Spring is a season of rebirth in DC, with an extra dose of pollen and blossom fragrance in every breath to remind us. As part of this recreation of the self, people are hitting their yoga mats hard as they emerge out of DC’s winter hibernation. Some folks are developing yoga as a new habit while old hands are reconnecting with or sustaining their yoga habit.
In order to keep yoga as a healthy habit and to let go of unhealthy habits, it’s a good time to pay attention to the underlying nature of habits. It’s so odd how we keep habits and hold patterns, even down to talking a certain way, without even realizing what we are doing or why we are doing it. Habits are just automatic. We often consider our habits to be part of our identity, part of the way we are. But this just isn’t that true. Habits are just something we do, but they aren’t what we should identify ourselves by. Let’s go a bit deeper than that.
So next time we start operating according to a habit, whether good or bad, let’s pause and look at what state of being that the habitual action is a reflection of. Do we like the state of being our habits are based on? Do we want to remain, being, in that state?
If we ask ourselves these questions, whether we keep our old habits or not, we will be more aware of our habits and what causes them. That’s the kind of self knowledge that yoga is all about.
So what motivates your habits, including your yoga habit?
It is hard to believe that 6 years ago, my life and those of my fellow Hokie friends were dramatically shifted due to the unexpected and heartbreaking shootings that occurred on Virginia Tech’s campus. Six years ago today marks the beginning of the redirection of my path.
The days, weeks, months, and years that followed this day have been extremely transformative. People who have not experienced traumas do not realize the full extent of what they mean. Your entire world changes, including your friendships, dreams, possibilities for career, and willingness to confront the present moment. All the plans I had for my life shifted. And the fears I had to confront were phenomenal, beginning with, How will I survive now?
The traumatic shootings that took place on April 16, 2007 and the difficult times that followed led me first, to a path of self-destruction, anxiety, and depression. I was disillusioned, angry, volatile, resentful, and I didn’t want to talk about it. I had lost my trust in life itself, even though at the same time I still completely trusted that God would somehow lead me through it all. I was living in a psychologically and emotionally contradictory state, which made me even more desperate. There wasn’t a place I could hide in my head about this. Little did I know that chaos is a classic precursor to transformation.
As time went on, I found myself more and more distant from those I loved and from my own work. Eventually, my mentor stepped in and encouraged me to attend a mindfulness meditation group that had been organized specifically for those of us who were present during the shootings and wanted to heal. After several sessions of mindfulness meditation and yoga asana, I felt calmer and as though I could now begin to confront my feelings and my new relationship to life. I began to open to a path of self-healing and self-transformation through the power of a daily practice of Ashtanga yoga and meditation.
The path of healing dark patterns of illness has not been easy and I tend to revisit the dark spaces on occasion. At first, I had to rely on the strength of my faith to get through this, and my faith wasn’t that strong when this happened. During my recovery, I felt dark emotions I didn’t want to accept I had in me, such as jealousy at other people’s ability to move on from this experience. The hardest thing I ever had to do was to work my way through these feelings and to come out the other end a person who still saw purpose and potential in her life. I learned, through the practice, how to draw on my own reserves of inner strength and integrity to establish myself as worthy, capable, and a powerful conduit of change. I learned how to experience, through my body and breath, my own ability to protect myself, not only because I could respond honestly to my feelings through my body, but also because I knew I could move past the discomfort into a place of ease. I learned how to deal with the consequences of being honest with myself. My whole internal attitude toward my life underwent a remarkable transformation. It’s amazing how your world changes when you discover that you can honestly take care of yourself.
To this day, yoga continues to provide me the opportunity to practice and cope with all that I feel I do not deserve, good or bad, in ways that empower me, and to pursue as best I can the development of my highest potential in all endeavors. Yoga hasn’t solved all the darkness in my life, of course. Rather it has given me the tools to honestly explore and live fully in the mysteries, traumas, and affections while discovering myself one piece at a time.
- Marie Belle
If you have taken a class at Yoga District (or hopefully, if you’ve taken a yoga class anywhere), you have heard these words. Your teacher has moved the class from Warrior II to Extended Side Angle. Your forearm is resting on your front thigh, chest opening to the side of the room. The pose is difficult, and your front thigh is beginning to shake, knee bent to 90 degrees. Then, as if she has no idea that this pose is freaking hard enough as it is, your teacher begins to offer modifications to deepen the pose. “If you feel comfortable, you can lower your bottom hand to the floor”. As a student, a teacher’s well-meaning modifications can come across as, “If you’re a good person, wrap your hand behind your back and take the bind” Okay, hopefully not in those words – but that’s how it can feel. Too often, we begin to equate our self worth to our physical ability and how we compare to those practicing around us. We judge our own practice by how closely our poses resemble the photos on the cover of Yoga Journal. When you hear the phrase “all options are equal”, it may not sound sincere. Clearly, you think, all options aren’t equal, and the girl next to me who has somehow wrapped her hands behind her back, around her thigh, and lifted her front leg straight into the air is winning.
