Challenging Concepts of the “Western Yogi”: Part I

Challenging the “Western Yogi”: Part I
By: Viviana Vallin, M.A.

Imagine walking into a magazine shop and all of the covers concerning yoga have a woman who is of brown skin, has a full curvy body type and thick dark hair. All of the covers had this image. Imagine walking into a yoga class and all of the yoga instructors also fit this image. This image is all around you, and yet this is not you; this is not what you look like. The majority in the class also fit this image. Perhaps, you consider whether you should stay or go.

What thoughts or feelings arise in your body?

It probably depends on how closely you resemble that woman. If you are also a woman of color, a woman with a fuller body, a woman with thick curly hair maybe you would breathe a sigh of relief or maybe you would also feel incredibly uneasy, like what is going on here? Is this a trick?

If you are a woman who is Caucasian, slimmer body type and have blonde straight hair you may also be feeling uneasy. How comfortable and easy would it then be for you to walk into a yoga studio space and be able to jump right into focusing on your practice when you are a blatant minority in that space?

This example is simplified, but I want to highlight the discomfort and not-so-subtle message of what is and is not the “normal” yoga practitioner. This is what people of color experience not only in the yoga studio but in other spaces where Whiteness is the standard. It is not only people of color, but really anyone who does not fit that image or standard who may be more aware and made to feel uncomfortable by pronounced difference.

Since I started practicing yoga eight years ago, I have been on a journey to deepen my understanding of yoga and to explore the ways in which, within the U.S., it has become a mainstream physical practice for a select group of wealthy, white and educated individuals. This past year, I undertook a thesis project for my final year in the Yoga Studies Masters program at Loyola Marymount University. I was the only Latina student in my cohort and one of only a few students of color in the cohort overall. Here and elsewhere, I felt the very subtle but also very real messages that yoga is not for me, or for people that look like my family members in most yoga studio spaces. Most of the women in my family for example, are closer in image to the women I described in the opening imagery.

I never experienced direct discrimination from anyone when taking a yoga class. This is because, in most cases, these impacts are happening outside of the studio space. Media images, commercials, clothes, high costs, and the mainstream profile of the typical yoga teacher, as well as an overall lacking of yoga studios in most communities of color, are all messages that people internalize. They [the media] tell you that yoga is not meant for you; so you naturally might wonder: Why would I even go try a class?

For my thesis, I conducted a survey of people of color who practice yoga in Los Angeles. I was able to collect over 40 surveys within just a few weeks. Although this is a small sample size, it is not meant to be representative of all people of color; however, there are some very strong common responses. The majority of the respondents did not report experiencing discrimination in yoga spaces. They did however share a similar feeling of unease, discomfort and anxiety over not “fitting in” or looking like the “typical yogi.”

These doubts tend to increase self-criticism and so, feelings about not fitting in are powerful barriers that often prevent individuals from exploring yoga or attending a class in a studio. We cannot see this type of exclusion and discrimination, but the results are evident when you look around most yoga classes in Los Angeles. Here and most everywhere, yoga is equated with Whiteness.


So, what can we do? To reclaim yoga as something that is representative of its natural integrity, history and essence; by encompassing and including all persons regardless of race, sexuality, disability or any other ‘difference.’ This is our shared goal and the ultimate goal of yoga, to achieve a real understanding of Oneness.

Photo Cred: People’s Yoga, “Yoga Seeds Family Class” held each Sunday

In Part II…
By Vivi Vallin

The story about how yoga came to be this way is both simple and complex. In a way, it feels like our nation has corrupted yoga. Yoga in itself is a practice of self-awareness, self-inquiry, self-liberation. It is not inherently exclusive or discriminatory. Yoga is just highlighting what is already present in America.

Getting Intimate

Over the weekend, I was surprised to find myself completely immersed in a five-hour training on yoga, sex and intimacy. My confusion was justified – The title of the workshop was “Yoga is Peace.” Where did I go wrong (or, wonderfully right)?

Mark Whitwell is a famous yoga teacher (I use this phrase reluctantly, but if anyone deserves the title, he does) and writer who studied for twenty years under Sri T. Krishnamacharya, the guru (or teacher) graciously credited with introducing yoga to Europe, Asia, and the Americas within the past century. (Should your interest in yoga meaning and philosophy grow, his work is a great place to start…)

Mark began by introducing himself to the class and proclaiming emphatically:

“YOGA IS… [wait for it]…DIRECT intimacy…with reality.”

He followed: “Forget any other definition you’ve ever heard. This is Truth.”

Mark’s “no bullshit” approach to teaching struck a chord. Perhaps too tight of chord, as he later added in the words of his teacher, Sri Krishnamacharya: “Yoga is not information gathering.” (Tell this to the girl working 24/7 in yoga studies.) What he means by this, of course, is simply: It’s already in you. So, focus your attention there.

Regarding sex, intimacy and yoga, we can go back to Mark’s definition of yoga generally as “direct intimacy with reality.” But, what does this really mean? He elaborated throughout his lecture that, from this view, our purpose on this planet is to have intimacy with life; that means with yourself, your partner, your community, and more abstractly, with your reality. In other words: Are you engaged, are you open? Are you a good friend, a loving partner, a “yes” person? Do you serve others in your community, do you love the work that you do? We all prioritize our own reality differently, and where and when we choose to get intimate. But, as Mark suggests, shouldn’t it be that when the day is done we can stand back and see ourselves reflected back to us (ideally with love and admiration) in all aspects of our life? If we desire to hold a purpose, as individuals and humans, shouldn’t it be to live life this way? (In this light?)

Yoga is direct intimacy with reality, with life. In this way, we can practice yoga everyday, in every aspect of our lives, by allowing ourselves to get intimate in our interactions with others and with ourselves.

