Don’t stir the kitchari. And oh, bring flowers to work!

I’m closing out the third day of my fourth seasonal Ayurvedic cleanse — hard to believe it’s round four! — and scribbled in my notes from yesterday’s cooking class with Kate O’Donnell of Ayurveda Boston is:

DO NOT STIR THE KITCHARI!

I adore kitchari to the point of craving it fairly frequently, especially in its hardcore, cleanse-style form without ghee or tastier accoutrements. But since my first cleanse in the fall of 2012, I have always had the sense that I improperly prepare this mix of basmati rice, split mung dahl and spices.

After tasting Kate’s concoction yesterday, I feel validated in my suspicions. :-)

So for the rest of this cleanse, I will let the kitchari cook on the stovetop longer, I will add water as I go along if needed, and, for heaven’s sake, I will not stir the batch as I go. I’m looking forward to whipping up kitchari that is soupier than risotto — and I can’t wait to add a strip of kombu to the mix.

Kate, by the way, is working on an Ayurvedic cookbook, and I am counting the months until it’s released. I’ll share that info here when it happens.

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This weekend’s sessions with Kate, hosted in Ann Arbor by Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor, included introductory sessions on the fundamental concepts of Ayurveda and also a cooking class. I can’t tell you how geeked I was to get to meet Kate in person after a year and a half of only seeing her through laptop and iPad screens for online cleanse meetings and individual consultations. I’m not sure where I would be today — digestively or otherwise — if Angela Jamison hadn’t set up that first online cleanse program with Kate in 2012. In the stew of A2, as Ann Arbor is called, the twin sciences of ashtanga and Ayurveda have transformed my lifestyle and therefore my life.

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If I only had one word to describe this weekend, it would be community. How cool is our ashtanga shala community? We have the likes of Anne Kellogg, who took the photo of Kate above, and Eric Fileti, who made delectable batches of local organic ghee to share. And in my head, I’m scanning the room and seeing everyone else who brought their smiles and experiences and questions. I mean, by the end of the weekend, we were laughing about our debate over preferences for castor oil sources (I am taking my purgation this Friday, and will be using the drug store variety).

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I needed this weekend. My job has tested me on just about every level for the past couple months — physically, with the hours and the stress, and emotionally with some dynamics going on. I was especially geeked for the opportunity to meet individually with Kate — our first consultation not done via Google+ — in which Kate could look at my tongue and feel my pulse. It was a true treat to be able to sit across from each other and talk.

A lot of the talk was centered on my elevated vata dosha (not a surprise to me, believe me — I have felt this keenly since returning from India and being thrust back into my professional life).

One ridiculously simple and extremely lovely suggestion Kate had was to bring flowers to work. I can hear my mom telling me the exact same thing, and really, many of the gems of Ayurveda remind me of what my mom has told me all my life (get outside! take a walk!).

Like with so much of Ayurveda — as Kate reminded us during the weekend workshops — this is stuff we already know. But we’re human, and we need to be reminded. I bought these flowers from a lovely shop near my workplace today, and I am happy to say that this, too, is part of my Ayurvedic practice.

flowers

(Photo credit: Top photo by Anne Kellogg)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Before enlightenment, check email, share link. After enlightenment, check email, share link.

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I listened to an interesting Buddhist Geeks podcast late last week as I was packing for my trip to see my family for the holidays. Here’s a snippet from a discussion with Alex Soojung-Kim Pang about technological determinism:

There’s a great technology writer in Seattle named Monica Guzman who makes the point that taking digital sabbaths is like having an ocean recede. It’s like having low tide.

What happens with our high tech lives is that the waters slowly come up so that you don’t even really notice them. They bring all kinds of things with them. Sort of unspoken assumptions, sort of habits that you get into without realizing. It’s only when you let those waters recede that you’re able to see down to the bottom and to see all of the other things that have come with this technological tide.

The two-part podcast deals with “how the daily rigors of [Pang’s] work with technology damaged his mental focus, and how he turned to meditation to regain that focus. By viewing his work through the lens of his meditation practice he was led to new questions and ideas about how to change mankind’s relationship with technology, how to go from being distracted to more focused and mindful, and the real dangers of taking a passive role in our daily relationship with technology.”

Negotiating the tensions

A day rarely goes by when I’m not on some level negotiating the digital-information tensions: Managing clients’ social media accounts and managing my email inbox are a big part of my job (at work, I have a two-computer-screen set-up and sometimes resort to using my iPhone or iPad as a third screen, and the end of the work day doesn’t mean I get to stop monitoring accounts). Engaging in social media is the primary way I keep up-to-date on the goings-on of those who mean most to me, and it’s also the most reliable way I’ve found to be exposed to the most helpful and provoking thoughts about life on the mat and cushion.

Keeping up with everything can be draining, though — it sometimes feels like playing tetris with an infinite scroll of data. When I feel that information-overload onslaught, what gets zapped isn’t just my energy. My concentration feels scattered, which makes me feel like I’ve lost capacity for clarity about matters. I feel less efficient, less productive, less patient and less present. What happens when too many apps are running on a smartphone or tablet? The battery charge drops so quickly.

#Unplugged

I did my first social media unplug in 2008, and even though that was before I had a six-day-a-week asana rhythm and a regular meditation practice, I knew how vital it was to experiment with this type of recharge.

When Baratunde Thurston walked way from the Internet earlier this year and wrote about it for Fast Company, he discovered four things: He had become obsessed with “The Information,” he shared too much, he was addicted to himself, and he “forsook the benefits of the Industrial Age”:

The first season of Downton Abbey features a remarkable scene in which the Dowager Countess, who is always quick to offer a sharp retort in defense of tradition, responds to another character’s announcement of weekend plans with a truly confused inquiry: ‘What is a weekend?’ One major feature of industrialization was the adoption of leisure time for those of us not among the leisure class. Yet one major feature of the Networked Age is our de-created ability to disengage. Will the concept of downtime have been a temporary blip in the history of civilization?

Thurston, whom I was lucky enough to meet once years ago on a yoga retreat in Michigan, found that by unplugging:

The greatest gift I gave myself was a restored appreciation for disengagement, silence, and emptiness. I don’t need to fill every time slot with an appointment, and I don’t need to fill every mental opening with stimulus. Unoccupied moments are beautiful, so I have taken to scheduling them. Once a quarter, my chief of staff and I institute a zero-appointments “Blank Week,” and almost every week I tune out of the Matrix for hours at a time (yes, while I am awake and conscious). Perhaps the most life-affirming change is that I rarely walk down a street while looking at or tapping on a device. My reading or writing can wait, especially if it means I will be alive later to deal with it.

Media blackout

The degree to which I’ve guarded my social media — or any media — down time has steadily intensified as the rhythm of my morning ashtanga practice has steadied and deepened. And the need to disengage crescendoed this summer during the short time I was pregnant, and following my miscarriage, it felt almost like a doctor’s order: Ingestion of media is contraindicated!

The feeling that kept coming up for me during that time had to do squarely with spaciousness. I needed spaciouness of body, mind and spirit in order to process emotions in real-time; not doing this, I felt, ran the risk of my avoiding the necessary processing, which would have meant suppressing experiences and feelings, and dealing with them down the road. It didn’t seem to me that I could achieve a state of spaciousness if I was hyper-connected.

Social media indigestion?

