Wednesday, November 24, 2010

what's the world coming to?

So I heard on NPR that the day after Thanksgiving, or what is known as Black Friday, is also the "National Day of Listening". On this day, we are encouraged to invite someone to talk for an hour, while we listen.

I understand this is well-intentioned, but really?

We actually need an authority (whatever or whoever that may be) to tell us to listen to someone? We actually need to mark this day on the calendar? So what do we do on the other 364 days?

Just throwing my question out there.

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gather and give thanks

"I have always been curious about what joins people together than what separates them." - Yo-Yo Ma, cellist

Wishing everyone time to gather with loved ones and feel gratitude for life's many blessings.

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

mind on overdrive: vata imbalance

It happened again... I could not turn my thoughts off last night, despite often-used strategies of listmaking, breathing exercises, putting my legs up the wall, etc. Finally at 2 or so in the morning I felt a grumbling in my stomach, and went to the kitchen for a mug of almond milk. Went back into my bedroom, and I did the worst thing of all: I turned on my computer.

Well, I figured that if I was going to be up, I might as well do something. So I did two things: looked at recipes, and read about Ayurveda. The first thing led me to this wild rice recipe, and to this other recipe for wild rice rissoles (trust the French to make everything sound elegant) and to another recipe for raisin and spice squares. Mmmm.... fall cooking.

But back to Ayurveda. I've been reading quite a bit (the little I can do in my minimal spare time) to inform myself about my current state of imbalance. My search led me to take this dosha quiz. Your dosha is your mind-body state. You may have a clear dominant dosha, or a combination. Your dosha can also change depending on your current life circumstances. There are three types: vata, pitta, and kapha. Take this quiz here to find out. It may or may not be as good as actually going to a trained Ayurveda specialist, but it was, after all, 2 in the morning.

And these were my results:

It's starting to make sense to me.

The only thing I completely disagree with is the part about appetite: "often miss meals." Not this vata. ;-)

Most of it sounds pretty accurate, I'd say... especially the qualities of a balanced vs imbalanced vata. On good days my creativity flows freely... on imbalanced days, overplanning, overthinking, insomnia and anxiety definitely kick in.

So now what? Ayurveda, being a holistic, integrative system, also recommends daily life choices that keep your dosha in balance: food choices, exercise choices, and other daily routines. For my dosha, warming foods were recommended (cooked grains or oatmeal with warming spices like cinnamon; chai with cardamom, cloves, ginger, cinnamon; warm soups and stews.... all of which I love). Grounding exercise choices, such as yoga and moderate walking, were also recommended. Balancing poses, especially, provide a feeling of integration from the top of head, all the way through the body, and down to the feet. No wonder I love dancer pose and balancing sequences. More below from the website:

Needless to say, all of the above would be beneficial for anybody, I think.

This is certainly just the tip of the iceberg... there's so much more to learn. It definitely makes for interesting reading at 2 in the morning.

Thoughts on Ayurveda?

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

"push and yield"

An excerpt from one of my favorite yoga books:

"Every yoga posture involves a 'push' and a 'yield'. Pushing is an active force that moves the body further and deeper into the posture, gently exploring areas of tightness. Yielding is a passive force with which you wait and listen to the moment-to-moment feedback from your body; it's a letting go of resistance that allows the active force to be successful without being aggressive. The pushing and yielding elements occur simultaneously, as in a dance. Done properly, therefore, yoga is a matter of pushing and yielding, of 'doing' and 'not-doing,' at the same time."

- Erich Schiffman, Yoga: The Spirit and Practice of Moving Into Stillness, p. 48

Isn't this how we should live life? To aspire for balance through pushing and yielding. We need that "push" to challenge ourselves, but we also need to know when to "yield" and let go of control.

More to learn. So much to learn.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

fall recipe: "white" chili

I'm taking a break from my regular musings on balance and stress relief, in favor of sharing a new recipe!

Fall always makes me think of chili. But after 2 rounds of the regular "red" vegetarian chili -- tomato-based stew with red kidney beans and peppers -- I felt a need to experiment and try new combinations. Hence, this "white" chili.


