Wellness Through Travel

Leave a comment

The weekend I traded in my iPhone for meditation beads

Life has gotten away from me over the last few months. My habit of saying ‘yes’ more often than ‘no’ led me to working on three or four different projects at a time; travel had become the norm, as had waking up at 6am to be in touch with partners on the east coast and working until 8 or 9pm to finish the day in stride with coworkers here in San Francisco. My personal life was impossible to differentiate from my daily to-do list. I was juggling numerous friend groups and had managed to squeeze in almost every dinner, drinks, coffee, and social engagement that came across my inbox. I had become adept at playing catch-up, and seldom left time to check in with maybe the most important person in my life: me.

Last week, a friend told me she had an extra spot available for the Digital Detox retreat at Orr Hot Springs. I immediately rearranged my schedule for the upcoming weekend, cancelled a couple dinner reservations, and jumped on board. I knew I needed this.

We arrived at Orr Hot Springs late Thursday night just in time for dinner. Sixteen of us were seated at a long, rectangular table in the middle of our camp, beneath Ukiah’s bright star-filled sky. The candles on the table illuminated the gourmet food prepared by Phoenix, our rockstar chef for the weekend. We each introduced ourselves to the group without referencing what we do for a living. It was interesting to witness the freedom this allowed in myself and in others: without the crutch of hiding behind ‘what we do’, we could actually describe ‘who we are’. We were all taking part in the Digital Detox for different reasons, but a few themes emerged: most of us were looking for space, for authentic connection to ourselves and others, and for a return to simplicity.

The weekend, as it turns out, was crafted to create this space, foster connection, and highlight the beauty and benefits of living a smaller, simpler life. Aside from no phones, computers, or tablets, there was no time at the Digital Detox retreat—no clocks, no watches—and the calm ringing of a bell signified when we needed to emerge from our cabins and head down “to camp”. In between incredible vegan, gluten-free meals I took part in yoga classes and candle-lit meditation circles, hiked in the Montgomery Woods State Reserve, one of the largest redwood forests in the country, and learned how to bake bread on a stove top and screen-print my own greeting card. I read in the natural hot springs overlooking the forest, and rotated between the cold and hot pools while the sun set behind the mountains. I had meaningful, enlightening conversations with new friends.

The Digital Detox was the break I was looking for. It was full of fun, holistic activities and interesting, emotionally ambitious people. I didn’t send one email or text for three days, nor did I touch money, think about earning it, or discuss how I had done so in the past. I wore fleece pants, t-shirts, and sandals all weekend, and pretty much forgot about the belt and shoes I packed in my travel bag. I got in a total of 6 hours of yoga, 3 hours of meditation, and an hour-long massage. I soaked in the hot springs for what felt like days. I ate the best meals I’ve had all year.

Yet, it was so much more. It became clear that during the daily rat race, it is all too easy to shirk on asking myself the tough questions – Am I living the life I want? Am I spending time with those who matter most? – and even harder to devote time to answering them. A free moment is consistently consumed by an email, a YouTube video, a phone call. And when there is an opening in my schedule, it is all too easy to fill it with an errand or the next item on the to-do list. I left the retreat with a notebook full of reflections—mainly about the life I want, the life I have, and the delta between the two. I noticed that I spent about 1% of the entire weekend thinking about work. Therefore—maybe I should spend less time thinking, reflecting, and planning, and more time just being. The weekend made me realize how infrequently I am actually living in the moment, and the power and freedom that comes with being present.

Back in San Francisco I know that life will move forward at its usual pace and the challenge will be to sprinkle in pieces of the Digital Detox into my daily life. Maybe it’s not looking at email or my phone for the first hour of each day. Maybe it’s spending 10 min. in silent meditation each night before bed. Maybe it’s leaving a sticky note on my computer monitor that simply reads, “Breathe.” What it is, undoubtedly, is reserving time each day to check in with myself. After doing so consistently for three days, I feel lighter, more centered, and more purposeful than I have in a very long time.

Interested in attending the next Digital Detox? contact Levi: levi@thedigitaldetox.org

By David Acker


Leave a comment

Modern health, ancient source: The scriptures of Yoga

Many have said that yoga is as old as human civilization. The facts suggest that this physical and spiritual, whole body practice arose alongside the scriptures that produced Hinduism, Buddhism and their branches.

To gain a complete understanding of the different types of yoga, it’s best to start at the beginning with the books from which they arose.

The Core Scriptures of Yoga

Vedas: These ancient scriptures form the basis of Hinduism. There are four types of these ancient scriptures: The Aranhyaka, Brahamana, Samhita and Upanishads.

The Vedas aimed to teach the practitioner how to live in divine harmony with the universe. Vedic yoga was the earliest form of yoga.

Upanishads: This genre of Veda had the most impact on future yogic teachings. The Upanishads were rituals and practices meant to grant power. Also called the Vedanta, they comprised the end section of the Vedas.

“Upanishad” means connection, and refers to the interconnectedness of each individual’s core (atman) and the universe or absolute reality (Brahman).

