Monday, February 28, 2011

Santosha, a Birthday Wish

Don't worry everyone; I have not forgotten my promise!  The post about doing a proper Warrior pose and my favorite Warrior Series is still on its way.  But as with most things in my life, I have to do things in a sort of roundabout way.  My instinctual tendency to be well-rounded means I have a hard time focusing on one thing for too long.  This doesn’t mean that I can’t focus, but rather there is a distinct amount of time dedicated to one type of action before I feel like I need to move on.  I inevitably come back to it and finish it. Maybe the rationale is that I have given myself a moment to think something over before I get too far in that I can’t see my way out.  Or I’ve simply become distracted.

But, I clearly digress.  Today is my birthday.

Even though I am now the semi-unexciting age of twenty four, I am really optimistic about the year ahead.  Ever since that math game we played as kids, I have been in a love affair with the number 24 and all things that come with it.  There are just so many mathematical ways to reach twenty four and (in a sort of metaphorical way) there are so many ways I could have arrived here today.  For me birthdays are about love and acknowledgement of all that has made me who I am today.  This includes events, decisions, and most importantly, the people that have helped me get here.  Birthdays seem to call loved ones out of the woodwork; they come quietly out of nowhere to wish you a happy birthday.  It’s about love in its purest form, wishing someone else well and telling them how thankful you are that they are here.

With that said, I feel strange with the amount of attention birthdays carry.  I always just want to tell everyone how much they mean to me and how much I appreciate them, rather than the other way around.  It was a bit ironic this morning when I opened my book The Essential Yoga Sutra by Geshe Michael Roach, to the following sutra:

Santashad anuttamah sukha labbah
Kayendriya siddhir ashuddhi
Kshayat tapasah.

Roach translates it into English to mean, If you stay contented, then you achieve happiness that is unsurpassed.  Embracing spiritual hardships destroys your impurities, allowing you to master both body and senses.

There are a lot of deep ways to interpret this and I am sure each of you will get something different out of these words.  Maybe this passage stirs nothing inside of you and that’s okay.  The truth is that these are just words and we attach a meaning to them.  Sometimes I read something 5 times and each time it has a different meaning.  This morning on this particular day, these words are a gentle reminder to be content and to be happy with all 24 years of my life.  I must embrace the hardships, the disappointments, and the confusions that may exist in my mind and simply allow myself to be content.

And you know what? I am.  I really am enjoying life and have little to complain about.  I have a wonderful family, a loving boyfriend, phenomenal friends, and I really enjoy what I do.  So it truly is a happy birthday to me. 

How do you remind yourself to be content?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

In Defense of Comfort

Its a rainy weekend and I am sitting lazily at home with large swollen cheeks.  All I can think about it comfort food.  

Who doesn’t have a favorite cheesy, salty, buttery, thick, meaty, ooey, gooey, yummy comfort food?!  I sure do and my weakness is always something terribly bad for me.  When I have a long, hard day or just not feeling my best there is nothing better than good ol’ fashioned Jersey pizza pie.  Top that off with some fries and a milkshake and you pretty much have the best comfort meal ever.   Or maybe its Mac n’ cheese, baked to cheesy perfection….yum!  Chocolate cake, amazing!  Tacos! Ice cream! I could go on…

But what’s the problem with all these wonderful foods we call comfort food?  Give it 20 minutes in your system and I guarantee you’ll feel anything but comfortable.  Cheesy goodness is followed by gassy, bloatiness, and all things un-sexy-like.  So I want us to re-think comfort foods.  Not throw pizza totally out the window in retaliation, but rather give our beloved pizza a much needed healthy facelift.  Here is the recipe for a vegan pizza I made the other day, but you can easily make it simply vegetarian.  My meat-loving boyfriend devoured it and wished for next day leftovers, so you know it’s man-approved.  Hate mushrooms but want to get healthy?  Here's why mushrooms are good for you !
Rachael's Now Famous Garlicky Mushroom Pizza
·         1 of your favorite ready-made pizza crusts (whole wheat or regular)
·         1 1/2 c thinly sliced baby Portobello mushrooms
·         1 small onion cut into crescents
·         1 cup of frozen corn (thawed)
·         3 celery stalks diced
·         2 garlic cloves, minced
·         2 deli slices of provolone OR provolone flavored vegan cheese
·         1 tbsp olive oil
·         1 tbsp Earth Balance butter (optional)
·         1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
·         1 1/2 tsp light mayonnaise OR vegannaise
·         2 tsp bread (Italian seasoned)
·         Salt, pepper, and Italian seasoning to taste

