Sunday, November 25, 2007
Thursday, November 22, 2007
Every day should be Thanksgiving Day. And no, not just for the food... but for the people in our lives who make us laugh, surround us with positive energy, and stand by us during the best and worst of times, and everywhere in between. For adventures and quiet moments. For dreams fulfilled and yet-to-be-fulfilled.
Thank you, all, for making my life full.
As each day comes to us refreshed and anew, so does my gratitude renew itself daily. The breaking of the sun over the horizon is my grateful heart dawning upon a blessed world. ~Adabella Radici
(my adorable nephews, Lorenzo and Martin - photo from Cathy)
Sunday, November 18, 2007
Chocolate, of course, is an all-season thing. So here's a recipe that gives chocolate an autumn spin:
Chocolate Pumpkin Spice Cake
This is my "veganized" version, adapted from The Bittersweet World of Chocolate: Supporting Fair Trade
3/4 cup non-dairy, non-hydrogenated margarine (Earth Balance is great for this)
1 cup turbinado sugar
1 cup pureed pumpkin
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
egg replacer, equivalent of 2 eggs (I use Ener-G egg replacer; follow instructions on box)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
1 1/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (great for added fiber!) or unbleached flour
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1/2 cup grain-sweetened carob chips (you can also use semisweet chocolate chips if you're ok with dairy ingredients)
1. Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour a loaf pan, or line with unbleached parchment paper.
2. Melt the margarine gently in a pan. Remove from heat.
3. Mix in the sugar, pumpkin, vanilla, and egg replacer. Sift in the baking powder and baking soda gradually, stirring to prevent lumps.
4. Stir in the cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, and salt. Sift in the flour and cocoa; mix well. Then fold in the nuts and carob (or chocolate) chips.
5. Pour into the prepared pan. Smooth the top and bake for 45 minutes. Cool in the pan on a rack for 10 minutes, and then invert into a plate. Allow to cool on the rack.
Saturday, November 17, 2007
A few days ago I looked at my calendar and realized, I did NOT overbook myself this weekend! So it will be a pretty quiet, and hopefully relaxing two days. Over the past several weeks (or maybe months!) I've gotten so caught up in schedules and commitments, places to go to, people to see, art shows and exhibits to visit, and workshops to attend -- which are all really fun anyway. And on top of that, papers to write and chapters and articles to read for school After coming down with a cold, I realize my body is telling me, "SLOW DOWN."
I've come to LOVE yin yoga. I have to admit, at first it took some getting used to, with my multi-tasking, Energizer-bunny personality. Yin yoga was quite a departure from the more aerobic nature of vinyasa and power yoga. In yin yoga, restorative stretches are held passively for at least 3 minutes or so. Instead of actively engaging the muscles, we try to relax the muscles as much as possible in order to stretch the deeper, connective tissues, especially around the joints. A lot of the yin yoga stretches focus on the lower back and the hips, where there is a LOT of connective tissue. Keeping the connective tissue flexible through these long stretches will help slow down the hunching and stiffness as we age, as the connective tissues "dry up".
Here are some of my favorite yin stretches:
seal (also called cobra in hatha yoga): a gentle back bend
sleeping swan (also called pigeon): great for opening the hips
shoelace: a nice alternative to sleeping swan, if hips feel extra tight
butterfly: great for stretching and decompressing the spine, especially the lower back
reclining twist: great for releasing toxins, improving digestion and elimination (twisting positions "massage" the internal organs in the abdominal area -- imagine wringing out toxins from your body as you twist!)
and of course, the best one of all: savasana
For more information on yin stretches, see www.yinyoga.com.
And here's a tip that helped me become more patient while holding a yin stretch: choose a nice relaxing CD, and hold the pose for the length of the song--most songs are at least 3 minutes anyway. In between songs, take a moment to move around a little. You'll feel a bit achy after a yin stretch, after being still for several minutes. This achy feeling should go away though.
