Author Archives: thenamas

connect via virtual sangrias during covid 19 shut ins

Virtual Sanghas Amid Shut-ins

 

World Bhakti with Sean Johnson now creating virtual sanghasSocial distancing and quarantines are no fun. Fortunately, virtual sanghas are forming to keep us sane.

For example, the other day, Gov. Cuomo mentioned an extremely heartfelt talk he had, virtually, with his daughter who was in self-isolation.

Without a doubt, technology is providing us with a welcomed doorway. A bridge to keep us connected. Uplift our energy and spirits in these trying times. For those missing their normal routine, now is an even more important time to soak up the wisdom, creativity and positivity of others. 

Moving in a pinch, all the lead presenters from the recent World Bhakti festival revved up ways to  get connected.  Opportunities for the homebound to connect with like minded people. What I call virtual sanghas

World Bhakti with Sean Johnson“I’m grateful for live interaction with my circle of support in challenging times,” says Sunshine Kessler Teran. She synchs to Bhakti House Band’s virtual sanghas. Plenty of others are finding solace tapping into the energy, spirit and talents of their favorite yogis or kirtan artists. Live. From their phone, tablet or laptop. Following are just post-World Bhakti offeringsi. (Details follow.) Because I was there. Felt the sangha form. And, recognize the doors to those virtual sanghas are wide open.

While I wasn’t a presenter, I’ve got sangha in mind. Aside connecting with other yogis in their virtual offerings, I revived my Yoga Book Club from San Antonio. Undeniably, this will be super simple. No need to buy or read anything in advance. Just tune in via Facebook Live Tuesdays, Thursdays and/or Sundays at 2 p.m. CT.   I’ll read a passage. Afterwards, folks chat about the meaning.

The first selection is from John Pavlovitz. “A Bigger Table.” Disenchanted with the Catholic Church, he ended up serving as a Methodist pastor for 20 years. His book addresses the need for spiritual communities, within our outside of places of worship.. 

Sean Johnson, Virtual Sanghas from New Orleans

Sean Johnson at World Bhakti Festival, Dallas

Last week, Sean Johnson launched virtual classes from his studios in New Orleans. “Here we go, entering uncharted territory together,” he said. “If yoga prepares us for anything, it’s for change, and we’re looking forward to supporting each other and seeking the gifts inside this challenging time together.” His next virtual class is Thursday March 26, while his instructors will lead asana and meditation sessions on other dayparts.

For those unfamiliar with Johnson, he’s a favorite among many yoga teachers. He performs, and teaches his unique style of Bhakti on the Mat, across the U.S.  For first timers, his classes may seem unusual. They may start with storytelling, Students sit close together on the floor around him. Not unlike kids huddled in a pre-school.

Like storytelling with the kiddos, Johnson isn’t reading bland words. He is a cross between a poet and an actor. Using animated gestures, vocal and facial expression, he incites the listener to join in with sound effects. Animal noises. Pounding the floor. Howling with scary animal or nature sounds. In essence, he pulls the kid out of the adult. Making his sessions not only fun, but memorable.

 

Considering that Johnson’s stories all connect to the ancient Scriptures, his ability to make those learnings relevant to modern day American city folk is remarkable.  

The son of a former nun, and father who was studying to be a Jesuit priest, he has an expansive vision of what’s holy. Johnson considers himself an educator that builds bridges between the physical and devotional aspects of yoga. Furthermore, he makes an effort to cross cultural and religious divides.

All the while, he expresses his New Orleans roots. Somehow, the Cajun spice mixes well with his reverence for the traditional mantras and vedas. He encapsulates the spirit and knowledge of the ancient sages through music that makes you want to rock and roll —and chant along. Regardless of whether it be via concerts, storytelling time or yoga classes.  Consistently.

Bhakti House Band’s Virtual Sanghas Radiate from Fort Worth

Bhakti House Band now with virtual sanghasAs soon as people started to tuck themselves into their homes, Bhakti House Band began daily FaceTime Live satsang (gathering of truth). Not only Monday through Friday. But every day. Good thing, as weekday and weekend is now blurred for many. 

Randall and Kristin Brooks of Bhakti House Band call their sessions Bhakti House Cafe. However, I call it chat and chant. 

First, beyond the virtual Bhakti satsang, what makes their sessions so beautiful is the simple lessons they teach. Yes, they share their knowledge of Sanskrit and mantras. But, they connect to every day living — and challenges. Especially those people face in this phase of quarantines and six-foot distancing. 