Preheat oven to 450 degrees
1.       Sauté onions and garlic in olive oil over med-high heat until onions start to sweat and become slightly translucent.
2.       Add celery, mushrooms, salt & pepper and butter (if adding)
3.       After 2 minutes, add corn and Italian seasoning
4.       Sauté until mushrooms start to sweat.  Continue to stir
5.       In the meantime, mix mayo variety and mustard.  Spread evenly oven pizza crust.
6.       Rustically tear each slice of cheese into 3 pieces and spread over crust.
7.       Once veggies are done, pour evenly over pizza crust.
8.       Sprinkle with bread crumbs
9.       Bake for 8-10 minutes

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Finding Courage

Tomorrow I will be going into minor surgery.  Nothing major, just ripping those pesky, little wisdom teeth out of my jaw.  But with anything that requires me to go under the knife or be put to sleep, I get a bit uneasy.   All this week it has been in the back of my mind.  I am not one to let that nervousness or fear guide my life, so I knew I need to find a way to get through the week progressively.  Whenever I have to go through something that scares me, I make sure to prepare myself with enough courage, confidence, and mental stability.  My mental health is intimately related to my physical health.  And I can’t even think about spiritual health until I have my mind and body in sync.  If I am lazy, my mind is lazy.  If I deprive myself of sleep, my mind aches with fatigue.  Even before I started practicing yoga, I knew this about myself.  I believe most of us naturally act upon this desire to have mind and body on the same wave length.  How many times have you used swimming, weight lifting, or even dancing to clear your mind of unsettling thoughts?  If your mind is racing from thought to thought, does it help to sit still and simply observe your inhales and your exhales?
Before starting yoga I would do hard track workouts or challenging weight lifting in order to give my courage an extra boost.  The effect of pushing my body to see what it’s capable of transforms my mind to have the courage to take on things that frighten me.  The adrenalin pumping through my veins during a sprint is the same adrenalin that gets me through a terrifying public speech.   As I am growing and changing the kind of physical courage I need is also developing.  Some days running or lifting is perfect, but now I am also adding certain yoga moves that empower me.
In my body, nothing says strength and courage like a Warrior pose.  If you have heard almost nothing about yoga, I am sure the one thing you have heard about is the Warrior pose.  There are many kinds of warrior poses including: Warrior I, Warrior II, Warrior III, Reverse Warrior, and Balancing Warrior.  My favorites (shhhh don’t tell the others) are Warrior II and Balancing Warrior.  The power in all the Warrior poses resides in the strength of both your legs, but the magic in the pose comes in the arms.  In each Warrior pose the arms are extended out in some direction and (when done best) you can actually feel the energy and strength reaching from your toes through your fingertips.  Every muscle in your body is engaged except for your face, which exudes calm and confidence.
So this week as I am preparing myself for my little oral fiasco, I have fallen back on a Warrior series for confidence.  Look for upcoming blogs as I describe my favorite Warrior Series and how to do your best Warrior pose.  In the meantime, what sorts of things do you do to get over a fear or endure a nerve-racking experience?

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Featured Blog entry from theDailyOM

Check out this entry from the Daily OM that encourages us to remember the light side of things.  It was just an interesting and fun read, so enjoy!

Stiff Body, Stiff Mind

For those of us in the Delaware area, we have woken up once again to a blanket of snow.   In the beginning of winter, snow may be welcoming as it forces us to slow down and stay warm inside with love ones.  If you are anything like me, the first snow also means the start of winter sports.  The idea of blazing down the mountain on my board or speed skating on ice brings adrenalin to my veins.  The change of weather is exciting!

