Sunday, September 28, 2014

Yoga Month: Mind Your Mid-line

Mind your mid-line. Balance brings with it the illusion of steadiness. The constant energy of extension in both directions, brings awareness to the mid-line of your body. When balancing, the key is core strength. Consider the core of an apple that runs through the middle of the fruit. Your core is actually the mid-line that runs through the entire center of your body. When you are balancing, notice the differences on each side, and where is your center. For the last blog of yoga month,  I have chosen to highlight the balance postures from the Bikram series of poses here: 

1. Bikram Chair Pose is extra challenging, for it requires the yogi(ni) to elevate onto the toes,  lowering the hips, while maintaining a straight spine. The key is squeezing the knees together at the midline. 

 
 2. Eagle Pose is amazing for the lymphatic system, and the key here is to squeeze everything at the center as much as you can. This targets all of the major joints in the body. You will notice that the more you squeeze, and involve yourself in the pose, the easier it is to do.
 3. Extended Leg, Head to Knee pose. This requires immense focus and flexibility. Notice if one side is different than the other. We all have imbalances in our bodies, and it's important to find out where they are. You may not ever be fully balanced, yet you can work with what you've got. Imagine straight lines of energy reaching out through and energizing your legs.

 4. Dancer's Pose. This Pose looks effortless, yet the key is to press the top of the foot into the back hand as hard as you are reaching forward. It's the opposition that will create the relationship of balance.
 5. Warrior 3. The gazing point and breath are key here. Again, reaching equally forward and back will create a dynamic, energetic pose. The stillness of the gaze will calm and focus the mind, while the breath gives you the connection to steadiness. The mind is not reliable, your breath is.
 6. Tree Pose. What better way to explore and become conscious of the midline, than palms pressing together in prayer. This is vital to the pose and to your stability.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Balance: Don't be afraid to Fall!

From SELF Magazine 2006. It helps to have a friend support you. Two Trees.
As Fall literally scatters its leaves in my path, I am reminded that yoga is a reflection the of what it means to fall. We can use this analogy when in a balance pose, like Tree Pose....finding the relationship of opposites is the key:extension as we reach, while rooting into gravity's earthbound pull is the first lesson. Inevitably, as we grow and this posture becomes easy, it is natural to want to stretch ourselves further. Turn the gaze upwards, or maybe even close the eyes and take a leap of faith into the dark! Notice in the pose, when you have no point of focus, it is much harder not to stand steady, and fall you may! In fact, the point is to fall!

Stowe Vermont on a Sunday walk.
Life goes in cycles, the seasons change and the leaves turn beautiful colors only to die leaving naked branches. Uncovered, exposed, bare... inviting renewal. How many times in life have I stood in perfect balance? For a moment it feels like I have it all together. My personal and professional life are in sync and bearing fruit, my family is running along smoothly, there is money in the bank, food on my plate and my body is healthy. This lasts for about a moment. I am extending myself with a fixed and relaxed gaze, consciously breathing when WHAM! SPLAT! I have fallen again. I begin anew, yet the experience I have gained during the fall remains in my muscle memory. I try again. The fall has given me new insight and experience.

 If there is one gift balance poses have given me, it is the willingness to fall out of a pose. Had I not fallen multiple times in Crow Pose, I would never have found that delicate balance of strength and relaxation that brings me the steadiness I have today. "Let's try hollowing the chest and rebounding off of the mat this time." "Let's try setting the gaze forward." "Let's try perching upon a brick to get the knees a little higher upon the triceps." Once I had mastered that to the best of my ability, how can I play and get out of my head enough to jump back right into a low Plank from Crow?

I am not a person who enjoys falling. I prefer to feel in control and masterful. Letting go of my beautiful leaves that I have watched sprout and grow feels like a loss, especially when they shimmer in crimson and gold just before the Fall! I am challenged cyclically to watch and be in relationship to nature, so that I can become like a tree.Yoga is a place where I can practice what I must learn in life. Patience. Persistence. Letting Go...and most importantly: "Don't be afraid to fall!"

