Asteya: Yoga’s Answer to Hungry Ghost Syndrome

I met a hungry ghost at a dinner party. I know the type, but had never met one who was so far gone. We had an eye opening conversation that got me thinking.

The concept of hungry ghosts comes from Chinese Buddhism, Taoism and Chinese folklore. Hungry ghosts are lost souls, often depicted as having long, thin necks and huge swollen abdomens. According to tradition, evil deeds such as killing, stealing and sexual misconduct lead to becoming a hungry ghost.

“Defined by a fusion of rage and desire, tormented by unfulfilled cravings and insatiably demanding impossible satisfactions, hungry ghosts are condemned to inhabit shadowy and dismal places in the realm of the living. Their specific hunger varies according to their past karma and the sins they are atoning for. Some can eat but find it impossible to find food or drink. Others may find food and drink, but have pinhole mouths and cannot swallow. For others, food bursts into flames or rots even as they devour it.” – Hungry Ghosts: their History and Origin

This person was a living embodiment of the hungry ghost archetype. I soon realized that I was talking to a black hole of self-despair. I tried helping her but after a few attempts she became hostile so I let it go…

At the end of the night she had a flashback to a past trauma (poverty and starvation). She kept repeating:

“I was so hungry.”

One way she chose to deal with this was by directing her anger at the wealthy class. People she had never met or had any direct contact with. In her mind taxation was the solution to wealth inequality. She admitted that she lives beyond her means and has significant debt.

The interaction left me feeling drained and unsettled. One way I handle troubling situations is through research and contemplation (Jnana Yoga). My reflections led me back to the third Yama of Ashtanga Yoga: Asteya.

The Yamas are the universal ethical practices of yoga. Paired with the Niyamas (observances) these moral restraints form the foundation of Patanjali’s eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga.

Asteya means non-stealing. One could say that stealing is a response to a sense of powerlessness which stems from feelings of not being enough.

In this context, stealing extends beyond more obvious forms of theft (examples: pick pocketing, burglary, etc.). Stealing may also include:

  • Other people’s ideas
  • Disregarding personal boundaries
  • Having an envious state of mind
  • Taking up a person’s time or attention
  • Energy (succubi/incubi)
One thing we do know is this: many people who experience interactions with psychopaths and narcissists report feeling ‘drained; and confused and often subsequently experience deteriorating health. – The Psychopath: The Mask of Sanity

She had what I would call a hungry ghost syndrome. Somewhere along the way these people lose their connection to their personal power. It may be a result of abuse, resulting in any number of dependencies.

Asteya is a reminder that we are enough. Learning how to cultivate personal power is an excellent way to reverse hungry ghost syndrome. Building our energy reserves allows us to feel balanced, strong and healthy when we go out in the world.

Some ways to do this include: meditation, taking care of your body, self-love, and alone time. In my Intro to Pranayama course I teach people how to access their own complete, full source of energy.

Final thought from the Yoga Sutras:

Once non-stealing has been permanently established, all riches will be available.

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Practice, Practice, Practice Alone

Practice, Practice, Practice Alone

Practice Alone Do Not DisturbI just completed a month-long Personal Yoga retreat so I thought I’d share a few insights while they’re fresh in my mind. I still had my day-to-day responsibilities to attend to but I managed to raise the bar of my practice. I also did a social media fast (well, except for Pinterest – does that count as social media?)

Taking a month to withdraw gave me a much needed break. And it helped to raise my awareness of the challenges of being a modern day sadhaka. A sadhaka is a Sanskrit term for someone who follows a particular sadhana (a spiritual practice or way of life).

Practice Alone Flowers

According to B.K.S. Iyengar, one of the most famous yoga teachers of all time, a sadhaka uses yoga to gain knowledge, light and liberation. It also helps to purify the body and soul. – Yogapedia

Challenge #1: Practicing at Home

Some of the obstacles of maintaining a home practice are a result of, well… being at home. Home isn’t the gym, or the studio, or any other designated place for exercise. So we have to consciously make it into one, which takes work. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started my practice only to have a “to-do” flash through my mind.

“Oh I forgot to change the laundry over, put the leftovers away, etc.” 

“Darn it, I meant to turn off my cell phone.”

“Oh man, I really need to shave my legs.”

It can be tricky to navigate the transition from housework or home office work to doing our home practice. My best advice is to stay on your mat. You’ll be able to take care of all of these things afterwards.

Challenge #2: Shared living spaces.

If you have housemates or family members around you may have to work at communicating your boundaries.

