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Mexican Fruit Ceviche

Serves 4-6

Ceviche is a traditional delicacy in Mexico and we offer several different versions at Prana del Mar. This recipe is a unique adaptation, creating a vegan version that is light, refreshing, and delicious. The perfect treat for a warm afternoon!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/4 pineapple, cored
  • 1 plantain, peeled
  • 1 mango, diced
  • 1 cucumber, diced
  • 1/2 cup jicama, diced
  • 1/4 avocado, diced
  • 2 tomatoes, cored and diced
  • 1/2 small red onion
  • chopped cilantro
  • juice of 4 limes
  • 1 cup orange juice
  • 1 pinch of salt
  • 1 pinch of black pepper
  • 1/2 serrano pepper, seeded and chopped
  • 2 tablespoons wakame seaweed, chopped

DIRECTIONS:

– To begin, ensure that your produce is neither too green nor over-ripe, then chop, seed and core fruit and vegetables.

– Place the diced fruit and vegetables in a bowl with the orange and lime juice, add the wakame seaweed and season to taste with salt and pepper; mix well and adjust seasoning as needed.

– Let it sit for about 15 to 20 minutes (optional, but improves the flavor)

– Serve on a bed of lettuce leaves with a side of corn tortilla chips.

Please note that the citrus, salt and seaweed are the secret to this recipe. The result should be juicy and a bit salty, creating a contrast with the sweetness of the fruit.We hope you enjoy it!

Corn Tortillas

Tortilla Press

Corn tortillas are one of the staples of Mexican cooking. They have a long history in the native culinary traditions of this region and were eaten by many indigenous cultures, including the Aztecs.

There are three varieties – white, yellow, and blue – all depending upon the type of corn flour you use. Feel free to try different varieties for subtle differences in flavor as well as added visual appeal.

One tool that you will need is a specialized tortilla press. Those made out of cast iron have a satisfying heft and will make the process much easier and your results more uniform.

With just a bit of extra effort to cook your own homemade tortillas, you can add an air of authenticity to any Mexican meal. 

CORN  TORTILLAS

Gluten- and Dairy-Free Recipe

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup of corn flour
  • ½ cup of water
  • ¼ cup of avocado oil
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of black pepper

OPTIONAL:

  • linseeds
  • chia seeds
  • pepitas (pumpkin seeds)
  • cumin powder
  • thyme
  • wheat flour (omit if gluten-free)

DIRECTIONS:

– In a bowl, mix water, oil, salt and pepper with corn flour

– Add any of the above optional ingredients you choose

– Make little balls (about golf ball size) with the corn dough

– In a pan on high heat, add avocado oil, just to thinly cover the surface of the pan

– Cover the tortilla press with bags or film on each side

– Press the balls with the tortilla press, firmly but carefully

– Remove the tortilla from the press and cook in the pan

– Cook a few minutes on each side of the tortilla, and then remove from the pan

– Set aside in a cloth napkin – preferably within a covered tortilla basket – to preserve the warmth

Choosing the Right Yoga Retreat for You

So you’ve decided that you’d like to go on a yoga retreat and you’re now faced with a dizzying array of possibilities. With so many available options, how do you choose which is the right retreat for you?

Here is a guide that will help you to narrow your focus and clarify your intentions for your retreat. With a better understanding of what you’re seeking, you’re more likely to find the perfect fit.

Understanding What You Want

Your first step is to figure out what you are looking for and what type of experience you want. Some folks are seeking an intensive spiritual experience where they truly dive deep into the practices of yoga and meditation. Others are looking for the opportunity to relax and refresh, eat well, and pamper themselves. Still others want the chance to explore a novel location, interact with a different culture, and participate in exciting, new activities.

While these aren’t mutually exclusive intentions, different retreats will place more emphasis on different approaches. Understanding what is most important to you will help ensure you choose the best fit for you.

Narrowing Your Focus

If the most important element to you is deepening your yoga practice, then we suggest placing your primary focus on the teachers leading the retreat, their experience level, and their style of instruction. There are numerous approaches to teaching yoga and you’ll want to make sure that the style on offer is what feels most appropriate for you.

