I started practicing yoga a few times a week. Frankly, the only thing that was motivating me to go back and experience a lot of pain and suffering was the community. Classes were physically demanding. My tight hamstrings, weak core, and frozen shoulder and neck sure didn’t help me experience a yogic bliss. I’ll never forget that one of my teachers came up to me while I was holding a downward-facing dog position and tried to relax my head and neck. He literally tried to shake my neck with his hands, and after giving up, he posed a question: What was I doing with my neck that it was so tight? I thought that I never actually realized that my neck was so tight.
Another great memory I have was when I tried to mindlessly kick up into a headstand position because most of my neighbor yogis were upside down. This led me to fall out, injure my pinky finger very badly, and knock out one of the people next to me. But still, something was bringing me back. I started noticing tiny achievements, such as the toe-to-hand-standing balancing pose. The mere fact that I could extend my leg half an inch farther gave me confidence. This experience affected not only my physical being but my mental being. I became obsessed with achieving greater flexibility in the practice. I liked the way it made me feel and the confidence and courage I cultivated from the practice. It was a feeling of “if I make it on my yoga mat, I can make it anywhere.”
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Strengthening the life currents. That’s what was happening, as I later learned in my yoga teacher training practice. Goswami Chimamanda explains it so well in the blog Spiritual Science of Kriya Yoga. “All yogic postures are ultimately directed towards self-awareness. As our self-awareness increases, we’ll become more aware of our bodies, taking better care of it. This will cause us to become more aware of our mind, and we’ll then also take better care of it.” As I took better care of my body, I chose to become a vegetarian without any real influence. My body started asking for more greens, dark-green leaves, ripe tomatoes, and delicious salads, and less “chicken paprikas,” pizza, and McFlurries.
I was excited for this journey, as after leaving my parents’ house, my diet pretty much went south. Growing up, we never feared foods. It was mainly because we were so close to the land. My parents owned land on which we grew most of our fruits and vegetables. We had an abundance of peaches, cherries, apples, and pears. Moreover, we had some almond trees and hazelnut bushes. Many beans, potatoes, and pumpkins. Families were close, and you always got some goodness, such as grapes, eggs, and fresh farm meat, from grandparents or aunts. We often visited our city’s farmers market, where you could choose from all the delicious watermelons, handpicked mushrooms from area mountains, and bubbling sauerkraut (in the winter). My mom always cooked from scratch from whole ingredients. Hungarian stuffed peppers with paprika, green bean soup, lecso, and cabbage and noodle soup. You name it.
Unfortunately, as industrialization progressed, my parents had to put more time into their family-owned business to keep up with the bigger game changers. This also meant no time to take care of the land and less time to cook with creativity. I started noticing processed foods creeping onto the pantry shelves. But, hey, no one really complained, as the food tasted so great with all the sugar and additives. No one really knew or could tell the health effects of this new era.
Being vegetarian was quite easy in the city. The bountiful menu offerings of Thai, Indian, Burmese, and Vietnamese restaurants made me forget all about meat. I often practiced yoga at the Jivamukti Center in Union Square, founded by Sharon Gannon and David Life. Sharon and David’s unique energy toward yoga and life inspired me to live a healthier life. In their Jivanmukta Yoga blog, they dedicate a chapter to ahimsa: walking the nonviolent path, which is one of the eight yogic limbs. Ahimsa can be present in our thoughts, speech, and bodies. When you practice ahimsa on a verbal level, instead of using abusive words, insulting statements, and angry speech, you speak softly, gently, and wisely. Once you attain non-violence on an intellectual and verbal level, physical non-violence will arise. Physical non-violence means not cutting or bruising another’s body or our own. It also means that choosing the wrong foods or not getting enough sleep can be self-harming. Choosing animal products. Ultimately choosing violence. “If people knew how badly animals are treated in today’s factory farms, if people knew how severe and unrelenting is the cruelty these animals are forced to endure, there would be change. If people knew. But too many of us choose to look the other way, to keep the veil in place, to remain unconscious and caught in a cultural trance. That way we are more comfortable. That way is convenient. That way we don’t have to take a risk too much. This is how we keep ourselves sleep.”3 Sharon and David went out of their way to lighten up every bit of darkness over the animal industry and to advocate a diet choice of vegetarianism “Some people, many who profess to be yogis, argue that vegetarianism is not a healthful diet for everyone. We agree that vegetarianism is not for everybody, it is only for those who desire happiness and peace. It’s definitely a must for those who are interested in enlightenment.”- Sharon Gannon and David Life.4
One sunny afternoon, my roommate and I were enjoying a Thai iced tea in one of the Washington Square Park restaurants. Sipping my tea, I completely zoned out as the wind started picking up. I felt the breeze against my skin which in some ways was very comforting. It was like soft, comforting touches by Mother Nature. Then the giant trees crowding around the park started moving with a fanlike motion, ever gracefully. Out of the blue, my roommate popped a question: “How does your inner voice talk to you? In what manner?” My eyes opened wide. You see, these are questions that you don’t hear very often. Questions that go deep, not just the “How is your day going?” type of communications. I had a very simple answer: “I don’t know. My inner voice never puts me down but never lifts me up. It’s quite natural in every situation.” I asked her: “What about yours?” She replied: “Mine always puts me down.” I thought about this conversation many times. I often wondered why someone’s inner thoughts may be negative or natural or perhaps positive.