“I’m going to be practicing from now until such-and-such a time. Do you need anything before I get started?”

“I’d like to practice for the next hour. Could you please use headphones if you want to watch TV or listen to the radio?”

Practice Alone Purple FlowersChallenge #3: This path can be lonely at times.

We may or may not have a community (sangha) of practitioners to support us in our journeys. It’s okay though – you’ll feel far more connected, centered and whole after you practice.

Challenge #4: Interruptions

It’s very important to choose a practice time when you won’t be interrupted. The people you live with may or may not realize what you’re doing. I’ve had people walk in and start talking to me when I was in a extraordinarily expansive meditation. It’s incredibly jarring to the nervous system to be disrupted when you’re in that state.

According to the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, “Useless Talk” is one of the 6 Destroyers of Yoga Practice.

Hopefully you’ll remember to turn your cell phone off. You can also minimize unexpected guests or workmen by telling people you work from home and can’t be disturbed.

Practice Alone MandalaIf you’re thinking about doing a personal retreat or just want to start a home practice, my very best advice is (to echo the words of the master himself) – practice, practice, practice alone. Try to practice when you won’t be disturbed. You can avoid many of these obstacles simply by making good use of your alone time.

As someone who used to dread the idea of being alone, I can tell you that practicing alone is one of the greatest things you can do for yourself. And when you do your sadhana (translation – good for you) you’ll have more than enough energy to extend to others.

Practice Alone Tea Cup

Home Rituals – Berry Walnut Muffin Bread

Berry Walnut Muffin Bread 2

The warm weather has returned to the Western Slope of Colorado, which means that outdoor training season is officially here! I’ve made a commitment to working out in the mornings before it gets too hot. I usually eat a big mid-morning meal (breakfast like a king) so I’ve had to switch up my diet and lifestyle a bit.

The solution? Muffins! Hearty, wholesome and packed with good ingredients. These babies are a great mid-morning snack and carry me though until lunch. This week I played with a new recipe: berry walnut muffin bread (all the goodness of individual muffins in bread form).

Berry Walnut Muffin Bread 3

So just to clear up a few things. The ingredients in this recipe might raise a red flag for some people and to those folks I say (with love in my heart…)

Don’t like wheat? Don’t eat it. 

Don’t like sugar? Don’t eat it. 

Don’t like dairy? Don’t eat it.

But to those of us who can enjoy these foods unabashedly I say mangia! Eat with the confidence that comes from choosing the most beautiful foods. Wheat, sugar and dairy are incredibly powerful foods so long as they haven’t been tampered with.

For this muffin bread recipe I used organic non-GMO flour, organic milk and butter. The butter was on sale, otherwise I’d have used any conventional rGBH-free variety. I also used organic frozen mixed berries and non-GMO sugar.

The media has been working overtime to demonize sugar (remember when they tried telling us that butter was bad for you?) Sugar is a superfood in its own right. Sugar is listed in the Materia Medica of Chinese Herbal Medicine as a Qi (energy) tonic. And sugar, wheat, milk and butter are all recommended foods in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika:

64. Wheat, rice, barley, shastik (a kind of rice), good corns, milk, ghee, sugar, butter, sugarcandy, honey, dried ginger, Parwal (a vegetable), the five vegetables, moong, pure water, these are very beneficial to those who practice Yoga.

So let’s get cooking! This berry walnut muffin bread is fantastic. It’s almost like eating cake for breakfast. The tang from the buttermilk compliments the sweetness of the berries. I made my own buttermilk by mixing whole milk with a little vinegar (lemon juice works too) and letting it sit for five minutes.

I didn’t want the bread to be soggy so I used raspberries, blueberries and blackberries (and cut up the blackberries into smaller pieces). And I always toast nuts before baking with them. Toasting kills off any molds and enhances the flavor of the nuts.

Berry Walnut Muffin Bread 1

Berry Walnut Muffin Bread

1 Loaf

INGREDIENTS:

2 cups of flour (1 cup whole wheat + 1 cup all purpose)
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp Kosher salt
1 tsp nutmeg

1/2 cup butter, room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tsp vanilla
1/2 cup buttermilk (or 1/2 cup milk + 1/2 Tbsp vinegar)

1  1/2 cups frozen mixed berries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2 Tbsp sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9x5x3 loaf pan with butter or coconut oil.
  2. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg in a small bowl.
  3. Place frozen mixed berries in a small bowl. Add 1-2 Tbsp of the flour mixture and toss to coat. Cover bowl and place in freezer.
  4. In a medium-sized bowl cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla.
  5. Add flour mixture a little at a time, alternating with the buttermilk.
  6. Fold in the berries and walnuts and pour batter into prepared loaf pan.
  7. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp sugar over the top of the batter.
  8. Bake for 60 minutes or until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.