Some retreats offer intense, sweaty classes and workshops that focus on improving certain advanced poses while others concentrate on perfecting alignment and making subtle postural shifts to alter energy flow. Still others place greater weight on the more introspective aspects of the practice – from meditation to breathwork to self-study.

If one of these approaches holds much greater appeal than the others, then it’s important that the intention set by the retreat leader aligns closely with what you’re seeking. Check with local yoga teachers you respect to see if they are planning a retreat or if any of their colleagues – or, even better, their mentors – who share a similar focus will be offering one. A personal recommendation from someone who knows you and your yoga practice can go a long way toward finding the right fit.

Alternately, peruse the descriptions of retreats offered by yoga retreat centers or listed on retreat-specific sites that sound appealing. Read the bios and retreat descriptions carefully to help ensure that what they are offering is what you want. If you have questions, feel free to contact the retreat leader via email or by phone to make sure that it’s a good match.

Finding the Right Setting

If you’re open to experimenting with a variety of different approaches to yoga, then the style being offered may be less central to your decision. It will still be important to check that a skilled teacher is leading the retreat, but their specific emphasis may be less important to you. In that case, the location of the retreat may be the most important factor.

Do you want to escape to the beach? Head to the mountains? Immerse yourself in the jungle? Explore the desert? Tour wine country? All of these options are available and more. If you find a particular setting to be rejuvenating or energizing, then that can be a great place to start your search.

Are you drawn to the expanse of the ocean, the abundant wildlife of the rainforest, the majesty of the high country, or the openness of the desert? Across the globe, you will find options that offer each of these types of experiences. Whether you reside in the Americas, Europe or Asia, you have numerous options anywhere from a few hours away to halfway around the world, depending upon your taste for adventure.

This will also be when you decide between more rustic accommodations or something on the swanker side. Glamping has become a popular option and there are many possibilities for eco-chic retreat centers that are partially open-air allowing you to be more directly in touch with nature. There are also yoga retreats and resorts that offer a higher degree of luxury, complete with many of the comforts and amenities that you would find at a high-end hotel.

As far as comforts go, are you seeking basic, healthy meals or hoping for a true culinary experience? Are you looking to lounge by the pool, soak in the hot tub, or enjoy a hot stone massage? Do you need a pillow-top mattress and high thread-count sheets? There are retreats that will cater to all of these options and more. Expect them to be a bit higher-priced than the somewhat rustic options of more economical retreats, but for some attendees, it’s definitely worth the slight splurge.

Exploring Someplace New

Perhaps you’re open to all sorts of yoga classes and flexible on the location and type of accommodations that you prefer. If you like a good adventure or to learn new things, another consideration might be what other types of activities you’d like to participate in.

Have you always wanted to learn to surf or head out in a small boat for whale watching? Or perhaps you really enjoy sea kayaking or horseback riding or wine tasting? Hiking to the summit of a volcano or witnessing the release of newly hatched sea turtles or taking a jungle canopy tour by zip line or swimming with dolphins might also be on your bucket list. The array of available options is nearly endless.

Some participants want to explore the local area more extensively and truly get a feel for someplace new. Visiting small towns, perhaps meeting resident artisans and craftspeople, and even volunteering in the community can be a great way to forge more authentic connections and deepen the meaning of your experience.

If there’s an activity that you already love or a new adventure that you’re eager to try, you can almost always find a retreat that will offer that as an option. In most cases, in fact, you’ll have lots of possibilities from which to choose.

Piecing It All Together

Once you’ve set your priorities based on the above criteria, you’ll have filtered out a lot of the less appealing retreats and zeroed in on a much more manageable list.

If the practice of yoga was your principal priority, and you found a great selection of teachers whose offering are appealing, you can then sort by the location, the amenities, and the options for excursions. Where do you want to visit and is it easy to get there, how important are creature comforts, and what do you want to explore?

If destination and setting are primary for you, then start with your favorites and compare the teaching styles and the options for adventure of the remaining retreats. Does one teacher’s approach resonate the most with you? Was there a unique adventure or experience available on one retreat that caught your attention?

