• Yoga Beyond the Binary

    The binary thrives in a colonial patriarchal collective consciousness and ultimately contributes to a vision of the world where feminine people are expected to be a certain way, and masculine people are expected to be quite different and complementary.

    It is Pride month, so I thought my queer self would take you on a deep-dive about yoga and the gender binary. These are just some of my thoughts about why I find it unhelpful to use terms such as “masculine” and “feminine” to describe energy, embodiment, or intent when teaching yoga. I also thought I would add a reminder about yoga’s roots and how Hinduism’s stories operate outside the binary with deities and heroes who trouble gender.

    How do you feel about using “masculine” or “feminine” to describe energy / intent in yoga? How do you feel about hearing it in a class?

    What does it mean to use the terms “masculine energy” or “feminine energy” in yoga?

    What do you actually mean? If you mean soft, healing, proactive, fiery, why not just say that? The idea that you don’t need to explain what you mean when you say “masculine” or Feminine” energy implies that everybody shares the same definition of these words, which is not true. The way that some qualities are perceived as either masculine or feminine changes through time and space.

    In some cultures, the moon is described as having masculine energy, which is the opposite as the way our Euro-dominant culture views the moon.

    How the binary confines us

    The binary thrives in a colonial patriarchal collective consciousness and ultimately contributes to a vision of the world where feminine people are expected to be a certain way, and masculine people are expected to be quite different and complementary.

    If the moon is feminine, and the sun is masculine, what energy am I tapping into if I wasn’t to embody twilight? If we are describing both ends of a spectrum, let’s name that it is a spectrum, and contextualize it as such! If we can name the in-between, maybe the binary does not give us such a helpful vocabulary after all.

    Naming the in-between

    Reminding yourself/your students that we all embody both the masculine and feminine energy is helpful but is not enough to highlight and celebrate all the things that exist outside of the binary.

    If we aim to live in balance, don’t we aim to spend most of our time in the middle? Right in the middle of fiery energy and complete inertia? Of intense effort and complete ease? Of inward, solitary contemplation and outward, public conversations? Of the feminine and the masculine energies? So why can’t we name that space?

    Going back to yoga’s roots

    South Indian folklore, tradition, and faith recognize the fluidity of gender, and the full spectrum of these lively energies that morph, disappear and transform inside of us, as well as the existence of energies and people existing outside of the binary. In Hinduism, Brahman (who could be compared to the monotheist God) is considered by many to be genderless. Hindus also revere androgynous deities such as Ardhanarishvara, who is said to represent totality beyond duality. Hinduism has many stories about deities changing their sex, and cross-dressing, and South-Indian culture recognizes a “third-sex” named Hijra.

    So let’s go beyond the binary, and explore our expressions and energies as part of a tremendous spectrum where everything and its opposite can co-exist. Let’s embody all the nuance of the natural world.
    This blog was originally a post on Laura’s Instagram account.

    By Laura Chaignon

    Laura Chaignon (she/her) is a queer european settler based in Katarokwi (Kingston) in so-called Canada. Laura is a mindfulness and yoga facilitator, and an arts worker. When teaching, she thrives to create an approachable and inclusive space, allowing students to grow into the shapes they individually need to cultivate joy, healing, and rest. Her intention is to inspire authentic movement, radical care, and boundless imaginings. She is a lover of community, of silly jokes and of all things imperfect.

    Laura’s profile photo was taken by Chelsea Stevenson (@surefootyogi).

    Photo by Matt Nelson on Unsplash

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  • The Gift Yoga Brought Me

    I discovered yoga around the age of 19 and felt somehow that my difference was not important when practicing yoga. We were all different somehow but shared the commonality of practicing yoga.

    For many of us growing up was an interesting process.

    We may have been different in some way from the majority of others and started to realise these differences in childhood, in our teenage years or later.

