Remember Your Aim

This story is called ‘Remember Your Aim.’ It takes place in Santa Cruz; the year is 1981. My karma yoga task for the day is to typeset the “Wings of Breath” songbook, a compilation of kirtan lyrics that’s being prepared for the satsang. The typesetting equipment is at Babaji’s house, about a half hour’s drive up into the mountains of Bonny Doon. And I am in Santa Cruz, without a car.

But there is a bus that goes within a mile and a half of there, and the bus runs every 2 hours, so I’m game. Even though it’s February and the sky is grey, and temperature is chilly, and the wind is picking up, I’m still game. Typesetting is my gig, and who turns down a chance to visit Babaji’s house?

Of course, no one will be home. Ma has driven Babaji to MMC for the day and she won’t be home until mid-afternoon. But they’ve trusted me with the location of the key (underneath the mat in front of the front door, for heaven’s sake!), so I bundle up, hop on the bus, walk the mile and a half up hill to their house, and let myself in.

The house is heated with wood, and because there’s no one there, there’s no fire going, so the house is chilly, but still, workable. So I set to work with the typesetting. After a couple of hours I made a cup of tea to warm up my finger-tips as well as clear the brain. It’s painstaking work – typesetting – so it was slow going, but I carried on.

Around noon, the rain started, lightly at first. And sometime later, Ma came home with the groceries; we greeted one another, and I began to pack up so I could catch the 4:00 bus down the hill. The next one wouldn’t come until 6:00 and that’s after dark in February; with the rain coming on stronger, I wasn’t looking forward to the walk to the bus stop in the rain.

As I was packing up, Ma came in to the work room and offered me a ride to the bus. My heart burst with gratitude; not only would I not have to walk in the rain, but I’d get to sit in Babaji’s seat in Ma’s car. What a great blessing!!

Driving down the hill, Ma and I chatted; she was always a gracious conversationalist and when she asked me something about my life, and I opened up and told her some troubles or other (the details have long since fled), and we continued our chat as we waited for the bus to arrive. I must have been sharing some difficulty with her, for she said, sort of out of the blue, “Remember your aim, Pratibha, remember your aim.”

Just then, the bus appeared in view from around the curve, so I gathered my things, gushed thanks so much for the ride, and headed out into the rain. She waved goodbye as I stepped onto the bus, and whoosh, our ways parted.

But her words ‘remember your aim’ resounded in my mind. Around and around they revolved, all the way down the hill, past the fire station, around the curves, through the tunnel of trees, over the bridge, as I pondered, ‘well, what is my aim?’ “Do I have an aim?” Not really, I thought. Life seems to simply amble along; stuff happens; then some other stuff happens. “Does a person need an aim?” “Do other people have aims?” “Why don’t I have an aim?” You all know the kinds of questions that the mind ask when something seems puzzling!

And as the weeks and months went by, the question would arise from time to time . . . What is my aim? What would my aim be if I had one? Does a person need an aim? Do I need an aim? What is my aim?

And then one morning, instead of concentrating on my one-pointed meditation, a memory popped into the mind. A memory of the first Dharma Sara yoga retreat at Oyama, back in 1976. (It was the second retreat, actually; the first one had taken place at White Rock the year before.) Babaji was sitting on the dock in Lake Osoyus. He’d just completed an interview with a group from New Directions magazine, based in Vancouver. I hadn’t been invited to the interview, but happened by to listen in (and just to be near him) and no one had asked me to leave!

They’d asked Babaji the usual questions about his background in India, about why he’d come to America, about yoga and meditation, about life in the world. As they were packing up their equipment, I crept closer and found the courage to ask, “Babaji, if you had only 2 words to say to the people of the world, what would they be?” He glanced at me, looked down at his chalkboard, paused only a moment and wrote, “Attain Peace.”

And that about sums it up! “Remember your Aim . . . Attain Peace.”

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is an Ashtanga Yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner who lives in Santa Cruz. She is a member of DSS who attends Salt Spring Centre of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. All quotes above are from the writings of Baba Hari Dass.

Unto the Next Seven Generations

As part of our ongoing conversation about the future direction of the Centre, here are some reflections from one of our far-flung members about managing transitions at the Pacific Cultural Center in Santa Cruz.

The Salt Spring Centre of Yoga

Salt Spring Centre, like Mt. Madonna Center and Sri Ram Ashram, plays an essential role as a beacon of light in a darkening world. These centers help keep our spiritual faith and our hopes for the future alive as we traverse the struggles of daily life: social crises, financial issues, health concerns, career and relationship challenges. We desperately need these places of peace and pilgrimage to remind us of the immense potential of not only the human spirit, but of the spirit of nature and the mysterious force that unifies and supports our human journey. These centers are vital in offering the teachings and the space for humans to work on their self development.

An essential component of Babaji’s teachings is to “Live a Virtuous Life”. To support the practice of this path requires the supportive community (satsang) to accomplish the work as well as to remind us of our intention. SSCY is a blessing as it contributes to the continuance and maintenance of such a sacred space where one is supported in living a virtuous life! With a supportive community dedicated to service as karma yoga, the Centre can continue as a place of summer pilgrimage where we gather to share the deep bonds that have grown up among the spiritual family at Salt Spring Centre. Many of us visit from 2 to 6 weeks, long enough to absorb, soak up, as well as contribute to the life at the Centre.

