Ahimsa: Non-Violence

April 13, 2018

“Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu.”

It’s only fitting that after coming off a month of studying and embodying the practice of Brahmacharya (right use of energy), we now look to create more mindfulness around who we are being – with respect to others, ourselves, and the world around us.

Ahimsa, defined as “causing no injury; non-harming”, is the first of the five Yamas along Patanjali’s Eight-Limbed Path, and is essentially the embodiment of non-violence in all aspects of life. Everything we do – from the words we speak, to the thoughts we think, to the actions we take – gives us the power to either cause healing or harm. Ahimsa asks us to conduct ourselves with compassion, generosity, and kindness – always. In it’s purest form, Ahimsa is the highest expression of unconditional love toward every living thing, including ourselves.

Violence isn’t always outright and obvious, as in physical altercations (though this is certainly part of it); Sometimes, violence is subtle and abstract. Self-defeating negative thoughts, holding grudges against those who’ve wronged us, spreading gossip, jealousy, and shame – all have the capacity to cause harm and suffering.

Consider how it feels – physically and emotionally – when you get riled up in the face of confrontation and begin preparing yourself for a fight. Your breathing and heart rate speeds up, your skin feels hot, your jaw tightens and your muscles tense, and your body goes into “fight or flight” mode. And whether or not any fisticuffs were exchanged, you continue feeling the effects of this stress response long after any raised hackles have subsided – sometimes for hours or even days later.

Now consider how whenever you feel jealousy or shame, or when you speak damaging and self-defeating words to yourself or to others, your body enters into the same stress response. Heart racing, hot skin, that sinking feeling in your stomach – all tell-tale signs of fight or flight – even though you aren’t actually in any physical danger. Your body still feels the violence your thoughts and words are inflicting. Over time, the cumulative effects of this stress response wreak havoc on your nervous system, causing damage and harm. Similarly, those on the other end of your damaging thoughts and words often experience the same reaction, and the cycle of violence continues.

Ahimsa gives us the opportunity to stop that cycle in it’s tracks. To choose love, kindness, generosity, and compassion at every turn.

In every moment, we have the power to choose who we are being.

When you’re running late to work, and the person in the next lane wants over in front of you, you have the power to choose whether to practice ahimsa and let them in, or to selfishly cut them off. When your coworker says something that raises your hackles, you have the choice to react by saying something unkind, or to practice ahimsa by pausing, taking a deep breath, and letting it go. Conversely, when you see someone on the train acting violently toward another passenger, you have the choice of sitting by and doing nothing, or to practice ahimsa by standing up to protect the person being victimized. When you default into “I can’t do this” or “I’m not that” thoughts in your head, you have the power to believe the lies of your story, or to practice ahimsa and flip the script into something powerful and positive.

At the end of the day, our choices and our actions do not exist in a bubble; As we engage in the practice of Ahimsa, everything – from our interactions with the people we meet, to the products we choose to purchase, and the companies we choose to support – all comes together to create either a chain reaction of loving kindness, compassion, and generosity, or one of continued pain and suffering.

Many people talk about wanting the world to be a different place, without ever taking any actual action to change it otherwise. The practice of Ahimsa – day in, day out, with each passing moment – empowers us to walk through our lives with an eye toward creating that very world we desire.

Raise your voice. Raise your vibration. Rise up and live from love.

Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do.”

It starts with us. It starts with YOU.

What becomes possible when you live a life of love? Patanjali (and all of us here at Five Peaks!) invites you to discover it for yourself, by walking – gently and steadily – along the Eight-Limbed Path. And at the very beginning of that road? The very first directive along that path? Ahimsa.

We are so excited to feature a guest post by one of our very own #Tribe5 members (& current Yoga Teacher trainee!) Melissa Beaver. Read on to learn more about Melissa’s work as an energy healer.

I often do not reveal that I am a Reiki Master and practitioner to many people, as they often have no idea what Reiki is! Some people may have heard of the term, others never have, and yet others have a skewed concept of what it is and what it can do. I have heard it all, and I am here to set the story straight!

Reiki (Rei = “life force”, Ki = “energy”) is an energy therapy that addresses the body’s autonomic nervous system; It works to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, and bring the body into homeostasis.

Really? There is science behind this? ABSOLUTELY!!!

