So You Want to Be A Better Person and Change the World? Do These Two Things Now!

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So You Want to Be A Better Person and Change the World? Do These Two Things Now!

Is it just me, or do you feel angry or helpless about the fractured political climate of America?

Whether it’s CNN’s reporters being heckled by those encouraged to hate our free press, Nia Wilson’s senseless murder, or asylum seeking children torn from their parents and put in detention centers - the worst of humanity is rearing its ugly head.

In the face of this polarization and hatred, I’ve concluded that as yogis we have two actions of recourse:

1. Be a Model Human  - Be a Bit More Like Shiva

One of the main goals of a yoga practice is to understand ourselves and work on who we are through self inquiry so that we can give back in a more profound way to the world.

But how do we do this in the face of hatred and continual bad news that won’t stop? We can withdraw and put our heads in the sand, or we can face it all head on.

The teachings from the Hindu deity, Shiva might help.

Shiva is a whole lot of things.

Notably, Shiva is the lord of toxins. Because, well, he is everything and he is consciousness itself.

His connectivity to every possible outcome is his ferocity - Shiva as Bhairava. He shrinks from nothing, and is unafraid to imbibe the poison of the world and hold it in his throat so as not to assimilate it.

He engages everything.
He is utterly himself.
And he doesn’t give a damn what anyone thinks of him.

We’ve all experienced strong emotions or challenges that we want to run from.

Shiva enters our yoga practice when we do the things that push our buttons and look to challenging experiences with the question:

“Who am I in this?”

This is the easiest question to ignore when our experience is provocative, scary, or unpleasant.

When you ignore this question, you let your emotions rule you instead of being sovereign to your emotions.

And when your emotions run you, you're likely to act less like a model human, and more  arrogant and entitled - i.e. someone that people don't particularly want to be around.

Think about the asanas or poses that challenge you -- like arm balances or backbends. If you avoid them or don’t check in on your resistances around them, you won’t progress in your practice.

Emotions are similar and must be engaged. For example, anger can cause stress, acting out, or even violence - but those things are not the anger itself - those things are you on autopilot when your anger has gone unchecked.

Being a model human in the face of challenge and emotions means choosing to become your emotions fully. Then you can decide what to do about them and how to respond.

Shiva is present when you let yourself have your experiences completely and then choose the best course of action. Now instead of running amok, your emotions can compel, forgive, heal, shift, or inspire.

I’ve never regretted acting from a place of self-awareness in my emotions, and I’ve never regretted apologizing for being irritable or un-thoughtful to those around me when I’ve miss-stepped.

2. Vote

Modeling the best of human behavior in ourselves is one thing we can do individually to respond to divisiveness, but ultimately change has to come from the top.

Electing conscious policy and law makers is crucial to impacting change for the environment, for social equality, and peace in our communities and around the world.

In addition to checking ourselves and not succumbing to hatred and division, we’ve got to VOTE.

Four thoughts on this:

  1. Register to VOTE if you have not yet done so.
  2. Consistently check that your registration stays current all the way until the deadline to register - word is that people are being pulled from the voter rolls even if they were registered.
  3. Encourage other people to vote by joining organizing campaigns like Swing Left , Black Women Vote, and MoveOn.Org. Help drive people to the polls if you have to.
  4. The current administration is doing nothing to stop Russian hacking into our system, so we need to show up in such record-breaking numbers that no amount of meddling can make an impact.

Take these two actions and I guarantee you'll feel better about the state of the world and how you can make a difference toward the people around you.

What are you doing to stay conscious, kind, and aware in these intense times? Leave a comment below!

 

 

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My Morning Rituals

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My Morning Rituals

Morning rituals.

Morning routine.

The morning hour of power.

Whatever you call it, I almost hesitate to share my morning regimen because it’s become so trendy in self-improvement blogs to obsess over the intentional way we start our day.

But there is something to it, right?

In 90% of the interviews I do, I get asked about my morning routine, so clearly it’s a big deal.

We have all read the many blogs about CEOs with massive tech empires who wake up at 3am to sip hot lemon water, meditate, and run 10 miles as a means to becoming some kind of uber productivity superhero.

Morning rituals will help you become more productive and successful - no doubt. But there’s more to them than just that.

I think people want to know about each other’s mornings because they seek happiness.
 
When you start your day consciously, you’re able to focus on what truly matters, what will bring you more joy and in turn, how you can bring more joy to others.

My morning rituals change from month to month and year to year, but I’ll share the ones I’ve been digging lately.

Keep in mind that what makes your day start out well is not necessarily going to be the same as what makes my day start well. Like anything, it will be deeply personal.

Take what works for you and add your own special touches when designing your ideal morning!

Here is what my morning looks like - including the 5 rituals I do in my practice space to center my day:

  • Wake and make the bed - makes me feel accomplished and tidy.
  • Scrape tongue & rinse with mouthwash - this has been a game changer for my teeth, breath, and tartar prevention!
  • Hit the loo - you gotta do what you gotta do.
  • Drink fresh squeezed celery juice - This is a new thing for me, I’ve heard awesome stories about the effects. I will let you know how it goes!
  • Center the day - I just released a new program on YogaGlo.com called Morning Groove!  It combines vinyasa flows with the following things I do to center my day up in my practice space: 
  1. Gratitude practice
  2. Write down what would make today amazing
  3. Affirmations
  4. Write down my most recent successes
  5. Visualization and meditation
  • Make superfood smoothies for the family - I enjoy making breakfast for myself and Taro and filling our bodies with nutrient-packed foods like wild blueberries, acai, dandelion greens, chia seeds, goji berries, plant-based protein powders - it's the whole kitchen sink of superfoods!
  • Make a plan for exercise - My preference is to practice yoga or workout shortly after breakfast with a bike ride, a hike, a swim, or functional fitness/weight training at the gym, but if I can’t get out right away (i.e. I have work deadlines!), I make a plan for later in the day.
  • Get down to work! This usually means either teaching yoga or getting on top of emails, writing deadlines, or yoga class planning.

OK. Now it’s your turn to crowdsource some morning routines. Leave a comment with some of your favorite things to do to get your day started right!

 

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5 Surprising Things You Can Do to Instantly be a Better Yoga Teacher

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5 Surprising Things You Can Do to Instantly be a Better Yoga Teacher

Seven years ago, if I asked the average yoga student whether they were interested in supplementing their local yoga classes with a yearly yoga retreat abroad, a big yoga conference, or a summer festival, the answer would have been a resounding “HELL, YEAH!”

Fast forward to 2018, and I’m certain that if I asked that same question to an average yoga student, I’d get a puzzled look, followed by a “No, probably not. If I taught yoga, maybe I would?”

Increasingly it seems that yoga events like weekend workshops, retreats, festivals, and conferences, which offer more in-depth opportunities to study and practice than ongoing classes, are much more highly attended by yoga teachers than yoga students.

Have you noticed this trend too?

As someone who loved attending workshops before I became a teacher, and who has witnessed non-teaching students radically change their lives after being on retreat or attending a conference, it saddens me that such a large percentage of our yoga students are not attending supplemental yoga events.

And it begs the question: why?

Let me be frank with my theory on this:

  • Only a small minority of yoga teachers convey to their students that yoga is a practice rather than an activity.
  • The majority are not doing this. A lot of well-meaning teachers are leading exercise classes with occasional sprinkles of feel-good, self-help sound bites, not yoga. (Before you jump on me and say that "yoga is anything you make it", please keep reading...)
  • The majority of yoga teachers are not teaching their students how to embody their practice on the mat in their day-to-day lives.

I know I’m generalizing, but if this is the majority, would a student value traveling abroad to deepen their practice by doing five hours of yoga a day? Would they schlep to a ski resort in order to learn from senior teachers and keep company with other students on the spiritual path?

Probably not.

Yoga teachers, on the other hand, value supplemental yoga because their teacher trainers have taught them that yoga is more than just sweating and stretching.

Yoga teachers also know how different and incredible it is to practice yoga for more than 60 minutes - sometimes up to 3 hours on the mat.

So, how is this message not getting to our students? And why are we depriving them of this experience?

Let me be frank again.

I think it has a lot to do with the messaging propagated by well-intentioned yoga teachers on social media.

There are far too many posting things along the lines of “Yoga is anything you want it to be.” or “Yoga is what you make it".

So. much. NO.

