Author Archives: thenamas

gratitude:yams and Niyamas for the holidays

Honoring the Yamas and Niyamas at the Holidays

Today is Thanksgiving. I don’t celebrate traditional Thanksgiving. Rather, I try to abide by the age-old Yoga Sutras. The lessons of the Yamas and the Niyamas. No stuffing myself on holiday fare. Not interested in Black Friday or CyberMonday. I don’t need anything. Rather than amassing more, I give. Seva (self-less service) is a part of my long-time I practice.

Following is a rundown of a few of Patanjali’s Yamas and Niyamas that we can relate to the holidays.

The Yamas: What NOT to do

First off. Ahimsa. Non-violence. Mahatma Gandhi spread the concept of ahimsa, widely. According to the Gandhi Book Centre, “The concept of ahimsa extends to all living beings, and therefore, protection of environment, natural habitats and vegetarianism are its natural derivatives. Buddhism and Jainism impose total non-violence on their followers.”

As a 40-year follower of ahimsa, I don’t like to see a big dead turkey on a table. Or a pig on a plate. I prefer my cows (and other animals) live, roaming about. Not on a spit or BBQ.

Two of the other Yamas respond to the materialism that is rampant in our society. Especially around the holidays. Asteya and Aparigraha. The two, are related. Both, about being content with what you have.

Aparigraha can be translated as non-greediness or non-possessiveness. Non-accumulation. Not pining for what’s not needed. Non-attachment. As I was taught it, it’s ok to enjoy a piece of chocolate. However, to have a deep desire — or addiction — to the chocolate is the problem. Yet, offering one’s favorite chocolates to others represents non-possessiveness and non-attachment.

Among the Yamas and the Niyamas, asteya is often translated as non-stealing. Of course, most of us don’t knowing steal from other people. However, we ARE stealing, if we upset the balance of the universe. For example, overconsumption of gasoline, water, food and natural resources, are forms of stealing. Hence, wanting and taking more than what’s needed is not honoring asteya.

When it comes to material items, most of us have way more than what we need. When I was young, it was common for kids to have one pair of school shoes, and one pair of tennis shoes. Now, I’d guess most kids have closets filled with a wide assortment of footwear. Plus, closets, shelves, dressers and other storage areas filled with clothing, toys, and other non-essential items.

When I recently sold my house, my realtor said everyone want walk-in closets. Clearly, that doesn’t represent the Yamas and Niyamas. When I went to live in Mexico for one year, all I took with me was two duffel bags. Still, I had more than what was necessary.

The Niyamas: What TO do

Moving on to the Niyamas, the first is soucha. Some, translate this as cleanliness. But, as with most Sanskrit words, it means so much more. For example, I was taught to bathe and put on clean clothes before devotional practice. To ready one’s body and mind for the holy. Not unlike wearing your Sunday best.

Soucha can also refer to purity, and a sattvic diet is considered pure and clean. I closely adhere to a sattvic diet. That means no alcohol, no caffeine, no garlic, onions, mushrooms or other foods that upsets the natural constitution. Patanjali, 5,000 years ago, referred to soucha and sattvic, together.

Next on the Niyamas, I see santosha (contentment) as being complementary to asteya and aparigraha. Not surprisingly, a few years ago, the community at Yogaville focused on santosha for the month of November. Swami Ramananda reflected on that practice.

“Of course, we all grow up in a culture of “never enough.” We can easily fall into an unconscious and never-ending effort to acquire, arrange or achieve the things that we feel bring us security and love, our most basic needs. Of course, we all grow up in a culture of ‘never enough.’ We can easily fall into an unconscious and never-ending effort to acquire, arrange or achieve the things that we feel bring us security and love, our most basic needs. Thus, this moment is continually warped by anticipation or anxiety over the next thing to do or get.” He explained that Santosha is about being at “peace with this moment as it is and with ourselves as we are.”

That’s something that I can accept for the holidays.

For more on the Yamas and Niyamas, read the following from the Art of Living.

Note: All images are mine. India 2019.

Goat Yoga

Goat Yoga Hits Urban USA

One of the newfangled yoga trends is goat yoga. It’s not about a new style of yoga where you imitate goat poses. Rather, you practice your cat/cow or downward dog as baby goats walk around—or on top of— you. If you’re lucky, maybe a goat will cuddle next to you in your savasana.  However, on the down side, the goat may decide it’s time for a bio break. On your mat.  

The Birth of Kid Goat Yoga

It shouldn’t be a shock that the origins of goat yoga come from the Western U.S. As recently as 2016, a woman living on a farm in Oregon recognized the healing aspects of yoga. At the same time, she understood that being close to animals had benefits. In need of some physical and emotional boosts, she meshed the two. She named it Caprine Vinyasa and got a slew of media coverage. And, boom. Goat yoga was everywhere.  Not just in the country, or in the trendier spots like San Diego and Austin. But even in Chicago’s inner city.

Goat Yoga in the Inner City

Urban goat yoga

What at first glance seems far removed from the prana in the midwestern cornfields is a hopping spot for goat yoga. Chicago’s west side. The goats are let loose to meander around the yoga mats, regularly, in Austin, the far west side of Chicago. Also, at Garfield Park, 10-15 minutes west of downtown. Both sites are right off the Eisenhower Expressway.

David is the goat herder that supplies the animals for the yogis. An urban farmer, he has a goat refuge just a few blocks from the rapid transit elevated line. From the street side of his house, you’d never know that he’s got a backyard full of chickens laying fresh eggs, and a large family of goats. He and his wife live in a traditional city house with a backyard that’s been converted into an organic mini farm. There’s a milking station where the goats, one by one, are milked. David and his wife then sell the fresh goat milk, plus goat milk yogurt and cheese.

He has about a dozen baby goats in his hay-filled garage. Each day, he loads the goats in his truck and releases them in a neighboring empty lot. Here, his babies graze. And play.

