The Hidden Meaning of The Belly in Yoga

    —
February 18, 2020

The Hidden Meaning of the Belly in Yoga Blog Header ImageMost of us have lost our connection to the mysterious forces at play in the abdominal region, as well as to the appearance, function, and location of the organs and glands within it. We know that this area is responsible for digestion and assimilation, but in most Western cultures, a belly is considered healthy only according to its outer appearance: flat, “cut,” and firm. Good posture is supposed to be chest up, shoulders back, gut in. Emotionally, for many, the belly receives the brunt of our dysfunctional attempts to deal with negative feelings such as anger, fear, or low self-esteem.

In general, popular Western culture has placed more prominence on the head (objective intellect) and heart (individual soul) centers for discernment and transformation, while overlooking what many Eastern or so-called primitive cultures consider an essential step—the prerequisite descent into the depths of our being (lower centers), which is necessary before the ascent toward higher levels of awareness (upper centers). Our attention has moved away from the profound intelligence of the lower physical and emotional center of the body—our “guts.”

However, remnants of understanding are still found in common expressions in our languages, intimating a time when we recognized the power of the lower centers. In English, to have “a gut feeling” suggests a deep understanding that often is hard to explain logically, and in the past, feelings that come from deep in our center were considered more reliable than those that came from “above”: the heart or the head. Then there is someone with “guts,” which implies courage and unwavering integrity.

In Japan, the word hara can be simply translated as “belly,” but the roots of its meaning extend far beyond the physical abdomen. In Japanese culture, hara takes on a meaning that involves almost every aspect of life. It implies all that is considered essential to a person’s character and spiritual evolvement. Hara is the center of the human body, but not just of the physical body. In many idiomatic Japanese expressions where the root word is found, the meanings suggest a deeper context for the term. In his book Hara: The Vital Center of Man, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim describes one such expression: Hara no aru hito. It suggests not only one who possesses “center” physically, as in posture and balance, but also one who maintains balance in every way, including emotionally and mentally. This person is capable of tranquility in the face of strain, moves in and about the world with serenity, and possesses an inner elasticity that allows quick and decisive responses to any situation that arises. The hara is also seen as the place where the body’s vital life energies collect and are expressed, whether through physical movement or energetic presence.

Hara means an understanding of the significance of the middle of the body as the foundation of an overall feeling for life.

—Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

It is this very quality of hara that we look for in our yoga practice. What is referred to in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as sthira sukham is a state of unconditional calm that is not dependent on any outward circumstances. When in it, we command heightened sensitivity and an increased readiness to meet the unexpected. Here we realize that our capacity for appropriate response in the practice of asana can only come from the genuine absence of tension, coupled with the correct attitude of mind and lightness of heart. Throughout the practice of yoga poses, cultivating softness in the belly helps release a subtle downward flow and sense of fluidity that can be felt there and moving down into the pelvic floor, providing an intuitive invitation to move more deeply in all poses, especially those that turn or lengthen through the waist.

How the belly “thinks” intuitively could be a function of what science is now calling our second brain, or the enteric nervous system, which is an extensive network of neurons embedded in the lining of our gastrointestinal tract, from esophagus to anus. In addition to its handling of nearly all the digestive functions of our intestines, it is important to understand how this system of neurons intimately connects with our autonomic nervous system and, through the vagus nerve, becomes a critical component of parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, and intestines.

The vagal channel of communication between the abdominal organs and the brain includes branches of cardiac and pulmonary ganglion, which suggests a shared relationship among these organs as well and offers a scenario in which the interrelationships are established both anatomically and energetically. The enteric system includes many of the same neurotransmitters found in the brain, including dopamine (in the intestines, it reduces peristaltic movement and maintains the inner linings of the intestinal tract; in the brain, it stimulates desire and motivation for reward response, or pleasure), serotonin (in the intestines, it stimulates peristaltic movement; in the brain, it regulates mood, appetite, and sleep), and acetylcholine (in the intestines, it stimulates peristaltic movement; in the brain, it regulates arousal, attention, memory, and motivation).

