Creamy Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

turkeyfinishedbowl

My family could not all be together on Thursday, so we celebrated with a traditional turkey on Saturday night. Afterward, I took home the carcass and made this delicious soup. It is a great way to make sure that nothing on your table goes to waste. Making the most of your Thanksgiving leftovers fits nicely into the spirit of Thanksgiving: gratitude for what you have. When what you have is the remains of a tasty bird, you can transform it into this rich, soulful soup. The recipe below makes 10 servings. It stays good for up to 4 days in the fridge and up to 4 months in the freezer.

Ingredients:

turkey carcass

1 or 2 bay leaves

5 carrots

5 stalks celery

1 1/2 onions

bunch of kale

1/4 teaspoon each dried thyme, marjoram, sage, and rosemary

teaspoon fresh rosemary or 1/3 teaspoon dry

cup wild rice blend

7 tablespoons butter

1/2 cup plus 1 heaping tablespoon white flour

1/2 cup whole milk

1 1/2 cups half and half

zest of 1 lemon

Carcass is an ugly word, but it's fitting.

Carcass is an ugly word, but it’s fitting.

turkeystockpot

Break up the carcass and place in large stock pot. Add 1 or 2 bay leaves, 1/2 an onion, a stalk of celery, and a carrot. Fill with water and boil for one hour.

This step is only for heavy metal home cooks: remove carcass with tongs, let cool for a few moments, then pick off bits of meat by hand. Once bones are stripped, bang them with a meat tenderizer and return to stock pot.

This step is optional– for heavy metal home cooks only. Remove carcass with tongs, let cool for a few moments, then pick off bits of meat by hand.

I filled a whole cereal bowl with meat picked off the carcass!

I filled a whole cereal bowl with meat picked off the carcass! Once you have stripped the bones of meat, return them to the stock pot and simmer for 3+ hours.

Strain the stock and discard bones and veggies.

Then, strain the stock and discard bones and veggies.

Put the strained stock back on the stove and add some spices.

Put the strained stock back on the stove and add some spices. Also add whatever meat you were able to pick off the bones.

wildrice

Add wild rice blend.

turkeyaromatics

Gather up the rest of your aromatics.

Chop 'em up.

Chop ‘em up. Put them in your soup.

Chop some kale too.

Chop some kale too and add to soup.

Melt butter in saucepan and whisk in flour, stirring constantly to make roux.

Now time to make roux. Melt butter in a separate saucepan and whisk in flour, stirring constantly.

Add milk gradually.

Add milk gradually.

It will get gooey and brown.

It will get gooey and brown. Add it to your soup and stir until thoroughly incorporated. Simmer for a few minutes as the soup thickens.

Add the zest of a lemon. It will help cut the creaminess of the soup and add brightness to the flavor.

Add the zest of a lemon. It will help cut the creaminess of the soup and add brightness. You can let the soup simmer awhile if your rice isn’t soft yet. 

turkey2inbowlwithspoon

turkey2inbowl

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7 Obstacles to Meditation and How to Overcome Them

ganeshasand

1. Feeling Like We Have Other, More Important Things to Do

If we have carved out the time in our day to meditate, we have nowhere else to be and nothing else to be doing in that moment. However, the mind will trick us into thinking otherwise. We are so addicted to productive activity that we think we need to be DO things in order to BE someone. We need to remind ourselves that is okay to just be. We also need to remember that our meditation is valuable. It is important—just as important as any other task we will accomplish today.

2. Taking Ourselves too Seriously

As stated above, meditation is valuable and important, but it must not be taken too seriously. Lighten up! If we approach the practice with a somber and studious attitude, we risk squelching the kindness and non-attachment that is essential to successful meditation. When you notice yourself being rigid and overly serious, subtly turn up the corners of your mouth and bring a touch of ease and lightness to your attitude.