As for sex: Mark shared his own observation that, as the churches continue to empty throughout America and Europe (Germany, in particular), the explicitness and vulgarity of sex in the media and social discourse continues to worsen. He digressed: “Everybody’s talking about it, and nobody’s having it.”

In my own classes, reluctant attention has recently focused on the realities of the over-sexualization of youth, and women and girls generally, in society. How prevalent are images of young girls (teens & twenties) in their underwear – or without – throughout the media? (Are you as tired of the viral Kim Kardashian as I am?) But giving this issue our sincere attention requires an uncomfortable shift of reality, and so many – including myself – do their best to stay quiet and turn the other way. There’s no need to revisit the profound implications that over-sexualization have on women and girls throughout the country, and the world. Eating disorders, body dysmorphia, body image obsession, insecurities, anxiety, inadequacies, sex trafficking and even hate crimes targeted at nonconforming homosexual individuals – all catalyzed by an extreme prevalence of “sex” in society, distorting the reality that sex [and sexuality] is intimacy – not an ego trip. Having the capacity to love and be intimate with another person is a gift, and an expression of equal exchange. It’s personal, it’s impactful, and it’s the basis of humanity. It’s easy, with the Victoria’s Secret fashion show fast approaching, to forget that this is reality. 

Mark’s parallel to the international vacancy of churches is meant to emphasize the necessity of individual spiritual life for the proliferation of humanity. He even goes so far as to say that the world depends on it. I take spirituality in my own heart to mean the active cultivation of a greater consciousness, founded in love and compassion towards oneself, one another, and our shared global community (the Earth and humanity). My church is my yoga mat. But no matter your definition or your vehicle, Mark attests that exploring your own sense of self and your own true nature is to experience intimacy, and promote creativity and creation. And, to experience direct intimacy with reality [in this way] is yoga – with, or without asana. (Although he and I highly encourage a daily home practice as a guaranteed vehicle toward exactly that. If you’re looking to create a home practice but aren’t sure where to start, contact me for help creating your own personal practice.)

In the midst of a non-stop graduate school schedule, the holiday season, and occasionally being all too aware of worldwide struggle and despair (sometimes all-to-close to home), I’ve found it helpful to go back to the notion that our purpose is intimacy. We can forget the rest. Because, if you can be intimate with life by being authentic, kind and present in every moment of your day, you’re contributing to the world in the best possible way. And, inevitably the goodness of the world will come back to you, more easily and with greater pleasure than you ever imagined. I guess, you could say in this way: Yoga is Peace.

Exploring your own comfortable definition of spirituality and creating a routine to express yourself through this light (be it yoga, attending church, simply sitting in quiet or your own personal practice) is the key to experiencing direct intimacy with life. And while it’s true – you get what you give – ultimately, getting intimate is what really makes life worth living.

Sending love and well wishes to your corner now & always,

Amy

Personal Photo: Playa Vista, CA

It's Your Year

Last week, I discussed yoga as a process of becoming.

This past weekend, I was exposed to exactly the sort of setting where you would expect the winds of change to come sweeping through: Off the Mat, Into the World’s 4-Day Advanced Leadership Training in Ojai, CA – of all places, my favorite place.

It was there that I felt very aware of a newness to myself, my being. Who is this girl, so lucky to be attending this workshop in this beautiful place? Who has such a strong, intuitive (asana) practice? Who speaks so confidently of her experiences in politics and global affairs, which have prepared her for this discussion in social justice yoga? Sometimes our process of becoming isn’t so pretty – and more likely than not, you won’t even know it’s happening. It’s darkness; it’s bitterness, fear, angst, and frustration. But in the inevitable moments of light that follow, you can look back on yourself and how far you’ve come, and realize gratefully that that whole time, you were just becoming.

Today I changed the name of my blog (and Facebook page) to “A Year in Yoga.” I did this because it’s never really been about “my year,” as I created it of and for all of you. I created this blog as part of a greater vision – for peace (inside and out), for justice (in the form of our own tolerance, acceptance and harmony), for empowerment (in understanding our own unique capabilities, our gifts, and finding the strength to live in that light). I have been so moved and inspired by the many women – and few men – who have reached out in response to my posts over the past three months, and shared a bit of their process with me.

It is important that the name reflects the fullness of this collective effort; to cultivate greater virtue in our lives is “A Year in Yoga.”

I was moved – or rather, moved myself – into the yoga community, in search of conversations surrounding the difficult questions: How do we stop the fighting? The destruction? The war, the hurt, the suffering? If it is innate in us to care for one another, at least when residing in close proximity, how can we work towards extending this sense of responsibility and compassion to the global community? To come from a place of love and to admit you are a work in progress is to live in yoga. No asana required. (Despite our Western spin, yoga is not the same as asana, or physical yoga postures. Simply living life truthfully, with compassion, patience and mindfulness, is living in yoga.)

We are all always in a perpetual state of change, growth and evolution, although we rarely realize. Approaching life with this awareness has its perks. Nonjudgment of yourself and others (ahimsa) is a practice which requires conscious cultivation, but ultimately takes the pressure off; allowing us to be more patient and easy on ourselves, and to have greater empathy toward others in acknowledgement of whatever war they’re fighting (or challenges they’re facing) themselves. This means acknowledging that you and I are both enduring similar, however very distinct, journeys toward becoming whomever or whatever we are intended or going to be. Here, we can relax in knowing that we can’t have all the answers.

Imagine what it would mean for families, for communities, for countries, for the environment, for your children (present or future), if everyone in the world approached life with nonjudgment and compassion toward themselves and others. You and I can’t change the world, but (a much larger, global) we can. We starts in communities, with individuals. All over the world, people are increasing their awareness and acknowledgement of the necessity for sustainability, for the preservation of our Earth, for future generations. Every yoga practitioner, protest attendee, business owner, community leader and politician who supports this cause, is a single “I.” I urge you to consider how you’re contributing to the inevitable change, growth and evolution that is becoming all around us, and in you. It doesn’t have to be here or there, right wing or left wing, working or upper class – you are individual, and your process is different from theirs or mine. But bringing a greater consciousness, or mindfulness to your daily life – to be present in acknowledging the impact of our daily choices and accepting responsibility for the effects of our actions and thoughts – is what the world desperately needs. The world needs you and me, because if not us, then who?