And if your focus was on particular activities or the option to explore a specific culture, then you can narrow your choices by considering the approach and emphasis of the yoga classes and the offerings and quality of the retreat centers where each retreat will be hosted.

At this point, you’ll have winnowed your list down to the options that are perfect for you. Choose the one that calls to you most and trust that you’ve done your homework and found the perfect fit.

For some tips on how to make the most of your yoga retreat, we have some additional pointers for you on that topic as well: https://pranadelmar.com/2016/11/21/making-yoga-retreat/.

Now, all that’s left is to get excited for a special retreat experience with the potential to be meaningful, relaxing, and rejuvenating.

 

Salsa Veracruz Recipe

Veracruz is a Mexican state located along the Gulf of Mexico. Its cuisine is a blend of three primary influences: indigenous, Spanish, and Afro-Cuban. Given its proximity to excellent fishing waters, many of its most famous dishes are seafood. This is the sauce for one of the region’s signature dishes: Snapper Veracruz. 

SALSA VERACRUZANA FOR FISH VERACRUZ-STYLE 

Serves 6

INGREDIENTS:

  • ¼ red onion, julienned
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 red tomatoes, julienned
  • 1 orange, cut in sections
  • orange juice
  • ¼ cup cilantro
  • 1 güero chile, whole
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 cup tomatoe puree
  • 16 olives, sliced
  • 2 bay leafs
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 Tbsp capers, strained and rinsed

DIRECTIONS: 

– Heat olive oil in saucepan over medium-high heat, add garlic, onion, and cook until translucent and lightly browned.

– Add tomatoes, bring to a boil, add tomato puree and peppers.

– Add spices, reduce to low heat and cook 10 min more.

– Add olives and capers, cook for 5 min more, adjust seasoning, remove from flame.

Tortilla Soup

This is our special version of a traditional Mexican favorite – spicy tortilla soup. Its rich flavors and many nutrients make it both tasty and healthful. Our take on this classic is vegetarian and dairy-free (unless you choose to add cheese or sour cream). With just the right amount of zing, your taste buds will be transported south of the border. 

TORTILLA SOUP

Serves 4 to 6

This is a very traditional soup typical of Mexico and is suitable for all season. Its rich flavors and many nutrients make it both tasty and healthy.

INGREDIENTS:

4 ripe Roma tomatoes cut into quarters

1/2 medium white onion

2 cloves of garlic

1/2 bunch of epazote (or fresh cilantro).

2 or 3 guajillo chile peppers, seeded

1 pinch of ground cumin

1 corn tortilla

1 pinch of oregano

3 cups of veggie broth

4 Tbs of avocado oil

Sea salt and pepper to taste

Garnish:

1 avocado, diced

Tortilla strips, fried to taste

100 grams of panela cheese or feta cheese, diced (optional)

4 tablespoons of sour cream (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

  • In a sauce pan on medium-heat, add the oil and onion, then stir until slightly brown. Then add garlic and stir. When the garlic is cooked, then add the tomatoes.
  • Let simmer for 7 to 10 minutes, then add 2 cups of veggie broth, the chiles, and the epazote and allow to simmer for 5 minutes more.
  • Next add the tortilla, oregano, and cumin, and stir well.
  • Allow to boil and then place on low-heat to simmer 10 more minutes.
  • Remove from heat and let cool for about 5 minutes. Then blend, adding salt, pepper and perhaps the additional cup of veggie broth, depending upon the desired texture of the soup you prefer.
  • Remove from the blender and adjust the taste as necessary. 
  • Serve with the garnishes on top

 

Chia Pudding Recipe

One of the most oft-requested recipes that we have is for our special Coconut Chia Pudding that we serve at breakfast. Our recipe below is a variation of one given us by our dear friend Shani Cranston of Milagro Living who first turned us on to it.

 

Once an obscure and overlooked ingredient in Central and South American diets, the tiny chia seed has recently burst onto the radar of nutritionists and health-conscious consumers looking for the next superfood.

 

The book Born to Run about the Tarahumara tribe of northwestern Mexico renowned for their long-distance running ability popularized the use of the seed for athletes and many others have come to embrace it as well.

