When I arrived in India in late February 2017, I was standing in the currency exchange line at New Delhi airport when a turbaned gentleman behind me asked what I was doing here. I told him that I primarily came to attend the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh. He immediately warned me to not become a vegetarian. He urged me to not give up meat because a body needs protein. I found this response surprising as I thought that most Indians were Vegetarians, but I agreed with him as I thought that I did need protein from meat.
Indira Gandhi International Airport of New Delhi, India
For most of my life, I ate whatever I thought tasted good. After working part-time at a gourmet French restaurant for the past seven years, I have developed a well-rounded taste for many meats, eggs, creamy sauces, cheeses, pastries, and buttered vegetables. I thought it was all fine in moderation as long as I drank plenty of water, slept enough, and exercised regularly.
However, one of my 2017 New Year Goals was to explore my relationship with food and experiment with what would help me to be the best version of myself.
At the festival in Rishikesh, we ate delicious gourmet Vegetarian meals and I encountered Vegetarians like Crystal Galleher. who were surprised that through my yoga journey I had not yet given up meat. I was in denial that there was anything wrong with eating animals and I thought we needed a balanced diet to receive the appropriate nutrients and energy. Isn’t that what we’ve all been taught by society?
Crystal encouraged me to look deeper into the Ahimsa aspects of meat eating and watch some of the many documentaries on Netflix explaining why we should make this change for the environment and our own health.
I tried to avoid this reality at first, but when I returned from my journey, I decided to finally face the facts. I watched Forks over Knives, Food Inc., Food Choices, and Food Matters and I was shocked with the truth. These documentaries are filled with real but shocking footage of animal cruelty. I can’t help but imagine the cycles of this negative energy as it transfers into my body.
It brought to my awareness how disconnected we are from where our food comes from. I realized that I wouldn’t torture, kill, skin, and prepare animals to eat, so therefore I shouldn’t be consuming them while allowing someone else to do that for me. That would be like sharing responsibility with Hitler who ordered hundreds of thousands of people to their death, but didn't have to watch or perform much of it himself. By eating meat, I shared the same responsibility for cruelty to animals and as a result the karma cycle taints our long-term health.
Yoga means union or oneness. One of the first guidelines to Universal Morality, or Yamas, to living a life of union as outlined in Patajali’s 8 Limbed Path to Enlightenment, is Ahimsa, meaning kindness or non-harming. This concept relates to our relationship with ourselves, other fellow human beings, and all other living beings.
Patajali's 8 Limbs of Yoga: Path to Enlightenment
After viewing and processing this horrifying footage, I remembered a symbolic dream that I had. In January, I found the first cockroach in my apartment. I had been living in this apartment for seven years and was surprised and terrified. I reacted in fear and instantly killed it with my shoe. Although it bothered me for a couple of hours, I soon forgot all about it. Several nights later, I had a dream about a cockroach crawling on my wall. Again, I got fired up and wanted to kill this filthy creature, when unexpectedly, it began to slowly transform into something else. Its hind legs started growing very long in feathers and upper arms turned into wings. It became a beautiful Quetzal bird and it started flying around my room. I was captivated and frozen in awe. When I found peace in its presence, it slowly transformed back into a cockroach.
This dream influenced the way that I think about other living creatures. According to the Dalai Lama in the enlightening novel, The Dalai Lama’s Cat, he tries to explain to a professor how animals think like us, “We all want to live and we all want to be loved.” There is an underlying unity and oneness in how we feel and desire. Yes we are also more highly developed beings in our consciousness and brain activity, therefore, we should make more unifying habits and decisions for those being who cannot free themselves.
Photo Credit: Yoga Yamas
Ahimsa goes further that not harming animals directly. It also relates to non-harming the Environment, or natural world of plants, trees, clean water, and fresh air. I learned that the production of so much meat and other animal products creates a substantial problem for the environment. Outrageous amounts of fuel emissions are released into our air to transport animals and animal products while ancient forests are being cut down to harvest mass crops for to feed the animals. As a result, other species are losing their habitats and species are becoming extinct. Further, with a loss of trees, our air quality is going down in oxygen saturation.
