Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Sweet Potato Smoothie

If you are a smoothie junkie like I am, winter can be a challenging time since smoothies are usually as frozen as the cold outside air. Not very soothing. A smoothie can provide a quick meal complete with all the nutrients you need which actually makes them an ideal healing food. But maybe not so ideal if it is cold and you are sick. A couple of days ago both my kids were sick and hungry, but not wanting much of anything unless it was sweet, all I wanted was to make them a smoothie because could I sneak in all sorts of super-food types of things that they don't even notice, but would turn away if served up in obvious forms. Everything from spinach to flax seed and nuts to bananas go in the concoctions, but not without tons of chilly frozen fruits and ice. So when I opened my fridge to see what I could do for the boys that they would like I remembered some boiled sweet potato chunks that were in need of a home. If you can make a pie or pancakes from sweet potatoes, I thought, Why not a smoothie? And thus the sweet potato smoothie adventure began. My goal was to make something that wasn't too cold for kids with colds and was also really thick and creamy without dairy. Also, the concoction needed to be as nutritious as an eight oz serving of anything could possibly be. The result was a total hit. Nico who is six asked for seconds. And when I showed him what I put in it he was really surprised. I enjoyed my sweet potato smoothie so much that I think I am going to keep a batch of freshly boiled sweet potatoes on hand at all times.
  • Sweet potatoes make a great alternative to bananas as a thickener.
  • Sweet potatoes are available as a locally grown food!
  • Sweet potatoes pack some serious nutritional benefits: High in potassium and antioxidants as well as fiber. They are considered to be a super food.
Sweet Potato Smoothie Recipe
  • 1.5 cups well cooked sweet potatoes, peeled and chunked (roasted or boiled, but highly mashable)
  • 1/2 cup frozen berries such as raspberries or blueberries known for antioxidant values
  • 1 cup Almond or rice milk (soy or cows milk work, but contribute to congestion)
  • 2 heaping tbs frozen orange juice concentrate (I always add this as sweetener)
  • 1 cup hot water
Put first three ingredients into your blender then pour hot water over. Cover and blend until thick and smooth, about 1 minute. The smoothie will be creamy and thick like a shake, but without the chilly side effects of a fully frozen beverage.
-Dessert: Sub maple syrup for OJ concentrate, frozen mango or peach for berries and add a dash of pumpkin pie spice
-Healthy: Add 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh spinach and 1 tbs ground flax seed for the ultimate "lunch smoothie"
-Tropical: Sub coconut milk (not coconut water, not coconut cream) for other milk, frozen mango for berries and pineapple juice concentrate for OJ concentrate.

Please tell me if you make a Sweet Potato Smoothie, and how it turns out!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Winter Health Arsenal

Keeping healthy during the winter can be difficult. We tend spend more time not moving which is imperative in moving lymph (fluid in the bodies immune system) through the body. Though cold is not an actual cause of illness, what can happen to the body when excessively exposed to outdoor chill, is that the immune function drops making us more prone to viruses and harmful bacterias. On top of that, there's more time in close quarters with friends and family indulging in foods that don't necessarily contribute to overall health. Not that winter is not a lovely time, and especially for the close company we share while entertaining indoors. And I can't complain about the food either! But as we cover our bodies in heavy clothing and the flesh-baring health focus of summer fades, so we shift our activities and thinking to things that nurture quiet restfulness.

It is easy to care for yourself during the winter though! In fact, winter time is the time I consider the best ways to revitalize my health and return to internal calmness. Over the last several years and through the many illnesses of my poor lil' kids (who, as children can't seem to avoid it at any cost), I have skirted contracting most of the viruses and infections they bring home from school (and share at school as well!).

Many of these remedies are based on Ayurveda ( Say "i- yur-vay-duh"), an ancient healing and lifestyle system that dates back about 5000 years from India. Yep, Indians were probably the first health gurus. And the system works, because it is based not only on each persons highly individual needs (everyone has a constitution that an Ayurvedic practitioner can analyze), but also on living in harmony with your surroundings and the seasons. There are a few basic things that seem to work quite well for all people regardless of individual constitutions. Below I have shared some of the remedies that have kept me feeling vibrant and well during winter and all year long.

Try one or all remedies and see how you feel after a week of committing to well-being. When it seems like work to take care of yourself just remember that it's way more work to feel bad and have to catch up on the things that get neglected when you are tired and under the weather.

Cheers to your health!

