Yoga Culture: Selfless or Selfish?

I started my own personal yoga journey back in 2008. I was a brand new yoga student, with yogic knowledge limited to what I had seen or heard on movies and television. My mat was a basic $15 version from target, and I wore exercise clothes purchased at the second hand thrift shop. My introduction to yoga came in the form of donation-based classes held in a church basement. Nothing about the dawn of my yoga career was glamorous. But it was this humble practice that I fell in love with, and that has kept me coming back to my mat for the past eight years. My dance and gymnastics background, coupled with my natural anatomy and ability proved useful in my yoga practice, and I advanced quickly through intermediate and advance poses. But it was not the Asana (physical postures) that had me returning to my mat day after day. The subtle energetic experiences ignited my desire to take my practice deeper, study meditation, yogic philosophy and ultimately pursue a 230 hour Yoga Teacher Training at the Yoga Center of Minneapolis in 2015.

 As my yogic journey progressed, I could not help but notice the stark contrast between the yoga that I loved and practiced and the yoga of the ‘mainstream’ yoga community and culture. When I was practicing on a $15 piece of rubber, my fellow students were on $90 mats. While I was wearing a thrifted outfit costing at a max $40, other yogis were sporting $100 yoga pants, custom crystal prayer beads and were taking fabulously expensive retreats to Bali in the name of enlightenment and self-realization.

 Nowhere in the yogic texts does it mention the need to accumulate fancy yoga ‘stuff’ as a means of developing a personal practice or gaining self-realization. In fact, the foremost yogic texts: The Yoga Sutras by Sri Patanjali  and Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Yogi Hari , evoke the idea of losing ones ego, simple living and selflessness. Yogic culture is ‘cool’, I get it, that’s why I teach upwards of twelve yoga classes a week- but at what cost? Making the yogic culture a commodity to be consumed only by those with disposable income and time to kill, makes the practice exclusionary: the opposite of the intent of the founders and wise masters. Western Yoga and wellness culture has unfortunately become elitist, where the degree of your ‘awakening’ is determined on the dollar amount your willing to shell out.  

 The practice of yoga is intended to give rise to personal liberation through movement, breath work and meditation. This personal liberation is attained when mind and body are one, and the soul is reawakened to the idea that all beings are inherently spiritual and interconnected. Yoga asks that the seeker freely lose the sense of ego; the sense of self.  

 Another underlying principle of yogic philosophy is the idea of impermanence. This life and all the worldly things included in it are impermanent: they wont last. They are not eternal; they are not ‘divine’.  What is eternal is the soul, spirit or in other words your actions, your good deeds. The impressions and impacts you create into the world will last long after you are gone, long after your ‘stuff’ disappears.

 Don’t get me wrong- I love me a good pair of yoga pants, a cute Lululemon top (only if it is severely on sale), and if I had the disposable income a yoga retreat somewhere beautiful and tropical would be ah-mazing. But face it yogis, our current culture is paradoxical. A practice that is aimed at giving rise to selflessness produces a lot of selfishness. A community that is purported at being peace-full and loving can be seen as competitive and exclusionary, I know because I have personally experienced this.

 I need to mention this, and honestly I could dedicate an entire blog to his topic, but the inherent white privilege that is in the yoga community is alarming. This elitist yogic culture of the west is rooted in white privilege.  Yoga is seemingly identified as a ‘white-centric’ practice. Let me acknowledge my own white privilege. I grew up in a wealthy, suburb where white privilege runs deep. Thankfully I woke up through some fantastic social justice classes, and fabulous professors at Hamline University.  We need to recognize the flaws within our community before we can evoke change. And change needs to happen. I love yoga, it is my passion, my profession and my life, but I can’t stay silent.

 So what can we do? For starters, as yoga teachers it is imperative to create a safe and welcoming environment in your classes for EVERYONE. The teacher sets the tone for the class, so be mindful of your words, environment and the culture you are creating by your energy, clothing ect.

 Yoga is a personal practice. It is not a contest, nor a competition. Consider creating classes that are open to your community, and can reach a wider demographic- try offering a donation-based class.  Not only will this provide a positive service in your community, but also it will give you a larger reach to grow your own yoga business. Actively engage in your community and be knowledgeable about current events. Yoga teachers are just that- teachers! And as teachers it is imperative that we are knowledgeable and informed, not just about poses and anatomy, but about the current climate in our communities and how these events may impact our classes and students.  

