This summer has pretty much kicked my butt. It seems like every week, the universe throws up some new and exciting challenge in need of facing. This summer, the main challenge has been the heat.
The prohibitive, oppressive, India-style heat.
For a Pitta body like mine, a hot summer like this one means I can’t work out like I usually do. I have to trade my Vinyasa Flow and Power Yoga classes in for a restorative and Yin-based practice, which means I have to explore new ways to workout that don’t build internal heat quite as vigorously. While on one hand, this is a bummer, I’ve decided to view this as a fun opportunity to try new things. Of course, I have my kettlebells to keep my muscles strong, but right now, I’m experimenting with Barre and Pilates and loving it. I’m actually writing a post about some of my favorite exercises, so I won’t go into depth here, but barre, pilates, and some light weight training are filling the void of rigorous vinyasa extremely well.
Another big part of cooling the body during summer is eating cooling foods and using cooling products. One of my favorite changes this summer has been trading in my usually breakfast scramble for a cooling coconut/almond milk based chia-seed pudding.
Chia seeds are commonly acknowledged to be a superfood, meaning they are rich in necessary vitamins and minerals, Omega-3 and Omega-6, and protein. A couple tablespoons of chia seeds in the morning is plenty to power you up and keep you full well into the afternoon. I prepare the chia seeds by soaking them overnight or longer in a mixture of almond and coconut milk. By the morning, they’ve jelled into a delicious prebiotic pudding which can be eaten as is or blended in a Cuisinart for a more yogurt-like texture. I like to put mine over fruit to make a little parfait.
This is a great food for Pitta people in summer because it is sweetened solely by the fruit, and the coconut/almond milk is extremely cooling. I like to eat this about 30 minutes after I work out to settle my body down for the day.
I usually follow this with a HUGE green salad around 3 or 4 pm, and chicken, seafood, eggs, or meat for dinner. Raw nuts and dried mango are always on hand for snacking, as well.
Coconut oil is incredibly cooling, so I’ve replaced all my body and hair products with my favorite coconut oil and coconut oil based products. I use it as lotion and salve for my skin and feet, post-shower moisturizer, lip balm, make-up remover and I use an ayurvedic coconut oil hair mask pre-shower to make my hair silky soft. Whenever I’ve had to step outside of the AC this summer, coconut oil has kept me from boiling up. Plus, it’s much cheaper to use coconut oil for everything than it is to buy endless lotions, conditioners, and moisturizers. (NB: I still wear sunscreen. Coconut oil does not shield you from UV rays)
Using these Ayurvedic techniques, I’ve managed to stay cool and healthy this summer.
What I’ve really struggled to do is smooth out the emotional stress of being hot all the time. For me and my S.O., being hot all the time means inconsistent sleep, sluggishness, and irritability. We’re both outgoing introverts, so when it’s just the two of us for the day, we’re fine. We don’t really talk to each other, except for minor interactions, until it cools down, and when one of us does say something unkind we’re self-aware enough to apologize (almost) immediately.
We really only run into trouble when you throw other people into the mix and give us no chance to escape. We’re both very socially competent, gregarious people when we have to be, but neither of us can entertain other people for more than a few hours at a time.
This summer has been all about people visiting and spending time with friends and family. I am so overjoyed to have gotten to see and bond with my friends and loved ones…and it has taken every ounce of mental energy I posses to keep a Sattvic outlook, and not permanently sabotage any of my relationships.
I guess, long story short, I have Ayurvedic cures for all my physical ailments. I just wish there was an Ayurvedic remedy for being a grumpy introvert…
If you had asked me a week ago if I was allergic to bee stings, I would have laughed out loud. How could I be allergic to bee stings? My dad keeps bees, and I partake of their honey every day. Everyone in my family has been stung multiple times, and it’s never been a big deal. I cohabited with bees for years without fear or suffering or anaphylaxis. Until last Sunday, I’d have sworn I was not allergic to bee stings. But I had (apparently) never been stung by a bee.
