Thursday, May 22, 2008

Time to Party!!!!!

No, not that kind of party! I am being a good yoga student in India :)

On May 23rd the Ashtanga Yoga community in Mysore is doing some Karma Yoga and throwing a fund raising bash for Operation Shanti, an organization which provides relief of all kinds to poverty stricken children and families in the city. This particular event is to gather funding for the children's' education, one of the most powerful tools to catapult them from the streets into healthier environments. All of the items for the auction, as well as the food and entertainment have been donated. All proceeds go directly to the kids.

Each ticket (only $10) aids one child directly. On the "our people" page on Operation Shanti's site you can see the adorable faces of those who are receiving our assistance. I chose Sumitra (Chummi), whom I'm told is quite feisty ;) I hope I get to meet her tomorrow night!

You can donate through the website, so please do if you are moved to contribute. Also, if you know someone coming to Mysore to study Yoga please send along children's' clothing (hand me downs are fine) or school supplies. Giving a child an outfit or magic marker will absolutely make their day.

The word "Yoga" means to yoke or unite. What better way than to give thanks to the community that so graciously welcomes us into its arms than to unite our hearts to theirs? Giving back in this small way is the least we can do when India gives us so much.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Sharath's Conference

In Mysore at the AYRI Guruji held conference every Sunday afternoon as a form of lecture and discussion for all his students. Now that he has passed the torch to his grandson, Sharath, the next generation of Ashtanga Yoga has fulfilled the role of Guru-to-be amazingly well. He did his first conference yesterday and his wisdom, energy, and light were shining for all to see. I was hugely impressed with what he had to say.

He began by addressing the rumor that Ashtanga Yoga is not spiritual and based on asana (poses) only. Anyone who is drawn to this practice knows that nothing could be further from the truth. He made clear that if you are using your breath and your drishti (focus) you are not only practicing poses and pranayama (breath control), but you will attain a deep state of concentration and ultimately, meditation. Sharath also reminded us that having jobs and families is a huge responsibility, which is all the more reason to enter that state of concentration on a daily basis. This way whether you are doing your Yoga practice, changing diapers, or cleaning the house you will ALWAYS be in that state of presence and peace. Ashtanga Yoga uses asana to purify the body and mind first, because once that occurs it makes the other 7 limbs of yoga easier to understand and practice. In my own life I find this to be true. If you had preached the Yamas and Niyamas to me when my body and mind were impure and ruled by ego I would not have understood the goal. Granted, I am still a work in progress (aren't we all), but asana was certainly my gateway into Yoga as a whole.

Sharath also emphasized the importance of studying the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, The Yoga Sutra, The Bhagavad Gita, and other spiritual text so we can better understand the GOALS of Yoga and therefore make our efforts on the path more fruitful. In his own words, "Spend less time at coconut stand and more time reading"!

Needless to say, the lineage of Ashtanga Yoga is alive and well and possibly stronger than ever. The longer I follow this path the more faith I have in it as a complete practice. Most importantly, it has taught me to take the initiative and teach myself.

Saturday, May 17, 2008


Hi blog readers. Sorry I haven't posted in a while. For those of you whom have been to India you know that it is an all encompassing experience. I am trying to make the most of my time here and learn as much as possible in my last couple weeks. Between practice, chanting, reading, meditating, and applying what I am absorbing every day time seems to fly by. I will be in New York again before I even blink my eyes. I have thought about extending my stay for another month and I am tempted....when Ben is able to come to India with me I definitely will. To be away from my love for 8 weeks might be too much. I think I would ache from missing him :(

I will do another nutrition blog in a few days so stay tuned. I am sending you lots of love and peace.

Monday, May 12, 2008

How To Eat Like A Yogi Part Four

Now that we have discussed WHEN to eat it is time to venture into WHAT to eat. I anticipate this topic will be covered in several posts. I figured I would begin with a popular question:

Why are so many yoga practitioners vegetarians?

