Is a Vegetarian Diet Essential to be a True Yogi?

“Health is a state of complete harmony of the body, mind and spirit. When one is free from physical disabilities and mental distractions, the gates of the soul open.”

-B.K.S. Iyengar

Let’s face it.  No one wants to see there yoga instructor at the nearest Burger King, chowing down on a Whopper with cheese.  As delightful as fast food once was to me, I realize that it not only goes against some of the basic principles of yoga, but it really weighed me down and was the reason for my constant stomach aches and lack of appetite.

I’m proud to say that I haven’t had a burger in months and I don’t plan on ever looking back.  I feel lighter, more energized, and more importantly just healthier. I’ve been eating mostly salads but I haven’t given up meat completely.  Is that a bad thing?

Patanjali’s first Yama Ahimsa is the non-violence of all living things.  There are many diets available that don’t include cattle breeding or any form of food obtained through abuse or slaughter of animals. I understand that some people are unable to give up meat for health reasons, but there are many different diets available.

  1. The Sattvic Diet– This diet consists of foods high in prana or life-force energy, designed to give you mental clarity and improve your physical health. According to ancient Ayurveda tradition, these foods include fresh, organic fruit and vegetables, whole grains and nuts, dairy products (obtained from happy cows), oils such as sunflower, olive, lentils, honey, and certain herbs and spices, etc. These foods are to be grown without using any pesticides and harmful chemicals which is very difficult in this day and age.
  2. Pescetarian– The pescetarian diet consists of eating fish and other seafood in addition to vegetarian foods, but not the flesh of other animals. Many people choose this diet for ethical reasons since fish and seafood isn’t considered meat or animal flesh. Some pescetarians eat dairy and eggs and some don’t.
  3. Vegetarian– Vegetarians eat, you guessed it! Vegetables. There are lacto-vegetarians that don’t eat eggs but are okay with dairy products, and there are ovo-vegetarians that eat eggs but no milk or dairy products. Most vegetarians also eat bread, as long as it doesn’t contain animal ingredients. The vegetarian diet is probably the most popular diet out there.
  4. Vegan– Vegans don’t eat any meat or any animal products such as eggs, honey, dairy.  Veganism can be described more like a lifestyle since vegans don’t use fur, cosmetics, soaps, or any products with animal ingredients.

Red meats and beef should be avoided not only for ethical reasons, but due to the fact they take a very long time to digest. You make yourself more prone to heart disease and other health conditions as well. Steaks, ribs, poultry, and other meats may be tasty but can really make you sluggish. I found it difficult to keep up with my yoga practice from feeling over full and tired.

There are a few other foods and substances that should be avoided also and are considered tamasic (which promote laziness and other negative effects). Fast food, frozen, processed foods, alcohol, drugs, mushrooms, and foods that are stale or unripe.

Rajasic foods are hot substances and stimulants such as coffee and tea. They are bitter, sour and salty that promotes an abundance of energy which makes the mind more difficult to control.

I don’t believe there is as specific diet that makes someone a true yogi. Many would say that a lacto-vegetarian diet is the most ideal but that may not be for everyone. There are some people that may follow a strict yogic diet but they are not kind, whereas a person that consumes meat may be one of the kindest people to ever walk the face of the earth.

It’s not my place to judge others. All we can do is our best and at the very least, eat meat that wasn’t obtained from an inhumane process. Namaste.

5 Helpful Tips for a Beginner Yogi

“It is through your body that you realize you are a spark of divinity.”

-B.K.S. Iyengar

  1. Take advantage of new student specials– The first time I began yoga started with a 24-Hour Fitness membership that a friend and I signed up for.  I had never taken a yoga class before but became instantly hooked.  I decided I wanted to see what it was like at actual yoga studios.  Most yoga studios have some great new student packages which usually are around $30-$40 for 30 days unlimited.  This can help you find a studio that is just right for you.
  2. YouTube yoga videos– There are so many wonderful videos on YouTube that are not only free but very helpful.  I’ve found that every instructor teaches differently and there are so many different ways to perform a pose that may be easier than you were originally taught.  This also saves a lot of money for anyone that’s on a budget because some yoga studios can be quite pricey.
  3. Get some yoga props–  Most of us start off with just a yoga mat which is absolutely fine, but later I found I was kicking myself because I really needed additional items.  Blocks are great for helping with the alignment of poses and are usually provided at a yoga studio, but if you’re practicing at home, you definitely want to start off with at least two.  Then of course there’s a yoga towel (which some studios require for non-slip reasons), yoga strap for loosening your hamstrings, and even a yoga wheel which I have yet to get but it’s a great item for getting that back to bend!
  4. Consistent practice– I really wish in the beginning I jumped in with both feet or not at all.  There’s nothing wrong with practicing once or twice per week as long as it’s consistent.  You want to try and avoid going whole week or two before going back to your mat again.  I know it takes some drive and determination to want to practice daily and I eventually worked myself up to that point.  It’s best to keep it steady so your body will adapt to the stretching and that way you can advance much faster.
  5. Cut that fast food out of your diet- This is something I wish I had done, and it could have saved me from a nasty bout of food poisoning.  You want your immune system to be as strong as possible.  If you can drink water only and make sure to take a multi-vitamin that can really help you.  I know it’s hard to convert completely into a vegetarian but if you can try to avoid eating unhealthy that will help you advance faster.  I found that my body began rejecting a lot of junk food I used to eat with no problem.