Since then, I’ve engaged even more frequently in micro-unplugs. But something interesting happened in October after the seasonal Ayurveda cleanse: I came out of it feeling like I had more digestive fire for a lot of things, including social media. To be sure, the fire is stronger and weaker on certain days. I’m on vacation right now, for instance. Sometimes being on vacation means I embrace the digital sabbath. I’ve been all over Facebook this week, however — and it’s felt fine, if not outright lovely. (Facebook is the social network that I find myself guarding against the most when I feel I need mental quiet and spiritual spaciousness.) This is the flip side of the unplugs: When I feel like I can digest it, I try to be on, to be part of the community.

This will only last so long, though, and eventually, I’ll start to close the sense gates again, only being on Facebook to do what I need to do.

Adding perhaps an interesting additional dimension to this topic is the fact that I recently took a personality test after avoiding it all these years. The results, for whatever they’re worth, said I’m an INFJ. Traits of the INFJ include: “…the sensitivity of INFJs allows them to connect to others quite easily. Their easy and pleasant communication can often mislead bystanders, who might think that the INFJ is actually an extrovert….As introverts, INFJs need to have some ‘alone time’ every once in a while or otherwise their internal energy reserves will get depleted really quickly. If this happens, the INFJ may surprise everybody around them by withdrawing from all their activities for a while – and since other people usually see INFJs as extroverts, this can leave them both surprised and concerned.”

Monkey mind

In the second part of the Buddhist Geeks podcast — this one focused on contemplative computing — Pang talks about how he started asking digitally connected monks and nuns how they manage to spend hours online without it becoming a distraction. He says:

Universally, they turned the question around: ‘Why is it that you think the distraction comes from the technology?’ And their argument was actually the monkey mind is a far greater engine of distraction than any external technology, and that once you understand that spending hours playing video poker or watching cats on YouTube is not just a kind of inevitable consequence of human evolution…but rather probably reflects other kinds of disatisfactions in our lives rather than reflects a love of shiny, blinking Internet things, once you see that, then the problem resolves itself. It may not be a kind of position that everyone can take ,but I think it is a really powerful one. Ultimately, what the argument is that that distraction does not come from technology, distractions comes from within. You deal with it the way you deal with distractions for the last 2,500 years…

Later in the podcast, Pang talks about potential ways of fighting back against the distractions. It’s an interesting listen, if you have the time.

What’s your take on technology and distraction, information and emptiness? I would love to hear how you negotiate the digital world in relation to your various practices.

(Graphic credit: “Rip Tide” via rkag’s Flickr photostream)

Don’t worry, ghee happy

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When my alarm went off at 3 a.m. yesterday, I gradually came to and inside my head I sort of heard Bobby McFerrin humming “Don’t worry, ghee happy.”

Must be cleanse time.

Last October I went through my first Ayurvedic cleanse, the transformative effects of which I’ve written about quite a bit on this blog. In April, I went through my second cleanse and realized how much had changed in six short months — my habits and cravings would have been unrecognizable to my former self.

And here we are, my third cleanse. I decided that given my my long apanic summer, I wanted to do a slightly longer cleanse this time. So rather than the four- or five-day main cleanse of ghee in the morning followed by three meals of kitchari, I’m doing seven days. For one thing, it means bigger doses of ghee than I have done in the past — and the cumulative effects of all this means that I need even more down time this time around, especially in the first half of the day, when I have been especially tired (the second half of these past few days have felt fine, which is interesting).

I was surprised that I was able to give up snacking after the first cleanse. And totally renovated the contents of my pantry and fridge, booting foods that worked against me.

What I wasn’t able to do was to stop multitasking while eating meals — but a year out, this new habit of just eating while eating has started to stick. I’ve also been a lot better about being outside with nature and taking walks; the evening walks I take with my husband are such special times for me.

Another big change I have noticed is that since my miscarriage and since I have spent more time on the cushion in a daily meditation practice, I have finally started to genuinely invite more spaciousness into my life. My calendar is still crazy, but I feel less boxed in by it all. And I routinely make the choice to not to something if I absolutely don’t have to do it — with more frequent blogging being one of the chief habits I’ve let go of. I miss it, don’t get me wrong, and at any given time, I probably have two or three ideas for posts floating around in my head. But I’ve keenly felt how much more valuable even 20 or 30 minutes of quiet time are to my psyche.

It’s a work in process for sure, but it is probably the first time in my life that I feel I have the right tools to help me slow down. Since high school, probably, I’ve always said I wanted a less hectic schedule, but I never knew how to make that happen, and maybe I was not fundamentally open enough to the concept either. Now I feel like I naturally gravitate toward space and quiet.

A few articles have been making the social media rounds lately that espouse the benefits of stepping back:

And for the people who grind in the communications world, there is this new post on 10 ways you know you’re working too much. No. 10:

10. You’re at a major league sporting event, supposedly enjoying the game, but are instead coming up with “Ways you know you spend too much time working” blog posts.

So I admit that I am at a Detroit Tigers game right now as I wrap this post up. I wrote most of it on the drive here, as my husband drove. I know, with five tablespoons of ghee down the hatch this morning, I should probably be doing my wind down to bed right now. But it’s the post-season, and this was the only game against the Boston Red Sox my husband and I could make. So I edited the rest of my day to try to accommodate this quality time with my husband.

Like I said, making space for spaciousness and down time is a work in progress. I may not be going to bed, but my phone will be hitting the sack as soon as I hit “publish.”

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

From halahala to challah . . . and more challah!

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The photo doesn’t do it justice, but it felt like the challah was giving me a big hug. If that’s not comfort food, I don’t know what is.

A work drain triggered my needing some emotional nourishment today. I found it in a loop of self-practice that began with meditation and the opening invocation of the ashtanga practice and continued with comfort food in the form of a delicious vegetarian sandwich made with out of this world challah bread. I couldn’t help but think of this nourishing loop as exhaling halahala and inhaling . . . challah! :-) (Sorry, I really couldn’t resist — in the same exact way I couldn’t resist this sandwich.)

On the restorative front, it helped that I had the chance to eat dinner outside, with the sun warming my skin — something we do not take for granted here in Michigan, because you never know when spring and summer may mean overcast, chilly (for me, anyway) days. My husband and I had never eaten at Marie Catrib’s of Grand Rapids, but I had heard rave reviews from friends.

The restaurant has a focus on local farms, and it offers plenty of vegan and vegetarian fare. Why the menu was particularly exciting to me now is that fresh off of plowing through Salt Sugar Fat and The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I am now listening to the audiobook of — thanks to the suggestion of Omiya — Jonthan Safran Foer’s Eating Animals.

This is the book description:

Like many others, Jonathan Safran Foer spent his teenage and college years oscillating between omnivore and vegetarian. But on the brink of fatherhood—facing the prospect of having to make dietary choices on a child’s behalf—his casual questioning took on an urgency. This quest ultimately required him to visit factory farms in the middle of the night, dissect the emotional ingredients of meals from his childhood, and probe some of his most primal instincts about right and wrong.

This book is what he found. Brilliantly synthesizing philosophy, literature, science, memoir, and his own detective work, Eating Animals explores the many stories we use to justify our eating habits—folklore and pop culture, family traditions and national myth, apparent facts and inherent fictions—and how such tales can lull us into a brutal forgetting. (Here’s an excerpt of this 2010 2009 book.)

It’s a perfect time for me to be reading this book. Nourishment — of all kinds — is what I’m thinking about most these days, and while it has been nourishing to dive deeply into the stories these books have to tell, there can be a bit of what I think of as shitty food fatigue. Even more than with The Omnivore’s Dilemma, I find myself, as I get deeper into this book, questioning why I ate such crap for so long — and what exactly got me to quit. I recently hashed out my meat thoughts, but perhaps what I have thinking about even more of late is the vibration of the food — both meat and dead and denatured processed food — I ate all those years and the effect it was having on me.