You’ve inspired me with your stories of success and struggle, because however personal and distinct from my own, I too feel the heaviness life sometimes brings and don’t want anyone to ever have to stand in it alone. This is empathy. This is peace, however small. And (despite the cliché), it starts with you. It really does.

I dedicate this venture forward, to you. It’s your year (in yoga, or however you choose to live it). And it’s time to start asking, “Who am I becoming?”

Be present, and you’ll know. I look forward to seeing all that flourishes.

Unconditionally here,

Amy

It’s Your Year

Last week, I discussed yoga as a process of becoming.

This past weekend, I was exposed to exactly the sort of setting where you would expect the winds of change to come sweeping through: Off the Mat, Into the World’s 4-Day Advanced Leadership Training in Ojai, CA – of all places, my favorite place.

It was there that I felt very aware of a newness to myself, my being. Who is this girl, so lucky to be attending this workshop in this beautiful place? Who has such a strong, intuitive (asana) practice? Who speaks so confidently of her experiences in politics and global affairs, which have prepared her for this discussion in social justice yoga? Sometimes our process of becoming isn’t so pretty – and more likely than not, you won’t even know it’s happening. It’s darkness; it’s bitterness, fear, angst, and frustration. But in the inevitable moments of light that follow, you can look back on yourself and how far you’ve come, and realize gratefully that that whole time, you were just becoming.

Today I changed the name of my blog (and Facebook page) to “A Year in Yoga.” I did this because it’s never really been about “my year,” as I created it of and for all of you. I created this blog as part of a greater vision – for peace (inside and out), for justice (in the form of our own tolerance, acceptance and harmony), for empowerment (in understanding our own unique capabilities, our gifts, and finding the strength to live in that light). I have been so moved and inspired by the many women – and few men – who have reached out in response to my posts over the past three months, and shared a bit of their process with me.

It is important that the name reflects the fullness of this collective effort; to cultivate greater virtue in our lives is “A Year in Yoga.”

I was moved – or rather, moved myself – into the yoga community, in search of conversations surrounding the difficult questions: How do we stop the fighting? The destruction? The war, the hurt, the suffering? If it is innate in us to care for one another, at least when residing in close proximity, how can we work towards extending this sense of responsibility and compassion to the global community? To come from a place of love and to admit you are a work in progress is to live in yoga. No asana required. (Despite our Western spin, yoga is not the same as asana, or physical yoga postures. Simply living life truthfully, with compassion, patience and mindfulness, is living in yoga.)

We are all always in a perpetual state of change, growth and evolution, although we rarely realize. Approaching life with this awareness has its perks. Nonjudgment of yourself and others (ahimsa) is a practice which requires conscious cultivation, but ultimately takes the pressure off; allowing us to be more patient and easy on ourselves, and to have greater empathy toward others in acknowledgement of whatever war they’re fighting (or challenges they’re facing) themselves. This means acknowledging that you and I are both enduring similar, however very distinct, journeys toward becoming whomever or whatever we are intended or going to be. Here, we can relax in knowing that we can’t have all the answers.

Imagine what it would mean for families, for communities, for countries, for the environment, for your children (present or future), if everyone in the world approached life with nonjudgment and compassion toward themselves and others. You and I can’t change the world, but (a much larger, global) we can. We starts in communities, with individuals. All over the world, people are increasing their awareness and acknowledgement of the necessity for sustainability, for the preservation of our Earth, for future generations. Every yoga practitioner, protest attendee, business owner, community leader and politician who supports this cause, is a single “I.” I urge you to consider how you’re contributing to the inevitable change, growth and evolution that is becoming all around us, and in you. It doesn’t have to be here or there, right wing or left wing, working or upper class – you are individual, and your process is different from theirs or mine. But bringing a greater consciousness, or mindfulness to your daily life – to be present in acknowledging the impact of our daily choices and accepting responsibility for the effects of our actions and thoughts – is what the world desperately needs. The world needs you and me, because if not us, then who?

You’ve inspired me with your stories of success and struggle, because however personal and distinct from my own, I too feel the heaviness life sometimes brings and don’t want anyone to ever have to stand in it alone. This is empathy. This is peace, however small. And (despite the cliché), it starts with you. It really does.

I dedicate this venture forward, to you. It’s your year (in yoga, or however you choose to live it). And it’s time to start asking, “Who am I becoming?”

Be present, and you’ll know. I look forward to seeing all that flourishes.

Unconditionally here,

Amy

Reset & Let Go (+ Juice Recipe)

Two unlikely themes kept popping up in my conversations this past week: Juicing and Karma. This hardly seems like a compatible duo, but I was surprised (after closer consideration) that my conversations on both topics stemmed from the same concern: How can we get a fresh start? When we feel like our diets, our actions, or our temperament (mood swings, stress level, etc.) have spiraled out of control, how can we wipe the slate and move forward? Whether, the result of enduring a big life change or a big weekend out, letting go and hitting the “reset” button can be a welcome relief – and really, a necessity – to get you back on track, feeling better and more like yourself.

Karma-Juicing (verb): to enhance one’s actions by the process of purifying or resetting

I juice when I want to “reset.” Sometimes it’s after a few too many glasses of wine or slices of pizza, but other times it’s just when I’m feeling groggy and sluggish (or bloated). So, as you might guess, I like to juice most days – whenever I can. Because: a nutrient-packed [delicious] mug of green juice, when consumed semi-regularly (2-4x a week), helps give you more energy, boosts your immune system and cleans out your pipes 😉 So, food is digested easily and you feel lighter. And, as a result, when you do splurge on that pizza, the bloated sluggish feeling won’t stick around as long.