Bhagavad-Gita: Translated as “The Divine Song of God,” this ancient hymn comes from the Sanskrit epic poem, Mahabharata. The Bhagavad-Gita attempted to reconcile two dramatically different Indian religious doctrines, the Sankhyya and the Vedanta (or Upanishads).

Perhaps the inherent contradictions in this sacred, Hindu text prompted its widespread study in the modern West by such thinkers as Albert Einstein, Carl Jung and Herman Hesse.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali: Written in the 2nd Century C.E., these 196 aphorisms, sutras, or “threads” came to be called ashtanga, or the eight limbs of yoga.

Treating body as temple through the 8 limbs of yoga

The eight limbs of yoga teach practitioners a combination of internal and external cleansing practices, such as correct action, diet, and thought. In summary, those 8 limits listed in the hierarchy in which they were originally written include the following:

  1. Yama :  Universal morality
  2. Niyama :  Personal observances
  3. Asanas :  Body postures
  4. Pranayama :  Breathing exercises, and control of prana
  5. Pratyahara :  Control of the senses
  6. Dharana :  Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
  7. Dhyana :  Devotion and meditation on the Divine
  8. Samadhi :  Union with the Divine

Working one’s way up the yoga tree limbs requires practice and concentrated effort. Many teachings can fall under the umbrella or canopy of the 8 limbs of yoga, just as many schools have sprung forth from them.

Leave a comment

9 Popular Schools of Yoga, Branches of the 8 Limbs

Yoga Chackras and Lotus PositionIn the 2nd century CE, Patanjali penned the Yoga Sutra, a series of 196 spiritual observations about reality. The yoga sutra came to form ashtanga, or the eight limbs of yoga. Ashtanga teaches practitioners to treat the body as a temple through a combination of internal and external cleansing practices, such as correct action, diet, and thought.

Ashtanga: The 8 limbs of “classical” yoga

Within each of the 8 limbs, numerous teachings exist. For example, nonviolence (ahimsa) and truthfulness (satya) are among the teachings in the first limb (Yama), which highlights ethical practices and correct conduct. Following a vegetarian diet is one aspect of the teaching, ahimsa.

In the modern West, among the most frequently explored limbs of yoga are Asana, the physical postures, and Pranayama, or breath control. Pranayama can be practiced in a still, seated position in conjunction with meditation. Proper breath control is also a best practice of asana.

Some begin learning yoga postures to strengthen the body. Others search for a way to quiet the mind. Many hope eventually to achieve Samadhi, or ecstasy. These 9 popular schools of yoga have changed the lives of millions worldwide for their ability to help the practitioner achieve one or all of those goals.

9 Popular Schools of Asana Yoga

  1. Ananda: Founded by Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple of Paramhansa Yogananada, the author of Autobiography of a Yogi. Yogananda was integral in popularizing yoga in the U.S., when he began teaching Kriya Yoga, or meditation, on a trip to Boston in 1920. Ananda Yoga® takes a classical approach to yoga philosophy, meditation, breath and postures.
  2. Ashtanga (Vinyasa): A form of Hatha yoga, modern Ashtanga Yoga was created by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois. This school of yoga focuses on aligning correct posture, breathing and sight, during a rigorous series of poses that encourage cleansing of body, mind and spirit.
  3. Bhakti: A practice arising from the Bhagavad-Gita, Bhakti Yoga focuses on loving kindness and surrender to God. Many teachers and writers have contributed to the evolution of Bhakti Yoga, which opposed the caste system.
  4. Bikram: Those who like it hot, love Birkam Yoga. This school of yoga was popularized and founded by, Bikram Chodhury, who sequenced the 26 postures and 2 breathing exercises that make up Bikram Yoga. Classes last exactly 90 minutes. The goal of adding heat is to speed up the body’s detoxification processes.
  5. Hatha: Many modern forms of yoga spring directly from the Hatha Yoga system, which stems from the 15th century writings of Svami Svatmarama. Choose Hatha Yoga from a class schedule today, and you’ll likely get a fusion of poses and techniques based on the teacher’s preferences.
  6. Iyengar: Based on the eight limbs of yoga, Iyengar Yoga focuses on development of strength, stamina, flexibility, balance, concentration and meditation. Instructors undergo a particularly rigorous process in order to become certified. Iyengar Yoga is usually for the intermediate to advanced yoga practitioner.
  7. Jivamukti: Established in New York City in 1984, by Sharon Gannon and David Life, Jivamukti is a physically rigorous offshoot of Hatha Yoga. In 2002, the Jivamukit co-founders authored Jivamukti Yoga: Practices for Liberating Body and Soul which explains the tenets around which the school was formed. Music is an important component.
  8. Kundalini: The Times of India describes Kundalini Yoga as a practice that releases untapped spiritual energy located at the base of the spine, by drawing that energy up through the chakras. In addition to asana and pranayama, Kundalini Yoga gives concerted attention to alignment of the spine and its relationship to the endocrine system.
  9. Tantric: Often associated with achieving ecstasy through sexual pleasure, Tantric Yoga became popular in the U.S. in the early 1990s. For a balanced look at this controversial school of yoga, read The Truth About Tantra by Todd Jones.

