Is Yoga a Religion?

“I’m concerned for your soul,” “You’re doing the devil’s work by teaching yoga,” “How can you say you’re a Christian when you’re teaching the belief system of the Hindu religion?”  These are some of many comments and questions that I’ve received about me being a Christian who teaches yoga and meditation.  In my book, BE STILL: The Power of Biblical Meditation, I wrote about a specific incident that happened to me about 4 years ago.  I’m honestly not offended by people who express their concern for me; in fact, I appreciate the fact that they care enough to express their concerns.  What I am not crazy about is the fact that most of these people’s concerns are based on what they’ve heard other people say or on a negative experience that they’ve had either personally or through someone else.  I would like to take this time to dispel the rumor that Yoga is a religion.

YOGA IS NOT A RELIGION… UNLESS YOU WANT IT TO BE.

In my training as a Yoga Teacher (through the 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training I completed and all the advanced training I’ve received since then), I have learned that Yoga was not meant to be a religion but rather a tool to help you meet the Authentic You.  This “authentic you” is the pure essence of who you were created to be, before you accumulated all the baggage that you carry (which you received from yourself and from others).  For me, the goal of Yoga is to get in touch with who God has created me to be since the beginning of His plans for me (Jeremiah 29:11-13).  I use Yoga as a tool to get my mind quiet and my spirit still enough to hear the voice of God (1 Kings 19:12, Psalm 46:10).

Depending on the lineage and the style of Yoga a person practices, it can be a more physically-based practice or a more spiritually-based practice.  What I practice and teach are somewhere in the middle with a whole lot of science.  I start each class with setting an intention for the practice, whether it be “stillness” (to experience stillness in each movements), “gratitude” (to be grateful for breath, for movement, for strength, etc.), “perseverance” (to be okay with discomfort in the challenging poses), etc.  At the end of the postures, I guide my students through a guided relaxation during savasana which activates the parasympathetic nervous system (the “rest and digest” response to homeostasis).  We finish with a breathing exercise called Pranayama where I guide them to use their breath to continue creating a balance mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  This is where they (and I) really experience stillness.

In addition to considering their physical levels, I take time to create yoga practices for my students in a very scientific and methodical way.  Since I only teach morning yoga classes at the moment, I make sure that the poses that I incorporate into my sequences are balancing and uplifting (if you’ve ever done a back-bending yoga pose, you can attest to the energizing/uplifting effect and a balancing/centering effect if you’ve stayed in a standing pose like Tree Pose for several breaths).  There’s science to back up the neurological benefits of yoga such as increase in endorphins and reduction in cortisol level (check out this article about “Neurobiology of Asana“).

To me, Yoga is a tool, not a religion.  It’s like walking (I use this example a lot, so if you’ve ever heard me say this in a workshop or seen it in a blog or social media post, just bear with me):  You can be walking toward someone with the intent of giving them a hug or you can be walking toward someone with the intent of robbing them.  The walking itself is not good or bad.  The walking, in this case, is simply a tool to complete your goal.  Just like this example, you can use Yoga as a religion or as a tool to enhance your faith.

At the end of each class, I bring my hands to heart-center — in prayer position — and take a moment to give thanks to God for that very moment.  I also pray that I commit to keeping my yoga practice centered around Him and Him only.

So to answer the question, is Yoga a religion or not…  I must use what one of my Yoga Teachers, Nikki Myers says a lot:

It depends.

The answer depends on you.

 

With Gratitude,
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I’m So Weird!

Have you ever felt like a weirdo?  While writing my blog last week about Self Love vs. Selfish Love, I mentioned that I’m the oddball in my family.  I used to hate feeling like none of my family members understood me.  What I hated even more was when I was told by my classmates that I was weird.  On the outside, I would act like I didn’t care what people thought of me, but those three words (“You’re so weird.”) stung deeply.  By the time I was in high school, I learned how to cover up my “weirdness” by conforming to the crowd.  I became a social chameleon, and I thought I had it all figured out; but deep inside, I was suppressing my oddities more and more each day.

I’m not sure when it changed, but it seems like as I grew older, it became easier to let go of the pretenses that I was “normal.”  I didn’t even know what “normal” really meant!  I just knew that I didn’t want to fit into a certain mold.  The more I became comfortable with being different, the more I felt free to be me.

I recently watched the first episode of Carpool Karaoke on Apple TV+, and the two “carpoolers” were Will Smith and James Corden.  While they were chatting about their careers and Will’s rise to stardom, he said that during his Fresh Prince of Bel Air days, he felt so free to be whoever he wanted to be.  In fact, his famous head rotation in the theme song/video was totally improvised, and he didn’t feel embarrassed about it, and nobody questioned why he did it.   He became famous for his clean rap about everyday things in the midst of rappers who were known for rapping about their dangerous lives and rough upbringing.  Will Smith was willing to stand out from the crowd and be “different” so that he can be himself.  My friends and I were drawn to his music because he stayed true to himself.

