Exploring the Power of the Hamsa

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I have always been drawn to the Hamsa Hand. So much so that I have a Hamsa tattooed on my left arm! The Hamsa is a beautiful representation, in that no matter what religion or faith you identify with, it is a universal symbol reminding us of unity, connection and that we are all one. The hand, especially the open right hand, is a sign of protection that also represents blessings, power and strength. Used to protect against evil eye, a malicious stare believed to be able to cause illness, death or general unluckiness, Hamsas often contain an eye symbol. The eye in the Hamsa represents the eye that sees everything. The Hamsa brings its owner happiness, luck, health and good fortune. 

The Hamsa hand has a variety of different meanings depending upon the culture. The word "hamsa" derives it's name from the five fingers on the hand. In Hebrew the number five is "hamsesh". For Hindus and Buddhists, it symbolizes the interplay of the chakras, the energy flow in the body, the five senses, and the mudras that effect them.

Each finger has it's own energy: 

  • Thumb : Fire element; Solar Plexus
  • Forefinger : Air element; Heart Chakra
  • Middle Finger : Ethereal elements; Throat Chakra
  • Ring Finger : Earth element; Root Chakra
  • Pinkie Finger : Water element; 

These energies can be combined to change the flow of energy in the body and heal psychological and physical ailments.

Just like our Yoga practice can draw from various cultures and thought, the Hamsa is a symbol that is a significant universal image in various religions; Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism, and Buddhism. And, just like our Spiritual practice on and off the mat, the Hamsa reminds us that we are all connected and that we are all one. 

Preparing for Pitta Season

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As the days seem to get longer and longer, and the sun stronger and stronger, it is a sure sign that we are moving into Pitta season. Made up of the primal elements fire (mainly) and water (secondarily), pitta has hot, oily, sharp, light, sour, fluid, and pungent attributes—many of the same sensory qualities that summer surrounds us with. As we enter the summer season, the other elements of earth, air and ether take a backseat to fire for many of us who have higher amounts of Pitta in our constitutions. If you or others you know are predominantly Pitta, you may notice that you tend to be a bit more fiery than usual. Signs of Pitta imbalance this can be represented in the physical body through acne, heartburn, skin irritations, diarrhea and more. Through the mind, it can be witnessed through irritability (especially after being exposed to heat), hypercritical of self or others, competitiveness, envy, and being easily angered.

What does this mean for you? Well, if you are a hot yoga loving Pitta-Yogi, then maybe during these summer months you should focus more on non-heated classes, as you have enough fire and heat in your body to warm yourself quickly than those of a Vata or Kapha nature.

Pitta governs digestion and metabolism, so the fire may flare first in the small intestine and the stomach—Pitta’s main seats in the body—with excesses of digestive acid and bile. Fresh, seasonal fruits and vegetables, especially those with a high water content, can help you to cool down. Also taking sips of aloe vera juice or lots of coconut water throughout the day. However, it’s best to avoid icy-cold drinks (especially with meals) as they will douse your digestive fire and cause digestion to slow down.

If you are Pitta, although that habanero salsa sounds like a great addition to your fish taco, it’s better to skip on the spicy food during this season too. Bitter, sweet, and astringent tastes calm Pitta, so eat more foods like apples, grapes, zucchini, lettuce, cucumbers and cilantro. Eliminate or reduce your intake of alcohol, heavy meats, and fried, oily, salty, spicy, and sour food

It’s also important for Pittas to eat three meals a day during this season, and lunch should be eaten as close to noon as possible. If you need to go out into the sun, be sure not to do it on an empty stomach. My Farmer's Market Gazpacho is a perfect Summer recipe to balance the fiery-side of Pitta.

Know Before You Go: Yoga

By: Amanda Winn

Looking for a more calming fitness routine? Try yoga, a practice that connects the body, breath, and mind. Striking a [yoga] pose can not only help improve flexibility, it can help relieve anxiety and pain, and reduce blood pressure for people with hypertension. Studies also suggests yoga can help improve spinal mobility for individuals with chronic low back pain (and maybe even increase metabolism, too!). Read on to get the skinny on what to expect from that first yoga class. 

It’s not all down-dog: Yoga blends a variety of poses (asanas), breathing techniques Yoga-Childs-Pose_LG_post(pranayama), and meditation into each class. Poses range from standing to seated, upright to inverted (headstands, anyone?), with plenty of twisting in between. The goal: stretch and strengthen the body — and let the day’s stress away.

But first, it’s important to find a style of yoga that fits your lifestyle, goals, and personality. For the sporty types out there, vinyasa and power yoga are more athletic styles, moving swiftly from one pose to the next and building strength and endurance. Feeling more adventurous? Consider hot yoga, which has been shown to increase flexibility and muscle strength in healthy young adults. (Just don’t forget to properly hydrate beforehand!) Looking for something a bit less intense? Try a more relaxing style like hatha, which focuses heavily on breathing and meditation and improving the connection between body and mind. Feel like you’ve done it all? There’s a wide range of new and innovative classes, from aerial yoga to karaoke yoga for all the singers out there.

Roll Out — Your Action Plan

Ready to get physical — and flexible? Certified yoga instructor Rebecca Pacheco lays out some easy ways to learn more about getting your spiritual groove on.

  • Commit. Yoga can be great cross training (once a week) or a dedicated practice (everyday!). “As modern yogis, you need to determine when you’re most likely to go,” says Pacheco. Find your level of commitment and set aside enough time for it.
  • Find the best fit. Look for a class with a certified yoga instructor. “A good teacher uses all of their life experience to make a positive mind-body experience for the student,” says Pacheco. Personality and energy level can also play into which instructor you connect with best.
  • Fuel up. Eat light before yoga and take at least one hour to digest. “Twists do not feel good on a full stomach,” says Pacheco.
  • BYOM (Bring Your Own Mat). Some studios provide yoga mats, while others require students to bring their own. Look for a mat that’s cushioned and provides a no-slip surface. Other essentials (usually provided) include props like blocks and belts to assist the body in reaching its full potential. Pacheco also recommends bringing a towel for your mat so you won’t slip to avoid injury, and a water bottle to stay hydrated and focused during class.
  • Dress for success. To allow full range of body movement, wear something comfortable. Just avoid loose shirts and shorts, which might be revealing when bending during poses. (Keep your eyes on the prize, not someone else’s behind.) Bare feet are ideal for traction when practicing poses.
  • Modify. Anyone can do yoga, (really, anyone — watch this), but don’t force the body. “Always give priority to proper alignment rather than doing the most advanced version of a pose,” says Pacheco. Need a rest? Return to child’s pose and listen for modifications given by the instructor during class. Be sure to always inform the instructor beforehand about any injuries, and make sure your doctor has given you the green light to hit the mat.
  • Keep breathing. Breath work is just as important to yoga as the physical poses.  Don't hold your breath!
  • Say om (not cheese). Get to know the lingo, including names of poses, hand positions, and meditation techniques, to avoid feeling lost or stressed out during class.