Yoga citta vritti nirodha

Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind.

I’ve been thinking about what yoga truly is recently, and I guess especially the state of samadhi (which I will translate here as meditative consciousness or one-pointedness of mind).

Now, when we refer to yoga or what most people think of as yoga nowadays is actually only one of the eight petals of yoga, asana, aka the postures. The eight-fold path or ashtanga yoga (not to be confused with the hatha yoga style developed by Pattabhi Jois) is often represented as a tree like below:

Credits to shaktianandayoga

But I have seen other representations such as this one:

Patanjali’s 8 Limbs of Yoga Study Chart | Daily Cup of Yoga

I am personally not a fan of this second representation because it seems like it is an order in which you do things, so if you have achieved yamas and niyamas you can start asana*, once you achieve that, you start pranayama, and so on until dharana, at which point if you practice enough dhyana will happen, and if you get to dhyana often enough, then samadhi will be bestowed upon you.

Guruji BKS Iyengar has “debunked” this linear progression many times. The limbs are intertwined and you can practice every single aspect during your asana practice, for exemple during asana practice your breath should be soft and controlled like in pranayama, your awareness should be spread all throughout your body, you should not harm yourself, etc etc. I remember he also wrote about Gandhi being a prime exemple of what can be achieved with a strong ahimsa practice**, though I do not think Gandhi ever called himself a yogi. The tree imagery represent much better how the different limbs are interconnected, and it’s not like once you have roots, a tree stops growing roots to grow its trunk; on the other hand a tree keeps on growing in all directions, roots, trunk, branches, leaves, flowers and fruits, all at the same time (at least if it’s the right season ;).

Anyhow back to the topic of what I actually wanted to write about. Samadhi. I sometimes have glimpses of what I believe Samadhi must be like. This only happens to me during headstand practice, and not always, sadly. Some days I am just struggling to stay back up for 5 minutes. But some days, I manage to settle in the pose and stay there in a state of what I can only describe of effortless effort. I am lucky if this happens for a full minute. However this made me wonder about senior teachers. Though I have never met Guruji, based on what I read, I do believe that especially in his later years, he was in a constant state of samadhi, whether he was practicing asana or not. So I wonder about the senior teachers: are they in a constant state of samadhi? Do they only attain it during practice? Is what I think of as being samadhi actually samadhi? It does certainly feel like yoga in terms of cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. But then again, if I practice in a class setting I am likely to get corrected on my headstand, so is it possible to attain samadhi in a somewhat imperfect headstand? If by any chance a senior teacher (or anyone else, really, but if a senior teacher comes by, please please please comment) reads this, I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic.

Meanwhile, I finally invested on the Astadala Yogamala anthology, so I’m sure many more questions about yoga will pop up as I go through the material.

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* Though I sometimes wish that yoga practitioners would “practice” yama and niyama before starting an asana practice… or at least have an idea of what it entails. So many people thinking yoga is just stretching :\ /rantover

**I believe this was in Light on life, but might be in Tree of Yoga.

 

 

Bonus tip: I finally made it to class, and I learned this amazing tip for backbends on the chair, the one where you curve over the lean of the chair towards the wall, with your feet on the legs of the chair. While you are reaching your hands down on the wall, stop for a moment where you are, and try to sit back on the chair (without moving your hands from where they are on the wall).  Then go back to walking your hands down on the wall, rinse and repeat, so that you’re basically oscillating in your backbend from more weight on your feet to more weight on your hands. Boy if that’s not a deep back opener, I don’t know what is!

Weekly Update: What's Been Going On At The Blue Osa Eco Resort

I’m talking about that one, whose name I’m not sure about. I’d say Chair Urdhva Dhanurasana, but usually that refers to coming up to Urdhva Dhanurasana from having your back on the seat of the chair like for the Introductory syllabus, so if anyone knows the “proper” name please let me know below. Image courtesy of blue osa

 

 

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How I manage my period

Warning: graphic content / TMI. 

