I water you, you water me

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I water you, you water me

“When two givers indulge in a connection, it’s like magic. It’s alchemy. I water you, you water me, we never drain each other, we just grow.”

I saw this quote on Instagram the other day and it really resonated with me, so I went online to find out where it came from. Couldn’t find the origin of the quote, but I found an interesting article on psychology today about successful relationships and three types of people, one of them being givers. According to Adam Grant, an author quoted in the article, when it comes to relationships there are three types of people - givers, matchers and takers. Grant mostly refers to business relationships, but this theory makes sense when applied to any; romantic, friendship or family relationships as well as business ones. 



In short, this is the description of the three: “Giver's primary motivation is to take care of others, to make sure others are well, and to contribute to others and society. Matchers tend to keep a balance sheet in any relationship. When they give, they do so with an expectation of getting something in return. Takers are just that—takers. They usually treat people well only if and when those people can help them reach their goals. Interestingly, Grant points out, they often appear as the most charming and charismatic people—on the surface.”


I thought it was an interesting theory, but one that needs a bit more depth. Firstly, because I I believe we are complex beings and are not one type or another all the time. Depending on circumstances and on who is on the other side of a relationship, a giver can become a matcher, a matcher can become a giver or a taker and taker can, with some work become a matcher and with much work. Secondly, because simplifications tend to label people and I don’t believe that is beneficial for our growth. So I dug deeper into literature as well as my own experience and thoughts. 

Opposites attract & the perfect balance

It is only natural that takers will most likely engage in relationships with givers and vice versa; they are like a magnet attracted to the opposite pole. Takers will, of course, enjoy the gifts bestowed upon them, and givers will enjoy this relationship because they can do their thing - give. Inclined to see the world with a wider perspective, a generous person who likes to feel they contribute in some way to others and the society might not notice at first that she or he is constantly pulling the weight in a relationship because for them, it comes naturally. Once they do start to notice they might still stay because they don't, like the matchers, give in order to get something back. But, we all have our limits so when a giver hits this limit, they often get frustrated and might pull back from the relationship altogether. Will they find themselves in the same situation again? Most probably yes. This is partially because we, humans, are not very quick to learn and partially because random and not so random acts of kindness make us - happy. This is something many studies have shown. But, givers can also be givers from all the wrong reasons - out of a sense of guilt or the sense of not being good enough for example.

Takers, on the other hand, don't see much beyond their own needs. But, before we judge them, let's examine why they are as they are. When someone always wants more and doesn't see beyond this need, there is often a deep and probably very old wound there, a deep black hole which can never be filled, certainly not with whatever they are trying to fill it with (money, love, success, possessions, sex etc). The pull of that void and the feeling of I don't have enough is so strong that the whole system organises itself to fill it and defend it. Nothing else matters, and when nothing else matters you can't see the big picture as all your energy is locked and localised. This is why a taker won't see her or himself as one, it would take a big wake up call for them to do. Seeing your shadow is the first step to healing the wounds and filling the void. 



Matchers seem to be the realists who see things as they are. They keep the balance and seem like the smartest of the three. But, again, things are not always as they seem. The thing is, a perfect balance doesn't really exist in a relationship, at least not in the way a matcher sees it, and while trying to constantly even the scale and reach that perfection, they put a lot of pressure on themselves and the other person. This way of thinking can be somewhat good in business, but in personal relationships, this often doesn't work and their friendships can lack depth. Also, a need for balance is a way they control their life as well as relationships and losing control can be an issue here.  

Bottom line

It may surprise you or not that, out of the three, givers are the happiest and most successful in relationships, that is if they know how to set boundaries for themselves and avoid the frustration part. If you are one, it might help to understand that if in a relationship with a taker, apart from feeling depleted after a while, you are actually not doing that person a favour, but are rather setting a perfect ground for them to continue to be as they are. If you find yourself in a relationship with a matcher, you can either become one yourself or inspire them to come to become more giving. I think the later is better.

As someone who likes to give, I struggled with the frustration of carrying heavy loads or responsibility for others in most of my relationships thought my whole life. It took me a while to see how this superpower I had can easily become my greatest weakness and a source of frustration. So, what did I do? I first had to look deep into this need and heal the not good enough part so my giving, most of the time, comes from a clearer intention. I then accepted this as a beautiful part of me (rather than a weakness), a part which gives me much pleasure and happiness. And thirdly, I decided I can always give a bit more, but if I feel the scale is tipping too much on the other side, I will not allow my boundaries to be crossed. I call it my 60%. I will always give more, but if you take advantage, it doesn't work for me any longer and I will leave without blaming the other side. After all, we have the power to choose for ourselves. 

Takers are the unhappiest of the three because their impulse goes against our brain's chemistry and our hearts. Therapy can help heal those wounds if a taker can identify himself as one. 

If you like to match things and would like to be more giving in your relationships, perhaps try to get inspired by the nature. Nature, at the end, always finds balance, but in a very messy way. Nature is prone to extremes and changes, but at the end everything always works out. In relationships and this fine balance I personally believe in, we can observe this as well. Sometimes we are generous and kind to one person and this will balance itself out some other time with someone else. It's the law of Karma and whether we like it or not, everything we think, say or do ripples and creates an effect somewhere in the space / time.

Imagine the world where we give each other without agendas or expectations, where we are kind to each other and compassionate to all life. I water you, you water me, we never drain each other, we just grow. What a wonderful world this would be.

 

 

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Living from the essence

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Living from the essence

I have been in quiet contemplation a lot lately. Nothing bad is happening, quite the opposite, I’m blessed in many ways, but I guess these ponderings come with all the change I’m going through lately; closing my studio, moving to Portugal, letting go of some projects, planning new ones, enjoying a new and beautiful, but still very fresh and long-distance romance. In all the movement it’s not easy to find stillness, and stillness is medicine for my busy, anxiety-prone body/mind. But, looking back I am slowing down and it feels good to finally have more time and space for - me.

My life has always been quite dynamic, moving and doing is in my nature, but the last couple of years it all got a bit too much and before I even noticed I got so tangled up in my plans and projects. Once I noticed I knew it will take a while to untangle. It was a good phase for me, I was in a creative cycle and much abundance in every shape and form came out of it, but the problem is I sometimes don’t know when to stop. So, toward the end of last year, I realized how tired and overwhelmed I am and I slowly started to find ways to make more space. So I closed my yoga studio, decided I'll drop my longest running teacher training (the one in Croatia) for now, cancelled a few workshops and generally learned to say no - to myself and others. Less is truly more and I made a promise to myself to live a more quiet, much slower and simpler life.

However, it's not easy to escape your nature or rather, your pattern. As I was dropping some things, the background programme in my mind started to do its thing - plan to fill the space. "Hey, why don't you do that vegan nutritionist course you wanted to? Now you have time! And what about adding another teacher training this spring? You should read more! And hey, you haven't posted anything on social media in a while! You should definitely write a book…"

It's so easy to fall off the wagon.

But, the thing is, now I am more aware and conscious of those voices in my head and I try to feel into where they come from before I act upon them. It took me a while to first realise they come from different parts of me, and second to learn how to set them apart.

Te first step was to stop glorifying some character traits I have. Until very recently I glorified my always wanting to do, see and learn more. I glorified my impatience and my overachieving, my intelligence, strength and perseverance. I glorified these parts of me until I dared to look at the seed and soil which made them grow and bloom and saw insecurity and fear and heard a voice in the background saying: "You will never be good enough". So I guess I wasn't just 'born with it'!? Crap.

The thing is, to an extent we are born with it, but the fears, traumas, insecurities and those voices from the past have also done their part. But, it’s not all bad either. Everything can serve our growth. Our fears can push forward, add fuel to our fire, and help us transform, help us grow.

Nothing is black and white, good or bad. We are who we are and our true nature is not just something we are born with, but a beautiful, messy tapestry made out of treads of moments and memories, those joyful and painful, those we like to remember and those we prefer to forget. No need to glorify it, no need to be ashamed of it, but rather be mindful and think, say and do from the space of our true selves and not from our fears, traumas and insecurities.

When I catch myself wanting to do this or that I try to sit still and ask myself where this impulse comes from. From which part of me and from what intention? Do I want to do this to prove something? So these thoughts and desires come out of fear? Or do they come from a space of joy of creation?

I know, easier said than done. But, step by step it is a way to living a more mindful life guided by the light in our heart and not the shadow of our past.


Blessings on your path.

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Yoga - a search for the divine

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Yoga - a search for the divine

Yogis believed that there is a connected spiritual oneness in all existence. This oneness or unity is clearly emphasised in the name of yogi's spiritual journey; derived from the Sanskrit root ‘Yuj’, Yoga means to yoke or unite. 

Over millennia many schools of thought and branches of yoga have developed and proposed different practices and tools on this path, and often with conflicting views, but the goal of each still remains the same - Yoga is and always has been a path of Self-realization leading to the ultimate goal - liberation (Moksha). Through different practices and wisdom of Higher Self, a yogi is trying to free oneself of the Ego-bound perceptions or illusions of the material world and realize the divine within. This divine, according to Katha Upanishad, "resides in the middle of the body" - the seat of our heart.

Nondualist and dualist schools of thought

The Advaita, or nondualist, school of thought sees the individual Consciousness or Soul (Atman), as unseparated from the Supreme Consciousness (Brahman). In fact, everything around us is only a different form of Brahman, as Brahman is everywhere and inside each living being, the binding unity behind all that exists in the Universe. The realization of this Truth leads to liberation or freedom. Advaita Vedanta, Jnana yoga lies upon, as well as most branches of Tantra, from which Hatha yoga emerged are essentially nondualist branches of yoga.

The dvaita or dualist school of thought recognises two independent principles; Purusha (Soul as well as the Supreme Soul) and Prakriti (nature of matter) and teaches that they are two distinct aspects of reality. We see this clear distinction in Samkhya philosophy, as well as Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. However, the path of yoga still teaches the yogi(ni) to free oneself from the attachment to the material world and see his/her divine nature. 

The differences in how these two philosophies saw the world are not really important, what is important is that spiritual seeker continues to see there is a divinity within and without. Every spiritual path is the light to that Truth.

“If there is one common doctrine that runs through all our apparently fighting and contrary sects, it is that all power, all glory and purity are within the soul already; only according to Ramanuja the soul contracts and expands at times and according to Shankara it comes under a delusion. Never mind these differences. All admit the truth that the power is there, potential or manifest, it is there and the sooner you believe that, the better for you.” - Vivekananda

And, what about asana?

Yoga and different yogic practices have existed for thousands of years before asana. Asana, or a very small part of physical postures we practice today, have emerged in Hatha yoga, within the Tantric era, a few millennials after Yama (the God of Death) explained to a boy called Nachiketas what Yoga is:

When the five organs of perception become still, together
with the mind, and the intellect ceases to be active:
that is called the highest state.

This firm holding back of the senses is what is known as Yoga.
Then one should become watchful, for Yoga comes and goes.

(Katha Upanishad 5th century BCE translation by Swami Paramananda)

Centuries later, in his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states that "Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind".  In his eight-limb path to Samadhi (the highest state of Self-realisation) for which he first lays the moral foundations of a yogi (Yamas and Niyamas) he proposes similar ideas of how to reach the state of Yoga to that found in Katha Upanishad - finding a confortable seat (Asana) a yogi should practice Pranayama, Pratyahara (holding back of the senses), Dharana and Dhyana (concentration and meditation) to still the fluctuations of the mind and reach the state of Yoga and ultimately, Samadhi.

