[Mysore dispatch] First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice

I just finished taking my second shower of the day, which is enough to make you feel guilty when staying as a foreigner in a place where reliable running water is not a given. And it was a nice and hot shower, which is enough to make you feel really guilty, given what an all-out luxury having reliable, hot running water is around here.

Because I shared my shower with a bucket of laundry — and because my nervous system feels cleansed from this morning’s pre-practice meditation and, of course, from practice itself — I’m feeling quite refreshed as I get ready to head out for a meal that I could consider a second breakfast/late lunch/early dinner.

***

I love that in Mysore, ashtangis talk about having first breakfast, and often second breakfast, and/or lunch. But I don’t really hear anyone talking about dinner — late afternoon/early evening samosa or smoothie, maybe. But dinner? Not so much. When the first group of ashtangis are starting their practice at 4:15 a.m. local time. (4:30 a.m. shala time), it sort of puts a damper on a thriving dinner culture, unless it’s the evening before a rest day or a moon day.

***

Speaking of food, the Huffington Post recent ran this:

 Guy Sums Up How We All Feel While Watching You Instagram Your Precious Food

HuffPo food shot

My husband sent the piece to me because I am obnoxious about taking photos of food. And I don’t just take photos of my own dish — I’m like that woman reaching over the table, taking photos of my companions’ dishes too, like I did when my friend ordered this north Indian thali special the other day.

I mention this to say that I acknowledge that talking about how a practice room feels can be a lot like taking a picture of your dish — no one else is really to be able to savor it the same way, and you run the risk of . . . well, making people feel like this guy above. But I’m living my dream of practicing at KPYAYI, so I’m going to do it again today.

So, this morning, Sharath called out: “One more, 9 o’clock, small.”  I was the only shortie in the 9 a.m. group left waiting in the foyer, so I was up. Sharath motioned toward the practice spot on the tile right in front of his office door.

I loved the spot. It reminded me of something the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor blog recently addressed in a post about practicing by yourself:

Create a tight container. In the words of Iyengar teacher Paul Cabanis, the mind loves to be bound. Give yourself 90% of the time you think you need, and 90% of the space you think you need. Use these constraints to press your energy into a more concentrated stream.

I was hardly practicing by myself, but there was something to this concept of being a bit constrained while flowing with the big energy of the shala space. The room was steamy, and I was breathing with it.

My disorientation at the end of Monday’s practice inspired me to slow way down during yesterday’s practice, and it felt like I had finally settled into the room Tuesday. (By the way, as a post-script to that post, on Tuesday, Sharath didn’t have to tell me to slow down, and he had me catch. It felt sublime.)

I continued with the rhythm today, and it once again felt electric.

I’d write more, but it’s time to meet up with some friends for a chaser to my lovely first breakfast of upma.

 

>>More Mysore dispatches:

First breakfast, second shower, next electric practice
‘One more, 9 o’clock, small.’

How does Sharath know? And btw, where did my feet walk off to?
Since my first day at KPJAYI, I’ve found myself constantly wondering, “How does Sharath know?”

Pink kurta
One week into my month-long stay here, it seems obvious to me that a big part of coming here is not about the practice at all — it’s about seeing where our areas of density are in our life. It’s easy to spot when a tight shoulder is the obstacle to steady comfort in a pose. For some of us, it’s harder to spot our areas of density in our daily lives.

So familiar and yet . . . so familiar
In Mysore, it helps that even when I don’t know someone, I maybe know someone.

Rain down on me
No small part of what I hope to do in India is find a way to honor life and sit with loss. Back when I planned this trip, the most salient loss was my miscarriage from this summer. Having two friends take their own life in the past 30 days has amplified the grief.

Plugging my 120V self into this 220V space
When Sharath led my hands to my ankles in assisted dropbacks, I could feel my little 120V self had hit full charge.

#gratitude #possibilities
In my reflections today, I decided to try, in the spirit of noting arisings and passings in all things, to see if I can start each new day this year with the type of intention that I start New Year’s Day with each and every year. Toward that end, I’m quite grateful to get to start each day with the ashtanga yoga practice — that makes such a difference in being able to enter the rough and tumble with some equanimity.

Emptying the cup
‘It’s like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, stale water, it’s useless. Only when the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions — and then you will learn.’

#235, 8th Cross, an eternity and a blink of eye from my first ashtanga practice
This post is for all the home practitioners out there. Mysore is 10.5 hours off from home (9.5 hours without daylight savings). But that’s not the time that really matters, because the time that really matters is shala time, which is set 15 minutes ahead of local time.

Checked baggage for DTW –> CDG –> BLR
What I figuratively and literally packed, or didn’t, for my first journey to India.

From halahala to challah . . . and more challah!

challah

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

[Retreat dispatch] Xinalani means ‘seeds’

Despite the calendar alleging that spring starts tomorrow, it’s cold (quite cold) and snowing again here in mid-Michigan. That makes it a challenge to not think back to the warmth, beach and sun of the Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor retreat to Xinalani — so I thought I’d devote a post to the property itself. I’ve been lucky enough to participate in yoga workshops and retreats offered in breathtaking locations. But I had never spent a week abroad in a place designed specifically for yoga groups until this month, when I went to Xinalani with nine very sweet (and also hilarious) ashtangis.

map

Despite not having anything to compare Xinalani to, I’m pretty confident in saying that I can’t imagine a more gorgeous and compelling place to practice yoga and go deep:

  • See: The beauty? Check out the photos below or the official Xinalani photos — I think they speak for themselves.
  • Hear: As I previously noted, the fact that you can hear the waves day and night — as seemingly constant as your heartbeat — makes the location simply magical.
  • Feel: The property is thoughtfully designed to accomodate yoga practices. Whether moving through your practice in the Green House or the Jungle Studio, you feel like someone who must truly respect their yoga practice designed this space.