“In Brazil alone, the equivalent of 5.6 million acres of land is used to grow soya beans for animals in Europe. This land contributes to developing world malnutrition by driving impoverished populations to grow cash crops for animal feed, rather than food for themselves (Vegan Society).” Conversely, considerably less crops and water are required to sustain a vegan diet.
What Would Happen if the World Went Vegan? by Micheal H. Brunnet on Linked In
Therefore, I realized that I should not take another creature’s life or harm to mother nature just for a tasty pleasure that will quickly fade. I decided that I must at least try to become a Vegetarian. In fear of missing out of my favorite flavors and textures, I told myself that I will just be 90% Vegetarian and gave myself a couple of months to adjust to this first major step, allowing one day to cheat by eating a meal with meat. At first, I savored this weekly meal of gourmet halibut or burger with brie and French fries. Then, I started noticing that I was leaning on cheese, milk, cereals, pastries, pastas, and buttered vegetables for most of my caloric intake. Cheese and Ice Cream were my favorite foods and I couldn’t imagine parting with these flavors and textures.
Unfortunately, I noticed that I was gaining weight and feeling foggy and confused. My friend, JoAnna, told me a story about a Mexican nun named Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz (1648-1695) that loved eating cheese until she researched and found that cheese degraded the mind, poisoned reason, and hindered learning. In her devotion to God, she gave up the beloved food forever. Like many monastics, she considered the pursuit of learning vital to her vocation on earth, in this life ( After Cheese).
This was alarming information to me and I knew that I needed to let go of dairy. I went back to the documentaries to help me remember and feel motivated once again about my consciousness of other beings, nature, my own health, clarity of mind and lightness of being.
I learned that besides killing animals for their meat, 90% of animals who are harvested for their milk, cheese, butter, or eggs live a tortured life. According to Vegan Society, “The production of dairy products necessitates the death of countless male calves that are of no use to the dairy farmer, as well as the premature death of cows slaughtered when their milk production decreases. Similarly, in the egg industry, even 'ethical' or 'free range' eggs involve the killing of the 'unnecessary' male chicks when just a day old.” As much as I love the taste of dairy products, I don’t want that kind of negative energy flowing through my body and infesting my cellular structures.
Spiritual Awakening expert Ekhart Tolle emphasizes,
Apart from the compassionate reasons to abstain from meat and animal products, I discovered that eating a plant based diet, free from processed foods, is also considerably better for your health. The Daily Mail states, “Cheese is as addictive as drugs because of a chemical called casein. This is found in dairy products and can trigger brain's opioid receptors. Opiod receptors are linked to the control of pain, reward and addiction.”
Recent resources and articles support this argument, “women who ate the most saturated fat scored lower on tests of brain function and memory. On the other hand, women who ate the most monounsaturated fats (found in foods like olive oil and avocado) had higher scores. Further, “Consuming large quantities of processed foods over a lifetime slowly destroys your nerve cells and causes your brain to shrink.”
The Vegan Society has well documented research that, “Well-planned plant-based diets are rich in protein, iron, calcium and other essential vitamins and minerals. The plant-based sources of these nutrients tend to be low in saturated fat, high in fiber and packed with antioxidants, helping mitigate some of the modern world's biggest health issues like obesity, heart disease, diabetes and cancer.” I find plenty of protein in kate, spinach, artichokes, mushrooms, and broccoli. Eating a clean plant based diet is also increasing my energy and giving my skin a youthful glow.
From these documentaries and other interviews, I recently learned that some of the world’s top athletes are Vegan. Further, Ancient Greek Olympic Athletes ate only fruit for top speed and strength performance while the soldiers ate primarily meat to make them more aggressive killers.
Photo Credit: Pixel Joint
Therefore, eating more fruits enhances lightness and swiftness, while meat eaters have more aggression and anxiety. Since I made the switch to vegan, I’ve certainly felt more light and compassionate. I’m much more in tune with how other animals are feeling.
Letting go is not easy. In yoga philosophy the guideline of Aparigraha is about lightness and non-hoarding. When I feel tempted, instead of telling myself, “Never again,” I say “Not now, today I am going to eat fruits and vegetables.” At first, I was still very attracted to buttery croissants, cheese plates, creamy macaroni, and croque madams, but the more I ate clean foods, the better I felt.