Remember, in a yin stretch (or any stretch for that matter), you don't want to be in pain. You want to stretch deeply enough to feel that you ARE stretching, but not too deeply that it becomes too intense and you can't be comfortable in it.
With the busy holiday season fast approaching, find time to slow down, breathe, and restore your body, mind, and soul with some yin yoga!
photo taken by Dad, August 2006, Saco River, New Hampshire
Today a new sun rises for me,
everything lives, everything is animated,
everything speaks to me of my passion,
everything invites me to cherish it.
-Anne De Lenclos
I don't know about you, but I get excited about Saturday mornings... It's the beginning of a promising, fun-filled weekend. Saturday morning is for allowing the morning sunshine to awaken me leisurely, and not stumbling to hit the snooze button of my alarm clock. I think about what I can do to unwind and regroup after a busy week -- taking long walks, practicing yoga, baking, meeting friends for coffee. I try to do at least one thing (or two or three) I'm passionate about, to renew my energy. I think that's why I find my weekend walks to be so sacred -- I'm not in a rush to finish a certain number of miles by a certain time, unlike some weekday walks in which all I can spare is 30 minutes. And in some of those weekday walks, I'm not really walking sometimes. I'm thinking about a million different things, multi-tasker that I am. On weekends though, I just walk, breathing in the energy of the earth around me. And truly, the earth has so much to offer this time of year -- the leaves changing color, the crisp, cool air... I can't help but feel incredibly blessed.
So this weekend, find something you are passionate about. Find something that will make you feel refreshed and re-energized, and do it. Whether it's for half an hour, an hour, or two... do nothing else but that one thing. "Everything invites [you] to cherish it."
photo taken by Mom, November 2006, Alms Park, Cincinnati
Wednesday, November 14, 2007
I love food. Especially world food. I have had the good fortune of meeting wonderful people from different parts of the world -- Turkey, India, Lebanon, Brazil, etc -- and they all willingly share their love of food, culinary expertise, and pride in their culture. While I was living on the university campus, potluck dinners took on a new meaning. I reveled in the international flavors reminiscent of the centuries-ago spice trade. Each time I visited one of my friends, there would almost always be some amaaazing home-cooked dish in the kitchen, whatever time of day.
So you can imagine my delight when I saw this book: Global Vegetarian Cooking: Quick and Easy Recipes From Around the World (by Troth Wells) at Ten Thousand Villages, a gem of a store in O'Bryonville, Cincinnati. With recipes such as Muhamara (a Turkish dip), Harira (a Moroccan bean stew), Gibneh (an Egyptian pate) and Pilao (an Indian rice dish), I could not put the book down. The photos were equally lovely -- the photographer captured not just the food of the country, but the country's beautiful people as well.
The only thing that saddened me was that there were no recipes from the Philippines. :-( Well, hopefully there will be a 2nd edition. Hmmmm..... maybe I should write to the author? Filipino cuisine is a mixture of Spanish and Chinese heritage, combined with creativity and necessity to suit our appetites, as well as a "waste not, want not" attitude. Another interesting bit of trivia: we like to eat 5 or 6 times a day. Anyway, I started to make a mental list of Filipino vegetarian dishes.
- lumpia (similar to Chinese spring rolls)
- lumpiang ubod (vegetables in a crepe-like wrapper with a sweet, salty, sour, peanutty dipping sauce)
- adobong kangkong (sauteed garlicky leafy greens)
- white bean stew (my late grandpa says that the recipe was from his mother or grandmother-- the original Spanish-style recipe has pork and ham bones, but I've adapted it and made it vegetarian. My great great grandmother must be turning in her grave, bless her heart)
- arorosep (my dad's favorite side dish - a cold salad of seaweed, tomatoes, and onions. I love seaweed, but even this is an acquired taste for me)
Ooooh and let's not forget the sweets:
- turon: sweetened plantains and langka wrapped in a wonton-like wrapper, fried to a crisp with bits of caramelized sugar all around
- suman: sticky rice steamed with coconut milk, ginger, and sugar, wrapped in banana leaves. My grandma used to make the best suman. It's a labor intensive dish, which sadly I have not learned to make.
