Thursday, August 28, 2014

It's more than just a car.

As I pull out of my driveway in my shiny, new, silver Toyota Prius V, my neighbor is roaring down the street (at 25 mph) in his shiny, new monster truck complete with neon orange shock absorbers and custom detailing.

When I bought my Prius, I was making a conscientious decision to be a better global citizen.  Me, myself, and I.  No judgements.  My neighbors are great people despite their taste in automobiles, and they are far from the only people here in NASCAR country that jack their vehicles ten feet off the ground.

Since buying my environmentally friendly vehicle in May, I have watched with pure delight as my miles per gallon have climbed to it's current reading of 43.5 MPG.  With each new tenth of a mile, I clap and cheer with downright giddiness.  Estimating a savings of $200/month, "This car is paying for itself!" I exclaim to whoever will listen.

If I'm being totally honest, I never gave much thought to the cost of gas BP (Before Prius), but then my neighbor's monster truck rambled down the road and I began to think about it.  It's Economics 101:  supply and demand.  While I'm getting over 40 MPG, my neighbor is probably getting south of 10 MPG.

I know, I know.  It's his money, right?  But is it?

The more gas his monster truck guzzles, the less gas there is to go around.  The more gas one person uses, the more we ALL pay at the pump.  Supply and demand.  So while I'm saving myself money by using less gas to go from Point A to Point B, I'm saving you money too.


My Prius is not glamorous.  It's not sexy.  People don't do a double-take with envy.  But it is the smartest designed car I've ever owned, with storage, cargo space, and leg room that can rival sexy any day.

And if saving money while saving the planet isn't sexy, I don't know what is!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Is the Word of God in the Yoga Sutras?

When I originally read the Yamas, the first of the 8 limbs of yoga as outlined by Patanjali, I couldn’t help but notice a parallel between them and the Ten Commandments as outlined in the Bible.  The Yamas are considered moral restraints and tell us how to behave in society; the Ten Commandments do the same.

Before Patanjali transcribed the Yoga Sutras in 400 AD, laying the groundwork for modern day yoga, yoga was taught one on one, wisdom passing from guru (teacher) to student.  Not unlike Martin Luther who translated the Bible from Latin to German to spread the word of God to a larger audience. 

The first Yama is AHIMSA, which is the practice of "non-violence".  According to Judith Lasater, “This refers not only to physical violence, but also to the violence of words or thoughts.”  Judith Lasater is considered one of the nation's foremost yoga instructors having co-founded not only the Iyengar Yoga Institute in San Francisco, but also, the most prominent magazine for yoga enthusiasts, Yoga Journal.  

 A lot of yogis interpret AHIMSA to include all animals and animal by-products resulting in the participation of veganism or vegetarianism.  AHIMSA is similar to the 5th commandment, “Thou shalt not kill.”  However, in 1280 B.C. in the land of Exodus and Deuteronomy, the books of the Bible where the Ten Commandments appear, God was still demanding the slaughter of innocent farm animals as a temporary covering of sins.  His intention with the Fifth Commandment was not to create a world of herbivores.   

While I can never see myself converting to veganism, I have found myself being more conscientious toward all living creatures.  I no longer mindlessly swat insects and as far as violent thoughts are concerned, I am judging less and viewing all beings including myself with compassionate eyes more.   Whether or not AHIMSA was intended to extend to all living creatures or just mankind is up for interpretation, similar to many passages in the Bible.

The next Yama is known as SATYA or “truth”.  Judith Lasater wrote, “Honesty is what we do when others are around and might judge our actions or words, but to have integrity is to act in an honest manner when others are not around and will never know about our actions.”  Again this Yama bears a strong resemblance to the 8th commandment, “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.”  In other words:  Tell the truth.  Be honest.  Don’t lie.

In The Small Catechism by Martin Luther, the explanation of the 8th commandment is expanded to read, “We should fear and love God that we may not deceitfully, belie, betray, slander or defame our neighbor, but defend him, think and speak well of him, and put the best construction on everything.  I believe “neighbor” is a broad term and can be expanded to include all people with whom you come into contact.  Because our truth(s) are filtered through our own experiences and beliefs--our perception is our reality—we have a better chance of achieving SATYA if we speak with the intention of not harming others.