Making small changes to everyday meals is one of the easiest ways to bring more lightness and clarity. Some people start by removing meat or dairy one day a week and go from there. Others try changing one meal at a time, having vegan breakfasts during the first week, adding a vegan lunch during week two and so on. Now my taste buds have changed to like the taste of coconut or almond milk as well as coconut oil better than dairy milk and butter.
Tapas means Self-Discipline
Photo Credit: Arvore da Vida
When I did occasionally give into the voice of the ego that desires comfort and pleasure in the moment, I felt tired and foggy. This motivated me to make even healthier choices the following days. This is why I titled the blog, Becoming a Vegan. This is a process involving steps of tapas or self-discipline. I allow myself room for forgiveness, and remind myself that I've been making so much huge changes as I just recently gave up beef, chicken, pork, and fish!
Instead of feeling guilty and shameful when I mess up, I forgive myself and get back on track. In the near future, my taste for these items will fade and I will only desire whole foods. For example, the thought of eating chicken or steak no longer crosses my mind, but I do find myself craving kale and beets! Further, instead of desiring dairy Ice Cream, I’m learning how to make my own Ice Cream out of nut milk and caramel from blended dates.
As a vegan, its also easy to fall into a desserts and processed foods trap. I have to remind myself that just because chips or some vegan breads are not made from animal products, does not mean that I should eat them. I’m trying to stay away from sugars too.
However, my biggest challenge, besides working part-time at a delicious French restaurant, is social gatherings. I’ve found myself at parties, surrounded by processed food made with animal products. After the first couple of awkward temptations, I’ve started taking the time to prepare delicious vegan items. This not only helps me to stay on track, but also to show my friends how delicious eating vegan can really be. So far, the Curried Coconut Lentil Soup while camping is a favorite!
When I want to meet up to catch up with a friend, now I always suggest Cafe Gratitude in San Diego! The 100% Vegan menu centers around the concept, "You are what you eat" as each item is a positive word to describe who you are. For example, if I want to order the Indian curry lentil bowl, I tell the server, "I am humble!"
I’m becoming so excited about fruits vegetables and all of the exciting combinations of ways to prepare and eat them. Sometimes for lunch I’ll have lentils, roasted corn, sliced almonds, organic heirloom tomatoes, chopped dates and a dash of extra virgin olive oil and aged balsamic. Then in the afternoon I’ll prepare a smoothie. Occasionally its peaches, figs, pecans, cranberry, lemon, and dates while other times it’s carrots, beets, walnuts, olive oil, and apple.
Are you ready to be the change that you want to see in this world?
Photo Credit: JoAnna George
“MMMEEEOOOWWW! NOO! Not again!"
Why are you packing your duffel bag and backpack? Anxiety envelops me as I start pacing back and forth. I jump on the bed, then on the table and back to the bed, desperately trying to signal to her that I’m not happy with this action.
"This must mean that you’re leaving me for another one of your crazy adventures! I hate change! Why can’t you just stay here with me and remain happy and comfortable?!"
Uh oh! Things have taken a suddenly scary turn. Why is the cat carrier out on the table!?!?
Suddenly, Hannah Half Moon picks me up and tries to shove me into that suffocating prison.
“MMMEEEOOOWW!! Put me down! I’m not going in there!”
I brace for my life, clinging to the perimeter of the opening. I engage all of my muscles in terror!
She then lifts me from that space in the back of my neck, that renders me immobile, and before I know it, everything I know fades from view as I swish side to side in this compact vessel. Step after step we descend down the stairs and into the car.
“MMMEEEOOOWW!! MMMEEEOOOWW!! MMMEEEOOOWW!!”
"I hate riding in the car more than anything! You must stop this nonsense now!"
Maybe if I keep screaming, she will change her mind, turn around and things can go back to normal. Abruptly, we stop for a moment and Hannah Half Moon helps her friend, JoAnna George, load the car with more stuff.
I don’t understand what’s happening.
Abruptly, we start driving again, but this time she opens my cage door and allows me to roam free.
I went straight for her lap, my favorite place in the whole world, filled with warmth, love, and affection.
