by Maren Altman
Often when I explain what I do to people, they get confused. I get lots of questions. I get lots of defensive explanations as to why they’re not into the same things I am. Being an astrologer, yoga instructor, and vegan activist may seem like a handful of weird niche titles, but I came to such a position along a path of healing, integration, and coming to terms with who I really am.
I began reading horoscopes in the newspaper when I was around five or six. My parents thought they were entertaining me with the cartoon section of the paper. I didn’t see horoscopes necessarily as true or false, as I knew nothing about astrology coming from my split Jewish-Christian home, but they provided something I didn’t realize was missing at the time: an acknowledgment of me as an individual. Personality tests grew to become an obsession of mine – anything and everything that could tell me who I was. Abusive childhood situations, all too familiar to many, left me considering if I really existed or, if I somehow did, if I even wanted to exist. Simply being told something like “your Harry Potter character is Hermione Granger” or “you’re a Virgo Sun” kept me asking these outside sources to tell me who I was inside. Astrology never failed to be a rabbit hole that I could lose myself in, getting involved in nonstop study by the time I hit double digits. Unfortunately, at fourteen, I realized my mother had given me the wrong birth time, and for the last six years, I had incorrectly believed I was a Libra Ascendant. My mother happened to mix-up my birth time with my sister, who happens to be a Libra Sun, Moon, and Ascendant. (If you don’t know what any of this means, a simple Google search can catch you up.) I attribute constantly appearing “mature for my age” to growing up quickly from this early identity crisis.
Astrology described not only me in complicated, intricately-nuanced ways also but outside events happening in my life. It gave me hope through displaying cycles. It allowed me to realize that I did, in fact, exist. This is why, beyond all the bells and whistles and timing techniques it encompasses, I’ve found astrology to be the biggest celebration of both the individual self and of overall human diversity. Each person is wildly unique yet tied into a larger picture relating to when and where they were born, and that makes (at least) me feel both special and connected .
Veganism, the single largest passion of mine, also depends on such a realization of the sacredness of individual life. It requires being comfortable with the truth that there exists value outside of human form, and that making a pledge to reduce cruelty as much as practicably possible (The Vegan Society definition) is the corresponding step. Coming from a place of believing, early on in my life, that I must not matter due to how much pain I experienced, led to making the connection for veganism fairly early, at sixteen, after going in-and-out of vegetarianism for most of my life and constantly questioning why we were eating a dead cow while at our feet was a pet dog. My mind understood the way in which the sacredness of each and every life can be trampled on, covered up with lies and patterns and habits which drown out our innate empathy. The ethical logic which undermines eating animals catapulted me into researching veganism, and the countless health studies demonstrating the benefits of a whole-foods plant-based diet (I highly recommend www.nutritionfacts.org as a starting place if you’re new to vegan nutrition) along with the awareness of the environmental devastation of animal agriculture (it causes 45% of all climate change, 90% of rainforest destruction, and 50% of ocean acidification, just to start) kept me there solidly. Years later now, the reason, heart, and conviction behind me has never been stronger. It is a rung on the ladder of spiritual growth: to recognize the value in oneself so much that the same light can be seen in all other sentient beings who simply want to live and stop suffering. In the same vein as the wheel of karma, not contributing to animal suffering then allows for less suffering as humans with our health, and less suffering for Earth as a result of less ecological destruction.
Yoga is a celebration of the body that carries each of us as a divine Self. It is an exploration, a reconnection to that spark each and every time we make space for ourselves on our mat. Like how social patterning puts up blinders for us to prevent us from considering the food on our plate, the inertia of such a fast-paced world can tear us away from the beautiful individual within. Astrology allows for us to mentally inquire about who it is we are as a fractal of the universe, and the asana practice of yoga is a playground to ebb and flow through that. There is not only a celebration of our personal individuality happening on the mat. There is individuality in every movement, every breath. No matter how hard we try to run, or no matter how painful it is to surrender to presence, we cannot escape reuniting with our personal truth as we practice asana.