Three Phases of the Natural World – Brahma, Vishnu, Shiva

Reflecting on the current incarnation of Salt Spring Centre of Yoga leads me to the realization that the many years that we spent with Babaji in building the Centre were the start-up phase. The natural world is said to consist of three phases – creation, maintenance, destruction. These are symbolized by the Gods Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva in the Vedic tradition. During the years that Babaji performed his annual northern migration to visit Salt Spring Centre, we were in the creation phase – growing, building, molding something new.

Perhaps now we’ve transitioned into the maintenance phase, a time that requires a somewhat different set of skills. Now perhaps preservation becomes the priority – preserving and passing on the precious spiritual teachings, maintaining the physical facility in good repair, and adjusting policies and procedures to meet the needs of a new generation.

The PCC Story

During the last seven years, we’ve been deliberately pursuing just such an adjustment at the Pacific Cultural Center in Santa Cruz.

PCC is the in-town home of the Hanuman Fellowship and Mount Madonna Center, offering yoga classes and a rental venue for spiritual events for Santa Cruz community. A staff of eight resident volunteers provide for the day-to-day running of the Center. The town center operates essentially independently, but at the same time under the attentive wing of the Hanuman Fellowship Board (based at Mount Madonna Center).

In 2010, it became clear that in order to ensure the sustainability of the PCC into the next generation (if not indeed unto seven generations), we would need to engage more of Babaji’s students in its operation. And so a few of us elders began a conversation about what could help facilitate this goal, and within a few months called for the creation of a Sustainability Council. A group of about a dozen people began meeting monthly to scope out what it would take to ensure that our grandchildren would have a place to practice yoga, to gather for spiritual instruction, and to express their own variety of spiritual satsang.

We have continued meeting monthly since then, the group shifting in membership as the months went by. One essential ingredient has been to involve the youngers in our conversation. Many were not interested, or were too busy with their own lives to contribute much beyond their good wishes. Gradually the group morphed into a Steering Committee, a group recognized by the Hanuman Fellowship Board, that serves basically as the management committee for the Center.

Two of the resident volunteers (who happen to be youngers) have been appointed to serve as “Coordinators”, one to oversee the yoga program and one to oversee the rental program. The resident volunteers meet weekly to coordinate the daily tasks of running/operating the Center; the Steering Committee oversees facility maintenance projects, landscaping, and human resource issues. In addition a PCC Administrative Board (appointed by the HFS Board) oversees the finances (such as approving large expenditures and reviewing policies, long-range trends and plans).

In working together, we’ve discovered that innovative developments should be guided and supported by olders and youngers working together. That way, continuity and innovation can interweave so that what is valuable from the past can be integrated into the current needs of those whose karma yoga efforts are actually turning the wheel of daily life.

This three-tiered approach seems to be working for now:
1) Resident Volunteers
2) Steering Committee
3) Administrative Board

Each level carries a certain area of responsibility. Yes, there is overlap, and sometimes urgent discussions as to which ball should be in whose court. But the dialogue continues with the intention that the Pacific Cultural Center will remain a vital, thriving, contributing part of the Santa Cruz Community for years to come. Jai Vishnu – for providing the vision of maintenance of what we’ve created together.

Moving Forward Together

Looking to the future, these beacons of light require tending if they are to continue to offer their gifts to the children yet to come. The elders offer a wealth of experience, seeing the long view, inspiration, and the understanding that the fruit will be needed in the future. The youngers offer energy, exuberance, as well as the strength and endurance to make it happen. It truly does take a village to keep our Centre alive and vital, and that will require continuous ‘honest talks’ to bring everyone’s voice into the conversation.

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is an Ashtanga Yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner who lives in Santa Cruz. She is a member of DSS who attends Salt Spring Centre of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. All quotes above are from the writings of Baba Hari Dass.

Reflections on Birth, Growth, Decay, Death

“Birth, growth, decay and death.”

Babaji offered us this phrase on his chalkboard so many times over the years. When we’d ask about human life, when we’d ask about death, when we’d ask about liberation – it appeared often in answering so many questions. Human incarnation, he explained, begins with taking birth in a physical body, proceeds through growth (of the physical body, of the mental capacity, as well as the emotional understanding), continues with the decay process, and finally dies. At that point, the ineffable soul leaves the body. The prana (vital life force) separates, leaving behind only the empty shell, the elements of nature.

In reflecting on Babaji’s terse phrase describing the human life span, I pondered the decay part. ‘Doesn’t the decay part come after death?,’ I wondered. The decay part brought to mind an old saying from my childhood. We used to taunt each other with the chant: “the worms crawl in, the worms crawl out, the worms play pinochle on your snout!” The image was of the body decaying after it was buried in the earth.

But on further reflection (and as this body began to age), the realization dawned that actually the decay begins before death, as the body proceeds to decompose itself in preparation for the final separation of body and soul. In Ayurveda, the vata dosha governs this last stage of life, as the body parts begin to wear out, or the inherent weakness of a particular organ becomes problematic. It’s almost as if the body has a built-in process of tearing itself down prior to the release of the life force at death.

When we’re young and growing this human form, there’s little realization that we’re living in a mortal body. Yes, we may see the death of a beloved pet or view a grandparent during the dying process, but somehow we don’t relate it to ourselves, and to the possibility that this body we’re growing will sometime cease to exist.  We’re young, we’re strong, we’re healthy! How could it not be ever thus!!

