The Iyengar Room

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I recently came out of savasana asking myself, “how the hell did i get here?” “Here” was an Iyengar room filled with men and women, most far older than I. They weren’t the typical 30- and 40-year-olds with chiseled muscles and a million fancy poses in their pockets. Yet, in my mind, these people are the original yogis. And, although they don’t all look like they could grace Yoga Journal, they can hold a headstand like no one else.

Many of them have been practicing since before I was born or at least well before yoga was trending everywhere. The lady next to me had to be at least 75. In the packed room, I could count on one hand how many were wearing lululemon. No one had a Yogitoes yoga towel. Instead they had notebooks and worn out copies of the Yoga Sutras. They speak in sanskrit and tell stories of when they were with BKS Iynegar.

Of course, if I trace my roots, I know how I got to Patricia Walden’s Friday night class. It wasn’t until reflecting on my post-savasna reaction that I realized “here” wasn’t the physical place, but rather the spiritual space to which I was taken. As a long-time closet atheist, this remains alarming. Then again, it’s rare to be in the presence and care of such a renowned yoga teacher as Patricia. A direct disciple.

Having gone to Pune year after year to study with her guru, Patricia talks about the late BKS Iyengar with reverence but also with familiarity. During the Sutra discussion that night, she says that Iyengar taught her not only how to live but also how to die, telling the class that Iyengar told his family before his death that he was “just changing his clothes.” This tidbit came since the discussion centered around abhinivesa, or clinging to bodily life, fear of death. The thought of death is a fear that has plagued me since, at a young age, I decided that if ants and rats don’t go to Heaven, then humans can’t either. So he’s just changing his clothes. His true Self will always be here, but he’s just taking a different form. I thought to myself, “Veeerrrry interesting.”

From that sutra discussion, Patricia led us through a full asana practice. In a yoga world that has become so watered down with all the different forms of yoga, it’s incredible to take a class with such direct lineage to a Yoga guru. In the context of the Sutra discussion, the greater purpose of the asana practice was palpable. I’ve always thought the asana reveals our true personality but that never meant so much as when Patricia said that we die the way we live.

After seriously practicing for more than a decade, I finally had one of those moments you always hear about; where the true Self shines through and everything else it identifies with melts away for the moment. Until then I thought I was broken. Don’t get me wrong, the practice has always been sacred, but never have I had such a reverent experience that left me quiet, truly quiet, and at peace.

I was here — with no thoughts of what had already happened or what may someday happen. But just for that fleeting moment. The tangible take-away was maybe I’m not really atheist. That would be nice.

Love the Cucumber

 

Ezekiel toast, avocado, and cucumber slices, topped with dill and himalaya salt.
Ezekiel toast, avocado, and cucumber slices, topped with dill and himalaya salt. 

I’ve always overlooked the cucumber as a boring vegetable, well it’s actually a fruit — the whole seed thing. Recently, however, I find myself turning to this magical produce at almost every meal. These green gems are truly miraculous; they’re your ticket to health. They help with everything from fighting cancer and replenishing vitamins to helping with bad breath and hangovers! Seriously, google the cucumber.

I use it as the base for my morning juice or smoothie. There is so much water and nutrients in it you could just drink the cucumber water on its own. You can also try it with kale/spinach, celery, apple, ginger and lemon or mix it up with watermelon and mint.

For lunch or snack time, I top a piece of ezekiel bread and avocado with cucumber and dill, which has taken the place of my beloved cucumber sandwiches that require cream cheese. Or if I need a kick I use chipotle pepper flakes instead of dill. It’s also great base for cold soups and let us not forget about how it transforms gazpacho.

More than tasting great, if you run hot and have excess pitta, (the Ayurvedic way of loosely saying you’re hot-tempered, competitive, perfectionist, type A), then cooling foods like cucumbers can balance that excess heat. Healing from the inside. Nice.

Remember, cucumbers are number nine on the dirty dozen list compiled by the Environmental Working Group, so, if you don’t buy organic, please take the skin off before using them…otherwise all these benefits are counterproductive.