3. Physical Discomfort or Pain

Sitting can be uncomfortable, and in the absence of distractions, that discomfort is amplified by the mind. We need to get clear about the difference between discomfort and pain. Discomfort while sitting is not the worst thing in the world, and many of us need to develop “sitting muscles,” greater strength through the psoas, core body, back, and shoulders. Be rigorously honest with yourself about whether you are experiencing discomfort or pain. A bit of physical discomfort is normal and welcome, but pain is a different matter and should be addressed. Perhaps we need to sit in a chair instead of on the floor or to sit against a wall instead of supporting our torso alone. Although laying down is NOT recommended, those of us with medical conditions might consider doing so as long as they are hyper-vigilant about staying awake.

4. Boredom and Restlessness

Impatience and anxiety are great examples of the mind creating drama and problems where there are none. When we feel restless, we should meditate on the restless feelings and watch them with an awareness that is kind, nonjudgmental, and curious. We must not berate ourselves for feeling what we feel, but rather observe ourselves with mindfulness. We must accept our thoughts and feelings completely as they are in this moment, stepping back to watch them with magnanimous impartiality. Then, we gently shift our awareness back to the breath.

5. Really Weird Thoughts

As we are sitting quietly, we may have random thoughts that are just plain strange. They seem to come out of left field. Sometimes they are creative, sometimes they are upsetting, sometimes they are even perverse. If you encounter a weird thought, note the fact that you are perceiving it as weird or strange or unwelcome. Consider the mind’s compulsive value labeling, its need to hang judgment tags on everything. As above, see if you can step back from the thought and observe it without judgment, then bring your attention back to the breath.

6. Sleepiness

Unfortunately, many of us have an on/off switch. We find that we are either in the mode of being hyperproductive and busy or that we are switched off: limp on the couch in front of a television or snoozing away the day’s chaos. In meditation, we are searching for the in-between, a state that is both alert and relaxed. If we are truly fatigued, perhaps we decide that muscling through a sit would be counterproductive, and we need to show ourselves kindness and wait until we are better rested. If we think we can endure. adjusting our carriage is an option, perhaps rolling the shoulders back and sitting up straighter or else adjusting our sitting position to be a little less comfortable. We can also deepen the breath, exaggerating it to oxygenize and energize. We can choose to open our eyes and softly, with an unfocused gaze, keep them open for the duration of our sit.

7. Focusing on Results

We have to stop focusing on lofty outcomes like bliss or supernatural absence of all thought. If we think about and are motivated by what we think the results of our meditation should be, we are in danger of approaching meditation like a frowning A-student filling out a Scantron test. We will take the joy out of the journey. We have to remember that the goal of mindfulness meditation is not to change our thoughts, feelings, and sensations but to change our attitude toward them. All you have to do to be successful is to be present and to choose to continually return your attention to the moment.

Do not let your difficulties with meditation sway you from practicing, but rather look at your difficulties with kind curiosity and consider them to be part of your practice. Anyone can meditate, and that means you!

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Mindful Eating Means Never Dieting Again

bagel

Multigrain bagel with cream cheese and halved grape tomatoes.

Although it is normally rude to comment on people’s bodies and ask them what they eat, as a yoga teacher I am often the subject of such remarks and questions. When my figure is complimented, I say thank you and give all the credit to a robust yoga practice and occasional high-incline strolls on a treadmill. As for my diet, I try to be honest with students about my eating habits without seeming too preachy.

The truth is that I eat whatever I want. But that doesn’t mean what you think it means. 

It doesn’t mean that I constantly gorge myself on rich treats because I am gifted the metabolism of a hummingbird.

What it means is that I am in touch with what I truly want, and because I am in touch with my real cravings, I need not fear them. That is mindfulness in action.  I have filled this post with photos of everything I ate in one day, but it is not the food itself that matters: it is the mindfulness with which I approached my food choices.

appleandalmonds

Honeycrisp apple with handful of oven-roasted, salted almonds.