Goat Yoga in Chicago

When it’s time for goat yoga, he can lead the goats to a community garden just down the street. The open space has a pen inside the fencing to keep the babies closer to the yoga practitioners.

Five Reasons for Goat Yoga

Before you jump into the pen with the goats, or start bringing goats into the studio, let’s break down pros (and cons) of Caprine Vinyasa.

First, yoga is fundamentally about surrendering your mind and body. Perhaps one of the end results of goat yoga is that you give it up for the baby goats. You relinquish your control and go with the flow. Like the adorable kid goats. Don’t Worry. Be Happy. Nonetheless, Sarah, a yogi enthusiast and mother of two children, is not particularly a goat yoga advocate. Her take is that the more gimmicky, the more it dilutes the practice.

Second, in American society people get caught up in physical boundaries. Even for yoga practitioners. Many have clearly delineated “no touch” zone. Oftentimes, American yoga students want at least four or five feet of space all around them. The more space between them and their neighboring yogi’s mat, the better, they feel. So, just maybe, the goats prancing wherever they want helps people to get beyond that required emptiness surrounding them. And, maybe, it’ll even get them more comfortable with having a person less than a meter away during their practice. 

Third, yoga is all about mindfulness. Emptying your mind. Closing your eyes, or maintaining a dristi. However, keeping your eyes from jumping around to check the whereabouts and antics of the baby goats isn’t easy. Kim, a personal trainer who has been close to yoga for years, tried goat yoga at a conference. She found it was “distracting.”

Fourth off, yoga should be about absorbing, and relishing, the elements of nature. Prana. Breathing in the fresh air. Pressing your toes into the grass, or sand. Letting your skin soak up the sun.

Ideally, goat yoga is done outdoors in a farm-like environment. But that’s often not the case. My first view of goat yoga was inside a warehouse in East Austin. Definitely not an optimum spot for oneness with nature.

Fifth thought. Yoga teaches us ahimsa. Do no harm to any living being. So, any practice that helps us get closer to animals, and respect for ALL lives, is a plus. Hopefully, goat yoga is an entry point for urban Americans to get closer to farm animals. Then, as they appreciate the personalities of the baby goats, the participants may think twice before they eat goat meat. 

Introducing Yoga a la Ferme

Ahimsa and the Sacred Cow

In India, the cow is sacred. So, I’d expand upon goat yoga.

Sacred Cow, ahimsa is yoga

I’d broaden caprine vinyasa to yoga a la ferme. For starters, I’d let a few chickens scamper about.

More importantly, I’d be sure that beautiful cows were within everyone’s view. Next, I’d require all partcipants to pet the cows, before they get on their mats. Moreover, have them meditate while gazing into the huge happy cows’ eyes. Adding in sound therapy, I’d ensure that each of the cows had cowbells on their necks, tuned to different chakras. For special effects, during savasana I’d lead the cows in a circle around my resting yogis. Or, ring the cowbells myself.

Finally, I’d suggest that everyone’s sankalpa include how they would have greater respect for farm animals, and take the plunge to refrain from eating farm animals for a week. Better yet, commit to a plant-based diet for 40 days.

A Meditation Practice IS Yoga

In the Western world, too often, yoga means physical fitness practice. People focus on mastering a pose, or hope to work up a sweat in a yoga class. But, that’s not what yoga really is. Patanjali, in the Yoga Sutras wrote Sthira Sukham Asanam. To me, that means stillness in your seat, or space. Sounds much more like a meditation practice to me.

That’s also, why I tend to encourage Yin, Restorative, and Kundalini styles of yoga to my students. There’s great stillness in the first two, and mantra meditation, mudras and breath work are fundamental in Kundalini.

Likewise, I’m happy to announce a meditation and kundalini retreat at The Namaste Getaway in Wimberley, November 15-17. A few spaces are still available.

Following are personal testimonials from me, and Carrie Edmond, a meditation pro who’s leading the retreat.

My Meditation Practice

meditation

My personal path to “yoga,” began with meditation. Having struggled with digestive issues since childhood, early on, I experienced the benefits of stillness. Stillness of body. And mind.

When I added Hatha asanas to my practice, stillness of body and mind was crucial. Basically, my personal asana practice became a meditation practice. With movement.

Off the mat, I also adhere to a meditation practice. Daily, I practice japa mantra meditation. Plus, I have a labyrinth on my property for walking meditation. And, a creek for sound meditation. Finally, for traditional silent meditation, I switch between my deck, my yoga room, or my tree house.

Over the years, I’ve taken many a meditation class or workshop, across the country. In San Antonio, I found Carrie Edmond. She is unique in the way that she tries to pass the torch. On the one hand, she educates others to lead meditation. At the same time, she is expert at making meditation enjoyable and easy to practice.

Carrie’s Meditation Practice

journaling at The Namaste Getaway in Wimberley

“Meditation is an essential part of my life,” notes Carrie, who has been making meditation accessible to San Antonio public school kids for many years.

“Since I was very young, I have experienced intense anxiety. Before I learned to meditate and developed my own practice, life often felt chaotic, overwhelming and unmanageable. Through meditation practice, I have become more aware. With this awareness, I have found an ever-present ability to notice, and allow, in a way that reduces suffering and confusion.”

“Life still offers all its joys and challenges,” continues Carrie. “But my relationships, especially to those uncomfortable hard moments, are easier to navigate. I have learned to embrace the full human experience. I have also seen first hand how others have found healing, peace and a sense of freedom through their own meditation practice.”

Carrie’s Meditation Retreat

meditation at The Namaste Getaway

Joining Carrie, November 15-17, will be Angela Harper. Angela is a San Antonio-based KRI-certified Kundalini instructor. The retreat is designed to help nurture women. In part, because women, too often, don’t have the bandwidth to nourish themselves. The retreat will help ladies to explore the dynamic energy of the feminine. Plus, nourish the body and mind through Kundalini, meditation, gong, Reiki, journaling, healthy foods, and more.