    For me I knew I was gay from a young age, but also knew this was not accepted openly while growing up–by my peers, my teachers, my family. This meant I had to develop skills to keep part of myself sublimated, hidden from others, so my sense of identity became fragmented.

    I discovered yoga around the age of 19 and felt somehow that my difference was not important when practicing yoga. We were all different somehow but shared the commonality of practicing yoga.

    I think I was lucky and found some very open, compassionate, and aware teachers.

    And the magical gift that I discovered was savasana.

    Lying on the floor in the stillness and quiet after doing all these weird postures with belts and chairs and straps on the wall (it was Iyengar!), noticing the quality of the light, the air of my skin, being aware of lying in the room with everyone else but at the same time coming into my own space, and being happy and content just to lie there for a few moments, with myself, at one with myself. I felt integrated, whole, and self-accepted.

    And all of this from within myself.

    Yoga allowed me to find a sense of personal integration and a renewed sense of identity connected deeply within myself. We could argue that the sense of self I felt had a more cosmic meaning, but it didn’t matter because I felt it anyway.

    To say yoga saved my life is cliche, a hackneyed phrase. But if you know, you know.

    This blog was originally a post of Ashley’s Instagram.

    By Ashley Russell

    Ashley Russell is a Senior Yoga Teacher with the Yoga Alliance Professionals and an EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing) Therapist living in Bristol, UK. He teaches for the Bristol School of Yoga on their 200 and 500 hour programs. With a background of over 25 years of both teaching yoga and working in the mental health field he brings a broad range of skills to the transformative power that yoga can provide. He lives in Bristol, UK with his husband choreographer Adam Hougland.

    Follow Ashely’s Instagram account.

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  • Resentment, Healing and the Yoga of Action

    Each of us has a unique set of programming, samskaras collected over a long time that guide us towards certain behaviors. Your story particulars may be different from mine, but the model of raga and dvesha discussed by Patanjali holds true. He describes these as attachment and aversion, built respectively on pleasure (sukha) and suffering (dukha).

    Resentments are a terrible poison, easy to form and hard to let go of. Often our addict egos are easily injured, making us prone to recycling feelings of anger and blame over and over again. It’s a bitterness that breaks down our relationships and holds the power to destroy us from the inside–unless we take purposeful action.

    Some amount of addiction response is common in most human beings. Some get over-attached to everything from exercise to caffeine, and sometimes even caffeine to get through our exercise. Others battle with far more serious dependency issues.

    It can be a lifelong process of ups and downs to liberate oneself from these addictions. In recovery, we use an analogy, “…if you sober up a horse thief, what do you get? A sober horse thief.” What we are, the set of core beliefs and behaviors that define us, hold tight to us, as if magnetized.

    While some respond to the pain of being stuck in that destructive cycle with self-medication, others live a life wrapped up in anger and self-pity. One can end up drunk on these destructive feelings as well. Substance abuse is just one possible symptom of a deeper imbalance.

    Ancient yogis called the impressions left by repetitive actions Samskaras. Sometimes these impressions stem from innocuous behaviors. If you follow the same path to work each day, you may eventually find yourself driving there on autopilot, lost in thought on matters other than the road in front of you.

    Similarly, unhealthy behavior patterns and unresolved trauma can make us act unconsciously or leave us with a feeling of being unable to make a different choice though we know something is wrong. Our thoughts and actions create grooves in the fabric of our reality, and oftentimes feelings of being wronged or that we are owed something can be among the most compelling to return to. Until we find the wherewithal to change course, some of us are always looking for the next horse to steal.

    I found myself relapsing into pathological resentment many years into my sobriety. While living in Guatemala I had the privilege of working with a wonderful therapist who listened to me as I cautiously opened up on the workings of my mind.

    One week I described to her the conflict between my sister and I. I told her how we often butted heads and how she had recently placed unrealistic demands on me to come back to the states for a visit. Later I spoke of my relationship with my husband and some challenges we faced. At the time I felt he didn’t see my sincere attempts to connect with him and his desire for more effort on my part felt to me like an off-putting neediness. He sought more intimacy and somehow I twisted that into an attack on what I was already offering.