But after a few decades, we can’t help noticing a new “laugh lines” around the eyes, a few grey hairs sprouting on the head, or a little less stamina while playing basketball. But still there is a reluctance to make the connection with ‘signs of aging.’ In our youth-oriented culture, the assumption is that we’ll be young forever and we don’t want to notice the subtle changes that begin while we’re still young.

And yet, the Dalai Lama has often told us that he meditates on his own death “every day” and recommends for us to do the same. For just as Babaji has also reminded us, ‘birth and death are two ends of the same rope.’ Perhaps he was hinting at the value of being aware that we’ve taken up residence in the body-mind complex that is temporary, is basically on loan to us for a lifetime!

And eventually, we notice the truth spoken by Jambavan, King of the Bears in Babaji’s version of the Ramayana, “You never know which part is going to give out next.” We notice a pain in the hips, a forgetfulness in remembering names, a decrease in sexual libido. We hear ourselves asking, “What did you say?” more often, or experiencing gas and bloating after eating. Many people face a diagnosis of cancer, or mini-strokes. Aging can begin most anywhere, and we’re off to give ourselves to the medical system to help restore function and balance in our life.

And so we begin the adventures in aging – when we learn to live with and in the aging, decaying body. The sense of loss can be keen, and yet most of us opt for living with the losses as long as we can. And with a growing sense of acceptance, the journey can be fascinating, as well as humorous, as we watch and wait to see ‘which part is going to give out next.’

During these dark days of winter, as we celebrate Shiva Ratri, reflections on our span of life seem appropriate somehow. And at the same time, we see that the cycle of life continues. Crocus and daffodil shoots appear through the snow or the mulch; pussy willow buds appear; the weather begins to warm slightly and the icy layer on the pond begins to thin. And we are reminded that the cycle of life does indeed go on, all the elements continuing recycling themselves from one body to the next.

May your celebration of these dark days be filled with light as the cycle of life goes on!


Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is an Ashtanga Yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner who lives in Santa Cruz. She is a member of DSS who attends Salt Spring Centre of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. All quotes above are from the writings of Baba Hari Dass.

[Fern photo: Creative Commons Zero license]

Replace Judgement with Compassion

Who would have imagined, when hearing this suggestion – replace judgment with compassion – at SSCY last summer, that it would have come in so handy on the day after the American presidential election in November? Now, months later, I don’t recall whether the phrase was read or heard or overheard, but in that moment of hearing, the words hit home, went deep, and I saw the destructive power of judgment and the positive power of compassion.

Here’s an example: you’re cruising through the supermarket, intent on your errands, and suddenly you hear a young mother yelling at her child. You can hear the frustration in her voice, you can feel the child cringing at the sound. What is your first reaction? Compassion for the child? Judgment for the mother? An alternative is compassion for the entire situation; compassion for the mother as well, for she too is suffering and inflicting her suffering on her child.

Not to be sexist about it, think of another example: a father angry with his teen-age son, a police-person shooting an unarmed young person, a husband beating his wife. It happens all too often.

When I heard replace judgment with compassion, what opened up for me was a vision of how judgment divides us, separates and isolates us; compassion surrounds a situation with an openness in which change can occur. Judgment constricts, defines; compassion creates space in which to feel our oneness.

Of course, there are times when we must make judgments: during an election year, we must review the candidates, the propositions, the referendums and initiatives. We must evaluate which accord with our values, with the direction in which we wish life to flow. We are asked to decide upon which course of action we hope to see our society pursue. We make a judgment whenever we choose which vegetables to buy at the Farmer’s Market, when we ask another person for a date. We make judgments every day of our lives, choosing what is good for us, what is not good for us.

Babaji advised us over the years to “develop positive qualities.” He taught us, in writing and by his example, the value of practicing “tolerance, patience, compassion, contentment, honesty, love” in our daily life. Patience and discipline were two that especially impressed me, especially as I began to see how lacking they were in my own life! Perhaps you can think of others that you have developed over the years.

He also taught us from the Bhagavad Gita, the magnificent story of the battlefield of Kurukshretra, on which the forces of good and evil are arrayed, preparing for battle. He suggested that we view these battles between the forces of good and evil as a reflection of the positive and negative qualities that exist within the human mind. “Both the divine and demonic natures are in the mind. The demonic qualities start fading away and the path of liberation becomes clear for one who lives a disciplined life and develops positive qualities. . . . By developing positive qualities, such as truthfulness, nonviolence and compassion, the brilliance of spiritual energy develops in a seeker of the divine principle (God).” (Bhagavad Gita, Chap 16.)

In our spiritual journey, we are asked to do battle against the forces of evil within the mind, learning to generate positive states of mind. Another quote from Babaji’s commentary on the Gita: “In order to bring perfection within, all aspirants must take responsibility and seek liberation by discovering their own shortcomings in life, and then removing them by developing positive qualities. In the process of attaining liberation, the support of a spiritual teacher, study of scriptures and spiritual beliefs all have their own limited impact. However, in reality, people must lift themselves by their own efforts and tread the spiritual path, shunning all worldly attractions.” (Bhagavad Gita, Ch 6.)

In a practical sense, we can each watch how quickly the mind leaps to judgment, and in that seeing, we can consider how compassion can be a healing balm not only for ourselves, for also for those around us. May your path unfold in joy!

-Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is an Ashtanga Yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner who lives in Santa Cruz. She is a member of DSS who attends Salt Spring Centre of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. All quotes above are from the writings of Baba Hari Dass.