I’ve grown more comfortable in my own skin throughout the years.  I like the fact that I’m one of the few suburban moms who color her hair whatever color in the rainbow (although I’m currently rocking my natural dark brown color to give my hair a break).  I like the fact that while some of my friends and family are doctors, corporate executives, CEOs, scientists and college professors, I’m a homeschool educator, yoga & meditation teacher, indie author, and a pilates instructor.  I like that I find ridiculous comedy like Napoleon Dynamite hilarious and that I make up songs about anything throughout the day.

You will always have to live with yourself, and it is to your best interest to see that you have good company – a clean, pure, straight, honest, upright, generous, magnanimous companion.”
— Orison Swett Marden, Founder of SUCCESS Magazine

Embrace your uniqueness.  Love what makes you YOU.  Give yourself a mental high-five (aka clap 😂) next time you think to yourself, “I’m SO weird!”  Image result for clap

 

With Gratitude,
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Last Christmas of this Decade…

It’s that time of the year…  Festively decorated houses, gridlock mall parking lots, free 2-day shipping (for us Amazon Prime Members), receiving packages, etc.  In the middle of all the hustle and bustle, it is so easy to forget what Christmas should really be all about.  Holiday To-Do List (1)So, using the “Holiday To-Do List” that I saw on-line (I recreated the photo on the left), I decided to personalize each point:

1.  Buy Presents Be Present

My love language is Receiving GiftsThis doesn’t mean that you can buy my friendship.  It just means a lot to me when a family member or a friend gets me something (it could be a box of Altoids) because it reminded them of me.  It shows that they were thinking about me.  But because receiving gifts is my love language, I tend to default to giving gifts to show my appreciation and love (that’s probably one of the reasons why I do a monthly giveaway to my newsletter subscribers who have purchased a copy of my book).  I want to work on being more present in these last few days we have left in 2019.

2.  Wrap Gifts  Wrap Someone in a Hug

This one sounded a little cheesy to me at first, but I started thinking about how you just don’t know what kind of day someone is having.  Some time this year, my husband Shawn saw a homeless man near his office as he was walking to his car.  The homeless man asked for help, and Shawn gave him all the cash he had in his wallet (we generally don’t carry cash, so the fact that he had some was unusual); but what impacted the man more than the money was the fact that Shawn spent a few minutes talking to him afterwards, and he gave the man a hug before he got in his car and drove home.  I want to work on making people feel special with a hug the way Shawn made that homeless man feel that day.

3.  Send Gifts Give Love

Because we live on the opposite coast as our extended families, we send a lot of gifts during this time of the year.  But how much love am I giving during this holiday season?  Am I taking the time to make sure I’m loving people the way they feel loved (not everybody’s love language is going to be Receiving Gifts).  I want to make sure I take the time to figure out what my friends and family’s love languages are so that I can give love the way they will feel loved.

4. Shop for Food Donate Food

I must admit, I have not done a great job at donating food.  I mean, I feed all of my daughter’s friends when they come over (it’s amazing how much food teenagers can consume), so sometimes I feel like I’m donating food to them!  But seriously speaking, I know there are people in my community who may need extra help with food during the holidays.  In fact (as I’m writing this), I just remembered a friend who can probably use assistance with food this season.  I will reach out to her today to make sure she and her family have food to enjoy this week.

5.  Make Cookies Make Time for Others

I tend to like being alone.  I like going to bookstores alone, and I even enjoy having a meal at a fancy restaurant alone.  Not that I’m anti-social; I just enjoy “ME TIME” because that’s how I recharge (yes, spoken like a true introvert).  But this holiday season, I’ve been making plans with friends that have been wanting to spend time with me (and vice versa).  As I get older, I desire memories more than material things.

6.  See the Lights Be the Light

This is a big one.  In order to be the light, I need to be shining.  And in order to shine, I need to be intentional about walking in my authenticity.  I find myself wanting to get lazy and hibernate as the weather gets colder and life gets more hectic.  I need to make sure I go back to my Why’s.

 

I hope that this has inspired you to make your own Holiday To-Do List that goes beyond the hustle and bustle of Christmas!

