Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Day 39: March 11th, 2013

Only 10 days until spring and here in Rhode Island, it sure is showing! Yesterday was a beautifully sunny day, the sky and ocean were incredibly serene, and people were out and about running, raking, biking, taking beach walks with their families, even windsurfing! It is clear that people in Rhode Island love to be outdoors in the open, fresh air and that is something that I truly appreciate about this state and its inhabitants. Rhode Island is feeling more and more like home. I had originally planned to leave in May and now it looks like I am staying for the summer. ( uh oh, pretty soon, I will be 80 and never have left).

Spring is the time of rebirth and new life, and therefore, it is very easy for us to say adios to winter and all of its darkness, death, and decay. For many of us, winter cannot end soon enough. However, in her Restorative Yoga class, Kristi reminded us that before welcoming spring and hastily saying goodbye to winter, we must first pay respect to winter for all that it gives us, although its gifts and benefits are more subtle than those of spring, summer, or fall. To serve as a metaphor for winter, Kristi told us the story of the Hindu goddess Durga, the female version of Shiva. Durga is a fierce and ferocious goddess who is often depicted riding a tiger and battling and slaying demons. She symbolizes death and transformation, which signifies that in order for there to be transformation, there must first be death. Winter is Durga. Winter makes everything die so that there can be rebirth, mostly through the act of fertilization.  The dead leaves, flowers, trees, and animals return to the earth, making the soil fertile again, allowing us to grow more food. This may seem like a 6th grade science lesson, but it is easy to forget that everything on earth depends on this cycle of decay and rebirth. Without one, the other cannot exist. Wednesday, March 20th is the spring equinox, which marks 1 of the 4 days of the year when there is an equality of day and night. The equinox provides us with the perfect opportunity to rightfully pay our respects to winter and to welcome all of the transformation that spring will bring.
                                                               ( Durga- one bad ass chick!)

This past saturday, I attended an Intro to Ayurveda workshop at All That Matters with Ayurvedic Practitioner Jessica Ferrol. Ayurveda is a 5000 year old holistic health system, practiced in India. It is seen as  the sister science of yoga. Jessica described Ayurveda as the science or knowledge of the human experience. The word Ayurveda comes from " Ayus," which means life on all three levels: body, mind, and spirit, and " Veda," which means intuitive knowledge or the knowledge of nature. This is not the type of knowledge that one can learn from books or school, but a knowledge that comes from intuitive wisdom, a knowledge that each one of us is born with, a knowledge that is universal law.  The ultimate goal of Ayurveda, and yoga, is to find everyday peace. The concept of peace has many definitions, but in this case, it means to experience every moment without the chatter of the mind, without the chatter of the ego. Basically, peace means that  we are able to  listen to our true spirit, or self, and live in a way that satisfies the needs of our true spirit and not our ego. Here is an example of satisfying our ego: We get home on a Friday night, feeling exhausted and sick after a long work week. Our friends want us to go out with them for a night of drinking and because we feel like we cannot let them down, we go. Here is an example of  satisfying our true spirit:  On this Friday night, we respectfully  apologize to our friends and instead stay in so that we can rest and engage in restorative practices, such as drinking tea. In our society, our mind is constantly telling us that we must do certain things and that we must behave in a certain way. We usually listen to our minds even if we have no true desire to do what it is telling us to do, which is often the case. The voice inside that we all too often ignore, the inner voice that tells us to stay in on a Friday night, is our intuitive wisdom. The ultimate goal of Ayurveda is to create a lifestyle on a daily basis that will keep our body, mind, and spirit healthy and well. What this means for each person is extremely different , but the only way for each of us to  achieve this goal is to listen to our intuitive wisdom. Ayurveda focuses on creating the ideal and optimal conditions for body, mind, and spirit so that we can connect to this powerful,all-knowing intuitive wisdom. How is this accomplished?

Jessica described that " Ayurveda views all of creation, both physical and subtle, through the five element theory. It is through the qualities of the five elements that we can understand the environment as well as our body, mind, and soul, and how our internal world interacts with our external world. Once the basic nature of one's self and the environment is understood, a person can choose food, activity, sounds, herbs and surroundings that are all appropriate for their body/mind needs. The intention here is to learn what one's unique needs are in order to thrive in life, rather than just survive" The five elements are as follows, and each element is classified as hot or cold, heavy or light, and stable or unstable and also how it is represented in the environment, in the body, and in the mind:

1. Ether( space)-Cold, (heats up quickly, but does not retain heat well), light, and unstable. Represented by nothingness in the environment. Represented by gases, empty belly, porous spaces in bones, cavities in our bodies. Manifested in the mind as lack of concentration,  forgetfulness, and spaciness. 

2. Air-Cold( heats up quickly, but does not retain heat well,) light, mobile.  AIr is the only mobile element and it is that which moves matter. Represented by gravity and wind in the environment. Represented as circulation and nerve impulses in our bodies.. Manifested in the mind as the movement of thought.

3. Fire-Hot( always hot), light, and unstable. Fire is the element or energy of transformation and it is how we understand our environment. Represented literally by fire in the environment. Represented by digestion in our bodies( digestion is synonymous with transformation). Manifested  in the mind as intellect and the ability to comprehend things that come in from the outside environment.

4.Water-Cold( heats up slowly, but retains heat well), heavy and stable. Water is the only fluid matter that exists and it is that which flows.  Represented by water, oil, and soft metals in the environments. Represented by blood, mucous, tears, cerebral fluid, salvia, and sweat in our bodies. Manifested in our minds as love and softness. Lubrication is love, when we have lack of water, we feel a lack of love.

5. Earth-Cold( heats up slowly, but retains heat well), heavy, and stable. Earth is that which is solid matter. Represented by dirts, rock, wood, hard metals in environment. Represented by cartilage, hair, teeth, bones, and nails in our bodies. Manifested in the mind as stability,peace of mind, and calmness.