Serve warm or toasted with lots of butter!

*** High Altitude baking note: decrease the amount of baking powder to 1  1/2 tsp. ***

Berry Walnut Muffin Bread Slice

 

The Spectator Epidemic

Mindless garbage spectator epidemic
Found on the Pinterest

Have you been to your local Walmart lately? Depending on where you live it can be a DISTURBING experience. I’m not saying this to be mean, I’m saying it because it’s true. There’s a cross section of middle America which borders on a zombie apocalypse. And it’s a real problem…

How did this happen? Diet is a big part, as well as the toxic cocktail of chemicals added to our food, water, air and medications. But it’s also related to social conditioning. Take a drive through your neighborhood one night and chances are you’ll see the flickering blue light of televisions emanating from people’s homes. Or maybe you’ll see groups of people at sporting events or playgrounds, where the adults are watching their kids exercise. Maybe you’ll see people at the gym. Maybe.

The Spectator Epidemic

Most likely you’ll find adults sitting at home watching television. It’s such an engrained part of our culture that no one really thinks anything of it. Television provides fuel for conversations – at work, the bar, and the dinner table. For many people television fulfills certain needs that are not being met in our modern day standard of living.

Part of this has to do with people being such visual creatures. When we watch dancers, martial artists or athletes, we experience something called the kinesthetic response. It’s a spontaneous reaction to a motion or stimulus that occurs outside of ourselves. The muscles contract and release in conjunction with the visual stimulation. So afterwards there’s a feeling of being energized or pleasantly fatigued.

Without actually having to do anything.

By and large, it’s much easier to be a spectator. Exercise can be challenging especially when the body is out of shape. Sitting around and talking about someone else exercising (did you see last night’s game?) is a piece of cake compared to actually doing it.

I’m not saying that you should never be a spectator. A good martial arts movie can be incredibly inspiring and hopefully you’ll do some kind of training afterwards. Playing video games or going to a sports event can also be great incentives – maybe you’ll feel really jacked afterwards. But if you don’t put that energy into your own life then what is the point?

Television addiction is an “undo-it-yourself” project that takes a little courage. Television breeds passivity so it takes time to shift gears. If you’re ready to become more of an active participant in your life a personal yoga practice can help.

Ready to take the next step? Book a FREE no-obligation consultation today.

A Taste of Divinity – Raw Cacao

Practice Create Repeat

For just a moment ask yourself the following questions:

  • What is the BEST that you’ve ever felt?
  • Where were you at the time?
  • How old were you?
  • What were you doing?
  • Were you alone or with someone?
  • Did this happen more than once?

Just sit with these questions for a minute and see what comes up. Now ask yourself:

  • Could you create this state again?
  • What would it take to replicate it?
  • What (if anything) is keeping you from feeling this way now?
  • How might you take this experience to the next level?

I’m asking these questions because they relate to my mission as a yoga teacher. For the past thirteen years I’ve been focusing on my personal evolution. My body is the healthiest it’s ever been. I’m committed to eating the most beautiful food, moving in ways that I enjoy and living a low-stress lifestyle. I am free from scoliosis-related back pain. My mind is calmer, clearer and more creative than ever before. I am learning so much and I am more in love every day.

My goal is to help people learn how to do this for themselves.

Life is not easy. We face countless challenges and seemingly endless distractions. Thankfully there are some simple ways to create heightened experiences on a regular basis. One way to do this is by cultivating a personal practice. In my humble opinion this is the BEST thing that we can do for ourselves. A personal practice is an amazing tool that helps us connect with our highest Selves – our creativity, divinity, sovereignty – call it what you will.

When you treat your body like the temple that it is you elevate your life.

If a daily yoga practice seems overwhelming to you, not to worry. There are plenty of ways to administer self-care. I suggest that you start small by picking ONE healthy habit that you can do on a daily basis, such as drinking lemon water or eating one superfood every day. A superfood is a food that is extraordinarily good for your health.

One of my favorite superfoods is raw cacao. The botanical name Theobroma cacao means “Food of the Gods.” Raw cacao is one of the most antioxidant-rich foods on the planet. It contains three natural mood enhancers which make you feel like you’re in love. The health benefits of raw cacao are far more powerful than conventional chocolate.

