Arm Yourself (with Crazy, Strong Asanas)

“Summer’s coming!”

“Spring break, wedding season, and bikini season are right around the corner,” they say. Well, of course, these (rarely helpful) reminders often succeed in turning our attention to our day planners and our post-hiberation bodies. If you’re like me, then your inner monologue usually follows, “So, how much time do I have?” (Time enough to fit in one more weekend of Ben & Jerry’s and red wine indulgence, I hope!)

We can’t avoid all the reminders, and we can’t always hate them either. It’s important – all year round – to evaluate how we’re treating our bodies. But, instead of fueling a love-hate relationship with our bodies by feeling the need to suddenly ‘kick it into shape,’ could it be better (and healthier) to check in with our bodies on our own accord, in an effort to ‘take care’ of ourselves? The holidays bring an equally welcome and dreaded break in our regular schedules and eating habits, and the stress – and cold – of the season eggs on our urge to put on the pounds. (Literally, biologically, our bodies crave the extra fat for added warmth in the colder weather! My favorite excuse for reaching for a few extra Tollhouse cookies on a frigid night…)

Checking in with ourselves, as I discussed in a different context in “No Regrets: A Guide to Managing the Chaos,” is all it takes to stay healthy and happy on a daily, weekly, monthly and seasonal basis. Every day, checking in allows us to notice how our bodies are feeling, what our minds are up to, and consequently, how one might be negatively influencing the other.

For example, recently, I realized that my busy busy mind had been neglecting some physical discomfort and ailments that really deserved closer attention – so, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment. After taking the time to be more present to my body, I also began to notice how my headaches and other symptoms were affecting my focus, and thereby making me cranky and irritable. Not getting enough rest at night (8 hours or more, most nights each week) was also contributing to my negative attitude and my overall mindset. These are examples of how the body and mind are in sync at a very fundamental level, which ultimately affects our day-to-day comfort and productivity. By giving both my mind and my body the attention they deserve, as you would ‘take care’ or check in with a good friend or family member on a consistent basis, you’ll notice it’s much easier to be and stay healthy and happy for as long as you’re willing to stay present.

As I’ve said before and am often reminded, it’s already in you. Don’t bother looking at magazine covers with pictures of a body they’re telling you you should have this summer. Instead, check in with your own body, and treat it well; and you will undoubtedly be the happiest, healthiest, and sexiest you this summer, and always. Physical fitness can and should mean checking in with our body and what it’s really craving, (extra cookies are always okay to have sometimes; and despite your regular gym routine, maybe your body is craving a run outside or an exercise class this week). By paying attention to what the body really needs to be flawlessly in sync with our mental health and well-being, we can find balance and fitness that’s easily sustainable – if it’s approached as a welcome lifestyle shift, rather than a ‘quick’ fix.’ By listening more closely to what we already know (like that voice that tells me when I’m full, before I make the decision to pick up another cookie anyway), we can be our happiest and best selves without the high anxiety and the love-hate relationship. We’ll just keep the love part…

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to look your best when it’s part of wanting to be your best. As much as yoga helps to manage daily mental chaos – of should’s and shouldn’t’s, temptations and remorse – by providing steadiness and clarity with regular practice, yoga also has its physical benefits. For me: I crave healthier, lighter foods because I have a greater awareness of how different foods impact my physical and mental well-being (and equally how I impact my food, through my footprint on the environment). I also am slowly but surely getting into the best shape of my life, effortlessly. Because, I return to my mat for benefits beyond a few push-ups; simply because I’m better (and certainly a better friend, daughter and girlfriend) when I do.

Since I’ve already introduced a few well-rounded basic asanas for home practice in “Happy Holidays! Your Asana Cheatsheet,” I wanted to share a few basic postures that specifically target arms – an area that caused my college girlfriends and I much anguish, as seemingly always “the last part to tone!” – so you can feel confident whatever the new season brings, without needing to master handstand or flying lizard pose to do it.

So…let’s do it.

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ARM YOURSELF with Crazy, Strong Asanas:

All the poses I’ve included below are for beginners, unless noted otherwise. Any beginner posture can be made more challenging by either holding it longer (anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes) or by adding modifications which require additional strength building, as I’ve noted below. My daily practice is a fluid (ever-changing) combination of these postures, which I’ve built upon over time to further challenge myself and engage new muscles in the body. Through repetition, we gain muscle memory – so as we practice more and more frequently, learning to engage our muscles in new ways, our bodies naturally start using these muscles more in our daily lives. For instance, bending over, you might find you engage new muscles in your core, or you might not notice. But over time, your body will change, as it becomes more engaged, stronger, and healthier. This heightened awareness and efficiency of our physical body is called body clairvoyance.

The sequences below are basic techniques that will, at face value, promote greater arm strength and stability. With further practice, however, these postures can also become a full body work-out, enabling you to begin to engage your muscles in new ways and stimulate greater all-day awareness for all-over strength building.

As always, be careful and present in your practice by listening to your body. Every body’s different and, as I’ve learned more and more throughout my studies, not every body is able to do every pose. Don’t judge yourself for what you can or cannot do today, just be present in acknowledging where you are, and set a goal for yourself of where you’d like to go from here. With patience and determination (aka repetition), the form and strength of the posture will come and you’ll be able to embody more and more of the cues I’ve included here. (But likely not at first, so go easy on yourself!)

Click the posture name below for step-by-step instructions and check out my full body cues for an added challenge. Enjoy, and let it flow! 😉

Down Dog Vinyasa Flow

Downward-facing dog
-Widen the fingers of each hand apart from one another, and press the palms firmly into the ground. (This means there should be no gap between the floor and your fingers, particularly where your ring finger meets the palm of each hand.)
– Lift your hips up and press back through your arms, engaging your triceps and keeping a micro (small) bend at the below. Then, gently straighten your knees and engage the backs of your legs (your hamstrings) to lower your heels closer to the ground. Once this is accomplished, you can press firmly through your heels, with equal force pressing through the hands, to engage the calves and enjoy a rock solid down dog. (Go ahead and try me, tsunami – I ‘ain’t budging!)