Much later on, during Tantric era, physical body was recognised as an important part of the whole. Thus, Hatha yogis developed different techniques to keep the body healthy, and asana was practiced to keep the body sheath (annamaya kosha) strong and healthy, as well as to learn to control the body. Because, if you can’t control the gross - your body, food you consume etc. and can’t keep it sattvic (pure), how can you control the subtle (mind)? 

Asana is a great tool of yoga, but in comparison with others, only a small piece of the puzzle. If asana becomes a goal, and in order to reach that goal you cause harm to the physical and/or subtle (injuries, strains, self-doubt, competition, feeling of failure etc), something we see so much of today, it causes harm, feeds the Ego, and in some cases, narcissistic tendencies. If the ultimate goal of yoga is to see the divine within and without, the obsession with asana and the physical reality is, instead of closer, taking us further from the Truth. 



But, I practice non-spiritual yoga

Non-spiritual yoga? 

Without being judgmental, only truthful, I see this as an absurd notion. It's like saying you practice a non-spiritual Buddhism, a non-scientific physics, or a non-philosophical metaphysics. Just as you can't separate Buddhism from its spiritual roots, you cannot separate Yoga from its spiritual essence. 

If you are confused with all the above concepts, it's normal. Yoga today has become so much about asana, alignment, how to and how not to, the anatomy and biomechanics of it all etc., you kind of have a feeling it was never anything more than the physical practice, and this couldn't be further than the truth. Another issue is, today many things are named, often misleadingly, using the term yoga. I believe this isn’t right or truthful. If you teach and/or practice asana, meditation and some breathing, but don’t believe in the spiritual aspects of Yoga, you are using yogic tools to enhance the health and wellbeing, which is beautiful and smart, but it doesn’t make you a yogi. Same as wearing a Buddhist mala, Buddha statues all over my apartment and being curios about Buddhism doesn’t make me Buddhist.

I can, however, see why this is happening. What we call Yoga has become a multi-billion business and calling something asana practice or someone an asana teacher just doesn't have the same allure. Just like sex sells, yoga sells, and this, to me, is heart-breaking and counterproductive to all of us. What world needs right now is more spirit and less materialism, more union and less separation, more Truth and less pretence.

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Where there's smoke, there's fire

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Where there's smoke, there's fire

I think yesterday’s post about Instagram was my most commented post ever. Where there’s smoke, there’s fire, so I guess this is an ongoing conversation. In light of that, I decided to share more thoughts about the subject. I was looking for an excuse to ditch today's bureaucracy to do's anyway:)

First of all, I would like to share my train of thought, or what prompted me writing about Instagram. It was actually my last blog post about change and anxiety attached to it. The blog post was read and shared a lot, and I got many beautiful messages in my inbox(-es) from people I know and those I don't say how helpful or healing it is to hear that they are not alone. There is so much more I could share regarding so many things and often, like yesterday, I think - I wish I could reach more people. Not to sell anything or to indulge my narcissism, but to HELP. When it comes to anxiety and similar disorders, talking helps a lot. Knowing someone you trust and respect is having the same experience regardless of their knowledge, yoga practice etc. helps. Knowing you’re not alone really helps. During my worst anxiety episodes, now many years ago, I actually moved out of my apartment and moved in with a friend because knowing someone was there was the best medicine for me at the time. 

That brings me to yesterday's ponderings about Instagram and how I wish helpful and inspiring posts would reach more people, or at least close to the reach of those some with different intentions (like selling something or buying self-gratification). Yes, I wished my anxiety blog reached more people, but, remembering my friend’s advice, I thought that in order to do that, I almost have to sell a part of my Soul. Maybe I'm being melodramatic, but it's not far from the truth. And I know many of you feel the same. When you feel you have something to share or you do a great job but people don't know about it etc. it can be frustrating. But, that's the world we live in. Always was. That’s why Kardashians of the world have fame, money and, thus, influence and many who do good - don’t. Mark Twain put it wisely - "Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect." It's one of my favourite quotes, but I do wish a day comes when it will no longer be true. And that day will come when we all do something about it.

My friend and I, had that conversation months ago. It started with me asking how to get a swipe up option on stories as I started to notice it and thought it useful. She told me I had to have 10k followers for that one and when I said it seems like it could take years, she gave me a bit of advice on the fastest route. If I had asked how do I grow my community organically, without an agenda or a set number, she might have said - do what you’re already doing or given me different advice.

I try not to judge anyone who does follow and unfollow or does anything else for that matter. I just don’t think it’s right or fair for that matter. I know that for many, Instagram is super important for work. Some get paid to post stuff and I think - good for them! I know it didn’t come overnight. I know so many younger yoga teachers out there for whom social networks were their ticket to fame and thus - work. And some of them took that ticket, worked their ass off, studied, researched and became very good at what they do. But, if you are a yoga teacher who got where you are via pretty asana photos or videos (and not work experience prior to IG) and today you’re too famous to follow and support people who are today exactly where you were a year ago, I find that not very yogic or human. If you still follow and unfollow just to get more and more because it’s never enough, you should stop and think. Maybe you’ve just succumbed to the madness of it all and it’s not too late to turn back. Just because everybody does it, it doesn’t mean it’s right.

I believe social networks have tremendous power. I follow surveys about the raise of veganism for example, and I know how much activists helped raise awareness via socials and how many people became vegan because of what they shared. The decline in the use of plastic we’re seeing now is also helped by sharing the message via socials. Remember #metoo champagne? I'm sure that one evoked much revealing and healing. It's a great tool, but just like any other, it can build something beautiful or tear it down. 

What I find frustrating though is the helpful, inspiring messages which serve the greater good are mostly buried under a pile of shit. Due to Instagram's algorithms, those who use every trick in the book to get follows and likes get noticed, and thus, their posts get pushed and seen, so they get to influence communities, opinions and what's worse, future generations. That's the ugly side of social networks. Also, as someone who studied Psychology, what I find alarming is that I see a great divide; on one side flourishing of narcissistic tendencies, on the other much self-doubt. But this is a whole different topic.

I think that, just like with everything, the answer is - be a conscious user and consumer. Just like with every coin you spend in the supermarket you support and give energy to something or someone, you do the same with what you post, what you follow and what you like on social networks. More you share your voice and more energy you give to those with the right intention who focus on the bigger picture and growth for all and not just themselves, more the awareness, consciousness and truth will come out and become more important than fake and untruthful.

Thank you all for your comments, for reading, for voicing your opinions, for your support, for your thoughts and inspiration and for being you. Let’s keep the conversation going, and let’s all work towards change for the better.  

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Embracing the many faces of change

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Embracing the many faces of change

In the last few months, I’ve had a few anxiety/panic attacks. One happened just this morning. Fortunately, I have learned how to deal with them and, even though they are uncomfortable and, for those few minutes you feel like you'll die, they do pass rather quickly. Looking back I now know I've had anxiety my whole life, I just dealt with it by ignoring it, hiding it and compensating until I have sent it deep and far into the unconscious. But, about five years ago, the hidden came out with a vengeance and I have had my first full blown panic attack which was so severe I ended up in an emergency room. Since then they come and go, depending on what's going on in my life.

I see that moment as a blessing because, for one, I have learned I had a few medical conditions (auto-immune thyroid as well as adrenal fatigue) which might have triggered it, but I also knew that the root cause runs much deeper than that. So I put out the fire by taking care of my health first, then letting go of everything toxic in my life (things and relationships which were also a symptom rather than the root cause), and finally I bought a shovel and started digging deep. I started therapy and enrolled into Core Evolution - '‘body-centred and mindfulness orientated psychotherapy’ which literally changed my life.

But, going back to now…

I now know that my anxiety attacks are usually triggered by emotional and physical stressors, but the last ones I have tried to rationalise and blame on coffee, low sugar levels, my thyroid, a glass of wine too much the previous night, too much travel, being tired etc. Because what else could it be? My life right now is everything I could wish for, and I’m still walking in the direction of my dreams. But, even though the coffee, wine, tiredness etc can trigger various physical responses, I know they are not a root cause.

I would like to pretend I don’t, but I’m changing much in my life right now. With closing yoga studio I’ve had for 13 years, moving out of my apartment where I feel safe and content, I’m severing deep roots, and roots are important, they give us a sense of safety and connection. I have chosen this change myself and even though it's a change I not only embrace but have worked towards for years, weather I want it or not, it’s still emotional stress. To our body/mind emotional stress is neutral, physiologically there's no such thing as good or bad, it's just stress. 


However, it’s not the first time I’m doing this; it should be something I’m used to. As a child, we moved six times before I was eight. I can’t even count the times I moved and completely changed my life as an adult, never was a problem, I always embraced it.

So, what’s different now?

I have worked hard to take down my strong walls of defence, the same wall which has helped me deal with many life's challenges and changes, but also the same wall which kept me separated from connecting and living my life to the fullest; within and not only without.

As children, we build coping mechanisms to deal with many of life's challenges. They become unconscious mechanisms we use later on in life as well, and even though they can be useful sometimes, they don't originate from our essence or our conscious self, they are an automatic, unconscious response. Like the fight and flight for example. In Core Evolution, we call them Personal Reaction Patterns - structural and behavioural patterns we use to react when under physical and emotional stress. These coping mechanisms are created and defined not only by the circumstances we find ourselves in as children but also by the energy information we bring into this life with us - our character and whatever else you believe affects us (past lives, stars we are born under etc.). So, two siblings, like my brother and I, for example, would structure different defences faced with the same challenges because we're different to start with. (As a side note, Personal Reaction Patterns are something we will learn about in Yoga, Somatic Awareness and Core Evolution - a new workshop/TTC module with Siegmar Gerken and myself).

We go through life unaware of these coping mechanisms and we unconsciously use them in many aspects of our lives and relationships, so much so that they often structure our lives. As children we develop them out of necessity, we depend on our environment so much we have no other means, but as grownups we do. Recognising our patterns, learning how to notice them and deal with them can help us live more from our essence and less from our defences.



You now must be wondering, if I know all this and have been through much therapy, how is it I still have panic attacks?

My anxiety attached to the emotional or physical stress is more real and more natural than my compensation ever was. The strong Nina who never falls apart, who charges boldly towards every challenge, and embraces every change, was as much compensation as was my true self. I still am a strong person not afraid of challenge or change, but I also sometimes doubt myself, I sometimes fall apart, I suffer under emotional stress and am anxious about big changes in life.

So, before I plant my roots elsewhere, now in this in-between, I am giving myself the permission to feel anything I need to feel and be anything I need to be. Happy, sad, excited, terrified, anxious. When you replant a tree, it takes a while for it to re-root and finds the balance again.

Change is challenging for all of us and, faced with its many layers and faces, we should embrace them all. The ‘good’ and ‘bad’. That’s what unconditional love is. Today, I will show myself that love by crossing a few things I can’t deal with today off my to-do list and give myself time to just be.

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Ho’oponopono - the power of forgiveness 

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Ho’oponopono - the power of forgiveness 

Ho’oponopono is an ancient Hawaiian practice of forgiveness and reconciliation. Itis like a mantra where you repeat the words ‘I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you’ as a form of mental and spiritual cleansing. By doing this practice, the ancient Hawaiian people believed it would clear the mind and it is wrong thinking and doing which is the root of all evil. Similar to many other cultures around the world.