“I love when women come together in this way to share, explore and learn from one another,” adds Carrie. “By applying what we share and learn from each other, we can go back into our daily lives with inner resources along with the collective wisdom to thrive and be in service to others.”

To register, for more information, or links to articles on Reiki and meditation, visit Carrie’s Facebook event page. Or, read more on the health benefits of meditation on my blog. Note: Photos are from The Namaste Getaway, just an hour from Austin, or San Antonio.

eco-friendly yoga mat

Ahimsa and an Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat

In keeping with the theme of Ahimsa for the planet, people should be mindful of their yoga gear.  The vast majority of yoga mats in the U.S. are made out of a toxic, non-biodegradable ingredient that may be a carcinogen. PVC (Polyvinyl Chloride). As a result, knowingly, or unknowingly, yogis are harming our environment by not choosing eco-friendly yoga mats.  

Yoga Without a Mat

yoga-with-out-a-mat

First off, I am a proponent of yoga any where, any time. No mat required. To me, the most eco-friendly yoga mat is a sandy beach. A wood floor. Or, a grassy field. In fact, I’ve done full-fledged yoga routines in my dentist’s waiting room. Even if the flooring was as comfortable as a visit to the dentist. At home, while I have a closet full of mats (for my students), I prefer to feel my patio wooden deck underneath my feet and hands. 

yoga anywhere

Indeed, in February I attended group classes in Varanasi, India. Markedly, the only ones with yoga mats (out of nearly 100 practitioners) were the handful of White Western women. Undoubtedly, I look like Westerner. But, I practiced with the Indians. Sans mat. 

That said, we are in the U.S. of A. Here, few Americans feel comfortable without a yoga mat. For one, it delineates their turf in a group class. However, most rationalize the need for their own yoga mat based on comfort, and concern for cleanliness. Whatever one’s perceived need may be, that shouldn’t trump the preference for an eco-friendly yoga mat.

Finding an Eco-Friendly Yoga Mat

cork-and-pvc-mats

If searching for an eco-friendly yoga mat seems more difficult than nailing your mayurasana (peacock pose), ConsumersAdvocate.org has done all the work for you

To honor ahimsa for the planet,  the team of testers only assessed mats manufactured without PVC. Taina Cuevas was the lead researcher. She’s editor at ConsumersAdvocate.org, a 20-year yoga practitioner as well as a mindful meditation instructor. 

By comparison, she notes, “Almost half of all yoga mats are made from PVC. These mats have a number of plasticizers and additives and, given that studies haven’t been conducted on yoga mats, in particular, it’s not certain how these would affect people who come into contact with the mat every day.” Equally important, “The second reason is the staggering amount of pollution PVC creates during its ‘lifetime,’ from manufacture to disposal. It’s not biodegradable and almost impossible to recycle. In fact, if it’s mixed in with recyclables, it can actually contaminate the rest of the batch.”

yoga in Mexico City

Just as yoga has become commercialized, and most probably don’t pay attention to ahimsa, or even know what that means, the yoga industry for the most part, just dabbles in eco-friendly efforts. Or, worse, make claims that can’t be substantiated. That’s one of the reasons why  each of the. ConsumersAdvocate.org preferred eco-friendly yoga mats was sent to the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor, MI for additional testing for any toxicity. 

What may be marketed as green, might just be a shade of blue or yellow. While the unbiased, independent consumers group chose not to consider any mats made with PVC, they included mats made with less detrimental man-made products. However, I’m only highlighting the two most eco-friendly yoga mats. One, is made out of cork and natural rubber. The second, recycled wet suits.

The wet suit yoga mats were also voted the best for many reasons. Furthermore, 100 percent of the testers said they’d buy one for themselves or as a gift. While I’ve never seen the mats, I love the concept. 

Yoga Mats Made From Wet Suits

eco-friendly yoga mat

Suga mats were created by a surfer yogi (I’m guessing SUGA comes from that). He’s also a former environmental attorney. Beyond the obvious benefits of taking discarded wetsuits that would remain in a landfill forever, and turning them into yoga mats, the factory is run totally on green energy. 

Additionally, Suga recycles their own mats along with any scraps. As a practical side note, the mats can be hosed down or even cleaned in the shower. Finally, a portion of Suga mat sales benefits the non-profit, Sustainable Surf.

Cork and Rubber Yoga Mats

eco-friendly yoga mat

So, I have a cork yoga mat. And, I had a rubber mat, which was my favorite until it may have gotten a bit of heat stroke. That said, I haven’t tried a cork on top of rubber eco-friendly mat. Canada-based Tranquil Yogi is the maker of what ConsumersAdvocate.org found to be the most eco-friendly yoga mat. The company offers additional yoga gear from biodegradable materials, such as cork blocks and massage balls

My cork mat is heavy, so I keep it at home. Likewise, the Tranquil mat weighs six pounds. To offset the weight, a bit, it comes with its own carrying strap.

According to the researchers, “Cork might just be one of the most environmentally friendly materials on the planet. Cork provides natural protection to some of the most common bacteria.” It’s also interesting to recognize that harvesting cork does that affect the life of the tree.

For a complete review of all the mats analyzed, visit https://www.consumersadvocate.org/yoga-mats

pura vida costa rica

Ahimsa for the Planet

save-our-planet

Ahimsa (non-violence) is at the core of a yogic lifestyle. It may include a vegetarian diet, seva (selfless service or karma yoga) as well as ahimsa for our planet.

According to an Earth Day article in the Hindustan Times, half the world’s wetlands have been lost since 1900. Global warming is on steroids, with the ten warmest years occurring in the last 12 years. National Geographic reports that “plastic production has increased exponentially from 2.3 million tons in 1950… to 448 million by 2015.” 