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High Plank
– Lowering into plank from down dog, extend from your wrist through your shoulder without lifting out of your shoulder socket, by ensuring your arm/the head of the humerus rests securely in the shoulder socket.
– Holding this position, lower your hips and engage your core to maintain a straight spine.
– Flex your feet and push your heels away from you, to lengthen from your hips through your heels. This way, you’re engaging and lifting from the legs away from the ground and away from your upper body.
– Check back in to straighten your spine and engage your upper and lower body muscles, planting firmly into the floor and lengthening away from it in equal opposition for full body strengthening.

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Chaturanga Dandasana
– Slowly lower from high plank to chaturanga by first bending at the elbows and focusing on drawing the elbows in against the sides of the body as you lower. (This is a great example of listening to your body, as some bodies may need to modify by moving the elbows slightly away given their unique skeletal structure.)
– Engage the core, flex your feet and push through the heels to engage your hamstrings and lengthen the legs away from the hips. Set your gaze slightly in front of you to straighten your neck and cervical vertebrae for a straight spine.
– As you build arm strength, you will be able to lower more slowly, hold this posture, and even push back up into high plank for a yogi push-up. Using your breath to guide this movement makes it much easier, by pressing up on a strong, deep inhalation and slowly lowering down with a deep exhale. (Trust me, it helps a lot.)

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Vasisthasana/Side Plank (with advanced modifications)
– The secret to holding this posture is core strength. Lift your hips away from the ground and lengthen the spine. Flex your bum and hamstrings, and lift your lower body up while pushing away through the feet.
– Widen your fingers and press firmly through the hand grounded into the floor. (Remember, the ring finger rule!) Once you’ve found this stability, draw your other arm up and lengthen away from the body, gently pulling your torso in opposite directions. (To start, it’s helpful to rest your arm on your hip to lift into the posture and work towards lengthening through the fingertips, only once you’re firmly grounded and comfortable in the basic posture.)
– *This posture has recently been scientifically proven to reverse sclerosis by practicing for 15 sec.  or more per day on the side with the spinal curvature.

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– Once you’ve mastered side plank in it’s conventional form (above), begin to play with movement and test your strength and stability by trying these variations:

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– Remember to utilize your core by lifting from the hips for stability, and flex the foot using the heel to guide movement of your free leg while strongly engaging the leg muscles. You may rest the foot above or below the knee to hold this posture, but do not rest your foot or put any pressure directly on your inner knee in this posture. 
– Maintaining the opposite force of pressing down and drawing up through the fingers and wrist is also key to maintaining upper body power and stability in this posture.
– Head and neck positioning is really unimportant in this posture, as long as you’re comfortable and not straining or holding tension in these places. Gazing up and through the finger tips is a popular choice for an added balancing challenge.

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– Fully engage your leg and slowly reach your foot up and away from your body through the heel, while maintaining upper body stability.

One-armed dog push-up’s
– Lower from downward-facing dog into a position similar to high plank (except here, it’s okay if your bum sticks up in the air a bit). Lift one foot off the ground and lengthen your leg away from you by flexing the foot and lengthening through the heel.

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– Bend at the elbows, and draw your arms alongside your body (for stability). Lower the forehead towards the ground while lengthening your leg further away from your body through the heel.

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– Lower fully down in an upper body chaturanga with your forehead on the floor and your leg still raised and pushing away from the body through the heel.

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– Raise back up, pressing firmly through the hands on a deep inhalation, keeping the elbows slightly bent and held tightly alongside the body with leg raised. (Returning to original ‘one-armed dog’ posture)
– Repeat 10, 20, 30+ times, switch legs and completed on the opposite side. (In a recent workshop, we were asked to do 50 of these on each side, in unison. There was a 60+ year old woman beside me who killed it. Time to give it a try?)

Intermediate/Advanced: Upward Bow or Wheel Pose Push-up’s
– For intermediate to advanced practitioners only, this posture becomes much easier once a solid foundation of arm strength is gained.
– First, lay on your back with your knees bent and your feet firmly planted on the floor. Bending your elbows and pressing your palms into the ground behind your head, push firmly into wheel pose while engaging the core to stabilize the spine. (See link above for more detailed instructions.)

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– Find a comfortable position in wheel pose by walking your feet in towards your hands and always keeping a micro bend in your elbows as well as your knees. (Did you catch it? I’m missing my micro bend below! This creates instability and undo pressure at the joints which can cause bone degradation and nerve damage over time. So keep that bend!)

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– Bend your elbows and gently lower the top (crown) of your head to the floor. Just like in chaturanga, be sure to draw the elbows in toward the body rather than letting them splay out and away, to maintain stability of your joints.
– Once your head is planted on the floor, push firmly through the feet and lift the hips up through the core. Move your hands slightly back (1 inch) towards your head, allowing brief and gentle pressure to rest on the crown of the head (*advanced practitioners only*), and press back up firmly through the hands into wheel pose, for an inverted yogi push up!
– For beginner and intermediate practitioners who want to give it a try, keep your hands firmly on the ground at all times and lower the head down to the floor before lifting back up for a safer, modified version of the push up.

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Resting Postures* (These are counter postures designed to stretch your muscles in gentle opposition to the work you’ve already done. Feel free to sprinkle these in between your more intense postures, but definitely include them during your post-practice cool down – that is, before you take your well-earned, luxurious Savasana!)

Relaxed Standing Forward Fold
– Grab onto the elbows and release the head and neck to fully relax the neck and spine.
– Press firmly through the feet and legs, but keep a micro bend in your knee to alleviate undo pressure to your joints.
– Gently hang here, releasing any remaining tension in your upper body and allowing your autonomic nervous system to kick in, sending ‘feel good,’ relaxation-inducing hormones to your brain. (This happens anytime you lower your head below your heart. Hence, why EMT’s have patients lower their head between their legs following an accident.)