The Wonders of Ghee (Clarified Butter)

5414606076_52a3504606_z-copyGhee is the purified form of butter, often called “clarified butter.” In Sanskrit, it is referred to as ghrta. Ghee is one of the most ancient and sattvic foods known. According to Charaka (one of the codifiers of the Ayurvedic system of natural medicine), ghee plays a vital role in health maintenance; it “promotes memory, intelligence, vital fire (agni), semen, vital essence (ojas), kapha, and fat. It is curative of vata, pitta, fever and toxins.”

After years of promoting a low-fat diet, modern nutritionists are now saying that consuming healthy fats is very important for brain function, digestion, increased absorption, and overall health. And ghee is definitely a healthy source of fat. (Those with a vegan inclination can substitute other healthy vegetable oils – such as sesame, olive and coconut – into their daily routine. They also have a myriad of health promoting properties.)

Ghee is good for all body types, especially vata were it counters the vata’s tendency to dryness; it also serves to promote a healthy pitta dosha, as it is considered cooling, soothing, anti-inflammatory and detoxifying. Minimal use of fatty substances is recommended for kapha types, for their bodies naturally generate sufficient fat tissue. Ghee is also loaded with heart-, brain- and skin-healthy Omega-3 and Omega-9 essential fatty acids, along with all the fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K, minerals and at least nine antioxidants.

Ghee is particularly useful to promote a healthy digestive system. First it adds fuel to the fire of the digestive enzymes in the stomach. In the small intestine, ghee helps lubricate the passageway, helping to ease the digested nutrients into the blood vessels. And in the colon, ghee is the primary fuel for the cells lining the colon. Ghee is also rich in Butyric acid, which helps to repair the intestinal walls and boosts our immune system.

A dollop of ghee with your meal is especially welcome during the vata season in autumn. You can include ghee with nearly any dish – cook a teaspoon in your hot breakfast cereal; add it to grains and soups right at the table; it’s delicious slathered on a piece of toast. You can use it to sauté vegetables, tofu, even scrambled eggs.

As a soothing daily moisturizer, as a topical remedy for burns and scars, as a “bath” for the eyes, and even for the practice of “oil-pulling” as a part of dental hygiene, ghee can be part of an anti-aging skin care routine and kept in everybody’s medicine cabinet.

Glee also serves as a base for herbal ointments to treat sunburns, skin rashes, ulcers, and other conditions. Many herbal mixtures are taken with ghee, as the herbs are then absorbed directly into the liver. It does not increase cholesterol, as does butter, according to Ayurvedic tradition. It is high in protein and is taken with milk to increase Ojas, the vital energy reserve that supports the immune system.

Making your own Ghee

Maintain a clean appearance and a calm mind while preparing your ghee.

What you need:
One pound organic, unsalted butter
A heavy bottomed, stainless steel saucepan
A metal spoon
A small strainer
Cheese cloth
A dry, clean wide-mouth glass jar

Put the butter in the saucepan over medium heat and stir periodically with the metal spoon. When the butter has melted and begins coming to a boil, reduce the heat to low. You want the liquid to continue to simmer slowly with small bubbles.

From the milk solids, a foam will develop on top and will eventually sink to the bottom. Watch carefully to avoid burning. Continue to stir every few minutes until all the foam has gone to the bottom and there is golden ghee on top. This can take from 15-30 minutes. Remove from the heat and let it cool for an additional 15-30 minutes.

When the ghee is cool enough, but still liquid, place the cheese cloth over the strainer and set it over the glass jar. Then gently pour the ghee through the cheese cloth and strainer into the jar. Make sure none of the milk solids make it into the jar. Cover the jar and let it cool overnight.

Ghee can be stored at room temperature for a month or two and for 2 to 4 months in the refrigerator without going bad.

Ghee is truly one of nature’s most incredible and versatile substances, having stood the test of time for millennia. Useful as a food and medicine, used internally or topically, alone or mixed with herbal preparations, ghee is a genuine elixir on your kitchen shelf. Treat yourself to the luxury of ghee on a daily basis, and watch the health benefits unfold.

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is an Ashtanga Yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner who lives in Santa Cruz. She is a member of DSS who attends Salt Spring Centre of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. All quotes above are from the writings of Baba Hari Dass.

Ghee image by Larry Jacobsen via flickr cc

Stay Cool, Calm and Hydrated this Summer


During the summer season the qualities of ‘pitta dosha,’ which are hot, light and dry, are clearly obvious in the weather. The sun shines more often; the hours of daylight are longer; the earth dries out more quickly. No matter which dosha is predominant in our nature, we all notice the increase of these pitta qualities also in our bodies, minds and emotions during the hot season.

We naturally search out cooling lakes and streams to absorb the skin’s heat; we are drawn to eating cooling coconut, juicy melons, and cucumbers; we crave liquids – water, green drinks, cooling herbal teas. To keep our pitta in balance at this time of year, we are naturally drawn to foods and activities that are cooling, moist, heavy and oily.

The first step in staying balanced is to be on the lookout for signs of increase in your predominant doshas (your prakruti) and in the dosha that predominates during the time of day, the season and the stage of life you are in. Be aware of signs of increased pitta dosha, the only one that carries the hot quality:

  • fever or inflammation
  • sensitivity to heat, or feeling flushed
  • occasional heartburn or acid reflux
  • skin rashes and eruptions such as boils and acne
  • loose stools or more frequent bowel movements
  • yellow or green coating on the tongue
  • unusual lethargy
  • low blood sugar
  • Irritability, intensity, intolerance or impatience
  • overworking or burning the candle at both ends
  • excessive sweating and
  • difficulty falling asleep.

