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

When Life Gets Busy Your Practice is the First Thing to Go

One could say that moving falls in the top five life challenges. I’d say that’s a safe bet, just based on the volume of time and energy that moving requires. When life gets busy taking care of ourselves loses priority. Fast.

It’s been a week since I moved into my new home. It still feels like I have a thousand things to do and I’m juggling so many balls in the air. I’ll be so happy when I’m settled in and can get back on track with my practice.

As I’m unpacking I keep pausing in front of the window of my new training space. We just had a late spring blizzard and the beautiful pine tree outside is covered in snow.

I watch as the sunlight begins to shine through the clouds. I’m daydreaming about practicing in my new home.

I had to sacrifice my own training quite a bit this month. It happens. Especially when your home is under construction.

When life gets busy your practice is the first thing to go. – Garrell Herndon, Bodyworker and Yoga Instructor

At times like these I remember some wise words from an Iyengar yoga teacher that I studied with. They always serve as a good reminder to be gentle with myself during times of high output.

I know the work is worthwhile. I’m just so incredibly grateful to have a home training space. It’s a long term dream that requires very particular dimensions of space. I am not a fan of the tiny house movement. Or low hanging ceiling fans. Or big pieces of furniture.¬† I like to move!

I’m getting close to achieving my dream lifestyle: to have a job that I love, to be able to focus on my practice, and create Personal Yoga retreats. I can’t even begin to describe how happy this makes me…

Living my Dharma, one day at a time.

Dancing with Baba – An Artist in Residency Apprenticeship

arthur-hall-dance-apprenticeshipIn the spirit of Thanksgiving, I wanted to share the story of my apprenticeship with master dancer and choreographer Arthur Hall. Arthur was one of the pioneers of Afro-American dance. I met him in 1996 and joined his International Dance Company. This community organization performed in my hometown region of midcoast Maine.

Dancing with Arthur was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. I’d never danced so hard or with so much intensity. I remember holding my wrists under the running tap water (a futile attempt to lower my body temperature…)

Dancing with Arthur was exhilarating and set the bar well beyond any of the classes that I took in my first year of college as a dance major. I took a leave of absence and moved back to Maine.

mbm-yanvalluAt that point the International Dance Company was starting to dissolve. Many of the older dancers felt that their bodies weren’t holding up. So Arthur offered me an apprenticeship position with his African Festivals in American Schools residency program. A quote from his Obituary speaks to his teaching ability:

As captivating a dancer and as unique a choreographer as Arthur was, he is perhaps most widely loved and remembered as a master teacher. He has taught classes for thousands upon thousands of people over the past half century, from the most strenuous technique classes for professional dancers to the gentlest call-and-response classes for kindergartners, Arthur was gifted with an ability to read his students and tailor his classes to individual needs. His therapy classes for the physically or mentally disabled were always joyful, and frequently produced near-miraculous results.

Arthur spent forty years developing his residency program. I spent three years traveling with him throughout Maine, Arizona and New Hampshire. We worked with thousands of people, primarily elementary and middle school students.

arthur-hall-apprenticeship-arizona-children

My responsibilities included assisting Arthur with large (50+ student) classes, co-leading warm ups, directing group exercises, and working with individuals and small groups of students. I performed solos from the International Dance Company’s repertoire and coordinated student dance performances.

It was a life-changing experience. I have a distinct memory of standing on a playground with Arthur surrounded by a sea of children. They were trying to hug us all at once so we couldn’t move. This was the kind of effect that he had on people.

arthur-teachingArthur was like a grandfather (Baba) to me. We spent countless hours together at restaurants and bars. To get me in the door he’d tell the bouncer that I was his daughter. It was a blessing and an honor to spend time with him.

I assisted Arthur throughout his battle with colon cancer. He was hospitalized at the end of a stretch of Arizona residencies. I substituted for that last week. It was essentially my final exam.

Arthur passed away in July of 2000. I attended four memorials in Maine, New Hampshire, Philadelphia and Arizona. It was heartbreaking but I am so very grateful for his influence in my life.

arthur-hall-apprenticeship-memorial
Mr. Wande Abimbole, Awise Awo ni Agbaye (Spokesperson of Ifa in the Whole World)

I tried to continue Arthur’s work with the New Hampshire Arts Council but they informed me that I needed forty years of experience or a college degree. So I went back to college to become a dance teacher. My life took some interesting turns which led me to become a yoga teacher.

Coming Full Circle

Dance is my first love and I’ve been searching for a way to begin to teaching dance again. I’m very happy to announce that I have found a way to do so. Stay tuned for more details…

arthur-hall-apprenticeship-emily-seymour

ILE IFE: House of Love from Ile Ife Films on Vimeo.

Personal Yoga Retreats

Personal Yoga RetreatsLast night I trained in a temple of clouds. The gentle currents of air mingled with the sounds of water. I watched two young mule deer peek their heads above the long grasses in the nearby field. In the distance a billowing cumulus tower ignited with flashes of lightning. The blazing sunset warmed my back as I moved and stretched my body.

Summer training season is here.

I love training outdoors. As much as I appreciate the privacy of an indoor space, as soon as the weather allows I like to go to the park, trail or playground whenever possible. In public spaces there’s usually an audience, but most people are nice. Like the elderly lady last night who said, “Thank you for the entertainment.”

Summer training season is a wonderful time for Personal Yoga retreats. These experiences replenish and refuel my whole being. It’s not just exercising – it’s the whole lifestyle. Eating alchemical food, feeling GREAT and laughing a lot.

Have I mentioned that I love my life?

Personal Yoga Retreat QuicheThis is not the kind of thing that you can teach in drop-in classes. It’s means taking a whole day to focus on eating, meditating and training. That’s my life – I create my own personal yoga retreats. I’ve been doing this for over five years now. I just enjoy feeling awesome and is this is how I do it.

It’s definitely possible to do this for yourself. You just have to carve out some space in your schedule and do some basic preparations, such as:

  • Clean the house
  • Clean and groom your body
  • Get your “to-do” list in order
  • Stock the fridge with delicious and healthy food

All of this will help to minimize distractions. Once you’ve cleared your slate start your Personal Yoga retreat nice and slow. Turn your phone off (or just don’t answer it). Cook with superfoods. Take some supplements. Drink lots of fluids. Move in ways that your body and mind enjoy. Rest when you’re tired.

If you’d like some help with designing your own Personal Yoga retreat I’d be happy to speak with you. I offer free no-obligation consultations in person, by phone, Skype or Facetime.

Red Rose Mandala

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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