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Knees to Chest Pose
– Gently wrap the arms around the knees, drawing the knees into the chest. Grab onto your fingers, wrists, or elbows, whatever is most comfortable for you. Hug your knees in and rest here (remembering to maintain your deep breathing).
– Hold for 30 seconds – 1 min., with or without rolling gently side to side, if this feels good to help loosen up tight hips.

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Reclining Bound Angle Pose
– Bring the soles of your feet together, and allow your knees to relax towards the floor and your hips to gently open. If you feel any tension or discomfort in your knees, move your feet further away from your body (1 foot away, or more) until you find a comfortable position.
– Allow your arms and shoulders to relax, turning your palms upward. Draw your arms alongside your body, place them farther away or let them rest above your head; whatever is most comfortable for you in the moment.

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Namaste ❤

Photo Credit: A big thanks to my photographer, Matt Annese! Check out more of his work here.

Give in to Comfort (+ Recipe)

O’ tidings of comfort and joy! Comfort and joy… I’ve never stopped to consider these lyrics before, but giving a nod to a holiday classic, I’d have to say that word choice here is key. Tidings of comfort can allude to many things, such as that of family, of warmth – both physical (hanging fireside with hot cocoa) and emotional (open hearts and widespread generosity), of abundant food and ideally of relaxation. To feed yourself [and others], to love yourself [and others], to celebrate love, life and gratitude for all that you have. For an old church hymn, they’ve covered a lot of ground. (Good work, ye merry gentlemen!)

Of course, like any good celebration, the holidays come with their fair share of temptations and frustrations (and did I mention, expectations?). So, if you’re like me, the pre-Thanksgiving time is marked by a bit of anxiety. Excitement for a season of family and friends [with their respective social outings and get togethers], and a looming hope that you don’t get too carried away – with your holiday shopping, long-nights out and working overtime, heated dinner-table discussions with relatives, or double chocolate fudge [martini] indulgence. How do we walk the fine line between indulging in the comfort of the season and not over-indulging? It’s a difficult balance made much simpler by approaching the season with mindfulness – remembering that indulgence foremost means caring for yourself.

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you look forward to the comfort and joy of the holiday season! (And to relieve any lingering anxiety over all the goodness yet to come…)

Bubble baths. To me, bubble baths are the ultimate form of indulgence. For you, it may be something else – perhaps reading a book or having a glass of wine by the fireplace (actually, I change my answer…) Take time during your time off this holiday season to indulge the way you want to. Too often in the past, I’ve felt the holidays have come and gone without allowing myself any time to relax. But I’m giving you permission – you can even put it in your calendar! – to make time for yourself, as often as you can, to indulge this holiday. (I’m talking bubble baths, candles, home facials and red wine…) You’ll be just as grateful come January, when you return to your routine feeling rested and rejuvenated 😉

Taste everything. As I’ve said before: Food is love! And you deserve only the best. But, of course, the best includes Gramma’s seasonal batch of double chocolate fudge and late-night pizza with high school friends. Don’t deny yourself a single thing this holiday, but do allow yourself [in most cases] just a taste. (Don’t panic – for me, this translates as one piece of fudge or 1-2 slices of pizza. Make it as realistic as it is delicious.) Ultimately, you have control over how much of what ends up on your plate. Start off with a taste of everything you want – one or two spoonfuls (use your judgment) – and then pick the thing (or two) you liked the most and go back for more! For dessert, go for that big ol’ slice of pie – but be kind to your body, pick just one (big) or two (small) things. And if you’re feeling bummed about missing out on a second piece of pie or that other tasty treat in the back, take one home for tomorrow or split with a friend. (I sometimes have to remind myself, there will be many more chocolate chip cookies in my future. No need to eat them all now!) Allow yourself to indulge in all the comfort of the season, while remembering to care for yourself foremost. This is key to avoiding next-day belly aches and painful hangovers at the holidays – and throughout the year, tried and true!

Stay Well. A lot goes on during the holiday season, you could even say it’s gained a reputation for stirring the pot. High emotions – of grief and loss, of being over-worked and exhausted, of frustration and anger, of fears and expectations for the coming year – often associated with the season are compounded by high stress, a natural derivative of the holidays. Acknowledge this, and even excuse yourself in advance. If and when things do come up, let them and then let them go. Take care of yourself and care for others. Greet stress  with as much compassion as you can muster. Remember that over-indulging in one thing, won’t relieve the burden of another. Give yourself the courtesy of acknowledging what you’re feeling as it comes up, and then take a step back and check out the big picture (“I’m really exhausted from being so busy.” Or, “I just miss my family, a lot.”) Then, from that place, decide how you’ll react. Take a nap, cook dinner for a friend, call a loved one, or hit a yoga class; indulge in a way that’s constructive and that won’t further aggravate yourself or others. Give yourself some love, and stay well.

Coincidently, these three are also a recipe for joy. I didn’t fully understand the meaning of joy, nor did I take much interest, until I challenged myself to follow these steps to the best of my ability, everyday (about a year ago this holiday). Since then, my constant belly aches have gone away, stress has become more manageable, I get sick less, I feel better, and I eat everything I want (but usually, just a taste). Caring for yourself is foremost. Once you can sustain a healthy balance of giving unto others (i.e. work, friends & family) and giving in to comfort – there is only joy. (Although, I’ll be the first to say this is an ongoing process, it’s certainly a commitment worth making to yourself, and for others.)

Live well and be well! ‘Tis the season of comfort & joy! I’m looking forward to spending quality time with friends and family in the coming weeks and wish you all of the comfort and joy that this season brings!

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As the weather gets cooler – and the urge to curl up on the couch gets stronger – I thought I’d share a recipe to put aside for your next night at home. Just keep a box of Annie’s handy and add other goodies as you see fit! Bon appetit…

This is a favorite variation to spruce up my favorite comfort food. I encourage you to add, subtract and modify to make it as delectable for you.

