Keeping Healthy Feet: 8 Tips For Proper Foot Treatment

It is important to know how to keep your feet happy and pain-free. Here are some tried and true easy tips for healthy feet.

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It’s easy to forget about our feet. Even though they bear our entire weight every day, we still tend to stuff them into confining, heeled, pointy or dead-flat shoes, or forget entirely to clean and stretch them. Foot problems lead to discomfort and may also cause knee, hip or back pain. To prevent these conditions, it is important to know how to keep your feet happy and pain-free.

As a student of podiatry, I am interested in preventative and corrective treatment that keep our feet healthy and functioning optimally. Here are some tried and true easy tips for healthy feet.

 

1. Wash Your Feet Often

Healthy feet start with proper hygiene. Just letting the water splash on your feet is not enough. Wash and scrub them thoroughly with soap and water, including your toes. Do not soak your feet for a long time as it doing so will reduce the natural oils of the skin.

  • Scrub your feet gently with a pumice stone to get rid of dead skin cells, focusing on toes and heels.
  • Dry your feet completely as leftover moisture provides a perfect breeding ground for fungi and bacteria, which causes foul odor and infections.
  • Change your socks every day. You may also consider sweat-absorbing socks to reduce moisture.

 

2. Moisturize Daily

Apply moisturizer daily to keep your feet soft and supple. After showering, dry your feet thoroughly and massage your feet with your favorite moisturizer to keep healthy oils replenished. Consider investing in a good foot cream that contains active ingredients to keep your feet smooth and healthy. Some of the ingredients to look for are urea, shea butter, karanja oil, tea tree oil and neem oil.

Do not apply too much moisturizer between your toes. It may lead to fungal growth or infection if this area stays wet or damp.

 

3. Wear Proper Shoes

Spending the day in a pair of ill-fitting shoes can result in serious foot conditions, such as Plantar Fasciitis, Achilles Tendonitis and Charcot Foot.

  • Pick shoes that accommodate your foot arch. For neutral-arched feet, choose shoes with firm midsoles. For low-arched or flat feet, choose straight choose. For high-arched feet, find shoes with good arch support.
  • If you are looking for running or hiking shoes, look for a pair with a roll bar feature to prevent excess movement in the heel area.
  • Other features that you may want to consider are Achilles notch, padded midsole, big toe box, ankle collar, and shock absorbing feature.

 

4. Cut Your Toenails Regularly

Trim your toenails regularly and clean under with a nail brush and manicure stick. Do not cut too short as it may allow dirt and fungus to penetrate between the nail and skin, which may cause bacterial or fungal infection.

  • Cut your toenails straight, not rounded or angled at the edges, to prevent ingrown nails. Use an emery board and nail file to smooth the edges.
  • Nail polish can be applied on healthy nails. However, do not use polish on unhealthy nails. Discolored nails could also be a sign of an infection and covering the area will keep it from clearing up.

 

5. Yoga

Yoga can help in developing balanced alignment of the feet, giving you better posture and improved posture throughout your body. It can also treat and prevent various foot problems, such as plantar fasciitis, shin splints and bunions.

Yoga is a wonderful form of exercise in that it’s practiced barefoot and the foot has a specific job to do in each posture. In the course of a one-hour class, you are likely to move through poses that strengthen and stretch the feet in all directions. For example, standing and balancing postures strengthen the inner arch of the foot and stabilize the ankle bone from left to right. These poses also renegotiate the relationship between the foot, the leg, the pelvis and the spine, allowing the feet to work more optimally within the body’s framework. Other yoga poses stretch the foot by moving it in all directions and applying healthy stresses when the foot is pointed and flexed.

The elasticity of tendons and foot muscles is important to enhance body movements and avoid injury. In this way, yoga is beneficial for preventative and corrective treatment, and many people with foot pain recommend yoga for pain management and healing of plantar fasciitis and other painful foot conditions.

6. Feet Exercises

In addition to yoga, performing some feet exercises can heal and stretch your feet. Try the following to relieve symptoms of bunions, stretch ankles and calves, and ease plantar fasciitis.

  • Towel Scrunches – Sit with your knees bent at 90 degrees and keep your feet flat on the floor. Spread a towel under your feet. Scrunch your toes to take a small part of the towel. Pull it toward you until it gathers into your arches.
  • Squeeze and Flex – Sit in a chair and keep your heels on the ground. Flex your toes while inhaling. Exhale as you squeeze your toes in a fist form. Repeat five to ten times.
  • Weaving – Weave your fingers at one hand between your toes of the opposite foot. Massage and stretch your toes with a firm grip

 

 

7. Consume Plenty of Calcium

Everyone knows that calcium is essential for developing and building strong bones. However, many do not realize that bone loss or osteoporosis appears first in the feet. One of the best tips for healthy feet is to consume plenty of foods rich in calcium. Our body needs 1,000 to 1,300 mg of calcium daily to stay healthy and strong, and the following can be included in a calcium-rich diet:

  • Dark green vegetables
  • Soy beans
  • White beans
  • Edamame
  • Oranges
  • Figs
  • Almonds
  • Salmon

Get enough vitamin D to help your body absorb the calcium you need. The main source of this essential vitamin is sunlight. You can also get it from mushrooms, liver, mackerel and tuna, fortified orange juice, tofu, oatmeal, cereal and almond milk.

 

8. Prevent Communicable Infections and Diseases

There are many viral, bacterial, and fungal issues that can negatively affect both health and appearance of your feet, such as warts, toenail fungus, and athlete’s foot.

  • Wear flip flops in gyms, swimming pools, spa and communal showers to protect your feet from fungus or bacteria that may be present on the floor.

Symptoms of fungal infection include itching, burning, swelling, and peeling of the skin.

 

Final Word

These are the best tips for healthy feet. If you often experience foot pain, consider visiting a professional for a proper diagnosis as it can be a sign of plantar fasciitis, which requires being treated with orthotics and physical therapy. With good hygiene, exercises, proper diet and healthier lifestyle, you can keep your feet free from various foot conditions.

 

Amanda Roberts is a professional blogger and a podiatry student. She is an enthusiast who loves to write on several niches, particularly in foot health, including plantar fasciitis, toenail fungus, foot massage and reflexology.

 

 

 

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Yoga for Good Posture: Correcting Text Neck.

Forward Head Syndrome, or as most of us refer to it–text neck– is a common form of postural misalignment. This article explores how yoga can help!

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According to the American Journal of Pain Management, posture has an impact on every physiological function. This includes the ability to breathe properly, hormonal functions, spinal health, blood pressure, lung capacity and more. And with 85% of the US population admitting to experiencing back pain at some point in their lives, it’s perhaps time for us to dive into our daily postural habits head on (no pun intended).

Forward Head Syndrome, or as most of us refer to it–text neck– is a common form of postural misalignment. It’s characterized by the shoulders rounding forward, the chest caving inward and the skull lunging forward of the rest of the spine.

Forward neck posture extends the upper cervical spine (think lifting the chin) and flexes the lower cervical and thoracic spine (think rounding the shoulders forward), which is a complicated way of saying it pulls and strains critical muscles attached to the spine, which can cause inflammation and tightness. Experts claim that for every inch of forward head posture, the pressure on the spine increases by an additional ten pounds.

While this is fortunately a highly correctable condition, it can be easy to dismiss as a new way of living. Our daily activities of sitting, driving and working at desks, predisposes us to this sort of condition, which means that we must make a special effort to correct the balance.

For instance, a regular yoga routine can help counteract forward head syndrome, by strengthening all areas of the body and putting emphasis on joint alignment and healthy stress. Additionally, there are other tools to choose from, such as form-fitting back braces to speed up the process of improving your posture.

 

What is Correct Posture?

 

Looking at posture with an anatomical lens, you must first understand how the spine itself is constructed. 33 bones (vertebrae) individually stacked on top of one another interlock to form what is known as the spinal column. It protects the spinal cord and essentially gives you the primary foundation for your body to be able to stand up straight, twist, bend, and so on.

Attached to those vertebrae are an array of muscles, bones, tendons, ligaments and nerves. The spine is built in four sections, each with a different number of vertebrae, and each with a different structure and function. An s-shaped curvature is the natural layout of the adult spine where the neck (cervical spine – 7 vertebrae) and lower back (lumbar spine – 5 vertebrae) have a natural curve inward towards the front of the body, and the upper back (thoracic spine – 12 vertebrae) and sacral spine (back of the pelvis down through the tailbone – 5 bones in the sacrum and 4 bones in the tailbone, some of which are fused together) have a natural curve outwards, away from the front of the body. This natural shape plays a critical role in helping you maintain balance and absorb the shock of impact when you walk, run, sit—you name it.

With this in mind, correct posture can then be defined as the spine, bones, and joints all in proper alignment when sitting and standing – shoulders over hips, chin over chest, feet flat to the ground, and natural curve of lower back supported.

 

Assess Posture and Build Strength

 

This is a simple way to assess posture. Stand with your back on the wall, and gently notice the position of the spine. Notice if there’s a tendency for the shoulders to round away from the wall, the chest to sink in at the armpits, and the skull to hang heavily forward. Then, gently open the chest and armpits to bring your shoulders towards the wall. Keep torso and abdomen gently engaged and the low ribs knitting in to each other, and slide your head back without raising your chin. In people who have FHS, because of the tightness in the neck, the head will tilt back and the chin will rise as if the person is trying to look up.

Try to keep your chin down – as if you’re trying to make a double chin. When the alignment feels right, keep the spinal arrangement and move about off the wall. Do this in repetitions as it starts to feel more natural.
 

Realign with Yoga

 

Yoga is a particularly useful form of exercise when it comes to reworking postural habits, because of its emphasis on full body movements and heightened mental awareness. All yoga poses are designed to strengthen and align the spine to its natural curvature, and there are several series of postures that are especially useful for this work:

 

Peace and SerenityStanding postures – Standing postures emphasize optimal spinal alignment, and train the arms and legs to take individual movements without disrupting the stability of the spine.

Backbends – Belly backbends like locust pose, cobra and sphynx pose strengthen the back and neck muscles, and helps open the chest, move the skull back in line with the shoulders, and move the upper back vertebrae towards the front of the body (in the opposite direction of FHS).

Forward bends – Forward bends emphasize spinal flexion (when the torso and thighs move towards each other). FHS is characterized by improper flexion of the neck, so forward folds can help re-establish the spine’s relationship to flexion, and optimize the position of each section of the spine in forward bending movements.

Twists – Twists improve the mobility of the ribs and spine, and generate more openness through the chest and throat areas. These are great poses to bring the spine back into its natural alignment.

Core/arm balances – Core work helps to firm and strengthe the foundational stablizers of the spine, which includes the lower abdomen and pelvic floor muscles. Arm balances restructure the arms’ relationship to the torso and can renegotiate incorrect shoulder placement due to FHS.

 

In our San Diego yoga studios, we’ve worked with thousands of students to improve posture and health in a number of areas. Our skilled teachers have worked with us to film hundreds of unique yoga and meditation videos, designed for students of all levels, interests and abilties. If you experience pain due to postural habits and live outside the San Diego area, join us for our online yoga classes, designed specifically for you to do at home. We’ve also filmed chair yoga classes, which can be practiced in the car, at the office and any other place we find ourselves sitting and slumping. Join us for a free 10-day trial today!

