Refreshing Summertime Cooler

During summer, the sun is at its highest, the days are long, the air is hot and humid (in our area).  We can love this time for the outdoor opportunities to enjoy the beauty of nature, but it may also lead us to overheat.  Ayurveda, yoga’s sister practice, offers tips to keep cool.  

Wear light, comfortable clothing, do not go out in direct sun in midday, or if you do, wear a hat to cover your head and shade your eyes, enjoy activities involving water — swimming, paddle boarding, kayaking — and try this yummy lassi!  Lassi is a yogurt-drink inspired by Indian cooking.  Yogurt has beneficial enzymes to aid your digestion, keep you cool, and it pairs well with so many flavors.  This recipe is a summertime crowd pleaser.

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Mint and Cinnamon Lassi
5 cups filtered water
1 cup organic plain yogurt
¾ cup raw organic sugar or sucanat
40 fresh mint leaves
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Put the water, yogurt, sugar, mint leaves, and cinnamon in a blender and blend until frothy. Pour into tall glasses and garnish each serving with a dusting of cinnamon powder.
(From Eat, Taste, Heal)
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Pitta is the ayurvedic constitution made from the elements fire and secondarily water. Summer is the fiery time of year, and 10am – 2pm is the fiery time of day. When we get overheated, we might experience that as heartburn, red eyes, skin rashes, irritability or anger. If any of these symptoms are occurring for you, consider sipping this Mint and Cinnamon Lassi, or even taking a cool bath with several drops of rose essential oil.

In ayurveda, the principle is that opposites balance each other. If there is too much fire, apply something cooling and soothing. In that way, heat dissipates and you will find less discomfort during the hot, dog days. If you would like a consultation regarding your constitution and appropriate habits to keep you in balance, please contact me!

Yoga Center of Columbia India Trip 2017

It is our second trip to India. Rimmi Singh, Pammi Singh, and I led another group of intrepid travelers to Delhi, Agra, and Jaipur, and we finished our trip at an amazing resort in Goa. Along the way we experienced a long and rich culture of family, society, myth, and history right next to some modern-day amenities. As expected, the variety of sights, smells and tastes filled our senses in both incredible and challenging ways. Below are a few highlights.

Yoga class at the Taj Hotel in Delhi
At the Gandhi Memorial, Delhi

India Gate in Delhi, a war memorial
Shopping with the Gods
Flute Player at Taj Hotel

Girl at Gurudwara Bangla Sahib
Buddhist Temple next to Hindu Temple
Hindu Temple, Delhi

Yoga at City Palace, Jaipur

Transport

Red Fort, Agra

Hungry?

Monkeys!

Make way for buffalo
Puppy Savasana Expert
Yoga in Goa by the pool by the ocean
Cats like yoga too

Exhale
Lord Shiva
Nandi

About Blessing Counting

I grew up with a tangential relationship to church. We went to a Methodist Church (several different ones over the course of my school years in fact) in order to “gain a moral background” according to my parents who would gladly say that they do not believe in God. These Sunday morning outings usually involved getting donuts together on the way home. I was pretty much there for the donuts. But this is not to say that I do not have a connection to spirit, that is very much alive…

This is to say that I was never totally convinced that “blessings” were a thing and that I should be counting them. The very word blessing seemed kind of wimpy to me in some way. Please forgive me, my church-going friends, but I am only speaking my experience.

Longwood RoseIt was not until a friend and fellow yogi suggested to me that a blessing is really anything that makes your heart feel lighter, that I gained a better relationship with the word, and with the idea. Anything that makes your heart feel lighter. How amazing is that? We all experience ups and downs, some more than others, and it’s true, right? That when we feel bad, the heart gets heavy. Emotions have a physical seat in the body. This is a thing that yoga practice teaches us directly; often on the mat as we move through different shapes and forms, emotions and memories rise up, and in that safe space on the mat we can allow ourselves to feel them and recognize them for what they are — feelings — like waves in the ocean that are a part of the ocean but do not represent the full depths.