While I have never felt competitive against other students in a yoga class, I have definitely been competitive with myself. I have pushed myself to achieve a fuller expression of a pose, even when I haven’t been ready or when it has caused me pain to do so. I have gone beyond my limits; driven by ego and the fantasy that teacher will love me more if my body can do more.
The 200-hour teacher training at Yoga District has opened my mind to the truth behind that phrase I’ve heard so many times: All options are equal. More than just equal – the decision to back off, do what is right for your body in the present moment and respect your limits is often the much harder choice to make. It is easy to show up for class and push yourself too hard, sacrificing your alignment or your breathing for the goal of getting to that next pose. It is actually more difficult to allow yourself to drop that bottom knee to the floor when you need to. It is a challenge to realize that your body is not ready to take a headstand today, even though last week you were able to hold the pose for two minutes. It is difficult to quiet your mind enough to listen to your body. To accomplish this is to truly practice yoga. Getting in touch with your body, your limits, and achieving the type of self awareness and confidence that it takes to back off and make decisions based on your needs will take you further on the path of yoga than a hands-free headstand ever will. When in class or practicing at home, listen to your teacher and to your body. All options are equal. Choose the one that works for you.
- Kate Adams
A few years ago, Registered Yoga Teacher Christine Soykal moved from Iowa to DC and managed to join the circus. She spent her afternoons with Zip Zap, teaching children circus-based skills with the goals of team-building and performing. Through Zip Zap, Soykal heard about Acroyoga, a form of yoga that combines the performative nature of the circus by using dance and acrobatics through team efforts. Soykal was hooked. Here she discusses how she got involved in acroyoga, some of her favorite poses, and why she finds it to be a fun and beneficial practice.
Yoga District: How’d you find out about acroyoga and what inspired you to take part in it?
Christine Soykal: I found out about acroyoga by getting involved in the abundant circus community in DC. I was inspired to take part in the practice because the excitement and community feeling was infectious. It looked like everyone was having so much fun and working together so beautifully while gaining strength, flexibility, trust and getting to experience the world from another perspective.
YD: It seems like it’s a partner-based activity, but also immersed in a community. What kind of acroyoga community is present in DC, and do
you partake in it?
CS: It is a partner-based activity, but also very rooted in the idea of building community with an attitude of play. There are ongoing classes at studios around DC and in Bethesda. Groups get together to “jam” on their own time, as well. It’s also always happening at the drum circle on Sundays in Meridian Hill Park, which is where I first started to experiment with it.
YD: What are the various roles in acroyoga? There seems to be a base and a flyer. Could you explain these roles?
CS: There are actually 3 roles in acroyoga: A base is the person who supports the flyer and is often on the ground with their arms and legs reaching the sky at 90 degrees. This person focuses on stacking their bones to achieve ease and stability while flying the flyer. The flyer is the person who balances on the hands and feet of the base who moves through various poses, or series of poses that flow together. The third roles is that of the spotter who makes sure the flyer is safe at all times and can also help give advice or directions to the base or flyer if their alignment is off course.
YD: How does acroyoga differ from standard yoga?
CS: It differs from traditional practices of yoga because it fuses a few practices together to then form acroyoga and it is done with a partner. It combines the wisdom of yoga, the fiery excitement of partner acrobatics and the sweetness of Thai massage. I love this combination because it opens up space to experience a feeling of connection, communication, and trust.
YD: Do you have any favorite routines/poses?
CS: I love washing machines which are flows that rotate you through a set of dynamic positions in a circular flow. Here’s an example of one calledCatherines Wheel. Some of my favorite poses right now are: High hand to hand, High bird, Mermaid, Nataraj, Star and all therapeutic flying poses where I get to be inverted and let gravity lengthen and decompress my spine.
YD: What are some health benefits?
CS: I think the health benefits of acroyoga are endless. The most obvious one for me is the happiness I feel while doing it and the way it decompresses my spine creating more length and ease. It eases my mind and relieves me from stress, which can only be positive for all of my internal systems and overall well-being. Performing inversions and backbends in acroyoga or yoga has so many health benefits. The lymphatic system is stimulated which in turn strengthens your immune system. Being upside down is great for your cardio-vascular system because it helps improve your circulation and allows fresh blood to go to the heart. The endocrine system is stimulated which helps regulate your hormones and metabolism. The feeling of happiness and balance you achieve through acroyoga, which also engages the breath, soothes the the parasympathetic nervous system thus increasing the function of the immune system. Opening your heart in a backbending pose allows you to take that deep breath into each lobe of your lungs fully.
