Ahimsa, Veganism, and Yoga Sutra II:35

Ahimsa pratisthayam tat saminidhau vaira tyagah.
In the presence of one established in non-violence, all hostility ceases.
Yoga Sutra II:35

Nonviolence (or non-harming, as ahimsa is sometimes translated) became an important ideal for me when I got sober in 2009. I didn’t want to be the “tornado ripping through other people’s lives” anymore. For the first time, I began to consider the effects of my actions on others, and realized how harmful I could be, even unintentionally.

I had been vegetarian for some time but decided that I needed to become vegan to match my behavior to my ideals. Veganism is a major part of my ahimsa practice. It means much more than not eating dairy or meat.

Continue reading “Ahimsa, Veganism, and Yoga Sutra II:35” »

Yoga and Creative Writing

I held a workshop on two of my favorite topics at Butler University last week. I’ve always suspected a connection between yoga and writing, but never formally explored it until Mindy, the MFA in Creative Writing program administrator at Butler, invited me to kick off this semester’s Conversations@Efro series.

Let me make one thing clear: I am not a fan of making a combo-pack out of yoga and something else. Chocolate Yoga, Wine and Yoga, PiYo/Yogalates, YogaFit, etc., are all classes that are probably great, but just not for me. I believe in both the purity of the Ashtanga lineage and the importance of time-honored traditions in writing (the writing workshop, learning to read like a writer, the process of editing and publishing). So why would I want to combine yoga and writing?

Because really, they’re not that different.

Writing, done mindfully, can be part of a yoga practice just like asanas are. Writing is the process of quieting and focusing the mind enough that meaningful language can be produced. According to Yoga Sutra 1.2-1.3, “Yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind. Then the seer rests in its true nature.” Sounds similar, no?

Writing is also an act of self-study (svadhyaya). And it requires concentration and awareness (dharana). And it can be meditative (dhyana). It’s also all about telling the truth (satya), whether that truth is literal or emotional.

Honestly, my event last week was more of an experiment than a workshop. What happens if you do a little light asana (Surya Namaskar A and the three closing lotuses) to help writers focus, then give them some prompts? They write. And, unless they were lying to me, they write usefully. Whether or not they’ll ever use what they wrote in a poem, essay, or story doesn’t matter. What matters is that each of the participants gained some insight or processed an idea that had been circulating in the brain.

Interested in trying it? The handout I created for the workshop is below. It includes a step-by-step process for practicing mindfulness while writing, but if you’re an Ashtangi (and if you’re reading this blog, you probably are), do some sun salutations and the three closing lotuses before you try it. Following those instructions are some writing prompts that ask the writer to delve deep into the well of the self.


Wordbending: The Yoga of Writing

Yoga is mastery of the activities of the mind. Then the seer rests in its true nature.

Yoga Sutra 1.2-1.3

According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga is the process of finding the focus necessary to master the chattering mind and arrive at a steady truth, which is exactly what we do when we write. When your brain is simultaneously planning dinner, checking Twitter alerts, writing the next great American novel, and figuring out whether or not that spot on your arm is a Sharpie mark or a cancerous mole, it probably isn’t going to be successful at any of those items.

Yoga ignites a mind-body connection that cultivates mindfulness and produces a clutter-free mental landscape. Have you ever lost yourself in your own writing? That unbroken focus and loss of self is part of yoga. If we consider the act of creation to be divine, and many cultures do, then when we lose ourselves in the creative process we are achieving an outcome of yoga: union with the divine.

Consciously practicing mindfulness can help make a creative flow arrive when you want it to, rather than waiting until the Muse stops in, which she usually does only at 2:00 a.m. or while you’re in the shower. Try turning your writing practice into a mindfulness practice by doing the following:

  • Put away all other distractions. Yes, including your iPad.
  • Before you sit down to write, take time to notice your body and consciously connect with it.
  • Before you write a word, take note of the sensations you’re experiencing: the hardness of the chair, the smoothness of the keyboard, the feeling of your wrists against your desk.
  • Hopefully you’re doing this anyways, but do it deeply, and pay attention to what it feels like as you’re breathing. Take five deep breaths, then begin your writing practice.
  • When you get distracted, return to 3-5 and repeat as often as necessary.


One of yoga’s principles is Svadhyaya, which means self-study. Practice some Svadhyaya using one or more of the following prompts, which all focus on delving into the inner self.

  1. Write about a fitting punishment. -Sarah Frye
  2. What is the worst thing you’ve ever done, and never been caught? -Heidi Czerwiec
  3. Write a story or essay that undermines something you believe in. -Alex Madison
  4. Write about a challenging moment you faced this week and what insights you took away from it. -Clare Meeker
  5. Write about a memory that you (the real or a fictive you) carry alone. -Elizabeth Alexander
  6. What did you always know, or sense, without ever having learned? -Elizabeth Alexander
  7. When working with students who are trying to create narratives out of something very traumatic I give the prompt to write instead about the before or the after. Often times it’s through context and who we’ve become since that helps us find the story. Before the event I: looked like, walked like, thought things like; After the event I: looked like, walked like, thought things like. -Corinne Manning

Writing prompts were borrowed and slightly adapted from the fabulous Ploughshares blog. Find more of them here: http://blog.pshares.org/index.php/all-time-favorite-writing-prompts/



Sometimes Green Smoothies and Yoga Aren’t Enough


After my last post, I feel like I should be writing about how brightly I rebounded from depression by replacing refined sugar with green smoothies, or how receiving some second-series backbends re-energized me.

