An Ayurvedic Fall

I’m of the philosophy that the healthiest food is that which is least processed, which has made me a pretty big raw food junkie.  But lately all I want is dairy on dairy on dairy, like what’s happening to me?!  My only conclusion is a strong Vata in the air of Fall demanding that I get warmer nutrients than my raw diet. Although I’m not an Ayurvedic nut, the more I learn the more I see it’s validity in my health, and this Fall it’s calling me to balance some excess Vata.
In case you don’t know Ayurveda is a traditional natural healing system of India.  It’s made up of three constitutions: vata, kapha and pitta; these are present in everyone and everything, the goal is to balance these three.  Fall is predominantly vata so if you’re feeling scattered but have high energy like me right now, consider these three simple changes to balance this dosha.

Stay warm: start bundling up,  take warm showers, go to a heated yoga and get your circulation going.  This also means focus on your relationships and have a loving warmth about you.

Keep routine:  it’s easy for the vata dosha to get scattered, by having a routine you can channel this fall energy without getting lost (this includes an eating routine.)

Choose warm/well-lubricated foods:  Use lots of spices and keep majority of your meal base whole grain, add butter and oils to your meals.

So, my cravings make sense from an Ayurvedic perspective, but that doesn’t mean I should go all dairy. If you like to eat on the lighter side like me, add those yummy second harvest veggies to your diet.  Beets, carrots, eggplants, ginger, sweet potatoes and squash are all great warming vegetables which can easily be spiced as you like.  Time to take advantage of the foods in season while also balancing my dosha!

Mantra-more than self help gibberish

I feel like I heard the word mantra used a thousand different times, in a thousand different contexts before coming to yoga.  Although I heard the word often  it had no real meaning to me.  Who did mantra practice besides Rafiki from the Loin King or self-help enthusiasts looking in the mirror saying “I am beautiful, I am lovely.”  No, it didn’t seem like a practical or helpful method of any kind to me.
I’ve recently taken up a mantra practice and have found that it is an amazing instrument to move towards meditation.  It doesn’t have to be positive affirmations or gibberish, it can be a very meaningful and impact practice.  I picked up a book called “Mantras, Words of Power” by Swami Sivananda Radha and have gotten the chance to understand this practice deeper and find a love for it, here’s what I’ve learned…
Each mantra has some sort of essence or power, pick a mantra that contains some aspect that you look up to or something you wish to grow towards.  By repeating this mantra you first come to find a deep understanding of it’s core meaning. Then you will eventually become consumed with this essence, it will become a part of your everyday actions and thoughts.
How do you do this?  It’s critical to have a dedicated practice, both morning and night sit down for a set amount of time with mala beads and repeat your practice either out loud or in your head.  Throughout your day when you find that you are losing sight of it, put it back in your mind and incorporate it into every day actions (including your asana practice.)  You’ll find that this action will keep you focused throughout the day, and it has also helped me keep a solid breath pattern.
Traditionally you should receive your mantra from your guru through an initiation; since that’s not realistic for most of us, do your research: read books, go online, ask your yoga teachers/knowledgeable friends for suggestions and find something that you can dedicate months of  repetition to.   This is a practice perfect for the scatter-brained, it allows us to more easily maintain a meditative state because we have a focus that’s simple to find and come back to.    If you haven’t given it a shot, at least dip your toes in the idea and try it out.  I was also once a skeptic, but know I see just how effective and useful it can be.

Adjust your alignment with energy loops

Throughout teacher training and my own reading I’ve come across this idea of energy loops or circuits in your body to focus on proper alignment.  Every time I read through it I get totally bummed by how boring it is, but then after reading I find myself incorporating these ideas into my asana, and…it works.  It’s particularly an awesome concept because everyone has radically different bodies so having us all try to have the alignment of Iyengar would bring us to the hospital.  By focusing on energy circuits instead, people of all different shapes can find a more beneficial alignment.
These loops have strengthened my practice and allowed me to make my own adjustments in postures when a teachers cues aren’t jiving with my body.  After reading each loop I urge you to get into a basic posture and practice visualizing and engaging the loops in your asana.  You’ll be amazed how helpful this seemingly dull idea can be.  There are different interpretations and loops/circuits that people have chosen for this practice, below I have John Friend’s “energy loops.”  I like these ones since they are simple and there are only seven, but if you take to this idea know that there are more complex circuit interpretations to go out and find.  Enjoy!

Ankle Loop: Start from the center of the ankle bone, run down to the heel, under the sole of the foot and back up to the ankle.
Shin Loop: Start from the center of the ankle bone, moving up the calf to just below the knee, then returning down the front of the shin.
Thigh Loop: Start at the pelvic points, run down the back of the thigh to just below the knee and back up the front of the thigh.
Pelvic Loop: Start in the core of the lumbar spine, loop down the back to the pelvic points and back up the belly.
Kidney Loop: Start at the core of the lumbar spine, run up the back ribs to the heart focal point and back down the front, to knit ribs in.
Shoulder Loop: Start upper palette (in your mouth), run down the back of neck and shoulder blades, through the heart focal point and back up across front upper ribs and throat.
Skull Loop: starts from the upper palette and draw over the back of the skull and down the face.

Bam!  The loops, simple as that.  Now just apply them to your practice, I promise that this simple practice will take you a long way.

Big Self vs little self

When I first came to yoga I remember being bothered by the dharma talk that some teachers would give in regard to the word ‘self.’  Previous experience in my life taught me that my will is wrong and I should only be doing Gods’ will.  Why would I have the innate answers to life inside myself, which I thought undoubtedly would only contain my selfish will?

I’m blessed that I’ve gotten the opportunity to expand past this perception and learn that there are two selves in yoga.  One being the little self, this is the self that I equated with my will.  It’s those animalistic tendencies we have to take our protective instincts too far, resulting in selfish actions to protect ourselves and those we love.  After some research I learned that the big Self was actually perfectly aligned with my perception of God.  This Self is the higher knowledge in us that knows that we are all connected and essentially all of one.

Although this may seem like a miniscule discovery it changed my spirituality.  While before I was hopeless to infinite knowledge as it chose my destiny, now I see that infinite knowledge, or the Self, is in every one of us.  If there were to be some higher power where else would it linger but collectively in our souls?  Finding a location for the infinite has made it easier to find when I lose it, because according to yoga-it’s never really lost.

This was a huge step in my yoga practice. I know see my little self as a shell that contains the big Self.  I may occasionally get lost in the maya (illusion) which is the shell and it’s perceptions, but I just need to look past it.  Through it I see infinite love, wisdom and ultimately-contentment.