Veggie Bomb [Buffalo] Mac n’ Cheese
(Makes enough for two, or one with leftovers!)

Ingredients:

  • 1 Box Annie’s Mac n’ Cheese (I love the “white shells,” but you can use any brand or variety you like. I’d recommend sticking with organic or whole wheat, if possible.)
  • Buffalo Sauce (Franks or any variety. Hot sauce works, too!)
  • Almond milk (or soy or organic dairy. I wouldn’t recommend using coconut milk here, as it’s consistency isn’t ideal for the “n’ cheese” to follow)
  • Kale and/or Spinach (or any dark leafy green in your fridge)
  • Celery, 4 stalks chopped
  • Consider adding: chopped tomato, red, green or hot peppers, onion or broccoli, as desired

Protein, optional:

  • Tofu (firm, cut into cubes), boneless chicken (thin tenders are easiest) or chicken sausage

Directions:

  • Cook pasta according to box. Chop celery and put aside.
  • In a frying pan, layer the bottom with buffalo sauce (no oil necessary, but optional) and allow protein to cook in sauce. Tofu can be heated 5-10 minutes; chicken may take longer or can be pre-cooked. Add celery to frying pan and let simmer.
  • Once pasta is cooked to taste and before draining water, turn off stove and stir in leafy greens as desired. (The hot water in the pot will cook up the greens without overcooking the pasta. If you forget and drain accidentally, that’s all right – just add greens to frying pan with celery.)
  • Drain water, add milk n’ cheese, stir and let sit a minute or two for sauce to thicken.
  • Combine all ingredients and enjoy!

Also – if you’re in need of any ideas for your Thanksgiving potluck, I’ll be cooking up some California Oatmeal Cookies with cranberries and dark chocolate chips 😉

Stay Well ❤

Amy

Personal Photo: Santa Monica Pier summer concert series, circa 2013

Squash Rings & Sweet Potato Fries (Recipe)

Happy Friday, All!

As much as I love the summer, there’s something so special about the slow, creeping in of cool crisp air against the California sunshine. (It’s probably my East Coast roots…) Autumn is officially here.

Before I start work today, I wanted to share a new recipe in hopes that it might bring some joy (and deliciousness) to your corner of the world this weekend. I tried it out last night, and am still savoring the gratification of a new, healthy take on a favorite comfort food…

I’ve included some extra notes for your reference, and perhaps to introduce some new staples to your kitchen cupboard. I hope you – and those lucky enough to share – enjoy!

I give you: Roasted Squash Rings & Sweet Potato Fries (Serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Squash*
  • 1-2 Sweet Potatoes, medium to large size
  • 3 Tablespoons of oil (Your choice: I used olive oil I had previously infused with basil and garlic, but coconut oil, canola oil, or grapeseed oil are other good options)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (Try sea salt or Himalayan rock salt, if you’re feeling adventurous – the latter is available at most ‘higher-end’ health food stores and packed with 80+ organic minerals)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (To taste – I overdid these a bit, which is fairly easy to do. Beware!)
  • Black pepper, freshly ground (Using a grinder is preferable to preserve its quality until consumption, but ‘table’ black pepper does just as well!)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment (wax) paper, or cooking spray if unavailable.
  2. Slice each squash in half horizontally (to preserve circle-shape) and scoop out seeds with a spoon. Then, slice into ¼” rings. Cut sweet potatoes into halves, and then again as needed into small chunks. (They won’t look as clean cut as store-bought fries; see my photo above for shape and size reference.)
  3. In a bowl or plastic bag, toss squash rings and potato pieces with the mixture of oil, salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Oil should just lightly coat ingredients.
  4. Place squash and sweet potato pieces in a single-layer on the prepared baking sheets and roast in oven 30-40 minutes, turning them over halfway through. Should be fully cooked and lightly browned on each side.

Walah! The perfect snack to cozy up with on your couch this weekend. Pair with your drink of choice (last night, for me, was red wine) and consume slowly, deliberately, and mindfully to fully indulge in what truly is a taste of the season.

Sending sunshine ❤
Amy

*I used Delicata squash, a long yellow variety; however, any squash should do. I’d be interested to hear your variations – Butternut Squash Rings?! Yes, please.

Thank you to my friends at Farm Fresh to You for providing this recipe for Squash Rings (originally adopted from Urban Chickpea) along with my produce delivery this week. The featured ingredient, Delicata squash, was also provided, perfectly ripe and newly picked from San Diego. Yum!

Squash Rings & Sweet Potato Fries (Recipe)

Happy Friday, All!

As much as I love the summer, there’s something so special about the slow, creeping in of cool crisp air against the California sunshine. (It’s probably my East Coast roots…) Autumn is officially here.

Before I start work today, I wanted to share a new recipe in hopes that it might bring some joy (and deliciousness) to your corner of the world this weekend. I tried it out last night, and am still savoring the gratification of a new, healthy take on a favorite comfort food…

I’ve included some extra notes for your reference, and perhaps to introduce some new staples to your kitchen cupboard. I hope you – and those lucky enough to share – enjoy!

I give you: Roasted Squash Rings & Sweet Potato Fries (Serves 4)

Ingredients:

  • 2-3 Squash*
  • 1-2 Sweet Potatoes, medium to large size
  • 3 Tablespoons of oil (Your choice: I used olive oil I had previously infused with basil and garlic, but coconut oil, canola oil, or grapeseed oil are other good options)
  • 1 teaspoon of salt (Try sea salt or Himalayan rock salt, if you’re feeling adventurous – the latter is available at most ‘higher-end’ health food stores and packed with 80+ organic minerals)
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (To taste – I overdid these a bit, which is fairly easy to do. Beware!)
  • Black pepper, freshly ground (Using a grinder is preferable to preserve its quality until consumption, but ‘table’ black pepper does just as well!)
  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment (wax) paper, or cooking spray if unavailable.
  2. Slice each squash in half horizontally (to preserve circle-shape) and scoop out seeds with a spoon. Then, slice into ¼” rings. Cut sweet potatoes into halves, and then again as needed into small chunks. (They won’t look as clean cut as store-bought fries; see my photo above for shape and size reference.)
  3. In a bowl or plastic bag, toss squash rings and potato pieces with the mixture of oil, salt, red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Oil should just lightly coat ingredients.
  4. Place squash and sweet potato pieces in a single-layer on the prepared baking sheets and roast in oven 30-40 minutes, turning them over halfway through. Should be fully cooked and lightly browned on each side.

