Friday, March 31, 2017

WHAT IS YOGA?






The first time I practiced yoga I was scared. 

Not that I wouldn’t be able to do the poses, although the thought did enter my mind. Not that I wouldn’t understand the teacher or the rather certain possibility I’d collapse embarrassingly mid-class, although these concerns hovered nearby. 

None of these held up to my spiritual fear. I was scared because the religious system in which I was raised had conditioned me to be afraid of most things outside of the system. 

Hippies, hell, emotions and desires, punishment, failure, perfection, imperfection, wrath, “pagan” religions and people, strong women, questions, doubts, tardiness, sin, being too happy, being too sad. 

The list was long. 

Some of it was subtle, some quite blatant, none of it directly intentional I don’t think. Even still, fear was the foundation of my faith. 

[Note: I speak of fear here as it applies to a common held posture towards yoga but want to be sure it is understood that I received many beautiful gifts from this religious tradition as well. One of them being the notion of resurrection. The understanding that no matter how difficult life may seem, light will emerge. Transformation patiently waits.] 

So there I was, on my mat, afraid of eternal damnation. Convinced more likely than not I’d be struck down on the spot. 

But for some reason I didn’t run, although I did send out desperate internal prayers. I remained anchored in place, certain that beyond the fear something was waiting. 

What blossomed from that point was the beginning of a journey. One swollen with hope, faith, beauty, gratitude, challenge, forgiveness, grief, peace and the embrace of infinite love. 

Over time something began to unfold. A picture emerged, one that seamlessly brought together the person I claimed to follow with the practices and philosophies that cultivated understanding and revelation. I quickly realized I had to give up nothing in order to embrace yoga. I simply had to extend my arms wide. 

Slowly I recaptured an innocent belief I carried within me, planted in childhood - that Holy is everywhere, Divine in all things. 

With this came an immense freedom to fully experience life. All of it. The beauty, the pain, the different and uncomfortable. I was given permission to dive headfirst into curiosity while provided boundaries to keep me connected to this place of unalterable grace and peace. I call it soul peace. 

It’s through this experience, and all the ones leading to this point, that I offer this:  a holistic picture of yoga. 

If you’re curious about yoga but hesitant, wonder if you’ve been misinformed, or find yourself in a similar place as I was - fearful but drawn - my hope is that the information found here offers you a foundation from which to move forward. Know that fear does not necessarily mean something is bad or wrong. We all have our biases whether we choose to acknowledge them or not. Part of our work is to recognize those biases or fears accumulated through experience or passed on to us in childhood and ask: “Does what I’m fearful of have the possibility of making me a more loving, kind, compassionate human being?” / “Can I see that change in those around me?” / “Is this my fear or one I’ve been given to carry?” / “Whose voice is this?” / “Am I afraid because it’s different?” / “Have I been allowed to be curious?”

In Sanskrit, the ancient language of India, there is this word “Namaste”. Namaste has a number of similar translation variations all essentially meaning “The Light in me sees and honors the Light in you.” It’s a beautiful way of acknowledging the sacred, beauty, goodness and Divine in each of us. At its most basic it is a way of acknowledging a universal equality and peace. 

Namaste, friends.


[WHAT IS YOGA?]

Yoga, from the root word “yuj” [pronounced “yug”], means to yoke, to bind, or be in union with the sacred [or God if that is familiar to you]. Similarly, the Hebrew scriptures use the word “yada” which is translated as “to be intimately joined to the sacred”. 

Yoga is a system or philosophy, not of beliefs, but of disciplines and guidance for enriched living that began in India an estimated 5,000 years ago. It offers a universal framework for spiritual growth and techniques for quieting cravings of the body and chatter of the mind. 