Try this recipes to get you started…

Cucumber and Avocado Soup (from Kris Carr’s cookbook)
8 cucumbers, roughly chopped
4 avocados
1 jalapeño, no seeds
1/2 bunch of cilantro
1 sprig mint, stems removed
1 lime, juiced
2 tablespoons salt

Blend all ingredients in a high-speed blender until pureed. Pass through a colander or china cap. You can top with corn kernels or chopped red pepper. Season according to your taste. Happy eating!

Diligence + Non-attachment = …

sutraIt’s been an embarrassingly long time since I’ve updated Straight to Downdog. At first, I was wracked with guilt for letting this go. Two weeks went by, a month. Then six months later I supposed I’d just let it fizzle and avoid it. But now just under a year later, after being re-inspired by my oldest friend’s extraordinary blogging (you’ve got to check out BlogSociety and LittlePaperTrees), I’ve decided it’s time to start again.

I’ve always wanted my posts to have some real content, which was one reason why I struggled with keeping it going. There’s only so much I can say about yoga and living well without being a nag, really.

Another reason was I simply felt I had no bloody time. But, then, to be honest, I always find time to watch Bravo. And though everyone needs some down time, (I hope your downtime is spent doing more enlightening things than daydreaming about having Andy Cohen’s job), I think it’s completely reasonable to commit to at least one post a month.

At HOME we recently started a Sutra Circle and began discussing the sutra concerning abhyasa and vairagyabhyam — crazy sounding sanskrit words which sometimes translate as, “Persistent and diligent effort with non-attachment to the result.”

Do we do things only for what is attained in the end? Do we only practice asana (the physical form of yoga) to nail that arm balance? Clearly, the answer is no, although overcoming whatever obstacle stopped you from achieving the arm balance is quite gratifying. The diligent effort paid off.

In much the same way, for me writing this blog is not about attracting as many followers as possible, although that would be lovely. It’s not about me trying to change anyone’s mind about yoga, which be lovelier. Simply writing about what I love and sharing it is gratifying enough. It’s the practice of sharing and finding more clarity in the process that matters. It’s also a compass that keeps me honest. I’ve got the non-attachment part down, (in this context only). Now, I just need to work on the persistent and diligent effort, without letting a glass of wine and Ramona Singer get in my way.

So here we go again…and hold me to it, because I do truly enjoy writing. It’s what I did in my past life before I made yoga my main squeeze.

Happy Birthday

A year ago today, I opened the door to HOME Yoga.

Like many small business owners, I faced the prospect with trepidation, anxiety, excitement and tenacity. Clearly, I had no idea what to expect. None.

I was inspired to open by many people, but none more than my friend and owner of The Yoga Loft Jen Ryan. Without her blessing, this never would have happened. The Yoga Loft was my yoga home for years and the community Jen has built is admirable. Much like I couldn’t tell her what to expect with her first baby, after I had my third, there was no way she could tell me what to expect in opening my own studio after hers had been thriving for years. Holy crap. There should be a book: What to Expect When You Open Your Own Studio. I just wanted to teach yoga in my own space, in my own way. That was it.

Of course, intellectually, I knew it would entail a lot of other work. I just didn’t know the extent of it: the drudgery of maintenance, the creativity and persistence of marketing, the chaos of scheduling, taxes (‘nuf said.), hurricanes, blizzards and even one well-timed earthquake in the middle of savasana that shook the entire building. Namaste.

I didn’t realize there would be glamorous hairstylists walking by in high-heeled shoes at the beginning of every class or that the curtain’s would trip up so many people who arrived late — no matter how respectfully they entered. I didn’t even know it was my responsibility to switch the electric into my name. That was a tough and embarrassing lesson learned. I’ll stop with all the growing pains before I embarrass myself more.

I also absolutely did not realize just how fulfilling it would be, despite these unforeseen obstacles. I never think twice about coming to the studio every single morning because I’m always greeted by people who have become my friends. The dedication from the teachers I adore — Anthony, Karen and Vito — and the many loyal students who have shown their support has created a yoga community of which I am so extremely grateful to be a part.

I have to give a shout out to Natasha Rizopoulos, too, who’s teaching has inspired me from the first class I taught. While I learned a ton with her in my first teacher training, it has been all the subsequent trainings and workshops that I have assisted her that have really driven home all the meticulous cues and smart sequencing that have become the essence of my classes. I try to articulate her command of alignment, anatomy and philosophy in my own way. I’ve learned more about yoga from her than anyone else and aspire to teach with the same compassion, control and intelligence that she exhibits every time she teaches.

