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06 Jun

Ashtanga Yoga: The 8-Limbed Path

Ashtanga Yoga is known as the “Eight-limbed Path” for the eight stages of yoga practice that a yogi passes through to attain awakening.  These stages were first written about in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  The first five limbs are external practices, and the last three are internal practices.


-1. The first limb is Yama which is Sanskrit for restraints, or moral discipline.  The yamas are broken down into five elements of spiritual practice that we can utilize:

-Aparigraha is not acquiring.  Basically this means to avoid being greedy, to simplify, to not accumulate or use more than you need.

-Asteya is not stealing.  Respect other people and their boundaries and property.  Do not take something that is not yours, whether it is in a material, physical, spiritual, intellectual or emotional sense.

-Ahimsa is nonviolence.  Practice peace in thought, word and deed, towards yourself and others.

-Brahmacharya is moderation.  It also means we must be virtuous, to be loving and have compassion for others.

-Satya is truthfulness.  Be honest, have integrity, understand the power of the spoken word.


-2. Niyama is the second limb in Ashtanga Yoga.  It means observances, and self-restraint.  There are five inner practices we can follow to maintain moral principles:

-Samtosa is contentment.  Be happy in the present moment.  Know that everything you have, and everything you are is enough.  Be satisfied and content.

-Tapas is a zest for life.  Learn and grow every day, build strength and wisdom.  Develop spiritual practices and be disciplined.

-Saucha is a purity of body and mind.  Take care of yourself, body, mind and spirit, and also take care of your environment.

-Svadhyaya is self-referral.  Practice contemplation and introspection.  Get to know yourself so that you may then know others.

-Ishvara Pranidhana is devotion.  Let go of the ego and embrace a higher source.  Approach life with a sense of gratitude.


-3. The third limb of Ashtanga Yoga is Asana, or yoga postures.  This is the physical form of yoga that we are used to seeing.  It helps us to attain stillness in both mind and body.  The poses create strength and flexibility.


The word “Yoga” is derived from the Sanskrit root verb yuj. which means “to join” or “to unite.”  It signifies the joining of the individual with the universal reality.  It also means the union of the conscious mind with the deeper levels of the unconscious, which results in a totally integrated personality.  Just as Ayurvedic practices seek perfect balance in the human body, the yogic ideal of unification is perfect balance or a state of naturalness.  Every living being strives toward this ideal, which is described in the Christian religion as “the peace which passeth all understanding.”  As we begin to search for balance and natural harmony in our own lives, we start to grow on a path that leads to deeper understanding and fulfillment.  At such a time we learn that satisfaction comes from something that is found deep within and does not rely on external stimulation.


-4. The fourth limb is Pranayama, or breath control.  With these breathing exercises we can achieve a balanced state of mind.  These are many different exercises that work to invigorate the system and calm the mind.


The vital energy called chi by the Chinese and ki by the Japanese is called prana in India.  Prana is seen to be everywhere and in everything; it is the basic force that animates all matter.  In the study of Yoga, the life force, or prana, is closely associated with breathing practices that control and direct this important energy.  Freed and able to flow throughout the body, it can stimulate both body and mind; blocked and distorted, it can sap and deplete a person’s activities.


Pranayama is really the knowledge and control of Prana.  Since it is difficult for us to control the source of all the energy in the universe, we can start learning to control what is nearest to us.  The body and mind is what we have to work with.  It’s as if Prana is the whole ocean, and our own Prana is one wave.  We can learn to control our own wave.  Breathing exercises are a tool we can use to help us to become aware of our Prana.  There are many different practices, but each movement of pranayama involves the inhalation, retention, and exhalation of breath.  This practice is said to purify the mind, and remove distractions from the mind so that we can concentrate more easily.


-5. The fifth limb is Pratyahara, or controlling the senses.  This is practicing detachment from the distractions of life.


Pratyahara is translated as a “gathering towards oneself” and it is in practice a restraint of the senses.  We are so easily distracted, as our senses take our attention away from whatever it is we are supposed to be focusing on.  Meditation requires stillness and concentration, so practicing pratyahara is a necessary step towards controlling the senses.  The senses constantly take our attention outward, to the external world, away from the inner world.  We get uncomfortable sitting in the same position, we hear a phone ring, or we smell dinner cooking and we feel that urge to get up.


