Sunday, October 31, 2010

Fall food indulgences

Apple sauce 
Peel and cube apples. Throw in pot, add a little water to cover the bottom. Add a little honey/ agave. Cook on medium heat, stir occasionally (for about 30 minutes or until apples soften). Add cinnamon and nutmeg (as much as you like).

Carrot cake muffins (vegan and sugar free)
Preheat to 350 F. Mix: 1.5 cups flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1 tsp baking soda, 1.5 tsp cinnamon, 1.5 cups applesauce, 1 tsp vanilla extract, 1 carrot shredded, raisins (walnuts would be a good too!).
Bake for 25 minutes or until done.

Mulled wine 
Heat 1.5 cups water, add bottle of red wine, add 3 cinnamon sticks and 4 cloves, add thinly sliced small orange and lemon, add a couple drops of vanilla, simmer for 3 minutes and serve! 


Now off to Sunday morning practice!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Better than coffee

Just got back from teaching a yoga class to kids at a local high school… SUCH a rush! I seriously think that might be better than coffee!

Some thoughts from the class:

Pick a student demonstrator. There are always rowdy kids and asking them to be quiet doesn’t usually work. Picking one of them and assigning them to be at the front of the room as a “demonstrator” can be a good strategy.

… but don’t play favorites. Make sure to ask each student’s name and give each person equal attention.

Make it challenging. Teenagers get bored easily and challenge keeps them interested. Play with handstands, jumpbacks, and backbends (they come naturally to many of them). When they groan and complain gently remind them it’s good practice for everything else that we struggling with in our lives.

… but don’t make it too challenging. Making it too hard will be discouraging. Pick appropriate poses that are challenging but also fun and realistic.

Be serious. Try not to let people watch from the side of the room (it’s distracting), don’t play music (also distracting), don’t allow chit-chatting. I was too lenient at first and had to learn my lesson.

… but don’t be too serious. Joke around, laugh, have fun. This should be something they want to come back and to do again!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

5 things I'm loving about practice right now

  • Pushing through. It’s really hard to get through the whole practice, but sticking with it even when I don’t feel like it helps with the thousands of other unpleasant things in life I may not feel like doing. The morning practice toughens me up for the rest of my day.
  • Not pushing through. Sometimes what I really need is to take a step back, slow down, and not do the full practice. And I really appreciate having teachers who allow for the freedom to get what I need out of practice, even if it’s different every day.
  • Running before practice. Some people in the Ashtanga tradition may frown upon this, but that will not stop me! When I do a short run before practice (or run to practice), I find that my mind is quieter, I build more heat, I move more mindfully, and I don’t feel as rushed. I think it even helps open up my hips and lower back (though I’ve heard people say it does the opposite for them).
  • Trying karandavasana. I don’t think I will ever be able to do the full version of this pose, but I still try to practice it every day. It’s a daily practice of imperfectionism.
  • New savasana practice: My med school friend Brian started practicing with us a few weeks ago, and he told me that when he lies down for savasana (final resting pose), he thinks about everything on his mind all at once... and then lets it all go. I've been trying it out and it actually leads to some milliseconds of mental silence! It’s sort of when you clench all the muscles in your body at once and let them go, you find that everything relaxes more easily.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Our net of Indra

Loved watching this Richard Freeman video about the "net of Indra" that we are all trapped in...
Video here

"As you dig into any one thing, you start to find out that it's made of everything else."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Redesigning cafeterias

I was so excited to see this article in the New York Times today: how to redesign school lunchrooms to promote healthier eating. It's not about taking away the junk foods. Rather, it's about how simply redesigning cafeterias leads to healthier food choices. 

For example:
  • Make healthy foods (like broccoli) the first thing you see
  • Give food attractive names: Instead of “corn" call it “creamy corn”!
  • Provide choices: Offer students a choice of carrots OR celery (not only carrots)
  • Keep ice cream and desserts in closed containers so they're not easily visible
  • Encourage tray use: This increases veggie and decreases ice cream consumption
  • Decrease the size of bowls
  • Move chocolate milk behind regular milk 
  • Put apples and oranges in fruit bowl rather than a stainless steel pan (this makes it more appealing)
  • Verbally offer students a salad (and more will say yes)
  • Move the salad bar in front of the checkout (instead of off against a wall)
  • Have student pay cash for desserts (instead of using lunch tickets to buy them)
  • Make a “healthy express” check-out line for students not buying desserts or chips 
This is pretty much what my school lunches used to look like... yikes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Digging deeper

When things get tough, it sometimes seems like the easiest thing to do is give up and move on to something else. I’ve found myself doing this in my yoga practice (as well as in other areas of my life). When in a difficult pose (or situation), I will quickly move out of it and on to the next one.