And last, but certainly not least, I must give credit to my family who has dealt with me patiently for the last year. Thanks to my mom and sister and brother-in-law for helping me paint. Thanks to my other sister for hanging up the darn curtain rods. Thanks to Tom, who believed this was possible far before I did and who fixed my QuickBooks catastrophe in time for 1099s. Sorry, buddy –(I’m on top of it now). I also thank my little cherubs –well, most of the time they’re cherubs– who have adjusted to me being gone more than usual with grace — well except for the times they cry and cling to my leg. — and who gave up half their summer last year to help me decorate. Thank god for foam blocks. Some of you may have noticed the pen holes in some of them.

Now that I’ve written a speech fit for an Oscar I didn’t win, I feel a little bit like the first time mother, or parents, who celebrate the child’s first birthday as a sigh of relief that they made it through the first year. Only later do we realize it’s not about us but about the child. This isn’t about me, though I have certainly made it seem like it is. It’s about the studio we call home.

The Four Locks

I had intended to write about the virtues of a sugar-free diet this week, and while I do consider sugar a form of evil, given the events on Monday at the Marathon I’ve decided to turn this entry to yoga philosophy. For full disclosure, I do not claim to be any expert on yoga philosophy nor do I have any answers to calm the mind about the horrific event on Monday, but since I can’t stop thinking about it — and I’m sure many of you may be having the same trouble — I thought I’d try to exorcise some of the emotion with a blog dedicated to it.

The sutra that keeps nudging its way into my mind right now is Sutra 1.33. If you’re not familiar with it, it states: By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard for the wicked, the mind retains its undisturbed calmness.

It’s known as the four keys to handling the four locks — those locks being happy people, unhappy people, virtuous people and wicked people. These are the people who tend to get under our skin or ruffle our feathers for one reason or another. If we can approach such categories of people with the appropriate lock then we will have peace of mind. Simple. Got it, Patanjali. Except that life isn’t that simple.

In every teacher training with which I’ve been a part, the fourth lock — disregard for the wicked — is the most unpalatable. Inevitably, Hitler comes up, and also in this year’s fall trainings the Newton shooting was the most obvious and egregious act that we simply cannot disregard. So here it is again with the Boston Marathon Bombings as the news people have labeled it. For me, this one is most personal as several Stoneham High School classmates — football players and rugged boys — became amputees. For many of us who grew up around Boston, the tragedy hits way too close to home, literally and figuratively.

How can we possibly just disregard what happened? We can’t. And I don’t think that was Patanjali’s intention.

Instead, we try disregard the sick, evil perpetrator, not the outcome of the event itself. Clearly, such wicked people are not deserving of our attention, of our thoughts. Giving such animals air time just makes them hungry. The victims, of course, are deserving, and after such tragedies, we tend to see a banding together of people. People rush to help the wounded in the immediate aftermath. We cry and mourn for the fallen as if we knew them all their lives. We create benefits and fundraisers to support the victims.

There is no proverbial silver lining in this, or any, tragedy, but at the very least we learn that fundamentally we are all the same. All the material goods and wealth, beauty and good fortune that seemingly separate us or categorize us mean nothing in a time of tragedy. We all want to live happy, healthy lives free of tyranny and terror and full of love. The innate kindness of humanity is unveiled. We can throw away the four locks for this moment in time.

Trust Me on the Sunscreen

Winter is over. I’ve been waiting for winter to end since it began. Having three little kids in the winter is a lot of work just to get out the door. Winter means struggles to find three sets of matching socks and three sets of matching mittens. It means fewer fights over which sparkly hat or scarf is appropriate. It means tying shoes or worse, using adult-sized force to squeeze a tiny foot into a snow boot. Exhaustion set in before the day even began.

Rejoice. Hurray for flip flops! Spring is here — which, on the downside, means sunscreen. For the last five years, I’ve struggled with thick, white kids’ sunscreen. It cakes my wedding rings and leaves the kids a strange whitish blue color. Water beads up on their skin after a fresh application. Nothing makes a parent feel more guilty than seeing their offspring burned to a red crisp.