This is a multi-tiered answer. Actually, in the Yoga Sutras, vegetarianism is not discussed. This is a shock to most people. Why then, do the two seem to go hand in hand?

Well for starters, Yoga's roots began in India where the primary religion is Hinduism. Hindus believe cows are sacred animals since they are plant eating creatures whom also produce a non flesh food, milk. Most Hindus are vegetarians and since India is the birthplace of Yoga, most early Yogis were also Hindus. Thus, going vegetarian became linked with the science of Yoga very early on in history. Additionally, India's ancient system of medicine, Ayurveda, recommends a vegetarian diet to balance the elements in the body and to keep it in tune with nature.

Another, more well known reason for going veg has to do with Ahimsa, the principle of non violence and non harming. This is derived from the first limb of Yoga, the Yamas or moral observances. Ahimsa has many levels ranging from "don't kill another human being" to don't harm the environment (hence the Yoga community's desire to be green). It is silly to think that you can eat anything on this planet, especially an animal, without first harming it. Yogis also believe that you absorb the energy of what you ingest....not just from food but from your surroundings, your relationships, etc. Many sources have publicized the horrifying way animals are treated in slaughterhouses and how even non organic plant based foods are farmed with chemicals and antibiotics. The idea is not just to avoid eating the pesticides but to also avoid taking on the bad energy of irresponsible farmers and producers.

You might be wondering, "how can I integrate this into my life when I was brought up eating meat"? The beauty of Yoga is that it teaches us to be in the moment. Don't worry about radically changing your life. Instead, what can you focus on doing TODAY to change? Maybe you have eggs with bacon and toast for breakfast on Sundays. If you wake up one Sunday and don't feel like eating bacon, don't eat it! Habits do not equal awareness. Part of Ahimsa is to act in a way that produces the LEAST amount of harm possible. If you consciously need bacon on a Sunday morning, buy organic and research a farmer who allows his animals to live with respect before they become part of the food chain.

When Wholefoods stopped selling lobsters the CEO gave the reason that they didn't feel they could provide a good quality of life for the lobsters prior to selling them (I have summarized this interview but google it to read in depth). In an interview a reporter asked him, "What does it matter if they are going to die and be eaten anyway"? His response was, "You are going to die anyway at some point. Does that mean you shouldn't have the best possible life while you are here"?

If you are moved to become a vegetarian I encourage you to do it as a slow process rather than jump in at warp speed. Slow change tends to be more permanent. Here are some suggestions to help you give it a go.

  • Read books like The Omnivore's Dilemma and The Three Season Diet to educate yourself first
  • Start by filling your plate with veggies, grains, etc. and leaving meat as your side dish
  • Start with a detox or cleanse to help get the old junk out of your system. This will prevent cravings as well.
  • If you aren't in the mood for meat, don't just eat it because it is there. Be choosy!
  • Eat fish and eggs more frequently as a substitute for protein when you are starting the process.
  • Get a few great cookbooks like Vegan Fusion, my favorite. Vegetarian food is only boring when you don't know how to prepare it....and it isn't hard! It is just different.
  • Before meals, ask yourself what you FEEL like your body needs and eat that instead of what you "planned" to eat that day.
  • Google the environmental reasons for being a vegetarian. It is the greenest thing you can do. Prepare to be shocked by the facts.
  • Ask a vegetarian friend plenty of questions. They will be thrilled to help.
  • Give thanks before meals and bless your food. By bringing good energy to it you can alter the energy that you ingest. If you are eating a piece of salmon consciously send gratitude to that fish that gave itself up to nourish you. You will feel the difference.
  • Invite your children to do all these things with you.
When I return I am going to plan some Yoga and cooking classes to make it fun for everybody. Please email me if you are interested.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Tummy Trouble