So, periods. Not my favorite time of the month, and probably not the favorite time of the month for about 50% of the adult population. Today, I’m sharing with you tips and tricks I’ve been using to make period-cruising a breeze.

Let me preface by saying I generally do not have a very painful period. I have, however, had very painful periods before. I displaced my pelvis after falling down stairs, and while I thought I got out of it with only a bad bruise, it took I think about two years until it got put back in place by an osteopath and my period pain became way less, which is when I realized it had started being way worse after that fall. Hindsight is 20/20. So first things first: it is absolutely not normal to have periods so painful that even taking painkillers does not soothe it. If you have horrible, horrible cramps, by all means please consult a medical professional and don’t play down your pain. Same thing if you have very heavy or irregular periods: anything could be happening, from PCOS, to a displaced pelvis, to a contraception method that does not fit you.

Talking about contraception. Diverse types of hormonal contraception can be prescribed for different types of issues, from acne to period pain, etc. I personally stopped hormonal contraception after I noticed that it did not fare well with me (it had a negative impact on my libido – I tried many different and all had this effect). A bit more than six months ago, I decided to get a copper IUD, and so far I’ve been loving it. I have not experienced any issues so far, neither with the placement (I was at work 20 minutes after having it placed and took part in a yoga workshop the same evening) nor with the period themselves. Apparently some women can experience larger blood loss and bad cramping, but I haven’t noticed any difference so far.  I also know a friend who has an hormonal IUD, and who is very happy with it (Contrarily to copper IUDs, they often make periods become lighter or even disappear – which I didn’t want). So advice number 1: make sure you have explored different types of contraception and get the one that fits you best.

WCD - Campus

I think everyone knows that heat helps relieving cramps, so I definitely advise getting a hot shower and using a hot water bottle 🙂

One of the earliest changes I made about how I deal with my period was actually getting a menstrual cup. I’ve had mine since 2010, when it wasn’t cool at all, and the people I was hanging out with were immature enough to find it disgusting and shame-worthy. But I tried it anyways and immediately loved it. I cannot imagine going back to tampons and pads. I know it’s not for everyone, as some people have issues placing it properly or get cramps with it, but if you have never tried it I would advise you to give it a chance. There are many different brands and sizes, so you might need to try a couple to find the right one for you, but I was lucky enough to get the right one on the first try. And I appreciate not having to change it SO much! Place it in the morning, go around with your day, change it* when you get home, done deal. No leaks, no risk of not having a change – I just put it back in my bag after sanitizing** it for the next period. Oh, and another advantage of the menstrual cup and IUD is that they are zero-waste 😀

* I simply rinse it with water and pop it back in

** I boil it with baking soda for 5′ to sanitize in between periods

File:Menstrual cups small sizes.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

Different types of “small” cups (I have the Fleurcup)…

File:Menstrual cups large sizes.jpg - Wikimedia Commons

and larger sizes.

As expected, I “use” my yoga practice to help out with my period. Having a regular yoga practice has helped immensely with relieving period pain. When not on my period, I have a strong inversion practice, and I have found this helps regulate my hormones. My period is regular, comes every 27 or 28 days, and lasts 3-4 days. When I am on my period, I avoid inversions (I’ve talked about this here), but I still have a relatively intense practice. I often do standing poses, especially Trikonasana and Ardha Chandrasana, as they help release cramps and make me feel lighter. I find that keeping active, especially on my second (heaviest) day, helps get the blood flowing and release cramps. One of my favorites is supported downward dog with a rope around the hips. Love love love it. If I can’t do anything else, I always do that. I find it more efficient at releasing cramps than any of the forward bends or supine poses. So if I can only do 3 poses I’ll do:

  • Supported Downdog (with rope, and if possible forehead on block or bolster)
  • Ardha Chandrasana (support if needed, if you have ropes I get my foot supported in a top rope – but I often do it unsupported cause I love the freedom of it)
  • Supta badakonasana (classic, also supported with bolsters and/or belt(s))

Supported Downward Dog using a door knob and a belt

Bonus poses: I usually also enjoy Malasana-type squats and supported child’s pose.

