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.

Dhanvantari, deity for Ayurveda

Natural Healing According to a Nicaraguan Herbalist vs Ayurveda

To learn about natural healing, I choose a homestay with Dona Lucia in Nicaragua.  Call her a curandera, herbalist, or a campesina. Clearly, Lucia understands the value of nature as medicine. We relate. First, I believe in natural healing. For example, I have great respect for the Ayurvedic, Traditional Chinese Medicine, and Indigenous teachings. 

homemade milk in NicaraguaPlant-based Organic Foods

Secondly, I am an advocate of plant-based diets. In these remote mountains, families eat mostly organic vegetarian foods. They aren’t following trends. Rather, they are self-sufficient.

They respect their farm animals. Actually, Lucia’s husband milks their cows daily. And, with the several buckets of milk they get, daily, they make their own cheese. Due to no refrigeration, cheese is consumed quickly.

As a result, Lucia’s typical plate has rice, beans, fresh tortillas, plantains and cheese. At times, she may add a bit of vegetables or chicken. What’s more, thermoses of coffee and herbal tea stay on the table all day. 

Their water comes from a well. Likewise, light comes from solar panels. These homes have no outlets. Nor, flush toilets. Yet, they have large rooms with beautiful plants and trees surrounding them. 

Natural Healing Tips from Nicaragua

natural healing in NicaraguaInterestingly, while Lucia and I come from different backgrounds, many of her natural healing recipes are similar to mine.

Spinach.  My body craves spinach. Lucia says that it’s good for the blood and circulation. I know I need circulation boosts.

Basil.  Lucia makes a compress out of basil. She adds cedar, basilica and garlic for bruises or body pains. Basilica, she says, is good for the nerves and low blood pressure/fainting.

Cilantro helps restore the levels of iron in the blood, she says. It’s also good for colic. Ayurvedically speaking, cilantro is a great balancer for the doshas. I add it to all my juices and smoothies.

natural healing in NicaraguaGinger. Hands down, this one of my favorites. I make fresh ginger lemon tea, daily.  In my book, it’s good for the thyroid and digestion. It’s also a good dosha balancer, particularly for those with tendencies for respiratory issues. Not surprisingly, Lucia uses it for digestion, plus coughs. 

Licorice. Ayurvedic wisdom says licorice pacifies vata and pitta. Among other things, it is an expectorant.  Lucia claims that it is good for the throat. In particular, for people that are feeling hoarse.

Absinth (Wormwood). Not as common as some of the other herbs, this is one Lucia likes for internal and external infections.

Lemongrass. I once interviewed someone about the healing qualities of lemongrass, according to traditional Thai beliefs.  While it tastes great in stir fry, the essential oil smells wonderful, too. In India, not unlike in Thailand, lemongrass is credited for healing many disorders. Lucia says it’s good for de-stressing. Once stress is managed, you can minimize other dis-eases.

Epazote. Native to Central America, this herb is believed to be beneficial in the treatment of parasites. Lucia says it’s also good for cramps. 

Altamisa/Mugwort. This is your PMS relief, according to Lucia. Similarly, Ayurveda says it’s good for the uterus, and hormonal cramping or discomfort. 

Valerian. Lately, valerian is popular in the Western world. Many enjoy valerian essential oil to help them sleep at night. Ayurvedic recommendations for valerian include to ease the nerves and promote blissful sleep. It’s also suggested to help skin, digestion, and balancing of the doshas. So, it’s not surprising that Lucia uses this herb for insomnia and nerves.

Waste Not, Want Not

In the mountains where Lucia lives, nothing is wasted. They buy their own rice and oil, but most everything else is from their farm.

Lucia and her husband give the bad corn kernels to the livestock to eat. The corn ears are used as firewood in their wood-burning stove. 

They use all parts of plants. For example, Lucia takes resin from the banana root and infuses it in hot water to treat diarrhea. The leaves of oranges, along with many other fruit leaves, are used to flavor herbal teas. Plus, they provide medicinal oomph.

Don’t Leave Out the Leaf

herbalists natural healing vs Ayurveda

Orange.  This one, according to Lucia, is good for balancing the nerves. She also says it’s good for pregnant women. 

Guarumo. Here’s another example of taking leaves of a Mesoamerican tree for medicinal uses. Lucia suggests soaking the guarumo leaves in hot water and making compresses. These are good for intestinal woes like colitis.

Dandelion. These nasty weeds are getting popular among the natural healing crowds.  Lucia recommends it for anemia. Not surprising, it is loaded with vitamins and minerals, including iron.  In Ayurveda, dandelion is said to help balance the liver and blood. Dandelion tea is especially appropriate for counteracting pitta imbalances. 

