Advice from an Arborist: Plant a Tree

This article was contributed by Robert Richardson, environmentalist and arborist who has planted over 1 million trees in the last 50 years. He currently lives, studies, and maintains forestry in the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon. 

It's no coincidence that your health and relationship with nature appear to be connected; a large part of personal well-being directly depends on the amount of time spent in and with nature. In reality, it goes much deeper, and research has demonstrated that not only is our mood affected, but so are the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems.

Simply put: whether we acknowledge it or not, we depend on our environment to survive.

Unfortunately, this is often overlooked (or ignored). In today's world, we often find it difficult to pull our eyes away from our phones, even while driving. Our relationship with nature has never been more disconnected in human history, and our health reflects that.

But there is good news. Nature is forgiving, and you reconnect with her by doing something as simple as planting a tree.

A Connection for the Soul

To some, digging a hole, planting a seed, and waiting for something to happen can feel, well, boring. But what this process teaches us is something profound. When done with intent, it spurs wonder and, more importantly, represents investing in another.

The importance of establishing real connections with living things besides other human beings is equally important to our spiritual and mental health as our interaction with family and friends. Whenever we place life in the ground, we are planting a connection to the earth: a friend. They remember us, they trust us. We become part of their life and they become part of ours, forever. When walking amongst the trees you've planted, you (and the trees) will feel an enormous amount of respect and appreciation of each other.

Just as planting a vegetable garden provides the body with nutritious, fresh food, so does planting a tree provide nutrition for the soul. Trees and relationships with them are just as easy to grow as a home garden, but they offer something even more rewarding, with a potential lifetime of enjoyment.

Step 1: Choose Wisely

The first step involves selecting the right tree. Take a good look at your natural surroundings and take note of the trees that grow wild in your area. Any nursery can help you identify and provide a selection of native trees for your project.

To insure the best success, replicating what occurs naturally is the primary rule. Non-native trees will be stressed by an unfamiliar climate and immediately attract disease or insects that they may be susceptible to, putting the tree's life and the whole environment at risk.

Step 2: Find the Perfect Home and Plant

The second step, then, is selecting the location. Take care not to plant under power lines, over water pipes and not too close to foundations or sidewalks. Consider the tree's size at maturity and determine if it will fit the area without needing extensive pruning at some point or another.

When planting specifically for shade trees, place them far enough apart that they provide for the the needs of the immediate area without impeding on each other or nearby structures.

Envision the tree when it is fully gown, many years in the future. Be sure to consider if your tree will affect neighbors, pedestrians or vehicle traffic in any way. Consider others in this: will the tree block a view, or impede someone from safely leaving their driveway each day?

Once you've chosen the perfect spot and researched the requirements for your tree, follow these general guidelines when planting:

  • Use 50% of the soil that comes out of the hole to build a berm, or bank/raised soil, around the hole. The bigger the tree, the higher the berm should be. The higher the berm, the more water your tree will collect.
  • Leave the other 50% of the soil in the hole, broken up as fine as possible. Take out any rocks or roots before mixing in your amendments, or compost.
  • Amend the soil you have left in the hole by mixing about 50/50 with some composted soil. You can make this yourself with food scraps, coffee grounds, and horse or cow manure.
    • Llama "beans" (poop) are probably the best manure to use because they are ready for immediate use. Otherwise, be sure to give your compost about four months to cure.
  • When planting, have your compost mix, water and mulch ready. Place the tree in the hole quickly and try not to expose the roots to the air for too long. Make sure the roots are loose and pointed downwards, by lifting the tree slightly as you backfill your hole.
  • As you place the root ball in the hole, add enough water to make the soil muddy. Saturate the mixed soils to remove air pockets. The top of the root ball should be slightly higher than grade. The berm should be at least 6 inches above grade. Your first watering should fill the berm to the top without spilling over. Take note of how long it takes for the water to drain dissipate. Water again only when the top of the root ball is dry to the touch.
  • If you need stakes, avoid hitting the root ball when you drive them into the ground and tie the tree loosely between them. Be sure to remove the stakes and ties when the tree can stand on its own, usually after two years.
  • Use a thick layer of wood chips or chunks of bark to cover the berm all the way around. You may want to place a something larger to use as a shade block on the southwest side of your tree's root ball to be certain that your mulched berm retain a maximum amount of moisture. This is critical to long term health, as it provides a way for the tree to collect and conserve water which keeps the root ball cool even during hot, dry months or during prolonged droughts.