Yoga has a history, a timeline, a lineage, and yoga is connected to a vast body of knowledge. It's way more than 'what you make it'. It's grounded and rooted in something much larger.

That doesn't mean we can't live our own version of yoga, but my hope is that we honor yoga's roots, study hard, and get time with its elders whenever we can.

And while 60 minutes is enough time to drop the occasional yoga bomb here or there (and please do!), it is not long enough to impart the depth and breadth of yoga.  

So if you teach yoga, please step up and start telling people what yoga is. It’s your dharma (duty)!
 

Here are 4 Things You Can Do to Instantly Be a Better Yoga Teacher:

  1. Define yoga and share the definition at the beginning of class. Refer to the definition throughout the class. A simple way to define yoga to your students is to translate the word yoga which comes from the root “yuj” - to connect, to unite, to bring together. Then, having contemplated the definition, share what that means to you personally. Does it mean being more conscious and aware of our interconnection with nature and other beings? Does it mean being more responsible or present in our relationships? How does the practice on the mat relate to that? Can you make a link between how we place our feet on the mat to the sensitivity we bring to our relationships with loved ones?
     
  2. Share the yoga teachings! Give your classes themes. Tell your yoga students about the Yamas and Niyamas. Describe the five elements and how they are part of the microcosm of the body as a reflection of the macrocosm (Dude, whoa). Break down a sutra from Patanjali. Talk about “beginner's mind.” Om with them. Translate a mantra and chant it. Discuss what it means to be present or aware. Articulate how stunning and beautiful it is that we exist (I mean, consider the breath!). Get them thinking about how we are part of something as vast as this universe - and because we know this, now we get to choose what we're going to do about that! How do we want to live a life of meaning?
  3. Teach them how to be a great yoga student - Help them cultivate curiosity and a sense of wonder. Encourage them to ask questions. Pause every now and then to help them pay attention to how their body feels right after a pose. Ask them to feel. Make it safe for them to challenge you so they learn it’s OK to think for themselves. Ask them how they feel so they will be seen and heard, and then do the same for others! When they come with questions, be there for them 100% so they are rewarded for their curiosity.

  4. Show them how to take their yoga off the mat - Invite them to bring what they are learning about themselves on the mat as a training camp for the real world! Invite them into a self-reflective process. Who are they when faced with challenging poses, or when they fall out of an arm balance? Do they laugh at themselves or engage in negative self-talk when they stumble? Does resistance arise for them with certain poses? When they have a breakthrough moment, are they ready to channel that success into their lives? Chances are the way they are on the mat is how they might be off the mat - do they want to work on that?

It's our responsibility as yoga teachers to convey that yoga is more than just a physical activity and that it’s more than just “what you make it”. Yoga is an embodiment of what we do on the mat, brought into a life of meaning, service, and skillful offering.

Teach this and change the world.

 

 

 

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What Yoga Can Teach Us About Feeling Overwhelmed by Despair

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What Yoga Can Teach Us About Feeling Overwhelmed by Despair

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
- the Dalai Lama

Are you feeling utterly overwhelmed by the current state of things in the USA? I'm with you.

Although yoga helps us get into a zone where all is well and where there’s light and love, you’re then meant to come back to reality, serve others, and engage in the world to make it a better place.

The word yoga means “to connect”, to connect to the world. It’s not meant to be an escape.

In other words, having a yoga practice does not make you immune to the feeling (or the reality) that we’ve taken a nosedive into a pit of darkness in just a year’s time.

That said, as dark as it has become, voices previously unheard are coming into the light.

  • Women’s voices are saying #TimesUp on centuries of sexual harassment and assault.   
  • Black and brown voices are saying enough is enough on racism, discrimination, and deportation. #BlackLivesMatter #Dreamers
  • Children are demonstrating, lying on the ground in front of the White House to demand safety in their schools. #MarchForOurLives #NeverAgain
  • A wave of women, minorities, gay, and transgender candidates were elected in states all over the country and that trend continues to grow. #BlueWave2018

Still, I am overwhelmed by the sheer quantity of abnormal, morally bankrupt, despicable, and unfathomable things going on in the White House!

I always feel better when I take action (like calling my senators), but I notice that the deluge of troubling news easily paralyzes me to the point where I will do nothing if I don’t watch out.

The onslaught of these daily issues is numbing.

Whenever I find myself becoming numb, I think of Arjuna, the main character in the great epic tale, The Bhagavad Gita, a text every serious student of yoga eventually tackles.

The story begins on a battlefield. Prince Diroydhana has rejected his cousin Yudhishthira’s final offer of peace and he and his brothers, the Panavas, including Arjuna are forced into battle.

War is unavoidable, and Arjuna is beside himself with despair because he is facing his own loved ones - cousins and uncles on the battlefield - in fratricidal armageddon.

The text explores this metaphor as the dilemma of how the world both annihilates us (because we all die) and embraces us. In Arjuna’s case, and in our own case, love puts us at the greatest risk. Ultimately the text asks us -  what are you willing to do for love?

You’re either making the world a better place or not. You can break down, do nothing, and take Xanax in a fetal position under the covers, or you’ve got the opportunity to do yoga and address the problems head on.

Yoga is how you decide you want to be in the face of this dilemma. The Bhagavad Gita is not a text about “checking out”, it’s a text about “checking in” and dealing firsthand with what is on the table.

My teacher often says, “Stop wishing the world were some way you wish it were, and start wishing the world was in some way how it could be.”

Arjuna, with the help and lengthy guidance of Krishna, takes on the dilemma, knowing that inaction is still a choice and doing nothing would be a nihilistic act that could damage generations to come. Ultimately Krishna makes his arguments but doesn’t tell him what to do. Instead he leaves him free to choose his course of action.

So when you feel depressed, immobilized, or inundated by the troubles of the world and you’re not sure which issue to pick, remember you are free to pick just one thing.  Do one thing, because action always feels better than no action at all.

Here are some resources for action you can take RIGHT NOW:

  • Set up ResistBot on your phone so you can easily email your senators and make your voice heard. If you text them 'NRA' they will tell you how much money the NRA paid your elected officials and suggest action steps!
  • Tune in to Resistance Live every day with my old friend, Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin, so you know what pressing actions need to be taken.
  • Donate to Swing Left to ensure that we elect candidates who are not being bought by the Koch brothers and the National Rifle Association (NRA).
  • Donate to the ACLU to help ensure that voters rights are being protected.
  • Donate to the Black Yoga Teacher’s Alliance to help support teachers of color through yoga education scholarships, events, and more.
  • Sending a hand-written post card to your elected representatives can be very effective via CollectiveVision.Us. You can also send post cards to would-be voters.

 

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The Unexpected Life Hack to Help You Excel in The New Year

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The Unexpected Life Hack to Help You Excel in The New Year

We live in a world that’s addicted to quick solutions, easy fixes, and anything brand new.

We want to hear the most recent podcast, to have the newest iPhone, and we can “Google that s**t” to get instant answers.

In a culture of instant gratification, it’s become increasingly difficult to remember that we’re part of a world that is made up of repetition of the ‘same old - same old’. We forget that nature itself repeats itself - it’s recursive:

The sun comes up every day and then sets.

The moon cycles monthly.

The deer in my backyard mate every November and give birth the next June.

Every 365 days we celebrate the holidays and then find ourselves on January 1st planning our next year.

Here we are, welcoming another year of life, and honestly it feels new, but it also feels the same - an annual repetition.

Does that seem like a let down? Well, it could feel like a let down if, like most of us, you’re addicted to the Smart phone, your feed, or how many likes you got on your Instagram post.

So here’s the life hack.

Recognize that everything repeats itself and start getting back to craving repetition and baby steps like a child.

Remember when you were a kid (or if you have kids now you’ll totally get this) and you asked your parents to read the same bedtime story book to you every single night? You didn’t care if you heard it over and over again! And god forbid they skipped a page, you noticed and called them out on it!

I think I’ve seen The Little Mermaid and the Lion King about 50 times because my little sister wanted to watch it every single day when I was her caretaker.

Kids crave repetition. And they need it to learn and become masterful at life

When you read a book a for the second time, you are a different person than you were the first time around. That's what makes repetition interesting and not boring - it’s who you’ve become in between!

For example, it would be ridiculous to do one yoga class and then say, “Yep, I’ve mastered yoga -  been there, done that!”.  

Practice is practice - it’s not about completion and accomplishment, it’s about process and self discovery through, you guessed it, repetition.

