Are you Stuck?

Are you stuck? I’ve been stuck. Sometimes stuck happens because you aren’t sure what the next step is. Sometimes stuck happens because you feel like you are doing the right thing for those around you or for yourself. Sometimes stuck happens because of fear. Sometimes you don’t even know why you got stuck…it just happened and 10 years later you start to catch on that you are not growing anymore. Stuck happens because we are human and humans both like to grow and they like things to stay the same. It’s weird to have both things at once isn’t it?

So how do you know if you are stuck? Well…physically it is easy. You wake up in the morning and you feel stiff and tired. You have a little…or big…layer of fat. Maybe you always have a stuffy nose or cough. You feel always a little tired. Your joints ache if you do certain things or eat certain foods.

Mental and emotional stuckness is a little harder to identify, because stuck is like a fog and we don’t notice it happening until we are deep into it. Stuck in the mind: you tell the same stories over and over. You are angry at the same person 10 years later. The stories you tell of your past still get you excited or sad or angry as if it is still happening. You are sleepy or agitated. You have the same routine daily and don’t even know it, but if you deviate from it you are a mess…and don’t know why. You have a general feeling of dissatisfaction.

Spiritually stuck? This is the one you might not even know is happening at all, but you know when you get unstuck. When you get unstuck you feel glorious. You feel the world is amazing and beautiful and you can do whatever it is you want and your actions and presence will grace this world in whatever it is you are doing. Spiritually stuck only really hurts in hindsight. You can see as you look back how dim you were. You can see how sad you felt. You can feel the empty place, that heaviness and lack of feeling connected.

Some of these things sound like mental illness and aging right? Well…because that what it is. As we age, it gets easier to stay in patterns. It might even be for our own well being that we do that. And addiction and mental illness are a deep stuckness that are enforced by several factors that have overwhelmed a person’s system and ability to manage the results on their own.

While I think it is possible to stay unstuck permanently and continuously, I think most of us will swing between freedom and stuck for the journey of our lives. In my humble opinion and experience the trick is to try to keep the swings from being too drastic. The less we swing the better off we are. It’s the swing from one extreme to another that causes us the most trouble. Yoga is a system that is designed to help people stay centered and balanced. When you are in alignment you are healthy. When you are out of alignment you are opening the doors to dis-ease and sickness.

What is your goal? What do you want from your life? Why did you sign up for yoga or get on this newsletter mailing list? What is the little voice inside you saying that drives you to go to classes and eat the apple when you really want the donut? When you uncover this, you open to the possibilities that you actually might be able to answer that voice. That is getting unstuck…that is freedom!

21-Day Sugar Challenge- Day one thoughts

“Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”   -Nelson Mandela

As a counselor in a community residence for people who are learning how to abstain from activities and substances that have ruined their lives in and in some cases almost killed them, I have seen the power of addiction at work in people who's lives depend on staying sober. People have relapsed on their substance or behavior of habit and have had the amazing opportunity to come back to a place where they are supported instead of chastised and shamed. 

As an addict myself...an addict of sugar, an addict of some behaviors that don't serve me, and an ex-smoker... I can say with conviction that quitting something is hard. Especially if that thing you are trying to stop is not immediately ruining your life or obviously threatening your life. For some reason, it is hard to change something just because you know it is the right thing to do.

There is a desire to be perfect when embarking on a challenge to stop something, and I hope you will be inspired by Nelson Mandela when he suggests that success is more about the number of times you picked yourself back up from a perceived failure is true strength and success. I learned from stopping smoking that every time I started back up again I learned something new about why I smoked. What can you do to stay insprired to not eat sugar for 21 days?

Spring Cleaning

Over the last decade or so, I have done quite a few cleanses, detoxes, fasts…whatever you want to call them. The very first one I did was very successful and after that I have had varying degrees of experiences that range from eh to pretty darn good. The successful cleanses leave me feeling lighter and I reduce water weight and inflammation and I can keep a healthy diet after. Unsuccessful cleanses leave me feeling unsatisfied and hungry and therefore likely to eat like a starving person when I stop. That usually makes me feel worse than I did before I started.

First- why would anyone want or need to go on some sort of food restriction diet in order to “cleanse their system?” I think there are some really good reasons to do a detox and there are also reasons that might set you up for failure.

One reason you detox/cleanse is to lose weight. This one is a set up for failure in my opinion and experience. Our bodies don’t want to lose weight by restricting food intake. Most of the time people who come off a cleanse that was supposed to help them lose weight will over indulge when they are done. The feeling of not being allowed to eat what you want has the rebound effect of overindulgence. The other failure aspect of a weight loss cleanse is that if the cleanse you chose was one that simply helps you shed water weight you will feel really successful until you start eating again and all the weight comes back…bummer!

Another reason to cleanse is to get rid of buildup of stuck food in the colon and detoxify the other organs that are toxic and tired of processing chemicals from the food you eat. It is thought in the world of eating that I study, that our colon gets bogged down with the heavy and hard to digest leftovers from our heavy and heard to digest meals. The lining of the colon is coated so the nutrients you ingest can’t get through the lining into your blood stream. The liver gets inflamed and the kidneys get tired from processing too many chemicals. There are many thoughts out there in internet land that say this isn’t real or is real. My personal experience is it’s real and I won’t get into the gory details of why I know…but I know that after some of the cleanses I have done I felt totally different. No more gas. No more bloating after I eat. I have way more energy and my face is clear, my body odor is mild and my mind clear. The opposite off all those are signs of a congested colon, inflamed liver and tired kidneys.

The last reason to do a cleanse or a fast is to learn more about your habits.  If you are not allowed to eat certain foods you will quickly notice how many times a day you think about eating those foods. You will end up in front of the refrigerator for the fifth time in an hour and realize that maybe you are seeking something other than food. The emotional attachment to food is strong. There is often a history that you have with certain treats that you don’t even know exists until you stop the ritual. Suddenly you find yourself face to face with something that has been driving your eating habits behind your back. I think this is the most important benefit of a cleanse. The emotional component of food choice is strong, and it is subtle, and it is the sort of stuff that keeps you choosing foods that make you feel lousy and/or gain weight. If you don’t address this, the underground network of habits and stories will continuously tell you to keep eating.