Step 3: Looking to the Long Term

The third step is ensuring long term health. If you've selected an indigenous tree and planted it in the right location, with your hole deep and wide and your soils amended properly, then the prospects of long term health are practically guaranteed.

Everything depends on your knowledge of the tree you select. Knowing the growth habit of the tree will tell you where to plant, how big it will eventually be, which determines the diameter and depth of the hole. The bigger the hole, the better the tree will grow. The bigger the tree, the more airspace in height and width it will need. Maintain the environment around the tree with its growth in mind. Likewise, remember that the berm is meant to collect and conserve rain. Visit the tree regularly to ensure the berm hasn't been broken by an animal or heavy rain.

The best part of planting a tree is coming back to visit and measuring its growth. Be sure to do this often.

Go Plant Your Tree

Remember that planting a tree isn't just for those looking to craft a connection with the earth. It's also a great activity for children. For both groups, it provides a simple and effective way for one to measure their own growth as the years pass. What's more, it teaches one the importance of acknowledging their relationship to nature.

So go outside, plant your tree, and reflect on what you've done. When feeling down or disconnected, take a moment to revisit your tree (or, orchard). It will do your body, mind, and soul good.


The Art of Spreading Positivity

Cultivating happiness is one of the most powerful practices in the world, and it's natural to human nature.

Aristotle tells us happiness the central purpose to human life and a great goal in itself. Confucianism holds that life's ultimate goal, too, is individual happiness, and that this must be met through peace. In Hinduism, yogis seek ananda, which, spiritually, is the pure bliss attained through union with the Highest Self – a form of complete happiness and alignment.

What's more, the natural pursuit of happiness goes beyond just the self. A simple example would be to ask any child what they want to be when they grow up. They'll likely provide an answer that's rooted in some humanitarian cause, whether that's fighting fires, stopping crime, or exploring the depths of space in the name of all people.

According to the schools of thought listed above, this tendency is also help others represents something else that is integral to our happiness: we share a universal duty to all people, and we must practice virtue to fulfill that duty.

Understanding this, it's clear there can be a real art to spreading joy. It's a sincere, duty-driven practice that is built upon intent and poised for a greater good.

Why Spreading Joy is a Duty

To Immanuel Kant, those who do good because they find pleasure in other's happiness are less morally virtuous than those motivated by a sense of obligation to help others. In other words, one should not be motivated by inclination – perhaps rooted in personal gain (happiness) – but rather by duty. This is more moral, in Kant's view, because it is our inherent duty to obey moral law, and moral law dictates that one should always act based on motivations that, rationally, we would want or expect everyone else to follow as well.

A similar belief is found in Karma Yoga. What grows karma is not action based in the interest of personal gain, but in action based in the duty to principles like ahimsa (non-harming) and satya (truthfulness).

Ponder on this, and reorient your mind if need be. Spreading joy isn't about making you feel good – it's about others. When you've come to the realization behind this point, consider the following ways to spread joy:

1. Be Bright

The way we greet others is a great first step when thinking about how we treat others. Positivity is contagious, and when prefacing a relationship, exchange, or simple morning commute acquaintanceship with a smile and kind "Hello!", you directly influence the tone and direction of the actions that follow.

2. Be Honest

A big part of spreading joy is honesty. Honesty, at times, can feel like a balancing act – how can you be honest while ensuring you do not also hurt the other person's feelings? – and one must be diligent and thoughtful when sharing their honestly.

While some situations are more precarious that others, the fundamental truth will always ring true: the more honest you are to another, the better trust you are able to cultivate. Trust forms a powerful bond, and what's more, a powerful place to grow happiness.

3. Be Sincere

If practicing duty is the basis of spreading joy, then practicing sincerity is the continued act of reassuring and reinforcing that duty. With every action, even if it is difficult, remain sincere in your efforts. You should authentically want to fulfill and complete your duty to others, just as you would expect them to feel authentically compelled when helping you.

4. Be Mindful

Even when outside your mindset of duty, as you work through your own life and day, be mindful of how your actions create ripple effects. Consider others on your own path, and be mindful of their happiness. Openly communicate if you predict tension, and be graceful with amicable solutions.

5. Be Proactive

Spreading joy isn't just about helping when one asks. Be proactive in your pursuit, and engage with others voluntarily, in advance of anyone asking. This could be as simple as volunteering your time at a shelter, or even surprising someone with a surprise when you know they are feeling down. See the opportunity and take it – don't always wait for it to come to you.

A Joyful Life

Carefully consider the above when thinking about how you spread happiness and joy in your life. And while you shouldn't be solely motivated by personal gain, don't feel guilty if it makes you happy to cultivate positivity. You, like everyone, deserve happiness. Now go out there and spread it!


