special diets in my home state of Illinois. Even the airlines, back when they served food, sometimes handed me a tray with celery and carrot sticks. 

As a result, the warrior within has learned to shut out a bit of that culture clash to focus inward. That includes providing for myself.  When it comes to my extended trips out of the country, I pack quinoa, flax, protein powders, even dehydrated vegetables. Stateside, if I don’t already know where Whole Foods is, Siri can steer me. For quickie trips, I pack power or protein snacks.

To make it a bit tougher for me than my fellow vegetarian yogis, I refrain from all animal products, gluten, and high glycemic foods. And, I balance my doshas following other dietary rules, including the timing of my meals.

You can scour the terminals looking for something that fits your restrictions, and equally important, looks appetizing. From one city to the next, names change but there’s still the same unhealthy and non-veg conforming food choices. 

For my fellow rare birds that take their trail mixes on planes, here are a few of my finds in the vegan desert of airports. 

Warrior 3: Encourage Ahimsa in Your Purchases

Supply and demand. Fortunately, things are changing, and vegetarian options are becoming more common. But at airports, it’s still hard to choose healthy vegetarian options. Yes, there’s plenty of pizza, pretzels and pastries. Although those foods may be vegetarian, are they reflective of ahimsa to yourself, animals and the planet?

Make a difference, dollar by dollar. Buy plant-based healthy options, and vendors will provide more of those products. 

Global, Yet Local: Slow, Natural Foods 

dolmas at Zingerman's at Detroit airport

On a recent trip, armed with my low-glycemic power bars, one word — Zingerman’s —alerted me to a possible upcoming snack attack. Scanning the Detroit airport directory I had a hunch there was a treat for my belly and taste buds.

Zingerman’s is like the holy grail to folks in Ann Arbor. This Michigan-based “community of businesses” has a collection of top-notch culinary enterprises ranging from Zingerman’s Creamery to a Miss Kim, a Korean restaurant.

Founded as a traditional Jewish deli, 35 years ago, Zingerman’s is way past corned beef on rye or lox and bagels. All their brands seek to serve authentic global flavors, using local, slow and natural foods. 

Zingerman’s is a sit-down outpost smack dab in the center of the airport, under the names Plum Garden and Zingerman’s Coffee Company. You can mix and match items from the coffee shop, deli or store. There’s a bevy of healthy, tasty-looking food options to satisfy the pickiest of travelers. 

salads at Zingerman's at Detroit airportFor plant-preferred eaters, imagine the most scrumptious looking chocolate banana bread loaves from Zingerman’s Bakery’s to sweet chili peanuts and cinnamon almonds from Zingerman’s Candy Manufactory.  Refrigerated quick serve dishes include a Mediterranean bento bowl, dolmas, hummus with veggies, yogurt parfaits, wraps, and more. 

The deli counter serves hot scrambled eggs, roasted potatoes, organic steel cut oatmeal and a French toast casserole that looked out of this world.  There are half a dozen vegan, G-F, lower-card salads.  Brussels sprout shavings with colorful extras like cranberries and slivered almonds. Kale salad.  A Texas caviar with beans, corns, peas and quinoa. An Asian stir-fry salad chock full of tofu and broccoli.   

Latin American Food 

quinoa vs rice

Frances Moore Lappe’s 1972 best seller, “Diet for a Small Planet,” fueled an early wave of vegetarianism in the U.S. She discussed how traditional foods, as eaten today in many countries, do not rely on the large pieces of animal carcasses served at every meal. Since I read her book in college, I’ve been gung ho on rice and beans. At home, I skip the rice in favor of quinoa. On the road, I’ll give in to the rice. 

At the Mexico City airport, there are a gazillion places for your rice and beans dishes, served up in all different ways. However, with any Mexican food, you have to be sure they don’t use lard in the beans, or chips. And, sometimes the rice and/or sauces are made with Knorr bouillon. So ask. When I was young, lard seemed to be in all the beans. Nowadays, it rarely is. 

Traditional (Miami) Cuban rice and beans are not made with any animal products. You can’t beat Miami International Airport’s La Carreta for black bean soup, rice and plantain chips (mariquitas).   

The San Antonio airport’s Frutería serves rice and bean dishes, but I recommend their smoothies and green drinks. My favorite, custom-made, is a cleansing juice with nopales

But bottom line, play it safe. Honor ahimsa. As my grandmother insisted, take a piece of fruit along for the ride.

Rivas, Nicaragua

KARMA YOGA IN CENTRAL AMERICA

Karma Yoga, or Seva 

swami sivananda: example of Karma YogaMy Sivananda Yoga roots ingrained in me the importance of karma yoga. Some call it seva. Both expressions mean selfless service. Helping others, mankind, or nature, expecting nothing in return.

