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Yoga Beyond Fitness Blog


About Karin

Yoga teacher, practicing yoga since 1997, teaching since 2003, writer/translator, global soul, world traveller (and sometimes beyond), passionate about eastern philosophy and western psychology, especially its application in mind-body practices such as yoga and somatic movement therapy, deeply in love with life, knows that our greatest teacher lies within, also sometimes a total mess - it's part of the package!

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    Recent Entries

    To See Clearly

    Sunday, May 26. 2013

    From Jiddu Krishnamurti's 2nd Public Talk "Learning That Transforms Consciousness", Saanen, Switzerland, 14th July, 1981:

    "Now, is there another form of learning? Learning not in the context of knowledge but a different form, a non-accumulative perception-action? To find out we have to enquire whether it is possible to observe the content of our consciousness and to observe the world without a single prejudice. Is that possible?

    Do not say it is not possible, just ask the question. See whether, when you have a prejudice, you can observe clearly. You cannot, obviously.

    If you have a certain conclusion, a certain set of beliefs, concepts, ideals, and you want to see clearly what the world is, all those conclusions, ideals, prejudices and so on will actually prevent it. It is not a question of how to get rid of your prejudices but of seeing clearly, intelligently that any form of prejudice, however noble or ignoble, will actually prevent perception.

    When you see that, prejudices go.

    What is important is NOT the prejudice but the demand to see clearly."

    Why Do I Need a Guru?

    Sunday, May 5. 2013

    A yogi tale:
    After many years of study, the devoted yoga student asked the ashram guru:

    "You say everyone is divine. So if I am already divine why do I need a guru?"

    The guru said: "As long as you are asking the question, you are building pedestals for me to climb on. And as long as there are pedestals, you will believe in the need for a guru. Search within! The answer lies in your question."

    Upon hearing this, the student smiled, bowed to the guru, and was never seen again in the ashram.

    It is said that she became a very successful vegetable farmer in New Zealand.

    Attempting to meaningfully answer this question proves hazardous because any attempt to make sense of it – the question as well as the answer – will inadvertently create new mental concepts that can be equally confusing.

    The greatest single trick existence plays on us is to make us forget that we are trapped. The greatest single trick we play on ourselves is to believe in the illusory idea of what it means to be free and how to achieve that freedom.

    For when we talk about truth and reality we lose sight of it. When we understand illusion and belief we will find the truth right in the middle of it.

    This can happen anytime, anyplace, and to anyone. Ashrams and gurus are no more an exception (= a necessity) than a comfy bed on Sunday morning or your best friend's comforting words melting your periodic eruptions of irritability into complete bliss (happens often with yogis, especially females!).

    Still, the best and the most surprising teacher is YOU. And Guru knows it. That's why gurus exists: to convey that truth with compassion and kindness, knowing that sometimes it can hurt before it sets you free.

    It's NOT about choice. It's NOT about choosing or accepting the reality of another (guru, friend or mentor) that may or may not set you free.

    It's about being truly free from choice, no matter how much you crave it or believe in the necessity of it.

    The Ego Thing

    Monday, December 3. 2012

    After months of relationship stress a friend of mine broke up with his girlfriend. He felt liberated and full of life again
    ... for about a week.

    "I'm not sure I made the right decision," he said with a have-seen-it-all-before tone in his voice. "Perhaps it's this ego thing? You know, the ego not wanting to be unhappy, always seeking the easy way out, always looking for happy moments forever creating division: happy/blessed or unhappy/damned. If I always submit to ego's demands to escape unhappy moments, I remain entangled in its web that only serves to keep me stuck."

    PAUSE button. What was he struggling with?

    He was mulling over two simple but not-right-now-satisfying choices:
    a) to stop suffering by separating from the apparent cause of his unhappiness (his girlfriend) and going for the fairly effortless but short-lived change, knowing that suffering would surely return later in a new disguise (because it always does), or
    b) to stop suffering (no matter its cause) by overcoming and hopefully in time eliminating ego's tendency to create division (duality) that leads to suffering. This, he believed, would be the more arduous experience of a less certain but perhaps longer lasting change, but if he failed it would mean a lifelong learning adventure with his girlfriend. :)

    The mind tends to complicate things in life that are very simple and easy.

    Is it really a question whether the ego wants to escape from an unhappy situation, always grasping for more, never being satisfied? Or a question of the ego always choosing the least difficult option, trying for an easy way out? Or, if we follow ego's insatiable demands for more and for better, do we really remain entangled in its web and continue to seek and never find?

    Questions of ego have meaning only if one has already supposed that an ego (or "I") exists and that it is concerned only with itself and the relief of suffering. Therefore, entanglement (or whatever one may call this strange state of confusion) exists well before the ego starts to run and play with ego. Whether ego really exists or not seems to be less important than the fact that many believe it to be true.