Numerous scientific studies have shown that the voluntary control of slow breathing has a substantial positive effect on our parasympathetic response. There is multidirectional communication via vagal signals to and from the brain to quiet frontal cortical activity, as well as an inhibitory influence upon the heart and sympathetic nervous system activity to and from the gastrointestinal tract that improves peristaltic function while strengthening immune system response in the gut.

Breathing is not merely an in-drawing and outstreaming of air, but a fundamental movement of a living whole, affecting the world of the body as well as the regions of the soul and mind.

—Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

This is an excerpt from Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga by Peter Sterios.

 

Peter Sterios is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades of experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

Read Gravity & Grace today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The Hidden Meaning of The Belly in Yoga

The Hidden Meaning of the Belly in Yoga Blog Header ImageMost of us have lost our connection to the mysterious forces at play in the abdominal region, as well as to the appearance, function, and location of the organs and glands within it. We know that this area is responsible for digestion and assimilation, but in most Western cultures, a belly is considered healthy only according to its outer appearance: flat, “cut,” and firm. Good posture is supposed to be chest up, shoulders back, gut in. Emotionally, for many, the belly receives the brunt of our dysfunctional attempts to deal with negative feelings such as anger, fear, or low self-esteem.

In general, popular Western culture has placed more prominence on the head (objective intellect) and heart (individual soul) centers for discernment and transformation, while overlooking what many Eastern or so-called primitive cultures consider an essential step—the prerequisite descent into the depths of our being (lower centers), which is necessary before the ascent toward higher levels of awareness (upper centers). Our attention has moved away from the profound intelligence of the lower physical and emotional center of the body—our “guts.”

However, remnants of understanding are still found in common expressions in our languages, intimating a time when we recognized the power of the lower centers. In English, to have “a gut feeling” suggests a deep understanding that often is hard to explain logically, and in the past, feelings that come from deep in our center were considered more reliable than those that came from “above”: the heart or the head. Then there is someone with “guts,” which implies courage and unwavering integrity.

In Japan, the word hara can be simply translated as “belly,” but the roots of its meaning extend far beyond the physical abdomen. In Japanese culture, hara takes on a meaning that involves almost every aspect of life. It implies all that is considered essential to a person’s character and spiritual evolvement. Hara is the center of the human body, but not just of the physical body. In many idiomatic Japanese expressions where the root word is found, the meanings suggest a deeper context for the term. In his book Hara: The Vital Center of Man, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim describes one such expression: Hara no aru hito. It suggests not only one who possesses “center” physically, as in posture and balance, but also one who maintains balance in every way, including emotionally and mentally. This person is capable of tranquility in the face of strain, moves in and about the world with serenity, and possesses an inner elasticity that allows quick and decisive responses to any situation that arises. The hara is also seen as the place where the body’s vital life energies collect and are expressed, whether through physical movement or energetic presence.

Hara means an understanding of the significance of the middle of the body as the foundation of an overall feeling for life.

—Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

It is this very quality of hara that we look for in our yoga practice. What is referred to in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as sthira sukham is a state of unconditional calm that is not dependent on any outward circumstances. When in it, we command heightened sensitivity and an increased readiness to meet the unexpected. Here we realize that our capacity for appropriate response in the practice of asana can only come from the genuine absence of tension, coupled with the correct attitude of mind and lightness of heart. Throughout the practice of yoga poses, cultivating softness in the belly helps release a subtle downward flow and sense of fluidity that can be felt there and moving down into the pelvic floor, providing an intuitive invitation to move more deeply in all poses, especially those that turn or lengthen through the waist.

How the belly “thinks” intuitively could be a function of what science is now calling our second brain, or the enteric nervous system, which is an extensive network of neurons embedded in the lining of our gastrointestinal tract, from esophagus to anus. In addition to its handling of nearly all the digestive functions of our intestines, it is important to understand how this system of neurons intimately connects with our autonomic nervous system and, through the vagus nerve, becomes a critical component of parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, and intestines.