Mango. Lucia uses mango leaves for teas, compresses and bathing. She says it’s good for inflammation. I add fresh ginger to my home-made mango juice. With cilantro, it’s refreshing and balancing for the doshas.  

Guava used for natural healingGuava. I have an extreme dislike for cough syrups. Primarily because they have a high alcohol content. Fruit leaf tea seems more soothing. Lucia says it works, and that it’s also good for nausea and vomiting. According to TheAyurveda.org, guava is good to reduce phlegm. And, “Since, 1950s the leaves of Guava tree is used as a potential medicine to cure many diseases like Diabetes, cholesterol and heart problems.”

Limonaria. Here’s another leaf that shouldn’t be discarded. Lucia says it can be used for toothaches. Of course, a dentist is the best fix. But, when you’re isolated in the mountains, you need first-respondent natural healing care even more. 

Jocote. This is a Central American fruit.  Lucia takes the leaf and grinds it up. Then, she adds it to the juice, with lemon, to soothe ulcers. 

Cinnamon. Beyond the sticks, Lucia says the leaves are good in tea for pregnant women. She often mixes them with fruit leaves.

Finally, read more about life in this remote agricultural community. Or, learn more about Ayurvedic diets, on one of my blog posts. 

Jaya Lakshmi at Bhakti Fest

Benefits of Bhakti: Chanting and Singing Feels Good

Sankirtana. Singing feels good.Music is a part of my life. I play no instruments. I’m not a trained musician. But, music is in my heart, and in every cell of my body. That’s why chanting (bhakti yoga or kirtan) is one of the most important aspects of yoga for me. Yes, chanting is yoga. As is dancing. 

When I was a kid, I felt something special when I would sing with my sister. After seeing “The Sound of Music” and “Mary Poppins,” some of the songs were on automatic replay in my head. I couldn’t stop singing. Now, it’s the same way. But it’s mantras that keep circulating through my heart and my mind. I try to share that appreciation with my students. In classes, even if I’m playing Mary J. Blige or Stephen Marley, I’ll intersperse a rhythmic mantra.  

Sankirtana. Singing feels good.Once or twice a year, I go to kirtan festivals. Recently, I was in California for Bhakti Fest. The following weekend I went to North Carolina for Sadhu Sanga. Both were gatherings of several thousand bhaktas. People, like me, that have been touched by the power of sankirtana (group chanting).

One of the most beautiful things about Bhakti Fest and Sadhu Sanga is the energy. Beyond the beautiful sounds and rhythms, there is a special atmosphere. Bliss. Devotion. Whatever you want to call it. That’s what bhakti is all about. In fact, one of the translations for bhakti is devotion. When you practice san kirtan that special feeling is magnified a thousand times.

Kirtan Fest Houston

Kirtan Fest HoustonNow, there’s a kirtan festival in Texas.  Labor Day weekend. September 2 to September 4.  The venue is the most beautiful ISKCON temple.

Kirtan Fest Houston brings together kirtan artists who travel around the world. Karnamrita Das is one. I’ve sung with her in California. Amala Kirtan Das is a Brazilian-born musician with whom I’ve chanted several times in Austin. In addition to many others leading the group chanting will be San Antonio’s Advaita Acharya Das. He’s my personal conductor. He’s moved my life in many ways. Not just getting me to dance or sing, but to make a difference in my life. To live the principles of yoga.

This is your chance to feel the power of group chanting without leaving the big state of Texas. In fact, Advaita is coordinating caravans to get to and from Houston. 

Kirtan Fest HoustonAdvaita quotes the scriptures to explain the value of chanting. 

“Compared to that person who is attached to chanting japa (beads), the person who performs loud chanting of the holy name of Sri Hari is one hundred times better. This is because the person who chants japa purifies himself, whereas the person who chants the holy name loudly in kirtana purifies himself, all those who are with him, and everyone else who hear the holy vibration.”

Quoting the scriptures, he adds, “The animals, birds, and insects cannot chant the holy name, but by hearing the holy name chanted they can benefit. Chanting the japa of the holy name of Krishna purifies oneself, but the loud sankirtana of the holy name of Krishna benefits all living beings. Therefore, loudly chant the holy name of Krishna in kirtana, and you will get one hundred times the benefit of chanting japa. This is the verdict of all the sastras.”

Advaita’s Tips for First Time Chanting

1) Get as close to the kirtan circle as possible. Imagine fire. The closer you are, the more wholesome is the experience.
2) Don’t burn yourself.  Respect the fire. Respect kirtan sound and you will be able to feel something without touching it, and see something with your eyes closed.
3) Don’t come to kirtan tired. Don’t over eat, or eat not enough. 
4) Remember your body is a temple. Focus on PPP:  Posture. Pronunciation. Presence.