It’s easy for me to perform service. What’s hard is to not expect anything in return. I’m not talking about monetary remuneration, or an IRS break. But, inherently, when I — or most people, try to do good deeds, we are rewarded a blast of contentment. Not that we necessarily do the deeds to feel good, but we can’t erase the fact that we will reap some benefits. 

For the last five years, I’ve been doing karma yoga in Mexico and Central America. The more I give back, the more I get.  

Education is Not a Given

Ocean Academy Yoga, BelizeThis year, I was in Belize for six weeks. I led yoga and meditation at a non-profit high school.

Before the school was built, the majority of kids on this small island could not study beyond grade school. For those who did, they had to buy uniforms, books and supplies. Plus, they had to be able to afford transportation. No cars when they turned 16. In fact, there were no or paved roads on the island. These island kids had to take a 45-minute ferry to the mainland, then either walk, take a bus, or taxi to school. And in reverse, to go home each day.

I designed 90-minute workshops for the kids. While I expected nothing in return, being a part of the institution that made a difference in more than half the island’s youth was a big paycheck for me.  

Nicaragua

flooded road to Playa HermosaFor two years in a row, I was on the coast of Nicaragua when the worst storms in history passed through. 

I was one of about 100 people that took 4-wheel-drive vehicles down rivers and across streams. We headed to remote areas. Our charge was to clean the beaches and bring food, water and even tin roofs to marginal areas. The townspeople hadn’t had running water or electricity for several days.

Our 30-kilometer trip, along with our clean-up time, was close to four hours in our caravan.  Some of us were on edge due to the tedious trudging through muddy roads, crammed 20 to a truck. Yet, we could learn from the locals.

Post-Hurricane San Juan Del SurIn the absence of electricity, it was a street party. Kids and adults, locals and foreigners, played with the soccer balls we brought. Women ladled out food for those that didn’t have any. Young and old, there was no sense of despair. And yet, some of us despair if our internet connection is on the blink for a few minutes. 

Karma yoga? It wasn’t really selfless. I nabbed a free ride to the beach. A free t-shirt, which I gave away. More importantly, I got an invaluable experience.

My karma yoga annual practices have ranged from three weeks to three months.  The rest of the year, I try to re-integrate into society, with ad hoc karma yoga for non-profits. 

The man behind one community in Nicaragua, however, is a karma yogi. As one of my yoga mentors would say, he’s a conscientious entrepreneur. 

The Círculo 

children OstionalFor the most part, Nicaragua is unspoiled by multi-nationals’ monster-sized footprints.  Unsightly food chains are rare, and even the major hotel brands are nonexistent in most parts of this nation sandwiched between two oceans. It’s a country where travelers can find beauty in simplicity. 

Visitors to Nicaragua are comfortable in simple accommodations. Upgrades are not oversized pillows, a super duper shower head or an over-rated over-priced mattress. Rather, eco-friendly, organic vegetarian food, and proximity to a good surf, volcano or jungle are the perks here.

For many, like me, we feel a connection to the people and the land. 

Karmic Enterprise

Casa Oro Cafe, San Juan del Sur, NicaraguaMuffadal Saylawala was an investment banker. He said swapped his suits and briefcase for a backpack. After several years, something special rang out to him in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua.  He bought a run-down finca. Then, a hostel. Now, six properties.  

“The country is at a tipping point and we believe that we can help push which direction things move from the inside out,” says Muffa. “We are riding off a rising wave from the eco-conscious efforts of Costa Rica and targeting a widely underserved market. It is within our reach to transform Nicaragua into the premiere eco destination in the world, a place where the rest of the world comes to learn.” 

Muffa is the opposite of a Leona Helmsley, Paris Hilton or J.W. Marriott. It’s obvious that he’s committed to make the world a better place. His vision is to give back to Mother Nature, the economy and the local community. He is building a supply chain going to and from the farm and his eco-friendly accommodations.  

“We’re building bridges between worlds, peoples and communities.” Muffa explains, “We generously share what we’re doing with the hopes that San Juan Del Sur becomes the most authentic eco-travel destination in the world.”

Strengthening the Chain of Tree Huggers 

Rivas, NicaraguaHopefully, with every contact at one of Muffa’s properties, a touch of that respect for Mother Nature will grow exponentially. Rooms at Casa Oro are named: Regeneración, Transformación, Humanidad and Soñar.