Last week I stepped on a bee at my local yoga studio, on the way from one yoga room to the next. I thought nothing of it. Sure it hurt like the dickens. Sure my foot swelled up. Sure I got a little giddy…then twitchy…then covered in head-to-toe hives…
…an hour after I was stung, I walked into the ER and all the nurses panicked. They walked me straight back into the room. Zero wait time. The doctor and her resident came and checked my airways while one of the nurses checked to make sure I wasn’t pregnant, and another ran my insurance.
The thing is, I felt pretty great! I was laughing and joking. I felt like I was on some really primo, pharmaceutical-grade drugs. Aside from the itchy, red welts on every inch of my body, I’d never felt better! If I hadn’t been warned of the dangers of repeated exposure, I might have run back to the hive in search of more stings.
It wasn’t until they gave me the steroid shot to stop the allergic reaction that I started feeling terrible.
Suddenly, all the endorphin dropped out of my system. I wasn’t itchy, but I also couldn’t keep my eyes open or free of tears. The life-saving medicine that had been administered to stop my severe allergic reaction had also filled me with despair. I felt so alone and so frightened.
I’ve been on the corticosteroids since that ER visit. They are no fun, but I’m still so grateful to have them. They’re keeping me safe from harm, even if my body hasn’t quite figured that out yet…
I know there’s a lesson in here somewhere. Something about not all things that feel good being good. Or the incredible miracle that is Allopathic medicine (which is easy to forget about when you use almost exclusively natropathic and Ayurvedic medicine).
I’m not sure what the lesson is, but it’s good fodder for meditation and a reminder that we can’t plan our way through life. Instead of starting the new morning abhyanga, yoga, and meditation routine I had planned for this week, I spent days in bed crying.
The Tapas, fire, and momentum I’d been building has been almost completely wiped out, but I’m committed to rebuilding. I’m not going to let one silly bee-sting and a course of corticosteroids stand in my way.
This is a letter of love and respect. It is not an attack. It is not an indictment of you as a teacher. I like your class. I want to come back. This is an open-hearted criticism.
Do not tell me to smile.
You don’t know what my day has looked like. You don’t know a thing about me.
Maybe I’m here to work off a fight I just had with my mother or my lover and I’d rather cry than smile.
Maybe I’m a waitress or a bartender who smiles at people all day for her money, and it feels better to relax my face for the first time today.
Maybe every time I leave the house, some guy on the street tells me to “smile, beautiful” and I’m just sick of smiling like an idiot for no reason.
Don’t tell me to smile. You’re not encouraging Sattva, you’re exercising control over my body. Control that I’ve worked hard for, every day. Control that I, as a fully fledged and independent individual, deserve to have over my own body.
If I had wanted to smile, I’d have smiled. But I sure as hell don’t want to now. Now I want to leave.
Don’t touch me
I don’t like to be touched. Especially not when I’m in my yoga class. Especially by someone with whom I don’t have a relationship. There are two people in this world I enjoy adjustments from, and they are both women. They also led my teacher training, and we have a deep bond of trust. You and I don’t have that bond. So don’t touch me.
I know you’re probably really good at adjustments. I know you probably love the feeling of someone’s hands guiding you deeper into your asana. I know it’s probably not sexual for you, that I’m your student, and you would never go there.
Still don’t touch me. I don’t care if you’re gay, or married, or I’ve come to your class every day for the last month. Do not touch me. Not a little massage at the end, not realigning my shoulders. No touching.
If you know me and feel comfortable asking, then you can ask to touch me. I will probably say no, but you’re always free to ask. A low murmur of “Can I adjust you?” is not disruptive…but your hand unexpectedly on my hip is.
So please, don’t touch me. I don’t like to be touched.
Don’t tell me “this looks beautiful”
This one is a little tricky because sometimes a mixed group of yogis is doing a really great job, collectively, practicing and vibing off of each other’s energy. That is beautiful, but there has to be a better way to say it.
It’s not fair, and I believe that what you mean is we are doing a good job, but “beautiful” is a charged word for many women. It can encourage people (especially women) to work to an unsafe edge, and it makes the practice about looking good instead of feeling strong.
I know that whenever my appearance is brought up, even in a positive way, it makes me very self-conscious, and the last thing I want to be on my mat is self-conscious.