I still drink coffee, I’m learning to love tea, and I stock my fridge with pumpkin ale all season long. (Try Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Ale! So yummy.) Juicing doesn’t have to come solely as part of a “cleanse,” but it is still cleansing. Approaching juicing this way – drinking it when I want because of how it makes me feel, rather than how it could make me look – is empowering and effective, without being stressful or expensive. It’s nice to notice the difference in my body, to know how my body reacts to what I consume and how it likes to be treated. (Which really gives you more energy in the morning – coffee or fresh-made juice? You may be surprised…) Once you notice the difference it’s easy to eat healthily; you’ll do it because you feel better when you do. And, of course, because food is love and you, and your body, deserve only the best. There’s no limit to how often you can hit “reset.” (And it doesn’t have to be $10/day — see my recipe and recommendations below).

Resetting when applied to our daily lives can take on a different meaning. Have you ever wanted to just press a button and undo whatever you just said, or did (or wore)? Or even better, have you ever been confronted with a period of transition – a new job, a big move, a bad break-up, or settling into a new relationship – and just wanted to hit “reset” and reap the benefits of moving forward? I never paid much attention to this connection, or this urge, until a few recent conversations with friends, all of which centered on the same theme: Karma. More specifically, how karma – or our actions and behavior – is influenced by different periods in our lives, of light and dark.

*In this sense, “karma” is defined as one’s behavior or actions (versus the mainstream definition which is focused on the results or consequences of one’s actions); I also take “karma” to imply notions of one’s temperament, or general way of being. “Light and dark” can be thought of as life’s really high highs and really low lows, where you inevitably put forth your very best and very worst self (respectively).*

My friends and I discussed that, when you’re in a period of transition, you’re more vulnerable because your foundation has been disturbed or is suffering an imbalance. In daily life, this can take shape as a disruption at home, in relationships (family, love and friendships), and/or as general sense of stability and groundedness; in yogic and Ayurvedic terms, this refers more literally to Muladhara, or your root chakra. Regardless of the terminology, the resulting imbalance or turmoil while enduring periods of vulnerability and ‘darkness,’ directly affects our mindset, and thereby our actions on a daily basis. What you’re thinking and how you’re feeling (perhaps, in the broadest sense: anger, jealously, pride, love) determine your behavior and actions (whether you even apply for that job, move to that city, or can fall in love). When we feel our best and brightest, we live in that light and spread it to others. This way, periods of light and dark, or up’s and down’s, influence our daily behavior and way of being in the present moment – or our karma.

Sometimes, when we’re feeling like we’ve lost control, it would certainly be nice to hit reset. Luckily, yoga philosophy (namely in the Bhagavad Gita, a famously popular story and spiritual text) has an answer…In the Gita, Sri Krishna, cousin and charioteer to the heroic warrior, Arjuna, shares this advice before entering into battle. Among the many worthy take-away’s from this epic dialogue, he says:

“As the heat of a fire reduces wood to ashes, the fire of knowledge burns to ashes all karma.”

However eloquent, this statement – put simply – acknowledges the need to reset or let go of our past mistakes and hang-ups, and even offers a solution. Knowledge, specifically “self-knowledge” or striving to understand your Truth, is capable of burning away any negative lingering feelings – of anger, of jealousy, of pride – that stand in the way of moving forward. Dr. Chris Chapple describes this process of “burning karma” as putting your darkness on the table and asking [yourself] the hard questions. In yoga, detoxing can mean confronting your own feelings (often, on the mat) to purify, cleanse and reset your mindset and way of being, to move forward as – and ideally remain – a better person. All yoga practices (breath work or pranayama, asana postures, meditation and observing your own thoughts) prepare us and enable our efforts in this process; to reveal and confront whatever’s holding us back, hit reset (aka let go) and move forward as a stronger, happier, and more grounded person in our daily lives.

Hitting reset isn’t always the easy way, but – when it comes to our health and well-being – it is the only way. Bottling up negative emotions and bodily toxins has long-term effects on your overall wellness. Whether on your mat or at the juicer, I encourage you to make the investment – be it time, money or effort – to try resetting for yourself.

If, for you, this means taking the leap with at-home juicing, here’s my favorite recipe to get you started – full of warm, root vegetables, and simple Autumn goodness ❤

Autumn Spritzer
Makes about 16 oz.

  • 1 Sweet Potato (= 1 small or ½ large)
  • 1 Pear or Apple
  • 1 Lime
  • 2-3 Celery stalks
  • 3-4 Carrots, whole
  • 3-4 Kales leaves (or 1/4 bag, chopped)
  • Ginger root (~ 2-3 inches of root is plenty, less to taste)

*Try adding fresh Mint leaves and/or a dash of Cayenne pepper to reset and kick-start your metabolism

Remember, I urge you to use what you already have at home and make substitutions of similar ingredients to make it something you’ll enjoy! (i.e. lemon instead of lime, spinach instead or in addition to kale, [1] cucumber for [3-4] carrots, or take out sweet potato for a smoother consistency, to name a few…)

Preferably, drink in the sunshine, wearing a big cozy sweater (this is how I most enjoy it, anyway) – and drink through a straw, to avoid staining your teeth ❤

Now, that’s love. Enjoy!