To those of us who have ever felt compulsive around food (myself included!), the idea that we should eat whatever we want is frightening. We think that, given free reign of all the food available to us, we would surely eat ourselves into obesity and premature death. Regimented diets and food plans are perceived protections from ourselves, disciplines to corral the ugly glutton within.  When we go on a diet, we are saying to ourselves, I cannot trust my hunger. If my relationship with food were not managed by rules, I would go crazy with food.

Deprivation reinforces this negative idea: it generates craving and makes our fear of food freedom worse. When we are hungry, denying ourselves, we create a pattern of withholding and indulgence. We are “good” until we can no longer bear it, then we are “bad.” Because we are deprived, when we give in and are “bad,” we tend to grossly overeat or to consume extremely rich food that we know doesn’t nourish us. We then interpret this pattern as proof that we cannot trust our desires.

veggieskillet

Broccoli, carrots, yellow onion, and jalapeno peppers sauteed in safflower oil.

I started dieting at the age of fourteen and have tried countless diets, including some that qualify as eating disorders. For me, interacting with food has often been embattled, and the only solution that works for me is to give up the fight completely: surrender to win. I do this by making mindfulness the operating principle of my diet.  Mindfulness can be defined as maintaining a moment-by-moment awareness of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations, and surrounding environment. By slowing down and becoming acutely aware of myself and my needs, I have been able to find the calm and rational voice within- a voice I can trust absolutely.

crackers

Raisins and saltines.

Beginning to practice mindfulness means developing a quality of awareness that is radically nonjudgmental and compassionate. If we have struggled with food at all in the past, this is a revelation. The fact is that when we are able to slow down and become quiet enough to listen to our bodies, we start to distinguish emotional needs from food needs. Often, I find that what appears to be a craving for Cheetoes in front of the television is actually loneliness, or that an impulse to skip a meal on a busy day is anxiety disguised. Practicing mindfulness, we will find that what we really want to eat actually supports our health. We have been fighting food for so long that we have forgotten the body’s evolutionary wiring to survive: the body  wants to be nourished, and it craves nourishing food. We simply need to become mindful enough to hear what it is asking for.

steakandmashedyams

Mashed sweet potato, sirloin steak, and fresh parsley.

Before I eat, I get quiet and become aware of the physical sensation of hunger, the longing on my tongue. I consider what I know about good nutrition and balance it with what I am craving. I consider the food options in front of me and think about how each option will make me feel. Then, I make a decision on what to eat. It is that simple. When I first started practicing this, I occasionally agonized over choices, but as time has gone on I draw on my inner wisdom and find that I have quicker and quicker access to what will satisfy my body, mind, and spirit.

Two books that helped me develop these ideas and habits were Susan Kano’s Making Peace with Food and Geneen Roth’s Women, Food, and God.  I would highly recommend these for people who want to free themselves from obsession with food, body, and weight.

chocolate

Chocolate!

What do you think of mindful eating? Are you afraid of what would happen if you slowed down and simply ate what you wanted to?

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Meditation and the Monkey Mind

monkeymind

You light a candle. You sit down. You consciously relax your body, muscle by muscle. You watch your breathing and find yourself in meditation. All is peaceful until, inevitably, come the cries of the monkey.

Oooo oooooo ahhhh ahhh ahhh!

The monkey mind is a stream of interior chatter in the brain: daydreaming, worrying, judging, projecting, and planning. It is a term often used in yoga and meditation circles, and there is evidence to suggest that the Buddha used it to describe our discontented nature. The monkey mind is the cacophonous invasion of past and future dwelling that intrudes when we attempt to focus on our breath and live in the moment, especially when we seek peace in meditation. The monkey mind jumps from topic to topic just as monkeys from tree to tree. It is not content to just be, and it must continually find distraction and generate needs to block our enjoyment of stillness and presence in the present.

Because the monkey mind is so clearly an obstacle to the goal of meditation, our first impulse upon meeting it is to shut it out. We attempt to banish and squelch its chatter, ignore it away, and in doing so we only make it louder and more rambunctious. The expression, “What you resist persists” comes to mind. So what should we do when the chatter begins and disturbs us in meditation? If ignoring or wishing it away doesn’t work, then what does?

