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Yogi Assignment: Ahimsa in Action, Post-Election

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Our current political climate may feel as polarizing and un-yogic than ever, but there is a way to hold love in your heart for those you disagree with the most. Here’s how.

The 2018 midterm elections have created a divide in our country. Here’s how yoga after the election can help us all find common ground.

Here’s something you might not know about me: before I was passionate about yoga, I was passionate about politics. I used to get into heated arguments with people about government policy. I was on the high school debate team (and even won awards for public speaking), and after high school, my plan was to major in political science and go to law school. I wanted to fight what I thought was the good fight in politics.

Yet the summer between high school and college, I woke up one morning and realized I was so much happier than I had been in a long time. After a few moments of introspective probing, I realized it was because I was not debating people all the time. It suddenly hit me that scheduling a debate is like scheduling time to argue, and it quickly became evident that I wouldn’t be happy if I devoted my life to arguing with people as my profession.

For years after my choice to turn away from the pre-law path, I was lost and searching for meaning and purpose. I turned away from politics and news in general and went on a media fast. It was in this period that I discovered yoga.

Recently, I’ve been reflecting on the yogi’s role in civic discourse and public service. Now, don’t stop reading: I’m not here to endorse a particular agenda. I do, of course, have my opinions on what I believe good government is, but I’m not writing this to try and convince you of my beliefs. Instead, I’m writing this to help you, as a fellow yogi, navigate the often-murky territory of post-election polarization. Two sides engage in rounds of debates, run onslaughts of advertisements, amplify their positions in echo chambers, and charge forward. One side emerges as the winner, the other side as the loser. Meanwhile, our shared sense of community fractures and we grow further apart. Or, at least, that is how the last few election cycles seemed to play out to me.

See also This Playlist is Perfect for Election Day: Music to Inspire You to Vote

Walking the Yogic Path, Post-Election

So, what does the yogic path have to offer civic discourse in our current state of affairs? As it turns out, a lot.

Let’s start off with the foundational yogic principle of ahimsa. Often translated as non-violence, I’ve always liked a positive definition of this principle. To me, ahimsa is more than just the absence of violence; it is the active state of love, forgiveness, and acceptance. There is nothing like a polarizing election cycle to bring out the hatred, judgement, and vitriol. This is the state of himsa—hatred, violence, or negativity—and goes against yogic values. In order to balance your mind, I recommend practicing ahimsa in this very real and challenging way: learn to love your enemies. This isn’t a new concept, yet in our present-day quagmire of political voices, we need this high teaching more than ever.

Think about how many times you have “unfollowed” someone on social media whom you once found inspiring, or stopped talking to someone because he or she proclaims different political beliefs than you do. I recently shared some of my personal opinions about the governor race in my home state of Florida on my Instagram stories and got both positive and negative response. There were people who called on me to “stick to yoga” and announced that they would now be forced to “unfollow” me. To others I was a hero. It’s almost like we categories people who don’t share our political beliefs as our “enemies” and those who do as “heroes.” In doing so, we also normalize harsh and sometimes cruel words and actions towards those people whom we deem as enemies.

I’ll be honest: I’ve had those same type of judgmental thoughts about others. We all have friends or family members whose political beliefs are different from our own. I’ve been shocked to see what someone I know on a personal level thinks about government policies or leaders; I’ve even been tempted to leave a comment when they share their thoughts on Facebook and Instagram. But as long as this person’s beliefs and actions are not causing me personal and direct harm, I believe it is my work as a yogi to learn to stay present with them and learn to love them anyway.

This is ahimsa in action.

See also Path to Happiness: 9 Interpretations of the Yamas + Niyamas

Why Ahimsa in Action Is Such Important Work

I’m here to tell you that ahimsa in action is so freeing. Hate and judgement can be heavy; love and forgiveness often feel light. I’m not saying that hate is bad or wrong or that you shouldn’t feel hate. In fact, if you feel hopeless, sometimes being angry is a positive step. What I am suggesting, however, is that you do your work to process your emotions about the election cycle until you find a place of love and positive action before you take action.