 

 

AUTHOR BIO: Joe Fleming is the President at ViveHealth.com. Interested in all things related to living a healthy lifestyle, he enjoys sharing and expressing his passion through writing. Working to motivate others and defeat aging stereotypes, Joe uses his writing to help all people overcome the obstacles of life. Covering topics that range from physical health, wellness, and aging all the way to social, news, and inspirational pieces…the goal is help others “rebel against age”.

 

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Yoga for 12 Step Recovery: How Yoga Helps With Addiction

Below are four ways yoga can treat the physical, emotional, and spiritual disease of addiction, and help you to stay on the path of recovery.

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“For me, drugs and alcohol were a solution to an emotional and perhaps even spiritual problem, a feeling literally of disease, unhappiness, and an inability to cope with life. And I think that when people stop using drugs and alcohol, they need another system or program of behavior.”

– Russell Brand, actor, comedian, writer, and recovering heroin addict and alcoholic.

 

As elucidated in the famous 12 Steps to Recovery of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), the pathway to recovery is a spiritual one (though not necessarily religious) that includes surrendering to a higher power and admitting that some things are beyond our personal control. As explained by Russell Brand, another belief system or program of behavior is required to walk the path of abstinence-based recovery from addiction.

Brand, in addition to being a famous actor and recovering heroin addict, is also a devoted practitioner of yoga and meditation, and he often credits these practices for his ability to remain substance-free.

But how exactly does the practice of yoga help to treat the feelings of “disease, unhappiness, and an inability to cope with life” that are so often the fuel of addiction? Below are four ways yoga can treat the physical, emotional, and spiritual disease of addiction, and help you to stay on the path of recovery.

 

  1. Asana (Postures)

Asana, or the physical postures of yoga, are what we in the West commonly refer to as yoga. Flexibility, patience, balance, and concentration are qualities that are cultivated as we move through and hold different yoga postures.

Child’s pose, for example, symbolizes humility, surrender, and let go to a power that is greater than ourselves. Warrior pose represents the cultivation of strength and courage in the face of challenges. Balancing postures, such as tree pose, balance the left and right hemispheres of the brain and the opposing left and right sides of the body, bringing equilibrium to both body and mind.

The qualities of strength, endurance, balance, and humility that are developed “on the mat,” in both body and mind, are qualities that can easily be taken “off the mat” and used as armor on the often perilous path to sobriety.

 

  1. Pranayama (Breathing Techniques)

Pranayama, which is the regulation of the breath, cleanses the nervous system, increases the flow of oxygen to the brain, and improves our mental clarity. A practice such as Nadi Shodana, or alternate nostril breathing, which also reduces stress and anxiety, balances the hemispheres of the brain, and detoxifies the body, and can be done in just 15-20 minutes a day. In this way, the practice of pranayama can develop the conditions that support a clear, balanced, and sober mind.

 

  1. Mindfulness (Meditation)

Mindfulness is being in a state of awareness that allows us to be fully present in the moment so that we aren’t continuously thinking about the fiction of the past and future. Minfulness is a quality that can be cultivated through meditation, which can be as simple as setting aside a few minutes a day for silent sitting (there are also plenty of guided meditations that can assist us through the process). By engaging in meditation, we gain greater control over the reins of our own lives by observing our thoughts and feelings, rather than letting them take us over.

By carving time out of our schedules to stop and meditate, we learn to respond intentionally to problems, rather than follow through on knee-jerk reactions, and this can help us avoid relapses into drug or alcohol consumption.

 

  1. Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender to God)

The 11th step of the 12 Steps of AA, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out,” elucidates the connection between surrendering to a higher power (although it is up to the individual to decide what exactly that means to him or her) and successful recovery from addiction.

This practice is consistent with yoga sutra (the foundational texts of yoga) 1.23, which describes the practice of Isvara Pranidhana. Ishvara is a Sanskrit word that translates to ‘supreme,’ ‘personal,’ or ‘God.’ Pranidhana translates to ‘dedication,’ ‘devotion,’ or ‘surrender.’ As explained on jivamuktiyoga.com, “The practice of Ishvara Pranidhana… will help to cure the afflictions of the mind that cause pain and suffering, as it is designed to redirect our energy away from our selfish desires and personal dramas, and towards the ultimate pursuit of Oneness.”

As explained by Brand in the quote beginning this article, the problem of addiction is primarily an emotional and/or spiritual one. Speaking of his own experience, Brand states: “From the onset of adulthood, drugs and alcohol were just my way of coping with the world.” The reality is that the modern world can sometimes seem cold, cruel, and uncaring, and people often turn to substances to heal feelings of pain or emptiness within.

 

However, using the above four yoga practices of asana, pranayama, meditation, and surrender as an alternative system or program of behavior to heal our bodies, hearts, and minds and connect us to something greater than ourselves, we can transform the state of our lives from that of self-medicating just to exist in this modern-day world, to that of creating meaningful lives centered in well-being, happiness, and sobriety.

Pilgrimage Yoga Online is an online yoga studio featuring hundreds of yoga and meditation videos taught by expert teachers in San Diego. Our classes and programs are designed specifically for yogis and spiritual enthusiasts who are on the go, live around the world, or find it challenging to sync schedules with the local yoga studio. With thousands of hours of combined experience, our staff has seen huge success helping others create and maintain healthy habits and sustained mindfulness. Whether you’re looking for fitness, mindfulness, meditation, or even learning how to chant kirtan, we are ready to practice with you every step of the way. Sign-up today for a complimentary 7-day trial!

 

AUTHOR BIO: Hi, my name is Andy! I was born in Bogota, Colombia, but raised in Los Angeles, California. I spend my time helping others with their recovery and growing my online business.

 

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Health Benefits of Massage & Spa Treatments

Massage is an ancient technique and is practiced in many traditional medicine systems. One of a number of hands-on practices…

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Massage and spa treatments offer an opportunity to be pampered and soothed in pleasant surroundings. Many people enjoy these treatments as a way to “get away from it all.” While many of these treatments have cosmetic effects, some also provide health benefits.

What is Massage Therapy?

Massage is an ancient technique and is practiced in many traditional medicine systems. One of a number of hands-on practices collectively known as bodywork, massage has long been known to have benefits for the musculoskeletal system. In traditional healing, it is also a way to deliver herbal medicines through the skin or from inhaling the essential oils mixed into the massage oil. Massage may include stroking, pressing, tapping, kneading and other tissue techniques as well as the use of heated stones, joint manipulation and stretching exercises.

Different Types of Massage

There are dozens of different forms of massage.

  • Swedish massage– one of the most common forms; it uses long strokes of muscles and tissues. The masseuse adjusts the pressure from light to firm depending on the client’s preferences and needs.
  • Deep tissue massage — as the name implies, this type of massage targets tissues and muscles under the surface layer of skin. This is designed to realign tissues and loosen the fascia, or tight covering over the individual muscles, and requires very firm pressure.
  • Neuromuscular therapy– combines massage with techniques to mobilize stiff and painful joints or correct muscle imbalances.
  • Shiatsu– blends mild caresses with direct pressure on individual pressure or trigger points to help relax and relieve pain.
  • Thai massage– combines massage with yoga-like postures, which can help loosen the joints and correct skeletal alignment. The massage therapist may use hands, feet, legs and knees to position you correctly during the massage.

The Many Health Benefits of Massage Therapy

Some of the effects of massage have been well-studied, while others rely on anecdotal reports. There is no question that massage can relax you and help to relieve stress. Research has shown that massage can:

  • Reduce fatigue
  • Relieve multiple sclerosis by reducing pain and tight (spastic) muscles
  • Reduce pain and anxiety in post-surgical patients for chest or abdominal surgery or any kind of surgery that is related to muscles or ligaments. It is also an effective treatment for those with general myalgia
  • Lower blood pressure, with the effects lasting up to 72 hours in one study.
  • Relieve tense muscles and reduces spasms; it has been found
  • Relieve chronic pain conditions and migraine headaches.

Researchers have even found that Swedish massage can increase a type of white blood cells that help protect against viruses.

What are Spa Treatments?

Although massage is probably the most common and popular spa treatment, others include facials and body treatments such as waxing or salt scrubs and body wraps with seaweed or minerals. A spa might also offer more advanced services like a chemical peel or laser therapy or permanent hair removal with electrolysis. Manicures and pedicures are also common, and many spas also offer additional services such as hair cuts, styling, coloring and makeup.

Health Benefits of Spa Treatments

The health benefits of spa therapies have not been as well studied as massage. However, there is evidence that regular spa visits are correlated with fewer sick days, better sleep and fewer hospitalizations. For example, exfoliating the skin with scrubs and similar treatments helps remove dead skin cells and may improve circulation and lymphatic drainage. Hot tubs and other heated therapies can relax muscles and help relieve chronic pain. Simply being pampered in a spa can promote the release of the “feel good” chemicals called endorphins, which in turn can help reduce stress.

If nothing else, a spa is a place to get away. For many people it is the ability to disconnect from the outside world that is most important. Being pampered and coddled doesn’t hurt, either. The best way to find out if massage and spa therapy work for you is simply to try it.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Sarah Biel is a popular well recognized health and lifestyle expert. Sarah is well qualified in her field and is passionate about the well being, and mental state of her clients. Sarah works at Sukhavati Ayurvedic Retreat and Spa which offers life changing treatments based on ancient healing practices.

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Examples Of Companies Using Mindfulness: How It Affects Their Bottom Line

In today’s working environment, many of us spend more time at work…

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Unsplash

In today’s working environment, many of us spend more time at work than we do at home. Often thrown together with a group of people that we’ve never met before, we’re expected to work, collaborate and be productive in an environment that’s largely alien to the way we have historically built communities. It’s therefore no surprise that things don’t always go smoothly, and research suggests that the hours we spend at work are the least happy of our lives.

At the worst end of the spectrum are the horrors of workplace bullying, overbearing managers and internal conflict, and at the rosier end of the corporate rainbow is indifference, a lack of caring and reduced productivity. In an increasingly knowledge based economy, the success of a business is inherently linked with the mental dexterity, motivation and collaboration within its workforce. Poor working relationships and any subsequent stress can erode these very attributes, spelling disaster for the future performance of a business.

In an attempt to address these issues, new perspectives on employee wellbeing have been emerging over recent years, with mindfulness programs the seemingly “go to” solution for many organizations.

In simple terms, mindfulness is Buddhist tradition that focuses on moment-to-moment awareness. The practice of being mindful is to be aware of yourself and your surroundings, observing your thoughts without judgment or criticism. By acknowledging that these thoughts are transient in nature, you can start to appreciate that you are not your thoughts, and you have a choice about whether to act on them or not.

Backed by an increasing wealth of scientific evidence, business owners have been implementing a variety of mindfulness wellbeing initiatives throughout the corporate landscape; but do they actually work, and does it make a tangible difference to the bottom line?

In order to answer the question, it’s important to consider that the cost of stress on a business is twofold. First, there’s the direct cost that stress has on associated medical conditions, and according to the World Health Organization, stress is estimated to cost American businesses $300 billion a year.

Secondly, there’s the cost associated with a lack of creativity, reduced performance and productivity. While the latter is often much more difficult to quantify, there are organizations who have measured the impact of mindfulness, and the various effect that it’s had on their organization.

Aetna

Aetna is an American managed health care company that sells a variety of health insurance plans to its 46 million customers. Before he became CEO, Mark Bertolini almost died on a family skiing holiday, and during his recovery he used a combination of yoga and meditation to help manage the pain. The results were so profound that he fundamentally changed the way he viewed his recovery, and it inspired him to make a variety of health and wellbeing initiatives available for Aetna’s 50,000 employees, including free yoga and meditation classes.