I have been considering what makes a cleanse a good one or a bad one and here are some of my thoughts on this.

  • The cleanses I do that allows me to eat vegetables are good ones.
  • The cleanses that I am allowed some fat are also good. 
  • The cleanses that allow me to use herbs and spices are good ones.
  • The cleanses that come with all sorts of supplements to help the process are both good and bad. The good is that I have felt lighter and cleansed after. The bad is the detox reaction was pretty strong at times and made me have to stay home. They also cost money.
  • The cleanses that I make up on my own are the easiest to stick with, transition out of and are the easiest to maintain while still making dinner for my husband.
  • The cleanses that I ate the same thing every meal for a week were both good and bad. I hated that food for a long time after, but I broke some bad eating habits like getting a chocolate Coconut Bliss bar at the Co-op every time I went.
  • The cleanses that there was very little fat allowed in the diet left me feeling hungry all day. Then I am cranky...really cranky.

There is so much more to participating in a good detox. You can do a lot of research online or if you can reach me at alignagain@yahoo.com and I can share some insights and resources..

Rhythm and Your Health

When I sent out the first email of this particular incarnation on my newsletter, I said that stress has a very detrimental effect on women’s health. It all has to do with hormones that we have that make us women becoming hormones that harden us and make us crazy. It’s challenging enough to deal with all the hormonal changes that happen throughout our lives never mind adding to that the imbalances caused by stress.

Stress comes from a variety of places: The food you eat. The amount of sleep you get. The kind of exercise you choose. Even the way you keep your environment can make or reduce your stress. One thing I see people struggle with the most (and I am one who finds this challenging as well), is being able to maintain a healthy rhythm throughout the day, week, year and your whole lifetime.

To have a ritual and be able to develop habits that are appropriate and life affirming is really important to our health. Think about it…your heart beats in a rhythm (and darn it…I’m going to be able to spell that word right by the time I get to the end of this blog!). Your breath has a rhythm to it. We live in a world that is rhythmic- day to night, summer-fall-winter-spring, birth-life-death. Yoga calls this spanda. Which means simply pulsation, and when we are in rhythm- when we participate in the spanda of life- we are healthiest.

Doesn’t that make sense? A musician friend of mine said that sometimes the members of her musical group will switch instruments and play something they have never played before, and if they play all in rhythm with each other, it almost doesn’t matter if they are playing with skill. It still sounds good. That is so cool to me.

I know some people who can start a new habit and keep it going infinitely. They stick to this rhythm no matter what is happening in their life. On the one hand…I might say these people are really gifted and we should all strive to be like them, but the other hand says that being too rigid can be a detriment as well. There are the people who don’t even put their clothes on the same way twice (that would be me, by the way). There is no habit. No ritual. No rhythm at all to their day. They go with the flow and are very adaptable which comes in handy in this ever changing world we live in, but as you probably already can tell, there is a peril to that way of going about things as well.

Yoga is about walking that fine line between those two types of people. How can you stick with a daily routine, that supports you through life’s challenges and fun, but you are still able to recognize when you might need to adjust according to the circumstances of life at the moment? Well my friends (I say with a sigh), that is actually the question. The real question and the real work we have to do while we are here. This is the razor’s edge. You find a way of playing out your routine and still maintain flexibility. You can do this daily routine without thinking about it and yet you are very aware of what you are doing so you know when to make a shift. Can you discern between the wants of your ego (I’m too busy today to meditate today) or the needs of your spirit (I am sick, and I need to rest)? While the system of Yoga is way more than just the practice of doing poses, the poses and the time spent on the mat are great tools in practicing that discernment. In those quiet moments of breath and movement coming together to unwind and strengthen your body, you can learn to listen to your body and your heart. In those quiet moments of sitting in meditation, you learn perspective. You can observe the space between you and your troubles so you can act well and not react badly.

 

This is the practice of Yoga. Find discernment, find rhythm and you find health.

One Step at a Time

John and I have now gone hiking 2 weekends in a row. You would think that with all the yoga I do, and that I can hold warrior 2 forever, that I would have no trouble hiking a trail that has steep terrain. Well…I am humbled to say that it is really challenging! I have to stop and catch my breath and stretch my calves (or quads when going downhill) more times than I thought I would have to. It was kind of shocking to feel that out of shape when I consider myself in fairly good health. 

The reality is that the yoga I practice is not very cardio strengthening. And while I hold poses for a long time it doesn’t have the same effect on the body as walking up a steep climb. So here I am, stopping every few minutes to rest thinking “what the heck is wrong with me?” 
Do you hear what I said to myself? I think there is something wrong with me when I should be recognizing the fact that the last time I went hiking was in October last year…and that was only the second time the entire summer. Of course I am not in hiking shape and how does that make me broken?

That mental churning leads to all kinds of self-defeating thoughts and behavior that goes along with it. I might either overdo my hike as a way to punish myself for being a lazy bum. Or I could feel depressed and pathetic and go eat a pint of ice cream (of course, it would be coconut milk chocolate with peanut butter swirl) to drown my sorrows. Whatever the behavior I choose to act on and even if I don’t chose to act out, I am still perpetuating the idea that I am somehow not good enough.

Yoga teaches us that in order to find real joy…abiding joy…we must learn how to be content. It is called Santosha and it asks us to recognize not only our limitations but also our amazing-ness and love being just where we are. I really do remind myself to be OK with where I am now. John and I said we wanted to hike every weekend last year, and while we didn’t do it last year, this year we have gone out 2 weekends in a row. That is amazing! And I know I will get in better hiking shape if I keep taking the next step.

One step at a time…that is all anyone can do in each moment. You never know if is your last moment, so why spend any amount of time not being content with where you are? Yoga has taught me so much- more than just strength and flexibility- Yoga has taught me to live my life in a way that makes room for more joy and peace and freedom. If you are interested in learning more about how Yoga can help you, give me a call or send me an email and let’s talk about how you can make small lasting changes that can improve your well-being dramatically. 