Compassion

February's Theme: Compassion

With the Spring season on the horizon, the world slowly begins to wake from winter's slumber. Warmth and love radiants into February – discover more compassion with Yogi Surprise's February care package.


Aligning the Self with Mudras

The gestures and postures we make throughout the day serve to both affect and represent our state of being, from our levels of energy to our overall mood. As we know, part of the focus of yoga is to align this system of energy, allowing awareness to flow throughout the body and mind.

In the same way, mudras are meant to help impress meaning and form upon our state of being in relation to the greater existence of things, enabling us to control and direct it.

So what are mudras?

Mudras can most simply be thought of as hand gestures and finger postures, but the significance of their practice, as well as their meaning, runs much deeper in Eastern thought, namely Hinduism and Buddhism. Any encounter with Buddhist sculptures or ancient paintings in India, Tibet, China, Korea and Japan is likely to include an encounter with mudras.

The Philosophy Behind Mudras

Just as the asanas, or postures, of yoga focus on specific areas and energies, so do mudras.

Mudras are thought to represent a sign of inner-resolve, showing a resolution that is in some ways more powerful than one expressed by words. They are used to evoke the ideas of deities and divine powers in a highly stylized system of gestural communication. It is in this belief that by practicing mudras regularly and intently that one is able to directly affect their state of wellness – the positions we assume in our mortal body imprint a seal on the Ether, and a continuous stream of vibrations then impress the atmosphere. This can help one treat an ailment, as well as prevent one.

Mudras also affect the mental being. Their conscious practice helps to improve one's awareness of inner energy, and they promote one's ability to control it. The effect of this is both subtle and powerful, for it's when we are aware and in control of our inner energies that we are able to make the most of each moment. It is in this state that one is able to manifest positivity and dissipate negative thoughts and actions, the result being a graceful flow of energy and understanding.

Mudras

Mudras in Your Practice

The body is composed of five elements – fire, water, earth, air and Ether (space) – which are the very elements that compose the cosmos. In the hand, each appendage represents one of these elements:

  • Thumb: Fire
  • Index: Air
  • Middle: Ether (space)
  • Ring: Earth
  • Little: Water

These elements also correspond to specific areas and functions in the body, and by practicing specific gestures that connect fingers, one can affect the wellness of those areas. The five fingers of the hand regulate these elements in the body, helping one balance and maintain the self.

To learn how to perform specific mudras and the meaning behind them, join us on Instagram.

Aligning the self with Mudras


How to find Joyfulness

If one goal has proven to be most pervasive in humankind, it is the pursuit of happiness. As a people, we overwhelmingly focus on joyfulness, not always just for ourselves, but also for others. While some use a means of materialism and others employ spirituality or frugality, the end which we seek is often the same: the sensation of being content, happy, and alive.

But ask anyone of experience, and they will tell you the desire is easier to manifest than the reality. We want happiness, but it is often difficult to attain, especially for extended periods of time. Nevertheless, there are practices one can employ to better encourage and facilitate joyfulness and the sensation of being happy. These practices involve tuning both body and mind, and listening to one's self and responding in a positive, graceful way.

1. Eat Clean and Eat Honestly

Just as a comfortable, clean train eases the journey for the traveler across long distances, so does a comfortable, clean body for the soul. These vessels provide an environment for our consciousness, and the quality of that environment directly affects the quality of our consciousness.

Overly processed, fatty, and unhealthy foods directly contribute to an unhealthy state of mind. Not only do they often leave one feeling guilty, but they also harm the body, increasing risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other lifestyle diseases. They drain the body of energy, affect digestion, and can dampen mood.

It's recommended one follow a whole food diet, where foods in their natural form are prioritized. Likewise, one should be attentive with the source and ethics behind their food. Vegetarianism offers a widely used, intensely researched and respected diet, that does not exclude all animal products (such as milk, cheeses, and eggs).

2. Align Yourself with You, and Practice Grace

One of biggest hurdles in reaching happiness is ourselves. Yes, you.

The mind is an interesting place. It can seek shelter and reprieve in itself, and it can also shame and torment itself, providing no exit. In some ways, we think this way because many purport that suffering, challenge, and hardship are necessary phenomenons to experience in order to reach happiness. In fact, many Western beliefs and archetypes place suffering as an essential step to enlightenment.

But this doesn't need to be so. Suffering is simply the experience we allow ourselves to endure when we fail to craft accurate expectations of the world, and more so, fail to embrace incongruity between our expectations and reality.

