Saturday, June 25, 2011

Outside Asanas

When it is 90 degrees outside, with 30% humidity, its hard to motivate people to come into an even hotter room to practice yoga.  Understandable, I would be lying if I said it was easy to find the motivation within myself on those days.  I usually get myself to the yoga center, but for the days I just simply cannot pull it together, I have found an equally rewarding option. 


This morning I finished yet another wonderful backyard yoga practice.  There is nothing better than feeling the sun on my shoulders, the birds chirping, and even the bugs buzzing as I move my body through my practice.  When I look to my fingertips in reverse warrior I see the bright blue sky.  When I sink into utkatasana I gaze at my newly planted African Marigolds.  When I am practicing outside asanas, I find myself noticing the small pleasures of my environment.  When the clouds momentarily drift across the sun, I have a moment of cool.  In my head I can picture one of my teachers turning on the fans for a brief moment.  For me, I find myself more in tune with my breathe and my subtle movements.  There is no space to worry about what you look like in the mirror, who else is in the class, and what you are doing after.   
Now I practice from memory or I experiment with classes I have put together myself and create a personal soundtrack for whatever mood I am in that morning.  However, anyone (even beginners!) can practice outside.  You can find plenty of yoga classes on iTunes that you can download and listen to while practicing outside.  Just take your time and be patient with yourself.  Worst case scenario?  You spend an hour outside! 

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Learning from the Greeks

The streets smell of moussaka, pastichio, spanakopita, and dolmades.  Especially in the heat, the aroma of delicious Mediterranean food lingers and keeps me dreaming in food heaven.  I absolutely love all Greek cuisine.  Aside from tiny octopus legs, I do not think the Greeks got anything wrong.  This is one of the many reasons I am proud of my partial Greek heritage.  However, the magic of the Mediterranean is not limited to those with olive skin (I have pretty peachy skin).  Everyone can enjoy the magic!

In honor of the Greek Festival, which is taking place only a few blocks away from me, I have decided to post about all the reasons Greek cuisine staples should make it into your weekly diet.

First off, olives.  Olives have a long and rich history; they were mentioned in the bible, played a role in Greek mythology, and were even depicted in ancient Egyptian art.  They are estimated to have been cultivated as long as 7,000 years ago.  Whoa!  (Do you think they knew anything about trans or saturated fats back then?)  Today, the majority of the olives we eat come from the Mediterranean countries including Italy, Greece, Turkey, and Spain.  What they might not have known then, but we definitely know now, is that  olives are SO good for you!  One cup of olives is just over 150 calories, but has 24% of a daily value of Iron!  Olives also have 20% of our daily value of Vitamin E and 17% of our daily value of fiber and copper.  The fat that is found in olives is monounsaturated fats, which is stronger than polyunsaturated fats, keeping our fat-storing cells strong and better able to protection themselves.  Read more about olives, or just eat em!

Secondly, the oh so versatile, spinach!  Spinach's health benefits were widely known even before Pop-eye's massive forearms came to America.  Spinach is full of iron, but that's not even it's claim to fame.  The green leafy vegetable provides over 300% of our daily value of Vitamin A, 100% of Vitamin K, and 65% of our daily folate.  Its also jam packed with Vitamin B1, B2, B6, C, E, dietary fiber, protein, and calcium.  All together its pretty much a super food.  Spinach can be found in delicious meals like spanakopita, spinach and rice dishes, as well a many greek "casseroles."  Spinach is not alone, Greeks use many vegetables in their cooking including cucumbers, peppers, zucchini, eggplants, and artichokes. If you are looking for a delicious eggplant recipe, searching for moussaka and enjoy!

Although I do not normally advocate for dairy, if you want to look for the healthiest yogurt, Greek yogurt is the way to go.  I went to Greece when I was younger and every morning we got a large bowl of fresh Greek yogurt (unsweetened, unflavored), topped with a bounty of fresh local fruits, and drizzled with delicious honey.  Everything was fresh and local and there could not have been a better breakfast.  If there was a way to make dairy sustainable and humane in the U.S. I may even go back to dairy just for the Greek-style yogurt.  It has triple the amount of protein than Activia, naturally more creamy, and low fat.  If you'd rather not have sweet yogurt, try making tzatziki sauce or if you are vegan just get the delicious taste of it by making this version. 