 

Chia is high in fiber, protein, and heart-healthy Omega-3 fatty acids. It’s also a good source for calcium, magnesium, and B vitamins. Not only that, it’s naturally gluten-free and loaded with antioxidants.

 

COCONUT CHIA PUDDING

Serves 6-8

Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup of chIa seeds
  • 500 ml of soy milk
  • 500 ml of rice milk
  • 1 tablespoon of vanilla
  • 1 pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup of chopped dry dates
  • 50 ml of coconut cream
  • 1/4 cup of dry coconut
  • 1/4 cup of pumpkin seeds

Directions:

– Soak chia seeds in soy and rice milk, stir gently.

– Add vanilla, cinnamon, coconut cream, and dry dates. Cover and store in the fridge for 3 hours or overnight to thicken.

– Make sure your pudding looks thick and the chia seeds have gelled. Sprinkle with dry coconut and pumpkin seeds 

 

This pudding can be delicious on its own or over fruit. It’s great in the morning for breakfast and can also be a wonderful afternoon snack. Enjoy!

Creating a Sacred Space at Home for Yoga or Meditation

More and more yogis are realizing the joy and convenience of establishing a home practice, but wonder how to create a space that feels appropriate and sacred when practicing away from a traditional yoga shala.

As sensory creatures, we are profoundly affected by our environment in myriad ways – both consciously and unconsciously. Using that to our advantage, there are several factors to consider when carving out a place at home where we can really focus and step away from our daily distractions.

Sights, sounds, and sensations can either contribute to our sense of ease and well-being or distract us and take us out of the present moment. For this reason, it’s important to be very aware of the details when creating a comfortable space and setting the stage for relaxation.

To that end, here are several easy tips for converting an extra room – or even a small space in a room used for other purposes – so that it’s a welcoming place for you to focus on your practice. We’ve also included some bonus suggestions at the end if you have the available space.

Remove Clutter

Starting with a clean and clutter-free room will help create a sense of calm and reduce distractions, ensuring your attention isn’t easily diverted away from your practice. Don’t worry if it feels too austere at first; there will be opportunities to decorate and personalize in a meaningful and purposeful way after beginning with a clean slate.

Sensation

Next, be sure that your space is warm enough. Unless your environment is already hot, then heat the room or area a few degrees higher than normal to give it a cozy feeling. This could be ideal with a fireplace in winter because of the added beauty and comfort, but giving the thermostat a nudge is great, too. This allows you to wear thinner, looser clothing for more freedom of movement and less of a sense of restriction. The physical will translate to the emotional. Dress in comfortable clothing – cotton, silk, soft wools, etc. Warmer temps also allow you to go barefoot – creating a more direct feeling of connection to the world around you.

Sight

What we see around us can spark relaxation or create distraction. We are incredibly visual creatures, so this element can help a great deal. If windows look out on serene, natural environments, then feel free to leave shades open. If it is a more urban environment or there is lots of activity outside, then close the blinds to bring the focus inward. If you’re looking for a sense of calm, then lean toward various blues or earth tones in paint, furniture, and accessories. If you want a more vibrant feel, then reds, oranges and bright yellows will elevate the energy.

Lower the lights using a dimmer, if possible. If no dimmer, then even just reducing the number of lights that are on and covering a lamp with a scarf to drop the lumens and shift the tone of the light can help. Also, shift the color temperature of the bulbs you have if they tend toward the blue end of the spectrum. A color temp around 2700-3000 is great; try to avoid anything over 5000.

Candles are also a great addition. I recommend a primary focal candle with a symmetrical arrangement around it – straight line across a mantle, arc on the floor, two candles on the floor alongside the threshold at entrances/exits, a circle on a coffee table – can all work. Asymmetry draws attention – causing us to notice, to question, to try to figure out. We want to avoid that and stick with symmetry which will offer a sense of ease and comfort – a feeling that everything is in its place. This allows us to relax more fully.

Smell

Our sense of smell also affects us at a fundamental level. Who hasn’t noticed a familiar scent and been transported to a distant memory? Essential oils with a diffuser can be a great way to permeate a space with a pleasing fragrance and can be easily customized based on preferences and mood. We use lavender for its relaxing properties. Rose and sandalwood are also great options – even vanilla. Or mix your own – a fun project in and of itself! Incense is another great option.

