New Year Yoga

yoga-by-candlelight

So many studios now offer a peaceful way to bring in the New Year. With a practice and an ‘aum’ we can start the new year fresh.

Happy New Year friends.

Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu

“May all beings everywhere be happy and free.”

Namaste y’all.

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Adventures in Yoga – Out of the Darkness

winter_solstice

I went to winter solstice celebration. Honoring the longest night of the year would not have been top of my list unless honoring  means going to bed earlier then, I stand corrected.

Winter is my least favorite season. The short, cold wet days make me wonder how and why I have stayed on the East Coast for so long (note to self-check Zillow after this post). Even the word darkness brings up more sinister memories of depression and struggle. So when my friend Kathleen Kraft emailed me to go to a local studio and celebrate the solstice I reluctantly agreed.

There would be wine after so, there was that.

Jokes aside, I was looking forward to taking a class with one of her favorite teachers and the idea of chanting and meditation sounded cozy.

You would think that by now I would stop being surprised by yoga. You would think that I should have guessed that I was going to be in for a life changing experience simply by virtue of the fact that I was hesitant to attend because of my own crap.

You would think that.

Think again.

The asana practice was freaking brilliant- but the words wrapped around the class are what melted my cold, dark heart.

Kevin Lamb guided us through a series of heart openers and binds that with my eyes closed let me look inside without fear or judgement.

Plants grow up and out of the darkness. We come into this world from darkness.

Moving from Cresent Lunge to Vira II let my hips drop and open. Rooting through my feet I grew more grounded and my legs gave me support so I could lift my ribs and lengthen my spine. More still…He had us take our hands behind our back, palms squeezed shut bowing down, taking a bind. (I don’t usually bind with my arms outstretched) It was glorious.

In side angle bind I felt like a plant rooting down and rising up into the warm glow of the studio. Out of the darkness and into the light.

Just when you think you have it all figured out- you discover even more. This is yoga.

Namaste y’all.

Food Yoga – PMS

photo credit health.com

 

PMS is no fun. Anyone who says it’s fun is perhaps taking lots of drugs. PMDD is a very serious condition that requires a doctor’s care. But for the 40 million women who suffer monthly with the more mild aspects there may be help. Did you know that there are several foods that can help alleviate some of the symptoms of PMS? In addition to exercise, here are 9 foods that may take some of the steam of PMS discomfort.

 

For those that are creeping closer to peri-menopause listen up as well because these tips can help you too. Cramps, bloating, moodiness and fatigue be gone!

 

  1. Artichokes. Artichokes contain magnesium. Magnesium supplementation can help alleviate many symptoms of PMS including cramps, irritability, fatigue, depression and water retention.  Magnesium is a good muscle relaxant. This makes it especially important for women who suffer from menstrual cramps (dysmenorrhoea). Cramps are caused by strong contractions of the uterus and magnesium helps to relax the powerful uterine muscles.basket-artichokes
  2. Flax seed. High in lignans, a natural hormone-balancing substance, flax seed oil flax seed oil is effective in treating mild depression symptoms brought on by PMS. (Also  It’s also good for depression and fatigue. An alternative is to buy ground up flax seed, and sprinkle it on top of your food (such as oatmeal and popcorn).
  3. Oatmeal is a good source of manganese (see #1).
  4. Tofu contains soy.  Soy may support better menstrual health by favorably altering estrogen levels and estrogen metabolismSeveral studies suggest that pre-menopausal women who consume soy protein significantly lower their estrogen levels to more “balanced” levels.
  5. Edamame also contains soy. (see #4)
  6. Dark chocolate! Eating chocolate stimulates the release of mood-affecting chemicals such as endorphins, phenylethylamine and serotonin. These feel good chemicals may also explain why women crave chocolate when they are suffering from PMS. Serotonin levels often drop in the days before menstruation begins, so eating chocolate can help boost those levels and improve one’s mood. Read this very informative article about dark chocolate benefits.Dark chocolate
  7. Brown rice is a complex carb that also contains magnesium and has fiber. Fiber-rich foods are complex carbs that take longer for your body to break down and absorb, further curbing your cravings. Eat more whole-grain breads and cereals, and produce like legumes, fruit, and starchy veggies, which are on the complex-carb list.
  8. Cheese contains calcium and vitamin D which have both been shown to ease PMS symptoms. Vegan? No worries, dark leafy greens like spinach and kale contain calcium and vitamin D as well.
  9. Wine and Grape Juice– Oh mama. Now let’s get one thing straight, we aren’t talking about tying one on, but studies show that moderate alcohol may have some benefit. Dr. Heller is a family practitioner, specializing in helping his patients with PMS, depression, anxiety, and chronic diseases since 1995. He is the founder of PMS Comfort and a Research Fellow for the Optimal Health Foundation in California. Here’s what he says about red wine consumption:

A dash of wine or other alcohol. A glass, or even half a glass, of wine every night is healthy for most people. We consider red wine preferable to white wine, since it is higher in antioxidants. That said, most research shows that white wine, beer, and even hard liquor also lower risk of heart disease and other health problems—when consumed in moderation. Once you increase your alcohol consumption to more than a drink or two per day, alcohol becomes unhealthy. Of course, some people don’t do well at all with alcohol, so this recommendation truly needs to be custom-tailored to each individual. We’ve met women whose PMS and PMDD improved quite a bit when they quit drinking.

 

Life is best lived in moderation. Servings sizes of these foods should be reasonable. Many studies suggest that no one fix is out there but a combination of healthy food choices and activities like yoga can make a real impact.

 

Namaste y’all.

 

 

Vegan Diary Confessions 21 Meals $35 (Days 13-14 and Final Thoughts)

Hummus-details

I’m really happy to get back to my old food shopping habits.

I wanted these recipes to be so much better than they were. But I found myself avoiding having to cook. It wan’t fun. This isn’t normally how I feel about food.

Cooking relaxes me. I enjoy preparing meals and breaking bread with friends. This wasn’t merely a a situation of having to make do with what I had because I hadn’t made it to the store. Unwittingly, I found out for a few short weeks of what it’s like to not have what you want or need.

Now don’t get me wrong, I in no way experienced what it is like for so many families to go without. But the malaise isn’t what I was expecting.

On the last two days I enjoyed ate my oatmeal for breakfast and had leftovers for lunch and hummus sandwich wraps for dinner.

This wasn’t the fun experiment I thought it would be. And the admission of this, makes me a little embarrassed. I realize now that I many have inadvenrtantly been trying to slum it- that makes me feel shitty because that wasn’t what I intended. Pema Chödrön says that everything we do is on the path to enlightenment. I figure this is a step in the right direction.

What I learned:

1. Eating healthy on near nothing is really hard.

2. That said (#1), you can find a healthier way to eat on near nothing. Frozen veggies, dried beans and and shopping the aisles of grocery stores provide opportunities to eat a healthy, tasty diet. It takes planning and some research (blogs and Youtube are GREAT help) but it can be done. Soup, yo. It’s the way to go. Soups and stews can be hearty, healthy and delicious. Better yet, they can be made in bulk, ahead of time and freeze well.

3. That is of course provided you don’t live in a food desert. I can’t help but wonder about the mixed message that we send to kids who live where fresh food isn’t easily available. We tell them about the food pyramid and send them home in neighborhoods that have nothing but fast food or in rural areas– nothing.

4. As a society, food deserts plague urban and rural environments. There are too many parts of the country where people are at least a mile away from a grocery store and don’t have a car.

5. It’s not hopeless. Communities can rally together to start food co-ops. Creating awareness about hunger through initiiaves like Hunger Action Month lets gets the message out. And lastly corporate citizens are stepping in to take responsibility. The CEO or Trader Joe’s is testing an idea that takes slightly expired food and bruised produce to the marketplace and deeply discounted prices. Food expiration dates ahve been debated because more often than not expiration date

I was reading an Old Rebelle wellness article that talked about the idea of Nutrition as an act of revolution.
Yes.
Yes.
Yes.

We should, no, we must realize that when parts of our country are hungry we are all hungry. There is too much food wasted and too many easy we can start to tackle this issue. This temporary change has permanently changed me. I cannot go back to thinking about food the way that I did.

Nutrition should be an act of revolution.

Check out this story from NPR. The CEO of Trader Joe’s is launching a test store that sells slightly bruised food and food that is past the expiration dates. Food will be sold at deeply discounted prices. Foods will also be prepared as meals and the most important part? It won’t be in a cushy ‘hood down the street from a Whole Foods, it will be in a neighborhood that needs it.

Bra-vo. Nutrition should be an act of revolution.

Namaste y’all.