Yoga is best understood as a compliment to any religion rather than a religion itself as the practice of yogic living aids in deepening whatever healthy religious beliefs may already be held and encourages the release of those that are not. I liken it to a hand extended - one that connects the practices, rituals and beliefs you hold dear - and draws you further into a depth of understanding. For example, the Eight Limbs of Yoga, created from the Yoga Sutras [see next paragraph for explanation], can aid in a further understanding of both the Ten Commandments and Beatitudes as these essential disciplines or codes of ethics include non-violence [ahimsa], truthfulness [satya], contentment [santosha], and self-study [swadhyaya]. While the commandments provide concrete boundaries the Eight Limbs of Yoga and Yoga Sutras offer insight into the why and how. In this way, the goal of yoga is not conversion to any one religion but expanded awareness and vibrant wellbeing, ultimately connecting us to the common goodness [Divine or God] that resides within. 

The Yoga Sutras, considered the classical text of yoga, were written around 200 BC by Patajanli who was revered as a great prophet in the yogic tradition. The Sutras are thought to hold the essence of yoga compiled into written form. The Eight Limbs of Yoga are based on the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras and offer tools to build character through discipline in order to gain an expanded awareness and ultimately cultivate wisdom both personally as well as communally.

Asana, the physical practice of posture or position, is a facet [or limb] of yoga. There is great emphasis on connecting the mind, body, breath and spirit [soul or heart]. The practice of yoga asana has been embraced in the West as a form of exercise but was originally intended to open, release or prepare the body and mind for meditation as well as build discipline and commitment in one's life. 

Meditation [also a facet or limb of yoga] is “single-pointed focus” and occurs when the mind sustains extended attention on whatever single-point it is focusing on. That being said, you can’t “do” meditation rather it is a state of being that happens to you. Meditation takes discipline, persistence and great patience. The meditator’s role is to set up the conditions necessary for meditation and then surrender to whatever state of being may arise. Meditation is such a state of focus on one point, idea, thing or presence that the barriers between the point of focus and meditator dissolve and there remains no difference between the two. In other words, the meditator merges completely with the point of focus. The Bible talks about this when it speaks of meditating without ceasing. Ultimately, the aim is to become one with God and then live out of this union. 

Meditation and mindfulness are often used interchangeably even though there are distinct differences. Mindfulness is the practice of living in the present moment with awareness, attuned to all of the physical sensations that arise. It cultivates a “be here now” mentality. I like to think of mindfulness as a stepping stone towards meditation. 

Frequently, Pranayama or breath control, is used to aid or invite a meditative state. “Prana” is life force energy and “Ayama” means extension or expansion. Thus pranayama is to extend or expand our life force energy. The life force energy that resides within us is directly related to our breath. Because there is such a strong relationship between the two we can effect the movement of this life force energy by regulating our breath in specific ways. A very basic example of this is by drawing the breath into your middle back and allowing the oxygen to expand there, you multiply the life energy within your lungs. Gentle repetition of this action can increase the oxygen in your body which affects alertness and clarity of mind. There are a variety of pranayama techniques, each designed to have a specific effect and ranging from basic to very advanced. That being said, pranayama is powerful and shouldn’t be practiced in ignorance and without an experienced guide. 


[WHY THE FEAR THEN?]

There is a common-held belief in some religious systems that in practicing yoga you engage in worship of Buddha or Hindu gods. I think this misunderstanding arises for a few reasons. 

First, there is the assumption that Yoga is synonymous with Hinduism or Buddhism. The earliest yogi-like pictograph is thought to date around 3000 BC and is linked to the Indus Valley civilization. Hinduism is thought to have been formally recognized around 2000 BC and Buddhism much later, 563 BC. The Hindu scriptures [or Vedas] include the word “yoga” but refrain from expanding on a particular practice. As is true of history, era builds upon era and beliefs and systems either evolve or are left behind. All religions and spiritual practices are a product [whether reactionary or growth] of this movement in time and all are connected by history. The people of India have protected the tradition of yoga within their heritage but do not hold it with tight-fisted ownership. They have guarded it as sacred thru the generations and generously gift it to us all. 