“Healers have an understanding that we have a physical body surrounded by an energy field. When we become unwell physically, emotionally, or mentally, this has an unbalancing effect on our energy field. A healer channels energy through his or her hands, and by the gentle placement of hands on the physical body (or just above it), to facilitate the re-balancing of the energy field, which in turn may ease symptoms physically, mentally, and emotionally.” (Reiki and Healthcare, Annie Buxton-King)

I found Reiki when I was looking for ways to ease my Fibromyalgia pain. I was amazed at the many physical benefits of this therapy, and was surprised at how my depression lifted. I had restored energy, was thinking clearly again, and finally felt balanced from the inside out. I had my life back, and had found a new passion along with it – to learn Reiki, and educate people on how beneficial this therapy can be!

Reiki is used in many ways: to relieve stress and restore the body back to homeostasis, to reduce the side effects of chemotherapy in cancer patients, and the severity of symptoms in patients with Multiple Sclerosis (MS) and Lyme Disease; It is used in hospitals before and after surgery to lessen the body’s “shock” response, and initiate (and speed up) the body’s healing processes; to help practitioners find a sense of calm before a big event… and so on. The list goes on.

What does a Reiki session look like? Well, pretty simple, actually. You just lie on a table and breathe! You can chat, sing, sleep, or snore. Anything goes! It is your restorative time. I use light touch, starting at your head, working my way to your shoulders, arms, back, and feet, down one side and then up the other. You may feel some heat, a tingling sensation, or the energy moving like a wave throughout your body. The energy knows where to go and will do what it needs to do. Your self-healing mechanism kicks in and does its thing. It is pretty amazing, really.

I tell people in order to better understand Reiki, you need to experience it! This may be out of some people’s comfort zone, but who knows? It was completely out of my comfort zone when I first tried it, but I am so happy I did. Reiki has become part of my health and wellness puzzle.

Recently at Five Peaks, we learned through the 40 Days to Personal Revolution program that there are many aspects to living a healthy life, including physical movement (yoga practice), healthy diet, healthy mind (meditation), and finding time to restore the body. Our individual wellness puzzles have pieces that are fluid and changing. Maybe one day we really need to key in on our practice or our diet, and the next week, our bodies remind us to take time to just be. Finding balance in our bodies and minds is key.

Reiki has been a fluid piece in my puzzle for years now, and I find it is an integral player in my continued healing. Find your wellness puzzle pieces, and take the time to try something new if what you have tried in the past does not seem to be working for you anymore.

If you have any questions about Reiki, please don’t hesitate to reach out! You can contact me at: mbeaver@reikiofnova.com, or give me a call at 703-932-1404.

Thanks for taking the time to read and learn about Reiki! I look forward to flowing beside you at the studio soon!

~ Melissa

Five Peaks recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of our incredible Tribe5 members, Loriana Hernandez-Aldama, about ArmorUp for Life – her passion-project charity that grew out of her experiences battling Leukemia after her initial diagnosis in 2014. Our Good Karma Community Flow, every Friday at 4:00pm, supports ArmorUp for Life by helping provide funds to purchase fitness equipment for local hospitals and cancer patients who are currently battling against cancer, so that they, too, can become “Fit to Fight”. Read on to learn more about Loriana’s story, and the work that she and Armor Up is doing in our local community.

Five Peaks: Tell us a little bit about yourself! What got you started along this path?

Loriana: I’m a former local and network news anchor and fitness/health reporter of more than 20 years, turned cancer survivor/fighter and advocate. I turned that advocacy into a non-profit called ArmorUp for LIFE. I founded the non-profit from my bedside after struggling to understand how the “clean eating, green drinking, yoga enthusiast and on-air health coach” could get cancer. After my diagnosis, I felt I had to answer to my viewers, who were asking so many questions. I asked my doctors why I’d wasted my time doing everything right, only to get diagnosed with cancer anyway. My doctor said, “You have it all wrong. The more FIT you show up and present yourself to us, the more aggressive you can fight. Put your Armor on. You will be here for a year separated from your (2 year-old) son, and stay focused. ” He went on to say, “Take a look around the hall. Not everyone’s chemo bag is the same size. You may all have leukemia, but you don’t all fight the same. We have to tip-toe around other problems that get in people’s way, like diabetes, obesity, and high blood pressure. They will get a smaller dose.” IT was the light bulb moment for me and the biggest story of my career, and I needed to shout it from the mountain top… What you do each day, how you live your life, what you eat, how much exercise you get, how much stress you allow in, all determines how well you show up to YOUR fight, whatever that fight may be AND… your ability to fight and your dose will be directly correlated to your health and fitness level. This was MY BREAKING STORY!

Five Peaks: That’s incredible. How does your yoga practice fit into all of this?

Loriana: I practice yoga because I truly believe it is amazing for the mind, body, and soul. I started practicing yoga in 1999 when I did a story on the power of yoga for one of my fitness stories, and I never looked back. I have seen people walk in broken, and walk out of class 6 months later standing tall with no back problems, emotionally grounded, and all-around feeling better. I have been in awe of the impact I have seen on those who practice yoga and make it part of their lives.

