Seasonal Eating; My Journey to Nuts and Berries for Breakfast

No no, don’t run and hide.  It isn’t as bad as you think.  In fact, it is quite tasty and can even be fun.  What is seasonal eating and why would it ever be fun?

 

Meditation, martial arts, yoga, any regular fitness routine really, eventually starts to change our bodies.  As our bodies change, the fuel that our bodies crave starts to shift as well.

 

For me, it started small.  Less junk food, less processed foods, healthier options, smaller portions, more vegetables and no soda.  Then it kept going.  Almost no processed foods, regular intervals of eating small portions, I have gone nearly diary free and I basically eat nuts and berries for breakfast these days (mostly fruit, nuts, etc.).

 

In continuing to tune into my body, I have noticed that my desire for certain foods shifts with the seasons.  As I look at it, that just seems natural.  Many foods were not historically available year round and we (completely UNscientific guess) probably developed some sort of synchronized body clock to nature feeding schedule.

 

An example would be apples and peaches.  I love both.  And I have noticed that as the peaches go out of season, my desire for them starts to fade.  I’m not saying I don’t get a craving in February for a peach, but the overall reaction of my body to the fruit is stronger in peak seasons.  Right now, apples rule the stomach.

 

That covers tasty, so where’s the fun?  For me, the fun is in finding exciting and delicious ways to take seasonal foods and turn them into outstanding meals.  Sometimes it can be challenging.  There are years where I just don’t want to look at another eggplant.  That being said, I have found a few amazing cookbooks to help me out.

 

It is also worth noting that these are not the books I started with.  Like any practice, seasonal eating has been more of a journey and this is where I am now.  I started with the likes of Cooking Light and Food Network.  I found them to be more approachable in the beginning.

 

If I were to go back and ask the me when I was when I started to categorize the me of where I am now; then me would tell now me that now I have gone off the deep end (yes, read it again, it is twisted and filled with all sorts of wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff).  While I am not (nor do I plan on ever becoming) a vegetarian, I do enjoy vegetarian centric meals.  I find vegetarian meals to be quite creative and healthy.  To make the meals my own, I either add chicken or beef to the vegetarian entrée, or use the vegetarian dish as a side dish.

 

Here is my list of current favorite cookbooks for seasonal eating.

 

Farmer John’s Cookbook

http://www.amazon.com/dp/1423600142/?tag=googhydr-20&hvadid=6033966269&hvpos=1t1&hvexid=&hvnetw=g&hvrand=1796963153737230328&hvpone=&hvptwo=&hvqmt=e&hvdev=c&ref=pd_sl_71vmvo7syw_e

FarmerJohnCover

 

 

 

Clean Start

http://www.amazon.com/Clean-Start-Inspiring-Live-Recipes/dp/1402779054/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1380043766&sr=1-1&keywords=terry+walters+clean+start

CleanStartCover

 

 

 

Clean Food

http://www.amazon.com/Clean-Food-Seasonal-Recipes-Sustainable/dp/1402768141/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1380043766&sr=1-2&keywords=terry+walters+clean+start

CleanFoodCover

 

And as a bonus, a non-seasonal favorite:

 

Feeding the Whole Family

http://www.amazon.com/Feeding-Whole-Family-Recipes-Children/dp/157061525X

FeedingWholeFamilyCover

The Mysteries of Yoga Demystified; What Kind of Yoga Class Should I Take?

Yoga classes are kind of like Baskin Robbins; more flavors than you can shake a stick at.  Yoga is a hugely popular business, which means everyone wants in on the action.  That also means that everyone is trying to differentiate themselves from everyone else.  The result is a hugely confusing proliferation of Yoga A, Yoga Z and Yoga Kitchen Sink.  A friend of mine was asking what the differences were and how to know what was right for him.  So I compiled a list of what the “major” flavors of yoga (by no means an exhaustive list) with a little explanation of the focus of each.cartoonbigguyyoga

 

Ananda Yoga: Ananda Yoga classes focus on gentle postures designed to move the energy up to the brain and prepare the body for meditation. Classes also focus on proper body alignment and controlled breathing.

 

Anusara Yoga: Postures can be challenging, but the real message of Anusara is to open your heart and strive to connect with the divine in yourself and others.