Walah! The perfect snack to cozy up with on your couch this weekend. Pair with your drink of choice (last night, for me, was red wine) and consume slowly, deliberately, and mindfully to fully indulge in what truly is a taste of the season.

Sending sunshine ❤
Amy

*I used Delicata squash, a long yellow variety; however, any squash should do. I’d be interested to hear your variations – Butternut Squash Rings?! Yes, please.

Thank you to my friends at Farm Fresh to You for providing this recipe for Squash Rings (originally adopted from Urban Chickpea) along with my produce delivery this week. The featured ingredient, Delicata squash, was also provided, perfectly ripe and newly picked from San Diego. Yum!

Hey, Good Lookin’

Early on in my teenage years, I received some valuable advice. While hanging at a (guy) friend’s house, he mentioned that his older sister was obsessed with losing weight. He relayed: “My mom says it doesn’t matter what the scale says, it matters how you feel.” As an impressionable 16-year-old, I could only assume his mother’s words were true. Regardless of why this mantra has stuck with me, I am ever grateful to have had it as I entered the age [or rather, decade] of body image and weight-obsession, myself.

Easier said than done – and for better or worse – I’ve always tried to let how I feel lead me. In the realm of weight loss, it’s interesting to note that we all have days when we feel gorgeous and sexy in our favorite size 6 jeans, and others when we loathe ourselves for wearing the same pair. I’d be willing to bet that on those days when you don’t feel good enough, it’s about the number – on the scale, at the store, or in comparison to others – or a reflection of how you’re feeling in other aspects of your life – you flunked a quiz, got in a fight with your boyfriend, or got blown off by your best friend. One negative thought, or instance, breeds many. (See Discovering Your Genius(!)) And it’s easiest to take all this negativity out on ourselves. If only I were thinner, more toned, had longer hair, were a smaller size. Then maybe I’d date that guy, go to that party, or nail that interview. But on those days when you’re feeling good, when all things are going your way, and you rock that size 6 like the hottest bitch in the club…nothing can touch you. And you don’t need a size 2, or anyone else to validate that you can do and be everything you want. What does this tell us? Another mantra I like to revisit in my own journey of up’s and down’s certainly applies here: It’s already in you. When you find yourself looking outside to feel better about yourself – to other people or to the scale – remember, that high you’ve felt before is always in you and nowhere else. (Although, speaking from experience, you may go broke and crazy searching…) It’s just up to us, when the low’s come around, to resist, remind, and rekindle the positivity within ourselves. Nothing else will do. Because, it’s all already in you.

So, with this in mind, I don’t like to spend much time dwelling on weight loss. If you’re happy, at any size, that’s all that matters. I also believe that the journey of weight loss is very personal. No one can do it for you. It can’t be bottled, or put in a pill. It has to be yours and ideally, to be successful, it should be full of activities you enjoy and foods you love. (Pick your poison – What new activity will you fall in love with? Yoga, hiking, kick-boxing, running, zumba, biking – there’s no wrong way, just your way.) As for eating, I believe maintaining a healthy weight without the drama (i.e. constant up’s and down’s of dieting) requires opening your heart and head to a lifestyle change, and learning about food. We’re bombarded with conflicting messages from the media, advertisements, documentaries, and Michelle Obama, advising us on the best approach to a healthy diet. But, I’ve found, when we simply go back to basics, eating well is easy – and intuitive. (Again, it’s already in you!)

First, I suggest getting in the habit of reading the ingredients of the foods you eat. I guarantee we spend more time researching our next big purchase, which movie to see on Saturday, or something about your Fantasy Football team (…trying to be gender neutral here, but that’s all I got), than thinking about the food we put into our bodies. The food we eat is directly responsible for fueling us throughout the day and protecting us from illness, now and as we age. Food also has the power to dictate our moods, energy levels, and even how much we break out, on a daily basis. (Pimples be gone!) You don’t need to put anything back on the shelf – not yet, anyway – but just read and acquaint yourself with what you’re putting in your body. It only takes a second. As you go, you may find that the ingredients listed in certain products, by certain brands, or at certain stores, please you the most. And remember, food is love – you deserve only the best (or the more horrid homage: your body is not a garbage can), and the better you eat, the ones you love will soon follow. [Side note: I have a huge crush on Trader Joe’s, but even there – read the labels! You’ll be surprised what you’ll find.]

My other big rule for healthy living (aka feeling good!) is: learn to cook. Ahh, I can hear the groans from cyber space, but wait just a second before I’m dismissed. I didn’t grow up loving to cook, and it wasn’t a big part of my up-bringing. But when I started living on my own, and wanted to control my weight – and reduce the anxiety I felt in finding something “healthy” among the greasy pubs and food trucks of Boston (however, delicious on occasion!) – I taught myself to cook. Here’s the thing, we’re all busy. I actually, really do believe that you have no time. I feel you, completely. But, I don’t believe you would say “Under no circumstances, will I ever cook for myself.” So I suggest, and challenge you, to create your own conditions. Under what circumstances, would you like to cook. (“Like” is important here – if you don’t enjoy the process, or the results, you won’t keep doing it. It has to be fun, and delicious!) Maybe it’s easiest for you to pack a lunch and snacks for work the night before, or the morning of. Maybe you’d prefer to cook yourself a big meal every couple days and keep the leftovers for lunches. (You can always get creative and jazz them up each time. For example, grilled chicken breast = dinner yesterday, buffalo chicken salad today, and Asian rice bowl tomorrow!) Find things you like to eat that are easy “go-to’s” for when you’re tired or feeling stuck. Under what circumstances would you brown bag it tomorrow? (Maybe buying yourself a rad new lunch bag would get you inspired.) As a loyal BYOL-er for many years, I’ll tell you it’s cooler than you’d think. Impressing people with leftovers has never been easier, in the age of $5 all you eat buffets. But the point is – Food is love. And once you start learning about the food you eat and cooking (some of) your own meals, you’ll discover you’re feeling better – you have less anxiety over what to eat and what you’re eating, more energy, fewer pimples, and more confidence because – Damn, you cooked that yourself?!

