Category Archives: Spirituality

Foods to Balance the Chakras

This post inspired by the Chakra Balancing Experience we recently held at Vida Wellness Studio – thanks so much to all of you who came out!

First of all, what are chakras?

You’ve probably seen a diagram of a person sitting in full lotus position with seven rainbow circles superimposed from the seat to the crown. These are chakras – visual representations of the energy centers of the body. I know this can sound like new-agey nonsense. Stick with me – I’m a science-minded person myself, but I have found chakras to be a useful system to assess my health and general well-being.

Let me just start off saying chakras are not my specialty. I always thought of the concept as a hazy pseudo-science, so I only really started to see the value a few years after I had started practicing yoga and I noticed how different asana made me feel. This is not medical advice by any means – I am in no way suggesting that if you have cancer of the throat, eating lots of fruit to balance your fifth chakra will cure you. It is simply a system through which to inquire about your health and mental stability.

If you’re a yogi, you have already accepted that to a certain extent the mind creates the body. The chakra system is built on the converse: the concept that our bodies reflect our state of mind. Each of the seven energy centers represents a system within the body. Their qualities are also manifested in colours, elements, senses, crystals – even in some circles, gods and goddesses. Really, the list goes on.

For our purposes today, we’re just going to talk about the chakras in the physical being. You can see below which emotions, systems, and colours are represented in each chakra and where they are located. What happens is this: When our minds are out of balance, these imbalances manifest themselves in our bodies. For example, if you are heartbroken it is common to feel heavy in the chest and even experience a lowered immune system. If you are suffering from low self esteem, it can be felt in the solar plexus and seen as poor posture collapsing into that area. If you are feeling out of place or without a home, you may experience hip pain or have trouble sitting still.

The converse is true as well – if you have specific aches and pains in your body, it may be telling you something about your subconscious. If you have asthma or respiratory problems, it could indicate you are having trouble communicating, or you may be experiencing a creative block. If you’re having low back pain, you could be suppressing emotions.

How do we balance the chakras?

The idea for this article came about because I came across an article that suggested foods for chakra balancing – but it was just a listing of the different chakras with fruits and vegetables that are the same colour! Well, erm, thanks…but I can visit the produce section myself.

Also, mindful meditation on colours (which is what you’re doing while you eat foods of a specific colour) can be effective, but it is certainly not the only way to balance the chakras. This list is instead based on the functions and qualities of the chakras and corresponding functions and qualities of food.

I’ll go into more detail about the chakras in another post, but I just wanted to share this with you because the type of food you are craving can also be an indication of an imbalance. It’s easier to relate to the chakra system in terms of something simple and concrete like the foods we eat rather than trying to visualise a balanced system right off the bat. Think about this before you reach for your comfort food!

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Fiona Andrews Food to Balance Chakras
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Amma’s Darshan: My Encounter with the Hugging Saint

Check out last week’s post about my weekend at Amma’s Ashram- here’s part two! 

Amma's Ashram, The Hugging Saint

After dinner, it was my turn for darshan (a hug!) so I got in the queue by the stage. After not moving for about half an hour, I verified with one of the devotees coordinating the process that I was in the right place. She explained that many Indian devotees just come for the day, so Amma tries to see all of them first so they can catch their trains and buses home. Although I usually would have been mildly irked by such a poorly organised system (why not tell me to come back later instead of sitting and waiting?), I continued to sit and observe. Devotees brought silks, malas, fruit, and cookies for her to bless. Whole families went up at once to receive her sacred hug, often all but carrying their eldest members. 

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From Words to Sounds to Silence: a Buddhist Meditation

Meditating is hard. Many yogis who have been practicing for years still have trouble detaching from the distractions of the outer world and silencing their inner voice on command. Simply sitting still and trying to shift into “meditation mode” is extremely difficult. On the other hand, guided meditation can sometimes be effective but it can also become a gimmicky crutch. 