This summer in San Diego, contemporary artists from around the world gathered to create an interactive experience called Wonderspaces. Through multimedia installations, previously only viewed at expensive and exclusive festivals like Burning Man, these visual and spacial involvements leave room for personal interpretation so that the viewer can grow and cultivate wisdom.
What does Light mean to you?
When I was a young child, my dearest memory was a bright white light. It was the first thing that I knew. Whenever I needed a reference of time at ages 2, 3, and 4, I would close my eyes and remember the warmth and joy of this light in the beginning. Surrounding the light were blurry faces that emanated love as they looked upon me.
Many years later, I was a teenager in the kitchen with my mom and suddenly this memory popped into my mind. I told her about this light as the first thing that I knew. Stunned, she exclaimed that I was born with Jaundice and I had to be placed in an incubator with a spotlight for up to three days after birth. This phototherapy or light treatment absorbed the light waves into my skin skin and blood to eliminate the excess bilirubin that causes yellow discoloring. Nowadays, parents with newborns that have jaundice are placing their babies near a window to absorb sunlight four times a day for 15 minutes each.
Now, I know light as my hero and source of love. It represents life, energy, joy, purity, and goodness. On the longest days of the year, the light seems to stand still in the sky.
Performing Sun Salutations are an opportunity for us to give thanks to the light in the sky and the light of our life and many blessings.
Sarve bhavantu sukhinah
Quote from the Parmarth Niketan website
The sanskrit symbol of OM (AUM) engraved on the streets of Rishikesh, India
"Besides heat and comfort, the energy of fire has to do with ripening and maturing. Fire purifies through burning negativites." Healing with Form, Energy and Light
“Transform your home into a sacred space.”
Connecting with external elements, like stones, helps us to internalize positive energies and eliminate negative ones.
“A good traveler has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.”
This year, one of my new year’s goals was to “go with the flow”, specifically, the spiritual current. As I was in the process of planning my epic adventure around the world, I knew that I didn’t have control over everything that would happen. I have a tendency to over-plan for trips, including things to do each day, but with this trip, since there were so many transitions to different cities and countries, I tried to keep the planning to a minimum.
When I got to Thailand, the only thing I wanted to do in Krabi was to kayak around the huge limestone cliff islands called karsts. Fortunately, I didn’t have to look far for a tour as my hostel featured a sunset kayaking trip every Wednesday. I quickly signed up for this opportunity.
The next morning, Wednesday, was a warm 80 degrees Fahrenheit with partly cloudy skies. I strolled up and down the beach, dodging the reach of monkeys with my watermelon smoothie. I was captivated by the beauty of this spectacular unique backdrop and I couldn’t wait to get a closer look.
Do you ever hear a song that evokes a strong urge toward a particular path in life?
Do these sounds connect somehow with your inner knowing?
Last year, I came across Karunesh when I was searching for songs to play for my ancient India yoga sequence. After a life-changing accident and journey to India, Bruno Reuter changed his name to Karunesh, meaning compassion in Sanskrit. His music has strong Indian, African, Australian, Native American/Aboriginal music of Canada, and Middle Eastern influences prevalent throughout the use of Indian instruments such as the sitar along with violin, didgeridoo, bouzuki, Native American flute, Chinese temple flutes, tamboura, bamboo flute, and various world percussion instruments.
The song, Calling Wisdom, was so powerful that it almost floored me. It was calling me to India. It confirmed what I already knew, that I needed to make a pilgrimage to this motherland of yoga, so I decided to attend the 32nd Annual International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh (the yoga capital of the world) this March, 2017.
"I think I’m going to Die!
This phrase keeps repeating over and over again in my head as I struggle to take another lunge-like step up the steep and jagged Nangkartshang Peak, also known as Nangkart Tshang. There’s not even a trail on this black mountain! Although it is technically a sub-peak of a higher ridge, it turns into a razor sharp knife edge and requires technical climbing gear after the false summit.
Not only do I feel like I’m going to fall, as my feet make quick and slippery decisions on where to step on or between rocks, but my heart is pounding faster than I can count. It feels like it’s going to explode!
