Human Evolution. It’s a lengthy, multi-million-year process that looks deceivingly brief when viewed through the lens of Darwin’s time-lapsed Theory of Evolution chart. You know that iconic image: a handful of hunched-over monkeys, dutifully marching through time, in line, and ultimately morphing into a modern, upright–walking Man! VOILÀ.
But new studies by evolutionary biologists have now proven that evolution is happening at a much faster pace than was previously thought. And the acceleration is linked to … stress?
The studies focused on flora and fauna that have set up camp in urban sprawls vs. rural forests. With urban centers carrying a higher degree of stress, they found that City Mice carry genes for heavy metal tolerance (since urban soil contains more lead and chromium), City Birds have a capacity to sing at a higher pitch (to be heard over the din of traffic), and even City Grass is acquiring a shorter stature due to the relentless regime of the lawn mower.
And our Inner Evolution? You know, emotional and spiritual maturity, living a life of purpose, releasing outdated beliefs and fears, expanding one’s capacity to experience more gratitude and love … do the same rules of stress apply here?
I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but I vote yes.
Every perceived hardship falls somewhere on the Intensity Spectrum, from a simple work deadline (ugh) to, say, a divorce (ARRGGHH!!). Stressors raise the bar by applying pressure. Stressors ask us–or sometimes force us–to relinquish aggrandized notions of our capabilities.
Herein lies the great paradox. While a fiery circumstance may initially contract us, the end result is that we step into a more expanded self-identity. We learn that we are way more resilient and courageous than we previously thought. And ultimately, our tiny, crawling, inner-monkey evolves into an Upright-Super-Hero-Hanuman-Monkey. Welcome to your New Normal.
This Theory of Evolution equation applies equally to non-humans.
For example, the Summer Olympics in Rio were plagued with controversy from the get-go which continued right up to the opening ceremony and beyond. And while there are still problems in the aftermath, the stress of the deadline and sheer scope of the event served as powerful catalysts for urban revitalization and improvements that might have taken another 20 to 30 years to realize.
A wonderful life coach named Gay Hendricks talks about how our happiness hinges upon moving through different zones: from our Zone of Competence (Meh!) to our Zone of Excellence (Better!) and, finally, our Zone of Genius (Wow!). Liberating and expressing our natural genius is the ultimate life expression. It makes our hearts sing at a pitch that rivals a City Bird.
But there is one zone that we must leave behind in order to evolve into the others, and that’s the COMFORT Zone. Stepping outside of that zone often requires a fire under the ass, and it beckons us to lean into the sharper edges of discomfort.
Fire + Edges = Evolution Accelerators
You may feel that you’ve bumped up against your upper and outer limits, that there couldn’t possibly be any more evolution left in your future because you’re tired of the fire and edges. But stress will always reappear and challenge you to reexamine what your limits are.
And, as any record-breaking, gold medal Olympic athlete will testify, limits are entirely negotiable.
It was a blistering hot day in July when I was sitting in my Ayurveda Nutrition class. The Santa Ana winds had kicked the temperature up to 101°F (38.5°C) in southern California, and even the air conditioner couldn’t keep the classroom cool. My teacher, Dr. Jayagopal, started class with a mischievous smile that turned upwards into a question:
“Is our Agni (digestive fire) strongest in the summer or winter?”
“SUMMER!” I blurted out, proudly and obnoxiously.
[awkward pause – which is code for “Incorrect Answer”]
It was a trick question, hence the mischievous smile.
“How do you feel right now in this heat?” he asked me. “Hungry?”
“No, actually I feel a little nauseous.“
Looking back now, I realize that the hotter the days became, the less hungry I felt. In fact, I hadn’t heard my stomach growl for days. I answered Dr. Jay’s question prematurely from my brain and notebook rather than from my body. The answer to his question was right there in my own belly.
To be fair, mine was a logical deduction. The Dinacharya of Ayurveda (aka our Daily Habits) teaches us that our power of digestion mirrors the power of the sun. Thus, during Pitta time of day, between 10am and 2pm, our Agni is stronger and more efficient than during any other period within the 24-hour cycle.
