Choosing Ashtanga

Paths diverged a handful of times in my first decade of studying yoga. I had opportunities to enter the world of Yoga Journal conferences, high-end studios in majestic places, and my photo on the cover of this or that. Every time it came up, I chose ashtanga, and gave a silent prayer for my future self who seemed destined to remain a broke unknown, devoted to an obscure method.

As a practitioner, I kept choosing ashtanga because nothing else felt right. It was the first yoga method I experienced as a traveler in India, and from then on anything else just didn’t’ get me excited. Ashtanga got me excited! There was all my crap - in my face - for an hour and a half, clear as day! And a little bit disgusting, the Ego was. My commitment to getting to know this aspect of “myself,” and to transcend it is what kept me practicing. I hitchhiked to drop-in classes when there was no ashtanga class anywhere, and the music, the changing sequences, seemed to somehow get between me and the inner work I had set out to do. Any of our students will tell you: it is the heart that keeps you coming. A pure love of the practice, paired with a thirst for evolution; it’s undeniable.

As a teacher, I kept choosing ashtanga because of the Mysore method of teaching. The opportunity to work with students one-on-one, as the group bolsters each other practicing together, yet individually, allows me to feel like I can really help people. Observing them closely, I come to know how the practice moves in them, and where they need to go. I can take my time, or bust some chops, depending what any individual needs to learn at this time. Upon entering the room, each student makes a commitment to studying the self, and to being seen. The breath is always at the forefront, and distractions are at a minimum. Each student has signed up for this specific way of learning yoga, there is no one-time drop-in, no wandering in unaware. The method of teaching and practicing is specific: a practice of breath, movement, and mental focus moves towards the goal of self-transformation. My teachers taught me by example, and I trust the method works. I feel very lucky.


Shifts in Seasonal Eating: Late Winter Insights

You know I usually travel out to India in the winters, but there were a few years recently where I wintered through in Boston to see what its all about.

The main thing I noticed, in regards to general seasonal changes and Ayurvedic routines,  I would like to share with you:

When it is very cold, the fires recede into the core of the body, the digestion actually gets stronger, and heavier foods are craved, and needed, then digested well. I got on an enjoyable program of enjoying more oat bars and whole grain cookies and spiced milk. But here’s the thing.

It was in March- and perhaps even late February for those of you who live in warmer climes- that my cravings for the cookies began to subside. BUT, I kept eating the cookies. Because its still not nice out, its still relatively cold (thought not freezing), Im still wearing big jackets and boots- man- don’t take my cookies!? While the spring please doesn’t happen until April, March proved to be a very important time to slowly begin changing the diet to lighter foods. (I often replace dairy milk with non-dairy, eat less sweets, and choose hot cereal over pancakes or eggs.) 

When I kept eating the cookies, I had a harder time adjusting to the damp spring, experienced more mucous, a more sensitive immune system, and ended up catching a cold that caused me to finally give up the cookies anyhow. It could have been smoother! The following year, I watched for the change in my appetite, which did come very early in March (earlier than I expected it to, I remember). You will notice it does go with the weather, when it warms up the appetite goes down. If you eat according to appetite when this happens- rather than sticking with the food routines which have been serving you through the winter- your body will naturally burn off winter weight and mucous, and you will have an easier transition, and enjoy better health.


Digestive Tricks for Winter Festivities ... and Beyond!

This winter I published some helpful digestive tricks (and a bonus recipe!) for those of us preparing for winter festivities this season on my newsletter. If you are not yet signed up for my newsletter, you can sign up at the bottom of the page.

I am all for celebrating the holidays and indulging in special beloved treats with family and friends. That said, we all know the holidays can also be quite taxing on digestion and therefore the body. Here are a few tips and tricks to help keep your digestion on track.

To preserve a happy gut this season, try any of the following:

Before Meals:
• Eat a thin slice of ginger with a squeeze of lemon about 15 minutes before to increase Agni (digestive fire).
• OR
• Take ¼ tsp of ginger powder, and ¼ tsp of black pepper in a cup of water.
During Meals
• Sip warm water, a small cup, with your meal.  
• Eat slowly, take rests between mouthfuls, sit back and make it last.
After Meals
• Take Ama Buster, ginger tea, or mint tea.
• Avoid any other beverages, even water, for about 2 hours.  
• Lie on your left side for 15-20 minutes.
• Get up and take a light walk outside.
Dr. Chauhan’s Ama Buster
ake a paste of 1 Tbsp grated ginger, 1 Tbsp cumin, 1 Tbsp coriander, 2 Tbsp Mint, and 2 Tbsp fennel by smushing with mortar and pestle.  Refrigerate and take 1 tsp after meals for the holidays and at least a few days

Looking for a new warming and cheerful beverage for the holiday season? Ayurveda, after all, is the art of indulence...

Christmas Cape Codder
4 cups unsweetened cranberry juice (like Knudsen’s Just Cranberry)
OR 1-cup whole cranberries and 3.5 cups water
1 chopped apple
4 cups water
5 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
6-8 drops stevia or 4 tsp honey
Vodka to taste (if you must : ) )
Blend first 2 ingredients.  Warm on the stove with all other ingredients for about 15 minutes. Pour through strainer into mugs for virgin drinks, or take off the heat, stir in honey, then add vodka in a shaker and pour into martini glasses.  You can garnish with cinnamon stick.