Yet at this time of year, I find that I have forgotten the initial exhilaration of snow.  That feeling is replaced by an involuntary “ughhhhhhhhhh” as I look out my window at 7am to see my car hidden under a white, heavy load.  The reason for the change of heart?  Life continues on after the first big snow storm.  All snow after that is socially treated as a burden.  We are still expected at work, we don’t have the money or time to go to the mountain, and we are over this whole winter nonsense.

My unfortunate distaste for the recent winter weather correlates directly to my body.  I am not sure which comes first, mind or body, but I know they are intimately connected.  When I woke up this morning I was stiff and sore.  Knowing that when my body is stiff, my mind is stiff, I quickly set out to do some mild morning yoga.  I refuse to let a little snow and a problematic back turn my mind into a ball of frustration for the rest of the day.  So here is my cure:
1.   Half Moon:
-          Stand in mountain pose with feet together, heals and toes touch.
-          Bring your arms straight overhead, palms kiss, fingers interlaced, releasing your index fingers to point to the sky.
-          Relax your shoulders away from your ears.  Take a few deep breaths here, just slowly waking up your body.
-          As you inhale reach up and on your exhale extend over to your right side, lengthening through the fingertips. Inhale back to center and then exhale to the left side. 
-          Be playful here, holding for shorter periods of time in the beginning and then gradually holding for longer.  Remember to take deep breaths!
-          Its more about the length than the bending to one side.
2.   Baby Backbend:
-          Once you’re done with half moon, come back to center with arms extended overhead.
-          Slightly tuck your chin and then gaze up at your fingertips.
-          Slowly begin to walk your fingertips along the ceiling as come into a baby backbend. 
-          Don’t push it!  In the morning I may only be able to bend an inch or two.
-          Hold for 3-5 breaths and then come back up to center.
3.   Utkatasana (Fierce pose)
-          Release your finger tips, keeping your palms parallel as you continue to reach both arms up
-          Exhale as you hinge from your hips and pretend like you are about to take a seat.
-          Hold in this fierce squat for no more than 3 breaths.  Engage your core muscles.
-          Let the heat in your quads and bum warm you up!

1.    Forward fold
-          Simply exhale and release your fingers to the ground, folding forward.
-          Bend the knees as much as you need to, releasing tension in the lower back.
-          Hug your elbows and gently sway from side to side. 
-          Slowly settle, calmly nod yes, shake no
-          Finally rest in calmness, no movement and breathe slowly for 3 breaths before coming onto your bum.
2.    Knee to Chest
-          Lay flat on your back, feet together, arms at your sides.
-          Bring the right knee into your chest, finger interlaced on your shin.
-          Pull your knee into your chest (not your armpit!), keeping your legs, neck, and head relaxed.
-          When you’re done, mindfully lower the right leg to meet the left.  Same on other side.
3.    Spinal Twist (laying down)
-          Bring your right knee into your chest and then slightly shift your weight to your left hip.
-          Using your left hand placed on the outside of your right knee, pull your knee towards the left.
-          Keep both shoulders kissing the ground.  Gaze to your right and just breathe.  Do other side.
-          When you’re done bring both legs solidly on the ground, feet together, arms at sides.
1.    Both Knees to Chest
-          Bring both knees to your chest, wrapping your arms around your knees.  Grab opposite elbows if you can.
-          Relax your shoulders and tailbone onto the mat.
-          Feel your spine lengthening.
2.    Rock and Roll
-          From Knees to Chest, release your elbows and place your palms in your knee pit.
-          Gently rock and roll from tailbone to shoulder blades, feeling the momentum massage your spine and back muscles.  Go gently!
-          After 5 rolls, pause balancing on your tailbone.
-          Slowly place your palms on the mat and extend your legs flat on the mat.
3.    Extended Staff Stretch
-          Bring your feet and legs together.  Squeeze them together to awake all those muscle fibers.
-          Work on reaching the crown of your head up towards the sky, keeping your back nice and straight.
-          Extend your arms overhead and then slowly roll back down to your mat.
4.    Savasana (Corpse pose)
-          Rest with your arms and legs relaxed at your sides. 
-          Since it’s the morning, don’t stay here long!  We don’t want you falling back to sleep.
-          To get out, mindfully roll over to your right side, come into fetal position, and then push your set up to seated position.
Once I’m done with that (about 10-15 minutes) I roll out on an exercise ball or a foam roll.  Rolling from the base of my spine, up to my shoulder blades helps to release tension in my muscles.  Even though I was sleeping, not all sleep is happy sleep so tension can still build while we “relax”.
Some of you may want to take a couple of minutes of meditation.  Either way, make sure you get your mind and body right.  Remember, stiff body equals a stiff mind.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Personal Mantra