So with this new understanding of blessings, I began a practice of gratitude.

Each morning, as I begin my meditation practice, first I take the time to name three things that I am thankful for. Taking a walk, breathing fresh air, having a good meal, watching the birds in the yard, good health, good friends, a loving partner, a vibrant community in which to live, a career that I really enjoy. I try to vary it each day and think of even the smallest everyday things that make my world a better place.

If you have not tried a gratitude practice, I recommend it! Perhaps first thing in the morning upon waking is the best time because then you are immediately reminded and can maintain that feeling of thankfulness throughout the day. Three things.

And now scientists are discovering a biochemical reason for gratitude too. Neuroscientist Dr. Alex Korb has a book, The Upward Spiral: Using Neuroscience to Reverse the Course of Depression, One Small Change at a Time, in which he says that practicing gratitude boosts dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that governs pleasure and serotonin the one that governs mood.

“One powerful effect of gratitude is that it can boost serotonin. Trying to think of things you are grateful for forces you to focus on the positive aspects of your life. This simple act increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex.” —Dr. Korb

And he goes on to say that it is not the finding of gratitude, but it is the remembering to look for it that creates the beneficial effect. The more you remember to look, the more the dopamine and serotonin increase. It is an upward spiral. Fascinating. Thank you for reading!

Anxiety and Another Brave Warrior

KrishnaArjuna.JPGThe Bhagavad Gita is a great tale of bravery and courage. One where five Pandava brothers who represent dharma, or the inherent laws within nature and culture, the innate sense of goodness and right-ness within the world, and the hundred Kaurava brothers who represent greed, hatred, anger, and nihilistic tendency. The odds are stacked against the good guys. But luckily the good guys are, or were, brave and courageous. This allegory is just as relevant now as when it was written.

Arjuna, our hero, is an amazing archer. His arrow always hits his mark. And he’s something of a hotty too. He’s strong and powerful and the ladies like him. His reputation as a strapping warrior was known throughout the lands. But even he is not beyond debilitating anxiety. And despair. And hopelessness.

The Gita opens with him in such despair. He’s laying on the floor of his chariot, in the middle of the battlefield, telling his charioteer Krishna that he just cannot fight. The Kauravas are his cousins, and other family members, even his archery teacher are on the opposite side and he cannot bring himself to fight this battle against those he cares about.

He must fight, however, as Krishna tells him because it is a battle for his very soul and for humanity to regain a state of balance once again. And Krishna, the divine attractive force, Arjuna’s superego (forgive the hack Freudianism), begins to explain. Yoga is the way to regain inspiration and motivation and to realize the true path that needs to be taken. There are three ways to practice yoga: karma or action, jnana or knowledge, and bhakti or devotion.

Karma Yoga Krishna tells Arjuna that he must act for the sake of humanity. Arjuna has trained all his life to be a warrior, and this is the moment when the world needs him most. The Kaurava brothers have usurped the throne and are spreading their unique brand of adharma — the opposite of righteousness — in the land. People are counting on him, but most of all, he is prepared to do this, he knows how to do this, and he is the best situated to help return society to its proper direction.

Jnana Yoga Krishna then expounds knowledge about why this battle is so important. He offers knowledge about the Infinite, knowledge of consciousness, and why a person’s awareness needs to expand to realize these concepts.

Bhakti Yoga Ultimately, in the Gita, the Divine or Universal Consciousness is LOVE. The expansive absolute is beyond name or form and it inherently contains love. To know this love is every human’s birthright, but it is not easy. It takes focused, dedicated practice. And bravery and courage. To face one’s shadow is no small task, but it is one of great reward as far as peace of mind is concerned.

dsc00558Perhaps reversing the order of these three types of yoga may be helpful to address anxiety. First, be kind to yourself. Take a deep breath and remember that you have choices. And that you are not alone. Give yourself a break and do something you enjoy to help cultivate love in your life. Take a walk in nature, go for a swim, play with the dog, or enjoy some good music or a movie.