First, “We know we’re not the only dreamers. We believe in collaboration. And, we seek to help people who wish they could live more holistically; the people who dream about leading a life full of meaning and fulfillment. We believe shared and united space fosters collaboration and creativity. Finally, we believe in building bridges between modern society and the new world — between business and nature — between travelers and locals.”

turtle release NicaraguaPart of the dream includes Muffa’s ever-morphing team of collaborators, like me. People from around the world drawn to Nicaragua for a multitude of reasons. Likewise, they come with a wide range of skill sets, speaking many languages, all choosing to reinforce a circle of sustainability.

In my case, I taught donation-based yoga.  A full 100 percent of the donations were destined for La Flor,a government-run turtle reserve.

“We’re all weaving together, collaborating, sharing space and resources. We are building something greater than any of us could have ever imagined doing alone: an intricate and enormous web of elements around the world living regeneratively.”

“The more that we give, the more we have to give,” he says.  “Our work is guided by design inspired by nature. Her system is the most optimal that we know; self-maintaining, beautiful and circular.”

The Bottom Line

San Juan del Sur, NicaraguaMuffa’s brand of conscientious entrepreneurialism uses business to preserve ecology. Furthermore, he uses business to empower communities, shape culture and as a space to foster community. His measurable objectives are nothing like those that I saw in my 40 years in the marketing world.

1. “I will measure how much physical soil is created by this project to give back to the earth.

2. “I will measure how much food is grown, how much electricity has been saved, and how many families in the local community are better because they were part of this project.

3. “I will measure how many people go home and do something to make their life more sustainable.

4. “I will measure how many synchronistic connections are spurred as a result of being in our spaces and interacting with people and places.”

Entirely self-less? Muffa is bound to get an immense feeling of contentment. And, he’s a big hugger. Hugging boosts endorphins. So he gets to feel good, too. There are always some perks with karma yoga, even if those aren’t the objectives. Just one more reason why karma yoga is my drug of choice.

swami sivananda

Swami Sivananda: From Contentment Comes Happiness

Swami Sivananda (1897-1963) was greatly responsible for the rise of yoga in the West. His teachings are instrumental to the way that I try to live. Speaking about one of yoga’s ten commandments, he said, “Contentment with whatsoever one obtains of its own accord without effort is Santosha. Riches and poverty are not counted by the amount of wealth one keeps. A king, if he keeps too many desires and if he wants more, is considered to be a beggar. A beggar, if he is contented with what he has, is really a king. From contentment comes real happiness. If a man has no contentment, his mind will be always wandering.”

Do the “Haves” Have Contentment?

Since I was a young child, the division between “haves” and “have nots” bothered me. Today, I seem to be drawn more to the worlds of the “have nots.” Void of physical possessions, they value things that I deem more important.

For example, just 48 hours since returning from three months in Central America, those divisions are glaring at me. 

Namely, I feel uncomfortable in a world where supply and demand necessitates big box stores. Where people load their carts (physical or online) with so much stuff that they don’t need. What one really needs is love.

Does “Stuff” Yield Contentment? 

Ostional after Hurricane Harvey

No power for a week, in Ostional, after Hurricane Harvey

In Nicaragua, my co-workers work six days a week. Many, commute. Or,  live beyond overflowing streams and rivers via unpaved roads in a tropical jungle. Their pay? $130 a month is the most recent government mandated minimum wage for the tourism sector.  

Fermin and Cruz are two night guards where I stay.

On my first day in town this year, Hurricane Harvey hit. Fermin lost his entire house. Half of Cruz’s home was washed away. it wasn’t a two-story brick house with white picket fence. Their living quarters were most likely simple concrete block walls topped with a tin roof held in place be heavy rocks, bricks or pieces of wood. Fermin lived in his home with his wife and children. His mother and sister lived in another building on the same lot. Their house, too, came crumbling down in Harvey’s force. 

Fermin and Cruz, despite the fact that their material worlds have been upturned, maintain their composure and professionalism. Neither Fermin nor his family can rebuild on the land they own. The river is too high. They are living in limbo. His mother and sister are with in-laws. Fermin and his family are with friends. During the day, he hangs out on a street corner, not far from where his home was.

What Is Necessary in Life?

Hurricane Harvey in Nicaragua

Aftermath of Hurricane Harvey in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua

Consider this. When Harvey hit, our entire region in Nicaragua was without water and electricity for a few days. The border crossing between Costa Rica and Nicaragua was closed for several days because of the lack of power.

On the other hand,  the night I returned to San Antonio our house is without water. We called the plumber, and they came at midnight to fix the problem. This is America, right? You can’t bear to be without running water for more than a few minutes. But you have to pay for it. A lot.

Power was just reinstated in the home of a friend’s elderly mother in Puerto Rico.  She’s one of the lucky ones. Seven weeks after Hurricane Maria, more than half of people on the island are without power. While Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens, it’s not a state. So the same rules don’t apply.  