YD: Some say that acroyoga is a healing art. Do you agree? If so, how is it a healing art?
CS: I do agree that acroyoga is a powerful healing art not only for the physical body systems but for the spiritual body, as well. It forces you to be fully present in the moment and asks you to look at the world from another perspective. It helps you to energetically clear blockages or to bring them to your attention to be addressed. It conditions the mind and body and roots itself deep within the ancient healing widoms of Yoga and Thai Massage while daring you to trust in the strength of your body. It fuses together parts of our inner and outer selves, as well as, supports us to build communities from a place of play and loving kindness. It’s the yoga of relationship that’s undeniably beautiful to look at the way people can work together to create beautiful shapes, feats of strength and flexibility while moving as one, like a divinely choreographed dance.
Many plants are harvested for their seeds, but turmeric, a sterile plant, can’t be. Instead, it’s roots, or rhizomes, are gathered for all sorts of purposes. First applied as a dye thousands of years ago in India, turmeric soon enough took form as a spice and as prominent component for curry powder. From condiment and coloring, the rhizome naturally progressed as a cosmetic. It doesn’t stop there as a pigment or powder; turmeric is also a highly-regarded herb in Ayurvedic medicine.
Turmeric can be used both internally and externally. It adds a gorgeous golden tone and dishes to drinks, but that yellow tint can also linger on your skin when the spice is used as a first-aid ointment. Don’t let that scare you off, though! Turmeric is highly regarded for its health benefits. If you were looking to hire a spice for all sorts of ailments, you’d be highly impressed by turmeric’s CV. Turmeric would be the cream of the crop! Or, uh, to be more technical, the powder of the root! Curcumin (not to be confused with cumin), a compound found in turmeric, is highly responsible for turmeric’s extensive curriculum vitae.
Here’s a quick basic summary of turmeric’s benefits, taken from turmeric.co.in:
antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, appetizer, astringent, cardiovascular, carminative, cholagogue, digestive, diuretic, stimulant, and vulnerary.
Lots of “anti” activity in that list. But “anti” in all the most positive ways. For instance, when you have an infection, whether it be a scratch, bug bite, or virus, your body’s go-to response is the inflammation route. It’s the biological response to trying to remove the problem. Aarthi Narayanan, a guest on The Kojo Nnamdi Show back in September, talked about how omnipresent turmeric has been throughout her life, and how she often uses turmeric for external inflammatory ailments. When she had a bug bite, she’d use turmeric with coconut oil as an ointment, and she said everything would be fine the next day. There’d be no infection, just some yellow residue on her leg.
You don’t need to ingest too much turmeric to get its benefits, just half a teaspoon a day. Turmeric has it’s proper place cooking, but you’ve got to use it in the right manner. It walks a fine line between bland and bitter. Too little won’t do too much, and too much will be a bit bitter in flavor. That’s why other spices are often paired with it, like cinnamon, cardamom, and cumin when making curry powder, for instance. Another guest on the Nnamdi show, Monica Bhide, came to the thought that, “people use it in cooking primarily as a healer more than for any taste”. Perhaps. What’s the harm really in adding this golden spice to your life? It seems to have accumulated a lot of credentials over centuries, and future discoveries of its capabilities wouldn’t be surprising, either.
Like carrots, zucchini is one of those vegetables that crosses over delightfully from dinner plates to desert. Since it goes well into baked goods, here’s a recipe for nutty zucchini cookies. They’re a wholesome, savory treat, and even though vegan and with a vegetable base, still a little sweet.
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup applesauce (substitute butter)
- 2 cups flour
- flax seed water mixture (1 tbs ground flax: 3 tables of water) mixed
(in substitute of egg)
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 cup shredded medium zucchini
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp clove
- 1/2 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 cup of oats
- 1 cups of mixed nuts
1.Get your oven warm and ready for the cookies by preheating it to 355℉.
2. Shred your zucchini into fine pieces (it’s alright to leave the skin on).
3. Whisk all the dry ingredients together (sugar, applesauce, flour, flax, and baking soda).
4. Add shredded zucchini to the mix.
5. Add in the spices, and feel free to add in more if you’re feeling creative! As long as they’re compatible, of course! (perhaps nutmeg, or allspice?)