This one is kind of a semantic quibble, but it’s something I notice in class every time it happens. It doesn’t feel good, and it can take me out of my practice. Switching up the verbiage to “This pose looks really strong” or “That was a really smooth transition” not only takes the focus off of the aesthetic of the pose, it offers specific positive reinforcement.
Of course, there are exceptions, and this one isn’t a deal-breaker for me. But it’s still something to bear in mind. Especially when teaching a room full of women.
Please keep teaching
There is ample space in yoga for men, even if it is a female dominated institution. You brighten my practice, and I hope you take this to heart so that I can keep enjoying your classes.
In Ayurveda, everyone’s personal well-being comes down to 2 things: Dosha and Guna. I’ve already talked a little bit about the 3 doshas (Although I’m partial to the fourth Dosha: Masala Dosha. Yummm!) If you need to figure out and learn about your dosha, check out that post here.
The Gunas: Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas; are a little harder to pin down. Unlike Dosha, you can’t use physical indicators to determine your Guna, and balancing them requires more than just diet and exercise. The three Gunas describe three different states of mind, and in order for a person to be happy and balanced, they must cultivate the expression of the Sattvic guna. The more Sattva you cultivate, the less the other Gunas will interfere.
Meditation is the only way to truly balance your Gunas, but before you can begin to cultivate Sattva, you have to understand and recognize the Gunas in yourself.
Tamasic people are lethargic and depressive. They tend to do less, be sleepy and are ignorant. When Tamas is our leading Guna, it’s very hard to find motivation, cleanliness, spirituality or intellectual elevation. The god Shiva is associated with Tamasic energy.
I remember Dr. John Casey say, during my yoga teacher training, that our cultural tendency to be tamasic is evident in our obsession with the supernatural, monsters, zombies and vampires. This is because Tamas is associated with the lower, baser plain of existence or the “underworld.”
Rajas is characterized by aggression, passion, and a fiery nature. For Rajasic people, self-interest is the number one priority. They are very taken in by worldly needs, money, accomplishments, and greed. Rajasic people tend to lack altruism and empathy. The god Brahma is associated with Rajasic energy.
The idea of expansion, imperialism and industry are all born of Rajasic energy. One one hand, Rajas promotes progress. On the other hand, it often does so at the expense of human goodness. Rajas is the dominant Guna of the middle world and is between Tamas and Sattva.
Sattvic people are healthy, happy, and pure of heart. They enjoy helping people and seeking out knowledge. They aspire to lead lives of comfort, pleasure, and intellect. If you have a naturally Sattvic nature, you are acutely aware of pleasure, happiness, and comfort and you seek to promote those things in your life. You also seek to lessen any pain, sadness, or negativity. The god Vishnu is associated with Sattva.
Artists, inventors, intellectuals and creators tend to be more Sattvic people. They see the value in cultivating a life of the mind and often enjoy lives of relative comfort and ease. The realm of the gods, or “heaven” is an elevated, purely Sattvic place.
The three Gunas are pretty clear, but it gets a little more complicated when you consider that Sattva isn’t actually the goal of meditation.
Ultimately, the goal of meditation and yoga is to rise above the Gunas altogether, but for the vast majority of us, that is unattainable in this lifetime. Embracing Sattva is seen as a good first step towards transcending our human nature, but Sattva is still very much connected to this world. People who embrace Sattva are attracted to pleasure and repelled by pain, and it holds them back from seeking true freedom from the world.
I’m neither educated nor enlightened enough to speak to what it means to transcend our humanity, but I know this much: transcendence is the ultimate goal.
I hope I was able to shed some light on what the Gunas describe and mean. I know it took me a long time and lots of reading to get even this basic understanding.
Let’s be very clear here: I am a yogi, not a lifter. But I still break out the Kettlebells every day. I don’t ever “pump iron”…but some poses are just easier and stronger with a little bit of extra weight in the right place.
Before I found Kettlebells, I couldn’t get a freestanding handstand or Kundanyasana, no matter how often I practiced. My hip flexors were tight because my rectus abdominis was weak. My balance was inconsistent, and my Hasta Bandha kept slipping.
So I started lifting kettlebells, and my practice started to grow right away. Now, I never practice without a set of kettlebells next to my mat, and I’m much stronger for it. Kettlebells have allowed me to find proper alignment, deepen stretches, and build abdominal strength I didn’t know I lacked.
