With Mother’s Day around the corner, we think it’s time for all of us to be good mothers to ourselves. Yoga, meditation, eating right, getting good sleep; they’re all a part of nurturing our physical body.
But what about when we need some nurturance for our emotions? Bhakti Yoga or the path of devotion is one of the ways we can nurture our emotional side. This devotion might take the form of formal religious devotion, chanting mantras, serving other members of humanity, or just appreciating beauty all around us.
One of the ways to build devotion is to create a personal altar. Altars can ground us in our connection to our guru (teacher), to our sangha (community), to our own higher nature, and further, to all things.
Having an altar to tend is like tending to our own emotional experience. It is a place to come to in times of great joy or sadness, in fear and in calmness, so we can get in touch with the greater purpose of life – which is love. When we connect to love, we more easily weather the changes/challenges that are inherent in living a life.
How should I create an altar? is a question that only the altar creator can answer. It is a personal expression of your love. However, there are a few general principles that a practitioner can follow to feel that their altar is aligning with tradition. But as is expressed in the Bhagavad Gita, chapter 13, sloka 35,
It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else's life with perfection.
So use your heart to guide you toward what inspires you.
First, create a special space that will be used only for your altar.
Place a few pictures of loved ones on your altar.
Candles, flowers, incense and statues of deities are classic additions to altars.
Add things you find beautiful and inspiring. Engage as many senses as possible. On my personal altars, I also have -
An altar is truly a personal expression of the curator of that altar. Like a prism, all love enters as a beam of pure light, but passed through the crystal, devotional practices spread across the spectrum. I truly hope you nurture your emotions through some devotion to love this month. That is what motherhood is all about.
Swami Satchidananda spoke about habit-setting like changing a car's oil. To get the dirty oil out, you simply pour clean oil in and the old oil is purged from the engine. Our habits are like this too: if we focus on adding good habits, we will slough the bad habits off eventually. If we focus on reducing or removing the bad ones, it seems to only exacerbate the issue. Apparently, this is called ironic process theory, as related this month by the brief New York Times article, "Resistance Is Futile. To Change Habits, try Replacement Instead." With the big spring clean upon us, many of us look to "clean" ourselves. Which often takes the form of habit-setting.
Purity is a niyama (observance) in Raja Yoga. Although purity might be taken to mean maintaining personal hygiene rituals, wearing clean clothes and keeping a clean house, it also means creating purity within, physically and mentally. Some people have a negative reaction to the word "purity" because today, it may connote an impossible standard of goodness. What I think Patanjali was suggesting is to have a Replacement attitude instead of a Resistance attitude, as described by the NYT and Swami Satchidananda. We don't have to be completely pure to get benefits from making a choice that leads us to more purity. Even though there is always dirt, shouldn't we sweep our house from time to time?
Yoga and Ayurveda offer several practices that aim to purify us on many levels. Hatha yoga keeps our bodies strong and supple, meditation keeps our mind nimble and focused, and a healthy diet ensures we have good, clean energy to run on. There are other practices, called kriyas, that some yogis use to create a purer internal environment, such as using a neti pot or practicing eye exercises. Fasting is another cleansing practice espoused for centuries by yogis, that is gaining credibility in the scientific world. For a more scientific approach to fasting than I'm going to take here, you can look at this article from CMAJ or an opinion from a neuroscientist on the Johns Hopkins Health Review.
Whether or not you fast, it's still a good idea to take a break from foods that tax the digestive system. This is especially true as we transition from heavier foods that warm us in the winter, to more raw foods (which can also tax the system) in the spring and summer. To make the transition smoother, either from one season to another or as an intermediary before and after fasting, yogis eat kitchari. An Ayurvedic recipe traditionally made of mung beans and white rice, it is very easy to digest, filling, and nutritious. Ayurvedic practitioners use it to purify the blood and cleanse the body. It is also delicious. Very, very delicious. Oh yeah, and super easy and fast to make!
So if you'd like to replace an old eating habit with a new, tasty, purity-enhancing habit, try this recipe for kitchari. Five Keys Yoga tested and approved. Yum!
4 servings, 30 minutes
1 C mung dal
1/2 C white rice
2-3 C water
2 T ghee (clarified butter)
1 T grated, fresh ginger
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp cumin powder
1/2 tsp coriander powder
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
Pinch of hing (asafoetida powder)
Salt to taste
I usually add a few dried, hot chilies (chopped) and any vegetables I have in the fridge, but that is optional.
Cook the Dal and Rice
Temper the Spices
I like to eat kitchari with a big heap of steamed kale. The crunchy texture of the kale goes so well with the creamy kitchari, and the extra fiber completes the meal. I often top with nutritional yeast or Bragg's liquid aminos for flavor and extra vitamins and nutrients. You can also adjust the seasoning to suit your dosha, or Ayurvedic type.
Did you try the recipe? How did it taste?
With spring around the corner, we'll be updating and adding to our class schedule. Let us know when you'd like class!
For the first time ever we are able to offer classes for all our young yogis and yoginis - toddlers through teens! This has been a dream for a long time and we are so excited to offer a full range of classes for kids and young adults. Each class will be led by a certified Yoga for the Special Child practitioner. The 5-week sessions run November 4th - December 10th, with no classes during Thanksgiving weekend. Learn more here.
We are always looking for feedback on best class times and days. If you haven't already (or if things have changed) please fill out this short survey!