Five Peaks: Tell us some more about Armor Up For Life

Loriana: ArmorUp for LIFE is a non-profit with a dual mission: 1) To help everyone “armor up for life”, and get their bodies prepared for the unexpected – so that they, too, can receive the most aggressive treatment possible for whatever comes their way; and 2) To use the money we raise to help those currently engaged in the fight against cancer “armor up” through diet, exercise, lifestyle, spiritual, and financial fitness. When I was hospitalized for an entire year, I had a tribe, and even better I had a “pit crew” of friends/viewers/professionals come to my aid and help me on all those levels throughout my fight and even after my battle. At ArmorUp for LIFE, we want to be that “pit-crew” for every cancer patient.

Five Peaks: How can the Five Peaks Power Yoga community help ArmorUp for LIFE achieve it’s mission, and serve our local community of individuals fighting cancer?

Loriana: The Five Peaks Power Yoga community can get involved in so many ways. You can donate your time as a volunteer to help the following ways:

• Donations – Money raised will be used to host events at cancer centers to raise awareness of fitness with cancer patients and give them the tools their need for success. (Fitness gear, healthy snacks, medical massages, sponsor a patient, pay for house cleaning, or fund getaways for patients to make memories).

• Collect new or gently used fitness gear (clothing, sneakers, yoga mats)

• Secure partnerships with any businesses to help ArmorUp for LIFE on a larger scale. (Can your business help fund or sponsor a medical massage for a patient? A trip to make memories? Contact us!)

Five Peaks: What is some advice you can offer to our community here at Five Peaks that can help everyone “Armor Up” for life?

Loriana: My advice for everyone, yogis included, is that we often check off all the boxes to a healthier lifestyle and think, “Oh, this will never happen to me,” but the truth is, it CAN happen to you. Your life can flip upside down in an instant. It’s not just eating right and exercising. Sleep, and stress levels, are critical. Did you know that cancer is caused by inflammation in the body? And guess what causes inflammation? Chronic stress. So yes, there is a wheel of success that includes diet, exercise, lifestyle and stress, alongside spiritual and financial fitness. You have to find balance, and incorporate all of this into your life. Yoga is the perfect way to achieve this, but you can’t just show up for your yoga class and leave… You have to practice this all day, every day.

Five Peaks: Is there anything else you would like our community to know?

Loriana: I am available for speaking engagements to share the ArmorUp for LIFE story, and the money raised helps fund the non-profit and further promote the mission.

Our Five Peaks’ Tribe is kicking off the month of March with a sense of triumph and inspiration as we complete our 40-Days to Personal Revolution Journey. Of course, as many of you have already discovered, this is only the beginning. Whether you participated in the program or have been sowing your own karmic seeds through steady practice and study, you have set major shifts into motion. I’m full of hope and wonder as to how our community will grow from here. 

In this spirit, we step from Tapas (fire and drive) into the practice of the fourth Yama: Brahmacharya, or, right use of energy.

Brene Brown says, “Discovering, developing and sharing our gift is a spiritual practice; its one way for us to grow stronger in our faith.”

 

Many of us are stepping into Spring with a heightened sense of clarity and urgency around our purpose. Brahmacharya, which translates as “behavior which leads to Brahman (the divine),” points to our immense power of choice. Sometimes large (moving to a new city or getting married) and most often small (what we eat and what we say yes/no to), the choices we make each day are what lead us toward or away from our divine path. To practice Brahmacharya is to bring the mindfulness you cultivate in your meditation and asana practice to even the smallest choices in your day.

At Five Peaks, we practice Brahmacharya by measuring every business opportunity that arises against our mission. We are here to build a heart center in Loudoun County; a community of healthy, connected and empowered human beings eager to share their light. Before making any decision, we ask ourselves first, “How will this opportunity strengthen the pulse of our heart center?”, and if the answer is unclear, we set it aside as unneeded distraction, and create space for a better opportunity.

In my personal life, I use my meditation practice and daily planner to keep my Brahmacharya game on point. I begin every day with a meditation to quiet distracting thoughts. In my planner, I write down my intention for the year, and set monthly goals to move me forward. Every day of the week, I organize my tasks each day based on how well they will support me in my intention.

Michael Hyatt says, You lose your way when you lose your why.”