With two mindfulness programs launched in 2010, Aetna collaborated with Duke University, eMindful, and the American Viniyoga Institute in order to study and understand the impact the wellbeing initiatives had on the organisation.

According to the research, participants showed significant improvement in perceived stress levels and various heart rate measurements, demonstrating that their bodies were better able to manage the various stresses that naturally occur during the working day.

The research also showed that highly stressed employees incurred an additional $2,000 per year in health care costs. With health care costs that total more than $90 million a year, the mindfulness initiative not only reduced the cost by 7 percent (a saving of $6.3 million per annum), but productivity gains amounted to $3,000 per employee.

General Mills

Janice Marturano was appointed by General Mills in 1996 as part of the organizations’ legal department, heading up policy work around trade regulation. After becoming embroiled in a £10.5 billion acquisition that lasted 18 months, combined with the sad loss of both parents during this period, the pressure and strain became too much, and Janice was left emotionally and physical drained.

After being offered an opportunity to attend a meditation retreat – led by Jon-Kabat-Zinn – the 6-day experience was the start of a daily meditation practice that she has continued ever since. With improvements in focus, emotional resilience and her overall quality of life, Janice decided to bring her lessons in mindfulness to General Mills in an ongoing pursuit to remake an entire corporate culture.

Now, more than 500 General Mills employees have taken part in the organizations’ mindfulness wellbeing program, and every building in the campus contains a meditation room, complete with yoga mats for employees to grab a few minutes of relaxation throughout the day.

Since the introduction of the program, the company’s reputation improved – with Leadership Excellence Magazine ranking it the best for developing leaders in 2012 – and after taking one of their seven-week courses, 80% of senior executives reported a positive change in their ability to make better decisions, and 89% saying they became better listeners.

Overall, the wellbeing program has helped employees to become more empathetic with each other, promoting a happy, healthy and engaging environment that’s viewed as a great place to work, 

Herbert Smith Freehills (HSF)

Mindfulness has been a core theme for legal firm HSF for more than 10 years. Murray Paterson is the head of learning and development, and initially designed the mindfulness program to help support employees who frequently work in a highly pressured and stressful environment.

With many employees working long hours, and with an emphasis on detailed, accurate work, mindfulness was seen as a valuable technique that would help focus employees attention and improve the quality of work produced.

To date approximately 200 employees have gone through the 6-week mindfulness program that includes weekly mindfulness sessions for anyone who wants to drop in, a weekly hour and a half session learning how to work more effectively in the office, and a daily 10 minutes guided practice via a pre-recorded message.

Available to everyone, from senior executives to new, junior employees, some of the results from their internal research include:

  • 12% increase in employee focus
  • 10% increase in employee performance
  • 10% increase in employee efficiency
  • 17% increase in employee work/life balance
  • 11% increase in employee communication skills

According to Murray Paterson, there’s a strong correlation between their mindfulness practice and reduced feelings of stress, and employees are working in a way where they feel calm and focussed on the task at hand.

The variety of Mindfulness initiatives, from both large and small organizations, is reshaping significant corners of the corporate world. While many businesses will still value profits above all else, mindfulness initiatives are proving that supporting the wellbeing of staff and increasing quarterly profits aren’t mutually exclusive.

Does your business need a wellness program at work to ensure happy, healthy and productive employees? Pilgrimage Yoga Online specializes in workplace wellness and mindfulness, and has the skills necessary to coach beginners on the skills and practices necessary to stay balanced at work. Contact us today at [email protected] to learn more about our workplace wellness specialities.

BIO: This post was written by The Minded Institute, a world leader in the development and implementation of yoga therapy and mindfulness programs for those with mental health and chronic physical health problems.

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Kirtan Yoga Music: 5 Do’s and Don’ts of Singing Kirtan

I have been chanting and singing Kirtans since I was first introduced to it by my grandmother

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I have been chanting and singing Kirtans since I was first introduced to it by my grandmother in the early 1980s. Her soft tender hands would hold my little hands and off we would walk to the nearby Kirtan center in India. The format was slightly different than what we experience today here in the west. It was a much more traditional style of singing – Kirtans with long lyrics, Indian folk and classical melodies, only traditional Indian instrument such as Tabla drums or Mridamgams.

I moved to Los Angeles area in 2002 and started exploring yoga studios and Kirtan centers. It was fascinating for me to see how western Kirtan leaders combined their own flavor of music with ancient mantras and chant and created beautiful melody. Here in the West, lyrics are short so that people can easily chant and sing back. Since then my spiritual singing practice has taken me to hundreds of Kirtan gatherings – from large festivals to small intimate gatherings, I have experienced it all.

Kirtan is a call and response style of singing that originated in India and became popular around the 12th century. There is a lead singer who introduces a chant or mantra at a low tempo. Participants respond back. There are typically some instrumentalist to help get the music going. Harmonium, Tabla drum, Mridamgam drums or Guitars, Sitars etc Once everyone is comfortable with melody and lyric, lead singer slowly builds up the tempo and music gets more intense and fast. People typically start clapping and break into a joyful dance. There is this feeling of buzz that people often relate to after Kirtan.

kirtan1

In my experience, I have noticed people smiling, giggling and much more relaxed after Kirtan. Here are the five Do’s and Don’t’s of kirtan.

DO’S

  1. Bring Your Heart

Kirtan singing is not a private activity. When you attend a Kirtan you will encounter lots of people – some chatty, some quite, some overly gregarious, some serious and everyone else in between. Come with an open heart. We all have our own life story and experiences that make us what we are. We all have different personalities. Embrace it with all your heart. It’s not necessary to stress or feel discomforted by the variety. It is what makes us unique. By allowing others to be themselves openly and freely, it opens a window of opportunity for us to do the same.

  1. Open up your voice

Look, I totally understand that you may not be the best singer in town. Neither is the person next to you or the one next to him/her. When we sing together your voice is not going to be the only voice. In Kirtan, voices merge together to create one sound. It is the singing together that mattes. Contribute yours. Make the experience count by singing out loud. Remember there are musicians, lead singers, other participants etc. We’re all in this together, so sing your heart out.

  1. Keep your ego away

This is a hard one for all of us. If you are a trained musician, don’t get all worked up if someone next to you is singing out of tune. It does not matter. Kirtan singing is not about technical singing at all. It is about sharing the melody and love that music creates. If you happen to be the Kirtan leader, try not to create Kirtans with intricate melodies or odd time signatures. You can keep them for your solo/band performances. Kirtan should to be simple and soulful. The idea is to encourage everyone to sing and participate, no mater how it looks or sounds.

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  1. Be in the present moment

This is a pretty obvious one. Nonetheless, it’s easy to let our mind wander off to the stuff we want to forget about—that nosy co-worker, that guy in red Mercedes who cut us off, that person who gave us a left handed compliment and said “you look so nice with your makeup on.” Hmm what did she mean by that?

Let it all go and fade away. Although I am a firm believer of not suppressing your inner voice and thoughts, Kirtan is not a place to think about these. On the contrary, you participate in Kirtan to get such clutter out of your mind. The best way to do that is to become interested in participating fully in the kirtan experience, so that it’s possible to be in the present moment and enjoy.

  1. Embrace new words

Whether you are attending your very first Kirtan, or if it is your 154th, you will encounter words that are new and difficult for you. Kirtans are mostly written in Sanskrit – a foreign language that is not only new to you but is pretty darn hard even for people from the land where it originates from – India. So it is totally okay to skip a word or replace it with something that fits (as long as it is appropriate!) If you don’t get it the first time, try again. Kirtan singing is repetitive. The lead singer is going to be singing the same line again and again and again. So you will get plenty of chances to catch up. Be patient with yourself and people around you.

DON’TS

  1. Don’t beat yourself up

Really- isn’t that the entire idea of Kirtan? Don’t sweat it if you sing something wrong. You can observe and learn the next time. Don’t panic if you don’t know what the hell you are singing. Go with the flow- or don’t go- just let it flow.

  1. Don’t let your Kids go wild

Parents, guardians, grand-parents – I love kids and have my own. If you want to bring your kids to a Kirtan, remember to take care of them and keep them with you. Kirtans are not play dates or a time for them to start learning a new instrument. I enjoy being around kids and feel they can benefit greatly from Kirtans and meditation. However, as parents we need to teach them that Kirtan sessions are supposed to be a place where all participants are relaxed in meditation. Be mindful of others and either book a baby-sitter or talk to your kids about what to expect from a Kirtan before heading out.

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  1. Don’t feel pressured to sing

I know I said above open your voice and sing. This is by no means a legally binding statement – you absolutely don’t have to sing if you just want to come, relax, and listen. Some people gain the same feeling of joy and meditation without uttering one word. If that’s the kind of person you are, don’t feel compelled to sing. The important thing is to be surrounded by the sound waves and energy. A lot of people find it easier to concentrate by singing but there are also those who feel more comfortable as a fly on the wall—a silent participator. If you are able to connect with your inner self and avoid distractions without singing and you don’t want to sing, then by all means, don’t sing.

  1. Don’t be uncomfortable

Typically Kirtan singing involves sitting down on the floor and singing for a couple of hours. If you are not used to it, there is no obligation for you to follow it. Bring a folding chair, yoga block or whatever you need to be comfortable. You don’t need to suffer and think about your knee pain while participating in a Kirtan. It will distract you from singing and be counter-productive.Be comfortable, be present.

  1. Don’t stand right in front of others

This one is my favorite. I have a good friend who always posts pictures of people behind who stand right in front of her and block her view during Kirtans. You may say, what is there to see in Kirtan- it is mostly dark anyway. But the person behind you might want to look at the lead singer, the musicians or other sites in the room. Being able to make eye contact with our surroundings, can help keep us focused and tuned in to what the singers are saying. Some lead singers make hand gestures to help cue the audience when to sing. If you’re a tall person who loves to stand, perhaps the back of the room is a better choice.

Would you like to explore the wonderful world of Kirtan? Here in San Diego, Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga offers weekly kirtan in normal heights on Thursday nights. You can also study with us right here, at our online studio, and learn the basics of kirtan chants and see videos of kirtan performances. We hope to see you soon!

 

Author Bio: Kamini is a Kirtan and Indian Classical Singer based in LA area. She is the author of Kirtan eBook Indian Ragas for Kirtans. Kamini’s Kirtans bring out her deep spiritual background. They are extremely mystical and magnificently divine. People are left mesmerized by her angelic voice, her intricate improvisations, her odd meter rhythms and most importantly her radiant warm smile. For more information and to stay in touch, visit her website or facebook.

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How To Maximize Athletic Performance With Minerals: Magnesium Edition

Are you feeling exhausted or getting unusual muscle cramps during workouts?…

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By Brian Bishop

Are you feeling exhausted or getting unusual muscle cramps during workouts? Have you eaten enough but still find that you lack the energy to move the way you want to?

It could have something to do with magnesium.

What Is Magnesium & Why Is It Important?

Magnesium is an essential mineral that the body needs in large amounts in order to produce energy. It participates in over 300 bio-chemical reactions on a cellular level, and its primary role is to balance the body’s ability to function properly by acting as enzyme co-factors (agents that allow enzymes to do their job better). One of magnesium’s vital roles is in the chemical reactions that generate adenosine triphosphate (ATP), which is the fundamental unit of energy inside our cells.

The organelle in each cell responsible for producing ATP are the mitochondria, which are small power generators that convert oxygen into ATP. A key benefit of magnesium is its ability to help produce more mitochondria during exercise, which ultimately means more ATP and more sustained energy.

