Letting Go

The yogic principle of non-grasping is hitting home this summer.  Aparigraha, or non-grasping, is a yama, or an observance in a yogic lifestyle.  This summer I’ve had to let go in two big facets of my life, learning some lessons along the way.

This spring I started working with a new holistically-minded doctor who suggested an elimination diet to heal leaky gut symptoms.  Already living gluten free and almost entirely dairy free, I was surprised to learn I had to also give up all sugar, soy and eggs.  Eggs!  It has been a challenge–kind of like trying to squeeze into a small box–but I have managed to get comfortable in it.  And lo and behold there go the annoying health issues I was trying to shake, and a few pounds to boot.  So it’s been a reminder that there is really no need to hold onto a certain lifestyle or way of eating simply “because.”   And there is joy to be had even without some summer favorites (think pie).  I’ve been finding sweetness in carrots, lettuce leaves and other veggies; and I’ve been savoring fruit, most recently every last drop of a juicy cherry.  When you slow down to find the delight in foods, well, it’s just delicious even if the selections are limited.  It isn’t as bad as it sounds; getting over the fear of starting is the hardest part.

This August we’ll drive our oldest to college and say good-bye.  I feel like it’s been a year of grieving, with every sad song on the radio comes a few tears.  I’ve been gazing at him asleep in his bed, eating breakfast, doing anything no matter how mundane, just trying to soak it all up.  As if I’ve got to remember every moment we have together this summer.  I’ve also started to let go of being a hands-on mom–not easy for me!  But it’s been fun to watch his wings sprout as he gets ready to fly off.  He’s making his own meals, waking himself up every day and getting to work, and organizing himself for the months ahead.  It’s hard when it’s your job to step back and let them fly, even if you knew it was in the job description.  But when you see how happy and confident your child is, you are reassured it is the right thing to do.

We often are forced to let go, it is often not a choice.  It may be a lifestyle or a loved one or something else altogether for you.  Just remember it is going to be alright on the other side, that there are unexpected pleasant surprises and rewards ahead, and an indescribable lightness to embrace.

 

 

Transitions

It’s April and it’s snowing.  It’s that in between time when you think you are just about at springtime and wham! you have to take a step backward into winter.  It’s unnerving.  And yet it’s a necessary part of the journey we are all on.

Transitions are often overlooked in yoga.  We are muscling our way into each pose, ignoring the space in between them.  It takes patience and mindfulness to draw attention to those important moments.  We are often imbalanced, unstable, and ungrounded, making our way to the next pose.  When you slow down to experience the transitions in your practice it brings the flow into a kind of mental slow motion so you can appreciate the those spaces in between as their own meaningful poses.  Sure, your core will be more fully engaged without all the momentum you’ve been using previously, but more importantly you’ll savor the spaces in between poses, and let’s face it there’s a lot of that in an average class.

This is an important lesson that like all lessons from the mat, translates so beautifully off the mat.  We often are looking for the big moments in our lives, and disregard the little ones, the day to day that actually make up the bulk of our lives.  How ironic.

There are so many of these seemingly insignificant moments in our lives.  Rather than breeze through them, why not slow down and appreciate them?  It’s the journey, right? not the destination.

From the ancient yogic text, the Bhagavad Gita:
“Yoga is the journey of the self, through the self, to the self.”

 

 

Ripple Effect

Opiates are all over the news these days.  The high one gets from them is obviously addictive. But did you know that your body produces it’s own high, through oxytocin, that can be replicated over and over?

I found myself on a weekend away recently meandering into a workshop called “Dare 2 Be Happy,” actually muttering to my friend “Hey, if we don’t love this, we don’t have to stay, right?!”  It’s kind of funny to me to reflect on my Eeyore mental state before entering the room of this workshop which was subtitled, “the power of positive psychology.”  Positive psychology is a growing field that looks at the mind and rather than saying “how can you stop from feeling depressed?” instead says “how can you be happy?”