Secondly, us Westerners can be quick to package up all things Eastern in one big box. Many of us are familiar with the Moses-Aaron-Golden Calf story [we’ve seen the movie] and shudder at any mention of idol. So the many gods of Hinduism [and the various sized statues of said gods] make us, to put it mildly, nervous. Here’s the thing - Hinduism fairly quickly evolved from a belief in many gods to an understanding of one God. One creative force or energy behind all we experience as reality. The multiple gods are various representations or imagery of the limitless characteristics of this one God. For example, Ganesha [the representation of wisdom, strength, and the remover of obstacles] is a symbolic image of the aspect of God that makes way for expansion and growth. It's easy to agree that the infinite nature of God is hard to grasp with a human mind and every culture, tradition and religion has created ways to better understand the complex mystery of the Divine. It's important to note that our misunderstanding of yoga may be directly connected to our misunderstanding of the Hindu faith, Buddhist tradition, and Eastern culture as a whole. Eastern thought is much less literal and far more metaphorical than Western thought. Thus, it is easy for misinterpretation to arise and take root. 

Third is quite basic. Fear keeps us in. I’m not talking about bear-chasing-you-run-for-your-life-fear. I’m talking about the sort of fear that keeps us from growing, discovering, and curiosity. The fear that keeps us tamed - fenced and controllable. Fear is powerful, especially when used on people already frightened. Often we don’t even know what we’re scared of, we’re just told to be afraid. I’ve found yoga to be wonderfully inclusive and when something is built on exclusivity, inclusive is a threat. So fear is quickly employed. With fear comes manipulation [even if unintended], bias and the stretching of fact to fit and further the fear. It’s not a far leap to say we are a relatively anxious culture. Fear finds solace in sameness and is aggravated by different. When threatened, we tend to long for “home” - for something we understand. And so, as our culture tries to navigate this place of fear, many of us are desperately fleeing different and unknown for same and comfortable. 

One of the invitations of yoga is the shedding of fear. When we lose the baggage, the voices, the weight we’re able to see with clarity, wisdom, and openness. But it takes courage. It takes a step away from same and towards different. This was demanded of every saint and every historical figure we admire. Each had a choice - build a wall or step into. Step toward. 


[WHAT’S WITH THE CHANTING?]

Sanskrit is thought to be the oldest known language, linked to roughly 4000 BC but some argue it dates much older. The Sanskrit language was created to systematically follow the natural progression of sound in the human mouth and, from a spiritual perspective, each sound represents a different aspect of creation. 

Mantras were then created from these sounds. Just as a certain musical cord or song can illicit an emotional response, mantras were specifically designed to cultivate a state of being [ex. peace of mind or harmony]. As with every sound, there is a specific vibratory rhythm connected. If you hum “mmmmm”, for example, you’ll be able to sense these vibrations. Therefore, mantras provide a vibratory rhythm for the mind to become absorbed in - allowing for a stilling or calming of the mental chatter we so often endure. Ultimately, mantra is hearing with your whole body. 

Chanting is the repetition of these mantras, although not restricted to the Sanskrit mantras. The point of chanting is to use the energy the vibrations of sound awaken in the body to generate a meditative mind. My experience with chanting is this: I quickly found comfort and ease on my yoga mat but chanting was something that continued to plague me with nervousness well into my yoga teacher training. One of the most beautiful gifts my teachers gave me was permission to go at my own pace and refrain as needed. It was a true testament to the heart of yoga - a tradition devoid of pressure and full of compassion. A tradition that urges the practitioner to find and listen to their voice within, acknowledge the fear and discomfort, and proceed when ready. As I began to understand the history of Sanskrit and reasons for chanting, I tiptoed forward working hard to keep an open heart and mind. Starting with OM I tested the waters. For awhile I was content to listen rather than participate. Over time, in the same way communal singing brings a sense of harmony, chanting cultivated in me a sense of community and peace. Whether it’s Sanskrit mantras, biblical scripture, sutras, quotes, poems or prayers - the continual repetition of meaningful, intentional, powerful words and sounds now envelope me like a Divine embrace. 

“OM” [pronounced “Aauumm”] is the sound thought to hold and represent the universe - past, present, future and all that is beyond the constraints of time. It is considered the most sacred syllable in yoga and is universal in nature. When in deep meditation, some have said to hear the word “OM” reverberate within their being. In yoga, OM is sometimes used as a way of bringing together our communal voice of peace. Participation is always optional. 


