Ayurveda 101

The world of health and wellness is fascinating and ever expanding, and there are so many sub groups within – from fitness to crystals to yoga to Reiki to so much more. Out of everything though, for me personally — nothing has changed my life more than Ayurveda.

What is Ayurveda?

Ayurveda is the ancient Indian science of healing, medicine and life. Dating back to ~5000 years ago, it’s the sister science to Yoga.

What I love about Ayurveda is that it’s all about a holistic approach to health and healing. It really views the human being as a whole mind-body-spirit system.

Ayurveda focuses on prevention & creating balance in the body using diet, lifestyle, our mind, our environment & herbal remedies. Its all about. . .

living according to nature

& healing through nature.

Ayurveda is so easy to follow because it feels natural. It has become a lot more popular these days but it’s still fairly new in the Western world so I’d love to know. . .

if you’ve heard of it or are curious about it? if you love it? has it helped you with anything in your life?

May peace be with you.

A Simple Breathing Exercise to Try Today

Yoga has quite the reservoir of breathing techniques, and here’s a simple one you can try today called Belly Breathing.

Belly Breathing can be done anytime you want to feel more calm, centred and present. This exercise is simple enough it can even be taught to children and is a great way for kids and adults alike to take a pause in their day and come out feeling more relaxed, grounded and present. 

Let’s begin.

  • To start, find a comfortable seat or lay down. If you’re seated, ensuring you’re in good posture (sitting up straight, relax the shoulders up back and down). Tip: you can sit on a block or blanket to elevate your hips, which brings more ease into sitting up straight.
  • Close the eyes and bring your awareness to your breath. Just breathing slowly and deeply, inhaling and exhaling through the nose. 
  • Keeping the eyes closed, bring your hands to your belly and lightly interlace the fingers. Start to notice how your body moves as you breathe. 
  • Notice on the inhales — the belly rises. On the exhales — the belly sinks back down. Continue to breathe, slow inhales & long exhales. 
  • As you inhale and the belly rises, maybe you notice your fingers come apart a little; as you exhale and the belly sinks back down, perhaps you notice the fingers come closer together. 
  • Set a timer for 4-5 minutes and when you open your eyes, bask in the feeling before getting up and notice you feel. 🙂

Having the hands on our bellies this way helps us follow the movement of the breath, but its optional. If you’re in public or would like to do this without having the hands there, you can simply observe the rise and fall of your belly as you breathe in and out, with the arms by your side if your lying down; or hands just resting in your lap if you’re seated.

And that is all! Breath work is such an integral part of yoga and our breath really is a powerful tool in calming and relaxing our bodies and clearing our mind. We all could use a little more presence in our lives so I hope this serves you.

May peace be with you.

The Benefits of Yoga

Yoga has tremendous benefits for the body, mind and spirit. Adding even one yoga class per week to your life adds noticeable benefits if you stay committed. The best results though, are seen when practiced at least 3 times per week for 30-60 minutes. Here’s what you can expect:

Increased Flexibility

There’s no surprise here! Flexibility is one of the most common reasons why people try yoga and also one of the most common reasons they shy away from it. The truth is, you don’t need to be flexible to practice yoga. That’s like saying you need to be strong to lift weights. But just as you’ll get stronger by lifting weights, you will become more flexible by practicing yoga.

In yoga we move our joints through their full range of motion and our muscles are stretched and lengthened. With regular practice, you will start to notice your range of motion increasing and more space and openness within your body to go deeper into a posture.

Greater Strength

You will get stronger. A typical yoga class includes:

  • A warm up
  • Standing strength poses that are held for 3 to 5 breaths or roughly 30 to 60 seconds
  • Balancing poses
  • Seated/floor poses that are held for 5-10 breaths or roughly 1-2 minutes
  • Depending on the class, it can include inversions and arm balances as well
  • Meditation/breathing exercise

In yoga, strength is built through bearing body weight and many postures are similar to classic fitness exercises like plank, tricep pushups, glute bridges — to name few! There is a lot of isometric contraction used to hold our poses and a big emphasis on core stability — the core is engaged in practically every pose.

Standing strength poses focus a lot on working the muscles of the lower body. Balancing postures help us work on stability and also activate muscles we don’t normally use day to day. Inversions and arm balances build tons of strength in the arms, upper body and core as you are upside down or balancing on just the hands. Even floor poses, though mostly working on flexibility, still contract muscles and use body weight to build strength.