If you’ve got a big, hairy, audacious goal (BHAG) to grow bigger this 2018, it’s important to let go of the idea that you can reach that goal quickly without serious commitment, repetition, perseverance, study, and practice.

Any BHAG I've ever reached or art form I've mastered has come about from the repetition of baby steps and chunked down daily actions.

My 500 Hour level yoga teacher training students often share that they want me to give them more new material in my trainings. While I certainly strive to share new information that they’ve never heard before, I remind them about the importance of repetition too.

To become a great yoga teacher and yogi, you have to ‘lather, rinse, and repeat’ in multiple scenarios across a timeline of study until things are so familiar they become part of you. It’s why we encourage our students to repeat the same module topics multiple times if they want to!

Once you come to terms with the fact that mastery requires repetition, you will be aligned with the recursive nature of the Universe and mastery of your goals will be right around the corner.

Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

Happy New Year, everyone!

If this resonates, leave a comment telling us about something you got really good at through repetition!

 

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Turmeric Spiced Tahini Sauce

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Turmeric Spiced Tahini Sauce

It's an honor to have Stepfanie Romine, co-author of The No Meat Athlete Cookbook (and one of the most fun and innovative plant based chefs ever) in my kitchen again. She shared this turmeric spiced tahini sauce recipe, which made the whole kitchen smell like chai and definitely got us all salivating!

We used the sauce as a winter dressing on a bed of spinach and roasted sweet potatoes, but the sauce itself if very versatile - the subtle spiciness is a match for any roasted root veggies, garam masala (this is now a must-have spice in my collection!) and simple cooked grains or beans. The chai flavor of Gaia Herb's TurmericBoost pairs well with creamy tahini and tart lemon juice. Tahini is also a great source of protein, calcium, and minerals.

TurmericSpicedTahiniSauceIngredients.jpg
TahiniSauceIngredients.jpg

Ingredients
1 teaspoon Gaia Herbs TurmericBoost Restore
¼ cup tahini
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground turmeric for color (optional)
½ cup water, divided
Fresh mint or basil, chopped (optional)

RoastedSweetPotatoes.jpg

Instructions - and watch VIDEO below!
Whisk together the TurmericBoost, tahini, lemon juice, salt and turmeric in a small bowl. The tahini will thicken. Add the water one tablespoon at a time, until mixture reaches the desired consistency. Sauce will thicken upon standing and after being refrigerated. Thin with more water as needed. Refrigerate for up to four days.

Serving Ideas:
Serve over salads or garam masala roasted sweet potatoes. This sauce is also delicious on garlicky sautéed kale and in quinoa bowls.

Serves 2-4.

TurmericSpicedTahiniDressing.jpg

Props
Small bowl
Whisk/fork
Measuring cups/spoons
Knife
Bowl/plate for veggies or quinoa
Cruet/tiny pitcher for serving dressing

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Nature is Abundant, If You Let Her Be

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Nature is Abundant, If You Let Her Be

There are a few places on earth that are teeming with such abundant life that it overwhelms and astonishes. It's been a long time since I experienced that level of ample life energy. My visit to the Galápagos Islands years ago comes to mind.
 
And then, while I was on break leading teacher training on the Sunshine Coast of Australia, we travelled to Lady Elliot Island in the Great Barrier Reef, and my faith in copious wildlife was restored.
 
In 2016, as a result of rising water temperatures due to climate change, the Great Barrier Reef suffered mass bleaching of coral, and tragically, it is said that two thirds of this extraordinary wonder of the world is now dead. Lady Elliot Island is in the southern part of the reef where water temperatures have not risen quite as high, so we felt extremely lucky to have had the chance to spend time observing the living coral and natural diversity still thriving there.
 
It was nesting season on the island, and every bit of greenery was covered in thousands of busy nesting marine birds like Noddy Terns, Bridled Terns, and Red-Tailed Tropic Birds sitting on their eggs. The island was aflutter with bird calls, swooping wings of nest material being transported through the air, and bird poop...a lot of bird poop!
 
All we had to do was look out our bathroom to see a Noddy Tern on her nest, just 6 inches from our window! They were quite literally everywhere.
 
There was no signal on the island so our iPhones were used solely as cameras to document the wildlife and natural wonder. I couldn’t be happier ditching emails and Instagram for the chance to spend all day watching the birds building their nests and tending to their eggs, spying on the chicks who’d hatched, and walking the island’s shoreline looking at shells and nesting sea turtle tracks. In between we'd jump in the water 3-4 times a day to snorkel in the stunning coral gardens, teeming with every kind of fish, black tipped reef sharks, giant groupers, and mulitple sea turtles every session. On our boat ride, we saw two different stacks of mating sea turtles in less than 15 minutes on the water.

Taro Smith, ever ready with his underwater camera rig, snapped these shots of me in the reef.

Flying with TurtlesLadyElliotAmyIppoliti.jpg
Reef DancerAmyIppoliti.jpg
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The living coral that remains in the Great Barrier Reef is definitely worth fighting for. I feel more called than ever to make the case that we all can do better when it comes to cooling off our planet.
 
The Earth’s atmosphere is really such a thin layer, and human generated greenhouse gases are easily trapped, which warms the planet to dangerous levels. We can do so much to stop producing Co2. Below are some immediate actions you can take!

Please leave more ideas on how we can contribute to global cooling in the comments below so our community can learn from each other!

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Use Your Bike, Public Transport, or Carpool
Instead of your using your car to get around town or commute to work/school, invest in a bicycle, helmet, and a lock and avoid gas emissions. Use the public transportation system in your city and arrange to carpool to work and events rather than bringing your own car.


Unplug Your Gadgets
Are you someone who always leaves your phone charger dangling from the wall? Do you leave your cable box powered on? Or forget to put your computer on sleep mode? Adopting these practices can save you $100 each year on your energy bill and significantly reduce emissions!


Change Your Light Bulbs
Switch all of the lights in your house to compact fluorescent bulbs. One bulb can reduce up to 1,300 pounds of carbon dioxide pollution during its lifetime. If every house in the U.S. made this switch we could reduce the electricity spent on lighting by 50%.


Filter Your Own Water
Packaged plastic bottled water is decimating the planet, particularly the oceans and marine life. Beyond the environmental tragedy of the plastic waste, consider just how far your water was transported before you bought it which burns countless fossil fuels.


Adjust Your Curtains and Thermostat
If you keep your house two degrees warmer in the summer and two degrees cooler in the winter you can save a ton on your energy bills. Always use a programmable thermostat so you’re system is never left on too high or too cold but cycles back to a conservative temperature. Be mindful to keep your curtains open during the day in the winter to let in sunlight, and close them at night to hold in warmth. During the summer, close the curtains during the day to keep out extra sunlight and open them at night to moderate the temperature, or even open them to let in a cool breeze.


Buy Local, Organic Food
Food is transported 1,500 miles on average between the farm and the supermarket and organically grown produce helps make our soil healthy. Healthy soil has been shown to actually sequester carbon. Yes, organic food is more costly, but if enough of us purchase it the prices will come down. Consider eliminating other purchasing habits such as take-out coffee or paper towels, to make room in your budget to support organic farms.


Plant a Tree
One of the most efficient ways you can cut your carbon footprint is to plant a tree. Trees provide shade and oxygen while consuming carbon dioxide. A single young tree absorbs 13 pounds of carbon dioxide each year. That amount will increase to 48 pounds annually as trees grow. Just one 10-year-old tree releases enough oxygen into the air to support two human beings. Better yet, plant a fruit tree to help provide organic food for you and your family.


Cut the Beef and Dairy
It takes a lot of resources to raise cows, particularly if you buy beef from somewhere like Brazil, where it was grazed on land that used to be tropical forest. Deforestation and the methane produced by farm animals is a top contributor to carbon emissions and climate change.

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The Yoga of Living Green: A Story of Hope

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The Yoga of Living Green: A Story of Hope

Scientists have been predicting the perils of humanity’s mark on planet earth for decades. I remember being in the Costa Rican rainforest in 1992 just after the Rio Earth Summit, the first major United Nations conference on the environment of it’s kind.

The town I was in had gotten electricity only 3 years prior, and the roads surrounding it were still unpaved. We were staying with the late River Phoenix and his family and they had just returned from the summit, full of inspiration, but also conviction - that we must do everything in our power to reverse this thing called "global warming". I remember telling River’s mother that I wanted to move to the Amazon to help protect it and she said sternly, “No, Amy, you’re needed at home in the USA.”

