With tapas, the Yogic practice of discipline, you can experience deep change in your life.
The word discipline might not sound like a lot of fun, but if you think of it as a daily commitment to honor your desire to live a fulfilling life then you can see how discipline could become your greatest ally.
Do you have a regular Yoga and Ayurveda practice? Semi-regular? Regularly irregular? Maybe you’re like many folks out there - you go through phases of practicing consistently and then somehow it falls off.
Joint health is an important part of your ability to move freely and enjoy life. When prana is absent in your joints, you may feel pain or discomfort, or experience limited mobility.
This short sequence, called Namaste to the Joints, is designed to bring prana to these places where bones intersect and move each joint in its optimum range of motion. You can do most of these exercises in a chair, making this a wonderful sequence to bring to the office or practice while traveling on an airplane.
Watch the video below to say "namaste" to your joints:
BY MYRA LEWIN
Go to your kitchen and open your pantry. Look inside your fridge and cupboards and everywhere else you store food. What you’ll likely find is enough food to last you for several months, perhaps even years.
Most of us who have access to computers or smartphones that allow us to read posts like this are not used to experiencing starvation. Yet the concept of being hungry brings up deep fear among many of my clients and students.
This trend is illustrated by a client I have been working with for several years. She had dealt with severe blood sugar fluctuations for most of her life. When she became hungry, she would feel dizzy and she feared she would pass out, though she never actually had. As a result, she had developed a tremendous fear of hunger. When I met her, she was eating about six times a day, and was emaciated, bloated and filled with fear about life. I supported her to move to eating three meals a day (and a small snack if appropriate). It only took about six months to calm her mind, ease her bloating and improve her ability to digest life. What surprised her most was that despite eating less frequently, she returned to a natural weight for her body.
By Myra Lewin
A man came to stay with us at the urging of his wife, who is a regular guest. He was used to a diet of meat, spicy foods and alcohol and a busy lifestyle filled with things to do and see. After just a week of taking part in morning practices, meals of Ayurvedic food, and being surrounded by the natural world, he said with surprise that he felt 10 years younger.
The recovery that is possible through Ayurveda and Yoga is remarkable. As our guest found, making simple adjustments in what we eat, how we live and where we put our focus is enough to make a person find a new experience of being alive. Often times we do little more than remove what is getting in the way of health and inner peace. This allows us to use the senses wisely and start a journey to true health.
Each of us began in the womb -- a place where our senses were protected and our attention drawn inward. But when we were born, we entered a world with an onslaught of sensory experiences. There are billions of things to see, touch, taste, feel and hear. Most of them are not worth our attention.
Allowed to move unchecked, our senses pull us around, making us do things that are not always aligned to our greatest good. But when we bring our attention inside, withdrawing the senses (the Yogic practice called pratyahara), we learn to turn away from cravings and desires.
By Lisa Day-Lewis
As a mental health counselor working in a public school system, I am often challenged with not having effective immediate interventions for the children I work with. Through my education I was trained in therapies and techniques that were really designed to be delivered in weekly one-hour sessions over a period of months, beginning with rapport building and laying out a series of goals and objectives. Unfortunately the time I end up having to work with kids is typically only 5-20 minutes, and the goal is usually to get them back attending in the classroom. Truth be told, aside from the time limitations, I have often questioned the efficacy of many traditional Western counseling techniques when applied to kids. My question lies not so much in the techniques themselves, but in whether children are equipped to learn and utilize them. In today’s world, are we nourishing children in body and mind such that they will be successful at life, let alone school? That is the question that has led me to shift the focus of my interventions to incorporate Ayurveda.
The practices of Ayurveda allow us to prevent illness, but the science also has a lot to say about what to do in those times when you do get sick.
Illness is a time to take care of your body. It is a signal to slow down, rest and come back to balance. It is important to allow time for full recovery -- nothing else is more important. What you do during this time matters greatly in how fast you will heal and the level of health you will reach afterward. Until symptoms subside, let go of your daily responsibilities, stay in bed, avoid looking at computers or screens and, most importantly, eat only very simple foods.
Agni, digestive fire, is weak during illness, so you cannot digest the same kinds of foods you enjoyed before. Yet as you are healing, your body needs nourishment. Kunyi, a soupy rice cooked with mineral salt and ghee, offers a meal that is very easy to digest and perfect for times of illness.
By Lisa Åkesson Stryker
In the Swedish language we have a great word for being in the role of a victim, offerkofta. It basically means the victim sweater and unfortunately I put it on quite frequently. I forget how fortunate I am and get caught up in what I consider to be wrong or not good enough. At first “offerkoftan” feels warm and cozy, it makes me feel self-righteous and busy. I have something to do, a position to defend. I’m right about something, which means that someone else is wrong, and poor me who has to be the one to point it out and feel so taken advantage of.