The third Yama is ASTEYA, which translates to “non-stealing”.  Again there is a commandment that supports that philosophy.  Commandment #7—“Thou shalt not steal”.  While the meaning of this Yama is obvious from the outset, it goes a little deeper.  Not only are we to not take what isn’t ours, but also not more than we need.  In a society where the obesity rate is at an all-time high, food is a good example. 

Judith Lasater wrote, “We fail also when we steal from ourselves—by neglecting a talent…”  Before I enrolled in yoga teacher training, I thought I needed to be able to soar in Bakasana, also known as crane pose.  If I can’t do it, how can I teach it?  I thought.  One day I realized that once I had the pose, I would find another obstacle—something else wouldn’t be perfect—and that if I truly wanted to be a yoga teacher I needed to quit focusing on what I couldn’t do and focus on what I could do!

The fourth Yama, BRAHMACHARYA, may be the one that lends itself to (mis)interpretation the most.  The literal translation is celibacy, but when the word is dissected we end up with a new meaning…”Walking with God”.

BRAHMA-the name of a deity
CHAR-to walk

So while some people may choose to live their life as a nun or monk offering their sexuality as devotion to God, others believe BRAHMACHARYA simply asks us to remain faithful within a monogamous relationship.  I again feel a direct correlation between the practice of BRAHMACHARYA and the 6th commandment:  “Thou shalt not commit adultery.”  Judith Lasater wrote, “…use sexual energy like all life energies, in accord with the practice of AHIMSA (non-violence).  This means that we respect ourselves and our partner when we are in a sexual relationship and do not use others to have sex mindlessly.”

The fifth and final Yama is APARIGRAHA, which means “non-greed”.  When I hear this Yama I think of the ninth and tenth commandments:  “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house” and thusly “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his man-servant, nor his maid-servant, nor cattle, nor anything that is his.”

In our name-brand, designer world, it is easy to get caught up in greed.  It is also easy to fall into the “keeping up with the Jones’s” trap.  I’m guilty of both—always measuring and comparing, but I’d like to believe I’m making strides in the right direction and that my yoga practice has had an impact.  I have so much less ego than I did when I began this journey.  Recently I had the opportunity to purchase a new car.  When I began the search, I started at BMW and Porsche.  When I wrote the check, it was signed to Toyota of North Charlotte.  In an effort to be a more globally conscientious citizen, I bought a Prius.  While I wish it had a power-lift gate or automatic seat positioners, I squeal with delight every time my MPG jumps a tenth. 

Just as the Bible can be interpreted to be self-serving, so can the Yamas:  to eat meat or not to eat meat, to have sex or not to have sex, as a practitioner we have to use the Yamas as guidelines to live a life as close to our own truth as possible.

As I write this, I am transported back to catechism class 1982 discussing I Corinthians 6:19-20, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?”   

Pastor Westendorf explained that it was okay to drink alcohol and use tobacco products as long as it wasn't done in excess—as long as we didn’t harm our bodies, which were the temples of God.  When I told my Grandma what the pastor had said, she scoffed.  “That’s just his justification for smoking cigars!”


Well…even men of God have their vices!

My relationship with God and organized religion in general has been tentative for years.  I prayed daily to God while questioning his very existence.  By the time I started yoga teacher training in 2013, I was agnostic at best.  It was the reading of the Yamas that made me begin to believe that perhaps there really is only one true God--no matter if he is called Brahma or Ishvara, Allah or the Universe--he, she, it is one in the same. It seems clear to me that although yoga itself is not affiliated with any religion, perhaps some of it's earliest teachers were in fact influenced by the word of God.

I'm still working to discover what God truly means to me, but I'm open and that's the first step.  Being open to all possibilities means I have a greater chance of receiving whatever messages the Universe sends my way.  I don't know if I'm correct.  I'm not a theologian--just a yogi who has experienced a power greater than herself.  