As a yogi, living in harmony with nature feels like it’s been part of my DNA, in some ways since before I even stepped on the yoga mat for the first time as a teenager. But with every breath and every pose, practicing yoga reaffirms my interconnection with the natural world and the importance of being a responsible, conscious steward of the earth.

If you’ve practiced yoga, you yourself have likely had a similar experience of interconnection. To put it bluntly - you just give more of a damn after immersing in the study of yoga!

Last week, it was my great pleasure to teach a benefit yoga class for my newest favorite organization, the Rodale Institute. Rodale definitely embodies this caring approach to interconnection, and in fact, sees yet another way for us to solve the climate change crisis through regenerative organic farming.

While I was there, I interviewed Jeff Tkach, Rodale Institute’s chief growth officer and avid yogi. He told me the most heartwarming story about the dairy cows on the Rodale’s farm in Pennsylvania and their neighbors, James and Ida Burkholder, who by going full-on Organic changed their family’s life (and a whole herd of adorable cows) by doing so!

While I am not a dairy eater myself, pasturing animals the old fashioned way can benefit the soil, which is much needed in the journey toward a cooler planet.

I hope this story inspires and gives you as much hope as it gave me:


AMY: Hey Jeff! Tell us about Rodale’s neighbors, the Burkholders and why they started building a new barn on their land.
 
JEFF: The Burkholders are Mennonite dairy farmers who own and live on the land bordering the organic fields and pastures of the Rodale Institute. James was struggling to farm conventionally, and the banks (which technically owned his cows, farmland, and buildings) were pressuring him to increase the size of his herd in order to increase revenues so that he could pay on his loans.

Since James did not have enough land to effectively graze his cows on pasture, he needed to build a second barn so that he could double the size of his herd (the cows would live 24/7 in the barn, eat, sleep, and get milked). This is simply not the way that cows are meant to live!

James’ family has been farming since they emigrated from Switzerland in the 1700s, but when the conventional milk market bottomed out in 2009, James and Ida almost lost everything. “We were in danger of extinction,” James explained. As a small conventional dairy, he said, “It was tough to compete against larger operations.”

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AMY: Rodale eventually proposed a better (organic) solution to the Burkholders that involved a partnership with Rodale. How did that go?

JEFF: We’ve had a long-standing relationship with our neighbors, but given the culture of the Mennonite community, it was not customary for them to build business relationships with people outside of their community. There was of course, much hesitation and reluctance for the family to partner with the Rodale Institute as a result of the pressures from their community, but the Rodale Institute took all of the financial risk out of their transition to organic.
 
James and Ida’s partnership with the Rodale Institute began in 2010, and it’s a simple relationship: the Burkholders get land on which to graze their cows, while the Rodale Institute gets an organic herd to jumpstart its livestock research program and help build healthier soil from the cows being on their land.
 
For James and Ida, the partnership with Rodale ensured that the Burkholders’ farming legacy would endure.
 
 
AMY: Tell us the story of what happened when the cows were finally released! And what was the outcome for the Burkholder’s farm once they went organic?
 
JEFF: Well, we did not know how the cows would react to being put out on pasture after living 24/7 in a barn. But to our surprise, they literally ran (and danced!) their way out of the barn and into the gorgeous green meadow!
 
Now, each day, the cows find their way from the barn out onto the Rodale Institute’s pasture. They do not need to be herded. They simply follow their biological patterns, and return to the barn twice per day to be milked.

In terms of the outcome, financially, the Burkholders are now earning 30%+ more for organic milk which they sell to Organic Valley, a popular independent cooperative of organic farmers that got it's start because they were fed up with the state of American agriculture and the fact that family farms were going extinct.

In addition, the Burkholder's have less expenses (not paying for as much grain and vet bills) and earn more for their end product. There is both an economic and environmental pay off for farmers to put animals on pasture.

In fact, James & Ida have not had a single veterinary bill for their cows since they transitioned to organic (the cows are healthier because they are eating a better diet!). Their cow’s health made them realize that their own family should eat organic to stay healthy as well - so now the family has transitioned as well!

Most livestock animals such as cows are ruminants. Meaning, cows are not meant to eat corn (which most conventional cows are fed). Their stomachs are designed for them to eat grass. And it produces a much higher quality and nutritious milk!
 
Best of all, the Burkholder’s conversion to organic was so successful that other farms in their community also transitioned!

There are also many reasons organic farming and pasture raising animals helps stop harmful climate change. When you put animals on pasture, they help to regenerate the soil (thus, storing and sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere and into the soil where it belongs!).
 
AMY: That is the best! Tell us - what can yoga students, in your opinion, do to help support organic farming besides the obvious (buy organic!)?
 

JEFF:
Absolutely! Here’s a list of things yogis can do to help:

  • We need for consumers to demand organic! The more we demand organic items at the grocery store and restaurants we frequent, the more farmers will be incentivized to transition due to demand.
  • Get Informed. People need to become more attuned to where their food comes from, and how it was produced. We need to become more intimately connected with “the source” of our food. Get to know your farmers. Shop at your local farmer’s market, and support the artisans in your community who are producing such beautiful food. The best organic food does not come from the grocery store. It comes from the small farms that surround your community!
  • Donate! Make a donation to the Rodale Institute! They first coined the word "organic" and through their research and educational programs give farmers the tools and knowledge to increase soil health, crop quality and yields.
  • Share! We need the yoga community to influence the world at large. We are already beacons for health. People look to us as yogi’s to be role models for health. We need to educate others about the benefits of going organic. Some ideas:
    • Write blogs.
    • If you teach yoga, teach a class with the theme of “organic”, regeneration, and the importance of making conscious choices.
    • Post your colorful farm hauls on social media.

 

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Beware of Relationship Power Abuse, and How Yoga Can Help You Spot It

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Beware of Relationship Power Abuse, and How Yoga Can Help You Spot It

Practicing and studying yoga, especially within community, has helped me hone a skill we all need: Discernment in relationships.

Power differentials abound in all kind of relationships - intimate partnerships, workplace, teacher-student relationships and more.

A good leader or partner knows how precious relationships are and respects the sacredness of their bonds with others.

And yet, far too often, power differentials lead to power abuse.

This can happen in a variety of ways, such as taking advantage of another, gaining access to someone's confidential information and distributing it, or simply manipulating someone with some kind of punishment if they don't comply.

Yoga can help you spot power abuse in two ways:

  1. The practice increases self-esteem, and as such you will have a higher regard for yourself and be less likely to get entangled in an abusive relationship.
  2. It hones your sensitivity and intuition. This will help you to be able to read the signs of a power dynamic gone bad.

Still, it's can be helpful to spell it out.

Here's how you know if someone's use of power is abusive:

  • What they say to you or others creates separation and division.
  • When they tell you what you need, instead of asking you what you want or need.
  • When they no longer appreciate other people’s experiences just because their experience is different.
  • When they say something like, “That has nothing to do with me” instead of owning their part.

How do you know if someone’s use of power demonstrates good leadership? The difference is clear:

  • What they say to you or others connects people rather than divides them.
  • They care about your needs and wants.
  • They own and take responsibility for their failings and mistakes.
  • They never take their power for granted and seek counsel from their peers.
  • They know that just because they are in a role of leadership does not grant them "a pass" do unethical or unlawful things.

If yoga has taught me anything it's taught be to befriend, follow, and vote for leaders who are conscious and awake in how they use their power.

It's time to let your yoga help get your intuition muscle in shape! No one needs to tolerate bullies or those who would abuse their power. Life is too short to let them have that power!

Trust that the more time you invest on your mat, becoming intimate with your breath and deeply embodied from the practice, your innermost knowing and ability to discern will come to the surface when you're off your mat.

We can surround ourselves (and this world) with great leaders by setting boundaries with bullies, and welcoming the company of those who know how to harness power well.

 

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DIY Maca Superfood Chocolate Cups!

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DIY Maca Superfood Chocolate Cups!

Last month I posted a Superfruit Fizz recipe that I concocted in my kitchen with the help of the women of Gaia Herbs. Now we are back at it for round two with Stepfanie Romine, recent co-author of The No Meat Athlete Cookbook and is one of the most fun and innovative vegan chefs I've met!

This time we made….CHOCOLATE!