With love,
Amy

Suggestion: If you are in the market for an at-home juicer, I would highly recommend a Fagor Slow Juicer. It was inexpensive among the high-quality brands (~$130 on Amazon) and has a 5-year warranty on all its parts. (Woo! Priceless…) If you’ve heard juicers are a pain to clean, you’d be right! But, just like anything, the more you do it, the faster you get and the easier it becomes. Some added incentive to rinse and repeat…

Reset & Let Go (+ Juice Recipe)

Two unlikely themes kept popping up in my conversations this past week: Juicing and Karma. This hardly seems like a compatible duo, but I was surprised (after closer consideration) that my conversations on both topics stemmed from the same concern: How can we get a fresh start? When we feel like our diets, our actions, or our temperament (mood swings, stress level, etc.) have spiraled out of control, how can we wipe the slate and move forward? Whether, the result of enduring a big life change or a big weekend out, letting go and hitting the “reset” button can be a welcome relief – and really, a necessity – to get you back on track, feeling better and more like yourself.

Karma-Juicing (verb): to enhance one’s actions by the process of purifying or resetting

I juice when I want to “reset.” Sometimes it’s after a few too many glasses of wine or slices of pizza, but other times it’s just when I’m feeling groggy and sluggish (or bloated). So, as you might guess, I like to juice most days – whenever I can. Because: a nutrient-packed [delicious] mug of green juice, when consumed semi-regularly (2-4x a week), helps give you more energy, boosts your immune system and cleans out your pipes 😉 So, food is digested easily and you feel lighter. And, as a result, when you do splurge on that pizza, the bloated sluggish feeling won’t stick around as long.

I still drink coffee, I’m learning to love tea, and I stock my fridge with pumpkin ale all season long. (Try Trader Joe’s Pumpkin Ale! So yummy.) Juicing doesn’t have to come solely as part of a “cleanse,” but it is still cleansing. Approaching juicing this way – drinking it when I want because of how it makes me feel, rather than how it could make me look – is empowering and effective, without being stressful or expensive. It’s nice to notice the difference in my body, to know how my body reacts to what I consume and how it likes to be treated. (Which really gives you more energy in the morning – coffee or fresh-made juice? You may be surprised…) Once you notice the difference it’s easy to eat healthily; you’ll do it because you feel better when you do. And, of course, because food is love and you, and your body, deserve only the best. There’s no limit to how often you can hit “reset.” (And it doesn’t have to be $10/day — see my recipe and recommendations below).

Resetting when applied to our daily lives can take on a different meaning. Have you ever wanted to just press a button and undo whatever you just said, or did (or wore)? Or even better, have you ever been confronted with a period of transition – a new job, a big move, a bad break-up, or settling into a new relationship – and just wanted to hit “reset” and reap the benefits of moving forward? I never paid much attention to this connection, or this urge, until a few recent conversations with friends, all of which centered on the same theme: Karma. More specifically, how karma – or our actions and behavior – is influenced by different periods in our lives, of light and dark.

*In this sense, “karma” is defined as one’s behavior or actions (versus the mainstream definition which is focused on the results or consequences of one’s actions); I also take “karma” to imply notions of one’s temperament, or general way of being. “Light and dark” can be thought of as life’s really high highs and really low lows, where you inevitably put forth your very best and very worst self (respectively).*

My friends and I discussed that, when you’re in a period of transition, you’re more vulnerable because your foundation has been disturbed or is suffering an imbalance. In daily life, this can take shape as a disruption at home, in relationships (family, love and friendships), and/or as general sense of stability and groundedness; in yogic and Ayurvedic terms, this refers more literally to Muladhara, or your root chakra. Regardless of the terminology, the resulting imbalance or turmoil while enduring periods of vulnerability and ‘darkness,’ directly affects our mindset, and thereby our actions on a daily basis. What you’re thinking and how you’re feeling (perhaps, in the broadest sense: anger, jealously, pride, love) determine your behavior and actions (whether you even apply for that job, move to that city, or can fall in love). When we feel our best and brightest, we live in that light and spread it to others. This way, periods of light and dark, or up’s and down’s, influence our daily behavior and way of being in the present moment – or our karma.

Sometimes, when we’re feeling like we’ve lost control, it would certainly be nice to hit reset. Luckily, yoga philosophy (namely in the Bhagavad Gita, a famously popular story and spiritual text) has an answer…In the Gita, Sri Krishna, cousin and charioteer to the heroic warrior, Arjuna, shares this advice before entering into battle. Among the many worthy take-away’s from this epic dialogue, he says:

“As the heat of a fire reduces wood to ashes, the fire of knowledge burns to ashes all karma.”

However eloquent, this statement – put simply – acknowledges the need to reset or let go of our past mistakes and hang-ups, and even offers a solution. Knowledge, specifically “self-knowledge” or striving to understand your Truth, is capable of burning away any negative lingering feelings – of anger, of jealousy, of pride – that stand in the way of moving forward. Dr. Chris Chapple describes this process of “burning karma” as putting your darkness on the table and asking [yourself] the hard questions. In yoga, detoxing can mean confronting your own feelings (often, on the mat) to purify, cleanse and reset your mindset and way of being, to move forward as – and ideally remain – a better person. All yoga practices (breath work or pranayama, asana postures, meditation and observing your own thoughts) prepare us and enable our efforts in this process; to reveal and confront whatever’s holding us back, hit reset (aka let go) and move forward as a stronger, happier, and more grounded person in our daily lives.

Hitting reset isn’t always the easy way, but – when it comes to our health and well-being – it is the only way. Bottling up negative emotions and bodily toxins has long-term effects on your overall wellness. Whether on your mat or at the juicer, I encourage you to make the investment – be it time, money or effort – to try resetting for yourself.

If, for you, this means taking the leap with at-home juicing, here’s my favorite recipe to get you started – full of warm, root vegetables, and simple Autumn goodness ❤

Autumn Spritzer
Makes about 16 oz.