But after awhile, the sweater feels itchy. I don’t really accomplish anything, I’m just sweaty and uncomfortable. The feeling spreads in my body and shows up in my posture. My head starts tilting forward, my shoulders slouch and my back hurts. Poor me.
By Sonja Semion
I used to be the type of person who was offended at any notion that I should rise before 10:00 a.m. From ages 11 to 25, I stayed in bed most days until about 10:00 a.m., then stumbled around in my pajamas until I decided it was finally time to do something with the day. Often, by the time I made it out the door, I found that the day had long since passed.
This woman who used to shuffle through life has long since been transformed. When I traded my late nights for early days, I found something quite fascinating: I actually enjoy the silence of the mornings. When I began setting my alarm to make it to 6:00 a.m. yoga asana classes, I knew that something had shifted in me that would never go back.
Good thing, because when I had a baby, I learned how important it was to make friends with early mornings. Having a baby means I wake up very, very early. But I don’t wake up because she’s crying or because she wakes me up. I actually set my alarm to wake up several hours before her, and it is my secret to finding my grounding as a mother.
Ayurveda offers each of us the opportunity to become our own healers. To step into this role is a journey, one that requires a commitment to learning the unique functions of your mind and body.
The doshas -- vata, pitta and kapha -- are one of the foundational tools that Ayurveda offers to go within and find out why you feel, act and look the way you do. The doshas are profoundly important to understanding your body and mind, but they are often oversimplified and misunderstood.
Beyond the dosha quiz
A person’s first experience with Ayurveda is often marked by taking a dosha quiz. The results usually include lists of foods and activities to avoid for your dosha (or products to buy). But living according to a black-and-white list is opposite of what Ayurveda teaches.
By Myra Lewin
We often think that embracing truth comes with a big spark. While it sometimes comes in a moment that is accompanied by a flash of bright lights and a banging of loud drums, more often it is a gradual broadening of our perspective. One day, we look back and see that the truth we now know is much different than what we could ever have imagined.
I have been working with a young woman who has experienced this type of smooth transition toward honesty. She had been experiencing low-level health issues for some time. Mostly frequent colds and an ongoing sense of exhaustion, but mainly it was just a feeling of not wanting to participate in her life. She grew more and more uncomfortable having one-on-one conversations and compulsively used social media to hide from them.
By Sonja Semion
When my daughter was just a few days old, I was startled awake by her cries in the dark of night. I picked up her tiny body and nestled her kicking legs against my chest. Whispering soothing words, I changed her diaper and tucked her next to my breast. She quickly fell back asleep. The next morning, I thought of how many painful stories I had heard about sleep deprivation in early motherhood. Yet I felt no deprivation. In fact, I was surprised at how little I minded being awakened. I felt that something greater was supporting me.
When she was six weeks old, her father left for a weekend trip that had been planned long before she arrived. On the last day of being alone with her, I found myself gasping for air, searching for any space where I could set her down without the incessant wail that followed me from every bassinet and spread of blankets.
Everywhere I looked was a disaster that I had left behind. Dishes were piled next to the sink. Laundry was wet and growing moldy in the washer. I had imagined it would be hard to keep things together, but I didn’t realize that it would be impossible. The weight of my expectations was heavy on my spine.
By Myra Lewin
In the face of a problem, it is quite easy to get distracted by thinking that it is possible to heal without bringing about change within.
Last winter, I came to see this in my own life. After a summer of extensive travel and radiation exposure, I had begun to experience signs of pitta imbalance in my skin. I returned home and went back to my regular schedule of teaching and consultations, assuming that since the issue had come from toxins in the environment, things would correct themselves when I got away from the exposure. But the problem got worse.
When things get tough in life or asana, go within.
Yoga is about self-realization, it is a remembrance of who we really are. That higher state of being that we seek is already within us -- all we need to do to is surrender our attachments.
Balasana, or child’s pose, is an act of surrender that can bring this awakening. As you fold your belly over your thighs, you meet your original essence. With your gaze inside, you go back to the innocence and newness of childhood, to a time when your higher self was all there was.
By Myra Lewin
The steps to a fulfilling and healthy life are simple: Eat food filled with prana. Sit down each day to connect with the God of your heart. If you get sick, slow down and come back to balance. Find gratitude, whether life is easy or challenging. And always live according to your truth, no one else’s.
These steps may be simple, but few people walk this path. In fact, if you were to follow an average person around, you will likely find them living in quite the opposite manner. But most average people experience below average health and happiness. You can choose something different.
