Monday, January 16, 2017

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a Yogi

In 1959, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to India to study Mahatma Gandhi’s principles of non-violent social change.  Though Gandhi was assassinated in 1948, Dr. King, Jr. was able to meet with many leaders to learn about these principles, which stemmed from the teachings of Yoga.  Gandhi-ji studied the Bhagavad Gita every day. It is one of the main texts of Yoga. When he was faced with a difficult situation in the push for independence – and there were many – he turned to The Gita. 

In it, four paths of Yoga are described.  Each is a way to approach greater Self-understanding.  People have different temperaments and one path may suit one person more than another.  Ultimately, a balance of all four paths is the surest route, though one may focus more on one than another.  The four paths are:

  • Raja Yoga – The path of meditation.
  • Jnana Yoga – The path of intense self-inquiry.  This is the most difficult path.
  • Bhakti Yoga – The path of devotion. This is the easiest and safest path.
  • Karma Yoga – The path of selfless service.

Both great men lived the life of a yogi - one who pursues truth, one who examines themselves deeply, one who lives by these personal codes laid out by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras and Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita. We are extremely fortunate to have had these Great Souls among us to show by example how to transform our deepest struggles through non-violent means.

Karma King

Dr. King was a karma Yogi.  He dedicated his life to the service of others.  He understood that the suffering of one is the suffering of all and to harm another harms oneself and all others.

As popular as Yoga has become, most still think of this practice as a way to release stress and exercise the body.  As you can see in these four paths, they involve the mind, not the body.  The body is a useful tool to access and train the mind, yet Yoga is ultimately a practice of mindfulness.  Dr. King embodied a mindful Yogi.  Though he may have never practiced the Yoga postures, he practiced Karma Yoga every day.

Shaping the Mind

Another main text for Yoga is the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The two practices of truthfulness and self-discipline are found in these Yoga Sutras.  Dr. King was a master of both “satya”, or truthfulness, and “tapas”, self-discipline.   When Dr. King said, “We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline” he was talking about tapas.

When teaching Yoga to children, it is these deeper teachings we wish to impart.  It can be woven into the games and animal-shaped Yoga poses.  Children crave this.  Whenever I bring up the topic of truthfulness or non-violence in class, even 6-year-old students lean in.  This is our soul speaking to us, wanting to connect, to be a part of something, not separate.  Yoga gives us an experience of connection, Union. 

Today it is easy to think of Yoga as some fancy form of exercise but the true exercise is within ourselves, as these two great men showed. We transform our relationship with ourselves and others -using these teachings as a map - to experience this Union, this Yoga.

Recommended Reading

If you are interested in reading the two books mentioned above, I recommend the translation and commentary by Swami Satchidananda.  His writing is simple, elegant and wise.  I recommend these books to both beginners and my young Yoga students who wish to study further.

  • The Living Gita – The Complete Bhagavad Gita, A commentary for modern readers by Swami Satchidananda
  • The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. 
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” ~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Go Deeper

If you're interested in knowing more about the history and philosophy of Yoga, you'll love our Principles Behind the Practice podcasts.  There's a bank of these 20-minute audio workshops available to our Ohana Members. You can check it out for free for 15 days.


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Monday, December 12, 2016

A Tasty Way to Build Ojas

According to Ayurveda, Ojas is one of the three vital substances of life – the other two being tejas and prana.

Ojas is the essence that is often described as “juicy”.  It governs digestion, immunity, aging and vitality as well as spiritual and physical strength.  An abundance of ojas promotes radiant skin, positive mood, mental clarity, compassion, vigor and resilience.

Unfortunately, stress and excessive activity – both hallmarks of this time of year – deplete ojas. Signs of depleted ojas include dry skin, cold hands/feet, constipation, anxiety, pain, mental fogginess, negativity, loneliness and fatigue. If you find yourself feeling groggy in the morning, are weak and worried, or catching every bug that comes around – you may need to build some ojas.

Ojas is considered the most refined by-product of digestion so it makes sense that one of the best ways to boost ojas is through diet.