Dingboche village with black mountain, Nangkartshang Peak, covered by the clouds
In mid-March of 2017, I was trekking through Sagarmatha National Park on my way to Everest Base Camp in Nepal. We stayed at a teahouse in Dingboche and my room was seperated from the dining room. After eating dinner and playing some card games with the rest of the group, I decided it was time to rest up for the next day. Without a flashlight or any other lamps, I stepped outside and was surprised at how bright it was. I stopped and looked up
As we promenade from the villages of Tholaria to Lagada, on the bay of Aegiali, our path is lined with a spectacular array of color. Yellow, red, purple, pink, and white patterns sprinkle throughout the green hillsides. I stop and kneel down to admire the variety of shapes, shades, textures, and scents of these wildflowers that chose to shine for us in this very moment.
As I was packing for this epic adventure, 8 countries, 8 weeks, 100 degrees of temperature variation, my friend, Victor, suggested that I write a blog about what's in my pack. I was pretty proud of all the just-in-case gadgets that I was able to squeeze into a backpack and a duffel so that I would find myself "without" something that I "needed."
I packed all of the chargers that I could need (iphone/ipad, kindle, keyboard, headlamp) along with extras, plenty of mini-toiletries, a yoga mat towel, fleece lined wind and waterproof jacket, Croc flip flips and mary-janes, and much more.
But what do I really need?
On a normal afternoon in San Diego, I love to go for a peaceful walk through the neighborhood and picturesque central Balboa Park.
Photo Credit- https://www.doorsteps.com/articles/the-best-neighborhoods-in-san-diego-for-a-walkable-lifestyle
On the streets of Rishikesh, India, I also desire an afternoon stroll, but instead of the spaciousness of sidewalks and streets lined with palm trees, I'm thrown into complete chaos. With a width of about 10 feet on this cobblestone trash lined street, I'm bombarded with barking wild dogs, families of holy cows eliminating waste, weeping beggars, shouting store keepers, and honking motorbikes that won't stop for anyone.
This is an overwhelming experience for the senses. Everyone and everything seems to have a hand stretched out, desperate for me to bless them with some form of wealth. The dogs and cows not only wish for affection, but also clean water and food while the shop keepers are willing to embarrassingly drop their prices just to get a single sale. Those riding a motorbike would be thrilled to take me to my next destination for a small fee. My heart breaks at the sight of beggars with missing limbs or holding a box labeled "ear cleaning kit" I'm obviously a foreigner whose clean clothes and trendy haircut suggest a life full of blessings. I starkly realize that even what I consider to be a humble load that I carry with me on this journey is worth far more than some of these people will ever have in their lifetime.
As each day passed at the 29th International Yoga Festival of Parmarth Niketan in Rishikesh, India, we settled into a routine and the days started to blend together. Is it the 3rd, 4th, 5th, or 6th day of the festival? Is it Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, or Thursday?
My roommate, Crystal, and I rose every morning just before 6am, attended a meditation class, ate breakfast, attended a 2-hour physical yoga class, took notes at a following lecture, ate a hearty lunch, participated in a restful yin or nidra yoga class, and in the late afternoon went for a walk, attended another lecture, or meditation. In the evening, the Ashram would hold a gathering on the banks of the Ganges River, followed by dinner and a cultural show. We would be in bed with the lights out before 10pm.
"You're going to 8 countries in 7 weeks, alone?! You're crazy Hannah!" People say.
"I know," I reply with an archaic smile.
I know that many other people in this world could do this trip, but would they want to?
I believe that I was meant to go on this trip. One of my favorite, most inspiring mantras is a quote by Swami Rama. He imparts, "You are the architect of your spiritual life. Be brave. The brave alone enjoy the world. Enjoy the world by living in the here and now."
What would your special and unique trip around the world look like?
How do you live in the now?
Ancient Greek sculptures, composed mostly of marble or bronze, developed in phases from Archaic, Classical, and Hellenistic as the concept of the human figure evolved from abstract to realistic. The Ancient Greeks believed in sculpting the human figure for its own sake and of finding the body to be a worthy subject for art.
Further, in Classical Greek philosophy, they believed that human bodies are the “measure of all things,” as our bodies symbolize our divine soul. Likewise, moving our bodies through strengthening, stretching, and balancing became increasing important to the Greeks through the development of Olympic games and other physical activities.
The physical postures (poses) of yoga, called asanas, are the third limb out of 8, of Pantajali’s Path to Enlightenment. It is while practicing yoga asanas that we learn the art of adjustment, and constantly redirecting our focus.