Sound

Ambient sound is another crucial element. You could set the stage beautifully with all of the suggestions above, but if you live next to a busy highway or your neighbor breaks out the leaf blower, you’ll face a challenge. Double- and triple-paned windows can really help if you’re surrounded by distracting ambient noise – and there are sound absorbing fabrics that can also assist. Economical sculptural elements that create a small waterfall/running water sound are quite soothing and even sound machines can be useful in a pinch. Adding music is also an excellent option and a variety of different types (rhythmic, chanting, soft acoustic, yoga inspired, etc.) will contribute to a peaceful setting.

But if you live in a quiet or secluded place, then open the windows and doors and let the sound of the wind and the chirping of the birds envelop you. The natural connection will deepen your sense of calm and relaxation.

Perhaps most importantly, make this a technology free space – leave computers, TVs, phones and tablets well beyond earshot. Nothing distracts us and tempts us like the siren call of our gadgets. (If using your phone for meditation or yoga apps, then switch to Airplane mode to reduce interruptions.)

Bonus Suggestions

A) Exclusive Space

If a given space is reserved for quiet time, meditation, yoga, relaxation, etc. then your mind will begin to associate that space with those activities. As soon as you walk into that space each day, you’ll feel the shift. If you have an in-law cottage or a bonus room or a basement that you plan to convert and can designate it for just this purpose, it will help tremendously.

B) Add an Altar

Creating an altar is an emotional process and one that will forge an even stronger connection with the space that you are creating. If you have a personal relationship with God or your interpretation of the Divine, then it will make this space exponentially more powerful. It will make it sacred. An altar is not limited to any particular type of religion – or to religion at all, for that matter. It can be appropriate for anyone, if they are open to it.

An altar can be small, on a low table or on a mantle or tucked into a corner of the room. Or, if you’re inspired, it can expand as large as you like. For the religious, then an appropriate icon of God would be fitting for the centerpiece and other elements of your faith (a rosary for Catholics, mala beads for Hindus, a crucifix for all denominations of Christians, a Star of David for Jews, prayer flags for Buddhists, etc.). Candles, incense and other meaningful objets d’arte are appropriate. Framed photos of family and loved ones. Teachers/clergy/mentors who have been particularly impactful and influential are all wonderful to include. Sea shells, a smooth skipping stone from a family trip, a dried flower from a friend’s garden – really there is no limit beyond your own creativity. Anything that is meaningful and important to you is appropriate for your altar. Just sitting down in front of it to reflect on the richness of your life and how much you have to be grateful for can be both humbling and calming on many levels.

While not all of the above suggestions may be possible in your home or your situation, even adjusting only a few things can go a long way toward transforming a room and giving it a more welcoming feel for your yoga or meditation practice. In the end, focus on creating a clean, relaxed, comfortable space that will complement your practice. You’ll find it serves as a personal refuge from your daily concerns and helps take your personal practice to a deeper level.

Making the Most of a Yoga Retreat

Many folks all over the world are seeking out yoga retreats as an alternative to a more conventional vacation. Some are looking to relieve stress or take time out from their hectic lives, some want to get fit and shift toward a more healthful lifestyle, and others are looking for meaningful travel experiences with opportunities to explore a new country or different culture. Whatever your reason for choosing a yoga retreat for your holiday, there are many ways to make sure you get the most out of your time away.

Below are some simple ideas to keep in mind that can make a profound difference in your experience and enjoyment while on retreat:

  • Don’t always play it safe

The very fact that you’ve signed up for a yoga retreat may already be a big step outside your comfort zone. Congratulations! But don’t stop there. It’s important that you encourage yourself to continue trying new things and tackling new challenges throughout your trip. Meeting and really engaging with new people, tasting unusual foods, testing yourself (safely) in unfamiliar yoga postures, and venturing out to try a new activity or practice a foreign language – even if it’s just a few basic words – will go a long way towards enriching your overall experience.