Laughter Yoga

laughter-yoga-1

All you need in the world is love and laughter. That’s all anybody needs. To have love in one hand and laughter in the other.
August Wilson

 

Have you heard of Laughter Yoga? Laugh for No Reason by Madan Kataria decribes how laughter when done mindfully and in a group can be therapeutic. There aren’t any large studies to back up the efficacy of Laughter Yoga, but there is no denying the power of joy. Cultivating a sense of calm or peace helps reduce stress, increase oxygen intake and promote an overall sense of well-being.

 

Hey- sounds good. I’ve always been a fan of a big belly laugh.

 

I’m also a fan of a good acronym. Maybe it’s too many years spent in training sessions.

 

Acronyms are everywhere. Human Resources and Training people use them at work. Personal Trainers use them to get us motivated. Support groups use them to help each manage challenging moments. Texting wouldn’t be texting without them. Whether you think they’re hokey, cool, or annoying they seem to work because they stick in our heads.

 

John Cleese (one of the funniest people of all time) spent sometime with Dr. Kataria to check out Laughter Yoga in action.

Here five ways to keep the L.A.U.G.H. in your heart and life.

 

Love makes the world go round. The Beatles may have been on to something. All you need is love. Well it’s not all you need but it does help. Studies show that love makes us healthier. Love comes in all shapes and sizes. Loving a pet reduces stress. People in happy marriages live longer. People who have loving friends and family are more grounded. And above all loving yourself is paramount.

 

Appreciate the little things like a warm spring breeze or the first sip of your morning coffee. If you were smart enough to grasp this concept from a young age congratulations, it takes others years to come to this realization.

 

Understand that life is not about control but more about letting go and being in the present moment. When we focus on what is happening right now stress over past missteps and future problems melt away. Buddhists say that worry is useless. If you have a problem and can do something it- then do it. If you can’t do something about it you can’t, worrying will not help. This isn’t a dress rehearsal.

 

Grow indefinitely. “Why stretch when you can reach?” Our lives are a journey. We can choose to learn something everyday or we can choose to think we know everything. An open mind creates an open heart.

 

Hope is defined by wikipedia as the emotional state, the opposite of which is despair, which promotes the belief in a positive outcome related to events and circumstances in one’s life.[1] It is the “feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best” or the act of “look[ing] forward to with desire and reasonable confidence” or “feel[ing] that something desired may happen”.[2] Other definitions are “to cherish a desire with anticipation”; “to desire with expectation of obtainment”; or “to expect with confidence”.[3] In the English language the word can be used as either a noun or a verb, although hope as a concept has a similar meaning in either use.[4]  

 

Armed with these tools there’s nothing we can’t do.

What inspires you to keep laughing?

So go guffaw.  Namaste y’all!

 

Keep laughing!

Laugh for no reason

Chalkboard Yoga, Fresh Starts and All That.

Eraser-finished-with-cleaning-chalkboard---BC-1

You don’t have to wait for the New Year for a fresh start.

Amanda McDonald, yoga teacher wrote a status update that made high five my Mac.

Why are we so resistant to just solving problems, instead of procrastinating and worrying? You have the skills to fix it. Get out there!

And I thought of the clip from Vanilla Sky when Penelope Cruz says that ‘Every passing minute is another chance to turn it all around.’

What are you doing this minute? Are you at peace? Do you want to be?

Don’t worry if you missed the last minute because another one is right here. And here. And here. And here.

Namaste y’all.

Here’s to the week.

Adventures in Yoga- Attitude of Gratitude

The attitude of gratitude is the highest yoga

These days, I have an attitude of gratitude.

I’m speaking in slogans again.

It’s trite and corny. But truth be told, I’m a  lil trite and a lot corny so, there you go.

How we choose to respond to a situation can be the difference between a fence mended or a bridge burned.

I’m talking about gratitude.

Each morning I make a  mental list for all the things for which I’m grateful. It plants the seeds of a great day.

Life is short. Thanksgiving should be every day.

The term ‘gratitude’ is the latest to make the buzzword list, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth discussing. An overused word perhaps, but gratitude has the ability to make change our day, promote healing and make our lives better. In 2007 Robert Emmons wrote a book, Thanks: How The New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier. For over 8 years Emmons researched people who practiced gratitude. The findings were quite telling:

  • Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.
  • Maintaining a gratitude journal for three weeks resulted in better sleep quality and duration, more energy and even more time spent exercising.
  • A grateful approach to life can be one of the most effective ways of coping with disease, disability, and even death.