But what about the countless chemicals that seep into a child’s pores with every gluey application of sunscreen. Most of us are aware enough now about sunscreen dangers but still fear burning our young children who love nothing more than playing outside all summer long — despite all the claims that all kids do is sit inside and play video games. Last summer, I thought it was a choice: burned child today, potential side-effects of too many chemicals a decade from now. I’ve used the winter to do some research so I wouldn’t have to make this choice again.

I’ve found there are ways to protect your kids — and yourself for that matter — without having to use chemically-laden sunscreens. Most obvious, there are hats — wide-brimmed ones that cover the face. Simple. There are also bathing suits that protect from the sun, although if you’re slave to fashion as my kids are they won’t let those things on their bodies. They want their yellow polka dot bikinis, (for real). This is summer. The days of wardrobe struggles are on hold until winter comes back.

So, enter sunscreen.

The deal is to make sure the active ingredient is “non-nano uncoated zinc-oxide.” The key word to remember is non-nano. You’ll see the word “non-nano” right next to zinc oxide in the active ingredients. It shouldn’t be hard to find, so if you’re having trouble spotting “non-nano,” chances are it isn’t non-nano. In simple terms, non-nano means the sunscreen isn’t filled with a bunch of chemicals. Because it’s non-nano, 35 is the highest SPF. In order for companies to give the public a higher SPF, they must manufacture the sunscreen with chemicals. Eek!

The great thing about most sunscreens that use non-nano SPF is that they are generally also filled with other natural ingredients, read: no parabens. Yay! I recommend Badger brand, but, believe it or not, there are lots of choices. Of course, because zinc-oxide is the main ingredient, it does turn your skin a whitish color. The more you rub, the more the white hue fades. Still, it’s better than turning red later or subjecting yourself to potential cancer. (There are also all natural self-tanning products that are paraben-free. Who knew the au natural world was so interested in tan skin? I didn’t.)

Don’t forget that Vitamin D is essential for us humans. So soak up the sun early in the morning or later in the afternoon, sans sunscreen, to let your body ingest the sun’s nectar.

HOMEwork

Often a student will ask how long will it take until he or she can get into a particular pose. If I had a crystal ball, I very happily would answer that question with certainty, but as those of us who have made yoga an integral part of our lives know, the answer can range from tomorrow to never. In part, this uncertainty is the beauty of the yoga practice — and there is a reason it’s called a practice.

More often, students are curious about what may be stopping them from moving forward in a particular pose or family of poses. That is a much more targeted question with a more definitive answer. For example, if you’re struggling with parvritta bakasana but already have a clean chaturanga and bakasana, then it’s more likely that the twist is holding you back than strength in the shoulders or core. The more we practice, the more we can see the different parts of the puzzle in each pose and can assess where the resistance is on our own.

Sometimes students feel like they have in a sense plateaued with their practice. They haven’t given birth to any new poses in quite some time — and while the focusing elements should be enough to call us back to yoga again and again, let’s face it: we’re human and the thrill of a new pose in the repertoire is quite alluring. In this case, my best bet is that such a student has been getting by on their own natural abilities. Think Manny Ramirez. Imagine the possibilities if he had as much focus as Tom Brady. Anyway, at some point natural ability will favor either strength or flexibility and we need to have equal amounts of both to move forward physically in our asana practice.

In any of these cases, I would recommend a home “practice.” Now it’s not going to be a fast, flow-y practice in which your sweat your arse off. To be honest, you may get bored. We’re not going for the calm of a yoga class either, so feel free to watch The Real Housewives of your choice as you go through it. The idea is that practicing these poses regularly, and holding for longer periods than you would in a public class, will make a dramatic difference in your “real” practice. Have a timer handy rather than a digital clock. It’ll make the timed holds more accurate. Plus, you won’t have to worry about being time keeper as you practice.

The poses below aren’t fancy poses, by any means. But I do believe that honestly and regularly practicing the poses below, with discipline, will make the party-trick poses much more accessible.