While it can be useful and necessary to bring issues that are problematic to the surface, it can also be easy to get swept away in the passion of hate. I know because I’ve done it myself. While protesting actions that I deemed unjust, I let hate get the better of me. Before I knew it, I was no longer standing for something I believed in and instead, I was fighting against something I did not believe in. And truly, what you resist persists. What you hate grows stronger. On the flip side, every action rooted in love has the potential to heal.

What I know for sure is that underneath all the heated political arguments coming from “strangers on the internet” are real people whose pain and suffering is present. Regardless of which side of the political spectrum you identify with, try to remember there is a real, live human being on the other end of every word written on the internet (just like I am really here, behind this blog post). The challenge of ahimsa in a bitter atmosphere is not just to do no harm. Ahimsa is bigger than that. Ahimsa means to make every act an act of love. Ahimsa in action makes the case for a broad notion of love as social justice, mutual respect, and positive action.

See also Good Karma Awards: Top 10 yoga service organizations of 2018

4 Ways to Put Ahimsa Into Action This Week

1. Love your enemies. 

Called Tonglen in Buddhism, the practice of sending love to your enemies can truly set you free. Start off by sending loving thoughts to yourself. See yourself happy and filled with love. Let the feeling of love wash over you. Next, send love to someone you truly admire. Simmer in the love. Finally, send love to your enemies. I recommend doing this practice before you go to a protest post-election. Be sure to send love to the other side—the ones you consider your enemies. It will be hard, but remember love is your greatest weapon. Notice any resistance and see if you can freely give love. Then, sit back and tune into your heart as all the love you send out returns to you tenfold.

2. Listen without judgement. 

This is what I call “ahimsa listening,” and it’s all about learning to listen with love. The next time you find yourself about to judge someone or respond to something they say with harsh words, try this: Pause, breathe, and take a step back; do your own work to return to a center of calm within yourself by meditating for at least 5 minutes; then, return and ask a genuine question in an effort to listen without making any conclusions about the character of the person. This type of innocent perception can help release your judgements and humanize the opposing side. Plus, understanding where your adversary is coming from will better equip you for the path ahead.

3. Acknowledge your judgement and hate. 

There is no sense in pretending that you are beyond judgement and hate just because you are a yogi. So, give yourself permission to allow your judgments to float up to the surface where you can see them. Then, instead of pushing them away or feeling shame about them, just observe them. When you notice yourself thinking judgmental, hateful thoughts, pause and just feel them in your body. Let them run their course—and in the meantime, don’t take any action. Usually, I find that sitting with a thought or feeling in the free space of mindfulness allows you the time to process your feelings without action. There have been times that I thought I wasn’t passing judgement—yet the only thing that happened is that my judgements came out as passive aggression. Be brutally honest with yourself, and see if you can turn judgmental thoughts around. Ask yourself if there is an opposite thought that is equally true. For example, if your judgement was, “My friend is so close-minded and hard to speak to,” see if it might be equally true to say, “I am so close-minded and hard to speak to.”

See also The Good Fight: How Yoga is Being Used Within the Military

4. Stand for a positive future. 

Unless your action is rooted in love and you have a positive vision for the world you want to create, simply refrain from acting. If you feel compelled to share something political—whether on social media, or with colleagues, friends, or loved ones—check yourself regarding love and hate. If you notice that you want to share because you hate the candidate who won, consider not sharing. If you notice that you want to share something because you truly come from love for all beings, then share.

Centering your action around love for all beings does not need to be placid and calm. In fact, it could be fierce and powerful. You may find that you call a friend or family member out on a racist point of view because you love them and want to educate them. The key is what’s in your heart. If you share from a place of hate, there’s a good chance it will drag you down. If you are rooted in love, you will be more successful at maintaining your own peaceful heart.