Awareness is the key here, and acceptance. Just as in meditation we cultivate a kind, nonjudgmental, and open awareness of our physical body, so too we should take a kind, nonjudgmental, and open attitude toward our thoughts. The monkey mind is a natural side effect of our thinking addiction, so rather than becoming frustrated when it presents itself we should step back and be the still, impartial observer of its activity. We can watch the activity of our minds without becoming involved in our thoughts, staying with the breath and gently redirecting our focus whenever it slips out of the present moment.

Imagine you have been charged with the care of an adorable baby monkey and you are trying to train it to stay and sit in one place. When it wandered off its designated seat, would you flare up in anger and beat the creature? No- you would gently correct it by grabbing hold and placing it back where it needs to be. If it strayed again, would you become so frustrated that you gave up? No- you would persist with patience and kindness, knowing that the baby monkey is untrained and therefore forgiving its misbehavior.

Meditation is a practice, and progress, not perfection, is the goal. Persist in sitting and find that both your sense of peace and your understanding of yourself will grow. Bananas, not billy clubs, my friends.

 

 

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Preparing for Meditation: Relaxation Techniques

zenmonkcandle

In a previous blog post, I shared the technique of Progressive Muscle Relaxation as a preparatory exercise for sitting meditation. It involved gently contracting and releasing the muscles of the body. The Relaxing Body Scan is another way of preparing the body for meditation: rather than engaging the muscles physically, awareness is methodically moved through the body and each part of it is encouraged to soften and release.

The Relaxing Body Scan

Take a few moments to adjust your position… get your body settled… and when you are ready, let your eyes gently close.

Begin by taking your attention down to the feet… really concentrating on the feet… perhaps moving them a little…. Really feeling what sensations there are in the feet right now… Remember that for this exercise there is no right or wrong… the exercise is simply one of noticing and working with whatever sensations there might be in the feet and the rest of the body right now… As you notice and hold your attention on the feet… feel the muscles softening a little… relaxing and releasing… softening… loosening… just simply letting go.

Remember that there is nothing else you need to be doing right now… Having given yourself the time and space for this exercise, there is nothing else you need to be doing… nowhere else you need to be… no one else you need to be pleasing or satisfying… It is just a time for relaxing… releasing… letting go.

So now, move your attention up to the calves… it is almost as if you are moving your attention up through the calves… Feel what sensations might be there for a moment… perhaps some parts feel different than others… And again, even if some areas feel tight or tense or uncomfortable, just be interested to know how they feel at this particular time… almost like an impartial observer… just noticing… being interested… It is a gentle curiosity… just notice how your calves are feeling at this particular time… And as you hold your awareness on the calves, feel the muscles softening and loosening… relaxing and releasing… just simply letting go.

Take your attention to the thighs… and feel them relaxing and releasing… feel it deeply, completely… all down through the thighs and calves and the feet… Sometimes it might feel almost like the muscles are melting down into the chair or floor a little… just relaxing and releasing… perhaps feeling a little heavier…. like they could be melting or merging… just feeling them letting go… deeply… completely… letting go.

And now feel it all through the buttocks, the hips, and the pelvis… Sometimes it helps to imagine there is a belt or band around the hips that has just been loosened a little… the big muscles around the hips, softening and loosening… relaxing… releasing… quite effortlessly… effortlessly… just going with it.

Bring your attention up to the tummy… you will probably notice it rising and falling a little with the breath… and then that feeling of letting go again… all through the tummy… calm and relaxed… just going with it… calm and relaxed.

Move your attention up to the chest … again, just being aware of the chest rising and falling with the breath… and feeling the ease of it all… just allowing the breath to take up whatever rhythm feels comfortable for you at the moment… quite effortlessly… effortlessly… just going with it…. more and more… deeper and deeper… letting go.