⁃ Supta padagustasana 1 and 2 (Reclined hand to big toe), holding for two minutes. Unless your hammies are seriously long, please use a strap. More accurate alignment will make a huge difference. No is looking and, even if they are, no one cares if you need to use a strap. Try to press the hip of the extended leg down toward the heel on the floor without letting the leg on the floor pop up off the floor. Press the thigh bone down toward the floor. The magic is in the details.
⁃ Adho Mukha Svanasana (Down dog) Try holding for five minutes. If you’re newer, try for a minute or two and gradually work your way to five minutes.
⁃ Dolphin for two minutes, or, again, work your way up to that hold in 15/30 second intervals. It’s best to use a strap (measured shoulder-distance) around you upper arms, right above the elbow, so that your elbows don’t splay, and a block framed between the index fingers and thumbs, so your hands don’t creep in. If you’re going to take the time to do it, you may as well get as much benefit as you can.
⁃ Dolphin plank for one minute, rest and then do it again for a minute. Use the block and strap here as well. For both dolphin and dolphin plank try it with the block at the wall and then with the feet pressing into the wall.
⁃ Bjujangasana (low cobra) and salabasana (locust) variations. Hold these poses for 15 – 20 breaths, focusing on the alignment in the legs and feet to steady the pose so that you can find the openness in the thoracic spine. Try it with the hands interlaced behind the back to really open the upper back. The hands reaching out in front will strengthen the shoulders, the lower back and serratus muscles. Lifting one leg at a time will strengthening the inner thighs. Even though these poses are often thought of as beginner backbends, they are an incredible place to strengthen the entire back body (which helps with much more advanced poses).
⁃ Uttita Hasta Padagustasana 1 and 2 at the wall, holding for 2 minutes each. Alignment is super important here. Make sure your lifted leg is no higher than hip height and that you are exactly a leg’s distance away from the wall. You can measure by siting against the wall and placing a strap under your heels. This set-up will make sure you don’t lean into the wall. It’s a subconscious cheat. Also in UHP1 make sure your standing leg toes’ are at 12 o’clock. Once in the pose, focus on dropping the outer hip of your lifted leg down toward your standing heel WITHOUT bending the standing leg. It’s the same work from Supta padagustasana. For tight hammier and hip flexors, use a strap around the ball of the lifted foot. In UHP2, again, make sure your lifted leg is only hip-height and your standing leg is exactly a leg’s distance away from wall. You’re going to feel too close. Trust me; you’re not. The big-toe side of your foot should be parallel to the wall and the toes of your lifted leg should be pointing at 12 o’clock toward the ceiling. Here, focus on your lifted hip dropping toward your bottom heal without leaning all the weight into your opposite hip. Firm in the outer hip.
⁃ Parvrtta Ardha Chandrasana at the wall, holding for 2 minutes. Again, make sure you are truly a leg’s distance away from the wall. The grounded foot’s toes should be perpendicular to the front edge of your mat. The lifted leg’s toes should be pointing straight down to the floor; they’re going to want to turn out. Focus on pressing the outer edge of the hip of your standing leg toward to the heel at the wall while keeping the lifted leg’s quad fully engaged. When you twist, keep shooting your sternum to the front and the center of your mat.
⁃ Vira 3 at the wall, for as long as you can stand. Not for the faint of heart, Vira 3, when truly aligned, is probably the hardest standing pose. Set up your legs just as you would for PAC. Make sure you don’t turn your lifted toes out at all, and keep this leg hip height. Also, make sure you don’t lock your standing leg and you don’t inch it further away from the wall. These are the common “cheats.”
⁃ For more experienced students, we should try to hold both sirsasana and sarvangasana for 3 – 5 minutes. If you’re working toward this goal, try in 30 second intervals and, of course, come down at any time if you’re feeling anything in the neck. Make sure you’re extending through the ball of the foot or the feet so that you don’t collapse into the neck and low back. The longer you hold these poses the more you’ll feel your legs working to keep you up. If this hold is already attainable, the practice becomes mental. Try not to get bored up there.
⁃ Viparita Karani (legs up the wall), at least five minutes. Really, this is the best pose ever. It’s so simple physically, yet the subtle benefits are profound for the nervous, digestive, circulatory and endocrine system.

Mittohar..or something like that

On my last trip to Kripalu, I was struck by the Ayurvedic concept of mittohar. Now, I’m not sure if I have the spelling correct and when I Googled it, nothing turned up. But I am quite sure that it is close since I read and re-read the idea of it over and over again as I breakfasted in silence with the rest of the dining hall. Whether the spelling is correct or not, the notion is the same: to eat just enough to be alert and balanced.