 If you are interested in a down to earth yoga practice, please consider attending one of my donation based drop-in classes weekly: Mindful Flow, located at Svasti Yoga – a community yoga studio dedicated to making all students feel welcomed. Lets collect moments and experiences not things.

Namaste, Kara.

 

 

 

 

 

Vegan Dark Chocolate Covered Dates

BECAUSE I CAN'T STOP VEGAN BAKING!!! These are phenom. I need to get them out of my house or I will literally eat all of them. ah! Enjoy! 

1 cup vegan organic dark chocolate chips (60-70% cacao is what i use) 

1 tsp vanilla 

1 splash unsweetened almond milk 

Organic medjool dates (pitted) 

Shredded organic coconut 

First eat a couple dark chocolate chips, because obviously. Next, melt chocolate chips, almond milk and vamilla. If you are like me, and do not have a microwave, boil some water over low heat in a sauce pan, and place a glass bowl with your ingredients on top to melt. Stir periodically. 

Take dates with fork, dip into chocolate and roll into coconut. 

Place on a plate or baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Freeze for 2-3 hours. Take out enjoy and try not to consume them all at once. Pairs delightfuly with a red or rose wine. 

Sweet Corn Jalapeno Hummus

AH-mazing. This recipe is so simple and sooo good. The jalapenos, when cooked, lose a lot of their bite, so even you betcha Minnesotans can enjoy this lucious snack. I love sweet corn- it just says *summertime* 

Sweet Corn Jalapeno Hummus

1 can organic chick peas 

1 ear of sweet corn, boiled and kernels cut off

1/2 cup chopped cilantro (more or less to taste) 

2 seared jalapenos 

1 lime's juice 

1 tbsp olive oil 

All natural sea salt, cumin, ground pepper to taste 

Remove the husk from the corn and boil for 15 minutes, or until kernels are soft

Drain chick peas and place in bowl set aside

In a small frying pan with an organic oil of your choice (I used olive oil), sear the jalapenos until each side is browned, and they are soft 

Cut up jalapeno, place with chickpeas. Combine cilantro, lime juice, olive oil and seasoning 

Remove corn from water, and cut kernels off corn and place in bowl with other ingredients

Using a masher (or food processor if you're fancier than me ;) combine all ingredients and season to taste. Garnish with fresh cilantro- and enjoy!!! 

 

Obstacles

This weekend I participated in a 5k race, the first running race I've ever been in. I was particularly nervous, knowing that this race involved many obstacle courses involving climbing, heights and tunnels, as well as...mud. All normally quite anxiety provoking separately; and combined...well not exactly my typical jam on a Saturday afternoon, but with the encouragement of my wonderful partner, his fun brother and the promise of a beer at the finish line I showed up. And showing up is half the battle. I tell my students that in  the beginning of yoga class: the hardest part of the class is done- you showed up on your mat. 

If showing up and being present is half the battle, then jumping in is the other. Seeing the obstacle in front of us, regardless of how scared, anxious, nervouse we might be, and then diving in head first. Throughout the running course, there were obstacles interspersed. Each obstacle presented a differnet opportunity for me to "jump in", get out of my comfort zone and ultimately confront some anxieties and fears. Often the things we are most scared of can provide us with the greatest potenital to learn and to grow. 

This race coincided with another challenge in my life. A few weeks prior i decided to quit my full-time, salaried, business casual desk job to pursue my dream of teaching yoga full-time. I know...crazy right? I saw the obstacle in front of me. My day job was a hinderance to accepting more yoga business. When I was at work I spent a lot of my time working on my yoga business, reading about yoga, health and wellness, and being pre-occupied with the day dream of quitting my job to try and make my passion a reality. I saw the obstacle and I jumped in head first. 

The final leg of the 5k was a slippery climb up a steep, large ladder. And at this point in the race both my partner and I were barefoot, having ditched our shoes during a muddy stretch. Once at the top, we were to ride down a slide into a body of water. I did not hesitate this time, and I took the plunge, remiding myself of the other obstacles I had already faced, the other anxieties conquered. 

