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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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This 5-Minute Meditation for Parents Will Save Your Sanity

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Here’s how one woman bridges the sacred world of meditation with the reality of motherhood.

Want to find a little calm when your kids are bringing the crazy?This meditation for parents is proof that it is possible to carve out quiet, sacred moments, even on the most crazy-making days.

Meditation and parenthood: this may appear to be an oxymoron, as the words conjure up images that seem contradictory—the serene meditator enjoying the silence in their quiet mind, versus a frazzled, unkempt mother or father surrounded by chaos. But many years working in war zones has taught me something new: the power of meditative moments. Short, conscious moments of calm, infused throughout the day, can be your most useful tool against the confusion and disorder of parenting. 

See also 5 Kid-Friendly Animal Poses to Introduce Children to Yoga

“I Learned to Meditate in a War Zone”

One morning in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the air still ripe with the echoes of last night’s bullets, I sat at the foot of my hotel room bed and practiced listening meditation. It was all I could think to do to slow my terrified, rapid heartbeat. I quieted my mind, closed my eyes, and opened my ears.

At first, I only heard the sound of military-grade vehicles and sirens. Then, beneath, the wail of a baby, the beat of African drums pulsing through transistor radio static, and a woman laughing—reminders of humanity’s common desire for peace, a fresh moment to connect to something bigger and more sane than war. My heart slowed; I opened to the day ahead, whatever would come.

For me, motherhood has been a bit like working in a war zone. Not to diminish what living through war is like, but the constant vigilance, the drain on the adrenal system, the sustained lack of sleep, and the loss of regular bathing and meals, all felt very familiar with my firstborn. And, as such, some of the meditation practices I had adapted to my life as a human rights activist became applicable.

See also Mindful Parenting: 4 Yoga Poses to Quell Kids’ Separation Anxiety

This 5-Minute Meditation Can Save Your Sanity

Here’s a practice I call “Taking a Lap”: Both kids are screaming now, because it’s a cruel fact that when one child starts screeching, like macaws, the other will inevitably chime in. In the cacophony, it’s hard to distinguish one’s needs from the other’s, and, to be honest, I don’t really care. I’ve reached my edge. Every parent has one. This is the crucial moment I take my lap.

Whether they need to be in the car or not, I strap the kids into their five-point harnesses, roll up the windows, close the car doors, and exhale, knowing they are safe and immobilized. I drop into my listening mind. Taking a deep breath, I look to the sky and push all of my frustration out in one loud sigh. Then, placing my attention on my feet, I walk slowly, heel to toe, around the car. To an outsider, it may appear as though I’m simply taking the long way around to the driver’s seat, but in my mind I am a wandering ascetic, and to my nervous system each step is a healing balm.

Heel to toe . . . heel to toe . . . I listen.

At first, I hear the sounds of other cars in the parking lot, groceries being hauled into power-lifted cargo doors. Then, underneath, a teenager crying at the coffee shop next door, her heartache palpable in each sob. And there, way in the background, the birds singing loudly, while the air itself makes music through the trees, just as it always has; another fresh moment to reconnect.

No matter which shrieks come pouring through the door, whether laughter or tears, I know that it’s workable. In one three-minute, conscious lap around the car, that edge, so solid only moments before, softens. I am a warrior newly readied for battle.

See also 5 Ways to Ground Yourself and Prepare to Teach Kids’ Yoga

I married a man who was hit by his father for misbehaving. My own grandfather hit my dad and his brothers from pent-up frustration and anger. In fact, four out of five Americans believe it is “sometimes appropriate” to spank children. Part of the problem is that violence is learned and it is cyclical: Our children literally navigate the world by watching our every move, and that’s a lot of pressure. Add in sleep deprivation, financial stress, and a pace of life that could make Olympic athletes tire, and it’s not hard to see how we can fall into behaviors that allow our microaggressions to take center stage.

My antidote lies in practicing meditative moments.

“What were you looking for, Mommy?” my three-year-old asks after watching me stare at the asphalt as I slowly crept around the car.

“My sanity,” I reply.

“Oh. Did you find it?” she asks, hopefully.

