On Dharma

We just completed the second weekend of Yoga Teacher Training at Yoga Center of Columbia. These eleven women and two men will graduate in November having gained 200 hours worth of experience going deeper in their yoga poses, meditation, yoga philosophy, and Yoga Nidra.

This weekend we began discussion of the perennial work, Bhagavad Gita, in which one of the main themes is dharma. “It is better to do one’s own dharma poorly than to do another’s dharma well.” [BG 18.47] It actually uses that statement twice in the Gita, to show just how important it is to be your own self fully, to live your life to the fullest.

Dharma means to make firm, establish, or secure. It also means to nurture, to develop in a sustainable and viable form, viability. It often translates as the law, truth, duty, or righteousness and it is your deepest held convictions; it is your purpose in life; dharma is the sensibility that we stand for something. Dharma is part of the way reality creates a centering, supportive experience. When we secure our own sense of place in the world, when we do our own dharma, we participate in that nourishing and grounding experience that the universe is offering to us.

What is your unique dharma you might ask? Only you can answer that question. And I am here to say that yoga practice is a tool, it offers many tools actually, to help you figure it out. Wildflower Yoga offers many ways to connect to your source, your purpose, your dharma through live classes, an ever-growing on-demand library subscription, and even Yoga Nidra. What are you nurturing in your life today?

Ayurveda Winter Survival Tips

Ah, winter is upon us. It is often challenging to keep spirits up during these colder months of shorter days, so I like to look toward time-tested wisdom for support during the weeks and months ahead. Here are five things to consider to maintain positive vibes for the winter-time.

1. Develop a morning routine. This sounds so simple but cannot be underestimated. Because the nights are longer at this time of year, it is natural to want to sleep a bit more. Going to bed at the same time each evening and awaking at the same time each morning helps to set your body-clock to encourage greater energy and alertness during the day. What you do when you wake up sets the tone for the rest of your day, so help yourself in the mornings! Ayurveda suggests that upon waking scrape your tongue and brush your teeth. Use a neti pot to clear out your sinuses and then practice a little yoga, meditation, or both. Drink a mug or two of hot water with lemon to prepare your digestive system for nourishment. 

2. Move your body until you sweat. Exercising to get your heart rate up is another great morning activity, but really it can be done at any time of the day. Increasing your heart rate and moving until you sweat stokes Agni, the inner fire of digestion and assimilation. When you sweat, the heat of Agni moves through each of the seven tissues, Dhatus, more thoroughly, so that you feel cleansed, energized, and refreshed. Don a warm coat and boots and get outside if you can. 

3. Eat hot foods with warming spices. Ayurveda considers winter time to be predominant with earth and water elements. These elements tend to be denser, colder, and slower, so it is easy to be lethargic during the cold months. The principle in Ayurveda is that opposite qualities will create balance. Hot foods heat up the cold earth element and move the fluids of the body. They support digestive Agni and help your body to absorb the nutrients it needs. Warming spices like ginger, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves combat the cold of winter and provide nourishment.

4. Drink hot Golden Milk. Golden Milk contains antioxidants and anti-inflammatories like turmeric, ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, and black pepper to support your good health and pain-free living. You can use dairy or non-dairy milk for this recipe, and add a little ghee to support nutrient absorption. The optimal time to drink Golden Milk is about an hour before bedtime to help you have a good night’s rest. This stuff truly is amazing.

5. Get a massage, or give yourself a massage. If you have the opportunity, get a massage! It encourages circulation for blood and lymph and promotes relaxation on all levels. For a quick fix, give yourself an oil massage in the morning using sesame oil which has warming properties. Self oil massage is called Abhyanga in Ayurveda. Warm about 3 ounces of sesame oil by dipping the bottle in some warm water first, and then massage the oil into your skin. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes — this is a great time to practice meditation — and then shower off the excess. It is a rejuvenating practice that feels so luxurious.
–Kelly

New Year 2022 – Year of the Tiger

Year of the laughing tiger, that is. 🙂

Each winter at the start of the new year, I consider what occurred in the past year and what may be in store. For me, 2021 has brought perhaps even more challenges than 2020, but who is comparing? Life has been seriously challenging for a while now.

At the start of a new year, I like to contemplate what concept might be a helpful guide in the months to come — looking back at what occurred in the past year and considering what may be in store. Lately I’ve been a little stuck and wondering what might be a way to move forward. Usually I like to sit quietly in meditation and ask the Universe for the proper direction. Recently I learned of a goddess from the Japanese tradition, Uzume, goddess of the dawn. She is credited with returning light to a world that was engulfed in darkness. She is known for her baudy humor and is ever the comic. She is also credited with inventing the performing arts and it was her risqué dance that restored the light to what was a dark, dark world. The mythology of this goddess teaches us to not take life so seriously, because it is in play and merriment that we can find a little relief from life’s difficulties.

