Thursday, March 31, 2011

We are what we watch

On the news this morning there was a story centered on girl-on-girl fighting.  The issue was that teenage girls are violently fighting each other in front of their peers, who record it and put it on the internet.  One of the girls highlighted in the story is a “reality TV star” on the show Teen Mom 2.  Obviously, there is already a lot wrong with this picture.  While I believe over 50% of the news is sensationalized, there is something seriously going on here that I barely know where to start.  It makes my heart hurt.  Unfortunately, I cannot control what other people do, nor can I control what is put on TV.  What I can control is what I say, what I do, what I watch, and ultimately how I think.  Buddha said, “We are what we think.  All that we are arises with our thoughts.  With our thoughts, we make our world.”  So with that, I must start with myself.
I have to work through what is the real reason this story upsets me.  Obviously the fighting itself is the opposite of good, but it’s also not uncommon.  Boys and men have been fighting publically for centuries.  Girl-on-girl fighting is nothing new in the 21st century, but the access to YouTube is relatively fresh.   What used to be a private act, perhaps shared solely in gossip circles, is now blasted on the internet for anyone to see.  One unknown girl’s humiliation was part of my morning.   That’s sad for the both of us.  But for me it’s not about the fight itself.  The fact that girls are fighting each other viciously is undoubtedly stupid, but is not as disturbing to me as the general public’s encouragement of this behavior.  When the clips posted on YouTube of girls fighting were shown, it was the crowd of people egging on the girls that horrified me.  There was no regard for the screams of agony, no one tried to help, and people actually laughed and cheered.  In one clip, a girl’s mother drove her to the fight and gave her encouragement from the side.  Terrible, disgusting.  It’s a modern day Gladiator.

As part of my work, I am part of a project with local Wilmington teens.  It was supposed to be a collaborative effort between my fellow Allies and the teens, as we develop a project on respect.  What it has turned into is an eye-opening conversation on the realities of fighting, bullying, peer-pressure, self-respect, and survival.   They talk about their own fights with no problem, no attachment, and no regret.  What I realize is that it’s the something inside of us that has called this entertainment—the part of us that derives pleasure from this, the part of us that is okay with seeing another’s pain—that deeply, deeply upsets me. 
Ashamed, I must admit that I’ve watched Teen Mom 2 and cringed at the fights and the total lack of responsibility.  I have also watched Jersey Shore and listened to domestic fights.  These were all choices of mine.  I could have easily changed the channel or better yet, turned off the television.  I cannot blame the TV executives or the show’s producers for being socially irresponsible.   People have asked for this stuff.  All I can do is reshape my mind and refuse to encourage this kind of behavior.  As Buddha had said, with my thoughts, I make my world.  I know that any desire from within me to watch these shows originates from negative feelings I carry: jealousy, doubt, fear, lack of self-worth or confidence.  If I eliminate these dirty, nasty feelings, I doubt I will be tempted to watch shows like Teen Mom, Jersey Shore, or any other similar trash.  In developing a steady yoga practice, I can feel my backpack of negative emotions slowly getting lighter, as I leave these feelings behind.
How can a slow exercise to ambient music work to changing human behavior?  I know it sounds absurd and maybe it is.  But I believe it can, slowly and unknowingly, so just hear me out.  In any yoga class, you often hear the word Namaste (nah-mah-stay) and maybe you’ve never known what that means.  At the end of class, we bring our hands to our hearts and we bow together and say, Namaste.  What a strange thing to do, right?  At first this made me uncomfortable because I felt like I was in church or unknowingly entered an eccentric cult.  In fact in the beginning I totally faked it and if I was at home, I would just turn off the DVD and walk away.  It was during these days that I still was competitive with my own body—getting angry if it wouldn’t do a pose or if I didn’t lose weight.  I didn’t understand the yoga practice.  So back to Namaste, what did it really mean?  I had always heard my teachers say, the light in me sees and honors the light in you.  Huh, what light?! Literally Namaste means I bow to you; “nama” means bow, “as” means I, and “te” means you.  Ultimately it’s recognition of another humans worth, as well as your own.   From one soul to another.  Now, as I learned more about the origins of yoga and read more about Buddhist philosophy, I have begun to truly feel the importance of Namaste.  When I say it I try to picture my competiveness evaporate, my hostilities vanish, and my jealousy die. 
So, I cannot force others to embrace non-violence towards each other.  But I am making a promise to myself today, that I will be non-violent to my body, my mind, and my soul and hope that that can be enough.

Monday, March 28, 2011

The Spice of Life

Well, today you are all in for a treat!  Below is our first featured blog post by my boyfriend Matt.  Enjoy!

The Spice of Life
            Today was a beautiful day to be outside, if it were only 30 degrees warmer.  Winter in the northeast is always a tough time get outside to do something fun and stimulating.  How many times can you go bowling or to the mall?  It is technically Spring and Rachael and I are so tired of not being outside, so we found a place where we can have fun with the illusion of being outside—The Delaware Rock Gym.

            Yup, an indoor rock climbing facility.  Pretty cool, right?  I had never done any rock climbing, but I was really pumped up to try it.  When we get there, the inside looks awesome.  Some walls are straight up, others are funky and angled.  It took just one look; I'm ready to go.