“Yes I did,” I can honestly say. “It was somewhere between the back bumper and the rear right tire.”

And this is how I’ve come to bridge the sacred world of meditation with the profane reality of motherhood; by carving out short moments of “big mind,” I can better handle life’s “small mind” moments. Instead of recreating the painful patterns of our pasts, we have the unique opportunity to spin a different tale for our grandchildren.

See also This Is the Guide to Yoga and Meditation We Wish We Had Growing Up

The other day, my now six-year-old daughter wandered into the forest, heel to toe . . . heel to toe. She said she was “looking for her calm.” I knew then, if nothing else, that my often desperate, sometimes ridiculous-looking moments of street-side walking meditation had provided her with the invisible tool my own mother gifted me decades before, a tool that’s saved me from coming unhinged time and again.

When it comes to meditation and motherhood, my only advice is to create your own meditative moments and practice them regularly, so when you come up against your edgier places you will know exactly what to do with them.

Excerpted from The Unexpected Power of Mindfulness and Meditation with permission from Dover Publications.



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Ayurveda

Your Diet and Hormones Are More Connected Than You Think—Here's How to Balance Them Naturally with Food

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A hormone-balancing diet requires healthy digestion, stable sugar levels and a well-functioning liver. Let us show you how to get back in balance naturally.

Learn how to balance your hormones naturally with food.

Just like you, I’ve suffered from many hormonal imbalances. At first, I bought into the belief that hormonal problems are genetic or that the causes are “unknown.” 

Some of you may have been told that there is little you can do about your hormones apart from taking birth control pills or supplementing your body’s natural hormones. This may be the case for some women, but what I have discovered on my journey is that there is more.

I’ve found that hormonal balance requires healthy digestion, stable sugar levels, and a well-functioning liver. Restoring your gut, sugar levels, and liver health will not only rebalance your hormones but will reverse many other, seemingly unconnected ailments that might have been plaguing you for years, such as seasonal allergies, hives, chronic pain, depression, and anxiety.

I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to lead large online communities of women who have gone through my hormone-balancing diet, with life-changing results. When I polled the community about the biggest change that this way of eating had created for them, I thought I was going to read replies pertaining to weight loss, better sleep, or better mental function. To my surprise, the biggest benefit the women reported was having learned to “listen” to their bodies.

This skill will set you free.

For some of you, just eliminating gluten and dairy from your diet might resolve years of suffering. For others (and that’s me), it takes some real tuning in and figuring out what foods your body loves and what it rejects. By eating the “rejected” foods, you are in a constant state of inflammation that won’t bring you to hormonal balance and bliss.

See also Yoga for Women’s Health: The Best Pose and Acupressure Point to Reduce Bloating

I learned to cook because I had to—to save my life and sanity. I’m 45 years old. I’ve gone through having Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s disease, adrenal fatigue stage II, estrogen dominance, and hypoglycemia. I’ve battled chronic Candida, heavy-metal poisoning, bacterial infections (H. pylori), and parasitic infections (many times!), and I’ve had active Epstein-Barr virus (aka mononucleosis). Despite “eating well,” I’ve suffered irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). For years, I dealt with an addiction to coffee and cigarettes. My neurotransmitters were so out of whack at one point that I became abusive to the one person I loved the most, which ended our many future plans and hopes. Yet despite all this, I came out on the other end. I’m in better health today than I have been since I was 20 years old.

What I have learned is that our health is a journey, especially for those of us with difficult childhoods, past trauma, and undetected lingering infections. This journey can be highly frustrating and unrewarding at times; after all, I’ve committed my life resources to healing and I do not always get the results I hope for. Nevertheless, I’ve come to appreciate this journey, as with every obstacle comes deep understanding and discovery that you will learn and benefit from. What fascinates me equally is how this journey has armed me with the “soft” coping skills of patience and self-forgiveness. Without those, there will be no healing.