Yesterday, we did a Buddhist meditation that I think is just the right mix of guided and natural. I tried to find out more about it from an online source somewhere so I could share with you, but could not locate anything. Luckily, it is very simple to explain. I found it to be particularly effective because it first allows you to acknowledge the world around you before you sort of transcend, so it is ideal for loud spaces where quiet meditation would otherwise be difficult. For me, it also led to some pretty vivid perceptions in the third phase.

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The Next Big Adventure

Since graduating last May, I’ve had many adventures including but not limited to sliding on glaciers in Iceland, hitting casinos in Vegas, climbing Macchu Picchu in Peru, buying a car, becoming a certified yoga instructor, riding steam trains, skinny dipping in Croatia, partying with the Scorpions in Prague, stowing away in Geneva, enduring a hurricane, bartending at strip clubs, running a half marathon, completing a tough mudder, baking my first pie, and having a full time job. I met so many awesome people and had so many thoroughly unforgettable experiences that it’s a little difficult to think about what comes next.

I’ve been working at Marketsmith, Inc for over two years now, after starting as an intern in the summer of 2011, telecommuting while at school, and graduating university a year early in order to return for a full-time position. I’ve learned so much and worked with some really special people on the skilled and talented Marketsmith team. I enjoyed my work and am so grateful for the many opportunities offered to me.

However, anyone who knows me (or really has even met me in passing) knows that I am not good at staying in one place for too long. I’ve been seeking out my next big adventure for awhile now, and I think I’ve found it.

fiona andrews yoga teacher
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Death is not Pain

Like a lot of my family, I have spent the last few days dreading April 20th. Wondering how am I going to get through, what am I going to do, how am I going to cope.

It’s funny how we are conditioned to remember things. I will probably always remember this day as the day my dad died – but despite all my expectations, I have not yet felt any pain on this day. Even the first time three years ago there was no pain – just numbness (and alarm, as my mother’s black eye proved – sorry, mum). Last year I was lucky enough to be with someone who spent the entire day having fun with me. But this year, I was faced with spending the whole day at a yoga studio (meditative by nature) and then the evening in the empty house as my mum and my brother are at Penn State. I was expecting to wake up in a terrible mood, fumble through my teaching, come home, and binge on Indian food while watching Monty Python and old home videos. Continue reading

Certainty

Certainty is a fascinating notion because no matter how sure you are, there’s always a chance something else will happen simply due to the chaotic nature of the universe.  By definition, the most certainty you can ever have is the thing you control the most: I choose to define that as inner wisdom, essence, what makes us who we are. It will undoubtedly be questioned under duress but when cultivated, it’s the most reliable principle we have – even if you define yourself as the most chaotic factor in the equation you can at least be relied upon to be chaotic.  It’s no secret that I’m fairly erratic in my lifestyle, but I still find comfort in it. Continue reading

Why Skipping New Year’s Resolutions is a Great Decision

…And no, the answer is not “so I can keep making bad decisions all year.”

First of all, I love everything about resolutions.  Resolving to do something means you have made a decision to challenge yourself.  Being resolute means you believe in something strongly.  If you have resolved a problem, you have accomplished something.  All of these are wonderful, positive things.  

So why do we only do it once a year?  It’s not that I am opposed to deciding to change your life on the first of January each year.  I’m opposed to not trying to change your life for the better on every day of each year.  The implication of New Year’s resolutions is that you only make them once each year – and that will make for a very static 365.25 days. Continue reading

Mementos

I have a very strong aversion to clutter.  I frequently assess everything I own and chuck large portions of it into a charity bin.  Why I do this I couldn’t tell you; I admit that it is indeed a bizarre habit especially in an American culture where things define who you are and having more always seems to be better.  If I had to guess, I would say this proclivity is rooted in the notion that I like to be ready to flee the country or make a major life change at any given moment, and having to choose which things to bring would slow me down immensely.  I mean seriously, I have my passport with me at all times and if you say “let’s go to Ecuador right now” I would not hesitate to get on the next plane out of Newark- I’ve done it before and I wouldn’t think twice before doing it again. Continue reading