I've found yoga to be a tradition full of beautiful paradox. It’s relaxed, yet disciplined. Demands effort, invites ease. Encases the serious within a playful cloak. It breaks down walls and barriers, all-the-while building an infinite house. Yoga encourages us to show up with our whole selves - the goofy, weird, sad, angry, happy, hurt that lies within us all. It invites us to embrace what’s there and then sift. Like sand moving through a fine mesh strainer, the work of our yoga mat, meditation cushion, and the disciplines we uphold are there to clear out what causes us to stumble through life. We’re asked to release what keeps us imprisoned and entrenched, fully surrender to the process of refinement, and urged toward a place of greater understanding, humility and compassion. 

Yoga encourages us in a life of curiosity. It illumines our perceived edges and dissolves theses boundaries so we can experience more - more of the physical posture or pose, more of meditation, more of our self, more of life, more of God. The other day I entered into a standing forward fold just prior to a class. It's the posture where you stand with your feet together or with a little space between the two and extend your chest forward as you fold down towards the floor. So often the backs of my legs begin to scream about midway down. I breathe into the discomfort but succumb to the belief that this must be my edge - the point at which I stop and hold. Through the discipline of practicing yoga, I've learned that if I release the first boundary I come to [usually mental disguised as physical], I incrementally go deeper into the pose. What awaits is this overwhelming combination of fear and peace. If I surrender my fear and trust peace to wash away the debris I can actually find my edge - the point at which my body wisdom asks me to stop. Yoga does this - it clears the clatter of the mind so we hear the voice of the soul.   

Of course there is much left unsaid here as it takes years, a lifetime really, to grasp this deep tradition. That’s the beauty of yoga. There is no end point. No goal. Only the desire for greater connection to and love for ourselves, our planet, our fellow inhabitants, and the beautiful Infinite within it all [you may know this as God]. 

It’s the journey that’s important. The journey that’s the gift. Settle in, release the goal. Release the expectations and destinations. That’s the essence of yoga and of resurrection really. You have to die many times over to your goals, expectations, desires, pride, fears and with humility accept the grace that has always been. In the surrender, peace awaits. 

May you release fear and embrace understanding. 

May you step towards what is different. 

May you have courage to be curious. 

May you ask, seek, knock. 

Grace and beauty.

Hope and love.

Peace.

Peace. 


SOURCES:

My experience with yoga and the information presented here continues to be influenced by the teachings, writings and work of Lori GasparViki DistinTias Little, Nicolai BachmanEllen McKenzieAli ModellParamahansa Yogananda, John Philip Newell, Thomas Merton, and Danna Faulds along with a host of others not mentioned here.

Photo Credit: earlbrown.info

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

CARDAMOM + PEAR SMOOTHIE with vanilla, nutmeg, maca and ashwagandha root

So. This recipe. It comes directly from my own need for an easy breakfast that would carry me through the morning as well as combat my vata-crazy in this seasonal shift. Something light but substantial. Easy to digest but filling. Something that wouldn't leave me feeling chilled inside and out. And something with cardamom. Because, well, I straight up love the stuff.

It's good friends. Really, really good.

Allow me a few notes about some of the lesser-known ingredients:

Ashwagandha root is a revered herb in Ayurveda medicine [ancient sister science to yoga] known as a tonic for longevity and vitality. Tonics are substances that stimulate energy [chi] in a beautifully balanced, sustainable way. It's specifically used where an imbalance of vata is found in the body [for example, feelings of cold or dryness, nervousness or anxiety]. I've found it to be helpful in deepening my sleep, allowing for more rest.

Maca is similar to ashwagandha and prized for its adaptogenic and nutritive [nourishing] properties. An adaptogen improves resistence to stress and supports an overall balance within the body.

Lucuma, made from the fruit of the lucuma tree, is known for both it's caramel-like taste as well as it's anti-inflammatory affect in wound healing. It provides 14 essential trace minerals.