OK, now I’m getting to the seriously disgusting part. Period poops, or the female best kept secret. Yes, period poops are a thing, and not a good one. See, prostaglandins are released causing intestines and uterus to contract (hello cramps!) and it leads to more/different poop. Now, I’m vegan, so I already poop a lot. So when I’m on my period, I feel like I’m pooping every two hours. I also feel like I cannot keep it in, which leads to me rushing to the toilet pretty often, or even feeling like it isn’t really safe to leave the toilet’s side. Not nice. The positive point though, is that once they’re out, the cramps usually recede. I find that drinking tea helps both with releasing cramps and avoiding diarrhea, and I do so as much as I can. I also drink some water in parallel to help with hydration.

Last thing I will mention is eating, or rather not eating. I often practice intermittent fasting, aka “I don’t eat breakfast”. I am rarely hungry in the morning, and I used to force myself to eat anyways, thinking that otherwise I would faint or something bad would happen. I’ve stopped doing that, and I feel much better for it. I’m not very strict with it, I simply eat when I’m hungry. Revolutionary concept, I know. Funnily, not forcing myself to eat in the morning has also helped with cravings. I used to have very intense sugary craving, especially before my period but also during. I still have a little of it before my period, but not so much during, I believe because I have found that eating less (smaller, lighter meals), and healthier, actually helps in relieving bloating and cramps. Then again, revolutionary concept: who knew eating healthy was good for you? Finally, one thing I have not tried yet but want to, is eating more ginger. There has been many studies showing that ginger might help reduce cramping and general PMS pain, and I feel like that’s an easy-enough solution. So I’ll definitely give it a try next time before I get a painkiller. Cause yes, if the pain doesn’t go away with all my tips and tricks, I’ll use a painkiller. Sometimes it’s necessary, don’t stay in pain for the badge of honor…

What are your tips and tricks to manage your period? Did you change anything and thought it was revolutionary?

 

A balancing act

With a title like that, you probably thought this article was going to be on balancing poses. Sorry to disappoint, but this is actually going to be on balancing life. Hopefully you’re still interested!

How life feels right now, except I wish I could get into Mayurasana 😉

So, it’s been a few months since I moved to NYC, and I am now relatively settled into a routine. Work is going well, teaching at the shelter and living with the boyfriend too, and I am enjoying what the city has to offer in terms of art and events.

Yet I find it difficult to practice as much as I would like. Or rather, the way that I would like? Kind of both. It’s not like I stopped practicing, I still do – but less than before, and always self-practice. While I did probably not do enough of it while living in Utrecht, I feel like doing solely self-practice is making me stagnate a bit. While I rarely have the issue of “what should I do now?” which I often think of as the “entry barrier” to self-practice, I feel like I’m not exploring as far as I did in a class / teacher training setting. I guess I miss the teacher’s push to go deeper. I wish I were already at a stage where self-practice is sufficient to “unlock” new aspects of poses, but it simply doesn’t seem to be the case. So self-practice sort of “maintains” my level of yoga, but I’m not managing to go further. And I’m not talking physically, as I can feel that my handstands for exemple have progressed – I can more easily balance now than six months ago, but more at an understanding-of-the-pose level.

This is an issue as I fully intend to keep on deepening my yoga practice as well as my teaching. I initially planned to take my intermediate Junior I exam next year, but this feels premature at this point. For one, the style of teaching in the US is actually quite different from the Netherlands, which I find quite weird considering of all the rules we have to follow. Not that it is better or worse, simply a different way to present things, use props, or talk about certain movements. This might also be due to the fact that English is first language here versus in the Netherlands and even for myself (though teaching in French is always a bit weird for me as I very rarely do it!).