That’s why this passage from Freeman’s book, The Mirror of Yoga, really resonated with me:

There is a wonderful story about a man digging a well. He would begin digging down and after five or six feet of digging, which is very hard work, he would find no water, and so he would climb out of the little hole he had made, move twenty feet over, and dig another hole for his well. But after digging about six feet down, he would give up again, move twenty feet in another direction and start digging again. This went on, and on, and on, and he never found water.
So it is with the restless ego pursuing yoga, seeking ornaments for an improved self-image and new ways of feeling better, but avoiding the true facts of life. When the school or practice becomes difficult – which is precisely the entry point into reality – it is at this crisis point that you really have to drop your pretenses and keep digging deeper into the experience. However, all too often it is right at this juncture that we tend to give up the practice. We move on to a “better” teaching or a “more interesting” school, rather than sticking with it and investigating the inner work that is the purpose of the school and the teachings in the first place.

The daily practice of yoga forces us to work on our struggles every single day. It reminds us that change is slow and incremental, but it eventually happens. Things we thought were impossible become possible. Patterns in our bodies and minds can be broken and rebuilt.

So today in practice (thanks to Karen) I tried staying in my dreaded poses just a little bit longer. I don’t want to be constantly moving to easy and shallow holes, never finding water... I want to be digging deep wells.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

How much have you laughed today?

I spent a wonderful weekend at home with my family and baby niece:

She is the cutest little button and I could not believe how much she laughs! This is something our adult-selves could do better

In book club a couple weeks ago, we talked about this New Yorker article about laughter yoga and the "Laughing Guru." Here are some cool little factoids that we learned: 
  • Laughter reduces levels of stress hormones. This study looked at blood markers for stress in healthy males before and after watching a 60-minute humor video. When compared with controls, subjects who watched the humor video had lower cortisol, epinephrine, and growth hormone levels.
  • Laughter modulates the immune system. This study looked at blood markers related to immune function before and after a 1-hour humor video. They found subjects to have increased natural killer cell activity and immunoglobulin levels (IgG and IgM).

The best part of that book club meeting might have been our 1-minute laughing exercise where we made ourselves laugh for 60 seconds (we actually timed it). Seriously, try it next time you’re bored! The initial forced fake laughter turns to real contagious laughter... and hey, it might even lower your stress levels and boost your immune function!

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A yogini's advice: "Be inspired."

I am so happy to share this interview with Karen Harmelin Tropea, one of the most important yoga teachers in my life.

During my second year of medical school, Karen started up a morning Mysore program in Philadelphia. Almost every day before heading to class or the hospital, I would go there to practice yoga. It has been incredible to watch this community grow over the years and I can’t imagine my life in Philadelphia without it... it has been a constant and supportive space during so many of my ups and downs of medical school.

Karen is an amazing woman, yoga teacher, and role model. She has taught me tons about yoga, she has given me a lot of life advice, she has challenged me when I’ve needed challenging, and she has calmed me when I’ve needed calming. I decided to ask Karen some questions I’ve been curious about and I hope you enjoy her answers as much as I did.

Karen is also beautifully pregnant with her second child… so stay tuned for more from her about yoga and pregnancy!


Why do you practice Ashtanga yoga? 

I practice Ashtanga yoga because it is the most grounding practice for me. I am a physical person, I have always needed to be very active and have never done well in life (all aspects) without physical exercise. So Ashtanga was a good practice for this outlet at first. I connected to its very challenging physical practice, but soon discovered that the method was a gateway to the deepest center of who I am… my courage, my fears. It helped me meditate and it allowed me to be diligent and grounded. All forms of yoga can help individuals find out about themselves and go deeper within. Ashtanga just happens to do this for me.

How has your practice changed over the past 10 years and how do you see it changing over the next 10 years?

My practice has changed in so many ways. I think a regular yoga practice will naturally evolve anyway, but my physical practice has gone through ups and downs, strides and setbacks. Pranayama has gotten stronger and more focused and I am sure it will (along with bandhas) continue this path in the next 10 years. A steady growth and deep awareness have progressed within my pranayama and bandhas. These aspects of practice become solid with understanding and diligence.

The physical practice changes as one ages, gets injured, has babies etc. I definitely had a much more physically oriented practice when I was 27. Over the past few years having had a back injury and now two pregnancies, I have backed off the physical part and have focused more on the continuity of breath and connection to myself that comes with a more matured practice. I have learned that there is a lot more to a dedicated practice than just being able to get into postures or complete a series. It is most important to practice. Through backing off I found that breath and bandhas make the practice more efficient and actually allow a student to achieve more, physically. I have become more patient.