Specifically, maca superfood chocolate cups. These mildly sweet bites are packed with healthy fats to satisfy your appetite as well as your sweet tooth. Maca lends a boost of energy for the perfect afternoon pick-me-up.

After making these with Stepfanie, I have made them a number of times for friends and students, and they have been a massive hit!

Part of what makes these so excellent is not just how they taste, but how totally easy they are to make.

Here’s the recipe and instructions:

Ingredients:

  • 1/4 cup creamy, unsalted nut butter
  • 1/4 cup unrefined coconut oil, melted
  • 2-3 tablespoons unsweetened dark cocoa powder
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup, plus more if desired (optional, or another sweetener)
  • 3 tablespoons Gaia Herbs MacaBoost Cacao-Ginger or Gaia Herbs Organic Maca Powder

Garnishes: Goji berries, hemp seeds, chopped nuts, chopped dried fruit, cinnamon, cayenne, flaky sea salt, puffed quinoa

Directions - And see VIDEO below:

  1. Use a fork or a whisk to combine the nut butter and coconut oil in a small bowl.
  2. Once combined, whisk in the cocoa powder, maple syrup and MacaBoost or Maca Powder.
  3. Place a silicone candy mold on a tray or baking sheet, or line a small, shallow dish with parchment paper.
  4. Carefully pour the mixture into the molds, leaving a bit of room at the top, or pour into the prepared dish. Garnish as desired.
  5. Freeze or refrigerate until firm, then pop out of the candy molds or slice into at least nine pieces.
  6. Store in the freezer or refrigerator for up to one month in a sealed container.

These can be eaten immediately out of the fridge or freezer. Due to the coconut oil, which melts at room temperature, these melt slightly when left out.

Serves 9-12.

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Superfruit Fizz

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Superfruit Fizz

What do you do when the women of Gaia Herbs come over to your house to play?
 
Concoct crazy things in the kitchen, obvi!
 
It was an honor to have Stepfanie Romine, a writer and editor who specializes in food, natural health, and wellness in our home. She guided me through her latest recipes using some of my favorite supplements from Gaia Herbs. Stepfanie recently co-authored The No Meat Athlete Cookbook and is one of the most creative vegan chefs I've met!
 
Just in time for summer, Stepfanie tested out my mixology skills with this mocktail that she calls “Superfruit Fizz.”
 
This superfruit drink is sparkling and delightfully refreshing, bit too sweet, and it offers immune support and antioxidants — plus plenty of vitamin C! It’s key ingredients are Gaia Herb’s Black Elderberry Syrup which sweetly balances the mouth-puckering tang of their Hibiscus Tea mixed with pomegranate juice.

Here's how you do it!
 
Ingredients
1 cup Gaia Herbs Organic Hibiscus Herbal Tea, cool
1/2 cup pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon Gaia Herbs Black Elderberry Syrup
1 dropperful Gaia Herbs Organic Ginger Root Liquid Herbal Extract
Sparkling water - I suggest Pellegrino which is naturally carbonated in part
Ice

Kitchen Tools Needed
Glass measuring cup
Whisk/fork
Pitcher or serving jar
Measuring spoons

Directions (see video below for a walk through!)

  1. Brew one bag of Gaia Herbs Hibiscus Tea in a cup of cold water for 20-30 minutes or longer (no need to boil!)
  2. Pour the tea into a measuring cup with a pouring spout.
  3. Add the pomegranate and lime juices.
  4. Whisk in the Black Elderberry Syrup and the Ginger Extract.
  5. Fill a large glass (or two smaller glasses) halfway with ice, if desired.
  6. Pour in the tea mixture, then top off the glass with the sparkling water for a unique "ombre" effect.
  7. Serve immediately. Serves 1 or 2. 

Let us know what you think in the comments below!

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Podcast: Saving the World with Yoga and Activism

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Podcast: Saving the World with Yoga and Activism

Podcasts have become so popular in the last year!

I hadn't been asked to be interviewed for a Podcast since 2011 and then out of the blue, last year I was suddenly on 5 or 6 different podcasts!

The latest interview was with Wild Ideas Worth Living, a podcast devoted to exploring what's possible when you have a wild idea and get up the guts to act on it despite self doubt, saboteurs, or the urge to talk yourself out of it! 

It was an honor to be considered someone who had done just that in life as a traveling yoga teacher.

Here are some of the things I get into in this nitty gritty discussion with Shelby Stanger.

  • What kind of food you eat at an Ayurvedic retreat.
  • The type of yoga workshop that I was teaching in Southeast Asia.
  • Tantric yoga doesn’t always have to do with sex.
  • How I got into yoga at a very young age.
  • Why I look so much younger than I am! LOL! Get my secrets.
  • How to make a living by following your passion.
  • The challenges of being a yoga teacher.
  • Why yoga should not be free.
  • The danger of over-promising.
  • Why I don’t separate politics and yoga
  • Activism + yoga = my passion.
  • How I trained to do yoga with marine animals.
  • How yoga teaches perseverance physically and mentally.
  • How I use meditation and visualization.
  • You become the company you keep.
  • There are no shortcuts.
  • It’s time to find alternative sources of energy!

Listen to the Podcast!

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Self Care Like a Movie Star: Our Yoga Retreat to Sukhavati Bali

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Self Care Like a Movie Star: Our Yoga Retreat to Sukhavati Bali

Self Care Like a Movie Star: Our Yoga Retreat to Sukhavati Bali

By Amy Ippoliti and Sarah Diedrick

In the midst of a heavy teaching schedule through Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia this past month, we found ourselves seeking out tropical rest spots in between workshops to kill time and rejuvenate.

Before our final stop in Jakarta, Bali seemed like the obvious choice for a pause but there are so many choices, we were a bit overwhelmed. Yeah, first world problems, we know.

Thankfully we chose Sukhavati Bali, a little known sanctuary tucked into the jungle along a river just 30 minutes inland from Seminyak Beach.

Spirit
You can immediately sense the distinct spirit of Sukhavati right as you arrive on the grounds. We were greeted with statues of Hindu deities, orchids, and the intoxicating smell of plumeria flowers on the leis placed over our heads. There is incense burning continuously around the property and occasionally you’ll catch its smell or see the alluring smoke weaving its way through the air. 

This is just the start of how inviting and breathtaking the experience at Sukhavati is. Our villa was gorgeous and even had an outdoor bathroom! Though, you can choose to stay in a villa with the bathroom inside, if that’s more your thing. We really enjoyed showering outside surrounded by bird songs and sunshine - it felt like bathing under a waterfall.

Daily Pampering
And if it couldn’t get more luxurious than that, we had a variety of Ayurvedic treatments every day. Yes, you heard that correctly. Every day. On the daily menu was a foot bath and neck, shoulders, scalp massage, followed by a four-hands Abhyanga full body massage. The treatment ended with Shirodhara - a form of relaxation therapy that involves pouring a steady stream of warm oil over the forehead for some time to stimulate the third eye point. It was not only totally relaxing but mentally clarifying as well. But wait, we’re not done yet. 

Then, after eating a sublimely delicious and nourishing meal (who knew gourmet Ayurvedic food could be this good?) with wonderful people, a team arrives at your villa to give you your daily facial with simultaneous foot massage...on your bed!

Being pampered daily like this upleveled our entire idea of self-care. There has to be a way to keep this up because we’ve never felt so much vitality and had such glowing skin!Daily yoga and meditation classes are also part of the package as well as a consult with the Ayurvedic doctor on staff.

The People!
What made the experience particularly lovely were the people going through the program. Each day we shared our meals and instantly bonded, having immediately open, deep conversations about our lives, spirituality, yoga philosophy and more.

The level of depth and closeness we were able to achieve so immediately was quite different than your average hotel stay - that’s for sure. We asked the group why that was and they told us that the energy of openness was already present when they arrived and just kept getting passed on to the the newer guests - almost like an ever-living energy that lives at Sukhavati!

The Consciousness
Throughout Asia, we had come to lament how much plastic we found in the ocean as well as the many plastic water bottles offered to us in the hotels and Airbnbs we stayed in. 

Roughly 8 million tons of plastic is dumped into the planet's oceans yearly, and according to a new study, the majority of this waste comes from just five countries: Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, China, and Vietnam. These five countries are responsible for up to 60 percent of the total plastic entering our oceans, according to Stemming the Tide.