Stateside, if Superman were to look into people’s homes or car trunks, maybe he would know what seem to be the necessities for John Q. Public. An iPhone 8? A Ford F-150? Sony PlayStations? A quadcopter? Starting with a daily Starbuck’s Caffe Latte?

However, where on the list of priorities do we place friends, families, neighbors, co-workers? Or, connection with nature?

Desires Are a Bottomless Pit

“There is no end for craving in the life of a worldly man,” taught Swami Sivananda. “That is the reason why a worldly man is ever restless despite his wealth and comforts. There is always dissatisfaction with his lot. He is ever discontented. Before one craving is satisfied, another craving is ready to occupy his mind, and this craving agitates the mind and makes a constant demand for gratification.”

In our society, we tend to be so focused — and attached — to material things. Yogic teachings do not say one must live in a cave. Rather, the problem is with attachment and lack of contentment. We must be able to release at any time. Just as from one day to the next, Cruz and Fermin lost their homes.

Detach from Possessions and Expectations

During my month in Nicaragua, many backpackers from all over the world fill my yoga classes. One young guy from the U.K. had just begun his adventure in Nicaragua. He was planning on being in Central America for three or four months with his childhood best buddy. All he had with him is one rather small and light tubular backpack.  Then, he got bit by a sting ray. The barb is embedded in his foot. He called his parents, and decided to leave the next day to return to the U.K. for treatment. 

“I’m so sorry you have to cut your travels short,” I tell him. His response exuded contentment: I get to be with my girl friend, and it’ll be more comfortable to have treatments while at home. He also shows detachment. First, for being on the road for that long without his family or girlfriend. Second, to change his plans and head across the Atlantic from one day to the next.

“Be not bound to anybody, any place or thing. Do not desire to possess. Possessions bring pain,” said Swami Sivananda.

Read more about contentment and detachment. 

yoga for healthy sleep patterns; sunrise yoga in Belize

Yoga and Healthy Sleep Patterns

Surya Namaskar: My Ayurvedic Dinacharya in Belize

yoga for healthy sleep patterns; yoga at sunriseI’m in Belize. By 6:30 at night, the sky is pitch black. There are no cars or trucks on my small island. That’s because there are no paved streets, anywhere. Nor, are there bright lights or neon signs hanging from the streets to bring about an unnatural sense of time. In my lifetime, they brought electricity to this island. Nonetheless, there’s no blasting of TVs. Just the occasional  rhythmic beats streaming out from the bars. Other than that, when it’s night, it’s quiet. As it should be, in my book. Here, or at home, I am loyal to my Ayurvedic dinacharya (routine). My prescribed lifestyle is all about optimum wellness, including  yoga and healthy sleep patterns. 

For one, I never eat after 7 p.m. Here, my light evening meal is closer to 5:00 p.m. I take a refreshing cold water shower once the sun is no longer at its peak. Then, I rub my skin with coconut oil laced with lavender and geranium essential oils. Abhyanga (oil massage), with my homemade oil, even helps repel mosquitos. Next, I chant. By 9 p.m., I’m in bed. More often than not, before then. 

So, in the wee hours of the morning, I’m wide awake. I squeeze a lime into my freshly made ginger tea. After I hydrate, I go to the water’s edge to begin my pre-dawn practice. Six breath work exercises followed by a dozen sets of sun salutations. As the sun rises, I lift my heart and head to honor it. No one is around. Except maybe one or two of my dogs. The breeze is cool. The morning sun is gentle. I hear the sounds of nature. Waves. Birds. Insects. Dogs. Occasionally, a bike rider passing near by, or a golf cart picking up the trash. Sometimes, the sound of a motor boat in the wake, filled with fisherman looking for crab, lobster or other catches.

This is my daily routine in Belize. The slogan for my island is appropriate.  “Go Slow.” I feel connected to nature in many ways. Among them, my body’s instinct to slow down when it’s dark, and rev up my brain and body with the sun. 

Getting a Good Night’s Sleep

moonlight is the time for sleepThe average American goes to sleep many hours after dark. In many “developed” countries it’s normal to eat dinner as late as 9 p.m. Plus, it’s all too common, in “modern” cultures for people to not get a good night’s sleep. Ayurveda points to many reasons for this, especially the time clock. Therefore, yoga and healthy sleep patterns are inseparable.

Ayurveda teaches us to be in sync with the elements:  earth, water, fire, air and ether. The elements represent your body, and the world in which you live. For me, it’s also about being in sync with nature. Including the sun and the moon. Day and night. Yang versus yin.  

