Over the past few weeks, many people have shared with me that life seems very tough right now. I have been told these difficult feelings are not pinpointed to any specific events; rather, the feelings seem to be a general overall sense of “malaise” and even sadness. While I feel I can not offer a tangible “solution,” for navigating rough emotions, I try to listen and empathize. If you are sharing in these feelings right now, know that you are not alone. Tumultuous politics, serious environmental issues, and concern for the future can all feed a sense of dread. I too have had recent questions: Why does there seem to be so much suffering, both in the world and personally? Isn’t all this yoga practice suppose to help with that?
This morning while pondering such thoughts I opened this little green booklet written by Swami Gurusharanananda, one of my spiritual teachers. The words I read told me that in order to advance towards Self Realization (the goal of yoga), the seeker must continually remember the divine. Never lose sight of the sublime, no matter the hardship. While performing all duties, keep your mind aware of that greater purpose. Choose your associations carefully, as all that we experience leaves an imprint on the mind. And most importantly, practice your yoga and meditation, over and over again.The power of discrimination (viveka) and correct thinking comes with greater ease the more you dedicate to your personal practice. When such thoughts of despair find their way into your mind, notice them not as a sign of a failing practice, not that you are failing, but that you should practice with more dedication. In this way, you will see that there is a oneness that pervades each and every form and person you meet, there is a oneness behind every sect, every creed, and every religion.
We are one.
In my yoga classes, I have been discussing the concept of Soma. In Ayurveda and yoga, Soma is the nectar of life- it rejuvenates and restores the body to create a feeling of fullness in Prana – life energy. In some references, Soma is a special plant that offers the elixir of long life. Amrit- or nectar – is another description of Soma. Soma is said to be made in the body via the pineal gland, and is related to the upper Chakras (Ajna and Sahasrara). Soma provides a youthful vigor and sharp mind. I have been discussing Soma because it is autumn, the season of Vata. This is a time of year where the natural world “dries up.” As cold weather moves in, we move indoors and become more susceptible to illness. To balance out these tendencies, we should engage in practices that will nourish and restore our bodies and our minds.
Luckily, autumn is the time of year where people begin to return to their yoga practices. As every yoga teacher in New England knows, the summer months can feel a little empty in the yoga studio. Everyone is outside enjoying the beautiful weather, walking, biking, hiking, or just sitting on the porch with a friend or book. Going to yoga class takes a back seat, and sometimes the entire yoga practice does likewise. I understand: I too like to be outside in the garden, walking, and hiking. But yoga practice gives us more energy to engage in those activities. Our yoga practice improves circulation of water, blood, and lymph, increases synovial fluid in the joints, and creates peace of mind, all of which are important to keeping up our energy and our immune system. So when I see folks returning in the autumn, I am happy to know that they are attending to their health and well-being, so that they have a better reserve to help them through the cold winter months.
The immune system takes a hit in the winter. Our immunity according to Ayurveda, is connected to Ojas – our “vigor” or essential life energy. This is due to several compounding factors: less sun in the Northern Hemisphere, more time indoors where we spread germs, dry air which affects our nasal passages and makes it more likely that we will catch a cold or flu, and the added effort of the body to keep up with the stress of the colder months. Autumn is a transitional season where it becomes important to build our inner reserves of energy, our Ojas, by keeping up our healthy lifestyle practices like yoga and healthy eating, so that we have the reserves to get through the winter months. We might catch a cold or other sickness, but if we take care with mindful Soma-increasing practices, an illness may be shorter, or we may suffer fewer symptoms, or simply not catch it at all.
We need to engage in Soma-increasing practices often. We can benefit from these practices at any time of year, and ideally will include them on a daily and or weekly basis. A deeply engaging, active, or even aggressive yoga practice will build strength, muscle tissue, endurance, and many important qualities. But if you only practice these heating and active “Yang” types of practice and do not balance that practice with a Soma-inducing practice, you will deplete your energy reserves of Ojas and become more susceptible to stress, illness, and injury.
What are Soma-inducing practices? Shavasana. Yoga Nidra. Yin Yoga. Restorative Yoga. Mantra Japa (repetition of a mantra). Meditation. Other practices to increase Soma include sitting in the light of the full moon (said to emit Soma), and eating and drinking certain foods. These practices will rejuvenate and replenish the body through their specific effect on the nervous system, and also through their ability to counter the effects of stress and cortisol in the body.
Three Practices to Build Soma, Restore Ojas, and Prepare For The Cold Season
Here are three Soma practices that will build your reserve of Ojas in the body. A mantra, a recipe, and a meditation.