            To get us started, an employee gets us into our harness, goes through a quick safety routine and gives us some climbing tips (both of which I barely listen to because I'm distracted by the rock walls), and gets us started on an easy first climb. 

            Rachael goes first and champs it.  She ascends effortlessly and in the back of my mind I'm hoping I look just as good on my turn.  Fortunately, this first climb was more of a "feeling out" climb, and I had zero problems navigating the route.  Also, this first wall was not as high as the others we would be climbing, being only about 25 feet.  So, the fear of heights was not yet a factor.  Our next climb though was going to be much more challenging.

            We were told the next route was only slightly harder, but we could see it was about two and a half times higher.  Rachael goes first again and instantly impresses the employee who is belaying us.  He shouts out instructions, but it seems like she doesn't even need them.  When she reaches the top she leans back away from wall and is lowered down to the ground.  She smiles and says it was harder, but I don't believe her.  Ok, again it’s my turn.

            I start climbing and at first it seems effortless.  Then as I reach about two thirds of the way up, I can't find a foothold.  As soon as I peak down at my feet in an attempt to find one, I notice how high up I am.  Holy shit that's high!  All of a sudden I notice my forearms burning and my heart beating faster.  Panicking, I think I'm in trouble.  I hear instructions being shouted to me for my next move.  Regain your focus, I tell myself.  Now I listen intently to what my next move should be.  With determination I listen, move, and continue to climb.  When I reach the top and it's a rush.  As I get lowered down, I can't wait to start the next climb.

            We did 2 more climbs after that, each one with a new level of difficulty.  We got a chance to climb funky angles and scary heights.  With each climb, we also had to combat our screaming muscles.  When we finally left the gym, I felt like I was on a climbing high for hours.  To think just this morning I had never done this before and now I’m hooked.  I proved to myself how essential it is to try new things.  To be a total beginner at something is exciting, nerve racking, a struggle, but also rewarding.  If I had let my fear of heights have power over my day, I would not have known what it was like to reach the top of the wall.  Being scared is not easy, but I believe we should embrace these feelings and not run from them.  Use them to push you through your fear.  Rachael even said she never looked down, thinking her fear would stop her from climbing.  I would have never known!

             Learning new things and trying new things always keeps my mind stimulated.  I try to seek out these opportunities.  When was the last time you gave something ALL of your attention, or you were totally immersed into what you were doing?  When I don't know what I’m doing, I tend to listen more carefully and become totally engaged, like when I was two stories up and felt stuck on the wall.  Or when Rachael introduced me to Ultimate Frisbee and I spent days on my own learning how to throw and how to play the game.  She even dragged me on a 10 mile hike through a Hawaiian volcano when I had never gone hiking before.  It was a pivotal moment for me when I finally reached the summit—exhausted, sweaty, but empowered.  In these moments of struggle, you must give it your all. 

I never want the excuse, “I don’t know how” or “I’ve never done that” to rule my life. I believe that continuing to challenge yourself with new adventures and activities will greatly improve your life.  Even if it’s just to prove something to you and no one else.  You'll learn more about yourself and hell, you may even surprise yourself.  So give yourself that chance.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Looking to Moments

“The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough.” Rabindranath Tagore

It’s as if this past week has been dedicated to the future, as people in both my personal and professional life have insisted I look ahead.  For work it’s more than just encouragement; we had a conference this week that urged us to plan for our life after our service.   We were asked to think about the career we want to have, the passion that drives us, and what options we have to obtain our dreams.  These are big questions!  For me, I still think that there is so much I would like to do.  Yet these workshops, conferences, etc. make me feel like time is running out.  Act now, know now, prepare now!  Its as if I must decide NOW to determine the rest of my life.  Heavy questions, important answers.  It’s no surprise that looking ahead and even thinking about what’s to come can be overwhelming. 

I believe in the importance of looking forward to the future, but I often fall into a cycle of constantly planning what’s to come that I forget the present.  The precious moment that I have now is gone before I have a chance to appreciate it.  It’s like a receiver in football anticipating his next run to the point that he drops the ball hitting his chest.  I find that thinking this way is not exclusive to thoughts regarding my career.  Often in my relationships, fitness goals, and even eating, I am thinking about the next move.  My mind likes to fill with thoughts of “what if,” or “what’s next,” and sometimes even “when will this goes wrong.”  The amount of time and energy wasted thinking about my future affects my present.  There is nothing I truly have but now and yet I cannot help but thinking about maintaining it in the future.  I’ve mentioned this before, but our attempt to control our future has the potential to live in our today as competitiveness, jealousy, doubt, and panic.

How can we look ahead without fumbling ourselves now? 

Not that I have the answers, but I know that it is simply one foot at a time. We must pay attention to each step (and that step primarily) before looking to our next.  It’s a fine and complicated balance.  When I hike, I must constantly switch my gaze from the ground to the path ahead to ensure that I neither trip on a root nor lose my way.  If I always try to see where the path is going, I could lose my footing.  If my eyes only follow my feet, I lose where I am going.  Even practicing yoga requires discipline with each move.  I cannot simply jump into an arm balancing pose without carefully placing my hands, shifting weight, and then mindfully combining strength with movement. 

