How Meditation & a Powerful Trip to India Changed Teacher Max Strom Forever

Fifteen years ago, yoga teacher Max Strom traveled to Varanasi, India. What he witnessed there sent him on the road to emotional transformation.

From time to time, nearly all of us are prompted to reassess our priorities. The trigger is usually an event or an interaction that leads to an epiphany. In that moment, we see the essence of who we really are. This can spark spontaneous and sudden growth at a deep level, altering the course of our lives.

One of the events that helped jolt me awake happened in India, almost 15 years ago.

My traveling companion and I had arrived by train at the teeming city of Varanasi—a pilgrimage destination for Hindus of all denominations who believe that bathing in the water of the sacred Ganges River remits sins, and that dying in Varanasi ensures the release of a person’s soul from the cycle of death and rebirth. Many Hindus travel to this holy city to die and be cremated on the series of steps leading down to the river, called ghats, and to have their remains scattered in the water.

11 Yoga Essentials and Practice Inspiration for Spring

From practice inspiration to books, jewelry, yoga mats and more, gear up with these hand-picked favorites from YJ editors.

Sadie Nardini's Glazed Matcha Donuts Recipe

Sadie Nardini, wellness expert and founder of Core Strength Vinyasa Yoga, shares her recipe for vegan, gluten-free glazed donuts. Satisfy your sweet tooth and bask in the benefits of her star ingredient: antioxidant-rich matcha.

Sadie Nardini’s go-to glazed matcha donuts from Fit Girl Treats 

Makes 12 regular donuts or up to three-dozen mini donuts

“After I started doing yoga and high-intensity interval training—and especially once I hit 40—I realized my weekly donut habit wasn’t going to cut it. I searched far and wide and found this amazing recipe from Leah Boston, a plant-based food blogger and creator of Fit Girl Treats. Her donuts are baked, vegan, gluten-free, and full of antioxidant-rich matcha—known worldwide for benefits like supporting heart health. They’re perfect for when you’re craving something sweet!”

¾ cup almond milk, divided
14 pitted Medjool dates
1¼ cup gluten-free all-purpose flour blend (I like Cup4Cup or King Arthur), plus more for dusting
1 tbsp tapioca starch (or tapioca flour)
1 tbsp organic matcha powder, plus ½ tsp, divided (I love Positively Tea Company)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp cinnamon, plus/tsp, divided
1 tbsp lemon juice
1½ tsp vanilla extract, divided
1 cup organic powdered sugar
1 cup coconut chips or organic shredded coconut
coconut oil for greasing

See also Elena Brower’s Go-To Recipe for Nourishing Comfort Food

22 Travel Essentials for Your Next Yoga Retreat

Crafted from reinforced brushed merino fleece with deep pockets and a slightly tailored fit, these pants serve as serious luxury loungewear. Plus, you can dress them up or down without sacrificing any comfort. Pair them with Icebreaker’s TABI Deice Long Sleeve V for a complete travel outfit!


See also Best of 2017: YJ Editor Top Picks in Yoga Pants, Props, Malas + Mats

The Secret to Getting Out of a Rut & Into Living Your Most Vibrant, Authentic Life

Do you feel stuck? In part 4 of this kriya yoga series, yoga teacher Laura Riley shares three stages of svadhyaya practice to help you live life as who you truly are.

When our spiritual lives and day-to-day actions are out of sync, we lose the ability to intuit. Yes, intuit as a verb. (As Deepak Chopra said, “There are no nouns in this alive universe.”) The less we intuit, the more disconnected we are from our selves, and the more inert we feel. The solution to this is internal activism, a practice of many parts including svadhyaya, or self-study.

Svadhyaya is one of the components of kriya yoga, the yoga of action.

I think of svadhyaya as a differentiating factor (that and the breath) between exercising and practicing asana. In asana, you move in ways that stretch and tone your body. That alone is a healthy endeavor but doesn’t give you any insight about your physical, emotional, or mental wellbeing. If, however, you pay attention to how your body, breath, and mood feel as you’re moving through asanas—or at least compare the beginning versus the end of practice—that is yoga. It is yoga because you are studying the self, noticing how choices and movements affect you, and perhaps even feeling gratitude in the process.

13 Yoga Retreats You Can Actually Afford in 2018

Think a cool yoga getaway has to be out of your budget? Then you haven’t seen these retreats. We did the research and found a bunch of getaways (from as little as $60 per day) that won’t break the bank. So stop dreaming and start booking your 2018 yoga vacation.