Raja Yoga teaches us that although the mind is active, that is not where we get our intelligence.  We get our intelligence from the soul.  The mind is the instrument through which we interpret the world.  The soul knows the truth.  The soul carries higher knowledge.  We must calm the mind so that we can access this knowledge.  The analogy of a lake is often used to describe how our perception is altered.  When the lake is stirred up, it becomes muddy and unclear.  We can’t see through to the bottom.  However, when the lake is calm, the water is crystal


These are the last three limbs are internal practices.


-6. Dharana is concentration.  The idea is to fix our attention on one focal point.  This helps us to gain equanimity, poise, and grace. The way to concentrate the mind is to focus it on one particular object, to the exclusion of everything else.  The object could be outside the body, such as a flower, or a candle.  Or the object could be inside the body, such as the heart center, or the top of the forehead.  The idea is to keep the mind still by having it hold only this object, not allowing the senses to give in to distractions, and not allowing thoughts to stray from that object.

Dharana is a practice of training the mind to be still and focus.  Concentration is like a muscle; we can work it and develop it.  Over time it becomes stronger and more sustained.  This is why a regular practice of meditation is so important.   For our concentration to become, and remain, strong, we must use it.


-7. Dhyana is meditation.  The purpose of meditation is to quiet the mind and open the heart.  In this way we become aware of our connection with the Divine.

When the mind is able to sustain concentration over a period of time, this is called Dhyana, or meditation.  In this step, the seventh in Raja Yoga, a power flows through the mind toward the object of concentration.  The meditator does not sense the object itself, but merely the essence of the object.  It is as if the object of meditation and the meditator become one.  The effort that we dealt with in Dharana ceases, and concentration is easy and natural.  In Dhyana the mind does not waver.  The meditator does not even think of the process of meditating anymore. We are not aware of time or space.


The calm state of mind that we experience in meditation helps us to handle any stresses or problems that come our way during the day.  Meditation helps us to maintain a peace of mind that serves us no matter what happens in the external world.


-8. Samadhi is super-consciousness.  It is also called bliss, union, or enlightenment.  It is when we experience the presence of the Divine with our entire self, body mind and soul.

Finally, in the highest state of meditation, Samadhi, the meditator becomes lost in the process.  Samadhi means “absorption” and also “divine peace.”  In Samadhi the meditator dissolves; the meditator becomes one with the whole universe.  Samadhi is absolute bliss, or superconsciousness.


When Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi are all three practiced together, this is called “Samyama.”  In our house analogy, Samyama is like turning on the light – it is illuminating the Truth.  All the work has been done, and now all that has to happen is that we flip a switch.  And lo and behold, we can see clearly and confidently.


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04 Sep

Healthy Sleep Habits

By now you’ve likely heard many of the great habits you can get into that aid in the experience of a good night’s sleep. I’m here to share with you about some of the great habits you can get into, even while you are sleeping, so that your body can operate most efficiently for optimal health and healing.


Sleep on Your Left Side

The best sleep position for most people is to sleep on your left side. While this may be news today, the wisdom originally comes from Ayurveda, India’s 5,000-year-old Science of Life. The left and right sides of the body are very different from one another. For example, the lymph system is more dominant on the left side of the body. This is because most of the body’s lymph fluid drains into the thoracic duct, which then goes into the left side of the heart, left jugular vein, and left subclavian vein. So, it makes sense that sleeping on the left side benefits the lymphatic drainage system. The lymph system is our first line of detox in the body, so it is the first to become congested when overworked.


The spleen is an important part of the lymphatic system, and it is located on the left side of the body. The spleen filters both lymph and blood. While sleeping on your left side, drainage to the spleen gets an assist from gravity. When we move, and the muscles contract, the lymph system can drain all the body’s cells. By sleeping on our left side, we are allowing gravity to help the lymph drain to the heart and the spleen.


Sleeping on the left side is also good for the heart. The largest artery in the body is the aorta. The aorta goes from the top of the heart, arches to the left, and then goes down to the abdomen. When we sleep on the left, it is easier for the heart to pump blood downhill into the descending aorta.