Well I hope these tips can help some potential yogis out there!  Happy Halloween and Namaste!

 

 

 

7 Brilliant Benefits of Deep Meditation

“Meditation brings wisdom; lack of meditation leaves ignorance.  Know well what leads you forward and what holds you back, and choose the path that leads to wisdom.”

-Buddha

Meditation is arguably one of the most powerful benefits of yoga practice.  Unfortunately, meditation can be greatly misunderstood and also very difficult for someone just starting out.

One of the main criticisms I’ve heard is “I’m unable to stop thinking.  My mind is constantly racing.”

In the beginning it was very hard for me to focus on nothing. I found that my mind would think about work, a past relationship, or even negative thoughts. One of the best things you can do is try to concentrate on your breathing. When you focus on taking slow, equalizing breaths, it clears your mind of all thoughts.

The benefits of meditation are endless but for the sake of keeping it short and sweet, here is a list of 7 benefits:

  1. Stress relief-After a long day at work or any other stressful situation, meditation can reduce stress.  When you sit in a quiet, peaceful area, and focus on clearing your mind of any thoughts, it has a very relaxing effect on the mind and body.  It’s good to get away from all the noise and chaos of this world by retreating into our inner self.  The release of stress can lower blood pressure and boost our immune system.
  2. Increased creativity- There are several ways creative energy is generated, and meditation is one of them.  Meditation provides a sharpness of the mind and a sense of clarity that can increase our sense of awareness.  You will find new ideas are generated, even after having writer’s block.  This stillness of mind is like recharging your battery and can provide a new perspective you may overlooked.
  3. Third eye- The ajna or third eye chakra is the sixth primary chakra according to ancient Hindu tradition. The third eye dates back thousands of years, and was a much cherished symbol of the Egyptians, which they called the Eye of Ra. So where is our third eye located? It’s located in the center of our brain and is called the pineal gland, due to its pine cone shape. Opening the third eye is like entering in to a higher plane of existence. It’s the subconscious mind that it said to have psychic energy, but that’s a different discussion entirely. Kundalini yoga focuses on opening the third eye through meditation and the use of mantras.
  4. Japa- This is a form of meditation that involves a repetitious chanting of the same mantra.  Japa is the Sanskrit word for “muttering”.  This can bring positive thoughts and vibrations to the individual.  According to Hindu spiritual teacher Sri Swami Sivananda: “Mantra produces harmony.  A Mantra has the power of releasing the cosmic and the super cosmic consciousness.” -Philosophy of Japa.  It’s important to know the meaning of the word you’re chanting and the correct pronunciation.
  5. Pain relief- Chronic pain and illness can be very stressful on a person. It can cause a lack of concentration at work, mood swings, and many other negative effects.  People often take pain medications and other remedies but meditation can reduce pain in the body tremendously.  Many healthcare provides recommend mindfulness meditation and studies have shown a decrease in pain symptoms.
  6. Spiritual enlightenment-The idea of not thinking and clearing the mind can be a controversial topic that can make people with different religious beliefs uncomfortable. No matter what beliefs people may have, one of the most universal concepts is we all have soul. The path to enlightenment lies within us, and in my opinion, meditation brings us closer to the creator.
  7. Self-awareness- After frequent meditation, you may begin to see yourself for the first time.  Insecurities and other vices come to light yet meditation is a weapon against them. Self-realization is imperative to discovering what truly makes us happy in this life.  Know thyself.

Thank you for tuning in this week. If anyone has any additional benefits they would like to add, please feel free to comment below! Namaste.

The Heart Chakra and the Power of Yam

“When you touch the celestial in your heart, you will realize that the beauty of your soul is so pure, so vast and so devastating that you have no option but to merge with it.  You have no option but to feel the rhythm of the universe in the rhythm of your heart.”

