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Archive for the ‘Fitness’ Category

A random recent snap to go along with a random post. Hee hee!

This is really random, but if any of you are in the NYC area, I’ll be demo-ing  a Belly Dance workout on TV on Monday morning, on WPIX, Channel 11, at around 8:30 A.M. I won’t be leading the workout–another instructor will be doing that. But I’ll be in the background gettin’ my shimmy on.  In my NYSC shirt, of course  ;-)

What qualifies me to do this, other than my general fitness background and, uh, being half-Persian? Well, I took belly dance for several years, and teach it from time to time as well. So while I have no aspirations of being a hookah bar dancing queen or Shakira or whatever, I do know my way around the moves.

It’s fun, and yes, Belly Dance is a great workout. It is very toning and quite good for posture, gait, and body awareness. In other words, with regular Belly Dance classes, you can get  toned, stand taller, and might even have a nice little (sexy?) spring to your step. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with that, right?

You can bet that after the shoot, I’ll be chugging my green smoothie and squeezing in some Yoga and/or another workout of my own, before heading off to tackle a long to-do list. I’ve grown to love early call-times. I’ve really starting turning into that early bird. Sure, it hurts to get up early some days, but on the days that I do (most days, since my schedule,  body, and mind have all adjusted in that direction), I’m very glad to have gotten up, and find that feeling of productivity and infinite possibilities quite life-affirming and motivating.

I hope everyone has a productive and happy week ahead. I’ll be back very soon with an amazingly easy and tasty one-pot lentil and chickpea stew. Wearing a hip scarf while prepping the stew? Completely optional, of course!

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Yoga in the kitchen? What a bunch of posers we are ;-)

Hey Guys! Just a quick hello to say that this past weekend’s Yoga retreat was great fun. I’m posting a couple of pics, and plan to post more soon.

In addition to the pics, I have several recipes that we prepared that my students loved, including a Middle Eastern-flavored lentil and chickpea stew, that I will be posting here in the coming days.

At the retreat, it seems we spent equal time on the Yoga mat and in the kitchen. Fine by me, as those are two of my favorite places to be anyways!

Now this was a real kitchen. A far-cry from my cramped prewar kitchen back in Manhattan. It was fun to prep food in such a roomy environment. It was like a party in there half the time, with everyone gathered 'round and having fun.

The students were a great group and so sweet and hard-working. They really pitched in the food prep, and were very intrigued by the vegan recipes we enjoyed, including the above-mentioned stew, fresh homemade salsa, a velvety chocolate mousse made with avocados (though you’d never know they were in there), and of course, the Green Smoothie!

Spending time outdoors in nature was one of the highlights of the weekend for me, especially when we went on a looooong hike on Saturday and got to experience nature up-close, both outdoors and in a nearby nature museum. Deer, turtles, frogs, snakes, doves, opossums, and a crazy talking bird known as Edgar Allan Crow (who said “Hello!” Ha!)

All in all, it was a fun time and I’m extremely grateful to my mentor, Jojo, for helping me put this thing together and run it.

And of course I’m already thinking ahead to a retreat in October, one where we can go to nearby apple orchards and pumpkin farms and pick our own apples and squash, then come back and make recipes with them. Fall harvest, baby! Stay tuned for details.

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Guys, I’m deep in Yoga retreat prep mode, which is the main reason I’ve been so quiet lately. Well, that, and I’m working a lot more in general as well. I’m thrilled to be running my very first Yoga retreat, where I’ll be teaching, cooking, and all around having a great time in Upstate New York with my mentor Jojo and some of our wonderful Yoga4Soul students.

Yes, we do still have slots open, and our prices are ridiculously low and recession friendly–between $150 and $350 for Friday evening through late Sunday afternoon, May 7-9. Do you realize how dirt cheap that is? Seriously, I’ve priced retreats upstate and they generally start at $500 for the weekend.

Plus, we’re even offering a $50 day pass for those who can’t spare the entire weekend but want to roll up and do Yoga and dine with us on Saturday.
For more info, click here, the site I rigged up just for the occassion:

www.Yoga4SoulRetreats.Wordpress.com

Rest assured, I’m still testing recipes (or thinking of recipes) to share here. This blog is never far from my mind; bet on that. We’re going to have some of my absolute favorite recipes at the retreat, and I’ll be sure to share those dishes with you very soon. One of them, an amazing Middle Eastern influenced vegetarian stew, is a classic in my home. Hey,  you know I’m not letting our students get away without feeding them some of that good Middle Eastern flavah, right? ;-)  Gotta represent!

Om shanti shanti shanti!

So wish me luck and send some good vibes my way these next few days with ironing out the final details of the retreat and coordinating everything for my students. I feel very fortunate that my mentor is working on this with me. He’s held retreats before and knows how to make sure things run smoothly. It’s a good thing, because I do have moments when I feel overwhelmed, but those moments pass and I get really excited about the retreat. Besides, having a bit of nervousness is good, right? It keeps us on our toes and shows respect for our audience and clients.

