The benefits of practicing yoga vary with the practitioner, depending on factors such as how consistently they practice, what aspects of yoga they integrate into their daily lives and the integrity of their practice. But as a yoga student since 2001, a registered yoga teacher since 2010 and someone who has observed the journey of my diverse long-term clients and students, here are some benefits of practicing...
Yoga postures (or asanas) -- Train your ability to be present in your body. Release stagnancy and enable energy flow throughout your body. Detoxify from mental stress manifested as physical tension. Increase your physical strength, stamina and flexibility.
Yoga Breath Work (or pranayama) -- Regulate and rebalance your nervous system. Skillfully direct the flow of life energy (or prana) throughout your body. Calm your mind from habitual negative thoughts. Optimize your respiration and digestion. Give your nervous system rest and redirect more energy to boosting your immune system.
Yoga Philosophy -- See life outside the lens of the fear-based ego. Understand the tendencies of the human mind. Apply the physical and mental strategies of yoga into your daily life and conflicts. Identify and let go of self-sabotaging patterns and develop clear perception. Cultivate an open mind and open heart to deconstruct notions of separation between you and "others."
Meditation (or dhyana and dharana) -- Daily mental hygiene. Become more aware of the role your thoughts and emotions play in your life. Recognize unmetabolized emotions that cause you to react, rather than consciously respond, to daily events. Liberate yourself from habits that no longer serve your highest well being and true connection to the world. Have space to listen to your inner guidance with your whole being.
These are only a few of the ways I've read about, personally experienced and witnessed our community members benefit from these practices of yoga that we share in our Zoom yoga classes, 6 days weekly. A beautiful part of the practice is that it's self-paced, You are your teacher (I'm like a tour guide) and you're encouraged to participate in the ways that you're able to in the moment. If you'd like to join us for a class, visit our schedule here or consider joining our monthly varying community events here.
Among my sources for inspiration to grow and learn as a yoga teacher is the community I serve. Unique individuals are drawn to our yoga community for different reasons, whether to condition their body, manage stress or dive deeper into the 8 Limbs of Yoga as a path to Self-realization, or union with Higher Consciousness. And like my personal yoga journey, their reason to stay and continue to consistently show up as a community may evolve as their own yoga practice matures.
Shona Ganguly has been attending our yoga classes for over 8 years. Shona is a dancer by hobby, natural environment protector by profession and now an expectant first-time mother. She began her yoga practice to find balance in her busy world. And while this benefit still brings her to the practice weekly, she explains yoga’s wisdom teachings, echoed in her Hindu upbringing and Indian heritage, that instill a deeper sense of balance throughout the many aspects of her life off the yoga mat. Enjoy this 25-minute interview with Shona, and perhaps her story or “why” may resonate with you.
I’m not a huge fan of following recipes or measuring ingredients to the T, but I do like to peruse them for inspiration. Here’s a 30-minute Coconut Curry Recipe from Minimalist Baker that inspired some of the ingredients and steps in creating this warming spicy concoction that feels like soul food.
Why curry? It’s a great way to load up on your nutrients and throw in the vegetables that are about to go bad in your fridge, honestly.
Instead of the quinoa in the recipe, I decided to add sweet potato to the vegetables in the curry. Here are 6 Surprising Health Benefits of Sweet Potatoes, according to Healthline. A main attraction is their assist in boosting your immune system with their epic amounts of Vitamin A.
My favorite dark leafy greens to promote gut health, another key to boosting your immune system, are kale and broccoli. Another immune system-protecting warrior is shitake mushroom, which you can read about here. They are an excellent source of Vitamin D, which seems to be a key word in helping to prevent or combat COVID. Turmeric, which includes Curcumin, “demonstrates anti-inflammatory, anticarcinogenic, antiaging, and antioxidant activity, as well as efficacy in wound healing,” according to this article published in the National Library of Medicine in 2018.
I could go on about the many other nutritious ingredients I added to this curry, but do the research and see what ingredients you need to tailor for your particular health needs or allergies.