1). The Maha-Mrtiyunjaya Mantra
This Mantra is to the deity Shiva- He is said to be both Agni (the fire) and Soma in one. Thomas Ashley-Farrand, author of “Healing Mantras” says that this mantra relieves one from death and disease, relieves a wide variety of illnesses, and is a general support for the immune system. While in India, we chanted this every day and at the beginning of any car trip or journey.
OM Trayumbakam Yajamahe
Sughandhim Pushti Vardanam
Mrityor Muksheeya Mamritat
LISTEN HERE FOR AUDIO VERSION
Audio sample with video of Anandamayi Ma
How to practice: There are many options for mantra practice. You could simply chant this once a day, in the morning, as a blessing for your day. You could sit with mala beads, and run through 108 repetitions, with a short meditation after. If you are in great need to boost health and vitality, try chanting it 108 times both morning and night for at least 40 days.
2). Recipe: Ojas Boosting Milk
I like to drink an Ojas boosting formula in the winter. Try this recipe in the evening and see if it helps you to have a more soothing nights sleep:
1-2 cups Almond milk
2-3 dates (depending on how sweet you like your drink)
a pinch of saffron
a pinch of turmeric and a slice of ginger
2 tsp of coconut oil
Add ingredients to a pot. Bring to a light boil, 2-3 minutes. You might strain out the ingredients, or keep them in (I like to keep the dates in, and eat them when the milk is gone!).
3). Meditation on Body Points
I have been using this meditation in my yoga classes with incredible success. Students leave feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. It is proof to me that these Soma-inducing practices restore us on a deep level, giving us more energy to do the work we need in our day, and helping us to live healthy wholesome lives. The following meditation is based on the Marma points, Ayurvedic energy points in the body, and was inspired by the teachings of the renown teacher of Ayurveda, David Frawley.
1. Direct your attention to your toes. On inhalation, gather your energy at your toes. On exhalation, release. Feel your toes energized, healed, and relaxed.
2. Move your attention to your ankles. On inhalation, gather your energy at your ankles. On exhalation, release it. Feel your ankles energized, healed, and relaxed.
3. Move your attention to the middle of your calves. The middle of your calves. On inhalation, gather your energy there. On exhalation, release it. Feel the middle of your calves energized, healed, and relaxed.
4. Move your attention to the base of your knees. The base of your knees. On inhalation, gather your energy there. On exhalation, release it. Feel the base of your knees energized, healed, and relaxed.
5. Move your attention to the middle of your knees. The middle of your knees. On inhalation, gather your energy there. On exhalation, release it. Feel your knees energized, healed, and relaxed.
6. Move your energy to the middle of your thighs. On inhalation, gather your energy at the middle of your thighs. On exhalation, release it. Feel your thighs energized, healed, and relaxed.
7. Move your energy to the base of your spine. On inhalation, gather your energy at the base of your spine. On exhalation, release it. Feel this region of your body energized, healed, and relaxed.
8. Move your energy to the middle of your hips. On inhalation, gather your energy at the middle of your hips. On exhalation, release it. Feel your hips energized, healed, and relaxed.
9. Move your energy to your navel. On inhalation, gather your energy at your navel. On exhalation, release it. Feel this region of your body energized, healed, and relaxed.
10. Move your energy to your heart. On inhalation, gather your energy at your heart. On exhalation, release it. Feel your heart energized, healed, and relaxed.
11. Move your energy to the root of your throat. The very root of your throat. On inhalation, gather your energy there. On exhalation, release it. Feel your throat energized, healed, and relaxed.
12. Move your attention to the root of your tongue. On inhalation, gather your energy at the root of your tongue. On exhalation, release it. Feel your tongue energized, healed, and relaxed.
13. Move your attention to the root of your nose, deep at the base of the nose. On inhalation, gather your energy at the root of your nose. On exhalation, release. Feel your nose energized, healed, and relaxed.
15. Move your attention to your eyes. Deep in your eyes. On inhalation, gather your energy there. On exhalation, release. Feel your eyes energized, healed, and relaxed.
16. Move your attention to the point between your brows. On inhalation, gather your energy at the point between your brows. On exhalation, release it. Feel this region of your body energized, healed, and relaxed.
17. Move your attention to the middle of your forehead. The middle of your forehead. On inhalation, gather your energy there. On exhalation, release. Feel your forehead energized, healed, and relaxed.
19. Move your attention to the top of the head. On inhalation, gather your energy at the top of the head. On exhalation, release. Feel the top of your head energized, healed, and relaxed.
20. Spread your attention throughout your whole body. Your whole body. On inhalation, fill your whole body with energy. On exhalation, release and soften. Feel your whole body, energized, healed, and relaxed. Energized, healed, and relaxed.