Second, each day is different in the virtual satsang. Nonetheless, they follow a routine that boosts self-discovery — and community. At 9 a.m. CT they elicit participants to share from their daily gratitude top three list. Close to 10 a.m. CT they chant a song from their latest double CD, “Roots to Revolutions.”  Called “Raise Your Words,” it’s become their anthem to “rise above” Coronavirus. The song blends words from a Rumi poem, with Sanskrit Universal Peace mantra.  After it winds down, they chant a verse from “Let it Be.”

“Raise Your Words, Not Your Voice. It’s the rain that grows the flowers, not the thunder.” ~Rumi 

Roots to Revolutions by Bhakti House BandAdditionally, Bhakti House Band is offering more intimate online classes and workshops Thursday evenings. Via Zoom, it enables them to delve deeper in discussions about the ancient learnings and modern day applications.

I first met Randall and Kristin about six years when they led 108 rounds of the Gayatri mantra in Houston. Now, they’re leading 108 rounds during their Saturday FaceTime Live satsang.

Over the years, I’ve chanted with Bhakti House Band in Houston, California and Madison, Wisconsin.  They are friends, mentors and spiritual guides. To top it off, they’re phenomenal musicians who stay true to their urban Texan roots. 

 

Roots to Revolutions. Indeed, they share their spiritual journey through relevant lyrics and heartfelt musical compositions.  Plus, their love for the yoga of sacred sound and conscious devotion. Over the last few decades, they have criss crossed the country –and beyond–to inspire humanity. To awaken hearts. To live with purpose. And experience a higher sense of freedom and connection with all life.  

While that sounds like a difficult feat, they’re successfully translating those desires to their virtual satsang

Virtual Sanghas for Kids, too, with Stefanie Tovar

Stefanie Tovar at World Bhakti Festival, Dallas

Stefanie is definitely the kind of person that you can tell likes to be in touch with people, person to person. She leads yoga and kirtan sessions to folks of all ages.  Sometimes, in Spanglish. Often times in outdoor public places. Plus, she leads retreats geared toward going within, regardless of where you’re at, spiritually. 

Moreover, The Dallas Observer recognized her kids’ initiative, Hanuman Homies, as The Best Underdog Nonprofit of 2019.

But, as of this week, she’s online. Daily. Most her offerings are on her two YouTube channels.

At the same time, she’s also connecting via Zoom and Instagram. Her new donation-based video classes range from Morning Mantra, to Practice in Your PJs. As part of Hanuman Homies, she leads mindfulness and yoga via shorter online sessions. 

While she recognizes that people need to keep up with sangha, any way they can, she says that this new work is also to helping her to stay connected and committed to her purpose. “I’m honored to be of service, in some way, to as many people as possible.”

Sangha Comes in Many Styles

Additionally, two of the World Bhakti organizers are getting ready to go virtual. Lavanga Latika will lead Sangha With Lavanga. Via Facebook Live, she’ll discuss the Bhagavad Gita. For those wanting a traditional yoga practice, Kirsten Burch will begin those soon. And, I’m offering private virtual Yoga Nidra, as I think it’s more important now for so many,.

Finally, a great way to tune in to the music of Sean Johnson, Bhakti House Band and Stefanie Tovar is through a World Bhakti playlist on Spotify. Tune in to the vibes of that festival, as you do your laundry, cook some healthy food, or drink some tea. 

 

Leviticus 19:34 Lovingkindness to strangers among us

Loving Kindness & Social Justice: Tenets of Yoga and Judaism

Yoga is not just about 60 minutes on a mat. For me, anyway.  It’s a lifestyle that follows ancient tenets. Among them, loving kindness. Act selflessly and be in harmony with the universe.  In his book, “Krishnamacharya: His Life and Teachings,” A.C. Mohan says, “if the yamas and the niyamas are practiced, one will have universal compassion toward all living beings.”

Refugees Welcome_HIAS_Jews for Refugees

I consider loving kindness to include opening our doors and hearts  to immigrants. All my grandparents fled persecution. What’s more, I recognize that with the exception of the Native Americans, all Americans were once immigrants. 

Melanie Nezer is senior vice president of public affairs at HIAS, a non-profit dedicated to selfless service and advocacy for immigrants.  Last week, HIAS hosted a Jews for Refugees Assembly in Austin. Established in 1881, HIAS is active in 16 countries from Kenya to the Ukraine. And, the U.S.  