Now last but not least, compelling taste is an important factor in choosing what recipes I post here, as my kitchen experiments do not always please the senses (practicing satya here)! This won not only for my plant-based belly, but a vegetarian’s and a non-vegan/non-vegetarian eater, whom I shared it with. I made it a few times, and I found that a key to good taste was to do the preliminary sauté mentioned in step 2 of the recipe and add all the spices (I measure to personal taste). And, I added almost equal parts of regular coconut milk and vegetable broth, again adjusted to personal taste. I let the senses, especially attuning to the aromas, guide the proportions of it all, sort of like an abstract painting. If you do decide to give this a try, or have another vegan healthy recipe to share, feel free to comment below.
I can understand the jadedness some people express about the word “love.” Valentine’s Day candies inscribed with messages like “be mine” as if to love someone is to possess them like property. Pink and red fluffy hearts with doilies decorate love with a feeling of daintiness and fragility.
But what about the kind of love that drives a single mother in Bangladesh to work in a sweatshop 14-16 hours everyday to try to feed her toddler who has to live with her grandparents and hardly see her mom? Or, the love that chooses to liberate a suffering pet of 15 years from their painfully aging ailing body despite the sadness of losing their best companion?
Author Sharon Salzberg likens love to water in its soft and strong qualities—so flexible it takes on the shape of whatever vessel it flows into, “yet over time, water will carve its own pathway even through rock.” And it’s a testament to our interconnection, “an incarnation of the water in the juicy fruit you ate yesterday may have fallen as rain halfway around the world last year, nourished a flower offered to a beloved in India…” and so on.
As we’re surrounded by holiday decorations of “love,” I’m compelled to look into the ways it deeply connects, inspires, enlivens and heals us as a pure expression of our inner nature.
Compassion is a highly regarded practice by mindfulness authors, like Pema Chodron, who teaches that it expands our capacity to love without condition and necessitates our ability to fully feel our difficult emotions. In metta meditation, one practices sending sincere loving kindness to themselves and others in a series of stages.
This is a valuable tool for feeling and rippling love from within, and I’m inviting you to join in. Sat, 2/13 @5:30-6:30pm PT on Zoom, I’m facilitating a mind-body-spirit practice of Gentle Yin Yoga, breath work and Metta Meditation, by donation of whatever energy exchange you can afford.
To access the live event, 'Metta Date' Night, RSVP at Root2RiseYoga.org/Community-Events
May we feel the love that is at the core of our being and all beings, as Mother Nature exemplifies.
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”― Viktor E. Frankl
This sums up one of my reasons for meditating daily. In case you don't know me that personally, I tend to be very passionate. While this passion joyfully fuels my work and play, it has also lent itself to impulsive reactivity. In a fit of rage, I once punched glass repeatedly with my bare fist until it shattered because I felt betrayed and disregarded by a partner I loved and trusted. That "rock-bottom" moment of being hijacked by my anger was over a decade ago, and I have the scar to remind me that I'm committed to self-healing, which includes letting go of my shame about it in order to transform "my karma (or, effects of my actions) into my dharma (or, spiritual path or duty)," as author Kathleen Hanagan says.
I felt nervous to post this, but it's a part of my shadow that spurred self-study and tools for self-healing. I eventually started a daily sitting meditation practice in 2013 and it continues to serve as a tool for learning to observe my thoughts and emotions without getting caught up in them that I lose myself. Meditation is my teacher of equanimity, the ability to feel wholeheartedly (not sweeping uncomfortable things under the rug) but allowing the space for discernment to choose my response.
I share this story because in our common humanity, I understand we all feel difficult emotions, especially when life challenges arise. And during physical distancing and quarantining, we might forget that we have support and are not alone. Thankfully, we're in an era of technology that lets you read this or live-stream together from different time zones. So, I'm taking the opportunity to share what I can and what's been of great service to my healing and continues to be: my meditation practice (the 7th limb of yoga).