  • 1 Sweet Potato (= 1 small or ½ large)
  • 1 Pear or Apple
  • 1 Lime
  • 2-3 Celery stalks
  • 3-4 Carrots, whole
  • 3-4 Kales leaves (or 1/4 bag, chopped)
  • Ginger root (~ 2-3 inches of root is plenty, less to taste)

*Try adding fresh Mint leaves and/or a dash of Cayenne pepper to reset and kick-start your metabolism

Remember, I urge you to use what you already have at home and make substitutions of similar ingredients to make it something you’ll enjoy! (i.e. lemon instead of lime, spinach instead or in addition to kale, [1] cucumber for [3-4] carrots, or take out sweet potato for a smoother consistency, to name a few…)

Preferably, drink in the sunshine, wearing a big cozy sweater (this is how I most enjoy it, anyway) – and drink through a straw, to avoid staining your teeth ❤

Now, that’s love. Enjoy!

With love,
Amy

Suggestion: If you are in the market for an at-home juicer, I would highly recommend a Fagor Slow Juicer. It was inexpensive among the high-quality brands (~$130 on Amazon) and has a 5-year warranty on all its parts. (Woo! Priceless…) If you’ve heard juicers are a pain to clean, you’d be right! But, just like anything, the more you do it, the faster you get and the easier it becomes. Some added incentive to rinse and repeat…

Discovering Your Genius(!)

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genius. Speak your latent [inner] conviction, and it shall be the universal sense [agreed upon by all].” 

I have the pleasure – and honor – of crafting a comparison for my Foundations of Yoga Studies midterm essay, between Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay Self Reliance (introduction referenced above) and the Katha Upanishad,* one of the “principal thirteen” Upanishads which include many essays and poems written by ancient Vedic priests, and is one of the initial documented forms of yoga dating back to ~ 1st century B.C.E. I chose this topic because, remembering an experience in middle school when I was first exposed to Emerson’s Self Reliance (or more accurately, an “Ah-ha” moment), I recall telling people afterwards that it was my “favorite book” (embarrassing) – But, to tell the truth, I don’t remember a thing about it. I’ve heard of comparisons between Vedic [ancient yogic] philosophy and Transcendentalism – i.e. 19th century C.E. Thoreau (Walden) and Emerson (Nature, Self-Reliance) – so why not take the opportunity to revisit an old favorite?

A favorite verse from Self-Reliance, and one that I think aptly captures the key similarities between Transcendental and Yogic philosophy, is:

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense.”

Although I have an obvious bias – really, more of a crush on – well-crafted rhetorical persuasion as a student of politics, something about these words resonates with me on a deep and profound level. And, as Emerson states above, he would bet that this resonance has the potential to strike everyone the same way, as “is true for all men,” we’re innately and equally capable of harnessing our inner “genius” (or in yoga philosophy: your personal truth or [big-S] Self). “Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense.” I read this as a command – and think it should end with the proper exclamation(!). With Emerson toting a blue-ribboned ponytail and GW-type swag, balking back on his horse, I imagine him saying, perhaps with a megaphone: “Go forth! And be, unapologetically, you!” Trust your gut! He says. It sounds so simple, but its difficulty is revealed when we take a moment to sincerely consider how we are (what we think, do, say) on a daily basis. Going through the motions of work, school, homework, meetings and travel – it’s easy to get swept away with the current and fall into a routine. But, when you pay closer attention to your interactions and thoughts throughout the day, how many times do you say something or agree with something simply out of habit or ease? (When in truth, it may have been in opposition with your true “gut.” That’s alright, we all do it!) It’s easier, even habitual at times, to “just get through” the day. But if nothing else, it’s interesting to consider how we might be inadvertently stifling our own voice, and succumbing to negativity in this process. Emerson’s advice: Trust Thyself.  Find your genius in the genuine. Or the modern adapted version: Go forth and be fabulous!

Our thoughts are powerful. Last week, I provided some insights into the “Yoga & Neuroscience” and want to share another related concept. For every negative thought we hear or think, it takes five positive thoughts to get back to normal/neutral from the resulting mood imbalance – just like momentary depression. This is scientifically proven as an evolutionary survival reflex, and is referred to as our innate “negativity bias.” (More on negativity bias here.) I mentioned last week, that thoughts – according to neuroscientists – are actually a group of connected neurons in the brain, that together form a single thought or idea. Repetition of the same idea or thought over-and-over strengthens this connection, so the more often we think (or say) something, the more likely we are to think it again. Considering this, and considering how much – scientifically speaking – a single negative thought brings us down, it’s apparent that its advantageous for our well-being to pay attention to what’s going on in our noggin. When we start to recognize our own internal “negativity bias,” we can begin to change our thoughts from a predominantly negative to a positive spin, or worldview. And, the good news is, just as negative thoughts strengthen and recur with repetition, so do positive thoughts. (All thoughts follow this rule – What have you been thinking about a lot lately?)

“To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men – that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense.” 

Trust yourself (and treat yourself)! Be open to hearing yourself out and making yourself heard. Stay positive, especially when it’s difficult, because you’re creating a path to follow in the future. And seeking what’s easy is understandable, but living your truth is genius! (Just sayin’…) This is also, living in yoga.

Emerson has inspired my week, having set the intention to live by his motto: “Trust thyself.” In recalling the negative thoughts which have occupied my mind lately, it’s clear that my own doubt and fear (the antithesis of trust) are most at fault. Once we get passed this depressing duo, or overcome our negativity bias, how many more positive thoughts will we think? How happy can we be? I intend to find out. What’s your intention this week?

With love,
Amy

———–

*Katha Upanishad (pronounced in Sanskrit: “Kat-a,” like Immanuel Kant without the “n”)

In case you want more on negativity bias:

– Dr. Rick Hanson discusses the neuropsychological basis for “Confronting the Negativity Bias” as an evolutionary survival tactic, and how to overcome it.

– Check out this NY Times article which discusses the importance and benefits of overcoming your “negativity bias,” and its impact at work and in your everyday life.