Sun at its highest, Agni at its highest. Inner ecosystem matches outer ecosystem.
Naturally I assumed that during Pitta Season, we would play by the same rules as those of Pitta Hour. But, apparently, that’s not how it goes down.
Have you noticed that during the sweltering days of summer, you don’t have much of an appetite, but during the winter you’re always hungry? That’s because when it’s cold outside, our bodies naturally draw heat inward, into the gut, to keep us warm, and heat in the gut translates into maximized digestive power. This is why we crave and can better digest heavier foods (like warm stews and food with more oily content) in the colder months. Conversely, in the summer, our internal heat disperses to keep us cool, and our Agni weakens. We naturally reach for fruits and vegetables–lighter foods with higher water content for hydration.
Hunger is your friend. A grumbling belly is nature’s way of alerting you that your inner furnace is ready and willing to fully digest your food.
Here in the West, we often approach our diet as a mental exercise using the brain first: we research diet trends, count calories, read nutrition blogs (and, yes, even Ayurveda blogs) so that we can “follow the rules.”
But Ayurveda doesn’t give a damn about the molecular structure of milk, labels on a jar, or the protein content of an energy bar. It’s a body-centric approach that encourages us to turn our inner gaze into our bodies, feel into what is happening there, and then use our minds to figure things out, not the other way around.
So step away from the blogs for a moment (except for this one, of course!), and resist going on autopilot as you create your grocery list. Go to your local farmer’s market or grocery store, close your eyes, and feel into your body. What food colors are calling to you? What smells and tastes are enticing you? What are your cells longing for?
Attune to the voices of your body, and trust your gut.
Because in the heat of the summer, that’s a pretty darn cool thing to do.
P.S. Here are a few excellent Ayurveda resources you can use to flow with the heat and live in harmony with this Pitta time of year:
• Check out Banyan Botanicals’ comprehensive list of awesome Pitta-pacifying lifestyle tips. It’s one of the best “cheat sheets” I have found to help guide you as we move deeper into the summer months. You’ll love this.
What does HOME mean to you?
According to conventional definitions of Home, I don’t have one. I’m not partnered, and I have no children or pets. I rent an apartment in Paris for five months a year, and most of my physical belongings are currently gathered in a storage bin in downtown Los Angeles. It sounds fairly grim on paper, not having the trappings of a conventional Home, but I really do have a great life.
One of my great life secrets is that I honor my passion. Every few years I enjoy moving to challenging, unfamiliar cities–NYC, LA, Paris, for example–and building a brand new life from scratch. I’ve done it so often that I’ve become quite adept at it, and what I’ve learned from these moves is that rituals and routines are the essential building blocks for creating a sense of home. I use the phrase “sense of home” deliberately because I’m evolving the definition of Home to include more than physical structures or even geographic locations.
For me, Home is a feeling–what I experience in my body, mind, and heart at any given moment. If I find myself in situations that trigger fear, anxiety, or suspicion, then I’m a homeless man. If I feel a flush of warmth, love, tranquility, and deep trust, then I am definitely home.
Here’s an example: When I first moved to Paris, I suffered from chronic anxiety. Nothing was familiar, not the language, the culture, the terrain, the food . . . nothing. Desperate to grasp onto some shred of familiarity, I executed a simple ritual:
I visited the same vendor at the same Farmer’s Market on the same day of each week, repeatedly. Distant at first, the vendor slowly began to soften over time. I learned his name (Gregoire), and he finally remembered mine. Soon, as our ritual gained traction and momentum, Gregoire began gathering my fruits and veggies without my having to ask, and if I missed a week, he’d inquire where I had been.
Warmth, love, tranquility, trust. Home.