My Efforts at Ahimsa for the Planet

hand wash clothes for the environment

My green undertakings date back 31 years. I hand washed and air dried my daughter’s old-fashioned flat, square, cloth diapers. Sometimes, 13 in a day. It was a major pain. But it felt right. The sun was nature’s disinfectant, and bleach. No chemicals or toxins to irritate her. Nor huge piles headed to the land fills. 

Today, my ahimsa for the planet routine is far more enjoyable. My favorite: DIY toiletries.  Most store bought items are expensive, filled with toxins, and heavy packaging. Handmade versions are affordable, clean and green. And, simple to make. Mouthwash. Body scrubs. Room fresheners. Insect repellents. Shampoo. Conditioner. Even de-tangler. Basic ingredients are baking soda, vinegar, coconut oil and your favorite essential oils.

Finally, as a 45-year vegetarian veteran, I’ve saved about 4,500 animals’ lives, As a vegan, according to researchers at Loma Linda University, I’ve generated 41.7 percent less greenhouse gases than a meat-eater.  

Tips from a Yogi in Nicaragua

Ahimsa for the Planet: it's easy being green

To make eco-friendly differences in the planet, it helps if you find things that work with your lifestyle, and about which you feel good. Following are green practical living tips from others mindful of ahimsa for the planet

“If you think about what’s happening around the earth, and how humans are treating the planet, and the helpless other beings living amongst us, you can’t help but feel a sense of violence. Violence doesn’t have to come in a form of a punch, or a fight. It’s a form of violence to take advantage of what nature provides us, and not care what our footprint leaves behind,” comments Kristen Claeys. Kristen is an American yoga teacher and Thai Massage body healer currently living in Nicaragua.

She notes that in Nicaragua, litter is much more visible. In part, because of the lack of garbage and recycling facilities. At the same time, life is inherently less wasteful in Nicaragua. 

“We consume less waste down. Life is much simpler,” she explains. Moreover, when you pass by landfills daily, our eco-system is hard to ignore. “So you feel it’s your duty to do better. When we return to the States we realize how bad it really is there as well, and do our best to keep with the same practices, even if we’re only there for a few days.”

Among Kristen’s ways to respect the environment, is avoidance of single use plastics. Beyond the water bottles, she has a stash of reusable bags, even for veggies and fruit. Equally important, she makes concerted efforts to reuse—and reuse— before trashing. 

Sourcing is also important to this vegetarian.

“I order clean, organic veggies from a local farm where I know my food is being sourced sustainably. We also unplug all electronics when we’re not using them, and don’t use A/C to cut down on electricity use.  And, our houses have solar hot water heaters.  This is our small way of protecting the earth. Practicing nonviolence against Mother Earth, Pachamama.”

Tips from Yogis in Wimberley

Jeanne Lamb was raised vegetarian, and cognizant of ahimsa. A yoga teacher with several kids, and a small grand baby, she tries to keep ahimsa for the planet top of mind. She has always recycled, and practiced low/no impact camping and hiking with her kids.  Her newest favorite green tip helps keep waste to a minimum when not at home. 

“I bought this set (of bamboo travel utensils) at a little health food store while traveling, and love it so much. I think everyone should have one,” she says. Additionally, she takes reusable straws with her.

Oona Mekas is a yoga teacher, doula, student midwife, and mother of a young child. She, too, takes stainless steel straws with her when she’s out and about. Additionally, she stores a large stainless steel bento box in the car to use as a grab-and-go doggy bag.  

When it comes to laundry, she notes that drying times are shortened when you add a ball of woolen yarn. She makes her own from scrap yarn. For laundry detergent, she foregoes plastics jugs in favor of powders in cardboard boxes that can be composted. 

Additionally, Oona recommends reusable silicone bags, wax paper, and cloth napkins for school lunches (such as the ones pictured here). 

Vedas Promote Less Waste

Finally, Dayananda is a San Antonio-based author of “Modern Culture—A Dangerous Experiment.” He runs a culturally-based movement, Save Earth Now to share his concern for the planet. “Human greed causes most environmental destruction. If we corrupt the earth, our happiness will suffer,” he says. 

ahimsa for the planet

Turning to the wisdom in the ancient scriptures, he points to a passage in the “Bhagavad Gita.” “The Gita makes a brilliant analysis. Greed starts with attachments to bodily comfort. The attachment turns into craving. From craving those comforts, greed is born and grows.” 

Conversely, detachment is one of the key principles in yoga, and Vaishnava culture, of which Dayananda relates.“ The concept of detachment is deeply engraved in Vaishnava society. The idea of collecting too many material goods is not a part of the culture. It is a modern intrusion.”

Additionally, he notes that one of the three essential components of dharma is austerity. As a result, “Vaishnavas are model environmentalists. They minimize meat eating, periodically fast, waste less … honor detachment instead of consumption, and establish practices that are enjoyable without being destructive.” In other words, ahimsa for the planet.

yoga and meditation for stress

Yoga and Meditation Beat Stress

When Sat Bir Singh Khalsa told the chairman of the department of physiology that he wanted to focus on yoga for his grad studies, he was met with complete skepticism. That was many years ago.  Today, he is one of the nation’s leading researchers on yoga and meditation. Affiliated with Harvard Medical School, Dr. Singh Khalsa has partnered with prestigious facilities worldwide to be able to unequivocally prove the merits of yoga and meditation on humans.

He acknowledges that he was on the tipping point before there was any tip. Today, he says, 10 percent of the population practices yoga, and about 15 percent have some form of mind/body practice. So, there’s a great need to understand the physiology of yoga and meditation.

Stress Surrounds Us

yoga and meditation for stress

Through his research, as well as his role with the International Association of Yoga Therapists, he has pushed the agenda so that the merits of yoga and meditation are pretty much widely acknowledged. He says that both science and research are supporting the trend for yoga becoming mainstream. It’s a welcome addition in many a school and hospital nowadays, in part due to stress, which seems to be everywhere. 