We all sometimes say and do things which are not aligned with the truth and, instead of examining our thoughts, words and deeds, we become defensive as if the only goal is that, at the end of this battle, we are right. We often say and do things we know are hurtful and we later regret, but often, due to shame or guilt, instead of owning our mistakes and saying we're sorry, we go on with our lives pretending it never happened. But, it did and these things lie heavy on our Soul, and slowly but surely, dims our light. Why is it so hard to say I'm sorry, forgive me? Why is it so hard to say I love you? I guess the answer is manifold and different for each of us, but for many, it lies in the way we have been brought up, as well as in the deep unconscious, shadow self which makes us see ourselves, our actions and the world through a distorted glass.

Each of us carries a light and a shadow. The shadow self is unconscious, defensive, angry, jealous, selfish, it hates and manipulates, it’s weak and insecure. So, when we think, say and do from this space, we hurt ourselves, other people around us, our family, friends, communities, other living beings, mama Earth. Is the shadow partially already there from the moment we are born, a residue from a past life or karma, or are we born as beings of light only to be labelled, conditioned, moulded, imprinted with fear, doubt, shame and false believes since the day we are born, we don’t really know. It’s a philosophical question to which, I believe, the answer isn’t that important for our growth. 

There aren’t many awakened or enlightened beings on this planet, so we’re all in the same boat. We all say and do things from the shadow part, but becoming aware of it is the first and the most important step. Our shadow lives in the unconscious and from that, hidden,unaware space it can wreak havoc on our health, lives, relationships and everything around us. 

What is important is that we are willing to grow and bring darkness to light. What's important is we question our words and actions and, when we find wrongdoing, we can say:

I'm sorry. 
Please forgive me. 
Thank you. 
I love you.

Say it to yourself. To your loved ones. To friends and colleagues. To any living Soul you might have hurt, or caused harm. It will shed light on the dark. Let go of the shame and guilt attached to it, we are all in this together. It will lift the burden from your Soul. It will lift the burden from another's. It will help us grow together.

I'm sorry. 
Please forgive me. 
Thank you. 
I love you.

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5 myths - debunked

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5 myths - debunked

Thought 

the history people have believed in many things which today we laugh at or frown upon. Up until not that long ago, scientists thought babies can’t feel pain, doctors thought smoking can cure your sore throat and draining your blood cures all illness. People like you and me used to believe that the Earth is flat, that women are less intelligent and thus shouldn’t have equal rights as men, that slavery is normal, and that people of different colour were a different species. Today a minority still foster these beliefs, but we judge them and call them primitive or psychopaths.

If anything, history can teach us that 'norms' change and that, as we become more conscious and more awoken beings, some normal behaviours of today become primitive and frowned upon by the majority in the future.

The myths around the way we eat and generally treat animals are something which is slowly becoming a thing of the past. But, the upbringing and social conditioning of most cause defences to be lifted before one stops and think, so the progress is here but it is slow.

5 myths some still believe in

The protein myth

As a vegetarian for 18 and vegan for the last three years, I heard the “where do you get your protein” question one too many times. Five years ago I would do my best to explain, a few years ago I would point to the fact that some of the biggest, strongest and most enduring animals like gorillas, horses, zebras, elephants, hypos etc. are herbivores. Today I just roll my eyes. Because - google.

The truth is, the protein obsession is passé. So last century. So caveman. Today we know better. Today we know too much protein is actually bad for you. Today we know the best protein is obtained from plants. Today there are more and more plant-powered pro athletes proving this by doing what they do best - winning. No better way to put a stop to the protein myth then seeing them do their thing.

Thanks to humans like strongman Patrik Boumian, weight lifting champion Kendrick Farris, pro wrestler Austin Aires ultra runner Scott Jurek and Rich Roll, runner Morgan Mitchell, formula 1 champ Lewis Hamilton, tennis legends Novak Djokovic and Venus Williams, pro surfers Tia Bianco and Alaina Blanchard NBA star Kylie Irving NFL players like Derek Morgan, Colin Kaepernick, Tom Brady and Griffin Walhen (whose dogs are also vegan), boxer David Haye, bodybuilders like Nirmai Delgado and Frank Medrano, the animal protein myth is finally debunked. Hallelujah!

The milk myth

Most of us grew up with the idea that milk healthy and important for bone health. But, is this actually true? Most of the research not funded by the dairy industry found inconclusive or no evidence. However, there is evidence pointing in the opposite direction. 


Bone health? Some studies (like Harvard milk study) claim that more milk consumption in teen years led to more risk in fractures in older adults. There’s more similar research, please check my last blog for details.
Lactose - just like any other mammal, we lose the ability to break down lactose as we grow up, so lactose intolerance is very common, affecting over 65% of adult humans. Symptoms range from no symptoms to digestive problems and gas to migraines. Consuming something which we can’t break down causes inflammation in the body which leads to bigger issues like autoimmune diseases.
Casein - the protein found in dairy, called casein, has been linked with many different types of cancer, especially ovarian and prostate cancer.
Saturated fat - dairy is full of saturated, artery-clogging fats and contains cholesterol.
Environment - water use, carbon emissions, pollution, you name it. The dairy industry is right there, hand in hand with the meat industry. Cows are fed grain (not their food) which can instead feed all 795 million starving people today. This is 1 in 7 people on the planet who can be easily fed if we decide our taste buds are worth it.
Suffering - just like any other mammal, a cow needs to have a baby in order to produce milk. So in dairy farms, they forcefully inseminate them (read: rape them) and take their baby when it’s a few days old so they can take (their baby’s) milk. Cows cry for their babies for days and babies cry for their mums. Just like any other being. Baby calf gets to drink formula and will end up like her mum or, if it’s a male calf, gets killed. Just so we can have that cafe latte or enjoy the cheese. Same goes for goat and sheep. So, even if none of the health issues and environmental impact factors were true, isn’t this more than reason enough to say no to dairy?

The happy cow and a free range chicken myth

Unfortunately, there’s no happy cows or free-range chickens. Humans consume too much animal products for that to be possible, livestock is already taking up so much space; it is the world’s largest user of land resources. In the US for example “grazing land and cropland dedicated to the production of feed representing almost 80% of all agricultural land. Feed crops are grown in one-third of total cropland, while the total land area occupied by pasture is equivalent to 26% of the ice-free terrestrial surface”. ~ The Guardian

Meat eaters may think vegans look down on them – but actually no one is more scornful of carnivores than the meat industry that feeds them. While frontline workers slaughter 22 million animals each day in the UK alone, teams in the back office rebrand those carcasses, packaging them up and using inventive words to hide the truth from the consumer.

“Of all their cons, the “free-range” egg is perhaps the most audacious. You’d need Disney-level imagination to believe the UK can produce more than 10bn eggs each year without inconveniencing any chickens. But by slapping “free range” on the label, and perhaps a nice pastoral scene with a few chickens roaming free, most consumers never realise how the eggs came to be in the box.” ~ The Guardian

In conclusion, your “free-range chicken” may not be crammed in a shoebox-size space, but it’s certainly not running around a large field, happy and care-free. The land is too expensive for that, just think about it.

The leather as byproduct myth

I know. You love your leather shoes, your leather bag and that cool biker jacket. So do I. And I still own and wear them, and will until I wear them out. But, since I researched and read more about the leather industry, I haven’t bought anything made of leather in years. If you’re interested why check veganuary.com explaining why there’s no such thing as ‘a leather byproduct’. Please read. Knowledge is empowering.

But, there’s good news for all fashionista’s out there as well as for animals. The vegan leather industry is growing super fast thanks to increased demand as well as some more conscious designers like Stella McCartney creating organic, quality materials which are suffering free, artificial colour free, bad ecological impact free. Basically, bad vibe free.

Today you can really get anything you like made in sustainable, breathable, high-quality materials which are better for you, the environment and, of course, don’t cost a life. It’s a win-win-win.

Also, there are cool brands like Pelechecoco offering uber cool biker jackets made out of vintage leather sourced from all over the globe.

If you’re interested these are some of my favourite items/ brands: I absolutely adore my vegan Stella Stan Smith Adidas sneakers, my Matt & Nat wallet, biker boots by Beyond skin, my Good guys don’t wear leather white sneakers and Nae Vegan Shoes black high top sneakers. Also, check out Will’s.! You can find all and more on www.avesu.eu website. All of these are European brands as I prefer to shop as locally as possible, but there’s many more.

The wool myth

When you think of wool you may think of a warm winter hat and scarf, a soft cashmere sweater or a beautiful suit. When I think of wool, I still remember my grandma sitting next to a wood stove, knitting woolly winter socks for all of us kids. Or my old designer purple sheepskin coat I used to love wearing. But now, after a video I saw during PETA wool campaign a few years ago which made me see the shadow truth of the wool industry, I also see the unnecessary suffering. With so many cruelty-free fabrics, there’s really no need to torture animals in order to wear their skin, fur or wool. (Link in a bio for a short video of Joaquin Phoenix, a long term vegan, on why he ditched wool.)

There are many things we just don’t question or think about. Nobody thinks about torture when eyeing a beautiful coat in your favourite shop window. We trust and we buy and buy and buy more. This world is designed like that, we’re blindfolded consumers trusting a voice in an ad saying something is beautiful, healthy, tasty. They don’t speak of the true cost because people would then take the blindfold off and question. And big industry doesn’t make money on those who question.

However, if we don’t buy the narrative we’re constantly being sold, we’ll force industries to change. We can still buy that beautiful coat, only it will be made from cruelty-free and ecologically sustainable material. Something which came out of suffering is not and cannot ever be beautiful. It’s just bad juju. And nobody wants that, right?

A PETA @peta investigation of more than 30 shearing sheds in the U.S. and Australia uncovered rampant abuse. “Shearers were caught punching, kicking, and stomping on sheep, in addition to hitting them in the face with electric clippers and standing on their heads, necks, and hind limbs. One shearer was seen beating a lamb in the head with a hammer. Another even used a sheep’s body to wipe the sheep’s own urine off the floor. And yet another shearer repeatedly twisted and bent a sheep’s neck, breaking it.”

The time of doing something because we like it (it's tasty, looks good, feels good etc.) is slowly becoming a thing of the past. The only question is, do you want to be a part of the past or the future? A part of the problem or the solution?

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The future is vegan

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The future is vegan

A new paradigm

Q: How do you treat others?
A: There are no others.
-    Ramana Maharishi

When I woke up to a bright, crisp new morning of the first page of a 365-page book and after I called and texted family and friends with best wishes for the new cycle, I went out to the woods with my favourite companion, Seeta the dog. As I walked up the familiar path and greeted people who walked past with 'happy new year' and 'all the best', I felt my body flood with joy. I felt so connected with everyone and everything, and I felt something I haven’t in a while - hope. Hope for all of us, hope for the Earth, all sentient beings, hope for mankind. This hope wasn't caused by an isolated event, but rather accumulated little glimpses of positive changes I kept seeing and experiencing in the past year or more; on macro as well as micro level, global as much as the personal. I have seen changes in myself as well as those close to me, witnessed minds expanding, eyes opening and an old idea of ME slowly shifting to WE. On a global level we are witnessing a slow, yet a persistent change of old ways of thinking (or rather non-thinking for ourselves but accepting what already is), to a more awoken, more conscious one. People are thinking about plastic pollution and ditching single use plastic, ditching fur, wool and fast fashion, trying to reduce waste (zero waste trend is on!) as well as switching to plant based diets. We see more and more pro athletes and celebrities switching to more conscious life choices and using their fame to promote a more conscious lifestyle (Can the age of Kardashians be over or am I now being too optimistic hehe. Doesn’t hurt to send an intention out there…;)

We are finally questioning old ways, researching, reading, thinking for selves and leaving the old where it belongs - in the past. We are finally realising that we are all interconnected and that the wellbeing and happiness or all depends on our relationship with ourselves, each other and Mama Earth. We are finally realising the future is in our hands - yours and mine. Not the government's, not the scientists. There's no superhero, or an alien who will descend upon this planet and save us (from ourselves). There is only you and me. It might be a scary thought but it's equally liberating. Our future is in our hands and each decision makes a difference. The only question is - what is the difference we would like to make?

