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Digesting Spring – Ojas

Ojas is the beautiful sanskrit word that explains the essence of life. It is the subtle form of radiance, heath, immunity and longevity. On the physical level, Ojas corresponds with our bodies’ muscle, fat, bones, bone marrow, blood, plasma and semen. Ojas, along with Prana (physical vitality) and Tejas (mental clarity), make up the three positive forms of our constitution or doshas (Vata, Pitta, Kapha)in Ayurveda. In spring, this essence of life makes itself known in the sprouting buds and singing birds. After a stagnant winter, everything around us is bursting with life and creative juice; and so should we! As our earth receives life from water, air and the heat of the sun, we have the ability to restore our Ojas through the food and thoughts we take in. Ayurveda teaches that we are all born with a certain amount of Ojas. Think of Ojas as your bank account – if you are always withdrawing (“burning the candle at both ends”) – this vital essence gets depleted faster. Some indications of low Ojas are feeling tired, weak, fearful or worried. If you spent this winter catching all the colds and flues around you, that can also be an indication of low Ojas.

Since Ojas is most simply understood as the byproduct of our digestion, (what we digest both physically and mentally), we have the ability to deposit into our life savings account through our diet and lifestyle. Everything from the food choices we make to our relationships can drain or sustain Ojas.

Building Ojas through our diet starts with how the food is prepared and eating mindfully in a peaceful environment. This leaves out sports bars with dozens of loud T.V’s and business lunch meetings. Even if we eat healthy foods, we do more to build our Ojas account if we take a moment before eating to appreciate the source of the food – what it took to come into your possession, who grew it and prepared it. It is with this same gratitude that we then invite our body to receive all the nourishing qualities of the food. There is a good reason why we don’t feel like eating when we are emotional; we digest our emotions with every bite. The awareness of the whole digestion process starts with smelling our food, letting it touch our lips, beginning to feel it in the mouth and tasting it on the tongue before the teeth get called into action. This 30-60 second process sets the stage to eat slowly while sitting down (and not in the car!) Even if we can do this for one meal a day, we are depositing into the Ojas account.

Another way to strengthen Ojas and make the energy available for use in our subtle body is with a regular meditation practice. We lose Ojas through the mouth from too much talking and through the mind with negative or excessive sensory input. The constant stimulation and stressors of our modern lifestyle are always depleting our life-sustaining source. Winter is the season where nature gets quiet and stores its energy like a long meditation. As spring arrives, there is a natural order of releasing the stagnancy of winter and stimulating just enough activity to flourish without exhaustion. As in nature, quality and quantity are both a part of restoring the balance of Ojas.

The home of Ojas is in the heart. So what makes your heart happy physically and mentally? Walking outside and connecting your feet to the earth and all your beautiful senses to the rhythm of nature is another way to rebuild your Ojas. Make your life digestible and Happy Spring!

Namaste, Megan

The Heather Tree

There is a pine tree on the golf course across the road where I live. I remember the day it was planted over 35 years ago. I was 9 years old with a new golden retriever puppy and given the grown up responsibly of walking her. I would take her to that tree and let her off the leash to swim in the river while I rested my body on the wobbly trunk. Eventually, the branches made a good perch. This is how life flew though my childhood summers…walking to that tree with my dog and a smile in my heart.

Now I am older with 3 dogs and the wacky Wisconsin seasons test the hearty winter lover in me. Some days the walk is a chore. However, a small miracle occurs at that pine tree.  It is too large to climb, but instinctively, my hand reaches out to touch the trunk; a warm flow of energy goes up my arm to my heart, and I smile unintentionally.

You see, that tree is me.

The once flexible branches, are no longer able to bend on a whim with the wind. Where the outside was once smooth and soft, weathered lines appear on the thickening bark. Yet in the harshest of winters, the roots have been nurtured, growing deep and strong. As the tree grew bigger, it took on more responsibility; providing a warm shelter, restful shade, and happiness for the creatures who come in contact with it. If we could see the rings, we would know the inside has not died or changed; it still radiates with pure childlike love.