Each year instead of a resolution, I like to choose one word as a guide for the year. In the past, I’ve chosen words like calm, rejuvenation, and curiosity. So, when there is a big decision to be made, or even a little one, I would ask myself, does this support calm? Does this support rejuvenation? Or curiosity? It is a way to help guide me through the year. This year I’m choosing laughter. In honor of Uzume, it is a reminder to see the bright side of life and try to find the humor in situations. Sometimes there is not much humor at all, but in time, with loving care, patience, support, and perhaps a little comic relief, we can cultivate resilience. 

What concept or word would you like to be your guide in the new year?

Ayurveda for Fall

Why is pumpkin spice everywhere in the fall? Ayurveda offers us some clues. First, pumpkins are in season, so planning meals around pumpkins is a way to eat with the rhythm of nature. Pumpkins are heavy, dense, and earthy and these qualities create a good balance to the light, dry, windy qualities of autumn. Pumpkin spices have a warming characteristic in common, which is a good antidote to the cooler temperatures, but in addition, the warming spices help to improve digestion that can be sluggish or irregular this time of year.

Cinnamon is pungent, sweet, warming, and subtle. It can support the circulatory, digestive, and respiratory systems and can strengthen the heart. Nutmeg is warming and astringent, and supports the digestive, nervous, and reproductive systems. It is one of the best spices for increasing absorption, particularly in the small intestine. Cardamom is also warming, sweet, and an expectorant which means it can help reduce phlegm in the body. It supports the digestive, respiratory, circulatory, and nervous systems. So, with all of these benefits, go ahead and indulge in some pumpkin spice!

Interested to learn more? Join me and Rimmi Singh at Yoga Center of Columbia or online for the Ayurveda Immersion beginning in January. See the Events page for information and links to registration.

See you on the mat!  

-Kelly

Staying Cool in the Heat

Santosha is a practice that means mental contentment. It refers to acceptance of things as they are instead of constantly wanting something to be a different way. Sometimes this is truly a tough lesson to learn. This practice is one of the Niyamas, internal guidelines or practices to live well, listed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. 1500 years ago, someone cared enough about peace of mind to write it down as a practice to be cultivated daily. I appreciate this idea because it brings home the fact that feeling content is a thing we can grow within ourselves. It doesn’t just automatically happen. Maybe sometimes it does, and that is awesome, but much of the time I have to remind myself, “Everything I need is right here, right now.” We feel discontent when our ideas about what make us happy are different from reality. Yoga teaches us that living in the present moment is the way to peace of mind. Not worrying about the future or ruminating on the past, but right here, right now.   

This summer I have been trying to live in the present while enjoying a delicious non-alcoholic bevvie. Try this yummy recipe for a cool and healthy good time.

Blackberry Cooler
5-6 fresh blackberries
1 thin slice of fresh ginger
3-4 fresh mint leaves plus a mint sprig for garnish
1 small lime, juiced plus 2 lime slices for garnish
4 ounces ginger kombucha (I like GT brand)
4 ounces sparkling mineral water

Combine berries, ginger, and mint in a tumbler and muddle for a minute to infuse the flavors. Add ice if desired. Add lime juice, ginger kombucha, and top off with mineral water. Garnish with the sprig of mint and lime slices. Enjoy!

Happy Earth Day 2021

Happy Earth Day! This is the only planet we’ve got. Earth is our home. We should treat Her like we treat our own homes, as in loving and caring for the planet in the same way we would repair the roof, gutters, or windows, keep the insides clean, and ensure the pipes work without leaking. There are many ways to contribute to the healthy functioning of our planet and here are a few suggestions for this year:

For more suggestions, you could check this website: https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-tips/ and thank you for caring!

–Kelly

French Lentil Dal for Spring

Spring is getting closer. Vaccines are becoming more abundant. I am in the mood to move! To help clear out the lethargy and stagnation of wintertime, Ayurveda recommends eating more bitter greens, spring vegetables, light grains, pulses and berries.  Nature is beginning to offer an abundance of bitter greens like arugula, kale, beet greens, bok choy, dandelion, and collards.  Other vegetables that help to clear the dampness of spring include asparagus, brussels sprouts, fennel, onions, garlic, green beans, and sprouts.  Light grains, such as millet, basmati rice, and quinoa assist in the clearing of mucus and excess water in the body.  Legumes like lentils, chickpeas, adzuki beans, and black beans have a drying effect on the body.  Berries, once they come into season, have a cleansing effect on the liver and also help to remove excess sludge from winter. Try this yummy recipe to help you lighten up for springtime.

French Lentil Dal

1 c French lentils soaked overnight

4 c water

1-2 Tablespoons ghee

1/2 teaspoon coriander seed

1/2 teaspoon cumin seed

1/2 teaspoon fennel seed

1/2 inch fresh ginger, chopped

1/2 c chopped sweet onion, spring onion, or leeks

1/2-1 teaspoon turmeric powder (or 1/2 inch chopped fresh turmeric)

pinch asafoetida (also called hing, has a taste similar to garlic)

1 teaspoon maple syrup

1 teaspoon prepared mustard

salt and pepper to taste

After soaking the lentils overnight, drain and add 4 c fresh water for cooking.  Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to simmer for about 1 hour or until lentils are soft.