The same can be said of our yoga practice. Half of the battle is showing up on our mats to do the practice, the other is diving in. Not only facing each pose in the present moment, but pausing to evaluate and examine what are our obstacles to practice and poses, and why they are there. In yogic terms this examination is called Svadhyaya or "study of the self" in Sanskirt. Svadyhaha is one of the Niyamas, part of the eight limbs (virtues) of yogic philospihy, as described by Sri Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. Svadhyaya seeks to discover the true Self, by peeling back the layers of what is not the true self, what is referred to as the ego to reveal the divine within us all. 

It starts by jumping in. Jump into the mud and see what beauty awaits you. 

Zucchini Noodles with Thai Peanut Sauce

Yaaaaas. I am so obssessed with making zucchini noodles. They are so easy, delicious, and for some reason using the veggie peeler is super fun to me... easily amused much? These are vegan (oh yeah!) and you can do this raw too if that is your jam! I have been trying to create my own version of a Thai Peanut Sauce, and I think I've got a winner with this one! It's pretty much fail proof, and kid-approved. *score* Enjoy! 

Zucchini Noodels with Thai Peanut Sauce 

For the Zoodles: 

2-3 Medium- large zucchinis 

Using a peeler, create your "zoodles" , by making strips length wise until you get to the seeds. Put aside. 

For the Thai Peanut Sauce: 

1 cup all natural, organic peanut butter 

1/2 cup water 

1 tbsp Braggs Amino Acid (Soy sauce substitute) 

1 clove garlic minced (more to taste) 

1/4 cup fresh cilantro 

Juice of 1 lime 

Handful of raw cashew pieces 

Combine all ingredients into a sauce pan. Warm and stir on low heat on stove until completely combined. In a separate sauce pan, place zucchini noodles and splash of olive oil. Pour sauce over Zoodles and stir. Do not cook for longer than 5 min or so, or zoodles will cook way down! 

Garnish with some more cashew pieces, green onion and a splash of siracha- if you're feeling saucy! Enjoy! 

 

Pause

I catch myself saying “I am too busy for ___” , when in reality I know I am not. I am ‘too busy’ because I am making a choice, and prioritizing other things. You’re only as busy as you allow yourself to feel. It’s about allowing for the pause.

Recently, I’ve  found myself saying the excuse of “I am too busy to write!”, even though writing is something I LOVE and it always provides me with clarity and insight. It’s true that I have a lot of interest and a lot going on: a full-time job, multiple yoga classes during the week and weekend, a relationship I love, friendships to nourish, time with family, making art, my own yoga and meditation practice ect. But the concept of busyness is a choice. Its how you to choose to prioritize your time, and it reflects your values.

In our culture of competition and chaos, being ‘busy’ is the norm. Our lives are fast-paced scenes moving from one act to the next in rapid succession, barely allowing time to process the present before moving on to the next. It is as if our society has collectively forgotten how to exhale.

I often hear people say they don’t have time for things that are hobbies or interests. Instead, they often choose to fill their time with unfufiling work, and fantasize over magically creating more hours in their day to accommodate these interests. We only have one life to live, people!!! If you want to try something – try it! If you want to make more time in your life for making art – do it! If you want to practice making music- make time for it! The idea of busyness is a cop out- we are in charge of our own life and our own schedule. Start by taking 5 minutes a day for an activity you love, or want to experience more of in your life. You’ll shortly find, that giving yourself those 5 minutes is not only simple, but incredibly beneficial!

Allow for the busyness of your life to pause. Allow for the stillness, and exhale. Just be. Just breathe. Take moments to assess where you are at, and in those moments, those pauses find gratitude and humility.

Intention

“If you like, you can set an intention for this practice. Think of a word or phrase, something you’d like to dedicate your practice today to. Name this intention and then follow through”

I have heard this phrase or a variation of it in nearly every yoga class I have ever attended. And I love the idea of it. When in life do we really get the opportunity to pause and create a meaningful, purpose-driven plan for our impending actions? Not often,  I would venture. Our lives usually consist of whirlwind chains of events cascading one into the next, barely allowing us time to breathe and to pause.

Yoga is the opposite. Yoga is the pause. The time to breathe. The time to set an intention. I googled intention and this definition popped up: 1. a thing intended, an aim or plan. 2. the healing process of a wound. I love these two definitions together because it is how I view intentionality in my life: intention is the plan for the healing process of our wounds. 

