Hi, I’m Bettina. What I'm working on : Forget to slouch. Relaxing is freedom. Choose life.

Articles in “Active Hands Yoga”

How to practice Morning Yoga when you just don’t want to get out of Bed

 

I love sleeping in under warm blankets when the air is cold outside. I love yoga. What’s better than doing yoga in your bed when you wake up in the morning?

Try this gentle stretching yoga routine and see if that helps you get out of bed on the right foot tomorrow morning.

 

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Let me know if you have any requests for a short yoga routine and/or questions about yoga or meditation!

 

Signature from Bettina of Active Hands Yoga

 

 

 

 

Reading Notes from The Poets of the Powers by Kamil V. Zvelebil

Brihadeeshwarar Temple, Thanjavur, India

I’ve been diving deep into yoga history by reading. One book I recently read, The Poets of the Powers: Magic, Freedom, and Renewal by Kamil V. Zvelebel, has translations of Tamil Siddha poetry. It’s a thin volume, only 144 pages with footnotes included, so it was a good introduction to this group of yoga practitioners I had only heard of in passing before.

Tamil is one of the languages in South India and refers also to the culture of the people who speak the language. The Tamil Siddha school of thought is a branch of tantric yoga, with a distinct character of social radicalism and an emphasis on magical powers. A distinction of tantric yoga is the belief that liberation is possible in your human body and not just at death, which lead to technique of yoga to ensure a healthy body. The body is the seat of the experience of liberation. If your body was weak, in pain, or unbalanced, how could you experience bliss or become liberated?

What is the sign of absolute and true liberation?

The physical body aglow with the Fire of Immortality.

(Uroma risi nanam 12) p. 58

Even though Zvelebel says that the first Tamil Siddha poet was active between the seventh and eleventh centuries, it would be a mistake to think Tamil Siddhas were only active in medieval India. Zvelebel claims that the Siddha doctrines are still a vital undercurrent in modern-day South India albeit hidden from public view.

Shiva Linga with Garland of Flowers

Written in an intentionally enigmatic language, where words embody multiple meanings, the Tamil Siddha poems can be mystical or vulgar and direct. For example, Civavakkiyar who was writing immediately before the tenth century wrote (p. 87):

Why, you fool,

do you utter mantras,

murmuring them, whispering,

going around the fixed stone

as if it were God,

putting garlands of flowers around it?

Will the fixed stone speak–

as if the Lord were within?

Will the cooking vessel,

or the wooden ladle,

know the taste of curry?

The misogynist language in some of the Siddha poems really bothered me. All of the poets translated in the book were men, and women, specifically the bodies of women, were temptations for them.

WARNING WARNING: Easily offended sensibilities, please stop reading now.

Loving Couple (Mithuna) Indian Sculpture

Pattinattar wrote (pp. 99-100):

Their mouth smells of flesh.

Their hairy mess is smelly.

The pus in the blackened eyes smells

and their limbs stink of their discharge.

The chasm of the vulva stinks.

Should my mind be attached

to these women

who smell of their

sensuality?

In the Appendix Zvelebil shares health tips from his Siddha informant in Madras in 1968 (pp. 126-127):

Hints regarding the physical and mental health

Food

1. Eat only if hungry.

2. Never eat when tired; never eat when emotionally upset.

3. Chew your food thoroughly, well mixed with saliva.

4. Between meals, eat only fresh fruit, or fresh fruit juices.

5. Add to your daily diet great quantities of mor, i.e. yoghurt or buttermilk.

6. Always eat fresh fruits and raw vegetables, if possible.

Sleep

7. Try to sleep at least eight hours daily. The best sleep is before midnight. Sleep with your window open, naked, head toward the North, the feet slightly raise.

Sun

8. Take frequent sun-baths; however, do not get too much sun at one stretch.

Breathing

9. Breath deeply, rhythmically, slowly, regularly and relaxedly. Be conscious of the speed and rhythm of your breath.

Walking

10. Walk at least two hours daily.

Sex

11. Regular and frequent sexual intercourse is beneficial. However, be master, not slave of your sex-life. Oral-genital sex is not harmful; on the contrary, it is often desirable. Visualize yourself as the creative Siva, and your partner as your (i.e. Siva’s) sakti, energy. Let her lie on you, and drink your sperm; let you suck her discharge of pleasure (curatanir).