Enjoy and Happy Holidays!

Curious About Hing?

I was interviewed recently by NPR about hing, or asafoetida. Hing has numerous uses and benefits in Ayurveda, including the ability to pacify vata dosha. It does makes its appearance in the Everyday Ayurveda Cookbook, but as a new taste for a Western pallet, it may take a little kitchen experimenting until one is confident cooking with hing.

What is a Fundamentals of Ayurveda Training?

It's kind of a new thing. It's about getting a basic foundation for understanding an epic, ancient wisdom-tradition. This amount of study helps one to see the big picture, and slowly build from there. The sister arts, yoga and ayurveda, are so vast, a practice so interconnected, learning about one helps you understand the other, and practicing them together in the daily life is a set-up for life-long success. Be introduced to the classic texts, and know there is a deep root to what you are learning. Know this root will continue growing in you at an appropriate pace.

The word training implies a focused time spent refining a specific activity. A 200-hr ayurveda training implies devoting 200 hours of your life to studying and practicing the tradition of ayurveda.

In a course of this length you will study things like dosha, sub-dosha, Sankhya philosophy, enough Sanskrit to pronounce things correctly, digestion, nutrition, and anatomy of the body according to Ayurvedic terminology. Example: the body has 7 tissue layers, fed by the digestive tract in this order

Rasa- plasma

Rakta- blood

Mamsa- muscle

Meda- fat

Asthi- bone

Majja- nerve

Shukra/Artava- reproductive

Therefore, if the reproductive tissue is deficient for some time, the nervous system, and then the bones will suffer. You might begin to understand connections like this in your body from participating in a Fundamentals of Ayurveda training, and you will learn tools for managing early states of imbalance. You will also learn to apply this language to personal yoga practice, and promote balance through pranayama and yoga.

More importantly, you will practice Ayurveda in your own life. You will be required to scrape your tongue, oil your skin, and do some breathing and movement techniques as close to everyday as you can get (what?? Scroll down for videos on scraping and oiling). You will be encouraged to live Ayurveda in your own way throughout the training, and you will be asked to log changes in your body and mind, and be counseled in how to understand these changes.

Example: You may realize that you have a deficiency in a tissue layer, and learn a few recipes for foods that will feed that layer. Then, you will cook it, and eat it, and see if you begin to feel a difference.

Please do not do yourself, or the tradition, the disservice of expecting to practice or teach Ayurveda professionally after 200 hours of experience. The very beginning level of practice, Ayurvedic Health Consultant, requires 650 hours of study, and like yoga, is only appropriate after taking time to allow the tradition to live inside you first. Adding the burden of professional practice before leaving space for true embodiment will create stress. I encourage you to consider a Fundamentals training an investment in your own health and realization. Should you desire further education, 200 hours of training can be applied to affiliate 650 hour programs in the US. The standardizing body for ayurvedic practice in the USA, NAMA is a good place to learn more about the profession.

You can find more info about upcoming programs in Boston here.




Finding Softness in Ashtanga Yoga

There is time to reflect in Mysore, and I’ve been reflecting on the balance of will and softness in Ashtanga yoga. In a practice where we are applying so much effort, where is the receptivity? How does this practice teach effort without tension?

It would seem to come back to the Bhagavad Gita, wherein Yoga is described as action without attachment to the fruits of the action. Sharath recently noted at conference how the element of Ashtanga yoga that brings personal growth is the act of showing up for practice every day. Getting up early and attending to yoga daily builds character. The quality of the asana practice itself is secondary. This is where so many of us can become attached to the action of taking yoga practice. It is a great reminder that showing up is more important than performing asanas, that being willing to try every day without being attached to the outcome is the yoga itself.

The action of showing up can also continue into the practice. The past few years I have often been mired in an attitude of defeat due to the asana practice feeling like it is sliding backwards (oh, you know that feeling).  Then there comes a fear of pain and ageing. These stories often overshadow the act of showing up in the practice of asana, for whatever subtle fruits may be growing. There is a self that is listening to the stories of pain and defeat, holding back, and somewhere another self that longs to give freely to the practice. It is not as much about doing as it is about giving. Action as the Gita describes is a duty, and an inescapable karma. To the amount that we approach our lives with contentment and generosity, we will sow more of the same. As always, the asana practice becomes for me a window into the mind and heart, informing not just what happens on the mat, but how I am acting in Life. I have learned when the practice starts to feel like a struggle, its time to take a look at my attitude.

The Gita describes action with a “mind full of faith” as the way to success in yoga. This is where softness lies, and results in effort without tension. In my own journey, it’s when there is pain that faith can be elusive. My practice is to show up daily and be receptive to the pain- do I need rest, do I need to move slow, or do I need to get warm and bend, what do I need to do today? What action is the body requiring? I then have faith in the intuition and follow it through a practice, of some sort. If I put my faith in this, instead of listing to the angry or afraid voice, the one that wants to mindlessly perform some version of the practice without consideration of the present moment, the practice becomes an expression of Faith, softness, and beauty- even while I work.