These have eggs and dairy, so they are not strictly vegetarian, but they are SO good.
- polvoron: like a crumbly shortbread cookie. My mom makes the best polvoron, and it's one of the special treats I get when she comes to visit. She would make a big batch and painstakingly mold and wrap each little cookie.
- bibingka: a cake made with rice flour, cooked on banana leaves over hot coals, with shredded coconut, muscovado sugar, and kesong puti -- a local cheese, a cross between goat cheese and feta cheese, but in my opinion, a cheese category in its own right
To complete the picture, imagine eating all of the above by the ocean, on large banana leaves that do double duty as a tablecloth and plates (think eco-friendly, disposable but biodegradable china) spread out on a long table, the sea breeze, and a big noisy family.
Ok, I'm homesick now....
Anyway, back to my point about the book: a must read for foodies!
Sunday, November 4, 2007
"This tree is my constant mindfulness companion, mirroring to me how present and open I am to the freshness of the moment." - Mark Coleman, Awake in the Wild: Mindfulness in Nature as a Path to Self-Discovery, 2006
May the light of love and devotion shine brightly in your hearts.
May the light of understanding shine in your minds.
May the light of harmony glow in your home.
May the light of service shine forth ceaselessly from your hands.
May the light of peace emanate from your being.
May your presence light the lamps of love and peace wherever you go.
-Diwali blessing by Swami Chidanand Saraswati (Muniji)
I thought this would be timely, since this weekend marks the celebration of the Diwali festival. It is also called the Festival of Lights, and one of the traditions is to light lamps as a sign of celebration and hope for humankind.
Have a great week!
Veganism, however, goes beyond food. Here's the Wikipedia definition:
"Veganism (also strict or pure vegetarianism) is a philosophy and lifestyle that seeks to exclude the use of animal derived products for food, clothing, or any other purpose. Vegans do not use or consume animal products of any kind. The most popular reasons for becoming a vegan are ethical commitment or moral convictions concerning animal rights, the environment, or human health, and spiritual or religious concerns. Of particular concern are the practices involved in factory farming and animal testing, and the intensive use of land and other resources required for animal farming."
Aside from talking about this philosophy within the context of health and the environment, Will Tuttle also framed the idea of veganism with the larger concept of spirituality, particularly in respecting the interconnectedness of all life on the planet and including all living beings in our sphere of kindness. He asserts (and this is probably an oversimplified interpretation) that peace and the sustainability of life, largely depends on our choices, especially our food. His ideas, grounded in extensive research on anthropology, the great religions, and culture, are quite powerful, and I can't even begin to repeat all of them yet. I'm still in the stage of processing everything. But this seems to be why my attempts at trying to go vegan fell through... I was not (and admittedly, still am not) in that place yet spiritually.
Spirituality is a journey, after all... it's based on experience, and the reflections, insights, and growth that results from it. I've gone on spiritual retreats in the past and experienced that "post-retreat high" that can be so common after a powerful experience... and along with that "high", feeling that I'm a completely different person and can change the world. But that "high" diminishes. Because it is unrealistic to expect a 180-degree change within a day. Meaningful change is gradual. Real change comes from learning, questioning, understanding, and accepting... then translating that into action.
But going back to the idea of "interconnectedness"...
The word "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root word yuj, which means "to yoke" or "to join". Yoga is about union -- union with our true self, union with others and all life, and union with the divine. I'm still wrapping my brain around these concepts, because they can be interpreted on so many levels.
