Meatless Monday – Food Yoga

Meatless Monday 9:1

 

A few years ago, my sister and I started a health and wellness blog. One of the most popular series was our selection of Meatless Monday recipes. While our site is being revamped and improved I thought that the Meatless Monday tradition should live on.

Why Meatless Monday? When I first started Meatless Monday, I was still eating meat. I’m not here to judge you if you do. But there’s no fighting some facts about eating less meat. Going meatless at least one day a week is good for you and the planet.

 

From the Washington Post

Much of the focus on the climate impact of meat has been on cattle, and with good reason. Any way you slice it, beef has the highest environmental cost of just about any food going, and the cow’s digestive system is to blame. Ruminants — cows, sheep, goats and also yaks and giraffes — have a four-chambered stomach that digests plants by fermentation. A byproduct of that fermentation is methane, a greenhouse gas with some 20 times the heat-trapping ability of carbon. One cow’s annual output of methane — about 100 kilograms — is equivalent to the emissions generated by a car burning 235 gallons of gasoline.

 

If you aren’t a plant based person coming up with recipes may seem daunting- but friends that’s why I’m here. I’m committed to making this process easier, should you choose to give it a shot. Each week I’ll post one recipe. Service. Seva. We’re all in this together. And hey- don’t be shy!! If you have some great recipes and would like to share them- let me know! I’d be happy to do a guest post with a link to your blog or social media networks!

Let’s start our own food yoga movement!!!

 

Namaste y’all.

 

Check out the recipe below.

 

Kale and Snow Pea Sauté with Rainbow Quinoa Salad

 

I used:

  • large bunch of kale chopped
  • snow peas
  • garlic- 3 cloves chopped
  • scallions
  • juice from one lemon
  • medium onion- roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil (I used lemon infused)
  • quality balsamic
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Blanch veggies for two minutes
  2. Pat dry veggies
  3. Heat large skillet with olive oil
  4. First add garlic and onions- quickly cook until fragrant
  5. Add scallions and veggies
  6. Sauté for six minutes or so (a bit longer if you like your veggies cooked through more)

 

For the quinoa salad

(for 4 servings)

  • 2 cups cooked rainbow quinoa
  • medium red onion sliced and cut in halves
  • cherry tomatoes- cut in halves
  • feta (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon quality balsamic  vinegar

Toss all ingredients.

 

The veggies can be used as sandwich filling (think wrap with hummus- yum) or tossed with pasta!!

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Teaching Yoga- A Small Class Was a Blast

small class

August has been a lil funny. With no real dog days I think that most folks in Dirty Jerz have been hanging outside- enjoying the weather. I’ve been doing longer rides on my bike and have enjoyed taking Dakota on leisurely walks when typically in August, I’m keeping her inside to stay cool. Class attendance at the studios where I teach has been hit and miss. But rather than worry about small class sizes, I took the opportunity to play with my teaching style and make deeper connections with my students.

Small classes can create a mini-workshop atmosphere. Without breaking the pace or flow of a class, I’m able to make specific adjustments allowing students to have real aha moments in their body or mind. Last week during small hot class I found that one student asked a few questions about a few poses. It was a great moment for her and the other student who had the same question. But because it was just us- the conversation didn’t take long and we were able to get back to the meditative aspect of the asana practice.

After class both students thanked me profusely and said it was a treat to be able to get one-on-one time with a teacher.

It was a treat for me too.

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Teaching Yoga- Prison Yoga (Liberation Prison Yoga)

chain-1024x682

 

This is a teaching on a Tibetan word: shenpa. The usual translation of the word shenpa is attachment. If you were to look it up in a Tibetan dictionary, you would find that the definition was attachment. But the word “attachment” absolutely doesn’t get at what it is. Dzigar Kongtrul said not to use that translation because it’s incomplete, and it doesn’t touch the magnitude of shenpa and the effect that it has on us.

If I were translating shenpa it would be very hard to find a word, but I’m going to give you a few. One word might be hooked. How we get hooked.

Another synonym for shenpa might be that sticky feeling. In terms of last night’s analogy about having scabies, that itch that goes along with that and scratching it, shenpa is the itch and it’s the urge to scratch. So, urge is another word. The urge to smoke that cigarette, the urge to overeat, the urge to have one more drink, or whatever it is where your addiction is.