Well folks, in the midst of my nutrition blogs I seem to have developed a stomach issue. Don't fret, I am not sick. I think between it being 90-100 degrees here everyday my tummy was just more sensitive than usual to the different oils, spices, and produce. At the peak of it I was exhausted (2 hour savasanas were being taken), bloated, and a tad "overactive" in the digestive department. Not fun. Luckily, Madhu, the best Ayurvedic doc, said to just have fruit only for a few days and all will be fine. I took his advice, along with this icky herbal potion he gave me to drink, and voila! I was cured within 12 hours. I have my energy back and feel like myself again. I am still sticking to mostly fruit, rice, and some very plain (aka boring) vegetables with no seasoning. But I feel great and my yoga practice is top notch again. More than anything else it taught me to be patient as nothing is permanent.

So I had to take a brief break from the nutrition blogs....wasn't really in the mood to write about food during the boring fruit only days. But the fun stuff will resume tomorrow. I honestly can't complain. Many people here get major food related sickness and mine could just be considered an annoyance. I keep hearing my Mom, Anne The Nurse, in the back of my mind saying, "Wash your hands, take your vitamins, and drink lots of fluids". She's right, of course.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

How To Eat Like A Yogi....Part Three

I wasn't planning on blogging today but a random monsoon hit so I am stuck at the internet cafe until further notice. ANYHOW.....if you have read the two previous blogs you might be wondering, "if it isn't good to eat in the morning and it isn't good to eat at night, when IS it good to eat for goodness sake"?????

The good news is that between 10am and 5pm it is in your benefit to chow down! Your digestive fires are burning and your body is craving nourishment. Typically I have one of two eating strategies depending on my schedule that day. First, I have a large meal around 11am and a smaller one between 3-4pm. Second, I have a monster meal around 2pm and that is it for the day. I usually do fresh juicing at home in the morning and drink herbal tea at night.

Since doing yoga and changing my lifestyle I have become aware that I am not hungry for 3 meals per day and was just eating them because American guidelines say you should have the 3 squares (and we know how the American diet has turned out). If we go back to the breakfast issues in part one of these posts it reminds us that 2 meals per day is sufficient.

Worried about not feeling full enough? Try these tips:
-Drink 2 glasses of water before you start eating
-Don't rush while eating or eat while doing other things.
-Do whatever you need to do to feel satisfied, whether it be ending your meal with a piece of dark chocolate or an extra helping of rice. At the end of a meal you shouldn't WANT to continue eating.
-Don't eat with the intention of "saving room for later". You won't feel satisfied and will end up grazing all day (this will be addressed in the next post).
-Siesta was invented for a reason! If you lay on your left side for 10 minutes after your meal and close your eyes you will work wonders! Laying this way promotes digestion due to the nature of the stomach. After 10 minutes your energy will rise because you took the time to assimilate your nutrients.
-Have a small coffee, chai, or espresso (SMALL being the keyword). The little bit of caffeine will help digest.

Enjoy your food. It isn't just meant for fuel but to be a sensory experience as well.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

How To Eat Like a Yogi....Part Two

I get the feeling there will be many installments to this nutrition series! Keep in mind these posts are in no particular order, so apply them all as they work for you.

So yesterday we covered guidelines for the morning. Now we are going to tackle the evening. My yoga Guru, Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, recommends a 12 hour fast prior to your morning Yoga practice. Doing yoga or any activity on an empty stomach will give you a boost of energy since none of your prana (chi, vital energy) is being used for digestion at that time. This means if you are on your mat at 6am you are finished eating for the day at 6pm the night before.

You will wake up easier even if you aren't exercising in the morning. Your body will feel light and rested. Much of this is due to the cleansing processes that occur between 10pm and 4am. If you are eating late in the evening your digestion and cleansing cycles don't start on time, thus you wake up feeling groggy and heavy because your body wasn't refreshed. FYI: If you miss your cleansing cycles your body will just skip them altogether until the next day rather than postpone them (read The 3 Season Diet for details).....kinda like the garbage man going on strike while the trash keeps piling up.