Mental attitudes

12. Never give up. Never be idle. Try to maintain always a cheerful and positive attitude. There is no harm in satisfying a desire, when the satisfaction destroys it. Do not suppress forcibly any desire. Liberation is always here and now with you. If you cannot believe in god, it does not matter. Believe in yourself, in your own existence. Find out the source from which you came.

Conclusion : The Poets of the Powers: Magic, Freedom, and Renewal is a strange little book that serves as a good introduction to the Tamil Siddhas. It’s definitely not Yoga Journal. Pick it up and connect to the roots of one subset of yoga before it became what it is today.

If you have read The Poets of the Powers, what do you think of it? Or what do my reading notes make you think? Let me know in the comment section below.

Photo credits, from top to bottom: swamysk, Natesh Ramasamy, wallyg

How to Relieve Headaches with Yoga

 

I hardly ever get headaches, but some good friends suffer from headaches pretty regularly.

If you do too, please watch the video below to find out what you can do to relieve the pressure in your head that comes with headaches.

 

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Let me know if you have any other questions about yoga or meditation or any other problems you have may that could be solved by yoga!

 

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Yogis Talk Radio Show : Alessandro Aliosha Pedori at Wat Suan Mokkh

Hot Spring at International Dhamma Hermitage of Wat Suan Mokkh

 

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to meditate for ten days on a silent meditation retreat? I definitely have.

During my yoga teacher training in India, we were not supposed to speak during meals. The idea was that we were supposed to be fully conscious of our food rather than getting distracted by socializing. Some people took it further and did not speak for an entire day, wearing a little sign around their neck that they were observing silence aka mouna. Some people say observe silence so that you save your energy to turn inwards rather than focusing outwards in idle talking. Once you quiet speech, the mind quiets down too. Others say that there is no need for communication if you realize the great truth that there is no other–‘they’ are no other than me. Whatever the reason, observing silence is a powerful practice especially in conjunction with meditation.

Alessandro Aliosha Pedori

I decided to connect with Alessandro Aliosha Pedori, teacher of contact improv and yoga in Berlin, who meditated in Thailand for ten days at the Buddhist International Dhamma Hermitage of Wat Suan Mokkh. Even though their website is quite comprehensive, even giving out a detailed 11-page description of their yoga classes, I wanted to know what it was really like to experience and live there for a silent meditation retreat.

Listen to my interview* above (or download it!) with Alessandro to find out:

  • The most painful part of sitting meditation
  • Why Wat Suan Mokkh is way better than Vipassana meditation centers
  • What he would have done differently at Wat Suan Mokkh knowing what he does now (hint : bring a pillow!)
  • Who would be your fellow meditators and the leaders / facilitators?
  • Was the food good?
  • The lasting effects of meditating for ten days in Thailand

 

If you want to meditate for 10 days at Wat Suan Mokkh, here are your ACTION STEPS:

  1. Pack a yoga mat, a pillow, tiger balm, and some paracetamol. No pretty clothes allowed, so leave them at home.
  2. Get yourself to Thailand by plane, train, automobile, boat, foot in outside the months of January and February.
  3. Make it to the Buddhist hermitage by 3pm on the last day of the month to register for the next ten days.
  4. Meditate, practice yoga, soak in the hot spring, and eat delicious Thai food for ten days.
  5. Celebrate with a Thai iced tea upon your ‘graduation’ from meditation.
  6. Stay at the main monastery in the woods for a few days.
  7. Escape to a tropical island in Thailand.

Interested in finding out more about Alessandro? His soon-to-be-launched website is aliosha.info.

* I apologize for the poor sound quality. My skype-to-skype interviews sound fine, but my skype-to-phone interviews get a lot of static and interference. My new microphone is in the mail; stay tuned to hear the difference with a Zoom microphone.

 

Have you attended a silent meditation retreat or ever wanted to?

Share your experiences–critical and cynical or blissed out–in the comments below please.

 

 

 

Photos (from top to bottom): Hot springs at Wat Suan Mokkh and Alessandro Aliosha Pedori

How to Not Fall Over in Mermaid Pose

 

Recently I made a custom yoga video for a vegan chocolatier so that she could get in 30 minutes of yoga whenever she gets a chance rather than going to a scheduled class. I designed the yoga practice to challenge her and address her needs, and so she had a question about one of the yoga poses that challenged her : How can she keep her balance in mermaid pose?