It Feels Good

Girish is one of the frequent Bhakti Fest musicians. At this year’s Shakti Fest I attended one of his workshops. Kind of like Singing 101.  

“Every one of us is born to sing,” he said. “Each and every one of our bodies is a unique musical instrument. Are we a cello, or are we a flute, or trombone in this symphony of life?”

Girish pointed to research that validates what I learned as a young kid. Singing feels good.

Chanting is Good for you“It’s scientifically proven that singing is really really good for us. Singers have lower cortisol levels, by about 15 percent. It activates the parasympathetic system. It lowers our blood pressure and calms our mind.”

And, especially when we do so with groups of people (sankirtana). Think about singing at places of worship, or jamming with your friends or family. What’s more, Girish says when you sing in sanga (community of likeminded people), “Our heart beats and brain waves sync up.”

Girish said that freeing the voice is freeing the person. Moreover, “Our voice is a bridge between the inner world and the outer world. Singing and chanting is the best way to bring that forth. It’s not about having an amazing voice. I myself identify as a drummer who sings. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries.”

Girish’s Tips for Singing

  1. Find your key. The majority of women are most comfortable in the key of A. On the other hand, men usually prefer C. 
  2. Relax the jaw, tongue and throat. Try a few lion’s breaths before you start to sing. 
  3. The dan tien (a few fingers below the belly) is the root of the voice. In Daoist practices this spot is special. It’s where energy brews. A sea of qi (prana). Similar to with yogic breathing, expand the flower pot, beginning here.

Girish told us that the word voice is related to the word invocation. Both come from the Latin  voxdictionary.com defines invocation as the act of invoking or calling upon a deity, spirit, etc., for aid, protection, inspiration, or the like; supplication. Another definition is a form of prayer invoking God’s presence, especially one said at the beginning of a religious service or public ceremony. So, that can be interpreted as chanting is a form of invoking that connects one with a higher spirit. 

Jaya Lakshmi at Bhakti FestGirish first explored devotional singing when he was in college. There,  he found Kundalini yoga. Then, he deepened his chanting practice when he lived as a monk for five years. He studied Sanskrit and translated many mantras.   Translations are hard, especially from Sanskrit, because there are so many interpretations. About “Om Nama Shivaya,” one of my  ingrained mantras, he makes it simple.  “I honor the inner Self. Shiva. The light of consciousness within me.”

Similarly, Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda are popular singing yogis at Bhakti Fest. 

Jaya Lakshmi acknowledged that Kundalini yoga was the gateway for her devotion. Not surprising, since mantra meditation is very much a part of the Kundalini tradition. Additionally, she said “mantras have such potency.”

Ananda’s Tips for Mantras

“The best mantra to practice is the one you are going to practice. You have to find the joy in it. For me, the Lakshmi mantra is the one I go to. We go through different phases. Whatever makes you a better person. The way is your intuition…your heart.”

One of my favorite recordings of Jaya Lakshmi and Ananda is “Divine Lover’s Maha Mantra.” The maha mantra is widely celebrated. It’s always the grand finale at Bhakti Fest and is the mainstay at Sadhu Sanga and the upcoming festival in Houston. Advaita leads it throughout San Antonio, and beyond. He explains that “maha means great… great mantra for upliftment and restoration of our original loving nature that will swell in your heart more and more, the more you chant.”

 

yoga and meditation for creating health and balance

Yoga Therapy for Creating Health

It’s easy to draw a line between yoga and flexibility, calm and a focused mind. Now that pencil points to yoga therapy for creating health.

Dr. Sat Bir Singh Khalsa has been a yoga practitioner for four decades.  Aside from his personal practice, he’s director of research for the Kundalini Research Institute, research director of the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health, and an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School. Grounded in data, he had a dream. His vision was to see a conference dedicated to yoga research. 

Now, it’s a reality.  In fact, the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT) holds two conventions every year. One, the Symposium on Yoga Therapy and Research (SYTAR), is a general membership conference. SYTAR sheds light on research advances, among other things, relevant to yoga therapy schools and therapists. The second, the Symposium on Yoga Research (SYR) is solely about research. SYR disseminates recent research findings, with a focus on opportunities for collaboration and interaction between yoga researchers.

The Stage is Set for Creating Health with Yoga Therapy

yoga and meditation for creating health and balanceToday, there are more than 5,000 IAYT members in 53 countries. I attended the ninth annual SYTAR gathering last month in Newport Beach.  Member practitioners from Australia, the U.K., Japan, China, Denmark, Colombia, India and Puerto Rico attended. Plus, there were hundreds of North Americans, and a large contingency from California.