For better digestion and elimination, sleeping on the left side is the way to go. The large intestine is situated so that it goes up the right side of the stomach area, then across so that it can deposit waste into the colon going down the left side. Gravity is once again our ally when we sleep on the left side. After sleeping well, the descending colon is ready for an easy and complete elimination of waste in the morning.


Use a Humidifier

A cool-air humidifier helps to bring moisture into a room, which benefits us in many ways. When the air we breathe is too dry, lacking humidity, we can experience respiratory problems such as sinus inflammation, bronchitis, asthma, or nosebleeds. Dry air can also make us become dehydrated more quickly. When the body gets dried out, it is more susceptible to bacterial infections. We may experience a dry throat, and dry eyes. We may notice dry skin, chapped lips, or eczema. On the other hand, when the humidity in a room is at 45-55%, we breathe more easily and sleep more soundly. A humidifier helps to re-moisturize air that has been dried out from weather, or from air conditioning and heating systems.


Another upside to using a humidifier is that you’re much less likely to snore! When you breathe in humid air, rather than dry air, the throat and nasal cavity are less likely to get dried out. The air is free to move through these channels as you breathe, so the snoring sounds don’t occur. If it’s your partner who snores, and you’re the one who is awake because of it, a humidifier will benefit both of you.


In addition, a humidifier helps to prevent the skin for drying out while you sleep. While drinking enough water during the day helps to keep us hydrated, using a humidifier at night can help us stay hydrated from the outside in, so that we wake up feeling fresh and rested.


Most newer humidifiers run very quietly, giving just a small amount of white-noise, which can be an added benefit to sleep. If you prefer to run a humidifier during the day, it will likely moisturize the air enough to get you through the night with the humidifier off.


Another way to incorporate humidity into your room is to run a hot shower or bath, and let the steam moisturize the room. While you’re at it, a steamy shower will also help to open up and moisturize your sinuses.


You can also use saline nasal sprays, or the Ayurvedic “neti pot” to irrigate and clean the sinuses. Eating spicy foods is another way to quickly relieve sinus pressure from dry air. If you’re up for it, try having some hot salsa, jalapeno peppers, or chili peppers. Even one bite can make your nose run and your eyes water!


Have an After-Dinner Drink

We’ve all heard how warm milk can settle us into sleep – and it’s true! Ayurveda has an even better beverage for us, which is healthy in many other ways as well. It’s called “Moon Milk” and it is fabulous! If you are vegan, or just avoiding dairy, substitute unsweetened nut milk instead. Each ingredient has a purpose. Turmeric is an anti-inflammatory. Cinnamon helps to reduce blood clotting, and is an anti-oxidant. Cardamom is known as the “Queen of Spices” and it can calm heartburn and nausea. In addition, cardamom is a natural breath freshener! Nutmeg is a natural sleep aid. Ashwagandha soothes the nervous system. Ginger is great for digestion, and ghee is used as a carrier to get all the herbs where they need to go in the body. If you’re looking for a healthy and delicious night cap, Moon Milk is it!


Moon Milk Recipe (1 serving)

1 cup milk (I prefer unsweetened almond milk, use any kind of milk you like)

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

¼ teaspoon ashwaganda (easy to find online, or in Indian grocery stores)

1 pinch of nutmeg

1 pinch of ground ginger

1 teaspoon ghee (Ghee is clarified butter, look for ghee that is cultured and organic for the best quality)


In a small saucepan, over medium-low heat, bring milk to a simmer. Add in the herbs one by one, whisking as you go. Add the ghee, and reduce the heat to low. Continue to cook for 7-10 minutes to let the herbs incorporate into the liquid. Remove from heat and pour into a mug. Add a little bit of raw sugar if you like it on the sweet side.


For more info about how to get a great night’s sleep visit: The Better Sleep Council’s website HERE









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31 Aug

The Seven-Point Creed

As a UCLA Alumni, John Wooden holds a special place in my heart.  He was an amazing coach, teacher, and family man and his legacy will live on. Those I was never privileged enough to meet him in person, Coach Wooden was kind enough to give me an endorsement for my book “Getting There! 9 Ways to Help Your Kids Learn What Matters Most in Life.”  He said: “Since I consider parenting to be the most important profession in the world, and family the foundation for the future, I strongly recommend that all parents and those who expect to be parents read and re-read Lissa Coffey’s “Getting There!””