For three decades, I’ve thrived without eight hours of sleep a night.  I don’t need as much zzz’s as others. My body and mind rest through my practice, on and off the mat. My current Ayurvedic routine contributes to releasing tensions and from my body and mind, while ensuring that my energy is flowing at the right times, and in the right ways.

Following are some of my tips for a restful sleep, along with those of Aadil Palkhivala. Aadil has been practicing yoga for 51 years. He has a very hectic world travel schedule, which aggravates the vata, thus, disturbing sleep patterns. What’s more, the man that was initiating into the yoga world at the age of seven, under the direction of B.K.S. Iyengar, has had to overcome “amazing injuries.”

Why We Need to Sleep Like a Baby

yoga for healthy sleep patterns to sleep like a baby

There are many reasons why rest, or sleep are essential for healthy living. For example, The New England Journal of Medicine reported that the number one cause for injuries was lack of sleep. And, when you lack just one hour of sleep, it’s similar to when you drink two glasses of wine.

“Sleep is the time when your body can move from its current sympathetic state to a state of healing. Healing ONLY happens in the parasympathetic response. It tells the body it is SAFE now to heal. If I don’t feel safe, I cannot move into the parasympathetic response. Creating a context of safety is crucial for sleep.”

I sometimes override the sleep state, by turning on the parasympathetic response system, directly. For example, when in a plane or other places when I know my sleep will be scant, I practice extended sessions of pranayama. Alternate nostril breathing with kumbhaka (retention and suspension of breath) is a great way to switch on the parasympathetic system.

Aadil says, “When the mind is oscillating, you can’t sleep. A scattered mind prevents you from sleeping.” According to Aadil, there was a very old woman in a hospital. She didn’t sleep for days. Then, someone held her hand. Voila. The comfort of human touch, and sense of carrying, was what she needed to fall asleep. Likewise, with babies. When you rock them, sing to them, touch their bodies or head, they will doze off. Even more apparent, when a baby is nursing, they are in a profound state of relaxation.  

When we are frazzled, we can’t sleep. Spooning may be a way to calm oneself. But, for those sleeping solo, breathwork or meditation are easy chill pills. 

Yoga and Healthy Sleep Patterns

cats-in-bed-restful-sleepA kirtan artist, GuruGanesha Singh, once told me that when he first entered a Kundalini/Sikh community, he was told they started their day at 4. He said no problem, thinking they meant p.m. The former rock musician was rocked out of his comfort zone when he learned the daily practice was at 4 a.m.

Before some have turned off the lights, I may be awake, feeling completely rested. Aadil explains that every hour of sleep before midnight is equivalent to 1.5 hours of rest. Hence, My three or four hours of early sleep are just as good as six hours of someone else’s later night sleep. Furthermore, he says that sleep after 6 a.m. is ineffective. Most yogic traditions, like the Kundalini, encourage morning sadhana (practice) before sunrise.

Pretty much all my life, I’ve been an early riser. Daylight is a trigger for me. My body — and brain — are most alert at dawn. Aadil explains that, “We are not just bodies. We are part of the sun and the moon.”  Traditional Chinese Medicine teaches us that the daytime sun gives us heat, energy, movement (pitta). Whereas, the evening moon is associated with coolness and stillness. 

Regardless of your dosha, most of us have a vata-induced lifestyle. Just as travel aggravates vata, deadlines, and working or thinking about work 24/7 wreaks havoc on your balance. Typically, vata folks get the least amount of sleep, whereas kaphas love their slumber and even naptimes. 

Good sleep depends on your lifestyle. “It’s the law of cause and effect. It’s that simple. Don’t expect good sleep,” says Aadil, if you don’t have a healthy routine. 

Five Tips for Yoga and Healthy Sleep Patterns

  • hibernating bear--yoga for healthy sleep patternsBlue light hinders sleep states. Hence, I light candles and turn on salt lamps before bedtime. No traditional lights, and most importantly, no TV, computers or smart phones.
  • “Our body is a body of light,” says Aadil. “The body feels claustrophobic in dark colors.” Feng Shui suggests earth and skin tones for bedrooms. Other options are light greens and lavenders, which I chose, as they remind me of a garden.  Similar to Ayurveda, Feng Shui says it’s essential to customize based on your constitution/elements. 
  • Food is energy. It’s not required for sleep, rather for active daytime activities. So, refrain from eating at least several hours before bedtime. Plus, food in the evening should be kapha-promoting. No spicy pitta-inducing foods. However, camomile, mint or other soothing herbs are good. 
  • I repeat mantras before bed to relax my body and mind. Yin yoga, meditation or breath work are other good options. Aadil suggests inhaling for a count of two, exhaling for a count of four (to kick in the parasympathetic system) and suspending the breath for a count of three.
  • Consider body mechanics.  Aadil explains that the area from the occipital ridge on the skull to T2 (about the level of your clavicle) play a big part in the parasympathetic activation. 
    • Therefore, he suggests practicing bridge poses, with deltoids rolled under the body. Or, try a supported yin bridge. Another option is legs up a wall. Whichever you choose, hold as long as possible and focus on your breath. To release, lift the hips up and down nine times to reactivate spine. 
    • Another asana he recommends at bedtime is supta padangustasana as the pull on the Achilles tendon travels all the way to the occipital ridge.
    • Aadil says the spine shrinks with fear. Therefore, he suggests stretching the spine every single night. Consider a restorative downward dog. 

