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

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

DO NOT STIR THE KITCHARI!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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(Photo credit: Top photo by Anne Kellogg)

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

Don’t worry, ghee happy

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

Must be cleanse time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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

What’s an ashtangi stuck on an island pulsing with the energy of inebriated schmoozing to do?

I am on a boat headed to a big work-related conference that I am not looking forward to. Not. At. All. (I sort of feel like a pouty character in Dr. Seuss book saying this out loud.) Business and politics and schmoozing and drinking — lots and lots of drinking — are the name of the game at this conference. I’m not feeling like doing any of these things right now, and certainly not for the rest of the week.

What’s an ashtangi to do? Tell me what you would do. Hare are some things I’m doing:

    • I’ve been replaying, in my head, snippets of a fantastic short little film based on a David Foster Wallace commencement speech that Paul Gold posted on his blog recently. Unfortunately, due to some copyright fights, the viral video, done by The Glossary, is no longer available. But you can still listen to the powerful speech in its entirely. (I hope the copyright rights are resolved, because it was an important video to have out there.)
    • I went to the shala a bit earlier than normal for a Wednesday so that I could practice and still meet my carpool on time to get here. I have my yoga mat and Mysore rug so that I can practice each morning, and the Mysore rug will double as my meditation mat for this trip. I file all this under the category of “help with shock absorption.” (This one kind of goes without saying, right?)
    • I brought my Ayurvedic teas and such with me. It’s nearly impossible to stick to my overall pitta- (and, now) vata-balancing) Ayurvedic program here, but I’ve found lately that the more I stick to it in general, the less I feel the fluctuations when I have to go off it. (Plus, long story short, my sage Ayurvedic counselor told me earlier this month that I went so far with my original pitta-balance program that now the name of the game for me is to “relax the program.” Such a pitta problem to have!)
    • I’ll try yet again to embody Shinzen Young’s awesome definitions of equanimity.
    • Oh, right — I’ll also try to find the humor of being stuck on this island. (This is the kind of place where people dress up in period costume for the tourists, and where the fudge flows freely. I kind of judge both things, but I’ll try to be less judgmental while here. 😉 )

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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.

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[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.

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Eating out then: The more the merrier.


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

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

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

Ghee and tea, oh my

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

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

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

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

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

Ayurveda as a way of life

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three tracks — and don’t be a fundamentalist

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

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

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

Then, people took different routes for the main cleanse:

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

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

‘Gheetotaler’

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

Taking the plunge

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

Bathroom counter

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

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

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

Goodbye for now, rajas

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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.) 

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