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Corn Tortillas

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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

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.

Could Yoga Be The Solution To A Stress Free Life?

Stress seems to be everywhere these days. From work commitments to family responsibilities, we suffer through a never-ending list of tasks to complete – all while facing time and financial pressures that can weigh heavily upon us. So many outside sources attempt to influence us and our decisions – from our employers to advertisers to social media – until it’s exhausting to keep up with it all.

 

Most of us have experienced varying degrees of mental or emotional strain at some point in our lives, and while there are those of us who cope better with this than others, eventually stress takes its toll on each of us. Though many try to carry on as normal, others seek out guidance from a therapist and some turn to pharmaceutical help from a doctor. Wouldn’t it be great if we could address the stress that permeates our lives in a more holistic way that avoids medication?

 

Avoiding solutions that may adversely affect us, such as the side effects associated with many drugs, and addressing the underlying causes of our anxiety is a far safer and more sustainable approach to tackling stress and its varied symptoms. Recent research has already told us that yoga can be wonderful for our physical wellbeing; we’re now discovering that it can also be just as helpful for our mental and emotional wellbeing.

 

How can yoga help us combat stress without turning to medication?

Numerous scientific studies have found evidence that the regular practice of yoga can have significant positive effects on reducing stress and anxiety levels. There seems to be several factors at work that contribute to yoga’s ability to improve our moods and keep us calm.

 

One of the keys appears to be a neurotransmitter called GABA (short for gamma-aminoutryic acid). GABA acts to inhibit nerve transmission in the brain, thereby calming overactive nervous activity. Having lower levels of GABA is associated with mental health illnesses like depression and anxiety while higher levels have a calming effect. Studies have shown that those who practice yoga on a regular basis, have elevated levels of GABA compared to those people who partake in another similar form of regular exercise (such as walking).

 

Researchers have also found evidence that links the practices of yoga, meditation, and deep breathing to changes in the expression of genes involved in metabolism, immune function, and insulin secretion. The study author notes that these methods of deep relaxation enhance wellness and counteract the effects of stress such as anxiety and hypertension.

 

Additionally, a separate study has shown that yoga and meditation can be an effective tool to reduce inflammation caused by chronic stress. Regular practice altered the activity of inflammatory and antiviral proteins in practitioners and brought stress relief to the study participants.

 

How do we apply an ancient practice like yoga to help us manage stress in modern times?

While it’s true that the world has changed a great deal since yoga was created, the fundamental aspects of the human condition are still very much the same. People have always faced external pressures and stressors. While the most obvious aspects of our current lives are very different from conditions in the past, the fundamental existential functioning of our minds and our emotions remains unchanged.

 

In a high-pressure world where we are trying to be productive in our professional careers and attentive to our familial responsibilities while still maintaining an active social life, it seems that something has to give. When juggling all of these commitments, we need some way to create balance in our lives and to step out of our hectic daily routines.

 

The regular practice of yoga can give us just the break we’re seeking. The ancient techniques of yoga – sometimes combined with more modern modifications – give us tools and techniques to achieve equanimity and inner calm by regulating our bodies and our minds. It enables us to listen more closely to our internal wisdom and tune out the incessant chatter and distractions of the outside world.

 

Yoga teaches us how to remain centered and focused, making us less likely to be easily triggered by eternal factors that create stress and anxiety. When faced with a new problem, a looming deadline, or a disagreement with a colleague or family member, yogic tools help us to moderate any propensity toward knee-jerk reactivity and allow us the perspective to take a more calm and measured approach to resolving challenging situations.

 

The ultimate aim of yoga – through physical postures, meditation, focused breathing, and other techniques – is to settle the mind. A calm mind sharpens our awareness, makes us less reactive to external stimuli, and helps us to maintain our perspective in difficult circumstances. Even subtle shifts in our mindset can create profound changes in our ability to handle anxiety and assimilate stress.

 

As practitioners have long known – and scientific studies continue to demonstrate – the physiological responses that yoga activates in our bodies also have far-reaching effects on our minds and emotions. The integration of mind and body through yoga offers a tremendously effective method for reducing the stress of modern life.

 

So whether you’ve considered taking a class at a local gym or studio, traveling to an exotic locale on vacation for a yoga retreat, or just want to practice in the comfort of your own home, yoga can offer profound benefits and help us to feel calmer, more relaxed, and more balanced in our daily lives.