Sukhavati has taken powerful steps to turn this tide and eliminate plastic waste. All plastic bottles on the property have been replaced with water coolers in each room as well a titanium reusable water bottles provided for their guests. Plastic straws have been replaced with reusable glass straws. Training and implementation of a proper waste disposal and recycling system has been established as well as the use of composting. We have started seeking out the hotels and retreat centers that have this level of awareness - because it feels good to stay in a place that cares -  and Sukhavati was no exception.

The Value
All of this all-inclusive awesomeness comes at a great value as well! For the price you’d pay at a high end resort to go to their spa, eat at the restaurant you'd end up spending just as much or more but with a fourth of the spa treatments. It was truly a phenomenal value!

Yoga Retreats
If you're a yoga teacher and you’re looking for an intimate location to bring your group, Sukhavati Bali can hold 12-13 students who can go through the program and take your yoga classes.

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Don't Go Back to Sleep!

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Don't Go Back to Sleep!

“The breezes at dawn have secrets to tell you
Don't go back to sleep!
You must ask for what you really want.
Don't go back to sleep!
People are going back and forth
across the doorsill where the two worlds touch,
The door is round and open
Don't go back to sleep!”
― Jalaluddin Rumi


It's been a month since the United States got a new president. On the very first day of his term, millions of people all over the world marched to stand up for Mother Earth, civil rights, and democracy itself.

People woke up.

Here we are one month later - after what John Oliver called 412 years - and I feel myself slowly acclimating and growing accustomed to the daily dramas - the very thing I don't want to happen. (Not to worry - I am staying awake!).

We’ve been faced with an onslaught of jaw dropping headlines on a daily basis and yet we all have big lives to lead.

A friend recently said, “Remember when we were just exhausted from our own lives? Now we have to save the country?”

When life is full, it's far too easy to get used to shocking, breaking news than it is to stop everything, get outraged, and take action.

If you practice yoga it’s tempting to tune out, bury your head in the sand and be a unicorn*.

But…

I am here to beg you.
STAY AWAKE.
Take breaks, but don't go back to sleep!

Anne Frank was real. Please Google her.
Apartheid was real. Please look that up.
Fascism is real. Please read 1984.
Oppressive life inside countries like North Korea is real. Please Google it.

If you’ve read history, you know how very lucky we are to have our freedom and how quickly that freedom can be taken away. You and I both know that life is way too short to live even a second without freedom.

This administration has demonstrated that they will discredit the media and the judicial system to gain more power. The executive branch is slowly being filled with grossly unqualified cabinet members who prefer big oil money over the health of the planet. It’s staff is already infighting, resigning, and lying to the American people repeatedly.

My friend Waylon Lewis recently said it perfectly on Instagram, "Give us a government by, of and for the people—let’s end gerrymandering, conflicts of interest, corruption, lying, support of fake news, gas lighting about fake news, blaming “other” whether immigrants or Hillary, and blatant partisanship over true patriotism."

When conservative, Republican Senator, John McCain says,

"If you want to preserve -- I'm very serious now -- if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That's how dictators get started."

you know it’s a big deal.

(Though we wish his actions matched his words in the Senate...but that's another matter).

This is not about the man who took office and the big ugly election that divided us.

This is about preserving our democracy and our freedom, plain and simple.

THAT is what we must unify behind, regardless of who you voted for.

Don’t go back to sleep!


* On being a unicorn (and no offense to unicorns at all!)...
I’ve been told by many to stop posting about politics on my social accounts because yoga should be an "escape" from the daily dramas. They tell me it should be a respite from the politics and stresses of life.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Why do people feel that this practice should be an escape?
Well, yoga today is largely done in the west as a physical activity that makes us sweat, relaxes, and soothes, rather than a devotional practice that does all that, AND connects us to our deepest self and the world around us.
The kind of yoga I learned when I started this practice 31 years ago (and the yoga that most of my peers are teaching) is not escapist in the slightest.
Yoga is rooted in a philosophical foundation based on the ethical precepts of the Yamas and Niyamas which give the yogi extensive guidelines for how to conduct themselves in society as ethical, conscious, fair, kind, and connected beings.
We are each other’s keepers, we are all we’ve got. And so the Yamas and Niyamas are meant to help us create a society that protects everyone’s innate freedom (svantantrya).
Yoga itself means “union”, “to yoke”, “to connect”, “to engage”.
Therefore if someone is serious about practicing and learning yoga, they wouldn’t do yoga to escape the world, or worse, to escape themselves, they would courageously step onto their mat and do the work of self inquiry and connection.
 
 
 

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Yoga: Not for the Faint of Heart

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Yoga: Not for the Faint of Heart

Swimming in 31 years of notebooks from my studies of yoga. (And there are a handful missing in this picture!) 📙📘📖📕📗📓📒

In this age of social media, sweaty yoga workouts, and quick rises to fame in the yoga world, people forget that studying yoga is physical, yes, but it's also academic and it takes TIME.

There is an infinite body of knowledge to tap - so much to learn, and so much to know. No one person could ever imbibe it all!

Studying yoga was never meant to be easy. It takes perseverance, dedication, and devotion. There is no such thing as overnight success yet the benefits are worth your efforts tenfold! 

Cheers to your studies!

AmyIppolitiYogaNotebooks

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A Yoga Practice for the Greater Good

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A Yoga Practice for the Greater Good

A Yoga Practice for the Greater Good

The aftermath of the election in the United States has reminded me of one thing:

We will never be free, we will never be happy, we will never be at peace until we start making decisions with the greater good in mind rather than our own self interest.

Although I have always given back and have chosen a life of service, earlier this week, for the first time as I was blowing out my birthday candle, I realized that I’ve always made birthday wishes for me or my family but never for anything beyond that.

It’s natural to make selfish birthday wishes - it makes sense - if I’m happy, I’ll be able to help others be happy too.

But yesterday, I consciously made a wish on my candle for the planet.

Self interest is a good thing, but far too often we miss the other end of that spectrum. If we don’t take care of each other and make choices less personal all the time, we’re going to end up miserable and divided. 

Uhhhh, kind of like the USA right now.

In one of the rare moments when Charlie Chaplin actually spoke, he gave a riveting speech in the movie, The Dictator, saying, “We want to live by each other’s happiness not by each other’s misery.”

For example, as we prepare for the next four years ahead, what is most crucial is that we protect mother earth. Her interest is your interest - for no other individual interests will help if the world is burning up, the seas are rising, and the earth is shaking.

Therefore….

To help you move in the world with a more altruistic heart, I’ve designed a contemplation that can be applied as you do your yoga practice.  This is best done as a home yoga practice with no outside guidance.

The aim will be to cultivate your intuition and listen to your body as a microcosm rather than focusing on opening different body parts (such as hips, or shoulders). Then you will gain a deeper appreciation for your body as a whole vs. its individual parts.

If you can get good at that on the mat, then you will get better at choosing the greater good off the mat when it matters most!

Here are the guidelines:

  1. Start in a neutral pose like tadasana or child’s pose
  2. Tune in to the sensations in the whole of your body and notice how the different parts relate to each other up and down the kinetic chain.
  3. Ask for Divine guidance to show you the most optimal ways to move and which poses to practice  that would be most enhancing and healing for your body whole.
  4. Rather than sticking to a set list of poses, choosing an area of the body to focus on, or going for an apex pose, let yourself move -  guided solely by your intuition as it shows you what is best for the whole of your body, rather than just it’s parts.
  5. Do your practice for as long as your body seems to need it.

After honoring your body in this way, notice the following as you move through your day: 

  • Is it easier to be more giving to others?
  • Do you find yourself sacrificing your own pleasures or possessions to help make someone else’s life more abundant?
  • Are you more in tune with anticipating the needs of your loved ones and able to put their needs before your own?
  • Despite the chance to make more money or spend more money, are your financial choices informed by what is best for all beings and the planet?

The sooner we start making decisions and behave without just ourselves in mind, the better life is going to be for everybody, including ourselves.

Enjoy these quotes about the common good:

“No decisions should ever be made without asking the question, is this for the common good?”
- Michael Moore
“For too long in this society, we have celebrated unrestrained individualism over common community. For too long as a nation, we have been lulled by the anthem of self-interest. For a decade, led by Ronald Reagan, self-aggrandizement has been the full-throated cry of this society: "I've got mine, so why don't you get yours" and "What's in it for me?”
- Joe Biden
"A nation is formed by the willingness of each of us to share in the responsibility for upholding the common good."
- Barbara Jordan

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The Real Truth About Saddle Bags

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The Real Truth About Saddle Bags

Have you ever caught a glimpse of your backside in the mirror and cursed the dreaded “saddle bags” hanging just below and to the side of your buttocks and subsequently been plagued with negative self-talk?

