Happy Holidays! (Your Asana Cheatsheet)

Wishing all a very happy holidays this season!

As we look forward to food, family, and fun over the next couple days, I wanted to offer a few quick and very easy asana postures for an energy boost and peace of mind in the midst of what can be a very busy and stressful time.

Here are a few of my favorite postures that I practice regularly and often incorporate into my classes. They can be practiced in sequence or on their own, whenever (and wherever) you have a couple minutes to spare. Accompany each with slow, deep breathing and – if you like – while repeating the mantra: “Love of the Present Moment” (or whatever phrase resonates most with you. Others might be: Let Go; Peace; Love; or Om Namah Shivaya translated as “I am Shiva,” meaning “I am the light” ^^ link to my favorite rendition by Steve Gold)

Whether practiced before bed, in the kitchen between cooking prep, or on the living room rug – I hope these postures will bring you peace and grounding (self-care) to help you cherish every moment spent with loved ones this holiday.

Happy Holidays from my corner to yours xx

Amy

Holiday Asana Cheatsheet
*Click posture name for in-depth instruction and benefits from;
*All are safe & easy to practice for all body types;
*Practice each for as little as 30 seconds, or combine and hold for up to a 30-45 min. personal practice

Warrior I with backbend/Virabhadrasana I
*Heart opener, gentle backbend, promotes energy & circulation; great for when you feel you need to ‘get moving’
(hold 30 sec. – 1 min. each side)

Crescent Lunge with Backbend

Legs-Up-the-Wall Pose/Viparita Karani
*Detoxifying, boosts your immune system, stimulates your circulatory system, strengthens your diaphragm/respiratory system (An inversion a day keeps the doctor away!
Hold anywhere from 30 sec. to 5 or 10 minutes)

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Reclining Bound Angle Pose/Supta Baddha Konasana
*Hip opener, releases tension, stimulates respiratory system through thoracic breathing – expand rib cage with inhale, spine neutralizer (hold 2 min. or up to 5-10 min.)

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Easy Pose/Sukhasana
*Meditative posture, straight spine and shoulders back, abdomen engaged to support your torso, neutral position. (If you like: Engage in slow, deep breathing with an elongated exhalation (2x inhale) and introduce your mantra here. Hold 5 to 10 min. or as long as you’d like. This is an easy introduction to a regular meditation practice.)

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**BONUS: (My favorite, if you’re up for a challenge!)**

Lord of the Dance Pose/Natarajasana
*Balancing posture, hip opener, core/strength building (Hold for 30 sec. to 1 min. on each side. Be sure to find a drishti, or stationary visual point about 4 feet in front of you to lock your gaze and help maintain balance.)

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Xx Cheers! xX

Reality Check: When Life Gives You Lemons (+ Recipe)

As 2014 comes to a close I find myself reflecting on the past three months and my first semester in Yoga Studies, and a resounding lesson – or key takeaway persists:

Reality Check #1 (since I lost count long ago, we have to start somewhere):

When life gives you lemons, you still have to squeeze your own [damn] lemonade.

Ultimately, life is what you make it. You can be lucky, work hard, and be at the right place at the right time – but where you go from there is entirely up to you. It’s how you interact with others, what imprint you leave on the room (and the world) after you leave it; who you influence, the choices you make and how you are. That, is also your karma. It’s your footprint, and your fingerprint. It’s uniquely you and a lasting impression. How deeply do you love? How fully do you live? These are choices, as much as they are inherent to you.

Sometimes you have to really bust it to get through, and other times it’s easier. For better or for worse, in speaking for myself, I’ve made the decisions I’ve made to land me in this very moment, right where I belong. (Really, what benefit is there in believing otherwise?) There’s something to learn from difficult times and a way to grow in painful times, that will just make you stronger down the road. And in turn, it’s important to remember there’s always something to give in times of success and prosperity, time to lend to old friends or family when things finally seem to slow down. We all have all of these moments – the good and the bad. Embrace them for what they are, but don’t let them rule you. And know it’s how you react that makes you who you are, and how the world knows you. Less so what you wear, where you work (“what you do”) or what you look like. And much more, how you love.

Our choices – mine and yours – are responsible for what happens next. They’re an expression of ourselves, our individuality, that’s more bold than wearing a crop top and hot-pants. Because, when you make a new friend or find a new relationship, it’s not about what they’re thinking as much as what they’re feeling. That rush you get from a great conversation with a stranger, because they listened, and stopped to focus their attention on you. That’s an impression, that’s an air, a compassion, a reputation. That’s who are you, and that’s your karma.

So, [in other words] my takeaway this year is: When you find yourself in the right place at the right time, you have a responsibility to act. Don’t wait for the world to do it for you or for life to get a bit easier first…You are brilliant and capable, or you wouldn’t have found yourself where you’re standing. (With gratitude!) When you find yourself in a position that just feels right – which may sometimes, tragically contradict what “makes sense” – you can rest assured that if you move forward, you won’t regret. Take every opportunity like it’s yours, like it’s the only one, and like it was meant for you; because, it was – because our choices dictate who we are.