I love neuroscience and let’s just say that time stood still over the weekend as I was swept into the content.  I thought I would take a moment here to share some nuggets of information that I found mind-blowing, specifically surrounding acts of kindness.  You see, not-so-random acts of kindness that you do (for someone else) increase your brain’s natural oxytocin levels.  But it doesn’t stop there because the recipient also gets the same boost.  Cool right?!  Here’s the exciting part: the levels also go up for any witness!!  Think about that for a moment.  We have the potential to lift everyone by a simple act of kindness.

The weekend workshop left me wanting to incorporate everything I had learned.  One of my “to dos” from the weekend is to load a single day with five acts of kindness.  Tomorrow is my big day–Tuesdays I am a bit less scheduled so I can take the time to really send some goodness out into the world.

You knew you always felt good when you did something or witnessed something wonderful happening around you.  What if you knew you had the ability to up-level your degree of happiness?  And why not try?  Join me tomorrow (or the day of your choice) in doing five acts of kindness.  Let’s start an amazing ripple effect.

 

 

WOW!

I have been geeking out this week listening to talks given by leaders in the field of functional medicine and nutrition in Mark Hyman’s “Fat Summit.”   It’s been fun.  Everyday four or five new free talks are offered and you have 24 hours to listen to them.  So there’s pressure to get that listen in before the free versions evaporate!

On Monday I listened to the great Deepak Chopra share his insights based on his new book called “Super Genes” (I ordered it immediately).  Okay, I confess, I listened to it four times.  Ya, it was that good.

As a health coach I offer people support to meet their health goals, whatever those might be.  Often people who find me are initially looking to loose weight, but I employ other methods of up-leveling their overall health, such as introducing the benefits of keeping a gratitude journal, daily meditation, breath work, tapping, and generally helping people find balance.  I’ve spent hours of my time learning–not just training as a health coach and a yoga instructor–but on things like the value of meditation, breathwork, the power of positivity, and more. Turns out, all these “stress reducers” are where it’s at.

According to Deepak Chopra, the body takes stressed out messages in through the microbiome (the bacteria in our gut) and these messages direct gene expression.  Yup, these messages determine whether or not you’re going to get sick!  I’m not talking about the sniffles.  The scientific link has been made.  This is a big deal.

Your state of mind, or equanimity, matters. A lot.

If you are all stressed out you can eat the best, most wholesome food, but guess what?  The body takes it in as toxic.  And the opposite is also true–when you’re in a “good place” or experiencing equanimity you are likely to be able to absorb your nutrients better.

WOW.

So all the worry, stress, and agitation is definitely making us sick and sicker.  AND we have the tools to fix that.  This is the future of good health.

 

 

 

Top Three for 2016

I was recently asked to contribute to a newsletter to get people focused on healthy habits for 2016.  I thought I would share it here as well.  Happy reading.

My Top Three Tips for 2016

As you enter this new year you are likely to start thinking of what new habits will serve you well, habits that you can incorporate into your life to be the best version of yourself. The start of a new year is filled with endless possibilities for you to explore! Here are three tips I hope will become habits:

1. Just Eat Real Food (JERF)
Take a hard look at the food you are eating. Does it come in a package? What is in it? Do you recognize every ingredient? Most packaged foods are filled with sodium, preservatives, and agents to enhance flavor that are chemically composed. Opt for healthy and natural fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, naturally raised meats and wild caught fish. The closer to nature, the better. Here is a great site with ten reasons to cut processed food: http://www.100daysofrealfood.com/10-reasons-to-cut-out-processed-food/

2. Cut back on sugar
This is a big one. Just this week, the FDA proposed minimizing sugar intake as it is causative in many different types of diseases, not just diabetes. Read the article in the Boston Globe here https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/nation/2015/11/09/fda-sets-new-guidelines-slow-use-sugar/M9TuldhE0tAibTFB1c3hyM/story.html. Also, sugar can increase the chance of the development of breast cancer tumors and hasten their development, according to a new study published this week. Listen to the story here: http://hereandnow.wbur.org/2016/01/06/sugar-breast-cancer-study. So dramatically minimize your intake. If you need help breaking the sweet sugar habit, try sipping on lemon water throughout the day to not only alkalize the body but to cut out the sugar cravings!