In all that exists on earth, be it you, me, your dog, the moon, lettuce, coffee, etc, these five elements are found in various and different combinations. From these combinations, come the 3 doshas, or the 3 body types, which are Vata, Pitta, and Kapha. Each individual has a different and unique combination of these 3 doshas. An individual can be entirely one dosha, others can be an equal combination of 2 doshas, some people are even tri-doshic, meaning they possess all 3 doshas in an equal amount. Our doshas are manifested in our physical appearance, in our personality, and in our lifestyle choices. Once again, each dosha is dictated by the five elements.

Vata is composed of the elements of air and ether, which are cold, light, unstable, and mobile. Physically, an individual with a primarily Vata dosha is thin, light in body weight, has long arms, thin and dry skin, a colder body temperature, and walks with a lightness in step. Typically, Vatas are  very energetic, inspiring, and socializing and they are the friends who make sure we have fun and stay inspired and upbeat. Their minds are very expansive and they tend to think outside of the box.Therefore, Vatas are the creative individuals in our society, such as artists, inventors, and musicians. Vatas are often described as marching to their own beat. Based on the element of space, Vatas tend to lack concentration and focus and often do not follow through with projects of plans. When Vatas feel out of balance, they have too much unfocused energy  and movement and they lack stability. They worry and become anxious. Vatas often suffer from insomnia, weight loss, weakness, arthritis, and hypertension.

Pitta is composed of fire and water, although predominantly fire.  Physically, an individual with  a primarily Pitta dosha has a medium sized build with well defined muscles and bones, red-toned skin, perfect complexion, redder lips,and they freckle when they enter the sun.  Pittas are ALWAYS hot, even in 30 degree weather, and they are always sweating ( we all know a Pitta). They have a very strong appetite, a strong sex drive, and they sleep soundly for short periods of time.Typically, Pittas are  serious in nature, ambitious, goal-driven, competitive  and very intelligent. Therefore, Pittas tend to be  the leaders in our society. Pittas constantly like having a project to do and they always see through with the completion of a project. Based on the element of fire, Pittas have an extreme amount of passion. Pittas can be angered and irritated quickly and they find it difficult to engage in playful activities, which they find pointless. When out of balance, Pittas become short-tempered, resentful, and critical, specifically of others. A common Pitta thought is " why can't everyone else be an intelligent as me and see things as clearly and easily as I do."  They often suffer from skin rashes, heartburn, peptic ulcers, and indigestion

Kapha is composed of water and earth. Physically, an individual with a primarily Kapha dosha has a short and stout build, bulky muscles, thick and dark hair, thick skin and nails, and a cold body temperature. Kaphas sleep soundly and at times have a low sex drive. Based on the stable elements of earth, Kaphas tend to be calm, steady in mood, level headed, and non-confrontational. It is hard to anger or excite a Kapha. Due to their stability, Kaphas tend to be the emotional supporters in our society, those who  hold things together. A Kapha is the friend that you go to when you need to be listened to and comforted. Kaphas are often the ones mediating difficult situations between family members and friends. Based on the heavy and dense qualities of earth and water, Kaphas can be lethargic and slow to action. It is often hard for a Kapha to find the motivation to start a new project. When out of balances, Kaphas are lazy and depressed, spending a majority of time in bed doing nothing. Kaphas typically suffer from weight gain, diabetes, depression, and asthma 

To have a functional society, we desperately need all three of these doshas. Without one, our society would fall apart. Without Pittas, nothing would get done. Without Vatas, there would be no new inventions or art. Without Kaphas, diplomacy could not exist. However, society needs each dosha to be balanced because a Vata, a Pitta  or a Kapha that is out of balance can be extremely dysfunctional, useless, and even harmful. Why and when do these imbalances occur? Jessica explained that " the root of disease is living out of harmony with the external environment. In other words, it is the action of continuously choosing food, routine, activity, and surroundings that are not harmonious with a person's unique needs and constitution ( the body's inherent combination of Vata, Pitta, and Kapha.)" For example, because a Pitta is inherently very hot, something as simple as eating spicy foods will cause an imbalance in the Pitta constitution, eventually leading to anger and irritability. For a Kapha, something as simple as a mid day nap will cause an imbalance because it increases lethargy and sluggishness. Basically, if a quality is inherent inside of us, we do not want to add more of this quality.

To heal, Ayurveda balances the qualities of a specific dosha by introducing the elements that hold the inherently opposite characteristics to that dosha. For example, to balance a Vata constitution, the qualities of warmth, heaviness, and stability need to be introduced to the body. How are these inherently opposite qualities introduced to the body? Because we connect to our external environment through our 5 senses, Ayurveda uses the 5 sense therapies to bring balance to each body, as well as yoga, meditation, and daily routine.The recommendations for each dosha are precise and extensive.

Using these therapies, a Vata should eat primarily heavy, cooked foods at a regular time each day.  In moderation, oils and sweets benefit Vata, but a Vata should minimize foods that are pungent, bitter, or astringent.  A Vata should wear earthly colors, listen to calm music, regularly go for a hot stone massage, and  favor flowery and sweet smells, such as yuengling and vanilla. Due to their tendency to lose energy quickly,  Vatas can benefit from lighter types of exercise. During meditation, a Vata should envision a tree, rooting to the ground. All of these therapies and practices are meant to increase Vata's sense of grounding and stability.

A Pitta should eat primarily cool foods and should never skip a meal. In moderation, dairy and sweets benefit Vata, but a Vata should minimize foods that are spicy, pungent, salty, and sour. A Pitta should wear calming colors, such as blues and silver, should listen to upbeat music, should regularly go for deep tissue massage, and should favor cooling and sweet aromas, such as mint, jasmine, and sandalwood. Pittas should avoid hot yoga classes and should attend restorative yoga classes, although the competitive nature of a Pitta makes he or she want to choose the Hot Power yoga class. During meditation, Pittas should envision the ocean or another calming body. These therapies are meant to cool down and loosen up the fiery and serious Pitta.Most importantly, Pittas should not overbook themselves and must find time to laugh and play.