One on level, this sense of union brings about respect and compassion for all life. And I think this can be manifested in various ways, just depending on each person. Each of us carves out his or her own path, and there are different paths to peace. The question is, which path is the most meaningful to me? Which path do I believe in? It's always hard thinking in terms of absolutes, in terms of black and white. Life always comes in shades of gray. Thinking in terms of absolutes makes me feel stuck sometimes. Right now, I'm in a place where I think, "do whatever you can -- a little is better than nothing." As juvenile as that may sound. Maybe I'm letting myself off the hook too easily. But I think a good place to start is by being conscious of the kinds of choices I make on a daily basis.
Before I ramble too much (if I haven't already), I thought I'd post this quote, since today it really speaks to me about this concept of union and our true nature as interconnected beings:
“I had the sense that all things, the sand, the sea, the stars, the night, and I were one lung through which all of life breathed. Not only was I aware of a vast rhythm enveloping all, but I was part of it and it was part of me.” - Howard Thurman
Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Juggling full-time work, part-time grad studies, and part-time yoga instruction (and walking/running/cooking/baking/taking pictures somewhere in between), has left little time for "down-time". Doing my best not to have all my energy sapped by all these commitments, many times it takes another person's perspective to see things in a new light and regain a sense of centeredness.
I turned on my PC, intending to edit my research paper for school, and found that I received this beautiful collage made by Camille, my friend for nearly two decades and counting, and uber-creative writer/producer.
And again, I am reminded... to hit the "pause" button even for just a few minutes. To be thankful for the little things... and to see the world with a sense of wonder, just like my nephew Lorenzo in the picture, chasing bubbles. Joyful and 100% in-the-moment.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
I love Sunday mornings. It's my "do whatever I want to do" time, because it's not officially Monday yet (for me, the transition to Monday happens at 4 pm on Sunday).
One of the things that fall under "do whatever I want to do" is a long walk. This morning, I made my walk a moving meditation. It was such a perfect day. Sixty-some degrees, clear blue skies, sunny, cool, crisp morning air. Aaaaah. I told myself, "Be present". And as I walked, I focused my awareness on the air entering my body as I inhaled, and leaving my body as I exhaled... I paid attention to my steps on the pavement and the sound of leaves under my feet. I said some prayers. I paid attention to the trees along the way, some in transition towards autumn, but not quite there yet. I basked in the warm sunlight and the cool breeze on my face.
Needless to say, I was deliriously happy and walked with a spring in my step.
While power yoga is a very challenging style of yoga, one thing to take from his practice is if you can remain calm and peaceful during a challenging yoga pose, then hopefully you can carry that sense of calm when faced with a crisis or a stressful situation. And that if you can be patient with yourself while working on a pose, then perhaps you can do the same when someone cuts you off while driving, while waiting in line at a checkout counter even if the clerk takes almost forever. And really, this is what yoga is about... it's not about who can get themselves into a pose like a human pretzel. Yoga does not end once you step off your mat. It's about learning to release judgment and unnecessary negative energy, towards yourself and others. The world has too much of that already. It's about creating and spreading joy and positive energy through our thoughts, words, and actions.
My friend/running mate/fellow yogini Jen says that whenever we feel like we are going to say something negative to someone or about someone, start by asking ourselves these three questions:
Is it kind?
Is it true?
Is it necessary?
In a similar vein, when a stranger says something that could potentially be offensive, I try to ask myself, "Why does that bother me?" Many times, when I think about it, it really doesn't... and so I've gradually learned to preserve my energy for other purposes, instead of being angry about something that really does not matter in the larger scheme of things.
I have to say, I am a fan of fortune cookies. I don't really eat them, but sometimes I get pretty powerful and inspiring quotes from those tiny strips of paper. Here's one:
"Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves."
Joy and light to all!
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Bryan Kest has a different, but very straightforward style in his teaching. One of his statements that stayed with me is:
"Yoga does not want to change you because it does not come from the perspective that there is anything wrong with you in the first place. All yoga wants to do is to take care of you."