"I think the most important message that I have is to remember that you, and I'm speaking to you (watching this film). You as an individual make a difference. What you do each day actually is affecting what's going on in the world each day, so your life matters, you matter. So use your life wisely." Dr Jane Goodall quote from HOPE documentary.

Consciousness vs. tradition  

Nowhere is this change more noticeable than in the relationship we have with food. And this is why I am so hopeful as not many old believes are harder to break than those related to food. What and how we eat is so much more than just a daily need; it is a deep connection to where we come from and who we are, with the tradition, family and the sense of belonging, with the comfort and the feeling of being safe. We connect the cup of warm milk to our mother and the feeling of being loved and nourished, the smell of chicken soup reminds us of our grandmother, roasted chicken of Sunday family lunch. So, when we hear about the negative impact some of the food we consume has on our health, environment and suffering of innocent, even before hearing the argument or examining the facts, we become defensive. It's a natural response rooted in the amygdala, an old (and quite primitive) part of our brain responsible for fear, flight or fight response and generally to emotional response after believing we are being 'attacked'. Useful back in a day when we lived in caves and were exposed to wilderness and environment, not so much today.

Consciousness - our conscious choices and reactions based on facts rather than emotional triggers, lies in the part of the brain called prefrontal cortex. This is the part that makes us different from other mammals and able to evolve as we did.  “The prefrontal cortex is supposed to keep areas like the amygdala in check and instruct them that, for example, ‘I know that’s a snake, but it’s behind a piece of plexiglass, so we’re good,' It’s much like a parent and child. Children are less flexible in their responses to situations that parents, whose job is to instruct them and help them regulate.” - Paul Whalen So, when someone tells you 'dairy is scary' and gives ample of evidence why dairy is unhealthy, environmentally destructive and inhumane, the amygdala prepares to war to defend the honour of your maybe now deceased grandma or grandpa who told you there is nothing better for your teeth and bones than a glass of milk. In that case, prefrontal cortex or 'the parent' would explain that nobody's attacking your granny, and will listen to the evidence, do the research and finally draw a conclusion based on facts.

In yogic terms, this is acting from the higher Bodhi mind (Buddhist and yogi sages understood all of this thousands of years before the science:). The goal of yoga as well as so many other spiritual traditions, is liberation or enlightenment, and the way to the liberation is through a higher mind, or higher consciousness.

Knowledge is power

The beautiful message about how we all make a difference by Jane Goodall, a human I respect and admire so much, starts a documentary film called HOPE - what you eat matters. It’s a great, fact based documentary explaining why plant based diet is better for our health as well as the health or the planet and all beings on the planet. But, in the past decade so many documentaries came out and are still coming out, as well as so much research so much evidence. It's all out there, you just need to make an effort of doing the research and finding the truth for yourself. There is so much out there and if you are reading this it means you have the means to find out the truth.

Old myths about how plant-based diets are unhealthy, lack protein etc. are debunked every day. Some of the best, strongest, most endurable athletes today are vegan so “what about protein” question doesn’t make much sense any more. A brand new documentary called 'The game changers' features many pro athletes who live and thrive on a vegan diet. Even Arnold Schwarzenegger. My personal favourites are vegan bodybuilders and strongmen like Patrik Baboumian definitely debunking the protein myth, those on the top of their game like tennis players Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams as well as surfers (Alana Blanchard, John John etc.)

The horrific impact animal farming has on the environment is yet another reason to do the research and think about the food choices we make. Most recent studies show that, if we continue down this road, the damage will be irreversible unless we stop consuming meat and dairy. This article from The Guardian sums it up pretty well. But the bottom line is, don’t trust my word for it, don’t even trust the articles you read. Dig deeper, do your research, know and understand before you make any final conclusions. Knowledge truly is empowering.


(R)evolution of mankind

For me personally, as well as many vegans I know, the health reasons are the least important ones. Even if the vegan diet was less healthy and if eating meat and dairy would make me feel better and live a few years longer, I would still say no. (BTW, never felt better in my life!). Weighing between that and preventing suffering and death of an innocent being is an easy choice for my prefrontal cortex. And seeing more and more people think like this makes me happy and hopeful. It makes me believe that humans can really evolve to beings who are not enslaved by the past and stuck in old ideas, who are not causing harm to others and destroying Earth, the only home we have, but evolved beings dedicated to preservation, compassion, kindness and love.

When I need inspiration and hope I watch documentaries and the one which made me feel more hopeful is Vegan 2018 I’m posting below. This is a sequel to Vegan 2017, and it follows world trends in plant based nutrition every year. Number of people going plant based are growing so fast that a recent article Guardian called 2019 - the year of the vegan due to the unexpected rise of people signing up to Veganuary this year.

I see more and more people acting from a conscious self sometimes called the 'higher mind' rather than the unconscious fearful mind. I see people researching, reading, questioning and changing. So if these deeply rooted beliefs can be re-examined and changed - everything can. Beliefs, as well as habits, are slow to break. But, breaking habits, even good ones, are a key to freedom (liberation).

There are no 'others', there is no separation, there is only a vibration which unites you and me and every living being on this beautiful planet we call home.

We have a chance to change the narrative. Let’s do it together. Happy new year!


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Hello Bertolotti

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Hello Bertolotti

As a birthday present this year, I gave myself a full physical check-up, and as a part of it, I went for an MRI of my spine yesterday. This was something I wanted to do for a while, as I knew something was going on in my lumbosacral and my neck, but never got around to it and honestly, the idea of being trapped in that machine for almost an hour scared me. But, after the dull and sometimes piercing pain in my lower back started to be more frequent, I decided it's time and, regardless of the discomfort and a small anxiety attack I had in that machine (I almost walked out due to restraints and small space), I am happy I did it as now I have answers to so many questions. Answers only those scans can give.

Mine showed a cervical disc protrusion which did not surprise me at all, one in my lumbar which I also kind of knew about (felt it), and something I had no idea I had - a unilateral (meaning only on one side) fusion of the transverse process (the bit that sticks out on both sides of your vertebrae) of the lowest lumbar vertebra to the sacrum called Bertolotti's syndrome. It’s congenital and, it seems, not that uncommon at all.

Of course I had no idea I had this - X-Ray vision is not one of my superpowers nor is any of the specialists I have seen. My symptoms were consistent with SI joint inflammation, and this is, apparently, a common misdiagnosis. The truth is, no doctor can make a definitive diagnosis without an MRI scan, they can only make assumptions based on symptoms. One of the great parts of living in 21st century are the technical advancements like all those fancy machines that can look beyond the skin and let us know what's going on. So, why not use them?

The bad news

Because of the fused bit, the mobility of lumbosacral is limited, causing the compensation at upper vertebra and discs, especially L4-L5, so it's no surprise this is where I have a disc protrusion as well and this will continue to deteriorate if I’m not super mindful. But, I see this new found condition as a blessing and an invitation to research more, learn more and be more mindful with my body, on and off the mat.

The good news

My symptoms are now mild and I do hope it stays that way, and the doctor who examined my scans said I have a healthy spine, regardless of the condition. I could have shown scoliosis which is a common symptom, more degeneration of lumbar discs etc, but, thankfully, none of that is true. My body is strong and I am grateful for yoga and for asana practice, as in terms of physical exercise, that is the only constant in my life for the past two decades. But, I am also grateful I am not practicing asana the way I did ten or more years ago. If I did, the reality might be very different. The truth is, there is so many asanas which are harmful more than beneficial, especially when there is a pathology involved (and let’s face it - most of us have some).

The conclusion

When I started teaching teacher training courses, I started questioning everything I have learned about yoga thus far, and have found my own path lit with knowledge - checked facts, research and constant study of how our bodies work and move as well as experience from my own practice and from my teaching. There is so much I have taken out of my practice as well as my teachings in the past decade, and I believe that switching to a more mindful practice and less form-based have helped me stay healthy and injury-free. Asana is a tool, and a tool can be used to make something or to break something. The only question is - what do you choose when you step on that mat?

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Reflection on Self-love

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Reflection on Self-love

profile by sanji.jpg

I recently posted this photo my good friend and favourite photographer Sanjin took, as my private fb profile pix, and got an interesting comment about it in my inbox: “You're glowing, you must have finally found someone who makes you happy.” 

It was a well meant comment by a friend, but it did make me think. Yes, I am happy, maybe even happier than I’ve ever been. I feel great in my skin, my heart is content, I’m healthy and living my dream. And I guess it’s true. For over a year now I’ve been in a beautiful, magical, supportive and loving relationship with - myself. All that I am, all this abundance I am blessed with right now, I have created myself. That special someone is me. Yes, finally. 

But, as far as romantic relationships go, I am actually more single than ever.


As a former serial monogamist and a fun-loving (man-loving;) flirt who falls in (and out) of love quickly in between more serious relationships, and in those more (and less) serious ones, will turn her life upside down and take giant leaps of faith, or blindfolded jumps into an abyss, this is all rather new to me. I’m not saying I was never single for a longer time, of course I was, but there was always a fun, exciting story to tell and/or something to be (over)analysed. Whether it was a recent exciting encounter on my many travels, a new development with an old flame, or a drama with an ex, I always kept close friends entertained with my love life. A few months ago, after hearing me say: "No, nothing's happening in love department" one time too many, a good friend seriously asked me if I'm hiding something, a forbidden love affair with a married man perhaps? She knows this is something I would never do, yet she thought it was still more plausible than my "nothing is happening" answer. 

Of course, between those movie scene worthy moments I entertained my friends with, there was also much heartbreak and each one took a toll. But, every time I fell, I would get up. Every time my heart was broken, I would duck tape it and was ready for more. Love was like a drug and one relationship cured the gap and pain of previous one(s). I thought it was me being fearless in life and love. It took me a while to see was hidden beneath the surface. 

After my last failed relationship, when I recognised same stories are repeating with, what seemed, completely different men, I knew something needs to change. I put my duck tape away, gave my heart time to heal, and decided to focus on myself without distractions. It was time to lay new foundations and to detox from the old, to cleanse from this cluster of old energies, some older than myself, still lingering on. It was time to take responsibility for my own heart and happiness. And, to be honest, it wasn’t a mental decision at first, it was more a feeling of enough. It felt it in my body, like there was no more space for anyone else than me, I felt like my heart needed to relearn love for self before it loves anyone else again.

I was still attending my psychotherapy course at the time, and knew there was no better or safer time to dig deep and see what lies beneath the surface. Yoga and everything I know about body, mind and soul helped, but when you need to dig a deep hole you need someone to hold a light torch as you dig. You need someone who knows what can be encountered in those dark corners. To tell you what you see with objectivity and to explain to you why it's there, to hold a mirror, to guide you when need guidance and finally, help you build new foundations. Today, when people struggle with things and come to me for help, the advice is always the same. Therapy. Find someone who will guide you through the dark corners of yourself, hold space when you crumble, show you your shadow and light, and help you integrate both.