Life is rich with opportunity and obligation. Sometimes it is hard to discern the two! It can be tempting for me to say yes, yes, yes, until I find myself overwhelmed and paralyzed by what I have taken on. There was a time when I closed my eyes and saw my life as this intractably knotted ball of yarn – no give or space available for the experience I wanted to invite. That is not a very skillful way to live or feel! I knew that I wanted to live a life full of connection and meaning – and that yoga was a powerful access point to me for both. I started going to class at 6:00 a.m. three times a week until I was able to sneak into the noon classes on my lunch hour. I kept carving time and carving time until one day my experience of time for self care felt abundant – even in the midst of a full-time job, two babies, and teaching yoga. I continue to be amazed by the ELASTICITY of time when I am engaged in right action. 

 

Anchoring my personal and professional commitments to my intention enables me to prioritize and stress less about the tasks I choose to pass by. I find rest and connection land much higher on my priority list than they might otherwise. In the practice of Brahmacharya, I see clearly how IMPORTANT it is for me to practice what I preach. I know that in order to teach and share stillness in flow, I have to live it. I must make time to be still and to connect to the source that nurtures and sustains me for divine inspiration and direction.

This month, I invite you to be in the practice of Brahmacharya alongside Colure, Megan, Barb and I. We will be theming “Right Action” in our classes and offering opportunities for you to share in and refine your Brahmacharya practice in the coming weeks.

Signing off with my favorite (and apropos!) blessing:

May our efforts today, and every day, be to the benefit of every living thing.

Namaste,

Lauren

It’s tempting to think that the process of growth and transformation requires that we bring something “more than” what we already have, or are already doing. In a culture that’s continually telling us that what we have, and who we are, isn’t enough; That in order to succeed at what we want, we need “more” – more money, more things, a better job, a bigger car – it’s easy to see how we might feel compelled to approach our own growth and transformation in the same manner.

But what if I told you that the opposite was actually true?

That in order to fully access your own personal power – to live your life from a place of total strength and vitality – all you need is what you already have.

This is the truth.

The dictionary defines Vitality as, “The state of being strong or active; Exuberant physical strength or mental vigor; Vital force; The power to live or grow”.

The power to live or grow. THIS is your natural state.

The demands of our society and others around you may have convinced you otherwise; Made you think that you need to look outside of yourself to achieve what your heart truly desires. But the answer you’ve been seeking – the strength to accomplish your dreams – has been within you all along. It’s there right now. In this very moment.

The first step toward obtaining this power within is to bring awareness to it’s presence. Come into presence, and acknowledge your innate vitality that already exists.

The second step is more like a leap; A leap of faith that asks that you leave behind what you thought you knew – about yourself, about others, about what’s possible and not possible – and instead, leave the comfort and familiarity of the old ways, and step forward into a brand new way of being.

Just think about it… Was anything truly great ever achieved by resting on the couch? Likely not. In order to achieve greatness, we must leave our comfort zones.

And the only way out is through. Standing in the face of fear, you step forward anyway.

Neil Armstrong would have taken that “one small step” onto the moon. The Wright brothers would have never taken that first flight.

If you want something you’ve never had, you’ve got to do something you’ve never done. Everything you want – your heart’s deepest desires – exists on the other side of fear. And fear isn’t real; It’s the old stories – the old way – trying to keep you stuck in your comfort zone.

Break out. Break free.

Challenge what you “know” to be true. Especially any beliefs that confine and constrain you, and rob you of your innate power and vitality.

You don’t need to have the “how” figured out right now. You don’t need all of the answers.

As you keep stepping forward into your own growth and transformation, remember – it doesn’t all have to happen at once. The process of stepping outside of your comfort zone is a practice that often requires stepping out again, and again, and again… and again.

Celebrate the tiny victories; the brief moments of clarity and presence; the little breakthroughs and “a-ha!” moments you discover.

And when you (likely) slide back into your comfort zone again, bring awareness to those “tapes” and “stories” that play on repeat in your head. Do the words you speak to yourself keep you stuck in your comfort zone? What beliefs do you have about yourself that keep you from living into your fullest vitality and power?

Most of all, remember: Vitality is your natural state; It’s an energy and aliveness that you can access within yourself at any time. And it’s right there waiting for you… every time you re-commit to your own growth, drop the “stories” that weigh you down, and take that next, great big (no matter how small) step forward.

 

We are so excited to feature a guest post by one of our very own #Tribe5 members (& upcoming Yoga Teacher trainee!) Justin Cook. Read on to learn more about Justin’s inspiring yoga journey.

—-

Many years ago, I was wandering through the gym near my house with a good friend of mine, and we walked by a yoga class that was just getting ready to start. We spent a few minutes deciding whether we wanted to try it out, and eventually settled with, “Sure! Why not?”. Little did I know at that moment that starting yoga was something that would have an unbelievable impact on my life, and ultimately something that would move me through some of the hardest days of my life.