Regardless of which path of yoga you choose, or how often you practice, consider this distilled message of the Bhagavad-Gita: Your business is with the deed and not the result. Act, breathe and think with best intention, and the rest will follow.

Leave a comment

5 Yoga Poses That Strengthen

You eat right, breathe deep and work hard. Whether in yoga class or at home, you show up to the mat with gratitude. Strengthen core muscle groups and advance in your practice by using these five fundamental yoga poses to take your flow to the next level.

Yoga Postures - Wheel Pose, Upward Bow, Bridge Pose

Head over “wheels” for work and the Web.

1. Upward Bow, Bridge, or Wheel Pose: Whether lifting from the floor or arching into it with your feet in the air, one way to visualize the wheel pose is to imagine your spine bending itself backwards into a circle, as it reaches for the Earth.

Yoga - Plank Pose - Retreats in Sedona Arizona

The plank pose keeps you steady and strong.

2. Plank Pose: Build arm and shoulder muscles while performing this versatile yoga position. The plank can be done facing the Earth, in reverse or sideways, allowing for the heart to open in any direction. Plank pose allows the practitioner to focus on breathing and the development of patient endurance.

Yoga - Plow Pose

Plow pose on the shore creates a mirror in the sand.

3. Plow Pose: Gives both back and abdominal muscles a work out, and the neck a good stretch. This inverted yoga posture prepares newer students for more advanced moves, while giving advanced yoga practitioners a place to rest during a series of poses. The body mimics a right triangle, promoting the experience of being in harmony with the mathematical forces of nature.

Yoga Poses - Supported Shoulder Stand - Nature retreats

Get tree trunk strong with inverted yoga postures.

4. Supported Shoulder Stand: Does a supported shoulder stand ever remind you of doing the “bicycle exercise” as a child? If so, maybe it’s because both of these inversions improve blood flow through the body, while preparing shoulder and neck muscles for head stands and hand stands. The supported shoulder stand provides further proof that some of life’s healthiest lessons, we learn as children.

Yoga Pose - Bow and Arrow

Yoga in Yosemite:
Bow and Arrow Pose

5. Bow and Arrow Pose: Strengthens abdominal muscles and lower back, while opening up hips and lengthening the hamstring muscles. Learn the bow-and-arrow seated to practice the motions. Use a wall to advance to standing, as flexibility increases and balance improves.

No matter how long you’ve been practicing yoga, there are some poses you will return to countless times. That’s because these yoga poses push, pull, lengthen and strengthen muscles and systems in your body that are essential to continuous advancement of your physical practice.

Whether your personal goal is to catch your breath, grow stronger, develop balance or find piece of mind, use these five yoga poses to help you reach your desired destination.

Leave a comment

Are We Really What We Eat?

Photo by Robert John Kley

As a rule, cultures from Europe to Asia and the Middle East treat at least one meal per day as an important time when families, neighbors and friends gather together.

Compare that to the United States, where the pace of living and eating continues to speed by like so many fast food billboards on the open highway. The truth is that both American waistlines and health care bills suggest something is terribly wrong with our eating habits.

Processed Foods and the Modern Diet

According to a 2012 data brief released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), almost 36 percent of adult Americans are obese. While college educated women are less likely to be obese than women without a college education, there is no difference in obesity prevalence between men and women.

For now, let’s not think about the countless preventable diseases we invite into our bodies by not thinking — or reading nutritional labels — before putting highly processed, “fast” foods into our mouths.

Instead, let’s summarize the problem: Rather than providing genuine nourishment, a highly processed, modern American diet allows us to ingest a large number of nutrient-stripped calories with a low-absorption rate, and countless chemicals that can linger in our bodies. From casein to gluten to high fructose corn syrup, our bodies are rejecting these artificially manufactured compounds.

With so many choices, what should we eat?

How to Create Good Dietary Habits

Depending on whether you’re career-focused and work 60-hours-a-week, have the luxury of staying at home to raise your children — or somewhere in between — the details of shopping, cooking and eating are unique to each individual’s home. Your blood type, digestive system, food allergies, schedule, location and income also influence eating habits.

We’ll discuss all of these at zendez in the weeks and months ahead.

For now, let’s keep it simple with a single mantra: “Choose less in four simple steps.”

1. When shopping, always read the nutritional labels. Choose fewer ingredients, or better yet, avoid buying packaged foods altogether. Fresh is best.

2. Eat smaller portion sizes and mix fewer foods. Rule of thumb: Eat meat and vegetables together, or carbohydrates and vegetables together. If you avoid mixing meat and carbs, you’ll generally have more energy after a meal.

3. When cooking or selecting a dish, don’t overcook food. This depletes a dish of nutrients. Select the simplest oils possible, such as olive or sesame.

4. As often as possible — for at least one meal per day — focus on food, friends and family. Turn off your i-Phone, your laptop and your television. Whatever you’re distracted by will be there to distract you later.

Do You Need a Digital Detox?

Electronic screens and devices have become extensions of our beings. But do they put us in better touch with our bodies, minds and health? To what extent does our attachment to electronics bring us closer to or farther from wellness?

At some point, we all need to ask ourselves: What else are we consuming, besides food, which we might benefit from less of?