On the surface, I was a fun loving free spirit, a wild horse, fierce warrior. But beneath I was also a lost little girl in need. A princess in a pink dress, as I called her, a part of me locked in a dark tower, hidden from daylight. I disliked her pink dress, thought she was weak, hated when she came out and messed things up for me. It took me a while to see her light, to accept her shadow and to love her. That stupid dress (I picture her in) and all. It also took a while to see and accept the flaws of the fierce warrior Self, to take off the armour without fear. I needed to learn to love and accept all of me, to understand and accept my past, to lay new foundations and plant new seeds for the future. 

Now I enjoy my own company and will choose it over superficial connection any day. On most days I accept and love all of me, and don't need someone to fill that void. Just like anyone else, I still believe life is about the connections we have, but I now try to be more conscious and connect out of love, not out of need. I believe that only from this space of wholeness within, we can truly connect with others. 
I feel I have found this home within, but I know there is still a long way to go.

And I know this story doesn't finish with 'The End' but rather with 'to be continued…' The integration and love for myself and the world I feel right now will for sure be tested over and over again. But, I feel I am ready. 

So... to be continued... ;)

"It was when I stopped searching for home within others,
and lifted the foundations of home within myself,
I found there were no roots more intimate,
than those between mind and body
that have decided to be whole."
- Rupi Kaur

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The power of love

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The power of love

For thousands of years, Vedic Rishis, Buddhist monks, Yogic sages, Tao and Zen masters alike used different meditation techniques on their quest for truth and enlightenment, and for millennia, these sacred, powerful practices, taught in different forms, have been taught and shared mostly behind temple doors, to those walking a spiritual path.

Even though rooted mostly in spiritual traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism, meditation techniques we know today, are not necessarily practiced only by spiritual seekers on the path higher consciousness and, ultimately, liberation, but by anyone seeking a peace of mind and relief from stress and anxiety of day-to-day life. Today, meditation is a wide spread practice and various meditation techniques are easily accessible to anyone. And one might say it was a never more needed antidote to many burdens of modern living.

In ancient times people learned by experiencing and doing; much of the knowledge came from observing self and nature, allowing to be guided by intuition and faith, and often simply trying things out; embracing what works, discarding what doesn't. If you know the story of Buddha, you'll know what I mean. Today, we have science. We have smart people with PhD's and MRI machines. Nothing wrong with that, it's all a part of our evolution as species, it is just interesting when science proves what those luminaries; rishis, monks, sages, masters knew all along - meditation is a gateway to higher states of consciousness and to our full human potential. On Patanjali's Eight limbed path for example, meditation, or Dhyana is a final step before Samadhi. 

The science

Since neuroplasticity was discovered (neuroplasticity is the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning and practice) a whole new field of brain research opened up in all directions, meditation being one of them. I won't go too scientific on you (there are plenty of scholarly articles online), and will stick to the basic facts. Meditation studies have shown that practicing meditation over a longer period of time can decrease stress, anxiety, neurosis and depression and increase concentration, attention feeling of calm, empathy, compassion, emotional regulation, help bounce back quicker from stressful situations, can boost immune system, improve memory and creativity. The list goes on. For all of this to happen, meditation needs to be practiced regularly and over a longer period of time. Many benefits will start to emerge even after a few days or weeks, but for some deeper 'rewiring' to happen, it might take a while.

Different types of meditation activate different parts and networks in the brain producing a distinct effect. Training your brain/mind is same as training your body. If you do only one form of exercise including only the muscles needed for that particular exercise, those are the muscles which will change their structure (increase in strength), but if you want a full body strength, balance, flexibility and agility, you need to change your routine and challenge your body in more ways than one. If you repeat the same, your body will get used it and you may hit a so-called plateau where nothing much changes. Similarly, if you want to get all the different benefits of meditation and not just increase a certain potential, you need to challenge your mind in different ways.
 

Five M's

I have been practicing yoga for two decades now, and every time I step on my mat to do asana practice I include some concentration / meditation practice too, bringing the mind to a one pointed focus, most of the time on the body followed by the breath. I still do this and teach this, but I have picked up some other meditation practices along the way which I love and practice today. My favourite are the five M's: Metta, Mantra, Mindfulness, Movement and Mudra meditation. In this series I will cover each one of them starting with, in my eyes most powerful one, - Metta. Metta simply means loving-kindness and it is simply a meditation in which our main focus is cultivating the capacity for loving-kindness.

This was a meditation practice that changed my life. In my twenties, when I was living in the US during one of my yoga teacher training courses, I stumbled upon a book on Buddhism. This encounter with, what I felt was philosophy of life, resonated so much with me, I kept on acquiring books on Buddhism reading and learning until I felt the need for more and found a Buddhist centre I would go to for talks and meditation sessions. Out of all meditations we did, Metta was the one which resonated most. From today's perspective, I see now how it helped that 20 something year old girl with much internal struggle heal some of her wounds and see the world with different eyes. It helped me realise that the only way to healing oneself as well as the world is through forgiveness, love and compassion. To never forget this Truth, I had Tara, the goddess of compassion tattooed on my back. I still believe that, without love, kindness and compassion there is no healing on any level of our being or on the global level.


How to practice Metta

Use the guided meditation video below first, but once you get the feeling of it, you can find your own way and practice by yourself anytime, anywhere. At the beginning, for a week or two, try to practice daily. It can happen, and very often does, that some uncomfortable feelings like sadness, grief, even anger, come up, but this is normal and a good sign that something within is shifting. If you have a therapist who can help you dig deeper into those feelings and help you integrate them, that is the best way to proceed. There is only so much we can do alone, it's amazing when we can ask for help, meaning we are willing to see, change, receive and finally, heal. 

Going back to science, Metta meditation fires up parts of the brain in charge of compassion, empathy and altruistic behaviour. With the increase of emphatic concern, we witness a decrease of personal distress and start seeing a bigger picture, shifting from the ego self to broadening our circle of compassion to all life. And when the change starts to happen from within, the world around us starts to change too because we start seeing the bigger picture, we take charge, we no longer blame but rather find ways to create positive change for the good of all.

I believe our essence is compassionate and kind, but due to traumas, disappointments and stresses of everyday life, we build walls and take on arms slowly forgetting and ultimately detaching from our true nature. This detachment causes unhappiness, depression, anxiety etc. Metta meditation is a daily reminder of our true nature and the more we practice it, the closer we get to living from the heart as free, open, loving, happy beings.

 “Until he extends his circle of compassion to include all living things, man will not himself find peace.” Albert Schweitzer

Cover photo: Sanjin Kastelan

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lessons of water – the yoga of surrender

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lessons of water – the yoga of surrender

“Be like water making its way through cracks. Do not be assertive, but adjust to the object, and you shall find a way around or through it. If nothing within you stays rigid, outward things will disclose themselves. Empty your mind, be formless. Shapeless, like water. If you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle and it becomes the bottle. You put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now, water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.  Bruce Lee

I love this quote by Bruce Lee, it speaks volumes and I believe catches the essence of water. Water is the most adaptable element. It changes depending on the situation and its surroundings, accepts and embraces the circumstance and the environment, isn’t afraid to change shape and adapt.

Water teaches us to be to be flexible and live in the moment. Water doesn’t try to control the uncontrollable, it rather surrenders and allowing the transformation to happen. A river surrenders to the Earth’s gravity and becomes a waterfall, ocean surrenders to the wind and creates waves, a lake surrenders to cold air and becomes ice, or the sun’s fire and becomes vapour. It teaches us we can’t grow, discover, transform and move forward if we’re standing in one place refusing any change.

Water is patient and always finds her way through the smallest cracks. It doesn’t anticipate or plan, it sees the opening and goes through it. It doesn’t question, it trusts and follows. It teaches us that everything is intertwined, interconnected and co-dependent and there is nothing we can control but is ourselves, how well we can adapt to external and internal circumstance and how much faith to find small openings and keep on flowing trusting that life will show us the way, and how fearless we are in following our path non knowing where it may lead us.

Water is about adaptability, spontaneity and living in the moment. And often, in order to connect to these qualities, we need to let go of the comforts and do something that challenges us, something which we can’t control even if we want to, something that will allow our creativity and spontaneity to take hold of our body, mind and heart. That can be moving spontaneously on the mat allowing the free flow of creative to move us, but it can be dancing or any form of exploration which will allow us to tap into the unknown and be ok with it, let go of any control (mind) and surrender to the (body) experience.

For me surfing and being in the ocean has been such an exploration of my inner world. It has taught me so much about myself, about mindfulness and being in my body rather than in my mind, following rather than taking control. Because out there, there is nothing you can control, you need to observe, surrender and follow.

To me, Mother Nature is the greatest teacher. She holds so much wisdom and so many lessons. Reconnecting and tuning into this wisdom is a most intimate yoga practice. Standing barefoot on the beach, listening to the waves meeting the shore is a meditation. And surfing is my practice of surrender. Ocean humbles me; Its power, depth, vastness, the unknown and uncontrollable.

Yoga is a path to liberation. A path of awakening, surrender, and living our essence. There are many obstacles along the way, but if we’re willing to learn, the teachings and tools to overcome them are everywhere. We all seek freedom our own way, all we need to do is keep on walking with a light step, clear intention and a fearless, open heart.

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Nature is the greatest teacher

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Nature is the greatest teacher

Everything that exists is an intricate part of the whole, all life is intertwined. This unifying principle can be observed everywhere we look. It’s raining outside as I’m writing this - the rain came from the vapour lifted up from the earth by the air after the sun has warmed Earth’s rivers, seas and oceans. The rain brings water back to the earth to nourish the plants and help seeds grow. Seeds which were planted into the Earth with the help of gravity, wind, water or animals. Animals feed on the plants nourishing themselves and fertilise the earth with what remains. Animals and humans breathe in oxygen provided by plants, while giving back carbon dioxide plants need to live, thus creating yet another cycle. Everything has its role, everything has its place, everything is in perfect balance.

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A Karma yoga story

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A Karma yoga story

The story of Mia

Mia <3

Mia <3

Few days ago, a stray dog followed us as we walked home from the beach. She seemed scared but decided to trust us and follow us home. We fed her let her take shelter to rest and sleep on our terrace. She was restless at first and would startle at every louder sound, but after a while, she relaxed. She had something funky on her ear so we called the local Dog Care Clinic to see if we can bring her in. They said yes, but a while later, a loud noise from the street scared her and she ran away. I had to teach but my friends went to the clinic to show the photo of her ear so we know what it is and what to do if she shows up again, and they said ‘Oh, that is Mia. She ran away a few days ago’.

This is where the story of Mia starts and of us finding out about the Dog Care Clinic, a wonderful project founded by an amazing woman and run by some incredible people. But, I will get back to that.

We found out Mia still needs some antibiotics and that the funky thing on her ear is medicine and a sponge which needs to be removed. We saw her again on the road and she even followed us to the Shala but couldn’t stay there because of other Shala dogs. We saw her wandering the streets later that night being chased out of every house she would attempt to enter as most have dogs already. She would follow people but most would ignore her as people do when it comes to stray, scruffy dogs. We called her, but she didn't come to us. But yesterday early morning she followed my friend Sanjin from the beach back to the house. We gave her food and water, but what it seemed she needed more than anything again was peaceful shelter where she felt welcome and where she can rest for a while. I had a morning off so I stayed with her and later on, the Clinic employees came to take her.

On my lunch break I went to the Clinic to check on her and spoke to a wonderful Dutch lady who told me about the Clinic and everything they are doing. I asked what happens to Mia now and she told me that, as soon as she gets all her medicine, they will send her back on the street. They are a hospital and can't keep all the strays there. This broke my heart. This little skinny scruffy yellow being already got under my skin and I started to think about the option of taking her home, but then Carla told me about their 50+ sponsorship programme and all I asked was - ‘where do I sign?’.