To be a bit more concise than I was in the last blog post, perhaps what ultimately got me to stop desiring meat in particular was that the combination of the six-day-a-week ashtanga practice, the daily meditation practice, and the Ayurveda program got me quiet enough and receptive enough to tune in to the vibration of the meat and the eggs I was eating. The scale of the animal suffering experienced in factory farms is so immense that I simply don’t believe the final products that arrive on our plates can escape it. The vibrations have to transfer on some level, right? But it’s easy to build a protective wall of avoidance and denial to block that kind of information from seeping in. (As I’ve said, I think my days of enthusiastically eating seafood are numbered too, but there are a few reasons I’m sticking with it for the moment.)

Never yuck someone else’s yum (yucking your own is OK though)

Eat Taste Heal reminds its reads of the vegetarian etiquette: “Never yuck someone else’s yum!” I’m not at all trying to do that; this is about coming to terms with my decades-long lack of mindfulness about what I’ve put into my body. I think it’s perfectly legit to yuck on my own past yums, and I’ve been finding that deconstructive process informative and even a bit cathartic. The flip side of this deconstruction — and the shitty food fatigue that can accompany it — is the constructive process of cooking in my own kitchen and seeking out establishments that are passionate about having guiding principles (farm to table/vegetarian-friendly/gluten-free/etc.) that look beyond the easy formulation of salt, sugar and fat to amp up a diner’s dish — not to mention the restaurant’s bottom line.

So when I have a wild rice and lentil burger patty on the most delicious piece of challah I can ever remember having, it’s about a lot more than ingesting fuel for my body or lighting up my taste buds. It’s about supporting an overall practice of nourishment.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

 

A time to digest

Eat Taste Heal

These days, it feels like I’m ingesting more information about food than I seem to be ingesting food itself — which is a good trend for me, considering that portion control had been a major challenge for quite some time. Thanks to the genius design of ashtanga’s six-day-a-week practice (I mean, is there anything that maintaining this practice can’t help with?) and thanks to discovering the wisdom of Ayurveda, I finally feel like I’m eating what my body signals is enough food, rather than what my emotions felt was enough food — two very different scales, for sure.

At the same time, I’m awash in outstanding books on Ayurvedic cooking and on journalistic examinations into America’s sick and broken food system:

  • During a recent weekend getaway to celebrate our first anniversary, my husband and I picked up a classic to add to my growing collection of Ayurveda books — Ayurvedic Cooking for Self-Healing by Usha Lad & Dr. Vasant Lad.
  • For my birthday, my sister Alisa bought me Eat Taste Heal: An Ayurvedic Cookbook for Modern Livinga gorgeous and brilliant execution of a cookbook that offers up recipes and then notes recommended modifications for people of different doshas. The recipe for roasted leek and fennel bisque, for instance, says that pitta-types should omit the walnuts, and that kapha-types should substitute eggplant for fennel and soy milk for cream.
  • I finished Michael Moss’s Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us a couple months ago, and now I’ve moved on to the audiobook of The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan, the national bestseller published back in 2006 that I’ve long been interested in but somehow never got around to read.

Dear journalist: What should I eat?

I love that from the get-go, Pollan writes that “Industrial food is food for which you need an investigative journalist to tell you where it came from.”

That reminds me that one of my favorite non-fiction books that I read in my 20s was Fast Food Nation. Yet somehow, reading that book wasn’t enough to spur any lasting dietary changes at the time. I mean, yes, OK, I had tried, in my 20s, to change my eating habits:

  • I tried to avoid some of the worst menu items at fast-food places, but I would still eat at fast-food joints from time to time (and I still craved the saltiness of McDonald’s french fries, even though Fast Food Nation’s accounts of how they are made should have disabused me of that).
  • I had a terrible experience at a Chinese restaurant in college and gave up pork on the spot (the bad experience was a plate of sweet and sour pork, and the pork tasted too . . . fleshy. It felt like an unhappy animal had died unhappily and had been prepared by an unhappy restaurant worker).
  • After college, I gave up poultry because I had read about the horrific conditions on poultry farms.
  • And eventually, I gave up red meat because I thought I should, for health reasons. (I always kept eating seafood.)

I made managed to make it a few years of not eating pork, poultry or red meat. But eventually, as my energy levels continued to be compromised and as my hair continued to thin — clumps would fall out whenever I washed my hair — I decided I needed to return to eating meat. My body was telling me that I was missing something crucial. I had been a lazy pescatarian, so I didn’t do any research about what I should do to balance out my diet. And one day, while driving, I had a vision of a hamburger. I figured my body was trying in a big way to signal to me that I needed to change something, so I started eating meat again, and I came back with a vengeance — even venturing, when offered, to try pate and veal. (I regret both choices to this day.)

This time, it’s different.

Another interesting thing happened — again, while driving — a few months ago. It was still the dark of winter, and I was headed one early morning to the yoga shala.

I ran over a rabbit.

He jetted out from the side of the highway and there wasn’t much I could do. But I felt terrible. Just simply awful. Sick to my stomach. I told myself that if I had been more alert, I could have avoided him somehow.

For whatever reason, I gave up meat that day. It’s not like I have ever eaten rabbit and felt pangs of guilt. But there was something so visceral about running over this little creature that connected me to the experience of eating meat that I decided it was finally time to give up eating those forms of flesh. (I haven’t been able to eat poultry for quite some time, and I barely ate pork and red meat anyway, but I pledged to go meat-free entirely that day.) I’m content to continue eating seafood at the moment — for now, my body is telling me that all that protein and those omega-3s are serving me well — but I could easily see there coming a day when I give that up as well.

So I am back to where I was some 15 years ago, once again going the pescatarian route. This time, however, I have a good feeling about these habits sticking. It’s not that I’m more informed, necessarily — even though I am. It’s that I have a consistent ashtanga and meditation practice — along with my Ayurveda program — to ground me, and to connect me to my intuition about what’s beneficial and what’s not. I think part of what didn’t allow my first go-around, in my 20s, to be successful was that I didn’t have any practices that kept me in tune with my intuition. Working the long hours that I did, living with the stress that I lived with both at work and at home, I kept drifting farther and farther from my sense of self. I was able to build up a thick coating of justifications for bad habits (“This microwaveable meal isn’t all that bad for me!” “This vending machine snack will be exactly what I need to get through until I get home” and so on). It’s a vicious cycle, and the thicker that coating, the harder it is to return to a state of mindful living.

I’m so very grateful to be where I am at now. While I still have a lot of work to do, I know it’s work in the right direction. I didn’t blog much about the spring Ayurvedic cleanse that I went through in April (I simply didn’t have the time), but the long and the short of it is that I felt digestive bliss for the first time during that cleanse.

By digestive bliss, I mean that I felt nothing. I didn’t feel discomfort after meals. My old friend acid reflux stayed at bay. In our asana practice, we know about sthira sukham asanam — about poses feeling steady and comfortable. For the first time, I think, I felt that way about my digestive system. The feeling of not feeling an out-of-balanced digestive system was refreshing — and surprising. That that state was a possibility was so deeply inspiring that I think it will help serve as a compass for times down the road when I will want to be tempted by less-than-advisable choices on the consumption front.