To truly appreciate happiness, one must realize one major element of happiness: it is not a place, it is a direction. In the same way waves are a function of an ocean, you are a function of the universe, and it too operates in swells. There are none who are perpetually happy, forever freed from the devices of unhappiness. What the 'enlightened' realize is that they are already there, so to speak, and there is not magical place for which their consciousness is to exist. They exist in the now, regardless if it is subjectively good or bad. When confronted with rejection, failure or pain, they react in a positive way, marked by acceptance and understanding.

Is essence, they align themselves with reality of themselves that is presented, not expected. While one may work to influence their direction, they ultimately must accept the unchangeable reality that the universe presents one with.

3. Cross Borders (In Your Mind, Too)

A large portion of our unhappiness can be attributed to a unique phenomenon: cognitive dissonance. This occurs when one is faced with two contradictory beliefs, and can happen frequently when one is presented with unique customs and beliefs. For example, one may feel conflicted when finding truths in both monotheistic and polytheistic religions: how can both be true?

But this can come down to things as simple as heating system: the French, for example, when touring Germany in the 16th century, reacted in horror to the closed stoves heating homes in place of the traditional open hearth fireplaces. Philosophers like Montaigne thought exhaustively about this, reflecting on the merits of each heating system and the intellectual arrogance at play when judging heating systems that both offer unique benefits.

Keep in mind: we're talking about fireplaces.

To many, the one practice to ease this phenomenon is to experience more of it – to travel, to try new customs, and to push the border and boundaries of the mind. One must constantly expose themselves to new things to increase their comfort with the unknown. Embrace the strange, learn from it, and respect that it may be a equally good, or even better way, than your being once presumed.

How Do You Embrace Joyfulness

Upon reflection, ask yourself what keeps you from happiness and what pushes you toward it. What stresses deprive your mind of stability, and why? Are they devices of the body, of the mind, or of the society? Next, reflect on your reactions to those things. How do you choose to go about these feelings of unhappiness? What methods do you employ to fight it, or simple 'get over it'?

In this practice, remember to trust and listen to yourself and inner dialogue. Work to lean toward better practices, adjusting your mentality over time. Above all, practice sincerity in your pursuit of joy – only then can you truly find the direction.


What is Ayurveda

Ayurveda is a science of life (Ayur = life, Veda = science or knowledge). It offers a body of wisdom designed to help people stay vibrant and healthy while realizing their full human potential. - Deepak Chopra

Before the discoveries of modern science, medicine was often administered by sages, priests, or herbalists. These prehistoric doctors often specialized in just one ailment, unlike the doctors of today. And while these practitioners rarely were able to understand the chemical properties and processes that they employed, the vast body of medical knowledge that existed did in fact provide healthful suggestions and accurate diagnoses for many people.

Ayurveda was the traditional system of medicine for modern India. Rooted in powerful herbs, theoretical conceptualizations of ailments, and general philosophies on how to best live life, this system of medicine still maintains popularity, and is largely reinforced by modern science. This makes Ayurveda an excellent complement for modern medicine, especially in regards to living in the fullness of life.

Simple Principles that Define Ayurvedic Medicine

Ayurveda is more than a doctrine of identifying an ailment and providing a cure. Rather, it offers a comprehensive set of suggestions, guidelines, and principles to live your life by. Most are rooted in common sense principles, and are easy to adopt:

  • Eat a Colorful, Whole Food Diet: Ayurveda recognizes the benefits in diversifying your plate with many different foods that are many different colors. The point is not only to be aesthetically pleasing, but also because colors in food represent different nutrient profiles and antioxidants.
  • Practice Mindfulness: In addition to meditation, it's vital to understand your mind-body connection and how to listen to your body. Take time to quiet the mind, listen to the sounds of the soul, and be aware and present in the moment at hand.
  • Rest Well: Core to good health is good sleep. Ayurveda recognizes that sleep is the steward of the soul, and getting enough deep, refreshing sleep is essential for the proper functioning of body and mind. Avoid using substances to help you sleep, as they can create dependance and affect your body's natural rhythms.
  • Practice Healthy Rising Routines: A lot of how we feel during the day depends directly on how we start it. Wake at the right time, and practice healthy routines that strengthen your body and immune system throughout the day.
  • Understand your Digestive Power: "Agni" is our digestive energy or fire. This is what takes the goodness from food and puts it to work in our bodies. Support your digestive health by dining at a moderate pace, consuming hot water and ginger throughout the day, and providing your body with exercise daily. Practices like these strengthen that digestive fire.
  • Take it Easy and Avoid Stress: Notably, Ayurveda places emphasis on avoiding stressfulness or our human attempts to over control the Universe. An analogy can be seen right outside your window – the grass doesn't try to grow, it just grows. In the same way, just be yourself. Take what comes, and let go of what departs you in life. Working toward possessiveness and the avoiding the reality that you must accept changes in life wastes energy and clouds the judgement of a healthy mind.