By the way, if you’ve ever been on a Yoga retreat or some other form or active and/or meditative vacay, I’d love to hear more about your experiences. Tell me what you liked, what you didn’t, and if you’d go again.

See you all around again soon.

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Enjoying a green smoothie in the morning starts my day off on the right note.

I have a secret. I don’t eat breakfast most days. No, actually, I drink it. In the form of a green smoothie. Yes, it looks like green sludge. I actually like that it looks so off-putting, because it tastes amazing. Much more smooth, sweet, and flavorful than you’d ever imagine. Honestly, it’s as good as any smoothie that uses just fruits. Nutritionally, it’s better.

To say this drink has changed my life would almost be an understatement.  If you Google around green smoothies, you’ll find all sorts of recipes and lists of benefits. Some of the benefits I’ve personally noticed:

  • Higher, even energy levels.
  • Better moods.
  • A clean, light feeling because the smoothie is full of fiber and nutrients.
  • Better digestion.
  • Calmer, brighter skin.
  • Food cravings are noticeably reduced.
  • A feeling of accomplishment for having loads of veggies as the first meal of the day. (I think this is important–so much of balanced eating is psychological and emotional as well.)
  • I’ve noticed that the smoothie makes it easier to stick with healthier eating throughout the day.
  • Filling enough to power me through Yoga teaching and practice, without weighing me down.

For some reason, I love drinking my green smoothies out of beer mugs. Never got into beer, so go figure. I do have a lot of random glasses and dishes around. Sometimes I add a drink umbrella for fun.

I’m forever indebted to my friend, clinical nutritionist, and fellow Yoga instructor, Kim Snyder, for blogging so extensively about the green smoothie. I’m so glad she got me into it. It’s made a huge difference in my life.

The smoothies I whip up aren’t exact replicas of any one recipe. The one pictured today was a tropically-inspired combo of frozen spinach, fresh pineapple chunks, banana, and shelled hemp seeds. The hemp seeds add a nice wallop of protein, fiber,  good fats, and zinc to the drink.

Pineapple Spinach Colada Green Smoothie

To serve 2-3

Combine the following in blender:

8 ounces (1 cup) frozen spinach

10 ounces filtered water (more if needed)

1 cup pineapple chunks

1 large banana or 2 small bananas

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

4 Tablespoons shelled hemp seeds

Stevia or agave nectar (if needed, to adjust sweetness)

Whir up all ingredients except agave nectar or sweetener in blender . Test for sweetness, adding agave or stevia if needed.

Note: By using frozen spinach, you don’t have to bother with ice cubes. If room temp spinach is all you have on hand, though, by all means, use that and just add in some ice cubes.

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Eka Pada Koundiyanasana. I love arm balances!

Today’s post is gonna be a bit self-indulgent. I have the right, though. Birthday Girl’s Privilege. Yep, my bday is this coming Sunday. It falls on Easter this year, which I think is pretty cool, because it’s a time of rebirth and renewal.  No matter what creed or religion we follow (or don’t follow), the concepts of  renewal and rebirth are potent and hopeful.

In years past, I’ve been all about partying it up for my birthday, but lately I’m feeling more of the chill-out vibe. Not only that, I like to take my birthday as a time to reflect, renew, and just be good to myself.

Yoga always makes me feel brand new, so I’m including a few snaps of me in some funky poses. The first one is one of my favorite arm balances, Eka Pada Koundiyanasna. From there, we can go to the chin balance and then add more of a backbending element to the chin balance:

A chin balance. Anyone know the Sanskrit name for this one? I forgot.

Chin balance progression. Notice the unassuming and unimpressed cat lounging in the background. You'd better believe he can bend his back much more deeply than I can.

Another thing that makes me happy? Raw, gluten free,  dairy free, VEGAN cheesecake. Like these lovely samples sent to me by Earth Cafe. Yum yum! What a way to kick off my birthday weekend :-) . I’ll post more about them soon, but for now, let me just say that the flavors are poppin’, and they taste every bit as good as a traditional cheesecake, with the added bonus of not feeling like you’ve swallowed a brick after eating. Good times!

Finally, I can enjoy cheesecake again. Earth Cafe's are gluten-free, vegan, raw, and have no refined sugar. They taste amazing!

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Yup, that's me in a Vasisthasana (side plank) variation. How did I get here? Certainly not on the first try. Patience and hard work were key. No matter where we are in our practice, it helps to "See the good," as one of my teachers often says.

Patience and gratitude have been on my mind a lot lately. It started, perhaps, with my students. The first recent scenario was a new-to-me student asking me if the class I was about to teach (as a sub), “is going to be athletic?” Mind you, we’d not yet started class. Some people hate to feel as if they’re wasting their time. I get that. Fair enough. But sometimes it’s good to be open to new ideas and forms of movement. And by the way, the class was indeed athletic, as I usually teach more on the vigorous side to begin with. I assure you that the student in question was challenged and then some.