 

Running on Empty

Running on Empty

When I was in college, I drove from Long Island to Virginia Beach. It is a 400 mile drive and in my little white VW Golf I could make it perfectly door to door on one tank of gas with just enough tobarely get to the gas station the next day. I smoked back then too, and some of the trips I took, I would gas up at just the right gas station, get a new pack of cigarettes and a bottle of water and drive the whole way through without stopping once. By the time I’d get there I was hungry, thirsty, tired, had to pee so bad I could hardly stand up, and the car would almost be out of gas. The thing is…I did that all the time. I drove my car until it was coughing to the gas station, and forget to eat or drink anything until I was ready to pass out. I’m sure you have had the experience of almost running out of gas right? You chant to the car “almost there, almost there, come on, you can make it. Just a little further” while patting the dashboard apologizing for being so neglectful. Or, if you haven’t had that experience, perhaps you have been so hungry you could eat just about anything, or so thirsty you get a headache, or waited to use the bathroom until you were almost crawling to get there.

I have often contemplated what this does to me. The high levels of stress that I used to and still sometimes do, put myself under are mind boggling when looked at from the perspective of someone wanting more peace and freedom in her life. Where is the peace in almost running out of gas? How can I feel like I am free when I am a slave to the gas gauge, or to my dire hunger? How does that level of thirst affect my health? How does that level of stress affect my health? My heart rate always goes up. My body makes all the symptoms of a body that is hiding from a life threatening situation…ready to run at any moment or freeze until the danger passes. The body gets broken down.

Not only does this sense of running out break down the body/mind system but it also creates a mindset that is a sure formula for failure. This is the most insidious part of waiting until the last minute to take care of the mundane maintenance that is required to keep this ship running. Because when there is not enough time, food, water, or gas a major part of your mind is thinking all the time “There’s not enough!” Now apply that to say…money, or love…”There’s not enough money” “There’s not enough love.” How does that make you feel? “There’s not enough money to go around” “There’s not enough food” “There are not enough resources…oil, water, trees, sunlight, ice caps, oxygen…” Oh my God! We are all going to die! You watch the news and you hear these things all day long. The only thing there is plenty of is ticks, Lyme disease, terror attacks, shootings, radioactivity in the Pacific Ocean, government conspiracies, and people. So here you are, feeling like there’s not enough of the things that keep you alive and comfortable and on top of that you are being bombarded by all the things you really can’t control.

It makes your hands sweat just reading that doesn’t it? Oh wait…maybe that is the caffeine you are consuming to keep you running because you didn’t get enough sleep last night because of all the last minute food you ate at 10 pm and the thoughts of all the time and money you don’t have are keeping you awake all night. Do you see the cycle here? Do you see how hard it is to get off this crazy train? Now, I am not saying that you have this exact experience. Mine is that I let my car (body, mind spirit) run out of gas. Maybe your way of coping is a little different, but we all have had to find ways of coping with life and not all of them are good.

But how do you stop this madness? How do you develop ways of living that help you feel like there is enough even when there isn’t? Because, truthfully, there might not be enough time, food, money, space for you at the moment, but where do you find ways of slowly pushing out the lack and bring in abundance? After reading thousands of articles on how to be happy and change my mindset, I have come to the conclusion there are as many ways as there are people to reset the mind. It is up to each of us as individuals to come up with our own system, but it helps to have someone give you a few starter ideas.

1. Get gas when you are at half a tank. I know it sounds obvious and perhaps it’s not a very dramatic task, but as the title of this blog implies, when you are symbolically running on empty, you actually feel like there’s not enough.

2. Eat lunch around noon. I know everyone talks about how breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and it is because it starts your blood sugar at the right level, but lunch gets lost. Maybe your work place only gives you a half hour (yikes…this breaks my heart) or maybe your lunch gets lost in your work day (mine does easily), but really making sure you get a good healthy and full meal in at the time your body is best able to digest your food (Ayurveda suggests lunch be the biggest meal and dinner the smallest) is the best thing you can do to create a routine that is healthful and keeps you from eating something ridiculous at 3 in the afternoon which sets you up for a late dinner.

3. Go to bed early (and get up early). Lack of sleep is really destructive, and especially for women. Lack of sleep creates a cycle of habits and health issues that can make you very sick in the long run, and it is the biggest feeling of lack that you can experience. Get your sleep!!!

4. Drink water throughout the day. I don’t think it is enough to drink a big glass in the morning and one on the afternoon. If you have water nearby and take a few healthy swallows throughout the day you won’t have the chance to feel thirsty.

Just add one of these at a time until it becomes a habit and see what happens. If you want to feel better and want to have freedom and prosperity in your life you have to start doing something- even if it is simply keeping your gas tank full.

Everyone Can Meditate

I had an epiphany one day. It was a beautiful day- the birds were singing, the sun was shining, it was so peaceful, and suddenly my neighbor started riding a mini motorcycle around and around. My initial response was to be angry at him for disturbing my peace. Didn't I move to the country to get away from all the racket of the suburbs?  But this really doesn't make sense. No one guaranteed me endless days of total quiet just because I was now in the country.  My preconceived idea that because I am no longer in the middle of NYC I would be surrounded by everlasting silence was quickly replaced with the reality that my neighbor, while very nice and neighborly, likes things with engines and make noise.  Now what? 

Maybe it is a cliché to say I had to learn to live and let live, but it is true.  I have to really just let it go.  He's having fun.  He's doing nothing more than being noisy every once in a while.  He's actually a pretty nice guy and probably means well, so why should I be mad at him or try to get him to stop revving engines for a few hours a day? 

Here's another cliché...I came to this ability to let it go by meditating.  Yes...it is true what you have heard about meditation.  As studies have shown, it lowers your stress levels and this is helpful when hearing the sound of a small motor for an hour, but what it really does is give you space and perspective.  We need that space and perspective to remember that we are all here on this planet together and we are all doing the best we can.  No one wakes up in the morning and says "I want to do things that make me feel sick today" or "I am going to do everything I can to make my neighbor unhappy."  Below I outline some tips to help you incorporate meditation into your daily practice.  If you have any questions please feel free to write and ask questions. At the studio, my husband John offers some beginning meditation classes regularly too.   

Everyone Can Meditate

Here are some things to keep in mind as you get yourself into a regular meditation practice.

 1. Meditation is NOT about making your mind empty.  Phew! Because then we would all never bother to do it.  Meditation is about getting your awareness below the surface thoughts and then below the deeper thoughts and below the even deeper thoughts to a place where no matter what thoughts are going on in your head you don't mind and you don't listen.

