“The day you start to practice, your true progress will begin.”—Swami Kripalu
Yoga and Ayurveda are two “sister” practices that originated in India thousands of years ago. Now, a lot of us are familiar with yoga, and have experienced firsthand—through postures, breathwork, and self-inquiry—its profound benefits. Yet many of us are not as familiar with Ayurveda. We might have heard about it in conjunction with yoga, but are not quite sure how, exactly. In her R&R retreat workshop Yoga and Ayurveda, Senior Kripalu Yoga teacher Jurian Hughes points out that yoga means union in Sanskrit, and a definition of Ayurveda is the wisdom of life. Explored together, these complementary practices can offer us transformative tools that foster greater health and vitality. And as Jurian also explains, integrating Ayurvedic principles into your yoga practice can create a deeper, richer experience on the mat that you can take with you off the mat as well.
“Ayurveda isn’t a one-size-fits-all philosophy,” Jurian says. “We’re constantly in flux throughout the day: our energy level and our mood, for example, are different first thing in the morning than they are at noon.” Ayurveda, then, is a personalized, intuitive health philosophy. According to Ayurvedic principles, each of us has a unique constitution governed by our physical and emotional makeup, as well as our lifestyle—the foods we eat, what time we go to sleep. These constitutions are called doshas, and they are linked to the elements. The doshas are vata (air and ether), pitta (fire and water), and kapha (earth and water).
What You Believe and How You Digest May Go Hand in Hand
In this excerpt from their book, The Inside Tract: Your Good Gut Guide to Great Digestive Health, Kripalu Nutritionist Kathie Madonna Swift, MS, RD, LDN, and coauthor Gerard E. Mullin share insights on how cultivating a spiritual practice can help you reduce stress, recover from illness, and lead a life of wellness.
Many studies have demonstrated a connection between spirituality and lower rates of stress and even depression. Maintaining a spiritual practice can help people cope better with stressful situations, thus reducing their anxiety levels and lessening the impact of chronic stress. Numerous researchers have documented a link between spirituality and depression: Spiritually healthy practices like finding meaning and purpose in life, having an intrinsic value system, and belonging to a supportive community with shared values may reduce depressive symptoms. Since stress and mood disorders such as anxiety and depression have such a profound impact on gut health, it stands to reason that engaging in a spiritual practice could have a positive impact on stress-related digestive disorders, too.
Harvard cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson was one of the first to study the relationship between spirituality and health. He revolutionized the field by showing that meditating in a trancelike state reduces stress and improves health while simultaneously raising consciousness and spiritual awareness. Though his finding is still considered groundbreaking by many in the West, ancient cultures have integrated spirituality into healing for millennia. Shamanic priests were regarded as “healers” long before the development of pharmaceuticals, and meditation and prayer have been at the very center of healing practices since the dawn of time.
“Can you create the life of your dreams?” asks Susan B. Lord, MD, in her R&R retreat lecture Mindful Living. More often than not, however, creating such a life can be challenging. As Susan points out, our culture can be quite isolating, demanding, and overstimulating. We live in a society that promotes linear thinking; meanwhile, our intuition, what Susan refers to as “the gut brain,” tends to be set aside. Because of this emphasis on a linear, head-centered existence, many of us are divorced from our bodies, and thus removed from the intuitive wisdom that resides within. We neglect our bodies—and our intrinsic physical needs—by sitting, often slumped, in front of a computer for eight (or more) hours a day; by not drinking enough water; or by over- or undereating. Because of this, Susan notes, many of us deny what we truly need through temporary measures, such as seeking out comfort foods or other unhealthy distractions, whenever we feel stressed, agitated, or lonely.
By cultivating a sense of mindfulness in our actions and experiences, however, we can create more space in our lives and encourage our intuition to flourish.
One of the keys to tapping into our intuition and creating a more mindful life is to step back and dis-identify from your stressors. You can do this, Susan says, simply by observing your stressors without judgment whenever they arise, and perhaps writing them down. For example, are you so harried that you often skip breakfast and end up feeling cranky and depleted before you even get to the office? By noticing this habit, you could make a plan to set aside time each morning to nourish yourself with a healthful breakfast before jumping into the day’s demands. “Pay attention to your body and give it what it needs in the moment,” Susan says. When you listen to what your body is telling you, you bring more awareness into your life.
In this monthly series running through 2012, community members recall milestone moments to commemorate and reflect on Kripalu Yoga.