The Remedy Routine:

Outdoor Pranayama

One of the best possible remedies for anything, ever, is a breath of fresh air outside! You cannot go wrong with this one and can easily make it your habit each time you walk out side.
  • Inhaling deeply, spread your arms wide, lift your heart skyward and look at the sky. As you exhale allow your arms to slowly drop and bring your gaze back to looking forward. Repeat this several times, slowly incorporating the practice of inhaling as deeply as possible and holding for just a moment while smiling (yes, you need to smile. It is good for you!), then exhaling as completely as possible...still smiling! Now how do you feel? This of course can b done inside as well, but even (and especially when I feel un-well) A little out-doors are well received by the body and the psyche.
Simple Yoga for Lymph Function

These are some moves I learned in a class specifically created for lymph function. You will notice the general benefits of the poses right away, but keep going and the immune benefits will be obvious.
  • Cat-Cow: Come to hands and knees position (like you are about to crawl). As you inhale slowly dip the spine toward the floor while looking up. As you exhale round the spine up and let your head hang down. Do this as many times as you want, but I recommend about 10 rounds.
  • Shoulder opener: Stand with feet wider than hips. Spread your arms wide, then bring them behind your back and interlace your fingers. If possible, straighten the elbows. As you breath in, lift your chest and look up pulling the hands and shoulders back. Take a full in and out breath here. On the next exhale, bend your knees and fold forward lifting your arms and hand up as you do so. This can be intense for tight shoulders, it is up to you to take care and not overdo it.
  • Lunge pump: With feet together and hands on hips (starting position), step your left foot back into a lunge so the right knee is bent. Slowly lower the left knee toward the floor, touching it down gently then straightening the left leg again (right knee stays bent). Repeat 5 to 10 times, switching sides.
  • Seated twist: Sit up very tall in a chair. Grab the back of the chair with your left hand and press your right hand to the outside of your left thigh. Inhale deeply and keeping the chin very gently angled toward the chest twist to the left. Take five full breaths here, twisting a little more deeply with each exhale. Switch sides.

Neti is a technique used to cleanse the sinuses. You can buy a neti pot (nasal irrigation pot) at every drugstore in America now. Yay for recognition of good old fashioned natural remedies. You may have to ask the pharmacist for it. They are also available from any Ayurvedic practitioner (Blue Oak Ayurveda is recommended) and the health food store. You will need to refer to instructions that come with your pot, but it is very simple. The passage of warmish saline through the sinuses unclogs and draws out all sorts of crazy snot and boogers as well as removing any allergens that make their way up there. With regular use, your breathing will be full and clear, but be patient if your are stuffed up when you first try it and the liquid doesn't flow. It can be a slow process that works wonders.

Turmeric Remedy

Turmeric black pepper and ginger are all known for digestive, anti-inflammatory, immune boosting and warming properties to name just a few. This amazing blend has become a daily staple for me. I have found that it is best to take after a meal and prefer to drink it morning or afternoon.

Turmeric Remedy blend:
All measurements are approximate. No need to be exact.
1 cup ground turmeric (bright yellow spice common in Indian cooking)
1/4 cup ground dried ginger
2 tbs finely ground black pepper
Blend these ingredients well and store in a sealed jar.

To make the remedy beverage:
Remedy beverage does not taste good, but it's not bad either. Rather it is very earthy and a bit spicy. It make take a little getting used to, but again the benefits are well worth it.
Mix @ 6oz warm water with a heaping tablespoon remedy powder and mix well. Drink the mixture after a meal. If the flavor is too disagreeable, mix a heaping spoonful of raw honey in the water before adding the powder.

Simple dietary Guidelines

Easy to follow "rules" to live by and why
  1. Skip the dairy, non-fermented soy products and refined sugar. These all contribute to congestion. If you've ever had a stuffy nose then drank a glass of milk you'll see why right away. The refined sugar is a bit sneakier, creating mucoids (yep, it's a real word) less quickly. Non-fermented soy includes soy milk, soy yogurts (it is cultured, not fermented) and most soy-based snacks. Tofu and soy sauce are fermented and less mucoid forming. For the record, Ayurveda does not often discourage dairy, but it is actually considered to be one of the most valuable foods. Given the current context of processed, hormonally altered milk products from cows that do not eat what cows are supposed to, most milk is in blacklisted from my diet. I have also found that even raw organic milk can be a culprit of congestive issues. Raw fresh goats milk may be the best choice if you really want milk. It actually closely resembles human milk...but don't let that turn you off! ;)
  2. Eat fresh food and un-processed foods. Fresh fruits and vegetables provide valuable nutrients and enzymes. This does not mean not to cook them. Ayurveda (thankfully!) encourages eating lots of cooked food during the winter as it is easier to digest than raw foods. Grains such as rice and quinoa are not fresh, but they are do not contain synthetic additives, sodium or sugar. The same can be said for dried beans (and some canned) and pasta. Eating eggs and meats that are free-range and organic greatly increases the nutritive value of the animal protein, while lessening the impact of toxic waste produced by factory farms. Though vegetarian diet seems traditional to Indian and Ayurvedic practice, this is not totally true. It depends on your constitution and beliefs.
  3. Eat three meals a day, making your breakfast light and simple (starches and fruit), lunch the heaviest meal (animal proteins, larger portions) and dinner lighter (vegetable soup and bread). This one feels like a toughie for most of us. We have been trained to eat a huge breakfast, a light lunch and a big dinner. While that may actually work on a whole, this method actually supports your natural digestive cycles. For instance, when you wake up, your digestive system is too. And just like most of us need to gently make our way into the morning, so does the belly. By mid-day, granted you treat your tummy right in the morning, your are hungry and need extra fat and protein for brain function (fat is essential in brain function) and energy to complete the days tasks. As for dinner, the time for your belly to rest along with you has come. If your body has to work to assimilate food while you sleep, you may not rest as well. There are exceptions to all of these rules of course, but if after a few weeks it is still difficult to follow, it may be that your constitution is experiencing an "imbalance" and illness follows closely behind imbalances.
  4. Sip only room temperature or warm beverages during your meals. The stomach is a warm place and needs that warmth to digest and assimilate. Cold things only slow the process down.
Special thanks to Eliza Kerr who introduced me to Ayurveda and taught me about my constitution and Ayurvedic self-care.

