Monday, March 31, 2014

5 ways to deepen your Yoga practice with Ahimsa

अहिंसा - AHIMSA - Non Harming/Non Violence in thoughts, words, or deeds. Compassion for all living beings.

While the popularity of yoga is growing worldwide, many people are discovering that yoga is more than just a physical exercise.  It truly is a path to spiritual liberation.  Let's remember that the meaning of "spirit" is to breathe life into, we are all made from spirit (breath: life force energy/prana), and yoga is a practice that teaches us to unite with our breath.  This liberation begins with understanding the 8 Limbs of yoga.

Many yogis take their practice to the next level with the study and embodiment of the 8 Limbs of yoga.  The first two limbs being Yamas and Niyamas comprise the ethical rules for the yoga aspirant.  The Yamas and Niyamas are the foundation of our yoga practice, the path to liberation.

The first Yama is Ahimsa, which means non violence/non harming to all living beings in thoughts, words, or actions.  This yama asks the yoga aspirant to take responsibility for their actions, choices, thoughts and be guided by compassion.  Here are 5 ways to implement ahimsa into your life

1) Plant based diet - While this respects the life of the animal it also is a choice of compassion to our own body as it is better for digestion and cell rejuvenation to consume plant based diets. It is also better for the environment due to excessive waste from factory farms, and it releases the chance to consume any karmic residue from the animal.  There are delicious smoothie, juice, and raw food or warm food vegetarian/vegan recipes available.  For people in North America, local farm foods or organic produce is always a good option, familiarize yourself with the "dirty dozen" and "clean fifteen".  For those omnivores out there this point is to encourage you to add more fruits and veggies into your diet, your body will thank you. 

2) Love Thyself - This itself can be a huge topic to discuss about self love.  Surround yourself with people, habits, literature, experiences that elevate your soul and bring joy to your life.  Be good to your body in yoga class with breath initiated movement, and child pose if necessary.  Let go of the toxic habits and relationships that infringe on your mental and physical health.  Take some time to celebrate your victories rather than rant about being a victim, celebrate your beauty rather than focus on media influenced flaws, celebrate your blessings at every moment and more will pour into your life.  This is not to diminish any trauma that you may have gone through, rather to empower yourself to never be defined by a traumatic experience.  Yoga teachers who have found this love always shine with more compassion on others.  Yoga students who found this love tend to see all things with a loving, understanding and compassionate heart.
3) Words - Speak Lovingly always to yourself and others.  Our self dialogue is so powerful, therefore take some time to make affirmations beginning with "I AM" and be mindful of what we say afterwords.  Refrain from gossip, and even release the habit to speak in a way that would harm another persons reputation or feelings, even if it is true.  A true yogi knows the power of silence, a person with inner peace knows the power of loving words, and compassion.  We may not always get along, we may have disagreements, it is the path of the yogi to walk away, send loving thoughts, walk the loving path, and always choose forgiveness.

4) Oneness - While many would claim the word as tolerance, I feel oneness better describes the choice to look compassionately on things that challenge us.  Perhaps a situation is disappointing, take time to understand the disappointing emotional reaction is bringing up unresolved emotions that are like rippling waves in our life, leading us to the current tidal wave moments. It is easy to blame and point fingers, the yogi always aims to understand, which means understand what makes us react with passionate disturbance, our inner peace is ours and when we truly have oneness, we always shine like stars in the night sky.  
 "Nothing in the world can bother you as much as your own mind.  I tell you, in fact, others seem to be bothering you, but it is not others, it is your own mind." Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
5) Gratitude - Cultivate an attitude of gratitude and say thank you in every breath, your life is guaranteed to reflect many more things to be grateful for.  Perhaps you had your hopes set on achieving something or success in something, rather than put all your energy on the loss, be thankful for the experience and trust there is better for you.  Where your energy goes, energy flows both on and off your yoga mat.  Take time to be grateful for everything, family, friends, life, home, food, the list of things we can be grateful for, is usually greater than we tend to realize.  Perhaps your yoga practice is not where you would like it to be, you may have had a set back physically, relax, breathe, and be grateful for where it is, challenge yourself to quiet the inner dialogue of expectations, judgements, and just enjoy being in the moment and dance with your breath.

