Category Archives: self care

Ahimsa and Veganism

by Susan Craig

“The most violent weapon on earth is the table fork.” Mahatma Gandhi

I became a vegan nearly 30 years ago – long before I found Sri Dharma. My decision to stop eating animals was born out of a very hopeless period in my life when I was severely abused. During that darkest days of my life I made a pact with myself that, as small and inconsequential as my life seemed to be, knowing what it felt like to be abused and to be treated as if I had no value, I would do my best not to treat others as if they had no value. This decision included non-human animals; the least that I could do was to stop eating them. Little did I know that this decision, along with the beginnings of an asana practice, would take me on a most amazing journey which recently included finding Sri Dharma Mittra as my yoga teacher.

While the deep pain in my life did not suddenly dissipate as a result of becoming a vegan, I did experience some immediate benefits. My overall physical health improved quickly and dramatically (To this day, at nearly 60 years old, I am far healthier than I was in my teens  and twenties.). Along with that, issues around body image and eating that had been a source of personal torture since my teens disappeared and never returned. These were miracles!

With veganism as a non-negotiable core value, along with the beginnings of an asana practice, I began the slow and arduous climb out of the deep pit that I found myself in. While I have utilized many additional means of recovery support along the way, I believe that the deepest and most profoundly transformative decision that I have made has been to become a vegan. Sri Dharma’s core teachings around Ahimsa certainly support this.

It is a rare individual who has not eaten animal flesh, dairy, and eggs. We have been born into cultures that treat food animals as commodities meant to be eaten. From birth we have been indoctrinated into a culture that tells us that we must consume animals, that it is normal and necessary for health. Upon questioning this indoctrination, however, we find that it is based upon false information. The human body is designed to thrive on a vegan diet. Additionally, on a deeper, spiritual level, the simple act of changing what we put on our plates at each meal – the decision not to participate in the abuse and slaughter of food animals, is liberating  beyond words. The benefits extend far beyond one’s health and spiritual development. As the effects of climate change become become increasingly evident, numerous sources of scientific research indicate that animal agriculture is the leading cause of global warming. (Perhaps the law of Karma is at work here…as we reap, so shall we sew.) What a blessing that, by choosing a plant-based diet, we are improving our own health, we are ceasing to participate in wide-spread violence towards sentient beings, and we are drastically reducing our contribution to the environmental stress on the planet!

In June 2015, I participated in the deeply transformative 200 hour LOAY training with Sri Dharma Mittra. Prior to making the decision to go through the LOAY training, as I searched for my yoga teacher, I started with one screening requirement: I needed a teacher who practiced and taught veganism as a core requirement of being a yogi. This one requirement narrowed the field of potential teachers down to few enough that I could count them on the fingers of one hand. Out of these few, I found myself drawn to Sri Dharma – his wisdom, dedication to his practice and to selfless service, his humility and egoless presence, and his fidelity to practicing and teaching the Yama of Ahimsa or non-violence. Ahimsa literally means A=not, himsa= killing or violence. In the LOAY Teachers’ Manual (2015, p. 4) Sri Dharma says, “Ahimsa means love; ‘thou shalt not kill!’ This applies not only to human beings, but to every living creature.”

Sri Dharma is one of the only yoga teachers of whom I am aware who does not shy away from teaching the yama of Ahimsa to his students truthfully. He regularly states while teaching that one must extend one’s compassion beyond one’s pets and that when one eats animals one is engaging in cruelty. He talks about how when one consumes animal products, one’s body becomes a morgue. In Sri Dharma’s words, “Without taking on the yama of ahimsa, there is little benefit to observing the other four yamas or any other aspect of the holy science of yoga.” (LOAY Teachers’ Manual, p. 5) I know, from the center of my soul, that this information is true and correct. The decision to become a vegan as a core component of one’s practice of Ahimsa will deepen and strengthen one’s  yoga practice. It will simultaneously improve the quality of one’s life immeasurably while benefiting other beings and the health of the planet. I highly recommend it!

Note: For additional information on the benefits of veganism that this blog has room for, I recommend reading The World Peace Diet by Dr. Will Tuttle and viewing the documentary, Cowspiracy.