5 Things You Should Know Before Going on a Yoga Retreat

Are you considering a yoga retreat? Whether you picture yourself on a tropical beach escaping the harsh chill of winter or avoiding the heat and humidity of summer by heading to the mountains, a yoga retreat could be the perfect vacation for you.

A yoga retreat offers the chance to unwind and focus on the real you – rather than the overworked, stressed, and tired you – leaving you feeling refreshed, invigorated, relaxed, and calm. It’s a great opportunity to step away from all your day-to-day responsibilities and give yourself the break you deserve.

So, if you’re thinking about attending a yoga retreat for the first time, here are five things to consider before you go:

  1. Feel free to go it alone

For some, traveling solo can be daunting. Will you like the others on your retreat? Will you feel awkward arriving by yourself? One of the beautiful aspects about a yoga retreat is how many liked-minded people you’ll meet there. You’re bound to share a great deal in common with several of your fellow participants and enjoy meeting lots of interesting, diverse folks. Traveling by yourself also gives you more freedom to dedicate part of your retreat to “alone time” – setting aside space for you to concentrate on yourself and focusing on what’s most important to you. While traveling with a friend or family member can also be wonderful in its own way, a solo trip can open you up to new possibilities that you otherwise might miss. A yoga retreat can be a powerful bonding experience and it’s quite common for people to make friends who they stay in touch with for life.

 

  1. Don’t worry if you’re not an experienced yogi

Everyone has to start somewhere, and while it’s helpful to know the basics before you go, you needn’t feel like an expert before you sign up for a retreat. Most yoga retreats are led by experienced instructors who will guide you at a level appropriate for your ability. By offering modifications and variations for poses, they can ensure that both beginners and advanced practitioners feel challenged. In the end, yoga is less about contorting your body into some specific shape and more about focusing your mind and becoming more comfortable in your own skin.

 

  1. Yoga need not be your sole interest

Another wonderful feature of yoga retreats is that they are often hosted in beautiful settings, surrounded by nature, with access to lots of interesting additional activities. If you’re headed to a beach retreat, perhaps you’d also enjoy learning to surf or sea kayaking on the ocean. If you’re in the mountains, maybe you could ride horses or head out for a hike. Since healthful eating is often a component of yoga retreats, consider taking a cooking class and sharpening your culinary skills. Visiting local towns can also be interesting, particularly if you’re headed to a foreign country where you can learn about a new culture. Many retreat centers have spa facilities available for guests, so you should also feel free to pamper yourself with a massage, soak away your cares in the hot tub, or just lounge by the pool.

 

  1. Pack light

Yoga retreats are usually relaxed, informal events. You’ll likely spend most of your time in yoga pants and a tank top so there’s no need to bring a fancy wardrobe. Even dinners are casual affairs and you’ll likely be happiest in basic, comfortable clothing that you can mix and match; there’s no need for a different outfit every night. Even if you’re planning to hit the town for an evening of culture or celebration – unless you’re going clubbing in Ibiza or out to tango in Buenos Aires – simple elegance is probably your best bet. If you’re hoping to get the most out of your yoga retreat, you’ll want to embrace the experience and focus on relaxing. Common packing advice suggests that you lay out everything you want to take and then cut it in half. That sounds about right, though if you want to sneak in a couple extra favorites, we won’t tell!

 

  1. You may come home transformed

A yoga retreat is more than just a standard vacation where you experience a new place strictly as a tourist. On retreat, you will be immersed in beautiful, peaceful surroundings with like-minded people in a supportive environment. Participants arrive with the intention of relaxing and learning, helping to create an open feel and welcoming ambience. Not only will you notice the stress and tension melt away, you’ll also learn new skills – yoga postures, breathing exercises, and meditation techniques – that you’ll bring home and incorporate into your daily life. More than just escaping for a week, a yoga retreat offers the opportunity to grow and transform. Don’t be surprised if what you experience on retreat continues to affect and inform your life long after you return home.

 

Planning your first yoga retreat need not be a daunting experience. Instead, think of it as a gift that you give yourself – a chance to step away from all your daily tasks and responsibilities and to take time for yourself. It’s a great chance to deepen your understanding of yoga and self-care, to visit someplace exotic and exciting, and meet a lot of great new people in the process. You might even find it so rewarding that attending a yoga retreat becomes an annual ritual.