But I didn’t. And they didn’t. Cutting out sugar has saved me from spending too much money on cashew-milk ice cream, but I don’t think it’s radically changed my emotional state. And those deep backbends only made my deficits, both physical and emotional, so much clearer. Thanks, Kapotasana.

I needed more than naturopathy this time. I got back on antidepressants.

Continue reading “Sometimes Green Smoothies and Yoga Aren’t Enough” »

Tapas: Not Just Delicious Food in Small Portions

In the culinary world, tapas means a selection of small plates in Spanish cuisine.


In the yoga world, it’s something else entirely. It’s one of the niyamas, or personal observances. In Sanskrit, tapas is literally translated as “heat.” Ashtangis often consider it the heat that is generated during daily practice. Tapas also means discipline, something that daily practice definitely requires.

Continue reading “Tapas: Not Just Delicious Food in Small Portions” »

Correct method, SCOTUS

I know, I know. What does the recent SCOTUS ruling on same-sex marriage have to do with Ashtanga?

Maybe not a lot with the physical practice, which is what you usually see here, but it sure ties in with the whole eight-limbed path us Ashtangis walk.

Continue reading “Correct method, SCOTUS” »

Runner starts fundraiser, practices yoga

My friend Scott takes my led Ashtanga classes at White Pine Wilderness Academy. He’s been a hardcore competitive runner his entire life, even through his battle with cancer. Prior to his diagnosis, he was working on qualifying for the Olympic Trials. 100-mile weeks and two-a-days were considered normal.

So yeah, he’s that type of runner.

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Well, I quit my day job.

Remember how I said I wasn’t going to quit my day job and teach yoga full time?


Image credit: yoganonymous.com

Well, I lied.

My last day at my current job will be August 28.  I’m officially leaving because of a teaching assistantship at Butler University, but I’m also leaving to be a full-time yogi.  Continue reading “Well, I quit my day job.” »

So I thought I wanted to be a yoga teacher…

I’d looked at teacher trainings in exotic places like Thailand and Bali, and I’d researched teacher trainings at local yoga studios.  Heck, it’s hard to find a yoga studio that doesn’t offer teacher training. I’d fallen in love with my own yoga teacher’s ability to meet each practitioner on common ground and offer support with indiscriminate grace.  Or maybe I just love her ability to touch the back of her head with her feet while balancing on her forearms.  Long story short, I decided that I wanted to share my love of yoga with the world because yoga is the best thing EVER and I wanted to bring it to EVERYONE.

Eka Pada Koundinyasana

Continue reading “So I thought I wanted to be a yoga teacher…” »

Yoga Quiets the Chatter of the Mind


My teacher Amanda Markland gives me an assist into wheel.

From guest blogger Auriel Benker:

Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah – Yoga quiets the chatter of the mind

One thing that drew me to yoga was its close connection with meditation. My mind was constantly running and I was searching for a way to quiet my “monkey mind.” Continue reading “Yoga Quiets the Chatter of the Mind” »

Self-care versus self-indulgence

Yesterday, my husband told me that he wished a woman we both know and love would “take care of herself.”  Continue reading “Self-care versus self-indulgence” »

Yoga and Capitalism?


You’ll have to forgive me for this pseudo-academic rant.  I’m working on a paper examining the commodification of yoga as it gained popularity in the western world and moved away from the instructions for practicing yoga provided in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, and thought I would share this short excerpt. Continue reading “Yoga and Capitalism?” »

Yoga for Better Digestion

From guest blogger Auriel Benker: One of the physical benefits I noticed right away from my consistent yoga practice is improved digestion. I struggled for years to regulate my digestion and feel good after eating. I had found some relief through changing my diet and adding certain supplements. However, nothing was so effective as when I combined it with my Ashtanga practice. Continue reading “Yoga for Better Digestion” »

The downlow on detox.

We don’t talk about toxins or detoxing in Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga, (silent practice!), but I’ve definitely heard it mentioned in other classes I’ve visited and in my 200-hour teacher training. Twists, for example, are praised for their detoxifying properties.  I’ve always just nodded my head.  Toxins are obviously bad, right? Continue reading “The downlow on detox.” »

Recognizing avidya


Blue hydrangeas in mason jar

“According to the Yoga Sutras, the recognition and conquest of avidya [the root cause of the obstacles that prevent us from true seeing] and its effects is the only ladder by which we can climb upward . . .” -T.K.V. Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga

I am almost constantly in one of the states of avidya: raga (attachment), dvesa (aversion), abhinivesa (fear), or asmita (ego). Continue reading “Recognizing avidya” »