I’m making the commitment to take on 2015 like it’s all mine for the taking. Always: Go get ‘em – in whatever you decide to do. And remember, it’s already in you, you just have to let it shine…

A little autumn inspiration to fuel your fire (both your internal fire & your agni, or the fire in your belly) 😉 I had all the ingredients in my cabinets and got the rest (along with this recipe) from my CSA, Farm Fresh to You. Eat with the seasons! (Your body will thank you…) And don’t fear, all this goodness is also readily available at your local supermarket.

butternut squash

Honey-Roasted Butternut Squash (with Cranberries & Feta)

* I served with whole wheat couscous, extra veggies and tofu + garlic, butter (we use, Melt), sea salt, pepper & red wine!

Ingredients:

-1 butternut squash, peeled and chopped (or acorn, spaghetti squash, or your seasonal favorite!)

– Olive oil (or your oil of choice, coconut oil in this combo is delicious)

– Salt, pepper, garlic (crushed or minced – so cheap at Trader Joe’s! – or garlic powder works just fine)

– 2 cups of fresh cranberries

– Honey, to taste (2-3 tablespoons average)

– ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese

– Ground cinnamon, to taste

– Fresh parsley (optional)

  1. Pre-heat oven to 400 F. Drizzle baking sheet (or glass baking pan) lightly with olive oil.
  1. Cube squash or cut how you’d prefer in approx. 1-2 inch pieces. Lightly drizzle olive oil and sprinkle a light layer of salt, pepper, and garlic over squash, to taste.
  1. Roast at 400 F for 25 minutes on center rack. Then, add cranberries to roasting pan.
  1. Return dish to oven for 10-15 minutes, or until the cranberries begin to soften and burst open.
  1. Remove from oven, add a sprinkle of cinnamon (~ ¼ teaspoon) along with feta and honey, to taste. Garnish with parsley (for “ooh lala” factor).
  1. Enjoy with others or on your own! I enjoyed my leftovers 😉

 

Bon Appetit and well wishes for an abundance of warmth and light [in your life and your heart] this season ❤
Amy

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

Drop the Baggage

A common theme of my last several posts has been the importance of feeling. And this morning, at a lecture and asana class with founder of Off the Mat and Into the World, Hala Khouri, she emphasized a similar point: “Yoga is a process of becoming – by feeling the sensations in our body.” By this she means feeling in the fullest sense. Yoga is about allowing ourselves to feel the discomfort, fear, anger and anxiety in our lives, of past traumas. Yoga is about letting things come up, feeling them fully for a brief moment and then, letting them go. She followed this idea with, “Of course, if we told people that yoga is all about “exploring your grief and misery,” nobody would come!”

How many people are affected every day by past traumas? We know how past traumas affect us personally, many of us living under the rule: Never make the same mistake twice. You live, you learn. And, like anyone, you pick up (or rather, pack up) a bit of baggage on the way. These past traumas soon surface in other ways. Body aches and physical tightness (muscle tension), depression, social anxiety, binge eating, domestic violence – and school shootings. Undoubtedly, our past shapes who we are in the present. So it stands to reason, that only once we’ve come to terms with the past can we be our happiest and fullest selves, in the present.

This is how yoga is described as a “process of becoming.” It’s about fully realizing your [True] self, or the best version of you. In the science world, yoga as a healing modality is increasingly considered a viable method of somatic psychotherapy. Recently, yoga has begun planting its roots in Western science, working its way into physical therapy, occupational therapy, psychology, counseling, and even physician’s offices throughout the country.

What happens when we feel? How much better can we be? Hala explained, for her kids feeling means running outside to the trampoline or hitting the punching bag, instead of hitting their brother. Rather, “This is progress.” To recognize a feeling in your body, instead of reacting impulsively or burying it away. To consider the best reaction – whether or not we express that emotion, and how. And to consciously choose a healthy way to release the feeling of tension, distress or anxiety from your body, without harming yourself or others. (Pretty impressive for a six-year-old! And a great example of applying mindfulness.)

To feel something in its fullest expression, to allow yourself to let it out, is to know yourself without the baggage. Whether it’s running over a squirrel (as was Hala’s recent trauma) or the death of a loved one, a car accident or betrayal by a friend – it’s often easier, and cooler, to just put it away. But when we hang on and never allow ourselves to surrender to what we’re feeling about a given situation, it shows up in other places. Insecurities, eating disorders, cheating, anxiety, depression, PTSD, OCD, perhaps even ADD. How different would our world be, if we were raised to express every feeling – in a safe, deliberate, mindful way?

Yoga is one way, but this kind of yoga is done off the mat. It’s a way of thinking, non-judgmentally and with compassion, patience and mindfulness towards yourself and others. It’s a practice and a process; it helps you let go and be free, to easily become our best [kindest, warmest, loveliest & most lovable, thinnest, trimmest, funniest, happiest, etc.] selves.

Everyone has trauma, small ones and big ones, that they carry with them. What are our real reasons for holding on? What happens when we let go?

I’m grateful to have the opportunity to explore somatic psychotherapy and yoga for trauma from the best in the field. My dream (in its ever-evolving form) is to bring this knowledge to all of you. Because how different, how good could our world be? Could our community be? Could our corporate leaders and politicians be? Could you and I be, if we dropped all the baggage and lived mindfully?

Dare to dream,

Amy
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For more on yoga & somatic psychotherapy – an interview with clinical psychologist, Bo Forbes: Narrowing the Gap Between Insight and Change: Yoga, Psychotherapy, and the Body

Photo: Point Dume, Malibu, California