There are two ways to become a high performing athlete:

1. Increase the total number of mitochondria

and

2. Increase the efficiencies of the mitochondria

More magnesium in our diets can set off a chain reaction by increasing mitochondrion in the cells, which facilitates the creation of more ATP, which we experience as stamina, endurance and strength.

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How Does Magnesium Help Improve Performance?

To increase exercise performance, cells must be able to consume more oxygen. This is known as ‘oxidative capacity’ and is the ability to breakdown oxygen in your muscle cells via the mitochondria, which we now know is crucial in the development of ATP, which is essentially our biochemical way of storing and using energy in our muscles. This means that to be an efficient athlete, we must produce more ATP than we are consuming. Otherwise we will feel muscle fatigue, tiredness and may even experience muscle cramps.

How To Maximize Both Magnesium & Mitochondria

Studies have shown that exercises like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can increase the development of new mitochondria. This is done by cloning the cells via enzymes that require magnesium as a cofactor. Low magnesium levels reduces our ability to make new mitochondria and thus our ability to maximize exercise performance diminishes.

Here are daily optimal magnesium intakes for women and men:

  • Women – 310 mg
  • Men – 420 mg

Try out these sources for incorporating more magnesium into your diet:

  • Dark, leafy greens like kale, spinach, collard greens.
  • Fruits like avocado, banana and figs
  • Nuts like sesame seeds, almonds, walnuts, and cashews
  • Beans
  • Dark chocolate

 

About The Author:

Brian_bioBrian Bishop is a true health and nutrition enthusiast. He loves to read, watch and listen to anything about health. He is the best nootropics guide as he is always experimenting on himself for best results. Brian wants to share his knowledge so others can enjoy the benefits.

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Meditation Podcast E57: Nurturing Self-Love

Nurturing Self-love. Honoring your mind’s tranquility and your life’s purpose (dharma)…

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Mediation Podcast is a recorded broadcast of Sujantra’s weekly Tuesday night meditation class held in San Diego California. Each week Sujantra introduces a new topic related to meditation and leads the class through various types of meditations including: visual concentration, yogic concentration, breathing techniques, chanting and much more.

Ep 57: Nurturing Self-love. Honoring your mind’s tranquility and your life’s purpose (dharma).

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6 Surprising Benefits of Yoga

Those who practice yoga regularly probably find this title a little surprising in itself. Practitioners often speak…

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By Sally Holland

Those who practice yoga regularly probably find this title a little surprising in itself. Practitioners often speak of the many benefits that yoga brings to their lives – a greater sense of calmness, new opportunities for social interaction, a boost in self-confidence or enhanced physical fitness, and many more. But beyond our personal experience with yoga, there are many documented benefits for body, mind and spirit as well. The next time you speak to someone who doubts the extent to which yoga can change their life, mention these recent scientific findings:

1. Yoga reduces stress

Studies have shown that the regular practice of yoga reduces stress hormone levels, improves mood and battles fatigue, even in life-changing challenges such as breast cancer. Yoga is currently recommended for those who experience chronic stress and is a popular supplemental therapy in a wide range of settings, including rehabilitation centers and counseling sessions for individuals with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and eating disorders.

Peace and Serenity

2. Yoga encourages compassion for others and ourselves

In Buddhism, there is no distinction between compassion for others (being kind and understanding with someone, no matter the circumstances) and self-compassion (being kind and forgiving with ourselves). The yogic frame of mind involves self-acceptance, which elevates us to a higher plane than mere self-confidence. Confidence enables us to be proud when we achieve great things, yet self-compassion is more important because it encourages acceptance even when we have failed to meet our own or others’ standards.

3. Yoga can help with back pain

A recent study published in January 2017 in the Cochrane Library found that yoga may lead to a reduction of pain and increased functional ability in people with chronic, non-specific back pain. Other studies have shown it can help with chronic neck pain, and even migraines.

4. Yoga can help battle anxiety

Anxiety is one of the most common mental conditions on a global scale, and is characterized by the constant arousal of the fight of flight reaction. During an anxiety attack, individuals can feel dizzy, think they are having a heart attack, or have a full-blown panic attack which involves hyperventilation. Hyperventilation is caused by rapid inhalation (flooding one’s system with oxygen). This is why someone having a panic attack is often given a paper bag to breathe into. Yoga can help with this because it places great importance on controlled breathing (pranayama). This type of breathing instantly lowers the heart rate, thus being of great use to stop a panic attack from arising. An interesting report published in the International Journal of Yoga Therapy, shows that yoga helps those who suffer from anxiety, who also tend to worry constantly and get locked in patterns of negative thinking. These types of thoughts are often linked to the past or the future. Yoga is very much a mindful activity, which involves ‘being in the here and now’, focusing on aspects such as breathing and the correct performance of asanas.

5. Yoga can help stave off depression

One study shows that Sudarshan Kriya yoga (which is centered around breathing) can alleviate symptoms of severe depression in individuals who do not respond well to antidepressant medication.

6. Yoga can help with arthritis

Studies have shown that yoga is safe and effective for people with arthritis, bringing significant improvement in mood and symptoms. In one study carried out by scientists at John Hopkins Medicine, it was found that eight weeks of yoga classes improved the physical and mental health of people with knee and rheumatoid arthritis. Compared to a control group which did not practice yoga, those who attended the sessions had a 20% improvement in pain, mood, physical functions and vitality! They were also able to increase their walking speed and complete more physical tasks at work and at home. Chair yoga in particular is very useful for those with limited mobility, since it provides them with the support and sense of safety.

A considerable body of scientific research has focused on the many benefits of yoga. Over the past decade, many more findings have been made. These include yoga’s ability to stimulate brain function, improve the quality of life of people with certain types of heart disease, encourage mindful eating, reduce pain associated with fibromyalgia and so much more.

If you have never tried yoga before, discover how it can change your own life after just a few sessions.

 

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Meditation Podcast E46: Peace in Every Human Life

Peace in every human life. Meditation on creating peace in your heart and life…

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The Pilgrimage of the Heart Mediation Podcast is a recorded broadcast of Sujantra’s weekly Tuesday night meditation class held in San Diego California. Each week Sujantra introduces a new topic related to meditation and leads the class through various types of meditations including: visual concentration, yogic concentration, breathing techniques, chanting and much more.

Ep 46: Peace in every human life. Meditation on creating peace in your heart and life.

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Philosophy Podcast E35 – Death and the Sheaths of Life

Death and the Sheaths of life… Exploring the philosophy behind death and reincarnation…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 35 – Death and the Sheaths of life… Exploring the philosophy behind death and reincarnation.

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Running 3100 Miles for Inner Peace

The Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile Race is held annually on a concrete footpath around an 883-metre block…

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Running 3100 Miles for Inner Peace

An Interview with Grahak Cunningham from Australia by Sujantra

 

The Self-Transcendence 3100-Mile Race is held annually on a concrete footpath around an 883-metre block in Queens, New York. Founded by Sri Chinmoy, it is the world’s longest foot race. Runners are given 18 hours a day, from 6:00 a.m. to midnight, for 51 days, to run a minimum of 60 miles a day to complete the distance. Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga asked Australian motivational speaker, author and four time finisher of the Self Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, Grahak Cunningham, three questions.

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Why do you run in this event it?

I often ask myself the same question when I am having a difficult day! My running career up to the 3100 was pretty uneventful. I started running when I was 19. I progressed from shorter distances to ten-kilometre races to half-marathon and marathon events. I entered my first ultra on a whim (47 miles) in 2005 aged 28, which was the day after I had done a marathon. It wasn’t easy but after finishing I started to think about multi-day running.

“If we have self-belief we can do anything provided we put our heart and soul into it.”

I heard about the 3100 and watched a friend finish. Inspired, I knew I had to do it one day and consoled myself with the ridiculous thought ‘I did a 47 mile race and a marathon the next day. If I had to I could probably do that all over again, across a number of days.’ I basically shelved the idea of running the 3100 but then Sri Chinmoy, perhaps noticing my interest inwardly to do the race, asked me a few times if I had run the 3100. When a Master asks something like that he is doing a few things: indicating you have the capacity, suggesting you would benefit tremendously spiritually if you do it and of course helping you inwardly every step of the way if you do decide to compete. I prepared, planned, trained and entered at age 30. Finishing the race was a real turning point in my life. It showed me that it really is possible to go beyond our limits—if we just try. I think if we have self-belief we can do anything provided we put our heart and soul into it.

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Do you do Yoga?

I do a lot of breathing, meditation and visualization techniques in the race so that for me is yoga. Often the runners will do different Asana’s to stretch, de-stress or get rid of tightness and soreness. Inspired by them I did try it more and more. I am actually injured at the moment so I have taken it up seriously. I love it and despite being injured, yoga has made me probably the most flexible I have ever been. My favorites are the shoulder stand, head stand and cobra to dog.

You have written a book, Running Beyond the Marathon. Can you tell us about the book?

The book aims to share some of the things I have learnt along the way to completing the 3100 mile race four times. The book helps show the connection to the spiritual and the physical and meditation and running. Hopefully it illustrates to the reader that we can achieve anything in life. Here is an excerpt: “Life itself is a challenge and no achievement worth striving for, whether it is athletic, career-based or personal, is going to come easily to anyone. First we have to work hard and only then can we get the reward and the feeling of achievement that comes with it. If life were easy, if we were handed everything on a silver platter, there wouldn’t be the same sense of satisfaction.

“It is not human nature
To enjoy what we get
With no effort.”
-Sri Chinmoy

 
Completing 3100 miles on foot is tough. To cover the immense distance, to conquer negative thoughts, pain, doubts and despair, takes inner fortitude and a desire to extend yourself. You have to willingly go outside your comfort zone and do whatever it takes to keep moving forward. The Self-Transcendence 3100 Mile Race, for those who want it to be, is a spiritual journey of self-discovery, of reaching towards our limitless potential.

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Every step was taking me closer and closer towards my goal. The feeling I got from bettering and improving myself, reaching miles way beyond my previous personal best, far outweighed the physical and mental difficulties I faced. Soldiering forwards through days five and six my overall total was 342 miles. An average well below what I needed to finish. It had been a hard slog to get to the start. The hours of preparation and thousands of kilometres training maybe wasn’t enough.”

Thanks for talking to us today Grahak, your adventures are a real inspiration!
 
beyond_marathonOne of Australia’s best motivational speakers, keynote speakers and performance trainers, Perth resident Grahak Cunningham is an ordinary Australian who dared to dream. He book Running Beyond the Marathon is available on Amazon.com.

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Philosophy Podcast E19: The Banishment Of Sita [Ramayana]

Queen Sita is banished by King Rama for a wrong she never committed…

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Explore the spiritual philosophy of India and see how it applies to your own life and situations. Host Sujantra McKeever of San Diego, CA, is the author of 5 books. He leads you on a journey to the East that ends up back in your own backyard. We hope you find an insight that truly hits home.

Ep 19: Queen Sita is banished by King Rama for a wrong she never committed…

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Yoga Sutras – Om

When I meditate I always begin and end my practice by chanting Om…

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When I meditate I always begin and end my practice by chanting Om. It’s like stepping through a portal. I usually chant it several times until I really feel a strong connection/punctuation… I chant it externally. Then I chant it internally. The vibration in my throat stops but the vibration in my heart-universe continues.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, expounded upon by Swami Vivekananda (also see) in his book, Raja-Yoga, particularly addresses the use of the syllable Om in aphorism 27 (The word that manifests Him is Om.) and 28 (The repetition of this (Om) and meditating on its meaning [is the way]).

