Yogic Wisdom From The Hen House

We may see ourselves as the superior species but animals often teach us about our behavior – even chickens.  Consider the animal definition of the word brood: To sit upon eggs to be hatched. Brooding can create new life, or cause us to stay where we are to the point of endangering our health.

It is in a chicken’s biology (some breeds more than others) to sit on eggs with a goal of incubation. A broody hen occasionally decides to remove herself from the flock to a dark, secluded nest. She stops laying and only comes off the nest once or twice a day to eat and drink; the bare minimum for survival.  Her body can handle this abnormal routine for 21 days. But if the broodiness goes beyond the 21 days it takes to hatch an egg, the hen looses considerable weight, has bug problems from missing dust baths, the feathers get dull and fall out, and the comb loses its bright red color indicating serious health problems. And as far as their mood goes, even the friendliest hens get darn ornery! The problem is that a chicken may sit on eggs endlessly if they have not been fertilized.  And even when the eggs are removed from their nest, the longer she is left to brood, the less likely she will snap out of it.  My term for this is “hen hormone hell”. Rehabilitation requires that I forcefully remove Ms. Broody for her own well-being and put her in “broody jail” for approximately the same number of days she sat until the hormones are regulated and she can lay again.

Perhaps you have an interest in chickens to read this far.  But what does all this have to do with yoga? A consistent yoga practice develops mindfulness. When using the term brood in a people context it means to dwell on a subject or meditate with morbid persistence or to think deeply about something that makes one unhappy.  Unlike chickens who stop their daily routine to brood, we can unfortunately be going through the motions without even realizing we are continuing to agonize over something. The fifth of the Yamas (restraints) in the Yoga Sutras teaches us to recognize when there is a need to let go. The term for this is Aparigraha and is often translated as non-possessiveness or non-greed.  Nischala Devi takes a more practical understanding of the Yoga Sutras in her book “The Secret Power of Yoga”.  She suggests the Yamas are a reflection of our true nature and Aparigraha is the innate ability to recognizing our blessings in everything.  So I can choose to mope and fret or to be grateful for what I have… and practice more yoga!  The thing about yoga is that I can still be alone and it gets me off my nest at whatever level I can muster with asana or just mentally with meditation.

If you are an endocrine system affection-ado or want more scientific evidence showing how yoga rewires our broody brain, please read “Reducing Cellular Stress with Yoga”. In summary, cortisol levels, which is the steroid hormone produced by the adrenal glands, naturally go up in the morning when we need to get out of our nest and go down in the evening for sleep. Throughout the day, cortisol is meant to be our little helper when it comes to getting through short-term difficulties. When the stressful event is over, the adrenal glands need time to rest. But when we brood about the event, the adrenal glands miss their opportunity to rest; hormone hell.  Like my chickens, the longer I brood, the more difficult it is to rewire myself. There are also circumstances when brooding needs to be interrupted and I accept and appreciate help from my spiritual community.

Sometimes we need to remove ourselves from the outer world in order to “hatch” into something greater. Solitude and stillness are ingredients in transformation. And when incubating emotions, honor and enter into the loneliness or whatever the feeling is, but don’t let it take you so far that re-entry is difficult. Like when the hen continues to sit in the nest without realizing that there isn’t even an egg under her anymore. Sometimes I’m like that hen; sitting in my thoughts even when the event is over; sulking about the loss of what I had or worrying about not getting what I want.  Or experiencing self-doubt. The reality is we are always going in and out of changes.  And the positive side of self-doubt is humility.

Peace to all chickens world-wide,
Megan

This is Your Heart on Yoga

I have a twisted ability to view the timely collision of unrelated events as a signal from the Universe. Recently, a secret message was delivered in the form of:

  • a conversation regarding the leading cause of death
  • February’s status as heart month
  • a gift my daughter made me of a heart protected in a box

This was most certainly the Universe’s reminder to care for the heart. Thanks to yoga, nurturing the heart is natural. The heart is an organ that functions on the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual level; places united in yoga through the breath as life force energy (prana). Places that diet and exercise often overlook and pills cannot heal.

February comes with an all-access media pass to cardiac facts; Statistics such as one in every three deaths of both men and women in the US is from heart disease and stroke. Diagnostically there is no disagreement. But my Pitta/Aries fire fueled by yogic philosophy argues that stress is the leading cause of death. Five thousand year old yoga teachings do not dispute medical research, but view “dis-ease” from a whole body perspective, with stress being the common denominator. Genetics are important, but according to yoga and Ayurveda, “dis-ease” begins in the mind and spreads to the body. Despite a genetic disposition for heart disease, a yogic path allows me to go to bed at night knowing I do what I can to release stress. There is no immunity from stress, but an outcome of the practice is the ability to recognize the associated sensations; when rage tightens the face, sadness fills the stomach to the point of no appetite and anxiety takes the mind for a ride into worry land. This not a quest for perfection or denial of emotion. It’s observation. Awareness is where the ride in the sympathetic system stops and the breath leads to Herbert Benson’s Relaxation Response super highway.

In addition to stress, factors in heart disease that cannot be ignored are diet and weight. Yoga is not a weight loss program. But a yogic lifestyle is attentive to what the body is filled with on both the physical and emotional level. Mindful moderation is a byproduct of self-reflective practices. In terms of treating the physical body as the temple, yoga teaches Ahimsa, the first ethical standard that translates to “non-harming”. The do-no-harm principle starts with self-respect; the idea that you have to love and care for yourself first. Additionally, Ahimsa extends to all living creatures. It is certainly not required, but yoga suggests a vegetarian diet. Eating vegetarian makes some hearts happy in a fuzzy-respect-animals way. But less subjective is the fact that plaque build up in the walls of the blood vessels leads to heart problems. Eating less or no meat, which contains high amounts of fat and cholesterol, has been proven to prevent and even reverse plaque buildup (Dr. Dean Ornish Heart Reversal Study). If you don’t want to pass up a juicy cheeseburger, in the very least Ahimsa leads to healthier food choices.

Emotionally, yoga protects the heart by teaching that the heart trumps the mind. In certain paths of yoga, such as Bhakti, emotion is channeled through the heart as love. The ego mind can’t give without first asking why and what’s in it for me. The heart is compassion. The mind craves attention and wants to be liked. The heart is unconditional love and doesn’t care what others think as long as you don’t lie to it – which you can’t. The heart also knows when someone or something leads you away from your true Self and gives you permission to protect it – to put it in a box enclosed with forgiveness.

As Xavier Rudd sings “Emphasis placed on the body and mind. The heart is often somewhere behind. Strange.”

Maybe not so strange this February.

Namaste, Megan