[THE RECIPE]

2 cups milk of choice [Tigernut milk is delicious! Scroll to bottom of link to find instructions for making your own.]
1/2 cup stewed pears*
4 dates, pitted and soaked**
1 teaspoon ashwagandha root powder
1 teaspoon maca powder
1 teaspoon lucuma powder
1/8 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/2 vanilla bean [use both seeds and peel]

*To make stewed pears: peel and cut two medium to large pears into small chunks. Place in a small saucepan, add 1/3 cup of water, pinch of sea salt and a drizzle of maple syrup [optional]. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and then reduce heat to medium-low or a soft simmer. Cook down to about one cup of mixture or until it reduces by half. Set aside to cool. 

**To soak dates: place dates in medium glass jar or bowl and cover with boiling water. Let soak for 10 - 15 minutes. Either drink water or strain and save for other recipes.

Combine all ingredients in a blender. Blend on high until very smooth. Smoothie with be more liquid than thick. If a thicker mixture is desired, add fresh or frozen chunks of bananas [note: this will cool the over all affect of the smoothie and is not advisable during winter months or when vata dosha is prominent] or half an avocado. 

[BONUS RECIPE! CARDAMOM + PEAR SMOOTHIE CHIA PUDDING]

Mix 2 cups of smoothie mixture with 4 tablespoons of chia seeds. Stir well, let stand for 10 minutes, and then stir again. Refrigerate for an hour or until mixture reaches pudding-like consistency. 




Sunday, February 5, 2017

WINTER "JUICE": STEAMED CARROT + APPLE[SAUCE] + GINGER + TURMERIC



It's amusing to me that the most popular time for juicing is January when a host of people undertake "detoxing" and virtually zero fresh stuff grows. Call me crazy but raw fruits and vegetables don't sound good, especially concentrated in liquid form, when the temperatures dip below freezing. The habitual internal cold I commonly sport [and maladies that come with it] is only exasperated by frigid weather which means I take seriously the idea of warming in winter.

Cooking foods, using warming herbs [like ginger and cinnamon], and choosing produce specifically designed for the winter months [root veggies and winter squash] goes along way in maintaining a comfortable balance within.

That being said, I love carrot juice with ginger and apple. The blend of flavors, the spicy bite of ginger, the pretty color - everything about it makes me happy.

Yesterday I saw the sun. For the entire day. It's been, what's felt like months, since I've seen a sunrise, felt the warmth of rays, turned by body to meet its brightness. Yesterday I saw it and immediately dove head first into spring fever. In February. The beginning of February. Today brought me back to reality but the longing for spring still had me craving something juicy.

Sometimes when we sit with boundaries, challenge, and disappointment and allow rather than trying to alleviate the discomfort we generate space for creativity and truly tasty things can happen.

This is that happening, the gift of such allowing.

Similar to the juice I love yet cooked and warm with food kept in whole form, this "juice" is my winter sun. Well, a stand in at least.

Shine on, friends.

[THE RECIPE]
Serves 2

1 heaping cup of carrots cut into 1-inch chunks [peels on if organic]
1 1-inch piece of fresh ginger [peel on if organic]
1 1-inch piece of fresh turmeric [peel on if organic]
1/2 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 teaspoon of Korma powder [see recipe below]
3/4 teaspoon of ashwagandha powder [optional]
juice from 1/2 a fresh lemon squeezed [about 1 tablespoon]
2 cups of milk of choice [I love homemade Tigernut milk, scroll to bottom of link for instructions]
1 tablespoon of maple syrup or 4 - 6 pitted dates, soaked*
ground cinnamon, garnish

*To soak dates: place dates in medium glass jar or bowl and cover with boiling water. Let soak for 10 - 15 minutes. Reserve water to be used in recipe.

Steam carrots until just soft when you poke them with a fork. I recommend making a larger batch so that they are readily available throughout the week. I chopped and steamed eight carrots, measured one cups worth, and refrigerated the remaining in a glass container.

Place all ingredients in a high powered blender and blend until bright orange and very smooth. Divide between two glasses and garnish with a large pinch of ground cinnamon.

Drink smoothie slightly warm [if you've used freshly steamed carrots] or at room temperature.