  • Skip the expectations and keep an open mind

Even if you’ve been on several yoga retreats before, each new one will be unique based on its location, the style of the teacher, and the different participants joining in. It’s natural to get excited about what you think may happen or make detailed plans about what you’d like to do, but limiting those expectations and keeping an open mind about what you experience will keep you focused in the present moment. Staying in the present is a key tenet of yoga and you’ll be amazed at what opens up for you when you let go of your story and allow your experience to unfold without attachment.

  • Revel in nature

Most yoga retreats are set in serene locations, surrounded by natural beauty and abundant wildlife. Many people choose a retreat with the intention of deepening their own yoga practice; being surrounded by the tranquility of nature can truly enrich this experience. Whether it’s the power of the ocean, the grandeur of the mountains, or the peacefulness of the desert, you can leverage the healing power of the natural world to sink into a deeper state of relaxation. Take the opportunity to fine tune your senses to the uniqueness of your surroundings – the vibrancy of the colors, the freshness of the air, the rhythm of the day  – and notice how that focus and attention help to create clarity of mind.

  • Set aside time for yourself

In our busy, modern lives, we often find ourselves caught up in our responsibilities, our activities, and our to-do lists. Almost every moment seems chock full of tasks we should be doing – either for work or for family or for friends. A retreat is an excellent opportunity to carve out time specifically for yourself and spend some quality time alone. Whether you’re walking the beach, watching the sunset, spotting Orion on a starry night, or observing the clouds float by from a gently-swaying hammock, it can be quite powerful and revealing to dedicate time to being alone.

  • Communicate

The complement to spending time alone is to also enjoy the company of your fellow yogis. A yoga retreat is a tremendous opportunity for you to explore – both your internal and your external worlds. Twice-daily asana practice, regular meditation, and time alone in nature away from your usual routine offer an amazing opportunity to dig deeper into who you really are and what is most important to you. Other people on your retreat will also likely be opening up and seeing their lives with fresh perspective, so it can be a wonderful chance to really connect with them in a genuine and meaningful way. The pretense and superficiality that can create barriers in everyday life often crumble during a yoga retreat, leaving the opportunity to communicate with those around you in a more intimate and authentic way.

  • Focus on the reasons why you’re on retreat

One of the most important ways to prepare for your time on retreat is to set an intention for your journey. Are you facing challenges in a close personal relationship – a friend, partner, or family member? Are you feeling unfulfilled in your career or wondering whether you should make a change? Are you looking to find more meaning in your everyday life or reach out to be more active in your community? Do you want to dedicate yourself to more holistic lifestyle choices that will improve your health and well-being?

All of these – or something else entirely that is appropriate for you and your situation – are ripe areas for self-exploration and self-discovery. Choose an area to focus on that seems especially relevant and important to you at the moment and make a point of truly exploring the concerns and doubts you may have while on retreat. Reflect upon these questions after yoga classes and meditation, observe your emotional responses during your time alone, talk about these feelings with others on your retreat whose opinion you respect or who may have faced a similar situation.

A yoga retreat is an amazing place to delve deeply into a truer understanding of your essential self. It creates an environment that will offer you greater clarity and a broader perspective. Take advantage of this time away to focus on a specific area of your life that you’d like to improve and you’ll gain valuable insight that you can apply upon your return home.

If you approach a yoga retreat with an open mind, a concrete intention, and a willingness to stretch beyond your comfort zone, you’ll make the most of your experience. Soak up the beauty and serenity of nature, allow yourself time alone, and then seek out other members of your group for their support, advice, and collective wisdom. In turn, share your own perspective – and perhaps a shoulder to lean on – with those who might benefit. This approach will deepen your experience and your self-understanding, ensuring a more meaningful and gratifying experience while on retreat.

Myths about Yoga

With the growing prevalence of yoga in our society, a number of myths about the practice have emerged. Unfortunately, these misconceptions might dissuade people who would greatly benefit from yoga from ever trying it. It’s understandable that – from an outside perspective – yoga might seem foreign or esoteric to some, but that’s usually just until they try a class and realize how natural and unintimidating the practice is.

 

Some people believe that they have to be very flexible to be “good” at yoga. Others are worried that yoga is a religion and may conflict with their existing beliefs. And yet others feel like it is a practice only for earthy, new age types who lead an alternative lifestyle.