Susan Craig is a Berkeley, California native who participated in the transformational June 2015 LOAY 200 hour training. Susan strives to practice Karma Yoga each day in her job as a school district administrator where she oversees support services for marginalized youth, as an advocate for animals through vegan activism, and as a teacher of a weekly donation-based yoga class. She resides in Napa in the home of the four cats and a rabbit who rescued her. Susan is most grateful to have found Dharma Yoga and to have Dharma Mittra as her yoga teacher and spiritual guide.

Recipe: Raw Vegan Chocolate Caramel Dream Bars

by Karen Fan

raw-vegan-chocolate-caramel-bars

Makes 8-10 servings

For the base:
1⁄4 cup raw walnuts
1⁄2 cup sprouted raw almonds (soaked 24 hours in water and peeled skin)
6 pitted dates
1⁄4 cup unsweetened coconut flakes
2 Tbsp coconut oil, liquid

For the almond butter “caramel” filling:
1⁄2 cup spouted raw almonds
2 Tbsp coconut oil
9 pitted dates
2 Tbsp brown rice syrup
Pinch of Himalayan sea salt
2-3 Tbsp water

For the chocolate icing:
1⁄2 cup raw cacao powder
2 Tbsp coconut oil
1/3 cup brown rice syrup
2-3 Tbsp water

1. To sprout the raw almonds, soak them overnight and then peel the skin. Set it aside for now.

2. To make the base, place the walnuts, almonds, dates, coconut flakes, and coconut oil in a food processor or high-speed blender and pulse until the mixture resembles fine crumbs. Scoop the mixture into your hands, and if the ingredients hold together, your base is perfect. Press the mixture into a square pan.

3. To make the caramel filling, place the raw almonds, coconut oil, dates brown rice syrup and sea salt into a food processor or high-speed blender, and process until the mixture is creamy and smooth. Add 2 to 3 tbsp of water to help make the consistency smoother while processing. Spread over the base.

4. To make the chocolate icing, place the raw cacao powder, coconut oil and brown rice syrup in a mixing bowl and stir until the mixture is creamy. Add 2 to 3 tbsp of water to make the consistency smoother. Spread the chocolate icing on top of the caramel filling.

5. Freeze the bars for a few hours. Chill for half an hour before slicing.

Crispy Kale with Vegetables Recipe

By Gabriella DiGiovani

Before transitioning into eating vegan, we often wonder how we will maintain a varied and interesting diet in light of cutting out certain foods. While it may seem that a vegan diet is restrictive on the surface, we soon discover that this way of eating allows for a great deal of creativity in the kitchen. The more we pay attention to what we put into our bodies by eating vegan, the more we seek to nourish ourselves in a healthy, pure, and non-harmful way. Over time, we learn that there are endless foods and recipes that sustain a fun, interesting, and healthy diet which further enhances our lives.

I love playing with different recipes, and find that with some adjustments, it is easy to make anything vegan friendly. I have been a big fan of kale chips over the years, and often make them as a snack or side dish. I came across a dish that uses crispy kale chips to give the rest of the recipe a delicious crunch. This is one of my favorite dishes, which is sure to please vegan and non-vegan eaters alike.

Ingredients:
4 cups of curly kale
1/2 cups carrots sliced thinly
1/2 cup zucchini sliced thinly
1 serving brown rice
1 tbsp coconut oil
2 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp salt

Peanut sauce:
1/4 cup peanut butter
1 tbsp soy sauce
2 tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp organic sugar
1 cup hot water

Directions: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare brown rice on stove top. Mix together olive oil, kale, and sprinkle sea salt to your liking in a bowl. Spread kale on baking sheet and bake for about 10 minutes or until the edges turn brown. To make the peanut sauce, mix together the peanut butter, soy sauce, lime juice and sugar. At the end, add 2 tablespoons of hot water and mix, continuing until you reach a desired consistency. Put coconut oil in a pan over medium heat, then add carrots and zucchini, saute to your liking, and add the peanut sauce at the end. On a plate, place the sauteed vegetables on top of brown rice, and top with the crispy kale. Yum!