BKS Iyengar teaches, “Working on our alignment is like sculpting in which a piece of stone is constantly shaped and refined; but here the sculpture, the sculptor, and the act of sculpting is one and the same – our own selves. Moreover, the sculpture is not a static entity, but a dynamic one that changes over time; it tends to deteriorate if we don’t take a good care of it.”
Similarily, Philosopher Heraclitus instructs, "There is nothing permanent except change."
A peaceful seahorse glides slowly in the sea, moving from space to space, using only its tail as an anchor in the stormy seas. This patient and unique creature is historically connected with various divine beings.
India is commonly known as the motherland of yoga, but what if I told you that yoga originally began in Egypt and then traveled to India hundreds of years later?
Paintings, engravings, and murals from ancient Egyptian tombs and temples show images of figures in positions that represent some commonly known yoga poses.
According to the book, Egyptian Yoga: Postures of the Gods and Goddesses by Dr. Muata Ashby and Dr. Karen Ashby….
Wishing you New Year Goodness!
Every year the Chinese culture, all around the world, celebrates this time of year with good luck rites, house cleaning, family feasts, and fireworks. The next few weeks are set aside as a time to honor household and heavenly deities as well as ancestors. Unlike our western Gregorian calendar, the Chinese calendar runs in accordance with lunar-solar observations; therefore, the date for the new year changes from year to year. This year, it starts on January 28th. Celebrations will occur the day before and continue until the Lantern Festival, the 15th day of the new year.
According to tradition, people must stay up late on New Year’s Eve to welcome the New Year, and then to let off fireworks to scare off ominous spirits and Nian, the New Year dragon monster. Chinese are careful of their actions on these two days as they will prophecy their upcoming year. In the first five days of the New Year, people eat long noodles to symbolize long life. On the 15th and final day of the New Year, round dumplings shaped like the full moon are shared as a sign of the family unit and of perfection (History.com). One legend states that hanging your hopes for the coming year on a Wishing Tree (synonymous with good luck and fortune) will encourage your dreams to come true. Further, some Chinese people refrain from regular routines such as hair and laundry washing in honor of the water god, celebrated on these days.
Chinese New Year Mini-Parade 2013 Chinatown San Francisco California
Photo Credit: You Tube
“If money were an object, what would it be for you?”
My sister and life coach, Rebekah Anderson, asked me this question one day while hiking last summer.
Immediately, an image of a bedazzled elephant came to mind. I hesitated and tried to think of something that would make more sense before I said it aloud, but the elephant was all that I could see.
Over the holiday season, many of my friends and family told me that they would love to buy some of my new yoga leggings, but they want to lose weight first. After hearing this repeatedly so many times, I had to stop and think about it.
It’s quite ironic actually… Yoga leggings are meant to be worn in during the PROCESS of CARING for our bodies, WHILE we DO yoga, hike, jog, go to the gym, etc.
I mean, yes, my designs are really fun to show off, but they are also great for motivation to take care of your body. It’s exciting to slip on a pair of these and feel comfortable with yourself. You can always buy a smaller pair later and donate your first pair!
For those who like a low waist and a thick band, you can choose this option for your body now. However, if you prefer a high waist pant, I have an option for you as well. Just choose from the pull-down menu.
These fabulous leggings were featured on Studio40 Live in Sacramento, on January 4, 2017.
As we approach the end of 2016, this is a great time for reflection.
What are the highlights of your year in 2016?
Did you meet your goals?
What surprises were you greeted with?
What struggles did you overcome?
“O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Thy leaves are so unchanging!
O Christmas Tree! O Christmas Tree!
Such pleasure do you bring me…
Each shining light each silver bell
No other light spreads cheer so well…
A symbol of good will and love
You'll ever be unchanging… “
Photo credit: House Beautiful
Until you die in the next few weeks...
Hannah seeks to find relationships between nature, cultures, yoga, and art through her writing.
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My Paintings are now on Yoga Pants!
Fun Yoga in the Park
Travel the world with me through yoga!
These themed lessons are fun for all ages and levels at Mission Bay Park.
See the page, Park Yoga, for more information!
Lessons from Abroad