Then, a little knowledge can help go a long way. There are studies now that say how even the gut biome has something to do with mood. Personal habits affect how you feel. The foods we eat and the activities we do have consequences. Yoga offers daily habits that may be beneficial to our overall health. Yoga postures affect the hormonal balance in the body. Hormones affect mood. For example, cortisol produced by the adrenal glands plays a role in anxiety. Certain yoga postures and breathing practices can help bring balance to the functioning of the adrenal glands to reduce the fight, flight, or freeze response and help the body return to a state of greater balance and less stress. The benefits of a regular yoga practice cannot be overstated.

Finally, knowledge is not enough. There must be action. The most advanced yoga practice is simply getting on your mat and doing it. If you can face yourself, your Self, you can face the world. Sometimes it can be difficult to be motivated, but again, you are not alone. If you would like assistance in dealing with anxiety, let’s chat.

Anxiety and the Brave Warrior

This week in class we’ve been learning the story of Virabhadra — the ferocious and terrifying warrior that arose out of Shiva’s anguish at the loss of his beloved Sati. Virabhadra is the namesake for all those Warrior Poses we do in class, Virabhadrasana I, II, III, the Humble Warrior, and more.

virabhadraBriefly, Shiva and Sati were insulted by Sati’s father, King Daks’a, who never liked Shiva and certainly did not want his daughter to marry him because Shiva was an outcast from society. He is both the Lord of Meditation and the Lord of Destruction, and as such would dress in rags and cover himself in ash. He had long, unwieldy dreadlocks, hung out in cremation grounds, and was often surrounded by goblins. After Shiva and Sati’s marriage, to spite them, Daks’a hosted a fire ceremony, an auspicious occasion, but did not invite Sati or Shiva due to his lack of love for Shiva. Sati found out about this while the ceremony was taking place, and so she rushed to her father’s home in protest and, sitting dignified in her meditation amid the crowd, she called up her own inner fire so powerfully that she immolated herself.

At the moment of her death, the worlds shook. Shiva knew exactly what had happened. He howled in anguish and went into a rage. He ran to the fire ceremony himself and began destroying things at the party, Lord of Destruction he is. In his misery, he ripped a dreadlock from his head and threw it on the ground, and out of that lock of his hair arose a fearsome warrior, Virabhadra. He was as tall as the sky and as dark as thunderclouds. He wore garlands of bloody skulls and had the most formidable weapons. Everyone knew to run and hide when Virabhadra appeared. This brave warrior finished the job of destroying the fire ceremony for Shiva and he even lopped off Daks’a’s head.

Kelly Virabhadrasana IAs in all of the Indian tales, this story begins in the middle and ends in the middle too. Shiva grieves for eons while Virabhadra goes off doing warrior-like things. Ultimately, Virabhadra stands for courage and potency, the definitions of the Sanskrit word vira. He is born of the Lord of Meditation’s heartbreak, and he is the one who will bravely step into the fire in order to set things right. In our own lives, his energy represents our courage to stand up and face the things we would rather not face. He is the innate potential within us to wield our own power in a way that restores balance to our lives. He is our own fear and agony and he is the ability to overcome it.

Kelly Vira II ReversedSo, anxiety. People experience anxiety in different ways, and therefore there are different ways to address it, but often it is best to look at the source. On many occasions, anxiety is the manifestation of some deeper trauma — a loss, grief, fear, or even anger. When a strong emotion is buried deep, we may even forget the thing causing the emotion, but we are left with the anxiety: a gripping around the heart, a tension in the throat, a “deer in the headlights” immobility. Yoga addresses the physicality of the experience of anxiety.