Now feel a wave of relaxation flowing down through the arms….First, the upper arms, softening and loosening… and down around the elbows and into the forearms… relaxing… releasing… letting go… and then down through the wrists… the hands and the fingers… Sometimes you might notice almost what feels like a tingling flowing into the hands and fingers… a feeling of lightness… almost like they could be floating… just going with it… effortlessly… effortlessly… just going with it.

Now feel it all through the shoulders… perhaps just raising and lowering the shoulders a little… Feel the head moving from side to side… and the muscles up either side of the neck… softening and loosening… just feeling it all through the shoulders… the neck and the throat… feeling the ease of it all… just going with it.

Bring your attention to the face… With your lips just lightly touching, feel the jaw drop a little… the tongue, soft and loose… Feel it through the mouth…. And feel it up over the nose and through the cheeks… Feel the eyelids smoothing out… feeling it deeply… all through the eyes… and the temples… soft and loose… And feel it around the ears… the back of the head… up over the top of the head.

And now feel the forehead smoothing out… feel it deeply… completely… feel it all through the body…. More and more… deeper and deeper… just letting go… going with it… feel it through the body, and the mind… going with it… going with it…. more and more… deeper and deeper… just simply letting go… letting go.

Take as long as you choose to sit quietly… Then, when you are ready, you might want to take a deeper breath or two… perhaps move your feet a little…. Feel your hands move a little… and then, when you are ready, let your eyes gently open again.    

(from Meditation: An In-depth Guide by Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson)

Rapid Relaxation is yet another technique that is more breath-oriented and faster. While The Relaxing Body Scan should take fifteen to twenty minutes, Rapid Relaxation only takes three to five minutes.

Rapid Relaxation

The Rapid Relaxation exercise is best done with your body fairly upright, so take a moment to adjust your position, ensuring your back is as upright as is comfortable.

Place your feet flat on the floor, a little apart, and then find where your hands are most comfortable—probably just resting on your thighs or cupped in your lap. Just notice what works best for you, and when you are ready, let your eyes gently close.

Now, take a deep breath in… and gently sigh the breath out… ahhhh… You will probably notice a wave of relaxation flowing down through the body… the muscles softening… loosening… releasing… just simply letting go.

Do that once again… another, deeper breath in… gently sighing to let the breath out…. ahhhhh…. and then just allowing the breath to take up whatever rhythm feels comfortable for you at the moment… quite effortlessly…. Effortlessly…. Just feeling the ease of it all… Now notice the feeling of letting go a little more with each out breath… just simply letting go.

And now, move your back a little from side to side in a gently swaying motion… just enough to move your spine from the point of balance… And as you do that, feel the muscles along either side of the spine softening and loosening… relaxing… releasing… and then the spine coming to rest in its point of balance.

Another deep breath in…. gently sighing the breath out… ahhhh… just simply letting go.

Then move the head a little from side to side…. again, just a gentle swaying motion… just enough to feel the head moving across its point of balance… And as you do that, feel the muscles along either side of the neck softening and loosening… relaxing… releasing.

And the head coming to rest in its point of balance…. Another deep breath in… gently sighing the breath out…. ahhhh.

And now moving the head a little from front to back… and then tilting it a little side to side… Feel the ease of the movement… almost like the head is a helium balloon just floating there…. and the neck, like a string, gently holding it in place… And then the head coming to rest in its point of balance… quite effortlessly…. Effortlessly…. Just feeling the ease of it all… the ease of it all… just going with it… going with it… simply letting go.

Again, sit quietly for as long as you choose… Then, when you are ready, just let your eyes gently open.

(from Meditation: An In-depth Guide by Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson)

As we train ourselves to meditate, it is helpful to employ specific techniques in order to calm our minds and relax our bodies. With practice, a diligent student may find that they are able to automatically move into relaxation just as an athlete who has performed many drills automatically finds herself applying practiced techniques in a game.

Are you able to relax when you want to meditate? What tools do you use to prepare your body for a sit?