Travelling

I have always loved travelling.  Recently, however, my wanderlust has been particularly strong.  Since 2009, my international travels have included the Bahamas, India twice (Delhi, Agra, Jaipur, Shekhawati, Dharamsala, and Bir), Scotland (Edinburgh, Loch Lomond), the Netherlands, Spain (Madrid, Valencia, Barcelona),  Italy, France, England (London, Rye, Kent, Wadhurst), Austria (Vienna, Salzburg), and the Dominican Republic.  In less than 2 weeks I graduate, and two days afterwards I will be off again- starting in London and then most likely heading to Greece (Mykonos or Kos), Morocco (Fez), and the Czech Republic (Prague).

Whew.  Considering I’ve done all that while being a full-time student and also holding jobs, that’s not too shabby.

Edinburgh

Climbing the mountain by Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh

Most people want to travel, I don’t think I’m any different in that respect.  The difference is that with me it’s a borderline compulsion.  I find a way to do it even if it means not buying groceries or textbooks or selling half my possessions on Ebay.

Why?  Good question.  I have had many conversations with many people about why I have a constant need to travel.  I think a large part of it is that I feel as though I am a citizen of the world, not any one place. Continue reading

Decisions

I’m at a point in my life where I can sense that a cosmic shift is going to happen soon.  Obviously I’m not clairvoyant- I’m graduating, I’m travelling to Europe for a few weeks, I’m taking a full-time day job- anyone would sense that a lot of major changes are coming very soon.  Hopefully I’m simultaneously continuing my yoga teacher training and picking up cocktail gigs, but either way it’s going to be a massive change for me to be working in an office instead of running around performing and rehearsing and going to classes.  So I’ve been thinking about everything that I’m doing and wondering if any of it is relevant.  I know that all of the above is going to happen regardless of what I do now.  But is this because of the decisions that I’ve made and the things that I’ve done up to this point, or is it because or something else? Continue reading

Grief

They say there are seven stages of grief.  Do you buy it?

Shock, denial, bargaining, guilt, anger, depression, hope.

I don’t.  I think that this is a self-fulfilling prophecy.  If you are expecting to feel a certain way, there’s a pretty good chance that that emotion will manifest itself- but the fact is, everyone copes with loss differently.  There are ways that are healthy and there are ways that are less healthy, but not everyone goes through all of those emotions.

Buddhists believe that grief and suffering are inevitable parts of the physical world, and the only way to escape is by maintaining a certain level of distance from attachments.  By recognising that life and everything it entails is effervescent, it makes it that much easier to let go when an unexpected loss makes it necessary.  This uncertainty also makes it vital to savor every moment, because you truly don’t know which breath will be your last.  Your world as you know it can come to a screeching halt in the blink of an eye.

Two years ago tomorrow, I lost someone very close to me.  I haven’t cried about it.  Does that make me cold and callous, or mean that I didn’t love him?  Or does it mean that I’m at peace with the fact that like everything else in the world, people are impermanent?  Some people sobbed uncontrollably, some pretended nothing had happened, others didn’t speak at all.  All are perfectly valid coping mechanisms- for a little while.  I will admit that I didn’t eat for about two weeks and drank more than my fair share of the wine brought by sympathetic friends (which was probably not the healthiest thing), but I never really stopped moving at something close to my usual fast pace.

However, I still fully processed the major life change and cosmic shift that those around me underwent and I began adjusting to new habits.  I was not in denial, I never felt guilty about his death, and I never “bargained” (whatever that means).  Staying busy by planning a massive celebration and taking on other responsibilities to help fill the void helped me to realise quickly that my life would go on regardless of how I felt, so I might as well participate in it.  Having to go back to school for finals, concerts, and juries made that even more clear.  Life will not stop for you, and that is definitely not a bad thing.