The Smart Fitter blog, which I’m a fan of, today posted on Facebook a piece about Michael Pollan in which he says, “Cooking is a political act.” The deeper I get into all this food stuff, the more I have to agree. (I wonder if it’s possible that that’s one many of the reasons why, over the past few months, I’ve been enjoying cooking at home exponentially more than I ever have in the past? 😉 )

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content

Why I’m addicted to ‘The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food’

There is a Tumblr devoted to photos of vending machines located in print newspaper buildings, and it reminds me that between graduate school and most of my career doing the daily grind, I ate far too many snacks and pseudo-meals out of vending machines like these:

“I work at a famous American newspaper,” the Tumblr creator explains. “In September 2011, the snack machine went from ‘bland but respectable’ to ‘where flavors go to die.’ Here, I will depict the fall of print journalism through the plummeting quality of newspaper snack machine offerings.” This is endlessly hilarious — and accurate — if you’ve worked in a newsroom.

The cover story in today’s The New York Times Magazine called “The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food” reminded me about my sad culinary habits of years past, and it reminds me of two main observations I’ve noticed over the past three weeks:

  • Even though I’m now fully on the Ayurveda eating program — as noted in “Life after Sriracha: Transforming my eating habits with Ayurveda” — I’ve been working 11-, 12-hour days and weekends over the past two or three weeks, and the stress level has been pretty damn high. Here’s the thing: Anxious and exhausted, my cravings totally reverted to my pre-Ayurveda days. I’ve been craving carbs — oh, those salty snacks in the afternoon — and chocolate. In a couple short weeks, my few months of retraining my taste buds to crave whole grains and the like can’t seem to fight my ingrained habit of turning to salty and sugary snacks in times of stress.
  • It is so incredibly hard to find food that’s not ridiculously processed, not full of carbs and not full of sodium and empty calories. Coffee shops — even the good ones — offer croissants, wraps, banana nut bread. Conveniently packaged snacks that are healthy to boot? I have to go to make a specific trip to a natural food store to find those.

This article by Pulitzer Prize-winning Times investigative reporter Michael Moss, which is based on book called Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us coming out later this month, details in striking detail how we got to this point in this country.

Here’s a bit about the snack industry’s “bliss point” calculations:

The military has long been in a peculiar bind when it comes to food: how to get soldiers to eat more rations when they are in the field. They know that over time, soldiers would gradually find their meals-ready-to-eat so boring that they would toss them away, half-eaten, and not get all the calories they needed. But what was causing this M.R.E.-fatigue was a mystery. “So I started asking soldiers how frequently they would like to eat this or that, trying to figure out which products they would find boring,” [food-industry legend Howard] Moskowitz said. The answers he got were inconsistent. “They liked flavorful foods like turkey tetrazzini, but only at first; they quickly grew tired of them. On the other hand, mundane foods like white bread would never get them too excited, but they could eat lots and lots of it without feeling they’d had enough.”

This contradiction is known as “sensory-specific satiety.” In lay terms, it is the tendency for big, distinct flavors to overwhelm the brain, which responds by depressing your desire to have more. Sensory-specific satiety also became a guiding principle for the processed-food industry. The biggest hits — be they Coca-Cola or Doritos — owe their success to complex formulas that pique the taste buds enough to be alluring but don’t have a distinct, overriding single flavor that tells the brain to stop eating.

Moskowitz worked on a big Dr Pepper campaign:

Finding the bliss point required the preparation of 61 subtly distinct formulas — 31 for the regular version and 30 for diet. The formulas were then subjected to 3,904 tastings organized in Los Angeles, Dallas, Chicago and Philadelphia. The Dr Pepper tasters began working through their samples, resting five minutes between each sip to restore their taste buds. After each sample, they gave numerically ranked answers to a set of questions: How much did they like it overall? How strong is the taste? How do they feel about the taste? How would they describe the quality of this product? How likely would they be to purchase this product?

Moskowitz’s data — compiled in a 135-page report for the soda maker — is tremendously fine-grained, showing how different people and groups of people feel about a strong vanilla taste versus weak, various aspects of aroma and the powerful sensory force that food scientists call “mouth feel.” This is the way a product interacts with the mouth, as defined more specifically by a host of related sensations, from dryness to gumminess to moisture release. These are terms more familiar to sommeliers, but the mouth feel of soda and many other food items, especially those high in fat, is second only to the bliss point in its ability to predict how much craving a product will induce.

In addition to taste, the consumers were also tested on their response to color, which proved to be highly sensitive. “When we increased the level of the Dr Pepper flavoring, it gets darker and liking goes off,” Reisner said. These preferences can also be cross-referenced by age, sex and race.

On Page 83 of the report, a thin blue line represents the amount of Dr Pepper flavoring needed to generate maximum appeal. The line is shaped like an upside-down U, just like the bliss-point curve that Moskowitz studied 30 years earlier in his Army lab. And at the top of the arc, there is not a single sweet spot but instead a sweet range, within which “bliss” was achievable. This meant that Cadbury could edge back on its key ingredient, the sugary Dr Pepper syrup, without falling out of the range and losing the bliss. Instead of using 2 milliliters of the flavoring, for instance, they could use 1.69 milliliters and achieve the same effect. The potential savings is merely a few percentage points, and it won’t mean much to individual consumers who are counting calories or grams of sugar. But for Dr Pepper, it adds up to colossal savings. “That looks like nothing,” Reisner said. “But it’s a lot of money. A lot of money. Millions.”

The soda that emerged from all of Moskowitz’s variations became known as Cherry Vanilla Dr Pepper, and it proved successful beyond anything Cadbury imagined. In 2008, Cadbury split off its soft-drinks business, which included Snapple and 7-Up. The Dr Pepper Snapple Group has since been valued in excess of $11 billion.

It’s been years since I drank soda on a regular basis, but when I did, Diet Dr Pepper was one of my preferred.

Have you ever had Cheetos?

To get a better feel for their work, I called on Steven Witherly, a food scientist who wrote a fascinating guide for industry insiders titled, “Why Humans Like Junk Food.” I brought him two shopping bags filled with a variety of chips to taste. He zeroed right in on the Cheetos. “This,” Witherly said, “is one of the most marvelously constructed foods on the planet, in terms of pure pleasure.” He ticked off a dozen attributes of the Cheetos that make the brain say more. But the one he focused on most was the puff’s uncanny ability to melt in the mouth. “It’s called vanishing caloric density,” Witherly said. “If something melts down quickly, your brain thinks that there’s no calories in it . . . you can just keep eating it forever.”

All I can say is that I’m quite grateful I’ve found Ayurveda as a method for short-circuiting the types of highly programmed eating habits described here. The magazine piece is well worth the time to read, and I can’t wait for the book’s release.

Shout out, by the way, to Michael Moss, who spent four years reporting the book that this magazine piece is based on. A reporter at the Wall Street Journal at the time, he was one of my favorites instructors at Columbia J-School. I learned a lot of subtle and important lessons from him, and I still remember that he took the time to sit on a campus bench one day to talk to me about why I had decided to go to graduate school in journalism, and what I had hoped to do post-graduation. I couldn’t have predicted then that Ashtanga yoga and blogging would eventually be such an important part of my life, but unlike our apparent collective, calculated taste for junk food, some things simply aren’t that predictable.

the-extraordinary-science-of-junk-food

[Graphic credit: Cover of the Feb. 24, 2013 edition of The New York Times Magazine]

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2013. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

 

 

Life after Sriracha: Transforming my eating habits with Ayurveda

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Goodbye, coffee. Hello, teaccino. THe great Ayurvedic food switch.