Tom on Harmonium

What is God’s name?

I find it interesting that try as we might, it is impossible to put a definitive name to ‘God.’ Every thought in the mind has a corresponding word, a symbol. Thought and word are inseparable. If the symbol (word) corresponds to the thing signified then we are assured that there is a valid relationship: the symbol can then conger the thought. However, many symbols, many words can represent the same thought.

Vivekananda posits that there might be hundreds of words for ‘God’ across the globe. But there must be some underlying generalization that can be distilled from all these names. There must be some common ground in all these names. That common name would then best represent them all.

Patanjali suggests the common ground is Om.

Notice a variety of ‘God’-names: God, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, Brahma, Shiva, Buddha… notice that each name contains the syllable, ‘Ah,’ closely corresponding to the first part of the pronunciation of the syllable Om (or AUM, Ahh-Ooo-Mmm). Speculating that someone from England might not recognize the Pakistani or Japanese word for ‘God,’ for example, never-the-less both might be familiar with Om and would recognize the underlying thought. It’s interesting to note that many ‘God’-names are preceded by adjectives to qualify them, like Personal God, Absolute God, Christian God, etc., limiters. Yet Om requires no qualifiers, having around it all significances.

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Repetition of Om and Meditation on its Meaning

Whether vocalized or silent, repetition of Om creates vibrational energy in our bodies, minds and in the universe. As we have already determined Om to be divine, Vivekananda equates chanting Om to be, “…keeping good company with the mind.” And he suggest that, “One moment of company with the holy builds a ship to cross this ocean of life: such is the power of association.” So we repeat Om and meditate on its meaning. Om is the foundational expression for ‘God’ in this context. It is an utterance without qualification. The more it is repeated, the more it is considered, the greater the association and, “Thus light will come to you; the Self will become manifest.”

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda (Image via Wikipedia)

Vivekananda really pushes the idea of keeping good company, specifically, good company with the purity of ‘God’ by virtue of repetition and meditation. We all have the old scars and wounds. We each have within us the potential for the greatest good or the greatest evil. Keeping evil company (thought, word, deed, associations, etc.) is like picking an open wound. It will manifest as a festering lesion. Repetition and meditation on the meaning of Om will bring to the surface those perhaps latent good impressions and qualities and build a strong foundation for introspection and the destruction of obstacles, those negative qualities which hinder our spiritual growth.

Chanting Om is as foundational as is breath. Ujjayi breathing is simply chanting Om using only the breath, foregoing vibrating the vocal chords.

When I first began my yoga life I truly thought the breath work was kind of trivial and silly; such a simple, almost inconsequential thing. I really didn’t see any real practicality about it. Most studios I frequented rarely chanted Om at the beginning and ending of a class. It was only that I was a singer that it finally dawned on me that breath control was so vital a part of the practice. My ‘home’ studio, Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga Studio in San Diego, CA (my  employer) has always chanted Om at the beginning and ending of each class, one of several practices that endeared me to the studio.

Make the practice of chanting Om a daily endeavor.

Consider it’s meaning. Om is the unqualified expression of the divine. Let it spring forth from your heart as the first, the only and the last vibration… Be Om.

 

 

Featured image by MAMJODH, license.

 

 

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A Nudge towards Vegetarian

If you have been on the fence about adopting a vegetarian diet only watch Forks over Knives if you want to take the plunge…

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Forks Over Knives

If you have been on the fence about adopting a vegetarian diet watch Forks over Knives if you want to take the plunge.

I was looking for a documentary recently on Netflix and came across the 2011 film and was captivated. I like science and the film is built around the lifetime work of two pioneering doctors, who both discovered the significance link between nutrition and health. Another way to phrase it was they both discovered the significance between certain diets and heart disease and cancer.

Bottom line: they both live and teach the importance, both personal and planetary for a plant-based diet.

Forks Over Knives

A Plant Based Diet

Forks Over Knives presents a strongly persuasive, scientifically backed argument for the health and life benefits of a plant based diet. That is defined as a diet of fruits, vegetables, tubers, whole grains and legumes. Yes, you could say that is a vegan diet, though that word rarely comes up in the film, as there are subtle differences. To get a sense of those nuances I suggest watching the interview with Teekhnata Metzler, who has a Ph.D. in Holistic Health and is one of the senior instructors at Optimum Health Institute in Lemon Grove, CA.

Forks Over Knives centers around a group of doctors and their success in treating a wide range of diseases through a plant based diet. The movie also draws on a number of significant studies that have been done in the United States, India and China. The studies are conclusive and compelling.

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Awareness through Yoga

Yoga teaches us to look at ourselves and our actions with a clear mind. In that clarity arises which can then be the fuel for change. Every breath is precious and the yogi does all she can to sustain and nourish the life force. Diet affects our body, mind and emotions.

Cancer and Diabetes

The movie is well made and has a series of story threads running simultaneously which keeps the learning curve high throughout the film. From studies in China involving 65,000 people to 24 patients given less than a year to live, their story is our story as we all share the human body.

Give the film a watch and see what it does for you!

 

 

 

 

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Getting Vegucated

This 2011 documentary is described on Amazon as “a guerrilla-style documentary that follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers…

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On Amazon and Netflix

This 2011 documentary is described on Amazon as “a guerrilla-style documentary that follows three meat- and cheese-loving New Yorkers who agree to adopt a vegan diet for six weeks and learn what it’s all about.” The follower and director is Marisa Miller Wolfson who has created a great film that explores the vegan lifestyle. Her self-deprecating humor helps introduce the topic and draws in the viewer.

Pilgrimage Yoga Online

This film relies on humor and a strong ethical and humanitarian point of view to make the argument for a vegan diet. The movie chronicles the cruelty of the meat, fish and dairy industries and takes three New Yorkers on a journey into a vegan lifestyle. The lifestyle includes food, fashion and life decisions.

Vegucated

Forks over Knives

Like the film Forks over Knives this movie explores the science of the vegan diet and our planets needs while at the same time it diverges from that movie and explores the vegan lifestyle. It lets people know Oreo cookies are a thumbs up for the vegan. It’s an interesting juxtaposition: one film holds firm to strict dietary guide lines while the other makes a case for eating whatever you want so long as it does not involve animals.

Both films rely heavily of the China Study and feature T. Colin Campbell and his groundbreaking work with a plant based diet. Both films also make it quite clear that we are “…killing the planet with our growing meat and dairy habit.”

Einstein

It is fascinating to watch the three participants as they go through the transformation of understanding the impact our societal eating habit is having on the planet. They visit an animal sanctuary and slaughterhouse in the same day and the contrasts are compelling.

For me one of the highlights of the film is a quote by Einstein: “”Nothing will benefit human health and increase the chances for survival of life on earth as much as the evolution to a vegetarian diet.”

 

–Sujantra

 

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Embracing Surrender

I remember being in my early 20’s, just at the embarkation point of my spiritual journey, and cringing each time I saw the word “surrender.”…

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The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer

“Our surrender to God’s Will
Is our mightiest power.”

Sri Chinmoy

 

I remember being in my early 20’s, just at the embarkation point of my spiritual journey, and cringing each time I saw the word “surrender.” To me it meant weakness and giving up; not being courageous and letting go of free will. I wanted nothing to do with surrender. Divine Love made sense, albeit it felt, a bit abstract; even devotion had sweetness to it. But surrender: pass.

The Surrender Experiment

Singer on Oprah

Michael Singer lives his life, or so his book The Surrender Experiment tells us, on the principle of surrender. His story is one that shows the incredible journey life has in store for us if we can just let go of what we want and let Life take the lead. You can see Singer on YouTube: Oprah likes his writings and interviews him.

When I was 20 and contemplating surrender I was looking at only half of the picture. I was thinking only of the act of not asserting my will. What I forgot to contemplate was: if I let go of my small ego desires then who is going to be driving the ship? Singer’s answer is simple yet profound: Life. And Life, according to Singer has some incredible plans for us.

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He goes from living in his Van to operating a 300 million dollar a year business all the while letting go of his wants, wearing his pony tail and meditating an hour each morning and evening. In between there are “coincidences” that are mind blowing and inspiring at the same time.

Sri Chinmoy

My own spiritual journey eventually led me to a teacher, Sri Chinmoy; who described his path as that of love, devotion and surrender. Surrender, it turns out, is one of the keys to spiritual growth. Surrender to the greater force of Life and hang on for the ride. The Surrender Experiment will inspire you to let go that much quicker!

 

–Sujantra

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Daily Acts of Kindness – An Interview with author Suzie Abels

The message is any act of kindness done daily (mindfully/consciously) creates a benefit to both giver & receiver alike…

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What inspired you to write this book?

My inspiration to write “Kindness on a Budget,” came from my twin brother, Jamie, who said “Sue, you need to write this all down because its important and will help other people SEE what is possible in daily acts of kindness.”

Secondly, from the “Secret Garden” I started long ago, off a service road, that united so many people from every background imaginable in search of , perhaps, “connection.” I wrote the book for ALL of them too. 🙂

Pilgrimage Yoga Online

What is the theme of your book?

The theme of my book is daily acts of kindness, which can be a word, a note, a gesture, and/or a gift. The message is any act of kindness done daily (mindfully/consciously) creates a benefit to both giver & receiver alike and therefore, I humbly believe, energetically raises our precious planet’s frequency & vibration.

Kindness on a Budget

Who did you have in mind as you wrote your book?

In writing this inspiring & uplifting little book, I had in mind all the people on our precious planet & how important sharing the gift of spreading kindness daily is.

I was deeply blessed & honored to spend time with my greatest influence & spiritual teacher Yogi Bhajan who always said, “Unless you see God in all, you can’t see God at all.” He was right on!

How has your study with Yogi Bhajan influenced your life and teachings?

My close connection with my Dear Dear spiritual teacher Yogi Bhajan influenced my life & teachings profoundly. Yogiji would tell me as a young woman in her late 20’s thatYogi Bhajan I was a “fully conscious being,” Of course, then I did not fully understand the implications of his sharing & yet I felt his words to be true even then. He would often have me in his living room as a guest with 10-12 people and ask me what I thought of someone. I would answer what I saw and then after would be told by many I should not have answered!

Yogi Bhajan was training me to be confident enough to withstand the push/pull of the Ego wanting to hide into the background.

I believe he gifted me with strength, courage and an unbridled heart that he recognized was kind, even if I wasn’t sure at times.

Yogi Bhajan was an Aquarian teacher. He was strong, fierce, commanding, gentle, loving and for me the kindest person I had ever known all the days of my life then and now.

I could write volumes & volumes of the impact Yogi Bhajan had on me as a student, mother, wife and community leader.

What mostly pierced the finer lining of my heart’s soul was his steadfast commitment to me, Peter—my husband, my 3 children— Zach, Haley & Riley and that I just be steady or in my grace which took me 2 decades to embody!

In my early 30’s I was Yogiji’s informal gardener for his Los Angeles properties, Yoga West and The Guru Ram Das Ashram. He would say” Suzie, when you garden, it connects the heavens on Earth.”

I never missed one moment with Yogiji to say thank you, to sit near him, hug him, learn from this vastly DIVINE & RADIANT soul…as shy as I was in some ways, I just knew in my heart our time was super special.

My husband, Peter, and I never really knew the details of the titles of who Yogi Bhajan was until many, many years after his passing. I suppose its because it didn’t matter because he was just this exceptional and magnificent being who mattered to me, my husband, Zach, Haley & Riley.