The story of Dog Care Clinic in Sri Lanka

The DCC (Dog Care Clinic) clinic was founded just over 10 years ago by Marina Mobius, a woman with a big heart who had a dream and made it happen. DCC and its facilities is set on a rather large plot of land and is amazingly clean, well organised and equipped. They run as a dog hospital offering free care for any dog brought to them as most Sri Lankan people don’t have money to care for their dogs. They offer free vaccinations to stop spreading of disease, free neutering and spaying both for dogs with homes and strays. They go around the area in a tuk-tuk every morning to feed the strays and care for those injured or with a disease. There are over two hundred dogs living in the clinic and most of them are ‘special needs’ dogs; some too old to be let out on the street, some injured, some unable to be integrated back on the streets, some are handicapped.

The clinic employs over 40 local people on a full wage and has quite a few foreign volunteers. Besides taking care of thousands of dogs, they are really trying to raise awareness within the local community. After all, it is us, humans who created this problem and now we're pretending its's not ours. The 50+ programme I mentioned and through which I am sponsoring Mia, is a wonderful way of helping both dogs and local community. DCC finds homes for the dogs (who are lucky enough to get sponsored instead of ending up back on the street) with local people who have no income, especially elderly or those over 50 who are virtually unemployable here. Stray dog gets a home, food and lifetime treatment by the Clinic whenever needed, and the family gets a monthly income. It’s a win-win. Each family can take up to three dogs.

If you are a vet student and want to come to Sri Lanka, volunteer at the clinic and learn the trade by doing the work, the DCC provides accommodation and food.
 

Our Karma yoga project

After hearing all this and making sure Mia will finally, after five years of being a stray dog and going through who knows what, have a home, I decided to share the inspiring story of DCC with my teacher trainees here in Sri Lanka and make it a Karma yoga project, something I almost always do during teacher trainings.

So, today we went to visit and got a full tour by Barbara, one of the vets and volunteers from Austria. We saw the dogs who are getting treated as well as those who stay there full time. All of them were so sweet and friendly and just wanted cuddles. To think that, most of them were hurt by humans and they still trust us... It was an overwhelming and emotional visit for most of us, but we also saw the amazing facilities and wonderful work these people are doing so it was also very inspiring. Now we are raising funds for the DCC and will see how else we can help while here. 

Karma yoga, the path of attaining liberation (which is a goal of yoga) through unselfish action, is one of the oldest branches of yoga. It teaches us of selflessness and compassion which is extended not only to those we know and love, but to all the beings on this Earth (as well as the Earth itself). Liberation is freedom from the bondage of Ego, attachment, materialism, false believes and illusion, and Karma yoga I believe is, in the self-absorbed society we live in, more needed than ever.

I like to do Karma yoga projects with my TTC groups in hope that my students leave the training with much more than being able to teach a good yoga class. I hope they will leave with an understanding that yoga is not about asana and sequencing, but rather about the liberation from (even those) attachments. My hope and wish is for them to become more aware, awoken, conscious and compassionate human beings, yoga teachers who will inspire others with their selfless actions and consciousness rather than asana performance or sequencing skills.

If the story of DCC and one person who created a great impact (she helps old people home in Galle too) inspired you, there is an easy way to help. You can donate either by wire transfer or via pay pal using info@dogcare-clinic.com Your donation is safe and it will go into a good use, after what I saw today, I can guarantee that. Any amount will help, and, if you want to sponsor a dog like Mia and help a local family check their 50+ programme or ReHome programme.

“Humanity's true moral test, its fundamental test, consists of its attitude towards those who are at its mercy: animals. And in this respect humankind has suffered a fundamental debacle, a debacle so fundamental that all others stem from it.” - Kundera

All photos by Sanjin Kastelan <3

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and justice for all

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and justice for all

san francisco

I’m sitting at an airport lounge waiting for my flight back to Europe, contemplating last couple of days. After my psychotherapy training and completion ceremony in Mendocino, I decided to stay in San Francisco for a few days and revisit the city I loved and knew quite well as I spent a month here in 2005.

I arrived late afternoon to my rented apartment on Mission Dolores, not too far from the house in Haight-Ashbury where I stayed so many years ago. Same night I only ventured close by the apartment to a used bookstore, something I always do, and a quick dinner in a near by Japanese vegan restaurant.Next day I woke up early (it was still dark out), did my meditation and, filled with anticipation and excitement, went out for a nice long run as soon as I saw daylight.

Neighbourhood was just waking up, kids on their way to school, people rushing to work with their take out coffee/ tea. On my run in and around Mission Dolores park I have also noticed quite a few homeless people, some sleeping, some walking around but thought it was because of the park so I didn't think much of it. After the run I had a coffee and breakfast in a local café and finally left ‘the hood’ to explore the city. I didn’t have big plans apart from a lunch date much later, so I decided to walk the charming residential streets I remember and explore city’s nooks and crannies.

But as soon as I left the park behind me and familiar streets I run through just a moment ago, I started to notice homeless people everywhere. Literally everywhere – nicer streets, shopping streets, dark alleys (just not in super rich neighbours as I later found out). People of all ages, all colours (even though, truthfully, darker complexions were in majority). Some streets had actual tents on the pavement. The more I walked towards downtown the worst it got. Every five minutes there was someone talking to themselves and often shouting at some invisible presence only they saw. Smell of piss and weed was everywhere as weed it’s now legal now in California and even though I am for legalisation, this just made everything even stranger to me. As I walked I felt my body tense up even though my rational mind told me that most of these people are not a danger to me and are just poor lost souls, but I guess the pure unfamiliarity of the situation made my nervous system think otherwise. What I saw actually broke my heart and puzzled my mind as I couldn’t wrap it around the fact this suffering, hopelessness and inequality exists in such a prosperous, rich city. Shameful. Disgraceful. Horrid. I don’t remember SF this way. Did I just not notice before?

Yes, I am sure many of these poor souls are drug addicts, but so many are not. I saw a white man in his 30’s who looked just like any other man walking past me on his way from work break. It seemed at first he was just sitting on the pavement resting, which is why I noticed him as it struck me as odd, until I came closer and saw that his clothes were warn out and there was a sleeping bag and some belongings neatly folded next to him. What broke my heart the most were the young people. So many of them. Some walking around talking to themselves, some going through rubbish bins, or like one boy of just over 20 who's image will stay with me for a while, just sitting on the pavement hopelessly staring down at it as if ashamed to be where he is. This particular one was holding his dog in a tight embrace, as though he's holding on tightly to the only precious thing he has. In Mendocino I there were also some young homeless people and I spoke to one of them who had a dog. 'Her name is Freya' he said. ‘She’s wonderful. She keeps us sane’. He had beautiful blue eyes with no hope in them. What do you say to that? 

The walk I looked forward to so much was anything but joyful recollecting a time passed and ended up with an anxiety attack I haven’t experienced in years now. But, this post is not about that. The city I looked forward seeing so much made me uncomfortable and sad. It had this low, at time aggressive vibe. Vibe of no life. 

The people of the city walked on as is used to the presence of those poor lives. Most of the time they would stare at their phones anesthetised and detached, tourists running around with their shopping bags turning their heads, crossing the street. 

The social injustice which I haven’t seen this close-up in a long time is present everywhere in the world, but the extremes are painted in such vivid colours here in the US that it’s impossible not to notice. Suffering is everywhere. Injustice and inequality is everywhere. There are millions of homeless roaming the streets and then there are million dollar homes on Presidio Heights and Noe Valley where even tourists are band from. The ultra-rich and privileged live in their bubble up on the hills not understanding or wanting to understand that those unprivileged living on the streets never stood a chance. One of them (some tech CEO) recently wrote to the major with this complaint:

The wealthy working people have earned their right to live in the city. They went out, got an education, work hard, and earned it. I shouldn’t have to worry about being accosted. I shouldn’t have to see the pain, struggle and despair of homeless people to and from my way to work every day.’

Wow. This is what kind of a human liberal capitalism breeds. The unhuman human. The human who doesn’t want to see the pain and suffering. The human who believes those people are there because they didn’t go out and earn it. The forgetful human who had a fair start and had already paid his student loans and now doesn’t remember how impossible for most is to study in this country. 

The government is throwing money into this ‘problem’ pretending it’s doing something but not admitting that is just a bandage which doesn’t even hold. The problem is much deeper and it goes into the deepest foundations, false promises and lies we are constantly fed. Everywhere, not just here.  

For the change to happen and this unjust world start to heal we all need to wake up. I keep saying this and I will keep saying this until I can't speak no more. We need to stop looking at our phones and distract ourselves with shiny new things and stupid TV shows and start challenging the system. We need to start seeing that power is in the hands of people. We need to cultivate compassion and kindness for all, not just our family. We need to start thinking, caring and doing whatever we can to end this suffering and injustice. We need a revolution - one which starts in our hearts and minds. 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK

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Follow the light within

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Follow the light within

I believe kindness makes us happy, giving makes us joyful, seeing alikeness and equality in all gives us peace, helping others makes us feel fulfilled. I believe only love can resonate love back. I believe we are all born as kind, loving, compassionate beings. This is our essence, our truth, our home. And when we dwell in this loving, compassionate state we are aligned with all life, united in love. 

Judgment and hate are learned. We are taught to differentiate, dislike, oppose and disagree with. We are taught to put value on people judging by their appearance, skin colour, shape of their eyes, clothes they wear. We learn to dislike someone just because they live in a country across some imaginary border or pray to a different God. We are taught to feel superior because we have more material wealth or because we (believe we) know more. Men are taught they are superior to women so every other girl and woman walking this Earth has been violated and assaulted some way by those who believe their mother, sister and daughter are to be loved while somebody else's child doesn't matter. We are taught to hate those different, pray on those weaker, turn a blind eye, put a price tag on a life. 

We are taught to see the difference between animals; between a cat, dog, monkey, snake, zebra, cow, pig, elephant. Some we love, some we fear, some we kill because they taste good, some we wear because their fur or skin looks good, some we jail so our kids can see a tiger in Europe, some we ride for pleasure, some we use for entertainment. We believe we love animals and consider our pet a family member while at the same time we eat the flesh of another. We teach our children to love all animals, yet still feed them bacon. We are in shock and sign petitions to stop killing of pilot whales in Faroe Islands and dolphins in Japan, yet we will order a tuna stake at a restaurant. We are disgusted with Korea’s dog eating tradition but will enjoy eating lamb chops. We think bunnies and monkeys are cute and would never hurt them, yet we buy cosmetics which is completely unnecessarily and cruelly tested on animals.  

We say we love nature, we go hiking, to the beach, surfing, sailing etc. and are shocked when we find the sandy beaches of Thailand or Bali are full of rubbish, yet we pollute any chance we get oblivious to the fact that the plastic bottle of water we just bought will most likely end up on that same beach. We turn a blind eye to the fact that the oceans and rivers are polluted, that the Amazon is almost bare, that the climate is evidently changing and all so we can have enjoy our conveniences and eat meat, fish and dairy, drive a big car, own stuff.

In this world Kardashians and alike are admired, scientists, humanitarians and people fighting for good causes are much less important. Image is more important than intelligence, shallowness more than morals. Beauty is valued more than kindness, convenience much more important than preserving the environment. Conformity over freedom. Selfishness over humanity. 

There is something terribly wrong with the society we live in and we are all to blame, but we also all hold the cards to the future in our hands. It is never too late for change. 