On Saturday morning, I sat down on my mat in preparation for yoga and meditation. As I was breathing and finding my place of stillness, I thought, "Wherever I am now is where I need to be. And really, I'm ok."
I taught 3 classes in a row on Saturday, and had a great morning! One of the things I tried to emphasize yesterday in my teaching was being kind to yourself and being patient with yourself. I find that many times it is easier to be compassionate towards others, but not to myself. Sometimes we are our own worst critics. I think that should be balanced with being our own best cheerleaders.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Tuesday, October 16, 2007
Breath control, or pranayama, is such an important focus in yoga. In a yoga class, or even in a yoga instructional DVD, you'll hear the instructor say "find your breath," "even out your breath", "move with the breath," "breathe into your abdomen" and so forth. Breath awareness and control has a whole lot of benefits, besides the obvious fact that we can't do without breathing. But how often do we really pay attention to it?
Physically, abdominal breathing forces air slowly into the base of the lungs. This, in turn, stretches the diaphragm, which sits at the base of the lungs. There are nerves attached to the diaphragm that trigger the body's natural relaxation response. Isn't the human body amazing?
But enough of the anatomy lesson for now. Paying attention to your breathing is such a great way to develop self-awareness and techniques for stress relief. The best part is, you can do it anytime, you don't need expensive equipment, and even if you can only carve out 5 or 10 minutes out of your day, that's a great way to start! While driving, waiting in line, or when an experience triggers an angry reaction... all of these are opportunities to ask yourself, how am I breathing right now? Is my breathing choppy? Am I breathing only through the upper part of the chest or all the way into the lungs and abdomen? Are my shoulders hunched, or are they relaxed away from my ears?
If you can, sit down and close your eyes for a moment... then just watch and observe the breath. You don't have to make efforts to control it yet. Just observe. And then start to consciously breathe in through your nostrils, feeling the collarbones expand and the chest rise, feeling the abdomen expand. Then exhale, letting your abdomen gently contract. If you want to, you can even place your hands on your ribcage to help you become aware of these movements. (If you've ever watched how a baby breathes while sleeping, you'll know what I mean.) Do this as many times as you need to... and enjoy the breath.
On the more spiritual side, you can even think of a word or thought that means something to you... whether it's peace, joy, love, or whatever you find meaningful in that particular moment. You can inhale and think of the word "peace", and then exhale, "love". Remember that whatever you concentrate on expands... whatever you focus your mind on has power. This is also a great way to start meditating -- focusing the mind on breathing and thoughts such as those mentioned (or whatever thought/ideal is important to you) can help drown out external distractions. And don't worry if you get distracted from time to time... that is why it is called a yoga practice or a meditation practice. And again, even if you can only find 5 or 10 minutes out of your day to sit and quiet the mind, you are practicing yoga! Yoga is not just about whether you can twist your body into a pretzel.
I found this poem on a poster at my yoga instructor's studio. It really speaks to me about setting a personal intention for my yoga practice, and I just had to jot it down and share it here.
Breathing in, I feel gratitude;
breathing out I give thanks.
Breathing in, I invite kindness;
breathing out I am kind.
Breathing in I feel loved;
breathing out I offer love.
Breathing in I know compassion;
breathing out I am compassion.
Breathing in I feel joy;
breathing out I celebrate.
Breathing in I am still;
breathing out I am at peace.
photo taken by Jen, summer 2006, Eden Park, Cincinnati
Monday, October 15, 2007
Ok, so it's more or less "official" now... I will be teaching a class every Thursday night in the studio Gratitude in Motion. It's going to be MY class! I'm getting excited! This is a big step forward for me, to actually commit to teaching a regular class at a studio... not just teaching groups of friends at home or at a park, or "subbing" for my fellow yoga teachers when they can't teach (which is what I've been doing for the past several weeks).