It seems John Wooden’s wisdom and philosophy was learned at an early age. Upon his graduation from grammar school, his father, Joshua, gave him this “Seven Point Creed,” which he lived by always:

–         Be true to yourself.

–         Make each day your masterpiece.

–         Help others.

–         Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible.

–         Make friendship a fine art.

–         Build a shelter against a rainy day.

–         Pray for guidance and give thanks for your blessings every day.

Coach Wooden authored several books, including one about the Pyramid of Success, which consists of philosophical building blocks for winning at basketball and at life.

Coach Wooden’s Pyramid of Success: Building blocks for a Better Life


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31 Aug

Happy Teeth, Healthy Heart

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among men and women in the United States and Europe.  A new study suggests that we may be able to reduce our chance of getting heart disease by practicing good oral hygiene.  There is definitely a relationship between heart health and tooth brushing.  Simply by brushing your teeth you are helping yourself to have a healthier heart.  British researchers have found that people who do not brush their teeth twice a day have as much as a 70% extra risk of heart disease.  The main factors for heart disease are smoking and a poor diet.  But after that, regular tooth brushing (at least twice a day) is also a factor, and a simple measure to take to help maintain a healthy heart.  Twice daily brushing also reduces the risk of gum or periodontal disease, an infection of the tissues surrounding and supporting the teeth.  Researchers recommend good oral hygiene by seeing a dentist every six months, and using products like tongue scrapers (prominent in Ayurveda), mouth wash, and water picks.

Waterpik Handheld Cordless Dental Water Jet


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31 Aug

Barefoot Running

Here’s something interesting that’s come across my radar – you know how all these athletic shoe companies have been bringing us all kinds of new, high tech springs and cushioning and treads or whatever to run faster, jump higher, and get the best performance out of our feet?  And all the big-name athletes who have helped design this footware and branded the shoes with their names?  Well, turns out, maybe the natural way, the barefoot way, is best.  Studies are saying that barefoot running prevents injury, and can even enhance performance!  A professor at Harvard led a research team that looked at the “impact collision force” (when the foot hits the ground) of runners in shoes compared to barefoot runners.  The impact was actually reduced by two-thirds by running in bare feet.  Basically the difference is in how the foot lands on the ground.  Barefoot runners land each step more on the ball, or the middle of the foot, which is more gentle to the foot.  Runners in shoes tend to land more on the heel.

Another study looked at the Tarahumara Indians in Mexico, who run hundreds of miles at a stretch wearing just thin homemade sandals.  This type of footware puts the foot in a more natural position to land lightly and gently, the same way children run in bare feet.  Researchers say that our thickly cushioned modern running shoes may actually be causing stress on our joints and feet because we’re not landing the way we were meant to do while running.  They are starting to recommend more minimal running shoes.  Some of the “new” shoes look kind of like a foot “glove.”  If you decide to try out this age-old running style now made trendy, it’s best to gradually transition yourself for a few weeks and listen to the signals from your body to avoid feeling achey or sore while you get “back on your feet.”

The Barefoot Running Book: A practical guide to the art and science of barefoot and minimalist shoe running


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31 Aug

Boyfriends and Girlfriends

We’ve heard for a long time how married people are generally happier and healthier overall.  Now new research published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior shows that stable relationships can have much the same benefits for young adults in romantic relationships, too.  In the study, researchers followed people from early elementary school through two years after college.  They found that at age 19 or 20, someone who was in a stable relationship was much less likely to use marijuana or drink heavily than someone who was not in a relationship.  There could be many reasons for this.  Relationships give us support that can help us avoid substances we don’t really need.  And when we’re spending time with a partner, we’re less likely to be hanging out in bars.  Having a person in our lives who is like-minded and enjoys the same healthy behavior patterns as we do can influence our lives in many positive ways.

What’s Your Dosha, Baby? Discover the Vedic Way for Compatibility in Life and Love


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31 Aug

Dropping Hints

I always encourage people to be very clear in their communication with their spouses or partners.  But every once in awhile I hear from someone who has come up with a great way to “drop a hint.” A friend of mine, a newlywed, said that she really wanted her husband to give her a pearl necklace for her birthday.  The day before her birthday she woke up and told him that she had a dream that he gave her a pearl necklace as a gift.  “I wonder what that means?” she asked innocently.  “You’ll find out tomorrow!” he said with a grin.  The next day she was pleased as punch when he presented her with a beautifully wrapped gift, she just knew that her hint had worked and she had gotten the necklace.  Her husband had a huge grin on his face, proud that he had picked up something special for his bride.  She opened the wrapping to find “The Dreamer’s Dictionary!”