16 months ago, I suffered a severe injury to my back, to the extent that I had almost no feeling in most of the right half of my body. I remember my wife driving me to my first trip to the doctor, and they looked at me like they had absolutely no idea what to do to fix it. The doctor told me, “Well, no one has ever been paralyzed from your injury, so it should probably get better eventually…”  That night, I went home, and wept for hours.  I curled up on the couch; the feeling of powerlessness was overwhelming. I was 33, and I thought my life as I knew it was over forever. It took over a month to figure out that I had damaged the primary nerves in my back, with an eventual prognosis of, “In time, it should get better… probably…”

Before I became injured, I could (and routinely did) throw my body into poses, workouts – whatever – without really having to give it a second thought. Now, every movement of my body brought fear, anxiety, and despair. One thing having a severe and chronic injury has taught me is just how much my body did for me that I took for granted. I never really had to “think” about moving before, but after my injury, every action needed to be carefully planned out; every spot on the couch carefully constructed with pillows and blankets to ensure that something wouldn’t get pinched or moved the wrong way and lead to severe spasms.

These are the silent moments of chronic pain that no one talks about, but quickly spiral downhill. Every time I went to the doctor’s office, they would prescribe me pain medicine. I would tell them over and over, “I don’t want drugs to numb the pain, I want to get better.” It was at that point I started to realize that if I was ever going to truly heal, I needed to take charge myself. I continued with the doctor’s, physical therapists, and other treatments, but I realized I needed something more; I needed to learn to move my body again, on my own terms.

How do you re-learn to do all the things that your body doesn’t normally think about to move?

While it took several months for the primary pain to subside enough that I was able to slowly move around, I was still left with intermittent numbness, coupled with nerve pain, that at times felt so overwhelming I’d just fall apart. The worst part of a bad injury isn’t the pain; it’s the quiet moments when you’re in pain, and you wonder if everything will ever heal.

Fortunately, I am absolutely blessed to know several unbelievable human beings that are also fantastic yoga teachers, and without them, I honestly don’t know if I would be sitting here writing this like I am now.

Four months later, I had regained enough strength to attempt a return to yoga, and with the encouragement of those friends, I finally found my way back onto my mat. My first class back was a Yin Yoga class, which I’d always enjoyed and found very relaxing. However, when the body doesn’t do what it’s supposed to anymore, even a gentle yoga class can become a true test of will.

I set my mat out in the back of the room with what seemed like about 22 props, and prepared myself to feel like a total and utter failure. The teacher started the class, and since I couldn’t move as quickly, this forced me to truly listen to the cues in a way that I never really had before. She came over and offered assists and modifications that helped me move into the right position, and sometimes a gentle word of encouragement. By the end of the class, even though I’d only been able to do about 60% of what everyone else did, I didn’t feel like a failure. I’d survived. I’d made it through. I’d listened to my body, and hadn’t pushed it or tried to beat it into submission. Great yoga teachers hold the space to allow us to achieve our fullest expression – mentally, physically, and emotionally. And while in that first class back, my fullest expression was only 60% of what everyone else did, I left feeling like I might eventually get through this.

I came to that Yin Yoga class every Sunday for 2 months, and by the end of that time, I wasn’t just doing 60% of the poses – I was doing them all. That doesn’t mean I didn’t modify, or that I never had those nervous pangs – I did – but I stayed present with what I was feeling, and learned to be okay with it. Through the slow movements and long holds offered via my Yin Yoga practice, I learned to be okay with myself again.

Over the next several months, and with a little gentle prodding, I started attending Power Yoga classes again – and again, I found myself beginning to get stronger and stronger. I began to realize what yoga was really trying to teach me.

My yoga practice has taught me that it isn’t about getting strong or being able to do some super cool, Instagram-worthy yoga pose; It’s about showing up on my mat and listening to my body.

I went on to completed over 200 yoga classes that year, and while many of them physically knocked me on my butt, I left feeling mentally stronger every time. I make no promises about yoga being any sort of magical cure all. But mindfulness, and a practice that reminds you to remain present in the moment, sure won’t hurt.

While I will never fully heal, yoga gave me my life back – physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

I have about 90% of my strength and mobility back, and I’m getting better every day. While I appreciate the physical abilities that I have regained due to my yoga practice, I’ve learned something far more valuable. I’ve learned to be okay with the feelings of pain, doubt, and fear that my injury brings up; and I’ve learned that as bad I may feel at times, it’s not going to last forever.

