Tuesday, March 20, 2018

AND THEN IT'S SPRING!


At the threshold of each seasonal transition my kids and I plod down to the storage room and rummage through bins searching for a particular set of books. In June we dig for pages lined with sunshine and beaches, in September the topics we seek are school and apples and harvest. December we hunt snowflakes, christmas trees and colorful lights. And then comes March. March maybe holds the most anticipation. Christmas has it’s obvious excitement but March has a charm all its own - spring. For months we wait through ice and snow and all things winter. We enjoy the powder while longing for green. We cuddle up by fires, warm liquid tucked between our hands and soak up the short days and long rest. Then the month turns to three and we stretch out our limbs, open our hearts and turn to the sun. “Awake!” our bodies cry. Take a deep breath, get outside and take in the joy that brings us northerners to tears. And we do. When the thermometer hits fifty and the sun shines bright, we throw open our windows, tuck our boots away and slip into our shorts as quickly as possible fueled by a little fear that the warmth might not stay. We know better of course and yet we do it anyway. We breathe into the spaces that have been hunched over, tight and playing defense and we exhale deeply.

And then it’s spring.

Julie Fogliano may have coined it first. Maybe not. Either way And Then It’s Spring maintains its place at the top of the list as our favorite springtime book. It pulls at my heartstrings as it narrates so aptly our journey through spring. The hope, the worry [Will it ever come? Will it stay?], the preparation and finally the transformation. The more I ponder and observe the more I’m convinced that spring is a mirror for the journey that unfolds within us. We step out in faith that something will happen. We meditate, practice asana and pranayama, we eat well, learn and find our teachers. We spread seeds and hope for rain. It doesn’t look promising at first, bleak even, and our path may be filled with a mirage of change but we step anyway. We plant anyway. Fools play really. And then a hum awakens within us. The hum feeding something but we’re not quite sure what. We trust it’s important - a sign maybe or sweet song encouraging us to keep on. We do so with childlike glee. Even if it snows a little, we’ve built up enough momentum to get us through. Change pulses through our bodies and enlivens our minds. And still we wait, ears tuned and hearts ready.

This is spring. The push/pull, desperation and euphoria, beautiful anticipation of it all.

One of the things I find most helpful as the seasonal transition occurs is to stay grounded and balanced. Spring draws dormate energy up as seeds spring to life and thrust skyward seeking the sun. Branches transform from lifeless to budding and the wombs of creatures pulsate with expectancy. There’s a vibrancy and beat about spring. It’s easy to lose our feet and sail to space. Couple this with a body sloughing off hibernation and the heaviness of winter, we can quickly find ourselves congested, anxious, on edge. So we ground, we root and then we rise.

Below you’ll find a handful of practices to incorporate this spring. Based on Ayurveda or “the science of life”, these suggestions are built on an ancient tradition rather than the here today, gone tomorrow health culture we currently experience. My hope is they’ll help you set roots so your growth can be anchored, enduring and alive with pleasure.

May you stay firmly rooted as your inner child dances with excitement and radiates the promise of spring.

FIVE AYURVEDIC PRACTICES FOR SPRING

Dry Brushing
Dry brushing is exactly what it sounds like. Brushing your dry body. At first glance this may fall in the kooky category but it’s a simple practice with immediate gratification. Dry brushing helps to slough away dead skin while stimulating circulation and lymphatic movement. This practice is best integrated into your morning routine as it is invigorating by nature. I love dry brushing because it’s easy to incorporate, accessible and simple to do. For more information and detailed instructions visit Joyful Belly, My New Roots or Banyan Botanicals. Note: If you have a significant vata imbalance this practice may not be appropriate for you at this time. Skip ahead to the oil massage and enjoy that while working with your diet and, if possible, an Ayurvedic professional to restore harmony.

Abhyanga or Oil Massage
The word “massage” may be enough enticement to give this one a try. One of the most balancing and grounding practices Ayurveda has to offer, self-massage with oil truly connects you with the loving, nurturing one within. It’s benefits are many: imparts muscle tone, lubricates the joints, increases circulation, stimulates the internal organs, assists in detoxification, calms the nerves, deepens sleep and on and on. Sunflower oil is a fantastic choice for the spring season as it’s one of the more neutral oils. For instructions visit The Chopra Center or Banyan Botanicals.