I even love the name of the place. Xinalani (pronounced “she-nah-lah-nee”) means “seeds” in ancient Mexico, according to the welcome book left in each of Xinalani’s guest suites. “Come plant the seeds of wellness,” the property whispers. [Done! :-) ]

Xinalani means seeds

Xinalani caters to yoga groups, but it also welcomes individuals and couples. (The one caution I would give about the place as a getaway would be for anyone with mobility restrictions. Because the retreat center is built up into a jungle, there are a lot of steep stairs to negotiate. Depending on where your suite is located, you might need to walk up 130 to 150 stairs to get from the dining area to your room, and another few dozen steps to get to one of the yoga studios or the meditation cabin.)

suiteI can’t say enough about the staffers, who were incredibly attentive. They made a point to remember your name, and they always had a smile and a “Cómo estás?” for you. The first couple of mornings when I used my flashlight to walk down to the dining area around 6:30 a.m. to get some hot tea before practice, I had to ask for black tea versus the chamomile that they had out. By the third morning, one of the waiters had remembered me and I never had to ask again  — he would bring it out as soon as he saw me. So thoughtful.

The whole set-up was actually far more luxurious than any of us had anticipated. I’ve talked about the meals and cooking classes. They were also eco-tours, spa treatments, surf lessons, and a host of other services to choose from.

It was important to our group that the owners of Xinalani have a commitment to an ethical venture and a low-impact lifestyle. Within 20 minutes of arriving, I’m pretty sure each of us on the retreat were trying to figure out how to keep the magic going — and how to get back here some day.

Want to see photos?

 

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© 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.

[Retreat dispatch] Breakfast, lunch, dinner. Repeat.

[I had the chance to unplug during an ashtanga retreat held March 2-9, 2013 at a magical, secluded little spot called Xinalani, located near Puerto Vallarta in Mexico’s Banderas Bay. While unplugging meant no social media and no online hanging out time, I did write on a few nights. (I didn’t want to actually post during the retreat, though, since it would have required selecting photos and spending the time to link, format and all that good stuff — and it was hard to justify taking that time while in the middle of a serious paradise.) I’ll be sharing those posts from the retreat over the next few days.]


Xinalani food

WRITTEN ON SATURDAY, MARCH 9, 2013 AROUND 5:45 P.M. WHILE 37,000 FEET IN THE AIR. :-)

The Michigan contingent of the Xinalani retreaters are on the plane ride back from Xinalani. We’re on the same flight as all the university students ending their Puerto Vallarta spring break trip, so there’s a lot of hangover discomfort in the cabin — drawn shades, kids holding their heads in their hands, requests for extra glasses of water and soda. The 10 of us who just spent a week eating three lovely meals a day, on the other hand, are returning home with a spring in our step.

“Are you kidding me?” seemed to be the refrain at each meal this past week. We had lemongrass juice (my personal favorite). Tamarind juice. Papaya juice. Desserts included tamarind popsicles (a big hit with everyone), avocado mousse (outstanding) and chipotle truffles (yes, they were as good as it sounds). Several of us became inspired to go home to replicate some of the hot and cold soups we oohed and aahed over, including fava cream soup and basil cream soup.

The only downside to the way we ate this week was that we all overate (the exception was our teacher, the only one who had the self-discipline to skip dinner entirely each night because, at 7:30 p.m., it was served too late to not interfere with the morning Mysore practice). We had the best of intentions to not eat every beautiful morsel that appeared on our plates, but for the most part, we weren’t successful.


Five of us took a cooking class with the retreat center’s jolly chef. For me, more important than the preparations was the reminder that cooking should be done with ample heapings of joy and enthusiasm. Chef Feliz Cabrera clearly loves his craft, and it was important to him to see that his guests were both happy and happily nourished all week.

On the first day he promised us: “Every day, the food gets better and better.” He was right.

Xinalani board and meal


On my lap here is Salt Sugar Fat, which I’m nearly halfway through reading. It was a wonderful week for contrasts, eating the way we did at the dining table while reading on the beach about the science and marketing behind America’s processed food industry. The chapter on Coca-Cola’s tactics provided this interesting tidbit about a 2005 study produced by the Coca-Cola Retailing Research Council with tips on how to better persuade teens and adults:

The study included a ‘shopper destiny map,’ done up in bright yellows and reds to mark the ‘hot spots’ where most shoppers go. Whisked through the front doors, they typically start at the right side of the supermarket — moving counterclockwise and, in a surprise, from back to front. Thus the main racks of soda should be placed toward the rear of the store, on the right side. By contrast, much of the center of store has light traffic, the report warns, calling the area the ‘Dead Zone.’

Coca-Cola, in this study, also urges grocers to find ways to catch shoppers off guard. Federal health officials who are righting the obesity epidemic advise consumers never to enter a grocery store without a shopping list, which helps to ward off the impulse to load up on sugary, salty and fatty snacks . . . . ‘Sixty percent of the supermarket purchase decisions are completely unplanned,’ the Coke study says. ‘Anything that enalbes the shopper to make a faster, easier, better decision’ will help spur those unplanned purchases. (p. 112)

Earlier this year, I started making a weekly meal grid the night before my weekly grocery shopping trip. It has done wonders for me on three fronts:

  • Spending less money
  • Making better decisions
  • Wasting less produce

I love my new system because it keeps me on the straight and narrow when I shop, especially by preventing me from buying too much produce that will go bad before I can get to it during the week. It also helps me prepare more flavorful and nutritious meals that are just as fast as spontaneous dishes.

Now, with my Xinalani inspiration, I’ll have to start picking up lemongrass for juices and beets for roasting. And it’s equally exciting to see fresh uses for stuff I already buy every week — like using avocado for mousse and fava beans for a creamy soup. As for the fun and pride in preparing the food itself, I’ll just have to channel Chef Cabrera and picture him in my kitchen, ready to regale taste buds with his next creation.

