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Surviving Family Holidays – Yogi Style – by Aida Bielkus

“Niyamas” is a yogi code for living.  Here is the Cliff Notes version of three of these principles – Samtosha, Tapas and Saucha –  which can be used during the holidays to ease stress.   Samtosha is the ability to find satisfaction and happiness even in the difficulties of life.  In other words it is not about believing in an external peace but really feeling an internal true peace and not letting external struggles affect you.  Tapas means to burn up negativity and create energy.  The holidays are a great time to look at burning off old habits that are no longer serving you and start new ones that you are passionate for and help heal you and your family.  Saucha is maintaining cleanliness within the body, practicing good hygiene, and consuming balanced food that cleanse body, and purify both the body and mind.

Here are applications of these philosophical precepts during modern-day family holidays.

1. Release the desire for your family members to change or be anything different than they are.

Practice Samtosha which is roughly translated as ‘contentment’. Feel content and grateful with what is.  This does not mean that you do not care. However let go of thinking that you can change someone else – the only person that you can change on this planet is yourself.  By changing yourself then you change your world, not the other way around.  You can change the way you hold on to the need for control.  You can change the way you react to your environment. You can change your own inner dialogue.  You can care for yourself deeply and take full responsibility for your own healing.

Let’s take “Uncle Charlie” for example.  You have gotten into wars of words with him in the past leaving you angry and bitter.  Before coming to Thanksgiving, sit down with yourself and acknowledge all of the ways you wish “Uncle Charlie” was different. Recognize that he is who he is because of all of the things that he has experienced in his lifetime.  Let go of your desire for him to change.  Accept him for exactly who he is. At the Thanksgiving table when he says something offensive know that this is coming from his stuff, do not try to change him.  Respond with a neutral, ‘okay. I hear what you are saying’ mentality.  When you accept him, you will feel the change you are looking for from inside of yourself.

2. A Family that Moves Together Stays Connected.

Create some Tapas, build enthusiasm and joy for life by creating energy through moving.  Sitting around the table for too long can begin to make everyone feel tired and grumpy.  Begin by emailing everyone ahead of time to bring their sneakers.  You will get Nay Sayers! Ignore them and carry on.  Organize the “family walk” after dinner.  Look at it as staging a campaign and even if you get only one other person to walk with you, you have made a mark.  Come prepared with a suggestion of a local trail or destination walk to get everyone out of the house to get some fresh air.  Sure, maybe your Grandmother with stay home but try to rally as many walkers as possible.  A great time to walk is between dinner and dessert.  For those sports’ fans in the group make sure you have a way to put the big game on pause or record it.

If the weather is not cooperating suggest a short game that involves moving like Charades!  Another easy fun game that gets everyone standing is the “Hands in Knot” game… everyone stands up in a circle and puts their hands into the center and grabs two hands that are not their own, without letting go the circle has to untangle and open up into a circle.  This gets everyone working together, acting like kids again and laughing.

3.  Balance yourself by cleaning house (your body) before and after the holiday.

Shaucha means to live purely.  During a holiday that is not always so easy, however bring in cleansing practices to balance the mind, body and spirit.  Drink lemon water before, during and after the holidays to help flush the body of unusual foods/drinks you may be consuming. Sweating is the body’s natural way of letting go of toxins so sweat before and after the holidays in yoga, or any other form of exercise or even sitting in a sauna or warm bath. Great yoga poses to rinse out toxins are Supine Twists, Chair Twists, High Lunge Twist, or simple stand -stretch up- stretch back- into Mini back bend.  Inhalation and exhalation a great way to oxygenate the body, even some basic stomach crunches can achieve this if you do them for long enough. Think of ways to get breathing, sweating, even if that means vacuuming at a turbo speed before the holiday! Also think about tidying your space by donating unwanted items or finally ridding your hard drive of unnecessary files. Doing, and feeling better, does not have to be complicated even when getting a big Turkey, Tree or Candles through that front door may be!

Feels good to brag about Bragg! Review by HYL Sister: Aida

The Bragg family have been on the forefront  of  live food and health since 1912. They have many wonderful quality products like dressings, olive oils, drinks and more.  The two particular products that have been a staple in my home forever are Bragg Liquid Aminos and Bragg Organic Apple Cider Vinegar. The Aminos I use in place of salt and soy sauce and the apple cider vinegar I use everywhere… from putting it in my bath to salads!