The vagal channel of communication between the abdominal organs and the brain includes branches of cardiac and pulmonary ganglion, which suggests a shared relationship among these organs as well and offers a scenario in which the interrelationships are established both anatomically and energetically. The enteric system includes many of the same neurotransmitters found in the brain, including dopamine (in the intestines, it reduces peristaltic movement and maintains the inner linings of the intestinal tract; in the brain, it stimulates desire and motivation for reward response, or pleasure), serotonin (in the intestines, it stimulates peristaltic movement; in the brain, it regulates mood, appetite, and sleep), and acetylcholine (in the intestines, it stimulates peristaltic movement; in the brain, it regulates arousal, attention, memory, and motivation).

Numerous scientific studies have shown that the voluntary control of slow breathing has a substantial positive effect on our parasympathetic response. There is multidirectional communication via vagal signals to and from the brain to quiet frontal cortical activity, as well as an inhibitory influence upon the heart and sympathetic nervous system activity to and from the gastrointestinal tract that improves peristaltic function while strengthening immune system response in the gut.

Breathing is not merely an in-drawing and outstreaming of air, but a fundamental movement of a living whole, affecting the world of the body as well as the regions of the soul and mind.

—Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

This is an excerpt from Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga by Peter Sterios.

 

Peter Sterios is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades of experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

Read Gravity & Grace today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hidden Meaning of the Belly In Yoga Pinterest

Yoga For Pain Relief

Yoga For Pain Relief

We often find metaphors for life in our yoga practice, and those of us who come to yoga stiff or weak are only too familiar with confronting our edges. In most urban, contemporary societies, we are frequently exposed to confrontation: in our communities, our relationships, our jobs—the list goes on. Our success in dealing with confrontation and the stress it generates depends on our ability to recognize and adjust to what presents itself in those situations. It is often easy to avoid dealing with confrontation until it reaches a certain level of intensity and we are forced to address what stands in our way.

 

The Hidden Gift of Obstacles in Yoga

When our tools for dealing with confrontation are overwhelmed and when what we perceive as our very nature becomes threatened, our life systems—mental, emotional, and physical—begin to contract. If we ignore this contraction for too long, it can color the way we perceive our reality, and what is very unnatural to a healthy body begins to seem natural. Because this process occurs over extended periods, as in the aging process, we often lack the awareness that it is happening until we are beyond simple fixes. 

Difficult Poses

Consider the beginner’s approach to difficult poses—even the relatively simple ones—that challenge flexibility, balance, or strength. These poses take our attention directly into areas of our body that are unfamiliar, painful, or unresponsive. This is often confronting. Stiff people have to learn how to work with pain, which is often intense, in order to remove the obstructions found in tight muscles or joints. Typically, this work is associated with movement where previously no movement existed or where it was extremely limited. The weak or overly flexible have to learn how to work without overworking, to create the support or resistance necessary to bring about the subtle movement of energy in the body to build stamina or strength. 

 

It is a common experience for beginners to question why they lack movement or feeling in these areas in the first place and to wonder if there will ever come a day when it could be different. This is the beauty of the confrontation found in yoga, where opposites attract and working simultaneously with effort and non-effort is a very important lesson to learn. 

Overcoming Resistance In Yoga

With many of the asanas that a beginner tackles for the first time, it is common to struggle with the opposing forces of particular actions found in a pose. Attempting to relax tight muscles is not easy when we are receiving a steady stream (or scream) of more demanding messages in the seemingly undecipherable language of pain. It can feel like the very resistance we experience has been protecting us from injury or overdoing something and that to surrender into this discomfort would be unwise.

 

Likewise, working with weak muscles to stay in a pose, to dig a little deeper, even for one more breath, seems to go against all of the yogic principles of nonviolence (ahimsa), and the anxiety that this can produce is real. Fatigue (mental and physical) seems to threaten our very existence, and every cell in our body is convinced that we’re approaching an injury or a near-death experience.