Korma Powder Recipe: 
Recipe from Eat, Taste, Heal

1 T. whole coriander seeds
1 T. whole cumin seeds
1 T. whole fennel seeds
1 T. whole mustard seeds
1 T. whole fenugreek seeds
1 T. whole cardamom seeds
1 T. poppy seeds
1 T. whole pepper seeds
1 T. ground cinnamon
1 T. ground ginger
1 T. ground turmeric
1 tsp. ground cloves

Place all Korma powder ingredients in a spice grinder or Vitamix dry container. Blend on high until a very fine powder is achieved. Transfer to an glass container with tight-fitting lid. Store in a cool, dark place.



  

Saturday, February 4, 2017

VEGAN LENTIL AND BEAN SOUP with miso



It's been cold for the last few days. Really cold. At least to me. I've found the best way to cure the cold is to warm from the inside out using food, beverage in the form of warming teas or ginger water, moxa [a Traditional Chinese Medicine therapy] and yoga. Soups are my friend these days and this, my latest creation. Allowing my body to lead, I follow my tongue when creating the recipes found here. May sound kooky but when it comes to needs, my body knows best.

A bit crazy to admit, this is my first foray into using miso and I'm hooked. A food I've wanted to try for quite sometime, this seemed like a great way to give it a go. Miso is a fermented soy bean paste with a strong salty flavor. As with most foods, the fermentation process increases digestibility thus making the nutrients contained within more available to our digestive process. It happens to be a fantastic substitute for meat-based broths.

I use here and am partial to Eden Foods for a few reasons: they are a company local to my state and have impressive environmental standards, have a great fermentation process, cans are free of BPA, and Eden is one of the only store-bought brands of beans I can digest without uncomfortable side effects. You can find this brand at your local health food store and possibly your general grocery store or through Vitacost [a discounted healthy food online ordering option - sign up using this link and you'll receive $10 off your first order].

Enjoy!

[THE RECIPE]

Soak the lentils the night before by placing measured lentils in a glass bowl. Cover the lentils with water so that the liquid rises about an inch over the lentils. Add a tablespoon or two of apple cider vinegar. Cover with a lid or a plate and let soak over night or for 8 hours. After 8 hours, drain lentils and rinse well. Set aside.

Prepare vegetables [carrots, celery, mushrooms, ginger, garlic, onions, and turmeric] by chopping and mincing prior to making the soup.

3 cups chopped carrots [4 - 6 whole]
3 cups chopped celery [1 small bunch]
1 cup finely chopped shitake mushrooms
1 medium - large onion, finely chopped
4 - 6 garlic cloves, minced
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, minced
1 tablespoon fresh turmeric, minced
3 - 4 tablespoons avocado oil
1 tablespoon each: dried thyme and oregano, ground cumin and coriander, Herbamore [optional]
2 - 4 teaspoons of sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 whole bay leaf
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes [no added salt]
4 cups green lentils, pre-soaked
1 15-oz can adzuki beans [Eden brand]
1 15-oz can cannellini beans [Eden brand]
8 cups water
2 tablespoons miso paste [Eden brand]
1/2 bag frozen leafy greens [chard, kale, spinach]

Heat the avocado oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. When the oil is warm, add the onions, garlic and mushrooms to the pot. Cook over medium heat for about 5 minutes [stirring frequently], add ginger and turmeric, and continue to cook the mixture for another 3 - 5 minutes or until onions become soft.

Add carrots and celery, herbs, salt and pepper. Cook for another 5 - 7 minutes, stirring frequently.

Add tomatoes, lentils and water to the pot and increase the heat to high. Once the water boils, reduce the heat to a strong simmer and add the beans. Stir well to combine all the ingredients.

Let soup simmer for 20 - 30 minutes or until lentils become soft.

Blend the about 1/3 of the soup in either a blender or using an immersion blender.

Add miso paste and leafy greens. Taste and add salt if needed. Reduce heat to low for 3 - 5 minutes.

Remove from heat and let cool for 10 minutes prior to serving.



Tuesday, January 24, 2017

TURKEY LOAF with mashed sweet potatoes and sauteed kale

This is one of my very favorite winter meals. It's my take on an old-time crowd-pleaser, is my style of comfort food and happens to be hearty meal that doesn't require a large amount of effort. Enjoy!