Whether you are pitta predominant or just sensitive to the change of season, there are numerous life-style, dietary, and exercise modifications you can make to be more comfortable, and to ward off excessive dryness when the autumn winds start to blow.

Changes to your Diet

  • Choose juicy seasonal fruits, like watermelon, cantaloupe, blueberries, plums, nectarines & peaches.
  • Eat more foods that are sweet, bitter, astringent / cool and moist – such as salads, steamed vegetables, fresh fruits. Coconut is especially refreshing during summer!
  • Reduce hot, spicy, heavy foods such as onion and garlic, coffee, salsa and spicy foods, as well as heavy protein and nuts. The sour and salty tastes also increase pitta, so go easy on them.
  • Limit dry foods such as chips and rice cakes; the weather provides plenty of vata dryness for the system.
  • Include more moist, bitter and astringent vegetables like summer squash, dark leafy greens (collards, kale) and asparagus in your evening stir-fry.
  • Digestive spices like cumin, coriander, fennel and turmeric are helpful to cool and support the health of the digestive microbiome.

Increase hydration

  • Sip 2-3 cups of cool or room temperature water first thing, with a squeeze of lemon and 1-2 T. aloe vera gel or juice for a cooling effect.
  • Take coconut water in the afternoon to keep cool and hydrated.
  • Prepare a green drink with fresh cilantro, mint, spinach, kale and/or wheat grass. Green drinks can include any dark leafy greens and herbs, as well as watery summer squash and fennel. Blend quickly with water and season with ginger, turmeric, coriander, or any favorite spices. It’s easy to digest, encourages detoxification and provides absorbable vitamins, minerals and enzymes. Many people like to dilute the drink with more water, or you can enjoy it as a quick, short shot!
  • Drink herbal teas such as mint, hibiscus, chamomile, dandelion and chicory.

Modify your Daily Routines (Dinacharya)

  • Self massage with sunflower, coconut oil or a combination of the two.
  • Plan to exercise in the cool of the morning or evening hours, never in the heat of a summer’s day. Always avoid excessive activity during midday heat, as it can be draining and lead to exhaustion and heat stroke.
  • Practice asana in a slow and disciplined fashion; no need to generate excess heat with a vigorous practice. You may think of other activities to which this principle applies.
  • Breathe slowly in and out through the left nostril. With your right thumb, hold your right nostril closed. Pause at the inhale and exhale. Or practice shitali or sitkare; all these practices are cooling and calming.
  • Do not skip meals. You may choose smaller breakfast and dinners, but do enjoy your relaxing main meal before 2 pm.
  • Carve out time each day to rest; slow the pace of life enough to take breaks – meditate, chant, sing or walk along the river for an hour.
  • Avoid pushing yourself. Even if you can’t take a vacation, you may be able to approach your work life with a calm, relaxing attitude – a boon to yourself, as well as your co-workers.

Food, drink and lifestyle practices all contribute to our sense of well-being. Living in tune with the natural cycle of the seasons means that we gently modify what we do and how we do it as life unfolds. While maintaining a regular pattern to our lives, at the same time we gradually adjust the specifics of each day, while taking into account the weather, our stage of life, our prakruti, the season, the kind of work we’re engaged in, as well as the state of our relationships.

Bringing new awareness to all these factors in our life, of how they support and balance each other, allows us to make the choices in each moment that support our on-going health and wellness. The slow, relaxing pace of summer is actually healthy for us; so go ahead, make a batch of iced hibiscus/mint tea, take time out for a swim this afternoon, have watermelon for supper . . . enjoy and be healthy all season long!

By Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is an Ashtanga Yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner who lives in Santa Cruz. She is a member of DSS who attends Salt Spring Centre of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. All quotes above are from the writings of Baba Hari Dass.

The Practice of Peace

Practice-of-PeaceThe very first question that I was ever brave enough to ask Babaji was, “Babaji, if you had only two words to say to the people of the world, what would they be?” And without hesitation, he wrote “Attain Peace.”

Sitting on the dock at the Oyama retreat, overlooking beautiful Lake Osoyoos, Babaji was being interviewed by a group of staffers from “New Directions” magazine in Vancouver. Being a staffer of an alternative newspaper in Bellingham, as well as simply curious, I had crept over to listen. When the group was finished, and beginning to pack up their microphones, tape recorders and cameras, feeling dreadfully out of place and more than a little nervous, I asked my question! And heard the three syllables that penetrated so deeply that they’ve become a guiding light for me throughout the forty years since then. “Attain Peace.”

After the glow of his response, many questions came to mind: “What is peace?” “How does one attain it?” “Does it just come or do you have to work at it?” “If you have to work at it, how?” And through the years the answers have gradually come – through Babaji’s chalkboard, through life experience, and as a result of (guess what?) regular sadhana!

What is peace?

Over the years, Babaji gave us quite a few hints about the state of peace. Here are a few:

“Peace is a state of mind free from all desires. It’s also called supremely contented.
Still these are words. Reality is your own experience.”

“There is no peace in the world. If there is any peace, it is only in meditation.”

A realized being is one whose presence creates a feeling of peace.

So peace is a mind free from desires, which can be experienced in meditation, and felt in the presence of a realized being. He also tells us that:

“We are born from peace, and we go back to peace. But the thoughts
that are generated by our desire, attachment and ego
disturb that peace and trap us in the cycle of birth and death.
Regular sadhana (spiritual practice) or surrender to God
are the main paths by which we return to peace.”