Yoga has helped me come to terms with a valuable lesson in dealing with chronic pain: The pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

—-

Justin Cook is a father of a beautiful baby girl, husband, yoga fanatic, electrical engineer, and occasionally under the right conditions, a pianist and vocalist. When not practicing yoga around Northern VA and trying to meet every yogi around, he can be found playing board games and other table top adventures with his friends, playing the latest video games, traveling across the world with a yoga mat, and most often, lazing on the couch with his beagle Joanna.

 

 

“Mise en Place”

“A Chef’s Kitchen,” is one of my favorite series on Netflix. Each hour long series explores the mind, habits and cultural influences that shape the body of work of Michelin star chefs around the globe. I watch an episode when I am in search of inspiration or to re-awaken my eye to the beauty of small things all around.

Any chef worth their salt is familiar with the French term, “mise en place,” or, “everything in its place.” Have you ever gotten cooking on a fun new recipe at home only to notice several steps in that you needed to marinate the fish or blanch the vegetables before adding it to the pot? Now you have to hustle to address those details (usually all the difference between an out-of-this-world or so-so dish), skip them entirely or risk burning what you’ve currently got sizzling. Your symphony of taste and texture suddenly morphs into a haphazard mess.

Fortune favors the prepared.

As in the kitchen – so on your yoga mat. As we close our month-long practice of Saucha in the studio, take a look at these common guidelines for yoga etiquette, are there areas for your practice to improve?

Arrive early. The first 5 – 7 minutes of class are called Integration and critical to connecting to your body and breath.

“OM” is sacred. If you are a few minutes late, enter the studio as quietly and respectfully as you can. If you hear the class chanting, “om” wait until they are complete before you enter the room.

Check your bags at the door. The studio space is sacred. Leave your bags, shoes, cell phones, extra layers of clothing in the locker room. Arrive through the back door.

Keep a clean space around your mat. Arrange your block, strap and water to one side of your mat. A cluttered practice area can easily translate to a cluttered head space. On the functional side, keeping your props neatly grouped ensures the teacher won’t trip (well at least not on your stuff) and that you can find what you need easily.

Stay in the room. Stay in the practice. Yoga is a moving meditation, any break from the practice takes you out of the present moment – and everyone else around you, too. Even something as innocuous as standing up and walking to the back of your mat for water can be distracting. In those moments when you absolutely cannot resist your water bottle, take child’s pose and sip discreetly.

You create the energy in the room. Yoga is meant to be a contemplative and meditative journey of movement. Fill the room with your breath, your energy and not your words. The teachers are on hand after class to answer any questions you have or you can quietly flag them over to assist you. Conversation should be limited to before and after class.

Acknowledge Your Growth. We clap at the end of class to acknowledge ourselves and our fellow practitioners – not to applaud the teacher. Honor your work and the contribution of those around you by giving a hearty round of applause once class has come to a close.

There’s an old adage, “Take your practice seriously and yourself lightly,” smiles, sighs and gentle laughter are always encouraged. This week, as you step on your mat, try putting these pointers in place and watch how your practice transforms.

See you on the mat, yogis!

Lauren Christian

M.L.K.

January 16, 2018

Today, in honor, celebration, and remembrance of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, we reflect upon all that Dr. King fought for, marched for, and ultimately, died for, during his time as a civil rights activist and leader, over five decades ago. While much of America’s landscape has changed in the time since Dr. King marched on Washington, wrote letters from a Birmingham jail, or stood behind the pulpit in Montgomery, much still remains the same.

As students of yoga, actively engaged in walking Patanjali’s Eight-Limbed Path, it’s impossible to not see a link between the actions and teachings of MLK, and those outlined in the first two limbs of the Eight-fold Path (coming before Asana!): the Yamas and Niyamas.

The Yamas and Niyamas are moral and ethical guidelines that inform and direct yogic action; they serve as a map to chart the course of one’s life, and provide a clear and straightforward framework for how to conduct ourselves off the mat – both in how we treat ourselves, and how we treat others.

It is not coincidental that the very first of these moral directives is Ahimsa, which means to cause no injury, and do no harm. Essentially, Ahimsa is non-violence.

In his 1958 memoir of the Montgomery bus boycott, Stride Toward Freedom, Dr. King outlined six principles of non-violence; basic steps toward non-violent action that he taught and lived until the day he died. Importantly, he made it clear that non-violence is not for the cowardly, weak, passive, or fearful. Non-violence is the way of the strong. Dr. King wrote,

“Nonviolent resistance does resist. It is not a method of stagnant passivity… The method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive non-resistance to evil; it is active nonviolent resistance to evil.”

