Aparigraha: Yoga’s Answer to Streamlining the New Year

With the holidays behind us and a new year ahead, this seemed like a perfect time to discuss the yogic practice of Aparigraha.

For me, New Year’s is less about making resolutions and more about getting organized. As a minimalist (who loves to shop) Aparigraha comes in very handy with decision-making. I use it when deciding what to keep and what to let go of. It also helps me determine what I want to bring in to my life.

The yamas and niyamas (morals and observances) are the first two branches of Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga. These primary steps offer a self-disciplinary code of conduct that aids in balanced spiritual development.

Aparigraha is the fifth yama. It’s translated as non-possessiveness, or the absence of greed. The objective is to free your mind from covetous thoughts. One way to accomplish this is through the minimalist lifestyle.

According to the Yoga Sutras, when the mind is purified of greed you obtain the siddhi (paranormal power) of remembering all of your past lives. This is if you believe in reincarnation.

Aparigraha teaches us to take only what we need. It’s kind of like doing an inventory of our lives. It raises the questions of what do we cling to and what is weighing us down? And not just material things (although that’s certainly part of it). We may hold on to:

  • Our identity, or who we think we are
  • People (partners, friends, enemies, children, etc.)
  • Dogmas/Beliefs

Aparigraha is an invitation to release that which does not serve you. Those boxes of papers that you haven’t touched in five years. Clothes that you haven’t worn in over a year. Unbalanced relationships. Former teachings that are no longer relevant.

One word of advice – take your time with this process. It can be difficult to begin and easy to get carried away. Start by asking what can I change? Baby steps are huge with this kind of work. Notice where the sticky spots are. You could also try any of these exercises:

  1. Eliminate Food Waste: In my home we have a weekly menu, where we keep track of what food is in the fridge, which meals are on deck, and when the expiration dates are.
  2. Create a Capsule Wardrobe: Reduce clutter by donating or selling any clothes that you don’t wear. The clothes that you wear regularly form the basis of your capsule wardrobe. [Read: 7 Tips to Help You Create Your Capsule Wardrobe]
  3. Reset to Zero: This is a lovely way to describe what happens to our minds when our home environment is put into order. It’s like hitting a reset button on your mental state – especially helpful before beginning any new projects. [Read: Reset to Zero]

These are just a few ways that you can streamline the start of your New Year. If you enjoyed this article, you might also like:

Asteya: Yoga’s Answer to Hungry Ghost Syndrome

Yogis Can Eat Meat (if They Want to)

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.

Self Teacher Study – Freedom Yoga Immersion Part II

Freedom Yoga Immersion Part II

This is the second half of my review of Erich Schiffmann’s Freedom Yoga Immersion. As inspiring as this online course was I did see a few red flags along the way. To be honest, I almost stopped watching at Day 4. But I pushed through and remembered to use what works and leave the rest. Here’s what I left behind and what I’ll take into the future…

#1: Watching Television. At one point a student asked if it was possible to practice “being online” while watching television. Schiffmann said yes, but I do not recommend watching television.

#2: The All One/One Love lectures had a heavy New Age-propaganda spin to them. I detected elements of “idiot compassion” (a phrase coined by Chogyam Trungpa) and the psychological warfare tactics described by KGB defector Yuri Bezmenov.

#3: The Milarepa Necklace. Schiffmann was seemingly unaware of the implications of wearing an image of this Tibetan yogi and sorcerer. This is not to be taken lightly. Not from anyone, not even an eccentric long-haired hippy.

#4: Food/Vegetarianism. I do not recommend attempting to replace food with love. Love is an emotion. You have to eat to survive. What you choose to eat has a direct impact on your physical and mental health.

#5: Free Will. Schiffmann believes that the best use of free will is to not use it. When it comes to spiritual practices it’s very easy to get lost in the “follow the leader” mentality. Handing over your free will to whatever you believe might be your intuitive connection to the Divine… well, that requires a high level of discernment, training and self-cultivation.

The Slow Path is Best

Learning how to engage with your intuition takes time. Traditionally, a guru and an aspirant would test one another over ten years before entering into a formal student-teacher relationship. I would suggest taking this same approach with your intuition. We’re talking about unraveling a lifetime of habituated thought patterns in order to understand who you are. And that’s just the beginning!

By all means, connect with your intuition through your body. Practice letting go in savasana (a preparation for dying). Get comfortable with feeling open, expansive and unguarded. Practice listening to your inner guidance in this relaxed state. Ask for guidance that is in alignment with your highest good. Connect with your desire to know.