Hmmmph, I thought. That sounds like a simple enough plan. Intellectually, it is quite simple, if not quite obvious. In practice, it’s quite challenging.

Like most people, I have breakfast, lunch and some sort of semblance of dinner given I’m teaching or taking yoga almost every night at dinner time. I don’t snack too much right now, mostly because I am too busy with three little kids to actually snack. Perhaps I was already eating just enough to be alert and balanced.

So after watching my eating habits over the past few weeks, I realized, um, nope. You’re still overeating. Granted, I’m not eating MacDonalds, but still, too much is too much. I have a rather large smoothie or juice for breakfast that sometimes persuades me not to teach a twisting class. I have a large salad for lunch. It is packed with vegetables rather than dairy or meat, I but still feel kind of full after it. Though not full enough to skip the chocolate covered almonds. Dinner is a crap shoot depending on how much cleaning I need to do before things settle down. Read: before the kids are tucked in to bed. When the kids are asleep I indulge/unwind (however you want to spin it) with wine, guacamole and tortilla chips, and, if I don’t have a real dinner and go straight to indulgence, a bag of chips can go pretty quickly.

All in all, I realized that I often eat out of habit, boredom, comfort or fear that I’ll never eat again. When that happens, lethargy sets in — even if it was simply overloading on too many fruits and veggies — and I feel anything but balanced and alert. Most of us have grown up with parents who were worried we were hungry. You weren’t done eating until you pushed the plate away and said “I’m full.” As a parent myself, I’m always encouraging my kids to eat something. “Take two more bites.” So to take a step back and do the opposite, to ask yourself do you really need those two more bites seems and feels like starving.

As spring rolls in, (yes, I know it doesn’t feel like it yet), perhaps take this time of renewal to observe your own eating habits. Are you eating just enough to be alert and balanced? And even if you have no desire to follow the idea of mittohar, just stopping to notice and appreciate the food you choose to nourish your mind and body can be revelatory.

Below are some more beneficial Ayurvedic routines suggested by Kripalu that resonated with me, even if I can’t yet follow them.
1. Go to bed, wake up, and eat around the same time every day.
2. Eat freshly prepared meals.
3. Make lunch the main meal of the day.
4. Sip hot water throughout the day and avoid iced and cold beverages.
5. Move your body.
6. Follow the rhythms of nature.
7. Practice meditation.

Overstimulated

As I write this blog entry, I am also occasionally checking my emailing, texting, watching Top Chef and sipping wine. Multi-tasking! And yet, it seems completely normal and entirely underwhelming to do five things at once. Sure, as a mother (or any adult) you must develop the ability to do more than one thing at a time. You cannot just focus only on one child at a time. That could be disastrous, not to mention lethal with small children.

But my kids are in bed now and even when they’re up I’m often “watching” them, making lunches, answering ridiculous questions about what a Coy Wolf is, listening to the news, texting (again) and popping chickpeas in my mouth. Clearly, I am overstimulated and my guess is that many of you are too.

Of course, we almost need to be in constant contact with our devices for the security of our jobs — we are expected to be reachable at all times. We have to check email and voicemail all day. If you don’t, it is assumed by others you don’t take your work seriously and feared by you that some other constant checker will get your business. And then there are the personal matters. If my family is trying to reach me I can often get a call on my cell phone, then my house phone if I don’t answer my cell and then a text to ask where I am. So, now it has become quite normal to do several things all at the same time.

Instead, imagine eating at the table with no electronics interfering. Maybe food would taste better. Imagine talking on the phone and dedicating your entire attention with whomever you are speaking. It might be more gratifying than sending quirky emoticons via texts, which I confess I love as much as my dad used to love clip art. Just imagine doing one thing at one time and being entirely focused on that one thing. It is this exact ability that I believe draws so many of us to a yoga practice. It is the only time of the day during which I and other practitioners must shut off all electronics and do only one thing: asana.

Okay, yes, I keep my phone nearby in case my babysitter needs me, but I’m not focused on it at all. On-call doctors in the class keep theirs nearby — again there’s no incessant checking of it. It’s been unglued from the hand. It’s taboo. The embarrassment of having your phone go off in the middle of class, god forbid savasana, is so excruciating that students either pretend it’s not their phone or are profusely apologetic. It is an electronic-free haven. It’s joyous and freeing. The absorption we can find within the practice because of this taboo allows the mind to stop with all the chatter that is incited or elicited mostly by playing with too many gadgets too much of the time.