“Teachers, parents, are burned out. We don’t have skills to cope with stress. We are in a time where stress is a big problem. I think it underlies many of our problems in modern society.   Stress pays a huge role in many conditions. Not only is stress highly prevalent, but it’s getting worse. This whole political climate is not helping,” Dr. Singh Khalsa noted at a workshop I attended in Austin.   

yoga and meditation for stress

“Our social structure has changed over the last few decades. The idea of being overextended is the norm. Being accessible 24/7.” He explained that social interaction is more prevalent on screens, rather than in person. Again, that’s the norm now. Along with everyday scenarios that can cause stress. An alarm clock doesn’t ring. Your boss says you’re fired. On the highway, you narrowly escape an accident. Or, there’s a bottleneck. “These challenges are part of life, and there are life-learning challenges.”

“One person’s stress is another’s nightmare. And, it can change over time.” A kid may get a thrill out of a roller coaster ride, Dr. Singh Khalsa says, but that same thrill for a senior citizen is not a thrill. Rather, they could literally get a panic attack. 

Yoga and Meditation Vs. Maladaptiveness

Dr. Singh Khalsa pointed to a study at UT. An almost unbelievable 90 percent of students said they had “unbearable stress.” More concerning, only five percent said the had the tools to manage stress. “A high percentage of people will say they have no one to talk to about problems. We are social animals. If we don’t do that (interact), we suffer the consequences.”

So, what gives? Something has to give. Though those cracks, problems arise. People reach for what isn’t the solution. Drugs. Tobacco. Alcohol. Junk food. They don’t, or can’t, get adequate restful sleep. These are some of the improper ways people respond to stress. Maladaptiveness becomes the norm, said Dr. Singh Khalsa. The need to take substances to alter the senses, which of course do not address the issues at hand.  

While Singh Khalsa acknowledged that short term (acute) stress has its benefits, such as boosting performance or the immune system, sustained long term stress can increase the risk of cardiovascular diseases. “You need stress in your life to keep you engaged…but not overwhelmed.” 

Yoga and Meditation a Boon

yoga and meditation for stress

According to evidence-based research done in conjunction with Yoga Yoga in Austin, Dr. Singh Khalsa confirmed that it didn’t take long for perceived stress to go down among those that practiced yoga. Not surprisingly, yoga and meditation enables you to respond in a positive manner to stress. In fact, evidence points to a resiliency factor. “You’re giving yourself more resistance (with yoga). You’re becoming a super human. You need to be a Ferrari versus a Lada.”

Our bodies are physical bodies. Regular exercise WILL make you feel better, affirmed the doctor.  

“We spend most of our time sitting on a couch which leads to no resistance. We live in a society that’s becoming increasingly sedentary. I think one of the best mind/body practices is yoga. When we relax our muscles there is a psychological effect. That is what yoga is doing. Mind/body awareness is key in yoga.  Yoga is like cognitive behavior and exercise. Plus, it’s conducive to reducing more stress than exercise, alone. Mind/body exercise can REVERSE fight or flight, and it gives you the skill to do that on an ongoing basis.

Case in Point

yoga and meditation for stress

Sat Bir Singh Khalsa showed excerpts from a 2017 Facebook Live conference, A Nation Under Pressure.  Former U.S. Surgeon General, Vivek Murthy spoke to the director of NIH, about the merits of yoga and meditation, in particular.  Dr. Murthy acknowledged he had reviewed cases of how mindfulness made significant differences in schoolchildren.

In particular, one school he visited in California. It was in a high crime district with 50 murders in one year. Bodies were even dumped on the school grounds. Out of desperation, the school began incorporating meditation.  There was a marked reduction in violence and increase in students’ performance. The principal noted improvement within just two weeks. Over one year, the suspension rate was reduced 45 percent. Parents said, “what’s going on here? (My kid’s) not lashing out like he used to.” Kids recognized the benefits, too. As a result, 95 percent of the kids signed up for meditation the next term. 

Finally, Dr. Singh Khalsa spoke about the cost benefits of yoga and meditation. Especially with the soaring costs of medical care, breath and body work should be a no brainer to put on the doctor’s Rx. Inquire about The Namaste Counsel’s Chill Out series.

Yoga for self confidence, according to Ekam Yogashala in Rishikesh

Yoga for Self-Confidence

This Yoga for Self-Confidence guest blog is by Devakar Sandhu of Ekam Yogashala in Rishikesh, India

Yoga for Self-Confidence: Answers are Within

Self confidence is an attribute that everyone must have. If someone wants to be truly happy and content in their life, it is important to be confident. It helps in not getting stuck in the negative cycle of doubts, fear or a lack of self belief. If a person lacks self confidence, he can come off as weak and vulnerable to getting upset or anxious. Additionally, confidence and positivity can help a person in getting through anything. Therefore, everyone must work on their self confidence. Consider yoga for self-confidence.

Yoga for self confidence, according to Ekam Yogashala in Rishikesh

To put this simply, all the answers we seek from outside are already within us. Furthermore, it is all a matter of trusting the abilities to access all those answers. Tap into yoga for self-confidence. With regular practice, one can learn the art of turning inward. Yoga helps us to seek answers to any difficult situation with great self confidence and positivity.

Yoga is an ever evolving journey of self love, and gaining confidence. The philosophy of yoga teaches everyone that all the answers we need are within us. No matter what happens. If we continue practicing yoga then self confidence will always be there. It is just a matter of slowing down, getting quiet and paying attention to the wisdom that lies within. By doing so, we can gain a lot of clarity about all that is needed to get out of a difficult situation. 