[THE RECIPE]

For the Meatloaf:

1 lb pasture-raised ground turkey
1 small onion, minced
4 garlic cloves, minced
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped [optional]
juice from 1/2 a lemon [appx. 1 tablespoon]
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon maple syrup
3/4 teaspoon Herbamare [or 1/2 teaspoon onion powder + 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder]
1/2 teaspoon ground rosemary
1/4 teaspoon chaga mushroom powder [optional]
Ketchup [optional]

Mix all ingredients [except Ketchup if you are using] in a medium size, glass bowl. Pour mixture into a glass bread baking dish and press down firmly. Squeeze ketchup over flattened loaf if desired.

Bake at 350 degrees for 60 minutes.

Remove from oven and let cool for 10 minutes to allow the juices to soak back in a bit.

For the Mashed Sweet Potatoes:

2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 medium white potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 small celery root, peeled and cubed
ghee
sea salt

Place potatoes and celery root in a medium pan. Fill with water so water comes about 1-inch above the veggies. Add a pinch of sea salt and bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium [or to simmer] and cook until veggies are very tender when poked with a fork.

Remove from heat and drain water. Add 2 - 3 large tablespoons of ghee and sea salt to taste. Blend with mixer and crush with potato masher. Add more ghee or salt as needed.

For the Kale:

4 cups kale leaves, shredded
1 tablespoon ghee
granulated garlic
sea salt

Melt ghee over medium-high heat in large cast iron or stainless steel skillet. Carefully add kale and sprinkle with garlic and salt. Mix to coat kale in ghee and seasoning. Stir frequently until kale has wilted, softened, and turned a bright shade of green. Remove from heat and serve immediately.





Sunday, January 22, 2017

FENNEL STEAMED RICE


We are big time rice lovers in the VKlok household. Rice with butter or ghee and always with a pinch of salt; sometimes with broccoli and sunflower seeds and dressing; rice with stir-fry, rice in soup, in winter bowls and alongside dahlrisotto [and more risotto], dolma and kitchari . Lots of rice!

What I have yet to reveal here is the dappling I do in combining herbs with rice. Fennel, cumin, cardamom, celery seed, cinnamon, cloves - they all can turn basic rice into something a bit more magical, changing both the depth of flavor and over all energy. Each spice adds it's own, unique dimension and nutritional qualities. 

Take cardamom for example. Outside of it being my favorite flavor, cardamom is warming [hello winter!] and helps dispel damp, phlegm, mucus, and cold from the body among many other things. Add 2 - 3 whole cardamom pods to your rice while cooking, and boom!, magic. 

Here I use fennel which improves digestibility as well as calms an upset stomach [stomach flu anyone?]. It's a warming herb that aides the bladder, kidneys, spleen, stomach and liver. Good for indigestion, gas, and kicking out excessive mucus in the lungs. 

So next time you make rice, try adding a bit of your favorite spice. Use the whole seed rather than ground. No need to remove herbs like fennel, celery seed, and cumin but I would recommend composting cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves prior to serving.

Bon app├ętit! 

[THE RECIPE]

2 cups uncooked organic basmati rice [or rice of choice]
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespooon whole fennel seed
1 - 2 tablespoons extra virgin, cold-pressed olive or avocado oil
sea salt

In a small skillet, heat fennel seeds over medium heat to toast. Stir constantly until seeds become fragrant and just begin to brown. Immediately remove from heat and set aside.

Pour rice into a fine mesh strainer. Over sink, run cold water through the rice until water runs clear. Let all of the water drain completely. 

Place rice in a medium size saucepan and add water, a pinch of sea salt, and toasted fennel seeds. Bring water to boil over high heat. Once boiling, reduce temperature to low and cover to steam until rice is tender and water is gone. This may take anywhere from ten to thirty minutes depending on the variety of rice you use. Turn off heat and let sit covered for 10 minutes.

Drizzle oil over rice and use a fork to fluff. Add sea salt to taste. 





CHASING CLOUDS, EXPOSING EXPECATION




Expectations. We've grown up on a healthy dose of them haven't we?