“We are on the cusp of change,” said Dr. Khalsa. “37 million Americans are practicing yoga. It’s an exponential curve. We are seeing a major transition of yoga into the schools, workplace and health care. Yoga is in 80 hospitals in Sweden.” 

These institutions require evidence-based research, explained Dr. Khalsa. Fortunately, yoga researchers have the facts to prove the benefits of yoga. There is data related to a myriad of conditions ranging from Alzheimer’s prevention to scoliosis to PTSD. 

“Yoga therapy research is exploding. We’re going up in quality and quantity.” When you review the evidence-based data, it’s a no-brainer.

“Application of yoga therapy is always beneficial as an adjunct therapy as it can improve stress, mood and quality of life in patients.  In some disorders such as insomnia, it may be reasonably considered as an efficacious first-line treatment,” suggested Dr. Khalsa. Not surprisingly, “Twice as many yoga practitioners claim they have better health (than non-yoga followers), and yogis use less meds —and cigarettes, and exercise more.”

Yoga As A Way of Life

yoga and meditation for creating health and balanceHowever, what many don’t realize is that yoga is a way of life. Hence, yoga therapy, for me, is lifestyle management. 

While I’ve been practicing yoga most my life, I amped up my practice as I got older.

For me, it was about creating health. Today, I’m at my lowest post-adolescent weight. Plus, chronic back pain and digestive disorders are rarely a nuisance. More importantly, as a 60-year-old diabetic, I take zero allopathic meds. As I deepened my yoga practice, I scrubbed up my already healthy yogic (vegetarian, alcohol- and caffeine-free) lifestyle. Goodbye dairy and gluten.  Now, I follow an Ayurvedic dinacharya for creating health. I have work/life balance. Moreover, I’ve found physical, energetic, emotional, and spiritual balance.

Burnout is a major problem in our society. We want more, more, more, and work, work, work. That doesn’t jive with yogic ways.

“We see essentially a rat race,” said Dr. Khalsa. “We need to be able to change our life meaning and purpose. Modern medicine is incapable of doing this.” Our current system is “disease care, not health care,” he asserts. 

Research Supports Benefits of Yoga and Creating Health

sat Bir khalsa-principles-and-practice-of-yoga-in-health-careAs mentioned in his books, “Your Brain on Yoga, A Harvard Medical School Guide,” and “The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care,” Khalsa points to compelling scientific evidence. Yoga and meditation can change our brains, and our lives. Yoga is a stress buster and a positive mental attitude booster. 

Research done in conjunction with Austin’s Yoga Yoga confirmed that yoga minimizes stress.  Furthermore, studies of young musicians at Tanglewood found that after just six weeks of a yoga practice, they were more “in the zone” and had increases in mindfulness and the flow state and improvements in mood.  

Mindfulness is a buzz word now. So is organics. Yet, the vast majority of Americans still don’t get with the program. Not surprisingly, non-communicable diseases, many of which are stress-induced or stress-aggravated, are at all at time high. The United States is tops in obesity. 

“Modern medicine does not emphasize self-regulation, self-care, or mind-body awareness (which yoga does). The public expects immediate gratification and that’s a problem. Patients don’t feel they have to do anything. We are spending more, and are less healthy. The only strategies doctors use are fear.” 

Fortunately, the bell tide is starting to turn. Dr. Dean Ornish conducted research in conjunction with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for 16 years. In 2010, Medicare began to reimburse costs for Ornish’s lifestyle-based program. So, in essence, Medicare recognized yoga therapy for heart disease.

Dr. Khalsa is in tune with Dr. Ornish, who wrote the forward to Khalsa’s “The Principles and Practice of Yoga in Health Care.” Change must be from the bottom up, both in respect to wellness, and our failing medical system. 

Change Agents Creating Health

yoga and meditation for creating health and balanceLikewise, John Weeks, editor of the Journal of Complementary Medicine lectured at SYTAR. Weeks acknowledged one of the problems with healthcare in our society is that wellness does not incentivize.

That said, he agreed that mainstream medicine is getting the hint. Weeks referred to Donald Berwick, the former administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. In fact, Berwick has openly stated we need change agents. The Harvard-trained pediatrician, influenced by Jon Kabat Zinn and Dr. Ornish, has fought relentlessly to improve the state of health care. Consequently, his takeaway is that we must create health. 

Similarly, in The Huffington Post, Weeks mentioned a survey among health care professionals.  Namely, 84 percent agreed that “Complementary and alternative medicine is a tool of our deeper mission of transformation which will only be successful if we help birth in the U.S. a thriving industry of health creation.”

In conclusion, Weeks says, “A huge door to such a transformation is swinging open.”