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer”

—Zora Neale Hurston

Never before have I said so many words, so many times over in my mind. Beautiful, simplistic, infinite. Over the past year, this quote has become my personal mantra, my inspiration to trek forward. In its simplicity it has kept me grounded and yet stirs a drive deep inside my soul. Starting this blog is a way to share ideas about ways to live courageously.

Last year as I was coming to the end of a 10-month apprenticeship program, I was given this mantra from a friend. Together, 30 of us had completed a program that was equally grueling and rewarding. It was an adventure of constant questions, as it was my first experience after graduating from college. The change from college classroom to office cubicle caused my mind to fill with doubt about my future.

  • How will I know what I am doing at work?
  • Will my friends forget about me?
  • Can I really become self-reliant?
  • Is the non-profit sector right for me?
  • Will I ever be able to afford my car insurance?

It did not help that everyone around me seemed to be in an equal state of panic. Before starting the program last year I started a blog, which I had hoped would chronicle my adventure in the workplace and fellowship. I posted once. I took a glance at it the other day and tried to remember what my intention had been. Originally, I thought I would show my friends what my 9-5 was like. Perhaps I would offer some grumpy humor for the new and unexciting chapter in my life. I’d lay all the office drama out on the line, describe the hardship of living on a stipend, and maybe describe my job pranks.

Deep down, I was terrified. This move into the workplace meant I was no longer a kid. So, how was I going to come to terms with that?

For a long time, I felt unbalanced and left any hopes of insightful blogging far at bay.

But one day, my confusion was replaced by confidence. I have no idea how it happened, but like the summer between junior and senior year, suddenly I had all the answers… Or at least I stopped searching for answers to questions. Suddenly, I felt content, balanced and alright. Changes and growth took place without me knowing. The first year in the program challenged me to question a lot about myself that I decided to come on for a second year. Maybe the answers would simply come.

So, why blog now?

Here I am another year older, with a birthday fast approaching, and I have high expectations for next year. Unease is a challenge, but its not forever. Its something I constantly remind myself, “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

I really want to not only chronicle my adventures, but I want to provide a way to tackle our barriers. I am on a path to find balance, happiness, and maybe even some answers—and I want to take everyone with me.

Bring on the action!

Welcome to Living Courageously, a blog I hope to use to inspire people to live to their fullest. I’m a young woman with a lot to say and a whole bunch of opinions. I believe there are 6 types of actions that define who we are and what life we lead: Leaping, Reading, Stretching, Balancing, Eating, and Loving. I purposely used the progressive tense of these words as a way to emphasize the importance of doing. Taking a proactive attitude in life will not only give you the energy to live to your fullest, but you will inspire others along the way. Another reason for the progressive tense is to emphasize that the proactive attitude is ongoing. We must constantly move through life, so it might as well be with purpose. And, it might as well be fun! In this blog I hope to:

  • Inspire you to take a leap: explore things you may have been scared to try
  • Open your eyes to read new ideas
  • Show you ways to help you reach your fullest potential
  • Show you the excitement in balance
  • Share yummy food recipes for body and soul
  • Talk about love, love, love

But what do I know? Don’t listen to damn thing I say.