Yoga Changed My Life

Yoga for self confidence, according to Ekam Yogashala in Rishikesh

I was depressed with a broken relationship, a huge student loan, and a job I hated. As a result, I got trapped in the vicious cycle of self loathing. What’s more, there seemed no solution for all these problems. At this point, I decided to go for a yoga teacher training in Rishikesh for a getaway. After one week practicing yoga every day, I experienced a deep sense of calmness after the longest time. I began practicing yoga religiously after my yoga teacher training. Most importantly, it changed my life in the real sense of the word. 

In addition to gaining a strong sense of self, it also helps in knowing what it feels like to become one with the universe. Once it comes into a person’s life, there’s no looking back. Even if it is a phase when a person might be at their lowest in life, yoga works wonders in no time. To give you an example, I will narrate my own personal experience about yoga for self-confidence.

Yoga for self confidence, according to Ekam Yogashala in Rishikesh

To begin with, I achieved this profound balance of physical, mental and spiritual state of being. Next, my stumbling personality improved. Soon, I gained immense self confidence. The yoga for self-confidence manifested in many ways. I started becoming aware of almost everything. Additionally, I consciously gained the energy to face any problem head on and find solutions to it. Most importantly, yoga gave birth to my spiritual identity. It invoked power within me. I started understanding the deeper meaning of life, and understood that life is meant to be lived joyously.

However, yoga is a practice that takes dedication and time. Regular practice of yoga made me understand the importance of these two things like never before. I started investing my time wisely, with utmost dedication, and started completing all the responsibilities and tasks on time. This made a huge difference in the way my goals and checklist started getting completed. Rather, I was able to mark my priorities in life well.

Yoga Changed My Students’ Lives

Yoga for self confidence, according to Ekam Yogashala in Rishikesh

I decided to teach yoga when I understood how significant and life changing yoga can be. So many people need it today. Every day, I see lives changing in front of me. I see people gaining control of themselves and realizing the power they have over their problems. There is an immense sense of satisfaction that comes when I see people winning in life because of the power of awareness.

Finally, it has been five years since I experienced the power of yoga for self-confidence. Now, I am a proud certified teacher in Hatha Yoga, Yin Yoga and Kundalini yoga. Undoubtedly, this was the best decision of my life. In part, due to the effects of yoga and self-confidence. 

In conclusion, yoga has helped me embrace myself, and gain control over my life completely. I am happy and content today. Moreover, I love myself and treat my life as a divine gift because of yoga. If it had not been for yoga, I don’t know where I would be in the journey of my life. Just as yoga has changed my life, I plan to change the lives of as many people as possible. Empower them to build self confidence. Make them fall in love with themselves, and their life.

About the Author

Yoga for self confidence, according to Ekam Yogashala in Rishikesh

Devakar Sandhu is one of the most passionate yogis and avid travelers. Working with Ekam Yogashala he aims to spread the divine knowledge of yoga amongst as many people as possible.  Ekam Yogashala hosts yoga teacher training, retreats and workshops in Rishikesh, Nepal and Kerala, India. The primary aim of Devakar is to help people evacuate anxiety, strain and undesirable contemplations. He advocates growing one’s very own consciousness. 

All images are from Ekam Yogashala, Rishikesh teacher training, yoga or meditation retreats.

women's empowerment circle at Govardhan EcoVillage in rural India

Women’s Empowerment: In India and the U.S.

The Namaste Counsel is hosting a WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT RETREAT with Sita Devi Dasi, September 21, as well as Community Kirtan September 22. The retreat will focus on sisterly sangha and soaking up the prana in serene Wimberley. Sita Devi Dasi heads the Women’s Empowerment program at Radhanath Swami’s Govardhan Eco Village. The eco-village is an award-winning 100-acre spiritual sanctuary in rural India. The following summarizes her thoughts about women’s empowerment.

The Need for Women’s Empowerment in India

Govardhan Eco Village in India
Govardhan Eco Village

Women’s Empowerment is the need of the hour in today’s world. Not just in India, but all over the world. Obstacles that affect women in India, are many, Sita says. Gender inequality, male domination, institutionalized inequalities, inadequate education and even schoolhouses. In the end, limited job opportunities.

As a result, women need that extra support and encouragement. Therefore, women’s empowerment is often about women coming together. Women helping each other financially, emotionally and socially. In the cities, the women at least have better opportunities, a support system and access to a viable education. However, rural women are the most underprivileged and neglected. Usually, they are not literate. Consequently, there is a greater need in rural communities for women’s empowerment programs.

Women’s Empowerment in the West: Me Too

women's rights are human rights

There is a need for women’s empowerment in the U.S., too. At first glance, women appear more privileged, and have greater resources and opportunities in the States. However, emotionally and socially, women are still exploited. The #MeToo movement calls it out. There is mental, physical and sexual exploitation which American women face at the hands of the opposite sex. Women are not given the merited respect or dignity. In the workplace, they often have to outperform their male counterparts, and then are victimized by sexual harassment. 

This greatly undermines a woman’s confidence and self esteem. She feels lost and discouraged. Therefore, it’s about time for women to come together, support and speak out for each other. Give one another mental and emotional support to fight together and command respect and dignity. 

Women’s Empowerment: Spiritual Too

Govardhan Eco Village in India
Govardhan Eco Village

Furthermore, women, when spiritually enlivened and realized, can become the true leaders and role models of society.

As a case in point, consider Tulsi Gabbard. This 2020 U.S. Presidential candidate served honorably in the military. She was raised in, and continues to lead, a highly spiritual life. All the while, maintaining a high degree of femininity. 

We can all benefit from spiritual women’s empowerment.

Realize one’s true spiritual potential. Use one’s feminine power to come together and create a powerful force that can bring transformation in the world today. Women can support and pacify each other like no other man can ever think of doing. Instead of wasting one’s time competing with men, women should come together, strengthen our true feminine qualities and work productively.

