Why Yoga?

It seems every time I open a magazine or newspaper someone is writing about yoga and meditation in connection to stress management.  It is one thing to read about this as a concept and another entirely to put it into regular practice and reap the benefits.   One root cause that many diseases and disorders have in common, that so many experts and stressed out people agree on, is stress.  As I wrote about in an earlier essay, to be alive means we are constantly experiencing varying forms of stress, and how we perceive it, as good or bad, determines how stress affects our health mental, physical and emotional.   Personally I have had many different ailments I can trace back to stress, for example, one particularly manic job I held as a house manager/tutor/nanny/personal assistant lead to chronic neck pain, digestive upset and insomnia.  I had to quit, it just wasn’t worth the big paycheck if my job was making me sick.  My symptoms slowly subsided once I’d left that crazy house, go figure.

When I was little I would do yoga with my dad, or rather he would do yoga and I would copy him.  It was many years later, as a teenager, when I worked at Kripalu Yoga Center in Lenox, that yoga came back in to my life, at least on the periphery.  In the two years I worked in the kitchen at Kripalu I never once took a yoga class.  I preferred instead to spend my break going for a long run and then relaxing in the sauna and whirlpool afterwards.  I was either at 60 or zero, I didn’t know how to do anything moderately and I thought, yoga is too slow for me, it’s boring.  In retrospect, it was just what I needed.

Warrior pose builds strength of body and mind.

This April I discovered that the Kriplau website offers 7 one hour-long yoga classes, for free.  Suddenly I no longer needed to get to a class on their schedule or be able to afford a monthly yoga class subscription, two things that had been holding me back from starting a consistent yoga practice.  I also had a spare room in my house- it now holds two yoga mats, a single extra bed for guests and that’s about it.  Yoga space plus high quality yoga classes on my laptop equals about 3 hours of yoga or more per week and the positive effects keep adding up.  Here are some things I have noticed since starting a consistent practice of at least three sessions a week:

I am sleeping better: I say this as someone who, as long as I can remember, has never been able to fall asleep quickly.  In fact, I am totally used to laying away for hours, no matter how tired I feel when I climb into bed.  Like I said, I’m usually going going going.  And yoga has helped me to find middle ground, I feel, in general, more relaxed and that has led to deeper, more restful sleep.  And sleep being the great regenerator, has led me to greater overall health and well-being.

My stress level is much lower:  The little things don’t bother me as much, I don’t feel myself getting stressed out nearly as often and it’s much easier for me to handle stressful situations.  Hours of deep, regular breathing and movement help me to remember that I can do yoga anytime, anywhere.  Doing the dishes, answering emails, working in the garden- I remember my posture, my breath and I stay more connected to my body in the moment, more often.

More strength and muscle tone:  I wasn’t expecting this since I have been an avid runner since I was 16 but my legs are stronger and more defined yoga is the perfect counter point to running, which I continue to do regularly.  I have more definition in my shoulders and can do real push ups and pull ups, whoo hoo, upper body strength!  I also feel that my inner strength is, well, stronger!  I can literally breathe through anything, up the big hills on my run, through a frustrating encounter or a challenging client call.

Yoga can help you cultivate a healthy relationship with your body: Our culture gets so hung up on how we look that we forget about the many miraculous things our bodies are constantly doing for us.  Sure, yoga can help you get into better physical shape but the effects go so much deeper than what is on the surface.  When is the last time you thanked your heart for always beating, every moment of your life?  When is the last time you did something that helps your whole body regenerate on a cellular and energetic level?  A regular yoga practice will support you in cultivating a healthy, loving relationship with your whole being, not just the superficial parts that may or may not, on any given day, look great in jeans.

Meditation is easier: at the end of an hour of yoga, breathing deeply and regularly along with the asanas (postures) my body and mind are more prepared for the 15 minutes of meditation I aim to do every day.  This means I meditate about 3-6 times a week, depending on the week.  Whether I am doing a healing energy work meditation or just focusing on my breathing and a simple mantra, yoga is a great preparation for a focused and easy, mindful meditation.  More on the do-it-yourself-energy work in a future post!

Other side effects may include: improved sense of well-being,better overall mood, increased self-awareness, clearer thinking due to increased oxygen, deepening your personal spiritual practice, relief from depression…you get the idea!

So, how do you start your own yoga practice and begin to reap the many, multifaceted benefits? 

First, remember that everything is yoga.  Are you breathing deeply and regularly?  This tells your nervous system that all is well, there’s no need for stress hormones or a stress response.  Are you in your body? Are you in the moment?  Yoga on your mat is just practice for all that we do when we are not ‘practicing yoga’.  Yoga at home works for me because I choose the time and the class- on Kripalu.org or Yogaglo.com (a pay per month site that’s like a yoga version of Netflix) or I can check out yoga DVDs from the library.  My yoga practice is free, aside from the mat- the Yogaglo.com site is only $18 a month, about the same as you’d pay for one class!