-Amit Ray

In Sanskrit, the heart chakra is called Anahata, which means “unhurt, unstruck, and unbeaten”.  The element associated with Anahata is air and is responsible for many feelings such as love, compassion, forgiveness, and love for oneself.  The Heart Chakra is the fourth primary one that is green in color.

I had no idea how important chakras were and didn’t take much time to learn them before I began practicing yoga. Since I’ve improved a great deal in my practice, I’ve noticed a constant tightness in my chest.

It seems no matter how much I stretched it, the tightness and strange feeling would remain. I meditated and focused on deep, long even breaths and still nothing.

I recently went to a yoga class and the instructor put much needed emphasis on our breath.  We also chanted Om several times throughout the session.  I felt an energy that I had never experienced before.  It was like I was on a different plane of existence.  The feeling was electric, like I was in another realm.  It was one of the best yoga classes I’ve attended.

After an hour or so, the feeling began to fade and I was back on earth again. I knew at that moment I never wanted it to end.  I wanted to reach the ultimate level of consciousness and stay in a constant state of blissful peace.

I was intrigued and began reading more about chakras and that’s when I came across Yam.

Yam is the cleansing mantra for your Heart Chakra. This can heal our physical and spiritual center and open ourselves up to love.  It can also heal past wounds and emotional heartache.

I’ve officially been chanting this mantra 3 times a day for 15 minutes. Not only is the tightness in my chest gone but I feel more calm and alive than ever.  I don’t want to overwhelm myself with too much chanting because it can bring on too many emotions that you have to be ready to handle.

For now I’m going to focus on Yam and eventually I will move on to each mantra for all seven of our chakras.  For anyone that is looking to heal past heartache or chest pain, or to open yourself up to love and forgiveness, I hope this article will help guide you in the right direction.

Namaste.

 

 

3 Important Questions to Ask Yourself Before You Begin Your Yogic Journey

“The rhythm of the body, the melody of the mind & the harmony of the soul create the symphony of life.”

-B.K.S. Iyengar

There’s no denying that practicing yoga is a great form of exercise.  You increase your flexibility, tone your body, create core stability, and gain a better immune system overall.  There’s also spiritual enlightenment, peace of mind, meditation, and many other wonderful benefits of yoga.

Here are three questions we should ask ourselves to really assesses what we’re hoping to gain from our yoga practice.

Am I interested in yoga mainly as a form of exercise?

In recent years, yoga has become very commercialized and mainstream.  Hatha yoga (which is most frequently practiced here in the United States) focuses on the physical asanas of yoga.  Many yoga studios today are more like gyms, where yoga instructors rarely see the same students.

Not much emphasis is placed on meditation other than the last 5-7 minutes of class for savasana or final relaxation.  This may be perfect for people that want to practice yoga mainly as a form of exercise.  Many people just want to improve their flexibility and mobility but that may not work for someone in search of spiritual enlightenment.

Are you looking for a new way of life?

In the past, yoga instructors selected their students.  They had close relationships with them and this also helped prevent injuries. Yoga essentially was a way of life.  Now materialism runs rampant in the yoga community and in our modern world, freeing ourselves from wanting material wealth is not an easy task.  I’m very guilty myself of drooling over a new pair of elephant pants.  If you’re looking to change your lifestyle, time must be invested in studying and researching many different sacred ancient texts, such as Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  They can be applied to your life off the mat.  There are 8 limbs of yoga.  See chart below.

8 Limbs of Yoga

What style of yoga is best for me?

In addition to the 8 limbs of yoga, there’s also different styles or paths of yoga such as Karma and Raja yoga.  Some may be fascinated with Ayurveda (the world’s oldest form of holistic medicine that has origins in the Vedic culture of India).  Other’s may be more interested in Kundalini yoga which focuses a lot on opening your third eye.

We must find our own truth and venture out to discover what yoga truly means to us as individuals.  Only you can decide what’s best for you and how much you want to deepen your practice.

I just hope that we can all continue our yogic journey while being mindful of all the limbs of yoga, for I truly believe we could all change the world for the better.

Namaste.

 

Overcome Physical Setbacks One Day at a Time

“Every flower blooms at its own pace.”

-Suzy Kassem

Sometimes our bodies refuse to do what we tell it to.  It can be frustrating and can inhibit our progress with yoga or any other physical activity.

Upon learning to do the Parsva Bakasana Asana (Side Crow Pose), I was anxious to push myself further.  My next goal was the Devaduuta Panna Asana (Fallen Angel Pose) but upon attempting it I realized I have serious issues with my hips.  My hopes and dreams came crashing down just like a fallen angel.  I also noticed my right knee clicks whenever I bend it.  It’d be wonderful to have perfect bodies and be in optimal health but unfortunately our bodies are not made of steel, and wear and tear happens over the years.