^ Excerpt: “The more you’re able to move your attention to what makes you feel good, the more capacity you’ll have to manage whatever was making you feel bad in the first place. Emotions are contagious, for better or worse. It’s your choice.”

Photo Credit: Personal photo of a surf(bill)board outside a cafe in the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica.

Work Hard, Play Hard.

In my previous posts, I’ve talked about the importance and “beauty” of finding yoga on your mat – particularly in those moments when you find your “yoga high” and perhaps even experience a state of pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses, as awareness draws inward). We treasure these moments, because they are so few, and reconcile with ourselves that they can only be fleeting. But – ah ha! – what if it were possible to live in yoga, even when you’re off the mat?

If you haven’t heard the phrase “living in yoga” before, please allow me to introduce you. Living in yoga does not mean living in a perpetual state of pratyahara, perpetually withdrawn from the outside world – though some, very traditional yogis choose this path of renunciation. Rather, it means applying basic yogic principles (revisiting the eight limbs = yoga’s “code of ethics”) and practicing yoga as “the science of the mind” on a daily basis, by carefully observing your own thoughts and choosing your words (and thoughts) with care and intention. How nice of a notion. Of course, we know that though yoga is sweet, life is not that simple. So, often times, the “living” part gets in the way.

This week, I can certainly relate to the feeling of having to surrender to life – in this case: my schedule. I love school. I love yoga. Grad school for yoga? Sign me up! But somehow in the midst of two weeks of non-stop events/classes/studying (all of my waking hours) my enthusiasm waned, and life took over. And suddenly, it wasn’t so fun anymore.

In talking to fellow classmates and checking in with friends who are building their own professional careers (from event planning, to accounting, sales and yoga!), I began to notice a theme: Surrender to our schedules – to life – in a non-stop whirlwind of meetings, parties, and events all designed to achieve balance (to some degree) and overall success. These are great goals to aspire to, even admirable. But wouldn’t it be nice if we could get there without feeling like we’ve lost control along the way, and that our lives are driving us? When do we get to stop running and just enjoy? (And don’t say: retirement. Although that should be enjoyable too!)

Living in yoga, your schedule remains the same and your obligations and deadlines are just as urgent. But, instead you commit to living more fully in everything you do and allow yourself to stop and smell the roses – today (no waiting)! This is as lovely as it is challenging, because living in yoga also means devoting greater consciousness to your daily life. By being aware and observing your own thoughts and actions throughout the day, you aspire to live in the present moment with compassion and authenticity. This means, allowing yourself to take one thing at a time. And not only do it, but enjoy it.

This also means making a concerted effort to make time for you, to do what you love – even, and especially, in the midst of chaos. (The picture above was taken this past weekend when I showed my close friend, Laura, my all-time favorite spot* during her first-ever trip to California!) There is nothing more cherished – or important – than memory-making…

As my boyfriend ran out of the house to work this morning, we reviewed our schedules for the day, both with a looming fatigue already at 8:00am. (Whenever you think you have the craziest day ahead, there is someone with one even crazier…) But together, we reached the conclusion: “Well, you can only be one place at a time.” All you can do is the best you can, where you are – and do your best to enjoy it!

In my morning meditation today, I set the intention to bring awareness to the present moment as I go forward into the weekend and coming week, so that I can relax and enjoy all that’s in front of me instead of feeling bound and overburdened. This, like anything, takes practice. But is there anything more worthy of working towards? Being present means listening actively, expressing gratitude, sharing your ideas confidently, and enjoying life – as it is, how it is, right in this very moment. This is, at its simplest, living in yoga.

There are only so many hours in the day. You can only do one thing at a time. So, just do what you can. And enjoy it!

Gives new (& better) meaning to: “Work Hard, Play Hard.” Go forth, and play!

Namaste,

Amy

*photo taken at my favorite peak on Foothill Trail in Ojai, CA

Be Bold, Be Beautiful

Entering into the “world of yoga” can be intimidating. Especially in Los Angeles and especially in your mid-20’s, there’s a lot of pressure to achieve a certain standard. To add to this pressure, I’ve primarily developed my personal practice and knowledge of yoga by teaching myself at home.

In grad school right now, we’re learning in detail about the different types of guru-student relationships – characterized by one-on-one mentorship from a “teacher,” in this sense, spiritually focused – that are so essential to understanding and developing a personal yoga practice, in keeping with yoga’s historical and traditional integrity. However, the reality is that the rapid growth in popularity of yoga among Westerners today (especially in the States) has largely diminished concern for consistency in the traditional practice of yoga, simply out of necessity. In the interest of “reaching” as many people as possible, yoga teachers and studios aim to pack their [increasingly, hot] rooms to capacity. This leaves many intermediate yogis who have grown to feel and appreciate the deeper benefits of yoga, lacking the classically acclaimed direction and guidance necessary from a “teacher” to enable their development from intermediate to advanced; or, more specifically, to harness the full benefits of yoga in the truest sense, enabling cultivation of utmost strength, happiness and longevity.

I acknowledge and respect that not everyone who is interested in yoga seeks or expects any psychological or spiritual benefit. (I started with Bikram, remember?) But for those who have recognized a shift in thinking since beginning their practice, or might in the future, it’s natural to yearn for greater nourishment – perhaps, a teacher training – to explore the full scope of your evolving practice. While Westerners continue to sort through this puzzle of adapting traditional Eastern practices into modern Western society (big things to come from my wonderful peers at LMU!), it’s important to keep in mind for your personal practice, the integrity and real purpose of yoga – and not to let the pressure get to you.