You can find a link to a free YouTube playlist of various lengths and kinds of guided meditations, from beginning to sit for it to dealing with anger and negative self-talk here:
If you'd like to share the practice live, here are some Zoom events you're welcome to join:
1. Fridays 4:30pm Yoga postures, breathwork and 10 minutes meditation (weekly)
2. Sat, 2/13 at 5:30pm Metta Date Night: Yin Yoga, breathwork and a guided meditation for sending loving kindness to yourself and others
3. Thur, 2/18 at 6pm Integrative Yoga Night focusing on Nurturing Resilience
4. Sat, 2/27 at 1pm Peace through Forgiveness: Qi Gong + Integrative Yoga, co-facilitated by Sigal Mehuyas
Details + Sign Up at Root2RiseYoga.org/Community-Events
You're welcome to invite a friend. Come to practice with a community that supports each other.
Ever feel anxiety that you’re not doing enough? In my first few months adapting to volunteer life teaching in Costa Rica, my host family’s most common word to me was, “tranquila,” or relax. In their eyes, I seemed to constantly be seeking something, so often doing and trying to get somewhere and get things done. I mentally kicked and screamed, resisting their slower pace of life that seemed to trust ambiguity and even embrace the unknown through the Costa Rican philosophy of pura vida, or “pure life,” meaning “it’s all good.”
Through plenty of alone time with my inner critic and daily yoga and journaling, I gradually realized that at the root of my relentless pulse to keep busy sat a deep feeling of unworthiness and constant need to feel more useful. Also, I longed for a sense of control to appease my fear and lack of trust in life and myself. Becoming aware of these root causes, I starting giving myself permission to play more, be okay with uncertainty and find a balance between work, rest, play, creating, solitude and socializing. I spoke to myself more kindly and cultivated self-trust. I learned about quality of presence over quantity of achievements.
Slowly I was un-gripping life and letting it flow. Oh, is that what pura vida meant?!
So much changed in the months after, as if layers of tension had melted and I could see and enjoy simple things more intimately. Ultimately, this led to wanting to share the practices that awakened me to inner joy by training to become a yoga teacher.
With gratitude I’ll be sharing these introspective yoga tools that gifted me such grace this Thursday at Integrative Yoga Night focusing on Living in Balance. We’ll calm the nervous system and open the body through gentle Yin Yoga, breathe more deeply using yogic techniques, cultivate nonjudgmental self-awareness through guided meditation, trust our inner guidance through self-inquiry journaling and share insight and support through conversation. This nurturing space is for you to redefine what a balanced life means for you. You might think of it as a mini-retreat at home.
Join us for this donation-based Zoom gathering on 1/28 6-7pm PT. Click the image below to RSVP:
Nina Arhipov began practicing yoga around 2015, almost dismissing it after her first try until she discovered Vinyasa Flow. Her love for movement contributes to her youthful energy and adventurous spirit. Learn more about the spirit behind this vibrant smile, by watching our interview below.
Connect with Nina in our weekly Zoom yoga classes or community events. Or, you just may spot her enjoying the views on her hike along Los Angeles' local trails.
Nina practices yoga overlooking Costa Rica's countryside during our retreat in 2019.
Whether you're new to yoga or have been practicing a while, the 8 Limbs of Yoga are the 8-fold path explained in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and combine to form a well-rounded practice for mind, body and spirit. Beginning January 4, 2021, I'll be adding to this article each week for a total of 16 weeks exploring these foundations. Consider joining our yoga community live online on Zoom for yoga classes that further this exploration through direct experience simultaneously.
The 1st Limb of Yoga, the Yamas
There are 8 Limbs of Yoga and these are the aspects that make up the practice of yoga, which means union. The first limb, called the Yamas in Sanskrit, are a list of five ethical behaviors that guide our actions in the world to align with our yogic path to Self-realization, or uniting with our true nature, that of pure love.
The 1st Yama, Ahimsa (Nonviolence)
The first Yama is nonviolence, or ahimsa in Sanskrit. There are many ways we can consciously and unconsciously inflict pain and suffering on ourselves, others and our planet. To practice non-harm, I believe it’s essential to observe our thoughts, words and actions and the effects they have on ourselves and the world around us. What is the tone of your inner voice as you move about your day? How do you relate to the feelings and needs of others? How are your daily actions affecting the well being of your body, spirit, mind, household, loved ones, neighbors, communities, cities and all life around you? In our interconnectedness what you think, say and do matters and its energy ripples; Ahimsa is the practice of rippling kindness, compassion and love.
