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/




I suffer from depression. Maybe it came with the alcoholism. Maybe it led to the alcoholism. Either way, it’s part of my life and sometimes, like recently, it’s all-consuming.


Photo by Michelle Craig

Lately, my mat has felt like a life raft. Not in a “yoga is saving my life” way. Not even in a “my practice is the only thing keeping me sane” way. It’s a life raft because I feel like I’ve been shipwrecked in the middle of the ocean, and if I don’t hang on to my raft, I’m going to drown.

Continue reading “Depreshtanga” »

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” »

Self Practice is HARD

It’s been exactly one week since I started my at-home practice. That’s right. I’m taking a break from the Mysore room at CITYOGA, which has sustained me and my practice for almost three years.

Continue reading “Self Practice is HARD” »

No Comparison.

A few weeks ago, a local yoga studio owner posted a comment on social media that made me think. Until today, I haven’t had time to revisit the film she mentioned, Breath of the Gods, which is a documentary about Krishnamacharya and the origins of modern yoga.

Continue reading “No Comparison.” »

This is not about love and light.

Taylor Hunt, an authorized Ashtanga teacher in Columbus, Ohio, wrote a Facebook post this week that really clicked.

“Yoga for me has always been hard work. From the very beginning I have struggled to change and stood in my own way. So often in the yoga community I hear the words love and light get tossed around with such ease. I never understood what that meant. Yoga was never pretty for me and it required that I was determined to change and be a better human being. I understand the reference of love and light but do you understand the struggle.”

Yes, Taylor, I do.

Continue reading “This is not about love and light.” »

Ducking my Instincts

Yesterday, I touched ducklings. A mama duck was leading her flock across the street and jumped up on a median that was too high for her babies to follow. Eight ducklings hopped at the edge of the curb, cheeping and flapping useless little triangle wings. They looked like popcorn. Mama quacked and paced, but couldn’t figure out how to help them.

This is not my photo. I didn’t stop to take pictures of the ducklings’ distress.

Continue reading “Ducking my Instincts” »

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.

Continue reading “Runner starts fundraiser, practices yoga” »

Back to the Beginning

Practice has been hard lately. Really hard. Almost as hard as it was in the beginning.


An early attempt at Utpluthih in a scenic setting.

I didn’t come to Ashtanga yoga with a background in gymnastics, dance, or martial arts. I didn’t even come with a strong yoga background. I did Rodney Yee DVD’s and the occasional studio class off and on for thirteen years. My heels didn’t touch the ground in down dog, I couldn’t hold Navasana for five full breaths, and I certainly couldn’t jump through or jump back.

Continue reading “Back to the Beginning” »

Twelve Steps for Ashtanga Yoga


It’s not a huge secret that I’m a sober Ashtangi. My sobriety date is April 1, 2009, and I’m still active in the program that helped me change from a suicidal drunk to a human being of service. My life hinges on me being free from drugs and alcohol.

How I feel hinges on the diligence of my practice. Being sober makes practice possible for me, and practice makes daily life possible. Ever seen the “If you think I’m bitchy now, you should see me when I don’t do yoga!” e-cards, or the “I do yoga to keep the crazy away” sweatshirts? They’re pretty accurate.

Continue reading “Twelve Steps for Ashtanga Yoga” »

“Yoga’s not about following a path of feeling good.” An Interview with Maia Heiss…Part 2

maia-heiss-dwi-padaLast weekend, I booked my flight to go practice with Maia for the first week of January 2015. I’m beyond excited. My practice is more fluid and focused thanks to the changes we implemented together. It’s also become easier and steadier. Sthira sukham asanam, right?

But this post isn’t about me, so let’s get on to the good stuff. Continue reading ““Yoga’s not about following a path of feeling good.” An Interview with Maia Heiss…Part 2” »

“The resistance of the earth in your hands…” (an interview with Maia Heiss, part 1)

When I first saw Maia Heiss, I thought, “There is no way this woman will be able to drop up all 140 pounds of me back, much less get me into Supta Kurmasana.” She was all sinew and sweet smile, not an ounce of body fat.