In his 1967 book, Where Do We Go From Here? Chaos or Community?, Dr. King wrote,

Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

MLK believed in living his principles through action. At a time in our history that was marked by violence and war, Dr. King refused to give in to his basest instincts; He refused to return violence with violence, or hate with hate. Instead of allowing himself to be swallowed by the darkness, he became the light. He chose a new way. And in so doing, he became the change he sought to create.

The second of the Yamas is Satya, which means truth, or truthfulness.

On the subject of truth, Dr. King was clear: “I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant.”

Satya directs us to speak our truth, even when it’s unpopular; even when speaking our truth is inconvenient, or difficult, or dangerous. No one knew this, or lived this, better than Dr. King.

While he is rightly revered and loved by many in today’s modern age, it is important to remember that, in his time, MLK was a highly divisive and radical figure.

The FBI famously wire-tapped him, beginning in 1955 during the Montgomery Bus Boycott, until his assassination on April 4th, 1968. After his controversial anti-Vietnam speech at Riverside Church in 1967, the FBI stepped up their surveillance efforts in an attempt to discredit him, and pundits across both sides of the aisle criticized him for his firm and controversial stand, given at a time when most Americans still supported the war. Even members of his own staff warned him not to give the speech, but Dr. King stuck to his ideals, and refused to back down.

On the Vietnam War, and America’s involvement in it, King stated, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

King believed in speaking your truth, no matter the cost. One month after his speech at Riverside, he spoke at a conference, stating, “The cross may mean the death of your popularity. Even so, take up your cross and just bear it.”

As students walking the yogic path, we can draw inspiration from and hold in our hearts the words of Dr. King. While he wasn’t a “yogi” in the traditional sense, his teachings and actions are a modern example of what it looks like to truly walk the path, and stay on the path.

In alignment with the yogic practices of Ahimsa, and Satya, King lived his truth, and in so doing, inspired countless lives across the world. Both during the time of his life, and perhaps even moreso now, a half century after his passing, King’s influence and impact is undeniable. His words echo into the annals of our collective history, across the vastness of time and space, straight into our ears, eyes, and hearts, and prove just as relevant, important, and necessary now as they ever were.

Be patient, be gentle, be kind. Love with all your might. Speak your truth, and live your truth. You, too, just might change the world.

January: Saucha (Purity)

January 8, 2018

Happy 2018, Tribe!

As we embark on a new chapter of our journey together in a brand new year, we focus our attention on January’s theme, “Saucha”.

Saucha, meaning purification (physical and spiritual), is a Niyama (an internal discipline) that guides us as we “clean house”, and prepare the temple of our body and mind for new creation.

Winter is an instinctive time to focus on Saucha. With its barren trees and frozen ground, winter represents the death of the past. It’s a time of rest and incubation to make space for new life and beginnings in Spring. Eating less sugar, decluttering my home, and talking less to listen more, are all forms of Saucha that many revisit year after year.

Whether your intentions rest in purification, or on inviting what you’d like to have MORE of in your life – be it yoga, travel, or spending more time with family and friends – practicing Saucha will help you along your path. Sometimes it’s the words we speak to ourselves about ourselves that must be purged and purified.

This week, as you settle back into your routine, stay mindful. Set your goal or intention, and take the time to look at your daily routine to see if your daily activities reflect the actions necessary to make your intention reality. As you further your intention, day by day, task by task, be mindful of the “tapes” playing in your head. Notice if you second guess yourself and your abilities, the worthiness of your goal, or your commitment to it.

The adage, “Every thought is a prayer, every word is a spell,” is absolutely true. When you catch yourself in doubt, try to immediately replace your doubt with words of support and love (think the kind of support you get from the people in your life who love you most – who BELIEVE in you from their depths), and flip the script.

Stay in the practice – reflect on your priorities, actions, and thoughts, day after day – to ensure they are in alignment and in integrity with the intention you’ve set. The greatest shifts in our lives do not come overnight; they occur when we commit to returning again and again to the path we’ve set. To be brave, correct course when needed – and never give up.

Most importantly, surround yourself with like-minded people who will lift you up. Join your Five Peaks Tribe as we embark on Baron Baptiste’s 40 Days to Personal Revolution Program beginning January 27th. This program is free, and utilizes the tools of asana, meditation, mindful eating, and self-inquiry, to empower you to create real and lasting transformation in your own life – into 2018, and beyond.

Have a beautiful week yogis – see you on the mat!

We are so excited to kick off our TRIBE Member of the Month series by introducing you to one of our most inspirational community members – author Anna Kanianthra!

Anna has been rolling out her mat with us at Five Peaks Power Yoga since day one, and was a regular Bikram Yoga practitioner for many years prior. You can often find her practicing in our 9:30 and 12:00 classes alongside her daughter and granddaughter, inspiring everyone in class to breathe a little deeper.