The Practice of Peace

Which suggests that not only is peace a state of being, something that just arises by itself, but that it’s also possible to create peace through our daily thoughts and actions. Regular sadhana and surrender to God are two paths to peace as we move through our journey of life. Our thoughts and actions actually do make a difference as to whether or not we feel peaceful.

So how do we go about this in a practical sense? We make a habit of regular sadhana; we allow life to flow through us, surrendering to “what is” while at the same time making efforts at our self-development. Again we go to Babaji’s writings for more hints:

The aim of life is to attain peace. No one can give us peace. We can’t buy or borrow it.
We have to cultivate it by practicing yama and niyama.

A person can attain peace by simply developing good qualities.

The highest activity is to bring divine presence in your life. It produces eternal peace.

So here he offers us methods: developing good qualities, bringing divine presence, by practicing yama and niyama (the restraints and observances of Ashtanga Yoga).

In my own life, developing good (positive) qualities has been a cornerstone of my practice of attaining peace. Early on I noticed that when I performed a “bad” or negative action (whether stealing a package of gum or expressing anger toward another person), I was left with not only sorrow at wounding another, but also feelings of guilt and shame that had a negative impact on my own psyche. And thus I began to see how the mind is constantly assailed with both negative and positive thoughts. I got what I wanted (the gum or the release of anger), but was left with the residue of sorrow, guilt and shame.

The Bhagavad Gita depicts this battle; the “war” which is usually seen as the opposite of peace. This battlefield of war is a mirror image (a reflection) of the battle that is waged in each individual mind, the inner war between our positive and our negative mental tendencies, our samskaras, which manifest in our mind as thoughts. Positive samskaras include an attitude of service, practice of meditation, the ability to smile when things are tough, making an effort to help a stranger, and moment-to-moment awareness. Negative samskaras include an urge toward revenge, a feeling of jealousy, the desire to take more than we need, and the flash of irritation that foreshadows anger.

Babaji was asked, “You have said that our highest duty is to get peace. Yet Sri Krishna was advising Arjuna to fight and kill his relatives. That doesn’t sound like a way to gain peace.” His reply: 1) Arjuna was a prince. 2) Symbolically, the jiva. As a prince, it was his duty to remove bad elements who were disturbing peace in the kingdom. So Krishna was right to tell him to fight. As a jiva, we have to fight with our negative thoughts in order to attain peace.

“Fight with our negative thoughts:” So that’s where the battle lies! The Gita describes the inner struggle to develop a positive, pure mind that is free from anger, fear, jealousy, revenge, and filled with thoughts of compassion, love, joy, gratitude, and patience.

Building a peaceful heart encourages us to take our sadhana – our spiritual practice – off the cushion, off the mat, and bring it into each and every precious moment of our lives.
The battle involves regular sadhana (spiritual practice each day), watching how the mind is drawn to the negative and creating the intention to practice peace.

As Babaji says in his translation of Yoga Sutra II:33: “The mind becomes serene by the cultivation of feelings of love for the happy, compassion for the suffering, delight for the virtuous and indifference for the non-virtuous.” When we see how quickly we react to uncertain conditions, to a spark of violence in another, or to the pull toward gambling, or lustful desires, or unhealthy appetites, we are able to pull the mind back and remind ourselves of the positive path to peace which we wish to walk.

We have to cultivate positive qualities in our day-to-day life.
Life is not coming but going. Every single second is flying away from our lives.
If we are not trying to attain peace, then we have lost, are losing and will lose
the precious seconds, minutes, hours, days and years of our lives.

And when we realize or attain peace, those around us will feel that peace.

If you are in peace, then others around you will feel peace.
So your best effort should be to work on yourself.

Wishing you peace in your journey through life.


Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is an Ashtanga Yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner who lives in Santa Cruz. She is a member of DSS who attends Salt Spring Centre of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. All quotes above are from the writings of Baba Hari Dass.

Karma Yoga. . . A Path of Inner Development

KarmaYoga-Unsplash-imgAs we explore the path of yoga, we discover there are millions of methods that will take us in the direction of our goal. Purification of the body, perfection of posture (asana), samadhi meditation, selfless service (karma yoga), and devotion to God (bhakti yoga) are just a few. Those of us who choose Karma Yoga walk the path of action in order to further our self-development. Babaji tells us, “Although Karma Yoga is usually understood to be merely a path of action, it is truly a path of inner development.”

The Bhagavad Gita speaks often of the yoga of action, or Karma Yoga. In Chapter III, verse 5, Krishna tells Arjuna, “Truly, no one can ever remain inactive even for a moment, for everyone is helplessly made to perform action by nature-born qualities.” We see this in every human being – from the newborn child to the dying one’s last breath. And even unseen, the workings of the thoughts in the mind are also actions . . . little electrons bustling around, transmitting messages from one cell to another!

Babaji sometimes offered the image of the bank manager when discussing karma yoga, or selfless service. He described the bank manager as one who worked conscientiously, attending to all the duties in a timely fashion, without attachment to the outcome. At the end of the day, he locked up the bank and went home to enjoy the evening. Babaji would then contrast the manager with the bank owner, who worries and frets, waking in the night anxious as to whether the bank is locked securely or fearful that someone is hacking the computer system! Acting with personal attachment, the owner is always on the lookout for his own self-interest. The manager was working as a karma yogi – serving to the best of his ability, but giving over any attachment to the results.

