• Asana as inner dialogue

    Many of us who practice yoga have heard the quote from the ancient text Bhagavad Gita that “Yoga is a journey of the self, through the self, to the self”. Yoga is a means of self discovery that is all. Simple, right? Maybe not at first.

    In another ancient text, The Yoga Sutras, Patanjali presents an eight-limbed path of yogic practices to guide us on that journey. The eight limbs include: how we interact with our world, how we treat ourselves, the physical practice of asana, breathing practices, sense withdrawal, concentration, meditation and finally, liberation. When we learn about the multi-faceted method of yoga from Patanjali we often come to a question: why is there so much attention on the body contorting, shape taking, third limb, asana?

    In this reality, we happen to exist in a physical form, the human body. This form dictates certain rules of our experience, based on our five senses. Through the senses we receive information about our world, our environment, and other humans. But how do we receive information about ourselves? We begin with our senses and then cultivate a way to turn further and further inward. The body is gross rather than subtle, easy to detect and observe. As we move it around, take shapes, hold positions, challenge it’s mobility, we are able to receive information, and then interpret it.

    As we turn our senses on ourselves, we begin to refine this method of communication, developing the vocabulary, establishing context for greater understanding. In attempting to create the shape of a posture, we look at our feet placement, use references of the room to adjust our alignment, refer to the parallel lines of our mats, and eventually depend only on our own bodies as visual reference. We use the focus of the gaze to align our attention and energy to the intention of the posture. Tuning in to the sounds of our breath helps to avoid distractions in our environment. Suddenly we no longer hear the breathing of another student, a door closing, or traffic on the street outside. Our breath becomes the only thing we hear. Like the act of an inhalation moves air from the space around us to the space inside of our lungs, so also do we move our attention from the spaces outside to the spaces within.

    In the beginning, we identify most physical sensation as pain. But over time and with experience, we begin to refine our understanding of the feedback coming from our bodies. We learn the difference between the feeling of stretch in the muscles and the burning of strength exertion. We begin to categorize our sensations as tolerable and beyond our limits, as safe and risky. As we take ourselves deeper into our bodies, we notice sensation in the joints and develop understanding of what they mean. A sensation that is new is often frightening, so we pause and pay attention.

    There is communication along the nervous system, linking the awareness of the mind with the sensations of the body. Each of us connect to ourselves in different ways. Like speaking different languages, down to the unique dialects, accents, slang. As we learn a new language, we often need to ask someone to speak slowly so that we can identify the subtleties of articulation, enunciation, and delivery. The same is true of the communication in our bodies. By moving slowly into the sensations we experience – by focusing our attention – we can gather more nuanced information. Over time we develop context from our previous experiences and we increase our vocabulary. We learn to not only identify the shouting sensations from deep stretches and long holds, but we learn to acknowledge the whispering sensations of the smallest movements in our deepest bodies. Where at first all we notice is our screaming hamstring, eventually we become aware of the sensation of the thigh bone rotating in the hip socket, or the gentle pull of the psoas drawing the inner thigh and low back towards each other, even the squeeze of our internal organs as we compress with a twist or a carefully placed foot.

    So what is doing the learning? We often think of the mind as the preferred mode of understanding. But the mind itself is a tricky beast. How do you know what you know? This is a topic for another ten pages of contemplation! With regards to the inner communications of the body, the mind can often get in the way. As we try to think our way into postures – into our body – we close ourselves off to any information that doesn’t fit the mind’s current understanding of things. The mind cannot lead the way. It too has to sit in observation, as witness. At most it is an interpreter in the conversation, gathering data, providing reference, mapping experiences, giving background, building bridges, and filling in gaps. If it remains a supportive player in the conversation, it limits influence, and understanding is allowed to be fluid – to alter, adjust, and develop according to experience rather than pre-established beliefs. There is a deeper aspect of self that is learning.

    If our internal communication system can be so refined as to receive the information coming from the body, it can also learn the subtler language of the mind, and emotions. As witness, we can observe the tendencies of our thinking mind and our emoting heart-space. As we struggle with the physical body, our mind also sends us feedback. It tells us we are not strong enough. It tells us our arms are too short. It tells us we will never be as good as that other practitioner over there. We turn judgment on ourselves, become angry or sad or frustrated. If we are using the same skills we developed with our physical self, we receive the information slowly, identify its source, its nature. Without surrendering to its shouting, we can soothe it to a whisper. Context develops around the communication: the sources of judgmental thoughts, the truth or untruth of our beliefs, whether or not the thoughts and emotional responses serve us, benefit us. Within the space of intentional, directed inner dialogue, we can make choices. We can identify who we really are and choose how we present that to the world.