Something’s going on here, … , 

Little Dharma Sessions

Coming back to what worked. I’m so grateful to have been able to take this training for free. The two parts that were most helpful were Schiffmann’s encouragement to:

  1. Write more. I so appreciated the recommendation to jot down my on-the-mat inspirations, and to continue writing articles. He called these practices “good little dharma sessions.”
  2. Do my yoga with people. This idea challenges and inspires me so much that I’m thinking about offering a class that includes a free-form practice component. To explore my own take on Freedom Yoga.

I highly recommend this course to anyone who is interested in developing their own yoga practice.

100 Days of Meditation

100 Days of Meditation

On January 3, 2016 I completed my first 100 Days of Meditation marathon. It took me three attempts in seven months to finish this challenge. My parameters were to meditate 1-2 hours a day for 100 consecutive days. I used the Insight Timer app to track my progress.

Obstacles Create Incentives.

An Iyengar teacher once told me that whenever life gets busy our personal practice is the first thing to go. Before starting this marathon I anticipated that moving would be my biggest obstacle. After moving eight times in four months it felt like I was constantly trying to get back on track. I was determined to realign with the root of my practice.

In yoga we talk about the necessity of foundation. The root of our practice comes from consistent, comprehensive application. Foundation also relates to our basic survival needs – food, shelter, money, resources. It’s very difficult to commit to any kind of spiritual practice without a solid base to work from. For a practice to mature a good foundation is essential.

But there are times in life when we’re called to step outside our comfort zones and perhaps grow a thicker skin. As easy as it might be to lose track of our routines, these opportunities are the BEST times to practice.

Marathon Highlights

SO much happened in seven months. Just to review some highlights:

This marathon helped me take my practice to the next level. Each time I practiced it was like hitting the reset button of my whole being. My body healed in some extraordinary ways (you CAN be your own chiropractor!) and my mind became more resilient and flexible. Like the saying goes, “don’t sweat the small stuff,” this challenge helped me navigate some really big stuff. I did get shut down a couple of times while moving but I managed to finish in the midst of a week-long moving endeavor.

Good Advice

Now that we’re at the cusp of a New Year and resolutions are fresh in people’s minds, I’ll offer the same advice that I received before starting this challenge: “Just do it.”

And I’ll add my two cents: pick a goal that challenges you in a healthy way. Be stubborn about your goal but flexible in how you go about achieving it. Breathe through the tough spots. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you fall off the horse get back on.

One other tip: if you’re feeling really beat up after a super-long day and still want to practice, try washing your feet and put on a fresh pair of socks. You’ll be amazed at how much better you’ll feel.

100 Days of Meditation

To document this challenge I posted mini-milestones of my journey on Facebook. Much like how people will post updates for their runs, cycling routes, or check-ins at the gym or studio, I shared little updates on my progress. You can find these posts on my Facebook page along with the hashtag #100daysofmeditation.

Interested in starting your own meditation marathon? I’d love to chat with you. There are so many different kinds of meditation. We can discuss these options in your free no-obligation consultation: Book Now

Superhuman Healthcare

Avi Ginsberg acupuncturist and holistic healthcare practitionerThe roulette wheel of life delivers the occasional hard knock to us all, and as luck would have it I got hit with a serious viral infection. We’re talking about the kind of sickness that will put most people in the hospital where they’ll be given antibiotics and possibly surgery. It was REALLY bad. I’m not quite sure how it happened, except that I might have picked it up on one of my five hour commutes through New York City.

At first I thought it was food poisoning but then I developed a severe radiating pain in the right side of my jaw. I could barely chew my food – eating was painful and exhausting. The icing on the cake was I had just started a ten day housesitting job in Connecticut and had no way to access medical attention.

That was one of the hardest jobs I’ve ever done.

As soon as it was over I went to see Avi Ginsberg. He’s an Oriental medical provider and has been my primary care physician for over ten years. He diagnosed my condition as being an extreme case of “toxic heat” in the stomach channel. Avi proceeded to bombard the virus with remedies for clearing heat and building immunity. The arsenal of therapies that he used to treat me included:

  • Acupuncture
  • Chinese herbs (antibiotics)
  • Cupping therapy
  • Magnets
  • Qi Gong
  • Mung bean pudding
  • Watermelon
  • Daikon radish
  • Peppermint tea
  • Tamarind juice
  • Colloidal silver
  • Vitamin C powder
  • Mouthwashes (salt water, baking soda, peroxide, vinegar, vodka)
  • Raw garlic
  • Alum powder
  • Watermelon frost
  • A mysterious black powder he got in Chinatown
  • Red flower oil
  • Far Infared heat therapy
  • Moxibustion

The beauty of these ancient remedies, folk medicines, and alternative therapies is that they do not deplete the body. 

