By Rabbi Chava Bahle
Yoga is part of a larger ethical and spiritual system, rooted in Hinduism, aimed at still the mind and rooting us moment by moment in ultimate reality. In short, its aim is peace – mindful inner peace and mindful outer peace.
I had to take some time off yoga as I dealt with the effects of a serious car accident which occurred last month. It was simply too painful to consider the mat. Along with feeling the pain, soreness and stiffness that resulted directly from the crash, I also become aware that being unable to do yoga for some weeks had a noticeable impact upon my emotional and spiritual state of being.
Some trace the etymology of the Sanskrit word yoga to cognates like “to add, to join, to unite”. It become quite clear that, without regular practice, I felt disjointed, out of touch and isolated. My inner peace level was quite low.
When I was finally able to return to something of a regular practice, the effects were immediate: not only was able to be on the mat again, but I was part of something meaningful – the community of fellow yogis who support and nourish my practice simply by being present.
Yoga isn’t only about turning inward to cultivate peace, calm and good ju-ju; it is also about the way we move through the world, as part of something that matters. I am reading a great book on the process of Appreciative Inquiry, a change process based on strengths and carrying forward good things upon which we can build. The author notes note that it matters to us whether we matter or not.
Part of the peace of yoga is knowing we are a piece of something – a class, a group of learners, a lineage of teachers, a system of being.
When you do yoga, even if you are alone, you are part of something – a great lineage of seekers, whose ultimate aim is to change the world in a place of peace, justice and love. The moment you roll out your mat and commit to practice, you are paying forward a great gift of wisdom and promise.
I am grateful to be back on the mat, part of a community and reconnected to an important spiritual truth: everyone matters.
“The kinds of things that happen when you meditate do have effects throughout the body, not just in the brain.”
“Unlike earlier studies, this one is the first to focus on participants with high levels of stress. The study published in May in the medical journal PloS One showed that one session of relaxation-response practice was enough to enhance the expression of genes involved in energy metabolism and insulin secretion and reduce expression of genes linked to inflammatory response and stress. There was an effect even among novices who had never practiced before.
Harvard isn’t the only place where scientists have started examining the biology behind yoga…”
Find the rest of the article here.
I am always on the lookout for new, healthy, but most importantly delicious recipes. Here is a great minestrone recipe I found using quinoa instead of pasta (perfect for my wheat sensitivity) and with the possibility to be sugar and diary free. The original is here, but I made some small changes to fit my personal eating needs and preferences (my substitutes are in italics).
The best part about a good minestrone is that you really can’t mess it up–a necessity if you are a novice in the kitchen like yours truly. Add some of your favorite ingredients or, better yet, use what is available seasonally. Be creative!
- 1 sweet onion – medium diced
- 2 celery stalks – medium diced
- 3 carrots – medium diced
- 2 tablespoons coconut oil
- 2 cloves garlic – finely chopped
- 2 cups fresh zucchini – medium diced (about 1 medium or 2 small)
- 2 cups green beans – cut in 1 inch pieces (I left these out accidentally, but it was still great!)
- 1 bell pepper – medium diced
- 1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
- 2 28-ounce cans of water
- 1 15-ounce can of cannellini beans
- 1 15-ounce can of chickpeas
- 1 cup quinoa
- 2 cups kale – stems removed
- 1 teaspoon turmeric (or to taste)
- Pinch of red pepper flakes
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Garnish with parmesan to taste (I left this out, no dairy for me)
- Garnish with slivered basil or finely chopped rosemary
Place a large stockpot over medium heat and add the oil, onions, carrots, and celery. Cook for about 5 minutes or until softened.
Add the garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes and cook for about one minute or until garlic begins to color.
Add the zucchini and the green beans, season with salt and pepper, add the turmeric, stir and cook for about 3 minutes.
Add the tomatoes and the water, raise heat to high and bring to a boil.
Lower the heat to medium/low and allow the soup to gently boil (uncovered) for about 20 minutes.
Add the quinoa and cover for 15 minutes.
Remove the cover, add the kale and the canned beans (more water if needed) bring back to a gentle boil and cook for another 5 minutes or just until the kale is tender.
I can’t put my foot anywhere interesting. I can’t commit to that amount of time. Or that amount of money. But I can’t get it out of my head. Does this thought pattern sound familiar?
You lay awake at night wondering, “what if?” You have a deep curiosity about the anatomy and philosophy only skimmed on the surface during your favorite yoga classes. You readily engage in conversations about how yoga has changed your life: body, mind, and soul. You’re constantly apologizing to your friends about your yoga hair and explaining that yoga pants are simply more versatile and, therefore, a better investment than regular pants. The experts agree, only you will know if you’re ready.
Check out the teacher training program at Yen Yoga & Fitness. It could be just what you’ve been looking for.
Mallory Weggemann’s story of triumph is nothing short of amazing. Watch and share her inspiration!