Kino MacGregor

About the Author
Kino MacGregor is a Miami native and the founder of Omstars, the world’s first yoga TV network. (For a free month, click here. With over 1 million followers on Instagram and over 500,000 subscribers on YouTube and Facebook, Kino’s message of spiritual strength reaches people all over the world. Sought after as an expert in yoga worldwide, Kino is an international yoga teacher, inspirational speaker, author of four books, producer of six Ashtanga Yoga DVDs, writer, vlogger, world traveler, and co-founder of Miami Life Center. Learn more at www.kinoyoga.com. 

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Ayurveda

This is How One Yogi Doctor Used Ayurveda to Treat His Own Cancer

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When Tim McCall, MD, found himself in the patient’s chair—diagnosed with cancer in his neck—he didn’t run straight for conventional treatments. Instead, he traveled to India to see an Ayurvedic therapist. Here’s a look at his journey.

A yogi physician shares a personal account of how he used both Eastern and Western medicine to treat his own cancer. 

Wearing only a muslin loincloth, I lie on a hardwood table stained the color of mahogany from years of oil massages. A warm breeze flutters a sun-bleached crimson sari mounted lengthwise on the wire-screen wall that separates the treatment room from the garden and coconut palms outside. Krishna Dasan, the Ayurvedic therapist working on me, glides an oily satchel filled with freshly cut leaves, garlic, and lemon in long strokes from my chest to my legs. Sometimes along the way, detecting a stubborn area of muscular tightness, he stops and rubs back and forth over the stuck area for a number of staccato strokes before resuming longer ones.

When the bag cools, Krishna hands it to his assistant, Shashi, who puts it back in turmeric-infused oil bubbling on a single-burner gas flame and hands Krishna a hot one. After pounding the satchel once or twice on the table to cool it and remove excess oil, Krishna traces firm circles on either side of my chest. The air is fragrant with a smell more like food than medicine, vaguely reminiscent of homemade pea soup.

See also Raw Green Mint Soup for the Anahata (Heart) Chakra

Because he is worried that the hot oil might cause the metastatic cancer cells in the lymph nodes of my neck to spread, Krishna massages that area only lightly. A few days before we’d begun these treatments, his guru, Chandukutty Vaidyar, an elderly Ayurvedic physician, had warned him to be careful.

Normally, Vaidyar, whose name is the Malayalam word for “doctor,” refuses to treat cancer patients, but since I have been his student for years, he’s made an exception.

“I’m not expecting Ayurveda to cure my cancer,” I tell Krishna. He seems relieved. “I just want to get as rested and balanced as I can be before I undergo the heavy-duty treatments.”

I figure the massages and herbal remedies, which had helped me so much in the past, would at least give me a better shot at getting through what was to come. And although there is zero scientific evidence to support the idea, I suspect they may even increase my odds of getting cured.

See also 7 Bodywork Methods to Try

Helpful Ayurvedic Treatments Before Chemotherapy

A few days after beginning this round of Ayurvedic treatments, I notice that my tonsil is no longer covered with a grayish film but is shiny pink and looks smaller in the mirror. When I move my fingers across the lymph nodes in my neck, as I’ve done thousands of times on patients, it feels like they are also shrinking. Krishna agrees. Over the next couple of weeks, this trend continues, with a progressive, slight decrease in the size of the tumors. I’m not thinking this is going to be sufficient to eradicate the cancer, so I’m still planning conventional care, but it feels like confirmation that what I’m doing is already making a difference.

In deciding to go to India for Ayurvedic treatments before commencing chemoradiation, I remember something that I learned in medical school: Cancer is potentially life-threatening, but in most circumstances, it’s not an emergency. That’s why I shudder when people hurry into treatments before they’ve had a chance to carefully consider their options. By the time a cancer is diagnosed, it has often hidden in the body for years, sometimes for a decade or more. This is why a few weeks delay—unless there is a critical situation, such as a tumor obstructing a breathing tube or compromising another vital structure—usually won’t matter much. What is crucial to me is to get the best care possible, not, as I’ve heard patients say, to “get the cancer out of me as soon as possible.” I have the luxury of not being in an emergency, so I am able to do extensive research, talk with loved ones, consult colleagues, and get second opinions from other health-care professionals.

