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.
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.
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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.
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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.
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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.”
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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.
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.
How to Use the Ancient Principles of Vastu to Declutter Your Home and Improve Its Energy
Could your home use a refresh? After making over her place according to the yoga of design, writer Elizabeth Marglin has 10 simple tips to help you get organized and create spaces that speak to your soul.
I’m drawn to home decluttering and design projects. I’ve dabbled in feng shui, KonMarie’d, and gotten my hygge on. Having a mother who is a hoarder makes me especially sensitive to the objects that constantly accumulate. Still, somehow none of these methods helped me find a genuine sense of ease in my space. Then I found Vastu, known as the “yoga of design.” Vastu is a traditional Indian system of architecture that’s for all kinds of buildings—temples, businesses, homes—yet its key principles can be used to rectify energy imbalances in existing homes (read: clutter) and to cultivate spiritual and physical calm. As a system, it’s neither dogmatic nor rigid. You don’t have to be building a house to incorporate what it has to offer. It plays out as a remarkably fluid, even common-sense method, to generate a domestic version of holiness. It can be as simple as using beautiful ceramic plates every day instead of saving them for special occasions, pruning your mantel of detritus so that it becomes an alter rather than a knick-knack conglomerate, or opting for natural textiles and materials instead of synthetic wherever possible.
In her book Vastu: Transcendental Home Design in Harmony with Nature, author Sherri Silverman, an internationally recognized Vastu sacred space design consultant, describes Vastu philosophy this way: “The structure of our homes is representative of our own bodies: what goes on in one affects the other, and our own little universes of body and home embody the same forces that compose the vast universe.” As I learned more about Vastu, it resonated as a trifecta of solutions that could answer several of my spiritual longings at once: interconnectedness, thoughtful design, and alignment with the divine. About to embark on a basement remodel, Vastu felt like an organizing principle I could get behind. I suddenly could envision my home as a microcosm of the sacred. I wanted to use Vastu principles to do-over my entire home, to reconfigure our unruly constellation of possessions, and to act as a template for the new rooms we were building out downstairs.
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With the goal of transforming domestic chaos into a sacred refuge, I reached out to Silverman. She was eager to spread the word about Vastu and agreed to be my consultant on our home project. (Even amongst yoga devotees, Vastu still gets short shrift, despite being considered yoga and Ayurveda’s third sister in the pantheon of vedic sciences.) The ethos that drives Vastu is as applicable today as it was a millennia ago. It involves flexible design guidelines for space, sunlight, flow, and function. The idea was for my home to feel alive, supportive, and nourishing. I could get there with whatever style best suited my taste. Vastu can encompass the whole gamut of individual style choices, from rustic to beach to uber modern. But what distinguishes Vastu from other home organization methods, says Silverman, is the attentiveness to beauty. “Vastu requires beauty. If you follow all the rules but omit beauty, it’s not really Vastu,” says Silverman. “Beauty adds vibrancy to spaces. Without beauty, it’s just empty, vacant, sterile. Add beauty and the space comes alive.”
I sent Silverman photos of my home, along with the plans for our upcoming basement remodel. She gave me detailed recommendations for how I could bring in more haven, less havoc. What follows are the vital takeaways—attention to sightlines, freeing up the center of the room, bringing in a touch of nature—that I gleaned from our collaboration. Along the way, I learned how beauty is a natural conduit to presence. When things were aligned in the right way, my eyes said “ah, ah,” and I could feel my soul exhaling. I invite you to apply some of following Vastu principles to your own home to help you manifest your own sacred spaces that bring you exquisite relief—and delight. As for the things you can’t change or rearrange, I’ll share Silverman’s generous words regarding my plight: “Do what is possible and let go of the rest.”
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10 Yoga Teachers Share Exactly How They Get a Good Night’s Sleep
Having trouble getting eight hours of shut-eye? Steal these secrets from some of the country’s top teachers.
Keep your bedroom cool and dark. Aim to go to sleep at the same time every night. Don’t sleep with a TV playing in the background. While these tips are great, you’ve likely heard ‘em a million times before and have tried all of them—and you’re still not getting the shut-eye you need.
Setting up a well-planned nighttime ritual to prepare your mind and body for sleep can help you get high-quality rest, which is important for everything from weight control to controlling blood sugar to keeping you in a good mood. So, who better to ask about bedtime routines than yoga teachers? Calming and centering techniques are their areas of expertise, plus many of them teach early-morning classes, which makes regular sleep schedules extra-important.
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Here, 10 yoga teachers share with us their exact night-time routine that helps them get high-quality sleep.
1. Wind down with lavender, an immunity shot, and Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose
Brittanee Greenhaw, yoga instructor at Rancho Valencia Resort & Spa in San Diego, California, takes self-care seriously at night. Her multi-sensory wind-down rituals start with an immunity shot. She uses fresh-pressed ginger root, 10 drops of grapefruit seed extract, 3 drops of oregano, and dilutes the mixture with coconut water. She also likes to have Yo-Yo Ma Cello music playing in the background, but switches to classical music closer to bedtime. Some of her other go-to rituals: Showering using a lavender body scrub, using a jade roller to reduce inflammation of the face and lymph nodes, applying a magnesium body cream, and massaging lavender oil into the arches of her feet and then putting on cozy socks to increase the absorption and keep her feet warm. Right before bed, she stays in Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose for 11 minutes (it’s a balancing number, she says!), turns off the lights, puts an eye mask on, and drifts off to sleep.