Now, this Farmer’s Market ritual I created was no accident. It was calculated on my part because I instinctively knew exactly what I needed to do to survive: create a groove and deepen it through repetition. Routines and Rituals are our tools for sculpting vast swaths of the scary unknown into familiar, digestible experiences. Consciously or not, we create habits out of necessity to find steady ground in a precarious world.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali refers to this act of regular practice over time as Abhyasa, and Ayurveda applies it to Dinacharya (a.k.a. our Daily Routine for self-care). Using this time-tested roadmap of routinized behaviors, I’ve been teaching these Dinacharya habits for years, and I am continually astonished not only by the health transformation my students experience but by how at-home they begin to feel in their own, well-oiled bodies.
I want to be more at-home in my own body and mind in order to help others do the same, and I have learned through my own practice how habits become our sanctuary. I invite you to visit my Evolutionary Habits page to learn more about this practice which I will begin teaching again in a few months.
So, there. I have spared you the cliché Home Is Where The Heart Is and I Am A Citizen of the World yoga speeches. (Although it is.) (And I am.) But I also know that a snuggle in a warm bed with a partner and a pet is super-duper-homey-amazing.
” . . . Find that place where your feet know where to walk and follow your own trail. Please come home into each and every cell, and fully into the space that surrounds you . . . And once you are firmly there, please stay home awhile and come to a firm rest within.” — Jane Harper
P.S. A propos of just this, I urge you to read (or re-read) Chapter 21 of The Little Prince by St. Exupéry for a lovely sojourn into childlike wonder in which the Fox teaches the Little Prince an important lesson about the necessity of “rites.”
I recently presented at an Ayurveda Summit and had the good fortune of sharing the stage with the great Dr. John Douillard. In his lecture, he posited that humans are hardwired to act in the world from a place of approval-seeking. It’s in our DNA.
Approval-seeking begins at birth when we instinctively behave in ways that tease out a “love and protection” response from our parents. This pattern–the quest for validation–gains momentum and continues to metastasize as we enter the school yard, relationships, and different stages of life. Eventually, we become such virtuosi in turning on the “approval-seeking self” that we can scarcely distinguish between our false and true selves.
I don’t consider myself an approval seeker. I came out of the closet in my early 20s and moved to Paris on a whim when I was nearly 50. Marc follows his truth.
But Dr. Douillard’s lecture piqued my curiosity and prompted me to make the following resolution: before I did, said, or posted anything, I was going to pause and first ask myself the following questions:
- Is what I am about to do or say TRULY authentic to my desires, or am I running it through an Approval Filter?
- Am I trying to manipulate a situation, even subtly, to get what I want (Love?)–a return on investment, of sorts?
I was stunned to realize that on subtler, quieter, levels, I wasn’t always as in synch with my purest intentions as I had thought. Having come to this surprising realization, I turned next to my Ayurveda training for guidance.
AYU means LIFE.
VEDA means SCIENCE or KNOWLEDGE.
Thus, Ayurveda is the Science of Life.
In order to stand in optimal health, Ayurveda proposes that we feed our physiology through Rasayana–NOURISHMENT–in the form of things like wholesome food, herbs, and oil massages.
But Veda has an alternate meaning. It also means TRUTH.
Thus Ayurveda’s alternate meaning is the Truth of Your Life.
Living your truth is as much a rasayana as ghee. Truth nourishes the body, mind, and soul. In other words, you can take all the herbs and supplements you want, receive daily abhyanga massages, and eat prana-ful food. But if you are not living your truth–the life you were meant to live–you will never stand in optimal health.
Have you ever been in situations where you were consciously projecting a false self? I have. It’s exhausting. It eats into your vitality. So, how do you live in a place of more truthful self?
If you’re not feeling well, don’t tell yourself you need to do an aggressive yoga practice. If there are too many things on your plate, don’t tell yourself you can do more. If you didn’t get the answer you were looking for, don’t trick yourself into thinking it doesn’t matter.
Our minds have become cluttered with so much programming that we scarcely feel the intuitive currents of life, intuitive currents that set the spirit free to explore new frontiers of freedom and love in our daily lives.