 2. Try to sit at the same time and the same place every day.  Pavlov proves that repetition works.  Dogs drool when they hear a bell; you will automatically start feeling ready for meditation when you repeat the process of your practice daily.

 3. Make the area you meditate in pretty and peaceful.  Clutter is annoying to the mind, however, do not let a little clutter or an imperfect meditation nook keep you from doing it.

 4. Start out small. Sit for 5 minute, 10 minutes or maybe 15 minutes at first.  Your goal can be 20 minutes after 6 months of a regular daily practice.

 5.  After you finish your meditation you can lie on your back for a few minutes.  It is nice and it gives you a chance to acclimate back to not meditating.

 6.  Just do it.  Even if your brain is practically lifting you off your seat, stay seated for the time you set for yourself. Use a timer. Do NOT get up.  Even if one day you have little time...sit for 5 minutes and lie down for one.

 7.  Argue with yourself when you think about skipping. Determine why you are avoiding your practice and change the story your brain tells you.

Keep it Simple

When the weather feels out of balance, then you need to be more in balance.  Of all things that we can't do, we can't control the weather.  And that is a good thing, because if this crazy weather was your fault, there would be a line of people having a bone to pick with you.  First we have a really cold winter, then we sort of have spring/summer/winter mash up. It's kind of crazy right?

Our lives are at the mercy of so many things- other people, the weather, and sometimes even our own bodies seem to conspire against us.  How do we remain in good spirits through all the ups and downs of life?   

This is the question that man has been asking for all of human history, so while I think the intellectual answer might be simple, the doing is a whole other issue and is more than likely our life's work as it is ever unfolding and fraught with pitfalls and obstacles.   But, with the help of some pretty small changes, we can start being more stable and balanced when everything else seems to be swinging all over the place.

Here are 3 really simple (I say with a little smile) additions to your day that will help you feel balanced, grounded and able to handle the whims of Life.
1. Eat at the same time as many days of the week as you can.  Lunch, your biggest meal, should be as close to noon as possible. The regularity of the meal times will get the body to fall into a pattern that will keep you feeling more stable when life gets busy around you.
2. Eat simply.  Adding too much variety to your daily diet is the same for your digestive system as you trying to learn a new hobby every day.  You will also spend a lot less time thinking "hmmmmm...what am I going to have for lunch today?" and more time eating and maybe going for a walk.
3. Speaking of walks...go for an easy walk outside the same time every day.  If the weather is really bad, perhaps do some sun salutations inside, and then stand outside the door for a minute to get some fresh air. The key is really about the regularity of the time. We want to create as much routine as possible without getting too stiff and stuck in a rut.
Bonus 4th tip...
Meditate daily at the same time in the morning.  This is merely a reminder. I can't say enough about meditating regularly every day.  And don't worry...this is one tip I will keep reminding you about!

Here's a good lunch idea that helps make eating simple easy:
Kitchari is a staple food in India. It is similar to Mexican rice and beans. What I like about this is that you can add veggies to it and/or change the spices to your liking, but keep the basic premise of having a one pot blend of grain and bean in your fridge as a base for everything else you want to add to it to complete the meal.

1 cup basmati rice (any grain works. I mix it up frequently)
1⁄2 cup mung dal (you can use lentils, split peas, really any bean that you want)
2 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter)
6 cups water
1 – 2 cups chopped vegetables (optional)
Spices traditionally used for Kitchari are asafetida (can be found in health food stores and use just a shake or two), cumin seed (about a tablespoon), turmeric (about a tablespoon), coriander seed (about 1/2  a tablespoon).  You can experiment with amounts and blends. Ginger is also often used. I like it fresh and chopped small.

Preparation:
Wash rice and beans and soak overnight. Drain soak water. This helps make the beans and rice more digestible. If you are using larger beans like black beans or kidney beans you must soak them overnight anyway.

In a medium saucepan warm the ghee. Add the kitchari spice mixture and sauté for one to two minutes. Add rice and mung beans and sauté for another couple of minutes. Then add 6 cups of water and bring to a boil. Once the kitchari has come to a boil reduce the heat to medium-low. Cover and cook until it is tender (approx. 30-45 minutes). If you are adding vegetables to your kitchari, add the longer cooking vegetables such as carrots and beets halfway through the cooking. Add the vegetables that cook faster such as leafy greens near the end. Add more water if needed. Typically, kitchari is the consistency of a vegetable stew as opposed to a broth. Garnish with fresh cilantro and add salt to taste (optional).

Zaidee Bliss teaches yoga at Align Again Yoga at 70 Main St. in Greenwich. She and a small staff of teachers offer a full schedule of classes for all levels and ages. Zaidee is also a big time food and anatomy geek. She enjoys learning ways to help herself and anyone else who is interested feel awesome in body, mind and spirit. You can see the schedule of classes and workshops at www.alignagainyoga.com.

This always works...100% of the time

That's a pretty big guarantee isn't it? I rarely say 100% since I just know there will be one person or situation that proves me wrong somewhere, but as you can tell, I am pretty sure this is accurate. What you do consistently will bring results 100% of the time.

I know it seems obvious. Like if I eat cookies for dinner every single night I will see results of these actions in some way. Whether my weight increases (or decreases if I am not eating enough cookie calories to support my activity), my blood sugar starts getting wonky, or I am generally malnourished- my body will change because of my consistent dietary choice.

So now, try this example. Thinking about something can make it feel really real. For instance, if you are trying to stop eating cookies for dinner and you put a sign on the cabinet door with a big giant cookie on it and a red line through it aren't you still thinking about cookies? And you tell yourself "I want a cookie, but I am not going to have it. No cookies...I am not eating cookies for dinner anymore," aren't you still thinking about cookies? Who wants a cookie right now? I do...I know exactly what kind and what it will taste like when I am eating it. Mmmmm... Are you catching my drift yet?

Do you have thought patterns that seem to be true but actually get in your way? Here are some common ones:

"I'm so bad with numbers."

"I'm always late. My parents were always late. Their parents were always late...I'll never be on time."

"I am bad at relationships."

"I am really shy."

"I will always have a weight problem."

"I'm addicted to _____, so it is going to be really hard to stop."