For more on yoga and healthy sleep patterns, read one of my earlier articles. Or, check out Aadil’s site.  ”Born a yogi, inside his mothers womb,” he’s author three Yoga Teacher Training manuals and Fire of Love and contributes to Yoga Journal and Prevention magazine.

dhyana mudra tibetan meditation mudra

Yoga Is Everywhere, or Is It? What Is yoga?

Yoga Is everywhere — Yet Hardly Anywhere At All

yoga is an ancient wisdom. image of buddha.Yoga has spread so wide, that it is now very shallow.  In Hong Kong, for example, between 20,000 and 30,000 people say they practice yoga every day.  Crowded into large buildings, what they’re doing is not really yoga, says Aadil Palkhivala. So, what is yoga?

Aadil Palkhivala know what is yoga. For sure. He was “born a yogi, inside his mothers womb.” By age of seven, he was a “full-time yogi” under the guidance of BKS Iyengar.  He is considered one of the finest yoga teachers. Aadil has his own institute, but he travels all over the world teaching, and speaking, to share his knowledge. He’s author of three yoga teacher training manuals, and a book called Fire of Love. Additionally, he contributes to Yoga Journal and Prevention magazines. 

Interestingly, after 51 years of dedication to yoga, he has found balance to obtain degrees in physics and math, and jurisprudence.

What Is Yoga

What follows, are some of Aadil’s thoughts about what is yoga. His remarks are based on workshops and lectures for Yoga Therapists that I attended in California. 

Yoga Is Tried and True

First, consider yoga’s astonishing lineage. It has been practiced for approximately 16,000 years. Hence, it has to be respected. The deeper we dive into it, and conduct clinical studies, the more we vindicate its authenticity.

Yoga Isn’t Just Asana 

yoga isn't about poses: mindfulness. image of buddha with mala.Of course the poses have their benefits. But, Aadil likens them to being a temporary band-aid.  

Voltaire said, “The art of medicine consists of keeping the patient in a good mood, while nature does the healing.” 

Only after realizing the underlying issues can the healing take place. That’s also the foundation for Ayurveda and TCM and how I try to work with my clients. 

Rein In the Monkey Mind

Yogas-citta-vrtti-nirodhah. The second sutra teaches us the importance of calming our mind.  Yoga is the control of our wandering mind. Calming the consciousness. 

We Are Part of the Universe

We are not just bodies. Actually, we are standing on earth, breathing in air, bathing in water, and connecting with the sun and the moon. We are part of the entire universe and its elements. Likewise, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda, both of which are foundations of my yoga therapy, are rooted in the balance of elements. 

Physical Issues Aren’t Always Physical Issues 

The masters understood that physical problems don’t begin in the physical body. Rather, they manifest there. Again, this is part of Ayurvedic teachings, and Ayurveda is considered the sister to yoga.

Honor Your Spirit Soul

what is yoga? cessation of the monkey mind.Part and parcel of the physical body is your spirit soul, your emotions and your thoughts. Problems start when connections with the spirit and the rest are broken. Yoga, of course, is the connection (yoke) between those. “If it weren’t for your soul, you’d be gone. Poof, says Aadil. ”When there’s a disconnection between the spirit and the rest of you, you get a reminder from the universe. Her reminder is pain. The great master, and my teacher, Sri Aurobindo, said ‘pain is the signature of the ignorance. Attesting the secret god denied by life.’”

Real therapy is making that connection with your spirit. Until then it’s a band-aid. It’s “allopathic yoga.” The spirit is very very direct. If you don’t like to be told what to do, forget spirituality. 

Listen to Your Heart

You have an innate knowledge. Just as people talk about a “gut reaction,” it’s really the heart that is guiding them. But, most don’t honor or recognize that.  Aadil asks, “If you have a home, why do you spend your lives in other peoples’ homes? The point is, that we have a home in our heart, not in our head. Healing happens at home. Your inner awareness is far greater than you can fathom.” 