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Soul Soup: Chicken, Kale, and Whole Wheat Orzo

soul soup2

Last night was the first snow of the season in Central New York, and as I scraped the fluffies off my car, I watched a stream of gloom marquee across my mind: It is so freakin’ cold. I can’t believe I’m doing this. Seven more months of this. I can’t feel my hands. I hate the winter. I hate the winter so much. I am so cold. Why do I live here? 

I observed these thoughts, trying out mindfulness, and in doing so was able to let them pass without getting wrapped up in their seductive drama and negativity. The more I grow in meditating, the more quickly I am able to identify and detach from thoughts that don’t serve me. After all, I am not my thoughts.

My thoughts are the weather– I am the sky.

Ingredients:

chicken broth or stock to almost fill a large stock pot

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces

boneless, skinless chicken thigh, cut into bite-size pieces

3 whole carrots, chopped

onion, chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

bunch of kale, cut into bite-size pieces

salt and pepper

whole wheat orzo pasta

fresh parsley

Directions:

Bring broth or stock to a boil and add meat until it is thoroughly cooked. Reduce heat to medium. Add carrots, onion, celery, and salt and pepper to taste. When veggies are soft, add kale and whole wheat orzo. Boil on medium heat following the cook time on the pasta package. When the pasta is cooked, your soup is done. Serve with fresh parsley on top (and don’t skip the parsley- it transforms a pretty basic soup into something special!)

soul soup

I hope you are able to approach the coming winter with an attitude of acceptance rather than resistance, and I wish you many cold nights with warm soup in your belly and peace in your mind.

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How to Start a Home Meditation Practice

meditating statue

Meditation is a practice most of us know about and believe would be good for us but which few of us are actually doing. Here are some suggestions on how to begin a regular meditation practice:

1. Clarify your intention.

Why are you beginning a meditation practice? Do you want to feel more peaceful, heal from an illness, develop your spiritual side, or improve your overall health? Clearly defining your intention will bring meaning to your effort and motivation to succeed as you begin.

2. Recognize that you will need discipline.

Meditation is the ultimate embodiment of the phrase: “Simple, but not easy.” From the outside, it looks effortless enough– all you have to do is sit there. Once you begin, you will likely be astounded by how difficult it is to sit in stillness. Acknowledge that it will be challenging, and commit yourself to meet the challenge.

3. Create a sacred space.

When I quit drinking a few years ago, I had terrible insomnia, and the best advice I received was to use my bed only for sleeping. When I stopped reading and playing around on the internet in bed, I began to associate that space with rest, and sleeping there became easier.  Designate a place in your home for meditation and your mind will begin to associate that place with stillness and calm. If you are wildly fortunate and have an entire room to dedicate, then great! If not, you can use a portion of a spare bedroom or office, or even a corner of any part of living space. If you intend to sit on the floor, place a yoga mat or cushion in the space, and if you intend to sit in a chair, place a chair in that area. You can hang wall art here that is meaningful to you, or even make a small shrine with a statue or fresh-cut flowers.

4. Consider keeping a meditation log.

Journaling can help keep you accountable to yourself and provide the internal kudos of tracking yourself sit for longer and longer periods of time. Consider logging your sit times and recording any impressions you get from a session.

5. Manage your expectations.

Do not expect to ascend into spiritual bliss the moment you close your eyes. You may never attain any peak experiences, so don’t make them your goal. Remember that the destination is the journey- we are not going anywhere when we choose to meditate. In fact, if you are practicing mindfulness meditation, the goal is to be as present and real in the moment as possible.

6. Start small.

Don’t set yourself up for disappointment or failure by muscling your way through 30 minutes of sitting right away. Start by meditating for just 5 minutes a day, then increase weekly by 5 minutes until you work your way up to where you want to be.

7. Join a meditation group or take a class.

If you try to discuss meditating with most people, you will probably bore them. If you take a class or workshop on meditating or join a meditation circle, you will meet people who share your interest and who can help you grow your understanding of the practice. Although there are many good books on meditating, the guidance of a teacher can help you know how to manage and interpret your experience as you sit, and I highly recommend you seek out some face-to-face education on the subject.