3. Breathe
Just 8-10 long slow breaths invites the parasympathetic nervous system to come to your rescue and create a sense of calm. It allows the brain to recognize you are in a safe environment, giving way not only to a more peaceful self, but allowing your hormones to function optimally, and your digestion and sleep to improve. Consider taking mini breaks throughout your day to focus on slowing the breath—even set a timer one of your devices! Breathwork is often a common focus in a good yoga class, and you can read the value of yoga and breathing here: http://www.yogapilots.com/yoga-and-a-better-attitude-clinical-studies-and-surveys-2/

Transformation Time

I love this time of year.  You can’t walk into any store without the yoga clothing front and center (well, at least where I shop) and green smoothie sales are through the roof.  It’s the time of the year when we start–or restart.  There is potential and optimism in the air and people are trying to take better care of their bodies and implement changes (cue the smoothies) into their routine for better health.  I just love it ALL.

With all this change in the air,  I’m theming my classes this week on manifestation, asking my students to close their eyes and see what they’d like for themselves in 2016.  Not something material, but something truly transformative, something they could only wish to create.  What is it that you want for yourself this year?  See it, feel it, smell it, hear it–and you’ll get more comfortable with your beautiful mental image, and hopefully bring it closer to becoming a reality.  I ask my students to create an affirmation in the present tense, as if it is happening already, and to circle back to it throughout the practice.

I started reading “Presence” by Amy Cuddy on Audible.com last week.   The premise is that bold body language and holding onto “power poses” (think Wonder Woman) allow us to get big on the inside, too.  These physical positions bring a greater chance of success to our life, our interactions, our mental positions.  I found it coincidental that our son’s wrestling coach invited a coach in from Boston University who shared something similar to the team.  So as we watched our son prepare for his match on Saturday there he was on the sideline, building confidence with a power pose.  And yes, it worked.

Power poses….yoga warriors….what is the difference?  Very little if you ask me!  So as you start looking within for how you want to chart your own year, think big and bold. Tell the universe what you want. Throw your arms up in the air or hold a warrior to build confidence.  And then let the universe unfold.

Oh My Cod

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: easy!
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I made this amazing cod last night that even the picky fish eaters loved.  It’s so easy I thought I’d share it here.  We ate it before I even got a photo!

Ingredients:
2 Pounds of cod–>opt for wild caught
1 Lemon
1 Bunch of fresh oregano (yes, fresh!)
Olive oil

Directions:
1. Put a little olive oil in your baking dish and place the cod fillet(s) in the dish so they are not overlapping at all
2. Zest your lemon on top of the fish
3. Juice your lemon and pour it over the fish
4. Drizzle a little olive oil on top
5. Chop up the whole bunch of oregano–should be 1/4-1/2 cup of oregano–and sprinkle it on top of the fish
6. Bake at 350 for about 30-40 minutes or until done

Enjoy!

 

 

Snowglobe Season

‘Tis is the season of snowglobes.  Those little mini winter wonderlands, magically swirling with sweet scenes, and sometimes accompanying music, activated by the twist of a knob below.  As I unpacked our little collection to deck the proverbial halls last weekend I was reminded of how similar we are to snowglobes.

This season with all its excitement and anticipation can create strife and anxiety with never-ending to do lists.  The mental chatter that it arouses is like the snow in the snowglobe, swooshing through our heads, keeping us in an ongoing state of mental engagement, sometimes even downright panic.  In yogic terms, this is our chitta vritti, our mental chatter. The yoga teachings tell us that we can quiet this chatter with practice.  So what to do?

Yogic principles apply here.  First, check your breathing.  Is it slow and ragged?  Can you lengthen it and keep it steady?  Did you notice a shift when you invited in that sense of calm with slower breathing?  Activating your parasympathetic nervous system allows the body to feel at rest, not challenged and whipped up.