Boy, was I wrong. Not only did she drop me back, she held my body six inches from the ground on the way up, urging me to root into my feet and lift into the chest, and only letting me come back up when she finally felt that shift happen. She also got me into the first comfortable Supta K I’ve ever been in. For the first time, that posture felt right. There was all openness and space where there’d been nothing but constriction and compression. I could breathe. My brain…popped. All was well. It only happened the first time she put me in it, but it was crazy. It was connection. It was union. It was yoga.

Continue reading ““The resistance of the earth in your hands…” (an interview with Maia Heiss, part 1)” »

Coming soon…


I spent a wonderful week on the West Coast and I’m still playing catch-up.

Stay tuned for interviews with Maia Heiss and Kino MacGregor. Continue reading “Coming soon…” »

Transition to Teaching

Teaching changes things. I miss my regular practice. I miss practicing at the same time every day. I miss practicing in a room full of Ashtangis. I miss getting daily assists into Supta Kurmasana.


See how much help I need in this pose?

But I wouldn’t change a thing about my life right now. Continue reading “Transition to Teaching” »

Treatise on Tradition

I’ve been a dedicated ashtangi for a little more than a year and a half. At first, my practice was less than traditional. To be fair, it wasn’t all my fault. Our Mysore program had two different teachers with very different styles, so there wasn’t as much consistency as there is in most Mysore rooms. Continue reading “Treatise on Tradition” »

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” »

Isn’t it ironic? Don’t ya think?

Emma dropping back

Steve of The Confluence Countdown posted this incredible discussion of the irony present in Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga on January 7, 2013.  That happens to be the Monday of the week I went to my first-ever Mysore room. Continue reading “Isn’t it ironic? Don’t ya think?” »

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” »

The Power of Transitions

In the Primary Series, we talk about getting new poses, but with every new pose also comes the vinyasa that follows it.

For the uninitiated, we ashtangis do a vinyasa in between most poses, and in between the left and right expressions of them.  After exiting the posture, we inhale, press the palms into the ground, lift our bodies up, exhale, and toss our legs back to lower through chataranga dandasana, then inhale to urdhva mukha svanasana (updog) and exhale back to adho mukha svanasana (downward-facing dog).  Then it’s inhale and jump up, lifting the hips and exhaling to float the body through the arms and into position for the next pose. Continue reading “The Power of Transitions” »

It’s Saturday- Grab the Castor Oil!

From guest blogger Auriel Benker:

After I had been practicing Ashtanga for a few months, I started to hear talk of castor oil baths, also known as “Saturday practice.” Traditionally, Saturdays are the day of rest from an otherwise 6 day a week practice.

Continue reading “It’s Saturday- Grab the Castor Oil!” »

On Tristana method and the Primary Series

This video helped me get up and get my ass to class this morning.


Chanti, chanti, chanti.

Yoga Mudra

Ashtanga doesn’t hurt people. People hurt people.

Peace sign

“Oh, I couldn’t do Ashtanga.  It’s too advanced for me.” “Beginners shouldn’t do Ashtanga.  They’re going to get hurt.” “Ashtanga is a painful practice.” I hear statements like these all the time. The practice is not to blame for this phenomenon; it’s competitive practice rooms where the focus is on getting the next pose no matter what.

Continue reading “Ashtanga doesn’t hurt people. People hurt people.” »

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” »

Yoga Found Me

From guest blogger Auriel Benker:

My first introduction to yoga was at various gyms around the Indianapolis area shortly after graduating high school. I dabbled for 10 years until late 2012 when a friend invited me to a hot vinyasa class at a true yoga studio. I was ready to get fit and look amazing! Continue reading “Yoga Found Me” »