Hatha Yoga Is A Confrontational Journey

By its very nature, though, hatha yoga takes us on a confrontational journey that can produce the awareness required to overcome ingrained resistance and penetrate the dense matter of our consciousness. For those with chronically tight or weak muscles, the correct practice of asana with conscious breathing forces the mind into a very alert state and very quickly fills the gaps typically found in a beginner’s attention. This is a very important place to be. In it, we are given an opportunity to feel the power of this situation physically, to observe the dynamics of stress in an intense environment, and to overcome the mental or emotional struggle inherent in that predicament.

 

Of course, entering these situations in your practice requires a little preparation, and in the event of any preexisting conditions, it is beneficial and highly recommended to work with an experienced teacher who can suggest modifications to challenging poses. However, once you become familiar enough with your edge to gaze at what lies beyond it, an exterior guide will only be a distraction. Instead, you can reach inside yourself—toward your inner teacher—for guidance. 

 

This is an excerpt from Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga by Peter Sterios.

Peter Sterios is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades of experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Gravity & Grace today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound

3 Ways To Be Present This Holiday Season

3 Ways To Be Present This Holiday Season

Holidays are a mixed blessing … they’re times when we take a pause from our daily routines and share more personal time with family and friends—some who we love unconditionally, and those that we love “almost” unconditionally (as long as we don’t talk about politics, the environment, the world, etc.).

Here are a few easy suggestions to help show up in all holiday situations, while maintaining full presence and a sense of calm.

Seek Moments of Stillness

Look ahead to your holiday social events, then plan for intermittent moments to be by yourself for creating stillness, physically and mentally, away from the hustle and bustle of family activities (or the TV). It’s easier than you think, especially if you are truthful about its importance for your health with those around you. If they are curious what it does for you, encourage them to try it too. And after, be curious about their experience as a conversation-starter when you’re together again.

Seek Moments of Silliness

Calm is not easy when our mind is preoccupied and struggling with the chaos often found during the holidays. Luckily the human species is bestowed with the gift of humor and light-heartedness, which research shows is capable of overriding the mind’s obsessive or compulsive tendencies to overwhelm our emotions, and take us out of the present. Engaging in a bit of silliness is literally child’s play and an elixir to bring us back to the present that helps strengthen connection and community.

Breathe Slow and Soft

Awareness of breath is one of the most common techniques for staying present in our “moments” during the holidays. By simply making the sound of our breath soft and the breath’s rhythm slow, we create a more naturally conscious state of being that stimulates our body’s parasympathetic response. This releases the tension and stress our sympathetic nervous system naturally creates during times of anxiety or distress. Remembering this during the upcoming season is truly the best gift you can give!

 

Peter Sterios, author of Gravity and Grace, is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

The community here at Sounds True wishes you a lovely holiday season! We are happy to collaborate with some of our Sounds True authors to offer you wisdom and practices as we move into this time together; please enjoy this blog series for your holiday season. 

To help encourage you and your loved ones to explore new possibilities this holiday season, we’re offering 40% off nearly all of our programs, books, and courses sitewide. May you find the wisdom to light your way. Use promo code HOLIDAY10 and receive an additional 10% off your order.

EXPLORE NOW

 

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The Hidden Meaning of The Belly in Yoga

The Hidden Meaning of the Belly in Yoga Blog Header ImageMost of us have lost our connection to the mysterious forces at play in the abdominal region, as well as to the appearance, function, and location of the organs and glands within it. We know that this area is responsible for digestion and assimilation, but in most Western cultures, a belly is considered healthy only according to its outer appearance: flat, “cut,” and firm. Good posture is supposed to be chest up, shoulders back, gut in. Emotionally, for many, the belly receives the brunt of our dysfunctional attempts to deal with negative feelings such as anger, fear, or low self-esteem.

In general, popular Western culture has placed more prominence on the head (objective intellect) and heart (individual soul) centers for discernment and transformation, while overlooking what many Eastern or so-called primitive cultures consider an essential step—the prerequisite descent into the depths of our being (lower centers), which is necessary before the ascent toward higher levels of awareness (upper centers). Our attention has moved away from the profound intelligence of the lower physical and emotional center of the body—our “guts.”