Practicing Ayurveda with Modern Medicine

Fortunately, developments of modern science help add understanding, clarity, and support to many of the principles expounded by Ayurveda. And in the same way one gives ode to these developments, one should also understand that modern medicine too offers powerful solutions for health and wellness. (Occasionally, there can be a tension between these belief systems – but it's not necessary, as both can support to each other and ultimately help you lead a longer, healthier, and happier life.)

That considered, feel encouraged to adopt Ayurvedic practices into your life while also taking advantage of modern medicine. At the crux, they both encourage effective ways to provide your body with various nutrients, stress-free environments, and healthy daily activities.


4 Poses for Flexibility

Yoga as an exercise provides great benefit for the body. From improving joint mobility to growing lean muscle mass and improving your control of one's limbs, a daily practice means better health across the board. One great area yoga can improve the body is in the realm of flexibility.

For many in the United States, a sedentary lifestyle also means living with a low range of flexibility. Flexibility, in its most basic sense, is the ease at which one is able to bend, move, and stretch a body part. High flexibility means you're very able to stretch yourself. Low flexibility means it's difficult or painful to stretch.

Besides the fact that flexibility is important for many daily activities, improving one's flexibility can mean injury prevention, improved muscle and tendon strength (which means less muscle pain), and improved posture, which means decreasing one's likelihood to develop such ailments as back pain. Let's take a look at a few poses that help improve and grow one's range of flexibility.

1. Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

The Standing Forward Bend looks a lot like the standard stretch you may have done in PE classes – touching your toes – but it's crucial you remain more present with your body when getting into this pose. First, stand in Tadasana, with your hands on your hips. Align your hips to be in line with your feet, and slowly exhale as you begin to bend forward, arms out.

As you lower your body, feel encourages to microbend the knees to avoid hyperextension. This is the part of the stretch you has slowly work on removing as you improve your flexibility. Similarly, work on planting your hands, palms flat, in front of your feet.

Importantly, allow yourself a few solid, deep inhales and exhales while in this position. Adjust your knee bend and positioning of the hands to get a sense of where your body is growing in flexibility, and where it needs to work.

When releasing, bring your hands back to your hips then with torso straight, lift the body upright.

  • What You're Working On: Hamstrings, Calves, Thighs

2. Upavistha Konasana (Seated Wide Legged Straddle)

If you've ever attempted to sit cross legged and faced tight inner thigh pain, this is the pose for you. While sitting in Dandasana (seated, legs forward, back straight up), lightly lean back and open your legs to a 90º angle (the groin being the cusp of that angle). Bringing your hands to the floor to provide stability, rotate the thighs outward, keeping the knees point up toward the ceiling, and extend the legs out a few more degrees.

Slowly walk your hands forward, still on the floor between your legs. Remember to maintain the length of the torso, and avoid bending from the waist. Allow yourself to breath, and stay in the pose a few breaths, feeling the legs stretch. Raise the torso up when done.

  • What You're Working On: Inner Thigh, Legs, Groin

3. Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (Bridge Pose)

Laying with your back flat on the floor, begin by bending your knees and planting your feet flat on the floor. In an exhale, press your feet and arms actively into the floor while pushing your tailbone up toward the pubis, lifting the buttocks off the floor. Work to keep your inner thighs parallel to your feet, and your knees above your feet. Clasp the hands under your pelvis, and push them out toward your feet to provide stability.

Keeping your knees above your heels, push them outward and your lift your pubis toward the navel. Slowly lift your chin away from your sternum, then lift your sternum toward the chin. Strengthen the arms and broaden the shoulders, lifting the chest. Remain in the pose for several deep breathes.

  •  What You're Working On: Shoulders, Chest, Spine

4. Gomukhasana (Cow Face Pose)

Sitting in Dandasana, begin by bending the knees and putting the feet on the floor. Position the left foot under the right knee, and stack the right leg on top of the left, bringing both feet out toward the opposite hip, in a bit of a leg twist. Positioning yourself evenly on your hips, and provide stability if needed with a blanket or towel.