Yes, that’s a bit of humor, but it illustrates the point.  We each have different filters, different translations, different interpretations.  Be clear with one another when it is important, and keep a sense of humor when the message sometimes gets lost in the transmission.

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31 Aug

Backyard BBQ

I love grilling outside – we get to enjoy the backyard, and there’s less mess to clean up in the kitchen!  Whether you’re making meat, fish, chicken, or veggies, there are lots of great ready-made marinades that add wonderful flavors to the main dish.  Remember to marinate in the refrigerator, and not at room temperature.  Always marinate in a non-reactive container, such as ceramic or glass, rather than aluminum.  After marinating meat, seafood or poultry, discard the marinade.

Your barbeque needs to be thoroughly cleaned at least once a year.  You want to clean it with a brush and high heat after every time you use it, but a heavy duty cleaning is recommended before you start your BBQ season.  Just remove the grates and wash with hot soapy water.  Wipe down the inside and outside with hot soapy water.  Remove old or dirty BBQ stones and replace with fresh ones.  With the stones out, wipe down any grease or ash that has accumulated at the bottom of the barbeque.  Remember to also check your cleaning brush, mitts and utensils.  If any are worn out, replace with new tools.

I’m a vegetarian, so when we do BBQ it’s either soy burgers or fresh vegetables.  I marinate slices of eggplant, zucchini, onions and portabello mushrooms in an oil and vinegar dressing with some fresh basil.  The oil helps keep the veggies from sticking to the grill.  I love to serve the veggies with a big green salad and focaccia bread, you can make sandwiches out of the bread and veggies!  Yummy!

Share your BBQ recipes with us!


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31 Aug


Origami is the Japanese art of paper folding, although many different materials may be used besides paper.  In Japanese oru means “to fold” and kami means “paper.”  Originally origami referred to the folding of documents, or certificates, which usually accompanied valuable objects such as swords or gifts.  The word origami then also became used to refer to another kind of ceremonial folding “tsutsumi.”  Origami as it is used today, as a recreational art, came into play at the end of the nineteenth century.  It is said that the word was easier for children to write than some of the other words it had been called and that’s how it got its name.  In the 1960’s it became popular in the U.S.  The goal of this art is to create a kind of sculpture using geometric folds and crease patterns, preferably without the use of glue or scissors!

Although there are just a small number of different folds in origami, they can be combined in a variety of ways to make intricate designs.  Generally, the design starts with a square sheet of paper.  There is special paper designed for origami.  Traditionally one side is white and the other side is colored, although now many different combinations of patterns and colors are used.  Butterflies, cranes, flowers, stars – there are all kinds of wonderful designs that can be easily mastered!

Another interesting aspect of origami is the mathematics.  This is a practice that has great importance in science.  The Miura map fold, for example. Has been used to deploy large solar panel arrays for space satellites.

The Joy of Origami


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31 Aug

Feng Shui Secrets

First there was Vastu, the Indian Science of Placement and Architecture, which dates back more than 5,000 years ago.  Buddhist monks brought Vastu to China, and about a thousand years later it developed into what we now know as Feng Shui.  This is an age-old practice that embraces the idea of living in harmony and balance with our environment. Feng Shui (pronounced fung schway) literally means wind and water and is the study of energy and how it affects people. Feng Shui teaches you how to harness and control both the visible and invisible energies that surround us.

I have a new 8-week e-course with Daily Om called “Feng Shui Secrets to Enliven and Energize Your Goals.”  Daily Om has been a great partner with me.  They have a system where you can pay what you want to for the course!  There’s a scroll down menu, so you pick the price.  Here’s just one of the many, many tips that is included in the course:

One Feng Shui cure to improve your finances is to tie a red string or ribbon, measuring 6, 9 or 18 inches in length, around the pipe under your sinks. On very rare occasions, this can cause a back-up in a sink. If this occurs, remove the string immediately. Check for any blockages in the plumbing and repair if necessary.

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