Although I hope to one day develop a home practice that is as invigorating as the practice I enjoy in a studio with others, it is yet a talent I have been able to sophistically develop — by any means. Aside from letting myself off too many times with a gentle practice, I’m too distracted! I don’t have to be embarrassed in front of myself when my phone goes off. Even if I shut the ringer off, I can still see it light up. I take a peak and my mind wanders off to who called and what they wanted. Sometimes I don’t see the harm in doing surya namaskar while watching CNN. You get my point.

For this very reason, I dial my day by when I will be on my mat with others who breath with me, work with me, sweat with me and inspire me. It’s a strange phenomenon. You go to a studio and everyone is chitchatting before class. We know much about each others lives and care for each other. Yet, once the class starts the focus shifts to, well, focus, eka-grata. The monkey mind shuts off and we get glimpses of clarity here and there. We find our real Selves that haven’t been veiled by all the media tools at our disposal.

And then savasana ends, we say our goodbyes and thank you’s, and check our phones on the way to the car.

Ode to My Blender

Until a few years ago, my trusty blender had one purpose: to make margaritas. Mr. Blender and Mr. Quervo were very familiar with each other, and I thought it was the only thing a blender was good for. A hot summer day deserved a frozen margarita.

Like most of you, I have known about the world of smoothies since Jamba Juice and Fresh City entered the scene almost two decades ago, but I never fully trusted the health claims they boasted, even with all the funky supplement shots they could throw in to personalize it. These smoothies often contained ice cream, frozen yogurt, milk or some other dairy component, plus lots of added sugar, that in my mind negated the benefit of the drink.

Of course, I didn’t realize that added sugars and dairy were negatives until recently. Growing up, I remember my mom making Weight Watchers Shakes. She would add some fresh strawberries or bananas and calcium-rich cow’s milk to the Weight Watchers powder — and, let’s be honest, we had no clue what ingredients that powder contained. We would cheers to what we thought was a healthy, satisfying and filling drink. So, surely, you would have to use some dairy to give such a drink that smooth, frothy consistency.

Nope! I discovered that even in my rinky dink blender, a sad little blender compared to the Vitamix’s of the world, could whip up some pretty fantastic tasting smoothies without — wait for it — dairy or added sugars.

Instead of cow’s milk, ice cream, yogurt or frozen yogurt you can simply use almond milk or any nut milk. I try to stay away from soy milk because the jury is still out on how much soy we should eat. You can also skip the milk altogether and use coconut water, or any filtered water, and an avocado, banana or almond butter to thicken it. Instead of cane sugar or white sugar you can use agave nectar, stevia, a vanilla bean or even maple syrup if you’re not concerned with the glycemic index. I fill my blender with fruits and veggies and press play. The result is good enough that even my one-year-old begs for it. “Sip! Sip!” His little spider man cup has become his official smoothie sippy cup.

The best part of my blending practice is that even before school has started or I’ve taught my first yoga class, I have had five servings of fruits and/or veggies. That’s not a bad way to start the day.

I fully admit and acknowledge that the first time I saw a smoothie recipe that called for kale and almond butter together I wanted to throw up, but like Yo Gabba! Gabba! proclaims: “Try it. You might like it.”

Below are a few samples of my favorites concoctions. Happy blending.

1 cucumber, 1 green apple, 1 banana, 1 avocado, a big handful of kale, coconut water to blend and either stevia, agave nectar or cinnamon stick and maple syrup to taste.
1 banana, 1 orange, about a cup of pineapple (you can even do frozen), a handful of kale and almond milk.
1 cucumber, 1 green apple, 1 banana, 1 avocado, handful of kale, almond milk, 1/2 a cinnamon stick and maple syrup. (tastes like french toast)
1 apple, 2 to 3 carrots, 1/2 inch of ginger, lemon zest and coconut water, stevia or agave nectar.
meat from one coconut (get a workout opening that coconut), shaved vanilla bean or extract, almond milk and almond butter.
Play around with different combinations of fruits and veggies and try to add kale or spinach to almost every drink.