Nettle
Traditionally known as the season of Kapha, early greens tend to be astringent for a reason. Mucus has a way of building up over winter and spring invites a mass exodus of phlegm. If you’re no stranger to the springtime sniffles, nettle may be a buddy to invite over to play. Nettle aids in strengthening the nervous system, increases circulation, reduces inflammation and histamines, and increases ojas (put very simply, the essence of assimilation). Purusha Ayurveda has a lovely overview if you’d like to learn more. It’s worth noting that although nettle is beneficial for all three doshas, if taken in excess an imbalance in vata may occur.

Food & Water
Spring ushers in an overwhelming urge to purge. We clean our homes, clean our cars and look to switch up our diet. It’s tempting to hop on the pendulum and let it carry you away from the heavier foods of winter on to singing the salad balad. The thing about transitions is that they are just that - transitions. Moving from one extreme to other can be detrimental (think backbend to forward fold - ouch!). I’ve found the best foods for seasonal shifts are simple, easy to digest and relatively bland. Kichari/kitchari (traditional or soup), ghee, stewed fruit, seeds (pumpkin and sunflower), and cooked root veggies offer balanced nutrition without creating stress for your digestive system. Specifically in spring, the earth offers early growth like cilantro, stinging nettles, asparagus, ramps and leeks perfect for gently clearing out stagnant mucus. When choosing food think warm, light and easy to digest, just like the season itself.  

And then there’s water. I can’t emphasize strongly enough the importance of drinking pure water. For a more in depth look at water check out Joyful Belly. Dr. Vasant Lad recommends Ayurvedic Gatorade to increase the proper absorption of the water we do drink. Spring may be a nice time to add a splash of apple or pomegranate juice to aid in the dispersal of excess mucous. I will also add that slightly warmed water is ideal. I keep a pump thermos on the counter filled with warm water so it’s on hand the whole day through.

Dr. Lad's Ayurvedic Gatorade
pinch of raw sugar, honey or maple syrup
pinch of salt
juice of one-half lime or seasonally appropriate juice (optional)
1 cup water
Mix the sweetener, salt and water together until well blended. Add the juice and mix again.

Bare your Feet

As soon as it’s warm enough, throw off your shoes, spread your toes, sink your heels into the earth and walk barefoot in the grass. Listing here all the benefits may be helpful but in my experience there’s no substitute for trying it yourself and letting your own participation speak. Walk slow, feel fully, breathe deeply.

Peace to you, peace to all.

Namaste.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

HOT CHAGA with carob, cinnamon and cayenne

I get the feeling this recipe may need a little introducing.

Here's the deal. I love hot chocolate however on some days it can make me a bit jittery especially when I'm feeling overwhelmed or stressed and is no bueno as an evening drink, which is generally when I get the hankering.

As does happen most of the time, problems offer us a place to be creative and resourceful.

This is my version of evening hot chocolate. Made with carob powder [chaco look-a-like], chaga mushrooms [immune booster!], ashwagandha [relax and rest], triphala [tri-doshic powerhouse] and few other more recognizable ingredients.

What I love about this drink is it's calming quality and sink-into-a-chair-with-a-good-book-and-fire invitation.

If you're curious and want to give it a try, you can find the ingredients [local to me] at Global Infusion, your local health foods store or online through Mountain Rose Herbs.

Cheers!

[THE RECIPE] 

1/4 cup roasted carob powder
1/4 cup coconut sugar
1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon chaga mushroom powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ashwagandha powder
1 teaspoon triphala powder
2 large pinches of smoked [opt.] sea salt
1 pinch cayenne pepper

Place all ingredients in dry blender container, spice or coffee grinder. Blend on high until a fine powder is achieved.

Mix one tablespoon of blend per every eight ounces of boiling water or warmed milk of choice.

Top with additional cinnamon, cardamom and/or homemade marshmallows.

Monday, October 30, 2017

WHAT IS IT YOU CHASE?







Image from reddotblog.com

Last week I was shocked by a podcast. Not because of a story or anecdote or person but more because it held the answer to something I've been wrestling with for a while. I sat there stunned and then cried. I wrote and re-read and at some point just stared.

As this season's weather has haphazardly ping-ponged back and forth I've felt a similar experience happening within. Of course the climate and transition can affect us, and does, however this was a bit more than that. I felt rushed and overwhelmed, as if I was chasing something but couldn't exactly put my finger on what "it" was and had a sinking sense that I'd never actually catch it. A feeling that has plagued me a good chunk of my life. Most things had become a task to be completed, a list that didn't really end. I would get to the end of the day not really feeling like I'd finished what I had set out to do, leaving me with a sense of disappointment and regret. 