I recently received the following info-graphic for “Plus-Size Yoga” and wanted to share it with all of you. No matter your pant size – now or down the road – yoga is good for you. It feeds your physical body and psychological being in ways that allow you to feel better – crave healthier foods, have more energy, lose weight and live longer. This graphic does a great job at explaining some of the scientifically proven, medical benefits of a regular yoga practice, demonstrating specific postures which have real benefits for everyone, at all sizes. (Photo Credit and a BIG “Thanks” to Aldo Baker and Alight for spreading the word!)

I’ll check back in soon with my take on “juice cleansing” as a self-proclaimed once-a-day juicer and former juice bar employee (+ my own recipe for at-home juicing!). There’s no better place to take on the craze than out here in L.A. – I look forward to sharing what I’ve found!

Rock on,
Amy

plus-size-yoga

 

Hey, Good Lookin'

Early on in my teenage years, I received some valuable advice. While hanging at a (guy) friend’s house, he mentioned that his older sister was obsessed with losing weight. He relayed: “My mom says it doesn’t matter what the scale says, it matters how you feel.” As an impressionable 16-year-old, I could only assume his mother’s words were true. Regardless of why this mantra has stuck with me, I am ever grateful to have had it as I entered the age [or rather, decade] of body image and weight-obsession, myself.

Easier said than done – and for better or worse – I’ve always tried to let how I feel lead me. In the realm of weight loss, it’s interesting to note that we all have days when we feel gorgeous and sexy in our favorite size 6 jeans, and others when we loathe ourselves for wearing the same pair. I’d be willing to bet that on those days when you don’t feel good enough, it’s about the number – on the scale, at the store, or in comparison to others – or a reflection of how you’re feeling in other aspects of your life – you flunked a quiz, got in a fight with your boyfriend, or got blown off by your best friend. One negative thought, or instance, breeds many. (See Discovering Your Genius(!)) And it’s easiest to take all this negativity out on ourselves. If only I were thinner, more toned, had longer hair, were a smaller size. Then maybe I’d date that guy, go to that party, or nail that interview. But on those days when you’re feeling good, when all things are going your way, and you rock that size 6 like the hottest bitch in the club…nothing can touch you. And you don’t need a size 2, or anyone else to validate that you can do and be everything you want. What does this tell us? Another mantra I like to revisit in my own journey of up’s and down’s certainly applies here: It’s already in you. When you find yourself looking outside to feel better about yourself – to other people or to the scale – remember, that high you’ve felt before is always in you and nowhere else. (Although, speaking from experience, you may go broke and crazy searching…) It’s just up to us, when the low’s come around, to resist, remind, and rekindle the positivity within ourselves. Nothing else will do. Because, it’s all already in you.

So, with this in mind, I don’t like to spend much time dwelling on weight loss. If you’re happy, at any size, that’s all that matters. I also believe that the journey of weight loss is very personal. No one can do it for you. It can’t be bottled, or put in a pill. It has to be yours and ideally, to be successful, it should be full of activities you enjoy and foods you love. (Pick your poison – What new activity will you fall in love with? Yoga, hiking, kick-boxing, running, zumba, biking – there’s no wrong way, just your way.) As for eating, I believe maintaining a healthy weight without the drama (i.e. constant up’s and down’s of dieting) requires opening your heart and head to a lifestyle change, and learning about food. We’re bombarded with conflicting messages from the media, advertisements, documentaries, and Michelle Obama, advising us on the best approach to a healthy diet. But, I’ve found, when we simply go back to basics, eating well is easy – and intuitive. (Again, it’s already in you!)

First, I suggest getting in the habit of reading the ingredients of the foods you eat. I guarantee we spend more time researching our next big purchase, which movie to see on Saturday, or something about your Fantasy Football team (…trying to be gender neutral here, but that’s all I got), than thinking about the food we put into our bodies. The food we eat is directly responsible for fueling us throughout the day and protecting us from illness, now and as we age. Food also has the power to dictate our moods, energy levels, and even how much we break out, on a daily basis. (Pimples be gone!) You don’t need to put anything back on the shelf – not yet, anyway – but just read and acquaint yourself with what you’re putting in your body. It only takes a second. As you go, you may find that the ingredients listed in certain products, by certain brands, or at certain stores, please you the most. And remember, food is love – you deserve only the best (or the more horrid homage: your body is not a garbage can), and the better you eat, the ones you love will soon follow. [Side note: I have a huge crush on Trader Joe’s, but even there – read the labels! You’ll be surprised what you’ll find.]