Second, notice: are you getting worked up because you can’t find the perfect gift for someone, or maybe a coveted parking spot at the mall?  Take a moment to allow that observation to sink in, come back to your breath, and consciously choose to let the winds that whipped your snow in your snowglobe up and around you, to settle down.  Maybe make light of your situation or choose not to engage in all that whirling.  Allow the snow to settle, and move on.

Here in New England we haven’t gotten any real snow yet, but when the temperatures drop it is the season to make my warming chai tea.  Here is a recipe I have thrown together over the years.  My whole family loves it, and I hope you do, too.  The measurements are all very rough, you can adjust to your liking!

Warming Chai Tea

  • Servings: 4-6 hungry crumble lovers, maybe more
  • Difficulty: easy!
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In a pot add:
About 10-12 cups of filtered water
3 organic black tea bags
Spices:
~1 T whole cloves
~1.5 T cardamon pods
2-3 cinnamon sticks
~1/2 inch of fresh ginger sliced

Bring to a boil and then lower the temperature and bring it down to a simmer for about 5-10 minutes.

Strain before enjoying with a little raw honey and almond milk, or whatever you like!

If you prefer a lighter tea, take the tea bags out early on.  You can substitute with decaf black tea but it is super hard to find as organic–they sell the Allegra brand at Whole Foods (in a brown box) in case you go looking for it.

Nailed it!

I’ve been an apple crumble machine this week, making and refining this recipe three times (yes!).  The apples have been so delicious and plentiful this time of year in New England and I was determined to make an apple crumble that the whole family could enjoy that was gluten and dairy free, and I think I nailed it with this one, see what you think.

This week I’ve been teaching about being present, trying to get in the gap between the past and where you’re coming from, and the future and where you are going.  Each comes with its host of emotions.  For me, I tend to wander off into the future and live with some anxiety. With a high school senior in the house it is easy to worry about college acceptances and wonder what the future will look like without all of us regularly under the roof.  Staying present and appreciating the moments we have right now is a practice I need to perfect: just enjoying the now, the laughs, the tears, everything in between, and the crumble.

Apple Crumble

  • Servings: 4-6 hungry crumble lovers, maybe more
  • Difficulty: easy!
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Gluten free and dairy free, this apple crumble pleases everyone in the house!

Preheat oven to 350 degrees, and get out a 9 x 13 inch baking dish with tall sides (see the photo above)

Ingredients:
6-7 peeled and chopped apples (sprinkle a heaping tablespoon of cinnamon on them and mix around in your 9 x 13 inch baking dish)

Topping
In a bowl toss together:
2 cups of almond flour or meal
1 1/2 cups gluten free oats
1 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 T cinnamon
1/8 t nutmeg
1 t each of salt and baking soda

In a small dish, melt 1/4 cup plus 2T coconut oil in the microwave.  Pour over the topping and mix together with a fork till kind of clumpy, but mixed through.

Bake in a 350 degree oven for 25 minutes, cover with a piece of tin foil for the next 30 min or so.  It’s done when you can see bubbling delicious apple goodness creeping up the sides!

The Final Frontier

Are you thinking the Wild West?  No, I’m talking about the brain.  We know so much and yet so little about this vital organ.  I seem to be flooded with information lately (two podcasts, a webinar, and an article) so I am taking my cue from the universe (I hear you!) and sharing it.  Why?  Because our brain health is vital to our health and happiness.  What we eat affects our brain and a yoga practice supports it as well.

Dr. Datis Kharrazian, a brilliant guy who happens to focus a lot of his work in my direction (he is an expert in Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis) was recently featured in a webinar I watched on brain health (he’s also the recent author of a new book called, “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?”).  I love what he had to say, and I will paraphrase here.  He said you can either have “positive plasticity” from positive thoughts, which increases your dopamine and makes you happy more often, or you can have “negative plasticity” from negative thoughts and stress, creating even more cortisol and epinephrine, expanding the black cloud effect of stress. The brain becomes efficient in the stress response (therefore propagating negative thoughts more readily). 