 

GabriellaGabriella began practicing Yoga four years ago in search of spiritual guidance. When she discovered  Sri  Dharma Mittra and embarked on the Life of a Yogi teacher training, her life was catapulted into a new upward direction. Through Dharma Yoga, Gabriella has found a stability and peace through constant practice. She seeks to grow as both a teacher and student of Yoga. Gabriella also works on a farm and apple orchard, and is a supporter of sustainable agriculture and small farms.

Purifying Bit by Bit Through Practice

By Jenna Pacelli

When I look around me at all the different kinds of people, in completely different places in their lives, I notice my mind judging certain aspects of them. Being a yoga practitioner and firmly on the path of self-realization, I am often humbled by my mind’s ability to spew some nasty things, contrary to the compassionate goals of yoga.

However, the practice comes not from being perfect necessarily but from learning to observe these tendencies and using the practice to continue to cleanse and purify the mind, body and heart.

The practice and teachings of my teacher, Sri Dharma Mittra, have changed my life dramatically. He has taught me how to purify the parts of myself that would make your hair curl, parts that all of us have, if we just look closely enough. The more and more aware I become, the amount of work I still need to do becomes ever clearer.

As a Dharma Yoga instructor, I practice pranayama, meditation, mantra, asana, concentration, and other spiritual practices every day. These form the bulk of my practice and there is a direct correlation between how steady I’ve been in my practice and my own ability to be compassionate, calm and patient in my daily life. It is literally a never-ending process of cleansing and purifying the places within myself that I would rather not look at. I once read about a teacher whose student asked them if they should practice every day.

The teacher replied: “You don’t necessarily have to practice every day but when life gets difficult, you’ll hope you’d been practicing every day.”

The path to self-realization is not an easy one. It can be very lonely and isolating, not to mention mentally and emotionally trying. However, the payoffs greatly outweigh the costs and eventually all costs go away and become irrelevant as a self-realized being. It’s the difference between suffering in my own thoughts and feelings about others (because we’re truly the only ones that suffer when we judge) and allowing others to have their own awakening process.

The people surrounding me haven’t changed – I have! So I can walk through the grocery store and either feel the hot anger of judgment and criticism inside my body (which the practice has also helped me connect with) or have a totally peaceful experience. Nothing about my outside surroundings changed – but when I’m connected to myself through the practices of yoga, I hold the power of changing my experience in my hands.

Judgment serves as a mirror for our own progress on the path. It’s simply a construct of the mind and when we learn to purify the mind, we’re really learning how to remove obstacles on the path.

This is why we practice – to shed light on the dark, cob-webby places inside of us that need our attention. Nowhere in the Yoga Sutras did Patanjali say “You must be free of all imperfections.”

What he did say was that yoga is the “settling of the mind into silence.”

When we silence the mind, the place where the dark, harmful thoughts originate, then we start to experience the peace of our true self. And the joy that accompanies that supreme knowledge is unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, even if only briefly.

 

DSC_0094-MJenna Pacelli is a Yoga Teacher and Board-Certified Holistic Health Coach in San Francisco, serving clients and students all over the world. She helps her clients navigate radical life changes and transitions, helping them heal at the physical, emotional, and spiritual levels. Connect with her at jennapacelli.com.

Not Invincible. A Tale on Loss and the Reality that Follows

by Fay Inger

Fay_Inger

I am a yogi, but I am not invincible. I know this because I was recently injured in car accident and X-rays (and later an MRI) revealed a total of 5 herniated discs in my lumbar spine. Two in particular are pressing on a nerve, shooting pain in to my glute and down into my leg and knee. The painful throb feels as if a red-hot fireplace iron is constantly and firmly poking me. My injuries are relatively small compared to serious injuries people sustain in auto accidents, but hearing that this will never ever fully heal, and the best I can do is manage the pain, is a difficult reality to accept. And because my profession involves movement and demonstration, the first questions that came to mind were about my ability to teach and practice yoga.