Over the next 10 years? I have no idea. I think women experience a resurgence of energy and physical ability in their 40’s. I have seen it in many of my students. I am excited by the changes my body will undergo in the next 10 years! Other limbs (of the eight) are a constant work in progress. 

How do you balance your yoga practice with all of the demands from the rest of your life? 

How does anyone balance a practice with life? I just have to make the time. If I have a busy day I practice for just a small amount of time, and try to dedicate another day in the week to a longer more focused practice. My husband and I both practice, so we trade off days or time in the shala.

I can honestly say that I took for granted the days when I attended a regular morning Mysore and was able to stay for 1.5-2 hours 6 days per week. I am sure there will be a time in my life when that happens again. Right now I would rather spend time with our son. Kids are little for such a small amount of time. I try to use the other limbs in raising and birthing my kids. It has been an amazing way to see how Ashtanga yoga has shaped my life.

Who have been your greatest yoga teachers and why?

I have had only a few teachers in my life. I have taken many classes and tried many practices, but only a few people who I consider to have been teachers for me. Richard Freeman was my first real teacher. I learned to practice daily from him. I learned a vast foundation while I was in Boulder, but I think I was too young to really get what I was experiencing there. Eric Powell was and still is a teacher for me. He impacted my physical practice and made my physical understanding of the practice real. He continues to do this for me. David Keil has taught me so much about being a teacher. David Garrigues has helped me to learn that there are times to push yourself and there are times to respect your body as well as what is happening in your life. Great yoga teachers will guide a student and give them a clear understanding of what they are learning. A great teacher also allows the student to make mistakes and helps them to learn from those mistakes through experience.

Tell us about your diet.

I eat a lot of greens. I LOVE kale and swiss chard and spinach. I pretty much like all vegetables. I prefer macrobiotic meals and vegan slow cooked food over quick foods (like snack bars) and junk. I eat junk once in a while, but it never sits well in me. I never eat fast food. I am a grazer. I eat raw nuts and dried fruit for snacks. When I am super active I can eat a lot. I love the farmers market and I buy most of my family’s food there. Eat local!

I also like to cook. My husband and I make sure to eat as a family at home most nights. We typically eat very little meat. If we do eat it, it is local, grass fed beef or fish. We do not eat poultry and will never eat veal or pork. I was vegetarian and vegan for over 14 years and experimented with a raw diet and macrobiotics. I started eating fish in my late 20's and after becoming pregnant with my first child, began to eat meat once in a while. I truly believe all bodies go through change every few years. It is super important to listen to what your body is telling you. What may work for you one year may not work for you another. Lifestyle changes, activity levels, etc all impact your daily needs. But in general, the body requires a variety foods at different stages of life. I have found that eating a variety of foods based around whole grains, leafy greens, nuts and fruit, and healthy fats has been most beneficial for me in my 30's and while having babies. I am sure my 40's will require much of the same with some added new twist!

Who has been the most influential person on your health habits?

My parents. They have given me the tools to be healthy and I have also picked up on their bad habits and have tried to steer clear of them. I have influenced my own health habits. I read a lot about current issues and I have experimented on myself. I know what works for me. Yoga is a huge part of being able to stay in touch with your body. Ashtanga Yoga can help you recognize what is “off” on a daily basis. There isn’t one right formula for health.

What is your biggest fear?

I fear what all parents fear. It is unspeakable. I can honestly say that throughout my life I have not had too many real fears… Nothing at least that would preclude me from doing or trying things. I wouldn’t say I was fearless, but I have never really experienced a deep fear until I had a child. If I ever had an anxiety or nervousness I was always able to move through it and process it. I guess I got lucky because somehow I managed to transcend this emotion. If you asked my parents I am sure they would have a lot to say on this about me. I just realized I have one more fear... having a child who doesn’t experience fear ;)

If you could tell a room of 10,000 young women one piece of life advice, what would it be?

Be inspired. Life is so unbelievably short. Seize opportunity. Sometimes the best and most important things in life happen because you were just having fun.

What do you wish you could go back in time and tell your 25-year old self? 

I would say, “See last answer” but I know I did that at 25. I would tell my 25-year old self to ask: “What do YOU want out of life? Sit and think about it, don’t rush into anything just because you think it’s a good idea or it’s what you should do. Its ok to take the time to figure out what will make you happy. Approach every major life decision this way. I tend to leap and deal with things later. I would tell myself to skip instead… at least once in a while ;) 

Monday, October 11, 2010

Yoga is freedom.