Here is our favorite Ojas drink.  It’s a delightful treat at this time of year.

  • 1 c. goat’s milk
  • 3 dates, pitted
  • 10 whole peppercorns
  • 10 cardamom seeds
  • 1 tsp – 1Tbs. ghee
  • 10 almonds, soaked and peeled
  • A few pistils of saffron
  • A pinch of cumin powder

Bring the milk to boil three times, while adding dates, peppercorns and cardamom.

Strain peppercorns and cardamom out of the milk.  Pour milk and dates into a blender, add the rest of the ingredients and blend.

Drink warm on an empty stomach and nothing else for a couple of hours.

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Light of the Heart

‘Tis the season – of gift giving and receiving, celebrations, special treats and much activity.  It can also be the season that calls for quiet time in the midst of all the other happenings. Too much outer activity and too little inner focus can come to feel burdensome, heavy, joyless.

I’d like to share with you one of my favorite daily meditations.  You can use it anytime to touch in on stillness and clarity.

It is called Light of the Heart and was taught to me by my teacher, Yogarupa Rod Stryker.   You can practice it yourself and share with your family.  It is even simple enough to teach in your children and family Yoga classes.

This practice is meant to lift the heaviness off the heart so that we may connect with our light and share it with others.

  1. Sit quietly. Spend several minutes evening out the breath.  Count to four or five on inhale and exhale to that same, even count.
  2. Allow your attention to settle on the heart.  Become aware of anything that feels heavy resting on the heart.  As you inhale, feel this being lifted up off the heart, up through the spine.  As you exhale, feel it dissipating out the top of the head. 
  3. On the next inhalation, feel a point of light enter through the top of the head and travel down the spine into the heart.  As you exhale, feel this light filling the heart.
  4. Repeat this process, breath by breath for several minutes. You are not shaping the breath, just following its natural rise and fall.
  5. You may wish to add a mantra as you do this practice.  It is optional but mantras powerfully focus the mind and improve the effectiveness of this practice.  
    • Inhale heaviness off the heart, mentally repeat  HAM
    • Exhale this out the top of the head, mentally repeat SA
    • Inhale light into the top of the head and down into the heart, mentally repeat SO
    • Exhale as this light floods the heart, mentally repeat HUM
  6. After several minutes, feel the heart radiant, open and light.  Delight in the brilliance of your own being.  Take a moment to give thanks and send love to all the people in your life.

Ohana members have access to 10, 20 & 30-minute practices - including mudra, mantra, meditation, asana and pranayama - to support your wellness throughout the year.  Not a member yet?  Check it out for FREE for 15-days!

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Shine The Light – A Mantra for Children

During these uncertain times, Children may be feeling fearful and in need of a powerful practice to dispel dark feelings. Fear is a darkness and love is light.

 Jyoti is a Sanskrit word that refers to this light and is often translated as “brightness.”  Om Jyotir Aham is a mantra that means “I am the light.” To remove darkness when you walk into a room, you don't try to push it away or fight it; you simply turn on the light.  It works the same way in the mind.

Mantra is the repetition of a sacred sound. It’s an effective practice that's easy to use. It creates a positive groove in the mind just like worry creates a negative groove. This simple technique can increase feelings of love and dispell feelings of fear.

To practice this "Om Jyotir Aham" mantra, sit tall on a chair or cross-legged on the floor.  Take a moment to feel the breath.  Then say out loud, in a whisper or silently, “Om Jyotir Aham”.  Repeat this over and over again on each exhale.  This is a harmless practice that a child of any age can do.  Sing along together for 1-5 minutes.

If for whatever reason using a foreign language isn't a good fit for your situation, you can fall back on an old American gospel, “This Little Light of Mine”. There are many renditions of this uplifting tune. Children’s singer, Raffi, had a big hit with it in the 1980s. I like to play it on my ukulele.

Children feel empowered when they know how to do something for themselves to feel better. This mantra can remove the darkness and let the light of love shine as it also shines a light on others. To hear how it sounds, click here.