Govardhan Eco Villag
Govardhan Eco Village

All scriptures in the world speak about the exalted position of the woman. Great saints and seers emphasized this.

But, still, women today struggle to get dignity and honor.

Worse, there is a growing trend of crimes against women. Rapes and assaults are common news in every newspaper. This is due to the moral and spiritual degradation. Western culture focuses on exploitation and sense enjoyment. Hence, men see women as objects, and not as people.

The need is to awaken and educate women spiritually. Then, women can impact society and hopefully bring forth a generation of men who respect all women and not see them as objects for enjoyment.

Sita’s Women’s Empowerment Program in India 

Womens empowerment at Govardhan EcoVillage in India
Womens empowerment program teaches sewing at Govardhan EcoVillage

A trained dentist, Sita launched her first free dental clinic six years ago. She was part of the community living and working at Govardhan EcoVillage, several hours outside of Mumbai. Here, she saw the dire need for dentistry— and more. 

Sita met with the village women who were all farmers. First, she chatted with them. She listened to their stories. As a result, she realized that they needed so much help. Both financially and socially. They were a very neglected section of the society. These rural women had minimum means, and resources. She was inspired to make a difference in their lives. That’s how the Women’s Empowerment and Skill Development Program connected to the Govardhan EcoVillage was launched.

Another important aspect was to teach them income-producing skills. Among the areas that took off were sewing, handicrafts, incense and candle making.

Next, Sita established self help groups in each village. Groups of 10 women opened joint bank accounts. More importantly, they learned the importance of saving money, and helping each other financially.

One Village’s Success Story 

Womens empowerment at Govardhan EcoVillage in India
Women’s Empowerment Group painting handcrafted items — most had never before held a pen, pencil or paintbrush

The women of Dhusal Pada village are relegated to work in the fields, and stay at home. The first year, Sita’s program taught them to paint terracotta lamps. Most, were holding brushes for the first time, as they had never gone to school. With practice, they painted with such expertise that their work was so appreciated — and purchased. Now, they have a steady source of income from their handcrafts. 

That has made a great difference among the men of the village, to boot. The men now respect the females as earning members of the home. More importantly, the women feel more confident and encouraged.

While Sita has invested her time and energy with this program for the last six years, she’s also reaping many benefits.  She says she feels blessed and privileged to be part of the women’s empowerment movement. Moreover, she considers she has benefitted far more than them. Now, she has a higher purpose in her life. What’s more, she feels closer to her soul, and God. Sita recalls Mahatma Gandhi’s words. “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Power in Unity

Womens empowerment at Govardhan EcoVillage in India
Items made by Women’s Empowerment Group at Govardhan EcoVillage

Americans can reach across the ocean and help empower these women in India. Sita invites Westerners to visit the rural women of India. Connect with these ladies.  Sit with them. Sing with them. Dance together. Encourage them by making them feel valued and appreciated. By doing this you too will feel valued. Perhaps, you, too, will find the real purpose of life.

If traveling to India isn’t on your agenda, support Sita’s initiatives. There will be at least two “trunk shows” in the Austin/Hill Country area September 20-22. Contact Deborah for viewings of the women’s hand crafted items.

Finally, Sita will be coming to Wimberley for a women’s empowerment boost in Texas. Contact Deborah for details, or book the Women’s Empowerment Retreat at The Namaste Getaway September 21, and Kirtan at Orange Moon Yoga on September 22.

“The next generation of women should understand the real power of women. I see them as the leaders of the future. They have the potential to achieve so much, but I feel that can only happen if the women come together in women’s circles and leadership circles. Women gain maximum strength from each other and also the worst enemy of a woman can again be a woman because we let a man come in between. So let us recognize our strength and that lies in our unity.” — Sita Devi Dasi

The Healer

As a child, they kiss your boo boo 

And it feels better.

When your ice cream cone falls to the ground 

You feel bad.

In school, when you score a 100,

A big smile, and feeling of pride, fills you up.

But, when Johnny calls you “funny face,” you hurt. 

Your mother’s spaghetti, or your dad’s grilled cheese, warm your tummy,

And give you a sense of completeness.

When you have a dry cough, a hot chocolate or honey with warm lemon juice is more soothing that anything from the pharmacy.

I am a warrior. I am a natural woman. I am a healer. 

The best heart surgeon cannot cure a broken heart. 

The man in the white coat with an office plastered with diplomas cannot strengthen your soul.

The “brilliant” MD cannot feed your ego what it has been lacking. 

The google search for cures doesn’t fulfill your quest for inner knowledge.

I am a warrior. I am a natural woman. I am a healer. 

The healer uses presence and balance to fill emotional holes.

The healer listens to the words…the silence…and the body…

With sensitivity.  Loving kindness. Non-judgement. 

The healer taps into the powers of the earth to minimize pain and dis-ease.

The healer allows tears to flow to wash away pain.

The healer respects and recognizes our planet’s power to heal,

The healer embraces one’s own powers to heal.

Dhanvantari, deity for Ayurveda

Om Namo Bhagavate Maha Sudarshana Vasudevaya Dhanvantaray

berries and cherries, best for low glycemic diets

Diabetics: Try Yoga with Low Glycemic Diet

yoga for blood sugar management

Like me, Dr. Mehmet Oz recommends a low glycemic diet, for blood sugar management. And, yoga.

“We are a nation in a diabetes crisis,” says Dr. Oz. “Over the course of my career, I’ve watched patients who were destined for diabetes completely rewrite their fate by losing weight and getting in shape,” he states. Dr. Oz and I recognize yoga as a holistic method to mend mind, body and spirit.

“Add diabetes prevention to the ancient art’s long list of health perks. Studies show that yoga increases the rate at which glucose moves from the blood into our cells. It also reduces levels of stress hormones, which can cause an accumulation of abdominal fat and interfere with the secretion of insulin.”