 

Ashtanga (or Astanga) Yoga: This style of yoga is physically demanding as it involves synchronizing breathing with progressive and continuous series of postures-a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. The result is improved circulation, flexibility, stamina, a light and strong body, and a calm mind.

 

Bikram Yoga: This style includes fitness: muscular strength, muscular endurance, cardiovascular flexibility and weight loss. Classes are done at 95-105 degree temperatures which can promote more flexibility, detoxification, and prevention of injuries.

 

Hatha: A form that is very popular in the United States.  It incorporates postures, breathing and meditation into a complete system. It has become very popular in America as source of exercise and stress management. The key take away; do not overdo the postures or try to compete with others..

 

Integral Yoga: This traditional type of yoga combines postures, breathing exercises, selfless service, meditation, chanting, prayer, and self-inquiry.

 

ISHTA: ISHTA (Integral Science of Hatha and Tantric Arts) focuses on opening energy channels throughout the body with postures, visualizations, and meditation.

 

Iyengar Yoga: Promotes strength, flexibility, endurance, and balance through coordinated breathing and poses that require precise body alignment. The poses are generally held longer than in other styles of yoga.  Use of equipment like cushions, blankets, straps, and blocks to help the less flexible also distinguishes Iyengar from other types of yoga.

 

Jivamukti Yoga: Expresses the spiritual and ethical aspects of the practice of yoga that have been disregarded or devalued in contemporary times. It is a vigorous and challenging set of postures with an emphasis on scriptural study, Sanskrit chanting, vegetarianism, non-violence, meditation, devotion to God and the role that music and listening play in the practice of yoga.

 

Kali Ray TriYoga: A series of flowing, dancelike movements that also incorporates breathing exercises and meditation.

 

Kripalu: This gentle, introspective practice urges practitioners to hold poses to explore and release emotional and spiritual blockages. Goal-oriented striving is discouraged and precise alignment is not as important as in some other traditions..

 

Kundalini:  This practice concentrates on awakening the energy at the base of the spine and drawing it upward. In addition to postures, a typical class will also include chanting, meditation, and breathing exercises.

 

Power Yoga: It’s the American interpretation of ashtanga yoga, a discipline that combines stretching, strength training, and meditative breathing. The postures resemble basic calisthenics — push-ups and handstands, toe touches and side bends — but at an intense aerobic pace.

 

Restorative Yoga: In a restorative yoga class you’ll spend long periods of time lying on blocks, blankets and yoga bolsters – passively allowing muscles to relax.

 

Vinyasa: Focuses on coordination of breath and movement and it is a very physically active form of yoga.

Why Might Yoga Be Good for Men?

Article after article in magazines and papers (and blogs) too numerous to count have tout the virtues and benefits of yoga.  And they are indeed correct about all those benefits.  But I wanted to boil it down a bit and just focus on some of the benefits for men specifically.

 

Flexibility

cartoonbigguyyoga

I have found that most men at least start yoga because they do other sports and want to improve their flexibility.  The great part about using yoga to increase flexibility is that it is done while building strength and muscular endurance.  So not only are you limbering up, you are also adding a strength building workout into your routine.

 

Cross-training

Bench_press

While not generally a cardio workout, yoga is a fantastic muscle builder.  In less flow based practices where the asana (postures) are held for a period of time, the strength building potential is through the roof.  Isometric exercises have well documented benefits as a low impact strength builder.  These are great for recovery from injuries, recovery day workouts and strength building when you can’t get work in a weight lifting session.

 

 

New muscle groups

stretching

Yoga is designed to help us move within the full range of our body’s motion.  What does that mean?  Modern society has contrived to put us all in boxes (cubicles, train seats, car seats, plane seats and so many more) which limit our motion.  Having a steady yoga practice gives us the space to come out of those boxes and find all sorts of new muscles and ways of moving our bodies that can be both infinitely painful and glorious at the same time.