A vacation is great, a yoga retreat is even better. While they often seem pricey, retreats simply offer more value than traveling on your own. Not only do you get to chill in a zen location for a few days, but the retreat package price typically includes vegetarian, possibly organic meals, meditation and yoga classes, personal growth workshops, excursions, airport transfers, and even an occasional spa treatment.

For the best deal, bring a friend (or, make new ones) to share a room with. “You can typically save around 25 percent by sharing dorm-style accommodations,” says Sean Kelly, co-founder of, a yoga retreat booking site. “It makes sense that staying in a private room is going to cost more.”

Planning ahead can also save you between $100 and $500, depending on the price of the retreat. These early-bird specials are listed about two to three months prior to departure, Kelly adds. Keep in mind that some early-bird specials are given to the first few spots, and once they are filled, everyone else pays the full price.

3 Ways to Celebrate Self-Love This Valentine’s Day

“If you go underneath your habits and underneath your immediate experience, you will find the capacity for growth, for change, for wisdom, for love that’s never, ever destroyed,” says Sharon Salzberg, meditation teacher and author of Real Love: The Art of Mindful Connection, in her Untangle podcast interview with Meditation Studio last year. “It may be covered over—it usually is. It may be hard to find, and it certainly may be hard to trust, but it’s there. There’s nothing that we can go through that will make that not be true.” Instead of seeing love as a thing your family, friends, and romantic partner give you, truly embrace the knowledge that it is something you have within you at all times.

See also 10 Ways to Love Yourself (More) in the Modern World

3 Steps to Revolutionize How You Handle Your Next Personal Challenge

Faced with a tough situation? Baron Baptiste says “overcoming” isn’t the way through. Letting it be is.

Want to unlock an unexpected world of possibility in your practice—and your life? Then Yoga Journal’s upcoming course The Power of Play Bootcamp is for you. Baron Baptiste—veteran yoga teacher and founder of the Baptiste Institute and Baptiste Foundation—will lead you through four weeks of meditation, asana, and self-inquiry specifically designed to spark awakening and growth. Start the new year with a powerful perspective—and discover how to put it into action.

I want to share something with you that I’ve learned about handling challenges and painful experiences. In the past, when something difficult came up, I’d focus on overcoming it. But experience has shown me that we never really overcome anything. At different points in my life, when I’ve tried to “overcome” a challenge, all I ended up with was a temporary sense of control. That’s how I learned there was a better way to move forward.

Instead by pausing and acknowledging what I was experiencing, I became able to see some of the heavier, more uncomfortable, hidden aspects of my unresolved past, things that were being triggered in a given situation. By embracing what I was feeling—pain, sadness, fear, resentment, or whatever was there—something unlocked and opened up in me. My energy shifted. It felt like something lifted and let me go.

From there, I found a freedom that let me see an alternative pathway and respond to the same situation differently. My default—and what I sense is the default for most of us—is not to pause and feel the pain and fear—experience what’s there. The default is to gloss over, ignore, or put up with the situation, pretend everything is fine. I always experience a deep fundamental shift in my being when I fully embrace what is underneath. That’s when a release valve opens, and old energy, fears, and pain release me from their grip, at least partially.

4 Travel Destinations Unexpectedly Packing Deep Yogic Lessons

Our open-sided Land Rover inched closer to a clearing in the thick bush, and our guide, Fannuel Banda, whispered urgently to us to stay seated—and quiet. A couple hours earlier, the enormous red sun had sunk into a vast horizon, which meant that in the pitch-black darkness, Banda had to point his large flashlight toward what he wanted us to see: a lion, devouring its fresh kill.

Despite the fact that we’d been hoping for a lion sighting all week, my initial instinct was to look away. I was mere feet from this brutal feast and could practically smell the blood. I caught a glimpse of the poor warthog’s face, an expression of fear still present in its eyes, and wondered if it was the same little guy I’d spotted earlier that day, innocently digging his big snout into the ground in search of his own dinner. But I didn’t look away. None of us on this game drive through South Luangwa National Park in Zambia, Africa, did. Instead, we stayed seated and quiet, observing this death in its perfect, if gruesome, unfolding.