A Kapha  should eat primarily raw foods that are light, dry, and warm. Kaphas should avoid oily, sweet, and salty foods, and should favor foods with pungent, bitter, and astringent tastes. Kaphas can skip breakfast and meals should not be eaten after sunset. Kaphas should always avoid feeling damp and cold, they should wear colors that are warm and bright, such as yellow and orange, should listen to energizing and rhythmic music, should regularly get a dry and stimulating massage, and should favor warm and stimulating scents, such as cinnamon and juniper. Due to their lethargic constitution, it is very important for Kaphas to engage in regular, vigorous exercise and they should never take a mid day nap. During meditation, it is useful for a Kapha to stare into the flame of a candle. These therapies are meant to energize the heavy and sluggish Kapha.

This is just a small summary of the therapies used in Ayurvedic medicine and if you would like more information, the Ayurvedic Institute's website is extremely helpful.( You can even complete a quiz so that you can figure out your dosha. I must warn you that it is somewhat difficult to diagnosis your doshic makeup.  I have tried and I have found it impossible. Therefore, I am seeing Jessica privately. The one downfall of Ayurvedic medicine is that it is not covered by insurance, mostly because our country fails to recognize the benefits of eastern medicine. Therefore, the consultation with an Ayurvedic practitioner can be somewhat expensive. However, in my eyes, seeing an Ayurvedic practitioner is a lifetime investment because once you know your specific constitution, you can make every day, lifestyle choices that will allow you to live in optimal health and in optimal peace for the rest of your life. For me, this is worth every cent. The Intro to Ayurvedic workshop has opened my eyes to a whole new world of medicine. It truly has showed me that we do not need pills or surgeries to heal us. Instead, we need to understand our bodies constitution and its relationship to the external environment so that we can make choices that do not hurt out bodies, but instead nourish them, thus preventing illness and disease. I do not necessarily care how long I live for , but while I am living, I want to feel strong and be healthy. I strongly believe that the lifestyle choices we make today dictate how we feel in our old age. Do you want to be in a wheelchair or do you want to be climbing a mountain at the age of 65? I choose the mountain.

This picture has nothing to do with yoga, but the sight of these waterfalls is too beautiful not too share with the world.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Day 35: March 6th, 2013

One factor that sets yoga apart from just going to the gym and lifting weights is the fact that yoga is not just an exercise, but a philosophy, a philosophy that can be beneficially and practically applied to everyday life. There is an abundance of literature concerning this philosophy, enough to last an entire lifetime and beyond. Throughout the 40 day program, I have been gobbling up as much of this literature as physically possible, such as Proof of Heaven by Dr. Eben Alexander, The Great Work of Your Life by Stephen Cope, Walden by Henry David Thoreau ( yes, this book is very relevant to yoga), and Mohandas Gandhi's Autobiography: The Story of My Experiments with Truth.One of my favorite things about yoga is that it also has an academic component to it that builds intellect and brainpower.  Shortly after graduating from college last May, I began to miss the mental stimulation that my daily classes and coursework offered me. I missed reading and writing, and more importantly, discussing ideas with others. Once, during a rather unenthused and  lackluster class where few seemed interest, I had a professor respond to our lack of enthusiasm for learning by stating that " when we are out in the real world, we will desperately long to return to the days when we could sit in a classroom and grapple about ideas." He sure was right. Luckily, the 40 Day program has not only given me another opportunity to " grapple with ideas," but also the chance to put these ideas into action.

All of the books that I mentioned above have a common theme; each author is concerned with discovering, through experiments, how to live an optimal human life. Optimal human life? What exactly does this mean? While for each person it can mean something slightly different, an optimal human life is one that allows each individual to find  perpetual happiness, love, truth, and kindness. To live a life full of these qualities, we must first dispel and eliminate our fears, specifically our fear of failure and death, our doubts, our ignorances, our attachment to material objects, our hatred for ourselves and others, our judgements, our obsession with the outcome. Obviously these are all extremely abstract concepts and therefore, it is difficult to say exactly how to eliminate the negative factors and how to gain the positive ones, and as I mentioned above, each individual's path to happiness and each individuals optimal human life is unique and relative to that individual. Therefore, the only way for each one of us to recognize what is our specific optimal human life is to engage in a series of experiments just as the authors mentioned above did and just as I have during my 40 Day journey. For inspiration and guidance, we can look to  figures like Thoreau, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and many others, to view how they undertook their experiments and what was revealed to them through these experiments.

 Thoreau  isolated himself from civilization and went to live in a cabin that he had built on Walden Pond in Concord, Mass. Thoreau had become very disillusioned and almost depressed with the superficiality of society and civilized life. Therefore, he turned to the one place where superficiality and gimmicks have no place: Nature.  By living close to nature, Thoreau writes that 

" I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only he essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when, I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms." ( unfortunately I do not have page numbers because I am reading on my kindle- so much for living without luxury).  

"To put to rout all that was not life… to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms." For me, this phrase is extremely powerful and meaningful because it demonstrates that in order to know life, we must first reduce it to its simplest parts, and this is exactly what Thoreau did. Thoreau was obsessed with the idea of simplicity, with the idea that the fewer external factors we have to concern ourselves with, such as fancy houses, extravagant clothes, overly demanding careers, and endless company, the more able we will be find internal content. Thoreau writes that " a man is rich in proportion to the number of things he can afford to let alone" and that we must "cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change; we change. Sell your clothes and keep your thoughts. God will see that you do not want society.” 

To test out this idea of simplicity,Thoreau lived in a small cabin that he built with his own hands, planted only what he needed to survive, did not concern himself with the making of money, spent his days reading and writing and most importantly, observing nature. More than anything else, Thoreau passionately believed that humans can only live meaningful and happy lives if they spend a majority of their time in nature, mostly because nature has the ability to humble us and make us seem completely insignificant, yet supremly important at the same time. In regards to this idea, Thoreau states beautifully and poetically that 

 “If the day and the night are such that you greet them with joy, and life emits a fragrance like flowers and sweet-scented herbs, is more elastic, more starry, more immortal- that is your success. All nature is your congratulation, and you have cause momentarily to bless yourself. The greatest gains and values are farthest from being appreciated. We easily come to doubt if they exist. We soon forget them. They are the highest reality. Perhaps the facts most astounding and most real are never communicated by man to man. The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.” 

