Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Get over your disdain for attending a Yoga class. Five tips to get your butt to the studio:

Back from a holiday and New Year's blogging recess! Mmm...Get over your disdain for attending a real, live yoga class. Come join the fun with these helpful tips:

1. Communication - Do this: Before class, let your instructor know if you are a beginner; that way, during class, they can suggest modifications to any poses which will make the moves easier. Also let them know if you have injuries and if you like or dislike hands-on adjustments. On the other hand, you don't have to talk to the teacher at all. Stay quiet as a mouse. Get in and get out, retaining your own contemplative state.

2. Location, Location - Choose a spot on the yoga studio floor that suits your mood; if you feel quiet and dislike hands-on, you might want to lay down your mat in a back corner; alternatively, find a spot near a window for some of nature's energy to help lift your practice without having to think much on your own.

3. Your Mat, Your Kingdom - Make sure you set up your mat with props (blankets, a strap, blocks) if you choose to use them. Beginners might want props; more advanced yoga practitioners might not. Also, unpack your bottle of water and put it by your side, have a tissue or two handy and a long-sleeve t-shirt to throw on when it's time to lay down and (literally) chill-out in Savasana at the end of class. If you're set on having your smartphone nearby, it's cool, just set it on vibrate and put it on a soft surface. If you need to take a call, leave the room to do it. Speaking of mats, most studios now rent them for $2, so you have no excuses. Come to class even if you don't own a mat.

4. Clothing - Feel free to dress your way, comfortably. You can even run into class wearing loose jeans! People show up to yoga class in all kinds of get-ups, so don't worry about what others are thinking or wearing. Some seem all trendy and others downright grungy. Remember, you're not at yoga class to size everyone else up. They're really not looking at you either. Just come to class and you'll witness how uncompetitive it is.

5. Your Way, Always - On that note of personal fashion freedom, understand that yoga really is all about personal freedom, so choose what's right for you. Never do a yoga move just because the class is doing it. Make sure you are comfortable doing a particular yoga pose. If you are not, perhaps try a simple version of the same pose, which in time, will help strengthen you for the more difficult version. And...always take rest breaks whenever you want. The ISHTA school of yoga really believes in keeping yoga a personal experience, for each individual student.

Why go it alone at home with only a yoga video?
Follow these tips as you try out taking a class.
Enjoy the benefits today.
Who knows, you might realize how much fun it is to laugh and do handstands with a new community of fellow yogis.

Don't put off yoga any longer! Namaste!

Friday, November 5, 2010

Enjoy your Inner Magic Cookie Bar

Yogic Treats

Several years ago, most likely for his birthday, I sent my brother a package full of one of our favorite childhood treats, Magic Cookie Bars (sometimes referred to as Seven Layer Cookie Bars).

He loved them and when he received my box, he apparently dove in and ate them a little too quickly.

As my brother was just getting deeper into a solid meditation practice at the time, I sketched a little cartoon for him. Years later, after getting deeper into yoga myself, I realized how much I came close to hitting the nail on the head with some relevant concepts, even though at the time I was just kidding around a bit. I'm thinking of ideas like: avoiding attachments, looking at or enjoying something from both sides of a situation and finding the middle ground, being present, and concentration and focus.

I used to do a lot more sketching and that gave me much enjoyment. I've kept this cartoon on my fridge for a long time as a reminder of a fun creation, but today I thought I'd share it with you. I thought it was pretty cute and novel when I created it! It reminds me that I must always allow time for my passions in the areas of crafts and baking. What's your passion or favorite hobby?

By the way, the Magic Cookie Bar recipe is pretty simple. Here it is off the top of my head:

Preheat oven to 375 degrees

The 7 Ingredients:
1 stick -- Butter, melted
2 cups -- Graham Cracker crumbs
Bag of Chocolate Chips
Bag of Butterscotch Chips
Bag of Shredded Coconut
2 cups Chopped Pecans
Sweetened Condensed Milk

1. Melt butter onto (or pour onto) bottom of 9" x 13" baking dish (can be Pyrex)
2. Evenly distribute Graham Cracker crumbs over bottom of dish (will soak up butter)
3. Evenly distribute over top of crumbs the Chocolate Chips, followed by the Butterscotch Chips, followed by the bag of Shredded Coconut, followed by 2 cups of Chopped Pecans
4. Carefully pour the can of Sweetened Condensed Milk evenly over top of entire pan (the best way to do this is to start at one end, in a corner, and go straight across; then zig-zag straight back on a new line to the original side, and keep going like that, back and forth, 'til you've covered the other ingredients; you just need a gentle layer to get the condensed milk to entirely coat the top of the chips, coconut and pecans)
5. Place the baking dish in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes; use the middle rack
6. Remove from the oven, let cool for several minutes, cut into squares or rectangular bars with a knife, and then carefully remove each piece from the baking dish (perhaps using an offset spatula)
7. Enjoy! Yummm!!


Thursday, October 28, 2010

Shifting your energy - with yoga

, body, spirit. Behind these three dimensions is the central component of energy.