If you haven’t had the opportunity to flow beside her yet, you may still recognize her name from our recent 12 Days of Giving; We featured Anna’s book, Recipe for Success in WIC: Based on a 35-Year Life Story, which recounts her experiences working as a groundbreaking Women, Infants, & Children (WIC) Program Manager with the Fairfax County Health Department, leading the program to be one of the most successful in the nation under her tenure.

We recently sat down with Anna to find our more about her time with WIC, as well as why she decided to donate 100% of the profits raised from the sales of her book to homeless families in India.

Five Peaks: Anna, thank you so much for agreeing to sit down and chat with us! We are excited to learn more about you and your time at WIC. Tell us a little more about yourself.

Anna: I was born and brought up in a middle class family of ten in the southern part of India. We moved to the US more than fifty years ago. My dream as a teenager was to work with low income families, especially mothers and children. I pursued a master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from the University of Tennessee, and after graduating, worked initially as a teaching dietitian at the Saint Mary’s Medical Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. My family moved to Fairfax County, Virginia in 1975, which opened up the door for me to get a position as the Women, Infant, and Children (WIC) Program Manager with the Fairfax County Health Department. I finally retired on January 1st, 2016, after 35 years of serving our local community and fulfilling my dream of working in public service. My husband and I have been blessed with a wonderful son and a daughter, and four beautiful grandchildren. We are very lucky.

Five Peaks: What a fascinating life story! What made you decide to write your book, and share your story with the world?

Anna: My motivation for writing Recipe for Success in WIC: Based on a 35-Year Life Story, is because I strongly believe that others like myself, involved with Community Programs across the country, may be helped and inspired through my experiences described in the book. I believe that one of the most important rules of happiness in life is to do what you love most, and certainly in my case, my long journey with the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutrition program in the state of Virginia helped to reinforce this belief. Looking back over the past 35 years of my journey, I can see how God placed me with the right people by my side when I needed them the most, to make Fairfax County’s WIC Program one of the most successful in the country.

Five Peaks: That’s phenomenal, thank you. It’s wonderful that, through this book, you now have the opportunity to impact so many more lives across the country, far beyond the borders of Fairfax County. Both public servants, and those they serve, will surely benefit greatly from your contributions and wisdom.

Anna: Yes, certainly.

Five Peaks: So, tell us – What made you decide to donate all of the profits from your book sales to the homeless in India?

Anna: Well, growing up, my mother had always worked with the homeless in India through the church. It was her life work, and it inspired me to do the same, and to continue giving back as my mother always did. Once I raise $500, I plan to spend a month back in India, working and cooking for the homeless through the church that my nephew is the Minister of – just like my mother did. I want to honor the memory of my mother, as well as my role as a public servant here in the States and abroad. That is why 100% of the proceeds I receive from each book sale are going back to the homeless people of India. It’s important work – each individual book sale will feed a single child in India 4 days’ worth of healthy, nutritious meals!

Five Peaks: Wow. Anna, that is wonderful. Important work, indeed.

Anna: Yes. There are so many in need. Every contribution makes a difference.

Five Peaks: So what’s next on the horizon? What are you working on now?

Anna: More writing, I think! I’m working on writing a Manual for Healthy Living, with a focus on maintaining a healthy body weight. Yoga, you know, helps greatly with this.

Five Peaks: That we do! We can’t wait to read it. Before we conclude, would you share one of your favorite stories with us, from your time at WIC?

Anna: There are many… reading the book will highlight them. But one – a Caucasian woman came in with her adopted African American son who was on a respirator needing counseling and coupons. I had a feeling I needed to talk with this woman on a personal level, so I asked her what had motivated her to adopt this child who had so many medical challenges, and caused her to be completely selfless with this child. The woman responded that she was volunteering in the hospital when she came across this child, and she instantly felt a pull to him – a need to be with him. It was as if God had put this child in her life, and she simply had to become his mother. I firmly believe that God puts special mothers with very special children.

Five Peaks: Thank you so much for sharing with us, Anna. It’s been a pleasure getting to know you better, and we can’t wait to read your book and learn even more!

Please join us in supporting Anna and her mission to help feed homeless children in India, by purchasing her book, Recipe for Success in WIC: Based on a 35-Year Life Story, on Amazon or your local bookstore. Bring in your proof-of-purchase, and we’ll give you or a guest a free class on us! And if you haven’t yet, make sure to hit up one of our 9:30 or 12:00 classes during the week – you might just be lucky enough to practice alongside this inspiring yogi!

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