This is a big one that I bet you didn't even know you might be employing "There's not enough time or money or whatever..." or "I'm so busy."

We use these statements again and again to keep us “safe.” It’s our “I-maker” or in Sanskrit it is called ahamkara, which is the part of us that wants to define ourselves and create rules to live by so we don’t get hurt. This is amazing adaptation behavior, but it can get us stuck doing the same things that no longer help us. In yoga we try to break those patterns and do other things consistently and consciously that are helpful and good for us.

Here are some ideas to help you build your ability to change your habits:

Choose a pose that is a little challenging, or go to a class with a teacher you don't know. While you are in the midst of the pose that is hard or a class you are unfamiliar with, what are the thoughts going through your head? How do you deal with stress? That is usually the time when our patterned behavior and thoughts come to the surface the most. You can do this with any activity that challenges you but leads to a positive end.

After you get an idea of your reaction to stress, try changing your thoughts. It may seem weird at first, but it gets easier with time. One of the reasons we have a dedication or intention setting at the beginning of class is because that is usually positive and it can be used as the replacement for the potentially unhelpful thoughts you usually experience.

Here's a fun little exercise to do at the beginning of your meditation practice or at a time when you have about 10 minutes or so just to hang out (yes...that time does actually exist). Sit and focus on your breath.

This next step can be a little tricky, because the mind is slippery and hard to pin down, but as soon as you notice you weren't focusing on your breath, notice what you were thinking about. Do this as many times as you can in your allotted time and notice if you see a theme forming.

The more often you do this the more accurate you will be in discovering what you hidden though patterns are. With this knowledge, you can then change your thoughts.

I would love to hear back from you. What do you notice about yourself? What are some things you do to be more consistent doing good things?

Drink More Water...

Before you get settled into reading this, go get a glass of water...

In the class I taught just this past Sunday, a few students...more than usual...got cramps in their feet and the ribs and other muscles. It occurred to me that this is a very dry spring, and we had a very dry winter, and it might be beneficial to mention that drinking water is really important. [take a couple of swallows of your water now]

The percentage of water in the body is a wide range around 65%. You can do a little side research to get more exact. The percentage is largely contingent on age, gender and health. Please look at a few sources as I have seen discrepancies in 2 the the 2 sites I looked at. Hmmm...the internet! [take a sip of water now please].

Those differing opinions also bleed out into the realm of how much water should a person drink? I am not really sure what the answer is either, because I think so much depends on who is drinking the water. Here are some things that might help you decide if you should drink more water:

  • you eat meat at least daily
  • you drink coffee or other diuretics (and of course, if you take diuretics too)
  • you live in a dry climate or it is a dry season (like now)
  • it's been windy and you've been outside
  • it's hot and you are outside
  • you exercise to the point of sweating
  • you are over 35 years old (that is my own number...it is just when I started noticing I am just drier overall) 
  • you are overweight (this is the part the 2 sites conflicted on. My gut feeling feeling is that you need to drink more water if you are overweight)

Here are the excuses I hear for not drinking enough water and my response [oh...and take a sip of water now]:

  • "I don't like the way it tastes"  "Tough luck. Drink it anyway and you will get used to it. I also include a recipe for a dressed up water all the way at the bottom"
  • "I don't want to pee all day"   "In my experience your body gets used to it, and maybe getting up and going for a little walk is a good thing. I know someone who lost a bunch of weight having to walk to the bathroom that was quite a distance from her job site...she might even be reading this right now :-) Waking up in the middle of the night to pee for some people is normal. If you do it more than once maybe cut back on the water and/or drink it earlier in the day."
  • "I forget"   "Set a timer or get a half gallon glass jar and keep it with you to fill the vessel you are drinking from"
  • "I don't feel thirsty"  "Just do it. Set a timer or somehow mechanically remind yourself to drink"
  • or I hear "does soda count"   "Nope! it actually only makes matters worse"

I am drinking a whole gallon of water every day. Do I feel like this is good for me? Right now, yes it is. There is plenty of research that drinking too much water (even the eight 8oz glasses a day) is bad for you, and particularly drinking a lot of water at one time. There is always a counter argument to any big discovery. According to Ayurvedic thinking, sip warm/room temp water throughout the day. I'm pretty sure you will do what is right for you once you get into the habit of drinking water, but you have to get into the habit first. 

Dressed up Water (how to make water taste better)

Try drinking an herbal tea. No black or green tea leaves in the mix, just herbs infused into hot water. You can cool it for summer time and keep it hot in the winter. Adding a tiny bit of honey will make it even more tasty, but only a little bit. I sell a wonderful variety of herbals teas that were grown and blended by one of our local farmers and a student at the studio. Come check them out. 

I was just at a health fair up in Fort Edward, and they were serving water with slices of orange, cucumber (totally yum) and some mint. You can add all or some or one of those. I bet raspberries or even apple slices would be good too. Lemon is good too, but be mindful that lemon can take the enamel off your teeth if you don't rinse it off (said my dentist and I believe him because he's great). Let me know what you try and I will post the reviews in the next newsletter.

Are you Inspired?

The Merriam- Webster Dictionary says: in·spi·ra·tion- noun \ˌin(t)-spə-ˈrā-shən, -(ˌ)spi-\

: something that makes someone want to do something or that gives someone an idea about what to do or create : a force or influence that inspires someone

: a person, place, experience, etc., that makes someone want to do or create something

: a good idea

...As well as to take in air...to breath...

When I start a yoga class, I ask the students to take a moment to make a dedication, say a prayer or set an intention as a way to inspire their practice. At the end of class I often ask them to recall that inspiration from the start of the class and use it throughout the week as a reminder of their practice- of what inspires them. In my opinion, if we don’t have something that lights us up or makes us feel truly and deeply full of joy then life becomes a grind. We have so many tasks in our day that are mundane. We brush our teeth. We go to work or do something else that we do every day. We make our beds just so we can mess them up again when we go to bed. Then add life stresses and the occasional pile up of too much stress and those mundane daily life things can be really challenging.

Being inspired can teach you how to make everything you do have value. That way, all the daily stuff…the mundane…becomes fun and joyful and purposeful. When the pile up of too much stress that happens to all of us sometimes comes your way, you have your inspiration to remind you of why life is important to you.