    The body is a tool to develop our communication skills. Those skills are directed ever deeper and deeper into ourselves. We journey through the body, the mind, the emotions to the true nature of ourselves. The self that is beyond the fluctuations of our environment, beyond the fluctuations of our bodies, the tendencies of our minds, and our emotional reactions. We become intentionally responsive rather than impulsively reactive. We trust ourselves because we know ourselves. From that space we can learn to eventually exist in our truest, purest self, the self that yoga calls Atman.

    By Angelique Sandas

     

    Follow Angelique on Instagram

    Learn more about Yoga philosophy on our Insight channel

    Keep your Instagram notifications on for Omstars and stay up to date on our latest blog articles!

  • The Discipline of Gratitude

    There is so much to be thankful for everyday. There is so much to celebrate about this very moment. It’s a discipline of the mind to train yourself in the attitude of gratitude.

    At any given time at any given moment you can choose to count your blessings or focus on all the things that haven’t gone or way. Life is usually sure to give you an equal mix. When everything works out, it’s important to stop and appreciate it. When nothing works out, your mettle as a human being is tester. You can either lie in the sewers of sadness and self-pity or you can let adversity make you stronger.

    Look for the small moments of joy and if you can, be the joy. Every day in the grand tally of all that happens every casual smile and act of goodwill makes a difference. No matter how much negativity you think is happening, the arc of humanity will always be towards goodness and hope. No matter what catastrophe strikes, whether personal, environmental or political, there is light shining even when we cannot see it. There are a stagger amount of unsung heroes are there in every day. Armies of do-gooders holding doors open for other people, returning lost property, saving lives, and spreading smiles. It might not be headline grabbing newsworthy action, but I guarantee you that in each day the good outweighs the bad.

    Sometimes I get a view of the whole world, all of humanity, and I get sense of how connected we all really are and how sensitive we all are to each other. Even if you don’t see it, you feel it. When you stand next to someone in pain, you sense their pain even if you don’t hear them crying. Maybe this is why we disconnect from our bodies so often? If you drop into your own body have to feel it all. Not only your happiness and pain, and the happiness and pain of everyone around you. Empathy lives in the heart, just around the corner from love and joy. As a yogi you have to learn to let is all in. Actively practice being grateful. Cherish each day. Celebrate every ray of sunshine. Be nice to everyone all the time (or as much of the time as you can). Be strong, not so you can bully people around or compete with anyone, but be strong so you lift others up with your rising tide. This is the yogi life. Live it with your whole heart and soul every moment of every day.

    By Kino MacGregor

    View our Insight channel for meditation and mindfulness courses

  • Coriander Pesto

    You may know coriander as cilantro. Either way, it’s detoxifying effects are legendary and enhanced when you combine it with chlorella (more on that another time). Coriander helps chelate toxins from the body, this means it binds to the waste products to help remove them from the cells.

    Today it’s the recipe I want to share with you. Forget the science.  Just know that when you eat this you’ll be doing great things for your body.  

    Ingredients

    I large bunch of coriander

    1 cup raw macadamia nuts

    1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

    1 lime juiced (about 1/4 of cup)

    1 large clove garlic

    1 tsp malden sea salt

    2 – 4 tbs of home made coconut yoghurt (see below for link)

    1/2 tsp dried chilli flakes or freshly chopped chilli to taste

    Method

    I blended up a massive bunch of coriander with a cup of macadamia nuts, 1/4 cup olive oil, lime juice, garlic, chilli,  sea salt and 2 tbs coconut yoghurt. My homemade coconut yoghurt was already sweetened so it was a nice way to offset the chilli.Creamy, delicious and  healing. Just what you should expect from #wholefoods #rawfoods. 

    This would be a fabulous dressing drizzled over salad and rolled into a wrap. But right now I’m just eating it by the spoonful. If you haven’t yet made your own yoghurt then I encourage you to grab the next opportunity for a full moon and make it.

    By Natalie Prigoone

    Check out Natalie’s course The Great Uncooking Real Food/Raw Food, on Omstars wellness channel for more scrumptious recipes!

    Coconut Yoghurt

    Add your delicious coriander pesto to wrap!

    Colourful vegan wraps

     

  • Yoga For All

    The practice of yoga means a great many things to a great many people. For some, yoga is just an exercise. For others, yoga is a path to greater spiritual understanding. For me, yoga means a practice of connection and liberation. A connection to myself through breath and movement and a larger connection to the world through consciousness-raising and activism. Yoga has taught me to see wholeness in both the external part of who I am and an internal part of who I want to be.