Why not go down stream. Learning to let go and Fall....

Monday, September 15, 2014

Eight Limbs: Simplified

Many of us know the physical practice of yoga, commonly referred to as "asana". Traditional yoga engages more than just our physical body, but is an eightfold path. These guidelines are aspirational and something to keep in mind as you bring the physical practice of yoga off of the mat. I observe myself through the lens of these guidelines and find myself falling off balance, practicing imperfectly all the time. I know where to go to reset myself. Just as my pose may not perfect in one session, neither is my mind or spirit, but with my gaze is set in the right direction, over time I find my spiritual alignment and my energy moving fluidly with practice. 

Here is a simple breakdown of the eight limbs:

  1. Yamas: This is like the Golden Rule. "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Practice nonviolence, being truthful, not stealing, restraint, and noncovetousness.
  2. Niyama: This is spiritual hygiene. Embody: cleanliness, contentment, austerity, self study and surrender to spirit. 
  3. Asana: This is the physical practice: "Your body is your temple". We learn concentration and discipline. This is the one I am really good at!
  4. Pranayama: Breathing exercises. The mastery of breath control is so important. The breath is the bridge from the mind to the body, and is the pathway of the emotions. When we gain mastery of the breath, we strengthen the mind and learn to detach from the emotions in a healthy way. 
  5. Pratyahara: Detachment means that we observe, but pull our focus inward so that outward circumstances are not the basis for our contentment. "It's an inside job".
  6. Dharma: This is our spiritual purpose. We learn to detach from our thinking nature, by learning one pointed focus. This may mean stopping the mind for a moment.
  7. Dhyana: A sustained period of concentration when the mind stops.This is very advanced and comes with practice. It comes from regularly sitting.This is the one that  I must remind myself to practice imperfectly. Like any muscle, it strengthens with consistency. 
  8. Samadhi: Awakening! This can be translated in so many ways. Enlightenment is beyond time and space. If you could pull far away out of time/space, body/mind...you are already awakened. The ultimate moment of bliss is available to all. 
While these guidelines may seem lofty, when we look at life through this lens, we can always return to good, clean living. When we fall off, we always have a place to which we can return. This is the yoga.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Yoga Month!

Yoga practitioners have chosen to celebrate yoga in September. Since yoga is best used as a daily practice, I promote its importance to your health and well-being all year long. If you haven't incorporated yoga into your routine yet, this is a great month to give it a try. Since there are a variety of  styles, I encourage you to try several different types until you find the one that works for you. Yoga balances your body and can support you in the ways you need.

Yin Yoga: This style of yoga is slower. The poses are held longer and is passive. The focus is on allowing the tendons and ligaments to stretch. This is a good style for those who are very tight or for those who have a very active exercise regime, for it will balance the muscle conditioning.

Kundalini Yoga: This style is based on moving the life force energy through the body with active breathing and movement exercises. Many of these yogis adopt a yogic lifestyle and your teacher may wear all white and a turban. Great exercises for energizing and moving energy and is for the open minded and open hearted.

Vinyasa Flow Yoga: This Hatha Yoga style connects the breath and movement in the dance of Sun Salutations, and sequences of poses strung together with the Sun Salute or Vinyasa. It's great for people who like movement. It's terrific for overall conditioning and toning and is the cardio version of yoga.

Hot Yoga: This is an offshoot of the Bikram series which is a series of set poses done in a heated room. Bikram style can be great for people who like doing the same set routine daily. This series does not require much upper body strength, so may be a good option for those with upper body injuries. Hot Yoga has taken the heated room aspect of Bikram Yoga, but varies the poses. This can be great for those who love to sauna or sweat. It creates a feeling of difficulty without too much complexity.

Restorative Yoga: Uses props and allows the body to be completely supported and relaxed, which enables the nervous system to restore itself. This is like nap time. You will never feel more relaxed than post-restorative class. I highly recommend.