See also Why More Western Doctors are Now Prescribing Yoga Therapy

Yoga and Ayurveda During Chemotherapy

Less than a month after India, I arrive at a major medical center in the southeastern United States for cancer treatments. The air conditioning in the hospital is freezing. I’m wearing a maroon stocking cap, one of several that my sister-in-law, Madelyn, bought for me. Before the chemotherapy drug Cisplatin is infused, the nurse brings a paper cup with two anti-nausea pills. One is a powerful corticosteroid called Decadron. The other pill is a popular new anti-nausea agent that is said to be much more effective than the drugs that came before it.

Just in case, though, to help prevent nausea, I’ve drunk nothing but warm water for the past two days. I made the decision to forgo food after reading a report in an oncology journal that found patients who fasted during their chemo treatments reported little or no nausea. Sitting in the infusion center, I chew on slices of fresh ginger I’ve brought from home—an Ayurvedic remedy for nausea.

See also Fresh Ginger Tea

As the yellow contents of the small bag of Cisplatin drip into a larger bag of saline running into a vein in my arm, I do not think of it as a toxic drug, even though I know full well that it is. Instead, I imagine that it is a healing nectar flowing into me and circulating throughout my body. I lie back on the vinyl chair, look out the window at the few trees in this urban landscape, and silently chant mantras.

The yoga pose that is proving most helpful to me is a prone restorative twist. To come into it, I sit with my bent knees to the right side of my body with my right foot cradled in the arch of my left. As I bring my torso down toward a cylindrical bolster, I twist my spine and my head to the left. Just before my chest lands on the bolster, I turn my neck in the opposite direction, so that my knees and head face the same direction. My breath deepens as I sink in.

This is a beautiful stretch between the neck and the rib cage, helping me preserve movement threatened by the chemoradiation. And because this prone twist is a restorative pose, I can hold it for a long time. I’ve been tired and unable to do much yoga practice most days. Some mornings, just standing and lifting my arms overhead feels like too much. I stay 20 minutes in the twist, then come into the pose on the other side.

Yesterday, Madelyn caught me asleep in the pose. I might have been there 45 minutes. Normally that never happens.

See also Find Serenity Now with this Restorative Yoga Practice

An Integrative Approach to Cancer Treatment Shows Results

Three months post-chemoradiation treatment, I return to the hospital for another PET scan to evaluate my response. I’m told that the areas that lit up on my initial tests seven months ago, indicating cancer, have returned to normal. Neither of my doctors, both of whom examine me carefully, finds any evidence of cancer in my mouth or lymph nodes. I have what they call a “complete clinical response.”

In my experience practicing medicine, cancer treatments can be both overused and overly aggressive. For many malignancies, including mine, an integrative approach that includes the best of modern scientific medicine, but which also addresses the many areas of mind, body, and spirit that the field systematically neglects, appears to offer the best hope.

Holistic systems of medicine such as Ayurveda and traditional Chinese medicine work like an organic gardener who makes plants (in this case the body) hardier by strengthening the soil rather than simply pouring on pesticides. But sometimes you need both. One aspect of good holistic care is that it welcomes treatments such as drugs and surgery when they seem like the right tools for the job. You might say the integrative path I chose to deal with the pernicious invader that is cancer incorporated the toxic chemicals of chemotherapy along with the soil-enhancing effects of diet, stress reduction, and gentle herbal remedies.

See also 18 Reasons to Practice Self-Care

I didn’t choose this cancer adventure. But I see clearly that my choices set the karma in motion that brought me to it. In trying to deal with it as skillfully as possible, given the imperfect collection of information I’d amassed by the time each decision needed to be made, I did the best I could. And overall, I’m happy with the choices I made.