 

- Pema Chödrön

 

Hooked.  It’s been a part of my dharma talks in my studio classes. But when it came up as a topic for my Riker’s students, it felt sticky and tricky. A lot of the women in my class are at Riker’s for alleged drug related offenses. Because of my hammer personality I tend to see all problems as nails. However, I thought that approaching addiction from a unique angle may bring a new perspective. To add a little more tension to the mix, the B side of the dorms had their bunks searched in the middle of the night- so needless to say things were running a little…

When I got there- everyone was still cleaning up. The A side of the dorm didn’t have a teacher that day- so instead of sitting around waiting for the B side to get ready- I decided to do yoga with the A side as well.

 

Before our practice we talked about attachment and how the asana practice can get the mind ready to meditate. Taking it a step further we discussed how meditation can help us deal with that ‘hooked’ feeling or itch that Pema brilliantly articulates. I made our practice a bit tougher than usual, discussing throughout how when we work our bodies hard it helps clear the mind and is a distraction from looping thoughts or old stories that we tell ourselves. As a class we went through sun salutations, warriors, lunges, standing backbends, balancing poses and a brief standing meditation. By the time we hit the floor everyone (including me) had worked up a bit of a sweat.

 

I brought my copy of Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön and read a paragraph before guided meditation. One of the students translates for a friend who doesn’t speak any English and I found her voice soothing as I guided the class to a place of stillness.

 

When I finished a few students helped me take the mats and bolsters to the B side where I found some students ready and waiting. A few of them told me that about the search. They were ready for yoga. With this side feeling a little more tense we worked even harder. It was a good move. Every time we came to a balancing pose I reminded them not be attached- to the pose, to expectations…to anything. Everything changes because nothing is forever. We could have gotten down and dirty with the murky shit that surrounds addictive behavior- but they have group all day. In the moment it felt right to take a yogic approach to letting go.

 

And when we were in tree the Jane’s Addiction’s song Jane Says started playing in my head. In a brief moment I thought about addiction and some of the dumb things that I did in high school and college (and who are we kidding in my twenties)…it’s a roll of the dice. I was never addicted to drugs- but easily could have been. A one bad decision can lead to another. And when addiction gets hold all the great parenting and supportive home structures can’t save you. There are less differences that one might think between people inside jail and outside of jail.

When I’m there I focus on the things that make us the same.

When I am there- we are all yogis.

We are all the same.

 

By the time we were on our mats the room was breathing differently. It still felt a little tense but it was decidedly better than when we started. I used to think energy was woo-woo- but you can sense how a room feels and that’s not bs. The guided meditation helped to dissipate more tension. And by the time we ended, things felt better. I won’t say that things were great because I can’t imagine that a yoga class can take away the fear from a late night/early morning dorm search- but there were some smiles of relief and the question that never gets old. ‘You’ll be back next week?’

Definitely.

Namaste y’all.

 

 

 

 

 

Adventures in Teaching Yoga- Riker’s Island (Liberation Prison Yoga)

BKS

“True concentration is an unbroken thread of awareness.”
― B.K.S. IyengarLight on Life

 

The walk to the 800 bed dorm is now familiar and I begin to recognize guards, bus drivers and inmates who aren’t even in the dorms where I teach. Last week I was stopped by someone in the Beauty Shop (yes, there are some elements that do remind me of Orange is the New Black) but it was closed on this Tuesday morning. I chatted with Carmen and Ms. Gregory while waiting for Anneke and Maia.

We decided that the theme would be anxiety. This was great and I suspected that it would be a welcome discussion topic. As I rolled the yoga cart to the B side of the dorm, I was thrilled to see over 20 faces. Everyone was ready to go and prepared to write, asking for paper. My plan of writing before class is the way to go for now. I thought of my own morning and how I used to be more diligent about writing down some thoughts after meditating. (Note to self: practice what you are teaching, Oneika. And stop referring to yourself in the third person).

‘Anxiety is the topic for today,’ I stated. A collective round oh yeses was heard around the room. I knew this would be a perfect topic. We talked about the negative aspects of anxiety and I asked everyone how they knew when they were anxious. One student said the thought of living a clean and sober life made her anxious because she didn’t want to mess up again. This got a lot of nods from the group. A profound observation. I had already planned a class but thought I might switch things up after hearing that remark and seeing the nods of agreement.

Our writing  focused on the practical- what things could we do when we felt anxious? The answers were thorough. Lots of conversation today. I also like how students who may not speak up stay involved and follow the discussion.

At the top of our mats we held our bodies and breath, squeezing our faces and muscles tight. I had them hold the breath for quite a few seconds and then we let everything go. Smiles all around. Next, with arms everyone turned their palms so they faced each other. I asked them that imagine they were holding anxiety in their hands with a backbend we built some momentum and with an exhale we launched it forward to let it go. Folding forward into a deep bend we felt the back of the body open up.