The way we live, and we live the way we were taught and told to live, isn’t sustainable. That it is contradictory to common sense, that its unnecessarily cruel, destructive and serves no one, not even ourselves. That there isn’t much logic, kindness or compassion in the way we are taught to live and to see the world.

Let's consider for a moment that underneath the skin we are all made up from the same elements, we all have a beating heart, lungs to breathe, bones to support us, we are all flesh and blood. That we can all love, feel pain, feel joy, be sad. That we all smile when someone smiles at us and that no colour, nationality, religion we belong to, gender we are, beauty and possessions we have, no amount of knowledge, money, fame or power will ensure happiness, stop us from being hurt, falling ill, being depressed and finally leaving this world.

Consider for a moment every life does matter. That it isn’t fair, that it is far from kind or conscious that we get to decide who suffers, who gets to live and who gets to die. Consider for a moment that maybe no life should end to indulge our taste buds. That a mammal produces milk to feed its new born, not to feed a human so no baby should be taken away from their mother so we can eat dairy. That wild animals belong to the wild, that they are conscious just like us, and just like us they don't want to be chained, trained and beaten so we can enjoy a moment of entertainment. 

The idea that some lives matter less really is the root of all that is wrong with the world. If we all focused more on how much alike we are and less on the differences, the world would be a much kinder, happier place. I truly believe we are all born as loving, empathic, kind beings and that everything we think, say and do which doesn’t resonate with that pure essence within takes are further away from the home we all long to come back to.

We need to change and understand that there is no shame in changing our ways once we see the truth, but there is in choosing to turn a blind eye. We have to question everything we have ever been told and taught, everything we see and hear and check the facts, feel if they resonate with our heart and our consciousness. We need to, more than ever, silence the noise, tune in and listen to the truth that whispers from within, see the light within and follow. It will guide us home.

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Five steps to a brighter tomorrow

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Five steps to a brighter tomorrow

The future is - humane

For most of us, an end of a cycle naturally calls upon reflection on what was, what is, and what we wish will be. Every ending brings a moment of pause, a moment when we look behind in contemplation of a road behind us. At the end of a year we reflect upon everything that happened; the joyous moments we’ve had, places we saw, people we met, tears we shed, things we accomplished, what we lost, challenges we faced and how we met them, but also upon the people we were; what moved us, what hurt us, what made us happy, what made us sad? Were we loving and compassionate to others and did we create positive resonance with our thoughts, words and actions? How gently did we walk upon this Earth? Were we kind enough? Were we gentle enough? 

Even though we shouldn’t dwell in the past but always face forward, I believe reflecting on what was is important. History is a great teacher, it provides information and insight so we can easier put the pieces of puzzle together, and, even though the future is still unknown, we can use the lessons learned yesterday to create a brighter tomorrow.

When we look at the road ahead, the unseen and unknown, we're full of hope. We envision new, bright beginnings, we hope for new possibilities, visualise a happy future for all. We set intentions, hopes and dreams. But, in order to make our dreams become reality, we need to make space for the change and open to the new, we need to let go, release and detach from the old. Old ways of thinking and doing, believes which don’t resonate with our heart and soul, ideas which don’t ring truth to our higher mind’s ear.

Creating a brighter future for all depends on each one of us. We are all equally important and equally responsible to create a positive change and a brighter tomorrow. To become more humane humans. To survive and thrive as species in equality and abundance for all, stop the destruction of the planet we share with other beings (yet, we are the only ones who destroy it), and save the only home we have. And to do this we need to change our ways of doing and thinking. This may be hard, inconvenient, uncomfortable etc, but it is also the only way to move forward.

It takes opening your eyes, thinking with your head, rethinking your choices, doing some research, abandoning convenience and conformity. But, the beautiful thing is, it really pays out. Not only on a big scale of things, but in our microcosm as well. Kindness and compassion resonates with our hearts and souls, and every small step we take in the right direction brings us closer to our free, loving essence. Below are five steps in the right direction to help the world move forward. 

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1. Try a vegan (or vegetarian) diet

Meat and dairy industry is one of the biggest problems our world faces today. From the environmental like climate change, pollution, water use, deforestation etc. to health issues attributed to consumption of meat and dairy which has been scientifically proven for decades now. Not to mention the sheer cruelty of the industry which for some, myself included, is the main reason for a plant based diet. Somebody once said that 'The idea that some lives matter less is the root of all that's wrong with the world'. I share this sentiment and believe that the first step towards a brighter future for all is, in Einstein's wise words 'widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty', - extending the love and compassion beyond self, family and friends we love. 

I also believe this is the way of the future. New generations are already adopting a plant based diet, many professional athletes are turning vegan and debunking the 'what about protein' myth. And judging by these promising statistics, the world is changing indeed. 

Every time I write or speak about the importance of adapting a more sustainable diet for the benefit of all, I fear my words will cause resistance and an opposite effect. It is in our human nature to defend our ideas, beliefs, our way of life. If change was easy, our world would be a different place. The only thing I can say is please don’t take my word for any of this. Do the research yourself. Watch documentaries (there is actually a playlist of some on my youtube channel), read studies, find answers to all the questions you may have. There is so much empowerment in that. And maybe just give it a try, see how it feels.

I love Veganuary project where you can pledge to go vegan for a month. The website is full of info and answers to some common questions as well as a starter kit and recipes.

 

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2. Become a more conscious consumer

Every coin you spend of your hard earned money goes to support an industry you may not want to support. Some of the biggest companies and industries today, whose products fill the shelves of most supermarket giants, became so big and made such profit on the backs of low paid labourers (often children) in some distant lands with poor labour policies, cheap, toxic and bad quality materials or ingredients, huge environmental impact, false advertising and elimination of small producers and more ethical alternatives (Monsanto is a great example of this). They have grown to be giants who now run the world economy because of us. With every coin spent buying their product, we made them billions they can now spend to pay off politicians who pass bills and legislations for them, and pay of studies to back up their case and become even bigger, more unethical with only one thing in mind - profit. Consider this next time you're out to buy anything. And again, don’t take my word for it, do the research. It will empower you to make more conscious choices. Start small, with something you buy daily like food. Buy local, organic, go to farmer’s market instead of supermarkets, find ethical stores in your area. 

(I have been following ethical consumer for a while now, plenty of latest info can be found there of both unethical and most ethical companies.)
 

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3. Explore ethical fashion

Fast fashion is becoming a big problem, from the cruel materials used (leather, fur, feather, wool etc.) to bad labour politics and an environmental impact. Also, dyes, bleaches etc most commonly used are not very healthy to put on your skin. This is a new one for me and I have started to go down this road recently, this was one of New Year resolutions last year. 
It's not as easy or convenient (unless you live in London or Berlin) as these are not your high street brands, but much is available online.

I took some time to do a bit of research, ordered some things online, tried some brands and am happy I made this switch. At the end of this text you can find links to (so far) some of my favourites. I also have an ethical shopping app called ‘good on you’ I love and use to check ratings of fashion brands.

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4. Use cruelty free cosmetics

The beautiful truth about being a more aware and conscious consumer / human is that all the good choices you make are not just good for the environment and compassionate to other beings, but also better for your health. It’s a win-win-win kind of a situation. The rule of thumb when it comes to cosmetics is that you shouldn’t put anything on your skin that you couldn't also eat. The skin is our biggest organ and everything we put on it is absorbed into our body, the same as everything you consume.
As far as the animal testing goes, it's cruel and unnecessary. Cruelty free cosmetics is widely accessible everywhere and have been for as long as I can remember. There are so many brands depending on where you live, and since I mostly reside in Europe at the end of the text I have listed some of my favourite EU brands. 

 

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5. Consider your waste

I don’t think I need to tell you how bad plastic and other harmful waste is for us, the planet and other living beings inhabiting this same planet. The impact of plastic waste and the fact that in few years there will be more plastic than fish in the Ocean is common knowledge. And if you’ve gone this far in reading this text, meaning didn’t get annoyed, defensive and stopped reading, I am pretty sure you are already doing your bit when it comes to waste. I can bet you recycle, am pretty sure you didn’t take a plastic bag on a market or in a shop for years and you can’t remember when was the last time you bought water etc. in a plastic bottle. But, we can always do more.
Greatly reducing waste is my pledge for this year. I know it will be anything but easy as this year I will be spending at least six months travelling, but it’s a challenge I am willing to take on and I’m sure I’ll write about it soon. Thankfully there are so many inspiring bloggers out there living the zero waste lives I can find information and inspiration in.


Change is a process, and like any other, it takes time to unfold. If you are new to all this, take baby steps, but take them in the right direction. If you are already doing a lot, see how you can do just a bit more. Together we can create positive changes towards a brighter tomorrow. Happy New Year! 
 

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” 
― Albert Einstein


MY FAVOURITES:

Clothes*: Mud Jeans for jeans, Kings of Indigo for all things denim. Patagonia is an ethical leader in outdoor wear & surf, All sisters for swimwear and I love Vitamin A for swim and beachwear. For yoga and workout Reebok and Prana are two brands available world wide which are on the good side of things. Adidas (especially Stella McCartney) as well. There's many interesting ethical clothing brands out there like YSTR, Know the origin, Wunderwerk I can't wait to order something from (when I need something) and Mara Hoffman for high fashion brands as well as Stella McCartney, long time vegan and animal rights activist. Love Lanius virgin wool coats. More brands: P.i.C Style, People Tree, finisterre, Beaumont organic, Armedangels, HTHT, thought, Nomads.

All of the above are either European brands or can be ordered from EU shops. There are many more in the US, Canada, Australia etc. but with shipping costs (both $ and environmental) it seems to defeat the purpose of the sustainable idea so I haven't mentioned them. Vitamin A can be ordered from neiman marcus.

Shoes and bags*: For vegan shoes and bags check out Avesu online shop with different brands (I have and love Beyond skin motorcycle boots which are a must have for me, and dressy trainers from Good guys and Nae. Matt & Nat for beautiful bags, wallets etc. 

* most of these brands are more expensive then your regular high street brands as their production costs are much higher. But, in wise words of Viviane Westwood 'Buy less, choose well, make it last'.
Zara and H&M are making an effort towards more sustainable fashion and often stock organic cotton clothes. 

Cosmetics: Urtekram, Lavera, Sante, Dr.Hauschka - I love Lavera make up, Urtekram shampoos and shower gels, Lavera toothpaste and deodorants, Sante body lotions when I use them (I usually make my own), their small travel size shampoos and shower gels as well as hand creams and deodorants (usually I make my own). I use Bam & Boo bamboo toothbrush. 

Home cosmetics: (washing, cleaning): Ecover + DIY ;)

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Aim your bow towards the Truth

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Aim your bow towards the Truth

I have been offline and off social media for a few weeks, not so much to detox from it all, but more because there was much going on and in so many different ways, so I needed quiet without distraction. And while Advent celebrations are in full bloom here with gatherings and events on every corner, I have been spending much time at home, inviting my friends and family over rather than going out, reading rather than browsing social networks, looking within rather than looking out. 

For me, winter season and an end of a cycle (year) always brings out the need for solitude and introspection and this one more so than ever. This is my time to clear out the debris and drop some weight I carry. To open my mind and heart, to question my beliefs and let go of old perceptions. And this is a process which requires solitude, quiet and silencing the noise so the whisper of the heart can be heard. 