And then the podcast pummeled me. Or maybe scooped me up and rocked me. Probably both.

Ambition.

Ambition is every bit temptress and hero, equal parts effective and debilitating. For me, ambition had disguised itself as productive, achievement, and good. Although, I couldn't explain what "making it" looked like, I knew that if I didn't I'd be left behind. And behind was a place I didn't want to be.

It had lured me into the chase, never offering the goal. Instead of experiencing all that was promised, ambition had left me exhausted, empty and confused. I was pushing myself and I had no idea why. Why am I rushing my shower and folding the clothes so quickly? Why can't these dishes get done faster or this drive time be less? Why am I multi-tasking brushing my teeth? How can I shave a little time off here so I have more time there? Body tense, jaw locked, nerves alert - full 'bout it mode.

Last month in teacher training [500 hour!] we were asked to write our teaching mantra - the thing that keeps us coming back to our mat and back to our classes. The thing that guides us in sequencing, words and practice. I had this really nice mantra prepared. Something about challenging and nourishing and growth. All true but not quite the core of why I teach.

After a guided meditation our instructor asked us to write down our mantra and what came up for me was both unexpected and, to be honest, a bit of a let down.

The root of why I teach isn't because I want to offer something great to the world. It isn't because I have this grandiose plan or insight and want to share it. It isn't even because I want to be successful.

Nope.

I teach because I love yoga.

That's it.

I teach because I feel alive and whole on my mat. Because I can't think of anything else I would rather put my life towards.

I was so blinded by ambition, I couldn't even see the depth of beauty in this.

It took me a lot of writing and sifting to realize that ambition got scared. Ambition was let down that deep inside, where I'm striped of all the layers I've put on, something was preserved. A truth that remains untainted and pure. The knowledge that there's no greater gift we can offer the world than ourselves fully alive and whole, loving what we do. 

And so, more often than I care to count in one day, I remind myself that ambition isn't in charge anymore. That it's okay to have goals and dreams and to name each one. And then to remember that striving isn't why we're here. Chasing and achieving isn't what we're meant to do. I bring myself back to my center, over and over again, knowing from experience that some day living from this place will be my normal.

With practice and attention I'm getting better at recognizing the rising panic within that screams "I have to get this done quickly because I have so much else to do!" I relax my body and heart and mind. I soften my breath and feel - feel whatever it is that I'm doing. When the anxiety starts to brew I ask myself, "What is it you chase?" Most of the time I can't come up with an answer.

This morning as I sat by the fire and did my morning pages [more on this another day], I watched and listened to my kids. I was filled with gratitude and overwhelmed with joy simply because I get to be a part of their world. I watched them, fully present, play and act and create. I listened to their words and felt their presence. No worries or thought about past or future. My teachers in tiny form.

Moments like these await us when we set down our striving and chasing and ambition. The work is part reclaiming the beauty of the present we once knew and part learning how to live from this place in the reality we now have. It takes time, practice and compassion. It requires trading the sweet taste of completion, achieving, striving and the chase for a pace that's sustainable, a deep sense of worth and a life that feels that much more whole.

Today, ask yourself this: what is it you chase? Can you name it? Is it fulfilling or sapping you of energy and life? Ask yourself why you do what you do [work, parenting, hobbies, etc.]? What keeps you coming back? Keep asking that question until you get to the core. The place that first brings a knowing smile to your face if only for a second. Or maybe the place where you know it's time to give that thing up or reconfigure.

Peace to you, friends.

PS - If your curiosity is eating you alive, here's the podcast










Monday, October 23, 2017

PUMPKIN CHAI with tumeric and ginger + HOLDING THE LONG VIEW

A few weeks ago I was walking with my friend Kim and in her normal fashion she shared thoughts and insight that had me thinking for awhile after. I find myself so often wishing we had our conversations recorded. This time I strapped my head on and asked her to write down her thoughts [if she could remember them] as I thought they could benefit more than simply me.

She did!


And so I share them here. May the embrace of her words carry you this rainy morn.


Oh, and before you read, maybe you make yourself a warm, pumkin-y treat. I'm been dreaming of this recipe ever since cucurbits hit the market.


[THE RECIPE]


For the Concentrate:


2 tablespoons cinnamon chips

2 tablespoons dried ginger, minced
1 tablespoon dried turmeric, minced
1 teaspoon whole fennel
1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
1/4 teaspoon whole peppercorns
small piece of whole nutmeg [take a hammer and smash whole one] or a few sprinkles of ground
4 cups water

For the Chai:


1 cup milk of choice

2 tablespoons pumpkin puree
1 - 2 tablespoon honey or maple syrup
1 cup of concentrate

Place all ingredients in a medium size saucepan and bring to boil. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for 30 minutes.