    A couple of sessions later she offered to connect some dots she had seen as I told my stories. In different words, she described how the samskaras of my childhood left me with out-of-balance ideas about opportunity and expectation. Simple requests often feel like demands to me and the demands lead to feelings of being stressed and stuck in a cycle of blind blame. Having a mother who didn’t seem to need me left me habitually uncomfortable with being needed, and in some cases even left me resentful, confused, and doubtful about love.

    Each of us has a unique set of programming, samskaras collected over a long time that guide us towards certain behaviors. Your story particulars may be different from mine, but the model of raga and dvesha discussed by Patanjali holds true. He describes these as attachment and aversion, built respectively on pleasure (sukha) and suffering (dukha).

    While not all samskaras have to do with resentment, many of these patterns do bring us what feels like comfort and a sense of relief, so naturally, we become defensive and resentful when they are challenged.

    Early in my sobriety, I had a patient sponsor, a mentor who taught me to take a moment before bed and review the day’s events. If I had caught any resentments, she taught, it’d be best to make amends and find forgiveness right away. This is in some ways a very yogic ideal of trying to skillfully control the mind, moving away from operating unconsciously and towards presence and intentionality.

    Taking this daily inventory of resentments is challenging because the party that injured you may not always be as willing to let go, but a thorough investigation of the situation often reveals that they may not have awareness of the harm they are causing. It can be empowering to see the limited perspective of others. We addicts must accept that often the behavior of others, even when it causes us pain, is the other doing the very best they can.

    Very few people want to cause pain, but quite a few lack the self-awareness to know when it’s just this that is happening. This source of our resentment, rooted in the dukha of others, is very often the greatest opportunity to practice compassion and love.

    A key to sobriety is looking for your role in each situation, taking responsibility for your part and opening up to forgiveness of others. This is a formula that works for most everyone:

    1. Put it on paper, write out what you’re feeling. Get it out of your head and see the shape of your resentment in writing. Inquire: Does it look different now, is it as bad as it seemed? Vidya is the yogic term for seeing clearly and this technique may grant you some insight.

    2. Ask yourself what your role is. Inquire: Did I do anything to make this worse? Rarely do we find that we have not contributed to the difficulty in any way. Getting honest about your part will help bridge the divide.

    3. Let go. There is a satisfaction inherent in resentment. Even one who has never had a drink can get addicted to the feeling. Seek help from your higher power or spiritual counsel in letting go of the fear that draws you into holding tight to your resentment.

    4. Pray for the person you resent, or meditate. Offer them loving kindness, open up to their suffering. If you can really feel how they hurt too, then forgiveness will be more accessible. Do this daily and you can retrain the tendency to hold a grudge.

    5. Making amends is like an apology on steroids. Find tapas, the white-hot effort required to burn up samskaras of addictive behavior, by facing the person. Have no expectation for an apology in return, only a willingness to show how you are changing your own behavior.

    Transforming samskaras into tools for insight is possible. The sutras say that future suffering is to be avoided and the digging deep into the roots of our resentment can help.

    These right efforts towards compassion and forgiveness can play a valuable role in your yoga journey. The eightfold path which Patanjali lays out assumes a certain amount of emotional stability in the practitioner. The first Yoga Sutra even says ‘Now yoga begins’ and it is a purposeful arrangement of words.

    That ‘now’ is full of meaning. It’s full of stolen horses, needy boyfriends and hearts broken by our mothers. It’s full of a raw sincerity that allows you to open up to your own sensitivity, your longing and fear and to take responsibility. It’s full of all those pivotal actions that will redefine your place in the world.

    From the Big Book of AA:

    “AA has taught me that I will have peace of mind in exact proportion to the peace of mind I bring into the lives of other people.”