Case in point: me. Diabetes killed my mom. My aunt, uncle and grandmother were diabetic. Then, one day after re-reading my mom’s article in a diabetes magazine about her beginning insulin, I got the call.  It was my turn. Never mind that my weight was normal. Didn’t matter that I’d been watching sugar intake my entire life.  Ka-bam. The preachings of Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) and Ayurveda were clear.  We are all unique. We must find balance through diligent lifestyle management. Finding, and following, our own wellness regimen. Our dinacharya.

Fortunately, a great Ayurvedic doctor coached me. Way beyond a low glycemic diet. Today, I’m 61 years old. My vitals are perfect. I take zero meds.  

My blood sugar management approach goes far beyond drugs and calories. That’s why I created a therapeutic workshop series, The Sugar Drop, focused on blood sugar management. A low glycemic diet is just one component of my workshops. While extremely important, it’s not that simple. Which is why I’ll delve into that a bit, here.

Low Glycemic Diet — Not Always Fruit-friendly

Most people equate fruit with low calories and good health. An apple a day may seemingly keep the doctor away. However, for those of us with insulin resistance, or compromised production of insulin, we have to be careful with fruit. 

low glycemic fruits

For example, my personalized Ayurvedic diet, allows me to eat fruit only in the mornings. Furthermore, I don’t mix fruit with non-fruit. As a result, no smoothies.  No snacks of fruit and nuts. Nor, apples in my salads, or berries in my yogurt. Just a small serving of fresh fruit, ideally on an empty stomach.

Moreover, the types of fruit for those with blood sugar issues is critical. To me, fruit is fructose (sugar) packaged in different sizes, shapes, colors and degrees of sweetness. Among the worst offenders: bananas. I haven’t had one in a decade.  Fortunately, not all fruit are as sweet as bananas.  Bottom line: I opt for a low-glycemic diet–and an Ayurvedic approach molded to my needs.

Low Glycemic Diet: Index Vs. Load

Dr. Andrew Weil explains the importance of a low-glycemic diet. 

“The glycemic index ranks carbohydrate foods on the basis of how they affect blood sugar (glucose). This is important for many people because eating a lot of foods that rank high on the glycemic index will produce spikes in blood sugar that can lead over time to loss of sensitivity to insulin, the hormone needed to allow blood sugar to enter cells for use as fuel. When using the glycemic index as a guide to food choices, you also have to consider “glycemic load,” a measure of how many grams of carbohydrate a normal serving contains.” He gives examples of carrots and beets which have high glycemic indices, but low loads. 

berries and cherries, best for low glycemic diets

Hence, lemons, limes, berries and cherries are “good” fruits. The glycemic index for strawberries and blueberries are in the 40s. On the other hand, the glycemic index for fresh tart cherries is just 22. The load for strawberries and limes are equal. As low as you can go. One. Tart cherries are just a tad higher. Three. 

cherries for low glycemic diets

So, following a low glycemic diet approach, cherries are a winner to avoid sugar spikes. But now, studies are indicating that fresh cherries, and even tart cherry juice, can help regulate blood sugar. (Caveat: In my coaching, I place all juices and dried fruits in the same category. Do not consume.)

Moreover, my acupuncturist wants me to eat cherries, and other deep red foods like beets, to “build blood.” Similarly, my Ayurvedic doctor recommends pomegranates, which are also deep red in color.

Studies with Cherries

tart cherries for blood sugar management

A team of research nutritionists summarized findings* from around the world.  

“Consumption of cherries decreased markers for oxidative stress in 8/10 studies; inflammation in 11/16; exercise-induced muscle soreness and loss of strength in 8/9; blood pressure in 5/7; arthritis in 5/5, and improved sleep in 4/4. Cherries also decreased hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C), Very-low-density lipoprotein (VLDL) and triglycerides/high-density lipoprotein (TG/HDL) in diabetic women, and VLDL and TG/HDL in obese participants. Similarly, tart cherry juice and one of its main polyphenols known as chlorogenic acid inhibited enzymes α glucosidase and dipeptidyl peptidase-4 which are involved in promoting diabetes …there exists evidence to suggest that cherry consumption may promote healthy glucose regulation.”

If that’s hard to understand, Dr. Oz makes it simple. He raves about cherries. The famous TV personality advocates cherries to address pain, inflammation and sleep disorders. Even more impressive, he says cherries can reduce your risk of heart disease. Finally, Dr. Oz says cherries remind him of his boyhood. His grandfather had a cherry farm in Turkey, and they made cherry juice. Turkey, by the way, is the world’s largest producer of cherries. 

Cherryland USA

In the U.S., sweet cherries tend to be harvested in the Northwest. Conversely, tart cherries are primarily found in Michigan. However, Door County, Wisconsin at one time was called “Cherryland USA.”  Currently, Door County produces 8-15 million pounds of Montmorency cherries, annually, across 2,500 acres. 

I visited Door County last month, hoping to pick a few fresh tart cherries in the fields. Instead, I had a tour of the packaging plant at Sequist Orchards. Dale Sequist runs the largest cherry orchard in Wisconsin. His great-grandfather immigrated to Wisconsin from Sweden in search of religious freedom.  Ended up a cherry farmer.

“It didn’t take him long to realize this area was good for planting. He paid six cents a tree. All of a sudden, he had more cherries than he knew what to do with.”

The Sequists now harvest tart cherries on nearly 1,000 acres. To diversity, 30 acres are dedicated to apples and pears. Another 15 acres are for sweet cherries.

Fully embracing growth and technology, they no longer sell just simple cherries. The family now produces 75 different hand-poured specialty food items, including tart cherry juice. The others, most of which are not appropriate for diabetics include salsa, barbecue sauce, honey mustard and poppyseed salad dressing. All made with cherries.

“God has blessed us here, and I want to give him credit.”

* “A Review of the Health Benefits of Cherries” March 2018 issue of Nutrients