So, back to hormones. They are responsible for how you think, feel, and look. A woman with balanced hormones is sharp and upbeat, with a good memory. She feels energetic without caffeine during the day, falls asleep quickly, and wakes refreshed. She is blessed with a healthy appetite and maintains a desired weight with a good diet. Her hair and skin glow. She feels emotionally balanced and responds to stress with grace and reason. When menstruating, her menses comes and goes with no or little PMS. She has an active sex life. She can maintain a full-term pregnancy. When entering perimenopause or menopause, she slides into a new phase of life with ease. If that doesn’t describe you, your hormones are imbalanced. Don’t despair. You are not alone. Millions of women experience hormonal imbalance. The good news is, you can rebalance your hormones naturally and resolve your symptoms. Here are a few quick ways to start to assess what imbalances you might be suffering from.

See also Yoga for Women’s Health: The Best Pose & Acupressure Point to Relieve Menstrual Cramps & PMS

Hormonal Imbalances

High Cortisol: You are in a state of chronic stress, and your adrenals are working extra hard. Family issues, poor relationships, job problems, finances, overexercising, and past trauma and abuse could be causes, as could chronic digestive issues or infections. 

Low Cortisol: If you have low cortisol levels, you have had high cortisol levels for a while now and your adrenals are therefore too tired to produce sufficient cortisol. To confirm whether you do have low cortisol levels, it’s important to get a diagnosis from a qualified functional physician and get a urine or saliva test four times a day.

Low Progesterone: Low progesterone can be caused by excess cortisol levels (from chronic stress) or excess estradiol, the antagonistic estrogen produced in your body or introduced externally as synthetic estrogens (known as “xenoestrogens”) from skin-care and house-cleaning products. High cortisol levels are inflammatory and can block progesterone receptors, inhibiting progesterone from doing its work. When stressed, we end up with less progesterone.

High Estrogen (Estrogen Dominance): This condition can manifest in a few ways. You could have more estradiol (E2), the antagonistic estrogen, compared with estriol (E3) and estrone (E1), which often happens when many xenoestrogens, or synthetic estrogens, are present in your life. Second, you might have insufficient progesterone to oppose estradiol (even if your estradiol levels are within range). Estrogen dominance can also happen when there are more antagonistic estrogen metabolites (which are the byproducts of estrogen metabolism). Visceral fat also produces estradiol. Women with high testosterone levels (and often polycystic ovarian syndrome, or PCOS) can suffer from estrogen dominance, too. This is because testosterone gets converted to estradiol in the aromatization process. Inhibiting this process can break the cycle of estrogen production and relieve symptoms of estrogen dominance.

See also Yoga for Menopause: Alleviate Symptoms with Yoga

Low Estrogen: Declining estrogen levels typically happen to women going into perimenopause and menopause, but I have seen young women suffering from stress and toxic lifestyles experience this too. The ovaries are producing less estrogen because of aging, stress (and high cortisol levels), or toxicity.

High Testosterone (Androgen Dominance): The leading cause is high sugar levels. Polycystic ovarian syndrome is commonly caused by androgen dominance. While making dietary changes, get a formal diagnosis of PCOS and high testosterone level.

Low Testosterone: Most often, when the adrenals are exhausted, they also underproduce testosterone.

Underactive Thyroid (Hypothyroidism and/or Hashimoto’s Disease): Sadly, too many thyroid conditions go undiagnosed because of incomplete tests and wrong lab ranges that conventional doctors use. The consensus among functional practitioners is that 30 percent of the population experiences subclinical hypothyroidism (this means the symptoms are subtle). This could be an underestimate. One study in Japan found 38 percent of the healthy subjects to have elevated thyroid antibodies (indicating the body’s immune system attacking the thyroid). Another study reports that 50 percent of patients, mostly women, have thyroid nodules. If you have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism, it was most likely caused by Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune condition. When you put out the fire in your gut and the immune system, you may see your thyroid health improve and symptoms subside or go away.