 (I apologize for the number of quotes in this post, but almost every sentence in Thoreau is a magical phrase that has something to teach us).   During the time that Thoreau conducted his experiment on Walden Pond, the people around him called him crazy and useless. Yet look at the legacy and guidance  that he has left for all of us.  If nothing else,  Thoreau's experiment at Walden Pond should show us that we must do what our heart tells us to do, regardless  if this choice seems crazy and pointless to others. 

Gandhi's entire life can be viewed, as he calls it, as an" experiment with truth." Like Thoreau, Gandhi also believed that in order to find happiness and peace,  we must live as simply as possible. Gandhi was also very interested in which foods allowed him to live his optimal life. He tried out numerous,sometimes unusual, combinations of food throughout his life. Gandhi was not concerned with eating for hunger's sake.Instead, he viewed food and the act of eating  purely as a means to achieve his optimal human condition. Gandhi believed in a vegetarian diet and interestingly enough, many other great minds of our times have strictly followed a vegetarian diet. These minds include Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Frank Kafka, and Leonardo Da Vinci.  Gandhi also found that he could only be happy if he was using his being and his services to help others. We all have something to learn from Gandhi.

At the end of my 40 day journey, I will reflect on my experiment with living just as Thoreau  and Gandhi did. What is my optimal human life? Am I living simply? What brings me joy? How does being in nature make me feel?  If you are looking to undertake your own experiment in living to discover your optimal human life, I recommend any of the books that I mentioned above as starting points.  They are all great reads and very inspirational. 

While spring is just around the corner, the cold days of winter are still hanging on and my body has been craving spicy and hearty soups lately. Today for lunch, I made a curry lentil soup with peas, carrots, and coconut milk that warmed my belly and my soul.  Featuring many different spices and seasonings, such as curry, turmeric,  cardamom, and cinnamon,  this soup has many health benefits too!Here is the recipe below if you need a little warming up as well. The recipe comes from the cookbook Vegan Planet by Robin Robertson

1 Large yellow onion, cut into pieces
2 garlic cloves, peeled
1 teaspoon peeled and chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
1/4 teaspoon cayenne
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
3 cups water
1 1/4 cups dried brown lentils, soaked overnight
2 medium size carrots, halved lengthwise and cut into thin half-moons
1 cup frozen green peas, thawed
1 cup unsweetened coconut milk
Salt and pepper

1. In a food processor, puree the onion, garlic, and ginger
2.Heat the olive oil in a large saucepan over low heat. Add the onion puree, cover and cook to mellow the flavor, about 5 minutes, stirring a few times. Stir in the spices and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the water and bring to a simmer. Add the lentils, cover, and cook until tender, 30 to 40 minutes. After 10 minutes, add the carrots
3.When the lentils and carrots are tender, add the peas, coconut, milk, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, uncovered, to incorporate the flavors, about 10 minutes. Serve hot 

Makes 4-6 servings. ( I topped mine with sprouts for an extra boost of nutrition!).  

Yum, yum, yum! Just looking at this picture warms me up a little bit!

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti! As always, thanks for reading!

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Day 30: Feb 28th, 2013

The Ripple Effect. Last night, at our weekly 40 day meeting, some fellow 40-dayers spoke about how they have noticed that their 40 Day Journey is having a far reaching, ripple effect on friends and family. I have noticed this too and it is not something that I expected to happen. A few days ago, I had a long conversation about the benefits of meditation and yoga with my father and sister. My father, who has chronic back issues, even got down on the floor and started doing his back strengthening exercises. My sister went out the next day and bought a month long yoga pass. Yesterday, I had a long conversation with a coworker about doshas( I will explain what these are in a later blog). That same day, other co-workers began asking me about my vegan diet, not out of judgement, but out of pure curiosity. This morning, a high school friend who I had not spoken to in a few years messaged me to say that he had been reading this blog and that he too has been undergoing a profound spiritual journey lately. We spoke about the fact that while our high school prepared us to be able to easily handle the academic work load and the social dynamics of college, we graduated from high school with little or no spiritual awareness. We both feel extremely lucky that we have found, pretty much stumbled upon, the " tools" and people that have allowed us to " see the light." As overused as that phrase may be, it has true merit, especially when talking about a spiritual awakening. Over the past few weeks, I have had many conversations similar to the ones that I have written about above. The people around me are genuinely interested in what I am experiencing. More than anything, this deep curiosity shows me that the majority of people do not live a typical " mainstream" lifestyle because they necessarily want to, but because they do not know any other way. We are conditioned to live one way before we even have a chance to discover that there exist many alternative modes of living and states of being that far surpass the limited form of consciousness that has come to be the norm today. What is the best way to break away and free ourselves from the shackles of this limited form of consciousness? Among other things, it seems to me that the answer is doing yoga with others and discussing yoga with others. Through each other, we can come to better know ourselves, which allows us to better know each other. Yoga is a never-ending, rippling circle and its effects are felt on and off of the mat, in the grandest and in the most intimate details of our lives and ourselves.

During last night's 40 day meeting, Joan and David asked us to partner up for a listening exercise. For this listening exercise, we sat shoulder- to- shoulder to our partner, looking in opposite directions so that we could not see our partner's face. Joan explained that each partner would have a chance to speak for 4 minutes, uninterrupted, and she encouraged us to really, truly listen to what the other person was saying, exclaiming that in our everyday lives, we tend to half listen to what others are saying and to hear only the parts that we want to hear. Each partner had 4 minutes to speak about how the 40 day program has affected he or she thus far. I went first and I spoke about many things, such as the fact that I am beginning to think about pursuing yoga and holistic medicine as a career, that I have been sleeping better, that I am complaining less, and that I no longer have even the slightest desire to drink coffee. After I finished speaking, my partner said " I heard what you said " and  then she had 1 minute to summarize and repeat back what I had said. If I felt that my partner had misunderstood  something  that I had said, I could clarify by saying " you said this, but I really meant something else." When we felt that our partner had heard us completely and accurately, we said " thank you, I feel heard." Then my partner had her chance to speak for 4 minutes and I now became the listener. Although this exercise seems like something children would do in elementary school, it was incredibly liberating and helpful. This exercise showed me that the majority of our everyday conversations are often done half heartedly and in haste. Regardless of what I said to my partner, it felt good to be truly heard, to know that my partner was devoting her attention solely to the words that were coming out of my mouth. It felt equally as enlightening to listen attentively to my partner's words. I now realize that I have become far too good at pretending to listen to someone and that I often devote half of my attention to the person and the other half to my phone, computer, or future plans.There really is a difference between being listened to and being heard. 