However, remnants of understanding are still found in common expressions in our languages, intimating a time when we recognized the power of the lower centers. In English, to have “a gut feeling” suggests a deep understanding that often is hard to explain logically, and in the past, feelings that come from deep in our center were considered more reliable than those that came from “above”: the heart or the head. Then there is someone with “guts,” which implies courage and unwavering integrity.

In Japan, the word hara can be simply translated as “belly,” but the roots of its meaning extend far beyond the physical abdomen. In Japanese culture, hara takes on a meaning that involves almost every aspect of life. It implies all that is considered essential to a person’s character and spiritual evolvement. Hara is the center of the human body, but not just of the physical body. In many idiomatic Japanese expressions where the root word is found, the meanings suggest a deeper context for the term. In his book Hara: The Vital Center of Man, Karlfried Graf Dürckheim describes one such expression: Hara no aru hito. It suggests not only one who possesses “center” physically, as in posture and balance, but also one who maintains balance in every way, including emotionally and mentally. This person is capable of tranquility in the face of strain, moves in and about the world with serenity, and possesses an inner elasticity that allows quick and decisive responses to any situation that arises. The hara is also seen as the place where the body’s vital life energies collect and are expressed, whether through physical movement or energetic presence.

Hara means an understanding of the significance of the middle of the body as the foundation of an overall feeling for life.

—Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

It is this very quality of hara that we look for in our yoga practice. What is referred to in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras as sthira sukham is a state of unconditional calm that is not dependent on any outward circumstances. When in it, we command heightened sensitivity and an increased readiness to meet the unexpected. Here we realize that our capacity for appropriate response in the practice of asana can only come from the genuine absence of tension, coupled with the correct attitude of mind and lightness of heart. Throughout the practice of yoga poses, cultivating softness in the belly helps release a subtle downward flow and sense of fluidity that can be felt there and moving down into the pelvic floor, providing an intuitive invitation to move more deeply in all poses, especially those that turn or lengthen through the waist.

How the belly “thinks” intuitively could be a function of what science is now calling our second brain, or the enteric nervous system, which is an extensive network of neurons embedded in the lining of our gastrointestinal tract, from esophagus to anus. In addition to its handling of nearly all the digestive functions of our intestines, it is important to understand how this system of neurons intimately connects with our autonomic nervous system and, through the vagus nerve, becomes a critical component of parasympathetic control of the heart, lungs, and intestines.

The vagal channel of communication between the abdominal organs and the brain includes branches of cardiac and pulmonary ganglion, which suggests a shared relationship among these organs as well and offers a scenario in which the interrelationships are established both anatomically and energetically. The enteric system includes many of the same neurotransmitters found in the brain, including dopamine (in the intestines, it reduces peristaltic movement and maintains the inner linings of the intestinal tract; in the brain, it stimulates desire and motivation for reward response, or pleasure), serotonin (in the intestines, it stimulates peristaltic movement; in the brain, it regulates mood, appetite, and sleep), and acetylcholine (in the intestines, it stimulates peristaltic movement; in the brain, it regulates arousal, attention, memory, and motivation).

Numerous scientific studies have shown that the voluntary control of slow breathing has a substantial positive effect on our parasympathetic response. There is multidirectional communication via vagal signals to and from the brain to quiet frontal cortical activity, as well as an inhibitory influence upon the heart and sympathetic nervous system activity to and from the gastrointestinal tract that improves peristaltic function while strengthening immune system response in the gut.

Breathing is not merely an in-drawing and outstreaming of air, but a fundamental movement of a living whole, affecting the world of the body as well as the regions of the soul and mind.

—Karlfried Graf Dürckheim

This is an excerpt from Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga by Peter Sterios.

 

Peter Sterios is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades of experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

Read Gravity & Grace today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Hidden Meaning of the Belly In Yoga Pinterest

Yoga For Pain Relief

Yoga For Pain Relief

We often find metaphors for life in our yoga practice, and those of us who come to yoga stiff or weak are only too familiar with confronting our edges. In most urban, contemporary societies, we are frequently exposed to confrontation: in our communities, our relationships, our jobs—the list goes on. Our success in dealing with confrontation and the stress it generates depends on our ability to recognize and adjust to what presents itself in those situations. It is often easy to avoid dealing with confrontation until it reaches a certain level of intensity and we are forced to address what stands in our way.