More from the Xinalani retreat:

© 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.

Put those potato chips down! + Launch of nation’s first comprehensive healthy food access portal

Healthy Food Access Portal

I should be packing, but instead, I’m checking out the country’s first comprehensive healthy food access portal — which launched today — while listening to the Diane Rehm Show that aired this morning. This episode — “How Processed Food Took Over The American Diet” — is centered around the fact that processed foods account for roughly 70 percent of our nation’s calories. Is there meaningful difference between “processed” food and “highly processed” food? Are we paying too high a price for convenience? The guests of the show:

Good stuff (the conversation, not the highly processed food discussed in the show).

So you have some context, if you plan on listening to this engaging conversation, the Center for Consumer Freedom is funded by the food industry and this is how the organization describes itself:

Founded in 1996, the Center for Consumer Freedom is a nonprofit organization devoted to promoting personal responsibility and protecting consumer choices. We believe that the consumer is King. And Queen.

A growing cabal of activists has meddled in Americans’ lives in recent years. They include self-anointed “food police,” health campaigners, trial lawyers, personal-finance do-gooders, animal-rights misanthropes, and meddling bureaucrats.

Bloomberg portrayed as a meddling nannyA growing cabal! Of damn activists! When New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg first proposed banning super-sized sodas, it was the Center for Consumer Freedom that ran an ad portraying Bloomberg as a meddling nanny.

 


On a more refreshing note, the Healthy Food Access Portal — which my sister Sedora conducted some research for — has launched. About this initiative:

In 2009, PolicyLinkThe Food Trust, and The Reinvestment Fund began a campaign, with partners and stakeholders from across the country, to create a comprehensive federal response to address the limited and inequitable access to healthy foods in low-income communities in both rural and urban America. The launch of the federal Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) and the state and local efforts currently underway are already beginning to make a difference and improve fresh food access in underserved communities across the country.

With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the three organizations are continuing to collaborate and have created this web information portal to maximize the impact of the new opportunities and better support communities seeking to launch healthy food retail projects across the country. This website highlights those efforts and relevant resources to serve the community members and policymakers working to improve access to healthy food retail.

So, put down those potato chips — it’s not easy, as this potato chip addict found — and dive into this new portal already.

© 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.

Flushing away bad eating habits (my TMI post on acid reflux)

Garden hose

Before I get to how excited I was to see today’s Acid Reflux and Ayurveda: Pitta Party post on the most excellent Heavy Metta blog, I have to tell you about last night, one of those times when life throws a big fat wrench into your plans.

Around 12:30 a.m., about an hour after I had gone to bed, I found myself hunkered down in the bathroom, throwing up my diner. It would take two more rounds over the next couple of hours for my body to be content that enough had been ousted. It didn’t feel like food poisoning to me, because the expulsion lacked a certain . . .violence. It was quite matter-of-fact, very workmanlike: Hello, dinner, welcome! And . . .  oh, you’re leaving so soon? And out the front door nonetheless? Well, OK, goodbye!

Reflecting more on it this afternoon, it occurred to me that it could have been a really, really unfortunate acid reflux reaction. I suppose it could have been something else too, but that’s the theory I’m rolling with for now.

I’ve had acid reflux for years. Doctor’s orders? No coffee, no caffeinated soda, no chocolate. I ignore two of the three (not a big soda drinker). While I had been better about coffee for a few months, I’ve been back on the bandwagon for the past few weeks. And over the course of the day, I realized, I had had many of the most common triggers, in addition to morning coffee: garlic, onion, tomatoes, processed chicken (funny, because I rarely ever eat chicken anymore), potato salad (I never eat this stuff, but I did yesterday as part of my lunch — didn’t even enjoy it), high acid fruits and cranberry juice. Add the typical low-grade levels of workday stress and it was probably a perfect storm.

Some thoughts:

  • Can the yoga asana practice do anything about acid reflux? Friends have told me the control of stress alone is helpful. What about the digestive juices themselves?
  • Eating ginger before a meal has helped me in the past, but I’ve let that slip because I thought things were under control. I’ll have to start again.
  • I’ve found Nexium to be the only thing that has really helped me, but it’s so expensive under my current health insurance plan that I’ve stopped filling the prescription in the past few months. (It costs me $90 a month, because my infinitely wise insurance company refuses to believe the other stuff truly doesn’t work for me. After last night, though, I’m back on Nexium too, expenses be damned.

Very helpfully, Maria over at Heavy Metta posted a whole post earlier today about acid reflux, Ayurveda and pitta-types. Me, pitta? Had she read my mind? 😉 Check out her blog, even if you don’t care about acid reflux, because you get choice lines like this one, found in the section on Mastic Gum:

. . .I’m just a very curious layperson who loves Ayurveda and who happens to do a lot of nutrition-related research for a living at my day job. I don’t advocate any particular kind of treatment, but information is always helpful. And where else will you get Ayurveda, health and heavy metal in the same blog? Freaking nowhere, man!

Screenshot of Heavy Metta blog

Screenshot of the Heavy Metta blog post “Acid Reflux and Ayurveda: Pitta Party”

By the way, my dinner tonight was much improved. I prepared a remix of a great little recipe for Fagioli all Uccelletto with cavolo nero from SmarterFitter, one of my favorite food blogs. My visit to Tuscany last year instilled an appreciation in me for those oh-so-simple-and-plain cannellini beans, and I’ve been looking forward to trying this SmarterFitter recipe. Rebooting the way I eat — I don’t want to spend my nights last last night ever again — seemed like the perfect time.

Fagioli all Uccelletto with cavolo nero

Do you live with acid reflux? What do you do?

(Photo credit: Don’t Breathe by JenSmith826 via Flickr Creative Commons. The actual photo is pretty cool — an experiment in narrative structure. Head over to see.)

© 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.