Hearty Vegetarian White Chili

olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 medium carrots, chopped to small pieces
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground oregano
2 tsp chili powder, or more or less to taste... I went with "more"
2 tbsp flour
a slosh of white wine... 1/4 - 1/2 cup maybe?
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed (I know... I used canned. Didn't plan ahead and soak dry chickpeas. You can also use cannellini beans or other white beans)
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1/2 cup bulgur (medium or coarse), rinsed and drained
1/2 - 1 bunch of greens of your choice, chopped or torn to bite-size pieces (I am loving Swiss chard and collard greens for this recipe. For hearty stews I prefer chard or collards over spinach... spinach tends to wilt down to almost nothing)
a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
salt and pepper
chopped cilantro* (or parsley if you prefer)

Heat olive oil in a Le Creuset (I wish!) big, heavy-bottomed soup pot. Add the onions and season with 1 tsp of salt - chefs on TV say to season as you go or season every layer, and it does make a difference so you don't add a ton of salt at the end that doesn't get fully absorbed by the ingredients anyway. Of course, start with just a small pinch of salt each time you season so that you don't risk over-salting the dish. The salt also helps cook the onion by drawing the moisture out. (Thanks, Ina Garten)

Add the carrots and saute until crisp-tender. The carrots help add natural sweetness to the stew to balance out the warm spices. Add the garlic and the spices (cumin, chili powder, and oregano). Adding the spices at this point in the cooking process toasts them and brings out their flavor. Add the flour and cook for a minute or so to cook off the "raw" flour flavor. The flour will help thicken the stew later. Add a good slosh of white wine to deglaze the pot and scrape the browned bits on the bottom with a wooden spoon. You want those browned bits -- that's where the flavor is!

Pour in the broth. It will look like a LOT of liquid, but don't worry, it will get reduced down. Add the chickpeas (or white beans). Let it come to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Once it's boiling, add the bulgur. The bulgur will also absorb some of the liquid. It also adds texture and makes the stew more hearty. Add the crushed red pepper flakes. Start with a small pinch, as the flavor gets concentrated during the simmering. Stir in the greens. It will look like a whole lot of greens, but it will wilt down as the stew cooks.

Let it simmer until it thickens and until it reaches your desired consistency. You can add more broth or water if too much got absorbed or reduced while cooking. Season with salt and pepper. Add a generous amount of chopped cilantro. If you're one of those people who think that cilantro tastes like soap, use parsley instead. (But I would argue that really fresh cilantro should NOT taste like soap. Like the little cilantro I had growing this spring/summer. Best ever.)

You can also sprinkle some grated cheese on top if you like, but I did without it. And if you're like me and really like cilantro, sprinkle a little more cilantro on top of each serving.

This was a great one-pot meal, and one-bowl meal. It was colorful, flavorful, and healthy!  I wish I could take a photo, but I left Nick (my Nikon camera) at A's house last weekend. Gasp!

This makes a LOT of stew for one person... I typically let it cool a little, then portion it out into reused glass jars for freezing (I find that peanut butter glass jars are perfect for this). Make sure you leave enough room below the lid of the jar as the liquid will expand when frozen. So, instead of eating this same dish for 5 days straight, you can enjoy it another day, after enough time has passed for you to miss it. I have to say I love my homemade "frozen dinners". I usually have 3 or 4 different kinds of homemade soups or stews that I can choose from in the freezer, because I always make a big batch each time I cook to save time and energy. A few hours before dinner I take the jar of frozen soup/stew and immerse it in a container of water to thaw out.