The last in an occasional series on what I’ve done to change my eating habits. (I mean, I’ll still be writing about food, but I think I’m done writing about the *transition*.) You can read about the original cleanse I did, about my holiday snapshot, and about the day I realized I could no longer go on eating the way I was eating. Before all this, there was the celiac test — and remember my mystery meat adventures?


Five years ago, an endoscopy told me that I needed to cut out coffee, other forms of caffeine, and chocolate. I said no effing way to nixing coffee and chocolate, and soldiered on, eating in ways that I knew aggravated my condition. In the last couple of months, desperate to find lasting relief, I turned to Ayurveda. (If Ayurveda is new to you, I think this Q-and-A with Dr. Vasant Lad provides a great overview.)

I was surrendering to this ancient Indian system of health and well-being for two main reasons. The first was practical: My condition was worsening, and my prescription for Nexium (which I had learned from trial and error was the only medication that worked for me) was getting prohibitively expensive because my health insurance company didn’t cover it.

The second reason had to do with knowing that what I was consuming was affecting my yoga practice. I could continue to refine my physical practice, but I knew I would eventually hit a subtle but important wall created by eating habits that cause frequent digestive discomfort — which of course affects my body and my mind.

Is anybody listening?

I went through my first-ever cleanse in October. It was a group cleanse of mostly Ann Arbor-based yogis and led remotely via Google+ Hangouts by Kate O’Donnell of Ayurveda Boston. I felt great at the end of the cleanse, and it seemed like a bad idea to return to my old eating habits. I learned a lot during the private consultation I did with Kate at the end of the cleanse. I learned, for instance, about the concept of perverted cravings. Every time I reach for my coveted bottle of Sriracha thinking that’s what my body is craving, it was instead what my dosha — pitta dosha — was craving. That intuition I thought I had about listening to my body wasn’t in tune enough. I was listening alright, but my dosha was stealing the stage by being much louder and more demanding. Part of the work these two months since starting a new way of eating has had to do with learning *what* to listen to. I had to quiet down the dosha to listen to my body’s wisdom.

You’re kidding, right?

Halfway through our first consultation, I thought this project was doomed. I was being told that two of the most important things to avoid are:

  • Coffee
  • Spicy food
I heart Sriracha tee

My husband bought me this for my birthday this year. It’s one of my favorite tees.

These first two no-nos out of the gate were devastating to hear. I’m the “I love Sriracha” girl — I own the T-shirt and everything. My mother is Thai, and I can throw down with the best of the burn, baby, burn foodies I know. I put some form of hot sauce or red pepper flakes on virtually everything I eat, from eggs and sandwiches to salads and rice dishes. I would have voluntarily given up coffee if I could have kept spicy food.
That’s just the beginning, though. During this consultation, I found out all the other stuff I should also start avoiding (and you’ll see my play-by-play reaction):

  • Eggplant (Cool! I hardly ever eat eggplants in any form, so this works.)
  • Tomatoes, onion and garlic — and therefore, salsa (Um, total downer. I probably eat tomatoes and salsa every week.)
  • Bell peppers, especially green ones (I buy every other time I’m at the store, but OK, I can cut this out.)
  • White potatoes (Bummer, but OK.)
  • Citrus fruits (Not terrible, since I don’t eat a ton of them anyway, although I rather like clementines.)
  • Hard cheeses, such as parmesan (Wow. That sucks. A lot. I love parmesan. What’s not to love about it? I don’t eat a ton of it, but it’s such a treat when I do pick some up.)
  • Fried foods (Not such a bad thing. I already avoid much of it anyway.)
  • Stimulants of any kind (that includes caffeine, white sugar, energy drinks, sweets, chocolate and alcohol). (I knew this one already, so OK.)
  • Charred foods (Bummer again. That’s my favorite way to eat grilled stuff in the summer.)
  • Pickles (OK, now that’s going too far. I’m going to have my pickles taken away too?)

I love onion and garlic. I love salsa. Bye, bye and adios. I just recently found the best spicy pickles I’ve ever tasted. Bye to that too.

Hello morning cup of faux Joe

The good news? Kate worked with me to find a new habit to replace each of the old habits. And she told me that the cravings will begin to abate, once I start down this path. I’ve found this to be true so far.

These days, I drink Teeccino in place of coffee. It’s a caffeine-free herbal coffee sold in bags that look and feel just like coffee bags (somehow, this is important to me). I thought I would hate it, but I actually really dig how it smells. And I’ve come to realize that what I need in the morning more than anything is that warm beverage to hold and sip as I acclimate myself to the demands of a new day. Don’t get me wrong: I miss coffee, and some days I miss it like crazy (and I do let myself have an ounce or two every couple of weeks). What I don’t miss is how bad I would sometimes feel after a couple cups of coffee in the morning.

Rather than lather on the Sriracha or other hot sauce, I load up with spices like cumin, coriander and tumeric. I still look longingly at the Sriracha bottles I have at my office and at home, thinking perhaps one day I’ll be able to be reunited with my beloved. I miss my spicy food (I normally ordered “hot” on the hot scale at Thai restaurants, and I am quite fond of all the Thai spices) far more than I miss my coffee.

For now, I have to be content with being a member of the Sriracha fan club, even though I can’t actually indulge in the potent stuff.

After the consultation, I made over my pantry and fridge, stocking them with stuff that’s better for me, like:

  • Grains like quinoa, rice, beans
  • Sprouted-grain wraps
  • Coriander and cilantro
  • Coconut milk, coconut oil for cooking, and coconut water
  • Licorice tea, peppermint tea, fennel tea
  • Pomegranate juice, cranberry juice
  • Plums, prunes, pears
  • Dates
  • Apples and grapes

No Xanax required

We talked about pitta types and their fire of intellect, excitement and motivation. They are go-getters, but the other side of the coin is that they overbook and take on too many projects. I might know a thing or two about overbooking.

For this reason, part of the program is working on reducing the intensity of my day, especially at mealtimes. I’m not supposed to eat while doing something else. In two months, I think I’ve managed this one time. Once. I’ve eaten while sitting at my desk and multitasking for so long that I barely know how to instill this new habit. (The habit started as a newspaper reporter, I used to have to eat while driving to an assignment.) If I’m able to actually relax while eating — well, I’m usually talking to someone or reading. I’m also supposed to take a walk every day, around the same time if possible. In two months, I’ve done this zero times.

I thought the other principles of Ayurveda — not snacking between meals, and following the food protocol to balance out your doshas — would have been the hardest changes to make. Turns out the stuff that helps de-intensifying your day has been the hardest to achieve. These changes are on my to-do list for 2013.

Daily practice

Bathroom counter

I picked up some great habits from the cleanse that I still do daily. I start my day out with the neti pot and a tongue scraper. I also rub almond oil on my skin every day when I shower (the more traditional choice seems to be sesame oil, but I am allergic to sesame seeds and derivatives). Your skin is your largest organ, and doing this has not only helped my incredibly dry skin — the practice of abhyanga makes me feel calmer on some level. (I think I’ve mentioned before that other benefits include helping me get into garbha pindasana without a spray bottle. :-) )

Food for thought

At the end of that first consultation session, Kate said something that turned my whole attitude around. The good news about the way I am eating, she said, is that I am creating the problem.