Unpacking my patterns of excess

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Packing up -- so many boxes

I know I’m in good company when I say that I don’t enjoy the moving process. Packing up belongings is hardest — the unpleasant surprises you unearth, the reminders of challenging people or periods in your life, the discomfort of tossing crap you want to shed but that you’re not quite ready to let go of quite yet. Unpacking at least allows for new beginnings of sorts — old item, new place.

This weekend, I listened to an old Yoga Peeps podcast with James Bailey on the science of ayurveda while tackling the emotionally toughest section of the apartment for me — stacks of old personal and professional documents that should have been recycled or shredded years ago.

In any case, the part of the podcast that struck me most was when the interviewer asked Bailey about whether he sees recurring patterns. Yes, he said — the vast majority of tendencies you’ll see in Western cultures are patterns of excess:

We tend to see an overnourishment of the body, overnourishment of the tissues. There were times in our ancestors’ histories and their lives where deficiencies were the threat to society. . . . But these days, these nutrients are available in mass quantities and overmanufuactured, basically. So we have proteins and fats and sugars and carbohydrates that are available and cheap — really cheap. Anybody can afford to get access to these nutrients, and in ungodly amounts, lending towards severe diseases of excess. . . . Obesity is one, diabetes is one, cancers and some growths and tumors are others — hypertension and so on. These are the diseases of our day — chronic because they are lifestyle-based. They come down to choices. (This section stars roughly around 17:45 in the podcast.)

A pack rat by nature, and surrounded by stacks of slips of paper I should have slipped out of my life long ago, that observation deeply resonated. At least moving forces you to go through piles and open boxes and make decisions about how many physical mementos linked to emotional baggage you want to carry on with you to the next space you occupy.

And I started to wonder whether one of the more potent — and therefore emotionally difficult — aspects of maintaining a consistent Ashtanga practice is that you are confronted each day by some manifestation of excess in your life. Yes, you have to face areas of depletion as well — for starters, there’s lack of sleep, lack of hydration, lack of will, lack of time and lack of space.

But areas of excess require decisions to let go. In the beginning, there’s the typical realization of too much fat on the body (or, to put it more politely, adipose tissue), too much food in the belly, too much stress absorbed into muscles. Looking back, I think I had worked marichyasana D as far as I could (given the proportions of my arms to the rest of the my body) when Tim Miller basically looked and me and suggested I consider shedding a few kilos (this reminds of a blog post title that made me laugh: “Marichyasana D — ‘D’ is for diet“). Looking back, I think he was right — but it would be some time before I was motivated to make any real lifestyle changes.

Every day, month after month, year after year, you can choose to face your areas of physical, mental and emotional excesses and not change anything about your life off the mat — it seems to me that the practice doesn’t judge. On a personal level, what I have found after nine months of a consistent practice is that the desire to continue habits of excess starts to diminish on its own. And thank god, because I still don’t have the willpower to totally avoid, for instance, cheesy breadsticks even though I know there is nothing to gain, from a nutritional point. (Literally as I’ve been writing this paragraph, my husband offered me a bite of his breadstick and I totally took one, because it looked pretty damn good.) The difference now is that I’m pretty satisfied with, say, one bite, whereas a couple years ago, I would have probably eaten two or three breadsticks.

Diet-wise, I feel that my body’s intelligence about what I consume has been dusted off and is slowly but surely gaining authority in this mind-body system of mine. I am quite certain I have to credit practice for this — I don’t see other factors in my lifestyle that could have triggered the change. These days, I don’t feel like I have to consult labels or more gastronomically yogic friends — for the most part, I have a sense of what will feel good after I eat it and what won’t. Last week, for instance, I was stuck in a six-hour-long website writing and editing session. When I was asked what I wanted to order for lunch, I got my sandwich, but I insisted on one of those ginormous cookies as well. I knew, going in, that I would enjoy it then, but feel it a couple hours later. But the trade-off was worth it to me. (If you’ve ever been stuck in  marathon sessions related to building websites, you probably know what I mean.) So I still have patterns of excess — don’t even get me started on the criminally delicious ice cream cake my colleagues got me last week for a belated birthday gathering — but at least I am being present when those decisions are made.

Well, I suppose I should get back to packing up my stuff so we can finishing moving out of this little one-bedroom apartment into a house. I am really hoping and determined to check my pattern of excess — as it relates to useless and no longer necessary stuff, anyway — at the door of this new home. Wish me luck — and the good instincts that seem to develop from continued practice.

© 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.

Venus in transit, Rose in kitchen: Coincidence, or the beginning of an era?

 

Lunch bento box

I don’t know if it was the effect of yesterday’s rare Venus transit, but I was inspired to pick up an updated bento box called the Laptop Lunch as a way to eat healthier — and tastier — lunches. Here’s what I came up with given stuff I already had in the fridge and cabinets.

Bento box annotated

  1. Cheese and prosciutto roll-ups in a spinach wrap
  2. Cajun kale chips
  3. Salad with Champagne dressing
  4. Quinoa with mozzarella and sundried tomatoes

This Venus transit isn’t slated to happen again until 2117, so I hope my motivation to prepare these more balanced bento box lunches isn’t nearly as rare as today’s astrological phenomenon.

© 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.

Lowering the ugh factor: 7 things I’ve done for my digestive system

Photo of ginger via london_lime's Flickr photostreamToday’s mail brought the regular round of advertising circulars. Ponderosa Steakhouse’s unlimited sirloin steak and shrimp offer on weekends. Applebee’s new — NEW! — blackened chicken penne and Bourbon Street chicken and shrimp. Jet’s Pizza.

Eh, eh and eh. None of it is at all appetizing.

(OK, full disclosure: the pizza is still kind of appealing.) The larger point is, the longer I practice Ashtanga consistently, the harder it is for me to eat out. Like many teenagers, I developed a taste for awful fast food in high school — the Mexican pizza at Taco Bell, the fish sandwich at McDonald’s, the curly fries at Arby’s. While my eating habits have improved — slowly — over the years, I have terrible proclivities compared with the yogis I know. I don’t like juicing. I have zero desire to eat raw food. And so on.