As promised I delivered a longer meditation. Ms. Gregory mentioned after class that even women who were sitting and watching participated in the meditation. I’m already working on the meditation for next week.

This is yoga. And it’s liberating.

 

Namaste y’all.

 

 

Adventures in Yoga – Insomnia Strikes

sleepy neik

My favorite part of teaching and taking class is savasana.

This is because I tend to run on the anxious side of life.  This affects how I sleep. It got so rough at one point I went to the doctor and was handed a script, but taking sleeping pills was not how I wanted to live. It was also a sign that I needed a major life change. Two a half years and new career later, my sleep is a lot more solid. But my monkey mind still likes to explore the jungle of my brain. I credit yoga to my more peaceful slumber.

Turns out it not just in my head. A 2012 study conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School said that a regular yoga practice can help people who suffer from chronic insomnia. A similar study was conducted with 410 cancer patients. The results were similar. It seems that by doing yoga people can fall asleep easier, faster, wake up less often and have a more productive night’s sleep.

On the nights that I’m feeling a little antsy before bed, I’ve found that there two poses that help me chillax.

 

Reclining Goddess Pose

This is my favorite by far. Goddess releases tension along the inner thighs and hips. Sometimes if I’m looking for a deeper backbend I’ll roll a small blanket or towel and place it vertically so it aligns with my spine. The release is delicious. Delicious!! For a more special experience I’ll even add a few drops of essential oil to my temples so I can really let go. It doesn’t take long before The Sandman knocks.

To get into the pose recline on your back and bend your knees so your feet are parallel. extend the arms along the sides of your body and try to brush the backs of the heels with your middle finger. Let your knees fall to the side and keep the souls of the feet touching. Keep the arms extended and turn the palms facing up. Using a sleep mask is a great treat here. Want to ensure that you aren’t counting sheep very long? Try an essential oil blend. My favorite blend is by Aura Cacia.

 

Legs up the Wall

This is another great pose to do before bed. This is perfect for those nights when the you thought you’d never make it to bed time. You know the days, when you’ve been pulled in a thousand different directions and none of those directions had anything to do with the list of things you were supposed to get done. And when you finally get home to what you think is your sanctuary, you realize that you forgot to take something out for dinner- but the dog did leave something out for you- right in the middle of the carpet. On those nights the stress of it all might make sleep elusive, so try legs up the wall.

Getting into the pose is as easy as it sounds. Recline on your back and take your legs up the wall. You may have to schooch your butt forward a bit so your legs can press against the wall. And then…Just.Let.Go. Feel your back release into the mattress. Inhale in the idea of sleep. Exhale out any tension. Let your body melt. Allow for some gentle movement so you can get comfortable. Trust me, your troubles will seem like a faint memory.

 

We all deserve a great night’s sleep. Don’t let it slip out of your fingers.

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Teaching Yoga- Riker’s Island (Liberation Prison Yoga)

Namaste1

“Comedy is acting out optimism.”

-Robin Williams

 

By some magnificent shift of the planets I woke at 5:30 feeling refreshed. The first thing I heard in my head was the last line of the Langston Hughes poem, ‘A Dream Deferred’.

 

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore–
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over–
like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

My dreams had been vivid (which isn’t unusual), on my mind was Michael Brown and the death of Robin Williams. The brain is incredible and exhausting. It didn’t help that the prior day was challenging. I’m in a learning curve with the next part of my career and I was struggling with a project. Although I had a wonderful time teaching last night by the time I hit the bed I was physically aching.

And yet…

My soul felt light as I got dressed for Riker’s. The scheduled topic this week was depression. Unfortunately, current events fit perfectly. I had a flow planned but as I biked to the PATH train I decided to change things up.

star pose

Standing star pose would be our focus. Last week in class I mentioned the Ted Talk video with Amy Cuddy and faking it till you make it. This week we used that as a foundation and talked about Robin Williams, suicide and depression. Everyone took time before class to write down a few small things that she would do to feel better if the mood was starting to darken. The list was long and everyone has great suggestions ranging from talking to counselors and friends, reaching out to family, prayer, meditation and physical activity. I think having everyone write and share before class worked for me. We then applied those ideas when we practiced.

We started at the top of our mats in star pose, chests lifted. Our inhales tried to take us off the ground and our exhales made us bold and strong. Moving right to Warriors everyone’s body was expressive. In between postures we can back to star pose. One student succinctly stated, “Star pose is…cool.”

Indeed. To spice things up we even played around with eagle. At first everyone said, “No way..” However, taking the pose one step at a time everyone was in it. Not sure who was more excited but we all laughed. I know they get a kick out of this whacky Black chick who says rock on and awesome at the end of every other sentence. I’m grateful that they humor me and trust me enough to share.