Understanding energy
Energy is what moves us, what powers us. It can run slowly or quickly, it can impact our mood, and it can be shared. It is not the driving force, but the hum behind the engine. It can vibrate passionately or quietly. What drives us might be a mindset, but energy will help us come to that mindset and help the mindset deliver us to our next action.

If energy feels out of balance or stagnant, it might be time to explore how energy thrives and manifests in the body and do something to shift and rebalance it. There are several ways of doing this. Sometimes it can mean visiting a practitioner who will help free up channels of the body where energy is blocked. Or it might mean enjoying a regular yoga session.

A few recommended energy healing practices
Marma point therapy: Performed and taught by Alan Finger of ISHTA Yoga, in New York City, Marma seeks to physically break through stuck energy points and open up blocked energy channels in the body. After evoking some stress through poking and prodding, the modality relaxes the body and an energy shift is experienced.

Qigong: Taught by Pragata Jean Blaise, world renowned teacher, Qigong is a wonderful movement art that transforms the energy in the body through (most simply put) slow, precise movements followed by quick movements; relaxing and engaging. Students feel an energy shift after this kinetic practice.

Polarity Therapy: Performed by practitioners Wendy Kaufman and Wendy Newton in the New York area, Polarity offers the magical healing affects of a deep massage. While a practitioner observes and moves into the energy field of the client, gentle hands-on techniques are used to affect the body energy and bring it back into balance.

Yoga to shift energy
Yoga itself is a very healing practice that is easy to find, afford and experience. When you're doing the practice, whether on your own or following the instruction of a teacher, it always has a beneficial effect. One feels nourished and relaxed yet also inspired with newly-found energy. Here's what one yogi has to say:
"As many yogis do, I first came to yoga for the physical practice, the multitude of pretzel shapes and sweat of course. Upon digging deeper I encountered yoga’s curious way of opening not only my exterior shell but also my interior landscape. I am continually amazed at what is under the hood when I look with awareness. The multitude of physical sensations that crop up in my body screaming for attention, the emotions I ride like waves and the thoughts that jump like popcorn popping across the screen of my mind-and all of these things eventually return to nothing. It is like an archeological dig where you continue to pull back the layers of stories, thoughts, emotions and sensations to experience what is underneath it all." -Rebecca Frost, Usui Reiki Master/Teacher and Yoga Instructor

Rebecca has explained, with wonderful imagery, the transcendent effect yoga offers students.

Try this simple yoga move (a "sun salutation") anywhere to shift energy:
1. Stand tall with big toes touching, knees together, the body relaxed but strong; elbows bent with hands in a prayer position in front of the heart; shoulders relaxed
2. Looking forward, swing and stretch the hands and arms down-around-and-up to the ceiling and gaze at your thumbs
3. While bending your knees, slowly swan-dive forward, bending at your hips, to a forward fold
4. Keep your knees bent and lift up your hips to the ceiling; now bring your hands to your shins, lifting up a little to a flat back, as you keep looking down; your head, heart and hips will form a line that is held up by your extended spine
5. Forward fold again fully, with knees bent
6. Swing your arms out-around-and-up to the ceiling as you come up stretching tall, legs straighter, but knees not locked; gaze towards the ceiling and your thumbs, while reaching lower ribs from waist
7. Swing your arms, outstretched, out-down-around-and-back into prayer position in front of your heart; close your eyes and feel the energy shift; repeat the entire sun salutation two more times

I'm particularly fond of the topic of energy. Some people care to discuss it, others couldn't care less. If you'd like to have a conversation about it, lets begin. Please leave a comment and we'll discuss it.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

In the Now - The Practice of Being Present

Hi all, I'm officially back from my summer hiatus with this post and the one before it.

I'm reminded that the yoga mindset - being present in the moment - is helping me reground and stay calm as I focus on my search for a full-time marketing job.

I sit down at my laptop and immediately go to work writing to networking contacts. Soon I am reading articles on marketing, SEO and social media, scanning job postings and curious course descriptions, rethinking a line on my resume, checking LinkedIn, etc. I write a cover letter and edit it a third time. The minutes coast by. My promise to take a break and run outside or go to the gym have become delayed for another hour.

I look up and it's almost afternoon. I set little targets. Two or three resumes sent by noon. I remind myself that I'm not the only one allowing the clock digits on my mobile to spin faster and get away from me, nor am I the only one looking for a job.

I brace myself and start over.

This is yoga. Yoga is constantly coming back to the present, grounding and returning to center. It is not the final result, but the work to get there. It is giving your best effort in the moment.