So, as if every day were a hike, I have vowed to look ahead, but not too far in front of me.  I see no problem in planning little things, establishing monthly goals, and having an ultimate dream.  But it’s okay to not always be moving “directly” toward that dream.  To me, it feels stifling and chore-like when I think I must act continuously towards a goal.   Doing purely for the sake of interest, not need.  As my beloved philosopher Dumbledore said, “The consequences of our actions are so complicated, so diverse, that predicting the future is a very difficult business indeed.”  We cannot determine what step will bring us into a dream unimagined, so I must live with my eyes open to the moments.   There is no guarantee in planning, so I cannot depend on my plan.  I cannot plan that in a year from now my relationships will still me intact; I can only be a wonderful lover and friend today.  I cannot say that everything I work for today will lead me to a comfortable life free of worry.  What I can depend on is the power in continually moving, growing, learning for the sake of living through which we will succeed.

Like the butterfly, try to count your moments in flight.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Hoping to Hear from you!

So after my post yesterday about my first teaching experience, I thought it would be really interesting to do a mini series.  The posts would be about conquering fears (on or off the mat) and/or trying new things.  Before I do, I would love to hear from all of you!  

Could you tell me a time when you were terrified to go through with something?  How did you handle it?

Monday, March 21, 2011

First Sight of Storms

This morning everyone in the Greater Philadelphia region is waking up to the pitter patter of rain on their windows.   As I slowly come out of a deep sleep, my room is the darkest of dark like a protective cave of slumber.  I should have noticed right away that the sunshine of yesterday was gone, as both our cats were on our pillows jumping at something imaginary on our walls.  They had been meowing anxiously and restlessly rummaging around the house.  I pried myself out from the covers and shuffled mindlessly to the bathroom.  Right before I flipped the light switch, a shocking flash filled the room.  An instant later it was followed by a rumbling so loud it vibrated my chest.  As I stood in the middle of the dark room, I allowed myself a moment to feel the flashes of lighting and the deep thunders.  Storms are nothing new to me know, but they are still spectacular. I realized that it was Weasley’s and Baxter’s first thunderstorm.   Just like any of us experiencing something for the first time, a cocktail of emotion stirs inside; a mix of thrill, confusion, fear, and elation. 

The storm brought me back to my own experience yesterday, when I taught my first public yoga class.  All day I prepared for my class, thinking of excellent cues, picking the perfect music, and picturing the students I would have.  I was like a humid Summer’s day, heavy with anticipation.  Slowly the minutes and then hours evaporated, leaving me with nothing to face but the fated moment. 

I really had no idea what to expect and—to be perfectly honest—I had no idea how to prepare.  As more and more people arrived and the studio filled, I felt a storm cloud building within me.  I had energy vibrating from my fingertips to my toes.  Nerves clashed with fear; doubt rumbled with excitement.  I was beginning to hope that I could hold onto these emotions forever and not actually go through with this moment.  The class was nearly full (over 45 people), so not the easiest first class to teach.  As if she saw my confidence blustering, Mary came over with only 2 minutes left before class.  She was in my teacher training, is one of the nicest ladies I know, and most importantly had taught this class before.  Mary was told once and so in turn told me, “starting like this is like jumping off a cliff—everything else you do will be cake.”  She gave me the go get ‘em girl pep talk I needed before running back into the room and onto her mat.   And with that, there was no time left.   I opened the door and began…

It is hard to visualize how something will be until you’re there, doing it, experiencing it.  It’s like the first rollercoaster you ever rode.  Could you ever have imagined it looking or feeling like that?  How do you describe the feeling of your first jump off the high dive, when you are suspended in air awaiting the water?  For me, it was like I became the storm cloud.  At first I was still nervous, letting my cues and my energy drip one rain drop at time.  Each word came out hesitantly and cautiously.  Yet as the class began to move, I suddenly got my surge of vigor and my energy began to pour.  I felt my tension cascade away as my words rained down in streams.  I have NO IDEA what I said.  All I know is that I moved through the room and out of the corner of my eye saw my students moving to my words.   When at last I led the class in the final pose savasana, the room became silent, still, and calm.  I took a deep breath in and felt the air fill my belly, chest, and spine.  On the exhale, all my tension released and I was left with an exhilarated high.  The storm had passed.  (It actually looked like it rained in there—the students were drenched!)

In the end, it all happened at a speed I couldn’t define.  Some moments felt like they lasted forever, others went by in a flash.  I couldn't tell you if I used the wonderful cues I practiced or if the music I chose worked.  What I do know is that after the class I felt elated, fresh and warm from somewhere deep within.  So it only seems fitting that I left the class with these simple words:

“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.” –Ralph  Waldo Emerson

Friday, March 18, 2011

Berate vs. Balance

As everyone knows, yesterday was St. Patrick’s Day.  Despite its historical meanings, today the holiday has mostly become a celebration of Irish culture, including music, food, drink, and costume.   Of the adult crowds that celebrate, none can deny that St. Patrick himself seems to have adopted a standard of heavy Irish beer drinking and corned beef eating.  I have always loved this holiday, even as a youngster when it was not about the beer.  There was something deeply nostalgic about Celtic music, bagpipes, rustic food, dying everything green, and saying ‘must be the Luck o’ the Irish!’ every chance I got.   
The holiday is not exactly the same for me now as it was when I was ten.  Alas, the holiday has become Americanized (as most are) and characterized by overindulgence.   But I am not cynical, as I love it just the same, but I am forced to approach the holiday with caution.  Yesterday my boyfriend and I dined a fantastically Irish meal with Guinness Corned Beef, Colcannon, Irish Soda Bread, and a big glass of the classic Irish Stout (Guinness again!).   I had planned it all week, looking forward to the meal and even sinking my teeth into homemade yummy meat (yes, meat).    Hold your judgment.  As someone who is health conscious and strives to treat my body well, but absolutely loves celebrating with holiday food and festivities, I must strike a balance.  Yet, I realize this is not easy and I often struggle with achieving peace after such decadent pleasure. 

Our overwhelming response to overindulgence is self-destruction.  This could come in the form of self-degradation where we blame our weakness for eating or drinking too much.  Or this is come in the form of quitting; we throw our hands up in defeat and say ‘Forget this!  I might as well forget about my diet and exercise!’  Sometimes in an overzealous effort to reach equilibrium, we throw ourselves into a health-kick frenzy…eventually becoming a yo-yo dieter.  What I discovered is that I am not alone, as plenty of us choose to berate ourselves instead of coming back to balance.  
This is ridiculous!  When we do poorly on a test, do we assume all tests from here on out are a fated failure?  If we fall down the stairs once, do we fall down every flight of stairs we attempt to descend?  I sure hope not!   So why are we tempted to be so hard on ourselves when we enjoy a celebration? 
What I discovered is that I have to be okay with my choices and then quickly move on.   They happened and there is no turning back time.  I knew all week that I was excited for our Irish meal and I enjoyed feeling that excitement.  I had never made (or ate) corned beef or colcannon and I had never made Irish soda bread.  There was wonderful pleasure in planning for and devouring our authentic  meal.  Do not deny yourself these moments!  It’s okay to have these days, meals, or whatever where you break your own rules.  It does not mean you will continue to quit or fail or that you have no strength to endure.  What it means is that you are human.  What saves me is knowing that I will not continue to indulge after, but rather I will go back to normal with a fresh attitude.  Have a plan to cure your post-holiday-guilt and avoid beating yourself up.   Personally, I knew this morning would be warmer so I prepared last night to walk to work instead of drive.  I packed a healthy vegan lunch and yoga gear for my post-work practice.   Getting back to a normal healthy routine is crucial.
There was nothing better  to start my day than powerfully walking to work at 7:30 in the morning with soda bread in my belly and a Guinness on my mind.
As you ramble through life, whatever be your goal;
Keep your eye upon the doughnut, and not upon the hole.—Irish Proverb

Monday, March 14, 2011


Dorothy: Now which way do we go?
Scarecrow: Pardon me, this way is a very nice way.

Scarecrow: [points both ways] Of course, some people do go both ways
Sometimes it’s hard to know which way to go once a path seemingly ends.  We could be left with no foreseeable path or too many choices, and to Dorothy the scarecrow suggests no right answer.  As with most children’s stories, the Wizard of Oz is very much about finding our way.   This journey does not end with our childhood, we carry this curiosity throughout our whole lives as we determine who we are and where we would like to be.  
Yesterday was my graduation from the Yoga Teacher Training program, so the question where do I go from here? has been lingering in my mind.  I can remember the very first night of the training; I was nervous and yet shaking with anticipation.  All day leading up to our first Friday night together I wondered about the people I would be learning with, my own experience (would it be enough?), what my teachers would be like, and if I had the ability to finish it.   It would be dishonest if I said the program was easy.  There were a lot of moments where I struggled and I questioned myself.  Both emotionally and physically, it was a challenging adventure.  If perhaps all I did was the teacher training than it would be easier, but we all know that life continues on without pause. 
Whenever we take on a new goal, project, or journey we must find a way to fit that into our lives.  I can compare this to the person who decides to get healthy and follow a strict diet and workout regime.  They need to dedicate 6 hours a week to exercising, 6 or more hours preparing healthy meals.  Further, they need to cut out some of their most cherished comforts to replace them with healthier options.  Unfortunately, they cannot simply stop doing all that they did before to focus on this (unless you’re in The Biggest Loser).  Life continues to give us work, school, stress, obligations, and time limits.  We all must make choices and sacrifices in order to see our goal come to fruition.  At some points we have to say ‘no’ to something in order to say ‘yes’ to something bigger.   There were friend dates, beautiful weather days, house chores, and even family gatherings that I missed in order to see my dream of becoming a yoga instructor come true.   Because of these sacrifices, the challenges, and even the struggles, the journey has been so rewarding. 
I feel like I am not the same person now as I was 6 months ago.  But perhaps that is not entirely true.  During our last asana class together, our teacher Nancy played for us a special soundtrack to guide us through our poses.  In a whimsical way, we listened to Somewhere over the Rainbow, by Israel Kamakawiwo'ole as we came into our final poses. Nancy left us with a quote then about Dorothy’s journey to Oz, and realizing that we had all that we needed from the start. The Lion had courage, the Tinman had a heart, the Scarecrow had a brain, and all they needed to do was find it within them.