Next, inhale as you stretch your right arm out to the right, parallel to the floor. Rotate the arm inward, eventually hand your hands point straight down toward the floor (almost as if you're reaching to the center of your back). The palm of the hand will be between the shoulder blades. Next, reach out the left hand to the left, parallel with the floor. Rotate the arm as you reach back behind the torso, aligning your forarm with the hollow of the back. The back of the palm will be between your shoulder blades.

You'll likely feel the finger tips touching or within reach of reach other. If possible connect the palms (or use a Yoga Strap to complete the pose). Simply release and uncross the legs when finished.

  • What You're Working On: Thighs, Shoulders, Chest

Flexibility for Life

As you may have noticed, most of these poses do not require much else than firm ground to stand on. This makes these poses simple and accessible for almost anyone. Attempt to practice each post a few times a day, and within just a few sessions, you'll notice more flexibility and mobility, from shoulders to feet.


Atman and the Universal Self

Central to Hindu philosophy is the concept of the Self. This word in Sanskrit is "Atman." In essence, this is the totality of all being.

While conceptions of the self vary throughout eastern philosophy, including the different views shown in Buddhism and Advaita Vedanta, Atman in Yoga of Patanjali repreents directly to the connection between the human world (a microcosm) and cosmic reality (macrocosm). Here, the two are inextricably connected , in what's known as a monistic view of reality – the microcosm is fundamental to the macrocosm, and they are one.

It's this understanding that serves as a basis for much of Indian thought. Atman – the plane of reality that serves as the common ground of the universe – teaches us that our beings are fundamentally connected. Indian thought derives principles from this, such as ahimsa, and by understanding it ourselves, we can find ideas that encourage fostering a more positive, happier life.

Defining Atman

While you may first think of the "self" you identify with – that unique being that is fundamentally you – Atman is used in the most inclusive sense possible. It includes not only the self that is you, but also the self that exists, and makes up the entirety of the universe.

Ponder this for a moment: The idea suggests that all of existence, from the most basic forms of matter to the most complex, are made from the same underlying "stuff."

In many ways, it is difficult to understand the self in this context – that is, the context of the self being "everything." As philosopher Alan Watts recognized,

From the standpoint of logic, we can't say anything about everything...You have to be able to put it into a class. Classes are intellectual boxes. In order to have a box, there must what's inside the box, and what's outside the box....But when you come to what fundamentally is, you're without a box and cannot talk about it logically.

Watts explores the problem our minds wrangle with when posits that 'all is one.' As he explains, without something to compare it to – spatially or descriptively in some other manner – it's difficult to understand. An example of this would be to ask yourself, "Where is the Universe?" This question feels impossible to answer, for if we were to say it is somewhere, we would need to reference some other point of space: It's next to this other universe. It's over here which is defined by not being over there

But the purpose is not to confuse the mind – just because something cannot be put into a logical category, doesn't mean it doesn't exist.

Understanding the Self as All Selfs

Part of the reason the human condition is predisposed to have a hard time understanding itself is because an apparent disconnection exists in the world. While there are vibrations, energy, and matter that interconnects and binds us, our senses are not able to view all of them the same way we view our current material reality.

For example, it has been said that in a single vine, there are 100 good ideas. As so it is with people. But unlike the vine, or deeply connected forests for that matter, humans have no apparent physical connection to each other. There are no cords or wires connecting all of our existences. This predisposes a rational mind to believe, based on its limited sensory information, that it is separate from the rest of reality. Just as we do not notice the functioning of our nervous system, we do not notice the self.

But Indian thought encourages us to recognize that we do have one mind, and this is exampled in the patterns and similarities expressed by the universe.

Consider the continuity of the human body, just on a physical point of view – two eyes, two hands, two legs. Consider the shared experiences, and the archetypical patterns that exist in human nature and history. This is evidence of the interconnectedness not only of one species, but of all beings and all things.

The Usefulness of Atman & Reaching Moksha

The concept of Atman is useful for the mind and soul for several reasons, from encouraging one's self to be more compassionate to feeling a sense of liberation from worry. In fact, practicers of Hindu thought are directed toward the concept of Moksha – the experience of self-realization and self-knowledge. is one of four main goals in life In essence, when one is able to understand Atman and the self completely, they experience Moksha, seeing the connection of all beings, including them self, in the universe. When one reaches this, empathy, understanding, and love become more possible to follow and attain.

Take time to consider your own understanding of the universe, and while it may differ from exact Eastern thought, consider the implications of the concept. Would you live your life differently with the understanding each and every person, and being, is central to what truly is you?