 

The Hidden Gift of Obstacles in Yoga

When our tools for dealing with confrontation are overwhelmed and when what we perceive as our very nature becomes threatened, our life systems—mental, emotional, and physical—begin to contract. If we ignore this contraction for too long, it can color the way we perceive our reality, and what is very unnatural to a healthy body begins to seem natural. Because this process occurs over extended periods, as in the aging process, we often lack the awareness that it is happening until we are beyond simple fixes. 

Difficult Poses

Consider the beginner’s approach to difficult poses—even the relatively simple ones—that challenge flexibility, balance, or strength. These poses take our attention directly into areas of our body that are unfamiliar, painful, or unresponsive. This is often confronting. Stiff people have to learn how to work with pain, which is often intense, in order to remove the obstructions found in tight muscles or joints. Typically, this work is associated with movement where previously no movement existed or where it was extremely limited. The weak or overly flexible have to learn how to work without overworking, to create the support or resistance necessary to bring about the subtle movement of energy in the body to build stamina or strength. 

 

It is a common experience for beginners to question why they lack movement or feeling in these areas in the first place and to wonder if there will ever come a day when it could be different. This is the beauty of the confrontation found in yoga, where opposites attract and working simultaneously with effort and non-effort is a very important lesson to learn. 

Overcoming Resistance In Yoga

With many of the asanas that a beginner tackles for the first time, it is common to struggle with the opposing forces of particular actions found in a pose. Attempting to relax tight muscles is not easy when we are receiving a steady stream (or scream) of more demanding messages in the seemingly undecipherable language of pain. It can feel like the very resistance we experience has been protecting us from injury or overdoing something and that to surrender into this discomfort would be unwise.

 

Likewise, working with weak muscles to stay in a pose, to dig a little deeper, even for one more breath, seems to go against all of the yogic principles of nonviolence (ahimsa), and the anxiety that this can produce is real. Fatigue (mental and physical) seems to threaten our very existence, and every cell in our body is convinced that we’re approaching an injury or a near-death experience.

Hatha Yoga Is A Confrontational Journey

By its very nature, though, hatha yoga takes us on a confrontational journey that can produce the awareness required to overcome ingrained resistance and penetrate the dense matter of our consciousness. For those with chronically tight or weak muscles, the correct practice of asana with conscious breathing forces the mind into a very alert state and very quickly fills the gaps typically found in a beginner’s attention. This is a very important place to be. In it, we are given an opportunity to feel the power of this situation physically, to observe the dynamics of stress in an intense environment, and to overcome the mental or emotional struggle inherent in that predicament.

 

Of course, entering these situations in your practice requires a little preparation, and in the event of any preexisting conditions, it is beneficial and highly recommended to work with an experienced teacher who can suggest modifications to challenging poses. However, once you become familiar enough with your edge to gaze at what lies beyond it, an exterior guide will only be a distraction. Instead, you can reach inside yourself—toward your inner teacher—for guidance. 

 

This is an excerpt from Gravity & Grace: How to Awaken Your Subtle Body and the Healing Power of Yoga by Peter Sterios.

Peter Sterios is a popular yoga teacher and trainer with over four decades of experience. He’s the founder of LEVITYoGA™ and MANDUKA™, as well as KarmaNICA™, a charitable organization for underprivileged children in rural Nicaragua. Sterios taught yoga at the White House for Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity initiatives for three years, and in 2018 he was invited to the Pentagon to share yoga’s therapeutic effects with the US Marine Corps. He resides in San Luis Obispo, CA. For more, visit LEVITYoGA.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read Gravity & Grace today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Indiebound

What Is Ahimsa? Yoga Meets Plant-Based Living (+ recip...

 

The time is always right to do what is right.

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

What is Ahimsa?

Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga consist of two main components: yamas (things we must abstain from in order to lead a spiritual and ethical yogic life) and niyamas (spiritual observances). The very first of the yamas is ahimsa, or non-harm. This principle lies at the very heart of yoga and should be applied to everything—how we treat ourselves, how we treat others, and how we treat the world around us.