The Bragg Aminos are deliciously tasty they are dark brown and can be easily sprayed on as a seasoning or used in cooking.  It is also great to add into home-made dressings. My son sprays it on pasta, rice, or proteins for a tasty kick.  Though there is sodium, it is not MSG. Gluten free and made from certified NON-GMO soy beans it is the basis of a protein, containing 16 amino acids.

The apple cider vinegar is made from organic apples and is not pasteurized thus it contains the “mother”.  The “mother” is a mucky thick substance at the bottom of the bottle.  Don’t worry when you see this, it is not a bad batch! It is actually healthy to consume.  This apple cider vinegar taste far exceeds the Heinz vinegar you commonly get.  That stuff actually bites the taste buds and leaves your mouth dry. The Bragg’s Vinegar is softer and full of real apple flavor.

The health benefits of apple cider vinegar and amino acids have long been known.  These days when we are all cutting out processed foods, unhealthy fats and salt it is great to have these products to ramp up the taste of whatever you are eating; after all, flavor is the variety and zest of life.


No to Kefir, hello to Kevita / Review by HYL Sister: Siga

The label on a bottle of Kevita sparkling probiotic beverage calls it a “superdrink.” It also says it gives you “delicious vitality”™, and even love. Strong claims for 450 ml bottle of reverse osmosis water laced with four strains of living probiotics.

My flavor in favor is the pale, gently perfumed Coconut (you can see the sediment from the fruit speckling the bottom of the glass, so swirl before you chug). Not too sweet, it’s lightly effervescent (far subtler than kombucha), with a tropical hit of coconut water. The yogurt tones of the probiotics give it an almost creamy texture, which may satisfy the cravings of those with a dairy allergy. All the ingredients are organic, non-GMO, and vegan; the Coconut variety is also only 5 calories per serving. The only negative is that you’ll drink it too fast the first time you try it. Learn to savor the moment.

The health benefits of probiotics are well-known, and a full dose of Kevita leaves your stomach feeling like it’s had an hour of insightful personal Health Yoga Life coaching. Your whole digestive system experiences a happy glow. So it’s delicious and vital. And the love? What better way to give your stomach, actually your whole body, some love than treating it to a bottle of good health?! Superdrink, indeed.


3 Things to Do Now to Change Your Health and Life for Good

There is no magic pill for change. After working for over a dozen years in the field of personal transformation and development, of this I am certain.  If you are looking for a quick and easy answer to your weight problems, your love life, your career path, this is not the blog post for you.  If however, you want to know what truly works to make positive, lasting change for your health and life, then read on. I share with you the three hardest, albeit best things that have worked for me and have resulted in more love of life, more success, and more health for me and my clients.

1. Listen to the quiet voice within. At 24 years old, the high-tech startup I worked for was bought by Motorola.  Everything was going according to my 10-year plan; a few more years and I’d be in business school meeting the man of my dreams, marrying, popping out 2.2 kids while becoming CEO of a Fortune 500.

But there was the voice within.  It kept saying to turn course, “You know you will die a little more every day in corporate America.”  I would say back to the voice, but the benefits, the vacation, the salary! And it would say back, stoically, “You will die a little more every day.” As I heard the voice, I pictured myself into the future. The authentic me gone, with only a shell of me left, in an uncomfortable suit, sitting in my cubicle (maybe an office by then), unhealthy, unhappy, and unfilled.

Vyda Bielkus HeadshotThe future was suddenly scarier than the present decision I had to make. So brazenly I ditched the plan, quit my job and went to volunteer at a yoga studio. This voice within is the voice of the subconscious mind. The one that is softer than a subtle whisper, and yet knows fully well the right action to take. At first it is incredibly challenging to even hear the voice within, as the world around us loves to drown it out through other’s expectations of us and our own limiting beliefs.  However, once you start listening and acting on what the voice within says, it becomes stronger more knowing.

Every time I have followed the voice within, my life has emerged almost miraculously with outcomes I could never have imagined for myself.  When I have ignored it, especially the times it was shouting at the top of its lungs in my mind, and I still ignored it, oh the calamity of consequence. Personal coaching can be an instrumental tool for becoming brave enough to take action on the voice within.   Want to know how my decision ended up?  Although it may not be a Fortune 500 just yet, I did become CEO — of my own company.