6. Throw in the fixings. The more, the merrier, the tastier. Load it up.
7. Prepare a cookie sheet. You could line it with parchment paper, or grease it with a vegan kind of oil. (I’ve used coconut oil before, it works just fine).
8. Once you’ve got a well-blended bowl of batter, start placing cookie sized drops of batter onto your sheet.
9. Let the cookies bake for 10 to 12 minutes.
*don’t overbake – your cookies could dry out or burn. They bake almost like scones, since there’s a lot of dry ingredients in the mix. The zucchini adds a bit of moisture, though*
10. Let them cool, and enjoy (possibly with a nice glass of almond milk or some tea!)
In the midst of winter snowstorms, there’s something satisfying about visiting the Desert Room at the National Botanic Garden. Whereas many of the other chambers throughout the grounds are tropical and humid, the Desert Room’s atmosphere is warm and arid, carrying a simple silence that has a stark contrast to the bitter windchill of our known winter weather in Washington.
Deserts lack an abundance of vegetation, except for their cacti and succulent plants, which are fascinating evolutionary structures. Growing in dry areas that are subject to drought, cacti do what they must to conserve water. Over time, they’ve adapted in all sorts of ways. For one, unlike other plants, they’ve lost their leaves, and in place, have spines, which provide protection and shade from the elements.
Cactus pose in Yoga is a great choice for someone who wants to improve their posture. Align your spine! It’s your main source of strength. We spend much of our time forming bad habits of hunching over at desks, so it’s good to get into the practice of standing tall, like a cactus. Did you know that some saguaro cacti can grow up to 75 feet and live for over 150 years? Another interesting fact; it can take up to 75 years for a saguaro cactus to grow an arm. The cactus is a slow-growing species, storing its energy and resources, for it lives rainfall by rainfall.
There are multiple variations for practicing cactus, but I’ll share the vertical version. Not only does it help with posture, but it’s great release for shoulder tightness. You’ll be blending Cactus pose with Chair pose here. Stand up, pull some intention into your navel for core energy, and put your arms in cactus position. Give yourself some saguaro arms by bending your elbows and extending your forearms. Check to see if your elbows are on the same plane as your shoulders. Then you’ll raise your palms skyward. Feel that extension in your hands, from your wrists to your palms and through your fingers. It’s important to make sure your feet are firmly planted. Your base is where Chair pose comes into place. Like any plant, it’s important to stay rooted to the earth. But give your knees a little bend to add some depth to the pose. Keep your dhristi forward, and if you feel so inclined, stick your tongue out, paying some homage to Kali. Repeat as much as desired.
In our slim-obsessed society we often lump carbohydrates into one demonized category to be avoided at all costs. Carbophobes, listen up!! Not only are whole grains an excellent source of vitamin E, they’re crucial to your metabolism because they’re rich in B-complex vitamins. They’re also packed full of dietary fiber–a.k.a. your best ally against over-eating and weight gain.
Leeks are a great source of Vitamin A. In fact, one serving contains up to 1/3 of your daily recommended value. As a member of the onion family they are a great source of allicin, which has proven anti-fungal and antibacterial properties–part of what gives these green tubers prebiotic properties. Prebiotics have been proven to alleviate symptoms of IBS and may reduce the risk of certain kinds of cancer.
What You’ll Need:
- 6 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken stock
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 red onion, diced
- 3 leeks, white and light green parts only, rinsed thoroughly and sliced into rings
- 3-4 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- 2 cups cooked farro (3/4 cup uncooked)
- 1 cup fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
- Salt & pepper to taste
- 2 tbs fresh lemon juice
How to Make It:
- Bring stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan over low heat.
- Heat olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy saucepan. Add diced onion and a pinch of salt, sautéing for 3-4 min. Then add leeks and sauté another 2-3 min. Once onions and leeks begin to soften, add garlic and Arborio rice. Cook about 3 min, or until rice begins to crackle.
- Pour in wine and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until the wine has almost completely disappeared. Stir in one ladleful of simmering stock. The stock should bubble not boil. Cook, stirring often, until it’s almost absorbed. Add another ladleful and continue cooking like this (adding more liquid when the rice is almost dry) until you’ve used up most of your stock and the rice is al dente.
- Stir in the pre-cooked farro (make it according to the directions on the package), parsley fresh lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste. and herbs. Add another ladleful of stock and continue to cook for a minute, then a remove from the heat.
- The risotto should be creamy but not runny. If it’s dry, add a little stock.
Making this will be a labor of love. You’re constantly ladling and stirring, so grab a glass of wine and don’t drift too far from the stove. It’ll be worth it, I promise!
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