Those who study the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in depth, take workshops or yoga teacher training may have the chance to learn more about the yoga sutras.  For those of you intimidated to take a yoga class, lose that fear and take a class, and see if you can add anything from this list into your daily routine.  For those of you who are yoga students already (including teachers) see if you can revisit something on this list for your own life.  Enjoy every moment and shine your love in every breath. ~ Namaste

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Top 5 Myths about Yoga

Many people seem to have assumptions or excuses as to why yoga is not for them.  Yoga is for everyone, and after learning from the most amazing teachers, and teaching yoga around the globe with kids to grown adults, children with special needs, senior citizens, people with mental illness, and people who do not even speak the same language as me, I have seen first hand how powerful and beneficial yoga is for everyone.  Here are the top 5 myths people seem to have about yoga. 

1. You need to be flexible - Yoga will improve your flexibility, therefore if you are not flexible you should do it to gain the flexibility.  The physical flexibility comes when we are flexible with our mind, releasing our doubts, fears, judgements, expectations, and just be in the moment with a grateful heart.

2. Yoga is only for women - Yoga is for everyone to find balance, inner peace, and a healthy body.  The healing benefits for yoga are endless, therefore beneficial for everyone, regardless of gender, sex, size, age, etc.  The first yoga teacher was Shiva, and first student was Parvati.  Since then many men, soldiers, warriors would practice yoga to gain control of subtle body energy, and physical body strength. Along with this, some of the worlds most famous yoga teachers have been men.  No excuses guys, time to roll out your yoga mat.

With Sri Dharma Mittra
3. You need to be young - It is never to late and never to early to begin yoga.  For those of you who think you need to be young talk to my two favorite teachers Sri Dharma Mittra (74yrs old) & Tao Porchon Lynch (94 yrs old). These two teachers dispel the myth that you need to be young by shinning their energy and love for the practice in every moment.

With Tao Porchon Lynch

4. You just do poses - Yoga is an 8 Limb practice, the physical practice only allows you to be more receptive to all the other benefits.  The 8 Limbs of yoga allows the person to go through a transformation where the results are healing, compassion, and improved health of the mind and body.  Beyond the 8 Limbs there are many other forms of yoga including Karma Yoga (selfless service), Bhakti Yoga (Yoga of devotion), Jnana Yoga (yoga of wisdom).  Yoga is ultimately to unite the mind-body-spirit, to calm the mental chatter and find inner peace.

5. People will laugh at you - No one will laugh at you, if anything you will learn to laugh at yourself, laugh at life, and find joy again.  Even if you fart in yoga class, generally no one will care.  Only one time during Navasana or 'boat pose", a student let out a big fart, and I could not resist the urge to make the connection to a motor boat, which resulted in everyone "lifting the corners of their lips" (another favorite verbal cue of mine), and the tension, of OMG who did that? being released (no pun intended).

Thursday, March 20, 2014

7 Yoga and Ayurveda Tips in Spring

Happy first day of Spring!  This is the season where the winter cold starts to melt away and the blossoms begin to spring forth.  This is a natural time for cleansing and purification.  In Ayurveda this season relates to Kapha.  Kapha is the ayurveda constitution that has is strong, joyful, and stable when in balance much like nature in spring.  When a Kapha dosha is out of balance there will be an excess of phlegm, mucous, water retention, inflammation, and sometimes depression.

Due to the accumulation of Kapha in the winter months, people have a tendency to put on some extra weight (the winter coat), and even have a bit of mental dullness due to lack of sunshine or vitamin D.  In order to restore the balance of Kapha, here are some tips to add to your yoga and ayurveda practice:

  1. Cleanse - Warm water and lemon in the morning to detoxify the body and bring some more vitamin C to the cells.
  2. Purify - Neti Pot, for those allergy sufferers it is a good idea to get a neti pot and begin the practice of nasya, a natural method with flowing water to cleanse the nasal cavity.
  3. Stretch - Along with your regular yoga routine Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutations) be sure to add some squats (Uttkatasana, Malasana) these poses will fire up the energy in the legs to activate the lower chakras, and combine it with some back bending lunges for heart chakra opening movements.  Be sure to break a sweat in your asana, we want to get the body in a mode of cleansing, therefore, Spring is a wonderful season for Ashtanga.
  4. Breathe - Do some deep breathing, and embrace Kapalabhati (skull shinning) pranayama.  
  5. Nourish - Eat lighter meals, drink fresh juices, drink lots of water, and perhaps add some kitchari to your diet (legumes and rice).
  6. Eliminate - An additional way to eliminate toxins is to incorporate Triphala to get the bowels clean and free.
  7. Let Go - This is more important than anything.  Let go of the past, worry, judgement, the things that no longer serve you.  This is a time to clean and donate the clutter in your home, clean and forgive the clutter in your heart.  Forgiveness starts with yourself, so inhale love and exhale unforgiveness.  If you are in a toxic relationship or friendship - let it go and trust that Angels will watch over you for your days ahead.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Inspiration and Angels at I Can Do it, Toronto 2014

One of the teachers who has inspired my life and my teachings with yoga students is Louise Hay (Author of "You Can Heal Your Life").  Louise's approach to the power of affirmation, is in many ways the power of the yogic concept of mantra.  I am a firm believer that we are spiritual beings living a human experience, so prayer, meditation, yoga, and the idea that our loved ones and angels watch over us, is something I have both experienced and believe in.  For years I have been fond of the books & Angel Cards of Doreen Virtue.  Since childhood I have experienced, and believed that angels surround us, guide us and intercede for us.  This is the back story to my recent weekend with a line up of incredible teachers at I Can Do It, Toronto, 2014.
Radleigh Valentine, Doreen Virtue and Michael.

After 3 months teaching yoga in India, I was eager to learn, but something more for my heart & spirit rather than physical asana.  Being a fan of the work of Doreen Virtue, I thought it would be fun to enroll in her Angel Card Reading Certification Course.  I think I purchased my first Angel Cards 10 years ago, gifted many to friends, found another in Ireland, and most recently a deck while on journey to India.  To be in the presence of Doreen, Radleigh Valentine, and Doreen's husband Michael was like being taught by Angels.  It was a magical experience, and Doreen spoke to me after the certification course, confirming many things I already had felt about myself after reading her brilliant book "Realms of the Earth Angels".  Radleigh had the most joyful spirit, and all three of them inspired the entire crowd of 500 in the most profound way.

With Dr. Brian Weiss
The biggest inspiration to attending this weekend was finding the book recently in India "Many Lives, Many Masters" by Dr. Brian Weiss, which has been recommended to me for years, and I finally found it.  After reading the book, I raced to as many book stores in North India and South India to find more of his work.  I read through 3 more books, and I am currently reading Miracles Happen.  After experiencing the healing power of hypnosis (past life regression) last year, and reading this book, I was eager to attend his workshop or meet him.  This manifested quick at I Can Do It.  Dr. Brian Weiss put us (a jam packed crowd at Roy Thomson Hall) through an incredible past life regression.

Immaculee Ilibagiz, (Author of Let to Tell) who shared her incredible story of being a survivor of the genocide in Rwanda, experiencing the miracle of surviving from her prayer of the rosary (a prayer dear to my heart), and forgiveness of the people who murdered her family and tribe.  Her ability to forgive people who killed her family, and her conviction to her faith in Christ Jesus as the example of forgiveness led the entire crowd to a standing ovation.  Regardless of your religion, focused prayer is meditation, rosary is much like mantra on positive words, which can transform fear/hurt into love.  Forgiveness is the key to spiritual liberation, in yoga we would call this the mastery of the 2nd sutra (Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodaha), because unforgiveness is the seed to quieting the monkey mind.  It was so incredible to listen to this beautiful woman, and a blessing to meet her. 

I truly loved every minute of this weekend, and felt inspired by every teacher/author!  Anita Moorjani shared her incredible story of having stage 4 cancer, coma, and returning to share her story of the importance to "LOVE YOURSELF".  Alex Woodard led people to tears with songs and tales from his recent book "For the Sender".  Julie Daniluk inspired people to be conscious of what they eat, and understanding the "why" behind it.  I loved her because nutrition and foods that heal has always been something I love and share with my yoga students.  We also had the beautiful experience of doing some Kundalini Kriya's with Gabrielle Bernstein, which was much fun!  She is full of energy, honesty, and joy, with the message to all of us to "be the light so others recognize their light in yours"!  