Meanwhile, warm milk, pumpkin puree and honey in small saucepan until hot but not boiling. Remove from heat and pour into blender. Blend until very smooth [make sure your blender top has a way for steam to escape].


Strain and place one cup of concentrate in a single mug. Reserve the rest for another time. Store in refrigerator for a couple days.


Add milk to concentrate in mug and stir. Taste and add more sweetener as necessary.



[HOLDING THE LONG VIEW]



Some time ago I heard or read a definition of faith that was different than the the definition I have lived by most of my life. I often do not remember where I read or heard something. The point is that I remember it.  Many great insights go in and around and through me in a day, but when I remember it the next day and the next, then I know that particular wisdom holds a key to my growth.

The new definition went something like this: faith is putting oneself on the path of those that have gone before. To put myself on the path of those that have gone before me instantly struck me as a cooperation between discipline and trust, effort and hope. Being an optimist by nature, I’m really good at the hope and trust part.  I think at one time faith even came up on a spiritual gifts inventory that I completed. I suppose it is a blessing of sorts to be able to trust so easily, to expect that it’s all going to work out, not to worry my pretty little head about things I can’t do much about.


However, lately I’ve realized that my old working definition of faith short-circuited the formation of discipline in my life.  It zapped the satisfaction of working hard to achieve a goal. Maybe my definition of faith looked more like a definition of fate.  If I was meant to have anything, it would come to me by way of chance or a gift from Providence.  Sometimes you get what you want and sometimes you don’t. Oh, well.  Spin the wheel again.


My yoga teacher encourages, “Hold the long view.” She tells me this when I am struggling again with my short hamstrings or my weak mid-back muscles.  She tells me this when I want to be in  handstand, but I can hardly make it through the first preparation step.  She points out others in my class who seem to effortlessly pop their feet right up and tells me how long they have been practicing.They were practicing while I assumed it just wasn’t in the cards for me to be able to do or even say Adho Mukha Vrksasana (Sanskrit for “handstand”).


Practicing.  Yes, that’s it.  The counterpart of faith.  The steps along the path that others have trod to reach a destination that I am walking toward. I cannot hold the long view without taking each step toward the destination.  I cannot expect the full expression of my body in Yoga without going to my mat to practice between Thursday night classes. I cannot expect to deepen my awareness without consistent contemplative prayer. I cannot expect to discover my creativity without doing the work to confront my fears. The fruit of any path cannot be mine without a faith of action and hope.


I really want to be able to do Adho Mukha Vrksasana so you know what? I am on my mat most days doing fingertip Cobra push-ups and half-handstand holds at the wall. I am holding onto a faith that requires action.  I am walking in the way of those that have gone before and finding the joy of discipline along the way. The ones who have gone before me have become the ones to encourage me and offer accountability.  Another wise one said, “The road to heaven is heaven.” But perhaps that is a reflection for another post.



With heart forward,
Kim

Kim is a Certified Spiritual Director. She has been practicing for the past two years with The Dominican Center at Marywood. Spiritual direction is a path for growing in awareness. As one begins to notice authentic movement in one's life, discerning a response to this movement becomes possible. Kim finds joy in creating a compassionate space where directee and director discover together the opening toward clarity, love and transformation. Kim is currently training for her RYT 200 certification with From the Heart Yoga and Tai Chi Center. Yoga has been a constant companion and teacher to her for the past five years.  The mat is like a mirror, always reflecting back the struggle or celebration that is within. Yoga provides a way to meet the Self, a space to hold the truth gently and a platform from which to step forward.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

CRISP CUPS with blueberries, cardamom and ghee

This is one of my daughter's favorite lunch time treats. I take one out of the freezer to thaw overnight and pop into her lunch bag in the morning. These also make for a fun dessert - an artsy spin on a common favorite. Use any berries or fruit you have on hand and spice as you like.

[THE RECIPE]

8 - 10 small 8oz jars with wide mouths [Kerr or Ball work well]

8 c. frozen or fresh blueberries, reserving a handful whole
1 c. apple juice [optional]
1 T. vanilla extract or vanilla bean balsamic vinegar 

3 - 4 c. old-fashioned rolled oats
1 c. oat flour
3/4 c. ghee, melted [use coconut oil for vegan option]
3/4 c. maple syrup
2 T. cinnamon
1 - 2 tsp. cardamom [to taste]
1 tsp. sea salt

Place jars on a rimmed stainless steel baking pan and set aside.