He was kind to the core with a heart of solid platinum infused with the rarest gem stones undiscovered on our planet. That is who he was for me. I felt at home just hearing his voice and no I didn’t fully understand why, yet trusted my heart that would have traveled by donkey for endless miles to be near this deeply kind-hearted soul, my spiritual teacher.

I was honored to address the Los Angeles Guru Ram Das Ashram/Sangat during Gudwara on Sunday, October 4, 2015 on the very Dharmic message of kindness as it pertains to both my book’s contents and our world. As tremendously nervous as I was at this somewhat daunting task as a non-turban Westerner, I KNEW Yogi Bhajan would expect me to do it from my heart.

Suzie Abels

At first, I was visibly shaking scanning the room and seeing so many of the people I treasured and saw frequently when Yogi Bhajan was alive. I drew strength and comfort seeing Guru Singh, Guru Johda, Kirtan Singh, Manjit Kaur, Dr. Allan, Siri Simran, Mahani…so many people I shared the journey with which by no means was the easiest route I could have chosen to trek down!

I finished sharing about the value daily acts of kindness has on all of us and after the close of gudwara  we all sat in the langar hall next door. People shared with me that “we really needed this message that you delivered from the heart.” I just said thank you and for a few brief moments felt as if Yogi Bhajan was right next to me, the whole time, just as he was all those years and I wept in gratitude.

I asked the Sangat (community) to please join me in a prayer Yogiji gave in 1998

“My soul, bless me, be with me. Energize me so I can face the world with the strength of the Spirit. Save me from duality, give me the reality and royalty, so I can face my world in peace and tranquility. May this journey of life be completed with love and affection, kindness and compassion for all living things.” ~ Yogi Bhajan 1-23-1998

Sat Nam.

What do you say to people who become discouraged with all of the war and anger in the world?

Healing is possible with one person doing their own inner work and mindfully & consciously committing to daily acts of kindness.

I am more & more sure that this may be the answer to so many of our world problems because when one is serving another through kindness, all things become neutralized and therefore peace is possible.

What is your own daily spiritual practice?

As soon as I am awake before getting out of my bed I say thank you, thank you, thank you as “an attitude of gratitude is the highest yoga,” (Yogi Bhajan) and therefore sets the energetic stage for the day.

I next take a fairly cold shower and do sadhana which consists of prayers, chanting and meditation in front of my very large Tratakum picture of Yogi Bhajan.

What last thoughts would you like to leave our readers with?

Try doing just one act of kindness daily. See, feel and become consciously/mindfully in tune or aware of how much better you feel despite whatever challenges or hardships you are facing. Notice the softening or dropping deeper into your heart. Your soul, I believe, will say thank you.

In gratitude for this opportunity to share with all of you today.

May your days be blessed with the sweet ambrosial nectar that is delivered to the hearts core when one is kind on a daily basis Dear Ones (S.E.A)

 

Suzie (Harijot) Abels

Suzie Abels is a beacon of love and giving for her family, friends and community. She lives life to its fullest, opens her heart to strangers and loved ones alike and has left a lasting footprint of inspiration on her path to spread kindness. Residing in Orange County, Suzie is the devoted mother of Zach, Haley and Riley and the proud wife of Peter.

http://suzieabelsauthor.com/

Twitter: @IntuitiveSuzie

Facebook: Kindness on a Budget
Suzie’s book Kindness on a Budget is available on Amazon.

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Review: Michael Stribling: A Better Place

A Better Place is the first album from keyboardist/composer Michael Stribling in several years. It was worth the wait for A Better Place, an album sure to…

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by Kathy Parsons

A Better Place is the first album from keyboardist/composer Michael Stribling in several years. I was introduced to Stribling’s music back in 2007 with Out of the Darkness, Into the Light and have reviewed (and enjoyed!) six more of his albums since then. After becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist, Stribling worked in the mental health field for many years, returning to music in 2005 during a transitional period in his own life.

Inspires and Uplifts the Human Spirit

The mission statement of Leela Music sums up Stribling’s goals with his music: “to help others in their journey toward wholeness through the gift of music, by creating works that inspire and uplift the human spirit. (Leela means ‘divine play’).” Stribling’s albums have always been visual and spiritual, but A Better Place seems to come from the heart of someone very much at peace with himself and his life. Using keyboards and synths, Stribling creates music that tells a story using a broad range of instrumental sounds and rhythms. The fourteen tracks on this album are diverse and range from ambient and floating to more uptempo rhythms that invite toe-tapping and moving your body to the beat. It is a pleasure to have Stribling’s music as a backdrop to other activities, but I think it is even more effective when listening with eyes closed, letting the beautiful waves of sound envelop you.

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Happiness and Carefree Spirit

A Better Place opens with “First Light,” a piece that begins with the sound of birds chirping contentedly and then goes into a peaceful and colorful depiction of early morning light. Fully orchestrated as the birds continue to sing in the background, the music gently coaxes us to a place of warmth and tranquility. “Looking Up” begins with a quietly ambient introduction/prelude that picks up the tempo considerably about a minute in. This wonderful piece overflows with happiness and a carefree spirit – my favorite track! “Winter Encounter” moves in quite a different direction, but is still very soothing and peaceful. The music paints a picture of icy stillness in all of its splendor – another beauty! “Dream Waves” is hypnotic with its smooth, ambient flow – a mind massage!

Ambient and Dreamy

The next several tracks continue in an ambient and dreamy mode with a varied palette of musical instruments. The title track is a bit more dramatic and symphonic, although still very peaceful and warm. “Quiet Certainty” takes us back (or moves us forward) to more melody and an infectious rhythm. I love the titles for “Dust Yourself Off” and “Time for Bed, Sweetheart,” both very soulful and heartfelt pieces. “Ever Onward” is light and breezy, and seems to reflect on the power of love  and positive thinking/living – a great way to end the album!

It was worth the wait for A Better Place, an album sure to take you to a better place, if only for an hour or so! Recommended!

Michael’s Website     Amazon     iTunes     CD Baby

Kathy Parsons writes music reviews and interviews artists for MainlyPiano.com.  She is a regular contributor to the Pilgrimage Yoga Online blog.

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10 Ways to Sleep Soundly

Having trouble getting a good night’s sleep? Mental stress from life and work often makes it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Meditation, physical exercise,…

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Having trouble getting a good night’s sleep? Mental stress from life and work often makes it hard to get a good night’s sleep. Meditation, physical exercise, nutrition and yoga practice, are ideal ways to balance stress and sleep soundly.

In Sleep the Mind Taps into Higher Consciousness

Sleep is a magical time when our mind taps into higher consciousness and the soul comes to the fore, says spiritual yogi Paramahansa Yogananda.  “In sleep, the astral life forces are withdrawn not only from the muscles but also from the sensory instruments. Every night each man accomplishes a physical withdrawal of the life force, albeit in an unconscious way; the energy and consciousness in the body retire to the region of the heart, spine, and brain, giving man the rejuvenating peace of subconscious contact with the divine dynamo of all his powers, the soul. Why does man feel joy in sleep? Because when he is in the stage of deep, dreamless sleep, unconscious of the body, physical limitations are forgotten and the mind momentarily taps a higher consciousness.”

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Here are some sleep suggestions for those suffering from sleepless nights.

1. End use of computers, TV, and handheld devices an hour prior to sleep time

The blue light from your electronic devices shuts down the production of melatonin, a major sleep hormone that we produce at night.

2. Reduce Caffeine

It takes 4-6 hours or more to metabolize caffeine, which prevents a helpful sleep-promoting chemical called adenosine from working. Several hours before sleep avoid wine, alcohol, red bull, coffee, chocolate, chicken and soda.

3. Exercise regularly

Exercise regularly and you’ll sleep easier and more soundly. Whether you’re jogging, swimming, playing tennis or working out at the gym, exercise is a great way to feel and look your best, and you’ll also promote a great night’s sleep.

4. Watch your diet

Foods helpful for sleep include cherries, which contain melatonin, a chemical that helps control our body’s internal clock, says Keri Gans, a registered dietician in New York City and author of The Small Change Diet. Bananas are helpful because they contain natural muscle-relaxers magnesium and potassium. Sweet potatoes provide sleep-promoting complex carbohydrates and contain muscle-relaxant potassium. When combined with complex carbohydrates such as whole-wheat toast or crackers, cheese and dairy products can help bring about the onset of sleep. Carbohydrates release insulin which promotes the movement of tryptophan into the brain. Tryptophan then converts to serotonin and melatonin, which are sleep-promoting neurotransmitters.

5. Cool the Room

At night our core body temperature drops and this tells the brain it’s time for sleep. Sleep with a room temperature of between 62 and 70 degrees.

6. Meditate

Right before sleep try a guided conscious relaxation tour and relax to beautiful images of nature and the comforting sound of guitar music. If you enjoy the relaxing sound of the flute combined with nature scenes, this short meditation video may help. Or listen to music like “Edge of Eternal” and find a peaceful calm.

7. Yoga

Make Halasana the last thing you do before sleep. It’s a pose done while lying on your back. Set yourself up to create a strong base in the back of your shoulders and arms, just as you would in Salamba Sarvangasana (Shoulder Stand). Kick your legs overhead and press your toes into the floor behind you. Stay in the pose for up to 5 minutes and slowly draw the legs back over head and return them to the floor. This pose is therapeutic as it calms the mind. A calm mind reduces stress and anxiety.

8. Alarm clocks should be heard, but not seen

Avoid visually bright-screened alarm clocks and ticking wall clocks. Keep your wakeup devices out of mind and sight and let them do their jobs at the appointed times.

9. Pristine quiet

If it’s too noisy where you sleep, try wearing earplugs. If your spouse’s snoring is keeping you awake, there are medical solutions you can try. If snoring is an issue, you might try a “bedroom divorce”.

10. A comfy mattress

Find a mattress that is firm or soft enough for you. You’re going to be sleeping on a mattress for an average of 7 years. So find a one that is comfortable and supportive.

How are you dealing with sleepless nights?

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4 Summer Drinks That Will Keep You Slim

Oscar Wilde stated “Everything in moderation, even moderation.” and this couldn’t ring truer in our current balance-obsessed culture…

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by Sara

Is maintaining balance stressing you out?

 

Here’s 4 summer drinks that will keep you slim without going to extremes.

Oscar Wilde stated “Everything in moderation, even moderation.” and this couldn’t ring truer in our current balance-obsessed culture. I’ve always tried to approach health without going to extremes but like most twenty-something females living in Southern California I’ve definitely done my fair share of experimenting with juice cleanses and strict vegan or gluten free diets. In the end I’ve found that the best way to maintain a healthy weight is to value mindful balance and let go of perfection.

As a personal chef and food-documentary junkie, I have my fair share of opinions when it comes to eating. There are some things I won’t touch like soda or artificial fruit juices. Other times, I throw out the rulebook and enjoy some delicious French cheese on baguette with a glass of rosé for dinner! Quality over quantity and moderation over deprivation.

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Learning to approach health without going to extremes will be incredibly helpful in the long run. If maintaining balance is stressing you out, you’ll likely never receive the benefits of a moderate lifestyle!

Most people associate the holidays with packing on the pounds, but summertime, with its weekly BBQs and sugary drinks, can put a serious damper on your weight loss plan. Instead of reaching for that soda, try these delicious drinks that will increase metabolism, detoxify your body and curb your appetite. You’ll find yourself shedding a few pounds easily, in a completely healthy way!