    A

    ccording to ancient yoga philosophy, Hatha yoga can be a complete journey to wholeness. We can develop a connection to physical well-being through asana (physical practice)  and pranayama (breath work), mental clarity through concentration, meditation and spiritual illumination.

    For a lot of us, the images of yoga have primarily focused on the body beautiful; yoga as a function of beauty and physical prowess instead of an act of spiritual awakening. But do only young, thin, hypermobile or super flexible bodies do yoga?  What about everyone else who are invited to be on the yoga mat? Although you may not always see it, everyone can do yoga. Yoga is for everyone. While not all of us practice in the same way or have the same access to the practice, at the core of this practice is simply a connection to our breath and each other. We all can do that regardless of our abilities, the size of our bodies or our socioeconomic backgrounds.

    Being able to do challenging or complicated poses is not what the practice of yoga is all about. It is about setting your soul free, making a connection to yourself and the world around you. Yoga can be a pause in your day to smell the flowers or take a walk in the park. Yoga can be a moment of quiet, compassionate self-reflection. Yoga can be a meal with friends or intense physical asana practice that gets you out of your head and feeling your body. Yoga can be stillness and quiet. Yoga can be anything that connects you to a deeper understanding of yourself and a feeling of connection to the world.

    Don’t let the images you see of yoga scare you. Know that this is only one way to see yoga, through a lens that values ability over spirituality and unity. Yoga happens everywhere.  Yes, you can do yoga. Find a class or teacher that understands what you want and need from your practice and jump in. You won’t regret it.

    By Dianne Bondy

    Click here to learn more about Dianne

    Omstars will be launching a course with Dianne in early 2018, in the meantime watch this space for more posts by her leading up to the release!

    Follow Dianne on Instagram

     

     

     

  • Lavender Bliss Balls

    Dreamy, decadent, sweet and easy to make. Is there anything more you could want from a dessert? I fell in love with these lavender bliss balls at first bite and I can assure you that you will too.These have the perfect amount of floral flavor added into them, balanced out with the sweetness from the dates and maple syrup. 

    This recipe is adapted from one that Chris’ mom put together while we were visiting his family last month. I remember she was nervous to have us try her lavender bliss balls because of their floral flavor, but she assured me that she loved them and felt I would too. Well, she was right! And after just one ball, I told her I just had to have the recipe to share on our blog.

    Last year when we visited New Jersey, Chris’ mom put together vegan meatballs that also inspired another recipe on our blog, our Eggplant Meatballs from the start of the year. If you haven’t already, check them out! They are one of the most popular recipes on our blog, and I know I am biased, but trust me when I say it’s because they are SO GOOD.

    Make sure you tag us on Instagram @sweetsimplevegan and @consciouschris and hashtag #sweetsimplevegan if you recreate any of our recipes, we love to see your photos!

    LAVENDER BLISS BALLS {OIL & GLUTEN-FREE}

    An easy, dreamy & decadent lavender bliss ball recipe that is vegan, gluten-free and oil-free! It makes the perfect grab and go dessert or add on to your lunch box during the week!

    • Author: Sweet Simple Vegan

    • Prep Time: 10 minutes

    • Total Time: 10 minutes

    • Yield: 12 balls

    • Category: Dessert, Snack

    INGREDIENTS

    • 1/2 cup almonds*

    • 1/2 cup cashews*

    • 1/4 cup shredded unsweetened coconut

    • 1/4 cup gluten-free quick oats

    • 1 1/2 tablespoons hemp seeds

    • 1 teaspoon fresh lavender (or 1/2 teaspoon dried lavender)

    • 1/4 teaspoon salt

    • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

    • 1/16 teaspoon ginger powder

    • 1 tablespoon maple syrup

    • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

    • 1/4 cup + 2 Medjool dates

    INSTRUCTIONS

    1. Add all of the ingredients up to the ginger powder into a food processor and run until uniform.

    2. Add the dates and drizzle in the maple syrup and vanilla extract then run again until smooth. It will seem a bit crumbly but should stay together when you press it between your fingers. If not, add in 1/2-1 tablespoon of water.

    3. Scoop dough into a 1 tablespoon-sized ball, being sure to press it tightly to help it stay together. Continue until all of the dough has been rolled into balls.

    4. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 week.

    NOTES

    • You can sub in any nut of choice for the almonds and cashews, walnuts work great!