Of course I miss my dad, especially at a time when my life is going in crazy directions that I couldn’t possibly have ever imagined.  But the thing is, grieving won’t solve anything.  The best solution is to live enough for both of us and to keep on going even though he’s not around to see what happens next.  I wish we could sit and watch The Daily Show and listen to Mozart’s Requiem on car rides to school.  I wish he were here so I could tell him about my travels, I wish he had been here to see my senior recital last month.  I wish he would come to my graduation in a few weeks and I wish he knew that despite everything, I am graduating summa cum laude after only three years with more credits than most graduate students.  I want him to know that we are all not only okay, but thriving.

Dad

The last words I spoke to him on the phone were “Thanks for the screwdriver.”  This sounds trivial, but anyone who knew my dad would find this incredibly fitting- he always helped everyone with anything they asked and things that they didn’t.  Fixing cars, plumbing, rides to the airport, pet-sitting, lending one of his hundreds of tools, just being a friend, you name it and he would be there- the 200+ people that showed up to his memorial service are a testament to how many lives he touched.

I have lots of great memories of my dad- watching the Life of Brian, visiting  England, dancing around the house to Sousa marches and ELO alike, his cooking triumphs (and disasters), his reckless driving, his funny faces and astonishing intelligence.

I remember the last time I saw him was outside of my freshman dorm, when he brought me back to school after spending Easter at home.  We were on the way back from the dining hall where we had gorged ourselves on cookies and ice cream and it was that fleeting time of day just before the sun begins to set, when the world is shadowy and getting a bit dozy but still has an aura of warmth.  We stood next to my bike to say goodbye and he grinned.  I indignantly asked why he was so happy to be leaving me, and he said, “It’s nice to see that you’re making a place for yourself in the world.”

Miss you, dad.  I hope your next life is just as thrilling and rich as this one was.

Asceticism and the Human Condition

I was watching The Buddha at the gym the other day, so naturally when I left I was thinking about Siddhartha’s journey to enlightenment.   The phase in particular that was on my mind was his time spent as an ascetic, depriving himself of all worldly  pleasures and experiences in order to achieve spiritual enlightenment.

I think there’s something to be said for this- there definitely appears to be a disconnect between people as spiritual creatures and humans as animals.  This isn’t only the case for humans, though- I think it applies to other creatures too.  All of us are simply souls residing inside our physical bodies- I believe C.S. Lewis said something about that in a far more eloquent way, actually.  Obviously this isn’t a novel idea, but its a dichotomy that any sentient being has to grapple with.  The world can be a dangerous place for a soul seeking enlightenment.

At the same time, it seems naive and a bit irresponsible to just abstain from all things worldly entirely.  Of course, we are defined by our souls more than we are as humans, but is it not relevant that our souls are living in bodies on this place called Earth?  Should we really spend all of our time here trying to escape?  The world is full of suffering, but it’s also full of wonder.  We can learn a lot about our souls from experiencing both.

Of course like all paradoxes that we deal with, a balance must be struck.  I would think it’s helpful to experience one or the other or both walks of life in order to realise that neither is spiritually ideal.  We can’t live like Siddhartha in his early years, lavishly and wastefully.  But we also needn’t constantly deprive ourselves constantly in order to cultivate the higher being residing within all of us.

How do you balance the experience of life with spiritual health?

Appreciation

One of the most important mindsets to have is appreciation because it’s one of the easiest ways to stay positive.  Being appreciative can take many forms, from a simple “thank you” to someone who held the door open to an entire meditation devoted to a certain thought.

Appreciating other people not only makes them feel good, but you too.  Mother Teresa said that “in the simple act of giving, you receive” and it really couldn’t be more true.  The simple act of recognising when someone does something special for you not only makes the other person feel appreciated, but reinforces in yourself that someone did something nice.  How could this not set off a cycle of kind actions?

I try to take time as often as I can to express appreciation not only for people around me, but also for things.  It seems silly, but to me it is calming to honor everything’s purpose in life.  I like to appreciate a nice bed to sleep in or a hot cup of soup when it’s cold outside.  Perhaps a bed or a cup of soup can’t tell that I am saying “thank you,” but I find that I enjoy these things even more when I think about them with gratitude.