In memory of my first 4 legged love, Heather.

Peace, Megan

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

How to Start a Daily Yoga Practice – with video

A question I am asked as a yoga teacher is how many days a week do I practice yoga.  Answer: every day.  But the next question should be what is a yoga practice?  What it should not be is a source of stress or guilt.  Rather, a daily practice should be whatever you have time for, considering what you need each day physically, mentally and spiritually. I often compare yoga to brushing teeth.  If you only have time to brush for one minute as opposed to the three minutes my kid’s orthodontist timer recommends, doesn’t that feel better than not brushing at all? Forming habits has little to do with duration and more to do with frequency.  And if the oral hygiene starts in the morning, you reap the benefits all day. Maybe later there will still be time for another opportunity to brush longer.

So find out what you need.  For me, a morning meditation is a must.  But the physical practice ranges from one and a half hours of strong standing postures outside listening to the birds (soon!) to a 20 minute restorative posture hibernating under the covers of my bed (Ohhh Winter – you test me.)  Years ago, while struggling with sleep deprivation from twins, anxiety and feeling I  “never had time for myself”, I  could not do lengthy meditations and a physical yoga practice. “One stop shopping” for body mind and spirit was required.  I created this short salutation to the words of a Tecumseh quote that is strategically placed on my bathroom mirror. While it is one thing to wake and read a positive statement of gratitude,  it is a stronger experience to embody it.

Disclaimer: this video was filmed in the afternoon after a 1 hour class.  Had it been in the morning, it would look like a different body – clothed in pajamas, groggy and stiff.  Not even a yoga teacher escapes the morning  fascia “fuzz”.

Anniversary Blog

A Year of Gratitude
This week, BFYH starts its second year in business.  What did the first year bring? Not to keep you waiting, I will skip to the thesis statement;  Yoga brings out the best in people. Forget the physical aspects. It is the human side of the story.  The power we hold to hurt or heal each other.  In the studio this past year, it was a story of how we bring Light to each other.  A term I call Generosity of Spirit;  The idea that every interaction is the opportunity to improve the day of the person you come in contact with. Sometimes as simple as a smile.

There were unexpected twists that were not in the business manual – months of distracting train whistles, interesting neighbors and shady deals going down in the parking lot behind us, and most recently, lots of shoveling, ice and a polar vortex. (Even as a snow lover, the current temperature of -2  makes this a particularly good week to practice cultivating positive thoughts and perception – and I realize I take my chances saying that!)

Difficulty came in losing the clients, friends and family that transitioned this past year.  There need not be an agreement where they go to when they leave their bodies, only that we continue to send blessings in our own way.

I cannot express the gratitude in my heart for all you have taught me this past year, but thanks go out to:

  • The students who followed me from the Aurora Wellness Center and helped to make BFYH our new home.
  • The prayer pot that overflows with selfless thoughts and greets me each day.
  • All the intentions set by and for each of you in class.  We are energy and awareness and energy follows intention.
  • Meeting and making new friends… and meeting your support team: parents who attend with their children, couples, sisters and friends all practicing together. Keep bringing your visitors for free!
  • The teachers who are yoga students at BFYH. Thank You for taking care of yourselves because you help our kids.
  • Workshops and events with fantastic guest facilitators sharing their knowledge and energy. And for the attendees who open their minds to holistic methods of health and healing.
  • The clients who supported me during my Healing Touch certification. Next goal: making the word “chakra” a household term in Burlington!
  • Dog lovers who greet and treat Luna and Bodhi. Bodhi is starting his therapy training and appreciates your patience and affection.
  • Those who participate in, and Janine for teaching our Friday community class.  We raised $1,986 for the Transitional Living Center in 2014!
  • Lots of savasana – student or teacher, always my favorite pose 🙂
  • Mostly, Thank You for the countless hugs and for sharing your “Selves”.

As a friend wrote recently, “life is just a really big project, isn’t it”?!  A project where my hope is more things happen FOR you instead of TO you in next year.  Either way, life is a project we can work on together.

Namaste,
megan