Over the past year or so, however, what’s been exciting for me is that I’ve been craving better food, even if I haven’t necessarily been eating better food.

Is it possible that I’ve been retraining my cravings? I hope so (pizza cravings notwithstanding).

Now the big challenge is making it happen: Craving better food and then converting that craving into action by actually eating better food. This is hard because it would require that I spend more time acquiring and preparing food. In my current kitchen calculus, if it takes four steps, it’s on the time-consuming side. And I consider tearing off the packaging to be one step. I know, I know  . . .

It’s not just a matter of principle for me. I really need to eat better, because it’s been affecting how I feel. This past December, after my tests for celiac problems came back negative, I devoted a blog post discussing that ugh feeling plaguing my digestive system. A follow-up blog post listed some great suggestions shared with me.

I’m cautiously happy to report that I’ve been feeling better over the past few months. Here are some steps I’ve taken — thanks the advice of a range of people and, in one ironic case, a fast-food delivery joint — since December:

  • Practiced nauli more consistently in the morning.
  • Started taking probiotics (one capsule daily).
  • Dramatically reduced my coffee intake — down to about one or two cups a week at this point. (I’ve substituted this habit with a pomegranate oolong tea latte from Biggby in the mornings. While this is an improvement, it’s also expensive to do this several times a week, so I have to wean myself off this soon too.)
  • When possible, switching from cow’s milk and soy milk to almond milk. (Looking back, soy milk never sat all that well with me. But I had this idea that it was healthier. Almond milk rocks! Who knew.)
  • Started ditching bread and wraps as much as possible for lunch (hello, sandwiches held together with large Romaine lettuce leaves!).
  • Began to eat a little bit of shaved ginger sprinkled with cayenne before dinner.
  • Started eating smaller dinners.

I’ll elaborate on three of these.

Nauli

Here is what Lisa Walford has written about nauli:

The Hatha Yoga Pradipika states that Nauli stimulates the digestive fire, thereby removing toxins, indigestion, and constipation. It is considered a Shat Karma, which is an internal cleansing to aid with excess phlegm, mucus, or fat.

If you don’t practice yoga, I know nauli looks crazy. But trust me — it’s not painful. I think it feels pretty good when you’re done — it’s hard to explain, but I sort of feel as if I’ve stirred the pot and prevented stagnation.

Started ditching bread and wraps as much as possible for lunch

This has made a huge difference to how I feel during all afternoon on a workday — and I’m as surprised as anyone to say that I got the idea from a fast food place. A freaky fast fast food place, in fact — Jimmy John’s Unwich. It’s a regular sandwich, except it’s got leaves of lettuce holding it together rather than a wrap or bread. I’ve been packing my own lunches with my own lettuce-wrapped creations, including breakfast sandwiches. They’re delicious, and I don’t feel heavy or bloated afterward.

Began to eat a little bit of shaved ginger sprinkled with cayenne before dinner.

This is an Ayurvedic thing. I don’t know anything about Ayurveda, but this is what the California College of Ayurveda says about poor digestion:

The symptoms of poor digestion include excessive gas, constipation, diarrhea, burping, burning, vomiting, indigestion, bloating and pain. In various forms, Western medicine has given them names such as irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, colitis and pancreatitis among many others. Through the eyes of Ayurveda, the practitioner comes to an understanding of the cause through examining one’s lifestyle. Faulty eating practices are the number one culprit, poor food choices and poor food combing are next in line. Together they make up the major causes of digestive disease.

Why ginger and cayenne? According to this same site:

Kledaka Kapha [subdosha governing the protective secretions which line mucous membranes] can also be too high. When this occurs it suppresses the agni resulting in slow digestion and possible nausea. This condition results from too many heavy, sweet foods and is best treated with the category of herbs called dipanas which increase agni and diminish kledaka. This includes the Indian herbs chitrak and the Ayurvedic formula trikatu as well as common pungents such as ginger and cayenne pepper.

Interested in learning more? I am too. You can start by following the Jangalikayamane blog and reading “How Jedi Knights Should Eat” from the AY:A2 blog. Here’s a juicy excerpt from that blog post, which several yogis I know have welcomed not only for its ideas, but for its perfect timing in their lives:

In any case, those years of “research” and strict food rules did teach me a lot, and did render my digestive fire extremely strong and healthy. Luckily, I kept coming to my mat every day without a break, so gradually I started understanding surrender. Now that I’m more interested in radical acceptance of my own social, temporal, and environmental contexts, and of my own desires, it is easier to nest my eating habits not only my body’s energy economy, but also in the context of personal and environmental relationships.

Had I been more in contact with my own wisdom in those days, my relationship with food would have balanced discipline with contemplation. Turns out that the Ayurvedic approach to eating does just this. The way I’ve been learning it, Ayurveda is not a set of fixes or healing strategies. It’s a holographic map of the whole web of manifest reality. The Ayurvedic approach to eating isn’t an arcane prescription for fixing one’s doshas; it’s a set of practices for becoming conscious of the inner and outer webs of our being.

You don’t even have to study it. Just imagine. What if you showed up to your hunger, and your food, the way you show up to our yoga room and to your physical practice? So… you’d put time and awareness in to getting the conditions right. Do a gratitude ritual. Care about where the recipe and the ingredients come from. Practice in silence, and in excellent company. Breathe. Act with clear, loving attention. Regard strong thought and emotional patterns with a bit of cool skepticism. Take a long finishing sequence to absorb the benefits.

Quick fix? Yeah right. Not in ashtanga and not in eating. This practice teaches us that our bodies are vehicles for past and future choices. Love the rough spots into fluidity, day by day, and let the painful stuff get easier. Recognize that especially deep patterns got there as a result of grasping and repetition, and we don’t get out of them for free.