Karma Yoga means selfless service.
It is chosen and not forced.
If you have chosen it, then
You give second place to your self-interests.

While we can understand the bank owner’s concern, it’s also easy to see that such an attitude will definitely hold one in bondage rather than support our path to enlightenment, liberation, or eternal peace. And if our goal is to pursue a spiritual path in life, untangling the bonds of karma and samskara that keep us from peace of mind, we may wish to choose the role of bank manager, rather than owner!

“When our aim is to serve without expecting anything back – such as name, fame, more, etc, then our fear of losing something will not be there. When fear is not there, then other negative things that are caused by fear – anger, hate, jealousy, competition – will not be there. In the absence of those things, the mind will develop its sattvic (pure) aspect and the tamas (dark) side will be reduced.”

As we become more skillful in practicing selfless service, our own self-interest reduces and the mind becomes purified of its desire for recognition, payment, praise, etc. “At first we start with desire, expectation and ego. In Karma Yoga, gradually those things get weaker and the mind gets used to action without them; the mind conditions itself to act that way.”

In actual practice, some challenges and obstacles arise in our practice. The need to make a living, limitations on our time and energy, or dislike for a particular kind of work are a few examples. But, like any skill we wish to learn, “practice makes perfect,” and so we continue our practice of Karma Yoga as a modest attempt at living a virtuous life. Wishing you success on the path!

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is an Ashtanga Yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner who lives in Santa Cruz. She is a member of DSS who attends Salt Spring Centre of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. All quotes above are from the writings of Baba Hari Dass.

Ayurveda, Yoga and You: Triphala – A Magic Formula for the Whole Body

balanceIt’s been said that if all you do is take triphala, eventually the body will return to a state of balance. And of course, balance is at the heart of Ayurveda – maintaining a balance of the doshas (bio-energies) and the dhatus (the bodily tissues).

Triphala is the classic blend of three (tri) fruits (phala). It’s known as an Ayurvedic essential for your medicine kit, whether traveling or at home. Triphala is comprised of three fruits – amalaki, haritaki, and bibhitaki – that grow on large tropical trees throughout India and other parts of Asia. The formula triphala is made up of the dried, powdered fruits – amalaki (Emblica officials or Phyllanthus embolic), haritaki (Terminalia chebula) and bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica). Each of the three herbs in the formula addresses or balances one of the three doshas.

Three Fruits

Amalaki, the Indian gooseberry, has high levels of bioavailable Vitamin C; the fresh fruit is unbelievably sour. Biting into one at Sri Ram Ashram, I was shocked that a fruit could be so sour! Amalaki is a cooling and rejuvenative for pitta dosha, helping to regulate blood sugar levels and inflammation; it’s one of the basic ingredients of Chaywanprash, a rejuvenative combination.

Bibhitaki (Terminalia bellirica) grows throughout Asia, but is seldom eaten fresh. It is highly astringent and a bit drying, which helps counteract the watery and heavy kapha dosha. Its diuretic properties helps promote elimination of all kinds.

Haritaki (Terminalia chebula) specifically balances the airy, dry vata dosha. Also known as myrobalan, this nourishing fruit can be eaten as a food and is beloved for its therapeutic properties. Haritaki supports proper elimination and also has anti-inflammatory properties as well as immune-strengthening ones. Its anti-oxidant qualities help support the detoxification process.

Taken as a formula, there is a powerful synergy in how it affects the whole body. Triphala supports healthy bowel function, tonifying the entire eliminative tract. It also strengthens the immune system, helps stabilize healthy blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and encourages detoxification of unhealthy wastes and the production of healthy microbes.

Even though triphala is composed of fruits, it is not considered a culinary herb. It’s recommended to take triphala separate from food, either 30 minutes before or two hours after eating. Triphala can be taken in a variety of ways: pressed into pills, poured into capsules, or taken as the dried powder.

Taking Triphala

When taken in pill or capsule form, be sure to include plenty of water. Begin with a minimum dosage shown on the bottle, and then notice what works for you, increasing or decreasing as needed.

Pay attention to your digestive system responds to triphala, particularly your elimination patterns. High levels of the pitta dosha can increase sensitivity to loose stools, while high levels of the vata dosha can increase constipation when taking triphala. Drink more water; also ensure that your diet includes adequate amounts of healthy oils.

The powdered herb can also be made into a hot tea and taken about an hour before bed. This is soothing for people with a predominately vata constitution, and activating for those with a lot of kapha in their make-up. Take about 1/4-1/2 tsp of triphala and mix with one-half cup of hot water. Stir well and drink. It is surely an acquired taste so drink it down quickly.

Another option is the cold infusion. Take 1/2 tsp of powdered triphala and mix with a glass of room temperature water. Let it sit overnight; then drink the triphala water in the morning, letting the herbs settle to the bottom. After drinking, fill the glass again with water, stir and let it sit all day. Take this water at night before bed (wait two hours after eating) or drink the following morning.

While drinking the cold infusion has beneficial systemic effects, a mouthwash of triphala is encouraged for Ayurvedic dental hygiene.

Yet another method is to mix with raw honey; make a paste with 1/4-1/2 tsp of powder. Since honey is warming, it is said to help activate some of the toxin-burning effects of triphala. Or mix with a paste of honey and ghee. Ayurvedic lore suggests using more honey than ghee if you are trying to encourage detoxification or lose weight and more ghee than honey is you are trying to build, rejuvenate, or gain weight.