So, when I think about the road ahead and where I may go, I must always remember that I already have all that I need. Any challenge or struggle that comes my way, I have the ability to tackle it. Know that I am not unique in this, we all have this amazing ability, and it’s just a matter of recognizing it within ourselves.

As another great mind said, “Doesn’t matter what path you choose. Just choose one and walk it.”

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Personal Calls

One hundred and thirty five years ago, on this very day, the first ever telephone message was sent.  Today seemingly everyone not only has a phone, but a personal phone.  Before I get an eye roll and a not-another-one-of-those, I am not suggesting we should be shocked about this.  The phone has become so normal in our lives and it's progression so natural, that it would be ridiculous of me to sit here and say 'how absurd!'  Nor am I suggesting we should do any with it and shun technology.  So, if you were about to make an assumption…stop.

We created technology to connect us, to bring us closer in communication, and to make every part of the world more accessible.  That idea is flippin' amazing.  In so many ways, we've accomplished that; its our reality that we can communicate with China instantaneously.  Further, one of the greatest technological creations of this generation is Facebook, a network based on our desire to be closer to other people.  How beautiful in theory, but how many of us are using this technology to really connect with those that we love?  When was the last time you had a meaningful conversation talking on the phone?

Forget text messaging, facebooking, emailing, whatever else our phones can do now; just think about the last time you called up a friend and simply talked.  If you are anything like me, this conversation took place while you were driving (shhh), cooking, walking, internet surfing, or watching TV.  I would then argue that’s not truly a meaningful conversation because you are not giving that person your whole being.  How can I fully laugh at your joke when I am trying to cut onions without crying?  What about the friend who calls you while she is walking through her college campus; do you feel like you are having a quality conversation with her?  Or perhaps do you hang up in frustration?  We seem willing to only give half of ourselves to the person and the other half is free to do as we please.  Our problem is not the technology itself, it’s our inability to focus on one thing and be okay with just that.  Maybe problem is too strong of a word; perhaps I should just say that our generation is focus-challenged.

In yoga, the only way to stay balance in a pose is to focus on one thing—yourself.  You cannot be worried about all those around you because then you are destined to fall.  In the military in order to complete the job you must focus solely on its success.  During a race, a game, a fight, the same thing applies.  This concept of focus is nothing new, but we’ve lost its importance somewhere between our iPhones and Droids. 

When we call someone, remember that we are calling upon that relationship.  It’s not about the means in which we are communicating, but simply that we are communicating.  This is what we wanted all along, to communicate better.  So give that person your all, and do nothing else except be on the phone—together.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Dedication to Laughter

This post is dedicated to laughing.  If anyone knows me well, they will tell you that I am an AFV junkie.  (By AFV I mean the best show on television, America’s Funniest Home Videos.)   At the start of the show, I just let out a small chuckle, then maybe it builds into an audible HA!  Before I know it, my whole body is shaking and my eyes are crying from laughing so hard.  And I am LOUD.  You can hear my cackle from any room in the house, and I dare you not to join in on the laughter when you hear me.   Friends and family come running in; they want in on this laughing action.  Sometimes even when a commercial comes on, I am still laughing about the last kid I saw talking about ham, watch it yourself.
When I am watching funny videos, nothing is on my mind.  It easy to just let go and laugh at all the silly things people do, how adorable our kids are, or how fantastically awkward falling really is.  But its more than just laughing isn’t it?  How great is it to laugh by yourself?  How do you describe that feeling that you get when you are in a full room with everyone laughing hysterically?
There is something wonderful about laughing and it’s scientifically proven to be good for you!  It releases funky little endorphins which flood your body with good feeling and de-stressors.  Endorphins are our body’s natural pain killers, attaching to the same cell receptors that morphine does.  Most of us know that exercising and laughing make us feel good, now you know it’s actually biologically instinctive for us to be happy and active.  What’s so amazing is that we are born with all these tools at our fingertips!   Laughing is also the easiest abdominal workout you will ever do.   For more, check out the benefits of laughing.  Some yoga practitioners have caught on and even developed “Laughter Yoga.”  I have never been, but I am sure its fun.  For me right now, its my weakness for falling videos.  I mean, you can’t tell me that after a night of AFV watching you don’t feel fantastic.
So become an endorphin junkie and laugh it off with me.  If you don’t know where to start, just watch this a bunch of times:

Post some videos that make you smile, laugh, or just feel good!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