I'm going to give it a shot starting on October 25th until the end of the year, and then play it by ear in January. Hopefully I'll be able to continue teaching, but it will depend on my class schedule at U.C.
Just imagine... stepping into the studio in whatever state you're in (stressed? rushed? frazzled?), unrolling your mat, sitting down and getting centered, then finding your breath... and moving to your own breath, exploring your own range of motion, finding what poses are right for you, stretching to relieve stress, finding joy in your movement, and unwinding with a final relaxation at the end... all to relaxing music, candles, and the fragrance of essential oils. Aaaaaah. I know THIS is how I want to spend my evening at the end of my busiest workday!
Hope to see you on Thursdays at 6:30, at Gratitude in Motion!
photo taken by my friend & fellow yogini Jen, at Eden Park, Cincinnati
Sunday, October 14, 2007
by Lisa Meece
An ongoing list...in no particular order
- my family: mom, dad, grandparents, 3 brothers, 3 sisters-in-law, and 2 nephews
adoptive families (you know who you are!)
- warm sunlight on my face
- being in the water
- pristine white sand beaches (especially in the Philippines!)
- sand between my toes
- a child's hearty giggle
- childhood memories of home
- family dinners in our crowded dining room table
- conversations that last for hours
- my nephews, Martin and Lorenzo, and future nephews and nieces - (hint, hint!)
- childhood friends and new friends
- being in nature
- an "AHA!" moment
- having coffee and endless conversations with an old friend
- bumping into a long-lost friend
- getting lost and stumbling upon an interesting place
- capturing a moment in a photograph
- dark chocolate
- quirky coffee shops
- tea houses, especially this one that sells a loose green tea called "Sunburst" - what a joyful name!
- reading old letters
- lazy afternoons
- music for yoga
- getting lost in a good book
- finding how you "click" with a person you just met
- the smell of my mom's hot Spanish chocolate while it's simmering on the stove
- crying during a movie (or even a TV ad)
- a clear blue sky
- pretty clouds
- a school of fish underwater
- sunrises and sunsets
- fall colors
- the perfect symmetry of a snowflake
- the indescribable green of baby leaves in the spring
- creating a new dish by playing around in the kitchen
- doing sirsasana (headstand) for the first time
- the blissful savasana at the end of a yoga practice
- having wine and candles at dinner, even if on my own
- taking a nap in a hammock
- laying on the grass
- playing with kids
- yellow labs and golden retrievers
- my job (yes, really!)
- belly laughs
- farmers' markets
- pleasant surprises
- weekend trips
- leisurely Sunday brunch
- morning sunshine
- a mind-emptying, meditative swim
- children's books
- doing something for the first time
- inspirational reading
- fulfilling a dream
- dreaming some more
Living joyfully does not necessarily mean numbing ourselves to pain... living joyfully comes from opening ourselves to experience and allowing ourselves to feel the way we feel... and then, by knowing and appreciating the difference, appreciating the lessons learned.
Anandani comes from the Hindi language and means "joyful". I wanted to write about that sense of bliss that comes from a great yoga practice. The bliss that comes from being fully present, immersing yourself in an experience, on or off the mat. The bliss that comes from being fully authentic, spontaneous, and in the moment.
But I do know that life isn't always blissful. Life has its ups and downs, but somehow we pull through. We find that burst of strength, peace, and inspiration. Life is about the uplifting moments, the dark moments, and everything in between. And that's what yoga is, too. Yoga comes from the Sanskrit word which means "to yoke". "Union". In a physical yoga practice, we get into poses that give us a sense of peace. But we also get into poses that cause discomfort, physically and emotionally. It's important to explore and pay full attention to both, because both have something to teach. As we go through our yoga journey, we find that there is oneness in all of that. And in all these seemingly fragmented parts of our life's journey, we somehow find that union, and find bliss.
To be honest, I'm not quite sure how this blog will turn out. I'll just let it unfold...
Thank you for visiting, and I look forward to your comments!