But now that I've published it on the internet--it must be true!

Friday, August 8, 2014

Confessions of a Coke head: Week One Update

Despite being headache-y the first few days, I successfully managed to curtail my diet coke intake to 4 cans per day.  Now I'm working on whittling down to three cans per day and it's going well.  By early afternoon, I've usually filled my quota so today I made cucumber infused water.  Refreshing!  And the best part is that all of the cucumbers were harvested from my own backyard!

Cucumber Water

Thank you to everyone for the encouragement and sharing your own experiences with me last week when I announced my desire to end my more than two decade love affair with soda.  I'll keep you posted on my progress and am looking forward to sharing any changes or improvements I observe once my body is no longer dependent on the bubbly, artificially flavored and sweetened, caramel colored syrup.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Me & The Yoga Sutras

Olive Oyl in Lotus Pose
The Yoga Sutras written by Patanjali are the guidelines by which we practice yoga in the modern world.  Outwardly to many, yoga is nothing more than the ability to contort and twist the body into poses that resemble pretzels.   And, to be honest, when I attended my first class, (almost 6 years ago) I believed that too.  I have since learned the poses, called ASANAS in Sanskrit are just one little piece of the puzzle.  In the second pada, or chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explains there are 8 limbs of yoga:

1.        YAMA-universal moral commandments

2.        NIYAMA-self-purification through discipline

3.        ASANA-posture or poses

4.        PRANYAMA-rhythmic control of the breath

5.        PRATYAHARA-withdrawal of the mind from the senses and external objects

6.        DHARANA-concentration

7.        DYHANA-meditation

8.        SAMADHI-super-conscious state where individual becomes one with the object of his/her meditation

For the first four years, my yoga practice was sporadic and at times non-existent.  So it took me a long time to realize the poses were nothing without the breath, also known as PRANYAMA. 

Hollace Stephenson, senior student of Rod Stryker and owner of Yoga Shala in Charlotte, NC states, “The quickest way to change your mood is through your breath.”  I could not agree more.  Once I learned I could calm my nervous, anxious, impatient, easily angered, quick to judge, unbalanced mind with long, slow breaths, my world changed.  I became a better mom.  I became a better wife.  I became a better all-around
Bakasana aka Crow Pose
Once I figured out that yoga was more than just a bunch of party trick poses, I quit agonizing over the ones I found challenging, like Bakasana.  I let go of my ego and took this quote by the red-headed yoga teacher that Claire Dederer writes about in her book, Poser:  My life in twenty-three yoga poses, to heart:  “I hope everyone will allow themselves to be really crappy today, to walk away from being perfect.  The real yoga isn’t in the perfect pose; it’s in the crappy pose that you are really feeling.  You want to feel it from the inside out, rather than make it perfect from the outside in.” 

So there you have it.  The red-headed yoga teacher said it best.  It’s not just about the poses.  But, it’s also not just about the breath.  Remember, there are eight limbs of yoga.

So while I consistently practice the first four limbs, I need to start working on the last four.  I believe 5,6,and 7 are all interconnected so once I add meditation to my practice on a regular basis, I believe Pratyahara and Dharana will fall in line like good soldiers.  As for Samadhi, my mind cannot even process the concept yet.  I’m not ready to go there.  Like an infant learning to walk, one step at a time is my modus operandi.  If someday I reach it, so be it.  If I don’t, so be it.  The greatest gift I have received through my yoga practice thus far is santosa or contentment.  Just as my ego no longer needs Bakasana as part of my physical practice, Samadhi is not a requirement for my spiritual practice.

Epilogue:  Approximately thirty minutes after writing this article, a fellow yogi friend posted this quote from Swami Rama on her Facebook page:  “The goal of meditation is to experience a state beyond the mind’s levels of thinking, feeling, and analyzing.  To achieve this, we must create a state that is still and one-pointed so that the mind becomes silent.” 
Maybe.  But I prefer to believe the universe was sending me a message about my Samadhi musings. 

Well played Universe.  Message received.