I recently read the phrase “the wise motions of life” in the work of author Lorin Roche. I am not sure yet what he means by term, but it sparked a reflection on the theme of how we apply what we learn on the mat to life.
I have said before that physical yoga is often taught as a “stand alone” practice, divorced from the other “limbs” of yoga which include meditation, ethics and spiritual practice, etc. And maybe this is fine. If we do nothing but use yoga to get in shape, to calm ourselves, to heal our bodies, that’s cool; but as a religious thinker (and someone who has been deeply influenced by the Hindu tradition from which yoga comes), I tend to want to go beyond that, to the metaphorical level, to not just “do” yoga but to think about what yoga means in our lives.
As the Zen Buddhist teacher Cheri Huber says, “How you do anything is how you do everything.”
One thing I have been thinking about since completing the 60 hot classes in 60 days carnival is a concept that arose often during the classes: where is it important to put energy?
In other words, in certain postures, it is important (for both proper practice and safety) to engage muscles with focus and intention, but at the same time it is not necessary to engage … oh, say, my aching jaw. In Tuladandasana (balancing stick), for example, it is vital to protect the knee of the standing leg by engaging the quadriceps muscles, but it is not vital (or helpful, or good for you) to grab the floor with your toes so hard that your put permanent wrinkles in your lovely mat.
In other words, every yoga posture teaches us something about where our energy goes and also where we might be holding unnecessarily. For many of us, this can often involve clenched teeth, jaws, toes, shoulders – the places we put tension when we are in fight or flight mode.
So, as much as yoga teaches about how to engage postures, it also teaches us to notice where we are holding tightly or tensing in ways that are not necessary and that can actually sap energy, directing our vitality to places that are superfluous or even harmful.
One of the six sacred vows I have lived by for some time is to “have no enemies”; this year I added to that the idea of also having “no stories of enemies” by which I mean to address a problem I have with my whirring, worrying mind filling the blanks with fictional narratives that cause me great distress. Here’s how it works:
Once upon a time a man’s car broke down in the middle of the Nebraska wheat fields. He remembered a farm house about a mile back up the road and so he set out to borrow a jack. As he walked, he thought, “What is the farmer won’t lend me jack?”
He walked further and thought, “What if the guy is a real son of a gun and charges me to use his jack?!”
On and on he went with these worst case scenarios about what would happen when he arrived at the farmer’s door, and when he finally got there, full of stories of everything terrible thing the farmer might do, he pounded on the door and when the farmer answered – ready to offer help – the driver said to him, “You can keep your damn jack!” and stomped away empty handed.
The inner narrative can create realities that do us great harm. We put a lot of energy into what is not necessary. On the mat this can mean holding energy into muscles that are not relevant to a posture. In life, we waste precious energy on worries, fears, hatreds and other narratives that truly mislead us mentally and emotionally.
Lately as much as I have focused on alignment and strength in postures, I am also bringing consciousness to where I can let go within those postures. This is an underlying idea of Yin-style yoga as well. When offering classes in Yin style, my teacher Sandy would ask us over and over as we moved through the postures, “Where can you let go a little bit more?”
In the end it is life lesson: we need to put energy out, to be in the world, to grow in strength, but wise motion, on the mat and in our lives, also reminds us to be aware of where energy doesn’t need to go.
So as you move through your postures, especially if you are in a strongly “yang” practice like ashtanga, vinyasa or hot yoga, bring simultaneous awareness to places where you don’t need to hold, clench and tense moment by moment. Over time this multidimensional consciousness, a term from Lama Anagarika Govinda’s Creative Meditation and Multidimensional Consciousness, will become part of thinking off the mat as well. Lama Govinda writes,
Just as the archer concentrates on his aim and becomes one with it in order to hit the mark with certainty, so the meditator must first identify himself with the aim and feel one with it. This gives impetus and direction to his striving. … [She] will neither get lost in the desert of discrimination and dissection, nor cling to the products of [her] imagination . . . [emphasis mine]
Knowing when to hold, when to let go, where it is necessary to engage and where we can step back, consciously choosing which narratives we want to allow to fill our heads and hearts, truly make for a wise of way of living both on the mat and in our lives.
-Rabbi Chava Bahle
A recent article in US News & World Report linking neuroscience and yoga claims that the most important puzzle piece is neuroplasticity:
Neuroscience has repeatedly demonstrated the capacity of the brain to rewire itself through experience, known as neuroplasticity. In a practical sense this means that every moment of experience creates grooves in the landscape of the brain, which then affects the way we relate to the minds and bodies of ourselves and others, as well as to the environment around us. The good news is that a changeable brain is a hackable brain — in other words, by understanding some of the rules of brain function, it is possible to learn how to use its capacities more effectively in order to deliberately bring about positive change.
Great news! Synchronizing the mind-body connection and making conscious lifestyle choices through a regular yoga and meditation practice alter the dynamics of our brain in positive ways, leading to positive changes in our lives.