Insulin Resistance or Leptin Resistance:
If you eat processed carbohydrates (including cereals, puffy rice, breads, bagels, pasta, cakes, and cookies), sugar (found in incredibly high amounts in most packaged foods), or processed proteins (such as protein shakes), it’s likely you have a problem with sugar. It first manifests with high and/or low blood-sugar levels (you feel cranky, unfocused, lightheaded, and tired when hungry) and ends up with a full metabolic disorder such as insulin or leptin resistance. Women suffering from high testosterone or PCOS tend to have elevated sugar levels or insulin or leptin resistance. The good news is this: These conditions are completely reversible with diet, exercise, detoxification, and stress management The key to balance is not too much or too little of any hormone. Where fat is stored in your body can tell a bigger picture—one of a hormonal imbalance.

See also 6 Tricks to Make Your Supplements Work Better for Your Body

Listening To Your Body

Once you know about the role of food in balancing hormones, you can create daily eating habits that work best for you. Certainly, eating a whole-food diet and an abundance of green, leafy vegetables while reducing the amount of processed foods, sugar, and alcohol in your diet is a good place to start. But there is no one-size-fits-all diet plan or nutritional protocol that will work for every single woman. You have probably noticed that the same food affects you and a family member or friend differently. Perhaps your best friend can’t stop talking about how great quinoa is, but you find it upsets your stomach. Or, you love fermented vegetables as a good source of probiotics, but your colleague can’t tolerate them, breaking out in hives and feeling itchy and anxious after just a bite. One person’s health food can be another person’s poison. The only way to find a diet that supports your health is to respect your body and listen to what it tells you about which foods are friends and which are foes. Start with small changes and the recipes here, and see what you notice.

See also Yoga for Women’s Health: The Best Pose & Acupressure Point to Reduce Irritability During Your Period

About the Author

Magdalena Wszelaki is a holistic nutrition coach and founder of the popular Hormones & Balance online community. Learn more at hormonesbalance.com.

Excerpted from Cooking for Hormone Balance by Magdalena Wszelaki, HarperOne, 2018. Reprinted with permission.



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Ayurveda

Postmenopausal Yoga Poses You Need to Keep Bones and Joints Healthy

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Enjoy your postmenopausal years by caring for yourself and continuing a steady yoga practice.

Learn the yoga poses that will help you continue a steady practice after menopause.

After menopause, you experience a drop in both estrogen and oxytocin (the love hormone). The decline of estrogen means postmenopausal bones can become brittle and joints can become stiff. The upside of this stage is that you’re done with the hormonal fluctuations that may have wreaked havoc on your emotional life. “Most women are elated that they are now free of the monthly changes, and they feel a renewed zest for life,” Brizendine says. For many, this comes at a time when the steep climb up the career ladder and the intensely demanding years of caring for children are over, and you can enjoy more time caring for yourself.

See also Yoga for Women’s Health: The Best Pose and Acupressure Point to Reduce Bloating

Adapting Your Practice for Postmenopause

Weight-bearing poses may help keep your bones strong and improve joint function. And a consistent asana practice can help maintain your range of motion and flexibility, but keep in mind that as your body changes, you might need to modify poses and use more props. Many women naturally gravitate toward quieter practices like meditation and pranayama in this phase of life. “We have given our lives to so many others for so long that now it’s just about coming home,” Northrup says. “The aging process doesn’t need to be about deterioration. That has always been a message of yoga.”

Real experience

Many yoginis are able to maintain athletic and dynamic practices well into their 60s. When de los Santos posed for these photos, she was 55 and taught at least 12 classes a week, and she enjoyed practicing advanced poses, like drop backs, (dropping back from a standing position into a full backbend). She can still do the same poses she did in her 20s, but after a lifetime of yoga, she’s keenly aware that that isn’t what really matters. “I know from experience that at any age or shape you can transform mind, body, and heart,” she says. She loves calming poses like Paschimottanasana (Seated Forward Bend) during times of stress. And when she can’t practice, she still cultivates yoga by being aware and appreciative. “I can honestly say that I feel bliss and happiness every day.”

See also The Truth About Forward Bends

3 Postmenopausal Yoga Poses You Need to Keep Bones and Joints Healthy

About the Author

Nora Isaacs, a former editor at Yoga Journal, is the author of Women in Overdrive: Find Balance and Overcome Burnout at Any Age. Learn more about her writing and editing work at noraisaacs.com.



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