If you’re curious too, watch the video below to find out. Even if you’re not interested in mermaid pose, the 3 tips I share in the will help you with pigeon pose and its variations.

Plus, I got some great compliments on my gold leggings–watch them in action!

 

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Let me know if you have any other questions about yoga or meditation or if you want a personalized yoga practice on video!

Signature from Bettina of Active Hands Yoga

 

 

 

 

Yoga for the Ladies–yoga for that time of the month

This video is for the ladies. Not one? Send the following video to one or two of your favorite ladies.

Period time affects every woman differently. Some notice no difference. Others feel tired, cranky, sluggish. Other than avoiding inversions, I’d suggest you listen to your body. When I was younger, I practiced a vigorous active yoga even on my period days. These days I ease myself into restorative poses like the ones in the video below. They’re also good when you just want some yoga postures to help your energy go downwards.

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Let me know if these yoga postures help you during your time of the month or if you have any other questions about yoga, meditation, or living well.

Signature from Bettina of Active Hands Yoga

 

 

 

 

 

I Quit Sugar Postmortem : 5 things I’ve learned from quitting sugar

Quitting sugar

My eight weeks of quitting sugar has finally come to an end.

So what have I learned?

  1. Frankly, I hardly missed sugar. I was fine without sugar as long as I kept eating fat and didn’t ever get ferociously hungry. As long as I kept my body fed and happy, I could decide whether to say yes or no to sweets. Finally, I’m in control rather than sugar.
  2. My sensitivity to sugar has increased. I eat half the amount of cake as I would before. I never found milk sweet before, but now I can taste its natural gentle sweetness from lactose.
  3. I’ve learned that sugar is hidden everywhere : Dijon mustard, ketchup, barbecue sauce, pasta sauces, salty chips, sushi rice, almost everything in a package.
  4. People either found it totally weird and extreme that I wasn’t eating sugar or else they thought it was awesome but not something that they could ever do.
  5. That said, doing something hard with other people makes it way easier. Knowing that I wasn’t the only one who’s lapsed into a sweet indulgence or being inspired by their sugar-free recipes kept me going after I got off track.

If you want to quit sugar too, follow my journey of quitting sugar week by week :

If you want to more support in quitting sugar, buy like I did Sarah Wilson’s how-to manual on quitting sugar (edited to add: since I wrote this post, Sarah has updated her book with a different cover) :

I Quit Sugar Book Cover by Sarah Wilson

If you buy through my link–THANK YOU–I get $6 from her, and it’s the same price for you but you also get my bonus PDF detailing where to get some of the supplies that’s hard to find outside of Australia. Once you make your purchase through my link, please contact me with your order number, I’ll send you my bonus PDF.

Illustration of Anti-saccharrites by James Gillray (which I first saw at Berlin’s Sugar Museum)
 

I Quit Sugar Week 8 : Choosing Sugar Consciously

Sugar in my bowl

So it’s the last week of quitting sugar, but I’ve already started to experiment with adding sugar back to my diet about a week and a half ago.

Usually when I’ve been integrating sugar back into my diet, I try not eat too much of the sugary stuff–just one bite or as little as I can. Over the weekend, however, I was invited to a traditionally German coffee-and-cake afternoon party where there’s basically tons of cakes, coffee, and tea. I decided that I was really going to eat as much cake as I wanted, like I used to before I quit sugar. Back before I quit sugar, I’d definitely eat a slice from each cake and then go back for seconds or thirds from my favorite/s. I thought that perhaps I’d revert back to my sugar-loving ways.

I was pleasantly surprised by what my body told me I wanted once I gave myself full permission to eat as much sugar as I wanted : I had a slice from two of the cakes and four or five waffle hearts, but I never even made it to the third cake. I was repulsed by the taste the way Sarah Wilson is. I really enjoyed the cakes as indulgences. I just didn’t need as much as before to be satisfied. Unfortunately, my body was not used to all that sugar,  and after that party I could not fall asleep until 3 or 4AM due to the sugar high.