All you can do is the best you can do at any given time and not second-guess yourself. That’s skill in action—the Bhagavad Gita’s definition of yoga. Is it also yoga to use your life and struggles to learn and grow, turning seemingly bad events into things that serve you. Yoga teaches that it’s possible, through your actions, to change some bad karma into good karma. I chose the path of holism, taking one small step at a time and trying to look at specific aspects of my situation in hopes of shifting the whole in a helpful direction. I addressed my structure, my breathing, my nervous system, and my mind. In addition to the Ayurvedic treatments, I had dozens of acupuncture treatments and regular visits to a physical therapist for bodywork called myofascial release. And I continued my journey of psychological excavation, jettisoning attitudes and behaviors that may have served me in my difficult childhood but which I no longer needed.

As hard as I’ve worked to get through the challenge of cancer, I have also surrendered the illusion that I can control it. After getting the news I’d been hoping for at my follow-up appointment, I learned that there is a 5 to 10 percent chance the cancer will recur in the first three years. Optimistic as I am, I’m aware that my efforts may not have been enough. Part of my hopefulness is that I know that if the cancer should recur, I have tools to help me get through it. To heal even if I cannot be cured. To live however much life I have left with joy and contentment and love. And the urgency the diagnosis has brought is to live life more fully, to bring even more passion and discipline to the work I feel like I’ve been put on the planet to do. 

See also NOW Solutions Meditation Ritual for Self Care

About the Author

Adapted from Saving My Neck: A Doctor’s East/West Journey through Cancer by Timothy McCall, MD, © 2018 Timothy McCall (Whole World Publishing). McCall is the bestselling author of Yoga as Medicine and has been Yoga Journal’s medical editor since 2002. Learn more at drmccall.com.

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Life

7 Ways You Could Be Sabotaging Your Yoga Practice (And How to Fix Them)

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Don’t make these simple mistakes.

Here are the little things that can easily throw off a consistent yoga practice, and how to fix them.

If you’re putting the time and effort into showing up for your yoga practice on a daily basis, you want to make sure you’re not accidentally doing anything to sabotage all that goodness.

After all, there are countless little things many of us don’t even think about that can throw off an otherwise lovely, consistent yoga practice: say, rushing out of class to immediately grab a cocktail (or worse, go back to your stressful job), being too harsh and rigid with yourself about practicing certain poses every time, or being glued to your phone the moment you step out of class (guilty, sigh).

Here, we unpack common yoga missteps and how to sidestep them to develop your most beneficial, healing, consistent yoga practice.

See also 9 Top Teachers Share Their Go-To Yoga Mantras

Mistake No. 1: Being too rigid.

When it comes to yoga, you should be going with the flow. (Get it?) That means everything from your practice schedule to whether you take a Wheel Pose or a Supported Bridge. “It’s called a practice because it’s meant to have natural ebbs and flows,” says Los Angeles-based yoga instructor Alexis Novak. “If someone misses a day or is low energy and skips a few chaturangas, that is part of the practice. Sometimes I see yogis using their need to rest or even skip a day of yoga as another way to beat themselves up.”

Mistake No. 2: Not taking some time to revel in yoga’s after-glow.

You definitely don’t want to rush right back to the office (or to whatever your next task is) as soon as you finish Savasana. The whole purpose of yoga, after all, is to stretch the body in order to sit comfortably in meditation. “Rushing from one thing to the next without letting your practice sink in means you can’t really enjoy the benefits of the space you carved out during the session,” says Novak. “Another way people sabotage their yoga practice is by hopping on their phone immediately after they walk out of class,” says Jen Wendowski, owner of Yoga Habit in Philadelphia. “Give yourself a ten-minute rule (even 5 minutes!) of no technology right after class. Let all of the benefits of your class settle in for a bit before you jump right back into life. Your texts and emails will still be there.”