    By Joseph Armstrong


    Joseph Armstrong teaches yoga rooted firmly in tradition but with an eye to the future. His search for a more present and peaceful life first led him to the practice in 2008. A few years later he was in India studying intensively. After finally overcoming a long struggle with addiction, Joseph began experimenting with Ashtanga Yoga. He understood quickly that the lineage was calling to him to deepen his practice. He underwent a 2 year apprenticeship program at the world renowned Miami Life Center, continuing his education under his dear teachers Tim Fieldmann and Kino MacGregor. More recently he has completed 2 months of study in Mysore under Sharath Jois. Joseph teaches yoga because attempts to do any and everything else ended disastrously. But when he finally devoted himself to his passion, he became an asset to himself and others. He hopes his practice allows him to be ever more loving and to exist gently.

    Photo by Fabian Burghardt on Unsplash

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  • I Felt the Power of Yoga

    Yika’al. It is possible. I decided to be more creative with my English activities.  One of the activities I came up with was teaching English through yoga.

    Sometime after graduating college, I decided I wanted to serve in the United States Peace Corps (pronounced “core” not “corpse”). Please note: Omstars is not affiliated with the United States Peace Corps or the United States Government. Serving in the Peace Corps means committing yourself to living two years in a community abroad, typically a developing country, building capacity and exchanging ideas and experiences. And of course, promoting peace.

    You integrate as best as you can by immersing yourself in the language and culture and make lifelong friends.  In May 2011, I stepped off the plane in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. After studying the northern language, Tigrinya, for several months and living with a host family, I was sent to a rural town of about 16,000 people to teach English and pedagogy at a college of teacher education.

    Over the course of my first year there, I ran around in so many directions trying to make things happen. There were times I held workshops and no one came. There were times I asked for colleagues to support me and no one did. There were times I put things on the schedule, only to learn there was a holiday I didn’t know about. It was hard, but with every failure, I learned how to improve. I learned how best to communicate to the students. I learned which people to work with. I learned which customs were most respected. Finally, the most important thing I learned was that, not everyone wants your help, and that’s completely fine.

    As I started my second year, I decided to be more creative with my English activities.  One of the activities I came up with was teaching English through yoga. I had dabbled in some yoga classes before I joined the Peace Corps, and felt confident I could at least talk about the shapes. I was still nervous to do the presentation, but one phrase that kept me going. Yichalal, spoken by the famous marathon runner Haile Gebrselassie, means, “It is possible.” There’s a sense of optimism among Ethiopians that’s contagious. The day I gave the presentation, we didn’t have yoga mats and I didn’t know how to really instruct students to flow, but it was fun to make the poses and laugh together. The presentation was so successful that my colleague Yikuno and I agreed we should repeat the yoga classes. He suggested we take it outside to the soccer field.

    I will never forget the day I led our students through the poses with the backdrop of the mighty mountains behind us. I think this is the first moment I felt the power of yoga. I realized it was greater than all of us. Suddenly the female students felt like they had a place among the male students. All students could make poses, let their breath guide them, and be a part of the beautiful practice of yoga. Yoga transcends language, geography, culture, and identity.

    By Ally Born

    Ally is a yogi, runner, Ironman triathlete, and a former competitive swimmer and water polo player. She started running after earning her bachelor’s degree and has now completed five marathons. She served in the U.S. Peace Corps in Ethiopia for two years and returned to the states to complete her master’s degree in international educational development. While job-hunting, she dabbled in yoga challenges on Instagram with Kino MacGregor and fell in love with the practice of Ashtanga yoga. During the following year, she earned her 200-hour level yoga teaching certification. Over the last couple years, she has been fortunate to have trained with several authorized Ashtanga instructors, including Kino and Harmony Slater. She truly believes that yoga is for everyone and loves teaching it. When she’s not on her mat, she can be found training for triathlons, traveling, and researching. Keep in touch with Ally on Instagram.