Iyengar Yoga: This style of yoga focuses on proper alignment and uses props to allow this alignment. This will open the flow of energy in the body to be free. Iyengar was considered the father of Western yoga. I would like to pay my respects to B.K.S. Iyengar, who passed away in August at age 96. When I was a child, my father found the book Light On Yoga and passed it along to myself and my brother. Certainly Iyengar was a model example of yoga as a way of life.

"Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure that which cannot be cured."
~ B.K.S. Iyengar
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Monday, September 1, 2014

The Healing Benefits of Herbs

We know that herbs and spices give our meals flavor, but these home grown plants have natural healing powers. For instance, did you know that cinnamon is an anti-oxidant that fights inflammation, heart disease and can help with Diabetes as it increases insulin levels? Or that mint stimulates bile acid in the liver as well as provides the body with Vitamin C, shown to prevent cancer growth?

Even these simple, everyday ingredients that many of us have on our shelves have healing properties:


  • Black Pepper counteracts stress from a high fat meal.
  • Red Pepper stimulates bile acid and boosts metabolism.
  • Turmeric has anti-aging effects on the brain, and may help prevent strokes.
  • Garlic reduces cholesterol levels, blood pressure and cancer growth.
  • Basil decreases platelet aggregation and blood clotting.
  • Rosemary may improve memory and lowers risk of strokes.
  • Oregano is packed with antioxidants and is an herbal antiseptic

Back in the '70's, my parents turned to diet and exercise as a means towards better health. Initially my father introduced us to a book called Food Is Your Best Medicine by Dr. Henry Bieler. Later we became macrobiotic. My mother's job was to read each of the family member's faces. This is called: physiognomy. You can tell much about someone's health by the face. Bags under the eyes can be related to the kidneys. Swollen mouth or extra wet lips correspond to the intestines and digestion. The responsibility of the cook is that of the family doctor, modifying the cooking both seasonally, and for the individual needs of the family. Although it was an odd remedy, when I had a headache my mother brewed some bancha tea with a teaspoon of Tamari. My father's lower back pain was remedied with hot ginger compresses. It may have looked odd, but the results were remarkable. 

Today, it is the norm to look for the quick fix. Most of us have lives that require us to perform at the highest level at all times. There is very little time in our culture for the natural rhythms of life. The cycles rise and fall like the belly with the inhale and exhale of the breath. More sleep and rest, slowing down long enough to notice what the body really needs, regular regenerative exercise are all ways that we can prevent burn out and the need for a quick "cure" of the symptom. 

Perhaps your healing needs are much less daunting than you imagine. Your pharmacy may be growing in your own back yard Farmacy. To your health! 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Recipe: Food Is Medicine


After the expansive playful days of Summer, it is natural to feel a pull toward prioritizing new healthy routines.  Much of what we put in our bodies is the source of how we feel. The earth itself is our richest resource for healing foods. That is why I have created several unique recipes for Silk Soymilk. This Southwest Quinoa Bowl provides fiber from whole grains, plant-based protein, anti-oxidants from cilantro, and the healthy fats of my friend, the avocado. Remember that food is medicine and what you consume is vital to your well being. Whole foods, which are plucked from the earth in their natural state, are abundant in nutrition and flavor (look for "organic"), and can truly help you heal. When you are the chef, you become the healer in your own home. Most importantly, prepare your medicine with a positive attitude and love. Be well this week and enjoy!



SOUTHWEST QUINOA BOWL

4 Servings

This filling dish has a little kick. Serve alone or with sliced avocado.

INGREDIENTS:
1 cup uncooked quinoa
2 cups Silk Unsweetened Soymilk or Silk Organic Unsweetened Soymilk
1 (15-ounce) can of black beans, drained and rinsed
5 scallions, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 teaspoons cumin
Juice of 1 fresh lime
Salt and pepper to taste

INSTRUCTIONS:
1. In a saucepan add quinoa, and Soymilk. Bring to a boil.
2. Reduce to simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes until Soymilk is absorbed. Remove from heat.
3. Add black beans, green onions & tomato to the quinoa.
4. Mix in olive oil, cilantro, cumin, and lime juice. Stir thoroughly.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste.
6. Serve warm or store in fridge and serve cold. 