While googling "Ashtanga yoga in Seattle" (I head there next month for a conference and cannot wait to check out the mysore scene), I came across this wonderful quote by Richard Freeman (thanks to Troy Lucero's website):

Yoga is freedom. It’s freedom from the fear of not knowing who you are. It’s freedom from having to present a face that isn’t your true face. It’s freedom from pretending to believe in something that you really don’t know to be true. It’s the return to the present moment, to the natural mind, to the state of complete happiness.”   
~Richard Freeman

If hungry for more, check out his new book!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Revolution Foods

“Let’s look at the school lunch program…We are essentially feeding them fast food and teaching them how to eat it quickly… lunch should be educational. Right now the school lunch program is a disposal scheme for surplus agricultural commodities. When they have too much meat, when they have too much cheese, they send it to the schools, and they dispose it through our kids’ digestive systems. Let’s look at it in a different way. This should be about improving the health of our children.”
~ Michael Pollan (in an interview with Bill Moyers, November 28, 2008)

Check out this short video about a company called Revolution Foods, serving a new kind of school lunch:

The founders, Kristin Richmond and Kirsten Tobey, came up with the idea while in business school at Berkeley, motivated "by the idea of creating a healthier generation.”

Their company now serves almost 60,000 meals to mostly low-income students in 350 schools across the country!

The criteria for the food they serve:
  • No high fructose corn syrup
  • No trans fats 
  • Antibiotic and hormone free meat and dairy 
  • Local and organic foods preferred 
  • No fried foods 

The challenge: healthy food is more expensive. These meals are $3-4/meal, while the government currently only reimburses schools up to $2.75 per meal. This is certainly worth the investment though, especially considering how much money this will save in medical bills down the road. 

How about also bringing this idea to hospital cafeterias?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

For all the coffee lovers...

You are not alone… this survey shows that doctors and nurses “depend on coffee to get through the workday” much more than other professionals (I think I could’ve predicted that one!).
Sure we might be addicted, but the recent good news is that we also might be helping our inflammation and cholesterol levels.

This study followed healthy subjects for 3 months:
  • The first month: subjects had 0 cups of coffee/day
  • The second month: subjects had 4 cups of coffee/day
  • The third month: subjects had 8 cups of coffee/day 

I like the design of this study because individual subjects serve as their own controls, helping control for confounders (like diet, exercise, or smoking which may be associated with coffee consumption), and making it easier to see the effects of coffee alone.

They compared markers of inflammation, oxidative stress, cholesterol, glucose, and insulin resistance. They found increased coffee consumption to be associated with:
  • A decrease in markers of inflammation IL-18 and 8-isoprostane (no change in C-reactive protein or IL-6)
  • An increase in adiponectin, a hormone involved in regulating metabolism and glucose levels (no change in fasting glucose or insulin)
  • An increase in HDL cholesterol (the good kind of cholesterol) 

Their conclusion: “Coffee consumption appears to have beneficial effects on subclinical inflammation and HDL cholesterol.”

I’d love to see a similar study design looking at these markers after a month of a daily yoga practice!
And how much do you love these mugs?! I want one!!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Let's stop apologizing, ladies.

In the yoga studio, in the hospital, in the lab, in relationships…. I always seem to be apologizing for something!

I see my girlfriends doing it too. Why are we apologizing so much?! I loved reading this paper that just came out (thank you for sending, Lizzie!) that provides some evidence and explanation for this “sorry” gender imbalance.

Here is what they found:
  • Women apologize more often than men, but importantly, women report committing more offenses than men
  • Men rate offenses as less severe (and less often deserving of an apology)
  • Once men and women identified a behavior as offensive, they were equally likely to apologize (it’s just that men see fewer things as offensive) 

The bottom line: 
Women have a lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behavior

I want to work on cutting down on my “Sorry’s.” 

Here’s how:
  1. Count my apologies. How many times do I actually apologize in a day? Yesterday I counted 4 before 10am… that seems like too much (especially since none of them really deserved an apology).
  2. Categorize my apologies. This will help me understand what I’m actually apologizing for all day long. Every time I say “sorry,” label it in one of these categories (as described in the article) 
    • Relational (e.g., insulting someone) 
    • Failed obligation (e.g., failing to complete chores) 
    • Inconvenience (e.g., calling a wrong number) 
    • Physical or material (e.g., bumping into someone, damaging someone’s belongings)
  3. Raise my sorry threshold. Pause before saying “sorry” – does this warrant an apology? Try to adopt more of a male mentality about this.