Is yoga an oxymoron?

Yoga seems like an oxymoron sometimes. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, the term “oxymoron” is defined as a combination of contradictory or incongruous words (such as cruel kindness); broadly: something (such as a concept) that is made up of contradictory or incongruous elements. In Yoga, we learn to find comfort and steadiness through balancing resistance and opposing forces in our bodies during Asana practice. We learn the importance of honing our concentration in Dharana in order to free the mind to meditate in Dhyana. We look inwards and study ourselves to inch towards the goal of Samadhi, a state of supreme higher consciousness and ultimate understanding that we are all one. Indeed, the Yogic path seems contradictory if we viewed those seemingly incongruous states existing as distinct and opposite points of a linear road. But… what if, instead, they were just two sides of the same coin? One key message that I’ve come to deeply appreciate about Yoga is this power of perspective. Yoga teaches us that our happiness depends on how we perceive things. On the yoga mat, we contort our bodies into shapes of all kinds, including backbends, arm twisters and inversions, so we may experience and see the world from all angles. Through our practice, Yoga challenges us to shift our perspective and be more receptive, so that we may always find and appreciate the good in every situation, for there is never just good or bad, there is no pure duality.

A Vatta pacifying version of my favorite workout snack…

Understanding that I’m a Vata-Pitta Dosha, below are two versions of one of my favorite workout pre/post snack, Oats! As a Vata dominant Dosha, I to eat before every workout or feel lethargic during my workouts. For YTT, I make my cold overnight oats each Sunday in a giant mason jar that I have for breakfast each morning (sorry Nauli…). As I’ll be heading to Boston in a couple weeks, I wanted to prepare a warm version of my favorite oats to pacify my Vatta dosha that will likely be thrown out of balance (too much) given the cold weather.

Warm Carrot Cake Oatmeal
For the oatmeal:
1 cup (125 g) finely grated peeled carrot
1 1/4 cups (310 mL) unsweetened almond milk
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon pure maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
Dash ground nutmeg, to taste
Pinch fine sea salt
1/2 cup (50 g) rolled oats
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice, to taste (optional)
Chopped toasted walnuts
Shredded coconut

Cold Strawberry Chocolate Overnight Oats (current obsession)
1/3 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/2 cup (heaping) rolled oats
2/3 cup unsweetened chocolate almond milk
1 tablespoon chia seeds or ground flax meal
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
0-2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1/4 cup chopped fresh strawberries

We are all connected.

We are all connected. Whether we realize it or not, our actions impact one another. Yoga teaches us to pay closer attention to cause and effect of actions in life. Just as we develop our Asana practice by learning how muscle groups are interconnected, and see how a posture can improve significantly if we simply reposition our palm or shift our weight to the back foot, we become more in tuned with how our actions affect the people around us. As we practice in a group class, we may notice how one person toppling out of a balancing posture such as Vrkshasana (tree pose) can bring down others around. We may also notice how one person’s negative mood in class can bring down the collective energy of the class. Nowadays, with social media significantly reducing the degrees of separation within our communities, our actions are more powerful than ever – positive or negative. Everyone has the capacity and responsibility to effect powerful positive change, even from the smallest of actions. Understanding this, I believe it is so important now to help spread this message of interconnectedness to encourage more mindful action. This is a key message I want to spread as I continue my yoga journey and teach others along the way.

Just keep breathing.

In Yoga we are told that breath is the singular most important thing. We’ve all been told by our yoga teachers to breathe deeply, to consciously bring awareness to our breaths, to synchronize breath and movement, and so on. Indeed, I’ve come to learn during this course that the power of our breaths is truly astonishing and far-reaching. Our breath is the key to unlocking our true potential.

Breath is life.
Breathing is the most essential function of the body that can be directly controlled. It not only powers our cardiovascular system (we would die in a matter of minutes if we stopped breathing), but also serves as a critical ingredient in all our body’s electro-chemical processes. As Swami Sivananda said, “A yogi measures the span of life by the number of breaths, not by the number of years.” Thus, learning to control, extend, and maximize each breath we take is the key to longevity.

Conscious breathing heals.
Unconscious breathing is controlled by the medulla oblongata in the brain, while conscious breathing comes from the more evolved areas of the brain in the cerebral cortex which impact emotions and thoughts. This helps promote mental clarity and focus, an inner calm. This also helps removes blockages to allow prana to flow more freely to enable the body to heal and repair more quickly.

Pranayama is a powerful tool.
Prana means life, vitality, or energy, which is inherent in our breath. Ayama means length, expansion, or control. Thus, pranayama is the extension and control of the breath. Using ancient pranayama techniques passed down through Yogic tradition, we can regulate our physical and mental states to achieve homeostasis, i.e. healthy body and mind. Additionally, Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras instructs the use of breath to achieve higher states of consciousness, i.e. spiritual growth.

Asana without proper breath is… not Yoga.
Proper breathing technique during Asana makes a meaningful difference in ability, awareness, safety and comfort. More importantly, not breathing defeats the purpose of practicing Asana in the first place, which is to prepare the body and mind for a meditative state to aid spiritual growth. Without the breath to connect the body and mind, Yoga would just be gymnastic!