Sometimes the person might need more activity, a flowing practice that is connected to the breath to help move the tension out of the body. Sometimes the person might need more stillness, to inwardly address what is coming up for them. It depends on the person and the situation. Either direction takes courage. Through yoga practice and even breathing techniques and meditation, one can develop the strength of inner fire, the potency to step courageously into the world, or into one’s own mind, and face the deeper source of the anxiety. A warrior pose with some steady, deep breathing may help.

img_3072If you are experiencing anxiety, first be kind to yourself. Remember that feelings are like waves in the ocean, they come and they go but they need time. And, try some yoga. If you are not sure where to begin, contact me, let’s talk. Together we can find a doable practice that is suitable for your needs and goals. Relief is possible.

What is Yoga Therapy?

The International Association of Yoga Therapists defines yoga therapy like this:

Yoga therapy is the process of empowering individuals to progress toward improved health and wellbeing through the application of the teachings and practices of yoga.

You may read the entire article here.

img_0061I have been interested and practicing yoga and meditation since college when I was first introduced to the practices. Immediately I felt the anxiety-reducing and joy-producing effects of yoga and meditation and I knew deep in my heart that these practices, called sadhana in Sanskrit, would support my life in a profound way. Some 25 years later, my yoga practice has survived loved-and-lost, love again, family issues, pets, career changes, moves, and band crises.

I’m very pleased to announce that recently, the IAYT accepted me as a certified Yoga Therapist. This represents many years of study, practice, and application in the field. Yoga Therapy is an emerging field, but one that is a natural evolution of continued and perhaps deeper yoga practices. If you are a yoga practitioner, then you already know the personal benefits that yoga may have in your life, whether it is a stronger, healthier body, relief from aches or pains, relief from anxiety and depression, less headaches, a stronger, healthier mind, the list goes on.

Once a student asked me “what is the advanced version of this practice?” And I love the answer… sticking with it. After 25 years, I am here to say, the practice of yoga only continues to enhance your life in more and better ways then you may imagine.

IAYT logo-webOn the physical level, yoga activates muscles in chains. When you take Side Angle Posture for example, the entire side of your body is affected, from the sole of your foot through the peroneal muscles, to the IT band, through the obliques, latissimus dorsi, the scalenes, to the top of your head. There is a connective tissue chain along the entire side of the body that is activated, and not to mention the other muscles supporting your pose, the adductors, the psoas and so forth. So if there is, let’s say, lower back pain, it is addressed in a holistic way. It is not simply one area of the body that receives the focus, yes that area gets addressed, but in context of the entire being. There are refinements to alignment that awaken new avenues of feeling and awareness in the body that help the yogi let go of past habits that were causing the pain in order to establish new habits that better support the body as a whole, and the mind too is effected in a positive way.

fisher_kelly-113_2Another way to approach these issues is through relieving physical and mental stress. Through the practices of meditation and even breath work, known as pranayama, we find a more subtle and lasting way to make positive changes in your body and life.

Another way to approach these issues is looking at lifestyle habits. How much sleep are you getting? Are you eating well and drinking enough water? What daily habits support you and which ones might be exacerbating your issues? The science of life, ayurveda, offers tools to align your personal habits to access your fullest potential.

Yoga therapy incorporates yoga postures, breath work, meditation, and ayurveda to help you live better. I have been studying and teaching these things for many years now and am so pleased to have IAYT’s recognition. It is an emerging field and so far a little over 300 people around the world have received their certification that represents a significant amount of hours practicing, studying, and teaching; therefore I am proud to be able to offer my services at this enhanced level.

So, if you are wondering how yoga may enhance your life more, if you have been dealing with anxiety, arthritis, osteoporosis, headaches, joint pain, muscle sprains, back pain, shoulder issues, depression, trouble sleeping, or generalized ennui, let’s talk.

Morning Sadhana

My name is Kelly. I am 45 years old.Positive Vibes

That is a difficult thing for me to say. I am not ashamed to be 45. In fact, I feel a little bit of wonder that I’ve made it this far and that the things I did in my 20s feel like another lifetime away from me now. But still a lifetime to love and learn from those friends whom I may not see anymore. Southwest Virginia is a long way from Washington DC, let me tell you.