Appreciating serendipity and setbacks is something that I think is very underrated.  I don’t believe in luck as much as I do the power of positive thinking, but sometimes the smallest thing can cause a huge shift in your life.  I also don’t think that “everything happens for a reason,” but you usually can make the best of nearly any situation so that it turns out in your favor.  I had a bit of a negative experience with a particular professor once, and though initially I was angry and disillusioned, it caused me to really re-evaluate my plans at university which resulted in a decision to graduate a year early to take an incredible job opportunity.  It’s not true that “one door shuts, another one opens,” because that’s assuming that some higher power is just going to hand you an opportunity.  It’s more like “one door shuts, so you need to find yourself another way out of the room.”  Obviously initially, setbacks are unfortunate- but with the right mindset even they can turn into something worth appreciating.  Sometimes the universe has ways of nudging us in a direction that we may not have seen before.

Of course, the most important thing to appreciate is life in general.  Being able to wake up in the morning really is something amazing.  No matter what gets thrown at you on any given day, appreciate it and own it!

Namaste, and I appreciate you for reading my blog =)

Attachments

I saw this NPR article the other day about how attached people get to their sofas.  I thought it was an incredibly bizarre thing to write about because I’ve never felt a profound attachment to my sofa.  I was thinking about it, though, and I am a bit attached to some of my other possessions.  I really like my yoga mat and my teapot.  I’m probably most attached to my handbag though, because I’ve had it for years and it has been with to so many corners of the world.  Many people have suggested that I get a new bag- my aunt even begs me to let her buy one for me.  Instead, I sit and sew patches over patches every time a new hole appears because it feels like an old friend, not just an object.

I try very hard not to get attached to things, because all things are temporary (people are temporary too, but they tend to get their feelings hurt when you explain that you’re not attached to them).  Monks and priests of all sorts of different denominations understand the idea of remaining unattached to worldly things, and I think it’s a noble goal.  On the one hand, it’s not good to be wasteful as a result of being unattached, but on the other hand, it’s important to be able to let go and move on- both in terms of things that are too broken to fix and people you’ve outgrown.

At the same time, the world isn’t as much fun if you don’t get attached to things once in awhile.  It would be a boring place if you only had utilitarian objects that didn’t make you smile once in awhile- I like getting up in the morning to use my bright green tea kettle and I like to see my frog-shaped humidifier in the corner of my room.  I like having friends and getting to know people.  I understand that these are not essential on the path to ultimate enlightenment, but as long as they don’t get in the way I don’t think it’s a problem to enjoy things like this.  I don’t advocate frivolous consumerism by any means, but we’re going to be around in this world for awhile before we move on to the next one, so why not keep around a few things and people to make it more exciting?

You can get as attached to them as you want, as long as you recognise that nothing is permanent and you are prepared to one day let go.  As you continue your quest for happiness, your mindsets will change and you might find some of your friends drifting away and others moving closer- perhaps it’s time to let them go their way while you go yours.  Maybe that old hobo bag you really love just isn’t efficient anymore because of all the time it takes to mend the holes.

Enjoy attachment to possessions and people while they’re around, but do not depend on them for your happiness.  Be prepared to one day let everything go when you move on to an exciting new phase!

Noise

A few days ago, I got this email from WWF about noise pollution destroying natural habitats in the Arctic.  Though this particular issue is that drilling for oil creates noise that is harmful to animals, it made me think about how it’s also an increasing problem for humans.

We all know that noise is bad for us- loud rock concerts, screaming children, a particularly loud brass player in the next practice room-whatever.  Blaring advertisements and overstimulation are part of our everyday life.  But there’s a far more innocuous type of noise that’s just as negative- background noise.  It’s something that we all think we tune out, but it still takes a toll on our bodies.  According to this article from Women’s Health, excessive noise doesn’t allow our bodies time to recover, so they produce negative stress hormones, causing weakened immune systems, excessive nervousness, and even heart disease.  Small noises even affect your concentration.  What I found interesting to read about wasn’t just the obvious idea that noise is negative, but that the reason why we tolerate it is out of a sort of unwillingness to be introspective: we are too afraid of our own thoughts, so we drown them out.  This article even suggestions mindful meditation to get used to hearing your own thoughts so that silence is no longer frightening.