Here are the my 8 favorite kettlebell modifications and exercises for yogis:
Malasana, or the yoga squat, is one of the most important asanas in any practice. It helps build stability in the feet and ankles, and openness in the low back and hips. It should be a comfortable, relaxing pose. However, if your sacrum, hips and ankles are tight Malasana can be one of the most uncomfortable, counterintuitive poses in your practice. There are conventional modifications you can use, such as putting a blanket under your heels or sitting on a block, but I find that using a kettlebell as a counterweight is better for finding the alignment of the pose in the long term.
You can see on the left, the unweighted pose looks…uncomfortable. His thoracic spine is curved, his shoulders are scrunched around his neck, and (even though you can’t really see it) his heels are off the ground.
After we added the kettlebell on the right, you can see how much easier this pose looks. His spine is straight, his neck is long, and his heels are firmly on the ground. You don’t need a lot of weight. I use an 18 lb kettlebell, for about 1 minute before I even attempt an unweighted squat. This encourages muscle memory for the correct alignment and builds a deeper practice over time.
The single legged deadlift is one of my favorite lifts since it’s basically just a weighted warrior 3. Start with a light weight, and slowly add more if you’re able to maintain your alignment the entire time. Make sure your hips are squared to the ground and your belly is firm. I usually do about 3 sets of 6-8 reps.
When you do this pose with a weight, it forces your core to engage, so your belly can’t spill out onto your standing thigh. It also forces the stabilizing muscles in your feet and ankles to compensate more quickly, which improves balance and stability in other standing poses.
SLDLs teach the strength and stability necessary to access warrior 3, Arda Chandrasana, Pavrita Arda Chandrasana and standing splits in a deeper, more connected way. They inspire confidence in balancing poses, which allows you to work more deeply into your alignment and strength.
Racked in warrior 2
One of my pet-peeves in yoga classes is when people are spilling forwards or sitting back too far in warrior 2. Warrior 2 is a strong pose that is meant to be held for an extended period of time to build leg, pelvic and core strength. Often times, when I see this pose, it looks like this:
or like this:
with no core engagement. Holding a racked kettlebell in your back hand forces the belly to engage, and solves this problem. I would suggest less than 20lbs for this pose.
Once your torso is properly engaged, you can start focusing on building strength in the front leg, lightness in the torso, and pelvic lift or Mula Bandha. This will deepen and strengthen the pose over time.
Bent Over Row
Without a weight, it’s impossible to find pulling motions in your yoga practice. We have lots of pressing and pushing motions, but we lack the basic and important skill of pulling. Luckily, if you have a weight beside your mat, it’s a very easy to incorporate a simple bent over row. Your basic starting position is Arda Uttanasana, with your legs slightly bent. You can do this row one or two handed.
If you’re trying to build back strength, this row coupled with your Chattaranga, plank, and inversions will get you there much faster than traditional yoga postures can do on their own.
Overhead press in Anjaniasana
Anjanaiasana is one of those poses where people sit in their flexibility. They let their belly hang out onto their thigh, their hips unsquare, and they overstretch through their hip flexor. Adding weight in this pose forces muscular engagement and proper alignment, which ultimately allows for a deeper expression of this pose.
You can just hold the weight racked at your shoulder, like we did in Warrior 2, but I recommend adding an overhead press. Not only does pressing the weight here build back and arm strength that can be very helpful in yoga, it also forces you to maintain that full-body muscular engagement rather than revert back to bad habits.
When it comes to my favorite things, deadlifts are right up there with puppies and handstands. I do at least 50 deadlifts a day. No only are they energizing and invigorating, they allowed me to find core engagement in a way that has made my yoga practice much, much stronger. One common error people make in yoga is cheating core work into the hip flexors. I know I used to do it. It was one of the big reasons my practice plateaued the way it did: I couldn’t engage my core and relax my hip flexors during Navasana and other core-centric poses. This means that instead of building strength, I was losing flexibility. Deadlifting bypasses this common stumbling block because it works your posterior chain and core without giving your hip flexors a chance to compensate. At the peak of this exercise, your hip flexors are fully extended, your core is tight, and your booty is tucked and engaged.