    Strangely enough, despite its dubious and fragile nature, clinging to ego and its substantive duality puts us at ease. Our individual existence and uniqueness ("I" and "you") are thus acknowledged (as if we need proof of our madness) and not even a shred of common sense or rational analysis can prove us wrong.

    What's more and far more difficult for us to grasp or understand though is that our belief in the ego causes an impediment to perceiving reality, people, things, and situations as they really are on the level of relativity and in a non-discerning neutral state. Unhappiness and suffering are real but whether this is always so or only under the power of a craving ego is perhaps the more important question to ask and a more simple and direct way to resolve the dilemma of the ego and its suffering.

    Sri Ramana Maharashi once told a curious but uncertain seeker: "Show me your ego and I will kill it."

    Naked Yoga - Naked Bliss

    Tuesday, August 16. 2011

    Naked yoga is a practice that is said to have originated with the Naga Sadhus, a secret sect of yogis in India. The full history of the sect's formation is not clear but its origins are said to date back centuries.

    In the West, nearly every yoga practitioner has heard of naked yoga (the Western version), also sometimes called nude yoga, and not carrying with us any insecurities, fears, pretence or self-consciousness as we step onto our yoga mat.

    And so, to be able to join in on the conversation I decided to try the 'Western' version – naked yoga in a private group, a mixed group.

    What's that like you ask?

    Geez, it's mortifying! Until you start to sweat and lose your grip, that is…

    I'll spare you the details of what it felt like walking naked (with only my mat under my arm) to my designated spot before the start of the class. I tried to look serious (and cool!) but that big grin on my face surely gave it away. A dishevelled Sadhu look-alike yogi was staring at me (and not only with his third eye!). I rolled out my mat and swiftly sat down. We were outdoors on a rocky 'plateau' overlooking the Mediterranean. Quick check of my surroundings and fellow yoga practitioners: majority female attendance – phew! All toned arms and flat abs. Advanced practitioners evidently. All staring at each other, silently inspecting each other's bodies. (I've never seen so many unusual tattoos in so many unusual places before!)

    Dishevelled yogi turned out to be our yoga instructor. Class started. 10 minutes silent sitting ("however you normally sit") followed by pranayama ("however you normally breathe"). Cool! So far so good. I was (still) sitting. All going well. We then moved on to asana practice. I had to stand up. And this is where things got a bit out of control for me.

    20 minutes into an advanced dynamic yoga practice my hands and feet started to slide out from under me as each and every asana followed by a vinyasa got more and more challenging – or shall I say, slippery. I was so self-conscious about my body. I was perspiring like coming out of a sauna. The early morning air felt hot although it wasn't. My ujjayi felt laboured as I muscled through the series of postures. The posture sequence was not difficult for me – I have been practicing it for years – yet, every part of my body seemed to somehow bolt, shake, or slide from where I thought it was or should be. I didn't recognize myself. I was getting more and more annoyed and frustrated with myself. Navigating in surprisingly unfamiliar territory, my concentration started to wane, everything became blurred, and all I could think about was to get dressed and go home.

    Unexpectedly, Paul Simon's lyrics came to mind: "…slip slidin' away … the nearer your destination the more you're slip sliding away…"

    What on earth (sorry: mat) was I doing here?

    It didn't take long to realize that I was not only losing my grip on myself but also on my perception of reality. Then came a moment of painful inner silence. Then that big grin (again!). I couldn't help laughing. And from there, no recovery. Before my mind realized what was happening I welcomed insanity in naked downward-facing dog!

    Shedding your clothes in front of your man is one thing, but shedding them in front of a bunch of smiling yogis (yes, grinning comes with the practice!) who twist their naked bodies into bizarre pretzel shapes is quite another. There's something disturbingly unique and beautiful about it. If you are not familiar with this style of yoga practice, naked yoga can be a quite an intense and challenging yet immensely rewarding learning experience.

    First, it's about challenging yourself and expanding your limits. Without doubt, you'll learn something new about your inner self (your 'conditioned' self) and its expression in your behaviour, like for example mental or physical obstructions that may point to a necessary inner or outer realignment in order to restore balance and well-being to get you back on track or keep you from falling – or slippin' (on your mat).

    Second, it gets you out of your familiar yoga practice environment by inviting you to surrender habitual ways of moving on your mat – and habitual ways of 'being' and reacting (or acting!). You'll learn to let go of what you think you know about a posture or how you think you should practice it, and are encouraged to explore alternative options. If your hand slides down your sweaty lower leg, perhaps you should explore if moving it a few inches higher up onto your sweaty knee is more comfortable. If it feels right to you, let go of the expectation of others. And with 'others' I not only mean your bullying ego that tries to push you way beyond your edge but I also mean the svelte, bendy woman on the yoga mat next to you who makes everything look so easy and effortless, which of course it isn't. Find your edge and stay there. Discover your inner guru and just BE. Make the practice 'your own'.