* A note on cilantro, other fresh herbs, and greens... I found that taking a few extra steps in kitchen prepping keeps delicate herbs and soft greens fresher longer. Have you had herbs like parsley or cilantro just wilt down and get all browned, smelly, and nasty in those supermarket plastic produce bags in your refrigerator? Ugh. Waste of $ and yummy goodness! For those who know me, you know there's not a lot that I hate but I do hate wasting food. Must be my grandmother's ways...but anway, here's what I do:
When I buy packaged salads (not the ones in the soft plastic bags, but in the stiff clamshell plastic containers or those new compostable "plastic" containers), I wash and keep those containers to save for storing greens and herbs. When I get home from the store, I take the herbs out of the mesh/cloth/plastic (whatever you use) produce bags, and sort out and discard the already-wilted stems and leaves as these will make the good, fresh ones wilt faster. I line the containers with a layer of paper towel, then place the herbs into the lined containers. The paper towel absorbs the extra moisture. I also loosen the bunch a little bit to let air circulate - don't bunch it up again in the rubber band or twist-tie it comes in! When it's time to use the herbs, wash only what you need and store the rest. I know some people also store herbs in a glass of water in the refrigerator but I found that a bit difficult to do with big bunches like parsley and cilantro.

I do the same with greens like Swiss chard, kale, and collard greens. These greens stand up a bit more to washing, so I wash them, let them dry well, discard any tough stems or stalks, and chop/tear the leaves into big pieces - as store-bought chard can be supersized (which makes me a little suspicious), and they won't fit into the salad containers.  That way when I'm ready to use them in a dish, all the prepping has been done, and all I have to do is throw them into the skillet or pot and cook away.

In short... those plastic produce bags are the enemy of fresh greens in your refrigerator! For those of you who grow your own greens or are living in states that are still warm enough to have farmer's markets... I envy you. I'm sure you don't have this issue.

Ok... get cooking! Enjoy :)

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Friday, November 12, 2010

"do it all, do it well"?

"Do it all. Do it well."

I've been struggling with this idea for a while now.

Such is the culture of work. Productivity. Performance.

But something has to give, right?

Can one really do it all and do all of them equally well?

For example: The supermom with 2 kids, a successful, fulfilling career, and time to prepare delicious, healthy meals for the family AND volunteer at her children's school activities AND participate in community life/social life AND take care of herself.

Really? Is this an accurate, realistic picture?

I'm sure there are those who do seem like they can do it all and do all of them well. But when it comes down to it, the question is... does the above person sleep??? Does the above person really take care of herself? Not just physically, but mentally and emotionally? If so, I'd love to know how these people do it. And maybe package it all up in a bottle.

I just had a productive conversation this morning and I was told that I should give myself a range for my performance. If let's say the best performance is a 10, see if I can be ok with a range of 9-10, and if I can be ok with moving in that range. It's not setting myself up for a 10 but only performing at 2 or 3, which is different. But I need to see if I can be comfortable in the range of 9-10 (or maybe 8-10, as was the suggestion...).

Because a range of 9-10 (or whatever I decide my range is) will give me room to breathe.

Hmm. Something to think about.

It's the same in an asana practice, isn't it? We challenge our bodies and minds to try certain poses and achieve that delicious stretch... but the challenge should be just enough that we can still breathe freely and comfortably, stretch safely without harming ourselves,  and have a sense of openness and lightness in our bodies. We give ourselves a range - room to have just enough challenge, but also enough comfort and steadiness in the breath. Same thing.

So I need to set a range for myself. A range that is still forgiving, a range that says, yes my work is good enough. A range that gives me space to breathe.... and space to enjoy the deliciousness of the challenge while still taking care of myself.

And maybe even a chance to sleep soundly at night.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

what's your story?

The body holds stories.

The body holds memories. Just as it holds tension. The aches and pains are related to certain experiences, whether it's an injury, a stressful experience, or an important event. Where you feel the tension, tightness, or aches may change, depending on where you are right now. On your story at this moment. Our bodies hold stories, and we have to listen.

I realized, that in addition to my aches and pains in my lower back (from not knowing how to sit properly - thanks to chairs that are almost always oversized for my... ahem... petite stature), hips (from sitting A LOT at the computer for work and school), and shoulders (ditto), I also tend to hold tension in my jaw. Not good.

A little TMI: My dentist, on my last visit a month or so ago, said, "I see you've been grinding your teeth at night." She asked me if I wake up with a sore jaw and/or a headache. Or if I subconsciously tighten my jaw when I'm concentrating or when I'm tense. I told her I never paid attention to that.