The Yoga Sutras state that as one fully embodies non-violence, their presence of peace emanates an energy field of peace around them, so that lower frequencies of hate, violence or destruction dissolve within that field. There is power in kindness!
The 2nd Yama, Satya (Truthfulness)
Our thoughts and words have creative power. When they are misaligned to what we do and say, we feel (and others may feel) the state of imbalance and confusion. Just as we consciously align our bodies in yoga poses, yoga includes aligning our minds, bodies and spirits so that our actions in our outer world match our inner intentions. Living with such clarity and integrity we can live wholeheartedly, expressing our truth with ahimsa.
The 3rd Yama, Asteya (Nonstealing)
The 3rd yama is asteya, non-stealing. When I think of the mindset that might motivate someone to steal an idea, an object, a relationship, someone’s time, natural resources or whatever it may be, I feel it boils down to a feeling of scarcity and undervaluing their own abilities and so-called possessions. To me, it seems they may not understand their own power to access their own creativity, abundance, uniqueness or resources. This may lead to competitiveness and even greed, and it’s based on illusions of the ego like, “There’s not enough for everyone” or “I’m not good enough.” Interestingly, as we adhere to non-harm (ahimsa) and truthfulness (satya), we release the need to steal what does not belong to us. Moreover, we can honor the balance of giving and receiving in our relationships when we connect to the truth that we are all part of a whole, like we’re ultimately on the same team. Thus, we realize that the harm we inflict or generosity we share towards another being is ultimately what we are doing to ourselves too.
In practicing asteya, here are some questions to reflect on:
The 4th Yama, Brahmacharya (Wise Use of Energy)
The 4th yama is brahmacharya, or wise use of energy. How do you practice moderation and balance in all areas of your life in order to harmonize with divine consciousness, consequently experiencing pure vitality? Interpreted by some to include celibacy, brahmacharya involves being mindful with how you spend your energy—your thoughts, time, attention, physical presence, emotions, finances and other resources—with the ultimate intent to align with infinite intelligence. It also includes providing your body with clean nourishment and sufficient rest and engaging in a balance of contemplative solitude and socializing and work and play. It’s being purposeful with how you harness, contain and expend your energy in light of the bigger picture of your spiritual journey. Consistent practice of daily pranayama (breathwork), asana (postures) and meditation set the stage for cultivating brahmacharya.
The 5th Yama, Aparigraha (Non-attachment)
The 5th yama is aparigraha, or non-attachment, non-possessiveness and non-greed. In understanding the impermanence of all material things, you can enjoy the freedom of being present without seeking to relive the past or leap into the future, of being able to let go of things when their time is up, such as relationships you may have outgrown, and of self-confidence without having to compare yourself to others because you can value the success of each being as a uniquely beneficial part of the whole. It's also the ability to be grateful for what you have and enjoy an inner sense of fulfillment, without having to constantly chase after something else to fill a void. There are many ways to apply aparigraha, and ultimately, it enables a sense of liberation to be fully authentically you without having to rely on someone or something else to feel your worth.
As Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar explains aparigraha, “Non-accumulating simply means confidence in one’s existence and in one’s abilities. It is knowledge of oneself.”
And in the words of Lao Tzu, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of who I am, I receive what I need.”
The 2nd Limb of Yoga, the Niyamas
The niyamas are constructive tools to live in harmony with ourselves and strengthen our alignment with our core being. Whereas the yamas of the 1st Limb of Yoga encompassed ways of interacting with the world to reflect our true nature, the niyamas are personal practices in relating with our self within.
The 1st Niyama, Shaucha (Cleanliness)
The first niyama is shaucha, often translated from Sanskrit as “purification, or cleanliness.” It involves healthy habits of keeping our bodies and environment clean and our minds free from harmful thoughts. In relation to the body, it’s being mindful of what you put inside and on your body to optimize its wellbeing and ability to be a temple for your inner spirit. For your environment, it’s clearing away clutter and maintaining a physical space around you—at home, in your car, at work or in nature—that is conducive to open energy flow, peaceful interactions and inner calm. And for your mind, it includes practices like regular meditation and discerning what you focus on to develop clear perception, living consciously and evolving in awareness.