After a week I was 80% better, and after a month I’d healed completely. By allowing my body to heal through what I call “superhuman healthcare” I am healthier and stronger than I was before I got sick.

I’m sharing this with you because I want to help people understand how powerful and empowering alternative medicine is. It IS possible to heal from extreme viral attacks without toxic pharmaceuticals, surgery, or obscenely expensive medical bills.

Needless to say, I am very, very grateful to Avi for his help and I highly recommend his expertise to all of my friends. He provides Traditional Oriental Physiotherapy, Acupuncture, Dietary and Herbal Therapy, and Exercise Therapy in Grand Junction and Montrose, Colorado. For more information please visit Liberty Health and Wellness

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

 

Never Leave the Park

 

Bike Outdoor Park Yoga Practice

I saw a video today called Never Leave the Playground by Stephen Jepson. I highly recommend it. Jepson is 74 years old and believes that the secret to health and longevity is to “just keep moving” through constant play. He’s designed a series of exercises that focus on movements and games that are like what children play on a playground. It inspired me to share a little snapshot of my outdoor practice session.

I’ve been housebound for the past few rainy days and so I decided to take a trip to the local playground. It was SO nice to be out in the sunshine again. I think that part of my enjoyment comes from knowing that these warm days are numbered…

I really like the Fall in New York. There’s an abundance of warm days before the cold weather hits. I was walking around barefoot today (in October!!) We’re also approaching the time change which is all the more reason to play outside as much as possible.

Around 4:00 I packed up a thermos of strong black tea and strapped my yoga mat to the bike. I hit the road for the local park and playground in Woodstock, NY. It’s a pretty sweet spot for an outdoor yoga practice. The backdrop of the mountains and the open sky are simply beautiful.

The park was almost empty except for a few high school boys. I set up on the opposite end of the basketball court near an apple tree. The boys hung out for a while and I had a chance to overhear some of what goes on in their world.

Practicing outdoors is so much better than practicing inside. It doesn’t cost anything to practice at your local playground. I hope you find some time to practice outside soon.

My home studio for the day:

Yoga mat park

 

Self Teacher Study – Mind Body Parkour

Swami Vivekananda Mind Body Parkour

So I’ve been meditating on this idea lately. It has to do with:

  1. Practicing ALL the time
  2. Perceiving the world as one big training ground

If you practice yoga for long enough it begins to weave its way into your everyday life, even in the most ordinary situations. You might find yourself stretching your calves in the airport or meditating while standing on line in the grocery store.

EVERY moment is an opportunity to practice.

Self-directed practice increases our personal power. It gives us a sense of autonomy and builds our inner strength. You can practice with other people but just like learning how to ride a bike, eventually you’ll want to take the training wheels off. Self-directed practice is something you can do anytime, anywhere. It’s kind of like the urban sport of free-running – Parkour:

Parkour is non-competitive. It may be performed on an obstacle course, but is usually practiced in a creative, and sometimes playful, reinterpretation or subversion of urban spaces.  Parkour involves seeing one’s environment in a new way, and imagining the potentialities for movement around it. – Wikipedia

I’ve been playing with how to merge the Parkour philosophy into my experience of the world. I’ve been exploring new ways of doing simple, every day tasks as well as looking for ways to improve upon pre-existing systems. For example, it’s possible to turn the act of washing dishes into a meditation exercise. Instead of going on auto-pilot I can use this opportunity to mindfully notice my posture, breath and train of thoughts. In addition to having one set time for my yoga practice I can also do little exercises throughout the day.

The possibilities are endless and it’s fun to play with customizing your own version of Mind Body Parkour.  

We can start by brainstorming for a minute. What do YOU need to do for yourself?

Do you want to: feel better, eat healthier, have more energy, laugh more, love more… ?

Now ask yourself what would it take to do all of these things.

And now ask what is it that keeps me from doing these things?

Fill in the blanks = I need ____________.   I would do  _____________ if I could.

Remember, every moment is an opportunity to practice. It just takes a little self-discipline, some creativity and a willingness to think outside of the box. Parkour takes exercise out of the gym and into the world. We can do the same thing with our personal practice.

Ready to make the world your playground? Book a FREE no-obligation consultation today: Book Now

Mind Your Feet

 

Emily Seymour Yoga Mind Your Feet

Pounding the pavement in New York City is an adventure. Everyone walks there. Some people would rather walk thirty blocks than ride the subway. It’s so easy to get swept up in the sea of people, with the sensory-overload of sights, sounds, and smells all around you. It can be overwhelming but staying in tune with our bodies makes it easier to navigate these kinds of obstacle courses. One of the easiest ways to stay connected to our bodies is by focusing on our feet.