We Are Beings of Light

what is yoga? enlightenment.Your mind plays a very big role in the effect on your body. Massive. 

Aadil explains that according to physics, there are two types of particles. Bosons and fermions. So far, science has always believed they were independent of each other. Yet, they, like so many things, are interconnected and interrelated. Bosons are the glue that holds fermions together. “You can, with your mind, create a boson.” Since photons are related to bosons, that essential means that we are able to create light. “We are amazingly powerful human beings. We waste our potential.”

Continuing from his scientific mind, he notes a DNA Phantom Effect study in Moscow. Researchers found that when a laser was beamed into a tube containing DNA, the DNA absorbed the light. More notably, after removing the laser light, it retained that light for 30 days. 

Likewise, he alludes, whenever the body heals, you are activating a strand of the DNA.  Strands are only activated when DNA is unwound. Through yoga, we smoothen that inner ladder.

Purity In the Heart and Soul

purity in the heart and soul: mindfulness. image of buddha with mala.In closing, I’d like to give a translation of the gayatryi mantra. Like the DNA configuration, it is said that the benefits of chanting the gayatri spiral out from the chanter, into the universe. Some consider it a peace prayer. Peace within and peace outside. Others, a calling for divine wisdom.  Consequently, some repeat this mantra, nightly, at bedtime. Or, upon rising. Aadil equates the meaning of this mantra to be the foundation of yoga. 

There are so many translations for this beautiful heart-opening mantra. The following is from my Chant and Be Happy workshop, tweaked by Aadil’s words. 


Om Bhur Bhu-va Sva-ha. Tat Sa-vi-tur Va-re-nyam. Bhar-go De-va-sya Dhi-ma-hi. Dhi-yo Yo Na Pra-cho-da-yat.

On the absolute reality and its planes, On that finest spiritual light, represented by the sun, We meditate, as remover of obstacles. Come fill our consciousness. That it may inspire and enlighten us with effulgence. 

 

Love and Freedom Yoga by Fiorella Duran

Affirmations: Prayer of Love and Freedom, by Fiorella Duran

Rarely do I post guest blogs. Today, I do, as Fiorella Duran’s “Prayer of Love and Freedom,” is a beautiful outpouring of affirmations. And, I’m a strong advocate of daily affirmations.  

artwork by Fiorella Duran: prayer of love affirmations

I worked for Fiorella last year. A Costa Rican, she was living in San Juan del Sur, Nicaragua. I can attribute my wonderful experience there, in part, due to her spirit and energy.  All that is visible in her prayer of love affirmations, and in her artwork, shown here. 

We shared time on the mat together. Did a five- or six-hour solstice ceremony together. Climbed a barely trodden jungle-like peak together. Shared quiet time on the beach together. Honored the richness of permaculture and sustainability together. 

While I head back to Nicaragua in October, she’s in Costa Rica. Committed to an eco-friendly community, and her creative talents.  Catch more of her beautiful art on Instragram@loveandfreedomyoga. Or, visit her blog.

Powerful Affirmations: Prayer of Love and Freedom 

Garden in my heart by Fiorella DuranNever again I will be afraid to:
Communicate
Get lost
Be myself

I will:

Provide for myself
Get dirty
Keep it simple
Always answer with love
Show I care

I am:
Beautiful
Smart
Worthy

Capable 

I committed to follow:

libertad by Fiorella DuranMy feelings
Read the signs
Honor nature

I will always be:
Grateful
Free
Honest
Respectful

Every day of my life I will love:
Myself
Wildly
Unconditionally

Every leaving creature

I believe in:

Me

You

Love

Hope

Everything is at my reach and everything is possible

Sacred images of Krishna at Blanton Museum of Art

Stories and Images of Krishna for Janmashtami

Krishna’s Birth and Janmashtami 

Images of Krishna and RadhaJanmashtami is an important Vaishnava holiday commemorating the birth of Krishna. A two-day celebration takes place this weekend at Austin’s Radha Madhav Dham temple and gardens. In San Antonio, Krishna communities host events, Sunday. In all, images of Krishna will be venerated. That’s because, according to the ancient texts, Lord Krishna is an incarnation of Vishnu. In fact, the name Krishna, means all attractive. 

Swami Sivananda, in “Bliss Divine” writes, “Vishnu incarnated with lotus eyes, with four hands armed with conch, disc, mace and lotus, with the mark of Srivatsa adorning the chest. Vasudeva (his birth mother) saw this marvel of a divine child.”

“He was the world-teacher,” says Sivananda of Krishna. “Sri Krishna was a perfect Master.  He was a Karma Yogi, Bhakta, Raja Yogi and Jnana Yogi. He preached Karma, Upasana (worship), Yoga and Jnana. The four Yogas are blended in His Gita or the Immortal Song. He was the one Lord of love. His enchanting form, with flute in hand, holds the heart of India captive in chains, even today.”