 Speaking of sweet Greek staples, baklava will hit the spot every time.  Its flaky, buttery phyllo is the perfect compliment to the sweetness of nuts and honey.  But the ever popular baklava is not the only Greek dessert that uses phyllo, nuts, and honey.  Not surprising, since its a total devilish combination of yum.  Lucky for us, almonds and walnuts are great for us.  Nuts provide healthy fats, protein, fiber, and antioxidants.  So eat away sweet-lovers!  (Well...until your tummy screams noooooo!)

There are plenty of other healthy staples in Greek cuisine, but right now I am going to sink my teeth into some tasty dolmades.  You are on your own to explore...

Friday, June 3, 2011

Car Yoga, Corolla Style!

It has been a rough week for my poor old car.  I knew it was over-the-hill when my dad gave it to me, but the good ol’ Corolla was a real trooper.  Together we’ve driven down the east coast, out west, and even very far north.  He was patient with me as I learned not only to drive manual, but to drive at all!  That car drove me to meet up with people I love and has taken me far away from people I don’t.  It even puts up with the embarrassment of the occasional ticket.  Never punishing me for the shame it feels being parked on the curb during Wilmington street cleaning.  Ahhh, I really love that car. 

However, it has been struggling more lately and first needed a new clutch (the equivalent of a hip replacement).  Then, in an unfortunate series of events, he had his rain-guard broken, a violation of personal space, and was ripped of his 7 year old sound system.  I felt so bad for the old guy.
But despite his troubles, the car keeps on trucking (or Corolla-ing!)  That was, until the other day.   For work I had to drive down state (about an hour and a half) for a 2 hour meeting and then immediately turn around and drive back.  I knew it was going to be a hot day and that the drive was going to be silent and long, but even without the radio I knew the AC would keep me comfortable.  And it did! For the whole ride down I avoided the 90 degree heat and humidity with perfectly cold air.  In fact, I thought it was a bit chilly, so I even turned down the AC.  Lucky me.
After the meeting I hopped into the old guy to head back home.  I am sure you know where this is going, but I will tell you anyway.  The AC fizzled and stopped working about 5 minutes into the ride.  This was not ideal, but manageable since there was some wind.  Before long, I began to sweat in my work pants and blouse…gross.  But that was not the worst part.  Right as I reached a half way point, traffic came to a shrieking halt.   And with that, the heat lay on me like a wool blanket.  There was nothing I could do but embrace the sweat.  For the miles that I could see ahead there were two lanes of stopped traffic.  Trucks and cars and SUVs all jammed in together.  The SUVs began one by one turning around illegally through the grass median.  I thought about doing the same, but then I remembered I was in a Corolla.  Unlike jeeps, they are unfortunately not build for any form of off roading. 
So there I was—tired, sweaty, hot, stuck, and without any company.  There was a lot of potential to get very frustrated, very quickly. 
But something else happened.  Instead of getting more hot and bothered, I simply reached into my bag and began to read some magazines.   It was as if I took a lesson of patience from my old car.  As he was patient with me during terrible driving hours and teenage years, I too was patient.  Today was just not a good day for us.  It got me thinking about two yoga niyamas, santosha and tapa.  I have talked about santosha (contentment) before, but tapa is something that I have to continually work hard at.  Tapa meaning austerity or self-discipline, and in yoga philosophy has been described as the ability to withstand discomfort and struggle.  It challenges us all to work through things like hunger and thirst, discomfort of poses and postures, and for me on this particular day—maintaining calm and contentment through heat and traffic.  I had to come to a zen state, which was not easy. 

It was however possible.  My own contentment was reaffirmed when I finally reached the point that created the traffic in the first place—a terrible accident.  There were 3 fire trucks and 2 ambulances and as I took a glance down off the highway I saw an eighteen wheeler laying on its side, limp like road kill.  It had tumbled and ripped apart on its way off the highway and into the woods.   As I passed I was thankful it wasn’t me in the truck and I was glad I hadn’t wasted the last hour sitting in traffic angry and upset.  I may have been a little late to my next appointment, but I wasn’t early to die.   
I am not in any way claiming to be a saint.  Deep down I know that had I had company in the car, or if the radio wasn’t stolen, or if the AC worked, I may have ignited some serious road rage within.  I guess what I am saying is that the obviously bad situation I was in gave me some clarity; I was reminded about how fortunate I actually am.  The silence and the time alone helped me to reevaluate my presence.  All I can hope now is that the next time I am in traffic, I remember to do some yoga.