Turning the Mind Upside-Down | Through the Peacock's Eyes

Pincha Mayurasana, one of the balancing poses on the Junior I syllabus

Anyhow, I already mentioned that it is difficult for me to get to the Institute here in New York, because of very unpractical class times for working people added to a very impractical commute from work. It is quite frustrating to know that great teaching is happening so close, yet I cannot benefit from it.

Added to this is the difficulty to take holidays or days off as a scientist. Officially, I am not entitled to any days off this year. Unofficially, my supervisor is nice enough to have let me take a day here and there, and even a week in October. But clearly, I cannot take a day off every other week to go to a yoga workshop, or half a week to go to the IYNAUS convention. Let’s not even think about taking a month off to go to Pune… when I already have issues planning a trip to Europe to see my family.

Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute - India - Pune

So  finding a life-work balance is proving difficult. I’m not ready to become a full-time yoga teacher yet, if ever. As much as I like teaching, I also genuinely enjoy my research and I hope it will result in a drug which will save lives within a few years. And even if I did quit my job (which, reasonably, I anyways cannot do for visa reasons, but assuming I could get a different visa), I would like to spend more time doing animal rights activism and possibly finding a job in science policy. I could see how this would fit more easily with a yoga schedule though. Then again, in a few years I will likely want to raise a child, which will also take time. So is it possible to have it all? Am I too involved with my “day job”? If you truly want to teach yoga and walk forward on the yogic path, is there no other way but to become a full-time yoga teacher?

I think of Mr. Iyengar and the path he took away from the “traditional” yogis, as a house owner (grihasthin) and not a renunciate (sannyasin). At the time, being a yoga teacher was most certainly weird, and a very risky career choice… Yet it enabled him to spend hours and hours mastering the craft, and he not only mastered it, but spread it all around the world so far that nowadays everyone knows about yoga. He knew it was his calling, and he answered to it, leading him to create an amazing community and recording an incredible depth of knowledge. While I feel truly grateful for my situation as well as everything I have achieved so far, I can’t help but wonder: what do you do when you have more than one calling? Is it a case of “jack of all trades, master of none”? Or is it simply one of our time’s illness, and my inability to truly get to the essence of yoga, “stilling of the waves of the mind” (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali I-2)?

Internet Marketing Jack of All Trades and Master of ...

I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments. How do you manage your practice / teaching and your regular job + family life? Were there times when it was more difficult? What tips and tricks helped you to find your balance? What made you want to teach full-time?

 

A zero waste adventure: the bathroom

So if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might have noticed that I’ve been trying to limit the waste I produce, and generally how much of an impact on the earth my actions lead to. I’ve touched upon this topic here. I thought it’s time I show what practical measures I have taken and how it changes the look of my bathroom!

This post is not sponsored (I mean, my blog is far from dragging the readership that is required for sponsorship :’D) so I’m only “advertising” the products that I use, because I use them, and in case you’d like to know why I use them and where you can find them.

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From left to right: homemade conditioner / cleaning agent (50% lemon juice or vinegar, 50% water – the label is a wink to my old organic chemistry days and simply indicate it is diluted acid), “Soak and Float” Lush shampoo bar, “Sexy Peel” Lush soap, and Pura Naturals compostable sponge. 

  • I’ve switched from buying liquid soap and shampoo in plastic bottles to soap & shampoo bars. I also switched my deodorant to a solid one you can see on the picture below (pro-tip: I find that wetting it makes the application much easier). All of those right now are from Lush, they are vegan and cruelty-free aka not tested on animals *. I like that they don’t use palm oil, and are generally a pretty conscious company, both in terms of animal testing and eco-friendliness. For more info on their practices I recommend reading this blog post.
    Why getting rid of plastic when you can recycle it, you ask? Well, first, a lot of it just isn’t recycled. Second, plastic can only be recycled a couple of times as it is downgraded each time it is recycled – so it’s truly downcycled rather than recycled. Third, the plastic itself requires a LOT of energy to be made (link is for water bottles). Finally, liquid products weight more and take more space, increasing the transportation energetic cost compared to solid. For exemple, I’ve switched to solid shampoo since last October, and I’m not even through my second shampoo bar ( I shampoo every 2-3 days)!
    However, I have found that with the shampoo bar, I do need a conditioner, else my hair looks greasy. I didn’t use to use a conditioner beforehand, but now I am simply rinsing my hair with a mixture of vinegar or lemon juice and water, which works like a charm.