Are you coming from a place of BEING love or NEEDING love?
Take time to reflect on your deepest desire and intention before you Do or Speak or Post. Determine if you are being true to your heart. Because uncluttering those intuitive currents, according to Ayurveda, is where true health begins.
P.S. If you’d like to experiment with bringing this concept into your asana practice, this 3-minute Yoga Glo preview (aptly entitled, “The Truth of Life”) will get you started.
I’ve been practicing a new form of yoga that’s kicking my butt.
It’s called Creating A New Website.
As many of us do with a new practice, I have been working with someone to help me on this journey. For the past six months, my talented web designer Michelle–whom I affectionately refer to as my Webinatrix–has been taking me to task. Ours has been a weekly exercise in tough love, replete with accountability meetings, deadlines, homework, and a barrage of challenging inquiries:
“What is your message to the world?”
“What exactly are you offering?”
“Who are YOU?”
“Be more specific. Refine it. Write it again.”
During the design process, I learned that my role in creating this new website has been to refine and articulate my Dharma through photos and writings. On the other side, Michelle’s has been to collect and curate this raw material and create digital magic–magic that reflects my Dharma with integrity and beauty.
Frankly, I’m not sure whose job has been more difficult.
When Michelle asked me what kind of site I envisioned, I answered her in broad descriptors:
- Bold and clean, but not boring
- Functional but not cold (I’m not into clever bells and whistles)
- Equal parts Feminine and Masculine
- Expansive, because this is how I feel as I launch into the next era of my own evolution as a teacher and a human being.
But getting these broad strokes to permeate the website was much more challenging than I had imagined. Part of my practice through this work was to be a curious observer, and, boy, was that a powerful experience.
Through this process, I learned that technology is a double-edged sword. It can be used either to degrade or to elevate Consciousness. Michelle and I agreed that we were striving to create a portal for the latter. And, in so doing, I want to share with you some of the wide-reaching aspects of learning I took from this process in the form of a flow:
Each of you is a magnificent work in progress.
-You possess the power to mold and shape your own Dharma.
-Your identity is a fluid, not a solid.
-You are a verb, not a noun.
-You are the result of billions of years of flowing, intelligent evolution.
-Evolution is the process of becoming the human you’ve longed to be and the world needs you to be.
-If you spend a significant part of your day thinking about your self-evolution and how to make the world a better place, then you are an evolutionary.
-You are Evolution in Action.
LA Paris LA
It was an 11,000-mile journey that took a lifetime.
I’m a seeker. Always have been. My resolve to seek Meaning and Truth was crystal clear from a very young age, although deciding how Meaning and Truth would show up through my work in the world was anything but clear. For four decades, my life had been a painful study in trial, error, and scattershot careers. I’d been a CPA, a standup comic, a massage therapist, a soap opera actor. Then there was that seedy gay bar I managed in downtown Manhattan in the early ‘90’s.
Like a Pollack painting, my life’s canvas was vast and messy at first glance but was also guided by an intelligent intuition. Such was the paradox of my restless spirit:
An outer reality screaming “Aimless Dilettante” and an inner reality whispering “Resolute Seeker.”
Edging towards 40, I migrated from NYC to Los Angeles to mend a broken heart, win an Oscar, and upgrade my status from “seeker” to “finder.” I’ve long believed that the future comes to live in LA. As a futurist and an evolution junkie, my future and I were ready.
Soon after arrival, I took my first yoga class. It shines as a seminal moment in my life because while my spirituality ran deep, it was also shapeless and inarticulate. Its restlessness was born of homelessness. There, on my rented yoga mat in Santa Monica, spirit found expression and a home. Yoga became the fertile landing pad where the seeds of my spirit could take root, find potency, and thrive. I was all in.
For the next decade, I dove passionately and with a voracious appetite into all-things-yoga. I took full advantage of a city where some of the best teachers in the world were at my fingertips for only $18 a shot.