Try a simple meditation at your desk:
  1. Feel your back against the back rest of your chair; feet are on the ground.
  2. Place your hands palm-side down on your thighs or knees; close your eyes.
  3. Wet a finger and touch it to the skin between your eye brows, above the bridge of your nose; bring your hand back to your thigh.
  4. Imagine that touch and the space approximately an inch behind the sensation of the touch - that's your third eye.
  5. Concentrate on viewing the third eye as a completely dark space; see how long you can imagine it and stay with it that way; let your breath calm and slow down.
  6. During this process, colors or bolts of light might flash and your thoughts will surely stray, but return your focus to the blanketing darkness.
  7. Keep trying to come back to resting your mind on the deep, dark space of the third eye. That is the work, that is the practice and that's all that a simple meditation ultimately requires of you.

    an you guess how many seconds it took before your 'monkey mind' began to jump around and you were no longer focusing on the desolate, black space of the third eye, but on a slice of pizza, an annoying colleague, or the new love interest in your life?

    What should you do to focus your mind? Same thing for everything!
    And then it all becomes a meditation…
As I say it to myself, I share it with you: Reset, restart and dig in.

Now about that resume work...I listen to that small voice driving my intentions. Ahh! I feel my energy shift back into gear. I return to alignment and tune in to my goals. I do not judge myself, nor do I blame myself. I just remain my organized, aware self - returning to the now - and success will come.

This post is dedicated to my friend David for his sage advice
and to the memory of Steve's mom. May she rest in peace.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Plum Cake. Smile :)

I love to bake and I love cuisine, so this blog will have many references to food.

Sometimes I'll share recipes like this easy-to-make Plum Cake. I baked it for a recent gathering of family and friends.

Now remember, as this blog is about Yoga intersecting with personal passions and pursuits, when I write about food or baked items, you'll notice it's influenced by my yogi-ness and how much I value good health and wellness.

Therefore while the cake called for butter, I did it a healthier turn by using Smart Balance. Smart Balance is a unique spread - a blend of all-natural fats derived from vegetables. It might even have the ability to help lower bad cholesterol (LDL).

I also used finely ground whole wheat flour, instead of pure white. You'll get more fiber in your diet with whole wheat. And that's like a healthy, yoga asana sun salutation for your intestinal tract! This whole wheat flour is so close to the feeling of regular white flour, you'll never notice a difference. Whole wheat has come a long way! I found mine at Trader Joe's.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a 9" spring-form pan with a circle of parchment paper. Then grease the parchment paper.

1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter (try Smart Balance)
1 cup unbleached flour, sifted (try fine whole wheat flour!)
1 teasp. baking powder
pinch salt, optional
2 eggs
24 halves pitted purple plums (the small Italian plum variety!)
For topping: sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon

  1. Cream sugar and butter.
  2. Then add flour, baking powder, salt and eggs and beat well.
  3. Spoon batter into 9 inch spring-form. (other sizes can be used as well.)
  4. Place plum halves skin side up on top of batter.
  5. Sprinkle lightly with sugar and lemon juice depending on the sweetness of the fruit; sprinkle with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon or however much you like.
Bake at 350 degrees for 1 hour. Remove and cool. Note: The plums sink to the bottom.


Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I ♥ raw green smoothies, don't you?!

Here's a rooftop, recipe video I created with my friend Exenia Rocco. She's someone who mixes the healthy with the fun and has really become interested in a raw food way of eating.

In this video, Exenia explains how easy it is to make a tasty non-dairy, green smoothie by blending together five simple raw, organic ingredients: a banana, frozen blueberries, fresh spinach, cinnamon and spring water.

We only get out of our body what we put into it. So if you're eating burgers and fries and sitting on the couch, you're probably not going to feel as well or have as healthy a condition as someone taking care to exercise regularly and eat healthfully with fresh fruits and vegetables and good fats in their diet.

Once you get to know the practices of yoga, both the physical and meditative, and begin to feel yoga's kind, inspiring, strengthening and calming effects, you'll also want to show your body some extra love by choosing the most healthful foods to eat. Try this green smoothie. On with the recipe...

My sincere thanks to Exenia Rocco who is destined for greatness - Food Network look out!! Or perhaps you'll catch her lovely singing-voice one day. Either way, you're in for a treat when talking with this very bright, rising talent.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Yoga guru’s political proposition

Claiming to be cured of childhood paralysis by practicing yoga, celebrity yogi Swami Ramdev of India has grown his mega-million-dollar yoga empire into a household name and now wishes to pursue politics. Exclaiming on the US-version of his foundation’s website, “Good health is the birthright of all human beings,” Ramdev intends to use his influence to cure India of its corruption and bring reforms that will help realize a healthy lifestyle for all. He plans to have his party contest every seat, 500+, in the next election.

Swami Ramdev could win over India's minds on his yoga platform alone, but there are closeted concerns--aren't there always? A recent Reuters article, in which the swami’s political aspirations were revealed, cited his claim to have a cure for cancer and his belief that homosexuality is a disease of the mind. The latter makes him sound like a bigot and a crackpot. Is that who will run as India's future leader? Isn’t yoga about being mindful, open and loving? How can this yoga guru lead a nation, when he obviously doesn’t accept people for who they are?

As a yoga teacher, travel-book editor, and emergency-room hospital volunteer, I'm interested in looking at the intersection of yoga and other life pursuits. (This is the 1st of 4 assignments for MediaBistro's online "Intro to Multimedia Journalism" course.)