 

  1. Keep a gratitude journal– it keeps you focused on what really matters and inspires positive thinking
  2. Thank people without wanting a ‘You’re welcome’ in return
  3. Smile- research has shown that smiling can actually be good for you. Wired.com had an interview with Marianne LaFrance who wrote Lip Service: Smiles in Life, Death, Work, Sex and Politics. She has studied the impact of smiling on the human body. So turn that frown upside down. It will truly make you feel better.
  4. Reflect– taking a moment to think about what makes us grateful changes our attitude. It can make tough moments easier to get through. Take a moment to remember that you got through hard times before. You can get through them again.
  5.  Repeat– repeating actions cause habit, both bad and good. So repeat good actions and create positive habits that you can keep for life!

So now you. What makes you get grateful?

Make a list. Check it twice.

Reading it out loud can be nice.

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Yoga- Get on the Good Foot

yoga toes

It’s all about the feet.

The plantar fascia is a long, thin ligament that lies beneath the skin on the bottom of the foot. It connects the heel to the front of your foot, and also supports the arch of your foot.

Strong feet make for strong poses, which builds the foundation for a strong practice. A strong stance works in concert with the breath which ultimately (in this humble yogini’s opinion) cultivates peace.

Last Friday with Daba, we worked on our feet. I love classes like this. A few months ago I talked about finger splits.  Finger splits changed my practice especially my downward dog. I want everyone to have hands like platypuses. Though incorrect, I like the sound of platypi better.

Hands flat and fingers wide like platypi. It sounds plain old silly when you say platypuses. 

Sorry, I digress.

Let’s jump back. After a vigorous standing series in the heat we spent time working on our toes. By standing on a block with the toes on and heel off, I was able to work on the big toe and the calf muscle. With my heel level as if I was standing on the floor I moved into vriksasana.

After we removed the block and did the posture on the ground. I swear I felt roots spring from the sole of my foot.

I also dug doing toe squats. You can feel the fascia stretch. It’s intense but wonderful. My feet felt fantastic the next morning, especially now that I’m getting older. The older I get the more my feet hurt in the morning. Ugh.

Toe squats are a part of my morning routine now. Foot pain be gone!

This is yoga. Haaaaiiiiiiy! Get on the good foot.

Namaste y’all.

Adventures in Yoga – Trust Me and Surrender

yogastudio

I talk a lot about  the idea of letting go.

And the truth is I really mean what I say, but saying it over and over again can sound at best repetitive and at worst, disingenuous.

It got me to thinking- what do I really mean when I say let go? Do I mean that or am I trying to say something else?

Hmmm….

Let go…

At first, I think I meant letting go of control.

Last week, I found my deepest expression of ustrasana.

Oddly enough it was on a day that I didn’t feel particularly inspired to practice. In fact, I had to really slap myself around to get motivated.

I had spent a few days out of town and was beat. Every step toward the studio made me feel more put out than the previous one. I was rolling my eyes at myself (useless really…who loses when that happens? Silly rabbit) as I swiped my card to get on the train.

With headphones on and Esthero blaring the two sides of myself battled.

Can’t move on
But I can’t go home
And I’m not so strong
But I make my way
To the place I know
Inside my heart
Where I used to go
To get brave and
I don’t wanna be lost anymore

Hurumph. I’m tired. (Just shut up and go to class. You’ll be so happy when you get there)

Who needs class? Not me. (Yes you do, when you don’t want to go is when you most need your mat) 

Alas, the smarter side of me won. I got to class.

When I sat on my mat in the darkness I realized I had no fight in me. Maybe it was being tired from travel. Maybe it was lack of sleep. But I was able to turn myself over to my practice.

It was in a word, magnificent.

And while I found my new expression of ustrasana, I was more elated about my discovery.

It’s not about control. It’s about trust. 

I surrendered my body and breath to the pose. I didn’t let go with a ‘what if’ I can’t do it. With my chest lifted and hips moving slightly forward I bent backwards. There was no worry about whether I could. There wasn’t baggage about the last time I tried. Maybe it was because my brain was fried I wasn’t screwing around in my head.

There is a difference between letting go and complete surrender. Well there is for me.

The act of letting go doesn’t implies trust but doesn’t require it.

I can let go and stay in my skeptical shoes, but when I surrender it means that I’m turning myself over.

And that’s where trust comes in.

I’ll just say it- this is a big deal for me. The whys of this story aren’t as interesting as the now.

Yoga builds trust. It builds trust between your body and breath. Each complimenting each other working in unison to create harmony.

Yoga builds trust between me and the world. With a better breath my heart expands and with that I let more and more in.

This is yoga, and I surrender.

Namaste y’all.

oneika stripes