By Jill Leslie
Owner and Founder
“In February 1968, the Beatles went to India for an extended stay with their new guru, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi,” writes Philip Goldberg in his book, American Veda, a fascinating look at India’s profound impact on Western culture. “It may have been the most momentous spiritual retreat since Jesus spent those 40 days in the wilderness.” [Photo of the Beatles by shutterstock.com]
Indeed, for we are living at a time of a profound awakening of consciousness that is changing the world. Much of that awakening is due to the influence of Indian spirituality, and its practical applications in our everyday lives.
If you are one of the estimated 20 million Americans who practice yoga, if you meditate or have taken advice from Dr. Dean Ornish or Andrew Weil, the ancient Indian teachings are already part of your life. In fact, the ancient texts of India have shaped our understanding of the mind and body and are dramatically changing how we view ourselves and our place in the cosmos.
Why do Americans gravitate to yoga and Vedic teachings?
Brought to the United States well over 200 years ago, this wisdom offers practical, pragmatic ways to improve the quality of our lives. The texts on yoga, Ayurveda, and meditation offer tools for optimizing our health and well-being, for treating disease, and for self-realization.
For many people, what is unfamiliar often produces fear. While you can embrace these practices without ever lighting a stick of incense, becoming a vegetarian, or chanting Hare Krishna, some people are under the false impression that these practices require adopting a new religion. In fact central to the Vedic teachings is the wisdom: “Truth is one, the wise call it by many names.”
So consider these misperceptions, which may be standing in the way of you and inner peace.
- Yoga is a religion. Yoga is not a religion. It has no gods, credos, or ceremonies. Yoga is designed to help us understand ourselves, and our place in the cosmos. Georg Feuerstein, author of “The Deeper Dimension of Yoga: Theory and Practice,” writes: “Yoga aids all who practice religion, regardless of their persuasion, by balancing the nervous system and stilling the mind through its various exercises.”
- To practice yoga you must be flexible. On the contrary, doing yoga makes you more flexible. So you don’t need to start off being able to wrap your legs behind your head. Rather, yoga utilizes the body as a vehicle to quiet the mind. Stretching helps to release tension from the body and the mind and opens blockages in the body, making both the body and mind more flexible. Do give it a try. I promise, you’ll surprise yourself.
- Yoga is for the ladies. While most of the people that fill a yoga room are members of the fairer sex, plenty of men appreciate a great yoga class. In fact, a recent survey by the Harris Interactive Service Bureau on behalf of Yoga Journal surveyed 5,050 people who did yoga, and found that about 30 percent were men. So heads up guys: Taking a yoga class offers you a great way to meet women.
- I’ll have to give up eating meat and drinking wine. Yes, the yoga philosophy recommends a vegetarian diet as a way to cultivate a peaceful state of mind. Alcohol, as we well know, dulls the mind. The recommendations aren’t a dogma, or religious decree; they are simply guidelines for optimum mental, physical, and spiritual well-being. To be honest, most of my friends who practice Yoga drink plenty of wine, eat steaks and burgers, and still enjoy their yoga practices. It’s up to you how you integrate Yoga into your life.
Now, consider some of these common concerns about embarking on a yogic path, and what you can do to overcome any apprehensions.
- I tried to meditate and can’t do it. You aren’t alone. But keep this in mind: There is no “wrong” way to meditate. It can be as simple as sitting on a chair and silently counting your breaths. There are numerous meditation techniques. So do give it a try. Simply find one method that you are comfortable with, and stick with it.
- I don’t need to do yoga; I already work out at the gym. I am going to share something that seems to be a secret: Yoga isn’t a form of exercise. The physical practice was developed to quiet the mind. Of course there are innumerable physical benefits from a regular yoga practice, and gobs of research shows that, the practice of yoga and meditation can prevent and even cure disease.
- The bottom line. Mostly, yoga makes you feel better. Take a class once a week to get your feet wet; then bump up your practice to three times a week to start the transformation. Do yoga daily, and I promise, you will feel like a new person within a month.
If you have never practiced yoga before, give it a try! If you do practice, but not consistently, consider my holiday gift to you a reminder to get out that yoga mat and stretch.
About Jill Leslie and Ayurveda Alchemy
Jill Leslie is a certified Ayurvedic practitioner, herbalist, wellness chef, and yoga teacher in the San Francisco Bay Area who, for more than two decades, has been immersed in the study and practice of natural healing.
The entrepreneur, who has owned her own businesses since graduating from the University of Maryland in 1986, founded the award-winning retail shop Milk & Honey in Sebastapol, CA, in 1999. She sold it in 2006 so that she could delve deeper into her study of yoga and Ayurveda.
Ayurveda Alchemy: As she discovered the life-changing wisdom of these ancient practices, she began sharing her knowledge at wellness retreats, yoga studios, and through cooking classes. Her passion for herbal medicine and nutrition, and her love of sweets, inspired her in 2008 to found Ayurveda Alchemy.
In addition to hosting classes and events, and providing consultations and dietary advice about Ayurveda, she has created a line of healthy and delicious confections, which are available online at Kitchen Alchemy Treats. “When I learned the adage of Ayurveda, ‘Let your food be your medicine,’ I put on my apron and said, ‘Let your medicine be delicious,’” she says. Learn more at www.AyurvedaAlchemy.com.