Of course, it’s logistically impossible to make it through life without causing any harm whatsoever. We live in a world in which we cannot escape creating some kind of pain. This world has been set up as being “perfectly imperfect.” If we walk across a park, we will step on ants. If we wipe sweat off our forehead, we will kill millions of bacteria. So how do we create the least amount of harm while we are here on this earth? If we cannot escape killing and harming completely, then how do we minimize our footprint?

 

Practicing Ahimsa through food

With this in mind, we do the best we can. The truth of the matter is that, even without consciously abiding by the Eight Limbs of Yoga, most of us innately attempt to live our lives in a way that doesn’t inflict harm on others. However, one way in which even the most gentle and aware among us do cause harm is by eating in an unconscious manner. We don’t stop to consider where our food is coming from or how it is making its way to our plate. For most of us, eating offers a prime avenue for becoming more aware of the earth and living beings around us and of alleviating some of the harm we are causing, often without even really being conscious of it!

One of the arguments we often hear about practicing ahimsa by eating a plant-based diet is, “Well, plants are living things, too, and you’re harming them!” This is true. Every living being on this planet—whether it be a human or an animal or a tree—has what yogis call a jiva-atma, or a soul, residing within it. 

 

Carrot vs. Cow

The idea of ahimsa is to cause the least amount of harm as possible. We like to explain it this way: let’s think about the difference between eating a carrot and a cow, bearing in mind that, in each case, we are causing harm. When we eat a carrot, we harm the carrot. But to make a cow eligible for slaughter, she must weigh at least a thousand pounds. In order for cows to gain weight, they need to eat and metabolize food, just like humans do. Specifically, for a cow to gain one pound, she has to eat between 16 and 20 pounds of grain. Let’s stop and think about this for a moment. This means that before we can even think about eating a cow, an enormous number of plants have to be killed in order to feed her. Imagine how many people you could feed with that amount of grain, compared to the one pound of beef protein that it produces.

 

The harm doesn’t stop there. It takes 2,500 gallons of water for a cow to produce one pound of beef. In other words, it takes 2.5 million gallons of water to get a single cow to one thousand pounds. And beyond that, animal agriculture is also one of the leading causes of air and water pollution and deforestation. The amount of harm caused by these two environmental hazards is unquantifiable.

 

Eat less meat, feed more people

Now think about the fact that one-seventh of the world’s population today is starving. One of the primary reasons is that most of the world’s grains and produce are used to feed animals for slaughter. These animals add up to a much smaller amount of food than grains and produce—it is food designated only for the people who can afford it. Perhaps you’ve heard the saying, “If everyone wanted to eat a meat-based diet, we would need two planet earths”?

But if everyone ate a plant-based diet, we could feed two planet earths. Aside from just harming the animals who go to slaughter, to produce them we are using up food and water resources that leave other humans wanting, and we are polluting the earth. That’s a lot of harm for a single meal. And we’re willing to bet that most of the people who pay into that vicious cycle have no desire to create any harm. 

 

Ahimsa & the vegan diet

When we eat a vegan diet, we can avoid all of this harm—and without sacrificing any of the taste. We can feel good about our choices for ourselves and for the world around us. We are literally playing a role in decreasing the suffering of an entire planet, including the human beings, animals, plants, and the very earth we walk upon. Think of what an impact you can have by making different, mindful decisions about what you fuel your body with at least three times a day, every day of your life!

Eating this way has other advantages. When we eat vibrant whole foods in place of meat and dairy, our bodies start humming along in a more natural rhythm, making us feel both physically better and more spiritually connected. Eating a whole-food, plant-based diet nourishes our body in a unique and noticeable way because the food is of a higher quality and nutrient content than processed foods. The plethora of vitamins, minerals, and essential nutrients fuel our physical constitution at the highest level. In the same way as a car will run more smoothly for a longer period of time when it is provided with high-grade fuel, so too will our bodies. And just as our bodies are better nourished with the vitamins and minerals plants provide, so too are our brains, which makes us quicker and more alert. Spiritually, we become more attuned to the life and resources around us, and we experience a greater sense of gratitude and interconnection.