What we truly are

When we come to a point in our lives where we have to make an important decision, whether it is seemingly large or small, it is usually not easy.  It’s amazing how much more difficult one decision can be, when we make tons decisions everyday all day without a problem.  We can decide on what we will be wearing (sometimes), what we will be eating, where we’re going, and who we will be with.  I would consider these no-brainer decisions.  They are mechanical and on the totem pole of importance, they are pretty low.  On the opposite end are the dreaded ‘big’ decisions that wander into our minds and play on our jungle gym of doubt and confusion.  They are the life-changers, the deal-breakers.  We believe them to carry a weight so heavy that it will determine our dreams and our future.  These choices are placed on the pedestal of destiny. Which college will I attend? What job do I want?  Is this friendship worth continuing? Should I pursue my passion, albeit risky?    
While I do believe these decisions to be incredibly important, I am beginning to believe less in the gravity of these decisions.  For example, during my senior year of high school, choosing a college was a huge deal.  It was supposed to demonstrate your intelligence, your competence, and your ultimate guide to the life you will lead.  I agonized for hours fantasizing about the life each college would offer me.  After going through the whole process, I was devastated and angry that (for various reasons) I was left with little choice.  In other situations, the choice is made for you as well.  Before you can weigh the pro’s and con’s of a relationship, whether professional, friendship, or romantic, its ended for you and life goes on.  When I look back at my college experience, I wouldn’t change a thing.  Even though it was a decision I didn’t want, trudging through it and making the best of it has given me so much.  It was a choice.  It was an important decision to quit whining and choosing a better attitude, ending up being the best thing I did for myself in college. 
What I believe are truly important choices are these ‘middle’ decisions.  They are the choices we make once something happens.  The middle decisions carry social weight but may not directly or drastically change our lives as we see it.  These choices are also made when we decide to gossip about an old friend, help a stranger, drink at a party, tell white lies, or start a fight.  They are the choices that slowly, quietly, and eventually define us.  It’s the decision to handle a bad situation well; it’s our decision to take responsibility for ourselves.  So whether or not you can make it into a particular college is not as important as what we do once we know where we are going. 
This is also important in terms with our relationship with our health.  Getting healthy and fit is not a big decision, rather its a bunch of wonderful, little choices that will change your life forever.  Eventually these little choices make us who we are because they become embedded in our way of thinking, doing, being.  You don't choose to be balanced, but through your choices you can become balanced.
Once again, as my favorite philosopher said, “It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities”—Dumbledore. 

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sunday Morning Wake-up

Nothing says Sunday Morning, like a big delicious brunch.  I like waking up before anyone else (except my two catdogs, Baxter and Weasley) put on Jack Johnson's Banana Pancakes and start the breakfast feast.  I like to make a large batch of pancakes, eggs, or bacon (for the man, not me!).  The trick is to remember that delicious food can be healthy!  For instance, I like these scrambled "eggs" for my weekend breakfast, since I have been flirting with veganism since last year.  They are also a great choice if you are watching your cholesterol.  If I am making real eggs, I aim for a 1:3 yolk to egg white ratio.  I would use this same egg ratio rule if making french toast.  As always, use real maple syrup (no fake stuff) and choose a yummy whole grain bread.  Even if you don't change the meal itself, but you change the kind of ingredients, then you are doing yourself a favor.

Anyway, without a doubt, my ultimate breakfast specialty is pancakes.  The recipe I use comes from my father's weekend classic.  When he would make these pancakes, it would last me nearly ALL day.  
Here is my dad's featured recipe:

Rick's Secretly Healthy Short Stack

Here is the dry  mix:
2 1/2 cups spelt flour
1/2 cup soy flour
1/2 cup Quinoa or Kamut flour
1/2 cup barley or Amaranth flour
1/4 cup rice flour
1 cup oat or wheat bran
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
** You can also add some protein powder to give this a muscle-man-kick.

Thoroughly mix the dry ingredients.

To make pancakes, mix the following just before cooking:

1 cup dry mix
1 cup milk, either rice, soy, almond, goat, or cow
I egg (or vegan substitute...I like one mushed banana)
healthy dose of milled flax seed
1 tsp of baking powder (non-aluminum)

Mix can also be used to make waffles, and you can add just about anything to the wet mix like berries, granola, fruit, etc


Saturday, March 5, 2011

Partying Through Dinner

A dinner party is one of the most dreaded things to come your way when you're watching your weight.  It can be even worse when its a potluck and there is oodles and oodles of food.  I have a very hard time with these parties even more so because I have been a vegan flirt for over a year (flirt meaning I have been working towards committing fully to veganism, but not there yet).  Even before I decided to go vegan, I had been vegetarian and have been a health food junkie most my life.  That doesn't mean that I am immune to horrible, no good, terrible, very bad temptations.  Since I normally don't cook or order unhealthy choices, when they are right in front of me its sooo much harder to ward off the wonderful, greasy, cheesy smell of that buffalo chicken cheesy dip.

The second obstacle is the social aspect to dinner parties. I see someone grab a plate of something I haven't tried, and I immediately want it even if I'm full.  Its easy for me to turn off my full sensor and switch on my "its okay is a party!" sensor.  Problem?  I feel far from my awesome self and want to leave the party early.  Eating should be fun, especially with friends.  So why does dinner party grub become an addicting self destruction?  Peer pressure.

There is no denying I love food.  I love making it, sharing it, tasting it, everything.  What saves my weight is that I absolutely love making fresh, healthy food.   It leaves you feeling full and satisfied, but not gross and gassy.  People are afraid of health food because of the naughty word, health (gasp!).  What is that weird thing called tofu?  Why is that salad green and where is the mayo?  Ultimately, we don't think a dinner party would be the same without the pigs-in-a-blanket, nachos, potato skins, and onion dip.  We're right.  It would be so much BETTER!
A delicious picnic menu my friend Megan and I had over the summer.  All good for you!