Raw Cacao:

  • Aids in weight loss
  • Promotes healthy skin
  • Is high in antioxidants
  • Enhances mood
  • Contains essential minerals and vitamins
  • Improves brain function
  • Promotes heart health
  • Is an aphrodisiac

I have a little side project called Amaroons. I make handcrafted macaroons with raw cacao powder, coconut, almonds, maple syrup, vanilla and Himalayan sea salt.

Amaroons make a wonderful gift!

I’m happy to announce that my Etsy shop is open for the holidays.

Your purchase supports my independent small-business and will help to expand my operation. Thank you for your support.

Amaroons Raw Cacao Superfood Macaroons
Amaroons – Raw Chocolate Macaroons

Home Rituals – Bone Broth

 

Bone broth beef noodle soup

The cold weather is here! The temperature drop and shorter days can make us feel like flying south or hibernating. Depending on our perspective winter can be a harsh trial to endure or it can be an invitation to increase our resiliency.  

I’ve fled the cold weather at various times in my life, mainly because I didn’t know how to adjust my diet and lifestyle. After learning some basic rules of thumb my whole perspective of winter has changed. Taking care of my body allows me to feel more in tune with nature. So now instead of viewing winter as a harsh obstacle I see it as an opportunity to slow down and increase my energy reserves.

Yoga helped me begin the process of tuning into my body at this time of year. Some of my lifestyle practices include:

  1. Minimizing my exposure to artificial light at night
  2. Using candles and LED bulbs
  3. Resting when I’m tired
  4. Waking up with the sun
  5. Drinking lots of hot fluids
  6. Keeping my body well-insulated
  7. Building immunity through my diet
  8. I never get a flu shot (elderberry syrup for the win)

Food is my medicine.

Bone broth is a fairly recent addition to my culinary arsenal. I learned about bone broth when I was working in New York City. I loved going to Chinatown and one of my favorite places to eat was a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant that makes hand-pulled noodle soups. I’ve been hooked on that flavorful and nutrient-rich broth ever since.

This article provides a good overview of the health benefits of bone broth from a traditional Chinese medicine perspective: How Bone Broths Support Your Adrenals, Bones and Teeth

It’s very easy to make bone broth.

Save leftover bones (I use organic chicken bones), place them in a pot with filtered water and add a splash of vinegar to aid in mineral extraction. You can also add a bay leaf or some vegetable scraps for flavor. Onion peels give bone broth a warm yellow color.

Bring the broth to a boil and then simmer for a minimum of 4 hours (or up to 24 hours). The longer you simmer the more nutrient dense it will be so add water as needed. You can use a crock pot or cook it on low on the stove. Either way your house will smell fantastic!

Some people try to keep their broth clear but it’s okay if it turns cloudy. Strain the cooled broth through a fine-mesh sieve to remove the particulate. Store the strained broth in glass mason jars in the fridge where it will keep for about a week. Bone broth is a great addition to soups, stews and any recipe that calls for stock. You could also try making your own version of the latest health trend in NYC – a steaming cup of bone broth.

What’s your favorite way to use bone broth? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

Homemade bone broth soup

 

Raw Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles

I’ve had raw truffles on the brain lately so I figured that was my body’s way of telling me to make some.

You should ALWAYS make your own raw truffles. You don’t need a food processor or a high powered blender. Most health food stores carry the specialty ingredients (or you could order them online).

Store bought raw truffles are ridiculously expensive – I’ve seen them sold for as much as $8 for a four pack.

The best part about making your own raw truffles is that you can use any ingredients you want. For instance, most raw dessert recipes call for agave but I prefer maple syrup or honey.

Raw honey provides a great pre-workout energy boost. It’s a powerful antioxidant that promotes digestive health, strengthens the immune system, eliminates allergies, calms the nervous system and can help stabilize blood sugar levels.

If you’re going to eat dessert then make it count.

I use raw cacao in no-bake chocolate desserts because of the incredible nutrient content. Cacao is one of the most antioxidant-rich foods on the planet. It’s high in fiber, magnesium and iron. It contains the alkaloids theobromine, phenylethylamine and anandamine – three natural mood enhancers which make you feel like you’re in love.

Like raw honey, raw cacao is considered to be the food of the gods.

I used peanut butter but you could use any nut butter – almond, hazelnut, or sunflower seed (if you’re allergic to nuts).

Virgin organic coconut oil is yet another amazing superfood. Coconut oil has been getting a lot of bad press lately, but I just ignore it (remember when butter was supposed to be bad for you?)

Tip: If you have a little extra coconut oil on your measuring spoon give your sun-kissed skin a treat while you’re making these.

