Monthly Archives: January 2013

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.

Tapas

I’ve always thought of tapas, (the third niyama not the spanish appetizers), as it is most often defined: “burning or heating in order to purify.” So, of course, that brings to my mind a nice, sweaty yoga class where I those nasty toxins are released and in the end become more “pure.” While there is absolutely nothing incorrect with that literal translation or understanding, I have recently understood the concept of tapas in, what I feel, a more wholesome way. It’s just one part of the equation.

As a teacher, when I hear students’ breath get labored or see their faces contort as a result of the effort they are exerting, I want them to know that the struggle is for a good cause. This brings me to a different definition of tapas: “undergoing great sensation in service of transformation.”* This sensation we, as students, feel during a hard practice serves a purpose other than a mild form of torture. We are opening and strengthening the body in ways that it needs. Often, what is hard for us is exactly what we need to work on more consistently.

I guess that’s the bad news. The good news is the “in service of transformation” part. Tapas does not work alone. In order for it to have any real meaning, it must be accompanied by self-study, which you may know is svadiyaya, the fourth niyama. Clearly, the idea of tapas in an asana practice is easily digestible. “Okay, I’m sweating my arse off and working so hard in this lunge so that my hip flexors will lengthen. I never realized my hip flexors are so tight. I should stretch them more.” Burning. Purifying. Learning.

To make it more complex and universal, we can apply the idea of tapas to our world off the mat, where things actually hold a lot more gravity. For me, the clearest example of this is parenting. Talk about sensation-filled fun and agony and worry.

Before I became a mother, I never would have pegged myself as a “Tiger Mom.” I practice yoga. I’m the third of three children. I’m a Pisces. All this must mean I am relaxed and easy going. And, yet, I am one uptight mother when it comes to my children’s academics. I found this out quickly one afternoon when my oldest daughter finished her kindergarten screening and told me that she told the teacher she could count as high as eleven. The wind was knocked out of my sail entirely. She had been counting to eleven since she was 2 and could easily count to 100. What was she thinking?! Were the days when her preschool teacher told me she was one in a million over? Was she not going to Harvard after all?

Half of this is in jest, but most of it is quite true. I don’t think I’m alone in wanting certain things, the best things, for my children. Rationally, I know I cannot impose my will upon them, even when it’s as simple as imploring them to have some more vegetables. I’m not into force feeding. So this brings me to the last part of this equation: the fifth niyama, ishvara pranidhana. Very often it is translated as God or Master. Not being the religious type — at all — I prefer to think of it as something or someone greater than ourselves. Truly realizing that we cannot control everything, least of all our children, can be a tough lesson. Since my kids are so young, I’m still struggling with it. Yoga helps me to remember that I must, at some point, turn things over to a greater good or just some other little person who will make her and his own decisions.

While I truly feel my life would be far less fulfilling without the asana practice, it is nice to remember that this whole yoga craze of which we are a part truly has deeper meaning than the just physical practice. Patanjali’s sutra 2.1 tells us that this exact equation –tapas + svadiyaya + ishvara pranidhana = yoga.

*I’m not sure who to attribute this definition to aside from my teacher Natasha Rizopoulos, but it is very likely it comes from BKS Iyengar or Desikachar.