2. Calming yoga flow, a bedtime tonic and journaling gratitude
Prior to bed, CorePower Yoga’s Master Trainer Emily Schmookler moves through a calming yoga flow. Here’s her sequence: Standing forward fold, squat and curl, toe stretch, crescent moon into half splits, table top with a couple cat-cows, child’s pose, and seated forward fold. Then, she rolls onto her back and does some gentle twists and movements to stretch her hips. She also drinks a night-time tonic to unwind. It includes Life Spa’s Ojas Milk, 1/4 teaspoon of ghee, 1/2 teaspoon of honey, and Four Sigmatic Reishi Mushroom Elixir. “This tonic is an Ayurvedic rejuvenate and aids in nourishing your depleted energy, calms your nervous system and helps to rebuild your immune system,” Schmookler says. Her night-time routine also includes writing down three things she was grateful for during the day.
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3. Soak in an Epsom salt bath
Teri Wilkinson, yoga instructor, Ko’a Kea Resort & Spa in Kauai, Hawaii says she takes a 10 to 15 minute hot bath before bed. “I put in 1 cup of Epsom salt and 1 cup of baking soda to allow my muscles to relax and loosen up, my body to detox, and to clear my mind from my day.” She then drinks a cup of Celestial Seasonings’ Sleepytime extra. The valerian root in the tea, she says, helps her sleep deeply for about seven hours.
4. Do restorative yoga stretches and listen to melodic tunes from around the world
Each night before bed, Kirkland Shave, program director at Mountain Trek Fitness Retreat and Health Spa, and a certified yoga instructor, does 15 minutes of restorative yoga stretches. He finishes his stretching session with a short Chi Kung energy circulation practice, and makes some prayers of gratitude. “After, I turn my phone onto airplane mode, put in my noise-cancelling earbuds, tune into some melodic East Indian ragas, or Japanese Koto and Shakuhachi music, and lay atop a few spikey balls in bed, placing them along my neck and back,” he says. The balls place isolated pressure on imbalanced connective tissues to increase circulation, and also reduce muscle fatigue and soreness, he says.
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5. Use an old-school alarm clock
Since Lauren Larry, a yoga teacher in Manhattan, Kansas, teaches 5 a.m. classes, she makes sure she’s in bed early and doesn’t get disrupted. “I banish tech from my sleeping space,” she says. In fact, she even relies on an old-school alarm clock. Without tech in the bedroom, Larry says, she doesn’t get caught up in the news or a tweet storm.
6. Stone diffusers, tea, and p.m. poses
Carolena Coley makes Bedtime Tea by Yogi and sets up her Vitruvi stone diffusers with a lavender and sandalwood essential oil blend before bed. “As I am drinking my tea, I practice mindfulness with my senses for grounding; what I can feel, hear, see, smell and taste,” says Coley, Yoga in the Vineyard instructor at Spa Terra at The Meritage Resort and Spa in Napa Valley, California. “Then, I take a few minutes to acknowledge my day with my gratitude practice.” In addition to Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose, she also does a Reclining Bound Angle Pose, and stays in this pose for five minutes, placing one hand on her heart and one hand on her belly. “I connect with my heartbeat and my breath, breathing in and out for a count of eight,” Coley says.
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7. Have a go-to song for bedtime
Remember nursery rhymes? It’s good, too, to have some soothing melodies that signal bedtime when you’re an adult. Kelly Clifton Turner, yoga instructor and Director of Education for YogaSix, often does 5 to 10 minutes of Legs-Up-The-Wall before bed. She also listens to a favorite song. (“Soul Lotion,” by Cadet de’l’espace, and “Cease To Know,” by Eluvium are currently in rotation). “There is an almost Pavlovian response when I hear those songs,” she says.”I settle right down.” If thoughts enter her mind while she’s relaxing (i.e. “What time is my first meeting?”) she thinks to herself: “This isn’t the time to spend on that.”
8. Mediate and make a to-do list
“I set a meditation cushion on my practice mat, close my eyes and face east in my studio and take the time to meditate, reflecting and reviewing my day,” says Karen Newton, a yoga teacher at Sage Yoga Studio, which is the on-site studio of Prairie Guest House in Fishers, Indiana. During her meditation, she plays relaxing music. “After my 30-minute meditation, I will write out my to-do list for the following day,” Newton says. Knowing she has an agenda for the next day brings about calmness.
See also These 5 Yoga Poses Will Make You a Morning Person
9. Count your breath
Some nights, no matter what you try, it’s hard to fall asleep. When that happens, try this technique, courtesy of Jennifer Reis, a teacher at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health.
● Lie down, get comfortable, and close your eyes.
● Become aware of your breathing.
● Slowly count the exhalations backward, starting with 10. Keep your focus solely on the breath.
● If you lose track while counting, begin again with 10.
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10. Enjoy a sound bath and a book
Love relaxing with music at night? Spotify has a “sound bath” playlist, points out Erin Motz, the co-founder of Bad Yogi, which offers online yoga classes. In addition to listening to the calming sounds, Motz also likes to read before bed, but she makes sure it’s light reading and not too riveting. She also practices 8-4-8 breathing to calm down the central nervous system and prep the body for sleep. Some of her go-to p.m. poses: Legs-Up-The-Wall Pose, Supine Twists, and Pigeon Pose.
So, will you be incorporating any of these techniques into your own sleep routine?
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