On the floor we used bolsters and did a few therapeutic poses that inspire feelings of safety. Supported Child’s pose got lots of love. Hugging the bolster helped release a lot of tension and instill a sense of security. Our seated forward folds with the bolster stretched the legs without too much tension. But there was a collective exhale of joy when we did reclined goddess pose with the bolster.

‘I want to stay here all day’ someone said. So we spent our guided mediation reclined. And the space became still. There was no yelling. No buzzing door. I kept the focus on the idea that finding peace is our choice- even in chaos we can close our eyes and look inside to be still. To be still without holding still. This can be our choice and our decision. After class there were requests for a longer guided meditation. Next week, I will happily comply.

These women are important. These women matter. I think of them daily.

They are my inspiration. They are resilient and funny and honest and true.

Until next week y’all. Namaste.

(To learn more about Liberation Prison Yoga and its programs- click here)

Adventures in Teaching Yoga – Riker’s Island (Liberation Prison Yoga)

Rikers-Island-the-second-largest-prison-in-the-U.S.-Of-11000-inmates-4000-have-a-mental-illness

 

 

 

The typical Metro NYC summer has finally arrived. Swampy heat. It’s like wearing a wet sweatshirt.

I leave much earlier than I need to so I don’t have to be on the trains at full rush hour crush. That’s one of the things I appreciate about this second career. No crushing. Yes, there’s rushing and pressure but there is a sense of ownership about how I move in the world. I think this as I travel to Riker’s. I still get to move how I want, where I want and when I want. These luxuries are something I appreciate more than ever.

The Q100 is pretty empty as usual.

I’m already used to the routine of checking in.

 

I’m surprised at how many of the guards remember me and say, ‘Yoga, right?’ I smile and am told with sincerity to have fun.

 

Out back waiting for the bus I see the driver that I chatted up last week. I hop on the bus to head to RSMC (the dorm). Quickly, I realize that I’m on the wrong bus but secretly I’m pleased because Slick Rick is playing. It’s still incredible to me the enormity of this place. There are five bus routes.

 

After a bus change, I get to where I should be. I’m amazed at the intriciy of the system.  I check in at the dorms at 8:45.  Walking to the 800 section I see a few of the women from last week.  They excitedly let me know they will we back upstairs and don’t want to miss class. This makes me feel great and I quickly forget about the oppressive heat.

 

I see Carmen and get a big hug. I also meet Ms. Gregory. She is the counselor for the other side of the dorm.

 

Carmen takes me to her side of the dorm. Our talk before our practice is about anger. We physically demonstrate what anger looks like ad feels like in the body. I suggest that as they go through class to see if any particular pose brings up any feelings. We began class with stillness. I invited students to mentally scan any tight areas their body.

Moving to all fours as a group we did cat stretches and then back to a neutral spine. Slowly we sat on our heels for a toe stretch. On an inhale we found tabletop and on an exhale we moved to Camel Pose. We did this three times and it was a lovely way to gently stir the body. Coming to our feet we did lunges and tightened our firsts to feel the tension and then relaxed into a pose to feel the difference between the two. We moved quickly and did more heart opening postures to release tension.

Our guided meditation was filled with noise but by incorporating the background, I could feel students keep the intention on themselves rather than what was happening.

When it came to writing,  right away someone said she already wrote about anger and didn’t want to write about it again. I asked of there were other topics that she might was to explore and wanted suggestions and after getting a few she decided she just didn’t feel like writing. Another student said that after meditation she really felt like thinking rather than writing- so it seemed best to let the writing piece go. Next week I may do the writing before meditation and see what happens.

Class wrapped and everyone said that if they were there next week, they’d be back.

 

Second Class

On the other side the vibe is very different. When we talk about anger and what it looks like the conversation shifts to the physiological effects of anger. Answers were pinging around the room:

Stress!

High blood pressure!

Migraines!

Heart attacks!

Muscle spasms!

Answer after answer rang out. The discussion shifted to how yoga can help with managing anger and I talked about how by learning to breathe better we give ourselves a chance to pause. Sometimes the chance to pause can make all of the difference in what happens to us. ‘Might not do something stupid’ someone said. That was a great way to wrap and begin the practice. We held poses to feel our power and let our muscles tense and then relax.

I felt a strong sense of purpose with this group. I’m not sure if if was the time of day but we were able to have a long period of quiet for our guided meditation.  When class closed I could feel a greater sense of calm.

After recapping with Carmen I get on the elevator and there are about 6 six large guards. And like that I’m reminded why it’s important that I come here.

Because I get to leave.

Namaste y’all.