My other big rule for healthy living (aka feeling good!) is: learn to cook. Ahh, I can hear the groans from cyber space, but wait just a second before I’m dismissed. I didn’t grow up loving to cook, and it wasn’t a big part of my up-bringing. But when I started living on my own, and wanted to control my weight – and reduce the anxiety I felt in finding something “healthy” among the greasy pubs and food trucks of Boston (however, delicious on occasion!) – I taught myself to cook. Here’s the thing, we’re all busy. I actually, really do believe that you have no time. I feel you, completely. But, I don’t believe you would say “Under no circumstances, will I ever cook for myself.” So I suggest, and challenge you, to create your own conditions. Under what circumstances, would you like to cook. (“Like” is important here – if you don’t enjoy the process, or the results, you won’t keep doing it. It has to be fun, and delicious!) Maybe it’s easiest for you to pack a lunch and snacks for work the night before, or the morning of. Maybe you’d prefer to cook yourself a big meal every couple days and keep the leftovers for lunches. (You can always get creative and jazz them up each time. For example, grilled chicken breast = dinner yesterday, buffalo chicken salad today, and Asian rice bowl tomorrow!) Find things you like to eat that are easy “go-to’s” for when you’re tired or feeling stuck. Under what circumstances would you brown bag it tomorrow? (Maybe buying yourself a rad new lunch bag would get you inspired.) As a loyal BYOL-er for many years, I’ll tell you it’s cooler than you’d think. Impressing people with leftovers has never been easier, in the age of $5 all you eat buffets. But the point is – Food is love. And once you start learning about the food you eat and cooking (some of) your own meals, you’ll discover you’re feeling better – you have less anxiety over what to eat and what you’re eating, more energy, fewer pimples, and more confidence because – Damn, you cooked that yourself?!

I recently received the following info-graphic for “Plus-Size Yoga” and wanted to share it with all of you. No matter your pant size – now or down the road – yoga is good for you. It feeds your physical body and psychological being in ways that allow you to feel better – crave healthier foods, have more energy, lose weight and live longer. This graphic does a great job at explaining some of the scientifically proven, medical benefits of a regular yoga practice, demonstrating specific postures which have real benefits for everyone, at all sizes. (Photo Credit and a BIG “Thanks” to Aldo Baker and Alight for spreading the word!)

I’ll check back in soon with my take on “juice cleansing” as a self-proclaimed once-a-day juicer and former juice bar employee (+ my own recipe for at-home juicing!). There’s no better place to take on the craze than out here in L.A. – I look forward to sharing what I’ve found!

Rock on,
Amy

plus-size-yoga

 

California Oatmeal Cookies (Recipe)

It’s been a busy weekend, and I have to say my own reminder to “slow down and enjoy,” worked. Putting aside my school work today – after a nonstop week – I allowed myself a glorious beach excursion and am feeling entirely renewed and refreshed!

In celebration of my boyfriend’s birthday, we drove up the coast to Ventura for a brewery brunch and beach day (followed by epically delicious fish burritos on the pier, of course). I always love driving up the PCH, but especially today – having just marked my first year in California – I was struck by the first hint of autumn as it steadily engulfed the northern suburbs, seemingly overnight. It’s a bit different here than on the East Coast but regardless, in all corners and landscapes, autumn is my favorite season. The crispness in the air and the cool breeze, sweeping in merrily like an old friend, these moments are just as real here on the Westside. (Bring on sweater weather!)

So naturally, to properly conclude Matt’s birthday celebration and welcome in our good friend Autumn, I had to make my “semi-famous” homemade oatmeal cookies – traditionally, my grandma’s secret recipe. But, of course, I adapted the recipe to include my own spin – and if I may – a taste of the West Coast 😉 I thought I would share* because it’s a great example of how to make something classic and impressive, using what you have and made the way you want it (as delicious – and nutritious! – as humanly possible, for you).

I’d love to know how yours turn out!

California Oatmeal Cookies (makes 2 dozen)

  • 1 ¾ cups Whole Wheat Flour I actually used what we had in the cupboard: good ol’ enriched white flour. But, next time I would try Whole Wheat flour or there are great substitutes like coconut, soy or almond flour that you can find in a Whole Foods, and are gluten-free – and delicious!
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Powder – $1.99 at Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) – Note: different then Baking Soda
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda – $1.99 at Trader Joe’s, but check the back of your fridge first!
  • 1 cup Organic Coconut Sugar – I used “Organic Coconut Sugar” from TJ’s this time around (no regrets!), but I would advocate for any raw or organic sugar first, then cane sugar, then synthetic sugar/artificial sweeteners – if you’re going to make cookies, you should do ‘em right!)
  • 1 teaspoon Sea Salt – I used sea salt because – especially when paired with dark chocolate – it just seems to make everything better! Pink rock salt (i.e. Himalayan) is also great if you can find it, as it’s chock-full of minerals for detoxification (if you go this route, make sure you get “table/cooking salt” as there are other varieties for bathing, etc. as well) And if all else fails, there’s nothing wrong with iodized [regular old table] salt!
  • 2 Cage-Free Eggs – If you can afford to go cage free and/or organic, please do! (Just think of a bunch of chickys playing in the grass and laying eggs versus being cooped up in a dark shed – that always gets me. Support Chicky Playtime, Go Cage Free!)
  • ½ cup Coconut Oil – I was excited to use coconut oil because I was curious how it might change the consistency. I have to say they look and taste very much the same, with a little hint of coconut. (Also from the sugar. We’re on a coconut kick!) Other options here might include: vegetable oil, olive oil (earthier taste, better for your heart), sunflower oil (try Whole Foods for this), applesauce or your favorite butter or margarine – there are also a few good coconut oil-based margarine brands out there! (We love a brand called, Melt.)
  • 6 tablespoons Molasses – I went straight for it on this one and used the real thing.
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla syrup – Ditto.
  • 2 cups Gluten-Free Quick Oats* add later – I used TJ’s steel-cut, gluten-free quick oats because that’s what I had on hand. Any oats will do (including Quaker) as long as they’re “quick” oats.
  • Any Add-ons: Your chance to add in whatever you like (and they can be different each time you make them)! Some ideas might be dark chocolate chips, raisins, walnuts, chopped almonds, apricots or figs. 6 oz. of one goody is enough for the whole batch – if you plan to use several add-ons, remember to use less of each. (I made some plain, some with dark chocolate and chopped walnuts and paired with vanilla soy ice cream (non-dairy is happier to digest, especially for late night snacking. And still delicious)…Mmm)

325 F for 12-15 minutes

  1. Combine ingredients in a bowl (ideally, in order as listed) and stir until the mixture is even and doughy.
  2. Add in Quick Oats (& add-ons) and roll into dough using spoon, until even throughout.
  3. Use tablespoon to drop dough onto greased pan, do not flatten out.
  4. Heat in oven at 325 F for 12-15 minutes.