It was better than an Oscar. Here, in L.A., I became a teacher. Here, in L.A., I became the man I was meant to be in the world.
If L.A. is where the future comes to live, France is where Tradition nobly resides.
My restless spirit was rearing its familiar head in response to complacency.
I turned to my Bucket List where “Move to Paris” held an exalted slot.
Approaching 50, I wondered if uprooting so dramatically was a foolhardy midlife crisis decision or if my inner compass was clearing its voice and making itself heard.
I listened. I waited. I packed my bags. I spent the next five years on the Left Bank.
Paris has a heft and a gravitas that is in direct contrast to easy-breezy Los Angeles. Her beauty is intoxicating and seductive, but it was not love at first sight.
I languished for the first few years, weary from the dense bureaucracy and what I perceived as a casual negativity that permeated most aspects of life.
We had to earn each other’s love, and what ultimately transpired was one of the most profoundly fiery and exhilarating love affairs of my life.
She taught me exactly what I needed to learn: patience and perseverance.
I taught her of hope, possibility, and the value of holding simultaneous space for both tradition and evolution.
We tamed each other. We learned to love each other.
When it was time to bid each other adieu, nearly 100 students assembled, and we collectively cried in gratitude for mutual lessons learned.
And because crossing any item off a bucket list is a monumental achievement.
And so my evolutionary trajectory brings me full circle to L.A.
In 2006, I was diagnosed with a congenital heart condition that required immediate surgery. It was during that dark hour that I was introduced to Dr. Parla Jayagopal, an Ayurveda doctor who lovingly bathed me in oil, recited mantra, and ignited my passion for this most sacred healing modality. Over the years, Dr. Jay-ji has repeatedly extended an invitation to formally study Ayurveda with him. I don’t take such invitations lightly. The time is now, and this appointment with destiny must be honored.
The practitioner program begins in a few weeks, and I am giddy as a schoolboy as I sharpen my pencils.
With these pencils I will learn an ancient tradition.
With these pencils I continue to reconcile and refine Swadharma and Dharma.
Just weeks ago I was unpacking my boxes in my new home here in L.A. and found a CD recording of a session with a psychic I had visited just days prior to moving to Paris. I was eager to assess the accuracy of her predictions, so I listened.
I remember her peeling off the first tarot card.
“I see people from different countries sitting around you. Are you planning a trip?”
“Yes,” I replied. “I’m moving to Paris next week.”
“I’m not exactly sure,” I said.
“You know, when you have an unexplained impulse to move far away, it means the love of your life is calling for you.”
Ah, well, she got it half right, I mused. A husband never materialized in Paris.
And then something occurred to me.
She never specified that the “love of my life” was a person.
What if the “love of my life” that was beckoning from afar was not a person after all but, quite literally, The Love of My LIFE?
What if the love of my life is the tender voice of my restless spirit, ever nudging my seeker soul to co-create with evolution?
I listen. I wait. I grab a brush and add another stroke to my beautiful, messy, canvas.
The Gershwin Brothers were ahead of their time when they wrote this iconic song. They may or may not have been hip to the rhythm of nature, but they were certainly hip to the rhythm of music. The two rhythms are not dissimilar.
The mountains of Bavaria are stunning and provide a perfect backdrop against which to write my inaugural blog on rhythm. Where better to feel the cycles of nature than wrapped in the arms of Mother Nature’s sattva? With unobstructed ease, far from the pulse of the big city, I can feel her rhythm.
It’s effortless. It’s a relief.
Let’s consider this axiom: Nature throbs with stunning intelligence.
From the Big Bang billions of years ago—that moment when Nothing became Something—this seminal pulse has trickled outwardly in infinite waves of polarity since the beginning of Time: sunrise/sunset, the four seasons, the ebb and flow of the tides, the contractions of a mother in labor, our first and last breath, a heartbeat, a cell.
