Feed your Sweet Tooth [+recipe]

I believe in dessert.  And the occasional Starbucks Chai Latte.

During the time I was an au pair in Mexico I ate dessert almost everyday.  The mother of the family was French (interesting story) and she insisted that our large meal be followed by something sweet and delicious.  She also insisted that you must sit while eating and taught me to make a delicious ratatouille.  I thank her for her wisdom surrounding food.  It is all about taking time to eat and enjoying the food.  A sweet at the end of the meal satisfies the tongue and the stomach.

Denying yourself something, in my opinion, is the first sign of disordered thinking.  How many times have you said “I shouldn’t eat that ice cream.”  or worse “I CAN’T eat dessert ever again.”  These denials only force us to focus on the object we are rejecting.  Tell yourself not to think about the elephant, all you will think about is the elephant, or perhaps how the extra brownie will make you the size of an elephant.

Rather than denying, food is all about choices and the commitment to that choice.  I have (mostly) cut coffee, gluten, meat, and sugar from my diet.  It sounds like a miserable life.  However, I refuse to say I have given these things up since the reward of eating not these things has been a clear mind, an energetic body and a clear face!

So, with all of these seeming limitations, how do I satisfy my sweet tooth?  There are many alternatives to traditional sugar.  I personally adore maple syrup.  The real kind.  It is awesomely, sickly sweet with that smoky earth flavor.  I drool just writing about it.  Honey and stevia are also great sweeteners.  Then there is raw cane sugar and brown sugar.

An aside: Agave nectar was once touted as the perfect sweetener.  However, recently there have been questions about it’s health benefits and many say that the high concentration of fructose can be damaging, rather than beneficial.  As I still have a bottle and cannot bring myself to throw it out, I use it sparingly.  Read more here, or google agave health benefits and make your own informed choice.

Regardless, a brownie or a cookie won’t kill you either.  When eaten consciously, as a choice and with joy, it might taste even sweeter.  Or be too sweet.  Your taste buds will adapt to the lack of sugar and make sweets, especially processed ones detestable.  Once in Namibia, a fellow volunteer received a care package containing a box’o’cake.  We baked it for Thanksgiving dessert and looked forward to it all night, drooling at the sight of the canned frosting.  After one bite I felt sick.  The sugar made me gag.  My eyes still wanted it, but my tongue said, no way.

I eat one (or two) sweet courses a day.  Sometimes it’s a bit of chocolate or maybe a fruity (and chocolatey) smoothie.  Right now my obsession is this:

Fruit Salad with Cashew Butter Dressing

Ingredients:

Fruit (I prefer strawberries, blueberries and green apple, but any fruit will do)

Cashew Butter (1-2 Tbsp/serving)

Maple Syrup (1/2 Tbsp/serving)

1. Cut the fruit and place it in a serving bowl.

2. Put the cashew butter and maple syrup in a small bowl and heat (I microwave it for 15 seconds)

3.  Mix the maple syrup and cashew butter together.  Pour it over the fruit.  It might not be runny, but just mix it into the fruit.

4. Enjoy!

*For extra yummy, place a bit of chocolate in the dressing and melt that in there!

Kale Slaw [bonus recipe]

This is one of my tried and true faves.

Rainbow Kale Slaw

kale

Ingredients:
Kale (chopped)
6-8 Mushrooms (sliced or chopped into large chunks)
1/4 red cabbage (thinly sliced)
1 carrot grated
*feel free to add other veggies such as red peppers or sundried tomatoes

1. Chop all veggies.  Place them in a large bowl and toss the veggies. Set aside.

 

kale2

Dressing Ingredients:
1-4 garlic cloves (depending on how much you love garlic)
1/2 cup or so of tahini
Few squirts of amino acids
Apple Cider Vinegar

1. Using a garlic press, press the cloves of garlic into a bowl.

2. Pour in the tahini and amino acids.  Mix.

3. Pour in the apple cider vinegar until the dressing becomes a thin paste (it should run slightly but not be too watery).

4.  Pour the contents over the veggies.

5. I recommend you use your hands here to massage the dressing into the greens.

6.  Place in the refrigerator.

7. Enjoy!

A note on Tahini: Tahini is my favorite ingredient.  It is ground up sesame seeds to make a paste.  It can be found in most grocery stores now-a-days.  Mine has a few brands over near the peanut butter and a fancy brand in amongst the greek marinated artichokes and mushrooms.

Why Christian Rock rocks my playlist!

I love Christian rock.  Especially for yoga class.  Why does it fit so well?  Positivity is what it is all about!

Yesterday a former American Idol contender, Colton Dixon, released his first album entitled A Messenger.  After listening to a few clips I downloaded a track called “Love Has Come to Me” and immediately added it to my playlist for the day.  After a few listens, I was hooked, I didn’t want to hear anything else in my ears.  This song was breath.  Like a child I played it over and over on repeat and since have downloaded the entire album.  The last song to hit me like this was “When the Saints” by Sarah Groves.  They are two very different songs, but they have one thing in common, they are categorized as Christian or Inspirational.