What does that mean for you?  You’re lucky your brain has positive plasticity because there is a great likelihood you’ll be able to reprogram yourself to being more happy.  Yes, really!

A recent article published by the Kripalu Center noted a Boston University study that found yoga offered “buffering effect on age-related decline” of the brain, and that yogis are better able to cope with novel situations, and engage in abstract thinking.  Not to mention better mindfulness.  To quote the article, “Researchers believe that yoga offers a combination of physical practice, conscious breathing, and cognitive frameworks (for example, the idea of seeing pain as “sensation,” without labeling it as “good” or “bad”) that allows us to manage and tolerate pain with more ease.”

It is no wonder yoga is starting to be “prescribed” to populations suffering with anxiety, depression, and a host of other afflictions.

Lastly, I listened this morning to a summer episode Abel James’ podcast, The Fat Burning Man. Mark Lugavere, the producer of a documentary called “Bread Head,” was the guest.  I found their discussion on Alzheimers and other cognitive decline disorders and the relationship with blood sugar to be fascinating.  There is a very strong correlation between the two, even giving Alzheimers the nickname “type 3 diabetes.”  So there is a lot of rationale, aside from trimming our waistline, to cut down on the sugar to support our brain.

There are just countless reasons for a diet and lifestyle that include reduced sugar and more mindfulness practices such as yoga.  It’s all self-care.  Take baby steps, roll out your mat in your bedroom, take a pass on dessert, notice your breath.  Connect with yourself, dial into your brain health, and support yourself.

Jumping in!

Sometimes you just have to go for it.  That message was reinforced this past weekend. My husband researched a swimming hole in New Hampshire that we went to with our son after a good, sweaty hike up Mount Cardigan.   The swimming hole, aptly called “Sculpted Rocks,” offered several steep spots to jump into a crevasse between jumbled and worn boulders, all equally perilous from my jaded point of view.  You see, I come from a long line of worriers and it doesn’t take much for that whining voice in my head to start up: “anything could happen,” “what’s down there?,” “that’s a really long way down,” among the other refrains running through my consciousness.  But as it happens, my mentor once told me “courage is feeling the fear and doing it anyway.”

I know I screamed on my way down, and I think my tankini tank exposed my belly (horrors!).  As I smacked into the water I felt relieved, exhilarated, not even noticing how cold the water was.

Change is a lot like jumping in.  Sometimes you just have to go for it.  Don’t look over the edge and ponder it too much, because that voice in your head will take over and usher you to safety.  And then what?  Then you wouldn’t have had the chance to fly, to experience the exhilaration, the possible humiliation, the….LIVING.

I’ve been turning a lot of my clients onto spiralizing their veggies this summer.  It’s new–not a big jump–just a baby step.  Here’s a fun summery recipe to try, thanks to the Olde Post Office Cafe in Mount Vernon, Maine, where I discovered something like it in June.  Enjoy!

  • Servings: 4 as a side dish
  • Difficulty: super easy!
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Ingredients:
1 medium zucchini, spiralized

Dressing (these measurements are rough–adjust to your preference):
~1/4 cup olive oil
~1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
2T of Lemon flavored San Pelligrino (yes, the fizzy drink).  Can try substituting with lemon juice but it won’t be as sweet
pinch of salt
a lot of fresh ground pepper
1 clove of garlic, crushed

Mix the dressing together and taste for the best balance of flavors (you might prefer it sweeter, more sour, etc).  Toss onto the zucchini noodles, grind a bit more fresh pepper on top, and serve.

Nourishing the Soul

What is it about a berry crumble?!  It just feeds the soul.  I love the recipe below, reswizzled to be gluten free.  As soon as the berries are out in the marketplace I scoop them up and get crumbling….my family is always grateful…and for a moment I’m wearing that invisible queen crown again 🙂  So everyone wins when the crumble comes out of the oven!