Yoga. Yoga is the love of my life and has been my life since 2001 when I was first introduced to it, and especially since 2008 when I began my voyage into the world of teacher trainings. From that point on, I was on a trajectory of feel-good body awareness and meditation. My life orbited around yoga to the point where it was no longer a hobby and it became my chosen profession. I loved the way it made me feel and I became obsessed with introducing other people to how good it could make them feel. I became a teacher of yoga.

I was high all the time from feel-good endorphins, increased circulation, length, and expansion in my body, meditation, and deep yogic breathing. It was exquisite. But the higher we are, the harder we fall and this experience has brought me back down to earth’s orbit, where for the first time in 12 years I feel…mortal. I am now like Superman in the second film when Clark Kent gives up his powers to grow closer to Lois Lane, except I didn’t willingly submit myself to this. Now I am forced to deal with the truth that 1) I am not actually invincible, 2) I can bend and break, and 3) I am emotionally attached to the experiences of my physical body.

Up until now I (sort of, half jokingly) believed that being a yogi equaled being invincible.  It is as if all the physical practice of yoga formed a protective shield around my body, just as Superman’s shield of invulnerability did.  Like I said, as if.

Every point of opposition between fantasy and reality is an opportunity to grow. While I am mourning the loss of my imagined super powers, I, as well as many yogis connected to the Dharma Yoga Center, experienced the loss of a dear friend, mentor, and inspiring yogi, Bernadette, who recently passed away. Bernadette was a strong yogi who was known to practice Bikram yoga to warm up for teaching a class. She was warm and genuine and knew exactly what to say to someone in a given moment. I was lucky to have Bernadette as a mentor and I will never forget the conversations we had. She is and will be missed. Her passing is a painful loss to all who knew her, but it also served as a lesson to naïve yogis who think we are invincible: We yogis are not inoculated against life any more than non-yogis. We may have been armed with tools to deal with life and conflict compassionately and with non-attachment, but if you have a date with karma, it will find you despite all the yoga and meditation practiced in the world.  In the end all we (yogis) can do is what anyone can do: deal with the matter at hand and make the most of the situation, and maybe keep a smile on your face in the process.

Fay_Inger

I always like to say, “Think good and it will be good.” Yoga has given me a lot to think good about. I can also see how yoga is a metaphor for life: How I deal with my stuff on my mat directly correlates to how I deal with stuff in my life. If I get bent out of shape when my “spot” in class is taken by an innocent and unknowing bystander, how will I react if I am cut off on the road? And on the days when my practice just isn’t strong and I allow that to ruin my day, how much more so will I come undone in the wake of an actual catastrophe?  If I cannot breathe through the hard poses, how can I possibly breathe through the tough moments in life? And if I cannot be grateful in a 90-minute class, how can I ever be grateful for the blessings in life, big and small?

Yoga mirrors life and provides a safe space to exam yourself in the confines of a piece of a rubber yoga mat, 2 feet by 6 feet: the space is small enough to allow you to move but not large enough to get away from yourself mentally or physically. So I explore. I take those 90 minute intervals to be fully present with myself so that I can be fully present with other people in the infinitely large world. On my mat I accept my imperfections and injuries so that I can be compassionate and loving to others’ imperfections and injuries. But most of all I love myself so fully and completely so that there are no imperfections, just a collection of stamps in the passport of my life that prove that I am not “perfect,” but I am whole.

So when you next see me in class and on my mat or teaching you in class, there is no need to ask if I am okay, because I am and will be. Instead just smile and catch my eye and know that in that moment we will both be whole.

(This post first appeared on the blog Fay Inger)

Fay_Inger Fay is an 800-Hour Certified Dharma Yoga instructor living in Los Angeles, California. Fay is a private yoga instructor, writes blog posts on yoga and wellness and is learning nutrition to better help her students reach their health and fitness goals. As she always says, “yoga is a gift” and it is her favorite gift to share!

The Search for Peace

by Marci Moberg 

©Enid Johnstone

Everyone is searching for peace –peace within themselves, with others, in their environments, and in their homes.  Still, somehow peace escapes out the back door, and continues to elude people.  The search for peace faces multiple obstacles along the way that block the path and keep serenity at bay.  One supporting mechanism to finding peace now is through the practice of ahimsa.