In 1972, a small residential yoga retreat called Kripalu Center was founded in Sumneytown, Pennsylvania, by Amrit Desai and several of his students from the Philadelphia area. Desai had emigrated to the United States from India, where he was a close disciple of the yoga master Swami Kripalu. Over the next 40 years, Desai’s students integrated Swami Kripalu’s core teachings with psychology, science, and Western approaches to healing and self-development, creating groundbreaking programs and approaches to well-being. Today, Kripalu’s curriculum, professional training, and yoga research continue to be informed by the lineage of Kripalu Yoga. To commemorate the 40-year milestone, we asked several teachers and community members to reflect on what Kripalu Yoga means to them.
As a Kripalu Yoga teacher trainer, there is nothing quite so moving to me as getting to witness yoga-teachers-to-be at the end of their training practicing meditation in motion. At the end of an intensive, life-changing month, I get to witness a room full of souls allowing their sacred yoga prayers to unfold. Each one unique, each one a beautiful gift. In these moments, I have to pinch myself and say, “Really? I get to do this?”
—Jurian Hughes, Kripalu School of Yoga teacher trainer
Chris McCann, guest blogger
Through winter-time we call on spring,
And through the spring on summer call,
And when abounding hedges ring
Declare that winter’s best of all;
And after that there s nothing good
Because the spring-time has not come -
Nor know that what disturbs our blood
Is but its longing for the tomb.
This poem by William Butler Yeats has haunted me since I first read it at 15 years old. I moved around a lot as a kid—Boston, New Hampshire, Georgia, New Jersey—and always felt most at home when I was in one place thinking about another. These eight lines by Yeats knocked me over, and made me wonder whether my desire for wandering was simply a self-deluding race toward the grave.
It’s an exciting season for foodies: Fresh local produce is at its peak! We know that gathering produce at the farmer’s market connects us to the earth and to our community, but is there a nutritional advantage to eating locally grown food as well? Harvard’s Center for Health and the Global Environment (HCHGE) reviewed the literature and came to similar conclusions. Those adept at using their senses to guide their health choices already know the answer—just notice the colors and aromas of produce from your garden compared to the supermarket.
To maximize the nutrient density (a measure of food quality that compares foods by nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants per calorie) of your produce, consider the farm-to-table path it takes. Generally, the longer and more complex this path is, the less nutrient-dense the food on your plate. According to HCHGE, the nutritional quality of produce depends on the variety chosen, growing methods, ripeness when picked, post-harvest handling, storage, extent and type of processing, and distance transported.
“The best way to remove a fault is to practice its opposite virtue. Practicing virtue decreases mental restlessness and increases happiness. Eradicate your bad character traits by strengthening good character traits.” —Swami Kripalu
Goddess Pose, or Deviasana, represents the feminine force that created the universe. Hara is a Japanese martial arts term meaning “center of being,” and it refers to the stomach, or solar plexus, where the body’s vital healing energy is generated. Goddess Pose, in combination with breathing from the hara, is a powerful way to revitalize and renew the body, mind, and spirit. When the body’s hara is clear and open, vital energy can freely move down through the pelvis and legs and into the earth for grounding. However, fear, pain, and anxiety can cause this energy to become blocked. Goddess pose with hara breathing opens up the hips and chest so that power, strength, and energy can circulate freely.
Ready to try it out? Here’s how:
My fiancé, Jim, and I recently participated in a wonderful program at Kripalu led by David Deida called The Sexual Body and the Yoga of Light. While we never talked about food or cooking during the program, I couldn’t help but draw some significant parallels. A large part of the discussions centered on recognizing and enhancing the natural polarities of masculine and feminine energies. We talked about what it’s like to have both strong and weakened states of polarity with our partners. For me, when the polarity was strong and we had a clear sense of openheartedness, the amount of vibrancy and energy between us felt most engaging and satisfying. When the polarity collapsed, or when it felt forced or came with an agenda (e.g. “I want something from you”), our energy felt unsatisfying.
After the program ended, it just so happed that I needed to go straight to the Kripalu Kitchen to cook a dinner for our Board of Trustees and our donors. As I pondered what to put in one of the appetizers and reflected on the program, I was reminded that cooking can simply be thought of as a dynamic dance of creating healthy polarity between foods.
The white halibut needed the richly colored charmoula sauce we drizzled on it. The Moroccan sauce, with its sharp cilantro and spicy paprika, needed the stabilizing flavor of the olive oil to balance it. The dense flourless chocolate cake was complemented by the light, citrusy whipped cream. And the list of how we used polarized flavors, textures, and ingredients went on.