Like many, I have struggled with negative self talk and negative thoughts. It took someone close to me, calling me out on it for it to come into my conciousness. They told me – “you would never talk so negatively about anyone! Why would you talk about yourself like that??” I had never thought of it that way. At that time, I was very self-critical and would often comment self-depricating remarks about myself. I would never talk about a close friend or someone I loved that way! Why should I talk or think about MYSELF that way? It made no sense…

So, after I became aware of the behavior, I was able to set an intention with myself. An intention to be more loving towards myself, and the intention to have the humility to forgive myself when I messed up. It went beyond setting the intention on my yoga mat, although that was a great reminder. I had to set the intention for my life. Every morning. My intention was for peace, love and happiness- nothing else would do.

I used to think that I would always have negative thoughts about myself. It was a hopeless feeling. But once I was aware of them, I could pay attention and eventually work to substantially decrease their presence. Off the mat,  I was able to set intentions for myself, and experience healing as I saw my plans for peace, love and joy unfold. My suggestion to you is to be intentional in your intentions. Set goals, aims and plans for yourself that can be achieved and that work toward your over-all desire. Set daily intentions for yourself: a word, idea, quote, saying or phrase that can be your guiding theme for the day- even when the bullshit of work and life are piling up at overwhelming degrees. If you’re like me-maybe even write it down on a post-it, put it on your desk. Here are some ideas to get you started

“It is what it is”

“Peace”

“Just Breathe”

“Nothing is good or bad, thinking makes it so”

“Let it go”

“Trust your gut”

“Switch our reactions to our responses”

“Were not human doings were human beings”- Dr. John Kabat Zinn

“You are not your thoughts”

“Be grateful for what you have right now”

“So what?”

Noticing

Why is there so much hatred in the world? Where does this deep seeded anger and bitterness towards life itself come from? What would ever motivate another living breathing human being to simply and swiftly steal that breath away from another? What is the answer? It clearly is not a simple one, or we as a civilization would have already figured it out…

I often stand at the cross walk and observe the cars speeding past me, driven by other human beings. I frequently pause and imagine what their lives are like, or wonder where they are going and why are they in such a rush to get there, when life is so short. Those other beings, my neighbors, zip past me. I am certain they are not noticing or observing myself as a pedestrian on the periphreal of their route from A to B. Maybe that’s where some of this problem lies.

A few weeks ago, I was in a car accident. While going south on a one-way in my neighborhood, an SUV turned left into my vehicle from a stop sign. When we got out of our respective cars to assess the damage I noticed two things. Firstly, the annoying fact that my vehicle was badly damaged, and that hers was fine. Secondly, and more importantly here that words she spoke to me: “I didn’t see you at all!” I was confused by this statement on several levels. Logically, I was confused and concerned that she was unable to see my bright red car with lights on driving down the road. I genuinely have concerns about this lass’ visions. Moreover, spiritually, emotionally and psychologically these words were more startling. The phrase “I didn’t see you at all!” points to a larger issue at play in our society. We (general society we) are so very wrapped up in our petty existence, that we genuinely forget that other people exist or that other people matter.

This individual was so wrapped up in her own life,  so consumed by her own existence, circumstances that she didn’t even notice another human being physically cross her path. During our conversation, the other driver shared with me that she was going on a first date, new to the city and was generally just flustered and confused. I listened empathetically and assured her that everything was fine, that I was just glad that we were both okay. I even wished her luck on the date,  as I left to spend a beautiful evening with my love, a bottle of wine and kung fu films.

Her comment stuck with me though. And as I continued on my daily walks throughout my neighborhood Inoticed more of my neighbors, not noticing. Traffic accidents are a small example of this, but greater acts of violence are also a symptom of this cultural ambivalence. When we, collectively as a society, fail to notice the value of other human life it is very easy to become callous. I am not boiling down our culture’s violence epidemic to an issue of ignorance, but I do feel that a lot of this violence comes from our self-centered society, where we value getting ahead of others rather than pulling together.

If we can begin to shift our focus away from the self and onto the collective; changing our thinking from how can this help me get ahead to how can I help someone else; if we can begin to pay attention, to notice and to truly value the contributions of other beings on this planet, even their simple presence as something wonderful, then I think we can actually come together as a community and work to heal our society.