 

 

Core, core, core

from thebodymen.blogspot.com

from thebodymen.blogspot.com

The center piece of muscle groups and whole body health, the core, is strengthened, stretched and toned in essentially every yoga posture.  Aside from the benefits of a stronger core for health and fitness, let’s face it, no one minds having a toned stomach.  Yes, it’s a tad shallow, but that makes it no less true for me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I do have one more *possible* benefit for men to take up yoga.  Our significant others (S.O.).  If you aren’t into yoga and your S.O. is, then taking a class now and again with them is a nice set of points to bank and a great way to bond.  I emphasized the ‘possible’ above because this is predicated on you actually wanting to spend time with them.

by racheldragonfly

by racheldragonfly

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Yoga is something that can be done almost anywhere at almost any time.  You just need a little space.  I encourage you to take a handful of your favorite postures and play with them in ways and places that are not “normal” for your practice (think Warrior 2 in a server room or Tree in your office while you are on a conference call).  And if you don’t have a practice (yet), take a few classes, pick a few postures that you enjoy and play with them.

yogaserverroom

Appealing to Men; What Might Draw Us In

Yoga marketing, clothes, classes and support seem to me to be geared towards women.  However the benefits gained from a regular yoga practice are universal.  How can men become more interested in yoga so they too can also benefit?

HardtailadmenyogaclothesConsider these two adds I pulled from websites for yoga clothing for both men and women.  While thumbing through the sites, the one for the women had *tons* of pictures in active, friendly, community (just appealing in general) poses.  For us guys, this model had this and one other pose for everything he wore.

 

The women’s ad was pulled from HardTail, and the men’s from Vickerey.

 

 

 

 

In addition to the clothing ads, I have thought about this quite a bit.  I have a number of friends who are men and yoga teachers and they have all had various levels of success in trying to attract men into their classes.  I am left wondering where the disconnection is.  So today I would like to explore what might be a man’s more ideal yoga class.  For this, I go back to my own first impressions of yoga studios, what I did and did not like at the time and what kept me coming back.

First, some dislikes:

  • The music –singing about goddesses made me feel uncomfortable.
  • The sayings and posters – they were geared towards women and I felt like and outsider invading a foreign land.
  • Chanting, Bells and Sanskrit – forget about a feminine refuge, I felt like I had stepped into some sort of church and I nearly ran from the room; I don’t want to subscribe to a religion here.
  • The lack of optional postures and modifications – and I will preface this with not being true of every studio, but the ones I started with were not so strong here.  As a beginner, I was strong and flexible, but not familiar with the postures and there were new ways of moving my body.  Sometimes a modification was needed to get me into using new muscles or stretching differently.
  • The sometimes openly suspicious looks from the female students – yes, sad but true.  It’s a yoga studio; isn’t it about peace and acceptance and growth?  Then why did I feel like I needed to justify being there?
  • The clothes – there are just not enough decent yoga clothes for men.  I like tighter fitting stretchy mid-thigh shorts.  Way too few options here.  The basketball shorts that are being pushed today just aren’t comfortable to me.

What kept me coming back:

  • The staff – the people working the front counters and the teachers were always friendly, down to earth and funny.
  • The workouts – they were typically pretty good.  With the caveat noted above, I would have liked more options for modification of the postures when I was struggling to understand them.
  • Curiosity – why is yoga so popular?  What draws all these people back time and again?  What am I not understanding?

And last for today, what might make it more inviting for men:

  • “Ease into it” classes – these are classes specifically designed to not have chanting, more popular style music and focused on the class; offering appropriate options, props and a good sweat.
  • Throw a masculine targeted poster up – Goddess Heart Opening Retreat to Express and Experience Your Natural Femininity 2013 posters are creepy to me; and very uninviting.  Mix in a few posters covering the story behind the Warrior series of postures.  Something that does not make men feel they are in a strange and foreign land.
  • Male only classes – this is something that is already starting to take off, but I hope continues to grow.  There are entire gyms that are dedicated to women who want the freedom to work out without feeling like they are being watched.  I completely agree that that type of environment should exist.  The flip side is that guys might also benefit from a similar environment with yoga.

I am not saying the chanting, Om’ing and stuff needs to go.  It has grown on me and I now prefer classes with that experience.  But not when I first started.  My idea of getting in touch with my feelings was punching a bag really hard.  I know I needed to ease into this type of environment.  If it can be made a little more guy oriented, I truly believe that more men will find their way to yoga.  And in my opinion, that can only be a good thing.

natureyoga

 

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.  You agree, disagree, think I have missed the boat completely?

Men, Emotions and Days of Significance

Anger, fear, jealousy, malice, love, passion, selflessness and gratitude.  These are some of the most powerful emotions we have.  They drive us to greatness, and they remind us of the greatest of pain.