So, lets vow to make the dinner party a party for our tummy once again.  If we are celebrating good friends, lets also be good to our pesky friend the tummy.  (That's the one we should worry about, temperamental thing who holds grudges for hours.)  Tonight I am attending my Yoga Teacher Training potluck, celebrating our almost-doneness.  Here is what I am making:

Roasted Tomato Bruschetta (un-cheesed)

  • 1 pound tomatoes (your choice)
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1/2 cup fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup Italian vegan cheese (or 1/2 parmesan if you are a health food WUSSY)
Italian vegan cheese:
  • 8 oz extra firm tofu*
  • 3 tbsp vegan parmesan** OR nutritional yeast
  • 4 tsp lemon juice
  • 2 tsp honey or agave
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 1 tsp dried basil
  • 1 tsp dried oregano
  • salt/pepper to taste
Mix ingredients in bowl and let sit for an hour to flavor. *Extra firm tofu will give this recipe a feta cheese texture, for a ricotta texture go for firm or medium firm.  **Found easily in the fridge near the veggies in any main chain supermarket.

For the Bruschetta:
  1. Preheat oven to 425 F degrees.  Cut tomatoes in half, remove seeds and place cut-side down on baking dish.  Cut onions in quarters and then spread onions and garlic around tomatoes on dish.  
  2. Drizzle with 1/2 tbsp olive oil and bake in oven for 30-35 minutes until tomatoes are tender/browning.
  3. Remove and cool for 10 minutes.
  4. Place in food processor with remaining oil, basil, and cheese.  Serve on lightly toasted bread.

Look for another post soon about other tummy approved party fare.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Head games and Heart Wars

I was talking with my sister the other day about dating and after admitting frustration in her own dating habits she said, “too bad dating is one of those things you don’t follow your brain with.”  We’ve all heard this dilemma so many times, thinking with your head verses listening to your heart.  Unfortunately though, I believe we’ve mistaken the two.  People are too quick to tell us to be rational, use our heads to do what's best.  More often than not, our poor little heart gets a bad rep (as if it makes the bad decision!)  I felt there was something wrong with this picture, so I began to investigate. When I look back at my mistakes, I believe it was my mind playing old tricks with me.  My heart was right all along.

Let’s think about this together.  What sort of conversations do you have with your mind?  If you are anything like me, my mind is not always kind and levelheaded.  It’s been known to say such things like: I am not good enough, I can't do that, I could lose more weight, etc.  On the other hand, it likes to ignite my ego with things like jealousy, doubt, fear, pride, and narcissism.   While my mind is one of my best friends, a true thinker, often it’s when I allow my mind free range that I think too much and get myself in trouble.  There have been opportunities that my heart craved, that my mind convinced me would be too difficult to pull off.

Starting with the Yoga Sutra's yamas and niyamas, I hope to find where this comes from. I hoard thoughts of my past, both good and bad.  They exist as what has been or what could have been, torturing me into not seeing clearly the current moment.  Like pictures on the wall, my mind has a way of not letting go.  In yoga, this is discouraged in the yama, 
Aparigraha and basically means to practice non-possessiveness. This is a yama I have to work on continuously.  Its safe to say I am not alone, we all have that one thought or image from our past that we are not ready to let go.  It could be something someone said to us, something that happened to us, etc.  In relationships, I hear people say the words, "it was perfect back then," "it was the best time of my life," OR "I will never move on."  They are attachments to the past.  As my favorite literary character Albus Dumbedore said, "It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live."

The mind is an amazing thing and I truly believe our thoughts possess unimaginable power.  We can use our minds for progressive thinking and discover amazing things.  So, why do we let our minds stiffle us in relationships, our aspirations, our future?

I don't know.  I mean, I sometimes find myself making the same mistakes, being reminded of the same things, knowing all along that I had learned this once before.  Take the example of your First Love.  Oh, what bliss!  For most people, this relationship dragged on for much longer than it should.  We often blame it on the heart.  Damn my heart for loving them too much to let go.  But was it really your heart?  How many times did you physically ache from the agony of the break-up?  How many times did you replay every moment of the relationship, the words, the kisses, the fights, over and over again?  I can bet for most of us the physical ditress went away faster than our mental distress.  In fact in some cases, our mind is jealous that the heart recovered so quickly that we hurt our bodies in other ways.

See?  The heart knows whats best for us and we ignore it to wallow in agony.  That's just dumb!  Why don't we just tell our mind to shhh up and focus on something more worthwhile.

As I am learning to listen to my heart more and letting the thoughts I hoard in my mind go, I find myself much more fulfilled in my relationships and beyond.  The mind loves drama, but the heart loves consistency.  Like its constant beating, the heart is quietly telling us to love this moment, then move onto the next.  Without attachment, we can love what we have now and perhaps see what we need.