“We used to help refugees because THEY were Jewish.  Now, we help refugees because WE are Jewish,” she said. The reason for HIAS underlies the meaning of the Hebrew word tzedakah. Charity. Social justice. Righteousness. In other words, tzedakah, like the yamas and the niyamas, promotes loving kindness and compassion. 

Loving Kindness: Love the Stranger as You Love Yourself

As a child, I memorized the words on the Statue of Liberty. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Basically, a compassionate mantra for those seeking a better life.

Today, that welcome mat is out of sight, said Rabbi Alan Freedman of Temple Beth Shalom at the Austin assembly. On the contrary, the current administration demonstrates a lack of compassion for immigrants. To clarify, Rabbi Freedman spoke about a disregarded passage in Leviticus.  

Leviticus 19:34

Leviticus 19:34 states that one shall love the stranger as one loves oneself. Recalling being foreigners living in the land of Egypt.

Rather than honoring what many religions prescribe, our government is harming the foreigner, said the Rabbi. Especially the millions whose lives are at stake in their homelands. 

“This story of fear to freedom is under threat. The policies of our government are violative of this commandment. It’s a policy of cruelty. A stain upon the national soul.”

Ahmed Abbas crossed the Atlantic hoping to close a chapter of fear, and live in freedom. Taking a turn on the teachings in Leviticus, he was not a foreigner in Egypt. Conversely, he fled Egypt and became a foreigner in North America. 

We Need Each Other

HIAS at Austin Jews for Refugees AssemblyAbbas was a political exile, having been a leader in the Arab Spring protests. Just a decade ago, tens of thousands rallied for peace, freedom and a change in the 30-year rule of Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarek. Abbas escaped to Mexico. There, he began a successful business. However, that attracted the cartel. And threats. Once again, feeling danger, he became a two-time refugee. He sought asylum in the U.S. in 2014. Today, his residency remains in limbo. 

In perfect English, he spoke about an element that tzedakah and the yamas and niyamas share. 

“Compassion is the only aspect of mankind that makes us human.” All throughout history, there have been ideological walls. Yet, every human invention is based on connecting with one another, to some extent. “We all have imperfections. We need each other.” 

Compassion Makes Us Human

Yet, compassion is not always part of government policies acknowledged Texas House Rep. Gina Hinojosa. Rather than compassion, she said current policies reflect cruelty. While no longer discussed on the nightly news, child separation continues. A point often overlooked, many children enter the U.S. with a family member. If it’s not the mother or the father, they are separated. Regardless of the fact that the parents entrusted their child with the relative.  Secondly, millions of Americans live in mixed status families. One child may be a U.S. citizen or legal resident. Another is not. To repeat, families are separated.  

HIAS Austin Jews for Refugees Assembly

Another example of cruelty is the number of refugees allowed in our country. 

HIAS’ Nezer said there are 71 million displaced people, globally. Of those, 26 million are refugees. The number the U.S. government will allow to be resettled? Less than 18,000. In Texas? Zero.  Therefore, the doors are basically closed for asylum seekers. 

“What our country has done is offshore asylum responsibilities.” The result: “the most horrible…defacto refugee camps” void of any security and basic necessities. Rather than offering a safe-house for those seeking asylum, 80 percent become victims of violent crime under the U.S. “Migration Protection Protocols” a.k.a. remain in Mexico.

“We are killing people. Very literally. We started a feeding frenzy for the cartel,” said Nezer. People are getting death threats on their cell phones. 

Nezer, whose organization provides legal counsel to refugees and asylum seekers, gave an example of one man from Cuba. He asked for asylum at the U.S./Mexico border. His case was waitlisted for three to four months. In just five days, he was held up at gunpoint five times. 

Social Justice as Loving Kindness

Selflessness and Social Justice

HIAS is spearheading more opportunities in Austin, and throughout the U.S.. The goal is to show compassion, and make a difference. Following, are a few easy steps. 

Finally, remember that advocacy is essential. Above all, understand small efforts count.  “You can make a difference in someone’s life,” Nezer urged.

cacao as medicine

Cacao as Medicine. From My Heart to Yours.

Cacao: A Treat for the Heart

I enjoy cacao as medicine. It’s heart-healthy, and a heart opener. Sunday afternoon. Feb. 23., I’ll be offering cacao as medicine workshops at The Namaste Getaway. Pick from Partner Play, or, First Love Yourself. All will include gluten-free, vegan low-glycemic cacao treats. Made with love.  From my heart to yours. 