Accepting that I need to give up some of the foods I love the most could have been one big pity/pitta party, but now I see it for the exciting project that it is. Because if there’s one things pitta-types seem to excel at, it’s taking on a new challenge to tackle. Life after Sriracha? I can do this.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original conte

Eating your way through the holidays, with a little help from Ayurveda

When I saw the new holiday KFC commercial the other night, I realized it sort of represents everything that’s wrong about how Americans eat. In it, a man sits between two women who are gossiping obnoxiously and loudly. “Find some peace this holiday,” the narrator says, as the man reaches for fried chicken, hands a piece to each of the women, and sits back and enjoys one himself, content that he is able to eat in silence. In the next scene, this same man is sitting in between two fighting children. He gives a cookie to each kid, which works like a charm — a pacifier to lull them into stillness. At the end of the commercial, which is for the chain’s “Festive Feast,” KFC’s tag line, “Today tastes so good,” comes on.

Pretty apt, I think. Today might taste good, but what about tomorrow? Eating as a coping mechanism (I’ve been there) eventually creates another lifestyle problem we have to cope with (I’ve been there too, resulting in some serious acid reflux).

There’s no shortage of examinations of how fat people have become, and the holiday season is a perfect time to reflect on our eating habits, because I think it all comes out — eating badly for social reasons (holiday get-togethers), eating badly for emotional reasons (depression, anxiety, etc.), eating badly for practical reasons (no time), and on and on.

Aparna Khanolkar did a podcast a few years ago on how to eat stress-free during the holidays, based on an Ayurvedic diet. Listen to it here.

I did an Ayurvedic cleanse in the fall followed by a consultation to work on my particular issues. In the weeks since, I’ve reprogrammed how I eat. Below are a few snapshots of how my eating habits have changed.

Dinner now: It’s after hours as I start to write this post at my office desk. I knew I would be staying late today, so I packed a meal instead of waiting to get home to eat (even though there’s a delicious holiday loaf of cherry walnut sourdough bread at home that I would love to pick at). In the Ayurvedic system, it’s advised to eat earlier in the day, when our digestion is stronger, so I cooked some rainbow chard and packed up some of my go-to white bean hummus.

Dinner then: I used to eat as late as 10 p.m. I learned along the way that eating that late was one of the factors that prevented me from getting up at 5:30 a.m. to practice yoga.


Chocolate now: Our office is littered with boxes of chocolate sent in by clients and friends (believe me, I’m not complaining about this). I love chocolate, and although I’ve cut down substantially over the past year, I still enjoy it. After I finished my dinner just now, I treated myself to a few pieces from a popular local chocolatier.

Chocolate then: Last year around this time, I was snacking on a piece here and a piece there as the day went on. But a habit I picked up during the fall cleanse was to not snack; if I’m going to eat sweets, I try to roll it up into a meal rather than snack in between meals.

Why? Ayurveda expert Dr. Vasant Lad answers that question in a MindBodyGreen interview:

Q: Some dietitians advise to eat small meals every 2-3 hours to keep metabolism high and to prevent blood sugar from plummeting. Ayurveda says that snacking is not healthy and advises to stick to 3 complete meals a day. Why is snacking bad according to Ayurveda?

A: The reason is very simple. For example if you are cooking kicheri (Basmati rice and lentils), you take some rice, lentils, and put them in the water to boil. But then instead of letting kicheri cook, as soon as the water starts boiling you add more rice and more lentils, and then again in 5 minutes you add more raw ingredients. If you keep doing this over and over again, kicheri will never be cooked. It is a good analogy to think about when we think about digestion – our internal cooking. Agni ( gastric fire) has to be strong to digest food. Three meals a day: a light breakfast, lunch as the main meal; and a light dinner allow for an easy digestion process. Constant munching might lead to overload on the digestive fire (agni) and slow it down. As a result, the food will not be digested properly and you will get a heavy bloated feeling in the stomach.

People who’s digestion is overtaxed often have a white buttery coating on the tongue. It is a sign of toxins in the body. Another sign is unclear foggy mind and bad breath. Ayurveda says that constant munching builds up toxins (AMA) in the body. Eating before a prior meal is digested will slow down Agni, weaken metabolism, and will lead to weight gain. This why Ayurveda says that three meals a day is ideal for a healthy digestion and proper assimilation of nutrients. This Ayurvedic approach to diet and lifestyle is very basic but it creates radical and profound changes in the body, mind and consciousness.


Coffee now: I don’t. Well, OK, I mostly don’t. I allow myself a few ounces of coffee once every couple of weeks.

Coffee then: My coffee consumption has varied over the years. At my worst, I was probably drinking two to three cups a day. It’s been a little hard to say no to coffee all the time, especially during this time of year, when it feels dark all the time, when I’m naturally more tired, and when coffee shops bust out with tempting flavors that involve peppermint and white chocolate.


Eating out now: I really enjoy eating out, and so far this holiday season, it seems I’ve been eating out quite a bit, thanks to a mix of work meetings, holiday parties and chances to meet up with friends. I’ve noticed, though, that eating out too many meals in a row does leave me feeling a little heavier and a little less energetic overall, probably because I’m in less control of what I consume.

Eating out then: The more the merrier.


To take us out, how about a little Gorillaz? It’s hard not to think about the misshapen world of processed food when I listen to “Superfast Jellyfish”:

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

“Why is there a tongue scraper in our bathroom?” — and other adventures in trying my first Ayurvedic cleanse

Ghee and tea, oh my

For the past week, my husband has put up with more of my yogi ways than usual around our house. The other night he came out of our downstairs bathroom and asked very matter-of-factly: “What is a tongue scraper?”

I explained that I had bought the tongue scraper now housed in the bathroom because scraping your tongue in the morning is part of the 10-day Ayurvedic fall cleanse I’m participating in.

He didn’t ask me any more questions after that — although I’ve kept him more informed than he probably wants to be about the morning ghee protocol, the evening oil massage, and the castor oil purgation to come.

This is my first-ever cleanse. I’ve always been weary of cleanses, because most of the ones I’ve been told about have instructions that boil down to: Don’t eat, take these supplements and stay close to a bathroom for two days. Thanks, but no thanks.

I was much more intrigued when the opportunity to participate in this cleanse came up, since it’s based on the principles of Ayurveda. Sweetening the pot even more was that I would not be doing this cleanse alone, but rather going through it with a group from Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor.

Ayurveda as a way of life

Kate O’Donnell of Ayurveda Boston, who provides Ayurvedic consultations (remotely if needed) and is leading our cleanse, describes Ayurveda this way on her website:

Ayurveda is not merely a system of medicine, it is a way of life.

Ayurveda originated in India more than 5,000 years ago and is the oldest continuously practiced health-care system in the world. Ayurveda is the science of nature, largely preventative medicine, enhancing self-awareness to help us make choices that support well-being. This system encourages us to catch imbalance before it begins to create disease.

We had a kickoff meeting last Friday evening, with Kate, who also teaches Ashtanga, joining us from Boston via a Google+ hangout. It was extremely helpful that she started out with the fundamentals. According to the principles of Ayurveda, toxins are stored in the body’s fat, because the fat’s not going anywhere. So the design of this fall cleanse — to de-gunk the body — is to get the body to start burning stored fat. How to do that? Well, start by not feeding the body any fat — which means eating only three non-fat meals a day (no snacking in between!) spaced far enough apart that the body goes into fat-burning mode.

And the cleanse addresses more than what we consume. There’s the morning neti pot and tongue-scraping. (See the Kiki Says video on the practice of scraping the tongue.) There’s also dry brushing and abhyanga, the art of the oil massage.

In short, this is not about weight loss. This is about flushing toxins, regaining an effective digestive system, and maybe even gaining a new lifestyle that’s balanced and supports well-being on the deepest levels.