    And third, it encourages you to contemplate the right balance between stability (sthira) and ease (sukha) on a physically level as well as a mental level.

    The latter you might think is one of the keys of yoga anyway but still, it becomes even more palpable and observable when you're moving in unfamiliar territory … naked … having to renounce not only your attachment to objects, emotions, and desires (not to mention ambition, pride, and fear) but also your aversion to discomfort and habitual pain-avoiding behaviour ("I want to go home"). And much more.

    These conditioned reflexes, reactions and beliefs become non-negotiable all of a sudden. You either have to face them and let go of them, or continue to ignore and stay trapped inside them. If you accept and manage to let go of them, the path becomes easy. If you ignore them, you tumble and fall – or, using the yoga analogy, you slide off your sweaty lower leg, plop down onto your mat, and have to start at the beginning. Repeat cycle.

    All these challenges are meant to help break the attachment and identification they have with you. All areas of your being are affected: physical (the way you move and feel or sense), mental (the way you think and react), and emotional (the way your imprinted condition creates spontaneous and seemingly uncontrollable inner states).

    Naked yoga is a powerful reminder of the crux of the challenge every serious yoga practitioner, and especially yoga teachers, will need to face one day, namely that just practicing or teaching yoga doesn't mean one is a yogi. A true yogi is one who has shed not only his outer layers (symbolically I mean) but also all inner coverings, his attachment to and identification with all aspects of human conditioning and division, and who embraces and resides in his real, infinite, divine nature.

    Sadhus believe that all answers can be found within ourselves, in our divine nature. For them, it's just a matter of facing the obstacles and unobstructing the path. They certainly have taken up the challenge by creating indispensable catalysts to reach the ultimate goal of yoga:

    yogash chitta vritti nirodhah
    yoga is the mastery of the activities of the mind-field
    (Patanjali, Yoga Sutra 1.2)

    The body is their instrument. The mind their ultimate object to train upon.

    Now it's your turn to grin. Did you ever try naked yoga? It's a slippery slope. It's challenging. But it's got grip.

    Fruit Breakfast for Yogis

    Monday, August 15. 2011

    A delicious and highly nutritious breakfast for yogis (and other active people!) to be enjoyed right after Surya Namaskara, your morning Sun Salutations.

    Ingredients (all organic!) for 1 serving:
    ½ banana mashed and oxidized
    Juice of ½ fresh lemon
    2 tbsp rapeseed oil (or avocado oil, my favorite)
    2 level tbsp of a mixture of sesame seeds and flax seeds, crushed (50% of each)
    1 level tbsp of a ground mixture of 3 seeds or nuts, either sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, almonds, walnuts, macadamia nuts or hazelnuts
    ½ apple, cut into small pieces, and 3 other seasonal fruit

    Green Tip: Shop at a farmers' market - support your small local organic farmer.

    Preparation: In a bowl, mash the banana with a fork until it's very smooth. Add the lemon juice. Add the rapeseed oil (or avocado oil). Add the crushed seeds/nuts. (Use a small electric coffee grinder to crush seeds/nuts in advance, then store in a cool dry place in an airtight container.) Cut the fruit into small pieces. Mix all together. Enjoy!

    Why I like this breakfast?

    It's quick, healthy and nutritious! My favourite fruit in the winter or spring are kiwis, apples, mangos, bananas, oranges or mandarins (see picture). They provide plenty of vitamins (e.g. C, A, B1, B2, B6, and E) and are also a good source of minerals that the body needs: magnesium (muscles), calcium (bones), iron (blood), zinc (immune system), and potassium (heart, digestive system, blood sugar levels). In the summer, I switch to nectarines, peaches, apricots, raspberries, blueberries or blackberries. In the autumn, I add figs and plums.

    What's more, the lemon juice acts as an antioxidant capable of neutralizing potentially damaging free radicals (responsible for aging and tissue damage). And the rapeseed oil is very low in saturated fat (the 'bad' fat) and high in monounsaturated fats (the 'good' fat). It is said to lower the bad cholesterol levels and increase the good cholesterol levels. Rapeseed oil is also a good source of the powerful antioxidant vitamin E. And the nuts and seeds are said to promote cardiovascular, digestive, bone and adrenaline health. They also help you feeling full for a longer period of time due to their low glycemic index.

    IMPORTANT: While nuts and seeds hold many valuable health benefits, they can cause potentially severe complications in people with allergies. So if allergies are an issue for you, be careful. Ask your doctor or nutritionist first. And always check your food product labels to make sure they don’t contain anything you're allergic to.
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