This morning, I themed my yoga class on being open and feeling the “yes” inside.  That feeling in your body and your soul when you’re loose in every cell of your body–maybe even swaying as you walk.  We feel a lot of this openness in the summer months when the weather starts to warm up and our body starts to shake off its closed, tight feeling.  It’s a natural shift in nature that we welcome into our bodies after the winter and with it comes and uplifting of the spirit, like the promise of the smell of the crumble in the oven.

As we make this move into the seasons we find ourselves nourished by so many things.  Usually the sights and smells of spring and summer, and also reconnecting with people that we haven’t seen during our “hibernation.”  And we crack wide open and embrace it all with every sense.

We get an opportunity every day to nourish our soul through self care, our relationships and our environments.  Take a closer look at yours.  Do they make you feel like a kid eating a raspberry crumble?  If not, see what positive shifts need to be made to support yourself as you move into the summer season.  And if you need a lift, make this recipe!

Gluten-Free Raspberry Crumble

  • Servings: 4 if you are all hungry!
  • Difficulty: super easy!
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Ingredients:
2-3 cups of any type of berry washed and patted dry (preferably organic)1/2 cup gluten-free flour (I used Pamela’s Artisian)
1/2 cup gluten-free oats (I used Bob’s Red Mill)
1 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup butter (yes, that is one stick!!) room temperature, or close to it
Sprinkle of cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Place your berries in an 8X8 baking dish to cover the bottom
Make the crumble:
Place the flour, oats, sugar and cinnamon into a bowl
Chop the butter into the mix, either using knives or a pastry cutter, until it is crumbly
Drop it evenly on the berries and pop it into the oven for about 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden and the berries look gooey.

Enjoy!

Effort & Ease

The ancient yoga teachings tell us that in each posture we should feel equal effort and equal ease. Sometimes we push ourselves into a posture with sheer determination and a force that is superhuman.  Is it worth it?  What if we soften, wind it back a little, and then reengage to a healthy degree?  Will we feel a bit better, more centered?

Life is so similar to time on the mat.  How often have you worked a little too hard at something, maybe even forced it a bit, over-doing it, only to learn that the end results are a lot more pleasant with a bit less effort?

There is of course, the flip side, not making the effort.  Sometimes we are afraid to start, to dive in, to take the risk of beginning something new.  We might even inflate whatever it is to seem insurmountable.  Is it?  What if you took those first couple of steps?  Wouldn’t you feel the ease of being more aligned with your intentions; and isn’t traveling toward your goals a form of self compassion?

I went for a walk in the cemetery this weekend and visited the grave of a beautiful and spiritual woman I once worked with.  Her gravestone read, “Love life enuf to struggle.”  I’m not sure what the misspelling or the story behind it was.  But there will always be a struggle, and we should embrace it.  Allow that effort in, and rejoice in the ease, the softening; the trick is to try to find them both at the same time.

Asparagus with Citrus, Parsley & Garlic

  • Servings: 6-8 as a side
  • Difficulty: super easy!
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Thank you to my friend, Karen, for sharing this amazing and easy recipe that is from a cookbook of hers by Mario Batali.  I recently had it at a pot luck and chased her down for it–it was so worth it!  Nothing tastes like springtime like asparagus! It’s super easy, just a bunch of zesting involved 🙂

Ingredients:
1 1/2 pounds asparagus (I used two bunches from the store)

Dressing:
Zest and juice of 2 large lemons
Zest of 1 large orange
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2 T finely chopped Italian parsley
2 T fresh mint, cut into chiffonade
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Snap off the bottom of the asparagus and drop into a bot of boiling water and cook just 1 1/2 minutes or until crisp tender.

Take it out and immediately drop it into an ice bath to stop the cooking.  Let it hang out there for 5 + minutes, moving it around to make sure there aren’t any warm pockets underneath.  You can always add more ice.

Remove the asparagus and let it dry on a kitchen towel. Then put it in a large bowl.
Add all the rest of the ingredients and toss well, serve on a platter.

Sprinkle with 1 T sea salt.

Enjoy!