Three tracks — and don’t be a fundamentalist

This cleanse was billed as one that you could do while still going about your daily routine — the third reason why I decided this was the cleanse I wanted to try. Kate was great about emphasizing that this is not the time to be a fundamentalist, and she offered three different “tracks” depending on how your life is going at the moment. In our cleanse manual, Kate writes:

The largest cause of dis‐ease is stress, so if you are uncomfortable or stressed out, you can always shorten the cleanse. The nervous system must be calm in order for the body to burn fat and remove toxins. There is no reason to force yourself to do anything. Use this time to explore yourself, not to give yourself a hard time.

Our group members all went through three days of a pre-cleanse together, in which we cut out caffeine, soy, dairy and meat. We focused on whole grains such as quinoa and rice, and on cooked greens and seasonal fruits and vegetables.

Then, people took different routes for the main cleanse:

  • Some stayed with the pre-cleanse diet for five days.
  • Others changed to a mono-diet of non-fat kitchari, the yogi comfort food of basmati rice, split mung beans, steamed vegetables and spices. Kitchari is very easy to digest.
  • Some opted for the full cleanse, which is the mono-diet but with the added component of taking warm ghee — clarified butter — in the morning. The idea with this version is that the ghee starts to permeate our tissues, dislodging toxins and bringing them down to the colon.

Some, like me, are doing a four-day main cleanse. Others are going for five.

‘Gheetotaler’

Organic gheeSo yeah, the ghee. I was waffling on whether to go the mono-diet route or the full cleanse with ghee, and in the end — thanks to my husband’s encouragement, actually — I went the ghee route. I’m really glad I did, because it turns out that I’ve been able to go about my daily business even with the ghee protocol. And shhh — I didn’t mind the teaspoons of warmed up ghee in the morning. (I don’t like it, but I don’t mind it either.) As my friend Tim (who has decided he is now a “gheetotaler”) described it, “It’s like taking in the essential spirit of the best bucket of popcorn you ever had.” Some in our group decided that the ghee is great with a ginger tea chaser (which is allowed in this cleanse).

Taking the plunge

Tonight, I’ll be taking the castor oil purge (!), which is the end of the main cleanse. That’s another first for me, as you can imagine — I’ve never even tried the castor oil bath that ashtangis are enamored of, much less ever ingested the stuff.

Bathroom counter

Part of the Ayurveda seasonal cleanse toolkit: neti pot, tongue scraper, dry brush (in back), sunflower oil. (Sesame oil is actually recommended for the oil massage, but I am allergic to the stuff.)

After that, it’ll be three days of a post-cleanse that’s similar to the pre-cleanse — and from there, return to what will hopefully be a new normal. I loved the pre-cleanse diet, and hope to start integrating more of those types of meals into my daily life. I already use the neti pot and I’m not adverse to incorporating the daily dry brushing and the tongue-scraping. (Not sure what my in-laws will think about all these new additions to the counter space when they visit next weekend, since they’ll be taking over that bathroom.) The oil massage does feel lovely, but it’s too time-consuming for me to do more than once in a while.

That said, I must admit that I am looking forward to drinking coffee and pomegranate oolong tea lattes again. I was surprised that I wasn’t really hungry during this cleanse — found it quite filling, in fact. Who could guess that I had the discipline to not snack. What it turns out I missed most were my drinks, like cranberry juice and almond-milk-based tea lattes.

Goodbye for now, rajas

Especially since this is my first cleanse, I can’t say enough how important it was to have a skilled cleanse leader in Kate — and to have the support of the group (we stayed connected through a Google group). A cleanse can bring up some intense emotions, and it’s helpful — and more fun — to go through it with friends.

During the pre-cleanse, my body was, as apparently happens to many people, achy. Since starting the ghee protocol, I have definitely felt the need to go slower — way slower — during my day (a very strange feeling for me to have!). Heading into the cleanse, Kate had cautioned us to only practice primary series during the cleanse, but said that some of us may need to do very abbreviated practices. (Turns out I was in the latter group — more than anything, my body has needed time to rest this week).

What’s been so interesting to me is that my mind has seemed quieter somehow during the main cleanse. If my head space were a college town, it feels like the end of the term, when students have all left for the break. While I do miss the rajas a bit — you should see how much I am putting off until next week — I have to admit that this is nice.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

 

52 weeks x 6 days a week* = !!!

Abacus via Generation X-Ray's Flickr

One year ago this week — as my Mt. Shasta yoga and hiking retreat wrapped up — I fully made my commitment to practicing six days a week. Has it been easy? Absolutely not. But the hardest part was starting, and I have to admit that since that initial establishment period, it’s not been as bad as I thought it might be. At this point, it’s simply part of my logistical calculus for each day.

I finally committed because I had reached a sort of practice purgatory in which the alternative seemed just as bad, if not worse: Wanting so badly to have a consistent practice but hitting daily walls of disappointments and bursts of frustration as evenings wore on and I realized that, once again, I would not be practicing. An hour to 90 minutes of practice a day six days a week seemed impossible when I wasn’t doing it, but equally impossible was living with the friction of wanting to practice and not being able to, day after day after day.

So I did it. Read more about my changes in perspective in my six-months-in status update. The post I wrote the last day of July, the night before this month’s first (of two) full moon, serves as, more or less, a one-year update.

It’s safe to say that getting on the mat to practice Ashtanga six days a week has been as big a game changer as discovering Ashtanga yoga in the first place.

2 a.m. – 3 hours = Not enough

The next level of my practice commitment, which started at the beginning of this week, is to start waking up at the brutal — for me — hour of 5:30 a.m. so that I can have at least 75 minutes to practice every morning. It’s been a rocky (read: total failure of a) start. I haven’t been able to get up at 5:30 a.m. even once this week, but I’m not giving up. Week 2 of attempts begins on Monday.

In case you’re concerned I’m beating up on myself, do know that I give myself loads of credit for, over the course of one year, turning back my typical bedtime by about two or three hours (1 a.m. or 2 a.m. –> 11 p.m. or so). I’ve been a night owl since childhood, so this has not been an easy pattern to reprogram. The progress isn’t enough for me to wake up before the sun rises, however; I’ve tried out various schedules, and about 7.5 hours of sleep seems to be my current minimum. One problem is that I get home so late that an earlier bedtime would mean very little — 30 minutes, in some cases — down time between getting home and going to bed.

We’ll see how it goes. I will, of course, keep you posted.

104 weeks x 6 days a week = ?

Exactly one year ago today, I was blogging from McCloud, Calif., about my struggles with food. I eat better these days, but now I’ve hit a sort of consumption purgatory. My tastes have changed dramatically, but my access to the types of food I want to eat has not kept pace. Living in the middle of the Mitten State, if I want, say, pesto quinoa, I have to make it myself or call up my friend Lissy and sweet talk her into whipping up her special dish. While Lissy is a doll and would totally do this for me, I can’t exactly bug her weekly.

Now that we have left apartment life behind and are living in a house with a welcoming kitchen, my husband and I have committed to learning, together, how to cook. We have a weekly weekend date night in which we prepare our own food, and on weeknights, I prepare our lunchtime bento boxes for the next day. I’ve also enjoyed geeking it out over learning more about ayurvedic concepts, even though sometimes I am bummed about what I find out.