Raw Chocolate Peanut Butter Truffles

Makes 20

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup organic raw cacao powder
  • 1/2 cup peanut butter
  • 1/2 cup sweetened condensed coconut milk
  • 3 Tbsp raw honey (optional)
  • 1 Tbsp organic virgin coconut oil, melted
  • 2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp Himalayan salt
  • Chopped toasted nuts for coating

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients except for the chopped toasted nuts into a medium bowl. Blend with a wooden spoon until combined.
  2. Transfer to a glass tupperware container and chill for at least an hour.
  3. Place chopped nuts in a small bowl.
  4. Using your hands, roll truffle mixture into large marble-sized balls. Roll truffles in the chopped nuts, applying gentle pressure.
  5. Store unused truffles in the fridge.
  6. Bring truffles to room temperature before consuming. Savor, enjoy, and share the love…

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More Taoist Travel Tips

More Taoist Travel Tips

I’ve just had one of those full-tilt travel days – the kind of day when there’s no time to eat and lollygaggers seem to be EVERYWHERE. The sounds, smells and sensations of the city have been noticeably intense. It wasn’t possible to do my home practice but I did have an opportunity to practice off the mat. Here are a few more of my Taoist Travel tips.

Internal Arts

At times like these it’s easy to get stressed out but frustration would only add to the challenge. So I try to view days like today like they’re a game. Shifting my perspective helps to streamline things and makes these challenging experiences more enjoyable.

Next time you’re in a situation where you can’t do your daily asana practice you might try visualizing yourself going through your sequence. You could also try listening to a recording of a guided meditation. Some people find that having something tangible helps them stay focused and will use a mala to practice mantras in silence.

Foot Washing

Another Taoist Travel Tip is to clean your feet after you arrive at your destination. Washing off the dust of the road and putting on a clean pair of socks is a simple yet effective way to renew yourself after a long day. Physically, the act of cleaning your feet relaxes your whole body. Foot washing also helps to clear out any energetic “muck” that you might have picked up along the way.

Last but not least, it’s always good to keep a sense of humor. Keep an eye out for something that makes you laugh. Even if it means that you’re the only one laughing at your jokes – just keep going with it. When the going gets tough a good laugh will lift your spirits and fill your sails.

Do you meditate when you’re on the road? What techniques do you use? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.

Personal Retreat Reflections

Personal Retreat ReflectionsI’m on a personal retreat right now and have been diving into my practice. I’ve wanted to take an inner-teacher sabbatical during the holidays for years. I feel blessed to have an abundance of uninterrupted practice time. It puts me back into alignment with my own rhythms. And my inclination is to find ways to share this bounty with others. So here goes…

Winter is a time for hibernation.

The life-giving source of energy that comes from the sun is in short supply. Winter is also the season when apana, the downward current of energy is most prevalent. Apana is the force of energy that governs elimination in the body (excretion, urination, menstruation). Psychologically, it’s best described as a state of introversion. In nature it’s the force that draws sap down into the tree’s roots.

The holiday season presents an interesting counterbalance, which typically requires a great deal of output – emotionally, socially, financially, and physically. These cultural pressures don’t necessarily align with the laws of nature. Being extroverted can be very challenging when we’re disconnected from our natural rhythms. And with so much emphasis on externalization it’s easy to fall into the mental trap of thinking that we are not enough.

We might try to power through the season like a marathon runner but that’s a great way to make ourselves sick. Eating foods that we don’t typically eat, drinking excess amounts of alcohol and running around in the cold can take a significant toll on our physical health. Over stimulation and stress can make us feel like we’re wearing an invisible suit of armor.

While it is possible to cultivate energy through the holidays, it’s very important that we have enough gas in our tanks. So how to do this? Here are some simple suggestions of ways to practice “refilling your cup.”

  • Stay hydrated – drink plenty of room temperature, filtered water.  Add a little fresh lemon or lime juice if you have them on hand.
  • Eat the most beautiful food.
  • Be mindful of CATS (caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, sugar).
  • Turn off your television.
  • Avoid violent movies and fear-induced media hype.
  • Go outside and spend time in nature.
  • Don’t read the news when you’re eating.
  • Go to bed when you’re tired or take a nap.
  • Slow down.
  • Meditate. Light a candle or sit by a fireplace (the ultimate television).
  • Exercise. Move in ways that your body enjoys.
  • Breathe. A lot.
  • Relax in the sunshine.
  • Play, laugh, love.
  • Drink tea.
  • Sing your songs.

What are some other ways to nourish your spirit during this time of year? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.