The natural cycle of death and rebirth inviting us to drop the old and make space for the new, which fall /winter season represents the start of, was coupled with some similar planetary aspects this month. After a strong and heavy full moon at the beginning of the month had shed light on the dark side of things, unresolved issues could no longer hide. Unspoken had to be said, truths had to be seen, masks had to fall off, mud which lay in the bottom had to be stirred up to resettle. And this can be a tense, conflicting and tiresome process. It requires clarity, help and most of all a fearless heart; unafraid to see the truth and speak the truth, unafraid to change or accept which cannot be changed, courageous in taking responsibility for one's actions, words and thoughts regardless of (sometimes uncomfortable) outcome. 

If you have felt (and still do) heavy, conflicted doubtful and restless these last few weeks, as I know I have as well as many of my friends and students who confide in me, know you're not alone. We're all in the same boat. But, also know this is all just an intricate part of renewal and awakening. The key is to allow ourselves to feel; get angry, allow yourself to be sad, really feel whatever comes up, and be brave enough to accept it. Be honest, examine yourself and drop what is not yours, and change what you can. I know it's a tall order, but if you feel lost, seek help and guidance of a wise(r) Soul and tune into your heart – it knows the way. We already have the perfect compass within, but to use it we need to be quiet and steady. 

Use this time as a gift.

Speak but also listen; don’t be afraid to speak your truth, don’t be defensive when you hear the truth. Be courageous and drop the old habits which do not serve your growth, drop inherited beliefs not resonating with your heart. Stand up for your self. Don't avoid conflict as it's sometimes needed to stir things up and resettle them. Forgive yourself so you can forgive others. See the things as they are not as what you’ve been told. Be fearless in creating the change you would like to see in the future. And very importantly, use this season to tune in rather than check out and be distracted with all of the shinning lights and consumerism the season brings. 

Once the challenges are behind us, the lightness takes over, optimism and new hope for the future. Why? Because we know we are responsible for the future and we are doing everything to make it brighter for all of us. We're doing the work ourselves, not expecting others to do it for us. We don't play the blame game but take responsibility ourselves. We know we are creating the change within so we can participating in a change without - creating a more just world, relieved of unnecessary suffering. We know we are a part of the solution, not a part of a problem.

Yesterday's new moon in Sagittarius carried the energy of bright new beginning, as Sagittarius carries the energy of our adventurous, free and fearless spirit and aims its arrows to the future, seeking Truth and one’s true purpose in this life. 

So, let that be your guiding light. Be adventurous, be brave, be free and fearless and aim your bow to the brighter future for us all, using your heart to guide you. Be a better human. Create positive change within and without – today.

Wishing you all happy holidays and blessed, light and more conscious New Year! 



Photo credit: Sanjin Kastelan

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Is Instagram killing yoga?

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Is Instagram killing yoga?

"If I never stepped on a yoga mat before, I might, like some people, also believe you have to have supernatural strength as well as flexibility of a contortionist to practice yoga". This is an opening line for a new column I recently wrote for Buro 247. In the column titled "yoga is for everyone”, I only touched the subject of Instagram yoga, it's influence and what social media in general is turning this ancient practice into today, but I feel there’s much more to be said. Thus, this post.

Not many years ago, when I would mention yoga to someone who doesn't practice, they would say - Yoga is boring, or yoga is slow for me, I need something dynamic. Today I hear them say - Yoga? That’s too hard for me. I’m not flexible enough. I’m not strong enough, I’m not disciplined enough. What’s next? I’m not pretty enough?

With all of these impossible asana photos hashtag-ed #yoga on profiles followed by hundreds of thousands I can't help but wonder: who and what do they serve? These highly edited photos of perfect bodies wearing super expensive yoga outfits or often wearing next to nothing, in impossible asanas, on an exotic location day after day, featuring lives few can have, remind me of fashion magazine editorials with impossible lifestyle and beauty standards to which not even the model herself / himself can live up to. Because it's unreal, stylised, photoshoped with one intention behind - to create a desire and ultimately, to sell a product.

The text under these posts is often aspiring to inspire saying something along the lines of: ‘You think I was this strong? Think again! I was weak until I spent countless hours doing my handstand, working with best of the best gymnastics trainers, putting my blood, sweat and tears into it and look at my one arm handstand now!’ Some people will ind this inspiring, to some this sends a message: I’m not disciplined enough. Honestly, I always think the time and discipline invested could have been put into better use. Like the study of yoga texts, or volunteering, or a walk in the woods connecting to the nature. All would be more in the spirit of yoga. Yogis are not gymnasts and we don't compete so how perfect is your handstand doesn't really matter at all. In fact, it only creates those close to impossible goals. Because, most people have jobs, families, lives and not much space for gymnastic training. But I have to say I do understand. Perfect handstands sell more workshops or products etc. Cause and effect. 

I also have an Instagram profile. I sometimes put advanced asana photos up there, so I am not excluding myself totally here. Sometimes I do handstands and post photos of them but, honestly, I generally suck at handstands. Can’t hold them for long. Why? I never invested the time.Not because I lack discipline, but there was always something else I felt my time was better invested in. Like writing, studying, meditation, having coffee with friends... Sometimes I advertise my workshops, trainings and yoga retreats. But I know (and those of you who know me know it too) that whatever I share, is honest, real, no BS involved, and there’s no misinformation (I’ll come back to this one). Yoga, as a spiritual practice has been my spiritual journey for the past 20 years. I feel there is much I can say about the subject. And honestly, I can’t really be called a great influencer with my following. But, if I had hundreds of thousands of people I can reach via social networks I hope I would be using this outreach to serve yoga and yogis, and not for self-glorification and making $. 

Going back to misinformation. I overheard two of my teacher trainees talk yesterday about ‘great tips and tricks you can find on Instagram’. Yes, there are some gems you need to dig out under a pile of, excuse my language but - crap. If you want to dig through crap, you know how to dig, and how to recognise a gem from crap, dig in. But, if you can’t it’s better you take advice from qualified teacher, as it should be, than browse Instagram for alignment tips on how to’s and do’s and don’ts of a yoga teacher fresh out of 200 hour TTC or, even worse, a ‘self- taught yogi’ (yoga cannot be self-taught). This is like seeking advice on how to write a book from someone who has just learned how to read and write. And I thought 'I learned yoga on youtube' was bad.

So, what happened and how did yoga get mixed up in all of this?! When did it become all twisted, misinterpreted and reduced to a mere pose and/or a product?

The ability of Western world or so-called modern society to take something beautiful, real, ancient, true and diminish it, turn it into a product is pretty impressive. Yoga is a spiritual discipline which should ultimately lead to awakening, not used as a tool for marketing or Ego boost. But, just like sex, spirituality sells too. Create desire, sell a product.

When will we ever learn? Yoga, spirituality, freedom, authenticity … beautiful words and concepts turned into phrases overused and emptied of their meaning, stripped down to servitude of individuals seeking self-gratification. Instead of awakening we are putting ourselves into deeper sleep, one which is even more dangerous than the one before because now we believe we are awake. We are spiritual. Handstands are spiritual because of a great discipline put into them - hence tapas - hence yoga. (I personally am not convinced.) I'm not saying never do a handstand, just stop obsessing about it. It's actually not important. Won't change the world or make anyone a better person.

Five thousand years of history, remarkable insights which make your head spin, revelations so deep, so profound, scriptures so beautiful, practices so helpful (especially in this fast paced day and age) - almost forgotten. It is sad how little or close to non the yoga tradition is shared and taught. It’s even more sad how little yoga teachers know about it. The eight limbs of yoga reduced to asana series (Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga and the Ashtanga yoga of Patanjali are NOT the same thing). Tantra, one of the most beautiful, insightful schools of thought emerged from India reduced to mere sexuality. Nothing is sacred today and even the most sacred of scriptures are misinterpreted to serve a purpose - create a more appealing product.

The subject of Instagram yoga keeps coming back in my conversations with friends, colleagues and students and my opinion is usually that people are smart enough to distinguish true from fake, real from unreal, right from wrong. I always think that Truth will, eventually, reveal itself. But, then something pops up on my IG or FB feed and I realise - no, it will not. It has gone too far. The world we live in is built on fake-ism, unreal-ism and wrong-ism somebody actually supports / believes in. If that wasn’t the case, there would be no Kardashians and alike.

I just wish Kardashians of the world would stay out of yoga.

The problem is, Instagram is just a showcase of the perception of what yoga is and of what yoga teachers teach today. Not the yoga teachers of another era (one before social networks) I am beyond grateful to have been able to study from, but young generations of teachers armed with those incredible bodies, military discipline and a deep understanding of anatomy and biomechanics, but with little knowledge and understanding of history, tradition, philosophy - the real juice of yoga which is beyond asana. I hope this changes, but I’m not counting on common sense of human race, or awakening, I’m just hoping everybody will eventually get bored of handstands, hollowbacks and body obsession generally and move onto something else. 

And for all of you yoginas and yogis who have already figured all of this out let me just say – thank you! Because you are the ones keeping the yoga tradition (in the West) from sliding into oblivion and buried under expensive leggings, handstands and contortion sequences. 

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Banana pancakes with ChocoNut spread

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Banana pancakes with ChocoNut spread

I have been cooking since forever. Baked cakes with my mum when I was still a child and had to use a chair to reach kitchen top, made simple breakfast and lunch for my brother and me while still in primary school, had to cook for myself when I was in my teens and decided to go vegetarian. So, I know my way around the kitchen and know my ingredients so I almost never use recipes. I'm more of an intuitive cook; I open my fridge or pantry and make something out of what I see. This morning I wanted to make pancakes for ChocoNut spread I made yesterday and realised I have no flower of any kind so came up with this simple, delicious variation I'm sharing with you today together with CocoNut recipe;). 

ChocoNut spread

Ingredients: 

200 g hazelnuts, roasted  
1/2 cup mix of coconut oil & cacao butter
4 spoons of raw cacao powder
4 cacao beans (or a spoon of cacao nibs) 
2 spoonfuls of date syrup (or any other sweetener) 
rice milk (or soy, almond, even water) if needed*

*if the paste gets too hard you can use the milk or water to liquify it a bit
 

How to: 

- Roast hazelnuts and use a dry kitchen towel to take the skin off
- Melt cacao butter and mix in with coconut oil
- Blend the hazelnuts first than add the mix of cacao and coconut oil
- Add the cacao powder and sweetener to the mix
- Add cacao beens (optional) 
- If the paste is too hard, add milk or water
- Bend until you get an even, smooth mixture
- Taste it! You want it more chocolate flavour? Add more cacao. You like it sweeter? Add more syrup / honey etc. 
- Don't leave it the fridge, it will harden up (like chocolate does) 

Banana pancake

Ingredients (for two pancakes)

1 larger ripe banana
2 spoonfuls of oat flakes
1 teaspoon date syrup (or other sweetener) 
1 teaspoon of Arrowroot powder (or other thickener) 
a pinch of cinnamon
little bit of lemon juice (one squeeze;) 
2 spoonfuls of coconut oil
 

How to: 

- Blend banana, oat flakes, date syrup and cinnamon for 10 sec only
- Add a teaspoon or more (depending on how thick your dough is) of arrowroot powder
- Add some lemon juice (optional) 
- Heat up coconut oil on a frypan and use half of the blend for one pancake
- Spread into a thicker pancake (I used a spoon to make it flat and shape it) 
- Make sure it doesn't burn; use low heat and turn after a minute or so
- Use a thick spatula to turn and place on a plate so it doesn't break
 

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- Spread ChocoNut while the pancake is still hot
- Top up with raspberries or other fruit (or don't;)

... and enjoy! 

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