This is a thought that really rang true for me.  I remember a time when I used to blast really loud music so I couldn’t hear my thoughts, and in fact I still do it sometimes.  When I’m at the gym, I pump my music up loud so I can’t hear myself getting tired (I really do have a lot of terrible gym habits that I am not proud of…).  It wasn’t until I really started to engage in yoga and meditation that I began to appreciate quiet.  I can understand that meditation really is difficult at first, though- and it doesn’t get easier overnight.  It’s also hard for us with our Western way of thinking to believe that it’s productive to sit and literally do nothing even for 20 minutes.  It really is, though- if you can channel your thoughts and learn to tune out the noise- not just audible noise, but also unimportant thoughts, pains, and pollution from the media- your mind will become much sharper and more efficient.  You can train your mind to do anything, with enough time- to feel physical pain less, to react differently to negativity, to focus on one task to get it done.  If you can train yourself to enjoy listening to your mind, I guarantee that you will feel better for it.  It sounds cheesy, but you really will get to know yourself better and that’s an integral part of the journey towards finding peace.  It’s worth struggling through 10 or 20 minutes of spending time with only your mind for company, no distractions.  Perhaps a mantra will help you as well.

Anyway, I know that this isn’t quite in the spirit of Fat Tuesday celebrations, but I’m sure that tomorrow everyone will appreciate a bit of quiet ;)  Namaste!

Om, Shanti…Mantras

Mantras are an important part of many yogis’ practice.  They can be anything from the traditional “om” to something complex and unique to the individual.  It’s something that I gave a lot of thought to while I was in the Tibetan settlement Bir, India last month.  I hadn’t quite made the connection between mantras as used in yogic practice and mantras that are religious prayers, but they really are quite similar- even in Western religions the idea of mantras or repeated prayers are pretty prevalent.  When I was in Bir, I noticed that many people carried malas (the Buddhist equivalent of  rosaries) and even walked around chanting.  It seems like something that brought a lot of peace to them as individuals.  Something as simple as mindfully saying words that bring positivity really can make a difference.

To me, it seems that the chief difference between a mantra and a prayer is that a prayer is usually asking a higher power for Om mani padme humguidance, while a mantra is introspective and reminds the individual to find inner power and contentment.  A popular Buddhist mantra that is printed on many of the colorful prayer flags and wheels that I saw in Bir and Dharamsala is “om mani padme hum.” The syllables have literal, earthly translations like “self, “lotus,” and “jewel.”  I was told that it’s impossible to translate the deeper implications of the words, but they represent something like “generosity, ethics, patience, devotion, poverty, and wisdom” respectively.  The idea is that these are the six tenets of life that all people must try to purify- renouncing pride, jealousy, lust, desire, ignorance, possessiveness, and aggression.  Another, more simple mantra that I often choose to use when I meditate is the hindi “shanti,” or peace.

A mantra doesn’t have to be something complex and in a foreign language, though.  It can be something as simple as “this too shall pass” or even “just get through today.”  Maybe it’s as simple as a word that just has a good rhythm when you say it.  You don’t even have to commit to only one- perhaps one day you need to remind yourself to stay grounded, but the next you just need to remember to breathe.  The important part is to identify and connect with whatever words or sounds you choose.

The power to synthesize our thoughts and contemplate the deeper meanings of them is one of the main things that makes us human beings rather than simple primates and it’s essential to making the most of this earthly life before moving on to the next one, whatever that means for you in your belief system.  Keeping a personal and positive mantra in mind both when you’re happy and when you are experiencing something difficult is a great way to keep your inner self content and perhaps even in tune with your higher power.

What’s your mantra?