In a medium saucepan, warm blueberries and apple juice. Cook over medium heat until just soft.

While blueberries cook, in a large glass bowl mix oats, oat flour, ghee, syrup, cinnamon, cardamom and salt. Taste and add more of any ingredient if needed.

Remove blueberry mixture from heat and add vanilla extract. Fill each jar half way with blueberry mix and top with a couple whole berries. Fill remaining space in jar with oat mixture leaving a little space at the top of the jar.

Bake at 350 degrees for 25 minutes or until berry mixture is bubbling and oat topping beginning to brown.

Remove from heat and allow to cool. If freezing, cool completely, place entire baking sheet in freezer and leave until completely frozen. Secure a lid AFTER completely frozen.

KITCHARI SOUP FOR COLD + FLU SEASON

Colds seem to have hit many I know as school starts, weather fluctuates and allergens fly. This soup is a favorite of mine. Really easy, adaptable and a wonderfully nourishing meal in times of illness, pregnancy-related nausea and anytime a warm cup 'o something sounds really grand.

[THE RECIPE]

1/4 c. ghee
1 T. sea salt [more as desired]
1 c. chopped maitake mushrooms [or mushroom of choice]
1 T. ginger, minced very fine
1 c. chopped leeks or onions
1 c. celery root [optional]
1 1/2 c. sweet potatoes and/or carrots
1 1/2 c. potatoes [red or yellow skinned]
2 c. garbanzo beans
2 c. basmati rice
4 c. chicken or vegetable broth
4 - 6 c. water
1 - 2 c. peas [depending on preference]

Warm ghee over medium heat in large soup pot. Add mushrooms, onions [if using] and ginger. Saute until mushrooms are golden brown [5 - 8 minutes] stirring frequently. Add leeks [if using in place of onions] and celery root. Saute an additional 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add sweet potatoes, carrots, potatoes, garbanzo beans, rice and salt to pot and mix well.

Pour in broth and 6 cups water. Bring liquid to boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to medium-low or at a temperature that will maintain a gentle simmer. Cook for 40 - 45 minutes. Check at the halfway point and add more water if mixture seems too thick.

With about 5 - 10 minutes remaining of cooking time, add peas and continue to simmer.

Remove from heat, add salt as desired, and serve!









Sunday, June 25, 2017

PEPPERMINT PATTIES with coconut butter filling



For my birthday this past year I found a little green bowl of seed butter-stuffed chocolates in my refrigerator placed there by someone who knows my affinity for both chocolate and homemade gifts. When I asked for the recipe, it was provided in about three sentences. Three sentences, two ingredients! You can fancy it up by drizzling extra chocolate on top, play with the filling, or make as is. I've brought this as dessert and without fail, the crowd is pleased. This recipe is truly the creativity of my friend Kim with me making only a few adjustments to the filling. Have no fear, I'll thank her profusely on your behalf.



[THE RECIPE]

1 bag Enjoy Life semi-sweet chocolate chips
1 bag Enjoy Life dark chocolate chips
1 cup coconut butter
1 cup shredded unsweetened coconut [optional]
1/2 - 1 cup maple syrup [to taste, begin with 1/2 cup and add as needed to get a nice, sweet filling]
2 - 3 teaspoons food grade peppermint oil/flavor [more or less to taste]

2 silicone molds
1 food brush

Place chocolate in medium sauce pan and melt over low heat, stirring occasionally.

While chocolate is melting, place coconut butter and maple syrup in a small sauce pan and soften over medium-low heat until smooth and well combined, stirring frequently. Add shredded coconut if using and peppermint oil and mix well. Taste and add additional maple syrup and peppermint oil as needed. Set aside.

Once the chocolate is melted remove from heat. Using the food brush, brush the silicone molds with a relatively thick layer of chocolate [1/8" or so]. Place mold in freezer for about 5 - 7 minutes to harden chocolate.

When hard, remove from freezer. Add a dollop of the coconut butter mixture to each indent [see picture above]. Top with melted chocolate so that the indent is filled to the top [see above photo].

Place mold back in freezer for 20 minutes or so to harden. Remove from freezer and test one. If chocolate cracks freeze for a bit longer. Once solid, remove all chocolates from mold and serve or store in refrigerator.

Product links above are through Vitacost and Thrive Market. Click here for $5 off your first order or here for 15% off your first order.