The yoga thing is about action and observation, and finding that these two are not separate. Action can be luminously conscious. Takes practice.

So, how about applying that “99 percent practice, 1 percent theory” concept to food?

(Photo credit: “Ginger” via london_lime’s Flickr photostream.) 

© 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.

 

Can’t they just label food ‘good for you’ and ‘bad for you’?

20111223-185932.jpg

 

A client sent our office a box of fabulous Fabiano’s chocolates, a favorite in Lansing, Mich. The guessing game of what filling awaits a bite used to be fun. While the giddiness is still there for me when it comes to a holiday gift box of good-quality chocolates — will it be salty? maple-infused? — I have to be more careful, thanks to blood work a couple years ago showing my allergy to peanuts and, surprisingly, sesame seeds and derivatives (hummus, made of tahini, is out, for example). This afternoon, I bit into one, immediately realized it was peanut butter, and spit it out. Undeterred, I enjoyed a few other pieces featuring everything from a raspberry burst to a minty center.

The peanut and sesame seed/oil allergies are known quantities. By comparison, with my recent negative results for gluten sensitivity, I don’t know what else compromises my health. The food journal I’ve been keeping hasn’t exposed any magic bullet yet, but I want to share some of the recommendations I received in response to my post on the celiac tests in case it helps anyone else struggling with a similar question to mine: What am I eating that makes me feel bloated and ugh so much of the time?

Not so fast

Juliana (Yoga Daze blog) and Emily (Love and Cinnamon blog) cautioned me against completely trusting the blood work for signs of celiac disease, saying either they or someone close to them also tested negative, cut out gluten anyway, and experienced a remarkable and positive difference. Hannah (Balancing on Two Feet blog) suggested an elimination diet. Read their full comments.

Chuck corn

Stormy Nosse, an ashtangi I met last year at the Ashtanga Yoga Center, shared her thoughts based on experience and years of studying nutrition. Her advice: Consider cutting out corn. On an intuitive level — based on how ubiquitous corn-based products are in our country, this piece of advice really appealed to me, and I’m already trying to implement it. I try not to eat tortilla chips like I used to, but I do snack and I do crave chips, so I’ve tried chips made from lentils and from black bean, and really like both.

Examine thyroid issues

Dave from Jackson Hole, Wy. asked if I had ever considered hypothyroid issues, and pointed me to “Thyroid ‘Hell’th,” D’ana Baptise’s blog posts chronicling her journey with this issue. In the last installment of the 2009 series, Baptise writes:

I felt compelled to spend time on this topic because I knew there were a lot of us feeling like something is just wrong, and yet we aren’t being taken seriously. I also wanted to write to say that even if you are the most staunch ‘all natural, completely organic’ person, you may still have thyroid issues and no amount of organic spinach will cure it or help you feel better.

Baptise goes on to list what she has found to be helpful. Read the entire post here.

Not more than a day apart from when Dave wrote me about hypothyroid, a friend of mine stopped me at the yoga studio to ask if I had looked into thyroid issues. She had had adrenal drainage problems, and when she addressed that, symptoms similar to mine went away.

I’m definitely going to ask my physician and acupuncturist about thyroid issues.

Thanks to everyone who shared their experience and advice with me. I’m convinced this is all a good thing — a way for me to finally pay closer attention to what I put into my body. Rather than rely on external markers of healthiness — i.e., what’s supposed to be good or bad for me — I’m really working to slow down and tune in to what my internal machinations are telling me about how various foods affect me. That brings me back to the food journal. I guess there has been one clear result — and it’s that as much as I have come to love it, the protein-packed wonder known as quinoa does not make me feel very good. Quinoa leaves me feeling bloated, with the urge to burp to relieve the pressure. Guess I can’t stock up on quinoa cakes from Plum Market’s deli case the next time I’m in Ann Arbor for an Ashtanga class.

(Photo credit: Quinoa by edibleoffice via Flickr Creative Commons.)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.

The celiac disease test results are back. And they say…

This WebMD photo is explained with the following description: "In people with celiac, the body's immune system is triggered by gluten in food. Antibodies attack the intestinal lining, damaging, flattening, or destroying the tiny hair-like projections (villi) in the small bowel. Damaged villi can't effectively absorb nutrients through the intestinal wall. As a result, fats, proteins, vitamins, and minerals get passed through the stool. Over time, this can lead to malnutrition."

 

I’m logging into Google Docs so I can write down what I just had for dinner. I’m seven days into keeping a food journal, and I’ll be honest — I was pretty lazy about details the first several days. For instance, for Dec. 2, all I have written down is: “Lunch: Smoked salmon bagel sandwich.” I know I ate a lot more than that.

I’m trying to do better. Today’s entry (so far):

  • Breakfast: Coffee with creamer
  • Lunch: Salad that included cheese, stuffed olives, pumpkin mousse, pasta
  • Dinner: Veggie chicken patty, spreadable cheese, gluten-free bread
  • Snacks: A chunk of an oatmeal raisin cookie (stopped because not sure if it had peanuts)

I’m resistant to this whole food journal thing because I don’t want to track every single thing I eat or drink. You might remember that just before Thanksgiving, I went in for long-overdue blood work to determine if I’m sensitive to gluten. I was worried, but I was looking forward to knowing.

Now I know. And what I know is that I don’t know. At the end of November, I found out none of the tests indicated I have any kind of sensitivity to gluten. That means I’m back to square one. My doctor’s office suggesting keeping a food journal for two weeks and then going to discuss. I’m grateful I don’t have to avoid gluten. But the test results also mean I can’t narrow down the reasons why I feel that I must be somehow mistreating my gastrointestinal system, since I feel bloaty and ugh much of the time.

One thing I’ve noticed from being better about the food journal is that I put a whole lot of different food items and beverages into my body each day — many more than I thought. Lots of little things here and there. If I wanted to truly isolate food sources, my diet would look completely different.