3 Yoga Sutras that Inspire Connection

The Yoga Sutras – chances are, you've heard of them, or been read a few Sutras aloud in a yoga class. These powerful messages, sometimes called 'threads' in this context, weave understanding into indirect and direct experiences as experienced by the self. They provide both a place of reflection and learning, encouraging one to see past the falsehoods of the mind, and instead, to find the true Self. Yoga, as we know, means union – the connection of the parts of the self, from one's senses, actions, body, breath, and states of consciousness.

Below, we'll examine three Sutras that pay special ode to connection and the oneness a yogi should see, and practice, in all. These Sutras encourage us to see the union in the world around us, and within us.

1. bandha karana shaithilyat prachara samvedanat cha chittasya para sharira aveshah

Translation: By loosening or letting go of the causes of bondage and attachment, and by following the knowledge of how to go forth into the passages of the mind, there comes the ability to enter into another body.

While it may sound somewhat mythical, this Sutra speaks both to one's own spiritual ability to guide another and the inescapable connection we share with others. Though we identify with ourselves and our body, this sutra encourages us to let go of that identification, and see that we exist within all that we see before us, including others. Allow the view of the one-self to become undone, and lessen your sense of identity as it is derived from the body alone.

2. ahimsa pratishthayam tat vaira-tyagah

Translation: As a Yogi becomes grounded in non-injury, others will naturally lose any feelings of hostility.

You may recognize this Sutra from the Five Yamas. Known as the principle of 'ahimsa' or the non-harming principle, this Sutra breathes connection into our practice by reminding us that by becoming centered in a philosophy of non-injury – or, when one that understands that the world around then is truly one with them – others naturally lower their hostilities. Positivity begets positivity. Remember to practice this with all being and all people, for the practice itself provide reward and protection for the Self.

3. maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam

Translation: In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.

In this sutra, the yogi is encouraged to remember that each form of mentality is in itself a form of meditation. Many schools of meditation actually center their methodology around one of these attitudes – friendliness, compassion, goodwill, or indifference. However, it is important to realize that each attitude itself is simply a step on the road of realization, and this Sutra highlights attitudes core to escaping or avoiding negativity in general, without avoiding the actual person exhibiting it. It's suggested we cultivate an opposite attitude of this when confronted with this negativity.

Allow Connection in Your Life

When one begins to breathe in the understanding of connection into their practice, the very forms of positivity spoken about in the sutras become evident. Naturally, the living, evolving universe around the Self becomes more positive and more connected, and it's driven the Self's own understand that all is indeed one, and one is indeed all. Ponder on these sutras and what they mean to you in your own life. What lessons can your practice learn from them?


Vegetarianism and Yoga

Whether you're a seasoned yogi or just starting the practice, the question over vegetarianism and yoga can be difficult to answer. You may eat meat yourself, or you may not, but encounter many meat eaters in your yoga classes or on yoga retreats. The result is often the same: heated discussions about what is right or wrong – yoga is deeply connected to vegetarianism and to leave out one part of the lifestyle for your own enjoyment seems contradictory to the very reasons one would become a yogi.

Unfortunately, sometimes these conversations can become more driven by opinion and judgement, and less by what is actually at play. So, can you be a yogi and not be vegetarian?

Bhagavad Gita and Vegetarianism

Traditionally, yoga is a practice that runs parallel to a vegetarian diet. In fact, many founding texts, including the Bhagavad Gita, yogis are provided with philosophical underpinnings that put emphasis on what many see as vegetarian principles:

  •  “If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit or water, I will accept it. O son of Kunti, all that you do, all that you eat, all that you offer and give away, as well as all austerities that you may perform, should be done as an offering unto Me. In this way you will be freed from all reactions to good and evil deeds, and by this principle of renunciation you will be liberated and come to Me.” (Bhagavad Gita, 9.26-28)
    • Interpretation: Krishna mentions leaves, flowers, fruits and water – not meat. Krishna says this because when food, or anything, is acquired in the means of tamaswhich advocates darkness and death, or rajas, which is rooted in passion, it causes pain to the object of the eater. This is counterproductive spiritually, and goes against the Yama's, including "non-harming" or  ahimsa. Therefore, one should not eat meat.