    • This recipe is oil, refined sugar and gluten free

    By Jasmine Briones

    Learn more about Jasmine on sweetsimplevegan.com

    We’ll have more incredible plant-based recipes and cooking with Jasmine Briones on Omstars Wellness channel in 2018, so stayed tuned.

    Follow Jasmine on Instagram

    Visit our Wellness channel for more delicious recipes

  • The Yogi Assignment Book Review: Bringing Our Yoga Practice to Life: The Challenge is Real

    It’s not always clear how the asana yoga practice makes us better people or our world any more peaceful. At least, not in a way that is easily put into words.

    Certainly, in looking back over the past decade plus I’ve been practicing, the changes are far more than just physical – still, it’s not so simple to explain that connection. Add social media in there, and now the whole idea that yoga asana is even remotely spiritual … well, it’s more than just confusing.

    For example, I made the mistake of watching the start of the first awful episode of Yoga Girls, a show that is not a parody (as much as I’d hoped) and rather, an attempted reality show, pitting the Instafamous yogis (as in, legends-in-their-own-lunchtime kind) with Traditionalists (the kind that apparently don’t mind reality T.V. shows). I only lasted 15 minutes, but it was really a terrible 15 minutes I can never get back.

    Anyway, then I pick up Kino MacGregor’s new book, The Yogi Assignment.

    Kino MacGregor

    THE TRUE-TO-LIFE YOGA GIRL.

    Kino happens to be one of the most celebrated Ashtanga yoga teachers on social media, with over a million followers on Instagram alone. In fact, the idea for the book actually came from Instagram and so accordingly, the cover plays like a post: Kino smiling, doing her signature backbendy handstand … in a bikini … on the beach.

    I won’t lie. Part of me sighed heavily. But that was before I cracked open the book …

    Of course, I should know better simply because I know Kino better. And sure, she is beautiful, charming, and physically talented – but also incredibly smart, disciplined, well studied, and dedicated to the Ashtanga yoga practice.

    Which is precisely why I have turned to her for advice in the past, during moments of unfocused weakness … and also why I invited her to contribute to the Ashtanga Dispatch Magazine as well as be a guest (twice now) on the Ashtanga Dispatch Podcast.

    Because the true brilliance of someone like Kino – she can lure us in with her winning Insta-package – but then also knows exactly how to draw that line, connecting the physical practice to something much deeper. And in language we all can understand.

    Kino is the original Yoga Girl. Only she understands that in today’s world, tradition and the various social mediums aren’t to be pitted, one against the other. They both have a place, so long as we know ours.

    ‘Each day is actually a journey in itself and should push you to question your emotional, physical and mental limitations. It is my hope that these thirty days of Yogi Assignments will elicit hope and change your life.’ Kino Macgregor

    The Yogi Assignment

    SIX DAYS OF CONNECTING THE YOGA PRACTICE TO EVERYDAY LIFE.

    The Yogi Assignment presents as a 30-day program, though it also doesn’t have to be read that way because every chapter is meaningful all by itself. So I took the liberty of jumping around, choosing the topics that personally resonated – creating my own mini-week of yogi assignments and learning:

    DAY 1: PRANA // THE BREATH BODY

    “There may be times when you will not be able to perform asanas, but there will never be a time while you’re alive when you are not breathing.”

    If you know me, you could already predict that this is where I’d start. I’m a bit obsessed these days. As someone who suffered from asthma most of her life, to hike without an inhaler now is a tremendous and meaningful connection between my yoga practice and life. Such a gift to be able to breathe!

    Interestingly enough, the asana is often what distracts us from our breath – but if we can stay stubbornly committed to it, it’s the breath that can also unlock the yoga’s magic.

    While I generally skipped the homework and asana portion of each day/chapter (and yes, I have always been that kind of student!) I made time for Kino’s Constructive Rest Pose. You lie on your back with your knees bent, hip-width apart, and belly breathe for ten. I did this every evening before bed. Crazy how something so basic can quickly calm and put me to sleep. Like I said, magic!

    DAY 2: TAPAS // HOLDING MY HAND TO THE FIRE

    “Only with consistent, sustained effort will the real work of yoga happen; that is, old negative thoughts are replaced with positive ones.”

    There isn’t a teacher or friend (including Kino) who hasn’t said this (or yelled it across the practice room – thank you, David Garrigues): Discipline! You need discipline. It’s the story of my life, though I’ve definitely gotten much better. Like most things, staying focused takes practice.

    abhyāsa-vairāgyābhyāṃ tan-nirodhaḥ   (YS 1.12)

    According to Patanjali, we need to practice (abhyāsa) not attaching (vairāgyā) to all the thought distractions. And through a sustained, devoted, and committed practice – over time, we might find the stillness to see my own true nature. Or at the very least in my case, I might muster up the determination to actually finish something I start.