A gluten-free zone?

So the question is: Should I try to cut out gluten and see how I feel? The same I started my food journal, my sister’s friend posted this on Google+:

I’ve been eating #glutenfree for about 5 months now and have noticed a significant improvement in my health. While I didn’t test positive for Celiac, there is definitely a scale of gluten tolerance…

It is interesting that they’re finding a huge increase in gluten-intolerance in general these days. I wonder if it has anything to do with the GMO crops or other modern day agricultural changes…

At least today there are tons of gluten-free options available in grocery stores – from mixes and flours to packaged cookies and even bread!

Baking is one of my first loves and was the hardest to reconcile when I first cut out gluten, but I’ve found great success in flour blends, sometimes better than wheat flours!

She included a link to this New York Times Magazine storyabout that asks, “Should We All Go Gluten-Free?”

Comparing blood samples from the 1950s to the 1990s, [Dr. Joseph A.] Murray [a gastroenterologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn.] found that young people today are nearly five times as likely to have celiac disease, for reasons he and others researchers cannot explain. And it’s on the rise not only in the U.S. but also in other places where the disease was once considered rare, like Mexico and India.

Celiacs aren’t the only ones who are grateful. Athletes, in particular, have taken to the diet. Some claim to have more energy when they cut out gluten, a belief that intrigues some experts and riles others.

Then there’s the question of cutting out wheat.

I’m not cutting anything out just yet. So…I guess I’ll keep a food journal for a few weeks and then go from there. I know I can start by eating less in general — that’s a given. I’m hoping the discipline I’m gaining with a six-day-a-week practice will make this an easier process.

(Photo/cutline credit: WebMD.com’s “Slideshow: A Visual Guide to Celiac Disease”)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.

 

The image on the back of the cereal box

I love Kellogg’s Smart Start cereal — something about the crunchiness and the simplicity (and it’s got antioxidants, so what’s not to love?). But the back of the cereal box drives me a little crazy. Just a little. Because the cereal box sits on top of my fridge, I see it nearly every time I’m in the kitchen. What drives me just a little crazy is that the woman pictured on the back is totally mailing in her virabhadrasana 2 (warrior 2) pose. Warrior 2, which can be viewed as reflecting a warrior drawing a sword, is such a beautifully strong pose. While this model looks like she’s enjoying it enough, I want her to engage her energy locks and dig into that pose to really feel the challenge and benefits of it.

I mean, you don’t need to be David Swenson, climbing up rock formations to express your inner warrior, but…well, as Tim Miller likes to tease in his yoga classes, how about trying again — with feeling this time.

Anyway, thanks for letting me get this off my chest. This is not something I would admit to a non-yogi crowd. :-)

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.


Hey, how did that gluten-free ginger molasses cookie get into my shopping cart?

After seven months of procrastinating, I finally went in today to get blood work determining if I’m sensitive to gluten. Based on my symptoms — feeling bloated much of the time, for one — my doctor thinks I might be.

I think I might be too, which is probably why I’ve avoided these tests for so long.

Don’t touch that
Over the past few years, the list of Things I Should Not Ingest seems to have grown quite long. First came an endoscopy determining that my acid reflux was intense enough to pay some serious attention. I was prescribed Nexium and told to cut out three things from my diet: coffee, caffeine and chocolate. I cut out none of the three, although I rarely drink any soda these days and my chocolate consumption is occasional. (I like my dark chocolate truffles around the holidays, but I don’t have chocolate stocked in the kitchen cabinets the way I used to.) Coffee is trickier, but I will say that as I have a more consistent morning Ashtanga practice, it’s been easier to get by without my morning cups of coffee.

Then, a couple years ago, I learned the hard way — from a terrible allergic reaction to a seafood meal that caused my fingertips and eyelids to turn bulbous, inflating like little balloons — that I am allergic to, of all things, sesame seeds and peanuts. (This dinner was consumed the night before a job interview; needless to say, walking in to talk to a hiring panel while looking out from under still-swollen eyelids, I did not get that job.) I’ll take these allergies any day over being allergic to seafood. But this does mean that despite my Thai heritage, I can’t enjoy that delicious Thai peanut sauce ever again. It means I can never again have hummus on a bagel, since the tahini that makes up hummus is a derivative of sesame seeds.

Now, what if I can’t have that bagel anymore either?

Survey says…
So I guess I’ll find out after Thanksgiving whether the tests say I need to cut out, or at least cut down on, gluten. It might almost be a relief, because if the tests say all is good on the celiac front, then I have to start to systematically determine what exactly is making me feel like ugh. The more time goes by, the more uncomfortable I seem to be getting. I spend much of the day feeling like my torso is working against me. I’m bloated, my digestive system is always so sensitive, and, with my acid reflux, I have heartburn from food and from work-related stress.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve been buying things that look good despite the gluten-free label — I think it’s my way of preparing myself if the tests say I have to give up some of the dishes I love so much (carbs and I were meant to be together!). Yes, yes, those of you more enlightened than I am on the healthy food front are shaking your head about my prejudices. That’s the point, though — I am trying to decategorize the concept of gluten-free so that I can think of gluten-free and “tasty” in the same sentence. It’s a similar process I’ve been working through to prove to myself that vegan does not equal tastes-like-cardboard.

On my way home today, after starting the day by getting blood drawn, I stopped at Foods for Living, the local bastion of healthier food options, and picked up a few things. I found a few wheat- and gluten-free products that looked pretty appealing — a ginger molasses cookie, a box of quinoa macaroon cookies (I love quinoa and I like macaroon, so we’ll see how adding the two go) and brown rice hamburger buns.

Before sitting down to write this blog post, I opened up the wrapping for the ginger molasses cookie to try a bite. I ended up inhaling it.

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.