Relaxed and Clear Mind

Yoga is a moving meditation. We breathe deeply, we move rhythmically with the breath; we’re silent, we’re away from our phones, and for those 60 minutes or however long the class is, we have put a pause on our daily life.

After yoga, we feel a clearer mind and the rush of those feel-good, post-exercise brain chemicals the same way we do after many forms of physical activity like running, swimming, dance etc…

The nice thing about yoga is that you release a lot of tension and tightness in the body through deep stretching, through gently moving our spine, through opening up joints such as the hips and shoulders; and all of this also clears “energetic blocks” in the body.

There’s a saying that our issues are held in our tissues, and that our body holds on to all of our experiences and emotions, good and bad. Stress or traumas stored in the body can manifest as aches and pains or tightness. So naturally, a regular yoga practice can help with feeling energetically lighter and more free.

Which leads us to the next point…

Reduced Stress

The physical practice of yoga was traditionally used to prepare the body for long periods of sitting — in meditation. The Asana (poses) practice is a moving meditation that prepares you for a classical stillness meditation.

This is why the last 5-10 minutes of every yoga class is meditation. The final pose in each class is called Shivasana, or Corpse pose (as you are lying down) and essentially this is the meditation portion of the class. With the relaxed and clear mind that has been generated as a result of the movement part of the class, we are now ready to be still and go even further within.

There is tons of scientific evidence on the benefits of meditation and its relation to stress management & reduction. Another important aspect of yoga is Pranayama or breathing exercises. There’s so much research on the benefits of breath work on the human body and mind, and most yoga classes include at least one breathing exercise.

Spiritual Connection

We know that Yoga means Union, and that this union (connection) can be many things for many people.

It can be a greater connection you feel to your own body by being more present and aware of your breathing and what you’re feeling and having that ability to listen to your body.

It can be a deep connection you feel to the Universe at large and all beings, a common outcome experienced through meditation.

It can be a Divine connection you feel to God (make this your own based on your Faith/Belief), also as a result of a meditative experience and by having a greater connection with your own spirit.

At the very least, it can even be a connection you feel with the community of fellow yogis wherever you practice (including online communities), or with your teacher(s).

Benefits for the Body, Mind and Spirit

Yoga has benefits on a holistic scale for the body, mind and spirit. These are just 5 of the innumerable benefits that come with a yoga practice! I hope this information serves you and inspires you wherever you may be on your yoga journey.

If you’ve just started, may this inspire you for what’s to come. If you’re going strong, may this allow you to celebrate how far you’ve come and to take things to the next level. If you’ve fallen off, may this inspire you to re-commit.

May peace be with you.

YAMAS: The Foundation of Yoga

We know that there are 8 Limbs of Yoga, and the Yamas are the very first limb. In a way, they are like the foundation on which to build your yoga journey upon. The Yamas are guidelines and ‘restraints’, and you’ll notice they align very much with many religious & spiritual values overall. They might seem simple, or a little too obvious — but let’s really consider what they so eloquently suggest.

Ahimsa: Non Violence

Ahimsa is said to be the foundation of yoga. It’s non-violence towards yourself and other living beings in your actions, thoughts and words. Ahimsa starts with the self & is based on the truth that everything is connected.

It is rooted in compassion, love and self-love. When we think of the word violence, we tend to think of it physically; but there are many ways in which one might be ‘violent’ to themselves and others through words or thoughts.

A yogi also considers the impact of their choices, particularly buying choices — ensuring that they are sustainable, humane and fair trade. In other words, considering the harm caused to the environment, animals or humans involved in the making of a product or food item.

In essence, Ahimsa is a true oneness that you feel with humanity, with nature and with all living beings.

Satya: Truthfulness

Satya is truthfulness in one’s speech, thought and deed. Truthfulness is beyond the act of not lying. It includes:

  • Taking off our masks, letting our real selves be seen (vulnerability)
  • Assertiveness; genuine communication
  • Seeing things as they are rather than what you want them to be

Essentially, Satya is:

seeing the truth (seeing reality vs delusion)

speaking the truth (honesty)

having your actions in harmony with your thoughts and words (integrity)

and being the real you (authenticity).

Asteya: Non-Stealing

Similar to the other Yamas, there’s more to Asteya than meets the eye. So how do we practice non-stealing in our thoughts, words and actions?

When it comes to the earth: Human beings do ‘steal’ from the earth’s resources quite a bit. Let’s give back wherever we can, and not take more than we need.

When it comes to relationships: coming to the relationship to give rather than take. Respecting their time, being a good listener and holding the space for them to be who they are.