 

The reality is that all of these ideas – and many other simplistic notions about yoga – couldn’t be further from the truth. Yoga is for everybody – regardless of their physical fitness or flexibility, their religious beliefs or lack thereof, or whether they view themselves as mainstream or counter-culture. One of the beautiful aspects of yoga is that it transcends stereotypical classifications and meets us where we are, allowing us to make progress from that point forth.

 

With regard to the question of fitness, there are a couple of issues to address. The first is that the most fundamental and important aspects of yoga are not strictly – or even primarily – a physical practice. The postures (asanas in the Sanskrit) are important tools for opening the body, stimulating the flow of energy, calming the mind, and purifying the body. But they are only a means to an end, not the end itself.

 

Being able to bend into pretzel shapes or even to touch your toes is largely irrelevant. Modifications can be made for most poses to accommodate any fitness level or disability. The point of the physical postures is not to contort one’s body into a variety of fanciful shapes, but rather to integrate the body and mind, erasing that contrived sense of division between them. This is something open to all practitioners and can usually offer the most immediate benefits to those people who lead sedentary lives and don’t feel fully integrated with their bodies.

 

Another concern that people voice is that yoga is closely tied to religion and that practicing yoga may create a conflict with their existing beliefs. While it is true that the principles of yoga evolved from ancient Vedic texts that also formed the basis for religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism which followed, yoga evolved via a different path and with different aims that those religions.

 

Yoga is more focused on recognizing the integration of the mind, body, and spirit as a unified whole and leading the practitioner to a life of greater equanimity, calmness, and self-understanding. This is a path open to believers of all religions as well as to those who are not religious at all. In fact, devout practitioners may feel that yoga opens them up in ways that helps them feel greater connection to their own conception of the divine.

 

A third misconception that many people harbor posits that yoga is only practiced by new age, hippie types and that it doesn’t offer anything to those more rooted in the mainstream. While this stereotype is certainly understandable, it’s unfortunate that this holds many people back from trying yoga. The truth is that yoga offers benefits for everyone and that the basic techniques are relevant and helpful regardless of one’s lifestyle.

 

In fact, yoga can be especially instructive and healing for those who face challenging work environments, tight deadlines, financial pressures, and hectic family lives. The tools and techniques used in yoga can be extremely effective at reducing anxiety and creating a sense of calmness and balance – exactly what so many people in our overstressed society need these days.

 

The primary techniques that yoga utilizes are physical postures, breathwork, concentration, and meditation – though there are also numerous others. Different individuals respond differently to each of these practices so it’s helpful to explore a variety of these tools to judge what is most effective for each situation.

 

In the end, our preconceptions often hold us back from exploring paths that can provide great benefit. By dispelling common myths about yoga, we reveal the true power and accessibility of the practice and open ourselves to reaping its rewards. With even a basic introduction to the practice, our old views are quickly fall away and are replaced by a more immediate understanding of yoga and all that it can offer.
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Yoga – Standing The Test Of Time

For devoted practitioners, yoga provides a source of strength and equilibrium as well as a refuge where they can seek insight when facing challenges in their lives. Modern yogis have come to understand why this ancient practice has stood the test of time and how relevant it can be for their daily life. But for those who haven’t yet discovered the benefits of practicing yoga on a regular basis – and know little about it aside from the stereotypes – it may be more difficult to comprehend its lasting appeal.

 

A brief history of yoga

Yoga’s roots can be traced back at least 3,000 years, although there are those who believe several of its practices are far older – with evidence that early aspects could be as ancient as 5,000 to 10,000 years old. The foundational principles and the early philosophy of yoga are outlined in the Rig Veda, a text that was transmitted orally over many generations before first being transcribed around 300 BCE. In this early text, the emphasis is on the spiritual and ritualistic aspects of yoga with less attention focused on the physical aspects that have become more prominent in contemporary culture.

 

The word ‘yoga’ has many meanings and interpretations. At it’s most basic, the Sanskrit root of the word means “to yoke”, “to harness”, or “to unite”. This helps to convey the principle aim of the methods and techniques of yoga – to reveal to the dedicated practitioner the fundamental connection between the body, mind, and spirit.