I have always loved Christian music. It is uplifting and makes my soul soar in ways few other genres can do.  I believe those who write music for God write with the pens of angels.  Though the melodies might not always be the most original and they are often full of cliches, the lyrics are comforting and the drums beat like thousands of hearts in sink.  Even after a thousand listens, the thousandth and one can still bring new meaning to punch you in the gut over again.  I concede that a lot of my love for this music is nostalgic, raised as a Christian it is familiar and comforting.  Still it has value outside the church.  It has value in the secular world.  But what about using it during a yoga class.

Now I love me some sanskrit chants.  Krishna Das breaks me open and has me singing along with him each time.  I love a good sitar scale.  However, I do not find it against the yogic principles to use other music during practice.  Some may argue music has no place in practice, and this may be true.  Maybe in the end the goal is to sit with your emotions without the aid of an orchestra.  Maybe.  I like to mix it up.

Creating yoga playlists is one of my favorite parts of my job and the one I feel the most responsibility towards (besides not injuring my students).  When yogis walk through the doors of the studio they put not only their physical but their emotional body in my care.  For me, and many others, the first way deep into my emotions is through music.  When people walk into class, in order to go inside, they must become invisible to others.  Then they become amplified, their experience becoming larger and larger to themselves alone.  Swelling violins and racing drums can get you there quick. In this state it would be easy to abuse their emotions with negative or destructive music.

I have often found myself placing music from the Christian genre with ambiguous messages into my playlists.  I’m not the first to do this, TV shows and movies often use this technique (one I remember is using Plumb in Drive Me Crazy, I actually bought the album having no clue of its deeper message).  Christian songs are written to bring people to God, whether they mention it or not.  The lyrics are meant to bring the message of Love in a safe but catchy way.  We can all use more messages of Love in our day, and this is why I use the music.

I do make sure that the language is “safe.”  That it is mostly devoid of the word Jesus or Christ or common Christian phrases.  This is not because I am ashamed to bring these to others, however I do not know anyone’s history with religion and would not want to trigger any negative emotions or thoughts.  This may seem somewhat strange since most of the Sanskrit chants are filled with names of Hindu gods.  Although it is possible that there may be someone in the room who has had a negative experience with Krishna, sadly, in this America we are living in it is much more likely that someone has had contact with Christ.

There is much to be gained by surrounding yourself with positive uplifting music, books and people.  It makes the practice of yoga as you walk throughout your day much less of a burden and more of an extension of the joy you feel from the beauty that surrounds you.  Try out the songs I have below and see if you can bring a little more light to your day.  Whether you be Christian, Jewish, atheist or agnostic, there’s nothing wrong with a good melody and a message of love.

What do you think?  Can you enjoy Christian inspirational music regardless of your religious feelings?

Missing

I cried in savasana last night.  It was a beautiful clean cry.  The type that leaves your feeling so alive.  This was what I wrote in my journal after.

I miss miss miss.  I miss everything about my African life.  And yet I go on.  I keep trucking because I love this life I am living now and the possibility it is creating.  But with each door opening, I hear the creak of the hinges as another door shuts.  I chose this.  I chose to turn my back, at least for the time being, on my life there, on Africa.  And I will turn my back again and again in this life so that I may face forward in a new direction. The only constant in life is change.

I turn my back to face the sunshine.  I let the dead leaves fall to the earth, absorbed into the earth, memories to feed my roots.  I turn, soaking up the light, basking in the glory of this moment; this time NOW. There is no other, for tomorrow the sun will shift and I must turn my face once more towards the light.

Getting Personal: The weight of it all

Loving my body has been a long journey, but well worth the struggle. There’s so much I want to say on this subject, forgive me for any ramblings.

It’s hard to love your body in America. Everything about American culture makes it an uphill battle. And it’s not only about women. Sure the many ways in which women are objectified and tortured into feeling inadequate are awful. But it exists for males as well. There is as much emphasis on being masculine and athletic in modern media as there are pressures to be thin and desirable for women. It is different. But it is also the same. I can only speak for my gender, or more accurately, myself, here.

As a woman I see thousands of messages about how I should look, feel and act. I am supposed to be thin, but not too thin. Strong, but not jacked. I should love cupcakes with abandon but never eat them. And these are only the messages about my weight. There is just as much “advice” on how I should act on dates and who I should let touch me and when, that is all for a post another day.

Often, we are instructed through popular media to find the ability to love our reflection in an outside source. A diet, a man, envy of women, these are all suggested sources of self-love. They work, temporarily. Then the jealousy fades or the man leaves or the diet fails and we are left once again inside a body we loathe.