After completing this exercise, we went around the room and shared some of the things that we had spoken about. One 40 Dayer raised her hand simply to say " thank you all for voicing your thoughts, your worries, and your feelings. We all walk around this world as if nothing is wrong with us, yet each and everyone of us has some type of struggle, some type of inner battle.  It makes me happy to know that other people can outwardly acknowledge that this everyday battle does exist."  She is completely right. In our society, voicing our fears, our failures, and our doubts is often seen as a sign of weakness. Yet, only by openly confronting our fears and doubts and discussing them with others will we overcome these darker sides of ourselves. I have said this many times before and I will say it again- more than anything, this 40 day program is showing me the true power that lies in community. Without a sense of community, we have nothing.

For awhile now, I have been wanting to try to write a poem. My fear of not sounding eloquent enough has always held me back. I guess it is about time to let that fear go, so here is a poem, in its first and only draft. It's " raw," may not have much flow to it, and doesn't even have a title, but it's a start!

Wherever we are, 
we always wish for something different.

In the winter, we wish for a strawberry,
picked fresh from the vine.
And in the summer,
 we wish to feel the cooling sensation of a snowflake on our nose.

When we are short, we wish to be tall.
 And when we are young, we wish to be old.

When we are alone, we wish to be with another.
And when we are in a bustling crowd, we wish for solitude.

Today, we long for the simpler days of the past,
for the days when the Navajos ran free, ran far, ran with the animals.
Perhaps the Navajos longed for better times too,
they most likely did.

When we see a bird, we dream that we too
could glide on the wind with ease and grace.
Maybe the bird sees us and dreams that he too
could walk on two legs.

The sun may even wish to be the moon,
the moon the sun.

There are a lot of things we could be
and a lot of things that we are not.
Yet, without you, there is no me.
We all must learn to Just Be.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Day 24: Feb 22nd, 2013

A little over halfway through! My body, mind, and soul are transforming and growing in ways that I did not foresee. This is not a bad thing. I almost feel like I am living an entirely new life, or maybe it is just that I am seeing the outside world in a new way. Many of our 40 day meetings and our yoga classes focus on how one should live in and perceive his or her surrounding world, with all of its people, all of its trees and waterfalls, all of its beauty, all of its greed, all of its happiness, all of its suffering. While it may be ideal to practice yoga all day long, everyday, the truth of the matter is that we all must interact with society in some way or another.  In this past Wednesday's 40 Day meeting, David and Joan spoke a little bit about the 8 limbs of yoga, originally found in Patanjali's Yoga Sutra,written in 200 A.D!!!! Joan spoke about that fact that the ancient civilizations mapped out and transcribed the practice of yoga so well that we can still follow it today. What is even more amazing is that although recorded centuries and centuries ago, the foundational principles and teachings of yoga are still so powerfully relevant today. Maybe more than ever before, we need yoga! What would happen to our society if the 8 limbs of yoga became a central, mandatory text in all schools. The 8 limbs of yoga detail how we should live on a  daily basis so as to live in balance, in peace, in good health, and in connection with the greater whole. Most importantly, the 8 limbs of yoga seek to teach us how to train the restlessness of our mind so that we can let go of our ego, in all senses of the word. The 8 limbs of yoga are:

  1. Yama :  Universal morality
  2. Niyama :  Personal observances
  3. Asanas :  Body postures
  4. Pranayama :  Breathing exercises, and control of prana
  5. Pratyahara :  Control of the senses
  6. Dharana :  Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
  7. Dhyana :  Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
  8. Samadhi :  Union with the Divine

David specifically spoke about the 5th limb, Pratyahara, or control of the senses.   In Sanskrit, Ahara means nourishment and Pratyahara translates to something like" to withdraw the senses from any attachment to external factors." Due to the number of distractions in our lives, we are constantly stimulated. We seek and give in to stimulations from we check our face books, when we eat too much junk food, when we drink coffee, when we judge someone based on what car they drive. ( I do these things too). We come to live off of these stimulations and forget how to live without them. These stimulations become who we are, in a way that prevents us from ever really knowing what our inner selves really want and need. Our senses connect us to these stimulations, and therefore, by controlling the senses, we become less tempted by external factors and more attentive to our inner sources, where we will undoubtedly find a call to be kind, to ourselves and to others. David described it as " not letting the glitz of the outside world dazzle you, and to train ourselves into being a different way in the  world" Pratyahara is not advising that we shut off our senses completely, as this is not physically possible. Rather, we must become more mindful of how our senses are serving us. Do I really need a cup of coffee in the morning? Which foods nourish my body and mind? Am I judging someone based on what they are wearing? Are my relationships with others giving me joy or stress? What makes me feel stressed and angry? What makes me feel genuinely happy and at peace? 

Yoga is not about gaining a new self, it is about gaining a new and stronger sense of self! When you actually pay attention to the " voice inside," you will be surprised by how easily it begins to guide you gracefully and mindfully throughout everyday life and how it begins to change your relationship to external factors. This is what I am experiencing right now and  I am seeing the world around me in a whole new way. Regardless of what I thought I knew before, I am now beginning to see what is truly important in life and what truly has no significance. In our meeting, Joan quoted Baron Baptiste, who writes that " As we remove the rocks that block our wisdom and light, we find that we are able to set more and more time aside for the things that restore us : time spent in nature,solitude, meditation,  intimacy, having heart-to-heart conversations that heal. These moments spend in restoring ourselves are the sign post of our progress in health." My inner voice is beginning to tell me that these activities that restore us are the only things that truly matter.  I encourage you all to take time to pay gratitude and to heal yourself today.