  • How Eating Vegan Can Make A Positive Impact On The Planet

    Ever wonder why so many yogis choose to become vegan or vegetarian? Or why there seems to be a natural correlation between practicing yoga and living consciously? Usually, the more and more a person practices yoga and self-awareness, the more and more they begin to desire conscious living. But what does it mean to live consciously?

    A person who lives a conscious lifestyle is someone who spends time evaluating all of their activities, decisions and options. A person who lives consciously makes deliberate choices based on their own values, morals and priorities. More than that, they are the kind of person who’s actions often take the well-being of the entire world into consideration.

    This is part of the reason why so many yogis choose to become vegans, or at the very least vegetarians.

    Often times, making the decision not to eat animals comes from a place of compassion for other living creatures; but in many cases, those of us who choose not to eat meat do so because we know how bad the livestock industry is for our planet. Human beings only make up about 0.001% of living creatures on Earth, but we are responsible for more damage than any other creature known to man.

    Over time, the industry of industrialized agriculture has taken precedence over so many of our planets most important assets – think rainforests, endangered species, or clean air & water. These are valuable assets that are either vital to our existence or could provide answers and solutions to many of the problems we face in our world. Yet, somehow, we have destroyed much of these resources in order to create more space for livestock.

    As human beings, living unconsciously is part of our natural state of being, and in order to live more consciously, we have to actively decide to do so. I don’t believe that anyone intended for things to turn out the way they are, but these days, we’re left living on a planet that is more livestock than anything else. An astounding 83% of all wildlife, and approximately 60% of all mammals on Earth can be counted within our livestock populations.

    Fortunately, there is hope. A recent study published in the journal, Science, found that if people stopped consuming meat and dairy products all together, we could reduce global farmland use by over 75% while still successfully feeding the worlds ever-growing population. All we have to do is choose to live more consciously.

    When we do not choose to live consciously, we easily turn our heads to the problems that we are facing in the world. We often think that if an issue doesn’t directly affect us, it’s not something we have to worry about. It’s easy to turn a blind eye to the things that are going wrong in the world around us when they don’t appear to impact us directly. Like I said before, conscious living is something we have to actively choose to do, every day.

    We should all actively choose to think about the well-being of our future selves, our children, and our children’s children. We should think about the well-being of our friends and neighbors. The well-being of our fellow humans, and the many other living organisms that take up space on this Earth. We only have one, and if we hope to see human kind living on for countless more generations, it might be in our best interests to start paying attention, start thinking, and start living more consciously. Choosing a vegan or vegetarian lifestyle is only one potential solution to one problem, but the difference it could make for us, our future generations, and our planet could be monumental. I’m in. How about you?

    Choosing to live a vegan lifestyle is easy. Knowing where to begin… maybe not so much. Thankfully, OMstars – The Yoga Network – offers plenty of courses that can help you get started. With recipes from Devyn Howard, Jasmine Briones, Natalie Prigoone, and others, OMstars makes transitioning into the vegan lifestyle easy and effective.

    Devyn offers easy-to-make vegan versions of your favorite non-vegan foods on Everyday Vegan. Natalie Prigoone shows us how to make the most delicious, raw vegan meals, all sugar-free, and gluten-free. Plus, Jasmine’s series, 10 Steps to Living The Sweet Simple Vegan Life will show you just how you can get started.

    I myself made the transition into a plant-based diet by using recipes from Natalie Prigoone’s The Great Uncooking. And some of my favorite go-to recipes come from both Devyn and Jasmine. But, before I finally made the decision to actually transition into a plant-based lifestyle, it was something I had been wanting to do for years. I just never did because I thought it would be too hard. I was wrong. Very wrong. And if I could do it, so can you.

    By Alex Wilson

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    Alex Wilson is a writer, a 200 hour certified yoga instructor, and the content manager for OMstars – The Yoga Network.

    Alex Wilson, writer, yoga teacher and content manager at OMstars - The Yoga Network