I use deadlifts as a prep for handstand and Kundanyasana, and throw in a set if my mind starts to wander while I’m trying to work. Every person, and especially every yogi, should be deadlifting regularly.
Skandasana is a very valuable pose that gets omitted in many practices. This deep, externally rotated squat encourages Mula Bandha pelvic engagement and inner thigh work that is hard to find elsewhere.
Adding a weight to this pose, especially in a Flow practice, forces the yogi to engage all the muscles of their pelvic girdle and inner thighs instead of just flinging themselves from one side to the other. I recommend using a light weight here, and getting a heavier one only when the light weight is no longer making a difference. Hold the kettlebell in front of you, and move slowly, with your Ujjayi breath, from side to side.
This is the deep external stretch, with weight
Skandasana is also a pose than can feel painful and futile if you lack the mobility to really get into it. Adding weight in a more stretch-oriented yoga practice can also be useful for accessing deeper flexibility the way we used it in Malasana: as a counterweight. Holding a kettlebell keeps your alignment good, and your muscles engaged while you settle into this deep external stretch.
Tadasana with heavy Kettlebells for Hasta Bandha.
Tadasana is, perhaps, the most important pose in the yoga lexicon. Every pose and all proper alignment stems from a centered Tadasana. I begin every practice by finding my alignment from the ground up, starting in Tadasana. Even if I then sit for meditation, I always find Tadasana first.
Almost as important as Tadasana is a strong Hasta Bandha, or grip. Hasta Bandha is key in any bound pose and every pose where you grab your foot, like chapasana or standing twist. By adding the heaviest kettlebell you can lift with one hand to your Tadasana, you can build Hasta Bandha and strengthen your posture and alignment. Ideally, you would use 2 lighter kettlebells of the same weight, but you can also switch hands halfway through your pose. Try to get 10 breaths on each side before you increase the kettlebell size.
(NB: You might have noticed that in poses where I’m holding weight in one hand, the other hand is in a tight fist. This is because making a fist strengthens the weighted hand’s grip)
Thanks for reading, yogis! Have fun, be safe, and grow strong,
Especially this last month, which has been particularly difficult and hectic. I’m sure you’ve noticed. How could you not? Mass shootings, world-wide political unrest, war, terror…June has been objectively terrible.
It started getting worse at the end of May: flat tires, minor accidents, scrapes, bumps, bruises, misunderstandings, and general tension. It’s been getting steadily worse ever since. On a personal, national and global level. Horrible things have been happening.
The personal level seems so inconsequential in light of national and global tragedy, but it’s very important. It’s the level over which we have the most control. It’s our daily interactions that make a day easy or difficult. It’s negative and positive interactions that make a day bad or good. More and more, I’ve noticed negative interactions:
Every time I leave the house, a car horn honks for no apparent reason. More of my friends and acquaintances have had breakdowns in the last week than in the last year. Every new interaction I’ve had has been on edge. Some have even been openly hostile. In one week two people at work had hospital-worthy injuries.
I’ve even noticed negativity in myself. I’ve been having knee jerk reactions to minor insults. Things I would usually laugh at or ignore have been sticking with me for days. I’ve been on eggshells in public, trying not to irk anyone or spark any anger. Out of the blue I’ve been saying mean things to and about the people I really care for. It’s like the mean words are coming out of someone else’s mind, but I can feel myself saying them. I can’t stand it.
So this weekend I decided to go on a #kindnessoffensive.
It takes a lot of energy, but it’s been worth it. Since my usually (more or less) Sattvic mindset has been subverted by edgy, anxious, angry Rajasic energy, I’ve been trying to have aggressively positive interactions with everyone I meet.
Someone stares at their phone while we’re talking? I compliment them. Someone cuts me off in traffic? I smile and wave. A server or barista is too tired to say more than “What do you want?” I thank her and tip 20%.
It’s exhausting, but it’s paying off. 3 different strangers yesterday thanked me for being polite. Until yesterday, I was pretty sure being polite was common practice.