Metabolism Tea

Metabolism Boosting Iced Tea

A simple cinnamon, ginseng or green tea can stabilize your blood sugar, boost your metabolism and detoxify your system. Keep a pitcher in your fridge and enjoy unsweetened or add a small amount of raw honey when the tea is still warm.

Breakfast Smoothies That Fill You Up

A morning smoothie can be a great way to get a serving or two of fruit in before you start your day. Adding a tablespoon each of flax seeds, chia seeds and hemp seeds will provide enough fiber and protein to suppress your appetite and fill you up until lunchtime. Try this simple and delicious green smoothie.

Green Smoothie

De-stress with Adaptogenic Herbs

Did you know that chronic stress can lead to increased cortisol levels which trigger hunger and keep you from losing weight? Adaptogens are ancient herbs that can help improve your body’s hormonal responses and balance the adrenal system. Ashwagandha, Ashitaba and Rhodiola can help stabilize hormones and keep your body in balance. Try this simple recipe to reduce stress and lose weight.

Fat Burning Apple Cider Vinegar

When insulin levels spike, fat is more easily stored in the body. Apple cider vinegar can help to stabilize your blood sugar and suppress your appetite. While some choose to take a shot of the vinegar straight, I prefer a smoother approach by adding a tablespoon of ACV to a glass of half water, half freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. Drink a glass an hour before each meal to curb the appetite and improve digestion.

A long-term healthy diet rich in fruits and vegetables will almost always lead to successful weight loss and it never hurts to go for a few walks or do a bit of yoga or strength training, too. The secret is to find joy on the path to your goal weight and always focus on lifestyles changes rather than quick fixes. Incorporating healthy ways to hydrate into your day-to-day life is a great place to start!

 

SaraSara is a health food enthusiast and has been practicing yoga for over ten years. She currently works as a personal chef and as Natural Lifestyle Specialist for Purtylife.com.

Photo by Vince Marcial.
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Mosquitos Biting? Try a Natural Bug Repellant

Did you know that dusk or dawn are the times when mosquitoes are most active and most bites occur? If you’re practicing yoga outside…

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Did you know that dusk or dawn are the times when mosquitoes are most active and most bites occur? If you’re practicing yoga outside in the early morning or evening, it’s not the male mosquitos that you have to worry about – it’s the females that are out for blood.

Mosquitos Use Scent

Mosquitos finds their prey using scent, exhaled carbon dioxide, and chemicals in a person’s sweat. If you do get bit, you’ll know it by the red bump and itching resulting from the body’s reaction to the mosquito’s saliva.

Here’s an essential oils recipe for avoiding painful and annoying bites from Jennifer Freitas at The Truth Beauty Company .

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 Ingredients*

 

  • 2 oz of Sweet Almond oil – or some other neutral carrier oil, like Jojoba or grapeseed.
  • 20-25 drops of Lemongrass, Rosemary, Tea Tree, Eucalyptus, Cedar, Lavender, Clove or Mint (not 20-25 of each but TOTAL – sometimes, I like to do a blend to achieve a smell I enjoy; for example, I don’t really enjoy the smell of tea tree so I might use 5 drops of that and 20 of lemongrass).

 

Mix the carrier oil and the essential oil drops in a dark colored glass. Shake it up and presto! Natural Bug Repellant. I find I only need to apply a few drops to my pressure points – the crease of my elbows, the backs of my knees, on my neck and behind my ears. No bugs seem to bother me.

To be honest, I can’t tell you the science of why these essential oils work to repel the mosquitoes but I know they do!! I have been hiking in a heavily wooded area, after a rain fall at dusk (worst time EVER if you want to avoid bites) and did not get ONE bite!!

Say some of these pesky pests do get to your lovely skin – what to do in order to speed healing and to stop the itch? Some of these suggestions with ‘drawing out’ properties may be effective.

 

  • A paste of baking soda (made with warm water) left on the bite for a few minutes should help with the itch;
  • Activated charcoal (which you can buy in a capsule form). Break one open and sprinkle the contents on your skin, cover and keep bandaged for a day;
  • Clays – used in the same way as the activated charcoal;
  • Vinegar – soak a cotton ball and apply it to the bump and keep it there until the pain subsides;
  • Of course this list contains Aloe Vera! It is such a super star for all skin injuries and issues. In this case, Aloe is very helpful for removing the heat that comes with bug bites – very soothing, almost instant relief!  It will also help with the swelling and even aid in the healing of the wound;
  • Onion – as if having an itchy bug bite wasn’t bad enough – now you will smell like onions too! Oh well, all in the name of skin saving! All you need to do is take a fresh slice and place it on the bite, until the itching subsides;
  • Honey – another skin superstar with multiple uses! It will help with the swelling and honey actually possesses natural healing abilities that make it great to soothe the inflammation. Just rub the area with a little of this sweet goodness;
  • Salt. Similar to the baking soda paste, all you need to do is take a bit of finely ground salt and mix it with a bit of water until you have a thick paste – and apply it directly to the bite.

 

How do you manage mosquitos where you live?

*Use caution with essential oils as they should be diluted before being applied directly to skin, and be advised that some essential oils can cause skin reactions.  

NOTE: If there is serious swelling, muscle cramping, breathing problems, headache, nausea, fever or fainting as a result of a bug bite, you should seek medical attention.

Image courtesy of Praisaeng at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

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Exclusive Interview with Unity Director Shaun Monson

Pilgrimage Yoga founder Sujantra McKeever recently sat down with Shaun Monson, the writer, creator and director of Unity, an enlightening new film…

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Pilgrimage Yoga founder Sujantra McKeever recently sat down with Shaun Monson, the writer, creator and director of “Unity”, an enlightening new film set for release in August.

Sujantra: I watched your entire film and was very motivated by it. At the same time, to watch a film such as Unity, it’s not pleasant in terms of what we usually think of as entertainment. It really takes attention and determination. I’m wondering what you would say to people to energize them, to take the time to watch a film such as yours.

Shaun: It’s interesting that you have all these different mediums such as literature, music, film and that each medium sort of has these unwritten rules that they have to follow. And perhaps the content of Unity would be better suited for books where we are more prepared to read statistics or philosophy or whatever the case may be. Movies have been hijacked by entertainment and not much else. But there is this genre called documentary film, which is nonfiction film, and there’s no revelation there, but I’m glad it exists because you can be a little more honest. Sometimes it’s a little harder to take, so what happens when you’re editing these films, like Unity you start debating how much truth to put into it and how much truth to take out of it because you have to think of the audience. That’s a long answer to your question, but I think it’s important to see that stuff. Like the saying goes, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Why turn away from it? Why label it positive or negative? If we really want to be honest with ourselves then we should be willing to have one genre in the canon of filmmaking that allows us to look at stuff like this, and that is the documentary.

Solutions For Humanity’s Problems

Sujantra: I’ve been a vegetarian for thirty-five years and I’ve watched a lot of films that present stark imagery but from many of them I’ve walked away with a feeling of hopelessness. There are these huge corporate power structures that we can’t do anything about, but from your film I came away with a feeling of hope because you kept juxtaposing the problems but you also presented a lot of solutions.

Shaun: Mankind, humankind is coming up with solutions. There’s a great quote in the film from Martin Luther King, Jr., “The arc of human history is long but it then does a tour of justice.” So we are seeing that we are evolving and we are less and less brutal and savage as we evolve. At one point in time we used to crucify people in Rome on the way to the gates of the city, we don’t do that anymore as you walk into a city. And slavery is abolished, women have the right to vote, and now this topic of equal rights and gay marriage are on the forefront. All these issues are coming to a head. We are getting more and more accepting of everything. That’s very hopeful to me. And the treatment of animals and the environment. And yes, you can look at a series of only negative images but if presented in a proper context you will see the great strides we are taking as human beings so it gives me hope.

Underwater ocean scene

Sujantra: Speaking of the growth of humanity, I like the section of the film where you take us from the Roman Emperor who created some human rights to the Magna Carta to the Declaration of Independence. One thing you don’t often see in films is that you put energy into and highlighted the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Could you talk to that a little bit?

Shaun: It was part of a longer piece but I thought the animation was a great embodiment to encapsulate the human struggle to respect one another, which was the original formation of the UN right after WWII or right around that time. People get into political arguments about this or that on the surface, but at its base you can see we are trying to find a way of diplomacy with one another of getting along, of working together. This comes back to the main focus of the film that we are not the same but equal. This is the main take-home message of the film, not the same but equal. I think if that alone somehow got through to the world, that one simple phrase, ‘not the same but equal.’ Just imagine the world we live in if people understood that. We are not the same but equal. Just think of the effect that would have on the planet. Think of it in just the smallest terms like road rage, the food we eat, construction, rainforest, wars, I mean, not the same but equal. That simple principle could come through to people and create an entirely different world.

Sujantra: As the creator, writer and director of this film, where does your creative process start in a gigantic undertaking such as this? Is it one simple idea you want to get across and it grows from there? How do you do it?

Shaun: I guess every filmmaker is different. They say a movie is born three times, once in writing, once in shooting and once in editing and it’s true. Documentaries are a little different because I wrote all the text and was comfortable with the text going into the project. In a documentary we are interviewing people and going out shooting footage but it’s not like scenes from a script that you’re specifically shooting. It’s happening live, or your licensing footage or getting newsreel footage and creating a collage. It kind of evolves as you’re making it. The text was there from the beginning. What inspired me to make this film was a question as to why we can’t seem to get along or what we come up with seems to better our lives but it doesn’t seem to stop us from wanting to kill each other. And that nagged at me a lot. I started looking at history and all the inventions throughout the ages whether it was literature, science, technology, yoga, veganism or any number of things humanity’s come up with and still there’s this collision we have with one another. It occurred to me that I don’t think anything we invent will stop us from killing each other. I don’t think the new Hubble telescope will do it, I don’t think a new quantum physic equation will do it. I think something has to awaken within us. I was interested in that and I wanted to shine a light on this inner shifting and that was sort of the genesis of it. Then of course I felt a bit overwhelmed and thought maybe it should be a book instead of a film but I felt the visual would be more effective so I started assembling it together, step by step.

The Evolution into Homo-spiritus

Sujantra: I remember well part of the film when you’re talking about how all of these things we’ve created have not provided a solution and yet you talk about the emergence of homo-spiritus, the being with conscious spiritual awareness and I was really thrilled to see Ramana Maharshi in the film because I’ve read him quite a bit. So those teachers do point us to forms of practice to help us achieve the transcendence you’re talking about.

Shaun: Right. I didn’t come up with the term “homo-spiritus.” I interviewed a man named David Hawkins. He’s since passed away. I had the opportunity to interview him twice. He’s written several wonderful books. Probably the best known is Power vs. Force, where he talked about how Hitler used force, which is a very brief encounter of force, but Gandhi used power. The interesting thing about power is that power will endure long after the person has passed away. We still speak about Gandhi or hear about Gandhi or teach others about him, and this shows how his power endures and that force is like a rocket. It has propulsion but it can only take you so far before it runs out. I had the chance to interview him twice and he also talked about how the spirit is the highest evolution of physical consciousness of mortality. I thought it was good to show human rights evolution over the ages and also the physical evolution from Cro-Magnon and the Neanderthal all the way up to this capacity of homo-spiritus. We know it exists because if you look at Gandhi who was a contemporary of Hitler, there is two beings right there living at the same time in the world that personified opposite ends of the conscious spectrum. So that capacity exists. It doesn’t mean we have to be bad or we have to always be primitive or always use force, it also shows that we can be like homo-spiritus. That capacity in the human being exists. That potentiality is very interesting to me. We have to cultivate that in one another.