I served 4 years in the U.S. Navy and really wonder how much depreciation of my body occurred.  Although I made some great friends and had wonderful experiences, I find myself wondering, Did I really mess something up?  How many times did I go up and down ladder wells and through watertight doors?

Instead of looking back and feeling frustrated about the current state of my body, all I can do is move forward and try to get back on track.  I know many people reading this have experienced something similar.

Some of us have injured ourselves playing sports or have had physical trauma in the past.  It can take time to heal and a lot of patience but we must maintain a positive outlook no matter how hopeless it may seem.

One of the best things to do is see a physician.  Get a physical and really assess the state of your body.  You can also find out what vitamin deficiencies you may have.

This is my next step (I will update with my results).

The need to hurry and reach our goals can be overwhelming.  We often take on too much at once which often leads to disaster.  A very determined college student may cram too many difficult classes in one semester, a ballerina pushes herself too hard into the splits, or maybe you try intermittent fasting despite the fact that you are literally about to pass out from hunger.  There’s no rule that says we have to rush anything.

Simply taking things one day at a time is a great accomplishment.

Just giving up one soda per day or one cigarette for someone that is trying to quit smoking is astronomical.  It’s better to go slow and steady than to rush and stumble and fall.  So while others may be moving like a cheetah, it’s okay to move at the pace of snail as long as you keep pushing forward.  The results are so much more satisfying when we are well rested with a clear and conscious mind.

Namaste.

How to Use Yoga for Heartbreak

 

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“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

-Buddha

Sometimes it’s very hard to let go of someone you love.  It can be someone that’s very toxic or someone that just doesn’t reciprocate the same feelings as you.  It’s difficult, it’s painful, it hurts, but the truth is we can all continue to go on.

My story isn’t for the faint of heart.  For 5 years I’ve let someone I deeply love continue to hurt me in an endless toxic cycle.  This is someone that could care less about me.  I’ve devoted so much time and energy hoping this person will change.  I’ve realized that I’m going against the basic principle of yoga which is to seek refuge in the attitude of detachment.  It doesn’t mean not to care or have desires, but to not have attachment to the outcome.   I realized now is the time to take a stand.

For those of you out there going through something similar, I truly believe there is hope.  You can choose to have peace within.  Yoga can be used to help relieve stress and help let go of someone that continues to harm us.  It doesn’t mean you stop loving that person, but it means doing what’s best for you.

So here are a list of a few things you can do to help get over a loved one.

Affirmations- Words can be quite powerful.  Just looking in the mirror and saying something as simple as I am strong can have a positive effect.  Taking the time to say encouraging things like “I will not let anyone steal my sunshine” goes a long way.  Affirmations are a great way to counter the effects of negative things that have been directed at you.  These positive statements can give you the strength you need to get away from the negativity.

Mantras and Chants- Mantras can be described as a word or sound repeated to aid concentration in mediation.  Om (Aum) is probably the most recognized mantra of all time (in my Kanye voice).  This is a very sacred and very powerful mantra in Hinduism and Tibetan Buddhism that appears at the beginning and end of most Sanskrit texts.  So what does Om mean?  According to The Hindu Mandukya Upanishad, “Om is the one eternal syllable of which all that exists is but the development.  The past, the present, and the future are all included in this one sound, and all that exists beyond the three forms of time is also implied in it.”  In short, this is the sound of the universe.  The vibration that this sound makes is very soothing and can have a calming effect on the central nervous system.


Mudras- A mudra is Sanskrit for a “seal” “mark” or “gesture” of the body that draws a specific type of energy.  Most frequently the hands are used to perform mudras and they’re also used in Indian Classical Dance.  I just recently began incorporating the Prithvi mudra into my meditation and savasana.  This is one of the healing mudras that has many different benefits such as removing tiredness, promotes healthy skin and nails, and boosts self-confidence.  There are many different ones to choose from that you can add to your routine to help you.  Pictured below is the Prithvi mudra:

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Yoga Chest Openers-  Heart opening yoga poses are a great way to release a lot of the pain that is stored by releasing it.  The heart (Anahata in Sanskrit) chakra, is the fourth primary chakra that means unhurt, unstuck, and unbeaten.  Opening the heart can help you heal and fill you will love, forgiveness, and compassion.  Sometimes we don’t realize our heart chakra is blocked.  There are a few different yoga poses that can help open your chest such as Matsyasana (Fish pose), Bhujangasana (Cobra Pose),  or Ustrasana (Camel Pose) which is pictured below:

ustrasana_-_camel_pose

So these are just a few different examples of how to combat a broken heart.  I hope this helps.  I appreciate you taking the time to read this!  Namaste.