These emotions can, if left unchecked, run our lives.  They can take us to the highest of highs and deliver us to the lowest of lows.  And if we let them, they will; over and over again like a bad roller coaster ride.  They can steer us in the direction of poor choices; either through the choice to chase after joy to the exclusion of all else, or to lash out blindly at anyone near us when we are in a low.

Emotions are a primal part of being human.  How do we get off that roller coaster?  Is it to become emotionless, ruled strictly by logic?  Living with nothing but steely logic leaves us with a lack of depth in our experiences.  Should we do nothing and let the emotions take us where they will?  How do we find that middle ground?  If you think of emotional content as a wave with highs (happiest times) and lows (darkest times) you find a space in the middle (for the math geeks out there, think of it as a sine wave on a graph).  As we move toward the center, there is less emotional “noise” whereas the fringes are more emotionally charged.

2sines

Our goal is to first make space for ourselves to observe where we are along that graph.  Next we can gently guide our emotions from the fringes a little closer to the center.  To be clear, I do NOT advocate an emotionless experience, nor trying to nudge all emotional experiences.  That is what the space is for; to allow for us to feel what our reaction is and then make a conscious choice.  Do I want to experience this emotion as is, or is it a drain or counter-productive?  If you want to experience it as is, then ride it out.  However, if you want to make a change, if you are not happy with the experience you are having right now, you have the space and the ability to change how you are reacting.  This is the beginning of emotional balance.

This doesn’t mean you will never experience a negative emotion or thought.  What it does mean is that those super strong emotions (whether positive or negative) and thoughts will not become the rule and they will not rule you.

Now it is time to breathe.  See how this lands with you.  And when you are ready, I have an exercise for you.

The next time you are in the middle of an intense feeling or thought (negative ones are easier to pick out at first) stop, take a breath.  Give yourself the gift of a moment to consciously decide if your current reaction is really how you want to react.  If the answer is yes, then proceed.  But if the answer is no, you now have the option to choose what comes next.  Continue as you are, or choose to react differently.  The first few ( or many) times might be challenging to make the change in reaction that you want.  Be compassionate with yourself.  Make a mental note of it and let it go.  You will have another opportunity.  And when you do make that first change, allow some space to celebrate.  You have taken the first steps in balancing your emotions by consciously choosing what you want to experience and how you want to experience it.

Yoga for Special Populations : Men

Yoga is a versatile form of exercise.  It has the capacity for near limitless modifications to suit any type of body and situation.  Any specific subset of practitioners is sometimes generically called a Special Population.  These Special Populations can range from kids to the elderly to students who are injured in some way.  Today I would like to focus on a special population near to my own heart; men.

Since football season is now upon us, I would like to propose a form of yoga inspired by a friend of mine who shall remain nameless; and just to be up front, this is (somewhat) tongue in cheek.manwatchingtv

Image courtesy of Ambro FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

If you have your own practice, you are likely aware of the Sun Salutations (Surya Namaskar) series.  In deference to the armchair quarterback set, I would like to introduce a series I call Half Time Salutations (Surya Ardha Krida).

Serving special populations sometimes requires the use of special props and considerations.  For this new series, there will be no mat used, and the area required is simply the space around the student and will vary within that landscape.