An easy way to pay gratitude to yourself everyday is to nourish yourself with delicious, yet nutritious foods that heal and strengthen your body. Our bodies truly are our temples and we get out what we put in. This week, all 40 dayers are doing a 3 day fruit cleanse, only eating raw fruit for 3 days.A fruit cleanse or fast allows the body to clear out all of its toxins, gives the organs an opportunity to rest and reset, and helps to break old eating habits. My fruit cleanse ended today and this is what my diet consisted of for the past 3 days: 2 avocados, an orange, an apple, 3 bananas, a pineapple, a melon, a pomegranate, a plum, a pear, a kiwi, a mango, and 6 white turkish figs.Many people believe that one will constantly feel hungry, light-headed, and dizzy while fasting or cleansing, but I did not find this to be the case at all. I did have a slight headache today ( which was cured not by advil, but by yoga!), but this is common. The body is going through a waste removal process and therefore, it is common for some people to get a headache or to feel slight flu- like symptoms during a cleanse. Therefore, it is recommended that one allow a lot of time for rest during a cleanse. A fast is not only a fast from food, but is also a fast from other external factors, such as television, talking, working too much. The fruit cleanse was not as difficult as it thought I would be. The fascinating part is that I did not have cravings for junk food, but rather for a large salad and grains- It is interesting to see what the body craves when we only eat the basics. I do not feel extremely different, but I have a feeling that the day after the cleanse ends, tomorrow, is the day that I will feel its true effects.  Either way,  a salad or a bowl of warm oatmeal with raisins have never been more appealing.  Regular fasts are part of many cultures and religions, and I think that I will start doing a cleanse every month. It is said that the best time to do is a cleanse is when the seasons are changing, so if you are considering doing one yourself, spring arrives in about a month. One thing I can suggest is that if you are a coffee drinker, cut out the coffee before hand. Going cold turkey on the coffee and doing a fruit cleanse at the same time can be quite difficult.

As always, thank you for reading! Namaste!

This is Brooklyn the Boxer- now thats a downward dog if i've ever seen one! She eats her bones like this and hangs out in downward doggie for hours!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Day 17: Feb 15th, 2013

Hola amigos and yogis alike. As I sit here eating a homemade, no-bake, vegan, chocolatey- peanut butter oatmeal cookie ( yes, vegan desserts do exist and they are just as delicious) and listening to the Al Green radio station on Spotify, I feel myself beaming with elation and vitality. Although Storm Nemo threw off my center of balance and caused a slight speed bump in my 40 day journey, this past week at the yoga studio not only got me back on track, but felt like a major breakthrough in regards to my personal revolution. In my yoga classes ( I took 8 in 5 days!) I reached many new points of flexibility, strength, and balance. In Kristi's Thursday afternoon Heated Vinyasa Flow, I came close to doing Pigeon Pose in its fullest expression. For those of you who are not familiar with Pigeon Pose, here is a picture:

My head is not close to touching my feet, but I was not able to grab onto my toes from that arm angle three weeks ago. I have always been decently flexible, demonstrated by the fact that I was a hockey goaltender for 15 years, but I now realize that flexibility not only depends on the looseness of ligaments and the openness of joints, but also on strength, specifically core and back strength. I can only imagine how much yoga would have helped my goaltending abilities… only if i had known! Each day I realize more and more that the benefits of yoga are extremely vast and far-reaching. Regular yoga  can help lower depression and anxiety, it can rehabilitate serious injuries, especially back injuries, it can help us sleep better and more deeply, it can help us maintain a healthy body weight and toned physique, which boosts confidence, and it increases our mindfulness. Tonight, in her 5:45 TGIF Prana Flow class, Amanda spoke about another aspect of yoga that I had been thinking about all week: the power of yoga to unite. Amanda explained that in Sanskrit, yoga means To Unite. Through yoga, we unite our mind, body, and spirit, which allows us to let go of our ego, or our selfishness. When we attend a yoga class, we unite with others as we all simultaneously let go of our individual selfs, gaining more selflessness. At All That Matters, this act of uniting with others extends well beyond the yoga classroom. Each day at the studio, I find myself having a long conversation with someone new, be it a fellow 40-dayer, a teacher, an employee, a new face in a yoga class. Due to its nature, yoga tends to attract friendly, peaceful, and kind people and this is surely the case at All That Matters.  All members of the ATM community have been so welcoming and friendly that it truly has touched my heart. As I sit in the weekly 40 day meetings, I feel like I am part of something meaningful, something revolutionary, something important, something that touches on and reveals what is truly essential in life: a sense of community! Society needs more community centers like All That Matters, centers where individuals can come together to get to know their neighbors. Today's society strongly encourages and even rewards independence to the point that we all sometimes forget the importance of fellowship. I lived on the same street for 15 years and barely knew my neighbors:there is clearly something wrong with that picture. In the end, all we really have are the close relationships that  we form throughout life. Go out and get your neighbor today!

While yoga enlightens the body, it also enlightens the mind. Many of the teachers at All That Matters often read poems or excerpts from books throughout or at the end of class. I can think of nothing better than laying in savassana while being read to( talk about being a child again!). I especially like the poem below, entitled Oxygen by Mary Oliver, which was read by Jessie, who teaches Purna Yoga. For me, this poem captures everything that I have been feeling over the past few weeks. It made my heart smile and I hope it makes yours smile too. If any of you have any poems or poets that are near and dear to your heart, please send them my way! These days, I find myself having a strong desire to read more poetry.


Everything needs it: bone, muscles, and even,
while it calls the earth its home, the soul.
So the merciful, noisy machine

stands in our house working away in its
lung-like voice.  I hear it as I kneel
before the fire, stirring with a

stick of iron, letting the logs
lie more loosely.  You, in the upstairs room,
are in your usual position, leaning on your

right shoulder which aches
all day.  You are breathing
patiently; it is a

beautiful sound.  It is
your life, which is so close
to my own that I would not know

where to drop the knife of
separation.  And what does this have to do
with love, except

everything?  Now the fire rises
and offers a dozen, singing, deep-red
roses of flame.  Then it settles

to quietude, or maybe gratitude, as it feeds
as we all do, as we must, upon the invisible gift:
our purest, sweet necessity: the air.