This was a weekend of Yoga for the Mind & Spirit, and I am grateful for all of it.  The common thread of a "Course in Miracles" was weaved through many of the speakers, and while I would love to highlight all of them, I'd rather suggest that if you get a chance to go to a Hay House Event, please go!!!  Your heart and soul will be filled with inspiration and joy!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Top 5 Yogic paths to success

What is success? While success is often defined by the attainment of a goal, for a yogi what would that goal be? Many yogis consider success as Samadhi (समाधि) which can be loosely defined as oneness with absolute truth.  Many including Manju Jois would consider Samdadhi as total happiness without leaving the body.  To be happy is a common goal for everyone all around the world.  There are Sanskrit scholars who will further break down the word Samadhi to discover it's etymology.  Patanjali breaks Samadhi down into 3 distinct categories, where the third is complete and ultimate wholeness where there is no longer mind, duality or experience from subject to object. 

After teaching yoga to various groups of people worldwide, everyone has their own perception of success, even when it comes to their yoga practice.  For some yogis it is getting passed the primary series of Ashtanga, for some it is doing the handstand, maybe to touch their toes, to heal from injuries and explore alignment, for some it is being able to learn as many Bhajans or Kirtan to the hearts desire, perhaps doing a teacher training course and becoming a full time yoga teacher, and for the great majority is a 90 minute chance to breathe and sweat through the noise that interferes with day to day life.  Whatever style of yoga that is practiced, whatever physical ability you may have, whatever perception... once the perception sees past the duality, the mind noise, and experiences total oneness with everything, the normal result is happiness.  Happiness is a common goal for those who have a physical practice and those who don't.  Is this goal of happiness realistic?  YES.  The beautiful thing is this attainment happiness, this success will shine both on and off your yoga mat.  We all will have our own obstacles (kleshas), and it is up to the individual to make the best with their individual path (dharma).

  1. INTENTION : In sanskrit we would call this sankalpah.  Set your motivation, connect with your purpose before every practice, every interaction, so that your life begins with mindful intent.  This intent is backed up by Vedic philosophy, quantum theory, and many popular self help gurus.  It works.  Offer every class with intention, make it your moving prayer.  Begin your intentions with "I AM", and watch your practice transform.
  2. FOCUS: In yoga focus is often referred to as Dristi, or gaze.  This gaze is to ensure students are in the moment. This focus is on and off the mat.  Never allow your external circumstances or other people to steal your joy.  In your life, you may face challenges, loss, stress, illness, vicious people, or distractions, regardless, you can always focus on something greater, you can always surrender situations to a Higher Power of Love & Forgiveness.  You are the creator, so always be in control of your focus.  Keep the focus on your breath, breathing in the good sh*t, and breathing out the bull-sh*t.
  3. EMBRACE EVERYTHING: This means every fall, every challenge is to be embraced.  If we allow ourself to get beaten up over external circumstances, we could use some more time on our yoga mat.  A brilliant teacher I came across last year told me to look back at hurdles in life as "interesting events".  In essence it is our emotions that attach to our experiences, so while we cannot deny our experiences, we can learn from them and evolve.
  4. LOSE EXPECTATIONS: If your goal is to be a famous yoga teacher, or just to be happy when that goal is all about yourself it is an expectation, when it is what can I do for others or the other person, it will naturally bring your goal to fruition.  As Leo Tolstoy says in reference to wanting to be happy "just be".  His Holliness Dalai Lama refers to happiness as a result of your actions.  When we expect, or have a "I want" attitude, we will unconsciously focus on what we do not have, however, when we surrender with total faith, gratitude and love, mountains can move.
  5. SMILE: I often cue "lift the corners of your lips", because too often people hold their suffering in their face.  It takes more muscles to smile than frown, so do your work out, put the effort in.  Patanjali refers to cheerfulness more than any other concept in the sutras.  Be content (santosha) with where you are, who you are, and where you are going.  In essence we are all spiritual beings living a human experience, regardless of race, gender, religion, size, we all will have our own life lessons, it is up to us to smile through them (on and off the yoga mat).