Feet are kind of a big deal:

  • There are 26 bones, 33 joints, 19 muscles, 10 tendons and 107 ligaments in the foot
  • The soles of your feet contain more sensory nerve ending than per square centimeter than any other part of the body
  • There are approximately 250,000 sweat glands in your feet
  • The average person takes 10,000 steps per day
  • Women are four times more likely to have foot problems than men (due to wearing high heels)
  • 90% of American women wear shoes that are too small for their feet
Feet Reflexology Massage Chart
Foot Reflexology Chart

Walking on hard surfaces takes a major toll on our feet. You can walk for miles in the woods without getting tired but walking around in a mall can be exhausting. The way our feet connect with the ground affects our whole bodies. Being unconscious of our feet can induce any number of alignment issues, pain, and disabilities.

The simple act of walking can be an exercise in mindfulness if we so choose. One simple technique that I use for walking is to stay aware of the four corners of my feet – the big toes, little toes, inner and outer heels. Some other tips for walking mindfully include:

  1. Keep your feet parallel.
  2. Plant the heel and roll through the foot evenly.
  3. Keep a 50/50 weight distribution between your inner and outer heels.
  4. Roll through the foot towards the direction of your second toe. Your big toes will take on more of the weight, but keep your pinkie toes active.
  5. Relax the soles of your feet. Imagine that you’re massaging the ground with each step.

Emily Seymour Yoga FeetYou can also play with finding the balance between the two sides of your feet. Too much weight in the inner arch will cause pronation of the feet (rolling the feet towards one another) and too much weight in the outer arch of the foot will cause supination (rolling the feet away from one another).

It’s always a good idea to conclude a day on your feet with a foot massage. I teach an easy and effective foot massage sequence in my Foundations Training course.

For more information book a FREE no-obligation consultation today.

 

Basic Goodness – Summer Air

Basic Goodness Summer Air
Gayatri Mantra
Om Bhur Bhuvaha Svaha
Tat Savitur Varenyam
Bhargo Devasya Di Mahi
Diyo yo Naha Prachodayat
Om

Happy summer solstice! I hope you were able to soak up some of the blessings of this day. I’m in the city this week and decided to honor the sun with an outdoor practice. I went to my favorite spot in Riverside Park that overlooks the water and set up shop. Kicked off my shoes, placed my backpack right next to my mat (one can never be too careful) and closed my eyes to meditate.

The mental knots of the day started to unravel as my senses tuned into the sounds and smells of the park. The sweet fragrance of linden blossoms interwove with the sharp odor of fresh asphalt. I chanted Om in harmony with a passing ambulance siren.

I’ve been practicing inside a lot lately so the change of scenery took a little getting used to. The ground was uneven and I had to stop every so often to blow the occasional ant off my hand or foot. It made me a little twitchy but I remembered that yogis used to practice on the ground with no mats.  And looking at the trees while being upside down is great for shifting perspective.

The very best part was dancing with the wind. There is something so magical about the summer breeze in the city (I swear it has a life all of it’s own). The effect of practicing asana in those warm gusts of air is so transformative – talk about wiping the slate clean.

The effect reminded me of a scene from a movie I just saw – Fearless with Jet Li. At one point Li’s character is learning how to work in the rice paddies in the countryside. Whenever a warm breeze moves through all of the villagers stop what they are doing, stand up and close their eyes. At first Li’s character is too caught up in feeling insecure and competitive and stubbornly keeps working. Later on he realizes the basic goodness of taking those pauses. Basic goodness is a term that was coined by Tibetan spiritual teacher, Chogyam Trungpa:

“Discovering real goodness comes from appreciating very simple experiences. We are not talking about how good it feels to make a million dollars or finally graduate from college or buy a new house, but we are speaking here of the basic goodness of being alive — which does not depend on our accomplishments or fulfilling our desires. We experience glimpses of goodness all the time, but we often fail to acknowledge them. When we see a bright color, we are witnessing our own inherent goodness. When we hear a beautiful sound, we are hearing our own basic goodness. When we step out of the shower, we feel fresh and clean, and when we walk out of a stuffy room, we appreciate the sudden whiff of fresh air. These events take a fraction of a second, but they are real experiences of goodness.” ~ Chogyam Trungpa

How did you celebrate the solstice today? Did you have any opportunities to practice basic goodness? Feel free to leave a comment in the box below.