There are a hundred reasons to meditate, so figure out your personal reason, and begin today!

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Why This Yoga Teacher Eats Meat

tigereatingmeat

Many people associate vegetarianism and the yoga lifestyle. If you ask a yogi why this is, they may cite the principle of “ahimsa,” a Sanskrit word which means “not to injure” or “non-harming.” Yogis who do not know this concept might have vague notions of food “purity” or scientifically incorrect ideas about how eating meat affects the physical body. Some yogis, although they would never tell you this, are vegetarians because it is the “thing to do” in yoga circles; all the cool kids abstain from animals.

All of this being said, I do not want to come off as being disrespectful toward those who have chosen vegetarianism. I believe that people have a right to make their own choices, and as such I believe in my own right to choose an omnivorous diet. Below, I have compiled some of the reasons behind my choice:

1. My Tiger Digestive Tract

Digestive tracts of vegetarian animals are significantly longer than ours, most with multiple stomachs to aid in the breakdown and efficient use of plant material. The human digestive tract is like a tiger’s or a dog’s: designed to break down meat.

2. I Don’t Want to Eat All Day (Well, sometimes I do, but I know it’s not natural.)

Whereas vegetarian animals have to graze more or less consistently, omnvivores like ourselves can process animal protein and therefore do not need to spend the day gnawing on grass to stay alive. This frees up time for pursuits of the heart and mind, not just the belly.

3. B12 (and other nutrients)

I could actually delete this entire blog post and write only of B12, and B12 alone would be enough reason to eat animal protein. Plants do not provide B12 at all, and we as human beings NEED B12 to function. Period point blank. In addition, creatine and carnosine are nutrients also found only in animal foods, and DHA and EPA (active forms of Omega-3) are found primarily in animal foods.

4. “I Bow to the Truth of my Body”

Sadie Nardini said this in a Yoga Journal interview about her eating habits, and the phrase resonated with me. I was a vegetarian for two years and tried veganism for three months after that. Never have I felt so listless, unfocused, and weak. On paper, I was getting enough protein (via nuts, legumes, soy, whole wheats, etc.), but in practice, my body was not operating with the vitality I wanted it to have. This reason relates to my belief that all people are different and must honor their individual bodies in their health choices: while a vegetarian diet might be okay for some, it was definitely not okay for me.

5. Ethical Meat Eating

Being a smart consumer of meat can greatly reduce the farm-to-table carbon footprint of your food, and selecting organic, local meats is a responsible way to feed your bloodthirst. I am not saying that I am able to do this all the time, but when I can I choose the meat that is best for the environment and my body.

6. Meat tastes f*!#ing awesome!

Food is fuel, yes, but it is also one of life’s great sensual pleasures. Enjoying something in a way that is not addictive or self-destructive is a perfectly healthy thing to experience, and the tongue wants what it wants.

Are you a meat-eater? Why or why not? How are your yoga practice and your diet related?

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Progressive Muscle Relaxation

harmony

There are many different techniques one can employ to relax the body for sitting meditation. In researching for my upcoming workshop, I discovered Progressive Muscle Relaxation and have used it myself to great benefit. Use the script below to progressively relax your muscles in preparation for stillness. The exercise should take fifteen to twenty minutes.

Begin by taking a moment to settle into your position… Adjust your posture if you need to… get your body settled… and when you are ready, let your eyes gently close.

Take a moment to remind yourself of your motivation… and remember that this is an opportunity to consciously relax your body… and to allow your mind to go with it.

So begin by taking your attention down to your feet… perhaps moving them a little… really feel what they are like at the moment… Contract the muscles of the feet… feeling the difference that makes… and then let them go… Feel the muscles softening… loosening… relaxing… releasing… just simply letting go.

Now take your attention up into the calves… In your mind, move your attention through the calves, noticing any sensations that come to your awareness…. Notice if they are warm, or cool, or neutral… whether there are any sensations on the skin, like the touch of clothing or a gentle flow of air… perhaps sensations deeper into the calves… Just noticing… like a gentle curiosity… free of judgment… free of reaction or anaylsis… just noticing… Now contract the muscles, feeling the difference that makes… and let them go… Feel the muscles softening… loosening… relaxing… releasing… just simply letting go.