For the past year, I’ve been trying — so that I feel better — to rid my body of toxins and less-than-healthy patterns. As of this month, I am still trying for myself, but also as a way to prepare my body to be eventually fit as a vehicle for another’s. As I start to think about what I put into my body, my mind and my spirit with this added intention, I’m beginning to see a subtle but important emphasis. I’m starting to realize that this practice isn’t just a practice designed to fit into a householder’s life — it’s a practice that can help you become more fit not just as a human being, but particularly as a householder.

David Robson of the Ashtanga Yoga Centre of Toronto has a blog post about the householder life — aka Ashtanga’s seventh series:

The Bhagavad Gita states, ‘One who outwardly performs his social duties but inwardly stays free is a yogi.’ We cannot practice detachment by avoiding life. If we haven’t made any real connections, what is there to detach from? Healthy relationships require a lot of work. If we can devote ourselves wholly to the work, without attachment to outcomes, we manifest our higher nature in the service of others.

If I didn’t practice Ashtanga, I don’t think I would ever be able to believe someone who told me that so much can change by simply stepping on a yoga mat more days than not, and connecting breath to movement during the time you’re on that mat.

Ekam FTW!

*The asterisk is in this post’s title is there for those who don’t practice six days a week and might not know how the traditional Ashtanga method works. Yes, it’s six days a week, with one day (traditionally Saturday) taken as rest, for, pretty much, your whole life. But take into account:

  • You also get moon days off (usually two a month, although this month, for example, it’s three — woo-hoo!).
  • Women can take up to the first three days of their menstrual cycle off (the “ladies’ holiday“).

For most of us, that’s still a tremendously daunting formula. But I now think of it this way: Getting up five days a week to go to an office job is just as daunting, if not more so. (And given how the American social safety net seems to be tattered, working five days a week seems as if it could be as much “for the rest of your life” as Ashtanga does.) Those of us who work in corporate America or environments close to it don’t get the option to only go to work when we feel like it — it’s five days a week, except for paid time off, sick days and the occasional professional development trip. For people with children or others who depend on them, it can become a 24/7 enterprise, with no built-in vacation time.

(Photo credit: Abacus via Generation X-Ray’s Flickr. Flickr Creative Commons FTW!) 

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Power to the pitta, plus a recipe for a delicious fig and date almond drink

Figs and dates soaked overnight in 1/2 cup of water.

Figs and dates soaked overnight in 1/2 cup of water.

As I’ve spent the past several weeks dumping, sorting, packing, moving and organizing to move from an apartment to a house, I’ve been on an ayurvedic jag. Maybe it’s that I’m drawn to the idea of reining in excess and imbalance. Maybe it’s that I want to start out on the right foot when it comes to cooking, now that I have a real kitchen. Maybe it’s because I’m coming up on a year of practicing six days a week, and it’s a natural shift.

Whatever the reason, I’ve been feeding this craving to learn more about India’s ancient medical/healing system by reading Robert Svoboda’s Ayurveda: Life, Health and Longevity and listening to Yoga Peeps podcasts on ayurveda. Thanks to being stuck late at the office on Friday, I started searching for more podcasts on ayurveda, since I had the place to myself, and discovered a 2009 Puja.net podcast featuring Aparna Khanolkar — an ayurvedic lifestyle and culinary coach in Santa Barbara — about how to eat stress-free during the holidays. At the end of that podcast, I still had more work to do, so I went on to one about people with dominant characteristics of the pitta dosha.

At fist blush, it seems I have a lot of characteristics of pitta (and a lot of vata too, but perhaps more pitta).

Here is how this blog describes the three:

  • Vata is the Queen of the three doshas (Vata, Pita, and Kapha) because she is main vehicle of transportation of energies. Vata is the manifestation of air and space (of the 5 elements) and is responsible for a wide variety of physiological functions that involve movement.
  • Pitta is the manifestation of fire and water. It governs digestion, metabolism and vision.
  • Kapha brings the stability and solidity of earth and water to the body/mind. Kapha is responsible for immune function, strength and vitality, lubrication and structure.

One of the most common traits I keep hearing about pitta folks: They’re organized and efficient — the type to make lists and stick to them. And they can get quite irritable when hungry.

All three of my sisters and I — and our mom too — are organized, efficient and make lists (sometimes, we even make lists of lists), and all four of us can go from fine to crazyfrustratedangryannoyedbecausewejustrealizeditisquitelateandwehaventhadachancetoeat in about three seconds flat. (By the way, if you’re more of a vata-type, here’s the Puja.net post on vata. If you’re kapha, here’s the post on that.) 

My sister Alisa has coined a brilliant term for our zero –> angry state when driven by hunger:

Hangry: That particular kind of anger that arises when hungry.

Our significant others know about it, our coworkers know about it, our friends know about it — and anyone who knows about it does whatever needs to be done to avoid it. At the small firm where I work, one of our interns summed it up by saying: “Don’t get the women of Martin Waymire angry — and if you do, bring food.”

The post recommends the following food for pitta-types:

  • Eat cooling foods such as cucumber, asparagus, broccoli, cauliflower, zucchini, peas, potatoes and leafy greens
  • Favor sweet ripe fruits such as blueberries, dark grapes, melons, pears, raisins, mangoes, figs, and coconut
  • Eat grains such as barley, basmati rice, wheat and quinoa
  • Avoid beets, carrots, eggplant, garlic, hot peppers, onions, spinach and tomatoes
  • Avoid sour or unripe fruits

Speaking of lists, I have about seven more things on the to-do list for today, and the sun is starting to set. So let me share the recipe — a first for YogaRose.net!) that accompanied this pitta blog post. It’s for a fig and date almond drink, which I made today.

Fig and date almond drink

Ingredients:

3 figs soaked in 1/2 cup water overnight
5 dates soaked with the figs
1 1/2 cups almond milk
1 tsp vanilla

Preparation:

Place all the ingredients in a blender and blended for 3 minutes. Serve chilled.

 

Fresh Almond Milk

Ingredients:
½ cup raw almonds
3 cups water

Preparation:
Soak the almonds in water overnight or in hot water for about 30 minutes. Peel the almonds. Grind it with water and till the almonds are blended finely. You may have to do this in two batches. Place a bowl on the counter and carefully pour the nut milk from the blender into the straining bag or a fine mesh strainer. Discard the almond meal and enjoy the milk in teas, or drinks.

 

(Source: Puja.net ayurveda blog post No. 5)

(Note: I bought almond milk. Don’t judge — it’s my first recipe for the blog. :) ) I had to go to three local grocery stores to find one with figs, but other than that, the recipe was a breeze (which is a requirement when you have my level of culinary skills). It combines two things I love — dates and almond milk — and one I like but rarely get to eat (the figs). While I really enjoyed the creamy and healthy concoction, it was on the thick side for me (most likely because I didn’t make my own almond milk). So I prepared a second batch that had 1 3/4 cups of almond milk rather than 1 1/2, and I blended it for a little longer. That suited me better, and I poured some of it into an espresso cup and slid it into the fridge, with the idea that I could save it for the next time I’m about to get hangry!

Happy Belly Happy SoulBy the way, the author of this recipe came out with a new book this year called Happy Belly Happy Soul: A Guide to Vedic Cooking that I’m ordering. It’s a $16.99 paperback on Amazon.com with 108 vegetarian recipes that the publisher pledges are easy to prepare. My body’s cravings have changed so tremendously over the past year (for example, I love quinoa, and I’ll take that over carbs just about any day, at this point) that I want to strike while the iron’s hot. Here’s to hoping that putting a cookbook in my virtual shopping cart will actually improve what I put into my real-life grocery carts.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2012. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to YogaRose.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.