When it comes to ourselves: Having an active gratitude practice so that we are rooted in a sense of completeness and contentment with what we have. A daily gratitude practice also keeps us from envy, jealousy or comparison which are forms of ‘stealing’ as well.

Brahmacharya: Moderation

They say overindulgence is often due to spiritual starvation, and that if you’re truly connected, you’ll rarely overindulge. Brahmacharya is moderation of sensual cravings in an empowered way where we are not slaves to the senses.

Traditionally, Brahmacharya means a lifestyle of celibacy, or abstinence until marriage. It was encouraged to remain celibate in one’s younger years so that their energy could solely be expended on studies, gaining spiritual knowledge, and using this time to find ones place and purpose in the world — being undistracted and focused on their Dharma. 

Even in marriage, it is recommended to conserve our sexual energy which leads to many physical, mental and spiritual benefits.

Brahmacharya can also mean bringing a mindfulness to things like food, sex and anything else that has the potential to become something we overindulge in.

The essential philosophy behind all of this is moderation, and the right use of energy.

Brahmacharya to me, is the harnessing of our energy towards self-realization and Divine pursuits while still enjoying the pleasures of life with discipline. Discipline equals freedom.

Aparigraha: Non-Greediness

Aparigraha is non-greediness, non-possessiveness and letting go.

In practice, it means letting go of our attachments to possessions and worldly goods for our happiness. It is simplicity, non-accumulation and being content fulfilling needs rather than wants. Practicing minimalism is practicing Aparigraha.

Letting go is the opposite of holding on — and when we think outside the realm of material things, many of us are holding on to certain feelings and emotions as well that might be harming us. Practicing forgiveness is practicing Aparigraha.

One can still be ABUNDANT and practice this, as it is a mindset from which you operate.

Putting it all Together

So there we have it.

Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (moderation/celibacy) and Aparigraha (non-greediness).

These are the 5 ‘restraints’ that yoga philosophy condones. Like many yogic concepts, they all have a much deeper meaning beyond the surface. So whether you are new to yoga, a seasoned yogi, or somewhere in-between — its good to check in and reflect on the Yamas and see how we are doing.

A foundation is a strong, grounded formation that can hold up the tallest tower and I hope this information can be that foundation for you and your practice.

May peace be with you.

Ashtanga: The 8 Limbs of Yoga

Yoga means union:

the union of the physical and nonphysical;

of body and spirit;

of you and something Greater (God, Universe, any personal representation of what that may be for you).

And yoga as a way of life means living according to the 8 Limbs so that we can attain this Union and cultivate a state of equanimity

Most of us are familiar with Limb #3: Asana aka Yoga postures — the physical practice. A yogi’s ultimate aim is to use Asanas, along with the other limbs that outline certain mental & physical practices, observances & restraints — to progress spiritually and live in the most optimal way for a human being to experience true peace, health, and emotional freedom.

The 8 Limbs go in order— each one can guide you to the next but they can also be practiced simultaneously. The last three meditative Limbs #6-8 however, directly progress from one to the other and are a result of practicing the prior limbs.

A Brief Overview of The 8 Limbs of Yoga:

Limb #1: Yamas – Disciplines & restraints (for optimal living)

Limb #2: Niyamas – Positive observances & duties (for optimal living)

Limb #3: Asanas – Poses, physical practice of yoga aka Hatha Yoga.

Limb #4: Pranayama – Breathing practices

Limb #5: Pratyahara – Sense withdrawal from distractions of the outside world

Limb #6: Dharana – Practicing focus on a single point — meditation with effort

Limb # 7: Dhyana – Meditation for long periods — concentrated meditation becomes effortless

Limb #8: Samadhi – Highest state of meditation; oneness; total absorption.

Fascinating, isn’t it? Yoga is such a vast and deep ancient practice, that one can forever remain a student. It’s a science, an art, a philosophy and way of Being. This is why I love yoga — this 5000 year old wisdom tradition is:

a practice

a journey

a path.

Yoga is not a be-all-end all. You can take what you need and if you feel inspired, there’s so much more depth and beauty that lies beneath for you to explore.

In Sanskrit, the word Ashtanga can be translated as: ashta = eight, anga = limbs. 

Ashtanga is the classical, eight-fold yoga path that when practiced with discipline, focus and willpower can ultimately lead us to our highest spiritual evolvement and a more blissful, liberated human experience.

I’ll share more on each of the individual 8 Limbs of Yoga in later posts and we’ll go deeper and break it down into simple, applicable concepts in daily & modern life.

May peace be with you.