My spiritual name is Kalpana Devi, the “goddess of creative imagination.” And I do not feel 45.

Nobody calls me by that name anymore, but it was given to me by one of my first meditation teachers. Another friend whom I do not see anymore, but I hear she is happy and healthy and with family in her home country of Norway.

Sometimes I feel much older than 45, like when mysterious aches or pains arise in my body of which I may or may not know the origin. In my mind though, I pretty much always feel younger, like when a ray of sunshine breaks through the clouds and I want to go out and turn cartwheels in the yard. Coincidentally it has been raining for something like 17 out of 20 days this month.

In the present, my body is going through changes and has been for a few years now if I am being honest (which I am), and some days it really affects my mind too. Some days my mind indulges in that downward spiral of I am not worthy or I am not good enough, and I wonder where those thoughts are coming from. A lifetime of meditation and yoga practice has made me self-aware enough to recognize that I am more than my thoughts, and it has given me techniques to overcome that negativity. But due to these changes in my body and emotion, I am now more than ever so grateful for having the foundation of these practices.

Many people refer to it as simply “yoga.” However, these practices are so much deeper than the physical postures. A better term is really sadhana. Sadhana literally means practice and one who practices is a sadhaka. This means not just yoga postures, but the breath work, contemplation, meditation, concentration, and even daily routines that a sadhaka maintains, like taking food, waking and sleeping, the list goes on. When yoga is in your blood, that desire for relationship with the higher self is continuous –no longer a seeker, but really existing in seeing. I left the “k” out of “seek” on purpose.

Doesn’t mean daily life challenges disappear. In fact, due to being 45 as stated above, there many times seem to be more challenges physically, more mental stresses and stressors, more ways to have to be serious rather than light-hearted. Then, it all comes back to the practices. A few months ago, I set a conscious intention to do more yoga. Yoga Teacher, heal thyself, I said. And whatdoyouknow these practices, this sadhana actually works! Physically I am feeling stronger and there are less of those negative-spirally thoughts floating around in my head. Once in a while, I actually feel spontaneous joy. And this even happens while I’m “working” teaching classes. Some might say it is because I am teaching classes. My students are really the best, I am so proud of them for the attention they bring to their practice every week. That is something that makes me truly happy.

So, I thought I would let you in on my morning practice routine involving both yogic and ayurvedic habits. When I wake up, bathroom calls. Brush my teeth, scrape my tongue. Then I go in and sit for meditation, 30 minutes or more if I have time. I subscribe to what the Chopra Center calls RPM: rise, pee, meditate.

Next, two mugs of warm-to-hot water with 1/8 t of turmeric, a few shakes of black pepper, and a squeeze of lime in the first one. Then, yoga! At least 30 minutes of yoga, but if I only have 5 minutes, I still do 5 minutes worth. When I jump in the shower, I start with oil pulling with coconut oil, which is a mouth gargle instead of mouthwash, so for that 10-20 minutes it takes, I’m in the shower and not talking to anyone anyway. If I have time, dry brushing before showering stimulates the lymphatic system and makes my skin feel good. Moisturizing with a fine sheen of sesame oil afterward keeps my skin soft.

That may sound like a lot, but most items take only a few seconds. I would make meditation and yoga a little longer than that however. Due to being 45, this routine has become extra-special-important and I really miss it when it’s not there. Set an intention to take care of yourself.

What do you know, yoga actually works.

Absorption

Lifting the Veil 3

This morning my mantra was
like water to a thirsty soul.
There was no question
I needed my cushion.
Wanted it
Loved it
It was a compulsion as easy as
a mountain stream flows to the sea.
No effort, only lightness
Each breath elixir
Each moment a chance to awaken
Each repetition a soft calling
To the one, the many.