Have a thought, question or opinion? I bet you do, and I want to hear it!

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Living Prayer; It is What You Do

Prayer is in all things, in all actions. -Mother Teresa

In other words all thought and action sends a message -a request- to God. All action begins with thought. Thought begins with belief. Belief begins in the sub-conscious. The sub-conscious is a store house of all past events and interactions. This means that what and who we are surrounded by impacts the daily prayer in action we send to God. And in effect we as humanity have been sending God one big prayer that has been occurring for all time. Through this we are undeniably linked as One Human family. What we ask for and receive is one and the same thing, but with the illusion of ego separating my suffering from your suffering, from the suffering of people across the world. The illusion of separation can be destroyed through simple compassion. Share what you have that is good and you give yourself the gift that you just gave someone else. Be aware of someone Else's suffering and you feel your own suffering. And thus, your desire will be to end the suffering of the world. But do not fret, as there are billions of us, there is clearly no need to believe that it is up to you as an individual to heal humanity! Through your actions and thoughts, others will be inspired to do the same. Saving the world is a "band-wagon" kind of thing. Monkey see, monkey do. Just be aware of the bandwagons you are tempted to ride on and all will be simple and clear! Participate in the One Prayer of Humanity to heal Humanity!
  • When it feels difficult remember this: When we each do our parts singly, we may not see the effect in the big picture, but it's like putting money in your karmic savings.
  • When others seem resistant to compassion and the spirit of giving, you are simply recognizing resistance within yourself. One is able to recognize only what one has direct personal experience with. This should make it easy to feel compassion for the feeling of resistance in others, as you are aware of how uncomfortable resistance is yourself.
  • Suffering is part of the game and puzzle of human existence. It cannot be eliminated in a day. The choice to experience joy and awakening is made not once, but every moment you wish to experience it. This is an infinite amount of times that the choice must be made. Make this choice whenever you think of it.

Friday, December 10, 2010

The best gift you can give is one to yourself. Seriously.

It is a fact: in order to give to the world around us, we must be fully charged, energized, nourished and nurtured to truly give. Yet when times get busy, most people actually fight the urge to slow down and replenish what is available in their own energy stores. Why is this? Could it possibly be that we are martyring ourselves on a sub-conscious level? Do we feel so inadequate that in order to feel our own worth we give everything we have? When we over-extend ourselves, we are actually giving away a false sense of self worth. Doing too much for others and not enough for yourself is like "Here, everything I have within me is in this act of doing something I cannot energetically afford. And in my emptiness, I might actually see that I was full." Maybe overextending ourselves is not such a good idea after all.

What you are worth as a person cannot be measured by what you give or do. Your worth is infinite. The amount of energy you can put into what you give, however is finite. The amount of energy you have is NOT a measure of who you are and what you are worth! Giving to yourself is like putting money in a bank where the return is always 100%. Ghandi once said, "I have so much to do today. I am going to have to meditate twice as long." This may sound like a silly joke, but it is very serious and meaningful. The more we connect with stillness and truth, the more wisely we spend our energy. Our ability to discriminate between necessary and unnecessary sharpens. Instead of procrastinating and doing things we resent, the truly important things naturally rise to the top of our list of priorities. This can include saying no to family member without feeling guilty. It can include asking for time off work to be alone or with loved ones. It can include not attending parties. Maybe it means not sending cards this year. It might even mean indulging less than modestly in all of the festivities and foods surrounding this time of year, instead of denying yourself.