Download a sound recording of this meditation from CD BABY HERE!
I am the type of Gal who ends up reading 4 or 5 books at once. My husband usually reads one book through all the way, and he usually reads fiction of at least 500 pages (probably a magically inclined, zombie-vampire apocalyptic type book). I like to think the reason why I enjoy having multiple books open is my preference for reading non-fiction. I have piles books ranging in topics of of spirituality, health and nutrition, vegan eating, homeschooling and unschooling, nature and world cultures. I do enjoy fiction, but I am very particular about the stories I let myself get involved in. Reading several hundred pages is a serious time commitment, and I want to make sure my time is being well spent. When you read a fiction book, you are usually so engrossed in the story its hard to put the book down. When you read non-fiction, you might like to cross reference something, or look into an idea or concept further in another book. Or you might simply enjoy the inspiration from opening multiple books.
I thought it would be interesting to list the various books I am currently reading, or have by my bedside, or simply out for inspiration. You can tell a lot about a person by the books they read:
Be Love Now, by Ram Dass. I am enjoying this book a lot more than I thought. I am not interested in reading about one’s past psychedelic experiences, so had veered away from anything written by Ram Dass. Drugs do not equal enlightenment in my mind. But I can see that Ram Dass evolved from those 1960’s experiences, and has many insightful and inspiring teachings to share. The first page I opened in this book was on the chapter of Saints and the description of Anandamayi Ma. I took it as a sign to pick up the book, and I have not been dissappointed. A great read for yogic inspiration on the bhakti path.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. This is a fiction book. Josh told me it was phenomenal, so my interest was piqued. Admittedly it is taking me some time to get started with this book. The first few chapters moved slow for me, and I was not interested in the demons, bloodshed, and armor. But suddenly there is intrigue as we move into the writing of the story of Kvothe by the Chronicler. I anticipate that once the story progresses, I may not be able to put it down.
The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman. I have actually finished this book, but it was so very good I had to share it. This is a collection of short stories based on the founding of a Massachusetts town. The stories are intertwined and connected to each other- they actually build on each other historically. I love anything and everything that Alice Hoffman writes, and this book brought tears to my eyes at the end. Magically and Artfully written.
The Bhagavad Gita by Eknath Easwaran. This book gets picked up and put down quite frequently. I was inspired by the talk I attended with Swami Gurusharanananda over the weekend to read through the Gita again. This classic is like a good friend you visit over and over. I particularly enjoy this copy by Eknath Easwaran, and highly recommend anything written by him. He was a wise teacher who lived a simple life. His translation is profound and simple, not scholarly. This is a simple English-only translation. While Swamiji visited us he looked through this book and said he liked it very much. I figured that was as good approval as I needed for this version.
I always like to have the words of Mary Oliver out for inspiration. I am currently looking through West Wind as I was going through books to discard, and happened on this shelved jewel. It did not make it into the discard pile. Mary Oliver’s words are pure art.
Death Must Die, by Ram Alexander. This is actually a diary account of Atmananda, the European music teacher who studied with Krishnamurti, and then later became a devotee of Anandamayi Ma. It is a great insight into the incredible being and Saint that is Anandamayi Ma. The reader feels as though Ma is right in the room with Atmananda’s stories of and recollections. This is also a great account of a Westerner living in orthodox Hindu culture. I enjoy reading out of it from time to time, and had pulled it out a few days ago to read a few passages.
The Art of Attention by Elena Brower. This book is sitting on my kitchen table right now, and I had it out for inspiration during my morning yoga practice. A truly beautiful book. It inspires both my practice and my teaching. I have had the honor of taking a few classes with Elena. She is a remarkable yoga teacher and practitioner. Part Asana instruction, part inspiration, part workbook. I can’t bring myself to write in it.
Vegan Cookies Invade Your Cookie Jar, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Yes, cookbooks count. I mentioned this book in a post about being content. I am careful about which books I decide to purchase for the house, and this one definitely made the cut. I have it out on the counter, and the girls and I pick a different cookie to try each week. Last week we made chocolate oatmeal cookies. This week we tried Green Matcha Biscotti. You should probably own a copy of this book too. It will change your life. I also love Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World.
This list of books will be different next week. I feel a fluidity with my books, and no, I don’t always finish each and every book. The journey matters more to me.
What books are open next to you?
Karma Yoga in Practice
What is Karma Yoga? Who practices it? How can Karma Yoga be put into practice for the modern, American yogi? How can we incorporate the practice of Karma Yoga in the classroom? Some people may feel that the concepts of Karma Yoga are complicated and inaccessible. Let’s define the concepts of Karma Yoga and illustrate ways to practice on and off the mat.