The heart will tell you when to move on far before the mind, so try and find that inner beat and follow it.  See whose decision making skills you like better.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Powerful Warriors

Finally the promised Warrior poses!  This is actually a timely post, as I went back to practicing yoga on Monday 3 days after my surgery and had to find the strength to hold not only my Warrior poses, but any of the poses.  It was difficult getting on the mat at first because I found fear creeping into my mind.  Would the combination of the pain medication and the heat (I practice in a room heated between 98 and 104 degrees) make me too nauseous to finish?  Would my mouth swell up like a balloon?  Would I be strong enough to balance at all?  But I had come that night and I was determined to get my body back to work and pushed those lazy thoughts away.  The practice actually felt wonderful and my beloved teacher Nancy helped give me the courage to come into one of the most beautiful dancer’s poses to date. I will talk about Dancer’s pose in the future, including all the complicated emotional significance it carries for most yogis and yoginis. 

Anyhoo, last night as I came to my mat I felt more confident and physically ready to take on the challenging class.  I made an internal promise to myself that I would push myself and remember my own personal strength I find when I get out of my mind and into my body, my pose.  When Mary brought the class into our Warrior II she repeated a familiar mantra, “Where your attention goes, energy flows.” What a perfect thing to say!  Not only did this apply to my physical post-op healing, but my practice as well.  If you remember nothing that I ever say, please remember this.  In yoga, when you are struggling in a pose,  picture yourself breathing into the place of struggle.  Your energy will flow to your struggle and it will pass.  When you are off the mat and you are faced with a challenge, focus your energy and breathe into that challenge.  With your calm and positive vigor, it too will dissipate.  When I am cueing, I like to think to myself, inhale hold my ground, exhale sink into that struggle.  Before I know it, I am farther into a pose and breathing more deeply.  But…that’s just me. 
Now for the warriors:

Balancing Warrior
You have a couple of options to come into Balancing Warrior: stepping back or stepping forward. To step back, begin at the top of your mat in mountain pose.  Begin your “sun salutation” flow or any variation (Utkatasana, fold, come into flat back OR swan dive, fold, flat back).  Once in flat back, exhale your right leg back into a lunge, keeping you heel off the mat.  On your next exhale, swing your arms to your sides, palms down (airplane arms).  Inhale swing your arms down, forward and up.  Allow your arm movement to hinge your torso upright.  To step forward, come into your downward dog.  On an inhale lift your right leg off the mat and kick it up behind you.  On an exhale pull it through, placing it firmly on the mat between your palms and establishing your lunge.  Follow the same steps as above.  Things to keep in mind in Balancing Warrior:
-          Keep the weight in both legs even, engage the muscles equally
-          Your legs are the strength of this pose so establish a solid foundation
-          Straighten the right leg by reaching your right heel to the back of the mat
-          Square the hips to the top of you mat; usually it helps to pull your left hip back as you pull your right hip forward
-          Keep your shoulders over top of your hips (don’t lean forward or bend backward)
-          Relax your shoulders away from your ears, keeping the arms straight and strong
-          Bring energy into your fingertips
-          Gaze straight ahead and breathe (sink deeper into pose on exhales)
Warrior I
Warrior I consists of the same principles as Balancing Warrior except that your back heel is down on the mat.  This means that your hips have to work harder to be square toward the top of your mat.  In this Warrior pose, be careful not to allow your back leg to become lazy and bent slightly.  I always have to check in and make sure because even though I think my back leg is straight, it often tricks me here.  *Tip for straightening your back leg in Warriors with your heel on the mat, focus on pressing the outside part of your foot firmly into the mat, engaging all the muscles up the leg.

Warrior II

Start in Balancing Warrior or Warrior I, sweep the arms open and out to your sides into Warrior II.  You maintain the same principles in your lower body that you established in Warrior I.  Your gaze is just beyond your fingertips. Open your chest, open your heart, by reaching your fingertips in opposite directions and relaxing your shoulders down.  Keep your arms strong and straight; maintain the strength in your legs.
Reverse Warrior

Begin in Warrior II and slide your back arm to the back of your straight leg.  As you slide your arm down your leg, bring your gaze and other arm straight up to the sky.  Reach up from your core, all the way through your fingertips.  Feel a stretch in your side body.  Remember to continue to bend into your front leg; it has a tendency to become lazy and loose.
Warrior III
As with all other warrior poses, Warrior III strengthens the legs, shoulders, core and back, as well as improving balance.  Warrior III requires patience and concentration, as there is a lot going on within the body to maintain this pose.  Begin from Balancing Warrior, bring your palms together and interlace your fingers.  (Release your index finger, creating “Charlies’s Angels” pose). Then, mindfully:
-          Bring your weight forward into your front foot as you gently lift up your back leg.
-          Hinge at the waist, bringing your torso forward until it is parallel to the floor. (If you cannot keep your legs or arms straight, only hinge to the point where you can keep the integrity of the pose)
-          Think of your arms, core, and back leg as one solid line.  When you bring your arms toward the ground, the back leg must lift to the sky.
-          Keep both legs straight and the back flat.
-          Both hips pointing toward the ground, as you work to bring the back leg in line with your body
-          Reach through your fingertips and your raised leg, feeling length throughout your body.
-          The strength is always in the standing leg, so keep it grounded, straight, and strong.

There will be another post about the benefits of these warrior poses, but play around with them on your own and see if you can figure out the benefits yourself!  Remember, their power is in the strength and balance you must engage in each pose.