With Mother's Day coming up, we are offering a peaceful, 3o-minute relaxation and visualization. Whether you're mom to ten or are just really good at mothering yourself, you deserve a chance to reset your body and mind. Luxuriate in this relaxation, called pratyahara (sensory withdrawal) in the 8 Limbs of Yoga, and then let your spirit be restored with a calming visualization. Visualization is very relaxing and has many positive effects on the body and mind. We'll finish with a few moments of silence to assimilate your work. You will hear a chime at the end, which will signal you to either slowly open your eyes, ready for the day or drift into a restful sleep.
First, prepare yourself to receive the gift you are giving - the gift of your relaxation. Make your surroundings as comfortable as possible. Dim the lights, maybe light some incense or put a few drops of an essential oil in a diffuser, lay under a cozy blanket. Make sure you have enough room to lie down comfortably. When you're ready to start, separate your legs a few feet apart and bring your arms away from your sides slightly. Place your palms face up and close your eyes.
To go along with our spring cleaning theme, here is a breathing exercise and meditation to introduce clarity into a whirling mind. This guided audio includes the Nadi Suddhi breathing exercise, also called alternate nostril breathing. Nadi Suddhi is excellent for calming and balancing the nervous system. We use a gesture (or mudra) called Vishnu Mudra. You'll find a picture of this mudra below. Bend your index and middle finger into your palm, keeping your thumb, ring finger and pinky extended. If Vishnu Mudra doesn't work for you, just use your thumb and index finger instead. Let go of mental clutter and enjoy your enhanced clarity!
With flowers blooming and leaves budding, it's a good time to re-evaluate our habits, sweep out the old, and incorporate the new! Spring cleaning doesn't have to be limited to our physical space. The seasons' change is an optimal time to reinvigorate our motivation to live healthfully and wisely. Whether your goals are a more consistent yoga practice, better eating or sleeping habits, or more time for yourself, spring clean your daily routine with this mindfulness journey.
You might think mindfulness and meditation are only for adults, but kids and teens can also experience great benefits from these practices. All you need to teach these skills are an appropriate approach and a patient attitude. Parents should practice these exercises with their kids. This helps them see that even adults need to work on calming down, and reinforces that this is a life-long practice. Practicing together also builds a deep connection between you and your child.
Most of these exercises are done sitting and preferably with the eyes closed (except for the raisin and walking meditations). In each of these exercises, start by preparing your child to relax. Depending on your child's age and ability, a few gentle stretches can make the body feel more comfortable. Make sure where you are meditating is free from distractions and feels cozy. If it's appropriate, dim the lights. Ask your child to come into a comfortable position sitting, standing or lying down, depending on which meditation you are practicing. Almost all of these practices are appropriate for both kids and teens.
As with all mindfulness exercises, it is best not to practice with expectations for how (or how long) your child will meditate. Let them develop their practice gradually - start with a few seconds for young or restless kids, and encourage them by praising what they've accomplished. Eventually, they will come to enjoy the peaceful feeling and will meditate longer, naturally. At that point, you might encourage your child to describe how they feel after meditating.
If your child gets frustrated, let them know it is normal for thoughts to wander away from where we want them. You might even throw in a personal example. That's what meditation is all about. It's why we practice! To learn to bring our thoughts back under control.
Exercises adapted from Yoga for the Special Child and Yoga for Teens.
Five Keys Yoga is participating in #MindfulMarch again this year! We'll be offering donation-based classes, with proceeds going to the Love Your Brain Foundation. The LYB Foundation provides yoga and guided mindfulness meditation to survivors of Traumatic Brain Injury and their caregivers. Both of our #MindfulMarch classes will include yoga and a mindfulness meditation. Beginners are welcome!
#MindfulMarch classes at Five Keys Yoga
March 10th, 10-11am
March 28th, 5:30-6:30pm*
*Class on the 28th includes complementary chiropractic adjustment with Dr. Taylor Clifford
But you don't have to wait for March to get started on mindfulness. There are oodles of guided meditations on Youtube, the Headspace app, etc. (not to mention some on this very blog...) to give you a sense of the various ways of meditating. You might feel ready to start right now, but aren't sure what to expect or don't know how mindfulness is different than meditation. Never fear! Mindfulness is just a type of meditation. All you need is a relatively quiet space, where you can remain undisturbed for a few minutes. Once you're ready to give it a go, here are four tips.
Yoga for the Special Child Basic 1 program begins in Evanston in just over a month! This week-long training is taught by Sonia Sumar, creator of the Yoga for the Special Child® method. Sonia has been teaching this method to kids for over forty years and now brings her training to all corners of the world. We are so lucky to have her in our own backyard.
YSC Basic 1 is for anyone who has an interest in learning to teach yoga to kids with special needs. You do not have to be a yoga teacher. This program is especially useful for parents, teachers, physical therapists, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, social workers, and yoga teachers. Participants will receive enough hours to become accredited as RCYT with Yoga Alliance (if already a yoga teacher), after completing Basic 1 & 2. But you can start teaching kids up to age 12 right after you finish the program.
Participants will learn from Sonia herself - how to engage and focus students through yoga chants, breathing exercises, yoga poses, and guided relaxation, as well as how to evaluate students and utilize appropriate exercises for their condition. A very special part of the program is the opportunity to see Sonia teach demo classes with children, which gives participants the chance to see the method in action. You will leave feeling prepared to apply yoga techniques to a wide variety of "limitations" and "needs". And best of all, you will have the chance to deepen your own yoga practice, under the guidance of this living yoga legend!
Register here (or below) to reserve your spot. Any questions can be directed to the program coordinator for Evanston, Erin. More info here.
Erin Haddock is the director of Five Keys Yoga, LLC.