2. Consistent meditation practice.  As a yoga teacher, I often tell my students I would give up my physical practice but I would not give up my meditation practice. I knew about meditation from a young age, as my mom, an entrepreneur and mother of four girls, found Transcendental Meditation (TM) as her only bridge to sanity. We all shushed each other when Mom meditated. Heart broken, without a job, and with wrist injuries, I found my way to sit with myself.

Learning to meditate is simple. Doing mediation every day is not. It is one of the hardest things to do, especially when you first start.  Who possibly knew that our thoughts were so seductive? Everything shows up in meditation, and I am not talking about unicorns and fairy dust.  I am talking about every fear, every doubt, every running thought, every bad idea, and every illusion.  And the truth is, there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.  I have been meditating every day for the last five years.  It is the No. 1 way to become the person that you not only tolerate but deeply love, and with this the way you experience life completely changes.  You begin to live with intentional purpose.

3. It’s a process of elimination.  If you want a different level of health, to actually feel good when you awake, as you move through your day, and to sleep well, you must look to eliminating the junk from your diet.  Forget counting calories or points.  We are attached, if not addicted, to food.  What I have seen work the best when it comes to changing eating patterns is to make diet changes a process of elimination.

Many years ago, my first battle with addiction was dropping my beloved Diet Coke.  This felt like saying goodbye to a dear friend that made me feel “oh so alive.” It was hard to let it go, but I know for certain had I not given it up the quality of my life would have suffered.  It would have kept me puffy and full of cravings and toxins.   Find your addiction food item and dump it.  Go cold turkey.  Replace it with a healthy alternative. Unsweetened iced green tea, no sugar and full of antioxidants worked for me, for example.  For this strategy to work, you must remove the addiction from your diet for a long period of time, long enough so it no longer strangleholds you.  Once you meet success with one addiction go to the next.  Some of the major ones that if you conquer will change your body and health forever are: alcohol, refined sugars and flours, coffee, and processed foods. I speak from experience. Want to become conscious in your life and therefore more fit and healthy?  Start by removing the junk.

By betting on your voice within and acting on what must change, by starting a daily reflective practice like meditation and by eliminating one toxic substance in your diet, you find you are a person capable of healthy changes.  Don’t delay, as Lao Tzu said, “If you don’t change direction, you might end up where you are heading.”

The post originally appeared on The Huffington Post. Be sure to check back for more contributions!

78 years young! by Vyda Bielkus

Why age shouldn’t stop you and is just an excuse to stop living!

Ageing in America is the big, bad evil.  We are continuously marketed to with how to stay young or ELSE! Lines on one’s face, grey hair, a little slower walking pace and all of sudden it’s like you are a walking ghost, irrelevant.  However ageing is something that happens to all of us.  There is no getting away from it and yet we have created a nation afraid of its seniors.  Have you ever seen an older person in a cell phone store or at a computer store?  No one talks to them, the service folks avoid them, and yet they are probably the ones who actually have enough money to buy the products from them.

One interesting dynamic that occurs as a person ages and starts to be seen less and less (or just simply avoided), is that they start believing that life should be slower, that they can’t do certain things any more, that if they did, people would stare.  All of it creates a lot of isolation and loneliness for us all.

On a recent yoga retreat a woman in her late 70s, 78 to be precise, joined us.  In the opening session, as participants shared their reasons for coming on the retreat, she explained, “I wanted to see if I could still do it”.  There were times in the classes that she paused and rested, but she attended all the sessions.  One night when we let loose and were all dancing around to the latest pop-tunes, she let loose just like the 23 year old next to her; shaking her hips, smiling ear to ear (who doesn’t love a good dance party?).  At the end of the week she confessed, that  after the first full day of two yoga sessions, she almost jumped in a cab to head home; believing for a moment that her age mattered, that she was just too old for this experience.  But in that moment she made a different choice.  She chose to live a little more, and stayed.

Her presence on the retreat contributed to each person’s experience.  We heard about her travels to India and Thailand, the love she shared with her husband, and about her walks with her dog, Sita. Our experience of the week was richer because of her presence.    So next time you run into an older neighbor in the elevator or sit down to someone with a little grey hair, see if you can see yourself in them and smile.