*As an Ohana member, you have access to a restorative heart opening practice featuring this mantra.  Not a member yet? Check it out for FREE for 15-days.


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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Life-Changing Magic of Relaxation for Children

Squirmy six-year-olds may seem impervious to an adult’s gentle request to, “close your eyes, soften your body and relax”.  And yet, it’s an endeavor every children’s Yoga teacher takes on…every class. 

This is Savasana. Children lovingly refer to this final relaxation segment of a Yoga class as the “rest part at the end”.  It is both the most beneficial and often most requested.

Bouncy, giggly, wiggly, silly kids oftentimes don’t know how to be still. But they can be taught.  And once they are skillfully guided to a deep state of rest, they want it again and again.

You can get kids to relax.  Here’s how.

  1. Believe.  Or, you may be thinking, just wave a magic fairy wand, right?  The truth is, our perception IS creating our reality.  If we approach this with a belief that kids can’t be still or won’t relax, we are generating that energy. If there is a strong vision they will, it’s much more likely to be the case.
  2. Be consistent.  Everyone falls into a routine.  If a 3-5 minute relaxation period is part of the routine, kids will get used to it. This can be in your kids Yoga class, before a test in the classroom or after school.
  3. Relax at 3 levels – body, breath and mind. An easy and effective way to get kids to relax their body is to suggest to them that their heels are heavy on the floor, the back of their legs, bottom, rib cage and shoulder blades, back of the hands, backs of the arms and back of the head are all heavy on the floor. The sensations of heaviness and warmth trigger parasympathetic dominance. This is the rest and digest side of the autonomic nervous system. Then, invite them to feel their breath in their body.  Finally, give them an image to relax their mind, like riding a cloud on a beautiful sunny day. 
  4. Hold space. Give the children at least 1-3 minutes of silence after talking them through the three phases of relaxation described above.
  5. Reinforce. I treat “the rest part at the end” as a special treat.  Afterwards, I ask the kids how they felt and ask them if there is ever a time in life when they want to feel that way.  It connects the experience to a benefit and reinforces their interest in it.

The benefits are profound.  It is in a state of rest that the body grows and does repair work.  Memory and learning only occur when the body is calm. A relaxed mind and body is a field for unlimited potential, and that is the life-changing magic of relaxation.

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Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Fun Yoga Moves for Halloween

Stress is scary! Try these fun Yoga moves to help the kids in your life prepare for and recover from sugar and stress this Halloween.

Having a theme or story line that carries the student along through a practice is a hallmark of children’s Yoga classes. Holidays are ideal themes and Halloween - a favorite kid holiday - makes for a colorful, creative and creepy class.

While the practice stays pretty much the same, the poses, breathing exercises and relaxation take on different nature features, animals or characters to go along with the chosen theme. Here are some ideas to turn your kids Yoga classes or practice at home into some spooky fun!

During the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar), opening the arms out to the sides becomes a Vampire - mwa-a-a. Folding forward (Uttanasana) is a tree stump in a haunted forest. Instead of barking in Down Dog, howl like Werewolves.

Triangle (Trikonasana) becomes a witch's hat. You can cast spells, make a witches brew and fly on your broom sticks. Trees (Vrksasana) become gnarled in the haunted forest where the witches craft their magic. I like to weave in stories about how the witches create candy full of sugar, which truly makes us sick and cranky. They use their magic to make it all colorful and delicious as a way to trick us into eating the poison that sugar really is! Don't be fooled! (Seriously, reducing sugar intake is one of the most important steps we can take towards better health - especially mental health.)

Most children love ghost stories, and while they tend to create arousal rather than rest, they can be turned into an awareness building activity when the children are invited to become aware of bodily sensations while listening to scary stories. Being scared is a "loud" sensation so it's a great one to start working with. Welcoming in sensation as it arises is a powerful skill for children to learn, helping them develop emotional intelligence and stress hardiness.

So go ahead, get crazy and get creepy and know you are helping your children develop lifetime habits for personal health.

Visit our lesson plans page for a complete "Spooky Fun" Halloween themed lesson plan.

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