By Myra Lewin
We’ve been working with a family here at Hale Pule for several years. They come to visit about once a year, and I work with their mother around ways to support their health at home. As the children have grown up, they have been taught to notice the positive and negative consequences that come as a result of their choices. This year at summer camp, they were offered oatmeal for breakfast topped with ice cream (a way to bribe them to eat the oatmeal). The children have experienced enough stomachaches and eczema from eating poorly and made the decision to turn down the ice cream. At 7 and 10 years old, they are exercising viveka, or discernment. In other words, they know how to think for themselves.
By Myra Lewin
It’s September, and about midway through the month marked the transition to vata season. Even here in Hawai’i, I can feel the warmth of the summer pulling away as the days become just a bit shorter. Where you live, the first frost might already be on the ground.
This time of year is when nature begins to turn inward, a natural response to balance the moving quality of vata. It makes sense that you also want to follow suit. You may find yourself wanting to stay in a bit more and focus on taking care of yourself. You may be inspired to pull out your roasting dish to bake pumpkin until it is tender and delicious. Follow your inner wisdom to relax and welcome nourishment.
By Myra Lewin
As I write this, I am in Vietnam listening to a beautiful symphony of frogs, crickets, waterfalls and who knows what else.
Listening to this song outside my hotel room is a good reminder of how much I enjoy traveling. But over the past few decades, as I made spiritual growth my main priority, the way I travelled began to change. I still love visiting new places, but I don’t spend my time running from one activity to the next or eating big meals in fine restaurants. These days, I bring my spiritual practices with me (along with a small rice cooker for hotel room kitchadi) and enjoy the wonder of being surrounded by new sights, sounds and experiences. Gone are the days when I ended my vacations so exhausted that the only way I could feel better was by planning the next one. Now, I come home filled with more energy and a deeper connection to my path.
What does it mean to digest? It’s easy to define this concept as simply the process of turning the food you eat into nutrients. But we are holistic beings, so it follows that digestion happens on a holistic level. All of our experiences, whether they are on our plates or in our lives, must be transformed to a state in which we can use them.
Pitta dosha is responsible for digestion, both in the body and the mind. Just as this dosha transforms rice into nourishment for your body, it transforms experiences into samskara, or impressions. When experiences are digested properly, meaning you have allowed an emotional response to move through you, you clear old samskara or create new, more positive ones that guide you along your path. But if you become stuck on something in the past or breeze past an experience without fully digesting it, you create new samskara that makes it difficult to move forward in life.
By Myra Lewin
I am blessed to live on a beautiful and abundant farm. My goal is to grow most of the food we eat, and some weeks we come close to that. However, one of the lessons that I learn daily from Durga Farms is vairagya, or non-attachment.
We plant seeds and give them all the right opportunities to thrive. But then nature throws us a curveball in its ever changing way. A blazing streak of heat in the summer, too much rain or an insect that enjoys our vegetables as much as we do. If I were to become attached to the idea that farming (or life) should be perfect or always go the way I think, I would not last very long as a farmer. Instead, I use the opportunity to support our farmer friends at the market.
By Nicole Matthiesen
I lived for many years with a lot of uncertainty about food. I didn’t know what the outcome of any given meal would be. Would I experience constipation? Diarrhea? Severe abdominal pain that would leave me unable to eat for a week? Or would this time be fine, as it sometimes inexplicably was?
As a student in Hale Pule’s 600-hour Ayurvedic health counselor program, I know now that the issues I was experiencing (what the doctors called Irritable Bowel Syndrome) were a direct result of my highly stressful career as a litigation consultant and my choice to push my health aside to meet demands and deadlines.
By Myra Lewin
I recently worked with a woman who had experienced great health all through her life. Yet she had recently begun to experience symptoms associated with menopause -- hot flashes, weight gain and a scattered mind. After talking through her relatively balanced diet and lifestyle, we centered upon one small, but significant factor that was getting in the way of a balanced transition to maturity: an insulated bottle that she always kept filled with ice cold water.
From a distance, drinking out of an insulated bottle seems far too insignificant a factor to cause menopausal symptoms. But cold beverages restrict and weaken agni, digestive fire. Over a few years of using this bottle daily, the ice cold water had reduced her ability to digest food and life experiences. This created dosha imbalance and her health issues.
It’s a Hale Pule routine to take photos of guests and students when they arrive. We do it again before they leave. Whether they stay for four months, four weeks, or four days, the changes are striking.
People experience physical changes (some look so different that it’s difficult to believe it’s the same person), but more often the shift is in the energy they carry in the after picture. These are people who are more connected to who they really are. That’s what makes Ayurveda more than just a diet -- it is a roadmap to self-realization.
Take a look at our gallery of before and after photos to see what it looks like when the spirit shines through.
By Myra Lewin
I recently found an old box filled with photographs of my life. I found headshots from my time as a corporate executive, pictures of me at holiday parties and a few childhood photos from the black-and-white days. I also found this photo below, taken just after I had left the corporate world and set out to build my life upon healing.