    * I still don’t understand how you can label a non-vegan product “cruelty-free” and vice-versa – you’d think those would be synonymous but you can have “accidentally” vegan products tested on animals and products non-tested on animals which contain milk, honey or carmine (crushed insects).

  • I am actually using this same “conditioner” mixture to dust most of the apartment off. Any glass, mirror, or wood surface is easily cleaned by this slightly acidic mix and a cloth. And possibly some elbow grease.
  • Sponges. For some reason, it didn’t hit me until I started looking into buying an eco-friendly sponge, but most sponges are made out of plastic, which cannot be recycled, and ends up in a landfill where it will take hundreds of years to decompose, if it ever does. So I switched to a compostable sponge. It’d still packaged in plastic, but at least I can just put it in my compost bin once I’m done with it, and recycle the plastic film (which other sponges would have too).

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Top: face cream from Persistent vegan on Etsy. Middle: Solid deodorant ‘T’eo” from Lush in its tin box. Bottom: Adjustable safety razor from Merkur & bamboo comb bought at a fair.

 

  • One of the easiest switches I made was to get an adjustable safety razor. I actually got it as a present for christmas, and I love it. It shaves so close to the skin, and I don’t get razor bumps anymore! There is a bit of a learning curve as it barely requires any pressure to shave, and it takes a bit more time as I am more careful not to cut myself, but even without the environmental concerns, I cannot imagine going back to disposables.
    I also stopped using shaving cream, I just lather my skin with the soap bar and voila!
  • My comb is not really a “switch” as it is not an item that you replace so often. But my old comb (which was made out of plastic) broke down, so I replaced it with this more eco-friendly alternative – I also like the simple look of it. I would not have replaced it if it didn’t break down as it is better to use up what you have rather than buying something new, even if the new item is eco-friendly.
  • Face products! That was a tough one. As you might know, I have had bad skin issues in the past, and my skin is still pretty reactive and unhappy with most creams – so much that it is often better without putting anything on it. The one exception I have to mention is Matricium. This sh*t is absolutely magical and amazing, and saved my *ss many, many, many times. However, it’s also very wasteful… individual doses, plastic-wrapped 😦 and not vegan. So I had been trying to find a replacement solution for a while, and so far I seem to have settled down for Persistent vegan face cream.
    As for washing, I either use only water, or a bar face soap from Lush, once again.
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Very simple ingredients, yet it seems that my skin has taken a liking to it. Tin packaging is easily reusable (you can send it back to her to get a refill) or recyclable. 

  • Alongside the safety razor, I got reusable pads for my christmas present. I’m not linking any of those, as I realized later that it would have been better to sew my own out of an old T-shirt. Furthermore, I got some made out of bamboo fiber, before I learned that bamboo textile was actually not eco-friendly. Oh well, you live, you learn.
    As you can see below, I store them into glass containers labeled “clean” and “used”. When I go to the laundromat (yes, welcome to NYC, nobody owns a washing machine here!) I put them in my underwear net and wash them with the rest of my clothes. I use Dr. Bronner’s  soap to wash my clothes, which is hypoallergenic.
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My bamboo toothbrush rests into a repurposed liquid deodorant container from which I removed the roller. I repurposed glass jars from bean dips after carefully washing them, removing their labels and relabeling them as face wash pads containers.