 

For centuries, yoga was a tradition practiced mainly in India and neighboring regions.  Its focus was primarily spiritual with the emphasis on meditation, philosophical study, and devotional ritual. Beginning in the late-19th and early-20th centuries, yoga masters such as Swami Vivekenada and Paramahansa Yogananda started traveling to the western world, drawing immense crowds and intriguing many curious spiritual seekers who resonated with their message.

 

A more accessible branch of yoga called ‘Hatha’ yoga – which concentrates on the physical practices and techniques – began to grow in popularity in the 1920’s and 1930’s in Europe and the United States. In 1947, a Russian named Indra Devi, who had studied yoga extensively in India, settled in California and opened a yoga studio in Hollywood, attracting celebrities and further propelling yoga into the mainstream.

Yoga’s growing acceptance in western culture exposed more students to its teachings and devoted practitioners began undertaking pilgrimages to India to broaden and deepen their understanding at the source. Magazines and television glamorized yoga and early research confirmed its efficacy for personal health and wellbeing, further expanding its popularity.

 

What exactly is yoga, and why has its popularity grown so much recently?

In short, yoga is a physical, mental, and spiritual discipline that utilizes postures, breathing techniques, and meditation to relax the body and still the mind. While not necessarily religious or confined to a single spiritual tradition, yoga originally grew out of Hinduism. Different traditions are related to varying philosophical schools such as ‘Samkhya’ and ‘Tantra’. Varying schools concentrate on different aspects and techniques of the yoga tradition with Hatha yoga – a style that focuses on physical poses – being the most common approach in contemporary Western yoga.

 

One of the principal reasons for the continued appeal of yoga is its ability to deliver tangible results to practitioners. Rather than relying on belief or faith the way that many spiritual traditions do, yoga is about direct experience. Using tried and tested techniques, yoga practitioners can learn to gain better control of their bodies, regulate their emotional levels, reduce anxiety and stress, and lead more fulfilling lives based on values that are important to them rather than those dictated by external pressures.

 

With the ever-increasing stress levels in modern society – and more people looking towards holistic solutions to regain physical and mental equilibrium – yoga has proven to be a very powerful tool for healing. While stress has always been a part of life since its inception, only in the past few decades have people had the option to turn to medical treatments to help combat its effect. Unfortunately, medication usually treats just the symptoms and not the underlying cause, frequently with unpleasant side effects. The beauty of yoga is that it can help to root out the fundamental anxieties that affect us and point us toward more holistic approaches to solving the problems that we face. This is not to say that yoga is a panacea, as there is certainly an important place for allopathic medicine and pharmaceutical intervention, but much of stress that we face can be effectively mitigated with dedicated yoga practice.

 

There is a growing body of scientific evidence confirming the efficacy of yoga to treat a variety of conditions. It seems that every week a new study reveals some important new finding regarding the health and wellbeing improvements – from increasing strength and flexibility to alleviating anxiety to boosting immunity to regulating blood pressure and beyond – that regular yoga practice offers. There are even recent reports that yoga can help to ward off Alzheimer’s and Type II diabetes. Ongoing research will likely discover even more positive health benefits as additional studies are undertaken.

 

Yoga is also a practice that almost anyone can participate in and reap benefits from. Practiced properly, it is gentle on the muscles and joints, though some forms can also be quite strenuous if one is seeking a more taxing workout. It’s a practice that doesn’t discriminate – all shapes, sizes, and ages can enjoy yoga as long as they choose a style that is appropriate for their goals and level of experience. And it’s also affordable – no fancy equipment beyond a simple mat is required and options for classes abound at dedicated studios, fitness clubs, community centers, online, and even at home through self-study.

 

With its time-honored tradition, proven health and medical benefits, and easy accessibility, yoga’s popularity continues to expand. For the uninitiated, it may seem exotic or intimidating, but the truth is that yoga is a welcoming practice that can be enjoyed by everyone and that can offer a wide array of benefits on a physical, emotional, and spiritual level. Ultimately, it’s a practice that must be experienced to be fully understood – and the good news is that anyone can try it as soon as they are ready.