Cacao vs. Coffee

cacao as medicine. pure cacao from Costa Rica

I was never really a coffee drinker. In fact, I didn’t have my first sip until I was in college. At 30, I stayed clear when my doctor told me it was a digestive irritant.  But, when I moved to Miami, how could I resist the ritual cafecito breaks? Then, in San Antonio, I began to sip coffee to offset the workplace A/C chill.

When I upped my yoga practice, I put a complete stop to caffeine. Both of my yogic lineages say no to meat, eggs, alcohol, and caffeine. For multiple reasons. Now, I’ve been living pretty much caffeine-free for 15 or 20 years.

However, I still rev up my body, heart and mind, with cacao as medicine treats. Following are some of my reasons why.  Plus, how I make my own cacao as in the image to the right. 

Caffeine-free Energy Boost

I get my physical and mental boosts from cacao. Yet, cacao is caffeine-free. Rather, it contains theobromine which is a gentle cardiac stimulant and muscle-relaxant. Furthermore, theobromine does NOT affect the central nervous system, as does caffeine. 

I view cacao as medicine. One of nature’s good medicines. It has been considered such by the indigenous peoples in the Americas for ages. In fact, the word chocolate, comes from the Nahuatl word Xocolatl. Likewise, the word cacao has its origins in Nahuatl. It’s shortened from cacahuatl meaning the bean of the cocoa tree. While, the word cacahuate, in Mexico, now is commonly used for peanut. The latter was shortened from the Nahuatl tlacahuatl, meaning cacao de la Tierra. 

But let’s forget about the word chocolate. Go a step further. Try to erase it from your pantry, fridge, and mind. Consider this: today’s “chocolate,” like kisses or Crunch, are overly processed. They are loaded with sugar, fats, and basically have no redeeming features. Fortunately, many alternative brands of organic higher cacao content products are available at your Whole Foods or Sprouts.   

Nonetheless, I go to the source. I buy my cacao in Central America.  Real. Pure. 100 percent. 

Pure Cacao as Medicine

This past Xmas eve day, just back from Costa Rica, I held a special heart-opening class at Orange Moon Yoga. I served my pure cacao as medicine, and explained its benefits.  

cacao ceremony by Deborah Charnes at Orange Moon Yoga, Wimberley

First, cacao is loaded with magnesium.
Second, cacao is one of the greatest sources for anti-oxidants.
Third, cacao is high in protein. And meat-eaters always ask, “where do you get your protein.” Ha!
Fourth. Cacao is calcium rich.
Fifth, cacao is great for the mind. In several ways. Many, recognize it as an anti-depressant.
Next. Cacao for the heart. Energetically, it is a heart-opener.  Physically, it can reduce blood pressure and improve heart health. 
Finally, cacao is caffeine-free. However, it contains theobromine which is a gentle cardiac stimulant and muscle-relaxant. Theobromine does NOT affect the central nervous system, as does caffeine. 

Cacao as Medicine with Indian or Indigenous Spices

cacao as medicine. pure cacao patty at Museo del Cacao in Costa Rica

To add to the benefits of cacao as medicine, rather than watering down the benefits with milk and sugar, which was introduced by the Europeans, go for what’s been added historically.

At my recent visit to a Cacao museum in Costa Rica, my guide explained to me that the indigenous people added turmeric, ginger and black pepper to their cacao. Interestingly enough, that’s pretty much what I add. But, my inspirations come from Ayurveda. At the same time, following a low-glycemic diet for many years, I tend to use lots of cinnamon as my “sweetener.” My guide said the indigenous people in Mexico used the cinnamon.

Furthermore, I make my own bliss balls, following plenty of recipes, and always omitting the dates or other sweeteners. Two of my favorite bliss ball recipes come from my Ayurvedic doctor. The first is Dr. Nibodhi’s Cacao Bliss Balls, infused with ashwagandha and cayenne.   The second is Dr. Nibodhi’s Chai Balls, which include ginger, cardamon and cloves. 

So, I was pleasantly surprised when at the end of my Cacao Museum tour, I pretty much made my own flat rather than round bliss balls.  Freshly ground and toasted cacao, with just a tad of water to be able to form the patty on the banana leaf. Then, I was able to sprinkle in cinnamon, ginger, pepper, nutmeg and turmeric. Medicine sprinkled with many more medicinal forms. Pure Bliss.

Now, I look forward to sharing cacao as medicine. From my heart to yours.

 

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.