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.

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.