Did you suddenly feel totally out of shape, fat, and flabby?

First of all, let’s get one thing straight. Saddle bags or not, you are beautiful. And your yoga practice is here to support you in a world of body positivity.

That said, I am not writing this to address body image, but rather the physiological and therapeutic aspects of the saddle bag phenomenon.

Here’s the thing: Your saddle bags may may not actually be a sign of fat or excess weight!

For the last century, there’s been a big trend toward flattening the lumbar spine to help engage the core, create length, and prevent “sway back”.

This action had consequences. In the 1930’s they invented suspenders. Why? Because from tucking under so much, no one had butts anymore to hold their pants up.

The epidemic lasted long into the 70’s and 80’s. Especially in the height of the Jane Fonda Workout era. Can you just see it and hear it? You on your back with your tush in the air squeezing your glutes rhythmically up to the sky in a bridge pose with the Jackson 5 crooning, “Can you feel it?”

But you were born with a natural lumbar curve! All that flattening is not only causing chronic and acute lower back problems all over the world, but….wait for it….it may be the cause of saddle bags!

When you go through life with your butt tucked under, your glutes and buttocks literally begin to atrophy and that atrophied flesh has nowhere to go but down and out. Saddle bags are not caused by fat (though they may contain adipose tissue, of course). Saddle bags are a sign of atrophied buttocks settling on your outer thighs!

Sure, a higher percentage of body fat is going to create larger saddle bags, but before you start unnecessarily worrying about your weight, realize that gravity and atrophy are at play here and it may take some time to regain strength in the glutes and lower back so this flesh can rearrange itself more optimally.

In other words, we can stop obsessing about how we look and start focusing on getting your lumbar curve back so that your lower back will be healthy, and your glutes will be strong, long into your older years!

This isn’t a question of body fat, it’s a question of optimal health!

So what can you do specifically to get your lumbar curve back, regain the muscle tone of your glutes, and lose the saddle bags? Practice yoga with good alignment!

Follow these steps in every yoga pose:

  1. Get Grounded
    Stand in tadasana (mountain pose) with your feet parallel. Settle the four corners of your feet into the ground beneath you and feel your connection to the earth.
     
  2. Be Strong
    Tone your legs from feet to hips and squeeze your thighs toward one another.
     
  3. Move your Thighs Back
    Keeping the legs toned, pick your right foot, turn your whole leg in and place the foot back down on the ground parallel - do the same for your left. Then move your thighs into the back plane of your body and your chest slightly forward to counter balance. Feel your natural lumbar curve deepen and your sit bones widen. In addition, feel the tone in your glutes and lower back muscles.

  4. Draw Your Tailbone Down
    So that you don’t look like a duck, keep your thighs in the back plane, but draw your buttock flesh downward, lifting your pubic bone up toward your navel to lengthen your natural lumbar curve subtly, but not overly flatten it.
     
  5. Extend out
    From your hips, extend down through the bones of your legs like you’re getting taller and expand up through your spine, crown and arms energetically, creating space in all the joints.

Give it a try and tell me what you think in the comments below!

 

 

 

 

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Why I Wrote The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga

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Why I Wrote The Art and Business of Teaching Yoga

art_and_business_3d.jpg

In 1999 Molly Fox, a prominent fitness and yoga teacher invited me to co-lead my very first yoga teacher training in Brooklyn, NY. I was a new teacher, but Molly somehow had faith in me and took me on to help lead her group. In the years that followed I met a dear student, Anne Libby, who took part in one of my  trainings.  She was well versed in business and we often mused about the sometimes flakey and unprofessional reputation of yoga teachers, and other yoga world issues.

We were trying to figure out why Anne and her fellow graduates were having such a hard time finding time slots to teach yoga.  I shared that shortly after I started teaching, I had to turn down offers – so, we wondered, why was it that in only 3 years time it had become so challenging for new teachers?

Anne astutely pointed out that this new problem was because of a dearth of yoga teachers in the city caused by the increased popularity of yoga teacher trainings.

It never occurred to me that I and countless other trainers were contributing to the overall ecology of New York yoga by effectively “birthing” new teachers into the community through our trainings.

Instinctively, I had already stopped offering large teacher trainings in favor of Immersions, and eventually began offering teacher training in much smaller groups. And yet, in that moment sitting with Anne, I knew that I needed to write a book that would help yoga teachers thrive in a crowded market and help them to take the yoga profession more seriously.

Part of writing this book was guilt, since I seemed to be in the right place at the right time, and as a result, never had a tough time finding work. But my heart broke for my students when they graduated and couldn’t make ends meet!

And even though I do not have kids of my own, the teachers I’ve trained have always been my hatch, so to speak, and therefore, like a mother, I felt responsible and protective. So I went about studying business and marketing as diligently as I had studied yoga philosophy and applied it to my own career, until one day I felt ready to share what I’d integrated with others.

With the expertise and help of my partner, Taro Smith, PhD, I shared this body of knowledge as an online course in 2010, called 90 Minutes to Change the World, which is still available today.

The course became a game changer for yoga teachers as it turned out! Our graduates have gone on to grow their classes by 42%, publish books, teach at major events, and increase their earnings dramatically.

It was the course that became the fodder for the book, and the rest is history!

If you teach yoga or are thinking about teaching yoga, we hope this book helps nourish your career, and makes it possible for you to serve and give back wholeheartedly to others through yoga.

To get a copy you can now order on Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble!

Q & A about the Book

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What Your Inner Child Can Teach You About Back Fat

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What Your Inner Child Can Teach You About Back Fat

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Ever catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror or in a photo and you see “it”? Back fat.

And then you start battling those years of subliminal messaging and airbrushed magazine photos in your head.

Upon seeing the rolls, you may have worked yourself into a frenzy of limiting, non-supportive thoughts, as we are taught to do in our culture.

You are gorgeous. I want you to know that, and I hope that your yoga practice will always support you in creating your world of body positivity.

However, my focus in writing this isn’t really about addressing body image, but rather the physiological and therapeutic aspects of the “back fat” phenomenon.

So here’s my take: your back fat may actually not be back fat.

As we age our rib cage sinks with gravity, nearing closer to the hip bones. And as a result, we lose a lot of length in our lateral or side bodies, creating the appearance of fat when in actuality, it’s folds of skin that don't know where to go anymore.

In addition, the most mobile part of the spine is located between the bottom ribs and the hips. Because this part of the spine is not hindered by the pelvis or the rib cage it is easy to jam the front ribs forward, collapsing this part of the spine (a.k.a.,your mid section or waistline). This also contributes to the folds of skin on our backs.

So you think you have back fat? You may, and that in and of itself is no big thing. Instead, ask yourself, “How long is my side body? Is my rib cage sitting on my freaking pelvis? And what might that be doing to my posture, my organs, and my respiratory system?”

In other words, we can stop obsessing about how we look and start focusing on freeing up our side body in order to breathe easier and more efficiently, make more space for our organs, and improve our orthopedic longevity!

This isn’t a question of body fat, it’s a question of optimal health!

Sure, a higher percentage of body fat is going to create a larger fold, but before you start looking at your rolls and unnecessarily worrying about your weight, realize that gravity is at play here and that you can hold your ribs for optimal alignment, minimizing the appearance of that supposed "back fat".

Of course, one could reduce body fat percentage and that will help decrease the size of the folds. However, until you embrace these folds as a postural issue, they will stay around until you start doing one simple posture modification.

I call it: “Get bright like a toddler”.  And it means:

  1. Stand up tall.
  2. Lengthen your sides starting from the top of your hips up to your armpits until your collar bones are square with the base of your neck. Do this without shrugging your shoulders up toward your ears, just lift from within.
  3. Inflate your mid-section and lift your back ribs up away from your hips.
  4. Finally, pull your shoulders back (or in anatomical terms, pull the head of the humerus ie. the ball-like head of the arm bone that goes into the shoulder socket) back.

Most fitness experts try to target "back fat" by prescribing back extension exercises such as “superman” where you lay on your stomach on the floor or on a fit ball and lift everything off the floor or ball, thinking this will “tone” the back. Which it will, but this does not address sinking rib cage syndrome or posture problems.