Now the thighs…. Notice how they are feeling… contract the muscles… and let them go… Feel it all through the thighs… and down into the calves… and into the feet… feeling it deeply… completely.

Contract the muscles in the buttocks, lifting up off the chair or floor… and then let them go… Feel the weight settling down once again… feel it all around the hips and through the pelvis… Sometimes it helps to imagine there is a belt or band around the hips that is being loosened a little… just going with it… going with it… letting go.

Now the tummy… Contract the muscles in front of the tummy and the lower back… and then let them go… Feel it deeply all through the tummy… calm and relaxed… just going with it… calm and relaxed… just simply letting go.

Notice where your attention is… and if, at any stage, you do find your mind wandering or becoming distracted, gently bring your attention back to your body once again.

Take your attention to the chest… Contract the muscles, tight like a barrel… and then let them go… Just allow the breath to take up whatever rhythm feels comfortable for you at the moment… quite effortlessly… effortlessly… letting go.

Now the arms…. Contract the muscles… and let them go… feeling a wave of relaxation flowing down through the arms… First, the upper arms, softening… loosening… down around the elbows and into the forearms… relaxing… releasing… and then the wrists, hands, fingers…. Sometimes you might notice what feels like a warmth or a tingling flowing down into the hands and the fingers… a feeling of lightness… go with it… go with it… just simply letting go.

Now the shoulders… Contract the muscles by pulling the shoulders up and the chin down… and then let them go… Feel the shoulders drop a little… feel it deeply… completely… and feel it up through the neck and the throat… more and more… deeper and deeper… just simply letting go.

Take your attention to the jaw… Contract the muscles by closing the jaw firmly… and then let them go… Feel the jaw drop a little… the tongue soft and loose… and feel it all through the jaw and mouth… going with it… And feel it up over the nose and through the cheeks.

Now the eyes… Contract the muscles, closing the eyes firmly… and then let them go… Feel the eyelids smoothing out… feel it deeply… all through the eyes… almost like the eyes could be floating in their sockers… just going with it… and the temples soft and loose… And feel it around the ears… the back of the head… up over the top of the head… calm and relaxed… just going with it… calm and relaxed.

Now contract the muscles in your forehead by furrowing your brow a little… and then let them go… Feel the forehead smoothing out… feel it deeply… completely… feel it through the body and the mind… going with it… going with it… more and more… deeper and deeper… just simply letting go… letting go… quite effortlessly… effortlessly… letting go… letting go.

Now sit quietly for as long as you want to… Then, when you are ready, open your eyes again.

(from Meditation: An In-Depth Guide by Ian Gawler and Paul Bedson)

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Are You Eating Enough?

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Like many people in the “go-go modern world,” I am an extremely busy person. I have been fortunate enough to have many opportunities to teach and practice yoga this year, I am taking college courses, running a business with my husband, and trying to make time for friends and family. When I go to bed at night, my head hits the pillow and I devour hours of unhaunted oblivion.

In order to fuel a busy life, it is important to provide the body with adequate nutrition. As a bit of a health freak, I need to make sure that favoring nutritious, clean food doesn’t happen at the expense of getting enough calories. The effects of not eating enough are, in fact, as bad as eating too much. Among these are slowed metabolism, heart problems, low energy, impaired brain function, lusterless hair and skin, digestive problems, and nutrient deficiencies.

Whenever I feel scraped-out, tired, or overwhelmed, I take a look at whether I am getting the food I need to function at my highest level. One of my favorite things to eat when I know I am behind on calories is a peanut butter, banana, and honey sandwich on toast.

Our hungers are not compulsions to be feared and mistrusted. In yoga, as we learn to listen to the body, we should bring that awareness into our relationship with food and commit to nourishing ourselves. Are you eating enough to live the life you want?

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