Enjoy! And remember to keep some, and share the rest with family and friends (and classmates and coworkers and mail-carriers). Because, food is love ❤

Happy Autumn,

Amy

Clean Eating Connoisseur (+ Recipe)

Once a week I receive a large package on my doorstep in the middle of the night. Like Christmas elves of organic produce, the local farm folk tip toe to my stoop and leave a box full of crisp, yummy delights hand-picked just for me! (I guess Santa’s preoccupied with the late-summer harvest.)

I rant and rave about my weekly produce deliveries to anyone who will listen – not only because it does feel like Christmas every Thursday! – but mostly because these deliveries are what effortlessly pushed me over from being a Lean Cuisine-loving, perpetual dieter to a self-proclaimed, clean eating connoisseur! They took all the guess-work and effort out of buying produce (which for a novice can feel very overwhelming), and now – a year later – I’m comfortable hitting the produce aisle for what’s ripe and in-season, including fruits and veggies I’d never tried or heard of before.

But the best part is that it gets you cooking. Being in transition has meant constantly looking for cheap and easy meals – so I’m adamant about not letting things go to waste. As a result, I’ve been cooking up a storm (to my boyfriend’s delight) making asian stir frys, veggie pastas, and colorful summer salads until my heart’s content. Becoming comfortable in the kitchen is all about practice, and experimentation. I’ve never been one for following a recipe to the T (sorry, Gramma), but believe that if I’m going to cook with what little time and money I have, it better be quick, easy and delicious. The same outcome can be achieved by hitting your local grocery store, farmer’s market, or registering for your own weekly, biweekly or monthly produce deliveries.* (Click here to find CSA deliveries near you – See below for more info.) Always try your best to find what’s fresh and “in season.” A farmer’s market is a great place to learn, and have fun while you’re at it!

Don’t overwhelm yourself. Go ahead and grab your favorite fruits and veggies, but also try one or two things that are new to your kitchen each time you hit the store. (My seasonal favorites lately have been heirloom tomatoes, eggplant, watermelon, and the ever-delicious fresh mint and basil.) Once home, consider what is already in your cabinets and what old or new creation you might cook up. A quick Google search (or my personal favorite: all recipes.com) will give you guidelines, times and temperatures to bring your creation to life. But don’t feel obligated to follow it exactly. You can add things you like, subtract things you don’t like, and replace comparable items with what you have at home. Don’t stress – so what is it’s not a five-star feast? It’s still healthy and delicious! And as you go, you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t, creating your own personal arsenal of 20-minute meals that feed your body, mind and soul.

A favorite meal I recently added to my home cooking arsenal is what I call an “Eggplant Bake.” Straight forward and simple, it takes little to no preparation and allows you to put a delicious, but often befuddling, seasonal vegetable to use: the eggplant. Here’s my own take on the dish, which runs a little longer at 35-45 minutes with prep time. (But remember, cooking can also be a meditative process – Take the time out for you, to be and live well!) Feel free to try it out, and make it your own…

Eggplant Bake (feeds 2-4, with leftovers)

Ingredients:

  • 1 eggplant
  • 2-3 tomatoes (depending on size, use your judgement)
  • greens of your choice (spinach, kale, arugula, swiss chard – oh my!)
  • cheese of your choice (I used parmesan and fresh mozzarella)
  • olive oil
  • basil, oregano, and/or italian seasoning; salt & pepper

*To make this meal more filling, consider adding a quick & easy whole grain like couscous, whole wheat pasta, or brown rice (Uncle Ben’s is ready in 90 seconds!). If you have a bit longer to cook, try a heartier grain like barley, quinoa or farro – Mmmm!

Instructions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Add and spread 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil in baking dish. (Can also use cooking spray, but olive oil makes your heart healthy – why skip out on the extra goodness?)

2. Slice tomato and eggplant in 1/2 inch rounds (no need to peel!) and place a single layer of eggplant in baking dish. Place a small handful of greens on top of each round and cover with tomato slice.

3. Add cheese – Don’t be stingy, but be mindful. Add seasoning and additional olive oil (sparingly) as desired.

4. Bake for 30 minutes. Switch to “broil” and bake an additional 5 minutes. (It takes a bit of extra time, but I promise it’s worth it.)

5. Enjoy! My final product is depicted above. I’d love to see yours!

Note: Dish is best served when you enjoy the process, and pair with wine and friends. Remember, food is love. 

 

Bon Appetite xx

Amy

 

*A bit more about Community Supported Agriculture (CSA):

Investing in weekly, biweekly, or monthly produce deliveries can be a fun and affordable way to jumpstart your new hobby of cooking up your own “clean eating” creations. (I pay $25/box and still grab protein (beans, tofu, chicken) and a few favorite items at the store – This way I spend less than $200/month on groceries! And eat damn well.) Often times, you can even choose what arrives in your box. Not a carrot fan? No problem, swap in potatoes or peppers instead!

Check online if there is a CSA group in your area. These are the folks, or “elves,” that coordinate with local farms to deliver fresh, delectable, and affordable produce to your door. This way, you’ll also know where it came from, how it was grown (often, organic), and even who’s growing it! To find out if there’s a CSA near you, click here.

As an example, this week my box looks like this:

  • 1 lb. Heirloom Tomatoes
  • 4 Barlett Pears
  • 1 Cantaloupe Melon
  • 1 bunch Celery
  • 1/2 lb. Gypsy Peppers
  • 1 bunch Red Chard (luscious greens!)
  • 1 bag Red Grapes
  • 2 Yellow Nectarines

Mmm, can’t wait to dive in! Happy eating 🙂