Mystery meat: How my search for missing taste buds led me to a Chicago vegan diner

 

Last night at this time, I was in a diner in Chicago’s Boystown district, sitting across the table from my very talented, very funny and very fast (in that marathon/triathalon kind of way) friend Molly. We were having a blast catching up after not seeing each other for two years.

But there was one undeniably strange thing about the situation. It wasn’t the circumstances that brought the two of us back together. It was that we were voluntarily doing our celebratory catching-up dinner in a vegan joint.

I’m no Anthony Bourdain when it comes to my view on veganism. I respect other people’s choice about food. For myself, however, I draw the line at vegan dishes — if I can’t have milk or eggs, that’s a deal breaker, and I don’t even want to spend my hard-earned money in a place that caters to vegan taste buds.

I’ve always eaten meat, except for about three years in my mid-20s in which I pretty much cut out pork, poultry and beef from my diet. (I am very nearly a seafood addict, so I never even considered cutting that.) I had initially cut out pork because of one bad sweet and sour pork dish I ate — it tasted like I was eating a carcass, and I was not OK with that. A while later, I cut out poultry because I didn’t like what I had heard about the way chickens and turkey were raised. I cut beef out last, because I believed that red meat wasn’t healthy.

It shouldn’t have taken me so long to figure out that this experiment was not working. I seemed to constantly feel tired. My hair would fall out in clumps every time I washed it.

When I finally started listening to my body, though, was when I started having random thoughts of cheeseburgers (like, while driving). If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is. So perhaps for the first time in my life, I really listened to my body. I reintroduced meat — all of it — and I felt much better. On every level.

Now, at the not-so-tender age of 35, I’m facing another fork in my gastronomic journey. The last year or so, I’ve felt strongly that I wanted to eat better. It seemed to be less about what I ate — because I don’t eat much fast food, and I naturally crave things that are good for you, like greens, Brussels sprouts and squash — and more about how much I ate.

Then came the game changer — the six-day-a-week Ashtanga practice.

One day off

While I have long aspired to have a six-day-a-week Ashtanga yoga practice, that resolution has gone the way of so many diets over the years — great intentions, but never actually starting.

Since returning from an Ashtanga yoga retreat at Mt. Shasta this past August, though, I’ve fought for, and so far maintained, a schedule that gives me only one rest day a week (in addition to the typical two moon days a month when you don’t practice). When I say “fought,” I mean it. It has been a battle to keep this schedule up — for six days of every week, I fight to carve out enough time to practice.

On the level of honoring traditions, I’m drawn to how this is the prescribed schedule for an Ashtanga practice. On a personal level, I’m drawn to what such a consistent practice does for my body and my mind.

But right now, I think that more than anything, I am fighting for this schedule because I want the discipline of it. I need to prove to myself that I have it in me to follow through. If six days had been something dictated by my employer, I would have done it already. I have always, on some important level, put my personal life after my professional life. I feel, first and foremost, that my responsibility is to my work — to doing a kick-ass job on whatever it is, and to meet all my deadlines. I’ve always asked my family, my friends — and, finally, myself — to understand during those times when work had to come first.

What I’m proving to myself with this six day a week practice is that I can do both — I can still rock out at work while not short-changing my personal life. Angela Jamison of Ashtanga Yoga: Ann Arbor has reminded me that the Ashtanga practice is by design a householder’s pursuit. This practice wasn’t designed for people who could shirk off daily responsibilities.

Do you have chicken that tastes like something else?

So it’s early November now, and one thing that started happening maybe three weeks ago — so roughly eight weeks into this six-day-a-week practice — is that I have not been able to bring myself to eat chicken. I’ve been fine with beef — even had a craving the other week for my favorite burger place in Lansing. It’s just been chicken that I’ve wanted nothing to do with — something about the taste and the texture. If someone were to set a plate of Southwestern eggrolls — one of my guilty-pleasure appetizers — in front of me at this moment, I think I would look and then keep typing.

Is that a vegan menu?

This weekend, I headed to Chicago for Tim Miller’s workshops at the yogaview studio. My friend Molly very generously offered to let me crash at her place, so we had the chance to compare notes about how the past couple of years have gone. For our big dinner Saturday night, Molly ran down a long list of suggestions — awesome-sounding places that featured small plates and/or seafood. Fancy places, less fancy places, fun places. The one that sounded the best? Chicago Diner, a joint that specializes in vegan cuisine.

I had had a lovely, sweaty Timji-led Ashtanga primary series practice that morning, in a room full of more than 60 yogis all going to the flow of this practice. I left feeling amazing. I know that feeling carried me through the day, and I know that played a role in not feeling like eating anything heavy.

But vegan?

After seeing the full menu of choices including sweet potato quesadillas and a chicken firehouse wrap with “chicken” seitan, curiosity and an appreciate for creative flare and fare drew me to the place. It reminded me of Chu Chai, one of my favorite places in Montreal — a vegetarian Thai place that offers delicious faux-meat dishes.

The Chicago Diner did not disappoint. The food was fantastic. Molly and I started out with some sweet potato fries topped with “cheeze” and I had a Soul Bowl with quinoa (love that stuff!), spicy grilled tofu with chimichurri sauce, black beans, flashed greens and mashed sweet potatoes. We ended with — get this — vegan chocolate chip cookie dough shakes.

Did the dining experience make me want to go vegan or even vegetarian? Absolutely not. It did make me want to return to Chicago Diner, and it did make me reflect some more about the power of practicing six days a week. If this is already what I’m experience 11 weeks in, it’s going to be interesting.

As for chicken — will I start wanting to eat it again? We’ll see. I kind of like having this be my mystery meat for the time being.

How about you? Do you practice six days a week? What, if anything, changed for you?

(Photo credit: (Top) Wallace and Gromit‘s Feathers McGraw, as imagined on a T-shirt (Bottom) Chicago Diner’s website )  

© YogaRose.net and Rose Tantraphol, 2011. 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.