    Ironically, Kino’s three example postures are perhaps the very three I like to come out of early: chaturanga dandasana (low push-up), urdhva dhanuarasana (wheel), and pinchamayurasana(fore-arm balance). And for the homework, Kino took on cursing. I think I better stick to chaturanga first.

    DAY 3: VIRA // A BRAVE HEART

    “Essentially we must become like Arjuna in our daily lives – filled simultaneously with the strength and magnificence of a warrior prince and the peace and sanctity of a spiritual aspirant.”

    More and more lately, I find myself turning to the Bhagavad Gita as a way to understand my place in the world today. The battle is real and it’s inside me. How do I stand up for what’s right without being consumed by the injustice? How do I maintain a righteous relationship with God all the while, staying humble and open?

    I have been in real life situations where I have been personally threatened – a victim of abuse. Part of changing this was in fact, learning to stand up and fight for myself. Not exactly the peaceful warrior extolled in typical vinyasa classes, you know? And yet, cultivating my own sense of power was vital – as was having the grace later to forgive (not forget).

    It’s all very complicated sometimes and Kino makes no attempt to simplify. Which I appreciate.

    DAY 4: PRATYAHARA // SENSIBLE TRAINING

    “While it may be tempting to think you can just turn of your senses, much like you would switch off a television, the yogic training of pratyahara is achieved through a conscious redirection of the faculties of the senses to the inner body.”

    My daughter, Meghan, was trying to withdraw her senses (as pratyahara is often defined) and concentrate on a black hole. It didn’t work – but did give us both a good laugh!

    Of course, the cool thing is, our practice is that yogic training by limiting the distractions that take us away from the real work at hand. The drishti gives a looking place … the breath, a sound to follow … the shapes and movements bring touch … and provided we showered and have empty stomachs, there is no smell or taste to distract. The method shows us how to shift our perspective from the outside world to within.

    DAY 5: SANTOSHA // I AM ENOUGH

    “Busyness is addictive … Most busyness operates from a sense of emptiness; there is a void that drives you to throw yourself into activities and achievements to prove you are ‘worthy.’”

    People who are truly busy never complain about being busy – because they are usually too exhausted to complain. You never hear a single mom, shuffling her kids from school to daycare, working two jobs trying to pay a stack of bills or put food on the table, complain about being busy.

    No. Our busy schedules are by choice. They make us feel important. I know, I do it too. Finding contentment where I am, as I am, is a full time practice. But at least it’s one I am privileged enough to enjoy.

    DAY 6: SHANTI // FINDING PEACE

    “Try to bend someone to your will, and it always goes wrong. Try to bend the world to your will, and it will fight back.”

    We can’t will or force peace. Not on ourselves and not in our world. It’s like trying to will yourself to sleep – the harder you try, the further sleep becomes. If you want to sleep, you have to simply let it come and trust it will.

    This is the piece (or peace) I’ve been missing. I keep thinking I have more control than I actually do. Of course, our actions hold meaning and make a difference but the outcome is something we need to allow, and not force. It’s like at the end of every practice, we take rest. Do what you need to do, then rest.

    Which on Day 7, I did.

    + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + +

    The universe is funny sometimes. Here I am, forever struggling with the whole social media scene that I’m also very much a part of – even going so far in making the decision to step away my personal Facebook  … and then just this past week, three students show up to their very first week of Mysore practice because they follow Kino.

    Seriously, one of them traveled all the way here to Montana from upstate New York. These are the kinds of students Kino inspires to practice Ashtanga through her posts, videos, and books.

    That’s pretty freaking amazing, right? And perhaps a bit ironic, don’t you think?

    Well, life has a funny way of sneaking up on you
    And life has a funny way of helping you out.

    By Peg Mulqueen

    Click here for more Peg’s writing and her podcast on Ashtanga Dispatch

    Click here to get your copy of The Yogi Assignment

     

  • How Yoga Works

    While what draws people to the practice of yoga is often a physical experience, yoga is essentially a spiritual journey. It is a quest for meaning, a search for an answer, and perhaps both meaning and answer together. More than anything else yoga is the promise of peace. With the simple act of getting on your mat every day you can slowly shift the arc of your life from drama and suffering to peace and happiness.

    Read More