I had the same reaction with the fructose-free chocolates I ordered. Previously, I finished bars of chocolate in two-three days. It’s been about ten days since my chocolates arrived, and I still have yet to finish a bar, even though I allow myself to have as much as I want. I just don’t crave them like I used to. In Sarah Wilson’s words, “The enemy just leaves the battlefield.” It’s just no longer an issue.

Results from quitting sugar

Even though other people report weight loss from quitting sugar, I don’t have a scale and don’t know if I gained or lost weight. I can testify, however, that my tummy was flatter when I quit sugar 100%, because I wasn’t retaining water. I did have a clearer head throughout the entire day, and I rarely got slumps when I needed something to pick me up.

Going forward, I’ll be back to eating fruit, chocolate (fructose-free for a while until I finish the many, many chocolate bars I ordered), and sweets.

The changes I’ll stick to from my eight weeks of quitting sugar are

  • drinking coffee and tea without added sweetness
  • not drinking fruit juice or fizzy sweet drinks at bars–just ordering water!
  • eating fat-full snacks when I’m hungry rather than reaching for a sugar-laden pick-me-up
  • adding flaxseed oil to my dinners to get happily full and to get my fatty acids
  • reading labels to see how much fructose is present and trying to stay below 3-6 grams of sugar per 100 g serving

I don’t want to become an anti-sugar bore, but quitting sugar has really improved my mental and physical health. If you’re interested, you can start the journey by finding out more from my first blog post about quitting sugar.

 

 

Illustration by noodlehug

I Quit Sugar Week 7 : Sugar’s back!

Sugar Free Cakes

So I’ve been adding sugar back to my diet slowly but gleefully after a few weeks of not having any sugar at all.

The plan is that I’m supposed to add some low-sugar fruits first, but I’ve just been eating sugar as they pop up in my life.

For example, today I went out for Thai food with my coworkers. And now I can really taste the sugar in the yellow curry sauce. Before I would have been surprised if you told me that Thai curry sauces were sweetened, but after a few weeks of very limited sugar I can actually taste its sweetness.

Because it was part of our set menu, I had a blackberry-juice-based sparkler at dinner last week.

And tomorrow I will eat a slice of cake to celebrate a birthday.

marie-antoinette-cake

I don’t know if its just coincidence, but a few hours after I drank the sugary juice drink last week I had a slight buzzy headache. And today after I ate the sugar-laden Thai curry, I got the same kind of headache in the afternoon. I guess I’ll find out tomorrow after the birthday cake if sugar really gives me headaches.

Meanwhile, my huge box of chocolate bars from Frusano arrived! Frusano is the only company offering chocolates sweetened with dextrose. The chocolates taste silky smooth, almost normal.

If you don’t live in Germany and find international shipping prohibitively expensive, I found a recipe to make Chocolate Toffee Drops with dextrose from Sugar is Poison:

 

Sugar Free Dextrose Chocolate

125 g solidified coconut oil
3/4 cup dextrose
6 T cocoa
4 T full cream milk powder
a pinch of salt

Melt 125g of solidified coconut oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Dissolve 3/4 cup dextrose in some water on the stove and then add the coconut oil. Sift the 6 tablespoons cocoa, 4 tablespoons full cream milk powder and a pinch of salt together, and then add to the liquid. Spoon into moulds, a tin or just spread it out on a piece of foil and refrigerate till set.

Thank you if you’re reading this. Thank you if you’ve been on the journey with me. It’s you who keep me honest…just two more weeks! And then back to chocolates and cakes!

Photo sources from top to bottom: Ann Mah, Australia Entertains, and Sugar is Poison
 
 

How to Calm your Anxiety with Yoga

 

Yoga asanas affect our emotional as well our physical bodies, so if you’re feeling strong emotional imbalances, yoga may help you bring your emotions back in balance.

Feeling anxious? Try the following easy yoga sequence to get out of your mind and center yourself in your body.

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ACTION STEPS:

1. Sign up for my mailing list to get a 7-minute guided breathing practice.

2. Take 10 minutes to do the yoga postures in my video. If you want to do them longer, go for it!

3. Use my mp3 to do the breathing exercise.

4. Repeat until you don’t feel anxious anymore.

Let me know if that helps with your anxiety or if you have any other questions about yoga or meditation.

Signature from Bettina of Active Hands Yoga