  1. Start with sitting tall, rooting the tailbone into the chair and extending the spine while reaching the head to the sky.
  2. With your breath, start with Seated Half Moon to both sides a few times to open up the side body; like reaching for chips on the floor next to you.
  3. Next extend through the spine, pivot at the hips forward and then continue lengthening through the spine as you fold over your knees to pick up the remote control by your feet.
  4. Coming back up (roll up or straight back), inhaling the arms overhead and gently extend into a gentle back bend as if you were swatting away the significant other wanting you to do chores.
  5. Return to center and while keeping the sits bones firmly planted, gentle seated spine twists looking for the dog making noises behind the chair.
  6. Return to center and breathe.
  7. Plant the feet firmly in the ground, inhale sweep the arms overhead rising to a Touchdown Tadasana(Mountain).
  8. Keep the spine lengthened and the arms in the Touchdown position, shift your weight to one leg and take a large step forward with the other.  Stack the front knee over the front ankle for support and exhale the arms to your waist.  Take a moment here to find the neutral pelvis.
  9. Step forward with the rear leg to Offsides Tadasana.  Repeat with alternate legs until you are in the kitchen.
  10. Shift your weight to one leg, come to a Vriksasana (Tree) posture as you look for snacks in the freezer.  Switch legs as you search for more snacks and drinks in the fridge.
  11. Plant your feet firmly into the ground, hinge at the hips as you extend through the top of the head and fold forward to pick up anything you might have dropped.  While there, let your head hang loose and release all tension.  Take a breath.
  12. With arms full and your spine lengthened, tighten your abs and move into a Balakikasana (Crane) posture.  As you bring the foot back down, step forward and switch sides.  Repeat until you are back with your friends.
  13. Set your feet firmly to the ground, tailbone reaching to the earth, head lifted to the sky, inhale the arms out in front of you sit back into Arm Chair (Dormula Asandi) Utkatasana.  Hold for two comfortable breaths.
  14. Exhale back to a comfortable seated position.
  15. With your breath extend up and over the arms of your chair to set your snacks and drinks down.
  16. Resume watching the game while being fully present with your friends and family.

The nice part about a series designed for a special population is that it is flexible and can be done multiple times a day.

Humor aside, I encourage everyone to give this series a go.  Always take the proper safety precautions (i.e. no warrior postures on stairs for example) and work through the series.  Sitting and watching television or in front of the computer for long periods of time can lead to energy being sapped, poor posture and as a result, a general feeling of lethargy.

The bottom line, yoga is versatile, helpful and fun.  I invite you to play with yoga in ways that are fun, challenging and yes, occasionally silly; no matter what population you belong to.

mandoingyoga

Image courtesy of graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

Men, Yoga and Props

messy yogaWhen I first started yoga, props were one of the things that frustrated me the most.  Like many men (and I am sure no shortage of women as well), I viewed props as some sort of crutch or sign that I wasn’t good/strong/flexible enough to do a posture on my own.  In fact, it wasn’t until I started my yoga teacher training that I realized that props were not my enemy, were not a sign of weakness, but a tool to help move me into a better yoga experience.

I bring this up because this morning I was moving through some postures on my own.  Out of habit now, I pull out a couple of blocks and keep them close at hand.  And as I was moving through my series, I noticed how and when I used the blocks, and the difference in sensations between when I did and didn’t use them.

What I noticed was that when I didn’t use props, I wasn’t able to be present in the yoga experience.  I struggled with physical alignment and/or pain, emotional tension around how I was doing and why I couldn’t do it better and mental stress over my physical and emotional distractions.  This led me to a less balanced practice.

As I began to get comfortable with props and introduced them into my own practice and later started using them in group classes, I noticed that my movement and comfort into and out of postures was much better.  As my physical discomfort diminished, my emotional and mental stress decreased and I was more open to the benefits of yoga.

What I have come to understand is that props are helpful.  And with all things, different teachers have different strengths when teaching.  Some are masters of the verbal queue, others offer the best assists and yes, some are amazing at offering prop options; both for the physical alignment benefits and also in a way that puts students at ease enough to reach for the prop.

But not everyone is strong in that area.  So it is up to us, the students, to be comfortable with our own use of props.  Use of the props is a tool to help us overcome a variety of challenges.

These challenges can range from proportional issues (I have T-Rex arms – that is my arms are shorter than my body, so that when I sit with my arms fully extended, my hands will just touch the floor), to injuries (I have had a shoulder dislocated 3 times; I have a great grasp on one side for Gomukhasana, but on the other side, I am a full block apart) to being new to a posture.  Props are a great way to adjust alignment for new or challenging postures.

The options are ours as the student.  Take and use the props.  It isn’t a sign of weakness or shortcoming, but a sign of knowing oneself and being present in your practice.  I have short arms; some postures don’t work for me without a block.  Nothing is ever going to change that, as I am done growing.  If props aren’t offered, feel in your own body what isn’t working, grab the most likely prop and use it.  If it isn’t ideal or needs a tweak, the teacher will offer an assist.

The underlying lesson is that we all need help in some form from time to time.  Whether it is with a prop in a yoga class or elsewhere in our lives, it is not weakness to accept help, but strength.neat yoga