So, what inspires you?  What in your life gives you a sense of purpose to enact your intentions?  Here are some ways you can infuse inspiration into you daily life:

·         Take some time to think this out and then write it down! The act of putting pen to paper deepens your relationship to what you are thinking about.

·         Surround yourself with what inspires you. For instance: If being out in nature inspires you, how can you bring nature into you office or your home?

·         Spend a few minutes before getting out of bed to start your day envisioning your inspiration. The more you immerse yourself in it the more inspired you will be.

·         Stay focused on one thing. I know that you might be inspired by a lot of things, but keep it simple. That way it is easy to recall.

·         Try something new once in a while. You don’t have to dye your hair purple to bring some pizzazz into your life. Simply deciding to take a different way home excites the brain and brings a sense of adventure. I drive between Cambridge and Greenwich often, so I have a lot of fun with all the beautiful drives I can take to mix things up a bit.

An inspired dip for a midday snack... Take it with you along with some crackers and/or veggies, and you won't go hungry in the middle of the afternoon when most horrible food choices happen!

To make it more inspired...add finely chopped red bell peppers and carrots for a festive colorful addition to your day.

Creamy Herb Dip By Shazzie

Yields 2.5 cups Special equipment juicer, food processor, hand blender

·         1 lemon juiced

·         2 teaspoons olive oil

·         2 stalks of celery, juiced

·         3 cloves of garlic

·         ½ cup fresh parsley

·         About 2 teaspoons dried dill

·         ½ teaspoon oregano

·         1 cup cashew nuts, soaked for at least an hour

 Drain the cashews and put into a food processor or blender and blend it all together.  The texture is your choice.  If you do not have a juicer for the celery you can either just blend the celery into the dip, or if you are in a pinch, use celery seeds.  I think the fresh celery sounds like the best options though.

A challenge for you:

When I lived in New York City, I would occasionally go to the big farmer's market at Union Square.  It was a mid summer's day this one particular time I am thinking of, and all I could smell was dill.  Dill was everywhere, and I had to buy it.  So, I bought a delicious smelling bunch of beautiful dill and thought "huh, now what do I need to get to make dill part of my dinner tonight?"  (it was cold yogurt, cucumber and dill soup, by the way)

Find something beautiful that inspires you, and then make a dinner around that.  Anything can be inspiring; a weird or cool looking vegetable (you can go to a farmer’s market and see what they have), a piece of music, a bunch of flowers, or your favorite dishes. Perhaps you are inspired to have some friends over for dinner and make something you have never tried before. It is so much fun to find ways to make a meal interesting and inspired

Are you getting enough sleep?

Do you sleep well? I know for a lot of people sleep is hard to come by. Sometimes I go through phases of not sleeping, which is something I have experienced for as long as I can remember, but for the most part I sleep ok. And that is because I have learned how to set myself up to get better sleep!
 
So, first let's talk about what happens when you don't get enough sleep...can anyone answer this already?  I am pretty sure you know. Your ability to think is diminished. Your "bad behaviors" are more at the surface, for example, you lose your patience quickly, you choose the high calorie, high sugar food or you get grouchy with yourself and others.  You can also get into a lot of trouble if you have to drive anywhere or operate any machinery that could get away from you (horses count).
 
Here are some tips that come from various traditions like Feng Shui. Some are old wives tales that might very well work wonders.
How to set up your bedroom for better sleep:
•    Choose colors of bedding and walls that make you feel calm. In the practice of Feng Shui it is recommended to use colors from off white to brown- similar to skin color. These are calming but still bright and uplifting. 
•    Keep your bed out of the direct line of the door.
•    Have your head of your bed pointing North for a good night sleep, East to wake up with the sun and West to entice more dreaming. Having your head facing South will cause nightmares and fitful sleep (old wives take that I swear is for real).
•    Keep the doors closed and drawers and closets closed. If you have a bathroom attached to your bed this is a must and the toilet seat should be kept closed. This keeps the energy in the room calm.
•    On the other hand, when it is possible, keep the windows open for fresh air. During the winter open all the windows of the house once a week to bring in fresh air.
•    No TV in your bedroom. No work stuff in the bedroom.
•    Your bed is for sex and sleep only. Read in a chair and if you can't fall asleep within 15 minutes get up and go do something quiet elsewhere. This is hard to do.  I love reading in bed...I also have trouble sleeping…
•    Have a glass of water next to the bed and if you wake up in the middle of the night drink the whole glass. It works…really…
Herb to the rescue:
Using 100% pure essential oils or drinking teas made from good quality herbs can help bring about a better night’s sleep. Lavender is the top choice, but be aware that using too much might actually have the opposite effect. Valerian is a heavy duty sleep aid. It doesn’t smell very good (my cats go crazy over it), but it really works well. Chamomile oil and tea is great. I like to drink a tea that is made with lavender and chamomile together. You can get that at Hannaford in the health food isle from a brand called Traditional Medicines. If you choose to use the oils you can put 2 or 3 drops on the bottoms of your feet. 
Yoga to the rescue:
•    Cat and Dog pose is a great way to move your body a bit before settling in for the night. Start in table and inhale sway your back like a sway back horse. Then exhale and round your back up towards the ceiling like an angry cat. Do this for at least 5 breaths.
•    Child’s pose is a calming pose that works for people who can’t sleep because of anxiety. The pressure of the floor against the forehead brings a feeling of calm and being folded inward feels safe. From table pose widen your knees a little apart and bring your toes together. Bend your knees so your rear end comes to your heels (or close enough) and your forehead rests on the floor or on your hands. Stay here for 5 breaths or more.
•    Sometimes excess energy is what is keeping us awake, so doing a little more strenuous practice a few hours before bed can be really helpful. This can be a yoga practice that the focus of the end of the sequence is focused on seated hip opening poses that are a little challenging but help you feel grounded and stable.
Foods habits that wreck your sleeping patterns:
•    Garlic is a big culprit in keeping people awake. Eating too much of this allium too late can wake you up with some strong tastes in your mouth and maybe some heartburn.
•    This next rule of thumb might or might not apply to you. In this particular case, everyone really does have their own special reaction, so feel free to move to the next bullet point. Coffee or any other caffeine can really wreck your sleep even if you drink it just in the morning. For some reason, women are especially prone to being kept up at night by a cup in the morning. I know there are studies done that say coffee is awesome for you and my response to that is…who did the study, who was in the study and what was the quality of the coffee being tested. Organic coffee is known to cause less jitteriness. 
•    Eating late causes a disrupted sleep. I think you know why. Eat at least before 8pm but if you can have your dinner, and a small dinner at 6 you might sleep even better. That is a recommendation from the Ayurvedic tradition.