Triphala can be taken regularly as an over-all health tonic. It has no harmful effects and is an amazing formula for our long-term health maintenance. One Ayurvedic practitioner told me he has taken it regularly for over 20 years. The magic of this triple formulation offers a powerful support for longevity, as well for overall strength and balance.

Pratibha Queen Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

“Balance” image by Mish Sukharev under the Flickr Creative Commons license

Ayurveda, Yoga & You: Maintaining an Even Keel

flickr-cc-constant-progressionMaintaining an Even Keel: Understanding our Mental Temperament

If you’ve ever tried to sail a boat, fly a kite, or surf the ocean waves, you have a sense of what it means to keep ‘an even keel.’ An ability to focus, to hold the mind steady in the moment, while also perceiving the ever-changing conditions, are essential in any sporting endeavor we choose. Holding the mental balance among the uncertain waves of life requires the same qualities: moment-to-moment attention, a willingness to make split-second adjustments, and a sense of light-heartedness that allows for playfulness in the midst of whatever comes.

Understanding our mental make-up can help us to maintain the balance that allows sattvic, or positive, qualities to emerge in our life. Looking at life through Ayurvedic eyes, we notice the continuous process of balancing the doshas (vata, pitta, kapha), which helps maintain our positive health during a long and active life. We get hungry; pitta goes up; we eat; pitta goes down. We get sleepy; kapha goes up; we sleep; kapha reduces (but increases when we oversleep!). We go dancing; we express our vata; we practice restorative yoga; vata goes down.

But Ayurveda also considers the balance of Sattva, Rajas and Tamas in a person’s constitutional make-up. These three cosmic or maha-gunas are the forces of nature that guide and direct all of creation. They also reflect in ourselves as mental qualities or mental doshas.

Sattva is the force of purity, of consciousness, of balance on the cosmic level. On the personal level, this force shows itself as inner peace, in a sense of contentment and tranquility, and in the ability to give and share love (both human and divine). The sattva quality is sometimes referred to as ‘the serene sage.’

Rajas is the cosmic force of passion and activity. Its nature is movement; it’s the energy of creation that vitalizes the serenity of sattva and challenges the static nature of tamas. As humans, a rajasic type will seek stimulation and satisfaction through the senses, indulging in sense pleasures. When out of balance, rajas manifests as ‘the mad-monkey mind.’

Tamas is the cosmic guna of stability, inertia. This is the force of cohesion that keeps planets in their orbits and suns in their galaxies. On the personal level, we see tamas expressed in the stability of our meditation seat, as well as in a state of withdrawal from the world (which can manifest negatively as depression). When out of balance, tamas may look like ‘the lazy log.’

Since we are living, sentient beings, these great cosmic are operating within us all the time. Rajas activates us; tamas slows us down. The cycles and rhythms of nature attest to the fact of this constant change, constantly monitoring and regulating the balance. So in learning to hold our mental/emotional balance, all three of these factors must be considered. When we are able to balance our rajasic and tamasic tendencies, sattva guna is able to manifest more fully. We can readily see that these mental doshas are a place where yoga and Ayurveda intersect.

In exploring and understanding our mental nature, let’s take a look at how the doshas and the maha-gunas intersect. See how many of your own characteristics show up in different columns!

Sattvic Qualities Rajasic Qualities Tamasic Qualities
Vata Creative, inspired, artistic, intuitive,clarity, lightness Nervous, anxious, fearful, worrisome, overactive Depressed, addicted, bogged down, confusion
Pitta Clear thinking, perceptive, focused, understanding Angry, passionate, resentful, judgmental, controlling Violent, vindictive, competitive, vengeful, aggressive, hurtful
Kapha Nurturing, generous, patient, forgiveness, compassionate, love Attached to things and people, stubborn Attached to pleasure and sense experience, lethargic, dull-minded 

Now, most all of us sense that thoughts exist in the mind, and feelings in the heart; we see thoughts and emotions as separate. In the Charaka Samhita, however, it is said, hridaye chetana sthanam, which means, “the seat of consciousness is in the heart.” The heart and the mind are intimately connected, because the heart is the seat of consciousness. From this perspective, even though the emotional heart feels and senses more in the realm of the body, emotions are actually processed through the mind.

How do we maintain a balanced approach to our life, enjoying the good times, and not surrendering to the negative emotions that can overwhelm us and derail our positive intentions to lead a virtuous life? Ayurveda teaches us that mild emotional imbalance can be counteracted with simple guidelines for creating a more profound connection between the heart, mind and consciousness.

One way we work toward this is to strive to increase sattva while reducing rajas and tamas. The practices of yoga help to support the sattvic qualities, keeping the mental doshas intact and serene. Our daily sadhana (whether it’s 10 minutes or 2 hours) helps to maintain the peaceful state of mind that maintains a balance between the rajasic and tamasic tendencies in our nature, and ultimately strengthens our sattvic nature until all we are is holding the bliss of the bodhisattva state. Sattva Buddhi (pure mind) – Bodhisattva –- mental peace.

Babaji often reminded us: Love, truth, peace, beauty, reality, God – all are the same. Developing these positive qualities within ourselves will help train the mind to keep the mental balance that nurtures and sustains our each and every moment. Wishing you success in each moment.

– pratibha

Pratibha Queen Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

“Sails” photo by Constant Progression via Flickr creative commons