The Times of India says Lord Krishna was born 5,200 years ago and his birthplace is lit up on Janmashtami. The newspaper refers to the “Bhagavad Gita” to further describe this day.  “…whenever there will be a predominance of evil and decline of religion, Lord Vishnu will reincarnate and save the earth from all that is evil. The main purpose behind the celebration of Janmashtami along with Lord Krishna’s birthday is the prevalence of goodwill and this is what unites people from different regions together on the auspicious occasion.”

Stories Come to Life

images of krishna and garudaThese tales, and more, are depicted in illustrations from a San Diego collection.

Most are based on epics like the Ramayana or Bhagavata Purana.

One area, however, is devoted to Persian-language literature like the Shahnama. Yet another area, is musical illustrations. These are known as Ragamala. Typically, these were sets of 36 paintings, thus, creating a garland (mala) of images pertaining to the music (ragas)

The exhibit is at Austin’s Blanton Museum of Art through October 1.  Epic Tales from Ancient India features stories and images of Krishna. Traditional Indian music is piped into the gallery space. 

There are dozens and dozens of illustrations of Krishna and others from the ancient scriptures in the Blanton exhibit. Images of Krishna, Yashoda, Radha, Balaram are mostly from the 1600s. They tend to be very detailed, tiny stories on paper.

Here are a few examples.

Images of Krishna in Art

birth of KrishnaTo protect Krishna against a terrible prophesy, his birth parents entrusted him to Yashoda and Nanda. Krishna’s birth, and escape from the jail where he was born, are expressed in a watercolor circa 1560.

The exhibit description explains several of the scenes in this piece. 

“When Devaki gives birth to her eight son, Krishna, no ordinary infant, but rather an incarnation of the god Vishnu, a carefully conceived plan ensures the child’s safety.  In this image, the blue-skinned Krishna sits on a lotus throne…At the center, the prison door is left unchained. Its two guards and their dogs have fallen fast asleep, enabling Vasudeva and Krishna’s midnight escape to the distant land where Krishna will be raised.” 

Krishna overcomes BakasuraKamsa sends demons out to harm baby Krishna. One of those demons is disguised as a crane, Bakasura.  

“Bakasura attacked from behind a tree, capturing Krishna in his beak, In the story, the crane swallows Krishna but is forced to expel him when his palate begins to burn…Krishna seizes the two halves of Bakasura’s beak to rip the crane into two pieces as his brother, Balarama, and another cowherd boy wield their sticks to assist in subduing the demon.” 

In another tale, Krishna overcomes a forest fire. After defeating a serpent, Krishna and his father return home. Tired, the fall asleep at the Yamuna river.  

“At this point, a massive forest fire starts, and Krishna must rescue his people again. In the illustration, the fire that encircles the group looks like a garland of yellow flowers, within which Krishna is depicted twice…On the left, he sleeps alongside his brother Balarama and foster father Nanda…On the right, he drinks up the flames…”  

images of krishna and gopisAn opaque watercolor, from the mid 1700s shows Krishna explaining worship. There are multiple stories within the painting, representing how worship is passed on, from one to another. The eye is drawn to a colorful flower. At the yellow center of the flower, are Vishnu and Garuda. His attendants and other deities are pictured on each of the eight pink petals. 

A gallery text explains one of the pieces from around 1690.

“A telling of the story in the vernacular language of Brajbasha on the verso describes Krishna as sitting among the gopis as they together form a circle and enact the rasalila performance. Krishna multiplies himself and dances between the women. Witnessing this wonderful spectacle, gods gather while heavenly musicians and dancers join in the revelry.”

Krishna was ever popular among the gopis (cow herder girls).

“The love that the Gopis bore towards Krishna was a divine love. It was the union of souls,” says Sivananda. He adds that his flute attracted them. “It produced God-intoxication in all beings and infused life even in insentient objects. The sweetness of the music was unsurpassed.”

Epic Tales from Ancient India in Austin

Epic Tales from Ancient IndiaAs part of the Blanton show, there will be a sarod and tabla concert on September 21. Then, on September 22, there will be a lecture. Additionally, each Thursday, Saturday and Sunday will be storytelling and dance. A UT grad student, with then years of Indian classical dance experience, will perform.

The Blanton was founded in 1963 as UT’s Art Museum. Therefore, admission is free to current UT staff and students. Likewise, admission is free for teachers and active military. Typically, the museum is open Tuesdays through Sundays until 5 p.m. However, the third Thursday of every month, the museum is open until 9 p.m.