These are a handful of ideas to get you started on a serious plan to get more sleep. I hope these ideas can help you make a commitment to changing some habits so you can feel your best.

Are you listening?

Are you listening?  I mean really listening?  Not to the cars driving by or information on the news but to yourself?  You have probably guessed by now, that I am a big fan of meditation, but why?  The reasons are many, but what I am focusing on right now is how withdrawing the mind from outside distractions helps us act in the ways that are better for our health and well being. It helps you find the answers to the questions: Am I really aware of how I feel right now?   Do I "hear" what my body is asking for?  Am I paying attention to its nudges, cravings and occasional whacks over the head?  If you really pay attention, you pretty much know what you need to eat or drink or say in conversations with people. 

For example: I sometimes feel anxious. I think many people do. Life gets busy, and I wonder if I am able to get it all done. When I feel like maybe I am not getting it all done, I get anxious. One afternoon, I was driving home from the studio and started to feel those butterfly feelings in my gut. It was that feeling I get when I think I have forgotten an appointment or something like that, but I knew in my mind that I had done everything I needed to. So I slowed my breathing down and noticed what I was feeling. What are these butterflies in my stomach? Why do I feel rushed or late or like I have missed something? Suddenly it occurred to me that I hadn’t had a drop of water in many hours, so I chugged half my water bottle and the anxiety went away instantly. The anxiety was my body’s way of saying I wasn’t listening to the thirst signals.

 Here are some ways to help you learn to tune your ear to your body’s real needs:

Breathe and notice…Our breath is a great teacher. When we are anxious the breath gets really shallow. When we are distracted or concentrating really hard on something we tend to hold the breath and when we are sleeping, our breath is rhythmic and usually long. Take a few minutes to sit with your eyes closed or have them half closed looking at nothing in particular but steady. Then notice the way your breath feels. What happens when you inhale? What happens when you exhale? Can you notice the imprint your memory has of the way you normally breathe? All you have to do is watch and see what happens. I would love to know more about your experience. Feel free to send me an email and tell me what you noticed.

Make a very basic meal...This is so you have a sort of blank slate to add the flavors you really want. Make a whole grain like rice, steamed veggies (make sure a dark green is part of that) and a protein (beans or chicken would be best here).  Then go to your spice cabinet and let your hand pick some herbs and spices to make a basic sauce with.

Basic Sauce recipe:

1/2 cup tahini (sesame seed butter can be found in the health food section of the store)

1/4 cup water or so

salt to taste then add your spices and/or herbs to your taste.  Pour this sauce over your rice or protein or all over your meal.

Cooking rice direction:

1 part grain to 2 parts water.  Rinse grain and add to pot with water.  Bring to a boil, cover tightly and simmer for up to an hour.  Remove from stove let sit for 10 minutes and then fluff with a fork or transfer to glass or ceramic dish before serving.

 Steamed veggies...clean and cut vegetables as you choose.  Put in steaming basket above water and steam for as long as you want.  Shorter steaming times make crisper veggies.

 If you make beans:  soak beans overnight (lentils, mung and azuki beans do not need soaking).  rinse and check for stones.  1 part beans to 2-3 parts water (depends on the size of the beans).  Cook for one hour and check for tenderness.  Check water level halfway through and add salt then.

The challenge this week (I offer this one a lot) is to eat one meal at the table with a really pretty setting.  Sit...look at your food...smell your food and then taste it.  Decide to add condiments only after you have thoroughly chewed your first bite. Chew each mouthful completely.  Listen to your body.  Ask yourself after each bite "is this still tasting good to me?"  "Do I need to change the flavor?" "Do I need to stop eating now?"  Eat until you are 80% full and notice how your mind reacts.

I hope you have a wonderful week. Enjoy finding out new things about yourself!

Share

How Your Eat Matters

I am going to tell you a story that I am pretty sure at least some of you can relate to.

When I was living in New Hope, PA, I used to go to a diner that served the best tuna melt of all time. I am not sure why it was so good, but I really loved it and occasionally I would treat myself to a tuna melt for lunch. It was huge! I never finished the whole thing until one day...

After I ordered my tuna melt and french fries, I opened the local newspaper and started reading. Something made me think I should call my friend, so I did. As I was talking to my friend, I went back and forth between looking at pictures in the paper and watching a small herd of deer contemplate crossing the busy road in front of me. My food arrived during this time and at some point I realized that I had eaten all of my tuna melt and every single french fry. All of it! Every last bit, and I had no idea that I did that.

Needless to say, I felt awful for most of the day. Can you guess what my point is? You got it...pay attention while you eat. Don't multi-task: don't read, watch TV, have a heated compelling discussion, do mindless things on the computer...

Try this:

For as many meals a week as you can eat in silence with nothing to distract you. Chew your food completely, breathe while you eat and think peaceful thoughts. I bet you will have less gas and bloating and you won't eat as much as you do when you aren't paying attention.

 Here are some other things I have learned during my years practicing yoga and studying health.

*Eat until you are about 80% full

*Chew your food well

*Go for walks outside regularly

*Do a little yoga every day. A few rounds of sun salutations will suffice. Add a twist of some kind and you will feel relaxed and energized.

*Eat when you are hungry – not when you’re bored or just because it’s a certain time

*Rest when you are wiped out

*Laugh a lot

*Get to bed early and get up early

*MEDITATE :-)

*Eat as simply as you can when you can. Try having meals that have just a few ingredients.

* Eat fruit first...and wait a little while to eat the meal. Fruit digests way faster than most of the food we eat so if you eat it after it will just sit there bubbling away and fermenting while the other stuff is trying to move through.

*Have your biggest meal at noon.

*Don't eat when you are mad or rushed

*Don't eat in your car unless it is absolutely the only choice you have.

*Don't eat after 8pm...eating at 6 is ideal.