Sometimes I wonder if expectations are the key to our undoing. That maybe expectations lead to more suffering than healing, more separation than unity, more pain than peace. That maybe expectations are costing us far more than they're worth.

As children, we're expected to act a certain way, fill a certain spot in our family, play a certain role. Meeting such expectations is met with reward. Failing is met with shame. For me this took the shape of perfectionism. The more I succeeded, the more I strove to be "good", the more I was covered with acclamation and praise. Apparently working really hard to be perfect makes for a really good kid, student, family member, employee, and on and on. Expectations were piled on like bricks, one perfect rectangle stacked on top of the other until I was trapped inside. This created a really strong, tall fortress.

Walls I continue dismantling to this day.

Maybe you were expected to be perfect or maybe you found yourself put in the place of trouble maker, the mischievous one, the funny kid, the fat kid [I'm so sorry], the athlete, the musical one, you fill in the blank.

And then we live into it. We create our lives around it.

We raise our kids from this voice.

For me, perfect led to sick. For the greater part of my life I charged ahead with the perfect flag as my guide. I worked to design the perfect building, find the perfect diet, introduce food to my new baby in the perfect way, parent and feed my kids perfectly, keep the house a perfect sort of clean, practice a pose perfectly - keep up, never stop, push, chase the perfect. This pursuit kept me so occupied, every warning sign my body so kindly provided went unnoticed or ignored until it had to scream to get my attention.

The irony is, perfect is an illusion. Expectations a mirage. Kind of like shapes in the clouds. You can see them and fully believe that cloud is a dragon. You can do everything possible to convince yourself it's true, but it's still very much a cloud. And in a moment it may transform into a bunny or turtle or fish or dissipate completely - the entire time actually being a collection of moisture in the atmosphere.

It seems so silly and yet most of us live out of this place. We chase and push and work ourselves sick. We eat believing this is who we are. We workout thinking there actually is an ideal. We crack jokes to keep people laughing, hoping they don't see the "other side". We self-destruct because, well, it's expected. Or for any number of reasons, spurred on by the voices loudly clanging around in our head, we stay imprisoned.

But what would happen if you took one expectation and set it aside. Maybe you begin with your kids. Is there an expectation you have for them you could test living without? Or maybe you try it on your spouse or your friends? Are you expecting them to show up in a way they simply can't?

My youngest child has a way of expressing herself that comes on with strength and intensity. This is generally followed by a sense of deep shame equal in force. She has big feelings and needs to express them immediately. My first instinct is to react just as intensely, demanding she doesn't talk to me that way, making sure she knows how wrong that is. However, by releasing the expectation for her to act a certain way, I'm able to see her as she is - a child that needs to be heard and understood. So I let her react and then I hold her and let her cry and then, when I feel her relax in my arms, I tell her I hear her and believe her and understand how she feels. We talk about words she could use to express herself in a way I can understand and that won't be hurtful or unkind. Overtime she's been able to use these words and her intensity has come down a notch or two. Not because we expected it out of her but because she's needing that intensity less and less. More importantly, she's being given the space to show up honestly with what's inside of her, use her own unique voice, and can trust she's okay and still lovable.

But it had to begin with me releasing how I thought she should be [an expectation I was living out of from my own childhood] and instead hold this sacred space for her to grow in authenticity.

Ultimately, sustainable change comes from within. It comes from recognizing that the voices you've taken on as your own are not truly your voice. They may be the voices of your parents or grandparents or boss or partner but they are not your authentic, genuine voice. Once you become aware of the difference you can begin to lean in and listen.

For me this has come through meditation, yoga, and work with teachers from varying backgrounds and expertise. It's also come from being in the garden, the woods, and on the shore. From watching my kids play and listening to their giggles. It's come from slowing down and chasing less. From creating space in my house, my relationships, and my life.

And from choosing this every day.

Waking up with the intention to live well [not perfectly] this day I've been given. Going to bed releasing the guilt and shame and disappointment I may carry and covering myself with grace, knowing I did the best I could with what I have.

May you find a way to release an expectation, even the smallest of one. May you trust you are enough. And may you live from a space that flows freely from the goodness that lies within.