Maybe you are a social creature and you need to be with others in order to get you motivated to move.  Either check into monthly yoga passes at your local studio, like Radiance Yoga on North Street or a Berkshire Kripalu Community membership, these are the best deals!  Or invite friends over for a regular yoga class at home.  You can also commit to one class a week at the studio and few classes at home in-between for the best of both.  Whatever you choose, try at least three sessions a week and you will soon start to see and feel the benefits of yoga, from lower stress levels to better sleep and so much more.

New Spring Salad

Dana and I literally made room for our yoga practice.

I’ve been a bit pressed for time since there are a lot of exciting changes going on right now; the garden is growing, there are houses to bid on (woah!) and we converted an extra room in our house to a yoga/meditation room.  I have been naturally waking up consistently early for the past few weeks, a change I attribute to the new season and a sign that my health continues to improve.  The combination of getting up earlier and our yoga room means I’m able to do an hour of Kripalu yoga, mediate and start my day having already accomplished two of my most important goals for the day. Or I can work in an hour of yoga later in the day.  Either way, having hour long classes, on line, that range from gentle restorative yoga to more vigorous, challenging classes, right on the Kripalu home page, makes a daily practice pretty easy to incorporate.  If you have space for a yoga mat and an internet connection, you too can incorporate yoga into your daily routine.  Give it a try!

One of 4 post cards designed to promote the market. This one is my favorite. You can see the other designs on the New Amsterdam Market Facebook page.

Dana, Brian and I are also expanding Fire Cider to a weekly market in New York City called ‘The New Amsterdam Market’ which opens next Sunday at 11 am in the Old Fulton Fish Market.  This is such an exciting next step for us and there’s a lot  to do to get ready!  So, I find I have less time that I would like to spend writing new recipes and playing in the kitchen.  In the interest of time, mine and yours, I’ve come up with a new way to write recipes so I can continue to share with you on a weekly basis…

The ingredients will be listed in the order they are added to the recipe.  Simple instructions will appear throughout the list and the meal should take about 5-15 min to assemble or cook, sound good?  Healthy meals fast, yes please!

One dish dinner with the daffodils my mom picked for us, thanks mama!

New Spring Salad

In a large bowl combine:

1 can tuna

3-4 T mayo

2 T spicy dijon mustard

2 T raw apple cider vinegar

2 T each: Kalamata olives halved and chopped oil cured olives

salt and pepper to taste

Mix well then add

Salad greens of your choosing: baby spinach and dandelion greens are especially nutritious.

1 grated carrot

Mix again and top with

grated cheese, I used some Vermont cheese from the co-op that’s part cheddar and part Romano

a small handful of toasted, salted sunflower seeds

Serve and eat!

A Few Must Read Books

Here are three books that I recommend to my health coaching clients and that I find myself coming back to again and again.  The first book looks like a cheesy drug store diet book but it’s full of fascinating information about the dangerous effects of consuming too much sugar.  Tired?  Bloated? Always hungry and can’t seem to kick those sugar cravings?  Got achy joints, depression and blotchy skin prone to breakouts?  

You need to read ‘Sugar Blues’ by William Duffy.  It is currently selling from 35 cents on Amazon and it’s totally worth the investment.  A quote from one of my clients who I helped to finally kick her sugar habit for good, “Sugar is like rust in your body, now that I don’t eat it I can’t see how I would ever put such a damaging substance in my body again.”  Well said!

My next recommendation is called “The Psychic Pathway: Reawakening the Voice of Your Soul” by Sonia Choquette, Phd. Don’t let the title scare you, I think many of us have an off reaction to the word ‘psychic’ calling up images of mysterious women and their crystal balls.  Instead, think about your gut instinct, your intuition or anytime you’ve ever heard that voice of wisdom in your head and thankfully followed it.  You know you’ve got the same brain cells in your gut that you’ve got in your head, right?!  This book is a meditation guide and a guide to getting back in touch with and receptive to, your inner voice.  You know what’s best for you, better than anyone else ever will.  So why not deepen your self awareness?  

And my last book recommendation for today is called “The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment”by Eckhart Tolle.  An important part of a healthy and balanced life is a fulfilling spiritual practice and this book can help you to start or deepen whatever spiritual path you have chosen.  This is a practical guide that you can begin to use immediately.  I read this for the first time when I was feeling very stuck and frustrated by what seemed like an all consuming illness.  It really helped me to gain new insights and perspectives and significantly helped to reduce my feelings of frustration.  The information in this book perfectly compliments Sonia Choquette’s workbook and is something I have returned to many times.

The time is always NOW!

Happy reading!  And, if you want to reward yourself for books well read, check out the movie (also a book of the same title) “What The Bleep Do We Know?!”  It’s a mind bender of the best kind!