Do enjoy your mealtimes with friends and family, and don't freak out if you can't add too many of these tips into your day. Just try. See what happens.

Here is a meditation exercise that you can use to help you practice focusing your mind on one thing at a time:

Find a place that is quiet and not full of distractions and then take a seat that you feel comfortable in that allows your back to be straight and lightly supported or not supported at all.

You can close your eyes or leave them halfway open and bring your awareness to the way your breath feels when you take air in and let it out. The breath is natural. You don’t need to change it or make it “perfect.” You want to feel relaxed.

After a few breaths this way start to count the breath like this; inhale and as you exhale count one and so on until you get all the way to 12. If you make a mistake you must start at the beginning again. If you get to 12 go backwards to 1. If this is easy you can go to a higher number or make sure you are not taking really short breaths just to get to 12.

Every time you realize you have stopped counting, go back to one. This could happen over and over and over again. Don’t worry. The more you practice, the easier this gets. Attention and concentration need to get into shape just like our muscles.

The reason why we do this is so we get more focused and can concentrate on the tasks at hand. Studies are starting to show that multi-tasking is actually less productive and causes fatigue …from the story above you can see that I can testify to the truth of those studies! When we concentrate our attention on the simple act of eating we tend to eat way less, chew more (which reduces gas and bloating) and taste many layers of flavors in foods that we didn’t even know existed.

So, enjoy each mouthful and each breath! It’s the simple things that make life great!

Start Your Day Off Right

Have you noticed that when you are late in the morning you tend to be late for everything else that day? Or if you start your day thinking of all the things that could go wrong you feel frazzled all day? Are you in too much of a hurry to make yourself something good for breakfast and resort to one of those breakfast/granola bar things? Do you feel stiff and slow when you wake up?

Starting your day off on the right foot could make a difference between a good day and a not-so-good day. Imagine if you could start every morning off in a way that keeps you feeling centered, well nourished, and positive. Now that the days are getting longer it is much easier to get up a little bit earlier to make sure you can get all this done. Try timing the cooking of your breakfast with your shower or yoga. Or, have the grain cooked in advance to cut back on prep time in the morning.

Some ideas for your morning

Journal writing: When you wake up your mind is free from daytime experiences. This is a great way to spend time with yourself and discover who you are without daily distractions. Write for 3 pages according to Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way. This ensures you are uncovering old stale thoughts that lurk in your subconscious mind. I found this practice to be a crucial ally in my success at stopping smoking.

Hot towel rub: Fill your sink with hot water, soak a wash cloth, wring it out and start scrubbing your body as vigorously as you want. Begin at your feet and work your way up. Heat the cloth in the water as needed. Try adding an essential oil like rosemary to invigorate you, or lavender to sooth. This daily practice can:

·         soften deposits of hard fat below the skin and prepare them for discharge

·         open pores to release toxins

·         calm the mind

·         reduce muscle tension

·         wake up the body

·         increase lymphatic flow and drainage thereby boosting your immune system

·         create a profound and loving relationship with the body, especially parts we have disowned, especially in a person with body image problems

Breakfast

It really is the most important meal of the day. Here are some good warm weather recipes for you to try. When the winter comes I will share some new ideas for your morning ritual.

Morning Rice ‘n Raisins

·         1/3 cup raisins

·         ½ tsp. cinnamon

·         1 cup water (filtered if possible)

·         2 cup leftover brown rice*

·         2 tbs. toasted sunflower seeds

Directions: Bring raisins, cinnamon and water to a boil. Lay rice on top, cover and simmer for five minutes, then stir. (For creamier cereal, mix rice with ½ cup extra water in blender, then simmer with raisins for 15 minutes). Top with toasted seeds.

-from The Self-Healing Cookbook by Kristina Turner *I always have rice made in my refrigerator. Try getting into this habit. Make enough rice to last you a few days on a day off.

Morning Yoga Routine

We often forget how important breathing is. Bringing your awareness to the breath is calming and revitalizing. In yoga, breathing exercises are called Pranayama. A good way to start the day is to get in touch with your breath. Also, did you know that the fluid that protects and lubricates our joints does not get made unless we move? This fluid- called synovial fluid- that surrounds the joints acts as a moisturizer of sorts and when we don’t move we don’t produce it and then our joints dry out and wear out, hence arthritis.

Dirga Breath (pronounced deer-ga)

Conscious breathing wakes up the digestive system, releases toxins (carbon dioxide needs to be released fully otherwise we get a buildup in our blood which makes us feel sleepy), relaxes and slows the mind so that we may think with more clarity and helps us feel more centered, balanced and grounded.

•  Lie on your back or sit at the edge of your bed with your back straight.

•  First notice your breath and how it feels without controlling it.

•  Inhale deeply expanding your belly and then as you exhale let your belly press to your spine. Do this for a couple of breaths.

•  Inhale into your belly and then up to your ribcage; filling it front sides and back. Exhale your belly to your spine and contract your rib cage. Take a couple of breaths this way.

•  Inhale now from your belly to your ribcage to collar bone and exhaling belly ribs and collar bone. Repeat as many repetitions as you like. Your inhale should be so deep that there is no more room for any more air. Your exhales should empty your lungs so much there is no more air to push out.

Supine Twist

Twists help wake up our digestion and massages the internal organs. They are also known to balance you energy- if you are feeling too wound up they calm you down and if you are feeling too lethargic they perk you up. Twists are therapeutic to the spine but must be done with care. If you have slipped disks or are pregnant please skip this exercise and come to a class with me so I can show you how to do it in a safe manner.

•  Lie on your back.

•  Bring your right knee up to your chest and squeeze with your hands on your shin or behind your knee.

•  Keep your leg as it is, take your arms out to either side and tuck the right foot under, or put it on top of the left knee. Be sure to keep the natural curve in your lower back.

•  Inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale taking the knee over to the left and keep your right shoulder on the bed. You should be resting on your left hip with the right hip stacked on top. Take three breaths here. Using the inhales to lengthen and stretch and exhales to encourage more twist.

•  Repeat steps above using your left leg. Remember to keep the extended leg straight with your foot flointed (this is a balanced action of flexing and pointing the foot). You can turn your head the opposite way of your knee or look up to the ceiling.