It’s admittedly strange to go on safari, practice yoga and meditation in the blissfully quiet and Wi-Fi–free bush, and have this zen-like reaction to a scene so filled with harm. Yet what I learned almost immediately, here and on guided walks under that beautiful African sky, is that being on safari is a lesson in being a witness—a true observer.

The Sanskrit word for this is sakshi, and its meaning is derived from the word’s two roots: sa, which means “with” and aksha, which means “senses,” “eyes,” or “spiritual wisdom.” We embody sakshi when we can witness the world without getting involved in, or being affected by, worldly things; when we can look at our thoughts without getting attached to them; when our awareness can distance itself from our ever-changing breath and bodies, allowing us to rest fully in our true nature.

Until this trip, I’d thought of sakshi as a beautiful concept worthy of working toward, yet impossible for mere mortals like myself to achieve—at least in this lifetime. In the weeks leading up to my trip to Zambia, the thoughts that surfaced in my mantra-based meditation sessions were anything but unimpassioned. I’d been dating a man I was falling in love with, but who was about to embark on a year of travel. And as my mind inevitably drifted toward what might happen between us—It will never work! Why can’t the timing be right with this one?—I found myself reacting as usual, rather than softening and staying calm. Other anxieties regularly came up around my writing (Am I challenging myself enough with the assignments I’m taking? When am I going to finally start that book?), as well as the bleak state of the world—from natural disasters to political decisions that filled me with resentment and rage. And instead of watching these unsettling thoughts surface with some manner of detachment, I clung to them with a fervent urgency.

See also Yoga For Anxiety: How to Let Go and Ease Your Mind

This didn’t change when I arrived at the Bushcamp Company’s Mfuwe Lodge, where I meditated before dawn each morning to the sounds of hippos stomping outside my chalet and hyenas howling in the distance. It’s funny how the patterns of your mind will follow you to even the most remote reaches of the world.

Yet an interesting thing happened as I sank comfortably into the busy-yet-peaceful pace of this safari: I started truly observing everything around me. In just a few days, this would shift how I started observing the thoughts scurrying around my own mind.

On morning game drives, we sat quietly in the Land Rover as Banda drove us through the bush, African antelope leaping beside us while monkeys scrambled up trees. We stopped so Banda could point out the most colorful birds I’d ever seen, some with black-and-white, polka-dotted wings and red breasts and others—called lovebirds because of how they care for each other—a kaleidoscope of blues, pinks, and yellows.

We spotted wild African dogs, zebras, giraffes, elephants, African buffalo, a leopard, and on our last game drive, the lion. Being so immersed in this kingdom all week, with no contact with the outside world and no agenda other than to observe these beautiful animals in their untouched-by-man habitat, offered a surprising gift. By watching the rhythms and cycles of these creatures’ lives from a place of pure awe, I wondered if I could approach the wilds of my mind’s wanderings with the same detached self-observation. If I could become less involved in my emotions, would I then become more attuned to the world around me, and more present in surprising ways?

On my last morning on safari, I sat in the pre-dawn stillness from what felt like a much different seat. My new romance may fade or flourish. My writing will undoubtedly ebb and flow. The hurricanes, fires, and political storms will surge and pass. And my practice is to nudge my awareness to observe it all as I did that hungry lion, from a place of seated, quiet awe.

See also Practice Detachment to Live Happy and Worry-Free

By Meghan Rabbitt

Rachel Brathen on Motherhood, #MeToo, and the Future of Yoga

The teacher who found fame on Instagram shares how she’s pivoted to use her platform to serve a deeper purpose.

I spend a lot of time every day just laughing and smiling with my baby girl. There’s something so beautifully intelligent about feeling your feelings in the moment, the way babies do. There’s no filter or faking it. When she’s sad, she cries; when she’s happy she laughs. I think we would all feel a lot better if we allowed ourselves to feel things when they surface.

In 2014, I decided I wanted to do something good with the influence I had as @yoga_girl. I was sick of posting yoga photos on Instagram. And I started feeling uninspired by the yoga community that grew out of social media, even though I was part of that growth. A lot of people in my life passed away that year, so I started writing about my painful journey. My entire Instagram following changed. I used to get questions about yoga poses or pants, but then people started asking for serious help—with depression and loss, eating disorders, even suicide. I’m not a therapist, so my staff and I began looking for people we could connect readers to. I realized I needed to go way deeper if I was going to actually be of service. That’s when we started (online education), which spurred 109 World (a seva organization), our animal rescue, and eventually Island Yoga in Aruba.