Every aspect of life mirrors the initial pulse of Consciousness’ move towards Manifestation. Nature pulses, and Ayurveda, a system of healing that has its roots in ancient India, reminds us of the importance of living in accordance with that pulse. We have our individual doshas (constitutions). Certain times of the day have a dosha. Every season has a dosha, and even the stages of our lives have doshas. Rhythms upon rhythms, cycles within cycles, nature’s ever-spiraling elegance and logic never cease to amaze.
Lately, I’ve been diving deeper into Ayurveda with a focus on Dinacharya—basing our daily routines around the cycles of nature. Dinacharya takes advantage of the shifting qualities in each time of day, season, and environment to determine the best activity to engage in and when to engage in it. It teaches us how to plug our individual lives into the bigger flow.
I’m interested in rhythm because I know, from experience, the pitfalls of arrhythmic living. I’ve been an urban dweller for most of my life. New York – Los Angeles – Paris. Cities dance to the beat of a different drummer, making it difficult to heed the call of Nature. I’ve worked too late, eaten too late, over-slept, and allowed myself to be seduced by the over-stimulating temptations of Bright Lights Big City.
A day in my life in L.A. a few years ago looked something like this:
- I weave through traffic with a sandwich in one hand, steering wheel in the other, iPhone attached to my ear – and then wonder why my digestion is off.
- I meditate daily but then crawl into bed with my computer and answer stressful emails seconds before I shut my eyes – and then complain about poor sleep.
- I do a strenuous yoga practice at 7:00 pm (“It’s the only time I could fit it in!”) and then wonder why I feel depleted the next day.
Sure I was feeling OK, but I wanted to feel Great. I thought I was doing all the right things, but when I reflect on those days, I see that, in spite of my extensive yoga education, I was completely missing the simplest connection between Cause and Effect.
Cut back to that sandwich-scarfing car ride in L.A. The sandwich from WholeFoods wasn’t the problem (it was, after all, an organic, veggie sandwich on gluten-free bread), but HOW, WHEN, and even WHY I was eating it were clearly problematic. I was out of synch, committing crimes against nature at every right turn, left turn, and U-turn.
At that time I’d never heard of Dinacharya, so my self-prescribed remedy for better health didn’t include realigning my daily lifestyle routines but rather to simply pile on more hatha yoga . . . and then blame The Yoga for not working.
About a year ago, I began making some serious changes in my daily rituals. They were simple on paper but not easy to implement: 10 habits that would transform my perception of what “wellness” looked like. Early to bed/early to rise, a light dinner ending by 6:30pm, and a new hygiene regimen that challenged my westernized addiction to triple-milled soap.
Adopting these new habits was akin to taking a sledgehammer to concrete because my previous routines were so deeply encrusted in the fibers of my being by culture and family that even the slightest shift turned my world upside down. Basically, I had to unlearn how I’d lived the previous five decades of my life and become clear about what patterns I was willing to sacrifice in order to stand in better health. It’s still a struggle but becoming less so over time because the cycle of cause and effect is finally sinking in.
We’re living in a 24/7 techno-driven world, and we have unplugged from The Flow. I see the repercussions in many of my students in the form of chronic anxiety, depleted energy, poor sleep, autoimmune diseases, and a host of other maladies.
Our ancestors got it right. They instinctively knew how to attune with nature—rising with the sun, powering down at sunset, eating their biggest meal during the day when the sun was burning as brightly as their very own digestive fire. Their inner eco-systems were calibrated with their outer eco-systems. My vision for students, friends, family, and myself is to recover that innate logic, to reunite with what always was but has since been forgotten, to guide students on a path to better health, and, ultimately, to create a support structure so we can make meaningful changes and evolve our collective wellbeing.
It’s so basic and yet so revolutionary: an aligned routine, practiced daily, is stronger medicine than anything out there.
I see now how the universe is perpetually opening her arms and inviting me to step into the Flow, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to ignore that embrace. Because within her arms, within that Flow, lies an Empowered Life.
Who could ask for anything more?
Looking to upgrade your life through Ayurveda’s daily routine?
Please visit my Evolutionary Habits page.