  • One of the first things I did was to switch my toothbrush for a bamboo one. Plastic toothbrushes are one of the worst things for the environment, as they cannot be recycled, have very long decomposition times, and are changed pretty often. Bamboo toothbrushes can be composted, however I recently found out that you need to either break the head off or pluck the bristles out, as even the toothbrushes labeled as biodegradable are not truly so, unless they’re not vegan. So to be honest, I’m not sure a bamboo toothbrush is truly better than a toothbrush with replaceable heads, especially since I’m pretty sure most people don’t have the patience to remove bristles or break the head of their toothbrush off.

Finally, some things I’m still working on / trying to find better alternatives to. Both have to do with oral care.

I haven’t managed to find a packaging-free toothpaste that contains fluoride. I have teeth which are very sensitive to tooth decay, so I really want fluoride in my toothpaste. There is a lot of fear-mongering about fluoride in toothpaste, but after looking through the scientific literature, I could not find evidence of fluoride being bad for you unless you actually eat a large quantity of toothpaste, which might be an issue for young children, but definitely not for adults. I could find, however, lots of evidence showing that fluoride prevents tooth decay. So even though I tried Lamazuna‘s solid toothpaste, I reverted to regular toothpaste (I also really didn’t find it practical, as it broke down into pieces about halfway through use). Please leave a comment if you know of an eco-friendly toothpaste with fluoride.

I’m also struggling with finding an alternative to floss. The biodegradable floss I’ve seen is made of silk, so not vegan. I’m thinking of switching to toothpicks instead. Once more, if you have suggestions please please please leave them below.

I hope this was useful! Did it inspire you to change some of your bathroom items for a more eco-friendly option? What is your next swap gonna be?

Teaching yoga at a homeless shelter

I find this a hard article to write, as there is so much to write about!

It’s been a bit more than a month since I started teaching a weekly class in a homeless shelter in the south of Manhattan. Well, homeless shelter is a bit of a misnaming in this case, since it is a “transition home”, which is mid-term housing for people who used to live on the street. So, technically, they are not homeless anymore.

The shelter is managed by the BRC, the largest association helping the homeless in NYC. There are 32 “clients”, as they are called, living there for a period from 6 to 24 months, until they can hopefully transition to stable housing. This specific location specializes in clients who have a history of mental illness and/or substance abuse.

It’s an interesting experience for sure, very different from teaching at an Iyengar studio.

  • I have very little space and / or props. Four mats, and a wall once I’ve pushed the chairs in that room to the side. I bring my own blocks and belt to help, and of course use the wall and sometimes the very impractical sitting chairs.

 

  • There is no planning possible (thankfully I was never truly a class-planning person anyways…). What I mean by this is that the class is supposed to be from 7PM to 8:30PM. But I never know when people are going to show up. Around 7PM, the security guy usually rings the bell to let residents know that the class is starting. Sometimes one of the students will actually be there at 7, sometimes I just wait until someone shows up. So far I have always had someone show up, but it can be 10, 15, 20 minutes after the class was supposed to start (I’ve put a limit on myself to leave if noone has showed up by 7:30PM). So I start when my first student shows up, and other students might join in (or not) at any point. Thankfully I already had a good training in this when I was teaching at my friend Daniel’s place, since he would regularly interrupt the class to go take care of his dinner.

 

  • The students themselves are very different from what people think as “yogis”. Their fitness level is very low, and the demographic is mainly black males aged 30-70. I actually think it is great, as it shows that yoga is truly for everyone. I’m glad they are interested in trying it, and that they keep on coming back and work hard to improve their lives.

 

  • A funny one to finish. You know how we all fart? It’s actually a question I’ve had a lot from people. What do you do when people fart, or when you, a teacher, farts during a demonstration for exemple? Well I’ve found that in regular classes, people just ignore it and go ahead with whatever was going on beforehand. They might be secretly judging the farter, but we’ll never know. At the shelter however, a fart is followed by a loud “SORRY!” and sometimes a laugh from the guilty and shameless farter, which I find both hilarious and refreshing.