If you are practicing yoga consistently, rest days are very important.

Mistake No. 3: Not valuing your rest days.

If you’re running all the time trying to squeeze in classes (or other workouts) just so you don’t miss a day, odds are you’re not practicing as mindfully as you could be—and that you’re also not comfortable with giving your practice a rest sometimes. Rest days are important! They let you collect yourself and relax, catch up on other errands and tasks that can distract you if they’re not done, and give your body a much-needed day off.

See also How 30 Days of Barre Transformed My Yoga Practice (Plus, 5 Moves Every Yogi Should Try)

Mistake No. 4: Checking your wearable tech during class.

“Our lives are full of sounds, technology, conversation, distraction, and music, and some of these things are great,” says Wendowski. “But it’s healthy to take a break from all of this, too. When I see people in class and they are breathing, sweating, moving, and connecting with their body—and then all of the sudden their Apple watch lights up—game over. It can take them right out of their practice. All of that space they were creating in their mind can get filled up again.”

Mistake No. 5: Treating yoga like an obligation.

It’s OK to schedule your practice—we all lead busy lives, and sometimes you just need to reserve a space in class. But it shouldn’t feel like something you’re doing out of obligation—ever, says Wendowski. If you still feel that way at the end of class, maybe it’s time to take a step back and remember why you practice yoga in the first place, and what you’re trying to cultivate in your life.

If you feel like yoga is an obligation, it could take away from why you started in the first place.

Mistake No. 6: Not getting enough sleep.

When I hit my mat in the morning after a night of not enough sleep, I really do seem to hit it— like a heavy load of bricks,” says Cicilee Chapelle, a yoga instructor in Philadelphia. “It’s like I’m dragging my body through quicksand. This does not make for a good physical practice.”

See also Can’t Sleep? Try These 6 Restorative Poses Right in Bed

Mistake No. 7: Over-hydrating or eating right before practice.

You want to eat healthfully and drink enough water—but you don’t want to go overboard or you’re going to struggle throughout your practice. “Having a belly full of liquid can get in the way during your yoga practice—literally, your distended belly could get in the way when you’re twisting and forward folding,” says Chapelle.

About the Author

Gina Tomaine is a Philadelphia-based writer and editor. She is currently Deputy Lifestyle Editor of Philadelphia magazine, and previously served as Associate Deputy Editor of Rodale’s Organic Life. Her work can be seen in Women’s Health, Runner’s World, Prevention and elsewhere. Learn more at ginatomaine.com. 

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Life

9 Top Teachers Share Their Go-To Yoga Mantras

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Looking for a mantra to help you focus during your yoga or meditation practice? We asked some of our favorite teachers to share their go-to mantras.

Yoga mantras are a great way to direct your focus during yoga. Use these 9 mantras from famous yoga teachers as inspiration to fuel your own yoga practice.

We’ve all been there during a yoga practice or meditation session: Despite our best efforts, monkey-mind takes over and we’re running through everything from that sticky interaction with the boss to all the to-dos that need to happen before the end of the day.

One way to quiet this all-too-common scenario is to practice using a yoga mantra. Similar to the breath, mantras are a useful tool for anchoring into the present moment and providing a point a focus. The best part? You can easily use a mantra anywhere you go. In fact, for many of the teachers we talked to, mantras are a way to help them experience the kind of peace they feel on their yoga mats and meditation cushions when they’re out in the real world.

Even better, your mantra can change whenever you like, depending on what you need. And it doesn’t have to be in Sanskrit or so long that you need a little print-out. A mantra can simply be a word or phrase that is accessible and supportive.

See also The Beginner’s Guide to Common Mantras

We asked top yoga teachers to tell us their go-to mantras, so you can get inspired to use a meaningful mantra in your practice, too. Here’s what they shared with us.

About the Author
Bridget “Bee” Creel is the editorial producer for Yoga Journal. She works as a yoga teacher in NYC and is the co-founder of the wellness community, Mood Room. 

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