If you’ve “followed” any yogis on Instagram lately, you’re likely familiar with the pressure I’m talking about. The intimidation factor that has made its mark on yoga in the West emphasizing achievement in yoga as equivalent to obtaining physical strength and a glamorous physique. (I recently saw the winner of an Instagram yoga contest posted a picture of herself in wheel pose, perfectly toned, in her bra and panties…) So, in order to be credible in the “yoga world,” you need to be able to stand on my hands, touch your feet to your head, and jump through a ring of fire (naked)? Props to those girls (& guys), but I’m not sure that’s for me, and if I’m a beginner, this might make me think yoga’s not for me. Sometimes, like many others I know, I’ve put down my phone after an intense scrolling session and decided: “I’ll just practice later.” I lost my yearning in a wave of feeling that my practice was inferior; this, of course, being the antithesis of the very virtues we’re trying to cultivate in yoga: of confidence, of feminine power (shakti) and of unconditional love.

However, those images are only one perspective on “beauty” and honestly, though they are beautiful, I think they’re overplayed. Where’s the color, the fun, the creativity, the authenticity that truly characterize yoga? Have you ever laid in child’s pose and allowed your breath to takeover, losing sense for a brief moment of your long “To Do” list, and with it, the arguments and disappointments of the day? Finding this kind of calm in an otherwise hectic day of work and errands; that is truly beautiful. And the ease and accessibility of this posture – that anyone, anywhere, of any age, race, or orientation, can achieve this benefit (or, “yoga high”) in child’s pose – That is beautiful.

All this to say, whether in your yoga practice or out in the world, you should feel free to be, do and live as you are and where you are, today. This is your life, and there is no right way. That applies to your yoga asanas, Instagram posts, professional trajectory and personal interactions. There is a healthy way, a kind way, and an authentic way – but not a right one. Don’t let others’ standards (with their fancy handstands or boardroom presentations) make you think any differently about yourself, and what you could or should do to succeed, and to be valued. You are valuable, and your contribution is already great, whether you realize it or not – as long as it comes from a place that is genuine. Thinking boldly in this way, nothing can stop you. And more likely than not, you’ll be surprised by just how much you can do. Sometimes, I’ve learned, we are our own best teacher.

Next time you practice, whether in a class, in your bedroom, or in front of your television, remember that there’s more to yoga than handstands and that there’s more to you than meets the eye. And allow this awareness to inspire you, in all aspects of your life.

I also challenge you to post a picture of yourself on Instagram, Facebook or Twitter in your favorite, simple yoga posture (mine is tree pose – above!) as a friendly reminder to everyone out there that there is real beauty in simplicity. You just have to be willing to change your perspective. 

Be bold, be beautiful Xx

Amy

Losing Patience: Even Yogis Get Mean

Reporting back on my first week of grad school (in Yoga Studies): I learned a lot last week. In fact, I think I mentioned a few too many times that I’ve felt like my head might explode, in the most wonderful way possible. But the most challenging aspect of my week wasn’t the classes or my new assistantship, or even balancing my personal life. (I’ve got the logged hours and post-picnic hangover to prove it.) No, my biggest challenge by far has been: keeping my patience.

Patience. It seems like an obvious concept, but it can have different meanings in different contexts; and this past week, it’s taken on a few. There was my most recent frustration, when I couldn’t find the recycling bin in my friend’s building (…anywhere!) so I finally threw the bag of bottles down the trash shoot. (I’m still so sorry about that.) But patience could also refer to being polite with the operator after waiting “on hold” for fifteen minutes; listening to a friend’s story all the way through without interrupting; or letting your dog enjoy the outdoors instead of rushing her to hurry and “do her business” (guilty, guilty, guilty). Everyone has those moments of falling off the wagon and not making the best decision they could have, or should have made. Even yogis get mean. And for me, yesterday was one of those days.

One of those days where it’s not one thing in particular that seems “wrong,” it’s everything. Nothing sits well, nothing feels right, and no matter what you do or try to do, it’s wrong, stupid or counterproductive. But, lucky for me, an important part of a consistent yoga practice is being aware and observing your own thoughts. And eventually I realized that everything felt so wrong, because I was wrong. I was setting the bar impossibly high for myself during my first week of grad school and the busiest weekend of the semester (eight hour lectures Saturday & Sunday). But yesterday, I wanted to go to the Labor Day picnic. I wanted to spend time with my boyfriend, read 100 pages for class, write a two page summary, practice three hours of Sanskrit, go grocery shopping, meditate in the morning and do my usual asana practice. Totally feasible, I swear. Really.

And I did (most of) it. By all outside accounts, it was a great, very productive, really fun day. And in many ways, it was. (I even got a bit of a tan!) But I still ended the evening feeling frustrated – and inevitably, exhausted. Even after succeeding in checking off my “To Do” list, the list just got longer. And in my haste to “get it all done,” I hadn’t allowed myself to relax and be present and missed out on quality time with the people I love when I finally had the time to spare. My lack of empathy and patience with myself directly impacted the quality of my experience and my interactions with others. But rather than continue to beat myself up about it – as I may have done in the past – I’m instating some patience, pronto. I remind myself: You’re human, and you have a lot on your plate. You have to go easy on yourself. With any new transition, there’s an adjustment period. You need to give yourself time to adjust. 

Before I recently found myself in a constant state of transition, I found a constant state of kindness, having trained myself to think this way – with sincerity and patience – more regularly. Unfortunately, life happens, and enduring transition can make maintaining any type of consistency difficult. But today is the start to my second week of grad school, and I am deliberately (and publicly) setting the intention to always defer to kindness. Not only because it will make my week that much better (and trust me, it will) but because I know that, with practice, I can regain that steady peace of mind and live again in kindness – on the regular.

I encourage you to set an intention this week. For patience, for kindness, or for whatever you need most, because we are all, always in transition. And if we want to succeed and get the most out of life (and I hope we all do!), then we’ve got to be kind to ourselves, and to others. May as well start today.

Namaste (I honor the truth – and kindness – in you),

Amy

 

P.S. I haven’t forgotten the recipe(s). Stay tuned!