In a separate skillet, heat ghee over low-medium heat.  Add the cumin, coriander, and fennel seeds, ginger and onion to the ghee.  Saute until onions are transparent.

Add this mixture to the cooked lentils.

Add the turmeric, asafoetida, maple syrup, prepared mustard, salt and pepper.

Stir and let simmer for 5-10 minutes to allow the flavors to combine.

Enjoy with steamed or sauteed veggies and white basmati rice.

Tide Changes

We are about to reach the one-year anniversary of living with Covid19 in isolation. Normally at this time of year I would be preparing for our annual journey to India (See photos from past trips here and here) but this year is quite different. This year has seen so many changes in life, death, and lifestyle. I hope that yoga practice has brought you some comfort in this past year.

For myself there have been ups and downs. Transitioning to teaching yoga classes online was certainly challenging, but I was also able to complete an idea that had been brewing for a long time, my first online course. When the pandemic began, Wildflower Yoga started offering monthly Yoga Nidra to benefit various social justice causes. We raised a total of $8,272 last year! Our Benefit last week will add another $660 to that total. 100% of all proceeds go directly to the non-profit organizations; no funds were held back. If those were “up’s,” then a down would be that the physical space in which we were holding class is no longer available. The ups and downs are both waves in the ocean, eventually one settles and the other rises up. With yoga practice we learn to dive deep into the ocean and move beyond the surface push and pull to be able to observe life’s challenges from an objective place — with any luck, from a more harmonious place. We begin to recognize changes as different phases, different tides within the same ocean of consciousness.

My colleague, teacher, and friend Kathy Donnelly has been talking about community a lot lately and I agree with her that our community of like-minded souls is an important part of surviving the pandemic with a level head. It is great solace to me each time I see your faces in class. The effort it takes to bring peace and well-being to your own body-mind-heart really inspires me. Who knows how much longer this social distancing needs to be in place — I have always thought it should be called physical distancing, not “social” distancing — but I am thankful for each of you and for your effort to support your own good health. Let’s continue building community together by practicing together, and even on your own at home; home practice is an important part of yoga where you can really explore the poses and how they feel in your body. If I can be a small part of your yoga journey, for that I am truly thankful.

Child’s Pose Is My New BFF

As mentioned in my previous newsletter, during this pandemic I have been dealing with a different health issue, hyperparathyroidism. The surgeon had to make an incision at the base of my throat to remove the “offending gland.” With that surgery behind me, I was able to get to the task of healing. It took a week before I really felt like moving again, I even had to support my head with my hand as I would transition from sitting to lying down for example. Once I felt stronger and ready to move, I really wanted to do some yoga! Practice was slow at first, with lots of full breaths and no hurrying. It involved much stretching and breathing from a seated position. And then, Child’s Pose, Balasana. I would bring big toes together and take my knees wider, fold forward from the hips and rest my forehead on my stacked hands.

Pre-surgery, balasana was a resting pose for me, but post-surgery it became respite; in Yoga Nidra terms, it became my Inner Resource. If you know anything about fascia, you know that if there is an injury or trauma in one part of the body, it can affect the rest of the body in a three-dimensional matrix. Because my neck was intensely healing, the rest of my muscles felt compressed, pulled toward the incision like covered wagons in a circle to protect the precious humans inside. Child’s pose helped those muscles to lengthen again; the sweet release of elongating my spinal extensors was better than a hot bath. The gentle opening through hip muscles was like my body exhaling, gently easing back to a state of normalcy. These inner sensations helped to remind me that all is well and on the path to healing, it just takes time and patience.

If you are feeling out of sorts, please make time in your day for a “yoga snack” and take balasana for several deep breaths — as many as you need until you feel your nervous system settle and you return to a state of calm.

Winter Inspiration

Winter is a time for rest, rejuvenation, and renewal. You may or may not agree with me, but I love the snow. Especially when I do not have to go anywhere, the snow just blankets the earth with quiet and to see the sparkle of the snowflakes reflecting the sun once the storm has passed, it just makes me want to exhale fully into a state of joyous relaxation. We may not get that lucky this year to see a beautiful snowfall, but I’m still hoping.

Here’s an idea — I hope that even during these cold temperatures you have been able to at least get outdoors to take some walks. Along your way, choose a spot that you can return to each day or each week to simply stop for a moment and view; take in your surroundings. When you return to the same spot over a period of time, you can really observe the changes in nature, from winter’s stark barrenness — there is a beauty to the stillness — to the first buds of the spring time. Your “viewing spot” can help you observe the transition from the hibernation of inner life to a vibrant outer life as spring shows its signs of approaching. We’ve still months to go, but taking time to observe the here and now in each moment can be a great practice in present moment awareness and even in cultivating gratitude regarding the gifts and things we have to celebrate. Keeping some sort of daily routine, be it regular walks, a time for reading, or yoga practice, can be a rejuvenating habit that supports you for years to come.

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