~ Mary Oliver ~

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Day 7: Tuesday, Feb 5th

The focus of today's post will be FOOD! As I mentioned in my first post, I have been vegan for about 6 months. Becoming a vegan was a slow and gradual process. I grew up as a burger-loving, steak- munching carnivore. Bored one night during my junior year of college, I found the documentary Food Inc. on Netflix and decided to watch it. Food Inc. examines the system of factory farming and agribusiness that has come to be the dominant form of farming in this country.  Before watching Food Inc, I had not given much thought to how my food was being raised, but the documentary made me realize that factory farmers have little-to-no regard for the wellbeing of their animals, their employees, nor for the safety of  the consumers of their products, WE THE PEOPLE! Their main concern is profit, and profit alone. After watching the documentary, I got my hands on all of the literature and film that I could regarding the state of food and farming in this country. I read Michael Pollan's Omnivore's Dilemma, Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, Sir Walter Howard's Agricultural Testament and Upton SInclair's Jungle, which although written in 1906, remains extremely relevant today. For a few weeks, I refrained from eating meat, but despite everything I had read, I went back to being a carnivore, mostly because I went abroad to Argentina, which has some of the best and most delicious beef in the world. The superior quality of Argentinian meat, when compared to the meat produced in the USA, is due to the fact that while our cows eat corn and are kept indoors for the majority of their lives, Argentinian cows still graze outdoors and eat grass. Cows are unique animals because they are ruminants, which means they have 4 separate compartments in their stomachs, one being the rumen, which is able to break down tough plant fibers, such as grass. Therefore, unlike humans, cows are not only able to eat grass, but are designed to eat and survive solely off of  grass. Cow's stomachs are not built or meant to digest corn, yet we have completely replaced their grass fed diet with a corn fed diet, which causes cows to develop many sicknesses, which consequently forces farmers to heavily inject cows with antibiotics, hormones, and steroids. These sicknesses and injected hormones are then transferred to humans when we eat steaks and burgers. Although research is still being conducted on the matter,  it is beginning to become evident that many of our modern day health issues and sicknesses can be attributed to the overabundance of hormones and antibiotics in our food. 

Even though I knew these facts, I still continued to eat meat until the end of the my senior year. Then I saw Forks Over Knives, which explores and demonstrates  the health, societal, and environmental benefits that come from eating a whole grain, plant based diet, free of all animal by-products, including dairy, fish, and eggs, and most processed food.  The argument they make and the evidence they provide is overwhelmingly convincing and almost impossible to ignore. For example, the documentary follows various( some near-death) patients with severe,  life- threatening health issues, such as diabetes and cancer, who have all been virtually cured of their sicknesses and diseases by switching to a whole foods, plant based diet. One patient in particular is a middle aged man with diabetes who, at the start of the documentary, takes numerous pills and injects himself with insulin each morning because his doctors told him that was the only way he could continue to live. The man complains that he feels exhausted, unhappy, and lifeless on a day-to-day basis .The man than becomes a patient of Dr. Matthew Lederman and Dr. Alona Pulde, doctors who believe in using diet and exercise to treat and reverse diseases instead of pills and injections. They tell the man to immediately stop taking all of his pills and to instead commit himself to exercising everyday and to eating a diet full of vegetables, beans, fruits, and whole grains.By the end of the documentary, the man has lost a considerable amount of weight, has significantly lowered his blood pressure and cholesterol, no longer needs to take a single one of his pills, and most importantly, has a newfound energy towards life. Essentially, he completely reversed his diabetes and turned his life threatening disease into an almost nonexistent factor in his life. While Food Inc. and my earlier readings had opened my eyes to the moral benefits of a vegetarian or vegan diet, Forks Over Knives demonstrated the incredible health benefits that come from these diets. With the combination of these two forces,  I could no longer ignore everything I knew and decided to cut out all meat from my diet. However, for a few months, I continued to eat eggs, cheese, and other dairy products, such as ice cream, milk, and yogurt. I kept saying to myself that I couldn't imagine living without cheese, eggs, and ICE CREAM, three long time staples in my diet. 

However, one day, my friend Ron and I decided to take the final step and to eliminate all animal by -products from our diets. It is often easier to commit to a healthy diet or exercise regimen when you have a friend along for the ride who you count on and who counts on you for support. Ron and I both worked at a restaurant,which meant we were constantly confronted with the temptation to break our commitment to our diets. We both stayed strong, yet I was still convinced that the cravings for cheese, fish, and ice cream would only increase as  time went by. However, at about the three-week mark, I realized that the opposite phenomenon was occurring; my cravings for dairy and processed foods decreased more and more each day , while my cravings for vegetables, fruits, beans, and whole grains,like quinoa and bulgur, only continued to increase. It is hard to describe, but vegetables and fruits began to taste more delicious, sweet, and satisfying than they ever had before, as if my taste buds were undergoing a type of metamorphosis and rebirth. A sweet potato now tasted as decadently sweet as a piece of cake, an avocado as creamy as a milkshake, kale and sprouts made my tastebuds explode with happiness. I begin to feel more naturally energetic and could now bounce out of bed at an early hour without any sluggishness or grogginess.  Also, The 4' o'clock slump in energy that used to hit me like a bag of bricks no longer existed. It was clear to me that my body was thriving off of my new diet, thanking me for finally putting in the type of fuel that it truly needs. At the start of the diet, I thought that I might eventually return to eating meat and dairy, but now, after experiencing the amazing benefits of a plant-based diet first hand, there is no going back for me,