Victoria is a prime example of this. As daunting as the idea of giving up meat and meat-based products initially was to her, today there’s no looking back. Not only does she feel stronger and more physically energized, but her entire life has shifted. She feels more aligned with and attuned to the world around her. She no longer searches for happiness in material things but, rather, turns to spiritual matters and meditation for fulfillment.

Recipe: Vegan Key Lime Cheesecake

MAKES ONE 9-INCH PIE

Key lime pie is one of the most popular dishes in America. It is sweet, tart, and rich. That flavor combination translates perfectly to cheesecakes. We have created a Key Lime Cheesecake that is so decadent and fulfilling, it’ll win over any pie or cheesecake lover in a heartbeat. Plus it is packed with superfoods and other healthy ingredients. The avocado is the star in this recipe. It gives the cheesecake a beautiful green color and adds a creaminess that is amazing in flavor and depth. This delicious dessert will satisfy your body as well a your sweet tooth. 

 

FOR THE CRUST:

 

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 cup pecans
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1 tsp. coconut oil
  • ½ cup pitted dates

(preferably Medjool)

  • ⅛ tsp. Himalayan pink salt
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  1. Place the pecans and walnuts in a food processor and blend until the nut pieces are small and granular, about the size of rice grains.
  2. Add the coconut oil, dates, salt, and vanilla extract to the food processor. Blitz until the mixture forms a crust-like consistency.
  3. Spoon the crust into a 9-inch cheesecake pan. Press the mixture into the base of the pan evenly with your fingers. Set the pan in the freezer while you work on the filling.

 

FOR THE FILLING:

INGREDIENTS 

  • 1 cup raw cashews, soaked for at least 2 hours
  • ½ cup chilled coconut milk
  • ½ cup coconut oil
  • ½ cup maple syrup
  • ¼ cup fresh-squeezed lime juice
  • ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • ½ cup avocado chunks
  • Pinch of Himalayan pink salt
  1. Place all of the ingredients except the avocado into a high-powered blender and blitz on high for 45 seconds, or until creamy and smooth.

 

  1. Separate ¼ cup of the filling mixture and set aside. Add the avocado chunks to the rest of the mixture in the blender and blitz again for 45 seconds, or until creamy and smooth.

 

  1. Pour the avocado mixture into the cheesecake pan and spread evenly. Tap the pan lightly on a cutting board to get out any air bubbles.

 

  1. Drizzle the reserved ¼ cup white mixture all over the top of the green cheesecake, as if you are trying to draw lines with it. With a toothpick tip, carefully swirl the lines to create the classic cheesecake look.

 

  1. Place in the freezer for at least 2 hours to set. About 15 minutes before serving, remove from the freezer. To get perfectly clean slices, run your knife under hot water before cutting each piece.

 

  1. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or in the freezer for about 3 weeks.

This is an excerpt and recipe from The Yoga Plate: Bring Your Practice into the Kitchen with 108 Simple & Nourishing Vegan Recipes by Tamal Dodge and Victoria Dodge.

 

Tamal Dodge is a renowned yoga teacher, trainer, and cofounder of LA’s premiere yoga studio, Yoga Salt, with its newest location in North Carolina. He’s been featured in the New York Times, the LA Times, Time magazine, the Chicago Tribune, Self, Better Homes & Gardens, Yogi Times, mindbodygreen, and more. He teaches yoga around the world and stars in several bestselling yoga DVDs that are sold worldwide. yogasalt.com

Victoria Dodge is a cofounder of Yoga Salt, professional photographer, and cooking expert who has worked with companies such as Lululemon, Forbes, and Apple, as well as celebrity clients, models, and Hollywood figures like Shaquille O’Neal, James Cameron, and Sterling K. Brown. The Dodges live in North Carolina with their two children. Learn more at theyogaplate.com.

 

 

Buy your copy of The Yoga Plate at your favorite bookseller!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | IndieBound

 

 

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