 

With Gratitude,
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Inversion Addiction

Salamba_Sirsasana_-_Supported_HeadstandBefore I completed my 200-Hour Yoga Teacher Training, I had so many ideas on what I wanted to achieve through my training. I dreamed of doing perfect Headstands, Shoulder Stands (which I was already doing pretty well), Hand Stands, and whatever else inverted stands you can think of. I was thinking, “I’m gonna be so hard core with all the cool poses I’ll be able to do… and I bet my body’s gonna be pretty ripped!” Two years (and over 600 hours of teaching) later, I laugh at my thought process back then!

Towards the end of my teacher training, I was involved in a bad car accident where I was rear-ended by a pizza delivery boy who was going about 40 mph and texting (or looking down at his phone) at the same time. My SUV was totaled and I was left with a severe case of whiplash. I went through months of chiropractic care and even received a cortisone shot as well as went to a Orthopedic Doctor, but I still have neck pain to this day. I’m sure I didn’t have a perfect curve in my cervical spine (the spine in the neck area) before the accident, but any curve that it had went out the door and I now have two bulging discs in my C5 and C6/C7.

Documenting life in 2010.

Majority of us have lost some (or all) of the natural curve in the cervical spine from sitting behind a desk and staring at our computer screen (our heads start to protrude towards the screen, chronically straightening the curve in the neck) and from texting (most people look down toward their phones to text).

Okay, getting back to Inversions…

Raja_sarvangasanaInversions like Headstands put too much pressure in the already-straightened cervical spine, causing compression in the discs. Shoulder Stands (see picture on the left) straighten out the neck which eventually contributes to loss of curve in the cervical spine. Handstands are probably the safest pose in regards to spinal health, but the shoulder joints and wrists were not made to bear the weight of our bodies (minus the weight of the hands and arms) for an extended period of time. Being that I already have an injured rotator cuff, I try not to overuse it doing full weight-bearing activities.

Although the benefits of inversions are wonderful (improves circulation, energizes, detoxifies, improves immunity), the risks seem to outweigh the benefits, especially when there are other poses that can be done with similar benefits.

Non-Inversion Poses

My ego still misses the head stands and other inversions, but my higher self (and neck) are perfectly happy with skipping those poses in my traditional yoga practice. Now, inversions in aerial yoga is another story!   🙂

Namaste,
Jheni

Me and Kate Hudson

So I bet you’re wondering what my association to Kate Hudson is.

Kate is the co-founder of Fabletics, an active wear company for all shapes and sizes (they even have a men’s line called FL2)… and I represent her company as a Master Trainer.

The Master Trainers (known as “Fabletics Masters”) lead dance/fitness/yoga events that Fabletics sponsors. I get to give away Fabletics Swag at the events that I teach and answer questions and provide information on their VIP Program.

I have been a Fabletics Master for a little over a year now, and I am so proud to represent a company that celebrates all women! (Like I mentioned earlier, they do have a men’s line called FL2, but I’m going to focus on the women thing for now)

As you can see in my pictures on this website, I’m not exactly a size 0 fitness model. I’m a size 4, medium-build and average height (5’4″), and sometimes after eating a really great Indian Buffet, I get bloated and feel like someone should roll me out of the restaurant (it doesn’t happen often, but I do indulge at Indian Buffets once in a while). What I’m trying to say is, I’m not someone that would stand out in the crowd at the grocery store. But whenever I write blogs for Fabletics and send photos to them to publish on their site (like this one), they never retouch my photos to make me look leaner or more in shape.  I love that about Fabletics.

Kate is also very involved in the design process.  She and the design team listen to feedback from customers and us Masters.  In fact, we (Masters) provide feedback every quarter on the products (how they fit, the designs, etc.) to the design team… and our feedback to them is based on what the public (our students, friends, family, co-workers) expresses to us.

 

Here are a few of my Fabletics Outfits:
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I’ve compiled a short list of common questions that I’ve been asked (and my answers to the questions):

  • Q: What is the VIP Program?
    A:  It is like an on-line membership where you get special pricing on the clothing.
  • Q:  Do you have to become a VIP Member to buy from Fabletics?
    A:  No, you can make purchases without being a VIP Member but you will have to pay full-price for the items.
  • Q:  Do you have to buy something every month?
    A:  No, you can skip purchasing for the month by the 5th. You can skip as many months as you like. You will receive more than one e-mail in the beginning of each month to remind you.
  • Q:  I just saw a Fabletics commercial on TV about getting the first outfit for 50%.  How do I take advantage of that?
    A:  Click here to go to the website and sign up as a VIP Member to take advantage of the 50% off on your first outfit!

I recommend getting the Salar Capri or Salar Leggings… They have maximum compression but don’t feel like they’re sucking your insides tight!

Happy Shopping!

Namaste,
Jheni