If you look at the picture of the toddler below, you’ll see that her whole torso is bright with breath and energy, her armpits are elevated, and her shoulders are not pulled “down away from her ears”. If anything the head of her arm bones and collar bones are elevated.

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And here is the rear view on another little tyke. Notice, no skin folds on his back. The head of his arm bones are square with the base of his neck and from hips to armpits, he has nice length in his side body. His midsection is also full and bright.

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I figure if babies and toddlers hold themselves like this so recently out of the womb, they've got something to teach us! When I used to take my baby sister to the playground, I observed that the children 3 and under had this bright posture. It's universal. But by ages 4 and up, their posture started to look more like the grown ups. Hit the playground and see for yourself!

In contrast to the toddlers, the photo of myself below is what I call “dull-like-an-exhausted-adult”.  You can't see my face, but I'm hamming it up for the camera and exaggerating the undesirable posture in my body for you.

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Notice the head of my arm bones and collar bones drop well below the base of my neck as indicated by the horizontal line and arrows.  My side body (distance between my hips and my armpits) is shortened, and energetically my torso is listing downward with little life or energy in it.

Even without this being a profile shot - you might be able to see that my mid section is collapsed. And not surprisingly, my back skin folds are visible.

It would take just those four little postural changes to even out the folds, open up the breath, protect my back, and make more space for my organs. In this photo you can see the transformation when I do that:

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Here my side body is lengthened from hips to arm pits as indicated by the arrows, my collar bones are square across with the base of my neck (indicated by the horizontal line), the head of my arm bones are back, and my mid section is full, with front ribs down. Energetically the whole torso is lit up. Skin folds? They vanished.

Side benefit! Your rhomboids, the muscles between your shoulder blades and spine (that help hold your shoulder blades flat on your back), get very strong when you do this. They might be fatigued at first and you may feel a bit stiff, however as you hold your posture this way more and more, your rhomboids will get in shape and the road to permanently awesome posture begins.

Especially as we clock more years on this planet, the “dull-like-an-exhausted-adult” is an easy posture to find yourself in, but I submit, if you can find the inner toddler inside you, your (supposed) “back fat” will go buh-bye and your body systems will thank you!

Give it a try and tell me what you think in the comments below!

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Are You Creating your New Year or is it Creating Itself?

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Are You Creating your New Year or is it Creating Itself?

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Have you ever noticed that if you start your morning centered with a clear intention that your entire day flows better and feels more balanced? This January, I recommitted to my morning centering ritual and it’s been everything.

After all, your mornings set the tone for your days and your days set the tone for your life.

Think about how much better it would be to flow through each day in a way that’s balanced and harmonious rather than falling victim to the old cliche of what “side of the bed you rolled out on.”

And the good news is that this morning ritual doesn’t have to be a burden - it is downright interesting!

It’s quite incredible that something with such a minimal time commitment (it need not be more than 6 minutes, but of course it can be longer if you like) yields a payoff that can literally change your entire life.

Here is how the ritual works:

The Bare Minimum: Meditate for 6-10 minutes As soon as you wake, do what you’ve got to do in the bathroom, and then immediately sit on your meditation cushion or blanket with your smart phone (still in airplane mode… key maneuver!) or a timer set to 6 minutes.

You can even ask Siri to set a timer and she’ll do it for you!

There are also apps that will sound a meditation bell or a chime when the time is up. One of my favorites is the Enso app. This screenshot shows you how easy it is to drag the timers around.  Enso also stores your progress day-by-day, so you can track how many minutes you've meditated over time.

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Getting still for these few moments and watching your breath is a little miracle.

So many of us are plugged into our mobile devices and computers all day but when you meditate you open your mind to the quiet of spirit and you can unleash the floodgates of your insight and potential.

It has only been during my meditation practice that creative ideas flow toward me. It's almost as if the ideas are saying, "Where have you been all day on that smartphone? We have been waiting to come in, but your door was locked!" (Thank you Elizabeth Gilbert for so skillfully articulating this phenomenon for us).

Optional Add-ons to the Bare Minimum There are three little activities I like to add on to the bare minimum ritual either before or after the meditation. Sometimes I will add on just one, sometimes all three. Do these when you want to boost the direction of your life, if you are on a major mission to achieve a goal, or if you are feeling overwhelmed or unsure in life.

  1. Celebrate & Write Down Your Accomplishments In a special journal, write down your recent accomplishments, big and small. This can include simple things like cooking healthy food, being kind to others, or having movie night with your cat, to big things like landing a new job or being interviewed by Oprah. We often dwell on our failures, while forgetting to celebrate our wins, which creates this false illusion that our life is not going as we want it to. The process of recognizing and writing our accomplishments down reminds us of the good we are already doing and helps to keep us on an upswing.
  2. Express Gratitude Write 5 things you are grateful for in a journal or use another of my favorites apps, the Gratitude! App, to record what and whom you appreciate. Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you already know how effective it is to have a gratitude practice in terms of keeping you positive and plugged into the spirit of abundance. The morning is the perfect time to jot down these thoughts.
  3. Visualization Invest 3-5 minutes visualizing the specific goals and dreams you are working to manifest. See yourself enjoying the process of accomplishing each goal. Imagine that your goal has already been realized, and feel the emotions you’ll be feeling at that time. Visualize the specifics - who’s with you, where are you, what are you doing? The nice thing about visualization is that if you’ve only got 6 minutes to dedicate to your morning ritual - but you’re hell bent on achieving these goals - you can combine the visualization piece with your 6 minute meditation. However if you can, it’s ideal to give more time to each.

For an idea of how these add-ons work, this class on YogaGlo touches on these elements.

A word about kids being in the picture....(skip ahead if you don't have any) Now, I’m guessing if you are a parent reading this, you might be doubtful that you’d ever be able to get 6 minutes to yourself in the morning when your kids are up at the crack of dawn needing your attention.

We’ve all heard of those uber devoted yogis who awake before their kids at 4am to do their practice. Please do not feel guilty if that is not your jam!

It’s possible to get those 6 minutes or more in each day, even with your kids already out of bed. It involves asking them for help and providing a bit of structure around your family’s morning routine. Many children actually thrive off of having structure, even if they resist you at first.

Let your kids know that you will be meditating each morning so they know the plan (attach a specific time to it if you feel it will help). Tell your babes why this time is important for your health and your sanity, and explain how it will benefit them when you can show up for them with more peace and clarity.

Of course this depends on how old your children are and how independent they might be at this stage in their lives… but you could establish some simple boundaries by asking them to wake up and take care of their own morning ritual while mommy and/or daddy are meditating - as a side note, this also works if you need to sleep in or take a shower!

Post a simple schedule or checklist in a place they can see, so it’s easy for them to remember the things they need to do in the morning.

Their ritual might include going potty, brushing their teeth, getting dressed, brushing their hair, getting their things ready for school or reading a book before breakfast.

You might be interested in getting them involved with the meditation. Meditating is great for kids! Invite them to sit with you and be clear in letting them know that when they feel done, they should walk away quietly and not disturb you.

There is no right or wrong way to do this, especially when kids are involved, but rest assured, no matter how you do it, you’ll be raising more conscious, independent, peaceful, happy human beings!

Take Action Now Listen, I know you’ve read blogs like this before and it seems all well and good, but then you close your browser and go back to the daily grind.

So here’s how you can take action right now to get these 6 minutes on your radar…

Make yourself a note or add a task to your to-do list right NOW to do the following:

  • Tonight before you go to bed set up the space where you’d like to meditate. It could be right by your bedside, in the corner of your bedroom, or in a separate room all together.
  • Put down something soft to sit on.
  • If possible, place a small table or box low to the ground where you can display items that are sacred to you such as crystals, items you’ve found in nature, candles, flowers, photos of ancestors & loved ones, quotes, etc… Place any objects in this space that remind you of your purpose or the people and places you love. This will touch your soul each morning when you sit. Store your pen and journals here.

When you wake in the morning, this little slice of heaven will be waiting for you.

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Remember, it’s only 6 minutes.

Add the other 3 rituals in if they are fun and interesting for you and seem to be changing your outlook during the day. And do it because you enjoy the ritual, not ever because you “should” be doing more to better yourself. Start small and savor the stillness.

You’ve got this. Happy New Year!

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