EATING INSTRUCTIONS:
1.Close eyes and take several deep grounding breaths.
2.Find a connection to your heart and the feeling of gratitude.
3.Remind yourself that what you are about to consume is healing and healthy.
4.Open your eyes.
5.




Monday, August 18, 2014

Create Your Reality

It is your birthright to be creative. Nature shows us that it's inevitable in one way or another. When part of a plant is cut and replanted, it then creates a whole new plant! By the looks of all the double baby strollers in my neighborhood, and the expanding gatherings of my friends, two have become three and four... Everyone is doing it. Life is creating, duplicating and expressing itself from an endless stream of ideas and intentions.

We are creators building our reality from one moment to the next. As I have said for myself, the same energy I have used to build myself up, I have used to tear myself down. Or give me a task, point me in a direction, and watch me go. Consider this: when you are heading in a direction, you may very well get there. So you may want to take a moment to step back and set your course. Here's a little tip: you are already creating your next moment. Look around you: this is the reality you have created. That is awesome! Now what?! If you want to re-create your reality you cannot simply wave a magic wand or declare your way into it. As the saying by Albert Einstein goes "You cannot solve a problem with the same mind that created it."So how to access your creativity?

Personally, I am in a transitional moment in my life. I have outgrown and fulfilled the last chapter.  Lately I have been feeling that there is more of me that wants to be seen and heard, yet I don't know what that "new self" looks like yet. The creative process begins with that emptiness. The emptiness and the unknown can be daunting, yet this is where the well of creativity exists. I have been trying to get someone to join me here. Take my hand and jump into the abyss with me! (How romantic!) Waiting. Waiting for someone to join me. Looking for a friend to go paint along side me....I finally decided to jump in myself.  So what shall I do with this blank canvas? I decided to get an actual blank canvas and to go paint. Yet, what to paint?

Here's how I started: I had an intention–the impulse to paint was a call to awakening more of my creativity.  I reflected on what it felt like to "not know" what I wanted to express, and defined it with words. It feels like I'm withholding. As if I'm hiding from spirit. Like I am holding my breath. I decided to call the painting "Exhale."

I picked out a canvas shape, which was inspired by my prior nights dream. I chose acrylics, for ease. I then sketched what I thought represented my exhale. My call to my creativity. I highly recommend playing music in the background that inspires your creative intuition! Then let it flow. I do not stick to the plan when I paint. If I do, frustration quickly reveals itself. Paint doesn't respond to control. It responds to layering, and process...to patience and loving what you do. When I was a girl, my mom was a great artist and taught me how to color inside the lines, as well as shading and perspective. By the time I was 14, I was able to do exact renderings...but that is not the nature of my spirit. I am more whimsical and free. So I encourage being as much like a child as possible. As Henry Miller used to point out (although he was known for his writing, painting was a huge part of his creative process), a child always paints a perfect picture. Picasso says : "It takes a long time to become young again".

I felt so loved once I was done painting. The act of painting, itself,  felt like an exhale. I felt seen and heard in the moment. I felt expressed. I wanted to paint and I painted! Perhaps it's that simple. If you want to sing, SING! If you want to dance, DANCE! Perhaps instead of plotting out what you think needs to happen, from the same mind that got you right here, you can instead tap into the source of creativity that is inspiring you to take broad new leaps in this very moment.

As with everything, people will perceive the final expression from their own perspective. One of the women at the paint lab said my painting looked like a fairy princess. Someone thought I was painting something to go in a yoga studio. The highest compliment came from my niece who said she wished that she had painted it. I don't suppose it matters much in the end what someone thinks, except for in a sharing way. Just like the piece of the plant that is replanted and becomes it's own, so does the new creation. When you are creating, go for the feeling. It is the feeling that brings the new reality.
Your moment is a blank canvas and you are an artist

This happened.

It looks like a happy battle!

This woman worked at the lab and she recognized my voice when I asked for more white. She does the Yogalosophy DVD with her daughter all the time! She is an art teacher .

EXHALE