Moral Consideration for All Beings

Sujantra: I think that came across really strongly in the film, which is great. You talk about the key idea of the moral consideration for all beings, that we are all one. A big part of your film was when you got into the body section about we are what we eat. It seems to me that that’s something that’s starting to catch on in our society. My nephew who’s going into high school this year is required to read a book about healthy eating, getting away from chemicals and getting back to natural food.

Shaun: There was talk early on about the body section when I was cutting and we were testing the film in focus groups. Some of my colleagues, who are backers of the film, the body section would always say this was a tough one because that’s where some of the animal footage was. Some of them felt it was out of place, it’s almost like this “come on kids, let’s eat our fruits and vegetables ” section of the film suddenly. I fought to keep it in because this is an entire kingdom of beings that are drastically, absolutely affected by humankind. It seems if we are going to talk about the expressions of life, the expressions of being, then we couldn’t just remove an entire kingdom of beings. Even so, the movie is ninety-eight minutes long and I think there are only fourteen minutes of animals, and really no blood. I couldn’t leave this out because we do affect other life forms. I think it’s healthy for people even if they feel a bit squeamish sometimes. It’s odd actually because we have way more war footage and human destruction footage than animal footage. Rarely, if ever, am I asked about the human violence in the film because we are so accustomed to it. It’s the animal footage that people go “Oh I don’t know if you should show this stuff,” meanwhile we have executions and horrible stuff. I find that very interesting. This always comes up, this concern. Even with exhibitors this concern came up. I find that to be a strange contradiction. We fictionalize or romanticize violence or romanticize pain, which we see a lot of times in TV shows or even on the news. So that’s okay, but actual pain shown in a documentary may not be politically correct. I think this kind of dialogue is actually very healthy.

polar bear

Photo by Alastair Rae(https://www.flickr.com/photos/merula/) License (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0/legalcode)

Sujantra: I also like the contrast between showing people in suffering and pain and then showing people in meditation, you showed some yoga postures and I think that’s something else we are seeing in our society, the awareness of yoga.

Shaun: Yes, definitely. It’s great and encouraging. It’s hopeful.

Spiritual Practices

Sujantra: Hopeful. Yes. Do you have any specific practice you do in your own life that refreshes you or gives you a fresh surge of energy?

Shaun: A couple different kinds, not just one. I have dogs; I’ve rescued a lot of dogs, so just living with animals I get to see their personalities or expressions, or their little nuances that I find to be a marvel. I think it helps ground me in nature. I also love to surf and I enjoy just going out, sitting on a board in the ocean and connecting with nature that way.

New Style of Release for the Film

Sujantra: The way you’re releasing the film is very unique in my experience. Can you explain how you’re doing it and why you’re doing it that way?

Shaun: Movies are released so many different ways nowadays; they are released in theatres or as a digital download. It’s just so different from how it’s been before. This idea of a very limited release is sort of an event release on a wide scale is different from independent films from even last year, just one year ago. Getting that traditional limited release, let’s say, five theatres only maybe in big cities for one week for a full run or what they call a split-run, which would be maybe a couple times a day for a week. It’s just a week to see if it attracts attention and then maybe it goes away if it doesn’t or it expands to twenty or thirty theatres. We are trying something new and quite different with a one day release but in twelve hundred theatres in the U.S. and another five hundred theatres overseas. That is not a decision I made, that’s something the distributors and exhibitors are thinking of experimenting with. They call it “event cinema.” We add extra content that you can’t see online. For instance, someone will introduce himself only in theatres, he will do it in-show and out-show on camera which is part of the screening you saw. There will be a panel discussion at the end from our premiere up in Los Angeles. It’s just something new that we are doing and I am curious to see how it does as well.

Sujantra: That’s great. It’s a great film and I hope lots of people go out and watch it.

Shaun: Thank you so much.

Sujantra: All the best of luck to you. Thank you so much, Shaun. If you’re ever in San Diego, stop by our yoga studio, Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga and the vegetarian restaurant, Jyoti-Bihanga

Shaun: I’ll keep it in mind when I’m in that part of the world.

Sujantra: Okay, thanks a bunch, Shaun.

Shaun: Thanks so much, have a great day.

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Ramayana Series – Turning Within

In these explorations of the Ramayana I hope to help you deepen your spiritual growth and understanding…

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In these explorations of the Ramayana I hope to help you deepen your spiritual growth and understanding.

Ramayana—“Rama” is the name of the hero and the heroine, his wife, is Sita. . “Yana” means the tale of, or the journey of. The Ramayana is the story, tale or journey of Rama.

“Listen my friend, I love this Ramayana. We now live in the third age of time and Rama lived in the second age of the world. Ramayana has long been standing above all other stories. You must look up to find it. Valmiki put the deeds of Rama into musical verse. He clothed them in the sound of singing. Before Ramayana there was no poetry on earth.”1

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Valmiki is our first character. He is the one who writes the Ramayana. “As a young man, Valmiki searched through the world seeking open friendship and happiness and hope. And finding none of these, he went alone into the empty forest where no man lived to a spot where the Tamsa River flows into the river Ganga. There he sat for years without moving. So still that white ants built an anthill over him. There Valmiki sat inside that anthill for thousands of years with only his eyes showing out trying to find the true, his hands folded and his mind lost in contemplation.”

Valmiki, our first character and author of the Ramayana, is a young man searching throughout the world for happiness and true friendship. He holds these ideals in his heart and searches the world and can’t find them. I think that is something we can all relate to, in that we look at life and it’s filled with a lot of painful experiences, even though in your heart you hold this feeling or hope that there can be true friendship or true love. What we meet in the experience of life is often so painful.

Valmiki can’t find any of these so he decides to retreat in, deep contemplation and meditation. In a sense you can say that’s what you do in the daily practice of meditation. The world is full of challenges and your daily meditation is your ability to pull away from the world and free your mind. You turn your mind inward and allow it to sink back into perfection or into itself. Indian philosophy asserts that our consciousness has perfection in it. Our minds spread out into the world and take everything in and create our multifaceted experiences that can be really challenging. With meditation you’re able to turn your mind inward and trace back to that pure essence.

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The Ripple Effect

“His mind lost in contemplation, then one cloudy winter’s day at noon the heavenly sage Narada, the inventor of music, born from Brahma’s mind flew from heaven down to earth. He knelt in front of Valmiki and said, ‘Come out. Help me.’ ‘ It’s too cold’, replied Valmiki. ‘Away with the worlds where a little pleasure costs a lot of pain. Don’t make trouble for me.’ ‘ Would I ever?’ said Narada? ‘See how life goes by with every creature doing what follow his nature’. Narada knelt and looked deep into Valmiki’s eyes. ‘Master, what can I say to inspire you to action’? Valmiki said, ‘Just name me one honest man and then I will move’. Rama said, ‘Narada. Now, come out of there.’”1

The Ramayana is multidimensional. Valmiki is on earth and Narada, who comes down from the heavens and seeks Valmiki’s help. We are told he’s the inventor of music and born of Brahma’s mind. In Indian philosophy, there are three main aspects of existence: Creation, Preservation and Transformation. Those are personified in Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver and Shiva the Transformer. Brahma is the creator and Narada is born from his mind. Normally when we think about birth, we think birth from a body. Here’s a more subtle birth, born from Brahma’s mind. We bear things from our minds. We create a poem from our mind or we conceive of plans and then we act them out.

“Who is Rama?” said Valmiki. Narada answered, ‘Rama rules as king in Ayodhya. He is born of the solar race and is a descendent of the sun. He is brave and gentle and firm in fight. By Rama’s command his adorable queen Sita is being brought here in the forest in a chariot and though she suspects nothing yet, here she will be abandoned. Unless you comfort her, she will drown herself in the river Ganga. And kill as well her two unborn sons by Rama’. ‘What did she do wrong?’ asked Valmiki. ‘Nothing’, answered Narada, ‘Sita is innocent and blameless. She has lived as Rama’s queen for nearly 10,000 years. Before that, Rama saved her from great danger by wondrous and incredible deeds. And now behold one of the terrors of kingship that Rama must let her go and banish her because his people talk against her. Get up and save her life and let her live here with you and your companions and make and measure words the song of Rama and teach it to her two sons.1

Rama is born of the solar race, a descendent of the sun. This is also seen in Greek mythology a lot. Mortals mate with great energies, with the sun or the wind and give rise to some of the great heroes, like Hercules. We are interconnected with these great energies. We are human but we also have that great spirit inside of us.

Sita’s been banished by Rama and she’s going to be abandoned and starts to hear the Ganga, the river, murmuring to her, “jump in, jump in, take rest, find peace.” In the order of the universe, this can’t happen. Narada has come down to convince Valmiki to do something, to take action. Valmiki listens to this, and Narada implores Valmiki to let Sita live with him and his companions and to make and measure words the song of Rama (which is the Ramayana) and teach it to her two sons.

“’I have no companions here’, said Valmiki. ‘You have now. Coming here I sang a friend gathering song. Valmiki I’ve seen other skies than these, other worlds and other friends. People are counting on you and I can hear the chariot from Ayodhya with Sita approaching the Ganga.’ Valmiki said,’ I have no skill in any craft, even in words.’ Narada was silent then he spoke. ‘There, listen. I hear the chariot stopping. Right now, here they come across Ganga in a boat. Or will you also forsake Sita from fear of other people? Look she has discovered she is lost and the boat is launched back without her. Hurry, there the sunlight comes behind the dark clouds. There, the river goddess begins to whisper unseen bells over Sita and makes her swift flowing waters seem a warm, safe home. Act now, Valmiki. Call out and the rest will follow.’”1

It’s a beautiful idea: the friend gathering song. A beautiful hermitage pops up around him because of Narada’s song. Narada says, “I’ve seen other skies, and I’ve seen other worlds. People are depending on you.” In our own lives, our actions, our thoughts, our meditations effect a lot more than what we perceive in that moment. Every decision we make, every action we take, creates a whole interconnected chain of events. The more consciously we can take our actions and make our decisions, then that affect rolls out further and further down the road. The ability to see that our actions affect more than ourselves in that moment creates an expansion of awareness. Valmiki can’t see it, even though he’s the hero and has to take these actions and perform heroic deeds. He’s the one being called to action but the one calling him can see the bigger picture. 

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We Are Our Own Hero

We are the hero of our own lives, we are the ones who have to step forward and take the heroic action. If you look at your own life, what do you have inspiring, guiding or motivating your actions and decisions? If it is television, the newspaper or things that aren’t that expansive of consciousness, then your decisions are going to be influenced by those things. You can energize or inspire yourself by the books you read, by meditating, and focusing on your spiritual journey. You can inspire yourself and bring into your own life the characters that help you see the bigger picture and inspire you towards action.

A good way to look at it is through the laws of attraction and manifestation. What you keep clearest in your heart, for example in meditation you’re bringing in a certain quality, holding that quality in your heart, that intention, that energy you hold in your heart is going to bring into your life the things that are connected to that. Again, spending time in meditation or good spiritual reading will keep your mind in that space and draw that to you. One of the teachings from the Indian philosophy is when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. In the same way, when you bring yourself to a certain level, when you get yourself ready, then the teacher you need in that moment is going to come into your life. The more refined you can make your energetic output; the more you accelerate your growth because you’re clear and focused.

  1. Buck, William. Ramayana. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976. Print.
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