 

Teaching in this setting has taught me a lot about myself as a teacher. I’ve had to let go of my Iyengar perfectionism. If I can get them to stretch a bit and get somewhat of the shape of the pose, that’s good. If I can relieve a bit of their back pain (main complaint), that’s awesome! And since they come back, I assume they find some value in my teaching. It has also stimulated a lot of my creativity, as even “easy” poses are sometimes out of reach. What do you do when child’s pose is a hard pose, and you don’t have props to help? Finally, I try to be more conscious of my adjusting students. Even though in my Introductory assessment I was told I don’t touch people enough, I am especially wary of touching people who have been through trauma, which this specific group of student most certainly has. So I try to ask every time if I can touch the student before adjusting them – but old habits die hard and I’m very guilty of regularly doing before asking.

Grief.com - – Books on Grief

For people interested in trauma and how yoga can help survivors, I highly recommend this book which I recently devoured. 

 

Finally, I’d like to advertise a Gofundme I created to collect money and purchase some more props for my students at the shelter. The money will go towards getting bolsters, blocks and blankets to make yoga more accessible to the students who have knee pain, difficulties to relax and a hard time stretching. I am sure they will be very grateful for any contribution you can make.

 

 

10 ways becoming vegan changed my life

Since the previous article was fun to write and ended up quite popular (maybe because it’s shorter than my usual rants? :’D) I decided to write another one on my other big, life-changing decision. Once again, no particular order…

  1. My skin cleared up. It had already become way better after I stopped eating gluten and dairy, but there was also a certain improvement when I stopped eating animal products.
  2. I lost weight. I wasn’t consciously trying to, though I was certainly slightly overweight beforehand. I sometimes refer to it as losing “guilt weight” since I felt so much better after I took the decision, but more realistically it’s likely because vegan whole foods are less calory-dense, so I was eating as much, but it ended up being less total energy.
  3. TMI, you’ve been warned. I started pooping VERY regularly. Everyday, often twice a day. If I don’t poop in one day, I now start wondering what’s up.
  4. I learned a lot about nutrition and health (I didn’t go vegan for health, and would have likely stopped eating meat before if I didn’t think / had always been told it was necessary for me to be healthy. Spoiler: it’s not).
  5. I started putting a lot more time researching a product before buying it. What it’s made of, what are the working conditions of people making it, what will happen to it once I discard it – things I didn’t think so much about before. I started looking more into the zero-waste movement as well.
  6. I became more assertive and more of my own individual. I’m still not very assertive, it’s just not in my character and I don’t want to be that vegan (I guess my type of activism is simply normalizing veganism and showing that there are good / logical reasons to be vegan, not only pseudo-scientific banter). However, this was truly the first decision I took that showed a true shift from how I was raised, if not in values, at least how I interpret and implement them.
  7.  People sometimes excuse themselves for talking about non-vegan food they’ve eaten or eating animals in front of me. Which I’m not sure what my feelings are about this? I mean, sure, I’d rather they didn’t, but then again, I ate meat for most of my life, so it’s not like I don’t know what it is…
  8. I notice thought inconsistencies / cognitive dissonance much more, not only when veganism is at stake, and also how much people dislike having it pointed it out. Another side-effect of this, is that admitting that I had been wrong by adopting veganism as a new lifestyle & philosophy, makes me more reflective of my beliefs. Since I was wrong once, and for something as big as this, I could be wrong again. So I try to listen to arguments opposite from mine with a non-prejudiced mind. It’s not easy!
  9. I notice how much animal products are in EVERYTHING, often unnecessarily or as cheap fillers, like milk in salt and pepper chips. WHY???
  10. For the first time in a very long time, I am considering changing my career plan. Since my last year of high school, my mind was set on a career in drug discovery. Saving people’s lives by creating tomorrow’s drugs. And it is what I am currently doing, as a postdoctoral researcher in protein engineering, I design antibodies against cancer targets, which will hopefully progress to a personalized medical treatment for patients. However, I realize that the medicines I am making will have to be tested on animals (this is required by law). While I do think that this might have been necessary at some point (like eating meat was likely necessary for our ancestors to survive), there are now more and more technologies, like organs-on-a-chip, being developed which are better for testing drugs than using animals. I think using animals is unnecessary in many cases, as it has been shown in multiple cases that animal testing is often inefficient at predicting human reactions to a product (see this case  in France only two years ago). So I’m considering a possible career switch to science policy in the future.