Ever since my return from India
I’ve been highly inspired to maintain
Her attitude,
Things will happen when they happen.
It is so easy to default to the opposite
To push things, force things, rush things
Why? Just because
But reality is in the moment
The precious moment the sun rises
and the light touches your face.
Ease is there for the receptive taking,
Things will happen when they happen.

I am absorbed in love.

Yoga Center of Columbia India Trip 2016

I have an obsession with India. I admit it. The colors, the sights, the smells, the people. So naturally I was thrilled to have this opportunity to assist in turning others on to my own addiction. From March 1-15, Rimmi Singh and I led a group of intrepid travelers half-way around the world to this timeless place that is the Indian subcontinent. We visited Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, these three known as the Golden Triangle, and then we went to Amritsar and Dharmsala. Each place had its own special personality, its own special offering for the world and us. And did I mention the food? Superb. Here are a few photos from Delhi.

sunrise in delhi

first morning yoga

helloooo

Agra Fort

Naked Monk Jain temple

Jammu Masjid gate

Jammu Masjid

Market outside Jammu Masjid, Delhi

Traffic Jam

two wheeled transport

Bamboo Flute in Taj Hotel

Bahai Temple Delhi

And a few photos at the Taj Mahal and Red Fort in Agra and at the Amber Fort and City Palace in Jaipur.

Selfie!

Tree Taj

Taj detail

Taj Pooch

Taj from Gate

Agra Fort

Ladies Quarters, Agra Fort

Cuspid Arch

Taj from Agra Fort with Awilda

Tajafar

Detail of Agra Fort

Detail of Agra Fort 2

Ladies

Three Ganeshas

Krishna Temple with Michael

Stained glass

Sweeper

Ride to Amber Fort

Elephant back

Inside the City Palace, Jaipur

The Peacock Gate, City Palace

Next up, Amritsar, home of the Golden Temple, which we saw pre-dawn for a prakash ceremony and then returned midday. It was a new moon the day we visited, a holiday for the local villages, so the temple was packed.

Prakash Seva ceremony, predawn

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Group at Golden Temple

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Dharamsala, the exiled home of Dalai Lama. We arrived on March 10. Every March 10 there is a march for Tibetan freedom. So many monks, so many Tibet flags. And, the Netherlands cricket team staying in our hotel, Fortune Moksha.

View from Morning Yoga

Himalayan glacier

Our Sherpa

St. John Church

St. John Church inside

Dalai Lama Temple window

Dalai Lama's Temple monks studying

Gyoto Monk temple, yes, the throat singers

Monk boys, monkettes?

Seen on the wall

Norbulinkga Institute for Tibetan Culture

Monkeys 1

Monkeys 2 leaping

Monkeys 3

And our return to Delhi before the flight home. Ladies cricket team from New Zealand was at the Taj Hotel with us upon our return.

shopkeeper

madam

shopkeeper 2

shopkeeper 3

bellhop

Cindy, Carolyn, and Shiva

 

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Up next: Absorption.

Return to Costa Rica Good Times.

Costa Rica Good Times

The lovely weather this week marked my first morning practice outdoors for the year… except for when we were in Tamarindo, Costa Rica at Panacea de la Montaña in March when we meditated and did yoga outside everyday. Mary, Debbie, and Peter were excellent hosts and all of their furry friends, Gandhi, Daphne, Maya, Pepper, Kobi, Mama Kitty, Josie, & Harry are our friends now too. Here are some highlights from our retreat in no particular order:

Our kind hosts Debbie (l) and Mary (r).
Our kind hosts Debbie (l) and Mary (r).

Some of our group on an estuary tour.
Some of our group on an estuary tour.

On the estuary tour.  So many birds and monkeys too.
On the estuary tour. So many birds and monkeys too.

Tamagringo Beach
Tamagringo Beach

Beach yoga
Beach yoga
Tom in the kitchen
Tom in the kitchen

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Sunset Sail on the Antares
Sunset Sail on the Antares

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Return to Grace Happens.

Move ahead to Yoga Center of Columbia India Trip 2016.

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