One of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of my new diet has been experimenting and exploring  new recipes and new ways to cook with vegetables, grains, beans, and meat substitutes, such as tofu, tempeh, and seitan. While many believe that vegans only eat bland,tasteless food meant for horses and rabbits,this is by no means the case. By using spices, sauces, and unique cooking methods, whole, plant- based foods can be prepared in a variety of delicious, satisfying ways. Each day in the kitchen is a new adventure for me and I was especially excited to try the recipe below for a Winter Soup with quinoa, winter vegetables, and beans. This recipe was given to me by my good friend Alex Epstein, who had found it through his girlfriend Sonya, who had originally discovered it on the blog blogs are a great way to find new recipes and unlike cookbooks, they are completely free!). This vegetable- broth based soup contains all of my favorite foods, kale, sweet potato, black beans, quinoa, and not only is it tasty, but also extremely nutritious. The cumin, chili powder, jalapeƱos, and coriander give this soup the most perfect balance of sweetness, spiciness, and wholesome goodness! Before serving, top the soup with copious amounts of sprouts, avocado, cherry tomatoes, and tortilla chips. Your taste buds will immediately thank you. From the first bite, I fell in love with this soup and I knew I would be making it over and over. It is perfect for cold winter days and is extremely easy to make. 

Here is the link for the recipe- you can thank me later.

Here is a picture of how my soup turned out:

Through this post, I am not trying to advocate that everyone must switch to a vegan diet. Rather, I am telling you how being a vegan has changed my life in the hopes that you may be inspired to eat more vegetables and fruits. If you have thought about becoming a vegan or a vegetarian, maybe give it a try for 10 days and see how you feel. You may hate it or you may love it!

Day 6: Monday, Feb 4th

Firstly, thank you to all those who have read my blog! Your feedback and the meditation session have provided me with an immense amount of inspiration and energy as I continue on my 40-Day journey! My journey is moving forward with great success as I am building good eating habits and strong foundations for my yoga and meditation practices.

Mondays are usually the hardest day of the week for most of us as it is sometimes difficult to transition from weekend-mode to work-mode. Luckily, Coral's Monday Night Heated Prana Flow Class is the perfect cure for the Monday blues.  In Sanskrit, the word Prana stands for many things, such as life source, vital life, and breath, and as the name suggests, Prana Flow yoga focuses on moving and flowing with and on the breath.  Heated Prana Flow is a very active and energetic style of yoga that has won over many yogis at All That Matters, evidenced by the fact that the class is always filled to capacity. It is a well known fact throughout the studio that you should always get there extra early for Coral's Monday night class. Still, there are always a few stragglers who walk in at 5:45 to find a small room where everyone is already mat-to-mat. Yet, just when it looks like there is not a single inch of floor space left, we always somehow manage to make room for everyone. In this class, the saying " invading my space" reaches a whole new meaning. While in most situations and circumstances this invasion of privacy would be viewed as a nuisance or disturbance, it is instead welcomed in a yoga class, which is exactly what makes yoga so great. Yoga is both an extremely personal and communal experience at the same time. Through breath and movement, yoga allows us to connect and give gratitude to our inner, spiritual selves that often go neglected in a society where we are constantly focused on and obligated to other people and to our to-do lists. By performing yoga with others, we feel a deep sense of community centered around the fact that we have all come to class in search of a greater spirituality and strength. It is incredibly beautiful and moving to chant OMMMM in unison with a group of strangers. 

One of the greatest examples of community that I have ever experienced occurred in Coral's class on the Monday following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Coral entered the room and told us that tonight's class would be used to honor each of the 26 souls lost in the shooting, explaining that while grieving is a hard and difficult process, it is necessary and easier to handle when done with others. To honor those who died in the shooting, we performed a sun salutation for each innocent soul lost that day. A sun salutation consists of a series of postures that are meant to give gratitude and open our hearts to the sun, the source of life that all of us depend on in so many ways. At the start of each of the 26 salutations,  we began on our feet with our hands at our heart and Coral would say the name and age of each victim lost, such as " Noah, age 7, left side".  We would then bend forward, touch the floor, bring the left knee to the floor, lift our bodies and arms into a lung, bring both legs back into downward dog, lower into plank, then into upward dog, lift back into downward dog, bring the right knee to the floor, lift our bodies into a lung, bring the right foot to meet the left at the top of the mat, lift our bodies and arms up to standing position once again, and then lower our hands to meet our heart, just as we had begun the posture. Coral would then say" Noah, age 7, right side," and we would perform the sun salutation again on the right side. In total, we performed the sun salutation 54 times, which was not easy and took endurance and perseverance. However, instead of slowing down or quitting, every person in the room performed each and every sun salutation with energy, passion, devotion, and purpose, which was what each lost soul deserved. Each time that Coral said the name and young age of each victim, a wave of emotions shook throughout my body. As I performed each sun salutation, I could feel the emotion move throughout my body with each movement and each breath, as if my feelings of  grief and sadness were being transformed into feelings of love and compassion that were being sent to the victims of the shooting. I could hear the intense breathing of the people to the left, right, front, and back of me, which only inspired me to perform each salutation with more passion and vigor. It took the entire hour and a half class to complete the 54 sun salutations and by the end, we were all drenched in sweat to the point that it looked like we had all jumped into the ocean for a swim. 

After completing the salutations, we laid in savassana for 10 minutes and I immediately felt that my body and spirit had undergone an immense change. I felt lighter, almost weightless, as if something that had been weighing down on me had departed my body. This something was the intense feeling of helplessness and loneliness  that I had felt since I had heard the news about the shooting: Why do these vile and evil crimes have to occur, especially to innocent children? How can one person have that much hate for others? Is humankind only becoming more and more evil? How do we build a society centered around compassion and love?  By performing the sun salutations , I did not discover the answers or solutions to those questions, and I never will, but by sharing my grief with others and by feeling their grief, I was able to find comfort and hope in the fact that so many others were experiencing the same feelings of hopelessness and sadness that had been weighing me down.  While laying in savassana, compassion and hope for a better future could be felt in every inch of the room. This yoga class  was not only the most effective grieving process that I have ever experienced, but was  also one of the greatest testaments to the power and necessity of community that I have encountered in my 22 year life. While many of us think that the best way to grieve is in silence and solitude, maybe all we really need is to move our bodies in unison with others. The next time you are feeling sad or under the weather, do some downward dog! Peace and love to all!