Ahimsa, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is one of the five yamas, or ethical practices, that together form the first limb of the eight-limbed path of yoga.  While often translated as non-killing, the concept carries more nuance and depth.  

 

Sri Swami Satchidananda describes ahimsa as not causing pain. What he means by that is not causing pain in thought, word, and deed.  While many think of this as an externally focused practice, it is just as much an inside job, because neglecting the practice of ahimsa towards one’s self can create harm to others. 

Practicing ahimsa in one’s every day life may seem simple at first. On the surface it appears easy to not harm others and cause them pain.  People easily identify avoiding physical harm, using words unwisely like slandering another person, and other deeds that appear to overtly create pain and harm to another person.  

This makes the initial layer of the practice easy for many to adopt.  But the practice is deeper.  First the practice should include beings other than human beings.  This includes not killing or harming insects, eating a vegetarian or vegan diet, and even being mindful of the treatment of plants and trees. 

Second, the practice should include the way our words and deeds affect others in subtle ways to cause harm that may otherwise not be obvious to us.  The effects of our actions on others are subtle and easily missed if we are not mindful of another person’s perspective and the potential ripples our actions may create. 

While we may have the best of intentions, beautiful intentions do not always result in beautiful action.  It is this delicate balance that makes practicing ahimsa a true art, rather than a hard science. 

While practicing ahimsa with word and deed can be challenging in subtle ways, even more difficult is the practice of ahimsa in thought.  The ego rarely comes up with something nice to say about another person.  It often moves us into a place of survival, protection, and defensiveness automatically without even taking pause. 

 

One of the beings it often most attacks is one’s self. I discovered that practicing ahimsa with one’s self truly requires a careful look at one’s thoughts throughout the day and the subtle messages we tell ourselves that perhaps are not so helpful.  Sometimes the thought is obviously harmful, like telling ourselves that we are unintelligent for forgetting to do something.  Other times the language is subtler. 

When I started to watch my own thoughts I discovered that negative messages that were harming me were sneakily sliding into what otherwise appeared to be efforts to be productive.  For example, when trying to get myself to focus on something like my research for my dissertation, I would tell myself internally that I was banned from checking e-mail or prohibited from calling a friend back so I would finish the task. 

This harsh language with myself set me up for an uncomfortable reality where I felt like doing my dissertation or any other task was punishment.  It drained all the enjoyment out of things I needed to spend my time on that I truly loved.  Sometimes it caused rebellious behavior in me as I rebelled against my harsh instructions to focus and checked my e-mail anyway, like a teenager rebelling against her parents.  In the end, this harsh internal language to myself was not helping me be productive, nor nurturing me. 

 

And the ripple effects it created were probably more harmful than I am even aware of now, and a pattern I continue to watch and slowly undo.

It is said that when the Buddha and other saints practiced ahimsa in the forest, animals would only kill if they were hungry and would otherwise dwell peacefully together.  The practice and non-practice of ahimsa I believe has more subtle energetic affects on the environment and relationships around us than we realize, especially with ourselves. 

SriDharma Mittra always emphasizes that what we focus our thought on is also where we direct our prana energy. As a result, it is key that we are sensitive to where we are directing prana.  In the end, if someone wants to truly experience peace with others, with his or her environment, and above all within his or herself, ahimsa is an essential element in unlocking the serenity we seek.


 
Marci Moberg came to yoga, meditation, and mindfulness through her own spiritual and healing journey.  First connecting to yoga in college as a form of exercise, she later connected to its deeper roots as an avid student and practitioner of many ancient contemplative traditions.  Marci is grateful to be a dedicated student of Felix Lopez, a former Buddhist monk and energy healer.  She is a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) and is currently completing the 500-Hour Life of a Yogi Teacher Training with Sri Dharma Mittra.  She teaches yoga, meditation, and mindfulness in the greater Washington DC area.  Off the mat and cushion Marci works in international development, is an experienced conflict resolution practitioner, and a doctoral candidate at George Mason University’s School for Conflict Analysis and Resolution.  You can learn more about Marci and find her reflections on the study and practice of different spiritual traditions here: abhidhammayoga.com and seekreflectimplement.com