The first time I saw the top image, or one similar, I was far from being vegan and my reaction was similar to the bottom one. I thought vegans were very stupid not to know that cows do not need to be killed for milk, and that would actually be against the farmer’s interest! The fact that they were two white / slim / seemingly affluent women didn’t help with the stereotype of “they don’t have anything better to busy their days with”.                                                                                                                                                           This is why I think this type of activism isn’t very effective. It didn’t make me connect the dots. I didn’t realize that cows need to be pregnant to lactate, so as soon as the calf is born it is taken away and killed rapidly to be sold as veal. And even though I had always been told to buy beef raised for meat and not beef raised for milk (it is compulsory to write which type of beef it is in France) as it is supposed to taste better, I never realized this what was they meant by “I want to live”. I was the ignorant one, yet I judged them as being ignorant. Tough lesson to learn…

10 ways practicing yoga changed my life

Disclaimer: the idea for this post came while I was in the shower, and I just felt like I HAD TO WRITE IT RIGHT NOW. So there you go, in no particular order:

  1. I reconnected with my body and accepted it for what it is. I fell in love at first practice because of how it made me feel. At the time I was dissatisfied with my body and its refusal to conform to what I thought I ought to look like. Yoga made me accept my body as it was, and made me proud of the things it could do. Funnily, my body did change a lot with practice, losing weight (which I attribute to #3) and  weight training, to a point that I think it is what I wished it was at the time, but I’m not sure whether that it truly the case or whether I’ve just truly learned to love myself.
  2. I stopped wearing make-up everyday. Linked to #1, and also moving to the Netherlands where the pressure to look put together is much less important than in France, especially the South of France. Still a + in my book. I do like to wear make-up from time to time but don’t feel like I have to.
  3. I became vegan. Maybe the biggest # in terms of impact. While I like to say that I initially went vegan for environmental reasons but am now an ethical vegan, I don’t think that’s entirely true. Because I owe my dabbling into veganism to a reflection on yamas and niyamas we has to do during teacher training, and it was definitely an ethical issue.
  4. My back stopped hurting. A combination of addressing my anterior pelvic tilt in teacher training and general strengthening of my core. I used to have really bad backaches which made me consider a breast reduction in university. I now rarely suffer from them, and if I do I know that twisting + supta virasana with a block between the shoulders will relieve the issue.
  5. I met people I never would have otherwise. The whole amazing Iyengar yoga community of the Netherlands, and more recently, my students at the homeless shelter (more on this soon!)
  6. I now breathe through my nose at all times, and am aware of my breath most of the time. My breathing is also slower than most people I know. This is both an advantage and an inconvenient, as it sometimes stresses me out to hear my boyfriends’ semi-erratic breathing.
  7. I am much more self-confident. This came mainly with teaching. It taught me to speak up and be assertive.
  8. I always have yoga pants or shorts in my suitcase at a minimum. Often accompanied by a strapped mat and blocks if possible.
  9. Strangers come to talk to me in the park. Before yoga, nobody had ever come talk to me while I was hanging out in a park. If I practice, there is a 50% chance that someone will come talk to me about it. Also: people trying to imitate what I’m doing. Kids and grown-ups alike, and it’s happened that I feel like I have to intervene and teach them how not to break their neck while they attempt headstand.
  10. I spend a lot of time upside-down and love ropes 🙂

 

Senior teacher Bobby Clennell in rope sirsasana