One thing I know to be absolutely certain, is that just like Ghandi needed to meditate, yoga is the gift I give myself when I need a recharge. It is meditation in action. It is satisfying and pleasurable and I swear that the more yoga I do, the more time I actually have on any given day

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

The Gift of Ego

As a teacher and devoted practitioner of all aspects of yoga, I have experimented with many unique variations of the physical practice we call "asana". Asana is the aspect of yoga which requires us to move, hold poses, and breath into our bodies. For me, yoga asana has been a course in body awareness: "What do I feel like today, how am I treating myself, do I like my body?" These are a few basic questions that are answered without my even asking during any given practice. And this is also why yoga has had a profound healing effect on me. Yoga sparked a healing process I never thought I'd undergo. Through yoga, I am learning to heal my mind.

My mind believes many things. In the past my mind believed things such as "I will never be thin enough", and "How could I possible make a difference in the world?" My mind thought "I am an inconvenience to the people around me", and "I know that I have lots of talent, but my talent is not enough for the world." Yes, sounds a bit sniveling, but the fact is that, I never believed myself to be enough, to be whole.
I never believed that I was who I am. Belief exists in one place: in the mind. Through various studies in yoga, I have learned that the mind contains the aspect of ego and that all my life, through conditioning as a product of my environment, that the ego existing as an aspect of the physical manifestation of who I am (body and brain), really thrived! And I bet yours has too.

Ego is often misunderstood and wrongly defined as having the nature of obvious self centered-ness, vanity and narcissism. Though this can be one face of ego, self pity, self doubt and general lack of belief in the worth of the self are also aspects of ego. And there are many subtle places in between. Many people give selflessly, yet have a self-belief that if they stopped, the world would come crashing down around them. There are quiet folks who appear humble and would rather be counted in the status quo. These are not only personality traits, they are traits of ego.

Ego is very simply a mis-directed energy. It is the energy of identification. The essence of who we really are and what we really are cannot be identified, labeled, or seen, and the ego arises with the minds effort to make sense of this world of stimuli.
Ego is unavoidable. It exists within each person as surely does the True Self. And naming the True Self in and of itself is an act of ego, because again it is an act of identification.

Through the discipline of postures, meditation and studying the ethics of yoga, I have had the interesting experience of changing my thoughts. Through my practice I began regarding my body differently, and as I ventured into the world of teaching, I began to recognize my function as a human differently. I made a choice to replace old thinking with new thinking. This remains a pleasurable and important aspect of my practice. But there remains still a pitfall.

Is ego a bad thing? No way! Ego is but a veil, a puzzle, a maze. Here we are on this planet and what is the purpose? Some believe to praise and love God's creation. Some believe to fulfill our dreams. For me, it is to navigate the slippery slopes of egoism all around us. It is a journey in honing the skills of differentiation between real and un-real. It is to get lost in this intoxicating world of physical beauty, mystique and wonder in search of an exit for human suffering. There are infinite facets of this enchanting adventure. So what is the pitfall?

The pitfall is here. As I mentioned, practicing yoga provided me some amazing tools to switch my thoughts, to change my beliefs. But they are still that: beliefs.

So does an enlightened person stop thinking? No. Most likely not. I have noticed that in brief moments of liberation, I simply know that all of these beliefs are part of this magnificent game. And my beliefs become something akin to dress-up clothes. Just as the clothes we wear everyday express some portion of what we believe about ourselves. And this is the most liberating part of it all! Here I am, in this world, with a whole universe of props for playing "Life on Earth." And life becomes lighter. My need to express who I am, changes. It becomes translucent. There is a place where I understand the deep importance of this game without taking it seriously. It is a paradox, always.

Eckhart Tolle says something amazing in The Power of Now. He says that who you are requires no belief. And that in fact, every belief is an obstacle to self-realization since you already are who you are. But without that realization, who you are does not shine out into the world.

We are born liberated. Babies do not differentiate between themselves, their mothers and the world around them. This is a fact. Newborn babies come into the world knowing enlightenment. Babies make no judgments. They have nothing to compare their experience with. But this is a different kind of enlightenment.
Or is it? It is only as we grow, and the mind develops and we begin to cultivate relationships of our own that ego starts to emerge. As we develop into adulthood, a comprehensive sense of identity develops from our sense of ego. And we often feel the need to protect this identity, as though who we are could possibly ever be threatened! We may stumble upon a path leading to self-realization. We may seek it from a very young age, or there is the possibility that enlightenment comes when death knocks on our door too loudly to ignore. I am grateful that yoga rolled out the red carpet of the path toward enlightenment for me.

However it is experienced, one thing is for sure: Ego is not only the culprit of the need for liberation. Ego is the Pied Piper calling us to the path of liberation. Ego is God very cleverly disguised as himself, playing a very clever trick on the world. Ego is not an enemy. It is a gift, a partner. Ego is the sound of humanity knocking on liberation's door.