Some self-inquiry to guided your practice of shaucha might be…
The 2nd Niyama, Santosha (Contentment)
The second niyama is santosha, often translated as “contentment.” As Willem Kuyken, professor of mindfulness as Oxford University, explains, contentment is a state of being that has the capacity to be present with the gamut of experiences, from those deemed joyful to challenging and difficult, with the wholeheartedness and spaciousness of equanimity. It’s letting go of conditions and expectations, like “I’ll be happy when or if…” and not resisting what’s here now nor perpetuating suffering or drama through internal storytelling, such as those based on presumptions that cloud perception.
There are several ways to develop santosha. The complementary yogic practice of vairagya, or non-attachment, can help cultivate santosha by understanding and remembering the impermanence of all material things. In yoga asana (or postures), meditation and daily life activities, you can observe your mental storytelling, reactions and expectations and develop the discernment, known as buddhi in yoga psychology, to see how they actually relate or don’t relate to the situation being interpreted. Identify when you might be filling in the blanks spurred by personal aversions or insecurities, such as false beliefs of “I’m not good enough.” Also, a genuine practice of gratitude throughout the day can help redirect inclination of mind towards seeing what IS working really well in your life, body or relationships. Just as negative thoughts can become a default, positive thoughts can become the overriding habit too, as is the effect of the yogic practice of pradhipaksha bhavanam, or transforming negative thoughts to their opposite. Finally, contentment is not to be faked or used as a guise to overlook darkness and vulnerabilities. Kuyken teaches the mindfulness practice of befriending, that is, cultivating a caring curiosity to be with all that life brings, without having to fight against, take flight from or numb yourself to what is.
Just like many of the yamas and niyamas, santosha redirects our attention inward to our true source of contentment, rather than riding the falsehood that a thing or other being will create happiness for us.
The 3rd Niyama, Tapas (Discipline)
The 3rd niyama is tapas, often translated as the fire of discipline. It is the diligent effort required to commit to day-to-day and moment-by-moment practices that uncover our greatest potential, our highest Self or our true nature. It is the choice to show up and do our best, even when the conditions are challenging, like when we feel we’re too busy, knowing also that “our best” varies in expression based on our current state of being. It’s the persistence to honor our truth and address the habits that no longer serve us. This includes having the courage and willpower to practice shedding harmful thought patterns, likened to a fire of purification, and to begin healthier habits. As we directly experience the effects of long-term discipline to cultivate our healthiest mind, body and spirit, we strengthen our discernment in everyday life to choose consciously how we develop, clearly direct and sustain our life force energy so that we live in alignment with our life purpose. As one of my teachers, Kia Miller, encouraged, “Transform your discipline (an attitude of obligation) into devotion (an attitude of loving surrender)”.
The 4th Niyama, Svadhyaya or Self-Study
The 4th niyama is svadhyaya, often translated as the study of the self. This involves observing your habits of thinking, doing and being to deconstruct barriers to aligning with your highest consciousness. It also includes studying wisdom teachings, such as the Yoga Sutras, learning from enlightened teachers and practicing mindfulness to expand your perspective of life. In yoga philosophy, there is a distinction between the “self” (all lowercase) as the ego self and sense of individuality and the “Self” (with uppercase “S”) as universal consciousness that knows no separation between all beings. Through cultural conditioning, inherited traits and personal habits, the ego self is mostly concerned with its own survival and is often driven by fear. Fueled with satya (truthfulness), ahimsa (nonharm) and tapas (discipline), svadhyaya is learning to let go of such conditioned behaviors or beliefs to transcend the ego and discover unity consciousness, which is characterized by pure connection and deep love. As Sufi poet Rumi encouraged, “Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” And, as the ancient Hindu text and source of yoga philosophy, The Bhagavad Gita, explained, "Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the Self (with a capital S)".
To be continued...
A Collective Blog about Yoga Lifestyle & Inspiration
©2010 Root 2 Rise Yoga