 

  • "Foods in the mode of goodness increase the duration of life, purify one’s existence and give strength, health, happiness and satisfaction. Such nourishing foods are sweet, juicy, fattening and palatable. Foods that are too bitter, too sour, salty, pungent, dry, and hot, are liked by people in the mode of passion. Such foods cause pain, distress, and disease. Food cooked more than three hours before being eaten, which is tasteless, stale, putrid, decomposed and unclean, is food liked by people in the mode of ignorance.” (Bhagavad Gita, 17.7-10)
    • Interpretation: The assumed benefit of a vegetarian diet falling along the first descriptions have been corroborated by modern science. Vegetarians have a reduced rate of heart disease, types of cancer, diabetes, obesity, and hypertension. Vegetarian foods are the main source of nutrition for almost everyone in the world, whereas non-vegetarians sources of food are often a passion-driven choice. This is another reason why one should not eat meat.

 

  • “One who is not envious but who is a kind friend to all living entities, who does not think himself a proprietor, who is free from false ego and equal both in happiness and distress, who is always satisfied and engaged in devotional service with determination and whose mind and intelligence are in agreement with Me—he is very dear to Me.” (Bhagavad Gita, 12.13-14)
    • Interpretation: If one was a kind friend to all living entities, one surely would not slaughter and consume them. It's simply not possible to attain meat without breaking a rule of kindness, compassion, and friendship to a being. This is also mentioned in the Manu-samhita (5.48-49), where it is also said that "By not killing any living being, one becomes fit for salvation." (6.60).

What we have above is a compelling set of groundwork for a vegetarian lifestyle for yogis. When one begins to understand the fundamental tenets by which a yogi is directed to live by – generally characterized as one that is accepting, loving, compassionate, and open-hearted – it becomes difficult to determine scenarios when stepping outside a vegetarian life would be alright. What would be the cases?

Some Arguments Against Vegetarianism

So when may a yogi argue against a vegetarian diet?

  1. During times of holiday or family dinners, it may be more acceptable to eat non-vegetarian food, as it could be considered rude or hurtful to refuse dishes. Your hosts may interpret your refusal as a smug rejection that their food is somehow unholy or unfit for your consumption. This offense itself can violate ahimsa.
    • Answer: While it's important to not offend, it's also important to lead as a yogi. There are many ways to politely decline a dish, and many find support from their loved ones, who may soon begin accommodating the diet wit special dishes during the holiday. You  do not need to give up your beliefs every time someone may find them confusing or offensive, especially when it comes to your personal diet.
  2. The Bhagavad Gita argues we have equal vision with animals, (Bhagavad Gita,.5.18), but it also says that all living entities are precious and have souls. How are plants any different? Are they not too living, feel pain, and attempt to always survive? Why deny the presence of a soul in these beings?
    • Answer: This is true – leaves, fruits, and vegetables are all living creatures. While one can accept that life inevitably lives on life, the Bhagavad Gita, and teachings of yoga, express that actions based in darkness purely for darkness or passion purely for passion are the actions to avoid. The fact of the matter is that people do not need to eat meat to live. You can be a vegetarian and consume life energy, even from daily products and eggs. However, to consume foods that are not necessary, like meat, is to be living in passion. One should not live beyond their needs.
  3. Ahimsa and other lessons in yoga teach people not to harm others. Why is casting judgement on non-vegetarians any different? Isn't this a violation of the very principles that are applied to meat-eating?
    • Answer: Like passing on food offered by family, it is not wrong to stand up or advocate certain beliefs, and you may encourage the person to be better in the process. Do not cast judgement, think poorly, or speak poorly of non-vegetarians. Simply state the principles by which vegetarianism is based, and let them be.

An Exception: How You Could Eat Meat and Be a Yogi

While the arguments in favor of vegetarianism can be compelling, it's also difficult to see a devoted, kind, and compassionate yogi who occasionally eats meat as somehow "less than" another yogi, as touched on by the last point above. And again, one should never look down their noses at another. As a yogi yourself, though, and if one is remaining strict to vedic texts, meat-eating is a behavior that the yogi should work on, even if its gradual – their life and health could greatly improve because of it

But is there ever a case for a yogi to eat meat? Perhaps.

Technically speaking, the Bhagavad Gita doesn't expressly condone eating meat. It does condone killing animals without remorse, in haughty or wicked means, and it does state types of food that are arguably better for the body, mind, and soul. But it's here that one may see Krishna offering shades of grey in the explanation. For example, if one was journeying through the world, away from modern convenience, and had no source of nutrition or sustenance other than a non-dairy producing animal, would it be alright to eat its meat?

Arguably, it would.

While this is a limited case, it may be difficult to find justification for starving yourself (or your family) because it is somehow holier than consuming an animal. In a zero-sum game, where your actual means of survival, depends on either short or prolonged consumption of meat, it's very understandable to be non-vegetarian. The question is, is this case true for you?