(And since I AM concentrating right this second I had to draw attention to my jaw just to make sure it's relaxed.)

Now that I'm trying to be more aware, I realize that yes I do sometimes wake up with a sore jaw and a headache. And yes I tend to tighten my jaw when I'm focusing, or when under stress. The body doesn't lie.

And I have to admit, that for someone who LOVES movement - from years of gymnastics, dance, swimming, yoga, etc... I don't always have the most keen sense of body awareness when I'm not doing any of the above activities.

Which tells me... that I still have so much to learn. About self-awareness. Self-monitoring. Stress management. Easing physical tension as a way to ease mental and emotional tension. 

During a yoga practice, instructors would usually remind people to relax the jaw during savasana. Or any other pose. To relax the forehead and the space between the eyebrows. To relax the facial muscles even while in a challenging pose. To just breathe. It's something I have said myself in classes I have taught before, and it's something that I'm still reminding myself to do outside of an asana practice. To be self-aware in other areas of my life. It is a challenge, given that my story at this moment (and for the next couple of years) is one of intense pressure. Deadlines. Performance. Which makes it all the more important, so I can get through this current stage in my life with some degree of self-care and well-being.

So what's your story? What story are your muscles and bones telling you? Are you a writer with wrist issues? A chef on your feet all day? Does your back beg to be massaged after a day of lifting heavy items? Or does your heart feel heavy after listening to other people and helping them work through their problems?

What story are you holding in your body? Where in your body do you feel blocked? And how do you listen to your body?

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Monday, November 8, 2010

help is on the way...

... if we know when to ask.

I'm afraid to write about this topic here on the blog, but I have some thoughts swirling around in my head.

Last night, help came in the form of melatonin. I know... I try not to just pop pills left and right, in favor of more "natural" solutions. But after many days of restless nights and interrupted sleep, my body just really, desperately needed a good night's rest.

Especially after traveling... my trip to California was absolutely wonderful but as always, I experienced my "pre-travel anxiety", in which I go over my mental lists and notes in my head about what I have to do, things I shouldn't forget, etc, etc.... and as a result I toss and turn for hours. And this is after even making physical lists with a paper and pencil. I'm not quite sure why I experience this. I've been traveling since I was little, and I think I should be used to it... but no. The night before I flew out, I tried every trick I had: breathing exercises, mantra meditation, a few down dogs and child's poses, legs up the wall... but I could not, for the life of me, quiet my mind. It may have to do with the fact that this trip wasn't exclusively a "for-pleasure" trip, but it was for a conference presentation with a little pleasure and fun squeezed in. So I had a lot to think about - to remember this and that and the other thing regarding my conference presentation. Anyway, the night before I flew out, I ended up getting only ONE HOUR of sleep. And I had to wake up at 5 am for a 7:30 am flight.

So after I got back, I decided to take 500 mcg of melatonin. And it was the best sleep I've had in A REALLY LONG TIME.

So am I going to take this every night now? I don't think so. But I realize that it's there, when I need just a little extra help. And that is ok.

Does this make me less of a yogi? Do practitioners of yoga always need to have it all together? Inner peace, inner strength, inner ____ ? 100% unshakeable calm, 24/7/365?

I think not. I find strength in knowing that I can accept help. Whether it's in the form of prayer, intentions, mantras, meditation, asanas, stress-cooking, or a conversation with a friend. Or a pill, for that matter. Because the truth is, at that moment in time, taking it helped me so that I had enough quality rest to fulfill my obligations, my purpose, at least a portion of my life's work the next day.

And that's a good thing.

*This is not, by any means, medical advice of any sort.*

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

water + sunshine = PURE JOY

Happy to be back home, but still dreaming of the warm sun, relaxing swims under a vivid blue sky, and the healing powers of water...

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Thursday, November 4, 2010

much needed space

... for morning sun salutations.

I'm in California for a conference, and thankfully I packed my mat. Mornings like these are made for an asana practice.

Isn't the sunlight glorious?

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