Hopefully my kindness offensive is making a difference to the people around me. Even if it’s not, it’s worth it. I feel better. Instead of holding onto anger and hostility, I’m trying to practice Santosha; I’m trying to accept that doing my best is enough, even if anger and hostility is what I get in return. It’s hard, but it’s working.
I still don’t feel good, exactly. I can’t feel good when there’s this much pain and anger surrounding me. I am starting to feel better, though, and that’s good enough for now.
So I’m inviting you to join my kindness offensive. I’m daring you to find the rudest person you know, and shower them with love. I want you to selfishly attack everyone you meet with positivity and gratitude. I want your acts of kindness to be the most random and intense you can muster!
For your own sake, be a pushy love-monster. It feels damn good.
I’m sure you have, too. Vegetarian diets, Paleo, Atkins, Weight Watchers…The list goes on. We live in a world where even those of us who work out regularly, who limit dessert to once a week, who eat ALL of our leafy green vegetables often feel…less than our best.
It’s not right. It’s not fair…but it’s how it is.
I could tell you that you’re beautiful, just the way you are.
I could write about how every healthy body looks different.
I could tell you to STOP dieting!
Eat what you want!
Screw the consequences!
…but that won’t help you feel better about your body and it definitely won’t help you make healthy changes.
Instead, I’ll tell you the truth: Your body is unique, and different.
You were right, all along: Running is bullshit, carbs aren’t bad, hot yoga sucks, and cheeseburgers are delicious. Maybe you only agree with one of those statements or maybe you don’t agree with any of them. It doesn’t matter. You’re still right, because your body is different, special, and unique. So why do you expect a one-size-fits-all diet to work for you?
It won’t. It shouldn’t. Your body is always growing and changing, and through all that change, you remain unique. Of course, if you run 10 miles a day and only eat celery sticks you’ll lose weight regardless of your body type. But why would you do that? That’s not healthy, fun, or easy. Getting (and staying) in shape should be all three.
The easiest, most rewarding diet I’ve found is an Ayurvedic diet. Ayurveda is preventive medicine derived from Ancient Indian Scripture or The Vedas, if you want to be classy. According to the Vedas, diet is the most important medicine for all ailments, and everyone’s diet should be a little different.
The Vedas break this down into 3 Doshas (or body types) with characteristic strengths, weaknesses, needs, and traits. Eating for your Dosha can be the difference between easy weight loss, and ineffective, unhealthy dieting.
Every person is made up of a combination of all 3 Doshas, with one always remaining dominant.
Air or Vatta – Vatta people tend to be narrow and thin. They get cold easily, have trouble building muscle, and have dry skin and hair. Vatta people are very creative.
Fire or Pitta – Pitta bodies are usually medium build and muscular. They’re hard workers who prefer cooler climates. Pitta people can be moody and irritable.
Earth or Kapha – Kapha people are heavily built. They like to be warm and dry, and they have thick, healthy hair and nails. Kapha people are incredibly stable and easy-going.
To figure out your dominant dosha right away, take an online quiz like This One from Yogi Cameron. You can always see an N.D. who specializes in Ayurveda to get more specific information later.
Do the quiz now. It takes 2 seconds.
Yogi Cameron gave you a few pointers about what flavors and foods to steer clear of, but until you know more about Ayurveda and your body, here are some clear cut meal plans for each Dosha: Vatta, Pitta, and Kapha. If you want more in-depth info about your Dosha, find it here. Remember that all three Doshas exists simultaneously in you, and you might need to modify your meal plan, or retake the Dosha Quiz. At the end of the day, it’s your body, and you know best. If you have dietary things that already work for you, keep doing them! You can always add the Dosha meal plans on top of existing diets, because they’re so flexible. A few plans like Paleo and the Whole 30 diet work especially well in combination with Dosha meal plans, to determine where you should be getting your fats and carbs from.
You can also supplement your diet with Ayurvedic herbal supplements like Rejuena from 5 Elements Products, or SBM Fat Free from Dr. Sreedevi. These products help balance your body, so you see results more quickly. While there isn’t a one-size-fits-all, or even a three-sizes-fit-all, Dosha meal plans are a great place to start learning what foods work best for your unique body. Try mixing and matching dosha plans, and keep tailoring your diet until you’re the healthiest person you can be.