Karma Yoga means to practice Seva (selfless work). It is action with an attitude of detachment towards the results. One is to do one’s best, giving total dedication to the work without allowing the mind to be distracted by concern for personal gain. It is said that all suffering comes from this feeling of attachment. When we don’t get the result that we are hoping for, it pains us. Conversely, we should not be taking credit for all positive outcomes, because we are ultimately not responsible for any results of action. Involve yourself through action, and leave the rest to God.
It’s important to note that the Bhagavad Gita illustrates many concepts of Karma Yoga within the conversation between Arjuna and Krishna. The Bhagavad Gita appears as part of the Brishma-parvan, the sixth book of the Mahabharata. In this conflict, the hopes of the Pandava faction rest in the hands of Arjuna, the third of the five brothers. At the beginning of the story, the hero is unwilling to wage war against his own family members. Krishna, his charioteer, offers instruction to Arjuna, convincing him that waging war is not necessarily an act of wickedness.
Krishna respond to Arjuna’s refusal to fight in verse 33 (as in Nichols Sutton’s “Bhagavad Gita”) “…if you do not engage in this dharmic battle then you will destroy both your personal dharma and your honor, and you will accumulate sin.” Thus the first lesson of karma yoga; you have a duty, or dharma, and it must be completed. Next Krishna states in verse 48, “Situated in yoga, perform your duties whilst giving up all attachments, Dhanamjaya. Remain equal in success and failure for such equanimity is what is meant by yoga.” In other words, become unattached to results of action, and allow what will be, to be. Lastly, “Casting off all your deeds onto me by fixing your mind on the true self, remaining free of desire and free of any sense of ‘mine’, you should now fight with the emotions banished. This is where we begin to see the relationship between Bhakti Yoga and Karma Yoga, as Karma Yoga can also be interpreted as devoting all action to God.
Now that we have defined Karma Yoga, who practices it? Famous karma yogis are Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Sri Mata Amritanandamayi Devi. Maybe on a more personal level, you will notice the karma yogi that is your friend. This friend always gives their time to listen, their energy to help you out, their love when you’re feeling broken. Or maybe you will notice the grocery clerk that is retired, not needing of a job, but always putting a smile on everyone’s face. The Karma Yogi serves their church, the soup kitchen, their neighbor, or maybe is more private, but always striving to have positive interactions. Anyone can be a karma yogi. You do not have to be in an ashram, to realize the divine.
So how as teachers, can we incorporate the concepts of Karma Yoga into the classroom? The very first thing is by practicing Ahimsa, the act of non-harming. This can be more complicated than it sounds, as harming can be done in many ways, not just outwardly. For example, in order to not harm somebody out of jealousy, one must become detached from jealousy. One must become detached from materialism. One must be aware of themselves, before emotions distract, and act. This takes a commitment to lifelong learning of oneself, Svadhyaya. And a commitment to compassion for all.
Next is to introduce awareness of self and the idea of unattachment to the students with phrasing and imagery. Unattachment to gains and losses, results both good and bad, emotions both high and low, and eventually material attachments including to this physical body. Always treat every student with love, and fairness. If students are ready, they can make the choice to deepen their understanding of the divine.
Bringing karma yoga into the classroom can be simple. First and foremost, it’s important to remember that we don’t have absolute control over the results of the class. So we should not assume responsibility, and attachment to either good or bad results. Assume the notion that you are a tool meant to deliver the needs of the class for the day. Like a puppet, there is a force behind your actions that is running the show. Devote your class to this force before attempting to teach.
Next, devote your class to the principle of Ahimsa. Touch every student with words that are driven by love. Allow every student to be treated with an equal embrace of caring, interest, and dignity. Allow time at the end of class for discussion, and more private conversations. Other ideas include bringing food, sharing of information, and allowing for flexible payment.
In a personal practice, remembering the principle of Ahimsa as you go about your day, and acting in coordination of this principle. Stepping outside the ego, and devoting all action to a universal power, and not taking credit for positive or negative consequence. Staying informed, and sharing information that will help the community. The giving of time is often more charitable than the giving of money; remembering this notion. As you attempt to practice selfless action, becoming vulnerable yourself, is also a form of giving.
Saadia Gomez is a Myriad Yoga 200 Hour Teacher Training Graduate. Saadia began practicing Hatha Yoga in 2004 with the aspirations of becoming a model like her mother. Her mother provided her with an instruction manual that included makeup tips, and daily Hatha Yoga teachings. As time progressed, Saadia moved beyond her dream of becoming a model, but found confidence, foundation, and love in the practice of yoga. She teaches weekly classes at Ahimsa Yoga, and maintains her own blog and website.