The second incident was a student I know interrupting my introduction to that night’s class by saying, “Well I need to get a workout because this is my only chance to work out.” Funny, because I’ve never not challenged that particular group. But the mere fact that I’d mentioned putting some restorative poses into the mix that day apparently set off alarm bells in this student’s mind.

Then another student seemed to think forcing herself into a headstand in one of the first Yoga classes she’d ever taken was reasonable, despite explicit instructions to not force one’s way into the asana. We don’t want anyone to get hurt. Oh dear! :-(

It’s moments like these that force me, as a teacher, to take a breath, take a moment, and regroup. To remember to see the good. To turn that positive into a negative. Clearly, each of these students was having a moment of impatience, and dare I say, a moment lacking in gratitude for where they were at in their practice and lives at that very moment. Frankly, it’s hard for me not to lose my patience with them sometimes in moments like these. I’m a fiery Aries and my dosha is pitta, after all  ;-)

BUT on the flip side of that, they were present, enthusiastic, and wanted to work hard and be challenged. That’s actually pretty cool, when you think of it that way.

We all have moments of impatience and ingratitude. Myself included. Bet on that!

But what Yoga teaches us is how to live through these moments. How to quiet the mind so the moment can pass. How to bring gratitude into our lives. Gratitude that we are well enough to even attempt the poses. Gratitude that we are well enough to use the breath. Heck, gratitude that we are indeed breathing! Gratitude for whatever our teacher offers us.

We live in a world where instant gratification is the norm. The standard. This wasn’t always so, but today, we have cell phones, the Internet, Twitter, blogs (yes!), the grinding 24 hour news cycle, email, and countless other distractions to contend with. Can anyone say overwhelming?

The Yoga mat and the meditation practice offers us a safe space to step away from all of these distractions. It’s key that we do disconnect from all of that noise sometimes, in order to re-connect with ourselves and our higher selves!

Some days my mentor pushes us really hard in the Yoga practice. Other days, he gives us deeper, more restorative asanas to attempt in class. I’m grateful for it all. In the past, I might have felt differently, but getting deeper and deeper into the mind-body connection has taught this impatient woman a tiny bit about patience. Like another teacher I really admire often says, the Yoga has helped my mind be more open to “See the good.” And for that I’m grateful. Shanti!

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As a Yoga practitioner and teacher, and a lover of food, I found this New York times article on the overlap of Yoga and foodie culture interesting.

As a writer, I thought it was well-written, and the copy editor did a fantastic job with the headline. Reporter Julia Moskin certainly did talk to many of the big players in the New York Yoga world. Some were more “live and let live” than others. You’ll see what I mean when you read the article.

On this blog, I’ve explored some of my feelings about food and the mind body connection here and here.

Have a look at the New York Times piece:

Dried fruit is one of my favorite pre and post-Yoga snacks. My friend Kim Snyder, who is a clinical nutritionist and Yoga instructor, says it's best for you digestion to eat it on an empty stomach, then wait at least 20 minutes before eating anything else.

When Chocolate and Chakras Collide

I’ll be back soon to post on halva, and the many reasons I enjoy it in moderation.

In the meantime, a quick tip: Dried fruit enjoyed in moderation is a great way to fuel up before Yoga.

If I find my energy dipping before a class, sometimes a couple of dried figs or dates will help me out without weighing me down. Try to eat your fruit on an empty stomach. Yum! Oh, and by the way? For an optimal Yoga asana practice, try to be done eating two hours before you begin your practice. That way your body and mind can focus on the postures and the breathing, not the good work of digestion. ;-)

EDITED TO ADD: This is my response to the New York Times, in the “Comments” section:

As a food writer/blogger AND Yoga instructor/practitioner, this article really interested me. The whole judgment thing is soooo not my scene. I’ve run into that energy a few times in the course of my Yoga journey.

Eating where I’ve just sweated? Doesn’t sound appealing to me, but live and let live, right?

I absolutely think an awareness of what and how we eat is key, but, like some of the other posters said, there are many interpretations and paths. The people who seem to have hit upon the perfect diet for themselves must kindly remember that the diet that works for them might not work for another. Yoga’s sister science, Ayurveda, says as much.

For me personally, a dietary path that doesn’t include garlic, onions, and chiles doesn’t hold much appeal. With all due respect, I’ll pass on that path. I will aim to eat in an environmentally respectful way, and source any meat with extreme care (I don’t eat much meat lately anyways, but still).

The whole idea that enjoying bounties of this world is somehow wrong? I don’t buy that. Even the Dalai Lama says that one of our main purposes in life is to cultivate happiness. Because when one person is happy, that happiness can become contagious and a catalyst for positive changes. The opposite is true–bad moods are contagious and can lead to who knows what! Sometimes the simplest things in life can bring about happy moments. Enjoying a lovely meal is certainly a simple pleasure–if we allow it to be.

Just as a deeper understanding of the asanas (Yoga poses) develops with time, practice, and patience, so do our food choices. The same could be said of the depth of compassion and acceptance we cultivate for our fellow Yoga practitioners, no matter where they may be in their own personal journeys.

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