I actually believe that there are outside sources that are valuable in helping to build self-esteem and self-love. For girls older females who love and accept themselves is important in providing a model for self-love, the most crucial being the mother. A daughter who watches her mother eat herself up in front of the mirror or make negative remarks about her body is learning in subtle and not so subtle ways that there are acceptable and unacceptable ways of being.

When I was a teen, I hated my body right alongside most of my peers. I don’t remember voicing my displeasure often, but I knew I could be thinner. I originally embarked on my yoga journey at this time to help lose weight. It worked. By the end of my senior year I had lost 20 pounds or so. I was happy with this change and buy it had come at a cost. In order to assure that I lost the weight and kept it off I would go days without eating anything until dinner or just snacking on saltine crackers.

Though I never suffered from a sever eating disorder, I did suffer from disordered eating. Throughout college I continued using this as a way of losing a few pounds when I was unhappy with the number on the scale. I also did strange workouts in the living room while watching MTV videos. It never really helped much but I felt like I was doing something, burning the calories.

When i moved to Mexico to au pair, i lost weight without trying. I realize now that I was busy and active and HAPPY. I was working and concentrating on living and being healthy rather than concentrating on my weight.

I gained it back when I came back to the US. Even though I swam each day and ate healthy I couldn’t keep the weight off. I often drank too much coffee to keep my appetite down.

The weight loss happened again when I was in Namibia. Despite the stresses of life there, the weight melted off. Despite the fact that I was eating the least healthy I ever had in my life (pasta very night!) I felt healthy. The key again was that I was active all day and I was HAPPY.

Upon return I gained some weight,but I still fit nicely in my clothes. When I started my journey into yoga I tried again to lose weight through quick fixes such as not eating or working out extra. Then I found a peace in yoga and in teaching that reminds of the peace I felt in those foreign lands. I found HAPPINESS. And I see the weight going back down.

It is when I am paying the least attention, caring the least that my weight drops. When it is not all about weight but about feeling good. I am healthy. And I am happy. And the more I accept my body the happier I am. There are still things I’d like to change, but before I change them I accept them the way they are. I choose each day to love and accept myself, curves and all.

I have much more to say on the topic of actual body acceptance and hope to share more of it in the future and how I came to love myself, mostly.

 

Sutra Sunday: Practice your practice

Book 1 Sutra 14

“Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.”

This sutra from Patanjali reminds us to practice our practice.  Whatever you choose to do each day, whether it be meditation, pranayama, asana or chant or most likely a mixture of all, practice it each and everyday.  And practice with earnestness; with sincerity and conviction.

This is common sense.  To become a doctor, one must practice the principles of medicine and be fully present when practicing to keep your patient alive.  Doctors practice for years before they are fully allowed to do surgery on their own.  They need a lengthy history of learning in order for it to become second nature.  The longer their practice, the  further they advance.  We would not want a surgeon who had been on a three month leave to cute into us without brushing up a bit.

As yogis and yoginis, we have the same responsibility.  We approach each day as a new opportunity to put our words into action and go deeper into the practice of yoga.  We must practice for a length of time before the principles become second nature.  At the start of the practice, everything feels new and difficult.  It is only through time and full commitment to the practice that we find ease in the principles.

This is not easy.  Everyday there are challenges that can keep us from the mat, or our meditation pillow, or whatever time and space you have carved out for your practice.  These obstacles are very real and they do get in our way.  However, everyday we get to choose to take the time.  We can always find time and space, even if it is only 1 minute in the car before running into the coffee shop.  This constant practice is what it takes to go deeper.

So find the time to practice your practice.  Practice as much as possible.  Approach it with your full awareness, with earnestness.  This is the start of the path to enlightenment.

yogasutra 1-12*image from Patanjali Yoga Theory

Gomukhasana (cow face pose)

Cow face!?!  Who knows?  But this is a great hip and shoulder opener.  I find it very grounding.

(It is also called bull seat)

gomukhasana

1.  begin seated with the legs straight out in front (dandasana)

2. Bend the right leg and cross the leg over the left thigh, placing the foot on the floor outside the left thigh.

3.  Bend the left knee and draw the left heel into the right hip.

4.  Pull the right heel into the right thigh and stack the right knee on top of the left.

5.  Flex the feet to protect the knees.

OPTION: To help stack the knees after both feet are pulled in towards the hips, rock forward onto your hands and knees and stack the knees.  Then sit back between the heels.

2013-01-25 22.48.32

1.  Lift the right arm up by the ear.  Bend the elbow, like you are patting yourself on the back.  (You can grabe the elbow with the left hand and pull towards the midline to help bring the hand further down the back.)

2. Reach the left hand behind the back and bend the elbow.  Reach for the right fingertips.

OPTION: If you cannot reach the fingertips to one another grab the shirt or use a strap to bring openness and start to walk the hands towards each other.

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