This is the reason all those dumb, trendy diets claim you will lose weight by not eating at night. It isn't rocket science, just plain old biology. When your body has digested early in the evening you sleep more soundly, cleansing occurs, and you feel great the next day. Not to mention it prevents those unhealthy late night snacks. Thus, you lose weight. You eat earlier, burn off all your food, wake up more energized the next day and your physical activity of choice is more effective. If you aren't a morning yoga practitioner shoot for 12 hours from when your alarm clock rings. Drink some herbal tea and hydrate to start your day (see previous post). If your 12 hour mark begins and you are still hungry try to stick to liquids before bed.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

How To Eat Like a Yogi...Part One

Due to an enormous amount of requests this will be the first of many nutrition blogs. Please note that I am not a nutritionist, just someone whom has learned a lot in my own experience.

The whole "breakfast is the most important meal of the day" concept is a farce. Have you ever noticed that most cultures outside the U.S. have a very light breakfast, if anything? This is not an accident. During the hours from 2am until 10am your body is still in cleansing mode. In other words, why load up your body with food when your digestive system is not yet finished cleansing from the day prior? Our digestive fires do not kick in until after 10 or 11am, so until that time allow your body to clean itself out. This will prevent sluggishness, lack of energy, bloating, and constipation. You can aid the process by drinking herbal teas (ginger gets the system moving), drinking plenty of water, coconut water, fresh fruit or vegetable juice straight from the juicer (avoid bottled if possible), and even a small cup of organic coffee. In other words, only liquids during this time of day, but have them in unlimited amounts. By the time lunch arrives you will actually be hungry for it instead of just eating because you are "supposed to". Not to mention you will have more energy before and after your meal because digestion is heightened.

If the idea of waiting until 10am to eat solid food is frightening to you then have some water rich fruit like watermelon (hence the name), papaya, or canteloupe. You can do this to ease your way in. Try it for 7 days and see how you feel. I bet you will have more energy and stamina throughout the day. If you are by chance up before 4am and exercising vigorously in the morning as I am in India then see if you can hold off until 9am or 9:30am. Again, a 7 day experiment will help you find the ins and outs that work for your life.

I attribute the breakfast craze in America to consumerism. Cereal vendors need to make a living too I suppose, right?

Friday, May 2, 2008

Getting a massage.....

Whenever I am in India I always visit the same massage therapists, Madhu and Muralee. They are 14th generation bone setters and Ayurvedic practitioners from Kerala. I've never found anyone better, ever. Plus, they are sweet as pie. Today when they picked me up for my massage I was relieved to see they arrived in a car instead of on a motorcycle (helmets cease to exist in India). When I remarked that they usually drive a bike Muralee said, "No is VERY safety". It was so cute I smiled the rest of the ride.

The massage here is no joke. You get smothered in more oil than you can even imagine. To the point where you'd better hope you wore black, otherwise your clothes are ruined. Beyond that you are practically naked and should just get used to it....they don't care. At first they massage your scalp and head and you think to yourself, "this feels nice and relaxing" and then BOOM! They kick it up a thousand notches and you actually feel your self being restructured physically, mentally, and beyond. Your knots don't stand a chance. You do lay down but are also contorted into all kinds of positions in which they massage you even more. By the end you have no choice but to feel great. Everything is open and relaxed. But just in case you have too many toxins floating around in your body they throw you into a steam box for 10-15 minutes so you sweat your brains out like never before. I do mean an actual box of steam, by the way. Only your head is sticking out. Meanwhile, Madhu and I have this very deep conversation while I am steaming, discussing spirituality and the roots of the Ayurveda he practices, etc. All I keep thinking is, "I must look insane with my greasy hair and face sticking out of this sweat box".

After that he says blessings and I pay him. Before I leave his family members from Kerala, whom I suspect have never seen a blonde before, insist on taking their picture with me. Then they drive me home in the "very safety car", take a couple more pictures with their phones, and send me on my way.